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Funerals manage to bring out the worst in me in by the fact that they bring together, in one room, all the things that truly irritate me in life: flowers, the cloying smell of old-lady perfume, and cigarette smoke…and embalming, and caskets, and funeral homes…and insincerity, and vultures, and weirdo relatives.

It’s a hellish trifecta of allergies, religion, and forced association with people I wouldn’t otherwise associate with.

Sailor’s grandmother died and aside from the sheer joy of Sailor coming home for the funeral, I also garnered the smug knowledge of Sailor having relatives scarier than my own; so the funeral was basically a big win for me.

Oh, sure, there’s the grief and everything, but Granny E had a good long run. I fail to see why that is cause for tears.

I’ll admit I am probably wired differently than most, but I see little to cry over in a 90 year old woman who cultivated a life that resulted in the being mourned by extended family and life long friends. She was placed in a beautiful box, with her best suit, surrounded by flowers, letters and pictures. She was visited by at least a hundred people at the funeral home before having a memorial service in her honor and then having a motor parade to beautiful burial ground where I am sure will be placed a beautiful stone.

Aside from disagreeing on the ritual as a whole (embalming, caskets, funeral home), this is still basically what I would call a Good Death.

Think of the thousands of people who die everyday: alone, without burial honor or rites, without anyone to mourn them. Maybe they die brutally, maybe they die anonymously. Not a winter goes by when we don’t hear on the national news about an older person dying of starvation in their home, or who froze to death because they didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with an electric bill, or they die alone, unvisited, unclaimed, in a nursing home.

It’s not bad enough that they die and no one cares, but that maybe they died because no one cared that they even lived. And this happens more than we care to think about. These are not Good Deaths and certainly something to shed a few tears about.

For those who are born and raised here in Erie and live their lives out here, they seem to develop massive networks of friends, friends of friends, and extended friends. People here will drop what their doing and come pay their respects though they may not know the relative you have lost. Honestly, I’ve lived a lot of place and I’ve not seen the likes of it anywhere else. It’s something I have come to appreciate about this place.

So, no, I shed no tears this weekend. I can get verklempt with the best of them, but like I said, Granny E had a good long run and died with family and friends by her side. That’s something to be happy about because Granny E was one of the lucky ones.

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Political strategist James Carville once described Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh on one side, Philadelphia on the other, and Alabama in the middle. And boy, was he not kidding.

Sailor and I did something we haven’t done all summer: we took the weekend off and went exploring. Money and time are limited so we kept ourselves limited to the western side of Pennsylvania and, damn y’all, has anyone ever realized how effin crazy that part of the state is?

I would normally save this for last but let’s begin with the coup de grace: The Pennsic War. Yup, for the last two weeks there’s been a war  raging down around Slippery Rock where nearly 6,000 people take over a camp ground and play Extreme Renaissance Fair.

meleeAnd by “Extreme Renaissance Fair”, I mean full-contact Ren-Fair. There’s a land grab, there are battles (and oddly, they are scheduled), there are merchants, and tents and all performed in character and costume, sometimes even with accent, for about two weeks.

Um, who are these people??

Sailor and I were smuggled in by the crafty means of someone securing a magical amulet that allows one to enter the campground. No amulet, no entry. I suppose this weeds out the looky-loos and nay-sayers, but at $145 for an entry fee, we gladly partook of the subterfuge since we only stayed a few hours…which was about one hour too many.

It’s certainly not my cup of tea, but then, neither are Civil War re-enactments, Second Life, or Furries. Life is plenty interesting and whacked-out on its own without me having to pretend to be someone or something else. And 6,000 people?? For real? While I am disturbed to know that there are so many people into this type of stuff, I am simultaneously comforted in knowing exactly where they are so that I may drive around them.

Traveling north-bound, Sailor and I dropped on my father’s relatives up around the Conneaut Lake area. I used spend summers on my grandfather’s farm in Linesville and it has been nearly 20 years since I have been to these parts. I am surprised by the changes, by they are small by comparison. Life truly moves at a different pace and rarely changes in these parts of Pennsylvania. Small farm towns with local bars and truly unique local attractions that I loved as a kid, remain in force.

We stopped at Pymatuning State Park (and could this place be any more beautiful?) where we happened upon a nightmarish attraction I hadn’t seen since I was 10. The Spillway.

lgIf you are not from these parts, The Spillway is where people go to feed freakishly huge carp, or as the vendors also pronounce, “where ducks walk on fish”. The slimy fish with inordinately large mouths look you dead in the eye (or at least you think they do because they have a fake set of eyes and then the real ones, both equally creepy) and open and close their mouths begging for days old bread.

