Spam, Spam, Spam

Spam, spam, it’s been around so long I forget where the name came from. Oh yes, the semi-fake ham in a can that Monty Python served up in their 1970 Spam Sketch. That was 43 years ago, 33 years after Hormel invented their “spiced ham.”

I don’t eat spam anymore, but I feel as if I’m being force fed the online kind. It’s everywhere. No sooner do my gastric bypass filters get rid of some spam when more arrives.

Turning on my computer and logging into other worlds, I hold my breath. The Internet is slightly slower today because the spam creators and the spam fighters are battling it out, star wars in cyberspace. But soon the new spam arrives in my little computer world – by email and morphed into ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google (maybe a cousin of spam, like deviled ham?).

My email spam has evolved from earlier messages urging me to increase the size and performance of my penis and accept the lottery winnings in Nigeria. I guess they’re permanently relegated to the cyber dust bin.

So now some new and strange ones are sneaking through. Some in French! “Bonjour madam …” Porquoi? Is it because I’ve browsed Tahiti? Are all the bored Parisian marketers tired of their long lunches?

Messages from friends, supposedly through Facebook or Linked In. “Maryann has endorsed you.” Really? The real Maryann, or the web robot? What am I supposed to do with this information? Endorse back in a mutual endorsement frenzy?

Messages from strangers …

“Hey Stranger, a friend of mine told me I could find someone like you in the area for a discrete meeting …”

“Hey cutie, I’d love to meet you.”

“Hello from BOOBS!”

“I’ve lost my pussy! Can you help me?” I don’t know what to tell her. I haven’t seen it and I don’t care to.

Suddenly ads on my Google search and Facebook pages. I’m looking for something I’m researching or reading through political rants or photos of food and someone’s dinner and there will be an ad. Movies with flying or fighting characters. Pest removal, with bugs that scurry across the screen. (The first time this happened I, a bugphobe, almost had a heart attack.) Lotteries with bouncing balls. Peanut butter. And for Spam, of course, since I researched Spam for this essay.Spam Spam

It’s getting so I’m feeling bombarded with a cacaphoneous kalaidescope of colors and sounds. If they were 3-D, they’d be punching me silly instead of merely turnng my brain and eyeballs into tilt-a-whirls.

I know this is all part of the new marketing strategies using social media. As a marketing copywriter, I’m guilty myself of trying to optimize web copy using words that search engines will pick up. And in my own blog, the web powers that be grab some of my words and link them to ads.

The upside of all this targeting marketing and information gathering is that we often do see ads that provide helpful information. While we can protect ourselves with certain privacy settings and filters, we can’t expect total isolation unless we go offline. As long as we use computers, we are fair game.

Are these new hunter gatherers like the drones of the cyberworld? And how many messages do they have to bombard us with before our computers explode?

When that day comes, I’m moving to Tahiti and I’m not taking my computer or my iPhone.Spam Blue Balls

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Is It a Mad Men World?

Unlike men who claim to look at Playboy magazine “for the articles,” I really do look at fashion magazines for the pictures, not the articles. Some of the articles in fashion magazines are interesting, especially those that address women’s social and health issues around the world. But the majority are not. They are the same superficial interviews with superficial celebrities, the same 10 ways to trim your thighs and figure out what your man (or partner) is thinking. Enough already.

I do enjoy looking at clothes, however, both in magazines and in stores. Even though I buy fewer and fewer the older I get and don’t need many for a simple, work-at-home lifestyle, I still enjoy the fantasies that these costumes evoke. As with enjoying a painting, or a sculpture, or a tree or a flower, I appreciate the mixture/interplay of colors, fabrics, forms, textures. As with enjoying a movie or a play, I can transport myself into the lives they portray – jet setter, businesswoman, rock star, cowgirl, surfer, artist, Palm Springs or Palm Beach socialite.

