Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Big Kat Does the ATL


My ex-husband, Gary (AKA Big Kat or, even better, THE Big Kat) is a character and a curmudgeon. He’s also a philosopher and a pundit. Gary is an expert on many things, even those he knows very little about.

Take Atlanta, for example. The Big Kat has been to Atlanta only about twenty times in his entire life, but he systematically reads the AJC online every day so he can keep up with who was murdered where, and why he hates it (Atlanta, not the murdering) so much.

Although he wasn’t born in Warner Robins, Gary has lived there for about 80 of his 62 years, leaving only to travel to Perry to play golf, Athens for football, and Augusta for the Masters.

Now that two of our three kids have moved to Portland, Oregon, The Big Kat has yet another metropolis to obsess about and hate. To make matters even worse, those two kids have “done gone” and had three kids of their own and so now, if he wants to see any of them, he not only has to fly to Portland, his second least favorite city in the world, he also has to drive to Atlanta, his most hated city in the universe, to catch his plane. Of course, College Park, where Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is located, isn’t really Atlanta, but to Gary, it still counts.

Just recently, Big Kat had to sojourn to the real Atlanta for a doctor’s appointment at Crawford Long Hospital right smack in the middle of Midtown. He worried about it for weeks and planned his route for days. He ultimately decided, instead of attacking it head on, he would infiltrate from the east, a maneuver General Sherman would have considered brilliant. He left just after noon on Sunday for an appointment at eight on Monday.

I'd suggested that Gary stay at the historic Georgian Terrace Hotel right across Peachtree Street from the Fox Theater as it was close to Crawford Long and because both old establishments would be in keeping with his allegiance to "how things used to be". He committed because of the $99.00 Special Rate.

However, when he called me late Sunday afternoon, all was not well. He'd made it to his hotel via his special route and had checked in just fine. The problem appeared when he couldn’t find anything on the hotel menu for supper, saying, “I can’t even tell what any of that stuff is.” The poor guy was wandering up and down Peachtree Street as out of place as a grizzly bear in a wine bar. Although most of the loud comments he was making to me from his cell phone were too politically incorrect to include here, I can report that he said he was "the only one wearing a belt", and that some Beamer had just pulled up next to him with a poodle hanging out the window barking at him.

As it turns out,The Big Kat finally happened upon a Quiznos, which made him pretty happy, and he survived the night, making it to his appointment the next morning. When I talked to him Monday afternoon, he was back in Middle Georgia where the Allman Brothers got started and God Still Lives. He had, of course, become an expert on leaving Atlanta now that he’d done it once, telling me how to access I-75 in a way much superior to any of my ways.

Although Gary was a bit peeved his $99.00 special had ended up costing him $137.50 after taxes and valet parking, he now considers the Georgian Terrace to be THE place to stay in Atlanta, not because of its relatively easy access, its comfort, its history, or the poodle; and definitely not because I recommended it. I think it’s because of the Quiznos.




Sunday, April 18, 2010

Old Glory

Now that I’m finally finished with commemorating birthdays, weddings, and Daylight Savings Time, I can get to something really important, something that’s truly close to my heart (and other parts of my body for that matter), and that something is my bathtub.

My current bathtub is one of those old galvanized steel numbers they no longer even make. When I started thinking about writing about it, for some reason, Old Glory came to mind. Now, I know that Old Glory is what we call our flag and I’m as proud to be an American as anyone, but, with the American flag, you are expected to stand up. With my bathtub, I get to sit down or even recline when I take the notion.

I’ve always been a bath person. I still have memories of our bathtub in Savannah when I was a little girl, the one I was sitting in when my brother and his friend jumped out of a closet and scared me, and made me so mad I still remember it, even though he would tell you we lived in Waycross when he and his friend jumped out of a closet while I was in the tub. All I know is that it happened somewhere and I was sitting in a bathtub and I still haven’t forgiven the pervert.

Not that the bad experience turned me off of bathtubs, apparently. I told friends just recently that I’ve had very few showers in my life. They said they could tell by the smell of me. Seriously, showers have been so few and far between that I remember most of them. My most documented showers were in college. There were no bathtubs at Center Myers Dorm at the University of Georgia where I lived for two years. The showers were in stalls, kind of like toilet stalls, but with two sections, one for your towel and other showering accouterments and one for the shower itself.

I also remember a couple of cruises my mother dragged me on where each minuscule bathroom had a tiny shower and no bathtub. The good memories of cruising the beautiful Mediterranean were overshadowed, I'm afraid, by having to stand up to get clean.

