If we can’t believe in Ellen, we can’t believe in anything

Everything I know about all that is good and true in the universe has been shattered. I stared in wide-eyed dismay at the television screen and shriveled back in horror. No, not the State of the Union address, because seriously… you didn’t think I’d exchange an hour of my life to watch garbage spew from the weird, round little mouth of the Toddler in Chief, did you? Come on. You know me better than that.

It happened on my recent trip to Los Angeles, while staying with my sister. After five straight days of celebrating my daughter’s 30th birthday a little too boisterously, by the fifth night, we were all spent, and while one last round of karaoke and Jello shots at the corner karaoke bar sounded enticing, a “chill & TV” night sounded even better.

But which show to watch? My sister and her boyfriend like sports. I’d rather stab knitting needles through my eyeballs. My husband, probably only one eyeball, but still. My daughter would probably rather stab knitting needles through everyone else’s eyeballs than watch sports.

She has a dark side.

But she loves comedy. What a conundrum, that daughter of mine.

My husband would pick anything to do with science, which would make my sister whither and die of boredom. Me, I’d go for MSNBC political porn or maybe my guilty pleasure, my secret little “happy place,” The Voice.

Yes, I love The Voice.

Don’t judge me.

In summary, there is no television show in existence that would please everyone. So, I decided to just take charge and grabbed the remote. The first show listed on the channel guide was Ellen’s Game of Games. Bingo. It has lots of action, like sports. It’s a reality competition like The Voice. It’s comedy, because, come on — Ellen DeGeneres is one of the funniest human beings alive.

Sadly, no science for Joe, but that’s what more wine is for.

Now, I’ve seen “Hollywood Game Night” a couple times, not intentionally but because it just happened to be playing when I turned on the TV and I was feeling too lazy to change the channel. That show was amusing enough, and also hosted by a tall, blond, wickedly talented and super cool lesbian — Jane Lynch — so I’m figuring Ellen’s show is something along those lines.

It’s so not.

So so SO not.

By the time the first competition was over, I wanted to grab a couch cushion, clutch it in front of me and peer out over the top with one eye in sheer dread. This was no happy, cutesy, feel-good game show. It was also not a mere public humiliation for a prize of $100,000, for which some people will apparently do anything — not only to themselves but also their spouses, partners, relatives and friends. Beyond all that zany nonsense, Ellen’s Game of Games was alarmingly dangerous!

And that’s where the cognitive dissonance twisted my brain like a saltwater taffy machine. There was Ellen Degeneres… sweet, adorable Ellen DeGeneres… with her big bright sparkling blue eyes and cuddly voice and dazzling smile… serving as glib ringmaster to a cheering three-ring circus of public sadomasochism.

(Note to Ellen, as well as the contestants… you realize there are private clubs for that, right?)

Exhibit A: the “You Bet Your Wife” competition. Husband is pitted against husband, while their wives dangle face down in harnesses on wires, blindfolded, high above huge vats of whipped cream. The husbands were asked to bet how many questions their wives could answer on a particular topic. If their wives fall short, they literally fall — right into the whipped cream.

Now, you’re thinking, “So what, they got sticky, big deal.” Oh no, my friend — the whipped cream was the least of my concerns. The women were suddenly dropped without warning, and the wires would yank them to a halt just above the whipped cream, like Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible,” then hoisted back up, poised to be dropped again.

Hmmm… Oprah used to give cars to her TV show guests. What does Ellen give them? A neck brace? Set of crutches? Free ride to the emergency room?

(Note to chiropractors and personal injury lawyers… start advertising on the Ellen’s Game of Games show, and pass out business cards at the door. A cornucopia of new clientele awaits you.)

So, the loser of “You Bet Your Wife” ultimately gets completely dropped — SPLAT! — into the whipped cream. No surprise. But the winner? She also gets a Coliseum-style thumbs down from Ellen and abruptly plummets into the whipped cream too.

In another competition (the name escapes me, because I was irreparably traumatized by that point), three people stood on platforms and were asked ridiculously easy rapid-fire questions (apparently there’s an inexhaustible supply of idiots willing to risk great bodily injury and public humiliation if the price is right), and the bottoms of the platforms of those who answered incorrectly suddenly drop out and they fall screaming to who knows where. And the winner? You guessed it. Down she goes.

And there’s Ellen, chipper and charming as a glitter-pooping unicorn, orchestrating the whole thing, clearly entirely unbothered by flaunting her sadistic side, and that’s the most distressing part of this entire freak show. If we can’t believe in Ellen anymore, what can we believe in? Down is up, up is down — what sort of bizarro alternate universe have we landed in? Evil Ellen is as unimaginable as Altruistic Trump. But there it was. Evil. Pure, adorable evil.

You can’t detect it on the surface, but just like my darling daughter, Ellen has a dark side. However, unlike my daughter, based upon the pre-carnage I witnessed, I’m certain Ellen would actually use the knitting needles. And, there’d be plenty of enthusiastically hyperventilating idiots perfectly willing to loan their eyeballs as targets for a chance to win some cash.

Hey, Joe… pass the wine.

 

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My Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas

Because things seem just too stressful to think about for longer than 15 seconds these days, let’s look back instead. Just in time for the holidays, I give you: The Top Ten Things I Miss about Christmas

10) Mandarins in my Christmas stocking. Those just say “lumps of coal” to today’s kids. Back then, mandarins were rather rare, and getting one was a real treat. No, we didn’t have Christmas-colored Snickers mini-bars back then, kids. Or even M&M’s.

“Wow, Gramma, you are soooo old.”

Here, have a mandarin.

9) Ray Conniff Christmas albums. We called them “albums,” and they weren’t for photos. They were vinyl records that hissed and scratched and skipped, and at Christmas time, they played that unmistakable “Conniff sound”: pure cheese. If you don’t know what musical cheese sounds like, you can find Conniff on You Tube. There’s one thing that’s still just as I remember. Truly, wonderfully awful!

8) Candy canes. Show of hands: Who else sucked them down into a point to create a potentially lethal weapon? Yeah, sure, I could still use candy as a weapon if I wanted to, but that’s what keyboards are for.

7) Hand-knitted booties. Every Christmas, my Great Aunt Lily would hand-knit booties for my sister and I. Red with white tops, always the same size, even if we grew. I always thought those booties were so lame and I thought Aunt Lily was kind of lame too because she rarely spoke, and when she did, it was in Italian. In retrospect, I now realize that hand-knitted booties are another way of saying “I love you” in Italian. One positive thing about aging: it shows you what a dick you used to be.

6) Stella D’oro cookies — squares, rounds, flowers, crescent moons. They disappeared several years ago, and were recently reintroduced. They look similar, and taste sorta kinda okay, but they’re not the Stella D’oros of my youth — probably because the originals were loaded with yummy trans fats.

5) Annual Christmas TV specials. Remember when there were no video players, no DVRs? You had to plan to watch a TV special or wait another year for it to roll back around. Time management and patience were survival skills in the ’60s. Waiting and waiting for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to come back around was part of the ritual of the approaching holiday season.

I still love those shows, and I’ll still watch them if they pop up on TV, and do the “Purple Dress Girl dance” to “Linus and Lucy” and reach for a tissue when Claireese sings “There’s Always Tomorrow.” (Side note: WHY was the dolly banished to the Island of Misfit Toys? What was wrong with her? Just one of my childhood unsolved mysteries.) And I can sing right along to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” but this year, I’ll replace “Grinch” with “Trump.”

“You’re a mean one, Mr. Trump

“You really are a heel

“You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. Trump

“You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel!”

