Real News

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Once again, I am looking out my window and see a news reporter in front of a camera man. Their truck is parked innocently enough on the side of the street. The reporter is sitting on a chair in the middle of the road as easy and natural as he might sit at a kitchen table. It’s a very strange sight but then again I don’t get out much. Perhaps street sitting is the new thing to do?

The pair appears to be covering the ongoing saga of our city’s road construction, or lack thereof. The city workers, bless their hearts, started on our road, got distracted and moved on with their hard hats and heavy-duty equipment. However, they did not flit away until after they chopped up the street outside of our house and left orange safety cones and blocks in their wake.

Directly in front of our house, they left a particularly attractive pile of sewer tubing and broken pallets. Yes, life must be good for those silly distracted workers who never have to finish a project. This reminds me of my mom’s loser ex-boyfriend who was infamous for the same thing. Once, he pulled the inner panel off of her car door to fix the automatic window which wasn’t broken. Like the construction workers, he found something more interesting and never returned, leaving the wires and inner workings of the door exposed. The thought of the beloved station wagon of my childhood, left used and abused, makes my blood boil at a much higher temperature than the stripped road.

I am holding myself back from going out to the reporter to offer the following real news stories. If broken-up roads and unfocused construction workers are news, get ready to be blown away by my ideas to truly inform and entertain the masses.

First story, I have poison ivy on my hands and arms. He could report what the vile poison ivy vines and leaves look like, in addition to exposing its nasty cousins, poison sumac and oak. He could give natural treatments for outbreaks and creative ways to stop it from spreading (insert series of pictures of people with poison ivy wearing socks on their hands to from scratching).

Second story, how about these mosquitos from the heavy rains earlier this summer? They are practically big enough to carry off small dogs and children. Someone should look into just how they got so big and hungry and full of the West Nile virus.  Could this be related to Monsanto?

Last story, to leave the people with a warm and fuzzy feeling, a close up of the couple who used to always walk their poodle with its bad knees and hips. They continue to walk their poodle, but now the dog rides in what appears to be a custom made wagon, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine for just a little longer.

How is that for real news?

Freewill and Gas-station Finds

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The beef jerky stinks.

It was purchased an hour ago at a grungy gas station from a clean-enough box of meat sticks against my advice. As my husband lifted the plastic lid of the container and pulled out a piece of jerky with tongs, he said over his shoulder, “You have to trust someone sometime.”

I wasn’t certain that this sage piece of wisdom applied in this situation.

The clerk watched us warily and sipped from a can of diet Mountain Dew. I guessed he sized us up pretty quickly. We were out-of-towners, two out of the hundreds who must pass by on a weekly basis, lured inside by the hopeful promise of a bathroom and caffeinated beverage to get us through the next leg of the journey. No special treatment was to be given, not that it was expected. Although, a smile might have been nice.

Nonetheless, we slipped the unpackaged piece of meat into a wax paper bag, paid, and left the store. My husband was gleeful at his newly acquired meat snack.

“It’s homemade, the best kind,” he explained, unconcerned with the potential for a weird gas-station-foodborne illness.

Images of a dark garage, with greasy car parts jumbled together in one corner and tools and cans of old paint on sagging shelves, and a workbench where the meat was sliced and seasoned next to a pile of screws filled my mind. I envisioned a man with denim overalls and no undershirt shaking salt over the cut of meat and rubbing it in with dirty, black nails.

“Would you save it for later?” my husband asked sweetly, handing the jerky to me.

Bleh, I shuddered at the thought of actually eating it, but agreed.

So now, the jerky is riding shotgun in my purse. It’s peeking out over the zippered edge until the driver of this rig remembers it, stinking as only an unwrapped piece of dehydrated and seasoned meat will do.

In the meantime, I am trying to keep quiet. My guess is the beef jerky is barely fit for a vulture and certainly not for my spouse. Yet, who am I to crush his dreams of consuming what he expects to be the tastiest purchase ever made from a country gas station? Who am I to stop anyone from doing what they want?

Freewill is only dangerous most of the time, but what are we without it?

“Der Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will.

Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

The Mean Wife

phone

A red light used to flash when a voicemail came through on the old office phones.  They had cords and wires and buttons, remember those?  I used to wrap the cord around my finger, flatten it out, and kink it up.  The more I used it, the more stretched and misshapen the cord got until I had to swap it out one day with a coworker’s.