Then I can return to my more plainly dressed life with a sense of relief and appreciation. I don’t have to walk through airports or down hallways in 6-inch heels. I don’t have to retrofit myself into a 50s style sheath dress with a girdle underneath. (Today called body shaper or Spanx, but still a girdle.)Costume

I’m not sure I understand why today’s successful businesswomen have adopted the tight, sleeveless sheath dress and high heels as their uniform. In the 1970s, we fought for the right to hold certain jobs, but also to be able to dress comfortably. Granted, some of the polyester pantsuits of the 70s were less than appealing and the wide-shouldered power suits of the 80s were over the top, but at least we were able to move freely. And I remember going to many parties wearing flowing pants and tunics that were attractive, feminine, sexy, and comfortable! When I look at women today in dresses out of Mad Men, I have a hard time breathing and my toes hurt.

Are women dressing this way to impress each other, or to impress men? Are they trying to project a sexy image so as not to threaten others with their increasing power? Most men I know, while enjoying sexuality and an attractively dressed woman, would rather walk stride-in-stride with a partner or friend who can keep up with them than one who minces along.

And the day I see men sitting around a conference table in sleeveless tops beside women in sleeveless tops (bare arms, chest showing) will be the day I know we’re playing on the same level. But the fact that tanks on men are called wife beaters might cancel this out.

What I enjoy seeing on women (and men) and what I take away from fashion photos is the fun of expressing individualty, creativity, imagination, freedom. Even though I like certain looks more than others, I think we should be able to dress the way we want. I admire those who are brave enough to dress in costume. In the writing world, I know many like this, showing up at a reading one night looking like a 40s movie actor and the following week like a punk rocker. Wearing a long skirt with a military jacket one day and gold lame jeans and boots the next.

These brave dressers don’t pay attention to the fashion rules that set age limits or admonish against this or that for certain seasons of the year or of life. Nor do they squeeze themselves into modern-day corsets and crippling footwear. Like me, they pull on a lot – or a bit – of fantasy with their clothes in the morning and then walk quickly out the door without looking back.

 

Not Dead Yet Woman Walking

I am fortunate to live in an area of San Diego where I can walk everywhere. As a freelance writer who works alone at home, I appreciate being able to get out almost every day in the fresh air and combine walking with running errands, going to exercise class, strolling along the oceanfront, meeting friends for lunch, or even calling on a business client. If the day ever comes that I have to give up driving, I could survive without a car.

But now I’m beginning to wonder how long I can survive walking. It’s becoming scarier and crazier out there every day to be a pedestrian.

We already know it’s crazier to drive on the freeways: more people with more to do, in a hurry in their huge vehicles. An attempt to lower the national speed limit to 55 mph after the oil shortages in the ’70s lasted only 13 years, so now everyone is tailgating, even if we’re doing 75 in the slow lane. I learned the hard way to get over my flippant habit of flipping off these tailgaters when one tried to run me off the road in his big pick-up truck. It could have been worse. He could have had a shotgun.Watch for Pedestrians

Now this me-first impatience has spread to the surface streets. What used to be sacrosanct in California – the right-of-way of the pedestrian – has lost more asphalted ground every year. Anyone who’s been in California for awhile can remember feeling reasonably safe using a crosswalk. Cars would actually stop. Now we don’t dare put a toe out over the curb even at a green light for fear it will be ripped off, New York-style, by a car careening around the corner. Instead of looking once before stepping off the curb, I now look two or three times in all directions. I don’t assume the drivers see the little man light under the green light, or the sign, DRIVERS MUST YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS. I don’t assume, even if all cars are stopped and I am halfway through the intersection, that they will remain stopped. I have been surprised more than once by cars grazing my behind or making me run so fast my hat falls off. I have seen cars bear down on women with children and old people with walkers.

What is it that is so important, I wonder, that they can’t wait an extra minute? Why have they forced us to become such defensive walkers, robbed us of our pleasant, strolling right-of way?

One embarrassing morning, I lost it completely in the middle of the street when a black Jaguar snarled toward me, leaping cat hood ornament aimed right at my midsection. I started shrieking and cursing. Under one arm, I had my yoga mat, but with my free one I gestured and gave the finger like a madwoman. People were cringing around me. I felt like a hypocrite with my yoga mat, and when I got to class, I told the teacher, an extremely serene man, what I’d just done. He laughed. “Oh, I do that,” he said. “People ask me if I’m always so calm and I tell them the only time I’m not is when I’m driving.” I laughed a little, but this did not make me feel better.