And let’s face it: this kind of stuff is just bad for the environment, I know, but it’s still crazy fun to provoke a fish-fight by blitzkrieging bread in one spot and encouraging the ducks and fish to smack each other around.

The truly bizarre part of this is just how big a draw this place is. Easily, on Saturday night, at 8pm, with clouds threatening rain, there were hundreds of people piled on top of each other trying to get their fill of throwing bread. Where the people end and the fish began, one could only guess.

About a mile or two away, my paternal grandmother lives in Linesville proper. My grandmother isn’t doing too well, so my cousins have been flying in and out from parts all over the last few weeks. Two of my younger cousins that I have recently become reacquainted with were staying at the Hotel Conneaut, the hotel on the grounds at Conneaut Lake Park.

If you haven’t been to Conneaut Lake Park in recent years, it’s still delightfully shabby and full of lots of locals who enjoy a good brew. I personally really dig this place. I don’t need high-tech, super fast, super safe rides. I want nostalgia, I want the fear of riding one of the country’s oldest and slowest roller coaster where said fear is based on antiquity alone. The park is an easy ride from Erie, the prices are reasonable, and most importantly, it’s not overflowing with hordes of annoying people.

I know it’s supposed to be “better” for sheer number of rides and razzle dazzle, but Cedar Point is a serious commitment of time and money and frankly, you won’t find me doing it anymore. It’s a pain in the ass to get there, it’s a bigger pain in the ass to navigate the damn place, and honestly, it’s just more hassle than it’s worth anymore.

Picture031But dammit it, CLP is a good time and no one will convince me otherwise. Part of it memories, for sure. I have rather fond recollections of spewing vomit on my brothers in the Devil’s Den, riding a helicopter over the lake (back when they still did that), and running amok in the ballroom (which you unfortunately, some asshats burned down a few years back). There’s something easy and charming about the park and despite it’s lack of uber-crazy rides, the dozens of kids I witnessed screaming and laughing their heads seemed to be having a fine time of it.

We wrapped the day by lounging about the Beach Club on the park grounds. It’s a wonderfully old building with colorful mismatched wooden chairs and booths and tables from about every era of furniture I can think of. The drinks were cheap and large, the band was too loud (but then, they’re too loud anywhere), and hey, the crowd was having a good time, so what else do you need? You wrap up the evening by eating Mama Bear’s next door and the experience is complete.

So there it was. My crazy-ass Pennsylvania weekend. And as much as I do not enjoy living in Erie or Pennsylvania in general, I have to admit that was one of the most pleasant weekends I have spent in this state for quite some time.

A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian walk into a bar…

No, seriously, they did. Embassy workers and the cheeky lads were kind enough to invite me to dine with them. I played my part of the shocking and bedeviled American and more wine was probably sprayed from laughing than was properly consumed. Not a bad way to enjoy the afternoon.

Welcome to Den Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag….

pict3004Do remember though that you must respect Low Sidewalk and High Sidewalk. High Sidewalk is for walking, Low Sidewalk is for cyclists and you best mind your P’s & Q’s when tress-passing on the Low Sidewalk because the Dutch are armed with bells and they are not afraid to use them.

Next stop: the local grocery store. The Netherlands are damn expensive and eating out will put you back a pretty penny or four so I hit the market and pick up enough food to crowd into the mini-bar when I get back to the hotel. Nothing terribly noteworthy about Dutch grocers except for the staggering variety of dairy products. Takes up nearly a third of the store. A clerk was kind enough to explain the varieties of milk and for what foods they are specifically engineered.

If this entry is disjointed it is because that was my experience. My hair and sleep cycle did not meld with The Hague. It’s all now a bit of a blur due to sleep deprivation and the strange habit I have of viewing a new city through the lens of the last city I visited. Hence, the Netherlands is viewed through Iceland who was viewed through Ireland who was viewed through France who was view through Morocco and so on and etc.

So my summation is this: the Dutch are groovy kind of folk. They like their bikes retro, their cars small, and their dogs breed-neutral. They have a complicated style of dress that only years of study in the areas of architecture and Dadaist art could I then begin the assimilate. They serve a cup of coffee with a cookie which is exactly how life should be.

The Dutch will take the time to tear up an asphalt covered street only to be replaced with brick laid in a herringbone pattern. That’s a lot of brick. That’s a lot of patience.

pict3014The architecture is Baroque on top of Baroque on top of more Baroque with snippets of astounding Art Deco and modern structures. But all building have the same M.O: large windows with, often, no curtains drawn. They suck up as much light as they can during the day and and rarely bother to draw the shades at night allowing for seriously people watching in their natural habitat. When asked about this, a local store clerk informed me that Dutch people did not assume the worst of people as Americans clearly do.

