Sky-diving: Terra Firma…NOT!

I started this account of my one sky-diving experience some years (!) ago…. and finally finished it last night.

Any story where a man takes risks beyond the ordinary usually involves a woman.  On those occasions, “fool” and “man” are as interchangeable as two tire lugsand with equivalent IQs.  In this case, it caused me to suspend a deepseated fear of heights and to jump technically without a parachute — from an airplane flying at ten thousand feet over a desert sunset.  Other places to visit were higher on my list than Tucson, Arizona: Macchu Picchu, Easter Island, the ruins of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Troy VIIa, but none had a woman I could have loved.  So it was that I found myself there one August some dozen years ago. 

 Pamela and I had met in that curious relationship of client and consultant: her company had paid me handsomely for the privilege of not listening to the advice they bought.  I was married at the time and we became good friends, good enough to remain connected even after she had moved across the country years later.  I was no longer married by then, but any fantasy I might have harbored was exactly that, a fantasy since the reality was so much better: a solid friendship.

I had gone to Tucson to help Pam celebrate a milestone.  She was turning forty and feeling unsettled about the past and uneasy about the future.  Anyone could see the stunning preRaphaelite looks and hear the deceptively softspoken voice, but it took spadework to uncover one sharp negotiator, two difficult degrees (engineering and a Wharton MBA), three unhappy jobs, and one man after another selected in her fathers image.  Having shed both the jobs and the men, she was in the first year of studying medicine, that Faustian pact to do harm to oneself for six years in order to do good for a lifetime.  I was not worried about her: swimming with corporate sharks had sharpened her natural feistiness for the inevitable runins with the bureaucracy of a medical school.  Pamela had the grit to thrive in that environment without losing her innate gentleness of spirit or purpose.  She would make a doctor that could be trusted.

It was during the ride from the airport to her house after my flight from Philadelphia that she turned toward me and asked: “Do you love me enough to jump out of an airplane?” 

No.  That’s what I wish she had done: posed a question whereby she could be gained with a simple answer.  “But noooooooo!!“, as John Belushi used to say.  Her actual words were a matteroffact: “Let’s go skydiving tomorrow!“, delivered with her usual smile and musical lilt. 

Being seated and belted into the car reduced the shock: I did not stumble as I would have, had we been walking.  Feigning interest in the Tucson skyline bought a few moments, moments filled with the image of a falling body accompanied by a prolonged deathshriek ending with a thud.  “Sure“, I replied instead, with a silent gulp. 

What else could I have said?  “No“?  It was out of the question.  Consider the forces at play: her personal milestone, my lack (still) of a suitably significant birthday present, my Machismo-byosmosis from a Latino childhood… and the only acceptable answer was my eventoned: “Sure.”  All the doubts were invisible, the screams inside my head muffled by a thick male skull.  I don’t know why I slept soundly that night, perhaps because a part of me was convinced that it would be my last. 

The next afternoon, I wrote a “justincase” note attesting to the free will exercised in my decision and my love for life and for my daughter.  I placed it on top of my suitcase in the guest-room and felt both better and foolish.  It brought me some satisfaction that, at the very least, the insurance company wouldn’t be able to claim madness as a reason for avoiding payment.  And then we left for  Sky-Dive Marana, the jump center at the edge of Tucson.

The instructors and jumpmasters were two young men who carried themselves with the selfconfidence of the insane.  Swaggering I would have understood: it was their nonchalance when speaking about the number of times they had jumped that was unsettling.  Yet, as thorough as they were in explaining what we could expect, they were also liars: that first step out of the plane  (Put your right foot onto the wing strut, hold onto the door frame with your left-hand and then push out.) was not the most difficult part of the jump.  By that point, the decision had gone through umpteen “…a hundred visions and revisions which a minute will reverse…” (to quote T.S. Eliot) during the hardest part: the slow, spiralclimb of the Cessna to jump altitude. Why had I thought that it would be like stepping into an elevator, pressing the button for “10,000 feet” and being whisked up, almost instantaneously, in relative comfort?  I hadn’t wanted time to relive my decision, especially as I was positioned.

Picture kneeling (prayer, optional) in a space the size of an old-fashioned claw-foot bath-tub.  Now picture a large man attached to your behind, er…..behind you and attached, via four points on his chute harness, to your NO-chute harness.  (Yes, no-chute harness.) Linked like Siamese twins, you have the combined bulk of a champion Sumo wrestler, a Sumo wrestler with four arms, four legs, and — for this intent and purpose — one brain.  (Yours was surrendered when you viewed the safety video, read the release form…and still signed it.)  Above the vibrations of the small plane you feel his in-out breathing pressing the front-strapped emergency chute — his emergency chute: you have none! — against your upper back.  This stranger is now your BFF, at least until you are back on the ground, alive and in one piece.  At this point, you would give him anything he asked money, secrets, your first-born because your life is in his hands.  Anything.  All this went through my mind.  And more. 

Everything heard in the hangarclassroom during the previous hour replayed in my mind as I stared at the duct tape on the floor of the Cessna.  I could see where a rivet was missing and, glancing upwards at the pilot, wondered whether someone who appeared to have just started shaving ‑‑ judging by the nicks on his face ‑‑ really knew what he was doing.  Dwelling on that unpleasant thought, I was grateful that the 120mileanhour wind coming through a crack on the door hinge evaporated the sweat on my face as fast as it formed.  My thoughts went back to the pre-jump speech.

