Thursday, July 3, 2008


On a good day, and there have been many lately, I eat my lunch out on my deck before I go to work. A cardinal always joins me in the overhanging ash tree, singing

“what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.
what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.”

I call him “Lounge Lizard” because he’s all decked out in his finest orange feathers and he reminds me of the guys in their rust-colored polyester leisure suits who used to hang around the piano bars in my single days. They sang “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” or “For the Good Times” or whatever it took to get a date. This cardinal is just as persistent, but he only knows one song and he doesn’t appear to have any takers.

I sit overlooking my swimming pool, which is cool, calm, and refreshing, even when I’m not swimming in it. I am surrounded by beautiful flowers: fuchsias (attracting the occasional hummingbird), begonias, marigolds, roses, lilies, spirea, daisies, geraniums, impatiens, dianthus, petunias, clematis, coreopsis and hydrangeas. Even my peony bush is hanging on to her last showy blossom for the Fourth of July.

I rock forward and backward in my swivel chair under the umbrella with the matching blue-gray stripes, protected from the sun. I open my Star Tribune to the Variety Section and look to Family Circus, For Better of For Worse, Sally Forth, Baby Blues and Zits for a laugh. (Zits usually hits closest to home these days.) I then turn the page for a little relationship advice from Carolyn Hax, which is often caustic and doesn’t usually apply to me, but I enjoy it anyway. Before settling in with the daily Sudoku, I stir the cherries into my yogurt and take the Isaac Asimov Super Quiz.

I don’t know why I subject myself to the quiz, because I’m not particularly good at it. I usually can answer at least one of the questions and am spared the embarrassment of the scoring category “Who read the questions to you?” Still, learning that I “should hit the books harder” or that I’m “plenty smart, but no grind” is not exactly an ego builder. I guess I do the quiz because every once in a while I get all the questions right and earn the reward of “Congratulations, Doctor.” I suppose it’s the same reason some people play slot machines.

Yesterday was a Congratulations, Doctor/three cherries in a row kind of day. The category was “Starts and Ends in A.” I knew I had a shot at it because it was a word thing and I love words. Here it is:

Each answer is a word that starts and ends with the letter “A.” For example: An aerial. Answer: antenna. (Actually I think that’s one of the hardest ones.)

Freshman Level
1. A pleasant smell.
2. A level area where sports events take place.
3. Measurement of a surface.

Graduate Level
4. A list of matters to be discussed.
5. A loss of memory.
6. A large fleet of ships.

Ph.D. Level
7. A supposed invisible force surrounding a living creature.
8. Something added to a text.
9. A word used by conjurors when performing a magic trick.

Answers: Aroma, Arena, Area, Agenda, Amnesia, Armada, Aura, Addenda, Abracadabra.

I went through the questions lightning fast and my memory, which isn’t as good as it used to be, didn’t fail me. One of my favorite writers, Anna Quindlen, who is about my age, says that her “memory is now so bad that (she) can reread mystery novels and not recall whodunit.” I can relate. However, yesterday, my memory for “A” words was with me. I tried to share my excitement with the Lounge Lizard, but he was unfazed and never missed a tweet in his same sorry song.

“what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.
what CHEER. what CHEER. Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet, Wheet.”

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