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Friday, November 30, 2012

Splat of the Week: Marriage in the golden years


National Blog Posting Month ends with a splat, exactly as it should. (Thanks to everyone who's stuck with me!)

This time the weekly title goes to the beleaguered institution of marriage.  

Divorce has been pummeling it for decades but  I figured divorce had the decency to hit above the belt and aim mainly at recent unions among the relatively young.  It came as a surprise when I read an article in the Daily Mail this week (and an earlier piece in the New York Times) and learned that long-time married Baby Boomers are splitting in record numbers, too.  It’s a punch to the marital gut.

Both articles cite financial independence as a divorce enabler.  On reaching their sixties, many couples have dealt with major expenses like college tuition and want to enjoy a little bit of single living before they transition to the assisted kind.

Given the size of the aging Boomer population and the increasing tendency of younger generations to eschew marriage altogether, marriage may take a beating for a while.  

But bad news almost always has an upside if you look hard enough for it, and that’s true here, too. If divorce among forty-somethings caused a boom in the cougar population, the tide may be changing for the once-endangered snow leopard.  


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stream of Unconsciousness

Insomnia, a steady companion over the course of my life, turned into a stalker during my divorce.  A couple months into the slog, my doctor gave me a prescription for Ambien. 

“Now’s not the time to skimp on your sleep,” he said.

Because I’d taken Ambien before, I knew it could give me eight hours of uninterrupted sleep on command but would want a little something in return.  We live in a quid pro quo world, after all.    

Some people give up their short-term memory, others lose the restraint that used to keep them from sleepwalking to the kitchen and scarfing down a pallet of Ding-Dongs.  Ambien made me surrender the dreams my subconscious weaved, or at least my memory of them. 

During the divorce this was probably a blessing, but eventually I missed the mini-movies that used to play in the theater of my subconscious.  There, new flicks came out every day.  And though you never knew which show you’d bought a ticket for, it was pretty much the only place with a vast selection in the “musical romantic comedy thriller” category.   

The actors varied almost as widely as the genre.  People I knew often took center stage and sometimes shared it with celebrities, whether from the A-list or further down the alphabetic ladder.

That’s a lot of subconscious entertainment to miss in exchange for a pharmaceutically assisted snooze. I resolved to scale back the Ambien as soon as my life stabilized, which happened in May when I settled into the new house and finalized my divorce.

The theater opened its doors again just after that, playing one-dimensional shorts at first and gradually expanding in both duration and breadth of genre.  

I knew my sleep state had returned to normal a few weeks ago when my subconscious showed a multi-genre epic. When I woke up, I wrote down as much as I could remember, knowing that I may never see it again. 

Here’s the CliffsNotes version (dramatically reenacted in the present tense for enhanced realism, and with the occasional editorial note because someone has to defend me):   

Setting: The yuppie prison my ex-husband and I built together, only the house belonged to a former real-life crush. (I’m just visiting, apparently.)  The dream opens in the kitchen, where all the details appear exactly as they did in real-life, right down to the slate floor I hated because it made my feet cold.   

Plot: Crush and I are talking and informs me that he’s decided to dump me on the grounds that I snore. [Editorial note: When it comes to snoring, the line between dream and reality gets a little smudged; however, I have never been dumped for that. As far as I know.]

While leaving the house, I run into John Mayer, who rents Crush’s basement.  John isn’t one to give the buzzards a chance to circle the newly singled, so he asks me out and suggests that I meet him at a house party he’s going to that night.  I agree and drive there in a beat-up red Civic hatchback, which I proceed to have valet parked. 

I walk into the house wearing an outfit that came from the way, way back of my real-life closet, cerca 2003.  [Editorial note: The ensemble, a white miniskirt with stretchy black lace top, earned its place at the back of the closet.  I’d bought it in 2002 as a joke when my friends and I decided to go, fully glammed up, to a Poison concert. I wore the outfit exactly once. Twice, if you count this dream.]

Things go poorly with John –turns out he’s a womanizer-- but apparently my outing with him is enough to give Crush some food for thought.  Crush calls first thing the next day and we meet for a walk in his neighborhood. While we stroll I’m singing “Kiss On My Lips” by Hall & Oates at top volume.  

As I’m belting out the line that goes, “I’m just better off not listening to frank advice,” a pedestrian approaches us from the opposite direction. It’s John Oates, in all his 1980’s, mustachioed, mulleted  glory.  He points at me and says, “It’s ‘friends’’ advice, not ‘frank.’ Sheesh,” and keeps right on walking.

My faulty rendition seems to be just the kind of thing Crush is missing in his life, because he tells me he wants to get back together. To cement the reunion, he offers to treat me to dinner.  As he puts his arm around me, he says, “C’mon, I’ll take you to Subway. I’m a regular there so we can cut to the front of the line.”

