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The Fisher in Go-Go Boots

This is my maternal grandmother, Winnie Rose.

We visited her less often than my Kentucky relatives because she lived in Florida. In fact, my first airplane flight was a trip to see her. To give you an idea how long ago that was, DisneyWorld was not yet built, though there was a Visitor Center with a 3D model of how it might look someday. (I didn’t make it to DisneyWorld until I was an adult, when I went with some friends. But I digress.)

Grandma Rose loved fishing and handed down her love of it to my mother. In her old age, my mother took to fishing at local ponds with her church friends or at the city’s recreational center’s pond. She brought home her catch and fried it, unless the pond was labeled “catch and release.” These fresh fish meals disturbed my husband who, despite his occasional desire to be a mountain man, hated to eat any animal that he saw caught or killed.

Once when we visited Grandma, we all went deep-sea fishing. I don’t remember catching anything, but Grandma caught a red snapper, which of course we ate, my husband not being on the scene yet. I wasn’t seasick while I was on the boat, but after I got back to land I was definitely woozy and wobbly.

Grandma also fished from a rowboat, and this solved a family argument. When we kids were teens, we desperately wanted go-go boots. (Remember those?) Our parents wouldn’t get them for us, claiming that they didn’t give enough ankle support, which we thought was just a pretext. Then we learned that Grandma had go-go boots for fishing, as they were exactly the right height to keep water from sloshing inside. Needless to say, we got our go-go boots after all.

Once while we were visiting Grandma Rose, I dipped into her library. There I found mystery books – I particularly remember Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie. My fascination with these books turned into a lifelong love of mysteries, from Robert Parker to Aaron Elkins to Sue Grafton to Sara Paretsky and many, many others. If there’s a mystery gene, I got it, though it skipped a generation. I also got the crossword and Scrabble genes from Grandma.

One of Grandma’s other hobbies was knitting. She knit fabulous sweaters for the family, all with a little tag inside that said “Made especially for you by Grandma Rose.” There the gene bred true. My mother took up crochet and I did needlepoint and Bargello, plus those awful hooked rug kits.

And lest you think that she was sedentary, in her youth she rode horses. Her other love was bowling. On bowling days, she ate a hearty breakfast of Rice Krispies over vanilla ice cream. It must have worked, because she had dozens of bowling trophies, patches, and other memorabilia. In fact, she went bowling in her 90s, the week before she died.

As you can see from the picture, Grandma Rose had gorgeous, snow-white hair, which used to be naturally red, until her husband died, killed by a drunk driver. After he died, she no longer kept up the red color that he had loved. If I had been born with red hair, instead of acquiring it later, I would have been named Winnie.

Occasionally, Grandma would visit us in Ohio. There was a spare bedroom that we always referred to as Grandma’s room (though it would have made more sense to use it so my sister and I could sleep in separate rooms, at least when we got old enough to fight).

I wish we had lived closer together so that I could have spent more time with her, sharing our mutual hobbies. But I’m glad this picture survived so that I can remember her as I knew her – an active, creative woman who raised lovely flowers, plus three boys and one girl, my mother.

A Window, Biscuits, a Butter Churn, and a Mule

It was an ordinary farmhouse, located outside Beattyville, Kentucky. But there was a secret inside that we kids loved. The kitchen, of course, was the best room to be in. But getting there was even more fun. The kitchen was obviously an add-on to the house, and the entry points to it included not just a door but a window, leading from one of the bedrooms to the kitchen. Of course, we never used the door like the grownups did.

The house belonged to our Cousins Addie and Jim Mainous. They were old even when we used to visit them during the summers. But every day, Cousin Addie hand-made biscuits and sawmill gravy. (Sawmill gravy is different from redeye gravy. Sawmill gravy uses milk. Redeye gravy uses coffee. But I digress.) The kitchen was painted black, but there was lots of sunshine coming in the windows and the back door. It wasn’t at all gloomy. It was warm and cozy and smelled like the biscuits that were rolled out with a drinking glass and cut to size using the mouth of the same glass.

Addie was a thin woman with a big laugh, who almost never wore her dentures. All I remember ever seeing her wear were dark cotton dresses and white aprons. Cousin Jim always seemed to be sitting at the kitchen table, not talking but drinking coffee and eating biscuits and gravy. We kids used to make butter in the authentic churn, which would now be an expensive antique.

