The Label I’m Not Understanding

Comments Off on The Label I’m Not Understanding

Department Of Grief And Relief

I’m thinking about my friends, JWW and MW.  MW’s mother, Molly (a lovely Irish name for a lovely Irish-American lady) died last Monday, after a long physical and mental decline.  Molly was never officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but had significant memory and cognitive problems over the past decade. After her husband died she lived with MW’s sister for several years,  then came to stay with MW and JWW.



Molly was a sweet woman, and maintained her gentle and loving disposition (she was a favorite at the Memory Care center MW & JWW eventually found for her, in a nearby town), and did not seem to descend into the fear and anger that can affect people with memory problems. It was sweet, watching MW and JWW interact with Molly, showing her unqualified patience and love. But as is often the case with an elderly parent who can no longer live independently, love cannot conquer all. MW & JWW realized they could not provide Molly with the safe, 24/7 care she needed, which was made evident to them in many ways over many months, particularly on the day when JWW came downstairs to discover that Molly had removed her favorite polyester shirt from the dryer, put it on, and realized it was still damp. It seemed perfectly reasonable to Molly to finish drying her shirt – while she was wearing it – by holding her arms over an open flame on the stove…which is how JWW found her (fortunately, before Molly set herself on fire).

Now, MW & JWW find themselves in that odd life stage, as I was with the death of my own mother: between grief and relief.  Such a strange feeling, also – to find yourself feeling both sad and somewhat amused by the fact that you feel like an orphan in your 60s.  All the orphans of classic literature were way younger, right?





*   *   *

Department Of Tricky Questions, Trickier Answers

Developmentally delayed.

Dateline: earlier this week, doing an am workout in our family room, listening to a podcast story.  The afore-mentioned description – developmentally delayed  –  was used in the podcast to describe the podcast story narrator’s brother, who had a broad list of cognitive and emotional impediments.  MH entered the room just in time to hear the term DD. He paused for a moment, then posed a question (to the universe, as much as to moiself), “What does that mean?”

He was not exactly being rhetorical.  I knew that he knew what DD meant…then began to think beyond what I thought I knew…and, really, what does it mean?

I told him a few of the emotional and cognitive defects (of the narrator’s brother) which had been mentioned in the podcast ,and offered my opinion that the DD label, in the particular case of that podcast and in what has become its common usage, is it meant to replace an older term which has now entered the retirement home of words-not-to-be-used-due-to-derogatory-potential: “mentally retarded.”



The concept and label of mental retardation was widely used, by both laypersons and medical professionals, up until relatively recently.   [1]

In the 1950s the word retarded was progressive, an improvement over feebleminded, imbecile, moron. It shares a root with ritardando, a musical term meaning a gradual decrease in tempo. Think: the musicians’ fingers letting the moments stretch between their notes.
To retard, to slow down. As in: Your baby’s growth is retarded.
But retarded soon came to mean dumb or incompetent. As in: I just lost my phone. I’m so retarded.
(from “The R-Word,” by Heather Kirn Lanier, The Sun )


MH and I began to wonder aloud with one another (one of our more frequent conversational formats) about the fact that although the term developmentally delayed may be less open to derogatory usage by laypersons, it isn’t very helpful in the way that all terminology is supposed to be: by being specific or descriptive.

Close-to-the-heart example: My friend FP is blind. FP once told me about her scornful objection to the term visually impaired.  In FP’s experience, some Well-Meaning People ®  think the word blind is somehow insulting. One WMP actually corrected FP when FP described herself as blind: “Oh, you mean you’re ‘visually impaired?’ “


“Hell no, I mean, I’m BLIND.”


To FP, “blind” is merely, vitally factual:  I’m not simply “impaired,” I’m blind, and that is important for people to know. It’s not that I just see things dimly or unclearly – I don’t see them at all, so when I ask for directions to the bathroom and you tell me it’s ten steps ahead but don’t tell me that there is an ottoman in the way I will trip over it and break my #*%!? nose.