Ok, the rhyming sucks, but the exquisite, synchronistic perfection of the lyrics mitigates it. If you’re in an “Oh my GOD, I can’t take three more years of this” slump, go sing the Grinch song to Mr. Trump!

You’re welcome.

4) Lethal Christmas decorations. Remember that good old heavy tinsel we used to throw over our Christmas trees? Full of lead. Just like our toys! And angel hair, that spider-webby film we threw over the tinsel? Spun fiberglass. Wonderful for rubbing right into the eyes. Top that off with a little toxic spray snow, complete with ozone-melting aerosol, and fa la la la la, consider those halls decked!

Almost. The job wasn’t done until Mom handed us a can of

3) Pink glass wax to make stencils on the windows. Nothin’ says Christmas lovin’ like handing the kiddos a can of carcinogens! I still remember what it smells like, and what it felt like to get high before I even knew what high meant. Also, where can I get that stuff? I need to stencil a Trump Grinch on my window.

2) Big, hot, energy-sucking Christmas lights. Just like cookies and decorations, the new energy efficient LED light strings are nice, but not as nice as the originals that would blister your fingers and turn your Christmas tree into a torch if you weren’t careful.

Where’s the sport in a safe Christmas tree?

The old-fashioned ones created a warm Christmas glow, as compared to the new ones, which make a harsh Christmas glare. Then there were bigger versions for stringing on rooftops, and they made halos of colored light in our lovely thick tule fog… so charming compared to all this gaudy stuff on front lawns, from obnoxious, noisy towering blow-up snowmen to those stupid little reindeer with built-in Christmas lights. If you wake up and find your lighted reindeer doing the naughty, well, it’s just my way of saying “Happy Holidays!”

But of all the stuff I remember about Christmas of days gone by, the Number One spot goes to:

1) Lethal toys. The best stuff on Christmas morning was also the stuff most likely to cause great bodily harm: Slinkies — wound coils of sharp metal for slicing the skin… Easy Bake Ovens with a hot lightbulb for quick and easy third-degree burns… Creepy Crawlers — let’s give the kids a scalding hot cooker and tubes of chemicals. Will they get burned or poisoned first? Let’s find out! And everyone’s playground favorite, Klik Klaks — a pair of huge, heavy resin boulders on strings that you flung up and down until they clacked together or broke both bones in your forearms, whichever came first.

No wonder kids today are so soft — there aren’t any deadly toys nowadays to cull the herd.

Anyways, Happy Holidays, everyone.

And keep an eye on those reindeer.

Fire the lawyers — we’re under hashtag law now

Notice to all lawyers and judges: Clear out your desks, gather up your stuff. You’re all fired. Your services are no longer needed. Take your place in history next to trebuchet builders and town criers — your skills are obsolete.

There’s a new legal system in town and it’s called “viral hashtag.” Yes, #MeToo is the new justice system, and was even declared “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine. Personhood. Wow. That’s a pretty lofty accomplishment for a… thing? Idea? This really muddies the waters for those of us who are still grumbling over corporations being deemed “persons.”

And poor laws. They’ve been the foundations of American government for 241 years, and they get no respect, no personhood at all. The Rule of Law… still just Pinocchio.

Before we proceed, let me make it absolutely clear: Sexual harassment is real. Inequality is real. Sexism is real. That’s why the #MeToo movement was so powerful — women have had it with being treated like “less than” objects and sexual toys. I am one thousand percent on board with this. I’ve been a feminist since hashtags just indicated numbers, and not a hair-trigger to re-tweet. But lately, the feminism wagon has veered off the trail and is crashing through the weeds, pulled by a runaway hashtag horse.

The evidence is the unfortunate announcement from Senator Al Franken that he will resign over allegations of sexual misconduct, for which he never had the opportunity to stand in a courtroom in front of a jury and receive either a conviction or an acquittal.

People! This is amongst our most sacred Constitutional rights! The Sixth Amendment separates us from those who would separate us from our heads simply because of, yes — an accusation!

In Franken’s case, the accusations occurred when he was still a comedian (and, of course, comedians never do or say anything raunchy or wacky or marginally socially acceptable). Nevermind that Franken acknowledged that the photo of him “grabbing” a woman’s breasts was inappropriate, apologized profusely and agreed to cooperate completely with an ethics investigation, nevermind that at least one of the accusers was anonymous… Franken was guilty as (un)charged.

Amongst Franken’s incidences of “sexual misconduct” was an attempt to kiss someone.

Whaaaaaaat?

Pump.

The.

Brakes!

Since the beginning of human existence, an attempted kiss has been an acceptable way to show romantic attraction. Now it’s “sexual misconduct”? Franken wasn’t this woman’s boss. He had no power over her. At very worst, he was horny. But, horniness isn’t illegal.

Yet.

Some clarity — and sanity — please! An attempted kiss from your boss is definitely sexual harassment. Some poor cluck with the hots for you, and clumsily attempting to show it, even if you think he’s gross, isn’t. It isn’t even “sexual misconduct,” let alone assault.

Isn’t, isn’t, ISN’T!!!

You know when it is? If you attempt to kiss someone, s/he says no and maybe gags a little in disgust, and you try again. “No” is the clue, guys. “No” means “Stop.” Dogs easily learn what “No” means, guys, and you can too.

That said, we’ve tumbled into Puritanical hell. We’ve become completely sex-phobic. Any expression of sexual attraction is now a condemnable offense, deserving of one’s career and reputation being immediately destroyed. What’s next in these murky “sexual misconduct” waters? There’s no definition — actual, legal, or otherwise — of “sexual misconduct” to distinguish it from “sexual harassment.”

“Sexual harassment” has specific parameters: it occurs in the workplace, particularly when the instigator holds power over the victim’s career or advancement; it is chronic and ongoing (yes, the law clearly separates a single incident of crude behavior from that which occurs repeatedly); and it continues after the victim has made it clear that this attention is unwanted.

However, our current working definition of “sexual misconduct” is “anything a man says or does that makes a woman uncomfortable.” What’s next? Winking? Smiling? Tipping a chin? Looking at a women for longer than three seconds? How are men supposed to express attraction to women these days? By formal legal contract? Pity we fired all the lawyers. Until we draw some lines, we’re stuck with the current “sexual misconduct” definition, which is anything a woman says it is, and the penalty is immediate social and professional excoriation.

Could we give men a tiny break? Unlike women, who hormonally fizzle out mid-life or so, men are hard-wired to be sexually active creatures from puberty to the grave. It’s how the species survives. Even when they aren’t consciously thinking about sex, their biology is quietly monitoring the scene for potential places to plant their seed.

Thankfully, the vast majority of men learn to control those urges, and those who indulge them even when the attraction isn’t mutual end up in the unemployment line or jail, and rightly so. Most men, when their attempt to get close to a woman is met with a firm “Not interested, pal,” will retreat in humiliation and look elsewhere. Don’t feel too sorry for them, however — that’s only about a 15-second time lapse, because they’re hard-wired to keep trying. Their biological clocks tick too, and much faster, for their entire lives.

So, given the curse of male biology, combined with our current society where all women are potential victims and all men potential harassers, abusers or rapists, and every glance, comment or touch sounds the alarm of sexual misconduct or worse, I’ve landed upon a solution: The Reverse Burqa.

Henceforth, when in the presence of women to whom they’re not married, all men shall be required to be covered from head to toe, beginning at puberty. Unlike the traditional female burqa, the male burqa will not have arms, thereby protecting women from any potential groping. In other words, a full-body condom. And, because they’re men, and they’re enclosed in a sheet any time they’re near women, we already know what they’ll be doing under there. Because… they’re men.

