Walk on the Wild Side

Flipping through the tourist rag for the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, our summer calling for over 30 consecutive years, I found an ad that caught my eye—Walk with a Lama. Could it be our spiritual calling? Was the Dali Lama in our beloved Berkshires? I shared the ad with my husband, Hank. We didn’t think twice and packed Mandy and Kory, at the time, ages 14 and 11, respectively, in the car and headed out to a particularly beautiful spot in this gorgeous area.

When we arrived, the property owner greeted us and, as Jim shook our hands, he laughingly informed us that we were fooled by a typo. No, the Dali Lama wasn’t in residence but a number of llamas were. You know, the Andes version of camel. They rallied in the pen to greet us and Jim brought one, Cous Cous, over to meet us. Hank, ever the Trivial Pursuit champ, said that he had read that llamas, like their camel cousins, spit. Jim assured him that in all the years he had owned llamas, not one ever spit. As if on cue, Cous Cous hauled off and let a gigantic ginder fly through the air. While Hank looked at Jim with a trace of skepticism, Jim, in turn, looked quite chagrined. Meanwhile, our kids were getting acquainted with some of the other llamas, thanks to the farmhands. I was busy snapping photos of the llamas with the rolling hills as backdrop.

By this time, two other people arrived and Jim decided it was time to walk the llamas. It took a few minutes for him to match us to our wooly friends. Hank was paired with Marilyn and, as they stood eye-to-eye, she appeared to flirt with him. Llamas blink very slowly and, frankly, Hank later admitted that he found it quite seductive.

We each led our llama, following Jim, onto a wooded path. It was cool convening with nature this way and, although Jim was no Dali Lama, he was a pretty earth-loving guy, and the walk started taking on a spiritual aura. That is until Jim said, “This is where we saw a bear the other day.” Bear? The llama was a stretch for this city kid who still sits up and takes notice when a possum or raccoon ambles around my suburban backyard. Suddenly, the somewhat spiritual walk took on a Darwinian feel, and I hoped I would be eaten first so I wouldn’t have to watch the bear—that I was sure was lurking around the next bend, smacking his lips—eat my offspring.

As we continued onward, the llamas dictated when we made stops, generally to relieve themselves. Somehow, we all made it to the end of the walk in one piece—bearless—and each kissed our llama companion goodbye. Luckily, they didn’t spit in return.

Whenever we return to the Berkshires, Mandy and Kory fondly reminisce about our walk with the llamas. Hank and I eyeball each other since, after the lovely experience wore off, we realized that we paid some guy to help walk his llamas to do their duty. Hmmm, wonder if this would work with dogs? Charge people and call it “Take a Canine Cruise Around the Block.”

A Little Birdie Told Me

Since spring has sprung, I have been awakened every morning by a bird. Its song is beautiful and, while the birdwatcher in me would like to jump up and identify it, the tired person I am wants to shout at it to go away.  This has gone on for weeks. Then things got interesting. The other morning I heard its song and then swore it chirped “Arnold.”

Puzzling over this while I brushed my teeth, I soon figured it out.  The morning paper blared its headline: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Love Child. Who knew the Terminator had shifted gears? Instead of ending a life, he had started one, just not with his wife. Actually, he had apparently tended two gardens simultaneously. While Maria Shriver was pregnant with his child, so was the maid. Doesn’t that sort of make the children twins? The Schwarzenegger-Shriver children were living in the same house with the maid who was considered part of the family. Was sleeping with Arnold part of the benefits package?

According to news stories, he had been suspected of sexual harassment before he became governor of California, and it was his wife who helped him get elected.

What is it with these politicians and the wives who stand by their side and are publicly humiliated?

I was remembering former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer and how his personal business became fodder for newspaper headlines and late night jokes. Well, his wasn’t exactly a one-time mistake or indiscretion. He spent $80,000 on the whore, for gosh sakes. His wife, Silda, stood beside him as he admitted to cadoodling. Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and his wife, Suzanne, dealt with allegations that he solicited sex with a man in an airport bathroom. And, with wife Dina Matos McGreevey by his side, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey announced that he was resigning after disclosing a gay affair.

One of the saddest of these public admissions was when then presidential candidate John Edwards discussed his extramarital affair, and his wife Elizabeth, who has since died from breast cancer, said that she and her family were behind him.

Senator Hillary Clinton had to deal with infidelity scandals multiple times with her husband, including allegations involving Monica Lewinsky. She could probably advise the other wives with her depth of experience.

