Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Valerie's Favorite Wedding Poem — And Now It's Mine, Too!

Tin Wedding Whistle

Though you know it anyhow
Listen to me, darling, now,
Proving what I need not prove
How I know I love you, love.
Near and far, near and far,
I am happy where you are;
Likewise I have never larnt
How to be it where you aren't.
Far and wide, far and wide,
I can walk with you beside;
Furthermore, I tell you what,
I sit and sulk where you are not.
Visitors remark my frown
Where you're upstairs and I am down,
Yes, and I'm afraid I pout
When I'm indoors and you are out;
But how contentedly I view
Any room containing you.
In fact I care not where you be,
Just as long as it's with me.
In all your absences I glimpse
Fire and flood and trolls and imps.
Is your train a minute slothful?
I goad the stationmaster wrothful.
When with friends to bridge you drive
I never know if you're alive,
And when you linger late in shops
I long to telephone the cops.
Yet how worth the waiting for,
To see you coming through the door.
Somehow, I can be complacent
Never but with you adjacent.
Near and far, near and far,
I am happy where you are;
Likewise I have never larnt
How to be it where you aren't.
Then grudge me not my fond endeavor,
To hold you in my sight forever;
Let none, not even you, disparage
Such a valid reason for a marriage.

by Ogden Nash
Courtesy of Poem Hunter

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Decadence in the Form of Linens

You may know me as a book lover, but I secretly adore linens.

Fluffy towels, soft blankets, comfy quilts: they make me dreamy. (And you thought it was only throw pillows that sent my heart a-flutter.) So when it was time to increase the bedsheet fold, I knew I had to go for the best. Mom sent me 600 thread count sheets once and I knew my "bottom line."

Today I stopped by TJ Maxx, my regular sheet supplier, and was surprised that the best they could offer me was 400 count. I wasn't going to slum quite that low, so I hopped in the car and tooled down the street to Marshalls.

And found bliss.

Can you say "1,000 thread count sheets"? I knew you could!

When I saw them, I gasped aloud and the woman in the aisle with me looked askance. I apologized, and explained why. "I found 1,000 thread count sheets," I breathed.

"Is that good?" she asked? (She was quite young.)

"Uuuuuuuuuuuuh," I said, trying to gather my wits about me. "I have a set of 600-count sheets and they're smooth and lovely." I grabbed the heavenly sheets and hugged them to my bosom. "I know they're a little expensive, but they're worth it."

She looked at the $70 price tag, looked at my feverish face and mused, "If they're that good...."

"You can start a little lower, at 500 or so, and work your way up, if you're not sure, but it's a decent buy," I assured her. (I checked.)

I can't speak for her, but I know the economy was bolstered by my purchases. (I also purchased habaƱero ketchup — always check the food aisle for deliciousness!)

Now, I won't be the first person using these sheets. I have friends coming to visit, and they need linens for the weekend. Or maybe longer — once they climb into these sheets, they won't want to leave!

When it comes to sheets, go high thread count or go home. You can thank me later.

Friday, June 19, 2009

One Year Out: Losin' It

One year ago today, I pledged my troth to David.

I thought I knew what I was doing. After all, we loved each other and wanted to make a life together. We figured we knew what we were getting into.

Since then, I have lost a pair and a half of shoes.

And that's just the beginning of the list. We won't talk about the books the library seems to think they never received (though I watched myself put them in the slot, and David is my witness). Receipts? Movies? My sapphire earrings? They could be anywhere.

Once there was a time when I didn't lose track of the stuff that cluttered my life. I knew where things were. From time to time, they got up and shuffled around — just to mess with me — but only from time to time.

Then I got married.

Now, there's no telling where things will wind up on any given day.

I know there's a poltergeist in the house, and he's become much more active since the wedding. I think he follows us around. After all, I hunted all over the hotel room for that pair of my favorite brown sandals, and I assure you I didn't leave them on the New York subway. That I would have noticed.

