Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Irreconcilable Differences

So, I've tried to continue the story about my way westward, but it keeps getting interrupted in my head by another story.

If you don't like listening to churchy stuff, you might just want to go sit down in front of the television and watch 'Good Times' or something.  Dynomite!

So, this is a long story.  The hard ones usually are. 

I started going to church in 1999 when Mike told me it seemed as though I needed a spiritual outlet.  He was right.  Oh, I still had my church in my hometown.  I went there any time I went home to visit.  Sometimes, I went to church with friends, Protestant churches, Episcopalian churches, and for a while, I went to Catholic church.  I loved the ritual of Catholic church.  I wished I could go to confession.  I even spent some time reading about Buddhism.  Buddhism has a lot to be said for it.  But I was raised a Methodist in an affluent white church, so somehow that's where I ended up again, at a little white church in town.

The nice twist in diversity to this church is that the past two ministers have been women, homosexual women.  The first one didn't like me all that much or the relaxed way that Mike and I were raising our son.  I never managed to keep her out of my personal business, so I wasn't sad to see her go.  The second minister at that church was easy to get along with, was kind and funny and had a strong sense of justice.  Plus, she was fairly openly gay.  A lot of people left the congregation when they figured it out. I didn't miss them.

Then, the remaining anti-gays in the congregation kicked this second minister out.  I very nearly left the church then.  I couldn't stand the mean-spirited way in which she was ousted.  It figured.  Just about that time, I needed support because my grandma was dying.  My trusty, caring minister was gone and a new minister, a married woman, was put into the pulpit.  She was nice, but it's hard to grieve with someone who doesn't know you.

So, in the spring, a member of the congregation asked if we would consider becoming a reconciling church, one that is inclusive of gays and lesbians.  I kept my mouth shut at first.  I kept thinking that I should write something for the church newsletter, but I procrastinated.  I was afraid.

Eventually, I wrote that article.  I told the story of a good friend whom I'd lost because I said something stupid when she came out to me.  It was hard to publish such a private story, but I felt it was important to stand up for what is right. 

Last Sunday night, the new minister asked me to come to the meeting for which the church intended to vote about becoming a reconciling church.  I hadn't meant to come.  Mike said I should probably go, that I should cast a vote.  He said it was important.  When I walked into the church, I saw that one of the anti-gay women had brought six of her grandchildren to vote against it.  That just seemed cheesy.  I just knew that these kids had been coached.  I know that technically, the kids were allowed to vote since they were members, but I could see the way things were going, that the anti-gay group had implemented a plan. 

The moderator asked for discussion.  It was awkward at first.  Then, people started to speak their minds. First, people talked about the technicalities of the vote.  They talked about our responsibilities as a reconciling church.  There weren't actually any except to label ourselves as such. 

One guy talked about the dictates of the bible and the moderator, bless her heart, asked which side he was arguing for.  Then another woman spoke eloquently about how a family she knew were struggling to find a church where their young daughter, who was having sexual identity issues already, would feel comfortable worshiping.  That was a beautiful moment.

I thought of something, a reason why we might not be ready to call ourselves a reconciling church, so I raised my hand to speak. 

But first, the moderator saw that the speaker's husband had also raised his hand so she pointed to him.  He spoke about how hurtful it would be to label ourselves as a reconciling church and then commit the sin of interfering with any gay or lesbian person's quest to have a relationship with God.  Wow, that was just what I was thinking only I never would have said it that well.

When the moderator pointed to me, I almost said that my comment had already been made.  I decided to speak anyway.  I said that this issue was one of civil rights, that we'd made progress with women, that a black man was President, but that we still had work to do, especially regarding the gay and lesbian community. 

Then, a woman two rows in front of me said, "Oh for God's sake."  I continued speaking until I finished making my point, but her interjection threw me off.  Right now, I have no idea what I said except that I'd been momentarily proud that I'd been succinct.  I think I referred to the church's history of being unwelcome to gays and lesbians.  I can't quite remember.  I just wanted to get up and walk out.  Instead, I stayed and voted.  I listened to the disappointing results, and when I got up, I hugged the woman and her husband who had spoken so beautifully, and then I left. 

I've been ranting to Mike, praying, talking to a church friend, pacing, and worrying ever since.  Last night, I made myself go to choir practice even though I knew the woman who said 'Oh for God's sake' was going to be there.  It was difficult and I came back wishing I'd stayed home.  Even today, I woke up still upset about it.

A song has been going through my head all afternoon.  I can't say I've exactly been rehearsing it with a performance in mind, but I imagine myself doing it in church next Sunday, during the announcements at the end. I could sit through the entire services thinking about whether or not I'll be able to set foot in the church again.  If I were going to do this, I know I wouldn't be able to hear a word of the sermon because I'd be too nervous about what I was going to do. I would be thinking about the uproar I was about to cause. My song is rude and disrespectful and I know it, but it speaks to how I feel quite eloquently. 

I picture myself fidgeting in my pew, five rows back and on the left.  I picture people greeting me at the passing of the peace and how awkward I would feel hugging the anti-gay folks knowing what I am about to do.  I can imagine trying to sing when the choir gets up to do its anthem.  I would try to listen to the sermon.  I would think of all the people I'd hurt with my song, including the minister.  There are about a dozen of them, though I'd hope they would understand something of what I was trying to convey.  I could see myself trying to understand why this means so much to me, to stand up to half the congregation who would rather I shut up.  It's because of the friend I lost from high school, the one who was the sweetest friend a girl could have, the one who came out to me as a lesbian, the friend I lost because I said something stupid.  I think about the woman in the congregation who cried as she spoke about the family trying to find a church where her homosexual daughter would feel accepted.  This song may not be the nicest way to make my point, but it most certainly would make my point. 

So, imagine the sermon is over.  The hymns have been sung.  The lay reader has just asked if there are any more announcements.  Can you see me standing up then?  I would ask if I could sing a song for them and of course many would nod their heads because I sing for them all the time.  In my fear, I'd have to cling to the back of the pew in front of me to keep from losing my balance.  I'd be able to feel my hands shaking despite the solid pew I'm leaning on.  And I would begin to sing:

sung in a clear voice to the classic tune - Jesus loves the little children,
spoken in a nasal voice with a Jersey accent - Except for the gays,
clear voice - All the children of the world.
nasal voice - We don't like the lesbians either.
clear voice - Red and yellow, black and white,
nasal voice singing - Not the ones that we don't like. 
clear voice - Jesus loves ...
nasal voice interrupting - some of the children of the world. Oh for God's sake.

And then I would struggle to walk out of the church with dignity. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Go West, Part I

I was going to tell you how I ended up here in the Pacific Northwest with Mike. Boy, that's a long story. 

When I was in high school, one of my classmates asked me where he should go to college. I forget the name of the colleges on the chopping block, but one of them was in California. You know how dramatic kids are in high school, so I swept my arm out  and said, "Go West, man, go West." 

"Go West, young man, go West," my literature teacher said with equal flair, "and grow up with the country."

He actually thought I was quoting Horace Greeley, but dork that I am, I was not. At least it made him laugh when I admitted my ignorance. Somehow, that one line gelled the adventure that would lie in the West, even for me, even in the twentieth century.  Oh, it's not entirely true that it started there. I watched the Lone Ranger as a child. I saw the 'Gunfight at the OK Corral."  Wallace Stegner also wrote about the myth of the West in his book 'Marking the Sparrow's Fall.'  According to him, the Pacific Northwest doesn't even count, since the landscape is so different. You know, it worked just fine for me.  There's a grandeur to the snow-covered mountains, to the height of the evergreens that says I'm in the West, despite the damp weather. 

Nope, I have to admit, the idea to go West came to me long before that moment in the classroom.  It was even in my family.  This short version of the story is all that I know, but it's a story I heard over and over.  I could hear it all over again with just a phone call and a verbal cue. 

When my grandpa was a young man, he bought a car and started driving West.  When he ran out of money, he'd stop in a town, get a job for a while, then move on.  He made it all the way to California that way. He hadn't been there all that long when he got word that his brother, who had been newly engaged, had died in a tragic accident.  Since they didn't quite know where my grandpa had been, it took a long time for him to find out.  Remember, people didn't just pick up a phone back then. 

My grandpa's brother had been out hunting, had leaned his gun up against a fence and it fell and accidentally discharged when he climbed over the fence.  He was killed.  His fiance was devastated.  When my grandpa found out about his brother, he came back home as quickly as he could. Then, he married his brother's fiance. I always thought that part was strange, buy my mother always told me that they did that sort of thing back then, felt a sense of obligation and married the girl.

So can you picture this story?    It's the 1920s.  A young man, not even close to being a grandpa, leaves home with a good buddy to go on an adventure.  Pictures of him show him as a tall, lean man with a shock of long black hair over one eye.  You could make a whole movie on that story alone, but when they told the story, they never fleshed it out for me.  They never even put feelings to it, though I'm suspicious that I always felt a little sad when Grandpa had to rush back home and take responsibility.  Maybe the teller didn't want to say what he'd given up by coming home but it hung there in the air anyway. 

