The Path of Least Resistance

trailer

The severe weather warning sounded on my phone. I turned it off without looking down. Distractions were not appreciated as the sky turned dark and heavy rain started to pelt the windshield. I was heading to the safest place in Indiana under the predicted conditions; a trailer nestled in a park with many other trailers.

This was a visit that needed to be done before my vacation. I didn’t have time to wait out the storm or to reschedule for the next week. There was a quote about taking the path of least resistance that came to mind but I couldn’t remember the last part of it.

Anyways, if a tornado were to hit, there wouldn’t be any pesky foundation to stop us from going airborne. So taking the path of least resistance must be a good thing- I imagined if we were in the way of a tornado, we would be lifted up, swirled around and set back down. No bigs, right?

I arrived just as the sky turned an eerie green and the wind died leaving the trailer park silent. The tornado warning siren cut through the air, deafening all of the ears within hearing range.

On further consideration, this home visit was probably not going to have a great ending.

A ferocious honey colored dog greeted me at the screen door, snarling. Its teeth were barred and the fur between its shoulders stood straight up, stegosaurus style. My can of pepper spray was in the car where it could be most helpful to me in an attack/assault type of situation.  I sighed, this was really not going to end well.

Then a woman emerged from within the dwelling with a lit cigarette dangling from her thin lips. She grabbed the dog’s metal choke collar and pulled back with a yank.

She said, “Queenie, this is a good friend. Stop it.”

We had somehow completely skipped the acquaintance stage and gone straight to friends.  At that rate, we would be family by next week and the holidays were about to get very complicated.

“C’mon in and don’t mind our mess.”

Whenever someone says that, I know it means the home is either immaculate or a disaster zone. There is never a happy medium type of situation to back up that statement.

Once again, this proved to be true. I walked in cautiously and looked for a clear space to sit. We had paperwork to complete but the table was covered with Arby’s roastbeef sandwiches, foil, fries, and stacks of papers.

“You caught us in the middle of lunch,” she said stubbing out her smoke.

She picked up a half eaten sandwich to resume where she had last left off. Queenie growled at me from a rug by the door.

“Don’t worry about her. She takes a while to warm up to strangers,” the woman explained which did little to reassure me that Queenie wasn’t about to lunge for my throat.

The possibilities of this visit were endless, a dog bite, tornado ride, COPD/lung cancer, and then a new threat ran at top speed into the living room.

A small, dirty, shirtless boy with spikey hair charged out from a backroom with plastic Hulk hands on yelling, “Hulk smash!” as he ran towards a dozing woman sitting on a stained plaid couch.

He jumped onto the cushion next to the woman and started punching her with the gloves.  Surprisingly enough, the woman did not resist the Hulk inspired blows.  In a flat voice, she said, “No, don’t,” and weakly tried to defend herself.

What strange reality is this, I wondered.

An hour later, I left with the paperwork finished and about six Marlboro Red cigarettes smoked secondhand, completely unsure of the number of people who were there as different faces continued to appear and disappear from the backroom.

I was a cloud of smoke as I made my way back to my car, never so grateful for the fresh air.

In the meantime, the storm cleared and I remembered the rest of the quote.

The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.

Or in this case, just a trailer full of smoke.

Reaching through the pine needles/Easter Egg Hunting

pine

For the past few years, I have been part of a highly specialized Easter egg hiding task force. We are a lean crew of three, capable of covering a large area with limited time. It must be admitted that we each experience some degree of joy in possibly hiding the eggs too well. Watching the Littles waddle past a cleverly obscured egg is delight above delights on Easter Sunday and I’m not above admitting it.

I like to hide my share of the eggs with the use of camouflage, a white egg in the end of a drain pipe, a green egg in the grass, a dark purple egg on top of a car tire. It’s all too much fun when they throw their little hands up with a sigh of exasperation. The task force laughs in unison at this point in the hunt and the parents of the Littles start to get upset. We mollify the situation by yelling supportive statements like, “Keep at it,” and “Think like an egg” just so they know we are on the same team.

We don’t give in and help them find the eggs because we are helping in a much bigger way. By making them really search, we boost their endurance and work ethic. Their problem solving and creative thinking skills are tested. We like to think we are cultivating the egg hunters into better people.

