Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mom-Mom's House


Christmas was the best.


I can still close my eyes and see every room, every softly lit corner, every china figurine, the order of the music boxes on the shelves that flanked the fireplace, every carefully chosen painting. I can smell the eucalyptus in the dried flower arrangements and remember the dry ticking of the mantel clock, its miniature Westminster chime announcing the quarter hours.


But Christmas was the best. The deep recess of the bay window was filled with light, a small tree at its center. The larger tree was decorated with ornaments no one else had; jewel toned birds with nylon tails that trembled and reflected the lights, bobbing on cunning springs. Tiny musical instruments with real strings. Glass ornaments that seemed to sparkle with sugar frosting. A jaunty man with a pipe stood smoking on the mantel, a smoldering cone of pine incense hidden under his brightly painted coat. The candlesticks bore tiny wreaths of their own, their light reflecting softly on the Christmas china's painted trees. Ceramic plates shaped like white poinsettias, or holly leaves and berries, were filled with cookies. The kitchen was busy and full of wonderful smells; if you opened the dutch door (closed to keep the dog from being a pest) you might be handed a bin of ice cubes, or a basket of rolls, to ferry to the table.


The turkey rested on the kitchen counter while gravy was being made across two burners in the roasting pan, majestic on its white platter. The electric knife would be unsheathed and plugged in, the designated carver summoned. Little by little, as real estate on the glass-topped warming tray was claimed by steaming, fragrant bowls, we'd start to gather. Someone would wander from room to room finding out 'what everyone wants to drink'. Pop-Pop's special iced tea glass sat beside his plate at the head of the table (Or the foot, depending on which one of them you asked). We'd all assemble, the shortest kid getting the back corner chair (on the leg, be careful not to kick it).

For several minutes you'd hear nothing but the scraping of silver on china. Seconds were a ballet since there was very little space between the table and the dry sink. (This did not deter us.) The talking would begin with news of cousins and family friends, funny work anecdotes, good report cards, and the combination of soft light and a full belly would lull you into a half dream, surrounded by the hum and murmur of safety, the warmth of people who loved you.

We would assemble after dinner in the living room, opening gifts one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone sat with a drift of paper at their feet. Slowly, so everyone could see. The waiting got easier as you got older. Mostly. I still have the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, its crisp smell and crackling cover slowly yielding to bookmarks and highlighted passages 27 years later, one of my favorite presents.

This Christmas is hard, because we know, finally, completely, that we don't have that place to go back to. What we miss is not merely the place, but the love that made it, and filled it, and held it together. We have to cry a little, and be brave, and make our own sanctuary. I can still see her looking at something and saying, "Do you know what I'd do with this?"

Yep. We know. You'd make it beautiful. Thank you for showing us how.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bathroom Reading--it may save your life


Stuff to understand first:
I grew up reading Reader's Digest. And I mean, from the time I was three and my feet didn't touch the floor. In my grandmother's house, when that magazine came in the mail, the little paper band would be ripped off and it would immediately go in the bathroom. You would no more expect to see an RD in in a different room than you would a roll of Charmin and anytime I saw them in other people's houses in a place other than the bathroom, I felt shocked, as if they'd left a pile of neatly folded underpants on their coffee table.

Being a compulsive reader I'd go through that magazine cover to cover, absorbing inspirational pet tales, detailed descriptions of medical procedures I wasn't sure I wanted to understand, vocabulary builders and government outrages and 'Humor in Uniform' (anyone notice how brief that feature is anymore? I don't think there IS much humor in uniform these days, or maybe not the kind suitable for RD), whatever it was, I read it. I was fascinated by the 'Shell Safety Series', which told you what to do in the event any number of vehicular horrors befell you on dark and stormy nights or in a blizzard or in six lanes of LA traffic. Heck, I didn't even drive, but I was one of those irritatingly precocious kids who wanted to know what to do.

So this would explain how my Friday went better than it might have.

I was tootling up Route 81 toward Syracuse for my only appointment of the day. 12pm, one and done, grab lunch, get home by 5, bang out a few dozen cookies, put up some decorations, have an adult beverage. This was the checklist I was working on as I listened to some classical music on the radio, one of the lesser Bachs with lots of initials. Then..... dun dun DUN, I hear bang! And swop swop swop swop and I know I just blew a tire. That's when my Reader's Digest inspired ninja training kicked in. 'Foot off the pedals', I told myself. 'Fade over to the shoulder'. 'Hazards on'. 'Brake gently' 'Freak out a little'. (Okay, that's not one of the steps, but c'mon.) The shoulder is ridiculously narrow, I'm about 8 inches on the good side of the white line and if I'd gotten any further over I knew whoever was coming to rescue me wouldn't have been able to deal with the tire, which was on the passenger side. Trucks are rocking the van as I sit there dialing. I call my boss and let him know what happened. He tells me who to call. I call them. The guy sounds like I woke him up.

"Hello (fleet emergency rescue company) can I help you?"
"Yes, I just had a blowout on 81 North just below Syracuse, NY."
"Okay, are you on the road?"
"Um, I'm on the SHOULDER," I tell him.
"Okay, can you tell me where you are?"
(Thinking I just did that) "Yeah, I'm just past the Preble rest stop, about a mile and a half below the Tully exit, I can see it from where I am, and,"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa...so, what TOWN are you in?"
"Well, I guess its TULLY, but I'm on 81. I'll give you the numbers off the mile marker." I wait for a break in traffic and dive out of the van, walking to the mile marker that is just behind me. I read off all three numbers.
"Ma'am, you are giving me too many numbers."
"Well, I'm sorry, sweetie, there are THREE numbers on the marker. One is the route number, and there are two underneath it."
"Do either of them have a decimal point in them?"
"Well there are a couple of BOLTS holding it to the post, so I couldn't tell you," I'm starting to consider just hoofing it to the exit. Then I reflect on the fact that its 15 degrees. With wind. I decide to believe in my guy here, who to be fair is in Massachusetts. He tells me he'll send someone out. I jump back in the van, put on my seatbelt, and pull out a book. Because what the heck, right?

A few minutes later I get a call from a tire place in Syracuse, telling me a guy is on his way. He asks me if I have a spare. I ask him where they typically are in a vehicle with no trunk. He tells me. I wait for a break in traffic, dive out of the van, and peer under the back end of the van.
"Yep, there's a spare."
I wait for a break in traffic. I dive back in, and read some more.
And read some more. And read some more. I start to triangulate the starting point of the truck and figure when I should start to worry. Time passes, and I receive faintly urgent message from the cappuccino I bought at Dunkin Donuts an hour and a half before. Half an hour later I get a call from the tire guy. He's just passed me, he has to go to the next exit and turn around, and he'll be here in 10 minutes. I read. A state trooper stops by just to make sure all is well. I glance longingly at the Nice and Easy at the next exit and have a fleeting urge to ask him to take me there so I can pee, but I dismiss it because that's just crazy. He leaves.

Tire guy comes, jacks up the van with me in it (its just like NASCAR, only slower and colder, and okay, its not like NASCAR at all but he didn't ask me to get out and its FIFTEEN DEGREES so screw it) and begins to remove the spare.

Only its not coming off. Not at all. Not after fifteen minutes of banging and prying. Not after twenty minutes of banging and prying. Not after forty five minutes of banging and prying. I squint at the Nice and Easy, with its cheerful early-eighties logo. Is it really a mile away? Could I make it? Its time to abort this mission. I wait for a break in traffic and dive out of the van. I stand beside the legs under the back end until a head peeps out.

"Lets just bag it, and call for a tow truck, okay? I don't think its coming off and its kind of unsafe here and (yes, I said this) I really, really, really need to pee."

He gathers up his tools and I jump in his truck, every interior surface of which has been touched by hands that don't have the benefit of a wash after changing truck tires. I notice he has the same GPS as I do, only its duct-taped to the dashboard on a mounting bracket fashioned out of coathangers. We go to the exit. Two hours and sixteen minutes have passed since my Shell Safety moment. I come out of the store and my knight in grease besmeared armor says, "Hey, well, here's what we can do. We can go back to the van, (south and then north) take the wheel off, take it to the shop (further north, then back south past the van, then off and back on the highway and north again) and replace the tire, and then go back and put it on, or we can tow it."

I blink at him. I decide not to ask why we didn't BRING THE WHEEL WITH US when we headed north in the first place. We go back south, turn around, come north, get the wheel, and drive to Syracuse. Change the tire. Put it back on the truck, drive BACK past the van, get off, turn around, and return. (I know this is tedious to read. It was even more tedious to DO.) In no time he has it back on and at 3:47pm, four hours and thirteen minutes after my Shell Safety Moment, I am on my way to my 12pm appointment. The customer was lovely and offered me tea, I did my thing and at about 5:30pm I stopped to get some lunch.

Good God, Syracuse. How do you deal with it? As soon as I got out of the van it hit me. This ridiculous sun-is-down-now-wind-driven cold, more than cold. A teabagging from Mr. White Christmas, Mr. Snow, the Cold Miser himself. I mean, jeez. I live in a place where it gets cold. But this was insane. I paid for my sushi, dodging one cashier for another after I determined the woman in front of me was not just momentarily befuddled by the intricacies of purchasing one apple and one banana but actually batshit crazy, and I was on my way. I got home at 8:45. I sang all the way home, loudly, accompanying my fevered vigilance for deer. There were no cookies baked. I took a shower and passed out by 10pm.

