Boiling Frogs

In the last 6 weeks I’ve awakened in my bed at home only 13 times. The rest of the time has been split between Canada and the cabin. Different patterns and places cause you to see things from a different perspective, including and especially a lack of internet connectivity for days at a time.

Being without internet for long stretches means when I check back in it’s a virtual laundry list of ‘What the fuck am I reading?’ to ‘I remember when this would have been too absurd for The Onion’.

In short: It was only when I got back into the internet pot did This Little Froggy realize how HOT the water has gotten.

Let’s cut out all the noise (like rage-tweets demanding Sessions fire Mueller) and just look at the last day:

  1. Our Intelligence Agencies held a presser to stress the seriousness of the continuous attacks by Russia on our midterm elections. Mere hours later 45* slurred his way through another Fuhrer rally, calling that announcement a HOAX.
  2. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to say during a press briefing that the Press is not the enemy of the people.
  3. Network television has apparently *just* discovered Q-Anon and their rabid willingness to become violent over their unhinged world view, and to keep Trump in power while thanking Russia.
  4. We’re STILL violating the UN Convention on Genocide, and the Geneva Convention on kidnapping, as well as torture, and the Trump Regime is now insisting the ACLU be responsible for finding the deported parents before families can be reunited. A third employee of the child concentration camps has been arrested for sexually assaulting multiple prisoners. Where the hell are the girls? It’s amazing how quickly this atrocity has dropped off of the A Section in news blocks.
  5. Enjoy your NEW $60 Billion in Chinese Tariffs while you mull over June new housing starts being down 12+%, new homes sales dropped 5+%, and only 150,000 jobs were added last month.

This dynamic is simply not sustainable.


Mom’s in the Potting Shed

How do you deal with someone who refuses to get a will because it’s ‘ghoulish’? How do you respond to the narcissistic person who says ‘I don’t want to think about what happens after I die’?

When dear old mom went to the Great Insane Asylum In The Sky she left her affairs as if she were 25 and had gone up to the store for a loaf of bread. No will, no power of attorney, no funeral arrangements and a stack of unpaid bills. It was up to her survivors (funny word, that) to sort it out. She chose to put the burden on her children; one last punishment.

Here’s the thing about the will: I used to drive myself crazy thinking I could reason with her.  I’d have had better luck teaching my dog a card trick. It wasn’t ignorance. It was utter vindictiveness. “If the tea party goes on without me you’ll have to clean up my mess!!!”

So we did.

A lawyer was retained. One brother and I cleaned out her house. The taxes were paid. Within a year probate closed.

There was one problem: What was to be done with the body?


Family Pictures - Mom Feeding Me



My mother died in a Phoenix hospital in July of 2005, and I was the one who pulled the plug.

I had been in close contact with the doctor assigned to her case. He called me the day everything we owned was being loaded into a moving truck to relocate to Northern California for my husband’s job. She was in a coma after a pulmonary embolism and there was no hope of her regaining consciousness. What did I want to do? Mind you this was just a week after my mother-in-law died. I’ve always felt my mother willed herself to die then, so that she could be the center of attention – even in death.

I remember standing on the back porch awash in the bright summer heat, the phone cord stretched as far as it would go, watching my belongings being carried out the front door, and listening to a man I’d never met describing in precise detail how my mother was dying. Oh, and did I want to keep her hooked up to a ventilator to prolong her agony?

I think I was kinder to her than she deserved. I told them to give her as much morphine as possible, pull the life support and to let her die peacefully.

When I think about that afternoon it was like trying to use a kaleidoscope as a magnifying glass.

After she died one of my brothers went to put a wooden stake in her heart. Wait. No. One of them went down to identify and take care of the body. She left the decision and the cost of her final disposition up to us. Although she was a baptized Catholic, we had her cremated. If she wanted something different she had years to make those plans.



Family Pictures - Part 20014


Don’t speak ill of the dead.

It’s the command given to anyone who dares to talk about the deeds of the dearly departed.

Don’t speak ill of the dead.

Your feelings still don’t matter. Even in death your tormentor can silence you through shame.

Don’t speak ill of the dead.

Even if it’s true.


My experience with that hated phrase (aside from brutally hilarious news rooms) is with a few of my mother’s acquaintances, and a handful of distant relatives we got Christmas cards from the 1970s.

‘Don’t speak ill of the dead’ was what they invoked when hearing why there would be no funeral.

You see, after she died I agreed to call the few people in her phone book to let them know.

“No funeral?”



“Afraid not.”

“Why?” asked in a tone used when you kick a puppy.

“Well… Ahhh… None of us want or will come to a celebration of her life.”

“B-b-but… She’s your Mother!! She deserves at least that much respect.”

“Look, (insert indignant person’s name here), she wasn’t a very nice person. None of my 5 brothers were talking to her when she died, some of them for years. I was the only one who would have anything to do with her at the end.”

“B-b-but… How could you?”

“How can I put this? She was toxic. She beat us mercilessly when we were children, and terrorized us as adults.”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead.”


There were one or two sympathetic souls who were floored. But they were able to accept the fact that anyone who had 6 middle-aged children that vehemently opposed to a service memorializing their life might not have been a very nice person.

