Big Pharma: Dare to dream.

Enough already with the anxiety abating, hormone-replacing, artery-cleaning, pain-killing, erection-creating drugs.

What the big pharmaceutical companies need to make and sell is an inhaler that can instantly wipe out a bad dream that lingers. (Just the dream, mind you. Not deleting the to-do list or the multiplication tables.)

A starter dose would deal with basic I-forgot-to-go-to-class-all-semester dreams and holy-shit-no-brakes-in-the-car episodes. Stronger time-release formulas would handle repeating dreams involving giant spiders, rotary-dial telephones in emergencies and divorce demands involving loss of all the good towels.

This nightmare-eraser would soon be on every bedside table in America.

77 Words: “Lean on Pete” by Willy Vlautin

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin (Harper, 2010) –

At first this writing is simple, straightforward, plain. But soon 15-year-old Charley’s voice has so fully filled the reader’s head that she sees her world as he would. And long after the book’s done, an image or word will bring it back.  Author Willy Vlautin, it seems, is both honest writer and canny hypnotist.  This search for family, sustained by love for an ailing racehorse, has the poetry, tragedy and history of any classical hero’s epic journey.

For more “77 Words: Tiny book reviews,” click here.

Delta’s new Visa card sure makes me want to fly their airline. You?

Obviously Delta Airlines honchos read my blog and are ready for the sort of bold changes I endorse.

I saw a commercial this morning pushing their new Visa card that carries a terrific premium….one whole piece of luggage travels for free if you use the card to book a flight!

(I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t one of those rich-people perks for frequent flyers. Anyone with a pulse and a willingness to charge stuff can get this card.)

More good news: I hear through my excellent network of sources that many other savvy businesses are following suit. Watch your email for new quick-approval charge and debit cards offers that include fabulous premiums.

Use those new cards for…

–a meal in your fave bistro… and get free toilet paper in the restroom! (Platinum cardholders get 2 free paper towels.)

–a trip to the emergency room…and get five squirts of hand-sanitizer!

–a trendy haircut…and they’ll rinse that shampoo out!

–your cellphone bill…and you can use the # key around the clock!

I haven’t confirmed it yet, but I’ve heard rumors that there’s a House/Senate Visa. You get a point for each dollar spent. When you get to 30,000 you can send email directly to your elected officials’ offices and ask tough questions. (One question per household. Some restrictions apply.)

Delta should be proud. Look what they’ve started.

LoveGivesMeHope and FmyLife….the soap operas of our time.

LoveGivesMeHope…..the name of this blog would normally make me gag…but once I started looking through it, I admit it, I got sorta hooked. It came about because its creators were burned out on a blog that was just the opposite–Fmylife–all about life’s downers.

Sadly, I probably prefer the latter. More comic material. It doesn’t register as high as “Best of Craigslist” on the procrastination meter, but it’s good.

Cyclist doping as workout.

Reading about doping by elite cyclists is almost as much of a workout as riding one of their damn bikes. There’s always a new round of accusations to get one’s heart rate jacked up:

“EPO!”

“Testosterone!”

“Human growth hormone!”

“We all do it!”

The latest aerobicism comes courtesy of  US rider Floyd Landis. (See the The New York Times piece by Julie Macur and Michael S. Schmidt.) The winner of the 2006 Tour de France until all the lab tests came back, Landis was a tireless protector of his own innocence,  spending four years on the talk-show circuit calling a lot of people liars.

Now comes news that Landis took a break from high-performance denials in order to send out a round of email in which he comes clean. He also accuses biker buds of big doping right alongside him.

Those guys are all crying foul, but something rings true in Landis’ reminiscences  of the good ol’ days when he stored bags of blood in Armstrong’s fridge, alongside similar bags belonging to Armstrong and teammate George Hincapie.  Now there’s an image: a half-asleep guy in his boxers (with impressively rippling muscles)  staring into the fridge and yelling: “Which of you shitheads used up all the milk? There’s nothing but blood in here!”

This ‘fessing up is a pulse-booster for sure. But the real jolt comes from reading that he supposedly spent $90,000 a year at one point on doping. Yes, $90,000.

If local tweakers read the NYTimes, they’d be furious.

Here they are working all hours going through nasty garbage bins looking for ways to make money off identity theft, and this pisher in the silly shorts raises this kind of dough riding a bike through the countryside? Now, that’s enough to get a person really exercised.

Staying one step ahead of the moneychangers.