This Easter, a key member of our trio took things to the next level. He set a Hunger Games type of challenge for only the bravest of the Littles to try. I didn’t realize the trap was set until I heard the oldest girl cry out in pain. She was on her hands and knees in her Easter dress, slowly making her way under an old pine tree with low branches. I could see her goal, three neon eggs, holding treasures of unimaginable deliciousness.

Each egg rested in its own nest of dried pine needles and was protected by low growing branches. The girl crawled as far as she could go until the branches stopped her.

The taskforce members whispered behind me, “She needs to make a tool.”

This quickly brought to mind a tv special on PBS about chimps using sticks to fish out ants from an anthill for dinner, another good use of a tool.

It didn’t take long before the girl took off her sunglasses and used them as an extension of her arm to catch an egg and roll it towards her. Success! She had it in her hand and dropped it into the bucket that she dragged with her under the tree.
She crawled out from under the tree, backwards over the dried pine needles. The rest of the small-person-gang ran carrying their quickly filling buckets, shrieking like wild animals just released from captivity. They pounced on eggs and each other while the oldest plotted out her approach on the remaining two eggs.

Shuffling around the tree, she moved in for another attempt. She cried out as she crawled over the dry, dead pine needles and reached forward through the sharp, living green needles.

The task force yelled out, “Work through the pain!” excited by her determination and tenacity.

The girl stretched as far as her arm would go and then with her glasses like before – she was learning. Suddenly, she had the two eggs and was standing victorious beside the trees, upright like a human again.

She sat down on the porch steps without looking for anymore eggs which was good as they were mostly found by her siblings.

When they all sat down and started opening the eggs, the oldest girl popped one of the three open to find a piece of chocolate, the next one revealed a quarter, and the last one caused a horrific murder-movie type of scream.

She screamed in the agony of injustice and deflated expectations, “It’s empty!”

The taskforce giggled with delight, “Another life lesson well taught. Two out of three ain’t bad.”

Links on animals using tools:
http://www.pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/psych26/primates.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tool_use_by_animals
http://www.livescience.com/13138-blond-capuchin-monkey-tools-110308.html

Links on Easter egg hunting:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_hunt
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/greedy-parents-battle-kids-easter-egg-hunt-sacramento-article-1.2174533

The April Fool

chains

Freedom doesn’t mean much until it’s gone.

Deb never knew about the danger of healthcare until she started to really use it. Her diabetes got out of control, so she started going to the ER. She became what is called a “frequent flier” and got tagged as a high cost patient. A team was quickly dispatched to figure out what was driving these frequent visits and put a fix to things before the costs rose any higher.

The team sent her for testing and to specialists for this and that, they reviewed her medications and medical records and came to a conclusion. She was a slow learner with a poor memory and should no longer work, live by herself, handle her own medications or finances.

Wow, what an amazing conclusion made by the team. She should be made an inmate in someone’s home, better yet, maybe have her arrested and taken to prison for being too much trouble, medically speaking.
The team looked around the office once they reached their conclusion for someone to give Deb the good news. Her problems were over. The team had figured everything out.

“There’s really no point in explaining the tests to her, it’s not like she’ll remember.” One team member said to the uproarious laughter of his colleagues.

“You are always good for a laugh,” one woman in scrubs said, red in the face from the funny joke.

They put their heads together in a huddle, like a team preparing to take the field, and came out of it with a plan.

They chanted, “Send in the social worker, send in the social worker, send in the social worker.”

I nodded and straightened up my shoulders, stood a little taller and prepared to take the invisible chains of future bondage into Deb. The team lined up and patted my backside as I walked past them and said encouraging things, like “Go get ‘em” and “Keep your head up.”

There was no time for stretching or to run a few plays first, I had to get to Deb before they did.

I knew what to do.

I walked into the room and closed the door. Deb sat on a chair with a massive purse overflowing with Kleenex’s and crumpled papers on the chair next to her. I stood in front of her and put my hands on her shoulders.

In my most serious voice, I whispered, “You need to leave right now and never come back. Go as far as you can and then keep going. Don’t answer any calls or sign paperwork from these people; they want to take your freedom from you. They want to take your life.”

She cocked her head to one side and looked blankly at me for a minute. Then she started laughing showing her strong white teeth. It was a big, hearty laugh that surprised the team, waiting outside, listening with a cup to the door.

“You people are always joking in here. April’s Fool’s Day, I get it. How much longer is the wait?”

