Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Best Medicine

I'm too tired to write tonight.  I never had a chance to get back to sleep after everyone left for the morning.  Five and a half hours of sleep is not enough.  No.  I'm going to tell you the truth.  I watched a couple of movies when I should have caught up on sleep instead.  It seemed as though I had the time at the time. 

What do you do when you get eight movies from your holds list at the same time from the library?  You let them sit on top of the television for six days while you're busy, then watch as many as you can on the one day you don't have a million appointments and errands to run.  And you overdo it because you haven't had a day like this in weeks, maybe months. 

Plus, my friend Rachel called and, rather than talk for an hour or more on the phone, we decided to have a long overdue lunch.  Long overdue.  She'd been sick.  Then Nick was sick.  Then Teddy was sick.  I hate when my best friends need to be out of touch for more than a month.  Oh, we facebook, but that's not the same.  Even a couple of phone calls isn't quite the same.  This is the person I want to see when I've spent too much time with someone else who's vindictive in her gossip.  She's the one I want to talk to when I'm making a new friend, but they don't know how to read me.  This is the one person I miss when I find I can't talk about something that's really bothering me, that's verboten.  You know.  No one wants to hear about the illnesses or the ways we aren't pretty any more at nearly 52. 

She does. 

Today, I told her that I'm tired of being stoic about my hair. 

Oh, here I am being honest with you again.  I'm not pretty.  I used to be pretty, but I have a couple of issues that have made my hair really thin. There it is.  There is the big truth, that I'm not a beautiful young woman with the perfect kid, an adoring husband, and a Martha Stewart house.  I'm a mess.  People occasionally call me 'Sir.'  Mike tells me that he doesn't see me that way.  Is he blind or just very sweet?  I used to tell Rachel that I would never get a wig because if people treated me differently because of my hair, then that made them too superficial for me to consider relevant to my life.   I used to tell her that I wished that it would be a fad for women to shave their heads the way it is with men instead of being an indicator of breast cancer.  Then I could happily join in and shave it all off.  I still believe these things, but it hurts my feelings when people won't give me the time of day because of my looks or when careless people call me 'Sir.'

I showed Rachel my awful new driver's license and we both laughed.  It was more the stupid look on my face that we laughed about, but still.  We talked about our kids, about clearing out junk from our houses and our yards, about how the barista made me the wrong coffee then instructed me to say it correctly when I ordered it.  I had said it correctly.  We talked about men and sex and sleep. 

Then, when we'd begun to run out of time, I dropped her back off at her house.

"Come it for a minute," she said.  As I walked in, she disappeared for a moment and the next thing I knew, she handed me a blonde curly wig.  I looked like a character on 'The Golden Girls.'  Ha!  Ridiculous!  Then she gave me a black pageboy with strands of tinsel.  Not the Liza Minnelli look. Then, she handed me a short purple wig that said Carol Channing.  Perfect! 

We laughed until I had to head home to meet the bus.  Hugs, more hugs, and I'm all better now. 

Thank you for listening.

You too Rachel, jb

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Popcorn and a Pink Tutu

Now that Teddy is feeling better, I want to tell you about Livie.  Livie was my dog before we brought homeTeddy.  She came to our house when Nick was in kindergarten.  That was a really tough year.  I was feeling so sick, I'm amazed I made the decision to get another dog then.  That was just before I learned about my trouble with sugar and I was having severe low blood sugar issues and could feel when I ate too much sugar and my insulin levels couldn't keep up.  I was being poisoned, but it was my own doing and I had no idea. 

Six months after we'd lost our old baby-dog, Indiana, I had begged until Mike agreed that we could start to look for another dog.  I found Livie on PetFinders, a two year old lab/pit mix.  I got to checking on her, hoping that I'd see that she'd been adopted.  Weeks went by and she wasn't.  Mike liked that she looked like Indiana.  She really did, that is, before I got to know her.  Isn't it funny, how, in my mind, she changed so much as to not look like Indiana at all.  But when we all went to see her to see if she might fit into our family, she looked like Indiana. 

Livie had been abused, but she loved her shelter home.  I was never worried that she'd be skittish or fearful at our house.  She just wasn't that kind of character.  She assumed the best of the people she met.  I had actually met her at an adoption fair a few weeks earlier, but came home without her because she seemed disinterested in me.   I wanted to be wooed.  It's funny how she transformed from a low dog with dull eyes and her head down at that adoption fair to the prancing elegant, though not graceful, girl she became at our house.

Livie was tall with a deep chest and very soft thin black fur.  Like Indiana, she had a white freckled blaze on her chest.  Her nose was a little boxier than Indiana's had been and I was sure she had some other breed mixed in, possibly hound because  her bark sounded like baying.  I loved that sound.

Livie had one flaw.  Now that I think about it, it was such a petty thing, but it was what Mike and I latched onto.  He, especially, was annoyed at first that she wasn't Indiana.  Indiana had been his lifetime dog, his one and only.  There was never going to be another Indiana.  Livie's one flaw was that she'd tap her nose to your hand over and over.  If I'd been abused as a puppy, I'd want that kind of reassurance too, but it annoyed me at first.  I got to walking around my kitchen with my hands up like a surgeon who had just scrubbed in.  If I didn't do that, I'd have to wash my hands again before I ever got started cooking.  Eventually, I got used to it.  Even Mike got used to it. 

Other than that one flaw, Livie was perfect.  She let me be a lazy mom and ran up and down the stairs after tennis balls when I was too exhausted to go to the park.  I always felt a little guilty that I couldn't make myself get out for walks while Nick was at school.  I didn't realize that I was just too sick.

After Seth got used to Livie and stopped hissing, she used to romp through the house with him chasing her, knocking books off the bookshelf and making a sound like a horse galloping past. They loved each other. I think of our favorite time of the day, after I got Nick onto the school bus. Livie never liked going that close to the highway, so I left her in the house while Nick and I walked down to the highway to catch the bus. It was part of her training that I figured she already had down - don't go near the road.

When I finally came inside from getting Nickie onto the bus, she would stand on the couch, waiting. I might make myself a mocha and she'd stand there, waiting.  I might even heat up a pumpkin muffin in the oven and she'd stand patiently.  Then, I'd sit down, pop the footrest out, cover myself with a blanket, and then Seth would jump into my lap. Only then would Livie stretch out on the rest of the couch and lay her head in my lap, her nose snuffling Seth's fur just a little bit. Then I would put one arm over her and pat her side. I usually found the very soft spot under her front leg where there wasn't much fur.

When I was little, I had a stuffed toy, a bulldog about the size of my fist, that I could not sleep without.  He was made of a fine cordouroy and filled with sawdust.  I wore the fuzz off of his little ears rubbing them as I fell asleep.  Sometimes I wondered if I'd wear out the soft patch under her front leg when I'd fall asleep rubbing.  She never seemed to mind. 

One morning, just as I was waking up, I wondered who was popping popcorn.  This was about a month after Livie had come home with us.  I realized that I smelled that same smell every morning as I woke from my nap and no one had popped popcorn in our house in months.  I leaned over to hug Livie and took in a deep breath.  It was Livie that smelled like popcorn.  No kidding.  Oh, she had a little of that doggy smell too, but there was definitely popcorn.  I loved that smell and how she'd lean into me whenever I hugged her and breathed into her fur. 

Another thing about Livie was that she was honor-bound to go to her bed in Nickie's room at night.  He was her boy and she made sure he felt comfortable falling asleep alone.  She never made a sound at night, not even in the morning before we came to take her out.  Sometimes I wondered if it was good training or just her nature to be patient. 

The last part, here, is very hard to tell you.  One night I'd gone to my friend's house for a party and Mike and Nick were home with Livie.  He had let her out to pee and she ran down to the road.  She was hit and instantly killed by a car.  It was an awful time at our house.  We all felt guilty.  I had shirked my training duties.  I hadn't exercised her enough.  Mike had let her out on her own, which we usually did, but he felt especially bad.  It silenced him for a long time, that pain and guilt was so deep.  He knew that Livie had been my dog and he thought it was his fault.  In my usual style, I talked to people about what hurt.  In his, there was silence. 

I am sure that losing Livie was the reason we waited six years before getting another dog.  I know I needed a lot more time to grieve this time.  I don't know what Mike was thinking, but even in the last couple of years, he held out, saying he wasn't ready.  I'm glad we finally got ready because Teddy is a very sweet boy. 

I have a pendant made of lapis lazuli.  It's not a spectacular stone, but somehow it came to remind me of Livie.  I wear it on days I need to be near her and can't.  I can picture Livie in heaven, waiting for me.  Yes, I believe that dogs go to heaven.  Her gentle nature assured me of her acceptance there.  When people tell me that they don't think dogs go to heaven, then I tell them if they aren't, I don't want to go there either.  In heaven, Livie is a tall, gawky girl in a pink tutu and she is standing on that old couch waiting for Seth and I to arrive.  And I can smell the popcorn.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, February 27, 2012

Don't Eat the Bark

The results are in:  Teddy did not swallow a cat toy.  Last Friday, when he went to doggie daycare, he proceeded to eat too much bark and this (surprise, surprise) made him seriously sick all night and well into the next day.  Now it is Monday and it has finally begun to move through his system, and he's almost better now.  Almost.