The rest, however, were quite judgmental. Interestingly enough, not one was worried about the religious aspect of it. They were all horrified that we wouldn’t ‘do the right thing’. No matter that she hadn’t done the right thing since the day she gave birth to my eldest brother. And most were people I had never met, just some stranger at the other end of a long-distance line. Never mind that they would never come to her funeral if we’d had one. And there I was, trying to defend to someone I couldn’t pick out of a police line-up with a gun to my head about why I wouldn’t hold a funeral for a person who tormented me from the day I was born.

I could have lied, and said there would be a small service for the family, and no one but me would have known the difference. But, I didn’t want to lie anymore. I was really tired of covering for her.

So, I told the truth; which wasn’t well received. ‘It was a different time’ was the excuse offered. That always made me gag a bit. The conversation would end with, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It was a phrase for which I never had a good reply.



Family Pictures0050



I remember the day my mother arrived in San Jose. It was still beastly hot, but not so much like looking through a kaleidoscope. The doorbell rang, the dog barked. It was a return receipt package. I didn’t realize what it was, at first. Then I noticed the return address was from a funeral home in Arizona. I can’t describe the look of abject horror on the mail carrier’s face when I remarked, “Oh, hey! That’s my mother’s ashes. I wondered where they were.”  The postman couldn’t get that box out of his hands fast enough. He shoved them into my hands as I was still signing, and they tumbled to the ground. The postman blanched visibly and looked at me in even greater horror. He grabbed his crucifix, made the sign of the cross, and beat a hasty retreat when I said, “Dude, it’s OK. She’s dead. She didn’t feel it.”


I had no idea what to do with my mother’s ashes. They were in a sealed quart sized can, packed inside the box in which it came. I walked around our new place in San Jose trying to figure out where to put them. I felt like I had a plastic bag full of dog shit I was trying to figure out where to put. Actually, dog shit is easier to throw away. I wouldn’t have her ashes in my house. Not even the garage. Finally, it came to me: The potting shed.

One of the things I liked best about the place in San Jose was the garden. You could put anything in the ground and it would grow. One of the best things about the garden was the potting shed. It was as far from the house as you could get, and waterproof.

I put her ashes out there on the farthest top shelf I could.

Now and then I would joke to my closest friends how I was going to go visit mom in the potting shed.

Every so often, when I was transplanting something, I would look up at the box on the shelf and say, ”Hey, you miserable bitch. How’s it going? Hot enough for you? What? No complaints? That’s a first.” Sometimes I wouldn’t be as charitable

That went on for a couple of years.



Family Pictures - Part 20127

1939 – Mom, bottom left


Here’s the thing: Years before she died my mother told me about her burial plot in Sarnia, Canada that had been paid for by the grandparents who raised her in the 1930s. After my father died, and was buried in a McCatholic cemetery, she made me promise many, many times that I would return her to her home in Sarnia. It was yet another of her lies.

There was no plot. There never had been. The only plot was in her mind. It was yet another of her fantastic lies, and one I found out via long distance day rate when I called the cemetery in Canada. They had no record of there ever having been a plot purchased for her.

After doing everything from pulling the plug, to cleaning out her house-of-hoarding, I was left with her ashes, and the unappealing task of how to dispose of them without honoring her or being a complete dick.

As the years went by I asked her ashes how thing were going less and less.

Eventually, I stopped remembering that mom was in the potting shed. As I went about my life – finally rid of her judgements and cruelty – I learned to enjoy the peace.



Family Pictures - Part 20082


We moved to San Francisco late in the summer of 2007, as the world economy was just beginning to shit the bed. It was another hot, hectic moving day, but finally the movers were lumbering their way up the peninsula to our new house by the beach. We were making a final run-through, picking up the last odds and ends, Richard was anxious to head out and be there when the truck arrived. I told him I’d finish up here, and meet him up there. I gathered odd bits of trash in a garbage bag, and checked behind doors, assuring myself the house was empty.

But there was still one more thing to deal with: Mom in the potting shed.

I stood in the suffocating July heat of the potting shed watching swirls of dust illuminated by the sun coming in through the window, and finally reached for the still-sealed box with the can holding my mother’s ashes. As I held the heavy box in my hands I knew I simply couldn’t bring them to our new home. Yes, there was a lovely a potting shed there, too. It was even bigger than this one, but there was simply no room in it for her. I wanted no more ashes or commitments to crazy dead people.

I knew what needed to be done.


Family Pictures - Part 20067


We watched the last of our things get transferred from the truck into our new place, and as the moving van pulled away I unloaded my car. Finally there was nothing left, but the box with the can holding the ashes.

It was only 10 blocks to Ocean Beach, and we bought a bottle of wine at the corner bodega. In the parking lot of the beach I opened the box with Richard’s knife, took out the can, and looked at it for the first time. It looked like an unmarked paint can, but was much heavier than any paint would ever be.

I remember the sun was setting, with yellow, orange and white shafts. There were people setting bonfires. I didn’t know what to think as I walked toward the ocean.