This will suffice until we develop “Minority Report” level prescient technology that identifies any sexual thought a man might have before he can act upon it, seizes him and transports him forthwith to the nearest government castration center.

Or, we could just go back to following laws rather than hashtag hysteria.

 

Sexual harassment or just crassitude?

Apparently men can no longer be allowed in the workplace.

Going forward, men will only be allowed as house pets.

I keed, I keed…

Because, come on — men make crummy house pets. They’re big, noisy and messy, and exceedingly difficult to leash-train. They’d do better as livestock — kept outside in a corral until haltered and led by an experienced handler.

Man Saddles!

I totally just copyrighted that, and this column is evidence. It’s in print and dated. Don’t mess with me, because I’ll have at least one lawyer in my nifty little man stable.

Before your righteous indignation gets all in a bunch — exhale: I keed, I keed.

If you’re offended by inappropriate or shocking banter, pal, you’re reading the wrong column. I make no apologies. I am what I am. The chili pepper does not apologize for not tasting like strawberry ice cream.

Chili peppers gotta pepp.

You want sweetness and light, go watch kitten videos on YouTube.

Anyway.

The point here isn’t whether I harbor sexist views about men (OK, I do, but that’s still not the point) — the point is: Can we joke about anything anymore? If everything is so blasted serious, how will we know when something is actually harmful? Have we become haunted by our humorless Puritan ancestors?

When did we become so uptight? So thin-skinned and fragile, so hypersensitive and hypervigilant, that any whiff of sexuality propels us into sexual harassment hysteria, fleeing to the nearest authority to point the finger of damnation? Moreover, when did accusations become convictions? Back in the 1600s, women were convicted and sentenced to death for witchcraft simply because someone else claimed she was a witch. No proof, just accusations. Is it 1692 all over again?

I feel like I’ve tumbled into Bizarro World — down is up, up is down, and nothing makes sense, because be clear: I’m a feminist! I grew up in the shadow of Gloria Steinem and bra-burning and the (still infuriatingly unratified) Equal Rights Amendment. I have my Pink Pussy Hat and I ain’t afraid to use it!

But amid this high-speed montage of sexual harassment, I had a tipping point: Kevin Spacey. I adore him. I’ll watch a movie, even a shitty one, just because he’s in it. So when an allegation emerged from a then-underage person that Spacey hit on him while both were intoxicated at a Hollywood party three decades ago, and just like that, Spacey was bounced off his successful “House of Cards” series on Netflix, I had to pump the brakes.

Wait a minute… what was a minor doing at a drunken Hollywood celebrity party? Where were his parents? Did Spacey even know he was a minor? Hollywood isn’t famed for propriety, let alone with cocktails. Maybe Spacey was behaving like a jerk, but contextually speaking, is this alleged assault really so shocking?

“Alleged.”

What a precious little yester-year word.

Between the social media feeding frenzy and the regular media tossing bucket after bucket of tasty “gotcha” chum into the waters, there’s no such thing as “allegation” anymore. Guilty! Send him to the stocks and tattoo a scarlet SH (Sexual Harasser) on his forehead!

Am I the only one clinging to the winsome notion of due process? Constitutional rights? A fair and speedy trial? Better question: Am I the only one worried about abandoning them?

This is where it gets all Bizarro World-y.

Women have irrefutably been discounted and blamed for their abuse at the hands of men, beginning with Eve herself. When Adam — who bit the apple of his own free will — was confronted by God, Adam declared “she made me do it” without missing a beat. That was good enough for God — The Man said it, so it must be true. Sadly, it’s been this way for women ever since.

Women must be taken seriously when they’re abused, harassed and raped. But there’s a process: allegation, charges, evidence, trial, verdict. That’s the very foundation of our society, and if we abandon it, our country is in danger of utter disintegration.

Take the allegations against Garrison Keillor. An accusation emerged and he was canned on the spot. Garrison Keillor! The icon! Mr. Prairie Home Companion! An oasis of feel-good in an otherwise insane world!

In a follow-up Washington Post story, a befuddled Keillor said he didn’t even know what the allegations were — his employer never even laid them all out — but suspected an incident when he touched a woman’s bare back while trying to console her. She recoiled. He said he was sorry. That wasn’t good enough. Sound the alarms! It’s sexual assault! Especially if I’ll get my moment on E!

Wow. “Touch” equals “assault”? I better stop hugging people before I’m accused of pre-rape. That will be next. “Pre-crimes.” Maybe “Minority Report” was actually pre-reality.

Then there was another gal who came forward, claiming Al Franken groped her. While hugging her for a photo, she claims he grabbed her breast. Stephanie Kemplin, an Army veteran, recounted this story, misty-eyed and through tears of her trauma.

Give me a break.

First off, yes, people’s hands sometimes land on a breast, unintentionally and to everyone’s embarrassment. I’ve had it happen to me. I’ve even done it myself. What can you do but roll your eyes, particularly when the “offender” is horrified.

Second, if someone grabbed my breast, and I knew it was an intentional feel, whatever happened to ramming an elbow into his ribs? Kemplin was in the ARMY. She knew how to defend herself against this and far worse. And this “groping” was enough to traumatize her for 20 years?

Give me two breaks.

Seriously, people, where does it end? This lifelong feminist says enough’s enough. Every juvenile, lunk-headed male comment, every whistle, every pat on the shoulder isn’t sexual harassment. All men aren’t bad. They’re just not. Bad house pets, yes. But not intrinsically bad.

Vilifying half of the population isn’t the answer to equality. Worse yet, this endless torrent of sexual harassment allegations, both egregious and microscopic but given equal weight, makes it harder for truly harassed and abused women to get justice. Their voices are lost in the roar.

We need a litmus test. If your boss says your promotion requires kneepads, that’s harassment. If some random idiot says he’d like to see you on kneepads, that’s not harassment. That’s crassitude.

Yes, that’s a word, and perfect for our current sexual harassment confusion. And oh, what serendipitous joy that “ass” is the core of both “harassment” and “crassitude,” because that’s the best label for men who demean women and treat them like boobs on legs.

Is it harassment or crassitude? Simple: If you give him a middle finger and a well-deserved verbal vivisection, will you get fired? No? It’s crassitude. Did it happen at work? Yes? It’s harassment.

Ladies, the world isn’t our babysitter. It’s not the world’s job to take care not to rattle our tender sensitivities. If you go through life as a victim, all the world’s an assailant. That said, whether crassitude or harassment, we need to confront it, fearlessly. But we need to know the difference. And also… we need to lighten up a little. Puritanism makes your butt look fat.

 

Boob Blog: Are our bras killing us?

Four years ago, I wrote about the horrific breast rash I’d finally pinned to two of my Victoria’s Secret bras. They were the same style and color I’d worn for years, except these two were made in China, whereas the older ones were made in India.

Since then, I’ve written several blog posts on this topic, so many that I’ve nicknamed my blog site the “Boob Blog.” Over the years, women kept coming to me about the same excruciating symptoms I’d had while wearing VS bras. More recently, a couple other brands caused the rash too, which isn’t surprising because the issue isn’t Victoria’s Secret bras, per se, it’s the fabric/materials used in the bra, which aren’t manufactured by Victoria’s Secret — only purchased.

The fabric, as is the case with anything made in China, could contain anything and everything. Harmful? Poisonous? The Chinese don’t care if they’re harmful, and neither do the corporations that sell these cheap products at huge markups. The ka-ching ka-ching ka-ching of corporate profit drowns out the objections of a few itchy, unhappy customers.

The tidal wave of toxic products coming out of China is too huge for our government to track. Only a small percentage of Chinese imports are inspected, unless of course, someone dies. Then the U.S. government is interested. Until someone dies from a breast rash, neither the government nor the company that makes Victoria’s Secret bras — Limited Brands — gives a shit.

