A library is the great American equalizer. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, atheist or devout, have a Ph.D. or are a high school dropout, your public library welcomes you. It has no choice, as Roz Warren explains in her new book, Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor.
If you read Women’s Voices, you know Roz: She has written 116—yes, 116—humor pieces for this site, on topics ranging from library peccadillos to the appropriate music for a colonoscopy to how she recycled her husband. (She also writes for The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jewish Daily Forward and The Funny Times.) Warren is the editor of thirteen humor books and a former lawyer; she gave up practicing “because I was tired of making so damn much money.” But it’s her decade of work at the Bala=Cynwyd Library in suburban Philadelphia for that informs this collection.
Librarians are regularly lampooned as dour, shushing matrons. Warren dubs herself and her colleagues “mild mannered librarians.” For, as she points out, librarians aren’t allowed to exhibit any emotion other than politeness. Not even when patrons curse, refuse to pay fines, or use cherry-flavored condoms for bookmarks. In this regard, librarians are true civil servants, obligated to remain calm under fire and withhold their anger, disgust, and laughter until they are behind closed doors.
What can go wrong in a public library? According to Warren, just about everything. The nun who borrowed a Barbra Streisand video and showed it to her convent sisters, only to find out it was Swedish porn! The woman who is miffed when the library staff refuses to change her flat tire. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that always vanishes within 24 hours of being put on the shelf. And the patron who doesn’t see why she should have to pay for a book that was three months overdue. “’How could I pay it?’ she whined. ‘I was on vacation in the South of France!’”
At this juncture, Warren shares the secret of all public libraries. No matter how much you owe, no matter how many books you take, they can’t come after you. Librarians in orthopedic shoes will not picket your home or place of business. You won’t get hang-up calls at 3 a.m. No one will show up at your door with an arrest warrant. “Go ahead! Check out the entire library and keep it forever! Nothing will happen,” Warren writes in her signature wry, deadpan tone.
The funniest chapter, the one that me whooping out loud, was Warren’s discussion of Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland, a collection of personal ads from The London Review of Books, edited by David Rose. Here’s a sample: “Tax-evading, nervous asthmatic (M, 47) seeks woman not unused to hiding under the kitchen table when the doorbell rings.”
But the real joy of reading Warren’s book comes not from what we learn about libraries, but what we learn about the author. At 60, Warren lays bare her past as a “hot chick.” The drugs, the sex, and a night with an unnamed “famous singer.” Following 20 years of marriage, she’s not merely accepting of her divorce, she’s ecstatic! “Now I’m with a guy who is consistently thrilling, and my ex is happily married to the actual love of his life. I call that a happy ending,” Warren writes. Amid the humor, Warren shares her values. “I support LGBT rights,” she proclaims, and shows her support by wearing a rainbow wristband. “That small splash of color sends a signal: I’m not as dull as you think I am.”
She also shares her colorful vocabulary. All those naughty words she’s forbidden to say in the library, she gives free rein to once she leaves work. I won’t quote her, but suffice it to say, Warren could make a longshoreman blush.
Warren also reveals (she revealed it first here on this site) that she has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces, which results in countless embarrassing incidents. If she bumps into a library patron or a neighbor in an unfamiliar setting, such as at the dry cleaner’s, she has no idea who they are. Warren remains nonplussed. She brightly greets everyone with a cheery “Hello!” and hopes that they will fill in the blank. She writes, “Brad Pitt recently ‘came out’ as being face blind. (Which means that he and I have something in common besides our sexy good looks and charisma.)”
She admits that she gives a book only 20 minutes to win her over. After that, it gets re-shelved. She feels no pressure to finish a book just because it’s on a best- seller list or is a classic. Reader, be warned. You’ll be hooked by Our Bodies, Our Shelves way before the 20-minute mark.
“There probably aren’t all that many [other] 60-year-old librarians in the Whoniverse. . .”
BBC’s “Doctor Who”
This month Women’s Voices has challenged us to share the changes we want to make in our lives. The change I’m determined to make?
Going forward, I plan to spend more time in the Whoniverse.
The Whoniverse is the world of people who are fans of the BBC show “Doctor Who,” which first went on the air in 1963, and in 2013 celebrated its 50th anniversary. The show holds the world record for the longest-running televised science-fiction series, with 813 episodes so far.
If I want to watch them all—and I do—I’m going to have to spend a lot more time in the Whoniverse than I currently do.
I first got hooked on Doctor Who as a teenager in the ’70s, but stopped watching as I got older. I’m not sure what it says about me that when I recently checked the 2010 season out of the library where I work, I instantly got sucked right back in.
And I’ve got plenty of catching up to do, since the show has been running for decades without my watching it.
Has the same actor played the main character for five decades? Of course not! When the dude who plays the Doctor wants to leave the role, the character “regenerates.” With a whoosh of greenish light and appropriate sound effects, he’s replaced by another actor, whom we viewers pretend is the same guy, who then continues in the role. There have been 12 doctors so far. (Thirteen if you count the so-called “War Doctor.” Which I don’t.)
What’s the show’s appeal for a mild-mannered middle-aged librarian? The Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space, saving the universe and having adventures. It’s just like library work!
No, I’m kidding. It’s about as far from library work as you can get, which is probably why it’s so much fun. After an afternoon spent wrangling with library patrons about paying overdue fines, it’s a pleasant relief to watch somebody else battling alien monsters and saving the universe. Plus it’s the BBC, so the writing is terrific and the acting is too.
I’ve got hundreds of episodes to watch. And re-watch, because the plots are so convoluted that it takes several viewings to figure them out. Plus there’s a limitless supply of podcast commentary, in which young men with engaging British accents speculate endlessly about every line and plot twist.
There are also radio adventures, comics, special behind-the-scenes features, and, of course, books. Meanwhile, the BBC continues to churn out new episodes. I may never catch up!
There probably aren’t all that many 60-year-old librarians in the Whoniverse. Most inhabitants appear to be sci-fi geeks and computer nerds in young-adulthood. Many are the kind of people who get dressed up as Daleks (evil cyborgs) and attend conventions.