So maybe it was destiny for me to move West.  I don't know.  I didn't go about it in a straightforward way, in any case.  When I graduated from high school, I went straight to a state college.  I had only applied to the one place.  I could afford my tuition that way. 

When I graduated from college, I felt so incredibly free.  I had made it.  I could go anywhere.  I could do anything. 

So, within two weeks, I moved to New Jersey.

Surprised you, didn't I?

Thank you for listening, jb


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Uncertainty of Condolences

I have a friend who's mother-in-law died recently.  She always called her 'Mom' and was treated by her like a well-loved daughter.  My friend seems lost, now that 'Mom' isn't there to light the way.  'Mom' was cheerful, opinionated, loving, and played the piano like nobody's business.  I haven't seen much of my friend lately.  When I do, she seems lost.  How could you not get lost when somebody like that has died? 

I just want to tell my friend that it's okay to get a little lost, but that maybe she could be lost with her friends around, where it's safe. 

I don't really know what to say, even though I remember what it feels like to be where she is.  Messages to the grieving are hard to write well.  They're tricky.  Too much sentiment and it all turns sour.  Not enough and it sounds distant.  I need to write it.  I guess I was hoping I could write it here, where you all know that sometimes I nail it and sometimes it's pretty lame.  I appreciate having a place like that. 

So here's what comes to mind:

Honey, we all miss her.  It's like we lost a finger and don't know how to play any more.  But you need to know this - her music is still there, right in your head, right in your heart.  You're going to hear it someday in a song you hear on the radio.  It'll hurt. You'll see it in one of her grandkid's expressions.  You'll smell it too.  I am not kidding.  Just ask me where I end up when I smell Jergen's hand lotion.  I'll be five years old again, being hugged like there was nowhere else to be and that is kind of hard to take sometimes.  So take your time.   

We're still here and we're not going anywhere. 

What do you think?  You're right.  I can't send this.  It doesn't read right.  These things never do.

Ah crap.  I have no idea how to say what I want to say.  I really wanted to get it right.  It seems like the right time.  I should get rid of all the crappy advice.  Nobody wants to hear the crappy advice.

And the finger thing.  Now, that's just gross.  

Can't I just say that it sucks being in the middle of all that grief and I'm sorry that's where she is?  Can't I just say that I know what it feels like to wake up and have forgotten for a minute what had happened and then have to remember all over again? No, see I can't say any of that either. 

I guess I'll just have to keep trying.  I've messed up three cards in all this trying.  I hate the 'Thinking of you in this time of need' crap.  I hate writing 'I hope you find peace in your memories.'   It is all just so lame. 

This woman, my friend's mother-in-law, was a dynamo.  She was the glue that held her family together.  She was amazing at playing the piano, at getting other people to sing or play.  She ate pie when she should have been eating salad.  I miss her. 

I'm going to have to keep trying.  Maybe something will come as I sleep.  Wish me luck.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, November 23, 2012

No Returns, Part III

So, after being trained in the fine arts of gunnel jumping, you can see how I got onto the happy trail when it came to canoeing.  Time on the water with Mike over our first summer cinched it.  Traveling over water was our thing.  It was what Mike and I shared.  It was our heaven. 

I don't know if I can tell you a decent story today.  I blame the tryptophan, well, and the sugar too.  There aren't many holidays that are worth risking a diabetic coma two days in a row, but Thanksgiving is one of of them. 

You have to know that I was really in love with Mike and always had a penchant for exaggeration, so even after almost a year of camping, canoeing, and hiking, I still worked to impress him. Then came Christmas.  I can tell you that it was the one and only time I was absolutely certain about what to get for Mike for Christmas.

Okay, I wasn't absolutely certain.  I thought about getting him a kayak too, but in any debate with myself, the canoe was at least a length in front of the kayak in the race between the two. I took my friend Beth to go see some canoes and kayaks.  She was a city girl, but it was fun bringing her anyway.  We stood staring at a rack with at least a dozen canoes and kayaks on it. The sales guy barely gave us the time of day. 

"What's the difference between a canoe and a kayak?" she asked me.

"The canoe is open and the kayak is closed on top," I said and I pointed to one of each. 

"So if you get him this kind, with just one seat, are you going to stay home when he uses it?" she asked. 


From then on, I knew I was getting Mike a canoe and not a kayak.  I wanted to be on the rivers and lakes with him. I didn't want to imagine all the Saturday afternoons I'd get left behind if I bought him a kayak. 

You might have thought a canoe would have been too expensive, that it was too soon to get him a present like this.  Really, after the man sat me on the kitchen counter where he was house sitting and told me he'd make a good husband, I knew that a canoe was not going to be too much.  Besides, I was sunk, besotted, lock-stock-and-barrel in love with the man.  I had never been so happy and I couldn't imagine anything being wrong about any present I bought for him.  A couple of days later, I went back to look at the racks and racks of canoes and kayaks and bought Mike the perfect canoe. 

To his credit, Mike has never complained that I bought him the wrong canoe.  Did you know that there is no such thing as the perfect canoe?

To start with, the guy who sold it to me said that it was normal for the thing to have big gouges in the ABS along the length of it and I believed him.  Plus, he told me to buy a canoe for all occasions instead of one of the cool Dagger canoes with a lot of rocker for running rapids.  He told me to buy a solid canoe that would last a lifetime.  He picked out a canoe that he insisted would be steady, but said that it was too cold to throw it into the canal by the shop and show me himself. 


On Christmas eve, I tied that green canoe onto my little red car, tied a big red bow to it and showed up at Mike's apartment.  I went up the inside stairs and knocked on his door.  When he answered, I brought him outside and kissed him a merry Christmas.  Mike loved his new canoe, a green seventeen foot, eighty-five pound Old Town Discovery canoe.  That canoe wasn't quite right for Indiana, our dog, who sat like a lab, on one side of her butt.  We paddled tilted to the left most of the time, making us call it the tippy canoe, though we didn't actually tip over all that often.  That canoe is too long to be really good for whitewater, though we've run it on dozens of rivers from Montana to Washington to Oregon and even in upstate New York before we moved out west.  We found that it had a natural limit of class II rapids or easier, though we managed a scant few class IIIs.  There is no rocker on it.  None.  It tracks pretty well for lake canoeing, but the damn thing weighs 85 pounds.  A good seventeen foot Kevlar canoe would only have weighed forty-four pounds!  If I'd bought Mike a Kevlar canoe, I'd be able to toss that sucker onto the truck and get it on the lake myself.  At this point, I'm stuck waiting until Mike can heft it for me. 

Yet we've been paddling that thing for the past twenty-five years.  Looking at it, I can't distinguish the old battle scars from the times I misjudged the depth of a rock from those original scores along its length when I brought it home to Mike.  It now sports skid plates on each end and the original cane seats sag a bit, yet are comfortable when we sit on our folded squares of closed cell foam.  Mike has rigged a spare seat which I usually get to sit in now that Nick is commanding the bow of the boat.  And when we plan a trip, Mike still insists that his Duluth packs are the best fit.  Oh, I hate those Duluth packs with a purple passion.  I told you about them, didn't I?  Right now, Mike's canoe hangs from a getup that he put together inside our crowded garage.  And in my imagination, we're always in that canoe, whether it was the trip to Alaska or our honeymoon in Maine.  It is the perfect canoe, if you don't think about it too much.

Oh, someday maybe we'll get a Kevlar canoe if we ever have a better place to store more than one boat.  Maybe we'll even get a solo canoe with lots of rocker to spin around those rocks on the river, but until then, we have our trusty old tippy canoe, the best present I ever bought Mike for Christmas. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Better Than Twinkies

Oh, I know I was supposed to continue the story about the first, best Christmas present ever, but this is just a quick little note.

Someone in my house opened up the Hostess cherry pie today, and, as promised, left me a small part of it so that I could have my little olfactory memory. 

The first thing I did was to put my nose into it and breathe deeply.  That initial inhale has me at my grandma's house.  It wasn't just the vanilla wafers.  She also owns the smell of these Hostess cherry pies, Little Debbie cream-filled oatmeal cookies, Archway Lemon cookies, and Fruit Loops. 

That grandma was a sugar addict.  Can you tell?

I can smell the sugar as if it was standing up with torches chasing me down blind alleys.  I too am a sugar addict, though I might qualify as a recovering sugar-addict since I don't do this very often.

So after inhaling about four or five times, I'm properly salivating.  I pick up the piece, about a quarter, which is more than I'd asked for, but it is Thanksgiving after all.  What's this holiday without a diabetic coma?  I might not actually hit my sugar limit with this, though the sugar in it is pretty dense and I'll come close.

I love real cherry pie, but there's something flowery about this goo.  Since it's already opened up, that's what I hit first.  It's not really a strong cherry flavor, unless you're talking about the Luden's variety of cherry flavor.  Isn't that funny?  I've never analyzed it before.  It's mostly sweetness and not enough tartness, but hey, this is a childhood memory and it's not to be messed with.  Have they kept this flavor devoutly the same since I was eight years old?  Really?