While our government may not be aware of the breast rash issue, VS/Limited Brands certainly has been aware since at least 2008, when they were sued for allegedly having formaldehyde in their bras. However, Limited Brands squashed that lawsuit by blaming the plaintiff for her condition. She was defective, not the bras.

I had a chat with VS reps a couple years ago, and they essentially told me the same thing, by offering to guide me “toward a product that will work for you.” That implies that VS knows which bras have chemicals in them if they’re able to guide me away from them.

The reps also suggested that I get an allergy test for formaldehyde, which I did, and lo and behold, I’m not allergic to formaldehyde. But I could still be sensitive to it. Example: Although I’m technically not allergic to perfumes, I’m hypersensitive to them. Too much perfume makse me wheeze and cough, and if you’re one of those gals whose perfume cloud announces your entry 20 feet before you walk through the door… I kind of hate you. Here’s the deal: If I can smell your perfume farther away than I could kiss you, it’s too much. You’re a walking biohazard to someone like me.

So. Maybe it’s not formaldehyde in the bras. But if not… what? It’s something, because women are still getting breast rashes. VS knows it’s something too (for sure since that 2008 lawsuit) — they’re aware of my “Boob Blog” because they contacted me, not vice-versa. They also follow me on Twitter, and it’s not because they think I’m super cool and funny.

They also know about the 2012 Greenpeace International report, “Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-up,” which includes Victoria’s Secret amongst the garment manufacturers discovered to have toxic chemicals in their products. NaturalHealth365.com reported in 2015 that “Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, agreed to give in to mounting pressure by Greenpeace over two years ago and halt the use of the deadly chemicals, but since then, little is known about the mammoth lingerie retailer’s progress to ensure that dangerous toxins are no longer a part of their fashions,” and adds, “At that time, Limited Brands made a commitment to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020. But unlike the media sought by Greenpeace in releasing its investigative report in late 2012, there has been little public acknowledgement from Victoria’s Secret or Limited Brands regarding its decision to do away with the deadly chemicals.”

Word, that. Victoria’s Secret isn’t about to announce a solution to a problem that they deny exists. And, women have contacted me as recently as last week about breast rashes from new VS bras, so there’s apparently no quiet solution in place either. But the problem’s definitely still there.

One gal, who posts on my blog as “MyBoobsArePissedOff,” theorized that formaldehyde isn’t the problem — it’s spray polyurethane, used to glue layers of fabric together in the bras. Is it that? Formaldehyde? Something else? I don’t know what causes the rash, I only know that it’s still happening, based upon reports from women currently suffering. They often ask me what they can do. I tell them all: Stop wearing the bra. If the rash goes away after a couple weeks and comes roaring back when you put the bra back on… mystery solved. The really sad part is that so many of them have been living in terror of having some horrific disease and have been tested for everything under the sun, and all along, it was their bra.

Some ask about suing, but Limited Brands has very deep pockets (thanks to all those bras we’ve purchased over the years) and the cost of fighting them is prohibitive. And, ultimately, I don’t think lawyers are the answer. I think medical research is the answer. I predict that scientific scrutiny will discover more to this fabric chemical issue than mere itchy breasts, and that may finally get the government’s attention.

True, the government isn’t interested in hazardous products until someone dies. But what if women have already died from chemicals in their bras? The bras contain chemicals. Some of us react to those chemicals and take the bras off. Vastly more, however, don’t react to the chemicals, and continue wearing the bras, thereby having daily direct skin contact with known carcinogens over many years. Chemicals can be absorbed through the skin and, obviously, our breasts are covered with skin.

One in eight American women gets breast cancer. Could chemicals in our bras be a factor? Shouldn’t we find out?

Don’t think about the cow… or Trump

It has been more than 20 years since I had a full-on panic attack — airline travel notwithstanding. Of course, flying is a phobia and the anxiety has an obvious immediate reason — HOLY SHIT I’M ABOUT TO GET ON AN AIRPLANE — but a panic attack is a different animal. It comes on for no exact, obvious reason. You can feel it building, and building, and building…. and then there’s a tipping point. And then — it’s on: heart pounding, shortness of breath, a dizzy, whirling feeling in your brain, and difficulty speaking because your mind is absorbed with escape.

I need to FLEE and I need to flee right NOW.

Yesterday evening, I wasn’t in an airport, or thinking about airplanes. It had been a fairly typical day, however, with the country poised to fall into the hands of a sociopathic, narcissistic megalomaniac with the maturity and self-control of an overtired toddler, the definition of “typical” has been thrown out the window. This is the new typical, the new “normal”: Every single day… possibly every single hour… we are going to be bombarded with Donald Trump’s latest outrageous word or action. Every time we think he can’t possibly do something more alarming and terrifying, he does. And it appears that with a Republican Congressional majority, he will have free rein to do whatever his greedy heart desires, because historically, Republicans have never, ever disagreed with a Republican president and have worked vigorously to oppose anything a Democratic president attempts to do. That’s how they roll. Will they roll differently with Trump? Well, that depends. Will their agreement or disagreement have an effect on their chances of re-election? Because that’s all they really care about, the self-serving fucks.

So, this is our set point. Our lives are about to fall into a tiny-minded tyrant’s hands, and I don’t believe the Congressional Republicans will do anything to stop him. Say hello to our next Supreme Court Justice, David Duke.

My worries about the exponential horrors that may transpire under the Trump Administration have my anxiety level at an all-time high set point. I have actually had nightmares about it, and here’s the thing — so have so very many others, because when I raised the topic, responses came flooding in that others are having nightmares too. Something is simmering in our collective unconscious, and it’s not good.

Yesterday, I started the day by writing a #NotMyPresident column, and all these thoughts and fears were swirling in my mind. By the time I was done, I had a mild headache and my heart was beating harder than it should. I attempted to walk it off, because physical activity in the past has calmed my heart when it races. I walked my horse (who is also a very grounding energy) round and round the barn, chatting, breathing deeply, trying to bring my energy level down a notch. It worked. While I was walking the horse. Unfortunately, I can’t walk Pendragon to work and round and round my desk while typing on my keyboard. I’m good, but I’m not that good.

The time had come to put Penn away and get back to the office. As soon as I got in the car, I could feel my tension rising again. I got to the office and decided to distract myself and think about this story I’m working on — mountain lions leaving tracks and killing animals in rural Winters (right next to where my horse lives!). I call one of the ladies who had a run-in with a mountain lion. A calf was killed. Bummer. I suppose nature happens, and I know meat doesn’t come from little styrofoam trays at the market, but still, the efforts of carnivores to stay alive do give me the willies, particularly when as far as a predator is concerned, I am food.

So, the woman begins to tell the tale of what happened: She had a young cow, giving birth her first time, and she wandered too far from the herd. She began giving birth in the middle of the night. She didn’t make it until morning. When the woman found her, the newborn calf had been stripped of every morsel of flesh on its tiny body… nothing left but bones. But the cow… that poor, poor cow… she’d had her body cavity eaten, beginning from the udders.

Eaten alive.

While giving birth.

The gush of empathy for this poor creature enduring such horrendous torture WHILE giving birth was my tipping point. Don’t ask me to make sense of this, because panic attacks don’t make sense. The image of that cow being in the throes of labor while being torn apart by a mountain lion swirled in my head, and swirled and swirled and swirled. My heart started pounding harder and faster, and none of my breathing techniques were working. My thoughts were spinning out of control, but not to anyplace in particular, just spinning in circles with random images of that poor cow.

