Just WASH Your Damn Hands, OK?

pigpenWe move through the world surrounded by a cloud of invisible stuff. Think of the Charles Schultz character Pigpen who has been brought vividly to life in the newly released Peanuts, The Movie.

I saw this movie a few days ago, and then went out for lunch to a restaurant in whose Ladies Room there hangs a sign identical to tens of thousands of such signs hanging in the rest rooms of the nation’s eateries and grocery stores.

“Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning To Work,” it reads.

Now when I was a kid and the sign first started appearing, I at first thought “OK, so the management is saying ‘Yes, the people who work for us have to wash their hands after using the toilet but the rest of you? No worries about washing up! You just mosey on go back to your table and chow down!’” It was years before I understood that a person is totally nuts if he doesn’t wash his hands before leaving the bathroom.

Because it’s not just about how clean the facilities are or are not: it’s about how germy we ourselves are, with our same system of pipes as any animal – to say nothing of our habit of touching the dirty surface of the world and then bringing our hands up to brush our lips or touch our noses.

This new movie depiction of Pigpen with a moving particle-filled cloud of dust billowing about his feet looks queasily lifelike and makes you wonder: What exactly constitutes this cloud?

The answer is, the same stuff we’re all surrounded by:

  • Bits of lint and fiber from our clothing and bed linens.
  • Pet dander, if there are pets in our house.
  • People dander, in the form of dead skin cells, some large enough to come in flakes. (Yuck, I know.)

I once read a great book called The Year 1000 from which I learned that most people back then inhabited a two-tiered structure housing both man and beast, the animals sleeping on beds of straw on the earthen floor while above them, because the heat generated from their bodies would rise, the humans slept, on straw beds of their own.

This worked for them, in part because they had developed resistance to much of the ambient bacteria. It doesn’t work so well for us in the developed world, as it seems, we have been exposed to so many antibiotics that the germs consider it a fun game to keep morphing into ever more creative strains that we neither we nor the latest generation of antibiotics have power over.

It’s this new susceptibility that had me asking myself why, in the name of all that is holy, so many restrooms bearing the sign about mandatory hand-washing provide only cold water from both taps.

wash hands signs more like it

And the soap dispenser is so often empty. And the roll of paper towels has fallen from its now-broken holder and is teetering on whatever random surface will support it. It makes me want to write each establishment an impassioned letter, then try to get it printed in the paper.

I know that over the next 48 hours all my thoughts will be thoughts of praise and Thanksgiving, I imagine but today: Well, sometimes you just have to express your feelings, the way little Charlie Brown does.



Posted by on November 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Table Manner Don’ts (In Living Color)

messy dining comoanionI’m sitting in a neighborhood restaurant, reading a book by Sarah Kortum called The Hatless Man, an Anthology of Odd and Forgotten Manners, a compilation of various guides to good behavior from over the centuries.

As I read along, a party of four noisily fills the booth in front of me, in the persons of one exhausted-looking mom and her three young children, all dressed in their best.

By the sound of it, they have just come from some sort of presentation at which they had to sit far too still for far too long.

They’re making up for that now.

I look back down at my book – to read both Florence Howe Hall‘s turn of the century remark that it is wrong “to put the spoon or fork so far into the mouth that bystanders are doubtful of its return to the light,” and George Washington’s frank advice, “When in Company, put not your Hands to any Parts of the Body not usually Discovered.”

And just as I’m thinking, “Who in the world needs to be told this?” I look up and see these children, one of who is even now doing exactly what the father of our country advised us all against.

It’s eerie. I watch them. I look back at my book – and one by one see these taboos enacted by all three kids: by this girl of six, her tights bagging and twisting at her skinny ankles; by her little brother who looks about five, and wears his little his suit jacket askew, in a rakish, off-the-shoulder way; and by the smallest child, tangled Alice-in-Wonderland curls scraped back in a headband and one wet finger hooked like an umbrella-handle deep in the corner of her mouth.

  • “Never turn your spoon over and look at yourself in the bowl: it is the action of clown.” And lo, this very thing happens before my eyes.
  • “Don’t make a wall around your plate with your left arm, as if you feared somebody were going to snatch it from you. And don’t I see this done, when the French Fries come.
  • “In refusing to be helped to any particular thing, never give as a reason that you are afraid of it.” This happens too, when the boy screams at the sight of his mother’s shrimp cocktail.
  • Do not “take up a whole piece of bread and leave the dentist’s model of a bite in it,” advises the book. And here is now is the boy child, who has decided to stand up to eat his bread, which he chooses to eat with mouth wide open.
  • “Nothing is less alluring than a smile flavored with parsley,” I read on. And yet here is such a smile, garnished too with a slippery finger.
  • “It is a breach of etiquette to assume a lazy lounging attitude in company.“ Now one child stretches out full length on the banquette, where, within moments, the bread course complete, the smallest child on his head.
  • “Cast not thy bones under the table,” one sage warns in the old book and surely something has been cast under the table, as Alice now slithers off her brother and dives down after it – bringing us to the rueful observation “A vacant chair at a dinner party is a melancholy spectacle.”

