Mmmmmmmarijuana. The state of Virginia is set to allow cultivation and possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal and recreational use. I’m a 70s sort of guy. I loved marijuana when you could buy a few ounces for a few dollars and be reasonably sure that no one had altered the product with angel dust, rat poison, PCP, meth, or any other nasty substance that could cause harm.

I used to grow it in my basement under Gro Lights, water it, feed it according to A Child’s Garden of Grass, the classic book by Jack Margolis and Richard Clorfene. I also grew it on the roof of my downtown townhouse until neighborhood thieves ripped off my entire garden.

When the plants were a few feet tall and bright green, I would pick off the top buds of the female and ruthlessly assassinate the male plants, thus causing the females to go nuts, flower, and produce (or so it was believed) a particularly potent plant that some called sinsemilla. The plants were dried in toaster ovens, packed in little baggies, and distributed free of charge to my needy friends, who would in turn gift me cookies, cakes, and bhang, an “edible mixture made from the buds, leaves, and flowers of the female cannabis, or marijuana, plant. In India, it’s been added to food and drinks for thousands of years and is a feature of Hindu religious practices, rituals, and festivals—including the popular spring festival of Holi.” I am quoting here from  

I met one of my best friends when the home-made trailer he was towing rolled through Adams Morgan, laden with a variety of cannabis sativa. I said, “Interesting crop you have there,” and he grinned sheepishly, and we’ve been BFFLs since then.

One time, I stuffed our Thanksgiving turkey with about half-an-ounce of powdered grass. My mother, who during the war in North Africa had had some experience with hashish, immediately knew something was awry. My father, an innocent, raved about the meal, pronouncing it the best he’d ever had. He destroyed a plate of unadulterated brownies and passed out in my living room easy chair. My mom and I did not speak of the incident, but I think her trust in my culinary skills took a nosedive. She never let me cook for her and my father again.    

The legalization of recreational marijuana is for me somewhat problematic. Some thirty years ago, I gave up drugs and alcohol. I no longer miss them, because there’s no doubt in my mind that drug usage did not serve me well. Twenty-three years ago, I stopped smoking. I know that cannabis smoke is not good for you, though it has been declared less harmful than smoking tobacco. It also has some proven medicinal effects.

I have never believed that marijuana is truly harmful. I was an addiction counselor for a decade, and not once did an addict or alcoholic I was working with tell me marijuana was the cause of his or her ills. I don’t think marijuana is a gateway drug; I think alcohol and nicotine, both legal, are responsible for far more harm than any cannabis harvest. I actually will welcome taxation of marijuana products, as well as USDA regulations ensuring purity.

But I’m not sure what I will do when a Hmmariuana (the real name of a projected chain) store opens in the neighborhood. I may be tempted to see if I can still roll a joint with one hand. This was an acquired skill I would not want to lose, as was creating a bong from an empty Coke can and a piece of tin foil.

What to do… I’m willing to listen to reason and take advice from my peers.   

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The Inconvenience Store

Every couple of years or so, I feel it incumbent to perform my duties as a citizen and warn my fellows against convenience stores.

Wait. Don’t stop reading. This will get more interesting shortly.

This time around, I am motivated by seeing an elderly woman belly-up to the counter at a 7-11 and fish out nickels, dimes and pennies to buy a lottery card. She emptied the pockets of a worn skirt and picked the coins from the gathering of lint, matchbooks, non-winning lotto cards, a ballpoint pen cap, a Bic lighter, and a keychain with one key on it. She used the key to scratch out the silver gunk covering the card’s collection of numbers. She didn’t win, which was not a surprise.

Most lottery odds are astronomical. One in 175,223,510 for the $40,000,000 Powerball, with almost the same numbers for Mega Million. Smaller scratch-off contests, such as the one the woman was playing, are somewhat better odds with much lower pay-offs. So let’s admit it, convenient stores sell impossible dreams.

Lottery players are overwhelmingly lower income. They’re looking for the miracle that is unlikely to occur. The rational is that a dollar or so a day isn’t going to bankrupt anyone, but the people I see playing almost daily are spending a lot more than a buck. One convenience store near me recently hung a banner in its window proclaiming it had sold a $10,000-winning lottery ticket, and the man behind the counter laughed as he told me the winner had been buying five-dollar tickets there daily for more than a decade, so he may, or may not, have gotten back some of the money he spent. But probably not.

