The Truth About Shakespeare

Yesterday was William Shakespeare’s birthday. I confess, I am not one who enjoys Shakespeare’s works. When I read Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew in high school, I had to borrow the equivalent of “Shakespeare for Dummies” from the library just so I could understand what I was reading. When I hear that he is considered one of the most prolific authors in history, I can’t help but furrow my brow and think, “Really? Him? I just don’t get it.”

Perhaps it is ignorance (or lack of culture) on my part. I want to like Shakespeare. Truly, I do. I would love to understand his sonnets and swoon over them. But the whole “doth” “thou” “mayst” “oft” “thy” parts throw me for a loop. Did they really speak that way back then? Or did they talk like we do now, and just wrote like that? Maybe he wasn’t the romantic that scholars claim he was. What if the historical accounts of William Shakespeare are actually myths?

Let’s picture Willy. (You know that’s what his wife called him. Admit it.) He’s sitting at his desk while trying to work through another case of writer’s block. A chicken is pecking next to his feet.

“Hey Anne!” he hollers, “grab me that quill pen, will you? I finally thought of something.”

“Hold your horses!” she yells from the loft, “I can’t drop everything when you suddenly think of an idea. I have to change the baby’s diaper!”

“Ehhh,” Willy grumbles as he peers at the chicken that is now scratching the floor. At last Anne brings Willy his pen. He snatches it out of her hand and frantically starts to write. The only sound in the Shakespeare home is Willy’s pen scratching across the paper. Suddenly, he pauses.

“Hey Anne?” Willy hollers again.

Anne, who is churning butter in the kitchen, rolls her eyes. “Now what?”

“What does ‘forsooth’ mean?”

Anne pushes her bangs (they were all the rage in 1583, too) out of her eyes with the back of her wrist. “It means ‘indeed’.”

Silence.

“It does? Are you sure?” Willy asks.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Huh.”

Later that night, as Anne is rocking the baby, she notices Willy’s manuscript lying on the desk. Shifting the baby to her other arm, Anne picks up Willy’s work and scans it. She then shakes her head in exasperation. After the baby drifts to sleep, Anne gently places her in the cradle before sitting down at Willy’s desk.

“First things first,” Anne mumbles.

She crosses out the title, “A Gent, A Maiden, and Their Two Familys Who Fite A Lot.” (Willy was a  terrible speller.) She changes the title to, “Romeo and Juliet.”

When she reads, “This was fun. We should do this again tomorrow!” Anne whips out a fresh piece of paper and writes, “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow! That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”

“I can’t stop thinking about that guy” Willy had written. Anne closes her eyes for a moment, takes a deep breath, and writes, “Romeo, oh Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Yet, she can’t help but pound the desktop in frustration when she gets to the part where Willy had written, “She sure looks pretty!” Anne nibbles on her quill pen and then triumphantly changes it to, “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.”

It is dawn before Anne finishes her revisions. She wearily rises from the table and crawls in bed next to Willy, who is sleeping on his back with his mouth open, snoring.

“I made some changes,” she whispers before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.

Is Age Just A Number?

Recently, I overheard a woman say she was too old to have long hair.

“At a certain age,” the woman declared, “ponytails and braids just start to look foolish.”

As I pondered her statement, I was reminded of the time my grandmother said that old women shouldn’t wear sleeveless tops. (Conversely, my other grandmother wore pink baseball caps with matching pink shoelaces well into her 60s.)

This brought a question to mind: when is someone officially old? Is a 76 year old woman who bicycles 3 miles a day, every day, old? Or is it the woman who is also 76 but uses a walker and reeks of White Diamonds perfume?

I lost sleep. I paced the floors. I forgot several items on my shopping list because I kept repeating the thought, “When is old, old?” I studied everyone. I took notes. I visited random nursing homes and stuck my head into the rooms before visiting a local American Legion to watch a Bingo game in progress. I then sat and worked late into the night –  by candlelight. I compared my findings. I chewed through three pencils and drank two cups of coffee until, at last, I had answered the question to my satisfaction.

“I have done it,” I whispered to a silent house, “I now know when someone is truly old.”

Actually, I didn’t do any of the above. I simply thought about the question as I washed breakfast dishes one morning. But I was – among the suds and aroma of lemon scented dish soap – able to devise a “You Know You’re Old” list.

The Underground Writer’s “You Know You’re Old When …” Checklist*

If you do five or more of the following, you are officially old.

