Coupon-clipping Porsche aficionados

Source: Wikimedia Commons

To the car dealership that mailed me a coupon for a Porsche: please send me a coupon for an Aston Martin.

What a random offer to receive. Bring this coupon in today and redeem for $1,500 off! What market research did this dealership do? I suppose it was just a mass marketing effort. Were those marketing funds wisely spent?

Those in the market for a Porsche are probably not in need of a coupon. And those who aren’t in the market for a sports car are unlikely to be motivated by a coupon to make a spontaneous purchase such as this. So, who is the target audience for this coupon? It’s just a gamble, really.

I myself am more of a practical car type. The aforementioned Aston Martin is what I would drive if I was a much better version of myself. To say that my wardrobe is primarily comprised of athleisurewear is far too generous; I’m in hoodies and elastic-waisted flannel pants around the clock. We’re in the midst of a pandemic after all, so why dress to impress?

But if I was the type to dress to impress, sported name brand sunglasses, carried a name brand purse, wore leather shoes instead of sneakers – and if I didn’t have need of a car seat in the back for my toddler – then I would be in the market for a 2014 Aston Martin DB9 in Amethyst Red. Especially if I received a $1,500 coupon for it.

Squirrel vs. Bird

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I used to love squirrels. Until I hung a bird feeder.

Having moved to the suburbs, I was going to enjoy bringing all the birds to my yard. Fancying myself an amateur birder, I anticipated seeing all different types, and learning how to identify them by their unique coloring and sounds. It was soothing to watch them swoop in, take their meal with gusto, then head off for their next destination – whether it be another type of birdseed at a neighbor’s yard or someplace more exotic, like Alaska. For, of course, I would now be a stopover for all those migrating species.

Alas, my desire for bird friends was ill fated from the moment I hung up the feeder, for it attracted nature’s worst opportunists, squirrels.

Indeed, I wouldn’t have minded them helping themselves if only they would be willing to share the bounty. But greedy as they are, they kept coming in droves, monopolizing the feeder and frightening the timid birds away.

One particular squirrel was larger than all the others. I called her Spot, for the unusual patch of white fur on her back. Shaking her fist, the other squirrels would cower, and our yard’s resident chipmunk would scurry away. If he didn’t stand a chance in that pecking order, then the hollow-boned birds certainly didn’t.

I kept the feeder hanging from a metal shepherd’s hook secured in the ground, figuring this would make access to anyone without wings impossible. Well, let me tell you, “can’t” isn’t a word in the squirrel’s vocabulary. Spot learned how to scale the pole in no time at all.

Our uninvited guest virtually took up residence on that feeder. She wouldn’t share. And she wouldn’t leave. She’d just hang upside down all afternoon, the feeder spinning and swaying in the breeze or under her own weight. She didn’t care about anything beyond gorging herself.

Fattening up on nuts and seeds, Spot grew alarmingly large. Increasingly emboldened, she began her shift at the feeder each morning by approaching it with the slow but purposeful gait of a steroid-enhanced weightlifter. She had swagger, she had heft, and nobody but nobody was going to mess with her. The other squirrels would scatter when she came on the scene.

I bought a “squirrel-proof” feeder, thinking that would solve the issue. What a joke. There were these metal leaves that would shift downward to cover the feeding holes under a squirrel’s weight. Imagine my dismay – and shock – as I watched Spot pry the metal up. Like a Terminator she bent the hole-coverings until she could access the prize within.

I tried greasing the pole with canola oil, thinking that would foil Spot. But again, nothing is impossible for a determined squirrel. She kept clutching that slippery pole and sliding back down to the ground, until she conquered the puzzle by taking a running leap and scrambling up to the top with nothing but sheer will to propel her.

The ten-inch-long vertical feeder was emptied by the end of each day. I’d paid good money for specialty birdseed mixes yet was having to refill it daily. Frustrated at how much it was costing to feed this extra mouth, I’d open the door and shoo Spot away. She’d leap off the pole, give me a hard look, and retreat just until I’d gone back inside. Next time I looked out, she’d be back up on the feeder. We’d continue this song and dance, but nothing deterred this ungrateful, insatiable squirrel.

My husband and I worried that Spot had grown too large and aggressive. Perhaps she was now a danger to our toddler, to neighbors, to us all. I’d messed with the natural order of things, thrown the ecosystem off balance. Who knew what mayhem could follow?

Frustrated and disappointed, I took the feeder down.

“You happy, squirrels?!” I grumbled. “This is going in the garage! No more free ride for you greedy creatures!”