I shook my head, “For you, not much longer. Your troubles are just about to be over.”

Working from home

lightning
Each time I hear a roll of thunder, I hold out hope that a bolt of lightning will strike the bulldozer outside of my window.

I whisper a secret prayer that it kills the machine dead in its destructive tracks at it tears up the road in front of our house. The noise is growing close to insufferable with the grinding of gears, the scooping and dumping, and the voices of the men in charge of the operation.

Now, the storm has passed.

The thunder stopped, lightning never struck, and the road work continues.

I curse the sky.

There is no justice in this world.

Velvet handcuffs

Invisible and binding

growing tighter as I shrink

Cut past flesh and bone

These bonds

oppressive and unbearable

serve as

Constant reminders of my price

Oliver Street: lost and found

o st

She met me at the door as soon as I lifted my fist to knock.

She had insisted on a home visit, claiming that she couldn’t hear on the phone yet she never asked me to repeat myself or speak up. I knew it was her as soon as her pinched little face appeared from inside of the darkened house. Somehow her eager loneliness, flowered turtle neck and perfect hearing gave her away.

A gust of wind rushed in and caught the curl of grey hair on her forehead, lifting it away from her wizened face. Suddenly, I thought of my own granny and that I owed her a thank you card from my birthday present.

We’ll call this little turtle neck wearing lady, “Notmygranny”, for no reason other than to encourage my thank you note writing.

“Come in, come in,” she said and ushered me into a shag carpeted living room.

With each home I enter, I say a prayer of protection to any high power that might be listening and inclined to show mercy. It goes something like, please don’t let this be where I die. I think there is some merit in keeping it short and simple – so as not to overload the existential request line.

I cautiously padded through the room and wondered if I had fallen into some type of alternative reality. On top of the brown shag, there were two small upholstered recliners from a period before the Big Mac and Whopper. Both of the chairs were filled with the oversized bottoms of her adult grandchildren.

The two stared ahead with matching dead eyes at a tv screen of static. It was completely without interest that they watched me follow their granny to the kitchen table to get help paying for medications. The movement only briefly caught their attention before they returned to watching their “show”.

“Notmygranny” and I spoke to a nice man named Oliver with the medication program only after we applied three times online for help. As it turned out, “Notmygranny” forgot her social security number and once she remembered that, she forgot her birthday. I began to wonder if we should involve her family in completing the application.

Then I remembered TweedleDee and TweedleDum in the next room so clearly unconcerned with the situation, and we continued with our work.

Once we finished up, I bid everyone in the household farewell and the Dud twins wordlessly raised their hands in a show of solidarity. I sped off in the wrong direction and found myself quickly lost on Oliver Street, of all the places to be lost in the entire world after meeting with a lady who was not my granny and talking to a man named Oliver.

After a full day of wrong turns and seemingly wasted time, I realized something and stopped rushing.

I was exactly where I needed to be.
Lost on Oliver Street.

Death by Uber

truck

When the bright blue pickup truck cruised into the parking lot, the driver flashed his lights and honked at us. We were the only ones standing outside of the hotel. There was little question that this was our ride and we were the intended riders.

Yet, still the driver continued to honk as he slowly approached like he didn’t see us, the two lone figures in front of his vehicle.

Sure this wasn’t the usual Uber approach, but we were on vacation. Something magical happens to a person’s thinking when on vacation; intuition is easier to ignore, one lowers their guard, suspends disbelief, and takes risks like popping into a dive bar for a drink and talking to leather clad strangers. Or maybe that’s just us?

In any case, we couldn’t have known that the real risk of the trip was getting into this flashy pickup truck.

“Hey ya’ll. Where ya headed?” the driver asked in a slow drawl with a big chunk of chew bulging from his lip.

We’ll call the driver “Justin” as that was how just about every chew chawing, boot wearing native introduced himself that weekend.

It was all so fitting: the weird Uber pickup truck, the Southern accent, the fine Tennessee whiskey tasting that preceded the Uber request which helped to lower our normal standards. We had officially arrived in a mental and physical state of vacation/escape from reality.

So we asked Justin to take us downtown, climbed aboard the ship of uncertainty, and slowly rolled out of the parking lot. He took off towards the highway which seemed to be the right direction, good start so far. I checked out the backseat with satisfaction. No unidentifiable smells, murdery stains, or fast food wrappers, this was getting even better.