Delay, in its various noun/verb/adverb/adjective forms, involves actions or objects that are postponed and hindered. But delay also carries with it the possibility of catching up.  In describing people as having developmental delays, the term is so broad/vague as to provide little functional information: I have heard it applied to a 4th grader with mild dyslexia as well as to a young adult born with such severe brain deficits he has never been able to communicate, much less toilet, feed and care for himself and thus has required 24 hour professional/institutional care since his toddlerhood.

The scope of conditions categorized under the label intellectual disabilities is broad, and with early intervention the outcomes for many developmentally delayed children (who is the past may have been labeled mentally retarded) is much brighter than in decades ago. But it’s not as if, say, the boy with Down Syndrome is merely delayed academically when compared with his older sister, who is taking calculus as a junior in high school.  It’s not as if, Sure, he’s behind now, but he’ll catch up one day and do higher mathematics – it’ll just take him a few years longer.

What would be an alternative, more accurate label: developmentally compromised ?  It doesn’t seem like there could be any term that would be acceptable to all, or even most people   [2] …and maybe that’s the point.  Here’s a realization worthy of a Hallmark Channel movie: treat everyone as individuals; no one label can tell you all of the strengths or disabilities (excuse me, challenges?   [3] ) facing a particular person.

Still…today’s “She has a developmental delay” isn’t ultimately more informative than yesterday’s, “He has a mental retardation.”

And of course, Things Being What They Are ® , MH and moiself both felt somewhat… awkward…even discussing the issue, just the two of us, no language cops in sight.



*   *   *

Department Of A Headline That Is So Evocative Why Bother
Reading The Newspaper Article – Just Use Your Imagination
Because Whatever You Come Up With Is Bound To Be As (If Not More)
 Entertaining Than The Real Story


“Children Removed From A Facility That Limited Tampons”

(The Oregonian, 3-29-19)


This has nothing to do with the headline, but imagine a picture that did?


*   *   *

Department Of No April Foolin’

Yet another story inspired by a story I was listening to – this one on April 1, courtesy of NPR’s All Things Considered:  How Vanity License Plates Are Approved and Denied in California.

Dateline: sometime in 1980; moiself is down in SoCal, visiting my parents. My mother shows me a newspaper clipping, about an employee of the newspaper (The Orange County Register) who had recently won an “argument” with the California DMV.  “Don’t you know this guy?” my mother asks me.

I scan the article. “Peter?!” I burst out laughing. “Yeah, I know that Schmuck.”


Peter looks nothing like a baby sloth in pajamas, but I don’t have a recent photo of him.


I went to high school with He Who Was To Become sportswriter/columnist Peter Schmuck. He graduated the year before me; we had mutual friends (mostly the high school journalism crew) but didn’t know each other well. Moiself, like some of his peers, I’d guess, initially pitied then almost immediately admired or at least respected Peter, for having to deal with a first-last name combination considered redundant. Many of us who knew him attributed Peter’s sense of humor and in-your-face attitude – a combination of sarcasm and assertiveness sometimes bordering on aggression  [4] – to having grown up with that name.  It seems PS would at least partially agree with that sentiment, as per his interview with fellow journalist Steve Marantz:

“I‘m the only person in the world who thinks it was a big advantage to grow up with the last name Schmuck.. I’m pretty sure the distinctiveness of the name has helped me throughout my career. It also has given me a thicker skin – in a ‘Boy Named Sue’ kind of way – in a business where that isn’t a bad thing to have.”

I am not wandering off on yet another digression. Here comes the newspaper article/DMV story tie-in:

In 1980 Peter (or, his girlfriend at the time, as Peter has said) applied for a vanity license plate with his last name on it. That was the subject of the newspaper article my mother showed me: Peter Schmuck had been denied the vanity plate SCHMUCK because, in a letter the DMV sent to Peter, the DMV claimed schmuck was a Yiddish indecency.

I found that whole incident to be wonderfully WTF-ish to the nth (thank you, NPR, for the memory prod).  I still smile to picture a state government flunkie whose job it was to tell a person that the person’s given/authentic/legal surname was indecent (Dude, you’re the DMV! Look up his driver’s license, IT’S HIS NAME).

