Out of Gum Friday Round-Up

It’s like old times with the rabid anti-abortion protestors coming to town. This is the week that the well-known national hate group Operation Save America is converging on Milwaukee to scream at passers-by and harass women coming to appointments at local abortion clinics. This time, unlike 20 years ago, there will be trained security at the clinics and no counter-protests, no linking of arms and singing We Shall Overcome. Typing that, I wonder if we really sang We Shall Overcome or we just felt it in our hearts but, in any event, we haven’t yet overcome because abortion is still a right in doubt, a provisional right dangling now by the thinnest thread . Happily, Garbage Fyre Fighters from the Abortion Access Front rallying and making fun of the zealots. We here in Milwaukee are grateful for good organizers and strong humor. Hate groups hate humor.

I found a birthday note for Jilly signed by Gram and Gramps stuck in Best American Short Stories, 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie. The book was in a Little Free Library in Milwaukee’s South Shore Park, next to the Best American Short Stories of 2006, 2010, and 2012, all of them ripe for the taking, like peaches in a bowl on the kitchen table. The card is much older than the book and the handwriting is even older, careful and ornate but shaky at the same time. there is this P.S. at the bottom of the card.

I found the poems my first boyfriend wrote me. Please return.

I’m going to keep the note for Jilly, just in case.


I spent part of the week between a rock and a hard place. On the horns of a dilemma, in a fat headache of situational ethics, conflicted and chagrined, all of which I soothed by buying extraordinary amounts of cheese and crackers at Costco along with a forty-pound jug of animal crackers. Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof.

Alright. It’s four pounds, not forty. Still.

I won’t say I suffered through the week – there being so much food, wine, and beer laying around – but I sure was consternated. The dilemma came down to dueling principles and I sided on the one that involved having made a personal commitment. I’d explain more but it would be pointless at this point. There are new waves to surf.


Flamethrowers burn out. I’ve seen it dozens of times. A new person appears on the scene from out of nowhere. Maybe a hundred people have been working hard on a problem, parsing it, teasing out solutions, trying to change the world step by painful step. And the new person – always smart and bright and engaging and different – shows up and decides that the process and the people involved in it are all useless. Flamethrowers don’t ask questions, though. They don’t spend time inquiring or gathering data or learning the process by which progress is made, however imperceptible it may seem, they just pour more gasoline on the torch they always carry in their purse and let fly. AOC – as much as I love her fearlessness and her brilliance – is a flamethrower. I hope she stays around long enough to also become a powerhouse legislator. It’s a harder skill to learn and harder still to practice. We’ll see.

I’m out of gum. There isn’t a stick of gum anywhere in this house, on any dresser top, in any drawer, or in any pocket. My house is a gum desert.







Dig It Friday Round-Up

I feel like I’ve aged five years in a month. It’s like the age fairy got fed up with my prancing around thinking I was forty and decided to just slam the door on that nonsense. Actually, it’s the result of getting my cataracts removed – having perfect, crisp vision comes with a cost. Blurs serve. Remember that. That which is blurry is open to interpretation.

I’ve given the torment of gardening the heave-ho. I have five pots of geraniums, a tiny patch of basil and cilantro, and one hanging plant along with the perennials already in the ground – the hostas and such that would grow even if they were paved over. The truly resilient, that’s what’s left. And no fucking vegetables, no Victory Garden (oh, so un-aptly named). I’m done with trying to be Little Miss Farmer. I am hanging up my spade forever. It’s a deep and exhilarating freedom I’ve never felt before.

A tremendously rich guy who is also a local elected official bought a $2.6 million historic house on Milwaukee’s swanky Lake Drive and is going to tear it down and build a new house. And people went nuts. Not seriously nuts. Not 24/7 picketing or tying themselves to the door knobs nuts. Just online petition and ambiguous yard signs nuts. It irked me at first that some insanely rich guy could just buy something historically important and flatten it and then I thought, so what? Nothing lasts forever. In a few years, we’ll forget it was even there.

We went to the symphony tonight and I fell asleep several times. It was a very long, very dramatic piece of music called Carmina Burana by Carl Orff that involved the full orchestra, an adult chorus of about 100 people, a youth chorus with about 50 kids, and three soloists. And captions, including this one, “she has a fine head of hair but, when it comes to seizing an opportunity she is bald.” I was awake for that one and it has stuck with me. It has also stuck with me that in this majority minority city the youth chorus of 50 kids had just a single African American child.

It is real easy to fall prey to becoming a bb in a bare room. Just rolling from side to side endlessly from one injustice to another – kids at the border, ICE ’rounding up’ families to deport, gun violence, homelessness, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and on and on. I’m pretty locked in to homelessness, menstrual equity, and senior issues but a very big part of me wants to get in the car and go to Texas to do something about the kids being kept in cages. Like what, like what could a person possibly do? I don’t know. I’m going to look into it, though, and report back.

Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Bugged Friday Round-Up

I asked a friend in recovery how it was to not be drinking and he responded that he never thought about it until someone asked. This gave me pause. What was I hoping to accomplish with the question? Did I want an actual answer or his affirmation that he still wasn’t drinking? Was I hoping to be educated about the recovery process or make conversation? Or pin the beetle to the display board?

My husband and I are realizing that we love our new dog, Swirl, possibly more than we love each other and certainly more than we love our children. We’re keeping this to ourselves, of course, lest the information falls into the wrong hands. It just isn’t done to place a creature above one’s own family, the optics are terrible as they say. We’re aware of this so we only talk about our outrageous disloyalty in the kitchen.

Yesterday, as my friend Karen tailgated a guy who got so irked he started braking every three seconds, she yelled, kidding/not kidding, “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE, MOTHERFUCKER? WE HAVE IMPORTANT THINGS TO PROTEST!” Just then we spied a cop car tucked on a side street and she slowed down so we looked normal, like two old friends who’d just gone thrifting at Goodwill. And I drew from this experience this: when we lose our ability to yell “motherfucker” we are done for. Thank God we’re not there yet.

My life is a steady mix of brilliance and idiot moves. Earlier this week, after leaping up in a big crowd to deliver what I thought was astute and insightful commentary on a bad public policy decision process, I scurried off to the restroom with the sole purpose of taking a picture of myself in the mirror. It was meant to be sort of a triumph picture plus I thought I looked cute in my pink shirt but I couldn’t figure out how to do it never having done it before and as I was futzing with my phone, of course, someone walked in the bathroom and looked at me a little quizzically, causing me to say, “I’m taking a picture of myself in the mirror.” Unbelievably, I got a picture of myself taking a picture of myself in the mirror as the woman walked in looking quizzical but it was so mortifying that I sent it to the Trash. Can you believe it?

My husband asked me a few hours ago if I was going to write a Friday Round-Up which immediately made me not want to not do it. I took his question as hectoring, pressure, the laying on of unreasonable expectations, which seemed to surprise him but not much. I hate questions, I really do. One wonders why I ask so many.

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

Upper Peninsula Chainsaw Friday Round-Up

I’m of the opinion that it’s healthy to regularly do things you’re afraid to do. I like this idea as a professional thing more than a personal one. For instance, I might be afraid to write a huge federal grant with a lot of complicated, cranky, self-interested partners who might sue me for malpractice if we lose but consider it a grand challenge. On the other hand, I let the registration date pass for a women’s “Take the Reins” class because I knew the first thing the instructor would do would be to hand me a halter and send me into the corral to fetch my own horse.

I looked at the big box crammed with tampons and pads and thought, “I can carry that.” And I was fine lifting it out of the truck, even though I had to wrestle with it, but walking with it I knew it was too heavy but I looked ahead and it didn’t seem that far if I could just hold out and then I tripped on the top stair and fell. I skinned my knee and it hurt like skinned knees do, although the last one I had was in the middle of a different century, and there were a bunch of other bumps and weird aches along with the astonishment of having fallen. I said to my husband, “Don’t tell any of the kids I fell” realizing the stigma attached to being old and falling notwithstanding the big box one was carrying at the time.

Watching Nancy Pelosi tie Donald Trump in knots is one of my favorite things ever. She knows where all his little scaredy man things are and she goes after them with a hatpin. Remember hatpins? Pop, pop, pop.

When we got stopped by the Michigan State Patrol, two officers came to our car, one on either side. It felt like Bonnie and Clyde. The woman officer came to my side. I said hello, looked at her arm full of tattoos and decided to just stare straight ahead while my husband rifled through his wallet for whatever the man officer wanted. We were warned. Which is always better than the alternative. Still.

“I forgot my chainsaw.” Words I never thought my nice Jewish husband from Philadelphia would say to me. “For what?” I asked. “Whatever” was his answer. Whatever. Yes, we must always travel with a chainsaw. So I just asked him if he minds if I call him my “nice Jewish husband” when referring to his chainsaw comment to which he responded, “It does presuppose that Jews don’t do stuff with chainsaws.” I guess.

May Bee Friday Round-Up

I work with a group with a deep belief in pizza. We had a meeting tonight during which I ate two big cups of popcorn with mega butter and a Snickers bar. Then the pizza came. Oh, I eschewed the pizza, yes, I did, and carried my righteous self home where I ate a brat, half a plate of potato salad, a bowl of fruit and a chocolate chip bar. Along with some wine. But no pizza touched my lips.

There are pro-choice people everywhere. They just haven’t had to show themselves before. No threat, no need to stand and declare. Now there’s an enormous threat to choice and folks I’d never expect are going out of their way to go on record as pro-choice, not pro-abortion because many aren’t, simply pro-each woman making her own decision. So we can’t lose heart. We will prevail.