I doubt I’ll ever dress up as an alien space monster and attend a convention. But who knows? I wouldn’t have predicted that at 60 I’d re-devote hours of my life to watching a TV show I loved at 14.
By the time I turn 70, I may well be attending Doctor Who conferences dressed as a Ood.
Women’s Voices’ prompt about the changes we’re going to make in our lives has prompted plenty of responses about the determination to change (and also the determination not to change). Which is great, and I can‘t wait to read them. But I’m done improving myself. I’m okay with the way I am. I don’t want to eat more healthfully, learn to flawlessly play through a Beethoven piano sonata, or finally become fluent in French.
I just want to spend more time having fabulous adventures in time and space with the Doctor. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Here’s another post in celebration of Women’s History Month—Ed.
A phenomenal woman, Maya Angelou, is a favorite choice for a woman on the U.S. $20 Bill.
There’s a plan afoot to try to get a woman’s portrait onto American currency, and I say it‘s about time! Women on 20s, whose motto is “A Woman’s Place Is On The Money,” is currently holding an online competition (there’s a slate of serious candidates) to choose a famous American female to replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill.
Inspired, I asked my Facebook friends: Who would you like to see replace Andy on the twenty?
The first response:
Quickly followed by:
Harriet Tubman, hands down.
Molly Brown. She’s unsinkable, so our currency would never crash.
Mae West. We could change E Pluribus Unum to “Come up and see me sometime.”
The suggestions continued, both serious and sarcastic:
Minnie Mouse—the quintessential American female icon.
Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul would totally rock a twenty.
One liberal pal suggested Hillary Clinton—“so she’d be able to raise even more money for her 2016 campaign!” My conservative friend Carol suggested Hillary too. “But only for a counterfeit bill, so it would be just as fake as she is.” (I love Carol for her wit, not her politics.)
The responses continued pouring in:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton!
Marge Simpson—complete with blue hair.
Jane Addams! She was the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, and she was a supporter of both civil rights and immigration reform. Progressive but non-partisan, an excellent role model in every way.
Politicians and public figures proved to be popular choices:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ann Richards! Smart, sassy and savvy. What’s not to love?
Eleanor Roosevelt, a great American who cared for the downtrodden and spoke up for them and for all women.
Pop Culture Icons were popular:
Samantha from Bewitched.
Leona Helmsley. But we’d have to replace E Pluribus Unum with “Only the little people pay taxes.”
Oprah! After all, at one time or another she’s likely to have owned that dollar bill you’re holding.
One friend apparently couldn’t choose between a political figure and a pop-culture icon:
I vote for either Eleanor Roosevelt or Grumpy Cat.
And my sister’s choice? Shirley Temple, iconic child actress and accomplished diplomat.
Within 24 hours I’d received hundreds of responses. The woman who got the most votes by far? Eleanor Roosevelt. She gets my vote too.
But my own favorite response was this:
I vote for Maya Angelou. Especially if her wisdom could be transferred to everyone who handled the bill.
I’d pay a lot more than twenty dollars to see that happen.
Thanks, Nicole Hollander and Bad Girl Chats, for inspiring this piece!
There are two kinds of people: those who prepare for the upcoming collapse of civilization, calamitous natural disaster, and/or zombie apocalypse. And the rest of us. But I do try to hedge my bets. Whenever I see a new book about coping with the worst, I buy it and put it on my Disaster Bookshelf.
Yes, I have an entire shelf devoted to books about emergency survival, including titles like The Special Air Services Survival Handbook, Preparedness Now! and How Not To Die.
I figure that if the world ever starts seriously going to hell, I can consult them.
So when the library where I work added Last-Minute Survival Secrets: 128 Ingenious Tips to Endure the Coming Apocalypse and Other Minor Inconveniences to its collection, I bought myself a copy for The Shelf. Written by humorist Joey Green, author of The Mad Scientist Handbook, it’s packed with quirky DIY tips for coping with everything from a power outage to the total collapse of life as we know it.
“In the wake of a major disaster or calamity,” Green promises, “you’ll . . . know how to make a radio antenna with a Slinky, revive a dead car battery with aspirin, and start a fire with potato chips.”
Skimming through the book before shelving it, I learned a lot. And while there are certain skills I’m unlikely to ever need—such as how to avoid detection from thermal imaging cameras with a space blanket—it‘s good to know that I can now, if necessary, create a functioning emergency toilet from trash bags and Kitty Litter.
And I now know how to defend myself with a ballpoint pen, which is bound to come in handy for library work.
Even better? I can fashion that pen—plus a few other items easily found at the circulation desk—into a dart gun! What a great way to respond to the irate patrons who go ballistic when I tell them they have to pay a fine. (And, of course, when zombies attack the library.)
If anyone gets up in my grill, I can take them out with the nearest Bic! (And if our copy machine breaks, I’ll just fashion a temporary replacement with dishwashing liquid and vanilla extract.)
Here are just a few of the other interesting factoids and tidbits I learned from Green’s book:
Vinegar neutralizes the effects of tear gas and pepper spray.
Water doesn’t need to be boiled to be safe to drink. Heating it to 150 degrees F for 20 minutes sufficiently pasteurizes it.
Pampers can absorb 300 times their weight in water.
If you’re unable to wash a minor wound, lick it. Scientists have found that histatin, a small protein in saliva known to kill bacteria, greatly speeds the healing of wounds. (Which explains why animals lick their wounds.)
A helmet made from a plastic bucket does not meet the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
In 1985, Space Shuttle astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman became the first person to play with a Slinky in zero gravity.
A stack of quarters weighs an ounce.
In 2010, Dr. Elena Bodnar created a bra that can be turned into a face mask which protects the wearer from lethal chemical attack.
Humans can safely drink water that contains less than 0.5 percent salt. (Seawater contains 3.5 percent salt.)
Mosquitoes hate the smell of Vicks Vaporub.
Bounce Outdoor Fresh fabric softener repels mosquitoes. (And rodents!)
But if you do get bitten? Applying Listerine to mosquito bites will stop the itching.