The poltergeist has a sense of humor and lets me find things occasionally. Just yesterday, I found where I — er, the poltergeist put my favorite blue umbrella, missing for the rainiest week of the year.

I haven't, however, completely lost my sense of humor, evident from my reaction as David tosses yet another comedic comment into our conversations. His puns and observations are interesting, surprising and really rather funny. Plus, he can tell a great story.

I'm not writing that just because he'll probably read this. I really do think he's a hoot. I find even his less "successful" attempts charming. He's got a quick mind that goes some interesting places, and I'm glad to be in the front seat for those trips.

Every once in a while I have to throw in an eye-roll just so he doesn't get too heady with his success. (If he knew how funny I think he is, he might very well be insufferable.) However, I can say without a doubt he still makes this cynic laugh, often at familiar jokes — and once nearly literally busting a gut. (Here's an important tip for your comedians out there: warn a surgical patient if you're going to make her laugh so she can prepare, and hopefully avoid any additional trips to the emergency room.) A man who could make me smile at that moment — oh, he is my dream and my blessing.

I could lose everything I own, everything I've ever touched, all the clutter of our lives, as long as David is there to make me laugh.

Here's to laughter and tears, joy and lost shoes — and my husband.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lowen & Navarro, El Fin Del Camino

It was Valentine's Day humpty-million years ago.

Rob and I were driving to the Birchmere to see one of his favorite bands, Lowen & Navarro. He couldn't have been happier: he was back in town after a few long years of grad school, he was following his calling to be a teacher and he was about to introduce one of his closest friends to one of his favorite musical groups.

To say Rob loves music is like saying I love books. 'Nuff said.

So, he popped in a tape of theirs (I warned you that it was a long time ago!) and I listened. It was good. I enjoyed it — but I just couldn't see the "dance in your seat" aspect of their performance. I hoped I'd get it when I saw them.

And boy, did I! I made Rob recommend two CDs for me to purchase on the spot (which I did: Broken Moon and Live Radio) and both Eric and Dan signed them for me.

Rob also had an interesting relationship with them: he was the civics teacher of the past president of the L&N Fan Club. It was kismet, our meeting.

And for more than a decade, our relationship was one of give-and-take: they gave performances and I took joy in them. I saw them at all of the local venues, and I thoroughly enjoyed their work. I scribbled furiously during their performances as their images brought forth a torrent of my own images. I can point at three of my poems that came directly from lines in three of their songs.

In 2005, I watched Eric walked on stage at the Barns of Wolf Trap with the help of a cane. Seems he had been diagnosed with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. At the time, I thought it was sad, but he was okay: a cane and a stool weren't a bad compromise if he could keep performing.

How mighty is the silence, indeed. By now, I hope you Googled the disease. By now, you know more than I did at first. In little words, the nefarious disease robs the body of its ability to function over time. Eric wasn't going to need only a cane. He wouldn't stop at a stool.

But I decided to be there in the audience for as long as he and Dan would let me. For a while, Eric could play his guitar (if someone put it in his arms). Then he could sing. Then, at last, he sat on stage with oxygen and MC'ed his final concert at the place it started for me: The Birchmere.

Rob was there. So were his wife Melissa and my husband David, both of whom came to the L&N fold even later than I.

Dan tossed packages of tissue into the audience, which he mused aloud that we might need. (They had just played The Ram's Head the night before, so he knew of whence he spoke.)

Many people sang Eric's songs for him, including Eddie from Ohio, one of my other favorite bands and another of Rob's successful recommendations. Others who joined them on stage were family, literally — their children.

Eric quipped during the show, introducing acts and making jokes as he could. He revealed the last time he played the guitar, which was captured on his last album.

Once (and only once!), when Dan couldn't keep it together, he took a quick moment at the back of the stage, then came back forward and sang the song of Cilantro, a character on an animated series I had never seen. I teared up from time to time as the music played, but Dan's moment touched me — well, almost as much as his Cilantro song did. I will be conducting my stepdaughter's marriage ceremony next June, and I will use that as my secret weapon against losing my composure. If it's good enough for Dan, it's good enough for me.

