Author Archives: Nancy Hayden Crowley

My New Child

Mother and Dog Selfie

Mother and Dog Selfie

At 54, I’m a mother again. Yes, you heard that right.

We got a puppy about four months ago and I’m his mom. It didn’t start out that way. My daughter, Meg, was supposed to be his “mom,” but teenagers don’t make great moms. They’re too busy, self-absorbed and underfinanced.

So I had to take over.

This was definitely an unplanned puppy. But I have embraced him like I would my own child. Meg named him, a privilege she earned by being the puppy’s first mother. She calls him Willie.

Anyone who knows me knows I have avoided animals in my adult life. Those who have known me longer realize that I once loved dogs and in fact, was part of a family that owned two dogs.

After I got over the “yuck” factor with our new puppy, and there is a major “yuck” factor with dogs that I don’t need to detail, I recovered my repressed love for dogs.

Just in time, by the way.

I’ve been kind of fumbling along these last couple of years. Our two oldest, Jill and Bobby, are full-fledged grown-ups. My dear son Kerry went away to college and started his adult life while little Meg began high school and is preoccupied. In other words, my kids don’t need me as much.

My husband, FX, and I started a business, which has consumed a lot of our time. But I have a tendency to become too consumed and that drives my loved ones crazy.

Enter Willie. He doesn’t give a hoot about our business. He just wants to play, run with his dog gang, eat regular meals and be loved. Which is just like a child.

I loved raising my children. They’re so much fun and continue to be the joy of our lives. You live in the moment.  You meet their parents and make new friends. You laugh a lot.  Sure, challenges and worries abound. But for the most part, it is incredibly rewarding.

And so is Willie. We found him outside Pet Express in Stonestown on one of those “adoption” days. We welcomed him into our home knowing little about puppy care. Willie came to us with kennel cough and ring worm. We had to isolate him and keep him away from other dogs for a month. Torture for everyone.

Willie required so much time and energy just as the “FX Crowley Company” was starting to take off. There were a few weeks when clients were ignored, cupboards remained bare and the family struggled to get along with each other. Stress does that and a new puppy, like a new baby, demands a major adjustment to your lifestyle.

I read some books about dogs and we immersed ourselves into dog care and training. Things had started to pick up when we received an anonymous note from a neighbor complaining about Willie’s barking. And just like an insecure new mother, I cried and felt inadequate.

Then we got Willie neutered and he quieted down. We found Sigmund Stern Grove, five blocks away, which I only knew as a teenage hangout and venue for free and foggy summertime concerts. Who knew it was a dog park?

But we go there every day with Willie now and make new friends, reacquaint with old ones and watch Willie play like we used to watch our kids play at the park. My family has accused me of siphoning money from Meg’s college fund into dog toys and bully sticks. I hired a trainer who told me I hug Willie too much and need to make him earn his treats. I sing “Me and You and A Dog Named Boo” by Lobo on all our dog walks.

Old habits die hard.

I love being a mom again.


My Christmas Wish List

With Christmas just around the corner, my husband and my kids are wringing their hands wondering what to get mom.  I’ve put together a list to help them along:

  1.  World Peace.  Miss America asks for it every year.  Why can’t I?  In fact, let the record show that I have always been in favor of world peace.   This year, I am urging my family to “Think Globally, Act Locally” and stop bickering, in particular my two youngest.  Little steps can make a difference, especially when it comes to preserving your mother’s peace of mind.
  2. Healthy, Safe and Kind Children.  This really is my number one gift request, but I am trying to present myself as altruistic, ergo the world peace appeal.  Like all mothers, I worry constantly about my children.  This year, we experienced some minor injuries, a broken wrist for Meg (basketball) and a separated shoulder for Kerry (football).  Both kids watched their playoffs and championships from the sidelines and handled their disappointments much better than their parents did.  We must be doing something right to raise such nice children.  At the end of the day, I just want them home in bed in one piece.
  3. Jobs for my Children when they graduate.  I guess I want a little more than their health and safety.  College graduation is at least four years away for Kerry, eight years for Meg.  Given the state of the economy, we might as well put in our request now.
  4. A Full-Time Cook.  OK, now I’m showing my true lazy self.  I once worked for a woman who had household staff including one guy who did all her grocery shopping and presented her with home-cooked meals every evening.  This is my fantasy.
  5. More Sunshine.  I live in the foggiest place on earth.  I am totally against global warming, except in my neighborhood.
  6. Gentle Menopause.  The lead-up to this next life passage has left me sleepless and confused.  Enough already.
  7. A New Mini-Backpack.  Years ago, I bought a powder blue, quilted mini-backpack from Target that I have used to death.  I take it to all sporting events, on bike rides, the occasional bus excursion, and anywhere I don’t want to carry a purse, but need to have a few necessities with me.  It now looks stained and gross, but I can’t bear to part with it because I have never found another backpack like it.
  8. A Warm Bed and a Roof Overhead.  I have this, but I never take it for granted.  So many people live on the street in San Francisco.  Here’s an incredibly shameful 2011 statistic:  nearly 2,220 public school students in San Francisco are homeless, enough to fill five or six elementary schools or an entire high school.
  9. More Material for my Blog.  I started posting in July and have truly enjoyed myself.  Sometimes I run out of things to write about, but more often, I just can’t bring myself to post what’s truly on my mind for fear of alienating my family and friends.  Ironically, my daughter thinks I have no filter, but I think she has no appreciation for my quiet tact.

