I’m Not 60…I’m ‘Sexagenarian.’

On September 20 I passed a milestone that everybody said would be very difficult: I turned 60. It seems like just yesterday that I turned 50 and friends were warning, “Fifty is nothing…but you’ll really feel it when you are sixty.” A few years ago a formerly heavy colleague, newly slim, confessed that “I had to get my diet and exercise in order, because I didn’t want to turn sixty and realize my body has totally fallen apart.” And it’s become popular for women’s magazines to have features called, “Sexy at Any Age,” with photos of gorgeous celebrities grouped by their decade. For some reason it stops at 59, unless they are talking about men.

So post-birthday, I’ve spent the past week waiting to feel the axe of old age upon my head, and guess what? Nothing has happened. My hair is no grayer and my body is no more stooped or saggy than it was last week. This new decade is not as scary as it seemed when I was 10 years away from it.

It could be because we have many friends now who are post-60 and say it’s a blast if you have the right attitude. Several friends at my 60th birthday party last week were living proof: they looked fit and gorgeous; passionate about their grandchildren, work, interests and travel; and as carefree as eight-year-olds. Not a bad place to be.

Here’s one thought: maybe the key for surviving the 60s is to think and act like you did in “the 60s.” I have to admit right here that I sat on the sidelines during the free love decade (and am happily married and have no plans to start such debauchery now.) But my mind was more open and I felt the possibilities were endless. So why not make a mind-blowing change in the concept of what it means to be 60-plus? Let’s start by declaring that we’re not in our 60s…we’re “sexagenarian.”

Doesn’t that sound better?

Ten years as a sexagenarian sounds pretty exciting. I’m now in the company of people like Helen Mirren, who, someone once declared, “put the sex back in sexagenarian.” Being a sexagenarian sounds as racy as being a dancer in “Hair,” something I wasn’t allowed to see in the 60s. It sounds as daring as wearing a Catholic school uniform with fishnet stockings (which I kinda did, in 1968.) Yet because of the “gen” syllable, it also sounds vaguely healthy, like oxygen or a yoga retreat. I like it…I’ll take it!

So I now have a whole ten years in this fun new decade before I have to redefine my age all over again. It’s probably not too early to start thinking about how to spin the 70s, which are already looking challenging. Somehow “septuagenarian” doesn’t have the same ring. If you read or watched “Game of Thrones” you know that a “septa” is a humorless female religion teacher. It also sounds too much like “septic.” Maybe we can think of something different.

And don’t even get me started on octogenarians.

You’ve Got Plenty of Sympathy

liliesToday in Target I saw something that I thought I would never see: a six-pack of sympathy cards.

I was shopping with my mom and looking for a sympathy card for a friend whose own elderly mother just passed away after a long struggle with dementia. Imagine my surprise when among the tasteful, dignified cards picturing lilies, crosses, butterflies, serene gardens and poetic sentiments was a shrink-wrapped bargain bundle of them!

You know that the U.S. population demographics are skewing older when you can now buy sympathy cards in bulk, much like you’d purchase shrink-wrapped supplies of mac and cheese or vitamin water. One for now and more for later, “just in case.” Bargain survival-sized rations of something that you only use when somebody doesn’t survive. What’s next: boxes of 25 at Costco?

A six-pack of sympathy cards is perfect if you are expecting a slew of bad news. As a growing number of us in middle age also deal with aging parents, this is a morbid sign of the times. No less than six of our good friends and neighbors have lost their parents within the past year. Moreover, as I approach my sixtieth birthday I find myself scanning the obits more and more, for people my age as well as for people whose families I might know. Every time I see an age gap that’s uncomfortably close I go out for a walk and count my blessings.

Perhaps buying sympathy cards ahead is not such a bad idea, especially in the age of prepaid funerals and advanced health care directives. The late comedienne Joan Rivers planned the details of her own funeral several years ago, including tributes from Meryl Streep in five languages and a wind machine near her coffin so that Joan (dressed in Valentino) would look as fetching as Beyonce. People who are far less famous than Joan Rivers have also planned their ultimate going-away party. A good friend of mine has also asked her family to follow special orders if she is ever on life support:  don’t pull the plug until she’s a size 10. As someone who’s worked at newspapers I also know that eulogies and obits are often composed well before the body gets cold.

Well, I did buy the six-pack of sympathy cards, which are tasteful and simple, along with a “special” single card for my neighbor, and figured I wouldn’t feel bad about it because I’m not sure who will get them. Afterwards my mom and I decompressed by heading over the section of funny cards, howling out loud at some of the more risqué ones.