Attached to these large windows, however, are retracted candy-colored striped awnings just begging to spring out. The most common color are white and orange which I can imagine make the place reminiscent of Newport, Rhode Island the summers of the early 1900’s where the Astors and the Rockefellers and other Masters of the Universe would keep “summer cottages” (read: massive mansions constructed before the introduction of the income tax). I would actually consider a trip back here just to see these awnings in full glory.

I like these people. Their national color is orange, they’ve adopted mint tea from their citizens of Moroccan descent, they ride their bikes rain or shine, hell, I saw a family of four commute to work on a tandem bike with attached side car. Amazing. This in a city with the best public transport I have ever seen.

The only complaint I can conjure is the weather, well, that and a disturbed hotel-roommate. The weather has either been pissing rain, misting rain, or blowing rain the entire week. The only reprieve was the last day when the sun finally broke through and the temp reached a lovely 50 degrees. Rain however, was not enough to keep me from visiting the beach.

I’ll get into that tomorrow though. Right now, I’m still so jet lagged, I’m ready to call it a night even though it’s only mid-afternoon.

I don’t know about y’all, but after a week of negative temperatures, this balmy 25 degrees has me barefoot and wearing tank tops around the house.

It’s a little scary what you can get used to.

Sigh..out to shovel the snow. You can start a pool as to whether or not I’ll throw my back out again. Really, you should bet. I’m pretty much a sure thing when it comes to back pain these days.

In an effort to focus on something positive other than an election I am wary of, a financial crisis that enrages me, and the massive frustration of life in general, I’ve been indulging in some escapism. Now I have to admit up front that the book I’m going to go on and on about was written by a friend of long standing. However, as said friend can attest, had the book sucked, I would have told him so and would be writing a completely different entry right now warning all of you of the soul-crushing properties the novel contains. Fortunately, in the most simplified terms, the book rocks.

When I was a kid, my favorite stories hadda-kinda scare the crap out of me while humoring me at the same time. In the books and films I loved most, the adults were silly, slightly deranged, and gleefully endangered the lives of children who were serious and often more mature. Aside from inspiring a sense of wonder about the world, they also taught me to be wary of it. The movie Fantasia with the axe scene (careful what you wish for), Willy Wonka with the fantastic dispensing of all the annoying brats (everything in moderation), and hell, just about any fairy tale not involving a princess can be added to the list. Hansel and Gretel being my favorite, mostly because I believe the witch got a bad rap. If two little porkers came around eating my dream house of candy, you can be damn sure I’d be tossing their heaving fannies into the oven.

The unfortunate part of growing older though, lies in that fact that most escapist fiction for the older audience tends to be written from a science fiction perspective. Consequently, escapist fiction for kids tends to be rather insipid. Science fiction certainly has it’s place, but when I really want to escape from the world at large, I want straight up fantasy, no hi-tech gadgetry need apply, thanks. Lemony Snicket picked up the mantle with his “Series of Unfortunate Events” that appealed to all ages, but since the saga has ended, I have been left wanting. That is until now.

James Kennedy wrote “The Order of Odd Fish” some time ago. I remember when he emailed it to me after Sailor and I first moved to Maine. I spent a fantastic few days lying on my deck overlooking the graveyard with crows flying about reading of the trial and tribulations of Jo Laurouche in the alternate universe of Eldritch City. Rightly, the book was published and released in August.

I of course read it again, this time in proper binding, and was amazed the second time around at small nuances I had somehow missed before. I’ve read the book two more times since then picking out words and phrases that I know Kennedy has been fermenting in that noggin of his since high school. You got that, Kennedy? 2 MORE TIMES! What am I doing? You don’t even read this blog.

I’m not going to even bother trying to explain the plot, so instead I shall list all the things you don’t want to miss:

1. A Russian colonel who lives his life by his intuitive digestive system.

2. Sub-villain Ken Kiang, whom I always picture as Wyle E. Coyote with his “Superior Genius” whenever he appears.

3. The Belgian Prankster. THE BELGIAN PRANKSTER!. In a world of Osama Bin Laden and al’Qaeda, I find this super-villain name particularly enjoyable.

4. The telling of the history of the The Very Polite War.

5. The all powerful Box of Inconvenience.

But here’s what I love most about the book: it’s so fantastically out there. And I do mean out there. Suspend all disbelief if you plan to get through it. And while this is a novel geared towards young adults, come prepared with your dictionary. Kennedy does not deign to dumb it down for anyone. There’s a strict motto here: you’re along for the ride-all of it-or you’re not along at all.

