Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Yellow Chair

Seeing my yellow chair in my purple room made me think of this Van Gogh painting. Never mind that it was painted during one of his stays at an insane asylum.

My best friend, Allison, gave me a yellow chair for my 60th birthday. She found the chair in a thrift shop and painted it herself.

Allison has many gifts and interests, but crafting isn’t necessarily one of them. She’s really smart and funny. A great cook and a lover of games, she has exquisite taste when decorating her home, and she’s definitely the hostess with the mostest. However, unlike me, she doesn’t usually harbor the need to paint or glue or carve or stitch.

A couple of years ago, Allison talked me into taking a knitting class. I think she was excited about the opportunity to expand her social network as, many weeks, our Friday night early bird dinners are the only activities penciled in on our after-work and week-end agendas, or at least that’s true for me. Since I’m not much of a joiner, she had to twist my arm.

It took just one lesson for the both of us (and probably everyone else in the class) to realize knitting wasn’t for Allison. I wasn’t great at it, but she was just pitiful, or, as our friend Linda said, Allison was a “shitty knitter”. She left a quagmire of knotted (not knitted) yarn all the way from the knit shop in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta to her home in Decatur and back again, since she did have the courage, or perhaps the insanity, to complete the course. And to top it all off, our class was made up of Georgia Tech undergraduates and twenty-something prissy girls wanting to learn to knit tea cozies, not the interesting elderfolk we were expecting. Once again, we were the oldest people in any given group, even in a group of knitters, for God’s sake. So much for your grandma’s knitting klatch.

So the yellow chair was a wonderful surprise, not only because I love how it looks next to my white dressing table in my purple bedroom, but also because my non-crafting oldest living friend forgot her mortifying yarn imbroglio to dip into (probably literally) a pint of bright yellow paint to create a one-of-a-kind gift that fits incongruously next to a white dressing table in a purple room belonging to a friend who doesn’t have exquisite taste when decorating her home.

My very own asylum
My pictures are hanging just as crookedly as Vincent's.

Allison and I go way back. We met when her family returned to Savannah in the mid 1960’s, and we immediately bonded by learning that we came from two of the very few liberal families in our entire neighborhood, perhaps in all of Chatham County. Later, we were room-mates at the University of Georgia and remained close through marriages, births, divorces, good and bad times. Allison became a Methodist Minister and later a clinical therapist while I climbed up and slid down the ladder of success in the field of Education. Allison preached at the funeral of each of my parents, and when
, at the edge of a gorgeous northern Arizona creek, she was helping me open the box that held my mother’s ashes, the wind picked up and part of Mama became one with Allison, yet another example of God’s surprisingly irreverent sense of humor.

In some kind of cosmic coincidence, Allison and I moved to Atlanta at about the same time five years ago. She’d been living in Savannah and I was in Middle Georgia and we’d see each other several times a year at most. But when I took a job with the Georgia Department of Education about the same time she decided to move her practice to Atlanta in order to be closer to her grown daughters, we picked up pretty much where we’d left off in college. I bought a condo in Midtown and she purchased a small house with a big yard in Decatur and our Friday afternoon early bird dinner and weekly debriefing tradition began.

One of the benefits of being on up there in years is having the long view. We watch our childhood friends grow up and then grow old, and see that they are the same human beings, the same little children they always were, inside what are now somewhat wrinkled and irascible exteriors. One old friend still has the gamboling lope he employed as a little boy, another is the same verbally-dexterous smart ass she was when we met at eighteen. Allison remains good and generous and quirky and ready to take on a world that doesn’t always share her sometimes complicated views. I, of course, am still the same sweet girl I always was, the perennial optimist who continues to think my latest creative venture will garner me fame and fortune, and I’m not really all that wrinkled either.

On the Friday after my birthday, Allison and I each splurged to celebrate at a restaurant more upscale than most of our usual Friday haunts. As we were finishing our meal, we started reminiscing about our childhoods and about how long we had been friends, at which point I exclaimed loudly enough for even the dishwashers to hear, “I can’t believe we’ve been married for forty-seven years!” We, of course, snickered and yes, snorted, at my gaffe, but later, as I was driving home with my re-purposed yellow chair in the backseat if my car, it hit me that our relationship had pretty much been a lifelong association, a partnership that had lasted longer than either of our spousal affiliations. I'd had forty-seven years of knowing Allison would be there if I needed her, pretty much taking for granted that she would hear me out, stand by me, have my back, and care about my future.