But I for one am feeling far from melancholy now, for I begin to see who the rules of etiquette are for: the child in us all at the great feast of life, who, tired and restless and cranky, would like nothing better than to slip beneath the table from time to time ourselves, as the below image from suggests. ;-)

elegant dining conversations


Posted by on November 16, 2015 in humor


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For the Soldiers

afghanistanA strange thing will happen to you if you ever visit Gettysburg, where the largest battle of the Civil War was fought. When you ascend the eminence known as Cemetery Ridge, an eerie silence will envelop you and maybe a little wind will lift you hair as you stand looking out over those Pennsylvania hills. You will study the glass-encased photograph of the very spot where you are standing, taken within days of this ruinous encounter. 

“Look at these stone walls” you will likely marvel, “the very ones against which so many fell dead! And these trees with their branchings just so, the very same trees, alive and green and growing still!” But you will whisper, saying this. And you will feel astonished.

Because you thought you had prepared yourself for this visit, through the reading of many books and the viewing of the four-hour long film Gettysburg, shot here in great exception to the strict rule that preserves this place as holy ground. Yet in truth nothing could have prepared you for what you will feel in this place, where for three fierce days, more than 51,000 men were killed or lost or wounded, and the earth went spongy with their blood.

It’s so human: When we’re not in pain we don’t wish to even acknowledge pain’s existence. When we don’t feel threatened with immediate danger we try to forget that living is dangerous.

I went to Gettysburg last spring and in the weeks following watched that heartbreaking film for a second, then a third time, and sent away for four books and DVDs, all edited by William Styple of Belle Grove Press in New Jersey. The two DVDs show ancient footage of the battle’s very participants, in 1913 when they met as thin-boned old men, Yank and Reb, and shook hands across those same stone walls. 

The books, called Writing and Fighting from the Army of Northern VirginiaA Collection of Confederate Soldier Correspondence present letters penned by soldiers on both sides, just days or even hours after the war’s many battles.

So starting late yesterday, in order to understand the past, I watched and I read: “I am so tired and broken down” wrote one weary soldier. “We fought all day yesterday and marched all night,” wrote another. “I am still your own dear C.,” wrote a third, in what proved to be the last letter his wife would ever get from him. 

Then, in order to understand the present, I went to another site, where our men and women in uniform can post words of appreciation to all the volunteers stateside who get addresses from Operation Paperback and send along all the gently-used soft-cover books they can lay their hands on.

I’ll copy here the letter one young man wrote when he got back from his recent tour of duty:

“I am a soldier who is currently deployed here in the desert. I had some time on my hands and there was a whole shipment of books sent by your organization, and I read and enjoyed one of them. It helped take my mind off things and was solid tangible proof that there were people who had us in their thoughts. Thank you very much for your support of the troops.” (Signed) “John, one of the guys sent to the desert.”

All of our soldiers had friends and families, of course, and lives every bit as filled as our own lives are with that poignant mix of the suddenly dramatic and the blessedly routine.

Today I am thinking of those three men from the 1860s; and I will think too of young John, trying to find some sense of peace and equanimity as, in the desert, he sat quietly reading his book.

Learn more important details about Operation Paperback by going to 


Posted by on November 11, 2015 in Uncategorized


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GO to Your Reunion!

reunion get out of your caveI always tell myself “Go to the reunions!” but then this strange reticence overtakes me. Maybe it’s common to us all, the worrying that no one will talk to us but the classic what-do-I-wear dilemma weighs, I think more heavily on the females.

Take my case.  I’m pretty sure I’m no longer in danger of going in a tangle of long Country-Western-style curls and a fringed leather miniskirt, but what if I end up walking into a room full of evening gowns, only to look down and find myself dressed like Pinocchio? Because, you know, this has happened.

But then I remember what my 11-year-old said to me back in the late 90s when I was I fretting about what wear to wear to a certain wedding. “It’s fine,” he said not unkindly. ”Nobody’s going to be looking at you, Mum.” True enough! 

And so it was that on a recent Saturday night I started getting ready. I climbed into this caramel pantsuit I had bought in the spring of 2012 only to realize I looked like the last cruller in the bin. A mist of cold sweat bloomed down my back. 

Then I spotted the black dress I had just for $69 in a catalog. I threw it on and headed for the car with my husband.

That’s when the great realization finally came on me: This wasn’t my reunion! This was HIS reunion! I wouldn’t have to do a single thing but smile and listen as people spoke to him.

I figured he would have an easy time too, because as the Class President and Football Captain, he’s be remembered.

