Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Too Funny Not to Share

I don't think I've ever done two posts in one day, but the follow up to my post this morning is funny enough that I have to.

The universe has a good sense of humor, that's for sure.

Not long after I hit "publish" I became aware of a strange odor in the house. I lit a candle, thinking quite frankly that my son must have used the bathroom in some regrettable, burrito related event. The smell persisted. I lit scented candles, completely flummoxed as to what he could have ingested that had such a tragic effect. It almost seemed as if the smell was intensifying, though, forcing its way through the scent of the candles. It was a decidedly awful smell. If evil has a smell? It would smell a lot like that.

My son came upstairs again, discovering me in the hallway, staring with wide eyes into the laundry and immediately put his hand over his mouth, "Oh God, what is that?" He was standing in the hall. It wasn't an entirely overpowering scent, just an underlying smell of...

Oh no. Ohhhhhh nooooo. I knew that smell, I was familiar with that smell. Something was tugging at my memory and it was a bad one. Long ago and far away I used to work at a hospital when I was in high school. I worked in the dietary unit, preparing patient trays. Outside the cafeteria, down the hall had been the morgue and every now and then some long departed soul would be found, and brought down that hallway on the last grim trip to the morgue. That was the memory circling my brain, as I furiously put two and two together and came up with the sum of dread.

I took a step towards the laundry room and winced as my fears were confirmed. The smell was coming from the laundry room where our spare fridge sits. Our almost brand new spare fridge. Never knock old. If something has gotten to the point of being old? Chances are it has been performing well for ages. It's the new things you have to watch because their failures are always of a spectacular nature.

We don't use that fridge much. We're a small family. It can go unopened for days, sometimes weeks at a time. I approached the still humming fridge with great trepidation and sure enough, the smell hit me, much stronger this time.

"That fridge is broken," I said, and thought with horror of its main purpose: storing the extra meat in the house.

My son looked at me incredulously and walked right up to it.

"Don't open..." Too late. He had opened the freezer door. It must have stopped cooling days ago, and today the smell of decay and decomposition had started to make its way out, and into the house. He doubled over, slamming the freezer door, gagging.

"Holy shit." My son scampered out into the hall with me. Yea verily, son, yea verily. I stood eyeing the stinking enemy from my position in the hall. Well, it wasn't as if the smell was ever going to get better.

"Flint, get out of here. For real, I'm going to have to dump everything in there, and that smell is literally going to make us both throw up."

And the universe has a sense of humor. Consider the perfectly shaped tree, I said. It's there somewhere, I proclaimed.

I started running around the house, flinging open windows, and sliding back the two sets of doors to the back. Up to the front where every window and door received the same treatment, with my son hot on my heels.

"Buddy, seriously, grab your keys and get out of here, this is going to be bad on an epic level," My jaw was grimly set, my stomach churning in anticipation.

You know, my son isn't a perfect person. He's forgetful. I have to harangue him to clean his room. He dates like he's competing for some sort of prize, at times. He's also stubborn, a family trait.

"No," he said firmly, "you can't do that by yourself. You'll never stop throwing up. I'll help."

"You really don't have to," I urged because honestly, that smell defied description. Chicken, salmon, beef, as well as every pickled thing you can possibly imagine, thanks to my husband's great love of pickling. "Get while the getting is good."

I wished I could go with him, but someone had to deal with this and it wasn't as if waiting was likely to make it anything but worse. Much worse, even though my mind boggled at the thought.

"No," he said again, and grabbed garbage bags from underneath the kitchen sink. "What's the plan?"

Together we swung into action. Everything went. We set land speed records for doing a dump and run to the garbage in the garage, which was then dragged to the side of the house, into the blessed cold that would help keep the smell down. It was horrible, I won't lie. We had to stop repeatedly to get a grip on our urge to hurl.

Then it was over and I began to scrub out the interior rapidly, with disinfectant wipes. Slamming the door shut firmly on two boxes apiece per level of baking soda.

We sat out on the back patio together, talking about how truly horrible that had been, but thanks to my rather stalwart son, it had taken less than fifteen minutes, start to finish to deal with the failings of home appliances.

