Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Hallway of the Mind

In the corridors of my brain a Medieval Knight dwells, sword at the ready, armor blessedly silent as he makes his rounds.

Startle me and you might meet him, although what you'll see is a mid-sized, pale-faced brunette looking entirely wigged out, in my head the warrior peers through his visor, weapon held high. In the fight or flight instinct we all have, some long ago ancestor evidently is responsible for a genetic predisposition inside of me that runs towards conking any threat on the head. Luckily the ensuing generations have honed the art of not letting that blood-thirsty guardian loose on anyone.

If you've ever been inside a Walgreens Drug Store, you know the vibe of the place, if you haven't: Even a brand new Walgreens seems vaguely dingy. The lighting inside was designed by people who secretly hate all of humanity, and want us all to look like we perished sometime earlier in the day and are now the Walking Dead. They aren't bad places, they're useful, packed shelves that almost always manage to look rickety enough to cause concern are filled with the foot creams and antihistamines most of us need from time-to-time.

Most of us have prowled through these stores, or ones like them, as we drop off a prescription for an illness, and in those times we end up waiting for it to be filled. That's how we end up perusing the shelves, occasionally making some daft purchase like a Snowman that sings in a high, piercing electronic voice while swaying back and forth on battery operated hips, and playing the ukulele. Generally we were waiting for a prescription for antibiotics to be filled, and as we waited, our fevered brains whispered, "You should totally buy that."

Me, I tend to huff the potpourri, sachets, and scented candles while there. They're awful. Seriously, beyond description levels-of-bad but it does make me feel as if I have discerning taste each and ever time as I grimace at the chemical-laden scent while replacing the product on the shelf. It is an ironic form of fun for me. It probably hails from the ancestor who first said to another of my ancestors, "Does this milk smell sour to you?"

I was taking a whiff of an alleged cranberry candle, contained in a glass jar and wondering if the cranberries had been grown in a radioactive bog when a piercing, rattling sound blasted out seemingly seven inches from my right ear.


"Zounds, interloper!" Yelled the Knight-in-my-head, "Declare your purpose, fiend!"

Luckily for the person making the sound the Knight never got to say anything in the real world, as he was then occupied by pounding the swearing sailor he hangs out with in there into silence. I jumped six inches, the candle flew briefly away from my hands and blessedly back into them unharmed as I turned, wild-eyed and accusing.

"Guh!" the sailor managed to blurt before the Knight threw himself bodily atop the seafarer.

"Sorry," A rather plain-looking woman a polite five feet from me said, "I have Tourette's. It's a syndrome, a disorder."

"Oh! Okay," I replaced the cranberry-chemical-bomb. I consciously stood still, making sure not to retreat, or turn away. A little bit of an effort as the panic system within my head powered down, "I'm familiar with it. Sorry."

"It's okay. It's a syndrome, a disorder," the woman said again, "I can't control it."

"I've heard of it," I said again.

I continued to stand in the household goods aisle, understanding that this woman encountered too many people that scurried away in her life.

"I take medication," she said, "it helps a little bit."

And then she made the sound again at the end of the sentence. Loud, startling but this time I was prepared and my feet remained on the ground, my expression hopefully unchanged.

I never found out her name. I stood with her for five minutes, helping her to find something by explaining how to read the labels on the shelves to find out where something should be. I honestly don't recall what it was but as I worked in a drugstore when I was a teenager, one of the pieces of information in a file in my brain is about labeling systems. There came a point in the conversation when I realized this woman was eager to be having it. That for her, this thing we all take for granted, this exchange among strangers, was something of a treat.

She explained to me what Tourette's was, and I listened, although I was already familiar with the disorder. Not that I knew anyone with it, but I had encountered people with it before. I knew it was an inherited disorder.

All of my ancestors, they gave me things, passed them down. Most of them are good. I'm an acceptable size and shape, intelligent enough to feel up to most of life's challenges. There was a crazy person or two in the mix, a recluse here or there. At least one murderer, evidently. Soldiers, sailors, teachers and more. A predisposition towards being articulate lurks within me too, and it comes in handy. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about how fate and genetics were primarily good to me.

Maybe our minds are like houses, full of hallways with doors leading into rooms. For the most part we mill around in the foyer, thinking in our regular thought patterns. Encountering the odd Knight within.

But every now and then we'll meet someone who opens a door within that hallway and introduces us to a room we didn't know existed in our minds. A new thought, a fresh concept. A room that was always there, but we never looked in before. Our challenges often make us throw the doors open on all needed rooms, as we search for tools within, and most of us find them.

Forget whether or not I am comfortable talking to strangers, as it is likely clear by now that I am, what about the fact that I can with ease? A thing I take for granted, everyday as my right, and my own.

Every now and then I meet someone that makes me peer into a room and realize I don't know much about limitations, not in any real sense. The rooms that contain my unquestioned good fortune are the ones I need to look in more.

Eventually the pharmacist called my name over the loudspeaker, mangling the pronunciation, a thing I'm used to. A small, tiny thing about a name I otherwise like.

"Well, that's me," I nodded and smiled. I wish I could describe the look on that woman's face well, but I can't. She was so happy having an easy conversation. For her it was a rare treat, so she looked both happy and a little sad.

I so seldom think of true isolation. I'm a self-entertaining unit, I don't mind being alone, I rather like it often enough.

"I'm sorry I frightened you," she said.

"That's okay, no big deal," and I wished her a good day as I went on my way.

I collected the prescription and left, thinking of that room in my head I so seldom enter, the one called loneliness.

Today I thought of that woman from an encounter two years ago. We had been talking here about being an introvert, while having to pretend to be an extrovert. A trait many of us share, it seems. Something occurred to me, and I ran a search entitled:

Tourett'es Syndrome Forum that returned 114,000 hits. Over one hundred thousand places, and option where acceptance, understanding, peers and friends await. Clubs, gatherings, in real-life too. Options, and rooms with possibilities.

The rooms in our heads are wide and varied. Some are lovely, some rather grim. Some we haven't opened for years and we find them again, while wandering down our mental hallways.

That was a delightful, hopeful room you all sent me to. Thank you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stands Knee-High to Little

The first time I met Anna* I wouldn't have been surprised to look behind me and find I was being trailed by a blue ox. Although my husband is nearly a foot taller than I am, I'm not actually short, I'm of average height. Still, I'm not used to feeling enormous next to anyone. Anna's height definitely has her shopping in the petite section, but more than that, she has a tiny frame. This doesn't change the fact that she could likely kick my butt, and yours too. Probably at the same time without breaking a sweat.

"Hello, I'm Anna, you know my dog," She began. An auspicious start, I thought. I knew I was bound to like anyone who had already figured out that she was easily identified by dog association. She was right, I do know Mo, a.k.a. The Running Dog. I first met him following a snowstorm, as I shoveled the driveway. Nose streaming (me, not the dog), tail waving frantically (the dog, not me), I heard the familiar cry of "Noooooooooo!" as Anna's teenage daughter arrived seconds after Mo did. Mo is a gregarious creature. A fast, gregarious creature. He would eventually grow to be a gigantic size, but that first day I could have easily shoveled him aside. Instead I wiped my nose and played with the puppy. I have priorities, after all.

The day I noticed that Anna could be packed into a teacup for transport, she invited me to a barbecue she was hosting as a neighborhood get-together. Those sort of things are common around here, generally hosted by real estate agents, or people trying to sell candles, jewelry or political candidates. Networking in the suburbs, you get used to it.

"What's the occasion?" It's not that I'm against sharing a cup of coffee with folks just trying to build a client base, but I do like to know if I'm walking into one of those situations. Mainly, I confess, so that I know how much time to schedule before I can make a polite retreat. Coffee with the real estate agent across the street will take a quick twenty minutes. A political get-together means that I'm chronically ill with some Victorianesque malady for which there is no cure. I'm not above claiming the vapors, allergies, a decline of an overall nature.

Truthfully I just state that I'm unaffiliated but a liberal and take a pass. However, I always have a wicked urge to claim that I'm unable to attend due to a lack of smelling salts.

"Just trying to get to know everyone," Anna said with a smile.

I was a bit afraid that I was signing up for a literal Come-To-Jesus meeting, but I readily agreed. Then I had to convince Rob not to develop fictional rickets, scurvy, or consumption and get him to go. He agreed warily. He likes Mo too, after all.

No one was trying to save my immortal soul. Or get me to vote for anyone, sell me jewelry I'll never wear or candles with names like Harvest Fiesta, Spa Melody or Christmas Cookie. It turned out to be a get-together of people from around the town, and they all knew Anna from somewhere different. I was the only person from the neighborhood. Introduction after introduction marched by.

"I'm Steve, my wife and I play tennis with Anna," the people I played a game of pool with informed me.

"I'm Heather, Anna and I take Pilates together," said another.

And then something happened that made me understand what was going on, why I was encountering people from exercise classes, church, clubs and hobby groups:

"I'm Sandy, I know Anna from our divorced women group," A kind-eyed woman told me, "How do you know her?"

To each and all I answered truthfully, "She rang my doorbell and I already knew her dog."

She wasn't trying to sell anyone anything. Anna was just rebuilding as she'd done for years when her ex-husband's job took them around the country and the world. Nigerian art decorated one wall in her home, her teenage daughters talked about the schools they'd attended in Africa, and elsewhere. Then not long after she landed here Anna found out that her husband was behaving like a middle-aged cliche and all the nubile blonds that entails. At the age of 47 she showed him the door, found a job, and completely new to Colorado, set about building a new life for herself.