But don't worry-- the cookies are coming.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dickens-ed Again

Yep, another Dickens of a Christmas has come and gone here in town.

Once again my voluminous skirts are tucked away in the closet, and once again I make a promise to knock together some kind of bonnet before the big day so I don't walk around with snow-soaked bedraggled hair looking like the Children of Doom huddled under the coat of the Ghost of Christmas Present by 3:30.
(Though I won't lie; I'd KILL for those thighs.)

It snowed this year, and while that seems like it would have added a magical element to the strolling and the caroling and the Victorian-ing and the bread pudding-ing, it mostly made everything soppy and cold and faintly smell of wet dog. The vendors tried in vain to keep accumulating snow off of their wares. (Underscoring somewhat the insanity of a five block long outdoor craft fair in the middle of December. In North Central Pennsylvania. )
As ever, I was up at 5am, downtown by 6:30, and out on my assigned street making sure vendors knew where to set up and that they were within their allotted space. Once again I got to participate in my favorite part of Dickens, the little golden nugget of enforcement that warms the cockles of my heart and empowers me to spread little life lessons like Christmastime fairy dust.

Towing cars.

There are blaze orange signs all over town, pretty much on every other parking meter, on every street that will be filled with vendors. The signs say, in English, no less, "NO PARKING, TEMPORARY POLICE ORDER". And not surprisingly, there is at least ONE person on my designated block who doesn't get the memo. This year there were two. Yaay!
The tow truck driver swung in with amazing deftness, ran the thingy under the car, scooped it up and went. Do you know how long it actually takes to tow a car? About 30 seconds. Did you know you don't even have to get OUT of the tow truck to hook them up and take them away? They don't. Is there something wrong with the singular joy I take in this part of my responsibilities? Probably. In my defense I did NOT hang around waiting for the tearful college student to appear, asking in a trembling voice where her car was. But I'll be honest; I wanted to.

We sang our carols at the end of the day and picked our soggy way back to the car. I was never so thankful for my crock pot; dinner was ready and waiting when we got home, beef stew and homemade bread. A little ibuprofen and a hot shower and my joints were even working again. We had delightful company all weekend and I spent much time over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, chatting and poring over catalogs and cookbooks. Little did I know, tragedy loomed.

I baked a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread this morning, preparing it in the wee hours so that it would fill the house with its wonderful aroma when we were ready to get up. I came home from shopping this afternoon and put some pizza dough in the machine for dinner. And when I pulled my ball of pizza dough out of the pan, I found this.



That little bugger is what makes the magic happen. Without it my bread machine is a doorstop. I WILL find another one, because I refuse to go back to the crumb-less, personality zero, stays fresh for weeks because its soaked in chemicals- plastic wrapped crapola in the grocery store. So if anyone has a Regal Kitchen Pro Model 6761 sitting on a shelf taking up space because Aunt Velma gave it to you 10 years ago and it only gives you a faint sense of guilt because you think you SHOULD make your own bread and string ecologically friendly Christmas ornaments made from cranberries and popcorn and use those darn reusable grocery bags you keep leaving in the car but who has the time and it doesn't make you a bad person dammit, you aren't Martha Stewart but you do okay, let me know. I'll take the bread machine and the lingering feelings of inadequacy and latent resentment off your hands.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Err

Hey!

Just put up a new post, which can be found here on my other blog. I know, its confusing, but since not everyone wants to hear about my ensmallening hijinks all the darn time I keep it separated. But I'll be back with the random foolishness here that you have come to enjoy. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grocery Shopping, PMS, and You


This is what I went to the grocery store for.





This is what I came home with. Not pictured: Two kinds of sugar (cubes and demerara). We also have cheese in a jar, cheese in a bag, cheese in wedges, a jar of chocolate, the aforementioned apple butter, and Rachel Ray.

Seamus DARES you to judge me.

I drank a glass of wine and made a balsamic reduction. Why? BECAUSE I CAN. And also, because nothing says, "My dearest darling, soulmate whose deepest secrets I keep, it would be in your best interest to stay out of the kitchen for awhile" quite like a pot of boiling vinegar.

Anyhow, dinner was grilled chicken with roasted red peppers and balsamic reduction over rigatoni with a touch of alfredo sauce. (Except for Little Lord Fauntleroy, who had to have angel hair pasta because he says he doesn't like rigatoni.) It was delicious. I tried to take a picture but failed to use the 'Food' setting on my camera, which it really has, and ended up with a distressingly glistening yet still out of focus plate of food that had all the charm of a co-ed night out uploaded to Facebook directly from the club-- a little sweaty and unsavory-looking. So you'll have to take it from me that it was pretty and tasted good.

Himself just yelled through the office door to ask what 'Emo' is. How the hell should I know? I'm having a second glass of wine.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Vacation Part the Third: Getting Home, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Fly Steerage


So. We drove back to my friend's house in pouring rain at the end of the weekend, unloaded the car, put away all the extra beer, and napped. After a night spent doing laundry and petting a couple of touchy but lovable weiner dogs it was time for me to head back home. My friend lives minutes from the airport, so I breezed in and waited in line, chatting with the other passengers.

I may have mentioned before that my sister works for the airline. This is convenient, but not quite as effective as saying "I'm with the band", or "I'm IN the band," or "Despite my uncultured appearance I am actually a member of MI-5 and in addition to wearing a bitchin' sidearm, I can tell you that you are under arrest." No, flying 'non-revenue' works like this. You pick your flights, and you call to find out 'how they look'. Are they full? No? Okay, then you 'get listed' on the flight. Then you call the 800 number five times or so between the time you 'get listed' and the time you 'show up' to make sure there are still empty seats on that flight. If there aren't , you can roll the dice, or pick another flight.

When I called the night before my flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia had 'Sixteen open seats, with five non-revenues listed' including myself. Sounded good. Then I had them check my flight from Philadelphia to Williamsport, which had been fine as frog's hair for five days. The news was not encouraging. "Oh, I'm afraid that flight is full," my helpful agent said. I paused to reflect on how it could be, with the Little League World Series being over and no impending apocalypse that anyone could point to, that so many people had the inclination to fly to Williamsport, Pennsylvania at dinner time on a Tuesday. I changed my final leg to Elmira. I live smack in between so it didn't much matter. "Okay, so you are listed on Flight XX, operated by Air Wisconsin (huh?), departing XX and arriving XX at Elmira Regional Airport." I am still too confounded by the Air Wisconsin thing to hear anything else she tells me.

So I check in. And I breeze off into the terminal with all the sunshiny confidence of a person who has not noticed that their ticket has no zone or seat assignment printed on it. Security is a quick matter thanks to my paranoid and slavish attention to the rules, my slip on shoes, and the fact that my 3-1-1 bag is clutched in my hand when I get to the X-ray machine. I wait a few minutes, unperturbed by the rather large number of people at the gate. When they start calling zones I look at my ticket and realize I don't have one. I show it to the gate agent.

" You have no zone, dalin, because te flight is full." she says, and I detect a lilt of an island I fervently wish I was sitting on with my toes dug into the sand. I find a seat at the gate with a dejected-looking gentleman who informs me he's been at the airport for five hours already. He explains that the first flight of the day to Philadelphia was cancelled.

Fracksticks.

This means that all of the people with tickets they actually PAID FOR have to be bumped into later flights. Take away a handful who had to make connections and were booked on other airlines. That leaves, oh, a hundred or so people who just got tucked in line ahead of me in terms of actual human plane-boarding viability. I settle in for the long haul. After being informed I can try again for the next flight in less than an hour I trudge with my wheely-bag which must not ever be out of my sight the quarter mile to Starbucks and order the only tall Vanilla Latte that my budget allows. The barista has the cheerfulness of someone who is already home. I tamp down despair and trudge/wheel back to C25 to await my fate. I have already been told that flight two is full as well; my island friend added helpfully that 'Te flow of flights changes all the time, darlin', you can neveh tell what will happen." I flop in a chair and make my first of many calls home to inform that the plans they are a changin'.

Flight two begins boarding, and I stand hopefully just to the left of the little check-in stand, concentrating on looking interested and ready but not desperate and pathetic. It mostly works, although I have to give a hard look to the last four people to board. Just as I was told it looked like there were open seats they came, suit jackets flapping, computer bag bouncing against an expensive trouser-clad hip, clutching a folded and spindled boarding pass. A tense moment passes while the gate agents discuss another non-revenue passenger they thought was coming who was apparently of higher priority than me. "Maybe she's stuck at security," they muse aloud. I try not to hate them. Finally the woman turns to me as if seeing me for the first time and says, "Well, there is one seat left in First Class if you are willing to pay for the upgrade and I suggest you take it because" and I don't hear anything she says after that, having hypnotized myself with the dove hologram on my Visa card I am waving at her. The only hitch is that I have to check my bag. I explain that my final destination is still a big question so I'll have to check it to Philadelphia only and then see. She tells me that the ONLY REASON I can actually do that is because I'm flying First Class. Well, whoo hoo. I sprint down the jetway and savor those seconds of boarding the plane, glancing back to coach with its tiny seats and squirmy babies and little plastic cups and one tiny bathroom all the way in the back, and take my seat in row four. I resist the urge to throw double hand signs like I'm at a Motley Crue show. My seatmate, mercifully separated from casual hip contact by a seemingly useless leather console, never even acknowledges my existence. I decide its better to simply put on my headphones and peruse the Sky Mall. They come around with a basket (an actual basket!) of cookies and granola bars. The flight is peaceful, civilized, and brief.