"Thank you so much," I told my son.

"You're welcome. Think the HOA will complain if we drag the fridge out into the street and set it on fire?" He joked.

"Almost certainly," I replied, still queasy from our horrible smelling experience.

When we were back inside my son grabbed his keys, "Well, I'm going to go smell something that is not...that."

"Hold on a sec," I said, grabbing my purse, extracting my wallet and grabbing two twenties inside it, "here, have some fun of the good smelling kind."

He hesitated, but I urged him on, "Think of it as Haz Mat pay."

"Cool, thank you."

And he went on his way, to a better smelling environment as the smell rapidly dissipated from our house.

So what's the good in that? Clearly, it's easier to face disaster with someone than alone.

Also, thank the sweet lord's of mercy for my son's stubborn streak.

An Accidental Change

There is a theory that we can only hear when what is being said is something we are prepared to hear. That we only see what we are prepared to see. That we can only be happy when it is something we wish to be.

I think there's a lot of validity to that. You can hear the wisest of words, but until such time as you are open to hearing them, they will have no meaning. I want to say that one day, now nineteen years in the past, I heard something that changed me forever. That the right words, in the right moment brought about something hugely defining in my life, but was it the words? Or was it that I was ready to hear them? Perhaps a bit of both.

"Come look at the tree," my mother-in-law at the time said to me.

My three-month-old son balanced on my hip, I did as I was directed, and went to see the tree. Here is what I saw: An almost comically short tree in a room with ten foot ceilings. At five foot five inches tall, I had nearly a foot on that tree. I laughed and said:

"What, he couldn't find a shorter tree?" Because that's what I saw, first and foremost. A tiny tree, dwarfed by a room. That was all that I saw.

My mother-in-law at the time quietly said, "That's not what I meant, look again, it's perfectly shaped."

I looked again, and realized she was right. The tree looked as if it was lifted directly from a Christmas card, so perfectly shaped it was. We've all heard the phrase, "It hit me like a ton of bricks." for those moments of realization that are so huge in impact, they almost seem to have physical mass. That was one such moment.

"You're right, " I said and continued to stare at the tree. Why had I missed that? Why was that something I had overlooked, I wondered. Why had it taken attention being called to it for me to even see it? It wasn't just that I hadn't seen it first, it was that I had failed to see it at all.

I think at twenty-three, which is how old I was, we are still in the process of being formed. I think that process continues throughout our lives, actually. It can be said, probably accurately, that I had a rather challenging childhood. I don't actually talk too much about those challenges any longer, it isn't that they have ceased to matter, they are part of what went into making me. No, the reason that I talk very little about the negative aspects of the past is that they ceased to be negative long ago. It was a process really, but it started that day, looking at a tree, and realizing that I didn't want to be the person who missed the good. Who overlooked the positive because I had such a fear of the negative. I was always on guard against it.

I'll never stop being grateful to my ex-mother-in-law for what she said, for encouraging me to see something differently. To see something for what it was, and to stop focusing on what it was not. There are so many cliches surrounding that exact viewpoint. "Count Your blessings" "The Glass is Half Full" "Happiness is a Choice" and it is easy to dismiss as trite anything that finds its way into cliched phrasing. Yet, cliches tend to exist because there is a core truth in them.

There were no lightning bolts when that change came for me. There's even a very strong argument to be made that I was simply returning to the person I was actually born as. I was a happy baby, I hit this earth with a disposition prepared to be merry, and most of the time I am merry. Things got in the way of that, and I stopped being happy, because I feared unhappiness so, I kept it at bay as a safety measure. I missed a lot.

I stopped seeing perfectly shaped trees, and instead saw things for what they might contain to hurt me.

Challenges, the occasional tragedy, the dark times we all face did follow and with them came a time to see the tree once more as perfectly shaped.

In these past two weeks, in considering the tragedy that has befallen Haiti, there's a lot of room to consider the suffering. The unfair qualities of calamities and horror being visited upon people who had far too little in their lives as it was. Yet, there has also been an outpouring of generosity from around the globe. A call to arms to render aid, and so many have answered.