“The reserve chute is not effective if deployed below 900 feet”, the jumpmaster had said.  I had noted the euphemisms: “not effective” for “won’t save your ass”, “deployed”, so full of military precision, for “opening”.  Those last 900 feet (three football fields laid end to end), would be covered in five seconds, maybe ten, if there was a partial opening.  In a problem jump, that would come after 9000 feet of freefall, the first six thousand in ecstasy, the last 3000 in increasing panic and terror.  If the altimeters on the plane were right, there would be approximately fifty seconds before certain death.  (I once read a story in Reader’s Digest about a Russian military pilot who fell over fortythousand feet with a defective parachute and survived…..but I had stopped believing in the Reader’s Digest when its editorials kept insisting that Nixon was not a crook.)

The freefall in a sky-dive is unique.  First, it’s not a surprise.  Second, this kind of falling takes time.  It has nothing in common with ordinary falling like, for example, from leaning over the railing of an apartment balcony.  That would be unexpected, an accident. Sky-diving is about as premeditated an act as one can make!  Secondly, there is the duration of the fall.  Look at the nearest timepiece.  Now hold your breath for thirty seconds.  Yes, stop reading, hold your breath, and count to thirty.  Slowly.  Don’t cheat! Your life doesnt flash before your eyes.  Instead, you are a captive audience to a slow-motion video of all those life-events you couldnt remember at $150.00 an hour on the therapists couch.   

In a typical jump, thirty seconds, on the average, is how long it takes to cover the 6000 feet of freefall  (about 1.1 miles).  Like losing one’s virginity — with which, arguably, a first-jump shares many emotions: anticipation, anxiety, terror, euphoria, relief, gratitude, and elation — it can be both the longest and shortest halfaminute in one’s life.  (For the record, losing my virginity lasted….never mind!)

My thirty seconds — no, not the virginity-losing ones — began with the creaky metal door swinging open and the sudden vastness of the unconfined world being laid, quite literally, at my feet.  From that perch, my sense of awe and insignificance co-existed in the same moment… and was abruptly pushed aside by the jump-masters shouts competing with the roar of the engine and the wind: Swing out!! Get your foot planted!!  I found myself half-outside the plane, right foot on the wing-strut, the wind whipping my over-sized jumpsuit into a sail, and straddling..nothing. 

Whether I actually jumped or waddled into thin air by the weight and pull of my BBFF (Best, Best Friend Forever) in the world, I will never know.  Id like to think that I stepped out of my own volition.

What I do remember about the free-fall is a series of sensations.  The flap-flapping noise of the extra material of the jump-suit and the deafening roar and whipping of my ears by the wind, my cheeks concaving from its force.  The pressure of the goggles on my face and the will-power it took to keep my eyes open.  A sense of the mass (the jump-master) attached to my back but without the weight, as we were falling at the same speed.  The cartoonish view of the earth rushing towards me at a terminal velocity of over 120 miles per hour. And, most clearly, a memory of the fear that I would lose bladder-control.

Then, just as my mind was beginning to disassociate from my body, the expected-but-still-miraculous opening of the chute on the jump-masters back!

Instantly, I became a human marionette suddenly yanked straight up by invisible hands and strings as the harness straps, not cinched tightly enough, snapped, then dug into my chest and inner thighs.  A hundred miles per hour of airspeed had disappeared in under two seconds.  I had gone from demonstrating gravity to blessing the existence of an atmosphere as the opened para-sail caught and held the air.  (Although perception of the pain was quickly suppressed by the adrenalin and endorphins, the bruises from the harness would fully develop by the time we had returned home, the outlines so distinct they looked like dark blue tattoos for the first week.) 

After the shock of the 3 to 4 G deceleration, I was just glad that I had checked (and rechecked) that my “family jewels” were tucked out of harm’s way before stepping out of the plane. During the prejump course, Frank, the jump-master, had shouted out the classroom door: “Bill, remember that guy last year in Colorado that Fred told us about?  You know, that firsttimer whose dick ‑‑ sorry, ladies I mean, whose ‘private parts’ got caught between the harness and his thigh?  Fred said the ground crew could hear his scream when the chute opened, and they were a couple of miles away and not even downwind.  Said they’d never heard a scream that held the initial pitch for that long…  Do you remember whether he said they saved it or not?”   Then turning towards us again, “The point of the story is: you might walk funny on the way to plane with the straps on tight, but I guarantee you’ll walk funnier later if you don’t!”  The story might have been apocryphal, but it certainly made everyone with external private-parts wince.  (The women had exchanged glances but kept their chuckling silent, out of respect? Smug superiority?)

As I now floated through a never-before-experienced silence – made even more striking by the contrast to the wind’s roar just before – I started to relax a little.  I dared not look down at my feet, since seeing NOTHING under them could have had the effect of releasing previously-mentioned bladder, and focused instead on being at eye-level with clouds, the jagged skyline in the distance, and the smoothness of the descent.

Suddenly, the disembodied voice of my BBFF came from above and behind me: “See those lines with the handles in front of and above you?  Grab them with your hands and pull the left one or the right one to go in that direction.”  I did as he commanded and made us go in wide back-and-forth turns designed to bring us to the landing-zone near the hangars.  At some point, for better accuracy, he took over and I was free to enjoy the scenery.  My BBFF – I have no recollection of his name or what he looked like – pointed out some of the terrain features, none of which made an impression as I was on sensory overload.   (Pamela and her BBFF were not-too-distant, but just far enough to make communication impossible.)