One can argue of course that buying ahead saves time, money and gas, just like buying toilet paper in bulk or a 700-capsule jar of vitamins. Yet the pain and trauma of losing a loved one, no matter how old, makes it seem crass to be practical about how we comfort them. I’ve always viewed choosing sympathy cards not only as a respectful custom and a duty towards the grieving, but also as a meditation on the person’s life and the family’s loss. The sentiment that works for one grief-stricken family may not work for another. And it never occurred to me to make a special trip to buy a sympathy card ahead of time, even if someone I know is clearly at the end. There is something vulture-like about this. It feels like cheating, like being presumptuous or even inviting the worst. So maybe I will save my shrink wrapped cards for people I don’t know that well.

The Monsters in My Closet

Ugly, ugly, ugly. Sweats from a store that's synonymous with tacky. Why can't I throw them away?

Sweats from a store that’s synonymous with tacky. Why can’t I throw them away?

November 1 and the wind is howling outside. It’s warm today but if you believe the weather forecast the wind is ushering in some cold temperatures. A perfect time to edit my winter wardrobe with a clear head…because once the cold weather arrives I will put on anything warm without thinking about how it looks.

Dressing for winter is always a bit of a problem. I’m extremely sensitive to cold (especially damp cold, very common here in New England) and need warm and comfortable layers, preferably in natural fibers, to keep me from shivering. I also don’t work outside the home so have no gun to my head to make me look polished every day. A typical day consists of some writing, answering emails and Facebook-trawling at my home computer, keeping up with two dogs, cooking for the guys, doing some chores, taking a walk, running some errands and maybe meeting up with a friend for lunch. Except for the last two occasions, comfort usually wins out over pride.

I have a closet full of nice clothes that I have picked up at boutiques and shops here and in California, where my in-laws live and the clothes have a bit more panache than they do here in New England. They are filmy tops made from manmade fibers (which look terrific but are never warm), snug-fitting jeans that pinch if I sit too long in them or had carbs at breakfast, dressy sweaters (perfect for an afternoon at an art gallery or in a chic part of the city but not for making homemade sauce with meatballs.) I buy them with the best intentions, and look far better when I put them on – usually when the weather is comfortably warm or cool and the humidity is low. Yet on a raw, blustery day with nothing on the agenda I inevitably reach for the shleppiest thing in my closet – loose jeans, drawstring

UM...this isn't glamorous. But it sure is warm.

UM…this isn’t glamorous. But it sure is warm. (Sorry, UMass.)

sweats, once-proud cashmere sweaters that have holes and have gone through the wash, thick Wigwam socks designed for sub-zero camping trips, corduroy pants that cry out for a sweater emblazoned with country geese, shirts from the loungewear department at Target. Even defended from the cold by unglamorous layers of fleece, I still need to brew lots of hot tea to stoke a warming fire from within.

A few days ago we enjoyed a visit from some good friends from the Silicon Valley area, and we were talking about moms from nice neighborhoods who dress to the nines even when they are walking the dog or picking up the kids from school. My friend Renee talked about the mothers at an upscale grade school who dressed like they were on a runway to pick up their offspring. Picking up my own son from school, I am amazed at the number of pubescent girls who wear bare legs and short skirts with their Ugg boots. And I thank God for tinted auto glass.

I also marvel when Bob and I watch the news on TV and see the female weather forecaster dressed in a chic short-sleeved dress, perfect for a summer night out, when she’s predicting sub-freezing temperatures. Bob does not help when he remarks, “She should do the weather in the nude.”

A few years ago I interviewed a boutique owner who always looked fabulous, and she lamented that she wished more northern gals cared as much as the southerners do about how they dressed. Southern women, she pointed out, wear chic Juicy Couture track suits, good jewelry and nice makeup even when they are shopping for groceries. I’d like to introduce one of these Georgia peaches to a nice nor’easter. After that experience she will happily put on a pair of drawstring sweats from Old Navy.

There must be a happy compromise between being chic and being comfortable and warm. I’ve looked around our local mall for answers but can’t envision myself with the word “Pink!” stamped on my butt, or in anything that Kanye would wear with a thick gold chain. Nor do I see myself in anything that is sold next to the camping gear or that would look good with a folk art sweater.

One of my go-to shirts: all cotton, brushed on the inside, warm on the coldest winter days with the right stuff underneath.

One of my go-to shirts: all cotton, brushed on the inside, warm on the coldest winter days with the right stuff underneath.

