Tips for a life

Savannah Morning News column

May 10, 2015

Don’t keep chocolate in the house. If you do, hide it; if you’re lucky, you’ll forget where you hid it.

Don’t keep a scale, either. The news will never be good.

Make your peace with photographs of yourself. You will never like the ones other people like (and send you) because, well, you don’t think they look like you (or how you think you should look).

Before you go out check your shirt for toothpaste dribblings.

When someone is telling a story, just listen. Try not to do the math. It’s not important they were in fourth grade when Kennedy was killed and all along, without thinking about it, you figured you were kind of the same age. Try to refrain from saying, “I have t-shirts older than you,” a line I stole from the late Doug Wyatt, a wag and a fine writer from the Savannah Morning News.

As I complete another trip around the sun and add another year to my age these are a few of the things I’ve learned. Learn the proper way to floss. Apparently, two years into my seventh decade, I have been doing it wrong all this time. How can this be? Go back and forth, side to side. Learn the proper way to use your electric toothbrush. Easy, not too much pressure, don’t forget the gums and the tongue.

Learn how to divert a conversation. Rehearse in your mind a retort to what’s being said. If there are blanks in the noun area, turn the dialogue around and head quick as a bunny for another subject where you’re on solid ground.

When a three-year-old says, “Let’s run,” go with it. Even if you’re on the sidewalk. Even if the sidewalk is uneven and all you can picture is both of you tumbling over and ending up with a bloody nose. Mostly likely it won’t happen.

Try not to point out how much shorter you are even though most of the world seems to tower over you. It’s easier to squeeze through crowds that way.

Steel yourself before going into a doctor’s office that feels more like the office of a cable company or an insurance company or a giant corporation. Put away your checkbook. You can’t pay until they “negotiate.” Don’t expect the doctor to talk to you for long, to ask if you’re eating right and getting exercise, or to say, “You look pretty good!” Get a grip on those expectations. Be happy you can leave without hearing arterial stent or beta blocker or balloon angioplasty. I know they save lives, but still.

When you go to the ballpark don’t give the man who is checking your bag for water bottles (or worse) any grief. He’s only doing his job. “There might be vodka in there or gin,” he says. Horrors. Don’t start bitching and moaning to him about the team leaving Savannah when he tells you there aren’t enough workout facilities for the ballplayers.

Don’t go too far adrift with this stranger checking your bag. It’s not his fault that only boys get to play football in the park, that police departments used to sponsor sports leagues, that major league baseball is for the rich. Just because you’re thinking these things doesn’t mean you have to announce them.

Look for that silver lining. Like the woman who was behind you in line to buy tickets to see the Sand Gnats who offered you her Kroger card so you could get in for a dollar. Or the woman in the expensive seats behind home plate who offered you a seat in the front row. Or the $9 you and a friend spent at the game, $2 for both of you to get in, $1 for some water, $4 for two hotdogs. Cherish those numbers. They are rare.

Be grateful you rode your bike to the game and you got to see the full moon on your ride home and you made it home without running into any potholes, unfinished city work, or those noxious sweet gum balls, just waiting to trip up your tires.

Choose anything over the screen. A downtown nighttime Matt Hebermehl installation? Go!

Listen to the birds and not the news. It is not new, all these deaths and shootings and war dead. For better but most likely for worst they’ve always been around. It’s just that now we have more people reporting on them. (Can you say all the time?)

Finally, a tip from Sophia Loren, that aging beauty.

“Never groan when you get up or sit down on the couch,” she says.

All about obsessions and weeds

Savannah Morning News column

May 3, 2015

As obsessions go, gardening ranks near the top because as anyone obsessed with something – reading, playing poker, eating, drinking, traveling, politics, making money – knows, an obsession by definition never ends so it might as well be something you can put on your plate, in a pot, in a vase or on some neighbor’s doorstep (can you say snow peas?) because there is no finish to gardening, there is no last inning, last call or final quarter. It carries you through the decades. But that’s not all. Messing with the soil (or playing in the dirt, same thing) gets you away from the screen, the dreaded screen. For at least this month that trip works to take you far, far away from “Bloodline,” the new Netflix psychodrama/soap opera around families and secrets, mangroves and translucent water. (It doesn’t hurt that the nighttime melodramatic series is filmed in the alluring and shining world of the Florida Keys).

Gardening gets you away from taking yourself too seriously. Can’t it stop raining? Can’t it start raining?  Did I really think I could have stopped that limb from dropping on my blooming comfrey during last weekend’s wicked winds? Weather, ergo gardening, is capricious and volatile. One has only so much control. No matter. Science proves this year-round obsession gets the serotonin flowing, without the side effects of pharmaceuticals. There are no side effects at all unless you’re counting the dirt under your fingernails, the dirt in your car, the dirt between the front door and the kitchen, and the dirt in the cuff of your pants, which pours out when you unroll the cuffs to do the laundry.  It’s not a clean activity like, oh, say, fencing, which a friend of mine is pursuing with his son – “to get him away from the screen” – but it is ever present and you don’t need a sword or a sparring partner or a protective helmet and that’s why I was traipsing around in the rain with a dozen other people last weekend at Peter Brodhead’s medicinal plant walk at the really cool and under-visited Savannah-Ogeechee Canal.

Oy, the surprises. Who could imagine such a nice name – smilax, so innocent, so somehow smiley – for that horrible, spiky, sharp vine with the elongated heart-shaped leaves that rips your hands open and leaves you bloody when you try to pull it out of the ground? But here’s the reverse side from nature, thank you very much: the thin, delicate, almost elegant tips of smilax taste like asparagus, all the better since three years out of four I forget to check the asparagus patch in early spring, mostly because smilax, that devil in disguise, has appropriated it as a climbing toy.

Who knew passion vine, the bane of my existence right after smilax or maybe the ubiquitous bidens alba, which I call Joe Biden weed as a way to remember it, was good for controlling anxiety or that the mimosa tree, which never grows where you want it to, can also be compounded into an anti-anxiety mixture or that in China the mimosa is known as the happiness tree.

What made me happy was to put a name to that airy, springy early spring weed that climbs over, through and around everything in the garden. It’s so light it appears to sit on top of or float above other plants. I used to call it Velcro weed. But I’m not alone. It is that and catchweed and stickweed, as well as its formal name -  cleavers – kind of like the Beaver in the Cleavers. But here’s the deal: the whole kit and caboodle can be cooked and eaten. Come the rapture, we’re in like Flynn. I wonder if the preppers know about this, those people getting ready for doomsday. If not, they should put it on their list.

Brodhead, and his acupuncturist son, Ben, were filled with stories, like the time the late herbalist John R. Christopher, the first speaker Brighter Day hosted, arrived late to speak. When he did get there, he opened a baggy, ingested a tablespoon (not a teaspoon) of cayenne powder and was good to go. A little bracing, me thinks, unlike the yaupon tea Savannah’s Lou Thomann has formulated from the native yaupon tree. It’s the next matte, Peter said, referencing a popular South American tea. Maybe Lou, a pretty smart fellow who came from the world of finance, can explain how Spanish moss came to be included in the pineapple family. Was it through marriage?  A pineapple drink right about now would suit me just fine.