As we got closer to the ground, the reference point of the buildings growing bigger made it seem as if our speed was increasing.  His last instructions were for me to lift my legs up so that his would act as the “landing gear” running to a stop when we touched-down, the para-sail flared back to release the last of the trapped air that is the principle behind how parachutes and para-sails work.  If I failed to lift my legs, then our four legs, close together and without the room to move, would likely trip and tangle as we touched ground.  A 15-18 mph, it would make for a very ungraceful and dangerous landing.

Fortunately, I paid close attention and we landed without stumbling.  Safely on terra firma, I looked up at the sky, the storm clouds in the distant mountains lit like giant Japanese paperlanterns by the lightning within, and marveled at having been a speck against that infinite expanse.

Somewhere, there is a photo of Pamela and I – still in our jump-suits and wearing the skull-tight jump head-gear – grinning ear-to-ear against a background of sagebrush and a deep-blue sky. 

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Paris on my mind..

“We’ll always have Paris”, Bogart said to Bergman in Casablanca and tears roll down the cheeks of both the hard-boiled and the heart-weary..  We don’t just understand, we grok, for Paris is the birthplace of love-affairs, not the least of which is the one with the city itself. And what Bogart would say about the Maltese Falcon is truer still about Paris: it is “The stuff that dreams are made of”.

IF Hoagy Carmichael had written “Paris On My Mind” instead of “Georgia”, it would be the earworm playing in my head. It happens periodically, as Paris is a virus against which there is no vaccine and for which, once infected, the only remedy is a visit to ease the symptoms…. until the next outbreak. I know this from having gone from a small-town boy in Brazil to whom Paris was as out-of-reach as the moon, to something even more improbable: an adult who has both run its Marathon and walked its streets in every weather of the heart and calendar.  Once is not enough. Or even my dozen-plus times.

In the film “The September Issue”, a documentary about the assembly of the September 2007 issue of Vogue Magazine, there is a segment in which a senior editor, a former model herself, is followed around Paris scouting locations for a photo-shoot. As the chauffeured car meanders the streets, the camera never leaves her face. We note – in her half-smile, a curtailed sentence, a tear squinted back – not the memories themselves, but their revelatory bubbles, hints of her private Paris. It made me realize how my – and likely your – experience of Paris is as a palimpsest: a papyrus written, scraped and written over, yet with all layers still showing: the new wreathed through with the old, faded and distinct at the same time.

Its first appearance in our consciousness, like the first raindrops of a Spring shower, presages differently for each of us. For some, Paris will be barely noticeable, the few drops – a photo here, a news item there – brushed off easily. For that minority, it means getting out the umbrella of unimagination to defend against the torrent to come, for Paris is pervasive, unavoidable.

But for the majority …. for the majority, that first picture book about the adventures of a little Parisian girl (or an overheard story, or perhaps a souvenir snow-globe or miniature Eiffel Tower from a returning visitor) will be the beginning of something marvelous. Over the years, as the occurrences increase in number and variety, the bits and pieces – from the iconic to the obscure, added deliberately or by chance – shape that layer’s complexity and topography. We note the reverence, the wistful tone, the sigh (or silence), the distant (or knowing) look of a shared secret in the eyes of those who have experienced it. It’s a Paris where history and fiction mix and stroll together, where little Madeline dances Gershwin with Gene Kelly, Curious George climbs La Tour Eiffel, The Three Musketeers charge the barricades, and Napoleon applauds Piaf singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Yet it all makes sense and feels natural.

Paris, then, becomes a state of mind, a bank vault for both real and false memories of treasured Hemingway descriptions, Cartier-Bresson photographs, scenes from Hitchcock and French New Cinema, Josephine Baker’s dancing, with Jacques Briel and Maurice Chevalier songs (except “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”, which is very creepy…) to set the mood.

That Paris is what we carry, heavy with anticipation, until we step off the train, plane, bus or car that finally delivers us there for the first time, jet-lagged or rested, cranky or cranked-up…. and begin creating our private Paris with that first step, a Paris that we will always have, our version of that beautiful friendship.

——————————

The impetus for the above, which I began in late in 2011, was a yearning, an itch to be in Paris again. I scratched that itch over Memorial Day weekend (and checked off The French Open from my bucket list). Last night, I was able to finish the piece.

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When in Scotland…..

It seems apt, as I am in Scotland this week, that I finally “finished” the poem below enough to make it visible to other eyes. In truth, I rarely stop tinkering with a poem, hence my output of completed ones is extremely low.

This one began years ago when I realized, during a conversation with a friend as we were enduring a blizzard in Philadelphia, just how much Scotland – particularly the Highlands – had gotten inside me. I was startled, as we talked about where we’d go to escape the January storm, that my thoughts turned to Scotland and NOT the warm climes of my childhood: Brazil. It was curious, as the latter should have been an obvious – if not automatic – choice.

Some of the lines and images came easily and quickly…. and then it bogged down as I became caught up in the crafting process. It’s the ugly part of writing, the one where I know what’s not working, where the Lover-of-Words debates the Keeper-of-Truth-and-Purpose ad nauseum. In this case, the truce lasted years, until tonight, when a combination of making some changes plus sheer exhaustion at the impasse led to this late draft.