Those were the simple days of technology; there was a kind of bliss in not knowing everything.  When the light flashed, it was nice to not know whose voice was on the recording or what information or glad tidings were to be shared.

Now, I use a Smart phone for everything. No cord, no buttons, no fun, really.

I have to know as much as possible before answering any call and have taken a vow to screen all unknown calls.  Fortunately, with advances in caller id, this has become easier than ever.  My husband, on the other hand, looks forward to unknown callers for the chance that he has won the big check from Publisher’s Clearinghouse or some other contest that he never entered.

If I don’t know the caller, I let it roll to voicemail.  Today was no exception.

Five times today, I received a message from the same woman.  She called from different numbers each time, perhaps with the hope to throw me off and get an unguarded, “Hello, this is Puney…” The calls came from unknown landlines and a cell phone, and several restricted numbers, so of course I didn’t answer.

The messages did not grow friendlier throughout the day. In fact, they reached a boiling point with threats against humanity and a promise to find me in a suspiciously Liam Neesan Taken style. While the phone rang unanswered, my voicemail inbox slowly filled to capacity and my left eye developed an uncontrollable twitch.

“She’s just trying to find her power in a powerless situation,” a colleague sympathized with the woman. “I feel bad for her, I really do,”

I pictured a bug struggling in a spider’s web; the harder the woman fought, the more entangled she became with the very thing holding her back.

So after a careful review of her voicemails, I called her back.  I did it to appease the little part of me that sensed desperation within the psychotic threats.  I heard the need for an advocate and patient listener beneath the screaming and unreasonable demands.

Then I discovered that little part of me was wrong.

She was just a mean wife.

A lady bully.

On the meaning of life

Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.

Joseph Campbell

The Last Time

carrots

The last time I had hives, I also turned orange.

I was six years old, small, and always on the prowl for sweets.  My mother was baking carrot-cake muffins for my kindergarten class, or that’s what she planned to do before I ate the entire bag of carrots.  They were those little, sweet, baby carrots no bigger than a child’s finger. Each crunchy bite released a burst of au naturale sugar, just enough to make me want to take another bite.

I’m not sure how my mother didn’t notice that the carrots were disappearing one by one. Or why she didn’t stop my gluttonous child-self from disaster if she did notice. My memory won’t let me see where she was at the time, but most likely she was nearby half-watching, while weaving a basket or meditating on life.

She took free-range child rearing seriously and intervened only when necessary and/or convenient.  The two do not always intersect as one might expect.  Once, I accidentally pepper-sprayed myself; darkness overtook my eyes and a terrible burning fire spread across my face and hands.

I screamed, “Help, I’m going blind!”

She stood nearby and responded by asking with what I had to imagine due to the temporary lack of vision was an amused smirk, “What did you learn from this experience?”

Of course, it was difficult to form words with my swelling tongue to explain that I was just looking for candy not a learning experience.

Insert Kelly Clarkson’s lyric here, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…” to be mentally played in the background for the rest of this post.

The fateful day of the carrot-cake muffins was no different.  Without any other more accessible sweets or increased impulse control, I stood on my tip toes and reached up onto the counter.  I grabbed a carrot and then another and another.

Maybe I shared the loot with the dog or my little brother, this detail is also unclear but it didn’t take long before the entire bag was empty and my stomach was churning. It turns out that carrots are a great source of fiber.  No one else turned orange so the primary guilty party seems obvious.

In retrospect, they were definitely not the right ones for the recipe.  She should have used the adult carrots that have to be peeled and scraped.  They look grotesque in the bag with dirty roots like hairs, manly vegetables compared with their baby counterparts, and better suited for baking.  I was much more of a help than a hindrance by saving the muffins from the wrong type of carrots on that colorful day.  Funny how I never realized it until now, thanks to the therapeutic power of blogging.

When I started to glow a special orange and itch all over, the fun was over.  As the hives developed on my young arms and chest, legs and torso, I realized a few things: that carrots were not a nice treat. Carrot cake muffins would never be my preference.  And as for my mom, it was time to be a parent and call the doctor or poison control for the carrot overdose, right?

Or just call into the school while handing me a bottle of Calamine lotion.

