The Truth About Bocce

Every Friday night, my father and I play in a bocce league.
This may seem old-fashioned to some, but, hey, I like pineapple-upside-down cake, so I like retro.
 
It’s also a group for people over 50, so it’s not like they’re going to form an outlaw skateboard league. (They also initially barred me ‘cause I wasn’t old enough. Yeah me!)
 
For anyone not acquainted with this game, there’s a court, and you throw grapefruit-sized, rock-like balls at a much smaller white ball.  The team who gets the most large balls near the little ball wins.
 
Simple, right? Well, it’s not.  There’s technique, strategy and a whole lotta luck.
 
I used to call my father The Spanish Ringer until our then-captain rushed up to me and poked me in the belly button (she’s diminutive and that’s as high as she could reach on my tree-like self).
 
Her lovely Basque-country ire was in full swing.
“He’s not Spanish!” she screamed at me.  
 
“Um, ya mean that big, German-looking guy who can’t even order off a menu in a Mexican restaurant? Yeah, no, he’s not Spanish.”
 
I then had to explain to her that the only reason I called him that was because he used to winter in Spain and played bocce every day.
 
He throws like a metronome:  Perfect every time.
Unlike me, who can’t hit the broad side of a barn. I know this because there’s a barn nearby and it fears me not.
 
Even though we’ve been playing in this league for more than five years, my father and I don’t really fit in.
Maybe it’s because I don’t take Lipitor and all of my joints are original. I just don’t have a lot to talk about.  
 
Or maybe it’s because my father is the deacon at the local church and many players are congregants. You just don’t tell an off-color bocce joke in front of someone who knows God personally. (However, if any of you out there do know one of these jokes, send it to me. I’ll pay you a buck — hard cold cash.)
 
“Are you blind?”
“You’re throwing too hard!”
“Pay attention, you old fool!” (My personal favorite.)
 
These are some of the invectives the other teams hurl at their partners.
 
One of the advantages to having your father as your team partner is that we never judge each other.
 
A lot of the teams on the league have been married for longer than I’ve been alive. I will never have a relationship like that.
 
Watching these couples (usually as they’re kicking my butt), I admire them.
 
They’ve earned the right to call each other idiots.
 
And I’m jealous.

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Going Commando

Most people have something without which they cannot start their day.  For some it’s coffee.  Or a shower.   A friend espouses, “You’re not truly awake until you’ve brushed your teeth.”

For me, I can’t think without a bra.  I’m just that way.  I need everything on lock-down before I can form sentences.

I recently went on a cruise with my parents (and I could write a book on the horrors of cruising and the single gal, but I’ll spare you).

On the last night of our cruise, because over 1,600 people all needed to disembark at exactly the same time in the morning, the crew required that passengers place their luggage – meticulously tagged – outside their doors by midnight.  And so the checking began:  Got your medicines?  Check!  Got your hearing aides?  Check!  Outfits?  Check!

I was so good at getting my parents completely ready that I neglected to check myself.  I had packed my bra.  In the morning, all I was left with for torso coverage was a small, cotton camisole and a large, lumpy sweatshirt.

And, so, I couldn’t think.   Without my father’s gale-force laughter, I might have been able to fashion myself some form of rudimentary undergarment from the cloth breakfast napkins, but without I bra, I couldn’t think.  So Commando I would go!

I’ve always wanted to be that woman everyone sees in any airport:  Coolly gliding through the airport in her giant sunglasses, dressed in white, while someone else carries her matched Louis Vuitton.  I’m not her.  I’m the red-faced, sweaty, carrying three carry-on bags plus two purses while pushing a wheelchair gal.  And now I was doing it without a bra.  Soundtracked by my father’s laughter.

The only up-side to traveling with someone in a wheelchair is that, by proximity, you get whisked through TSA and customs.  For whatever reason, the TSA threw me out of the expedited line.

I’m a very good traveler:  I travel light, wear slip-on shoes, no jewelry or belts, etc.  I’m good at it.  When they asked me if I’d taken everything out of my pockets, I said yes.  I’d forgotten about the two large pockets in the front of my lumpy sweatshirt (‘cause I couldn’t think!).   These contained the need-right-now, emergency-access stuff:  Aspirin, ear-plugs, jerky, yo-yo (don’t ask), cigs (don’t judge), tip money, etc.