In short, the book assumes the reader is of a certain amount of intelligence and in this age of micro-attention spans, text message spelling errors, and idiot celebu-tweens, I think it’s a rare joy to find a book that both adult and teen can enjoy for the fantasy and for its devilishly clever humor.

Note to Kennedy: you better get crackin’ on that sequel. I want to know the back story on Lily and Karsokov, and what the hell ever became of the Box of Inconvenience???

For two reasons:

#1: It was freezing last night so I was able to open up all the windows and actually SLEEP!

#2: The US Womens Sabre Team whooped ass and swept the sabre fencing event!!!

Way long time ago, in the before time, back in the “dream time”, I used to be a fencer. I learned as a tike and was often an object of curiosity because no one know what the hell fencing was and why I wanted to do it. I fenced through college and retired after thoroughly trashing my feet after many long years of the sport.

Back in that time, the US was able to produce some decent individual fencers, but never a team of note. I remember pretty regularly getting my butt kicked by Germans, Polish and fairly snotty Italian fencers, all my old teammates of course. And they all said the same thing: Americans will never be a fencing force.

The last few Olympics thought have witnessed the rise of the US fencer, and now that the broads have kicked fanny in Beijing, I find myself emailing all old fencing buddies and going:

NYA-NYA-NA-NA-NYA!!!

I bit the bullet and went to see the Doc this week. The tops of my feet have sun poisoning from sailing, I’ve got a nagging splinter in my right heel from a drunken game of kickball played after a funeral, my left elbow is all weird after some guerilla-style soccer with the neighbor kids, the right side of my neck developed a twitch after a pick-up game of volleyball a few days ago, and I pulled a muscle in my back again after lifting.

The Doc clucks at me with his thick brogue while he manages to excavate the elusive splinter from my foot:

“What the hell are you doing to yourself?”

“I play hard.”

“You’re falling apart!”

“Because I play harder than most.”

“I’m going to prescribe you some X, Y, and Z.”

“But I don’t want X, Y, or Z, they make me feel more stupid than normal.”

“You like being in pain?”

“No.”

“Are you willing to go back to PT?”

“It only ever makes me feel worse.”

“Well, if you’re not going to take pain medication or do the physical therapy, then why don’t you stop all these shenanigans that put you in this state?”

“Well, what fun would that be?”

It’s was a slow day in the research lab yesterday. I’m working for the school this summer and “M” and I are getting all the truly bizarre projects that require working at weird hours, coming in early, and staying, sometimes, horrifically late. M pulled me aside frantically yesterday and blurted out:

“The baby is teething our toddler is waging war on my wife and she’s running a fever of a 102. I really hate to do this, but I need to go home.”

I said sure and shooed M out the door. He came in this morning apologizing profusely and swearing up and down it would never happen again. When I asked him what his problem was and why he felt the need to apologize to me, his answer was this: “I don’t want to be that guy“.

That Guy is apparently the guy at the office who uses his kids as an excuse for everything including not doing his job. M played adult-on-the-job-babysitter to more than one of those guys at his previously employment and swore he’d never be on of those guys. So much so that after all these months of working with him, this was the first time I had ever heard of him being married let alone having kids. Honestly, I had no idea.

But there’s another side of that coin: M kept his family status hidden because in some places of business, the minute you leave the office for a family emergency you become The Other Guy: That guy who can’t be counted on because he’s obviously not devoted enough to forsake his family well-being for the Good of the Company. Hence, he will never be promoted, never get a raise, and will stagnate in the middle until he moves on or dies there.

I’ve been on the receiving end of both these scenarios. The one where I get all the work dumped on me because my colleague can’t manage to work more than two hours without her kids interrupting. I’ve also been fast tracked on promotions because the guy ahead of me couldn’t be “counted on” in a pinch and I was single with no kids and therefore could be.

So where’s the balance in all this? While I don’t believe persons should be penalized for having families and should be allowed some flexibility to deal with family issues, as long as their work is completed and not dumped on me, I have no problem with someone not being chained to a desk. However, we are in the middle a crunch war on time where workers are being asked to work longer, do more and with less pay and not being chained to the desk somehow makes you disloyal. This isn’t the 1950’s, most families require both parents to work to survive. Some allowances must be made.

This is an impossible position to place workers in. Yes, there are those who take advantage, but then there are those who need to occasionally be a parent during the 8-5 work day and shouldn’t fear for their career in doing so. Just as you shouldn’t fear not being hired for a job because your boss assumes that as a 30+ year old woman you’ll obviously be wanting kids in the near future.