So the question is whether or not I can afford to bring him back to the same place.  This time, it cost $523 at the veterinarian's office plus the original $20 to board Teddy for the day.  That is a good question, isn't it?  The owner returned my calls quickly when I called to say he'd gotten sick.  She was concerned about what happened, but essentially said that they watch too many dogs to monitor whether my puppy is eating bark.  Hmmm. 

I think I'm going to stick with the other local place.  It's a dump, but Teddy was happy there and they didn't board as many dogs.  Maybe they keep track of what the dogs are doing more carefully.  Maybe they don't, but they use gravel instead of bark and Teddy doesn't have a fixation on eating gravel.  It's also a better rate for the day.

Oh, I hate stuff like this.  I wanted to like the big fancy place.  I really did.  I wanted to sign Teddy up for classes there too.  They offere agility classes.  I wanted to have a fun place to bring him when we were going somewhere all day in the summer and Teddy couldn't go with us.  Museums and magic shops are really boring for dogs.  I wanted them to know him when he trotted in wagging his beautiful tail.

You'll notice that I'm not naming names.  I don't want to write a review of these places right here.  I suppose I could write it on one of those online feedback websites, but I'm really not out to damage anyone's reputation.

I'm starting to get loopy.  Better say good night!

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, February 26, 2012


When people talk about things they did in their youth, I have my share of stories to tell too, along with a few regrets.  I frequently danced in New York city all night when I was in my twenties.  Once, I was told that I wasn't allowed to tell that to a friend's son.  'Okay,' I thought.  'It wasn't that bad.  I was just dancing and I wouldn't trade that in for the world.'  At least I hadn't been telling the story about the time I peed in Central Park.  That might not have been my finest moment, but it isn't actually a regret.  I'll admit, I drank too much in college too.  Who didn't?  In fact, the first car I ever bought had a dent in the trunk where I'd slammed it down on the keg I tried to put in for a baseball game.  I don't really think that's what's going to bother me on my deathbed.  What I'll worry about on my deathbed is whether I made Nick feel my love deep in his bones, like the lyrics to Paul Simon's song 'Loves Me.'  You know which song I mean - 'she gets down on her knees and hugs me, loves me like a rock....'  Yes, that is what I am going to be thinking of, regretting if I didn't manage, when I'm dying.  There's another thing I regret.  I was rude to a couple of good friends from high school and wish I could bring back their friendships, even now, after all these years. 


I have just spent the last hour on Facebook, trying to locate these two people.  Lily has a unique name and I found her immediately.  I hope she accepts my friend request.  It would be a form of forgiveness for what I did.  Lily and I were close friends all through high school.  She was always nice to me, no matter how silly I behaved.   I believed that we would be friends forever.  Then we graduated and went to different colleges.

At college, I became roommates with a prima donna named Karen.  When I look back on it now, I'm nauseated at the way I licked her boots.  She made me feel stupid even when I was tutoring her for the third time on how to do logarithms.  I was totally sucked into her drama.  I remember late one night when she asked me to get back out of my pajamas to go with her to buy a pack of cigarettes.  Cigarettes?  And I did it.  Did I really have anything in common with this girl?  Not really, but not for lack of trying.  I came to love Karen's family, but eventually, I decided she wasn't worth my time and all the care I had given her.  I'm telling you, life is too short to spend worrying about people who don't love you back. 

During all that boot-licking, Lily came to visit.  I kept getting her boyfriend's name wrong.  His name is Bill.  She eventually married this nice man.  Worse than not paying attention, I was caught up in Karen's drama which seemed to increase since I had a friend visiting who wanted to spend time with me.  I have to admit that I let Karen's snotty attitude foul the waters.  I acted as though I was better than Lily.  I was part of Karen's in-crowd now.  I didn't mention to Lily that Karen's crowd routinely called me a space cadet, that they barely acknowledged my existence and when they did, it was to make me feel like an idiot. Lily left after that weekend and I didn't hear from her again.  I had made a mistake, a big mistake.

I managed to hold onto my other friend, Connie, a little longer.  Thankfully, Connie never met Karen.  Karen would have eaten her alive.  At least Lily had some self-preservation and didn't buy into any of the bullshit.  Connie had been that little girl in second grade who would hang onto anyone who wasn't actively mean to her.  She was clingy then.  I didn't become friends with her in second grade, though I wish I had.  Connie was loyal, funny, and so caring a friend that I thought I could never lose her.  In high school, on Saturdays, we used to go to Pizza Hut and order the salad bar because we didn't have enough money for pizza.  We'd sit there for hours and talk.  Connie was really good at listening, something I'm still trying to get the hang of. 

So even after college, Connie and I would meet when I was in town and we'd head off to the Pizza Hut, this time with enough money to actually order pizza.  We could still talk for hours together.  Every time I saw Connie, we would start back up where we left off, filling in the gaps we'd missed. 

Then she came out to me. 

I was so awkward.  I have no idea why I acted the way I did.  It wasn't really a surprise to me that Connie was a lesbian.  In fact, it made a lot of puzzle pieces of Connie's life shift into place for the first time.  It taught me, in that instant, that who we love isn't important, but that we love is.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about that moment since then.  I've even taken a stand politically at times because of my poor ravaged friendship with Connie.  But in that moment with her, I was awkward and I think Connie was embarrassed and regretted telling me.  Can I go back and suddenly say just the right thing?  Can I tell her that I want to be her friend no matter what?  No. 

No.  I can't do it right that first time. 

I did manage to find Connie's sister on Facebook.  I didn't send her a friend request because I didn't really know her all that well.  I did send her a message, though.  In it, I asked if she'd give Connie my email address and I told her that I still missed her sister.

I may not be able to go back, but I will go forward.  At least I'll go forward knowing that I tried to make things right, even after all these years. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Electric Touch

I wanted to tell you what happened after that New Year's eve party, twenty-five years ago.  I was frustrated with the guy I'd been dating, seeing his true colors shine through.  I hadn't yet begun to call him what I call him now, Asshole, but I was getting there.  He was controlling and demeaning to his parents, to friends, and to me as well.  He expected me to be available the moment he called, but not to expect anything in between.  Where did he go for three or four days at a time that talking to me was so burdensome?  Why did he make fun of waitresses when we went out to eat?  What was I doing with this guy?

At work, I was spending less time acting with Mike and more time comfortably chatting and telling him how I felt.  Mike kept asking me to meet with him and his friends, but I kept saying no.  I no longer believed that he was making fun of me, but I had a solid rule against giving any guy a second chance.  That rule had protected me more than once. 

Finally, Mike asked me to go with his Explorer Post on their annual winter camping trip to Pennsylvania.  Flippant, I said, "Can I bring my boyfriend?"

"Sure, if you want," Mike said and went on to tell me what to expect if I came.  He was excited about it.  I decided to go and even Asshole decided to go, but he was going to show up late, he said.  That was fine with me.  I'd gotten to a point, deadly in any relationship, in which I didn't care what he did.  I was just going along with things, giving him the space that he had asked for. 

So I met Mike and the rest of the campers at the prescribed place and we drove to a beautiful snowy clearing in the woods.  I don't remember anyone else there except that I knew the girl Mike had liked wasn't on this trip.  I was focused on Mike.  As the afternoon sped by, he and I cut wood for the fire, we set up tents, we strung line for tarps, we laughed.  A bunch of us began a snowball fight, and then Mike and I began to wrestle in the snow.  Even through both layers of our gloves, Mike's touch was electric.  Asshole picked that moment to show up, surly, and ready to make me feel like an idiot for having fun.  He lectured about hypothermia, laughed at the sleeping bag I'd brought, and told people how much experience he had winter camping all over the country.  They didn't care.

Except Mike.  Suddenly, Mike had gone from this cheerful guy to one who was sitting quietly on a wooden bench by the fire.  He was sulking.   It dawned on me as I looked at him that this guy really liked me.  It was genuine and it was sweet.  Somehow I managed to get through the campfire that night, existing as far from Asshole and as near to Mike as I could without causing Asshole to blow up.  Asshole could be so incredibly jealous one minute and accusing me of clinging the next. I knew it was over.  I just needed to tell the man to go away.  In the middle of the night in the middle of the woods was not exactly that place so I kept quiet.

In the morning, Mike was making chocolate chip pancakes and offering hot chocolate to everyone.  I took the time before Asshole woke up to huddle next to him and chatter.  I have no idea what I talked about, but even through our thick clothing, I could feel the pressure of his arm as I leaned into him.  I was trying to tell him to wait it out.  His eyes told me that he understood.

Asshole spent the next week trying to make me feel like an idiot, but even he could sense that something had shifted.  He couldn't actually make me feel like an idiot any more.  He said I was too clingy.  I said okay.  He said he needed space.  I was okay with that too.  He called me flaky.  Okay.  He called me stupid.  Well, that was just wrong, but why argue?  So he went away and didn't call.  Days went by and he still didn't call.  After a week, I figured Asshole had just done the job of breaking up and I wouldn't have to say the words.  I was free to date whomever I pleased.

I didn't take long for Mike to ask if he could make dinner for me the following Saturday.  Those sweet days until Saturday flew by in an ecstatic blur.  What I remember most clearly about that dinner was sitting on the kitchen counter at the place where Mike was house-sitting and the way he leaned into me to kiss me. 

"I'd make a good husband," he said on an intake of breath.  Oh, I know, I thought, and kissed him back. 