I emptied my pockets, but forgot that my passport was in my back pocket (my butt is as flat as a passport, so can you blame me?)  That got me pulled out of the line, and forced to remove my sweatshirt.  Horror of horrors!  I was made to dance around, floppily, in the full-body scanner in front of my increasingly-angry, former-fellow passengers.

I’m glad I made my father laugh, but I will tell you what I learned:  I’m that gal with the most comprehensive, emergency-equipped handbag.  Anything that befalls you – I am to your rescue.  But from now on – me first – I will always carry a sports bra.

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Pocono Fashion

Y’all know that I suffer from Yogurtpantitis.  For the non-medically inclined, this is an addiction to yogurt pants.

(If I thought you had the time and energy to read a footnote, I’d write one.  But I know you don’t, so I’m just gonna lay this out here:  The derivation of the term “yogurt pants” starts with a visit to my friend in Jersey where she lives a life surrounded by stores that carry actual clothing and not rags from China.  Since I hadn’t been in an actual store in over a year, I was a little stunned by the sheer abundance of it all.  So when she said to me, “Let’s go look for yoga pants,” I willingly went.  I know my friend has never done anything yoga-like in her life, but she went on and on about the merits of yoga pants to the point where she seduced me into buying a pair.  Then she suggested that we actually take a yoga class.  So I went.  Then I found out what was really going on – there’s a frozen yogurt bar just inside the yoga studio.  She never makes it past the bar because it is wonderful.  Frozen, creamy goodness in pants so comfy you can have two scoops (or four).  Yogurt pants.  A revelation.  And now an addiction.)

Sometimes my addiction bothers me.  Shouldn’t I put on actual clothes?  Real pants?  Real shoes?  I have a closet full of designer suits and fur coats.  What happened to me?

I soothe myself with the thought that I won’t, won’t, even go to the end of the driveway for the newspaper in my pajamas – let alone to the food store – but this is little comfort.   I should buck up.  Zip up.  Rejoin society.

And then I remember the society in which I live.  The Poconos.  Where anything goes.  That creepy, old, toothless, crusty guy in the ripped flannel sitting next to you might be a millionaire.  Or just creepy, old, and toothless.  You can never tell.  Bad weather and thinner air are levelers of the societal playing field in the Poconos.  That and gun ownership.

With this, I let myself off the hook:  I bathe.  I recycle.  I use spell-check.  Yogurtpantitis does not make me a bad person.  Just badly dressed.  Surely, not the worst.

And then, I found her:  The Paris Hilton of the Poconos (hopefully, without the jail time).

I was standing on line waiting to get a cheap rabies shot for my dog, along with every other human in Milford Township, when I noticed a woman in line who put me to shame.

She had on the same vintage, red-plaid, Woolrich hunting coat that I’d worn in my old life with a sense of irony (a hunting coat in the city?  I’m such a scamp).   But she’d upped the ante by adorning it with not one, but two, NRA Lifetime Membership patches.

But she didn’t stop there:  She accessorized with a camouflage baseball hat with that fish-Christian symbol on the front.  It wasn’t the fanny pack or the cigarette that put her over the top.

No, it was the YOGURT PANTS with the CAMO STRIPES up the sides that made me bow down before her.  That is Pocono Fashion and she is now my idol.

Je t’embrasse!

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Holiday Food

I cook.  And I’m good at it.  But the thing that makes me want to run in a circle screaming is “Holiday Food.”  The mere sight of a wild turkey – outside its bottle – makes me cringe.  It’s not so much the food as the attendant falderal.  Falderal meaning family.

Our tiny family was to have a tiny, little Thanksgiving this year.  I spent two weeks planning, three days shopping, and two days cooking.  It only took 24 minutes from the time the bird hit the table until I was back in my own home watching the Catheter Channel (Fox News).  A new record for my mother who decided Thanksgiving dinner was the perfect time to settle all old scores.  Disaster.