In the living room, we found old paper or cardboard fans that were printed with the names of churches and funeral homes. The beds we slept in were much taller than those we were used to, which made climbing into them a workout. Just beside the house was a kitchen garden, which was endlessly diverting. We pulled up carrots and potatoes (which were usually not full-grown yet).

A little ways from the house was a barn, and it was the site of many adventures. There was a hayloft that contained bales of straw (not hay), but we were too young and timid to jump from it, as kids always do in the movies. There was also a fascinating old iron machine that took the kernels off the cobs of dried corn. We loved using it, though it turned out later that the corn cobs were meant to be left whole. There was also a mule, which I once got to ride bareback. Here’s some advice: Never ride a mule bareback. Their spines are very bony.

Across the road from the farmhouse was a hill that led to an ancient family cemetery. It made a nice walk to swing on the gate across the path and trek up there. I don’t know for sure, but I like to think of Addie and Jim being buried there and not in some huge cemetery far from their home.

Just a ways down the road, there was a drive-in theater, which we could see from the screened-in back porch. It was fun to watch the movies, especially the cartoons, even with no sound. Another nearby attraction was Natural Bridge State Park. There was an impressive lodge that we never stayed in, but where we could buy that sugary white candy that seems mostly made of air and dissolves in your mouth. We took pictures of each other standing under the bridge, though I don’t have them anymore.

If Beattyville had a town center, we never saw it. Down the road from the farm was a small gas station owned by Ollie Dooley, a more distant relative, but you couldn’t really say it was in a populated area. The areas we got to see were in the hill country of Kentucky, which we called “the mountains,” though they were nothing like the mountains they have out west. These were sometimes steep, rolling mountains, grassy and rocky, full of minerals.

Fracking didn’t exist back then, and I am glad. I’m sure the old farmhouse and barn are gone now. They were old when we visited them, and they can’t have survived or been rebuilt. And no one today would want a house with a black kitchen that you could enter through a window from the bedroom.

More Kentucky Folks

Last week I wrote about Kentucky relatives on my father’s side of the family. This week’s reminiscences are of Kentucky folks on my mother’s side.

Our Uncle Sam (yes, I had an actual Uncle Sam, and an Aunt Jemima whom I never met) and Aunt June lived on a farm outside of Campton, Kentucky. We took the Bluegrass Parkway, which was then a toll road, to get there. Every summer, we vacationed there for a week or two, along with visiting other relatives in the area.

We often stayed a night in Campton, where my Aunt Thelma ran a small hotel (Roses’ Hotel) and general store right across from the town diner, which had much to recommend it, including jukebox access at every table, and a pinball machine. (Note: I have no idea whether Uncle Sam, Aunt June, and Aunt Thelma were actually my aunts and uncles. They could well have been second grand-uncles and great-grand-aunts twice removed, for all I know. The only titles we used for any relatives other than Granny (Coburn) and Grandma (Rose) were aunt, uncle, and cousin. But I digress.)

The general store was notable to us kids for having a wide assortment of penny candy where we could get root beer barrels, red hots, and Sugar Daddy pops. There were clothing and tools in the back, but we never made it farther than the candy counter.

Uncle Sam, down the road a ways, was a sharecropper. He owned the land where the house was, on one side of the road, and farmed the other side of the road for some other owner. He had cows and chickens and a horse. When I brought my then-fiance Dan to visit, he and Uncle Sam went off to bring in the cows. Dan, having no experience with cows, wandered along behind them with a stick, while Uncle Sam made polite conversation by pointing at various plants and asking, “Do they have those where you come from, Mr. Reily?”

Sam’s wife, Aunt June, was a round, comfy woman with bright, black eyes, who was at least part Native American. She was famous for her biscuits. Dan won her heart when, just before we left, he stuffed his pockets full of them.

We had, I would say, a strained relationship with the chickens. We would try to gather eggs for breakfast, but were never assertive enough to reach under the squawking and pecking fowl and collect the eggs. An adult had to be summoned for that. I was also mildly traumatized when I saw Aunt June wring a chicken’s neck for that night’s dinner, and I learned what the saying “like a chicken with its head cut off” really meant. I still ate the fried chicken, though.

