Attack of the Pinktober Sharks

It’s not even October yet.

About ten days ago, I got a call first thing in the morning on my house phone. The people I really want to hear from usually call me on my cellphone, and telemarketers are the folks who usually call the house phone. But occasionally, one of my doctors will call the house phone, and I was waiting on some test results (again), so I picked up the phone.

“Hello?” I said, and waited. I didn’t hear any background voices or any of those funny noises that herald an auto-dialer. So far, so good.

“Is this Ms. Kolb?” A female voice.

I never answer that question directly. If they ask, “Is this Mrs. Kolb, I usually say, “There’s no Mrs. Kolb here,” which is the literal truth, and hang up. What I said this time was, “Who’s calling, please?”

“My name is Hoozit Something-or-other. I’m a representative from Corporations for Character and I’m calling on behalf of the Breast Cancer Financial Assistance Fund. Many women with breast cancer suffer a significant financial impact and need help to pay their bills. Blah, blah, blah…”

I interrupted her. “I’m only going to say this once, so just listen, don’t say another word, and grab your pencil. I don’t know how you got my name or number, but I have some ideas. I’m one of those women with breast cancer who’ve suffered a significant financial impact. I’m going to give you an email address, so write this down. You are welcome to email me some information and links, and I will review and research them, and if I decide you are legitimate, I may write a blog post about your organization. And if I decide you are NOT legitimate, I’ll write about that…”

Foolishly, she interrupted me. She was not, I’m certain, waiting with her pencil poised to take down my email address.

“Oh! I’m so sorry! You are just the sort of person we’re trying to reach. Our organization…blah, blah, blah…”

“I told you not to say another word. Would you like my email address or not?”

“…and we’re trying to raise more funds and get the word out to the thousands of women in this country that…”

“You’re not listening, are you? Neither am I. Don’t ever call me again.” Slam. The great thing about still having a regular phone is that you can slam it when you hang up on someone.

Sharks and tornadoes.

I’ve researched the legitimacy of countless breast cancer organizations, including those who offer financial help. There’s no doubt that many of us go broke having cancer and could use some cash while we’re waiting for a cure. [See Broke: The Cost of Breast Cancer.] The last time I googled ‘breast cancer organizations,’ I got nine million hits. When I googled ‘breast cancer charity organizations list’ just now, I got three-and-a-half million hits. A lot of those hits were for groups that monitor such charities and who attempt to separate the good from the dross. Needless to say, it’s impossible for one blogger to keep up with the dross.

But after that ridiculous phone call, I did look up the Breast Cancer Financial Assistance Fund. Their website is in ‘maintenance mode.’ But I did find this: One of the Nation’s Worst Charities: Right Here!, a post published by the Utah Better Business Bureau just this year on April 22, 2014. And this, by Maggie Freleng, Breast Cancer Scams: The Worst Charities Include 5 Pink Types, posted a year ago. The bottom line is that the BCFAF is essentially a scam group that is part of another scam group called the Cancer Fund of America. From the BBB article:

BCFAF not only has been the subject of numerous legal actions by government entities, it was recently spotlighted in a detailed investigative report by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting as the Second Worst Charity in the United States. Cancer Fund of America also known as BCFAF was also the subject of a 2009 news warning from BBB in St. Louis.[...]

BBB research shows that Cancer Fund of America, also known as, BCFAF hired Corporations for Character to solicit for donations via telephone. According to the 2012 IRS Form 990 for Cancer Fund of America, also known as BCFAF, Corporations for Character raised $448,276 and kept $410,996 with $37,280 (or a little over 8%) going to the charity.

Corporations for Character and Feature Films for Families are also the subject of a May 9, 2011, complaint in which the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice allege the defendants made 16 million calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry and misrepresented how funds would be used.

Just to add insult to injury, I had also just received a snailmail solicitation from Bank of America for their Pink Ribbon BankAmericard MasterCard. Bank of America has earned its own list of reports about fraudulent practices, including this, by Mike Taibbi of Rolling Stone, about BOA’s role in the 2008 economic crisis: Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail. However, never let it be said that corporate pinkwashing has gone out of style. According to BOA’s webpage, if you get their Pink Ribbon credit card, you can

Join the fight against breast cancer and earn cash back, too[...] For each new Susan G. Komen®-branded credit card account opened and activated, Komen receives a minimum of $3 and 0.20% of all net retail purchases made with the card. For example, 20 cents for every $100. Komen also receives $1 for each annual renewal of the card.