As an aside, we recently took an Uber ride in a hand-me-down Honda with an intense college kid driver who had all three of the above in his backseat. It was 10 miles of silence- no radio, no small talk- just silence and uncertainty that we would ever arrive to our destination. This was breath of fresh air, almost.

Then we swerved across the road as we approached the ramp to the highway. I stopped my backseat investigation to refocus on the driver. Justin was completely engrossed in setting his GPS while driving with his knees. FYI: Knees are not the best at controlling a pickup traveling at 50-60 miles an hour.

We made into onto the highway and the GPS was set. Justin was driving with his hands again– we were back on track for a successful trip. Then the voice of the GPS, an English accented female, started to give directions. For some strange reason, she wanted us to turn around.

“Turn right,” she said and Justin drove straight.

She asked again at the next exit, “Turn right.”

Justin shook his head in disagreement and mumbled to himself, “No, that’s not right” and muted her to take us off the highway and down the side street of a small town.

This was more than a little concerning to the Mister- who then turned on the GPS on his phone. Interesting, I thought as I looked over his shoulder. We had gone in the exact opposite direction of where we asked. Justin’s GPS was right after all, who knew?

Once the Mister started to direct Justin, we made it to the big city where Justin did not become a better driver. In fact, his driving became even more distracted as he idled at a green light to show us how he keeps a hand gun on him at all times.

He explained, “There’s a lot of crazy people out there (pause for spit break) and a man’s got to protect himself. That’s why I keep the safety off on days like this.”

Oh, the safety is off on more than just that gun, I thought nervously as he pushed his handgun back between his leg and the seat. He looked up and realizing that he was sitting at a green light, he punched the gas. We lurched forward and then he decided to change lanes, nearly running over a Smart car that had the misfortune of driving next to us.

“We can walk from here,” the Mister said at the next light and opened the door/saved our lives.

It was wild ride that ended just soon enough, costing relatively little for the adventure it provided.

Thanks for the good times, Uber. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.

Wondering what is Uber? (normally a great service)

https://www.uber.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uber_%28company%29

Info on distracted driving- for those of you interested in not driving like Justin 

http://www.distraction.gov/get-the-facts/facts-and-statistics.html

http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/

The Best of Apartment Living: a retrospective look

piggy bank
1.Rent
It is money that you never see again and good riddance to bad rubbish- who needs all those bills weighing down your pockets or cluttering up your savings account/fireproof lock box hidden under your bed.

2.Snow Removal/Lawn Care
There is always a boozy smelling guy salting, scraping, and shoveling in the winter or mowing and blowing in the summer making the complex a safer, nicer place to live in between trips to the work shed for his “medicine”.

3.Third hand contact buzzes
Pot smokers turn on their bathroom fan to clear out the smell of cheap weed which gets recirculated throughout the rest of the building thanks to the most up to date ventilation system of the 1950’s.

“What’s that smell you ask, Granny? Someone must be cooking something with a lot of herbs in it.”

“What’s that, Granny? Now you would really like something chocolaty or maybe a bag of chips?”

4.Broken Water Pipes
Since doing the right thing isn’t always the cheapest thing, broken water pipes get repaired with saran wrap and duct tape. Renter’s insurance should replace anything that gets ruined by ice cold brown water that has been in waiting to rain down since last winter, when the exact same thing happened to the last tenants.

5.Meeting people like the tomato-growing-cat-protector
She started by setting out a dish of food for a stray cat and ended up feeding and sheltering an entire colony of feral cats- all this between the buckets of tomatoes that she grew underneath of the stilted stairs and deck area of the apartments that faced the pond. Surprisingly enough, someone complained to management about the colony and the buckets of tomatoes. The tomato-growing-cat-protector was asked to stop feeding the colony and the cat boxes were mysteriously removed – to which she responded by replacing the boxes, leaving out bigger dishes of food, and bringing the ones she could catch to live in her apartment.

She was asked to leave the apartment complex by eviction notice- apparently harboring a colony of feral cats breaks the no-pet rule but the tomatoes were ok.

Hirsute Roommates

mad cat

Most days I work from home.

Sure, I miss going to the office to see other people and a different set of walls that those of my home. However, I don’t miss getting up early, scraping ice from my car every morning, fighting traffic, or micromanagement. I get up a little later, power up my computer and am suddenly “at work”. I take breaks for laundry or to grab a coffee with a friend and leave as needed for meetings and home visits with clients.

