Saturday, October 31, 2009

Things That Scare Me

Halloween has me thinking about all the things that make me anxious or just sort of creep me out. Once you get going on a list like this, it’s hard to stop.

Here are only a few of the things that scare me:

  • The ghost story my husband tells about a basement apartment, a neighbor and a dead relative.

  • Snuggies (especially the new designer leopard prints)

  • The fact that at 3:00am almost everything on an infomercial seems like a reasonable and practical purchase (including the cellulite remover, the get-rich-through-buying-real-estate-course, and the automatic reloading paint roller when I lived in a rental apartment that I wasn’t allowed to paint.)

  • The long gasp a baby takes just before he’s about to let out one of those really loud wails.

  • Melted plastic

  • The recurring dream that starts out where I’m having lots of fun at a party/ beach/coffee shop/karate dojo and I run into an old college buddy. When he asks me what I’ve done with my life since graduation, all I do is stutter and stammer because I can’t think of a single thing.

  • The blue computer screen of death (that’s the blue screen that shows up instead of all your icons when your computer is never going to start again)

  • Another season of reality shows

  • An empty page. I love to revise. It’s those first drafts that get me.

  • Lines of people waiting for printouts two minutes before the library closes.

  • Another really innovative social networking tool that everyone in the world is using that you MUST be on because it is so important that it is going to change the political, social and cultural fabric of our society (of all societies) and perhaps even alter the course of the human evolutionary path. And if you’re not using it, then you will be viewed as a washed-up has been, a cultural anachronism clinging to an obsolete way of life, the same way a broken clamshell clings to the shore just before a wave comes crashing over it and washes it out to sea. And people will make fun of you and mock your luddite values.

  • Floods

  • Medical tests

  • Essays that predict the end of books and libraries (especially when the essayist decides to wax poetic about the above mentioned social networking tool)

  • Snakes. Oh heck, throw in most creepy crawly things and scampering things too. Small rodents, bugs, reptiles, etc.

  • Watching the dog go crazy when she hears a scratchy sound in the walls. This is another manifestation of fear of creepy crawling/scampering things. Oh and just so you don’t think I live in rodent-infested squalor, this happened only once and not in the current house. And it was only one mouse.

  • Traffic

  • Not having a pile of books on my nightstand to look forward to.

  • Nature documentaries: They’re either about global demise (pollution, natural disasters etc) or they’re giving you an up close and personal view of the cycle of life. The second I see a tiger eyeing an antelope who has strayed from the herd, I reach for the remote.

  • That there’s a Miley Cyrus song on the radio right now and I kind of like it.

  • The enormous amount of fur that my dog leaves all. over. the. place. This fear increases exponentially when I learn that someone is stopping by for a visit.

  • The dentist’s drill (and I feel bad about this one since I have a really nice dentist).

  • How really clueless I am about fashion trends. Big shoulder pads in or out? What about tie dye? And at what age should you stop wearing sneakers with sparkles on them?

  • That I don’t know the name for those metal things that people wear in their stretched out earlobes.

My list could go on and on…Happy Halloween

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Love Lucy...the Elephant

I went to a trade show in Atlantic City this week so of course I stopped by to visit Lucy the Elephant on my way home. I didn’t know she existed until a few years ago. My husband and I found her on a day we decided to do some sightseeing in our new state. We were driving through Margate, New Jersey about 2 miles south of Atlantic City when we saw her nestled among the houses in this quiet beach town. Six story elephant buildings are hard to miss.

Built in 1881 by 25 year-old Philadelphia real estate developer James Lafferty, Lucy is the nation’s only National Historic Elephant Landmark. It took a million pieces of wood, 12,000 square feet of tin, 200 kegs of nails, and 20 windows to make the 64-foot high structure. Originally this little pachyderm was built to try to get the good people of Atlantic City buy land at the Jersey shore. Today, visitors can climb through her spiral staircase, look through her porthole eyes and enjoy incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Lucy is a survivor. She’s been a real estate office, a restaurant, a summer home and a tavern (which was closed due to prohibition). She was almost burned down by some drunks during her tavern days, came dangerously close to being torn down in the 1970s and has survived countless storms and hurricanes (oh sure a few of them battered her but a little bit of fixing up by the people who love her and she was as good as new). Lucy may also be the only female elephant in the world to have tusks. In nature, tusks are reserved for the boys.

