Thursday, December 1, 2011




is a fun and fact-filled book for the visitor to the Grand Canyon State and the Arizonan alike.

includes amusing and fascinating information about the state of Arizona ranging from a town called Why to an original Diamondbacks owner who is an avid Yankee fan to Muhammad Ali to the Make a Wish Foundation to Famous Good Guys and Bad Guys to Giant Saguaros and Incredible Insects and Arachnids.

is an entertaining trip through the unique state of Arizona with a few laughs and without being a formal guidebook.


"Standin’ on the Corner" Park in Winslow, Arizona was built in honor of what famous situation?

Where in Arizona can you make plans to meet someone on the corner of Ho and Hum and take a walk down Easy Street?

Who or what is Kokopelli?

On June 6, 1936, the first barrel of this product produced in the United States rolled off the production line in Nogales, Arizona. What product was this?

In what town in Arizona can you find The Satisfied Frog, The Town Dump, The Lazy Lizard, The Horny Toad, Big Earl’s Greasy Eats, Hammerhead Jack’s, and Big Bronco Wild West Emporium?

Why does Arizona opt out of Daylight Saving Time?

What toy did John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright invent?
In regard to Arizona, what do Barry Bonds, David Spade, Amanda Brown, and Brenda Strong have in common?

This Arizonan was the first woman to rob a stagecoach, escaped from jail, and was a writer for Cosmopolitan magazine. Who was she?

Who is Arizona's Digital Goddess?

and MUCH more…….


Also available on Amazon - paperback and Kindle.
Be sure to purchase the second edition.

©2009 Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved. No Portion of this Page may be copied or used in any format without the Author's Written Consent.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Blame it all on the bloomers

Perhaps there are women who grew up in the 1950s and '60s who have fond memories of gym class. They may tell wonderful anecdotes of bonding with other women while running track, climbing ropes, jumping over the pommel horse, and playing basketball. But when I think of those days, I start to hyperventilate and require a quick dose of reality. So I call my oldest girlfriend, and she reminds me that I no longer have to wear my blue bloomers.

Physical education was a school requirement in the 1960s. Five days a week, we had to dress out for PE. That meant we had to wear our blue bloomers, white sneakers, and white socks.

The "bloomers" were the gym suit our school required. It was a cornflower-blue cotton thing with an elastic waist and snap closures. I never understood the color choice, since the school colors were orange and black. I could have dealt with black much better.

The gym suits were carried at a local store. Every September, the store had an increase in sales because groups of moaning teenage girls would flock into the store to purchase the uniform.

The boys didn't have to wear uniforms for PE. They wore black gym shorts and a school T-shirt. The year after I graduated, the school approved black shorts and a school T-shirt for senior girls. But that was too late for me. I wore my blue bloomers until the week before I graduated.

Once the suit was purchased, we had to sew our names over the right chest pocket, using white thread. My gym teachers would not let us abbreviate our names, which wasn't a problem for me, but Anastasia Karchanaski and Katherine Philipowizc were not happy.

On my first attempt at the sewing project, I carefully spelled my name over the pocket with my ballpoint pen and began to sew. Midway through the project, my girlfriend came to visit. Seeing what I was doing, she mentioned that her mother had given her uniform to her father's tailor to sew on her name.

She looked down at my attempt and said, "Uh-oh!" Apparently, I had written my name over the wrong pocket. For the entire year, my name was sewn over one pocket and written in dark ink over the other. I wasn't the only one who made that mistake, though; many other girls also had their names sewn over one pocket and written over the other.

Sneakers were another issue. The teachers wanted us to make sure they stayed white, so we had to polish them with white shoe polish. If our white sneakers were soiled from use, we were supposed to polish both the cloth and rubber portions of the shoes to make sure they looked new. I actually polished my sneakers several times, but only because I wanted them to appear as if they had been dirty – even though they never were.

We were supposed to launder our uniforms weekly. I never did. I made it my goal never to sweat in class because we were given only five minutes to change and shower. There was no way I could change and shower in such a short amount of time.

Once a year we square-danced in PE class. The movable wall that separated the boys' gym from the girls' gym was pulled back. We were paired off. Then we would honor our partners, do-si-do, and allemande right and left in our never-been-laundered blue gym suits while we tried to avoid stepping on our partners' toes with the whiter-than-white sneakers.

My girlfriends and I tried every way we could think of to break the PE class rules. For instance, we tried to keep our stockings on under our uniforms and socks because it was such a difficult task to put them back on – especially when they were stretched out. That worked until the teacher tapped me on the shoulder one day and said, "Miss Klein, you have a run in your leg."

We also cheated at anything that required counting. President Kennedy's Council on Physical Fitness publicized its national goals, but the numbers coming from my gym class were flawed. When we did sit-ups, for example, one girl held another girl's ankles and counted. It wasn't unusual for the counting to sound like this: "1, 2, 8, 11, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 25, 31..."
I really disliked gym. Had it not been for the written tests, I'm not sure I would have passed.

We had the same rotation of activities each year. Once winter began, I knew I would have to contend with gymnastics. I watched girls gracefully approach the balance beam, placing one foot in front of the other, pointing their toes. I had a hard time not falling off. I watched girls on the uneven bars. I excelled at hanging by my legs, upside down, saying, "But Miss Lee, I'm dizzy and I'm going to throw up."

It was not as if I wasn't athletic. I swam well enough to become a lifeguard. I could ride a bike. I could skate. I just wasn't good at gym. Maybe it was the cornflower-blue bloomers

©2005 Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved.

Versions of this article appeared at and

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Kewl Ur Jets! This Aint Skool."

Yesterday, I saw the words fued and occured in the headline of a very popular Internet provider's news page. I looked them up in the dictionary to make sure I wasn't losing my mind. I was right. They were spelled wrong.

This morning on a major news station on TV, the moving news banner at the bottom of the screen included the word truely. I knew without checking that they didn't even take the time to reread the text.

I see errors like these and I start screaming, "Proofread! Proofread!" as the rest of the world is screaming, "Kewl Ur Jets! This Aint Skool." No matter what I do, no matter how much I try, I open my eyes and I see them. They stick out on the page like chocolate stains on a white wedding gown. To me, they are as evident as a bad hair day. Right there in front of my eyes, they are yelling at me, "Hey, look at us! We're misspelled, and you can't do a thing about it!"

In the back of my brain I'm thinking, "How did those people ever get their jobs?" I'm mentally wording sarcastic letters to the editor explaining that they can purchase a paperback dictionary for less than ten bucks. More importantly, I'm asking, "Doesn't anyone care anymore?"

I cannot tell a lie: I sweat the small stuff. True, I probably sweat more small stuff than ten or twenty people combined. I suppose correcting the spelling on my husband's love letters twenty years ago was proof of that.

It also doesn't help that, in mixed company and on a regular basis, I yell at the TV every time someone mispronounces or misuses a word. "There is NO th in height, you moron!" Perhaps the fact that my kids introduce me as NM, NM being a shortened form of Neurotic Mom, should be a sign that I should lighten up a bit.

But I can't.

And I don't think I want to.


I wasn't always NM. There was a time when I was NT: Neurotic Teacher.

In my first year of teaching, I prepared a list of words that bothered me when they were misspelled. I gave my students a copy of this list and told them I wouldn't tolerate these words misspelled in their work. (I said things like, "I won't tolerate…" when I was a teacher. It made me feel so powerful. The power of the red felt tip marker. The power of the old-fashioned grade book.)

However, with that word list, I didn't care if they glued the list to the back of the head of the person who sat in front of them. I just didn't want to see those words spelled incorrectly in my student's work. I explained the concept of first impressions to my students and told them that when representing themselves with the written word, it was fundamental to get it all right.

Take the word a lot. It's always two words, but many people incorrectly spell it as one. Knowing this, I'd have my students recite things like "A lot is always always always always always always always always always always always always TWO WORDS." And when someone spelled it wrong anyway, I'd go a little crazy. I'd dramatically jump up and down and bang my head against the wall. And then I'd plop a dictionary on the kid's desk.