I do not understand what makes these wives take up “Stand by Your Man” as their theme song. For the most part, they are not shrinking violets but rather strong women with careers like Hillary’s.

This morning the bird was chatting up a storm ala the town crier. I couldn’t make out everything, but what I did hear was that Maria Shriver had proclaimed, “The Terminator is now the Exterminator.”

Riding in Style

A baby stroller used to be an uncomplicated item that baby was placed in and off you would go. Or, at most, it needed to be unfolded if it was an umbrella version. In any case, strollers were comparable to a serviceable, often adorable, VW Beetle.

Nowadays, baby strollers are the equivalent of Rolls Royces—fancy equipment standard. Babies now ride in style, with mp3 players or iPods attached and, instead of cute squeaky toys, babies squeeze a “toy” and flashcards pop up since it is never too early to teach baby to read. In place of stuffed animals, babies now travel with real animals tucked next to them because bonding must be encouraged as often as possible. Cupholders are available for Baby Perrier in environmentally approved containers.

Babies don’t even really need an adult to push the stroller given the stroller’s GPS and cruise control features. The work-at-home mom (what mom doesn’t work at home?) can now be freed up since baby can take a ride around the block and walk the dog at the same time. Babies and dogs can meet up with other babies and dogs and drag race. And, if a stroller appears to go out of control, the automatic brakes will come into play a la Mercedes Benz’s Attention Assist, which was made to detect driver drowsiness. Sounds ridiculous, but what else is lurking in the world of technological advances?

How about a diaper-changing robot similar to the wonderful Star Wars invention, R2-D2, with handwarmers to mimic mommy’s touch? Gee, will baby be able to tell the difference?

Really, though, it is marvelous that a car seat can turn into a stroller for babies that turns into a bicycle for tots. Now, if technology can work on turning it into a teen’s first car when the time is right, we’ll be onto something.  Not only will it save parents the cost of a car but, like today’s hybrids, it will be a much cleaner car than a normal vehicle with lesser CO and other greenhouse gas emissions, and help reduce the dependency on fossil fuels. Mother Nature will be so proud!

Hmmm, come to think of it, this might already exist. It’s called the Smart Car. Then as a college student, he or she will want to see how many students can be stuffed into a Smart Car. Oh, wait—it has already been done! http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/06/13-people-inside-smart-car-photos.php


Other Than That, My Life Is Just Great!

How many times are we talking to a friend and we hear ourselves say “Other than that, my life is just great!” We catch ourselves complaining about the kids, the job, or the mother-in-law, and the inner voice that started out soft but has grown in volume over the years, in direct proportion to our hearing loss, bonks us over the head with the reminder that no one likes a complainer, not even the friends who complain to us.

My women friends and I love to walk and talk, or go to Starbucks and talk, or shop and talk, okay, talk wherever, and, yes, once in awhile it’s an all-out sob session, but those are in a class of their own. True friends are there for those unconditionally, without judgment, or so we believe. Generally, though, we’re just shooting the breeze and complaints about stale marriages, a boss’s peccadilloes, and ungrateful kids slip out between sharing news of a new lover, a weekend on the Riviera, or a recent sexy lingerie purchase.

So, why do we expect life to be perfect? Why do the little bumps, and sometimes roadblocks, throw us off course? Sure, the media bombards us with having svelte figures, Better Homes and Gardens houses, luxurious cars, and Harvard-bound kids. But, really, don’t we know better? When we watch the news on our home theaters don’t we see how the rest of the world lives? Most people are fighting for survival, not wondering if it’s time to update the china pattern.

I suppose it is human nature to complain, want what the other guy has, and let the turkeys get us down. But, really, life is too short. Take a walk and smell spring, and try not to get pollen up your nose. For those of you who can still see, enjoy nature dressed in her infinite wardrobe and glorious colors. If that doesn’t work, twist like a pretzel in a yoga class or “ommmm” with a mediation group—anything to help stay in the moment. If all else fails just hang out with positive people and get the good feeling through osmosis. Sometimes attitudes do have a way of rubbing off, and the next thing you know you’re wearing a thong when you’re only used to boxers—wait, that’s another subject!

Love yourself and accept this moment. Be grateful for what you have. It’s less exhausting than the alternative.