In thinking about my friendship with Allison, I realized that it sounds better than many marriages I know. However, for me personally, I don't think it was until I reached the age when my kids were grown, when I stopped looking for some poor man to keep me from feeling invisible, that I even began to know what it means to have a good female friend.

And so, with my yellow chair casting rays of sunshine onto my otherwise purple life, I'm optimistic that Allison and I will remain good friends into our twilight years, even if life and grandchildren coax us to different places. No matter what happens, I'm pretty sure we will continue to check up on each other and wonder in tandem how we got this old so quickly and what on earth happened to all those years.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cybil the Cyber Lady

Last week, something happened to my television stations. Any channel above twenty-five had that fuzzy thing going, just like what used to occur in the olden nights after The Star Spangled Banner. As I was forlornly pushing the up button on my remote control without any positive results, I seemed to remember a couple of voicemails from Comcast promising something like this would happen if I didn’t call them.

I hate talking on the phone.

I hate talking on the phone, but, apparently I hate missing out on which house the HGTV House Hunters people are going to pick even more, so I looked online to find a number to call. This was after I looked at the same online and found an email address and emailed the help people and got back a response I couldn’t even begin to understand.

I hate talking on the phone to almost everybody, but I really hate talking on the phone to conduct any kind of business. Here’s why. First of all, a recorded message has me pushing number combinations on my cell phone, so many that my display screen becomes filled with what looks like some kind of secret code. I’m so afraid I’m going to make a mistake with my sweaty fingers and bad memory, which will, in turn, cause me to have to start over, that I begin to hyperventilate and blaspheme all at the same time. Then, after I’ve put in all those numbers and sometimes the pound sign and sometimes not, I either get another recorded message asking for more numbers or I get a person who mumbles or talks too fast, someone making whatever the poor pitiful minimum wage is who doesn’t want to hear my problems with my channels, and who doesn’t really care that I don’t understand how all this digital stuff works.

But this time, this particular Comcast time, I was lucky enough to get a very nice, bubbly lady who seemed genuinely happy to talk to me. She didn’t mumble; she didn’t sound like she was reading from a script; she was certainly congenial. As I responded to her well-articulated questions, I made sure to enunciate my answers in a friendly way to make her life easier, to help this particular workday be a good one, because a lady this nice was sure to be heading home to a handsome husband, along with a couple of attractive and well-rounded children, for whom she would most likely need to remain energized and sunny, not beat down by irate phone customers. As you can tell, I really, really liked this woman.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it took me several questions and answers, more than a few minutes of affable repartee, to realize that this person I was talking to, this really nice upbeat person, wasn’t really a person at all. Leave it to Comcast to figure out a way to create a fake person who sounds so real she can make you believe she really cares about you, something actual humans have a hard time doing.

I named her Cybil, although, for all I know, her name was Mavis or Shirley, or, considering her perkiness, probably something like Kelly or Jennifer. She was so good at being human she would even say things like “hmmm” when she was pondering my response to a particular question and then “it sounds like you need a digital converter and I’ve got great news because we can send one at no cost to you.” She even knew my home address even though I hadn’t shared that information with her, which helped me continue to believe we were soul-mates and our relationship was meant to be. At the end of our conversation, I was so happy she had solved my problem so easily and cheaply that I actually thanked her and told her good-bye.

I wish this could be the end of my story, the happy ending we all desire with any story, but, alas, it is not. It took seven days for my converter to arrive by UPS, not the three to five days Cybil had promised, and, when I tried to set it up and have it activated, it didn’t work. At that point, I was without not only HGTV but also the boring channels like the ones with news and sports. I sat, bereft and feeling sorry for myself, in my old easy chair with my early bird dinner and absolutely no entertainment at all other than thinking of the obscenities I was going to hurl out my window along with my handy-dandy easy-to-activate digital converter.

After eating dinner and giving myself a good talking to, asking why I needed all those channels anyway and why I couldn’t live with basic cable like those minimalistic, granola eating, composting people I so admire and would like to emulate (if I have the time after watching the Top Chef Marathon), I steeled myself to call Comcast again. I have to say, this time, Cybil wasn’t nearly as friendly or helpful as she quickly transferred me to someone else, perhaps because of the shrieking I was doing into her fake ear. Over the next two hours, I talked to no fewer than eight real people who ran the gamut from disdainful to overly solicitous, some mumblers, some over-enunciators, all people who, I have to admit, were trying to help me get my channels back.

