The West Side Story continues — March 9, 2022

The West Side Story continues

As you grow older, your tastes change. For example, I don’t eat as much candy as I did in the past. Of course, my recent purchases at the dollar store might dispute this claim. But all those bags of candy were not for me! Besides, Easter comes only once a year!

Anyway, when I was much younger, I decreed that I didn’t enjoy movie musicals. Oh, the folly of youth.

This silly, sweeping pronouncement included the 1961 classic, West Side Story. Indeed, I remember disappointing a friend when I announced, with smugness dripping from my voice, that I didn’t care for the movie and all those annoying song and dance routines.

A few years later, I viewed the movie again and, that time, I recognized the film’s brilliance, especially those song and dance routines. To this day, I might start singing “America,” “Jet Song,” “Maria,” or “A Boy Like That” at random moments. I might even add a little dance to the routine if I’m in a good mood.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it’s an adaptation of the Broadway musical, which was inspired by Romeo and Juliet. It tells the tale of two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, against the backdrop of the interracial love story of Tony and Maria.

West Side Story is one of my oldest sister’s favorite films, so when Steven Spielberg’s remake was released last year, she said she wanted to see it. Alas, she didn’t make it to the theatre.

The film did make it to my streaming service last week and I invited my sister to a private viewing at my home. We watched the movie this weekend.

When it comes to classic cinema, I’m a traditionalist who generally avoids remakes. After all, why mess with near or absolute perfection? If not for my sister, I’m not sure I would have watched the 2021 version of West Side Story. But I did so with an open mind.

And you know what? It was great.

In some ways, I enjoyed it more than I did the original.

I was happy to see Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 version, as Valentina. (Moreno also serves as an executive producer.) Spielberg’s version is faithful to the original stage version and it’s just so vibrant and colorful – even when the colors are drab.

Musicals are usually uplifting. (At least most of my favorite musicals – Grease, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Singin’ in the Rain – have uplifting endings. A fourth film on that list – All That Jazz – is not exactly a laugh fest.)

Although West Side Story contains dark overtones, the aforementioned song and dance routines and vibrant colors can fool you. During one song and dance number, I told my sister that real life would be better if folks broke out into song and started dancing and everyone joined in. Wouldn’t that be grand!

She gave me side eye. After all, she knew what was coming. Like I mentioned earlier, the story is based on Romeo and Juliet. Ergo, almost everyone dies.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Scenario planning — March 2, 2022

Scenario planning

Last week, I had a doctor’s appointment at the medical center. (No worries. I’m fine.) As I’m a heavy water drinker, I used the facilities during my visit. Whilst in the facilities, a poster caught my eyes.

I had never seen this type of poster. Indeed, I’m used to posters at healthcare facilities advising me on the benefits of drinking water or exercising or washing my hands.

This poster advised against sticking your hands in the toilet.

The poster certainly achieved one of its goals. It grabbed my attention.

Of course, as I had no plans to stick my hands in the toilet, I can’t say it achieved its ultimate goal of preventing me from doing so.

Anyway, the poster further advised patients and/or visitors to contact someone at the medical center in the event the toilet became clogged. (By the way, I can only surmise that-there restroom is not the only one that contains such a poster.)

I’ve happened upon a few clogged public toilets in my time. I have to say I’ve never been tempted to unclog them on my own. When this unfortunate event occurs, I unleash a stream of expletives and vacate the premises as quickly as possible.

Since that poster is on that-there wall, I can only surmise that at least one visitor to at least one medical center restroom has attempted to unclog a toilet … with the visitor’s hands.

I believe in helping people when we can, but this would not fall under the heading of when we can. Or helping.

Nevertheless, I have something of an imagination. In fact, I have been accused – with good reason – of using that imagination to create “scenarios.” So, I’ve created a couple scenarios to explain why a person would attempt to unclog a public toilet.

Here’s one. Perhaps the attempted unclogger was a secret agent or an embezzler or an adulterer who was trying to destroy a paper trail. No one would think to check the medical center’s waste system for state secrets, bank records, or text messages. (Why would the unclogger have printed copies of these documents? Don’t question my scenarios.)

After the attempted unclogger ripped the paper to shreds and flushed the shreds down the toilet, the paper suddenly gurgled back to life. He or she couldn’t risk letting the wrong eyes see those papers.

Hence, the poster.

Here’s another one. Perhaps attempted unclogger was an embarrassed parent who was trying to retrieve a kid’s favorite stuffed animal after said kid dropped the toy in the toilet at the wrong time. When you have a kid screaming in your ear about Uni the Unicorn drowning, you don’t have many options.