After a few pulls on the wine bottle I gestured with it, and said, “Well, here’s a fine place to spend eternity.” I took a few more swigs, and used the bottle opener on my key ring to pry the lid off of the can. After a few tries it popped off.

Inside were the burnt remains of an evil, hurtful being that tortured her children and alienated everyone around her. I stared at what remained for a long while, feeling many, many things – but guilt-free relief was what won out.

Finally, I took my shoes off and went to the water’s edge. I watched the waves play in and out, and the sun as it headed towards the horizon.

I threw my arm out in a sweeping motion. The ashes made a comma in the wet sand. I thought of the commas after zeros, and of all the money my parents had stolen from me. A wave came in and washed the sand clean. Just like that the comma and the imaginary zeros were gone.

I threw more ashes, and made more commas. More waves came in and washed away the answers to so many questions.

Finally, the can that came in the box that sat in the potting shed was empty.

After a long sigh I said, “You’re welcome. For everything.”

Richard came up and silently offered the wine bottle, his arm sliding around my shoulder as much in comfort as solidarity. I took a few pulls, and silently congratulated myself for never having soiled my relationship with the man I loved by even introducing him to someone who tried to destroy any happiness that found its way to my life.

The waves crashed, the gulls called, and the sun was in its last brilliant stage of setting.

Mom had left the potting shed, and I was finally free.

Liberation – at long last!

In the final rays of the setting sun I saw metal glinting where I had thrown my mother’s ashes. I picked up a piece of stainless steel out of the wet sand: It was her ID tag from the mortuary – and the date of her death was wrong.

I laughed so hard wine shot out my nose.

The Circle had closed, and the woman who forgot what day her only daughter was born (Yes, really) shuffled off this mortal coil unmarked and unmourned, the victim of an administrative mistake. It was a perfectly fitting end for a woman with a bottomless need for attention and perfection.

The Universe has one hell of a sense of humor, and once in a great while we’re lucky enough to see some asshole get exactly what they deserve.


Ocean Beach Sunset




Fighting In A Burning House

After being out of this country for 2 weeks it’s impossible to describe how AWFUL things are here: Americans are at war with each other, and we seem incapable of seeing it.

If people aren’t actively cheering the Russian coup, they are fighting in a burning house because they’re STILL angry that a man who called Roe v Wade identity politics was rejected by DNC voters.

I was blocked yesterday by a man whose opinions on politics matches with mine so closely that a Venn diagram of them would be a damn near perfect circle. But, he banished me over something we disagree about that happened 2 years ago, and cannot be changed.

Rehashing a primary that has passed is *insane*. It’s the spouse who keeps hammering their partner about a long-past difference of opinion, and destroys the relationship because they can’t let it go.

It’s time to face the facts that Americans have fully embraced the lunacy of a death wish that we are accomplishing via gun violence, lack of health care, and a bloodlust for a national fight.

I grew up in a madhouse that was a microcosm of what the USA has become. We WANT to fight. We WANT to inflict damage on the OTHER – whether they’re brown or Muslim or on ‘our side’ but didn’t hew closely enough to the opinion you cradle like a priceless object.

The real enemy in my house were my parents: A narcissistic rageaholic mother, and an enabling, lying, cheating, thief of a father, and they both gaslighted the lot of us: The ultimate ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ scenario, where we children were being played one off the other.

But, that didn’t stop my brothers and I from savaging one another as children AND adults, and passing that generational trauma on to our children.

We six siblings are no different than society at large: Instead of coming together to fight off the attacks as young adults we invoked ‘Every Man For Himself’. As adults we did *nothing* to heal our wounds as a family, continuing to nurse our grudges.

As a result? We are fractured beyond repair, and my brothers have angrily cut one another out of their lives, shit talking their siblings, and further perpetrating the anger, the hurt and the war someone else started.

For me? I hold little hope November will change anything. The reason is because the cheating, lying, narcissism and gaslighting from on high won’t stop – and we’ll all be too busy fighting amongst each other to focus our forces and energy against the people who are REALLY hurting us. I’ve watched my family tear itself to shreds for more than half a century without a thought to creating peace.

I’ve seen how this goes – and it doesn’t end well.

Our insisting on fighting in a burning house will be the death of us and the Republic for which we used to stand.

This Is Fine

Endless Thoughts and Prayers

Who can honestly say they’re surprised that America had yet another mass shooting? It’s simply a way of life here to log on to social media and find out about the latest massacre, numbly check to see if it is near anyone we love, and watch the body count and the number of injured rise as the reports come in.

In a twisted way I’m getting used to the massacres from domestic terrorists, but what infuriates me now is how the GOP incessantly invokes Thoughts and Prayers after each fresh dose of hell.

Praying is a highly personal thing between you and your God, and is not a replacement for doing your job – whomever you are. Hiding behind God while you refuse to do your duty is an affront to truly spiritual people who do not use their religion as a prop.

For most people Thoughts and Prayers is shorthand for, “I’m powerless to stop this from happening, and I’m asking the Omnipotent Being of my choice to show mercy on this untenable situation.”