Then, there's the crust.  It's literally crusted over with sugar.  Oh man, I can feel the pressure at the backs of my eyelids already.  If I die tonight, will someone tell Mike it was my own doing and not some intruder with a poison dart?

Then, there's the sugar stuck to my lips.  Um, I forgot that part.  And another bite, the one for which you try to get crust on both sides without losing a dolop of the sweet goo down the front of your white T-shirt.  If I could go back in time with some adivce for my mother, it would be for her to NEVER PUT ME IN WHITE! 

Then, on the fourth bite, I get part of a cherry.  It's necessary to the expectations.  Then, there's more required lip licking, to capture the sugar that flaked off mid-bite.  Another bite.  And then, sadly, the last, mostly crust and sugar. 

End the whole thing by licking the remnants of goo off the wrapper, and there you have it, a full-blown olfactory memory overload.  The humidity of summer, walking on the train tracks, the hornet's nest, Grandpa talking to the neighbor while he worked on his Evinrude motor, the Scrambler at the fair, a lost red balloon spiraling into space, and my cousin's sweet wiener dog licking the Hostess wrapper. 

Thank you for listening, jb


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No Returns, Part II

I was going to tell you about the first Christmas and birthday present I ever gave to Mike.  That first December was ten months after the stories I told you about winter camp and the time I broke my thumb.  By then, we'd gone on a seven day canoe trip in the Adirondacks with a bunch of Explorers.  People keep telling me they're called Venture Scouts now.  Back then, Mike was an assistant advisor of an Explorer Post and I happily joined him.  None of them even wore uniforms that I can remember, not even the leaders.  I didn't feel like much of a leader yet. Remember, I was not expected to have expertise, just a willingness to go, to try new things, to learn more about the old ones.  Canoeing was an old thing for me. If you'd heard me bragging to Mike back then, you might have thought I was born in a canoe.  I wasn't.  I had, however, slept overnight in the bottom of one. 

I will admit to you that I was one of those little sisters who was always hanging around when it came to Boy Scouts.  Oh, I would stand on the concrete step when my mother was doing the laundry after a particularly good campout and look at those dirty clothes in absolute awe.

"These pants very nearly stand up by themselves," my mother would groan.  I leaned in to see the dirt caked on the knees and nodded my head.  Boy Scouts.

"I'm never going to get out these stains," my mother would say, just like in the commercials.  I agreed.  That red clay stain would never ever come out of that white T-shirt. I wondered what wonderful mud rucking had caused that stain.  Boy Scouts. 

My brother didn't help.  He came home from camping trips with stories of tracking animals, setting snares, learning how to tie up an escaped convict, not that one ever showed up for them to practice on.  My brother single-handedly taught me how to light a vertical strike-anywhere match stuck into a chopping block using only a hatchet struck down from a standing position with my arms raised to their full length.  Now, those were skills I needed to know, I thought.  I was that kind of tree-climbing, opossum-poking, fire-starting variety of girl. 

I'll tell you that I tried joining the Brownies at school, but they never once went outside in the three meetings I went to.  I could tell you, it was not my thing, to make cookies and flowers out of tissue paper.  Well, in all honesty, I liked making cookies, but I'd already done that.  I wanted to learn how to build an igloo or live in the woods for a week without dying.  Those were lessons that were worth learning.  What I didn't know when I got older was that my town had an active and quite outdoorsy Girl Scout Troop.  How I missed out on that is a story for another day.

So, my brother took it upon himself to offer second-hand lessons in Scouting.  He showed me how to eat an ant.  The red ones, he said, were tastier, like pepper, but you had to bite them good so that they didn't bite you on the way down. He taught me how to make a lean-to shelter out of sticks and leafy boughs if I got stuck in the woods overnight.  I spent hours perfecting my shelter, but then refused to go back into it when the spiders took up residence inside.  He taught me how to climb a rope and to balance while walking across a fallen tree using a long stick.  He taught me how to split wood, though it took a glancing blow to my shin for me to figure out that a wide stance was the way to go.  He taught me how to start a fire with a single match, tinder, and kindling, though I'll also admit that I never got a fire going using the friction method.  It wasn't for lack of trying or teaching. 

The best thing my brother taught me was how to paddle a canoe. 

For three years in a row, my brother and his team won the annual canoe race on the White River.  Isn't it sad that the White River is now one of the most polluted rivers in the state of Indiana?  We spent the whole day chasing from bridge to bridge, trying to get there before the boys and shouting, "Stroke, stroke, stroke" as they paddled under us and on down the river.  Oh, how I wanted to get into one of those canoes and join the race. 

So when someone started bringing a battered Grumman canoe to our family camping trips, I was in heaven.  My brother taught me how to paddle, how to dump most of the water out of a canoe without swimming it to the shore, and how to get into an empty canoe without tipping it over.  Boy, I'd never be able to do that now. Even when I was a kid, getting back into the canoe after falling out was a challenge and always left bruises.  Who cared about bruises, though?  I was planning to build a canoe from scratch using birch bark and ash poles and paddle it across the country for a year all the while eating only what I could collect or capture along the way.  Bruises were just a part of the deal.

The best thing my brother taught me was gunnel-jumping.  The gunnels of a canoe are the top edges where you bang your knees and elbows climbing back in after you've fallen out.  Gunnel-jumping is the fine art of balancing with one foot on either gunnel near the back of the canoe.  This raises the front end of the canoe high in the air and, if you can keep your balance long enough to begin, the trick is to begin to hop up and down.  At this point, the motion of keel bouncing against the water will propel you forward. It makes a great hollow sound, all that thrashing about in an aluminum canoe.  My mother would point out to you that the aluminum doesn't scrub off your hands and knees, or your bathing suit, for that matter. 

I even slept in that canoe for one night that summer.  I can tell you that the water cools the aluminum, you're bound to get your sleeping bag wet, there is no rolling over, and you'll have a bar shaped bruise across your forehead in the morning when you forget about the existence of the yoke. 

Can you picture that?  So there I was, the kid who spent hours perfecting the art of falling out of the canoe.  I got pretty decent at getting back in, though my canoe always had too much water remaining in the bottom, according to my brother.  I found that the easiest thing was grab the gunnels on each side, then to put one foot as far back on the end plate as I could and the other one slightly forward of it.  Then, the balancing act was to stand up while letting go of the gunnels.  And eventually, after an entire summer spent trying, I managed to get three or four good hops, along with a serious forward motion of the entire seventeen foot canoe and so I had finally mastered the fine art of gunnel jumping.  It was just too bad all the people, the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles sitting in their lawn chairs on the shore had gotten so wrapped up in their talking that they missed the awe-inspiring event.

So, when Mike asked me if I had any experience with a canoe, I told him that I did with an emphatic nod. 

You know, I'm going to have to tell you about that Christmas present next time.  I keep running out of blank sheets of paper.

Thank you for listening, jb


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No Returns, Part I

I'm about to start buying Mike's birthday and Christmas presents.  He's a Christmas baby, or close enough.  Don't tell him, but I'm getting him some good stuff, or at least I hope it's good stuff.  I'm hoping he'll get me a cat. Our cat Seth is a good cat, but he prefers Mike's lap to mine and he gets aggravated with me because I wiggle around too much.  He only sits on my lap when Mike isn't around.  Sometimes, he'll cry to Mike to sit down when I'm sitting right there on the recliner patting a pillow on my lap.  It makes me feel so rejected.  So I need a cat, a sweet cat who doesn't mind sitting on my lap even if I am fidgety.  I doubt I'll get a cat for Christmas, but I wish I would.

For Mike, I make sure he tells me just exactly what he wants, down to the make, model, and watt rating.  See, I'm horrible about picking out the good duds.  I don't know which company makes solid equipment and which doesn't .  I'd get a socket set that's metric instead of standard.  I'd buy the smaller tool chest. I'd get the drill driver that only has a 47 minute battery life.  I'd get this really great 21 ton lift when the biggest car in the garage is only 6 tons.  So, I ask Mike to tell me just exactly what he wants so there's no messing around with exchanges.  You should have seen the Christmas when I wrapped a small box with a note in it to put under the tree. Nick was so disappointed at first.  I think he thought I'd gotten him some kind of jewelry.  The note said, 'Go look in the truck' and when he read it, his face lit up. The standing drill press that Mike had asked me for was stuck in the back of the truck, too heavy for me to unload, let alone get up the stairs and 'under' the tree. We both really liked that drill press. I could have backed the truck up to that thing and drilled a hole through my tail gate. Unfortunately, last year, after eighteen years of good service, mice made their nest in the housing and ruined it.  I may have to get him another one, maybe a bigger one.  You think?

I also have a tradition of getting Mike a Despair calendar. Every month is a different beautiful scene with a rude and hysterical saying that goes with it. Imagine a majestic ocean photo of a shipwreck with the caption, "It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others."
For the calendar, I get to choose different posters for each of the twelve months.  I usually pick something cynical about love for July because that's our anniversary month and something outdoorsy, snowy, and pathetic for December, Mike's birthday. Then, I populate the whole year, with these pithy, sarcastic, and totally apt sayings with amazing photos to grace them.   