I went to see my massage therapist, and after a bit, I felt calm. While I was on the table. And maybe for about 30 minutes afterwards. But, while pushing an ordinary shopping cart through an ordinary market buying ordinary things like I do on every other ordinary Friday… the panic attack switch flipped. By the time I got to the checkout line, my mind was almost whirling with incoherence and all I really wanted to do was leave the full cart there and run for my life. To where? I don’t know. As long as it was anywhere but here. Run, run, run until my lungs and legs collapse.

But of course, I couldn’t. I was in a public place, I had to keep it together, function as best as I could, be courteous, get my stuff in the car and go home. I did breathing exercises the whole way. Nothing. I unloaded the groceries and by the time I was done, I was so wound up, it was difficult to carry on a conversation with my husband, and even more so when I tried to explain that I got really upset by what happened to a cow.

It might sound comical to you, a dead cow triggering a panic attack after not having one for about two decades. But if it does — you’ve never had a panic attack. They aren’t pretty or fun, and when nothing else has worked to get control, I finally, reluctantly decided to take a Xanax, which I save for when I have to fly. Xanax is a funny drug. If you take it when you aren’t having anxiety, it might make you a little drowsy, but it doesn’t really do much. But when you are in the midst of full-blown anxiety, you can actually feel your brain begin to calm down to a normal place where you can control your thoughts and speak coherently again, and exhale.

After I’d gotten through this flood of panic, I spent the rest of the evening sitting with my cats and husband, with massage-y ambient music, a vanilla-scented candle and a cup of chamomile/lavender tea. He finally went to bed, and I sat there even longer, and eventually picked up my iPad and played Candy Crush for about two hours. Funny thing about Candy Crush — your right brain takes over and your anxiety-ridden left brain, with all its swirling words and fears, shuts off. It’s like taking a vacation from your own head.

Even so, several times during the night, the image of the cow being eaten alive by the mountain lion popped into my head and woke me up, because Xanax wears off after about five hours. I didn’t want to take more, and so every time the image appeared, I’d command myself, “Don’t think about the cow! Don’t think about the cow!”

And, of course… I still thought about the cow.

I don’t know where this story goes, exactly, which is why it’s a blog and not a column. But what I do know is that my set-point for anxiety is very high right now and upon Inauguration Day, will likely get even higher, and I have to wonder what will trigger then next panic attack. I guess I’d better keep my Xanax prescription filled.

 

A tribute to Debbie Reynolds, because it’s all her fault

You know why there are so many Debbies around my age? Because of Debbie Reynolds. She was one of The Superstars of the ’50s.

My mother couldn’t think of anything to name me (true story), so she gave me the same name as a second cousin I only met once in my life (who, ironically, is the only other family member I know of who is also legally blind without glasses/contacts) – Debra Jean. But I’m sure that cousin, just a bit older than me, was named “Debbie” because of Debbie Reynolds. It’s true. We have that name because of Carrie Fisher’s mom.

I will remember her as a happy, lighthearted, bubbling presence, even though my favorite movie of hers was “Mother.” She was sublime. The world became a little less effervescent yesterday, Dec. 28, 2016…. and what pinching tragedy that she died in a fog of grief and despair over her own daughter’s untimely death. What an inappropriate way for THE happy, bubbly quintessential Debbie to go.

2016 — that was a real dick move.

So, in honor of Debbie Reynolds, the namesake for a generation of little girls in the ’50s and ’60s, I’m dusting off this column I wrote in Oct. 1998, all about Debbies, and about my defection from the Debbie Club and decision to insist on going by “Debra.”

RIP, Debbie Reynolds, and Carrie Fisher two. You were both unsinkable, and shall always be remembered as such.

————–

It’s time to get rid of something that doesn’t fit anymore

It’s an uncomfortable fit, and I can’t squeeze into it anymore. No, not my jeans. My name. Debbie. It’s like being just another pearl on the strand. But I’m more the drop-pearl type. I want the whole dang chain to myself. I don’t like blending in. But when you’re a Debbie, you don’t have a choice.

How common are Debbies? In my fourth grade class, there were five of us. Rather than nurturing our individuality, the teacher solved the problem by numbering us. I was Debbie 3. It felt like one of those mass-produced androids in a science fiction movie.

Adulthood was no better. When I worked for the county, if someone called out “Hey, Debbie” over the sea of cubicles, a choir of responses wafted through the room as half the Debbies in the western hemisphere (all of whom seemed to work for Yolo County) responded in unison.

There were so many of us that one of my harried co-workers commented that she’d like to be a Debbie too. Why, on earth, I asked, would anyone want to be another Debbie?

“Easy,” she replied. “That way, I could be anonymous.”

Anonymity. That pretty much sums up Debbieness.

Blame it on Debbie Reynolds. In the late ’50s, half the mothers in America named their daughters after that cute, perky movie star. Except for my mom. Oh, no. I wasn’t named after Debbie Reynolds. I was named after Mom’s cousin.

Why her cousin? Was she intelligent? Beautiful? Talented? Nope, none those. Mom said she just couldn’t think of anything, and Debbie seemed like a pretty good name, so she picked that one. Creativity was not Mom’s forte.

At least all the other Debbies could brag about being named after a movie star. Me? I was named after someone whose most outstanding feature, as far as I can tell, is a severe case of myopia. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Besides the overall genericness of Debbiedom, the name and I are simply a bad match. When I think “Debbie,” I think blond hair, ponytails and a head that doesn’t cast a shadow in bright sunlight. Nobody takes Debbies seriously. How intimidating can you be when you have a name that ends in that “ie” sound? Debbie, Susie, Tammy, Kimmy. . .it’s one step from being named Buffy or Missy. And that’s what they name poodles.

I always wanted a serious name, one that didn’t have an “ie” nickname attached to it, like Elaine or Diane. I always thought I’d make a good Brenda, particularly since the name means “troublemaker.” Now, there was a handle I could live with. But how to get people to call me that. There was the problem.

I came up with a great rationale. I was almost a Brenda already, since my given name was really Debra. If you take “Debra”, throw in an “n” and toss lightly, you get “Brenda.” Works for me.

I tried this out on my kids, and explained that I was supposed to be named Brenda, but my mother dropped my name on the floor when I was born and the “N” broke. The only name she could spell with the remaining letters was “Debra.”

You’d think they could indulge me. But no. One child just raised an eyebrow. The other sniffed my coffee to see what was in it.

Sure, they’ll believe that a roly-poly man in a furry red suit will float down the chimney and leave them toys once a year, but they won’t buy a simple “Mom dropped my name” tale. This is my thanks for bringing them into this world.

Ungrateful brats.

I give up. If I can’t convince my kids, I’ll never convince anyone else either. I’ll never be a Brenda. But this made me reconsider my given name. I’d never asked people to call me Debra because I’d associated the name with punishment. It was always the preamble to a spanking. When I hear “Debra,” I hear the attached exclamation point, as in “Debra! Get your butt in here!”

Honest, Mom, I didn’t mean to lock my sister in the dog house.

Even so, in the interest of shedding that generic Debbie label, I’ve teased out my irrational childhood associations from my given name, and I’m trying to make the transition to being a Debra. The hard part is getting everyone to cooperate.

You can dye your hair, get a nose job or have your bustline enhanced, and no one will bat an eye. But try and change your name, and people act like you need to have your medication adjusted.

But I’m sticking to it. I keep correcting people, keep reminding them, it’s Debra, not Debbie. Slowly but surely, I’ll have everyone retrained. I may not end up a Brenda, but at least I won’t be a Debbie anymore.

I just hope all those other Debbies don’t get the same idea. There’s only room for one pearl on this chain.

