Friday, January 29, 2016

The Old Poop

The weather here in Florida this month has been weird. Generally, January highs reach the low eighties and there's maybe one day of rain the whole month. This January we’ve been lucky to see highs in the low sixties. And it has rained. And rained. Then rained some more. On days there’s no rain, the sun refuses to shine. Today was another of those chilly, gray days. So this afternoon I plopped down on the sofa and watched a classic movie, "On Golden Pond," on Netflix, starring Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn as an elderly couple returning to their New Hampshire lake house for the summer.

I first saw “Pond” in 1982 in a movie theater in Hawaii, where my wife and I were vacationing. We were 30 and had just found out she was pregnant with what turned out to be our oldest son. We were living in New York back then, on East 49th, directly across the street from Ms. Hepburn, whom we saw often. Not that we were on speaking terms but it was impossible not to notice the world’s most famous actress sweeping the sidewalk in front of her brownstone, as she did every morning.

Fonda plays a retired professor, Norman Thayer, who is becoming crotchety, forgetful and suffers heart palpitations. Hepburn, who plays Ethel, his wife, was in the full throes of the Parkinson’s Disease that eventually killed her when the film was made. Her voice quivers, her body shakes.

At the end of the movie, as the Thayers are preparing to return home, Norman suffers a heart attack. Ethel rushes to his side and, in one of the better acting jobs in screen history, tells him how much he means to her while frantically calling the operator for help. (The operator. Remember her? It was always a her, wasn’t it?)

It’s one thing to watch that movie when you’re 30 and your best years are ahead of you. I remember appreciating the acting, writing, cinematography and scenery. But it would have been impossible for my 30-year-old self or for any 30-year-old to truly understand where the Thayers were coming from and what they were facing.

It is something else to watch it when you’re 64, retired, and get interrupted twice during the movie by calls from two medical offices setting up appointments and from the pharmacy telling you your prescriptions are ready for pick-up.

Somewhere between the first time I saw "Pond" and the second, I attained the perfect age but wasn’t smart enough to recognize it. And if I had been, what would I have done with that information?

Beats me.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Popping zits in Mexico

This is one of 213 vintage travel posters
from the collection we have amassed over the last 40 years.
 Once you read the explanation at the end of this post, you'll
understand why I couldn't resist using it as the visual.
My wife and I are in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, celebrating our 40th anniversary. We are pretty much spending our time admiring the breathtaking view of the Sea of Cortez from our hotel balcony and reading by a different pool each day.

It is ridiculous considering we live in a Florida development that has its own private beach on the Gulf of Mexico and where the nearest pool is located 10 feet outside our bedroom door. But the last time I went to our beach was in April, and the last time our pool was used was by Bonnie, our ancient dachshund who lost her balance and fell in as she was drinking from it and had to be fished out. Perhaps if we had happy hour with half-priced drinks from 3 to 5 every afternoon we’d use it more often but, probably not. I’m only into pools I don’t have pay someone to maintain.

Last time we were at this hotel, in 2007, we signed up for massages in the hotel's swanky spa that set us back $300 (not including tips). This time, I’m a savvier traveler.

And so yesterday we drove into town to visit a spa that advertises hour-and-a-half massages for $50. My wife was skeptical but I pointed out that Trip Advisor readers rave about the place and that, for the same money we spent nearly ten years ago, we could have three massages each during our vacation. When we arrived for the first of our scheduled treatments, a Swedish massage and deep cleansing facial for her, and a deep tissue massage for me, the receptionist suggested, “Senor, why don’t you get a facial, too?”

“C’mon, do it, you’re just going to have to wait for me otherwise,” my wife urged. I said sure. Heck, it cost all of $40. Why not?

We were installed side by side in a couples treatment room for the massages. After those were finished, we were flipped over for our facials. I was under the impression a facial would consist of a steaming hot towel and cucumber slices over the eyes, after which mud or some other gunk would be applied that would leave my face with a youthful albeit temporary glow. I was wrong.

The girl started by applying a series of odd-smelling lotions, used a steamer to open the pores, then spent the rest of the hour popping zits I wasn't aware I had. I am very aware I happen to have a monster one on my nose at the moment, a zit that appears with predictable regularity, sort of like Haley’s Comet but bigger. She didn’t even go near that one. If it had erupted it would have put her eye out. It doesn’t seem fair to have gray hair and zits. One should have one or the other but not both at the same time. But I digress.

We hadn’t had breakfast when our treatments started at 11 a.m. By the time we finished at 1:30 p.m. I was famished. I had noticed a McDonald’s as we drove through the town and spent the last hour of my treatment fantasizing about a QP w/ Cheese but I was too embarrassed to suggest that. One has to have at least some class. It’s cheesy enough to take one’s bride to a discount spa. I wasn’t about to suggest lunch at Mickey D's. I had promised her a nice lunch by the marina.

In the parking lot my wife announced that she, too, was starving and said we ought to drive to McDonald’s and go through the drive-through window. “I was thinking the same thing,” I said, laughing.

So we did. Our Cuartos de Libra con Queso were delicious and we ate them in the car, arriving back at the hotel just in time for Happy Hour.  

