Take a Memo

Image courtesy Pixabay.com.

Image courtesy Pixabay.com.

Now that my son can read, his listening skills have deteriorated to the point that verbal instructions are almost useless. I’d like to write this off as a typical male inability to multitask. Or I could give it a positive spin, and claim that he must have so much testosterone running through his veins that he’s developed the ability to focus so completely on the television set that the rest of world disappears. Whatever the cause, I would bet a bag of M & M’s that he gets this genetic mutation from my husband’s side of the family.

No matter what the reason is, I’m sick and tired of repeating the same simple instructions 957 times each morning (brush your teeth, grab your backpack, take your underwear off your head) and having him feign deafness. I’ve already had his hearing tested, and the pediatrician said he’s fine. Though, there may be some latent inner ear damage if I have to keep yelling in his ear every morning till he’s 20.

Rather than turning immediately to my usual parental dilemma solutions of wine and chocolate, I decided to try a method honed by centuries of office workers who needed to get their colleagues’ ears. I decided to write the kid a memo.

To: Son

From: Mom

Subject: Your Room

A recent inspection revealed that all of the floor space in your room was completely obstructed by a variety of dirty clothes, small plastic Legos, coins (mostly pennies), birthday party goodie-bag detritus, art projects, Pokemon Cards, comic books, and other reading materials. You are directed to remove these materials from your room immediately. Please acknowledge your understanding of these instructions via inter-office memo.

To: Mom

From: Son

Subject: Reply-Your Room


To: Son

From: Mom

Subject: I don’t want to have to ask you again

Clean up your room immediately. Not only is this a violation of your employment agreement, wherein you are required to keep your work space clean, it is also a potential worker’s compensation violation, as I tripped on one of those stupid Legos this morning when I came in to wake you up and may have permanently damaged my right heel.

To: Mom

From: Son

Subject: Ask me WHAT again?

Are you talking to me?

To: Son

From: Mom

Subject: You’ve got to be kidding me

Yes, I am addressing you. Please turn off the television and proceed to your room immediately to clean it up.

To: Mom

From: Son

Subject: Correction

I’m actually not watching television. It’s a DVD and there’s only five more minutes to the end.

To: Son

From: Mom

Subject: TV/DVD who cares

I don’t care what you’re watching. Turn it off and get to work.

To: Mom

From: Son

Subject: It’s not fair

I already took out the recycling yesterday and you didn’t ever give me my allowance yet.

To: Son

From: Mom

Subject: Who do you think works to get your allowance money

Get to work. In case you’re blind in addition to deaf, I’m losing my patience. And honey, I put out the recycling yesterday, not you.

To: Mom

From: Son

Subject: So what?

Yeah, but you TOLD me to put away my clean laundry, and that’s not my job.

To: Mr. Debate Team

From: The Logic Queen

Subject: This is not open to debate

I need to get to the door to go to the grocery store. You must clean up your room in order for me to do so.

To: Mom

From: Son

Subject: Yeah, to buy WINE

Don’t be weak, Mom. Just step over all of that stuff. That’s what I do.

To: Son

From: Your Mother, who deserves some respect

Subject: It doesn’t matter why I am going to the store

Stop stalling and clean up your room.

To: Mommy Dearest

From: Your Baby Boy

Subject: Store

Can you pick me up some Pringles and another DVD while you’re out?

To: The boy whose room will be clean soon

From: Don’t forget who’s in charge here

Subject: Reply-Store

Clean up your room.

To: Mommy

From: Son

Subject: Okay

Okay, I’ll clean my room. But I’m hungry and thirsty. I think now would be a good time to drink some milk and eat some broccoli.

To: All Employees

From: L.Dinaberg

Subject: Vacation

Effective immediately, Leslie Dinaberg will be using her 37 weeks of accumulated vacation. She’ll be spending her time in a nice, quiet, clean room.

Send a memo to Leslie at email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 28, 2006.

With a Hop, Skip and a Ro-sham-bo

Dodgeball image courtesy SUARTS, Flickr.com.

Dodgeball image courtesy SUARTS, Flickr.com.

