Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sometimes I can be dense...

You're always hearing about celebrities who have to go into rehab because of their addiction to pain killers. I used to think that was so weird. How could anybody be addicted to pain killers, at least anyone who hadn't been ill for a long time, during which time they'd been consuming large quantities of the things? In my naivete I believe I was thinking of products like Tylenol, or Excedrin. Or even if they were prescription drugs, I was assuming they were just more powerful versions of Tylenol or Excedrin.

But of course powerful pain medication, available by prescription only, often produces a feeling of euphoria, along with wiping out the pain. And duh, that's right, it didn't occur to me that the celebrity of the day was hooked on taking those little pills not because they alleviated his/her pain, but because of the high they provided. Which I suppose could be seen as a way of alleviating other kinds of pain. But the truth of the matter was revealed to me recently when I tried taking Tramadol, a pain killer prescribed by my doctor for the mysterious neck/shoulder/ right arm/wrist problems I've been having for the past few months. (And after my bout of snow shoveling this afternoon, on the heels of yet another snow storm, I have strong suspicions as to the source of those problems.)

Although I was forced to stop taking the Tramadol, because of an unacceptable side effect, the few times I did take it I experienced a not-unpleasant buzz, and a sudden ability to whisk around doing a bunch of things, when normally much of my productivity is a matter of mind over matter. I was reminded of the only other time I've experienced such sensations, back in the bad old days when I suffered so from painful menstrual periods, and was taking, for a while, a potent pain-killer whose name now escapes me. It provided such a pleasant high that I would actually look forward to the onset of the pain, because I knew that then I could take a pill, and everything would seem lovely (and the pain would disappear for a while). Eventually, I stopped taking that particular drug, because it ceased to be effective. But I do have fond memories...

Alas, fortunately or unfortunately, most drugs seem to produce such unacceptable side effects in me, that I must eschew the momentary high -- and the possibility of a fun time in rehab -- in exchange for a return to a normally functioning body, and good, old-fashioned pain.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore

And now Libya. And Bahrain. It is truly amazing.

Of course, they keep talking about the "peaceful" protests in Egypt that resulted in Mubarak's ouster; but as a matter of fact, according to the health minister, 365 died, and over 5,000 were injured. So it would be more accurate to say there was relatively little blood-letting, for a revolution. But still, even with the dead and wounded, the results were pretty darned impressive.

Libya looks to be more bloody, since so far the army is not supporting the people, as it did in Egypt. Except for those two splendid air force pilots who flew their planes to Malta, rather than "just follow orders," and fire on their own people. And the government of Bahrain is also not going gently into that good night. But despite the violence being aimed at them, in both countries, the people are still protesting. That takes both courage, and a true feeling of desperation. And it is fascinating and impressive to behold.

And yes, yes, don't we wish we'd left Iraq alone, and maybe the same thing would have happened there...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Letting the inner child out for a while

Today was one of those I-Actually-Did-Something days. One of those days that come all too infrequently, these days. What I did was go to a Model Train and Doll House show at the armory in Augusta. I love both model trains and doll houses, so when I saw the sign yesterday, on my way to Burger King to get a Whopper without onions and a chocolate milk shake, and saw that the entry fee was only $4, I determined to go.

Not only that, I actually asked someone to go with me. As I've mentioned here before, too often I don't do things because I have no one to do them with. In this case, I didn't really mind going alone, but thought it would be a pleasant activity to share with someone, and also thought that the staff member with whom I am most sympatico might actually be interested in going, too. And she was but, alas, the show was only running today, and she was already committed to going shopping with her mother.

So I went alone. Out into the freezing cold day -- after two days when it got up into the 40s, to everyone's aston-ishment and delight, it is now back to being Winter in Maine -- and making the what is beginning to seem like such a long drive, from my house to the street in Augusta where most things happen (Western Avenue, which sports two shopping centers, numerous fast-food places as well as a lot of small businesses, the Post Office, the best hotel in town, the office of the local newspaper and yes, the armory) -- and joining the queue behind all the people with little kids in tow, so I could fork up my $4.

The show was not what I expected. I thought there would be lots of neat doll houses and running trains to ogle at. There were some of each, but not that many. There was an absolutely marvelous doll house in the form of a light house, with a beautifully done room on each of the three levels. The only thing I wondered about was why the woman who made it had put the bedroom on the second floor, and the living room on the top. "People" -- and there were figures in the kitchen on the ground floor -- would have to go through the bedroom to get to the living room. But the woman's work was meticulous. And feeling the way I do about lighthouses, well, you just know I would have loved to be able to add that one to my non-existent collection.

There was also a doll house that cost $600. It looked like a McMansion. Also beautifully done, but $600?

Several model train clubs -- Maine 3 Railers, Great Falls Railroad Club -- had displays of running trains. My favorite train was the Bangor-Aroostook, a train line that actually served that massive county in the north of Maine from the 1890s through the 1960s. What really charmed me were the all the Maine-specific cars that made up the train: an Oakhurst milk car (Oakhurst being a major Maine dairy), a presumably refrigerated Maine Lobster car, heating oil being transported in a Downeast Energy car, etc., etc.