Ten days later, on Valentine's Day, I came home to a dozen red roses at my doorstep.  They were from Mike.  I called him and within a half an hour, he was there so I could thank him in person.  Asshole took that moment to appear at my door after having been gone for more than two weeks.  I wouldn't let him in.  He begged.  I kept the chain on the door.  Mike sat quietly in my kitchen.  Asshole had flowers.  I closed the door and brought my garbage can to the door and opened it again.  I took the flowers and put them right into the garbage while they both watched from different angles. 

"He's here, isn't he?"  he said.

"You need to leave now," I said.

"I know he's here," he said. 

"I want you to go and I don't ever want you to come back," I said.

"You'll call me.  You'll beg for me to come back," he said, trying to peer past the chain that held the door.  I don't know if I waited for him to leave before I closed the door and bolted it. 

Oh, I ran into that guy out in public more than I ever could have imagined.  I ran into him at different malls, at Campmoor, at restaurants, and at the movies.  Somehow each time, I was with Mike and felt protected by that fact. 

One day, over a year later, after one of those coincidental meetings, Mike said, "You know he's stalking you, don't you?"

"Really?" I asked.  I really could be naive. 

"Sure.  The odds that he would happen to run into you at all these places this many times are a million to one," he said.

Well, okay.  It just didn't matter to me.  Mike bought me a can of pepper spray and made me put it into my purse, but to be honest, I was always with him and that felt like all I needed.  That's all I need, even now.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Trip to the Vet

I'm not going to tell you any good stories today.  I'm too tired.  Teddy threw up thirteen times between yesterday at 7:00 pm and noon today.  I woke up with him at least five times last night, even falling out of bed once when I tried to get up to open his kennel before fumbling for the light.  A head bounces off of a plastic crate easier than it bounces off of a floor, but the spot by my eye is bruised and tender.

Late this morning, after eight hours of relative quiet, I tried to give Teddy about a half a cup of food.  When that stayed down for a half an hour, I gave him another half cup.  He promptly threw up, twice. 

It was time to go to the vet. 

With an unfamiliar vet, I agonized over getting the X-ray immediately or waiting twenty-four hours to see if Teddy's vomiting abated.  She said he might have eaten something that was blocking his intestine or that he could have pancreatitis.   I knew I didn't want to spend another night getting up every hour or two with a dog vomiting in his kennel just to see what would happen, but the clincher was when the vet said that by tomorrow, Teddy could have necrosis of the bowel if his intestine was blocked. 

"Take an X-ray," I said immediately. 

I am not a big fan of dead tissue in or on a living body.  I cut my finger once when I was in college.  It was bad enough that I should have gotten stitches.  I even hit an artery and it rhythmically shot bright red blood across the wall.  I remember being fascinated by the rising and falling arc of that blood.  I'm talking about a tiny artery in the tip of my middle finger and this thing had the power to shoot four to five feet across the room.  I could also see a little piece of white tissue that zinged whenever my gauze touched it, the nerve.  It hurt, but it was very interesting to see in action.  I cleaned it and wrapped up the cut, trying to place the flap, a piece about the size of a navy bean, back into place.  Basically, it sucks to be a starving college student. Well, I really needed a stitch, but I was proud of my efforts until a few days later.  At first, my little flap looked okay, as if it might reattach.  Then it started to pull away from my finger.  It didn't hurt though, so I waited a little longer to see what it would do.  Then, it turned black.   I was so grossed out.  The next thing that would happen, I imagined, was that it would get maggots.  I could not live with that little black flap of skin connected to me for one more minute.  I didn't even have time to make an appointment with a doctor, so I cut it off.  I used a pocket knife that I'd sterilized with alcohol and cut it close enough to my finger that it bled a lot and hurt all over again.  That dead, black thing hanging off of me was all I needed to imagine when the vet said that word - necrosis. 

While she was at it, she gave him a couple of shots, the equivalent of Pepsid AC, a different drug to prevent nausea, and a shot of saline that left a lump in Teddy's shoulder before his body absorbed it so he wouldn't become dehydrated.

Five hundred dollars later, he has eaten four tablespoons of Hills ID, a bland diet, and he has not thrown up.  I gave him two tablespoons of food at 8:00 pm, a half an hour before my vet told me to start because Teddy was pacing.  We'd had London broil for dinner.  It seemed so cruel.  At 10:00 pm, I gave him two more tablespoons of food.  I wonder, now, whether she intended me to set my clock to wake up every two hours to give him this food?  It seems like it. 

Yes, I can be that selfish, to wish I didn't have to give up another night's sleep to a sick puppy.  Don't you like me more now than you did?  I'm just being honest here, but I'll do what I need to do. 

So I'm going to get Teddy into his crate now and go to bed.  I'll wake with a jolt every two hours tonight the way I did last night.  Still, if all goes well, it will be to an alarm rather than to the sound of a dog gagging and puking.  Instead of cleaning up a mess, I'll be scooping two tablespoons of dog food into a dish and hoping he can eat it and keep it down.  That will be an improvement. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Year's Eve, 1986

I was going to tell you about that New Year's eve party twenty-five years ago.  What I have neglected to tell you before now is that back then, I played in a garage band.  Yes, we were awful, but we had high hopes of becoming less awful.  I played keyboard and was best suited to background singing.  Oh, I sang well enough, but I enunciated too clearly for most rock and roll cover songs.  So, I harmonized after listening to the scratchy practice tapes they made for me, played the piano parts, harmonica parts, and anything else that my synthesizer could match.  It was fun!  We practiced in the basement at the lead singer's house on a street that was called Rock Ave., no lie.
Our band had five members.  The drummer was my ex-boyfriend, Jim.  Remember Jim, the one who used to ask me if I had money whenever the check came at dinner?  Yup, after he broke up with me, I decided I could stay with his band even though the man himself had rejected me.  The guitarist was this guy who could remember the lyrics for absolutely any song written after 1953.  He was an encyclopedia of lyrics.  It was so cool to test him!  Our bass player was a really tall guy who walked a postal route during the daytime.  I used to sit at my keyboard in the back of the room and stare at his calves while we played.  He was a sweet, ugly man, but he had great calves.  Our last member was a girl who liked to sing lead but couldn't play an instrument.  She didn't like me because I sang lead sometimes and when I did, that left her with absolutely nothing else to do.  She wouldn't even play a tambourine.  She didn't know how to harmonize, no matter how much I coached her.  I got the distinct feeling she did that on purpose.  What I disliked most about singing backup to her songs is that she expected me to sing the high notes that she couldn't reach.  It just seemed pigheaded to insist on singing lead when she couldn't sing the whole song.  I kept quiet about most of this, because I had my keyboard and could always find a harmony to sing.  Besides, I liked her brother, Bob. 
Oh, I knew I would be long in getting to this story.

By late fall, my current boyfriend - remember Asshole? -  had given up trying to get me to quit the band.  He'd also quit trying to horn in on practices since boyfriends and girlfriends weren't allowed to come to practice.  I never did understand that rule.  My ex-boyfriend, Jim the drummer, had come to me one afternoon after practice wanting to get back together, even offering to marry me to make me happy.  Oh, that ship had sailed.  I even burst into tears when he asked me if I loved 'that guy.'  I assumed he meant Mike even though I was dating Asshole at the time.  That was one of those conversations in which arrows of communication were being shot, but none were landing on their intended targets.

So, I flirted with Bob instead. He was just so good looking, something along the lines of Rob Lowe when he was eighteen.  Bob had a good job and drove a brand new red Mustang. He wasn't anyone's boyfriend and lived in the house so he had to be allowed at practice, but I can tell you that he was a distraction. Maybe that was why somebody made that rule.  Then again, maybe Jim, my ex, was just not enamored of seeing Asshole enter his territory. No one ever complained about Bob being at practice because he brought beer. He seemed to be the only one among us who ever had money. 
My whole situation was complicated by Bob, who kept asking me out. Oh, I have to tell you that I considered it, but Bob was eighteen and I was twenty-six. He'd just graduated from high school of all things. As much as I liked the guy, I just couldn't get my head around kissing someone who was eight years younger than me. But Bob was definitely a sweet distraction. 
When we finally got a paid gig after more than a year of practice, I was ecstatic.  I was going to be paid to be a musician.  We were still awful, but being cheap and having two sets of music ready to go helped a lot.  We were going to play at a private club in the Bronx.  I had been to the Bronx a few times and, on the afternoon of New Year's eve, I could see that this warehouse, painted black with a sagging plywood stage at the front, completely fit within my stereotype.  I was surprised that most of the windows were intact, though they were painted black as well.  I wasn't entirely sure that the police weren't going to crash this party. 

I had invited Asshole, a group of my friends, some coworkers, and Mike to come hear us.  The cool thing was that Mike showed up a little early and helped us set up the 16-track mixer and four-foot speakers that my bandmates had bought to prematurely consume all of the profits from our gig.  Everyone liked Mike so much that they called him our roadie and assigned him to the spotlight that we'd rented.  He sat in the back with that spot all night and won my heart again.

It was one of the strangest nights of my life.  I was nervous because I was going to be singing and playing my synthesizer in front of about two hundred people.  I was also nervous because the people who had arranged the party were Jim's cousins, whom he had once said were involved with the Mafia.  I wasn't entirely sure it was true because Jim had worked hard to impress me when we first started dating and later, I found out that lots of his stories were just that, stories.  Still, there was that lingering doubt.  I was nervous because I'd never been in the Bronx at night and that was a downright scary prospect for a girl from a small town in Indiana.  And the whipped cream on the cake was that there were five guys there who had either asked me out or rejected me or both.  My friends wanted me to point out each one of them before the music started and at the same time, I was trying to get my head around the fact that in ten minutes, I'd be trying to sound just like Pat Benetar on a bad night.

