Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting to it, Job Search

This summer finds me once again in the unfortunate circumstance of having to find gainful employment. At this point I'd happily accept pretty much any job for any amount of money, just to deviate from my current trajectory which can only conceivably land me in a state of full-fledged agoraphobia and complete disconnection from the world as it is. I don't want to get this culture shock I seem to sense every time I venture down my hill and into the land of lives being lived. It's truly disturbing. So, in an effort to redirect, I recently went to this free "job readiness" class. It was just a little three-hour presentation by a woman from the Workforce Center on things like building a resume, what occupations are most in demand, "workplace basics," internet resources, things like that. Couldn't hurt, I figured, and it would get me out of the house, kind of a test-run, to see just how alienated I truly am.

Turns out I'm not actually much of a lost cause after all. 

When I walked into the chilly little conference room where rectangular folding tables and chairs had been arranged three-deep, I decided I was going to stuff my natural inclination to hide somewhere in the back of the class and be passive in every possible way. I was going to participate. So, I didn't sit at the first table, but I didn't sit at the last either. I sat at the second table, at the end closest to the wall facing the door. 

Giving the presentation was this sprightly older woman with grown children of her own. She dotted her "i"'s with little circles and said things like "a positive attitude is contagious." She introduced herself and explained that, with her husband working and kids gone, she took a job at the Workforce Center and gave these classes because she loves interacting with the public, it was one of her passions. Then we were encouraged to go around the room and introduce ourselves and name our passion. Luckily she started at the back table, which was the most full, so I had at least a little bit of time to not listen to other people's introductions and try to figure out what my "passion" is. I started kind of listening when she got to my table and was in fact rather interested when she got to the girl who was sitting next to me.

It didn't escape my attention that my very presence in this class, among the others who seemed to be in attendance, didn't paint me in an especially good light. The class started at 9:00 AM and most of the people there looked like they had just stayed up all night in order to get there at that hour rather than set an alarm. Although much time seemed to have been spent applying makeup and fixing bleached or colored or permed hair, not many of the women in attendance took similar care in selecting professional-looking clothes, opting instead for short shorts or ill-advised leggings and oversized shirts with graphics like "God, Guns, and Guts Made America." The girl sitting next to me had a really painful-looking black eye and had already been talking to me like we were old friends by the time she introduced herself.

I had been agonizing over what my passion was going to be, but she had to stop talking to me, mid-sentence, to make her introduction and declare her passion to the class and she stumbled upon the best "passion" one could have, given the type of job opportunities which seemed most readily available for this, my, demographic. She loved fast food: cooking it, serving it, especially the drive-thru. She wanted to go back to college and learn to "talk good" and get some kind of business degree so she could manage a fast food restaurant.

I was so busy thinking about her life when it was time to give my introduction that I kind of just blurted out my name and said I enjoyed writing. As soon as they moved on to the next person, this girl next to me started talking to me again.

"You like writing? I'm actually a published author," she announced.

Then I was really interested. "Really? That's really cool. What did you write?" I had to ask.

She said, "Remember back in grade school, they had that "young author" award?"

I did remember. She said she had won in fifth grade for a story about a lost horse. Then she proceeded to tell me about the last time she got out of prison. 

By the end of the class I had learned that first impressions last a lifetime, that Spanky the drug-dealer gave this girl a ride home from prison, that we should all prepare a "master resume" and a "targeted resume," that this girl had a son named "Camo, after camouflage," and that the windshield of a car is so big and the rear view mirror is so small because we shouldn't focus too much on what is already behind us and look instead to our big and bright futures.

On our way out I stopped to thank the woman who had given the class and I shook her hand. That day I happened to have some blue string with some beads on it braided into my hair. I was instantly self-conscious about it when I had walked in, but this woman now said that she really liked my hair and asked how I had done it. For some reason, her saying that to me lent some dignity to the whole experience and I left feeling really good. Or maybe a positive attitude really is contagious.

I'm Still Here

Yep, I'm still here. I don't feel good about not having written anything for so long and I have no excuses to offer. I think I just waited a little bit too long, maybe a week or so. Already feeling like a failure, I then started to try to figure out why I got complacent so that I could explain it to you with a more satisfying and elegant word than "sloth." I thought about that for probably a good three to four weeks. Having met with failure again with that task, and as my lists of things to write and worry about grew longer by the day, I decided there's really no noble segue back into posting on a semi-regular basis and if I don't want to succumb to total defeat I've got to just get to it.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Oh, Deer!

When I was little my mother wouldn't let hunters do their hunting on our land. Back then I figured that was strictly because she couldn't stand the thought of something being killed on her property, on her watch. Now I understand that a big part of what drove her to go charging up the ridge, into the forest, to ask hunters politely to leave, wearing earth tones, risking her own life, was that we kids were always running around on that ridge, wearing earth tones.

So, I come by it naturally when I say I don't like hunting. I don't know what it's like to go hunting, but I know I don't want to go because it's everything terrifying wrapped into one experience. Waking up early, trudging off into the cold, sitting perfectly still for hours waiting for... something, loud noises, carnage, heavy lifting, and all to produce a rotting corpse I now have to deal with in a time-sensitive manner. I don't care much if other people want to hunt, I just don't want it to impede my life in any way. I never had any problem with deer. They never seemed to have a problem with me. We were coexisting perfectly, better than most humans and me even. And now this:

We pulled into the driveway the other day and were met by what I interpreted to be a gang of angry punk/grunge adolescent deer standing around trying to look bored and offended at the same time. It was like if deer replaced every album cover from the '90s. They barely lifted their heads. I don't know if there's a poppy plantation nearby where they gather but it's the only thing that makes sense. That or they're organizing.