The horse was another matter. We loved to ride it, but once when I was on its back, one of the farm dogs came yipping at its heels and the horse took off at what seemed to me great speed toward the barn door. The closed barn door. I bailed off sideways into the cornfield and the horse sensibly stopped when it got to the barn door. But for a moment, it was terrifying.

There was lots to do at Uncle Sam and Aunt June’s. There was a fishing pond. The path to the pond was lined with blackberry bushes and if we visited at the right time of year, we picked the berries on our way to the pond. I don’t remember catching any bluegills longer than about three inches, of which we enormously proud, but which were fed to the barn cats.

Another notable feature of the house was the plumbing, or the lack thereof. There was running water in the house for washing or cooking, but there was no inside toilet. Instead, we had to make do with the outhouse or, at night, with the “slop jar” under the bed. The bed was cozy with handmade quilts and it seemed a shame to leave their warmth to grab a flashlight to trudge to the outhouse.

Living along with Sam and June were our cousins, C.B. (Benny) and Betty Sue. C.B. was kind of a hellraiser and too old to be interested in young cousins, but Betty Sue, although among the shyest persons I’ve ever met, liked to hang around with us. Later in life, she became an attendant in a senior care facility.

The farm was a special place, with a traditional porch and rocking chairs. If it wasn’t too hot – and it often wasn’t, this being in the Kentucky hill country – we would sit and rock and drink lemonade from Mason jars.

Perhaps my memories of these idylls are why Dan and I choose to spend weekend getaways at a bed and breakfast called The Farm, where we get a small cabin with a porch and rocking chairs, beds with patchwork quilts, chickens and goats and rabbits that have the run of the barn and the yard, and huge country breakfasts. We’re going again this August, and I can’t wait.

Kentucky Folks

Not a lot of people know it, but I was born in Kentucky and lived there for the first four years of my life. My father, who was very attached to his mother, took us to visit on school or government long weekends, and sometimes even regular weekends. Summer vacation invariably involved a trip to see Granny, Pete, and Willie; Uncle Sam and Aunt June and their kids, C.B. and Betty Sue; and Cousin Addie.

One object of all this travel and family bonding was to make sure we kids didn’t pick up “Northern” accents, which I did anyway through speech and debate classes and watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news. I could still pull out a Kentucky accent when needed, such as when trying to appall my sorority sisters in college.

I suppose I should start with Granny, Pete, and Willie, who lived in a small house in Lexington. Granny was my father’s mother, and Pete and Willie were dad’s siblings. Pete was actually named Edna Mae. As far as I know, the origins of the name Pete are lost in the mists of time, and no one ever called her Edna Mae unless they were mad at her.

She was, frankly, a homely woman with thick ankles, but we loved her dearly. She had a good heart and a sly sense of humor that seldom showed itself, except when we kids did something goofy, like when I go-go danced for Granny to “Winchester Cathedral.” Every year for Christmas she gave me and my sister identical presents, differing only in color. The gifts always included an Avon roll-on perfume and a box of stationery.

Granny’s house was wonderful. There was a magnolia tree and a peach tree in front, and a black walnut in back. There were touch-me-nots growing all along the front porch and we loved to pop the fuzzy little pods and scatter the seeds everywhere.

We kids had the run of the house and Granny would frequently open her coin purse and give us spare change so we could go down the street to the store to buy penny candy. Next door was a parking lot that connected to the back door of a laundromat. We would often take the shortcut to get to the Woolworth quicker for comic books and sundaes.

Granny had long, white hair – I doubt if she had ever cut it. I still remember her sitting in a chair, with her hair flowing down the back, and Pete brushing and braiding it for her, then wrapping it in a neat coil at the nape of her neck.

We kids loved the coal fire grates that heated the house for the longest time – they were replaced later with gas heaters, which weren’t nearly as much fun. Pete had one of those old popcorn poppers that was a rectangular basket with a sliding lid. We held it over the coal fire and shook it until it was full of popped corn, then emptied it into a bowl and start over.

Names are different in Kentucky. My dad, James Robert, was invariably known as Jim Bob. All names ending in A were pronounced “ie. I was surprised when I went on an ancestry site and found my grandmother listed there as Calla. We all knew her as Callie. There was also a Callie Jo in the family, who smoked cigarettes and had a questionable reputation. Naturally, I found her fascinating, as she was the only “bad girl” I had ever met up until that time.

