31 October 2010

The good ship Lollipop

Tonight, I lit the candles in the pumpkins (I'm old fashioned, and I like the smell of fresh pumpkin charring), and in the ceramic lanterns, and then the daughter and I settled into our chairs on the front walk to await ghouls and goblins (and far too many teenagers. But the worst, a 40-something male dressed in what looked like a Super Mario Brothers outfit, trying to hide in the middle of a pack of small children).

"Can I tell you about Frankenstein?" the daughter asked, nibbling on a candy from our bowl of treats. She has a final on the book tomorrow.

"Okay," I murmured, looking up at the darkening sky, listening to the shouts coming from other streets, a harbinger of the evening's entertainment.

And she proceeded, over the course of the next two hours and perhaps 40 visitors, to recount the entire plot of the novel.

After we collected up the ceramic lanterns and the pumpkins and our chairs, the daughter scampered after bits of wrapper and paper.

"I ate a lot of candy," she said, a little pleased, a little shamefaced.

Nothing like a lot of sugar and a lot of Frankenstein, and some quality time with one's daughter on a chilly Halloween evening.

Go listen to some music: "On the Good Ship Lollipop" from the film Bright Eyes, a song immortalized by Shirley Temple.

30 October 2010

Dirty deeds

Once upon a time, TV (and movies and books) relied upon the audience's imagination to fill in the little blanks, the delicate bits of plot that people really don't need spelled out for them. Like "what happens when you're stuck in a room with a really unattractive man who needs to answer the call of nature and there's hordes of slavering zombies between him and the restroom?" Seriously, I trust that he will find a solution. But I don't need to actually know what that solution is.

Dead Set didn't just spell it out once, the writers felt the need to grind everyone's face in it.

Do the scatalogical jokes fly in this house? You bet. I've got a 16-year-old son. And I have no particular objection to scatalogical humor in its proper context. For crying out loud, my brother and I were watching Monty Python as soon as it hit this shore.

And viscera? Okay, yeah, I like zombies. The occasional vampire. A werewolf. Space aliens. Well-crafted horror is great. But again, ugh factor? Don't need it so much. After all, I'm the person who had Gray's Anatomy (the real thing, not the TV show) in her office. I know from viscera.

Need I even go into the profanity? Can we get a little creative and maybe have some real dialogue? Sure, I understand that this show is self-referential, a take-off on reality TV. And I found Dead Set tedious for exactly the reasons I don't watch reality TV. Even the characters in the show are mostly dumb as posts.

Here's the thing, though: I'm not particularly prudish. What bothers me most about this is that the writers and producers are squandering precious minutes on this gratuitous, truly unfunny bathroom humor when they could be using that time on creating a really good plot. Because Dead Set could have used some good plot instead of showing up DOA.

Did I finish up this week's good deeds and immediately come down with a nasty and irritating little virus that is making me very cranky?

You got it.

Go listen to some music: "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" from the album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC.

28 October 2010

The safest way into tomorrow

Ah.

The wind picked up yesterday, though the gusts were mild, enough to clear out the haze, enough to dry up the moisture.

Dawn saw wind-whipped tendrils of pink cloud, seemingly bursting from the mountains below.

After leaving the boy at the bus stop, as I headed back up the street, a flash of silver in the eastern sky caught my attention. A plane, winking like a star, caught the early sunlight as it flew out into the morning. I watched it until it disappeared.

It wasn't even a wish exactly. I just thought, "If I can only get through..."

And now I'll sleep and then it's tomorrow.

Go listen to some good music: "The Safest Way Into Tomorrow" from the album Night Castle by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

26 October 2010

Cannot wear that on your sleeve

In the aftermath of yesterday's frustration, stemming from things that seem so petty and ridiculous to me (and yes, I know the idea is to curb the excess of some individuals, but I tend to operate from a place of common sense where these things are concerned and am so tired of being rule-bound because of a few lunatics), I went to shop for items for holiday meals for the less fortunate.

Each year, we support various charities that provide food to the hungry, and at the holidays, we make a special effort to help with making up food boxes for a celebratory meal. When I was a child and times were difficult, friends made such things possible for us. I don't mind being an invisible friend to someone else while I have the means to do so.

The boxes come with specific instructions: we fill them with cans of vegetables and fruit, boxes of rice and potatoes and stuffing mix, fruit juice, beans, and other items. Even as I purchase the items on the list, I fantasize about tucking something extra in: a loaf of homemade bread, a bag of homemade cookies, though I know this would never be allowed.

I try to remind myself that it's enough to help feed others, but it never feels like enough. Oh, I know I'm providing a meal for 6-8 people with each box that I fill, but I'm distressed by what I perceive as the poor quality of the food: white rice, instant mashed potatoes, canned foods high in sodium and sugar, and I launch into another fantasy about teaching people transitioning out of a shelter or motel how to cook proper nutritious and easy meals that are also inexpensive. It's one thing I learned long ago, how to squeeze a penny until it screams.