I'm not sure what really constitutes bravery. There's the kind of courage that it is easy to recognize, and appreciate. People who tackle terrorists aboard planes spring easily to mind. Soldiers who draw enemy fire trying to give their compatriots a chance at survival during heavy engagements. We know that kind of courage but there are all kinds.

Rob and I manned the grill at that first barbecue and talked to some of the most diverse people assembled all because they met a tiny woman who runs, bikes, plays tennis and invites people she meets to her home regularly. It turned into a rather regular occurrence.

Later today I'll be putting together some appetizers, and venturing across the street again to the home of a woman who told me something that stunned me:

"I'm shy," Anna admitted, and I nearly fell sideways into my bookcase as we stood in my home office. I'm being literal, thanks to reconstruction on an old injury, my balance isn't the greatest but it isn't just a bunch of pins and plates that had me tottering. I was genuinely astonished.

All of my life I've been an introvert that can do a stunning impression of an extrovert. It never occurred to me that fittest, tiniest, most outgoing specimen in the neighborhood was doing the same thing.

After that admission yesterday, I remembered something. That first time that I opened the door to Anna I'd noticed a small detail. As you approach my front door from the inside, there is a side window that allows whoever is on the other side to be visible from both sides. I'd spotted Anna, and remembered her from one of the times she'd come to fetch Mo. I smiled as I approached, and raised a hand in greeting. The straight-faced woman on the other side broke into a smile too, which is not unusual.

But I remember fleetingly thinking that she looked relieved. At the time I'd put it down to being preoccupied. Yesterday I learned that, in truth, she was doing something that was difficult for her, but doing it nonetheless.

When I told Rob that Anna was having a get-together, he sounded a little regretful that he wouldn't be able to attend.

"It's good of you to go," he said. "I know parties aren't your favorite thing."

It's true, I prefer to get together with friends one-on-one but I liked Anna from the first, with her dog as a calling-card, ready-to-return-a-smile personality.

"Do you feel sorry for her?" Rob asked, knowing that, generally speaking I only attend parties because I feel like I should.

I thought back for a moment, to all the people who had introduced themselves to me. How the woman that knew Anna through Pilates had suffered a rather dreadful injury in a fall. She was a little plump, but told me of how much weight she had lost and felt confident she could lose more.

"Anna was there encouraging me every step of the way," she said proudly. I found it easy to believe. This from a woman who is every bit as fit as an Olympic athlete. Truly, Colorado wins the leanest state slot every time those things are estimated. We have an unusually active population and Anna is still considered unusually active here.

"No," I answered Rob, "I don't feel sorry for her. I like her. I'm not sure I have all that much in common with her, but I like her."

It's her ex-husband who has my pity. Upon realizing that he had made a dreadful mistake, he had promised the Earth and Sky if only he could be forgiven. Offers Anna turned down even though she was in a state where she knew no one, she preferred to go it alone.

Every now and then in life, you meet someone who is remarkable in the quietest of ways. Who has the kind of courage it is easy to admire if only we take a couple of moments to recognize it.

Anna is, at most, a size zero. She stands maybe 5'1" after a deep inhale, yet she's awfully easy to look up to.

So I feel a bit sorry for her husband that he realized that too late.

* Not her actual name, but all else is true

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Weapons Grade Cute

We're suckers for cuteness in this house, always have been, always will be. Heck, the way I got my dog was because my husband, while allegedly searching for a picture of an English Bull Terrier managed to come up with three Scotties, a Blue Heeler and a nervous looking mixed-breed named Puddles. In the pictures the rescue society had posted on Petfinder, my dog looked decidedly apprehensive. A series of photos that eventually showed her trying to submissively show her belly. She was just so cute, I was a total goner.

As to how my husband managed to turn up all sorts of breeds other than an actual Bull Terrier, I mostly leave that to your imagination. He's a poor typist and all, but let's be real here; I was set up. He'll never cop to it, but even if he had a massive seizure mid-typing, I still can't see how English Bull Terriers somehow managed to produce three adoptable Scotties, the breed we'd always had in the past.

Somewhere in Puddles ancestry is an alleged Scottie but I'm positive that there's actually an Air Raid Siren somewhere in her lineage. She looks like a terrier, but that dog's bark would not be out of place in the midst of a hunt for some overly harassed fox.

Wooo! AWooooooo! ArWooWooWooWoo!, Puddles proclaimed the entire time the pool guy was fiddling with the gauges out back.

I ineffectually bayed in my own turn, "Puddles, shut up! Stop it! Cease! Cut it out!" and variations thereof for a half an hour. It was a landmark day.

I've had a rescue dog prior to this and at the time I remember reading that a rescue dog can take up to six months to adjust to their new environment. It took Angus, our other rescue dog, three days to figure out we were suckers. Throw a snuggle, a wag, a delighted dog-dance our way and we're putty in their paws. It took Puddles five months to ascertain that we might bluster, and yelp, but no one here believes in striking animals.

For the first few months I had an almost entirely silent dog but the Day of the Pool Gauge was the day that Puddles discovered that whereas we don't like her barking in the house, the worst that happens in retaliation is some frenzied shaking of a coke can, half full of pennies and taped shut. This gets her to stop giving cry for upwards of ten seconds, but thankfully this only applies to actual people, not any of the other things she wants to give a good talking-to.

Whoever had Puddles prior to us hit her. We knew that fairly quickly. We'd rap out a brisk, "No!" and she'd practically hit the deck, while scuttling sideways. The day she knocked over the garbage, I let out a house echoing, "No! Bad dog!" and then nearly perished in a cuteness assault as I wiped Puddles face, her tail thumped the floor desperately, and she cringed away from the towel in my hand.

"I'm not going to hit you, you daft dog," I said with affection, wiped her face clean, and tried to keep my voice disapproving. It's all supposed to be in the tone, you know.

Which makes it a pity that Puddles neither sees, nor hears well. She's all nose.

"GaWoooooo! BaaaaaWoooooo!" Puddles proclaimed when my husband lingered in a cracked door too long, trying to see if I was awake before busting through to the closet on his way to get ready for work.

Well, I was awake after that.

"Say something!" I barked, in my own turn, "She has no idea who you are!"

Puddles does better with sound than she does with sight, so we now enter rooms talking our heads off if we think we're about to take the dog unaware.

It's truly not all that bad, this barking in the house. It happens maybe once a week, but fall has brought blowing leaves and her poor vision has Puddles leaping to high alert whenever a particularly large one goes scurrying by outside. She must think it's the world's tiniest home invader. Only when there is an actual person attached to the movement is there absolutely no chance to get her to stop giving cry.


"Puddles, no!" Whatever biped happens to be at hand will add as a rejoinder.


"Oh for god's sakes."

It only takes a few strenuously bellowed reminders and peace is restored.

This morning there was a suspicious leaf spotted at ten minutes past six, when the sun had yet to actually shine much light on the proceedings.

"Gaaaaah!" Rob hollered, as the cat shot him a look that would have laid waste to entire villages, I'm positive the cat blames Rob for the dog's appearance in his life, "Stop it! No! No!"

Puddles stopped baying and looked at Rob questioningly. Someone had to protect us from the rustling things of the world, surely.

"I hope she doesn't decide to bark at every falling flake," I commented, clutching my only lifeline to lucidity, my coffee cup, "or else we're going to have a very loud winter."

"Oh what are we going to do with you?" Rob addressed the Wagging Leaf Siren.

"We could change her name to Free To a Good Home, I guess," I suggested, "but other than that, I'm out of ideas."

Puddles craned her neck over the back of the sofa and let out a miniature, "Woo?" as she mercilessly thumped the couch pillows with her tail.

Rob, stunned by a Jim Henson Creature Shop level of adorable, immediately hugged Puddles, and she stopped barking. We're strict disciplinarians around here, you know, get out of line and suffer the snuggles.

Rob left for work, and my dog put her head on my shoulder for a moment. I'm surprised I survived. It was a full blown cuteness assault.

"You're a good girl," I said, and the couch pillows took their seventeenth beating this morning alone.

A Blue Heeler. I pondered and sipped. Now when searching for an English Terrier, it is indeed possible that a Scottish Terrier would come up on the search. It even makes sense that Puddles, a dog listed as a Scottish Terrier mix might even get caught up in the displayed results. If you're searching only pets close to your geographical location, that is because we all know when only looking for information that its geographical location has an impact on its validity.

The funny thing about "I was just looking, you're the one that picked her out" search is the Blue Heeler. I don't know if Rob really believes that he was just looking, or not. I will say that looking for dog breeds on a site called PetFinder pretty much says all that needs to be said. Having that random Heeler in there might actually add credence to "I was just looking" claim.

At dogs within driving range, of course.

But I haven't ever really called Rob on it too much.

"She's your dog, you picked her out!" Rob will say as Puddles dances around with a pink Croc in her mouth. "How'd you pick out such a bad one?"

"I must just have a gift," I'll generally say, letting him get away with blaming me for an animal he clearly adores.

After all, I think he's cute.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


My hand had just come in contact with the glass when the phone rang. A Friday night, prime for kicking back and watching a movie with my husband, an adult beverage seemed like a good idea. Hearing my ringtone trill caused me to freeze before I'd even had a sip. I knew the chances were good that my son was calling for some form of rescue. My husband answered my cell phone.