  • There is a tissue box in the rear window of your car.
  • A flower is taped to your car’s antenna. 
  • You use the term “slacks” for pants, and wear said slacks when you exercise.
  • Everything costs too much, and you have difficulty making a purchase without comparing the cost of the item to what it used to cost “back in the day.”
  • You’re astonished that an adult could be born as recently as the 1980s.
  • Even if your financial situation does not require you to use the Early Bird Specials at restaurants, you always do so out of principle.
  • You are simply appalled by the younger generation: their clothes, music, behavior, and/or electronics. You also take issue with what people are naming their children nowadays. Names such as Kaden, Brooklyn, and Jayden are not real names in your mind.
  • If you are female, you wear nylons all of the time – even with “slacks.” 
  • You find electronics mind boggling. Just as you finally figured out how to set the time on your DVD player, your younger friend questions why you even have a DVD player since they will soon be obsolete.
  • Your car is either large (such as a Lincoln Town car) or small (such as a Toyota Corolla). Mid-size cars, such as Honda Accords, are never considered.
  • Your reason for visiting the mall is to walk for exercise, and not to shop.
  • While sleeping at night is nearly impossible, you find yourself randomly falling asleep throughout the day. 

*This checklist has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, or any other professional organization for that matter. This list it not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent aging*

Want To Lose Weight? Try Obesity Soap And Eating Cabbage

We’ve all been there: spending too much money for some gadget that promises to tone our thighs, shrink our bellies, or firm our arms. Many of us truly believe that those extra holiday pounds are going to be shed in time for the beach with the help of the newest diet featured in Shape magazine.

Clearly, America has an obsession with weight. There is a menagerie of weight loss pills, innovative exercise machines, different types of weight loss surgeries, and bizarre diets. The media is saturated with scary statistics on obesity, and it seems that you can’t pick up a magazine without there being at least one article on someone who has lost an astounding amount of weight with before and after pictures. Snuggled in-between these articles are advertisements featuring gaunt women who all have that same aloof expression.

It’s easy to assume that America’s love affair with diets and weight loss is a more recent phenomenon – but a relatively brief Internet search proved otherwise. Weight loss gimmicks and fad diets have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the products people used in the early 1900s to shave off those extra pounds included an Obesity Soap that was supposed to “wash away” excess fat (imagine what that would do to your shower drain), and Bile Beans that were nothing more than laxatives.

The Graybar Stimulator entered the scene in 1920 and would cost you $60. No small change for a machine where you strapped  a leather belt around your hips and it jiggled the pounds away (which it didn’t). It appears most exercise machines at that time involved vibration because in 1930 the Battle Creek Health Builder was a popular choice. With this bizarre contraption, the victim sat in a saddle and the fat was “shaken” off (it wasn’t). Just as so many people today have a room in their house devoted to exercise equipment they rarely use, I am assuming back in the 1930s people had a room specifically for their Graybar Stimulator and Battle Creek Health Builder.

Radical diets are also not new to the weight loss scene. In fact, there have been so many rather alarming weight loss regimes that I was forced to shorten the list. Below are some of the fad diets that are downright weird.

In 1903, a diet called Fletcherizing, or “the chewing diet”, became quite popular. Fletcherizing involved chewing food 32 times – one chew for each tooth. While it created rather quiet dinner parties and tired jaws, Fletcherizing did not provide the weight loss so desired and the diet eventually lost its appeal.

The Cigarette Diet, endorsed by none other than Lucky Strike Cigarettes, became the rage in 1925. With this diet, people were told to reach for a cigarette instead of food when hungry. Not only was a cigarette a substitute for putting food in the mouth when you wanted to eat, the nicotine was also touted as being appetite suppressing. Thus, the Cigarette Diet killed two birds with one stone (while giving the dieter a surprise diagnosis of lung cancer later on in life).

Between the years 1930-1950 the Grapefruit Diet made its debut. With this citrus driven diet, people attempted to shed pounds – and keep them off – by consuming grapefruit with every meal. It was believed that grapefruit had a fat-burning property and by eating them with other foods, the grapefruit would cancel out the caloric intake of whatever else you ingested. Although this theory has been continually debunked, other variations of the Grapefruit Diet still exist today.

Swallowing a tapeworm was also experimented with as a way to control weight. The Tapeworm Diet was rumored as being a popular method in losing weight during the 1950s. For those who weren’t keen on the idea of swallowing a parasite and having it grow up to 25 feet long in their intestines, dieters could also try the Cabbage Soup Diet. Similar to the Grapefruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet required dieters to eat Cabbage Soup with every meal.

Jumping ahead to the 1990s, quick weight loss schemes did not lessen in number or oddity. Who remembers the 1996 diet of eating food based on your blood type? Or the low carb craze of the Atkins Diet and South Beach Diet? Around 1998, juicing machines flew off the shelves in droves as people tried the Juice, Fasting and Detoxification Diet. When drinking meals lost its appeal, dieters then tried munching on uncooked foods with the Raw Food Diet of 2000. Dieters attempted liquid diets a second time with the more recently popular Master Cleanse (also known as the Lemonade Diet). With this extreme diet, people drink nothing more than a concoction consisting of hot water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for 10 days.