I was so stunned at their total denial of my entire existence that I actually found myself kind of like, "Hey, deer, uh, these rules were made thousands of years ago, how DARE you stand there in MY way. When I come YOU go, that was the agreement." I was shocked at their audacity and at my reaction to not being considered enough of a threat to their existence to even meander out of the way of the car. They clearly have no idea what I am capable of. As I said before, I still would never kill a deer, but in return, I WOULD appreciate some acknowledgement from the deer of the grace I'm giving their piddling little existence. I'm a MAN! As in, I'm a woman but it sounds better to say "man" when declaring your person hood in front of any sort of obstacle.

I was equally miffed and intrigued after this stare-off and wanted to test them right back, because that's what you do when you find yourself feeling those two emotions equally. So, I waved my arms from inside the car. Blank stares. I actually opened the car door, got out of the car and yelled "Hey, DEER!" A few kind of looked at me like they'd be looking at me while lighting a cigarette, "You sure you want to do this, Slick?" Damn right. So in a display of the most boldness and confidence and superiority I've given in at least a decade, I came from where I was standing behind the car door and marched right up to them. "Hey, DEER!" Looking behind me at Justin still seated in the car. "This is amazing!" I tried to look as menacing as I could, as I felt my bravery slowly crumbling into mere bravado. I raised one arm like it was a gun. It's stupid, I know, but I couldn't back down now, I had to do something. I continued my calculated march with my arm-gun, head kind of tilted like I might be looking through a scope or aiming. Whatever I was doing, just take my word, it was really dumb, but at the time I felt like it was incredibly cool. Before I got within arms reach of the mob I started clapping and they finally skittered off into the back yard, which is where I last saw them, where they probably still are, building a bigger, nicer house behind me to make me look more ridiculous.

So, if only in the interest of maintaining our dignity as MEN, and women and children, infants and infirm alike, someone take some of these deer out. Let 'em start hunting with machine guns and grenades. Otherwise I'm liable to just drift off into the woods in shame and let them move on in because what possible value can a person be if you can't even make deer acknowledge you? Sorry Mom, the world is moving on, changes are afoot, it's a free for all down here.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Parroting and Parrots

I'm not an animal person. They're unpredictable, needy, and just one more living thing I pathologically want to like me. Justin, on the other hand, will welcome anything into our home which requires regular maintenance. Despite our limited space I have deemed one corner our "Flotsam and Jetsam Corner," wherein we have a revolving door of fish and birds. The Flotsam fine as they require minimal attention. The Jetsam, two parakeets, were a nuisance at best to begin with but I've been shocked to find that I am rather intrigued by the birds, Blue in particular. Blue is the blue parakeet, there is also a green one called Green who, when outside of his cage, regularly gets stuck in corners and small spaces inconsistent with life after a time and requires rescuing, which he doesn't even have the sense to recognize he needs and flaps around and bites and fights your good will the whole time. It makes me really resentful.

Blue has a little more sense. When he's let out of his cage he stays pretty much where he's placed and doesn't cause a lot of fuss. I attribute that to higher intelligence than Green, but is more likely due to the fact that we have one of those cool looking old fans with the razor sharp spinning blades behind about four "s"-shaped "protective" wires, about the gage of an earring post. It had occurred to us that the fan did pose a threat to a none-the-wiser pet shop pet with the ability of flight but, as with most potential threats which occur to us, we dismissed it, until one warm night when we heard the sound of something possibly going through a wood chipper and then a bunch of flapping around. We collected him off the floor from among a pillow of chopped feathers and coddled him to soothe the shock and tried to keep him awake to, I don't know, I mean, you're not supposed to let people sleep after a concussion, right? I doubt Blue had gotten a concussion, but we were trying everything short of immersing him in ice water that we'd ever heard of people doing to keep someone from dying. Minus a few feathers I think he came through the better for it since he was clearly significantly traumatized enough to stay where he's put. His favorite place is Justin's old baseball glove.

Justin gets obsessed with certain things over periods of time and once he's amassed a significant collection of products, gear, books, what-have-you pertaining to said obsession, the obsession moves on to something else. For instance, we will never again have to buy light bulbs because he went through a light bulb phase which compelled him to buy several of every size, type, color, wattage, and shape of light bulb. Right now, it's birds. He's a studious man and has devoted himself entirely to learning everything he can about birds, parrots in particular. And I have to say, they're fascinating, more interesting than light bulbs anyway, Tesla connection aside.

Apparently the most intelligent bird is the African Grey parrot, in terms of verbal communication. I find it fascinating that birds can talk. I had always assumed that when a parrot talked, he was merely "parroting" what he had heard. But according to Justin's research, the African Grey, among a few others, actually tell you things, they really are communicating.