They don’t tell you this in Lamaze class, but one of the most fun things about having kids is that you have the best of all reasons to behave like a kid again. As my son will testify to, I get just as excited as he does about dressing up for Halloween, hunting for treasures from the Easter Bunny and finding the M & M’s hidden in the popcorn while watching the latest Disney flick. And when Santa comes to town … don’t even get me started about all of the long-delayed pleasures a certain big bearded guy brings to a Jewish girl who has lusted after Christmas trees her whole life. Oy!

Given how much fun it is to yell “Yahtzee” at the top of my lungs, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that favorite childhood games like Four Square, Dodgeball and Rock Paper Scissors are being reclaimed by adults.

They actually gave away $50,000 at the first annual USA Rock Paper Scissors League Championship held in Las Vegas last month. Bud Light and A & E Network have signed on as league sponsors. I’m telling you, the duel may be all about the hands, but this sport has legs. Reportedly, Rock Paper Scissors is under consideration as an exhibition at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. According to a fake press release on the official USARPS website (www.usarps.com), International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is a huge Rock Paper Scissors aficionado who sees this competition as a tremendous way for countries to engage in mental battle and clearly determine which nation boasts the sharpest minds and quickest wrists. “The world will finally find out who has the mettle to medal,” Rogge says.

Sure. At least until Rock Scissors Paper gets ruined by steroids.

Hmm … I wonder if that Olympic archery competitor and actress Geena Davis will start training now that Commander and Chief has been canceled? She could always use her excessive height advantage to compete in Dodgeball, yet another childhood “sport” I hear is under Olympic consideration. Thanks in large part to the 2005 Ben Stiller movie, which played the sport for absurd comedy, the International Dodgeball Federation projects that it will have more than 300,000 sanctioned players by the end of 2007. According to the IDBF’s official website (www.dodge-ball.com) adults aged 25-35 are the sport’s largest and hottest growth segment. The Federation recently welcomed new leagues in Pakistan, Australia and Puerto Rico. Even though it’s also known as “war ball;” clearly the UN should be looking into incorporating Dodgeball as a possible peacekeeping measure.

Apparently my old recess favorite, Four Square, is back in vogue for adults as well. It’s one of the most popular sports in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with frequent tournaments and more than a dozen teams competing in an adults-only league. Norfolk, Virginia is a hotbed of adult Kickball, another of my childhood favorites. Stickball never made it to any of my Santa Barbara playgrounds, but apparently it’s big back east, where New Yawkers relive their youth in three different adult Stickball leagues. Kansas City has the Tag Institute, where kids of all ages indulge in variations of the game, Tag. Here in California, where we like a little showbiz with our sport, we have San Francisco’s Double Duchess Jump Rope Troupe, whose adult members do their acrobatic routines dressed in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms. My husband is not allowed to go.

“Not last night, but the night before

24 Robbers came knocking at my door…”

My toes immediately start tapping to the familiar rhymes. I’m having a flashback to fourth grade, where schoolwork seemed much easier to face after a few turns of the rope or kicks of the ball.

A little voice says, “Wanna play tag, mom?” brings me back to the present. “You bet,” I say. I may be older and slower, but I can still use my wits to dominate a six-year-old.

“You’re it,” we say simultaneously.

“One, two, three jinx. You owe me a coke.”

Anyone up for a game of Kickball? Email Leslie at email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 21, 2006.

Cheers to Good Friends

Photo courtesy Pixabay.com.

Photo courtesy Pixabay.com.

Like clockwork, the same thing happens to me every year about this time. That one-two-punch of euphoria and melancholy that comes from hanging out with dear friends, repeating stupid jokes, rehashing old stories, and laughing, eating and drinking a lot. It’s great. It’s invigorating. It makes me believe all that cliched crud about friends being tied together with heartstrings or that they are the chocolate chips in the cookie of life. Good friends are the stuff that Lowenbrau commercials are made of. Tonight is kind of special.

And then they go home to whatever far flung corners of the country that they live in, and I’m stuck feeling sad and depressed and wishing that somehow, some way, all of my cherished friends from all over the place could come and live next door to me in Santa Barbara.

It happens every summer. They flock to our town for the charming little shops, the easy access to the beach, the random parades, and of course, to see us, their fabulously fun and witty friends who happen to live in a beach town. Somehow I don’t think people in Des Moines and Dubuque have out of town friends visit them every summer.

