Monday, December 24, 2012

Taking Out the Garbage

It was a late Sunday night and Myra was about to go to bed when she realized that everyone had forgotten to take down the recyclables.  She hated going outside at night.  She blamed the movies.  The Blob, I Am Legend, A Cabin in the Woods.  She was afraid of the dark.  It was the human faces, usually, the ones that morphed into monsters, that made the hair on the back of her neck rise. It was the angry face suddenly appearing at the glass that made her heart jolt with adrenaline.

She knew the monsters weren't real, yet the metaphor was there.  People, more than anything else, could be monsters.  So, in the dark, she realized that it was human faces that she imagined flowing toward her in the darkness. She was okay in the porch light.  She managed by the garage, though that dark edge around whose corner she couldn't see was a problem if she stared at it for too long.  But the worst was by the road, beyond where her motion sensor light on her garage could reach.  That darkness was deep and only a moonlit night or an occasional car on the lonely road could provide relief.  It didn't help for her to bring a flashlight.  All that did was bob around and highlight her vulnerability, making her feel as though she were being watched.  For some reason, she felt safer without it.  That didn't mean that she felt safe. 

In a self-help book, Myra had read that, to fight phobia, she needed to 'feel the fear and do it anyway.' That was hard.  She'd done it with spiders.  She had become the one to capture a spider in a glass, to slide a piece of paper under it, and take it outside to be free.  She'd even pressed back against the fear to lean back out over the cliff the first and last time she ever went rappelling, that time her friends were going and insisted that she come along.  Once she was over that edge and bouncing along the cliff, it was actually fun. 

Her driveway at night was different.  It was a darker, deeper fear, as if the dark place beyond where the light could reach was another world, as if there lay the abyss in all it's dread and splendor.  Walking toward it, especially pushing a loud and awkward bin, was heart-rending.  She was too far away from her front door for retreat, too far from the safety of the garage or the car either.  She always clicked the garage door closed just before she reached her porch, imagining that she had just enough time to leap into the house if something came around from the dark. 


She stood at the bedroom door and told Chuck about the recyclables.  He was already in his pajamas. She hadn't undressed yet.  Justin had already been asleep for an hour. 

"So, should I wait until morning?" she asked.  Chuck just raised one eyebrow at her.  She hated when he was right. It was worse when he didn't even have to say a word to be right.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Did anyone own that sentence?  She felt as though they should. 

She slipped off her slippers and grabbed the crate they kept in the laundry room.  It was mostly full.  She slipped on her garden shoes and wished for the hundredth time that she had a dog. 

She had to put the bin down, turn, and wiggle the front door handle to make sure she wasn't locking herself out.  That would have been a nightmare, even with the key under a rock beside the house.  It was all a nightmare.

The air was balmy and damp.  The afternoon rain still smelled sweet and she thought she could smell blackberries.  She stood at the door, one hand on the knob, and took a deep breath.  Something could sneak into the house behind her after she moved away from it.  Another deep breath.  Breathing was another part of fear management, she remembered. It all looks easy in a book.  When you were busy with the phobia, scenarios played out almost faster than you could adjust to them.  Before she left the safety of the porch light, she clicked the garage door opener.  The light came on in the garage.  More safety, unless you thought about how it highlighted you.  Getting to the garage wasn't too hard.  Though true monsters wouldn't be slowed in the least by eight foot fences, having a fenced back yard helped.  Another reason for them to get a dog, she thought. 

She walked down the sidewalk, trying not to focus on the darkness at the corner of the house.  What lay beyond that edge? She walked to the corner of the garage and dumped the contents of the smaller bin into the larger one. Too much noise.  There were bottles and cans crashing about.  Would that draw even more attention to her? She stood in the garage for a bit, pretending to straighten up Chuck's work bench.  It was quiet but for the dripping from the trees.  She looked out into the darkness as the motion sensor turned off.  It took two steps from safety and some arm-waving to turn it back on. 

It was time. 

Just before she'd begun to move the recycle bin toward that dark place in the driveway, she heard a noise.  It was breathing.  She was sure of it.  She stopped, her heart flopping in her chest.  She struggled to breath silently.

It stopped.

She was almost ready to move again when she heard it again.  She couldn't bear to look away from that dark place by the road.  At any moment, the flow of near-human faces would begin, emerging from the dark and lit with rage from within. 

There it was again, almost like a rasping breath, then a groan.

This was not her abundant imagination.  Was there really a person out there?  Her own voice seemed out of reach. 


The answering silence only made the adrenaline flow into her elbows and knees.  It was funny how you could feel just how far that chemical reaction had reached.