Christmas was no better.  I decided to take on the Mt. Everest of cooking:  The crown roast.  For 12 people – pretty much every relation I have on the planet.  And it was not only perfect, but perfectly majestic.  I, so modest, outdid myself.  The entire meal was a culinary wonder.

Until my nephew screamed at his grandmother because he didn’t like his Christmas gift.  Acceptable behavior in a five-year-old, perhaps, but not in a grown man.  Who screams at their 81-year-old grandmother?  Who does that?  The shock, the awe, the horror; my dinner was ash.

Never again, I vow.  There are far better holidays to be had and they’re not listed on any calendar.

To wit:  There is that day, buds have bloomed, there is a singular sweetness to the air – warmth with an underlying chill – that makes you desire, nay, need at the cellular level, a root-beer float.  Nothing will so serendipitously blend with these elements like root-beer soda and vanilla ice-cream.  The sheer fizziness of it all says, in no uncertain terms, spring has arrived.

Then there is that evening, dulcet, for which all time will stop for a gin-‘n-tonic, choked with ice and a fat wedge of lime, on the porch.  The light, the lime, the stillness – this is June.

Is it possible for a corn dog to taste good during the day?  No.  But a corn dog is beyond delicious in the dark served with a side of fireworks.  Is there a better condiment to sausage and peppers than salt air?  Again, no.  But I know the answer to this.  I’m from the Jersey Shore; this delicacy dies crossing the state line.  This is July.

And then August.  The dog days.  One – and only one – ice cold, can of cheap beer, drank in one fell glug while sitting on the gate of a pick-up truck (at any time of day) has a freshness and, yet, bittersweet tang because, at that moment, summer has ended.

October is the only time of year that attempting to eat your own approximate body weight in grilled-cheese sandwiches and tomato soup seems sensible.

And then, again, it’s the “Holiday Season.”    The time when we’re forced to cook things we don’t even like for the sake of implied memories represented in Norman Rockwell paintings and Hallmark cards.

I like my holidays better.  They don’t fit into any regular calendar scheme, but, to me, they mark the seasons with far greater accuracy.

Do you have a “Holiday Food” that deserves a mark on my version of the calendar?  Lemme know.

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Love’s a Whirlpool

Being a spinster in the Poconos isn’t easy.  Without the actual spinning to do, it would seem like a piece of cake – but there’s a lot more to it than that:  There’s a specific sigh, a certain woebegone look…hey, if you wanna know, attend the meetings.

My lack of luck (I should be a whiz at cards) with the – what would they be called?  The Unfair Sex?  That’s for damn sure true, but somehow that doesn’t sound right.   The Rugged Sex?  Would for damn sure that that was true…whoops, digressing.  Anyway, I’m a klutz with men.  Always have been.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been patterned like a duckling by the flirting stylings of Jerry Lewis.  Curse my parents and their wholesome family fair!  They should have let me watch Fellini not Flubber.

It’s not as though I don’t have help:  Handsome men in the Poconos (not scooped up by someone else) are thin on the ground.  That’s a fact.

So imagine my surprise when my washing machine broke.

I called everyone I could think of; every repairperson in the phone book (yes, I still have phone books), asked all my friends, and could find no one willing to travel to the wilds of Blooming Grove to fix my washing machine.  As the days went by, this became a problem so serious I started eye-balling my prom dresses as daytime couture.

And then he called:  Forever hereinafter to be known as Handsome J.  He had a very nice voice (which I know not to trust because I have a nice voice) and was willing – nay eager – to come out and fix my washer.  Had I known when I answered the door that I would be staring at one of the handsomest men I’ve ever laid eyes on, I might have not chosen to rock the Wrath-of-God  look, but that’s what I was sporting.

I took a deep breath, literally stumbled opening the door, and decided to fall back on my old standby:  My sparkling personality.  ‘Cause that’s always worked so well in the past.  Since A) I’m not very attractive, and B) talk like I watch PBS on purpose, I should have known this wasn’t going to go well.  But if all did go well, at least my flannels wouldn’t stink anymore.  I’m a glass half-full kinda gal.