"Find alot!" I'd say. I'd watch the kid flip through the pages, and then eventually I'd hear, "Hey, Miss Klein, it's not here."

"Of course, it's not there!" I'd dramatically emphasize. "It's not a word. It's TWO words."

Then I'd make the kid write a lot a few hundred times for practice - to help him remember for the next time.

Nowadays, that would be considered corporal punishment, but when I taught, it was considered reinforcement. And it worked. By the end of the year, there wasn't a student in my class who would spell a lot wrong again.

One day while I was still teaching, I went out for my 42-minute lunch break and ran into an ex-student at the deli where I got my coffee. By this time, he had become a CPA.

"Yo, Miss Klein," he said. "How ya doin? Ya know, you were wrong about a lot. It is one word."

"No, it's not," I said.

"Yes, it is," he said.

Then he explained that he had written a report for his boss. His boss called him into his office, told him the report was excellent, but suggested that the next time he correct his spelling prior to submitting it. His boss had the two separate words a lot circled in red on his report.

At that point, I realized I was fighting a terrible monster because a lot is always always always always always always always always always two words…unless your boss says it's not, especially if your boss is also the guy who writes your check.


Fast forward to now. My kid comes home from school. "I have to memorize the demonstrative pronouns," he says. I dig up from the cobwebs of my brain the words this, that, these, and those. My kid shows me a sheet the teacher distributed from which to study. On it he has the title Demonstrative Pronouns. Then he has this, that, these, and there.

"THERE isn't a pronoun," I tell my kid. "It's an adverb. He should have had those on your list."

"Not according to my teacher," he says.

"Want me to call him and explain demonstrative pronouns to him?" I ask.

"Please don't, Mom. Be a writer, not a teacher," he says.

"But he's teaching you wrong," I say.

"I don't care," says my kid. "He's the one who gives me my grade. You hung up your grade book when I was born. Remember? "

He writes my check.

He gives me my grade.


My kids communicate with me at times via email and instant messages. We are a 21st Century Family. For instance, my younger son is saving for a drum set. I have to be honest; I haven't been doing a thing to help my kid in this direction. In fact, my house is already too noisy.

The other day I received an email from this son with an extended explanation and photos of a $500 set of blue drums. In the explanation was something about how drumming helps a student's math scores. He also mentioned that for a mere $59, silencing covers could be purchased and shipped with the drum set. I thought this method of persuasion was very creative on his part.

I sent my kid an email back with, "Nice drums. So how many lawns do you have to mow to get $500?"

I sent him a second email, "Higher math scores are over-rated. When, in the real world, will you ever use calculus anyway?" I know my reply will come back to haunt me.

As my sons get older, life has them spending more time with friends and less time with us. We pass in the night. I know this is the natural progression. I compensate by making great meals that teen aged boys can't pass up no matter how hard they try. Then we eat as a family, and we talk, laugh, discuss, and catch up on the little details they feel comfortable enough to share. Then they leave.

Computers and the Internet have kept us close. Just last week, I was sitting here writing, and an Instant Message popped up:

Drums987: Ur fone wuz bz, NM. Im at ryans. Can i sleep over? His mom sez its ok w/her if its ok w/u.

I cringe at his ease at writing in Computer English and try to decipher what he's written. I take a deep breath. I try to recall the joy of childbirth. I try to recall all the hours that I spent reading to him. I think about the hours that I spent helping him with schoolwork. I try to remember all the essays I've proofread for him.

SurfPrincess12345: I don't understand. That's not English. Spell it right for the answer you want.

Drums987: Ur such a pain, NM!!!!!!!!

SurfPrincess12345: Sleep where? I can't hear you. Spell it right.

Drums987: MOM! Why cant u b like other moms?

SurfPrincess12345: That would be so boring. Now, spell it right or come home!

Drums987: U R such an NM.

SurfPrincess12345: So what else is new? Spell it right!


SurfPrincess12345: I wuv you, too. Call me in the morning.

It dawns on me that this is a battle I cannot win.
- - -

©2002 Felice Prager

Originally Published at the Irascible Professor -

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finding My Humor (Repost)

(Note: This is the first column I wrote and sold after 9/11.

Finding My Humor

By Felice Prager

"I'm holding up well. We all are. I was home all of last week but tried to go into work today. I was able to get into the building, but we didn't have any power or phones, so I went home. It was pretty strange downtown. The smell of burning was everywhere and there were still ashes drifting around. Strangest thing was seeing the soldiers though. On my way home, I stopped by the deli where I get my breakfast every morning to make sure everyone was OK. They were a block closer and at street level. They were all fine. We hugged and cried. Very emotional. The building guy said ConEd was working grid by grid. I won't go into the city tomorrow but probably will try again Wednesday. I need to think of other things. How are you? Written anything lately? I could use a laugh."

(Email from a close friend who worked near where the World Trade Center used to stand.)

Through dark clouds of smoke, I open my eyes slowly, take a deep breath, and decide I must go on. I must be wise. I must look ahead from the darkness and the horror. I must remember. I must be strong.

I receive an email from my oldest friend who is still living in New Jersey.

"Do you remember when we hid under your bed during the air raid drills when we were in second grade?" she asks. I was just telling my kid about that last night. Air raid drills. A hundred years ago. A different world ago. Wearing pedal pushers and Keds, giggling with my best friend as we played with dolls during a safety drill, beneath the lavender bed frill on my lavender carpet. "Your father brought us cookies," she writes. "And then he told us not to make crumbs because your mother would be mad."

In my self-imposed solitary confinement, I must force myself to go out. I must not be alone. I must reach into my humanity and be part of the whole, not a piece floating on the edge. It is not a comfortable fit for me. With the world turned upside down, my thoughts have been squeezed beyond recognition and my heart has been emptied.

My older son comes into my office with a gold pencil sharpener in his hands. It is a replica of the World Trade Center. We got it while visiting family back east in 1991. We took the Path train under the Hudson River into the city and went to the top of the tower. The helicopter he could see at eye level mesmerized my younger son, but he says he doesn’t remember the trip at all. He doesn't remember his comments about cars looking like Matchbox cars below. My older son remembers his ears popping in the elevator and that it took a long time to get up to the top.

"Want this pencil sharpener for your desk?" he asks. "Maybe it will inspire you. Maybe it will help you write."

Self-motivation drives writers in various ways. With me, I know what I have to do to get in the mood. I know what works for me. It usually doesn’t take much. I love what I do, so getting in the mood to do what I love isn’t difficult. When I’m not stimulated enough to be creative, I know tricks to get there. However, the occurrences in the world have sent me soaring downward, and like everyone else, I keep reaching for a lifeline, and my hand keeps missing it. I am drained of emotion and full of emotion. I am confused and angry. I have more emotions going through me than I can control, and I’m afraid. Beyond that, I feel guilty.

I hear others talking, explaining, looking for words, "It’s hard," they say. "It’s just really hard."

It is hard.

"What do you remember most about New York?" I ask my husband. We haven’t lived there in more than a dozen years. "I mean besides the obvious. Besides the theater and the restaurants. Tell me some things you remember. I need something to hold onto. Tell me something funny you remember about New York."

I am looking for my humor. In the turmoil and sadness, it’s been buried deeply, and I’m feeling guilty even trying to find it. Where I can usually find words and twist them into humor, there are none. My words are mundane and trite. My words are cliché. At best, my words fit poorly.

"I remember when we you used to meet me in the city after work. Before the kids were born. When we used to go to the theater or dinner. You always insisted on wearing stupid shoes, and you always complained that you couldn’t walk because your feet hurt."

I did wear stupid shoes. I couldn't walk.

"That’s what you remember?" I ask him.

"You wanted something funny," he says.

"You find my foot pain funny?" I ask. "I wanted to look good for you. Those shoes were very fashionable."

"You did look good," he says. "You looked great. You just had to stand still the whole time."

