Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Mind on Vacation

Like most of you, I like to take a book along on a trip. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to read it. As you all know, I am a famously slow reader. It’s just nice to have one along in case the spirit moves.

Such a chance came up on our recent jaunt to Florida. We had done all the sightseeing we were going to do one day and the mister had gone in for a nap. I sat out poolside to enjoy the sunlight glinting off the water and the warm late-March breeze rustling the palm trees — and I opened my book.

My book is “A Curious Invitation; The Forty Greatest Parties in Fiction” by Suzette Field. I highly recommend it for travel reading. It provides the perfect poolside pastime as it is light and amusing. I have traveled with this book for about two years now. It lives in my carry-on and I only read it when I’m on a trip; I’m about half-way through.

In her short chapters, Field writes extravagant detail about parties that take place in works of fiction great and small. She reports on the guest lists, the invitations, the dress code and the menus, as well as the activities that take place at the parties. She adds humorous editorial comments and gives context to the literary arc contributed by each party. The special events she illuminates vary widely: from Belshazzar’s Feast from “The Book of Daniel” in the Bible, to Gatsby’s Saturday Night Parties from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, to A Pooh Party featuring beloved characters from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh”, to more raucous affairs such as The Beverly Hills Party from “Hollywood Wives” by Jackie Collins.

My chapter for that Florida vacation afternoon was, Bilbo Baggin’s Eleventy-First Birthday Party as celebrated in “The Fellowship of the Ring” by J.R.R. Tolkien.  

It began, “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins…..”

I just saw that name “Bilbo Baggins” somewhere the other day. Where the heck was that?”

“…….Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bags End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday….’

“Wait a sec,” I thought, “Eleventy-first!?! What the heck…?”

I skimmed the page for some kind of explanation.

“Oh, there it is. He was turning 111. Huh. Old.”

“……his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

“I never read the Ring trilogy,” my mind told me, as if I didn’t already know that fact, “I wonder why. Just never liked alternate universes much, I guess. Give me good old PEI and Anne Shirley any day. Now there’s a girl who was down-to-earth — not in middle-earth, wherever that is. No dragons or trolls or wizards. Just potatoes and pigtails.”

Bilbo’s co-host is his nephew and heir Frodo Baggins…..”

“Oh, Frodo! That was a crossword puzzle answer yesterday!”

“….and heir Frodo Baggins, who shares his birthday. Frodo is turning thirty-three, which is when a hobbit traditionally comes of age…..”

“Hobbits. Hmm. I’ve never seen the movies either. I wonder what they looked like in the movies. I know. I could look for images on Google.”

I picked up my phone.

“Oh, I’ve got new email. Ha, ha! Here’s one from my good friend. Ooo. It’s a long one. How nice.”

I read my email. After that I checked for new posts on Facebook. And then I went back to email to look at an ad for shoes from that had popped up.

“Right. I need to replace my loafers.”

I keyed “loafers” in the search line. 5 million options came up. I browsed them all.

When I was done, I yawned and stretched and then remembered that I was going to look for Hobbits on Google to see what they look like. I looked back at the page where I left off.

“……when a hobbit comes of age. Hobbits of old lived in holes in the ground….”

“Oooh! What was that bird that flew past? Where is he? Oh, there on the palm tree! Let’s see. A bluebird maybe? No, too big! Oh, this is exciting! A bird alert. I’ll look it up on Google! Oh darn, it’s gone. Where was I? Oh, yeah,”

“……lived in holes in the ground….”

“I wonder where that bird lives. Maybe there are alligators out on the golf course. I need an iced tea. Yawn. Maybe a nap. Those chairs over there look comfy. No, I’m fine here, nice and shady. What time is it anyway? How long until dinner? I could use a snack. I wonder what you eat if you live in middle-earth? Earthworms? Potatoes could work. They grow underground. Hey, Anne of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island potatoes meet Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Hobbiton potatoes. Something in common.”

“My heaven, I really do have the attention span of a gnat, don’t I? Alright, Lesley, concentrate on reading.”

“….lived in holes in the ground, but these days it is a custom maintained only by……”





Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March Maladies

Now that flu season is winding down, an assortment of spring maladies are all set to ramp up, some of which are every bit as nasty as a Rhinovirus. And there are no vaccines or known remedies! Here are some to look out for. (And make sure you wash your hands to prevent infection!)

