Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cousins Party

Copyright 2009 Elliott Joseph

January 2009

"I'm your second cousin," said my mother's cousin Sophie, "and my daughter Alison is your third cousin.  So her son is your fourth cousin."

"That's not right," said Sophie's sister Margaret.  "Elliott is our first cousin once removed.  So Alison is his first cousin twice removed, and Albert is..."

"Thrice removed?  You're both wrong," said their brother Ralph.  "Our children are his second cousins.  And their children are his second cousins once removed."

"I don't like that expression, 'removed,' " said Sophie.

"It's done for clarity," said Ralph.

The conversation was taking place at our annual cousins party.  I had not attended for a number of years and there was some catching up to do.

"So what's William?" asked Sophie.

"William is Elliott's step second cousin once removed," said Ralph.

"William is as much a member of the family as any of the other children," said Margaret.

"Nobody said he wasn't," said Ralph.

"You called him a step cousin."

"Well, he's Carol's son by her first marriage."

"I don't like that expression, 'step,' " said Sophie.

My mother had come from a big family, and there were lots of cousins on her side.  Still, it was surprising to see so many people, a great many with children, spilling into the back yard and roaming through cousin Sophie's old house in Santa Barbara, where the party was being held.

Margaret had made her famous chicken, and just about everybody had brought something special, so there were plenty of good things to eat.

Cousin Henry was there, so there was more than enough to drink.

"Louise and Victoria have Robert's blood, right?" asked Ralph.

"Genes," said Margaret.

"OK, genes.  Does William have Robert's genes?"

"He has Carol's genes," said Sophie.  

"And she's my daughter-in-law," said Margaret.

"I guess we're all cousins," I volunteered.

"I love William just as much as I love any of Robert's children," said Margaret, "whether they're his children with Carol or his children with Helen."

"Whatever happened to Helen?" I asked.

"She married Carol's first husband," said Margaret.

"Jack?  She married Jack?  How did that happen?"

"When Carol and Robert fell in love,  Jack called Helen to commiserate," said Margaret.  "They were really better suited to one another than their ex's."

"That's today for you," said Sophie.

"Do they have any children?" I asked.

"What's the difference?  They're not cousins," said Ralph.

"They don't have children of their own," said Margaret.  "But if they did, they'd be cousins as far as I'm concerned.  I always like Helen.  And besides, she's Louise's and Victoria's mother, and they're my grandchildren.

"Oh for God's sake!" said Ralph.  "That's not the issue.  It's the language.  We want to use the language properly."

"Just call us all cousins," said Margaret, "like Elliott said."

In past years I had been able to see a series of family resemblances among the cousins.  But now that  the family had grown so much, it was harder.  There had been family voices, too, sounds you could recognize.  Now the voices were more varied, more reflective of other worlds.

And yet I still felt at home.

"What if Louise and Steve have children?" asked Sophie.

"What do you mean? asked Margaret.

"They're not married."

"They'll get married," said Ralph.

"A lot of people aren't getting married these days," said Margaret.  "That doesn't mean the children aren't cousins."

"Victoria wouldn't do it.  She wouldn't be a single parent," said Sophie.

"She wouldn't because she's a lesbian," said Ralph.

"Do you have to use that word?"  said Margaret.

"OK, she's gay.  Gay people don't have children."

"Says who?" said Margaret.  "Anyway, she can adopt.  And if she does, that child would be a cousin, too."

Suddenly, Louise and Victoria ran up with some young children I'd not seen before, and drew us into a tight circle.  We all hugged and kissed.

"Hooray for the cousins!" shouted Louise.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and shouted, "Cousins!  Cousins!  Cousins!"

Next year the party will be at Margaret's in Walnut Creek.  I'll try to make it.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pills Are Us

Copyright 2008 Elliott Joseph

December 2008

I hadn't seen the old gang, what was left of them, for quite a while and was surprised how reasonably well they looked.  There we were, the four of us, Charles, Bill, Betsy and me.

As we've done, each time we've gotten together, we launched right into the organ recital:  our arthritic knees, heart surgery, cataracts, breathlessness, hearing loss and other bodily signs of age.

This time it was also about pills.

"You know," said Betsy, "my favorite TV show is the network news.  You get all that information about the new drugs."

"I hate that relentless drug advertising, and the 'Ask your doctor' routine," said Charles.  "Are we oldsters the only ones watching the news?"

"There's this new orange pill," said Betsy.  "It's for fatigue.  I'm always so  tired after dinner."

Charles is our skeptic, and has no patience for the classifying of pills by their color or configuration.  "What's the generic or trade name?  That's what's important."

"Those names are too complicated," said Bill.  "Every pill has its own shape, and that's a handy way to tell one from another.  I take a diamond one, a little round one, an oblong blue, a half tiny white, a hexagon and a long green one."