Thank goodness the theater is back in business. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The rest of the story, specifically, The End


I'm back from the UK trip so the story of the epic battle waged by the plumbing in my old house finally ends today.  

In case you've lost the thread, or never picked it up to begin with, the first parts covered the pipes' initial rebellion, which occurred in 2003, a few months after I bought the house and twenty-four hours before I threw a large party.  Four years went by without incident.  The plumbing let me know in late October of 2007 that the war had not, in fact, ended, and that's where the story resumes today.   

(No doubt that extra day in between the prior portion and the finale really added to the dramatic tension. And it gave my sister a chance to write another guest post, which she's been gunning for since October.) 
___________________

Several friends had come to town for the Marine Corps Marathon and were staying at my house.  One of them, Harry, was running the race with me.  Each of us was running in support of a charity.  In addition to hosting boarders, I had also decided to throw a huge party right after the race to thank the dozens of people who had made donations to my cause. 

The pipes’ patience had paid off: after a four year wait, the time was ripe for an ambush.

At 5:30 that morning I was in the kitchen, pulling out peanut butter and jelly to make pre-race sandwiches for me and Harry, when his wife rounded the corner, forehead creased with worry.

“Is everything okay?” I said.

“No, not really.”

“Uh-oh, is it Harry?”  I assumed he was struggling with pre-race adrenaline, and  I understood better than most the way nerves could wreak havoc on the body. 

“Oh gosh no, he’s fine,” she said.  I let out a sigh of relief.  “It’s your shower. And your toilet.  They’re both backing up.” 

She looked ashamed, perhaps because this scenario tops the list of horrors catalogued in the Handbook of Houseguest Nightmares.  But I knew my friends hadn’t strained the plumbing.  The tree roots had mobilized and were staging a sit-in.

I needed to restore order to the pipes, and fast. This wouldn’t be easy on a Sunday morning. 

I considered staying home from the race yet couldn’t bring myself to do it, not after raising $4,000 and training for months.  But perhaps someone else could.  Lisa, a close friend since college, would soon be en route to my house to join our group of spectators and help with party prep. 

Though it wasn’t yet 6 a.m. I called her.  On any other Sunday morning the home phone could have rung with no fear of being answered for several more hours, but today Lisa was up.  I explained the situation and asked the unthinkable: Would she stay behind and babysit the plumbing?

She laughed. “Of course I will.  I don’t mind at all, and it’ll give me a chance to nap. You know I’m usually not awake til ten!”

With one problem solved I got to work on the other: finding a plumbing professional on short notice.  If I couldn’t do that, I would throw myself at the mercy of Port-A-Potty people and hope they could summon up enough compassion for a last-minute rental. The call to Roto-Rooter bore fruit.

They agreed to send a technician sometime before noon, a mere hour ahead of the party start time.  It wasn’t ideal but I had no other choice.  I grabbed my race provisions and at the last second, my cell phone, just in case we had trouble finding our friends at the finish line.  Harry and I made a break for it.

My phone rang somewhere around Mile 13.  Marathon etiquette frowns on taking calls mid-race so I didn’t intend to pick it up.  A glance at the caller ID changed my mind. I answered.

“Karen? Hi, this is Pam from Roto-Rooter.”  As Harry and I ran, she gave me the diagnosis I expected.  

Other marathoners passed us, casting strange looks in our direction when they heard me say things like, “So you think he can snake it? Tell him to go for it!” at top volume and without breaking stride. 

We crossed the finish line at Iwo Jima a couple hours later but didn’t have much time to bask in the post-race glow because we had plumbing and a party to attend to.

The catering truck pulled up in front of the house seconds after we did.  Harry and I had started to stiffen up.  We made our way gingerly up the stairs of the long walkway that led to the front door. 

The caterers were moving at a much faster pace despite being loaded down with huge trays of Mexican food, and they soon made a bold passing move.  In doing so they narrowly missed a direct encounter with my Roto-Rooter hero as he exited the front door, loaded down with bags of sodden tree roots.  

Half an hour later, seventy-five revelers descended on my house.  We spent the afternoon celebrating our fundraising feat.  When they left I spent the evening celebrating my victory in the latest campaign on the plumbing front.  A respected foe had tested my mettle and I proved myself a worthy adversary.  This time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ooopsie...

