Saturday, November 29, 2008

Day three hundred and thirty two ... Picture perfect.

The last few Thanksgivings have been strange affairs, to say the least.

Sometime around 2003 or so, we, as a family, decided to give my mom a break from cooking and, instead, started going to the Chinese buffet in Taunton to pig out. It was rather a shock at first, both to me, as a man steadfast in his belief in tradition as a binding and bettering force for all of humanity, and for my mother who was pleased that we would think of easing her burden after all these years of making a turkey with all the fixings but who would continue making a turkey with all the fixings every year, regardless--so we could have leftovers. She was one of a kind.

The smell of a turkey in the oven is one of the most satisfying and comforting aromas I can think of. Its subtle, savory, and salty overtones mixing with the sweet caramelizing notes imparted by the skin, invade a special part of one's brain reserved for the time of family. If you lived in my house, you could add to that the corresponding smell and flavors of the bacon which Mr. Tom Turkey was draped ceremoniously with. The constant opening and closing of the oven to baste and rotate the bird allows for so much of the furiously hot air, filled with dense flavor particles, to infiltrate the surrounding atmosphere. The aforementioned rotating of the bird had been my mother's job until I had become old enough and strong enough to be trusted with its safety. Despite my mother's retirement from this detail, every year, with a 375 degree open oven and a twelve pound bird stuffed with three pounds of stuffing held precariously in my oven-mitted hands, my mother would forego safety and hover just a bit too close, nervously anticipating a near or present disaster. 

But disaster had rarely come on Thanksgiving, either on her watch or mine.

Except for one year.

The story is a simple one, but its legend has lived on and on in my family with such chiseled detail that it was almost as if we had learned about it in Sunday school.

The story is set in the late Seventies. Collars were wide, plaid shirts ruled my bureau, and earth tones and bold patterns were everywhere in sight. The fridge was full of Pepsi, Tab, and Coors Light. The latter was for my aunt, who would have two or three every once in a while. She would later downplay this to one or two every month, but I was closer in stature to the bottom drawer of the fridge, and I kept a close eye on the conspicuously labeled beverages. They seemed so adult to me. Go figure.

My mother had taken the bird out of the oven and placed it on a serving tray; it was ready. She was on her way with it over to the dining room table to bring to the ravenously gathered Johnsons, and held it high in front of her so that Bonnie, our yipping Wirehair Fox Terrier, wouldn't get at it, as if somehow she could suddenly find the strength to leap five feet straight up and grab the ten pound bird in her jaws and fly away under the couch. Just then, with the whole family watching, and with a mighty yelp, my mother had managed to slip and fall on the kitchen floor. Kaplunk! And then there was a short silence, followed by loud barking, and then laughter: my mother's laughter. And Bonnie was wagging her tail, lapping at the sides, back, top, and front of our dinner like a rescued Saharan refugee. The turkey had landed on top of my mother's generous belly, and her equally generous bottom had protected her back and spine from harm. She was alright. And seeing she was alright, and also spontaneously knowing how best to handle the situation, my dear aunt Lynda did the natural thing: she fired up her camera. She flipped open her Polaroid (always the techie, my aunt) and sarcastically asked my mom to smile. The look on my mother's face was a mixture of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance all at once. In a matter of a few seconds my aunt would, of course, help my mother up and make sure she and dinner were okay. But before then--before that necessary and courteous action could take place--my aunt had to capture that moment in time. Little did she know that we would never actually need the picture to remember the event. All we would need was for the holiday to come around again ... and again ... and again ... and again.

But I know there's a picture of this somewhere--a picture of my mother laid out on the floor, in tears of laughter, hearing a mix of the grunts of our dog close by, and the sounds of her family stuffing reflexive laughter into their pockets (and dutifully, albeit reluctantly, commanding the corners of their mouths to retreat from the smiling position) ten feet away. I can see it in my head: her look of amused resignation that despite the care, caution, and paranoia that went along with cooking ten or twelve pounds of nicely appointed meat for three hours, fate had intervened and brought her down to the level of the little dog, Bonnie, who had watched her master's precise cooking process for as long, if not longer, than we had. And now she was getting to sample it, and we were watching from the sidelines like common house pets. Around the holidays, irony knows no bounds.

And I know there's a picture of this somewhere, because my aunt always used to threaten my mother to have it framed and put on the dining room wall in honor of that most glorious event. My mom would almost always say, "Lynda, who needs a picture of it when you can just bring it up every Thanksgiving like you do?" And my grandfather would give me a wink and say, "Fred. Go see if your mother needs help," to try to change the subject. And my grandmother would clasp her hands and nervously sing along with the holiday music on the stereo a little louder, while she waited for the obligatory observance of the remembrance of the fiasco to pass. My mother would only be able to be mad at herself so long for allowing such a holiday faux pas to happen, and she too would smile and laugh and mention how Bonnie was our official taste tester that year, as she cut off a little bit of her meat and dropped it on the floor for her (or any of the subsequent canines we had after her passing). 

But it was as predictable as a side of cranberry sauce that my aunt would bring it up. She loved her sister with all her heart, but she loved to get her goat (as they used to say) almost as much. 

This continued, almost uninterrupted, up until, and including, our last few Thanksgivings together. The only exception being the one I spent with my mother while she was still in the hospital in November of 2005, a few weeks after her unsuccessful surgery attempt to remove the cancer on her pancreas. That day I spent the time with her alone, as my aunt had been in earlier in the day and we were, as a family, a big mess of nerves and hyper-cautiousness, coming in shifts and trying to carefully ignore the idea that this could very well be my mother's last Thanksgiving.

It was not.

My dear mother hung on like the trooper that she was for another thirteen and a half months, and we celebrated in 2006 like we never had before, as strange as that sounds.

The spread of shrimp cocktail; the onion dip and chips; the wasabi peas (a recent addition to encourage my aunt Anne to induce a wasabi nose burn featuring yelps and hoots at maximum volume); and the shrimp dip and crackers that had been my mom's specialty, but which, in recent times, had become mine.

The spread: Mr. Tom Turkey (complete with bacon) which my mom--as sick as she was--inexplicably made from beginning to end; the peas, corn, stuffing, mashed potatoes (my handiwork), and gravy. Not pictured, is the bowl of boiled turnips and carrots which nobody really ate, but which my grandfather had loved always and had requested at every holiday dinner. It was made every year, up to and including this one, regardless of the fact that he died in 1989. 

My aunt Lynda, at the ready. 

And the whole family: Judy, Lynda, Alex, and Anne. 

While this is not the last holiday we all spent together, it is the last picture of the four of us in one photo. I can thank the timer for that. 

In this picture you can see a ceramic duck-shaped dish. This duck-shaped dish contains the aforementioned turnip/carrot mix. And that dish is one of the most prized Johnson possessions--not that I every really was told why.

I made copies of this picture of the four of us, and gave it out as Christmas presents--framed--a little over a month following. Not long after, on January, 11, my Mom would pass away and everything would change ... as it always does.

Last year was a bit of a blur. I had just returned from France after spending three weeks with the Young at Heart Chorus, content with my success of taking pills instead of drinking. It was the first Thanksgiving without my mother. I remember going to someplace to eat; I remember the walls were dark brown; and I remember some strange looks from my companions. Other than that, sadly, it was a wash.

