Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday Night at the VFW

With my husband working out of town, I'm always looking for entertainment on the weekends that he doesn't fly home. My criteria: fun, affordable, and wholesome. When my girlfriend invited me to Saturday night ballroom dancing at the VFW downtown, I was intrigued, but skeptical. "Seriously," I asked, "the VFW?" I was picturing old geezers in faded army uniforms pushing walkers and oxygen tanks around the floor. But my friend, a very hip 50-something single, assured me that I would enjoy it. She knows I love to dance.

Dancing is in my blood. I even have a couple of chorus girls and a Rockette in my lineage. My parents were the Fred and Ginger of their social set, and my dad started me on the fox trot as soon as I was tall enough to dance with him without standing on his feet. My husband loves to dance too, but he's more of a freestyler. He wooed me on disco dance floors, and he still moves like no one I've ever seen, but every once in a while I long for the structure and predictability of ballroom dancing. So I took the opportunity, put on my dancing shoes, and went to meet my friend.

For ambiance, the VFW has next to nothing to recommend it. The dance was in a big institutional hall with a bandstand at one end and a bar at the other. The dance floor was huge, with a perimeter of long tables and chairs, and the place was packed. Scanning the crowd, I saw mostly 50 and 60-somethings: totally my demographic. A really good live band, the Archers (also 50 and 60-somethings) filled the air with covers of everything from Rock to Swing to Latin. And people were dancing. Really dancing.

I spotted a few couples who had surely been dancing together for years -- they floated from move to move with practiced familiarity and grace. But even the dancers who weren't polished had obviously taken some ballroom lessons. Everybody knew the steps, the turns, the variations, the footwork. The guys knew how to lead, and the girls knew how to follow. I was in my element and I couldn't wait for someone to ask me to dance.

I stood at the edge of the dance floor tapping my foot to the music and trying to look approachable and friendly, but after ten minutes I started to feel, again, like the skinny, pimpled adolescent with glasses and braces who had wallflowered at lots of high school dances. I forced myself to stand up straight and not look desperate. My heart sank a little more with each song that saw me standing, partnerless, on the sidelines. Was I destined to always be a wallflower at a dance with my peers?

Finally, one of my friend's regular dance partners approached me and asked me to dance. Did she put him up to it? I didn't care. Out on the dance floor I easily followed his lead, adding a few flourishes learned years ago at the many Bar Mitzvahs and wedding receptions where I had honed my skills. I must have completed some kind of unspoken initiation, because once I demonstrated that I could indeed dance, my dance card filled up and I didn't sit down until the band quit at midnight.

Some of my partners were experts, some were beginners, but they were all serious about dancing. They led me through fox trots, rhumbas, two-steps, and cha-chas. They twirled me through energetic swing dances. They waltzed me around the floor and I imagined myself in a hoop skirt and crinoline. Each gentleman politely thanked me after our dance and led me back to where he had found me. I felt, finally, like one of the popular girls.

At the end of the night, I ducked into the ladies' room and glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I was flushed and disheveled. My hair was damp and my clothes clung wetly. I was out of breath. My feet hurt. And I was utterly spent and happy. So, if you're looking for me on Saturday night, you'll probably find me at the VFW. I'll save a dance for you.

Deb recommends:
Saturday dance at Kelly Ingram VFW Post 668
8:00 pm - midnight
1801 11th Avenue North
Birmingham, AL
Admission: $5.00
Cash bar

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fire Ant Control - One Man's Methodology

He kills fire ant beds with urine. He pees on them.

This is not white trash entertainment. It's a tested, methodical strategy that he has perfected over years of experimentation, and it works.

Fire ants have plagued the South since they jumped ship in Mobile in the 1930's and started their northward invasion. They bite, and the bites hurt like hell, then itch and fester. Killing fire ants is a serious mission requiring aggressive tactics. Men have tried them all. Pesticides, gasoline, mechanical crushers, exhaust fumes, explosives, electrocution -- it's war.

Urine works. all you need is a flashlight and a full bladder. It's best done at night, he says, so you don't offend the neighbors. The big challenge is not to splash your shoes, but one of the benefits of doing it at night is that the grass is laden with dew, so if you miss, you can just walk through some tallish grass, but be sure to polish your shoes before you wear them again.

It typically takes two applications of urine to kill a fire ant bed. Fire ant beds may be mounded or volcano-like in shape. You want to go for the core. Pee straight down into the highest point and then soak the rest of the bed deeply. You're going for the queen, who is protected at the base of the bed. The peak of the bed is as tall as the queen is deep. So first shoot a straight stream right down the hole at the top. Then you just drench the suckers. On warm days, worker ants bring eggs up near the surface. He calls drenching the whole bed on warm days "fouling the nursery."

Depending on the size of your bladder and urethra, you can make applications to one or more bed with one load. (His personal best -- three.) It takes a lot of control to stop and start and stop, so practice is beneficial. Make sure you get the most mileage out of each load. You might use a full load on a large ant bed, but don't blow your load on starter beds.

Some beds take years to kill. One in his driveway took him five years, but it's gone now. It might crop up again, but he'll be ready for it.

Grass continues to grow as an ant colony builds its bed, so after you kill a mound, the next step is to rescue your lawn. Fire ants secrete a substance that hardens dirt, so rake the mound or it will petrify. Expose the grass and redistribute the dirt.