The local pet store has a parrot that talks. His name is Clyde. He doesn't like anybody except the owner of the pet store, Mary. There is a sign on his cage warning customers to keep away, he bites. The sign is redundant though because if you even attempt any cutesy stuff with Clyde, he'll say "watch out" or "back off," depending on one's proximity. He acts mean all day but when it's closing time he starts talking his head off to Mary. "Clyde is hungry!" "Clyde wants out." When he gets too chatty, Mary will tell him "that's enough, Clyde, no more talking." To which he'll respond "Clyde doesn't want to stop!" Aside from referring to himself in the first person, he's like a little kid. He's got a vocabulary of about 150 words. And he uses those words not only to express what he's thinking and feeling, but to amuse himself.

Mary has a dog at home and when it's nice outside the dog is let out through a sliding glass door. This would not be a problem except that Clyde has learned that the dog's name is Sue and how to mimic the sound of Mary's voice calling Sue. Mary has had to learn to leave the sliding glass door open when Sue is out because if she closes it, Clyde will call for Sue in Mary's voice just to watch her run headfirst into the glass door. And he'll do it until Sue is about knocked out. Clyde finds it hilarious.

Humor is a pretty sure sign of intelligence. There's kind of a riddle, a thought process that goes with a sense of humor. For an animal to do something strictly because it's funny is amazing to me. On the other hand, these highly functioning parrots are known to mourn. Their life span is something like 30 years. That's a long time to learn language and emotions and form attachments and opinions. When the caregiver of a parrot passes away or is no longer around, they have been known to go into a kind of depressed state. They'll quit talking. They won't eat. They'll even weep, not necessarily shed tears, but will tuck their head under their wing and make sobbing sounds. They're mourning.

So, like I said, I'm not an animal person but I can't deny that they can be endlessly interesting, more so even than light bulbs. Every animal, if you study them enough has something amazing about it, bees, whales, dolphins, dogs, all of them are incredible. I don't want them in my house necessarily but I can appreciate a bird with a sense of humor and attitude enough to tell people to "back off." As for right now, Green is safe in his cage and not lost or stuck or anything and Blue has climbed/flapped up onto the couch and has been sitting on my leg the whole time I've been writing. He can't talk, of course, but I'd like to think that if he could he'd be saying "I like you."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mea Culpa

I've been long in writing because for ten days I was in county jail for a misdemeanor issue from long ago and I wasn't sure if I should say anything or not, but it is a flawed system and I had to experience it and I doubt anybody in there with me has the ability to express the craziness of punishment. I spent my days freezing, starving, bored beyond belief, reading crime novels and putting together puzzles. It would have taken $180 to get me out. I have more time than money so there I sat. It's not a reality you can accept. Every day you have to decide to be miserable and anxious all day because to "make the best of it" makes it okay, and it's not. For now, let his words suffice for mine. I don't want to offend or off-put anybody, but I can verify that what he says is absolutely true. There's no such thing as a "fair" and "speedy" trial. Those words are too abstract. A misdemeanor mole hill can quickly turn into a felonious mountain in no time. A clean record can muddy really quickly when you'll do anything to get out of jail. You find yourself part of a demographic you'd never have dreamed. And it goes on and on. The best defense, of course, is a good offence, but once your defense is gone, you're at the mercy of the prejudices of those determining your fate. I come from a good family, I married into a good family. My mistakes and consequences are purely my own. Being as I have found myself in a questionable, if not totally unfair and ambiguous system, and I have a small platform, I guess. I just wanted to make everyone aware of what happens once you're part of that system. Salil Dudani says it better than I could, and he's probably more credible, but all he says is true, and worse. Again, my consequences are strictly my own, mea culpa.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

...and then I was hit by a truck.

I have a hard time with emotions a lot. I have a hard time figuring out how to behave and when confronted with some emotional outpouring I usually respond in whatever manner I consider most likely to tame that emotion and bring the interaction back into equilibrium. I'm the emotional version of the second law of thermodynamics. Usually this is a good thing, unless it's not and I find myself laughing at totally inappropriate times or saying something morbid and depressing when I should be laughing.

I ran into this girl, a friend of a friend, whose name I couldn't recall in 1,000 years but she talked to me with the familiarity of a lifelong friend, which in itself throws me right away. I was only paying a minimal amount of attention to what she was saying because she looked a little worse-for-wear in the traditional Walmart-shopper uniform of fleece Mickey Mouse pajama pants bursting at the seams, over-sized Duck Dynasty t-shirt, and flip flops. Her red hair was a greasy mess perched atop her head and similarly-clad children were running circles around us. I had to come up with something so I asked her what she'd been doing all these years since I'd last seen her. I was expecting the social standard "not much" or "oh, you know" or something. What I got was more like a list of increasingly tragic circumstances, recounted with all the weight and melodrama which makes these situations so dangerous for me, not a hint of humor or light, something along the lines of:

"Oh girl... well, you know that [what's his name] left me after [what's her name] was born, but what he didn't know was that I was pregnant again! And I guess that's just as well because I lost that baby. Oh, I nearly bled to death on the way to the hospital because the dadgum car wouldn't start and I had to wait for [what's his name two], you know, these two's dad, to pick me up. Anyway, I lost the baby and spent nearly a week in the hospital. I told my boss and had doctor's notes when I got out, but she already hired someone else. We lost the apartment so me and the kids moved in to Mamma's trailer. She has a bunch of cats. Yeah, the cats just come and go. She always has a feed bowl outside for them. Her food stamps don't buy cat food so she usually buys a bunch of bologna and cheese and milk so the cats can just eat what we eat. Well [what's his name three] had just started crawling and got into the cat bowl. Girl, you should have seen it! He had cats climbing all over him! I think I have a picture... [pause for picture of traumatized child] ...Have you ever seen anything like that? Anyway, I took him to the doctor for all the scratches, just to be safe. I just got this stuff I have to rub all over him twice a day. He seems alright, that stuff is sticky though so we have to wipe all the cat hair and crumbs and dirt and crap off of him all the time. Anyway, I found a new job working nights at this gas station but it was about a dadgum mile from the house and I had to walk. I worked there almost two months and then I was hit by a truck."

