I don't care to cook. If I'm left to my own devices, I'll pin down a slice of bread and spread peanut butter on it, although that's a lot of steps. Better yet is to scavenge under the plastic wrap in the fridge and nuke if necessary. Best of all is to find an open bag of something and start plucking things out until they're gone. I've tried to do portion control on an open bag of chips before, even going so far as to remove some and re-clip the bag and put it away, and then I sit quietly and eat my allotment of chips. But it's as if I've got some TV motivational speaker inside me, pacing the stage inside my brain with that annoying little headset and urging, if you can imagine it, you can be it! Only my speaker says if you can imagine it, you can probably waddle on over to the cupboard and eat it. I sit and eat my chips, and then I sit and ponder, and have a go at serenity, and then I say, I imagine there are some more chips left. No! I know there are some more chips left, because I re-clipped them myself, and I know just where I put them.
Then I sigh, and get the bag, and open it up, and have a few more. After a bit, it's curiosity more than it is hunger. What is underneath this layer of chips here? Could it be yet more chips? Do you suppose they go all the way to the bottom? Only one way to find out.
Dave claims to like chips, and indeed it is he who buys them occasionally. Actually, he buys everything there is in the house to eat. But what he does is he puts some chips on a plate and makes himself a nice sandwich and then dresses it all up with a neat array of celery and carrots and pickles, and slices an apple, and chews it all slowly and chases it with a glass of skim milk, and then he clips the chips and puts them away. I ignore them for days sometimes, and then my motivational speaker reminds me about them, and that's that. Two weeks later, Dave will go looking for his chips again, all puzzled, but I cannot be blamed for that kind of lack of attention.
Dave does all the cooking around here, and he's darn good at it. Partly he wants to eat good food, and that's the only way he's going to get it, but partly I think he likes to be responsible for my upkeep. I'm like a little science project. He picked me up decades ago when I was little and cute and now he wants to see how long he can keep me alive. As a result I am somewhat overfed, but plied daily with vegetables and fruits. It's all very balanced and nutritious, and if he didn't serve me the same amount he serves himself, I'd probably be very well off. He's a big tall man, and I am just the opposite, and it doesn't look right, those two identical platefuls of dinner. People must talk. I've been prodding him to load up his plate a bit more.
Every so often he does a number on the snack food, himself. "I got rid of the pistachios," he told me the other day. God, no, what did he do to them? "I ate them," he explained. "That's the only way you can get rid of them. You can talk to them, or scold them, or spank them, but the only way to really get rid of them is to eat them." I tugged at the elastic on my pajamas. Oh, honey. You never really get rid of pistachios.
When I was a young woman, I loved to travel by air. I'd take a window seat, tell extravagant fibs to my neighbor, and gaze out at the planet sprawling below, the horizon unfurling like a life full of possibility. I was usually in an expansive mood, the sort you get when your future is larger than your past, you're in love again, and you've been served a free steak dinner with your own personal bottle of Mateus wine.
I don't much care to fly anymore. Passengers are excreted through a tube from the airport into the plane, where seats have been added and oxygen removed. Someone churns down the aisle to fling out a soda pop and a tiny pouch of kibble. I contemplated the deterioration of airline service on a recent trip to New York, while pinioned between between my seatmates, Elbows and Snot-Snorker. The occasion for the trip: a small group of us was getting together for the first time since high school, forty years ago. This was a group lassoed quite recently courtesy of Facebook, the social networking site that every single person my age has joined in the last three months.
I had tried to find the whereabouts of this old gang of mine before, using modern technology. I Googled away without much success. Take Charlie, for instance. Google Charlie and all you get is a diagram of a box with wires and numbers and squiggly lines sticking out of it, a diagram that Charlie is apparently responsible for, but there wasn't much I could make of it. Charlie had been very smart and very quiet. Perhaps, I thought darkly, he was the Unabomber.