Asshole showed up half-way through the first set and came right up onto the stage and started talking to me while I was trying to sing and play at the same time.  It was Pat Benetar's 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot.'  I tried to mime him away, but missed a couple of chords on my keyboard.  After that, I just ignored him and focused on the music.  This pissed him off, royally.  He was trying to complain because the music was too loud.  Finally, the song ended and I told him to go sit down, pointing out my friends at the third table on the left side.  I told him that he couldn't be up here or talk to me in the middle of a song.  I saw him go sit down with them and the band started our next song, 'Only the Lonely.'  Asshole had only met my friends once before, but it wasn't like I could send him to talk to Bob or Mike.  I was just hoping that his radar was off and he didn't clue into any of these other guys with whom I had a history, or a future.
I talked to my friends in between sets, but they must have been chatting the whole set because they didn't even notice that I'd sung lead for a few songs.  I wanted them to tell me that I'd sounded great.  Well, okay.  Mike and I talked too, once I'd scanned for Asshole and hadn't seen him.  Mike said we sounded pretty good, but that the spotlight was set too far back to light up the singer the way he wanted.  Then Jim grabbed him to help with something technical that he couldn't figure out.  I wondered if Jim had any idea that this guy was the reason I'd burst into tears after I'd said 'no' to his weak marriage proposal.

During the second set, what I remember most was trying to keep some drunk guy from leaning on my keyboard and sloshing his beer onto it.  After an Eagles song, 'Take It Easy', I tried to explain to him that it was a $700 piece of electronics that didn't like the liquid he was pouring into it, but that was trying to get an elephant to piss into a tea cup.  I spent the rest of that set using my body to block his elbow and eventually, I knocked the beer out of his hand entirely, trying to make it look like an accident.

"Oh, sorry man," I said into my microphone, trying to look innocent.  Someone in the audience laughed.  There was one guy still listening.  I wondered if it was Mike.

I kept scanning the crowd for Asshole, but I hadn't seen him since the end of the first set.  My nervousness had vanished.  I hadn't impressed my friends and now I was simply playing to an inebriated crowd.  The universe hadn't imploded with all these significant men standing in one room, so I managed to get through the second set without faltering.  At the end of the last song, I don't remember feeling like it was a stunning success, but we hadn't been kicked out or booed.  I thought it would have felt better than it did. 

Afterward, my friends told me that 'my boyfriend' had left in a huff after the first set.  I knew I might not see him for three or four days or ever understand what had set him off.  He had promised that he'd follow me home to make sure I got out of the Bronx safely.  Asshole.

While everybody else started to gather up their gear, a coworker I'd dated oh so briefly wanted to show me something he could play on my keyboard.  Suddenly, I was a little more interesting than I had been before. I watched him play, knowing that he had no idea he was a factor in the perfect storm of my life.   I looked around.  Bob was out of sight.  Asshole had gone. I realized that Jim had assigned Mike the job of moving the big speakers while he sat in the double-parked truck we had rented.  Mike ended up coiling cables, helping me to pack away my keyboard and microphone, hauled the spotlight, and disassembled the drums. 

Jim walked by as I was snapping the last latch on my keyboard case and said, "Hey, your friend Mike is a pretty good guy."

Don't I know it.  It seemed like Mike was waiting around and just trying to look useful.  After everything was packed up and Jim and the rest of the band had driven off with the rented truck, Mike and I were standing there in the pre-dawn light.  And I had worried that I'd be trying to drive out of the Bronx in the dark.  Even so, it felt good when he offered to follow me home.  In the end, we decided to head off to a diner that served the best Greek omelets in New Jersey. 

I wasn't sure what would happen after that, but something had shifted even though I was still dating someone else.  I knew then that I had a true friend, someone I could talk to, someone who said my awful band sounded pretty good, someone who would follow me home to make sure I was safe. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two Promises and a Good Book

I know that I owe you a story about that New Years eve, twenty-five years ago.  After I'd begun, it's only right that I finish that story. 

I can't.  At least, I can't just now.

Oh, I still love the man I ended up with at the end of that story.  That's not the problem. 

I can't because I need to get to bed on time since Nick has a plan for us to go to the Museum of Flight tomorrow with a friend.  I'll need to drop Teddy off at a doggy daycare before that.  I won't be able to sleep in.  You really don't want to hear about my sleep issues.  Someday, I could possibly tell that story.  Maybe I won't.  For right now, I have to tell you that following a set of rules regarding sleep is my simple solution, and add to that naps.  I get by on my naps when I mess up.  Since Nick is off from school all week for mid-winter break, I'm busier than usual, so I have to be careful not to stay up too late.

Here's the thing about going to bed at the same time every night - good books interfere.  I'm listening to a good book.  I have discovered Jodi Picoult!  Oh man, I'm in the middle of 'House Rules,' already with my own hypothesis for the ending and everything.  Plus, she has totally captured me regarding the Asperger's Syndrome.  Wow!  What a premise, to have a kid with Asperger's syndrome and a fetish for forensics somewhere near a murder site about when it happens.  I'm not going to tell you how I think it will end.  I could imagine three or four different endings but I have a favorite.  It's sublime torture.  The problem is that I want to keep listening to the CDs until I'm done.  And that's not good for keeping to a regular schedule, or for writing for that matter.  I seriously have trouble writing when my mind is so actively thinking about a piece of fiction I'm reading. 

I think that Julia Cameron had it right when she said not to watch television or read for a couple of weeks to unleash your creativity.  My poor brain might get so story-deprived that it could make up its own stories.  A few days ago, I was between audio books and between paperbacks at the same time.  Someone barely mentioned during a phone conversation how there are a bunch of people banging on doors, demanding to be let into random houses.  Well, my head already had a story for that.  It totally zippered with the story in my head that happened in the fury of my lost backpack and the people who came to my house to steal more stuff.  Boy, I am tough in my fantasies.  You should have seen me with these imaginary bullies.  In the end, I had them hogtied with decorative duct tape.  In fact, in my story, I had them hogtie each other with only one minor bullet wound to an arm in the process. 

Maybe I should write this fantasy from beginning to end.  In it, I give power to a middle-aged mom who looks pretty ordinary on the face of things.  I'll bet most moms would surprise the world if the world came banging on her door when her kids were inside.  Yup, don't get between the moose and her calf.  I didn't have to be told that twice by the park ranger when we were in Alaska.  I know that feeling and it is a position of power. 


There I go, flaking out and letting that duct tape story run in my head.  Sorry.  I'm back.  Yeah, I think I'll tell you that story someday too, even if it isn't a real one.  Do you mind? 

Yup!  It was decorative duct tape, the kind with black and orange flames on it.  And I considered having them in their boxer shorts by the time we were done with them, face down on the concrete floor with their hands and feet tangled up in duct tape behind their backs.  I guess there would be a little blood as well.  The problem's going to be that one of these idiots is going to sue for pain and suffering.  That always amazes me, that people robbing a 7-Eleven can sue because they slip on the wet floor and hurt themselves in the process.  It amazes me that they can actually win.

So, I owe you a couple of stories.  I'll probably make good on those promises at some point. 

Thank you for listening, jb 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Perils of Dating

Remember when I told you that before anything even started, Mike dumped me?  I had just kissed the guy and gone out a few times with him.  How could I have lost so much when he stopped asking me out? 

After that, the time I spent in the engineering lab with him was agonizing.  Mike and I were responsible for different parts of our design.  Remember, he was a software engineer and I was hardware.  I tried not to let my hurt get the upper hand as we debugged our design.  I let Mike talk about the people in his Explorer Post.  I tried not to let go of the smile I pasted on my face when he was talking about her.  It hurt, even when it turned out that all they would ever be was good friends.  He talked about canoe trips, climbing, hiking, and caving.  This group had a history.  I tried to tell him about the ten days I spent hiking with my church group on the Appalachian trail in North Carolina.  I told him how I'd hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in one day, but those feats lost their shine compared to the deep connection he had with these people. 

It was such a relief to walk out of that lab at the end of the day, a relief because I didn't have to act cheerful any more, but then the sadness set in.  Weekends were the worst. One Friday, I had decided to hike a section of the Appalachian trail up in the Catskills.  I wanted to be alone with my sadness.  I wanted time to think.  I thought I'd like camping out there by myself.  Mike encouraged me to go.  It was a place that he loved.  He even loaned me a topo map.  I was going to prove to him what he'd lost.  I was a girl who was comfortable in the woods.

I packed a tarp that I could use as a tent, my old flannel sleeping bag with the cowboys on the lining, matches, a pocket knife, Mike's map, a compass, portable food and some extra clothing.  I don't think I even had a cook stove with me.  In the end, I made it a day trip, because I couldn't imagine sleeping out in the woods by myself, even if I did build a fire. 