Hence, the poster.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The word of the day — February 23, 2022

The word of the day

A couple months ago, rows of gray, green, and yellow boxes started showing up on my social media feeds. I said to myself, “Self, what the expletive?”

An inquisitive person, I researched the matter and learned it was a game called Wordle. At first, I wasn’t interested. After all, I don’t play games because games require me to download apps, and with a few exceptions, I avoid apps. But once I found out the game would not require me to download an app, I decided to give it a try.

Two months later, I’m still giving Wordle a try every day.

For those of you who don’t play, Wordle is like hangman or that old game show Lingo. You get one five-letter word a day. (Everybody gets the same word.) You get six guesses. If you guess a letter in the correct place, the letter turns green. If it’s in the word but out of place, it turns yellow. If a letter is not in the word, it’s gray.

Let’s be honest. We’re always fussing with one another about something. I like that Wordle brings people together. I don’t post my scores online because I play on a device that’s not connected to my accounts.

But I enjoy following other people’s Wordle journeys, even if I don’t always comment on them. I do not share my starting word, though. In fact, I guard it like it’s a trademark. Why? No good reason. I will tell you that I frequently use the same second word, too. (Which I will also not share.) Oftentimes, however, I start guessing on the second word. It depends on how the gray, green, and yellow boxes shake out in the first word.

Speaking of shake, that was the word one day last week. It caused much consternation. I know what you’re thinking. How could a common word like shake cause trouble? Because S_A_E could be skate, stare, shape, slate, scare, state…I could go on.

It depends on your remaining letters, but sometimes it comes down to a lucky guess. Other Wordle players might not want to admit that luck plays a big part in the game, but it does.

Not being a dumb expletive plays a part, too. As of this writing, I’ve failed to guess the word once – ultra. Words starting with vowels as well as those with repeating letters confound me because I frequently forget that words can start with vowels or contain repeating letters.

That’s why I laugh and laugh when some folks – they know who they are – tell me they don’t play Wordle because they’re concerned it will make them feel stupid.

To be fair, some Wordle words are not common. I’m looking at you swill and tacit. Others, such as those and could are quite familiar. Yes, those and could have been Wordle words since I started playing.

I don’t really care how many guesses it takes to guess the word as long as I don’t tap out. I’ve only gotten the word on the second try once. The word was cynic. Yes, I had one green letter and another yellow one after the first word, but if there’s one word I’m going to get on the second try, it’s cynic.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

You never know — February 16, 2022

You never know

Last week I shared my thoughts on the first few days of the Olympics. But guess what, dear readers? There’s been an entire week of the Games since I penned those thoughts. You know what that means.

  • Whilst penning the aforementioned thoughts, in which I wrote that I didn’t care for alpine skiing, I was literally watching alpine skiing. It gets better. I stayed up past midnight-thirty watching the sport…that I had stated in print I find boring. But I also find it strangely captivating. The athletes speed down mountains at 60 to 70 miles per hour. (Fun fact: Until my young friend pointed it out, I didn’t realize the graphic in the corner of the screen that legit features numbers and the letters MPH indicates the speed at which the skiers race.) Although the athletes look like they’re out of control, they know what they’re doing and I’m sure the poles serve some sort of purpose. Even if I’m not sure what it is or how the skiers maintain control. I know one thing, though. I wouldn’t even make it out of the gate.
  • I found a U.S. men’s curling match on the TV over the weekend. Recalling how much emotion I invested in the U.S. gold medal winning team (Shuster) in 2018, I told myself history would not repeat itself during this Olympiad. I lied. Twenty-four hours later, I have caught parts of two other men’s matches and one women’s match. As of this writing, I am concerned about both U.S. teams prospects for the Games. On an unrelated note, their uniforms are too busy for my liking.
  • This isn’t about the Games, per se, but NBC plays the same commercials over and over. They’re advertising movies and series that will soon make their debuts. For what it’s worth, I am not being paid to promote these shows. (Oh, how I wish I were.) But the dramatic reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air looks pretty good. I did not watch the original. I also did not watch that Tiger King nonsense, but they’ve made a movie about it, and the actress playing Carole Baskin sounds just like her. As I do not have Peacock, I will not be watching either of these programs. I am excited about The Thing About Pam, which dramatizes the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria and Betsy’s infamous “friend,” Pam Hupp. If you’re a regular viewer of Dateline, you know the thing about Pam. By the way, I’ll swear on a stack of photos of Viggo Mortensen that from the first Faria-based episode of Dateline, I knew Pam’s story did not add up. Too bad the authorities in Missouri didn’t do the math. Perhaps they could have saved one man’s freedom and another’s life.
  • Back to the Games. In separate conversations with my mom, my bestie, and my young friend, we’ve discussed the danger that looms over the winter Olympics. As my young friend says, when it comes to the Winter Games, it’s all about blades and speed, both of which can kill you. Think about it. The snowboarders jump, what, 50 feet in the air? But even when they fall, they seemingly hop up like they’re made of rubber. But under the category of you just never know: According to the medical examiner’s report, actor/comedian Bob Saget died after accidentally falling and hitting his head in a hotel room.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Olympics now and then — February 9, 2022