And with a "what can you do?" shrug her story was over. I had managed the first several sentences with what I felt to be an appropriate degree of sorrow and empathy. About the time the food stamps were used to buy food for the cats I started wondering if I was being messed with but I maintained an empathetic expression while watching her closely for some indication that she recognized how crazy this story was and that it's a lot to react to in a grocery store aisle, but she just plowed right through in an Eeyore-esque monotone. Then she was hit by a truck and, with that, her story was over.

Now it was my turn to look hit by a truck. There was a moment of panic as my hyper-self-awareness tried to reason with my totally-uncalibrated sense of humor. Then I actually issued a giggle as my sense of humor overwhelmed my social grace.

"Damn, girl! You were hit by a TRUCK?!?! I would have started my story with that!" I managed to explain, and it was okay because she seemed to recognize how absurd life can be and that despite all the horror she lived, she had a great story and a captive audience for just those few moments leaning against her shopping cart full of bologna and cheese. She kind of chuckled. I laughed, encouraging her, and she started laughing. I told her I would pray that things got better for her, to "keep in touch" even though we didn't exchange any information, and I patted her on the back with "...hit by a truck, good Lord, girl!" as she giggled and wiped a mass of cat hair and fluff off of the toddler in the cart.

Things might always be horrible and scary and it's hard to keep from being mired down with all the regret and shame and fear and negativity, but, as for right now, I'm thankful that my story doesn't end with me getting hit by a truck. And, as thanks for the story she provided, keep my friend in your prayers.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Boo Radley Is My Neighbor, Maybe

I moved to this nice little plot of land at the "loop" part of Dowdy Loop over ten years ago. In all that time I've not spoken a single sentence to our next door neighbor, Jeff, or Boo Radley-my euphemism for him, the reclusive hero from Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird". We've never even exchanged the niceties one would expect of neighbors. It's not that I'm snooty, and I've been told I can seem snobbish on occasion, nor do I consider myself overly shy or rude or ignorant of social norms. The thing is, in all these years I can't think of a single face-to-face encounter he and I have had. There's the strangeness of that, and then there are some other eccentricities and unflattering stories about him, the validity of which I question but I certainly wouldn't be shocked to find they're true.

There is a wooden fence between our properties. Nearest the road is a nice little house where his mother lived. Behind that is a two-story dwelling that looks kind of like a tree house without the tree. Between the two is a graveyard of old cars and BMX bikes. Sometimes we hear him revving the engines of the cars but they never seem to be driven or even moved. I think he cleans and "restores" the bikes but, like the cars, they never seem to be ridden or moved. And I've only ever actually seen him outside working on his toys a handful of times. In fact, I've had the most luck catching sight of him in the evenings walking from his house to his mother's to get his plate of supper, returning home to eat, then taking his plate back to his mother. And every Thursday he rolls the trash out to the curb for Friday pickup and back again the instant the the trash is emptied. Other than that, he's a rumor, a hypothesis, a phantom. Sometimes we'll be working in the yard and we'll hear footsteps through the leaves on the other side of the fence. Sometimes when we're getting ready to get in the car we'll catch a glimpse of him peeking around the side of a tree. Once, and I still try to convince myself I imagined this but I know it happened, we were sleeping with the bedroom window open, which didn't have a screen, and an arm reached up and through the window. It was jerked back and we heard retreating footsteps as soon as Justin and I had about three heart attacks apiece and turned on the light, but I'm fairly confident I know who it was.

When I first moved here, Boo's mother seemed to be at death's door. We wondered to ourselves how he would one day survive when she was gone. The old dear hung in for a good many years longer than was expected or humane and only passed on about two years ago. We had kind of concluded that Boo would have to move to some sort of assisted living-type establishment based solely on his reclusive and creepy existence which we assumed would prevent him from doing things like paying bills and feeding himself, not to mention interacting with at least one other human being. So now, since he continues to tinker with his toys, wheel his trash out like clockwork, peer at us from behind fences and trees, and presumably pay bills and inexplicably acquire food to sustain life, I'm desperate with curiosity. Is he a sneaky deviant as assumed or is he really a misunderstood kind-hearted recluse more like the fictional Boo Radley who saves the Finch children?

Today as we were working in the yard, a guy, a stranger I'd never seen, approached us from Jeff's property. He was talking to Justin, asking him if he needed any help with his project, but the stranger had my full attention. I'd never known anyone to visit Jeff, much less someone socially appropriate, even outgoing. His name was Steve and the best I could gather, he's some sort of relative of Jeff's and is just staying the night, hanging out and being familial I guess. He said Jeff was talking his ear off.

