Fashion Backward

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Every morning my 16-year-old comes down the stairs wearing short shorts and an oversized sweatshirt or fleece pullover that makes it appear she is wearing no pants. This attire is worn irrespective of the weather and seems to be the new school “uniform.” At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old scold, I find this and many other teenage fashions mystifying, unattractive, and even a bit silly.

This morning while dropping my daughter off at the high school, I saw a girl wearing jeans with a large hole in each knee and a gigantic flannel shirt that would fit Paul Bunyan. In another context, I might have mistaken her for a panhandler. And just when I was getting used to girls wearing form-fitting leggings and tiny tops!

The new trend seems to be “working man chic.” Lumberjack shirts, chunky work boots, and ripped jeans are all very well on someone out chopping wood, pounding nails into the frame of a new home, or doing other forms of tough manual labor. But I can assure you that despite the over-sized blue work shirt my daughter wears, she is not performing any heavy duty physical tasks.

The style harks back to the Nineties grunge era, when bands like Nirvana reigned and people loved TV shows set in the rugged Pacific Northwest. I used to tease my older daughter about the ugliness of her “Kurt Cobain shirts,” as I referred to the shapeless, dull plaid flannel shirts that were a mainstay of her wardrobe. Isn’t life depressing enough, I would think to myself, without dressing like an extra in Deliverance?

Of all the styles that are popular now, though, the worst is the faded, ripped-up jeans that young women are wearing. In my day, a tear here and there in a pair of jeans was the result of many months or even years of loving wear and washing. Those rips were earned, by golly. Nowadays, girls spend beaucoup bucks on brand new jeans with dozens of meticulously made rips. The only way those rips would occur naturally would be if Freddy Krueger came through and made several swipes at them.

I must admit, though, the new styles are reminding me of my own fashion faux pas from years gone by. I too loved sporting oversized shirts and had a penchant for men’s white Calvin Klein undershirts tucked into my stone-washed, waist-high jeans. Come to think of it, I wore even more embarrassing styles – like gaucho pants! I had a pair of yellow ones that I paired with a brightly-colored, striped t-shirt. I’m pretty sure I looked liked a toucan.

I guess every generation despises the styles of the ones younger than theirs. Still, ladies, if you want your jeans ripped up, come on over and I’ll do it for free.

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Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

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IMG_1465One of my sisters, who loves to shop for home decor, has a pet peeve: decorative wall hangings, plaques and wooden blocks that feature sayings such as, “Be Happy,” “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” or “Always Be Humble and Kind.” Her problem with these signs? They’re a bit bossy.

Everywhere you turn – on Facebook, in advertisements, and now even on the mantel of a friend’s home – are directives: “Live, Laugh, Love;” “Believe;” “Have Faith;” “Just Do It.” I’d never noticed the phenomenon until my sister shared her annoyance on a shopping trip one day. “I don’t need to be told what to do!” she complained, half laughing.

There is a sort of relentless cheerfulness about these signs that can grate on a curmudgeon like me (or my sis). So I’m thinking of starting a sign company with my own jaundiced take on these inspirational sayings. Here are some ideas for my new venture, Unhealthy Plaque:

  1. “Just Don’t”
  2. “Go Nuts and Give Up”
  3. “Choose Selfishness”
  4. “Be Your Worst Self”
  5. “Belittle”
  6. “Dance Like You’re on You Tube”
  7. “Always Be Hungry and Clueless”
  8. “Eat Prey, Loaf”
  9. “Find Your Blister”
  10. “Sweat It All”

And my favorite sign of all would be: “You’re Not the Boss of Me!”

Still, there’s one popular saying with which I must say I heartily agree: “Life is uncertain: Eat Dessert First!”

Creature Feature

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meadow-micePeople who say they’d never hurt a fly are lying. When I see one of the six-legged disease carriers salivating on my kitchen counter or, worse, my food, I have no compunction about hauling out the swatter and ending that creature’s already short life. The same goes for other bugs who have the nerve to invade my house. Sure, I’ve been known to trap the odd spider in a cup and usher it back into the great outdoors. But for the most part when it comes to vermin in the house, my policy is “No mercy.”

There are, however, many distasteful critters that are protected wildlife and not so easy to rid oneself of. For instance, a hapless vole (a tiny version of a mole) made its way into our basement. I’m sure we completely freaked it out with our screams of terror. When I summoned the exterminator, he informed me that he could not kill said vole. Rats and mice were in his purview but not, apparently, voles. So my husband gamely caught it in a shoebox and took it to the woods where I hope it lived a long and happy life.

