The Annoying Little Belgian

I have been a fan of Agatha Christie since grade school. I know this because I have a vivid memory of our 6th grade teacher – Sister Amica – walking around our classroom while we were having quiet reading time, glancing down at the book I was reading and gasping in horror. She proceeded to take the book from my hands and held it up for the entire class to see as an example of a highly inappropriate reading choice. Was I reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover? No. I was reading Death on the Nile, a fine Agatha Christie novel featuring our favorite Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The book came – as many of my books did back in those days – from the Columbus Public Library. On the bottom left-hand corner of the book there was a stamp indicating it was a Crime Club Book. That, my friends, was my grave sin. “Criiiiiiime Cluuuuuub,” she practically hissed. It was the gun that triggered her anger. Ha, get it? Triggered?

I was an 11 or 12 year old who respected my elders, did my homework, and obeyed instructions from my teachers. Yet, even at that age, I recall thinking, “Really? You’re troubled by an Agatha Christie mystery?” Good thing my parents taught me to think for myself.

Anyway, I love Agatha Christie mysteries to this day, and Hercule Poirot is my favorite detective. History tells us Agatha Christie grew tired of Poirot, referring to him as “that annoying little Belgian.” She called him a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.” That’s blunt. I, of course, disagree. But back to Poirot. His style is always the same. He does his due diligence with one trusty sidekick or another following behind him and doing his bidding. Using his “little grey cells,” he is able to solve the mystery. In the last chapter, he always gathers everyone into a room and proceeds to explain the who, how, and why. I don’t think I ever guessed a murderer in advance. What’s more, though I’ve read the books more times than I can count, I rarely remember the murderer. One of the few instances where getting old and forgetful comes in handy.

The exception to this phenomenon is Murder on the Orient Express. The reason I remember the murderer is because not only have I read the book a half dozen times, but there have been a total of four Murder on the Orient Express movies made, and I’ve seen all but the one that was made-for-network-television in 2001 and was panned. Well, true confession: There was a Japanese version made that I also missed. Seeing Hercule Poirot eat sushi is just wrong.

The most recent version is, of course, the one that is currently running in the movie theaters. Bec and I went to see it yesterday. She is as a big an Agatha Christie fan as I, except I don’t think she ever got busted in school for reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles. She probably covered the book up with brown paper. Anyway, I was very excited when I saw the preview for the movie because it is such a great mystery. However, I had two concerns about watching this movie. 1) Would it be as much fun when I knew the ending; and 2) How could anyone besides David Suchet play Poirot. As far as I’m concerned, he is the Poirot by which all Poirots are measured.

A couple of years ago, I took a class through the Academy of Lifelong Learning, a program offering educational opportunities for seniors. While others were taking Economics in the 21st Century, or Using Physics Principles in Everyday Life, I took a class on Hercule Poirot. Stop snickering. I loved it. It gave me the opportunity to talk to other Agatha Christie geeks about which actress was the best Miss Marple, or what was your favorite Christie murder location.

As part of the course, we watched two of the four movies. In 1974, the first Murder on the Orient Express movie came out, and it featured Albert Finney as the Belgian detective, with a slew of famous costars, including Ingrid Bergman. Then the Poirot series on PBS television  offered their version, and the angels sang. David Suchet as Poirot, well, it’s just right. Fewer famous costars, but DAVID SUCHET.

So how does the 2017 version compare? Favorably, I’m happy to say. Kenneth Branagh, an Irish actor and director, stars as Poirot, and does a great job. He doesn’t try to copy Suchet’s Poirot, and that’s a good thing. Even his famous Poirot mustaches are different. This one is so big it practically needs it’s own dressing room…..

The movie featured a bang-up cast, especially if you watch a lot of PBS movies and television shows. I found myself trying to figure out where I saw that actor or on which show that actress plays a police detective. And I will watch any movie in which Judi Dench has a role, though this one was small.

As for knowing the ending, surprisingly, that wasn’t a problem at all. I watched the movie a bit differently than someone who didn’t know the murderer’s identity, but it kind of made it fun.

By the way, as I was driving home, I learned from the radio that it was World Kindness Day. If I had known that, I would have bought Bec’s ticket. But Poirot was kind at the end of the movie, so there was that….

Brick Laying

Back when the first mobile phones became available in the early- to mid-1980s, Bill was on board. Back then we called them cellular phones. Bill has always been interested in technology. He had one of those telephones that we now affectionally call “bricks” because it was quite literally the size and shape of a brick. And man alive, was he ever the coolest dude at the State Capitol where he worked as a lobbyist.