He was remembered him. But if people remembered him, they also remembered one another, after the quick peer-down at the nametag for the rapid calculation that aligned this older face with the face they had known at 18.

All night, people literally called out to one another in joy.

“THIS guy!” a burly ex-football player said to me, his arm tight around David’s neck. “THIS guy went in head-first every single time!”

“You know what it was like being in class with Dave here?” another guy said to me ten minutes later. “He’d walk in to class seconds before the bell and find the rest of us frantically studying. ‘Is there a test today?’ he’d go. He hadn’t prepared! Then, what do you think? I’d get a 95 on the darn thing and HE’D get a 98!”

In general, the expert remembers like these two carried the evening aloft, bringing people’s thoughts vividly back to the past. 

It took the woman who spearheaded this whole reunion effort to carry their thoughts back to the present, by arranging class gift of backpacks and bus passes for those current students at the school who could really use them.

People danced plenty, though not as much as they had done at earlier reunions. They drank plenty too, but again not as much which one could plainly see when the swarms huddled at the bar slowly morphed into clusters gathered around the coffee and tea.

Anyway, I myself had a super time at this reunion that wasn’t my reunion, and by evening’s end I saw how silly it is for any of us to ever worry about who will come talk to us, when it is entirely in our power, as members of the great old Class of 2015, to go up to anyone at all and get the conversation started our own selves.

it wont be the same


Posted by on November 6, 2015 in humor


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Don’t Be Dumb Tonight

old time halloween 2I believe in the young, who in many ways are miles ahead of the rest of us. Still, they do make some super-dumb moves at times.Below, four tales by way of illustration. Let’s call this a Halloween Night Sermon For Us All.’

EXAMPLE ONE : On a morning suddenly overcast, a young person called home from his workplace to ask his dad to put up the windows in his car, which was parked on the street. “Sure! Where are the keys?” his dad asked. “Where they always are: in the ignition,” responded the kid.“You leave your car on the street? Unlocked? With your keys in the ignition?” squeaked the dad in disbelief. “You don’t think it might get stolen?”“Oh no,” said the kid. “Who would do that?”

Let’s see, I can’t help thinking here: Maybe the person who took my neighbor’s bike right from his garage? Maybe the one who took my baby’s stroller from off my front porch and pitched it in the lake? Maybe one of the five separate individuals who stole my car on five separate occasions?

EXAMPLE TWO: A s16-year-old girl took a notion to go running. At 10 at night. On a street with narrow twisty roads. “But it’s not safe to run now, especially not there!” her mother told her. “Don’t be silly!” replied the daughter. “There aren’t even any streetlights!” (Huh?)

EXAMPLE THREE: One morning at a convenience store, a young stranger stocking shelves turned to me with a radiant smile and said this: “I get off work at 2:00 every day. Then I take a shower and go get drunk.”  “You don’t mean that,” I said. “I do. I get drunk! Every day! Right after work!” “You’ll regret that one day,” I said. “Maybe when I’m 40,” said the kid.(If you GET to be 40, I thought.)

EXAMPLE FOUR, and this by way of showing that I have been plenty dumb myself: When I was 18, I used to hitchhike. Kids did back then. Of course I always wore my good blue dress to show I was well brought up. I hitchhiked to western Massachusetts. I hitchhiked to New Haven, Connecticut. But when I hitchhiked to Cambridge to see the boy I would one day marry, he said I showed bad judgment.

It took putting my thumb out that next weekend to show me how right he was:

The man who pulled over that day had baby gear in his back seat of his car and looked a lot like Mister Rogers. When I approached his passenger-side window to find out his destination, he asked if I would do a particular thing. When I recoiled in horror, he asked if I would maybe just watch.

I hung up my thumb then and there.

And so, in this final hour before the blowout that Halloween night now is, I would say only this to the young: 

Sooner or later Time will claim your bike and your baby carriage; your brand-new car and that bright young sparkle in your eye. Earth is a beautiful place and and it’s ours to live in. But it’s also the place where we will die. It just seems foolish to invite an early departure. Other than that I say have a ball!

happy halloween



Posted by on October 31, 2015 in adolescence, dumb & dumber, halloween, humor


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Trapped in an Elevator

trapped in elevatorImagine you and a stranger find yourselves trapped in an elevator and by some stroke of fate both your mobile devices are stone dead. 

Imagine you’ve already used the elevator’s emergency phone to report your plight, but the guy on the other end says everyone down in Maintenance is off celebrating the birthday of this other guy’s 30 years of service. They’ll get to your problem in an hour, he says, two tops . 

Then let’s further set the stage by assuming that the two of you share a common language and that neither one of you has to go to the bathroom. Thus, on these two fronts at least, you can relax and really inhabit this little soap bubble of time in which you find yourselves floating.