Last July I wrote a post called Generation Phone Home and among my real life friends, and a couple of online friends that descriptor took hold. A couple of my friends with kids will refer to their own experiences with their children with things like, "Generation Phone Home struck again."

It's just something that modern-day parents can relate to, evidently.

My son had a flat tire last night, and needed to be talked through things like loosening the lug nuts. Then another call when he was done because, "Mom, now my keys won't turn in the ignition!" I rather reasonably asked if his steering wheel was locked in place, which it was. Jiggle the wheel back and forth, son. Jiggling proved key.

I hung up and my untouched drink sat beside me. I knew better than to think the matter was closed until my son walked through the door. Sure enough, five minutes later, my son phoned home again.

"The spare is flat," he said from the depths of his understandable despair.

"Okay, where are you?" I sighed, but my husband reached for the phone and informed my son that he would be coming to get him. He advised me to go ahead and drink my cocktail.

You see, it's been a month since my son hasn't needed some form of rescue at least once a week. He locked his keys in his car as the opening bid and I took a spare key to him. I made sure to hang around and get it back, so I could return it to the file I keep it in. He lost his wallet on campus, and the campus police called me. He needed to be driven to get that, as trust me on this, my son attempting to drive without his driver's license in his possession is just a recipe for disaster. There have been a couple of other things, too.

This morning, as my husband woke my son up in order to drag him off for tire repair, we sat together and discussed what we were both like at twenty, wondering if my son was more, or less of a disaster. By the time I was twenty I lived across the country from any of my family. If something went wrong, I had to fix it myself. That's all true, but something occurred to me as I told my husband about the flat tires I have known.

The first flat I had was at nineteen, and I quickly discovered that I didn't have a crowbar in my possession. Brainstorming I remembered I had passed a service station a mile or so back. I grabbed my purse, and began walking. I made it precisely a half a block before passing a road construction crew.

"You have a flat?" The crew boss called to me.

"I do, I don't have a crowbar though, so I'm going to the service station," I replied and thought I'd keep walking.

"We've got a crowbar!" The man, clearly he was quite amused as I was dressed for work in a Chi-Chi's waitress outfit. Hey, it was my summer job but if you'd seen that uniform, you'd have a good idea what was cracking up the road crew. I looked like an extra escaped from a John Ford film in which I should soon declare something about not needing, "no stinkin' badges". "C'mon guys, let's go change a tire!"

And with that, four public works employees downed tools with a clatter, and trouped as one over to my Mercury Lynx. That's right, my car had about as much dignity as my outfit. I followed meekly and watched.

The next time I was driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, heading back to Colorado after a visit back East in my late twenties, when my tire blew. I had literally not finished pulling over before a pickup truck was pulling in behind me, and a large man leaped from the interior.

"I saw your tire blow, figured I'd lend a hand," He proclaimed and over my protests about how I appreciated the help, but I had what I needed said, "Honey, I've got a daughter your age. I'd want someone to help her."

He wouldn't take any money from me, just directed me to the next exit's Firestone to get the flattened tire repaired. By the way, that man was secretly a member of the Tire Changing gods because I've never seen anyone so efficiently do something, while fielding an attempt at polite protest the entire time.

By the time I had my next, I was thirty. I'd had a business meeting in an office park that ran late, and when I came out to my car, found that my tire was busy settling into permanent disuse. Flat is too mild a term for how thoroughly that tire had given up on life. I must have run over a school of glass-shard-coated piranhas in a spike-lined puddle to bring about that level of flat.

Well, dammit, I wanted to change that tire. I was in a parking lot, there was no danger under the street lights, and the time had come for me to prove to myself that I, an empowered woman with a fully working knowledge of how to change a tire, could do so. I'd jumped a huge variety of cars, taken care of a host of other maintenance issues, but I had yet to successfully change my own tire. Come hell, high water; damnation or flood, I was going to do this for myself. Only I couldn't get the hubcap off.

Never fear, I walked into a nearby office building, interrupted some sort of meeting in progress and asked the assembled group of men if anyone had a screwdriver, as I wasn't able to pry my hubcap off. Outside it began to bucket down rain.

Do I even need to add that instead of handing me a screwdriver from his truck, the man who came outside with me insisted on changing my tire, as I made small sounds of protest, and held an umbrella over his head? Or that when he was done, he handed me the flat-blade screwdriver I have to this day and said, "You should keep this, just in case."

I like to tell myself I am part of what I referred to as Generation Save Your Own Butt, but the truth of the matter is a little closer to being that I evidently can barely hit a public street without someone attempting to rescue me instead.

There are a lot more stories like that. Just earlier this year I was at the Home Depot, buying a ladder that was quite lightweight but ungainly at an almost epic level, and I ran a near gauntlet of offers of help trying to get it to my car. I'd wheel my cart four feet, balancing that bad boy, and every single person I passed offered to help me. Young men, older men, a particularly muscular woman. I must have a homing beacon implanted in my spine that sends off waves of perceived helplessness. That or there are a lot of good, helpful people in this world, and I don't discount that possibility.

So was I really any better at working a problem, or was I set down on this earth with a particularly delicate-looking countenance that makes other people practically stampede to my rescue? Truthfully, it's a bit of both. After my encounter in the rain, I spent the next Saturday practicing changing my own tire, just to prove to myself I could if the need arose.

Rob told me his stories, all of which involved simply muscling off a tire, replacing it with a spare, and heading back down the road. I shared my theory that perhaps I was fooling myself that I was any good at riding to my own rescue. Many a protest issued forth from my tall husband, why I was the most capable woman he knows, he'd seen me put out a literal fire with his own eyes. Watched as I'd ducked passed him to get to the main water shut off when a plumbing problem occurred, and he didn't even know where it had been. My husband defended my independence so much, but it did seem a rather charming example of protesting too much.

Sure, I could do things for myself, when I had to.

"Yeah, thanks, but there's just one thing..." I began and faltered.

"What's that?"

"When you offered to go and get him for me, I let you." It was true, I hadn't protested much at all, just asked if Rob was sure, and then gratefully picked up my drink when he told me he was.

"Oh you can't count that!" My husband leaped to my defense, "Four times in four weeks you've had to go and take care of things for Flint, and it was dark outside and..."

He went on as I listened with growing skepticism about my own independence, remembering how I'd gladly allowed him to ride off to my son's rescue. Sure, the ready cell phone may have arrested self-sufficient development to some degree in my son's generation.

But maybe a fraction of it was learned behavior, after all.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The iFolly

Before descending to wreak havoc upon the enemy the Barbarian Hordes were said to let loose with a chilling array of vocal sounds meant to terrify the enemy and Confederate soldiers whooped out the Rebel Yell during the American Civil War as their battle cry. Neither group has anything on the average Apple store in terms of an unholy din.

It started last February, my trusty Sony Vaio felt decidedly unwell. It wasn't actually belching out clouds of smoke and requesting the last rites, but to say it was sluggish would be to imply that it still moved and that's not accurate either. It was six-years-old but that turned out to be the extent of its lifetime. Even launching Firefox caused it to crash, and lie motionless in a fit of machine malaise the likes of which I had never seen.

So I decide to buy a Mac, my first mistake, really. It's just that everyone who has one of those things swears up and down, and down up that they are the answer to prayers. I don't think any item has quite the brand loyalty that Apple does but I'm here to tell you I'm in the dark as to why.

I decided not to take the offered tutoring classes, which was a mistake, in retrospect. It's just that since dinosaurs roamed the earth with 14400 baud modems strapped to their backs I've been using PCs and I get by just fine.

"We'll teach you how to do anything you like!" The young man said with a smile.

That should have been my first indication that I was iScrewed. . Three times I'd been shooed off of a stool since entering the store, "I'm sorry, but those are for a class that's about to start." I'm actually not blaming Apple for that. They must get a lot of looky-loos and their classes are for customers that have already purchased their products.

I heard the offer of classes, looked around at the babbling insanity that was the Park Meadows Mall Apple store and thought that only if attending classes there was a condition of the ransom for my favorite nephew (it would have to be my favorite) would I ever volunteer to hang out in the joint, trying to learn.

"You tutor people here?" I asked, and the young man cheerfully assured me they did. I couldn't figure out a polite way to say I'd rather transport directly to a Medieval Rendering of the Bowels of Hell than try to do anything there, so instead I said, "I'll be fine. If I get stumped, I'll get a book."


That was nine months ago. Nine months of searching for drop down menus that don't exist. Doing the old trial and error, but having it only end in error. I'm pretty tenacious so I kept at it, consulting the web for answers and finding helpful passages that began with things like, "Macs are very intuitive..." which I can only assume means "keep guessing" because good lord, I couldn't even save and use an image on this computer. Right clicking? There is no right click menu. Or options to delete, or really anything other than fevered prayer, as far as I can tell.

So I bought a book for Dummies, because it was clear that I qualified when it came to Macs. The first thing I did was to look up "Save Image" and that went nowhere fast. I'm an iIdiot. Do they make books for me?

For nine months whenever I wanted to use an image, or really, a computer I scurried to my trusty HP laptop. Vista, the most dreaded operating system in the world, was still the preferable option for me. Finally I decided I'd had enough and this entire week I've been beating my brains out on my Mac. One of us is going down, and I fear it is going to be me. Half the time when I touch this mouse, it immediately goes flipping back. I've lost enough text in these past nine months to crush a small nation with the sheer volume of words.

iTried. iFailed. iSwore. iTried again, and again. Finally I had some marginal success.