But how can I make my $2 meal that you cook yourself compete with the 99 cent burrito sitting under the heat lamp at the local drive-through?

I'm weird, I know, fuming over the handling of school parties, ready to throw their rulebook out the window, and then fretting about the possibility that I'm contributing to a disadvantaged person's heart disease or diabetes by following the rules and buying them processed foods I'd never eat myself.

There must be a better way. But I sure haven't figured it out yet, though I like this idea.

Go listen to some good music: "Pretty Persuasion" from the album Reckoning by REM.

25 October 2010

She's got pretty persuasion

There are days...

(Did you think Pollyanna is my default setting? No, you know better.)

There are days. And this is one of them.

(The son just texted me to tell me that he was nominated for Homecoming Prince today--Prince? Not King? How about Emperor? Have I ever confessed publicly that I was nominated for Homecoming Queen? I withdrew my name... I was sure someone was doing it to embarrass me. Now that IS my default setting.)

J. and I are both sort of take-charge mothers, which is good because there is a significant lack of leadership in the daughter's class. This is how I've ended up being a room mother for like...I don't know...7 years (and I keep trying to withdraw my name!). Last week, I was at the parent-teacher conferences, and I asked the homeroom teacher what was going on with the party that is supposed to be held this Friday because I'd been asked to help room parent again this year, and I'd heard nothing from anyone about anything.

And of course, she didn't know.

Somehow, I missed a significant piece of paper at the beginning the year which more or less announced the take over of the room parenting stuff by the parent association. I'm not overly fond of the parent association as they tend to operate like a secret government. And this despite the fact that I'm friendly with the president of said secret government parent association since his daughter is one of my daughter's closest friends.

So J. and I--separately and in tandem--are trying to get more information about what and where and why and most importantly, who is planning to pay for this stuff since J. was told by the parent association not to collect funds for the parties. The intrigue, for crying out loud. Over parties for schoolchildren.

Then J. told me that the parent association has decided that the entire junior high will party together, which J. and I know from experience is A Very Bad Idea. The classes do not mingle because they are mostly segregated by grade, and therefore they do not know each other, and do not wish to mingle. At a party where everyone is forced to mingle, no one has fun.

"Alright," I said during one of our four phone conversations today, "I think we go rogue, collect the funds we need, plan a party for our kids and parent association can do whatever they want with everyone else."

And J. laughed so hard...

Go listen to some good music: "Pretty Persuasion" from the album Reckoning by REM. Ok. Seriously. This is a kids' party: a tray of cupcakes, a couple of bags of chips and some juice or water, maybe some Halloween music, a few decorations. All the kids want to do is hang out after their costume parade. THIS IS NOT BRAIN SURGERY. And further, no, as a room parent, I'm not helping out with the parent association's initiatives. If I wanted to be part of the parent association, I would have joined the parent association.

24 October 2010

Don't you feel sick with shame?

So, my entire avocado harvest was stolen off the tree. Every last fruit, about 3 dozen in all. This is the first time that my tree has produced a respectable harvest and I'm rather furious.

I have a pretty good idea who is responsible; I've had trouble with this bunch since they moved in. Regardless, I'm not bothering with accusations. But I know a nice man who would be more than happy to erect a 12 ft. fence between our properties in addition to the wall that already exists.

And it will have spikes. Very painful spikes.

Go listen to some good music: "Shame" from the album Mania by The Lucy Show.

23 October 2010

I bought it on eBay

We have elections coming up here. Some of my more amazing choices:

Carly "I got fired from HP, so let me finish sinking California next!" Fiorina vs. Barbara Boxer (let's see, she's been in government for 20 years. What exactly has she done?) for Senate.

Meg eBay "I didn't know she was an illegal alien" Whitman vs. Former Governor Moonbeam Brown for Governor. And people thought the Governator was bad.

The Public Policy Institute of California has noted that residents of California aren't happy with the choices offered them for governor. What a big surprise! And people in California are distrustful of the government. They no longer like political parties (I haven't belonged to one in over 20 years, but evidently, everyone else just recently discovered that was an option), including the Lowest-Common-Denominator party, aka the "Tea" party.

And remember: I'll vote. I always vote. Not that I'll vote for the available livestock.

Go listen to some music: "I Bought It on eBay" by Weird Al Yankovic. I've been disgusted by the political process for a long time. When politics becomes an industry, largely run by TV, what does it have to do with governing?

20 October 2010

I've traveled half the world to say...

I do like to travel. If you hadn't figured that out.

Sometimes, the cities and town are a bit pedestrian. Sometimes, they have an intense energy of their own. Sometimes, the people are simply like the ones you pass on the sidewalk at home. Sometimes, they are exceedingly memorable.