In the end, Eric spoke the words of one of my favorite L&N songs, "If I Was the Rain." Dan led the audience in their last performance of their trademark (and most famously covered) song, "We Belong." I stood on a chair, David steadying me, and I grasped Rob's hand as he held Melissa. We all belonged together at that moment.

As the last note played, as the performers exited stage left (or is it right? Dan couldn't tell, either), I knew it wasn't really the end. I know it sounds corny, but Eric and Dan would forever perform together for me: in the wonderful memories I had, in my long and fantastic friendship with the man who introduced us, in the poems they would continue to inspire within me.

In the future, I will get used to seeing Dan on the stage with others, or without. I'll continue to support him, and I look forward to his future as a solo artist or his work with other musicians.

Eric isn't holding a guitar these days, he's not playing off Dan's quirky humor — but he's there, oh, he's there — in my heart and my memory, he is there.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Caveat Emptor and Pirates

Everyone knows: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

I myself have given that advice to plenty of people under plenty of circumstances — once, famously, when Mom received an unsolicited check from an unnamed company that asked that she cash her “winnings” and pay the taxes on it directly to them. It was too good to be true, and that was confirmed later that very day at the bank.

I regret to inform you, however, that my Winning Streak of Skepticism came to an end this year. I’m not sure if it’s just because the “bad guys” looked too much like us good guys or if my judgment was clouded by rock-bottom prices.

First, let me say I’ve had a long relationship with Half.com and eBay, and for years have purchased many products through the sites and received exactly what I ordered.

I didn’t do anything differently than I had in the past. My friend Vicky had found a great price online for the DVD box set of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection." I wanted that, too, so I shopped. Half.com had some vendors offering the collection for a really low price, so I placed my order and waited for my product to arrive.

And waited.

And waited.

I really wanted this particular item, so I noticed when my mailbox was empty even one day beyond the promised date. So I contacted the seller — who no longer had an account with Half.com. That’s when I realized my seller also had no feedback registered by other purchasers on Half.com. This was a new seller, and I didn’t notice.

Thankfully, Half.com has a buyer protection program, so I started the company's reimbursement process — and took a gander at eBay, of which Half.com is a part.

Now, I paid closer attention to my chosen seller on eBay. The seller, who would be shipping from the American Northwest, had multiple copies sent out over a two-week period. Probably shipping overstocks, I figured. Multiple copies, American company, “Satisfaction guaranteed, refunds provided upon request” — looked pretty solid. So, rather than waiting until I received my refund from Half.com, I decided I’d sink about the same amount of money into eBay. I’d get it back when my refund came through, so no harm, no foul.

Alas, no. When the eBay item arrived, it was from China. And there was lots of Chinese writing on the labels. The box was shaped differently than what was being sold by retailers and the collection was one (bonus) disc short. Oh, and about the discs: the artwork was just this side of blurry with improper color registration, and inappropriate selection of images. There was no list of episodes in the entire collection, let alone what episodes were on each disc.

I realized I had been shanghaied by pirates.

I e-mailed the seller for the promised refund, and I got nothing but yawning silence. Seems they weren’t actually based in the American Northwest, after all.

Have you ever tried to contact eBay? Well, I’m here to tell you it can’t be done. I pored over the Web site, opened every page as I tried to report the suspected piracy. There was nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

My next e-mail was to PayPal, the company through which I purchased the pirated collection. The company showed no interest in the illegal nature of the product, but went straight to dollars and cents: my refund would be considered only after I shipped the product (at my own expense) back to the seller. I nearly choked. It would cost me about half the purchase price to return the discs to their illegal creator.

There is a happy ending — of sorts. After three months, Half.com refunded me the full purchase price. So did PayPal, after four months, and the sweetness of that victory was tempered by my outlay for international shipping. Both companies were backlogged with an "unusual volume" of refund requests and customer service complaints. I wonder if that tidal wave was caused by pirates.