There's a lot of good in this world, and a lot of good in people when they are called upon to show that good. That could be termed denial, right? Refusing to see the bad, to paint things with too positive a brush, but the good is there. It is not denial, as much as it is seeing something in full.

We all get lost in the shortness of trees at times, don't we? I still do occasionally, and it is an effort to remember to look for the overall shape. It's an effort, but it's one I've been making for nineteen years, when I decided that I need to take the risk of seeing the good, even if I might lose it later. That's what had kept me from seeing that shape; fear. Fear that if I did not keep a wary eye out, some form of bad would get me. As I grew I learned it comes regardless of the watch we keep, and if I keep too careful a watch for one thing, I miss the others.

Occasionally bad still comes to visit. It's part of life, coping with loss, grief, illness and strain. That moment of accidental change comes back to me, though. A remark about what was there, right in front of me, if only I would look with an eye towards seeing it.

This has the potential to be one of those drippy, "Let me share with you" posts. One that seemingly encourages an overly rosy view, or discounts very real sufferings but I don't intend it to be so. I'm just passing it on because maybe someone reading it is ready to see it, and it will help, as those long ago words helped me.

Yes, I know, I heard it so deeply because I was poised to do so anyway. I was at a point in my life where I was more prepared to have a positive viewpoint first. The negatives are still there, and often need to be addressed, but seeing the shape first helped, and still does.

Most of us know Emily Dickinson's work:

Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune
Without the words
And never stops -at all

For me it was perched on the branches of a tree that may have been too short, but was also perfectly shaped. I had to decide what I would see first. Sometimes the negative will rise up for all of us, and obscure the good. The fact of the matter is that not every cloud has the proverbial silver lining. It isn't even necessary to see the good first, in fact, it would probably be quite bad in many instances. Some things must be dealt with head on. Some things are simply very sad and painful.

I'm just saying that when that happens, look around. Nearby is likely something very like a perfectly shaped tree.

Like a world that will pour forth kindness to ease the suffering of those far away. That exists, and it has importance.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Unaccustomed Brevity

I am not known for being concise. I never have been, nor is it likely I ever will be.

I like to make people laugh whenever I can, who doesn't? It's been a week and then some for so many across the globe, and in particular, Haiti has suffered tremendously. Sometimes words cannot adequately convey much.

It was my anniversary with my husband. A low key affair this time, in fact, we set a rain date because he's still healing (and all that implies when it comes to limitations, I leave to your imaginations).

I am sure in next to no time I will be back in all my ridiculous verbosity. Until then, if Michael Franti cannot make you smile with this song, then certainly nothing I could write would induce one.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Midwestern love of Chains & the Blaming of Leonard Woolf

Particularly in the days before Amazon, The Tattered Cover really used to be something, back when its Cherry Creek store still existed. When I first moved to Colorado one of the first places I made sure to visit was the Tattered Cover, it was almost legendary. It had four immense floors, stuffed with books of every description. There were wingback chairs secreted away in seemingly private corners, where patrons sat and read for hours at a time. Their customer service was well known, and there is a famous tale of a customer service representative there once tracking down some out-of-print editions in a private basement, in Ohio. I have no idea how, I prefer to think that he was in possession of some book-charming magic.

Now The Tattered Cover largely resembles a chain bookstore. Or perhaps the chain bookstores came to resemble it, I don't know. I do know that after the Cherry Creek store closed, and TC moved to an old theater on Colfax Avenue, it lost something. The store had also opened other branches, one in lower downtown, one in the suburb of Highlands Ranch. It was inevitable, I suppose. Although it is still known as an independent bookseller, it largely resembles a Barnes and Noble, or Borders inside.

There is something about the Midwest and a great love of Chain anything. Chain restaurants, Chain retail stores, Chain auto-mechanics. Even though in other parts of the country there is nothing less hip than a Chain store, here about the only businesses that survive are Chains.