Ok...so I am the blogger's sister.  I 'guest blogged' once for her while we were away on a mini vacation together in South Beach.  Today is the second time and, believe me, it's under duress.  You see, I had the simple task of posting Miz Yank's blogs daily while she's away on another vacation...This one overseas.  I have to say that I had been getting comfortable with the whole posting thing -- you know a click here, a click there and SHAZAM, the blog is published!! -- until today, that is.  I know you're all dying to hear the end of the toilet story trilogy however, unfortunately, that's going to have to wait another day or two.  Somehow, and I'm SURE it wasn't my fault, today's blog was deleted.  OK...maybe it was my fault...but I swear it was an accident.  I had posted it and realized there was an error on the blog.  As the editor-in-chief while Miz Yank is away I felt compelled to correct it.  Once I made the correction I accidentally hit 'delete post' as opposed to publish.  C'mon...we've all done that before, right?  Deleted something by accident???  My only issue now is that I can't figure out how to get the darn thing back.  (Lord hopes she has it saved somewhere else!!)  As I sit here typing away I am just going man up and grab my own golden pancake!!!  In my humble opinion it's well deserved! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Rest of the Story, Part II (or III, depending on how you count)

Today's story stays in the plumbing vein (pipe?) and resumes where yesterday's left off, which was right after my sister chaperoned a visit by Roto-Rooter.
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“Well don’t get too excited,” my sister cautioned me. “The technician said this’ll probably keep happening. Eventually the roots take over and cause some part of the pipe to collapse. When that happens they’ll have to dig up the front yard with a backhoe and put in new pipes.”

This news made me want to break into the liter of vodka I’d bought for the party.  “You’re on borrowed time,” she continued, “so you should do whatever you can not to bog down the pipes.”  I didn’t foresee having any trouble taking care with the pipes but how could I expect dozens of partygoers to share my concern?

“Put a sign up,” my sister said.

“Good idea. What should it say?”

She held up her hands to let me know her work here was done. “Hey, I suggested the sign. You figure out the rest. Besides, I gotta get home.”  She left me alone to work on sign verbiage.

After some deliberation, I put Sharpie to paper and wrote: “Please use the plumbing gently.”

Buford, my realtor and friend, was the first party guest to arrive.  After hugging me and laying his coat on a chair, he headed for the hall bathroom. The sign brought him to a dead stop.

“’Please use the plumbing gently’? What the hell does that mean? Did you invite a band of vandals with angry stomachs?”

I explained the events that led to the sign and said, “So tell me, Mr. Mensa, do you have any bright ideas?” He had none. Or none that were fit to display.

The sign stayed (and did double-duty as a conversation piece), the guests complied, and there was peace in the pipes.  A year of detante passed.  Then a second, and a third.   The cease-fire stretched into a fourth year, lulling me into the belief that the trees had gone off the cardboard and clay pipe diet.

I learned otherwise just before sunrise on a cold Sunday morning in the fall of 2007. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The rest of the story...in pieces.

A couple days ago I posted an excerpt from a chapter of the larger project I'm working on.  Based on the feedback that generated, I'm bringing you the rest of the chapter in three pieces. Trilogies sell, baby. I'm ripping a page out of the Star Wars handbook and presenting the series out of order. What follows is the prequel to the piece I published first, in which our hero grappled with a plumbing problem that reminded her of the time her father cat-sat and got his first up close and personal experience with hairballs. Without further ado....
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“Respect the water,” our parents would remind us every year during our annual family vacation at the Outer Banks.  Back then I assumed they were referring to the Atlantic Ocean and its powerful waves.  Only as a first-time homeowner did I understand they were making a broader statement.  Not only should I respect the tides that ran along the beaches but also the stuff that ran through the pipes of my house.  The second kind of water didn’t land with a dramatic crash every few seconds like the Atlantic did, but I came to understand that it could still pack a pretty good wallop.

My first lesson in water respect as an adult came in March of 2003, a day before the party I had volunteered to host for a friend who was moving to the other Washington.  More than fifty guests had RSVP’d “yes,” and I had planned for that.  I had not, however, planned for a plumbing mutiny. 

Rebel activity exhibits certain common characteristics, such as showing signs of discord before launching the actual coup.  Those signs might manifest in a benign form, like a chant-filled demonstration, or something more ominous, like  explosives.  My plumbing started hinting at its nonconformist tendencies shortly after I moved in.  The bathtub drained slowly sometimes, and on more than one occasion it took the commode a couple tries to perform its assigned role.  As warnings went these were as menacing as a two-person sit-in on a park bench in front of Mayberry City Hall.  I paid them no heed.  The plumbing resented not being taken seriously and telegraphed its evil intent as I was getting ready for work that Friday.

        Just before leaving, I popped into the bathroom in case my daily walk and metro trip took longer than expected.  When I flushed, the toilet obliged in sound only.  Subsequent attempts failed to do anything other than raise the water level in the bowl.  It didn’t take long for me to recognize that I couldn’t quell this conflict on my own. I picked up the phone and called for reinforcements.

       “Dad?”