As well as his first 15 minutes of fame, Peter Schmuck got his license plate. Yes, the Good Guy prevailed in The Great License Plate Indecency Skirmish. I saw it on Peter’s car (which, if memory serves, he referred to as the Schmuckmobile).  Following his stint at The Register, Peter moved East and landed a long-time gig as a sports reporter and columnist for The Baltimore Sun.  I forgot to ask Peter, when I saw him at a Baltimore Orioles home game oh-so-many years ago, whether he got the state of Maryland to issue him a new plate.


Or, in a hitherto unknown (to moiself) assignment, did Peter spend some time covering the great sport of Iditarod?

*   *   *

May you, when it is your turn, find a graceful way to navigate between grief and relief;
May you be careful with your labels and also patient with those who use them;
May your choice of vanity license plates bring joy to the simple-minded masses;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *


[1] In 2010 President Barack Obama signed “Rosa’s Bill,” (approved unanimously by Congress), which required the federal government to replace the terms “mental retardation” “and “mentally retarded” with, respectively,  “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in policy documents.

[2] And trust me, when you get rid of “retard/retardation” it is replaced by turning the supposedly gentler term into a pejorative: “What are you, a special needs” kid?” which I heard, pronounced with multisyllabic sarcasm, along with “learning disabled” et al, on my childrens’ school yard playgrounds. Never doubt the ability of a grade schooler to turn the most well-intentioned label into a slur.

[3] Another adjective I’ve heard both embraced and mocked, and by people supposedly on the same side of the disability rights movement.  “Intellectually Challenged” – that’s me, trying to follow a chess match.

[4] Translation:  in high school, I thought him somewhat of an asshole. I figured he likely held the same opinion about me. Later on, I came to be, and still am, quite fond of him.

The Cheesecake I’m Not Serving

Comments Off on The Cheesecake I’m Not Serving

The new line drawing is here!  The new line drawing is here! [1]

Scarletta Press‘s managing editor/idea guru Nora Evans came up with a wonderful idea to cap off the cover design of my book.  Instead of using the standard, black & white thumbnail photos of the author and artists she’ll have The Mighty Quinn’s illustrators, Aaron and Katie DeYoe, do line drawings of the author and artists, in the style of the book’s text illustrations.

I’ve always wanted to attain artist’s rendering status.  The Picasso-esque [2] sketch college roommate LMW drew of me ~ 30 years ago doesn’t count.

The picture will be something ala this style, without the spaghetti-flinging.

*   *   *

Insert your own, favorite (and graceful) segue here.  ‘Cause I’m all out of ’em.

One of the most intricate, fascinating, and overlooked (IMHO) aspects of The Gun Thing ®  is the research into what happens during actual gunfights; i.e., real, live human beings shooting at one another, as opposed to dueling computer game avatars, one-shot-takedown cinematic secret agents, or politicians shooting off their mouths.

No matter what you think you think about the various proposals to have armed guards in every nook and cranny and orifice in America, it would be worthwhile to acquaint yourself with “Your Brain Under Fire,” (Time Magazine, January 28 issue). This article gives an overview of the science behind how your brain reacts when you are shot at, or when you shoot at someone.  It’s a fascinating read – a mere three pages of text, should only take ten minutes of your time.  Or twice that if you are a NASCAR fan or were home-schooled at the Michele Bachmann Academy of Historical Reading Comprehension [3] or are a regular viewer of Toddlers & Tiaras.

*   *   *

Sitting on our counter is a delicious slice of Marionberry [4] goodness.  Not as in His royal badness, former DC mayor, Marion Barry

What’s on the counter is the remainder of a piece of Marionberry pie I hid in the freezer a couple of weeks ago (I wanted a taste of it before my son K used his I’m-returning-to-college-tomorrow excuse to finish it off).   Mere words cannot describe the berryliciousness of this treat, but since I’m not a fan of interpretive dance, language will have to suffice.  Yummers.

For the past x weeks we’ve been the beneficiaries of friend LAH’s project to cook her way through Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More, the cookbook from Portland’s legendary chef, restaurateur and James Beard Award winner, Cory Schreiber.  We’ve had fruit cobbler in the refrigerator, chocolate cake on the table, and more.  We’ve had cheesecake on the counter…but none in the boudoir.