Walking back from class, I realized that we pedestrians are not safe on the sidewalk either. Drivers pulling in and out of parking lots do not see us or do not care. Most large parking lots have stop signs at their exits to the sidewalk and street. They must be invisible. The majority of drivers (I have started to count) wheel right on through them.

Drive CarefullyAt home, I can see and hear traffic from my second-story windows. At certain times of day, around the corner from two schools, it is a busy block between two intersections. Mothers stream by in silver SUVs, cell phones glued to ears, kids strapped into back seats. The parents on foot have a hard time navigating. When I first moved here five years ago, I heard honking only once or twice a week. Now it’s several times a day. Occasionally, in a very satisfying scenario, two motorcycle cops set up at opposite corners and pull over drivers one after another and the honking stops.

What is the answer? Do we have to post cops on every corner to make people slow down? Do we have to put up what are called “traffic calming” signs everywhere? Slow down, smell the roses … Somehow we have to make drivers and walkers more aware.

According to the Walk San Diego website (www.walksandiego.org), we are 36 times more likely to be killed walking than driving a car; each year more than 6,000 pedestrians are killed and 90,000 are injured in the United States.

Often, as I am pondering and gazing out my kitchen window, I see families and other groups of people go by on those Segway people movers. In single file, they glide gracefully along the sidewalk. Walkers on wheels. They have on helmets and look as if they are on their way to some sort of game, but really, they are tourists seeing the sights in a different way. I try to imagine myself on one. Would I feel any safer? I doubt it. With my luck, I’d run over small dogs and sail right into a school bus. Come to think of it, I remember reading that the owner of the company that manufactures them died on one a few months ago. Less than a year after British tycoon Jim Heselden bought the Segway company from its American inventor, he was tooling around his property in Yorkshire on a people mover and drove it over a 30-foot cliff into the river below. No specific cause of the accident was ever determined, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved a speeding lorry or mini.

So I guess I’ll stick to using my own legs, learning to be a calmly cautious walker. I can hope that the world and its drivers slow down long enough to read signs and spare a few lives. We may have to put up more blinking signs warning drivers they are going 60 in a school zone (as if they didn’t know!) or that right of way doesn’t always mean them. I may have to walk to more yoga classes. But I refuse to wear a helmet.

This essay was published in the La Jolla Light on January 19, 2012.

 

Who’s That in the Kitchen with Julia?

I just received another slew of catalogs from the home decorating and cooking stores, you know, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn. These to welcome Spring, as previous ones have fall and winter holidays, summer and Fourth of July celebrations.

Their purpose is not just to showcase individual items, from tables, lamps and rugs to coffeemakers and Cuisinarts. No, they are selling a lifestyle based on using these items in full-page, bleeding-edge color. It isn’t good enough that the coffeemaker can make 100 kinds of coffee, tea and hot chocolate, it sits on a sideboard surrounded by a sumptuous brunch, including the electric griddle for pancakes and sausages, the panini squisher for ham and cheese sandwiches, the waffle maker, the sherbert maker, the automatic melon baller and the citrus extractor. These require so much room they spread out from the breakfast nook to the dining table.

As for dinners, well they resemble a sort of modern, hip Downton Abbey without the servants. Wait! The servants are all the handy machines. We have crockpots for stew, a deep fryer for homemade dumplings and fritters, an electric wok for stir fry, a rotisserie oven for chicken, a convection oven for what I’m not sure, and a $1,000 outdoor grill for steaks, chops, fish, kebobs. And don’t forget the margarita blender, the soda machine, the turquoise or lime green mixer, and the red velvet cupcake mix and cute little baking pans.Gadgets

How many people actually entertain like this? Not many I know. Overall, dinner parties are on the decline, according to an article in the New York Times (11/29/12). People are busier, more inclined to cozy up at home or hold spontaneous potlucks when they do have free time. The few friends I have who enjoy cooking and entertaining are a rarity and receiving an invitation to their homes is something I look forward to. According to another recent NY Times article (2/12/13), many are now ordering the ingredients of meals close to ready made, so they can appear to be cooking.