Wow, a whole two tenths of a percent! I mean, just think how many useless pink tchotchkes you could buy with $100! And with 20 cents going to Komen, that cure ought to be discovered any day now, eh?

People, the sharks are out there. And they’ve started early.

A few alternate suggestions. These folks will spend your donations legitimately:
Breast Cancer Action; see their Think Before You Pink page.
METAvivor, which funds research for metastatic breast cancer.

Oh, and apologies to the Sharknado folks for altering your poster. ;)

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I’m Too Young to Be This Age

This is sixty?

I’ve been sixty for about ten weeks now, and I still don’t know what I think of it. For the past ten years, I’ve been steadfastly tossing membership invitations from the AARP in the shredder. Wouldn’t be strictly accurate for me to join. The initials, after all, originally stood for the American Association of Retired Persons. And I’m not a retired person. Not yet.

Mine is the generation whose members are mostly unable to afford to retire as soon as we might wish to. We might live for 2, 3 or even 4 more decades yet, heaven help us. We occupy the Sandwich Generation. Some of us are still helping our kids pay off college loans while looking after elderly parents who can’t live alone any longer. We tend to be over-mortgaged and under-pensioned. Some of us try to retire and then have to return to work because we have trouble making ends meet, even with Social Security. It’s not pretty. But it’s not all dire either.

After all, a lot has changed since my mother was my age. She would never, for instance, have gotten a tattoo for her 55th birthday, or for any birthday in fact. I recall that menopause seemed to hit her a lot harder than it hit me. She hated the insomnia. When I had insomnia, I’d just get up and teach myself a few more tricks in Photoshop. When her back started bothering her, my mom took yoga classes. Me, I took tango and salsa lessons. I would take three one-hour classes in a row on Friday nights, Beginning Tango followed by Beginning & Intermediate Salsa. One night, a tall, rangy lad in Salsa II was sharing a new double twirl move he’d figured out in a Salsa club. I’d been getting twirled for two-and-a-half hours by then, but I practiced the double-twirl with him till I had it down. And then suddenly had to sit down and remain very, very still for several minutes so I wouldn’t hurl. It was a fantastic evening.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my kneecaps have started making a funny, crunchy noise when I bend them. We physical therapists have a word for this noise. We call it crepitus. The word is as hideous as the sound it makes, but it’s not necessarily the end of the world. Not yet. I can still get up from a full squat, but sometimes it does hurt a little. With an air of wry tragedy, however, I called one of the local orthopods I know and left a message for his secretary to book me an appointment. Meanwhile, I’ve given myself a physical therapy regimen — strengthening and stretching exercises. I’d like to have an X-ray so I can see if there’s anything ugly going on in there so far. Just to have a little advanced warning, you know. Forewarned is forearmed and all that.

For years, one of my bellwethers has been Rene Russo. Rene and I were born in the same year, although she turned sixty about seven weeks before I did. I’ve always liked her attitude. She was 45 when she starred with Pierce Brosnan in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair.’ I found it encouraging at the time that another middle-aged white chick with longish, reddish-brown hair could still be such a hottie. This photo of her was apparently taken when she was 59. I notice that, like me, she’s added some blond highlights to her hair coloring. Helps hide the gray roots better. She’s got those neck lines like I have, and that extra half-chin when she smiles, and crow’s feet. Still, she looks wonderful. And normal. And human. Rumor has it that she’s had a little facial plastic surgery, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Judging by the absence of vertical lines between her eyebrows, it may be true that she’s had a little botox and some laser work. No matter, though. I have no doubt that the back of Rene Russo’s arms start to look like wadded up crepe paper if she goes without moisturizer for a day. Some things are just unavoidable. I’m not likely to resort to botox, but I bleach some of my sun spots. And if I slather on enough baby oil, that crepe paper thing goes away. You do what you can.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve suddenly decided that I have too much stuff. Well, except maybe books and music. And since they can, if one prefers, be had in e-form, and thus don’t need extra shelf space, technically, they don’t count as ‘stuff.’ No, I mean everything else. Clothes, picture frames, gewgaws, dishes, furniture. Even power tools. I just have too much stuff. I’ve spent much of this year unloading as much of it as I can. The Big Sisters are quite fond of me these days. My neighbors look forward to what I’m going to leave at the end of my driveway.

