Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Hoosier Daddy

The good people of Indiana are, for reasons I've never understood, a little wacky on the subject of their home state. No one from Indiana is ever just from Indiana, no sir. "I'm a Hoosier!" they'll gleefully exclaim, as if being a Hoosier were akin to being an Olympic gold medalist or next-in-line to the throne. The more exuberant of these folks use their home state like credentials, handing out business cards that might read something like, "John Doe, Hoosier, M.D.," and putting things like "Current Hoosier" or "Lifelong Hoosier" under the "Special Skills and Qualifications" section of a job application.
How I envy these sweetly daft souls! How content I would be to be known for being a bit wacky about where I live, instead of trying to content myself with living in a state known to be peopled by the just plain wacky! A state that seems to get more demented, more deranged, and downright ridiculous by the minute!

Like the whole Hoosier phenomenon, I've never understood how a place as big and as grand as this place once was could let itself go, could let itself be taken over by lunatics. I'm not the only one who's noticed, either: In a Letter to the Editor just last week, a local gentleman very eloquently eulogized the apparent loss of our sanity, asking if others had "ever thought the same."

I don't know about anyone else, mister, but I sure have! Bless you; just knowing that more of my kind are out there, that there are other refugees from the plant Common Sense walking this state (the same state, incidentally, that produces the ridiculous commercials lamented in your letter), is a comfort.

We're also the same state with the highest health, home and car insurance premiums, thanks to a system that favors irresponsible, uninsured motorists, illegal aliens, and litigation-happy crackpots over people from our planet. I had the audacity to submit a homeowner's insurance claim and was - as you knew I would be - promptly canceled.
And "stupid voting" did indeed land us in the fix we're in; we're the king of stupid voting!

Perhaps it's because we have more morons per capita than any other state. What other people in the land would take their political cues from Sean Penn? Would say, "Well, if Sean says Iraq's weapon-free, then Iraq must be weapon-free."

What other people would give a baby to the highest bidder (think Michael Jackson, who, let's be honest, will never be mistaken for Ozzie Nelson - or even Robert Young.)
What other people would purport to stand for peace while wearing the hue, if not the cry, of the Black Panthers, the plague, and an insidious lung disease?

Add to this the fact that we give the looniest among us the choicest judicial posts, ensuring our madness in perpetuity. As if being home to the judge who ruled in favor of a bitter ex-husband at the expense of the Pledge of Allegiance wasn't embarrassing enough, we're also the proud owners of the court that recently decided it would deny any judge who supported the Boy Scouts a bench. What next? Will golfers be forced to renounce the evils of Augusta before getting a cart? Will public schoolchildren caught saying "Christmas vacation" forfeit their right to a winter break?

Anything's possible in the land that set O.J. free. And I'd probably be a little spooked if I thought I was alone. But now that I know I'm not, well, nyah, nyah, nyah, you nut-jobs, you. Catch me if you can.


Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Woe, Canada

As plenty before me have no doubt discovered, Thomas Hardy was wrong: You CAN go home again. And you can do it pretty easily, too, when you're motivated. Even if you're flying coach through several time zones while toting a barely housebroken toy poodle as carry-on.

When all you've thought about for the last couple of days is going home again, panhandling Hare Krishnas at LAX give you a warm fuzzy and the smell of smog at 2:00 am fills you with the kind of loony longing that napalm did Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now."

When you're just plain homesick, even the "me-no-speaky-English" parking lot attendant who can't explain the extra 219 miles on your ostensibly "garaged" car's odometer doesn't bother you - much.

Nor does all the middle-of-the-night traffic which, under any other circumstances, would have you snarling, "Where are all these *%$#@ people going at this ungodly hour?!" but which you now regard with Zen-like detachment: "My, there sure are a lot of clever vanity plates, aren't there?"

Leaving home; that is, hitting the road, seeing how the other half lives, going on holiday - traveling, in short -has long been one of my favorite things. Coming home; that is, unpacking, wading through bills and/or other bad news, and reentering a housekeeper-less, mini shampoo-less, room service-less norm has long been one of my least favorite things - even when I've come home from places where there was no such thing as room service; places where I screamed "ugly American" without saying a word; and, yes, places where the very water is considered a weapon of mass destruction.

Which makes my recent, dare I say, triumphant, return home all the stranger. After all, it's not like I'd been in Yemen or on the Ivory Coast, gauchely throwing greenbacks at any quaintly-clothed native or gun-toting rebel who'd let me take his picture. I'd never even left the continent, for Pete's sake; I'd merely gone to Canada. Canada! A country I'd always had a soft spot for, had always been reluctant to leave, and in which I'd always found something new to love.

I loved it for spawning Neil Young, the Crash Test Dummies, and Donald Sutherland; for having the prettiest currency in North America; for its wide open spaces - so wide, it hardly noticed when we divested it of Alaska.

I loved it for Maggie Trudeau, whose Studio 54 antics helped push Miz Lillian and Brother Billy off the front pages for a while. I loved it for its kindness to conscientious objectors, but what I loved most was the Epcot Center aspect of it: veddy British in the west; tres French (its "other" language, in fact) in the east; a virtual Frontierland in the middle, and socialized medicine everywhere.

Ironically, it's that very aspect that made me run for the nearest airport last week.

It's as if they can't decide what they want to be when they grow up, but still expect us, whether tourist, subject, or citizen of the republique alike, to play by the rules - whatever those are. They seem to change from city to city.