Lucy was built in the Victorian era when over-the-top architecture was fairly common. Still, I wonder how real estate developer James Lafferty made the leap from “what can I do to get visitors from Atlantic City to come a few miles south to buy some land filled with sand dunes and eel grass and only accessible during low tide because of the deep tidal pool” to “I know, I’ll create an elephant structure that is so large that it can be seen from 8 miles out at sea.”

I can’t imagine that everyone was on board with this plan. There had to be a lot of raised eyebrows and funny looks. Maybe even someone like a stuffed-shirt banker, his second cousin (the one he only sees at weddings and funerals) or his old high school chum told him to his face that his idea was crazy. Yet nothing stopped Mr. Lafferty from turning his vision into a reality. He had such faith in his plans that he even applied for a patent—which he was granted in 1882.

I am not normally impressed with zoomorphic wooden sculptures, but I love Lucy. She defies everything that is practical and sensible in this world. I dare you to drive by her and not smile. She is a constant reminder to all of us that even the most outrageous ideas can be turned into something spectacular. Think of Lucy and dream big!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Holly Trees and Letting Go

Every summer when I was a kid, my family would take the long drive from my New York home to my Great Aunt Lil’s place on the Jersey shore. She lived with my other aunts and uncles in a cottage-style house filled with surprising rooms and quirky spaces. The major attractions were the built-in pool and the pool house where my aunt cooked up amazing summer treats. No one made buttered carrots like Aunt Lil.

In her basement there were shelves filled with books left over from her teaching days. I read them all. Ballet Shoes. The Bobbsey Twins. Anne of Green Gables. On those summer days, I wolfed down stories like I wolfed down her buttered carrots.

Not sure if it’s fate or coincidence, but I now live at the Jersey shore and happen to work about a mile from Aunt Lil’s former house. Sometimes on my lunch hour I drive by.

The land is divided up. The pool is filled in. There’s a garage where Uncle Vinnie’s garden used to be. The pool house is now a rundown all-season home. But the cottage is there. If you look close, there are hints of the old days. A few trees still stand, including the big holly tree that guarded the pool gate.

I’m driving by and I see the new homeowner. Despite my shy nature, I hop out of the car and introduce myself to the woman standing outside. I tell her all about Aunt Lil and the pool and the summers. I try to remember everything I can about the cottage. “They had plastic slipcovers. And the house was immaculate.”

“Well, the house is immaculate now too” she says. “My house is always clean”

“Oh, I’m sure it is. I didn’t mean to imply… I just meant…” After a few more attempts to fix things, I give up. There’s a long pause. Since I am one of those people who feels compelled to say things during moments of uncomfortable silence, I add, “I’m a librarian here in town.”

The woman pulls out her cell phone and dials a number. “My daughter is upstairs,” she tells me. Then she talks into the phone “Remember that overdue book that I told you to return? There’s someone from the library outside who wants to speak to you. You’d better get down here.”

As soon as I see a girl look out from the second story window, I’m flooded with memories. I wonder if she ever spent some quiet time in that tiny walkway on the top floor behind the stairs.

“Been telling her for days that should return the book,” says her mom.

The girl, about 15, comes bounding outside spilling out apologies. “It’s at school. But I’ll return it. I promise.”

I start to explain that I’m not here for that, but her mother cuts me off with one of those looks. So I’m quiet. And I retain my role as the book police. A new career low.

“Would it be okay if I walked over to your holly tree? It was here when there was a pool.”

The woman nods.

As I enter into the yard I hear them behind me.

“What is she looking at the tree for?” asks the girl

“I have no idea,” says her mom.

