Monday, June 30, 2008

Shades of Alice's Restaurant

Last night was garbage night. That’s part of my routine on Sunday nights: watch Masterpiece Theatre, take the garbage to the dumpster. As a Starving Librarian, I decided paying for one of the local trash-collecting/recycling companies to collect my detritus was a luxury I could long as I could find a dumpster somewhere. I used to go to my bank, which is around the common (like most New England towns, from Boston down, Gardiner has a park that is referred to as the common – once the common land where livestock could graze), and down a fairly steep hill. I would go at 10:30 or 11 on a Sunday night because there was very little traffic, and I didn’t have to worry about being seen pulling one or two bags of garbage out of my back seat, and depositing them in someone else’s dumpster. I had quickly learned that Saturday night was no good – too many folks still out and about at that hour, trying to have a good time.

Alas, a couple of months ago the bank had a lock put on its dumpster. Do you suppose someone had spotted alien garbage bags inside? I was dismayed when I went down there at my usual time, and found my way, quite literally, barred. What was I going to do now? When I drove to work the next day, I kept my eyes peeled for possible substitute dumping spots. And lo and behold, the apartment house (that is, a large house, that has obviously been broken up into apartments, including having an addition tacked onto the back) that lies just three doors down from me, has a dumpster at the back of its parking lot. So the very next night, I drove down there, and deposited my garbage in the unlocked dumpster. However, a number of windows look out on the small parking lot, and I felt very conspicuous. Even though it was late, there were several lighted windows, and through one I could see some fellow watching T.V.

So for the next couple of weeks I walked the garbage down. But I still felt conspicuous, especially once my shoes hit the pavement of the lot. It’s not like I was wearing tap shoes, but in the still of the late evening, footsteps walking past sound loud. And there were those people in the front apartment, who never seemed to go to bed, and whose windows were wide open.

Mind you, it’s not as though I feel I’m committing a crime (although, as a matter of fact, perhaps I am!); it’s that I don’t want to have to explain to someone what I’m doing, putting my garbage in their dumpster. This is an interlocution my delicate sensibilities shrink from. Back when I was taking my garbage to the bank, I had an explanation all prepared in case anyone questioned me: I just recently moved in, and haven’t arranged for garbage pickup yet (and yes, for those of you in big cities, in small-town Maine this is not a service provided by the town; you have to contract for it.) But what was I going to say if somebody poked his/her head out the window and shouted, “Say, what are you doing?”

Happily, I have now discovered another “public” dumpster. It’s located, interestingly enough, right across the street from the bank, at the edge of a small parking lot that lies next to a building housing a couple of small companies, closed at night. There are always two cars parked in the lot that I think must belong to people living in apartments over the commercial building across the street. At any rate, I feel as comfortable as I imagine I can feel, dropping my garbage off there of a Sunday eve.

And for those of you worried about what I’m doing with my recyclables: I save them up and take them to the Hallowell Public Works recycling center. Hallowell is the little town where I work, and they know me there from the library (they’ve seen me out at the sand trough in the winter, getting buckets of sand for our icy sidewalks). So I’m able to be a good citizen...for free.

Friday, June 27, 2008

No hair and baggy pants

It’s Pet Peeve time. I was bewailing the fact that women color their hair in order not to look old, which is socially unacceptable for women in our society. And I was bewailing the double standard this represents. But the absolute proof of that double standard lies in the hair style that has been the fashion for men for too long now, and the equally appalling fashion in men’s britches.

I call the hair style the skinhead look. All these men with their semi-shaved heads. Do they think this style makes them look good? Actually, I don’t think looking good, looking attractive, enters into it. They may think it makes them look cool, or tough (especially, I think, tough); and it certainly makes them look like “one of the guys,” since so many men are doing it (and they say women are slaves to fashion). It’s possible that they think looking this particular brand of cool and tough makes them sexier as well; but if they do, oh, ladies, we’ve got to get busy and disabuse them of this notion. Some of them may insist, as my friend Tim does, that the hair style is “so much easier and cooler.” But you notice Tim doesn’t defend it as making him look better.

I swear that men – at least heterosexual men – so rarely care about looking as good as they can look. They care about easy, and comfortable, and manly. They care about “cool” and tough...and what qualifies as that is determined by other men, not women. And they care about fitting in, looking like all the other males in their group, whatever their group may be. What they do not care about is looking a woman’s idea of attractive, except possibly when they first fall in love. In general, women just have to take them as they come.