She stared, thought she saw a slight movement, and lost track of time trying to see it again.  Then, she heard the breathing, closer this time.  Myra didn't move.  She couldn't.  The only thing that was moving was her heart, which seemed to be beating itself senseless against her ribs.  The motion sensor went out again.  Nothing could induce her to move for a moment, not even the safety of the motion sensor light.  She was not 'feeling the fear and doing it anyway.'

She took a ragged breath.  It wasn't as good as a deep one, but better than nothing.  Another.  Still staring into the abyss.  Another breath.  Another. 

Then, she silently walked forward the two required steps and waved her arms for the motion sensor.  It came on.

She saw a face.

She screamed.

It growled.

She screamed again but realized, finally, that a black bear had just stood up in her driveway.  She realized that even it was surprised and afraid and she'd just blinded it with her light.  Before she could decide what to do, the bear turned and ran into the dark place by the road. 

She took a minute just to let her breathing come back to normal and just stood with both hands still on the handle of the full recycle bin.

She screamed again when she felt something touch her shoulder.

"Hey, you okay, Hon?" Chuck asked. She slapped his hand away and burst into tears.

"There was a bear," she said into his chest, "in the driveway."

Later, after Chuck had taken the bin down to the road and they'd both walked back into the house, Myra realized that the crate she'd used in the laundry room was still outside by the garage door.  'Feel the fear' or not, she was not going back outside to get that thing until daylight.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I'm glad it wasn't the end of the world, but it is a new day for this blog.

I'm going in a new direction.  I hope you will go with me.

They had spent the day in their usual way, together.  Some things were work. Some things were play.  The kids went with them to walk the dogs and they'd tried to stop at the Red Robin to eat, but the crowds were too big in the streets and, Ryan had said, too unpredictable. 

"Why do people believe this drivel?" Sheila said as they drove their Subaru to the stop light at the Diary Queen. The windshield wipers went in and out of sync with the music on the radio. Ryan thought it was funny how they did that sometimes.

"Not everyone believes it," Ryan said.

"I'm hungry, Mommy.  Can we go through the drive through?" Missy asked.

"Not tonight, hon.  The drive through is closed," Ryan said, fiddling with the wiper frequency to let the rain blur the windshield for a minute. 

"It is not," Josh said.  He was sitting on the driver's side in the back and Ryan had hoped the window was too fogged up for him to see.  The line was wrapped around the building and people were honking.  Josh groaned, knowing that his dad would never wait through all that.  Even he wasn't sure he wanted to wait that long.

"We'll go home and cook up some corn dogs, Missy.  How does that sound?" Ryan said.

"Honey, can't we at least stop at the store for milk and vegetables?" Sheila asked.

"Nope. I've got a bead on this place and it isn't going to get any prettier in the next twenty-four hours."  He clicked the doors locked before the car crept forward to where the homeless man usually stood.  He had handed the man a dollar plenty of times before, but this time, Ryan could see that the man was yelling, shaking his sign, and there were other people standing at the corner, just standing there, despite the constant rain. Ryan had never seen the man yelling before and the crowd of people were totally new.

He just wanted to get his family home.  The light turned green again but the cars only creeped forward.  Where did all these people come from?  The dogs, both golden retrievers, paced in the back.  They'd had a walk, but for some reason, they'd stayed closer than usual and hadn't played with their normal flair.  There hadn't been many people at the dog park, but the ones that had been there weren't chatting the way they usually did.  If Ryan didn't know better, he'd have thought a thunder storm was coming.  He noted that the moon was full.  He didn't know why he'd looked, but he had checked on Starmap Lite and he knew the moon was full behind all of these clouds. 

The light turned red again.  It seemed as though the people on the sidewalks moved closer to the cars when they stopped moving. 

"What the heck are all these people doing out on a night like this?" Sheila said.

"They're hooligans, out to take advantage of all this end-of-the-world stuff." Ryan tried to sound confident, but he was keeping his eyes open. It was only 5:45 at night, but it was winter solstice and it felt much later.  He felt alert, the way he had when he'd gone into the city with his friends to hear live music. He noticed that some of the people on the sidewalk had bottles of wine or beer in their hands.

The light turned green again, but one of the men had leaned into the window of the front car and it wasn't moving.  A couple of people honked their horns. 

Suddenly, a couple of bottles flew out of the crowd and hit the second and third cars on their passenger sides.  A car to their left bolted across the yellow line and drove down the road on the wrong side to the intersection.  Oncoming cars swerved around him like water around a stone.  He reached the light and made a right across them all, honking as he went.  It was a BMW, Ryan noticed, as the car disappeared into the traffic.  At least in that direction, cars were moving a bit.