The Olympics now and then

The winter Olympics started last week. As of this writing, I haven’t been able to devote much time and attention to the Games. With that said, I do have thoughts on the Olympics, which I will now share.

  • It seems like every time I tune into Olympics coverage, one of the networks is showing a women’s hockey game or the luge. And it seems like the voices of the female commentators commenting on the two disparate sports sound an awful lot alike. I said to myself, “Self, it can’t be the same woman. What are the chances that one person is that informed about hockey and the luge, and that the sports’ schedules allow her to call all these events?” Spoiler alert: It’s not the same woman. I can’t decide if the two ladies have vocal fry or if they’re just bored, but their voices annoy me.
  • Speaking of the luge…I’m not much of a fan of it or the bobsled or the skeleton. Or of alpine skiing. Make no mistake about it, I will watch the expletive out of all these sports during the Olympics. And I have mad respect for the athletes who spend decades training for these dangerous sports. I realize they’re competing at something like a million miles an hour and risking life and limb every time they squeeze into sleds or slip into skis. But watching the events is kinda boring. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they’re going. It all looks the same to me. The luge/bobsled/skeleton would interest me more if they raced against one another. That’s why, when it comes to skiing, I prefer cross-country events like the ski and shoot aka the biathlon.
  • Whilst discussing the Games with a young friend at work, said young friend admitted she had only recently learned of the 2002 figure skating judging scandal in which the French judge alleges she was pressured to award points to the Russian pairs figure skating team. I congratulated her on educating herself on world history and told her the scandal consumed me back in the day. The Russians were awarded gold and the Canadian pair, who gave a flawless performance, the silver medal. After an investigation revealed shenanigans in the judging, the International Olympic Committee awarded a second set of gold medals to the Canadians. Separate Netflix and Peacock documentaries document the scandal. Anyway, when my young friend referenced the Canadians’ costumes, I asked, “Gray?” I cannot remember people, places, and things from my actual life circa 2002, but I can remember what color costumes the Canadians wore. I told you the scandal consumed me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Walter the cat, winter edition — February 2, 2022

Walter the cat, winter edition

Folks, I have some good news! There’s a new Walter the cat commercial!

When we last saw the adventurous feline, he was fishing, herding cattle, treeing other cats, and gathering firewood. In other words, he was engaging in stereotypical canine behavior.

The newest advertisement, titled Walter in Winter, begins with the gray tabby growling – or was he barking? – as he brings his leash to his human, who asks, “You want to go out, Walter?”

It looks like once again, Walter will be engaging in stereotypical canine behavior. Only this time, in the snow!

Over sounds of Harry McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” which also played in the previous commercial, Walter and his human traverse snowy roads in a pickup. In fact, from all the shots of the pickup, I suspect the point of the commercial is to advertise the truck.

But Walter is the star. He and his human hike on a snowy road, with the human advising Walter to pace himself. They play hockey on some sort of outdoor frozen surface. Walter relieves himself against a fire hydrant when they stop at a shop for supplies. When they go camping, Walter dines on a bone, which prompts his human to ask, “Where’d you get that bone, pal?” (Seeing as there’s nothing around their tent but the truck and lots and lots of snow, that’s a reasonable question.)

When he and his human ride a snowmobile, Walter wears little goggles. When the mailman makes a delivery, Walter gives chase, which prompts his human to admonish, “No! No! No! He’s a civil servant!” Walter also leads a team of huskies. (I’m not really sure what task he, the huskies, and the human are trying to accomplish.)

Near the commercial’s end, with nothing but his little paws, Walter digs out a skier who has taken a spill or been snowed in by an avalanche. Or something. Frankly, the skier doesn’t seem too distressed. Regardless, Walter is a hero.