Including in those damn baggy shorts! I remember when watching a basketball team play had the added attraction (for a woman) of being able to watch all those good-looking legs and male derrieres sprinting up and down the court. Ditto a tennis match. Now the players all look like they’re wearing droopy drawers, and don’t even have derrieres. The man filling his car next to you at the convenience store cum gas station is no better. There are just these sticks that show from below the knee to as far as the inevitable running shoes, with or without socks. Except in grossly fat people, the part of the leg above the knee adds considerably to the aesthetic appeal of the human leg. Men certainly know this as regards women’s legs: they like for as much of it as possible to show (unless the lady in question is the aforementioned grossly fat.) But do they return the favor?

The oversized jeans slung so low you wonder how they keep them up are also utterly without aesthetic appeal. Besides the fact that here again the human form is totally masked, being able to see the top two inches of a young man’s underwear is not a turn-on. Do you suppose they think it is? Or is it simply part of the not-caring mentioned above?

I realize in the General Scheme of Things this is not terribly important, any more than whether or not a woman colors her hair is important. But I do think caring about aesthetics contributes to the overall tone of civilization. It’s a positive to try to make the world a better-looking place, rather than an uglier place, whether it’s by planting a garden, or wearing clothes (or hairstyles) that look good on you. The no-hair and the baggy britches have been around long enough. How do we get guys to grow their hair back, and strut their stuff in real shorts, and trousers that let us know they’re men, not dirty clothes bags?

Of course, men could now take the opportunity to castigate those awful...capri pants?...that look good on almost no woman, unless she’s very slim, the pants are quite form-fitting, and she has on heels...which are an absurdity when you’re doing casual which supposedly these pants are.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer of Love

I was just watching a show on public television on the Summer of Love, i.e., the Summer of 1967, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. I had left there by the time that summer rolled around, but it would seem that I was there at the perfect time: October 1966-March 1967. After that, apparently, it started getting “heavy,” as we were wont to say. Far too many aimless young people straining limited resources, and having too many bad drug-induced trips; too many straight folk come to gawk at the weirdoes. It turned into a zoo, but I missed that part.

I went to S.F. from Washington, D.C., where I had lived for not-quite-a-year, after graduating from high school back in Texas. I and the roommate I had acquired in Washington, through a roommate-finding agency, had decided that we were bored with D.C., and wanted to experience the Land of Milk and Honey. So we piled our few paltry belongings into her new Mustang, and had driven halfway across country before a big screeching fight (the sort that two strong-minded females being together 24/7 can produce) sent Grace on alone. I had to cool my heels in Texas for a couple of months, while I worked as a clerk in an insurance company to make the money to continue the trip by bus.

But I made it at last, and instantly fell in love. This was the most beautiful city I’d ever seen, thanks largely to a perfect marriage of hills and architecture. You could live in a roach-infested tenement (as I did), and have stunning views out your windows. The cable cars with their clanging bells charmed me; I loved the way people swung on and off them, and helped turn them around at the bottom of the hill. The usually-cool weather agreed with me; I liked the frequent fogs.

And I just happened to wind up living in Haight-Ashbury. Had never heard of the place, knew virtually nothing about hippies – I was this nice middle-class girl from suburban Texas, after all, who had spent the previous year working as a trainee assistant buyer in a large department store in Washington, D.C. – how was I to hear about hippies? But suddenly I was surrounded by them. Which was just fine with me, though I was never really one of them, despite the long hair down my back, and the Jefferson Airplane on the stereo.

For one thing, I worked. It never entered my mind not to work. If you wanted a dependable roof over your head, and to know for sure where your next few meals were coming from, you had to work. My parents had taught me well. I was only 19 years old – turned 20 while I was there – but it was quite clear to me that all the free this and that was not free; somebody had to pay for it. So I put on my Jackie Kennedy A-line dresses every day and took the street car (not so charming as the cable cars) into the heart of the city to do my file clerk/recep-tionist/addressograph operator thing (does anybody out there remember addressographs?)

Nonetheless, I was not really in judgment mode. Indeed, that was a big part of the whole ethos: you do your thing, and I’ll do mine. I was enjoying the sense of freedom, just like everybody else. Freedom mainly from the strictures I (we) had always known. Can’t do this, mustn’t do that, should do such and such. To hell with all that. Listen to groovy music, make love (I very soon had a boyfriend – we picked each other up at the I/Thou Coffee House – and later my real boyfriend, who would eventually become my husband, joined me), take walks in the sunshine, lie in the grass at Golden Gate Park and read a book, buy some incense at a head shop, get high. True, my enjoyment of all this leisure was limited to the weekends, unlike my full-time hippie neighbors, but that was o.k. Life was still a cabaret.