When Pete died, I was chosen to represent the Ohio branch of the family as my father was bed-ridden with cancer at the time. When I returned, I described the funeral to him, including the car that followed the hearse and was filled with flowers. “A truck,” he insisted. I knew he was talking about what she deserved rather than my account of what actually happened. Apart from relatives, most of the people there were from the Greyhound Bus company, where she had worked all her life.

There’s lots more to tell about my other Kentucky relatives, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

That Fateful Day

When people ask how my husband and I met, I tell them the Reader’s Digest Condensed (clean) version: At the Philadelphia Folk Festival, introduced by mutual friends. Which is true, as far as it goes. But it fails to capture the essence of the experience.

I’ll never forget my first sight of Dan. He was wearing a t-shirt that said Dr. Demento (which his coworkers at the psychiatric hospital had given him) and a patch over one eye. The patch was to cover a missing glasses lens, but it gave him a certain piratical air, and I’m known to have a weakness for pirates.

We were introduced by mutual friends, who had come with Dan to the Festival. We were all in front of the Alferd G. Packer Memorial Food Tent. (If that reference isn’t familiar to you, Packer was the leader of the Donner Party of explorers, who got lost and made a meal of one another. But I digress.)

Dan and I were on committees to help us pay our way, but we were on different ones. He was on the grounds committee, which had access to any part of the festival area and helped construct stages, booths, and the like. By the time the festival started, they had done their work and were free to enjoy themselves.

I was on the camping committee, which patrolled the tented area and its borders, making sure that no one set their tents on fire by letting their campfires burn out of control. (There was also a security committee, a tickets committee, a medical committee, and there must have been a food committee who set up the food tent, but I don’t want to think about that too much.)

I was also at the Festival with a group of friends, including Uncle Phil, my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Rex, and a good friend from college. Uncle Phil was the catalyst for all that ensued, as he was the person that nearly everyone in both groups knew. We and several other friends and acquaintances had tents around a shared, large campfire, where at night we talked, drank, made music, and sang.

That night at the campfire, Dan purposely sat next to me, though I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Later, when he had to excuse himself for a moment, he leaned over and kissed me. I clearly remember thinking, “Why is this man kissing me?” (I was a little slow, or maybe both fast and slow.)

That evening Dan invited me to take a walk with him, and his all-access Grounds pass got us into Dulcimer Grove, a small, isolated venue where small, intimate concerts and workshops were given. This time when Dan kissed me I had some idea of why. We were there a long time before we rejoined the campfire.

After that, Dan and I were inseparable (which mightily pissed off a number of the friends that we were there with). Dan even got me into the Grounds Committee compound, which had the marvelous amenity of a shower. An outdoor shower, but still. It was a luxury that existed nowhere else on the Festival site, to my knowledge. Of course, since he was so nice as to offer, I availed myself of it.

By the time the Festival was over, Dan and I were a couple. My by-then-ex boyfriend left for New Jersey with my college friend. I borrowed money from everyone I knew to get busfare back to Ithaca. Dan drove me to the bus station and gave me two gifts: an enameled necklace and a bag of banana chips. I don’t know what happened to the two people Dan had been there with, except that one of them eventually forgave us.

Dan and I saw each other again the next weekend. I had invited him to a large house party. Neither one of us attended it, which, believe me, was the better choice. Most of the same people from Philly were there, and it seemed best not to stir the pot. We had to make ourselves a little party of two, occupying a friend’s attic while the friend went to the house party.

Then we went our separate ways, he to Philly and me, soon after, back to Ohio to live. We maintained our long-distance relationship with letters, phone calls, and the occasional visit. (This was in the days before cellphones and texting.) Eventually, Dan moved out to Ohio (as I knew he would) and after a spell of actual dating, we married.

We have since been back to the Philly Folk Festival a few times, most notably on our honeymoon, but we have never made it back on any of our anniversaries, as jobs and such made it impossible to get away at the right time. Maybe for our 40th anniversary, next August.