Perhaps the best display was produced by Model Rail Scenes, apparently a branch or project of the Central Maine Railroad Club. Wonderful buildings for the train that was running to glide past -- a milk stop, with tiny old-fashioned metal milk containers waiting on the platform, farm buildings, a general store with outhouse. I came away with their card, which directed me to their web site (www., which showed me that all these items can be purchased as kits, with prices ranging from $60 for the milk stop, to $200 for a switch tower, to $325 for the barn/silo/shed. Just imagine what it must cost to outfit a complete countryside for your train to roll through!

However, despite these few displays, what the show mainly consisted of was people selling train cars -- never saw so many little train cars in one place, most lying on their sides in little boxes -- and the tiny, adorable, in some cases exquisite furnishings, and dolls, that go in doll houses. I don't have a doll house, or a child with a doll house, so obviously I wasn't going to be buying any of the doll furniture -- especially with prices like $59 for a miniature table-with-two-chairs, or $54 for a tiny rocking chair (think how much it would cost to fully furnish a doll house at those prices! These are not inexpensive hobbies.) -- and while I would love to be able to buy a whole train, with a track for it to run on, and cunning little buildings to go with it, such a purchase would not only fall into the luxury category, in which I may not, as a rule, indulge; but also, where on earth would I put the thing? Not an inch of available space in my house (which is so small it could almost qualify as a Doll House).

Actually, what I really wished was that I had not only the permission of my Friends organization to make such a purchase, but also some cold hard cash from them, so that I could get a small train with tracks for the library. This is obviously something for which I have no money in my regular budget, but is the sort of thing the Friends have paid for in the past. Two Christmases in a row we had the loan of a cute little train that ran 'round and 'round our Christmas tree, to the enchantment of many a child, and many a non-child. But then the fellow who had lent us the train died, and that was the end of that. In December of 2009 I was thinking of trying to find such a set to buy and donate to the library, as I was a little more flush then than I am most Christmases. However, to my real surprise, I couldn't find a place in the area that sold electric trains! None of the local stores like Target or Wal-Mart carried them, nor did the little independent toy store to be found in one of those shopping centers on Western Ave., not even the much publicized Red Dragon Toys, south of here in the town of Brunswick. Goodness, don't little boys get train sets anymore? So anyway, I gave up that notion for the time being.

But before I left the show today I spent a dollar on a raffle ticket for a complete train layout. Won't know who won until next December, but that would be just in time for Christmas...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Everyone's doing it

I have joined Facebook. Why have I joined Facebook? Mainly -- perhaps even solely -- in order to get a better sense of what's happening with a number of friends/ family members whom I rarely hear from. It seems most of them are on Facebook!

This is not really my kind of thing. Even writing this blog is often difficult for me, trying to walk the thin line between revealing enough about myself and my life to keep it from being boringly impersonal, and revealing an embarrassing too much; between my well-developed sense of privacy, and my desire to communicate my thoughts and feelings about "things."

Besides which Facebook is so much a matter of word bites -- "the family and i just got home from chunky-cheese, the line was out the door the whole time we were there," or (among the teenagers), "Mall tonight?" "What time?" -- whereas I am hard-pressed to limit what I say in these blog postings to just over a page. I have to work at being succinct.

Then there's the fact that, besides the minutiae of people's lives, I am constantly bombarded with political links from my most politically active "Friend" (my much-admired sister-in-law, Karen, whom I discussed at some length in the Oct. 27, 2010 Note )-- which leave me feeling overwhelmed, because many of them concern issues I do feel strongly about, but I simply cannot sign that many petitions (I don't much believe in petitions anyway, but rather in letters from individuals -- and I can't write that many letters to my President and my congressional reps!); with pleas to buy purses or have a purse-buying party, from the daughter of one of my Friends (whom I felt duty-bound to accept as a Friend as well) who sells the things; and with the announcements that so-and-so is now friends with so-and-so.

And I don't understand all the intricacies of the thing. What does the "Like" feature mean? So often people seem to "like" something that doesn't really call for a do-you-like-this-or-not opinion. And since I am getting all these exchanges between my Friends, and their Friends -- whom I don't generally ask to be friends with, since for heaven's sake I don't even know these people -- does that mean all of my exchanges are appearing on not only my Friends' pages (where I don't find them!), but on the pages of my Friends' Friends? It's all quite mad.

And my god, was ever an expression more overused than 'lol'?

Nonetheless, this very public "bulletin board" is doing exactly what I hoped it would do: letting me see what are the day-to-day concerns and activities of those I care about, but have a hard time keeping in touch with. I've already learned much more about my nephew in these few weeks of reading his and his friends endless one-line communiques, than I have ever known before. Didn't know he played the guitar ("I sing, too," he told me), didn't know he "tutted" (tutting being a dance form -- as I learned when I looked it up on the Internet -- in which the emphasis is on sliding the arms and hands in and out of geometric designs, a la King Tut [or to be more precise, like the figures in wall paintings in Egyptian tombs]), didn't know he liked the Beatles (one of the few things we have in common).

