Monday, April 28, 2008

Watch Out, It's Coming!

I have a feeling that something very bad is going to happen very soon.

I hope I'm wrong. I can't tell if it's going to be global or national, but there are ominous signs; black clouds on the horizon. If nothing else, I'm afraid that an economic crisis is inevitable, at least in the U.S. And if it's true that when America sneezes, the world catches cold, then the reverberations will have catastrophic effects.

In America, the ticking time-bomb is DEBT, both governmental and personal. The federal government has a 9 trillion dollar mortgage on "the land of the free," and it continues to re-finance, giving no thought (apparently) to possible repossession. Better start studying Chinese, friends. And then we have the Mt. St. Helens of personal debt rumbling under our feet. Credit card debt alone is staggering. "Buy now, pay later" has become the national mantra. Never mind that you're going to be paying double-digit interest on that trinket or restaurant meal for years to come. And now, the feds have created the "Economic Stinkulus" plan to "stave off a recession." Whoop-de-doo! They have borrowed more money from the Chinese, in order to send all of us peasants a check, with instructions to go out and spend it! Don't even THINK of using it to make a tiny dent in your credit card debt, or to (heaven forbid!) put it into savings! That would defeat the purpose. Take it directly to WalMart and buy some Chinese imports!

Okay, the next trainwreck-waiting-to-happen is, of course, OIL! We all know it, but nobody knows what to do about it. At present, oil is the lifeblood of civilization. Countries that don't have any of or enough of their own, have to buy it from the countries that have an excess. The price of oil is affected not only by supply and demand, but by politics. And boy-oh-boy, do we love to play politics with oil. This is not a good idea, people! I am horrified by attempts of various interest groups in the U.S. to get the government to "DO something about the price of gas!" Today the truckers are petioning the feds to open up the strategic oil reserves, in order to increase supply and thereby bring down the price. Good grief (please give me credit for my restraint in choosing not to use profanity here)!! The oil reserves are to be used in case of dire emergency - not to manipulate prices! I do feel sympathy for the truckers. Their livelihood is threatened, and they are desperate. But we can't try to stave off the inevitable, by artificially manipulating reality. Someday, we have to face the fact that oil is limited, demand is increasing (what is that giant sucking sound? It's China!) and price is rising. It's going to be a long, hard slog, but we have to find alternative fuels (NOT BIO-FUELS!), new technology and more economical ways of shipping (more railroad use, for instance).

Oh well.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lesson #7
Sometimes You Just Have To Do What's Right, Even if You're Scared
One morning, I was on my way to work, walking quickly down a normally quiet street with row homes on both sides. Suddenly, the calm was broken by a woman’s voice, shouting, “Help! Help me!” I looked around for the source of the screams and saw, across the street from me, a young, white woman, wearing a skimpy nightgown, struggling to escape from a big, black man who was holding her by her nightgown while hitting her in the face.
My first thought was, I could just keep walking and get the hell out of here. But the woman saw me and looked right at me as she screamed again, “Help me, help me!” between blows.
I ran toward them, adding my screams to hers. “Stop it! Stop it! Leave her alone!” I waved my arms in the air as I approached. I was desperately hoping that someone in the surrounding houses would come out and help me, but no such luck. The man continued to smack the woman as I circled around them, screaming and waving my arms. He stopped just long enough to tell me, “Hey, you don’t know what she did to me!” Then I heard the roar of a motor and saw a city bus coming up the street. I ran into the middle of the street and waved my arms in front of it. The bus driver stopped and opened the door as I ran around to the side and told him to “Call the police! That guy’s beating her up!” The driver pulled out his phone and said something into it, then looked at me and said, “Okay, they’ll be right here.” He closed the door and pulled away. I was left standing in the street, while I saw that the woman had managed to escape and was scurrying up the steps of one of the houses. The man took a couple of steps toward me and said angrily, “You just did that because I’m black and she’s white.”

“No I didn’t! The injustice of his accusation made me mad, and I felt compelled to straighten him out. “If I had heard you screaming for help because you were being beat up by a bunch of white guys, I would have done exactly the same thing.”

“Look, lady, she deserved it!” He started toward me.