The show I was just watching emphasized the drugs that were a large part of the scene. They weren’t really, for me. I certainly smoked the occasional joint – and unlike Bill Clinton, but like virtually everyone else, I inhaled – but the only time I ever tried anything stronger, Pink Ladies, my roommate called them, the high was pleasant enough but the coming down was so bad I swore I’d never try anything like that again. (And I never did.) For me it was much more about being in the middle of this a big, friendly, easy-going, generous confluence of young people. All of us in adamant rebellion against our parents, and what we felt they stood for. It is surely one of the great ironies of the twentieth century that the genera-tion that worked so hard to insure that their children would be spared the hardships they had known, mainly earned their children’s scorn.

Until those children got way older, and learned a few things.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

From music to art

A couple of weekends ago I did something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I first heard their ad on the radio (good ol’ WBACH again): I went to visit the Wiscasset Bay Gallery in the town that claims to be the “prettiest village in Maine.” Quite as much I love listening to music, I love looking at art. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that these two, along with traveling and writing, are among my primary joys in life (and what are yours?) But looking at art is a pleasure I rarely indulge in these days, for some murky reasons, not least of which is that I very rarely do anything for pleasure these days. I work, eat (and cook, and grocery shop, and clean up), and sleep. That seems to be it, to far too great an extent. I could now go into the reasons for this being the case, but we’ll save that for another time.

I don’t know if it really is the “prettiest village in Maine” – seems a rather presumptuous claim to me – but Wiscasset certainly has all the requirements: big old New England houses, with big old New England trees, little shops along the short business stretch of Main Street, which is also Route 1 (which you can take the full length of the Maine coast, if you’ve got all the time in the world and the patience of Job). The shops lean heavily in the direction of Antiques, which is typical of small Maine towns. I sometimes wonder: where do all these antiques come from? How is it there are enough to fill all these hundred of shops?

The village is up one of the myriad jagged fingers of the sea that make the Maine coast so tattered. To see it today it’s hard to believe that in the 1700s it was the largest seaport north of Boston. Where on this particular Saturday afternoon I saw only one small motor boat, complete with dog, there would once have been lined up a dozen tall-masted sailing ships.

The gallery, which is right there on Main, a short distance from the bridge that spans the Sheepscot River, had plenty of lovely art, that was depressingly expensive. There was one large seascape by the artist Keith Oehmig that I would have purchased on the spot for my friend Ernest – who loves the sea, and even more, where the sea meets the land: beaches, small seaports, docks and marinas – had it not been that the $8,500 price tag was out of my league. But, then, for this Starving Librarian anything over, say, $50 would be out of her league. I committed the amusing faux pas of asking the genteel saleswoman – and the salespeople in art galleries always seem to be genteel, or insufferably hoity, so rare to encounter just plain folks in such positions – about the artist “whose work you seem to have so much of – is his name Ohmia?”

“Eh-mig,” she pronounced, (I’d read it wrong, thought the final ‘g’ was an ‘a’.) “And actually, that’s my husband. This is his gallery.” I felt suitably foolish, but she laughingly assured me that everyone got the name wrong, and she did not seem to be offended at what might have been perceived as a wondering why they had so much of this one particular artist’s work.

Actually, most of his paintings are good, and a few are quite good. And I think he must be a pretty remarkable person – according to their web site he began collecting and dealing in art in 1985, at the ripe old age of 22, having graduated from college only the year before. So here he is at 45 with his classy little gallery, and he paints. Nice work if you can get it. And oh, yes, he’s originally from Tennessee. Here’s obviously someone who chose his home...

On my way back to my car – parked down the side street that lies just above the river – I heard the hoarse yelling of a train, signaling its approach to a crossing. This little side street ends at a public boat slip, and just before that is the railroad line. So I got to watch an old train, that looked like it was from the 50s, come chugging in, pause long enough for people to get on or off, and then roll away, toward (as I later learned) its ultimate destination of Rockland, farther up the coast.