Charlie and Penny had married each other, so that was a two-fer, and they graciously consented to be invaded and have their refrigerator plundered by the rest of us: Janice, Melissa, Bev, Charity, Turner and me. Any twenty-year-old might have mistaken us at once for a collection of old farts, but our eyes are sharper. We immediately set to gabbling like...well. Like unusually attractive older geese. We'd been stretched out across the country and across the decades. The distance was erased by car and jet, but the years snapped back at once, as though on an elastic band. Sproingg! It was nearly audible, as our eyes gathered each other in and located our true selves. Turner and Charlie ably, and decoratively, represented the male cohort of the old gang. Some things had changed. Charlie was not only not in the mail bomb business, but was talkative and fond of kittens. The rest of us had traded the exuberance and earnestness of youth for something based more on experience and less on conjecture, and we hooted and reminisced and toasted our dead and caught each other up, time-rumpled and wry.
Penny dropped me off happy at the airport for my return trip, where I arrived at the gate an hour early, and fifty minutes before they announced they weren't actually planning to take off at all. I was re-booked for the next day and sulked off to a stale room at the Best Western, trudging across the street for "dinner" at Wings 'N' Rings. I gave myself over to a dubious cheeseburger and an imitation microbrew-flavored Budweiser, neither of which ordinarily produces an expansive mood, but I had much to ponder, and was still pondering the next day at 35,000 feet, wedged in among my seatmates Sneezy, Onions and Drummer-Boy. Friendship expands, and airline service contracts, and time, I think, can go either way.
The seeds of dissension had been sown in Dave's shoulder long ago. There had been murmurings of discontent. Yet still it came as something of a shock when the whole crew of muscles and ligaments on the upper right went on strike last year, sat down and refused to move. On the left side, everything was still laboring away, but on the right, there was a mass mutiny of operating musculature. Dave's shoulder was locked up.
A "frozen shoulder," according to the medical lights consulted, is a very common event. It is idiopathic in nature. This doesn't mean there's no cause; it just means the doctors don't know what the hell it is. But, they agreed, it is very painful and very stubborn and in most cases it just goes away by itself in about a year, also for no reason at all.
However, they pointed out cheerfully, if Dave didn't want to just hang out for a year waiting for the day the crew stood up and went back to work, there were a number of things he could occupy himself with in the meantime, none of which were promised to speed things up at all. My own inclination, upon hearing such a prognosis, would be to park my fanny in a recliner for a year and suck up unemployment compensation and potent narcotics until things improved, or I could no longer tell. That's just how I'm wired. I do not expect to get through life without some sort of medical complication, and if I can just manage to avoid the conditions that would knock beer off my diet, I will consider it a life well lived.
But Dave is more of a do-something kind of guy. So he signed up for the whole works, beginning with physical therapy presided over by one of the mandatory sturdy German women who seem to go in for that kind of work. He doubled down with an equally sturdy massage technician who was capable of taking him right to the floor any day of the week. She was freakishly strong and competent and furthermore was not at all troubled by shrieking or weeping. Then she tag-teamed with an acupuncturist, even though Dave had always been unusually leery of needles. He returned for several more sessions, and the shoulder began to grind around a bit. A penitent seeking mortification could not have been more faithful.
The next stop was our remarkable nephew Damon, who has several years of study in Chinese medicine and massage therapy and a dozen other things and a mental map to the body's energy flow and his own set of acupuncture needles and numerous other more mysterious paraphernalia. What he had his heart set on was "cupping." I'm not a jealous girl but this struck me as a most inappropriate activity for family members, and yet Dave submitted to it. It involved some odd equipment that we shall be calling "do-hickeys." And now he is emblazoned with giant polka-dots. It's festive, I must say. But we could do with some leeches, and something tells me Damon would know where to get some.
It's been nine months now; in another three, Dave should be all better.
My niece Sara, who flits with ease across the planet, from Germany to Tanzania to Washington, D.C., came home to Portland for a few days over Christmas between flits, and then she flitted off to Aspen. It was wonderful seeing her in person, however briefly. Just about as soon as she had left, I thought: Dang. I totally forgot to tell her about the turtle lady.
