The Cucumbers are Multiplying

cucs

The air has a chill to it this morning and the sun has yet to break through the darkness of night.  Fall is coming, slow and gentle, like it does every year to ease us into the misery of winter.  Soon it will be time to put away tank tops and shorts, swimsuits and flip flops in exchange for corduroys, sweaters and waterproof boots.

It is a problem that Midwesterners understand all too well, how to maintain two totally different wardrobes with only undergarments being seasonally interchangeable.  Residents of Hawaii, California and Florida, you have no idea what you are missing out on.  Unless of course, you escaped the weather of your home state after declaring to anyone who will listen, “This life of grey skies, chapped hands, and constant scarf wearing is no longer tolerable.”

I am nearing that state as my tolerance diminishes with each year.

Yet, I stay and dream of escape and an ocean breeze to cool my sun-kissed face, not ready for the change that a move would require.  And I work, like the rest of the sheeple that I know.  I work to pay utility bills and a mortgage, to buy food for my cats, husband, and self, and sometimes, I work just to get through to another season with the promise of better days.

As an offshoot of this working, I recently found myself as a defacto dog-sitter.

It started out as a one-time only situation, out of sheer necessity, and has since turned into a routine as natural as picking up the mail from the mailbox after work or taking out the trash on a Thursday night.  Whenever the owner of the hound leaves, he stops by the office with a leash and a bag of snacks.

“These are just in case she gets hungry.”

Gee, I thought they were a present for me.  I nod and wave the man off, I know the deal.  Take her out for a walk when she whines at the door, give her treat whenever she asks for one.  Easy.

The dog entrusted to my care is a mixture between Rottweiler and German shepherd and woe to the fool who messes with her.  Actually, she can’t be left alone without howling and trying to escape by hurling all seventy pounds or so repeatedly against the door which is how I ended up as her temporary custodian.  In summary, she is an emotionally dependent, fatty girl with missing teeth and bad breath, loyal to bacon strips and strangers who might be carriers of her beloved bacon strips.

Not that I mind her company.  After she gets dropped off, she flops herself down at my feet and patiently waits for a treat or for her owner to return.   The former always occurs before the latter.  When her owner does finally return for the beast, it is always with a generous payment in hand and gratitude.

Lately, I have been paid in cucumbers. Extraordinarily large, garden fresh cucumbers.

A worthy payment for services rendered and in the customary Hoosier spirit, he has given me more than I could ever eat.

Generosity: it’s one of the good problems that Midwesterners are all too familiar with, right after mastering the fine art of small talk about the weather.
Learning

On the Cellular Level

phones
Obsessed
I have a not-so-secret love affair/obsession with my i-phone and technology in general. It’s the world in my hands and at my fingertips. If I want to find out how long to boil corn or how to change a flat tire, the rationale behind string theory or the number of monkeys in the jungle, it is all there waiting to be summoned from the mysterious depths of the internet.   As wonderful as it is to have access to endless information, it is not my main reason to constantly check my phone or computer.

For me, it’s for the sense of connection that texts and emails offer and the validation that a like via thumbs up or a star provides.  I constantly check and recheck emails and text messages and stats, giving too much time and value to the number of views or comments left.  A void opens up in my chest when there is no activity.  No calls, no texts, no views or comments.  I am alone in the world and my loneliness   is a black hole that threatens to swallow me.

Why do I allow myself to go through this torment over something that is as unreal and fleeting as phantasmagoria? All of it is smoke and mirrors, an intangible and impossible replacement for a real human connection and genuine approval.  Yet, it is to technology that I continue to turn for entertainment, comfort and interaction and my anxiety around real people grows.

I am quite certain that I am not alone in this. I went on a bike ride with my husband, a real person, last weekend. We rode through a town in which people were gathered on park benches, waited in line for a restaurant and were seated at tables with steaming hot plates of food.  Every single person on the benches had their phones out, they texted, played music and threw poke’ balls.  Almost every other person at the restaurant had their phone next to their plate or in their hand.  While standing in line, the people glanced at their phone or flipped through screens, some punched in messages or played games.

We rode onward and I felt a profound sense of sadness at the scene as it seemed like a fair representation of the greater population. There is a human desperation to feel a part of something greater, linked to others, approved and liked.  Through technology, we have the ability to be constantly connected, no matter the distance.  However, the closer the physical proximity, the less use or ability people have for a quality connection.