I most worried that the references would be unknown, in turn, to readers who don’t know “things” Brazilian and “things” Scottish. The solution was a change in MY attitude: allow for the reader to figure them out. Or not. Either way, the important recognition was that an artist/poet creates to release/satisfy themselves, not the audience. I enjoyed the process though the result is more “clever” than emotionally strong as a poem. (I know my weaknesses and the difference between a good and a bad poem.)

The concluding three-line verse is still problematic, though the first two lines are part of that original inspiration. I like that image: it’s also how my piled-up books look. Until tonight’s editing, the last word was “stillness” and not “Scotland”. I may go back to it. What do you think?

“Go where in January??”

Winter has cored warmth from the air,
taken Summer’s seed for sowing
far into April’s winds,
and shivering salarymen,
from Tokyo to Saskatchewan,
turn eyes to tropical firmaments.

My own thoughts flow, not southward

to mango groves
where my child-self yet stands willing
the ripened fruit to fall;
to caipirinhas sipped on the sly,
the slurry of liquored-ice creating
a fairyland behind the eyes,
but eastward

to a Highland windscape of crofts
abandoned since ’45;
to unsheepish flocks that block
the tracks that pass for roads;
to Mallaig docks where sailors stand,
like the saints with up-turned hands
in church windows along the Clyde,
their shared silence a single lament
for shortened days and abrupted sailings to Skye.

Beside my bed,
a cairn of books contains
the hundred words for Scotland.

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Aug. 15 – On second thought, it’s an awful poem: I fell in love with some lines and rhymes (“salarymen” and “Saskatchewan”: c’mon, that was good!) and lost sight of what’s important, that it SAY something worth saying.  But it doesn’t. It’s dull, it’s vainglorious. And I am leaving it here as a reminder to myself.

Posted in Loch Shiel, Loch Tay, poetry, Scotland, The Scotland Connection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Online Dating: responding to emails

A few months ago, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece containing advice for women writing profiles for online dating sites, notably Match.com. It was meant to be humorous and helpful, particularly about the use of photos, and – thankfully! – if it has offended anyone, they haven’t let me have it with both barrels! (That may be also due to this blog being by invitation or serendipity, i.e. I make no effort to publicize it.)

I have read hundreds of profiles by women. My appetite – and stamina! – for doing so may, in part, be attributed to being accustomed to reading a different kind of profile in my professional life: resumes and CVs. Almost unconsciously, my “eye” is trained to evaluate, assess, and draw conclusions, based on the information at hand about the individuals represented. Call it an occupational hazard combined with the curiosity about people (and what makes them “tick”) that led me to both majoring in psychology and falling into my profession….which leads me to the topic of this posting and human behavior.

The one thing that baffles me the most is the non-response rate when I (finally) read a profile that is of interest. I don’t mean “non-response” as in the interest not being mutual. I mean “non-response” as in someone not even taking the 2 seconds to click the “no thanks” button Match provides for sending an auto-reply.

I am bothered by this for several reasons. On a general level, I see it as a lack of courtesy towards someone who has taken their time to write, which is flattering, i.e. a stranger found something about you attractive and interesting. Thus, it’s rude (to me) NOT hitting that button or, better, penning a short “thank you, no thank you” when someone writes. I always try to write something: it’s kind and considerate. On a personal level, my emails to profiles are thoughtful and show I READ the profile and see points of connectivity (or else I wouldn’t be writing…duh!). It’s perfectly fine that they disagree or don’t find my profile to be interesting or me “attractive”: one only needs to be accepted by the right person.

My question, dear reader, if you are a woman and have done online dating, is: “Do you think I am being too ‘sensitive’ on this issue?”

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Online Dating Profile “Dos and Don’ts” for Women

Many – myself included – have used online dating services to fill what Margaret Mead called one of the most basic of human needs, to have: “…someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night…”. (No, she didn’t mean your probation officer!)

Everyone deserves a chance to find that person who completes their sentences, stirs their pot in the kitchen (and bedroom!), and thinks her collecting barbed-wire (really: there is a museum dedicated to barbed-wire….)  and him loving bisque dolls is just fine…though  pretty kinky displayed together in the  same cabinet!  (For the record, I collect(ed) fountain pens, hip flasks and single malt whiskeys, mechanical watches,  stones from places visited, and stories about stupid criminals.  Nothing eyebrow-raising…)    To each their own, and each of us deserves the best chance possible to find the right cell-mate for that special asylum of two that is a marriage or a long-term relationship.

Ever wonder what men think when they read an online dating profile?

It’s been cringingly painful – NOT entertaining – to see how so many of these profiles, particularly when it comes to the use of photos, do a disservice to the women posting them.  This happens because they are not thinking about the way the average man will react, no matter how “evolved” he is (or thinks he is).  Reams of research show men to be “wired” to be more visual and women’s online profile photos should reflect that awareness when making choices about what they show (or hide).

Below are some examples and my observations.  Since there is a focus on what to avoid, please do not castigate me for “cruelty” or “insensitivity” in my use of photos from real ads. First, they are in public view already – and downloadable, which should serve as warning about what photos you want strangers to not just see but “keep” – and, secondly, there is no better way to illustrate the issues.  However, if one of the photos happens to be from your profile, just email me about which one and I will substitute another.  (Sadly, there are so many…) My comments are meant to be humorous, not mean-spirited, so I apologize in advance if they miss the mark with you.   (And if it does, it means we are not a “match”!)  So.