Last week Congress quit listening to the bleating of big banks long enough to vote for limiting the fees businesses pay whenever you use your debit card.

That’s good (and overdue) news. Debit-card charges are just one form of double-dipping that hurts consumers and the businesses who accept them.

Think about it, here’s how it used to work:

1. Get paycheck.

2. Walk or drive to bank, deposit check with the help of a teller who makes a modest but livable wage.

3. Write paper checks to buy stuff and pay bills. Pay small fee for the account, or no fee if the balance is sufficiently large.

4. Merchants who accept those checks then go to their banks and make deposits, again with a real, live teller who gets paid an hourly wage.

Now, it works like this:

1. Get a paycheck.

2. Deposit it through an ATM or by direct-deposit. (Goodbye tellers ; bank saves money. )

3. Pay bills online. (Notice that there are larger lags when your money has gone from you through the bank to a creditor, Can you say “float period?” Bank makes money.)

4. Buy stuff with credit or debit cards. (You pay a fee; merchant pays a fee and bank makes money. Let’s not even try to untangle the ways the timing of a bank’s processing of deposits can cost you a small fortune in overdraft fees.)

And, a crucial final step:

5. Fall for marketing campaigns that claim online bill-pay and ATMs are huge timesavers.

What’s a consumer to do?

One thought: Consider paying cash for one or two purchases a week that you normally do by debit card. Multiply that by a zillion and we’ll have sent a message to the moneychangers. They’ll circle back and find another trick, but for a week or two we’ll have ‘em running scared.

A century of high kicks.

The last of the Ziegfeld Girls has passed away, and the world is a lesser place.

According to The New York Times, Doris Eaton Travis died at age 106, the last of the famed and comely (36-26-38) performers hired in the early 1900s for the famous Broadway troupe.

She was part of a famous stage family, the Seven Little Eatons, and began dancing in public at age 5. The obit in the NYT by Douglas Martin is a minor masterpiece of factual yet gentlemanly reporting:

“Doris began as a chorus girl and understudy to the show’s star. In 1919, she wore a red costume and played the paprika part in the salad dance. ”

“While appearing in the show she fell in love with the songwriter Nacio Herb Brown…Mrs. Travis’s relationship with Mr. Brown lasted intermittently for eight years but never led to marriage. Mr. Brown himself married five other women all told, divorcing all of them.”

“..Arthur Murray hired her to teach ballroom dancing in Manhattan. She taught 70 hours a week until moving to Michigan to start the new franchise.One student was Paul Travis, who made a fortune by inventing a door jamb for cars. She and Mr. Travis married and later moved to Norman, Okla., where they bred quarter horses.”

And, my favorite, the ending to the story of the last Ziegfeld Girl:

“A little more than two weeks ago Mrs. Travis returned to Broadway to appear again at the annual Easter Bonnet Competition held by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, this time at the Minskoff Theater. She did a few kicks, apologizing that she no longer performed cartwheels.”

77 Words: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (Crown, 2010) -

Cells from Henrietta Lacks, a cancer patient in the 1950s, started something that seems more magical than scientific. Johns Hopkins doctors who took the cells from Lacks, a poor African American farmer, never imagined creating HeLa – the “immortal” cells grown in culture that live on and save lives around the world. This is tireless, deep reporting sensitively done and written with unusual clarity. The very talented Skloot erases the line between lab and humanity with inspiring deftness.
(For more “77 Words: Tiny Book Reviews, click here.)

IKEA washcloths have little loops so you can hang them up. Brilliant.

I’ve written about the IKEA experience before, but I continue to be amazed at the scale and cheerfulness of the place.

It is still like crossing a big country covered in forests of brightly colored plastic storage bins and coffee tables made of blond wood. Every item sold in the place has a name, presumably in Swedish, a language which seems a lot like English only with more consonants per word and a sound like a sneeze thrown in here and there.

There are people wandering around Portland’s IKEA who I’m pretty sure went in during the holidays of December 2008 and never left. They’ve existed entirely on Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice since then. And they still don’t know how to put together an entertainment center.

In any event, all of this is just an excuse to post the photo I took today looking down on what had to be a half-acre of shopping carts. Even if every cart-pusher only buys a single 100-percent cotton pillowcase, IKEA will have a very good quarter.

Gathering of the Carts

Respecting the real Church.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has done it again: Reminded us that there is more to a news story than its biggest, boldest headlines.