And this year I spent with family as well, though I did not leave Hampshire County, as I had for as long as I have lived in it. Instead, I spent the afternoon with my dear friends Steve and his wife, Michelle; Michelle's sister, Jennifer; her husband, Billy, and their beautiful little boy, Wiley. I made cookies in my new house, and gave some to the neighbors I had written about in a previous post--the ones that left me brownies on moving day. I got as dressed up as I ever have been, and brought over my version of a couple of bottles of wine--San Pellegrino--and as is like me, drank both of them myself. We toasted to those that came before us, those that are with us now, and those that could not be there. We laughed and we ate and we enjoyed the possession of life together. We listened to the soothing sounds of classical music on the radio until the news program started--almost on cue--as silverware hit the china, and it was switched to rock and roll. We talked of new houses, and music, and Lincoln Logs, and cookies, and Pirates, and old hippie bands, and past egregious inebriated actions, and the recent absence of them, and old friends, old dogs, old apartments, and old landlords. 

We had cookies and relaxed, and as the afternoon turned to evening it came time to depart. I said goodbye and gave hugs all around. I clomped down the stairs to my car and felt the distinct chill on my head that reminded me that I had left my hat upstairs. I ran up to grab it and wasn't at the least concerned if anyone had been talking about me. And if they were, it could only be for good reasons ... at least this year. I drove the five minutes it takes to get to my house and changed into pajamas and watched a movie, nice and loud.

And it wasn't until this morning that I realized I hadn't told anyone at the dinner party about the time my mom fell down and dropped the turkey, and how Bonnie had gotten to taste it first, and how my aunt took a picture of it and ...

Well, you get the picture.

Like I said, the last few Thanksgivings have been strange affairs, to say the least.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Day three hundred and thirty ... For you.

Thanksgiving morning, 2006.

Mattapoisett, MA. 

Happy Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day three hundred and twenty-nine ... Shine on.

I knew there was something different about the place.

See, Northampton prides itself on being this sort of picture postcard that hits all the right buttons when you observe it.

It's progressive; there are excellent schools and, subsequently, intelligent thought thrives in the air, the telephone lines, and on the streets. It's relatively clean, despite the town doing away with the Honor Court (who used to sweep the streets as part of community service). It's full of colorful people (not necessarily people "of color"--it's 90% white--although I suppose white is a color). And it's steeped in history, having celebrated its 350th anniversary back in 2004.

And because of all of these factors and more, it likes to peacock. That is, it likes to show off and fluff its feathers when it can, which is often, and, more often than not, it does it with class, taste, and quality. It is rare that bureaucracy and elegance go hand in hand, but Northampton seems to pull it off.

But two years ago I noticed something right around this time of year. Or, I should say, I noticed the lack of something: lights on the trees.

I couldn't believe it. Every year since I had lived here the town had become a blaze of white lights up and down Main St. and even down a few of the less travelled ones. So, being the ever curious fellow that I am, I inquired as to why they were not honoring this delightful tradition.

I was told it was to save the trees from harm.


Yes. What I was told was that for years the town had been just leaving the lights up all year round, wrapped around the trunks and branches of all the trees on Main St. and because of that, the trees had suffered some damage from the wires cutting into their bark.

And, like Michael Moore wearing jeans with a tux jacket to the Oscars a few years back, it made sense and it was ridiculous. 

I was told that instead of having the lights on the trees during the holidays, they were going to put up lights around the flag-like advertisements that hang from each and every street light. 

Great. Now they were even more like billboards.

And I couldn't get over how ludicrous it was to just disregard the wonderful and awe inspiring tradition that is lighting up all the trees on Main St. due to the fact that they would have to put them up and take them down every year. I wasn't paying property taxes back then, but if I was, I would have most certainly given some random clerk down at City Hall a piece of my mind.

So I did my usual thing: I bitched about it the first year to anybody and everybody who would listen, and then I kind of forgot about it the year after that ...

... until they came back.

It made me so very happy to know that they figured out a way to make it work this year; that they decided that the past two years didn't look so hot, and they would take the time and pay the guys the overtime to put the lights up, and (I'm assuming) take them down when the season's over.

Because the trees have every right to get a bit gussied up for the Holidays. They have all year to leave the lights in the closet. These are the days when it's time to shine. It's a time when we all make sure we can still fit into that sport coat or that dress that's been hanging up in the closet. We make an effort to wear the shoes that aren't our favorites, but look like they should be. We put up with our mothers pinning a little santa pin on us and we know that, as much as we may moan over it, that there's nothing like the feeling of your parent pulling you close with a forceful but loving hand to put a decoration on you. It's stronger of a force than any law officer can exert. There's that sense that they really do hold a special power over you. They made you, they raised you, and regardless of how much you want to deny it, they know what's right. You may be too cool for school and casually take the santa hat off halfway through the opening of the presents, but you wear the damn thing until then; you have no choice. And you know what? Sometimes, giving in is exactly what you need to show that you are in control. Sometimes we show more in our willingness to comply then we do by refusing to play along. 

And so, it pleases to no end that my town is wearing its Holiday best this year. I'm glad that Northampton realized that the bit of extra work that may hurt come the end of the fiscal year from paying the men in the cherry pickers will be worth it in the proper spirit that the sparkling trees exude. This is the time of the year that our belts cut in a little more than they used to, whether it's from a pair of dress slacks that would rather be doing anything except testing it's fibrous constitution, or a checkbook being stretched to its limits for any number of reasons that come with the Holiday season. 

And just like the trees, we need to loosen these binds when the season is over and get on with the lives we lead the rest of the year. 

But for now, let us shine on while our filaments still glow.

They won't last forever, but they won't all go out at once, either.

And that's nice to know.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day three hundred and twenty-eight ... Letting the spiders live.

My mother and aunt couldn't have been more different.

My aunt was more often thin than not; my mother quite rotund.

My aunt ardently eschewed parenthood; my mother lived for her child.

My aunt taught English--a restless, colloquial, malleable, and opinionated medium; my mother taught science--unequivocal, calculable, deductive, and true.

My aunt hated spiders with a vengeance.

My mother rescued them on a regular basis from the wrath of her sister's rolled up newspaper.

But they got along so well that I wouldn't be surprised if the cancer that took my aunt in September was exacerbated by the pain and longing she felt deep down--a pain one can ignore with the brain most of the time, while the heart picks away with an ax at a hole in the wall while the warden is dozing.

My mom taught me a lot about nature. The national parks were her Hollywood Bowl. Getting out of the car and walking towards the scenic platform with her was like accompanying a superstar from her dressing room to the stage. We would get to the proverbial mic, and the show would begin. I would love to see the parents of the surrounding children shoo them in the direction of me and my mom as she explained how the majestic landscape, or cave formation was formed. They could have read about it on the iron relief placards which punctuate each point of interest, but they wouldn't get my mother. They wouldn't get a woman who was limitlessly impressed with what grand confluence of events had to take place to make gravel. They wouldn't get the rosy woman with the long, brown hair explaining with great zeal how everything one can observe in the natural world has a purpose, and everything, if you boil it down to its essence and strip away any human interference, shapes a letter; that letter then completes a word; that word is strung together to make a sentence; and finally, that sentence is combined with millions of other phrases, exclamations, questions, and answers to comprise the big book of life.

And spiders had just as much a right to be there as we did.