Tabasco Sauce will neutralize the pain of an excruciating toothache.
When a 22-year-old gunman shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others outside a Safeway in Tucson, unarmed shoppers took down the gunman with a lawn chair and ballpoint pens when he stopped to reload.
You can get rid of skunk odor with Massengill Disposable Douche.
Should disaster ever strike my Philadelphia suburb, you’ll probably find me cowering under the bed. I’ll be the librarian fashioning a Molotov cocktail from tampons.
Kosher Porn is a new collection of funny pick-up lines just for Jews, written by humorist Sarah Rosen and illustrated with photos by Tom Stokes. It’s based on Rosen’s popular dating blog, Porn4Jews. And it’s hilarious.
Rosen started her blog after a year and a half of post-college dating, during which, she writes, “I encountered many eligible bachelors who reaffirmed what I WASN’T looking for in a match. But I also began to home in on the qualities that I was looking for.” Which were? “I liked the dark-haired smart ones who were family oriented, seriously funny, and fully equipped to say the blessings at Shabbos dinner with my parents.”
In other words? She wanted a nice Jewish boy.
Rosen decided to explore her “traditional Bubbe-approved taste in romantic partners” through a blog that combined age-old Jewish values with modern-day memes. All with irreverent wit.
The cover of Kosher Porn shows a sexy mensch who gazes at the reader with bedroom eyes . . . as he lights a menorah. (And the author photo is of a curly-haired Jewish temptress who is, naturally, eating rugelach.)
Inside is series of photos of adorable Jewish twentysomethings, uttering pickup lines like:
You’re Jewish? Can I check?
You had me at Shalom.
My shul or yours?
Tonight’s the first night of Pesach. Let’s practice reclining.
If you’re free later, they’re showing Schindler’s List at the JCC.
I went to Camp Ben-Yehuda too!
Let’s have a bunch of kids and name them all Josh.
Guess where I hid the Afikomen?
I grew up Reform but I’d go Reconstructionist for you.
I’m so glad our therapists introduced us.
Just meeting you made me want to break a glass.
I can’t believe we had the same Torah portion!
Let’s spend a romantic weekend . . . at my Bubbe’s in Florida.
I only keep it Kosher in the kitchen.
I’m more than just a nice piece of tuches.
I’ll love you almost as much as your mom does.
Stay the night. I’ll make you challah French toast in the morning.
Next year in Jerusalem? How about right here, right now.
Kosher Porn is a giggle to read. But it’s also a nifty illustration of the way, with laughter, what’s traditional and what’s modern can successfully mix. And even match.
If you happen to be searching for a perfect Jewish mate, here’s one way to tell if you’ve met “The One.” Give him—or her—a copy of this book. If they he—or she—doesn’t crack a smile, keep looking.
Image from Flickr via Sally Mahoney
When I was a kid in the 1960s, my sister and I had our very own New Year’s Eve tradition. Every December 31, on the stroke of midnight, we’d duck out of the party our folks usually threw to dial the operator and wish her a happy New Year. We always felt sorry that she had to work and miss all the excitement.
These days, at midnight on New Year’s Eve my sister and I are usually sleeping soundly in our respective beds. But this year I began to wonder whether I was now the one who was missing out on all the excitement. So I asked my Facebook friends what they would be doing this New Year’s Eve.
The first response?
Every New Year’s Eve I bake bread. I like to put the loaves in the oven one year and take them out the next. I’ve been doing this for 27 years.
The next reply I got was just as good:
I’ll be celebrating my 60th birthday!
Then I heard from my friend Janet:
I’m having a special New Year’s Eve this year. I’ll be babysitting 6-month-old Rachel, my honorary grandbaby.
Clearly, my friends are going to be having fun. Although some, like me, were headed for bed:
As usual I expect that Mr. and Mrs. Excitement will be falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV at 10 PM, waiting for the Times Square ball to drop. After midnight we’ll realize we missed it, get up, turn off the TV, wish each other a happy New Year and go back to sleep in our real bed.
New Year’s Eve? Ambien does the trick for me!
But most of my pals will be celebrating. Their plans involve a mix of friends, family, and food:
For the past 10 years, my best friend and I have cooked up a massive paella and shared it with our friends.
We’ve had dinner with the same friends for seventeen years. This year it’s at their place and we always stay over.
We hold a progressive dinner with other neighborhood couples. We ’re at the top of the hill so we usually start it with appetizers, then on to the next house for salad, then the entrée. We end up at the final house for dessert and to ring in the New Year.
Here in Vienna we ring in the New Year with fireworks, which we view from a top floor balcony with friends. It is an awe-inspiring display. And last year, our friends’ son serenaded everyone with Auld Lang Syne on the trumpet.
We get together with a group of other families and rent a local skating rink.
We’re going to the wedding of a friend’s daughter with some of our oldest and closest friends. Perfect!
This year we’re hosting ten of our sons’ friends for the night. More than a ball may drop.
Some couples have created their own special traditions:
We’re having pizza, a tradition that began the year we were married, when we surprised my mom on New Year’s Eve, only to find that she was going to a party. The next year found us at a hotel in China; we happened to order pizza. Once we realized what we’d done, it became an annual tradition. Going on 27 years.
My hubby and I have never been big party people. So we always go skiing on New Year’s Eve. There’s hardly anyone else on the slopes!
For us, it’s pink champagne and Monopoly until the ball drops.
The two of us watch the same movie every year: Days of Wine and Roses.
Some nice music, a fire, a glass or two of wine, a little pasta. Maybe a vintage movie. A prosecco cork popping at midnight as jazz plays softly. Pretty boring by most standards but just fine . . . and quiet.
The best thing about living in New York City? A stroll through Central Park on New Year’s Eve.
A fortunate few will greet 2015 on the beach:
For the past 25 years, I’ve put my feet in the sand on New Year’s Eve… on the beach at Fort Myers.
I’ll be celebrating on the beach with my California kids this year!
