The Uphill Slide

There is always something.


Bad vs. Bad

Have you read Sophie’s Choice by William Styron? It popped into my mind as apropos to choices in the justice system. The title character’s choice was the sort of decision we may sometimes be forced to make, even though not life or death. One that demoralizes. Sophie’s choice was a mother’s nightmare. At Auschwitz she was forced to choose one of her children to live and one to die. It’s been a long time since I read this book, but I think that the child she chose to live didn’t survive the camp either. An unbearable choice and then a life spent filled with the anguish and doubt that she made the wrong choice.

What if you are given two choices? Bad or bad? Which should you choose? The advice: Be pragmatic. Well, not in those exact words. Those offering you choices don’t see that one doesn’t hold weight over the other. They don’t understand the dearth of choice. Because the outliers, the innocent are removed from consideration. It is a psychological vise. So pragmatism holds sway, not for them, for you. You cede to a bad choice not knowing the future. You give the win. A hollow win for those who ever ponder the cost of winning. For those who just like to win, a win is a win.


The 24-Hour Habit

2:14 AM on July 21. Coffee sugared and creamed in my favorite black mug.

Finished my book in a day and can’t fall asleep. Anatomy of Restlessness by Bruce Chatwin. Get lost get found. A nomad’s life. Restless.

Black coffee. In my 20’s with a cigarette. Pretending adulthood. A laxative effect sometimes from the two. Coffee from vending machines. No Starbucks or Coffee Tree Roasters.

My mother drank it black too. Instant Sanka. Is that even real coffee or is that cofferkey?

Eventually I started pressing the cream button. Dilute just a little. I can’t remember when I started adulterating it with sugar. When Starbucks came on the scene I asked, “Who would pay that price for coffee?” Drinks with lots of calories and that suddenly seemed less like adulthood. Cold coffee drinks that tasted like milkshakes. A new language. Red eye. Frappacino®. Tall, grande, venti.

I quit cold cofferkey a couple of years ago. My rabbit food diet. No pop or sugar drinks or coffee with cream and sugar. Had to go back to black. I couldn’t do it, so I carefully measured and logged that sugar and creamer. Take one cup once a day. But then I came back with a vengeance. Coffee shops all around me.

What the heck? Scientists can’t make up their mind if it’s good for you or bad for you anyway. Black, that is. A couple  of weeks ago the radio announced some new “study” that four cups of coffee before a workout would help burn calories. Maybe make it your last workout with heart burning it up.

I can drink coffee anytime—day or night. Then again, that might be why I can’t sleep. That frozzacino on the sweaty walk home from speed reading class.



The smear campaign. Trump’s son looking for the dirt on Hillary Clinton. Ugly. Deflect from issues to focus on personalities. We are being watched. Foreign governments. Well, not all of us. Only the rich and famous and powerful. Me? I have nothing of interest to Russians though they keep sending me spam.

Smears. In politics and justice, the truth often has a tiny seat. And after the smear, we’re left talking about some indiscretion or inane bit of nonsense instead of issues. Or maybe it seems important. But is it true? Is it partially true? Or is it a lie? Can’t be proved or disproved. And then we can chalk it up to fake news. Not credible sources. Unverifiable. The world seems to have become so complicated. But it always was.

Smears. Can happen to anyone by some bored or vengeful person. The bully possibly. Everyone wants to hear some dirt. Manufactured? Ponzi scheme? Who cares? We want to believe. Constructed from a molehill to a mountain? Who cares? We want to believe. Whispers in the ear. Said in private to one or a couple. Plausible deniability. “I never said that. I never told anyone that. I have no idea who started that story.” Who can prove it? You just build a web of animosity so no one talks to each other? So easy to toss that smear into the air and have it dispersed and carried away. The target? Always keep the target in the dark until the grapevine carries it away. The goal? Behind every smear, there’s a goal. Figure it out. The winner? The smear whisperer.