I couldn't help it. I had to ask what Jeff talks about. How does he survive over there? What does he do all day all by himself? I couldn't contain my curiosity and had to admit I really don't know how to think of him. Steve was easy enough to talk to and conceded that Jeff is certainly not your average guy, may not even be quite all there mentally, but Steve and I did agree that he is an interesting case. I learned that he ventures out about once a month to stock up on necessities. He receives some sort of income, Social Security or disability or something, with which he pays his bills. Steve said he had a TV and a couch in his bedroom and he listens to music and he has a bunch of photographs he likes to look at. I kind of bristled at that and questioned the content of the pictures, but it wasn't what you just, and I at the time, assumed. Steve said he takes pictures of his house and his room. Then he likes to sit in his room and look through all the pictures of his room. In his room.

I'm still undecided as to the eccentric but endearing Boo Radley-ness of my decidedly eccentric enigma of a neighbor. There has been enough questionable behavior to make me uneasy, but in over a decade I've yet to truly fear for my safety, well, aside from the arm through the open window horror show. There's no justification for that, assuming it was, in fact, him. Steve seemed comfortable with, yet aware of Jeff's proclivities, and appeared to even be somewhat amused by him and considers him a kind of harmless oddity. Of course, he spent time in the same room with him as opposed to having him peek at him from behind a tree. Maybe I'll start leaving notes for Jeff in a hollow tree. Maybe one of these days he just might save me or my children. Maybe there are real-life Boo Radleys. Maybe Jeff is one of them. On the other hand maybe one day he'll climb all the way through an open window and murder me...or take pictures of our house that he can look at in our house when he starts coming in night after night.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Gun Control

I've never paid any attention to firearms or legislation regarding firearms, mainly because I don't like guns and I can't spare any attention for such subjects. I have way too much to get wound up about already. I went to the pharmacy the other day though to pick up my most-recently-tweaked prescriptions for zoloft and this new one for anxiety which I don't think I like called buspiron or something. It's had me nauseous and paralyzed all week, which is why it's taken me so long to write again. The pharmacy is right next door to this Red Cross blood donation center so I had to walk by it on my way. In the window they had this sign which read "No guns allowed on premises." It wasn't official or anything, just typed up on a piece of paper and taped in the window. It struck me as really funny and really strange for some reason.

For one thing, I wondered who typed up the sign? Was it some Red Cross worker who had just had it with gun-carrying blood donors? Was it a volunteer who had seen one too many episodes of Dexter and grew fearful that someone would come hold her at gunpoint and demand blood? Was it someone who, like me, doesn't like guns, and, unlike me, refuses to accept them as a kind of compromise for living in this state? I can't imagine guns being a problem big enough to move someone to type up and hang such a sign at a blood donation facility.

Then, I suppose one might consider that the sign is meant to protect us, the general public, from getting blown away while giving blood. Of course, the Red Cross would want to protect their blood donors, but as a member of the general public and a potential blood donor, of all the places to get shot, I couldn't help but feel that a blood bank would seem more appropriate, even MOST appropriate. Aside from being shot in an actual hospital, a place like a blood donation facility with standards of sterilization, medical equipment, and a staff with at least a minimal amount of training, would be my choice of crime scene if someone were to shoot me.

I sat there and thought about this while I waited on my prescriptions, half chuckling, half thinking about writing about it if something more exciting didn't come along this week and kind of stared up at the ceiling. In the pharmacy, in all pharmacies anymore, there were cameras everywhere. I counted three just pointed at the cash register. Do they think a person robbing a pharmacy is really doing it for the cash? Are people even robbing pharmacies anymore? Aren't all the narcotics locked up and dispensed by machine? And if there is a Drugstore Cowboy out there among us, wouldn't he be carrying a gun? Why didn't the pharmacy have a "no gun" policy? I would think that, of the two, the pharmacy would be much more high-risk than the Red Cross, when it comes to gun violence.

When I got back in the car with Justin, I pointed out the sign. He does pay attention to anything gun-related, and keeps up with the politics. He said that it's actually illegal for them to post a sign banning guns from the premises. Everyone down here has guns, and carries them. To carry a hand gun, the law is that you must have a permit and have it concealed. A person who has their concealed hand gun permit wouldn't let their gun be seen, even while giving blood, rendering the sign even more problematic to me. Who was the sign meant to protect, indeed FROM whom was it meant to protect? Am I to believe that there are people illegally wielding firearms who also donate blood regularly enough to justify such a sign?

I've been laughing and thinking about that sign since Monday. I just can't think of a reason why someone, let alone enough people to require a sign, would want to carry a gun into a Red Cross facility. If you want to donate blood in this town, though, you best leave your guns at home, or be prepared to debate the legality of the sign in the window.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Check Your Pulse

I need to preface this by a few acknowledgements. First of all, it's been too long, I mean this to be weekly and my only excuse is that I had my Big Idea before I allowed myself to watch the morning news on Monday. Since then I've been seeing these weird parallels, as shocking to me as anyone. I'm trying to whittle it down but it will probably be a long self-psychoanalisys and ill-informed op-ed based on a half hour of news, Weekend Update, and YouTube videos.