And all of this would be OK save that these very same establishments also sell addictive drugs–beer and wine, cigarettes, snuff and other tobacco products–crappy food either deep fried, full of sugar, or both; sodas sweetened with cancer-causing additives; nudie and gun magazines, and, in one case, a magazine full of nude women handling high-powered semi-automatic rifles (is this a great country or what?); pharmaceuticals in tiny, high-priced vials; the throw-away phones favored by drug dealers; and, of course, super high-calorie frozen drinks so sweet they’re guaranteed to make any child hyper.

But wait, there’s more. Almost all stores have an ATM, so if you don’t have the cash on hand to buy any of the above, you can punch in a withdrawal from your savings account. And let’s not forget these stores are basically designed for those among us who can’t or don’t plan ahead and are willing to buy four aspirins for two dollars because we ran out and now really need them.

There are a couple of such stores in my immediate vicinity. I go there three or four times a week to buy a cup of coffee because I don’t necessarily want to pay Starbucks prices, and here’s something I’ve noticed: there are never any expensive cars in the stores’ parking lots. No Mercedes or Caddies or Aston-Martins. Mostly there are trucks and vans, old beaters and Japanese rice-burners that have seen better days. In other words, the people who rely on the convenient stores are the ones who can least afford to shop there.

It is said that in the suburbs, convenience store owners, much like the folks who own fast food places, are almost all millionaires, and it makes sense. Many such places are family run. The overhead is relatively low, the markup extremely high, and salaries hover around minimum wage. Convenience stores, like liquor stores, seldom go bankrupt.

The other side of that coin is that such stores are at higher risk of robbery since they’re often open all night. In fact, according to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, convenience store robberies account for six percent of all robberies known to the police, and convenience store employees suffer from a workplace homicide rate second only to that of taxicab drivers.

Risky business, both for the employees and the customers.

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My Almost-friend Patrick

Patrick Juvet died today. I didn’t know him at all well, but I liked him a lot and meeting him led to one of my life’s unforgettable moments.

Patrick was a French rock ‘n’ roll star in the 70s. He was Swiss, and my late sister Florence discovered his vocal talents and fashioned him into the French David Bowie, make-up and all.

Like Bowie he was unforgettably handsome in a thin, androgynous way. For a while, he and Florence—though she was quite a bit older—formed one of Paris’ celebrated couples with matching mink coats and Porsches. I knew he’d gone through hard times, had had issues with drugs and alcohol, and was not, according to my sister, an entirely safe person to be with.

I saw him perform a few times in Paris, and he once called me in the middle of the night to seek my opinion on breaking into the American music market. I know he went to Nashville and recorded a few songs there, but bigger French pop stars than he had tried and failed to make it in the US.  The last time I saw him was almost 20 years ago at Florence’s funeral in Paris. He had aged and put on some weight, but proudly told me he was doing a show that very evening in La Rochelle, a coastal city in southwestern France, where the Knight Templars once had their base.

My iconic moment had occurred a decade-and-a-half earlier. Florence had invited me to join her in St. Tropez, a town on the French Riviera, where Patrick was to perform. I took the train from Paris where I was vacationing and met her and Patrick for lunch at a small and ridiculously overpriced bistro. Florence told us to wait as a friend of hers would join us shortly.

We waited and waited, drinking Pernod and Vichy water, until eventually a large black chauffeur-driven Citroën pulled up. A diminutive woman wearing a large hat emerged. It was Brigitte Bardot.

In minutes, paparazzies swarmed the restaurant. I thought my moment of fame had arrived and put on large aviator sunglasses to appear media- worthy. We ate in the restaurant as photographers outside yelled questions at Bardot which she ignored. I think I might have spoken one full sentence during the 45-minute encounter, but I anticipated seeing my photo in the local and regional papers. After all, I did look mysterious and somewhat Peter Fonda-ish.

After Bardot left, I learned she and Flo were more acquaintances than friends. Bardot’s star was waning while Florence’s was ascending. They’d been introduced in Paris and Flo had suggested Bardot record a song with Juvet.

The next morning’s newspapers touted a rumored affair between Bardot and Juvet. Several photos showed the singer and actress sharing a meal at the bistro and leaning close together in an intimate moment.

I had been cropped out of every single picture, which Flo found hilarious.