Thank you to everyone for reading my blog and sticking with me.  I plan to keep blogging in 2012.  I hope Santa is good to you and your family this Christmas.  I wish you peace and health and safety and kindness in the coming year.  Love to all.


A Crowley Christmas

The Christmas season has caught me by surprise this year.  It always does.  I figure I should start hauling out the decorations after I notice that my Jewish neighbors across the street have put up their tree.

The Crowley Children circa 2006

The Crowley Children circa 2006

While most people relish the Christmas holidays, I find them a bit overwhelming.  First, I feel immense pressure to decorate.  I’m a minimalist by nature so the idea of stuffing my living room with a bunch of Noel–themed tchotchkes is anathema to me.  When my kids were young, I had no choice.  But now that they’re older and their tastes have become more refined (ahem, like mine), I can afford to be selective with my Christmas decorating.

I put out a modest, little wooden crèche on my mantel, which my mother purchased for me so I would never forget the true meaning of Christmas and that I was baptized a Roman Catholic.  And then I rely on my daughter, Meg, to do the rest.

Meg is almost 14 and still has one foot in childhood.  She loves the magic of Christmas even though her mother is a Scrooge.  Every year, Meg breaks out the Christmas music and decorates the tree.  My husband helps with the lights while my son, Kerry, and I find other important things to do.  Meg finds places for my carefully curated Christmas collection and transforms our home into a veritable Santa’s workshop that has been stripped down to wooden benches with some red and green accents.

I buy all family and friend presents, and generally speaking, I do not like to shop.   I manage this by shopping a little on the Internet and visiting the Mall in two-hour chunks during off-peak hours and taking regular breaks.  I spend a fair amount of time planning my purchases in advance so I usually know what I’m going to buy before I enter a store.  This makes for a more efficient shopping experience.

I’ll also go downtown for a morning of shopping, but never all day.  I find it too tiring and am unable to carry everything.   Even though I’m not a big shopper, I do like to give thoughtful gifts.  I realize this stands in the face of everything I’ve just told you, but the recipients of my gifts always seem to like my presents, at least that’s what they say.

I try to get all of my shopping done before the kids break for Christmas and then plan some outings with the family to enjoy the season.  One of my favorite outings took place five years ago where I forced my husband and children to do a walking tour of Chinatown through San Francisco City Guides, which is an incredible free resource, by the way.   I even managed to drag my two older stepchildren along for the ride.

We traveled to the oldest Chinatown in North America on a crisp, sunny winter day and followed an extremely knowledgeable guide around the back alleys visiting Chinese herbal shops, temples and historical sites.  Our kids rolled their eyes throughout the tour and mocked me for my choice of activity until we came to the fortune cookie factory.

This intrigued my family, especially when they learned you could buy X-rated fortune cookies, which featured suggestive messages.  The fortune cookie factory owner implored us in her heavy Chinese accent to buy her “Sexy Fortune Cookies.”  In the spirit of the season, my husband bought several packages.  Thus, my tour had been redeemed and forever inscribed in our children’s “Fond Memories of Christmas…Growing up Crowley” book (destined to become a bestseller).

Afterwards, we walked down to the waterfront full of laughter and fun and took our Christmas card picture.  We made our way to South Beach, home of AT&T Park and my friend Janet’s famous ballpark restaurant, MoMo’s, where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch.