First, my epiphany. Of course, I've known I've been born with this innate kind of survivor's remorse for no real reason, so I've dedicated my life to punishing myself for being blessed. I have tried everything to make the crushing guilt abate while being ever vigilant to anticipate all possible catastrophic scenarios and have a plan so I'm prepared, to head off the crushing anxiety. I've been totally unsuccessful. It's the epitome of futility. The guilt never goes away because the catastrophes are never what I'll expect and, being a hyper-critical, skeptical, Virgo, AND melancholy Wednesday's child lacking both trust and confidence, I've spent 34 years searching for something certain. If one person in the world can doubt an idea, clearly it's not concrete enough. I've been wandering around in a dark forest with a lamp, squinting into the horror of the darkness, stubbing my toes, falling down, torn to ribbons by briars, and being constantly terrified of what I'm already enduring and paralysed by guilt by dragging through the underbrush those I meant to protect. And all along I've had this lamp. If I quit trying to head-off the hell on Earth I seem to be manifesting myself and just look down, maybe I'll see that lamp illuminating my path and appreciate how pretty the leaves on the trees are and just take baby steps in the light as opposed to the total destruction of planning ahead in the pitch dark.

A plan like that is reasonable, only I can't stop the "what ifs?" I may be on my pretty path now, but what if I look up? What if it stops abruptly? What if it's not even the right path? Nothing is real, and everything is suspect if I can ask "what if?" So I've pared everything down to its most basic. That's why I try to keep my head down and limit as much input as possible, I'm better off. "I think, therefore I am?" Lost me. My thinking cannot be trusted. So what is real? Well, I think, therefore I'm alive. I'm alive! That's it! I can check my heartbeat any time. No question. From there the possibilities are endless! I didn't start my heart and I don't control its beating nor can I stop it so clearly there is a higher power, and there must be a path He set for me if I relinquish my compulsion to avoid destruction by being terrified in the dark and trust to look down and appreciate the lamp light.

So, I was pretty excited about being able to check my pulse at any time when I turned on the news for the first time in ages and the lead story, this is no joke, was a kid in Kansas who invented a locker soda vending machine where you can put money in a locker and get a Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew, followed by a commercial for a diabetes medication, an insurance company, fast food, hospital, new cars, and injury lawyers, which all seem to kind of cancel each other out. Check the pulse. Yeah, this is real. Then, Donald Trump. And Hillary. The sound was down for part of it but I have to say, based on body language alone, I found Hillary off-putting at best, and Trump at least appropriate. Then, with sound, Trump was using adjectives! Only psychopaths and politicians avoid adjectives. It doesn't occur to the former, the latter don't want to qualify anything on purpose. Trump has my attention. It's something totally new. That's exciting. Check the pulse.

This is not a platform to air my psychosis or my ill-informed political views, and normally I would never reveal anything about my thinking that may offend anyone, or worse, make me look stupid. But Donald Trump said in an old interview "I know I'm right and when I know I'm right, I don't question anything." I can't believe I'm quoting the Trumpeter, but never in my life would it have occurred to me to have to confidence to make such a declaration. No "what if?" So, it's in that spirit that I'm posting this, having no clue who thinks what or if I may offend or what is really real. This is a risk it's taken me a week to evaluate, until I realized, evaluation is another form of lack of trust and confidence, more squinting into the darkness, no absolutes. Press "Post." Check the pulse.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Family Tradition

There are those readers who know more about my past than others, and I'm not going to get into that here, suffice it to say I've had extreme highs and extreme lows. This is a story of a memory of an extreme high, maybe the best memory of my adult life.

I worked as a bookkeeper at Cross Auto Supply for about two years. It was a job I was lucky to get at a good, family-owned, local business which sold NAPA auto parts. The work was easy yet engaging enough to make me feel productive, the people with whom I worked were also engaging and productive, and though I wasn't technically full-time and didn't qualify for real benefits, there were benefits to just working for and with the management and other staff. For instance, I had never worked at a place where they had a Thanksgiving potluck at work AND each employee was given their very own Thanksgiving turkey (which ended up sitting with pride in my freezer until I was forced to throw it away when I moved out of that apartment). For Christmas we were all treated to a three-course feast at a nice local restaurant, complete with a magician for entertainment. And in the summer every employee and every one of their family members were given complimentary tickets to an Arkansas Travellers baseball game. Arkansas doesn't have their own major league team, but proud we are to be the home of the St. Louis Cardinals farm team.

At the time, my family available to attend was my husband, Justin, my stepdaughter, Holly who was probably about 14, my stepson, Hayden, 12-ish, and Story, our son who was about four. It was the first real, just-for-fun outing the five of us had embarked upon.

I had been excited about it for weeks, not because I particularly care about the Travellers or sports in general or because we'd be travelling ourselves about 70 miles from home in Russellville to Little Rock in my compact Corolla with four, shall we say, unpredictable individuals and a four-year-old whom we had already self-diagnosed with raging ADHD, or the idea of introducing my proudly rag-tag family to and meeting my co-workers as-of-yet unknown families, but because I was so proud to be employed by the type of people who offer such opportunities for fellowship, and I was able to extend that opportunity to my family. I felt very grown-up, responsible, and successful, independent.

When we arrived in Little Rock after a relatively uneventful loading of the family and hour and a half on the road, wrong turns and all, which was quite a source of relief and feeling of accomplishment in itself, we picked up our tickets at the will-call window and made our way to the refreshments area reserved for Cross Auto Supply guests. There we were provided with ball park staples like hot dogs, chips, sodas, and cookies to enjoy before the game. Luckily there were a number of people whose entourage included relatively young children so the storm of hot dog bun bits, crunched chips that Story's fist couldn't quite cram into his mouth, spilled sodas, ice, napkins and all went relatively unnoticed.