And the pain never seems to end. When I visited my friend Linda on Hilton Head last weekend, I was horrified to see that her garden tub was non-functioning and it looked like a shower would be necessary. Since I was already commandeering her bed while she slept on the couch, it seemed to be a bit pushy to ask her to get a handyman in to fix the tub before bedtime.

The reason I don’t like showers is that I can’t get the temperature right and some part of me is always cold. Then there’s the standing up part. I don’t think I’m particularly lazy but I can't understand why anyone would bathe vertically when she could sit or lie down.

I do worry some about wasting water but, so far, I haven’t done anything about it. I have considered throwing my bath water out of my sun room window to hydrate the grass and bushes below but can’t figure out how to get it from the tub to the front of my condo, and I also wonder about the heart attack my friend Susan, who lives below me, would have with several gallons of dirty bathwater pouring past her window. She still hasn’t gotten over the time I threw Molly's clean laundry out of the window so we wouldn’t have to carry it down two flights of steps, which makes me remember that I don’t wash my own clothes all that often, a habit that's probably helping with that carbon footprint thing.

People tell me they won’t take a bath in a hotel because of germs or waterborne infections. You’ve got to be kidding me! Hotel baths are the best with their usually unlimited hot water that’s already been paid for with my astronomical bill and their cute little bottles of shampoo and body wash. Besides, according to those shows I watch on the Discovery Channel, after sitting on the hotel bedspread and picking up the remote control, we are already infected (and infested) with much ickier things.

In the past, I’ve decided against buying homes based on bathtubs. The back angle of the tub is of prime importance. There needs to be a slope so I can recline comfortably and submerge myself for hair-washing purposes. When I go to an open house, even for a place I have no interest in purchasing, I’ll do a surreptitious arm swoop on the back of the tub to ascertain if I could or could not live there. Whereas other people want granite counter-tops in their kitchen or a pool in their backyard, I want an obtuse angle in my bathtub.

Which leads me back to my current bathtub, the best bathtub in the whole world. The paint is peeling; the grout is bad; and guess what, the angle is wrong in its uprightness. There is no slope. What makes it the best bathtub in the world is based on two things. First, it’s five feet long. I know because I just measured it with my yardstick, this time doing real research, not just a Google search. The length of the tub allows me to wallow in the water from head to toe with just a minor bend of my neck. Second, we get our hot water from a big old boiler down in the basement, so it very rarely runs out. By the way, that’s the same boiler, according to rumors, that Margaret Mitchell’s husband used to burn the original manuscript of Gone with the Wind in his grief after her untimely death.

People also say baths aren’t very good for cleanliness and, when you take a bath, you are just sitting in your own dirt. I agree and would add that, in my case, I’m not only sitting in
my own dirt but also in the dirt of all the people who took baths during the 93 years my bathtub has been in service. Just think of the historical aspect of all that dirt, especially my dirt, with little bits of Rhett Butler thrown in.

Just now, I was thinking and laughing about the fact that,
if Rhett Butler showed up in my bathwater, the only person who'd be more undone than I would be poor Rhett, himself, as he got a gander at my sixty-year-old bathwater-shriveled nakedness. Now that would be something to write about. There might even be a movie in it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It’s Hammer (Toe) Time

Last week, I spent spring break with a group of friends at Fernandina, a gorgeous old beach community on the Atlantic coast of Florida. It’s a group I hadn’t seen much of in recent years and we were excited to get together to catch up, chill out, and maybe even get down. We were going to be away from our husbands (those of us who still have one) and we planned to stay up late and be as raucous as we wanted in our borrowed vacation home. Dianne kept saying something about dancing on tables like we used to do, and I could see it happening, being that we would be a couple hundred miles away from home with no supervision. At the very least, maybe we could share crazy stories about our exciting lives.

We five women have a long history. We met when we were first married and just beginning to birth little ones. Throughout the years, when we would get together, our girl talk would center on whatever was important to us at the time. In our twenties, it was clothes and babies; in our thirties, diets and children; in our forties, PMS and teen-agers; and in our early fifties, we obsessed over empty nests and hot flashes.

I couldn't wait to see what would come up this time as we were all currently in our late fifties and early sixties. Now that we were older and less encumbered with work and children, would our interests revolve around more exciting topics? Would our talk be of younger men or increased sex drives or going back to school to become a bartender or masseuse? Had any of us taken pole-dancing lessons?

Susan had made the reunion happen. A friend of hers had purchased a get-away home one block from the beach and we were the lucky recipients of the friend’s generosity. We all arrived and unpacked after calling dibs on one of a couple of sleeping options. I ended up with the fold-out couch in the downstairs den, which was okay with me as I figured, what with all the hell raising I was going to be doing, I wouldn't be spending much time down there anyway.

