Friday, April 30, 2010

An Open Letter to My Yard

Dear Yard at 1106 Quail Hollow Road,

I realize that this is long overdue. You've no doubt noticed by now that I'm not the kind of person who "does yard work," but that certainly does not justify my severe neglect. I mean it wouldn't kill me to just go pick up some tree limbs or sprinkle some wild flower seeds on the ground. As I've been sitting inside, safe from the elements, watching TV and staring out the windows you've been out there languishing under snow and ice and tree branches and at times, like tonight, rushing water from torrential rain. I apologize, I know that that is very small in terms of what you deserve, but what else can I say?

Very shortly I plan to do something about that crater where the pool used to be. I don't know if you know this, but we did try to clean it up a little bit. Did you notice how we attempted to destroy the rotted deck and push it's remains into the crater? We honestly thought that we could fill it in and then just put dirt over it and then maybe grow some grass. We didn't know that the slabs of deck wouldn't quite fit and would just jut out at odd angles. It also didn't occur to us that we would have to get out the liner of the pool. I'll be the first to admit, we just made it worse and we're going to address that small cesspool that has formed in the pool-liner-lined crater, hopefully before the mosquitoes, frogs, and snakes get too out of hand. They've got to be such a nuisance to you. And that small building that we razed in the interest of opening up the view a little bit? Just let me explain. When we tore it down I really thought that we would then be cleaning it up, but time went on and I guess we just lost our momentum and now the view that I was so excited about is just that of a torn down building. And when we installed the cable we had no idea that the cable company would cut through the underground power line that was tapped (illegally as it turns out, which is why we've have such a bitch of a time getting it fixed) off the house, which is now spewing electricity all over you. I'm paying dearly for that one, literally. What else can account for our astronomical electricity bills?

In my defense I've been very overwhelmed with fixing up the inside of the house, where I actually have to LIVE. I mean this in the best way possible, but my concern with you is strictly aesthetic, whereas the house is really a matter of functionality. I mean, I can't very well live in a house without a toilet, and let's face it, that would just make things worse for you if that were the case. Am I right? But in all seriousness, I know that you see me morning after morning making my way to the car with kids and diapers and bags and Wal-Mart sacks filled with improvised lunches, keychain in my mouth, hair in my face, usually yelling at the dogs (aren't they awful?). You have to notice how busy I am, and by the time I get home and can actually think about helping you all I have the energy to do is watch TV (by the by, you'd love this show called "Desperate Housewives," I think of you every time I see it) and stare out the window and wish that both you and I were different. I promise to do better this summer.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Mr. Harvey Doens't Play

Hayden is my stepson. Mr. Harvey is Hayden's science teacher, and Mr. Harvey doesn't play, at least that's what he always tells the kids. He's a Marine, I don't know if I'm actually supposed to capitalize that, but it seems appropriate based only on the story I heard of their special training during which they're made to stand for something like an hour in water just above freezing - that's barely liquid. Hayden seems to like him and says that Mr. Harvey always says "I don't play," as if someone made a mistake and thought that this Marine-turned-fifth-grade-science-teacher was someone who liked jokes. I imagine, based on what Hayden has said about him, that he teaches like a Marine would teach - serious, straightforward, no-nonsense, and no playing.

Hayden was telling me about his fifth-grade camping trip the other night. He was talking about the friend he had made. They bunked together with a couple of other boys and, like boys, they were up way too late trying to be quiet but being loud instead. They had been warned a few times by the threatening shouts of Mr. Harvey from the next room, reminding them of his unwillingness to play. Finally he'd had it and he came in wearing just the shorts he was sleeping in and gave them a stern military-type dressing down. When he turned around to leave the room the boys all saw, in very large Old-English-style lettering, tattooed across his upper back the words "I DON'T PLAY," lest anyone have a question.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Dad, I know you'll be reading this and then you'll read it to Mom. Hi Mom. Am I remembering this right? (Other people might find this amusing too).