       “Hello, dolly!” he said.  His use of a childhood term of endearment fit the moment better than he knew.  I understood plumbing as well as your average five year-old.  I explained the problem and told him I didn’t have time to work on it.  I waited for him to volunteer to “come over and take a look.”  Not that having my father “take a look” would have done much good in a plumbing crisis.  His trademark, all-purpose “jiggle the handle” solution came up short sometimes, and I knew this was one of them.  I’d already tried it.

        Instead of offering to come over, he surprised me and said, “Ooh, can’t help you there, honey. That one’s way above my paygrade. You’re going to have to call Robert.”  My parents had stumbled on to Robert a few years earlier.  They called their usual guy when their washer died, only to learn that his death had preceded the appliance’s.  His widow referred them to Robert, a plumbing and appliance savant. 

       Robert was short and wiry, unlike his hair, which was long and sleek.   He tended to chat while he worked and covered subjects you’d expect at a dinner party but not during an appliance repair session.  While he diagnosed an ailing apparatus he might talk about an excellent novel he just read, a favorite new wine, or his affection for holiday-themed dish towels.  My parents had attempted to classify him and came up with: part Rhodes Scholar, part Redneck. 

        They forgot “empathetic listener.”  When I placed the distress call that Friday morning, Robert said he’d be panicked if he were in my shoes.  Few homeowners would relish the prospect of a showdown between an angry toilet and fifty party guests.  He rearranged his schedule and agreed to come over while I was at work.  He phoned me a few hours later with the good news that he’d cleared the blockage in the master bathroom.  The bad news? While he was there he turned on all the faucets and both showers, and he flushed the other toilet.  All of them backed up.

      “What does that mean?” I asked. It sounded like the house equivalent of major organ failure. I hoped dialysis was available for dwellings.
            
        “Something’s blocking the main drain,” he said.  The term “main drain” meant nothing to me. I didn’t know what or where it was.  My mind conjured up the stuff of legend, specifically the alligators rumored to lurk in the bowels of New York’s subway system.   Robert must have interpreted my silence as confusion, because he made another attempt in the vernacular.  “You gotta get your pipes snaked,” he said.

          I still didn’t know exactly what he meant but any procedure described in that kind of language was bound to be invasive and unpleasant.
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Tune in tomorrow for Part II, which is really Part III, because this was Part I and, well, you get the picture. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Unbridled Optimism


Our survival as humans depends on resilience, and resilience requires optimism.  Sometimes the only thing that keeps us from careening into an abyss after a bad day, month or year is the conviction that something better awaits nearby.

That same positive outlook can cause us to make sweeping predictions of future greatness, often with no regard for history or reality.

My alma mater, UVA, brought this kind of optimism into its football season this year, and also into its merchandise.  In late September, I went to Charlottesville to watch UVA take on Louisiana Tech.  Going into this game, my Cavaliers’ record stood at 2-2. Midway through the second quarter, UVA was up 24-10.  

With this kind of lead I felt comfortable going to the snack bar.  I returned  with a Diet Coke that came in a commemorative plastic cup.  The cup showed a photo of the head coach, fists pumping, with the caption: “Uncompromised Excellence.”  According to a line of text near the rim, it’s the first cup in a four-cup series. A collector's item of sorts. 

The lead had narrowed to 24-20 by halftime. In the third quarter, Louisiana Tech pulled ahead. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Cavs trailed, 38-44, but they were about to get the ball back with plenty of time to score. 

They were so excited to have a chance to win that they forgot How to count and sent an extra guy onto the field.  The resulting penalty gave the ball back to Louisiana Tech, along with the win. I started to wonder whether the “one of four” text on the cup referred to UVA’s typical win/loss ratio.   

Many subsequent UVA games followed the same arc as the Louisiana Tech loss. With one game left to play, the Cavs are 4-7.  

Unless my math is worse than I thought, somewhere along the way the excellence compromised like Napoleon at Waterloo.

Today, the Cavs take the field against arch-rival Virginia Tech. The two teams go head-to-head every year to close out the season. Going into this year's contest, the Cavs have dropped eight in a row to the Hokies. (We do, however, beat them every year in the Dignified Name Derby.)

It’s a little late now for UVA to fulfill the greatness prophesied on the cup, but it sure would be nice if the excellence didn’t just roll over today. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Splat-ter of the Week: The Black Friday Mob


I don’t have to be stateside to know who’s making the biggest splat this week. It’s the Black Friday mob, hands-down.  (Actually, this is more of a hands-up crowd, because you can’t split someone’s lip over a toaster with your dukes in your pocket.)

Moments after a good ol’ fashioned waist-busting on Thursday, they’ll make tracks for a Big Box and some good ol’ fashioned door-busting.

