Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Skinny on Dipping

There are two kinds of people in the world: pool people and beach people.

This past Memorial Day weekend here in Chicagoland, one could hear the call of marine mammals migrating to their native habitats: "Pool passes or beach passes?" they cried. It was a welcome sound, heralding the arrival of summer.

I grew up in Michigan, which is bordered by four of the five Great Lakes and boasts 11,000 inland lakes and more than 3,200 miles of shoreline. We spent every summer of my childhood playing in those lakes on those beaches. How, then, did I become a pool person?

First, you can trust a pool. You don't have to worry that the bottom will suddenly give way to muck or rocks. There's no sand to get stuck in uncomfortable places, like contact lenses or bathing suits. And you don't have to rub against slimy fish or seaweed. Plus, packing for the beach is like packing for vacation: coolers, chairs, umbrellas, blankets, toys — the list is endless. All you really need for the pool is a towel and some sunscreen.

Evanston, where we live, has six beaches, but no outdoor pool. Since moving here, I have bought beach passes exactly once. The first time we went, the beach was covered with dead alewives and live, biting flies. That was also the last time we went. Fortunately, the city has made a deal with a couple of landlocked suburbs, so we can go to their pools and they can come to our beaches.

The constant closing of area beaches due to "unacceptable" levels of E. coli is not a big draw for me, either. According to the EPA, Cook County's 55 beaches closed an average of seven times last summer, and that was a good year. To be fair, I can't even count how many times our pool closed due to some toddler's potty accident.

It's not just swimmers who are divided between the pool and beach; it's sunbathers, too. At first blush, you might think they would have a clear preference, but I know sun worshippers of both denominations. Beach buffs come with those funny little chopped-off chairs planted in the sand, while a pool-side tanner will head straight for the chaise lounge. They both worship from spots that offer maximum exposure, devoutly rotating every so often to promote even bronzing. And though neither type of tanner may ever touch one toe in the water, both are passionate about their choice of watering hole.

Through friendships and marriage, I have learned that émigrés from the East Coast are the true fanatics of this watery debate. One summer, we took a trip to my husband's beloved Jersey shore. Ah, the Ocean! (Capital "O".)

"Isn't the boardwalk great?" he asked. Sure, if you like splinters and the smell of tar. "The sand is completely different," he marveled, picking up a handful. Sand is sand. You still have to watch out for cigarette butts and pop tops. Excuse me, soda can tops. "Now those are waves," he exalted, watching as our children emerged choking from the salt water, only to be smacked down again. Like they say, it's a nice place to visit.

We Midwesterners take umbrage to this narrow-minded ocean view. After all, when they called them the Great Lakes, they weren't kidding. These are BIG lakes, true inland seas that form international boundaries. You can't even see across them! We have sand, we have white caps, but according to the sea snobs, Great just isn't good enough.

Long after I became an adult, my parents bought a lake house — not on a Great Lake, but on a pleasant lake in Michigan. Sandy bottomed, with no public access, the lake is big enough for ski boats, but small enough to keep out the riffraff. My kids practically live in the water, which is bathtub warm by mid-June. Even I have been known to swim out to the sandbar now and again. That was until ... the leech incident.

That day, my son had been playing peacefully at the water's edge. During one of many sunscreen pit stops, he looked down and said: "Mom, I've got blood." I followed his glance to an enormously engorged leech attached to his leg. Not wanting to disturb his calm, I swallowed my panic and hit the leech off with a stick. Turns out, that's not the best approach. It took wads of paper towels and four bandages to stanch the bleeding.

On our next visit, when my dad invited me into the lake for a swim, I was somewhat less than enthusiastic. "Come on!" he coaxed.

"I'll pass," I said. "The whole leech thing has me pretty grossed out."

"God invented leeches, too, you know," he said.

"Not my God," I retorted. "My God is the God of indoor plumbing; the God of cell phones and hot tubs. My God is the God of caffeine-free diet beverages."

"The lake is caffeine free," he replied.

Right. I'll stick to swimming pools.

How about you? Pool pass or beach pass? Or perhaps you are one of those sea snobs? Dive in by clicking here or email me at 2KoPeople@gmail.com.

Photo credits: beach thanks to Maltaguy1 via morguefile.com; pool thanks to wipeoutpdr via flickr.com.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Double Vision

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have eyes in the back of their heads and those who don't.

All mothers, of course, develop these bonus oculi, giving them a kind of hypervisionI'm sure it's an evolutionary development, essential for the survival of the species. No doubt it has saved many many a child from running into the street, falling from a precarious perch or touching a hot stove.