Last night, I published a photo of a passageway in Bergen, Norway. This was one of our jaunts when we had an actual guide, a small and improbably Italian young man, and he was the one who'd dragged us to this particular courtyard (from whence I immediately ran away and started snapping photos elsewhere). He was rather adorable, and we privately dubbed him Frodo Hughes, for reasons I think I'll decline to explain. And the adorable? It wasn't because he was sweet or anything so mushy, though he was kind and friendly without being effusive. It had more to do with his passion for guiding (in some cases, herding), and his complete bemusement over certain aspects of Norwegian social life. I never entirely comprehended the story, but he told us about some law against imbibing alcohol during the work week, and thus, everyone got falling down drunk at the weekend.

"Saturday night, it's Armageddon! People rolling around in the street!" Mr. Frodo Hughes told us emphatically, railing with a blistering incomprehension at such behavior.

So "It's Armageddon!" became the familial tagline for a good portion of the trip, because we found it hilarious.

I encounter a lot of drivers, too. Taxi drivers, shuttle drivers, hired drivers. They always have a story or six, and some also have abundant good humor, a necessary ingredient when members of the extended family are thrown into the mix. A darling man that I hired to drive us from London to Dover gave us a little extra tour of London when he heard that the daughter really wanted to see Big Ben. And he put up with a certain elderly woman's non-stop litany of complaints until she fell asleep. I tipped him hugely at the end, and he seemed loathe to take it.

"Miss," he asked, holding the bills. "Are you sure?"

I assured him he'd earned every pence.

And then, there are the times you visit someplace, and you are being watched the whole time: microphones, cameras, guides, and everyone else.

My first night in Soviet-era Moscow, we were shuttled to an elderly hotel because with typical Soviet efficiency, our rooms at the Intourist hotel "weren't ready." When, finally, after what seemed year of flying, passport control, customs and wandering the ring road in search of a place to stay, we were dumped at this horrible building. We hoped for the best, and eventually, got a key, got past the key lady, and got into our room.

"Wha...?" my travel companion C.H. murmured, staring up at the ceiling.

I started, probably unforgivably, laughing. Maybe it was just hysteria after a day plus of travel, the harrassment at the passport station, the lack of sleep, but the two microphones each dangling from a foot of wire from the ceiling had to be the funniest thing I'd ever seen--at least until the moment 8 years in the future on my second trip to Soviet-era Moscow when I spotted the camera lens in the eye of a portrait of Marx.

(I am SO not making this up.)

"Dobryĭ vecher," I sang out, and continued in Russian, "Are you listening?"

(Watching the excellent film The Lives of Others brought the memories of that time back quite eerily. I wondered then, and still do, who were those people listening? What did they think of our inane college-student chatter?)

And so, I travel. I travel with my family; I travel on my own. One of the saving graces of my life is possessing the ability to move about by myself, to be comfortable doing so. I travel carefully, always, but with intention, with a desire to discover more of the world, more of the people who live in it. I have so much fun, but I learn so much along the way. There are stories out there, waiting to be told. People, waiting to be met. Friends to see again. Music to listen to. Hikes to be taken. Delicious food to be discovered. Companionship, camaraderie, the fascinating conversation with someone you may never meet again.

The world is a portrait, a photo, a mirror. I step into it and become better.

Go listen to some good music: "I Belong to You/Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from the album The Resistance by Muse. Subtext? This is me you're talking to...

19 October 2010

Slow down

Gemini: Tuesday, Oct 19th, 2010 -- You aren't easily pulled off course today because you know what others need and are willing to adapt without losing sight of your own goals. Unfortunately, your desire to make everything work smoothly might be misunderstood. Don't waste time explaining yourself if anyone suggests that you are weak because you are so flexible. Just bend in the breeze while holding on to your position with confidence.

I guess that sums it up.

I awoke to thunder and rain. We've had a strange little autumn so far with several showery days. I must say I like it, even though I had to venture out and charge around to what sounded like heavy artillery from Pendleton.

(The news warns us when they're firing the big guns down south. You can occasionally hear a crack or feel a shudder.)

It was rather perfect Halloween weather, and all day the gray gloom and showers and thunder seemed like the background for a scary movie. The only thing scary, though, was trying to find construction paper that met the Spanish teacher's exacting specifications. Three stores later, success.

I've had a strange craving for deli. The sort of deli you can only get at a deli, not the misnamed, ubiquitous sandwiches sold by every grocery. I miss the deli from my childhood: owned by a curmudgeonly old man who seemed to hate kids, but still sold us halvah and rock candy. The butcher was a dear man, and the smell of the pastrami he would lavish on sandwiches... But hands down, the best thing about the place was the half-sours. They made their own, and they were bright green and crunchy: the Platonic form of the pickle. That's the thing I really miss.

I sense a field trip in the offing.

But for now, attention to getting to the next day, avoiding the obstacles and moving forward. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

And it's going to rain again tomorrow, which is good.