As citizens watch the economy shrink, their appetite for the deal expands. (It’s tempting to blame Congress for this, but the origins of Black Friday shenanigans can be traced back to prehistoric times. Anthropologists have uncovered drawings that depict cavemen, post-feast, clubbing each other at dawn over limited quantities of full-sized mastodons at half-price.)

Retailers fed the beast this year by opening as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. That might've been good enough for 2012 but in another 365 days, the beast will want more. Sooner. Cheaper.

Black Friday stories have always been about the numbers and they still are.  But revenue figures don't grab the headlines anymore; crime statistics do.   Last year we heard about a grandfather who got knocked out in Arizona (never mind that he might have been shoplifting), patrons who pepper-sprayed each other in California, and fisticuffs over $2 waffle-makers in Arkansas. 

The beast, like much of the country, is destined for morbid obesity unless somebody hurries up and gets it a lap-band.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

What did I just step in?


So many people have written lovely, eloquent pieces about gratitude this week.  I couldn't hope to outdo them so I won't even try.  (When I want the people in my life to know I love them, I write about amateur tennis, hairballs and pet memorial poems.) 

So, if you had your heart set on a sentimental post, or even on “lovely” or “eloquent,” this one might not be for you. (Heck, this whole blog might not be for you.)  If, on the other hand, your idea of gratitude includes finding humor in unexpected places, perhaps you'll enjoy a detour into the surprisingly fertile turf of contract law.

“Write like a normal person, not a lawyer,” our professors used to tell us as 1Ls.  They wanted us to follow this advice in general but especially when dealing with the unsuspecting non-lawyer population.

Ten years of practice has me convinced that many clients subscribe to the converse –“Talk like a lawyer, not a normal person”—when it comes to interacting with their attorneys.  By the time clients call me, they’ve often researched the issue already.  Armed with a working knowledge of what the law says, they just need a little help understanding how it applies to their situation. 

Clients like this don’t fear legal jargon. They embrace it, wanting to know what a particular term of art means so they can use it correctly themselves.  

A few years ago I fielded a call from a client on the west coast who fit this profile.  A very serious woman, she always did her homework before phoning me.  When she told me she needed advice about a possible deal-breaker in a large contract, I heard genuine concern in her voice.

“Can you take a look at paragraph sixteen?” she asked.  I scanned the document she’d just emailed me and saw that the provision dealt with excusable delays stemming from causes beyond the party’s control. 

Contract lawyers expect to see this.  We know that, every now and then, God goes and does something totally wacky, with no regard whatsoever for breach of contract.  We work around such divine thoughtlessness by building in some time to adjust to it. Nothing unusual there.

“Yep, I see it.” 

“Well, the Acts of God list has fires and floods, but I don’t see earthquakes.  Since we get those out here, shouldn’t we make sure that’s added to ‘force manure’?”

Her slip of the tongue planted the image of a waste tsunami in my brain within seconds.   If ever there were an excuse for non-performance, that would be it.  Years later, I still struggle to talk about Acts of God without cracking up. (My clients have long appreciated the maturity I bring to my job, as you can well imagine.)

Invoicing, once a perfectly safe contractual topic for me, is off limits now, too, thanks to a call I got recently.  This client needed help with a letter he wanted to send to a customer.  He asked me to read it aloud, to make sure it sounded all right. Though I prefer silent reading on the whole, I obliged him.

Everything was going fine until I got to the part where he described the invoicing process, which I knew involved sending bills out after we rendered services rather than in advance.  
“‘As you may know,’” I read, “ ‘the contract requires us to bill in the rears.’” 

I couldn’t go on.  The struggle to suppress my laughter was the only thing that kept me from suggesting he end the sentence with, “so your invoice may come as a real surprise.”

Any time you wander outside of your area of expertise, there’s a chance you’ll step in it.  We’ve all  goofed like this at some point in time.  Still, most people appreciate any attempt you make to speak their language, no matter how clumsy.  As long as you step in horse majeure instead of force manure, you'll be just fine.

P.S. I said I wouldn't write about gratitude but I'd be remiss if I didn't offer my heartfelt thanks for you, my dear readers.  While your taste in blogs raises serious questions about your judgment, I truly appreciate that you find time in your content-laden days to stop by for a read and a laugh.  Your encouragement keeps this project going. (A stack of $100s wouldn't hurt, either, should you feel so inclined.) 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Soaring with the turkeys


At this time last year, I was in the middle of divorce proceedings and trying to unload the 6,000 square foot yuppie prison my soon-to-be-ex and I had built.  “Mark” refused to engage a realtor and insisted that we sell the property on our own. 

Since we owned the house together I was forced to go along with his plan.  For months we advertised, hosted open houses and showed the house on demand. 