And so, I was taught about them as a child; not as a threat, but as a wondrous creature--nomadic when dispossessed yet traditional and community-minded at heart, building a house, a family, and a graveyard all in one, toiling endlessly in their microcosm of a neighborhood, and from their intellect and instinct stocking their kitchens. And while they may have a bad reputation around town, and their only real friends may be those of its kind, their courtyard was rarely empty and their audience consistently rapt with interest. They walk with grace despite disproportion, and if one needs any coaxing to admit their beauty one need only to walk through any garden at dawn, slowly, patiently, and find the nearest, newest spun web. To me, the dew glistening off the silk of a freshly spun web is as inspiring a sight as the most silver city skyline reflecting sun from its buildings, holding untold opportunity both for architect and inhabitant alike.

I am still discovering the house I shall live in until I die. It is spotlessly clean, and yet it has families still living in neighborhoods unseen. Sporadically the spider goes off to work like we do, leaving its home open to those with keen eyesight. Often I can tell there is no one returning anytime soon and so I will clean up the mess and move on. But as I come upon a corner with an occupied house I will knock with a gentle breath. If I see the resident pull the shade down I will cease my canvassing--I have enough to do to mess with paying tenants. Because the spiders--with their unflagging work ethic--provide a service; my mother taught me that. The spider takes care of the creatures which--whether it be luck, lack of intelligence, curiosity, or a sick proclivity towards self-destruction--will lose the battle against time. If they are lucky they have a family to carry on the genes--perhaps one of millions, billions, or trillions even. Of course, there's a chance that they are the last of their line, unwittingly relinquishing their crest in an odds-stacked fight for another's continued lineage. 

People tend to be quite frightened of spiders.

It is true that they bite--they live in this world, and to live is to fight for life. And excepting the stray straggler who rappels for the best of intentions and finds itself wrapped up in our introverted world, it is more often their house which we invade and either imprison in a vacuum bag or flat out extinguish with a rolled up newspaper. And then their house is empty. Its weeds grow as the dust clings like sustenance once did. And rafters fall in, beams give way, and the house falls down and into itself. 

And the city condemns it with a knock on the door, while I wait for my breath to bring a response.

If none comes, it gets swept away, but it's always good to check first. 

They may be scared to come to the door; we've got quite the reputation in their world.

Correction--our world.

And they can't eat us, just like we can't eat them.

So I don't really see where there is a problem.

Maybe I never will.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day three hundred and twenty five ... Brownie points.

This isn't really happening.

I didn't just open my front door and find these on a plate (this plate) with a card from the neighbors welcoming me to the neighborhood.

For real?

And they were still warm?

Yeah ... that part got me too. 

But this is for real.

And I don't know what to do with myself about it. It's just all too much and I'm just trying to not over-think things.

This is the sign I've looked at for a month now, leading up to yesterday when I got the call that the place was mine ...

... and this is the happiest guy in the world, who knows that certain things need to be done like he's seen on TV, and so he asked the seller's agent, Pam (who is also in the first pic, smiling at this silly man), to please bring the "sold" sign so he can put the a period on the end of a thrilling sentence.

And so, like I said in yesterday's post, I have been moving my stuff over here one U-Haul's worth at a time. Yesterday, Paul helped me. We dropped a few things and scratched some stuff, but all in all it went smoothly. 

Today, I spent the morning bitching out the bastards at Verizon for not telling me my internet service would take two weeks to finish installing. For real--two weeks. I told them I needed it for my job (that being writing this selfish babble) and they still couldn't help me. I told them--in a huffy voice that embarrassed even me--that they just lost a customer to Comcast. Then I told them to cancel my account ... they had seen the last of F. Alex Johnson.

Then, I couldn't figure out why my iphone told me my login information was invalid when I tried to get my mail.

Umm ... dum-dum ... yeah ... you ... you didn't think this through very well now did you?

No ... I suppose not.

So friends, if you are trying to email me for any reason, and you keep getting the message sent back to you, please change my info in your address book to:

Thank you, and I am sorry for any inconvenience I may have cost you. 

Moving on:

Last week I had to go to the insurance company and get coverage for my new place.

When I approached the door, this is what I saw:

And I was unsure at the time which I was more excited about: that I was buying a house, or that I was going to be able to walk to a meatloaf supper.

I'm still a little torn.

Because I went to it tonight. I almost didn't. I've been running around like crazy and I just kind of wanted to lay on the couch and take a nap. I had dealt with the bastards at Verizon in the morning, moving awkward pieces of furniture in the afternoon, and then the nice (so far) people at Comcast who are currently enjoying my patronage. 

But I had a sneaking suspicion that I would be in for a real treat if I took the time and occupied one of the seats I had reserved for said meatloaf dinner.

I was not disappointed. 

I cased the joint from the outside. It was just as I thought: filled with seniors. I thought I even spied a couple of chorus members. For a second I played with the idea of just going to D'angelo's and getting a sandwich so I didn't have to deal with the social niceties that go along with dining in a room of about a hundred strange, hungry Protestants. 

But I walked in and got behind a couple of folks to get checked in and assigned a table. The poster said the shindig started at 6.

I got there at 6:03.

As I stepped up to the table with the lady with the clipboard, Pastor Erv (who I would later meet) got up on the mic in back of the room and thanked everybody for coming. The lady who had had her eyes set on me as I approached suddenly bowed her head as Pastor Erv said the Lord's Prayer. It was over as quick as you could imagine and I was assigned to table 5.

The place was classic New England. There was a bake sale in the back with some crafts that hadn't sold in the craft fair. There were many felt hangings--some covered in arts and crafts type appointments--but none of them were overly "churchy." As a devout agnostic it pleased me to no end. 

The people I sat with were extremely nice in a very genuine way. A couple of them live around the corner from me; a couple live not far from that. I felt like I was making a very important step by partaking in this festive, monthly, event. Good neighbors will never let you go hungry.

And so, as the little, skinny, red headed girl called each table up to eat I sat there and just took it all in: the matching lime-green plastic table service for 100; the rows upon rows of big poofs of white, gray, and light brown hair and the makeup and jewelry which resided on the faces beneath them; the congregation assembled to break bread together--some in their second nicest outfits; some in jeans and hoodie; the first course, which consisted of coffee, bread, butter and honest small talk; the second course which was a salad, thankfully devoid of iceberg lettuce, and instead, consisting of baby greens and bowl upon bowl of fresh, chopped veggies, a few dressings, and, of course, a big bowl of cottage cheese; the sitting and waiting for the salad bar tables to make way for the chafing dishes of meatloaf, mashed potato, boiled turnip and carrots, and gravy--delicious, savory, homemade gravy; the inside information on why my house has a mailbox (because the mailman was scared of the dog that lived here) and the minutely monstrous displays of humanity like standing with the three other guys on my side of the table--who I just met--waiting for Helen to get back from seconds at the salad bar and hearing little jokes about it like Bob (Lorraine's husband) say, "I have so much patience today from using it so sparingly all my life," and the little, skinny, red headed girl on the mic telling the congregation that she was going to call the tables up for dessert in reverse of how she called up those for the main course (and the ensuing din of chatter that immediately followed its announcement); the big, beveled, wooden sliding doors opening to reveal long tables littered with little plates hosting pieces of cake, pie, brownies, and the "Hawaiian Cake" that Maureen had made, which included chunks of pineapple and pecans and--contrary to rumor--was not as heavy as fruitcake, but it was no angel food either; the remembering of my new acquaintances' names from paying attention to who called who what for an hour and a half (and their doing the same); and the accepting of the little brochure from the church which had on it--among other things--the schedule of services, the date for the Christmas Cantata, and the menu for next month's dinner which featured "Kerry's Beef Stew and Biscuits" which, as far as anybody was concerned was as mind expanding as a moon landing.