First Love

Ah, first love! My daughter once asked me if I had loved my first boyfriend and I flippantly responded, “Everyone loves her first boyfriend.” Since that day I’ve been giving her question serious thought. The answer, if the topic were to come up again, would be a resounding “No.” But I didn’t know this at the time. I would have sworn that I was in love and that my first boyfriend was THE ONE.

It occurred to me that young girls are not usually in love with their first boyfriends. They just think they are. What they are really in love with is love—that first blush of emotion and head-over-heels feeling. It’s all so encompassing, so overwhelming, so enthralling. It usually comes on suddenly and gets them in its firm grip. In fact, it feels much like throwing up. Both leave a person feeling out-of-control and sweaty.

In theory, being in love is mostly wonderful. In reality, it is a roller coaster ride of emotions. It is the I-have-a-boyfriend clothing that now caresses and puts the bounce in a young person’s step, much like the unconditional love the young child sees in the eyes of her adoring parents. But along with this comes the expectations. After all, we all want to feel special, desired and cared about. Usually, the starry-eyed outlook carries us along for a time and then disappointing moments temporarily dash our hopes.

But even when the actual beastie boy is pressed up against us—pimply and overweight, or gorgeous and empty-headed and we have a fleeting thought of Yikes! What am I doing?— we shove it away because the thought of being in love is less attached to the actual person than the overall concept.

It usually takes the perspective of looking back years later that helps us sort these things out…or a really great guy who sweeps us off our feet…or our parents threatening to cut us out of the will, whichever comes first.

Keeping away the Vampires

I love my uncle and he loves garlic. Whenever he comes over we know, at least for the duration of his visit, that we are safe from vampires.

“Try these,” he coaxes, extending a bag of large triangular garlic chips in my direction. “They are really good,” he says while munching.

I reluctantly take one bite of an acute angle and, immediately, the garlic flakes fire up my tongue. “Wow, these are strong, “ I gasp as I start to enjoy the taste, and begin to reminisce about the origins of garlic.  I remembered reading how the gladiators would fight in the Coliseum, man against beast, or man against man, wielding spiked clubs, daggers, and other such weapons, until someone showed up with armloads of garlic and repelled his adversary. This was the beginning of the nonviolent movement. And how Rapunzel almost stays locked up in her tower forever because of garlic cloves strung through her hair. As her Prince Charming was climbing up her braid, he was repulsed, jumped to the ground, and beat a path out of there. Garlic certainly works well as a natural birth control.  If you don’t believe me, ask Rapunzel.

At this point, I saw that Uncle Ned had had about four of these fire-breathers and was reaching for another when he started to cough…and couldn’t stop. I rushed to his side with a glass of water.  Garlic seemed to permeate from every pore and orifice of his body. It was as though garlic steamed off of him and the air thickened with a cloud of garlic…enveloping me.

“You reek,” I wanted to shriek at him, schoolgirl manners flying out the window. I was about to leave to tutor young students and felt as though I had taken a garlic bath. I hoped they wouldn’t bar the door when they smelled me coming, but there was no time to do anything about it.

At first the parents wouldn’t let me in because of the clash of my garlic with their curry, but soon we had an interesting blend of seasonings going on.  In fact, one of the young students was sick with a sinus infection and by the end of the session she was cured, thanks to the healing powers of garlic.  The parents thanked me while their eyes watered and politely tried not to hold their noses, and then sent me on my way, but not before I saw the room deodorizer behind the mother’s back.

When I arrived home, the smoke alarm was blasting and I waded through a garlic haze once again. Uncle Ned had left the chips on the table. In walked my mother and exclaimed, “I love garlic,” and polished off the bag. The dog had passed out.


Remember when you held that sweet baby who only had eyes for you? The dependency may have been all-encompassing, but it is in the genes, just part of human nature. Most of us new moms accept that babies are dependent on us and we lovingly bathed in the innocence of it. How unlike the animal world, given that some animal babies are born or hatched ready to run, swim, fly or at least cope…alone.

Human offspring think they are ready to solo as soon as they can scream the word “NO!” and again when they become all-knowing teenagers—at the exact moment that their parents turn stupid.

Our children develop, albeit at different rates, from dependent to independent beings. Somehow, though, parents don’t get to progress to a new role.

And, just when you think you’re done your job, the children come back. Once a parent, always a parent…or so I’ve been told. Well, we know and acknowledge the progeny’s struggle to move from one stage to another, but what about the parent’s struggle to untangle from the interdependency web? When is it our time to take care of ourselves without feeling selfish or being made by society’s standards to feel like bad parents?