The best part is that I get to make up holidays for different days on the calendar.  December 26th is either 'Play With Your Toys' Day or 'You're Broke' Day, depending on how I feel when I make it.  I love ordering that calendar.  I always forget what I did for last year, so I have no examples for you.  I have a good time once I get going though.  One time, I had our niece help me make up strange holidays and hers were hysterical.  My favorite was 'The Guy in the Next Stall is Talking on His Cell Phone' Day.  Don't think about that one too long. I wonder what holidays I'll make up this year. 

Dog Hair on Your Pants Day
Multiple Random Texts Day
Buy My Birthday Present Today Day (I like that one.)
Everybody Gets a Snow Day But You Day

I'm telling you.  They get better as I go along.  Really.  Well, maybe some of them aren't so funny.  A few of them are funny.  I promise.  I mean it.  Okay, I'll go work on it some more.  I'd hate to give Mike a lame Christmas present after all. 

So, I was going to tell you about the very first Christmas and birthday present I got for Mike.  I really was.  I'm sorry, we're out of time today.

Thank you for listening, jb


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Twinkie Phenomenon

Am I the only one who is fascinated by this Twinkie phenomenon? 

I mean, really.  Someone actually spent $10,000 for a small package of Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes.  That's four pastries, if you can call them pastries. Nick was on the phone with Mike this morning, trying to convince him to sell his last three packages on eBay.  So here's the interesting thing - at least six eBay auctions timed out with zero bidders for Twinkies at $0.99 for 10 Twinkies or more.

One rich fat idiot is willing to pay $10,000 for four pastries while ignoring 15,310 other results for Twinkies that are selling on eBay for a better price.  I know that was mean, but what's your opinion of this person?  Was it the need to be the person who paid the most for a Twinkie?  Can you be competitive about that?

By the way, that 15,310 figure is just for bidding that has already closed.  There are 21,461 items using the word Twinkie currently available for bidding on eBay right now.  Lots of jerks are using the word in irrelevant auctions just to get viewed, though, so not all of them are actual Twinkie sales.  Still, there are a lot of Twinkies on the market.

The highest request is currently $21,000,000, but these big ones are connected to charities, although I'd guarantee the charities won't rank very high on Charity Navigator.  Cute idea though. 

Whew! I stand corrected.  Samaritan's Purse is auctioning off a box of Twinkies for $21,000,000.  They have a four star rating with Charity Navigator!  So bid away!  Another charity Twinkie event is for the Orangewood Children's Foundation.  They're asking for a mere $15,000,000.  They have a pretty good ranking on Charity Navigator too and I like that they're trying to take care of kids using Twinkies.

So what's causing this Twinkie reaction anyway? 

It's Twinkie memories. 

Did you know that companies like Hostess spend millions of dollars researching the effect of their products on your olfactory bulbs?  That's your sense of smell.  Think about Fruit Loops.  Nothing else in this world smells like Fruit Loops.   They don't even taste all that good, but they smell divine.  My mouth is watering right now, just thinking about them.  They remind me of my grandma, the only person who ever allowed me to eat Fruit Loops as a child.  Smell is the single most effective way to jog your memory, so these companies are trying to link their smells with your brain, permanently.  That's why people like me, who haven't been eating Twinkies since she was about eleven, are having a total fit with the news that Twinkies may never be available again!  Plus, it's why, when I opened a package of the chocolate Twinkies on Friday, the smell just didn't do much for me.  It wasn't that classic Twinkie smell that I had been looking forward to smelling. 

This morning, Mike told me that there's a potential buyer for the Twinkies brand.  Hell yes!  If I were in the market to buy something such as this, I'd work to keep the supply down so that demand stayed high.  Would they be able to maintain this kind of demand?  I doubt it, but the first few days when the Twinkies came back onto the shelves might be interesting, especially if there weren't a lot of them available. 

Do you remember the furor over the Tickle-Me Elmo dolls?  Every Christmas, the toy industry tries to create another reaction like that.  Right now, some popular toy is ramping up its demand on eBay.  Folks are trying to figure out what that toy is and buying them in lots of 100 or 1000 so they can make big profits off of simply reselling them.  Could be good money if you can guess what kids will want. 

I love eBay!

I'm going to tell you that we currently have five packages of Hostess products on a tray in our kitchen.  Oh, and there is an open box of HoHos above the refrigerator, but they've been up there for a while and I'm sure they're past their sell-by date.  I wonder if I should try to sell an old, previously unused, not marked for resale HoHo on eBay?  Would you buy it?  Still, HoHos aren't the issue here, are they? It's all about the Twinkies when I think I'd actually miss the Hostess Cherry Pies the most if you needed to know.  I used to buy those things altogether too frequently from the vending machine when I was in junior high. 

You know, I looked at the Twinkies, the ones that are known for having a forty year shelf life.  Best by Nov 25.  Hmmm.  That would make a cool experiment.  Would they turn green after a year or so or would they just shrivel up a bit and dry out.  Who knows?  Not many people are going to be trying that these days when those last Twinkies might sell for $5000 apiece.

Here's a question - is it illegal to sell these things past their 'best by' dates?  I know that the food bank in town won't take any food that's past that date.  And the grocery stores are always trying to unload stuff that's almost ready to expire with those 'reduced for quick sale' stickers.  What happens to the remaining Twinkies then? 

Boy, I hope that high school economics teachers across the country are using this Twinkie explosion as an interesting lesson.

I'm willing to sell you a package of Twinkies.  What will you pay me for them?

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Unsung Hero

Today, my Scoutmaster-wifely duties included picking up pizzas and dropping them off at the training that Mike's doing with the new Scout leaders.

Not a tough job, so how is it that it gets a story?

I don't know.  Maybe it won't, but I'll give it a shot. 

See, Nick's friend wanted him to come over, but they both decided to play here since Mike has picked up two new games in the past week.  Lucky guys.  That meant that, for the first time, someone arrived at the house and Nick was allowed to let them in.  Will that backfire when he's a teenager and there's the potential for the colossal house party while Mike and I aren't home?  Are those movies even real?  I knew they wouldn't cause too much damage in the hour that I was gone.

Right after I got all that set up, Mike called.

"Hey hon, can you bring those pizzas now?"

"Sure.  Jack's on his way over at noon. Did you order any pizza for us?"

"Nah. You know I didn't pay for them yet. Right?  I also got root beer and Sierra Mist. Oh, and can you bring some ice?"

In five minutes, I was out of the house, listening to my new favorite book on my disk player.  Yes, some cars still have disk players.  Don't exactly know what I'll do when they don't.  The book is 'Diary of a Mad Fat Girl' by Stephanie McAfee.  I'll admit that I didn't  expect too much from the beginning, but I'm still listening to the first disk and it has made me snort out loud twice.  The bad news is that it's not quite G-rated, so I can't tell you the line that caused the second choking laughter fit and I can't listen to it at home in case the kids will hear the smut I'm listening to.  They aren't likely to hear a thing since they're in the living room right now, screaming their heads off at Halo 4, but I could just see getting that call from a mom asking about the kind of influence I'm having on her son.  It's bad enough that I let him eat two HoHos from our dwindling Hostess collection and Mike, when he got home a few minutes ago, gave him root beer.

I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, there I was ordering two more pizzas from my iPhone and bolting out of the house so that Mike's pizzas would get there still slightly warm.  I forgot the ice.  Crap!  Too late to go back.

When I got to Papa John's no one was there but me and a single cashier. 

"Quiet in here today," I said. 

"We don't usually pick up until after four," the cashier replied and smiled.  Famous. Last. Words.

First, the computer ate my order and, unless I paid cash, I was going to lose my online rewards.  The cashier paused at least three times as the computer thought about his latest instructions. In the meantime, the phone rang.  He answered with, "Papa John's, can you hold while I help my current customer?" Then, he punched a button and put the receiver back into the cradle. 

"I'm really sorry about that, Ma'am," he said as he handed me my change.  I must be getting old.  I no longer mind being called 'ma'am.'  The first time, it was demoralizing. I told him it was no problem, but now I'm out of cash. Still, I'm all for going along with the computer when it makes its crazy decisions.

Then another customer walks in the door.  The phone starts doing this double ring kind of thing.  The cashier puts another customer on hold. 

"You're second order will be ready in just a few minutes," he said to me before he even made eye contact with the man.  I sat down in the chair by the window.

This customer couldn't speak English.  Three times, he tried to say whether or not he'd already ordered and what he wanted on his pizza.  The cashier kept a smile on his face.  He really did. 

"Pickle," the customer said.

"We don't offer pickle as our toppings," the cashier said.

"Pick-le," the customer said a slightly different way.


"No, pepp-o," the customer said.  The phone changed it's beeping and the cashier held up his index finger and put another call on hold.

"Green pepper?" he said after he'd replaced the phone. 

"No. pickle," the customer said.

"I'm very sorry, sir, but we don't offer pickles as a topping."

"No. pepp-o?"  The customer looks at me.  I don't speak pepper.

"Pepperoncini?" I try.  The phone continues to bleat. 

"No. Pickle," he said again as if the repetition might help.

"Do you think he's talking about the pepperoncinis?  I like those," I said as I stood up.