Then I realized: this isn't the nineteenth century. I have lots of ways I can still tell her about the turtle lady. I could write about it longhand with a goose quill and blob it with sealing wax. Except the wax will jam up the postal machinery. Or I can send her an e-mail. Then I thought: Dang. She isn't going to be at her home for a week and I want to tell her now. Then I thought: Dang. She's probably got something the size of a matchbook right in her hip pocket that snags e-mails out of thin air before they get lost in the series of tubes. She's thirty; she has satellites out there working for her twenty-four hours a day.
Or I could call her. She has a petite phone right there in the other hip pocket and I could waltz right over to the phone I have, stuck in the wall, and call her right up, and there she'd be, and I could tell her about the turtle lady. Trouble is, I hate talking on the phone. There was a year or so in eleventh grade when I spent hours on the phone every night talking to my best friend Janice, but except for that interlude, I have actively disdained the instrument. I saw my first Cellular Mobile Phone when I was on a bicycle tour in the early 90's. They first appeared as disturbing Bricks of Mystery in the back of people's Spandex shorts, but when they pulled them out and punched numbers into them with their big meaty fists, the rest of us were jealous; we were standing in long lines to use the few public phones set up for us in camp. I still didn't want one. But as they became smaller and more ubiquitous, it was easy to see their usefulness. What if, for instance, you were standing in the meat aisle and couldn't decide for yourself whether to go with pork chops or chicken? You could call home and make someone else decide. Or what if you were on your way to Tyler's house and couldn't call him to say you were at 33rd and Broadway about to hang a left through that pack of screaming pedestrians and you'd be there in five minutes? Now you could. What if you were in line at the store and got the urge to call Shaniqua and tell her you were in line at the store? Not a problem.
Still, I haven't bought one. I probably will some day, but I really don't like talking on the phone. And I don't know how to use one. I have to be shown every time. One day at work a guy handed me his phone to talk to someone on the other end, and I kept trying to move the phone from my ear to my mouth to talk, it was so little, even though this didn't appear to be necessary. Finally we signed off, and I didn't know how to hang up, so I folded the little phone up with a snap, and then flew into a prompt panic. Was he still in there? Did I smoosh him? I had quite the little audience by that time, and the expressions ranged from frank amusement to something approaching horror. I had an Uncle Bill, and the least weird thing about him was that he lived in the rank San Joaquin Hotel For Men in San Francisco. The lobby was redolent of medicine and pee, and he had a small room down the hall with a neatly made cot. I had sought him out, and this inspired him to go visit the rest of the family, all of whom had thought themselves rid of him decades before. He went on a trans-national trek on Greyhound, a tiny, nearly blind, frequently soused man clutching a fair portion of his life's savings in a fat wad of rolled-up bills. It was scary. He spent no more than a half day at any relative's house--North Carolina, Maine, Oregon--before climbing back on the bus. When he asked to use the telephone in our home, we watched in disbelief as he fumbled with a handful of quarters and dimes, looking for a slot to put them in. I couldn't believe anyone, in 1977, could be that out of it. And now I realize that that's how my friends feel about me.
I don't care. I don't want a cell phone. I want to leave my internet plugged into the wall so I can walk away from it. And although they may already make products that will bring all the world's knowledge to my hip pocket, none of this technology will be available to me until they figure out a way I can retrieve information by sticking a thumb up my butt. Because that's going to be my default stance.
So if anyone sees Sara, tell her there's a lady in Hillsboro, name of Rosemary Lombard, who's been able to teach turtles to draw.
Sometimes we don't know our own true natures until circumstance shines a light on us and reveals who we really are. A callow youth dives into turbulent waters to save a child. A skipper gives himself up to pirates to save his crew. A proud evangelist blubbers like a baby when he's caught with a hooker. What struck me most, when the light of circumstance shone on me, was how very bright it was.
I have the honor of living with a 58-year-old man who believes in nothing regular at all--not God, not the invisible hand of the marketplace, not even Santa Claus--nothing except the Easter Bunny. And about him he is fervent. The Easter Bunny has come through for Dave every year of his entire life, and if he couldn't count on the Buns, his entire belief structure would wither like a 401(k). But the world spins on, the Daphne blooms anew, and the house is pocked with hidden chocolate every spring. He and his friend Pootie gambol about like lambs and fill up a large basket.
