Archive for the ‘Vagaries of Life’ Category

An Encounter


There I was, quietly eating my lunch while absorbed in a book. Suddenly, an older gentleman sitting in a nearby booth asked me: “Is that the Bible you’re reading?”

I suppressed the laugh that bubbled up in my throat, and replied: “Why no. It’s Joyce Carol Oates’ new novel.” And then some imp of the perverse tempted me to add: “Do you know her work?”

“Never heard of her,” he said.

Because I was miffed at having once again been interrupted by a man while I am trying to read, I thought (briefly) about saying: “Well, it’s about a Christian who murders abortion providers.”

But I forebore.



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Nearly Neighbors



As I turned into a parking space the other day, I noticed another car also turning in which displayed a “Huskers” license plate on its front bumper. So when the driver and passenger got out of their car I introduced myself by saying “Go Big Red.” That’s a secret sign for Nebraskans in exile, sort of like a Masonic greeting. The folks smiled back and we spoke for a few minutes.

Turns out they are from Scotia, Nebraska, a small town about twenty miles from the even smaller town where I grew up. We marveled a bit at the tiny chance of our meeting so far from “home.” Our teams used to play one another in football, volleyball, basketball, and all the rest. No longer though, they told me, because both counties have wisely consolidated their high schools.

They are annual visitors to Arizona (“three months every year”) and were curious about how long I have lived here. Not wanting to say the truth (almost forty years) and appear to be a traitor to mid-western values (although I am) I temporized by saying that I’m a permanent resident.

Talk then turned to comparative weather, as it inevitably does in such conversations.They allowed as how glad they were not be be in Nebraska just now. Having watched a few minutes of a football game in Pittsburgh, where it was one degree Farenheit(!) I had to agree.

The photo represents the town library and museum in Scotia, Nebraska. It’s a long way from the Heard, huh.




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I am SICK SICK SICK of hearing about the “forgotten class”–those supposedly disenfranchised mid-western males who voted for Trump.

Disenfranchised my ass. The media would have us feel sorry for these well-off white men, the poor sods who are bemoaning their lost privilege. Which privilege includes brutalizing their wives, raping their daughters, and saying “nigger” or “spic” when and wherever they want, as loudly as they want.

Fuck you white males who voted for Trump.

I have spent my life trying to escape such men. I hated the little towns where I grew up. I didn’t know why or what to call what I hated because second-wave feminism was still in the future. Thanks to Friedan and deBeauvoir and Redstockings and Millet and I know now that what I hated was the continual struggle in the back seats of cars to keep my hymen intact until I chose not to; to be continually teased because I liked books; to have my appearance judged and rated whenever I appeared outside my house.

When I got to the university (thanks, Dad and Mom, for insisting that your daughters get a college education despite the covert and overt resistance of nearly everyone you knew) I finally felt safer, although I soon learned that vigilance was still required. There was a frat house across the street from women’s housing where nearly naked men sat on the porch drinking beer, hollering out their evaluations of any woman who walked by. My professors laughed when I suggested we read Willa Cather (who was born and raised in Nebraska after all) in an American Lit class. When I got into seminars, profs would sometimes say things like “I expect Miss Conway has an alternate opinion on this.” I did, but I soon learned to keep my opinions to myself.  Maybe that’s why my profs were surprised when I turned in good papers.

I left Nebraska as soon as I could. I’ve never been back except for brief visits to relatives. I embarked on a career that took me from coast to coast. After affirmative action began to be taken seriously in university environments, sexism was less pervasive there (although still present, of course). So I worked with far fewer abusive men than do most working women.

Now that I am retired and living in a small Arizona resort community, I realize how sheltered I was while working. During the fall and winter months my community is full of mid-westerners, and the men among them are still loudly proud of their ignorance. I have to listen to their shit every time I go to the grocery store or have lunch at a favorite cafe because they talk loud enough to be heard by everyone nearby. They approach me in parking lots (this is how I know they are mid-westerners) to tell me about all the good things that Trump is going to do for “us” (meaning them).

I don’t hate men. Some have escaped their training, and some are trying manfully to do so. I like and admire such guys. But you never know, on meeting a man, who or what he is. And if he is tied to a woman you like or admire, you have to endure his shit for her sake.

I don’t talk back. I learned long ago that to do so is both fruitless and perhaps dangerous.  But if they keep getting in my face . . . no promises.


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This morning I woke up early, as usual. Around 5 am I began to feel hungry, so I rooted around for something to eat. But the cupboard was bare! The pantry too!

Stores don’t open until six, and I was desperate. I looked in the fridge, and on the very bottom drawer of the freezer I found a box of extremely frozen waffles. Checked the past due date:  September 25. “Well that’s only a month over,” I thought. Then I noticed the year:  2014.

Time to clean out the fridge. Not right then, however, because I was still hungry. By the time I got dressed it was nearly six so I drove down to my favorite restaurant, which had just opened. I gave my order and started reading a book, as usual.