But Congress isn’t powerless to change the situation, and they CAN change the law to require the stricter background checks that 90% of Americans are demanding. They could make gun owners responsible for not securing their guns, or require liability insurance. But, they simply refuse to take any action because there’s too much money gushing in from the NRA.

So, when the GOP offers Thoughts and Prayers it’s just weasel-speak for: “It’s out of my hands because I’m going to keep taking contributions soaked in the life-blood of kindergartners and concert goers – but I will ask my God to keep you in His thoughts.”

For the GOP to proudly proclaim that they’ve given a Thought – they’re THINKING  – about something the rest of us can’t get out of our heads, is *stunningly* self-absorbed.

But, I can’t even wrap my brain around the unmitigated NERVE it takes for the GOP to demand God do the heavy lifting when they refuse to vote on bills that have been introduced. How DARE they pretend God has ANYTHING to do with their addiction to Russian blood money laundered through the NRA!

The GOP’s Thoughts and Prayers about domestic terrorists who mow down classmates, co-workers, and worshipers like an edger takes out errant weeds is an infuriating waste of time. Republicans cynically conflate praying with actually doing something, and pretend they aren’t blocking legislation that would prevent future massacres.

Logical people can see that these massacres aren’t happening in other developed nations on the scale that they are here. Look at Canada, Australia or the UK: We speak the same language, have roughly the same religious demographics, the same number of single parents, and marriage equality. We share television content, video games and music. Yet our murder-by-gun rate is 30 times higher than the UK, and our overall murder rate is higher than all three other nations combined. What’s different? The ease with which one can obtain a gun, and the number of weapons of war available to the general public.

The USA has only 5% of the world’s population, but owns 30% of its guns (1.03 per person). Yet, only 1% of Americans belong to the NRA, which dictates the murderous gun policies the GOP backs. Republicans have filled their coffers with dark Russian cash, while allowing a dismissible fraction of our population to codify their fetish into our laws.
Homice Rate USA UK AUS CAN


So, really, when ANY politician (Democrats, too) takes blood money from the NRA and offers the mealy-mouthed phrase “Thoughts and Prayers” about the inevitable NEXT GODDAM SCHOOL SHOOTING, what they’re really saying is, “There’s nothing I will do. Ever.”

Frankly, I’m done debating the indisputable facts that a vast majority of Americans want tighter background checks, or that we have a glut of guns here, or that school shootings don’t happen in other countries like they do here.

I’m tired of people re-framing the need to reduce our gun violence with the notion we must stop all other forms of murder or violence before we tackle the dumpster fire of our gun laws.

I’m sick of answering disingenuous arguments with, “Yes, certainly, vehicles can be used for mass murder. They are also regulated, and insured, and their primary function is for transportation, not for killing people.”

I have precious little patience for those who unironically screech about their ‘god given right’ to the 2nd Amendment, while never comprehending the word amendment literally means ‘change’, and the word god is not in the Bill of Rights. There’s a reason ‘Well Regulated’ comes before ‘Shall Not Be Infringed’, and it’s not that difficult a concept to grasp that Americans are solidly behind weapon’s of war being ‘Well Regulated’ by a margin of 9-1.

I’m SURE as hell over those people stupid enough to argue for anarchy with, “Why pass laws when criminals won’t follow them?” They seem unable to grok that since the police manage to take so many of the white male mass murderers into custody, it’s super helpful to be able to prosecute them, and make them pay for their crimes.

In short: I’m over the excuses for why our schools are war zones, and we have more than one mass shooting a day in America.

Thoughts and Prayers are all well and good as a means to spiritual fulfillment, but they do nothing to change the very real gun crisis in this country. The only way we can break the endless cycle of Republican Thoughts and Prayers will be when We The People force change through activism and elections, and not by demanding God cure the illness we created ourselves.

Screw Thoughts and Prayers – You need to VOTE, dammit.

Heroin Junkies and Trump Humpers

We are in a Constitutional Crisis, and this last week has laid bare the truth that Putin stole the presidency for Trump, with an assist from billionaires who have been buying our government for the last few decades.

Trump’s unhinged Rage Tweets this morning point to dark days ahead. Dare I say the words Civil war?

We’re really already there emotionally, and isn’t this all that matters?

We’re already at war with each other – there’s not a one of us who hasn’t seen a loved one drink Trump’s Kool-Aid. I have a neighbor of 16 years who hasn’t spoken to me since 2015 because I dared to tell her that putting Muslims in internment camps was morally wrong and violated the Constitution.

Quite simply: Trump Humpers live in a reality of their own making where inconsistencies abound and facts are discarded. A reality flush with conspiracies, and where a porn star who was paid $130K in hush money is lying about having an affair with Trump, AND he has every right to sue her for $20 million for talking about the affair they didn’t have.

You cannot reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, and there is no negotiating with people who aren’t just willfully ignorant, but aggressively wrong.

Trump Humpers delight in cognitive dissonance and nothing makes them happier than calling up down, just to see the look on your face. They will NEVER let go of this new reality. Never. They are too far invested in their flat-earth, fact free existence. They are as hopeless as a heroin junky.

The ideological clash among Americans is intractable – there is no way to compromise: Either you believe in equality for all, or you are actively working to deny people their rights, and turn the clock back to the Reconstruction era. There is no middle ground.