It felt pretty strange walking along that trail alone.  I found myself being friendly, chatting with people I crossed paths with, because I didn't really want to be alone in an unfamiliar area, even with a good map.  Hiking around Indiana was one thing.  I knew where I was there.  These were the Catskills and this trail went all the way to Canada.  So, I got to talking to one cute guy for a while.  I didn't tell him my name or where I lived, but we chatted for a long time, standing on that mountainside trail.  He was interested in me, I could tell, but I made it clear that I was not joining any hikers on this trail.  I was hiking solo.  My attempt to prove something to Mike had turned this into a quest.  I wasn't going to cheat, even with a cute stranger who felt comfortable with where he was.  I didn't manage the whole loop, but doubled back when I figured I was at the half-way point in the day.  I didn't need to mention that to Mike when I showed up for work on Monday.  I just hoped he wouldn't ask about any landmarks that I'd missed. 

That night, I ended up sleeping in my clothes inside my sleeping bag wrapped in my tarp within arm's distance of the wheel of my little red Renault.  I had my keys in my pocket and a hat on my head.  I was too creeped out to sleep.  I really should have gotten up and driven home, but I was determined to 'camp' even if it was in the shadow of my own little car. 

On Monday, I acted all exuberant and told Mike about my quest.  He seemed duly impressed and didn't quiz me on the landmarks or the steep spot on his map where the contour lines were tight.  I hadn't even made it to that point, the place Mike had said had a spectacular view.   I didn't lie about it, but I implied that I hiked the whole trail and spent the night.  If he had any doubts, he didn't voice them either. 

I was surprised when the cute guy from the trail called me on the phone.  Really surprised.  I hadn't given him my number or even my name.  It turned out that he'd wheedled the information from the park ranger. I'd left my name, number, and address at the sign-post at the trailhead.  I flirted with this guy, but I told him I couldn't possibly go out with him.  I had no idea who he was.  Yet, we talked late into the night.  Then he called again a few days later.  I teased him, calling him a stalker, but again, we talked for a very long time.  After quite a few of these marathon phone calls, I finally relented and met the guy for a date. 

Oh man, I had almost forgotten how awful dating really was, meeting total strangers to see if there was a connection.  I don't want to go into details, but this guy - we'll call him Asshole - turned out to be a nightmare.  We dated for three months.  I happily reported to Mike that I had a boyfriend, but in the meantime, Asshole alternately showed up where I hadn't invited him or complained that I was too clingy.  He was cruel to his mother.  That worried and embarrassed me.  And, I'm pretty sure that when we went to a new Cajun restaurant for the first time, the clear gel on his fish was spit because of the way he'd been demeaning to the waitress.  What I didn't know until afterward was that he made fun of me around my friends when I wasn't in the room.  Then, when they'd gone, he'd make fun of them.  He was astute, but not at all nice.  Not one of them liked him, but they didn't tell me that until much later.  What was I doing?

It took me a while to figure all that out.  In the meantime, it got a little easier talking to Mike because I had 'a boyfriend.' 

"My boyfriend and I went to Suffolk county to look at the fall colors."

"My boyfriend and I picked out the biggest pumpkin I ever had.  It took two of us to get it up the stairs to my apartment."

"My boyfriend and I got a Christmas tree that was so big, I had to go out and buy a saw to cut off the bottom so it would fit."

Oh, I can imagine how nauseating that was for everybody around me.  I was just happy to be over Mike, to have a boyfriend during the holidays.  I was so over him that I was still trying to act happy around him four months after he'd stopped asking me out.  Mike even started asking me to go do things again.  I kept saying no because I thought he was making fun of me.   Asshole was an influence in that way of thinking.  What I didn't know was that Mike was serious and that it was 'my boyfriend' who was making fun of me. 

And then there was New Years eve.  You know, I'm running out of steam right now, so I'll tell you about that New Year's eve party another time.  Yup, that was a New Year's eve that I will never ever forget.  I'm going to go dream about that night right now.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Agony of Love

So I was telling you about how I fell in love with Mike.  I remember him standing there in the hallway.  We were going to a Moody Blues concert.  He had changed out of his work clothes. I later found out his mother had chosen these clothes for him.  It was no wonder they didn't look quite right on him.  Instead, he wore a flannel shirt and Levis.  Oh man.  Okay, I'm telling you, I fell in love right at that moment, but could there have been some lust mixed in there as well? 

You know, I don't want to go there.  It's private. 

I do know I was down for the count.  I floated through the concert and the weekend that followed.  What happened after the concert made me understand that it really was love and not just a bodily function.  Something wonderful happened, you might think.  Not so much. 

Mike simply stopped asking me out.  He was cordial at work, almost friendly, but he just didn't bring up the next date.  So much for our song being anything from the Moody Blues.  I was crushed.  For a while, I tried to play along and stay silent, but I'm just not very good at that.

"What's wrong?" I asked him one day in the lab.  I had waited until we were alone, leaning over our breadboard, half completed.

"Nothing," he said as he leaned away to look back at my schematic.  Then quiet prevailed again.  I waited a few more days, trying to ignore the heavy foreboding that hung just below my heart.  

"Want to come with me to happy hour?" I asked him just as everyone was gathering their notebooks and shutting down power supplies for the night.

"No thanks," he said.  Okay.  This really hurt.  Then, I started to sound like a desperate girl who'd been rejected.

"Is it something that I did?" I asked quietly.

"No.  It's not you," he said.  Bullshit.  It was easier to pry open a clam. 

"So, what's wrong?" I asked, just prolonging my agony.  What was I, stupid? 

"There's this girl." 

That was enough.  I shut my mouth and didn't ask any more questions.  I knew who it was even, having listened to him talk about his friends and remembering his emphasis on one in particular, a girl.  All that time, I'd believed his heart was free and it wasn't. 

I was already too far gone.  I had a way of doing that, fell too far, too fast.  I was shattered.  I didn't eat.  I didn't go out or see my friends.  I actually called my mother and said I needed to come home for a few days or I'd end up quitting this good job and moving back.  For once, my mother kept quiet and I came home for ten days, probably moping the whole time.  I don't remember a bit of it.  I didn't want to talk about it.  That wasn't like me, but no one asked.  Thankfully. 

I don't think I could have explained it in any case.  It would have sounded trivial.  We had a few dates.  It didn't work out.  He wasn't interested.  I had always felt that those things were simple.  I had already had one marriage proposal from a guy who had wanted 'some space' and realized his mistake too late.  I was not one to give second chances.  No way.  If they weren't positive they wanted to be with me, then they weren't worth my time.

I girded my loins and came back from my trip.  Where did that phrase come from anyway?  It sounds good though, wrapping your long robes up around yourself to prepare for battle.  I really needed to wrap my feelings out of sight and be prepared to walk into that lab and get some engineering work done.  Plus, I had no intention of showing just how hurt I was in the process. 

That was the autumn that I made a frantic attempt at having fun.  I dated.  Oh man, the week I had first dates with four different men was just crazy.  No, it wasn't fun.  I just kept imagining the guys all coming together in one place for a brief moment in time.  I couldn't remember one guy's name half way through the third date.  Still, I had plenty to talk to Mike about at work.  I plastered a smile on my face and went into that lab every day and told him about these men.  I should have earned an Oscar for my acting skills.  Mike even started joking with me again.  I wasn't having any of his charm.  I was untouchable.  It was done.  My happiness was going to come from somewhere else and I was looking for it and reporting back to my coworker, Mike.  Coworker. 

Oh, I have to tell you, this story gets worse before it gets better, but I need to stop for now.  I may pick it up another time. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Bad Start and Then Love

I don't have anything to tell you today.

I suppose I could tell you about the concert for Nick's fifth grade class.  It was cute that Nick wanted to wear a tie and waved at us when he saw us in the audience.  I loved how the music teacher danced around and played instruments and got the kids to be so enthusiastic.  She's a fairy sprite, this teacher.

I suppose I could tell you how I noodled around the house today, accomplishing little.  I seasoned my Dutch oven and tried to re-season my cast iron skillet.  It's hard to peel off a botched job on a cast iron skillet.

This stuff is so boring.  I didn't feel boring this afternoon.  I was having fun.  I just figured I needed to get some things cleaned up more than I needed to carve a walking stick or make a quilt.  I have this idea for Mike to give an annual award of a carved walking stick to a Scout who has made a difference somehow.  I'd like to foster a sense of fun in these boys and to combine it with the hope that we can get them to be enthusiastic about helping.  If nothing else, I'd like Nick to grow to be a helpful and self-reliant man and Scouting will help that.  So I need to help Scouting.

My boy's a tired man tonight.  He read.  He did math.  He performed at the concert.  He picked up after himself.  He's just about done for the night.  Good thing too, because he can't follow directions at this point, not even when his dad told him to go brush his teeth.   

This is boring stuff.  You must be spared.  You need a story.  But what to tell?

I'm still in a Valentine's groove, having my night usurped by meetings last night.  Now that Nick is in bed and tucked in, I'm sitting with Mike, who is reading.  I like this part of the night.  It's too short.  Gees, I don't know what book Mike's reading, but he gave it only a mild recommendation, so no matter.  It's good, even sitting quietly in a room with him. 

Twenty-six years ago, I met Mike at work.  We both were engineers for Lockheed.  On the first day I met him, a coworker had brought him to my desk and they sat there waiting for me to get back with my coffee.  Before he heard me, I looked at the back of his head, the back, mind you, and thought, 'now this is a really good guy.'  Oh, I didn't love him yet, believe me.  I know exactly when that moment occurred, but I remember knowing something warm about him just looking at the back of his head. 