“Hi, yes this is Puney’s mother.  She won’t be making it in today.  She’s a little under the weather, probably something she ate…”

—————————————

Interesting fact, carrots although grown and eaten worldwide since 3000BC per the website vegetablefacts.net, they were not used in American dishes until after World War 1 when solders brought home seeds and stories of European cuisine.

Another interesting fact from webmd.com (who knew they were experts on carrots, too?), Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, reportedly hated carrots.  Hard to believe, right?

http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-carrots/

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/5-healthy-facts-about-carrots

Dirty Toes

roachs
A roach crawled over my toes and I swallowed a scream.

Sure, I was breaking dress code by wearing sandals, but it was 90 degrees in the middle of the summer. I was in a shanty house without air conditioning, feeling sweaty remorse only at not breaking more of the dress code with shorts. Who would care out of the cataract clouded, hard of hearing, mostly demented people I met?

The air reeked of stale cat urine and hung heavy in place even with the window cracked open. Knicknacks lined the wall on a narrow shelf. There appeared to be a number of clowns and small dust covered dolls jumbled together in no particular order. If the knickknack shelf was representative of this lady’s paperwork situation, it was going to be a long afternoon and I was already hungry for lunch.

I wondered if my blood sugar level was dropping or if the heat was affecting my brain when a black cat crept into the room. It eyed me suspiciously before ducking behind the tv to use the area as an extension of her litter box. She emerged with a guilty look that explained the wretched smell of cat pee that was definitely intensifying.

When I looked up, a roach froze on the wall.  It could sense me watching it, wishing for it to die or disappear. Another fat roach scuttled towards my computer bag; the bag sat gaping open on the floor beckoning all creepy, crawly things to enter. I felt a fresh scream forming in my throat.

A woman in cut-off jean shorts and flip flops stood between me and the bag.  Her dirty toes were firmly planted, she wasn’t moving.  What do I do with it once I close it? I will just have to open it again to get out a pen or to add a small dust covered doll to my pile of purloined knickknacks.

A phone chimed from inside of her back pocket. She pulled it out and flipped it open with her thumb.

“Hey yea, I’m busy now,” she said into the mobile device but continued to speak with the caller.

She turned away from me and cupped her mouth to divert and muffle the sound of her voice from the rest of the room. This cupping technique may have worked better if she also lowered her voice to a whisper, a detail she neglected as she started to negotiate some type of illicit drug deal.

I turned to her allegedly stone deaf mother who sat next to me on the couch and gave her an encouraging smile. I tried to communicate my patience and acceptance of the environment. The bugs, the smells, the man who just walked in with a weedeater muttering to himself, none of it bothered me that much.

See how Zen I am with all of this?

The woman returned my smile with a mouthful of pink gums.  Oh she’s healthy, I thought remembering an article I read at the dentist’s office about gum health. Wait, I stopped myself in mid-thought. Was that something I read at the vet’s office?

Her eyes were sea-foam green with brown flecks that turned gold as she shouted, “I hate when people talk behind my back.”

“Me too, me too,” I said in surprised agreement.

Her daughter warned me that communication would be pointless, “She can’t hear a thing. She used to be sharp but now she can’t even remember her name.”

I wanted to prove her daughter wrong. With the evidence of her health gums and now starting a conversation, things were looking good for the old lady.

“What?” the toothless old woman asked and after a second forgot what she asked and settled back into the cushion of the crusty couch and commenced to stare straight ahead at her narrow shelf of clowns and dolls.

Nevermind that plan to redeem her competency.  She was happy here.  This life in a hot, dirty, infested house made sense to her.

I refocused my attentions and wiggled my toes, remember the little piggies that were accosted by a roach earlier?

I was suddenly overcome with gratitude for their freedom and for my freedom to leave this house. If I pass out first, the roaches will eat my face or that man with a weedeater might come back for me. I resolved to stay conscious until we could finish our business. In the meantime, I might as well enjoy the experience.

We continued sit in a demented and hypoglycemic bliss and I thought of a Kurt Vonnegut quote that goes something along the line, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockroach

http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/repair/roaches-in-house1.htm

http://www.avclub.com/article/15-things-kurt-vonnegut-said-better-than-anyone-el-1858

Oh, Neighbor.

tree

The neighbors have been quite busy.

