Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the Subject of Pissing Contests

Most people entering into a pissing contest are men. It may have something to do with the size of the weapon they brandish -- in this case their ego. If they hear that someone has gone somewhere or done something or acquired something that they consider to be within the territory they have marked as theirs, something in the psyche clicks and the game is on.

In the old days (she said, as though she had dentures to talk around), a man wouldn't dream of taking on a woman in a pissing contest. Wouldn't be gentlemanly. But in this day and age one-upmanship is like driving on the freeway -- chivalry is dead and it's every man -- and woman -- for him/herself.

Women don't typically do pissing contests. They do baby showers. Example:

"I hope you won't be in labor 36 hours, as I was."
"Only 36 hours? I was in labor three days!"
"Well, be grateful for epidurals. I delivered naturally. An 8-lb. baby boy."
"Eight pounds? My baby weighed 10!"
"I delivered in the backseat of a cab! No one to help but the driver!"
"I delivered all alone. No anesthetic. Baby was breach. Took me all night. I had to untangle the cord from around his neck, then bite it to sever it. He was 10 lbs. 4 ounces."

You get the idea. For some reason we women seem to award brownie points for suffering. Then we eat cake with lots of frosting and oooh and ahhh over the presents being opened. Men have a similar points system, comparing scars after a battle. Then they drink beer. If they're lucky.

Most men can butt heads with each other then back off and go to lunch together. Take attorneys, for example, who battle it out in court, but when it's over, it's over. They've done their job. Outside of a professional context, however, oneupmanship cries out for analysis. If your neighbor buys a new car but yours is a more expensive model, why would you bother "dropping" that fact in conversation? Why not just be happy for your neighbor? Answer: insecurity. Yes, women have it too but women typically want to be accepted, whereas men want to be king of the hill. Go figure.

I've never been a very girly girl. I'd rather cut wood and run the chipper in the backyard with Frank than simply serve him ice tea now and then, with a sweet smile. I practiced karate for 12 years back in the days before protective gear was worn. We were trained to execute control. There were no segregated classes then so I often sparred with men. To be honest, it sort of gave me an advantage because they really didn't want to hurt me. Except for one 12-year-old who bopped me in the nose (poor control). I wasn't old enough then to be his mother, but I figured maybe he had an older sister he didn't like? More recently I've seen men and women compete in martial arts. Everybody kicks ass without compunction!

We were expected to compete in tournaments and I did. Have the trophies in the attic to prove it. Don't have the heart to toss them. I'll let my kids do that "when the time comes." The point I'm trying to make though is that I do not enjoy competition and I can remember the exact day I made a conscious decision to avoid it whenever possible. I scored the highest final exam grade in a statistics class, and was embarrassed when the professor announced that. There was another student whom I felt should have had that honor. She thought so too, and was crushed. I felt bad, not good.

Still, it's hard when someone tosses a challenge your way, to turn around and walk off. So I get suckered in sometimes. It happened recently. Afterwards I gave myself a little talking to, and asked myself, "What have I learned?"

Answer: I've learned that, in a pissing contest, when you notice your opponent (yes, it was a man), really grovelling for material no matter how weak, to keep himself in the game no matter how wimpy he may seem, the way to bow out gracefully and put an end to it is to simply -- laugh, and leave.

And blog about it!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Beloved Alaska

My beloved Alaska flipped on me and landed sunny side up. The natives and most other visitors were ecstatic, but based on past trips I was prepared (and hoping) for extreme weather of another kind. The kind that justifies long johns, waterproof parkas, and thermal socks that cushion your hiking boots. Eventually the weather improved -- gray skies, some rain, a little wind -- all registering " wimpy" by Alaska standards. But hey, when you're in Alaska, you're in Alaska. It can't be bad.

I realize there are thousands of folks who swear by the cruise ship experience, but I'm not one of them. I've always taken the passenger ferry (state marine highway), where you're mixing with mostly Alaskans and very few tourists. It's casual, comfortable, and exposes the face of Alaska without its makeup. College kids (mostly) camp out on the top deck in a protected area equipped with overhead heaters, restrooms and showers. Others opt (as we did) for a cabin with private facilities. Everyone mixes in the dining room, cafeteria, bar, observation room, or deckside on one level or another to watch for wildlife. We spotted eagles, orcas, a pod of seven humpbacks, and even a bear was captured on camera by one passenger. The four-leggeds frequent the shoreline, we learned, to eat the salt grass that grows there.