It’s a mostly perfect arrangement, aside from three problems, the roommates.

They never leave. This is naturally very exhausting so they spend most of their time sleeping. When they are awake, they are fully energized for at least a half an hour of chaos and disruption. Even worse, they use discretion in choosing their times of mayhem, which is generally limited to when I’m on the phone with my supervisor, a client in crisis, or a conference call.

Just yesterday, I was on the phone with someone who was about to lose her home. She was crying and explaining how it all happened when the gang came barreling down the hallway. The two sisters were chasing Big White like cheetahs racing across the savanna after a doomed antelope. Big White ran for her life and leapt onto the table for my protection.

In her big clumsy hurry, she knocked my coffee mug over. The cheetah sisters followed Big White’s trajectory onto the table and over it after her as she continued to flee, now drenched in coffee. I muted the call and fortunately, the woman had a quite a story to share and was none the wiser. It was about this time that the sisters overtook Big White and a terrific fight ensued.

They were all put into the backroom from which they promptly escaped by the collective power of meowing and pounding on the door. Once they broke free, silence returned. I breathed a sigh of relief wrongly thinking I could return to work for a few hours until they were recharged again.

A few peaceful minutes passed before they had regrouped and returned with a new mission to obtain food.

First, they jumped on my keyboard to make sure I was paying attention. Then, they started to meow together like they had practiced this performance and Big White was the maestro. Lastly, the littlest one hopped onto a potted houseplant (not toxic to cats) and started to bite off the leaves and looked at me, as though to say, “We will find our own food if you don’t feed us immediately.”

What did I do?

I caved, of course.

I can’t refuse those little hairy roommates anything.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hirsutism

The Danger of Smoking (for a Cheap Vacuum)

vac
The Vacuum has picked up a nasty habit; it smokes now.

When I found out, I begged and pleaded with it to quit.  As curls of smoke continued to escape from the base, I knew I needed to take a new tone with the device.

“Can’t you see you are going to die if you keep this up?” I asked in a threatening tone with desperation in my heart.

It responded with silence and another puff of smoke in my direction, as if to say, “I will do as I please, thank you very much.”

Apparently, continuing to smoke is what pleases the mean, not-so-old machine.

I remember the first vacuum in my life, as though anyone could forget their first. It was a heavy, grey Kirby with a slouchy bag that grew fat on dust, crumbs, pennies, hair and anything else it saw fit to consume.

The Kirby came to us by the good graces of a door-to-door salesman making rounds through the Indiana countryside. He showed the lady of the house all of amazing things the Kirby was capable of doing to save her time and then convinced that for such a low monthly payment plan, it would cost more to not buy it.

In retrospect, this must have been true because there was never another vacuum to replace the Kirby, although all of the hoses have been replaced, the attachments lost, and the whirlwind action is now more of a breeze. I’m willing to speculate that the lady of the house was too embarrassed by the 200-month-payment-plan that she once signed as a youngish housewife to seek out another vacuum.

Perhaps another one will come to her?

For all the years I lived at home, I pushed and pulled that vacuum across the floors and up and down the stairs. My shoulders strained in their sockets with each pass across the room and I grumbled and griped about indentured slavery. Fortunately, no one could hear me complaining as the Kirby overpowered all noises with its mighty whirlwind action.

At some point, I left to find a quieter, lighter vacuum of my own.

Never have I found another vacuum as cumbersome and obnoxious or as consistent and reliable as the Kirby which brings me back to the dying Dirt Devil bought on discount just a few years ago.

The little smoker has been quarantined to the closet for a few days while we go out in search of another cheap replacement that will burn out in another few years, if not sooner.

We will continue with the cycle of our generation to buy cheap, discard, and replace instead of to buy for quality and repair as needed; unless a brave soul intervenes by knocking at the door, offering a product too good to pass up, with a low, low monthly payment plan.

Long live the door-to-door vacuum salesman.

Links:

http://www.theawl.com/2015/01/when-a-door-to-door-vacuum-salesman-has-an-existential-crisis-in-your-living-room

http://www.kirby.com/how-to-buy/still-door-to-door/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_cleaner

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/a-death-knell-for-door-to-door-sales/

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