In Philadelphia I wait at the bottom of the jetway while a young man specifically comes up the stairs on the outside and hands me MY BAG. I exhibit a degree of gratitude I'm assuming most regular First Class passengers don't bother with and steel myself for The Hike.

Philadelphia Airport is a really nice, recently remodeled, and insanely organized airport. Take a look in the front of the magazine next time you fly. Unlike Atlanta, which is all linear and ninety degree angles and trains and alphabetical order, PHL was clearly laid out by someone with anger issues and strong prescriptions. If you are headed for some sort of, I believe the polite term is 'Jerkwater outpost', you have to leave from 'F' Terminal. I'll let you ruminate on the propriety of that alphabetical designation. This involves hiking halfway through the main terminal, following haphazardly placed signs, to an escalator that leads to an area of the airport where you suddenly worry you aren't supposed to be. From there, you board a bus that threads among the planes and luggage tugs and various un-identifiable pieces of whatever and then deposits you in 'F'. I make the final ascent to my gate and present my boarding pass for Elmira. There is frowning and typing.

"This flight is full," the gate agent tells me. I start reeling off cities within three hours of home.
"Ithaca?" I ask, hopefully. "Maybe," he says. Then, "There are open seats on the flight to Williamsport," indicating my original flight. I go for it. "Here, he says, I'll keep you listed on this flight and give you a boarding pass for Williamsport and if it doesn't work out over there come back here and we'll try," I thank him and head to the other end of 'F'. My sister meets me. We chat. She gives me another book to read, something I hope isn't an omen. She talks to the gate agent for the Williamsport flight and his news is good. There are seats. And again, who the hell is going to Williamsport on a Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, our plane, my plane, is unloading passengers from wherever. I figure in a few minutes we will board and be on our way and please please please, I will be on this plane. I don't notice a gray panel van approaching from my right. I watch with the other passengers as two men get out, take out big orange ladders, and set them up on either side of the left propeller.

Which they begin to take apart.

I watch for a while and decide I'm better off facing the other way. The gate agent continues to give updates, explaining that there will be a 'short' delay. Her mimed conversation through the window to the guys outside suggest short may be 'tomorrow'. I concentrate on breathing normally. A guy who 'knows about this stuff' stands at the window, arms folded, declaring that our flight will be cancelled. The natives begin to get restless. A nicely dressed and heavily pregnant woman appears at our gate, and something about her eyes suggests she is a heartbeat away from a meltdown. She is clutching a Continental Airlines boarding pass and explains that she 'Just needs to get home' and blah blah blah I am struggling to be compassionate while worrying that she is going to take my seat. She is banished to the ticketing counter. She leaves. We wait. I turn around briefly to see one of the mechanics handing down pieces of the 'fender' or whatever it is that goes behind the propeller. Pregnant lady comes back with a shiny new boarding pass. Idly, I watch a security dog and handler go by, noticing that the dog has a photo ID clipped to his orange harness. Just as I am overcome with the temptation to turn back around and try to interpret what is happening there is a hasty folding of ladders, a quickly flashed 'OK' from outside, and boarding begins. I still have to stand to the side while everyone else boards. She waves me through, and ten steps out the door she calls, "Miss?" I briefly consider just running. "This says you need to show (something something)" my ears are ringing at this, now hour 10 of travel, and I don't catch it.
She frowns and types. I look out the door and the flight attendant is shifting from foot to foot at the bottom of the stairs. "Oh, never mind, they just didn't change (something something), go ahead." I run before she changes her mind. A young man in a yellow vest takes my bag. It is the last one to be chucked in the trunk or whatever. I board, sinking gratefully into my seat at the back. The things you do to save a hundred bucks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Interlude: My Favorite Intense Dollar Store Employee


"Wow. So. You, like, really like macaroni and cheese."


"Just stocking up my office lunch drawer. Also: I'm kind of poor."


"Whoa. Yeah. I guess," she says, solemnly nodding.


Pay your student loans for seventeen years, angel britches. You'll get there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vacation Part the Second, In Which I am There, and there is Much Rejoicing (yaay...)

Several of my lunch hours in this short week after my arrival home have been spent sitting in my car, scribbling furtively on the two pages in the back of my planner designated for 'notes'. This part of the vacation account has proven hardest to write, and I suspect it is because my vacation was exactly what it was meant to be; a complete disconnect from my everyday life, a deep plunge into no date, no schedule, and no demands. I was scolded more than once during the weekend for asking what time it was. It was as it should be.

My friend had rented a house in the woody bit of Georgia to the north of Atlanta. Having never traveled in that direction I was amazed how quickly we drove from EVERYTHING to NOTHING. But I am getting ahead of myself. Before we could embark on our journey, we had to obtain provisions.

I can tell you that from the time I was a wee snip of a girl until we were too old for family vacations, the shopping list was pretty much the same: hot dogs, hamburgers, rolls, cheese, condiments, chips, eggs, bacon or scrapple, Tang, macaroni salad, fruit salad, popsicles. Camping, family reunions, beach weekends; this list might vary based on length of stay or cooking facilities, lunchmeat replacing the hot dogs and hamburgers when there was no grill, but this was about as fancy as we got. This time we were being cooked for by my friend's father and his best friend, two people who probably should have been chefs. There would be no plastic containers of potato salad.

This was a MISSION. Seventeen or so people in a house for a weekend required a military operation in which we filled two carts at BJ's, visited a world market so vast in scope the employees wear tags listing all the languages they speak, sought out cheeses and fish in jars and stopped just short of caviar because apparently no 'suitable' caviar was to be found in the greater Atlanta area.

And then there was the wine. Various wines had been carefully packed and brought along by one of our weekend chefs, but more was needed. We pulled up in front of a supermaket-sized store called 'Total Wine".
Now. In Pennsylvania we have 'Wine and Spirits', and one of the more curious STATE jobs you can get is working there. So we have no such animal as 'Total Wine', which is staffed by over-caffeinated headset-wearing young people who appear ready to burst into a choreographed 'Up With People' number at any moment. All I wanted was a bottle of Red Cat. I approached a man in an embroidered golf shirt bearing a fistful of signs.
"Excuse me, where are your, um, New York Finger Lakes wines?" I asked.
"I'm just a distributor, I don't work here, but he can help you," he said, pointing to a young man who came bounding around the corner in a shirt and tie, headset at the ready.
"Do you have Red Cat?" I asked, feeling foolish in this literal warehouse of wine, aisles and aisles of things I'd never seen, arrayed under bewildering categories.
"YES we DO!" he enthused. "GOOD CHOICE!"
Good choice? I wonder if he would have said that no matter what I asked for. Wine is a mystery to me. I don't get notes, I don't get 'nose' or 'bouquet'. I can't praise or complain of oakiness, or a hint of moss and strawberry, or a faint flavor of an H & R Block office on April 14th. Its just wine. I like it, I don't. I should have said "Show me your finer screwcaps, nothing so piquant as a Two-buck Chuck but let's not go all the way to Boone's Farm-- something with the insouciance of a horny cheerleader but with enough smoky mystery that suggests second base is a distinct possibility but far from a sure thing."
Anyway, I got my wine.

Cars packed, we headed out. And I am going to say up front, I am completely lame. I did not take nearly enough pictures to document the weekend, mostly because I was having too good a time. First, the house.
Apparently its for sale, so if you have a million or so lying around you may want to snap this up. The views are spectacular. The company was even better. It was like all the kids in high school that were generally classified as dorks but were actually cooler than the cool kids grew up, got jobs, and came back together for a weekend with all gaming skills and Monty Python references intact. No reference was too arcane to be enjoyed. Several times, we burst into song. (I inadvertently typed 'snog' there first. No, it wasn't THAT kind of weekend.) We laughed, we celebrated, we proved that Smart People Are Fun. Most of the humor during those days is of the 'you had to be there' variety so it won't do any good to explain how I derailed someone's Rock Band efforts with a well-timed Jar Jar Binks impression. It was a fantastic weekend.

More adventure lay ahead, of course, especially since I essentially fly 'steerage'. But we'll talk about THAT next time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vacation Part the First: Getting Down

What does this picture have to do with anything? Nothing at all. Its just awesome. Gentle readers, you know I live in the middle of nowhere. So air travel is not one of those hop on 95, park the car, and have at it sorts of things. When I booked my ticket I had two choices of beginning my journey within 55 miles of home: Williamsport, PA or Elmira, NY. Churchgoers, take a good look around next Sunday, and you'll have the general idea of the size of either airport. There were two flights available to me in my chosen city of origin; the very reasonable and civilized 12:05pm, or the actually-better-in-terms-of-sucking-the-marrow-out-of-my-vacation 5:45am.