I am not the Easter Bunny. I am not delusional. No, I am but an assistant and concierge to E.B., responsible merely for opening the door after it has been determined that Dave is deep in slumber. The Bunny is admitted and allowed to go about his business. Only, Dave is pretty tall, and a lot of the best hiding places are hard for the Bunny to reach, so I started helping a while back. And the Bunny has a mighty packed schedule, so I started to help a little more. And, what with one thing and another, and the worldwide proliferation of Christians and all, now it's kind of down to the Bunny letting me know where he does his shopping, and calling it a day. Anyway, we're tight.
One Easter morning, early, 2am, in 2001, I crept out of bed to let the Easter Bunny in, and hung around as usual to help. I don't wear jammies to bed and didn't see any particular reason to put any on; it was a warm night, and all the lights were off in the house. I was nearly through hiding the stash when I decided to stack some truffles up high, on top of the window frame. So I planted both feet a comfortable distance apart on the back of the sofa, reached way up with my left hand to hold onto the window frame, and way up with my right to position the truffles. That left all my sticky-outy bits pressed against the window glass. And that would be the moment a car began to approach down the street, but since the headlights were aligned with the street rather than in my direction, it did not appear to be a problem. Unless the car suddenly swung towards the curb in front of the house next door, which is just what it did, pinning me with a halogen spotlight in an essentially--let's just say it--crucified pose. Our brand-new, perfectly adorable young male neighbors were home from the tav. Alleluia!
I do not know if the perfectly adorable young men were looking up at the window they were illuminating, twenty feet away. But if they were, I am proud to say they saw me revealed as I truly am. The Deputy to the Easter Bunny.
The botanical world holds so much promise for humankind, what with its contributions of fiber, pharmaceuticals, flooring, linen capri pants, hallucinogens, and what have you, that it surprises me we don't hear more about The Plant That Makes People Walk Backwards. Surely this should be noteworthy.
I am referring, of course, to the small shrub Daphne odora, which is so unremarkable in appearance that it seems to disappear into the dusty basement of the brain. (Same place we keep our PIN numbers.) We walk right by a blooming Daphne odora without a backwards glance, and five paces later the shrub sends out its fragrance molecule assault team and hauls us back. Done correctly, the fragrance posse will get us undulating dreamily through the air like early cartoon animals. We know what we're dealing with--another visually spurned Daphne; we just need to retrace our steps and locate it and get ourselves a good snootful.
I used to have a massive Daphne right out front, but it didn't make the cut when we nuked the landscape and started over. It tends towards scraggiliness. It's floppy and limp and its leaves are nothing special. I was willing to leave Daphne-owning to the neighbors, but Dave wouldn't have it. Swooning over Daphne is one of his favorite springtime activities and he wanted to be able to do it right at home where he'd have somewhere soft to land. There's always compromise involved when folks live together. For instance, if you're a tidy soul, you loosen your standards. If you're a slob, you try to learn to care. In this case, the compromise was that I planted a new Daphne in a new location where it won't do all that well.
You only need one small bush to do the trick. Down the block, however, is an exceptionally tidy and well-maintained small garden that is positively anchored by Daphne. It's the majority plant. It's in charge. Everything in the yard is pruned to perfection and the Daphne plants have ganged up into a veritable hedge. When it's in bloom, as it is now, it seems like nothing less than a power play. Why would someone plant that much of it? It is hard to shake the image of the gardener inside the house, peering through the blinds, smirking and cackling, waiting for the bodies to pile up in delirium on the sidewalk. The garden is gorgeous. There is not a blade out of place. Gravel is re-raked after every footprint. Even the moss is edged. No question: this person lives alone.