Cheesecake in the boudoir

Believe it or not, Ripley, this particular segue will eventually make sense.

Televangelist Pat Robertson, arguably the first person to survive a partial brain abortion, has fought a lifelong battle with chronic AIM (ass-in-mouth) syndrome.  The unintentionally comical Robertson  can always be counted on to produce a bizarre brain boner during a slow news week.

Robertson’s face-palm worthy howlers have included attributing same sex attraction to evil spirits , earthquakes to voodootropical cyclones to legalized abortion , endorsing wife-beating and nuking the State Department .  The latest manifestation of his AIM comes in the form of his blaming “awful looking women” for marital monotony.

Which, of course, made me think of cheesecake in the boudoir.

*   *   *

Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it.
(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Letters)

As an adolescent growing up with politically conservative parents, I looked at friends’ copies of the LA Times for actual news reportage, and read the Orange County Register [5], the only newspaper in our household, for entertainment. Besides The Register’s editorial page, few of its regular features were more entertaining than The Worry Clinic, a syndicated advice column written by George Crane .

The Worry Clinic was a six days a week venture for Dr. Crane:  two days to worry about love and marriage, and one day each devoted to worrying about business, child-rearing, personality development, and what Crane called “mental hygiene.” (As Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Green noted, apparently Dr. Crane saved the seventh day so that he could worry himself, after worrying for everyone else the other six days.).

I don’t remember if The Register printed all of The Worry Clinic columns; I do remember they ran the ones that dealt with relationships and child-reading.  Dr. Crane, who somehow managed to receive several degrees from Northwestern University, liked to say that he learned most of what he needed to know working as a farm hand during summer vacations from high school and college. It showed.

Each of The Worry Clinic‘s columns was illustrated with a line drawing of a woman and/or a man, whose clothing and hairstyles were 1940-50s suburban caricatures.  No matter that it was the 1970s, few men sported hats, let alone fedoras, and women/housewives (the terms were synonymous in Dr. Crane’s world) seldom wore Betty Boop dresses and pearl necklaces when doing the dishes.

My parents clipped select TWC columns and scotch-taped them on that most passive-aggressive of family communication devices: the refrigerator door.  I penciled snarky comments next to the columns’ particularly flaming, WTF? passages, and enhanced the illustrations with moustaches and googly eyes.  I was never called on that vandalism editorializing by my parents, who therefore, I reasoned, never re-read the columns they’d taken the time to clip and post.  The postings themselves were evidence that my parents read TWC, and for different reasons than I, who used them as a horrifying/amusing, negative barometer of sorts. Indeed, Crane’s “advice” provided many of the formative, click moments that reinforced my growing feminist understanding of the world.

 There was certain egalitarianism to Crane’s counsel.  No matter if the advice seeker was man or woman, young or old – TWC advice, in a nutshell, [6] consisted of three tenets:

1.  If wives are not slavishly praising their husbands they are nagging their husbands.
There is no  in-between.
2. All marital/family discord is due to wives not serving their husbands
enough “cheesecake in the boudoir.”
3. See (2)

Your husband ridiculed your father’ s re-telling of his How I Single-handedly Won the Battle of Iwo Jima story during Christmas dinner, and now your parents aren’t speaking to you? You obviously aren’t serving your husband enough Cheesecake in the boudoir. 

Your children are doing C- work at school and smart-mouthing you at home?  The wife should be serving her mate more Cheesecake in the boudoir. 

Although you correct them at every opportunity, your in-laws refer to your disabled daughter as “that cutesy-wootsy Mongoloid?”  Hubby needs Cheesecake in the boudoir.

Ashamed by your failure to be a loving husband after you criticized your wife for developed a bleeding ulcer when your son returned from the Vietnam War a heroin-addicted, double amputee?   Your wife needs to serve you more Cheesecake in the boudoir.  

Boudoir-free Cheesecake

This crust-free version has way less calories and fat grams, and thus less guilt (pre- or post-feminist), than your typical cheesecake.