"Asshole," Ryan muttered.

"I heard that," Missy said. 

"Why don't you sing us a song, Sweetie?" Sheila said.  Ryan gave her the fish-eye when Missy began with 'and Bingo was his name-o,' a song she'd been singing incessantly for the past week.  At least it helped to drown out the sound of the crowd.  Sheila began to sing with her. 

Suddenly, a bottle hit their car and shattered into pieces.  Sheila let out a little scream.  People surged forward and pressed against the car and it rocked a little.  Their damn light was green again, yet not moving and now Ryan wished he'd had the balls to do what Asshole-in-the-BMW had done.  He put the car in reverse, just to be able to move it a little.  That worked with the crowd for a minute, but when he stopped, they went back to pushing.  Someone hit Missy's window with a big mag light and it cracked.

Ryan, helpless to do much else, moved forward in his spot again.  The big mag light popped against the window again and the glass shattered and fell out.  A couple of hands reached in and grabbed at Missy's shoulder.  Sheila got up quickly and tried to grab her little girl out of their reach.  Josh, thinking clearly, reached over and pushed the button to release her seat belt and Sheila, kneeling on the seat with her seat belt still attached grabbed Missy and tried to drag her into the front seat, but the dogs were suddenly in the way, the sweet golden retrievers that almost always followed the instructions to stay in the back of the wagon.  They had transformed into raging beasts and it took a minute before Ryan realized they were protecting Missy.  The hands retreated and Missy quickly crawled into her mom's arms in the front seat. The dogs stood on the seat, their rumps up against Josh, their noses just where the glass should have been.  The low growling wasn't loud, but a small space appeared next to the car.

Ryan's heart was racing.  He was boxed in on three sides with cars and on the fourth with people.  He put the car into reverse yet again and backed up until his bumper gently tapped the car behind him.  Then he turned the wheel as hard right as he could and revved the engine.  The car rocked up over the curb, scraping once one tire cleared, yet still moving deliberately forward. The crowd melted away except for one man in a black jacket.  He hit the grill, fell sideways, and slid down in front of the car. The car lurched up as if Ryan had gone over one end of a speed bump.  People screamed and rushed forward again.  Ryan was driving on the sidewalk now and still moving forward.  The crowd parted for him to pass.  He drove in the grass of the Bank America a bit to go to the right of the light post.  When he went off the curb on the other street, cars made way for him.  He realized, as he drove the car home, that he'd used his turn signal to get back onto the road.  What the hell was that?

Wind and rain coming into the broken window made the ride home distracting and miserable.  No one said a word.  Missy kept her head buried in her mom's shoulder.  Josh looked out of his foggy window, eyes wide.  Sheila looked straight ahead and held Missy in her arms.  And Ryan pressed his lips into a tight line as he drove, carefully again, all the way home. 

By the time he pulled into his driveway, he knew his life was never going to be the same again, even if the world didn't end tonight.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Go West, Part III

I got a little excited and off track when it came to our 'new' truck, but I promised to tell you how we ended up here and that's what I'm going to do.

I think scouting gave Mike an attitude of wanderlust.  Age has him growing roots here, but when he was younger, he was bursting with the potential to go somewhere.  By the time I met him, Mike had hiked in Colorado.  He had gone caving, climbing, and whitewater rafting in West Virginia. He'd paddled the Delaware and Hudson rivers, creeks and lakes in the Pine Barrens, and multitudes of lakes in the Adirondacks. He'd crawled through caves in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. He'd sought adventure in Florida and lost money in Las Vegas.  But when I met him, Mike still lived in New Jersey.

His mom lived in New Jersey.  She was a warm-hearted single mom and a very good cook.  It would be easy for a guy who's twenty-four to find reasons not to leave.  The biggest reason was, no, not her cooking, but that she needed him.  Her cooking came a close second.

I'm pretty good at baking, but most of what I know about cooking came from Mike who wanted me to be able to cook as well as his mom.  I try, but I still can't live up to that.  Macaroni and cheese.  Pot roast.  Cauliflower and cheese sauce.  Chicken fricassee.  Tuna mac.  Chicken soup.  Those are the things Mike has tried to teach me.  I'm pretty good at it now, but his mom was an amazing cook. 

Even after he moved out, Mike would use his key to walk into his mom's apartment, going straight to the fridge where he'd stand there looking into it.

