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Thursday, October 27, 2011

I drive me crazy

Classic 80's Graphics was SO cheesy!

I’ve been hearing about America’s love affair with the automobile for years and I must admit, there are moments when I see a car that makes me want one of them. But honestly, automobiles have been one of three things in my life: The shortest distance between two points, something else that I don’t understand how it operates, and a place to listen loudly to music that I’m the only one in my nuclear cluster likes.  I’m not sure that’s what the American automobile industry wants me to take away from their efforts, but it is what it is.

Thank you Johnny, my Speed Racer!

I learned to drive after most people my age.  I was always a late bloomer and it wasn’t until I graduated college that I actually got around to getting my license and learning how to drive.  I have to thank my younger brother for this. My first car was a slightly used little red Toyota Celica with a stick shift. I had no idea how to use the stick but my then 14-year-old brother apparently did and he became my driver’s ed teacher. We drove around for hours until I mastered the technique. I still remember being in the middle of an intersection somewhere in Livingston and being unable to get the car into gear. My brother was in the passenger seat screaming at me and I was laughing so hard, I was crying. I could not for the life of me, get it into gear. Once I mastered the technique though, I loved driving a stick and the control I had. 

Later on in life I bought a white on white Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible, also a stick. I loved it. It was the perfect beach car for those years I lived in Clearwater Beach. I still owned in when I moved back to New York City in 1989 and would put the top down and blast the heat in the middle of the winter driving down 5th Avenue with the top down and the music up. Wheee!

The Hoff and K.I.T.T. -- still cheesy! 
What I recall most about the horror of car ownership, and it continues to this day, is the headache of registration, licensing and license renewal at the Motor Vehicle offices. When my husband and I left Manhattan to come to the burbs about 14 years ago, we had to get New Jersey licenses. That meant taking the written test again. 

DeLorean made it cheesy, not Doc Brown.

Now that my son has reached the age of permit, another series of visits was required to get all the forms and tests completed. On a recently Saturday morning I was back at Wayne, our closest MV office, to pick up the red tags that we needed to affix to our license plates to indicate there was a “student driver” at the wheel.  The fact that an in-person visit is required to do this, rather than an online order process ($4 per car) just shows how backwards and user unfriendly this system is. The offices open at 8 a.m. so I was in their parking lot by 7:20, anticipating only a small crowd.  I’ve seen that line wrapped twice around the building and it’s not a pretty sight.  As the hour drew near a jovial face appeared at the door with a pencil tucked behind her ear. With an efficiency that would be envied by any branch of the military, she had this motley collection of now about 50 coffee-starved souls, sorted and assigned to various positions flanking the front door. Then she announced, “ I’m sorry, we have no pens in the building. If you have one with you, fine. Otherwise I would recommend that you go to your cars now and retrieve one.” 

Who you gonna call? 

Standing behind me (I was placed in the first position by the door since my request required no paperwork! Oh, happy day!) , was a well-groomed young man who turned to me and said in thick Germanic accent, “I thought this vas a first world nation!” 

“No,” I replied with shame. “You’re in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country and our Governor has apparently reduced the pen budget.”

“Aha!” he replied. “I have a driver’s license for Hong Kong, for Europe and even one for parts of Africa but I have never seen anything like this.”

“Welcome to the new poorer America my friend. It will drive you crazy.” 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's Reunion time!

Coming to your future. 
In about three weeks time I will be joining a group of people I haven't seen, for the most part, for more than twenty years and in many cases, more than forty years. Yes, it's High School Reunion time again. I have decidedly mixed feelings about attending. What distinguishes this meet-up, besides my growing older and wider, is the playing field is somewhat more leveled by our respective ages. While we refer to ourselves and are referred to as solidly middle-aged, reaching two years shy of sixty seems a bit further along on life's journey than midpoint.

There will be those attending who have aged well. There will be those attending who have, with surgical assistance, maintained a more youthful countenance and there will be those who, suffering from a combination of ill health, genetics, plumb bad luck and questionable lifestyle choices, have crept closer to the decrepitude that comes with old age.