Speaking of clothes, I have begun to hear myself asking a truly ghastly question as I sort through my drawers and closets. That question is: ‘Am I too old to wear this now?’ Dear gawd. This is applied to everything from certain hemlines to tank tops to anything that is too clingy. The bikinis got tossed decades ago. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s hung around, waiting for me to decide if a certain item makes me look extremely fortunate or like a damned idiot. I’ve kept my tight jeans and my red high heels. I’m not so sure about that paisley, halter, mini-dress.

In the meantime, to get down to what truly matters, I’m very grateful to have known so many kind, lovely, funny, intelligent, creative people over the years. And I do want to thank those of you who’ve hung in there with me through any portion of the past sixty years, especially the last five or six since the you-know-what suckage. I very much appreciate those of you who still genuinely care about me, and who don’t get on my nerves, and who employ decent grammar, and who aren’t ill-informed gits who get their health advice from people like Dr. Oz. Oh, I kept all my lipstick, by the way. So, a big mwah from me. I’ll let you know when I get around to throwing the party.

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Komen & Kohl’s Klueless Kampaign

I’m sorry to have to report that my blog either got hacked or was attacked by gremlins, and this post — and all the comments readers kindly left — mysteriously disappeared from my database.

Once I’ve picked myself up off the floor from the shock, I will try to reconstruct it. This is just to serve as a spaceholder for the links back to the original post that others have generously posted elsewhere.

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The Great Christmas Cookie Caper

In many ways, my mom and dad were very brave, remarkably tolerant parents, bless them. For instance, perhaps against all common sense, I was allowed to learn how to cook, by myself, by the age of seven. It wasn’t Cordon Bleu cuisine, but I could manage quite edible scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast, and even pancakes without burning down the house. The deal was that I could mess up the kitchen as much as I found necessary, but I had to clean it up afterwards.

At the age of ten, I decided it was time to try something more complicated, something that involved chocolate, something ‘from scratch’ — that exciting phrase that meant a cook had truly arrived. Cupcakes from mixes and instant pudding from boxes no longer satisfied my ambitions. Somewhat unwisely, I chose to try an old recipe that my great-aunt May had cut out of a newspaper decades earlier for chocolate meringue pie. No instant anything. A single pie crust was involved, which of course stuck to my hands, but managed to fit the pie pan nonetheless. I also had to learn to separate eggs. The egg yolks went into the chocolate pudding, along with the melted baking chocolate. The whites went into the meringue. I liked the culinary balance of that. It seemed at the time that cooking chocolate pudding from scratch took an eternity of stirring over a hot stove, but I pressed onward, and magically, about a year later, the pudding thickened. The final results — rich, dark, melt-in-your-mouth pudding, topped with fluffy clouds of meringue, perched in a flaky, albeit uneven, crust — were a revelation. Subsequently, I could only sneer at boxes of Jello instant pudding and store-bought pie. There was no turning back.

By the age of thirteen, I was an old hand in the kitchen. And that grand opportunity for culinary excess, Christmas, was around the corner. I found an ad in a magazine for a lovely set of copper Christmas cookie cutters, with a recipe book for various options, including decorated roll-and-cut sugar cookies, plus a set of frosting tips and a pastry bag for decorating them. I sent in a money order, and about three weeks before Christmas, my package arrived. The cookie cutter shapes were supposed to represent an international theme, with designs from various European countries. That added to their cachet, in my opinion. No snowmen or bells or wreaths or even Santa shapes. Instead, a reindeer for Finland, a fleur-de-lis for France, a windmill for Holland. I’ve forgotten what countries the other shapes were supposed to represent, but one can make some educated guesses.

