Movie Night in a pre-Netflix world

An empty wooden bowl stained a dark brown collects dust on the shelf amidst other useless trinkets and knick-knacks in the name of décor. I looked at the bowl without really seeing it for years when suddenly the bowl is overflowing with the colors and smells of a twenty year old memory.

The room is dark and warm with the summer air. The windows are open and dingy lace curtains gently billow with the night breeze.  It smells like fresh cut grass and gasoline and pollen and earthworms.  Three feet of rabbit ear antenna are connected to an old tv that flickers in hues of green and pink.

It is Movie Night in a pre-Netflix world. There is a stack of VHS boxes from which to choose the evening’s entertainment.  First up, Cujo.  Perhaps, not the best choice for two kids who are scared of the dark, loud noises, cauliflower and clowns.  Nonetheless, the tape gets pushed into the mouth of the VCR and starts rolling to a limited but captive audience.

We pass the same smooth wooden bowl filled with popcorn back and forth, each taking a handful. I let a piece dissolve and shrink on my tongue before taking on another for the disintegration process.  It’s a complicated and slow way to eat popcorn, for sure.

Baby Bird stops passing the bowl and instead holds it between his hands, entranced by the scene on the flickering screen. As a massive black dog lunges almost out of the set, Baby Bird screams.  He tips the bowl over his head and eyes, and like an ostrich with his head in the sand, he feels safe.  Popcorn rains down onto his shoulders and gathers around his little body, like the falling of dogwood flowers around their tree in Spring.  It is a beautiful mess.

The bowl is back on the shelf, a retired relic of the past. However, the memory is wily, not to be sterilized or neatly labeled and categorized.  Instead it disappears into the shadows of the mind with days of red popsicles, puppies, summer breaks, and Baby Bird who is thousands of miles away from his refuge under the bowl.

The Neighbors Get a Minivan

van

A sleek black minivan was parked between our houses after work.  It did not leave as expected, rather, it returned day after day.  A paper tag protected by a sleeve of plastic was attached on the back, stating the expiration date at the end of June.  The minivan was here to stay. 

We saw the neighbors boarding their new cruiser and all of the bags and baskets that are apparently required to take a baby anywhere.  The baby was strapped to his daddy’s chest, supervising the undertaking and keeping an eye on his mother who stood nearby in obvious discomfort.  She appeared to be 12 months pregnant.

Hipsters are trying to extend the average gestational period.  Or so I have heard.  It could be fake news.  In any case, our neighbor just had a baby and then was instantly pregnant with another one in a phenomenon that will make their offspring “Irish twins” when the second one is born.  The timeline is unclear but it definitely seems that they have been continuously pregnant for the past two years.

The neighbors started out like us, very cool and modern, engaged in work and exercise, friends, and family. We resolved to share a pizza and a few cold adult beverages but never got around to scheduling a date because all of a sudden, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, they were pregnant and went underground. They emerged this Spring, eyes weak and blinking under the bright sun, pushing a stroller with a round faced ooling, drooling baby boy and with a belly popping out like a snake that just ate Mousezilla. 

We walked up to the new van and B said, “Looks like you are just missing the decals on the back.” 

He was referring to the ever-popular cookie cutter stickers of each family member and pet, usually something like two parents next to a half-sized sticker of toddler or two, with the outline of a dog wagging its tail in familial bliss. 

The couple smiled together in a wholesome unity, clear that they were of one mind, and the man said, “That’s a great idea. We’re just glad we have room for everyone now, even the dog.”

They will leave the neighborhood soon, there isn’t enough room as it is for the current occupants of their home, let alone when the babies start to stretch out and grow.  Already, they are planting petunias and Hosta’s, laying mulch, trimming trees and power washing their siding.  It’s just a matter of time before the FOR SALE sign goes into their front yard and they pack their lives into a U-Haul truck.  When they move, it will be with a family double in size than when they moved next door to us.

Meanwhile, we remain in place, at the same address with the same number of residents, exactly three cats and two humans, as when we came to town two years ago.  We will be just as childless but still happy, healthy, well-rested and living relatively uncomplicated, minivan free lives.  For now, anyways.

     

Water under the bridge

Christmas dinner: a month late, at sushi restaurant. It is fitting for the small, dysfunctional family.  There is a member who is missing; the void left by his absence is palpable.  It is almost tangible, like a forgotten thought, half remembered.

He’s lucky. The tension is high and tight, making it hard to breath. There is so much water under the bridge, the tresses are about to be wiped out.  The women speak through filters, carefully straining out anything of substance, while the man studies the menu and wishes his brother-in-law was there.

“Sake,” he requests from the waitress and quietly prepares to wait out the flood.