Still, not everyone is planning on having a great time:
New Year’s Eve? It’s the sourest, most disappointing evening of the year, unless you’re a long-term happily married couple. I make it my mission to go to bed before the ball drops.
This holiday season is a sad one for me. I just may ignore it altogether.
But one neighbor, thankfully, has plenty to celebrate:
Last year I suffered from a severe postpartum depression and my best friends became my family. So this year we’re celebrating life together by making a gourmet feast and being thankful that I made it through the year, as we were not certain that I would. It will be fun and festive. Twelve best friends grateful to be dining together.
And for one lucky couple, there’s marriage in the air:
Getting married on New Year’s Eve has long been a dream of ours that finally came together. I am Russian, and in Russia we have a superstition—the way you celebrate the New Year is the way the rest of your year will be. Judging from our plans, 2015 should be full of cake and champagne.
Will the final moments of 2014 once again find me dozing? Or will the example of my friends inspire me to stay up and celebrate?
Either way, here’s wishing for a 2015 full of cake and champagne for all of us.
Nostalgic for those happy golden years when your kids were little? I’ve got just the book for you. The Big Book of Parenting Tweets is a new collection of 300 tweets from funny people who also happen to be parents, curated by Kate Hall, creator of the popular Hall of Tweets blog.
It is delightful. Immediate. True. Laugh-out-loud funny. And these dispatches from the front lines of parenting will provide you with a trip down memory lane and a much-needed reality check.
Why? They’ll remind you that, as wonderful as it is to parent young children, it can also be exhausting, tedious, and ridiculously stressful.
In fact, you and I are pretty damn lucky to have reached a time of life when we can take for granted little things like free time, sufficient sleep, and the ability to throw on a nice outfit not covered with baby spit and leave the house without anybody clinging to our legs and howling.
Laughter is a terrific way to reduce stress. And today’s beleaguered parents have something going for them that we didn’t—social media! We could kvetch to our family and friends, but they can vent to the whole world.
Thanks to Twitter, when an amateur comic who is also a parent cracks a good joke, the world listens! And if you need a good laugh, you should, too. Check out this sampling of the book’s best wit, wisdom, and wisecracks:
Yesterday I cleaned my house, which is dumb because we still live here.
To anyone out there thinking about having kids, today my 2YO threw a temper tantrum because she couldn’t get rid of her shadow.
You could make dinner for a toddler, or you could just cut out the middleman & throw away a plate of food & squirt ketchup on the dog.
My artistic 3YO has chosen the dining room table as her canvas, a blue Sharpie as her paint brush & lax supervision as her motivation.
My teen daughter dropped her phone. It broke. The world came to an end. Good-bye, everybody.
My 4YO just shut the bathroom door on me while I was inside and told me I was in jail. So I locked the door. I love this game.
Glad my son can read because now someone calls out from the backseat every 2 minutes with the current speed limit and how I’m exceeding it.
5YO: Mom, will you get me a yogurt?
Me: You’re closer to the fridge.
5YO: (moves to the other side of the room) Now you’re closer.
World peace could be achieved if all the political leaders of the world had to work together to dress and undress Barbies.
Fun Fact: The average group of 4YOs can take up to 7 years to break open a piñata.
Tonight we will be having “That looks kinda yucky” with a side of “How many bites do I have to take?”
Reasons my 2YO threw a fit today:
1) I woke her up
2) Her socks felt funny.
3) Her balloon was too floaty.
I bet if Bruce Banner had children, he’d be the Hulk more than 90% of the time.
Put a new blender on your baby registry. It drowns out the crying and makes margaritas. You’re welcome.
4YO: My teacher said zombies aren’t real.
Me: That sounds like something a zombie would say.
4YO: hides under her bed forever
“Daddy, I want to watch Dora.”
“Sweetie, this is Dora. It’s the one where she plays an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets.”
My signature move is spending 4 hours getting my kids to sleep and then tripping over a basket of cymbals on my way out of the room.
I only have to wait 30 more years before my daughter realizes I know what I’m talking about.
4YO: Tell me a scary story!
Me: One time little people popped out of your mom, and they never stopped asking questions.
There should be a theme park called Parentland where only parents can go. The rides would be couches where parents can just sit in peace.
Reassured the 5YO at 2 a.m. that there are no werewolves, then went back to bed where I can’t let my feet hang over because of the evil clowns.
MY 9YO says she always unbuttons her jeans when she sits on the couch because I do. So that’s my legacy right there, people.
I’ve been having a great time quoting these lines to other parents of adult children. We laugh like hyenas and agree that we never had as much fun as when our kids were young. Then we order another round of margaritas and toast the fact that not only we can stay out as long as we want, but we won’t have to pay off a babysitter when we get home.
So a man boards his El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, but when he sees Elana Sztokman there in the seat adjacent to his, he refuses to sit next to her.
Was she holding a howling baby? Did she have a hacking cough? Ebola, maybe?
No. Her offense? This person was a she.
The man, an ultra-religious Orthodox Jew, was so certain that God didn’t want him to sit beside a woman that he demanded a seat change. Other Orthodox men on board took up his cause, and the ensuing brouhaha delayed takeoff until, finally, another seat could be found for him.
Sztokman just happens to be the author of a new book, The War On Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Women Fighting For Freedom, in which she calls for an end to “the religious extremism that is hurting women” in that country.
Proving? That God, if he does exist, has a sense of humor. Or, at the very least, a deep sense of irony.
The outraged essay that Sztokman wrote about the incident quickly went viral.
Will this help Sztokman sell books?
I certainly hope so.
Seating flaps like this aren’t unusual for El Al. It happens often enough that instituting gender-segregated seating on their planes has been discussed.
And playing musical chairs with airplane seats, of course, is nothing new. It usually results when families who have been assigned seats all over the plane actually want to sit together. But seat shifting happens for other reasons too. To maximize legroom. To move away from a bathroom.
I’ve quietly asked the flight attendant for a change when seated beside a woman so obese that she was crowding me out of my seat. Or in front of a child who kept kicking my seatback. Flight attendants, I’ve found, will try to accommodate you if you’ve got a reasonable request.