Yeeah.
We availed upon family friends to stay with them Wednesday night so we could shorten our airport commute to about 15 minutes. After a brief chat centered mainly on cats we retired to the room they prepared for us and discovered quickly that its really just better not to monkey with someone else's sleep number settings, because it deflates almost soundlessly but firming it back up sounds like you pulled the starter on some piece of small and angry lawn equipment before shoving it under the bed. After about four hours of tossing and turning on an underinflated mattress we gave up and crept out of the house at 3:30 for a ridiculously early breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.

After a carefully organized and perhaps too brightly polite for the hour encounter with the TSA I was released to wait for the plane at the gate. I dozed most of the way and was surprised to be told we were making our final descent into Philadelphia. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked down at the twinkling strands of traffic framing neighborhoods that gleamed dimly like more distant stars. The dawn was just pinking up the horizon as we flew over Penn's Landing and I found myself awash in the peculiar homesickness that always visits unannounced and unexpected when I go down toward home. My sister, an airline employee, was waiting when I stumbled up the jetway and got my sleep-deprived self on the right bus to the right connecting terminal. I checked in and boarded my flight to Atlanta without much ado.

The doors closed and we were in the capable hands of, well, we were in the capable hands of the pilot and the co-pilot, who I decided I never want to think about now that I've reached an age where I eyeball co-pilots and think to myself, he is younger than me. Oh God, he's younger than me. Or when they are in line at Starbucks: What is he getting? Is he MY pilot? Is it okay, the vanilla latte, for flying? Is there someplace to put that muffin that's safe? So, no youngish co-pilot with a dangerously large muffin, just close that little door next to the bathroom and we'll forget all about them for the next hour and thirty-five minutes. Anyway, we had other things to worry about.
We had Sister Aeronautica and Sister Mary Catherine.

Look, I know its very important to please give my three minutes of attention to the flight attendant showing me how to remove my seatbelt by lifting up on the faceplate. I know I need to put on my mask before assisting someone else needing assistance. I know my seat cushion is a flotation device and that the nearest exit may be behind me, and that if I am sitting in an exit row I need to be willing to help other passengers go down the yellow slide with their seat cushion and masks that I put on them after I put on my own. Most people just thumb the Sky Mall and hit the mute button on all the 'what to do in the unlikely event of a depressurized and potentially fiery or watery death' business. Not today, friends. Because Sister Aeronautica was TALKING and you needed to be EYES FRONT. We were also advised that our seat backs needed to be straight up and our window shades OPEN. Though I don't know if 'advised' is a strong enough verb, since she walked through the plane reaching rather suddenly toward people's thighs, mashing the seat button with one hand while UPRIGHTING the back with the other.

Sister Mary Catherine, so named because she was younger, lacked the persistent shellacking of hairspray and determined eyeliner of her counterpart, and looked like she might be nicer but was taking her cues from the top, was in charge of window shades. I leaned toward the passenger in front of me who had lowered her shade an inch to prevent early onset cataracts and warned her by saying "Sister Mary Catherine is coming, you may want to put that back up." This illicited a snort and a giggle that was taken up by three other passengers, who she looked hard at one by one as she passed us. I feared being labeled instigator and made to stand in the galley with my nose in a circle of chalk. I needn't have worried, all the scolding was reserved for a woman speaking in rapid-fire Russian on her cellphone even though she was TOLD to TURN IT OFF. As I waited for her smackdown I listened to her conversation and learned there is apparently no Russian word for 'Altoona', 'granola bar', or 'home game'. 15 minutes before we landed she sequestered herself in the tiny bathroom and emerged five minutes later to ensure the last four rows landed wide awake. She'd apparently blown her whole 3-1-1 acceptable liquids wad on a perfume I can only describe as olfactory assault and battery. I wondered idly if anyone else had decided to hate her a little.

Next: Vacation Part The Second- Being There

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go.....


Well, its down to the nitty gritty....tomorrow night we drive down to a family friends' home to be closer to the airport, so we don't have to leave the house at 3:30am and dodge deer and bears to get to Montoursville for my 5:45 am flight to Philadelphia, which if it didn't end in a deer collision would probably end in someone getting crankily punk-slapped somewhere in the Route 15 construction zone.


For those of you not in the know, my best friend all the way back from Freshman year Espanol Uno has rented a house in the Georgia hinterlands and we are converging on it to celebrate a certain birthday milestone that I won't be cheeky enough to reveal here but it wouldn't be too hard to figure it out. She has the pleasure of being one of the first of our gang to get there.


My last vacation was in November of 2006. Since then I've only taken days off for bronchial infections (my own) and death (someone else's). You can just imagine how excited I am.


I have travelled quite a bit, both for former jobs and, for a brief single and wild period, internationally. Given my adventures it might surprise you to know that I'm an anxious traveller. At T-minus 72 hours I'm usually in 'legal pad' mode. As in, wake up in the middle of the night and sit hunched over a notepad, writing down virtually everything I can think of that I need to pack, change, consolidate, pre-pay, or wax. This feeling of anxiety will likely remain until I get on the first plane and the doors close and I'm 100% certain that nothing I've ever done or failed to do will prevent the plane from taking off.


I also feel compelled to make a list of 'to dos' for Himself while I'm gone, as if my lack of proximity will result in his failure to attend to either his hygiene or the cat. (Fortunately the cat attends to his own hygiene whether we're home or not.) The man did manage to get through four months without me when we first moved without falling in a well or dying of rickets. Of course, we didn't have a cat then. So honey, scoop the litter every day. Drive carefully. Don't forget to put out the trash on Sunday. Don't eat too many hot wings. Slipcovers are not giant napkins. Don't give Seamus too many treats. Jagermeister is not a food group. Don't make me come home to a sinkful of dishes.


There, its out of my system now.


Oh, one more thing: I'll miss you.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Behind

Hope springs eternal.

I'm gearing up for another run at self-improvement. Himself and I had a rather successful stretch of do-goodness around 2002-2004. Both of us got more active, pushed some boundaries. He pushed more than me, but both of us have opened the door to those pesky houseguests, Sloth and Gravity, who flopped on the couch and texted their friends Convenience Foods and the ever-spiritual Dances With Cheese to come over, on account of there was a party and the hosts had an open door policy. Dances With Cheese brought good crackers and a big bottle of cheap wine.

Its time to throw on the lights, and say, with hands on hips, "Just what the hell is going on here?" while turning off the stereo. Here's why:

As of this moment, 40 is 192 days and 21 hours away.
Himself is having the acid issues.
When I take better care of myself I'm not so crabby.
I have a COMPLETE set of Mc Donald's Coke glasses and don't need any more.

Oh, there's lots more, like the noise my knees make, and the fact that my achilles tendons hurt most of the time, or the fact that it seems like all the clothes they make in my size are for women about to board the bus to Salamanca with a gold leopard-print tote bag.

Anyhoodle, I had some fun picking a set of goals. I already have the tools in place to eat better and exercise more, blah blah blah, but I posted over here explaining where my standards came from. To be clear: I am NOT PLANNING to join the Army. I just decided to ask the question, hey, they are taking 40 year olds; could I make the cut?

Will there be hilarity? Doubtless. Will I share? Absolutely.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Every now and then you have to light a candle

You work codes and unfold sheets. You put your arm around onlookers and family members and guide them away. You listen to them in the hallways of the ER. Wiping their eyes roughly with the heel of a grimy hand, going over and over the last thing they said, yesterday morning when they fussed at him for getting into the sugar.

Whether we want to admit it or not every death takes its little dig out of us. Every shattered helmet and flat green line and 'unknown downtime' puts a little dent in the armor, every LODD takes the whole works up and shakes it with a rough, unmerciful hand. So every now and then I just have to sit down and cry for no one and everyone, for the things that could have been prevented and the things that could not be helped. I have to gently place them all in a little paper boat and set it adrift; leave that red pillar shining in the quiet of the church for all the broken hearts and empty places at the table.

This song helps.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Conversations I Hope You Never Have




 
 
I drive for a living, and one of the annual annoyances of driving for a living for a trucking company is the ‘random’ drug test. ‘Random’ earns ‘quotes’ because I usually am ‘told’ when its going to be because otherwise it’s a ‘scheduling nightmare’ and I’m not a ‘drug user anyway’ and wouldn’t know the first thing about ‘acing that kind of test’ so its unlikely that knowing affects the outcome.

Today was my special day, and I went to the clinic with my sheaf of pages and signatures and seals, feeling like I was trying to get a priceless work of art out of bonded storage in Bremerhaven for some sort of gala opening.

I slurped down some spring water on the way to the appointment, but realized too late I should have started a lot sooner. I answered questions and showed my photo ID, turning out my pockets to assure the nurse I didn’t have some foreign urine secreted about my person that I intended to dump into the cup while I made convincing ‘I’m really peeing’ noises. I waited for the magic to happen.

Now, I don’t want to blow your mind, but there are some things you may not be aware of. One of those things is that peeing in a cup with an opening 3 inches in diameter when you don’t have an ‘outy’ urethra isn’t particularly easy. Two, its even less easy when you are, as I am, a ‘person of size’. Three, trying to hold a cup down in a space where you are usually very disinclined to put your arm unless there is a wad of toilet paper at the end of it (and there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room to begin with because you are perched on a toilet with handrails for the elderly and infirm), we’re venturing from not ‘particularly easy’ into ‘damn near impossible’. A whole school of yoga might possibly arise from the awkward necessity of maintaining that position while idly wondering just exactly WHERE the cup should be to catch the stream. None of this is helped by the poster situated directly across from the toilet, where a list of ‘how to make a clean catch’ tips is framed by a photo of an amused looking redhead who likely has a much smaller backside and none of these difficulties.