In addition to the entertaining fantasies these catalogs promote, they also promote fantasies about day-to-day life. For example, the machine that allows mothers to make their own baby food. (I say mothers here because I can’t imagine any man having the patience for this.) Why? Why? Why? When in the midst of a sleep-deprived stupor, you can easily pull out a breast or a little jar of applesauce.

Again, they are trying to sell us an image that doesn’t exist in real life, perfect baby-mother bond, perfect health.

MixersJuicers and smoothie makers are also used to promote this idea of perfect health. If we squeeze 10 apples, six carrots and a beet into this machine with hungry blades and drink what the hungry blades create, we’ll look 10 years younger and live 10 years longer. Well, we’ll need those 10 years just to pull apart the machine, clean up all the peels and pulp, and reassemble the machine. And while I enjoy an occasional smoothie, I’d rather have something substantial for breakfast, like whole fruit, cereal or an egg that I can fix in half the time it takes to assemble and clean my Bella Cuchina Rocket Blender. (No, I didn’t buy it. It was a gift.)

When not in use, where do all these magical machines reside? Even the most sweeping marble-countered kitchens do no have anough room for them all. I suspect they are off in a secret room – with Dr. Oz, celebrity chefs, and the ghost of Julia Child, rattling her basic pots and pans.

Stop Talking

I saw a great business/calling card recently. It said, simply, Stop Talking.

I can’t stop thinking about it, may go back to the store and buy it. How perfect for me, and people like me, the listeners of the world who would sometimes like to speak and be heard. Or to hear nothing.

I can think of so many people I could hand it to. The boorish bore at a party. The acquaintance painfully describing her latest divorce or operation. The office mate who takes personal calls all day long. The know-it-all in meetings or classes. The clerk who gabs with everyone in line about their health, vacation or children. My neighbor in his hot tub at Midnight. Anyone gabbing nearby on a cell phone or in a theater.

Come to think of it, if I could go back in time, the school wierdo who followed me home when I was 10 because I was the only one who would listen to him.

The world is divided into talkers and listeners, just as it’s divided into neat freaks and slobs, morning larks and night owls, and those who are punctual and those who are always late (perhaps subjects of future posts). We are all put on earth to drive each other crazy.

My own listening skills have served me well as a professional writer. It’s no accident I was drawn to journalism. My curiosity about people always overcame my shyness and I’ve been able to interview anyone from cute boys in high school to famous authors and infamous mayors. And not just ask questions, but listen to the answers!

Bench by the OceanSocially, my ability to listen sometimes helps and sometimes hinders me. It helps if a friend or relative needs comfort. It enriches my life and my writing to hear conversations and nuances many miss. But it hinders if I’m surrounded by boisterous talkers who won’t let up for a minute.

I’ve gotten better at cultivating friendships with those who also listen and avoiding those who don’t. Paradoxically, I’ve developed more tolerance for humans in general, but less so one-on-one. Yet it’s still surprisng to me how little curiosity many people have about others or how unable they are to simply acknowledge a comment without changing the subject or giving unneeded advice. In other words, to Stop Talking! For just a few minutes even!

So would this card really do any good? Probably not. For us listeners, it’s a pleasant fantasy.

Pass them out on the street. People might think we are deaf mutes asking for money. No, we can hear quite well, thank you, we just want a little silence – and maybe the chance to speak. For just a few minutes even!

A p.s. about my photosgarden bench

I like to take my own photos for my blog. Sometimes the photos find me and spark an idea. Sometimes I write my essay first and have to go searching for my photos. As with these. As I sat and looked quietly out at the ocean, people on their cell phones were walking/talking behind me. If I were sitting here with a friend, I would want us both to stop talking and let the view speak.

 

Good Intentions or Take a Seat

The road to fitness heaven is littered with bad exercise machines. – Linda Hutchison

So what is going on here? Is this exercycle being trashed or recycled? Is it ready for the graveyard, or for a second life with a new exerciser?

