By Lynn Ruth Miller
What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death.
Dave Barry
What has happened to the All-American Man? You know: the tough, hard-hitting, straight-shooting hero, the family breadwinner? He protected his Little Woman, fought the enemy, drank hard liquor and never cried. Remember him?

He was tall with bulging pectoral muscles and a mighty attitude. When he went out into the business world he dressed in a gray flannel suit, a starched white shirt with a proper four-in-hand tie and a clean handkerchief in the lapel pocket. He wore garters to hold up his socks and his shoes were polished every morning. He shaved with a straight-edge and never cut his chin (much).

During the week, he went bowling with his buddies and when the weather was nice, he grabbed his rifle took the dog into the woods and shot things (just like the English). He gutted his kill himself (man’s work) his wife fricasseed it (women’s work) and the taxidermist stuffed what was left and hung it above the fireplace.

If a real man worked outside, he wore heavy trousers, a flannel shirt and boots to keep his feet dry and a cap with ear flaps. When he relaxed he wore a soft collar sport shirt, slacks and loafers. Once a guy reached maturity NO ONE saw his chest or his knees in public. Sometimes when he forgot to turn off the light, his wife got a glimpse of a hairy thigh or a furry nipple, but she was far too worried about the perfume she was wearing and the provocative qualities of the nightie she hoped he would tear to pieces to notice her significant other’s nether parts.

When I was a little girl, I never ever saw my father dressed in anything that exposed any part of his body but his face and hands. He was the man of the house and he covered up the hairy bits. That was The American Way.

These days, I cannot walk out of my house without being accosted by uncut hair, misshapen calves and bulging ankles. (Socks are out.) American men like being a boy. “I am sick to death of looking at men’s hairy shins,” says Glenn Havlan a father who likes being an adult. “I see men pick up their kids from school who look more like children than their children. They think cargo shorts and a baseball cap is cool.”
Columnist, George Will agrees. ”We live in a culture of immaturity where many young men are reluctant to grow up,” he observed. He quotes Gary Cross, a Penn State University historian, who wonders, "Where have all the men gone?" Cross argues that "the culture of the boy-men today is less a life stage than a lifestyle."
Havlan blames TV shows like Everyone Loves Raymond that perpetuate the image of the helpless male and the bitchy wife who clucks her tongue and rolls her eyes at her guy’s infantile behavior. “All those guys think of is golf and their dick,” said Havlan. “Programs like that make the American male think he is exempt from adult concerns.”
Cross blames the huge increase of women in the modern work force. He says men don’t know how they are supposed to act anymore, especially if they are the ones who stay at home and watch the kids. Fathers think they should be their children’s buddies instead of respected authority figures. Indeed, our new cultural imperatives have locked men into a perpetual refuge from adulthood.
Perhaps feminism reduced men to children, but wives and partners are doing their part, too. American women love to mother their guys. We say we are liberated, but we still do the grocery shopping on our way home from the office, vacuum the floor and do the dishes. The truth is that these days, men cannot even dress themselves. The website Style Pilot reports that the wives of two thirds of the men they surveyed select their guy’s clothes and more than half actually help them button up and get zipped. Of course, men are still very good at undressing their gals. Getting yourself back together and hiding the evidence is definitely a girl thing.
What is worse, when men try to do housework, they are so inept that their overworked female partners have to do the job all over again. No wonder we think they are stupid. Author Kay Hymowitz says that these days young men shun former masculine responsibilities and prefer to stay home with their parents. They while away the hours watching TV, dressing like school boys with goatees and expanding their middles on Mother’s apple pie (it is an American thing). “With women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles – fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity – are obsolete, even a little embarrassing,” writes Hymowitz.
Her conclusion? American men just don’t know what they are supposed to be anymore.
And that is why I love Brighton. Everyone there knows exactly what they are supposed to be. The men who hanker after women, open doors for them, pay for their drinks and bed them as often as possible. (Women like that, by the way) The men who prefer men, dress in colorful shirts and stock up on free condoms and pick up guys in gay bars because that’s where they are, and the men who want to be women wear designer gowns and sing Karaoke. Any male who wants to be a boy is sent off to public school where he eventually figures out that the only way to feel human is to get the hell out of there and grow up. No doubt about it. In Brighton, you can tell what’s what and who’s who. In America, it’s a crapshoot.
You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.
Dave Barry (again)


By Lynn Ruth Miller

"There's nothing a Cupcake and Coffee can't solve."
Marie Williams Johnstone

I was in Gatwick Airport sipping a coffee (black) and eyeing a chocolate cupcake dripping with whipped cream and glistening chocolate nuggets peeping out of the frosting like naughty children playing hide and seek. I turned my face away and blushed as if I had seen something obscene. I was sure everyone in that café could see the unbridled lust in my eyes.

I noticed an elderly couple at the table next to me. They were in their mid-eighties, his Zimmer frame resting against a chair, her cane beside it. They were dressed for an outing. He was in a proper suite and tie, starched collar gripping his reddened, wrinkled neck. She wore a lovely flowered hat and a ruffled chiffon shirtwaist that bound her bosom like a trapped puppy. The two of them were tucking into two jumbo cupcakes so large each had to use a knife and fork to convey their treats to their mouths. Hers was a Caramel Macchiato number with Kailua whipped into the frosting, a bold maraschino cherry perched on top and his…Oh My God, my mouth waters at the memory…his was a snickerdoodle cupcake rippling with cinnamon, frosted with a green meringue that looked like an Easter Bonnet Gone Bad.

The two of them shared their colorful fare with great enthusiasm, each tasting the other’s while making approving gustatory noises. As his fork dug into her dripping caramel, he showered crumbs on that conservative tie, while she dropped a generous glob of snickerdoodle into her cleavage. Each slaked his thirst with tall lattes, the whipped cream dripping down the side of the glass.

As I watched the obvious pleasure they were taking in their mid-morning snack, I thought, “This could never happen in San Francisco.” Everyone in my home town is reminded daily of the evil calories can do to the body. If you are over eighty years old, you are a disgusting glutton if you ingest more than 1000 calories a day because you don’t work them off. People of that age are supposed to sit in their rocking chairs and complain about their medical procedures. The mid-morning treat on that kind of diet is a small handful of unsalted almonds chewed slowly and washed down with tap water. No whipped cream, no maraschino cherry and absolutely no Kailua.

Then I remembered my friend David. He weighs a good 400 pounds and has to heave himself into his car by gripping the rail above the door. The seat belt will not go around him. We often dine together and as I nibble my salad (dressing on the side) and stare moodily at my melba toast, he digs into chocolate brandy pie topped with ice cream and fudge sauce. He mops up the crumbs on his plate with a frosted biscuit and he is a happy man. I asked him if eating those heavy desserts worried him and he said. “My dear, I have lived a full and happy life. In my youth, I worried about my figure and my sex appeal. In my middle age I worried about my heart and my income. I am in my dotage now and I have learned that worry kills. “

“So does chocolate brandy pie with ice cream,” I said.

“Indeed,” said my wise friend. “But should I have a heart attack this minute, my face would contort into a painful unpleasant grimace and you would carry that memory with you for the rest of what is left of your life. But while I am enjoying my pie and my biscuit, should the life drain out of me, I will let it go with a joyous smile that will convince you that death is an exquisite pleasure.”

“Then you are doing ME a service by indulging in rich, calorie laden desserts!” I said. “Can you summon the waitress? I would like to return the favor. I think I’ll have that gooey, Nutella cupcake with the walnut topping…and don’t forget the whipped cream.”

