Monday, November 29, 2010

Not How It's Always Going to Be

One night, wanting to be led around the two-stepping floor at Gruene Hall, tearful and full of Shiner Bock, I shouted at [my husband] 'Is this how it's always going to be?'  We laugh about it now...If we've learned one thing, it's that no moment, good or bad, is how it's always going to be."
--Jenny Browne, We Might as Well Dance

One of my greatest flaws is my tendency to assume that things will continue exactly as they are. Four-plus decades of experience and wise friends have tried to teach me otherwise--as one said, "That's ridiculous. It's like thinking, 'I've been alive for so long.  How can I be dead?'"

But in my irrationally dark moments, I look at my current circumstances and see the end of my life, the years collapsing upon themselves. I'm sitting at a rail crossing watching an endless train of days taken up by the particular tedium that seems to be, of its own will, wasting my precious time on earth.  I've felt, my entire life, a hand pushing my back, propelling me forward.  It has led to some career success and a relatively orderly home environment.  My affairs are, for the most part, in order, but by preoccupying myself with such things I end up with the days speeding by in exactly the manner I dread. 

This week I got to spend several days with my parents, and among the news items they related from home were included those about people from the tiny town we lived in during my middle and high school years.  These souls, my contempories, have grown middle-aged, their parents old, over the thirty years since I left.  They've stayed put.  Why, I wonder, would someone stand still for all those years?  My immediate reaction is that they've frittered away their lives mindlessly doing what they've always done. 

The hand pushing me forward is in cahoots with the Protestant Work Ethic, which says: There's a big world out there. What's next.  This, you may note, is not a question.  My mind and temperment almost automatically drive me towards the next logical step, the to-do list item to cross off.  PWE wants to know, Have you saved for retirement?  Where do you want to be in five years?

I have a friend who works as a teacher for a small private school.  She is, like me, a single parent of two children, and she makes a good life on a lot less money than I make, with only spotty financial assistance from her co-parent. A few weeks ago we were sitting in my kitchen and I confessed that I lose a good deal of sleep regarding the issues my PWE so persistently raises.  I asked how she managed to do it.  "You know," she mused, "it will all work out. I just have faith and try to get through each day. Worrying about it doesn't help."  

Yesterday, Dad and I got up and started working in my yard.  The leaves, though they'd been cleaned out three weeks ago, were starting to get deep again, he couldn't stand it any longer.  He pushed me to keep going when I was ready to quit. (The Inner Hedonist wanted to have a beer on the deck.)  While we were working, my teacher friend came by on her daily walk.  "Oh," she said, "I just like the crunch of the leaves under my feet.  Raking them would take that away."  I envied her, but am old enough to know that, although circumstances change all the time, people rarely do.  My invisible hand isn't going to stop it's persistent press forward. 

In Jenny Browne's recent essay, she talks about attending a wedding with her husband, ten years after their own.  In the interim, they have both lost people dear to them; she, her father.  Like me, she adored her dad, despite the fact that he could be a pain in the ass.  (Slave-driving yard thug, I think I muttered to mine, though it was warm and sunny. Though eventually we did have that beer.) Browne doesn't express regret for things not done, but acknowledges that it took the shock of losing her parent to see that ever-changing stream that is life, rushing by. 

Luckily, I inherited my IH from my Dad, too, so when he and my mom wanted to go to dinner, I elected to go for a fine meal.  Not a pretentious one, but a superbly prepared one at a local spot called Ellerbe's Fine Foods, recently honored as one of Ten Best New Restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine.  We ate well and split a proper bottle of French wine.  It was marvelous, we all three agreed, though my mom said she was glad we hadn't taken the kids or it would have cost another hundred dollars.  Okay, so it's unpretentious, but it's not Taco Bell.  But then again, it won't always be like this. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

When Your Kitty Gets Stuck

It's interesting which problems are relatively easy to solve and which prove messy and intractable. 

The day I left on a business trip to Chicago last week, my garage door fell down. Or rather its support system gave way: the ancient spring and pulley system on it fell down.  I managed to make, via electric means, the door go up one last time before the old mechanics gave it up--the whole business had been bucking and choking for several months, so I wasn't all that surprised--and then asked the dad from the nice family who watches my pets to pull the door down so the whole street wouldn't know I was away. 