And what about the old exerciser? Has he or she traded up to a bigger and better bike, or moved on to another form of exercise, or decided to give the body a rest?Exercise Bike

As far as I’m concerned, good riddance to exercise machines. I’ve never been able to run on a treadmill without feeling like a hamster or a gerbil running in a cage. And going up and down on a stairmaster, back and forth on a rowing machine, or pedaling nowhere on an exercise bike make me want to scream. Visualizing toned legs, arms and abs does nothing to calm down my inner screamer or help my motivation.

I much prefer to be outdoors or in a class. I used to run and take aerobic dance classes and in recent years have evolved into walking and yoga classes, with some weight hoisting for good measure(ments). I like feeling as if I’m moving in my own body, whether along a sidewalk or path or from pose to pose. Outdoors, I like the fresh air, the sky, the ocean, the trees, the birds, the flowers, the nodding hello to neighbors and dogs. Even in the rain, I enjoy walking with an umbrella as long as it’s not hurricane-force stormy.

But I’m fortunate to live in a moderate climate where we can walk outdoors comfortably most of the year. One of my friends who lives in the Midwest loves her exercise bike, especially in the bitterly cold winter. There may be a blizzard outside, but there she sits, cozy by the fire, pedaling away, watching foreign movies, getting both her physical and her mental workout at the same time. In the spring, summer and fall, she enjoys walking and swimming, but she doesn’t like classes. Too many people, too many smelly feet.Chair under tree

Well, it’s great we have such variety and choices. If we all crowded into the same classes, we really would have an odor problem beyond the fix of lavender spritzes. It’s good to know that we can keep our joints moving in a way that works for us and that we can recycle ourselves when we feel like trying something new. Or when we feel like doing nothing under a tree.

A Sore Sight for Some Eyes

Some people in our town want to ban all sidewalk signs – the kind that business owners place outside their doors to advertise.

They’re a blight, tacky, something you’d see in a strip mall, an obstacle course, a safety hazard, complain the letters to the editor of the local paper. They’re illegal, take them down, wrote the editor, agreeing with the nay-saying no-signers.

But are they illegal? I happen to like the signs, so I went online and tried to make sense of dense city ordinances. I didn’t succeed. Whether these A-framed signs that sit near curbs are legal or not in our city is still a mystery to me. I think they must be because they are all still standing several months after the barrage of complaints.

To me the signs add colorful visual interest as I’m walking along. Close to the curb, they’re usually not in the way, unless people jaywalk. Without them, the sidewalks would be bare, bare, bare. Too plain and stark.Welcome sign

Not only are the signs decorative, they convey useful information. We’re open! We’re new! Come on in! Walk-ins welcome! Free parking in back. Even better! Especially when I’m circling the block in my car with 25 other parking spot hunters on my tail.

No Parking signs are helpful in our little community too. The meter readers are relentless and unforgiving and ready to whip out their ticket books if we’re 30 seconds over the 2-hour limit.

I really like the signs with balloons tied to them. Sale today! Two for the price of one! Two whats? It can be two pedicures, two massages, two pairs of shoes, two bed pillows, two beers, or two bottles of wine. Or buy a cup of coffee and get a free bagel. Or sign up for a spinning class and get free CPR. Afterwards, join our Happy Hour! Stuff yourself with free appetizers, from tapas to sushi, and listen to people mumble all night long.

It’s also helpful to know that the local pharmacies, including the one in the grocery store, offer flu shots, that Verizon and AT&T can tempt us with the newest phones and related gizmos, that the hardware store sells an automatic key locator (whatever that is) and that the running club meets at the local workout gym at 8 on Saturday mornings (just so I can avoid them).

Friends shopping signIn addition to announcing hours and specials, some sidewalk signs try to send funny messages, such as the two-sided one in front of a kitchen design showroom. On one side, a woman on the phone: I told him, “I’m not waiting another year to remodel this kitchen.” On the other side, a man on the phone: So I told her … “If we’re going to fix the kitchen, we should have them do an outdoor bar-b-cue area too.”

Or one of my favorites: “Friends don’t let friends shop at chain stores.”

Yes, if I want bland, I’ll go to the nearest big shopping center. If I want perfect, I’ll go to a town that bans deviation, where everything looks the same. In the meantime, and I hope our sidewalk signs are here for awhile, I’ll enjoy the colorful clutter while I can. Even the moving signs that jumping people hold up and wave around.