The phone was so big that you obviously couldn’t easily carry it around. So Bill (and probably anyone who had purchased one of those new-fangled devices) carried it around in his briefcase. After all, no one was going to call him. The phone was primarily to call others. I guess he probably had a phone number, but the idea of being able to reach a person no matter where they were was beyond our limited imagination. But when he needed to make a call, he opened up the brief case, reached inside to pull out the enormous but magically wireless phone, and made his call. Usually just to the bartender at the pub where he went for his after-work beer so that he could cause a stir. “Hey, could you bring me a beer? I’m sitting in the back booth.”

The rest is history, of course. Now it is the rare person – usually a baby boomer holding fast to the need for a land line – who has a telephone that is somehow connected to the wall. And since the 80s, cell phones began to get smaller and smaller, until you had the flip phones which were literally a couple of inches long when they were folded in half.

Once phones became “smart” the size began to change again. And now the size of phones has varied from very small to very large to very small again. Now they again seem to be quite large. I think they are too large for comfort, but no one asked me. Hey Apple, when you start considering the details of the iPhone XIII (because I’m sure they already have the launch plans ready for the XI and the XII), give me a ringy dingy.

For his birthday, I got Bill a new cell phone. He has used his old cell phone to the point where it was practically useless because it wouldn’t hold a charge. He would turn it on in the morning, check his email, and the battery would be down to 24 percent. So he simply didn’t use it. I would try to reach him when I was away from home, and he never EVER answered the phone because he was downstairs and the phone was plugged in upstairs in our bedroom. I would get annoyed (who me?) but would remind myself that it wasn’t all that many years ago that we would call someone’s land line and the phone would ring and ring and ring because they weren’t at home. Imagine that.

Anyway, I told him to pick out a new phone. Being Bill, he did considerable research and ended up choosing an LG V30. Great camera and holds a charge, he said. Boom. Done.

He likes the phone a great deal, but the thing is, it’s big. He tried carrying it in his shirt pocket, but it kept falling out because see above. It’s big. He would lay it down on his desk and then walk away and not hear the phone ring and was no better off than before.

The other day, he sheepishly said to me, “Kris, I think I’m going to buy a phone holder that attaches to my belt.”

He went on (and here, at long last, is the point of my blog), “I know it’s goofy these days to wear your phone on your belt, but it seems like the best answer for me.”

“Then that’s what you should do, and Millennials be DAMNED,” I answered firmly. Because you know how I feel about letting people whose diapers we changed tell us what looks goofy and what doesn’t look goofy.

I began trying to recall what our children – at least our boy children – do with their cell phones. I concluded that they simply carry them around in their hands. Because they are texting most of the time. And when they come into our house, they lay them down on the counter next to the coffee pot when they’re not texting. Every minute-and-a-half, they walk over to check and see if they got another text.

So Bill, I will continue to wear my capri pants and you can attach your phone holder to your belt and when we hear snickering from the snotty 30-somethings walking behind us, we will remind them that it was our generation who invented cell technology so if we want to hook a phone holder to our belts, that’s what we’ll do.

And, by the way, tuck your shirt in and you need a shave.

Saturday Smile: The Good News and the Bad News

Our grandson Joseph had the misfortune to have a stomach virus last weekend. On Sunday morning he still was throwing up. Our daughter-in-law Lauren said she was downstairs and could hear him in the bathroom. A few minutes later, he came downstairs.

“Mama, I have some good news and some bad news,” he told her in his typical earnest manner.

“Really?” Lauren said leerily. “What’s the good news?”

“The good news is that I threw up but I made it to the toilet.”

“That is good news,” she replied. “What’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is that I can’t find the remote,” he responded.

Here’s to hoping the two things aren’t connected.

Have a great weekend.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: To Be Where You Are

I read Jan Karon’s novel To Be Where You Are earlier this fall shortly after it was released, and it happened to be a particularly difficult time in my life. The latest in her Mitford series featuring our favorite Episcopalian priest Father Tim was an ointment for my heart soul, just as I knew it would be.

The entire series – now a total of 14 books – takes place in the fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina, a small village in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville. While Father Tim and his wife Cynthia are the stars of the show, the surrounding players – his son Dooley and various beloved family and friends – are really what make these stories so lovely. Karon manages to make the townspeople lovable and quirky, but not caricatures of small-town hillbillies.

In her latest novel, Dooley and Lace, now married, are preparing for formal adoption of their foster son Jack, while trying to get Dooley’s vet practice going. Lace has her own distractions, as she has been commissioned to do a painting for a well-known Hollywood actress. All of this takes place as Father Tim struggles to help out several friends in unexpected ways. While a town like Mitford likely doesn’t exist anywhere, Karon’s books always have a realistic way about them. In To Be Where You Are, faithful readers say goodbye to a beloved friend, as we have had to do in the past, but hello to others.