A low point was when one poor girl (real, not fake) had to tell me that there just might be a $49.00 charge for Comcast to come to my home to activate my converter. After I hung up on her, I sat and thought again (as I didn’t have anything else to do) and realized that I was going to have to do whatever was necessary to get the Food Network back on my TV. So, I called yet again and groveled a bit and got a perfectly nice real person (I think) who helped me set a time and a date for a real (I think) geeky electronics guy to come to my house and convert my converter, which he did today. By the way, he didn't charge me or at least I don’t think he did. I’m pretty confused at this point.

So now I have all my channels back; therefore, I must go.

The End. Happy Ending.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Kittens in the Morning (under a bush)

Last Friday, my work day began like this:

Dr. Mayo, guess what?
Good Morning, James. What?
This morning one of my cats had kittens.
You’re kidding! Which one?
James, that’s great! I know you’re so excited. Where were they born?
Under a bush out front of my building. And you know what else?
We thought that Mocha and Pepper were brother and sister but it turns out they were husband and wife.

James is one of my second graders. He’s a scrappy kid who hasn’t had an easy life in all his eight years. He and his mama and his big brother are Katrina survivors who were relocated to Atlanta after enduring one of those shelter stays we all watched, in horror, on television. His mother works full time and also goes to school, trying to make a good life for her family of three.

Because my public school is in a well-to-do part of Atlanta and is a feeder school for some of the more elite private schools, most of my students come from families that can provide material items and experiences James and his family don’t have the means to attain or access. For children like James, attending my school means dragging around a big old double-edged sword along with their book bags. While they have the great opportunity to learn and play with kids who have many advantages, they are also constantly reminded of their inability to compete with, or even understand, ski-vacation and electronic-game-acquisition stories at recess and Show and Tell.

Still, James manages well. He’s quick and funny and plenty hard working when he isn’t busy being overwhelmed. He struggles with math and those pesky rules that accompany reading and writing, but he’s a master communicator and he has the biggest heart of any little kid I’ve ever known, a heart that gets broken whenever we more flawed humans fail to live up to his standards for how people should act. I’ve told his mother I think he’ll either end up a preacher or a comedian, probably a bit of both within whatever future that comes his way. I’ve told him he’ll need to hire a good accountant to take care of his first million.

And James loves his cats, a luxury his mama must have mixed feelings about as they live (and breed) in and around his apartment home. The days before the feline births were difficult for him. His mother had been out of town, flying on a buddy pass that worked beautifully to get her to but not from her destination. Her well-articulated weekend stay-over plans for James had to be extended, via frantic phone calls, into the middle of the next week, with him spending additional nights away from home while his mother waited, exhausted and worried, in various airports as she inched closer and closer to her home and children, in what had to be a universal, cross-cultural, every mother’s worst nightmare.

And then, just days after his mother finally returned home, the cats arrived, baby ones, and James’ entire Friday was spent on an up-note, an optimistic day of believing that good things can happen on any morning, a day with no worrying about the spelling lists or math facts that, at times, elude him, but instead a day of celebration and making plans for our class to vote on kitten names, even for kittens whose futures would be iffy at best.

And there was a lesson for me too. As I've just recently begun thinking seriously about retirement, I've had the tendency to bemoan the drudgery of full-time work, the hours spent at the beck and call of others, the documentation, the fatigue, the not necessarily following my bliss. And then, just as I was succumbing to the notion that I was biding my time, overworked and under-appreciated, until
the economy or my pension smiled on me, in walked James, with his not so easy life and his few material possessions, but with new kittens.

At that point, I realized that a child can still surprise and delight me with a story and a belly laugh, and that life is what we live day by day, not something that comes from perfect 401k planning. With that, I understood that I, too, could find an unexpected gift on any given Friday, at a time when it's least expected, my version of kittens in the morning, although I might have to look under a bush, or in a little boy's face, to find it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Change

The change I’m talking about isn’t what happens to women in mid life, the flashes and flares of hormonal depletion. It's about is the change that’s cast upon all of us in every US state, except Hawaii, Arizona, and parts of Indiana, every spring. It’s the change known as Daylight Savings Time.