"What are you making me," he'd say.  She was always ready for that one.  I've never managed to throw together a delicious meal the way she could at the last minute.  Mike and I would sit in the living room watching television and she'd chatter away to us, refusing help, all the while conjuring up something that drove my sense of smell nuts until it was ready to eat. 

The meals were amazing, but my favorite part of the night was when we were leaving.  Then, she would hug me so tightly, as if I belonged to her.  Next, she'd grab Mike's head, making him bend down to her level, and she'd kiss the top of his head with both hands still holding his cheeks.  She needed him.  He needed to be fed, to hear her chatter away like a happy bird.  He needed to be kissed that way on the top of his head. 

Oh, I'm going to have to tell you the next part next.  Can you tell this is not easy?  I promise.  I'll tell you.  I will. Tomorrow.  Right now, I want to sit with that memory, the way Mike's mom loved so deeply, the way she included me, and the way it lit up this man that I loved from the inside out.

Thank you for listening, jb

The Color of Dirt

Mike had to throw away a pack of Twinkies.  There was just a little bit of mold growing on it.  Just think - $5000 down the drain, but only if we could just have gotten that one idiot on eBay to buy them.  Remember the guy who spent $10,000 for a twin pack of Twinkies and a pair of cupcakes?  The expiration date on the Twinkies was 10-25-12.  So much for the forty-year shelf life myth.  So now, Mike's eating the $4000 Hostess cupcakes. 

There was a lot we didn't get done this afternoon.  We didn't blow the pine needles off the sidewalk.  I didn't get some paperwork notarized that I needed to sign.  We didn't walk the dog and we didn't get the Christmas lights up.  Bummer!

What we did do was buy a new truck.

I loved our old truck, a Tahoe, but we could only fit five people into it.  It had moss and algae growing on the windows.  The windshield wipers were a little crunchy sometimes, and a gasket leaked so that by the end of last winter, a couple of little mushrooms grew in the back by the tail gate.  I am just not fond of that wet carpet smell.  Unless you've lived in the desert your whole life, you know the smell that I mean.  Still, this truck went on a bunch of good trips, including the trip to Diablo Lake this summer and multiple trips to Scout Camps.  There was Camp Brinkley, Camp Pigott, Camp Sheppard, and Camp Parsons. 

On Friday, our old truck went to the Humane Society where the cash at auction will save some pets and pay for neutering.  That sounds good, doesn't it? 

Our so-called new truck is a Suburban.  It seats eight people!  Isn't that the perfect truck for a Scoutmaster?  Another cool thing is that all the features are just like the old one. Lights and wiper controls. It even drives the same except that the brakes are soft and the whole thing seems to float a bit the way a car does when it needs new shocks. I may have to get used to the extra eighteen inches in the length too, but it already has one good ding in the bumper.  The best part?  It's a really pretty shade of dirt, inside and out.  A car dealer would label it gold or sand, but I couldn't think of a better color for a truck that's going to haul a bunch of teenaged boys for the next ten to fifteen years.  Dirt.  Can you?

I picture that think loaded to the hilt, bikes on the rack in the back and a canoe on the top.  Add five cheerful boys and a couple of adults and you have the perfect vehicle for a camping trip.  Oh, the places we will go. 

This summer, our 'new' truck will head down to Camp Meriwether on the Oregon coast.  I am already planning my part of the trip since I've been told there's a glut of men who have already volunteered to go to camp.  I'm going too, but I'm going to stay somewhere along the coast.  I'm going to walk on the beach, play with the dog, eat out.  Doesn't that sound cool?  I can't wait.

Here's the funny thing - we paid less for our 'new' truck than that crazy guy would have paid for the Twinkies and the Hostess cupcakes that Mike ate or threw out today. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Go West, Part II

Oh, I realized that I bit off more than I could chew when it came to telling you how I ended up going from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest via New Jersey. 

First, there's the pseudo-friend I made in the Midwestern college I attended, a girl who was so mean to me, I don't know how I could ever have called her a friend.  Then, there were a bunch of young single guys that I worked with at Grumman.  There is sex, drugs, and even alcohol in this part of the story. Okay, maybe I wasn't all that crazy, but someday just maybe, I'll tell you about my failed attempt at snorting cocaine.  Maybe it was really a successful failure instead, since I didn't want to get all wrapped up in that kind of thing anyway. There is even a surgery and a gory death in this story.  

Usually, I just sit down and start telling you, but it's not quite that simple.  I can't get to the point where Mike is moving out to the Pacific Northwest without telling you about his mother. 

Can you tell I don't want to tell you about Mike's lovely mother? 

 Thank you for listening, jb