His column, “Who Can Mock this Church?” points out that there are two Catholic churches–”the old boys’ club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity…”

The Vatican–and plenty of laypeople–think that the members of the press are over-zealous in digging up dirt on the Church’s priestly scandals. That’s ridiculous. When I overheard someone at a dinner party bemoaning the “negative” nature of the news-gathering, I barely restrained myself from asking: “If your kid was involved, would you want the reporter to take it easy on the sexual-predator priest?”

But Kristof makes an important point when he adds that there is often “a liberal and secular snobbishness toward the church as a whole — and that is unfair.”

He’s absolutely right.

Indicting all clergy or the whole Roman Catholic Church does a disservice to the religious women and men who bring food, medical care, education and prayer to a world that needs all it can get.

Worse, such sweeping statements diminish the evil. The youngsters who suffered while in the care of priests were not victims of a faceless, impossible-to-control plague. They were preyed upon by men who could be counted, listed, and punished.

Lena Horne, artist and activist, (1917-2010)

Lena Horne was more than a singer; she transported her listeners in a way few artists do. She was more than someone who broke the popular-entertainment color barrier; she was an intelligent, beautiful and tireless treasure.  Her New York Times obituary doesn’t quite capture her spirit and sound, but this vintage video clip comes close.

Rest in Peace, Ms. Horne.

Relief.

What I miss least: Having to play it cool or bluff my way through.

Proof:

–It really doesn’t matter that I can’t divide fractions.

–Running the quarter-mile in less than 60 seconds just one time was enough.

—The daily newspaper’s big front-page correction on my city council story is buried in a microfiche drawer in a basement. Far away.

–People forget bad perms.

–I never wonder if a man likes me.

These realizations, and easy access to Google, make me smart enough.

77 Words: “What I Loved,” by Siri Hustvedt

“What I Loved” by Siri Hustvedt (Picador, 2003) –

This is a brilliantly written story of a long friendship between two men, its immense rewards and unique pain. Hustvedt’s writing is like a hologram that allows depth perception to change with a flick of a page; no character is shortchanged, every exchange between characters is vital in its moment. The endless re-proving of an artist’s life is caught just so, and the toll taken by such a mercurial life forms the plot of this rich book.

For more “77 Words: Tiny Book Reviews,” click here.

A tale of motherly love. Co-starring a turtle.

Mother’s Day is coming. I know this because every retailer in sight is trying to cash in. My gym has a Workout With Mom! special. My email is full of mail-order offers for chocolates, flowers, perfume. The spa down the street is even giving discounts on eyebrow and lip waxes in preparation for the holiday, which seems really weird if you think about it too long, so don’t.

Yes, the crass commercialism is alive and well. But that doesn’t mean I disdain the whole notion of celebrating our mothers. In fact, I think the holiday ought to be expanded to include the entire month.

We should all start dinner each night with a favorite mother story. I’ll go first.

My own mother passed many years ago, but she would have appreciated the story I heard the other day, told by a single mom of my acquaintance. I’ll call her Nancy. This tale began a decade ago.

Remember those little dime-store turtles you could buy for a buck? You’d bring them home and they’d last a couple of weeks, then off to turtle paradise they’d go, usually via a one-way ticket on Toilet Airlines.

Well, Nancy’s boy wanted one of those little critters, and being a game sort of gal, she bought him one.

Weeks passed. The turtle thrived. Nancy cleaned the bowl.

Months passed. The turtle thrived. Nancy cleaned the bowl.

Years passed. The boy left for college and, yes, Nancy stayed behind and cleaned the turtle bowl.

Eight years after its arrival, the turtle showed no signs of heading to the great beyond. By turtle standards, it was quite a bit larger. It was time for a change.

A lesser woman would have introduced the turtle to the backyard or a nearby pond, but not Nancy. She did what a resourceful and brave mother always does. She found a way.

She loaded the turtle into a totebag, put on her darkest sunglasses and drove to the nearest Pets-R-Us. There she slipped into the row of aquariums, and after making sure no one was watching, she plopped her hard-shell roommate into a tank with its own kind.

Never one to take separations lightly, she returned the next week to assure herself that the relocation had gone well.  You don’t live with a turtle for nearly a decade without committing its features to memory, so she quickly found him among the others. He seemed happy.

Now, I ask you, would anyone but a mother do this? I think not.

When Mother’s Day arrives, I will be thinking of Nancy and the other mothers I’ve known. Heroes, all.