I know I can’t fight this institution, and I really don’t want to, because, once I get used to it, I kind of like it. Therefore, I’ve decided, instead, to make a proclamation having to do with the havoc inflicted by the change itself.

Here goes: I hereby proclaim the Monday after Spring Forward to Daylight Savings Time to be a National Day of Mourning for our Lost Hour.

I’m serious about this. What do you have to do to proclaim a proclamation? I get that the conversion is made on a Sunday morning to give us a few hours to acclimate ourselves and perhaps say a prayer before the work week begins, but it’s the next day, that terrible Monday, when the fatigue hits the fan. We all drag in to work and school, bummed out, done in, and *^!*off. And no wonder. Not only are we navigating in the dark, we’re also adapting to losing an entire hour we won’t see again for months and months and our bodies are in a state of temporal confusion.

By the way, just who made that first decision to fall back and spring forward? Can you imagine what people must have thought the first time this notion was offered up? "We’re gonna do what because of why? And just how do those smart alecks in Washington expect to make that happen?"

I have to say I became so caught up in the history of how this crazy thing started, I got sidetracked from my original purpose and forgot about my proposed commemoration for a while. But the good news is, based on my continuing commitment to doing whatever it takes to conduct extensive research on a topic, I googled “history of daylight savings time” and found the answer. The decision was made by Congress to add an hour of afternoon daylight in the spring of 1918 in order to save electric power during World War I and because other countries were already doing it all over Europe. I also learned that the number of days spent in Daylight Savings Time was extended by The Energy Policy Act of 2005, and a state can opt out via the state-law-passing process, which it looks like only Hawaii, Arizona, and parts of Indiana decided to do.

Furthermore, during my short-attention-span research frenzy, I also passed by Wickipedia, my other quality source for information, from which I discerned the origin of "smart aleck". It turns out the term was coined in the mid 1850's in reference to a nefarious trick that Alec Hoag, a famous pickpocket and, yes, pimp, used to purloin the purses of his otherwise-occupied "Johns". I refuse to look up the derivation of the term "John".

All of the above taken care of, we can now return to my very important proclamation and how we can make the best of that poor pitiful mournful Monday. We can’t make it a holiday because then the
Tuesday after Spring Forward to Daylight Savings Time would have to be the National Day of Mourning. That’s because we humans will put off getting used to anything until we absolutely have no choice. So our day would have to be celebrated in spite of itself, sort of like Groundhog Day or April Fools' Day.

After much thought and even more Google research, I've come up with an anthem which could be played surreptitiously on work computers, IPods, or small desk radios during the day, or, for those of us who are teachers, sung by our school choruses. That song would, of course, have to be
If I Could Turn Back Time by none other than Cher. Our motto would obviously have to be Tempus Fugit, which doesn't mean “time flies” as I'd thought, but "time flees”, which is even better. We could also wear clothing that fit us in the past but not now, or outfits that were in style when we were younger but not any more.

After work, we could meet up with friends for Two for One Happy Hours and then get a free hour of overnight parking so we could call a taxi to get our inebriated selves safely home in time for our massive two-Tylenols two-times-each-hour hangover. We could also get two-for-one deals for our hour sessions with therapists and masseuses, or call up old love interests and tell them we've thought about them every hour since the big breakup. (This last one would work best if we were to choose the Two for One Happy Hours celebratory approach as opposed to the therapy route.) Later, at home, we could play the Minute Waltz sixty times on our piano or harmonica and eat bowl after bowl of Minute Rice before falling into bed in what would still be pure daylight.

All this thinking about the origins of and issues pertaining to Daylight Savings Time has got me worrying about what I’m going to do when our clocks are set back in the fall, the burden of how to fill my extra hour. Should I exercise or meditate? Should I do charity work, something good for my fellow man or woman, or for the earth itself?

I'm pretty sure it will all be too much for me. It'll certainly overwhelm me and make me tired enough to need an hour of rest and reclining. Therefore, I hereby proclaim the Monday after Fall Back from Daylight Savings Time to be set aside as National Afternoon Nap Day. We could wear our pajamas to work and rest on or under our desks after a lunch of milk and cookies. I'll ask Google for some anthem ideas.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hangin’ with my Homies

First of all, I need to say that I’m not entirely sure what hangin’ with my homies means, but it just feels right for my title here. If I’m translating correctly, I think it means something like “telling my mom I'm going to Shoney’s with my friends after Sunday night church,” in the jargon of my youth. If I’m wrong, I’ve undoubtedly offended several different groups of people I would never want to offend, and, for that, I apologize.