"When you look at a cupcake, you've got to smile."
Anne Byrn


Lynn Ruth Miller

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow,
yet we forget that he is someone today.
Stacia Tauscher
American children are parental badges of achievement. Proud parents put bumper stickers on their cars saying MY KID IS AN HONOR STUDENT. This doesn’t say much for the parent does it? In my day, a kid was a goat.
Children in America control their parents. If mother says a harsh word, the child can report her to the police. It seems a bit extreme to me to put mom in jail just to get an extra helping of chocolate cake.
Parents are learning to fight back. If a child gets out of hand, they just open the gun cabinet and let him play.
American children never walk home from school. They take the bus. This explains why 97% of school bus drivers are psychopaths and none of them are paedophiles. They know what children are really like. They prefer prostitutes. At least you get what you pay for.
If the bus driver wants to shut the children up he slams on his brakes. That will toss them all into the aisle. Then he can just toss them out at their stop.
The only catch is that American children are obese. That is why all school bus drivers are into heavy metal. If you can muzzle a 500 pound child, you are assured a peaceful day on the job.
If a bus driver wants to avoid trouble, he should give every child candy laced with Valium …and save some for himself.
Whenever I see a child on a leash, I always wonder if the mother remembered the plastic bag.
I hear there is a campaign in Britain to get the kids away from their computer games to play outdoors. We have solved that in America. We don’t have an outdoors. We just have shopping malls.
Every American parent thinks his child is a potential movie star. I think it is a devious way to get junior out of the house. Put him in the movies and someone else can get him away from the computer.
My friend Billy has a son he is grooming for stand-up comedy. “He is an amazing talent,” he said. “He can only say one word, but his timing is amazing.” He has auditioned the boy for American’s Got Talent and Billy insists his son stole the show. “He bit Peers Morgan,” he said. “And he didn’t get indigestion.”
American children spend approximately 98% of their waking hours in front of a television screen and they think what they awe on that screen is reality. Not long ago, an eight year old grabbed the family gun (everyone who is anyone has one) and shot member of his third grade class. He had a huge smile on his face. He had no idea that bullets kill and he had no concept of what killing really means. After all, the guy that gets shot on TV always reappears the next week, doesn’t he?
Protecting our children from harm has become a universal nightmare. The real victims are the parents who spend 50% of their time chauffeuring their children from one supervised activity to another. I wonder if that is the real meaning of “no child left behind.”
NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND is an educational program in the states that fires teachers if their students don’t meet a national minimum score on a standardized test.
And speaking of the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND program, I think it is time to accept that some people are stupid. For example, the idiots who thought of that idea. For my part, I wouldn’t mind being left behind. It would give me time to actually learn something.

Kids: they dance before they learm
there is anything that isn’t music.
William Stafford
Lynn Ruth Miller

We only seek purity to contaminate it with ourselves.
Autum Worcester

I take a shower every morning and wash my hair. I use a deodorant, rinse my mouth with Listerine after I brush my teeth and then scrub the sink with cleanser. I wipe down the shower with a good tile cleaner, shine the faucet and shower head. I use the toilet brush to clean the bowl each time I use it and add disinfectant to the water. I put on fresh underwear, clean my nails and disinfect the mat before I do my sit–ups. Before I start breakfast, I wipe down the counter with dish soap and a drop of ammonia. I clean the table with vinegar and polish the silver, set the table with a washed place mat and a fresh serviette. I wipe out the glass before I pour my orange juice and make sure my cup and plate have no spots before I slice my muffin with the knife I just sterilized. Before I butter the muffin, I wipe my hands with a disinfectant and wave them in the air to dry so the odor doesn’t spoil my appetite.

Whenever I cook, I pay close attention to the germs that might invade my meal and kill me. If I make a salad I wash each lettuce leaf carefully in a special edible soap, scour the carrots and potatoes with a special brush, wash the peppers and tomatoes and wipe the cutting board with a solution approved by the American Medical Association. The water I drink has been filtered and treated for impurities.

When I am outside, I never pick up anything from the ground. I wear a mask just in case dust blows in my face. When I walk the dogs, I always pick up their droppings in a plastic bag guaranteed to be safe for me to carry in the pocket of my dry cleaned coat.

Before I enter a public restroom, I look up to heaven for protection, open the door with rubber gloved hands and flush the toilet with the tip of my gloved finger, careful not to inhale the plethora of bacteria that pollute the air. I scrub my hands with my own extra strength disinfectant that I carry with me at all times. What with all the filth flying around these days, you never can be too careful.

The American culture never lets us forget that dirt is a sin. Our commercials insist it is imperative that we clean everything we touch. They show us graphic pictures of what happens if we neglect our bodies. Our breath stinks, our armpits are nests of pungent odor, our teeth are fetid bacterial gardens and there is a virus lurking in every dust bunny on our floor. We are warned to be vigilant lest some voracious bug infect our food, our cells or the air we breathe. We are told our mattresses are filled with vermin, our shrubbery is a death trap and the dirt under our finger nails carry every fatal disease known to man, not to mention a few new ones that crop up to confound us.

That is the American Way…Or should I say, it was the American Way until now. Jeff Leach in the New York Times says, “Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us.”

Does he mean that that all that cleanliness is making us sick? Is he saying I can just pull a carrot from my garden, grab a head of lettuce and a tomato and eat it? This is a beautiful revelation. My mother said everyone should eat a bushel of dirt before they die. It appears that she was absolutely right…but I have to say, I would prefer mine barbecued in a good sauce with a bit of unprocessed hormone-free meat and a little home brew.

There's something wrong with a mother who washes out a measuring
Cup with soap and water after she's only measured water in it.
Erma Bombeck


I’ve always said that every child has the right to make a good mud pie…but he shouldn’t eat it unless it is topped with whipped cream.

Americans are determined to look good, smell good and make money. It has made manufacturers of deodorants and perfumes rich and made the aroma of pine, rose, gardenia and musk seem a necessity. Coco Chanel warns: “A woman who does not wear perfume has no future.

Lydia Pinkham said: Of course our homes must be spic-and-span. That’s what homes are for. Everyone knows that when woodwork and curtains and porcelain and glass get dingy, home happiness, too, may become less bright. And we can no more get along without fresh towels and sheets, and spotless table linen than we can put up with dirty clothing or unwashed bodies. Nevertheless, now-a-days there is something wrong with ‘a woman’s work is never done. She also invented a spring tonic with 18% alcohol and a good dose of ethanol to pep you up when the housework was done. Smart woman.



“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled.
The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over
And let the Beautiful Stuff out.” -- Ray Bradbury

I walked into the Octopus Lounge not long ago and there, at the door was a very young man carding everyone before he stamped their hands and allowed them into the inner sanctum. I paused in front of him and I smiled. So did he.

I waited for him to ask me for my Driver’s License. I smiled again. He stamped my hand. “Don’t you want to see my ID?” I asked.

He laughed and motioned me through the door. I didn’t move. “I thought you HAD to check everyone’s identification before they can enter a bar,” I said. “Isn’t that the law?”

“OK,” he said. “Show me your driver’s license.”

I handed it to him but he didn’t even glance at it. “Good picture, isn’t it?” I said.

He nodded and I entered the bar, but I was really puzzled. I KNEW he hadn’t really read my birth date because the print was very small and you had to squint to see it: OCT. 11, 1933. How on earth did he know I was over 21? I didn’t feel any different than the other people in that bar. Did I have some mysterious characteristic that told him I was old enough to drink?

Not long after that, I had a blind date with a lovely young man, nine years my junior. We decided to have a meal at a late night college hang-out in Berkeley. We walked in the door and the joint was jumping (as they said back when I frequented joints that jumped). As soon as the two of us entered, the place became silent. The waitress (who was blonde, lithe and six feet tall and towered over both of us ) stooped over and said with an” I’ll bet anything they’re both hard of hearing” expression on her not-yet twenty-year-old face, “Were you looking for someone?”

My date, whose name was Brian and had a very short Irish temper, said, “No. We want to eat dinner.”

She smiled and the shine of her teeth was blinding. “Follow me,” she said taking those giant steps that healthy Viking types take. We sprinted behind her to a table in the middle of the chaos (that had resumed). “I prefer a booth,” gasped Brian. She walked VERY fast.). “And I need to sit next to my lady so I hear what she is saying.”

Our waitress patted his balding head and assumed an “I knew they couldn’t hear, poor old things” expression. “Of course,” she said and ushered us to a booth opposite the Ladies Room in the back hall. “Will this work?” she roared. “Would you like a beer?”

“I’d like tea,” said Brian, “Decaffeinated…and you, darling?”
I smiled up at the waitress and across at my new paramour. “I’ll have what he’s having,” I said. “But I take mine with caffeine.”

At this point, another couple came into the place and the waitress waved them over to a table without leaving our side. “Why didn’t you usher THEM to their seats the way you did us?” I asked.

This time she patted MY head. “Because they can walk,” she said. “I’ll go get your tea.”

I turned to Brian, who was cleaning his glasses and shouted into his good ear. “Was it me or was she being condescending?”

