Archive for January, 2011

The Brain And Its Uses.


I swear that was the name of my Science Fair project in fifth or sixth grade. The Brain And Its Uses. I’m not making that up. (Who could?) I was running out of ideas and the project was due at school, so I think I opened an encyclopedia and copied a diagram that looks just like the one above, saving a lot of people the time it might take to open their own encyclopedias and figure out what they might do with an extra brain around the house. Door stop? Kitchen sponge? Cat toy?

I’m sure I meant the brain and its functions (or maybe I thought that’s what I meant) and lacking parental guidance as I did, I painted a brain on a large piece of plywood. When you grow up at a lumber yard, plywood is easy to find, especially in brain-sized sheets. I painted the board black and then painted a brain on it, and wrote out the various areas of the brain, just like you see here, and nowhere on this plywood did I bother writing any brain-related functions.

I must have perceived those Science Fair smiles and guffaws as high praise for my sheer brilliance. Not one person … teacher, friend, someone else’s mother … bothered pointing out the error of my rather large headline. I thank them all.

I have no idea where that project ended up, but I can imagine it is hanging in someone’s 1960s rec room, an object of much hooting and knee slapping. “The Brain And Its…. oh, Fred, you really crack me up!”

There is no good segue for the next part of my story, so I’ll just say it: Yesterday I was cleaning out a drawer that was filled with a tangle of black cords from things like Walkmans, radios, cameras, and other small appliances. I had no idea what went where, and since I’d never gone looking for any of it, I threw the whole pile into the trash. That felt good.

And later in the day (stay with me; these stories are connected) I took my vacuum cleaner apart to figure out why it wasn’t picking up anything, and discovered the belt had snapped. Having been a housecleaner at one time, I had a pile of vacuum belts in a box under the kitchen sink, not a one of them being even close to being the size I needed, so of course all of those went into the trash, too.

But all that off to one side, as they say, I really do use my brain sometimes, and today was one of those occasions.

Why oh why can’t there be a universal vacuum belt, I wrote to Cathy, the other half of the World Domination Team. They could sell them at department stores or hardware stores in buckets, and when you needed a belt you could leave the car running on very cold days and run in and grab one and go home and get back to sucking up cat fur.

Brainiac that she is, she readily agreed and even added her own list: Why not ONE cell phone battery for all phones? Why not ONE charger for all appliances? And for God’s sake (she didn’t say that but I do) why not ONE ink cartridge that fits all printers?

Well, that’s what it’s going to be when we take over the world, which we hope will be soon because one of us had to stop at Marshall Hardware on the way home and find the belt she needed. (But honestly, isn’t that the best hardware store on earth? Answer: Yes, it is.)

So. Those are some of the uses of my own big brain. One part is used for thinking, and another part is used for considering what the first part said.

I’ll stop now before I start talking about the six mile aisle of cereals found in every grocery store. Do we need that many choices? We do not!

Relevant photos to follow. They are guaranteed to tickle that “thinking” part of your brain. I hope it’s the large part.

Stop Saying That.


You know what really ticks me off more than some guy in a clown car sneaking up behind me in an alley and laying on the horn? Not much. That’s for sure. But he knows who he is and I know who he is and I know to get even, so let’s just move along.

What really ticks me off are the overused expressions we hear every day. We hear them so much that people have forgotten the meaning of them, and the more you hear them the more you want to bang your head against a wall or just become exasperated like my little old fashioned friend here:

So, look. We’re Americans. We’re smart. We can come up with new phrases and words that don’t drive a careful listener to distraction. Let’s start by eliminating these words and phrases from our vocabulary immediately. Today, people!

• No brainer (I heard it on the news this morning and was sorry there was no hammer in the car.)

• Crunch the numbers (Crunch this.)

• Basket case (Though not many WW 1 veterans are around today, it’s just not polite.)

• Drink the Kool-Aid (I can’t even comment on the odious nature of this phrase.)

• Change up; switch up (“Change” is a good word. Stop after that one.)

• Guesstimate (An estimate is a guess, so don’t fancy it up and look like a dolt)

• Shock agsorbers, Philadelthia, Febuary  (three words people on the radio are unable to pronounce)

• Impacted (unless you mean your wisdom teeth)

• To be perfectly honest (If you weren’t honest in the first place, don’t start now.)

• Waaaaaitttt for it  (YOU wait for it.)

• Spayded (Your cat was NOT spayded, unless you picked up a garden implement and …. oh, it’s too horrible to contemplate)

So really. Stop saying those things and the world will be a nicer place.

And you know that old saying “Sticks and stones may  break your bones, but words will never hurt you?”

It’s just not true.

Thinking Of You.


(Thinking of you but not doing much about it, I mean.)

Marilyn, a wonderful friend from Florida, e-mailed this morning to ask if I was still writing in my blog. (Answer: Yeah. Kinda.) She struck a nerve, because I’m feeling guilty about having left this hanging for so long. I am still here. I am still writing, in my head, but finding it hard to get it online. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s winter. I’m lazy.