This is particularly ironic because the Midwest is associated with Conservative thinking, which talks about the importance of the small business owner, and the dreams of the individual being key in this Free Market but in practice, it is the Chain Stores that thrive. I've never been particularly at peace with this aspect of Colorado, but then I suppose that's my stealth-liberal talking.

When we first moved here we frequented a Sushi restaurant called Goro's which I apparently liked right to death, in very short order. I should mention that if I like something the chances that no one else will seem to be rather high. Products I adore tend to disappear from shelves, entire lines of merchandise are seemingly vaporized by my approbation. I'm something of a menace, really. Fear not, this evidently does not hold true for people, just things. Stores, restaurants, perfumes the occasional town (long story, that). If you are selling something? For the love of mercy, don't ask me to buy it, if I like it is a sure sign of ruination to come, but I digress. I do that a lot too. Kill things off by liking them, and head off on tangents. We all have skills, those are mine.

Anyway, I was scouting around one of the Tattered Coves off-shoot stores because I was looking for a biography of Leonard Woolf. I didn't truly expect the store to have it and, indeed, it was nowhere to be found. I was also looking for a copy of an E. M. Forster book, as I had lent my copy to someone, and then that person moved to Texas. My copy of Howard's End went with her, and apparently got lost somewhere between the border of Oklahoma and the city of San Antonio. They suspect a box fell off the truck. No, really. I probably liked that box.

The Tattered Cover didn't have a copy of Howard's End on hand, either. Similarly, another one of my books that decided to secede to Texas, Wharton's The Custom of the Country wasn't available either. Determined to support an independent bookseller, or die trying, I snatched up a copy of The Women, by T C Boyle, although my track record with enjoying contemporary fiction suggests that was a foolhardy plan.

When I returned home, I logged onto Amazon, and found everything I needed within seconds. Mission accomplished, go team Me. I could have ordered the books at the store, but frankly I was a little ticked about Howard's End, The Custom of the Country I can understand as it isn't one of the more popular Wharton books, but if you are going to have any E. M. Forster in a bookstore Howard's End seems a very likely candidate. Plus, for reasons that will soon be easy to understand, I wanted to get the heck out of there.

My quest for the biography of Virginia Woolf's husband has to do with my on-going obsession with seeing both sides of almost any situation. I think this has to do with my parents divorce when I was little. My father had a lot of problems, to be honest about it, and would say just terrible things about my mother to me. I was six when she left. My mother, who had far fewer problems (particularly after she ditched my dad, and as a consequence, me) was no better.

I'm not blaming either of them, by the way. This was in the seventies, and there's a reason that defaming an ex-spouse in front of a child became so frowned upon; almost every divorced person was doing that in the seventies. It did leave me with an almost pathological need to defend people who aren't present. A trait of mine that can drive my friends nearly mad. They tell me about how they have been wronged, and nine times out of ten I start to try and provide the other person's possible viewpoint. It takes an act of will on my part to stop myself.

It's a pity I never had a yen to be a defense lawyer, isn't it?

Several years ago I became embroiled in a debate about Virginia and Leonard Woolf. If you aren't familiar with Virginia Woolf, here's the short version: Well known author, and for good reason. Tendency towards nervous collapses, and breakdowns possibly related to Manic Depression, or possibly Clinical Depression. Sexual abuse at the hands of her half brothers (I've no urge to defend them, trust me) also played a large part, and Virginia eventually took her own life. She's a figure of a fair amount of interest and I'm sure you've all heard of her.

She was married to Leonard Woolf and seemingly loved him a great deal. He returned this feeling, and waged a long battle, often simply trying to keep her alive. Virginia also had a long affair with another woman. It would take entirely too long to explain this if you aren't familiar with the specifics, but that was not outside the boundaries of her marriage.

Virginia Woolf was complicated, basically.

In the middle of a party a few years back, a woman who had recently read a specific biography of Leonard Woolf and this particular biography blamed him for Woolf's mental illness. As it happens, Woolf had her first nervous breakdown years before she ever laid eyes on her husband-to-be. Certainly by modern standards the measures Leonard employed to try and keep Virginia safe from herself seem controlling, and the life he encouraged her to lead to try and stave off bouts of depression also seems controlling when viewed from a modern perspective.