Mike was software and I was hardware.  Now, I was happy working in a department that employed a large number of young single guys. I had been dating one man, not an engineer, for nearly a year and I believed I was in love with him.  Poor Jim.  I was not in love.  Oh, don't feel too sorry for Jim.  He was that guy who had lots of charm, but asked midway through any date if I'd brought my wallet.  He was also a purist who couldn't stain his art by getting a real job, but couldn't afford his art because he didn't have any income.  Hmph.  Near the end of our first year, Jim broke up with me 'for my own good' he said.  At first I was devastated.  I wrote songs.  I bored my friends with stories about Jim.  Then Mike, who had listened to many of these stories, asked me to go to a concert, the Moody Blues.  Suddenly, Jim's sad face melted away from my vision.  It was that quick and I knew if I could be so excited about a first date with Mike that I had never really loved poor Jim. 

Oh that summer was fun.  Before our Moody Blues date, we went dancing, played tennis, rode his motorcycle, stayed out late, and flirted over our work.  Yes, you really can flirt over an engineering design.  Have you ever looked at an 'and' gate on a schematic?   Can you see the phallic symbols? I found out that I am really horrible at tennis, but Mike didn't mind.  Mike was horrible at dancing, still is, but I could care less.  I even learned to do a backward pull-up to get into his lifted Silverado in my pencil skirts.  Oh, Mike loved helping me get into his truck. 

And then there was the night of the Moody Blues concert.  Two other of Mike's friends came and I assumed, when we met them there, that the girl, another software engineer, had been intended as a blind date for Mike's other friend, Jack.  Jack seemed funny and sweet, though just a bit round and with a receding hairline.  I grabbed Mike's hand, thinking that this girl was really lucky.  If she'd connected with Jack at all, she might have discovered that he really was a great guy.  He still is. 

What I didn't know until much later was that Mike had asked this girl to the concert in an ambiguous way and she thought she was his date!  I didn't learn this until a couple of years later though, so in the meantime, I couldn't figure out why she kept throwing me vicious barbs and evil looks.  I was clueless and in love and never let go of Mike's hand all night.  Oh, I can tell you that when you hold someone's hand, you really can convey the most sensuous thoughts.  I'm not sure I heard a single note of the music.  When Mike had picked me up to go to the concert, he was in a flannel shirt and a pair of Levis.  That was the moment I fell in love with him, when he seemed most comfortable in his skin.  At that moment and I just wanted to be right there next to him, so that's where I stayed the entire concert.  That angry girl never said a word to Jack, lucky for him.  It was her loss.  Jack was a sweet man too, but I had already found mine.

I have to tell you that there is more to this story, agony, and revival, and a whole lot of dating in between, but for now I have to quit.  Maybe I'll tell you the rest of the story another day. 

Thank you for listening to my Valentine story, jb


I'm having a silent argument with a woman I know primarily from Facebook.  I haven't seen her in over two years.  I didn't know her very well even then, but I didn't see the need to ignore her' friend request' when she sent it.  Now, I'm not sure I should have accepted it.  Lately, this woman has posted a few vitriolic rants against same-sex marriage on her Facebook page.  She compares gay marriage with murder, child-molestation, and drug use.  Really?  I haven't posted a single one of my replies, yet they swim in my head, begging to be let out.  There's something about confronting all of the sixty-eight of my various friends and telling them what they must believe, spiritually or politically, that abhors me.  That is my first unwritten reply to her as well as a reminder to myself to stay quiet.  Mike keeps telling me not to reply to her post.  Walking our dogs today, a good friend of mine told me the same thing.  But what about standing up for what is right?  Shouldn't I be doing that?  My second unwritten reply to this woman is that not everyone is a Christian so maybe she could respect that by imagining that others might have a different belief system.  My third response to her is that maybe she's right and I might not be a very good Christian, or maybe not a Christian at all, if I can't take up the same banner she's carrying.  Maybe I should tell her that I wouldn't want to be called a Christian if that's what it takes.  I also want to ask her why she cares or has any right to know what's happening in someone else's bedroom as long as the people in there are adults.  She wouldn't want anyone refereeing her time in the bedroom, now would she?  Oh, this kind of thing is so exhausting. 

See, here's my dilemma - I believe that I should stand up to bigotry in all of its forms, but in what forum?  If I see bigotry in a Facebook post, is it wrong of me to keep silent?  It's hard to keep silent.  It's hard to speak up.  Most of my Facebook posts are intended to entertain.  I see it primarily as fluff.  Oh, I put in some things about difficulties I'm having, but I don't use it as a political venue.  Why not?  Will I ever have the courage to stand up for what I believe is right? 

I don't know. 

So here is my attempt to stand up against social abuses that I see happening around me.

I believe people have the right to love whomever  they love as long as both partners are consenting adults.  Let love be.  I was shocked when I found out that my friends didn't dream colors or music. I have some friends that say they don't dream at all. What?  Is that wrong of them?  No.  They're just built differently, so why can't people's sexuality be built differently too?  So why can't we just relax and let people love the people they love?  And don't go throwing Bible verses at me.  Your Bible doesn't rule this country, not just yet. 

All national holidays and Presidential elections aside, I don't think our country is done with our issues regarding race relations.  Where I grew up, it isn't finished.  It's embarrassing to go back to visit and hear the casual comments about blacks or Hispanics, cruel comments intended to be funny.  I don't hear things like that where I live now, yet Nick's school is altogether too white.  Where is the diversity?   I have a friend from Mexico who's children go to school there and I can see the effects of discrimination on her.  Her children are ashamed of their mother tongue.  I asked them to help me learn more Spanish, to help Nick learn it, but they won't do it.  There is just too much condemnation of 'illegal aliens' even though my friends are legal.  I'm glad we don't live in Arizona where their papers could be searched at random.  That is bigotry, my friends, not a form of protecting our country.

Here's another one:  Just because a person has money and a corporate job, it doesn't make them more important than the barista who is serving them coffee.  One day, I was in a line waiting my turn for my decaf mocha.  (I can't even drink mochas any more because of the sugar.  That still makes me sad, sometimes.)  So anyway, this flat-chested, well-coiffed scrawny woman in a suit in the line ahead of me kept tapping her toe.  She didn't have her iPod plugged into her ears.  It was a rhythmless tapping.  Then she said, "If you're just about done hanging around, I'd really like you to make my coffee sometime this century."  Whew!  The barista had wild hair, a sheen of sweat on her upper lip, and about two cups of steaming coffee waiting on the bar in front of her.  She was moving.  There was a long line people she was managing quite well.  Plus, there was no call for that scrawny-suited-foot-tapper to be behaving this way.   I wasn't the only one who noticed this, thank God.  The woman behind me said, in a very loud voice, "Honey, I am not in a hurry today.  You can take your time making my coffee because I can very well see just how hard you are working and I believe you deserve a break and a big tip to boot."  I wished I'd had the courage to clap.  Barista Girl kept quiet until Scrawny Toe-Tapper was out the door in a huff, peeling out of the parking lot in her silver Porsche.  Then the poor girl burst into tears and ran into the back room.  I sat down at a table near my new hero with my mocha and book to see if any more of this story would play out.  It did.  In just a few minutes, Barista Girl came quietly out to my new hero's table and leaned over to her.  For a second, it looked like she was going to hug her, but she didn't.  In a quiet voice that I could barely overhear, she said, "My car just got rear-ended by another car on the way to work and I'm not feeling very well.  Thank you for being so nice to me."  Then my new hero stood up, gently hugged the girl and quietly told her she should go home, or better yet, go to the hospital to get checked out.  I have encountered that toe-tapping kind of rudeness to cashiers as well as baristas and I have tried to behave like my new hero.  It isn't always easy to stand up to Scrawny Toe-Tappers driving Porsches. 

And another:  I seriously dislike that our society has a problem with fat people being who they are.  If people can come in all colors, why can't they come in all shapes and sizes?  I ran across these photographs of Olympic-level athletes and I loved that my eyes kept checking the place where their feet met the floor to see if some of them hadn't been put into the background to be made to look smaller.  I loved looking at the differences in proportion even among people who were the same height. It was lovely to see in a photograph.  I forget to look for that in public.  When I'm feeling a certain way, I look for beauty.  Try it some time.  If you walk through a store, you can find something beautiful in every single person there.  There is always something, hands, eyes, hair, skin tone, even a look of kindness or curiosity.  I really like this way of looking at people.  Now I'm going to have to look for those differences in proportion too.  When did I stop looking at people?

Oh, I'm tired.  I'm tired of having to fight the fight.  I wish I had a good story to tell you, one that shows you where I am, one that spins a pretty glow over my life, one that entertains you.  It's complicated here, but I'm generally happy with my life.  So maybe it's time for me to start having some courage, to be the change I want to see, to stand up for what is right. 

Now, don't you wish you were one of the sixty-eight people reading my Facebook page to see if I find that courage?

Thank you for listening, jb 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fear and Fatigue

I know my sick boy needs to be quiet and to be entertained, but, for me, that always involves way too much television.  I could have left the room today.  I did for a while, but we somehow ended up in the same room together anyway.  Later, I sat with everyone and watched the movie Mike put in, but I played Scrabble on my iPhone the whole time because I couldn't just sit there.  I suppose I could have pulled out a quilt to stitch, but I think my poor vision limits how much I want to do that.  I almost drew pictures in my notebook, but I even felt too tired to be a little creative.  I've been struggling with sleep, since Nick's nights are much more difficult for him than his days.  It's just the way it's always been for him.  At night, I'm up, listening to him breathe and cough, listening for problems.  How can this be frightening and boring at the same time?  I suppose that the days are boring and I'm slogging through them, only half-awake, because the nights, with his poor breathing, are frightening and sleepless.  Last night, I fell asleep after midnight, listening for his cough, and had just enough added adrenaline to wake me at 3:30 as if I'd had too much coffee.  I couldn't go back to sleep again until 6:30 even though he was sleeping relatively quietly.  It's hard to get through the day on three and a half hours of sleep, even with a nap. 