When we were the age our thriving children are now we were caught up in the moment—trying to break free. Then we were busy with school or work or school and work, with relationships thrown into the mix. Then some of us settled down and raised families. When we hit, oh let’s say 50, we realized that the previous years were a maelstrom, and it could seem, looking through the retrospectoscope (hindsight is 20/20, don’t you know), that they were the best years of our lives. But in reality, they probably weren’t. Now we are left stooped over or standing tall with the wisdom that was woefully lacking back then. Except, I believe in second chances—the chance to really enjoy ourselves.

Today, armed with the knowledge that comes from experiencing life, the hard knocks that take the wind out of you, and the wow moments that send you soaring into outer space, we have an opportunity to launch ourselves when we launch our kids. While they teeter and totter to establish their adult sea legs much like they did when they took their first baby steps toward us, now they step away. And it’s our time to dance.

Call of the Wild

I love my husband of almost 32 years but, in the middle of the night, I want to ship him off to parts unknown.  Last night, I was awakened by such an ungodly noise that I thought a large animal in distress had made itself cozy under my covers. My dog and I looked at one another. What was that?

While I stared at the ceiling wide awake and tried to relax a thought popped into my head. Whereas I only thought I had a wild animal in the room, some people actually do.  Why would people want unusual pets, like monkeys, Bengal tigers, or even boa constrictors?

First pets are recorded taking up residency with past presidents and first ladies and include Liberty, the Ford’s golden retriever, LBJ’s beagles, Him and Her, who were cover dogs on Life magazine, and JFKs pony, Macaroni. These weren’t nearly as unusual as President Theodore Roosevelt’s menagerie, which included a zebra, a hyena, several lions, and a coyote, and President William Henry Harrison’s pet goat and cow. I suspect none of these pets actually lived in the White House Master Bedroom. Perhaps they resided in the Lincoln Bedroom, or any of the 132 rooms in the White House. What fun they could have running around six levels, in and out 412 doors, and up and down eight staircases. Hard to picture, but, in any case, you often read about people actually keeping exotic pets in their living quarters.

I’ve often thought that a chimp would make a great companion. Perhaps this came from watching Cheeta of Tarzan fame or the movie Bedtime for Bonzo. With its digital dexterity, it could help set the table and pick the ubiquitous dog hair off our clothes.

However, after watching a show on raging chimpanzees, I’ve decided to pass on monkeying around. Seems that when threatened, the cute human-like chimp goes ape-s***t, turning violent. That’s where the chimp-human likeness ends, since you can’t reason with a chimp and, Lord knows, I’ve tried. Come to think of it, there are people you can’t reason with either.  Thickheadedness could actually be another similarity between the species.  And, when it folds its arms and pretends not to hear you, that is another human trait as well.

Chimps are among the noisiest of all wild animals and they use a complicated system of sounds to communicate with each other. A loud “wraaa” call, which can be heard more than a mile away, warns of something unusual or disturbing. They hoot “hoo-hoo-hoo,” scream, grunt and drum on hollow trees with the flat of their hands.  Maybe that’s what I heard last night…a drumming on the headboard.

Other animals use sounds for responding to threats.  Hippos, for example, wheeze-honk, but away from water hippos rarely call. Perhaps that wasn’t it, although our bedroom is right near a bathroom. And speaking of bathrooms, hippos have an interesting habit of dung-showering in which the bull paddles excrement with its tail as it defecates. Mutual dung-showering generally centers on declaring territorial boundaries. Males stare at one another, then turn tail, elevate rumps, and let fly. This, too, is similar to human behavior.

Now I’m curious to know what will turn up in my bedroom tonight. To play it safe, I have two sets of earplugs—one for the dog and one for me. Sweet dreams!

No-Fly Zone

Which to choose—briefs or boxers? Briefs sound like a law term, a statement summoning someone to court, and boxers make one think of glistening, sweaty bodies or the panting of man’s best friend in the shape of a medium-sized, German breed of dog. Add to this the no fly zone. Does this refer to dangerous lands where one could get shot out of the sky for flying where not permitted?

These terms might not conjure up the male equivalent of intimate apparel as a first thought. Besides briefs and boxers the choices are more than most men realize—bikini, boxer brief, full-cut boxer, low-rise brief, mid-rise brief, string bikini, tapered boxer, thong or jock strap.