I learned a few lessons, the most important of which was caveat emptor. It was as much my fault as anything. I know that, in the long run, customers of low-ballers pay — and yet I allowed myself to get sucked in. Twice. I hang my head in shame.

Now, I think differently about online purchases from unknown vendors. I used to think of Half.com and eBay as a kind of Big Lots, or a national farmers market with lots of people just like me selling a few extra things crowding their bookshelves. Even if that still is the case, I don’t really believe it anymore.

I also pay closer attention now to “About Us” and “Contact Us” on Web sites where I plan to purchase something. If I’m not satisfied with the information provided before a purchase goes awry, I certainly won’t be so afterward. If there’s no way to contact someone, somehow, somewhere with a complaint or a return, I’m not interested.

This little lesson cost me a lot more than the cost of shipping to Shanghai and a few months of frustration. It cost me faith: faith in the Little Guys Online, who will suffer because of two bad apples; faith in the Big Guys Online, who didn’t register a blip when Pirates were marauding the aisles of their Web sites; faith in my judgment, because I rationalized my Inner Skeptic into silence.

I’ll dive back into the World of Online Shopping, but first I’ll make sure my water wings are fully inflated and the lifeguard on duty is watching.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Alan G!

Today is a special day: the birthday of the Beat poet Alan Ginsberg.

He was something.

Click here to read his poem. Better yet, click here to listen to Alan read his own poem, and to get a perspective on the poem.

Click here for some biographical information about the poet.

If you ever wonder what poetry would be like today without this pioneer, think about all he puts in this one poem: the cultural references, the slang, the profanity, the startlingly unsafe images. Think about the risks he took half a century ago, not just writing but publishing a poem that was banned as obscenity. Think of what was happening in that time, how risk was avoided out of self-preservation.

You don't have to like the poem — at times, I'm not sure I do — but you have to respect a man who would risk it all for poetry. And that I do.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Social Media and the Hope for Connection

I'm not sure if it's polite to say this, but Facebook is a time-suck.

I climb on the machine at home after work and hours later, I look up to see the sun has set, the lights have come on and the neighborhood has gone quiet. The cats are snoozing quietly (though that happens during the rest of the non-Facebook part of the day). The laundry hasn't gotten folded, the kitchen is still a mess and I can't focus my vision more than an arm's-length in front of me.

Don't get me wrong. I love the results. I get to chat with Valerie and Nikki whenever we're on the computer together. (I've handled three online conversations simultaneously, with the added degree of difficulty of their father calling out what he wants me to type on his behalf.) I am thrilled by the way Facebook connects me to the people I love. I also enjoy sharing information, making comments, taking quizzes, posting news stories, sharing videos.... the list goes on. And the photos. For the love of all that's holy, the photos!

However, Facebook is not my only source for relationships. What does Facebook mean for those people?

Today I read about how the elderly who use computers can feel less isolated if they join an online community. Now, housebound and elderly people can create new relationships without leaving the safety and comfort of their homes ("Online, A Reason to Keep Going," New York Times, June 2, 2009).

If I was alone, and frail, and frightened, I would hunger for connecting with people I knew from back in the day, or people like me who were alone and needed friends. Thank heavens for the Internet in those cases.

My 80-year-old mother-in-in-law is fortunate. When she moved to Florida from her hometown in New York, she moved with many of her childhood friends, and others joined them in the following years. Few people can claim that circumstance. Had her situation been different, would she have found herself relying on the computer for companionship?

I cannot fathom that life. I have daily exposure to people outside my own home. I spend time in an office with people, I talk to strangers on the phone (wait, that sounds wrong). I interact with people in public places. Even when I was housebound for a month last summer, I was not isolated because my friends and family are mobile and social, like I am. I can't imagine what it would be like to know the only human contact I would have on a given day would be the grocery cashier — and that's only if I made it out of the front door.

Facebook can bring people together in ways we couldn't have imagined when this whole Internet and Web "fad" started a decade and a half ago. True, it can isolate us as easily, but let's hope we use it for the good it can bring us.