After all these years we still disagree about many things -- politics for instance -- but when it comes to what's truly important, we think alike and always have.

It's kinda nice.

About the poster: On February 20, 1943, a Mexican farmer and his wife witnessed the birth of what became Volcan Paricutin, a natural phenomenon some consider one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It began as a fissure in a cornfield from which ash and stone erupted. A week later there was a pile five stories high … within a year two nearby villages had been buried in ash and lava … and nine years later, when the eruption ended, there was a mountain more than 1,300 feet high that attracted fascinated tourists from all over the world to see it. The Mexican government, obviously, loved all the dollars those tourists, (most of them American) brought with them and milked Paricutin for all it was worth. This poster, created for display by U.S. travel agents, notes that Volcan Paricutin was “born February, 1943” and was printed in Mexico by the Association Mexicana de Turismo.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

No surprise here: Mizzou enrollment drops

As Gomer Pyle would say, "Surprise surprise."

Fewer students are applying to my alma mater, the University of Missouri Columbia, as a result of actions by a group of student protesters, the football team, and administration and faculty members involved in a series of race-related incidents this past fall. 

To recap: In September, the university’s African-American student body president posted on Facebook that people in a pick-up truck yelled a racial slur at him. In October, an inebriated white student disrupted a group of African-American students, calling themselves Concerned Students 1950, as they were preparing for homecoming, prompting the university’s chancellor to order mandatory diversity training for students and faculty members. Shortly thereafter Concerned Students 1950 blocked a car carrying the university’s president as he was riding in the homecoming parade, claiming the administration’s response to racism was inadequate. Later that month a shit swastika was found in a dormitory bathroom stall. An African-American student in his eighth year at the unsafe-for-minorities university went on a hunger strike, demanding the school’s president and chancellor resign.

None of this received much attention outside of Missouri. It wasn’t until early November, when the university’s football team announced it was refusing to play unless the administrators resigned, that the story went national.

The day a group of faculty members announced they, too, were striking, the administrators threw in their towels. As the Concerned Students group was celebrating its victory on campus property, a faculty member, Melissa Click, an advisor at the university’s journalism school, blocked a student journalist from covering the celebration, claiming the students needed a safe space to heal. Click called for “muscle” to remove the reporter, a direct violation of the First Amendment that guarantees press freedom. A video of the confrontation between Ms. Click and the student journalist was posted on youtube, where it was viewed by millions.

The next day, the dean of the journalism school rescinded Ms. Click’s appointment and removed her from the J-school’s website, taking pains to point out she was actually on the faculty of the Department of Communications whose chair responded by issuing a series of PC statements including this gem: "We reiterate our commitment as communication scholars to the transformative power of dialogue; we believe words shape our realities and that engaging multiple perspectives is vital."

Ms. Click, whose current research projects funded in part by Missouri taxpayers include a study about 50 Shades of Grey readers and the impact of social media on fans' relationship with Lady Gaga, remains on the university's payroll and faculty members have petitioned administrators not to dismiss her. The university says it is unable to comment on faculty-related matters. 

In late November, unrelated to the protests but in another affront to the university’s reputation, a professor from Libya was arrested for beating a 14-year-old female relative for failing to wear a hajib to a local high school.

Though it has yet to be reported by the Columbia Missourian or NBC affiliate KOMU-TV, both of which are operated by the formerly-acclaimed J-school, or by the Columbia Tribune, a daily newspaper that doesn’t hesitate to suppress news that reflects unfavorably on the university around which the town's economy and its advertising base is built, Columbia's ABC affiliate last week obtained an internal university memo revealing that applications from:

- High ability students (those with ACT scores of 30 or more) have decreased by 7.7 percent.

- African-Americans and graduate students both have gone down by 19 percent.

- Out-of-state students have decreased by 948 and non-resident deposits have dropped by 25 percent versus two years ago.

Does this mean there will be fewer students at Missouri next fall? Not at all. It simply means the university, in order to maintain enrollment numbers, will need to admit undergrads with lower test scores and graduate students with less impressive credentials. In short, the University is going to be forced to enroll dumber students. One of Concerned Students 1950's demands was for a more diverse university. Ironically, the University of Missouri going forward will be less diverse in terms of the abilities, ethnicity and geographic origins of its students. It remains to be seen how many current students will transfer to other colleges come next fall but I’m wagering a substantial number will be leaving. What student in his or her right mind would want to be seeking a job with a newly-issued diploma from Poop Swastika U?

As the protests were coming to a head, the university had just launched a massive fundraising campaign entitled “Our Time to Lead,” the brainchild of the deposed chancellor. Common sense would have dictated the campaign be placed on hold but no, the rollout continued. I received a mailing the other day inviting me to an event for Florida alumni and have received several other mailings asking for contributions to help the University of Missouri “lead.”

I was tempted to reply,“ No, it’s not your time to lead. It’s your time to shut the fuck up and concentrate on fixing what’s broken” but that would have been a waste of time and/or a stamp and/or bandwidth. There do not seem to be many people left at the University of Missouri with enough sense to understand what I would have been saying.

And, apparently, there will be even fewer of them in the future.