I do have a few tips that have served me well. One is that if you are only in the car, you need only worry about what you are wearing on the part of your body that can be seen through the window. I have some nice colorful scarves that can be easily draped over those tacky sweats and nobody will ever know. However, this can backfire, as one of my best friends found out. When her daughter got on the school bus without her lunch, my friend pulled a jacket over her short nightshirt, jumped in the car, and sped down the street to a spot where the bus would stop later. Only she didn’t count on a male neighbor recognizing her car and sauntering over for a chat.

Another tip is that the right close-fitting underwear is a fitting armor under those flimsier but more attractive clothes. Maybe that’s what those weather chicks wear; I must ask them some time.

While I have nowhere to go today except for Target, I think I nailed a good compromise: comfortable but close-fitting jeans (thanks to the Lycra gods), a lavender Lucky Jeans waffle-weave top, the pretty necklace that Bob gave me last Christmas. Tomorrow I may not be so lucky.

So in the spirit of true confession, this post includes items I wear when I care most about comfort, most of them very unfashionable. How about you? What do you wear when comfort is the top priority and nobody is looking?

A great scarf makes you look like you have great elan when you are sitting in your car, regardless of what else you are wearing.

A great scarf makes you look like you have great elan when you are sitting in your car, regardless of what else you are wearing.

Once a cashmere sweater develops a hole, you are free to make gravy in it.

Once a cashmere sweater develops a hole, you are free to make gravy in it.

Hurricane Rita Blows In

IMG_3102Don’t let the cuteness fool you. Our second dog, who arrived on Friday, is at eight weeks already an alpha female. The trainer arrives today, and not a moment too soon.

After a delightful 10 months with the very laid-back Gus, our first dog, we made the decision a few months ago to get another dog as a companion for him. Miniature dachshunds are very social creatures and a few people had advised us to get two dogs from the get-go. But as first-time dog owners, we did not want to tax ourselves.

Gus was an easy dog, docile and easily housebroken, loyal and affectionate…all hallmarks of the dachshund breed. In recent months, however, Gus has seemed lonely at times despite getting plenty of love, attention and furtively delivered morsels of people food. He began seeing us as his buddies constantly, often looking up at us with a tennis ball clutched in his jaws and whining sorrowfully. This was starting to happen late at night when Bob and I lay on the couch in our usual “Law and Order”-induced stupor. We felt we were ready for another dog at this point, and luckily the same breeder who gave us Gus had another litter on the way. They were the spawn of Gus’s older brother Kommodore Schutzhund, or “Schutz” for short. The puppies were born on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, and we claimed and named the only girl: Margarita.

From the moment she arrived, her astounding cuteness inspired awe and ahs, and she melted our hearts when she snuggled on our laps, which she loves to do.  However, Rita has another side:  the feisty and combative second child who refuses to play second fiddle. Unlike most females, she has no problem leaning in.

We had been warned that Gus, who has been treated like a prince since we brought him home, might have some trouble sharing his castle with another dog. Their breeder, Tiffany, advised us beforehand to let them share sleeping arrangements and food dishes and work out their conflicts themselves, an essential part of the bonding experience. She assured us that Gus and Rita (who is Gus’s niece) would share a special and playful relationship.

Yet the relationship has been more Punch and Judy than George and Gracie. It has been painful to watch the ritualistic one-upsdogship – which started soon after the initial butt-sniffing ritual, the canine world’s equivalent of a polite handshake. Since Rita arrived she has been hogging the food bowl, chomping down heartily while the more patient Gus waits his turn. If Gus tries to claim a spot at the bowl she nudges him out of the way. Despite being a quarter his size, she has remarkably sharp elbows when it comes to asserting first dibs on the doggie bed. Gus, unused to having to fight for anything, seems to not know what to do.

Rita has also been getting in Gus’s face and picking fights with him. She bares her teeth, assaults Gus’s side with both paws, climbs onto him when he is lying on his back. Her teeth have come dangerously close to Gus’s private parts a few times. Gus, who shows remarkable restraint, tries to turn the tables with a swipe of his stronger paw. Sometimes he just lays on top of Rita, a tired “can’t we get this over with?” look on his face, as she barks like an angered chipmunk.

This is like watching a middle child gleefully taunt the oldest; or a midget wrester trying to take down a Sumo; or the killer bunny attacking the knights in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Yesterday, while our son John was watching the dogs as I ran errands, he called me to tell me he had to put each of them “in solitary” in their crates. He was concerned enough to take action and keep them separated. But advised to do nothing, I merely watch with the morbid fascination reserved for car wrecks along the highway.