The first evening, after a celebratory glass of white wine, we went early for dinner and ate inside the restaurant instead of on the patio because, well, it was a bit cool and noisy out in the wild and some of us had forgotten our sweaters and some of us have a hard time hearing if there's too much commotion. After we ate, we headed back to our island home and were in our jammies before seven. By eight-thirty, I was exhausted and ensconced in my fold-out bed, trying to stay awake long enough to hear what the others were undoubtedly saying about me.

The next day was more exciting as we were well rested and ready to go. We went to the beach in the morning before the sun got too hot, but, by noon, we were hungry and I needed a nap, so we went back and ate pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches.

Later in the afternoon, we went shopping in the charming village, and spent our time dipping in and out of shops, looking for mementos of our trip and asking a very patient waiting husband of another woman to take a group picture. Since Patty and I aren't much for shopping, she and I stood on the sidewalk a lot, holding our pocket books and basking in the Florida sun. After a kindly shopkeeper asked if we thought we could make it up the stairs to her second-floor gallery (we could), we gave up and ate at a seafood restaurant overlooking the harbor and then went back home, once again, anticipating the elasticity of our pajama waistbands.

But that night would be a late night, not another eight-thirty night of reading in my portable bed before the sun went down. After continuing our dinner celebration with some cookies for dessert, we settled in, getting into a deep discussion about favorite books and authors, a discussion somewhat diminished by the fact that none of us could remember the names of either the books or the authors. At some point, the talk somehow veered from literary preferences to trying to remember the name of Ellen Degeneres’ current romantic partner. The discussion went something like this:

What's Ellen’s new girlfriend's name?
Ellen has a new girlfriend?
Yeah, she's an actress. She used to be on that show.
What show?
What was the name of that show?
The one with the girl who’s with what’s his name.
Who?
The old actor who's still hot.
What’s his name?
Remember, he used to be in those movies.
What movies?
What were the names of those movies he was in?
They're together although I don’t think they're married.
Are you still talking about Ellen and her girlfriend?
No, the main character. The one with the same name as the snow.
What’s her name?
What was the name of the show?
What are the names of those movies what’s his name was in.
Who's what's his name and what does he have to do with Ellen?

All I can say is thank God for Google. How did the elderly survive
in the olden days without the internet?

You'd think all the excitement over books and the beach and shopping and eating and old hot what's his name would have been enough for our sprightly group, our gaggle of still happening ladies of a certain age, but that's not so. There was another topic, a topic that garnered our attention at every juncture, at every segue, at any point when the conversation lapsed, not for just that one evening, but for the entire trip. It was the one thing that absolutely commanded our attention the whole time we were there, and that thing was

OUR FEET.

Every time I looked up, someone (including me) was investigating her foot and pointing either at her big toe or the sole of her foot or her heel or somewhere on top. The terms bandied about included bone spurs, planters warts, fallen arches, dead toenails, morning feet, night feet, and the good old hammer toe. But the bottom line was that our feet hurt! All of us. Every one of us had feet that hurt. Carol has rheumatoid arthritis and has had metal rods put through her toes. You'd think that would have shut the rest of us up, but it didn't. We kept on about our feet. We didn't talk about younger men or stripper poles or even becoming bartenders, because how could anyone pursue any of those things with feet that hurt?

I have to say, now that I'm back home and sleeping in my very own real bed, I'm so happy we five had some time together, not because it was particularly exciting, but because I finally had a group of people whose minds and bodies function like mine. Since I work with mostly young people and have young people as offspring and teach really young people, I've become accustomed to folks finishing my thoughts for me. Talking to me is typically like playing a very sad game of charades with me saying things like thingamajig and whatchamacallit, and, yes, what's his name a lot. With this group, our game had no winners, only losers, which made it an equal playing field and not quite so sad. In fact, it was a lot of fun! And then there was the foot thing. That was a blast! Having people share their gross foot stories was great. It made me feel not quite so alone in my old age.

So, here's to old friends. May we live long enough to have another spend-the-night party. Next time, I have dibs on the good bed, and maybe, instead of shopping, we should just get a foot massage.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Not Dead

In 1967, when I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, I called my parents once a week from the pay phone at the end of my hall on the 4th floor of Center Myers Dorm. It was typically a Sunday night and we girls would queue up, waiting our turn to ask the operator to please place a collect call to our families back home.

For the duration of my college years, my mother wrote to me faithfully once a week, although I don’t remember ever writing her back. In one letter, she wrote of a dream she’d had the night before, a dream in which I’d fallen or jumped out of a window and died. I suppose, at the end of the week, on a Sunday evening, I placed a collect call to let her know I wasn't dead.