A Doctor Who Listens

I read a post yesterday written by a pathologist who was recounting his most alarming discovery ever. He told of a woman who went to many doctors over many years, complaining of a bloated, painful abdomen. The doctors seem all to have focused on the word “complaining” and dismissed her as mistaken, not that sick, or a “hypochondriac,” which is another way of calling her crazy. (Which happens disproportionately to women and to fat people, I believe.)

When the pathologist performed the autopsy, however, the found that the woman’s entire abdomen was virtually destroyed by endometriosis, a not uncommon “complaint” among women and one that can be detected by a simple test and then treated. It certainly need not expand to the point of death.

Fortunately, I have a doctor who listens to me. Two weeks ago, when I had an appointment with him, I started the conversation with, “I know you’re going to tell me that I’m just getting old and have to live with it.”

“You’re not getting old,” he replied. “You’re getting older.”

“But I think I’m getting older faster than I ought to,” I said. “Other people my age don’t have all these problems.” He asked me to tell him my symptoms.

“My arms and legs are weak. You know I fall sometimes. Well, sometimes I can get back up, but sometimes I can’t. My husband calls me three times a day from work to make sure I’m not on the floor with my head bashed in. If I don’t answer the phone, sometimes he rushes home from work just to see if I’m all right. I love it that he cares that much, but I wish he didn’t have to do it.

“I use a cane to walk – not around the house, but whenever I go out. Can I get a handicapped sticker for the car? My back hurts a lot, too. In addition, my knees hurt all the time. In fact, if there weren’t a vanity there to lever myself up, I most likely couldn’t get off the toilet.” (Damn it, I should have led with this. Doctor: Why are we seeing you today? Me: I can’t get off the toilet. Imaginary doctor: Then how did you get here? But I digress. )

“And my hair is thinning. I look like an old granny-woman. And I always feel cold.” He listened patiently, even to the part about the thinning hair.

“I’d like a bone scan to see if my osteopenia is getting worse, and I know I should get a colon test too,” I said. “Make it one of the poop-in-the-box kind. Colonoscopy prep is the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

“You need a mammogram, too,” he commented. Then he put me in touch with scheduling for all the tests and had my blood collected. He even gave me a prescription for the handicapped sticker. (And the nurse gave me a cool bandaid for the needle-stick, after I requested it. I guess not all of me is old.)

All the blood test came back with fine results, I thought. Then the doctor said something I hadn’t expected. “I’m going to double your thyroid medication.”

Of course, I Googled the Mayo Clinic website, which I consider pretty darn trustworthy. I was shocked to find all my symptoms listed there – muscle weakness, joint pain, sensitivity to cold. Plus fatigue, weight gain (which I had also mentioned), thinning hair, and depression. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

The Mayo clinic also noted that many people attributed all the symptoms to age. Mega-check.

I’m so glad that I have a doctor who listened to my “complaints” and didn’t fob me off with some lame-ass excuse. I’ve been taking the jacked-up thyroid med for a bit over a week now. I can’t swear that it’s having the effects I hope for, but I like to think there’s a little more pep in my step and that getting off the toilet is no longer the obstacle it was.

My husband still calls three times a day, but it’s my hope that, before long, he won’t have to.

Three Dads, One Person

My father had three names. No, I’m not talking about the three names that most people have, though he had those too: James Robert Coburn. But the names he went by were sometimes different.

He was born in Kentucky, the youngest son, so of course everyone referred to him as Jim-Bob. His relatives always called him that. In fact, when I went to his funeral service in Kentucky (he had one in Ohio, too), I had to remember to introduce myself to various mourners as “Jim-Bob’s daughter.”

When he went to work at a government job, people called him simply Jim or James. I still remember that when he went off to work, he wore a tie and shiny black shoes and smelled of Vitalis and Aqua Velva. This is the mental picture I still have of him when I was a child. When he drove us anywhere, my mother would say, “Home, James,” as if he were our chauffeur. (And since my mother didn’t drive, I guess he was.)

His straight-laced, government-approved persona changed when he retired on a medical disability. He struggled against multiple myeloma for nearly 15 years before he died. (I hope there are better treatments now.) He went back to his roots then, again taking on his Jim-Bob persona, though none of his relations were around to call him that. He started wearing jeans, plaid shirts, sneakers or boots, and often a cowboy hat. He wouldn’t shave for several days at a time. I think his spirit felt better then, even though his body kept on betraying him.