Along the perimeter of our back yard is a fence and a three-foot-wide gravel path, where Gus has always enjoyed walking with us. Gus is visibly peeved when Rita accompanies us now. He runs ahead of her, then turns his long dachshund body perpendicular to the path, as if to block her. He body-slams her to the edge of the path before running ahead again. Then the process repeats.

I thought raising more than one dog would be more laid-back than childrearing, which often requires parents to mediate scuffles between their offspring. I was ready to be the coolheaded dog owner who rolled with their punches. Still, it’s hard to see my adorable new pup go right for Gus’s balls in the attack. I asked Tiffany if this was something to be concerned about.

Her answer: “Not at all…Ladies know where it hurts a man.”

‘It Must Be Around Here Somewhere’

Is the above statement the story of your life? It’s the mantra for those who constantly misplace things. Are you one of them?

Today I murmured it when I couldn’t find a shopping bag filled with costumes that I promised to alter for an upcoming school play. They showed up in my car’s trunk after my husband had moved it from the back seat. Yesterday I said it when I couldn’t find the cottage cheese, which was right in front of me on the top refrigerator shelf, and the peanut butter, which was not on its usual shelf. Last week it was my wallet, which had been left at my desk when I ordered a book from Amazon.

Not long ago I was talking with our daughter Rachel from California, and I was trying to wrap up the call so I could get to an appointment. While I talked I bounced like a pinball around the house, searching every room, drawer, pocket and countertop for my cell phone, cursing my absent-mindedness. “It must be around here somewhere,” I kept saying. My frustration mounted, and casting aside my vow to keep my language clean in front of my kids, I blurted out to Rachel, “I can’t find my damn cell phone!” again and again — before I finally realized that the cell phone, not the land phone, was stuck to my ear.

A few years ago another cell phone went missing, this time for a solid week. The last time I had used it was when I was mailing a pair of shoes that my son Ryan had sold on E-Bay. I checked my pockets, my car, the garage floor, even called the Post Office. I was ready to report it as missing but I knew “It must be around here somewhere.”

Then one day the land line rang. “Hi,” said an unknown voice, “I bought your son’s shoes on E-Bay and a cell phone was in the package with them.”

Other things that have gone missing — thankfully temporarily — include bills due this week, hefty checks from my husband’s business clients, important school paperwork, school projects, notes for my work projects. Most of these disappear from the Bermuda Triangle of our house: the kitchen counter. I have a pathological aversion to cluttering it because I am fearful of appearing disorganized to random visitors, so any piles left on the counter migrate to a bigger pile of stuff that has been cleared from it — only I forget where that pile is.

“I can’t be responsible for anything that is left on the counter!” I’ve been known to thunder to my family. So my countertop may look like a pristine tundra but our closets, drawers and cabinets look like an episode of “Hoarders.” My mother-in-law, a compulsive organizer, is the yin to my yang.

I try to conceal my absentmindedness from my husband Bob, who always teases me by quoting our favorite line from that raunchy old TV cartoon, “Ren and Stimpy”:

“You eee-diot!”

Of course, Bob has his Stimpy moments as well. At least once a week I hear him scream, “Where the f*** is my g**-d*** (fill in the blank)?” For some reason I have no problem coolly tracking down any item that Bob can’t find; my absentmindedness somehow kicks in only when I am responsible for misplacing it. Indeed, Bob’s missing item is usually staring us in the face, a fact that I always relish pointing out. Bob is outwardly messy but is a human GPS for every scrap of paper, mysterious computer cable or obscure widget under his purview; his problem is that he melts down on the rare occasions when his tracking system breaks down.

That reminds me: We once had a magnetic word kit that let us make witty phrases on the refrigerator door, and our son Ben once affixed the words “no” and “patience” to a photo of Bob. Those words anchored Bob’s photo to the refrigerator for years and provided countless hours of family mirth. The rest of the magnetic words disappeared a long time ago, although I know they must be around here somewhere.

Most people raised Catholic will appreciate that my patron saint is St. Anthony, heaven’s version of Allan Pinkerton, who can make anything lost re-appear. He seldom fails me but usually makes me sweat first. I have a frequent buyer card with St. A., and it has been stamped often enough to redeem for Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

Am I losing my mind? Maybe…but it must be around here somewhere. How about you?

Street Names: Getting You Where You Live

Would you ever want to live at an address that sounds less than picturesque? Or that sounds scary, shady, tawdry or downright ugly?

Las Vegas pays homage to the late Tupac in this street sign, courtesy of theawl.com.

