Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Burn, Baby, Burn

Danger, Will Robinson!

I was going to entitle this entry "Phobia," but a phobia is an unreasonable fear ungrounded in reality. This not about a phobia, but a combination of confession and plea.

For many years I've been honing habits grounded in a longstanding fear of gas stations. I admit I hate going to fill up. This is because I don't know how long it's going to take me to find a safe place. It might be the first station I try, but it might take as many as three or four tries, and that, my friends, is time consuming. It's a simple errand that could throw off my whole errand schedule if I hit it wrong.

Gas stations are terrifying because people are DUMB, DUMB, DUMB! And they do not read. Or are illiterate to begin with. So instead of noticing the signs loudly screaming from every pump NO SMOKING!!!, they get out of the car with lit cigarettes and puff nonchalantly while filling up. Or you see them over by the cashier kiosk taking a smoking break before going on to their next destination. I have even seen perpetrators dressed in the uniform of the convenience store smoking in front of their own store. What is fucking WRONG WITH YOU, people???? This practice is nothing but purenteed lethal! I always scope out others before driving in to a pump bay. I ogled you, and I'm not going there. On to station #2.

Okay. Perhaps at the second station I visit, I do not detect any nicotine-addicted, suicidal assholes. But see that ditzy woman over there? She's just answered her spark-inducing cell phone while standing at the pump. Wrong! Sorry. It's just that I'm not willing to endanger my kids or myself or even hang around with morbid curiosity watching everyone else get blown up, so I'm going on to the next station, y'all. The cell phone people can't read either. It's substantially pathetic, considering that at most gas stations the warnings are posted in both words and pictograms, the latter in case you are illiterate or are not a native speaker of English.

I've seen the two above violations so many times it makes me faint. Since I usually carry a digital camera, I could have recorded it ad nauseam and posted a host of pics here. But, the camera is battery-driven and, heh, heh, I'd hate to cause a spark when I snap it. On to station #3.

Station #3 is the kicker. You see, it's more of a weather-condition thing, and it's undetectable by eagle-eye observation. Apparently, many fires have started at gas stations because of sparks generated by static electricity. Dry weather is bad news. (It doesn't help to be wearing fleece, either.) The driver gets out, doesn't touch the metal car first to discharge the static, starts the pump, and while the pump is on, goes to open the car door again. It's easy to imagine many reasons why this would happen. Reportedly, women are overwhelmingly more likely than men to fall prey to this trap. They are more likely to need to get back in the car: their purses are in the car and they forgot the credit card or cash; they have little kids strapped into car seats who are beating each other up and need to be disciplined; someone is trying to talk to them from inside the car and they can't hear what the person is saying, so they open the door again; they thought they'd take this moment to reach back in for a sip of the Starbuck's in the cup-holder--the list could go on and on. And I can't recall ever seeing warnings about this, although I'm sure they exist.

You see, without discharging the static by touching the car BEFORE starting the pump, the driver sets off the deadly static spark when she reaches to get back into the car. Pleeeeeaaase, folks, remember to be prepared! I, myself am lucky, because my kids and I saw a news segment about this together, and they are so freaked out about it that they always remind me. Actually, they beg me before I get out of the car. Their reminders got me in the habit. It's almost like a superstition, such as automatically not opening umbrellas in the house, or automatically not stepping on a line or a crack. Actually, I should be using positive superstitions, such as automatically knocking on wood. Automatically touch the car.

Ah, here's scenario #4. Suppose I know it's a dead-dry windy winter day. (I'm taking risks on this one, but as I said before, with this one you can never tell). There! I see her! She gets out of the car with a cig hanging out of her mouth. Her kids are screaming in the back of the car, and suddenly I hear her cell phone ring. She's reaching for the door handle . . . beam me up, Scotty!

All right, already, why is this writer so all-fired paranoid about sighting such events? No, no, Dear Reader, I'm not only afraid of witnessing them. I'm even afraid to think about them. I have earned the right to my zeal, because I have second-hand experience of what really, truly can happen. When I was in high school, I briefly dated a guy from a big family whose elder brother was a basketball star. Said brother worked part-time after school at the gas station on the corner half a block away from the school. One afternoon, someone in or near the office lit up. Not just a cigarette, but the whole friggin gas station. Hellfire. The entire corner blew sky high. Everyone working there or visiting the pumps was killed, including my erstwhile date's brother. The corner was a clean sweep; nothing left but a charred crater. Some of life's traumas are insurmountable.

So yes, maybe my entire insignificant errand schedule will get off-kilter and I'll fail to get everything done. I may get annoyed. But I will always take the more tedious route than take a chance; it's better to be incomplete than DEAD.

Friday, May 27, 2005

What We Need Now

Yes, folks, that's right! Here's what we all need some of right now:
A box of fun. (Microwave and remote control not included. You don't want to open the bottom, because all that fun could come tumbling out and get lost. Lord knows you'd better ration it.)

Of course this is another great item that came from my mother-in-law. It showed up on our doorstep containing clothes that the kids had left at her house. We all brightened up right away when we saw it.

Then G took it to school with a project in it, and it was gone for weeks. Yesterday he brought it back, and I'm delighted because we sure haven't had much fun around here since he took it away.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Cell Hell

So a couple of weeks ago I was in the car with my mother-in-law on what eventually turned out to be the trip during which famed Tybee the Frog was purchased. And both of us were trying to reach The Boys (Grandpa, Honey, and the kids) on our cell phones to coordinate ETAs and find out where they were. Power on my phone, as ALWAYS, was down to the last bar. I was telling Grandma how irritating this phone has been for me over the four years that we have had it/them.

Turns out Grandpa and Grandma have replaced their cell phones at least twice during the time that we have had our samecheap bottomoftheline ones that have batteries that don't charge anymore. And we, not they, are the "technogeeks"!

I have actually spent major hours in stores looking for the Perfect Purse that has a nice rigid pocket that will not turn the phone on or try to dial a stored number. The worst thing is that it turns on entirely secretly when I don't know it, so I am constantly recharging it even though I haven't used it AT ALL. Grandma says to me from the passenger seat, looking at her own new phone, "Well, doesn't it have a 'Lock' mechanism? Mine does."

A whuuuttt?