Recently I noticed that the exterior of my house looked as if I had started to decorate for Halloween. There were huge spider webs in every nook and cranny, in the corners of the windows, and dangling from the light fixtures. So I got out my broomstick (I’m a good witch) and started knocking down the diabolical insect traps wherever I found them, sending giant, monstrous arachnids scurrying into dark corners.

At the corner of my porch, I noticed that something had been digging a hole underneath the steps and immediately suspected the mother raccoon and her babies I had spied one morning moseying around in our backyard. I found a company called Critter Detectives, which came out and set a humane trap at the mouth of the hole. Sure enough, a couple of days later, I found a huge raccoon lounging in the trap. My critter detective came out, removed the trap, and set a new one. A few days later, Rocky’s friend also succumbed to the bait that looked like marshmallows, and it too was caught in the trap.

This seemed to solve my raccoon problem, as subsequent traps yielded no prisoners. But in our backyard we had an old wooden shed I had long suspected of harboring unwanted wildlife. So I called a landscaper and asked him to have his workers come out and dismantle both the shed and the 23-year-old wooden swing set that has been a lawsuit waiting to happen.

No sooner had the crew opened the doors of the shed but a huge and very pregnant skunk came waddling out. I have to give the workers credit for their bravery, as they gave the critter a wide berth but continued to dismantle the wooden structures. Mama skunk wandered away but kept returning to figure out what had happened to her cozy nest. I must confess that I felt a little guilty evicting her in her delicate state.

I recognize that we share our world with many types of creatures and need to respect their roles in the circle of life (even the flies). And while I’d never be named PETA’s Woman of the Year, I would also never needlessly cause an animal pain. I’ve learned that even exterminators have soft spots. Years ago when I found that a mouse had been making a nest in our outdoor gas grill, I called one of the big pest control concerns. The man they sent out opened the grill cover and saw that the mother mouse had given birth and that there were now about a dozen baby mice nesting there. His reaction was to leave them alone rather than obliterate them. “After all,” he reasoned, “they’ll be on their way as soon as they are big enough to travel.”

While my husband teased the “big, bad exterminator,” we acquiesced and allowed those critters to hide out in the grill for as long as they wanted. (Needless to say, we didn’t have any barbecues for a while.) I just hope those mice didn’t become someone else’s critter problem later on.

 

Class Act

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I just finished the hilarious Kevin Kwan trilogy that began with Crazy Rich Asians and ended with Rich People Problems. In the satirical series, all kinds of filthy rich people jockey for social standing and look down their noses at others who might have billions but lack class.

There are the old money Singaporeans who disdain vulgar displays of wealth such as gaudy jewels, Rolls Royces, or opulent ball gowns. This old guard is considered the creme de la creme of society. Then there are the nouveau riche billionaires from mainland China, some of whom don’t care at all what others think of them while others spend billions of dollars searching for acceptance into the upper stratosphere.

Class consciousness has been part of all societies for millennia, even the so-called egalitarian country in which I reside, the United States. Having money is part of that equation, but how one acts in public, one’s manners, and one’s taste in everything from fashion to art to wine often determine one’s social standing.

The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy humorously skewers social climbers whose atrocious behavior belies their desire to be thought well of in society. Their religious and philanthropic activities are not genuine but come from an effort to position themselves among the “right” sorts of people. Without giving away any spoilers, I enjoyed the comeuppance many of these phony strivers receive by the end of Rich People Problems.

In his novels, though, Kwan shows that real class has no socio-economic boundaries. His main characters, Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young, are level-headed, intelligent, warm, and caring people whose views of others and themselves stem not from how much money or possessions someone has, but from how that person treats others. Rachel, the daughter of a single mother, has never known great wealth, yet she is rich in family and relationships that sustain her. Nick, born into the utmost wealth and privilege, is mystified when his family turns up their nose at his “common” girlfriend, Rachel. To Nick, Rachel has far more class than most of his well-bred, English-educated family will ever have.

Like other great satires, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians and its sequels expose the hypocrisy behind people’s efforts to think of themselves as better than others. He proves that true class cannot be bought or bred into us, but that it comes from an intelligent and open-hearted effort to view individuals according to their innermost merits, not their stock portfolio or the family into which they were born.

 

Big Brother: Presidential Edition

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reality_tv_collageBased upon the most recent presidential election, it’s clear to me that the American electorate needs more entertainment value in its politics. Therefore, I propose we run future elections like a reality TV contest.