The other day, I attended the wedding of one of my teacher friends. It was gorgeous, a small affair in a romantic location about an hour north of Atlanta. Although it was colder than expected with a light mist, the weather made the old ruins, which were the setting for the ceremony, seem almost ethereal. I felt like I was in Scotland or Wales instead of north Georgia.

But this story isn’t about a beautiful wedding; it’s about how much fun I can have with people half my age. Two of my other young teacher friends were in attendance also, and because they aren’t old and cheap like me, they decided to get a room in one of the quaint cottages on the grounds so they could enjoy themselves and not have to worry about driving back to Atlanta afterwards. I finally elected to go up early so they could help me decide what to wear since the weather was much colder than I had expected when I bought my new spring dress from the Old Ladies’ Macy’s at North Dekalb Mall. When I arrived, Abby and Katie were having pre-wedding cocktails and, of course, I joined in since I’d brought my bottle of Windsor Canadian (the drink of choice for old ladies everywhere). We talked as they prettied themselves up. I was already pretty.

It’s interesting to note all the things girls have to beautify themselves these days: sprays, straighteners, gels, fat brushes, skinny brushes, pinks, purples, green, and ochre. The only Maybelline on the premises was demurely tucked away in my cosmetic bag. As my friends were spraying and straightening, the CD player one of them had brought was belting out a kind of sound formed from a crazy concoction of syncopated cacophony that made me want to ask, “You call this music?” but I didn’t because I was having too much fun.

As we three got prettier and prettier, one thing led to another, and before we could stop ourselves, we were sitting in the claw-footed tub, taking our own pictures, asking the question people all over the world ask when they are taking photos of themselves fully clothed in a bathtub, that question being, “Where’s my drink?”

Nuptial time was nearing so Katie and Abby began dolling themselves up in tiny dresses and ridiculously tall shoes. I ended up wearing an over-the-top ensemble, replete with a voluminous skirt, that would have made me a good candidate for mother of the bride had the bride not already had a perfectly-good, gorgeously-dressed mother. Still, my friends said that I looked beautiful and I believed them. We finished up by standing in front of the rock fireplace that was the centerpiece to their room, pretending to take prom pictures as we vamped while holding a potted plant. I seem to remember that the plant was in lieu of a wrist corsage.

As we hurried from the cottage, the new millennium version of a horse and carriage awaited to deliver us to the site of the wedding. Of course, it was I who ended up plopping my overly-dressed self into the back seat of the golf cart, the seat usually saved for the beer cooler, so I just pretended that we were in a parade and I was the final float, sort of like Santa Claus.

Erin was just about the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen as she walked down the rose-strewn aisle. But she was still our Erin as she nervously answered “I do” before the question had even been asked. As soon as the ceremony was over, we ran back to our horseless carriage to escape the cold and to partake of yet another beverage, and then the bounteous buffet, in the reception hall.

Again, one thing led to another until the three of us, along with much of the wedding party, were on the floor doing that time-honored and universal reception dance which consists of a lot of unisex and multi-age flailing and shimmying and shaking of one’s booty. I hung in there until my feet, my back, and my courage gave out and it was time for me to remember just how old I am. I felt like Cinderella, only with really cute, nice, and much younger, stepsisters, as I left the party and got in my Corolla to head back home to my real life. So far, Prince Charming hasn’t arrived with the sensible shoe I just might have left behind.

Am I glad I went? Absolutely. It’s good, at my age, to get out of my early-bird-special comfort zone every once in a while and spend some quality time with my peeps. I’m just glad my young friends seem to like me in spite of my age, my often embarrassing wardrobe choices, and now my dance moves. What this experience has helped me to remember is, no matter how old we are, girls just like to have fun. And fun is what we had.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

This One's for You, Billy

I couldn’t possibly be pregnant. I already had a perfectly good baby.