(Originally published in the Winters Express and Davis Enterprise, Oct. 4, 1998)

 

Don’t exhale yet, Hillary supporters — Trump could win

Whew!

This is my last column about this miserable Presidential election!

By this time next week, it’ll all be over.

I hope.

I suspect, however, that the grotesque circus we’ve been enduring for over a year will result in a collective case of campaign PTSD. Whenever we hear words “the polls show…” we’ll curl into the fetal position and weep.

I’ve seen many elections come and go, but none as horrid and divisive as this one. Sure, bitter partisan strife is the bone structure of American politics, but it’s mostly about policy. Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on the goals, let alone how to achieve them. Election years magnify that basic schism by a thousand.

This time however, it’s not about policy. This time, it’s personal. Sarah Palin did the “set” on desensitizing the public to crude, ridiculous and vile speech in 2008, and Donald Trump made the “spike” in 2016. Trump has enabled closet racists and sexists to emerge from the shadows and spew their venom without consequence.

Yay! It’s OK to hate again!

Trump has cracked open the Pandora’s Box of human ugliness, and should he win on Tuesday, the lid will burst wide open.

Yes, I said that: Trump may win.

Sure, the polls show Hillary ahead by a slim margin. But how reflective of actual voters are those polls? I’ve never been called by a pollster in a Presidential election. Have you? I suspect that most Trump supporters haven’t been called by pollsters either. I fear we’ve underestimated the hateful legions, and that the Angry White Undereducated contingent will flood the polling booths.

Consider Brexit. Most of Great Britain went to bed thinking it would be defeated. They woke up the next morning and discovered it wasn’t. Sadly, as the stock market crashed worldwide and the world somersaulted in anxiety, the Number One topic googled in the UK was “What is Brexit?”

The majority of Brits were so disgruntled with their own government, so angry, so frustrated, feeling so powerless, disenfranchised and hateful toward immigrants, they used their vote as a protest, not even grasping what the protest meant. It just felt really good to vent their anger and aim it right at their own government.

Sound familiar?

Besides loathing our government (while using the postal service, driving on national highways and being protected by the military), most Trumpsters are driven by a blind hatred of Hillary Clinton. However, if you take emails and Benghazi off the table, most can’t articulate why. “She’s a criminal!” they squeal, ironically parroting the words of a man being sued for fraud over his sketchy university (mass fraud, by the way — more serious than email). If you ask them what crimes Hillary has been arrested for, let alone convicted of, you get “Duhhhhh…”

That’s because Hillary hasn’t been convicted of any crimes. Period. These are the actual facts. She was investigated for Benghazi and cleared. She was investigated about her emails and, while chastised for being careless, was cleared of wrongdoing. She is not a criminal, and anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant or a liar or both.

“But there’s a new Hillary email scandal!” the Trumpanzees howl. (And also disgruntled Millennials who weren’t old enough to appreciate the Nader Effect in the 2000 election, and insist on voting third party as a protest and a matter of integrity. Enjoy your precious integrity, Mills, while the country collapses under the weight of a catastrophic Trump presidency. Me, I kinda hope you choke on it.)

As for this latest “Hillary email scandal,” some recent polls indicate that it has swayed some voters away from Hillary and toward Trump. Nevermind that these emails aren’t even Hillary’s. Nevermind that the FBI hasn’t indicated that there’s even anything criminal in them. It just feels so delicious to perpetuate the myth of Crooked Hillary, because wah, we still have poopy diapers because Bernie lost.

Those emails were a gift from Russia to the RNC, and are serving as a Hail Mary to defeat Clinton — the RNC’s singular goal for years. You didn’t think the Benghazi hearings were really about Benghazi, did you? That was orchestrated to derail Clinton’s bid for the presidency. Benghazi was intended to be the ace in the RNC’s pocket, and the RNC was so certain she’d lose, Congressional Republicans refused to confirm Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court last spring. They were banking on a Republican president in 2016, surely Jeb Bush, who’d pave the way for a Justice committed to unraveling whatever social progress we’ve made and thwarting any more to come.

And then came Trump, and all the wheels came of the RNC bus.

Still feeling smug, Congressional Republicans? You’ve got a much bigger problem on your hands than the dreaded Hillary Clinton presidency. You’re responsible for the anger that allowed Trump to bubble to the top of your noxious partisan brew, and now you’re stuck with him, poised as he is to dismantle your own party.

There was an interesting NPR “Here and Now” interview on Nov. 2 with former Secretary of Defense, Republican Chuck Hagel, in which he commented that he no longer recognizes the Republican party, and that rather than one unified party, it has splintered into factions with conflicting values and goals. In other words, the party that Republicans know and love no longer exists.

The bigger threat, however, is that if Trump wins, our democracy may cease to exist. In addition to plans to sue all the women who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct (hello, Middle Ages — we’ve missed you!), Trump has declared his intentions to sue journalists that write stories about him that “aren’t nice” — factual, in other words (goodbye First Amendment) and to throw Hillary in jail without a trial (goodbye Sixth Amendment). But I doubt that an assault on the Constitution matters much to Trumpanzees, gorged on Crooked Hillary red meat and ready to swarm to the polls. Which is why it’s all the more important for the rest of us to do the same.

Trump is not entitled to our bodies or our votes

There’s this old brain-teaser drawing of a young, fashionable lady who becomes an old hag after you stare at it for a moment. The predominant image is in the eye of the beholder. I was reminded of this drawing after watching the most recent presidential debate, because although we were all seeing and hearing the same thing, clearly I was seeing and hearing something entirely different than others.

The most striking result of that cage match was that the Republicans declared a Trump victory. You know that “yaddity-yaddity-yaddity” sound cartoon characters make when they whip their heads around in disbelief? That.

Aren’t debates scored upon the content of answers, the elegance of the delivery and the overall composure of the debater? In what sort of bizarro-world did Trump excel on any of those points?

Forget the bravado and bluster (which is pretty much all Trump has going for him), if you actually pay attention to what was said (google the transcripts), you’ll discover that Donald Trump didn’t answer most of the questions, even when the moderators repeatedly steered him back to the question. His strategy was to deflect the issue with inflammatory reminders about the horror of ISIS or to pour gasoline on the flames of irrational Hillary hatred.

The only specific actions Trump stated were his intention to grant huge tax cuts for corporations (Bernie supporters, pay attention) and to declare that once elected, he’ll use his political power to jail his opponent. This, of course, is what dictators do. Clearly Trump’s been studying the Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein playbooks. Whose strategies will he adopt next? Bashir-al Assad? Idi Amin? Hitler?

The debate brought to mind our local Academic Decathlon, for which I served as an essay judge for about 10 years. There was a scoring rubric for the essays, and one criteria was how well the student addressed the writing prompt. If the student didn’t respond directly to the prompt and rambled off into the weeds, his/her score was a zero.

Even by high school essay competition standards, Trump’s debate performance was “zero.”

On the rare occasions when Trump managed to stay on topic, he repeatedly just declared things to be “a disaster.” Our military, our healthcare, our inner cities… all disasters. Beyond the fact that these things simply aren’t true — even if they were, labeling the problem isn’t the same thing as solving the problem. When pressed for solutions or policy, Trump’s default answer is that he’ll “take a look at that.” Period. Taking a look at the problem also isn’t the same thing as solving the problem.

“That turd is a disaster!”

OK, so how do we clean it up?

“We’ll take a look at that.”

Trump is no more qualified to pick up after the family dog than he is to run our country.

Beyond the lack of content in his rambling diatribes, the way he lurked behind Hillary’s back was unsettling — particularly in the context of the avalanche of  evidence exposing his lifelong disdain for women.