Add to that the reality that Trump is making the office of President into a dictatorship. Make no mistake: Trump does not intend to leave the office, and intends to install Ivanka after him.

His goal is unvarnished and laid bare for all to see. I don’t know if the Presidency will ever recover, and surely not in my lifetime.

I will be surprised if Trump allows the midterms to proceed, and he will likely use the excuse of ‘Russian meddling’ to suspend them – and Trump Humpers will nod with glazed eyes, greedily accepting this new reality like the junkies they are.

It’s time to accept that Trump recognizes no rules or laws but his own. To continue to deny this is dangerous and dabbles in Trump Humper wishful thinking.

It’s time to face the bitter cup before us: The Constitution no longer holds force in this country, and America is now a fascist authoritarian regime.

To make that horrifying reality worse – we are under daily attack by Putin, and Trump refuses to stop him. Putin has control of our power grid, our water processing plants and our aviation facilities -he could cripple us with a keystroke. We are at his mercy – and he has none. Yet, somehow people think he can’t control our voting machines, or he hasn’t been manipulating us to fight each other. Putin is like the villain in Stephen King’s novel Needful Things – and he’s just getting warmed up. Of course Putin was assisted in his role by Roger Ailes and Fox Spews, who tuned up the crowd for a decade and a half.

We were invaded by Russia with GOP assistance. Putin has the GOP’s peckers in his pocket through blackmail via the RNC email hack, and laundered cash from the NRA. He especially owns McConnell and Ryan because they direct most of those monies. That’s why they take no action against either Trump or Putin. We have traitors in all levels of the government.

Putin, the Mercers, the Koch brothers, and about 400 other people are using Trump to Balkanize the United States of America. They are terrifyingly close to getting their wish of having the US be a geographical collection of fiefdoms based on natural resource extraction.

These people produce nothing, and only seek to gorge on the riches of the earth, its people, and ultimately each other – they are an insatiable ouroboros. They’re sick, and they’re in charge. Doubtless they’ve been told they’ll have their place at the Oligarch’s table when America is in flames. I don’t know about you, but I can smell smoke.

Wrap your head around this: Rexxon Valdez Tillerson, the man responsible for unfettered greed and despoiling the planet with his 3 decades in Big Oil was *too liberal* for Trump. A man who raped the earth and built his fortune on pollution and misery was simply not extreme enough for Trump.

That is how far the Overton Window has been pushed to the right.

That we are not meeting in the streets, but are sitting stunned tells me bad things are to come. The fuse is burning, and the backlash will be like a big earthquake instead of 3 mild ones that take the pressure off of the fault.

Trump is fighting like a cornered animal, and he’s even more dangerous now than he’s ever been. He will do things that will create chaos in a way that will make the last year look like comedic relief.

He is capable of anything – and I do mean ANYTHING.

I could see a time in the not too distant future when states like California refuse to remit their federal tax monies because Trump does something to try to ruin them the way he has done to hundreds of people. Think Puerto Rico-like damage on the mainland inflicted by him. He is entirely capable of killing his own people BECAUSE HE’S DONE IT BEFORE.

I think it’s time we review 10 Absolutes About Abusers:

  1. You aren’t human – you’re expendable chattel without rights
  2. Your opinion, wants and needs are punishable offenses
  3. You are expected to follow rules and display manners that they deny exist
  4. You will NEVER get them to acknowledge facts
  5. They will never, ever, EVER admit they are wrong
  6. They will steal from you while insisting you’re a duplicitous thief
  7. They will lie so boldly and confidently that you will question your sanity
  8. They enjoy your pain even more when you tell them how much it hurts
  9. They will not stop until they control you completely and capriciously
  10. Anything they can’t control completely they will ceaselessly try to destroy

It’s crucial for you to burn these into your brain, because things are coming down to the wire. It’s not long until the powder keg blows, and it is vital to remember the value you have to Trump, his Humpers, the 400 and Putin: None.

It is time for us all to accept what is happening to America – for us to deal with the reality we’re in, not the one we want to be in.

Courage to us all.

The Cost of Love

I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate Valentine’s Day.


But then, I despise all commercial holidays that have morphed from being about family, love, and friendship into a way to separate you from your hard earned money.

Valentine’s Day has ceased being a way to send a simple, sincere message of affection to friends and those close to your heart, and turned into a day where we feel obliged to shower loved ones with over-priced flowers, candies, stuffed animals, jewelry, fancy dinners and expensive electronics.

In the USA there is nothing remotely religious about the day named after a Saint. Our worshiping is done in the Temple of Amazon, where we honor Saint ProFlowers, Saint Godiva and Saint Echo Dot, as we meaninglessly toss consumer goods at one another in the name of love.

It’s true that Hallmark and FTD didn’t invent the day, but they sure helped move the prostitution along. Americans actually began exchanging hand-made Valentine’s greetings in the mid-1700s. Then, in 1848, a woman named Ester A. Howland used lace, ribbons and colorful pictures to make the first commercial mass produced Valentine cards. We let it build from there.