In politics? All smear whisperers. Easy to believe and too much work to use critical thinking. Questioning? Forget it. Makes your head spin. And sometimes we just want to believe the smear.

Not just politics. We should ask questions of the story behind every smear.


Sneaking Around

Mini M&M’s in the bag that matches the bright blue candy. Why didn’t someone think of making these a long time ago? They are the perfect ratio of chocolate to hard outer shell. But their compact size means I drop some down my shirt on the way to my mouth or on the bed or carpet. Sometimes lost until I clean. You know the 10-second rule? Doesn’t apply. They’re still good even if they’ve been in the sofa for weeks.

We hide the candy and cookies from Caleb. We want him to eat healthy. Eat as we say, not as we do. If only we had will power to cut out junk food. It’s why I keep playing Affirmation by Savage Garden. It’s my excuse. “I believe that junk food tastes so good because it’s bad for you“. It’s some cruel trick or conspiracy to test our will power and ability to say no. And we fail miserably. We’re weak-willed, so we hide and sneak. Waiting until he’s asleep. Or sneaking past him with our ill-gotten gains. This morning, I was in stealth mode. I walked to the kitchen and turned on the faucet while I quietly got the bag of candy and put handfuls into a plastic cup. He heard something and started for the kitchen. I deflected. Then I took a sock (clean one) laying on the dryer and walked past him. In the bedroom, I pulled a pillow up beside me to hide my bowl in case he ran in. By the time he did, I was done. He saw the bowl. The M&M bowl. But it was empty.

Hey! I’m not proud. But I’m the adult. I’m allowed to eat unhealthy. I’ve done it a long time with some intermittent periods of healthy eating. But I’m always lured back in. I’m hiding and sneaking for his own good.


What Doesn’t Work?

Right now? Me.

You do mean work for a salary? Bring home a paycheck. That kind of work. You don’t mean all those things I do and did for others? Women. Always complaining that family is oblivious and blind to the things we do. Picking up the mail or scrubbing a stain or fixing the internet or preparing dinner (kinda’ went on strike there several years ago. Lost the passion in the joy of cooking. You ever heard the giveth then taketh away compliment? It’s gooood but….did you do something different?) And there’s babysitting. Love them to death and wouldn’t miss these years. But it’s still work. You can like your work.

Feeling (emoji would be perfecto in this space but still can’t figure out how to add them to WordPress) frustrated today. Drinking my coffee on my little porch and watching cars drive 55 mph in the pouring rain on a residential street. Am I just getting old when I want to scream, “Slow the fuck down!” Then again, I’m guilty of occasionally disobeying the speed limit.

I came back from dropping off my daughter and grandson frustrated. I didn’t leave that way so someone pissed me off. The car is making chain-like rattling noises and awesome squeaks in reverse. I call them the getting old noises. What’s wrong? If I knew that…I stopped at Honda to make an appointment with the squeaky clean appointment setter in the button-down shirt standing behind a podium. I describe my noises. Next appointment in two weeks. I can’t drive my grandson in a dangerous vehicle that long! I’ll see if the Honda dealer where we bought it can get me in sooner. Or maybe some local mechanic. Who to trust? And what if it’s still under warranty? And it’s Friday. It’s always Friday. No, it’s not always Friday. Just seems like that.