When I get back home I cannot find the [ancient] manual for the phone, although I know we have it because I keep looking things up as I need them. And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't read the whole manual from front to back when we first got the phones because I'm a friggin' technical writer and we WRITE the manuals. We tws don't need to READ NO STINKIN' MANUALS!

In an idle moment, I press the function key and the first thing that shows up is

Now, my mother-in-law is the woman who many times, while driving around in her white convertible, states and states away from here, has called our number erroneously, thinking we were my sister-in-law or someone totally else, and then had no clue whatever why WE answered on the other end. "Oh!~ I thought you were fillintheblank! Now how did I do that?" or "I just got a new phone and I'm trying to put in the numbers and it called you without me knowing."
Thus when I confessed to my husband that I had not known about lock for four years, he was quite kind and did not make fun of me. Instead, he looked incredulous for a minute and said, "Are you kidding me? MY MOTHER taught YOU something about a CELL PHONE??? Bwa-a-ha!!!"


Blind as a . . .

Well, bats aren't really blind. With sonar hearing, they just don't need their eyes much. Unlike me. And I am both blind and a boob. What makes a person a boob is his/her intractable nature about some things. At my most recent eye exam, I found out that my vision hadn't changed much, despite the kind of eye-straining work I do--writing, editing, and webgeeking. That was welcome news, but on the other hand, I'm so, shall we say, WALL-SMACKING BLIND, how much worse CAN it get?

This is how blind: the other day I went into the bathroom in the morning without my glasses on yet, and reached for the soap to wash my hands. No soap in the dish. I said, "Honey, where's the soap?" And Honey said, "Right there," pointing. [I could barely see that he was pointing.] I looked where I thought he was pointing, and didn't see anything. "Where?" He pointed again, indicating the sink. I stuck my face into the white sink, and saw the white soap. "Ohmigod, is that how blind you are??!!" Honey said, laughing. Yeah, that one was a real knee-slapper.

Well, I did order new lenses anyway. I had to, because the two or three necessary coatings on the most recent lenses had disintegrated and crazed to the point that I could not see anything through them. That degradation occurred over the short period of one year. Without my ever using scratchy anything to clean them. Just let me say this, Empire Vision, $##@3**#$$$!!! Why does this make me a boob? Well, the same thing happened with my preceding pair of glasses.

So I got the new lenses, which are graduated bifocals, and I have had them for six months and I still do not understand how to use them! Even though I was trained. My brain won't adjust. I'm always rolling my eyes and jutting my head around like a gawky bird, trying to find the best part to look out of. This has gotta seem pretty stupid to any onlookers. I cannot seem to get used to the idea that I can move a book or paper farther away and see it better. Why, why is this difficult?

Then there's this other problem. Despite being made of a "special" material that makes them thinner (they should be coke-bottle glasses), they are still pretty thick. But the frames these days are rather delicate. So even the thinnest of the thin lenses are constantly in jeopardy. For example--and this is one of those paradoxes that really drives me crazy--if I go to clean them, which usually makes them worse, and then I clean them again because the first cleaning didn't work, one of them pops out. So I have to catch it before it hits the floor. This means that as I snatch it out of the air, I smother it with new messy fingerprints, which means I have to clean it AGAIN, but not clean it YET because first I have to wrestle it back into the frame with my smudgy hands, which makes it much much dirtier than it was the original time I needed to clean it. Then, since I need to clean it again, I try to clean it.

And it pops out again. (Lather, rinse, repeat . . .) SCREAM.

Oh, and then there's the ostensible reason why the lens does not stay in well. It's not entirely because the frame comes unscrewed regularly, which by the way it does. It's because (drumroll, please!) I sat on them when I was getting dressed. Yeah! Dumb! This is how it works: I'm changing my clothes, have 'em out on the bed, and I have to take the glasses off to pull on a turtleneck. Otherwise I would not have to take them off, got it? And so I put the glasses on the bed to put the shirt on. And then when I go to put my socks on, I am still completely blind and so when I sit down on the bed I can't see the glasses and nail them. Good trick? Just let me polish my badge. I've been proudly perfecting it since sixth grade.

The effect of the sitting is not only that the lens pops out. Even better, some background here, these are cool frames by Innovataive M/F Technology that came with matching sun shades that are magnetic to the frame. Pull 'em out, simply hold 'em up to your face, and they leap magnetically onto the frame. I LOVE that (and they were kinda $$$), which is why I would not just get rid of the frames and replace them with something else. Unfortunately, a while ago after the sitting incident, I was putting them on in the car and my husband looked at me funny and said, "Something's not right about that. They don't fit. They don't line up. At all." Well, I couldn't see that from inside the glasses. And the shades still did a perfectly good job. So I went around for a while with wonky shades. I don't care what they look like to you people. I can see fine from my end.

But one day while visiting Blockbuster, I stopped in to the optician's shop next door, and asked if an adjustment could be made to put the frames back in line so the shades would be right. The assistant sat me down across from him, looked at the frames, and looked at me without saying anything for a long, long time. Still without speaking, he took them off of me and bent them a little. Said he was done. I went out. And when I got back in the car after Blockbuster, and looked in the rear-view mirror, the shades were still wonky. And I haven't taken them anywhere else yet. Boob.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Love Triangle

Speaking (as I did in the preceding post) of surprising things that can get you kicked out of school, I've by now accumulated a list of offenses committed by one of my own children. We can start with age three or so, when the little shaver was asked to leave two different Montessori schools for "disturbing other children's works."

Then there was the difficult year of kindergarten. This is the one that stands out most. It was a good thing that I was a stay-at-home mom then, telecommuting part-time as an editor and contributor for an online writers' magazine. Trying to keep a regular office job would never have worked; you see, when your five-year old is a notorious delinquent, the school calls you every couple of days to retrieve him from the principal's office or take him a change of clothes or to give you some other kind of unwelcome news. So you have to be constantly at the ready to drop everything and intervene.

The big call came in the middle of winter in our Chicago suburb. Kids were bundled in so many layers that they looked like Michelin Man and couldn't even move their arms. They were having a Teddy Bear Week, during which they were permitted to take their favorite stuffed animals to class. Part of the festivities involved cutting out little outfits for the animals. I can't remember if they were construction paper or fabric.

Now it's time for a little backstory here. The child--G--had developed a long (for a five-year old) friendship with classmate Hannah, who lived nearby. They often had playdates. But a family bought the house around the corner from our house, and the new boy, Ryan, wound up in G and Hannah's class.