Brian frowned. “WHAT?” he said.

The next day, a very tall, very idealistic Indian student at Stanford invited me to trip the light fantastic (as they used to say when I did not risk a hip to trip it) with him at Roble Gym on an undergraduate dance-party night. I was delighted and I dressed in a full skirt, high heels and a loose blouse (to set up a bit of a breeze when we waltzed.) The two of us entered the auditorium. The music blared. All the dancers moved instantly to the left of the dance floor with high energy and great zeal. Aravind (my sweet cub-let) and I stood isolated on the far right. “Why did they move away to the other corner?” I asked my stand-in for Fred Astaire.

“They’re afraid they’ll step on you,” he said. “Let’s dance.”

And we did. We waltzed, we lindy-ed, we two-stepped we swung, I in my swirling skirt, he in his beautiful, un-calloused bare feet. As we left I distinctly heard one of the other dancers say, “Why did Aravind bring his grandma to the dance? It is awfully late for someone her age to be out, don’t you think? “

Her partner said, “That isn’t his Grandmother, stupid. She is Jewish. It must be his professor.”

“Well,” said the young lady, hiking up her jeans to cover her navel and clucking her gold-ringed tongue. “That’s one way to get an A.”

The next morning I awoke, my head filled with lilting memories of a night well spent and looked in the mirror. I saw a tiny very old lady who looked like my deceased mother after a hard day throwing insults at the cruel, angry world she created. I was shocked. How did SHE get in here? I closed my eyes to erase the image and recalled those wonderful moments moving to the soaring rhythms of Johann Strauss in that lovely boy's arms. The imprint of that soaring melody filled my heart and I could feel the way it propelled my feet across the waxed floor of that magic gymnasium. I opened my eyes overwhelmed with the beauty of that memory. I looked once more in the mirror and this time I saw ME.

“Someone's opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” -- Les Brown
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage
Of opportunity and strength.
Betty Friedan

Every day is a gift. It is an empty glass that I can choose to fill in whatever way I like. Each day that glass contains something that is new like meeting a new friend; a follow- up on something I did yesterday like watering the plants I put in my window box; and something to get me ready for tomorrow like making an appointment to service the car. I did not always have the power to make those selections for myself. That freedom only comes with age.

When I was young, my mother designed my day. She decided what I would eat for breakfast, what I would wear and what would amuse me. She would dress me in a starched Shirley Temple dress with images of the little actress cavorting along the hemline and finish the outfit with white anklets and black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. She scrubbed my face until is had no trace of sleep and combed my hair into long curls she tied back with a ribbon.

She sat me at the breakfast table and gave me the meal she had decided was “good for me.” “You cannot leave this table until you finish everything on your plate,” my mother said. “Wasting food is a crime.”

I can still remember shoving my fork through the cold, slimy eggs I hated and staring at toast that had nothing I cared about on it. Then, there was the milk: I don’t think there was a child in the universe that hated the taste of milk more than I.

Once the breakfast was demolished and my teeth properly brushed, Mother would push me out to the back porch and say “Go play, Lynn Ruth…and don’t get dirty.”

Play? With whom? The boy next door spit at me; Carol May across the street but I was not allowed to leave my side of the block. I didn’t dare make mud pies (I loved that) or dig until I found China because I would get dirty. Besides, I didn’t have a shovel. I didn’t want to play, anyway. I wanted to read.

And so I stood, shifting from one foot to another, waiting until my mother would open the back door and say, ”Lunchtime!!! Did you have fun?”

In my teens, I had a bit more control over my days. Daddy gave me a $5 allowance so I could buy Hershey Bars at the drugstore and chocolate milkshakes at Franklin’s Ice Cream Parlor. I never told my mother why I didn’t have room for her split pea soup or the stew that smelled up the kitchen. I was obedient but I wasn’t stupid.

My mother still decided what clothes were in my closet. She cared not a whit that girls were wearing jeans and baggy shirts for play and strapless dresses for parties. This was the forties. Nice girls covered up.

During that time, my teachers filled at least 50% of my waking hours with classes and homework. If I wanted to get through high school and go to college (this was the only choice I knew) I had to get good grades. I had to study. No drinking, no partying except on weekends and NO television. My parents and all the friends in my circle (selected by my mother) did not even question the value of college. It was what nice girls did after high school so they would find a husband with a good future who would support them for the rest of their lives. Our intention was become wives and mothers just like our own mothers but I knew I wasn’t up to the task. I couldn’t whip up the kind of anger my mother used to keep us in line (her line) and cooking confused me.

I LOVED college. You could wake up when you wanted and no one screamed when you drank too much or kissed a boy from a bad family. But when I graduated, my mother was horrified. “Now what are you going to do. Work?”

I was suitably embarrassed for her. When nice girls got to be my age, they kept house. How could she explain my spinsterhood to her canasta group?

Now that I was out of school, I earned my own money. I could buy that blouse that showed some cleavage and eat chocolate cake for breakfast. I could go to bars and hang out. I could go to an art museum. I could read any book I chose. I decided I wanted to learn to sew and spent years fighting with my aunt’s sewing machine before I realized that sewing was not fun for me. I hated following someone else’s pattern.

Marriage changed the balance for me again. Two of us were spending my money because my husband was a student. Now, I filled my time with what he liked to do. Women were supposed to obey, remember? We played bridge, made friends with his classmates and I became an accomplished hostess. I learned to cook elaborate seven course banquets on a budget. If you came into our front door, I fed you. I had become my mother’s daughter.

Eventually, the husband became an unpleasant memory and I was on my own again. My boss determined at least 8 hours of my day, but I got to decide what to do with the rest. I joined a theater group; I took tap dancing. I studied piano and although I didn’t notice it, I filled each hour with more and more of my own choices and less and less of what others told me I should do.

The years wore on and I adapted to what each moment gave me. I tried to find a balance between my dreams and reality. That is what aging is: a constant adaptation and re-adaptation to the raw materials that are in your life. As you grow older, you sift out the things that don’t really fulfill you and you add the ones you secretly wanted to try but didn’t dare because what would all those other people in your life think. These days, I can sit up all night reading The New Yorker, munching on pecan clusters and ice cream. When I cannot button my slacks, I am the only one to blame. My vocations changed as my interests changed. Once I was a teacher; then I was a reporter; and now I am an entertainer. It is the new fabric of my life.

My friend Ellen married her first love and he gave her a very different kind of life. When she first married, her days were filled with caring for two boys who grew up to marry and have children of their own. She had a dog to walk, a job to help support the family and her church activities to sustain her. As the boys grew older, her responsibilities to her children shifted to her grandchildren. Yet she, too, altered what she wanted and needed to do a tiny bit every day.

I could never be happy the life she has worked so hard to earn. She baby sits her grandchildren now, tends a sickly husband and still walks her dog. She spends every afternoon helping her daughter in law take care of her twins and visits the other son’s children while their mother is at work. Evenings, she cooks family dinners with lots of leftovers to send home with her two sons’ families.

On the other hand, Ellen would be ready for a psychiatric ward if she had to live my routine. I am out every night until one or two in the morning, standing before crowds of young people trying to make them laugh…or at least not fall asleep. I eat dinner at one in the morning and sleep until noon. I drink red wine. I use four letter words. That is my heaven. It would be hell for Ellen.

We all lead unique lives with individual demands and unlimited potential. Now that I am in my seventies, I have freedom I never dreamed I would have. I earned it during all those years someone else controlled what I did and influenced what I thought. It was that discipline that prepared me to take the reins of my life myself and make it work the way I want it to. There are many things I really loved doing when I was younger that do not interest me now. They bore me. When I was ten years old, I devoted hours and hours to learning to ride a two wheeled bike. I am not interested in bicycling these days. I drive.

I am older and my body doesn’t respond the way it once did. I do not remember as easily as I once did, nor am I as strong as I once was. There is a touch of arthritis; the eyes aren’t as sharp….. the bones often ache, the ears miss a few things. These changes have come upon me so gradually I hardly noticed they were happening until one day I realized I couldn’t make out what they were saying in the movies I couldn’t open a plastic bottle. When did that happen?