After a week of trying I have three things to show for my efforts. Are you ready? Here is the picture I wanted to share with you. The one that started my week long battle. I need a member of the Barbarian Hordes to scare the wits out of my Mac long enough for me to accomplish anything, but we're going to try.

If that didn't work there's going to be some iDrinking in my future.

Then I wanted to change my profile picture so I used Photo Booth to take some picture, straight from my home office to you, and I settle on this one because I look appropriately baffled in it:

However, I took photos like this:

Which was clearly a mistake. And this:

As I tried to figure out the timing on the iCamera. I think I look best in over-exposed light, by the way. That can't be a good sign.

That's when I realized something. I can't even figure out how to delete the blasted things!



At least for now.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Translating for Jim

Suldog, aka Jim, tagged me for a meme. Now, I normally don't complete those. I find the answers to them interesting when other people do them, but generally speaking the questions are not ones that will provide much of an interesting window into me, so I pass them by.

However, Jim is in the midst of quitting smoking. This is an endeavor with which every person who smokes or has smoked, or known someone who did or does, wishes him the absolute best because it is famously difficult for good reason. It has given him Nicotine-Deprived Brain Syndrome, of course, and that's a malady that requires the assistance of friends. One of the times I saw a friend of mine in the grips of this affliction he was desperately trying to pry the hatch off of a remote controlled car, in order to install new batteries. Brian was using a hammer, when a screwdriver was needed.

This guy had a masters in something or other, I believe it was geology but can't completely recall, and as he thwacked the little car, rather lightly, with the hammer he seemed to be crooning to a god of misfortune as he did:

"I'm getting frustrated, stumped! Hate this, haaaaaaatttteee this," in a small, sing-song voice.

A nearby friend gently took the hammer away, and started replacing the batteries on the car for Brian's waiting son, who was looking at Brian as if he was completely convinced his father had popped a crucial artery.

So when friends have their thought process eaten whole by withdrawal, when normally nimble minds are turned into a raging, fire-breathing beast, stumbling through the Japanese urban centers of the filmscape, I stand at the ready offering my support in the only way I can. By making fun of them in as kind and truly supportive a fashion as I can.

Let's Go:

Jim asked: 1 - You have a choice. You can have your nose replaced with a second set of your genitals, or you can have your genitals replaced with a second nose. Which would you choose, and why?

The Greek chorus supplies: Oh no, there goes Tokyo, Godzilla!

Helpful notes from Jim's sane brain: So you get that I didn't give a lot of thought to asking women this question, right? That I'm not trying to be demeaning, or anything? Because I'm really not.

Duly noted, Jim, I do know that about you. Never fear, and also, most women do know that men are obsessed with their Wee Willy Winkies, even as they run through the town. They don't seem to get that women really aren't. However, despite being descended from literal Puritans, I have no problem admitting that I have all bits and parts in working order, and they are staying where they belong, Jim. I don't have a problem saying, writing, thinking or referring to a vagina, but I don't want one on my face. Now lest you want me to pop you in the slats, wherever they may reside, let's translate, shall we?

Translation into non-withdrawal-induced question: Which is the worse fate: Being naked in public, or being stricken with food poisoning miles from the nearest lavatory?

Answer: Food poisoning wins by a mile on that with or without nearby facilities. Whereas it wouldn't be a treat for the general public if I was to be beamed in, stark naked into the average thriving metropolis, that's unpleasant for other people more than it is for me.

Jim asked: 2 - Do you think I give a tinker's damn?

Notes from Jim's sane brain: This one I stand by. Semantic arguments can be fun, dammit. Do I smell toast?

Answer: It depends on whether you believe the phrase to be "Tinker's Damn" or "Tinker's Dam". To the first? No, I do not believe you give a tinker's damn. Now, do I believe that if I set you to repairing a dam that you would do a tinkerer's job on repairing it? Let me think about that as I clutch my oars, grab a boat and load all of my prized possessions into it, okay?

Jim asked: 3 - If you suddenly found yourself transformed into a cockroach, would you step on yourself?

Jim's sane brain: Normally I'd reference Kafka playing softball somewhere in there, but I'm under a strain.

Answer: Only if I get to pop in from an alternate universe to do so. In the alternate universe I have a goatee, because those are the rules of the alternate universe. People with goatees are known for stomping, really they are.

Jim asked: 4 - If fuschia was a smell, and avocados were polar bears, why not Toronto?

Jim's sane brain said: *whimper* I think I've started hallucinating. Somebody get me a donut, please! Donuts fight off the DTs, I'm sure they do.

Translation: Are you a fan of surrealist art? If you are, does that mean you keep trying to melt your clocks? Do dream about people speaking backwards while falling from the sky, clutching sheep?

Answer: I'm only a fan of light surrealism because my brain tends to go off on tangents anyway. My ability to free associate is rather too well-developed as it is, and now that you've mentioned that? Yeah, incoming sheep from my sleeping brain, thanks a lot, Jim.

Jim's sane brain: Hey! I didn't even ask that question!

Answer: But my magic eightball assures me that you wanted to. Take this pastry, it's glazed, you'll feel better.

Jim asked: 5 - Does the fact that Deep Purple isn't in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame piss you off? How about the fact that Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers ARE in there? I mean, come on, not a bad singing group, but that's like putting Eddie Brinkman in Cooperstown.

Eddie Brinkman, whom I really liked as a player, but come on...

Jim's sane brain: Don't you dare translate that!! That one I really meant!

Translation: Oh, okay then, never mind

Answer: Eh, no it doesn't tick me off. Not in the way that Christine O'Donnell ticks me off. I save my outrage for things that matter to me personally, and whereas I like Deep Purple, I'm not about to get het up about them on any level.

Jim Asked: 6 - If you were Eddie Brinkman, would you be pissed off now?

Straightforward answer: Seeing as I'd have to Google him to even have a chance at knowing, you're stuck out of luck there, Jim. I'm too busy trying to help a friend quit smoking in any way, shape or form I can to bother much with the inner workings of Mr. Brinkman.

Jim asked: 7 - Artichokes or Hand Grenades?

Jim's brain: I wish this day was over already!

The Greek Chorus Supplies: You can do it, Duffy Moon!

Translation: How hungry was the poor sod who first tried to eat an artichoke?

Answer: I know, right?? I'm guessing he was hiding from someone lobbing hand grenades or finally got tired of playing with his...never mind.

Jim asked: 8 - What's that smell?

The Greek Chorus Supplies: Everything's coming up roses!

Jim's sane brain: No really, is someone making toast?

Answer: You can do it, Jim. Just hang in there and keep trying.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dawn Patrol

When a dog landed on my head promptly at five in the morning, for the fourth day in a row, it occurred to me that this routine was getting old at an astonishing rate.

"Gah! No," I whimpered, pulling the pillow over my head, "Zaphtbleghack."

My husband's moans of distress were somewhat deeper, but not meaningfully more articulate.

"Stop it, you evil dog!" He cried, "Stop it!"

But he was heaving himself out of bed as he said it. You see, Rob had the bright idea to start jogging in the morning, instead of in the evening, and had declared, "I can take the dog with me! She loves to run."

Oh, she loves to run, alright. She can also evidently tell time, too. This led to her two new nicknames: BeealzePud and Pudcifer. Rob made it through ten days of these merciless Dawn Patrol awakenings, initiated by the World's Cutest Alarm Clock. She needs to be that cute to escape a Throw-Rug's fate, as I take my sleep rather seriously. However, it's impossible to be angry with anything that damned excited to see you. Bags began to form under Rob's eyes. Exercise is supposed to be good for you, not drive you into an early grave. I intervened and together we formed a plan to break up Puddles's routine enough that she would never know if it was a walk day, a run day, a sleep-late day or a "leave us in peace as we drown our sorrows in coffee" day. I took her on walks, Rob took her on runs. Pretty much everyone got in some coffee drinking. Don't think I didn't see you, cat. Leave my mug alone. Throw-rug-in-the-making.

We all get into routines and sometimes have to alter them when the routines start controlling us too much. Whereas I'll miss the summer, and days spent reading in the shade between dips in the pool one thing I won't miss is our crazed plum hunt this summer.

We have a plum tree in our backyard and that darned thing could feed a village. Seriously, if anyone has any advice on how to stop a plum tree from bearing fruit, I would just about erect an altar and worship you daily if you tell me how. Not even the biggest plum enthusiast known to god or man could possibly want that many plums. I don't even recall if we had such a bumper crop last year, but this year, having gotten the aforementioned living Fraggle, Puddles we were keenly aware of the fruit. Let's just leave it at: Puddles over-indulged one day and the hunt was on. We were a couple possessed by the desire to destroy all plums for reasons best left entirely to the imagination.

The problem was that the dog was far more skilled at finding the plums with her nose -- an organ so large we don't call it a "sniffer", we call it her "snoofer" -- than we were with our pitifully limited, human eyeballs on the wood-chips that constitute our ground-cover. Eventually the blasted things fermented, and that actually made them easier to find, seeing as (I'm not kidding) there was the never-to-be-forgotten Day of the Drunken Bees.