Now the question is, not what you’re going to DO, as this list drawn up by the funny people at The Onion, but rather what are you going to talk about? You know what you’ve been taught NOT to talk about: the forbidden trinity of religion, money, and politics. Stay away from all three subjects in polite company, you have always been told, but you can’t just look over the person’s head like people do on the subway. That would just be weird.

Soooo, what subjects could you turn to pass the time?

Well, people turn to the topic of their kids pretty quickly, so maybe you could start down that avenue, sharing information about their ages and so on. There would be no turning to your dead phones to get at photos of course, but that’s ok: you could paint a picture with language, old-fashioned concept as that is.

You could also say a few words about other family members, though this can be a tricky arena.  I once spent a mere 60 seconds alone in an elevator with a man who was so furious he was hissing like a teakettle. “Bad day?” I finally asked. “EXCUSE me?!” he hissed, greatly offended by the question. “I…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have spoken,” I stammered. He only paused for about 20 seconds before blurting out, “My damn MOTHER-IN-LAW!”

So I guess you have to be careful choosing your topics.

Here’s an idea: People love explaining their scars, I’ve noticed, though this might not be the right setting for that particular show-and-tell.

Ailments also make a reliable topic but they too might be dicey in this context, especially if your elevator-mate has been on earth long enough to have a nice long medical history. I mean, you might never get your own turn to talk!

The weather’s a pretty tired topic and sure there’s sports but what are the chances you’re both fans?

I’ll tell you what I go to when all else fails:

Television. You’ll never go wrong with TV shows. I don’t care if you’re Cleopatra the Queen of the Nile, you watch TV. 

At least a little.

Admit it.

Even if your tastes differ as to genre – I, for example find sitcoms almost unwatchable these days what with all the wink-wink of sexual innuendo – I bet within two or three minutes you’ll find common ground. And then you won’t even realize that the guys down in Maintenance have moved on from eating cake to doing shots. You have another human being and the chance to talk and talk, and really, what’s nicer than that?


Posted by on October 27, 2015 in humor


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Why I Volunteer – and HOW I Do It

all of us together

For mother of three Terry Marotta, connecting her volunteering to her early career as an inner-city teacher was essential. Finding organizations whose missions matched her youthful goals felt instinctively right, something she recommends. Marotta works for two nonprofits devoted to diversity: A Better Chance, which identifies talented young people of color for study at top middle and secondary schools; and her town’s Multicultural Network, helping people build inclusive communities.

“As a high school English teacher in my twenties, I had had the chance to live out and uphold similar values to the ones these two boards cherish. In Room 334, we all listened with respect to one another, we learned to celebrate our differences, and before long got to [a point] where we were all really glad we had come to class each day.”

Marotta knew the nonprofits were a fit when she felt the same way she did as a young, ambitious teacher. Her feeling of purpose has been key to her success as a volunteer.

Many people are passionate about causes but unsure if they have the right skills. “Banish all such thinking!” Marotta urges. “Try to see if you can identify a couple of people—even just through social media—who work with the nonprofit. Ask what the joys and obligations are.”

Then, she says, observe how the group acts. Perhaps you can sit in on a meeting. Get a sense of the organization’s tenor. Just visiting the group’s Facebook page may help you see how members interact.

Most of all, Marotta says, consider your legacy when joining a group.

“How do I know that ‘my’ work will live on? It sounds corny but I think I know it because of something that Mother Teresa said: ‘All that is not given away is lost.’ So give it away, your time and your love and your attention, and you will never be sorry, because the people you have given these things to will in time give away their own store of them,” she advises.

Of course, volunteering can be taxing, especially with family pressures. Marotta worked  with  the Winchester (MA) Chapter of  A Better Chance for ten years when she was young, then took two decades off before returning. When she did, Marotta says, “I was a different person with a new ability to laugh, to survive setbacks, to keep things in perspective.” Now, she says, “I have much better boundaries. I know how to practice self-care. What I give, I give with a full heart.” Make sure you have the time and the energy to devote yourself to your chosen cause, so when you give, it’s without resentment or pressure. When this is the case, the gratitude—for both the volunteer and the recipient—is immeasurable.

“I’ve seen this again and again,” says Marotta. “There is almost no greater force for good than the power of careful attention to another person.”

So thanks Kara. Thanks for helping me say what I deeply believe. And thanks to my fellow board members on the Network for helping me stay mindful of the many good reasons I do any kind of volunteer work. I’m a lucky girl.




Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Flaming Honesty

By James Christopher Darling

Something Like a Storybook

The personal literary blog of Morgan E. Bradham.

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!


Another Good Day in Rural America © 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat

Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Flaming Honesty

By James Christopher Darling

Something Like a Storybook

The personal literary blog of Morgan E. Bradham.

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!


Another Good Day in Rural America © 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat


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