Hannah started having playdates with Ryan. She paid attention to him at school and on the playground, too. Having decided that this injustice was too much to bear (so to speak), G formulated a plan. After they had cut their teddy bear clothing, G secreted his scissors somewhere instead of returning them. He also found Ryan's expensive knitted balaclava. You know, one of those ski hats that covers your whole head and face and has holes for your eyes, nose and mouth. During naptime, pretending to doze, G cut a bunch more holes in the balaclava, until it looked like Swiss cheese.

"I'm sorry to inform you that G has cut another boy's hat," the principal, Mrs. Weisely, said.

I did not know what this was supposed to mean and wasn't prepared with a snappy comeback, so of course, I said, "What did you say?" Perhaps I should have said, "Well, gosh, I dunno, Mrs. Weisely. Do you think we need to bring in the police?"

I had to go collect him from the office. They showed me the balaclava. What an embarrassment. Bizarre. I had to force myself to keep a straight face instead of falling down laughing. Meanwhile, I had to formulate "appropriate disciplinary action." This particular offense isn't in the Mommy Manual, just in case you were wondering.

G had earned some money, so we took the balaclava to REI (where its label said it had come from), found an equivalent one, and G paid $20.00 for it. Then I helped him script what he was going to tell Eva, Ryan's sweet Polish nanny. Once he had it memorized, we marched over and he gave his spiel. It was humiliating for me, too. After all, what was he thinking? I did NOT take the original balaclava!

In ensuing years, here are a couple more, but not by any means all:

First grade: drawing disturbing pictures. One was supposed to be the devil. Mrs. B. didn't like them, so we had to have several discussions. But, wait, Mrs. B, the therapist said this was normal, and it was good for him to get out his demons! He's still drawing monsters.

First grade again: pushing someone off the slide. This was one of those classic things that ALWAYS happen at school; the playground monitors NEVER see the original instigator, only the victim's reaction. In this case, one of the fourth-graders, known to our family as a neighborhood bully [Zachary, you KNOW who you are!], had pushed little G from the top of the slide. G retaliated, got caught, and got sent home for a "serious offense that cannot be tolerated." When asked, "What was a fourth-grader doing on the playground with first graders?" the school had no answer. When asked why they saw the victim's expected response, but not the fourth-grader's misbehavior, the school had no answer.

Second grade (this is at a different school): foul language. Had to go to principal's office. It turned out that the principal wasn't even there; G just had to sit in the office and stare for a while.

Third grade: was a good year.

Fourth grade: Constant non-compliance. And a real nut case of a teacher. More visits to an empty principal's office. Effective system that, eh? It's not working, so let's keep doing it.

Sixth grade: 1) Caught by his team leader, the wonderful English teacher Mr. Hine, reaching his hand toward a hallway fire alarm trigger. Warned just in the nick of time. Admitted later that he did it on a dare. 2) During the last week of school (traditional prank week), in the company of five other boys, snuck milk cartons out of cafeteria and stomped them on a staircase so they exploded. When the gracious assistant principal called, she was the epitome of professionalism. She did not condemn him or us, and made it clear several others were involved. She never even mentioned to me the concepts I thought of immediately: not only did this create a mess, but was also a safety hazard. and kinda gross. The a.p. let me know that the boys who were caught [not all of them had been] were given a custodian's lesson and got to mop up the stairway.

Still, after I got off the phone, I burst out laughing. Stop, Mommy, stop! Bad Mommy. It's precisely this sort of dismissive attitude which has shaped your son into a public menace.

So, who needs the kids who--as they did at G's school last year--set the dumpster on fire or sell dope from their lockers, when a giant burrito or six simple milk cartons will suffice to get you in big trouble?

And to think, in our family, it all started with the G/Hannah/Ryan love triangle. At age five.

My Burrito

At the end of April, an alarming news story went into print. In Clovis, New Mexico, a bright boy fulfilled an extra-credit marketing assignment by creating a 30-inch burrito and taking it to school wrapped in foil and a tee shirt.

What's alarming about that, you might ask, other than the colossal size of the burrito, or maybe salsa leaking onto a nice clean shirt?

Well, if you're going to occasion a police chase, a school lock-down, and widespread community outrage, apparently this is a really good tactic.

There's something utterly charming about the whole episode. I LOVE it. And I love what the administrator said the kid was thinking at the pre-evacuation assembly: "Oh, my gosh, they're talking about my burrito."

Last weekend, one of my favorite radio shows, National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," broadcast a no-less winning embellishment: supposedly Burrito Boy quipped, "When burritos are outlawed, only outlaws will have burritos."

Burrito Boy

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust?

An event from the entry of 5/12 has happened again--I was sitting here not blogging, but listening to a tutorial about blogging, when another hummingbird slammed into the same window as last time. Whack! Whizzzzzzzzzzzzzz and divebombing down two floors. This is horrible. I can't stand it, the poor little things. Upon striking, they make a noise that's grossly disproportionate to their actual size. Again, I couldn't follow where it went, but it was still going pretty fast when it bounced off. No detectible corpse. But they're so small and I'm so blind, how would I really know? Still, that's gotta be one sore birdy schnozz. I hope he didn't break his teeny beak or something. I'm wondering if I should put a tiny "bring out your dead!" cart down on the driveway.

Losing Lego hair

Grandpa D sans Lego hair

This happened a long time ago, but since part of the artifact remains a cherished item in the household, I'll share its story.

For one whole calendar year, we lived in Bristol, UK. About a week after we moved there, I got pneumonia with an asthma attack and took my first-ever ride in an ambulance to the Southmeade Hospital emergency room. This was a very exciting event for son G., who was not yet four: he got to ride in the back of the van and the nice EMT showed him all the equipment! (I, on the other hand, was pretty sure that this time, after a life of attacks, I wasn't going to survive. It was one of only three times I was in true panic.)

Anyway, we got to the hospital and to the chagrin of doctors and aides, I had this little hyper child with me. Everyone who came in kept frowning and told me I was going to have to "take care of that." Right. I have an oxygen mask, am tethered to an IV, and I'm supposed to--what? Walk him home, where there's no one to watch him? Call all the neighbors, who are at work and oh by the way are still strangers? Give me a break.