And now I'm back home doing something else I've never done before.

I'm sitting here, typing this post, listening to the sound of the first fire I have ever built from scratch. 

It wasn't easy. I tried and I tried and I almost gave up. The newspaper, the kindling, the matches, the logs from the wood pile outside, and a few good, strong breaths all came together to brighten up my night, and subsequently livening up the retelling of my most enjoyable experience at the Congregational church which I was told will be celebrating 150 years in 2011.

And that's saying a lot.

Because the woman who told me this told me as if it were happening next week--not in two years. 

What this says to me is that often, when you have the right outlook; when you think with your heart--open and accepting; and when you look to the future without regard to what might happen but, rather, what will happen, it seems to me, for all intents and purposes, that you stand a better chance to be around when it does.

Life is too short to pass on meatloaf.


Thanks for reading.

PS: Thanks to my neighbors, The Ross', for the brownies and the inspiration for this post. I think we are going to have some good times ahead. Yes indeed.

And a big thank you to John Freitas for helping me move today. As well as to his lovely, very expecting wife, Christine, and their beautiful daughter Madeline who came by to say hello and who liked the house just fine. If it passes the kiddie-test it should do okay with the grown-ups. That's a rule of thumb that's almost always spot on.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Day three hundred and twenty four ... In closing ...

It's done.

It's over.

The anticipation of a stumbling block the size of the Sears Tower has come and gone without incident.

I own a house.

I own a beautiful, warm, inviting home on a quite street, close to everything.

Yes, I do.

But what I don't have ... I don't have internet service.

I'm not going to freak out right now at the gallery where I am writing this (rather than in front of a nice fire on my couch like I had planned). Rather, I'm going to go back to my old apartment, grab my coffee from the freezer, the cream from the fridge, a mug from the cabinet, and some sugar from the counter, and I'm going to go home, make some coffee, and spend my first night at my new place. Tomorrow I'm going to call Verizon and cancel my order with them because they are telling me it'll be two weeks before my DSL is I'M GOING TO WRING THEIR FREAKING NECKS IF I EVER MEET ONE OF THOSE BASTARDS IN AN ALLEYWAY OR ANYWHERE FOR THAT MATTER AAAARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!! ...

Deep cleansing breath ...

No ... I'm not going to do that. I'm going to go to Comcast tomorrow and pick up a modem and take it back and install it myself, and then, hopefully, I'm going to have internet.

And then, after I finish moving with my friend John, I'm going to make a fire, brew some coffee, and write a bit more thoughtful piece on the whole house experience.

I'll see you then.

Thanks for reading.

And thank you to Paul "Muskrat Flats" Brown for helping me move today. Your grace is measurable as your patience is limitless. I haven't plugged in the stereo yet, but I'm sure it will be fine.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Day three hundred and twenty three ... The little things.

It's the little things that get me.

At the art gallery that I work at one day a week there is a giant, green, cardboard recycling machine. It is about as simple of a device as they come. You break down the boxes, open the door, put the cardboard in,  push it down as far as you can, close the door and turn the key. The machine--once engaged--hums at a pitch which I determined without much legitimate research to be an E natural. The left side of the machine pushes on the cardboard in its first chamber so as to move the load into the bigger receptacle on the right for eventual disposal at the local recycling center. The big green monster stops after about a minute or so and it's over. It's powerful, it's simple, and it's effective.

I find that it is in these maddeningly simple procedures where many people will become most apt to experience a breakdown in intentions. We know how to do the job. It's easy as fuck. But we don't see it to completion because we may just figure that the next poor slob will do it for us ... because ... because it's easy as fuck.

I think that many people don't feel like there's any possible way that doing anything simple can be effective. We like bells, whistles, secret codes, passwords, hidden clues, double meanings, Roman numerals, and invisible ink.

It's wholly American.

You see, when something is complex it gives us a challenge. It dares us to crack its secret meaning. It taunts us and pokes us in the shoulder blade, giving us a rush of adrenaline and offering us something to work for--something to accomplish. It gives us a good feeling that we are at least trying to do something that untold numbers of people before us have attempted, regardless of the recorded results. 

We like to show that we are smart. Well, we like to show that we like to be smart, even if it's just for looks.

But when something is so simple as to almost be intuitive--something so mundane as to almost be beneath us--this is where we get into territory where things get left undone. 

I spent a half an hour--as I do every week--finishing the work left undone by several very well-intentioned people. I was forced to run the recycling machine probably ten times or so. Each time it ran it gave me a minute to think about the world as the machine droned its E natural. And each time it made its "ca-chunka" sound, telling me the cycle had ended, I would pull back the latch, open the squeaky door and survey the progress. After a couple of attempts without much movement I proceeded to disregard the clearly labeled signs that said, "Do Not Play In Or Around Machine." 

I got in it. 

I proceeded to stomp on the cardboard--gently at first--using my 210 pounds as coercion. I followed that up by stamping my feet a few times to dislodge some of the most tightly stuck slabs from their passive resistance. I would then grasp the sides of the door or the machine as I balanced on the edge and jump down onto the cement. I'd close the door, turn the key, and wait the minute while the machine droned its E natural and tried with all its might to do its job.

After five of these procedures I had cleared the machine of enough ill-placed corrugation so as to finally be able to put in the cardboard that I had brought out to recycle.

I spent a half hour on preparation so I could do what I needed to do which should have taken all of five minutes.

But we don't like simple, do we?

We don't go all out unless it looks like it's out of reach.

And the whole time we ignore the simple tasks; each time we leave a banal process half-done; each time we say to ourselves, "No big deal," and walk away because we have more important things to do, we let a monster grow.

It is 12:04 a.m. on Friday, November 21. Today I become a homeowner. Today, at around one or two o'clock this afternoon, my lawyer, Peter, will call me to tell me he has logged the deed at the Hall of Records. At that time I will begin a new chapter in my life. At that time I will have only a few shakes left to release the skin I have been shedding for almost a year now. 

As I sit here, sipping a glass of San Pellegrino and nibbling on a hunk of dark chocolate, I am surrounded by many of my belongings. Some things are upended on their sides or in a pile or unplugged for the first time in years. Many things are packed in boxes, in bags, in folders, envelopes, packets, tubes, and jackets. Some things I've looked through; some I can't bear to open.

But I came across something in a box of things from the year 2000 that stopped me in my tracks. After I read it once I had to read it again and again. It was a card from my mother. She sent it to me when I moved from my apartment on Market St., to the one I am presently sitting in. On the front is a little sketch of a toy house with children playing in it. There's a dog, a cat, a picture of flowers, some actual flowers, and some blocks drawn in a playful way. The box that the children have made the house out of is clearly marked, "This Side Up". It's cute as hell--classic Judy.

On the inside is written--from the card company--"Congratulations on your new home" It didn't have a punctuation mark on the end of the sentence, so my mother drew in an exclamation point.