As we were eating, my son spied Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback , four-time Super Bowl champ and hero to all San Franciscans, Joe Montana, casually eating lunch across the dining room with his wife Jennifer.   We played it cool even though we were anything but, and did not bother them.   We kept stealing glances in the Montanas’ direction and reporting to each other on every move that Joe made.

We finished our meal and left before the Montanas, proving that we weren’t so star struck that we needed to linger.   Besides, we had to get home and begin making enchiladas for our traditional Mexican Christmas Eve feast.

Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun and Feliz Navidad!

Some of my favorite Christmas music is featured on the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait album.   I think Karen Carpenter had a voice like silk and left us way too early.  Enjoy her haunting version of “Little Altar Boy.”


Steve Jobs Redux

My obsession with Steve Jobs continues.  Spoiler alert:  if you plan on reading the just-published Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and want to be surprised, stop reading now.

Just so you know, Jobs approached the Pulitzer Prize-winning Isaacson to write his biography.  Isaacson agreed to do so in 2009 when it seemed clear that Jobs would be checking out sooner rather than later. In just under two years, the author interviewed a sickly and often distracted Jobs more than 40 times as well as “more than a hundred friends, relatives, competitors, adversaries, and colleagues.”  Isaacson weaves excerpts of these interviews into a 571-page compelling and riveting read.

My conclusion:  Steve Jobs was a dick.

I had heard rumors to this effect but I did not want to believe it because I love Apple and its products.  I “early adopted” the MacIntoshes when everyone else was buying IBM.  I later invested in an iMac, after Jobs returned to Apple to revive and restore its creative direction.  I adore the iPod’s instant accessibility to my favorite tunes and the iPad’s myriad features and convenience, and I am wedded to my iPhone.

But Jobs does not come across as a nice guy in this book.  In fact, I would say he suffered from a serious personality disorder, which included but was by no means limited to jealously, insecurity, rage, conceit, compulsive lying and distorted thinking.

For example, Jobs routinely dismissed his workers’ ideas as “shit.”  Jobs lived in a black and white world, but mostly black.  Very little lived up to his exacting standards of perfection.  Jobs sought to wean out the “B” and “C” players, which he believed justified his brutal management style, so that only “A” players were left to fulfill Jobs’ visions and design “insanely great products.”

If you dared to question Steve Jobs, he either respected you or dismissed you depending on how badly he needed you.  In other words, if you had a skill Steve Jobs wanted, he turned his renowned and somewhat notorious charisma on you like a laser beam and left no computer chip unturned until you yielded to his demands.   More often, when an employee produced something Jobs liked, he typically waited a few weeks and took credit for the employee’s ideas and work.

Throughout the book, Isaacson refers to Job’s “reality distortion field” where Jobs would spin his own version of reality.  I call this compulsive lying.  All his colleagues, friends and family seemed to know about this major character flaw and many let it go for the sake of working with Jobs and creating those “insanely great products.”   Talk about compromising your standards.

Even more interesting, Jobs did not have any deep technological or engineering skills.  He just knew what he wanted and found incredibly talented people who he constantly berated until they created and designed his ideas or theirs, for which he took full credit.

Jobs’ bizarre personality manifested itself on several other fronts.  For example, he lived as a vegetarian for most of his life (nothing wrong with that), but would adopt weird diets where he would only eat one kind of food (like an apple) for weeks at a time.   Early in Jobs’ life, he believed that his superior diet absolved him from bathing.  A few venture capitalists and corporate heads literally turned up their noses at Jobs, but the young, gifted and smelly entrepreneur prevailed in spite of the olfactory prejudice he endured.

I don’t know how Jobs ever found a girlfriend although it appears he had a few including the famous folk singer, Joan Baez.  In 1991, Jobs married one of the “smartest and most grounded people” his biographer Isaacson had ever met, Laurene Powell.   Jobs and Powell had three children who Jobs ignored a lot of the time except for occasional family trips where he would still be prone to “withdrawing” from them.  He had already established this pattern of family neglect with his first child, Lisa, who was born out of a relationship with a previous girlfriend.

About half way through the book, Steve Jobs returns to Apple after a 12-year period of forced exile.  He plays coy for a while, then seizes power and begins imagining the products (the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad) and changing the industries (technology, computers, music, design, animation and retail) that would become his life’s legacy.