"Thank you," the cashier said to me. "We don't offer pepperoncinis on our pizzas."

"No. On box," the customer said.

"In the box?" the cashier asked.

"Pickled pepper?" I said and finally, the poor guy nodded and smiled.

"I think he's talking about pepperoncini in the box with the pizza," I said to the cashier. 

"No. pickle pepp-o."  I wish I could have told the guy they put them into every box. The cashier gets to work on the computer and then it froze. 

"My computer has frozen again," he said.  We all stand there for more than two or three minutes until the computer decides to let us off the hook.  It seems like much longer.  The cashier punches a few buttons on the computer before it decides to work again.  The phone continues to honk. 

The two exchange cash and change.  Then, something in the back starts to bark a repeating tone.  The cashier holds up his index finger again and leaves the counter.  Boy, I hope those finger gestures aren't rude in the customer's native country.

The cashier loads my pizzas into their boxes and brings them to me, six pizzas and two big bottles of soda.  Before I get out the door, he has the other guy's pizzas in a box and is handing it over.  By the time I drive away, I can see him on the phone again, punching buttons on his errant computer. 

That man deserves a medal.

Thank you for listening, jb


Friday, November 16, 2012

Bananarama, Part III

Bananarama happened nearly a year after Mike and I had gone on that winter camping trip together, the one after which I dumped Asshole, the guy who called me a wimp when I had trouble holding my ski pole after breaking my thumb.  It wasn't lost on me that the entire weekend in the Adirondacks, Mike spent at the back of the pack whenever we were out skiing, encouraging the slowest member.  He was patient with me, but better than that, he was patient with everyone around him. 

He never said a word about the kids who bought so many bananas.  They knew.  They didn't need him to say anything. 

I take that back. He did say something.  We all did.  It got to be a joke, one that got us all laughing, tears streaming, with just that one word.


On Sunday morning, I woke up after sleeping through the evening and night. I felt great! Another group of us went out for another jaunt over the lakes and fields.  The sun shone like diamonds on strewn on the snow.  A breeze occasionally lifted up wisps of snow and swirled it on the snow's surface.We visited the snow caves the more intrepid of the kids had built.  They crawled in and out of them. I stuck my head in.  I liked how blue it was, but I didn't crawl in.  I'm sure I had some good excuse, but the real one, not wanting to kick out the ceiling in panic, I kept to myself.  They had decided not to sleep in them during the night, though Mike had told them they could if they wanted. I was surprised they hadn't, though it was really cold and they'd said their caves were pretty small. 

Again, Mike stayed at the back of the pack and when one of the guys had trouble with a binding, Mike figured out how to make it work until he got back to the cabin. 

When I got back, there was more hot chocolate.  No one opted for onion soup, though it sounds good right now for some reason. 

"Oh man, I have to pee and I don't want to put my duds back on to go to the outhouse," I said.  I'd learned that it was easier to actually ski to the outhouse rather than posthole with every step in the deep snow. 

"Why don't you pee off the back porch like everyone else?" Jimmy said.  What?  He led me to the back door and I stepped out into the chill.  Ew.  There were yellow spots everywhere, loop-de-loops, names, and even a tree with a stalactite dripping from its trunk. 

"Hey, guys, that's gross!" I came back inside.

"It'll melt," someone replied. 

"Does that bother you?" I asked Mike. "Isn't it going to make the cabin smell?"

"They're boys, Hon.  They do that."

"I did it too, just hung onto the post there and leaned back," Erica said with a grin.  I rolled my eyes and put on my gear for the trek up to the outhouse, the one with the stainless steel seat, the one with a tiny bit of my flesh stuck to it, though I'd scraped it with my glove the last time I'd visited.  My knuckle was still sore.  When I was done, I got a whim to run up to the van for a new wool blanket I'd picked up on sale at Campmor.  Mike had told me I'd never use the thing because it was too scratchy.  It was scratchy, but I wanted another layer on my bunk for some reason. 

When I got back, I found that Mike had gone.  Harold said he'd headed out with his pack and skis and said he'd be back in a bit.  In the meantime, I figured I'd go out again with another group that had packed up.  I was a little sad not to be with Mike, but he seemed like a lone wolf sometimes and this was his time.  That jaunt remains a melancholy one to me, though we skied in with the sunset as we finished our loop.  By then, the grooves were set and the kids picked an easy run for everyone. In the light, the snow turned a shiny peach color.  I had never noticed snow that color. 

There was something that was happening to me that kept me going out to ski, even on the day when I'd already been out.  I'd come back inside invigorated, my cheeks pink with exertion.  Those days might have been the first time I got the endorphin rush from cross country skiing.  I've loved it since, that rhythm, the swish of the snow, the long glide down a slope.  Heaven. 

Still, I was in love and it would have been better if Mike had come along.  That night, when we got in, I went into the kitchen to help with dinner.  The bananas, now relegated to a corner, were brown and bruised.  Bananarama was over.  No one would be jamming with those things.  Still, there were only three bunches left.  Not bad. Bananas have lots of potassium for replacing those electrolytes too. 

After dinner, I volunteered for KP.  Here's my secret.  When I'm cold, I volunteer to wash dishes.  It works every time. The other thing it helped me with was the watching.  We had come back at sunset.  Mike had not yet returned.  I tried not to worry.  He'd left an hour before we had and after dinner, it was an hour since we'd come back. I went to Harold and quietly asked him what he thought.

"Oh, he's probably fine.  He does this sometimes, gets a little too much and heads off on his own to unwind for a bit once he sees everyone else is good to go."  Lone wolf.  Why didn't the buddy system work the same way for leaders? I wondered.

So, I tried to read my book.  I read the same paragraph over and over until I finally gave up and stood at the window in the direction Mike had gone.  A half an hour later, coming in from complete darkness, Mike arrived, a flashlight held in one hand as he still gripped his poles.  I watched the light bob up and down as he skied. I went back to my book, arranging myself artfully on the bunk, and tried to look nonchalant.  What, me worried?

A crowd gathered as he stepped into the room and laughter erupted. I jumped up to see what it was all about.  His moustache and beard, even his eyebrows and the brim of his stocking cap, had frosted over with ice, solid chunks of ice.  I wish I had a picture of that.  He couldn't brush it off!  We all watched as it melted off of him.  A mug of hot chocolate made short work of it, but it was entertaining.  I was so relieved that I didn't want to leave Mike's side. 

That night, I felt out of sorts, so I went to bed early, snuggling down into my sleeping bag that was augmented by the wool blanket.  The morning came too soon and I awoke with a cold.  I stayed behind and packed up my gear while the rest of them took one last loop across the lakes before we packed up our cars and drove home. 

When the group got back, Mike brought my backpack up to the van for me.  I still had to ski there myself, but I managed.  Then, he wrapped me in my sleeping bag and threw the wool blanket over my shoulders and buckled me into my seat.  Before he closed the door, he handed me a smashed box of tissues he'd gotten from one of the girls. 

I felt like crap the whole way home, but I felt so deeply loved. 

 Thank you for listening, jb

Twinkie Withdrawal

Goodbye Twinkies!

I'm shocked, appalled, afraid. How are we going to stock the shelves of our bomb shelters? Twinkies are the only snack of its kind that has a forty-year shelf life. Are you really going to eat Spam and canned green beans and corn for the next forty years with nothing tasty to top it off? 

Mike sent me out in search of a Twinkie. He said that there aren't any more left at the grocery stores. I stopped at the local market and they didn't have any, so I bought some donettes, HoHos, and a cherry pie.  I didn't bother with the Snoballs. I never liked the Snoballs and they don't even have any nostalgic power. My grandma liked those strawberry and vanilla wafers. I hated them, but there is the love in the association. Just the smell of those vanilla wavers can put me in a different place. Do you know what I mean?

So I went into the store at the gas station.  I have never walked in there.  The Hostess display was at the end of an aisle right in front of the cash register. And they had some Twinkies left!  Whoo hoo!

Mike texted me to tell me that a box of Twinkies just sold on eBay for $100.  That's $10 per Twinkie pack. 

While I was choosing, a man came in and picked up a couple of packs of Twinkies.  I got to the register first, four plain and one chocolate.  I had never tasted the chocolate ones and didn't want my life to end before I had.

"You should be charging $25 a pack for those Twinkies," the guy said as he dumped his Twinkies on the counter.  The supply at the gas station had just dropped by half.

"Maybe you could wait until after you ring up these," I said.  The guy at the register laughed.

"You're not from the Twinkie generation," the guy said as he handed the cashier a ten dollar bill.  Oh man, I was from the Twinkie generation.  I could feel it in my bones.  You tell this kid that he'll never eat another Twinkie again and he'll shrug his shoulders.  You tell someone like me, someone who grew up in the fifties and sixties and it's a totally different story.  Twinkies were invented in 1930.  I wonder if the kids from the thirties and forties feel the same way I do.  Guess I'm going to have to ask some folks.

When I got home, we opened the chocolate Twinkies, cut one of the pastries into thirds and each took a taste.  The smell alone took me back to when I was nine.  We let the dog lick the gooey stuff off the paper from the bottom.  He very nearly took out the second Twinkie, which had been sitting a bit too close to the edge of the dining room table. 