I laugh and feel guilty laughing.

We watch some TV. We see the haunting images. We sit in silence.

"Remember the dessert at Windows on the World?" I ask. That was the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. "The best chocolate pecan praline mousse I have ever had."

We watch a bit more and my younger son comes in the room. He has a picture he’s printed out from something he's seen online. "Look at this," he says. "It was in the news." He shows us a picture. "People are saying they see the image of the devil in the smoke." It's a picture of the enormous clouds of smoke when the towers fell and within the smoke, there are definite shapes. I squint my eyes and see how they can see the shape of a devil, but shake my head at the thought.

My husband looks at the picture. "Adrienne Barbeau." He says. "That’s what I see."

"Jenna Berman," says our younger son. "That’s what I see."

"Who is Jenna Berman?" I ask.

"Period Four. Near the door. Blonde. Hot."

"Oh, he sees Jenna Berman in his Cheerios," my older son says.

We look at each other and there is some levity, but it’s short lived.

It's early in the morning, with the sun behind me. I head over roads with names like Squaw Peak and Dreamy Draw. I am in my Jeep. The top is pushed back. I see 200-year-old saguaros surrounded by concrete growing out of modern cement structures. I see pencil palm trees soaring above the world. I see architecture, crisp, new, and inventive. I am speeding. My foot is pushing, pushing, pushing on the pedal. The wind is blowing my hair into a river flowing behind me. The adrenaline is pumping me up to the place I need to be.

While driving with my senses in overdrive, I know I am going to get there. I will get my drug. I will have a great day of writing once again. I hope. My pad on the passenger seat with the pen in my hand, I am driving one handed, scribbling thoughts, words, sentences. I am getting past all the dysfunctional places I hate thinking about and getting those words onto paper. Whether or not I will be able to read them later is questionable, but it doesn't matter.

I’m sitting at a red light behind a white Dodge Grand Caravan. I can see through its rear window that the driver is a blonde woman and that there are two bouncing toddlers in the backseat. The children are not in car seats and from the height of each of their bounces, I can tell that they aren’t wearing seatbelts. The woman is putting on mascara with her head bent, keeping her cell phone tight between her shoulder and her ear. The traffic light turns green. She continues talking on the phone and applying her makeup while she drives through the intersection. She is drinking a can of Coke without a straw. I watch her bring the can to her mouth several times, tilting her head back to take a drink, presumably taking her eyes off the road. Every few minutes, I also see this multi-tasking wonder woman turn her head 180 degrees to yell at her children. She’s driving above the speed limit, and she is not staying in her lane.

Very out of character, I don’t get angry.

I’m singing again where I haven’t been able to sing. I’m harmonizing with Dave Matthews, occasionally getting a whole stanza of lyrics right. I’m bopping, even if slightly out of rhythm. With my blinker as warning, I calmly pull past the Caravan of Confusion. I don’t even give the driver of the Caravan the finger. Instead, I wave the small American flag I have on the passenger seat. She points to the flag on her car and gives me the thumbs up sign.

The volume on my CD player is on high, front and back speakers are pumping, woofers and subwoofers are earning their keep, and I can’t wait to get home. There are words screaming out of my head. I can’t scribble them down fast enough at the red lights. I can’t save the thoughts. They’re spilling out of my ears and out of my mouth. They’re sweet. They’re ripe. They taste so delicious. I want to seal my mouth shut so I don’t lose any of them. My heart is thumping. My head is screaming. The fear of losing them is panicking me. Gotta write. Gotta write.

I get home and write for hours. When I read back what I've written, I'm very disappointed, but at least there are words.

My younger son comes into my office after school. "I came up with a great way for you to support our economy," he says. "It's your patriotic duty. It's the American thing to do."

He puts a catalog in front of me. There are a bunch of tee shirts on the page. "I want this one," he says. The tee shirt is black with white lettering. It says, "What if the Hokey-Pokey IS really what it's all about!"

"Well?" he asks. "Can I have it? It's for America. It will help improve our economy."

I give him one of those looks that mothers reserve for sons. It's a look that can be interpreted many ways. My son interprets it internally and leaves my office, but he's laughing. "I knew you'd like that shirt," he says as he leaves the room.

I'm looking for my humor and it's appearing in small doses and on tee shirts in catalogs.

My humor is coming back.

But it’s hard.

It’s just really hard.
©2001 by Felice Prager.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Getting on the List

Normally, my cats leave fur and furballs in their wake as signs that they are alive and well. Occasionally, I will see them stampeding down the hall after an unsuspecting moth that inadvertently flew through an open door. A few weeks ago, I watched as ButtercupOfTunafish sat by my closed front door, waiting patiently while a scorpion pushed its way through the tight seal into our cool, air-conditioned home; then she smashed it. However, since the release of the Cat Challenge List, my cats have been hiding under beds. They are depressed and embarrassed because their score was too low to make the list.

It is all my fault.

I have considered hiding under the bed with my cats.

Several months ago, my inner cat woman wanted to know where my five furry felines ranked compared to other cats. In other words, I wanted to know if I was providing my cats with the best home available. I decided to test them.

Over the years, I have tried to provide my cats with the best possible stimulation. I talk to my cats and include them in family activities. They have the best learning toys including a five-foot high, multi-level condominium. They even have a box filled with shiny wrapping paper that will not tear. I hide treats in the box so the cats can find them. My house may look like a jungle, but my priority is providing the best possible learning environment for my kitties.

On test day, Samson, ButtercupOfTunafish, CleopatraQueenOfDenial, and Zorro let me test them. Peaches, on the other hand, did not cooperate; she would not leave her food bowl long enough to take the test. Peaches likes to eat. She excels in eating. She does not excel in testing or cooperating. (Peaches is large, but we call her extra medium so as not to affect her self-esteem. Peaches always feels good about herself.)

Thus, four cats took the test out of a possible five. That is the information I used in my evaluation. I did not consider how the cats actually performed on the test; I just used the fact that they took it.

This is similar to the method used in NEWSWEEK’s “Best American High Schools” list. I figured if the method was good enough for NEWSWEEK, then it was good enough for my cats.

The formula for the “Best American High Schools” list was created by Jay Mathews, a Washington Post reporter and NEWSWEEK contributing editor; he has been creating this list for NEWSWEEK since 1998. According to Mathews, “We take the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Cambridge tests given at a school in May, and divide by the number of seniors graduating in May or June.” That is the only data used to determine placement on the list. Performance on each test was not a factor. According to Mathews, “If I could quantify all those other things in a meaningful way, I would give it a try. But teacher quality, extracurricular activities and other important factors are too subjective for a ranked list. Participation in challenging courses, on the other hand, can be counted.” Mathews claims, “I decided not to count passing rates in the way schools had done in the past because I found that most American high schools kept those rates artificially high by allowing only top students to take the courses. In some other instances, they opened the courses to all but encouraged only the best students to take the tests.”

With my cats, I permitted all of the cats to take the test since all are permitted to participate in the advanced stimulation I provide. I did not count their performance on the tests. I just counted who took the test vs. how many cats I have. If only Peaches would have participated, my cats would have been at the top of the list. However, twenty percent of my cats chose to nibble on Tasty Feast instead. Twenty percent of my cats slept with her face in the food bowl.

Mathews has also stated that, “Test scores, the usual way of rating schools, are in nearly every case a measure of parental wealth and education, not good teaching. Every study shows that if your parents fill their house with books, include you in conversations and take you to plays and museums, you tend to score well on standardized tests even if your school is not the best.”

According to Mathews, my cats have an unfair advantage. I tend to go overboard when it comes to parenting. I spend money on stimulating cat toys before I spend money on things for myself.