Las Vegas pays homage to the late Tupac in this street sign, courtesy of theawl.com.

I ask this because I recently finished a story for our local paper on the history of street names in our town. It got me thinking about how the millions of streets in our country are named. Who thought up names like “Hard Scrabble Road” in New York and “Mosquito Landing Road” in southern New Jersey? Do you shudder at the thought of living at such an address? (That last one makes me itch.)

My thoughts took me to the web, where I found a very funny blog post at the Zillow web site. I learned that Casco, Maine has a Durt Road and Clark Ford, Idaho has a Crummy Road. Norwich, CT, has a Butt Road and, according to theawl.com, Las Vegas pays homage to a late rapper via Tupac Lane.

While my childhood years were spent on the quiet-sounding Church Street (named for the church on it, a common practice in old towns), my street addresses as an adult ranged from picturesque to Dickensian. My most downtrodden place – a threadbare apartment with trapezoid-shaped walls — was actually at one of my prettiest address names: West Willow Grove Avenue, in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. Later I “moved up” to a nicer apartment at a not-so-nice-sounding address: Iven Avenue. Terrible!

As I newlywed I lived on Bittersweet Court, a nice Marlton, New Jersey townhouse neighborhood that sounds more downtrodden than it was; and Old Cedar Grove Road (my prettiest-sounding address). We built that house and picked the lot partly because of the address…even though the choicer lots were on a street called Dolores Drive. No offense to anyone named Dolores – it was probably the wife or daughter of an earlier developer — but I didn’t want my address to sound so dolorous.

Sometimes I wonder what motivates developers – who typically bestow the names – to choose the names they do. Inspired by a song, a newborn or a mistress, they immortalize their beloved’s name on a street sign, sell the properties, then stick the homebuyers with an address like Dolores Drive or Hardscrabble Road in perpetuity.

Here are some other interesting facts about street names:

  • In Colonial times and afterwards, as U.S. communities were built, it was common to name streets after the types of trees that grew along them, their importance to the town, or their residents or buildings. Usually the word “street” was not capitalized.
  • Some of the oldest streets in our town are named Cedar, Grove, Maple, Elm and Ash. Others are named Church (where the Catholic Church is located); and Granite, where a quarry was once located.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the most common names include Second, Third, First, Park, Main, Oak, Maple, Cedar, Elm and Hill. “Second” streets are more numerous than “Main” streets, because the main street is often called something other than Main Street.
  • Inspiration for a neighborhood’s street names can come from anywhere. One neighborhood in our town, whose developer was a former high school teacher, had streets named after Whitman and Emerson. Others, named after the developers’ relatives, include Teresa, Nicholas, Alexander, Angelo, Elizabeth, John Matthew, Gina, David Joseph, Barbara, Tiffany and Ursla. A street called Queen Ann Drive is named after one developer’s daughter; another street, Carol Ann Drive, is named after his wife. Another developer named his high-end townhouse neighborhood after Highcroft, a private school that his son attended.

What about you? Which of your addresses have sounded the most picturesque? Did any make you cringe? Any interesting street names in your town?

No Longer Attracted

These magnets are now homeless because for the first time our refrigerator is not magnetic.

This afternoon we took delivery of a brand new stainless steel refrigerator, and I was dismayed to find out that my magnets will not stick to it. Now I have dozens of magnets with no place to go, and I have no idea where to put our calendar.

Our old fridge (an LG…DO NOT BUY!!!!) died the other day, after eight years of temperamental service. It was a sleek and beautiful French door model, and it still looked brand new. But it was full of annoying quirks, such as a beeper that sounded if you had the door open for one minute, which made it a hassle to put groceries away. The food in the back of the fridge frequently froze; the vegetable doors were prone to cracking and falling off track; the gaskets twice became flaccid and useless. Finally, last Monday, I noticed the ice in the ice-maker was melting and the food in the fridge had grown warm. The refrigerator would hum briefly, then I’d hear a click and it would be silent. After researching and talking with repair guys and with friends who’ve buried refrigerators, we got a grim diagnosis: a busted compressor, which is like Alzheimers for fridges. Faced with at least a $600 repair bill – and filled with tales about LG’s notoriously slow delivery for parts – we decided to replace it instead. We shuttled our food to a 30-year-old GE refrigerator in the basement (which still runs beautifully although it guzzles power like Gatorade) and went shopping for a new one.

So today Lee and Chad, two burly delivery guys from Frank’s Appliance Store, took away the LG – which still looked

Our new refrigerator: gorgeous but no magnetism.

beautiful, like Blanche DuBois being carted off to the asylum – and brought in a new Amana, a dead ringer for the old LG. But when I went to put the big magnetic clip on the new fridge so I could hang up the calendar, it did not stick.