So now, the dilemma is whether we slowly savor the taste of our remaining Twinkies or set one aside to sell on eBay.

Maybe we should hold onto it for forty years and see what it's worth then.  By then, who will remember Twinkies at all?

Thank you for listening, jb

Differences in Leadership Styles

I know you wanted to hear about the rest of the bananarama trip, but somehow, I finally feel compelled to tell you the story about Asshole.  They're related, you know. 

Have you ever dated someone who was a total mistake for you?  Did you ever meet someone who could piss off a waitress with one snap of the fingers?  Yup, I'm telling you that Asshole was that man.

Let me start from the beginning, a whole year before the bananarama trip.  See, I met Asshole on one of my solo hikes.  That was the fall when Mike and I were not dating after dating ever so briefly.  It was when my heart was broken and I swore I'd fake my way through every day at work to prove it wasn't.  Every time I tell the story of Asshole, it begins and ends with Mike. 

There I was on this beautiful trail, feeling so broken-hearted, when along comes this guy.  He was good looking, though I was told later that I was the only one who saw good looks past his feminine and bad-tempered nature.  I'm telling you, looks can quickly fade when a person's true colors begin to shine through in an ugly way.  Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

So I saw this guy approaching and rather than say hello and walk on, each of us felt compelled to stop and flirt.  Yup, I was single.  Flirting was a good plan for me, or so it seemed.  We talked for a while and without letting anything go any further, I said 'Adieu' and hiked on my merry way, just a little more cheerfully than I had before. Yes, there is a time that flirting is good for the soul.

When I was done with my hike, I signed out at the ranger station and went home. 

A couple of nights later, Asshole called. 

I hadn't remembered his name yet the hairs rose on the back of my neck as he told me who he was. 

"How did you get my phone number?" I asked him.

"The ranger gave it to me," he replied cheerfully, then he told me the story he told the ranger to get it out of him.  It was a good story.  We laughed about how it was a total lie.  Why I didn't hang up on him on the spot, I don't know.  The flirting took me over.  We talked for a while and I refused to give him any more information, thinking that would do the trick.  I refused to meet him for a date too.

"How do I know you're not an evil stalker?" I blithely asked when he asked me out.  He teased me about that before we rang off, but he promised he'd call again.  I hadn't asked him to call though I secretly hoped he would. 

He called every evening for the next week or so.  We talked, a lot.  I was getting interested in meeting him, but I kept asking him the same question - how do I know he's not an evil stalker?  It became a joke with us until one day he got mad and told me to stop.  That was when I finally agreed to meet him. 

I still wasn't totally convinced so I stuck with the usual plan my girlfriends and I had of going together and signaling each other.  They'd go with me to meet the guy in a public place and I'd use a hand signal if I wanted them to meet me in the bathroom.  I swear, more than once, I'd wished that bathrooms at restaurants and clubs had back exits so that we could leave without a trace.  Avoidance was often the safest exit strategy.

My friend signaled me after about ten minutes.  That meant she didn't like him.  Asshole had pissed off the waitress in his classic style, returning a drink that looked perfectly fine to me.  When I met her in the bathroom, I told her that I liked him and she could head out to her next venue, meeting the rest of our friends at the usual dance club.  She looked doubtful, but nodded her head.  Now, I realize that she had more to say, even at that point. 

Don't you wish your friends would really tell you what they were thinking long before you tell them that you've broken up with someone?  That would have been a good time for it.  My friends never did like this guy, but I thought I did.  In truth, I was just happy not to be so focused on Mike.  I also liked being able to say I was dating, then later, that I had a boyfriend.  I felt less of a reject that way. 

Asshole started out being nice to me.  We went to pick out a pumpkin and he helped me get the biggest pumpkin I'd ever had.  We went to a Cajun restaurant, though his true colors began to bleed through when he treated the waitress as though she were a servant rather than an equal.  I was embarrassed and tried to get him to stop.  Finger snapping was over the top, I thought.  And it wasn't her fault the steak was too raw at first and then too well done. 

"She's probably back there spitting on it right now," he said. 

I had never heard of such a thing, never imagined it.  It made it hard to eat my blackened salmon.  I kept picking at it, as if I could tell if she'd spit on my food by association.  Asshole had pissed her off from the start with his attitude.

After that, I worked to distract him at restaurants.  I had worked at a restaurant.  I knew what these people did to earn their money.  Asshole continued to bring me to nice places to eat and when the meal came, he invariably had some complaint that sent it back, sometimes more than once.  He wouldn't get distracted at those times, not even by a bit of snogging.  I really hated that part of the meal, even though he told me it was expected, that no one got any respect if they ordered a meal and simply ate it without complaint.  He even managed to get a couple of meals free after the embarrassment of asking to speak to the manager.  Seems to me, he could afford to pay for his meals.  He was an lawyer after all. 

Then, one day, we stopped by his parent's house to pick something up before we went to the movies.  Even after a couple of months together, I had never been invited to his place, so I suspected that he still lived with them.  His mother was washing dishes at her sink when we arrived.  She dried her hands and greeted me, a hand outstretched.  She quickly asked if I wanted anything to drink.

"You should know by now that we don't have time for that," he said.

"But I just thought ... " she began to say.

"Well, that's ridiculous.  Why don't you get back to those dishes.  This place is so filthy, you embarrass me."  I could see that she was mortified and tried to make eye contact, but she kept her eyes down.  She took the sponge and wiped a perfectly clean counter top.

"You missed a spot."  Asshole grabbed my hand and steered me out of the house. 

On my way out the door, I yelled through the small living room, hopefully loud enough that she'd be able to hear me in the kitchen, "It was nice to meet you."

"Don't think you're going to be invited for dinner to meet my parents or anything."  Now, that hurt.  I wasn't angling for that.  I was just trying to be polite.  I worried that this man could be so rude to his own mother.  You know, it really does make sense, when you're dating, to see how a guy treats his mom and his sisters.  It tells a lot about him. 

After that, Asshole began to tease me about meeting his parents, but most of the time, it just hurt my feelings.  It was as if he expected me to beg him for more in the relationship.  Did I give off that vibe?  I'm not sure.  I'd stopped dating other people when it became clear that he was interested in more than a couple of dates.  I'd tried dating more than one guy at a time, and I didn't like it. 

I'll tell you something.  I don't like being teased.  I've always felt that it is an altogether too easy way for people to say the cruel things they'd like to say, but can't quite get away with.  I can hear their true intent in the words. 

Asshole teased me about everything I cared about.  He thought it was funny that I was sincere.  He teased me for caring about my coworkers and their girlfriends.  He even gave me dialog to put the screws to Mike, a story I'd watered down for him quite a bit.  He teased me about my family.  That began the hardening process.  I might have something to say about my family, but no one else is entitled.  I began to see the drudgery of a night out with the man.  My friends begged off from meeting with him after the first time and he seemed glad of it.  Barely out of earshot, he nitpicked the worst flaws from each of them.  He may have been right, but I loved them.  Still, I thought it might be better not to fan the flames, so I disappeared from their outings.  I missed Saturday nights in New York City, nights during which we frequently went to listen to an Irish band play.  I missed my friends. 

Then, Asshole began to tell me I was being too clingy, that he needed some space.  The worst part of it was that he insisted that I be home so he could call on the nights when I might have gone out with my friends.  I read a lot of books those nights until I finally laid down the law.  I'd go out with him if he asked me, but if he needed his space, I was going out with my friends.  This infuriated him. 

About this time, Mike started to ask me out again.  At first I thought he was joking.  Really, Asshole's tendencies were beginning to seem normal.  Asking out a girl he had no interest in just to push her back down was right down his alley.  Finally, after Mike had asked a number of times, I said I'd think about going.  So the next time he asked, I said okay, but that, if he didn't mind, I might bring my boyfriend. The event was an Explorer Post overnight, a winter camping trip in two weeks.  I hadn't meant to be cruel.  I just thought he was asking as a friend.  Of course, Asshole said he would go, but that he'd have to arrive late because of his work, his important job.

The weekend before the winter camping, Asshole had a plan that he swore would make Mike's trip look paltry.  That's the word he used, 'paltry.'  We headed off early on Saturday morning, promptly at 6:00 am because he insisted on getting an early start.  We drove a long and winding road into the Catskills with our cross country skis and some basic gear.  I'm not sure we had a canteen between us. Maybe we had snacks, but if I was up to my usual for that trip, I probably brought a couple of candy bars and a soda.  I should tell you about the time I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back geared up that way.  Oh man. 

Before we started, I asked where we were going.  Asshole had been here before, he said, so he didn't need a map.  Boy, he was tough.  He wasn't telling me much about where or how far we were going either.  Eventually, I realized I was in a bit over my head.  I'd learned to cross country ski on golf courses.  This was a rough trail with short, steep inclines that all seemed to take a sharp turn at the bottom.  I spent a lot of it on my butt or sometimes on my face.  At least the snow was deep and soft. We never took a break, so I soldiered on, trying to keep up.  It was hard.  I was hot and sweaty, and totally soaked. 