Go listen to some good music: "Moves" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. A better day. Sometimes the progress is slow, but it's still forward.

18 October 2010

These things get louder

So this is what happens:

A month ago, my MIL asked if we'd like to go on a cruise at Christmas. I thanked her for her generosity and declined.

(We did this once, many years ago. It was not just a nightmare, it was a disaster. And right there, 20-month-old in tow at the San Juan airport, I said that I was NEVER traveling during the holidays EVER again. I've stuck to that for 14 years so far. And trust me, it's not a unilateral decision.)

So yesterday, celebrating the spouse's birthday at Octoberfest with his parents, my MIL made a glum face and said that even though we didn't want to go on a cruise, everyone else did. I kept my neutral face on (you wonder why this is my default expression?) and expressed my desire that they all have a lovely time, while inwardly cheering. No one had said anything about the rest of the family at the time that we'd been asked, so not going was the best possible decision here. I'm not sure why my MIL makes a glum face when she offers up these announcements. She is hoping that we feel we're missing out? Most assuredly, we don't.

(The spouse dislikes--intensely--several people in his extended family. This makes family gatherings incredibly awkward, and listening to his diatribes before, during and after makes me very tense. Thus, I'm all about avoidance.)

"Since we'll be gone at Christmas," my MIL continued, "we thought we'd come down to your house for Thanksgiving, and you can cook. Hahahahaha!"

And there went the plans to go to Sequoia for Thanksgiving.

Then, my mother called today.

"I'm coming to visit you for Thanksgiving!" she said.

"You might as well. B & C already invited themselves," I told her.

"Oh well, I promised your brother I'd spend actual Thanksgiving with him. I'm coming to your house the week before."

Again, does anyone ask? I'd never dream of assuming that I'm just welcome to show up at anyone's door, family or not. I'm so worried about being a bother to others that I could never even consider such a course of action, and will steer clear if I think that an invitation is not sincere or that someone feels forced into issuing one.

It's certainly not that I begrudge my family my time, or the energy it takes to entertain them or cook for them. It's that the demands continue to escalate until there is nothing left, each individual somehow believing that their needs are the only ones I'm being asked to meet. It doesn't matter how frequently I say or demonstrate that this is not the case.

Eyes on the door.

Go listen to some good music: "Moves" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. I know plenty of women who face this same problem, and some men, too, though the men I know seem to be better at saying "no." I'm not really a doormat, but I'm trying to be faithful to the idea that there is finite time here. I don't want to be the one regretting that I didn't make time for the grandparents at the holidays. And to be fair, I made time for myself for Albuquerque and Columbus and Pittsburgh. Would do it again in a heartbeat.

16 October 2010

There I went again

Did I mention that I was making that birthday cake from scratch? It came out pretty nicely.

(The spouse is a fool for marzipan, so the filling for one layer was marzipan. The cake itself also has almond extract in it.)

The satay was fine, too, but heavens what an unholy mess. I just need a firehose to clean out the kitchen after all that.

But everyone was happy, which was the objective. I'm satisfied if I can make people happy.

Go listen to some good music: "Mamma Mia" from the album ABBA by ABBA. Tomorrow: in-laws. *sigh*

13 October 2010

Pick your gift for accident...

My PSAT experience:

Eleventh grade: Mrs. H., high school career and college counselor: "You need to sign up for the PSAT."

Me: "Umm. Okay. What is that?"

Mrs. H.: "Preliminary SAT. All college-bound juniors should take it."

Me: "How much does it cost?"

(Because poor kids always have to figure out where they're going to come up with the funds for this stuff.)

So, I register and get my practice booklet which goes into a pile of other stuff. I have more pressing things going on: my class is planning the homecoming dance, and I'm a student government rep. Because college-bound juniors also need to demonstrate involvement in non-academic school activities and volunteer stuff. And it happens that the homecoming dance is the night before the PSAT.

(You think I multitask these days?)

My best friend LS and I go to the homecoming dance, where we do stuff and have fun, and then we go back to her house where I'm spending the night. Around 1 am, I pick up the PSAT practice booklet and read the front cover. I get to the part where it says that the top 1% of juniors in the U.S. will qualify for consideration for a scholarship.

I snort, thinking "fat chance I'll manage that." And open the booklet.

For the first time.

I glance at the questions. Nothing overwhelming. Standard standardized testing stuff.

I go to sleep.

Four hours later, LS and I trundle over to the high school cafeteria and take the PSAT.

Six months later, I'm notified that I'm a National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist. A few months after, having "proved" my PSAT score with an even higher SAT and submitting an application and writing an essay, I'm awarded a four-year scholarship.

How did it feel? I was overwhelmingly embarrassed that I didn't take that test more seriously. Also, I was overwhelmingly relieved that I didn't take that test more seriously. Also, typically, I never take myself seriously. And it all worked out in the end.


