Monday, September 1, 2014


I went back to England via Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders, Foyle's War and a couple other Detective Chief Inspectors' adventures. My computer never cooled off from the instant streaming of the delightfully benign mayhem that underscores these British whodunnits.

One episode even took me to a llama farm in Wales. That brought back memories of my visit to Ruth Ruck in Carneddi some time around 1989.

Ruth was one of the first Anglo Saxons to own a camelid and her book, Along Came a Llama, set off a llama rage in the United Kingdom. The visit to Ruth, and other owners, was in aid of a feature story I was writing about the comparatively new phenomenon of camelid ownership for fun and profit.

Foyle, on the other hand, took me through the entirety of WWII and, oddly, the last episodes left me sharing almost the same sensations of being at the same sixes and sevens as the participants felt - the bombed, the bombers, the soldiers and the civilians. It was reminiscent of the wrap parties we used to have when our theater group ended a run. 

Time, tide and distance, I think, permit this ridiculous parallel. 

At any rate....I am all set for things to go back to normal. All my favorite news people (essentially Stewart and Colbert) should be back at the old stand tomorrow. And, soon, the weather will change and so will the color of the landscape.

Autumn arrives......and I persist. Pretty jolly, what?


Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Hair-raising Tale

Originally published March 7, 1985
The Village Times
Serving Three Villages, East Setauket, NY

One of the gratifying things about having nearly grown children is that their daily showers are on their agendas, not mine.

Lassoing one or the other for a bath and a shampoo and pleading for clean jeans and a sweater not stiff with vintage jelly are now just memories.

But, I keep forgetting nature abhors a vacuum. Now that I have real clean kids, there are new things to plague me.

I never really resent children borrowing things and not returning them. I know life is full of more important things to do. What I do resent is borrowing unborrowable things. Things that get used up and are gone forever.

Like shampoo.

Last night, I washed my hair in Woolite. It made me very cross....and frizzy.

I started to have a temper tantrum and then I reminded myself of my teen years....and my mother's tribulations.

At that age I only washed my hair when it was congealed. In pre-hair spray and mousse days everyone knew you couldn't do anything with clean hair. We probably never ran out of shampoo.

What did obsess me, however, were combs. I was forever combing my hair....probably because it was so dirty it kept parting on my ear, and I certainly wouldn't allow anyone to see my ear. It stuck out. The other one did, too.

It upset my mother that there was never a comb in the house. When I lost mine, naturally, I "borrowed" hers. Once she bought me a package containing a dozen combs. It may have lasted a week.

One night I came home from cheering practice and found my mother sitting in the kitchen with a rather tight-lipped expression. "Where is my comb?" she wanted to know. "Why do you ask? I hedged.

"Because I had an appointment in Manhattan today and, since I had to take the train, I thought it would be nice to comb my hair."

Well, it turned out she couldn't...... because I had taken the last comb. 

Unable to find so much as a hairbrush in the house, my mother finally combed her hair with a fork and boarded the train.

I guess I don't have it so tough. If I run out of Woolite, there's always lemon-fresh Joy.


Water With Personality

Jo Ann Law McGrath

From the Stone Soup Collection
The Long Island Advance, 1979


We have well water.

If you don't, you may miss the colorful implications of that statement.

It means we have orange sinks, tubs and toilets. It means that my dishes, tableware and cooking utensils have fascinating watermarks that vaguely resemble the patterns left on a sandy beach by a receding high tide.

It means that after boiling spaghetti for nine minutes it comes out of the pot a strange shade of mauve that clashes with my marinara sauce.

Our water has lots of body. It also has an unmistakeable odor that I once considered fragrant. As a city-bound youngster, trips to the country were pleasurable and the smell and taste of rural water always had happy associations for me.

The smell of OUR water is so strong that it should have the capacity to make me delirious with joy. But it's such a STEADY heady thing that it has lost some of its charm.

A couple of years ago, we decided anything as benign as water perhaps shouldn't smell so evil, so we had it tested. It was deemed perfectly potable but, just as we had suspected, it contained enough minerals for us to start a mining operation. Unfortunately, the only thing we mine is rust.

As a result, we have an unwilling one-millionth interest in a company that makes a dandy little product called Zud.

Zud is designed to removed rust. It also removes my nail polish and, if applied with enthusiasm, my nails, as well.

It's a minor pun unless and until we discover that our minerals come to us through the courtesy of man-made objects left at the landfill and pluming their way toward our well, we'll live with our water.

The option is to have water than smells like chlorine. "They" tell us that chlorine is perfectly safe, and it probably is. But "they" also say that Tang is a good thing to drink and, according to the astronauts, it probably is.

But Tang is what we run through the dishwasher to remove the rust we can't reach. Somehow, it never occurs to me to drink it.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Trompe L'oeil or Mud in Your Eye

I was a child of radio. I listened to the  Lone Ranger, Captain Midnight, The Inner Sanctum (with its squeaky door), Gangbusters and, when I was very little, Let's Pretend.

Interspersed with, and punctuating all my childish entertainment, were the voices of men like Gabriel Heatter, Hans Von Kaltenborn and Edward R. Murrow.