The word “we” makes it sound like Mark and I collaborated.  To some degree we did, out of necessity.  But our partnership functioned less like the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers model and more like the Road Runner-Wyle E. Coyote version.

An offer came just before Halloween, while I was in Texas on business.  The typically routine process of contract ratification became a time-crunched ordeal, complete with a mad scramble at 11:30 p.m. to find a working fax and make a transmittal by midnight. I couldn't help but think that maybe Kiefer Sutherland would still have his 24 gig if only they’d filmed an episode or two at Kinko’s. 

The closing date was set for the end of November, with a final inspection the weekend of Thanksgiving.  This cast a pall over my holiday, in part because it forced me to cancel a trip I’d planned with my best friend. 

On Thanksgiving night last year, J and I were supposed to board a plane for London. There, we would meet up with a group of his friends who celebrate our American holiday in their own special way.  The event is shrouded in secrecy (and a haze of red wine), so I can’t divulge details but I can disclose some figures to give you a rough picture of it.  By my calculations the festivities are 5% sacred, 30% profane, and 65% Monty Python. 

I had been so excited about going, and yet I ended up on Thanksgiving having far too much in common with the turkey: Each of us desperately needed to escape, and neither of us could fly.   

The London tribe felt my pain. They sent me a message of encouragement that still brings me comfort.  And a few other choice emotions.  I replicate it here in its entirety, save a few minor revisions that were necessary to preserve anonymity and a shred of decency.

Oh, that is sad! We are all glum. We were SO looking forward to seeing you again. Karen, I want you to radiate love, compassion and forgiveness throughout the house sale process. Emanating positive energy will ensure that both of you let go in a healthy karma-minimizing way…then as you walk away from those signed documents may this message from the London herd ring in your ears: [Verb] him and the vehicle that he drove in on. The commonly held wisdom during break-ups is that your friends should remain neutral. Well we blow that out of the group orifice. You rock and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – EVER. Granted the collective who are shouting this out are questionable, but better to hear our voices than dwell on the deeds and words of a [unflattering adjective and unflattering noun] who has committed the worst relationship crime ever: not embracing and therefore plain long-term adoring your particular brand of greatness. Can I elicit a group London “Amen” now please?

This year I’ll be in the first wave of pilgrims at Heathrow and I can hardly wait.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Amateur Poetry Week Continues

Yesterday’s post caused several people to ask follow-up questions about my cat, T.C. Most wanted to know whether he’s still with us.  Sadly, he’s not, at least not in body.  In 2002, his kidneys failed and made euthanasia the only loving option.  

Though T.C. belonged to me, he had quite a fan club. He stole my family’s collective heart.  The adversity of the hairball incident permanently bonded T.C. and my dad, and Dad kept the bond intact with slices of premium deli meats that he fed to my cat at every opportunity. 

My cat endeared himself to everyone else –including two of my siblings who lived hours away-- with a raspy voice that sounded like he’d smoked two packs before breakfast, along with schmoozing skills that rivaled a politician’s.  T.C. secured the vote of many a registered Dog Person, too. I suspect this is because he, unlike most politicians, never feigned his love for the people.

After diagnosing T.C.'s ailment and giving me a grim prognosis, the vet said I could try an at-home version of dialysis.  Administering this treatment required two people, which should have been the first sign that it was the wrong answer.  With my father’s assistance, I tried it twice.  

After the second time I looked at Dad and shook my head. This was no life for a beloved companion who had given me so much and expected so little in return.

The right decision was clear but I took a couple days to think about it.  As soon as I’d made up my mind, I called my parents to tell them I was taking T.C. to the vet. I didn’t have to say why.

I parked the car and went around to the passenger side. So absorbed was I in pulling out the carrier T.C. loathed, but had walked into voluntarily that day, that I didn’t see my parents standing at the door of the clinic.

Any hopes I had of maintaining my composure evaporated.  They gave me weak smiles and strong hugs as our foursome went inside. The vet told us he needed to take T.C. to another room for some preparatory work.

“Dead cat walking,” I said, hoping some gallows humor would keep us out of despair until the vet came back.   

He returned with T.C. and we saw that “T,” as we sometimes called him, had cozied up to the doctor like he would any human.  He seemed to trust that the vet had his best interests at heart as the shot was administered.  

I wept openly and a stream of tears coursed down my father’s cheeks.  My mom seemed to see that she was our last defense. Always a wellspring of kindness and support, her lip quivered but she held down the fort when Dad and I couldn't.   

The vet tried to console us.  “I can tell how much you love T.C.,” he said. Though he probably said the same thing to everyone in our situation, it caused another wave of my sorrow to crest.  He patted my arm and said, “You had him your whole life, didn’t you?”

I shook my head.  I stopped blubbering long enough to say, “Not even five years,” and then burst into a fresh crying fit. He looked surprised, gave my arm another pat, and then took my friend away.