But was this man’s request reasonable?
Sztokman didn’t think so. “What offends me,” she wrote, “is the premise that sitting next to me is a problem. . . . After all, I had just spoken to hundreds of people about exactly these issues and the way women are made to feel like second-class citizens as a result.”
My Facebook pals are also appalled, based on their comments to me about her essay:
“He should have been shown the door and told he can fly when he grows up”
“Shame on him for his lack of understanding and rigid misinterpretation of archaic rules.”
“He needs a private jet to control his flying environment, but I guess it’s easier to try to control women.”
“Make him walk.”
“It’s an airplane, not a shul!”
“Let him sit in the bathroom where he can be alone with his deep thoughts.”
“Maybe he should fly alone. Like, take a flying leap!”
As a single woman who usually flies alone, I’d rather sit next to a woman than a man, because women don’t hog the armrests. But when I find myself seated next to a guy, I don’t demand to be moved.
But then, for me, it’s a question of comfort, not one of religious belief.
So where does it end? One section for religious men. Another for religious women. Well then, how about another section for secular humanist Jews like me, where we can nosh our non-kosher snacks and read the New York Times in peace?
What about a section for anyone traveling with a screaming baby? Or a really bad cold? A section for folks who plan to feast on pungent food?
A section for introverts only, to ensure that they won’t have to talk to each other?
A window-shades-closed section for travelers who want to nap through the flight?
A section for white-knuckled flyers, with special “This Plane Is Safe and Will Not Crash” affirmations printed on the seat-back cards?
And why not a special section for those restless flyers who bounce up every five minutes to stretch their legs, visit the bathroom, and schmooze with the flight attendants?
But this “woman, begone!” idea is way different from a mere benign preference (like the desire not to be near the bathroom). It is a serious attack on women’s hard-won right to equality in public accommodations. Travelers who see the entire female sex as “the other”—beings who are somehow too alien to sit in the next seat—should not get their way. This is a matter of standing up for every woman’s right to ordinary, taken-for-granted equality in normal public life—the very sort of equality that people of color spent the past century fighting for. To give a religious reason for the disdain, as Sztokman writes, “doesn’t excuse the insult.”
El Al, I trust, will eventually get this all sorted out. (Seeking a reality check, I spoke with a friend who is a Professor of Jewish Studies with Orthodox rabbinic ordination, who assured me that the vast majority of men in the modern Orthodox world have no problem working with women and interacting with them on a regular basis, including in flight.) Either that, or people will begin to behave in the tolerant, kind way that most religions, when not taken to fanatical extremes, encourage them to.
In the meantime, I’ve got an idea. Feminist Airlines! The very first airline to fly in accordance with feminist values. Every passenger will be considered equal and worthy, and all will be expected to treat each other with consideration and kindness. (And, of course, Gloria Steinem always flies for free.)
Fly the feminist skies with me, Elana! I’ll see you at the airport.
With age comes wisdom. And, frequently, cataracts. (By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.) I’m having cataract surgery next week. Hoping to have a little fun with this particular rite of passage, I put out a call to my Facebook friends:
“What songs should I put on my Cataract Surgery Mix Tape?”
Within seconds, I had my first response:
The First Cut Is the Deepest.
“Good one!” I responded, trying not to wince.
Then the next suggestion appeared.
Doctor My Eyes.
“Perfect!“ I replied.
“Blinded By the Light!” suggested a third. “Because that’s what driving at night with cataracts is like.”
Other titles soon followed:
Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
She Blinded Me with Science.
My friends, many of whom have had cataract surgery themselves, offered encouragement and support along with their song suggestions.
“Cataract surgery is a piece of cake! And you’ll be able to throw away your bifocals.”
“The surgery is quick and you won’t feel a thing.”
“It was amazing to have clear vision after wearing glasses for 50 years!’
Meanwhile, song suggestions were coming in fast and furious.
I’ll Be Seeing You.
See You in September.
I’m Looking Through You.
I’d Rather Go Blind.
“Anything by the Black-Eyed Peas!”
And a classical music fan suggested Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened, from Handel’s Messiah.
“From the 28,675 songs in my eyetunes—sorry, iTtunes—Library,” posted my friend Bill, “I came up with more than 460 appropriate songs.” Rather then listing them all, he offered to burn me a CD. (Now THERE’S a pal.)
And the hits just kept on coming:
I Saw the Light.
Miss Me Blind.
Eyes of the World.
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.
So did the encouragement:
“Cataract surgery is a total non-event. I drove my mom to the clinic to have it done, and we went out to lunch afterwards.“
“Like most unpleasant events, the expectation is worse than the reality.”
“Just breathe. Your eyes will be in good hands. “
One friend’s song titles were posted in a Question and Answer Format.
Q: What’s the best song to sing to your doctor before cataract surgery?
A: I Only Have Eyes For You.
Q: Once the procedure starts, where will your ophthalmologist be?
A: In Your Eyes.
Q: What will you have once you’re recovered?
A: Bright Eyes!
Friends posted several other post-recovery songs:
I Can See Clearly Now.
I Can See for Miles and Miles.
Here Comes the Sun.
And more encouraging words:
“You’ll be able to open your eyes in the morning and see clearly!”
“I went from walking into walls to 20/20. Priceless.”
“Good luck! You’ll recover quickly. But you can still laugh and dance (and sleep and nap) while you’re out of focus.“
And so I will . . . With a Little Help From My Friends.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 Now that I’ve let my New York Times subscription lapse, I get most of my news online. When I logged on this morning, this headline caught my eye:
Woman Gets Third Boob Implanted, Wants to Be “Unattractive to Men.”
Apparently, one Jasmine Tridevil, a massage therapist from Tampa, Florida, was claiming that she’d just spent $20,000 to get a third breast implanted between the two she already had. Why? She was fed up with dating, she claims, and did it so that guys would find her unattractive.
The good news? She had to contact 50 docs before she found a surgeon willing to give her that extra boob. (Medical ethics! Alive and well! Who knew?)
But she ultimately did find a doc to do the deed.