It was an eclectic lineup for a kid and the selection was not always my choice.  However, by osmosis, the tenor and timbre - and unquestioned honesty - of radio voices became a yardstick by which I came to measure and treasure verbal intercourse.

I knew that if I heard it on the radio, it was least the pronunciation and enunciation were right. In all likelihood, so was the information. (Barring, of course, commercial claims. And, even those bore a stamp of veracity greater than those of today.)

The same can be said of newspapers. At home, The New York Herald Tribune and The New York Times were daily bread. Starting in my early teens, I knew that whatever word or phrase was used by these paragons, it was correct....or it was corrected in a small box the next day, or the next edition. 

Just so were the words issuing from the mouths of the men (mostly) whose voices set the standard for correct grammar and diction to die for.

And here we are today. Instead of  riding an upward moving trajectory of excellence, the educational and informational  standards for radio and television and, alas, the written word, have collapsed like a tower of Babel beneath the weight of ignorance and declining standards.

But now, even more distressing, we are surfeited on a daily diet of lies from semi-respected news sources (sources Murrow would have squashed with his cigarette butt), parodies of news that seem real and are often quoted, and, heaven forfend, something  called photo shopping.

This last may be the ultimate sacking of truth and trust. While you can establish the truth of a piece of news, if you care about probity, by mounting your own research, when your eye has been fooled, leaving no clues, you have been taken in a way that smacks of lots and lots of trouble.

It's fun to see improbable things. And I like to believe in improbable things. But reality is a healthier, if not happier, place to reside.

Beware the Jabberwocky, my friends. Entropy lurks. The Shadow knows!



Friday, January 18, 2013

The Blanky Needs a Bath

This morning my daughter asked me what the Third Amendment to the Constitution promised citizens of the United States of America.

I didn't know. Does anyone know?

There appear to be only two Amendments that have any claim to our collective memory.

1.  Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion and Petition

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;  or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, etc.

2. Right to keep and bear arms.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.


The first Amendment is generally misinterpreted by the Religious Right. They gloss over the part about Congress not making a law respecting the establishment of religion and have instead made it mandatory by word and deed, not by law, that everyone elected to office must believe in Jesus Christ, the bible, heaven and hell and Satan, or they are not qualified to hold any governmental office.

Further, the second part of the first Amendment is equally misinterpreted by these folks, as well as by other creepy tentacles of the Conservative Party. The part about freedom of the press is a part they prefer to ignore unless it's Fox, Clear Channel or divers other outrageously biased sources on whom they rely to bolster their positions, which seldom bear a relationship to truth and/or accuracy.

However, it is the third Amendment that should hold our attention here because it is as obsolete, as many of us believe the second Amendment is. And it alone should make the case for argument that it, and the second Amendment, are anachronisms. It should also suggest that the Constitution - held as a living, breathing and sacred document that can never be tampered with - could use a little modernization to accommodate a reality that the Founding Fathers could never have imagined.


3. Conditions for quarters of soldiers

No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.


Now tell me that the founders ever imagined what this country would look like and how it would be populated in the 21st Century. Can anyone conceive of a need to quarter soldiers in any house in this country when we have millions and millions of acres of public buildings and millions of acres of military bases and VA Hospitals?

Taking over someone's bungalow, or third floor walk-up, in order to bed down and feed a couple  of enlisted men, or even a gaggle of generals, does not sound like anything anyone would ever contemplate in 2013.  

Yet there it is. Enshrined in our Constitution. along with the Second Amendment

It's obvious to me - and must be to anyone who has a closet full of hoop skirts or wimples or wooden shoes - we could use a little refreshing.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Coming Undone In the Digital Age

One of the very best things about using a computer is its offer to undo anything you've done. At least on the keyboard.

Yes, there are instances when you don't catch an error or an unpolitic remark in time, and then, poof! - it's published or it has vanished, against your will or better judgment.

But, if you are paying attention, this is a cool tool that - were it available in "real" life - could eliminate so much pain and misunderstanding and some of those terrible entanglements that proceed from a hasty or too-loose tongue.

While life in the digital array does give you a chance to reconsider, this can be a dangerous crutch to rely on. We have to live in the real world and we still are held accountable for our errors in the foot-in-mouth disease department.

As much as social networking has convinced us that we are talking to real people whom we really know, we don't really know them and we have no physical clues as to what makes them tick or how they will react to a variety of things. That makes "undo" even more important. But we have to remember that key does not exist in the world where we breathe air.

On Face Book, where we interact as a community, this key probably isn't used as much as it could be.....but I have to admit that I find that refreshing. I like the spontaneity of the interchange and I am often amused to find things revealed that you would never have believed of a person....good and bad.

And there, for the "bad" department, our thoughtful digital vehicle has provided an application. It's called the "unfriend" button.

I have to say I like making friends more than I do un-friending them, but still....when life can be so full of irritants that can't be neutralized, a flick of a switch is a very satisfying solution.Too bad we can't do that with whole years that are full of devastation and frustration, pain and heartache. 

Since we can't, our only option appears to be to try hard to make as few errors as possible.

Let's hope 2013 is one of the years we can look back on and say: "That's a keeper."