Below that is written:

"Dear Alex,

Another huge step in the grand retooling of your life that you have worked so hard on this year. You now have total control to be whatever you want to be. My bet's on you, my son! 

My love always,



I have to get some sleep.

I have a big day tomorrow.

I'm so glad to be able to share these discoveries and realizations; these benchmarks and milestones; the good parts and the bad parts and the parts that I sometimes think might just make me look foolish. And it was only after I realized that until I recognized what I didn't like about me could I break that part down and put it in the dumpster. Only then could I slice the tape that held its edges together in broad daylight and stomp on it with both feet until it gave way, finally turning the key to listen to the E natural as I waited for the chamber to clear. 

I'll do this as many times as it takes. After all, it is merely common courtesy to do this not only for myself, but for those behind me who have to use the machine too--to have it open, clean, and ready to go when they need to use it.

It's such a simple thing, but so often it gets left undone.

Thanks for reading.

Tomorrow I will write from my new place. That ought to be fun.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day three hundred and twenty two ... Something's ever easy.

Ever the optimist am I.

I can't help it, especially on days like today.

Overnight, I got my 6.5 minimum hours of sleep before the smell of fresh brewed java tugged me from my reverie.

My coffee maker continually showers me with love. It works while I sleep, and then it gently coaxes me awake to come play on its break. I oblige with feigned irritation, and then enjoy the many levels of awareness that can only be discerned in those first precious minutes of each day, as dreams are sorted from reality like junk mail. But even at that, some junk mail is worth saving.

I picked up the invitations to my party from the copy shop; they were ready and they were as I ordered them.

I made it to the insurance company on time to sign the papers for my homeowners policy. It felt strangely perfect that I could see my future home in the distance as I crossed Main St. in my little Rockwell village. If there ever was a catastrophe (heaven forbid) they could more than likely have the papers drawn up for me before I narrowly escaped.

I made it to my shrink on time as well. She confirmed what I already knew: I was crazy, but not insane*. How cool is that? 

I navigated the roads on the outskirts of my town which are starting to show the signs of holiday related congestion. Thanksgiving is much later than it usually is this year. Regardless, it almost seems like we are all following our own internal clock--the one that says that we should all be doing, going, thinking, buying, stressing, speeding, spending, dreading, preparing, and anticipating at a breakneck pace. But just like the feeling you get panicking that you're late for work on your day off, it's merely an illusion. We've got another week.

The buildings all around are showing it as well. Be it the painted window displays, the wreaths and other decorations being applied by the state workers to the municipal buildings, or the homes whose owners got a jump on the action, stringing up lights to glisten in the nighttime, flying in the face of a recession with a stiff jump on the electric bill. Somewhere--but not everywhere--it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

And I continued to improve my moves in the dance of life. From the timing of making a run of traffic lights, to finding a spot near the door at the department store (and hearing my favorite carol, "Noel," to start off the endless cavalcade of Christmas music) to finding the register that was only one shopper deep, with a clerk who actually knew how to ring up purchases, it was all going my way.

And I don't mean to jinx it, I don't intend to brag, and I don't take it lightly. It's just a few more examples in a seemingly endless deluge of evidence that if you look in the right spots; if you disregard inconsequential irritations; and if you--without fail--acknowledge the great things that happen in the most mundane tasks, then you may very well be able to tackle the bigger, more important, and more volatile issues with a bit more ammo and with a more effective perspective.

The flower on my cactus that I wrote about in the last post--it just fell off onto the floor as I was typing that last paragraph. Why do I mention this? Because it happened. Because I was there with a camera last week to capture it in full bloom, and today, after being out for hours on errands, fate and the biological cycle that all living things must adhere to was completed in front of my eyes (actually I heard it drop with a thud, then I saw it on the floor). And if I am going to allow myself to live fully and with an eye and an ear for the elegance of positive thinking, then I must give myself a receptacle for the detritus that accumulates in its wake, and, if at all possible, see purposefulness in that. I must understand, with every one of my senses, that where there is beauty, someday there will only be the space where that beauty stood. 

I put fresh strings on a guitar, only to have them break or corrode.

I play a new record on a turntable, only to have the grooves widen and the sound become muddier.

I put up a picture of a loved one, only to have to take the nail out of the wall, leaving a hole.

And I water a plant to see it flower, knowing full well that its fruit will fall off someday and become dust.

But now the limb on that plant is not only stronger, it is lighter too. Last week it adapted its fibers to take on the weight of the brilliant flower which grew at its end. Now, that flower is gone and that same cactus leaf is free from responsibility. It can stretch a little closer to the sun; it can reach out and up with a little more power. It has lived through an event it had no control over.

Nothing will last forever, but anything one can observe will only last as long as we do.

After that, it's anybody's guess. 

Thanks for reading.


*This diagnosis is fictional, in an effort to add humor to my story, but its inclusion is not entirely inconsequential.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day three hundred and twenty ... A loss for words.

I can feel it but I can't share it.

I can share it but I can't let it go.

I can believe it will make me stronger, but it takes all my strength.

These are the ways I have felt often in the last few years. My world, and many of my friend's worlds, have been upended by catastrophic losses. 

It hasn't seemed to let up by much. But I feel strongly that it is in the awareness of it that we can gain perspective and take comfort because we are still here. It is with our remorse that we pay an installment on the price for our existence.

That is to say, if you can cry it means you are alive. If you are alive it means you have to live. If you must live amongst others you will learn loss. And when you are gone there is no more loss in your life. It becomes a responsibility; a hazard; a risk for the living.

It is so unbelievably simple to me, yet it frightens me with its lack of moving parts.

These days, I try to learn from almost everything and anything. All that I do, see, hear, say, create, destroy, rebuild, dismiss, accept, forget, remember, exaggerate, understate, indulge in, abstain from, and pass through--it all counts.

Because if a person only feels one way for a long enough time they forget that there are other states of being.

One has to work the averages.

If you spend your days angry at the world, with its myriad inequities and seemingly rampant catastrophes, then its hard to let a little thing like an unexpected lavender flower appearing from a cactus make you smile.

If you tend to laugh or make a joke about everything you see or hear, whether it is something that really is funny, or whether you hold a belief that everything is funny after it passes through your brain regardless of content, it's hard to give your undivided attention to someone who has something serious to talk to you about. It seems frustrating to you because you want to laugh. And to the speaker, it is simply maddening. They might as well have just written it down on a piece of paper and thrown it in the trash.

If one is constantly on guard for criticism, then it is hard to laugh at oneself with full uncluttered humility. And sometimes the awareness of this alone is enough to heighten one's defenses, bringing the cycle to an end and a beginning in tandem. It is not an enjoyable experience to try to sift your words so as not to rankle a friend's feelings who thinks they know you well enough that you can say anything to each other.

If one is pious and devout without the benefit of the experience of sin and indulgence there is not much wisdom to impart, nor clout to derail someone on the edge of destruction. I don't want to grab a rope thrown to me by someone who doesn't know what it feels like to hang on to it so tightly that it leaves marks deeper than fingerprints. I may let them call me a cab, but they aren't going to tell me where to go. Not even the driver can do that. 