All through my childhood Mom was starting little business ventures, one of which was marketing and selling Hypercolor t-shirts. Remember those? They're the ones that changed color with heat. She called it Heironymus something-or-other, not after the 15th Century Dutch painter but after this children's book she used to read me about a chameleon named Heironymus. I don't have any idea how she ever got in with the Hypercolor people, but I can tell you why. It's not that she ever wanted to be a great salesperson and she thought that she just might hit her lick and make her millions with the magic color-changing t-shirts but because she thought they were so neat, such an amazing feat of human ingenuity, this fabric that would change color when you and all your friends breathed all over it. She would be offering the world something that was not of any real technical significance, that didn't have any practical applications, but something that made people smile. She got boxes and boxes of these shirts, different styles with different clever color-changing pictures on them. I was so excited because I got my pick and I wore those shirts like crazy. I don't know what ever happened to that business, maybe it petered out for her when the whole Hypercolor craze petered out, you know, when everyone realized that after a while the shirts lost their "hyper"-power and you were stuck with a dingy non-colored t-shirt with no powers at all, that and the fact that if they did continue to work, at some point you'd inevitably find yourself standing in front of a bunch of people in a purple shirt with bright pink underarms. I don't know why it took everyone so long to realize that that would happen. In the end Mom got out of the t-shirt business and moved on to something else. They still kind of make fun of those shirts on shows like "I Love the 90's" and I always say "My Mom sold those!!!"

Goodnight, Mom, Dad. I love you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Today was the Centennial Celebration at church, which meant that after services everyone gathered in the Family Life Center for lunch catered by Dover's own Dewayne's Bar-B-Q and Grill. Dewayne's brought their famous bar-b-q sandwiches, hot dogs for the kids. The women of the church took care of the rest, the rest being about twenty variations of potato salad, at least fifteen of pasta salad, and two whole tables of deserts. To drink everyone had the choice of tea or sweet tea.

At the front of the room on the stage was a table set for the current and former pastors of our church. The tables set up on the basketball courts with purple napkins and silk spring flowers were filled with kids clamoring to get at the desert table and parents (me included) trying to get something healthy in them first. My progression was first cole slaw, then potato salad, potato chips, finally a hot dog which Story ate but only after removing it from the bun and slathering it in mustard (that's the Chicago in him), finally, exasperation setting in, desert, which he also dipped in mustard-and ate. There were a couple pairs of new grandparents who looked like they would never stop smiling walking around and showing a picture to anyone who hadn't seen. It's baby season here. The older members of the church smiled at the kids, who for the most part took no notice that they were being admired and went right on flying around the room, the older ones pleading with their parents to let them have a friend over to continue playing, the friend standing right behind them with their hands clasped bouncing up and down ever so slightly.

After eating they got the microphone out so that the pastors could say a few words, then the floor was opened up to their congregation. People went around and shared their memories about the church. One woman remembered how both her parents were baptized in the church. The pastors used to link arms with the husbands and together they would dunk the wives. People talked about the little white church that preceded the much larger church that is on the lot now. Mr. Sandy was running the microphone to different people as they raised their hands. "Anyone else?" he'd ask. "Anyone closer than Donald?" And everyone would laugh. Finally he started running out of people and Mrs. Pfeifer stood up. She's about as old as the hills, and much shorter so you couldn't see her right away when she stood. She's the archetype of the "church lady." She has been going to the church probably for as long as anyone can remember and she's always pulling you aside and making sure that you're doing okay, and that the kids are doing okay. Sometimes she has a fresh flower on her lapel. She's a joy. When Sandy got her the microphone she talked about what the church was like when she started attending. At one point her granddaughter came up to her and gave her a hug. Mrs. Pfeifer gave her a kiss and stood with her arm around her as she continued talking. Everyone was straining to hear what she had to say, but even so it was hard with the sugar setting in and all the kids getting antsy. When she passed the microphone off and sat down everyone continued to look at her for a fraction of a second, she's a good Christian woman.