I am pledging to put my devices away for a bit and to appreciate the reality that surrounds me, to engage with other people, and to be present in my interactions. For the weekend, I will have to seek validation from within myself and connection with those in my household, on my block, and in my life.

Get ready husband and cats, we are about to have a seriously engaged weekend.

 

Training for the Olympics

ameb
Surface

Last night, I tried my body at lap swimming. Naturally, I was inspired by the Olympians in Rio.  What could be more motivating than watching the super-fit athletes in their slick suits glide through the water like a pod of porpoises? They made swimming look so effortless. There was no spluttering or messy kicking. Not a single swimmer rolled over onto his or her back to catch their breath while floating and panting.

Obviously, they had gills and webbed fingers. Instead of ostracizing these fish people for their differences, we regale them as the heroes and champions of our country because they are winners. Would we be so open to these genetic mutations otherwise?  Personally, I am quite jealous of the fish people. I envy their extra big lungs and controlled breathing, their webbed toes and gills turn me green.  Some (fish) people have all the luck.

Before I could start on my own Olympic training, I had to track down my swimsuit from when I was 12 or 15 or 29. The suit was an old purple Speedo, not the best looking suit, but it still served its porpoise.  I knew it was somewhere around our house, stuffed into a cranny or nook in a closet.

Sure enough, I found it at the bottom of a box tucked into the closet, under 357 unmatched socks, just waiting for Match Day. Squeezing into it was the next challenge but once I was in, it was for good.  There was no risk of this suit slipping as there was barely the possibility of breathing and regular blood circulation, let alone a wardrobe malfunction.

So, I had the suit and the desire, I just needed the big body of water with lines and as few other people as possible. I headed to the gym, weaved my way through the meatheads and the sweaty sweaters to the locker room and into the pool.

Thankfully, I was the only one there for the first few laps. I stopped after each length of free-styling to pant and rest on the wall before trying it again.  At one point, I floated on my back down the lane and imagined myself to be an ameba on a Petri dish, running into the wall and the separating buoy line.   I choked on water, spluttered and gasped while kicking and splashing in what might be called swimming by someone watching from far away without binoculars.

Then a very serious-about-swimming woman appeared with a swimming cap and goggles, water shoes and a nose clip. Drats! My secret was about to get out that I was the worst swimmer in the pool.  She then proceeded to lower herself into the pool to walk, slowly, from one end to the other waving her arms in a crazy water aerobics class type of way.

I stopped worrying about what she thought or any other person who slid into the water. It’s not a competition, unless you really are in the Olympics and then good for you.  For the rest of us, it is about letting go of being self- conscious and doing what feels good and what is good for us.  Regardless of how messy or terrible it looks, who cares?

It is another one of those things that is about function not fashion, right Dad?

 

The Grumpy Insomniac

alarm 2

Since becoming an insomniac, I have tried everything to sleep. I started with a sleeping mask but my eyes were still open all night.  I thought the room was too bright so I added black out blinds and still my eyes were open.

Try this sleeping potion, its guaranteed to make you sleep, the guy at the supplement shop promised.  Sleep I did, but unlike Sleeping Beauty, I became a Walking Zombie who was charming and delightful to no one the next day.  Birds were not landing on my shoulders, and woodland creatures were not gathering round my darling ballet slippers the next day.

A sleep therapy noise machine that I only came into by a stroke of good luck helped for a few nights.  Alas, this too was only the placebo effect.  After a week of gentle ocean waves and white noise, I was back up.  Two shining eyes peering out into the darkness, hating the night for what it held back from me and gave to so many others.

In contrast, my husband gets up every morning as soon as his alarm sounds with a cute little stretch and a yawn. He hops out of bed and says things like, “What a great night of sleep.” And “I am just so rested now.”   Then, he bounces off to do a number of productive morning things while I hit the snooze button, again and again and again.

I could glare and growl at him but it makes no difference to that puff of sunshine who travels around in such a well-rested state. So instead, I keep my grouchiness to myself and pull the pillow over my head hopeful for a last minute fog delay or natural disaster to allow me to repose just a bit longer.

 

Out Damn’d Spot

mouse

A sudden and desperate squeaking started from somewhere in the room.   I looked at the old fellow, Mr. W. Alva, sitting across from me.  He busily studied a set of forms on his lap with a magnifying glass that he produced from the depths of one of the many bags that were placed at his feet.  He was a retired bottlemaker and amateur scientist who found himself quite homeless after a series of unfortunate events and now sat in my office.