And then I did another face plant, only this time, my pole caught on my thumb and hyper-extended it as I fell.  It began to swell immediately.  Asshole rubbed it with snow, causing me to shiver uncontrollably.  When I wasn't moving, I got cold quickly.  He told me my thumb looked good and that we needed to keep going. 

I couldn't hold my pole.

"Come on! What are you, a wimp?" he asked. "I should leave you here."

Tears sprang to my eyes, but I didn't let him see them.  I wrapped my fingers around the pole and tried to hold my thumb in a neutral position.  It was hard, but I kept going.  I had no idea where I was, after all.  We kept going for at least another hour.  At that point, Asshole said that we should probably turn around since we'd gone eight miles or so.  That would double to sixteen by the time we got back.  I kept my mouth shut.  We'd done at least three of those after I'd hurt myself.  I began to sort out my 'it's not you, it's me' speech as I quietly skied behind him.  He called me a wimp a couple more times before we made it back to his car because I couldn't keep up with him. I struggled to keep the distance between us short.

He made a big deal out of me getting the seat of his car wet.  I still didn't say anything.  I was cold and wet and miserable and I wanted to go home.

"I'm going to stop for a beer," he stated, about a mile down the road.  I was tempted to sit in the car and wait, but I was hungry and I figured I'd get a burger out of it if I went inside with him.  He talked on and on and on, never catching the drift of things, that something had slid over the edge between us.  He had the audacity to tease me for being clingy and called me a wimp one more time.  I sat quietly and tried to eat my burger with my left hand.  My right hand hurt.  Even the waitress took a look at it.  She gave me a sympathetic look but backed off when Asshole jumped all over her to mind her own business. 

It took forever for Asshole to drop me off at home.  I made myself some hot chocolate and promptly dropped the mug.  You guessed it.  My thumb was broken.  By the next weekend, I still hadn't seen him, so he didn't know.  When he finally called to get particulars about the camping trip, he told me he hadn't called to teach me a lesson about being clingy.  What lesson? I thought. I tried to get him to apologize, but he didn't, even after I told him my thumb was broken. But then, he started flirting again.  I was confused.

I really wanted to tell him to shove off, but figured I should say it in person if I was going to say it.  That week, I sat at a bar with my friends again for the first time in a couple of months.  When I told them I was thinking of breaking up, they told me how he'd made fun of me when I went to the bar to get him a drink on that one night when they'd all met.  They said they'd never liked him from the beginning and that he'd bragged about getting my phone number and address and seeing if I'd agree to go out with him.  See, this is where good friends go wrong.  It would have saved me so much angst if they'd told me what he'd said that night.  Would I have listened?  Oh, I hope so.  Who knows?  Well, maybe not so much.

When he finally called me, I just gave him directions to the winter camp and kept it simple, but then I started to feel a little sorry for him.  I figured I'd find a way to tell him sooner or later, but I wanted to do it right.


The next weekend, Mike bundled me up and brought me to the winter camp.  He loaned me a warm sleeping bag and a tent.  He wrapped my cast so it wouldn't get wet and made sure I wasn't cold.  He was very sweet.  Despite the cast on my arm, we managed to have a snowball fight that ended in us rolling around in the snow together. It was lovely.  In the middle of all that, Asshole showed up wearing his usual bravado.  He talked about how he was better at this kind of thing that they were.  He was more experienced with that.  He spent his time around the campfire talking about himself while I sat quietly, just watching. 

I wasn't watching him. I was watching Mike.  Mike was sulking. If this was a simple friendship, why would he be sulking? 

I can tell you that there are times when I'm dense, okay, lots of times. Finally, the light bulb went on.  Mike was more than just a friend. I could see it on his face, in his posture after Asshole arrived and possessively put his arm around me.  I finally made eye contact with Mike and somehow got him to understand what was happening.  I'm not sure how because suddenly Asshole didn't want to be more than three feet away from me.  A couple of times during the next twenty-four hours, I pulled away from Asshole's embrace. After making sure I didn't let any snow melt on his car seats, I broke up with him as he took me home.  He told me I'd regret it. 

I haven't, not for a minute.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bananarama, Part II

So I was telling you about bananarama.  I kept laughing out loud today, thinking about how I nearly left a chunk of butt skin stuck to the seat of a pit toilet in the Adirondacks. 

That night, close to 3:30 in the morning, I finally fell asleep, wishing that I could at least hold hands with Mike across the divide between our bunks.  We were head to head, but the aisle was wide and even our quiet talk was public. It was a exquisite agony. 

Dating on Explorer Post trips presented challenges that were absent with your usual dating scenarios.  I liked sleeping so near him, but that just made it all the more difficult.  There was no making out on Explorer Post trips, especially for advisors.  Oh, occasionally, I hugged him and sneaked a kiss or two, but we kept it simple by necessity.  Yet, there I was, sleeping in the same room with him, in a cabin full of twenty-one people.  I could hear him breathing, so close to me, yet forbidden to touch. 

The flip side of it was that this cabin had a kitchen with no door and a single great room.  That was it.  So there was no place for us girls to have privacy and we weren't about to go to the outhouse to change in or out of pajamas.  Can you imagine?  It was twenty below according to the little zipper-tag thermometer I got from Campmor and twenty below was as far down as that tiny thermometer went.  We might have gotten hypothermia in the time it took to change clothes and walk back, postholing in the snow with every step. 

So, it was on this trip that I learned the fine art of public shirt changing.  To do this, a girl put on the shirt she wanted to wear without putting her arms through the holes and pulled it down as far as it would go.  Then, she wrestled her arms out of the shirt she wanted to take off.  After that, she'd put her arms into the sleeves of the shirt she wanted to wear and pulled the old shirt up through the neck hole and over her head.  Changing bras worked in a similar way only they were more complicated.  I also learned to change pants in my mummy bag.  I'd swear it looked like there was an octopus moving around in there when I did.  By then, Mike had bought me a puffy purple sleeping bag that could zip to his.  Is that romantic or what?  I liked my old flannel sleeping bag, but this purple one was heavenly and rated to fifteen below. 

So, I was dreaming a little dream of Mike when folks started to rouse themselves late the next morning.  The sun was shining.  Chocolate chip pancakes were cooking on the griddle, and there was a roar going up every few minutes in the kitchen.

"Banana, banana, banana!" they yelled in unison.  "Banana, banana, bananarama!"  I wandered in after wrestling out of my pajamas and into long johns and shorts.  Jimmy and Dave each had two peeled bananas and at the call of 'bananarama' were shoving them whole into their mouths, chewing, swallowing, and trying to whistle as loudly as they could to earn the next pancake.  It made me gag just a little, watching it.  Couldn't they have used the bananas in the pancakes?  Weren't they going to choke or rupture something? Still, when they were done, there were only five bunches of bananas remaining.  These things didn't look so good anymore.  I made a mental note that bananas didn't take the 210 miles and twenty below temperatures all that gracefully. 

I don't know how they managed, but Jimmy and Dave were revved up and ready to take a group out to ski by the time breakfast dishes were done. 

"Wrap up and buddy up!" Jimmy yelled.  Even though he was only sixteen, he was a natural leader and had gone on this trip twice before.  Since I was pretty new at these temperatures and the local trails, I was relieved we were going as a group.  I'd done some cross country skiing a half a dozen times before, but my Rosignols were still shiny and new despite a couple of trips across golf courses and one long woodsy trek during which I broke my thumb.  I never did tell you the whole story about Asshole, did I?  I'll save that for another day, but I'll tell you, I was not going on another cross country trek just to be called a wimp if I hurt myself.  Eric took over instructions.  "Layer up!  You don't want to get too sweaty or you'll get hypothermia more easily.  We'll scope out sites for snow caves and come back to them after lunch."  More than half of the group loaded on most of the clothes they'd brought, filled a light pack including a canteen and lunch, and traipsed outside to find the skis they'd jammed into a drift the night before.  Mike looked the part in his wool pants and backpack.  He'd jammed the big First Aid kit in along with some extra gloves, a hat, and a length of rope.  I had never heard of the ten essentials at that point in my life, but I'd guess he had them, and then some. 

There's something about cross country skiing.  At first, your skis cross and you lose your center of gravity, but then something kicks in and you get to flying across the snow.  I became elated.

"These are nice flat fields," I yelled back to Mike after zoning out to the sound of the skis for a while.

"These aren't fields, hon, they're lakes."

I froze in my tracks.  Ice?  I'd seen my dad on a pond he was testing for ice skating as the whole thing started to groan and crack.  One false move, I thought.

"Relax.  It's been solid for two months.  That ice is probably two feet thick by now," Mike said breezily. "You could drive your car out onto this and it would stay parked here until April." I got back into my groove and tried to catch up with the Explorer in front of me. 

The more experienced skiers took turns leading, creating nice tracks for us to follow in.  Since I didn't have a map or any knowledge of the area, I stayed in the middle.  We'd swung around in a great arc and I could tell we were almost back when we came upon a small Victorian house, obviously old, but with clunky decorative cutouts over the porch.