Overall it was a good summer, a wonderful summer, really. There is a hint of Autumn in the air, the mornings are once again chilly and small patches of leaves begin to turn. The chicken wire over our window wells prevented any more baby bunnies from meeting a gruesome fate, and the neighborhood is populated by the ones that made it to adulthood.

Every other morning, a routine that proved to be much kinder to his over-forty knees, my husband sees two plump, blinking Owls perched in the trees, slightly larger than our dog with a wing span that made him gasp.

It's not just the weather I'll miss about summer, it's that the world around me tells so many stories during the season.

I hope you are all well. It's been a real treat reading your blogs, and your stories again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shouting from the Depths of August

Good people of the internet, greetings and salutations! The summer is getting away from me, and I apologize for a long absence. I wanted to wait until I actually had time to catch up on blogs before posting again, but today I received my third request to say something, anything at all.

I usually don't like to do that without being able to return the favor and read blogs, but it seems I have a friend in need of a funny story, actually, three friends requested "tell a funny story, would you?" and whereas that generally results in extreme duds when it comes to humor writing, I'm going to give it a shot.

For, hopefully, your giggling pleasure I present to you three tales of my idiocy, one for each friend in need of a giggle.

This happened last night:

Don't read if you are sensitive to vomit stories!

So, my cat hurls a fair amount, as do most cats. Since he's my evil Gray cat, he likes to actually throw up on something absorbent, because that's how he rolls. I've seen him scurry off of hardwood floor onto the carpet to throw up. I get the concept, that way he isn't throwing up on his feet. To him it's more comfortable, for me it's a reason to get out the steam cleaner.

Well, he just managed to toss his cookies on the stair landing last night, so I've already done the weekend "spot clean the cat's hork spots" cleaning and as it happens? I'm out of the special pet cleaner shampoo because of that.

He hops up onto the arm of the sofa and does that "Huck-AH HUCK-AH..." retching, and I immediately jump to my feet to get him, at least, off of the sofa. He scurries along in front of the sofa, me in hot pursuit. He stops dead short of the hardwood in the kitchen, with about two feet to go, so that he can puke without soiling his paws. I scoop him up, like I'm recovering a fumble in mid-stride, trying to get him the last two feet into the kitchen....when I trip...and the cat goes sailing through the air, and vomits mid-air, so that it has a scatter-shot, shotgun effect, covering about six feet of the hardwood (yay!) in a spectacular arc, that ends on Rob's shoes (boo!).

The cat hates me a lot right now, that's for sure.

All cleaned up, but if you've ever wondered what a cat might look like sailing through the air, spewing chow as he goes? I have a sad level of familiarity with that now.

Still beats the sofa, I guess.

This happened a three weeks ago:

On a beautiful evening, enjoying the calm, warm weather I went outside to ask my husband a question of some great import. It probably was something of great import, at least. I don't really remember, but I'm willing to give myself the benefit of that doubt. As I passed by the pool, I decided to drag my toes through the inviting water.

Just as my foot hit the water, my gaze was caught by motion. A small, drenched creature, about the size of a swimming avocado, with eyes roughly the size of dessert plates was making its way along the side of the pool, swimming for all it was worth. As is my way, I swung into crisis solving mode, and in such instances that involves yelling my brains out and hoping that I will be rescued. What? That is too a solution. Try it and see.

"Rob?!?, " I screamed with enough force that someone in Vail with the name of Robert probably sat up with an expectant look on his face, " ROB?!? Critter! Critter in the pool! Hurry hurry hurry, it's gonna drown! The Critter is going to drown!!!"

To which he replied, "Is it a baby bunny?"

Like he'd just misplaced one. Sure enough, the creature swimming desperately towards the pool filter (which wasn't going to work out well for him) bore some resemblance to a drenched bunny.

"Yes, yes, it's a bunny!!" For all I knew it was a strangely shaped, and furred python, but if agreement was going to rescue us both, agreement was called for.

Now, you may ask, "Why didn't you do anything? Are you simple? Are you daft?"

Uh, maybe? The fact of the matter is that I froze, badly. I should have gotten the pool skimmer. I should have snatched up a nearby bucket and scooped the little creature to safety. What I did instead was hop in place and bellow. Yay?

Luckily my husband is trained to answer the bellowing of his wife's call and for the sake of one wee bunny, be glad. He was fished from the drink by my husband, with the aid of a Tupperware pitcher.

Now he likes to reenact my, "Critter! Critter in the pool!" Cry for help. Well, fine. See how much better you do when the water stares back at you.

As for how my husband knew there was a baby bunny about? It seems my dog had recently flushed one from a bush in the backyard. He had a slight advantage over me in that he was fully expecting one teeny, freaked out bunny. I was expecting a refreshing foot bath.

The third funny thing qualifies as humor of the darkest variety, and involves some poor mother bunny, who seemingly dropped a litter of kits in our front bushes, and then left them there. I've been assured that rabbits are actually very good mothers but as our neighborhood is stuffed with both bunnies, and SUVS, I leave it to you to speculate as to her fate. I don't know for certain that's what became of her, but I do know that not long after our baby bunny encounter, we had still more. Baby bunnies wandered about, sans parental supervision, it seems.

My son emerged from the basement and informed me that he heard scuffling sounds coming from the window wells. He was off to work, and that left just me to go and provide the lifesaving scooping. I donned my garden gloves and a grim expression as I've done this before. You need good reflexes as it seems all small rabbits have ingested some form of superball, and bounce accordingly.

Unfortunately for the bunny population, my son is not highly attuned to sounds in his environment and judging from the scene of mass bunny destruction before me, he'd missed at least four plummeting bunnies. One stared disconsolately up at me from what can only be described as the Killing Fields. That's all I'm going to tell you about the grimmer aspects of my bunny rescuing activity that morning but I will say that I atoned for my inability to move when Swimmer Bunny was trying to dash himself to Bunny Kingdom Come in the pool filter.

I was yodeling like a cross between the Swiss Miss and those freaky six foot long horns featured in cough drop ads, but jump down amongst the grimness I did. Puddles cowered in mortal terror above as I sounded as if I'd ingested an air raid siren.

Amidst many screams of my own protest, I scooped out the bunny and then surprised myself by vaulting, without aid of pole, directly out of the window well where I did the Heebeejeebie Dance of Yuck for approximately five minutes.

Then when Rob got home, I abandoned all Gender Equality and played the girl card, "Honey? Deal with that freaky level of gross would you?" and good man that he is, he did.

If anyone is missing two lizards, one bird, three baby bunnies, and a toad that miraculously survived the slaughterhouse powers of my window well, do let me know.

I'm sorry I'm absent. There is luckily no dire reason for this. This last winter seemed to drag on forever, and ever. So I've been making sure to enjoy the summer while we have it. I will return come fall, and I promise faithfully to go back to my habit of both reading, and commenting at length on your blogs.

Until then I will be wishing you all great fortune, and absolutely no encounters with baby bunnies.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Most Recent Post Deleted

Hello! If you noticed that a post called Ride of the Valkyrie has been deleted, I apologize for that and thank everyone who commented. I did reply to everyone but actually, my husband asked me if I would delete it, and as he's never asked for anything like that before, I complied.

He was concerned that it had the potential to hurt my son's feelings, and in thinking it over, I think he's right.

Thanks to everyone who commented, and really lifted my spirits on that. It is truly appreciated.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

First the Sound Then the Fury

The man on the phone had absolutely no way of knowing how deeply he had just terrified me, or why I was acting like a complete schmuck. The top of my scalp was tingling and quickly going numb, it felt as if the air had been forcibly sucked from my lungs, and my knees had quite literally buckled together in an effort to keep me upright. There was no way he could have known any of that because the entire response by my nervous system had taken less than two full seconds.

Everyone who has anyone that they love knows how this feels. The late night or early morning phone call, those seconds in between registering that the phone is ringing at an off hour, and finding out why that is are among the most horrible seconds in life. So when my cell phone rang at 7:46 on a weekend morning, immediately I was on alert. It didn't help that I knew my son had been out all night, as he had told me he would be. Or that I knew my husband had left early in the morning to go and do maintenance on the rental home we own. Steve from Insert-Name-Here Painting just had no way of knowing that the two people I love most in the world were out in it, and I hadn't had so much as a sip of coffee.

"Hello?" I said into the phone, the number identified merely as "unknown" on my cell phone display. I was only partially steeled for the worst.

"Mrs. _______?" A very serious male voice inquired. An officious voice. A deadly calm voice. The voice of notification. If the Grim Reaper makes prank phone calls, he likely sounds one hell of a lot like this dude. It probably doesn't help that a lot of people have no idea how to pronounce my first name if they've only ever read it, and rather than try, this guy decided to err on the side of formality. Bad choice, painter man.

Somewhere inside of me a woman nearly deranged by fear managed to answer. We've all gotten the bad calls in our lives and they start like that. It's the greeting of a police officer, a coroner, a fireman. For all I know it's how the flipping Coast Guard captain sounds, before telling you that entire chunks of your life have been found bobbing in the surf.

"This is Steve Eckland from InsertNameHere Painting," he continued in a decidely dour tone.