Patrick wrote a pretty good autobiography, which I have. I think at some point he relapsed, then got clean again. He was supposedly planning a comeback album when he died in Barcelona.

My sister Florence died in 2002. Bardot is 86, Patrick was 70 when he passed away. Somewhere, I have a photo of us with Flo, but I’m not sure where it is. It doesn’t matter. The moment is there forever.

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I had a tooth pulled recently. A small and vital part of my anatomy was forcibly removed and now my tongue is fixated on that empty space, right upper middle, of my mouth.

The tooth didn’t want to go. It was as attached to me as I was to it and it had, I was told by the dentist, very deep and stubborn roots. It took him almost a half-hour of pulling, pushing, hammering, and twisting to get the thing out. When he dropped it on the tray, a sad, bloody thing that had served me well for almost my entire life, I felt a true pang of sadness. I had to go to a specialized dentist. My regular dentist doesn’t pull teeth, apparently. Nor, I suspect, would he charge me $570 for the service if he did.

I’ve been told that many people my age, born immediately after World War II in large European cities, have bad teeth and poor eyesight, both due to lack of protein in areas starved for milk, cheese, and meat. I started having troubles with my teeth when I was a little kid, and one of my earliest—and worst—memories is of a giant needle being stuck beneath my tongue and into my palate so the dentist, a rough-handed man who smelled of stale wine, could fill my already decaying molars with a nasty mélange of lead and God knows what else. I remember the bitter taste of the amalgam and the swelling cheeks that made adults smile because I looked like a chipmunk. The worst part was the aftermath: I had to survive on bouillie—a vile mixture of day-old bread and warm water—for ten days.  

My mother had horrible teeth, uneven, gapped, and stained yellow from her incessant filterless Pall Malls. She smoked a pack a day and claimed not to inhale, which may have been true. My father swore he never went to the dentist, not once, and in spite of being raised in Great Britain, he had the legendary pearly whites of an American movie star.

When we came to America, one of my mother’s first chores was finding a dentist who could speak French. It turned out there were two in the Washington area. One was the son of a disgraced and exiled French politician. The other was an Alsatian man she simply did not trust because Alsace had been occupied too many times by the Germans and who knows what political ideology the man might foster.

Dr. Bouquet—the trustworthy one—cleaned my mother’s teeth every three months and waged a fruitless war to get her to stop smoking. When I broke a front tooth playing basketball, he created an odd-colored cap that prevented me from smiling for weeks.  

Nowadays, I brush and I use a machine that sends a pulsating stream of water to clean my teeth of harmful debris. I still get cavities. I have ceramic crowns, fillings and a bridge. I really hope there will be no more teeth removed. It’s difficult to say goodbye to even the smallest part of me.     

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Vive le Français!

Not too long ago, I resumed writing the sequel to my book, L’Amérique, which was published by a small university press. It’s a thinly disguised partly fictional autobiography—something I like to call faction (fact/fiction, get it?) and when it came out, it was relatively well received. I still get royalty checks in the single digit.

I stopped writing the untitled sequel because a book I wrote a year later, Montparnasse, was nominated by its publisher for a Pulitzer, and though I had no chance of winning, I had hoped the nomination might bolster my career. It didn’t. The Pulitzer people do not allow nominees to boast of this honor—no mention on the cover or the back cover blurb or, for that fact, anywhere.

This was disappointing and I was struck by the futility of it all. Here I had devoted more than two thirds of my life to the written word, and I was making more money correcting the works of others than authoring my own stuff.

But writing is what I do. An idea germinated, grew and bloomed, and I was once again dealing with L’Amérique’s protagonist, Jeanot, a French youth generally flummoxed by America, and his struggles to understand and fit in les États Unis.

In L’Amérique, I used a number of French phrases that either needed no translation, or whose meanings were made clear by their inclusions. In the sequel, I started thinking about how colorful French is, and how some commonly used phrases defy translation.

Être con comme un manche à balais. To be as stupid as a broom handle. The word con, by the way, cannot be translated into that horrible English term used to denote female genitalia. It merely means being stupid beyond comprehension and is now a banal, and sometimes even affectionate, insult.

Tu déconne! You’re kidding!

Jeter un coup d’œil means to throw a glance at.

Mêle-toi de tes oignons. Mind your own onions, or business. This is one of my favorite expressions. I use it as often as I can.