And if one focuses solely on their losses--on the action of not having something that one once possessed, however briefly, or seemingly eternally--then it's hard to take proper inventory. It's easy to ignore, as we go about our day, that our pockets have filled with enough metal currency to match what paper lies in our wallet. Instead of counting our coins, we pull out the last bill dramatically out of our billfold and wonder aloud where it all goes.

But the good thing about the change that we collect: it has a good chance of being passed along. 

It gains momentum in volume--both in mass and decibels--as it stays with us. It travels at our side as we put on our clothes for the day to go to the job that we may feel is beneath us. It joins us as we sit through a class that we may find redundant and boring. It tags along, unabashed, at the moment when we feel the sign has been given to lean in and kiss the lips of a person who we had reflexively felt a million copacetic and conflicting thoughts about in the matter of a few hours. And whether we are walking home alone and dejected, or effusive and bulletproof, it makes a sound at our side that we often cannot hear. 

And we just let it ride on. 

We bring it with us.

We use it when we need to.

We use it sometimes when we know we should save it.

We pick it up off the ground in the strangest of places as if it were collectively ours and wonder aloud: "Where were you an hour ago?"

And then we let it go, whether we want to or not.

And somebody else will pick it up.

That is, if they are willing to believe there's a chance it might be there to find in the first place.


I can feel it but I can't share it.

I can share it but I can't let it go.

I can believe it will make me stronger, but it takes all my strength.

And it comes back again.

It does.


Thanks for reading.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day three hundred and nineteen ... An apple a day.

I love apples.

I have one every morning--a firm, green Granny Smith--with a bowl of yogurt and granola, and a cup of strong coffee. I think it's the perfect breakfast. 

And almost everything on my morning breakfast tray is a consistent product that I can safely guarantee the quality of when I either take it out of the fridge, the cupboard, or the Tupperware container, because it's packaged, at some point or another, with freshness in mind, and quality control is exactly that.

But the apples, on the other hand ... they are a wild bunch indeed.

There is only so much a person can tell from holding an apple in their hand under the bright florescent sabers from above, without taking a bite right there in the store, so we approximate.

It could be that a tiny discoloration on the skin of an otherwise fine specimen is more than it seems. It could run right through it down to the core, spoiling our enjoyment and putting a pall on the beginning of an otherwise bright and shiny day.

Or it could just be a speck on the skin from a dent after a fall. It could be nothing.

One apple looking, for all intents and purposes, like its crisp, tart, full-bodied neighbor on a fruit display may have exactly the opposite inherent characteristics. It may, indeed, be mushy, flavorless, and pedestrian. But you won't know without either knowledge and comparison to its family tree, by watching an outside party engaging, or by jumping in and tasting for yourself.

I feel that people are a lot like apples.

Or, for that matter, fruit in general.

Just think about it. Think of all the types of fruit we know of. All the flavors, skin tones, textures, seasonality, size, fuzziness, striation, levels of maintenance, resilience towards temperature shifts, commonality, exclusivity, homogenization, and history.

Take the grape: 

Grapes can represent an impervious culture of people. They are raised in bunches from a long and winding base. They are resistant to handling, yet inadvertently there are many who fall off of the stem in transfer or transit. Some make it on the journey with the rest of the clan in whichever mode of transport is used--bag or box--and are simply passed along with their brethren, while some leave the fold and are never to be seen again. And the grape has come to represent to me a fascinating display of innovative and utilitarian uses. Whether it's wine improving with age and weaving a common thread through civilization, or raisins which maintain an iconic place and purpose in a seemingly bedraggled state of degradation both in mouthfeel and apperance.

Bananas are similar. To have a banana is to hold hostage a piece of nature which is ever so susceptible to time, temperature, handling, and storage. Its life can be watched, almost in real time, and kept track of as if it were a brilliant yet stricken individual capable of a few grand symphonies, but whose oeuvre will more likely than not be meager. A banana is a fragile flower indeed.

The melon could outlive them all if it weren't for the winter squash.

And for the means of this discussion (if you could call it that) the potato--not a fruit at all but an icon of sustenance nonetheless--if unused, grows with a fury unmatched. If neglected, it will forget about us long after we have forgotten about it as it slowly wastes away before us in the bottom drawer. It has no qualms being alone. It is simple, sublime, and modest to a fault.

But the apple remains the quintessential vagabond impervious to most forms of intense travel. Its thick skin can resist a day trip in a book bag, or a week's journey in a crate bound from one country half way around the world to end up at the head of the produce aisle, gleaming under the shafts of florescence overhead, its first flank giving way to hundreds of countrymen stacked in symmetrical unity above, to the sides, and underneath. And as one is chosen to leave the fold in a plastic bag, any number of its clan will topple forth and take its place in the fray, its strength in humility only outweighed by its sense of egalitarian purpose and infinite essentiality.

I love apples.

Just thought I'd share.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day three hundred and seventeen ... The changeover.

In eight days I will be a homeowner.

It all happened so fast I can barely remember it, regardless of if it was just last month that I signed the first set of papers.

Now is the fun part: the changeover.

I get to call all of my service providers up and give them my new address to make sure that there will be a smooth transition come November 21. Some of them were easier to do than others; some of them are giving me a hard time.

But this is a lot less stressful than the time I moved from my last house. 

Because back in the summer of 2000, I was given pretty much the same choice that I had been given a little over ten years prior by my mom and aunt: clean up or get the hell out.

I'm not going to name names because I'd rather not make my friends uncomfortable. It was something--as I have looked back on it many times in the past--that I would have done if it had been myself who was making life miserable--not to imply that I wasn't, I just never saw it that way.

I was told, by the two people who I lived with, that they wanted to have a house meeting. I said okay; whenever they wanted was fine. It seemed a bit strange as we never had meetings.

I had just brought home a six-pack of Corona, popped the top on one, smushed a lime wedge through the bottle's narrow mouth, and taken a big slug. 

My housemates appeared together, looking serious.

"Al, we need to talk to you about something."

That didn't sound good.

Because we lived together and talked about a lot of things. Many of those things I couldn't really remember, but we spent a lot of time in and about the vast apartment in downtown Northampton.

"Um ... what about?"

"Why don't you come and sit down."

That sounded much worse.

So, I grabbed my beer and sat on the couch--my nerve endings vibrating mercilessly and my face becoming flushed both from the precious alcohol doing its job and from my blood pressure rising--as the body language and positioning of my two housemates began to take on the air of orchestrating something that had less the air of a discussion, and more the feeling of an arraignment.

I took a long pull on my beer and placed it on the large, round coffee table.

"Al, the long and short of it is ... we want you to move out."

"What? You can't do this to me! It's my fucking apartment!"

"Al, we can, and we are."

"But ... "

"Well, we're actually giving you a choice."

And I knew what came next.

"You can either stop drinking and seek counseling--legitimate, proactive counseling--or you have to leave by the end of September."

And I just slumped there in the couch and stared at the dark maroon walls in the near distance between the two of them and let my eyes glaze over as I chewed on a tiny piece of lime pulp with my front teeth; it made my tongue curl.

They went on: "Al, we're tired of cleaning up your messes; we're tired of you eating our food; we're tired of not being able to bring people over to the house because we never know how far gone you're going to be; we're sick of it, and we want you to make a choice: get sober, or get out."

And I looked at each of them, then back at my beer, then at the walls. I got up, grabbed my beer, and went over to the kitchen; I poured what was left of it in the sink.

