Monday, August 13, 2012

Rockin' the string tie

By Star Lawrence

As a columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper, I once dared to suggest that Arizonans were a little lacking in the sartorial department, sporting profanities on t-shirts and to me, an even greater profanity around the neck.

I refer to the ever-popular bola tie.

I believe I cheekily asked where the string-with-the- rock came from--“The Flintstones”?

First, in the cause of accuracy, I must note that Fred usually wore a nice Windsor-knotted number with his leopard-skin ensembles. He had other uses for rocks, as tires, for example.

Second, I had no idea that the bola tie was so beloved.

I have been rather starchily informed by several computer-lovin’ cowboys that the thing is even legislatively approved. Sure enough, in 1971, Barry Goldwater, with some assists from the Bola Tie Society of Arizona, convinced the Arizona Legislature to declare the bola tie Arizona’s “official neckwear.”

An online search reveals several variations in spelling and origins for this accessory. A bolo is a knife used in the Philippines and a bola is an animal leg tangler called a “boleadoros,” made of leather thongs, which is used in South America to bring down game.

I am going with the one with the strings, the bola, as the “official” spelling. (I can just see certain people who have written me this month starting to jump off their chairs, easy, easy.)

One website I dredged up was written by a man who declared all ties stupid, but the stupidest of all, he said, is the bolo (“o-speller”). He says a cowboy from Wickenburg (Vic Cedarstaff, if you must know) was riding the range in the 1940s, when his hat blew off. Before he could grab it, his horse either stomped it or defecated on it (the “truth” has been lost to history, blessedly) and all he had left was the band and a concho. He placed this around his neck for safekeeping, this gentleman says. One of his men, the story goes, then said “Nice necktie,” and a fashion statement was born.

Another version has Vic’s wife seeing this breath-taking piece of bling and being swept away.

Later, the story goes, “the hatband that crawled out from under some horse poop” was patented, then made official.

What I don’t get is why men who hate ties prefer an actual ligature. And I also don’t get why we have to have official neckwear. Do other states have official clothing items?

Well, maybe Texas. I believe the Stetson may be sanctioned headwear there, although some of my correspondents also took issue with my objections to cowboy hats worn indoors and tried to tell me that the “official” way to wear this “official” hat was to leave it on the “officious” head, even indoors. One reason given was that it is too big to set down someplace. Not buyin’ it.

Which brings me to the baseball cap. Recently, I read a rant by a guy (I assume) who said, “Guess what? You’re in Arizona, you’re in the west, we are allowed to carry guns and wear a hat. Have a nice day. Go back to California.”

OK, guys. You go for it. I suppose you have a scary “hat head” going under those caps. That might spoil our appetites, too.

And there is nothing like a gun-totin’, squooshed-haired guy north of 70 (yes, bola wearers seem to be old school) to trip the heart of us blondes.

Rock on!

The only thing I want to know is....

My question involves good ole Sheriff Joe...inquire at for the rest of the story.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

We don't need no stinking driving lessons

By Star Lawrence

I am (gulp) a non-driver. Yes, doctor, it goes back to my childhood. Dad teaching Mom to drive. Need I say more?

For most of my life I lived in Washington, where they have a dandy subway system and herds of taxis roam the streets. Life was good. In fact, people used to say, “You’re so smart not to drive.”

When I got to Arizona, that changed to: “You idiot, you need to drive.”

My first driving teacher pulled up in front of my house and told me to get behind the wheel. “Did your boss tell you I have a phobia?” I asked. “Shouldn’t we go to a parking lot?”

“You have fear?” he cried. “If you have fear, you will kill us both!”

My little inner voice was in hysterics. But I persisted.

“What is the first thing you do?” my teacher demanded.

“Fasten my seatbelt?”

“No! Turn on the air conditioner. This is Arizona. You will kill your baby!”

My baby?

Then, the teacher took out a clipboard and a marker and wrote a huge 85 on it in black and circled it in neon green. “What does this say?”


“Yes! Eighty-five percent of the people out there want to kill you! Remember that!”

He then made me drive on the busiest roads in the state for three hours. He pumped the dual controls, snatched at the wheel. He kept pointing out cars: “See that guy? He will kill you!” Every time he said this, he emphasized the word “will.”

I called the school and suggested they send a teacher with fewer…er, issues. The new guy let me circle cones in the parking lot of Dobson High. I was just gaining confidence, when the school fired me for not wanting to wait an extra hour for the instructor.

I called a second driving school. I was tooling around quite smoothly, when I mentioned that I didn’t like making left turns. “Oh, I know what you mean,” exclaimed my gray-haired teacher. “When I retire, I am never turning left again.”