They started last week by trying to burn their house down. It was an unsuccessful attempt which only brought other nosy neighbors into our yard to find out details of the situation. If there is a silver lining to the dark little cloud that is their pyromania, it’s this. They now have a good excuse for ordering fast food every day.

I heard Bozo tell the pizza delivery man, “We can’t cook because we had a house fire.”

The pizza man wasn’t interested. “Oh yeah?” he replied and then asked for the money owed.

They Uber’d up and down our street running post-house fire errands all week. I haven’t seen them drag any of their burned junk out of the house or lug paint buckets and other cleaning supplies inside, which is not a surprise.

What has come as a surprise is that the suspicious cars and strangers have stopped visiting with Bozo. Due to smoke damage or a destroyed supply, he had to stop his petty drug dealing biz. I suspect he will need to work more hours at his regular job, not dealing drugs, to make up for this loss of revenue.

This afternoon, I spied through the blinds to see what those two crazy kids, Bozo and Bunny, were up to and made another startling discovery. Neighbor watching takes a lot of time and energy (#workfromhomefail).

Bunny was sitting on front porch steps with their ancient dog in her lap.  The dog is in rough shape; it walks with a limp, holds its old tail straight out like a stick, and has a massive tumor on his snout. Its fur is coated in a perma-grease that stinks. I learned the hard way how difficult the perma-grease is to remove when I petted it after the recent fire. It is possible that the old dog is used as a napkin after they eat their daily dose of fast food. More neighbor watching will be required to confirm.

In any case, Bunny was performing some type of surgery on the old dog’s nose. It was too terrible to describe in great detail. Just know, there was blood, lots of blood. Fortunately, the dog did not seem to mind as much as I did. I gagged and looked away. When I looked back, they were gone. Only a blood stain remained as a reminder that neighbor watching can be rich with rewards.

Burning Questions

fire

Before the fire, I wanted to be a real writer. I wanted to write stories and books, essays and poems. I wanted to move readers with my words into action and compassion. Now, I just want to free myself of the words and be done with them.

“I’m bleeding,” our neighbor screamed as he burst through the front door.

Bright, red blood was splattered over his face.  It dripped from his hand and arm, which he held away from his body at a strange angle. An old dog trotted out next to him, faithful and endlessly loyal to his panicking owner.

This would be the perfect way to start a short story if it was fiction, if real smoke didn’t follow him out of the house in rolling waves. His girlfriend emerged from the dark smoke in bare feet and flimsy pajamas. She ran across the street with a pet carrier and set it down on the sidewalk.

She gasped for a breath of fresh air and yelled, “Call 911. The house is on fire!”

Without waiting, she ran back to the house and a cat started to wail from inside of its tiny prison. A small white paw poked out from one of the holes of the carrier and disappeared back inside. The wailing continued and then suddenly stopped. I understood the cat’s pathetic cries, an innocent victim of its humans’ actions..

It was how I felt at being left with the chubby babysitter of my youth or forced onto the school bus, taking one big step after the other, away from safety and towards the unknown. I wailed back then, just like the mangy cat on our sidewalk.

The neighbors kept running into their smoke filled house in search of the rest of their pets. Logic was overridden in their mad hunt for the frightened cats that did not want to be found. Sirens pierced through the summer air, deafening our pleas to the couple to stay out of the house. Help was on the way, if only to drag the fools out of the burning house.

In the meantime, the old dog flopped onto the sidewalk next to its sorrowful feline companion, patiently waiting for its master to return, being blind and deaf has its occasional perks.

Fortunately, the fire was put out quickly and the bleeding was stopped at the hospital. The pets were eventually reclaimed and all of the nosy neighbors returned to their respective homes.

Unfortunately, the night of the fire, I read an essay by Joan Didion. It was unusual for me to read non-fiction and a surprise how much I enjoyed it until I got to the last paragraph which stopped me cold turkey, dead in my tracks, (insert your favorite cliché here).

“My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”
― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Words have never chilled my blood as quickly.  They spoke directly to my mind and heart and left me with questions that demanded to be addressed, especially in burning light of the neighbors’ home.

What am I doing on here?  When does story telling cross the line? Is there a way to write something decent and not sell anyone out?  Who have I already sold out and at what cost?  I am left wondering as a writer and a person, now what?