To try and keep this from stretching on for too long I'll sum up and say that we had a long, polite but pitched conversation. She stood firm on her belief that Leonard Woolf was an abusive, controlling man, I continued to defend a man long in the grave as having done the best he could do, and out of a very sincere love for his wife given what was available in terms of treatment. We parted ways, and were probably both equally glad to do so.

I've been meaning to read the defamatory biography of Leonard Woolf from that day to this, and two things reminded me that I still needed to procure a copy. One was Jo's list of authors she'd read, and seeing Woolf's name on there reminded me that I had yet to see the other side in that debate. The other was a mutual defense of Annie Sullivan my friend Angela and I were engaging in via email. Long story short: Long dead Annie Sullivan was accused of abuse of Helen Keller in a biography. My friend and I were on the same side of that defense but it reminded me, I had yet to read the Woolf biography. It is now ordered and on its way.

However, it was as I was doing a near headstand on the floor of the Tattered Cover, as of course any subject of a biography starting with W is likely to be on the shelf closest to the ground, that I heard my name called. I glanced up, from my decidedly weird position, and felt a slight chill wash over me.

Before me stood a woman who is perfectly nice in every single way you can name. She's a pleasant person, she has a sunny disposition. We have known each other for seven years through our sons' sport activities, and although she is among the nicest of people, she finds me weird. She likes to tell me that she finds me odd, and weird, eccentric, a great figure of fun. This started when she found me reading a book about Czarist Russia (save yourselves, do not ask) in a parking lot, during a rainstorm. Now, I'm not sure I blame her for thinking I'm an odd duck, she has a positive gift for finding me in the middle of doing things that are slightly left of center. For instance, in that rainstorm, when she was simply seeking company while we waited for practice to finish, she knocked on my car window and startled me so badly, I threw a book about Peter the Great directly into the air, only to have it bash me in the nose on the way down.

I'm just saying, legitimately from her perspective, I probably seem like a lunatic. We've only met four times outside of the fields, but not once has she found me doing something as innocent as buying a cucumber. No, instead she's found me doing things like lurking outside an Adult Book store, waiting on another friend, who had needed moral support while trying to buy a vibrator. That's the kind of stuff this nice Lacrosse mother finds me doing, as she's innocently off to the adjacent Mexican restaurant. Then there was the time at a charity drive, I almost slammed bodily into her while clutching a doughnut shaped cushion to my chest, with a headless bobble head doll stuck in the center. That is yet another long, long story but I swear this is not evidence of my encroaching madness. The fourth incident is actually so embarrassing, I'm choosing not to describe it in public.

There is a perverse god somewhere laughing his butt off. You see, on this occasion, not only was I down on my knees, one of the blasted books on the shelf was upside down. Rather than reaching out and righting it, I had placed the crown of my head on the floor, and was attempting to read the title. I had one hand on the shelf above me, steadying myself, giving not a thought to how it probably looked as if I was having some strange seizure to everyone else, when I heard this woman's voice. I shot up with a quickness.

"I thought that was you!"she said. Well, in her experience, who else would it be? Woman doing something vaguely bizarre in public? Has to be me. "What are you doing?"

Now, at this juncture, I probably should have lied. I probably should have said, "Oh nothing, just looking." but I wanted to try and explain my contorted position on the floor, and said I was looking for a biography. I left out the part about reading upside down.

"Oh, which one?"

I realized my mistake almost immediately, but as nothing that would reassure this poor woman that I wasn't moments away from sticking my head in an oven, came to mind, I answered truthfully, "Who's Afraid of Leonard Woolf: A Case for the Sanity of Virginia Woolf."

She blinked, laughed and let out a long, drawn out, "Oooooooh. I haven't read that one."