"Don't you want to know what you're taking?  What their side effects are?"

"I take supplements," said Betsy.  "They don't have any side effects."

"They're placebos," said Charles.  

Bill agreed.  "Ineffectual."

"I hate the way the ads talk about side effects in a tone that sounds like they're good for you," said Charles.

"Do you see any wrinkles in my face?" said Betsy.  "Alternative medicine. Herbals."

"Genes," said Charles.

"I take them with apple sauce," said Betsy.  "I choke with water.  With apple sauce they go right down."

"It's the apple sauce a day that's helping your skin," said Bill.

"I take Levothroid, Furosemide, Metropolol, Hydralazine, Cozaar, Amlodipine, Terazosin and Lovostatin," said Charles, "and have no problem distinguishing one from another."

"I take Vitamin C 500, B-50, Calcium with Vitamin D and Centrum Silver," I said.

"Me too," said Betsy.  "And those little forest green pills."

"Forest sulphate," said Bill.

"Ferrous sulphate," corrected Charles.

"That was a joke," said Bill.

"What do you take for headaches?" I asked.



"I can't take Advil or Motrin."

"Ecotrin.  It's coated."

"I carry Aspirin, just in case I get a heart attack."

"What about Flomax?"

"I love that ad."

"Do you take sleeping tablets?"



It was time for cookies and coffee.  For a while there was silence.

As we said our goodbyes, I asked, "Are these little pills the things that are keeping us alive?" 

"Ask your doctor," we agreed.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Older Woman, Younger Man

Copyright 2008 Elliott Joseph

November 2008

Braving "robbing the cradle" jokes, almost one third of women between the ages of 40 and 69 are dating men 10 or more years younger.  According to a recent AARP poll, one-sixth of women in their 50s, in fact, prefer men in their 40s.


- I want to thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about your relationship.
"My pleasure."
- May I ask your age?
"I don't do age."
- OK. Just how young is the man in your life?
"About my son's age."
- That would put him...
" his twenties.  But they've been in their thirties and forties."
- So you've gone out with younger men before.
"I've tried to go out with men my own age or older since my husband died, but it hasn't worked out."

- They were not in good shape?
"On the contrary.  They were very cute."
- It's something else then.
"It's something else."
- Can you give me a hint?
"Older men don't like to do it standing up."
- Sex?
"No, silly.  Eating.
- Eating!

"Older men want to do it sitting down.  They want their dinner on the table at six o'clock.  They want their lunch on the table at noon.  They want their breakfast on the table at seven.  That's not a relationship.  That's slavery."
- Younger men don't like to eat sitting down?
"Not the ones I've known.  Too busy.  Too much in a hurry.  Off to jog, off to work, off to the movies.  I haven't cooked in a year."
- And you don't miss it?
"If I want to cook, I can.  I've got old friends.  I can invite them over for a veal roast, curried chicken, or whatever.  I can cook for myself."

- But isn't it romantic to be sitting at an intimate, candlelit table for two together with the man you love?
"That's what restaurants are for."
- I see.
"When I'd complain to an older beau that we never go out for dinner, he'd say, 'What do you mean?  We went out just the other month. '  If my young friend has to sit down for a home cooked meal he thinks it's Thanksgiving or Christmas."

- There must be other reasons why you prefer younger men.  I suppose they make you feel younger and give you a new lease on life, so to speak.
"They don't require so much mending."
- Mending?
"Sewing.  Buttons, split seams, tears in their trousers.  They just keep wearing their beat-up clothes until they're sick of them, then toss the things out and buy something new."
- And older men...
"...never throw their old clothes away."

- Is there a down side to going out with a younger man?
"There have been awkward moments.  Once we were talking about history and this young friend of mine though the Battle of the Bulge was something that happened to people over forty who didn't believe in aerobics.  As for me, I didn't know whether a vegan was something you wore, sat on, or drove."

- Do you ever get jealous?
"How do you mean?"
- Well, the men you've known are quite a bit younger than you are.
"I do have a couple of old girl friends who hang around."
- I mean younger women.  Have you been jealous of any of them?
"It's the most natural thing in the world for a young man to want a young woman .  How can I be jealous of that?"

- So you've lost some younger men?
"And some have lost me."
- What is it that younger men get from older women?
"I can only speak for myself."
- Of course.
"I know how to dance to slow music.  I put my lipstick away and I wipe the sink."

- There are three million women in America married to men ten or more years younger.  Do you ever think you'll settle down with a younger man?
"Marriage is something else."
- I take it, then, that you do not wish to remarry.
"I didn't say that."
- Excuse me, but is it that you would prefer someone more a contemporary?