The son's PSAT experience:

Eighth grade: The school notifies us that they are giving the son and his class the PSAT to determine how much coaching they'll need over the next several years to maximize their scores. I roll my eyes and point out to the son that he's already taken the SAT, and at the ripe old age of 13, scored 1900. His greatest challenge was the math section: he'd only had two weeks of geometry when he took it.

Tenth grade: The school notifies us that they are giving the son and his class the PSAT to determine how much coaching they'll need over the next year to maximize their score. I roll my eyes. The son scores the highest in his class. I ask him if he wants to enroll in an SAT prep course over the summer. He laughs at me.

Eleventh grade: The other mothers ask me which SAT prep class the son took over the summer. "None," I tell them. And duck.

(If you don't run with the herd around here...*shudder*)

Last week, the son received his PSAT practice booklet. Last Friday, I suggested that he do the practice test.

"Mom...," he said in that teenager voice. You know: are you nuts, old lady? I've almost already aced that thing...

"You know that I was a National Merit Scholar, yeah?" I asked, a little amused.

Yup. I pretty much saw the whites of his eyes.

So, today, he took the test.

"How'd it go?" I asked after he finished.

"One plus one is two. 'See Spot run.'" he droned.

He is, indeed, my son.

Go listen to some good music: "Your Hands (Together)" from the album Together by The New P*rnographers. No, as a matter of fact, I'm not bragging here, neither about my accomplishments nor the son's. I don't know why academic achievement makes everyone bristle. Substitute "gifted athlete" or "gifted artist" or "gifted musician" for "gifted academically" and no one gives a damn in quite the same way.

12 October 2010

...here I go again

If you've read here long, you know there's this whole birthday thing wherein I create dinner and a cake of the celebrant's choice. This used to seem like a good idea.

The spouse's birthday is coming up and since it falls on a weekend, I thought, "phew. He'll want to go out."

No such luck. And the dinner he wants is not even as simple as meatloaf, grilled steaks or pot roast.

He wants me to make satay. I've never made satay, ever.

This is really his mother's fault. Or maybe his father's. I think his father was the one who found the recipe in an airline magazine on his travels. So my mother-in-law started making it. And it's pretty good. She always makes it for the spouse's birthday.

Except this year.

I'll grant you, it's a lot of work. I've had a copy of the recipe for 20 years, and I've declined to try it. It's fiddly. There is making of marinades and cubing of pork roast and threading of cubes and weird ingredients...

(Coconut cream. I don't even know where to find coconut cream, which, no, is not the same as cream of coconut. And it's higher in fat that coconut milk. And I refuse to make it from scratch. I have to draw the line somewhere. I haven't even told you about the four-layer cake I'm supposed to make.)

So, this year, the MIL just decided no satay.

This is one of those times when I wish I could live with myself were I to say, "Make satay? Are you joking? Go find yourself a Thai restaurant!"

But no. I'm making it. And fried rice. And peanut sauce. And a four-layer cake filled with marzipan and buttercream.

And I find my eyes sliding hopefully toward the door. I have a lot of frequent flyer miles.

Go listen to some good music: "Mamma Mia" from the album ABBA by ABBA. It's so difficult for me to disappoint someone; the guilt tends to be crushing. And as for traveling, I'm set to go to New York...but not until next May. To get past one big obstacle, I'm taking the daughter with me. And yeah, the failure of that last NYC trip still distresses me, a lot. Hopefully, though, I'll get out of here at least once before May. Hopefully.

11 October 2010

The D and the A and the M and the N...

The daughter: "Mommy, why did Dante write The Inferno? What was his point?"

Me: "He wanted to show that Hell is like an onion: it has layers."

Go listen to some good music: "Hell" from the album Hot by The Squirrel Nut Zippers. I'm so insanely tired that I couldn't get "rings" out. However, the onion analogy had everyone laughing hysterically over their mac and cheese. Alrighty then. Looking for my next window of escape.

08 October 2010

Driven to the edge of a deep, dark hole

The phone rang.

Me: "Hello?"

An explosion of static.

The spouse: "Hello? Hello?"

He was out in the field, and sometimes atmospherics make cell phone conversations challenging.

Me: "Hi."

The spouse: "Oh, hi. How's it going?"

Me: "Okay. How about you? Are you done?"

The spouse, in resigned tones: "Well, it was fine up until a second ago. We just got hit by a cement mixer."

It took me a moment to digest this.

Me: "A cement mixer?"

The spouse, in tones of chagrin: "Yeah. We were stopped at a light and the guy plowed into the back of MD's car."

Me: "WHAT? Are you guys ok?"

The spouse: "Oh yeah. The cement mixer was going pretty slow."

These are the phone calls I really hate to get. Years ago, when the spouse was working on the Getty Museum project, he and a colleague were T-boned by a Mercedes that ran a red light. Amazingly, neither the spouse nor CH suffered more than a few bruises, but the truck--which had been leased by the company--was completely knocked off its chassis.