I may be the slowest scooper on the parade route, but I would really like to think that if there was a strange cat holed up inside my sofa, I'd be able to figure it out. I'd like to think that if my sofa were mewing, and if I had just purchased the sofa used, and if the mewing began on the day I brought the sofa home, I'd be able to connect some dots. If I were not able to put it all together, I doubt that my first reaction, upon sitting down on the sofa and feeling something move beneath me, would be to pick up the sofa and look. Not unless I could do it from up on the ceiling fan.
A Miss Vickie Mendenhall, of Spokane, however, had lived with a yowling davenport for quite a few days before her boyfriend discovered the cat by sitting on it. Perhaps they were distracted. Perhaps the TV was too loud. "It sounds like there's a zebra in the garage," Miss Mendenhall might say. "That Simon Cowell is a tool," the boyfriend would respond, and that would be all there was to that, until someone had to back out the Cherokee.
In reality, though, I might not have been any quicker on the uptake. A lot of times when I hear something, it's just safer all around to assume that no one else can hear it. Recently I began to notice that there was a mild little eep! sound every so often when I was sitting at the computer. Dave heard it too, although even we don't consider that a lock on reality. It seemed quite random and was so quiet, like a distant mouse at a surprise party, that we were never able to triangulate it. Out of nowhere would come another eep! and we'd both point to each other, unable to agree on a source. I eventually discovered that it came hourly, at nineteen minutes after. Then I heard it while I was in a whole other room. I suspected my watch itself, and quarantined it upstairs, to no avail. Eep! No matter where we were, at nineteen after the hour we heard a little eep! coming from somewhere nearby.
When it eeped shortly before people were coming for dinner, I got the brilliant idea of setting an alarm for 59 minutes and enlisting the whole crew to listen up. I forgot to tell them about it, though, and when the buzzer sounded, I suddenly jumped up and screamed at everybody. "Mikey! Stand by the basement door! Susan! Over here by the oven! Andrea! Next to the computer! Go, go, go! Be very quiet and listen!" They all ran to their places, one wondering if he should pick up a weapon, one wondering if she should summon a medical professional. And we found it. Everyone was pointing in the same direction, like it was the grassy knoll. The oven was eeping. We have no idea why.
It's just another little reminder of the passage of time, and puts me in mind a bit of those moments of existential dread you sometimes get in the middle of the night. Those were a lot scarier when I was younger; it would feel like a pellet of ice hitting my heart, when suddenly, out of nowhere, I would recognize my own death as an actual event in my own actual future. It was terrifying. Those moments have come up periodically throughout my life (eep!) but over the years I've paid less attention to them. Oh crap, I'm going to die, alert the press; boo hoo; now, don't forget to throw some compost on the strawberry patch. I'm not liable to do anything about the oven, either.
Here's how I thought the writing business should play out: I would go sit in a tower and write a really cool book. I would polish it up and present it in a form that required no editing, and pass it briefly under the nose of an agent or publisher, who would detect the scent of genius and promptly fling out thousands of copies to a waiting world.
I didn't actually write much of anything for about 52 years, but I did have a tower, so I had a good start. Then my friend Dave Gerritsen gave me some sort of choice--I believe one of the options was "get off the pot"--and I started writing some stuff down. It went well. I got a little something published, I won a couple little contests, and then I revised my plan. I had gotten some free publicity as a result of winning the contests, and so I thought I'd just sit in the front room, in literary heat, and whack at the agents and publishers with a broom as they crowded around the front porch; I'd let one or two with impeccable bloodlines stay. Meanwhile, I'd write a book.
The book was coming right along, but the front porch was kind of quiet. So I joined a writers' community and went to a meetin'. The preacher at the meetin' house soberly informed us that we needed to develop a Writer's Platform. My platform is pretty well developed, I've always thought, although it's nothing that couldn't be handled with stretchier pants. But I had misunderstood. In order to get a book contract, we needed to prove to a publisher that we could personally sell books, because they weren't about to be responsible for that. Heavens no. And the way to do that was not just to write a good book; certainly not. We needed to read in the town square, get a column in the paper, give commentaries on the radio, advertise on bus benches, wear spangly outfits and hire a bugler. Really, the writing was secondary.