The holidays were wonderful; filled with family and friends and presents and shopping and wrapping and cooking and baking and enjoying the spirit of the season, and then they were over and the house was a mess and I had to clean it all up and put stuff away, and oh, it just wears a gal out. But a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do, and the other night I began doing what needed to be done, which was putting away Christmas cards and decorations. And so I opened the antique black trunk in the living room; one of the first pieces of furniture I was able to afford after my divorce and move back to Duluth. ($5 at a yard sale in Woodland.)

I only open this trunk once a year, if that. It’s used as a telephone and book stand, so it’s generally piled up with stuff, and it’s hinges are sticky and you can break a nail or two trying to pry the lid open. But oh! A Pandora’s box of crap awaits! Having not opened it before Christmas, I didn’t remember that I had stored a lot of decorations in there. A lot. I sorted through old strings of light (haven’t put up a Christmas tree in about 20 years) and garlands of glittery white stuff and piles of gold ornaments, which apparently was going to be the theme this year. I found old magazines, a woodburned picture of a ship a guy had made for me about 40 years ago, a bunch of old journals I’d been keeping, and other things too good to throw out, like my niece Heather’s baby shoe.

Yes, just one shoe. I must point out that Heather was fortunate to have been born with two good feet, but I saw no point in keeping two shoes when one tells the story just as well. As a toddler, Heather had to wear special shoes because her toes pointed in or pointed out or pointed somewhere where they weren’t supposed to point, though nobody ever noticed because she was adorable and had perfectly fine feet and her doctor probably was making just trying to make his boat payments. The shoes were expensive. You couldn’t just go buy these off a rack somewhere (Wal Mart, let’s say) but I think there was even a prescription involved. So, you know, she didn’t have 5 pairs of these around the house. Like most kids, Heather was an explorer of the great outdoors, and one day wanted to feel that thrill of walking through a deep puddle, which is just what she did. In her expensive shoes.

My sister knew the quickest way to dry them was to put them in a warm oven, which she did. But then she forgot them. The result was a pair of shoes with openings so shriveled and tiny that I doubt my cat could slip her foot in. So of course, Aunt Patt had to save one for posterity. Sue me. (I knew it would come in handy one day, and didn’t it just?)

But I digress. Let’s get back to those mysterious journals from the early 70s, shall we? Turns out I was not always old and fusty and tired. In the early 70s, I was living in Augusta, Georgia, contemplating divorce and working at one full time job and two part time ones. For the life of me I can’t figure out why or how I managed all this, but I’ll go on with the story. My two part time jobs consisted of typing mortgage reports at a credit bureau (typing James Brown’s credit report is my claim to fame. Yes! Mr “I Feel Good!”) and also as an assistant manager at a 7-11 store, which sort of tells you something about their management style, doesn’t it? I think I went in when I felt like it, which wasn’t often. My full time job was at the Augusta Chronicle, where I worked from 6 PM until 2 AM pasting up newspaper pages. Oh, how I loved it. But that’s not all. I also had an active social life. We went to parties. We hosted parties. I visited friends, went on weekend trips, cleaned the house, cooked the meals, did the laundry, and I do not ever remember feeling as tired out as I feel just writing about it tonight.

One weekend (did I even have a weekend off?) I painted the house. By myself. The outside. The whole house! I remember going to Sears, choosing the colors, buying the paint and brushes and rollers, and then coming home and painting the house. It stuns me to think of it now, since the last time I painted something in this house was 1999, and I didn’t even bother moving the piano, which explains why I can’t rearrange the dining room.

But that was then and this is now. My energy … gone. Maybe it’s just a post-holiday blah kind of thing, or maybe it’s winter ennui, or maybe I’m just plain old. I’ve lost the old spark. One of my Tracy friends (White, not Blue, and alas there is still no Tracy Red) is currently obsessed with the story of Minnesota’s Lonnie Dupre, attempting the first solo winter ascent of Mount McKinley. A man of action! My current obsession (I’m not making this up) is following the story of Lily, the Ely bear who is currently hibernating. Every morning I log in to watch her slumber and listen to her soft snores. The thing is, I find this really exciting.

Well, I’m no Lonnie DuPre, and I’m no Tracy, either. There’s a gal with energy. If I called her right now and said “Let’s go ice fishing tonight,” she’d say “Well, okay!” and she’d really mean it. (First she’d have to get herself off the floor after falling over in laughter.) She’s always ready to do stuff like that on the spur of the moment. Was I ever like that?


So that’s why I haven’t been writing. I’ve been alternately cold, tired, lazy, watching the bear, contemplating shriveled shoes and remembering the time I painted the house. By myself. In one weekend.

My energy will come back in April. It always does. But I’ll try to write more regularly and not leave people wondering if I’ve given up. As for right now, I’m not going ice fishing. I’m not going anywhere. I will grab a book and read for a while, and then I’ll probably toddle off to bed around 9:00.

I might skip the reading part.