“Do you hear that?”

Mr. Alva set the magnifying glass down on the table next to him. The handle of the magnifier was carefully wrapped in layers of duct tape for a most comfortable grip.  Everything he owned was customized to fit his needs, from his banana spoon, which was a pen taped to a white plastic spoon and stored in his top shirt pocket, to his watch which had about twenty-seven rubber bands wrapped around the wristband.

“What?” He looked up and asked questioningly with his toothless mouth agape. In his mouth moved a strange pink tongue like that of a parakeet, mashing up words like pellets. Under the wrinkles of his eyelids, he peered at me with tiny eyes in the process of receding into his face.  They were greyish, the blue, green or brown washed out over the years.

Clearly, he did not hear the squeaking. Mr. Alva was nearly deaf from earwax, long white hairs that grew outwards and inwards, and years of experimenting with explosives. It would not have been a surprise for the man to reach into one of his bags and pull out an ear horn, and say, Come again?

I was alone in my quest to identify the sound. What a gift to hear birds singing and what a burden to hear the suffering of a baby mouse stuck to a sticky trap by its little baby mouse head.

Mr. Alva, although nearly deaf, maintained his ability to see sharply across the room. He warned with a waving finger before returning to his reading, “Better not let it bite you, its belly might be full of poison.”

Very helpful, Mr. Alva, thanks.

I had to decide the most decent and humane action and quickly to end the squeaking and squirming of the trapped creature. A quick test of the trap proved its effectiveness in that the mouse could not be separated from its ultimate demise, voluntarily or forcibly.  It was too late for both of us.  The mouse would never escape and I would never regain my innocence.

Like Lady Macbeth, the blood was on my hands and forever in my conscience.

 

Initiation

dogs_backside
Apology

“Were we invited to this party?”

There were no cars parked outside or people milling around the front door.  We were at the end of a cul-de-sac, standing where the GPS led us and there were no signs of life.  A trash can lay on its side at the end of a drive; all of the windows were closed up tight and the blinds were drawn in each of the identical houses.  It was not an encouraging scene.

No one responded when my party date/husband texted the friend-of-a-friend to whose house we waited outside like census takers double checking the address and comparing notes.  The only things missing were the signature clip boards and name badges.

Instead we carried a bag of chips, salsa and a bottle of wine and escalated our communication efforts by calling this friend-of-a-friend.

It’s the new age way of things, text and then call.  Calling is a last resort, when all else fails.  Like come on, just text us back, I thought impatiently as my inner teenager started to show.

Suddenly, an event more exciting than a New Message coming across one’s iphone screen. A real person emerged from the house and it was our friend.  We both rushed towards him like two lost souls towards the promise of salvation.

“How long have you guys been out here?  You should have just come on in.”

He was blissfully unaware that in some neighborhoods not far from this one, walking into a stranger’s house without permission was more than enough to enact the Castle Doctrine.

Now properly invited inside, we followed Friend through the doorway where a sea of strange faces awaited us.  They suspended pretzels and cheese stuffed bread balls in mid-air, conversations went on hold indefinitely, all activity ceased until our acceptability could be determined.

“Hi, I’m Puney,” I said with a slow and non-threatening wave.  It is sometimes best to not make any sudden movements around strangers.

“I’m Neb,” the tall handsome man next to me introduced himself, confident and unafraid of making sudden movements around strangers, breaking my stranger rule #1 within the first sixty seconds.  He darted around the counter and dropped off our offerings and grabbed a plate, ready to dig into the beanie weenies, cookies, and chips.

A shaggy with dog with a low swaying belly ran out from underneath of the cluster of legs.

It smelled my toes and wiggled its chubby back end where a tail might have been at one time, perhaps delighted by the smell of JibberJabber, my cat, that patiently waited for our return at home.

“That’s Cooper, he won’t bite,” a faceless female voice from the still watching and silent crowd explained.

I reached down to pet Cooper and instead of receiving the pets, it turned around and sat down right on top of my feet.  It looked up at me with an excited doggy smile as a hot whoosh of gas escaped from its rear end and whirled around my bare toes.

It got up and ran off, disappearing back into the cluster of legs.