Long story shortish:  He breezed into my house, dismantled my Whirlpool, and had me as enthralled as my dog is with her own butt.  Then Cupid intervened and Handsome J announced that he didn’t have the right part to finish the job.

Oh, hallaluya!  Stinky flannels be damned:  He’d have to come back!  I was gonna get a second shot at this!  (Oh, and lest you think I’m some sort of random love thief, I did ascertain that Handsome J is, in fact, single.  Like all those episodes of CSI Miami were for nothing!)

And come back, Little Sheba, he did.  This time, I actually combed my hair, wore real pants and not just yogurt pants, and put on my best Pocono lipstick (ya know, Chapstik).  I was ready.  Focusing on anything but his lips (oh, those lips…) I managed to hold an actual conversation.  A conversation that lasted well beyond my washing machine’s repair (washa who?)

We talked of all manner of things:  Dogs, trucks, and then – and then! – he showed me a picture on his iPhone of his AK-47.  Now, a man doesn’t do that with a woman he doesn’t want to sleep with, am I right?  Am I right?

Turns out, I’m wrong.

With all the finesse of my mentor, Jerry, I asked him out to eat bar-b-que with me.  His response:  “I dunno.”  So cute, so verbal.  And having come so close to having a boyfriend that my brother would actually approve of (the gun thing), I pressed on, but to no avail.  Handsome J simply took his check and sailed out of my life.

Having vast experience with failure of all forms, I’ve learned not to berate myself for acting the fool.  Tomorrow is another day, Katie Scarlett.  There are plenty of fish in the ocean (although, it’s not lost on me that I live very far from any major body of water).

And so, at night, I lie alone in my Spinster’s bed, wistfully thinking of Handsome J and, more importantly, what am I gonna do if the dryer breaks?

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Insomnia

I’m a famous insomniatic (I know that’s not really a word, but, well, it is now).  I’m known for my inability to sleep.

But what is little known about true insomniatics is that we are also known for our ability to sleep anywhere (the National Portrait Gallery in London, the New York City Fourth-of-July fireworks display, and my best girlfriend’s wedding, just to name a few) because, when insomnia releases you from her deadly grip, you crash like a tiny puppy in a YouTube video (sans cuteness).

Insomnia is horrible.  And inexplicable.  Well, I suppose if I weren’t so lazy I could look up some documentation from notable medical sources, but boring myself to sleep has never worked in the past so I’m not going to try it again now.

In my younger days, I was known as the person who could party all night and yet turn up, bright as a penny, for work in the morning.  Insomnia’s one fine point.   I was lucky to have bosses who never bothered to look for me at 3:00 pm because I was a crashed-out, drooling mess under my desk.  If they were aware of my napping habits, I’d like to think my work was so stellar that they overlooked this breach of any sensible corporate protocol, but, probably, they, too, were just too lazy to fire me.

Currently, I don’t have a regular job and insomnia has attached herself to my face like a soul-sucking octopus.  The worst part isn’t that I can’t sleep for more than three hours at a clip, it’s that insomnia destroys your ability to function with any form of clarity.

I’m easily distracted as it is:  I don’t need any extra help.  I found myself staring at falling snow for, I think, about 45 minutes.  That’s scary (unless you’re a poet).  (Which I’m not.)  (Not that I dislike poetry – okay I do – it’s more an aversion to iambic pentameter.)

The other day, after alphabetizing my nail polishes, I spent several hours sitting on the floor trying to teach my dog a card trick.  This would have been a worthwhile endeavor if we’d already mastered something useful like “sit.”  Which we haven’t.  And “heel” only applies to ex-boyfriends.

You might wonder why I, as a woman, would refer to this rather cruel affliction as a woman.  Well, I’ve been on this planet for a while now, and, not to speak ill of my sex, I do know my sex.  I used to be in politics and this was something I found to be an almost absolute truth:  Men are corruptible (money, sex, power, fame – name your poison – offered the right concoction, all will fall.)  Women are not, generally, corruptible.  However, they will fight for a cause long after the cause has ceased to be.  They just won’t let it go.  Women won’t compromise, delegate, or raise the white flag.  (I’m having a “We have to pass it before we can read it” moment.)  My sister-in-law is still picking at my brother for offenses he committed back when they were dating – 25 years ago!!!!  (He was not flirting with that girl who is probably a grandmother now!!!  Let it go already!!!)