I am trying to make my sorry history of gardening into a funny essay. There is a fine line between self-deprecation which, despite my oversize ego, I am quite good at and self-humiliation which I try to avoid. I am a gardener with little success but I’m not an idiot, the egg shell and coffee grounds escapade notwithstanding, so it’s a tough assignment to tell my story so people laugh without sending me gardening tips. I hate that.

You’re probably waiting for me to talk about my dog, also known as #SledDogintheCity. He is great. He is beyond words great. People sometimes cross the street when they see us coming because he’s big and looks a little wolfy and I yell, “He’s friendly!” And he is. He never fusses, never nips, never barks, that’s right. He has not uttered a single bark since he came here a month ago. I don’t get it but I don’t mind. His tail thumps on the floor when he sees me coming.

My husband was just stung by an enormous bee while sitting in the living room. He killed the bee with a giant cookbook, “Please to the Table, The Russian Cook Book,” to be specific, which happened to be sitting on the coffee table, all 659 page of it. It took three hard swats to do the creature in, still at the end, even here across the room, I could see one wing flapping.

Saturday Afternoon Friday Round-Up

I wrote an essay on the plane that may be the best thing I ever wrote. I love sitting in a window seat with my laptop on the little fold-down table, all tucked in and cozy, looking at the clouds and sky, the little wee houses below, wondering for the hundredth time how the whole country, that isn’t desert or mountains, got divided up into squares and puzzling about the circles and half circles that slice into the squares like messages from aliens.

The anti-women movement in this country is terrifying. It’s tempting to think that what the Georgia Legislature just did is pretty much a joke, it can’t possibly stand. But that would be a mistake. We thought Donald Trump was a joke, well, I did, and then Presto! Change-O! he’s the fucking president running around the country laughing at jokes about shooting asylum seekers. Think about it: a majority of the Georgia Legislature voted to criminalize abortion to the most extreme degree possible short of the death penalty. Women’s rights are human rights, we can’t forget that. And it starts with having power and control over our own damn bodies.

My dog is saving me from madness. We have had Swirl, whom I have dubbed #SledDogintheCity, for just three weeks. He is very big. Sometimes out of the corner of my eye, it looks like a wolf got into our house and then I remember, oh, that’s our dog. I’m walking 4 to 5 miles a day which itself is a big mental health boost. And I’m in love with this dog. He is beautiful, sweet, innocent, and peaceful. He walks away from conflict at the dog park, a lesson for all of us, I’m sure. He does chew on my wood furniture, making him not perfect.

Out of the blue, my 13-year old granddaughter told me that she has been singing. Not performing or recording, just singing, and she told me the two songs she has been singing and her plan to work with a friend to sing one of the songs as a duet and this seemed as sweet and priceless a thing as I have heard for a long time, to just want to sing a duet with your friend.

Older adults need to really step up in the next eighteen months. More volunteering, more showing up at town halls, more carrying signs, more registering people to vote, more knocking on doors, more calling and texting voters, more speaking up, more resistance. Millennials are swell but they have to work two jobs to make a living. GenXers are too busy building powerhouse careers and trying to keep their teenagers on the straight and narrow. It’s on us, Boomers. We have the brains, time, and fearlessness that no other generation has. It’s time for all of us to show up and get it done in 2020. The insanity in the body politic has got to end.

Dog Days Friday Round-Up

The point of a writing class is to write stuff you wouldn’t otherwise write. This week I wrote an essay about cobwebs in which I rhapsodized about the nasty, looping cobwebs in our ancient basement. And in so doing I figured out many things. I bet you have a basement with mysteries, too. Write about it. Unless you live in Florida or California where basements don’t exist. Then you are on your own.

We are all about the dog. It hasn’t even been a month since our beloved Minnie died and we are over the moon about our new dog, Swirl. He is healthy. That is the difference. It takes a toll caring for the dying – dogs or humans. You forget what it’s like to stroll down the street carefree. This week we remembered. It’s lovely and joyous.

“He (or she, no, never she, always he) is a lying sack of shit” is one of the priceless phrases from my intense anti-poverty agency days. I watch said sack every night on the news and wish my old colleagues would rise up and yell at him and that everyone else would quit dancing around the truth of his endless, shameless lying. Voting is the only thing that will put the sack in the trash.

By some queer gift of God, I always imagine myself to be thinner and better looking than I actually am. This allows me to have a happy-go-lucky attitude much of the time until someone captures me in a photograph where the truth shows itself. Oh well. I wear delusion like a magic cape and it fits fine. And, yes, I did tuck my shirt in for the first time in about 5 years and it felt swell.

Tomorrow, it is supposed to snow, a lot, and I am oddly looking forward to it. I like having snow except for the cold and the shoveling because it covers up garden issues. Snow tomorrow means I don’t have to wrestle with the crazy ass bush with the 500 foot root that the landscaper didn’t extract when he had the chance and which is already growing like steroided ganglia next to my porch. The snow will smother it, if only for a day.