I clearly have some thinking to do.

Small Talk

fireworks

After any holiday is a good time for small talk. Someone did something somewhere and thus a conversation is born. As an introvert, I take advantage of these times. Like a rabbit in a garden of lettuce, I get while the gettin’ is good.

My hair dresser, who prefers the term “stylist”, always wants to chit-chat while she is washing and snipping away at my hair. I try my best to appease her throughout our sessions but usually fall into a blissful silence. I love having my hair done and don’t have much to say. People aren’t expected to carry a conversation with a surgeon, usually because of the anesthesia, but also to let the expert focus on his/her work.

I take this same approach towards my stylist (I prefer “hairdresser”) who disregards my silence and continues with the chitty-chat. In my best effort at normal human interaction, I had a good question ready for her at my last appointment.

As she was sudsing up my hair, I asked, “So what did you do for the fourth of July weekend?”

Nailed it. She did lots of things, including a trip to her grandma’s house on Lake James.

As she detailed the boat parties, fireworks on the water, live bands and skiing, I remembered the one and only time that I went to Lake James.

It was on the fourth of July, too. I experienced the floating booze parties and water sports, first hand. They hadn’t changed much in over a decade by her descriptions. Boats still congregated in great numbers, dropped anchor, and the boaters hopped into the water to drink beer out of ice filled coolers and to float the day away.

Everyone ends up with a sunburn, dehydration, and varying degrees of a hangover (for those who are of age, of course).

When I was there, it was at a time when people had cell phones but they weren’t “smart” like they are today. People weren’t addicted to them like we are now, myself included. I was lucky enough to have my very own cellular device which was silver with a hot pink, rubber case. There were actual buttons to dial the numbers and a little antenna on the top. As a highly prized piece of advanced technology, I took the best care of that little phone.  I can say with absolute certainty, it was not with me on the boat.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I got the message out on the water, in the middle of a floating booze party that my mom was in the hospital, but I did. The only thing I knew was that there had been a firework explosion and she was involved.

I wanted to tell my hairdresser/stylist that I had been to Lake James on the fourth of July, too. I wanted to share how I always wanted to go back to see the fireworks on the water. I wanted to share with her something real, but then that wouldn’t have been small talk, anymore.

Oh, the humanity

heads

Circling the parking lot outside of a doc’s office, I grumbled at all of the sick people. Still no legit spots in sight after two loops so I parked in a handicap spot and ran inside. I considered adopting a temporary limp but felt that would be even worse. I had to pick up a packet of paperwork from a nurse; I expected to be in and out. A limp would take extra time.

Please, I begged the universe, don’t let me get towed or a ticket although I clearly deserve it.

The waiting room was filled the sick people who owned the bothersome vehicles. A man in a dirty white t-shirt had crutches leaned against his chair, another man wheezed as he ate a sandwich in his wheelchair, a woman with a tiny bun of thinning hair was surrounded by bags and coughed into a ball of ragged Kleenex. Briefly, one woman looked up from her cell phone when I rushed in and returned to the tiny screen with complete disinterest.

The room was filled with people and their problems. If I had a little mask, the kind with an elastic string, I would have put it on with great haste in hopes of preventing the spread of desperation.

I tried to remind myself that I am not a bad person.

These were the people who needed the handicap parking spot in the front of the building. They were here to find answers to what was wrong with them. I wanted to clue them in that it’s everything. Life can be wrong and unfair but it goes on. I wanted to help them to reframe the situation. Let’s not think about what’s wrong with your aching joints or lower back, why you have that cough, or distended belly.

Let’s focus on what’s right with your life.

You are at a doc’s office, so that’s a start. The sun is shining. We have fresh water and clean air. The streets are paved. Education is free and so are we, for the most part excluding freedom from debt and government rule.

Leaving the office with papers in hand, I let out a great sigh of relief. I had been holding my breath without realizing it as I traveled across the waiting room. The germs, my sensibilities screamed. The bugs, my unfounded fears yelled. The desperation of living on the fringes of never having enough, my inner voice quieted down overcome with reason, truth, perspective, and finally gratitude.

The humanity, oh the humanity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Morrison_(announcer)

http://www.humanity.org/

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