After eating and introductions and chit-chat and abandonment of any self-consciousness replaced invigorated pride in my respective pride, we made our way to the stands and took our seats to stand up for the singing of the National Anthem and "Play Ball!"

I don't remember much of what happened on the field, so busy was I running Story to the bathroom and back (I think he was just faking so he could run, and I mean run, all over the stands). I was watching, trying to listen to, Holly and Justin make their inside jokes, laughing with Hayden laughing with Story, playing musical chairs as Holly had something funny to say to Hayden or Hayden having a question for Justin or Story climbing over all of us, and even some people who weren't "us," and everyone having their own version of a good time all together. I have no idea who won or lost and couldn't tell you who we even played.

What I remember most about that night was after the game. We had to walk about a mile to where we had parked the car and I lagged behind a little bit. I watched Justin and the kids and so seldom it seemed that all five of us were in the same good mood at the same good time, when everyone teased and was equally teased in return with no hurt feelings or outbursts of anger. I didn't mind the walk, it was so nice to watch my husband being a playful and admired leader, Holly on the brink of breaking away from us in favor of friends, Hayden so confident in who he was and learning more every day, Story so excited to have all his people, the nucleus of his world, there together, out and about in the world, and me bringing up the rear, trying to document it all in my mind, such was my sense that this was a last best memory we would all have, just like this, completely in sync, resonating even, before a not-unhappy but natural discord took hold as each of us moved on to the next phase in our respective lives.

On the ride home Justin got hold of the iPod and played the most perfect selection of Southern hits which we all knew. Every word. We all went down, down, down into the burning ring of fire, sang along as Johnny committed what might be a sin, taking on the Devil for that fiddle made of gold, spat Beech-Nut in that dude's eye and shot him with our old .45, laughed along as Momma got runned over by a damned ol' train, and all because, down here, for that laughing, carefree, snapshot of a night, it was a Family Tradition.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Miso Sick

It's pretty rare that I get legitimately sick. I attribute that to a strong immune system, despite, or because of, the assaults I've launched at it over the years and the fact that I'm not immunized. That's probably not a fact that should be advertised over the Internet these days since you'd have to be insane not to immunize your children and it required a number of hoops through which to jump to acheive back in 1982, I imagine the hoops are a little narrower and ablaze these days. I still have my Social Security number and my salvation and all. As it stands I simply have to rearrange my entire home, including the various junk closets and hidey-holes I've maintained over the years to keep track of important documentation like my religious exemption card which must be presented in lieu of my shot record and sign a few forms agreeing to be quarantined if I come down with polio or the measles or something every time I apply to college or for a passport, things of that nature where I'm a risk to my own health and the health of everyone around me, apparently. And for those of you wondering, the main tenant of the religion which allowed my exemption is that members of said religion don't immunize their children. My parents didn't sell my soul, and immunity, to some cult or anything. Kind of, but we didn't have to communicate with any of those people or anything once I was safely away from the needle-crazed "doctors" at the hospital where I was born. Later it turned out the doctor who delivered me went to jail for embezzling or something, probably on the take from pharmaceutical companies, there's no more real information there, just an interesting side note.

I say all that to illustrate this: Getting sick is terrible and foreign and scary for me and in order for me to get better, there are several things I require. Being as my immunization history was questionable at best, I realize now it must have been quite harrowing for my parents to ever take me to a traditional doctor and listen through what I imagine was a pretty intense chastising on their opinions and beliefs followed by an equally intense sales job, followed by a prescription for antibiotics, which I can never get out of a doctor's office without accepting anymore. I never fill them. What I DO do, if quite certainly on my death bed and forced to go to the doctor, I'll wait for about three days in the waiting room to see the on-call doctor, spend another eternity in the secondary waiting room, with the tissue covered doctor's office furnishing which I'm never sure whether to sit with my feet danngling over the edge, the bottom, or just go ahead and lie down and make use of that pillow and read every issue of "Martha Stewart's Living" I can find so I can get some cute name card ideas for my next luncheon, if God promises to make me feel better, I swear I'll organize. I'm mid-way through making my own decorative candy-popper place settings when the doctor comes in poised to write out my prescription for antibiotics.

I'm always sure to tell the doctor what makes THIS particular illness different from any other which antibiotics have helped and if he writes me anything that doesn't end in -icin or -illin, I'll fill it, otherwise I stick to my old tried and true remedies from my doctor growing up, "doctor" being used loosely here as he was a Doctor of Chiropractic. More than that though, he had a more Eastern view of health, wherein the body is only healthy when functioning at its peak level, as opposed to the more Western "absence of disease" forum. Dr. Todd said that, for my body type, pineapple was the best medicine for when I was sick. In addition to that, I should follow the B.A.R.T. diet, which consisted of bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast, nothing heavier than that. The main thing though, was to listen to my body and if I'm craving it, eat it. When you're sick, you're not going to crave anything that is going to make you throw up, your body is on your side, after all. Usually I'll crave weird things for a sick person like spicy food or something rich which strays far indeed from the B.A.R.T. diet. I ALWAYS though, every time I'm sick, crave miso soup.