My face must have shown my disbelief.  Was I just the victim of chemical warfare?

“I think that dog just farted on my feet.”

The faceless female voice emerged with a real face and body, laughing and unapologetic.

“Looks like you just got initiated.”

Roxanne

Unstoppable

The raccoon curled up next to a grease-stained, wadded paper bag from Rally’s and rested her head on an empty carton of milk. She wiggled her soft ears as she settled down deeper into the shallow layer of trash covering the base of the dumpster.  Flies buzzed around, delighted with the stale, stinking air that they shared with the sick animal. She prepared for end; hot and weak, escape was no longer possible.

From one mammal to another, I felt a duty to ensure the suffering of the raccoon was minimal and called Animal Control.

A woman arrived carrying the infamous hoop pole, dressed in a brown animal-catching suit, and overly ready for an easy catch. Sick animals, however, are often the meanest and nastiest with which to wrangle.  Is it the awareness of impending doom, the discomfort of disease, or a grasping desperately to the ability to continue living that brings out a wild energy from a creature previously lethargic and barely breathing?  Animals and people are not so different in this final burst of effort to avoid the world of cold dirt and worms.

Whatever the case may be, Roxanne, as I have named our dumpster dweller, gave an evil hiss when she saw the woman in brown peering over the edge at her. She reared up backing over trash and bared her teeth, hissing and blinking. The loop came down and Roxanne darted sending up a swarm of flies.  She dodged and rolled, jumped and crouched avoiding the loop for good few minutes before she caught.

Even with the loop around her fat belly, pulling her from the safety of the dumpster, Roxanne continued to fight with both little black fists in the air.  Perhaps captured for the first and last time, she was dropped into a wire cage and taken to a destination unknown but likely not to see a vet for the medication and treatment she needed.

The lady in brown promised she would take her to a nice park where Roxanne would be safe to roam but I knew it was just an easy thing to say instead of the truth.  What else could possible happen to a sick raccoon found in a dumpster?

Regardless of where she went, Roxanne will always be remembered as a brave little fighter that refused to give up or give in to the unstoppable nature of fate.

A quiet day with Chicken-Little

Sanctuary

Earl has not returned as planned.

I am left alone with my thoughts and the tortuous sounds of a dying air-conditioner.

Brrrr….brrr…bleh…..brrr….brrr….bleh….I am unsure how much more time the unit has left, but it can’t be long. There is no home appliance hospice that I can call to quiet its final days or a minister to read its final rites.  It must die on its own terms and then we will make do with the wide range of illegitimate services offered by Junkman.  In the meantime, I turn up the radio to drown out the brrr…brrr…bleh… and send a message to find out Earl’s whereabouts.

Could it be that he is in the hospital? Stuck on the side of the road with a flat or engine trouble?  Was he saving a kitten from a tree or helping an elderly woman across the street with her groceries.

I know that something is wrong; it is unlike him to be four hours late on a Monday. Or more accurately, it WAS unlike him before this summer.  When the message came through from the once ever so reliable and committed Earl, I spluttered out the hot tea I was sipping in a spray of disbelief.

He meant to take the day off; he just never got around to making the request, formally or informally.

No sorry or my bad. He was offended in an unaware, teenage type of way that taking the day off without previous notification of any sort was an issue.  Like duh, can’t you read my mind, he might have said if he was a few decades younger.  Instead, he texted, a clear sign of the times, “c u tmw.”

Perhaps even more surprising, this explanation was accepted by our supervisor as one of those things that sometimes happen. With no further questions, the case was closed, chalked up to the miscommunication of a senior moment.

In this, a fortunate new precedent has been set, whether my supervisor is aware or not, one in which intention is just as good as filling out the time off form and following through with the two required signatures at least one week in advance. This opens the door to so many wonderful opportunities, like sleeping in and texting mid-morning that I simply won’t be coming in today.  Did I not submit a form?  Well, I meant to, so that’s enough, right?

Things are changing, every day and in every way. People are giving slack in the rope as they pull the strings tight in other areas.  The chicken-littles cry that the sky is falling while others refuse to even take the time to look up.  It is preposterous, the sky can never fall.  Perhaps we will stop saying what is impossible when the clouds get stuck in the trees and the sky’s blanket of blue is held up by those few who are still standing.

cl

Maybe Earl won’t come back and I will join the rank of chicken-littles crying that the end is nigh or maybe just plan to take an unplanned day for myself.