Most of us women have experienced the sixth-sense feeling when someone is walking too closely behind us. Some of you reading this right now will immediately recall what that sickly gurgle in your stomach feels like. It’s a feeling of being stalked, like a prey animal, and it triggers the “fight or flight” response. Those of us who know that sensation of prickly heat down our backs surely flinched a little watching it play out on television.

Even more flinch-worthy was watching Trump repeatedly interrupt Hillary and shout her down. Even though she remained calm and composed, continued speaking and didn’t give in to this bullying tactic, in the end, he can yell louder than she can and she got drowned out.

All the women in the room: Raise your hand if you’ve ever been plowed over by this verbal bulldozing tactic, either personally or professionally? (Both my hands are way up.) How many times have you not been heard, simply because the male with whom you’re disagreeing can yell louder and, often times, longer? This is a simple male domination strategy. It’s how they’re wired. Men attempt to outshout each other, nose to nose, until one of them tires or concedes, or they just do what men do and start throwing punches. Most women aren’t wired this way, and even those who are, or learn to be, have a tough time out-yelling a man.

This behavior, taken in the context of the insults and indignities Trump has expressed and continues to express toward women, reveals that he is a sexist pig at best and a bona fide misogynist at worst. This alone disqualifies him from being elected president of a country where more than 50 percent of the population is female. Not only would his presidency put women’s rights at risk, but it would serve as a role model of the worst sort for our young men. Do we really want our sons to look up to a man who says it’s OK to grab a woman’s genitalia whenever he pleases? Do we really want our daughters to look up to a man who condones this? Moreover, isn’t it astounding that we are even having this conversation in the context of a presidential election? The bar of conduct has fallen so low, you’d have to dig it out of the mud to get underneath it.

Trump does not value old women (read: over 30) or ugly women (not beauty pageant contestants) and amongst the women he does value (beauty pageant contestants or those who look like them), he feels entitled to kiss and grab them whenever and wherever he wants, simply by virtue of his celebrity. Imagine how his sense of entitlement will balloon if we endorse his perspective and elect him president.

There’s another historical ruler who viewed women the way Trump does: as property. He had his way with them, married or not, willing or not (and they were all willing, because the other option was death), and tossed them aside or had them beheaded when he tired of them: Henry VIII. The parallels with Trump are uncanny, from the serial wives to the megalomania to the weird little round mouth.

Women have made great strides since the days of the Tudor court. Will we participate in electing someone who will shove us backwards, to the days when our value is measured by our sexual desirability? Will we elect a man who will have the power to appoint Supreme Court judges that can strip away all the rights women have achieved? Remember, Trump declared that a woman who has had an abortion should do time in jail. Yes, he said that too. It’s hard to keep track of all the misogyny that has tumbled from his mouth, just by the sheer volume of it all.

Don’t be duped into writing off Trump’s words in the recently exposed Access Hollywood tapes as merely “locker room talk.” Vulgar language isn’t the issue. It’s the vulgar intent, which declares that powerful men are entitled to do with women’s bodies as they please.

Lennon, Prince, and the accumulation of distance

It’s a strange thing, this getting older business. The accumulation of time gives you perspective. Distance. With distance, you can sometimes see things much more clearly. Make sense of them… see them in context.

Like mountains.

Or moguls.

I have been wearing purple since the news broke that Prince was whisked away from this earthly experience, so suddenly and so unexpectedly. I have witnessed the loss of many musical geniuses over the years… Presley, Freddie, Lennon, Jerry, Michael, Bowie… Prince. Hell, I can even remember when Jimi and Janice left us, although at 11 years of age in 1970, I didn’t recognize the musical significance of those losses.

I do now. These artists didn’t merely play music. They brought something to the musical table that never existed before. Music has more facets because of them.

I also recognize now why losing beloved musicians pinches so much harder than, say losing actors and actresses. It’s because unlike those pampered Prima Donnas, who exist to soak up as much attention and cash as they can, musicians exist only to create music and give joy. (Well, OK, maybe some cash too.) Musicians are pure creation. They give us something that will last for generations, and string generations together. A particular song can transport you to another time and place. Music is magic.

You realize these things when you accumulate some perspective and distance.

Me, I’ve accumulated nearly 57 years. I’m the same age as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince. Two down, one thankfully still with us. (Note to Madonna: Please take care of yourself, babe. We’d like to keep you around a bit longer, and it just won’t be the same without you.) Maybe this is why Prince’s death pulled the rug out from under me, as Michael’s did at the time. We’re the same age. And I know that I’m nowhere near ready to cross the veil into the next phase. I have a lot of living left to do… a lot more life to stuff into my eyeballs. So did Prince. So did all of them.

I was out driving today, pondering the impact Prince had on my musical life, and it began to gel in my head. When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, it tore the musical world to shreds. It was a truly heart-crushing blow. And, what bitter irony that he was murdered just as he was reemerging from spending a few years as a mere “house husband,” raising his sweet boy, Sean, and when he did reappear, he was finally whole and healed, looking forward, feeling positive, rested and ready to create music the likes of which we’ve never heard and… we never got to hear it. A lunatic’s bullet snatched his life faster than his wire-rimmed glasses shattered against the cement.

John Lennon was 40 years old.

Forty.

Fucking.

Years.

Old.

Accumulating perspective and distance stuns you with the concept of how young 40 is. How tragically young.

I grew up with the Beatles. I can remember when they arrived from the U.K. to go on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was still in kindergarten, but I remember the images on our black and white TV vividly. I remember that I was wearing a bright pink sundress with flowers on it, and my feet were tucked up behind me as I watched something that I didn’t quite understand, but knew that when the “Mop Tops” shook their heads while singing “Twist and Shout” — I got chills.

Conversely, I can scarcely remember a time when there weren’t Beatles. Maybe those are the bookends that clue you as to whether or you grew up in the sweet spot of rock and roll music or not: You can’t remember when there weren’t Beatles… until there weren’t Beatles anymore and they went their separate ways. If you can’t even remember the day there weren’t Beatles anymore… worse yet, when there wasn’t John Lennon anymore… you missed out on that sweet spot. Which isn’t to say there hasn’t been great rock and pop music since then… it’s just that, well, I guess you had to be there.

When the Beatles split up, although Paul’s stuff was sweet (sometimes cloyingly so — I’m looking at you, “Silly Love Songs”), Lennon’s was spicy. Me being more spicy than sweet, Lennon’s post-Beatles work was a musical beacon for me. The lyrics. The musical complexity. The pushing of the envelopes. The breadth. The whimsy. The pain. (Listen to “Mother” and just see if it doesn’t shred your soul a little.) John, was — is — in a class all his own. Musical divinity, as far as I’m concerned. When he was murdered, a part of my soul was murdered too. And, I am but a mere grain of sand on the beach where the wave of grief over Lennon’s death crashed, and inundated… and never totally receded.

When John Lennon died, it created a musical void. Post-Lennon, we had Daryl Hall and John Oates, and Blondie… the sunset of Chicago and… John Cougar (Before He Was) Mellancamp… Toto and Tommy Tutone… Charlene (remember that sappy mess? Google it.). The top song of 1982 was “Let’s Get Physical” by Olivia Newton-John.

We refer to these musical times as the Dark Ages, children.

Or just “meh.”

John was gone. What did it matter. Who gives a shit. Let’s see how many times we can play “Betty Davis Eyes” before we shoot the stereo. or ourselves. (Yes, kids… vinyl.)