"You're right," I said. "Here. Have these beers. I'm going to get my shit together."

And I went down the street to get a newspaper--mostly for the classifieds.

I don't know what I was trying to accomplish by giving the beers away. I guess I just kind of wanted the conversation to end and I didn't want to cause any more of a scene than I already played a major part in. But I gave them to my housemates and decided to start looking for a new place to live. At the time, I suppose, I wanted to move out anyway and this not only made that easier, but it also gave me a new focus to direct my attention to.

I cut down on my drinking.

I put more effort into my music.

I became easier to live with.

And then I found the apartment from where I am currently typing this precious memory into my computer.

And I remember telling one of my housemates that I had found a place, and how I wouldn't need to stay in the apartment for the full two months they gave me; I was moving at the end of July.

"So, you're not going to try to stop drinking?," one of them said when I told him the good news on the street downtown.

"Oh no, no, no," I answered, "I'm going to quit, man. I just need to do it in new atmosphere. I need a change anyway and this seems like the best move for all of us."

"Okay, Al. Whatever you want to do. I just want you to take care of yourself."

And I spent the rest of the month talking, as I was wont, to anyone who would listen. I told everybody what was going on and I told them how I don't blame my housemates; I said I would have done the same thing if it was me. And by saying that, I wasn't so much admitting that I was wrong as I was making the whole thing seem like a good idea regardless of the fact that I was giving in and moving out rather than staying there and cleaning up.

And I found this great apartment.

I moved in with the help from my friends--including the two who now had an extra room in their place--and in not too long of a while I was back to my old tricks, up and running, like nothing had ever happened.

And that lasted from August of 2000, to a year from this coming December, in varying periods of intensity, through many attempts to change, consisting of a seemingly endless litany of ups, downs, peaks, valleys, and blackouts.

I remember hearing the phone ring at my apartment for the first time. 

It was my new number. 

It was my new phone. 

It was my mother.

She had called hoping to be the first and, seeing I didn't have an answering machine yet, she knew that if she called often enough that she would catch me there.

She wanted to see how my move went and how things were going. She never made me feel awkward. She never passed judgement. She wanted the best for me. She wanted me to be happy. And if there wasn't overwhelming evidence that excessive alcohol use was detrimental to a human being (or any life form for that matter) then she would have encouraged that as well. 

I can't explain how excited I was hearing the phone ring, through the window, from outside my apartment. I remember running up the stairs and picking up the receiver. It seemed like it weighed twenty pounds. It had such power and significance. It was a new number, a new address, a new place to lay my head, and a new place to dream.


"Oh, hi sweetheart (she almost always called me sweetheart), I'm so glad you're home."

"Hi Mom."

"How's the new place? Aunty and I are so excited for you."

"The place is great, mom. I love it. It's perfect. It's small, it's clean, it's quiet, and it's all mine. I'm going to really get my act together here, I can feel it."

"Oh, Alex, that's music to my ears."

"Mine too, ma. Mine too."

But it was the same music. 

It was the same song. 

I had played it a hundred times before. 

Only now it was playing in a new venue.

I hadn't changed at all. I had just shifted the placement of the familiar and destructive activities. 

And now, a little over eight years later, I am ready to leave.

But when I leave, I'm bringing something with me. I'm bringing a sense of peace. I'm bringing contentment. I'm bringing a whole new way to live. And I'm bringing the memories of a multitude of visits from my family. 

Each time they would come over it was an event. They would arrive. I would bring up the grocery store worth of provisions that they never neglected to provide me with. I would make sure one of the trips up was a slow one, as I stayed behind my mother while she cautiously ascended the one steep flight of stairs that I'm sure my aunt cursed for her sister's sake (because of her two knee replacements) but my mom never would; she was happy to live through whatever obstacles may lie at the foot of her son's independence. And I would finish bringing up the bags and put in the freezer what needed to be kept frozen. The rest sat in their crinkly plastic bags. I would offer them a cup of tea and they would always refuse and opt for some cold water. Then they would sit in front of me on the couch and we would visit. They always made a point to gush at how I had such a flair for decorating and how clean and ordered my home was.

If they only knew.

And as I was saying, I am almost done wrangling with the gas company, the cable company, the electric company, and, of course, the phone company.

And when I plug the cord in for the first time next Friday it will be a strange feeling. Because I know that my mother would have made it a personal mission to be the first one to call me. She would have had it marked on the calendar for weeks. She would have woken up that day and been almost as excited as me. She would have gotten herself a book to read and planted herself on the couch. She would try the number every few chapters, shifting her attention from whichever fictional characters she had been getting to know, to the one very real main character that she created. She would have her reading glasses on at the tip of her nose as she slowly, carefully, and ceremoniously pressed each number, finally putting the carriage up to her ear, waiting for the steady, consistent ring. 

And she would do that, as often as it took, until she heard the pop that signaled a response on the other end.

And she would beam, smiling, knowing that I was there.

She would congratulate me with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat.

And this time she would know it was different; we both would.

The same old song now somehow sounds correct.

Because I finally learned the chords.

I patiently memorized the words.

And I finally care what it sounds like.


Thanks for reading.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Day three hundred and fourteen ... Letting go.

This is madness.

In a little over ten days I will be granted lifelong access to my new home.

And because of this I am being forced to start consolidating and condensing the belongings I have accrued in my apartment over time. These items do not, of course, represent only that which I have amassed in the last eight years I have lived here, but, rather, it encompasses everything I have gathered since I moved to the valley almost twenty years ago. 

It's a lot of stuff, and it's an overwhelming feeling to know I have to do it regardless of whether I have actually started--which I haven't.

But, much like I try to do with everything in my life, I can try to boil it all down to an easily comprehended analogy.

The condiment bottle.

I love my mustard. I have always loved my mustard since my mother used to make me "Hot Dog Men" as a child. On more than a regular occasion, my amazing mother would take a couple of Morrison and Schiff hot dogs (never less than the best for her boy) and slice a thin sliver on each side from halfway up about two inches long. Then she would separate them in half from the bottom to the middle, and then cook them for the appropriate time. In the plumping process the carefully implemented cuts would bend away from the hot dogs, thus giving the appearance of arms and legs. Finally she would paint hair, eyes, nose, and mouth as well as a set of  buttons to a stylish imaginary suit jacket down the middle, and a belt and cuffs to boot. She did this fancy detailing using a long, stiff, metal rod which had a round, red, plastic ring at one end. I'm sure it had some otherwise legitimate use in the kitchen; for me, it just brought my Hot Dog Men to life.

This is one more reason, in a seemingly endless list of reasons, that I can claim Judith Ann Johnson to be one of the most wonderful people in the world.

But like I was saying, I love my mustard and it shows. I have no less than three plastic containers with about the same three tablespoons worth of product left; I can't throw them out. They have potential. They have purpose still. They provide me with a sense of security that if I someday need an emergency blast of French's that I will have it on hand; I just have to coax it properly.

Security: it comes in a limitless form which can adapt to ones requirements in a seemingly microscopic amount of time.

And it's the same thing with my shampoo: how many bottles have to accrue on the valuable real estate of my shower ledges before I make the plunge and put them in the garbage? But extending the life of soap and its myriad counterparts is a subject that deserves more attention than I would ever expect anyone to offer me, so I'll move on.