When MD pulled up in front of the house a couple of hours later, he was beside himself. One of the taillights was smashed, the bumper was bent under and the trunk lid was damaged.

MD: "That guy tried to say, 'Oh, are you sure that I did that damage to your car? How could I do that damage to your car?' And your husband pointed to the outline of the guy's license plate in the back of my car. I told him, 'We can probably see your numbers embossed in the metal,' and he stopped talking."

I shrugged. "If nothing else, the cement dust ground into the trunk lid is pretty much a giveaway."

The spouse and MD leaned in to inspect the grey splotches in the paint, and MD ran his finger through the dust.

MD: "Hey, yeah. You're right!"

Go listen to some good music: "Driven" from the album Test for Echo by Rush.

07 October 2010

Another world

When I was five years old, my family moved into a tiny, two-bedroom brick house that was covered in stucco to make it look as though it was adobe. The house was painted bright pink. For some reason, Tucson was home to vast quantities of pink paint, leftovers, rumor had it, from World War II. My high school was covered in it as well.

The street was a quiet residential street with a mix of young families and retirees. Across the street from our house lived an elderly couple in a neat, low, brick house, painted sparkling white with cheerful turquoise trim. Mr. H. was friendly but quiet, while his energetic, fearfully thin wife was quite gregarious.

Early one autumn morning, about 18 months after we'd moved into our house, an ambulance sped into Mr. and Mrs. H's driveway. As we set off to walk to school, the attendants wheeled out a grey-faced Mr. H., still in his bathrobe, still dapper with his well-combed white hair. He died later that morning of a heart attack.

I was young, maybe 7, and I didn't detect any slowing in Mrs. H.'s busy behavior after his passing. She acquired a beagle and named him Poochie. We adored Poochie, who seemed to be somewhat less enamored of us.

At that time, Mrs. H. must have been in her late 60s. She very tall and rail thin, a product, she said mysteriously, of stomach surgery, and she habitually dressed in cotton house dresses that were soft and worn with use, and leather sandals. She kept her iron grey hair cropped short and smoked like the proverbial chimney. I never saw any hint of makeup on her face, though periodically she seemed to have her nails done. I remember staring--probably rudely, but truly I was fascinated--at the network of wrinkles on her face, and the roadmap they created. She spoke briskly of Clayton, her late husband, and fondly of Paco, her late son. It troubled me that her husband and only child were gone, but she had friends that she visited, and friends that visited her, and Poochie.

The low white house had a light and modern living room, while the kitchen was dark and cool, most of the light cut off by the screened porch that covered the back of the house. Nooks and crannies everywhere held treasures from the couple's travels and the time that they had lived in Mexico. Everything whispered of adventure and mystery in some obscure way that I'd later associate with Hemingway and The Maltese Falcon. Her back yard, large like ours, was actually landscaped: the entire yard had been raised about three feet, and it contained a lush miniature orchard, filled with Santa Rosa plum, peach, crab apple and apricot trees. Strawberry pots held succulents and larger clay pots sported other exotics. It was like a little paradise in the desert.

After Mr. H.'s death, my mother visited more frequently with his widow, and many were the hot summer nights spent sitting on Mrs. H.'s screened porch, drinking iced tea from beautifully painted glasses that were cold to the touch, but didn't weep at all with condensation because the air was so dry. We sat quietly in the leather chairs from Mexico, chairs that squeaked and groaned violently if you had the temerity to shift your weight. Mrs. H. would tell stories of this and that, of her husband and her son, of Poochie's antics, of her friends and of her life. She would speak with a certain glee of various surgeries. I tried to follow the thread of the conversation between sips of tea, watching the glowing tip of Mrs. H.'s cigarette moving through the dark like a firefly. The air was heavy with the scent of pink jasmine and mock orange, and to this day, I cannot smell pink jasmine without thinking of those nights, and Mrs. H.'s husky voice, and the sensation of running my finger gently along the sharp edges of the metal screen that kept the bugs out.

At one time, it transpired, Mrs. H. had the energy to can all the produce from her orchard and garden, and she pressed upon us jar after jar of spiced crab apples and watermelon pickle. When the fruit in her little orchard ripened, we were invited over to strip the trees, and we were carefully instructed how to pick the fruit so as not to damage the trees. Even now, I can't eat supermarket plums or apricots, not after tasting the rich, syrup-laden sweetness of fruit picked in the hot sun, fruit so full of sugar that I fought the wasps and bees for it. Afterward, we would go home with bags and bags of fruit that became plum butter and apricot jam, our own small kitchen a sweat bath filled with boiling jars and Sure-Jell.

