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.

 

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Blue Moon, My Funny Valentine

Blue Moon / You saw me standing alone / Without a song in my heart / Without a love of my own — Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, 1934

All these romantic songs assume it’s terrible to be alone. That we can’t dream alone and that we must be unhappy and lonely if we live alone.

Well, they’re misleading us down the wrong garden path. The one strewn with rose petals where only romantically linked couples are welcome. Or the one lined with party hats and noisemakers for large groups and families.Blue Moon

For some of us, the shared path does not last, or lead anywhere, or suit our nature, or our lifestyle at a particular point in time. More and more people around the world are choosing to live alone, according to sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single. Today, more than 50 percent are. People who live alone in the United States (31 million) make up 28 percent of all American households, making them more common than any other domestic unit, including the nuclear family.

It’s hard to believe that all 31 million Americans who live alone are looking up at the moon and feeling empty. According to Klinenberg, those who live alone are more likely than couples to have active social lives, taking the initiative to reach out and get together regularly with friends.

From my own experience, I know it’s possible to be happy alone. In the past, I’ve felt lonelier in the wrong relationships or surrounded by people not on my wavelength. But I believed all the romantic songs that the path alone was too dark and I felt sorry for those who went down it. To end up there would be awful, I feared.

But, guess what? Here I am and it’s not dark at all. It is fun and full of adventure. I’m not saying it’s better than being with someone, but it’s just as good, just as worthwhile a path to take. I wish I’d been able to realize this earlier. I could be a famous novelist or Pulitzer-prize winning journalist by now, instead of spending time caring for unhappy men or trying to make ill-fated relationships work. Just kidding, of course. But I certainly could have saved myself hours of wishing I were on another path, under another moon. Maybe someday I will be, maybe not. Either way, I’ll be okay.

A few months ago I was looking up at the Blue Moon. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, had just died and we were encouraged to wink at the moon and remember him on his memorial day.

So by the light of his Blue Moon, with a song in my heart, I go for a walk, I take a photograph, I write, and I am in good company.

Aloha

Such a friendly woman once I got her to smile. I pass her for weeks in the morning, she walking two dogs and I carrying my mat to yoga. She is tall, with a limp in one leg, but she doesn’t let it slow her down, walks briskly and for miles she tells me, after we say hello and introduce ourselves. On Valentine’s Day, she surprises me with a chocolate bar, passing it to me like a baton in a relay as we move along. I eventually learn that she also swims and I tell her I write for the local paper and give her my card.

HibiscusOne morning I am headed in a different direction and I don’t recognize her as she pulls up in a black SUV and parks in front of my neighbor’s house. “You’re early this morning,” she says as she gets out. It takes me a few seconds to see who she is in this different location. And another few to realize she is not stopping to say hello or give me another candy bar.

She walks in front of her SUV and over to my neighbor’s hibiscus trees and starts yanking off the pink flowers. Handfuls of them. “I need these for my tortoise,” she says. “I hope whoever lives here doesn’t mind.”

I don’t know what to say.

Now, the hibiscus trees and flowers surround my neighbor’s corner house and flow over the sidewalk on two sides, so there are probably enough to feed a bale of turtles.

My neighbor is a yoga teacher, a kind and gentle man, and the hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii, so it seems entirely possible that he wouldn’t mind sharing his bountiful blossoms with a hungry tortoise. I might be tempted myself to pluck one for my hair, just as I’m sometimes tempted to grab a lemon from another nearby front yard. But in the spirit of aloha, I think I would ask first before plucking. Or I like to think I would.

Doggie Don’t Do

I’m a moderate when it comes to dogs pooping on my lawn. I’m not conservative – let’s ban all dogs from going to the bathroom anywhere outside, make them wear diapers. Nor am I a liberal – let them poop and pee merrily away and run around in restaurants, Parisian-style.

Curb Your DogNo, I don’t mind if a dog poops on my lawn, as long as the owner picks it up. It’s not as if I’m out there rolling around on my grass, or even walking barefoot. I’m not as squeamish as some who even hate the idea of dogs on bike paths, the idea of walking where dogs have done their business, although I do admit that walking through a dog beach bothered me a bit.

Now that my son and his wife have adopted a dog and I see what they go through encouraging little Ruby to squat quickly and quietly, whipping out the teeny plastic bags and bending over and deftly scooping and tying the end and making sure nothing is left behind, I’m even more sympathetic to dog owners. Most, I think, are conscientious, and don’t have room in their homes for dog litter boxes, assuming dogs would even know what they are, unless a fire hydrant or a tree could be planted next to it.

Not everyone agrees with me. One of my neighbors glares from under her gardening hat at dog owners as they amble by. One morning, I point to a man in front of me with a dog the size of a horse. “How would you like to pick up after that?” I joke. She turns red. “The other day I caught him,” she said. “I wasNo! Dog up on my roof and he couldn’t see me. It’s amazing what people will try to get away with when they think no one is watching.” I try to imagine what she saw. Then she adds, “If you see anyone letting their dog on my lawn, tell them to get off.”

So the next time I’m out walking with my daughter-in-law and Ruby starts sniffing my neighbor’s pristine lawn, I explain that it’s not dog-friendly and the owner may be up on the roof watching us. “It’s almost too perfect, isn’t it?” I say. There’s not a blade out of place or sullied by soil. We look closer – and both realize that it is too perfect, because it’s not real! It’s fake grass.

12 stitches across, 16 down

A friend send me a new word today – biscornu. It’s an eight-sided pincushion that’s become popular in recent months. Some southerners think it comes from the word biscuit, since it’s shaped like one. The French think it means skewed, quirky, or irregular. Linguists insist it means “two horned.”

My friend thinks it might be a fun thing to make. But, like me, she’s a writer and more nimble with words than needles and thread. She has plenty to do besides sit around and match teeny pieces of cloth together and sew on buttons. Not to mention actually use the damn thing to hold pins. Pins for what?biscornu

Despite happy memories of writing poems in a wood-lined room where my grandmother sewed, I was fortunate to inherit my mother’s dislike of sewing. In high school, we didn’t have a sewing machine, so I had to make place mats and napkins drudgingly by hand. I had more fun photographing and writing about them for my assignment than I did fraying 32 edges and embroidering my initials eight times. After all that work, the teacher gave me a C+ and the girls whose mothers whipped up nightgowns got As.

As a young housewife with extra time on my hands, I tried sewing for awhile. I inherited my grandmother’s tiny Singer and spent hours, just as she did, bent over its whirring rattle. I made a few cute animals for my kids, but by the time I finished making skirts and blouses for myself, I was sick of them, and didn’t feel like wearing them.

Sewing BasketEventually, as I moved into writing for a living, I gave up all pretenses of being a seamstress. I’d rather observe and write about quirkiness than create a skewed, horny pin cushion. Then when my friend sent me the new pin cushion word, I remembered – didn’t I make a pin and needle holder for my mother when I was 10 years old? I still have her sewing basket. Oh yes, here it is! A tribute from one bumble-thumb to another! A loving memory of my mother, the word lover, who filled in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle in ink every morning until she died at 89 and avoided sewing needles like mosquitos carrying the West Nile Virus.