Eventually I was admitted, and my husband and G came to visit me. G brought with him a number of Lego items and some cars to play with. The favorite of the day was his race car driver. At that time, the driver had really big black Lego hair that looked just like a bad Elvis wig (the early Elvis). He also had a helmet that fit over the hair. We liked the driver because it reminded G of his maternal grandfather back in California. He was a fantastic mechanic who could build cars from the ground up, and in retirement he spent his free time racing. But Grandpa D was now also undergoing treatment for lung cancer. Bad as that sounds, his prospects were favorable and tumors were disappearing.

Back to G. While bored out of his mind during the visit, he pulled off the toy driver's helmet and the hair popped off, too, and the hair flew out of the helmet and boinked across the floor to land somewhere under my bed. Crisis! We kept telling him not to get down on the floor (nasty! and I had been there five days so I KNEW they hadn't swabbed it once!). So the hair was gone. Later I looked for it, but never found it.

The resultant driver looked more like my dad than ever! Without the hair, the sunglasses really showed up better--just the same shape as Grandpa's real sunglasses. And the head was exactly as square on its skinny neck as Grandpa's. But the funniest part (well, one of those things that's both funny and sad at the same time) was that Grandpa had lost his dark wavy hair to chemo. So it was a metaphor that had come to life!

The figure had metamorphosized to mimic the real person. All of us recognized it and started laughing. So the Lego grandpa took the official name of Grandpa D. We still laugh at it whenever it turns up.

And, no, though the figure has changed a great deal--notable limb loss--the real Grandpa D fortunately never was a multiple amputee.

Ms. Tybee the Frog suns herself

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How Tybee the Frog got her name

This is sad. Some people blog about world events, humanitarian efforts, elevated ideas, and edifying pursuits. Well, guess what? They're all weenies! I've now been blogging long enough to see that an ugly pattern in my subject matter is emerging, and I'm not proud of the truth: INEXCUSABLY DOPEY objects (with names!) that reveal my true inner KITSCHY nature. Oh, Lord. Is this what I've become? [small desperate voice] help me.

Introduced to you yesterday, that charming wench Tybee the Frog didn't have a name at all until just last weekend.

I'd been enjoying watching her sunbathe outside my kitchen window. Just as with Curtis the Buffalo, nothing offered itself in the name category. I had to probe her essence, uncover her personality (the rest of her is already pretty well uncovered), to probe her name.

And then, like a shot out of the blue, it came to me. Tybee! There she is, after all these years--Tybee P., my first apartment landlady! You go, Tybee! How I miss you! How long I've not said anything about the Really Big Impression you made!

When I was in college I shared a small apartment in Santa Monica with a friend from my former dorm. It was one of those 50's-60's "courtyard" style complexes: two storeys, apartments arranged in a big square, doors and windows all facing toward the center of the square, and lush tropical foliage around a central swimming pool (kidney-shaped, natch).

But at this complex, the central feature wasn't the swimming pool. It was Tybee P., the elderly complex manager. Now, hang with me here. Like Dave Barry, I am not making this up. All that I'm about to state is truly in the spirit of having enjoyed this person; she was one of the most colorful, real people I've ever known. I don't have any mean intentions; I just have to describe her as she was. And I'm relatively certain the past tense is appropriate here, for reasons that will henceforth become clear, I can't imagine that she lived more than ten years after my tenancy was over.

It would be a crime to state that Tybee enjoyed the outdoors. Hell, Tybee lived outdoors; I often wondered why she had an apartment at all! And, since her permanent perch was out by the pool, who needed clothes? I'm not sure whether Tybee owned a wardrobe composed of anything other than bikinis. And they were big on top, and very small on the bottom, to compliment her compelling physique. Everything she had was pretty much out there, such as her swinging saggy boobs and protruding round belly, and it had been out there a long, long time, frying under baby oil, baking under the palms, shrivelling into elephant-like folds hanging off of slim, once delicate bones like the meat of a dessicated chicken that had been in the oven for fourteen hours and wasn't coming out anytime soon.

With skin such a fetchingly unnatural brown--cordovan might be the more flattering term for the shade--it would have been a shame to have boring hair, and Tybee did not disappoint. As soon as you got sort of used to it, it would change in some unpredictable way. Shockingly short for a woman of her age. Even trend-setting. No beehives for Ms. T. Fuzzy as a poodle's--no, actually not curly but straight and sticking up like the topknot feathers on one of those exotic white chickens you see at the county fair. Now and then the white would go polar bear (yellow or green, take your pick); or the ends would have a brassy cast while the rest stayed polar bear. Once it was all red, but she couldn't stand it. Neither could we. It just wasn't Tybeeish enough.

I should have finished discussing her looks, but I see that I've failed to describe her arms and legs. These are important details. They were scrawny. I had never seen such skinny legs in my life (well, by this age I have, but that's another story). Toothpick legs, flapping skin, tiny ankles that seemed charged with the impossible task of carrying her substantial upper body. Shoulders narrow, arms as gawky as the gams, little feet flopping around in cheap chenille slippers, never thongs. When she had something on her mind she put those mechanics in motion and strode with a purpose. And your purpose was to get outta the way!

Here I'll just mention the sunglasses. Tybee was the Old Navy Lady way ahead of her time. Only Tybee's frames were white and the lenses were black.

Another endearing trait was her chain smoking. No, she had perfected the art of multiple smoking. Many times I'd seen her carrying not one, but two cigarettes simultaneously, and she honestly didn't seem to notice. Drag from the left! Drag from the right . . . stand up, sit down, fight fight fight! Yay, Tybee!

And then there was her voice. After all, you'd expect that to match the rest. When Tybee opened her mouth, tenants listened. Actually, I mean they heard, because they didn't have a choice. Whether she was standing one foot in front of you or diagonally across the courtyard and upstairs, all the tenants could hear everything she said. And very New York. This was a deep, calliope-whiskey voice that could scare every cowboy out of not only Billy Bob's or Gilley's, but out of their respective pairs of boots and a mile down the road as well.