This is a disaster. I have never owned or rented a refrigerator without owning at least one magnet to go on it. My first refrigerator magnet was a plain black button on our battered fridge at a rental in Avalon, New Jersey, where I’d spend summers with friends when I was in my 20s. It held a cartoon from Cosmo magazine that had a woman saying to a guy at a bar, “Yes, I’m multi-orgasmic…and you?”

Over the years we’ve collected enough magnets to remind us of all the places we’ve been, the friends who gave us the magnets, the places we have dined, orthodontists and repair companies that have taken our money. For about a year our refrigerator was covered with hundreds of magnetic words from which we could create our own witty phrases. My favorite was when our son Ben anchored a photo of my husband to the fridge with the words “no” and “patience.”

Now we have magnetic bottle openers, magnetic clips strong enough to hold a big calendar, magnetic goofy sayings, magnetic photos of Hearst Castle, Nantucket, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. We have a very hard time parting with them…if they are not on the refrigerator they go into a drawer.

The magnets of course collected papers to go under them, until our refrigerator looked like a cluttered bulletin board, the papers rustling when we open the door, which is frequently. It looked tacky but I couldn’t help myself. Whenever we’d have people over I’d usually take all the magnets and paper and store them somewhere so that the refrigerator looked sleek and glamorous. Then the day after the party I’d carefully place the magnets back on the refrigerator in an attractive grid pattern and weed out some of the papers, so that it looked at least like a neat bulletin board. But within days the clutter had returned like a toenail fungus that won’t go away, and the fridge looked junky again.

So now I have a refrigerator that will end my magnet addiction for good. It will always look as pristine as it did in the showroom last night. My guests will admire it. But I’ll have trouble remembering appointments, school picture days, and when they collect the recyclables until I have a new system. And I’ll need to visit the old magnets in my junk drawer to re-read the stories they told.

The Unmitigated Gall of Fame

Has a friend, former friend, relative, acquaintance, or acquaintance of acquaintance ever done anything so brazen, galling, or just plain tacky that it makes your jaw drop? If so, please nominate them for my Unmitigated Gall of Fame.

Over the years I’ve heard hundreds of stories about people who are all for themselves, and whose consciences and sense of fair play and decency are less than developed. Their actions at the very least are pathetically tacky; at worst they are brazen. They are what the Catholic nuns back in the day would call a “bold and brazen article.”

Come on, I know you all know people like this too. So below is a list I’ve been keeping of the exploits of people with more balls than Spaulding. Some of them are outrageously mean; others simply tacky (at least in my eyes); and all are cunning…an attribute I detest. A few are corporations (remember that according to Mitt Romney, corporations are people too!)

Nothing would make me happier than hearing other stories, the more brazen, the better! Please comment below, disguising small details if you need to. My goal is to feature a “Gall of Fame” in a future blog.

Here goes:
1. A former boyfriend from my single days had a friend who worked in Garfinkle’s, an upscale Washington, DC department store. This friend regaled us with stories about female members of a well-known political dynasty who would take out designer clothes “on approval,” on Friday and return them – with armpit stains – on Monday.

2. Years ago I worked for the Philadelphia Bulletin, back when Philadelphia had more than one city newspaper (nobody has this now; in fact, a few cities may lose their only newspaper.) When employees at our competitor, the Philadelphia Inquirer, went on strike, the Bulletin’s gentlemanly owners made a corporate decision not to capitalize on the Inquirer’s misfortune by trying to woo over its advertisers and readers. This was a gesture of solidarity with their competitor, and a classy thing to do. But once the strike was over, the Inquirer started to air radio commercials that featured an excited woman saying happily: “My Inquirer…It’s back!” She went on to say that now she could use the copies she bought of “that other newspaper” to line her cat’s litterbox. I’ve hated the Inquirer ever since.

3. Another company, with notoriously underpaid workers (think $23K for new hires), buys tickets to sporting events in case it wants to entertain customers. If no customer wants the tickets, the company sells the tickets to its underpaid workers at full face value. Now somebody might say this is good business sense, but I think it would be a whole lot classier to give the tickets away to some underpaid minion who’s gone “above and beyond,” or at least draw names from a hat. The company already paid for the tickets!

4. I think it’s galling that some petting zoos have feed dispensers that dispense about a tenth of a penny’s worth of corn for 25 cents. Your kids get goat saliva on their hands; the zoo makes a 2500 percent profit and the animals are never hungry, thus saving the zoo even more bucks at feeding time.