Issacson focuses on these accomplishments and gives them their proper due and then some.  After spending half the book trashing Jobs’ personality, the author deftly brings the reader around to an understanding that it had to be this way, that Steve Jobs’ madness also drove his genius.  To work with Steve Jobs and benefit from his legendary intensity, focus, and imagination, one also had to endure cruel insults, long hours, bad hygiene, weird diets, endless lies, crying jags (yes, Jobs cried often), and a colossal ego.

I’m just glad that I read about it and didn’t have to live it.  I still love my iPhone though.  So much for taking the moral high ground.


Emergency Appreciation

Yesterday, my 13-year-old daughter, Meg, broke her wrist in two places.  Ouch!  She was playing basketball during PE at school and went to block a shot.  She fell back onto her left wrist, instantly turning it into a lumpy mass.

I got the call from her school around 2:15 p.m. to come and attend to her.  Fortunately, I live close by so Meg didn’t have to wait long for me to get there.   The principal and school secretary were huddled over Meg comforting her as she tried to contain her agony.  She thought she did a really good job, but I knew otherwise.

Once Meg settled into the car, she screamed for a solid 30 minutes while I drove through stop and go traffic, missing every traffic light, to finally arrive at the doctor’s office across town.

Meg with cast

Meg with cast

Meg’s doctor saw her immediately, splinted her wrist and sent us across the street for X-rays.  Even though I had given her four Ibuprofen, Meg’s pain continued unabated.  Soon, the X-ray results showed why.  Her wrist was broken in two places and “angulated,” which meant it needed to be manipulated back into place.  We had no choice but to check into the Emergency Room (ER).  Poor Meg!

The ER docs and nurses evaluated Meg, and determined that an orthopedic doctor was needed.  We were advised to sit tight for two more hours and the orthopedic would be on his way.  In the meantime, my daughter anguished.  I asked for more pain relief, which the ER staff duly provided.  This finally quieted Meg down.

Around 7 p.m., the orthopedic doctor arrived.  I felt hungry and tired and more than impatient, and was prepared to dislike this late arrival.  Instead, the new doctor charmed my husband and me and completely disarmed my daughter’s fears with his friendly and outgoing demeanor.

I sang softly to Meg one of her favorite lullabies as the orthopedic prepared to numb Meg’s wrist in preparation for the “reduction” or correction of her fracture.  The doctor complimented me on my ability to keep Meg calm, which led me to ask him if he had any children.

“Yes, three under the age of seven, “ he answered.   “One of them is sick right now, so I know how hard it can be to take care of them.”

I asked him what his child was sick with, expecting him to say the flu.  Instead he answered, “Brain tumor,” and instantly I sensed he regretted sharing this with me.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said.  I looked across the room at my husband and felt incredibly sad.  The doctor thanked me and moved on, refocusing on my daughter’s  needs.

I did too, but said a silent prayer that Meg had only endured a broken wrist that would mend soon enough.

After about four hours in the ER, Meg was finally released.  She continued to feel scared and uncertain, but was comforted by a stream of messages on her phone and on her Facebook wall from classmates and friends wishing her a speedy recovery.

My husband nicknamed Meg “Sweet Pea” because she truly has the sweetest of dispositions.  She also possesses a remarkable understanding and appreciation for the important things in life, family and friendships and honesty and loyalty.

Right before bed, Meg outlined her numerous concerns and anxieties over her injury, but then concluded by telling me how lucky she felt to have so many people in her life that cared about her.

I agreed and said another prayer of thanks for a healthy daughter, loving and caring family and friends, good health insurance and excellent medical care.   May we all be so blessed.


You Deserve a Break Today

I read recently that McDonald’s is reintroducing its McRib sandwich for a limited time.  Memories immediately flooded me, not necessarily of the boneless pork sandwich drenched in barbecue sauce, but of the six years I spent right out of college toiling for Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees publicizing their products and corporate good works.

I had graduated from UC Berkeley in June of 1981 full of hope and no job prospects.  Armed with my superior education, (a Bachelor of Arts degree in history), I felt certain that the business world would vie for my services.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The United States was consumed by a severe recession that had begun just a month after I graduated and continued unabated until the end of 1982.  I didn’t understand the meaning of a recession, only that I couldn’t get a job.

At Christmas, my sister Cathy visited me and my parents (with whom I had resumed living) from the Midwest where she resided.  We went for a run during which I practically hyperventilated about my sorry lot in life.  She asked me what I wanted to do and I replied “public relations,” because it had sounded glamorous and appealing when I was researching my career options.