We could, for instance, model our presidential race on the granddaddy of all reality shows, Survivor. Democrats and Republicans could form two tribes of presidential hopefuls who would be forced to compete on a remote island wearing nothing but loincloth, eating gross food, and completing arduous tasks until the fittest survived.

The refreshing part of a Survivor– style competition would be that all the political machinations and back- stabbing would be in the open for a change.

Or maybe the campaign could be run like The Amazing Race. Here we’d have pairs of candidates running around the country completing challenges such as stomaching the horrible food at various state fairs and pretending to love it. (Actually, this is pretty much what our current candidates do.)

The first pair on The Amazing Presidential Race to get to the winning destination would become our next President  and Vice President.

But I think the most entertaining way to choose a president would be to subject them to a Bachelor/Bachelorette type of contest. Each week we would select random citizens to be wooed in hot tubs by the scantily clad presidential hopefuls. Each week an unlucky candidate would get a rose and be unceremoniously shown the door.

We might not get a smart or capable president, but at least we’d get some eye candy to cheer us up.

So who’s with me? Is it time to give up the idea that a sober, thoughtful, and qualified individual is the best choice to be leader of the free world? Hasn’t the U.S. electorate shown itself to be more interested in a person of the caliber to be seen on The Real World?

At this point I’d settle for a contest resembling the old game show To Tell the Truth. 

Mind the Gap

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Do you speak English? I’m not referring to the English language in general but to the English spoken across the pond. Last weekend my husband and I had a delightful sojourn in England to celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday.

Before we had even de-boarded the plane, I started to hear British colloquialisms such as topping off  your drink and silencing your mobile. Upon landing in London, we got in a queue to exit customs and take the Tube into the city. There was no lift at Piccadilly Circus, so we had to haul our luggage up the stairs.

Traveling to a foreign country always involves adjusting to unfamiliar customs, language, and food. I remember wondering at the concept of breakfast in China, which for the Chinese consists of a watery rice porridge called congee. Even in Western countries, you have to expect that your concept of such basic foods as pizza will be challenged.

In England, one of the more dangerous adjustments involves the fact that drivers drive on the left side of the road. London streets try to avoid disaster by having the words “Look right” or “Look left” painted on the ground at crossings.

But language is one of the things that fascinates me most about visiting an English-speaking country with different expressions. Many of the words we use in America for common items are different in England – such as nappy instead of diaper or car park in lieu of parking lot. The English also use different expressions for the same idea. For example, the conductor on the train informed riders that the train would be calling at certain stops. I found this idiom rather charming, implying as it does a sort of personal invitation to travelers. I also loved our taxi driver’s assuring us we would  fill our boots at a local dining establishment. The visual that conjured up was amusing.

Between the British accents and some of the differences in the way the English refer to things, my husband and I would often need an individual to repeat him or herself. At those times, my husband liked to use the famous quip alternately attributed to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde: “We are two countries separated by a common language.”

But while I certainly took to heart the pleasant female voice on the Tube urging us to “Mind the gap between the car and the platform,” I really don’t mind the gap between our two versions of the English language. After all, the Brits were using it first!

 

 

Billboards (Redux)

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It’s that time of year again. After numerous summer road trips, I have collected a new batch of billboard sightings that made me laugh or shake my head.

A couple of billboards that I have seen quite frequently on trips to O’Hare Airport are a little on the suggestive side. One of them advertises “Local shingles looking to get nailed.” It’s an ad for a roofing company. The other one advertises auto insurance with the tagline, “Love at first quote” and features male and female legs sticking out of a partially open car trunk. Couldn’t they just have used the back seat?

Another amusing billboard urges us, “Just say no to crack in your basement.” (Permaseal)

And if you are currently looking for a new career path, I encourage you to consider this: “Looking for a new job? Gray hair management.” I’m sure not many people have the qualifications for such a demanding job.

I was also intrigued by a sign for Fergedaboutit Vineyard & Winery. I wondered: Do they offer you a bottle of wine you can’t refuse?

In the category of truth in advertising, I had to admire the one for local radio personalities Eric and Kathy in the Morning: “They’ll go anywhere for a topic (but mostly just Google)” Likewise, a strip joint called Club 39 assures potential customers that they have “All of the liquor – none of the clothes.”

But the billboard that has me really thinking this year? “I’m empty without you. Interstate.” Is it a reference to the billboard that needs a customer to adorn it with advertising? Or is it an existential musing on the part of the road itself, contemplating a lonely world of no cars or drivers? I’ll let you ponder that deep one as you enjoy the rest of your summer.