Just like that every person I love hopped directly out the ditch in which I had mentally placed them, but Steve Eckland doesn't know that to this moment. He doesn't know that my son is a Type 1 diabetic, who doesn't take very good care of his diabetes. Or that I've been told by medical professionals that I'm simply going to have to standby as he flounders through that. He doesn't know that my husband had just been driving on two separate major highways, or that his father actually died doing precisely that. Or that, because the universe has an exceptionally dark sense of humor at times, Rob even had my dog with him. Really, there was just no way for Mr. Steve Eckland (not his real name) to know that in the space of less than ten seconds he had frightened me so badly I actually felt like I might faint.

What he does know is that Saturdays are a work day for him. That he works for the painting company that is contracted to paint the exterior of our house this coming week and he also knew something I did not: he was returning my husband's call. The other thing he likely knows is that he got the most ill-tempered, icy, unfriendly woman in the world on the phone, first thing in the morning.

Numfar, do the dance of rage, silently yelped that woman inside my head, freshly returned from the Isle of Terror.

"Yes?" A small word, yet I know it dripped fury and icicles. My tone of voice at that moment is actually the thing that killed the dinosaurs lo those many years ago.

Anger is the big brother of our emotional response system. It's rarely a pure emotion. Sure, we all have that righteous anger response from time-to-time. A news-piece about a nefarious individual cheating nuns out of money meant to save the baby seals brings it out. Someone dropping kicking infants, or preying on helpless young children. That pure, outraged anger that comes from the place of what is right, versus what is absolutely wrong but most anger is actually about protecting our other emotions. Fear, shame, vulnerability, anger is in charge of guarding the tender parts of our souls. Most of the time when anger sweeps over me like a raging tidal wave, it comes from somewhere cowering.

Want to make someone gibber with rage? Make them feel a right fool first and foremost. Or accidentally make them believe that their treasured and adored loved ones are in peril. I was in complete control of what I was saying, but my tone was about as friendly as a wolverine tweaked out on Meth.

Poor Steve from InsertNameHere Painting, from his perspective I am a shrew with the thinnest veneer of courtesy. That woman who just apparently hates all bipeds and is hard-pressed to bestir herself to even a semblance of civility. I was a harridan, a near banshee. I sucked all joy from time and space. People, I was pissed right the hell off and for no other reason than for the briefest of moments I thought my very worst fears in the world had been realized. Those thorny, malicious demons that come and perch on your chest when you lie awake, staring at the unvarying ceiling above after awaking from a nightmare with nothing to do but listen to your own thudding heart were present in that tone.

Powerful suckers that they are, I was struggling to keep them in check and although I heard my fishwife tone, at the moment the blinding anger towards the person who had frightened me to the core of my being held sway. If I'm being entirely honest, I wasn't actually trying that darned hard to stop it. At that moment I was a ballistic missile.

Over a question about power-washing, but that's the nature of the beast. Whether it is protecting hurt feelings, paralyzing fear, or thwarted love, that kind of anger is the hardest kind to club down and just force it to behave. The "thank you" I uttered at the end of the conversation sounded like it hailed from the Ironic Universe. The words said one thing, the tone was very much insulting his lineage.

And I felt like the biggest jerk in the world because at that moment, I was one of them.

I believe in accountability. I think when you do something wrong, the word does not end but you do have a responsibility to own up to it, make it right. However, in just a couple of seconds Steve, whose own phone manner could actually use a little freaking work, had me envisioning life support machines and possible caskets in my future, was also being a tiny bit remiss in treating his work day as mine also. In addressing me with all the friendliness reserved for a perpetrator of Nana Muggings.

I'll see him this week, and I'll have a chance to utter an apology for being grumpy. I can put it down to the very real, "I had yet to have coffee, I'm sorry."

He has no way of knowing that, like a lot of people, I've had more than one person unexpectedly perish. Really, Steve the Painter doesn't understand how he stepped on the hornet's nest this morning. Or that after I hung up, and grabbed that much needed cup of coffee I was a little sick-to-my stomach.

Anger is complicated, and sometimes amusing to consider in the aftermath. I have a generally cheerful disposition. I don't get angry all that easily, generally speaking at least. But evidently the access to my coldest form of fury lies directly down the road from my greatest fears.

Everybody has their sacred ground. The stuff we protect within us with the sabers and guns of our emotions.

Poor Steve but, screw it, I tip well and although it is almost two hours later, I'm still a little miffed that I started the morning with a blast off into terror, that then made me feel foolish, which in turn woke up the Troll sleeping under my personal bridge. The goat community reports no survivors.

Next time maybe he'll wait until the back of eight o'clock in the morning to make a call with his Undertaker's tone in full swing. I'll be over here waiting for the Gruff Killing Troll to return to the land of Nod.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Touring the World Via DMV

The Division of Motor Vehicles, no one who drives can escape it. A huge cross section of humanity is present there during the hours of operation. Rich or poor, fat or thin if you want to legally drive a car in the United States sooner or later the bell tolls and the time has come. A grumble here, a sigh there, we gird up our loins and sally forth to take care of our required documentation, registration, and identification. A necessary evil, not unlike going to the dentist, only with much worse lighting and less laughing gas, to be sure.

However, visiting three different DMVs in the course of one day is not recommended. I know this from bitter experience.

"What's your number?" I asked my son, as he returned from the information desk.

He consulted the scrap of paper, "543."

A little more than a minute later the clerk droned, "501, now serving 501. 501, now serving 501."

Oh this was going to be a long day's journey into night, all right.

I had been settling in to write an email to my friend Angela. I'm so far behind on email at this stage in the game, there are people who likely will accept nothing less than a written note from the alien that abducted me by way of apology. Finally I'd carved out an afternoon's worth of correspondence time, and I was looking forward to it. That's when my Mom Ears alerted me to an increasingly rare occurrence: The sound of my son's voice, with that tone to it. That "I'm actually afraid to tell you how much trouble I'm in right now, but you might want to prepare to freak out." That tone. That spine tingling, adrenaline alerting, sense sharpening tone.

"Mom?" He said. Just one word, but it's all in the inflection. My son had only left the house an hour earlier, and he was back, with that troubling quaver.

I immediately closed my laptop and set it down, "Yes?"

Weirdly, I tend to keep it short when tense. Something that never fails to unnerve those who know me well. An almost perfect stranger to brevity at all other times, I become one of the most concise communicators when things go south.

"Do you have an extra copy of my car insurance card?"

And we were off to the races. Flint had been pulled over back in December, for a variety of things, speeding was the primary reason, but the officer had found three other things to cite him on. My husband and I pay for almost everything in my son's life. The roof over his head, the tuition at his college, his car and medical insurance, almost every morsel of food that goes into his mouth, heck even his clothing is still provided by us. He's only nineteen, and he's a full-time student during the school year. However, he does have two things for which he is financially responsible, his cell phone and his car registration. Guess which one he let lapse?

To try and condense his tale of woe: he had neglected to pay entirely for his ticket , having taken the installment plan with Jefferson County. On the morning, six months after receiving his violation, that he was finally going to be able to pay off his fine altogether, he was pulled over again. This time with an overdue balance at Jeffco, a car that still needed to be registered, and having misplaced his insurance card. Since we're in Douglas County, my son was earning a rep both far and wide.

Rather than impound his vehicle and arrest him, the good-souled cop who pulled him over for grossly expired tags, gaped in horror and said, "Kid, you do realize you could actually go to jail for this? I'm putting your license on probation."

With that he walked away, toting said license, and off he drove.

As my son outlined the story, I listened in almost complete silence, and then without a word, went to the file that contains extra copies of our insurance cards, and fished one out. I stopped by the bathroom, combed my hair, checked my makeup, secured the dog in the large master bath with water and toys, then grabbed my purse and keys.

"Mom, I'm going to need a ride to..." His girlfriend had rescued him from his encounter with the LawDog but I knew he needed someone who couldn't choose to dump him halfway through the proceedings, just to escape.

"I know, let's get going."

I suppose I could have swung into the lecture to end all lectures. I could have let loose with the regular song and dance about responsibility and growing up, but we had a problem to solve and only about six hours left in the day to solve it. Besides, I knew even as we embarked on the journey, that this entire adventure would likely suck with such a vengeance that he'd never forget it.

First we went to the courthouse, a mere thirty minutes away, where my son paid the remainder of his fine. Then we went to a DMV near our home which turned out to not do registrations, then to another that could not solve my son's myriad of problems, and were referred to the full service DMV another forty minute drive away. When we arrived we were greeted by a sea of humanity so diverse I half expected the crowd to burst into a rousing rendition of It's a Small World After All. All of them clutched a battered number. Surrounded by teens there to take their first driving tests, people of all shapes and sizes, many in regrettable fashion choices, and an LED screen that bizarrely kept scrolling trivia questions, sans answers we waited, and waited, and waited some more. Most of that time was spent perched on a window sill as the place was so packed with people, they'd run out of seats. I think my backside is now permanently dented.

Hour one passed at a snail's pace, and I perfected open-eyed meditation while listening to my iPod.

"515, now serving 515. 515, now serving 515. Last call for 515. A89, now serving A89..."

Yes, they had two separate sets of numbers going at once. For three clerks.

"Mom, I'm really sorry," my son said, yet again, "thank you for doing this."

"You're welcome, Flint."

Hour three and something about Yak's milk scrolled by on the trivia screen, that otherwise existed solely to inform people to have their documents ready when their number was called.

"527, now serving 527..."

A nearby child screeched at such a volume I could only assume he was expressing the pain of existence for everyone there.

"A92, now serving A92..."