March Madness

If you haven’t heard of March Madness, you will need to worry about this affliction if you live in a city that has a NCAA team heading to the playoffs. Due to the fact that Dayton will host the first round of games on March 17&18, our fair city will become a hot spot for contracting this particular condition.  Symptoms will include the wearing of red and white clothing, while some fans will actually break out in a rash where the face turns half red and half white. Also, expect whooping and hollering at any given moment, as well as profound beer consumption, especially where large groups of enthusiasts gather, such as at UD stadium and just about any pub within a five mile radius. The UD Flyers are doing well this season, so officials are bracing for the town to go totally bonkers if the home team makes it into the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four or, God help us, the final game.

St. Patrick’s Day

This is a disorder in which an entire population will come to believe that it is Irish. Sufferers, regardless of nationality, will don green articles of clothing and will dance jigs at Celtic Hoolies. Normally, they would have no idea what a Hoolie is, but on St. Patrick’s Day, they will tell you, “Everyone is Irish” and will profess their love for fiddle playing. Consuming corned beef, cabbage and soda bread during this outbreak will cause additional issues, such as acid reflux and other, more fragrant digestive upsets.  Those afflicted may be heard saying things like, “Faith and Begorrah!” or “Top O’the Mornin’ to Ya!” in very sketchy Irish accents. Other symptoms may include those that can be easily confused with March Madness: i.e., whooping and hollering, as well as acute beer consumption. It is mostly a 24 hour malady, observed on or about March 17th, but it may have some lingering adverse side effects the next morning, notably mild panic attacks at the consequences of drinking beer that has been dyed green. Patients should be reassured that unusually colored pee is generally thought to be temporary.

Mad as a March Hare; or Mad as a Hatter

And speaking of “mad”, one often hears these two diseases referred to interchangeably. They are, in fact, separate complaints, although both come from British idiomatic phrases and are often loosely associated with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” stories, which, as you recall, feature a Hatter and a March Hare, both of whom are totally loopy. “Mad as a March Hare” makes reference to the erratic behavior of the male hare in the March mating season. The term, “Mad as a Hatter” originates in the 18th and 19th century English millinery industry where mercury was used in the production of felt for hats. Daily exposure caused some workers to develop dementia due to mercury poisoning, which was actually referred to at the time as “Mad Hatter Syndrome.” The phrase became popular with Victorians, always a sensitive lot, as a way to refer to someone who was perceived as insane. The term has nothing to do with March, but I thought it was an interesting tidbit to share in case you’ve always wondered.

Cabin Fever

This is an insidious disease that crops up around the first week of March, if not earlier. The first signs come on when patients realize that the fresh blanket of soft, white, sparkly snow that they thought was so romantic at the beginning of the winter now looks like wet dryer lint and they know the romance is dead. They catch themselves yelling at the weatherman on TV, “Oh, c’mon! Are you kidding me?!!?”  Cabin Fever then settles in to afflict its victims with stir-craziness and a severe need to get out of the house, only to be frustratingly extinguished by snow flurries, wind chills, freezing temperatures and the exhausting exercise of putting on boots, mitts, scarves, hats and parkas before stepping outdoors. And then, finally, utter malaise sets in along with the overpowering desire to wear jammies all day, make endless cups of tea and watch daytime talk shows. This impulse should be avoided and in severe cases, patients should plan on attending the nearest Home and Garden Show.

Spring Fever

A companion ailment to Cabin Fever, this illness occurs when a slight thaw and a peek of sunlight causes victims to careen out of their houses wearing shorts and a T-shirt to bound and leap about crying aloud, “Hello, Robins! Hello, crocus shoots! Hello, tree buds!” Neighbors glare out windows thinking they should call the Psych ward (see above: “Mad as a March Hare”). Some who are afflicted with both Cabin Fever and Spring Fever will go to Florida for weeks on end. This particular sickness is especially sad when the thaw once again turns to winter weather warnings and those plagued with Spring Fever collapse in tears.
Fortunately for most sufferers, there is no serious reason for worry as March Maladies are usually short-lived and will likely disappear around the time of the Vernal Equinox when temps rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the sun comes out and daffodils start blooming. Just in time for allergy season.