I forgot to take my vitamins.  Yuk.  I hate taking vitamins, needing to choke down too much, needing something hearty to swallow them with but not being hungry.  My grandma used to be able to swallow five or six pills with one swig of water.  How did she do that?  I have trouble taking vitamins with just water.  I need food to do it.  Why did I admire that in my grandma, as if it made her brave or something?  My grandma was brave, but I'm not sure it was all that evident in the way she took her pills.  She lost her only boy when he was just thirty-seven years old and didn't lose her mind.  My grandpa and my mother lost it, but grandma stayed true and was still there when I needed her.  She lost my grandpa within two years of that because he gave up and just died and she was still there for me.  How did she do that?  How did he do that for that matter?  How does a man just give up and die?  He didn't drink.  He didn't do drugs.  He just gave up, shriveled up, and then died of a heart attack.  People said it was unexpected, but it didn't seem that way to me.  To me, it felt as though he committed suicide, though not in the usual way.  I can tell you that it takes less than two years to die of grief if you don't hurry up the process. Is this what I came here to talk about? 

I took Teddy to his puppy training without Nick today.  I asked lots of questions, but these people don't like me.  I can feel it.  The woman nearly sneers when I ask her a question.  The guy treats me as though I'm an idiot.  At least he treats most of us as if we're idiots.  Okay, we don't know how to train a dog.  That's why we're here.  Show us.  Stop talking and show us.  Don't use a well-trained dog to show us.  Use an untrained dog, but when you use my dog, try not to make me feel like an idiot when it works perfectly for you and not for me.  Okay, I'm not enamored of these training people.  I can just try somewhere else when this class is finished. I can stop complaining now. 

I've been listening to 'The Historian' by Elizabeth Rostova.  It's a strange mixture of history and classic vampire lore.  I know, I was mocking it before, but after 15 disks, I'm still listening and thinking about the story while I'm doing other things.  I like the interweaving of stories, the changes in perspectives.  I like that, in all that volume of words, I may have retained some small thing about the Turks and the Ottoman empire in 1477.  I'm not so thrilled learning about Vlad the Impaler.  I suppose it's important to learn about these people - Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, the ones who were incredibly cruel and shockingly powerful - but I don't want to read more about people's cruelties.  Yet what is a story without some form of cruelty or confrontation?

I can hear my boy in the other room with Mike, crying because he's tired and congested and feels like crap.  I've been trying to ignore it, but have failed miserably.  Can you tell?

Wow, is there a theme here?  Fatigue, fear, grief, cruelty. 

I'm going to go lie on the couch now and listen to my boy cough.  I'm going to send Mike to bed with earplugs in so he can get up with Nick tomorrow.  It's my job and I may be too tired to play and be cheerful tomorrow, but tonight, I'm here if he needs me.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Too Many Snow Days

Nick is at home, sick yet again.  Yesterday, I took him to school just before lunch and he finished out the day even though he really wasn't feeling at all well.  I imagined him sitting there, coughing all over his desk, his nose running, that clogged-up feeling in his head and chest that only being home will ease.  Last night, he said he was scared, that his chest felt bad and he thought it was going to get tough the way it does almost every spring.  Today, he wasn't well enough to go to school at all, but I didn't make a final decision until 12:30 pm.  It didn't help that I only got four hours of sleep last night, so making a decision involved bugging Mike at work at least twice to report on Nick's statistics and get his opinion.  It didn't help that last week, the school sent us a letter defining the number of days Nick has missed from school this year and warning that this was bad. As if we didn't already know.

This letter has me worried.  It was signed by Nick's teacher and the principal, causing me to agonize over whether to send him to school or keep him home when he really is too sick to learn anything.  In a way, I'm a lot like those people who decide whether or not to cancel class due to snow.  At the beginning of the year, it's easy.  Snow in the forecast? Snow day!  Yay!  In fact, early in September, we let Nick go with Adrian to the Puyallup fair and skip a whole day of school.  I was honest with his teacher about it, feeling that it was futile and just wrong to lie with two excited fifth graders chatting about their day off from school.  Plus, I didn't want to have to coach Nick to keep quiet about it.  We don't usually let Nick skip school for anything since he loses an average of 15 days a year to illness.  Somehow, we let our resolve slip and let him go to the fair.  Now, I wish I could have that day back.

Today was day ten and it's only February.  March and April are the worst months for him because of RSV season, sometimes costing him two weeks of class time.  You might know RSV as that virus that keeps preemies at home for their first months with few visitors because of the risk of catching it with their undeveloped lungs.  Well, Nick has had pneumonia from RSV five or six times.  I'm losing count.  So losing more time from school is almost inevitable.  Crap! 

Now, it's as if there are eight inches of snow on the streets and I'm still trying to figure out how to keep from calling it a snow day.  Nick's school subscribes to IXL, an online math program.  It's a good program and Nick even says it's fun once he gets going.  It's also a good yardstick to see if Nick is well enough to manage at school despite being sick.  This morning, Nick couldn't add six plus three. He could barely sit up in the chair and kept misreading the computer screen.  The math was simple, but he kept making mistakes, so I knew he needed to stay home.  He isn't savvy enough to fake it yet.  Plus, he kept sneezing all over the keyboard instead of into his elbow.  Ew!

I canceled everything, tried to nap, and played with the dog so he wouldn't miss a walk so much.  I didn't get to the store.  We're almost out of milk.  I didn't walk with my friend and her dog.  I watched television with Nick.  I hate watching a lot of television, especially those inane tween shows.  We read together for a while.  I made soup and tea, doled out medicine, and picked up tissues that missed the waste basket.  And nothing I do, really, can stop this virus from running its course, so I'm probably going to call a snow day tomorrow, like it or not. 

Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


We had glorious weather today!  I even opened a bunch of windows.  That drove Seth and Buddy nuts because they can't go outside.  Our house is too close to the highway for the cats to be allowed out safely. This morning, I cleaned the bird bath on the back deck and added some pebbles while the cats watched me through the screen, meowing.  A couple of years ago, I had put a plant outside for summer weather because Seth had chewed all the greenery off of it.  I had hoped that it would gather itself together and regrow before summer was over, but instead, it died. I'll admit.  I have a yellow thumb.  I wasn't always this bad, but having the cats chewing on things doesn't help.  I have three living house plants, one which is poisonous, and two of which are desert plants, and prickly.

I had thought I'd get around to planting something else in this nice pot.  We'd had this plant since our wedding and I was sad to lose it.  The only reason it had lived as long as it did was that my husband cared for it and I squirted the cat with water whenever he jumped up to chew on it.  It had lived in an oval tin, shaped something like a horse trough, but on a very small scale.  While the pot waited, empty and sad, it sat on the back deck with this pathetic dead stick standing in the middle.

Then one day, the cats noticed something happening around this pot.  I noticed the cats sitting at the sliding glass door as if they were kids watching cartoons.  The pot had overflowed with water from early summer rain and chickadees and tiny song sparrows were using it as a bird bath.  They actually lined up to take turns, chattering all the while!  One bird would be in the shallow bath, the water only an inch or two deep.  One bird clung to the dead stick.  Another would bounce on a sprig of salmonberry that hung over the edge of the deck.  The deck was alive with activity.  I found that even when I sat there writing at my little deck table, they bathed, as if I were no more worrisome than a cow. 

I began to look forward to their activity, usually in the mid-afternoon on a sunny day.  I even thought I was doing them a favor by replacing the dirt and the stick in the pot with nice clean stones instead.  They were not amused.  The stones I used were too big and made parts of the water too deep.  Plus, they missed their dead stick.  So I rearranged the stones, added smaller ones, and found a stick that might give the first bird in line a decent perch from which to chatter at the one bathing to hurry up.

Since then, I've been collecting small pebbles and occasionally sprinkling them over the bigger stones to fill in the holes.  It's surprising to imagine what is deep water to a chickadee.  Today, I added more pebbles that I'd  found in the yard and rearranged them in the pot to make it almost an even depth.  It's pretty, with red, white, green, and black pebbles gathering together around the bigger stones and filling in the gaps.  Soon enough, they'll all be covered in algae, but it was pretty today.  I wondered if the birds would prefer warm to cold water on a cool sunny day like this.  I figured that the warm water might be a bit disconcerting, but I added it anyway to see what they would do. While I worked, a single chickadee stood in the bushes, chattering away.  I imagined her saying that I should hurry up, that it was her turn now.

Tomorrow, when the birds are bathing in their clean, newly rearranged bath, it will drive the cats nuts because they can't go outside.  That's just retribution, I guess, for when they ate my wedding plant.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, February 6, 2012

Training Session

I made the mistake of letting Nick play with Adrian this afternoon before he worked on his homework.  He managed to procrastinate most of it until after dinner.  Now, it's nearly time for bed and he's still working on it.