Cathy advised me to hand-carry my resume to PR firms around town and offer to do entry level work.  I swallowed my pride and within a week I had a job.  Within a month I had moved out of my parents’ house.

I worked as a secretary for a public relations agency known as Lowry & Partners.  The firm had several high-profile accounts including the Bay Area McDonald’s franchisees.  Within three months, one of the account executives had moved on and her job became mine.  I had finally made it.

I remember my first assignment.  I booked Ronald McDonald, the corporate clown mascot, at a birthday party where he had been requested, and finalized all the details in writing, crossing my “t’s” and dotting my “i’s.”

Ronald McDonald

Ronald McDonald

Then I received a wake-up call from the clown, which shattered me.   As I recall, Ronald McDonald scolded me for my failure to book him in a high profile appearance, thereby rendering him “cheap.”   I had mistakenly arranged for Ronald to appear at birthday party off site from a McDonald’s restaurant, which was against all rules.  Birthday parties, unless they celebrated famous people, had to take place at McDonald’s.

First, I felt stunned that Ronald McDonald could act so mean.  Then I cried as I realized the error of my ways and the futility of my life.  After I hung up the phone, the jaded and more experienced PR pros with whom I worked howled with laughter.  Watching me get chewed out by a clown and take it seriously pretty much made their day.  My bosses’ response served to ease my pain, but I scrupulously paid attention to the McDonald’s account rules (and there were thousands of them) from that point forward.

Within a year, one of the partners at Lowry & Partners left to start her own public relations agency and tried to take me and the McDonald’s account (not necessarily in that order) with her.

I was only 22-years-old, but I had come to know the McDonald’s account inside out.  It had its own special culture filled with acronyms and idiosyncrasies.  I had demonstrated a fondness for minutiae and an ability to get along with a wide variety of people and personalities, which made me the ideal candidate for the job at hand.  Ronald and I had also resolved our initial misunderstanding and I had earned his respect with my dedication and sensitivity to his myriad needs.

I remained with the partners who hired me and helped them retain McDonald’s.  I worked there for six more years and have a lifetime of stories and experiences that still make me laugh.  I never quite developed “ketchup in my veins,” which was the expression the McDonald’s corporate honchos used to assess one’s loyalty to the Golden Arches.

I faked it for an awfully long time though and feel grateful for everything I learned at the oversized feet of the clown.


Sleeping in San Francisco

I love a routine.  Take me out of it and my whole world turns upside down.  I eat more, sleep less and growl a lot.  Last week, my routine went south.  I had a series of events I either hosted or attended and since I’m almost 52, I tire easily.

I anticipated the impact my “busy-ness” would have on me and I tried to build in down time.  But inevitably, the adrenalin I generated from one event would prevent me from resting up for the next one.  By the end of the week, I felt ready for the hospital.

Bill Clinton naps

Bill Clinton napping

When I’m feeling insecure, which is just about every day, I view my inability to sustain a brisk pace as a serious character flaw.  I know other women my age and older who run circles around me.  My friend, Alicia, is the managing partner of her law firm, travels almost every week around the country to both glamorous and God-forsaken locations, and has managed to raise three beautiful children.  She also has a full social calendar and a stylish wardrobe, not that I noticed.

My friend, Helga, who is 74 stayed out until 12:30 a.m. on Saturday night.  We attended the same event and I tucked into bed by 10:30 p.m.  I called her the next afternoon and she rightfully crowed about how much she had accomplished that morning, cleaning two bathrooms, changing sheets on multiple beds and baking an apple cake.

I took a nap when I heard this.

If I don’t get enough sleep, look out world.  Just ask my children.  And unfortunately, as I age, sleep is starting to elude me.  I think it’s related to my plummeting hormone levels (TMI!) and I don’t like it one bit.

A good night’s sleep and/or an afternoon nap remain at the top of my list of favorite things to do.  Frankly, I don’t envision any other activities toppling these pursuits.

I view people who need only four hours sleep a night with suspicion.  Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart and Madonna are famous short sleepers.  Bill, of course, is charismatic yet inherently untrustworthy; Martha Stewart went to jail for insider training; and Madonna, well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Sleeping has always been a huge priority in the Crowley house.  My husband does not get enough of it during the week, but does his level best to recapture his lost zzzz’s on the weekends.  I have long admired his ability to turn on the TV and instantly fall asleep.