A perusal of the Internet told me that this was the Maine Eastern Railroad, that runs May through October between Brunswick and Rockland, allowing passengers to see all the little coastal towns and scenery in-between. And this makes me think ‘hmmm.’ Because another of the joys of my life is trains.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Sound of Music

A little while ago I was listening to “Maine’s Classical Station,” WBACH, while eating my fourteenth meal of the day (for those of you who don’t know, I am cursed with hypoglycemia, which means that practically every time I turn around I am having to eat, to keep my blood sugar up). They were playing a piece that was very familiar to me, though I didn’t catch what it was, and couldn’t remember. But I was sure it had been used as the theme music in some movie I’d seen long ago. I was thinking it was “The High and the Mighty,” but as a check, turned to that resource that those of us with unraveling memories would surely be lost without: the Internet.

It turns out that the movie was “Suicide Squadron,” not “The High and the Mighty” – the latter having its own famous, melancholy whistling theme, which I also remember – and the name of the musical piece I was trying to recall was “Warsaw Concerto.” Which isn’t actually a classical piece at all, having been written for the film, in 1941, by the British composer Richard Addinsell. According to Wikipedia Spike Milligan refers to the music repeatedly in his autobiography as “the bloody awful Warsaw Concerto,” but I find it dramatic, evocative, and obviously memorable, since I remember literally nothing about the film, but am able to recall its theme music with no problem, what must be forty years or more after hearing it.

I have a passion for music, pretty well live my life to it, though there are also times I prefer good old-fashioned silence. And I find music has the power to evoke strong feelings in me, which is surely true for most people (and why is that, one wonders). When I was staying with my sister Ellen in Colorado, after my return from Scotland, I would do my Hated Exercises to a CD of hers that I really liked, and later bought for myself: Shania Twain’s “Up” It is very up, making it the perfect piece for bouncing around to. But there was one track that I would always have to skip; otherwise I would find myself trying to do my final jogging around the house with tears streaming down my face. The track was called “Forever and For Always,” and made me think of my husband, every time I heard it. This was only a year after his death, and hearing lines like “I’m keeping you forever and for always/ We will be together all of our days/ Wanna wake up every morning to your sweet face/ Always”* was more than my emotions could bear.

I believe in an earlier incarnation of these Notes I mentioned posing to myself the question, which would be worse: being blind, or deaf? My opinion remains the same as it was then: life is surely more difficult for the blind, but oh, to never hear music. Or for that matter, to never hear church bells – real bells, not recordings – and know the (rather inexplicable) comfort that sound always brings to me. To never again hear the haunting, melancholy sounds of a whippoorwill at dusk, or lonely loon on the lake at night, or gentle, cooing sounds of a dove as the day is getting underway. Even just undifferentiated birdsong, at anytime. To be able to watch the waves of the sea come in and go out, but not hear that shhh...shhh...shhh sounds it makes, like the breathing of the world.

I am so often bothered by noise – our world is full of it, so much of it unnecessary – but there are also wonderful sounds to be heard, and I’m glad I get to hear them. Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – I am struck forcibly by my luck in this crapshoot called life.

*”Forever and For Always,” written by Shania Twain/R.J. Lange
Universal Music Publishing Group

Friday, June 13, 2008

To color or not to color

All right, enough of this heavy-duty philosophizing; let’s talk about something trivial. Like coloring ones hair. Although as a matter of fact, I take that subject fairly seriously, mainly because it represents that ol’ double standard that has always driven me crazy. Women in our society feel compelled to color their hair in order to continue looking young, which is equated with being attractive, while most men (these days there are exceptions) feel no such compulsion; and indeed, would be appalled at the thought of coloring their hair. Wouldn’t be manly.

It is women who spend so much time and money hiding the reality of the physical changes taking place as they age. (This includes other things besides hair, but right now we’re talking about hair.) Because if they don’t...well, I think of poor Barbara Bush, and all the “She looks like his mother!” comments that, I believe, sprang from her head of silvery-white hair, in contrast to her husband’s youthful brown locks, with just that bit of grey at the temples that made him look “distinguished.” After all, she was an attractive woman, with a pleasant face. I’m sure, had she colored her hair, no one would have thought she looked older than her husband.

Or...can you imagine an actress being able to continue playing romantic leads – playing anything other than mothers in aprons – if she allowed her naturally grey hair to show, the way Steve Martin and Richard Gere did? An actress with grey hair can’t play anything that suggests sex. I think it’s all part of the deeply ingrained cultural taboo against sleeping with ones mother. A lady with grey hair smacks too much of Mother!

I myself have been a “bottle blond” for about twenty years now, and before that I was a bottle brunette for three or four years, when the grey began to appear in my Basic Brown hair, and I decided it was way too early for that. So for many years, every couple of months or so I have engaged in the tedious, time-consuming business of applying some smelly gunk to my hair, then walking around looking a fright for 45 minutes while it “set.”