Everyone lost that day. The poor birds, who couldn’t even count on snatching the crumbs that fell to the ground anymore. Me, since I couldn’t engage in armchair birding. And especially those squirrels, who brought about their own punishment.

If the coast is clear, I’ll toss a few nuts onto the ground for the birds to find. But it just isn’t the same. Perhaps I’m most disappointed in myself, for failing to outsmart the squirrels. I could always try again, next season….

The Problematic Courtship of Fireflies

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The firefly, known in some regions by the adorable name of peeny wally, has a few things inherently wrong with its mating process.

Summer evenings in the east coast suburbs are rendered magical by flickering green lights as fireflies fill our yards. It uses a self-generated light to attract a mate. Which seems pretty impressive until you consider that both the firefly and its potential mate are miniscule participants in a game of Marco Polo…in the dark…in the sky.

If a human being were seeking a partner and was like, “Now you see me…now you can’t! Here I am! Nope, here I am!” it would make courting belabored and difficult. Of course, we have the benefit of arms and hands, and could at least reach out in the dark and feel around.

But this humble little guy is a tiny whirligig in the sky, amongst other tiny whirligigs in the sky. Light or no light, you’re still just trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Might I suggest a few adaptations?

One:

Why don’t you just leave the light on? Until it’s time to turn the light off, if you know what I mean.

Two:

Land on something and blink on and off. At least you’re stationary.

Three:

Evolve to have orange wings and look for your mate in daylight. If you weren’t charcoal gray, you could find each other by your blindingly bright jackets.

Four:

Why are you all so spread out anyway? Why not just inhabit one single swingin’ bachelor pad of a tree? That way, you’d be guaranteed you couldn’t take a millimeter-long step without your little stick leg touching a potential mate.

So, there you have it, peeny wallies. I hope you’ll take my suggestions into consideration.

Because with these self-perpetuated hinderances decreasing your very chance of finding others like you, I don’t know how your species even survives.

Acquired Tastes

Coffee: a brilliant, blinding light from heaven

Source: Wikimedia Commons

They say coffee is an acquired taste. However, it is one which I instantly developed upon trying a sip from my dad’s mug at age seven. He took his coffee just as any child would – sweet and creamy.

From that moment onward, I was a coffee-seeking missile. I took it wherever I could get it – mixed into the homemade hot chocolate Dad ladled out for us in the blustery New England winters to the self-service carafe at my uncle’s wedding where I guzzled mug after mug in between contra dancing with my siblings and other guests on the dance floor.

Though cautioned that the beverage would stunt my growth, this turned out not to be a science-based statement. I enjoyed as much coffee as I could get my little hands on, while still achieving a perfectly reasonable height of 5’7”.

The single greatest discovery of my teens was the latte. Forget boys and weed – espresso was where it was at!

I recently attended a cupping event led by an expert who encouraged us not to view coffee simply as a commodity. After the event concluded, I was quick to share with him that I’d always cherished coffee. Like a god in a mug, I worshiped that warm, wafting beverage. I feel consistently grateful for every brewed coffee and iced latte that makes its way into my hands.

From the maple syrup/cinnamon/oat milk latte I used to get daily at Oslo, the coffee shop next to my apartment building in Midtown Manhattan, to the dirty iced chai at Gregorys (made with a shot of espresso added to the chai!), I have cherished each and every coffee experience. There are even a few excellent canned coffees, like La Columbe Triple Shot Draft Latte, Nitro Beverage Co. coconut cold brew, and Blue Bottle bold cold brew.

I’ve enjoyed iced vanilla lattes at Brühbar in Leipzig, Tahitian vanilla iced lattes sweetened with house made syrup at Aina Gourmet Market in Maui, to endless macchiatos in Rome, sipped while standing at the marble top bar in shop after shop. I’ve visited coffee farms in Costa Rica and Hawaii and hope to visit many more across the globe.

Coffee has been a stalwart companion my entire life. It enhances any enjoyable occasion and picks one up when one is down. It gives energy and focus to some. Not for me, unfortunately – I can drink it right before bed and still rest easy for eight hours. But I continue to enjoy the taste and the luxurious experience of coffee after all these years.

I wonder what’ll be next in my coffee adventures. Attending an Ethiopian coffee ceremony? Roasting and grinding my own beans? Has anyone tried making Kopi Luwak in collaboration with squirrels?

2020: The Year of Falls

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In addition to 2020 being the year of the pandemic – social distancing, working from home, supply chain shortages, and so many other peculiarities – it was also the year I had three big falls.