Yeah, I'll bet. I extricated myself from the conversation with a minimum of explanation, and left with equivalent of a Chain book, one from the New York Times Best Seller List. I couldn't be found snatching that up, nope. It gets ever so slightly better, no really. When I exited the store, a man stood nearby with a sandwich board, asking for signatures to preserve some parks and recreation space, to keep it out of the hands of a developer. I stopped and did my civic duty. It's just my tough luck that he was wearing stuffed reindeer antlers on his head, trying to attract attention.

This was, of course, the moment when the Lacrosse mom exited, and saw me deeply engrossed in conversation with Antler Man. Embracing my fate, I waved cheerfully to her, and the Antler Man waved too. She seemed to be chuckling as she waved back. Can't imagine why.

Next time I meet up with that woman, I'll likely be carrying a live duck and riding tricycle while eating popcorn. I'll have a perfectly reasonable explanation, of course, but that won't matter.

I left the store, and went to the grocery where I bought such shocking and strange things as Broccoli and Leeks.

I do wonder what fate has decreed that this woman will stumble across me doing things that must look like I'm inches away from sitting in a corner, chewing my hair. When I see it from her perspective, truly, I can fully understand why she thinks I'm, at best, a flake, and at worst, a mad woman but for today, I'm blaming Leonard Woolf.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In the Land of Giants

As a point of not much interest I can tell you that I am of average height for a woman in the United States. I'm 5'5", although I'm the tallest woman in my family. My mother stands 5'0" tall, and my grandmother is 4'10". To them, I am a giant. However, compared to my husband, I'm decidedly short. The only time our eleven inch height difference is generally a problem is when he helpfully stores things at his own eye level. This is precisely right beyond my reach. I'm a dab hand with a wooden spoon thanks to him. I use them to extend my reach, and launch whatever it is I'm reaching for directly at my own face. This has provided some mixed results in practice.

For the most part, I tend to forget that he towers above me but yesterday it became highly apparent and a focus of some concern.

"You look tall," the nurse observed, a fact it was hard to escape as my husband's feet were sticking off the end of the gurney by several inches. She picked up his chart, and began flipping through it, in a worried voice she continued, "you are tall."

The nurse glanced at me, with what seemed an appraising eye, and frowned. I had no idea what was going through her mind, but although we've had people comment on our height difference in the past, with the exception of one chiropractor, no one has ever sounded worried about it before. The nurse placed what was meant to be a reassuring smile on her face, and the result was anything but.

"We'll be ready for him in just a second," She said, the rather ghastly smile still tacked onto her face.

Hernia surgery has come a long way, and the procedure was not going to take long. An hour in surgery, an hour and a half in recovery, then I would be free to take my husband home. Everything went well and it wasn't until it came time to go that I understood the nurse's repeated frowns in my general direction.

"You'll just have to help him get dressed," she said, and withdrew, drawing the curtain behind her. It wasn't until my husband tried to stand that I understood that I was ever so slightly hosed. He tottered towards me, unsteady on his pegs and for the first time in years it occurred to me that next to me, my husband is rather mammoth.

"I've got you," I said and I'm sure my smile was probably as strained as the nurse's had been. Luckily, as my husband was drugged to the roots of his hair, he likely didn't notice. I got him dressed with a little bit of difficulty, and brought the car 'round to the entrance. The valet parking attendants immediately abandoned what they were doing, and swarmed over to us, helping my husband into the car.

"Bad way to start the New Year," one of the men said cheerfully, "hope you feel better soon."

I thanked the men for their help, and started the drive home, thinking about our staircase in a way I never had before, with no small amount of dread. I was convinced my husband was insensible to the worried goings on around him, when he began to quietly hum one of our favorite songs by the band The Might Be Giants.

I've always loved how combined words can paint a picture in our minds. There are even some books I love because of their titles, as much as the actual story contained within the pages. A Confederacy of Dunces is one such book. Although I enjoyed the book, I adore the title most of all, and always keep the book on a shelf where I can easily see it. Just that combination of words can give a lift to my day.