Miso soup is hard to find down here. For a bowl of good miso soup, there's a nice Japanese restaurant here that will sell you a bowl for $10, which is absurd for a soup that is made from ingredients most people don't even consider food, but they do put a lot of fuss into making it seem like a $10 bowl of soup with noodles and vegetables and you can get it with shrimp or chicken or beef or something, which I feel almost remiss not to do when paying that price so I usually get shrimp since I figure it costs more than the other options, and it IS my very favorite miso soup and I have to be at death's door and willing to wipe out our savings to get it. I never even eat the shrimp or other fancy stuff. I pick around all that for the tofu cubes and the nori,  or seaweed, if you want to just call it like it is. Most people get physically ill at the idea of tofu, seaweed, maybe some slivers of green onion, in what I think is a kind of fermented soy bean broth, but I swear it's the only thing that makes me better when I'm sick.

This last go-round I found myself propped up on the empty cart at Walmart in the Asian foods section deciding between this packaged soup with noodles and a "topping packet" and "seasoning packet" with the plastic bowl and the American-ized Asian-type typeface for like, $3.00, and this slim package of "Miso Soup" which claimed to have three servings in this thin little packet, it was like astronaut food, which was like $2.00 for three whole servings. As I usually do when facing a two-point decision, or any decision, I went with both. What's  $5.00 as opposed to $2.00 or $3.00 when the soup I really wanted was $10 and I would have given my life itself to not be in Walmart at the moment? Or ever.

I made the one with all the packets first and it couldn't have been too bad because I kept it down, but it wasn't anything to write an entire blog entry about, unless you're me and these are the exciting things in life. The next day I tried the astronaut miso soup. It was exactly what I wanted. It was just mild enough for me to not worry about keeping it down, but it had enough flavor to indulge that salty, umami (I think we talked about this in a long ago post) craving, and all it had in it was the tofu and the seaweed. It was so good. The serving size per packet was only 3/4 of a cup, so I had to overindulge, but I'm an American with an American-sized appetite, even when sick. In Asia 3/4 of a cup is probably about right, as a people group Asians are tiny, and I mean that in the most politically correct, complimentary way. Anyway, that's why I've been so long writing anything. I've been sick and uncertain of my strength of body or mind. I've been sitting in doctors offices feeling both beaten and superior at the same time. I've been in Walmart, under acres of fluorescent lights deciding which American, Asian food half-aisle selection is the most authentic Japanese dish. And now I'm here, having survived it all thanks to Walmart carrying surprisingly satisfying miso soup, a chiropractor with some healthy life lessons, and a good old-fashioned, new age, upbringing. And a delivery room doctor who may or may not still be in jail, whose influence on my life may have been greater than we could ever guess. And I suppose I owe the world a decorative luncheon.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, New Me, New Post, Same Old Password - Miracles Abound in 2017

Today is January 2, 2017. A new year. New Year's is my favorite holiday because it's the only holiday that we, as a nation, and most of the world, all celebrate together, with no political undertones or sensitivity regarding beliefs or concerns about offending anyone, no stress of gift giving or the proper reaction upon receiving a gift. It's just simple. Joyous. New Year's is one day out of the year that we can all celebrate together, each with our own resolve to make this year THE year. We're given a fresh start and a chance to calibrate who we endeavor to be with who we currently are, starting NOW. Or yesterday. I'm not willing to work on procrastination yet. So it's January 2nd, I'm lucky I was able to remember my password to log in to my blogger dashboard in less than two frustrating days. I didn't even plan on resurrecting this creative outlet, but looking back at my endless drivel posted loud and clear all over Facebook, I started feeling really self-conscious and embarrassingly presumptuous that people really have the time and interest to invest in reading a paragraphs-long diatribe on why I, knowing nothing about cars,  unable to even DRIVE the car I reference because it's a standard, believe Toyotas are the best car for your money. I stand by that still, but my excessively long explanation and laundry list of pros was totally unsolicited. The original comment was some inquiry about a clicking sound when their (non-Toyota) car made a turn. So I saw the word "car" and launched into an ad campaign about this 1983 Toyota pickup I'm chauffeured around in, which has new floor mats specifically so that I can't see the road and feel the cold coming through the holes in the floor now that the weather is changing. Looking back on 2016 behavior like that, getting hyper-sensitive, and subsequently cracking the password to my account without tears or tearing through old notebooks with scribbled information like that which I was certain I'd never forget at the time, added up to the return of the wayward wanderer, the indignant lost humbly found, the Facebook drone with a new platform to vent her platitudes and self-righteous, second-degree vanity. Follow along if you like, and you don't have to click any thumbs-up, or decide on the most accurate emoticon, leave a comment or send any message. I'm not quite sure how I'll figure out what to write about, but as I think I once said in a Facebook monologue, a good writer can make a story about anything, so intricate and layered are our thoughts and the world around us. As my mom once answered the question "What does your husband write?" She, already losing words from the dementia, said "He writes this," and patted his heart. It's a new year, 2017, and I'm tired. My mind is tired. It's time to quit thinking and planning and analyzing and begin. It's all there, right under my mothers open palm, it's time to write this. Arkansas is again your kansas. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and today is the first day of the rest of your life and all that. Fingers crossed.