The following Saturday, I decided to try everything out. Wisely, my mother decided this would be a good time to get out of the house and do some grocery shopping. The cookie recipe stated that the yield was for 2 to 3 dozen cookies, which hardly seemed enough, so I doubled it. Later, it occurred to me that perhaps the yield prediction was based on using much larger cookie cutters. In any case, I proceeded to assemble my ingredients. I was reasonably organized about it, and since the cookies only took about 7 minutes to bake, I had quite a production line going along the kitchen counter, with a rolling and cutting area, a baking sheet area, and a cooling rack area. Very soon, I ran out of counter space, so I began to move racks of cooling cookies to the dining room table. Six or ten racks later, the dining table was full, so I placed the last few dozen cookies to cool on the credenza in the living room. I’m not sure how it happened, but some sort of biblical miracle appeared to have taken place, and I ended up far exceeding the expected cookie yield. By the time my mother arrived home from shopping, there were 12 dozen cookies cooling all over the house.

With a full brown paper grocery bag in each arm, my mother shoved her way through the back door and into the kitchen. Not unlike Mary and Joseph, seeking accommodations in Bethlehem, she surveyed the kitchen counter and realized there was no room at the inn. She was not overly alarmed at that point, and deftly took a right turn into the dining room. And halted.

I still endeavored to be a considerate child then, and rushed to her side to wrestle a grocery bag from her arm.

“Um, I, um, ended up with a lot more cookies than I thought I would,” I said, somewhat unnecessarily.

My mother remained speechless for a very long minute, while several emotions played over her face. We made our way into the living room, where my mother looked at the credenza, then at me, then back at the dining table, then at the grocery bags, and back at me again. I’m fairly certain of the gist of the conflicting thoughts running through her mind at that moment. They were not new thoughts. One of them was, “I should be used to the way her projects take over the house by now.” Another was, “Well, I’ve got to hand it to her, she’s ambitious.” Still another was, “I don’t know where she gets it from. She doesn’t take after me.” The final amalgam of these thoughts produced an expression of bemused resignation. I’d seen this look many times. As usual, I didn’t know whether to apologize or grin.

“I’ll just clear some of the cookies off the dining table,” I offered. “They should be cooled by now.”

“Oh, never mind. We can just put the bags on the dining chairs,” she said. “You don’t have cookies on the chairs, do you?”

“Uh, no.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Here, take this bag and put the milk in the refrigerator.”

Eventually, the groceries got put away, and the cookies got carefully arranged in layers on a couple of large trays, between sheets of waxed paper. Naturally, I had to clean up the kitchen, which took some considerable labor, and we had to eat dinner that night. So, I thought it wise to postpone the decorating portion of the program until Sunday afternoon.

Decorating 12 dozen cookies turned out to be less entertaining than I thought it would. At first, it was splendidly fun whipping up butter cream frosting, separating it into little bowls, dyeing it different colors, and trying out all the decorative frosting tips. Tucked in amongst this array, spread across the entire dining table, were little containers of cinnamon hearts, colored sugar crystals, and chocolate jimmies. Each cookie, like an art canvas, required a gesso foundation of plain frosting, onto which I applied various realistic details.

My mother strolled through the dining room from time to time, glancing at my progress.

“How much butter and sugar have you gone through?” she asked at one point.

“Uh, I think maybe a couple of pounds,” I said.

“Of each!?

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Well, I hope you realize this is coming out of your allowance.”

I managed to decorate about six dozen cookies, with judicious breaks for tasting them, before my hands started to cramp up. I took another break and ate a few more cookies — they were delicious, I admit — but my will and imagination were faltering. I had to throw in the towel for a few days.

It took about another week to finish decorating them all. I had to give up on the notion of artistic purity, and convinced a few of my girlfriends to help me out after school. At first, they were delighted at the prospect, but I discovered that their enthusiasm wavered much more quickly than mine, after perhaps a dozen or so cookies. I won’t say that I came to hate Christmas cookies. They were my creation, after all. But by the last dozen or three, my girlfriends and I lapsed into making rude jokes about them. And admittedly, those final cookies were not the creative masterpieces they might have been.

I also discovered that there was a limited number of potential cookie recipients in my immediate circle of friends and family. No one really wanted more than a dozen or two. Between snacking and gifting, I managed to dispatch about six or eight dozen of them. I was so tired of them all by then that I didn’t want to keep any more of them myself, a decision with which my mother heartily concurred. In the end, about a week before Christmas, my father drove me and the final four dozen cookies to the local hospital, where they were accepted perhaps more enthusiastically than the fruitcakes, fudge, and pies that other festively-minded citizens had already pressed upon the staff. “We’ll bring these to the children’s ward,” one of the nurses assured me. “Kids don’t really like fruitcake.”

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