Filter

Changes

Faded

The woman’s lip quivered as she watched her husband regale their grandchildren with tales of days from fifty years past.  There was one about a monkey named Diana and another about a man in the Marines, and a more recent one about ending up a beauty parlor in just his swim trunks and a towel.

Suddenly, the woman realized she was holding her breath, trying to freeze the moment.  At her very core, she resisted movement forward towards the undeniable future.  She inhaled deeply of the stuffy air around the table and blinked back the tears that threatened to constantly fall. 

The man’s voice grew weaker and started to crackle as he continued his story telling.  A bag with tubes gurgled and percolated as it pulled liquid from an open wound in an undisclosed location under his baggy shirt and pleated pants.  He tapped his plastic cup with cartoon turkeys marching along the rim against the side of the table.  The woman, now breathing but with a still quivering lip, stood to fill his cup with punch.  Not so long ago, she would have resented the same request, but not anymore.  Now, it was something to do to be useful and needed and she was grateful.

Meanwhile, the man bravely marched through the fields and belly crawled through the jungles of his memory; afraid that if he stopped, he would find himself at the edge of the universe with nothing left to hold him back.

universe

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.

 

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.

 

Buddy

buddy

Buddy
Buddy appeared as unexpectedly as he disappeared. A flash, a flame, and he was gone.

It was a steamy hot, summer day in northern Indiana, the backdrop to all of my childhood memories, when he came into our lives. Tar bubbled up from the road and squished underfoot. Birds sighed in their nests and old men carried around handkerchiefs to wipe off their sweaty foreheads and dripping noses. Everything felt hot, unless we were lounging in a tree or swimming in the “pool.”

The “pool” was actually a large, yellowed plastic container, originally used for farm chemicals with the top cut off. Nobody knew that chemicals absorbed into plastic at that time and if they did, it didn’t matter.

We were the invincible riff-raff. We ran around topless and barefoot, living on red popsicles and white bread baloney sandwiches and only coming in at dark.

Yes, we were those kids, living that life, if you happen to be wondering.

Brains, my brother, and I splashed around in the pool.  We zipped back and forth across the plastic container, dodging horseflies and pretending to be otters, when Brains popped up from the water. We heard the same things, yipping and barbed wire banging against a fence post, the rustling and shaking of something big and wild.

“Puney, let’s investigate.”

I nodded at Brains. Investigate was our favorite word for adventuring into an abandoned barn or open garage. We jumped over the brittle, plastic edge of the pool and shook off like little wet dogs.

Like the little wet dogs that we were, we trotted off after the noise. We made it across the hot road, popping tar bubbles with each step and discovered the source. A dog with shiny black fur and white teeth, whimpered for help. Its powerful back legs were twisted up in the barbed wire fence. The more the animal fought, the worse its predicament became.

“Brains, this is bad,” I said.

My little brother nodded, “Let’s get Mom.”

He took off for help, a first responder and action taker from an early age, and returned with a basket of garden tools.

“There’s no time to find Mom. We have to do this now.”

With a pair of wire clippers and four little hands, the dog was liberated from the fence.

“There you go, Buddy. You’re free.”

The dog looked at us with gratitude in its deep, brown eyes. And like that, Buddy was off leaving behind only a ruined barbed wire fence, but that was for the grownups to figure out.

Fly Right

bird

When I was in kindergarten, my class took trips to the zoo and other places for young minds to learn. It was a privilege and opportunity for a country girl to get out and explore Indiana within a sixty mile radius or so. Sadly, the little brown stone building that I attended for my early education is closing this year with not enough hillbilly kids to keep it filled.

While I was there, I started to understand that there are two types of people in the world, those who follow the rules and those who do not. The realization came upon me like a slow sunrise, starting with a little light along the horizon quickly filling the sky with the big, hot ball of truth. Perhaps it burned hottest for me because it was not a fellow classmate or teacher illustrating this lesson, but rather my mother.

My class was preparing to go on a trip to some exciting town like Wabash or Andrews for an event which has now escaped my memory. We were each asked to bring in $5 and a signed permission slip. As a dutiful rule follower, I brought home the letter to parents and reiterated the request.

To my delight, there was no fight or complaint. My mother read the letter and signed with a smile.

“Let me get you a check,” she said still smiling. How could I have known her coy plan, as though a plan was needed for such a simple request?

She dug through her grungy purse and pulled out her worn checkbook. Through my childhood, I remember her thoughtfully staring at it, chewing on the end of a pencil, as she tried to balance the numbers. She never said anything about it, but I bet it never came out right. Somehow her motto, “Close enough,” ended up working out just about every time.

I carried the check and white permission slip in my little book-bag back to the school the next day. My teacher, an older woman with grey hair who wore skirts and loafers on the daily, collected the money and paperwork in the morning. She straightened the stack and retired behind her desk. We were left to a coloring project which I was in the middle of when she returned to my work area.