I hunched. I waited. I readjusted. I heard a faint tinkle which suggested everything I wanted was going where it normally goes and not into my shotglass o’ fun. But alas, my bladder was empty.

I pulled out the cup and eyed the line that was supposed to be my ‘target’. I was at least 1/8 of an inch short. I handed the cup to the nurse.
"Is this enough?" we looked at my sad contribution together.
"Hmm. Its iffy. Let me check."
I followed her to the little room where I’d emptied my pockets and signed for my pee. She poured it into the mail-able leakproof pee vial.
"Nope. I’m sorry."
"Okay, so, I guess I have to hang out for a little while."
I was shown back to the waiting room and given a styrofoam cup of water. I chose an eight month old copy of Good Housekeeping and sat down to wait. I read breathless letters from readers about how happy they were to see Jon and Kate and their engineered brood on the cover of the November issue. I found out how to handle too much clutter and too little space. I know how to flatter my waist no matter its size (though I noticed none of the models they chose would have trouble FINDING theirs, as I do) and I got a recipe for healthy loaded nachos. People came in. There were babies, toddlers, college students, a woman wearing kneepads and a helmet accompanied by two handlers. I went back to the window.
"I think I can try again." I said.
"Okay, it’ll just be a few minutes."
"No problem."

I watched Dr. Sanjay Gupta explain what I need to do to prevent macular degeneration. I watched Helmet Woman rock for a while. Just when things were getting kind of urgent and my potential success rate was hitting critical mass I was called back in, we checked my pockets for errant test cheats again, and in I went.

This time there was no doubt that everything was going where it should. Suddenly the cup was kind of heavy and I realized I had enough for my company, the IOC, and the International Cycling Union.
You know what’s hard? Knowing how full a cup is that you can’t see. You know what else is hard? Knowing whether you are holding that cup absolutely level when you are in a position that roughly approximates wrestling yourself, only over a toilet with your pants around your ankles, and removing that cup which (as it turns out) is full to the brim without spilling any.
The cup is a little slippery.

And urine spilling on cotton is ABSOLUTELY NOISELESS.
I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I pulled up my jeans and felt a distressing wetness. There was a knock at the door.

"You okay?"
"Um, yeah, I had a little mishap," I said, as I handed the cup to her. She followed me to the exam room.
"Yeah, its all over you." She says this like she’s commenting on the weather.
I don’t remember the next two minutes clearly. Some merciful degree of personal mortification generated a buzz in my ears and kept me from being embarrassed until I got out the door. I was still clinging to hope that it wasn’t as bad as I thought, when the outside air hit me and I realized that it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
It was much, much worse.

(Calling the boss. )
"Hi. I’m all done here, but I had a little mishap."
"Oh? What’s wrong?"
"Well, the test is all done, but I had the cup….. and…. (choosing brutal honesty in a desperate bid to minimize questions) I have to run to Walmart and get something to wear that I haven’t inadvertently spilled pee on."
"Um, okay then."
I ran to the store, praying for something that I could ‘eyeball fit’ since trying on anything was out of the question. After paying for my purchases I beelined to the ladies room to change, hurtling past the ‘restroom closed for cleaning’ sign and dodging the surprised cleaner. I figured I had to give her some kind of explanation so I told her what happened while I was changing in the handicapped stall.

She listened to my tale and offered much needed perspective.
"Well, at least its yours."
 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sew what?



Oh, yeah. I am this cool. In fact, get this going before you read my post. I'll wait.

No, really. I'll wait.

I ACTUALLY MADE A USABLE THING with my sewing machine on Sunday. Threaded, bobbined, patterned, pinned, and cut, and made something. This may not seem like a real big deal, but I've never, ever, ever had my hands on a sewing machine before. I vacillated between grand notions of making a new wardrobe and fear that I'd end up somehow attached to the machine in a way that would require emergency intervention and several sutures. But wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, it all worked and I pressed the pedal and it made appropriate noises and joined pieces of fabric intentionally along lines I had drawn in a way that was neither pitiful nor an embarassment with no personal injury.

See kids, I'm almost 40. Among the great liberations of the age are these:

  • I'm no longer ruled (or in any way informed, for that matter) by fear of what other people think.
  • When I want to learn a new thing, I just do it.
  • My peers are not, by and large (though some of the by AND the large are breaking this rule) gallivanting around in low rise jeans with bits of themselves showing, so the fact that I don't flash my bits about doesn't really matter. (In fact, its a public service.)

Sooo, when I wanted to learn to sew, I just jumped in. My ultimate goal? Skill enough to turn out simple, functional dresses and skirts, which I'll wear. And perhaps the odd curtain. Which I won't wear.

I would also like to learn a musical instrument that doesn't require trunk space to transport. I own a flute, an eBay purchase from some years ago, and I haven't given up the desire to actually learn to play it. (In the meantime, I observe the 'No Stairway' rule.)

I've been thinking a lot about vocation. Asking the question, is this where I belong at this point in time? If not, what should I be doing? Is there a better use of my complicated degree/affiliation situation that I just haven't found yet? (BA in Christian Ministries from a Protestant college & I'm a Catholic.) Will I ever be able to read the college alumni magazine without the sad feeling that I squandered my college career eating ramen noodles and watching 120 Minutes and experimenting with ill-advised hairstyles? Can God still make something out of my missed opportunities and my seeming inability to find a meaningful niche that also pays the bills? Why couldn't the Professor fix the radio if he could build all that other stuff? I don't have these answers. For now, my motto is 'Learn, Ask, and Wait.'

In the meantime, I will sew.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Its all happening on 'The Bus'

Hey y'all....
I finally squeezed a new post out of my busy brain, but its over at my EMT blog...so come on down to the station and jump on The Bus.

You know you are in trouble when nurses are apologizing

Kids, kids, kids. Where has the time gone?

Without boring you with details, its 'peak season' in my paying job, which means that most weeks I'm driving hundreds of miles through the New York and Pennsylvania countryside, keeping my own company, practicing show tunes, and deepening my affinity for Jack Link beef jerky while I studiously adhere to the speed limit and handsfree cell phone laws because you can only talk your way out of a cell phone ticket in New York State on account of being a Volley and an EMT once because more than once is bad karma.

Anyhow.

Just as I was reflecting on how I hadn't been on a transfer in a while, prayers were answered. (Prayers I didn't exactly PRAY, you have to be careful with that kind of thing.) It was my first night home on time in a while. I'd made supper, there was a batch of blueberry jam in the bread machine, (I'm not nuts, it was in the manual!) and I was looking forward to an evening of pretty much nothing.

Phone Rings. I look at the screen. It says 'Xfer Hotline'. I should change it to 'Change of Plans'

Dicker: "What are ya doooin?" (This is his standard greeting. I like it better than "Let me tell you what you are going to be doing in 15 minutes." Even though that's exactly what it means.)


Me: "Eating dinner," (I'm suddenly acutely aware of the fact that I am actually wearing an APRON. As if I could wrap myself in a second layer of staying-in-ness.)

Dicker: "We got a transfer," (Well, obviously. But something about his tone tells me this one is special.)

Me: "Uh-huh..."


Dicker: "Its to Philadelphia."


For those of you who don't know where I live, visualize the pointy-cornered rectangle that is Pennsylvania. Put a dot in the lower right corner. That's Philadelphia. Now put one on the very, very top edge were the green cow-laden part of New York touches us, in the very center. Now imagine one of those maps like in the old 'Road to' movies where the line goes from one to another. Wheee-doggy, there's tolls and turnpikes and whatnot 'tween here and thereabouts.

I reluctantly took off my apron, changed my shirt, and went on down. We grabbed some petty cash and headed to the hospital. After wrangling the paperwork, arguing about completion, discussing cost with the family, it was time to get our patient and go. That's when the nurse meets us.

"Um, I got some supplies together for you." (Supplies? I'm suddenly in mind of the orderly cabinet in my office, full of notepads and packs of Post-Its. ) Our nursing friend looks unusually penitent, and this is a concern.

"The patient was given a dose of lactulose, because the doctor ordered it." You can go ahead and click on that link. I didn't have the benefit of a link, and had to fall back on my patented blank 'I'm not a nurse so I'm going to stare at you until you explain yourself' look.

"Um, one of the side-effects of it is loose stools." (This, my friends, is called understatement.)

Our nurse friend hands over a giant plastic bag containing a full package and a half of adult diapers, an entire ream of c-fold towels, a couple of random quilty looking things of indeterminate purpose, a bottle of skin cleanser, and the piece de resistance, a giant tube of 'skin protectant', much used, which I am helpfully told is needed because of 'the irritation'.)

Oh, and a gleaming metal bedpan wrapped in a pillowcase. Which would turn out to be useful only if we had the powers of both prescience AND levitation. It would remain nestled in its cheerful pink swaddling for the duration of the trip.