I was beginning to regret my bravado. Just then, we heard the sirens of approaching police. He ran one way and I ran the other.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lesson #7 Will Have to Wait

Last night I joined about 6,000 other people to hear and see Barack Obama, when he visited our town railroad station on a "whistle stop" while traveling from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. He was due into the station at 6 pm and the gates opened at 4:00. I arrived at 3:50 and the grounds were already packed. All attendees had to go through "security checks," very similar to the airport routine, before entering. I was happy to see how thorough it was, as I have no desire to ever be anywhere near any kind of assassination attempt. Once we were cleared and admitted, all 6,000 of us had to stand in the hot sun for two hours, waiting for our hero to arrive. It was tedious and uncomfortable, but I found it interesting to observe the mix of people around me. There were all ages, from infant to aged, and every skin color from white-white to black-black. People seemed happy and excited. There was no feeling of discontent that I could discern, in spite of the long wait.

As 6 o'clock approached, the excitement grew. The train pulled into the station right on time, and the crowd starting humming..."He's here, he's here..." The M.C. of the event first introduced Senator Bob Casey, who spoke briefly, before he announced Senator Obama. When Obama strode onto the podium, the crowd went wild, cheering, whistling, and chanting, "O-bama, O-bama"

Obama smiled and waved, waved and smiled, and started speaking. I won't attempt to repeat anything he said, since any of you who are interested can hear his speeches on YouTube. I will just say that he had us in the palm of his hand, the entire 40 minutes of his speech. Even though it was the third speech he had given in the previous 4 hours, he was dynamic, articulate, and congenial. I liked almost everything he said, except a couple of things that were more to the left than I am. (It's late and I'm tired, so I'm not even going to try to go into any detail. Maybe on a later post.) The crowd cheered and clapped enthusiastically. The biggest applause, from me as well, erupted when he promised to get our troops out of Iraq by 2010. He made that promise at two different points in the speech. Afterwards, he waded into the crowd to shake hands.
I came away from the experience even more convinced than I was before that Obama is the best choice for President, of the three viable candidates. I believe his youth, vigor, intelligence and good nature can help him to be a strong leader and maybe even ease some of the terrible divisiveness that has plagued our great country for the past 8 years.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lesson #6
Don't Go Anywhere Near Anyplace That Says "Singles" Anything

One day I saw in the newspaper a notice for a meeting of the local “Singles Club.” It sounded like a respectable place to meet people (read: men). Surely it wouldn’t be like a bar, full of unscrupulous creeps just waiting around to take advantage of a susceptible, lonely divorcee. A “club” suggests warm, friendly people, there to socialize with others in a safe environment. What could be safer than the Methodist Church basement on a Wednesday evening? I marked it on my calendar.

Wednesday evening, I hurried home from work to prepare for my big adventure. I looked in my closet for something to wear that would be flattering, but not overtly sexy. I didn’t want to be obvious in my attempt to be attractive. I decided on the black pants, fitted, but not too tight, and a red sweater. My reflection in the mirror stared back at me. “You’re forty years old, dummy. Don’t worry about looking too sexy. Just pray that you won’t be the oldest person in the room.”

I turned away from the mirror in a fit of self-doubt and decided to stay home. Just accept the fact that you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life, I told myself. It’s too late to put yourself out in the meat market.

No, silly! There are bound to some nice, older single men out there somewhere.

Yeah, but they’re all looking for younger women. Every old fart in the world probably thinks he can and should get an attractive younger woman.

But I’d be a “younger woman” to an older man!

Right…but you don’t want an older man, do you? You’d like a man younger than you, too.

Damn straight! And I’m not going to find one while sitting alone in this apartment. That settles it. I’m going to that Singles Club and test the waters. I have nothing to lose but what’s left of my pride.

I found the church, walked quickly to the door that displayed a sign marked “Singles Club Meeting.” Once inside, I saw what seemed to be a sea of women milling about, punctuated here and there by a man. The ratio seemed to be at least four to one. Wherever a man stood, he seemed to be surrounded by several women, hanging on his every word. I knew no one, of course, and busied myself by heading over to the refreshment area and accepting a cup of coffee from a smiling woman behind the table.

“Is this your first time here?” the woman asked.

“Yes, how can you tell?” (Is it the fact that I am sweating profusely? Or because my eyes are darting back and forth like a crazed animal caught in a leg trap?)

“Oh, you just look a little nervous. Relax. We don’t bite.”