If men had their choice, the women’s photos in an online profile would mirror the requirements of The Miss America Pageant.  Plus one.  Every woman’s posting would be required to have:

a) a swimsuit photo
b) an evening-gown photo
c) a well-lit head-shot
d) an activity photo.
e) a photo showing all the pets in the household

“A” through “D” are obvious.  “E” is to prevent the surprise of a large and/or exotic menagerie.   As you will see, this set of rules would save many from making egregious choices!  (Aside: there is a wonderful scene in the early Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper where he is suffering a mental breakdown and thinks that he’s competing for – and is crowned! – Miss America. It’s hilarious and priceless, complete with the vapid answers to the inane questions that contestants are asked!)

I am certain that men’s profiles can be as ridiculous, if not more so.  In fact, I count on that being true because it just might make mine a little more normal!  And yes, I didn’t practice what I preach here about my photo selection.  That’s because I am a man.  (Another aside: there is a hilarious Canadian comedy show called “The Red and Green Show” where the members of the men’s lodge have a Man’s Prayer that goes: “I’m a man. (pause)   But I can change. (long pause)   If I have to.  (longest pause)   I guess.“)

By the same token, and to pre-empt charges of “sexism” on my part, I also propose that male profiles would have to have the following:

a) a shirtless profile-shot wearing pants and belt (to show any belly overhang);
b) a photo in a tuxedo (black or white tie)
c) three mug-shot style photos: clean-shaven, 2-3 day stubble, and with beard and/or mustache
d) wearing a clown-costume and make-up (clown-shoes the only optional out) to make amends for the woman’s swim-suit photo

Optional photo: police booking-shot with the height scale IF the women’s includes one on a scale. (Studies show men lie about height and women about weight…)

Satisfied?  (Sorry, this is a G-rated blog by choice, so I won’t add the other requirement  you are thinking.)

Moving on…

A photo should NOT scare a viewer – male or female – into having concerns about either your mental state OR their safety. I thought that this would be obvious, but seeing the photo below made it clear that if noting the obvious helps just ONE person, it was worth doing:

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Likewise, a photo with a WAX likeness of Woody “I-don’t-know-the-boundaries” Allen makes the Creepy-Factor needle jump into the red zone…. It’s also completely distracting and takes the viewer’s mind to places that have nothing to do with her.  Besides, he (it?) looks like he’s doing his best to avoid having anything to do with her!  (And if even Woody Allen is disinterested…)


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Avoid group shots. At best, it’s distracting, especially trying to hunt a new face among several.  I still have NO idea, despite several other photos, about which one was the ad-placer in the group photo below:

 

 

 

 

 

At worse, it makes him think he could do better:Match2

…..unless you are calculating and cunning enough to make sure you are the most attractive woman in the group shot.  And if you did – and are THAT cunning! – would you really want him to find that out about you THIS early?  (And yes,  for most men, ONE of these women below is decidedly cuter than the others.)

 

 

 

 

Avoid photos with a hand over the shoulder, around the waist, or – especially! – a partial male face….but missing their owner. (This one below commits two of the those three sins PLUS the bonus one of not knowing her dress size…)   

However, if you like a particular photo of yourself THAT much, then get Photoshop, learn to use Photoshop, and make the cropping look professional.

Here it is, bluntly: to the average male viewing profiles, a photo that adds NO information about body-shape, size, and/or facial features is not going to be of real interest.  Not photos of your kids – I personally believe one should NOT be posting photos that have their children in them – not your pets, not your parents (!).  Really.  Photos in exotic locales are fine as long as you are in them AND the shots provide the information listed above, i.e. no large-brimmed hats and sunglasses, and you are not the size of an ant.C77AD20A-49CA-464B-AAD6-21770B429555

This particular one goes out of the way to be unhelpful towards that goal:

It also suggests that she won’t be a good pole-dancer, as her sense of balance is questionable.  (Not quite sure what is being demonstrated, but one hopes she has a good chiropractor….)

Skip vampy, “peek-a-boo” or any photo deliberately trying to be sexy. Unless you are a trained model or actress.  Remember that men don’t need much to think about sex early and often, so you are throwing oil on the fire with poses like that.  (A great motto to keep in mind,  for this and for many other life-situations is :  Under-promise and OVER-DELIVER!!)

By the way, the last person to pull off “peek-a-boo” with success was Veronica Lake (“Who?”)   Besides, do you REALLY want sex to be the focus of his thoughts when you just spent dozens of words on all the wholesome activities – not that sex isn’t wholesome, if it’s done wrong – for which you want to be loved, first?  (And could there at least be a smile, to show that you would actually enjoy the act(s) seemingly being suggested?)

Watch out for inappropriate photo props. A pool table is to be used for …. well, playing pool!   Its use for other purposes is ingrained in the public imagination thanks to depictions in movies and horrific accounts in news stories.  Either way, the associations are not, shall we way …..  “classy”.  So, better know what you are suggesting (and saying about yourself – hint: rhymes with “stamp” ).

About pets. Photos of the dog or cat propped on cushions and – worse! – in bed with you are NOT a turn-on for 99% of men.  And you don’t want the other 1%!  Men aren’t looking at photos to admire your dog’s “cuteness” factor.  ONE photo is sufficient, preferably without any props and with “Scout” or “Old Yeller” doing something active or, at least, normal.  (If you don’t get why just one photo, how many photos of a guy and his truck/car/motorcycle/boat or 2nd-second favorite tool would it take to turn YOU off?  Also, notice the names I picked for the example, both are names the future love-of-your-life can roll off his tongue without embarrassment,  unlike: “Pookie”, “Polly”, or “Patty”.  (Now, if your dog’s name is “Palin” or “Bachmann”, I would award extra-points, simply for being able to answer: “Palin/Bachmann is spayed”, if asked.)