Now the phone is ringing, an 814 area code. I hesitantly said, “Hello?” She says, “Barb?” A friend. She’s rattling on about how hard I am to get hold of (I usually don’t answer the phone.) and talking about a grandchild. I can’t place her. Who is it? She’s put me off guard. Kudos. Now she’s launched into the spiel about breast cancer and the ladies. Does she mean women or is she talking about the boobies? “No,” I answer to her request. She’s not giving up. But neither am I. Can she please, please send just the small envelope for $15 so the ladies know I haven’t forgotten them. Is she going to tell them that Barb didn’t even give $15 ? Is she threatening to expose me as a selfish cheap skate? I feel the need to apologize and explain. Oh, they train those people so well to manipulate you into guilting yourself. But I still didn’t give the $15. I have a new way of thinking about charitable donations. She had no idea. A podcast or article speaker/writer said charity could get more bang for the buck if we would pour all our donation money into just one organization instead of splintering into little ($15) donations to dozens of organizations. That made sense. Think about where my $15 is really going. To pay her salary and for her phone and the phone line and maybe a room (or she’s deducting home office expenses and taking some money from the government) and the envelope and ink and stamp that I might just throw in the trash because I’ve had a few days to change my mind. Or maybe I say send it to shut her up and never send any money. If I do send it back, then someone gets paid to open it and account for it and distribute it. “Administrative costs” is where the money is. Those costs we forget about in investments and retirement accounts and earn companies millions. The cost of doing business or charity. So I did pick one organization but I’m not telling because someone will say that one isn’t worthy. And I still feel guilty to say no. I do care about eradicating breast cancer. And yes, I do still give that occasional $15 to a better sales pitch or on a day when I’m feeling just a bit more charitable.

Now I’m hurriedly typing this before my internet shuts down on my Surface Pro. I randomly get thrown off, no connection although my little quarter circle on the task bar shows we’re connected. Is it the computer or Verizon? They’ll try to pass the buck probably. That service call. That’s work! Unpaid work. And I have several of those calls to make. If only someone had got things right to start with, I’d have lots more leisure time.

Comments Off on Table For One

Table For One

It’s only 6 PM, and I’m feeling the delicate buzz. Two glasses of wine to the breeze. Never three sheets to the wind. To the point that feels warm and sunny.

An evening out alone with small plates and drinks at Spork. Ordering something new. What is huitlacoche? For some, a blight. A blight that a chef transmogrifies into a delicacy. Next time perhaps. Instead, lamb meatballs with mint and cucumber. A salad with watermelon and grape tomatoes and cubes of feta and lettuce sprinkled with pistachios somersaulting onto the plate. Ceviche. Never can pass on shrimp!

It feels so natural to walk in and say, “Just one.” Me. Not waiting for anyone.

Seating preference?

A view to the street. Beside the open window. A table on the sidewalk.



Goat Trek

It was pouring as I drove to Bandi Schaum Community Garden and the goats on a hilltop overlooking a section called “Jurassic Valley” (minus dinosaurs). The rain ended as I parked. Now it was humid with the droplets still clinging to the air and dripping from my skin.

Before the climb I stopped at the garden plots lush with vegetables and flowers growing to the music of a man playing on the makeshift stage who easily drowned out the competition of buzzing insects. It was the last hour of Goat Fest. Bikers were mounted to descend back to the street. A food truck with Caribbean food and one with jerky. The popsicles—sold out.

The sign pointed “To the goats”. Wrong shoes I rued as I started up the switchback muddy trail through the woods. I glimpsed people ahead of me on a higher curve. “Good luck,” a man said as he passed me on the way down. Near the top a kid warned me that some had gone barefoot for that last push to the summit. I made it with shoes. My toes brown with mud and the feeling of a thin icing of slickness between my feet and my flip-flops. I dried my feet in grass. There was the rolling hillside covered in invasive vines and plants so thick that only a hiker with a machete might attempt to pass through this jungle. Instead the goats and miniature donkey behind an electric fence paralleled with orange warning fence were chomping away doing the job.

Why would people flock to goats? Maybe it’s the sight of creatures not usually seen in the city. Perhaps a zoo effect. Maybe to see them up close and then envision their heads bent down eating away as you visit the gardens or climb the steps of the neighborhood. Clearing the way for humans and ridding a park of plants that were never meant to set their roots on this land.

As I began the descent on steps I had climbed on Step Trek two years ago, I looked across the jungle to the orange fencing holding the goats to their target area. They have a lot of work for us and food for them. Maybe this celebration is appreciation for our collaboration. Once this job is done, where will they go next?