I thanked her for the coffee and the advice, and walked back toward the center of the room. A loud voice announced that the meeting was to begin. Everyone moved to the next room, where several rows of folding chairs were arranged, facing a podium. I moved with the others and found a seat toward the back. To my great surprise, an attractive man sat down next to me. He smiled and introduced himself.

“Hi, I’m Mike. Is this your first time here?”

Good grief, I thought - is it written on my forehead? “I’m Z. Yes, it’s my first time. How did you know?”

“It’s written on your forehead.” He laughed at his little joke. “No, I just don’t remember seeing you here before, and I’m sure I would have remembered such a lovely lady, if I had.”

I could feel my cheeks burn. What a line, I thought. “I read about tonight’s speaker in the newspaper and thought it sounded interesting.”

“Financial Planning for Singles? Yeah, I guess it would be interesting to me too, if I had any finances left to plan with. But my ex-wife took care of that.”

The club president stepped up to the podium, welcomed the audience and introduced the speaker. I was vaguely aware that there was someone up there moving his lips and gesturing occasionally with his hands, but all I could think of was the man sitting next to me. He had positioned his chair so that it was against mine. Every few minutes he would move his leg in a way that it would brush, ever so slightly, against me. I glanced at him quickly, and saw him looking directly at me, smiling. I could feel his masculinity, his heat; or was it my heat? Oh my God, I’ve been without a man for too long.

Eventually, the man behind the podium stopped moving his lips and after a polite smattering of applause, people started scooting back their chairs and standing up. Mike touched my hand and said, “Why don’t we just sit here for a while and talk? I’d like to get to know you.”
I hesitated for a moment, and then sat back down. “What would you like to know?” I asked. But I was thinking, I’m divorced, I haven’t been with a man since I left my husband a year ago, I’m horny and you’re looking real good to me right now.

Mike smiled and leaned back in his chair, pushing his hips forward slightly. “Oh, I don’t know…just who you are, what you do when you’re not attending meetings, things like that. But maybe this isn’t the best place to talk. Would you like to go somewhere for a drink? Or a cup of coffee?”

Other people in the room were drifting away. Apparently, the meeting was over. I felt nervous, wondering why he had chosen me to hit on, when there were so many other women there, younger and better-looking than I was. But I soldiered on. “Sure, coffee sounds good. I could meet you over at Denny’s. They’re open late.” My heart was pounding so hard that I wondered if drinking more caffeine would give me a heart attack.

“Why don’t we drive there together?” Mike offered. “I could bring you back here, afterwards, to get your car.”

His green eyes held me captive. I couldn’t look away. “Okay.” He extended his arm and we walked together to the exit.

We didn’t make it to Denny’s. When we got to Mike’s car, he said, “I have coffee at my place. Why don’t we just go there?”Alarm bells rang inside my skull, but I silenced them. “I can’t think of a single reason not to,” I said.


The next morning, back in my own apartment, I could think of several reasons why I shouldn’t have.
Number one: I felt cheap. There had been no pretense of coffee drinking when we entered his apartment. We had immediately started kissing and tearing each other’s clothes off.

Number two: It wasn’t worth it. Wham, bam, thank you, Ma’am. Only he didn’t say thank you.

Number three: When it was over, he got out of bed and started getting dressed, explaining, “I don’t like to mess around afterwards. I better get you back to your car.”

Number four: He didn’t even ask me for my phone number.

And, number five: I had to go to work that morning and I felt like hell.

I headed for the shower and stood under the very hot water as long as I could stand it. I scrubbed every inch of myself with soap and a rough washcloth. When I came back into the bedroom, I saw the clothes I had worn the night before. I picked them up gingerly and carried them to the wastebasket, stuffed them all the way down and closed the lid.
I got dressed, drank a cup of tea (no more coffee, uh-uh, never) and went to work.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lesson #5 Took a While to Sink In

I told my friend Cindy (who was as happy as an Eskimo in Miami, with her new boyfriend) what had happened, and she told me to give "The Jukebox" another try. "Don't be so sensitive!" she advised.

So back I went, into the fray. The lights must have been suitably dim this time, because a reasonably pleasant-seeming fellow asked me to dance, shortly after I sat down at a table. He was a good dancer and we chatted between numbers. He told me that he was newly single, as well. We sat at a table and each ordered a beer. We talked some more and then danced some more. I was actually enjoying myself. Then, as we were dancing a slow dance, he whispered into my ear, "Should we go now? Do you want to come with me to my place or should we go to yours?"