It is easy to poke fun at the 13th century explorer, Ponce de Leon, who discovered Florida in his quest for the fountain of youth. A fountain that would keep you young! How ridiculous. Now, if you’ll just excuse me. I need to eat my allotted 17 pickles as part of the Pickle Diet. (Fooled you, didn’t I?)

Summer Etiquette Suggestions

Northeast residents are joyfully embracing the warming weather. Off with the winter coats, long pants, gloves, hats, and boots! Out come the shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. All of this signals the joyful message that winter has left the premises!

Now. With that comes some suggestions for summer etiquette. Please don’t take this personally; we are all known to show some lapse in judgement in our unbridled excitement in welcoming the long awaited spring and summer months.

Feet: Indeed, it is a wonderful feeling to shuck off those winter boots and slip our feet into sandals. But let us not forget that to whom sandals are given, sandal wisdom is expected. This includes toenails that are trimmed; corns and callouses that are removed. The only people who want to see gnarly feet are podiatrists (and even they charge a fee to look at them).

Shorts: Girlfriends, I detest the Kate Moss/emaciated runway model look just as much as you do. Society places unrealistic (and unhealthy) expectations on today’s females in regard to weight. However, let’s not shove our healthy-sized thighs into shorts that are too short. Here is a test: if you lean over and a butt cheek escapes, your shorts are too short.

Shirts: Men, I am talking to you. Let’s be honest. Many of you take advantage of being allowed to walk around shirtless. Yet, how do you know if it is truly acceptable to remove your shirt and bare all? If you have more hair on your back than your head: Unacceptable. If you look down and see the flesh of your stomach instead of  your feet – keep that shirt on. Lastly, if you have man boobs and require a Manzier (or “Bro”), then being shirtless is an absolute no.

Music: With the warm weather comes fresh air. We all love to roll down our car windows and play our favorite tunes (I am partial to Bruce Springstein’s Lonesome Day in the summer. For whatever reason, it sounds better with the windows down and the volume up). However, let us all remember that not everyone enjoys our taste in music, so consideration must be made about the volume that we play our favorite songs. This especially goes out to those of you who enjoy PSY’s “Gangnam Style” or music in which expletives outnumber all other words.

 Deodorant with Antiperspirant: This is a must. Please remember to apply liberally. And I am talking the old school kind: Sure, Ban, Secret. Worried about antiperspirants causing cancer and want to opt for the all-natural kind that allows you to sweat and “masks” odor? Um… it’s great that you want to avoid cancer, but please don’t punish the rest of us in your quest to do so.

Hopefully, if we can agree to adhere to some of these suggestions, it won’t be (as Bananarama sings) a cruel summer.

Special thanks to Adam J. Holland of The Unorthodox Epicure for his help with this post.

Old Men Making The Moves 101

Perseverance is an admirable attribute. Monarch butterflies migrate over 3,000 miles on their fragile wings – persevering through harsh elements and predators – to warmer climates. Men and women serving in the military persevere through long separations from their families. Cancer victims persevere through treatments that often make them feel worse than the cancer itself. And some old men persevere, despite the odds, at the pursuit of younger women.

Whether these men think they’re still desirable, or they just want to give it one last shot, remains a mystery. But their tenacity is commendable and the methods they use to seduce their prey are rather intriguing. The wooing tactics old men commonly utilize can be narrowed down to three approaches: creative, debonair and reckless.

The debonair approach is considered the most commonly used method by old men in their pursuit of younger ladies. The debonair approach tends to include an invitation of some sort; such as dinner or a cup of coffee. The debonair approach also handles any rejection with dignity. While grocery shopping one hot August day, my mother was approached by an old man wearing galoshes and a raincoat (it was sunny out). He asked my mom if she would like to return to his apartment after she had finished shopping. When my mother declined, the old man shrugged and said, “Figured it was worth a shot” before walking away.

Other old men are not quite as bold and use a more flattering technique. A friend of mine was recently in the cafeteria of the hospital where she works when an elderly gentleman greeted her.  “Excuse me,” he said, “But do you ever get tired of old men telling you how pretty you are? Because you are prettier than free fried chicken.” In this incidence the creative approach was utilized. Other analogies that have been used in the creative approach are “prettier than Ava Gardner”, “prettier than Niagara Falls” and “prettier than a car hop.” The problem with the creative approach is that along with it sounding a bit odd, it also tends to date the individual.

Some old men throw caution to the wind and make their move with gusto. This can be defined as the reckless approach. The reckless approach is the most disturbing for the female because it often involves physical contact. An example of the reckless approach is when I was a medical social worker and an elderly patient grabbed my arm and attempted to pull me in for a smooch. After I wrenched myself free, the patient proceeded to purse his lips and make kissing noises. The fact that I was clearly disgusted meant nothing to him.  Typically, those who resort to the reckless approach do so out of desperation (or dementia), caring only about the end result and not so much as how they arrive there.

While the perseverance of old men pursuing young women isn’t as noble as, say, medical school or Navy Seal training – their efforts must be commended. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”