Avoir le cul entre deux chaises. Having one’s ass on two chairs. Straddling a fence.

Faire la tête. To make a head, or to sulk.

Casser les pieds. To break one’s feet. To annoy.

N’être pas sorti de l’auberge. To not be out of trouble yet.

Tu me fait chier. Literally, you make me defecate.

Un pet de madeleine. A nun’s fart. It’s a pastry. Really.

Être aux anges. To be with the angels; to be happy.

Ah, la vache! Oh, the cow! An expression of pained surprise. A vache can also be a nasty, vindictive person.

Il me court sur le haricot. He’s running on my bean. He’s getting on my nerves.

Avoir le cul bordé de nouilles. Literally, your ass is surrounded by noodles.  You’re very lucky.

J’ai le cafard. I have the cockroach. I’m sad or blue.

Pisser dan un violon. Pissing in a violin, or wasting time.

Une histoire de cul. An ass story, or anything having to do with sex.

Poser un lapin. To put a rabbit; to not show up for a date.

Ça me fait une belle jambe. It gives me a beautiful leg. I couldn’t care less.

Faire l’andouille. To make the sausage; to act stupidly.

Remember: If you throw any of these expressions into a casual conversation, you’ll be considered a worldly person!

I love the French language.

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A Hard-working Scam

I have in my hand (I am not quoting the late, great, Senator Joe McCarthy) a check for $6,000 from James Madison University addressed to me and dated mid-February. I could use $6,000—who couldn’t—but unfortunately the check is part of a three-months-long internet scam that began when I put an ad on Craig’s List offering my services to people wanting to practice conversational French.

Within days I received a query from a gentleman purporting to be in Great Britain. It read: “Hello, My name is Dr Devan Frank am interested in your lesson. I would like you to be taking my daughter (Mary, she is 16 yrs old) lesson while i am at work in your city. Am from England(UK) but I’m moving to your area because I’m having 4 weeks contract with Environmental Protection Agency( EPA) in united state. You do not have to worry about transportation,  have negotiate with a cab company that will be driving her down to your place go and come.

So i want you to be taking her for 2 hours per day from Monday to Thursday for 4 weeks. Get back to me with total cost. I wait to read from you shortly, and remember she is all i have and i really want a conducive and pleasant atmosphere for her. Dr Devan Frank

Oh what the hell, let’s play along. I responded: Hello: My fees are $60 per hour. Because this is a one-time long-term contract, I will need a 50% deposit by bank check before we start. This would come to $960. Please let me know if this is agreeable. The lessons will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Thursday. They will be held at my home which I am sure your daughter will find both pleasant and conducive to learning.”

Dr. Frank’s got back to me the same day.  “Thanks for your response,  i can understand all what you said, i want you to help me teach her for 2 hours per day from Monday to Thursday for 4 weeks, i will like you to get back to me with the total cost, it is my financier in the united state that will sponsor me and responsible for the payment, so i  want you to get all information to be use to have the payment, that i can forward it to my financier in the state to send you the check,  you will be paid with Us dollar certified check.

Please get back to me with the amount and i will be glad to update you and make the payment in advance to show you how serious, because i want everything to be done before i will get back to the state. Kindly get back to me with the information so that the check will be made out to you.

Several messages went back and forth. I wondered what kind of father Dr. Frank was to entrust his 16-year-old daughter to a man he’d never met. This, apparently, was not a major concern  of his. He wrote, “Thanks for getting back to me, am ok with the time schedule, i want you to help me take good care of her because she is my only daughter, have forward the information to my financier in united state to send you the  check as soon as possible. If there is any other information i will let you know.”

Dr. Frank asked that I write a check to cover the cab company’s fees and he would reimburse me.  I  responded, “Send me a check for the total amount ($1920) and when it clears I will arrange for a friend of mine to be your driver. She has a Cadillac Fleetwood limousine. You can then pay her separately.

In min-January, I received another message. “Thanks for getting back to me, concerning the cab driver as have told you earlier that have made proper arrangement with the cab company, so they have book me a car with a driver that  will be driving me to work and also be driving Mary to your location every tutor day, the car is for me as my private car for the whole month as far as i don`t have any car in the state.

“But there was a mistake on the check issue out to you, the check have to be two, while one for the tutor and the other for the cab company which i was told that it is been  issued out in one check sent to you.