My family’s support kept me from feeling completely alone after we left the vet’s.  My brother called me right away.  I was too unhinged to answer but I listened to his message. 

 “Wheat,” he said,  “Mom and Dad told me about T.C. I’m so sorry. I wish I could….”  He left off mid-sentence as emotion overtook him, but I got the whole message anyway.

My sister, Suzi, sent the same sentiment in different form, making me feel like she was much closer to me than the 90 miles that separated us.

Lynne expressed her support in still a different way.  She wrote me a lengthy poem, printed it (with photos of TC in each corner) and framed it.

Since it’s Amateur Poetry Week here at Splat-ospheric, I’ll share an excerpt with you. 

All About T

Whoever said that a dog is a man’s best friend had it completely wrong.
For sure they would have felt differently when TC happened to come along.

Who knew that Tom Cat would become one of the family’s greatest pets?
Certainly not us when Wheat first brought him home from the vet!

When it came to personality, no other cat could compare.
I mean, TC’s temperament and disposition were almost certainly quite rare. 

TC was a lot like me; let me begin to tell you how…
For starters, the diabetes and thyroid issues, though they seem rather trivial now.

Or how about the days when Wheat went out of town…
You could always count on T to leave a present on her ground. [Editor’s note: It’s true, T.C. loved his human and let me know through fragrant offerings just what he thought of my travel habits.] 

Or imagine taking the furry friend somewhere exciting in the car
While watching him myperventilate before you went too far!

One should also consider his first attempt at escape off the windowsill.
Thank you, God, for looking over him as he could have ended up as road kill!

Funny, as I write, I feel that caring for him was more than worth the time
For T.C. has a special place in all our hearts, especially Wheat’s and mine.

I know you say it’s time for me to bring this poem to an end..
I hope it’s help you find solace in the loss of your best friend!
----
Whatever you think of my sister's rhyme scheme, the content defies criticism.  Only a gifted artist like my sister could weave medical conditions seamlessly into a poem, and provoke both laughter and tears a full decade after the event that inspired her verse. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Father knows best...usually

[Editorial Note: I submitted this piece to the weekly Challenge Grid at yeahwrite.me, hence the shiny, new badge.  Most of the time you have to compete to get a posting on the grid but this time they abandoned their standards altogether. Lucky me!  Go check out some of my company on the grid. Oh, and vote for me. Pretty please.] 



The poem I alluded to yesterday remains elusive.  The search continues (in my mind, anyway) and will not end until I find it.  

In the meantime, I'll share an excerpt from the larger project I mentioned yesterday.  Though no substitute for “The Garbage Disposal,” it does lend some insight into how I spend my free time these days when I’m not storming the tennis courts, flirting with death on a jetski, or going on doomed dates

A few words of context: This nonfiction project of mine will incorporate several classic vignettes from the Yank annals.  The one that follows is embedded in a chapter about the volatile plumbing at the house I bought in 2002.  (Never have been able to resist a good plumbing story.)  This one starts in early 2003 and then detours down memory lane.

_______________________________________________

My sister kindly volunteered to drive over to my house and babysit while Roto-Rooter snaked the pipes to remove whatever was obstructing the main drain.  When I got home later that evening, Lynne told me tree roots were the culprit.  Roto-Rooter had put them in a plastic bag and saved them for me in case I wanted to have a look.  

There are some items that come out of a dark, unpleasant place, and sentiment or curiosity might drive a person to examine it despite its origins.  A child’s tooth, for example.  Tree roots soaked in my house’s waste water neither whetted my curiosity nor tugged at my heartstrings.  In fact, the only time I’d ever felt less interested in the bagged- up remains of a household disaster involved an incident in 1997 when my father babysat T.C., the cat I’d just adopted. 

Back then, I had signed a lease for an apartment of my own (the driving force behind the cat acquisition) but hadn’t moved in so I was still living with my parents.   I’d been asked on a date to see “Shear Madness” at the Kennedy Center and hesitated in accepting because I was worried about abandoning T.C.  My father volunteered to keep an eye on the cat and shooed me out of the house.  At intermission I found a payphone and called home to check in.

“Hey, Dad, it’s me. How’s T.C. doing?”

His voice was stressed, almost panicked.  “Can’t talk now, Wheat! I’ve gotta catch T.C!”  Before I had a chance to ask any of the “w” questions, he hung up.  I’d used some creative excuses to get out of dates before but couldn’t envision begging off due to an unknown cat caper.  My rear end stayed planted for the second act.  My mind, on the other hand, was elsewhere and I couldn’t wait for the final curtain to come down.   