So it is that each morning I adjust my sights to accommodate what I can do, and what new thing I want to learn. I don’t worry about skipping rope. Instead, I practice lifting five pound weights. I want to open that plastic bottle again. I know that I can do anything I want to do if I am willing to give it the time and energy it needs to make it happen. It isn’t my age that holds me back, nor is it my body. I can re-teach my muscles if I am willing to spend time training them. The only things that limit me are the two challenges we all face: time and money. It takes many years to master cross country skiing or ping pong. I want to do something else with the time I have left. I am going to hula hoop.

Each day is only 24 hours. That is why I am very selective when it comes to filling that gift of time. I don’t want to waste the finite energy I have with negative thoughts or counter productive actions. I am careful NOT to fill the hours with regrets for what I cannot do. Instead, I decide how much I want to learn to bake croissants or make jewelry. Do I want to learn Spanish? Well, then, I will sign up for a course and allow a couple hours each day to go to class and a couple more hours to practice. I won’t be fluent in a day…and I wasn’t fluent in high school even after four years of the language. I didn’t give it enough effort.

Each day we live contributes to the quality of the next day. When your body slows, your memory fades and your face wrinkles, you look to other things to satisfy you, if you are wise. Why waste precious time mourning the loss of firm flesh and flexible knees? When you couldn’t fit into a pair of slacks, you didn’t say “Oh my god, I am too old to ever wear a size 8 again.” You dieted until the slacks buttoned around your middle OR you decided to buy bigger slacks. It was a choice not a sentence.

Now is all you can be sure you have whether you are 20, 50 or 80. You can make it the best time so far or you can continue reinforcing old patterns that don’t work and give you no pleasure. I have no interest in feeding babies or taking line dancing. I want to write a new book or paint a fabulously outrageous picture. How will your fill your time? Only you can decide.

The other day a man asked me what I thought was the best time of life.
"Why," I answered without a thought, "now."
David Grayson

Lynn Ruth Miller

The more I see of men, the better I like dogs
Marie-Jeanne Roland

I am single. I spent a huge portion of my life trying to convince myself that this was not a good thing. I married, divorced, descended into deep depression, married, divorced, became suicidal, shopped the dating circuit as zealously as women today scan Craig’s List and finally gave up. I was convinced my persona made Godzilla look like a hottie. I believed that had I been endowed with visible cleavage and a good bottom I might have attracted men on two legs instead of four.
It was not until my sixties that I began to appreciate the advantages of living solo. My home is MY castle. I make my own mess and decide if and when I want to tidy it. My doss are beloved company, and I keep them on a tight leash. You can’t do that with men. I know. I tried.
I have a loving apparently happy friend, Gloria who is living the very life I thought I wanted. Gloria not only has a very fine rack and soft seat, she has a whole lot more. She has Gorgeous, her Golden Retriever, a spacious house and an inheritance that paid off its mortgage. She tells me her husband, Herb loves her so violently that he swears he will die the day she does. Her amazing sons, Drennon and Chad are intelligent, handsome and help the homeless on a regular basis. They often pop over to visit Mom and treat her to a cheese soufflé with pommes de terre frites and conversation just because she is who she is. They iron their own shirts and shower daily.
Her two daughters-in-law, Winnie and Helga are not good enough for these paragons Gloria birthed, but thank God Helga is smart enough to realize her how lucky she is to have nabbed creative and sexy Chad.
Winnie is too stupid to appreciate what she has.
Still, it is this very daughter-in-law who had provided dear Gloria with a dozen princely examples of human perfection, her grandchildren. Smart Helga is still on the pill…although she swears that when she has the nursery painted, the layette purchased and Chaddie-pie ready to share her with an infant, she will conceive. At this point, poor Chad is working three jobs and grinding his teeth into his gums, because Helga does her shopping at Whole Foods for staples and Dragers for the good stuff. She buys her wardrobe at Nordstrom’s Fashion Boutique and one pair of her shoes cost more than the Hope Diamond. Chad respects her for her independent attitude AND her lovely legs. Herb thinks her legs are excellent, too. Drennon doesn’t care. He has all he can do to service Winnie
Winnie is a slut. She got pregnant before Drennon finished high school because she lost her diaphragm. He was so preoccupied entering Winnie he forgot about taking the SAT (which of course he would have passed with the highest score known to civilized man because as a baby he added six columns of figures in his head while soiling his diaper.) Now he supports his ever-growing progeny by delivering bread for Safeway during the day and tending bar at night because the tips are so good.
I love to meet Gloria for lunch and hear what she and her family have been up to. Actually, she isn’t up to very much these days because Herb will not let her out of the house without him now that he is retired. He allows her ONE hour away for our lunch because on the way home she stops to buy him his favorite brand of cigars and a bottle of Seagrams for his before-dinner nip. He stopped nipping HER years ago when he had that hernia repaired. It is just as well, because dear Gloria is not as feisty as she was when the two of them used to dream about that little home of their own and the two children they would make. “WE knew when to stop,” said Gloria. “You would think that Winnie would have figured it out by now but she is pregnant again and poor Drennon is on mega-doses of Prozac just to cope. Herb is paying his medical bills because delivering bread just doesn’t provide enough bread for a family of fifteen if you know what I mean.”
I knew.
Even though Gloria is living my dream, her life has not always been the bed of roses I thought it would be. She has a compressed disc and a sciatic twitch that makes sleep almost impossible. That’s the price she is paying for her years hauling Drennon, Chad and the groceries up those three flights of stairs to their house overlooking the ocean with cross ventilation which is SO important with a dog like Gorgeous and two healthy boys growing up and doing boy things. Did I agree?
I did.
Now Gloria needs both knees replaced not to mention the tendon in her left hand and the crustaceous growth on her tibia. Thank God, Herb had good health benefits and Aunt Bertha’s inheritance.
When Herb had his arches raised, his liver ventilated and his prostate fixed up because … well that’s what happens to guys when they age, Gloria was barely out of her walker after her emergency hip alignment. She still had to be Herb’s legs while he healed, walk Gorgeous (if you could call her fractured gait walking), cook Herb his three hearty meals, and make sure those grandchildren ate a decent lunch. Winnie can only do one thing and you know what that is.
I knew.
And how was life treating me?
“Very well, I said. “I am lucky that way.”
967 words

Every woman should have four pets in her life.
A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage,
A tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything.
Paris Hilton

The more difficulty we have relating to humans, the more we revere our pets. AND the more we adore Fluffy and Buster, the more we attribute human emotions and reactions to them. I love my dogs, but they are DOGS. I do not think they have opinions and I do not dress them in fancy dresses and cute suits. When my dog licks my face, she isn’t kissing me. She likes my face cream. When she has an “accident” it isn’t an accident. She is relieving herself. She is neither punishing me nor rewarding me. She is doing what dogs do.

I would be willing to guess that not more than 1% of pet owners agree with me. They firmly believe their pet has opinions, preferences and an agenda. Take my friend Adele. She is 78 years old and lives alone with her Yorkie, Sissy. She combs Sissy’s hair every morning and adds a colorful ribbon appropriate to the season to the dog’s top knot so that Sissy will feel good about herself when the two of them venture out for a walk.

Adele is very religious. The only communication she has with anyone other than Sissy is her God. She firmly believes that this God of hers can heal people and punish the nasty pit bulls and boxers that lunge at Sissy when the two of them stroll along the boardwalk. All Adele needs to do is pray and God will spring into action.

Not long ago, Sissy dined on most of Adele’s lunch at a famous French Restaurant. Adele felt a bit bilious after lunch but Sissy did not fare so well. Her overindulgence resulted in a persistent, painful (Adele says) case of diarrhea. Adele immediately cancelled all her appointments for the day (these included a Bible Study Class where no one talks to her, a visit to the grocery store where the clerk is disgustingly rude and three of Adele’s favorite daytime television shows …she loves General Hospital and would never miss Katie Couric and The Talk. She gave up these activities willingly because Sissy needed her and Adele is always there for her dog no matter what.

So, instead of stocking the fridge, learning more about what God wants of her or satisfying her need to observe a world outside her own, Adele got down on her knees (and this was not easy because Adele has terrible arthritis that God has been ignoring for years) with Sissy (her bottom securely encased in a small incontinence pad) and prayed for Sissy’s bowels to solidify.

Sadly, God was preoccupied with other things like a murder in Brazil and a massacre in Greece not to mention finding that lost baby in California and he simply couldn’t take time out of his busy week to deal with Sissy’s indigestion.