There was nothing funny about the patient's condition; he was the bright yellow color of an old bruise and it was painfully clear that a lifetime of hepatic and renal abuse was finally paying terrible dividends. This transfer was, no doubt, an effort to get him closer to family before his last day. He was reasonably cheerful, though, and we kept things light as we got him on the stretcher for the five hour trip.

As soon as we got going, the patient turned on his side, closed his eyes, and seemed to be sleeping. Great, I thought. Maybe he'll sleep and we'll get away without any major issues.

Oh, the altruism of a silly silly EMT who doesn't want to get pooped on. Somewhere in the Poconos the first alimentary grenade was launched. It was like Mr. Cosby said-- "First you'll say it, then you'll DO it." "Oh, s--t!" The patient said. I believe "INCOMING!" would have been more appropriate. His trajectory was mostly due north but the blast radius was knees to shoulder blades. We pull over. Gown? Gone. Sheets? Gone. Stand up, hose him down, change everything, wallpaper 10-12 square feet of everything with chux, and try again.

This happens three more times, though the volume and intensity, mercifully, decrease. I learned some valuable lessons, not the least of which was, if a large sick man is lying partially on a used adult undergarment, the way to get it out from under him is NOT to take hold of it and hoss it on out. Because it may fly apart. And bits of it may stick to your person. And you will again reset the limits on what you are 'okay' with. By the time we were rolling down Roosevelt Boulevard we could re-Depend faster than a pit crew at Talladega.

We pull into the ER entrance at the hospital and the security guard meets our driver at the back door. I would have chalked this off as an urban stereotype or made for TV drama but the first thing he says is "Do you have the gunshot victim?" "Um, no... were we supposed to?" Jeez.

The ER is a circus. I'm sure our blinking in the blinding light, such a contrast from the diaper changing mood lighting we had going on the bus, made us look even more like we'd just rolled up with the patient on the back of a hay wagon. "Wellsboro?" the guard said to me. "Where's that?" We're pointed to a security door just through the metal detectors and we make our way to the 6th floor. The patient is exhausted and we're just glad he's in good hands. "Youse guys aren't trying to go back tonight, are you?" he asks. "Yep," I said, "The ambulance doesn't fit in the parking garage at the Four Seasons." He laughed. We left.

The back of the ambulance looks like the aftermath of a very messy, very creepy party. I clean up as we 'look for a place to eat' which, given the viability of parking a $177,000 vehicle in Center City Philadelphia translates to 'drive to Allentown'. Stumbling into the turnpike rest stop is immediately disorienting; my beloved high-volume McDonald's with the always blazing hot fries and my Auntie Anne's pretzels has been replaced with a Starbucks and a Roy Rogers. Roy Rogers still exists? Yes, and its staffed with cheerful Chinese girls with a sketchy grasp of English and no patience for your decision making time despite there being no line whatsoever, making the whole food-ordering experience feel like a dream engendered by a warm beer and a bad burrito. I eat a very dubious egg sandwich and listen to the lack of sleep humming loudly in my ears. We fuel up, chatting with a truck driver who is interested in 'What one of them things costs'. I'm too tired for an apparatus weiner-measuring contest. I tuck the toll ticket and $10 under the edge of the Horton light and siren panel and go inside for one more pass at the facilities before we hit the road again.

What? Stuff can fall behind that panel? Oh. Frack sticks. Five miles before our exit I realize that the $10 is still there but the ticket is not. I turn to the driver and explain she will have to employ her winningest smile and we'll see if country charm can get us through the tollgate without a ticket. (Some stats: Times I've ever done this: 0. Number of EZ Passes in our apparatus: 0)
We pull into the only tollgate that is open and, with $30 in my hand, showing my absolute willingness to pay 'The highest toll to exit', I explain my situation.

"The ticket fell behind the panel." (Toll guy shakes his head.)

"You have to have the ticket."

"Okay, but see, I don't know where it is. This doesn't open. I can't feel it."
"You need a ticket to exit."

"Um, I realize that, but see, we DON'T have the ticket, we have our $7.85 receipt from where we came down, but what would you like us to do right now?"

"You'd have to pay the highest toll, $23.90." (I show him the $30 I have in my hand, again demonstrating my willingness to OBEY THE LAW. Trucks began to stack up behind us.)

"Okay, well, um, okay." he looks at the side of the ambulance. "Here's what you do. Give me your driver's license. " (The hell? I give it to him.) As he writes up this mysterious form, he says "I haven't ever done this before, but if anyone asks you, you came through MID COUNTY not Valley Forge and you went through the EZ Pass lane. Okay? You went through EZ Pass by mistake. And its $5.00."

So, lets review. I lost the ticket. I have the money. If we find the ticket later we can get reimbursed. But because this guy feels sad about taking so much money from an ambulance and its 3 in the morning I now have to be complicit in an ELABORATE LIE and deceive the PA Turnpike Commission and get a $2.85 discount on our return trip for NO REASON. But since the trucks behind us are starting to sound like they are idling in a slightly more hostile manner I pay my $5, take my mysterious paper that explains a different error than the one I made, and my license, and we go. I'm still waiting for that phone call wherein I perjure myself to the Turnpike Police and they Come For Me and there are Dire Consequences.

We rolled back in to town at 6:45am. I went home, showered, changed my clothes, and drove to Syracuse NY. I drank a lot of coffee and overshared to a handful of store clerks and the sun was very very bright all day and I sang at fierce volumes to stave off those weird daydreams that feel very much like sleeping with my eyes open.

Mr. D, you were worth a sleepless night and it was a privilege to meet you. I'm glad you got to see your grandson race on Saturday before your tired body gave out. Rest in peace.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Chutes and Ladders

(I wrote this, accidentally lost it, reconstructed it, then got an ambulance call every time I tried to sit down and finish it, so its late. Sorry.)


(If you are so inclined, you can purchase the above here. Just drive gently after that.)



Another hard-earned Friday. Lots of driving makes the advent of Friday morning a joyous event and today was no exception. I traversed a two-hour chunk of New York yesterday so uniform in pastoral empty green-ness that rather than being able to enjoy it I found myself entertaining dark thoughts as my Garmin ticked away the miles. 'This is the kind of place where sudden and inexplicable murder-suicides happen' or 'I'll bet that field of soybeans has half an acre of pot in the middle'-- that kind of thing.



The day started with a client whose home, thanks to a combination of age, ill health, and a 'snowbird' refuge elsewhere had devolved into a wreck of storage and trip-hazards. I did not enter a single room without knocking something over, since the narrow paths carved through each room were heavily overhung with the accumulation of decades, led by an exceptionally fragile woman leaning on a cane. She told me of her latest injury; a spill down the basement stairs that shattered her femur. It took six hours for her to pull herself up five steps and wrench open a door to yell for help. And yet, when I asked her if she was taking the giant extension ladder lying in the middle of the garage floor that threatened to ensnare us both, she said, "Oh yes, I want that, definitely."

I wonder if they make a toolbelt you can hang your cane on when you are up powerwashing your house.



I stopped for a quick lunch at my favorite co-op, electing to choose a seat that faced the store so I could people watch. I smiled as a small child stared in gape-mouthed amazement at a young man sporting an eight-inch high mohawk the color of a lime Mister Misty Freeze and his cherry-soda colored companion. A tall, handsome cashier stood daydreaming, gently remolding a dreadlock that stuck out at an odd angle above his right ear. He poked at it with a restless restraint that suggested a desire to really get in there and scratch. Random hanks were adorned with large wooden beads, giving his head the appearance of a discarded macrame owl.



After an appointment I spent fending off the shambling advances of an amorous bulldog named Max, I was done for the day and heading home. I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed that I was being followed closely and aggressively by a young woman in a white car. To the casual observer it probably looked like I was towing her; my couple of warning taps on the brakes went unheeded, as was my grand 'Step off, girlfriend' gesture that is likely ignored by most drivers but makes me feel better. She eventually passed me in a no passing zone and caused two people in the oncoming lane to pull off to avoid hitting her. This bought her about a 12 foot advantage; when I arrived at the red light at the bottom of the hill she was directly in front of me, sporting the bumpersticker above. I briefly considered adding some texture to it with my tire iron, but the mood passed. Driving like that she'll have unscheduled bodywork soon enough.

But bless her, she has respect for the Earth and all living creatures. So she has that going for her.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Silence

This is the view out my window today.
Its Sunday, the tea pot is steeping, and the sound of the rain mixes with XM Hipster or whatever I put on. Its acoustic, and save one unplugged version of 'Billie Jean' by Jason Mraz that I didn't hate, its a respite from the Michael Jackson speculation and tribute.

Himself is visiting his parents and aunt and is staying over so I have the house to myself. Just me, a cup of PG Tips, some quiet offbeat music, and the cat. I tried and failed to snazz up my cellphone by installing a CD that came with it when I bought it months ago. He'll figure it out when he comes home.
Its a peaceful day. Tomorrow work begins again; so far I know another journey to Ithaca is forthcoming, hopefully not in the Dodge Dakota 4 X 4 I've been driving for work that I only recently discovered has no registration sticker and anyway is only legal for two more days. Though after going forth in a vehicle with a bad power steering pump and another with a master cylinder that failed while I was driving downhill, mere matters of paperwork are, by comparison, quite inconsequential. Their attempts to kill me/strand me 300 miles from home seem to be de-escalating, so that's a good thing.