My teenage children gladly adhere to a 9:30 p.m. bedtime during the week with no prompting from me, although my 17-year-old son finds it increasingly challenging, given the demands of his senior year in high school.  To compensate, he has discovered the joys of napping on the weekends.

I feel a strange sense of pride that my children share my sleeping values.  They are very productive when they are awake and sleep like bears in hibernation when they rest.

Many successful people take pride in not needing much sleep, but they do not impress me.  I’m too busy napping to care.

If you have trouble sleeping, take a moment to listen to Kenny Loggins singing “House at Pooh Corner,” a Crowley family favorite lullaby.  I’m sure it’s everyone else’s too.


Work in Progress

I came across a story yesterday on the Internet about a young, obese woman who is the focus of a new MTV reality series, Chelsea Settles.  Naturally, I was drawn to the story because I wanted to know if Chelsea had lost any weight.  The pretty-faced Chelsea admitted to weighing 324 lbs. and hoped that a move to Los Angeles from her small, oppressive town in Pennsylvania would be the lightning rod for her weight loss plans and a new start in life.

Chelsea Settles

Chelsea Settles

The article did not directly report whether she realized her goals.  You have to tune in to MTV to find out and it’s unlikely that I will, but I was struck by one of the questions that the reporter asked Chelsea.   The reporter wanted to know if Chelsea was still a “work in progress” or was she finished after six episodes.

I am more than twice Chelsea’s age and I doubt I have ever faced the challenges that this young woman has, but let me lay it on the line right now:  I am still a “work in progress.”  I wonder when you ever stop being a “work in progress.”

I am always looking to lose a few extra pounds, say the right thing, improve my vocabulary, learn a new language, dress appropriately, be the “perfect” mother, you know, stuff like that.

Invariably, I fall short, become overwhelmed and decide to take a nap.  There’s nothing like a little sleep to refresh me and sharpen my outlook.  Still, I continue to set goals and try to chip away at them.   This blog remains one of them and I must admit, some days it feels like I set myself up to fail, particularly when my computer screen remains blank after an hour of steady staring.

Do you think Steve Jobs felt he had accomplished everything he wanted to when he died at 56 last week?  Unlikely.  Apparently, Jobs authorized his soon-to-be released biography because, as he told author Walter Isaacson, “I wanted my kids to know me.”  Jobs concluded his final interview with Isaacson by saying, “I wasn’t always there for them (his kids), and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

Personally, I really benefited from Jobs’ commitment to the iPhone and all the technological breakthroughs that he spearheaded.  But I wouldn’t have wanted to be his child.  If you have to read a book about your parent to know him, then I think you were cheated out of some quality time.

On the other hand, I have always been there for my kids.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I could have helped Steve Jobs invent the iPhone if I wasn’t carpooling or making grilled cheese sandwiches.   Since I’m still a “work in progress,” there’s hope yet.


You’ve Got Mail…Or Not

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is under siege.   Mail volume fell from 213 billion pieces in 2006 to 177 billion pieces in 2009, a 17 percent decline in just three years.   By 2020, USPS deliveries are projected to plummet to a mere 150 billion pieces.

This still seems like a lot of mail to me.  I think if you have 150 billion pieces of mail, you need to keep the system going.   Yet, there are calls from different corners of the world, usually the right corners, (you can take that one of two ways) to privatize the U.S. Postal Service, lay off hundreds of thousands of workers and compromise or cancel those pesky benefits.

Legendary postal carrier Cliff Clavin

Legendary postal carrier Cliff Clavin

I like getting mail.  When I hear the mail drop in my box in the garage as I work upstairs, I interrupt my day to see what has landed.  The mail often includes stuff I have to shred immediately such as credit card and loan offers.  I own two shredders for this purpose and they get a workout after the mail arrives.  I never throw an intact piece of mail away as the prospect of identity theft haunts me.

In spite of the plethora of junk and bills, the mail typically contains something I want.  My kids and I each subscribe to at least one favorite magazine and there’s usually a thank you note or invitation we enjoy.

I know my mail carrier by name, Richard.  He is as dependable as the fog in my part of town and unfailingly cheerful.  Richard works hard hauling his sack of mail from door to door and puts my mail on hold when we go on vacation.  I reward him with a bottle of wine, but it hardly seems adequate for the valuable service he provides.

Some of the finger pointing over the post office’s financial straits has been directed at e-mail, which has replaced traditional letter writing.  I disagree.  I think the telephone rendered most letter writing obsolete a long time ago.  Now we e-mail or text when we don’t want to pick up the phone.