Valentine Ester Howland


Up until the 1970s, and the advent of Credit-Cards-For-All, Americans mostly managed to keep the holiday low key. Elementary school children gave each other kitschy cards with bad puns that were printed on whisper-thin stock, and stuck inside envelopes that wouldn’t seal, while their teachers doled out handfuls of rock-hard heart-shaped candies that tasted like chalk and had things like ‘You’re The One’ or ‘Be Mine’ printed in red ink on the front. A greeting card with a Whitman Sampler was common for people who were dating, and a bunch of flowers and a box of See’s Candy for the wife were how the day was celebrated when I was a child. Back then a dozen long-stemmed roses was an extravagance few men made in the part of the San Fernando Valley where I grew up.

Valentine’s Day as a consumer event kicked in to high gear right about the time we were letting ourselves get manipulated in earnest by listening to the commercials that told us Christmas isn’t really Christmas until you’ve melted the plastic and spent more than you make to bombard your family with things they don’t need. It’s a siren song too many still listen to today – even after the crash of 2008.

The push for ‘cheap credit’ coincided with the relentless marketing of cheap electronics that the American market was increasingly awash in.

People weren’t done paying off their lay-a-aways from Christmas when television commercials, magazines and newspapers began to dun them into feeling obliged to lay out ever more cash to prove their luuuuurv.

Most of the ads from the 70s had the charming habit of pitching their wares via a ‘womanly chore’: Don’t know what to get the little lady? Give her a watch so she can time your 3 minute eggs. Or, if you can’t prove your love through jewelry do it with a Crock-pot!! Chef Joe Dimaggio says she can cook your dinner while she’s at that job you don’t want her to have!!



The ads may be slightly less sexist today, but the message is the same: Buy, buy, buy!!

Let’s face it – far too many people treat Valentine’s day like a competition. It’s not about love or affection. It’s about who has the biggest flower arrangement at work, or if you got the fancy Sherry’s Berries this year. That’s a shame, too, because it sucks the fun out of giving or receiving tokens of affection if you feel compelled to do it.

When it comes to Valentine’s Day tithing heterosexual men get the shortest end of that stick.

Let’s take a look at what the average man is expected to do for the average girlfriend or wife:

You’ll need to fork over at least $25 for a dozen long stem roses – tax and delivery not included, guys! A fun card is going to run you at least another $5.

Now the question is do you spring for a box of chocolates? ($18) A teddy bear with a heart sewn on its chest? ($15) Or some fun balloons? ($10) Maybe you steal all 3 for the low, low price of $30!

Chocolates and flowers are just the warm up for the main event of the romantic dinner, when prices have been jacked up for the evening and it’s standing room only in the waiting area. It’s so damned romantic to go to a crowded restaurant, only to be rushed through dinner so they can turn the table for the next poor fellow being coerced into buying a dinner he can’t afford because he’s been told he’s not a good partner unless he does so.

A guy can easily dish out $150 before the big reveal of the *actual* gift during the  flaming-triple-chocolate desert. Maybe it’s a day at the spa, a cashmere sweater, a Fitbit, or an iPhone. Perhaps it will be some costume jewelry with a heart, or some high end baubles, if he’s feeling really pressured. There are endless ways you can shell out money to make a show at proving your love – and make no mistake that men are expected to be creative and excessive with this annual mini-dowry.

Speaking of proving your love and excess: Let us pause briefly for a moment of silence, and remember the brave men who choose *this* night to pop the question. Woe be to the man who doesn’t have the engagement ring baked into a chocolate soufflé, and presented during the middle of a flash-mob dance scene in restaurant, while it’s flawlessly filmed, so it can go ‘organically’ viral on Facebook.


Valentines Proposal


People defend Valentines Day, and the colossal waste of money associated with it, by saying it’s nice to have a day that’s special and romantic. Agreed. But, what’s so special about February 14th that we’re manipulated into Pavlovian shopping and consuming?

Don’t feel obligated to set money on fire just because it’s half way through February, and the restaurant, flower, and jewelry industries are guilt tripping you into running up your credit card balance in the name of romance. Screw that.

My husband doesn’t love me any less if I don’t get appallingly over-priced flowers, or we’re not bum-rushed with the check in a frantic restaurant on the coldest week of the year.

Don’t get me wrong: My husband and I love romance – as long as we’re celebrating our love on our terms, and not letting retailers define how and when that happens. We refuse to be manipulated into spending money on a day that has no real meaning to our relationship.

You can make your own Valentine’s Day on ANY day you want, you know. (I hear flowers and candy are dirt cheap on February 15th)

When you do decide to honor the person in your life that you hold most dear? Do it to strengthen your bond, and not someone else’s bottom line.



Earthquake Imaginings

Feb 9, 1971 – 6:00 am and 55 seconds. The ground begins to move.

I was 7-years-old, and fast asleep in my bed, having stayed up past my bed time watching The Wizard of Oz the night before. I awoke to the house moving violently, while the earth was making a terrible groaning noise.

At first I was convinced that – like Dorothy – my home was flying through the sky. I quickly looked out the window to see if things were going by my window, as they had in the movie, but there were no screen doors, or flying rowboats, or angry old women riding a bicycles who turned into the Wicked Witch.