My husband is much the same way, but his humming indicated that he had words like "squashed" and "flattened" running through his own mind. When we got home, I slipped my cell phone into my back pocket, and began helping my husband up the stairs to his office, where there is also a very nice bed, a TV with cable, and internet access. Our bedroom doesn't have a TV in it, so we'd determined beforehand that the room that serves as his office would be the best recovery room in the house for him. The bed was freshly made, I'd disinfected the bejeebers out of the bathroom, all I had to do was get him there. A three inch incision in his abdominal muscles made less than four hours before made the journey seem very long, but we got there. I didn't have to fish my cell phone out of my back pocket from a pinned position beneath a man who outweighs me by eighty pounds, so tick one off in the win column, I say.

"You're tall," a voice beside me said hopefully, as I stood in front of the dairy case, "is there anyway you could reach that for me?"

My head swiveled in the general direction of the voice, and then my neck began to crane down, and down some more. A woman in her eighties stood beside me, perhaps as tall as my grandmother.

"Sure thing," I said, and truthfully this happens to me a lot. I am just one of those people that others feel free to ask for help. "1% or 2?"

As we discussed dairy expiration dates, I handed her down a half gallon of milk, wished her a Happy New Year, and went on my way feeling capable, and tall. It happens to us all, we occasionally encounter someone in need of just a little bit of help, and we provide it, feeling a bit stronger and ready to face the world. Convinced of our own aptitude in taking on the world. That had happened two days prior to feeling like a highly squishable bug in comparison to my husband. Sometimes we are giants, sometimes we feel very small in contrast to the task at hand.

I don't think about my son's height often, either. His father is tall, but he took after my side of the family, and if he remains his present height, he'll be just under 5'10" by a hair or so. Average height, just like his mom. He may still be growing, as men frequently grow into their twenties, but he'll never be a man of great stature. This seems to bother him not at all.

Last night, after a fairly long day of helping my husband, and worrying about how in the world I'd manage if he did fall, my son arrived home from work. I was glad to see him, in part because in my worry over tottering husbands, I'd completely forgotten to pick something up at the drugstore that he would need.

"I'll go for you," my son offered but I hesitated.

"Uh...I don't think you really want to, it's something embarrassing. I'll get it," I was tired, more from worry than anything, but my son is nineteen and one of the girls he dates works at Wallgreens, where I needed to go.

"I think I can handle it," he said confidently, "what is it?"

Well, crap. The details of life are not always pleasant, and people are supposed to take a specific product after general anesthesia, "I really don't think you want to get this one, buddy, it's stool softener."

"Yeah well, everyone there poops too," he shrugged, "if they don't they've got bigger problems than what I'm buying."

I stared at him for a second, and shook my head slightly.

"You okay?" my son asked as he grabbed his keys and I nodded as I thanked him. He went on his way, and returned with the necessary, if somewhat mortifying product, with little fanfare.

I couldn't help but laugh a little bit. Although this has been true for at least five years, yesterday was the first time I noticed in any meaningful way that my son's height exceeds my own substantially.

Flint looked tall to me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Decade of the Little Guy

The man on the sidewalk, reclining in his folding chair but clearly not relaxed, held a sign in his hands detailing the dealerships many sins against him. He'd been cheated, you see, and evidently had achieved no personal satisfaction in his wranglings with the car dealership. Clearly frustrated, angry, and determined, he sat and waved his sign at passing traffic, in what was an act of near futility in the broiling sun.

"Whoa, what do you suppose they did to him?" my husband asked.

"No idea, but that is one honked off car owner." I replied, and we went on our way.

It is funny how that image stuck in my mind all these years because it's been more than ten years since I saw that truly ticked off customer, trying to exact his small act of revenge. Searching for his small portion of justice.

Oh what a change a decade has brought. There are a lot of articles, blogs and lists musing about what the first decade of this century has contained, but I think the biggest among them is that the little guy is no longer quite so little. No more is there little recourse. If an entity does us wrong, we can talk about it, at length, here on what used to be known as the Information Highway.

Today that man wouldn't take up magic markers, and poster board, risking skin cancer and dehydration, he'd jump on the internet, and he'd share his tale of woe with anyone who cared to look. A simple search using the dealership's name would turn up a long list of a people, venting their spleens.