Tybee's apartment, strategically positioned upstairs to view both street front and courtyard, was a lesson in decorating. How not to. The mouths of today's reality tv decorating makeover shows' producers would water if they could get a hold of something like that. She had a bowl of plastic fruit on the coffee table that wasn't even trying to look real; a bunch of things on the wall that looked like what people try to get rid of at their garage sales, but can't--you know, raffia things, tiki masks, black paper silhouettes of children that were probably already grandparents; cheap "collector" plates ordered from newspaper ads in 1948; and framed portraits, some of them colorized, of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

But the greatest thing about Tybee was conscientiousness. Obviously not in regard to her own person, but she was always on the lookout for the well-being of everyone else in the complex. She was a superb negotiator: Who could say "no" to somebody like that? If she was worried about something or somebody or if she knew a tenant had behaved in an unchivalrous manner, she took care to broadcast it. She ran a tight ship in that little building, becasue she cowed us and amused us and scared us into submission. And, then, she also had a big heart. She would always tell us girls to just let her know if anyone bothered us or caused trouble. She had a fine sense of justice and never hesitated to make things the way she saw fit. Disputes were settled pronto, and no one would ever dare argue.

After all, weilding those dual cigarettes, she could easily successfully render a tenant's life to ashes, as she'd done with her own skin.

A toast to you, Tybee, wherever you're sunning yourself today.

[Bleah! Why is the Hello photo service not working today??? Screeeeeam . . . Sigh. I'll post the photo later.]

Monday, May 16, 2005

Tybee the Frog

Slightly after spring had finally sprung, I visited a local $$$$$, independently run garden shop in search of vast quantities of pre-emergent weed killer. This place is just a couple of miles up the street and always a fun place for an afternoon field trip. When the weather gets warm, they bring out their new crop of lawn ornaments and pots and urns, and they restart the fish pond fountain that's been under snow all winter, and the fish are flippin' happy again.

I perused the copious, crowded shelves on the veranda, curious to see what new pricey merchandise they'd introduced (just so I could pretend I could have something). They had loads of new cast-iron urns, but they were all much to large to match the teeny one I got two years ago. Oh, well. Then after further uninspiring searches, my eye caught a cement lawn ornament on a baker's rack outside a shop window.

What I noticed first was that the figurine was lying on its side, propped up on an elbow, and smiling. Wearing large, round sunglasses. On the face of . . . a frog. Well, that amused me, but it was what I noticed next that took the cake. The frog was sunbathing in a bikini! And it had big boobs lolling around in the bikini top. And a big frog belly.

Well I cracked up then and there; I knew my mother was winking at me from the Great Beyond. If she had still been alive I would have bought the frog for her at first sight. She just would have howled at how great it was. But instead, I bought my weed preventer and left.

A week or so went by, and my in-laws came to visit from New York state. We were looking at my houseplants and agreed that some of them needed dividing and transplanting. That led to the thought of searching for appropriately sized pots. We headed to the garden center again; I had already tried to explain to my mother-in-law what this figurine looked like, and that I would show it to her when we were there.

So we made a beeline for the baker's rack, and there the frog still was in flabby glory. I picked her up, curious about how $$$$$ this little hunk of cement would be at this way overpriced shop. $21!! I gasped--I hadn't seen anything yet less than $42 on the veranda. I put her back and started heading for the fishpond. Behind me, my wonderful mother-in-law surreptitiously picked the frog up and cradled it under her arm.

This time, we did indeed leave with the frog. But not with any new, appropriately sized pots.

We took the frog home and put her out on a large stone bench on my slate patio. Bingo! She looked quite happy there, and I could see her out the kitchen window, sunning. My younger son has taken to squirting her with his giant super-soaker whenever he walks by, just to make sure she doesn't get cooked in the UV.

Ms. Tybee Frog enjoys a partly shady spot

. . . and ANOTHER thing . . .

I'd intended to add this to the preceding post, but I got onto such a flaming rant that I forgot about it.

Addendum: And then there's the fact that "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" has become a hit Broadway show. Gag me. Inane lyrics ". . . and our pretty Chitty Bang Bang loves us, too!" with saccharine love interest "Truly Scrumptious" (maybe I can forgive the Bond-girl name, since the story was written--rather unbelievably--by Bond creator himself, Ian Fleming. A little more family friendly than Pussy Galore). A flying car goes out over the audience. I wonder what the insurance implications of that were. "Mommy! Mommy! Here comes the car and it's going to land on us!"

BLEAH! Yes, I've become a theater Scrooge! Bah humbug!

Spam Tonys?

Here’s a new entry I wanted to put on my blog today (Sunday, May 15, 2005), but Blogger warned that the system would be down for maintenance just during the time I was thinking about it. Ohhhh . . . I didn't see that their notice was posted on May 13th.) So it's not showing up until the 16th.

Sometime during the past week, my cutworm brain subliminally osmosed the (fact? fiction?) that Eric Idle’s recently opened Broadway show, Spamalot, is up for Tony Awards. Fans and nay-sayers alike will recognize Idle’s as among the names of the classic Monty Python comedy troupe. Spamalot is an attempt at staging the inimitable cult film Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Since I AM of MY generation—a woman of a certain age, and it’s not entirely flattering—I’ve long been one of those who fell full prey to Python at college age and who has dearly loved it for many years. The literary, political, philosophical and cultural jabs simply haven’t gotten old yet, and even if they are, I still find them funny. People get tired of my parroting (no pun intended, for those who know the sketch) whole scenes from Holy Grail and lines from skits such as “Oh, intercourse the penguin!” and “that was never five minutes just now!” (Argument Clinic). Or “Cheese Shop.” Or, like Chairman Mao, “Uh, ‘Sing, Little Birdie?” Or Karl Marx, “Uh, the workers control the means of production?” parody of intellectual quiz show. Or “Flying Sheep.” Or, the “Cat Detector Van,” parody of the Television License detector van, able to pinpoint a purr at . . . what was the distance? : “And Eric, bein’ such a happy cat, was a piece of cake.” And the songs “Dennis Moore” and “Eric the Half-a-Bee.” Or wending my way through the house like a promising candidate for The Ministry of Silly Walks. My elder son is much sillier at it now than I will ever be. Perhaps it’s a male genetic trait. It’s hard for me not to burst into song with “Ev-er-y Sperm is Sa-cred” or “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at utterly inappropriate moments.