She squatted down, knees together and off to the side in the most lady-like-kindergarten-teacher-style and asked with the most serious face, “Is there something wrong with your mother?”

I set my crayon down and considered the question, “No, I don’t believe so.”

“She has been signing all of your paperwork with different names, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Jackie O, Barbara Streisand…. I have a list here of the alias’ she has used.” She waved a sticky note from the end of her finger to prove her point, like I had the capability to doubt a teacher at that time.

“We just need her to sign her real name or you can’t go on the trip to x,y,z place. It’s a liability for the school.”

Liability, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Streisand, this was all foreign, I shook my head. My teacher handed me a check, it was the same one that I had turned in that morning.

“And this, we can’t accept. It’s signed Dolly Parton.”

It was at that moment, I knew my mother needed fixing. She needed to be normal, to follow the rules; the easy, black and white ones as well as those living in the various shades of gray. Then another realization, the truth was out, it wasn’t at all what she needed, it was what I needed.

I needed her to fly right, something a bird with a broken wing can never do.

Lunchtime Madness

  
It’s 12:30pm. Lunchtime. My brother is camping out on the couch watching football highlights. It appears he has just consumed an entire bag of fancy nuts.

“What? It’s my lunch,” he explains and crumples the plastic bag in his hand.

He leans back and closes his eyes, “I’m on break now.”

It seems that he will be on break for the rest of the day.

As for me, it’s a peanut butter and honey sandwich kind of day, a variation from the normal PB and J. Maybe I will add in a apple and a cookie for good measure.

12:30 means the oldies are sipping their soup, taking their afternoon pills, and preparing for a nap. They might answer the phone but they won’t be happy at the interruption in their schedule.

It means the rest of the world is taking a break to woof down whatever they packed or grabbed from a nearby restaurant, catch up on banking or read a few pages from a book, walk around the block, and get back to work, that is what 12:30pm means.

A computer screen with names and numbers, diagnoses and concerns stares at me while a phone buzzes on the desk. There are notes scattered about, a coffee cup with old tea, and a stack of books. This is life now as a working adult.

I remember waiting for lunch in grade school. My stomach rumbling and gurgling as I stood in line. The lunch ladies really cooked then, patties and veggies, brownies and rolls.

There were so many options. White or chocolate milk. One slice of pizza or two.

The future was wide open then and it still is, sort of.

The chances of becoming a professional athlete or brain surgeon have narrowed at this point, but I can still have a different sandwich for lunch everyday if I want.

How is that for keeping the spice of life?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanut_butter_and_jelly_sandwich 

  

Deja vu sewer days


I am in a reflective mood, thoughtful and quiet, possibly poisoned by the noxious sewer gases creeping up through the wooden floor boards. Yes, the sewer lines are clogged from tree roots, the head of my niece’s Pretty Pony, and whatever else fell into the “terlet” over the past year.
Black sludge oozes from the relief pipe in the front yard, and pools around the laundry room drain. This situation is not going to fix itself and there is no more time left to wait it out. The smell of rotting debris and human waste hastens us towards action or insanity.

Dark, wet crumbs from the litter box are now mixed in the laundry room mess. It appears that the cats, unable to restrain themselves from the lure of the unknown, ran through the growing sludge pool. Something about the way it felt then triggered them to streak and spin through the rest of the house like berserkers.

These are the days that pets and home ownership are more of a delight than usual.

For once, we know what to do after catching the cats and cleaning off their dirty feet.

“Call the guy,” I say.

“What guy?” my husband asks, not quite on the same page yet.

“The guy. You know the one who came out last year.”

“Oh him, already called him. He’ll be here before lunch.

You see, one year ago, the same thing happened after less than a month of living in this house. I remember the day clearly because it contained a series of unfortunate events, beginning with the pilot light to the water heater whiffing out. We tried everything to restart it without success. On the positive side, we also didn’t manage to blow ourselves or house up. So we begrudgingly agreed to race through ice-cold showers before calling for help, which is when the tub started to fill with dark water. The shower plan was immediately cancelled.

Then we noticed the water in the toilet rising higher and higher. If this wasn’t the effects of global warming, then it was surely the end of the world. We looked outside, certain that this was the apocalypse. Perhaps the rapture was about to take place?

Instead of the good souls being taken up into the skies, black sludge spewed forth from a white pipe in the front yard, just like today.  I flashed back with a shudder, it was all so familiar.  Still not the end of days…

We survived a year ago just like we will today, only this time we know who to call for help.

May this house stand until an ant drinks the ocean and a tortoise circles the world.

Jonathan Carroll

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