When Adele called me, she was frantic. “Sissy has been sick for ten days,” she said. “ I have prayed and prayed and even hired a healer to touch Sissy with her hands (not a pleasant visual, I can tell you) but Sissy is worse than ever.”

Now, I do not like to tamper with anyone’s religious belief and I will never diminish someone’s concern for an ailing living thing. If Adele prefers God to a licensed veterinarian that is fine with me, but common sense told me that Sissy’s problem could be remedied with very little effort on Adele’s part while she waited for God to respond. So it was that I counseled Adele: ”First, boil some rice, add a bit of chicken and feed it to Sissy. Then, pray.”

Adele called me the next day. “I know you won’t believe me!,” she said. ”But God finally answered my prayer. Sissy is romping around like a puppy today. She is cured!!!”

“What a miracle!! “ I said. “Did she eat the rice?”

“She did and she loved it,” said Adele.

All of us organize our lives with the rules we believe give each day a sensible structure. But sometimes, those very rules narrow our lives instead of opening new windows that expand our horizons. When we reach our seventies, our lives have given us new perspectives on what we once believed were our limitations. Some of us break down the barriers we have created and take a chance on something new . Many more of us are afraid to wander into the unknown.

Adele wants to be a singer. She loves music and dreams of performing on a big stage somewhere. That is as far as she has gotten with her vision. She dreams about it. She does not actually sing. I asked her why she didn’t join her church choir and she said. ”They have rehearsals twice a week and perform every Sunday. I can’t leave Sissy that long.”

Adele has always wanted to travel. She sees herself on the Italian Riviera in a tiny little bikini strolling along the beach and raising eyebrows and a few other things. She has plenty of money for a ticket to this paradise of pasta and permissiveness, but she cannot bring herself to make the reservation. “How can I leave Sissy for that long? “ she said. “I could never put her in a kennel. She might get a cough.”

She didn’t mention that bikinis tend to sag in the wrong places and are too skimpy to cover the essentials these days. She also didn’t mention that if anyone she doesn’t know calls her, she hangs up immediately. “It’s one of those crank calls,” she says. “I can always feel it.“ In her dream, she sees herself going out with a tall, ageless Italian lothario and…well, if it happens, it happens…but that is only in her dream. She knows that the footnote to her sybaritic vision is: I am afraid of strangers, even Italian ones. And so she tells me of her wonderful travel ideas and shakes her head as she explains that she would leave in a minute if it weren’t that Sissy needs her.

Adele has lost the world and the world has lost Adele. Think of the wonderful music she could contribute to her church; think of the children Adele could tutor and help master reading. She was, after all, a school teacher in her other unretired life. Think of the events she could see if she ventured away from her living room one evening. Think of the new horizons she would discover. The real tragedy is that Adele doesn’t think of these exciting things at all. She only thinks of Sissy. Her dog is more human to her than human beings. Sissy is a person to Adele, a person she can control, one that doesn’t frighten her and one that stays with her in a tiny little comfort zone all their own.

Sadly, there are millions of Adele’s in this world of ours. She has never figured out that the older we are the less we need to limit ourselves or use our animals as an excuse to keep living the same day over and over again. The good news is that every day, there is another person who figures out that Fido is a dog and that the real action is with the people in his world. And I think that is a very good thing.

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
Ann Landers
You have the power to heal your life, and you need to know that. ….
Louise Hay
“History is full of examples of people having their bodies controlled just through the power of the mind, the power of belief,” says Darren Bridger in his article “How Much Can Your Mind Control Your Body?” It is hard for most of us to accept that we have the ability to keep ourselves healthy and happy simply by believing in our well-being. We read countless examples of people who have cured their cancers, eliminated back pain and reversed depression by deciding they wanted to be healthy. Yet, few of us accept that we, too can control our mood, our health and the quality of our lives. We say instead, “Well maybe they can do it, but I can’t.”
And that is the challenge: Believing we can fix our problems is the most important component in creating the good life. Our brains are part of our bodies, after all. Everyone knows that if you imagine eating something delicious, your mouth will water. We all have read about people whose health improves when they take a placebo instead of the drug they believe will cure them, but, surprisingly enough, experiments show that even when the person knows they are taking a sugar pill, it can cure them if they think it can. Studies have shown that a placebo can create the same chemical effect in your body as the real drug. Ín other words, merely believing you are receiving some medical help can improve your health. Taking that one step further, believing you are happy makes you happy and believing that your life is good, makes it good.
The other side of the coin is true as well. You can make yourself sick by believing you are ill. My mother was sure she would get cancer. Every few months, she would call me and say,” I have a lump.” As I drove her to the doctor, she would discuss what she planned to leave me in her will and when the results of the biopsy were negative, she was certain the doctor made a mistake. Finally, after several repetitions of this routine, she convinced a doctor to open her up and look for this mythical cancer she was sure she detected. When he could find nothing, he put an implant in her arm “just in case there really was something there.” My mother got cancer from that implant.
“Researchers are just starting to appreciate the power that the mind can have over the body,” says Tor Wager, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University. Positive thinking actually works if we believe in it and taking that one step further, we can eliminate pain simply by believing it does not exist. A friend of mind never uses pain killers when she has a root canal. She tells herself it won’t hurt and it does not. People can do this with migraine headaches, back pain and even with childbirth…all they need to do is firmly believe that the pain others have told them about will not happen to them.
How much of our dissatisfactions are caused what we believe about them. Are we lousy dancers because we have bad co-ordination or because we think we will not be able to master the steps? Are the elderly unable to do vigorous exercise because they are old or because they think they cannot? We all have friends who are selectively deaf…is this deliberate? Can they really hear if they want to? Are you a lousy cook because you think you are? Even more interesting, are you beautiful because you believe you are?
When I was in high school, I dated a 15 year old boy who was the strangest specimen of male I had ever seen. He was about 5’5” tall, shaped like a teardrop with very big feet. To add to his unsettling appearance, he was balding (at 15!) and he had an extremely large forehead, very full lips and a pot belly. When I first set eyes on him, I thought he had escaped from the zoo.
We went out several times and I had more fun than I believed possible. We laughed and told jokes. We appreciated the same kinds of music and loved to party. He had a wonderful personality and delightful wit. I will never forget my excitement the evening, several months after we started going out, when I saw him walk up to my front door. I thought my heart would burst with anticipation of our evening together and the sweet kisses afterward. He was that gorgeous to me.
Think about the life you are living, the job you have and your circle of friends. Are they satisfying to you because you think they are or because of some external qualities that are absolute? If you are unhappy, can you turn your attitude around by wanting it to change? How much power do you really want to have over your life? Isn’t it easier to blame someone else when things don’t go the way you would like? What keeps us from molding our lives into constructive patterns that give us pleasure? Susan Bishop specializes in helping people use their minds to improve their lives through hypnotherapy. “I continue to be amazed by how much people can accomplish when they're given the right tools,” she says.
What we think, we become.

Do not fear death so much but rather the inadequate life.
Bertolt Brecht
Death is as much a part of life as getting up in the morning or going to sleep. It is the end of an amazing cycle we began at birth. If we deny our death, we are running away from life itself. The exciting thing about understanding that death is our inevitable future is that we can then prepare for it and greet it with open arms when our time has come.

We all are on a journey to become ourselves. That is what life is about. Doesn’t it make sense then to fill the moments we have with challenges that excite us? Every morning, we wake up to a new day and another chance to move closer to achieving our dreams. The older we are, the more control we have over how we live our lives. When I was a child, I woke up knowing I had to go to school and let someone else orchestrate the ways I would spend my time. The only hours I owned were during my nap or at night when I could confide secrets to my Teddy Bear.

In my twenties, I awoke thinking, “How will I ever finish all the tasks my boss, my husband and the world have given me?” I spent my days figuring out the proper dress to wear, the right car to drive and the best place to buy groceries. In those years, I was trying to build the kind of person the rules defined for me. That is how we live in our twenties and thirties. We are told the “right“ thing to do and what we should become. We are still in the college of life.

BUT in that wonderful third part of our lives, we have graduated. We alone can decide how to use our time to the best advantage so that we leave no loose ends or unrealized hopes when we leave the earth.