But once or twice a year just isn’t enough. Why can’t all my friends live right here? It would make life so much easier.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have great friends here in town. More than I probably deserve. Plus, contrary to a recent Time Magazine article about reports by a topflight team of sociologists that found Americans to be more socially isolated today then we were barely two decades ago, I meet interesting new people all the time. I could make new friends if I wanted to. Really, I could.

But new people just aren’t the same as the old people. The old people have already endured a complicated vetting process that involves sneaking through bedroom windows in the middle of the night, playing songs on the sink, holding my hair back from the barf, and a long list of quotes that are only hysterically funny if you’ve lived through them. Killing machine, hit list, cartoon eyes, it’s just a phase? See what I mean? You had to be there.

And it’s harder to be there now that we’re getting older. Chances are good that once you have a job that requires you get more than four hours of sleep a night, you just don’t have the same amount of time to spend contemplating your navel alongside your friends. And once you add kids to that mix, you really want to keep that belly button as far out of view as possible.

So you still make friends, but it’s just not the same.

With old friends, we’ve already weathered and survived the eternal “What should we do for dinner debate?” a thousand times. They already know why bike rides are a bad idea and that they’d better keep that pickle juice away from my plate. And, if I were the type who farted, old friends would be the first I’d do it in front of.

Of course, old friends could also tell you about that not-so-pretty bi-level haircut I had in the 80s or the not-so-pretty way I made out with my husband on the dance floor when we first met.

Maybe it’s better that all my old friends don’t live here. I’d probably be tempted to write about them, and the last thing I’d want to do is publicly embarrass all the people who have enough dirt on me to fill a small park.

But it sure would be fun to hang out there.

Old friends, and new readers can lift Leslie’s spirits by dropping a line to email

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 14, 2006.

Feeling Festive on the Fourth


Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”  —Erma Bombeck

Assuming you’ve all had time to digest and burn off those patriotic helpings of hot dogs and Big Gulp buckets of beer (or cosmopolitans, in my case), and have seen enough fireworks sparkling up the sky to sate that appetite for another year, I’d like to reflect on why July Fourth is such a rockin’ holiday.

1. It makes me proud to be an American.

The Fourth of July is the one day of the year when I’m guaranteed to get a little bit verklempt about being an American. Sure it’s easy to get choked up at the ballot box on Election Day, but the results often make me want to gag. Where else but the Montecito Village Fourth Parade can you see the entire Taran Family dressed up like hot dogs, hamburgers, condiments, and Samuel Adams Beer? It’s not like they can repeat that ensemble for the Solstice Parade. They’d have to reinterpret with a tofu dog and veggie burger.

2. It makes me feel like an American…while I’m actually here.

Whether my sister and I are being stalked for photos like celebrities in Japan–because of our superior height, which is merely “kinda tall” over here–or marveling at the Balinese natives’ familiarity with George Bush–while the average U.S. high school student knows more about Paris Hilton’s latest bikini wax–I never feel more American than when I travel to another country. Maybe its that old adage about absence making the heart grow fonder kicking in, but in general, I feel much more patriotic when I’ve got a little distance between me and the good old U.S. of A.

3. I get to dress up like a dork.

If I had the hot dog outfit, I might actually wear it–that’s how much fun it is to dress up on this particular holiday. Unlike Halloween, where it’s expected, on the Fourth of July you can get big party points just for showing up in a star spangled outfit. Bonus points for a flag painted on your cheek, or a t-shirt that says, “Uncle Sam Wants You … To Have Another Beer.” Don’t get me started on my MLK Day costume plans.

4. I get to play with matches.

Nothing gets you in touch with your inner pyromaniac like the Fourth of July. There’s the inescapable lure of fireworks, both the big booming ones that shoot from the sky, and the cute little sparklers, whistling Pete’s and poppers that even my six-year-old likes to play with. I swear they invented sparklers so kids would have something to do on the Fourth of July while the adults are getting drunk and overeating. It’s like there’s a race to see who’ll lose a finger first: the kids with their firecrackers, or my husband when he doesn’t move his fork out of the chocolate cake fast enough. Personally, I like to reuse the sparklers to roast marshmallows, thus satisfying my needs to feel environmentally superior, play with fire, and replenish my sugar supply every hour on the hour.

Then there’s the highly amusing, and mostly masculine mania to stare at whatever’s cooking on the barbecue. My father’s newest gas-powered acquisition allowed me to eavesdrop on such conversational ditties as, “How many minutes do saber tooth tiger steaks have to cook on each side? I’m not sure. Let me check my GPS. How do you turn this thing on? I’m not sure. Let me check the Internet.” You go, grill.