Well, so there I am, though I may very well be the weakest link in the chain.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dirty cars, and love

Greetings from the land of filthy cars. I've been wanting to say that ever since I started this blog, and finally remembered to do so when it was appropriate, i.e., in the middle of winter, when everyone's car is, indeed, filthy. Even if it has just snowed, which has served to give your vehicle a little bath, two minutes on the road will take care of that, as the sand put down by the public works people, and the slush produced by traffic rumbling over still-snowy roads, gets thrown up by all that passing traffic. Most people don't bother to wash their cars all winter; there doesn't seem to be a point. So here we are, the land of filthy cars.

And here's a question for you. Why, in sit-coms and romantic comedy films, does the guy always say, when asked by a third party if he loves the girl, something to the effect of "What's not to love? (or maybe "Of course I love her.") She smart, funny, beautiful..." And that's it. Those always seem to be the reasons men trot out for loving the woman in question, even though as a matter of fact real-life men rarely love a woman because she's smart or funny (beautiful, yes). They may admire her brains, and enjoy her humor, but that's not why they love her.

Nobody ever says, "Of course I love her -- or, What's not to love? -- she's sweet, kind, loving, she hasn't got a mean bone in her body, she puts up with me, I can be myself when I'm with her, she's great in bed..." In other words, nobody ever gives any of the real reasons men love women.

This shows an appalling lack of imagination or insight, or else just plain laziness, on the part of a heckuva lot of writers. Even if you want to be succinct, because the whole show has to be squeezed into 24 minutes, even if you don't want to come on too heavy, because the show is a comedy, you should be able to come up with something besides "She's smart, she's funny, she's beautiful." Even "I don't know why I love her; why does anybody love anybody?" is better.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Murder in Grub Street

I am so not au courante. I started writing this posting about a series of mysteries I really like, only to discover, when checking a fact online, that the latest book in the series was published in 2005, with the titles I have read and was going to write about having come out much earlier. Ah, well. Maybe there's someone out there who's even more behind the times than I.

The books are in the Sir John Fielding Mystery series, by Bruce Alexander, and the one I just finished reading, Blind Justice, was actually the first novel in the series, though I'm reading it after having read two later ones. Like most people, I hate it when that happens; but I stumbled on the later books in my library -- Murder in Grub Street and Jack, Knave and Fool -- long before Blind Justice appeared among a bunch of donated books this past week.

Sir John Fielding is a blind magistrate in the London of the mid-1700s. There really was such a person, and he really was the half-brother of the more famous Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones). The books are written from the viewpoint of a young orphan boy who becomes Sir John's assistant, after being falsely accused of thievery, and being brought before Sir John's court. Evidently that was quite a little racket in the bad old days: some innocent being set up by a gang of crooks to appear to have stolen something from one of them, and being dragged off to court, where the accusers may receive a "bounty" for bringing in a criminal. Fortunately for young Jeremy, the blind Sir John sees right through the bad guys' game, and takes a liking to Jeremy.

This is one of the things I like about these books: one learns, in an entertaining way, interesting tidbits about the everyday life of that place and time. Given my interest in history, and in other cultures, past or present, it's easy to see why I would enjoy such books. Indeed, I've written about other mystery series with historical settings that I've liked (see Note of May 1, 2009). In the Sir John books, I've also learned a bit more about the Bow Street Runners. I had a dim recollection of having heard of the BSR, without really knowing what or who they were. In effect, they were London's first profes-sional police department, organized by the Fielding brothers (Henry Fielding was also a magistrate, besides being a successful writer). The court was in Bow Street, and the "runners" were the constables who worked for the magistrate, going out to bring in people the court wanted to see, taking them off to jail when that was necessary. They carried clubs for banging obstinate heads, which became eventually the policeman's night stick.

But for all the fascinating historical detail, what most holds these books together, and gives them their greatest appeal, is the upright Fielding, with an earthy enjoyment of his food and his beer, a proud deter-mination to make his way around without assistance, to the extent possible, and his all too human vanity about his ability to distinguish among voices. He is a man of both compassion and integrity, besides being very smart. He is someone you can admire -- one always want to be able to do that with the hero of a mystery series -- and the fact that the fictional character is taken very much from the real-life character (as I learned when I consulted Wikipedia about him) makes him even more attractive.

I have discovered that there are many more Sir John novels that I have yet to read, which gives me great satisfaction. It's always a pleasure to discover new authors that you like, and to know you will be able to read more of their work.

I'll close this mini-review with the blurb from Newsday that appears on the back of Jack, Knave and Fool: "Historical fiction done this entertainingly is as close to time travel as we're likely to get."