A few months ago I reached “a certain age,” and made the decision to stop coloring my hair. See what happened. See what it looked like au naturel. I already knew the entire front was a pretty white, and thought it wouldn’t be too bad if it all looked that way, though I suspected that it wouldn’t (and it doesn’t look like it’s going to). I mainly did this because I thought, “Who am I kidding?” For many years I looked younger than my age, then I began to look approximately my age, but for the last few years, thanks to degradations in the neck/chin/jowls regions, I’ve looked exactly my age (despite my mother’s insistence to the contrary). And just how appropriate was it for a 61-year-old woman to have blond hair? One might say, it doesn’t matter how old you get to be, you have the right to make your hair whatever color you want. And of course I do, but why would I want it to be any color other than the color it naturally is? Why would I want to continue going to that trouble and expense? The reason up to now has been: in order not to look old, in order to be as attractive as possible. Which actually meant, in order to be attractive to the opposite sex. But given the aforementioned physical degradation...

So does all this mean I’ve just given up on the idea of being attractive to the opposite sex? Well, I don’t think it’s just a matter of that (and, you know, hope does spring eternal). There’s also the fact that I don’t want to seem pathetic. Look at her, trying to look young. Who does she think she’s kidding? I recall seeing a picture of Ginger Rogers some years before she died, and there she was with her fat, heavily made-up, late-middle-aged face, and all that flowing blond hair. Pathetic was definitely the word that came to mind.

I don’t want to look pathetic, so I guess I’ll settle for looking like someone’s mother. Or...maybe not.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Where's home 2

Well, I’ve already discovered something I don’t like about this blog business. The fact that the latest posting goes at the top of the page. With what I already detect as a tendency on my part to build on past “notes,” I fear that the logical progression of my the extent that there is a logical progression...may be lost. By profession I am a librarian, and order is very important to me. C should follow B which should follow A, not the other way ‘round. Wonder why They set blogs up in this way. Perhaps someone out there in Cyberspace will enlighten me.

I have been giving further thought to the idea of attachment to “home.” I have five brothers and sisters; all but one of us were born and reared in Texas. The one who was born elsewhere (Evansville, Indiana, during what I think of as our Norman Rockwell period) lived in Texas from toddler-hood on. She and one brother have remained in Texas for most of their lives – and I suspect they think of it as home, especially as my mother also lives there – but four of us have not lived in Texas for many years, and I think it’s safe to say none of us has any desire to live there. I don’t think any of us really thinks of Texas as home. For one of my brothers I think that is especially true since our mutual father and his mother (my stepmother) both died. Going back to visit them may have given him some sense of “going home,” but that’s gone now. For the rest of us, going back to visit our mother is a matter of going back to visit our mother, not a matter of going home.

Our homes were not a family-supplied given, but were the result of choices we made. One brother, decades ago, decided to try New Mexico, fell in love with it, stayed. One sister married someone who took her off first to Wyoming, then to Colorado. Although that marriage ended, when it did she had been living in Colorado Springs for some time and liked it, had a job as a middle-school art teacher, which she liked, and had a son with ties to the community – school, friends, his father. So she, too, stayed, and as retirement nears for her, she has every intention of remaining. It is her home.

Another brother is a cartoonist, and his work has pretty much dictated where he lived over the past twenty years. You can’t make much of a living as a cartoonist in Ft. Worth. So it was New York City, Los Angeles, then back to New York (but now having a wife and two small children, it was a house in Connecticut, rather than a loft in lower Manhattan). Actually, Bob may come closest to what I’m trying to get at here, because I suspect that for Bob – as for many people – “home” is where his family is. He is not so place-oriented, as people-oriented.

To a certain extent, I am, too. I would like to be able to say that Maine is my home. Certainly it is where I feel most “at home,” of all the places I have lived in the U.S., for all the reasons I mentioned in Note B. But I have no significant others here. The loss of my husband four years ago left a very large hole in my life, that nothing has come close to filling. This is true despite the fact that Micheal and I actually spent more of our 36 years of marriage living apart, than living together (we had what can only be described as a very unusual relationship). But I always knew he was out there, somewhere, loving me, just as I loved him – he was where I belonged, ultimately. So...I belonged somewhere! That seems to be what people need: a sense of belonging somewhere. Is that what the concept of “home” most represents? And if we don’t have that feeling, does it mean we have no home?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Where's home

Talking about the weather makes me think of a phenomenon I observed when I lived in the Boston area, which I did for nineteen years. There I encountered numerous people who had been born there, lived there all their lives, but hated the winters. “So why don’t you move someplace warmer,” I’d ask, perplexed. “Oh, I could never do that.” And they could never do that because this was home. This was the place they were familiar with, the place where their extended family lived, where their friends were. It was where they felt psychologically comfortable (and this was the case even if they didn’t get along with their father, or whatever). How could they exchange mere physical comfort for all that?