I block out their conversation and spend a moment with my tree. I touch a leaf, and I expect there to be magic. I thought it would whisper to me of summer days and moonlight swims and buttered carrots. Instead, it gives off the same what-are-you-doing-here feeling as the teen who now believes that librarians come to your door if you have an overdue book.

I have closure now. It’s not the same type of closure I expected when I hopped out of my car and said hello. But I can drive on that road and forget to look at the house. Sometimes you have to move on.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Things I'd Never Thought I'd Say

There are times when you end up saying things that you never expected to say. I'm not talking about serious moments, philosophical revelations or even those embarrassing gaffes,
like when you tell a real estate agent that you're tired of looking at houses with orange shag rugs only to discover that she'd just carpeted her entire first floor in a lovely shaggy tangerine. I mean every day things -- explanations you never thought you'd have to give and words you never expected to come out of you mouth.

Here are a few examples:

Oh look honey, they're finally opening up a supermarket in town. There's going to be a band at the grand opening. Wanna go?

Sorry Chi, we don't have time for any more stories tonight. (Chi is my dog)

Sir, you're not allowed to have open fires of any kind in the business library.

I will not make an illegal U turn. It's not who I am. It's not what I do.

I'm not a suspect. I'm a librarian (said to a policeman who thought I was robbing my own apartment. It's a long story.)

My favorite present this year is my gift card to Home Depot.

Hurray! Congratulations on your new driveway!

This list could go on, but I have to go. There's a conversation in the next room that I want to get in on. They're talking about the 80's group Blondie and wondering if their musical contributions would be different if the lead singer was a brunette.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How Unplanned Vacations Can Send You in the Right Direction

My favorite vacations are the ones that start with the words “North? South? East? Or West?”

My husband and I used to do this all the time. We’d get into the car, decide on a direction and head toward the open road.

With no plans and no destination, if we wanted to spend the day watching the tides come in on the Bay of Fundy or wandering through the streets of Annapolis or driving for the entire day just to see how far we could go, there was nothing stopping us.

Unplanned vacations are filled with surprises, but they are not for the faint-hearted.

  • You have to stay flexible. A grouse hunting festival in the middle of the Canadian woods could make it impossible to find a place to sleep. You may have to decide that instead of the spending the weekend communing with nature, it’s time to see the sights and sounds of the city of Moncton, Canada’s “most polite and honest city”.
  • You have to accept the fact that the planners in the world get the great deals, nicer hotel rooms and often get to stay closer to the place where everyone wants to be. This is especially true if you wander into a tourist area at peak season. It’s best to stay off the beaten path. But that’s where the adventures are anyway.
  • You have to have faith in the direction you’re going. That means if you’re driving along the Maine coast and you pass your 87th “no vacancy” sign, you must never say the words, “I told you we should have gone south this time.” At 2:00am on a foggy night, even if you say it in your softest, sweetest voice, it will not be met with good results.

But something happens on these road trips. At some point we know exactly where we want to go. Our destination becomes clear.

My husband, who is a major history buff, says that his favorite days are the ones where we visit museums, old forts or historical towns. And my one of my best vacations was when we went to Prince Edward Island. I remember standing in a souvenir shop, surrounded by Anne Shirley dolls, wondering how we accidentally ended up in a place that I dreamed of visiting ever since someone put that first Anne of Green Gables book into my hands.

I was taking a break from my W.I.P. and going through some scrapbooks today, when I realized that I write like I vacation. I can't do chapter by chapter outlines. I'm in it for the adventure. If I'm not flexible I get in trouble. And with a little luck, eventually, I'll know where I'm going.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Banned Book Week: Quotes from Challenged and Banned Books

A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone. ~Jo Godwin

I seem to be collecting quotes from everywhere these days. Here are a few from some of my favorite banned/challenged books:

"Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others." Lois Lowry,
The Giver

"It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

"I am not nice. I am brilliant. I am famous across this entire country. Nobody wants to tangle with the great Galadriel Hopkins. I am too clever and too hard to manage." Katherine Patterson, The Great Gilly Hopkins.

"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." Dr Seuss, The Lorax