Fall #1: We moved from a high rise in the city to a house. Our first night in our new house, I was awakened at 4:00 AM by my toddler crying urgently. I leapt out of bed on autopilot, intending to go comfort her. Instead, I crashed down in the darkness, landing flat on my belly like an unreasonably heavy sack of potatoes. My right leg had evidently fallen asleep and wasn’t functioning. While it was numb from the calf to the foot, I felt it in High Definition as my knee smashed on the wooden floor. My husband sat up with a jolt, fearing I’d suffered a heart attack. The light of day revealed a large bruise on my skinned knee, and I had a limp to go with it.

Fall #2: Descending the stairs, my foot slipped, and I went sailing through the air, crash-landing three steps later. I earned an angry purple bruise on my thigh the size of a baseball, which was sore for weeks.

Fall #3: On those same stairs, I slipped again a few months later. The results weren’t as dramatic that time, but my ego was certainly bruised.

Had I forgotten how to use stairs after all those years of living in high rise buildings? Had elevators made me go soft? Was my house evil?

No, it was none of those things. The first fall was clearly the result of a numb appendage. The following two were due to the custom wool runner lining the stairs. It was far too slick, failing to provide exactly the stabilization it was designed to offer. Since replacing it with synthetic carpeting, I haven’t slipped again (knock on wood).

In a year of COVID oddities, inconveniences, and altered routines – where it was hard enough to secure basic creature comforts, like toilet paper – I had this additional phenomenon to contend with. As we moved into 2021, I recall reading all sorts of articles and quips online basically giving the finger to a commonly reviled year, wishing it good riddance. Then, 2021 turned out not to be so different.

Suffice to say, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that 2022 is better than the best parts of the past two years combined. I hope it is for you, too.

Airplane Safety Demonstration

The procedure we all completely ignore before soaring to 30,000 feet

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Airlines sure have a lot of faith in the average person’s ability to stay calm under stress.

Let’s say, for the sake of this essay, that you care enough about safety to actually pay close attention while the head flight attendant recites the plane’s emergency procedures.

“Exits are located here and here,” s/he says, pointing to the left and right sides of the craft.

“In the event that the cabin loses air pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. Be sure to put your mask on first before helping others with theirs.”

OK, that’s reasonable enough so far. I think I can recall where those emergency exits are, and if a mask descends directly within my line of vision, I believe I can figure out what to do with it.

“Your flotation device may be located in an overhead bin, under your seat, or in the seat in front of you.”

You’ve lost me there…Let’s imagine this put into practice. The plane is spiraling out of control, passengers are screaming in terror, newspapers and pretzels are hurling through the air, and you have mere seconds to determine where – of these multiple hiding places – the device that’s going to save your life is located.

Try not to panic, I’ll say to myself. One thing at a time. Take that doodad hanging in front of your face and pull the strap over the back of your head. Um – how exactly am I supposed to find my flotation device while on a leash? Flail hands around underneath seat. Nothing there except for someone’s else’s briefcase and a lost gumball. Try to pry off my seat cushion in case that’s the flotation device. Nope – it won’t come off no matter how hard I try to rip it apart. Stretch the oxygen mask’s cord to its limit, practically choking myself, to shove suitcases and coats aside searching the overhead bin for a flotation device. Nope – nothing lifesaving in there.

My stomach lurching as the plane is rapidly losing altitude, debris launching from all directions throughout the cabin, passengers in a state of shock, and here I am tied in place by this face mask, just hoping with all my might that of all the yellow, orange, and blue objects I’ve scrambled to hang around my neck and waist, at least one of them is designed to inflate and keep me alive in the event of a water evacuation.

Well, at least I got to enjoy Ryan Reynold’s latest caper on the in-flight entertainment system and ate peanuts with wild abandon before meeting my untimely end.

Basement Poltergeist or Mystery Screwdriver?

A suburban horror story

Source: Wikimedia Commons

From our basement emanate occasional clinks and clanks, loud and urgent, like the chains dragged by Jacob Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol. There’s a boiler room where, behind closed door, loom all the different pipes and mechanical doodads that do who-knows-what.

A few weeks after we’d moved into our house, I was on the main level around 8 PM. It was dark outside, and with just the kitchen lights on, it was dim throughout the adjacent dining and living room areas. My husband was upstairs putting our daughter to bed.

Suddenly, I became aware of a rhythmic growl, sucking in and out, like a snoring Tasmanian devil. It was coming from the basement.

Filled with dread, I stood at the top of the basement stairs, wondering what dangerous creature had breached our walls and taken up residence in the bowels of our house. Too frightened to go down and investigate myself, I stood and waited far longer than I would have liked for my husband to join me. He brought a baseball bat, put on shoes, and went to find the source of the spooky gurgling.