Try NOT to combine a photo of yourself AND your dog (or cat) in an other-than-normal pose.   Especially when the dog looks like it’s been grafted onto you like a science experiment gone wrong!  Is this one wearing a matching sweater (eccentric) or is it INSIDE her sweater (kinky)?  It also heightens the Scary Factor when both human and pet have the same wistful expression…)

A bonus-tip re: pets: generally, from an informal survey, men aren’t crazy about  “accessory” dog-breeds.  It’s up to you whether you want to get him “hooked” before he sees yours OR screen himself out by showing a photo of “Precious” or “Peaches” in your purse.  Personally, I prefer the honest approach.  You’ll lose some guys, but better early than after wasting both of your times.

This one is actually one of the less objectionable, as the dog is at least NOT a purse-dog.  (I LIKE dogs, so it’s not about them.  It’s about owners not making them into a liability in a personals ad!)

Especially avoid photos of your dog wearing clothes. IF there is justice in the next world, there is a special circle of Hell for people who do that to an animal’s dignity.  There is nothing wrong about an utilitarian winter-coat for a short-haired dog to keep warm while stepping out for a brewski: 

I’m talking about something that robs the last vestige of nobility from a helpless animal.

Below is probably the worse offender I’ve yet encountered:

Pleeeease understand that a man’s reaction to this photo is NOT: “Aww… isn’t that cute!”   He’s looking away to check for the nearest exit before he becomes the next model.

(Can someone please explain what would make a woman – no regular guy would EVER! – do that to a defenseless animal?  Or think that a man is going to find that “cute”??)

On the general subject of photos, using a blurry photo is inexcusable, be it of you, your house, the Taj Mahal or the pets.   At the least, it’s annoying: these photos are tough to see already, and if your readers are in the 40+ age, they don’t need the aggravation of squinting or getting out the reading-glasses.  (Also, unless you are planning to NEVER meet, that one photo that hides the botched surgery and/or tattoos from your Motorcycle Momma days is only postponing a moment of reckoning, be it at the first meeting or the first, ahem, intimate encounter….)

The last word on photos. NO photos in swimsuits or bikinis unless the dating site makes it mandatory and everyone has to submit one.  (See earlier comment about “Miss America“.)  Otherwise, you lose either way.  If you have a stunning body, you’ll attract the wrong attention…. unless that’s the kind you want. If you don’t, you just opened yourself to being judged.  And judged cruelly, not because they are men, but because they are human.  (I have been privy to women dissecting other women’s looks with an intensity and detail that made me glad I wasn’t a woman….

Onto the ad copy.

If you have posted a photo, avoid using “pretty” or “beautiful” in the self-description. Yes, you have overcome body-image issues and are proud of how beautiful you are, inside and outside.  This is NOT about that.  This is about that shallow external-beauty aesthetic of which we are all guilty.  First, the reader has eyes.  Secondly, rare is the man who hasn’t calibrated his definition of those adjectives by certain society and media-provided standards and examples.  Unless YOUR image jumps up first when the term “beautiful woman” is uttered – thus beating out every lingerie and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model –  your looks will be measured against those images.  And that’s not fair to you.

Skip descriptors such as “witty”, “funny”, and “smart” unless the rest of your ad copy supports the claim or, at least, doesn’t display the opposite. Nothing is more counterproductive than building an expectation for the reader….. and then deflating it.  (Remember: “underpromise, overdeliver”?)

Don’t use words whose meaning you are unsure about or can’t spell!!  Yes, grammar and spelling count when one claims to be “intalligent”, because if  one were smart/intelligent, one woulda knowed better than to misspell wurds when trying to make a positive first-impreshun…..  Did you know that even poor spellers don’t like seeing poor spelling and will “grade” them down?  Really!

It’s baffling that women will spend time making sure every single eyelash is in place – something few (heterosexual) men would notice! – before a date, yet will write a personals ad copy that is the equivalent of walking out wearing their bra on the outside, hobbling on one shoe, and with spinach on their teeth!  But then, Oscar Wilde wrote that: ” Women are made to be loved, not understood“….. something that a man never ceases learning.

In general, stick to adjectives where evidence for – or against – their truth cannot be gleaned from the rest of the ad.  Adjectives like: “kind”, “compassionate”, “happy”, “loving”, “strong”, “independent” are good examples.  None of those can be disproved at the stage when the poor sucker – I mean, the future love-of-your-life – is reading the profile.  (He’ll have plenty of time to learn the truth later….)

Speaking of adjectives, my personal pet peeve is “classy”. Pleeease NEVER, EVER use “classy” because truly “classy” women do not self-describe as that!!  It’s part of BEING “classy”, DUH!  It’d be like a man saying he is “debonair” (especially if his French is poor and he tells you: ” I am de-boner“….or, worse yet, he is a Boehner – c’mon, you KNOW how the Speaker’s name SHOULD be pronounced!). Like “charming” and “elegant”, “classy” is a term others will use about you IF you qualify by your comportment.

Lastly, since a man can give any word a sexual meaning, it’s critical to avoid using certain ones in a profile…. unless you want that interpretation.  (My particular super-power is being able to make anything become a double-entendre.  But I only use for Good.)  It’s not something we do on purpose.  Really.  It’s part of that faulty male “wiring” and in the fact that, in the context of a dating site, sexual tension is ever-present (or should be).