The night before that the hinged door in my den also fell off, and Gus the Neurotic Terrier kept me awake because he has started barking at the bathtub, as he did when we first moved in last spring.  It's gotten colder at night, and presumably the creatures who have been coming back for several years have once again decided to winter under my pier and beam foundation.  I don't suppose I'd mind all that much, except I wonder about property damage--who knows what they're doing when they are banging around down there?--and Gus has kept me awake for a number of nights as he bellows convulsively beside the toilet.  Alternatively, he goes crazy in my closet, where the portal into the underside of the house, about three feet deep with a dirt floor, lies.  Failing that, the dishwasher is the recipient of his wrath. 

Early Friday morning my regular yard help stopped by when I was out for a run and told my daughter he thought the lawn could wait another week, when in fact my property was choked with leaves and acorns.  My yard fellow is a laisser-faire hippie who doesn't mind messy if it's organic matter.  I, however, do mind, and decided the job called for an army of men with leaf-blowers.  Enter Julio and his crew, who promised to arrive Saturday morning. 

Friday night I had friends invited over for wine and eats.  But late in the day, when my son and I got home, we realized we hadn't seen the cat in a while.  And then we heard her: furious meows coming from one corner of the house.  I called still other friends, and the husband, who is the sort of guy who isn't afraid of narrow dark spaces and what they hold (dead rats and the odd beer can, I've since heard of my crawlspace) to see if he could come rescue our cat from the depths.  And so it happened that I sat with three friends drinking wine in my dining room while a very nice man and two young boys crawled under my house, scaring the wild beasts out and putting bricks around the gaps in my foundation.  The boys got an adventure and the man got a beer.  His wife got a very grateful phone call from me the next day.

Next morning, still no Midnight the cat.  But the meows were increasingly fierce. Where the hell was she?  I called my friend Jen, who has a real job and always knows what to do.  "Are you wearing cute workout clothes? Go to the firestation around the corner and bat your eyes," she suggested.  "Tell them you know there's a joke in there somewhere, but your kitty is stuck and can they please come over?"  As I was talking to her, my son came in, jumping up and down.  I was on the phone, I whispered and he said Mommmm. This is really important!!!

Midnight was in the turnstile on the roof.  She'd somehow been chased into the attic and now was wrenching the air exchanger back and forth. 

So I got in the car--my reserve light was flashing, since I'd rushed home to get ready for my guests the night before--and drove over to said firestation, where a non-plussed fireman asked for my address and said they'd be over shortly.  He didn't even laugh at Jen's joke.  Now if I'd asked a cop, he would have laughed, but he might have also told me he had better things to do.  As it was, the fire truck showed up with five able-bodied and very nice people who crawled through my attic and got on my roof and located where Midnight had hidden out. Midnight failed to apprehend what nice people they were, however, and stayed put.  They left the turnstile off and advised waiting. 

As the firetruck pulled away, Julio and his boys got moving with the noisy leaf blowers, and the cat stayed put.  The feral ones were still around, but we'd chased them off early that morning and thought the house perimeter was secured.  Then I remembered the words of the nice 'ol boy who had fixed the garage door the day before.  "You need a bigger dawg," said the very polite and large man who'd hoisted the door and fixed it in short order for a hundred and fifty bucks when I told him about the wild felines.

I got lunch together and then ran my daughter to a friend's to work on a History Fair project.  When I got back, Julio was waiting to make sure I was happy with the yard, and I was. Then my son jumped down fromn the shed, from which he'd found his way on the roof, with Midnight in his arms.  Not a mark on her, but she was starving.  She ate and then began to very carefully clean herself off in a leisurely manner, oblivious both to her trauma and to to the trouble she'd caused for all the humans in her orbit. 

That night, there was more banging under the bathtub, and more barking in my closet.  "They're clever," Mr. Loudey said when he looked over the fence to see why the fire department had been engaged.  Then he went off to remark upon Bobo's overall cuteness and to call his canine names like Sugarbear and Sweetiepie.  I am pretty sure the garage door guy doesn't call his dog these names.  But since every pest control company I call says, "we don't do cats," I may need to cloister Midnight and put the Real Dawg next door (his owner is an avid outdoorsman) or the hawk the owner is also training on the job.  Bobo, I have determined, is not up to it, due to a life more cosseted than that of Gus, which is a tall order. Fight fire with fire, as it were.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why Change is Hard

"...however much you dislike the things that are keeping you from going where you say you'd like to, they are the things that have kept you alive, and they are not going down without a fight.  Plus they have much, much bigger muscles and much greater familiarity with the dark, dank alleyways of your soul than [do] those fresh little hopes."