We were living in your grandfather’s house, sleeping in the guest room that shared a wall with Doc’s giant Magnavox TV, which he kept ratcheted up to about 1000 decibels because he was mostly deaf. On the other side of the other wall was Melissa’s crib, and outside our window was Henry, howling out his confusion and exasperation at being banned from the house. There was many a night I could be seen climbing out the window to throw something at the dog to hush him up without having to walk my nightgown-clad body past your grandfather in the den watching Johnnie Carson. Through it all, your father just continued to saw logs. To this day, I can’t for the life of me figure out how I could have possibly gotten pregnant, but pregnant I got.

Born on the thirteenth of March, exactly two years and ten days after Melissa, you were a sweet baby, cute though rather odd looking with your cone shaped head from being so big and perhaps stuck in the birth canal for a bit too long. You were also an easy baby. After just one night of sleeping in Melissa’s room (“Mama, the baby’s crying!”), we moved you into the living room of our tiny house, where you stayed until we finally enclosed the carport to accommodate Daddy’s office.

By the time we moved into the big house, you and Melissa were pretty much inseparable, going to Children’s Friend each weekday, playing outside in the afternoon and watching C.H.I.P.S. and Night Rider in the evening. I was your kindergarten teacher and it was during that time you buddied up with Chris (like a lawn) Moore and a couple more little scalawags with whom you remained friends throughout high school. I loved being your teacher and your mama at the same time. I thought you were just about the cleverest kindergartener ever to build a block tower and then knock it over.

I still remember the drawings you did as a little boy, airplanes with prodigious amounts of cloud-like smoke spewing from their innards, and little round cars, often with one flat tire, which I think had typically been shot out. I now look back and wonder if those gimpy automobiles offered a glimpse into your personality and view of life, as if you expected good things seldom to be perfect. That probably came from having Melissa as your big sister. Remember the time when you watched that scary movie and she materialized and startled you at the top of the stairs? You were so horrified that you refused to go upstairs by yourself for the longest time. Putting my picture in that locket and that locket around your grimy little neck was most likely my finest moment as a parent. No boogie people could have survived a gander at that face and you knew it.

Your earliest birthday parties were in tandem with Melissa’s, mainly because I was cheap and tired. I particularly remember those at Dry Lake Park and Burger King. However, your most memorable party, not counting those as a teenager I don’t even want to think about, had to have been the spend-the-night one when the partiers tried to turn over Dianne’s mini van just after dark and then flew the balsa wood airplanes in the front yard at four in the morning. Was that the same one where Molly sat naked on the dining table during the birthday-candle-blowing-out?

On the Molly topic, it was when Molly came along that your life changed and I began to catch a glimpse of the man (and father) you would become. After getting over your disappointment about not having a little brother, you and she developed a bond that remains to this day. Just as Melissa helped form you, you did the same for Molly.

Notice your hand here. You
are making sure Molly doesn't
fall off the porch.

Despite that good old Warner Robins tradition, you were never much interested in sports. You played Little League and were pretty good; however, soccer drove you nuts as those other little boys just ran all over everywhere and didn’t stay in their assigned positions. The idea of random shenanigans seldom got in the way of your logical thinking and that hasn’t changed.

In middle school, when you halfheartedly joined the football team, I remember going to a game and complaining to your coach that he wasn’t letting you play. He told me every time you got to the front of the line and it looked like you might actually have to go onto the field, you’d disappear to the back. Again, to your way of thinking, being on the team was enough, especially since you got to wear that great green uniform. Actually playing, on the other hand, could have lead to injury.

Speaking of uniforms and perhaps a different type of machismo, you didn't fare particularly well in the one ROTC class you took in high school either, the one you failed, partially because, on the one day you deigned to wear that uniform, you sported a t-shirt which offered the notion that one should Play Naked Lacrosse in bold letters under it.

To this day, you are one of the few heterosexual men I know who isn’t interested in sports, and, in fact, you appear to consider this to be a badge of honor. When you moved to Portland, you did join a kickball team, which you continue to enjoy, at least the beer drinking part of it. It did turn out, however, that playing in a co-ed league was mostly just a ruse for meeting women, and we have kickball (at least in part) to thank for Mary and Cami.

I recall once, when you were around fourteen, you told me that I needed to make you tougher. We were standing in the kitchen; I remember it well. I felt so sad, so insufficient, so unable to do what you'd asked of me. I couldn’t play golf or throw a ball or even pee standing up. But, you know, like most things, it turned out just the way it should. Even though neither of us had what it took to make you into the Incredible Hulk, you turned out to be tough in all the ways that are important. You are steadfast and kind and loving and funny, ready to make a joke when you sister is being wheeled into surgery, determined to be at her bedside when she returns. You are a partner to Mary and a wonderful father to Cami. You are your own person, content to be the basement guy, happy with your wires and connections, caretaker of drunks and fools. You were definitely born into the right family.