As a Councilwoman, I was given a citation for my ability to work across party lines, for putting the welfare of my constituents above all else, and for generally being ladylike while not womanlike (I’m paraphrasing the plaque).  Ha! to all of that – I’m just a lazy insomniatic.

For all of this I would love for Lady Insomnia to get her grubby paws off of me.   I’ve tried alcohol/canine therapy (which involves vodka and letting the dog sleep on my chest) and, while the habit of afternoon cocktails was as easy to slip into as my yogurt pants, the results were just more drool and late dinners.  Not a solution for the long haul.

I’ve tried various teas – did ya know this?  Even decaffeinated tea has more caffeine in it than coffee.  I bothered to look this up.  And I purchased an air spray which was supposed to induce sleep but just made the dog sneeze.  You try skipping off to Sleepy Town with a sneezing dog on your chest.

There are some up-sides to all of this:  I’ve seen every, single episode of all eight seasons of Supernatural (call me, Jensen!) – twice – and I’m close to solving the mystery of England’s fascination with James May.  I’ve also got the most organized pantry on the planet and don’t get me started on the finer points of alphabetizing spices.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish at 4 a.m.

But is that my point?  I usually do have a point, but the lack-o-clarity thing is interceding.  I think I’m ready for a nap.  Where’s the dog?

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Blood and Cookies

As a product of 12 years of parochial school, I’m not a particularly religious person.  However, if the bite marks on my butt are anything but positive proof, I have learned that what goes around comes around.  This is why, whenever I get the chance, I try to do a full Karma Flush to cleanse myself with the universe.  Don’t know if I’m succeeding, but I’m terrified to stop trying.

My hyper-religious parents felt that there are a few things every child of a community should do:  Among them, volunteering, donating blood, and voting (hopefully Republican).  Unfortunately, I’m the only one of their children with whom any of this stuck.

I deeply believe that if you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to complain.  And, for me, that’s not gonna happen.  Volunteering simply hedges your bets against future disaster and snags with the forces that be in the universe (sound mercenary?  Maybe so, but no one turns away my help at the food pantry and my house has never been hit by a meteor, so you tell me).  And as for donating blood, well I’m at a loss to understand why anyone doesn’t.

Yes, you can donate a turkey (probably it’s the free one they gave you at the food store anyway) at Thanksgiving, but does the turkey literally save a life?  Blood does.  Does that used, winter coat effectively ease the suffering of chemotherapy patients?  Blood does.

I’m not suggesting that food and clothes aren’t necessary:  What I am positing as a flaw to this is that I had to first purchase something for myself in order to give something else away.  I don’t have to do a damn thing other than change oxygen into carbon dioxide in order to donate blood.  Oh, and there are free cookies.

Does the needle suck?  Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but that is its point.  It’s really not so bad.  My flu shot hurt worse than the last time I gave blood.  The talented professionals at the Red Cross do this all day long:  They’re good at it.

I have a creepy relative who wails, “I can’t stand the sight of blood!”  Oh, my word – you poor thing – when did your eyelids stop working?  When is Bon Jovi holding a benefit for that?  Get over it:  Close your eyes, breathe deeply, know that you’re helping your fellow human, and remember the part about the cookies.

Yes, the screening process depresses me a little:  They repeatedly ask me my age and weight (I’ve always been bad with numbers and totally hate those two) and I have to answer “No” to all the interesting questions (Have you been out of the U.S. in the past three years?  Have you had a tattoo?  Body piercing?).  With regard to the questions about my sexual practices, I just hit “No” as soon as I get to “In the past 12 months have you had sex…” bang – I hit “No.”  What comes after that, really isn’t applicable for (woe is) me.

After donating, they put this big, impressive bandage on your arm (which is totally good for getting you out of cooking dinner), there are the aforementioned cookies, and – best of all – a large, heart-shaped sticker on your chest that reads, “Be Nice To Me – I Gave Blood Today!”