5. I once worked in corporate communications for a railroad, which faced frivolous and even outrageous lawsuits all the time. I remember one case when a two-year-old girl crawled onto the railroad tracks and a crew member crawled onto the snowplow in front of the locomotive to scoop her up in time, saving her life (Fortunately the train was moving slowly.} Guess what? Her parents still hired a lawyer!

6. An electrical engineer we’ll call “Ted” decided he wanted out of the Florida-based business he shared with another engineer, “Joe.” Ted “lawyered up” to make sure he got his fair share of the accounts receivable and the value of the business, and Joe was stunned. Just before he dropped the bomb on Joe, Ted and his family took a lavish tour of Europe, and spent several nights staying for free with Joe’s brother in Paris.

7. OK, on to the personal realm…a friend of a friend once received a new Sunbeam Mixmaster as a gift because her old one had broken down after many years of service. This bold and brazen article put the broken-down mixer in the new mixer’s box and returned it to the store for a full refund. I kid you not!

8. A  relative of another friend brought a van to her parents’ home within hours after her mother passed away so she could get first dibs on the furniture and jewelry, ahead of her sisters.

9. A friend of mine was invited to the wedding of a coworker’s son’s, a young man whom my friend did not know. She and her husband went to the wedding, which was so big that she was among the many guests who never had a chance to chat with the bride and groom. She never received a thank you note for her gift, either. But now the bride is expecting and my friend has received an invitation from her coworker to the baby shower!
10. A former neighbor of mine, who is from a very wealthy family, once bragged that she was able to get free strollers for all three of her kids by milking the warranty system. The first was a shower gift. She brought this first one to a local store towards the end of its two-year warranty, claiming it was defective and clamoring for a new one. She did the same thing with the replacement stroller two years later.

So did this get your juices flowing? Please feel free to chime in!

Hey, Dog Whisperer: My Dog Begs for Meatballs, and Other Problems

Gus at rest, but not in his crate like he’s supposed to be. Perhaps he is dreaming of meatballs.

Dear Cesar Milan,
OK we bought your book. We know the importance of calm, authoritative attitudes when handling puppies, no matter how cute. We’ve practiced the art of going through the door first and letting the dog follow, of owning our space and of saying “tssst!” to show displeasure when our puppy whines or jumps too much.

So what can we do when the dog isn’t buying it?

We’ve had our new puppy Gus for just two days. It has been an adjustment. On the plus side, he is getting used to the crate. On the minus side, everything we’ve read in the Dog Whisperer book about being a calm and authoritative pack leader has gone out the window. Gus ignores the people who’ve best learned to be authoritative (thanks to your television shows and book) and lavishes all his attention on the weak link: me.

He’s already turning into a picky eater, even though we are using the same puppy chow as his breeder. He has hardly touched his food bowl, despite our cajoling. But he clung to my ankles last night as I stirred a pot of gravy and meatballs, and whimpered and begged while we ate dinner. Could it be that Gus, descended from a prestigious line of German miniature dachshunds, is really Italian?

Perhaps that would explain his attachment to his new “mama.” While my son has projected a more authoritative presence (thanks to you), Gus has me pegged for a softie. He ignores other family members and follows me around from room to room. When I tell him to “stay,” he must interpret it to mean, “within a two-foot radius.” As soon as I sit down he jumps into my lap – even though dachshunds supposedly should limit jumping because they are prone to bad backs — and starts licking my face. He cries pitifully if I put him into his crate so I can get something done. He is a mama’s dog through and through. If this continues, will he turn into Paulie Walnuts?

He certainly is capable of bonding with the guys in the family, at least if I am not around. Last night, ignoring his whimpers, I left to do some food shopping. When I returned Bob and Gus were peacefully curled up on the couch together watching the Red Sox. Gus was nearly asleep, but when he saw me he started wagging his tail furiously and immediately climbed into my lap. I should have told him “tsst” and pushed him away with a clawed hand, like you suggested.

Dog Whisperer, I am making the same mistakes with Gus that I made as a parent of small children. I have a hard time with the tough decisions and the “executive” part of parenting, whether it’s a two-legged or four-legged creature. I let my daughter live on Spaghetti-os for months at a time when it was the only thing she would eat. When my kids had problems going to bed I would sit in the hallway outside their bedrooms with a magazine and reassure them that I wasn’t going away, instead of locking their door as some childhood sleep experts would recommend. Now Gus is sleeping in his crate in our bedroom, something that really should not be happening.