The story is punctuated by the characters’ strong faith in God and belief that they are all part of a bigger plan. I took the prayers uttered by the characters to my heart and prayed them along with them. Much highlighting. Very much highlighting.

To Be Where You Are reminded this reader that at the end of the day, it isn’t the amount of money you earn or the fancy house in which you live, but instead it’s the number of people you can call friends and the blessings that are in you life.

Karon is in her 80s now, and I don’t know how many more Mitford stories she has in her. I hope a few more. While To Be Where You Are left us with a perfect segue to the next book, it also ends with Father Tim and Cynthia driving off in an RV for an adventure. A perfect way to end a series.

Fingers crossed it’s the former. I loved this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Put on Some Pants
In yesterday’s blog post, I talked about the study that indicated second-borns were more likely to become criminals. Pshaw. But my sister Jen commented on the post, and in her comment she pointed out that while her 3-year-old granddaughter Lilly (who is a second-born) isn’t a criminal, she does give her mother a ride for her money. Most recently, according to Jen, Lilly attended her brother’s baseball game without the benefit of underwear despite the fact that she was wearing a dress. The comment got me to thinking….When I was in second grade, I was at school one day and there was a knock on the classroom door. Sister Collista – the meanest nun I ever encountered – answered the door and I saw that it was my mother. Now, even my 7-year-old mind knew that couldn’t be good. Sister called my name and I walked to the door. In my mother’s hands was a pair of underwear, underwear which should have been on my bottom because I, like Lilly, was wearing a dress. So, while second-borns might not necessarily be criminals, it appears they might have a problem keeping their underwear on their bottoms.

Blue Ain’t Your Color
Speaking of Lilly, we went to her brother’s baseball game last night. Lilly happily showed me her VERY BLUE TONGUE, the result of a VERY BLUE SUCKER that she was eating. I told her I was going to send the photo to her Grammie and ask if we should take her to the hospital. Lilly giggled in her Lilly-like way, and told me that wasn’t a very good idea. I’m pretty sure her Grammie figured out why her tongue was blue….

Dresses Galore
I watched the CMA Music Awards last night. I was happy that Blue Ain’t Your Color won best single because it’s one of my favorite songs, and will be for some time. You probably already knew this, but I was surprised to learn that Better Man, performed by Little Big Town, was written by Taylor Swift. In hindsight, it actually didn’t surprise me at all because I think she writes some of the most interesting lyrics to catchy music, and Better Man is a GOOD song. I told Bill he should start wearing his jeans as tight as male half of Little Big Town, and he declined. My prevailing thought as the show ended was just how many dresses Carrie Underwood wore from the beginning of the show until the end. Wow, she changes clothes quickly.

Orange Is My Color
Bill and I stopped at Superstition Ranch Market yesterday afternoon and stocked up on my Stewarts Diet Orange and Cream soda. Remember my Orange and Cream soda saga? If not, read about it here. I purchased the pop with Alastair in mind. Not that I’ll share…..

 

Ciao.

 

Was Norman Bates Second Born?

I came across a study recently that caught my attention. Not one to be overly concerned about birth order, I normally wouldn’t even bother to read the article that cited the study. But here was the headline:

SECOND BORN KIDS MORE LIKELY TO BECOME CRIMINALS, STUDY FINDS.

So, for obvious reasons, I felt this story about birth order warranted a gander from this second born kid.

It wasn’t even like the story was out of National Enquirer. It came from National Public Radio, and the study was conducted by some economists from MIT (all undoubtedly either bossy first-borns or youngest kids looking for attention). The study looked at second borns in Florida and Denmark. Florida and Denmark? I wonder why they didn’t look at second borns in South Dakota and Romania, or maybe Kentucky and the Netherlands. Why did they pick Florida and Denmark? But I am getting distracted.

Apparently these second-born Floridians and Danes are somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 40 percent more likely to commit serious crimes or cause other kinds of unlawful mayhem. While first-borns have higher IQs, perform better in school, and earn higher salaries, second borns are earning crappy grades and barely making a living.

The reason for this apparent contrast according to these first-born economists? Parents are focusing all of their attention on their first-born child and sending the second born kid out to search for scraps. Just be home before dark so that you don’t disturb your brother or sister. Well, I might be exaggerating their findings a bit. But the gist of what I just said is true. They say the parents are less vigilant with their second-born child because they want to make sure their first born prince or princess is excelling in school, taking music lessons from a maestro, and being tutored by an MIT economist. Again, I might be exaggerating a bit.

But this part is true: The study author said that “the role models of the eldest child are his or her doting parents while the role model for the second-born is a spoiled older sibling.”