Bad Attitude

kings
Slowly

“Earl, come back already,” I groaned.

I slowly pulled the heavy bag of trash half-way out of the silver trash can. A clear liquid leaked from the bottom corner and dripped onto the top of my sandaled foot, landing with a splash.

“It burns,” I screamed and then realized it wasn’t burning. It was just gross. I dropped the bag back into the can to recoup and asked myself, why am I doing this? Isn’t there someone else to whom I could delegate this task?

“No, Puney,” I answered myself in a stern voice. “There is no one else and shame on you for looking for someone.  You only have to do it this one time and Earl will be back on Monday.”

I countered in a whine, “But it is so disgusting. What about that homeless-looking guy who walks up and down the street? I bet he would take it out for a buck.”

“Puney…” I said in that low throaty you-are-about-to-disappoint-me-unless-you-make-a-better-decision tone.

“Fine,” I agreed with a huff.

I pulled the bag the rest of the way out and tied it off with a knot. Gnats hovered around the bag and flew past my face as I hefted the still-dripping bag and carried it outside with a scowl.

If anyone would have approached me, it would have gone something like this.

“Hey lady, you got any change?”

I growl and bare suspiciously fang-like eye teeth and sum up the petitioner.

An innocent enough man in a tank top with jean shorts, floppy tennis shoes and nappy hair unaware of the trap into which he just walked.

“How about a bag of trash? Would you like that?”

I throw the bag into his chest and stomach and he takes a step back.

Liquid starts leaking from the bag onto his jean shorts and down his skinny legs and into his floppy tennis shoes.

Fortunately, no one approached me and the trash was successfully delivered into the dumpster. I returned to the office where the gnats expressionlessly greeted me and continued to float and fly around my head.

I scanned through the rest of the to-do list.

“Not going to do that, or that, or that.” I checked off the items; done and refused to be done were basically the same thing and taken down one by one until the list was completed.

I added a last and final task, perhaps the most difficult: Improve Attitude.

“The world is so full of a number of things. I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

                                                                                                              –Robert Louis Stevenson

Fine Dining

catfd
Feast
In an unusual spirit of generosity, I decided to prepare a special dinner for my girls.

I carefully considered the options from the fancy cat food shelf. Tuna or salmon, chicken livers or chicken in oil for the carnivorous cat and gluten-free, organic vegetarian options for the California cat. There was no shortage of choices so I grabbed a tasty chicken-like meat blend and headed home, excited for their reactions to this rare delicacy.

Six almond shaped eyes watched me as I divided up the can of smelly gunk into three little dishes. Only two of the six eyes showed any reaction, naturally belonging to the oldest and wisest of the pack.

Her tail might be skinny and her back balding, but her sense of smell was a keen as when she had a full set of teeth and thick, lush fur. Jibber-Jabber knew what a treat was about to be within a paw’s reach, the much sought after and desired canned cat food that she remembered from her kittenhood.

Jibber-Jabber sat anxiously where she expected her dish to be placed, next to her water bowl proudly reading, #1 Cat. She took this title seriously, especially when she had to deal with a young and foolish #2 and #3 cat.

They aren’t #1 Cat material, she mused while waiting. Her white whiskers twitched with impatience.

#2 and #3 mewed in anticipation of the hard, crunchy kibble to fill their dishes. They wanted the same kibble that filled their dishes every day and nourished their furry bodies and left them craving more.   Hard, crunchy kibble was to them what the white bread and peanut butter sandwich was to me growing up.  Change is hard and often unwanted.

They sniffed at the dishes with the wet cat food and stepped back in disgust. I got down on my hands and knees, scooped up a fingerful and offered it their sensitive, pink noses.

“Come on, just try a little taste. You will love it,” I promised.  It was the same kind of cajoling I used with my clients as I encouraged them to try new things, like budgeting.  Admittedly, I learned this type of negotiation from my own mother who swore I would like new things, if I just gave them a try, like lima beans and swimming.  Bleh.

The cats glared at me for what could only be considered treason in their small cat brains and left the kitchen.

In the meantime, Jibber-Jabber snorted and purred as she gulped down mouthfuls of the grey mush. She glanced over at her departing comrades with the simple and greedy joy that comes from not having to share the last piece of pizza or in this case a three course meal in which each course was the same, nasty wet cat food.

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