When I was in my teens, he acquired his third name, and it was my doing. There was one room in our house called “the sewing room,” where my mother kept her sewing machine, piles of fabric, and jars of buttons. I suppose these days it would be called a “craft room,” as my father often set up a card table there and went about his hobby, reloading spent brass, using a hand-operated device to resize the cartridges and seat the lead and primer. I think he enjoyed the process more than the idea of being thrifty. (He made the bullets himself by melting lead and squeezing them in a mold. My mother made him do that part outside. But I digress.)

Those were the days when a house had only one telephone, and ours was located in the sewing room. This provided little privacy when I was talking on the phone with one of my friends, as teens are wont to do. My father would often kibitz, making little remarks based on the one side of the conversation that he could hear. Every so often, I would say, “Melvin, you keep out of this,” which was an oft-repeated phrase on some TV show or other.

The name stuck among me and my friends. I introduced him that way so often, some people were surprised when they learned he was ever called anything else. (I suppose this was part of my maturing process, when I wanted something to call my parents other than Dad and Mom. My mother acquired the nickname Muzz, for equally obscure reasons.)

Far from getting upset or claiming we were disrespectful, he embraced the name Melvin. (Once he had a leather keychain made, and the name was forever after spelled Melvyn.) It was even included (in parentheses) in his obituary just so my friends could figure out who died. This mightily pissed off my sister, who never acknowledged the nickname.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know about my father, especially his service in the Army in WWII, but this I do know: His Melvyn persona was the one I liked best, the one with which I was able to connect more deeply, and the version I carry with me to this day.

(The picture that heads this post isn’t a very good one, but it’s as good a way as any to remember him. It was taken at my wedding reception, after he had shed his much-loathed tie, which at least he wore for the actual wedding ceremony.)

My Next Tattoo

I know I’m not the tattoo “type,” being neither a biker nor a chef, but I already have two tattoos and am now considering a third.

My first two tattoos were mental health tattoos. The one I’m getting in the photo is a semicolon. (Okay, I’m also a punctuation freak. The semicolon is my favorite.) It stands for the point in a sentence where a writer could have put a period and ended it there. If there’s a semicolon there instead, the sentence continues. As a metaphor, it means “My story isn’t over” and as a mental health symbol, it represents suicide awareness and prevention.

My second tattoo was a colon followed by half a parentheses followed by another colon, like this :):

In emoji terms, this would be happy face/frowny face. In a mental health context, it stands for bipolar disorder, which I have. (Bipolar used to be called manic depression, and it’s a lot more than wide mood swings.)

Determined to try something a little different – and more colorful – this time, I began contemplating options that would be meaningful, at least to me.

Compass rose. A compass rose is the little design at the bottom of a map that orients you to north, south, east, and west. For me, it symbolizes travel, which is a thing I love to do and have done often, both domestically and abroad, with my mother or my husband or by myself.

I also thought of having a compass rose with a yellow rose, perhaps in the center, in honor of my mother. She loved to travel too, and the yellow rose was her favorite flower. But that might be a lot to cram into a small tattoo. (I want something subtle, not showy.) Maybe I can get a yellow rose separately later.

Books. Reading, as all my friends know, is a passion of mine, one I’ve been indulging since I was four years old. I’ve read under the covers when I was a kid, in the hallway between classes when I was a teen, and practically anywhere and anytime now. (I have three e-readers so I can recharge them and still have at least one to read from. But I digress. I’m not getting a Nook tattoo.)

I’ve been wavering between an open book, maybe with a pen, to signify writing books; an open book laid flat; or a small stack of books. I think the stack of books offers an opportunity for some color, so I’ve been leaning towards that.

Orion. The constellation Orion is my favorite. (Is it weird to have a favorite constellation as well as a favorite mark of punctuation?) I love when it appears every autumn, with its belt and sword of stars, and the big red star Betelgeuse at the left shoulder and the bright blue-white Rigel at the right knee, creating a hunter figure from Greek mythology. (Most people pronounce Betelgeuse as “Beetlejuice,” but I’ve heard other pronunciations as well. Isn’t this educational?)