Intellectually I can understand this reluctance to “leave home,” but not emotionally. For one thing, my physical comfort is extremely important to me. One of the reasons I live in Maine – and moved to New England in the first place, all those years ago – is that hot weather makes me miserable. My body simply does not function well when it’s hot. And this was as true when I was growing up in Texas, as it is today. I once wrote that I would be perfectly happy to live someplace where it never got any warmer than 68 degrees. I wasn’t particularly fleeing the heat when I left home at eighteen, but once I discovered cooler climes, my fate was sealed.

But it isn’t just physical comfort that is important to me. My soul is fed by beautiful natural environments. Growing up in the urban centers of Texas (San Antonio, Ft. Worth, Dallas), I don’t recall having any sense of natural beauty, except when we would go on camping trips to Colorado. Even now when I go back for visits, it seems to me there is no natural environment. Just endless freeways, shopping malls, what I think of as Auto Miles (one car dealership after another), the reflecting glass walls of business parks. Certainly there are attractive residential areas, with trees, and grass – that gets baked a brittle yellow in summer, unless there is no water shortage and people are able to dedicate great gobs of the precious stuff to keeping their lawns green – but you have to be driving through the piney woods of east Texas, to see much in the way of trees. So much of Texas is gently rolling prairie land, which has its own attractions – you get a nice sense of unfettered space – but it is simply not my idea of beautiful.

Here in Maine I encounter all these people who grew up here, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. And it is for all those reasons I mentioned in the first paragraph, but also because Mainers really love their state, terrible winters and all. Like me, they delight in the lush, green natural beauty – which turns stunningly aflame in the autumn, and into a magical winter wonderland at the appropriate season. Like me, most of them prefer cold weather to hot, even if they wish the winters didn’t go on quite so long, even if (like me) they get deathly tired of shoveling snow. And they value the small town pace and friendliness. For most of us, Maine really is “life the way it should be.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mechanical woes

Today summer arrived in mid-central Maine (is ‘mid-central’ redundant? But that’s what it’s called). High humidity, temperatures in the lower 90s. I was very happy I’d spent a good two hours yesterday – before it got hot – wrestling with my two air conditioners, getting the side panels put on, getting one into the window in the kitchen, the other into the small bedroom I call my study (some people would call it the computer room, since that is its most noticeable feature, but I’m old-fashioned). The main reason it took so long was the poor design of the little accordion side panels. It was almost impossible to fit the screws into both the hole in the panel and the hole in the side of the unit, and then screw them in with a screwdriver. You just couldn’t get the angle right. I did a lot of helpful swearing.

This kind of defective design always astounds me. In a country full of smart, talented people, it should surely never happen. Which thought sends me to the boxes the a.c.s came in – where were they made? Maybe the fault lies with not-so-smart, not so-talented, but cheap, foreigners. And sure enough, I am greeted with the words Manufactured in Thailand. Which is not to cast aspersions on the Thai in general, but it’s quite possible assembly lines intended to produce goods at as cheap a price as possible do not go in for stringent standards. And I cannot deny a reasonably low price was very much a consideration when I made my purchases. I didn’t want to get the cheapest model available – after all, you get what you pay for, right? – but neither did I want to be paying both arms and both legs to keep my little house a bearable temperature during Maine’s two and a half weeks of summer (which is actually, these days, a gross exaggeration. Thanks, no doubt, to global warming, we generally get a good two months of hot, humid weather...but it sounds more Maine-like to claim a measley two weeks).

Putting in air conditioners is one of those times when women like myself – i.e., not physically strong, not clever with their hands, not good at deciphering cryptic instructions – especially feel the lack of a man around the house. My husband died four years ago, and since then I have struggled with air conditioners, snow shoveling, car problems, hanging pictures, curtains, and storm windows – not to mention moving house several times – all by myself. I have managed, more or less, but it has not been fun, or even particularly satisfying (as in: another challenge met). But then, who ever promised me a rose garden...