In the next booth, though, were four people talking about–what else–the election. I tried not to overhear, but it was impossible because they talked so loud. I learned stuff, too. Did you know that Huma Abedin is Hillary Clinton’s lover?  And that after the election Hillary will divorce Bill and marry Huma?  “That’s legal now, you know,” one of the diner’s companions chimed in, helpfully.

For just a second I toyed with intervention. Something gentle, like “have you thought of the necessity of providing evidence to substantiate outlandish claims like those?” Once a teacher of rhetoric, always . . . well, you get the picture. But the owners of the restaurant are friends of mine, and I didn’t want to risk their losing customers. So I moved to the next room, carrying my decaf, silverware, napkin and all.

Two hours later, safe back at home with a newly stocked pantry and fridge, I am a little embarrassed about my chicken-shitted withdrawal. Guess I’m still Victorian mother’s daughter more than my “let’s argue about the weather just to stretch our brains” father’s.

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All over the internets men are talking to one another about their so-called “locker room” talk, trying to prove to themselves that Trump’s talk is somehow an exception, different and of course worse than the things they and their friends say. (See the discussion on Lawyers, Guns, and Money if you need an example. Of course, if you are a woman, you don’t.)

I wonder:  will this be the moment that Robin Morgan’s generation has been waiting for all these years?

Nah. For a second there, I fell into another round of “is this it?”


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Elusive Names


My memory for proper names has got up and went. It started when I was still teaching. I’d be yammering along and suddenly forget the name of some important figure. Grad students learned to recognize the strained look on my face and helpfully called out names: “Aristotle!”  “Cicero!” “Joe the Plumber!”

Great fun was had by all. Except me.

The problem is called “semantic dementia,” and mine has worsened as I’ve grown older. (All us olds hope that the name and the condition bode nothing worse). Experts say memory loss can be mitigated by mental effort and practice. So I’ve developed a little game to play while exercising or driving that I call “What IS That Guy’s Name?”

Yesterday, for example, I was thinking about football, given that today has the first full schedule of pro games. While I can easily conjure up an image of the Green Bay quarterback, I could NOT recall his last name (yes, the condition is that aggravating.) I tried “Aaron Richards” and “Aaron Roberts” and other near-misses. No dice. I have learned that if I wait a few minutes the loop will come around, as my sister might say (she suffers from this condition as well), and sure enough it did. I hope the folks in line at the grocery store weren’t frightened when I suddenly blurted out “Rodgers!”

The condition is quirky. I could not remember the name of the former quarterback of the Cardinals either. I could conjure up his face and I easily remembered that he is now huckstering for a plumber’s outfit. I tried “Luke” and “Kent,” (see how this works?) to no avail, and had to look up Kurt Warner’s name when I got home.

Alas, my memory for other stuff still works just fine. The moment I awakened this morning I remembered that today is the anniversary of 9/11. That brought up a host of memories of that dark Tuesday back in 2001 and its awful aftermath, along with the knowledge that my country is still caught up in its bloody consequences.

I hope Aaron Richards has a better day today than I’m having.





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Not Again!

I turned on the kitchen tap yesterday and nothing came out but a strained sigh. Dammit!  The well was down again. Fed up (and in 100-degree heat) I hiked through my considerable back yard and through my neighbors’ considerable back yards, in order to find out who had left their hose running. Again.

Nobody home at either house. No hoses apparent anywhere.

So I trudged back to my next-door neighbor’s house, hiking through his considerable and verdant back yard. By this time I’m regretting my decision to undertake this trek–damn, it’s hot. Neighbor’s door is locked and dogs are silent. So either he is not at home or resting.

What to do?  I take another considerable walk out to check the well, whose works are humming away, thus suggesting that it is working but that the holding tank has been emptied. By somebody. Ignoring my mother’s voice, when I get home I phone my neighbor, no longer caring whether or not he was sleeping. Sure enough, he tells me, he “forgot” to turn off his hose when he left the house this morning.

I’ve lived in my house for almost twenty years. My next-door neighbor was the only one here when I moved in–he and his wife preceded me into the neighborhood by about six months. We shared the well for five years or so until the two houses in back of us were built. Those homes have been owned by several different families over the years.

During those years the well has stopped pumping at least twenty times. Twice it stopped because the equipment failed, which is to be expected–so much so that we established a shared bank account to cover such exigences. The bulk of the well failures, however, occurred because one or another of my neighbors “forgot to shut off the hose.”

In all those years, the culprit behind a well failure has never once been me. I repeat: I have never abused our fragile water supply. The natural flora in place around my house remains in place, and I planted only a bit more of the same. So everything in my considerable yard can live through the summer without my help. I also practice water conservation–do the dishes by hand, do laundry only when there is enough for a large load, shower briefly rather than bathe, etc.

And yet, and yet–my damn well goes down two or three times every summer because my neighbors are trying to turn their desert yards into Indiana.

And they wonder why Lake Mead is going dry.



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