The skier, much like a character in the other commercial, seems flabbergasted by Walter’s canine-like behavior. After the skier mutters, “That’s incredible,” Walter’s human misinterprets his statement as a comment on the pickup – there’s that expletive truck again – and happily lists the truck’s amenities. When the skier says, “No, I meant the cat,” it’s Walter’s human’s turn to express surprise. People act like they’ve never seen a cat before, he grumbles.

His reaction is understandable. He’s used to cats being awesome.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Finders keepers — January 26, 2022

Finders keepers

If someone were to ask what I collect, I’d answer pens and paper. At least two drawers in a desk overflow with the items and I recently found piles of paper and an assortment of pens stashed in a closet. Not that I buy the materials. Once I studied on it, I realized I had not purchased pens since college and paper since last century.

Yet, I continue to accumulate them because I subscribe to the philosophy of the lead character in Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, who considered it a waste of money to buy office products. What with them just sitting there out in the open, waiting for her sticky fingers to swipe them.

For what it’s worth, I don’t go around swiping staplers and tape dispensers. Or pens and paper. (For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Dark Places … until the end. The ending angered me to such a point that had I been reading a physical copy of the book, I feel sure I would have torn the book to pieces and flushed it down the toilet.)

I mention this because I never pass up an opportunity for free – not swiped – pens and paper. And because I considered buying a pen.

Somewhere along the way, I came into possession of a black gel ink pen. Perhaps someone left it on my desk and I “forgot” to return it. Perhaps someone handed it to me so I could make a note and I “forgot” to return it. Who knows.

Regardless of how it came into my possession, it might be the most favorite pen of my advanced life. Simply put, I love the way it writes. No, it’s not fancy. But I’m not a fancy type of gal.

Unfortunately, pens don’t last forever. What would I do when the black gel pen ran out of ink? How would I cope? To prepare for that inevitability, I located the type of pen on the Supercenter’s website. Although it was reasonably priced, it was still priced.

So, I held off on putting that item in the cart.

And the black ink in the gel pen continued to deplete.

Then, the other day, I had to run into the bank. And what did I spy on the customer’s side of the bank teller’s window? A black gel ink pen.

As noted before, I am not a thief. Thus, I asked the teller to whom the pen belonged. She regarded me as if I were a lunatic. Indeed, she probably considered pressing the button that alerts the authorities a crime is underway. She told me the pen was there when she arrived at work that morning.

That’s all I needed to hear. I slipped the pen into my purse whilst thanking the universe and the pen’s former owner for leaving it for me to find.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Slipped my memory — January 19, 2022

Slipped my memory

Last year, as in years past, I scribbled blessings on scraps of paper each week (or did I?) and placed the papers in a popcorn tin featuring puppies in Santa hats. (Not real puppies, obviously. Seriously. How would that even work?) Then, just as in years past, I reviewed the blessings at the beginning of the new year.

Before I get to the 2021 blessings, let’s go back to 2020. I took a gander at the list of those blessings and was reminded that I somehow ended up with blessings for 53 weeks. As you might know, there are only 52 weeks in a year.

When I mentioned the 53 blessings/weeks to a friend, she suggested I had counted a half week. She’s so kind.

Anyway, I mentioned the extra week in 2020 because 2021 also contained irregularities. Before I get to the irregularities, let me take a moment to explain my process. Every weekend I craft a to do list that includes such important tasks as napping and writing a blessing.

Now let’s fast-forward to the other day, when I finally opened the tin and reviewed the 2021 blessings. There were no blessings for weeks 25 and 48. What’s more, weeks 43 and 50 contained two separate scraps of paper.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, maybe she didn’t feel blessed during weeks 25 and 48 and maybe she felt especially blessed during weeks 43 and 50.”

As for your first thought, I always mean to count a blessing. Even if said blessing literally consists of the words “I survived,” as it did in week 26.

As for your second thought, there are weeks when I do include multiple blessings. In fact, I had to use a bigger than usual scrap of paper for week 27 because it featured four blessings.

That’s not what happened with weeks 43 and 50. Those weeks, apparently I forgot I had scribbled blessings on scraps of paper and tossed them into that tin. So, I came up with entirely new blessings for that week.

How did that happen? Did I forget to scratch “write blessing” off my to do list when I scribbled the first blessing those weeks?

And what about those two weeks I didn’t include blessings at all? Did I not notice “write blessing” was still on my to do list? Does this mean I also failed to take a nap that weekend?

‘Tis a mystery.

But you know what’s not a mystery? The obvious patterns amongst the 2021 blessings.