Back in May I wrote about my affinity for collecting cardboard boxes and my method for disposing of them when they have taken up too much space or cannot be combined with another larger box. I wrote how I had a habit of keeping the boxes my products came in so as to ensure a proper return in the event of a malfunction, regardless of whether or not the warrantee had expired, making the storage less time-sensitive and merely a superfluous habit, as a quick trip to any liquor store would garner me as many boxes as I needed. 

So over the next few weeks I will need to keep this in mind as I sort through that which will make its way to my new residence, and that which will make its way to somewhere else. I haven't collected much in the way of trash, although I do have several bags of old kitchen work shirts which should just go to the dump ... but I could use them to pick up a spill, or to oil the furniture.

See what I mean?

How easy it is to conjure up importance where there was little. How our brains can dredge from the deepest recesses of our gray matter the rules for retention of objects we had all but forgotten we possessed. How we can't often find what we need when we are looking for it, yet we can construe needs for things we never use but can't face parting with.

And if we can't use it, there's always someone--real or potentially real--in our databases who can.

And so, I will be throwing away more than a few almost empty bottles of mustard, ketchup, relish, mayonnaise, sweet soy sauce, molasses, and curry paste. I will send their miniscule contents to the trash and their trusty shells to the recycling station. I will do this because they have done their time in my possession proving their imperviousness to mold, microbes, and odors. And the memories involved with each bottle are so many that they blend into each other and just make me happy they were involved.

My mother, before she left this world, wrote in a spiral notebook her wishes for the destination of much of her personal property. These were done in the form of a letter to each of the people who she was leaving these gifts to. One of these letters was for me, and I was given it on my birthday in 2007. She was denied the time to transfer the letters to proper stationary--my mom being one of the few people I knew, or currently know, who enjoyed using bright, colorful purposeful paper for her correspondence. She never personally owned a computer, and she typed her lengthier correspondence on an electric Smith-Corona--complete with White-Out. But she enjoyed most the use of a pen and paper, incorporating her deliberate, slow, intricately curvy, cursive handwriting one cautious well thought out letter at a time, transferring words from electrical impulse to a practical, universal medium, much like an inhale connects with the resulting exodus of air: effortless yet essential.

My dear aunt took these pages and transferred them to beautiful stationary: light sky blue with cumulous nimbus on top with a rainbow cutting across the left quarter of the page. I can only tell it was transferred by the slight lines from the original paper, and the occasional crossing out and correcting of an error that would have never escaped her possession to be seen by its intended recipient; life was too short to allow mistakes you could correct.

One page contained several passages which I have yet to decipher if they are original, or a excerpt from any number of the thousands of books my mother devoured over her lifetime. I have plans to reveal each one in time. However this post I will include one which I feel sums up how not only her, but my aunt with me, and subsequently myself, alone, have dealt with the passing of life into memories:

"The body is like an envelope, and the spirit within is the letter. The letter has meaning. An empty envelope is nothing."

I didn't think I was going to cry today.

I guess I can only plan so far ahead.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day three hundred and twelve ... Seeing is disbelieving.

This just in:

I was watching CNN tonight as I have quite often over the last few months. It has a certain classiness that it maintains, and I tend to believe there isn't too much of a bias. That said, I bet if I put a level on my TV while CNN was on it would probably show a slight lean to the left just a teensy bit.

But the quibble reported regarding President-Elect Obama (that sounds nice, doesn't it?) came out of left field and made me feel ... well ... less than.

Campbell Brown, before cutting to commercial, told viewers: "We have a special report on the backstage photos from Obama's election night suite that you won't want to miss. Critics believe they aren't all that they seem to be."

Okay. I'll bite. I want to know what's up because I took a cursory glance at the photos online and thought they were a nice set of shots. They showed a few pics that seemed as candid as the most public man in America can be. They featured his family and entourage at the hotel he was staying at on election day, as well as backstage at the park where he gave his acceptance speech. I didn't notice anything weird, but I didn't stare at them very long.

So, we come back from commercial and she introduces one of the hundreds of spare reporters that have flooded the airwaves trying to make the same news seem fresh and exciting by having a different set of lips read from a TelePrompTer. 

He shows us the photos again. There's Obama with his mother in law; Obama with his daughters; Obama with his wife; Obama with his running mate; Obama sitting at the edge of his couch; and Obama embracing his campaign strategist.

The reporter then tells us that he has a sneaking suspicion that the photos were Photoshopped. He is suspicious because there is a glaring omission from the tables in the room. Something's not right. There's no way that this could possibly be how it happened because ... because ...

... because there's no booze anywhere!

What the fuck?

The suit tells us (with an air of smugness that was almost sickening) that he suspects the Obama campaign wants us to believe that "... they were celebrating his victory with nothing but bottles of Evian." 

How unimaginable. How inappropriate. How simply un-American.

It was a short piece. And as Campbell took the helm from the reporter and brought the attention back to herself she agreed with him by stating: "Not on such a momentous occasion as this?"

And this is what I'm up against. Not to be too dramatic, because I'm not really at a loss due to this one piece, but it speaks volumes to a pervasive and disingenuous attitude in America: the belief that you can't celebrate unless your drink contains ethyl alcohol. It insinuates that you can't truly mark an auspicious occasion if you don't introduce something into your bloodstream that wasn't there when you woke up in the morning.

This is ridiculous. This is unfortunate. And this is a sad reminder that just avoiding your vices by ignoring them isn't enough. Because you can keep out of bars; you can walk on the other side of the street from the package store; you can follow the rules set forth from whatever self-help group you belong to down to the letter; but when you least expect it a ball can come flying at you out of left field and smack you square in the jaw and make you wonder if you're not living up to your potential. 

No, I have found that to successfully stay true to the life I desire I have to walk right through these dark alleys and let that which was my undoing splash and sputter on me. I have to let it soak into my cuffs and bring the muck home at the end of the day. And that's the only way I know I'm going to remember that it's everywhere, all the time, and it's not going to ever let up.  

But I still can't understand why it seems impossible to the point that an actual, credible (loose interpretation) newscaster claims that he thinks there was a cover-up to portray a dry green room on the night of the election? How could anyone celebrate this occasion without a drink (though I would love to see pics from the McCain camp in Phoenix from that same night for comparison).

All I know is that this country is currently in dire straits. People's lives are in shambles. And all it would take to drive someone off the edge of staying sober might possibly be to see someone who they idolize partaking in what they wish they could once more. Maybe, as the son of an alcoholic father, Barack Obama understands the power of suggestion. Perhaps he realizes the example he is setting in so many ways, and so he asked for no alcohol to be allowed behind the closed doors of his suite. It's not a ridiculous prospect. I know plenty of top level stars who do exactly that; it's more common that one might imagine.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to preach. I'm not saying it's a bad think if he drinks. I don't think drinking is inherently bad, wrong, or otherwise negative--I simply had enough and had to stop.

I'm just amazed that the press could be reduced to accusing him or his team of trying to hide it from our eyes. Because then that really would be the sign of a problem. 

You see, change comes in many forms. Sometimes we see it when it's plainly there, sometimes we see the negative space that it must inhabit ...

... and sometimes, it's right there smack dab in front of us, but we don't recognize it because it's so foreign and unfamiliar.

Must be a slow news day.

Thanks for reading.


Photos courtesy of David Katz/Obama for America