Think of it!!! You walk into an ice cream parlor and your first thought is, “I better not have that ice cream sundae because it will make me fat.”

And then you realize that you are what you are. Fat or thin has nothing to do with this lovely opportunity you have NOW to indulge your sweet tooth and savor hot fudge, cool, milky vanilla ice cream and the tang of salty peanuts. You have given yourself the moment you want. And why not? Had you said to yourself, “I will not eat anything the rest of the day and return tomorrow for that sundae, you would have been burdened with an incomplete action that could very well never happen. All we know we have is now. If you are going to be ready to exit your life, doesn’t it make sense to make that now a gorgeous, interesting and memorable experience?

IF we are preparing for death every day, then it is our job to leave no unfinished business at nightfall. Suppose you and your partner have just had a fight. He didn’t do the dishes and you had a busy day going to meetings and shopping for his office supplies. He was grappling with his arthritis all day and could not bear standing at the sink scrubbing pots. He didn’t want to disturb you by complaining so he did the best he could and hoped you wouldn’t notice.

But you did.

If we are going to be ready for our ending, we need to talk out those differences before we go to bed. We need to have the courage to voice our anger and the wisdom to listen to the other person’s reaction. We need to keep the lines of communication open so that at the end of our day, we have cleared the decks for the next day’s events.

So much of our actions are governed by fear and that very fear will leave us with an unfinished life. If we are wise, we will face our doubts and look at them under the cold clear light of logic. We can say to ourselves, this is MY life and it is important to me. If I want to climb a mountain or learn to ski before I die, now is the time to get it done.

My friend Andrea was hit by a car the day she graduated from college. Her leg had to be amputated and she thought her dreams of becoming a lawyer were over. She resisted her therapies and never left her hospital bed. She was twenty one years old and waiting to die. She refused to eat and she slept most of the day. One day, her nurse asked her what kind of food she missed most. “I’m not hungry anymore,” she said.

“But if you could choose anything in the world to eat, what would it be?” asked the nurse.

Andrea’s eyes filled with tears. ”I miss my mama’s fried chicken,” she said and turned her face into the pillow so the nurse would leave her alone.

The next evening, the nurse brought her a plate of fried chicken with creamy mashed potatoes coved with white gravy and hot, buttered corn on the cob. Andrea sat up in bed and her face glowed. ”That smells so good!” she said and for the first time in weeks she ate everything on that plate…even the apple pie a la mode that nurse had brought her for dessert.

Andrea smiled at the nurse. “Thank you,” she said. “That was so delicious; I forgot I’m a cripple.”

The nurse took her hand and said, “Andrea, being a cripple did not keep you from enjoying that meal, did it? Of course not. And it need not prevent you from enjoying your life. All of us have challenges, some bigger than others. But it is overcoming those challenges that make a life. Not having a leg has nothing to do with whether you can become a lawyer. If you have the brains and the fortitude you can do it. That missing leg isn’t going prevent you from passing the bar. You are the one who will do that. You are the only person who can live your life and you aren’t doing that now. You are just waiting for it to end.”

It was that meal turned the tide for Andrea. It took years of effort, but she learned to walk on a new prosthetic leg, she earned a scholarship to law school, graduated with honors and now she is a lawyer for the inmates on death row. She is showing them that every day they are alive, they are preparing for a satisfying death by giving their every effort to making the life they have a good one. She brings them art supplies and encourages t hem to paint, write and get in touch with who they are. By giving these doomed men and women tools to make their life better, she has readied them for their ending.

What is so frightening about dying, after all? The only thing we know for certain is that the pain we feel will be gone. No one has ever been able to tell us what will happen after we die. Every one has seen people who fight death and leave the world to take care of their unfinished business, the angers they never resolved, the lessons they never bothered to learn. That is not a healthy way to die. The trick is to live each moment, each hour, each day. Fill it with love, excitement and adventure. Listen to the dream you have now and make it happen. You may never get there, but the journey will be well worth your effort. And when your time comes to extinguish the light, you can close your eyes peacefully knowing you lived completely.

I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.
Willa Cather

Choosing to live your life by your own choice
Is the greatest freedom you will ever have
Dr. Shad Helmstetter
One of the things I love about growing older is how many more choices I have in my life than I did when I was younger. I have new freedoms and unexpected opportunities that I never realized were there. Now that I am in my seventies, I know better than to grab the first idea that comes my way and run with it. I have developed the wisdom to select the adventures s that will enrich me the most. I have met so many people who are my age or older who tell me that they are too far gone to try something new and it breaks my heart. It is exactly because you are older and have shed the encumbrances of youth and middle age that you CAN travel new and exciting roads you never had the time to peruse in your earlier years.

My friend Willie was a taxi driver in Edinburgh and he spent his off-seasons in Thailand. He grew to love the people and their culture and understand them on a personal level. Those people became his second family. When he was 65, he had a severe heart attack. While he was recovering, he realized how fragile life can be and how close he came to losing his. He decided that as soon as he was well enough to travel, he would move to Thailand to a remote village he had discovered on his travels and set up a free school for the Siamese to learn English. “The schools they have there now are awful,” he told me. “They don’t really teach the language, and they are so expensive no one can afford them.”

He sold most of his belongings and left Edinburgh filled with excitement for his project. However, when he got to the small village he had chosen to begin his school, he realized that he had so little capital, he could only afford a very small hut. To make matters worse, the building was so poorly constructed that every time it rained, the place flooded.

He refused to be discouraged. He was determined to give the gift of fluent English to the villagers. He rolled up his sleeves and cleaned up the tiny space. He painted it and set out his sign : FREE ENGLISH LESSONS.”

But no one came to his door.

At first, he was discouraged and he wrote me,” Why was I so foolish to try to set up this school when I do not have the money to advertise and no one believes I can teach them properly?”

And this is what I said to him: “Willie, you have done a wonderful thing not just for others but for yourself. You have taken the first step to create a brand new life for yourself in your late sixties. How exciting! It took you years to become a successful taxi cab driver, remember? You had to build your clientele and find the right places to stand to get new customers. You didn’t complain and want to give up because you didn’t fill the cab every day for that first few years, did you? Of course not. You knew that it takes time to learn the game you have chosen to play…and you did it. How can you expect to fill your classroom in a school you just built a few months ago? You have chosen to take a new journey. You are learning how to attract students and teach them in ways that are profitable for them. You aren’t sitting at home worrying about whether you will have another heart attack. You are filling your time building a brand new dream.”

The wonderful thing about living a purposeful life is that your intention becomes reality; but it doesn’t do that overnight. The beauty of creating new life goals in your sixties and seventies and beyond is you have shed the chains that kept you from reaching for a distant star when you were young. You no longer have children to feed and clothe. Your relationships are formed and stable. Your income is established. Nothing you do or say reflects on anyone else. Best of all you are the only one who pays for the decisions you make.

Let me explain with another story: I decided I wanted to do burlesque when I was 73 years old. …not sexy hot burlesque like young women with beautiful bodies do, but comedy burlesque that makes fun of trying to be seductive to strangers. I have always loved The Strip Polka by Johnny Mercer. I started singing it as a finale to my comedy act and one day I discovered a delightful woman who loved to sew. She created a very silly costume for me and I added a robe and a jacket, a feather boa and an outrageous hat and


I became the Stripping Granny.

At first, the novelty of seeing an old lady rip off her clothes and move around the stage while she was singing was enough to captivate my audience, but after a while I realized that I could improve my act if I didn’t sing to recorded music. I thought it would be much more fun if I had a real pianist on stage with me. I did my show at a local talent show and my act followed a woman about my age, doing a solo piano piece. After the show was over I approached her and said, ”Gwen, I wonder if you would like play the piano for me while I sing. We could joke around while do my little dance. Using a CD to accompany me limits the comedy I can add to the song.”

Before she could answer, her grandson said, ”Oh NO!!! I don’t want my grandma being part of a strip tease.”

She blushed and shook her head. “I don’t think I can,” she said. “It would embarrass my grandchildren.”

I learned a lot from that incident. First of all, I realized that all of us have the right to make our own choices and those choices do not depend on anyone else’s sensibilities. That takes a certain kind of courage that only develops as you age. The other thing I realized is that Gwen’s grandson was imagining my doing the kind of burlesque featured on burlesque stages. I was not performing anything of the kind. It would be foolish indeed for a 78 year old woman to don a thong and two pasties and cavort across a stage like a twenty year old. That was not my goal. I wanted to get up on stage and do my very own version of the dance that I felt belonged with a song I love to sing.