For men, asking for briefs in the men’s department must be equivalent to admitting the equipment to be placed within may be a bit on the small side, coming up short so to speak. And exactly what does it mean when this traditional man’s underpants is described as having a working fly? How does it work? Are there snaps or zippers? Does it get paid to do its job? I’d like to see that job description.

Perhaps bikinis sound sexy on initial request, but if the potential wearer is on the hefty side, it could be the visual equivalent of too much information. Boxers shout insecurity since they can hide a multitude of sins. Yet occasionally boxers bunch up and give a man the illusion of covering more than nature intended. Wonder how many men purposely adjust their boxers to work this to their advantage? And, as with briefs, men (or their partners) again face the working front fly.

Through extensive research I have found that women prefer boxers on men, not because of how they look on, but because they are easier to take off. And, crotch temperature supposedly stays cooler, what with loose legs as air vents, thus encouraging higher sperm count, adding to a man’s virility. Except, paradoxically, European guys wouldn’t be caught dead in them and they are traditionally worn by nerds.

So what’s a healthy, full-blooded male to do?

The no-fly zone is a smooth alternative of “going over the fence” instead of “through the gate” according to Curb Your Enthusiasm, the HBO show starring Larry David. It’s a more appealing look than the dangle effect of briefs—although I suppose it could depend on the angle of the dangle—or the old-man look of loose boxers, referred to in Yiddish as “gotkes” (translation: long underwear). No-fly zone underwear helps keep its wearer from jumping the gun or letting the cat out of the bag.

Skip the bikinis except to parade around the house or crash a Victoria’s Secret party. Remember what the nuns and your mother warned you when you were young—wear practical underwear, in case you get hit by a car or your clothes suddenly get torn off in a tornado. And, for heaven’s sakes, make sure they’re clean.

Still So Lil

If you didn’t know it, frugality is part of the DNA. Right next to the patterning for baldness is one for coupon clipper. Either you inherit these traits or not. My mother’s father had a full head of lush snowy hair when he died so she dodged that bullet, but she came into the world thrifty down to the bone. And she hoped so hard to pass this trait onto her daughters, but wishing doesn’t make it so.

This past summer, my sister and I took my mother out for our annual Broadway day—a tradition we started when my mom turned 80 and, bless her heart, we were celebrating her 88th. We ate at a restaurant that was wonderful but reasonably priced by New York standards and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The next day my mother crowed that it was a great day, but that my sister and I could have kept the cost of lunch down by not changing our menu selections for which we had to pay extra. “Mom, we paid the bill so you shouldn’t have even seen that,” I chided her. “Oh, I know, but you girls could have gotten what I had, which was very good.” “Yes, but we only do this once a year so why not get what we want?” I retorted.

Then I realized. That’s it in a nutshell—the difference between a depression-era survivor who never left her family, except to get married and move to the apartment upstairs, and the daughters who left home to marry, raise families, and work.

Why shouldn’t we women get what we want? We work hard every day juggling work, relationships, children’s needs and schedules, planning everyone’s everyday lives and vacations. And my mother is actually our cheerleader in this arena—applauding every accomplishment as if she was still a young mother watching us toddle our first baby steps.

Yet, unable to override genetics, she still mentions it if she thinks we could have gotten a bargain. While she worried about the extra $10 my sister and I added to our meal tab, she didn’t seem to realize that with the cost of the Broadway tickets, transportation, and, our absolutely necessary Starbucks stop, the surcharge for our special request lunches was not even worth mentioning.

Now she’s eying her grandchildren—wondering if the genetic mapping has reached down to their piggy toes. Well, she can definitely count one out. It certainly hasn’t filtered through to her generous-to-a-fault granddaughter who returned from her first trip abroad with a month’s salary spent on souvenirs.

Then, just when my mom and I were in the middle of yet another money conversation, during which I thought, She’s still so Lil, something shifted in the natural order of the universe. I told her about our broken furnace, which, as luck would have it, occurred during a spell of frigid temperatures. She suggested that we go to a hotel and she’d pay for it.

I grabbed the cell while talking to her on the house phone and punched in 911 to have the police check if aliens had inhabited her body. Who was this on the other end of the phone line? Then she repeated her suggestion. My husband and children ran upstairs when they heard the thud. They are still trying to revive me.

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© Arlene Geller and www.saxandthesuburbs.wordpress.com, 2010-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arlene Geller and www.saxandthesuburbs.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.