Then she covered up, went home, and quietly lived happily ever after? Not a chance! Instead, she publicized what she’d done, complete with a photo of herself in a low-cut top that all three boobs are spilling out of.
Yeah, that’s exactly how to become uninteresting to guys. Flood the Internet with revealing photos that are all about your breasts!
As a mild-mannered 60-year old librarian, I could have given Tridevil some advice about getting men to ignore you. Stop leading with your cleavage! Dress modestly. Highlight your mind, not your body. (You will instantly become invisible to all but the best kind of guy.)
My favorite part of stories like this? The reader comments:
She thinks she has a hard time finding bras that fit now? Just wait!
Too bad she didn’t shop for a brain implant.
Someone should have told her that less is more.
She did this to become unattractive to men? She obviously knows very little about men.
She’d rather be attractive to freaks?
If tits were brains she’d be Einstein. But they’re not.
Why not put one on your nose? That would be novel.
If God had wanted women to have three breasts, he would have made men with three hands.
Um, yeah. What? No.
She wants to be unattractive? Mission accomplished!
Well you’ve had your 5 minutes of fame. Now what, hon?
So glad you asked, Commenter! Tridevil revealed in a radio interview that her “biggest dream” is to have an MTV reality show. Is her family on board? “My mom won’t talk to me,” she says. “She won’t let my sister talk to me. My dad . . . is kind of ashamed of me . . .”
Terrific! A freaked-out family that doesn’t talk to you plays much better on reality TV than a sane, supportive and loving one.
I, of course was brainstorming a show this dimwit could star in— “Who Wants to Be in Therapy?”
Start with the three-breasted lady. Add a couple of Kardashians and those NFL players who keep getting away with beating their loved ones. Include a surgeon who’ll do anything for a buck. Top it off with a few rabidly anti-gay politicians caught cruising local bathrooms for gay sex. Then throw in a top-notch psychotherapist. I might even watch that.
Did the whole thing turn out to be a big fat hoax? Well, what do you think? Snopes, the myth-busting website, got on the story and revealed that “Jasmine Tridevil” appeared to be a domain name owned by one Alisha Jasmine Hessler, a Florida massage therapist whose website proclaimed her to be a “Provider of Internet Hoaxes since 2014.” Not only that, Hessler had recently filed a stolen baggage complaint at Tampa International Airport that listed a ‘3 breast prosthesis’ among the items lost! (Nor, when questioned, could she produce a doctor who’d back up her story.)
Tridevil, it seems, is not a 3-breasted lady after all—only a two-breasted liar who wants her own TV show.
The sad thing is, she’ll probably get it.
As for me? I’m re-subscribing to The Times.
Image from Flickr via
Life is hard and toes are fragile, which means that by the time you reach our age, you’ve probably broken one. Or two. I recently broke a toe when I got out of bed in the middle of the night and tripped over a shoe. When friends and family consoled me with their own Toe Break Tales, I learned that there are more ways to break a toe than you could possibly imagine. Intrigued, I turned to my Facebook friends. “Have you ever broken a toe?” I asked. “Tell me how it happened.” Here’s a sampling of their responses.
Are You Active? Watch Your Toes!
I broke my pinky toe sliding into third base.
I broke my toe playing Frisbee outside with friends barefoot. Was alcohol involved? Maybe.
I used to exercise by dancing around my house. I twirled too close to a stone table. Ouch.
Athletes Break Their Toes. But Intellectuals Do, Too.
I broke my toe when I tripped over my two=volume slipcase edition of The Riverside Shakespeare.
Running barefoot down a basement hallway at a writers’ workshop, I broke my right big toe when I caught it in the bottom of my trouser leg.
I broke my toe in a car crash on the way to the library.
Gravity Is Your Toe’s Natural Enemy
I dropped a can of Progresso minestrone soup on my big toe.
I opened the freezer door and a 10-pound roast fell out onto my foot.
A jar of Salsa fell on my toe from the top of a cabinet.
I dropped a terra cotta pot on my baby toe. Yesterday.
I removed my suitcase from an airplane’s overhead rack and dropped it on my little toe.
For Some People, Broken Toes Are a Way Of Life:
I’ve broken the little toe on my right foot so many times I’ve lost count.
I’m barefoot on a boat for most of the summer and am always breaking or stubbing toes.
I’ve broken the same baby toe three times!
I seem to have found my Superpower—hooking my toe on a piece of furniture while momentum works its magic, keeping the rest of my body moving forward. I’ve done this many times.
There’s No Good Time To Break a Toe . . . But Some Times Are Worse Than Others
The morning of my son’s First Communion, I dropped a pizza stone on my foot.
I dropped a large flashlight on my big toe as I was getting ready to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day.
I smashed my toe into a laundry basket three weeks before running a half marathon.
A Toe Break Can Contain a Valuable Life Lesson
I was carrying a large basket of dirty clothes and tripped over the small bathroom garbage can I’d forgotten I’d put at the top of the stairs in the hope that someone else would carry it down. Lesson learned? Do it yourself!
I was about to carry a basket of laundry down the stairs in my stocking feet when my husband said, “Put your slippers on, you’re going to slip.” I ignored him, slipped, and broke both my big toe and my pinky. Next time, maybe I’ll listen.
Your House Is Out to Get You!
I fell down a flight of steps and broke my big toe.
I caught my pinky toe on the edge of a door.
I rammed my toe into the metal leg of a radiator.
I slammed my foot into a wooden stair riser.
And Watch Out for the Furniture!
I broke my toe on a glass coffee table.
I stubbed my toe on a bedpost.
I stubbed it on the dining room table of a vacation rental.
I broke the same baby toe on the same dining room chair chasing different toddlers in different years.
Things Left on the Floor May Be Hazardous to Your Toes
During our last move, there was a pile of packing paper on the kitchen floor. I ran into it and broke my pinky toe. (Who breaks their toe on PAPER?)
I caught my little toe on a toy my grandson left on the hallway floor.
Follow Your Bliss—and Break Your Toe!
I broke my toe on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.