The driving teacher won’t turn left. I took that as a sign and quit.

Brad Holmes, a former cop who has run a driving school for years, laughs at that one. He teaches 100 people a year, mainly teens, with six hours behind the wheel and 10 hours in the classroom.

What is the worst weakness of Arizona drivers, I asked Holmes. “Besides red light running and speeding? It’s the turn signal,” he replies. “I say, ‘See that thing? When you click it up, a light comes on….

What drivers don’t know—it’s sad. For the rest, contact me at

So you want to move to the desert

By Star Lawrence
Reprint rights, $15

I’m 8, behind the garage, planting corn. Into each hill, I insert a still-frozen Mrs. Paul’s fish stick, just like the Pilgrims used to do in the days before Home Depot. My mother is torqued and sends me to the store for more fish sticks.

Now, I am 25, wearing a daring bathrobe and planting scarlet runner beans on my balcony in downtown Washington, DC, overlooking the garden of the exclusive F Street Club. It’s the sixties. McGeorge Bundy and another gentleman I do not recognize lift their champagne glasses to me -- in what I can only assume is a salute to my horticultural prowess.

Another 20 years pass. Washington is going to seed. I plant impatiens in a teeny patch behind my apartment building. Three weeks later, the patch is boarded up to keep panhandlers from climbing out of the woods in back of the building.

I am now the north side of 50. Fortune has transported me to Chandler. To my own home. And, most importantly, to my own yard, a beige quarter acre formerly occupied by a German shepherd with hyperactive intestines.

In front, surrounded by the Arizona-trademark gravel "lawn,” is a 25-foot, brick-rimmed circle. As we passed it, the realtor waved toward it and muttered, "That’s your dirt.” In actuality -- I learn -- the substance in question was widely used during the Cold War to reinforce missile silos.

Growing in my alleged dirt is an aggressively green and leering plant called a bullhead, which produces burrs that drill into tender barefeet with the cruel enthusiasm of a Ninja fighting star.

I water this patch for a while. Nothing else appears. The bullheads are, of course, ecstatic. More and more of them spring into being, whole, a foot across, overnight. I take to calling my front garden the crop circle” in tribute to its truly alien power.

No, not aliens -- spirits -- corrects a psychic friend. She squeezes her eyes shut. A young girl once surprised some robbers in a wagon train on that exact spot and was eliminated as a witness, she informs me. "That’s why nothing will ever grow there,” she adds. The long-forgotten, and most probably apocryphal, slaying is sad -- but that last is tragic!

I get a second opinion. "Wouldn’t a dead body make things grow better?” the Maricopa agricultural extension agent wonders. He decides the soil is too alkaline. I start on a program of amendments that involves hundreds of pounds of manure and gypsum. I top dress with everything but fish sticks.

Then the real carnage begins. Rosemary bushes. Birds of paradise. Salvia. Begonias. A cute little yellow broom bush. My old friends, the scarlet runner beans. All dead. I even put an ad in the Pennysaver and offer to adopt stray plants and trees. I net eleven little Mexican fan palms. All but one to dust return.

The neighbors begin to shake their heads sadly when they see me. That’s just the front. Luckily, my back yard is fenced from view.

The back, you see, is the scene of the most pigheaded, most misguided, most pathetic experiment of all -- making bamboo grow in the desert. Sue me. I love the stuff. And I will have it.

First, I cruised the Internet and found bamboo growers, some of whom mentioned that they had multiple tiny groves in the woods in places like Oregon and Washington state. Lots of tiny little groves. Nah, couldn’t be. Some marijuana growers might camouflage their crop from the air using bamboo -- but not the guy I picked. Surely not. I’ll never know for sure. Anticlimactically, he sent four plants of the legal variety. Meanwhile, my plaintive cries also inspired a buddy on the East Coast to send eight plants.

Well, it would break your heart. Mid-Arizona summer, the huge spaded crescent I prepared for my charges mocks their listless yellow and green skeletons. Even you bamboo haters out there would melt. It’s a pitiful sight. Invasive? These customers couldn’t crawl half a foot even if you hooked each one to a tiny IV.

But at least they are still alive. In back, the toll of the mortals continues. Coral bells, lavender, roses, butterfly bushes (three), a Harry Lauder Walking Stick tree, enough herbs to stock a New Age chain pharmacy, hostas, peppers, even artichokes (from seeds sent by an Internet pal in Tuscany). All dead, dead, dead. I even killed vinca, for heaven’s sake. When that happened, Guinness called.