"Hey, it's the doll house," Eric said.

"What?" I said.

"The doll house."

"That's a real house," I said.  It sounded kind of snooty, even to me. "Looks Victorian, but it wasn't done all that carefully."

"That's because it's the doll house," Eric said.  "Some guy had it built for his daughter, made it to look like the big house, only smaller."

"That's small?" I asked.

"Compared to the big house, it is" he said.

"Well, where's the big house?"

"It's gone.  Only the doll house is left." 

We ate lunch in the abandoned doll house.  It was beautiful and sad, standing abandoned without even the original as company.  We tramped around and made some snow angels after we ate.  The guys did face plants in the snow, but after the sting on bare skin of just two, I didn't mind if my face didn't adorn my angel's wings.  These three-dimensional angels, faces and all, were a bit eerie.  I kept thinking that the angels would keep the doll house company, at least until it snowed again.  Why was it all the more lonely, knowing that this place had belonged to a little girl who no longer existed?  It felt something like finding an abandoned teddy bear. 

On our way again, it wasn't long until we finally caught sight of our little cabin. I was relieved.  I hadn't realized how thirsty I'd become.  As I sank onto my bunk with a mug of hot chocolate, I could feel the skin on my legs begin to warm up.  The Explorers that had stayed behind had kept the wood stove going at a good clip.  They'd even brought in more wood to fill the bin.  The warmth drained my energy.

After drinking something hot and snacking it up, Jimmy and Dave got bananarama going again, though this time, there was a smaller cheering squad and no pancake prizes.  I noticed that no one had touched the twelve boxes of onion soup mix, but at least they'd still be edible after the trip.  Did you know that it took us two years to finally finish off all of those boxes?  Bananas, on the other hand, were spoiling.

"Banana, banana, banana! Banana, banana, bananarama!"  Two more bunches of bananas disappeared.  Then, unbelievably, they geared up again to lead a smaller group out to find deep drift sites for building snow caves.  Mike and Harold were going with them.  Before they left, they told me that the secret to keeping warm in a snow cave in this weather was to dig the entrance lower than the cave floor so that the warm air that you generated inside didn't escape up through your door.  The air that you heated would naturally rise and become trapped. I wondered how much oxygen you'd need in an ice cave to get through the night.  They told me you also had to dig the entrance big enough that melting ice on the inside surface wouldn't make an ice trap out of the place.  Lovely thought. 

It was beyond me.  Though I was curious, I had no interest in awakening my claustrophobia or going back outside in those freezing temperatures.  It was bad enough that I had to pee.  This time, I was careful to keep my skin intact. When I got inside where it was warm, I curled up with a book and promptly fell asleep.  The warmth and the hot chocolate had done its work.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bananarama, Part I

I was going to write about bananarama.

Oh, I hate when a half a day interferes with a thought.  It was a busy day too and the weather too wet.  To do justice to bananarama, it needs to be wickedly cold out, with snow that squeaks when you walk across it.  Do you know the kind of cold I mean? 

Oh, the television.  The television is driving me nuts.  I'm sitting here, trying not to listen, but it taps, taps, taps into my brain worse than Chinese water torture.

"Cookie powered jet cart...."

"Trying to take something..."

"Only she's not feeling so well.  She needs help...."

And then there's the dog, who wants me to play tug with his rope and drops it in my lap.  More television.

"No added preservatives....." 

This is insane, trying to tell you a story in these conditions.  I was trying to tell you about this trip for which bananarama is the codeword.  Bananarama is all about letting the Scouts make decisions on their own, about letting them plan, implement, and experience their own adventures.  Bananarama was an adventure.

The trip begins with Hostess donuts.  It's January, but it isn't seriously cold where we are, a suburb of New York City.  We've arrived at Harold's house and are waiting for him to finish packing for the trip.  So we eat the Hostess donuts that Harold's mom put out for us.  My favorite are cinnamon and sugar.  I've been promised that we'll get real food on the road.  I don't really trust this.  The message from the basement where Harold is holding court as he packs is that we'll be on the road within the hour.  No time for pizza.  Harold is the man who's pack always weighs 80 pounds or so.  I can't lift Harold's pack if I try, but if I needed an Allen-head wrench, Harold would be able to supply one from its recesses.  He also has sutures and a scalpel in his first aid kit.  I am not so sure I want Harold to be my surgeon in the woods, though I'm sure he has learned the techniques to use them.  Harold's backpack is a study in preparedness. 

The problem with our arrival time, 6:30 pm on a Friday night, is that Harold has only begun to pack starting at about 5:25 pm when he got home from work.  At 7:15 pm, he finished packing and began work on preparing the wagon for the road.  I suggest pizza again.  It is a reliable car, but Harold needs to change the oil and check the plugs.  We don't have time for pizza, I am told.  At 8:55, they have completed two trips to the auto parts store and boys and advisors who are interested in learning how to change a serpentine belt are learning how using the 'here hold this' method.  Unfortunately, Harold's methods of maintaining a car might cascade into issues with the headers and the drive shaft if we don't distract him.  Harold can calibrate a car just outside of working well in a couple of hours.  When he offers to change my oil, Mike quietly tells me to decline, that he'll do it when we get back.  At 9:35 pm, Harold's mom orders pizza.  I silently blessed her, but then at 9:45 pm, Harold announces that we are ready to go.

Suddenly, we were in a hurry.  Boxes of groceries are transferred into the wagon along with Harold's pack and a crate of spare auto parts and tools.  When the driver drops off the pizzas, we scarf a couple of slices each and bolt, with a departure time of 10:05 pm.  We may arrive at the cabin in the Adirondacks about 2:30 am if there are no issues. 

You have to know that there are issues.  There always are.  Roads are slick and one of our cars slides into a guard rail.  The guys look at the damage and we figure we can keep the car going, no serious damage, until she has to show her dad on Sunday.  It is hard to keep a caravan of three cars and a van together for 210 miles and four and a half hours of driving.  Yet, Mike and Harold have a sixth sense about staying together so they sandwich the other two cars with theirs.  My car ended up staying at Harold's house and I'm in the cold van with six high school kids and Mike.  Remember, this is 1987, well before any of us have cell phones, even the ones the size and weight of a brick. 

Finally, the road gets narrower and windier until it seems to peter out completely, and we are there.  Did I fall asleep?  I'm cold.  Mike tells us to bundle up before anyone opens the van doors.  It seems like a bit much, but I trust Mike not to exaggerate by now.  Once the doors are open, the cold slices through my down coat as if it were a cheap windbreaker.  I wish I'd worn another layer.  Hell, I wish I wore a couple more layers of fat for once. 

They unpack all of the gear, the packs, a couple of sleds, and our cross country skis.  Then, I'm informed that I need to put on my pack and ski down the trail to the cabin.  Really?

I'm not that good at cross country skiing.  None of the kids are either, but thankfully, the snow is so dry that it brushes off the first couple of times we fall.  The pack changes my center of gravity, but I start to figure it out.

The secret to cross country skiing on an ungroomed trail in the dark is not to trust the light of the half moon.  Shadows are strange.  Some grades are totally lost in darkness or lit to look different than their actual slope.  You bend your knees and expect the unexpected.  It's exhilarating.  I make two trips with gear, I'm having so much fun.  I pity Mike and Harold who have been clipped a couple of times in the backs of their ankles as they descend a small incline and the sleds they're hitched to slide freely for a bit. 

Once I get to the cabin for the second time, someone has a fire going in the wood stove at the end of the long building.  It's starting to warm up.  I'm starting to warm up.  I shed some layers onto a cot I've chosen not too far from the wood stove.  The close ones are already taken. 

Suddenly, I have to pee.

I put my gear back on to go back outside and thankfully, someone notices. 

"Don't sit down on the seat of the latrine or we'll be prying you off minus some of the skin from your backside," I hear as the door slams behind me. Is that a joke? I assume it isn't, but I can't help but test with a bit of my knuckle as I reluctantly remove my glove to use the toilet paper.  Yup.  I lose a little chunk of my knuckle. 

Why did I have to do that?

I was the kind who stuck a bean up my nose when someone told me not to.  I was the kid who touched the hot sparkler. I guess it's some strange impulse, I guess.  For the rest of the weekend, I can see that little chunk of skin on that metal seat.  I don't make that mistake a second time. 

When I come back into the cabin, they are unpacking the boxes of food that Jeff and Eric had bought.  There are ten big bunches of bananas, for twenty-one people.  There are twelve boxes of onion soup mix.  No one seems to even know quite how the onion soup mix fits into the menu.  Hmmm.  It turns out that Jeff and Eric had gone to the grocery store without a grocery list.  They had a menu, but that was it.  Plus, none of the advisors had been able to go with them to the store.  Okay.  Well, it is an adventure after all and I can see we have plenty of food for the weekend.  I don't as much care what we are going to eat as long as we have plenty to eat. 

By the time I'm settled onto a cot on the girl's side of the room, the pipe to the wood stove is glowing red with heat and the cabin is cosy.  The sky hasn't quite begun to lighten yet, but no one cares about the hour.  This is our adventure and it has just begun.

Thank you for listening, jb