The internet has brought us much, and it has changed customer service. Or at least it should have but some companies have been slow to catch on and are having a bit of trouble keeping up. United Airlines probably took the most famous face-plant of 2009 in terms of addressing customer concerns when they not only broke a guitar belonging to the lead singer of The Sons of Maxwell, they decided rather famously to not make restitution.

This led to this much watched video on Youtube which at the present time has over 7 million hits on it, and this is not the only posting of that video:

United Airlines no doubt ended up taking the "no publicity is bad publicity" stance but that catchy little tune went viral and was seen across the globe. Not exactly the best association for customers to have. In days gone by the singer might have had to take to a lawn chair on a public sidewalk to voice his complaints, now a world of possibility exists when someone, or some company has done us wrong.

A friend on the internet mentioned watching the 1979 movie Friendly Fire and how heart breaking it was. I remember it well, a heartbroken mother struggles to find answers about her son's death, and is stonewalled at every turn. She continues to do battle relentlessly and eventually learns the truth, but just imagine this situation today, with every electronic media service picking up the story.

It wouldn't change the tragic nature, but we no longer live in a world where things can flourish in the dark. We aren't as helpless and alone. We can be better informed about the entire world around us with just a few clicks.

In the mid-1960s, my mother, newly transplanted from Scotland, drove herself almost to distraction searching for "Corn Flour" in the wilds of Indiana as my father filled in for a friend on sabbatical from Purdue. My mother loathed Indiana and thought she was going to die of homesickness the entire time she was there. Scotland seemed a million miles away, and she couldn't even find a decent cup of tea. Corn Flour turned out to be cornstarch, by the way, but it took her years to find that out.

Today she'd be able to comparison shop for Bird's Custard rather than crying into her terrible cup of Indiana brewed tea over the scarcity of it.

I've been on the internet since the mid-1990s, back when we all spoke baud fluently and if you announced that you'd just bought a "28-8" it was considered a scorching connection, although hardly any servers could handle one so rapid.

In the last decade, insomnia ceased to be the most isolating feeling any of us can have. Can't sleep? Don't worry, someone across the world is likely up, and even if they aren't there is a bottomless supply of material at our fingertips.

I've seen so many blog posts, articles and lists pondering the decade. They're all very interesting, and I've enjoyed them greatly, but sometimes I think we've become immune to the fact that, thanks to the internet, our world is only as small as we choose to make it. The internet age really dawned in the 90s, but in the past ten years, it has become a mainstay in many a household.

Not feeling well? Type in your symptoms, and there are answers at your fingertips. We no longer need rely solely on the diagnosis of a local sawbones, we are empowered.

Much has been made of the fact that people in Iran twittered their way through an uprising, and attempts by a repressive government to silence the voice of a people failed.

The age of wonder. The age of an existence with boundaries that we define for ourselves. You can audit high level classes from a seated position in your living room these days. That is an everyday occurrence. We can be exposed to so much, some of it bad, some of it strange, but much of it highly informative.

I ran across something amusing in the journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, one of the sets of books I read in the last ten years. Rather famously she described Anne Shirley as having Titian hair, a fact that became rather central in a lawsuit against her publishers. You see, Montgomery had only ever read the term, she had no idea what shade of red she was describing when she used it. Now, with some decent typing skills, and a handy search engine we can all know what Titian hair looks like. We need only form a question in our minds to be within seconds of finding a multitude of answers.

It's been a long ten years, and sticklers for accuracy will say that the new decade does not begin until 2011 has dawned. When I think of what happened in the past ten years, I think about how much I know about what has happened in those ten years.

Including the fact that if United breaks a Taylor guitar people across the globe can end up knowing about it.

2009 was a disappointing year in terms of what wasn't accomplished, but how much I know about that is nothing short of a technological miracle. We are only as limited now as we choose to be, in what we know.

When historians look back, I don't think they'll have any difficulty in spotting the progress we made. Perhaps we don't because we are living that advancement. Having it become our norm, taking our expansion for granted, and that is a wondrous thing.

A decade of wonder in which the little guy found a strong voice, and in some cases sang a catchy tune.