Well, as a 30+ something woman whose family is harassing her daily to get knocked up, I look around at all this bullshit and can only think: Not on your freaking life.

As a 35 year old women surrounded by 20-something college kids everyday, I will admit that from time to time, I find said kids a bit trying. However, truth be told, I am often more comfortable around this age set because every 35 year old woman I know is drowning in children, play dates, soccer practice, ballet, and Hannah Montana-whathaveyou which makes them completely incapable of discussing other things like the Israeli-Syrian peace talks and the last episode of South Park.

That is not to say that I am fully up front with my classmates about my age either. While I come across as a slightly elder, learn-ed statesman, it is often assumed that I am in my late 20’s, or at least, that’s what I’ve been told, and I’m sticking to that-I might even cling, just a bit.

Which is why I now tell everyone I am 42.

I know, it seems slightly, okay, terrifically crack-pot, but you have to hear me out on this one:

It all started with “Lisa”. Lisa and I met one day in the student coffee shop and started kvetching about the college kiddies. Since we’re the same age, the morning coffee run became a bit of a therapy session as we both bitched about how hard it could be being students around other students of a different generation. Lisa and I ended up in a same class together where I then learned that Lisa was lying about her age. To our classmates, Lisa was not 35, but 26. Solidarity, sisterhood and all things being equal, I did not reveal Lisa’s secret. However, in a group discussion with classmates, someone said something to the effect that of course Lisa and I held the same opinion because we were “obviously the same age”, and I was so pissed at Lisa for lying about “our age” that before I could think about it, I found myself going in the opposite direction.

Grandma MosesAnd Bang! Zow! You should see the reaction this gets! See, while Lisa can pass for 26, it’s a tough 26. Put Lisa next to an actual 26 year old and there’s some noticeable differences. Me, however, I don’t pass for 42, and no one believes that I am, nor should they, but that’s not the point. The point is, at 35, I look good, at 42, however, I look phenomenal. The “No way! You’re not that old!” comments fly, but I just respond with a “Who lies about that sort of thing?” (me, apparently) and that ends the discussion.

This then leads to the inevitable: what’s your secret? questions to which I reply: don’t smoke, workout, sleep, and stay out of the sun. All of which I actually do, so let’s hope the results hold.

(This also gets the young college boys thinking they might want some advanced-age lovin’ and, dudes, what’s up with that? Why am I untouchable at 35 but “hot” at 42? Forbidden fruit? I’m sorry, Sailor Man aside, that mere thought of being called a “cougar” is just something I can’t even deal with in this lifetime.)

So why do any of this? Mostly because my real age is no one’s damn business. So what does lying about being older prove? It proves nothing. But I think it does accomplish something and that is this: getting people to re-think women in their 40’s. As a woman looking down the barrel of the big 4-0, this is something I am sensitive to. So maybe this is my way of practicing for the real thing. Men hit 40 and it’s like nothing happens. Women hit 40 and it’s all menopause-wrinkles-sagging-skin-decline-to-cronedom.

So, harmless white lie? I wonder. I admit, I probably haven’t thought this all the way through. In the meantime, I am enjoying the benefits of being an older women. It’s liberating really. General public expectations for advancing age are so shamefully low, that really, anything I do around campus garners raves. If you don’t believe me, you should see the guys in the weight room at school when I put up 200 on my bench. I know, I know, it’s silly, it’s stupid, it’s preposterous. Don’t think the irony is lost on me.

But for now, I’m a fabulous 42. Of course, pretty soon, I’ll be 43 (start of a new school term). So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Suddenly, turning 40 isn’t looking so bad, now that I’m getting the hang of it.

Former North Carolina Senator, Jesse Helms, died today at the age of 86. A staunch conservative and fierce supporter of racial segregation, Helms, needless to say, was not what I like to think of being the best America has to offer.

So I think it so terribly fitting that Mr. Helms passed away on this day, July 4th, the anniversary of American Independence. I hope, in the end, that Mr. Helms came to see the error in his policies of hate, fear, and exclusion. I hope Mr. Helms recognized the absolute shame of his verbal hate mongering. I hope Mr. Helms came to realize that no country is ever truly free when you fail to acknowledge the basic humanity of all persons, male or female, black, white or otherwise.

I’m feeling generous when it comes to Mr. Helms to day because it is the 4th of July and the birth of a nation that has it in itself to be great although it doesn’t always behave as such. This is a day for optimism. So for for Jesse Helms, I hope.