When Mathews was asked why famous public schools (Stuyvesant in New York City, Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County, Virginia, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois., or Whitney High in Cerritos, California) are not included on his list, Mathews reply was: “We do not include any magnet or charter high school that draws such a high concentration of top students that its average SAT or ACT score significantly exceeds the highest average for any normal-enrollment school in the country. This year, that meant such schools had to have an average SAT score below 1,300 on the reading and math sections, or an average ACT score below 27, to be included on the list…The high-performing schools we have excluded from the list all have great teachers, but research indicates that high SAT and ACT averages are much more an indication of the affluence of the students' parents.”

If Mathews was creating the Cat Challenge List, I suppose my home would have been disqualified. Not only do I provide my cats with extra stimulation, but I am a licensed teacher. Right there, my cats have an unfair advantage. Plus, it is a well-known fact that my cats are innately smart which further disqualifies them. I picked them out. They were the most active kitties in each of their respective litters. CleopatraQueenOfDenial tried to climb out of her cage right before our eyes and got to the top before her siblings!

Mathews had more rules and regulations for his NEWSWEEK list, but as soon as I realized my cats would be disqualified because of me, I stopped reading. I did not read the part about how many AP teachers disapprove of Mathew’s list. I did not read the part about all the think tanks that have made public statements denouncing Mathews’ findings. I did not read about how poorer school districts are paying the test fees for their students. I just tore up the magazine and stuffed each page into the cats’ shiny paper box for them to rip apart. They liked this. They came out from under the bed to show how they feel about my choice of reading material.

One more thing: as for labeling high schools the “best” in America, Mathews offered this explanation, “My list of best film directors may depend on Academy Award nominations. Yours may be based on ticket sales. I have been very clear about what I am measuring in these schools.”

Using Mathews’ logic, I have decided to create my own “best” list for my cats. I will judge them on how close they snuggle with me at night. The closer they snuggle, the higher they will be on the list.

Last night, Samson slept on my pillow above my head, CleopatraQueenOfDenial slept by my feet, Zorro slept on my left side, and ButtercupOfTunafish slept on my right side. Peaches slept right on my chest. It was hard to breathe, but I know she felt bad about the food bowl thing, so she chose to participate this time and I did not push her off.

(Originally Published by The Irascible Professor - May 2007)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Careers that Begin with "P"

Mike the Plumber helped me unclog my water heater last week. When Mike replaced our old water heater in 2001, he explained that routine maintenance would extend our water heater’s life up to ten years. This amounted to attaching a hose to the bottom of the water heater and letting the water drain down our driveway for 30 seconds a month. Neither my husband nor I routinely maintained the water heater, so when Mike had to poke a wire into the clog of sediment, and the wet sediment sprayed all over him, I felt a little guilty. I got him several towels to wipe off the gunk. I offered him a beer, but he settled for a Coke. I offered to wash his shirt, but he said it wasn’t necessary because he always brings an extra one. While Mike wiped his face and got the sediment out of his hair and ears, we talked about our children. Mike has been our plumber for years; our kids went to the same schools.

Mike told me the latest dilemma in his daughters’ lives has been about their majors. Mike said that his older daughter, who will be graduating in the spring, has decided she hates her major. He said she is very stressed about it and nothing he says to her seems to help. His younger daughter is equally stressed because she has to declare her major at the end of next semester and has not figured out what she wants to do.

I made Mike feel a little better when I told him that my sons were running pretty much parallel with his daughters. One son has told us he is not thrilled with his major with just another lap to go, and the other son is also undecided.

"What made you decide to be a plumber," I asked.

Mike told me when he went to college, he got a degree in anatomy because he wanted to be a doctor. By the time he got his undergraduate degree, he realized he did not want to spend any more time in a classroom, so he became a policeman. Then he got married and his daughters were born. After he was shot once in his shoulder -- he showed me the scar when he was changing his shirt -- his wife made it abundantly clear that, if he ever wanted to see his daughters again, he would find a career that did not require dodging bullets. Twenty years ago, a friend who owned a plumbing company offered Mike a job.

I asked Mike if he was happy doing what he does. He said he liked almost everything about it -- except when his clients do not maintain their water heaters.

Then, Mike asked, "Did you always want to be a writer?"

I shared my story: When I told my parents that I wanted to write for The Tonight Show, the response I got was, "Be a teacher. Teachers have jobs." Their logic was that it was more likely that I would get married and have babies than it would be to get a job writing for Johnny Carson. With teaching, they said, I would always have a career to fall back on. I did what my parents suggested, taught English for a bunch of years, had my children, and never ever ever wanted to fall back on education. I started writing while my kids were at school each day, and except for the obligatory rejection letters, it wasn't a half bad way to make a terrible living.

I told Mike that my husband had a different dream. Having grown up near the beach, he told his parents he wanted to go to the University of Hawaii to major in marine biology. His parents said, "Major in business. If you go to school anywhere near a beach, you will wind up surfing all day and never get a degree." There may have been some truth to that.

When I asked Mike what advice he has given his daughters, he laughed and said, "I don’t give them advice. They don't listen to me anyway." That sounded familiar. What Mike and I realized, however, was that we actually have given our children the same advice: "Do what you love, and if you can't do what you love, then love what you do." Unfortunately, this falls short of actually pointing someone in a direction, so it is probably no better than the advice we got from our parents.

After Mike left, I went on the internet and started investigating college majors and career choices. Many university websites have valuable information that is supposed to help a student pinpoint his or her direction. I decided that if I were making choices for myself, a website would not help me much.

Then I did a little more digging and found some information that I thought was pertinent to kids and adults who are confused about their futures. I learned that:

  • Country singer, Garth Brooks, has a degree in marketing.

  • Frank Capra, director of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It's a Wonderful Life, and It Happened One Night had a degree in chemical engineering.

  • Roger Corman, director of many films, including the original film version of The Little Shop of Horrors, received an industrial engineering degree from Stanford.

  • Howard Cosell was a labor lawyer before becoming a sportscaster.

  • Oscar Hammerstein II received a law degree from Columbia University Law School, but gave that up to write the lyrics for such musicals as The Sound of Music and Show Boat.
    TV host, Montel Williams, is a highly decorated former Naval engineer and Naval intelligence officer.

  • Ashton Kutcher of Hey, Dude! Where's My Car? and That 70s Show majored in biochemical engineering.

  • Weird Al Yankovitz got his degree in architecture.

Those are just a few of the examples I found. There were pages of them. I figured those few made my point.

Last night, my younger son, who is living in a dorm at his college, called me with a whole week’s worth of things to tell me:

First, his English professor liked his paper so much that she thinks it might be publishable. He said at first he thought that was a sign that maybe journalism might be a good major for him until he realized he really doesn't like to write.

Second, he thinks he is going to drop calculus because even though he did well in calculus in high school, he thinks he is already in over his head and maybe he should have listened to us when we suggested taking an easier math class his first semester.

Third, his roommate accidentally flushed the plastic thing that holds the toilet paper down the toilet. Realizing that when the plumber got there and found the plastic thing inside the toilet, that they might have to pay for the repair, they decided to fix it themselves. They went online and found a site about how to fix toilets. They shut off the water, unscrewed the toilet from the floor, and managed to pull out the toilet paper holder. While reaching up into the toilet, something rubber crumbled in my son's hand. He thought it might be a gasket or something, but he was not sure. They reattached the toilet anyway, and when they turned on the water, the gasketless toilet leaked. They called maintenance. When maintenance fixed the toilet, there was no charge since the repairman just assumed the leak came from wear and not from inexperienced, computer-educated plumbers.

I told my son about my experience with Mike the Plumber and about his daughters' dilemmas. My son said he still does not know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he thought it was cool that he could handle a plumbing emergency. Then he added, "I’m up to "P" this week. Hey, maybe, when I grow up, I'll be a paramedic, a plumber, or a pirate."

It made sense to me, but then again, I am his mother.

- - - - -

©2002, Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved. This blog is copyright protected. No item on this blog, including this essay or any photographs, may be used without the author's express written permission.

(Originally published at the Irascible Professor - )

Friday, April 1, 2011

Just the Fax

Just the Fax
by Felice Prager

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Hello. Lotsa Lox Restaurant. Home of the Giant Bagel. How may I help you?