Now, Star, you are thinking. You live in the desert. Why are you trying to grow plants from those magazines featuring locales that have, shall we say, superior endowments -- such as soil and water? You must learn nature, Jean, study her ways, see what wants to grow and what doesn’t.

To this I answer, nothing really WANTS to grow here. You have to use whips and chairs, drip irrigation, threats, bags of dried excrement, and prayer. Then you learn to live with loss, with disappointment, with the grinding realization that nothing will ever be what you wanted in life. I am I really so deluded, so demented, to want to grow things supposedly suited to Zone 9 in Zone 9?

And -- could it really be this bad? Well, I have to admit my bougainvillea looks nice. The oleander, although stiff and ill-at-ease looking (like McGeorge Bundy until he spotted that long-ago gardener in the low-cut bathrobe) is thriving. Century plants add a Spielbergian prehistoric touch. The crop circle is bright green, cerise, yellow and peach -- with awakened Bermuda grass, agaves, ventana, lantana, portulaca, mint, and succulents, surrounding a cute little in-ground birdbath. Make that three birdbaths.

In back, some on-sale grapevines voted for life (until my dog dragged them from the ground to play with him). Amaranth put on a gaudy show, shaking its plumes like a circus pony. A couple of pounds of wildflower seed produced an impressive thicket, and irises and daylilies shipped by friends from temperate climes have settled into their sun-scorched retirement home.

The hummingbirds, which I think of by their Iraqi name of kiss flowers, visit the feeder everyday and sometimes hover a foot from my nose looking me over. Doves and starlings swarm the birdbaths, sometimes succumbing...

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A lake named Squirrel

By Star Lawrence

When I was about eight years old, a Squirrel bit me hard.

I don’t have a scar. It wasn’t even a real squirrel. It was Squirrel Lake outside Minocqua, Wisconsin.

How my parents learned of this lake is lost in the mists of time. All I knew was instead of the chaotic three-week car trips we had taken so many times in the 1950s, we were going to a “lodge.” Jansen’s Squirrel Lake Lodge, to be exact.

The little town of Minocqua, a knotty-pine, Native American strip mall, crept by the car windows and we soon wended into a piney woods. The large log lodge and half a dozen cabins nestled in a sea of pine needles and mossy rocks.

Beyond, down a hill, was Squirrel Lake, a large, undeveloped lake with only a few cabins, funneling into a water lily-clogged river leading to a dam. Actually, I believe the whole lake was a widened river of some sort and went on and on off to the right. You could hardly row a boat at our end because of the rubbery, cable-like lily stems.

Mrs. Jansen wore a bib apron and cooked the most incredible meals imaginable on a wood stove. Her husband had come from Norway, given her two sons and then had died, leaving her to forage. She called in some workmen, built the lodge and cabins, and started her business.

The lightly breaded fish, the garden-ripened tomato sandwiches, the teetering chocolate cakes, the fried chicken, the cloud-like mashed potatoes with good old Wisconsin butter. Three meals a day waited for the clang of the outdoor dinner bell to call the fishermen to the table.

Muskies were the draw at Squirrel Lake, that huge, mean customer with an underslung jaw and bad attitude. Muskelunge were also the sole topic of conversation. My father and brothers reveled.

You had, by law, to throw this monster of the depths back if it was less than 36 inches. This was a fish, babies! In 15 years, my father never caught a keeper. But, somehow, this was beside the point.

For us kids Squirrel also yielded up a rainbow of bluegills, sunnies, and perch. I remember Dad catching a Northern pike, which bit him and drew blood even though it was “dead.”

The days passed slowly, filled with the lake-smell, the gentle lapping, the buzzy insects, and the scorchy sunlight filtering through the pines. I curled in the lodge under the glare of stuffed deer and bears and devoured the novels in the bookcase. It was my sex education.

At night, the slightly damp sheets felt cold and as heavy as a lead X-ray protector and we snuggled down deep.

Squirrel bit me hard.

We went every summer for years. Then, we began to leave home for college and marriage and did not go back for more than a decade. I had a baby at age 38, and her father and I took my brother and his new wife to Jansen’s for their wedding present.

They say you can never go home again. I have always taken this as a warning—Don’t try it, you might lose your memories.

I called the number and Mrs. Jansen answered. We went.

Everything lay as if in a time warp, as if it were sealed in a snow globe, minus the snow. There were no more cabins on the lake than before. It smelled the same. The sunlight. The whispery waves. The meals were just as toothsome, even impressing my gourmet-cook partner. The same books were even in the bookshelves of the lodge.