And that is just what I do. I am doing my act for my own pleasure…just as Willie will gain much satisfaction from teaching others to speak his language. I am not so self-indulgent that I think I can compete with this generation’s Gypsy Rose Lee. I do not want to do that because this is a false standard of achievement. I made a choice to do burlesque that suits my own abilities and I get better at it every time I do it. The important element in pursuing this choice I made is that I am having a wonderful time while I am getting more comfortable and creative in my performance.

The joy is that I am doing it.

Now you might say ,”Sure I would love to fly a plane, or do hang gliding, scuba diving, drag racing…whatever… but I do not know where to begin. And that is the exciting, wonderful thing about making that seemingly impossible choice. Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. There is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”

That is the challenge of it all. You made a choice, now you need to read up on others who have done what you want to do. You need to talk to people who are doing it. You need to find a mentor who will help you…..not necessarily someone who will cost you money, but a person who understands what you are trying to accomplish and can help you build that foundation that will get you there in your own way. You won’t be the pilot that John Glenn was. You cannot expect to become the actress Elizabeth Taylor was. You will be you, developing talents you never thought you had. You will be on an unexpected journey filled with surprises that will help you formulate the path and every step will give you more satisfaction. And the more satisfaction you have, the richer your life has become. Everything you have done in all the years before now, has prepared you for what you are doing today. Only you can make that choice and reach for that star. The only thing that can hold you back is you.

The beauty of exploring new careers and setting fresh goals when you are older is that you not only choose what you would love to accomplish, but only you can decide if you are successful at it. When you decide to learn a skill most people begin at fifteen or twenty, you will not match them in achievement and you should not want to do that. You will create your own unique standard for someone your age. I am going to learn the Can-Can. I know I can do it. I will have the frilly skirts, the high heels and mesh stockings. I will rotate my knees and swing my ankles and I will kick …but I will never achieve the speed and grace of a twenty year old. I will be doing a wonderful dance in my own 78 year old way. I have no doubt that I will amaze my audience; but no matter how graceful and adept I become at this new skill, I would never be so foolish as to apply for a job with the Rockettes or at the Folies Bergère. My goal is to get into the Senior Follies in Palm Springs, California. That is my intention; that is my dream. And when I get there…and get there I will…THAT is success!!!

Life is the sum of all your choices.
Albert Camus

There's lots of people in this world who spend so much time
Watching their health that they haven't the time to enjoy it.
Josh Billings

My friend Mary married a man twice her age when she was 35. The couple met in Madrid and who wouldn’t have been captivated by the way Bob lavished her with clothes and gifts, took her to fine restaurants and insisted on booking at least two cruises to exotic lands each year. When Bob proposed, Mary glimpsed a glorious future…not just during her marriage but one day… one gilt edged day….when Bob was six feet under and she could ascend to an opulent cloud nine. She married her lover within the month and told her friends, “It was love at first sight.” No one dared to question her.

Mary’s parents were delighted with their daughter’s new prospects despite the fact that Bob was their senior by almost twenty years. After all, Bob had a huge bank account, very valuable properties and even though his arthritis seemed to hamper them when they went dancing, he seemed to have a lot of life left in him. His parents of course neither approved nor disapproved of the match. They were dead.

The two moved to California and almost immediately Mary became a caregiver. Once Bob gave up responsibility for his own well being, his heart started to act up, diabetes kicked in and renal failure loomed on his horizon. Poor Mary spent the next twenty three years keeping Bob alive. Mary and Bob explored natural medicine supplemented by conventional cures and holistic methods. The two lavished themselves with the most luxurious, opulent cures and retreats money could buy. And why not? Bob was a wealthy man. Indeed, the cost of keeping Bob breathing and functioning became all consuming. Forget about those cruises and theater. Forget society parties and hobnobbing with the upper crust. If they manage to go to a play, Mary would have to wheel Bob into the theater, haul him onto a seat, drag him to the men’s room and wipe his chin when he drank with no time at all for the champagne he had promised her at intermission. The stress of seeing her inheritance dissolve into pills and medications, prostheses and exotic therapies for her husband was so terrifying that Mary began to suffer from nightmares, nausea, hot flashes, and unexplained muscular spasms.

As the years progressed, Mary’s vision of wedded bliss was whittled down to the reality of waking Bob each morning and this was not easy: Bob was a deep sleeper and often seemed almost dead at dawn. Mary had to do a great deal of massaging, rubbing, patting and vaporizing to get his body moving. (But then, wasn’t that what married couples did for one another?).

Once Bob was out of bed and standing on what was left of his two feet, Mary organized his medications for the day before she took her own pills, tranquillizers and moisturizers and lubricants (just in case). Then she prepared a salt free, fat free tasty breakfast for the two to share in the lovely sunny kitchen Bob built for his child bride (if you can call a thirty-five year old fortune hunter a child bride.) The minute Bob digested his healthy properly balanced, tasty breakfast and eliminated it at the expected time in the expected place (and Mary did the same) our lovebirds were off to an exciting and stimulating afternoon devoted to Bob’s therapies. His blood needed to be drained every month, his system purified, his heart stimulated, his kidneys exhilarated and his temper calmed. While Bob was receiving the care he needed, our Mary was getting HER blood purified, her bowels cleansed, her excess hair waxed and her nails done so she could be beautiful and provocative when she served Bob his nightly tasty, salt-free candlelight dinners.
On weekends, these two would vacation from their ablutions to go to a movie or entertain Bob’s friends from his other life before he discovered Mary and ROMANCE.

And speaking of romance, the ailing man became so decrepit within a month after they married that he didn’t dare make any demands in the bedroom. Not that Mary wouldn’t have loved that but the truth was that he was so frail, the act might kill him. (and that wasn’t such a bad idea either, but Mary wanted to wait till property values were high and the interest rates more secure before she donned black lace and exotic perfume to excite her lover.)

When Bob reached his 90th birthday, Mary was so involved with maintaining his precarious health, rushing him to hospital after hospital and sanatorium after sanatorium not to mention her own health farms, psychological retreats and meditations, that she barely had time to buy a new dress or book a cruise. This was so upsetting to our Mary that she decided to divorce Bob. The minute she threatened what was left of Bob with a separation, he made uncomfortable noises about his will and what where his properties and securities would go if the two were not legally bound. Mary, now frantic with the premonition that she would have to maintain this lifestyle another ten years found herself stuck, unhappily sustaining Bob until he breathed his last.

He did this 4 years ago when Mary was a young (although sadly vibrant no more) 58. NOW she could have that life she thought she would get five years after their marriage. However, that was not to be. After twenty three years of keeping Bob in a semi-conscious state, with every conversation the two had, shouted to make herself heard, Mary’s emotional stability had gone down the drain along with her vision of being a wealthy dowager with young men hanging on her every word in the salons she would hostess each week (in her dreams).

Bob had ruined her life and dashed her hopes and what was worse, she didn’t know what to do with herself now that she wasn’t counting someone’s pills, making doctors appointments, driving to therapies and preparing salt free candlelight dinners to spoon feed to her husband. She was bored, at loose ends and miserable.

At last, the fates solved Mary’s problems: She got Breast Cancer. It was an exhilarating moment for Mary. She called what friends she had (mostly her doctors, therapists, instructors and her Yogi) with tears in her eyes and discussed what she would do to cure herself. She knew she didn’t want to do chemotherapy or radiation. It was too uncomfortable. What she wanted more than anything was to find someone to love her and take care of her the way she took care of her Bob.

So it was, Mary went to Mexico for an unconventional, unproven natural cure that involved a sauna each day, main-lining vitamin C three times a week, daily enemas, massaging the malignant lump, drinking disgusting herbal concoctions and preparing the very same salt free meals but only for herself with no candlelight or shouted conversation. Her appetite has gone. “Sometimes all I can stomach is cabbage and potatoes,” she said, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. Our Mary is determined to be brave. “The trouble is I don’t know what I want to DO with myself, if I get well.”