Please am very sorry for this mistake made, As soon as you received the check you will cash the check and deduct your total charges and help me send the rest to the cab driver via western union which i will provide you the information as soon as you get the check.

“Because the cab company said that they will not agree in working with me by driving me and my daughter without receiving any deposit from me before we arrived to the state so you will have to do that for me as a help, the check will deliver to you very soon. Kindly get back to me as soon as possible.”

So I did. We had a lively exchange of quips—Dr. Frank, however, did not have much of a sense of humor. I was being uncooperative, he said, and there was only one recourse available. He would instruct his financier to send me a check for the full amount to cover everything—cab fares and teaching sessions.

But there was a holdup, wrote Dr. Frank,  “there is a little delay on the check through the courier service. The check will deliver to your location this week possibly Tuesday. Thank you.”

The check arrived a couple of weeks later, delivered by Fedex . It looked really official. Pale blue with routing numbers, made out to me and signed illegibly by what I surmise is the bursar of James Madison. I took it to my bank. The man there laughed, not unkindly, and said he hoped I hadn’t sent any money. Dr. Frank, it seems, is a very active person in the Northern Virginia area, and he has written checks to many, many people.

Some time later, I received an irate message from the good doctor,   “What’s going on there?? Could you please email me as soon as possible. Thank you.”

I told him his check had most unfortunately bounced but I would be glad to meet with him personally and we could work out the details of his daughter’s French lessons.  I expect to get a response any day now.

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I have treasures. There are fewer now than when I lived in a house, but the ones I really care for made the move without too much difficulty.

My best treasure is an 18th century chest of drawers that belonged to my grandfather. It’s not an elegant piece—it is oak, dark, squat and heavy, and I suspect it spent a century in a middle class home’s living room. The top is cracked and buckled, marred and stained by wine glasses and spills. There’s a chunk missing from its surface and many decades ago my father tried to fix it with plastic wood. It didn’t work. In Paris where I was born, the piece held the silverware and linen brought out for special occasions. The drawers are rudimentary—no slides, or ball bearings. Twice a decade I take a candle and run it along the drawer bottoms so they open easily.

The second treasure dates from a little later, the early 1800s, possibly. It’s a secretary with a fold down desk. Inside are eight little drawers for all the necessary writing utensils and other ephemerals needed to draft a billet doux or more likely, pay bills. There’s a chunk missing from one of the legs. What I’ve always loved about this bureau is its not-so-secret compartment. Right between the small drawers is a horizontal sliding panel that reveals a space just big enough to hide a carton of cigarettes, which is exactly what my mother used it for. She kept her Pall Malls there, and I stole them from there.

I have an ebony Buddha and the carved head of a lovely Asian woman. My father brought these back from Indonesia where he traveled as a British lord’s secretary in the 1930s. He also brought back a silver filigreed hash pipe from Tunisia (don’t ask), and a beautiful metal box from Ethiopia.

I have my great uncle’s kepi from World War 1, and a silver and ivory letter opener given to guests at the opening of my grandfather’s opera, Mona Vana. There’s a mah jongg set with ivory pieces my mother bought in Algeria during World War II, and my father’s Légion d’Honneur  medal. I have his war diaries, and a children’s book my mother wrote and illustrated.

There are a few other things, more recent. My acoustic guitar sold for less than $10 in the Sears & Roebuck catalog of 1939. It’s not worth much, and the sound it makes won’t threaten a Martin or a Gibson, but it’s the instrument I learned to play on. There are two dark portraits of an abbot and his wife, possibly from the 1820s. My mother used to say they were ancestors, but I know for a fact she picked them both up for a song at the flea market in Paris.

And then there are my mother’s paintings. I only have five or six of them. My sister has a dozen or so, and many were sold at shows both in Washington and Paris. I don’t know what happened to her most ambitious project: a ten-foot long canvas depicting all the First Ladies from Martha Washington to Jackie Kennedy wearing their inaugural dresses. I always thought Mamie Eisenhower looked as if she had on a potato sack, a homage, perhaps, to the designer Cristóbal Balenciaga who created that sad fashion. It broke my mother’s heart that neither the Smithsonian nor the White house were willing to accept her gift of the painting, and she folded her artist’s trestle shortly thereafter.

And there are books, including a cookbook from 1745 and Les Aventures de la Famille Fenouillard, among the first graphic novel ever, that delighted my childhood.  