Just when you thought Toronto, for example, had settled on being Western Europe, it goes all Eastern bloc on you: In 2004, anyone caught smoking a cigarette in a car with a child under 19 will be cited and fined for "abuse."

Yet, elsewhere in the province, a serial sex offender, thief, and convicted drug dealer, spent less than a total of two years in jail. Upon his latest release, two days before Christmas, he broke into an elderly couple's home and attempted to rape the wife as her husband slept beside her. No "fascist" three strikes law in Ontario, no sir.

News reporters across the country refer to Al-Qaeda as the "alleged perpetrators" of the terrorist attacks on the United States. An article in the Toronto Star went so far as to say, "...following the U.S.'s actions (a snippy word for 'behavior) against the Al-Qaeda network it blames for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

'It blames?' What, are we accusing the wrong guys?

Long the most overtaxed people on Earth, with levies imposed on everything from taking up space to breathing too much air - socialized medicine doesn't just grow on trees, you know - Canadians have been flocking to the Great White North's newly legit casinos in droves. Why the rush to sink billions of severely deflated (but still darned pretty) currency into U.S. made slot machines? Gambling winnings, believe it or not, are the only thing in Canada that isn't taxed.

Worst of all, medicine is no longer free; it hasn't been for years. Health care, says Parliament, is going private.

And they say our chief executive is a moron.

Note to Canada: Call me after you've decided what you're going to be when you grow up. In the meantime, I'll be spending my greenbacks elsewhere. Maybe even Yemen, which at least has the decency to hate me to my face.


Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Accounting Down

A brand new year! Boy, if ever there was a time to start that self-improvement regimen I've been meaning to start for, oh, about a lifetime, this is it. Clean slates, fresh calendars: half the world or more is resolving to do better today, the first day of the first month of the rest of our lives and, you know what? I aim to join them. What's more, I aim to shout my resolutions from the rooftop! To share, unbosom, maybe even express a best-left-unexpressed thought or two!

Yep, that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Any second now.


Okay, I give up: where do people like Dorothy Gale, people who believe saying something makes it so, get their nerve? I mean, it wasn't any of that clicking-of-the-heels hocus pocus that got Dorothy back to Kansas; it was her telling anyone and everyone within earshot that "there's no place like home" that did the trick.

For that matter, where does my friend Vicky, who swears by a similar MO ("modus operandi" to you learned folks; something they used to say a lot on "Hawaii 5-O" to those of us who flunked Latin), get her nerve? She's never woken up in her own bed after spending a weird night in Oz or anything, but that doesn't keep her from making wishes and resolutions all over the place; wishes and resolutions, I might add, that rarely, if ever, come true.

And not just on New Year's Day or in the aftermath of a tornado, either, no sir. Vicky makes them whenever she gets a hankering to be a better Vicky, turn over a new leaf, get right with the cosmos, whatever; no Auld Lang Syne soundtrack, catastrophe or crisis of faith required. Indeed, she once told an entire wedding party - during a toast to the bride and groom, both missionaries - that it was her intention to "...quit the corporate world and join the Peace Corps. ASAP."

Never mind that that was in 1988, and never mind the unprintable name she called me when I asked her, after a more-than-polite four years had passed, if she knew what "ASAP" meant. Making such a declaration before a roomful of people you know you'll see again, and again and yet again, takes guts.

As does making a public service announcement out of everything you resolve to do in the name of self-improvement, whether it's quitting smoking, giving up red meat, or vowing to say absolutely nothing about people you've got absolutely nothing nice to say something about.

But Vicky just waves my admiration away with a dismissive, "Pooh! Nothing gutsy about hedging your bets."

"Hedging your bets?"

"Yeah, the way I figure, telling people about your good intentions helps keep you accountable. The more people you tell, the more accountable you are."

"Hmm, so I guess you didn't tell many people you quit smoking."

"Shut up and pass me the ashtray," she says, in that sweet way nervy old friends have about them.

But sweet and nervy enough, I wondered, long after we'd finished our Porterhouses (medium for her, rare for me; hey, I'm not the one who gave up red meat), to make me want give this whole resolution, declaration, statement-of-intent-to-improve thing another try? To, yikes, broadcast it?

Well, let's see. Ahem.

This year, I resolve to eat nothing after 10:00 p.m. No, make that nothing in bed after 10:00 p.m., 11:00 on weekends.

Say, that wasn't so hard. Okay, on to resolution number two.

This year, I resolve to watch no more than two Lifetime Movie Network movies a week. No, make that three Lifetime Movie Network movies a week - four if one is based on actual events, which, of course, counts as a documentary and therefore really doesn't count at all.

Gee, I think I'm starting to get the hang of this!

This year, I resolve to learn a new language. Oops, scratch that.

This year, I resolve to clean up my language. At least when in the company of those under 18 or over 65. Oh, what the hell; make that, "or over 75." Have you ever crashed an American Legion party?

This year, I resolve to match every poison pen letter I write with a letter of commendation. And, considering how many poison pen letters I write (incidentally, do Governor Davis; Oliver Stone; Senator Byrd; the California Public Utilities Commission; Al Sharpton; and assorted other of my pen pals think their silly "cease and desist" orders scare me?), that's a pretty tall order/fat resolution. Still, no one ever said self-improvement was supposed to be easy.

This year, I resolve to give an opinion only when it is asked for - whoa, hold it right there.

No one ever said self-improvement was supposed to be impossibly difficult, either.

Happy New Year, Ojai!