At the rate she is spending, Mary won’t have many choices to give herself new direction anyway. The cost of her treatments are over $4,000 a week and her inheritance, the one she was going to spend on God knows what (because I assure you Mary does not) is fast disappearing.. Her dreams of selling the house Bob built for her (valued at well over a million dollars) is gone because the market is tight. Her vision of getting someone to love her and be there for her at three in the morning to rub her back and dry her tears doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to reality either, even though Mary has posted on Match .com, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish and E-Harmony. The problem is that no one wants to massage her breast for health reasons and Mary doesn’t want any other kind of massage at this point. She is too tired.

What a waste!!! Bob was a vigorous healthy seventy when he married but the minute he got himself a young bride he gave the reins of his life to his wife and let her make his decisions. Once he lost control of who he was, senility crept in, inevitable as the dawn. His rapid decline was enhanced by his wife’s secret eagerness to accelerate his disabilities in the hopes that her marriage would be brief and reap her the benefits she felt she deserved for being his unpaid caregiver. (Mary did not consider Bob’s considerable wealth and luxurious style of living a salary…after all once married his wealth was hers too, wasn’t it?)

Even worse is Mary’s inability to fashion any kind of independent life for herself. She spent 23 years doing her husband’s bidding and corroding her disposition with anger, guilt and depression. Now she has absolutely no idea what her soul wants her to do. She lost touch with her dreams. The only thing she knows how to do is take care of someone who is sick. Luckily for her, she is sick now and her entire day is taken up with exactly the same activities she did for her husband. Only this time they are for her.

What on earth is she keeping herself alive for?

Do not say she deserves her fate because she was a fortune hunting bitch…we all marry for a variety of reasons that we label love. Do not say that Bob‘s demands ruined her life. We each are the only ones responsible for the quality of own lives. No one else can destroy us or make us happy. We are the only ones who can do that.

In contrast, my friend Ursula lived happily and productively with her husband Hans for 43 years. She was a good wife but an independent woman who wrote books, did garden tours, staged benefits for the needy, traveled alone and with her husband and followed their shared dream. When Hans died, she mourned for a month and then off she went to tour Hawaii, give speeches in Germany and write another book. She had a good married life because she made it fruitful and now she is having a marvelous old age. She isn’t lucky. She is smart.

Would we could all learn for poor Mary. Would we could all profit from Ursula.

In order to change we must be sick and tired
Of being sick and tired.

Lynn Ruth Miller
Burlesque is just vaudeville with tits
Sophie Tucker

It was in 1942 that Johnny Mercer recorded what was to become my favorite song of all time THE STRIP POLKA. I was 9 years old and we were in the midst of a horrific world war. Americans spent a lot of time collecting tin cans and paper, juggling ration stamps for gasoline, sugar, butter and meat and rallying to the cause. Children were expected to make their own entertainment, because parents were too busy surviving or rolling bandages for the Red Cross and entertaining soldiers in their homes.

Our house had a huge backyard and my mother had an extravagant supply of clothes she didn’t like anymore. My cousin Jessica and I loved to put together crazy costumes and create glitzy shows for our neighbors after we did our homework and finished our chores. We thought we were wonderful and our neighbors thought we were a welcome relief from the tension of bombings, battles and not enough sugar or butter to make a decent cake. We would spend hours sitting at the kitchen table making posters to paste on all the trees in the neighborhood. Then, on a Saturday afternoon to my mother’s horror and the other children’s delight, we would sing, dance and serve free Kool-Aide. Jessie’s dog Dell was an immense boxer who drooled all over our improvised stage and our terrier Junior was our one-man band. He barked and danced to the music while everyone clapped and stamped their feet. We sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”; we recited poems, did somersaults and always closed with my favorite finale: THE STRIP POLKA. I never really understood why the lady was taking things off and I never was sure WHAT she was removing, but I loved the jazzy beat. Jessica and I would romp around the improvised stage with Junior barking a rag time rhythm while we ripped off hats, coats, shoes, and hair ribbons and Dell crashed through the audience showering them with his unique brand of enthusiasm. You couldn’t beat it for a fantastic finish.

When I was sixteen years old, my date took me to a burlesque show in Toledo Ohio in an attempt to encourage me to give him what he wasn’t getting. The theater was on Superior Street tucked in between a pawn hop and a greasy spoon. It was dark and narrow and looked as if no one had touched it with a dust rag or a broom in 20 years. We groped our way through the dimly lit lobby, and I was hit in the face with an odor so dense and heavy, I almost fell to the floor. It was a combination of sweat, popcorn, semen and cockroach droppings. “I want to go home,” I told my optimistic date. “It stinks in here.”

“Give it a chance, “ said my lothario. “You will really love this show.”

I wiped off my seat with my head scarf and tried not to touch the arm rest while my date settled down to enjoy a bit of 1950’s burlesque. The music began to play, the lights dimmed and the breathing of the sparse, totally male audience accelerated. The curtains parted and there she was: a 1950 Burlesque Beauty.

Except she wasn’t. Not at all. The woman that appeared on that filthy stage framed in a tattered red velvet curtain was not the glamorous gloriously built vision I had expected. She looked like the before in a weight watcher’s ad or the center fold of a Health Magazine entitled THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU. She gyrated around the stage, the music’s beat slowed to a throbbing pulse of drums and clatter and she removed one shabby article of clothing after another as she moved across the stage more like an elephant on crack than a dancer on a high.

The men in the audience, gasped, sighed and moaned as each article of clothing fell to the floor and when the song ended, our tarnished queen stood before me, a living example of why my anorexia made sense. “Let’s get out of here,” I said to my date. “Zip up your pants.”

Tempest Storm said, “ I've always said that a woman's greatest weapon is a man's imagination” but that was West Coast Burlesque. In the Midwest you needed more than an imagination. You needed to be drunk, desperate and horny. That sums up
1950’s burlesque in the boondocks. Even in San Francisco, women like Blaze Star and Tempest Storm might have better figures than that demented woman I saw. Indeed they spent a bit more on their costumes, but the theme was the same: a lot of wiggling and bright smiles while women who looked lousy in a Chanel suit did the very thing I did every night before retiring: they took off their clothes. Of course, I didn’t caress myself to music. I let my dates to that.

That experience cemented my vision of what Burlesque actually was and it did not tempt me in the least. I preferred a good opera or a stage play that made me cry. I certainly never associated what I saw in that filthy theater with THE STRIP POLKA, a happy, adorable romp with cute words that didn’t make a lot of sense but always pepped up a party.

As I got older and life took me on different journeys, I always remembered that catchy song. Whenever there was an entertainment or a community-sing, I would perform it because I knew all the words and it had an infectious sound. I sang it at sorority shows, family dinners and even at funerals. I thought it would cheer everyone up. I never thought of myself as an entertainer…my Master’s Degree was in education. And besides it took a couple Brandy Alexanders or a Gin and Tonic to get me to make a fool of myself in front of people who, once they heard me, might never again be my friends.

Before I knew it, it was 2000. My life had changed. I no longer taught. I wrote books and stories and read them aloud at book stores. However, one performance led to another and everyone knows that once you give a Jewish ham a microphone, it is going to go downhill very fast.

And indeed it did.

By 2004 I found myself on stage telling jokes and wondering what I could do at the age of 71 to get people to notice me. After one of my comedy shows at Winters Bar in Pacifica, a few of us were getting drunk trying to forget how small our audience was and how little they laughed when a young man named Ian said to me, “Have you ever thought of adding music to your act?” and I remembered ….you guessed it…THE STRIP POLKA. “You know,” I said. “I have a song…………………….

And that is how it all began. One song expanded to a parody and that bloomed into a full scale cabaret show. At every show, I did my shtick, sang my songs and then for the finale, I did the one number I knew could never fail; THE STRIP POLKA.” I was 40 Mason Street in San Francisco, when Susan Alexander saw me and said, “Here comes the Stripping Granny.”

Another performer said, “Have you ever thought of Burlesque?”

I closed my eyes and remembered that disgusting theatre in Toledo, Ohio and shook my head. “I try not to,” I said.

And he said, “You know, the scene is very different these days. It is funny and entertaining and sexy in a very different way than it once was in the days of Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand.”

“I’ll bet it is,” I said.

That was when I met Maxwell Wood. “I know some people who would LOVE your act,” he said.

And you know the rest.

Burlesque is about…. knowing how to
Shake what you have and being proud of it.
Baby Doe

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