Jennifer: Hi! Is this the restaurant with the giant bagel in the window?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Yes, it is. We're the Home of the Giant Bagel.

Jennifer: Can you fax me a menu?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Excuse me?

Jennifer: Can you fax me a menu?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Oh, fax you a menu!

Jennifer: Well, can you?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Sorry, that would be impossible.

Jennifer: Impossible?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Yes, impossible.

Jennifer: Why is it impossible?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Because we don't have a fax machine.

Jennifer: You don't have a fax machine?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: That's what I said.

Jennifer: How can you not have a fax machine?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: We just don't.

Jennifer: Everyone has a fax machine.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Apparently that's not true.

Jennifer: Excuse me?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: I said, "Apparently, that's not true."

Jennifer: Why not?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Because we don't have one.

Jennifer: Why not?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Because we don't need one.

Jennifer: Everyone needs one.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: We don't.

Jennifer: Well, you apparently do.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: No, we don't.

Jennifer: Yes, you do.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Why do you say that?

Jennifer: Because if you had one, you could fax me a menu.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Well, next time you're here, you can pick up a menu.

Jennifer: Can you have your delivery boy drop one off?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Sorry.

Jennifer: Sorry?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Yeah, we can't have our delivery boy drop one off.

Jennifer: Why not?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Because we don't have a delivery boy.

Jennifer: Why not?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Because we don't deliver.

Jennifer: You don't deliver?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: That's what I said.

Jennifer: Why not?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Because we don't.

Jennifer: You should.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Oh, yeah?

Jennifer: Yeah. How can you make any money if you don't deliver?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: We make lots of money.

Jennifer: How?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: People come HERE to eat.

Jennifer: Excuse me?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: People come here to eat.

Jennifer: They do?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Yes, they do.

Jennifer: Why?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Maybe because we don't deliver.

Jennifer: I guess that makes sense.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: It does to me.

Jennifer: No fax. No delivery. The next thing you'll tell me is you need reservations.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Normally.

Jennifer: I don't know how places like yours can stay open.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: We've been here for fifteen years.

Jennifer: No kidding.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: No kidding. We've been in business for fifteen years.

Jennifer: My boss wants a bagel for lunch.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: You can come pick one up.

Jennifer: He also wants me to be here to answer his phone.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: I'm sorry I can't help you.

Jennifer: He's gonna be mad if I leave the phones. He might even fire me.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: I can't help you.

Jennifer: Hey, are you hiring?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Hiring?

Jennifer: Yeah. A girl has to think ahead. I think I'd like to work for you. Do you have any openings?

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: We're always looking for people willing to work hard.

Jennifer: Well that's me!

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: Come on by then and pick up an application.

Jennifer: I can't do that. My boss wants me to answer the phone.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: You can stop by after work.

Jennifer: Hey, I have a better idea.

Lotsa Lox Restaurant: What's that?

Jennifer: Can you fax me an application!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bedroom Battlefield - CAT WARS!

Their hissing takes me from deep, comforting sleep to sudden, unwanted consciousness. It isn't an unusual sound for this time of night in my home. Cat Wars have commenced in the bathroom adjacent to our bedroom. On some nights, I sleep right through these battle cries. On other nights, they wake me. The sounds never affect my husband’s sleep pattern. He hears nothing, or at least he pretends with enough skill to fool me.

The battlefield isn't always in the bathroom. Often it is in our family room on top of the couch. On occasion, it's in one of our children's bedrooms. Sometimes it's in the kitchen. It all depends on where the cats decided to stop, drop, and snuggle in for the night. There are nights when they snuggle under the blanket. There are nights when they end their day between our pillows. If UPS or Fedex has made a delivery, bedtime often begins within the emptied carton.

Like human siblings, brother and sister cat have devoted their lives to antagonizing each other over the littlest details of their feline existence. Mostly it's about which cat has the better place to sleep. I've sat and observed two content sleeping kitties become Cat Commandos From the Third Dimension in the matter of nanoseconds over who has the better set of legs to snuggle against.

Tonight they are fighting over a sink. We have two sinks in our bathroom; my husband has claimed the one next to the medicine cabinet as his, and I have the other. The sinks are identical, although I am sure mine is considerably cleaner. Each cat has settled into a sink. Each cat has curled up in a ball and has snuggled in for the night. At least that is how I left them when I got into bed, closed the light, and left the world behind me a few hours ago. Tonight, Mr. Cat is in my sink and Mrs. Cat is in my husband's sink. When I left them so I could snuggle into the space where I end my day, all was fine in their feline world. They were purring in semi-consciousness, dreaming of bugs, mice, catnip, canned dinner, and a full water bowl.

But a few hours have passed, and I am brought to consciousness by the sound of hissing. I get out of bed to make sure they are not doing something questionable, destructive, or potentially dangerous. It's a Mom thing. My mom-gene never shuts down, not even for the cats.

I go into the bathroom and observe Mr. Cat standing over Mrs. Cat. He is swatting her on the head with his clawless paw. There is no fear in each of his swats as Mrs. Cat hisses at her clawless, clueless brother, showing her teeth, and making it very clear that tonight she is sleeping in Daddy's sink and she is definitely not in the mood to play this game. She has no intention of moving. She is bigger than her brother. I believe it is referred to as being large-boned, or maybe it is her need to satisfy her Inner Cat Woman by filling her stomach again and again and again with gourmet treats and table scraps. In the world of feeling good about oneself, we refer to her as extra-medium rather than large or pleasantly plump. We do not want to injure her over-inflated self-esteem.

I decide the cats are safe, and I leave them to settle their own Cat Disputes. I have learned the hard way, with scars to prove it, that playing referee is a lesson in futility. As I am about to shut the light in the bathroom, I notice Mr. Cat swat Mrs. Cat one more time. Mrs. Cat rises to her feet, arches her back, lets out a loud hiss, and chases Mr. Cat through my legs, out of the bathroom, and down the hallway to the children's bedrooms.

As I cuddle under the blankets, the cats re-enter our bedroom, leaping over the bed, one still in mad pursuit of the other. I cannot see who is the chaser and who is the chasee, but I do hear my husband mumble something about cats belonging outdoors where God intended them and how good they would look stuffed. I have also heard my husband, on occasion, threaten the cats that he was going to give them back to those nice people who placed the "Free to a Good Home" advertisement. I have heard him mutter, "This isn't a good home. I'll just ask for my money back." These cats were "Free to a Good Home" almost a decade ago. I would hate to burst my husband's bubble by telling him that even if there had been a warranty, it has more than expired. Besides, I remember very clearly that he picked them out and that he had wanted a third, but ours were the only two left. I also have seen him whispering sweet nothings into both cats’ ears telling them that Mommy doesn’t love them half as much as he does.

Tonight, I just ignore him as the cats leap over the bed a second time. I pound my pillow to get the shape right and try to fall back to sleep on my side of the bed. I pull more than my share of the blanket to my side of the bed. It might be my imagination, but I think I hear my husband hiss.

© 1995 Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved.

Originally published by Cat Fancy Magazine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Keeping Your Sanity - 20 Road Rules for Teen Drivers

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teenage drivers have the highest death rates per mile driven among all age groups, followed by elderly drivers and young adult males. In addition, most studies of motor vehicle crashes involving young people focus on drivers. However, much of the problem involves young people traveling as passengers.

My older son had the days counted from his 12th birthday. Two years before my other son turned 16, he knew his birthday was going to fall on a Sunday, which meant he would have to wait one additional day to get his driver's license. Although I did not have the days counted, I knew the event would come sooner rather than later, and I also knew I would never be fully prepared.

The idea that my sons would be driving two-ton vehicles on highways where people had fatal accidents was mind-numbing. Whenever I heard about an accident, especially an accident with fatalities and especially when they involved teens, I found myself hyperventilating and hoping the state I live in would change the driver's age before my sons reached it.

They didn't. They talk about it a lot, but they have never actually done anything about it.