Madeline Peyroux was chopping in and out. I had to go investigate. Apparently sattelite radio cannot penetrate the density of an orange cat's furry behind if its parked on the receiver.

Ahem.
I was driving way up into the knobby shoulder of New York the other day, the customer insisted on a 10am appointment, which necessitated my leaving at 3:45am. I minded this less than you might imagine; I zipped through all the usual traffic pinches with ease and by 'rush hour' I was well away from any areas where sincere 'rushing' was happening. Somewhere near Ogdensburg, while I was daydreaming,listening to Quebecois radio, and imagining myself in a thoughtful (and subtitled) romantic comedy, the cars in front of me began slowing down. White trucks were parked on both sides and as they flashed by I saw two words in large green block letters.

BORDER PATROL

Christmas in Killarney, did I CROSS THE BORDER????? Oh God, no. All I have is a Pennsylvania driver's license, no birth certificate, no 'enhanced' license, and when the smiling young man appeared in my window I was LISTENING TO FRENCH RADIO. I mashed the button, hoping for 95-point-whatever, the Big Pig, classic rock for the AMERICAN military base down yonder, but all I got is MORE FRENCH. Crap. Just as I was about to apologize, beg for mercy, explain I'd been on the road since 3:45, and stand back while the drug dogs went over the van, he did that two fingered pointing gesture thing cops do and said, "You can go ahead. You have a nice day, ma'am."
Oh. Ah. What? Okay.
And, oh. I'm still in New York. Apparently even though it flattened out and filled up with Frenchies and the odd Amish buggy, I was still in New York. Okay. I guess the border has, like, bigger signs anyway.

Not much else has been going on. I've been travelling a lot, thinking a lot, and feeling very much like something new is coming. Mostly I've been feeling peaceful, which is good, because I asked for that.

So enjoy your own Sunday. Here's a little music for ya. I like to imagine the You Tube comments on this are less idiotic, but I don't speak the language so I can't verify this. I don't see anything that looks like it was written by a French troll, though.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Albany Axes Adverbs


State budget cuts target unnecessary parts of speech

ALBANY-- Governor David Patterson announced today that the New York Department of Transportation's rest area signage will undergo some changes in an effort to save state funds.

'What we're trying to do is trim wherever we can, without depriving New Yorkers the services they have come to rely on," the Governor announced in a press conference Thursday. "That extra '-ly' utilizes resources that could better be spent elsewhere, and given the amount of text messaging that takes place on our highways, I doubt anyone will notice a few shortened words."

The signs, located at several Route 17 rest stops east of Binghamton, will be canted slightly to one side so no one will be confused by their non-diagonal arrow, which is exactly the same as the arrow on the 'Park Parallel' signs found elsewhere on the lot.

A newly formed committee, the New York State Grammar Initiative, will also be looking at gerunds, dangling participles, and misplaced modifiers in coming months.


Patterson went on to remind motorists that texting while driving, like most things in the State of New York, is a punishable offense.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Finish this Sentence

This magnet is on our refrigerator, a gift from a friend. For those of you who are not running geeks it may seem a bit random, for those of you who have seen Kenyans run, and their speed, elegance, and grace has brought a tear to your eye even before you contemplate the utter penguininity of your own existence, you know. Its about dreaming of being something that your skills, knowledge, circumstances, and your body will ever let you be.
I was driving home today, slurping the last inch of my cherry Icee and listening to my iPod. I'm sure that someday I'll find out that you aren't supposed to do THAT while you are driving in the State of New York, but given the number of college age girls driving around with a phone clapped to their ear who obviously never got a $50 ticket for it like I did, pbppphhhlt on the law. Mad apologies to the village of Dryden, NY, which was treated to the 'white lady in a minivan with headphones on and the windows down' version of this: (Its unedited....just so ya know)


Anyway, the music got me thinking about how I'd finish "In my dreams I am....". I've had a lot of fantasies. Most of them revolve around a degree of agility and grace I do not possess. One stands out. The quality isn't great but you get the idea.

Yep. I didn't just want to be on TV. I didn't just want to look as good as they do in those shorts.

In my dreams, I am a Fly Girl.

How about you?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Flags of Our Fathers

I found myself having a little fit this week.

First, I went to the post office right at the end of the day and had a chat with someone while she was taking the flag down. She balled it up and casually shoved it into a mail bin. When I threatened to write about this, Himself pooh-poohed it and I decided I was just hot and gritty and cranky.
Yesterday I drove past this place. I do so about once a week. (Hey, if you have five million kicking around, its for sale.) Its closed, and its right on Route 81. Just one of those uninteresting landmarks that tells me "You are bound for Syracuse and points north. Again. Stay awake. Stay awake! Change the station! The rest stop is coming up! Stop picking that!"
Yeah, I spend a lot of time by myself.
While I realize that property management is usually limited to basic security, cutting the grass, and generally keeping the place presentable, there is something else that needs done there. Feebly waving in front of this building are two flags. Really, 1 and 2/3 flags.
The American flag is shredded. Absolutely shredded and sad and defeated looking. Its Canadian brother is missing the non-flagpole side red field, giving it the disconcerting appearance of a Polish flag with a maple leaf on it. Someone needs to take them down and dispose of them respectfully.
So if there are any patriots in Tully, New York.....all you'd probably need is a flashlight. Just sayin'. I thought about emailing the realtor and making that request but every mental paragraph I composed sounded like it was written by a patriotic but peevish old lady with twenty cats and a house full of dolls.

Speaking of which.

Another blogger's post about irrational fears got me thinking about things that I wouldn't exactly classify as a 'fear', just an extreme discomfort bordering on paranoia, which everyone knows is way better and not nearly as crazy.

I hate dolls.
Once a week I survey a house that has That Room. The one with the shelves around three walls lined with dolls. These kind.



Usually they are staring vacantly from yellowing and dusty plastic boxes, but it doesn't minimize the sense that they are watching me. There are few things I've ever encountered in this world (ostensibly "occult" items included) that would make me feel better to heap up in a large pile, douse with fuel, and set ablaze. Though the mental image of a pile of creepy dolls slowly deforming in the heat will probably haunt me for weeks.

I've been a little stressed lately and haven't posted much, but I'm sure the next week will yield some pleasant rumination on the nature of humankind, what with the Laurel Festival about to land on us like a sumo wrestler. Once again I will engage in my favorite festival activity; parking in people who park in the firehouse lot right in front of the sign that says PARKING FOR FIRE/EMS ONLY. Hope you were planning on staying awhile, Jersey plates.

I think I need some aromatherapy.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Time of My Life



I was a bit out of the loop this week for various reasons, and I suppose I'm still out because I didn't yet go to whoever started this and put my bit in/check the rules/otherwise acknowledge but I will do that now.

Okay. That's done.

Now, as soon as I read Meg's prom post, I knew I had to write this one, though I didn't realize right away that the prom I have pictures of is NOT the prom that needs telling.

Prom the Second: The Nice Story
First, the one that survives the photographic record. Where to begin. My grandmother made the dress. We started out with a different color and one pattern; she talked me into that color (which I did like) and three different patterns, which she combined to make a dress she liked. I loved it, other than the fact that she didn't get quite all the straight pins out of it and the first hour of dancing included some very startling and haphazard acupuncture.

I have no excuse for the hair. I it involved not just a curling iron but rollers and a lethal shellacking of Aqua Net and I did it myself because I was not one of those girls that cut school on Prom Day to go get their hair done. One, I didn't have a car. Two, I didn't have the money. Three, two girls did that years before and got in some horrible car wreck and died and I always remembered that as a cautionary tale against vanity, though I think it was intended more as a 'don't cut school' warning which I never did anyway so I had to ascribe some other don't to it.

The Boy. I've not written much about The Boy because The Husband reads the blog and because The Boy is now The Man with lots of letters after his name and a job that involves pews, sermon notes, and singing all five verses.
The short version is, he was part of my circle of friends and I tortured myself with longing for seventeen months before I told him of my feelings for him. We dated from January 17, 1987 until the day before Thanksgiving, 1988. It ended badly. It took a lot of years for us to be friends again. He is a good person. The rest of the details I'll have to leave be. Oh, and he's Italian. Which is kind of obvious both from this picture and from the Homecoming picture in which he is dressed in a pinstripe suit and looks like, well, this.
(Yes, I know we blend into the background. And that he seems to frequent a florist who puts wrist straps on wedding centerpieces. Too bad you can't see the little golden footballs threaded on the ribbon. They were truly classy.)

I can't for the life of me remember what we had as a Prom theme, but since the former committee organizer of such things is now one of my Facebook friends I'm sure I'll be set straight very soon. I know that this was one of the suggestions and for some reason never made it. (I'm not sure what I miss most: Jerry Orbach, a healthy Patrick Swayze, or Jennifer Grey's old nose. Did I mention that I hate anachronistic music in movies? No? Okay, its out of my system.) The Prom pictures were taken at the school, not because the Prom was there a la Carrie but because we had a little fashion show thing before the actual event at a local catering place. We were escorted there by the 5-0, and I have a feeling this 'Promenade' was an attempt to eyeball us and ferret out the underage drinkers. The dance was not much of a memory; decent food, dancing, angst, groping, etc. I was mulling that memory over when I realized there was another Prom in my past, a dark and distressing evening of prescription level pain and championship level humiliation.