My children are continually astounded when, without turning from the task at hand, I say "Put that down," or "Do not touch her" or "I said one cookie." My middle boy, the fact-finder, frequently tries to investigate: "I want to see those eyes in the back of your head. How could they see through all that hair?"

Call it a sixth sense. Call it a superpower. I prefer to call it by its scientific name (coined by me) — binocular fusion squared, or BF2Human eyes work using a process known as binocular fusion, by which we perceive a single, three dimensional image through the separate images captured by each eye. In mothers, this phenomenon is amplified by a kind of built-in rearview mirror.

How else would it be possible for me to look at my children and see them objectively in terms of relative beauty (the slightly crooked front teeth, the persistent patch of eczema, the pubescent near-unibrow), yet still know that each one wears the most pulchritudinous punim in the history of human faces?

Without maternal parallax, how could I watch my boy trip over his own two feet on the soccer field, yet still know that he's the greatest athlete of all time?

If it weren't for such disambiguation, how could my own mother watch me throw a temper tantrum over my child's temper tantrum, yet still be able to assure me that I have the patience of Job.

This Mother's Day, may you feel protected by the hawk eyes of a vigilant mother, and may you see the world through the generous eyes of a loving one.

Leave a comment here or email me at 2KoPeople@gmail.com.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Chain of Fools

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who respond to chain letters and those who don't.

Until just recently, I had not participated in a chain letter since I was a kid. I can't remember the premise of that long-ago letter, but I do remember dutifully copying it in my best handwriting 10 times, getting my mom to stamp and mail the letters, and waiting. The anticipation of literally hundreds of responses was both delicious and excruciating. Back then, getting a letter in the mail was cause for celebration, and I couldn't wait. But I did wait. And wait. And the letters never came.

Disappointment doesn't begin to cover it. I felt devastated, abandoned and totally alone. Skip ahead about 35 years or so.

Email has reinvigorated the chain letter. I try to be judicious about what I pass along, but I'm sure I still forward too often. Imagine my surprise when I recently received an invitation via snail mail from my aunt to participate in a virtual book club. All I had to do was mail one book and 10 letters, and I would get hundreds of books in the mail. I took the bait. In sweet vindication of that childhood trauma, I have actually received two books. How cool is that?

Now it seems I have been snookered into a virtual version of this pyramid scheme. One of my favorite writers, Cindy Fey, tagged me to participate in something called "Six Random Things About Me."  Here goes:

Un: When I read a book, I read everything — the acknowledgements, the copyright, even the part that says "This book was typeset in in 11 point Goudy™ Old Style, originally created by famous type designer Frederic W. Goudy in 1915 …"

Deux: When I die, I want to be reincarnated as Van Morrison, specifically during the "Moondance" years, and more specifically singing "Caravan."  (Click here for a sound clip.

Trois: When I was a kid, we went camping a lot. In recent discussions with my family, I have realized that I have relatively few memories of those trips, as I am extremely allergic to mosquito bites and spent most of the time stoned on Benadryl.

Quatre: I frequently start deep, personal, often intimate conversations with complete strangers in elevators or in line at the grocery.

Cinq: I don't really speak French. In high school, we studied French cooking, listened to French rock and roll (a true oxymoron), and conjugated a few verbs. As a freshman in college, I was somehow scheduled into an intensive French class — two hours a day (starting at 8:00 a.m.), five days a week. The first words out of my Parisian-born teacher's mouth were: "Zees will be the last words you 'ear me speak en Anglais." I raised my hand and said: "I do not belong in zis class."

Six: Though I have a brilliant sense of direction, I have only the barest knowledge of world geography. This is not my fault. When I was a kid, the Soviet Union was still intact and our social studies books printed maps of the USSR all in black (or sometimes red – Communist Red) and labeled it as "behind the Iron Curtain." Since then, borders have moved, whole countries and cities have been renamed (is it Bombay or Mumbai?) and I just can't keep up.

There you have my scintillating six. Here are the rules to this game, as plagiarized directly from Cindy's blog, followed by the six people I have tagged:

The Rules:
Link to the person who tagged you (i.e., me).
Post the rules on your blog.
Write six random things about yourself in a blog post.
Tag six people.
Let each person know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on one of their recent posts.
Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.

My taggees:

Becky (my Becky, not Cindy's Becky)

Critique group buddy Angela Allyn at Domestic Blitz

Ardis at Hilltop: The View from Here and Now (another wonderful writer)

Writer and friend Sue Roupp at rouppgroupink

Another writer acquaintance, Beverly Patt, who's first book is due out from Bloomingtree Press this year. 

Web goddess and OCWW member Helen Gallagher at Release Your Writing.

You all have my sincerest apologies. Feel free to comment by clicking here or email me at 2KoPeople@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Click via MorgueFile.com.