So my reaction to the Tony nomination news came at great surprise to myself. “Whattt??!!” Gimme a break. Sure, I value the original movie and I’m loyal to Python to the max. I even greatly enjoy stars Tim Curry (always Frank N Furter—“let’s go down to the llllehb and see what’s on the sllllehb!”) and the adorably nerdy David Hyde Pierce. You go, boys. But think how many struggling writers with new dramatic (and comedic) voices go starving, while a ubiquitous standard gets pulled out of the mothballs and dusted off in a “new” stage regurgitation for the masses. Sorry, but I don’t think I want to shell out as little as $80—probably much more—to watch it.

No, I haven’t seen it and may well not know what I’m talking about. Bite me. JM(possiblyuninformed)HO. Yes, I realize that Broadway audiences have gagged for years on old material and reruns—Annie, Cats, you name it, yawn. It’s sad to see when much more risky and interesting things like Dr. Seuss’s The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, a brilliant story made into a “failed” movie in 1953 (it’s actually AWESOME) and WAY ahead of its time even now, hardly made a blip on the radar screen when it (supposedly?) went on stage a couple of years ago. [An aside: Oh, DO find a copy of this film (available via imdb.com and amazon) and invite friends over to see it. Not just the kids, but all of you will be changed people. It's truly bizarre and utterly endearing.]

Friday, May 13, 2005

Parenting Pains

It occurs to me that the title of this entry could have a couple of meanings. Initially I intended to list a few things that make parenting painful. But I'm also parenting people who are sometimes pains. These are the types of things no one ever tells you about before you are a parent-- evidently some sort of warped biological mechanism intended to preserve the human race. If we knew about this stuff before, WE WOULD NEVER REPRODUCE.

This morning was fairly typical, nothing extraordinary, but I thought it exemplified parenting pains pretty well. My small tyke apparently woke up on the wrong side of the bed. When asked to please change his clothes and take off the stinky shirt he played baseball in two days ago, he refused. "Do I have to go get another shirt and put it on you?" I threatened. "Yes, I guess so," he shot back smiling, and rolled around in the comfy chair. We have this argument almost every school day. I went upstairs to get a shirt, but at least when I got back he had taken off the stinky one.

Next, we were standing by the kitchen window waiting for his school bus when the following nonsensical exchange occurred.

Tyke: Mom, I absolutely have to have my baseball uniform washed! And I have to know exactly where it is.

Mom: We know where it is. I washed it yesterday afternoon and it's in the laundry area.

Tyke: It has to be washed alone. By itself, together. Without any other clothes. Was it washed with anything else?

Mom: Yes, a couple of other things of yours, like the baseball pants you wore to practice.

Tyke: No, Mom!!! It can't be washed with anything else! That will make it too hard to tell where it is! I won't be able to find it if it's in there with a bunch of other stuff! [frantic] I have to know where it is, Mom. The rule is if I don't have absolutely every piece of my uniform, I can't play the game tomorrow and Sunday. [fitful histrionics] What if I don't have everything???

Mom: [sigh] We know where every part of it is. IN THE LAUNDRY, this very minute. Without "a bunch of other stuff."

Why are we arguing about something idiotic that isn't a problem? No one ever told me I would spend hours of my precious life getting sucked into makeshift dramas that not only don't exist in reality but don't even exist theoretically.

On the baseball theme, he then switched subjects to his disappointment over not being given permission to purchase a new Yankees hat. This is a story that goes back a long way. His first Yankees hat came from a best friend in our previous town, and was lost before we moved. Heartbreak. Tears. It was never recovered, and was finally replaced two years later at Christmas 2004. Yankees hat #2 was lost at school (shortly after acquisition) through inattention--it was off-season, so tyke didn't notice it was lost until long after, and didn't know where to look for it. He searched the house on a regular basis and even asked Grandma if she'd found it at her house. A couple of days ago he revealed that it supposedly "got donated along with the rest of the clothes that piled up in the school's lost-and-found."

So the other afternoon he decided he had to go to the official Yankees website to check hat types and prices. I said I didn't think he'd be getting another Yankees hat after losing two. Even though the first one was "free" as far as family investment. He persisted. Then, quietly, he went to the dinette table with a piece of paper, folded it, and entitled it "Yankees Cap Contract (real contract. Not to play with)"--apparently he means business this time. On the overleaf are the following promises: "1) will not bring this to school. 2) I will not take it any where were [sic] it can get lost. 3) I will treasure it (followed by a drawing of the cap with the Yankees NY logo). Then, his signature in large cursive below. Pretty nice tactic, I have to admit.

So this morning after the "lost uniform" debacle, he went directly to the hat argument. "Mom, I told Dad last night and he said he didn't want to hear about it right now, didn't want to hear about it right now, didn't want to hear about it right now. Even after I told him about the contract."

Mom didn't want to hear about it right now right now, either. "I don't think you're going to get another Yankees hat."

Tyke: But what you said was you don't know. You didn't say no. Is it up to Dad? Are you waiting to hear what Dad says before you decide? Will you say yes if Dad says yes? And how am I supposed to pay for it when I don't have a credit card?

Niggle, niggle, nag, nag.

Mom: I don't think you need to worry about the credit-card problem.

Tyke goes over to the big comfy chair and crawls into it in a fetal position, covering his face up (mock crying).

Mom: You have to go out the door for the bus now.

Tyke: [small voice muffled in the cushion] I'm not going. I'm not going on the bus.

Mom: Yes, you are. The #16 just went by and the #2 will be next, so you'd better go out NOW.

Tyke: I'm not taking the bus anymore. I don't want to take the bus anymore.

Mom: Well you'd better plan something, because I'm not driving you. The bus is your transportation to school.

Tyke: Then I'm not going to school anymore.

Grrrrr. See? What did I tell you--PAIN. He stayed in the chair. Time went by. Apparently enough time went by that his bus came and went. When he got up he was apprehensive.

Tyke: [panicked] Mom, the bus didn't come and now I'm going to be late! If it came I would already be at school by now. The clock says 8:29 and the bus didn't come. Now I'm going to be late.

Mom: If you are late, it is your fault for having a tantrum about a hat when you should have been watching for the bus. I'm sure the bus came, you just weren't waiting.

Tyke: If I get there as late as 8:35, then I'm dead! I'll have to go to the office and I'll be marked tardy.

Mom: That is the choice you made.

Tyke: NO, if I'm late it's your fault and the bus's fault for not coming.

Mom: Go get in the car now.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Squirrel Haven: A Thing of the Past

As promised in the preceding post, an explanation of how the birds' suet basket achieved its indefatigable pinnacle.