A moment later I could hear my father yelling from the other end of the house, “Earthquake!!”

In the distance I heard a giant explosion – which unbeknownst to me was the $110 Million electrical switching station going up – and then the air raid sirens began to wail overhead, the eerie keening which I had been told time and again meant a nuclear attack.

I wondered: Was an earthquake part of the Russian’s attack? During all the air raid drills in elementary school no-one ever thought to mention California was prone to earthquakes.

I had no idea what to do. I was paralyzed in fear.

So, I simply sat in bed watching things fall off of a 6 foot tall, heavy oak shelf on wheels that my parents called a Chifforobe. Games flew this way and that off the shelves, and books launched across the room – one hitting my nose. My bird cage fell onto my dresser and I heard the sound of shattering ceramic, as my precious collection of figurines from Disneyland took a direct hit.

The shaking got more violent, things were breaking all over the house with terrifying crashes, and the earth began to make a whistling noise to go along with the groaning.

Muffled by sound of the grinding earth and crashing glass I could barely hear my father yelling, “Get under the door!!” and I wondered if my father was stuck under a door and this was making the whole house shake.

There was a tremendous crash in the kitchen, and now things were breaking all over the house. There was more yelling – but I couldn’t tell who it was.

I sat up in bed, positively frozen in terror, watching enormous blue and white Chifforobe buck from side to side, scooting across the room on its wheels, and the water in the goldfish bowl sloshed over the lip. Had my bed and the Chiffarobe been aligned north/south, and not east/west, the giant shelving would have doubtless fallen and crushed me. Instead, I was transfixed as it jumped across the floor.

And then the shaking stopped, just like that.

My father was suddenly in my room yelling at me to get outside – and put on shoes. “Is it war?!” I shouted. “It’s an earthquake! Get out!!” he answered.

I slid my feet into the slippers by my bed, and dashed out the front door, putting on my robe under the oak tree in the front yard, in the gray, predawn light. My brothers were already outside, as they’d been folding papers for their early morning delivery routes when the quake hit.

The air raid sirens continued to wail, and I noticed water running down the street with red hyacinths floating on top. I found out later it was from the neighbor’s pool.

Then the air raid sirens stopped just as suddenly as the earthquake did, and as their echos died away I could hear the sounds of fire truck and police car sirens coming to life all over the Valley. In moments there more emergency sirens screaming than I had ever heard at once.

The whole neighborhood was in the street – everyone nervously talking and agreeing it was about the most frightening thing ANY of us had ever dealt with. We shivered in the damp, none of us quite knowing what to do, when the earth began to heave again.

The panic set in people’s eyes right away – a few threw their arms out to steady themselves, while some yelled and others screamed.

The aftershock ended just as suddenly as the quake did, and there was some uneasy laughter mixed in with the tears and prayers.

The aftershocks were a form of torture: You knew they were coming, but not when. And even though they weren’t as strong as the original quake they were only degrees of magnitude smaller. In short: It didn’t FEEL like a smaller quake, and there were hundreds that happened that day and for weeks to follow.

The neighbors who’d barely spoken to one another for years began to earnestly compare notes and trade stories about what they were doing when the quake hit. A portable transistor radio appeared and we gathered around to listen to KGIL, and Sweet Dick Wittington, who was on the air when it hit. Reports were that the damage was severe in the San Fernando Valley. As the sun rose, the gathered parents collectively agreed that school was not going to happen that day.

When it seemed the worst of the shaking was over, people began to cautiously reenter their homes to asses the damage.

The inside of our house was a hot mess. The living room looked as if someone had swept my mother’s precious nick-knacks off of the shelves where they had been carefully placed. A white ceramic bust of a nearly featureless woman she’d haggled for at the Simi Swap Meet lay in pieces, halfway across the room from where it had been perched on atop a two-tiered coffee table.

The kitchen counters and floor were strewn with broken dishes and crockery, topped with shattered glasses and mugs.  But, the worst of it was an unsecured 8-foot-tall metal pantry shelf unit that had fallen over on to the stove, denting it mightily, and creating an unholy mess. Besides ruining hundreds of dollars in dry goods, a giant bottle of cooking oil broke, along with a 3-pound jar of peanut butter and a 2 pound jar of honey, which then mixed with my mother’s entire spice collection, 5 pounds each of flour and sugar and coated the burners on the gas stove, which never worked right ever after.

Somehow we still had electricity and running water. We turned on the television to find out the extent of the damage. A terrified male news anchor provided us with the grim information, in between panic attacks every time an aftershock hit.

It took only 12 seconds, but that was all the time the Sylmar Quake needed to kill 64 people, leave more than 2,500 hurt, and cause more than half-a-billion dollars in damage. The 6.6 quake left thousands of homes in danger of being washed away should the cracking Van Norman dam not hold. The Veteran’s Administration Hospital was a complete loss, and the unreinforced concrete wings built in 1926 collapsed, killing 44.

My father got a call from the nursing home where his Aunt Margaret lived – the facility  was being evacuated because it was downstream of the Van Norman dam, and my father had to come get her NOW! My father got in his car and drove toward the failing dam to rescue my great-aunt.