Fire ants are aggressive and tenacious, and you may have an infestation in some years. Enlist the help of your friends. Recruit a fraternity from a local college. It's worth the cost of a keg.

There is not general agreement concerning the properties of urine that make it poisonous to fire ants. Some suggest it's the proteins and enzymes; others think urine upsets the pH balance of the mound. Although urine has not gained wide acceptance in fire ant control, it works.

He says it's using what God gave you to do what you need to do. And it's damn satisfying. Fire ants are the enemy -- show no mercy. He marks targeted ant beds by stabbing a lit cigarette butt into the peak of the bed. You're next.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Myra's Posse

Have I mentioned that I have a granddaughter? This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me, the mother of three sons, a baby girl in the family is a glimmer of lace and tulle in a sea of denim and camouflage. Myra Laine. How I adore her.

Myra's extended family, an eclectic mix of folks, gathered from north, south, east, and west for her baby dedication at the church in Alabama where her parents were married. When Myra's diaper unloaded onto her pink batiste bloomers right before the service, it was clearly a two-grandmother job. My daughter-in-law gave the urgent signal to her mother: "Mom! Bathroom! Now!" I figured I might be able to help, so I joined the procession, bringing up the rear behind my son who carried the essential diaper bag. We ducked into a side room with a big conference table and got to work.

Like a well-trained Nascar pit crew, we performed a full-service pit stop in record time. As if we had practiced for days, we all knew exactly what to do in a sprint that involved laying down a changing mat, pulling off satin shoes and lace-trimmed socks, removing the offending bloomers without soiling the rest of the outfit, undiapering, wiping, rediapering, replacing socks and shoes, tying little bows, packing everything up, and keeping Myra entertained so she would be smiling when she faced the congregation.

Eight hands moved in furiously efficient synchronization as we danced around each other to grab a foot, a wipe, a diaper, the hem of a dress, a bonnet, a pacifier. And Myra cooed through it all. I think she was enthralled by the blur of motion in which she was center stage.

We're your posse, Myra, I thought as we walked back to the sanctuary with just moments to spare before the service began. And when we all stood together with the rest of the family as our baby girl was dedicated to the Lord, I thought about how blessed Myra is to have -- besides her amazing parents -- two sets of great-grandparents, two sets of grandparents, four uncles, a host of great-aunts and great-uncles, and a world of cousins. Yankees and Southerners, Christians and Jews, city folk and country folk, united by this child who is flesh of our flesh, and by a sense of humor that overrides our differences and makes us an unlikely but authentic family. Myra's posse.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On Becoming a Senior

Most people don't guess my age, which is over 60. I've been blessed with good genes. I'm officially a senior citizen now, and this rite of passage has given me a fresh outlook. I've forgiven myself for the foolishness of my youth, learned a lot from experiences both good and bad, and feel myself moving, hopefully, towards that place of unflappable calm and wisdom that I find so attractive in those who have made it to their 80s and 90s with their minds and spirits intact.

My reference points for being a "woman of a certain age" are the women in my family who pointed the way. I hear my mother's voice in my head, and it's a welcome voice. I find myself calling women younger than myself "dear," as she did. It sounds terribly retro to my ears, but it flies off my tongue with ease and it doesn't seem to offend, so I don't edit. My mother had a gift for connecting with people. She took a sincere interest in everyone she met, and the seeds of care that she sowed reaped a harvest of respect and affection. I aspire to that.

Being a senior gives me, I believe, a certain license to dispense kindly advice and encouragement to the young. (To me, anyone under 50 is young.) Not only do I happily own my opinions, but I have no qualms about making them known if I think it will do some good, and it often does.

My father's older sisters, Anna and Fanny, whom he affectionately called 'Arsenic and Old Lace," were an ongoing object lesson for me. Aunt Anna was a self-centered beauty with a reputation for comic wit and a sharp tongue. She never cut her hair -- it was down to her knees -- and she wore it in a braided crown that gave her a regal appearance. (Personally, I think it was all those hairpins that made her so testy.) Aunt Fanny, petite and plain, was a gentle soul with a generous spirit who married a scoundrel and raised four sons pretty much on her own.

My aunts were both tough cookies. To support her boys during the 1920s, Aunt Fanny drove a truck route from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The truck was stacked with bootleg whiskey. Aunt Anna hosted a well-known poker game once a week at her cold-water flat on the Lower East Side. Anna bossed and snapped at everyone around her, but was also so funny and entertaining that we all forgave her. Fanny was the warm, welcoming bosom we ran to when we needed a reassuring embrace or an understanding ear.

Aunt Anna died in her 80s, cancer-ridden and in terrible pain. I visited her in the hospital a few weeks before she died and listened as she railed in bitter self-pity. She had nothing good to say about her life or her family. It grieves me that a woman who had been so passionate about life found no peace at its end. Aunt Fanny, still soft-spoken and energetic, moved to a nursing home in her late 80s. She liked it there because, as she said, "I like to help the old people." When she died at the age of 95, she spoke her last words to her three remaining sons who were gathered beside her. "Tell everyone I love them," she whispered.

Love, my friends, remains the answer. As I transition into my seniorhood, I want to get better and better at feeling love, sharing love, receiving love, dispensing love. I want to be one of those old ladies whom young people affectionately kiss on the cheek and sit beside for serious conversation because it makes them feel good about themselves. Being a senior is serious business. We point the way, as the women in my family did for me, and the direction we point can have a profound effect on rising generations. I accept the mantle humbly and willingly.