My first trip to Alaska was close to thirty years ago, my most recent prior to this visit was twenty. Alaska has changed since then. I'm very grateful that I was able to explore, back then, the places where my grandfather was a commercial fisherman and also a gold miner (striking it rich in the Klondike then losing his fortune in the great depression). The trip from which I just returned would not have provided the same sense of personal satisfaction.

In the tiny towns scattered along the inside passage, we learned quickly to duck for cover when cruise ships unloaded literally hundreds of tourists at a time, storming the streets, sidewalks, and businesses. If swept up by the crowd we breathed more secondhand smoke than I like to think about, mostly produced by visitors from other countries who puffed away without apology as they spoke colorful languages such as German, Russian, French, Greek and others unrecognizable. Once the docks were home to just the passenger ferry again, the air cleared and the energy changed. Somewhat.

I had hoped to find again the quaint little cafe in Skagway where I once ate the most delectable liver and onions ever (probably moose), but no such luck. The wooden walkways are now rimmed with gift shop after gift shop after gift shop, many of them selling diamonds, furs and expensive art work. In Juneau we were told that twenty jewelry stores are located along the main street. They, along with most of businesses along the sea route, are owned by the cruise ship companies, putting all but a few local owners out of work or, at best, on someone else's payroll.

Rafting the Mendenhal again was fun... wet and cold but hey, that's what I signed up for. The rowers no longer stop along the bank halfway to serve reindeer sausage and moose juice (cider spiked with bourbon), but at the end of the ride there are crackers and cheese and un-spiked cider -- not to mention souvenirs for sale.

The narrow gauge train now stops short of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, but goes as far as Carcross. The scenery is still breathtaking and now passengers are also privy to informative and nicely delivered narrative over a decent sound system, and an opportunity to buy -- souvenirs. I can't fault Alaska's inside passage for its trend toward commercialism, which I'm told erupted about eight years ago. Even on the edge of the wilderness, people have to do what they have to do to survive, and that isn't limited to fishing and hunting and braving the elements.

On the passenger ferry we met a family that, fifteen years ago, sold everything they owned to homestead land on Petersburg, where they cleared an area, cut down trees, built their home on the water's edge, and still live -- without electricity. Getting to know them, however briefly, warmed my heart more than the sunshine overhead delighted those around me typically held captive by winter year round.

This is the first time I've left Alaska for home without having to hold back tears. Of course this is the first time Frank was waiting for me when I got here. In thirty-five years we've never been separated for more than one night, and at that no more than three or four times. I had injured my knee on the steep terrain, and was hobbling through the Sacramento airport with a nagging limp. When I saw Frank I shrieked with glee and made a mad run for him. Behind me my daughter-in-law called out, "Oh, yeah! Now your leg's just fine!" :-)

The hurt came back, but I don't care. It's good to be home.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How "Crazy" Is This?

Enter the lead actors: Ginny, Joanne, Rosalee.

Background: Ginny. Legal secretary by day, yoga instructor by night. Interesting contrast. Divorced mother of two sons. Joanne: divorced, works in an insurance office across the hall from Ginny. Rosalee is the daughter of one of Joanne's coworkers, thereby a friend of Joanne's.

Ginny meets Frank, falls in love, and when they marry, Joanne is there to throw rice, and Rosalee plays the guitar and sings at their wedding, where she meets Ginny's younger half-brother from San Francisco. They develop an interest in each other, but it goes nowhere of significance. He is struggling with his upbringing in a strict military environment, she is struggling with her own childhood issues that included having to choose between her birth mother and her adopted mother.

Ginny and Frank, wrapped up in their own lives, plan a family and have a daughter. Ginny has introduced Joanne to an old male friend, the two have married,and they become godparents. She changes jobs and loses touch with Rosalee, who fades into the background to live a quiet existence centered around her singing, and after five or six years Joanne ends up divorced again. After a few years she and Ginny eventually lose touch.

Twenty-five years go by. Ginny, who has become a semi-recluse, is holding a book signing and discussion of her latest publication, Charming Children - How the Relaxation Game Helps Good Parents Raise Great Kids. As people begin to arrive at Barnes & Noble, she sees in the distance her friend from the past, Joanne. "Did you know I was going to be here?" she asks in amazement as they hug with enthusiasm. "No!" Joanne says. "I just happened to come in to do some shopping!" Ginny is distracted by preparations for her presentation, but comes back moments later to find Joanne talking with another woman.