The same child vomited, and I'm fairly certain his mother began to cry. I proffered tissues thinking that either one of them might be in need. They were stickily accepted. A janitor rolled forth, as if this was a common occurrence, and mopped the area with enough bleach to render all of the county incidentally sterile.

"Mom, what's taking so long?" A nearby teen whined, in a voice made from broken glass, "We've been here forever."

"We can go home, Karen." Her mother said, busily tapping away at a Blackberry.

For the fourth time the scantily clad teen huffed out that sigh all teen girls have perfected. The one I'm sure I must have emitted on more than one occasion myself, it sounds something like, "Mom-uh." That "uh" uttered with a shrill exasperation. I made a mental note to call my mother and thank her for sparing my life throughout my teen years.

My iPod battery gave up the ghost before 531 made it to the desk. The trivia scroll asked what the Donner Family was famous for, and I got a wholly inappropriate case of the giggles.

We were fortunate in that several times when a number was called, the person in question was nowhere to be found. I envisioned mummified corpses being stacked in the backroom, daily. Poor old number 537, it was just his time.

Finally after a period roughly the length of the Jurassic Age 543 was called, and off Flint went to get himself out of Dutch with the Division of Motor Vehicles. We'd still have to travel to yet another DMV in our own county to register his car, but that would have to wait until the following Monday.

"Mom-uh, how long is this going to take?" Karen inquired, yet again, as if her mother was a Magic Eight Ball that merely needed to be shaken to get a fresh answer.

"Karen, shut up." Her mother finally snapped.

On the drive home my son thanked me yet again, and then asked, "Are you mad at me?"

"No," I answered honestly, "I'm pretty sure every nineteen-year-old on the planet does something like this."

"Did you?"

"Well, not exactly but there was this time in Buttzville, New Jersey where I got pulled over at three o'clock in the morning."

"There's really a place called Buttzville?"

"Yes, and it's weirdly really pretty, it's up by the Delaware Water Gap..."

And I told him the rest of the story. I was home on a break, and had driven to Pennsylvania to visit my boyfriend at the time. While there I had either lost, or had stolen, my wallet. As luck would have it, this occurred in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, a town just as rural as it sounds. I'd been at a bar there. At three a.m. two days later I was pulled over, in my brother's car, because the officer thought I was weaving while driving. Thankfully, I hadn't had so much as an ounce of alcohol, I was just tired.

But my brother had not only let his registration lapse, there was no proof of insurance in that car and God help me, I'd lost my Driver's License with my wallet. There I was, in an entirely illegal vehicle, without even any way to prove who I was and having to say the word "Shickshinny" multiple times, which even for a State Trouper patrolling Buttzville sounded suspect.

When I told the story to a male friend of mine he said, "Oh my God Alane, if that had been me, I'd still be in jail. What did he do?"

He followed me to a diner, to make sure I was grabbing a cup of coffee, that's what he did. That was all he did. He didn't give me a warning. He didn't lecture me. He didn't throw my butt into the county jail. All of which he would have been perfectly entitled to do. Instead, he followed me to a diner, and then told me to drive safely, and stop if I got too tired. I never forgot that.

There are a lot of occasions when you're young that you screw up. You did it, I did it, the children who come after us will do it too. We learn our biggest lessons from our own mistakes, it is just part of how we grow.

Yelling about it won't often help, it will just make things louder as well as stressful.

"Mom?" My son said.

"You're welcome." I said before he could thank me again.

One word, and it's all in the tone. You might want to remember that, Karen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not Exactly an Oracle

No matter what anyone thinks of the concept of psychics most of us have been intrigued by the idea that someone could predict the future. In fact, there was a recent TV show that flopped spectacularly with that exact premise. The entire world passes out, and sees three minutes of their lives, six months in the future. It was called Flashforward and it was so unspeakably dull nearly all of the initial audience fled in the first few weeks, knowing that at least their futures wouldn't hold endless bleatings about Mark drinking in his fast forward. More than anything the show was about self-fulfilling prophecy.

We all know someone who says they woke up at the precise moment a relative, or loved one shuffled off the mortal coil, thousands of miles away. Or had a feeling of dread that kept them from doing something that ended in full scale doom for others. A ship that sank; sank without them. A plane that crashed, plummeted sans one passenger. Even small things like deciding to take a different route home that helped us avoid a huge traffic jam. Most people have something to report about feeling as if they have been warned by a cosmic force, or they know someone who has.

I'm the only person I know that has had a premonition about the comedic stylings of Janeane Garofalo, though. An entirely useless portent of funny.

I rather like household tasks in that I can let my mind wander as I do them. You don't generally need to be mentally present to do things like dust, vacuum, or unload the dishwasher. Invariably something odd will pop into my head, and I'll find myself mulling over the practice of foot binding, or how to make cheese, the French Revolution, or what Dali's dreams were like. I'm going with blazingly ordinary, in case anyone cares, by the way.

So as I put away some plates, and recalled for no earthly reason Janeane Garofalo's making fun of bar patrons tripping out into the night, hurling snowballs in an attempt to prove how whimsical, and therefore attractive they are, I thought nothing of it. Just a comedy snippet stuck in my brain from ages ago. It seemed unrelated to anything, but that's just how disengaging the brain works at times.

Last night my husband and I watched TV, and eventually found ourselves tuning into HBO's Comedy channel. Well, who doesn't need a laugh, right? I didn't even think it was odd when a half hour special, circa 1995 by Janeane Garofalo came on. She's done a bunch of shows for HBO, and clearly I like her comedy enough to just have her pop into my mind.

I didn't recognize the routine throughout. It was dated material, but I enjoy acerbic wit, and that's Garofalo's forte. About thirty seconds before she segued into the bar/snow/whimsicality piece, I realized that's where she was going, paused the TV and turned to my husband to proclaim:

"Okay, that's creepy. Creepy and entirely useless," I went on to outline that I seemingly had a random thought about an old comedy routine, and then ended up watching that routine that same night. We both agreed that it was hardly the stuff that would have either of us canceling flights, or hopping in the car to procure a lottery ticket. It was just one of those "Huh, that was strange and completely without purpose." mind flukes.

I once had a dream about the fire hydrant in front of our old house. Later that day, when I was wide awake, the fire hydrant popped a gasket (or whatever) and sent water gushing everyone in an entirely harmless manner.

My point is that Miss Cleo, of the alleged prognostication abilities wouldn't exactly want to hire me for a psychic friends network.

Just saying, if by any stretch of the imagination anyone is willing to term that a premonition, and even if you aren't, there is one thing we can all agree upon: How boring. It got me thinking about all of the things in my life it would have been nice to have a heads up for prior to something happening. Almost every sad, traumatic, or even painful thing that has happened in my life actually ended up leading to other good things. I know I've mentioned before that a particularly painful car accident, while seemingly without value of any kind in my life, is also the thing that helped put me in the time and place to meet my husband. Out of most bad situations in our lives, eventually something good comes, if not directly, then in the manner in which it changed the course of things.

Except for shocks to the system. I can't think of even one instance where having the hair nearly scared off of my head ended up being of any value. The time last week when I was underwater in our pool, popped to the surface and discovered a complete stranger standing in my backyard? Yup, served no purpose other than to make me glad that I was unable to actually fall over at that moment. A landscaper was lost, thought he had the right address, and when he realized he didn't, waited for the woman in the pool to come up for air, so he could ask for help. Thankfully he wasn't holding anything that could be construed as a weapon, or else I'd have likely screamed the sky down. Instead he had gotten "Drive" confused with "Court" and needed to go visit a cul de sac nearby.

As someone whose mind wanders whenever I'm not doing anything that allows it, I tend to have the stuffing scared out of me on about a weekly basis. Like this morning.

Head phones on, back to the street, waiting for my dog to finish up her attempts to fertilize a neighbor's lawn, I stepped forward with the least elegant of items almost always in my possession: the poo bag at the ready. It's never fun, but hey, it's the polite thing to do. Then you get to tour the world with a bag of excrement, until you reach home, which is an equally "I feel pretty" sort of feeling.

"THANK YOU!" A voice boomed over my shoulder, drowning out The White Stripes, Seventh Nation Army which is no small feat, and nearly making me take a header into a steaming pile.

I made a sound eerily reminiscent of Beaker from the Muppets.

"Meep?" As I pushed my headphones out of my ears, and wondered if it was actually possible to morph into an invertebrate as it felt as if my spine was puddling around my heels. Even the dog jumped slightly, and wagged questioningly, one paw raised in the universal canine signal of "Huh?"

"Thank you so much for picking up after your dog," the man said with great gusto, "just wanted to let you know how much it's appreciated!"

About this time he seemed to take note of the fact that even my hair looked alarmed.

"Sorry if I startled you," he said in a congenial fashion.

"Oh don't worry about it," I said as I tried to fold over the top of my doggie bag in as subtle a fashion as possible. There's just something strange about trying to exchange pleasantries while holding the least lovely of dog decorations.

My neighbor continued on, happy for a morning chat, thrilled not to have dog landmines seeded across his lawn and eventually my pulse rate settled back into its regular rhythm. We discussed a community garage sale that is being planned, which I don't have any wish to attend, but where apparently there are going to be lots of lemonade stands. This means that my neighborly duty will involve nipping across the street to buy some from our neighbors incredibly adorable children. Prevent scurvy, support your local munchkins, don't let the dog crap on anything valuable, it's all in a day's doings.