Granted, it’s a delicate – and tough – task to let your readers know that you are not an ice-maiden, indiscriminate with your affections, or inexperienced. (Consider how even MORE difficult it is for men to allude to their virility and/or “qualifications” or expertise as a lover!  There’s just no way.)  Ladies, men need little encouragement in order to read so much into certain words!  Below – only slightly tongue-in-cheek – is how certain descriptors in your personals ad might be being read subconsciously:

  • o      Passionate (“hot sex”)
  • o      Sexy (“easy sex”)
  • o      Fun-loving (“kinky sex”)
  • o      Creative (“really kinky sex”)
  • o      Playful (“anywhere sex”)
  • o      Loving (“submissive sex”)

Is that really what you wanted?  (If it was, couldn’t you have written to me first?)

Oh yeah… NO emoticons in your ad, please! 🙂

Good luck and happy hunting!

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New words: Durly…..Bobbitt…..MTBF

I have always been interested in words.

Had my family stayed in Brazil, I don’t know whether this would have been the case.  However, learning English as my third language coincided with that period when the need for self-expression increases exponentially: the teenage years.  And unless you are a Valley Girl, the burning themes suffusing that life-stage can’t be articulated with a limited vocabulary!  As my daily use of Brazilian Portuguese ceased overnight, the need to learn and use English well was an imperative.

I recently found the notebook in which I wrote the titles of all the books read that first Summer in America, starting a month after arriving.   As I knew no one, my days were spent watching TV, reading, and Summer school classes for Math and English so that I would have a fighting chance entering 7th grade in September.  (ESOL classes?  Hah!  Full-immersion, with the added challenge of being the only Asian kid in the school.)   So I read.  A lot.  The choices, as you can see if interested (1964 books read. ), were reflective of being a 13 yr. old boy and the limitations of the one-room library in my Brazilian home-town.  My reading became a self-selected crash-course in American history and folklore, the bloodier, the better.  To this day, I remember the Dewey decimal call number for books about World War II: 940.54…

An additional incentive to read was a deal with my mother: I could have 30 minutes of TV-watching for every 60 minutes of reading.  As I had not been exposed to TV until the week before we left Brazil, it was my crack that Summer.  I would do anything for a “fix” and watched everything from Astro Boy cartoons to Sally Starr (a Philadelphia-based children’s show hosted by Cowgirl Sally Starr where I got my introduction to “The Three Stooges”) to now-classic sitcoms (Mr. Ed, My Favorite Martian, The Lucy Show) and westerns/war-centered dramas (Bonanza, The Virginian, Gallant Men, Combat).  And movies.  Good movies, bad movies, classics…. it didn’t matter: if it was on TV, it passed a test and therefore it had to be worth watching….

But I digress.  Back to words.

Over time, as the reading and writing of poetry became a more permanent – and important – part of my inner-life, my interest in words evolved from survival to a pleasurable hobby.  I fell in love with specific words, e.g. sussurationantidisestablishmentarianism*, delirium, moribund, tryst, for different reasons: sound, meaning, playfulnesss, to name just the obvious.  And I developed an amateur’s interest in their origin.  (For instance, I was just told a few days ago by a friend about the origin of the name “Wendy” for girls.  It seems that  J.M. Barrie (photo below), the author Peter Pan, made it up for the character of, well, Wendy. (He based on a young friend’s inability to make the sound “fr” in “friendly”: it came out as as “w”.)

Every year, new words are added, some entering popular usage, while others are confined to the obscurity of the specialized fields where they were invented.  Some are brand names that come to have broader meanings  (xerox, scotch tape), others are proper names or their modifications that suffered the same fate (sandwich, mesmerize).   And that made me think of one word that never became mainstream (durly), one that I think could have made it if I had made a bigger effort (bobbitt), and a term (MTBFthat might yet have a chance.

“Durly”  was a word Norman Mailer made up and tried to popularize for those occasions when we use the word “funny” in situations where “funny” is not quite right.  For example: ” ‘Funny’ how we use ‘funny’ for something that is not funny but just a little odd or curious or ironic…but not enough so to use those words.”  Obviously, he never succeeded.  I read about this in the 70s – the photo is of him in 1963 –  and somehow the factoid  remained part of the flotsam and jetsam that is my brain.   How durly that someone of Mailer’s stature couldn’t get it done…..

“Bobbitt” is from John Bobbitt, whose male pride was severed by his wife following an incident of spousal abuse.   As it was a rare act then (1993) – not that it has become common since! – the sordid details became widely publicized by the media.   It occurred to me that the word could be invested with a new meaning, one far more useful than its namesake was going to be, even after re-attachment.  Had I been more invested in this project, the following might now be in the dictionary under bobbitt:

bob•bitt ⎪bob, bit⎪  no plural.
Noun
1 – a unit of linear measure in the sports of tennis, golf, and football whose length is dependent on the gender of the user and the context of its usage.  It is generally accepted to be between zero and a hand’s width (by women) or a hand’s span (by men).   It is measured with the eye only, as there is no universal standardIt is also deliberately not converted into “inches”.  USAGE:

TENNIS – To describe the distance by which a ball is called “out” or “in” from a line, as in “My shot was in by a bobbitt!”.  Particularly in mixed doubles, as both genders will have their own internal sense of the length of a bobbitt, men tend to use it more for balls that are significantly out.  As it is never a plural, there can be no argument about the call, as can happen with other units of measure.