Nevertheless, my husband and I decided that we would rather have our sons driving than have them as passengers in another teen's vehicle. We knew our sons were responsible. They got good grades and could be trusted. We did not know about their friends. Unless our sons lost that trust, I knew they would be driving at the earliest legal driving age.

There are parents I know who withhold the driving privilege with their own children for a variety of reasons. My husband and I did not feel that was necessary. However, we wanted to reinforce in as many ways as possible that driving is a privilege and not a right, and that the driving privilege can be taken away.

I also knew that, for my own peace of mind, I would have to set guidelines before they were driving, and there could be no deviation from the rules. Thus, I created my set of "road rules," which would let me rest a little easier when my sons were out in traffic. The following are the rules which have helped me relax a bit and have kept my hair from turning completely gray – so far:

The Rules

1. The car is not for "joy riding." If you break this rule even one time, the "joy" of driving will be so far off in the distance that even the best telescope with wide angle and telephoto lenses won't be able to get a picture of it.

2. "See this credit card with your name on it, my son whom I love? It is my peace-of-mind credit card. It has a small credit limit on it. It is for emergencies only. You can define an emergency as the car breaking down or your boss being out of the country on pay day. An emergency is not, "I really had to have that CD." The credit card is not for purchasing gasoline unless you reimburse me the moment you get home. In addition, child who was ripped from my loins, if there is a balance on the credit card, it better be car-related. Oh yes, and you're paying it. And you will pay it completely before you have permission to drive again.

3. This is a five-passenger vehicle. There are five seat belts for five passengers. Do the math. And when you drive Dad's pickup, the back of the truck is not for passengers. That includes your best friend's dog.

4. Curfews are to be strictly adhered to. Call if an emergency keeps you out past your curfew. "Allison was mad at me and we had to work it out" is not one of those emergencies.

5. You have a cell phone. Keep it with you, and keep it charged. Do not use it when you drive. Pull off the road to use it. Keep us informed of where you are, and if your plans change, let us know. We will do the same for you.

6. Fighting with your brother? You punched him? In the stomach? And then he tripped you? Gee, I don't know any adults who drive cars who still do that. Do you?

7. You have such a cool bedroom, and there are so many great things in it. It's a good thing it doesn't look like a pigsty. I don't know a single pig that has a driver's license.

8. You want a car of your own? Now tell me one more time about why you must sleep until noon instead of getting a part-time job. I always forget your reasons. They are so creative. (We will negotiate the purchase of a vehicle when you are working – not before. And, in case you forget, school work comes first.)

9. Tell me one more time why you got that "D" in Algebra? There is something wrong with that algebraic equation when it comes to driving.

10. You wouldn't break your poor mother's heart by doing one of those illegal things. Good. I didn't think you would.

11. Notice my light is still on, Honey? That's because I worry, even though you are a mature, levelheaded, young adult. It's not that I don't trust you. It's all the other nuts out there on the road that I don't trust.

12. No racing, practical jokes or giving your girlfriend driving lessons. Let your girlfriend's parents pay for driving lessons just like we did.

13. He who drives, contributes. If you can't afford gas money for some unexplainable reason, you can contribute in the category of Hard Labor. I am a great taskmaster. Our lawn is very long and the house needs a coat of paint. The gutters must be cleaned out occasionally, and that tree in the backyard needs trimming.

14. A ticket for speeding? Hand over the keys.

15. If you have a vehicle of your own, it is your responsibility to keep it in good shape. Oil changes, tire rotations and lube jobs are up to you. (We'll remind you if you forget.)

16. Don't leave me with an almost empty tank.

17. No one likes a dirty vehicle – inside and outside – especially your parents.

18. Are you tired? If you're tired, I don't want you behind the wheel. Call me – for any reason – and I will come and get you. And I won't ask questions. That's a promise.

19. You know how we always tell you how proud you make us when you do things well? Good. Remember that.

20. There are no exceptions to any of these rules.

©1998. All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published by IParenting -

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Real Life 101

The moon must have been void or maybe Mercury was retrograde these last few months. That is how my older brother used to explain mechanical breakdowns during his astrology phase. That was in the days before computers, so I never actually looked up what void and retrograde meant. However, if it took the moon being void and Mercury being retrograde for mechanical problems thirty years ago, based on the list of repairs my son has had to endure, maybe Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune are also retrograde or void or just spinning out of control in another galaxy.

Since June, every time my cell phone has rung and caller ID has told me it was my younger son, I have been answering with, "What broke now?" It is a joke, of course, and he knows I am kidding, but since he moved out of his dorm and into his own apartment, he has been plagued by real life's little inconveniences. In my son's case, though, I have been trying to act like a cheerleader so it won't get him down, because I truly believe he has had more than his fair share. Without attending a single lecture or lab, he has already learned volumes about surviving in a world where, if you don’t stand up for yourself, you might be stepped on and squished. Welcome to the School of Hard Knocks.

My son found the apartment on his own. Where I would have neurotically used a checklist of pros and cons to determine which apartment was best, my son, who tends to learn things the hard way, opted to do it his way. He showed me the piece of paper on which he took notes. These notes consisted of details about rent, amenities, and square footage plus the words “Good Karma” and “Bad Karma” written next to each complex he visited. He eventually opted to move to a place called the Bali Lanai because it had new wood floors, was being completely renovated, was within biking distance of campus, and because Bali Lanai sort of sounded like Dalai Lama, which in and of itself has to be the Best Karma of all.

During the weeks preceding his move, he was excitedly nervous. This was a giant step. He lived in the dorm last year with a roommate. Now it was just him with his pet tortoise. He prepared by shopping for furniture and packing up his belongings. I prepared by shopping for bathroom and kitchen things a person needs to start out and by mentally planning how I would decorate my new guest room.

When we saw the apartment the first time, there were workers all over the property. They were renovating what seemed to be a severely run-down complex. They were putting on a new roof and painting the walls. The pool at the complex was getting a complete overhaul. They were re-landscaping and repaving. According to the leasing agent, as each old tenant moved out, the vacated apartment got new carpeting, new appliances, fresh paint, new screens, and new countertops. As an incentive to sign a lease, the first month's rent was free.

My husband and I helped him move. I was put in charge of getting his kitchen and bathroom in order, and my husband and son lifted and hauled hand-me-down furniture, boxes, and some new furniture he purchased that they would assemble. I put a huge effort into pulling in my mothering reins and not hovering, the theory being that a college education doesn't just take place in a classroom.

My son has been on his own for two months, connected to us via instant messages, text messages, and occasional visits to do laundry at my house because he doesn't want to waste his quarters in the dirty washing machines and driers that management hasn't gotten around to replacing yet. The following are the life lessons my son has learned in the last sixty days:

Roaches 101 – No matter how much paint is put on walls, how many cans of insecticide are sprayed, how much roach bait is placed in your cabinets, how many products you store in plastic containers, and no matter what they said at the leasing office about pre-treating the apartment for potential insects, roaches will be your co-tenants. They and several generations of their friends and relatives will not sign the lease or pay rent, but they will inspect everything you have in your cabinets and show up whenever you have company. Eventually, you will be able to crush a roach from 30 feet by flinging a shoe at it. You will also have nightmares about the vengeance of roaches larger than Godzilla, and you may awaken with a roach on your face.

Air conditioning 101 – The air conditioning unit will not be working on the day you move in. The temperature on moving day will be 115 degrees. The maintenance man will eventually fix your air conditioning by replacing the compressor, but he will ignore 25 years of rust in the drip pan. Eventually, on another 115-degree day, the air conditioner unit will leak all over your new vinyl floors (that looked like real wood to a 20 year old.) It will take management ten additional days to repair the leak because the part needed will no longer be made. The repair will require cutting out a section from your ceiling. Replacing the ceiling will take another month, mostly because the walls have to dry out, and you cannot be home to let the dry wall guy in because you have classes, labs, and a job so you can pay the rent for your luxury apartment.