Astronomy is and has long been one of my special interests. I belonged to an astronomy club in high school. I subscribed to Sky and Telescope magazine for a while. I watched Carl Sagan’s TV show Cosmos avidly, then took his astronomy class in college.

Rather than have the stars as black dots connected by lines or superimposed over the figure of a hunter, I would like the tattoo to have a watercolor background, like a nebula.

I’ve been toying with these ideas for some time, but have been feeling motivated to get on with it recently (perhaps because I’ve been binge-watching Ink Master.) This week I got in touch with one of the artists at Monkey Bones Tattoos, a local studio. Mike, who did the punctuation tattoos, wasn’t available, so I selected another tattooist named Viktoria.

She and I then emailed back and forth about ideas and schedules. The earliest opening she had was in August. (Evidently there is pent-up demand for tattoos, owing to the shop being closed during the pandemic.) I sent her pictures of tattoos that looked something like what I wanted. We discussed the merits of each, as well as how my vision might differ from the “reference” I sent.

So, now it’s official. In August I’m getting a tattoo of a stack of books on one of my wrists. I’ve even put down a deposit for the appointment, so I can’t change my mind. When it’s done, I’ll post a picture of it. But I’m still not becoming a biker or a chef.

Train-Wreck TV

Two trains collided head on

It’s pretty common knowledge that I get depressed from time to time. (Just read my other blog, Bipolar Me, if you don’t believe me.) But there’s one thing I’ve found that I, well, not enjoy, but am drawn to when depressed, and that is what I call train-wreck TV.

What do I mean by that? To me, train-wreck TV is a reminder that there are people whose lives suck worse than mine does. I don’t mean shows like Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, or Mama June: Not to Hot. Those I dismiss as being the let’s-all-make-fun-of -the-hillbillies genre. Being from Kentucky myself, I object to the idea that all Southerners are stupid (or inbred, or racist, or other stereotypes). And just forget about shows like Seeking Sister Wife. I won’t watch that until there’s Seeking Brother Husband.

No, what I like are shows best described as People Behaving Badly. The last time I had a real bout of depression, I watched shows like Supernanny and even Wife Swap. The lives depicted there were worse than mine because at least I didn’t have screaming, disobedient children or a controlling or clueless spouse.

But this time around, I’m drawn to competition and “reality” shows, which have lots of People Behaving Badly.

I can’t really get my jolt of “Man, these people are really messed up” from the competition shows I normally watch. The contestants on Food Network competitions may get worked up enough to say, “I think the judges made the wrong decision,” but that’s not really behaving all that badly, merely having a snit. And the Forged in Fire people, even when they lose, generally talk about how much they’ve learned and the friends they’ve made. For people who spend their time hammering things, they’re remarkably personable.

I also haven’t been drawn to Gordon Ramsey cooking shows. Although he definitely behaves badly, I don’t really care to see people being degraded and abused. I feel too much sympathy for his aspiring-chef victims to truly enjoy his rants. Admittedly, their lives do suck worse than mine. At least I don’t have an obnoxious bully screaming at me when I’m trying to make my bologna sandwich for lunch.

Lately, the shows I’ve been drawn to are Bar Rescue and Inkmaster.

Bar Rescue is a lot like Restaurant Impossible, except with more yelling. A bar business is failing and host Jon Taffer shows up to straighten them out and make the place a success again. But unlike Robert Irvine, who does basically the same sort of thing for restaurants, Taffer shouts a lot and tells people to their face that they’re failures or losers or drunks or thieves or lazy or assholes (he doesn’t spare the swearing) or generally rotten people who shouldn’t be trusted with a lemonade stand, let alone a business like a bar.

And indeed, he is right. The bars they have featured have included one where a horse was allowed into the bar (it shat on the floor) and another where a porn video was shot in the bar while it was open to customers. Next to these, the over-pouring bartenders, demented relatives, and absentee owners seem like mere pikers.

Taffer straightens them out with what could be called tough love – a lot tougher than the family therapy that Irvine offers, though often with the same results. Then he remakes and rebrands the bar, which doesn’t always stick. Some of the clueless owners go back to their old ways, names, and decors, including a pirate bar in a corporate business district. (It might have done fine in Key West.) In one memorable instance, Taffer even helped an owner close down and sell the bar.