"Well, you share William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Rock Hudson and Doris Day with a man your own age.  There's something indefinably comforting coming out of similar experiences and longings.  You know where you've been and where you still have to go."
- But?
"I just wish those old guys would lighten up a bit."

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Working The Kinks Out Of The Afternoon Nap

Reprinted from Grand Times
Copyright 2008 Elliott Joseph

October 2008

I was grateful to learn from some recently published studies that my desire for a daily afternoon nap was not a sign of laziness, declining interest in my work or approaching senility.  In fact, according to the experts, naps are not only natural, they are beneficial and should be encouraged.

Napping after lunch or some time in the mid afternoon, they say, can improve your productivity and help prevent nasty accidents by keeping you alert the rest of the day. Armed with these findings, I vowed I would hereafter listen to my body when it cried out for a nap, and ignore any societal censure that might crop up.

About an hour after lunch that first enlightened day I noticed the page I was reading beginning to fade.  My eyes derived tremendous pleasure from remaining closed for several seconds at a time.  Normally panicked by such signals, I now looked forward to the afternoon nap that was about to take place with a veritable torrent of anticipation.

I work at home, so implementation, I thought, would be simple.  But some questions arose.  Should I take off my shoes?  Should I put my feet up on the desk or get into bed?  If in bed, should I nap on top of the covers or underneath?  If underneath, should I get undressed or just take my shirt off? Or my pants?

In any case, I'd leave my socks on.

But how long should I nap?  The way I felt I could sleep until the next morning. Since my accountant would be over at four to check the books, I set the alarm for 3:45.  I decided to keep my clothes on, remove my shoes and lie down on the bed on top of the covers.

But I couldn't sleep.  Lying there, finally, after all those years, all I could do was think that the whole country was watching me, wondering how I was going to finish all the things that I had to do before the week was out.

And then I was in the Antarctic.  The dogs were starving, the sled half covered with snow.  I was shivering.  I needed a blanket desperately.  Suddenly the alarm went off.  Should I brush my teeth?  And my hair -- how would I get it to lie down?  My eyes were bloodshot.  Before I could even change my rumpled shirt the doorbell rang.  Would I be able to talk?  To listen?  To think? How long would it take me to wake up?

That weekend, business obligations and household chores safely out of the way, I prepared more properly for my afternoon nap.  This time I got completely undressed and got under the covers.

I felt my wife shaking me.

"What are you doing?" she cried.

"I'm taking a short nap."

"It's seven -thirty," she said.  "You've been in bed since two and we have a dinner date over at Bill and Beth's at eight.  Are you all right?"

All right?  I was a tiger, absolutely on fire.  In fact, I've never been so witty, so engaging, as I was that night.  Beth complimented me on how well I looked. Bill eyed me suspiciously.  When the others started to yawn I was ready to go bowling.

Later, at home, my wife climbed into bed and went out like a light.  I lay there staring at the ceiling.  The nap really had worked, I chuckled to myself, going over my triumphs of the evening.  An hour went by.  And then another.  At three in the morning, still unable to fall asleep, I got up for a glass of warm milk.  it was hopeless.

Obviously, napping was too new to my way of life.  As a novice, I needed guidelines and training.

It would be easier if more people took to napping, the way they took to two- hour lunches, the happy hour and jogging.  We'd have more articles, even books, on the subject.  It would become a part of American life.

Meanwhile, those of us who are napping pioneers will have to experiment, one afternoon at a time.  I'm willing.  Are you?

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008



Copyright 2008 Elliott Joseph

September 2008

Recently, I got to wondering how I’d do, competing against the youth I used to be half a lifetime ago.

Now, thanks to the miracle of virtual reality, I could find out who was the better man, me then or me today. Through state-of-the-art computer programming I would be able to, all but actually, get on the tennis court in a battle with my former self.

Why tennis, you may ask. Why not compare my ability to dance or make love?

Sure, they’re important, too, but they require the subjective judgment of another. I wanted a contest where the score alone would decide.

It would tell me whether the seasoned cleverness and diabolical craftiness of my maturity could overcome the brash confidence and awesome physical capability of the wild kid I used to be.

I set about preparing for the showdown by analyzing the player I had been. From old photographs and a memory that was still sharp enough I was able to visualize before me a tall, lean young man with a ruddy complexion that reflected his love of outdoor combat.

His determined expression, trim waist, powerful forearms and insolently square shoulders presented a picture of barely contained energy just waiting to explode.

I knew him to be one of the world’s fiercest fighters for whom defeat seemed more horrible than death.

Nevertheless, as I saw myself standing opposite him, gray, stooped, tired before we even began, I felt I had an excellent chance of beating him. I was smarter and more experienced. My strokes were softer, but more varied.

True, my body was bent where it was supposed to be straight, and straight where it was supposed to be bent, but it could be maneuvered well enough for the doubles I normally played with my contemporaries.