My partner wanted to catch a muskie, he, a New York boy from 112th Street. He tried day after day, then one day, down below the dam, he did a doubletake as a duckling snapped underwater as if on a rubber band. Muskie! With the thing trapped in the pool, he fished and fished. Finally, he called in a helper from the bait store...

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In the privacy of your automobile

By Star Lawrence

There are still drive-in theatres, but mostly one sees their spindly skeletons beside the smaller highways, their tinny voiceboxes stilled.

People watch movies in the privacy of their own homes now or if they are feeling flush, in the theatre. Dinner and a movie, plus babysitter, can run more than $100.

In the Wayback, the drive-in was the babysitter. Mom and Dad used to change us four kids into jammies and pile us into the backseat. Dad had to wrestle the curly-wired microphone into the partially opened car window, accompanied by some muffled adult verbiage. Everyone in the backseat squirmed and squabbled in anticipation.

First, came the dancing hotdog or a singing box of popcorn. This, of course, would set off a chorus of begging from our section. Sometimes our parents would relent and one of them would stand in line in a little hut smelling of rancid popcorn topping, usually city blocks from the car and superheated from the long, hot, humid summer day in St. Louis.

My brother George did a pretty fair imitation of the singing hotdog. He is a physician now, but that singing hotdog was pretty much the high point.

Sticky and laughed out, we lasted about another half an hour while our parents watched the movie. The minute the car started to move, though, our heads popped up—if we didn’t see credits, we would wail, “It’s not over,” foiling Dad’s attempt to beat the rush.

In 1928, an auto parts salesman named Richard M. Hollingshead tried to sell more auto parts by hanging up a sheet and showing movies. He put the projector on the hood of his car and used a radio for sound. Eventually, he patented his outdoor dinner/movie idea and the first drive-in theatre opened in 1933 in Camden, NJ. Following World War II, the idea really took off.

With the coming of daylight savings time, though, it was not dark enough for the movie to start until 10 PM. People didn’t want to drag the kids out that late. Then came VCRs and cable.

The drive-ins dwindled, but never did die, some of them showing adult or slasher films to appeal to those who valued the privacy of the cars for more high school-appropriate reasons. Some are being revived, with multiple screens and other attractions, such as miniature golf.

On a trip back to St. Louis, my brother (the other one, not the singing hotdog) and I took my daughter, then about 10, to a drive-in. She thought...

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Spanx a ton—return of the girdle

By Star Lawrence
Reprint rights $15

Actually, girdles never went anyplace—over the centuries, “compression devices” morphed into fashion musts, then bedroom lusts, followed by tortured busts, and then back to lust.

Remember your first glimpse of a girdle? A flat, white, slightly quivering silhouette of rounded, female hips cast in rubber. Maybe your mother flopped it on the bed to accompany the stockings you have been begging to wear. Dangling from this odd creature were four appendages, rubber buttons that slid into metal holes.

Did a faint rubber smell emanate, one that never really left this mysterious garment? Did it undulate a little all on its own? Memory deceives.

The girdle was probably invented around 1910 by a French designer (naturally). He was inventing some form-fitting clothes and tut alors! women really needed some improvement. This was pre-Photoshop, remember.

Immediately, the corset, the bones a whale’s revenge, was unlaced and tossed. Most women wiggled into girdles between 1920 and 1970. Girdles were glamour (think Veronica Lake’s sleek, uni-cheeked, suspiciously firm hindquarters). This is when a nightclub was a nightclub. Perfume was Chanel. Lipstick was Cherries in the Snow.

The funny rubber smell gave way during rubber rationing in World War II, but soon returned and then was replaced by Lycra in the 1960s. Pantylegs were added, while the open style (two taut rubber panels with heaven--not fabric--in between) stayed popular in Europe.

Then in the 60s, expression came in and compression went out. The panty girdle legs showed under miniskirts (not a good look. let’s face it). Everyone was letting it all hang out. Girdles did the opposite, chasing human flesh around like a subtle game of Whack-A-Mole. They had to go.

Or at least go into hiding. Bras burned, girdles went in the drawer (probably for fear of burning rubber). They are still among us. They are called shapewear now. You find them in both “normal” and plus-size catalogs. Surprise, some women and men, too, still like girdles. Check with Mme Google—the Fanny Hill look is still abundantly available. The sauciness is even conveyed by the brand name of one line—Spanx.

One wench reportedly purred, “It is just amazing what a few ounces of rubber and elastic can do to a man with a rip-roaring girdle fetish.” Try to find that dude on eHarmony.

There is no accounting for tastes (or should that be waists?), but can I ask you devotees one question? .....

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