The morning wore on as we waited for the return of my father. My mother began the laborious process of cleaning the kitchen and the stove, while my brothers and I wandered around in shock. We numbly cleaned up our rooms, each of us discovering treasures that were dear that were forever broken. My eldest brother went for a walk and returned with the news that the liquor store had every bottle in the store broken, and all the windows were broken at the corner grocery store. We heard there would be no school for at least 2 weeks.

My father finally returned home, along with a white haired lady in a wheel chair who stared at us with blank eyes. My father wheeled Aunt Margaret into the living room, which we had cleared of glass and ceramic fragments.

All the while the aftershocks hit, and when they did one of my brothers would race to the nearest doorway, bracing himself for the worst. The man on the television said we shouldn’t drink any water from the faucet: The only water we could drink had to be boiled or bottled. Bottled water wasn’t so much of a thing in 1971.

The phone rang again, and my father answered it. He listened for a moment and then handed it to my mother with a strange look on his face. My mother took the phone, and I remember her saying, “Today?! I just assumed…” she trailed off. “We’ll get there as soon as we can.”

She turned to me after she hung up the phone, “You need to get ready. They’re doing the Mattel shoot today, after all.”

I had completely forgotten about the photo-shoot I was booked to do that afternoon – but the clients clearly hadn’t. In fact, they were in a state of high dudgeon that I hadn’t showed, thus the call.

We drove through the San Fernando Valley and over Cahuenga Pass into Hollywood. The streets on the way were deserted, there was broken glass on the sidewalks and there were toppled walls and chimneys everywhere across the Valley.

Hollywood hadn’t taken nearly the hit Saugus, Newhall, Sylmar and the Valley had, because the fault line was far enough away. The windows were intact at the location, and the crew had done a good job cleaning up inside

The client’s nerves were stretched as thin as they would go, and I remember every time an aftershock happened there were several of them who freaked right the hell out. One client refused to stay inside, and would dart in and out of the building to check up on the photo-shoot of Mattel’s newest toy line. He demanded from a distance that the show must go on, and expected a little girl to do what he couldn’t.

I put on the red shirt and apron they had for me, and we set up the shot as the ground continued to heave and pitch. A make up man applied pancake and lipstick, and wisely waited for the aftershocks to end before quickly swiping at my eyelashes with the mascara wand. A hair stylist used a curling iron on my hair and cemented it with hairspray. The lights above us all shivered as the building moved.

The toy line was called Imaginings: It was Mattel’s first shot at educational toys, and the toy I was modeling for was called Lively Lines. The idea was to draw a picture with special markers on special paper, and then drop water on it to create a watercolor painting. The problem was the markers and the paper were expensive, and no kid could recreate the picture on the box, because it was done by a professional artist.

During the shoot I was instructed to hold a several different pictures, and pretend I’d done each one myself. We were working in the days before Photoshop, so that drop of water you see quivering at the end of the eye dropper is very real. I also remember the very real director very really threatening me NOT to let that very real water drip on the artist-painted picture, lest I ruin it. A feat that is so easy for ANY 7-year-old to do – especially while the earth below is doing its best Bronco Billy impression and the lights above are swaying and creaking.

I was forced to wait out the temblors without complaint and then turn on my apple pie smile when they were done. The Director was determined to get that cover shot TODAY!! and all he wanted to do was get on a plane and get the hell back to New York.

The photographer was a sweetheart, trying so hard to make it easier on me, engaging me, and talking me through the worst of it. But, it was utterly terrifying being forced to smile while aftershocks are happening and adults around you are freaking out.

Finally the shoot ended, and we wearily made our way home, me shaking in the passenger seat from the exhaustion born of fear, and feeling miffed that I hadn’t gotten to take any swag. Why – they had hundreds of sheets of paper and dozens of pens, and I hadn’t gotten to take any! It never occurred to me they were proprietary and Mattel wouldn’t want the competition seeing the product before it came to market.

There was no hot water at home to wash the heavy pancake make-up off, or to wash out the stiff hairspray that kept the curls in my pony-tail nearly bulletproof. The water heater went to meet it’s maker during the quake, so I sat shivering in a tub of tan colored room temperature water, feeling the grit and dirt that had settled on bottom of the tub. It was glorious when my mother rinsed me off with water she had warmed on the stove. But, I could still feel the grit on my skin as she rubbed me down with a towel.

I went to bed accompanied by the aftershocks that would last until the following month.

The Imaginings line was released that November, just in time for Christmas and toy lust. Ultimately, the marketing folks at Mattel went with a very serious face on the box: You can see a little girl creating a masterpiece, carefully holding the picture, eyedropper in hand, lost in thought. I’m certain the straight-to-the-camera smiling shots taken that afternoon had a distinctive Crazy-Eyes look from the fear – which is just perfect for selling toys.

It’s been nearly 50 years since the earthquake – and back then animals had greater protection in Hollywood than children did. Will you be shocked to hear that a half a century hasn’t changed the dynamics much, and that Lassie still gets treated better than Timmy?

Imagine!! Why – it just shakes me up.


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