Roughin’ It

Have you been camping? Not in a camper with a bathroom but on the ground in a sleeping bag in a tent. Me? The last time, 1988. A brown Coleman that took two people to pitch. A pool with icy water. Skunks on a hillside. Rolling out the door. Then one summer the tent mutated into a playhouse in the woods overlooking our house.

Step up into a tent trailer that had been pulled by my in-laws behind a red Rabbit on a couple of trips to Arizona. Once with two kids. Then we borrowed it for trips to Geauga Lake and another to Sea World Ohio. Half tenting. The upper half. No sleeping on the ground. A fusion of camping styles.

My family never camped. Farmers don’t take a lot of vacation time, and I suppose pitching a tent every night wouldn’t seem like much of a vacation on the road. Our vacation nights were passed in strip motels that littered the landscape of highways. The door opening with a real key hanging from a thick plastic fob. The room with a door that opened right out to your car. The kind of motel we hoped would have a swimming pool and usually didn’t. What a disappointment when my father pulled into the pool-less motel! The kind of motel room in scary movies. The same kind of motel in Erie this past weekend. But a motel with a pool this time.

I tented. In my backyard. An old pink chenille bedspread halved over the metal clothesline with sides stretched to a 45° angle and held down by wooden clothespins pounded into the ground.

I’ve been wanting to pitch a tent for the last couple of years. Bears be damned. I’ll stay out of bear country. Yesterday I shopped for a tent and sleeping bag. “I want a two-person tent that one person can set up,” I informed the clerk helping me. He knew his stuff. He used the stuff. I picked a tent. Only one color in stock. Lion. Great name but it won’t keep out any on the prowl. Then a sleeping bag. “What’s your lowest temperature?” he asked. Uh…maybe 10 or 20. Oh??? Well, not right away. I’m going this summer. So maybe low of 40 or 50. Here’s down. Are you allergic? Here’s a fiberfill. Feel this. Here’s lightweight to stuff into a little bag. One of those lightweight stuffers for me. If I decide to do more camping, I’ll probably need other equipment. “I have nine sleeping bags,” he said. This is his perfect job! Tents? He tries out new models and then gives his old ones away. I want to be his friend. Or work for employee discounts. Maybe I’ll hate roughin’ it. Maybe I’ll long for those conveniences of home. Motel rooms, pool or no pool.


Report for Independence Day

Lazy day. Recovering from a late night viewing of Wonder Woman. I want to be her or any of those Amazons. Not beauty! Not sex! Ferocity! Be all you can be! Push yourself!

Grandson off to a pool birthday party for his fabulous napless day. Home to get ready for fireworks at Point State Park. Was he going to make it without falling asleep? You could almost feel the heaviness of his eyelids though he denied it. Always deny! is his motto.

I rode the bus while Cary and her boyfriend got ready. I texted locations of parking spots. Free on the street. I got off the 88 and walked to Market Square. I was early so a drink at Revel and Roost with a bowl of shrimp and grits while I waited. A woman walked by on the street patriotically singing of love for this country.

Cary parked in the Strip and walked. “Where are you?” she texted. “Having a drink.” “I’ll text you and try to find you.”

They were sitting in the grass close to the walkway leading to the fountain beside the Channel 11 news truck. Easy find. Kevin was missing. Gone 45 minutes on a mission for funnel cake. And his phone was dead. I walked around. Somebody set off fireworks and the police and park rangers pushed past me in search of one person in the midst of thousands. The best seats in the house were again on boats in the river waters. Tour boat size and yacht size and canoe size side by side in the Monongahela and Allegheny meeting the Ohio. People with kids and people with dogs and people on bikes and babies in strollers. People who brought their own chairs. Thousands lining the seats and benches and circling the fountain. Standing on the walks and sitting on the grass. People across the water at Heinz Field unseen in the dimming light.

Kevin returned with funnel cake in time for fireworks. He bought his and one for a girl in line who reached the end only to find they didn’t take cards. “We’ve been in this together,” he said.