I broke my toe when I went outside, barefoot, to admire the stars and stubbed it on a rock.
I broke my middle toe in the dang pool. (I told my husband I was going to start wearing combat boots, even in the pool.)
Horses and Toes Don’t Mix
I broke my toe horseback riding when I was 12.
Two different horses, ten years apart, stepped on my pinky toe and broke it.
Your Toe Can Break When You Least Expect It
I broke my big toe coming down from a headstand.
My mother-in-law broke 3 toes putting her shoes on.
I broke my toe at chapel when it got caught in a folding chair.
My baby toe broke when my husband dropped his crutches on it.
The Worst Toe Breaks of All? The Ones with Added Angst
I tripped over a concrete barrier and broke my toe on the way into the pharmacy to pick up drugs to treat a yeast infection. Insult to injury, for sure.
I broke my toe when I stubbed it on a chair as I rushed to answer the phone. It was an obscene phone call.
And Keep in Mind That Karma Is a Bitch
My friend kicked her husband and broke her toe.
The Only Way to Avoid a Broken Toe?
Stay home. In bed. With your shoes on. Which is no way to live. So go out and embrace life! You’ll probably break a toe. But it will heal.
And remember this: A broken toe is no fun. But it beats having a broken heart.
So you don’t want to give your dog an ordinary name like Fido or Spot. And you love books. So, naturally, you turn to your favorite literary classics when it’s time to name the new puppy. The result? This list of actual canine names inspired by literature (from The Giant Book of Dog Names)
A chiwawa named Kafka? A pug named Nietzsche? Well, why not? Still, it takes a very special— or just very bookish—person to name her dog Voldemort.
Not that I have anything against literary dog names. In fact, we named our own Yorkie-poo Captain Colossal, after a character in a young adult novel by Daniel Pinkwater, thus going with both literature AND irony. Does Captain mind being saddled with a (gently) mocking moniker? Not at all.
He’s probably just glad we didn’t name him Mrs. Danvers.
We’re happy to report that Cartoonist Isabella Bannerman, whom we profiled two years ago, and whose work we’ve continued to feature, has just won this year’s Reuben award for “Best Newspaper Comic Strip” from the National Cartoonists Society.
Bannerman is one of the six female cartoonists making up King Feature’s popular “Six Chix” strip, which is syndicated to 100 newspapers worldwide (and is also available online.) Bannerman has contributed the Monday cartoon (and as well as many Sunday strips) to the feature since it began in 1999.
To be considered for the Reuben, Bannerman had to submit a dozen cartoons published in 2013, which were then evaluated by a jury made up of other artists. Her favorite of the batch? This cartoon about texting:
© 2013 ISABELLA BANNERMAN KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. WORLD RIGHTS RESERVED
“I was concerned about the danger of texting while driving,“ Bannerman says. “Texting and walking is a lot less scary than texting while driving, so it seemed better for a cartoon. Everyone is familiar with “The Road Not Taken.” I liked the way the words of the poem fit with the sight gag.”
Another winning cartoon was this critique of a current bestseller.
© 2013 ISABELLA BANNERMAN KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. WORLD RIGHTS RESERVED
“I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In—and just reading it made me tired!” says Bannerman. “Sandberg wants women to do more. Speak up more! Sit at the table! Lean in when we do sit at the table! She’s clearly a super-high-energy person—after all, the woman is a former aerobics instructor. While I have no problem with her message, for a less energetic person, all that pushing and leaning sounded exhausting. I decided to reference that old hair spray ad—’She conked out but her hair held up!’ Even as a kid, I found that ad weird and funny.”
Still another cartoon pokes fun at an aspect of contemporary life many of us will recognize:
© 2013 ISABELLA BANNERMAN KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. WORLD RIGHTS RESERVED
“I’m old enough to remember when yoga didn’t require a lot of equipment,” Bannerman says. “Maybe, at most, a beach towel. So when I recently found myself in a crowded yoga class that involved hauling a small household’s worth of equipment to my spot, I found it funny.”
Bannerman was 38 when “Six Chix” began. Now she’s 53. How has her work changed? “I’m doing fewer gags about little kids and more gags about living with teenagers,” she says. “And more strips about aches and pains, going to the doctor, and trying to live in a healthier way. But her outlook has also changed. “These days I also do more editorializing about larger issues, like pollution and climate change,” she says. “When your kids are young you’re completely absorbed in the minutiae of their world. Now that my kids are older, I’m able to look around and take a broader perspective.”
The best thing about being a syndicated cartoonist? “I never take for granted that I have an outlet to express my thoughts and my feelings,” says Bannerman. “I love having the freedom to say whatever I want.” And an audience, including her fellow cartoonists, who can’t wait to see what she has to say.
I’m sure this has happened to you. You run into someone you know, but she isn’t where you’d expect to see her. Your yoga instructor . . . at the dry cleaner’s. A member of your book club . . . at the local Starbucks. Your mental wheels start to spin. “I know her,” you’re thinking. “But . . . who the hell is she?
She recognizes you. She smiles and greets you by name. You return her smile, desperately trying not to let on that you can’t place her.
Who the hell is she? Who the hell knows?
Welcome to my world.
I’m face blind. It’s real. There’s even a Greek name for it. Prosopagnosia. There’s a part of the brain (the fusiform gyrus) that is devoted to facial recognition. If you have prosopagnosia, that part of your brain doesn’t work.
Which is why, even if we’re friends, the next time our paths cross I may breeze right by like I’ve never seen you before.
Trying to tell one face from another, for the face blind, is like trying to distinguish one rock from another rock.
It can be done. But not easily.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks, ironically, is face blind. So is artist Chuck Close. I believe that I am too, although I have yet to receive an official diagnosis. Why bother? When news stories about prosopagnosia first began to appear, I was bombarded with emails from friends and family, saying, “Now we know what’s wrong with you!”
Brad Pitt recently “came out” as being face blind. (Which means that he and I have something in common besides our sexy good looks and charisma.)
As Brad and I have learned, there is no cure. You just have to cope.