Plumbing 101 – When you take your first shower, you will find it odd that it takes about three hours for the water to drain from the tub. The Liquid Plumber your mother provides won't break through the clog. The handyman will quickly try to repair it because your dad is there helping you unpack and build your new Ikea bed, desk, and futon and because your mom is hovering over him, tapping her toe on the floor and mumbling about who she will call if it is not immediately fixed. The handyman's snake will break while in the pipe. A licensed plumber will be called who gets the snake out and sort of clears the drain. When you see the plumber the next day, he will say, "Hey, your apartment was NOTHING, man! We had to remove the floor in the other apartment with the backed up drainpipe in order to replace the section of pipe that was clogged. Lucky you!"

Plumbing 102 – Sooner or later, after two months of showering, the clog will back up again, and unless you let the repairmen rip out your bathroom, you may be showering in water up to your ankles until the lease is up.

Ikea 101 – This course is also called You Get What You Pay For 101. The odds that you have to make several trips back to the Ikea on the other side of town in rush hour traffic are high. Even though you thought you had the right boxes, two of the five bed boxes in their warehouse-like setup were for a queen-sized bed and the other three were for a full-sized bed. They were marked correctly but they were put in the wrong bins and you assumed the people at Ikea were good at furniture filing. The bed will be partially built when you realize the error, forcing you to disassemble the bed because you started building the bed and then realized it was too large for the mattress you purchased. You will have to admit to your mother that she was right about keeping all the receipts.

Hanging Things 101 – Hanging even the simplest of things will require several trips to Home Depot and taking extensive notes about how to drill into concrete walls and what anchors to use You will learn that anchors aren't just for boats.

Landscape Crew and Floor Installation 101 – Landscapers always start their mowing at 5 AM on the first morning you have no work or classes and you can sleep late. On the second morning you can sleep a bit later, they will begin renovating the apartment above you that involves ripping up the old floor and putting in a new one. With the renovation, the roaches upstairs will move into your apartment.

Friends 101 – Your best friend will help you move. He will help put together lamps and furniture, and he will keep you company on your many trips to Ikea. Your other friends will arrive to help after all the work is done and head right to your refrigerator.

Roommates 101 – Sometimes having a roommate is better than living alone and sometimes living alone is better than having a roommate. There are no right answers with this one. When you complain about it either way, your mother will cross her eyes and quote Gilda Radner: "It's ALWAYS something."

Cooking and Shopping for One 101 – It takes awhile to learn how to shop and cook for one. If you really think it through, you will become adept at cooking several courses in one pan and making several different main courses from the same ingredients. You will know that rice and spaghetti can be made in bulk and have a long refrigerator shelf life. You will accept all leftovers and doggie bags. And when your mom calls and says, "I’m making a roast. Wanna join us?" you will gladly accept her offer.

Pets and Leases 101 – If you decide to sneak a new kitten into your apartment (that requires a deposit on cats and dogs,) you will eventually have to fork over $300, especially if your new kitten likes to sit on the windowsill looking out and the apartment leasing agent happens to see him.

Parents 101- If you are lucky, they will be a phone call away and will happily be there to help keep your spirits up when Life 101 gets tough. They may offer to take you out to eat and listen to all your tales of woe about apartment life. Yet, when it gets so bad that you consider moving back in with them, don't be surprised if they don't start doing cartwheels.

© 2008 Felice Prager

(Originally published by the Irascible Professor.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


“But there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.”

Ronald Reagan

When my son was in first grade, his report card included a form from his Physical Education teacher with information such as how fast he ran the mile and how far he could jump. To gain perspective before I state the obvious, this son has grown to be a physically fit adult and has black belts in Karate and Shinkendo. Yet, according to the form, my son’s time was far below the lowest acceptable level for a six-year-old child. What was equally strange was that he had an S (for Satisfactory) on his report card in Physical Education.

We decided to meet with the Physical Education teacher because not only did he include the form, but he announced the students’ running times to the class and told all the children that anyone with my son’s time should practice running all the time so they could get faster. My son was spending a lot of time running around my living room for no apparent reason.

The Physical Education teacher, probably because he had never had a parent conference over a first grader’s mile running time before, didn’t share much with us at the conference. In fact, we were positive he didn’t even know who our son was.

To comfort our child, we tried to give him an adult outlook about the his lack of Superman abilities. “When you’re a grownup,” I said, “no one is going to stop you on the street and ask you how fast you can run the mile.”

My husband added, “Your teacher is a jerk.”

My sons have usually excelled in school academically. With one son now in college and one in high school, I know the math and science is much more difficult than anything I ever had to learn. As an educator with a specialty in English, I know my sons write much better than I did at their age. Regardless, I also know sometimes their grades and their achievements don’t match up.

For instance, at the French III level, my younger son should be able to speak some French. He knows a handful of nouns and can conjugate a few verbs, but he has chosen not to take French IV this year because, in his words, “If I get a real teacher, I’m sunk.” Yet, his grades have been consistently A’s in this course. When I asked him how he managed the grade, his answer was, “Extra credit.” Apparently, the teacher traded points for classroom donations. My son said he donated glue, pens, markers, notebooks, rulers, and an old unused lesson plan book he found in my closet.

To be fair, this son also has had teachers who made him work very hard for grades. His Chemistry teacher had him working and studying until the sun came up most of last year. His Algebra teacher rewarded his hard work accordingly. He consistently has difficult, challenging reading and writing assignments in his English classes including assignments during summer break.

Yet, as we know, all grades are not created with the same set of standards. Nor are all teachers.

At one point several years ago, I considered getting my certification to teach in Arizona. It was a weak moment; it was fleeting in nature. However, I did go through the effort of collecting the documentation that proved I went to college, graduated with honors, and went on to have a successful teaching career in another state. When my college transcript arrived, my son looked at my grades over my shoulder.

“Whajaget in Spanish?” my son asked.

“A’s,” I answered, folding up the actual report of my grades (which weren’t all A’s.)

“Were they weighted A’s?” my son asked.

“We didn’t have weighted grades back then,” I answered. “We didn’t have digital scales to weigh them. It was the pre-computer age and all we knew how to do was divide and go to the hundredths column.”

Later in the day, I found my son looking at my transcript which I’d left on my desk. “You didn’t get all A’s,” he said. “I see B’s here. This isn’t straight A’s. You’ve been lying to me all my life.”

I smiled coyly. “I got A’s in what matters.”

“I guess Philosophy mattered more than Biology,” he said. “I guess Advanced Writing mattered more than Shakespeare.”

This brings me to my point:

I recently had surgery. A mammogram showed some abnormalities, so I was forced to find a breast cancer surgeon. The doctor I found had outstanding doctor and patient recommendations, excellent manners, and took a great deal of time discussing my case with me. When she asked me if I had any questions, I said, “Just one. Whajaget in Breasts?”

I have a way of making people stop and scratch their heads.

“What did I get in Breasts?” she repeated.

“Yes, what grade did you get in Breasts?”

“Oh,” she smiled at an excessively nervous patient. “I got an A.”

“Was it weighted?” I asked.

She smiled at me. “You’re in good hands. And the odds are in your favor. I also got an A in Statistics.”

When I called my son at work a few days after the surgery to tell him that the results from the biopsy were back and the growths were benign, my son’s reaction was, “Benign is the good one. Right?”

“Yeah, that’s the good one,” I answered. Then I added, “By the way, whajaget on the verbal section of your SAT’s?”


©1990 by Felice Prager. All rights reserved.

Originally published by the Irascible Professor.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Counting to a Billion

I received a very peculiar phone call last week. The man’s voice sounded unusually similar to that of my Great Uncle Seymour, which is why I didn’t hang up in the first place. The call started with, “Hello, Sir or Madam,” (At this point, I had a hunch it might have been a recording, but I was committed.) “You have just won one billion dollars!”

At the words, “one billion dollars,” my latent listening skills went into over-drive.