Prom The First: The Descent

I was a sophomore. This young man I'll call Mark (because that was his name) asked me to go with him. I said yes, feeling pretty special to be asked to a prom by an Upperclassman, even one that was kind of creepy. I scored a free dress from a same-sized aunt who had just been a bridesmaid and I was good to go. I walked the halls trying not to be smug. Then, the bomb. Mark sent me a note in Homeroom and explained that he'd asked someone else. (Cue the scene in Pretty in Pink with all of the anger, only I didn't yell at him in the hallway and he didn't look like Andrew McCarthy and I didn't make an awesome dress out of my friend Iona's castoffs and something my dad bought at a rummage sale and show him. He wasn't worth all that.) So I wasn't going to the Prom, which wasn't my Prom anyhow. So whatever.

Then Brian (not the one I married) asked me to do him a favor. A friend of his was a senior, an awkward and quiet senior, who had no date. Brian was trying to help him out. "If you don't go with him, he won't go,"
I was still of the mind that this could cause terrible and lasting painful emotional distress. So I said yes.
Other Boy was nice. He lived in my development, I remember him walking over to my house to confirm details and I can still see him standing in my driveway, shifting from foot to foot while he gave a Good Humor chocolate eclair careful attention, tucking the stick into the wrapper to dispose of properly. He was a follow the directions kind of boy.

"So, we'll be here about 6: 30 then," he said. Correctly interpreting my hesitation and quizzical look, he said,
"My mom is driving us."
Okay. Hey, I didn't have a license either. And when your date has no friends with cars, or more precisely, parents who forbid him to go in cars unchaperoned with dates, its the way you get there. Mom, my date, and the Astro showed up right on time and away we went to the Riverview Inn for a night of magic.

The pressure in my head started shortly after being enclosed in the Astro with the flowers. I fully expected it to pass. We ate dinner, and every loud laugh or sharp noise twisted the metal band around my head a little tighter. This wasn't a sinus headache, kids, this was a full blown migraine. Which I'm sure is why my date started to annoy me. Had I not been feeling like begging someone to try their hand at trepanning to relieve the pressure I'm sure I wouldn't have minded that he kept running his chair over the bottom of my dress. Or the little spit-strings when he talked. Or his table manners. Or the fact that he was a foot and a half taller and dancing was a study in awkward, particularly when the music got stabby. My every foray to the water's edge for 'fresh air' contributed to his Eeyore-ism. And as a special treat, my efforts to not vomit were complimented by a walk past Mark and Linda, Mark's 'first alternate' Prom date.

The night ended with my date opening the van door for me, looking gentlemanly but resigned, and I stepped in, steeling myself for awkward questions and the physical assault of the van's air freshener on my throbbing head. I was so relieved to see my house I wanted to throw myself on the lawn and kiss the ground like a recently re-enfranchised refugee. As we stepped from the van his mother turned to us, smiled, and said "Take your time saying goodnight; I have a magazine."

Good God.

I could see my mother dozing in the recliner in the living room. I was in East Berlin and she snoozed comfortably on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate. I stared at her, willing her to jump up, throw open the door, say, "Young lady, where have you been??" and pull me inside. At that point I'd have been happy to see her waiting for me with three hundred lit candles, a Bible, and a butcher knife. I opened the door, turned to my date, and stuck out my hand like we'd just had a rousing conversation about copiers at an office supply convention. He looked humiliated and I was torn between feeling sorry for him and needing to baptize his shiny shoes with chicken cordon bleu. I leaned in for a chaste kiss and shut the door firmly as soon as he was clear of the frame.

Kevin, I'm sure you are out there somewhere, married, bunch of kids, I wish you happiness and I'm sorry. I hope your first real, decent kiss was Chevy Astro- and- magazine free.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ruth Lydia Craley- 12/17/1919-05/06/2009

I have quite a few pictures of my grandparents, but this one is my favorite.
I don't know where it was taken; something tells me in their back yard but it could have been someone else's.
I like to think it was a Saturday afternoon. And not necessarily a special occasion, because my grandmother dressed like that all the time. For any reason, or no reason. Elegant, refined, coordinated. I didn't appreciate this during my scuffed sneakers and grass stained jean years, my flashlight tag and fort building years. Advice like: A dress only looks as nice as what you wear under it. (And what she wore under hers would garner a nod of approval from the Department of Homeland Security.) Or her desire to buy me white things. (A disaster waiting to happen.) She told me the world was a better place when ladies wore gloves and men wore hats. (I'd remind her about polio, and fallout shelters, and duck and cover drills.) I endured disapproving appraisals of my many haircuts. I resisted ironing things. I resisted 'rising and shining'. (She'd CLAP when she woke us up, too. AAARGH!)

Its funny how your grandparents, your parents, get more right as you get older. When I was considering quitting a job because someone there had it in for me, her advice was 'Be above reproach and outlast her.' My rival left three months later; I stayed for twelve years. When I had chosen the wrong college major, she knew it. When I struggled with my personal demons, she knew it. When I resisted all the colors I looked best in, she knew it. She knew what they should be. I was thirty years old before I realized she was right on that one. She and I didn't always agree but I knew two things; she wanted me to be true to myself, and she loved all of us fiercely.

At Christmas we decorated the place she would only briefly return to, hopefully, my dad and I laughing that the two least decorator-able family members were dispatched for the task. We did our best. I sat in her cozy apartment by myself for a long time trying to imprint the smell of it; soap and clean linens and eucalyptus in a china pitcher by the door. I was suddenly a seven year old sunk in deep comforters at the old house, drifting to sleep by the glow of the radio dial and some dreamily playing orchestra. Safe and warm, the soft Westminster chime of the mantel clock downstairs.

Mom-Mom, there are a thousand memories, and a thousand stories, but it all comes down to this; thank you for loving us and believing in us so much. We will miss you and ache for your loss, but you gave us the strong legs we stand on.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Band on the Run

Can you handle it?

Let me colorize teh sexy for you. The pants were red. The shirt? White satin with a red stripe. The dangly thing with the 'K' on it (which stood for the school and not my first initial, though I did secretly think it was cool that it was both) was black satin. The hat was 'white', that is, it started out white, taking on the aspect of a wad of dryer lint after a while, except where the red plume was nestled. There, it was pink. A good pounding of rain quickly made the hat look like a sodden bright red squirrel was taking liberties with it. At least the hat is clamped firmly on my head with a snazzy bead-tightened nylon strap.

Mr D. approached me during at-school band camp in the scorched dregs of August to ask me if I would like to learn to play bass guitar. In two weeks. Uh, sure. That might be more interesting than standing at attention holding one end of our school banner for the interminable duration of our 'field show'. I dutifully practiced.
And sometimes faked it a little. (Hey, I always LOOKED like I was playing. And I mastered the opening riff of the Barney Miller theme, not that I got to exhibit that particular talent much.)

It was someone's particularly sadistic notion that the bass player in our band should also be allowed to participate in parades. A large cart was constructed out of black-painted plywood that would hold an amp and a Kawasaki generator. This could be pushed by one of the 'runners', I would walk along beside it, and play.

There were a few logistics issues that seemed to escape the notice of virtually all of this brainchild's parents. First, the cart was large enough for human smuggling. A Kawasaki generator with a full gas tank weighs around 75 pounds. The amp, about 50. If we put the cart itself at around 50 pounds you have roughly 175 pounds on wheels being pushed by an 85-pound seventh grader who has to turn her head to one side at all times to minimize hearing loss from the roar of the engine and to avoid inhaling gas fumes.

Even if you turn it up to 11, there is really no drowning out what sounds like a push mower in a box with a bass guitar.

Christmas, 1986. Our band is marching down Main Street in our hometown. The streetlamps are decked out with tinseled candles, lights festoon the four blocks of downtown. They even adorn the small pine tree in a concrete pot on a wee concrete island at the convergence of two streets. A wee concrete island surrounded by potholes.

My cheerful plonk-faking through numerous Christmas carols is suddenly interrupted by a very definite tug on my power cord. I glance back toward my Flotilla of Sound and note the disconcerting absence of my cart pusher, my aide de camp, my tiny sherpa of soul. I step up on the concrete island. She's there, all right, frantically trying to dislodge the cart from a fissure in the street that has firmly claimed one of the wheels. I swing my guitar out of the way and help her. A distressing gap is widening between us and the last of the bass drums. The VFW is bearing down on us with grim and surprising speed and their banner bearers begin to wave at us, peevish expressions on their faces indicating their displeasure with our wanton disregard of their uniform and timely appearance before the review stand.

I back the cart up and with a desperate yank, its freed from the miry pit. There's just one problem.

A Fender bass has two things that make it hard to walk around with. One is the quite long neck. The other is the four giant keys at the top. I've never seen Adam Clayton or John Paul Jones have a problem with this. Though I would imagine neither of them ever stuck their guitar in a fully decorated Christmas tree.

I'm forever grateful to one of the Vietnam vets, who, being among the more sprightly of the VFW, jumped out of formation and helped disentangle the keys from the string of lights, freeing me but effectively rendering the bass out of tune and unplayable for the duration of the parade. We marched on, grim and silent, treating the audience to the throaty growl of gas-generated power.