The real problem with being face blind isn’t that you can’t recognize faces. It’s that people expect you to be able to.
If a library patron who has been bringing her kids to my story time for years comes up to the circulation desk to check a book out and I don’t recognize her, she doesn’t think: “Poor Roz. She must be face blind.”
Instead, she’s probably thinking: “All these years and she acts like she doesn’t know me? That Roz is one rude bitch.”
So we face-blind folks develop a vast arsenal of ploys and tricks to work around the perils of such social encounters. We learn to identify you by the sound of your voice. Your hair style and color. Your body language. The way you dress. In conversation, we’ll try to manipulate you into revealing your identity before you can catch on to the fact that we don’t know who you are.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t still make mistakes. Plenty of them.
When Karen, the mother of two terrific kids I used to baby-sit, came into the library recently, I asked, “How are the girls?”
When she just starred at me blankly, I realized that she wasn’t Karen after all.
Then there was the time I foolishly tried, on a walk with my pal Janet, to introduce her to one of my neighbors. “Janet, this is my neighbor Deb,” I said.
“No I’m not!” “Deb” protested. Because she was actually my neighbor Julie. Both women have short brown hair and live on my block. But Deb is 20 years older (and 30 pounds heavier) than Julie.
Was that embarrassing? Hell, yes.
So I try not to assume that I know who you are until you tell me something that nails it. And because I don’t know if you’re a close friend, a sworn enemy or a total stranger, I greet everyone with a smile.
We face blind people are the friendliest people around. Since we don’t know who you are, we’ll always approach you with a cheery “Hello!” just to play it safe.
Every day when I’m out walking, a person I could swear on a stack of Bibles I’ve never seen before passes me on the street and calls out “Hi, Roz!”
Just once, instead of responding with a friendly “Hello!” I’d love to be able to stop and demand, “Who the hell are you?”
Or, better yet, require that, out of deference to my prosopagnosia, everyone have the courtesy to wear name tags.
Instead, I’ll keep trying to learn to recognize you. And, with time and plenty of effort, I’ll probably be able to. But if you change your haircut, a bad cold lowers your voice an octave, or you turn up where I don’t expect to see you, I may still draw a blank.
Last week I ran into a library patron at the movies—and, for once, oddly, I easily recognized him! “Hi, Karl!” I said, with complete confidence that this was Karl and not Bruce or Bob. I was even able to introduce him to my friend Mark without fear of embarrassment.
How did it feel? WONDERFUL. That lost, floundering-around sensation was gone. It gave me a glimpse of what I’d been missing. How splendid and satisfying it would be to go through life actually being able to recognize the people I know.
The next time I see Karl, of course, I’ll probably call him Steve and ask how his Chihuahuas are doing.
Yes, there are worse problems to have.
But if they ever discover a cure, I’ll be the first in line. Or the second in line, right behind Brad Pitt. Whom I probably won’t recognize.
Eschew this? Cake by Night Kitchen Bakery
I‘m processing books in the circulation office of the library where I work when I hear a sudden outcry.
“This is dreadful.”
“This is just terrible!”
What catastrophe are my co-workers, all middle-aged women, reacting to? Have the library’s computers crashed again? Has a letter from an irate patron just been posted on the bulletin board? Is there another new book by Joyce Carol Oates?
Nope. They’re talking about cake.
One of our patrons has baked us a scrumptious-looking chocolate cake, which sits invitingly on the counter in the circulation office. After taking a piece (“I really shouldn’t, but . . .”) I return to my work station and continue to eavesdrop as my co-workers respond to this thoughtful gift.
“Oh my God!”
“This is just evil.”
You’d think that eating chocolate cake was the worst possible kind of calamity.
“This is treacherous.”
“I’m in trouble now.”
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear.“
I begin to wonder—isn’t anybody going to say anything positive? Like: “Chocolate cake? How cool is that?” Or “I love cake. I’m having a nice big slice.”
Not a chance. By afternoon’s end, not a single librarian has had anything nice to say about this unexpected treat. We’ve gobbled it down. But have we enjoyed it?
You sure wouldn’t think so, listening to us.
Last week, I helped celebrate my pal Lucy’s 40th birthday. As we all sang “Happy Birthday,” Lucy’s husband brought out a beautiful layer cake he’d made from scratch, lavishly decorated by Olivia, their 7-year-old daughter.
I try to avoid sweets, but I always make an exception for birthday cake. To turn down birthday cake, it seems to me, is just bad karma.
So I had a slice. And I enjoyed it, too. But my pleasure was undercut by the guilt I felt about consuming all those empty calories.
Lucy’s other friends also said yes to cake, invariably adding, “Just a small slice for me, thanks.” or “Just a tiny taste.”
But the kids at the party, a gaggle of little girls Olivia‘s age, had a totally different response. Drawn to that cake like moths to a flame, each child claimed as large a piece as she could get her hands on, then happily made short work of it.
Seeing cake, they weren’t alarmed. They were thrilled.
They were quite a sight, these little girls, beaming, with huge chunks of cake on their plates.
And yet, sometime between now and adulthood, they, too, will stop being delighted by cake and learn to fear it. Rather than taking a big piece and loving it, they’ll ask for a tiny slice and beat themselves up about eating it.
Is there a scientific name for this crazy cake phobia—the terror that strikes the hearts of otherwise sane and mature women when offered a delicious dessert? Yes, cake has zero nutritional value. Still, shouldn’t a grown woman be able to simply enjoy a piece from time to time?
Listening to my co-workers kvetch about our cake, and remembering how much those little girls loved eating theirs, I resolved to attempt to shed my own fear of delicious pastry and get back in touch with my inner 7-year-old.
Call it Radical Middle-aged Cake Acceptance.
When comes to cake, I’m going to give myself just two options. Either smile and say “No, thanks.” Or have a piece and enjoy it, without ambivalence or guilt, the way I did when I was a kid.
“Cake is not the enemy” is my brand-new mantra. (You can try it too. Just repeat after me: “Cake is not dreadful. Cake is delicious.”)
Is this an impossible dream?
Invite me to your next party and let’s find out.