Dressed for Dinner.
Lest you think I'm being cynical, I can assure you, old age is not for sissies. I see examples of about once a week when I visit my mother in her nursing home. I try to time my visits around meal times. I do this for a variety of reasons. First, because it provides my son and I with an opportunity to engage others in conversation with her and we are then not bombarded with or limited to her repetitive repertoire of complaints and intimate ailment inventory. Each meal there serves as a kind of reunion of sorts. Names and faces that may have been forgotten are recalled, though they very well might have last met less than 24 hours earlier.

Some residents dress for dinner, some scream for it and some silently wait for their meals draped in their lobster bib-like accessory, mandatory dress code for both lunch and dinner. Her tablemates are an eclectic assortment of aged and infirm, joining us on their own steam supported by metal walkers or rolling in on their self-propelled four wheel carriages.

Most have trouble hearing and I wonder if after all those hours I spent at rock concerts, driving with blasting car stereos and now listening to my iPod, will have an early deteriorating effect on this most fragile sense.

In some ways it might be better. The hate speech and vitriol that fills and fuels what passes as News today frequently feels toxic. Perhaps in not being able to hear it, I might finally reach that Nivanian state of bliss, aka ignorance.

Poor little Dobby
When my mother first arrived at her new home, my son and I joined her at her first dinner. All meals are served in a spacious dining room and seating is assigned. As I stood behind her, at the next table a wizened woman who resembled Dobby, the house elf from Harry Potter, peered up at me from her power wheelchair.

"Hey", she cackled, " You're new here. Why are you here?"
"This is my mother"I explained. "She just arrived today."
"Really? Why did you bring her here of all places? This place is awful. The food is disgusting. It's a hellhole!"
"Yes, yes it is. How did you find this place?"
"I just googled hellhole."
"Aha hah hah."

Those hard of hearing residents in the vicinity could hear well enough to "get" my response and appreciate it. It was comforting to learn that while our hearing may fade away, a sense of humor appears to be eternal. I do hope we all bring it to the reunion.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


iCEO Jobs and his iPhone

This week we all lost too early, a brilliant and brusque visionary, Steve Jobs. Others have who knew him have written beautifully of his contributions and human foibles. I’m not going to do that. I am just going to point out his affect on me and that’s why this is iCarol.

What I’ve been thinking about is names; mine in particular and others in general. Consumer products with names like the iPhone, the Pentium Chip (see this week’s New Yorker magazine to learn more about how this name came to be.), and Kleenex exist throughout their lifetimes with occasional modifications, marketed as improvements and iterations, but we don’t get that chance. I am and was Carol. Not Carol, new and improved or Carol One or lowcal Carol.

I think that’s a huge missed opportunity for humankind. All the other Carol’s that I meet are at least 50 years old. It’s the name of an old person. It didn’t age well. I resent that. I didn’t even get to have a vote on my name. No focus groups were held to determine whether Carol was the right brand name for me. If we are being told today, we are our brand, I don’t want to be saddled with a name that puts me in a doddering package.

And clearly, I am not the same as I was 50 years ago even if my name was the right name at the time. I want a new and fresh name, something that captures who I am right now, that has aged well.

Cousin Ice Cream Cone
I experiment with this notion when I work with young children. My married name is Cohn, as in Ice Cream Cone.  It is not the two syllable Cohen or Co-hen. Just the short and sweet cone so I tell the little ones that my name is Mrs. Ice Cream Cone. I do this for both practical and educationally sound reasons. Practical because it’s likely they will remember my name and educationally sound because research shows that happy learners actually learn more and that success breeds success. Part of what makes learners happy is being successful. In this environment, Mrs. Ice Cream Cone clearly works for me but I’m not sure it’s right anywhere else.

Uncle Traffic Cohn
When I was pregnant with my son, we did get lots of helpful and not so helpful ideas for names from friends and acquaintances. In no particular order or preference these included: Gengis Cohn, Shaka Cohn, Traffic Cohn, Kubla Cohn, Ice Cream Cohn, Safety Cohn, Waffle Cohn, Soft serve Cohn, Pine Cohn, and Snow Cohn. Our favorite came from a friend of my brother’s who suggested Jimmy Crack Cohn. While entertaining, we rejected them all and went with Miles which appears to be working just fine and seems like a good fit.

So for those of you who know me only as an adult or know me best from childhood or those adolescent years, please don’t think of me as a Carol. Suggestions and recommendations for an updated, better name are being collected right now and I welcome your input.