At about the age of nine, I was deemed old enough to assist Mrs. H. with small chores. I would iron her handkerchiefs, and help her to polish her silver, receiving a quarter and a piece of candy for my trouble. But more, I discovered a sure serenity in her quiet kitchen, spritzing the clean cotton with water and running the hot iron over the white fabric until no wrinkles were left, while Mrs. H. hummed and smoked in the background. Neither of us felt it incumbent upon us to talk and we worked, child and old woman, quietly and companionably together.

Perhaps another year or two passed before Mrs. H. sold the house to a young couple, and moved to a trailer park at the base of the Catalina Mountains, taking the redoutable Poochie with her. The new people were calm and quiet, and when I was 12, they had a baby, and within six months, I'd graduated from old lady's handkerchief ironer to young couple's babysitter. The house lost its exotic charm with the absence of Mrs. H., and the little orchard died without her care.

Throughout high school, and once when I was in college, I would travel occasionally with my mother to visit Mrs. H., though more often my mother went alone. Mrs. H.'s iron grey hair became completely white and it curled a little with the addition of a permanent wave. She stopped traveling, remained thin, and lost some of her sparkle. As her little house had become simply an ordinary family home without her, so the trailer in which she lived had none of the charm of her house, even though I recognized many of the knick knacks, no longer in niches, now just stuff. Poochie went on to his eternal reward, and Mrs. H. became a bit more wizened, but she still told her stories of her escapades, still remembered that she had taught me how to iron properly.

Her health failed as she aged, and eventually she went to a nursing home. My mother called me when she died. It troubled me to think of her finally so alone, stout-hearted raconteur, so brusque on the exterior but with a soft heart. I could only hope that she'd gone on to a greater adventure.

Go listen to some music: "Another World" from the album Arrive Without Travelling by The Three O'Clock. Something that has occurred to me in the years that I've blogged is that I tend to take my memories for granted, which is shameful since these are the stories of those who have had a hand in shaping my life. I know I've written bits and pieces about Mrs. H. before but there seemed to be more to tell.

06 October 2010

The hourglass fills with sand...

Survived migraine: check.

Averted cluster headache: maybe.

It's raining: !

For days: !!

Got through the bad part of last week: yes. Thank you.

Got through the spouse's trip out of town: sleeplessness, movies, and potatoes. I have never seen my children consume so many potatoes in so many different forms. I have no idea why they required all those potatoes...

Watched: Syriana (the son and I), Sleepy Hollow (the son and daughter), Where the Wild Things Are (the daughter and I), Sweeney Todd (the daughter--who likes both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, obviously), the end of Up in the Air (all of us, again, all hating on Vera Farmiga's character, again, who we agreed is very much not the adult she claims to be).

Discovered: During a party this weekend, I was told by a parent from across the street that I am "the highlight of the morning." *sigh* This one is clearly not going away anytime soon.

Also discovered: Via a little bird, the high school reunion committee is looking for me. I am officially LOST! Which officially thrills me. Now, if my college would lose me, too...

Most likely: the son was the only person on Earth eating a tandoori chicken hoagie made by yours truly for lunch.

Most unlikely: something in the garage shorted out (eek. I cannot abide electrical problems), the spouse broke a coffee mug, I dropped a five pound bag of sugar (cleaning up sugar is a nightmare of no small proportion), but I still managed to serve mojo-marinated pork roast, cilantro rice, spinach and gingerbread upside down cake on time.

Bizarre: The son went to the DMV to get his permit, and no sooner did he get to the window then the power went out. Back to square one.

Sad: three days worth of mail requires my attention.

Sadder still: both children are making up medical conditions that require my attention. The son has decided his wisdom tooth is growing into his ear. Unwise son.

Headache: yup, still there.

Go listen to some music: "Sing Me Spanish Techno" from the album Twin Cinema by The New P*rnographers.

05 October 2010

Darkness

THEY DIDN'T FEED ME BREAKFAST THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED
by The Cat

She didn't cook anything last night. That was the first clue there was a problem. Well, the real first clue was that I had to lie on the cool wood floor to get cool. Hot cat was very HOT. So I stretched out full length on the cool cool floor. Always problematic because She comes over and plays with my belly. Then I have to bite Her.

And She didn't cook! I gauge mealtimes by the sounds They make. The coffee pot makes noise and the sun comes up. Little He goes into the shower. He comes out and puts food into my bowl while I dance around and give Him instructions. Then Little He eats, but it's never anything good. She might have a waffle, and I like those, but the best days are when Little She gets eggs and I steal some. That's breakfast.

She gets off the exercise bike or drives into the garage or walks in the door or says "How about lunch?" That's lunch. Sometimes I fib a little and tell Her that I haven't eaten yet. Sometimes I can talk Her into a second lunch. Sometimes I can talk Her into giving me some of Her lunch.

I stand on Her feet and walk casually in front of Her when She's making dinner. She rattles pots and pans and chops things. Delicious smells everywhere. Sometimes, I can reach up and pull goodies off the counter (She yells at me, but so what? Food!). Sometimes, She falls over me when I stop in front of Her in the kitchen and then She puts me in the laundry room.