I plopped down on the ground. We were sitting in the first waves of the music. The Star Spangled Banner (not this version) played. People in front were already standing. Many remained sitting. Red sky at night. And green, and gold and silver and white. The sky lit with explosions of balls of fire and sparkling lights and eruptions of twinkling and falling embers.  Music and fireworks at this end of Pittsburgh as necklaces blinked and swords and kids toys lit up with red, white and blue. Caleb awake to the end and finally gave up denial in the stroller walk back to the car.



Call Me Stupid

I was scanning one of those silly Internet pop-ups for celebrity IQ’s. Undoubtedly the guesses of some fake theorist. Trump had a score of 158. Genius and far superior to mine. So what? IQ is not the measure of anyone.

Title from the opinion section of the Washington Times on June 29, 2017:  “Mad genius of Trump drives schoolmarms of political press crazy“. I liked that mad headline but didn’t get it. Schoolmarms. Term of the past or from the Wild Wild West. Maybe that’s the visualization of Trump, the gunslinger shooting from the hip with the disapproving uptight schoolmarms (who probably have some hidden life, not so uptight). I read the article.

In response to the President’s tweets taunting Joe and Mika who I didn’t even know and care not a whit if they were offended (Maybe that doesn’t sound very understanding of people’s feelings. But their business requires a thick skin. Like the President of the United States. There will always be your detractors. And all this gunslinging, whoops, mudslinging is getting off-track of business), Charles Hurt offers:

“It is all so delicious. Mercilessly inventive. Joyously vicious. Like an entire season of pro wrestling drama, all sewn up into two little Twitter messages.”

And then he poked fun at we Puritans who thought the Tweets crude and un-Presidential by making comparison to another President. Ha! Did we consider the relationship (He uses molest.) of ex-President Clinton with an intern Presidential? (He never names Clinton. Was there another President involved with an intern?) “No.” And even less Presidential when Clinton resorted to semantics in saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. Is this really about two siblings (two Presidents) trying to make excuses by saying, “Well, he started it”?  Hurt adds that no one has disproved the facts of what Trump said? Is that what it’s about? Whether he spoke the truth? How low is low IQ? And exactly what does he mean by psycho? And was it important for me to know this woman had a face lift or the pair was trying to get into some rich people’s party? Maybe it’s OK for a commoner such as myself to say those things because there aren’t millions of people reading my tweets. But for the ‘top dog’ (Hurt’s analogy) to tweet mudslinging remarks is graceless. Undoubtedly he doesn’t care about being graceless or offensive or becoming a statesman. Perhaps he will be an example of the Warren Harding effect in Blink. So without any restraint, off goes 140 characters (give or take) to the world of followers. I’m saying there’s a double standard to expect the President to rise above slings and arrows, and come on. The world of business and politicians is about double standards (Chris Christie). And the President should be on the high road of that standard. I know! Nice people don’t win.

It was the words “mad genius” in the same sentence as Trump that really drew me into the article. Is he a mad genius with these tweets that get people riled up? Is there a purpose in what seems like childish tantrums? Suppose he is manipulating both his detractors and fans, pitting them against each other. There are those manipulators who are that good that you don’t even see what they’re doing. Eventually, you ask; “How the hell did I get here?” Then you begin to see, but you can’t figure the game. Then—too late. So more frightening to think “mad genius” than to consider that our President is a thin-skinned man who can’t take criticism or just a man who speaks before he thinks. Honesty? Rashness? Didn’t really mean it? Just a gunslinger. You know how we love the Old West. His actions and statements have gathered tight to his bosom his fans and sycophants (Michael Cohen) rushing to his defense and even offering excuses to his opposition ranting against his fitness. Perhaps he is contemptuous of us all as pawns in some ‘deliciously inventive mercilessly vicious drama’.

Gladwell, Malcolm. (2005) blink. New York, NY:  Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company.