Apparently, I ate a lot of Taco Bell, watched a lot of wrestling documentaries, and played a lot of hide and seek. That’s not such a bad year.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Empty talk — January 12, 2022

Empty talk

Although I’m known as a thrifty sort of gal, sometimes I wonder if I could be a little more thrifty. These doubts creep up from time to time, especially when I’m close to emptying a tube of toothpaste.

Allow me to explain.

When I was in college, one pal, with whom I am no longer in contact, shared an anecdote about another pal, with whom I am also no longer in contact. According to the first pal, the second pal’s family used a razor blade to open tubes of toothpaste when said tubes where close to empty. Why did they do this? To extract more toothpaste from the tubes. After all, as much as you squeeze that darn tube, you can never extract all the toothpaste.

It’s been dozens of years since I’ve been in college. And I’m not even sure I remember the second pal’s name. But I haven’t forgotten that anecdote. Over these dozens of years, as I’ve “emptied” tubes of toothpaste, I’ve looked at those tubes and said to myself, “Self, you know there’s more toothpaste in there.”

But what was self supposed to do? Firstly, I don’t keep razorblades on hand. Would it be cost efficient to buy them for the sole purpose of slicing open tubes of toothpaste? Secondly, I’ve considered cutting the tubes with scissors, but am I going to do that with the scissors I use to perform random household chores. Would it be cost efficient to buy a special pair of scissors for the sole purpose of slicing open tubes of toothpaste?

I answered no to both questions. Still, I wondered.

Anyway, on a related note, a few years ago, I “emptied” my first tube of hand cream/moisturizer. With that college anecdote swirling in my head, I just knew there had to be globs of lotion stuck to the innards of the sparkly tube. So, I retrieved the scissors.

As I suspected, the innards did in fact contain additional lotion. Lotion that moisturized my skin.

I made a few mistakes during that first attempt, though. I made only one cut, which I put too close to the top of said tube, and I allowed the lotion to dry. Thus, I didn’t get to use all that sweet smelling lotion.

Lucky for me, the galaxy contained additional tubes of hand cream/moisturizer. Two weeks ago, I “emptied” one of those tubes. This time, I made the first cut about a third of the way around the tube. When my little fingers had extracted all they could, I made a second cut down the tube. I also covered the tube to keep the lotion from drying.

I’m happy to report there are no more globs of lotion left inside what remains of that sparkly tube.

Of course, I’m sure I continue to throw away globs of toothpaste. But after dozens of years, at least I was finally able to put that anecdote to use.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Read all about it, part two — January 5, 2022

Read all about it, part two

Last week when I shared the best nonfiction books I read during 2021, I promised that this week I’d share the best works of fiction I read last year.

Before I do so, allow me to impart deep thoughts I’ve developed about annual reading challenges. As I reviewed all the books I read last year, I said to myself, “Self, a reading challenge serves as a good metaphor for a year. When you begin a new year, you have no idea what adventures and challenges await you. When you begin a reading challenge, you have no idea what books await you.”

Unless, of course, you’ve selected every book you’ll read that year in advance. But don’t do that because you’ll upend my metaphor.

Anyway, the best works of fiction I read last year were the first two installments in Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s Beartown series.

The first book, the aptly-titled Beartown, was published in the United States in 2017. I learned of its existence in 2021 upon my bestie’s recommendation. In Beartown, Backman tells the story of a despairing town, the aptly-titled Beartown, and how the town’s residents have pinned their wishes, hopes, and dreams on the junior hockey league. (There’s also an HBO series based on the book.)

Although I’m a sports fan, I watch hockey only during the Olympics. When the teams ran plays in the book – are they called plays in hockey? – I didn’t understand what was going on. What’s more, I never fully understood the structure of the hockey leagues.

But I understood Backman’s characters. I felt them. I worried about the fate of one character so much that, upon learning the second book had already been published, I told self we would not be reading it. The way I saw it, if said character suffered a tragic fate, he would do so without my knowledge.

But I woke one morning and realized I owed it to that character and the others to see them through to the end. My bestie lent me her copy of book two, Us Against You, and I returned to that despairing town and to its desperate and damaged residents.

At times, I regretted my decision because the story made me sad and/or angry. But as I wrote last week, emotion is good. Besides, at other times, the book made me laugh and smile.

I still worry about that one character, though. With one book to go, I stress over his fate. Backman has released the book in Sweden and, reportedly, it will be published in the U.S. this year.

I hope those reports are true or I’ll be learning Swedish.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.