So with great sadness and trepidation, I decided to start a blog. I didn't want to. What if I had only twelve ideas in my whole head, and after I had sent them out for free, there would be nothing left? Well. It turned out that I can go on and on about virtually any little thing. I had no idea. My husband Dave knew, and has made his peace with that over the years, but I didn't. It turned out to be fun. It's like a big paperweight for flyaway thoughts. All those odd little ideas that go traipsing in and out of my brain (there being, literally, nothing to stop them) now get pinned down in one place.
The book I'm writing is tentatively titled Miss Delivery: A Substantially True Postal Memoir. It's in the polishing stages. If you want to see it all published and everything, here's all you have to do: tell ten of your friends to read Murrmurrs. Tell them to tell ten of their friends. Within three or four weeks, we should have most of the planet on board unless some of you have duplicate friends--try not to do that. And don't break the chain or I'll have bad luck. Okay, pop along now--you should be able to do this before breakfast.
Incidentally: the blog posts that seem to engender the most spirited commentary are the ones about poop. I have written about it several times (raccoon poop, possum poop, lizard poop). Clearly, it speaks to something deep inside us all.
My niece Elizabeth and I were ready to set the world of amphibian egg mass monitoring on fire. It's a small world, but we're a small flame. We are among eighty or so volunteers checking on the health of local wetlands by locating and recording frog and salamander egg masses. We got our personal swamp assignment from the Big Frog Egg Boss, Jean Lea, and we were rubbered up and ready to wade. Hoo-yah! Team Brewster was on the march. We were familiar with the plan: wade your bog in a straightforward, methodical grid, taking care not to stomp the eggs or stir the murk, and flag all egg masses found. We were pumped. Jean Lea met us out at our site and waved in the general direction of what appeared to be, at most, a damp spot. "It doesn't look that big," I noted, to which she replied: "Well, it's deceptive."
An hour later I was up to my nipples in deceptive. Admittedly, this doesn't take as much water as it did ten years ago, but still. It was nearly impossible to wade the site methodically. Where we had envisioned a nice square Colorado of water, we got New Jersey. The margins were thick with willows and nearly impenetrable. We peered in as far as we could, but saw nothing. In the more open water, we were quickly within an inch of flooding our chest waders. We had at it from numerous angles, crawling through a barbed-wire fence and whacking through blackberry vines, and everywhere it seemed to call for a kayak or at least much taller amphibian egg mass monitors. I found myself fantasizing about the sites that had been assigned to other monitors. They looked like football fields; in my most despairing moments, they even came with yard markers to make the grid-walking easy as pie. Had we been sent on a snipe hunt? Was Jean Lea trying to drown us? Had she been informed that we had no progeny, and that once Team Brewster was gone, the world would be rid of us?
Worse, we had seen no egg masses at all. It was possible that they had not yet been laid, but we couldn't rule out that we were just the worst amphibian egg mass monitors ever. Self-doubt reigned. And then we saw them. Four massive blobs of red-legged frog egg jelly, green with algae and speckled with future tadpoles like an illustration of the meaning of life. Could anything be jollier?
The Northern Red-Legged Frog lays her eggs with the help of her smaller mate, who, according to the froggy manual, grasps her about the waist and squeezes. This in itself is romantic, because although the frogs are undeniably beautiful, they really don't have waists, so much, or not by our standards. But they might like to think they do. Part of romance involves shading the truth a little. It's sort of like when Dave and I were in the Louvre and he observed that the Venus de Milo's rear end reminds him of mine. This doesn't have much to do with the frogs, but I like to work it in whenever I can, and this post seemed like as good a place as any.
To be continued. ...........................................................................................................................................................................
Addendum: In an earlier post, I hinted broadly that it would be swell if we got official Amphibian Egg Mass Monitor badges. And my buddy Mary Ann Dabritz, an artist and unthwartable spirit, apparently agreed and promptly stepped up with this solid bronze beauty, which can be viewed along with a host of other amphibian art, and frankly, almost anything else a body could want at www.castofcharacters.com; there's a link in the left margin, under "Mary Ann's Astonishing Animalware."