"Rosalee!" she says, "Oh my God, did you know I was going to be here?" Rosalee says no, but when she saw the poster at the front of the store she wondered if it could be the person she had known years before. She had not expected to see Joanne, who had not expected to see her either, or Ginny! Rosalee asks about Greg and learns he has never married. "Nor have I," she says.

Joanne and Ginny stay for Ginny's presentation, after which the three friends exchange phone numbers and agree to meet for lunch when Ginny returns from Alaska, her next stop on the book tour.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Never Give Up, Never Give In. Well, At Least Not Yet.

I was 35 when my youngest child was born. During that pregnancy, I noticed all sorts of side effects that were new to me since I'd had my youngest son 14 years before. Anytime I asked the doctor why this or why that was happening (becuase it hadn't happened in my earlier pregnancies), he would preceed his answer with, "As we age..." It drove me nuts. "35 isn't that old, for Pete's sake," I'd think.

That was 33 years ago and, pregnancy aside, I notice that with more years under my belt comes more maintenance. For example, I used to just grab my car keys and skedaddle when I wanted to go somewhere. Now I have to throw on a little makeup (which I don't wear around the house), find clothes that are suitable for the public (as opposed to the same mismatched slop-arounds I've worn for three days straight), and do something with my hair (it's usually eather just hanging or pinned in a knot atop my head). Then I have to search for shoes, (I'm always barefooted at home). At this point I look presentable at best, whereas in the good old days I'd leave the house without giving it a second thought, and always look perfectly fine with no effort at all. That's what youth does for you.

Now, once I've worked at an appearance that at least won't scare people, I move to the next phase of leaving home. I search for my car keys. Sometimes they're in my purse but rarely, and even at that I also have trouble finding my purse! Once I have it and my keyes in tow, the search begins for my cell phone. I can't remember where I used it last. So anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes after I've decided to head out, I actually walk through the door. Not looking or feeling like a million bucks, mind you, but passing for human, at least.

In my hay day I'd be out and about having given no thought at all to garnering attention, yet heads would turn. Wolf whistles annoyed me. "Honestly. Men," I'd think. Now if I hear a guy whistle in my direction it's either because my daughter or grown granddaughters are with me, or I look over my shoulder to see who's walking behind me.

Now I have to avoid many of my favorite foods and exercise just to maintain my weight, which is more than I'd like it to be but I'm actually into a smaller size than a few years ago. I used to be able to eat anything and lots of it, and my only exercise was from cleaning my whole house in one day, chasing after my kids, and once in awhile galavanting about. If the galavanting about involved makeup, I'd hit the hay afterwards without washing my face, wake up with a smeared face but still looking ten years younger than my actual age.

Now I have speacial nighttime cleanser. Special cream for undereye puffiness. Special cream for wrinkles, special cream for age spots. Body lotion too, of course, with Q10 for firming. Does all this work? I don't know. But it smells good. If I do it right I go to bed looking and feeling like a greased monkey. I also have sunblock for daytime, and moisturizer of course. Am I religious about this regimen? Alas, no. It's a luxury that I sometimes allow myself, but more often than not just washing my face is a major accomplishment in the morning and at night I fall asleep watching TV and figure I'm doing well just to make it to the bedroom without Frank's support and guidance.

I won't even get started on the assortment of vitamins and other supplements I now ingest. I used to snack on M&M's, but now... it's pill popping and trying to remember to drink lots of water every day. (Trying, of course, implies something short of success.)

And when I do get dressed to go out, can I just throw on something and run? No. My jeans can't be too tight or too loose, and sometimes jeans are no longer appropriate at my age. My shirts have to have sleeves to cover my flabby tricept area, and if there are buttons in front I almost always discard it for an alternate choice because the opening will most certainly gap across my chest area. If I'm em>really getting dolled up, can I wear the spike heels that make legs look shapelier? Oh no. Must wear sensible heels in order to walk safely. (Okay, I'll be honest. Sometimes I still wear the spikes, but only for an event where I know I can literally be on Frank's arm the entire time. I say to him, "Under NO circumstances can you let go of me!"

Sometimes I resent all the effort it takes to try to stay ahead of the years that have accrued, but I make it a point to refute the emotion and replace it with logic. The fact is that the nature of things is to atrophy. Deteriorate. Fall apart. It's a process we cannot stop, but we can slow it down, if we're willing to take the time and put forth the effort.

I could write more on this topic, but I have a few spare moments so I think I'll give myself a mud pack instead. Guess I've shamed myself into it.