– ½ c sugar
– 2 T all purpose unbleached flour
– ½ T pure vanilla
-16 oz Neufchatel or nonfat cream cheese, softened
-2 whole eggs
-3 ounces sweet baking chocolate, melted. (optional). [7]

1. preheat oven to 325.  Put a kettle of water on to boil.
2. Combine sugar, flour, vanilla & cream cheese in a mixing bowl.  Use an electric beater on medium speed to mix the ingredients until they are well-blended.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
3. lightly oil or spray four 5 oz custard cups with neutral [8] cooking spray/oil.  Place cups in an 8″ or 9″ square baking pan.
4. poon cheesecake batter into the cups. Drizzle spoonfuls of the melted chocolate over the surface of the batter and use a toothpick or thin-bladed knife to make as many swirly chocolate designs as your foo-foo heart desires.
5. transfer pan to oven; add hot water to the pan, enough to come halfway up the sides of the cups.  Bake for 45 minutes.
6. Use oven mitts to oh-so-carefully remove the custard cups from what is now their very hot water bath.  The individual cheesecakes will be puffy, and will “fall” a bit as they cool.  When cool enough to handle, cover the cups and refrigerate them overnight, or at least for two hours.

Serve as is, or top with one or more of the following: slices of fresh berries, a dollop of lowfat sour cream or greek yogurt  whipped with vanilla or a dash of lemon juice, shavings of best quality dark chocolate, crushed peppermints or crumbled chocolate creme de menthe thins, (or for a real treat, Ghiradelli’s Peppermint Bark )

*   *   *

Department of StartingTo Sound Like The Old Folks

All together now:  How can it be February, already?

‘Tis a relatively brief but important month, filled with several way-cool happenings, including my daughter’s birthday (number 17, yikes). February 1 has hosted its share of significant cultural events. I shall mention only the most important two:

* the 1954 birth of writer-producer-musician-actor Bill Mumy, beloved by aficionados of bad sci-fi TV as Lost In Space‘s Will Robinson.

* the 1964  attempt by Indiana Governor Mathew Walsh to ban “Louie Louie” for obscenity. Really.  The FBI started an investigation into the matter and concluded, THIRTY ONE MONTHS LATER, that they were “unable to interpret any of the wording in the record.”  Of course, adults tittering over the need for such an investigation was like blowing a dog whistle to horny American teenagers,[9] who spent hours listening to the Kingman’s famously garbled hit single, trying to figure out what the Feds thought they heard and what the rest of us thought we’d missed.  Many a youthful fantasy was shattered when kids finally bought the sheet music for the song and discovered there was not a whole lotta shakin’ going on.

In hindsight, the Your Tax Dollars At Work department should have scheduled J. Edgar Hoover for a 5 minute tutoring session with a middle school grammar teacher, who could have explained to the closeted, cross-dressing, racist, evidence-planting, Commie-baiter defender of American Values the difference between obscenity and unintelligibility.

I would have paid good money to watch those hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

[1] Well, not quite yet.

[2] Cubist face; three eyes; one boob.

[3]  Iowa (January 2011) Bachmann declared: “We also know the very founders that wrote those documents (the US Constitution) worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States… Men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”  Not only did the writers of our constitution not “extinguish” slavery, they implicitly upheld the institution by regulating it.  And John Quincy Adams? He was extinguished in 1848, fifteen years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

[4] Yet another reason to love Oregon, home to the crossbreed Marionberry, released in 1956. A good year for blackberry hybrids. And Chevys. And women.

[5] Even my parents recognized that the libertarian-leaning OC Register was biased in its coverage of public schools. If I came home with a story about how an African-American student sassed a Chicano student for sneezing on his ‘fro pick during lunch recess, The Register would run a story the next day about how there was yet another race riot at Santa Ana High School.

[6] An appropriate container

[7] Are you allergic to chocolate? No? Then it’s not optional.  Who am I kidding?

[8] “Neutral” refers to the taste the oil imparts, and carries no political inference.  Neutral oils are nearly flavorless; olive oils have distinct flavors and are never neutral, even if the olives are from Sweden or Switzerland.

[9] Pardon the redundancy.