When I donate blood, I know that I haven’t saved someone from the railroad tracks or stopped a bullet with my teeth.  But I do know that, somewhere, someone who needs me is going to get the best of me.  So, after donating, before I get in my car, I lean back and face my chest to the heavens and say, “Take that Karma:  No meteors for me today!”

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The Worst Holiday of the year

One of the things that I love about America is that we have a holiday for everything.  We have holidays that celebrate gluttony, drunkenness, greed, and vanity (among others).  I’m okay with all of those, and Woo!  Hoo!  for us.  But the one I hate the most is the one that celebrates uncomfortableness.  Valentine’s Day makes everyone uncomfortable:  No one gets through it unscathed.  Particularly un-attached women.  (Oh, and I just read this:  Kids are no longer able to give out those goofy-cute Valentine’s cards.  They have to give out non-specific “Exchange Cards” and everyone has to give one to everyone else.  Yeah, that’s pointless and uncomfortable:  Much like romance itself.)

One of my many (many) former jobs was as a receptionist.  Probably the most useless, yet thankless, job on the planet.  The worst day of the year is Valentine’s Day.  Box after box of chocolates, giant Teddy Bears (which require a walk-of-shame to someone’s office just to get them out of the reception area), and bunches, upon bunches, of semi-dead roses appear; none of them for you.  It’s hard not to become judgey, just like all women do with engagement rings:  Small ring, small…(well, you get where I’m going).

And, then, the worst thing can happen:  An arrangement arrives for you – but it’s that small, mostly Carnations and Baby’s Breathe (which smells like cat pee and is paired with the carnations so that the cloying smell of the carnations covers the stink) arrangement with the tiny Mylar balloon on a stick which when you finally read the card you realize that it’s from a girl-friend who only sent it because she doesn’t want you to feel left out.  She’s usually married.

Though filled with flowers and chocolates, Valentine’s Day stinks.

With this positive attitude, I went shopping for a Valentine’s gift with my friend, Princess Drinky Drink.  She wanted to get something (ya know, som’im som’im) for her current boyfriend.  Asking a women to help another women pick out lingerie with her is as though she’s forgotten that we’re women and how awful we can be to each other (let’s talk swimsuits).  I went, but only because there was a free lunch involved.

Upon arriving at the lingerie department, my friend informed me that the only thing that winds her boyfriend’s clock is camouflage.  What?  Isn’t lingerie all about the fantasy:  The Victoria’s Secret wings and stuff?  Well, if the fantasy is of me (or a much, much younger version of me) capering through the forest in my scanties, then don’t I want him to find me?  And not shoot me?

After making her selection (yak!), she went on to buy camouflage sheets.  Satin camouflage sheets.  So what now?  What is the purpose of this?  Isn’t the whole point to get my intended to my bed?  Is my bed now hiding in my house in some weird, shiny sort of way?  This seems counterproductive and exhausting.

But it is for all of this that I turn to the wisest man I know:  My Henry (my father).  And, yes – not in a creepy way – he knows everything I need to know about romance.  Henry only has a coupla days a year that he marks on his calendar (he gets a calendar from the Church that includes the other really important ones).  He marks the day after Halloween, the day after Mother’s Day, the day after Easter, and the day after Valentine’s Day.  You see, Henry is a candyholic.  All the really, really good sugary-goodness goes on sale the day after.  He is a man who understands joy, love, and happiness:  He knows how to get all of those into his life (perhaps in small, sweet ways; but nonetheless).  So here is Henry’s advice:

No one bought you the velvet-heart-shaped-box filled with chocolates that actually make your teeth vibrate ‘cause they’re so sweet?  No prob:  They’re 50% off the next day.  Buy ‘em for yourself and be happy.  Eat ‘em all and feel joy.  Put yourself in a sugar coma and love yourself for it.

I’ve said before that Henry is smart.  He’s also my Valentine.

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    Kaye Ernst

    Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, a few years ago I decided to trade sand for pea gravel and make the Poconos my full-time home. I now live in a beautiful gated community with the world's cutest dog, Layla. Hopefully, my musings will make some ... Read Full
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