Our home is on a large-ish lot within town lines, but close to municipal woods and reservoirs. It's just like living in the woods. The whole neighborhood used to be a hilly treeless property that, historically, was dairy and farm land that fed the prosperous city of Hartford. Now it's a haven for birds, squirrels and chipmunks, and the neighborhood cats who seek them for snacks.

Wacko, that's what squirrels are. Sometimes baffles work to keep squirrels off the poles leading to the bird feeders, but squirrels are not easily discouraged. [Understatement much?] Last year, for the first time, I decided to try hanging a suet basket. First, I hung it using the chain it came with, the hook of which I attached to an outdoor light just under the eaves of a two-storey high stone porch.

The squirrels jumped from trees to porch roof, hung by their back legs off the roof, navigated the chain, and grabbed the wires of the basket. They pulled the basket toward themselves (upside down!) and fed heartily from the suet cake. Squirrels one, homeowner zero.

Then, I hung the feeder fairly far away (by human standards, anyway) from the wrought-iron post that supported the porch. The squirrels immediately climbed the wrought iron, brazenly jumped to the basket, and ate the suet to the last seed.

Next time, I moved the basket, hanging it from a wrought-iron hanging-pot hanger meant to go over a tree branch. I hung this from a gutter.

The squirrels came down to the edge of the roof, hung from their back feet, and grabbed onto the hanger, gingerly working their way down to the basket.

What did I try next? I can't remember, precisely, except that it was the dumbest--as well as the best in terms of gags--solution. It provided the biggest riot ever. It was so good, I almost want to do it again. Only I can't remember how it was rigged.

This time, the squirrel placed his bet that he could just hang from the basket itself once he attained access. He climbed right onto it and started gobbling the suet. At some point after, I'd say, he was fairly sated, he had to move down to nibble what gravity had allowed to remain at the bottom of the basket. Fatal mistake? Well . . . the squirrel grabbed on to the bottom of the basket. This would have worked, had the squirrel positioned himself on the other side of the basket. But he was on the side that has two small clamps at the top of the basket that fit over the wires, and hinges at the bottom. The basket opened and swung out over the gravel two storeys below. The traditional squirrel became a flying squirrel, and plummeted to the ground.

Of course I rushed out to see if he'd survived. (I'm not really evil enough to have wished him dead. But I admit I was laughing hysterically.)

This squirrel wasn't off his game for long. The fall had been totally worth it! Not only had the squirrel fallen, but so had the frustrating remainder of the suet cake. He rolled right over, got up, found the cake without dizzy wobbling, and gobbled up all the final bits.

After this, I realized that my whole approach to the problem had come from "inside the box." When I thought outside of the box, I saw some opportunities to wedge something inside the casing that held the aluminum beam coverings on the porch ceiling. Between "boards" that weren't really boards but simply molded metal, there were indented spaces where I might hang something. A thick wire? No. A small dowel cut to fit? Yes.

I set to work measuring the space and cutting a dowel I already had. A length of cut dowel was slid into the space with the basket's hook already over it (along with a whole new suet cake). Because the squirrels had found this porch to be an easy mark, they continued trying to conquer the suet basket for days. This was an excellent prank! They attempted every technique they had already used successfully--evidence of some intelligence, even if all they are is rodents. They tried everything else they could come up with, but they just could not access the suet. Too low for them to hang by back feet from the roof or gutter. Too far between cast-iron pillars for them to jump on it. Too far from the benches, railings or porch to leap from below.

For a while, it drove them crazy. Very satisfying to witness. But--my loss-- after a couple of weeks, they gave up, accepted that the venue was no longer available, and moved on to easier finds.

For the Birds

A few weeks ago, inspired by promising hints of spring, I bought an ambitious 20-lb. bag of birdseed for the small bird hopper feeder and several cakes of suet for the basket. I filled the finch tube with nyjer seed I'd stored from last year, plumped up the hopper, and hung the basket from a dowel inserted into porch siding to frustrate the squirrels for entertainment (more about this technique later, somewhere above this post).

From my convenient perch inside the kitchen window, I watched intently for signs that the birds were back. I knew they were somewhere nearby, since they woke me in the morning. But incessant rain and even occasional snowflakes continued to retard seasonal change.

Finally, I noticed that the food level in the finch feeder had dropped somewhat. I hadn't yet caught anyone on either it or the hopper. But the little woodpeckers were starting to fight over the suet basket, and hordes of bright cardinals, so welcome after a long, drab winter, came to fight underneath it for their turn and to investigate whether anything good had been spat out or cast down. Eventually, blue jays hung around bullying and scolding the finches and trying to take advantage of the hopper, which closes under the weight of larger birds. Jays seem very smart, and it's fun to watch them apparently thinking out a strategy and then going after it. One bright jay figured out that if he could just get a grip on the outside edge of the hopper, he could get a mouthful. But his big body couldn't hold on to the metal edge and bend all the way down into the dispenser at the same time. The acrobatic requirements defeated him. Heh-heh-heh.

With progress clearly at hand, it was time to make up some homemade syrup for the hummingbirds. My mother-in-law said, "Well, the hummers come when the flowers come. And the flowers are starting to bloom, so they should be here." I hung the feeder and have waited for days with no results. It came time to clean out and replace the syrup.

I can't remember when they showed up last year; besides, I didn't try setting out a hummingbird feeder until well into the summer. But this morning I watched finches, woodpeckers, titmice and cardinals. The wind blew the chimes on the porch and blinding sun streamed through the picture windows all across the back of the family room. I was trying to spot a nest in the maple that my smaller son had pointed out to me yesterday. Suddenly I heard a "whack" on one of the windows, and looked up immediately to see a dazed green-headed hummer whiz off and down toward the back yard. I jumped to the window to verify whether or not he had been killed, but couldn't find a trace of him.No body on the driveway or in the planters. Couldn't tell about the groundcover.

The feeder level hasn't gone down yet; it's not even attracting the bees or wasps--too cold. But, they're baaaack!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My Big Fat American Pen Box

In elementary school, I remember the excitement of putting together supplies for the first day every year. Little pencil box; wooden ruler with a metal straightedge; new, pristine, smelly rubber Pink Pearl erasers; Elmer's school glue or mucilage (the latter was pretty much like snot in a rub-on bottle, so gross that nobody EVER used it); manual pencil sharpener; and plenty of colorful personalized pencils that I'd received the previous Christmas. For several years I had a flourescent-pink hard plastic pencil box with a sliding top that could have doubled as a ruler, but it was a rotten ruler so I stuck with the wooden one. It was quite a small pencil box compared to what most kids today lug around with them, but it was perfectly sufficient for its purpose. Big enough.