Personally, I try not to write anything personal in e-mails.  Why?  Because they can be forwarded with a click of a mouse.  Has this ever happened to you?  I know I’ve received a few e-mails that the sender would have preferred I not see.  I especially enjoy the drunken e-mails sent around midnight.  I haven’t seen a lot of them, just enough to inspire a tortured scene of degradation and disgrace in my first novel.

And then there’s the “Reply All” e-mail.  I plead guilty of using “Reply All,” but do so sparingly and reluctantly.  It never ceases to amaze me that people think their replies interest the collective e-universe.   Do all 15 recipients really need to know that SallySue is not available Tuesday or Wednesday because she is booked in high-level meetings, but that she could, if pressed, squeeze us in Friday?

While snail mail lacks the instant gratification that e-mail offers, I think it still has its place in civilized society and deserves our support.   Few services positively impact the taxpayer the way that our postal service does.   I can’t think of too many businesses that provide door to door service for 44 cents.

Since the early 1980s, the U.S. Postal Service has not received direct tax subsidies except for costs associated with accommodating disabled and overseas voters.  In other words, it has paid for itself until now.   There are a variety of complicated reasons for the USPS’ financial woes, but I am reluctant to alienate my handful of readers with my opinions any further.  Suffice to say, our mail carriers were not bundling subprime loans in their mailbags.

The James A. Farley Post Office in New York City bears the famous inscription that has become synonymous with our mail carriers:  “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  Apparently, only Congress has the power to get in their way.

Enjoy the Marvelletes’  “Please Mr. Postman.”   I don’t think my Internet server could inspire lyrics that yearn like this song does.


Application Season

‘Tis the season for applications at the Crowley home.  My daughter is applying to high school and my son is applying to college.  I am cooking a lot of food.  When my kids hunker down to do extended schoolwork or in this case, extended applications, I function like a combination cheerleader and short-order cook.  I check on my kids occasionally, talk them off the ledge if they are despairing, and provide liberal servings of turkey and grilled cheese sandwiches and steak fajitas.  This gives my son and daughter the strength to complete their tasks and I feel immense satisfaction that I am contributing on some level to their success.

Mention the word “application” and parents of teens shudder.  In my day, I applied to two colleges.  I was going to apply to a third, but the essay seemed like too much trouble and I felt confident that I would be accepted to one of my first two choices.  Times have changed.  My son will probably apply to nine colleges, which is considered on the low side.  The common application AKA “the common app” is supposed to alleviate some of the tedious data entry, but only four of the colleges to which he is applying accept the common app.

Some of the application questions elude me.  For example, my daughter has been asked to identify her favorite quote.   If I were asked this question, I would be dumbstruck.  The ability to summon up a favorite quotation represents a major hole in my education.  I can tell you the lyrics of a number of Top 40 songs that ruled the charts between 1970 and 1981 especially any Carly Simon, James Taylor or Carole King hits.  I specialize in these three artists’ recordings.

But I was never asked to memorize a single literary quote in my long education.  Now it’s too late because my memory is shot.  Anything from my life that I remember took place between the ages of 10 and 21.  I don’t know what happened to my brain after that, but I never learned all the words to a favorite song again, let alone a poem or quote from literature.

Sometimes I feel intimidated when I read a book that uses a lot of quotes from other sources.  I wonder, “Do these authors annotate everything they read and if so, where do they find the time, or do they have amazing memories, or do they just Google a lot?”   Personally, I Google a lot.  I’m not proud of this, but let’s face it, everyone does it.  I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag without Google and my virtual Thesaurus.

I do have a few sayings that I draw upon, and naturally they’re from my mother who could quote Shakespeare if prompted, even though her daughter can’t.   They’re more like Patsy proverbs because that was my mom’s name and her words communicated useful thoughts like a proverb does.   She often told me, “Simplicity is the key to style,” advice I have taken to the extreme at times.

My mom also told me “not to get attached to material things,” counsel that I did not appreciate when it was dispensed but has carried me through many a disappointment.

I think if admissions officers really want to understand the essence of a student, they should ask them to identify and interpret a memorable quote from a parent or caregiver.   The variety of responses would open up a Pandora’s Box of emotions.  One thing I know for sure, you can’t Google those memories.

Here’s one of my favorite songs from Carole King.  I could sing this song in my sleep and probably have, just in case you were wondering.


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