Driving home with Story in tow I thought about the growth of a tiny country church, of all the elders who had watched it grow and all the children who will, hopefully, grow with it. I thought it was a nice day, and it is nice to be a part of something with history, something positive, something whose members have the capability of preparing that many variations of a dish that is basically potatoes, mayonnaise, and mustard. I must have eaten my weight in potato salad, which I don't really even like but curiosity got the better of me. When I got home Story and I took a nap. I'm proud to call myself a member of First Baptist, Dover.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why I Like the Fiddle

I always set my iPod to "shuffle songs" because I have a hard time making decisions and will spend my whole drive in total silence trying to find the perfect song if I don't. I'm getting worse too, I can't even go to Subway anymore without getting all frustrated and anxious about my toppings, then ending up with some God-awful sandwich that I just want to trade with the person sitting next to me, but that's neither here nor there. Tonight on my way home from the grocery store I was skipping through all the "filler songs" that I just put on there so that anyone who might steal my iPod would think I'm cool and I stopped when "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" came on. I turned up the volume, rolled down the windows, I sang the wrong words really loud and smiled when that band of demons joined in. I love to hear someone play the fiddle because I love to watch someone play the fiddle. I've thought about why that is because I spend a lot of time thinking about myself, and I suspect that I like the fiddle because of how one has to play it. You've got to hold it with your chin, which means you have to hold your head very still, the neck is small so your fingers have to move very little, but very fast at times so they have to be precise, the bow has to strike the strings just-so but it's long, so while one hand is making very short, very precise movements, the other is required to be a lot more active. There's a lot going on, but the size of the instrument and the way it's held don't allow for a lot of bouncing around and "soul"-demonstration, as in "man, he's got SOUL!" The sound is beautiful, especially when it's Johnny playing, he's the best there's ever been, but I think it's the intensity and control required to play the fiddle that makes it so appealing to me. Self-control, even in situations when self-control is of very little importance like a concert, or when your soul is at stake, goes a long way with me. When you follow a performance with "that's how you do it, son," like in the Charlie Daniels Geico commercials the fiddle seems even more cool. I do miss that cute little Geico gecko, though.

Sign Board

On the "VSpa" sign on Main Street:


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Confusing Signs of Summer

Summer is here, at least here. The trees are turning green so that storm clouds look especially pretty rolling through the valleys, flowers are blooming, there's a rush on tomato plants at Wal-Mart, and the mentally and physically challenged are back outside the local pizza places smiling and holding signs that say "pizza, pizza, fun, fun." That last one I'd never seen before I moved here. Is this a Russellville thing or something that's being done nationwide since the time I moved to Russellville? Presumably it's a progressive way to provide an opportunity for these people to join the workforce but it seems a little, I don't know, weird to me. Is it good because they're being given a chance to make a little money, or bad because they have to sit outside all day in the heat?

I think Little Caesars, always the overlooked innovators ($5 pizza, from a drive-through, that's ready before you order it? Incredible) was the first to offer this line of employment. This is how I imagine the idea first came about, in a big room with a big table in a tall building, it's the new guy talking, timidly because, like me, he doesn't want to offend anybody: "How about this? Just hear me out. So, I think mentally and physically challenged people-is that what they prefer to be called?-get stared at a lot anyway, right? Why don't we stick a sign in their hand advertising our great deals on pizza?" He just got a promotion because I know I'm reading all the great deals on pizza now. It worked out so well that the other pizza places caught on, now you're not a respectable pizza venue in this town if you don't have someone in a wheelchair parked out front baking in the sun with a sign with some asinine thing written on it, of course pizza, pizza is fun, fun. Maybe they really like it, maybe it's something they look forward to and I'm sure that the companies that employ them are good companies, so I don't want to start a protest or some sort of rally or anything like that. On the other hand, maybe they hate it and it's just a good way for them to make some money, you know, the way most of the world feels about their jobs. What do you guys think? Should I quit eating pizza? Or eat more pizza?