Many years pass . . . I grow up and even reach middle age . . .

Some years after becoming a technical editor, I started using purple pens for editing and pretty much all of my other hand writing. Purple helped distinguish my senior edits from other editors' preliminary marks on manuscripts. But I also found the color very pleasing. Ultimately, I quit using black, blue or red ink, and now everything I write is purple, whether I'm editing or not.

After holding onto a box of one dozen pens for a couple of years, I finally used up every last drop of ink. I felt a frisson of panic, withdrawal setting in. What if they didn't make my pens anymore? I went to several local office supply stores. Black, blue, red, and occasionally green. No purple, nowhere, no how. Realizing I might take an easier route, I searched the web for Pilot BP-S Fine purple stick (and click!) pens, and found them at . . . I think . . . Office Max. At this venue they were no longer available by the dozen, but at least I could get a stash of purple, so I ordered five stick style and five click style. Enough for a couple of years (if the kids didn't walk off with them). Bliss!

No more than two days later, my son was standing next to the porch door when a delivery person wrestled something to the porch and placed (not plunked) it down. "Mom!!! What the heck!!??" This is a typical daily thing for him to shout, and far too general to elicit more than the mildest response from me. "Mom, did you order like 50 books from Amazon, or what?"

This comment did pique curiosity, since I had certainly not ordered anything substantial recently. Outside the door was a huge cardboard box, big enough to accommodate a queen-size comforter. "What the heck" indeed; a wave of suspicion followed. A bomb? An abandoned animal? Return address was from a nearby town; they could have walked it here in a couple of hours or sent it by trained cockatoo instead of by UPS.

When I lifted the box, expecting to strain my back, it turned out to weigh about as much as three mice inflated with air. It was so light I nearly dropped it--kind of like when you expect a stair step to be there and you step up, but there's no stair and you trip over nothing.

I opened it to find--the equivalent weight of three mice inflated with air. In fact, the box appeared completely empty except for air-filled pouch packs. (I could recycle these to pad gift boxes for the next ten years!) I pulled out pack after pack without ever revealing anything other than an invoice. And then I realized this was . . . the PEN BOX. Sure enough, once the packs were out, ten pens rolled around independently of one another. Not even rubber-banded together.

People from places other than the United States often comment that we are an unconscious, hedonistic, spoiled society of plenty, and we do everything too big. We live large, we consume enormous portions of food, our houses are huge, our lawns hog unnecessary amounts of precious water, our giant "energy efficient" washers and dryers are shame machines promoting the same blatant waste as our SUVs, while we run around complaining about the price of oil and electricity.

But until this experience, the egregiously capacious pen boxes have been a well-hidden secret.
Which probably will not remain hidden for long.

[See actual pen-box photo below.]

Hmm . . . Think this box big enough for the adequate comfort of ten ball-point pens? Makes ya wonder how those shipping charges are calculated

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Out of the Mouths of Babes . . .

. . . "oft times come germs," as has been said--I think by Art Linkletter in his vintage show.

Anyway, I make a point of writing down bits of mangled language that I overhear. I love language, especially inadvertently screwed up language. Today, the latest spoonerisms from kids:

"If you don't do what I say, I'll court you a doctor. . . . I mean, dock you a quarter!"

(When child was reading aloud)" . . . this was not at all faltering . . . I mean, flattering . . . um, flattening. No, that's not right. What does it say?"

Buffalo at local preserve

Curtis the Buffalo, Part Deux

Oh, yeah, life went on and I sorta forgot I owed time to the blog. And, previously, I promised to say more about Curtis (habitual serialization, you know), who's become a much beloved "pet" as well as a thoroughly reliable conversation piece.

So here we are in early May, and Curtis the All-Around Solid Loyal Buffalo is still with us. The problem of where to put him has been resolved. I stood him atop a small credenza under my great-grandmother's alpine cuckoo clock, and he seemed happy there, and we could all see him every day, so the first place apparently was the right place. Location, location, location! The bison has it.

Now, shortly after Curtis joined the household, I started to notice some odd things about him. Although adorable, he didn't look quite right to me. I thought American bison were brown with black. In a nearby preserve, there's one who's mostly brown. Curtis is entirely pitch black and very shiny rather than coarse. Another thing--Curtis has very long horns. In fact, they look like bull horns. They're white, curved, and tipped with black. In contrast, the real bison's horns are shorter, and all light colored. [By now I'm wondering what kind of animal this really is.] Curtis sports a fetching goatee (uh, buffalotee?), but above that is a snout that looks very plastic, a little too wide, and is molded in one piece to a distinctively downturned mouth. He looks unhappy, or angry, or perhaps getting a notion to charge anyone in his view. This is slightly disconcerting when you sit on the sofa with your back turned to him. Unhappiness would be understandable in any buffalo, given that the bison population is certainly controlled and its natural habitat is paved with cement and surrounded with fences.

Finally, Curtis's fur always piques guests' curiosity. It's curly and black and luxurious. "Oh, it's so soft, I can't stop stroking it," more than one visitor has commented. It's true--you just want to pet him whenever you walk by. The fur is real, not faux. Now here is where my imagination gets the better of me. I am certain he is an import, and that he comes from a country (someplace in Asia? China? Viet Nam?) where the buffalo look different. And the creepy thought that occurs to me, and I think it every time I touch his fur, is that he might be made out of cat or rabbit or monkey fur. Even a small dog. Horrors!

So I had spent quite a long time secretly quaking inside about this. We love him as though he's a real critter, while his origin is unknown and possibly involved animal cruelty.

Then some friends came over for a walk in the woods at the reservoir. (By the time we got halfway up the hill, pouring rain drove us right back down again.) While we were air-drying, they asked about Curtis. I gave the spiel. Susie, who was born British but grew up in Venezuela, suggested, "Perhaps he's a Patagonian buffalo."

Oh . . .

Well, there you go. What a stupid, small-minded American [nationality] rotter I am for assuming "American" means "North American" or "U.S."!