I waited with my finger poised over the emergency call button on my cell phone, fully expecting my husband to come bursting back up the stairs pursued by the undead. When he didn’t, I feared he might be gone forever.

It turned out that our monster was in fact an inanimate object— a screwdriver had gotten wedged in the sump pump. Struggling to operate, that dreadful sump pump — a gaping hole connecting our basement to the depths of the earth — was the source of the hair-raising sounds. The Achilles heel of our house, this pit is a welcome sign to rodents, snakes, spiders and who knows what other ghoulish fiends might feel inclined to crawl up the pipes into our basement.

The unanswered million-dollar question was: where did the screwdriver come from? It wasn’t ours. With no answer to this mystery, I popped a Xanax to decrease my anxiety. I wasn’t cut out for homeownership.

Cookies for Dinner

It’s not just a pandemic thing

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I grew up only so that I could eat cookies for dinner if I so pleased. It was the main benefit to adulthood, as far as I could see.

Just as Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up, I didn’t technically wish to, either. I just needed the autonomy to put whatever I wanted on my dinner plate—that being cookies instead of lentils and Brussels sprouts.

And so I grew up. With wild abandon I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. In my twenties, my motto was: life is uncertain — eat dessert first! It was an easy stance to take with a well-functioning metabolism. And at first, it was deeply satisfying.

As it turns out, this wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle. Decades later, it’s clear that my parents were right about the importance of healthy eating — I’m fifteen pounds overweight, have an irritable bowel and intermittent low back pain, and feel far older than my actual age.

I owe my rough shape to poor eating habits. The reality of a slowing metabolism has socked me right in my doughy belly. Case in point: my toddler was searching for her beach ball which had rolled out of sight. Approaching me she said, “Here it is!” She lifted the hem of my t-shirt, fully expecting to find a beach ball hidden underneath. Imagine the disappointment we both felt at that moment.

Apparently, it’s true that you are what you eat: I can point to exactly where all those chocolate bars, sweet, iced coffees, and late-night bagels have surfaced.

In a terrible twist of irony, I must start parenting myself.

My mother and father don’t even get the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so,” because they’re unaware of the direct correlation between my diet and increasing decrepitude.

I find myself yearning for that plate of lentils and Brussels sprouts from my youth…

How Imitating Groucho Marx Gave Me Shapely Eyebrows

A childhood prank gone right

Source: Wikimedia Commons

At the age of eight, I put on a show to cheer up my brother Ben. He, being a rowdy six-year-old, had been sent to his bedroom for bad behavior.

I was in the back yard when I observed Ben peering glumly out of his bedroom window. His chubby cheeks were propped up in his hands. My immediate inclination was to make him laugh.

Climbing on top of the picnic table in my brother’s line of sight, I began to dance in the silly fashion of Groucho Marx from the film Horse Feathers. I stooped low, flapped my elbows, and waddled back and forth across the table.

Encouraged by my brother’s smile, I decided to take my performance up a notch. I pulled a blob of Hubba Bubba gum out of my mouth, tore it in two, and pressed the spittle-moistened pink goo onto each of my eyebrows. Then I waggled my brows up and down and continued the absurd dance.

The big payoff was seeing Ben laugh until his cheeks turned pink. My work was complete.

After the proverbial curtains closed, I found that the gum didn’t pop off as I’d expected. It had dried out and wasn’t as pliable. My mother had to employ tweezers to pull the stubborn substance off bit by bit. Despite her best efforts, the gum took hair with it just as waxing would do. The hair never grew back.

The irony of pulling a Groucho — who had exaggeratedly oversized brows — has saved me a lifetime of plucking my own as many women must do.

Salted Bird’s Tail

A new way of birding

Source: Wikimedia Commons

At my annual pediatric check-up when I was seven, my mother told Dr. Roberts about my fascination with birds. She chortled as she described my repeated attempts to catch one by hand in the yard.

Dr. Roberts winked at me and said, “If you sprinkle salt on the bird’s tail, you’ll be able to catch it.”

I marveled at his wisdom. He was a doctor, after all. I began carrying a salt shaker around the yard with me, wholeheartedly believing that the crystalline granules held the power to temporarily prohibit a bird from flying.

I just wanted to hold one in the palm of my hand for a bit. Observe the bird up close, feel its weight, pet its feathers. Then I would let it go.

I’m still carrying that salt shaker around, but to this day haven’t been successful. If I can’t get close enough to catch the bird in the first place, how can I salt its tail?