It wouldn't be so bad for me except that he asked me for help, then he yelled at me because he couldn't figure out the answer, i.e., I wouldn't tell him the answer. Then, when I told him a general hint, to read the directions, he ignored me and continued down the same road he was on.  For a while, he stared at the video game my husband was playing while I tried to talk to him about some of the details.  I got up to go into the kitchen, then he had the audacity to ask if I was going to help him or not.  Like hell!

So, imagine you have a coworker that comes into your office asking for help with a software problem.  He can't find the bug.  You begin to see why it's so complicated and you ask him a simple question about the intent of the programming and he yells at you.  Then you ask him to recheck the memo from the boss regarding priorities, the boss's instructions, in fact.  Your coworker ignores you and proceeds down his ill-advised path of not doing what the boss has requested.  In fact, if he were to follow your boss's instructions, life would be considerably simpler for him. 

You get him past that hurdle.  When you stand up to pull a book off your shelf, he sits down in your swivel chair.  You drag the other chair across the cubicle and you huddle over the problem with him at your desk.  While you explain what you're seeing, he pulls out his iPhone and starts checking his Facebook page.  You stop, lean back, then get up to get another cup of coffee before he notices you.  You're almost out of the doorway when he turns around in your swivel seat and asks, "Well, so are you going to help me or what?" 

I've worked with that kind of guy.  I've stood in the break room talking about that kind of guy.   I've watched that kind of guy get fired.

So why should I put up with that kind of behavior from my son?  I don't. I'm not making any friends tonight, but I guarantee that I'll have the gratitude of a number of coworkers from the future.  You're welcome.  It was the least I could do.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Yelling at the Dog

What do you do when you see your worst characteristics exemplified in your child?  Really, I love my boy, but I'm not always liking him these days.  An eleven year old boy is naked emotion ready to battle, or mine is anyway.  The worst of it is when you see yourself springing to life before your own eyes, hitting every wrong note you ever sang for him. 

See, I married a quiet man who thinks before he speaks.  His lectures are short.  "Don't do that."  He's diplomatic, caring, helpful, and usually wise.  Mike's greatest fault is letting Nick get away with too much and I hate having to be the bad guy too often. 

I shouldn't be talking about these verboten subjects.  Moms aren't supposed to admit that we get angry, that we yell, or that we don't have as much empathy as we want to have.  Wives aren't supposed to sulk when we bear the burden of homework, teeth brushing, rules, enforcing chores, and cleaning up after everyone else, even if it is our only current employment.

See, this is all crap, or maybe it's the scary truth, and I can't publish it.  I can't admit to my foibles, not even to the ether.  There are some real people out there in the ether.  What will you think of me now?

I yelled at Nick today when we were picking up debris from our yard.  It is an overwhelming project, cutting up the thirteen trees that fell during the ice storm.  Nick was goofing off when we really needed his help.  Then, after I yelled at him, he used the old cramp routine to get out of doing any useful work.  Is he going to be that guy on the camping trip that never washes a dish, makes a meal, or collects wood for the fire?  I hated that guy.  You know who I'm talking about.  Then, I yelled at Nick for whipping a forsythia branch too close to the dog.  When I was a kid, I got spanked with a forsythia branch.  I'm not entirely sure why I even have one in my yard.  "You can take an eye out with that thing," came to mind, but I wasn't feeling that nice.  He'd been playing with Teddy, but then he was swinging this reed around so that it made that whizzing sound that you just know is going to hurt when it makes contact.  Then later, I yelled at Nick for trying to scare the dog out of the spot on the couch he'd just vacated.  I really don't like anyone in my house, even pets, to feel like they're going to get hit.  But what about yelling?  Isn't that attempt to not-quite-physically push the dog a simple metaphor for the way I not-quite-physically push Nick when I yell?  I'm not trying to tell you it's okay to let a boy get away with doing something that could hurt someone or even to let him evade his fair share of the work.  Yet, couldn't I have been a bit nicer when I did it?   

Okay, here's the deal.  Mike rarely yells at Nick.  It's like he channels a psychologist.  "Now, how did that make you feel?"  I react more quickly and, would I call it firmly or just shrewish?  Sometimes, when I've been gone all day and Mike has been with Nick, I see him resort to more of the crabby retorts.  It always makes me feel a little relieved, that even my mild-mannered kind-hearted guy can get ruffled. 

Plus, I wonder just how many of the essential things would get done if I used my nice voice all of the time. "Now, Nickie, don't shoot your rocket at the dog, sweetheart."  Okay, I've never had to say that to Nick.  Would it be effective if I always used my nice voice?  Would I be rearing that guy who cuts in line at the coffee shop, treats the barista like she's a servant, and then gets into his Porsche and drives on the shoulder to get ahead in the traffic?  I hate that guy too.  I have to remember that I never get reports from people that Nick acts that way at school.  People say he's very sweet and well mannered.

A long time ago, I read in parenting book that you should use your nice voice, but if you have to repeat yourself, there should be consequences, preferably natural consequences.  Oh, isn't it just peachy when it works out that way.  It was probably written by someone who had never been a parent.  When I think of how I'd sound doing that, I get a little nauseated.  I can't even make myself sound like Mike.  It comes naturally for him.  Not so much for me.  It figures that Nick would emulate me more than his dad. 

So the question I'd like to answer is this - does some yelling do that much harm?  All I need to do to see the answer to that question is to look at the way Nick treats his dog.  Most of the time, Nick does okay with his dog.  He just needs to be a bit more gentle.  Go figure. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Seth is poking at a box that needs to be carried down to the recycle bin.  Teddy is lying stretched out on the floor as if he's a racehorse jumping a fence.  Buddy is chewing toe jam between his toes, stretching out his paw so that I can see space between all four toes.  Nick is asleep in his room after I read two chapters to him from the second book in the Percy Jackson series.  Please don't ask me the title.  I'm not going in there and risk waking him up again.  He had a hard time falling asleep and I blame the action in the book.  We're on Chapter 18 and I so want to read to the end to see if they can save Thalia's tree at Camp Half-Blood.  The cats like being in the room while I read and I swear, Seth stays until Nick is asleep to show his love for the boy.

Mike is reading 'The Week,' the only magazine we subscribe to.  It's a good magazine, summarizing political and world events.  My favorite pages are the book recommendations and the science page.  Oh, I like reading about the foibles of some celebrity and another section called 'Only in America' in which people get sued or expelled from school for the strangest reasons.  But my favorite page, by far, is the science page.

This week there's a blurb about solar flares.  Apparently, we had some nearly invisible drama, causing airlines to reroute away from the poles.  They say that we're headed for  an eleven year period in which we'll 'see' more activity.  The visible part was in the aurora borealis, which I'll admit that I've only seen once in my life and it was beautiful.  The flares will interfere with data transmission, long distance power lines, and communication satellites.  As if my iPhone doesn't hang up on my friends often enough.  It's going to be doing it a lot more in the next eleven years.  I wonder just what solar flares do to long distance power lines?  Will they buzz more loudly when you walk under them?  Will the variations in the magnetic field cause surges and sags in the power to our homes?  See, I actually remember some small things from engineering school way back in the eighties, like the way a motor works because of the electricity created in the copper windings by the magnetic field.  We called it the 'right-hand screw rule' that if a magnetic field wrapped around an electric line in the direction of the fingers of your right fist, then the electricity would flow in the direction of your thumb. So if your power lines are being whipped by magnetic particles from a solar flare, how much would that affect the electricity flowing through it?  Interesting.

Stuff like that makes me feel small.  To know that an arc of magnetic particles whipped the Earth all the way from the sun at a speed of four million miles per hour reminds me of how transitory my life actually is.  In that movie 'Horton Hears a Who,' many people relate to the elephant's big world, but being whipped by the sun makes me feel like one of little who's on that tiny dandelion puff.  We are, after all, that fragile. 

Remember when we first discovered black holes and imagined them traveling freely through space gobbling up everything in their paths?  You didn't?  Well I did.  There are still movies of that ilk, such as 'The Fifth Element.'  Now, from reading 'The Week,' I know that there's a black hole at the center of every galaxy and that there's a network of invisible stuff out in the space between the galaxies.  I forget the term for that invisible stuff, but space having a structure, even with black holes at the center of every galaxy, makes me feel better.  We live on a tiny puff, but we aren't just randomly being thrown around by a kangaroo.  Well, maybe we are. 

Do you remember how I was down on Nick and Mike yelling at the television while they played a particularly difficult section of one of their video games?  I have to admit that I argue with the science page of 'The Week.'  For example, they have published a number of blurbs about how excited scientists are about finding evidence that there are more planets than we previously knew existed that lie in that narrow band in which water can exits in liquid form.  These scientists believe that proves that there might be intelligent life out in space.  I just can't believe how narrow the vision of these scientists are.  Do they really think that other life is limited to being formed in water?  Wow! For all we know, there could be intelligent life in any band of a solar system or in the conglomeration of galaxies as a whole, but we don't have the wherewithal to recognize it as life because we're so focused on finding water puddled on a tiny planet.  Granted, water does make our planet particularly pretty in photographs, but I have a feeling that's similar to the way a baby thinks his mother is beautiful.  Our species may just be tuned to blues and greens.

So, all you who's out there, snuggle your who-children into their beds.  Pet your who-kitties and watch your who-dogs dream of the race.  The kangaroo may have us in her paws and we just might be headed to oblivion.  In the meantime, it will be one lovely and amazing ride. 

Thank you for listening, jb