Inkmaster is altogether different. It’s a competition show where contestants vie to win $100,000 plus other goodies for doing tattoos. The lives-suck-worse-than-mine element comes in the behavior of the contestants. There’s a lot of X-rated language (thoughtfully bleeped but still identifiable). But the real attraction is the infighting, feuds, psychological warfare, and blatant manipulative behavior of the potential celebrity tattooists. Pronouncements like “I eat the weak” are mild.

The people who receive the tattoos (called “canvases”) are no prize either. They bicker with the tattooists over what their tat should be. They bitch about the results. They make impossible demands. (One canvas wanted a tattoo of a phoenix shooting fire out of her vagina. (The canvas’s vagina. I don’t know if phoenixes have vaginas. The judges’ critique was that the phoenix was poorly drawn.) Their lives suck worse than mine because they have to live with these creations for the rest of their lives, unless they are on a “cover-up” episode, which still doesn’t ensure good results.

I must admit that this show appeals to me because I also have some tasteful tattoos of marks of punctuation, and narrowly avoided getting semicolons where there should have been periods. Not that compares with a bad phoenix-and-fire vagina tattoo.

I suppose that by the time I hit another major depressive episode, there will be plenty of other, newer train-wreck TV to watch. It seems that there’s no end to people behaving badly or people whose lives suck worse than mine. Thank goodness.

Say What?

athalete Sh! Cherokees!

When I was a college student (approximately 100 years ago), I was an English major who also dabbled in linguistics. I can’t say that my liberal arts education left me with many skills that led to high-paying, prestigious jobs, though I never ended up flipping burgers. (I was a cashier in a restaurant, but that was while working my way through school).

But my education has left me with a few things that I treasure: a compulsion to read, a desire to write, skills for editing, and a nearly uncontrollable desire to correct people. I gave up on being a Grammar Nazi a while back, because I sensed it wasn’t conducive to making friends, and a lot of the old “rules” (like not splitting infinitives) make no sense anymore.

What I haven’t been able to shake, though, is a cringe when someone mispronounces a word. Ath-a-lete. Nuc-yul-ar. Foil-age. I’ve corrected my husband on that one so many times, when he’s reading seed catalogues to me, that I swear by now he’s doing it on purpose.

Once I even called up a radio station because the news announcer said Bo-GOH-ta instead of BO-ga-ta. Aside from my husband, though, I’ve given up correcting people’s pronunciation unless they ask me to.

(This actually does happen. A former boss of mine was talking about an article he read and was talking about a sarcophagus. He must have seen me wince, though I tried not to show it. “Is that how you pronounce it?” he asked, and I then enlightened him. (This incident indicates not ignorance on his part, but the fact that he had only ever seen the word written and was guessing at the pronunciation. But I digress.))

One of the common words that still makes me cringe is how people pronounce “chipotle.” Almost invariably, they say chi-pol-tay instead of chi-poat-lay. This is actually an understandable mistake, as there are few words in English that include the sounds tl together in that order. To get it, you have to smash two words together, like “hot links.” That’s easy enough to pronounce, but when the combo shows up in the middle of a single word it seems baffling.

I also dabbled in Russian in college. Among the peculiarities of the Russian language – and there are many, including the Cyrillic alphabet – is that there are letters that stand for more than one sound at a time. It’s like in English, where the letter z can stand for regular z (as in zip) or zh (as in azure). But Russian carries it to the extreme. They have one letter that stands for the sound ch, and another one for sh, and yet another one for zh.

But they don’t stop at that. There is even a Cyrillic letter that stands for four different letters in English: shch. (It looks kind of like a small w with a tail on the end.) The letter is useful (for Russians, anyway), as it occurs in the word for cabbage soup and the name of the Soviet Union’s former head, Nikita Krushchev.

When my Russian instructor was trying to teach us this sound, he had us repeat the phrase “fresh cheese.” That was about the only place in English where the sounds occur together naturally. (You can think of others, like “fish chips” or “harsh chimps,” of course, but those are harder to remember.)

One day I was explaining this to my husband, rather pedantically, I expect, and I said that there were no English words that had the shch sound at the beginning of a word or a phrase. He looked pensive for a moment, then got a smile.

“Sh! Cherokees!” he said. I surrendered. I was defeated. By a man who still says “foilage.”