“Yes, you, Sir or Madam, have won a billion dollars! All you have to do to keep your winnings is stop everything you’re doing the minute the money arrives at your front door and count it, one bill at a time to check for accuracy. The money will not be yours to spend or invest until you, Sir or Madam, have counted every single one dollar bill in the billion that will be shipped to your home, office, or alternate address. There will be a C.O.D. charge for postage and handling which we will charge to your credit card. Please, Sir or Madam, at the sound of the tone, provide us with your name, address, telephone number, credit card number with the expiration date, social security number, and your mother’s maiden name. Thank you and congratulations, Sir or Madam. This has been your lucky day. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.”

Okay, now before anyone begins to think I was born yesterday, I didn’t fall for the scam. And I knew I was in error thinking it was my Great Uncle Seymour. He still tries to slip me a twenty-dollar bill every time I see him at a relative’s wedding, but I know he’s on a fixed income, so a billion dollars is really pushing it.

The phone call did make me think, however. The idea of winning a billion dollars simply by counting it began to fester in my brain. Things often fester in my brain.

So I started doing the math. I used a calculator to check for accuracy.

I made the assumption that I did, in fact, win that billion dollars. And, as in the phone call, it would be mine only after it was counted. I would do this alone without assistants or a money-weighing machine. I would be diligent and efficient, taking no breaks. I would count until I was finished.

I figured I could count a bill a second. That seemed reasonable. In a minute I could count $60, which would be $3600 in an hour. I kept multiplying. $3600 per hour times 24 hours would be $86,400 per day. If I continued for 365 days, I’d be at $31,536,000 at the end of the first year.

Thirty-one and a half million dollars and I still haven’t slept, eaten, showered, used the phone, paid my bills, paid my income tax, or gone to the bathroom! But those would be only minor inconveniences. I’d have a billion dollars waiting for me! Yippee! A billion dollars would be mine. I’d drive expensive cars and eat in the finest of restaurants. I’d have a maid! I’d be doing the Dance of
Joy in my mansion on my own island in the South Pacific.

Back to counting one bill at a time, one bill per second.

At five years I’d have counted out $157,680,000.

At ten years, I would be at $315,360,000.

At twenty years, I’d be more than halfway there, having counted $630,720,000.

I figured it would take a little less than 32 years to get to a billion dollars. The year would be 2032, and the money would finally be mine.

True, I’d have a Charley horse from sitting so long, my hair would be gray, my hands would be permanently cramped, I’d have developed a nervous twitch, and I’d be over seventy years old, but the money would be mine.

Unfortunately, I’d also have stopped writing for 32 years. This, more than any of my bodily functions, would be a major problem. I might get the label of the world’s most efficient procrastinator. People might say I deliberately counted the money just to avoid facing the day-to-day struggles of being a writer.

But the money would be mine.

Yesterday I had a thought. If I typed a word a second without a break, I’d have a billion words written in 32 years. Then I was thinking I could type really short words like “a” and “an” and “it” and “in” and be done in half the time. Then maybe, I could finish my novel. I could even write another novel, or even two more novels.

The idea of typing a billion words began to fester in my brain. Things often fester in my brain.

* * *
©2002, Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved. This blog is copyright protected. No item on this blog, including this essay or any photographs, may be used without the author's express written permission.

(The Contents of this blog – including all photographs – are COPYRIGHT PROTECTED and may NOT be used, distributed, or copied without the consent of the author or photographer.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Close Encounters of the Canine Kind by Felice Prager


My Dog, The Matchmaker

by Felice Prager

My dog, Tiffany, a large white Samoyed, greeted me at the door as she always did with her leash in her mouth. I was already drenched from the storm we were having. It had been raining for days with no end in sight. My hair was matted down, and all I really wanted to do was jump in the shower and warm up. However, walking Tiffany was necessary and part of the responsibility that comes with dog ownership, although it was not what I wanted to do at that moment. I attached Tiffany’s red leash and rushed her downstairs on the elevator hoping we would make it to the curb on time without my excited dog having an accident. It was embarrassing when that happened.

Typical of my dog, when it was raining, she took the most time to find just the right spot to do her thing. I kept saying. "Hurry up, Tif! I’m freezing. Look at my hair! I’m drenched. Come on, Tiffany. Get done already." She continued to sniff every rock, every tree, and every puddle.

Just then, I saw Sam’s car coming down the boulevard. We had been introduced by mutual friends who lived in the same building as we lived in several weeks before and nothing had come of it, but I thought I saw a hint of interest in him. I was definitely interested. He was handsome and tall and from the few words we exchanged, he seemed intelligent and interesting. I tugged Tiffany back behind a bunch of trees and hid. "Come on, Tif," I said quietly, "I like this guy. I look horrible. Help me hide. Don’t bark. Shhhh. Be a good girl." Together we spied as Sam parked his red Prelude at the curb and ran toward our building with his attaché case held over his head.

That’s when I formulated my plan: I was going to "accidentally" bump into Sam while I was running out of the high-rise apartment building to the curb with Tiffany while he was parking his car. Only this time, my hair would be perfect and I would not be sopping wet.

I began my vigil from my 18th floor apartment window on the first sunny day after the storm. I arrived home from work and waited for Sam to pull up to the curb. As I saw his car approaching, I ran like a maniac to the elevator with Tiffany. Yet, when I got to the street, Sam was not there.

No matter how hard I tried, I kept missing him each day. I would get to the curb and see that he had parked his car and was nowhere in sight. We never bumped into each other. Time after time, I would grab Tiffany’s leash and attach it, but the elevator was too slow for me to accidentally run into this guy I liked and wanted to know better. Or the elevator would stop at every floor for other passengers.

I decided it might be more effective if I were already walking Tiffany when he parked his car. I sort of knew what time he got home. Tiffany had to be walked anyway. What difference did it make, as long as my hair looked good? I would call to him, "Sam, hi. We were introduced by Jerry and Maddy at their party last month. Remember?"

Unfortunately, that didn’t work either. I walked Tiffany for hours and never timed it correctly. It seemed Sam’s schedule had changed, or maybe he had a business meeting --- or a new girlfriend who was eating into my courtship time with him.

Then, one day, as I was taking Tiffany downstairs for a walk on a different schedule, the elevator stopped on the fourth floor, and Sam stepped in. He was as handsome as I had remembered.

"Hey," he said. He seemed genuinely happy to see me again.

"Hi!" I responded, totally forgetting my planned conversation. I had practiced it in front of the mirror for the occasion when our paths crossed.

"What a great dog. What’s her name?" he said.

"Tiffany," I said. Conversation was a foreign language to me.

With that, he bent over to pet her. "Hey, Tiffany! You are a pretty girl. Is Mom taking you for a walk?"

Tiffany jumped up and grabbed onto his leg. The elevator stopped at the lobby where we both were planning to get out, but Sam couldn’t move.

My dog would not let go of his leg. I kept apologizing. He kept saying it was okay. And Tiffany held onto Sam’s leg, not letting him move an inch.

Then the door closed, and the elevator started going up again.

At this point, Tiffany let go of Sam’s leg, rolled on her back, and spread her legs.

"Bad, Tiffany!" I said with a complete lack of sincerity.

"It’s okay," Sam said. "I guess she didn’t want me to leave." If he only knew!

Sam and I rode the elevator up to the eleventh floor. Other people got on.

Then the elevator started its descent again. When we reached the lobby again, Tiffany pulled me off. Sam followed. We walked together for a long time on the boulevard that afternoon. At one point, Sam asked for the leash and he ran with Tiffany giving her a great workout.

We were married several months later.

That was twenty-five years and several pets ago. When asked how we met, Sam tells people, "Get this! We met on an elevator. Her dog grabbed my leg and never let go." I have never let on that this was a planned canine encounter and Tiffany was my accomplice.

(A version of this essay appears in Chicken Soup for the Soup - What I Learned from the Dog.)

©2000 by Felice Prager. No part of this essay may be used in print, online, or in any format without the WRITTEN permission from the author.