Then, after they've eaten and some time passes, I get my dinner. I have to remind Her. She talks back to me in the most appalling Cat I've ever heard. I have to give Her instructions as She gets the can out of the pantry. She seems to forget every night how my dinner is done.

But last night, I knew it was bad. There was no delicious smell of cooking. I know when things are in the oven and I stand guard (well, sleep) in the chair nearest it. That way, She can't sneak anything past me. I also guard the door when She's cooking outside in case She drops something coming back inside (once, a whole plate of meat! Meat! I managed to get some before She scooped it back up on the plate. I wasn't so lucky when She dropped a casserole full of pork chops on the kitchen floor. I was put in the laundry room, but just as well. It took at least 2 solid hours of bathing to unruffle my fur after that noise).

So They all ate cold things last night. Lettuce (no self-respecting cat would eat that), olives (fun to chase, chew up and spit out), turkey and ham and cheese (hey, where's mine?). I asked nicely for some ice cream and only clawed Her leg a little trying to get some--She doesn't eat it, so why shouldn't I have Hers?--and then everything went dark.

For a moment They were all silent. Everything got very, very quiet. I didn't like it. Everything sounded wrong. Everything looked wrong. It wasn't The Way Things Usually Are.

Then I heard Her speaking in a commanding voice, which made me feel better, and She held a little light in Her hand. She and Little She went back to Little She's room and came back with another little light, and then I smelled fire as She made more little lights. I followed Her as She put little lights everywhere, but She didn't see that I was worrying. Finally, She looked down at me and I worried, and She came down where I was and rubbed my shoulders and spoke softly.

My time is not the same as human time. Humans sleep for a week at a time. There is no sun for a week at a time. I have to wait forever for them to wake up. Humans are slow and ponderous; their time is long. And they need lots of reminding about things that are important to cats.

Like food.

So I was confused. The dark was wrong. The silence was wrong. The no-dinner smell was wrong. The little fires and little lights were wrong. They all talked and She was busy, but I followed Her, and She sometimes scratched between my ears.

And I still hadn't gotten my dinner.

Then it got light again. But it was all wrong. The little dark was gone, but they were still awake. They hadn't gone to bed. I hadn't had dinner. Had an entire day gone by and I missed it, missed three full meals and various snacks?

She was busy again, pushing buttons and walking fast in the house. I followed Her, and worried, but She didn't see me.

Finally, She remembered me again. And I got my dinner without much fuss, strange in itself. Everyone went to bed, and life was normal quiet, not scary silent.

I looked out the window for a while. Things were moving around in the bushes; the world seemed restless with all the weirdness and heat, and I worried, a little.

Then I heard the coffee pot. So soon? Where had the night gone? Was something else wrong?

So, I waited in the kitchen. Soon, Little He would go into the shower, and He would come out and feed me.

And I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I checked the hallway. No morning sounds. No stirring. Were they all dead?

I looked out the doors. No light, just dark.

I knew then that the world was over.

And I was going to be expected to face the end of the world WITHOUT BREAKFAST.

I paced. A little mew of distress escaped while I tried not to hyperventilate.

I could SMELL the coffee. And there were no people. And no BREAKFAST.

And no sound. And no light.

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. This was serious, terrible business. So I marched back to Their bedroom and jumped up on the bed. I stood on Her feet.

No movement. No sound. No light. No people getting coffee. No one in the shower.

NO BREAKFAST.

I jumped off the bed. I walked out into the kitchen. Nothing.

I went back to the bedroom and I made a small sound. Nothing.

Then I wailed out loud. Why are you dead? I cried. Why aren't you moving? Why is there no breakfast? Why is the world over?

I jumped on the bed and then jumped up and down on Her feet with all the power in my furry person.

DON'T BE DEAD! I yelled at the top of my lungs, my 10-lb. body atwitch with the horror of it all. I NEED BREAKFAST!

It was then the pillow knocked me off the bed.

I jumped around and sang a song of victory. They weren't dead! He'd just thrown a pillow at me! I ran to kitchen, tail high, in hopes that breakfast would soon be served.

The blessed noises began: Little He stumped off to the shower, He got up and put food in my bowl, and I gulped it down quickly in case something else went terribly wrong.

She came out and made faces at her coffee cup. I like to rub my face on the warm cup in the morning. It's a way to say hello, to welcome Her back into the world. But this morning, the cup was cold and She made small sounds of dislike.

I jumped off the desk and walked slowly to the dining room, allowing a smug little saunter into my step. I had saved the world, somehow, and now, belly comfortably full, I planned a well-earned nap.

Go listen to some music: "Darkness" from the album Ghost in the Machine by The Police. This was actually written a week ago, when it was 43 degrees hotter than it was today. The coffee maker didn't get reset after the power outage and we thought we'd never hear the end of it from Milton, who did not approve.