House training has also been challenging at times, just as potty training was. I’ve brought Gus outside many times and waited, but nothing has happened except for a lot of sniffing, pointing, and digging up tuberous plants. I’ve brought him to a nice tree and encouraged him to take a whiz there, even modeled the correct technique. I prayed that no neighbors saw me when I lifted up one arm and one leg and said, “see Gus, this is how it’s done,” while he stared quizzically at me. Only later did I find out from his breeder that a dachshund’s legs are too short to pee like other dogs do; he just lets everything trickle down. He hasn’t pooped outside either, but that doesn’t surprise me since that the “number-two” part of potty training was challenging for my other boys as well. (My youngest pooped in my shoe once after I refused to let him put a diaper back on.)

So, Dog Whisperer, please help. My weiner dog is on his way to becoming an anal-retentive, meatball-loving, authority-resistant, Italian mama’s boy. Please bring over Blizzard, Mr. President and Junior and tell me what to do. I need to get over this problem before I have grandchildren.

Some of My Best Friends Are Republicans

Two years ago I was at a social gathering with a few dozen women, some of them good friends and the rest friendly acquaintances. As the evening wore on and the wine went down the conversation drifted into dangerous waters: politics.

It started with a conversation about a local family that had fallen on hard times, with both wage earners out of work. While we were somberly expressing concern for them and others like them, one acquaintance, normally a bastion of politeness, spat out a comment:

“It’s all because of that o-BAM-a!!!!” The “bam” syllable launched a spray of pino grigio in my face. I wiped away the wine and the incident for the time being.

But it has come back to me over the past month, during a particularly nasty Presidential campaign filled with vitriol on both sides. People are very divided over the future of this country, something that goes beyond the candidates. Here in Massachusetts the forces are rallying for Romney vs. Obama; for Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren. As campaign signs begin to sprout like spring dandelions on front lawns, the challenge until November will be to keep conversation civil, unlike the campaign.

I lean Democratic, and my Republican friends and I care enough for each other to not let politics interfere with personal relationships. At social gatherings we try not to talk politics, especially if we are unsure of the other person’s beliefs.

But every so often we can’t keep a lid on it.

Last month was one of those times. I was chatting on the phone with an old friend, who went from near-poverty to being a successful businesswoman, and she was lamenting that her 26-year-old son was aging out of the family health insurance plan.

“Fucking Obamacare,” she said. When I reminded her that without the health care plan her son would have lost coverage three years ago, she went on a rant and said Obama was ruining the country. I decided not to argue.

Earlier this year I was driving with three other friends and we were lamenting the alarming number of people who didn’t have health care. “They should get off their butts and go get a job,” said my Republican friend. “Well, many of them LOST jobs!,” my Democrat friend chimed in, clearly ready to debate the issue. Since we were in a car I steered the conversation into safer waters before things got uncomfortable.

My Facebook page includes ads for Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s Facebook pages as “pages you might like,” based on my two dozen FB buddies who’ve already “liked” them. One FB friend — a local businessman whom we like very much — “likes” nearly every ugly caricature of the President that you can imagine, including one that denounces him as a “big fat liar.”

How can friends and neighbors who I adore and share a lot in common with feel so differently from me? Why have some of my childhood confidantes “gone the other way,” despite having shared many of the same life experiences and attitudes in the past? What makes some people Republican and the others Democrat?

I lean Democratic, but not all the way. I believe in the safety net but don’t think it should be a hammock that makes people lazy. I hate people who game the system, whether they are Medicare cheats or billionaires who pay little or no taxes. I never want my kids to lack access to affordable health care but know that some tough decisions have to be made about the cost of treatment.

I’m sure many of my Republican friends share similar moderate views. And to be fair, people with more liberal tendencies are also capable of loose talk, especially after a few drinks. My Facebook feed includes plenty of “likes” for disparaging slogans about Romney and Paul. At a recent dinner out a few of us Dems heartily trashed the other side of the aisle, to the chagrin of a dear friend and very classy guy who happened to be the only Republican present. He smiled patiently and didn’t try to argue with a bunch of tipsy Democrats. Sometimes I’ll go on a rant about right-wing wackos and gradually figure out that the person I’m ranting to is a non-wacko Republican, and just politely waiting for me to finish.

While I sometimes wonder what makes them tick, my Republican friends are compassionate, smart, hard working, always there for me, passionate about giving back to the community. Our friendship will survive this awful campaign, no matter who wins. But I’ll be glad when the elephant in the room – and the donkey — are gone. I’m watching what I drink until then.