(Bring it on Google, I'm ready for the pizza ads).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Did you guys know you can feed the fish? They'll eat every last little bit. It's a genius who came up with that program. How do they do it? More as soon as I get an hour to spare.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Brains of Musicians and Mine

I think that people who can write and play music must have brains that work very differently from mine. Unless it's very obvious I can't tell whether notes are going up or down and I can't keep a beat with anything but my right foot. I asked my musician friend Erik one time what it was like for him to listen to a song. Did he just automatically know the key signature? Was he always thinking about what the song would look like written out? Could he usually find things that he would have done differently if he had been the one writing it? He said yes to all of those questions and it amazed me. I love music, I love it a lot and I've always wanted to be the kind of person who could write it and play it but I'm not, and it's something that can't be taught. I was in band for a few years and I made it through but only because I understood the mechanics of playing my flute, not because I had any innate sense of what playing music should be like. Any deviation from the written notes and I would have been totally lost, forget "jamming."

It's been so nice out in Arkansas lately. People are starting to go to parks and go hiking and canoeing and do those things that you would imagine people who live in a state whose motto is "The Natural State" would naturally do. As I drove by a baseball field the other day I saw two people standing in the parking lot. The girl was wearing some kind of athletic clothes, which made sense, but the guy was just in jeans and a t-shirt. There were two cars there and they were standing outside of one of them talking. I was watching them and wondering what they were talking about. Why are they in two cars, and why does she look like she's ready to go jogging while he's just wearing street clothes? What business do they have having a conversation in this empty parking lot by a baseball field? Then I thought about Erik. Could he drive by this scene and not wonder at all what brought these two people together on this day at this time, in those clothes? Or would he just be worrying about the key signature of the song playing in the background on the radio? It's interesting how people's brains must work so differently.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Day One

Despite my resolve to change my attitude and look at new experiences as something exciting, I quickly reverted to my comfort zone of discomfort and self-consciousness complete with my goofy "nice-to-meet-you-too" smile as I walked in to work this morning. Trish is the woman who hired me and the person whose bitch I will be. That sounds worse than it is, although I was introduced by her as "my new helper" all day. I didn't mind, I like the work just fine and I like Trish too. She's the kind of woman who fits in an auto parts store. Has anyone seen "Uncle Buck?" Remember his girlfriend? I don't remember much about her but for some reason she came to mind when I met Trish. She loves Pink Floyd. We listened to "Wish You Were Here" on the satellite radio in her office, she told me how "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is actually about Syd Barrett, and we spent our time between phone calls looking at old pictures of David Gilmour on the internet. He was a pretty good looking guy. Trish also likes bikes, you know, BIKES. When I told Justin about her he asked if she rode a Harley. I said I only knew that she went to Daytona Bike Week and wore a bikini top with a leather vest. "Oh yeah, if she's going there and wearing that, she's not riding a Honda." Probably not.

As far as the actual work goes, I seem to just work on accounts receivable and send faxes and try the best I can to figure out how the money flows through our little office. There is a stack of hand-written notes on different colors, sizes, and ages of paper compiled from the notes of helpers-past to guide me through steps in various operations, some of which read exactly like this: "Load the checks into the check scannin thing. Make sure the lite is blinking on the scannin thing to be sure its ready..." Despite my initial revulsion to the obvious mistakes, I found that the notes were surprisingly clear and accurate, and very helpful. I know exactly what the "check scannin thing" is, and you do have to wait for the "lite" to blink before you start sending the checks through otherwise it just won't ever work.

It was a good first day, and I did learn that Napa is NAPA and that's not just a style choice it's an acronym for National Auto Parts Association, but you probably already knew that.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day Zero

Easter is one of my favorite holidays, I like it even more than Christmas. It's like the shy but cute younger brother if Christmas, who can be pretentious and dramatic. I used to like it because I got to wake up to find my basket full of candy (which was a big deal when I was little) and toys and bunnies and eggs, without all the stress of unwrapping and praying that that one thing wanted the whole year would be revealed under the paper, my one chance to get that thing free and clear. Now I like it because I like walking into Story's room and finding him half-naked covered with stickers and sticky jelly-bean residue. I like the shows on the History Channel about Jesus and the Shroud of Turin and the end of time. I like the spirit of new beginnings and resurrection, of going to the grave and rising again.