When the play ended, I raced home and flung open the side door without noticing the tied-off plastic shopping bag that had been placed right next to it.  My father sat on the couch, looking shaken as images of some sporting event flashed on the TV screen in front of him.  T.C., by contrast, exuded calm.  He sat curled up on the recliner opposite the sofa, eyes barely open and verging on nodding off. 

“I’m glad you’re home,” Dad said.  He turned off the TV and told me the story. 

Based on his account, I gather that being in an unfamiliar place among unfamiliar people took a toll on T.C.’s nerves and sent his stomach into a tailspin.  Soon after I left for my date, my newly adopted cat began to make gulping, gagging noises.  Cat owners the world over recognize this uniquely feline sound as the prelude to a hairball.  My father had never taken care of a cat so he hadn’t heard the prelude before.  To his ears, it sounded somewhat like a choking human. 

Thanks to the excellent first aid training he received in elementary school, he knew exactly what the situation called for: the Heimlich Maneuver.  He lunged for the cat.  T.C. had no interest in becoming the first feline to get maneuvered so he went on the lam.  With my father in hot pursuit, T.C. ran from room-to-room, pausing every so often to deposit a rust-colored blob.

When the cat tore through the dining room and rounded the corner into the formal living room he gave a great heave and emptied the remaining contents of his stomach onto my mother’s prized Oriental rug.  After performing this finale, he scampered to the piano bench and hid under it. My father trailed him by a few steps.  When he saw the cat under the bench, apparently breathing without incident, he realized T.C.’s crisis had passed.  On seeing my mother’s rug, Dad understood his own crisis had just begun.  He commenced cleanup efforts using a paper towels and a solvent of some sort (Windex, if I had to guess). 

As he worked on the crime scene, he bagged up T.C.’s final emission.  Since Dad didn’t know what it was—his theory involved T.C. choosing to eat litter box fare instead of the dry food I’d left out for him—he assumed I didn’t, either.  He saved the evidence so I could perform a forensic examination.  I demurred but Dad wouldn’t rest until I opened the bag and confirmed that the only unapproved substance T.C. had consumed was a massive quantity of fur.           

           Though that incident had happened five years earlier it was fresh in my mind when my sister handed me the bag from Roto-Rooter.  I didn’t care to inspect the chopped up roots whose thirst and impatience led them to look for water in my home’s porous terra cotta pipes instead of the earth.  I was just happy to have the problem resolved before the party.  All the balloons and streamers in the world wouldn’t have kept fifty guests from noticing if I’d had to station a portable toilet in the front yard.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Nostalgia trip


Recently I picked up On Writing by Stephen King, expecting it to help me with a larger project I’m working on.  It more than met that expectation.  The book—part memoir and part how-to—imparts practice points that will lead to substantial improvement if I’m disciplined enough to implement them.  

I also hoped it would inspire a new piece or two.  The clumps of ideas that skulk around the edges of my brain need a bit of motivation to get out on the floor and dance sometimes.  On the inspiration front, unfortunately, On Writing let me and my mental wallflowers down pretty hard.

The problem(s)?  The memoir is dauntingly well-written.  King proves that his storytelling skills aren’t genre-specific as he chronicles the journey from elementary school scrivener to best-selling author.  Even more humbling is the fact that he piled up rejection slips like paper snowdrifts for years before getting an agent’s attention.  If Stephen King struggled that hard, the prospects for amateurs like me seems grim. 

On Writing did, however, prompt me to reflect on my evolution as a writer.  I haven’t spent whole life trying to get something published, but I did get an early taste of rejection when my elementary school literary magazine, The Orange Hunt Owlet Gazette, declined to feature my work.  

I’m able to pinpoint this moment because I happened to find the Gazette in a box today.  I read through the whole thing.  It made me sad not to see my name in print, and to know that my sixth grade prose couldn’t cut the mustard but the following piece did:

The Clumsy Man
SMASH, BAM, BOOM, BANG, BUMP!
A man fell down with a THUMP!
The door went KNOCK, KNOCK!
The man slipped on his sock!
POW! He fell back on his rump!

Looking past the author’s glaring klutz sexism, this sounds like an average day in my house, not to mention a Batman strip.  You don't often see SMASH, BAM, BOOM, BANG, BUMP! in the works of T.S. Eliot.  

To my credit, I didn’t give up when the Owlet Gazette said “thanks, but no thanks.”  I took my lumps and set about honing my craft (by adding exclamation marks and onomatopoeia, one assumes).  

A couple years after that first rejection, I submitted a poem to the county-wide literary magazine.  Go large or go home, I figured.  Not only did they publish it, they even held a ceremony to honor Fairfax County’s pimpled poet laureates. 

I’m trying to find my poem and I’ll post it here as soon as I do.  “The Garbage Disposal” attained heights of literary sophistication "The Clumsy Man" only dreamed about.