While I can’t vouch for every second born in the world, I can tell you unequivocally that I AM NOT A CRIMINAL. Despite my blog post on Monday about how I am a pretty good liar, I am unceasingly honest unless there is a surprise party involved or someone asks me if these pants make them look fat. When I applied for a job at Circle K in Denver when I was 20 years old, I had to take a lie detector test. (Now that I think about it, I wonder if that test was only given to second borns….). Anyway, I passed with flying colors. They even directly asked “Have you ever stolen anything while at work?”. I could quite honestly answer no to that question. It’s true that up until that point, I had worked only for my dad at the bakery and he would have kicked my butt if I had stolen money (how are we going to pay for your older sister’s ballet lessons from Anna Pavlova if you steal money from us?)

And I certainly have never killed anyone. The closest I have ever come was when I chased my sister Jen around the house with a butcher knife when I was 10 and she was 6. Perhaps I’m lucky that she ran so fast or I might be supporting the MIT first-borns’ clinical study results. But since the study didn’t say anything about third-borns, I can only assume that they are more likely to be killed by their second born sibling, and perhaps deserve it.

The headline for the next clinical study conducted by MIT will be:

THIRD BORN KIDS MORE LIKELY TO TORTURE THEIR FOURTH-BORN BROTHER OR SISTER, BECAUSE BY THIS TIME PARENTS HAVE COMPLETELY CLOCKED OUT.

Just sayin’…..

And, for the record, here are faces of some of my favorite second-borns, none of whom are criminals…..

Alastair, Mylee, Micah — all second borns. Well, technically Mylee is a third-born, but her oldest sibling is 15 years older. I think she counts as a second born.

Bec’s second-born Kate (Jojo), Dave’s second-born Kacy, and Jen’s second born Benjamin Joseph. No criminals.

Oh, and two really good second borns. Neither Bill nor Lilly have a criminal record.

I could go on and on…but I won’t. I have to run to the store and steal some Italian sausage.

Melody of Love

Hold me in your arms dear – dream with me,
Cradled by your kisses – tenderly,
While a choir of angels – from above
Sing our melody of love. – H. Englemann/T. Glazer, sung by Frank Sinatra

Bill and I ate lunch yesterday at Oregano’s, his favorite pizza place here in AZ. The next best pizza to Fox’s, according to the Chicago native who is my husband. Could be. Anyway, though there are a number of Oregano’s restaurants around the city, every single one of them is busy all of the time. That’s okay. It’s worth the wait.

Busy often equates to noisy, and as we age, noise becomes a bit more of a problem. But neither too many customers nor noise were a problem yesterday, mostly because we got there when they first opened. When they unlocked the door, our noses were pressed up against it so that we nearly fell in. Not really, but frankly, it was almost that bad. The pizza ovens hadn’t even gotten hot.

We were led to a table (and let me assure you that there were a few other 60- and 70-somethings already seated), and the server took our order – a 12-inch sausage pizza, a big salad, and two diet Pepsi’s. Because what else?

Oregano’s has a schtick, and it’s part of the fun. Overhead on small-screen black and white televisions they are always playing either some sort of old romantic musical featuring a 20-year-old Frank Sinatra, an episode of The Lone Ranger, or an episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. But the televisions are on mute, because overhead from the speakers come the sounds of Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or Perry Como or Rosemary Clooney.

And here’s the thing: I know the words to almost every song. As I’ve said before, I mistakenly use every one of my grandkids’ names before I get to the right one, but I can sing I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck though you make my heart a wreck. You make my heart a wreck and you make my life a mess. Make my life a mess, yes a mess of happiness…. And so forth.

Right near our table sat a huge radio, the kind that folks listened to before RCA televisions began making their appearances in American homes…..

Bill reminisced about how he listened to the radio before they got a TV, though he admitted that mostly he was interested in playing outside with his friends.

That made me start thinking about the radio that sat on my mom’s kitchen counter when I grew up in Columbus. As she would prepare meals, or sweep the kitchen floor, or put groceries away, or dust the living room tables, she always had the radio turned on, tuned to KFAB radio out of Omaha. And she listened to music from the likes of Dinah Shore and Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett and Doris Day and Eydie Gorme and Robert Goulet. And later in the 50s, maybe Bobby Vinton or Connie Stevens.

I don’t recall whether or not she sang along to the tunes. But what I do know is that somehow all of those lyrics from all of those songs that were playing in the background as I ran in and out of the house, or maybe as I did my chores, have stuck in my head all of these years. That’s likely why I have all of those lyrics in my head, even when I can’t remember where I put my purse.

Blue moon,
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own.
Blue moon,
You knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for.

I’m afraid I remember more song lyrics than answers to my Baltimore Catechism questions. But that’s okay, because they simply don’t write lyrics like those anymore.