I was stunned. "I just met you! I'm not going to go home with you!"

He looked bewildered. "But I thought people come here to hook up with someone."

"Well, yeah, but not that fast! I came here to meet a man, not to be a pickup."

Mutually embarrassed, we drifted away from one another. I finished my beer and went home, but this time I didn't cry. It was time for a new plan.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Lesson #5 - Don't Go Anywhere Near Anything Calling Itself a "Singles Dance"

Okay, time for a new plan. I saw an ad in the paper for a "Singles Dance" at a place called "The Jukebox," on Friday night. I drove by it first, to check it out. It looked okay. Kind of a bar, restaurant, music place, in a decent neighborhood. Nothing to lose but my pride, I reasoned, so on Friday night I decked myself out in what I hoped was an attractive skirt, blouse and high heels (ugh) and placed myself on the meat market. I sat down at a table in a dimly lighted spot near the dance floor and ordered a Coke. I felt like a 40 year-old, nerdy teenager.

Much to my surprise, a youngish-looking guy came up and asked me to dance, before my Coke even arrived!
It was a slow dance, and he started talking, introducing himself and asking me various questions. "I'm Bob. What's your name?"
"I'm Zelda."
"How old are you?"

I was startled and annoyed by the impertinence of the question, so felt justified in lying. "Thirty-one." He seemed satisfied with that, and pulled me close to him as we continued dancing. Gradually, I became aware that he was leading us into a more brightly lit part of the dance floor. Then, he eased me away from him a bit and looked closely at my face.
"How old are you really?"

No, I didn't say, "Go fuck yourself, asshole!" But I wish I had. Instead, I excused myself, went back to the table to get my jacket, and drove home in a welter of tears.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Lesson #4: Don't Think You're Going to Find the Love of Your Life in a Bar

I was lonely. I was horny. I wanted a man. But, I had no idea how to meet men in a safe, respectable way. I went to a tavern, one Saturday evening, ostensibly to listen to the band. I stood at the bar, drinking a beer and watching the band, hoping some nice man would ask me to dance. I tried to look relaxed and worldly, but I was uncomfortable and unsure of myself, and I'm sure it showed. No one in the entire place paid any attention to me, and I left after a half-hour or so. I went back to my apartment and cried myself to sleep.
I decided to try again, at a different place...a fancier place, with a bigger dance floor and a better band. And this time, I decided to go with a friend of mine, so I wouldn't feel so alone and awkward. Cindy was also newly divorced and keenly interested in meeting someone. Unfortunately, Cindy was younger, better-looking and more self-confident than I was, so I was doomed from the start. We sat down at the crowded bar and ordered drinks. The only remaining empty seat was to my right. A nice-looking man, maybe in his late thirties, sat down. He looked past me, at Cindy, and spoke to her. She smiled at him, and answered. They talked back and forth, around me, until I finally stood up and said, "Here Cindy. Take this seat." And I moved over to where she had been. The happy couple then took to the dance floor, and I got up and went home.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Lesson #3: Don't Walk By Yourself In a Dicey Neighborhood After Dark

Not even if you're just going to the office to finish up some bookwork that is due tomorrow.
The office was on West King Street, not exactly a bad neighborhood, but not exactly good, either. It was about 9:00 pm, and I was still in my "don't give in to fear" mode, so of course I had to walk the mile and a half to my destination. You'd have to be a real woose to get in the car and drive that short distance. It turns out that a "not exactly bad neighborhood" looks a lot badder after dark, in spite of streetlights and lighted storefronts. So I was getting nervous, as I passed various shady-looking characters hanging around on street corners and in front of the neighborhood bar.

But! I must not give in to fear!! I am woman! I am strong! I was about two blocks from my destination when a young man, who looked like a good-natured, hippy type of guy, came up to me and said, "Ma'am, you should NOT be walking by yourself in this neighborhood. It's not safe. Where are you going? I'll stay with you until you get there." I was flabbergasted, but convinced.
He hooked his arm in mine and walked me to the door of the office. I thanked him, and then he told me to take a taxi when it was time to go home.

I did. And I remembered what he said, and never repeated that particular imprudent act. After all, even a cat has only nine lives, and I had already used up three of mine.