There's always been controversy about the resurrection and about the Jesus story as a whole and I imagine there always will be. I don't know where you all stand religiously and, at least right now, I don't feel like it's my job to convince anyone of what to believe or how to live, just simply to live and believe myself, the best I can - it's okay, this is not a persuasive essay. In church they say Jesus is all God and all man. The focus often seems to be on his "all God" part and I find that it is the man that I'm drawn to. He was just a guy, who felt all the things we feel, who had the same weaknesses, the difference is he made every right decision in love, which is a capability that I think we all have, as we are made in His image, he's just the only man who's ever actually done it. Then he died, then he rose after three days and told his disciples that yes, it was indeed him, and that he was hungry, he needed something to eat.

The resurrection was a miracle, and here's the thing about miracles: They're hard to believe, they are forever being debated and proven this way and that. The thing is, without that skepticism "miracles" are just "things that happened." It's the doubt that gives us the opportunity for faith. I mentioned earlier the Shroud of Turin, which in my mind is the most compelling evidence in favor of the resurrection, you know, aside from the God-breathed Biblical account of course. Science gets a bad wrap, religiously, for explaining everything, but I think just because you can explain HOW something happened, you can't explain WHY. Explaining how just makes the why all the more interesting. Anyway, nobody can explain how the image got on to the Shroud, it wasn't painted or burned on and the blood was there before the image. Physicists say that if something were to change from matter to energy an image like the one on the Shroud is what would remain, like the shadows on the walls at Hiroshima. I don't know why I'm telling you this except that I think it's so interesting and I get bored thinking about interesting things and not having anyone to tell them to.

I think about the resurrection and I think how I don't like to get out of bed in the morning. I don't know how cold it gets at night in Jerusalem, but here in Arkansas it gets quite cold this time of year and I hate walking out into a cold morning, much less before the sun is up. That's one of the things that makes Jesus all God, I think, not just the whole resurrection thing but having the initiative to do it so early and in the cold. It's the small simple things, I guess. I'd like to, in the spirit of the holiday, start new on Easter, to die to the old things I don't like about myself, to rise into a new attitude, to look at the world with fresh eyes. Tomorrow I start my new job, and it's a good time to start. He is risen, and for the moment at least, so am I.
Happy Easter everyone.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Baby Steps

After a stressful month without taking a breath, I finally found a job. It doesn't pay $11.25/hour, nor do I get to drive around all day and sing really loud in my car, but there will be money coming in to pay the bills and I get my own desk where I can display pictures of my family and leave half-empty tea cups sitting there and know they'll still be there for me to clean up in the morning. I don't have to talk to customers or wait on people or take care of anyone and it sounds like I can pretty much keep to myself and do my work and get discounted auto parts. Yes, I'm the, well I don't know what the title is, I don't think I get business cards to clarify that either, but I'm the person who scans invoices into the company interface and sends out bills and makes sure the money is straight and things like that at the Napa Auto Parts store here in Russellville. My transformation into a working-class Southern wife and mother is nearly complete, now I just have to learn how to cook hamburgers that don't turn out like little crispy meat-coins and start drinking way more milk in a day than I do.

Hard work pays off in the end right? That's what they say? I believe it, I have to, but sometimes the end seems so far away so, in the interest of faith, where I used to give up I now just keep working hard trusting that if I keep my head down, keep moving forward, and taking "baby steps" I'll finally get where I'm going. I think we all know that I've not worked very hard at life until a few years ago, so I certainly can't expect the same results as people who have had a whole lifetime of practice at working hard. While my job at the auto parts store is not nearly the Middle Eastern archaeologist or the history professor or even the unpaid intern at McSweeney's position that I aspire to, it is a means to get there and I'm thankful to have it especially when so many people are struggling these days. Baby steps. Little tiny baby steps.