Finally, since I do usually think of you in one of those t-shirts you still wear (and wear and wear), my final word on the Billy-factor will have to be that you are like one of your shirts: typically unconventional, occasionally tacky, and often spouting something outlandish. But, oh, what a comfort you are.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dust to Dust

This story isn't going to be about death, only dust. Well maybe some death at the end when I get all sappy and philosophical.

The other evening on the six 'clock news, I happened upon a report about a local civic leader who'd been placed on a paid leave of absence while the Feds figured out if he was involved in some sort of white collar crime I can't even begin to understand. As I watched the film clip of agents searching the man's house and confiscating his computer hard drives, I wasn't thinking about what kind of dastardly deeds he'd most likely done, or if he'd be sent to the big house or the little house to pay his debt to society, or even what his wife must be thinking as the big black Suburbans tore out massive chunks of turf from her front lawn. What I was pondering (and I'm really serious here) was
how people are able to keep their things so clean and dust free. As the police were carefully placing the evidence in the back of their vans, I could see that all surfaces of each item of computer equipment were just absolutely shiny bright: no dust bunnies, no cat hair, no peanut butter, nothing but spic and span spotless wonder. If that felon has a cleaning service, I want the contact information.

Dust has always been a problem for me. For years, I had pets, mainly cats with a few dogs thrown in here and there for equity's sake. I also had children who certainly added to the coating of debris that could be found on my coffee table on any given Saturday. Because of my lifestyle, I always blamed my problems with dirt and grime on pets and kids.

Until now. My children finally all left home for the "real world" and my old cat, Chloe, the ugliest, longest-lasting-without-any-medical-care-at-all-after-some-basic-spaying cat died last year. Actually, I helped her into her feline afterlife with a trip to the vet and some euthanasia. Okay, I cried a bit (maybe a lot) when it happened, but that's another story. Bottom line, I continue to smell the cat pee when I walk into my kitchen, and the dust is still with me.

I really, truly don't know how to get rid of those pesky particles of whatever the stuff is that covers each surface of every place I go, including my car and my classroom. Every once in a while, I wipe at it with a wash cloth or a wet paper towel. Other times I blow on it, which, believe it or not, doesn't work all that well. On occasion, I've gotten into some semblance of dusting mode, purchasing spray stuff and, once, even a feather duster. However, when I do that type of crazy thing, I inevitably end up knocking over and breaking one of the about twelve thousand knickknacks I've accumulated through the years, and Pavlov and Skinner (if they were still alive) would be the first (and second) to point out that's not a great way to reinforce good clean behavior.

Thinking of Pavlov and Skinner made me consider taking the scientific approach to solving my filth purging problem, so I googled "dust" and found that it's made up of three primary components. First are the tiny fibers shed by fabric. That doesn't sound so bad. Perhaps I need to wear fewer clothes. The second component isn't as easy to accept as it is the dried feces and corpses of dust mites. You mean I have tiny corpses laid out like King Tut on my easy chair, surrounded by their poop? Back on with the clothes. The third component is quite possibly the most hideous to consider but it just might be the one to cast some light on my quandary as it is the one constant for all the places I go. That component is dead skin cells with the common factor being me. As I've said before, "no matter where I go, there I am". Now I can add "dragging my dead skin cells behind me" to the axiom.

So, since my plethora of diligent research strategies hasn't produced a good solution to my dust problem, I've decided to just sit back and enjoy it, keeping in mind that a fine powder of settled motes can come in handy when you need to write down a phone number or an address. In addition, if my home ever becomes a crime scene, fingerprints will be much easier to find and identify because of my poor housekeeping.

Nevertheless, if I ever go missing, don't look for evidence flirtatiously peeking up from my dusty book shelves. Just keep an eye out for a rather large pile of dead skin cells, most likely surrounded by tiny corpses and microscopic poop. That will be me.

See, I told you there'd be a chance I'd get around to death at the end of this thing.

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

  The timing was perfect.   I was 56 and looking toward retirement but not yet ready, either physically, emotionally, or moneta...