FOOTBALL – Mostly by sportscasters in announcing the distance by which a ball may be short of a first-down or a touchdown, as in “Well, folks, it looks like the Dolphins are a bobbitt short of a first-down”.  As all parties have their personal sense of a bobbitt‘s length, this usage has cut down on broadcast-booth arguments about exactly how many traditional units of measure away the ball is from the objective.

GOLF – To describe the distance between the ball and the hole when a “gimme” or a tap-in is in order, as in “The ball is a bobbitt from the cup, so it will be a “gimme”.

I missed a golden opportunity to spread my idea when Mr. Bobbitt was still in the national news for weeks. While”Bobbitt” is still recognized and while my proposed definition for it is still useful, it would be difficult to make it a household word again.

Lastly, “MTBF”….  In current usage, “MTBF” (Mean Time Between Failures) is the “..predicted elapsed time between inherent failures of a system during operation”.  It can be applied to both a single part (a gear, a relay switch, a whatchamacalit inside a whoosis) or  a large whole unit made up of many parts (an iPhone, a dish-washer, a car).  It is calculated as the arithmetic mean (average) time between failures and carries the assumption that the failed system (the part or the whole) will be immediately repaired. Depending on what it is, it could be hours, days, weeks, months, years, even decades.

I propose that the term “MTBF”  be adopted into the language of dating as a quick short-hand for providing critical information to both parties.  Instead of dancing around the subject and/or teasing out pieces of the puzzle, persons in the coupling process can just ask “What’s your MTBF?”  and get a quick assessment of just how capable, by past performance, the other person is as a prospective mate.

There is no right or wrong MTBF or a judgement on cause(s).  Of course, just using the word “failure” is probably very dampening….

What do you think?  Worth a shot?

_____________________________________________
* Kidding!

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Tru and truly green… K.Y.Tao – 1915 – Oct. 30, 1999

Today, October 30, is the anniversary of my father’s death.   It’s a hard date to forget, as it is also the birthday of Julia’s mother. And the day before Halloween.

I have commemorated this occasion before in other ways, but something happened yesterday that will make future remembrances effortless.

Years ago, I wrote a 3-voice poem, Forms of Blue (<–“clicking” will take you to an article that includes the text)  Eventually, transformed into a recorded dramatic reading, it came to be presented in the late 1990s at various venues, including synagogues, during Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations . The piece was inspired by a particular encounter with the color blueThis was the closing verse in the coda:

The dead do not eat the bread,
smell the flowers,
raise their voices.
Yet they live, released from this room,
in every glimpse of blue
the open eyes cannot avoid.

I thought of this on Friday when a truck from a national lawn-care crossed in front while I was stopped at a traffic light.  Emblazoned on its side was the name of the company:            TRU  GREEN

It was the company that had licensed and commercialized the process for which my my father was granted a patent in 1982.  (The president of the company is also listed – with his name first for alphabetical reasons –  though it was ALL my father’s work as chief chemist and bottle-washer for W.A. Cleary Corp. in New Jersey. )

My father was a graduate of both Tianjin Nankai High School, the elite western-style education school whose alumni include Zhou En-Lai (who succeeded Mao as Premier) and Wen Jiabao (the current Chinese Premier), and Tsing-Hua University, still the top science university in China.  He majored in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering (Class of 1937), and became an expert in vegetable oil processing.

In order to provide me (both an only child and a son)  with a better educational opportunity here, he gave up his role with the Chinese group in Brazil that made soybean there the major crop it is today.  After our move from there to New Jersey, he spent the remainder of his career with W.A. Cleary, a small manufacturer of chemical formulations used mainly in the food industry.

Below is a family photo, late 1970s, the period when he was working on the patent.  (Yes, I still had a bowl/Prince Valiant/Beatles hair-cut, though my hair was no longer shoulder-length…..)  My father rarely smiled for photos, though he laughed easily, often from cracking himself up.  (Naturally, it embarrassed me then as much as my doing it now has embarrassed Julia…)  I chose this one because of the expression on his face is so stiff, even formal.  And so different from how he could be.

Alas, while I did well in Chemistry courses (until Organic!), he was never able to instill in me either the interest or dedication required for a career.  I know that it was a disappointment to him, though he never spoke of it once I took a different path.  It’s why, as he lapsed into a coma following a massive heart-attack and I knelt bed-side in the emergency room talking and crying into his right ear as he expired, all my words of love were in the form of apologies for not having become what he had hoped.  “So it goes”, as Vonnegut wrote…

The invention,  Patent 4,298,512, was titled: “Urea formaldehyde dispersions modified with higher aldehydes.” 

In simple language, my father invented a way for applying liquid fertilizers to large areas of lawn grass that would keep lawns greener and healthier for longer and with less frequent spraying, thus resulting in lower costs and hassle in upkeep.  It was a huge hit. Cleary Corp. named it  “Tru Green” and subsequently licensed it to commercial lawn care services and nurseries as they signed on to use it, particularly on golf courses.  (We used to note the irony – we were both tennis players – since he never took up golf, despite the company OWNING (!) a golf course adjacent to its headquarters!)  His invention has been the standard for those applications and venues since the early 1980s.

And this is what I realized is his legacy when that truck crossed in front of me on the eve of this anniversary:

While blue became my color for memorializing the Holocaust, I had never recognized before – nor will now ever forget – that from his vantage point now, he could say that he made the grass greener on the other side.

And that would crack me up, too.

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