Perhaps it could be made to work against this impatient tiger who was now bouncing around in his quaint little sneakers as the match was ready to get underway.

I won the toss and elected to serve first. The ball suddenly came back so fast and so deep I never had a chance to lay my racquet on it. He had aced me on my own service! The next thing I knew he had taken the first game.

Then he won his service in four straight points. The score was 0-2. I would have to use my head.

I started to chop and slice, a strategy that had been working very well for me of late. This didn’t trouble him in the least. He simply got to the ball in a few quick steps, and returned it first to my left and then to my right until I found myself running into the ground.

I think I picked the wrong conditions for the match. The sun was high in the sky and I was soon drowning in my own perspiration.

I then tried to keep the ball deep into his backhand, which I knew to be his weakest stroke. At last I took a game, but he soon caught on to what I was doing and started to lob the ball over my head as I foolishly went to the net in a vain attempt to force an error.

His lobs were so high, however. I was able to run back to get them. That, I later realized, was a critical mistake.

The court seemed to get bigger and bigger, and I began panting heavily. Then a chill ran up my arms and the ball got harder to see. The score was now 1-4, and I called for a time-out for a drink and a rest.

While I was desperately trying to recover, he dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups! If he had not been myself, I would have murdered him.

The end came soon afterwards, 1-6.

He was gracious about his win, as I knew he would be, and offered to play another set. Exhausted, I shook my head and shut off the computer.

I’ve considered programming a rematch. But why go through all that? After all, it isn’t as though I lost to someone else. His victory was my victory, too. Wasn’t it?

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Thursday, July 31, 2008


Copyright 2008 Elliott Joseph
August 2008

Fuel injection, power steering, automatic transmission, computerized maintenance programming -- today's automobile is an engineering masterpiece.

Except for the horn.

As articulate beings we can go into detail about our trip to the Grand Tetons.

We can debate a constitutional issue. But with our automobile horn all we can say is, "Hey!" "Look out!" or "Get the hell out of my way!"

Imagine my surprise on the highway the other day when I heard this pleasant, "tap, de-te-tap" behind me.

It was the horn of a small blue sedan that wanted to pass. Its friendliness seemed to talk to me, and I moved over quickly.

The driver, a woman in her fifties with a strong profile, rosy complexion and short, straight gray hair touched her brow in a salute of thanks and drove on.

A little while later I found myself next to her on a local street, waiting for a light to change. I motioned for her to join me for a moment, and we pulled into a couple of parking spots.

I complimented her and asked if she had a special horn installed in her car. She said no, it was simply the way she used it.

"Can you show me what you did on the highway?" I asked.

"You mean, 'Excuse me, I'd like to pass you, but I assure you this is no reflection on your ability to drive, your age, your looks or how much money you make '?"

"Yes," I said, excited. "That was it!"

She hit the horn with a quiet touch of the heel of her palm and some delicate taps of her middle finger.

Fascinated, I asked if she had any other horn calls.

She thought for a moment. "Here's one I've used a number of times on weekends," she said, playing a series of staccato beats. "It's, 'Don't look now, but your dog's nose is caught in your right rear window.'"

Realizing I had found a sympathetic ear, I bewailed the way some drivers lean on their horns for the least little thing.

"Yes," she agreed, "and horn talk is really so easy."

I wanted to hear her entire repertory. She said she had to get on, but would run through a few.

Exhibiting an eloquence I had not thought possible with a standard equipment automobile horn, she played:

-- I know I'm in the wrong lane. I'm trying to get out of your way.
-- I'd like to get into my garage, please.
-- I'm blowing my horn a bit louder than usual only because I know you're hard of hearing. No offense meant.
-- Can you move forward about three inches?
-- Love your car.
-- After you.
-- I'm driving this slow because I have a wedding cake in the back seat.

"I wish I could play the horn the way you do," I said, "but it seems complicated. I bet you could make a fortune writing it all down and getting it programmed."

She smiled. "All you have to do is feel what you want to say to be able to get your horn to say it."

Suddenly we heard a loud, four second horn blast from a pick-up truck that had pulled up alongside us.

"Let me interpret that," I volunteered. "He's saying, 'Hey, are you leaving or are you going to spend the night there!?'"

A young man wearing a purple and white peaked cap backwards rolled down his right hand window.

"Hey," he said, "are you leaving or..."

I cut him off. "No, we're spending the night here."

He sped away, giving us a much longer blast. My new friend and I laughed.

She wished me good luck, said goodbye and left. I got into my car, sorry I had not asked her name.

At that moment a man pulled up in a Porsche. He was about to back into the vacant spot. I tapped my horn twice, then once more.

"Sure," he said. "I'll wait while you get out. It'll be easier for both of us."

I took off, feeling I had found new strength.

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