When my own children were young, I remember going to the Master’s Golf Tournament each April and returning home late in the evening, worrying toward the end of the trip that something terrible might have happened to them, since there was no way anyone could have gotten in touch with their father or me. Another time, we grown-ups went out only to come home and find a fire truck in front of our house. After a short panic, we learned that our next-door neighbor had called in an alarm when her heat was turned on for the first time in months, giving off that burning smell we all know so well but forget each summer.

Opportunities for parents and offspring to communicate have certainly burgeoned in the last twenty years, sometimes to the consternation of the offspring. I can keep in touch with my now grown children via email, phone, text messaging, and paper mail, I guess, although that doesn’t happen very often. I can also stalk, I mean check up on them via MySpace, Facebook, online banking, and electronic credit card records (if I can just figure out their passwords). So far, they've held my Skype queries at bay lest I spy on them at all times day and night.

I once decided my son, Billy, was depressed because of the “sad face” emoticon on his MySpace page. When I called to ask if he needed psychiatric help, he responded that the little-picture choices on MySpace were quite limited and, shortly thereafter, he left MySpace for Facebook, hoping I wouldn’t notice.

Having each of my children “friend” me on Facebook through intimidation and guilt trips was a coup I’m still proud of, although they sometimes toy with me via that particular social network. Just this past April Fools Day, my daughter, Molly, posted an engagement announcement with an “April Fools Mom” a few hours later. However, I outsmarted her by going to bed so early that, by the time I read the posting the next morning, she’d already had to explain her prank a dozen times to other “friends”.

The problem I have isn’t that I’m not able to keep up with how (and what) my kids are doing on a weekly or even daily basis. It seems I need a minute-by-minute update; otherwise, I tend to think something disastrous has happened. This is especially true for my baby who lives about an hour and a half away and who, at 25, is way too young to be on her own. My two older children, both in Oregon, get a break because of the long distance and time difference. Whereas, my mother seemed to be okay with not knowing if I were dead for an entire week, I have to be constantly informed. It’s gotten to the point that Molly and I text each other at least once a day with the message “not dead.” That’s a worrisome thing for a mother and daughter, isn’t it?

One of my young teacher friends recently had a fight with her mother over this exact issue. It seems my friend got busy one evening and didn’t answer her phone for a couple of hours. By the next day, she and her mother weren’t speaking and, when she came to me with her problem, I told her to call, text, or email her mother immediately to tell her she understood her concern that she might be dead, and that a quick Skype feed might not hurt either.

My children and I even have an agreement about what to do in a cell phone emergency. If, by some crazy set of events, all our cell phones fall into our separate toilets at the same time, we are to consult and use our printed phone lists which we keep in our wallets since we no longer know anyone’s phone number, including our own. The primary problem with this plan is, if all of our cell phones were to be out of commission at the bottom of various bowls in some kind of sublime serial synchronicity, we wouldn’t have a phone with which to call from or to, as not a single one of us has a land line. Another problem is that I’m the only one who actually made a list.

We (mainly I) also have a major catastrophe plan. If a nuclear holocaust or a natural disaster happens, we are each to call the kids’ father’s number since my ex is one of the few people we know who still has a land line and it’s the same number he’s had for thirty years. In addition, I believe his phone still has a rotary dial and I'm pretty sure he will have lots of beer.

I'd been planning to end this story with yet more cataclysmic silliness but, when I re-read the previous paragraph, I was suddenly gripped with memories of people in Haiti, in Iraq, in our own New York City, when the unthinkable did happen, and all the newest and best means of communication couldn’t stop the heartbreak of not knowing if loved ones were alive or dead. At that point, I realized that, while technology can help us to keep in touch, even to the point of obsession, love and loss are still a part of human experience, and the ability to text message can’t ensure the safety of my loved ones.

I do believe, however, that worrying about and caring for our family and friends, and even those we don’t know, is an important part of God’s Big Plan,
and, perhaps, modern technology can help us do that. I recall hearing about the huge role cell phones and computers played in the Haiti recovery effort in those first days after the earthquake, and that online donations, many for just a few dollars, ended up helping to save and support many lives.

Ultimately, I finally remembered that my mother’s dream about my being dead led her to call, not write, that next morning, a weekday, not a Sunday, something almost unheard of in my frugal, yet loving, family in 1967, and I knew that she, too, worried about me to the point of using the latest technology (and to hell with the cost) to be sure her baby was safe. To her credit, she didn't ask if I needed to see a psychiatrist.

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

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