I’m not sure what will happen to my treasures when I pass on. Some will go to my nephews in Europe, and others to friends. I do hope they find a home, even if one man’s treasure is another man’s trash.  

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The Cretins’ Coup

This year the Darwin Awards may have to create a sub-category for coup cretins. The Cretin-in-Charge, Mr. Trump, will be given a special mention, but let’s face it, even his idiocy was surpassed by that of some of his followers.

Like everyone else, I particularly enjoyed the horned and befurred ‘shaman’ who luxuriated in his two minutes of fame. I understand he’s an unemployed man who lives with his mother and obviously spent his $600 government check at Costumes-R-Us. I can almost hear the phone conversation with his Mom.

“Hi, Mama? Yeah, it’s me. Oh, pretty good. Got my picture in the news a lot. I liked the one where it looks like I’m howling at the moon. Did you see that one, Mama? Tons of mentions in Parler! Say, can you do me a favor and UPS me my spare set of buffalo horns? The cops took mine. Yeah. The spares are in the closet with the Yahtzee set. Also, can you find a good place to dry clean the coyote skins?”

The guy trying to leave the Capitol with the speaker’s dais was one chalupa short of a Happy Meal. Where did he think he was going? Did he really hope to get the thing back to his rec room?

The best, hands down the Grand Prize Winner, was the guy who posed in a congressional office with two semi-automatic rifles. Turns out he accidentally—and repeatedly—Tasered himself in the crotch, leading to a fatal heart attack. Really. This is the sort of thing that makes you believe God does have a pretty good sense of humor.

On a serious basis, what amazed me was the lack of good sense. The rioters, ninety-nine percent white, managed to botch an invasion when the odds were overwhelmingly in their favor. They outnumbered the Capitol Police who’d called for help that came far too late. It appeared that though some police officers acted with great courage to lead rioters astray, others actually invited the mob into the building and politely pointed the way to congressional offices. It was interesting to see windows energetically shattered when nearby doors were open, and climbers scaling the walls when unguarded stairways were a few feet away.

Personally, I’d have had second thoughts the minute I realized that Trump, who said he’d march to the Capitol with his mob, of course did not, but instead repaired to a sheltered White House media room where he and his family and friends enjoyed the riot from a very secure distance. Big surprise there.

My days of protest are largely over. I’m a Vietnam era guy, and I did almost get shot by a cop while covering an antiwar demonstration in Georgetown for The Washington Post.

Even back then, demonstrations were for many a recreational outlet. We didn’t do selfies, and the cops were a not as kind as the ones on Capitol Hill. They charged the crowd, wielding batons and tear gas, and you could look forward to a serious beating and hospitalization if you tried to stand your ground.

The January 6 people came to Washington, preened, and posed for a lot of photos of each other, broke stuff, and left behind a trail of trash. Then they took trains, planes and automobiles back home so as not to miss their Thursday evening shows. A good time was had by all but the five people who died, including the cojones Taserer.

No doubt they’ll be back because the riot was the highlight of their lives, something they’ll boast about to like-minded buds. They’ll buy tee-shirts and embroidered caps displaying their participation, and ballyhoo their courage. But be reassured—in the end it was a cretins’ coup, badly planned, stupidly executed, and without a snowball in hell’s chance of success.   

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Inanimate Objects and Me

There’s no reason to rehash 2020. We know how horrible it was. Insidious, really, in almost every way. I don’t like whining, so I decided to focus on a particular aspect of that nasty year—my relationship with inanimate objects.

We all have feelings for objects, and these are often far deeper than the feelings we might harbor for a neighbor, say, particularly one that cooks cabbage every Friday and renders the hallways of our apartment building impassable.

I happen to think very highly of my humidifier which this year developed a loud ticking sound, as well as mold. Mr. H, as I refer to it, has been with me almost a decade, spewing a cold, misty plume over my plants for all this time. I don’t know how humidifier years translate to human years, but I’d say Mr. H is probably close to a century old, a sage among his contemporaries, of which there is only one in my apartment, an upstart from Amazon that needs far too constant refilling. I’m concerned 2021 may be Mr. H’s last year, what with the ticking and mold. I sprayed it with Clorox, which may lengthen its existence, but I am living in fear in an apartment that now smells like a laundromat.