Now why couldn't I have had a premonition about that? Instead it's stupid stuff about the lengths bar patrons will go to in the quest for romance.

I'm sure someone has a great story about how they saved a bus load of people from a dire bout with food poisoning when they knew, just absolutely knew that the chicken salad at the Denny's was a stone cold killer. Not me though.

Call them inklings, foresight, messages from beyond, or what-have-you, mine are ordinary enough to be discovered by perusing the TV Guide.

Sort of pointless, really. Much like this post.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Although I am reasonably sure that The Broadmoor doesn't actually flog employees when they make a mistake, the pretty blond woman in front of me was visibly shaking nonetheless. A ribbon pinned to the blazer of her uniform declared her to be "in training" and she had told us earlier that she had been there for two weeks. Sheila and I were quickly shaping up to be nightmare customers for anyone in the service industry as we attempted to check-in for our spa getaway. Oddly enough, we were trying our very best to be exceptionally pleasant. The young woman's distress being readily apparent, we only wanted to lessen it. I think that's what most people do, as most adult possess empathy.

"You left your credit card," the clerk said, in an accent I assume hailed from the Baltic states, as she handed over a sealed credit-card-sized envelope.

Every year at the start of the high season hospitality workers from all over the world land at the Broadmoor, many in pursuit of hotel management degrees. I've hit that window of training before, and although the service at the hotel is stellar, there are occasional stumbling blocks with the trainees. For whatever reason, we had been making this young woman perilously anxious since we'd appeared before her. I have no idea why, Sheila and I were actually two hours early for check-in, and knew it. That one of the rooms wasn't ready was rather to be expected, and far from pitching a fit, we'd both assured the clerk that it was fine that there would be a delay before my room was ready. She promised to call me when the room in question was prepared, and off we set, to tour the grounds on what was a beautiful day last week. The clerk had started shaking when she was unable to spell my rather straight-forward last name. It's generally my first name that plays merry hell with the ability of people to interpret it. However, when you think about it, for her it isn't usual, is it?

By the time we returned, the poor woman clapped delightedly when she saw us. Her joy was short-lived as the proffered credit card was actually not mine. There are a couple of things I've managed not to do in my life, although I've great faith in my own idiocy, and leaving behind my credit card happens to be one of them. So when I opened the envelope, it was with a flash of irritation directed towards myself, not the clerk. The Gold American Express card bore the name of Joe Somethingorotherski.

"This isn't mine," I said, and realized a fraction of a second too late that the young man next to the blond was evaluating her. A look of barely repressed anger flashed across his face, the blond began shaking again, and whereas I did everything I could to deflect that by making a rather large show of saying it was fine, checking my wallet and saying with relief that indeed my credit card was there and that Joe was not in possession of it, the anger persisted. In fact, I wasn't sure if I was making it better or worse, and again too late, decided to shut up before the manager beside her stuffed the woman in a larger envelope and shipped her home.

We had a lovely time, ate great food, were pampered at the spa, and came home relaxed, and ready for more of the same. That's exactly how the weekend played out, but Monday contained something different. Something we seldom talk about because approaching the subject is a sticky proposition.

I have long since known that my ethnicity is a question for some. Anyone who reads here regularly likely knows that I am actually a rather bland mix of Scottish, English, and German. There may have been a swarthy milkman somewhere in my genetic past, but I doubt it. It was just a genetic fluke that I inherited my Scottish mother's exceptionally pale skin, combined with my father's dark-brown-nearly-black hair. If you've a burning desire to know what I'm talking about, please feel free to check this post for a closeup of my avatar picture.

From the nice Norwegian man who declared that I couldn't be American because I spoke English too well, to the woman at the auto-mechanic's who asked me where I was from when standing next to a Pakistani friend, because "you have such beautiful skin" and then was visibly shocked when I replied, "New Jersey...oh! Scottish, that's the origin of the pale skin." my perceived ethnicity tends to be influenced by the context within which it is viewed. It's no coincidence that when hanging out with a Japanese friend I'm frequently mistaken for being part Asian myself. Although most of my ancestry is decidedly WASPish, I tend to trip the "Otherness" meter for some. The most common question does have to do with being somehow Asian. People from India ask me if I'm part Indian, people from Iowa sometimes assume that I must have a more exotic mixture somewhere within me. It used to be more frequent, back when I wasn't covering up any gray, and my natural hair color is actually a shade darker.

It had been an odd, but pleasant day. Sheila had to attend a conference in town, and would be checking into her hotel on Monday evening, before flying out again on Wednesday. She's not from Colorado, and therefore I wanted to make sure she had a chance to see one of the more impressive sights in the state: The High Plains. Climbing up through the Rockies, heading towards Breckenridge on 285 you round a bend and there they are. Vast beyond the telling of it, incredibly beautiful, and incongruous considering that the elevation is close to 12 thousand feet.

Of course, there were some challenges. We've been having insanely high winds, and we were accompanied by the sound of wind howling throughout. Just as we reached the plains, a small snow squall descended, plunging temperatures and proving that the old, "If you don't like the weather in Colorado, wait a minute." tends to be true. Breckenridge turned out to be having some extensive road work done on their main street, so we decided to have lunch back in Fairplay, on our way back down the mountains.

Fairplay has exactly two claims to fame, and one of them is only mine. That's the town I drove to pick up my dog Puddles, and it is also the town upon which the creators of South Park based their show. It's not big, or impressive, but it's there, and it has two readily accessible restaurants. We stopped at a cafe, hungry, wind blown, slightly chilled and in the middle of their smallish lunch rush.

The food was neither good or bad, simply filling and welcome for that. At first we both admired the rustic interior, the mountain-ambiance, and the low ceiling to keep in the warmth, hold out the cold. By the end of the meal we were both glad to be shut of the place as one patron there was attempting to kill us both dead with the power of her stony stare. Unfortunately she had plenty of company in that endeavor.

She was an older woman, and from the moment we walked in, she had a new hobby: giving us the hairy eyeball. The stink-eye. An uninterrupted, affronted concentration of disapproval. What was worse was that as we sat, the cafe filled up. There was no waiting area, the waiting diners lined the walls, and three other people joined in staring in as unfriendly a fashion as possible at our booth. We weren't the only out-of-towners there. It was apparent that there were several other people thwarted by the construction in Breckenridge. The hostess hollered at people to get out of the way of the kitchen, and as locals joined the waiting throng, more unfriendly stares joined the older woman's. It was bizarre, they barely gave it a break. On the rare occasion that I looked up and She-of-the-Stony Glare was actually engaged in eating, I needed only to move my gaze a fraction before I found somebody else had taken her staring place.

For once in my life I was cowed into silence. I know how unlikely that seems, but at that point I had only one hope, that we could get the hell out of there before Sheila noticed the seething stares around us. Sheila's Filipino. Although born in the U.S. and as much a citizen as I am, with a Masters in French Literature to boot, I knew exactly why we were on the receiving end of the death glares.

As we left, the woman who had started the glare fest was departing before us. Evidently only aware that there was someone behind her in the doorway, she held the door open, and I had a moment of hope. When I thanked her, and she saw who she was holding the door for, that woman yanked her hand away as if the door handle was red hot.

Of course it turned out that Sheila had been well aware of what was going on. When we got to the car she mentioned wanting to get out of there, a feeling I shared.

Every other time in my life when someone has clearly questioned my ethnicity it has been in a friendly fashion. An attempt at inclusion by the people who have asked me if one of my parents are Indian. A simple curiosity from the people who have assumed that somewhere in my veins runs a tie to another land. It was the first time in my life I had experienced hostility. When Sheila brought that up, I said, "Well, that wouldn't explain why they were staring at me, I'm about the whitest person most people have ever seen." indicating my skin color, but my eye color and hair color have raised questions before, and I knew. I think my friend did too.

There is something ugly happening in American. A reemergence of overt racism. Jan Brewer passes into law things in Arizona that will have people within the United States forced to present their papers. A person running for Governor in the South declares that one of his goals is to have the driver's license exam given in English only. People protesting actions taken by the president carry signs depicting him in the most outrageous of racial terms. We all know this to be true.

I set out to show my friend what great beauty my state contains, and accidentally showed her the ugliness that can exist side-by-side with that.

I'm not sure what can be done about this, but we have to admit it is happening. We have to have the bravery to have the conversations. To bring up the subject. To admit that this cancer still thrives within our borders. It may have been in remission, but that is no longer the case.

Do you know why I tried to divert Sheila from believing the Cafe patrons had been staring at us due to racial factors? I didn't know what else to do.

This post is an attempt to rectify that. I knew, Sheila knew. It was such an ugly thing, I wanted to look away from it. Pretend it wasn't there, pretend it could have been anything else. It was my turn to be shaken. I was the hospitality ambassador worrying that the guest I was caring for would be having a less than optimal stay. I wanted so much for it to be anything other than what it was, that I tried to pretend it could have been.

Therein lies the road to ruin if we continue to let this grow. This isn't really about what happened in a roadside cafe in an almost absurdly small town. I should have glared back. I should have stared that first woman down. I'm actually quite good at that.

I didn't because more than anything I wanted to believe that I was mistaken. That it wasn't happening. That in 2010, we were simply better than that by now.

It's one time. One occurrence, right? Does it really matter?

As much as I want to say that it does not, I fear that it really does.