5. The Fourth of July is when it really starts to feel like summer.

You can’t go to work that day, it would be un-American. Besides there are fires to be lit and drinks to be drunk. The Fourth is when laziness finally finds respectability, which is what makes a great holiday in my book.

With no holidays in sight, it looks like Leslie will be laboring away till Labor Day. Make her day by dropping a line to email.  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

Can the Homeless and the Business Community Coexist?

An update on some of the latest efforts

California conjures images of endless summers filled with surf, sun and sand, but increasingly, those beach bum images of the past are being replaced by those of an entirely differently type of bum: aggressive panhandlers. After all, if you had to spend the winter on the streets, wouldn’t you rather be in San Diego than Detroit? While the attractiveness of the state’s mild weather is understandable, it comes at a high cost. Panhandling can have significant negative economic impacts on the surrounding businesses. Here’s a brief look at what some communities are doing to combat the problem.

Many cities are using legislation to crack down on homeless persons living in public spaces. According to the latest U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homelessness report, despite an overall increase in unmet needs for emergency shelter, there has been an increase in criminalization of the homeless between an initial survey in 2002 and a 2005 survey of 224 American cities. For example, the survey found a 12 percent increase in laws prohibiting begging in certain public places and an 18 percent increase in laws that prohibit aggressive panhandling–bringing the total number of cities prohibiting aggressive panhandling to 45 percent, while 21 percent have prohibitions on begging of any kind.

There was also a 14 percent increase in laws prohibiting sitting or lying in certain public spaces and a 3 percent increase in laws prohibiting loitering, loafing, or vagrancy–bringing the total number of cities prohibiting camping in particular public places to 28 percent, with 39 percent prohibiting loitering in particular public areas.

In addition to legal efforts, business organizations are working to educate the public about how to handle panhandling. For example, the downtown Chico Business Association is actively encouraging business owners, employees, residents and visitors “to redirect their generosity to the institutions best suited to helping the homeless and struggling citizens.” The organization provides a list of such institutions and encourages people to donate to them, rather than directly rewarding those people who beg on the street. Similar efforts are also underway in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

Most effective are a combination of two very different strategies, according to strategic planning firm Civic Strategies, Inc. One is a carrot-and-stick approach, which works best for the “temporarily homeless” that are down on their luck. In this instance, cities crack down on aggressive panhandling and other quality of life violations while offering easily accessible alternatives, such as 24-hour gateway centers that direct homeless people to shelters, job training and drug treatment.

The other strategy is aimed at the “chronically homeless,” people with serious mental illnesses, physical ailments, drug addictions or all three. The strategy that works for these people, who are the most disruptive groups of homeless people and most expensive (because they are frequently arrested and often end up in emergency rooms) is to give them access to decent housing, intensive health care and drug treatment facilities and accept that they’ll be long-term wards of the city.

Other constructive alternatives to criminalization include coordinated outreach efforts, where police and social workers or volunteers work together to place people in shelters and provide mental and physical health assistance, as well as job advice and training. The Pasadena Police Department and the Los Angeles Department of Health have partnered to form the Homeless Outreach Psychiatric Evaluation (HOPE) Team to work in this way.

There’s also another strategy that’s just taking shape: an end to “dumping.” In Los Angeles, officials discovered that police from other jurisdictions were driving homeless people from their jails to downtown L.A. and letting them out there because downtown had the services, and the suburbs didn’t. This has led to a demand that suburban areas take care of their own homeless problems, backed by a recent survey in the L.A. area that found there were as many people living on the streets and in the parks of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys as in the central city.

In Northern California, officials are also realizing that the homeless are not just an urban phenomenon. The Association of Bay Area Governments is working to attack the problem regionally, by tracking the homeless across the region to see how they move through institutions (soup kitchens, work programs, jails, hospitals, shelters, etc.) and among localities, with an aim to better understand the problem and design programs that work.

“If you want people to shop in your community, to come to your community, you have to address this problem so the homeless are not a barrier,” Berkeley’s Mayor Tom Bates said. “We can’t do this alone. We have to do it together.”

Originally published in California Centers Magazine on July 1, 2006.