Then there’s the Cuisinart I inherited from my other. She bought it in 1975, a bare two years after it was introduced at a trade show in Chicago. She thought it was a French invention, and no one disabused her of the notion, or told her it had been invented by an MIT graduate with a strange German name. Had she known this I’d still be making célerie rémoulade with a potato peeler. My mother had fought in the war and did not like Germans. The Cuis has grown yellow with age. It does not spin as fast as it used to, and the blades are getting dull. It, too, may expire soon.

I used to have a thing for my vacuum cleaner because it was small and squat and somewhat resembled a French bulldog on wheels, or Salvador Dali’s anteater. But it stopped hoovering a while back. I changed the bag and looked for obstructions in its snout, but it was dead, not even a wheeze or a whimper. I mourn it only slightly.

I won’t mention the perfidious juicer, or the traitorous rice steamer.

I will, however, write briefly about my 1989 Avanti convertible, which I bought in the 90s from a car museum. It’s a thing of beauty, designed by Raymond Loewy, who is better known for his creation of the classic Coca Cola bottle. Loewy, a Frenchman, was far ahead of his time and the Avanti was the swan song of the Studebaker car company. It is long, low, sleek, with a pilot’s dashboard, leather seats, and a trunk just large enough for a quart of milk. I love the car. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t another like it in the tri-state area and it garners compliments wherever it goes, when it goes. It is largely inanimate, because when I drive it, something goes wrong: a fuel pump, a flat tire, a dead battery, a window that once down refuses to go up. The result is that I don’t drive it that much.

There are a few more inanimate objects with which I had relationships in 2020, but they’re not worth focusing upon. I am ready to build something with the new showerhead that is supposed to make me squeaky clean without soap, and there are possibilities so far unexplored with an exercise device called a Flextron, bought in 2019 but never used. That’s okay. Meaningful relationships take time to build.

I wish you, your families, and all your belongings great and small a drama-free and bountiful new year.

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The Joys of Hearing

Not too long ago I was sitting at an outdoor table having tea with a friend when I mentioned that I was getting hearing aids. Traffic roared fifty feet from us and an ambulance’s siren added to the din.

My friend smiled and nodded. “That’s great. I won’t have to shout anymore!”

“You’re not shouting,” I said.

She smiled again. “I’m shouting right now.”


I’ve been losing my hearing for more than a decade. It’s been incremental but obvious to almost everyone who knows me. I ask people to repeat themselves. I read their lips. I pretend to hear, smile and nod in deaf understanding. My hearing loss has led to some classic misunderstanding (“I said art, not fart!) and I have learned to look interested during group discussions when all I could make out was an occasional word.

So after wasting money on Facebook-advertised cheap hearing aids that cost less than a hundred and mostly whistled and whined in my ears, I was told that Medicare would spring $2000 towards a pair of $4300 Phonak aids. It was a tough bullet to bite. I can’t remember the last time I spent more than two grand on myself and the truth is, with Covid-19 raging, I see fewer and fewer people. Listening is not a must. I’d also heard of people who’d spent small fortunes on hearing aids and, in the end, found them impossible to tolerate. The 45-day try-out period, and the guarantee of a full refund if I didn’t like the Phonaks, sold me.

I was fitted with them this morning, instructed on recharging procedures, and downloaded the app that would allow ne to use them with Blue Tooth. The Phonaks come with a bunch of bells and whistles, even though their price is considered mid-level—above a Hyundai but far below a Caddy.

I was amazed from the git-go. Not only could I clearly hear the audio technician who explained the finer points of the devices, when I left, I could hear my footsteps!!! Also the wooshing sound made by an elevator, and a car starting 200 feet away.

I stopped at a coffee shop on the way home. Four teen-age girls were at an adjoining table. One brayed; another had a voice reminiscent of the squeal of a puppy whose tail is stepped on. I used the Phonac app to change the hearing aids’ settings.

The Phonacs are paired to my phone, so when I got a call, it rang directly inside my head and I jumped out of my skin. I have to work out some of the finer points. Right now, the clattering of my keyboard, the sighing of the heat coming through the vents, and the stereo voices of the dishwasher and clothe dryer are providing a not unpleasant cacophony but add to this the sound of a vacuum cleaner in the hallway, and it’s a little too much.

Still, this is nothing short of miraculous. Another plus: By pressing a small button on the side of the right hearing aid, I can mute them both and be deaf again, because you never know. Sometimes silence is golden.    

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