And then 1983 rolled around, and Michael Jackson soared out of the forgotten ashes of our sweet youth like a glittering phoenix. Michael spun pop music around like the proverbial bottle and off it moonwalked in an entirely new direction to the beat of “Billie Jean.” It was by no means Lennon, but nothing could ever be Lennon, and Michael was just something entirely new and fresh… a big musical distraction, just when we needed one, lest A-Ha threaten to subject us to a follow-up to “Take On Me.” (Help. And no, I don’t mean a remake of the Beatles’ song.) That was also the year that Prince caught the attention of the mainstream world… we heard “Little Red Corvette” and it was “get in, sit down, shut up and hang on, baby.” By the following year, Prince ruled the number one position on the Billboard charts with the haunting, fascinating, “When Doves Cry.”

These were additionally the early days of MTV, the birth of which I also witnessed… we were introduced to Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club and Tears For Fears, and not long after that… fasten your seat belts: Madonna. If you can remember when Madonna rolled around the stage floor in a tutu and sang “Like A Virgin” at the MTV awards, and wondered, “What the fuck was that,” then you remember the third prong in the trifecta of musicians that left indelible imprints on music of the early ’80s… and filled the void left by Lennon: Michael, Prince and Madonna. The trajectory of music changed. Michael was an unparalleled performer. Madonna was an unparalleled musical business woman. And Prince was an unparalleled musician. Nobody could touch them then, or now… or ever will.

And, ah, Michael… I remember when you arrived on the scene, that little bitty boy with the honey-sweet voice. I remember when you even became a Saturday morning cartoon. I remember your picture on my wall, torn from the pages of Tiger Beat magazine, right next to Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman.

It’s hard not to swoon even now.

But then Michael disappeared… like Donny and Bobby. And when he resurfaced… wow. This was not the Michael of our childhood. All grown up, dead sexy and exponentially even more talented than before, which seems impossible, but Michael Jackson was an otherworldly creature, where “possibility” is relative. Just like Prince. Prince was a musical gymnast. Listen to “When Doves Cry” or “Gett Off” or “Musicology” but don’t merely listen. Try to “see” the music like you’d watch a dance performance. See Prince’s music, like you’d see choreography. It’s complex and profound. And then he freakin’ defies gravity and dances to it while he’s singing! And shredding his guitar!

Like Michael, Prince was another otherworldly creature, where possibility is relative. And, like Jackson, Prince could move his body in ways that the rest of use can scarcely believe we’re seeing, let alone be able to do ourselves.

Michael, of course, eventually crumbled under the pressure of his celebrity, and lacking a true childhood experience for a solid foundation… well, all the King of Pop’s horses and all his men couldn’t put him back together again. He dissolved, physically and emotionally before our eyes…

And then… he was gone.

But Prince was different, despite the pressures of a superstar life. It seemed he’d always be with us, just as he had been for more than three decades.

Three decades, people.

Sure, I can remember when there was a time before there was Prince, but he’s been here longer than not.

Until April 21 of this year.

Like a breath — just gone.

As I write this, the cause of his death is under investigation, but rumors are boiling that it was an overdose of painkillers, and of course everyone’s ready to file that under “just another celebrity overdose.” But wait. Back up a few steps. Prince may have looked pretty much the same as he did 30 years ago, but the reality is that he was 57 years old.

I am 57 years old.

Let me tell you about 57 years old.

Shit hurts. Constantly. Chronically. Joints. Tendons. Muscles. If it bends, it’s stiff. If it flexes, it’s sore. Activity that was effortless at 30 is a whole ‘nuther animal when you hit 50. Your body will no longer do what it once did, and if you try to force it to, your 57-year-old body will take you to church about who’s in charge now. (Hint: It’s not you.) Now, I know this just from being an average, reasonably active person, and not someone keeping the high-speed schedule of a musical icon, traveling all over the world month after month, performing with crowds who still expect him to slide into the splits and back, and spin on his high heels like a dervish, and dance and jump and play guitar for hours on end. Week after week after week after month after year.

Remember those otherworldly moves Prince could do on stage? Do you suppose that those same moves started to become more treacherous in his 50s? He may be otherworldly, yes, but he was still human. Is it any surprise that Prince was probably in chronic pain? Knees? Hips? Back?

Have you ever had real back pain? I did once — my pelvic bones shifted, and pinched a nerve in my lumbar spine. It literally dropped me to my knees — that was the only way I was could move around, until a chiropractor jolted my pelvic bones back into place and the pain vanished instantly. This wasn’t a little backache. It was shocking, searing, incapacitating pain. And I wasn’t even dancing onstage like a rockstar. I just took a random wrong step, and BAM. “On your knees” commanded my back, and all I could do was whimper, “Okay.” Your 50s are like that. Your body will break in new and improved ways, and leave you to figure out how to deal with it.

But what if you couldn’t? What if that pain was permanent? Would I have taken prescription painkillers? In a fucking heartbeat. For as long as I needed to. Until you’ve experienced that kind of pain, do not judge those who turn to drugs for relief, because you don’t know. You do not know. Prince’s friends insist that he wasn’t even into alcohol, let alone drugs. He was a vegan, and a healthy guy. At this moment, however, the popular unverified verdict is that Prince overdosed on”Percocet.” But not everyone who uses pain medication, or even overdoses from it, is a garden variety drug addict. Some are merely in severe, relentless pain. I suspect Prince was one. If you’re going to villainize someone for being in pain, and trying to alleviate it, well, just… fuck you, then.

Undoubtedly, Prince pushed himself too hard. He pushed his 57 year-old body to keep the pace of one 30 years younger, and suffered the consequences. And because he is Prince, he kept pushing anyway. And, besides being a 57-year-old man, he was also a very tiny 57-year-old man. Maybe an overdose overtakes a small person more suddenly than a large one. There are a lot of reasons to not judge Prince’s use of painkillers.

There are vastly more to grieve his passing.

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This is the expanse of blue sky I saw while driving today… matching Prince’s jacket in the “Raspberry Beret” video… and it made me smile… and say, “Thank you.”

So, there I was today, wearing purple, driving along pondering all this, listening to a Prince CD in an effort to cling to a wisp of him, and I notice the vast expanse of blue sky while I’m driving down this empy country road I’m on. Bright cyan blue… dotted with white puffy clouds — a rarity here in hot, dry northern California… and I realize… that the cloud-dotted blue sky matches the jacket Prince wore in his “Raspberry Beret” video. Truth be told, that was never my favorite Prince song — a little too sugar-pop for my tastes — but looking at that sky, and that sweet little song and video running through my mind… it made me smile. And I decided right then and there, that whenever I see a cyan sky dotted with white puffy clouds, I’m going to think of Prince, and how I spent 30 decades of my musical life with him in it, how he was one of the stars in my musical constellation, and I’m not going to grieve… I’m going to smile, and be thankful to have witnessed such exquisite talent.

Thank you, Prince… you gave us pure joy. Pure, exhilarating, breathless joy. For 30 years. Thank you.

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This purple flower bloomed next to my walkway, some time between 10 a.m. and noon, on Saturday, April 22… and never had before.

And so, moments later, feeling suddenly refreshed with gratitude where there’d just been the dull, gnawing ache of grief, I pull into my driveway, and walk up to my house where I’ve lived for 17 years, and in the span of time that I left, ran my errands and returned… a purple flower had blossomed along the walkway to the door… where none had ever blossomed before. I had no idea it was even there. Or even what it is. I even made my husband come look, because I couldn’t believe it myself.

“Purple… for Prince,” I told him.

And maybe that’s just sheer, utter, weird coincidence. But I choose to believe that it’s a “you’re welcome.”

Is it megalomanic to think that Prince could make a flower bloom in my humble little yard, just for me, just one of hundreds of thousands of fans, all grieving world wide? Well, maybe it’s not about me at all. Maybe it’s about Prince. And Prince could do anything.