Monday, August 21, 2017

Animal Behavior During the Eclipse

I took Teddy with me to meet in the parking lot where Mike works so that I could share in the use of the eclipse glasses his company handed out. That company had gotten cheaper and cheaper over the years but this is the coolest gift they've ever given us, except for a children's Christmas party years ago with a real Santa and a karaoke Christmas caroling contest. I won the contest.

I told you I could sing.

Teddy. Right. I was talking about Teddy.

So, Teddy jumped happily into the car at 8:45 this morning. He sighed as we drove on the overpass hovering next to the dog park. I heard him from the back seat.

He groaned when we parked next to my husband's car in the company parking lot and I rolled down the windows for good ventilation.

He sniffed my fingers as I got out of the car with my paraphernalia and leaned in the window to explain it to him. Should I be embarrassed at talking with a dog as I stood by myself in a parking lot where I didn't even work?

To hell with what I looked like. Paraphernalia. I brought some stuff.

Small recycled box
Notebook
Pin
Two pair of binoculars
Pen
Welding Glasses
Snacks

Now, Teddy thought the snacks smelled good. Pepperoni and apple chips. Well, he wasn't much interested in the apple chips.

I lined my kit up on the hatchback. My notebook slid off. I picked it up. My pen cap skittered onto the asphalt and rolled under my tire. I got down onto one knee and retrieved it. The pages of my open notebook fluttered and flipped. I took the pin, poked a hole in the box and used it to pin the pages down on one side.

The hole in the box gave me a cookie shadow the size of this capital O, only with a bite taken out of one side. I managed to balance my notebook and pen in one hand and the box held in the air in the other to get a shaky shadow to fall onto my notebook. As I drew the outline, my pen and my hand obliterated the box shadow. My notebook was evidence of a pathetic science experiment.

Teddy stuck his nose out the window.

"This is boring," he seemed to say.

"Get over it," I said out loud. Nick was somewhere East of where I stood, watching with his friends. I didn't have to feel any embarrassment over my geekness. I love this shit.

I pulled the caps off a pair of binoculars. No, I was not about to look through them at the sun. Mike hadn't yet appeared and I didn't want to be blindly wandering around in the parking lot when he did. I aimed the googly-eyed end of the binoculars toward the sun and shifted it around, looking beyond them to the ground.

Shit. It didn't work.

I almost gave up. One more shake of the binoculars and I was ready to throw them back into the front seat.

Matching crescents danced on the side of my car.

Cool! They looked like the eyes of the wondering emoji. They were poised in the center of the shadow of my head. It looked like I had googly eyes!

Just then, Mike showed up with the eclipse glasses. He said hello to Teddy while I put the glasses on to see. They were cheap paper glasses and when I put them on, I couldn't see a thing until I looked in the direction of the sun. It was beautiful! These things were great. Mike worked for the coolest company ever.

Teddy was happy for a moment.

I handed Mike one of the seltzers I brought and pushed a pepperoni stick out of the package for him. This, Teddy indicated, was a little interesting. Then, I showed Mike how I was tracing the outline of the eclipse onto my notebook as it progressed. He laughed as I dropped my notebook, then my cardboard box. And the image shook so hard it was hard to capture it on my notebook. I put everything down and showed him the crescents through the binocular. They turned the eclipse upside down.

I hadn't realized they flipped the eclipse. Teddy pulled his head back in the car and laid down with a grunt. No pepperoni for dogs. Boring again.

Mike and I took turns with the glasses. You could almost see the progress, but it wasn't even the peak, 92% in the Seattle area, and my eyes were already tired. We wandered away from the car to look at the shadows from the trees. There were some great crescents on the surface of a clean white SUV parked next to a tree. I took a dozen pictures of someone's car in the parking lot of Mike's company. I hoped no security guard came outside to ask me what I was doing.

Teddy stuck his nose out the window as if we were going on this great walk without him. Crying.

Then, we came back to the car for the grand finale. The glasses showed the narrowest sliver of sun. No diamond ring. No corona. We weren't within the band of totality. But it did get unnaturally dark for a clear morning and the temperatures dropped to a noticeable degree. I shivered. Teddy put his chin up on the arm rest inside the door. Totally boring. No park. No pepperoni. No walk.

Then, Mike and I took even more time to watch the crescent roll up and over the top of the moon. I tried the welding glasses, but everything was way too bright, so I put them away. My binocular crescents showed me with humble eyes on my shadow. I took a couple more pictures, balancing the binoculars on my shoulder to keep the images steady.

Then, Mike needed to get back to work. One lost hour of productivity for every worker in the county. I wonder how much that cost? With Mike gone, Teddy was even more disinterested.

I loitered in the parking lot for a little longer, unabashedly showing people who wandered by that the shadows on the white SUV were still very decorative. Teddy crawled into the front seat and prepared to take a nap. Mike sent me a photo of a white wall with leaves shadows on it, crescents making it look like an artist had gone overboard with his curves.

And then it was over. I gathered my notebook, my pen, the stupid cardboard box, the binoculars, and the great little pair of eclipse glasses that Mike had left for me to use. It was over.

I moved Teddy out of my seat and sat down. He hopefully hopped into the back seat. Time to go to the park?

I then proceeded to look at Facebook and Twitter photos and videos for twenty minutes before reluctantly acknowledging that this event of a lifetime was over, at least until six years from now when we could see it all over again in Indiana.

Then, finally, we went to the park. And finally, Teddy had a grin on his face. Now, this was great, dogs to play with and trees to pee on and water to swim in and fuck the eclipse.

I loved the eclipse.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, August 14, 2017

'Deadlines' for Moth


I have this recurring nightmare. I'm at college on the first day of finals. I have no idea where my class is because I haven't gone to a single class the whole semester. I have one class left before I graduate yet I know I'm not prepared. Today, I have my final in a subject I barely understand. I can't afford to fail this class. I don't want to have to stay here and take it over again. I don't want my education to be incomplete. My future depends on it. My husband has graduated and found a job in another city. He has already moved there to get our lives set up. I so desperately want to go with him. I so desperately want to pass this class if I can only figure out which room is the right room and remember one or two details from the heavy tome I read the night before.

Usually, I'm standing in the university halls in my underwear.

I went to Purdue. I did graduate. I swear I did. It was decades ago. It was the era of big hair, Jordache jeans, jelly shoes, fanny packs, and the Rocky Horror picture show. Let's do the time warp again. I know I'm bragging, but bear with me. I'm nervous. I have a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

But in this dream I am there at college all over again. Over and over, I have to graduate from that tight-assed school with a degree that doesn't suit me. I have to prove that I am worthy to go off to live my life with my husband. I don't want to live in a dorm one more year. I don't want to have Freshman roommates. I don't want to go out on a Friday night to keggers and frat parties and beer. Oh my.

I'm fifty-seven fucking years old. I am too old and fat for this shit. I really am. I'm a stay-at-home mom, a housewife, a woman of leisure, except when my husband gets the idea that we need to spend our precious time volunteering. I spent ten years volunteering at my son's schools. I still volunteer there. I spent ten years volunteering for his Boy Scout troop. I'm almost done with that, but now and then, I still get a phone call from a Scout who doesn't know he's supposed to say hello on the phone and tell the person on the other end of the line who's calling and why he's calling. Last Sunday, I volunteered for seven hours in a tiny kitchen helping to feed 127 people at the Forest Theatre's last show of the season. I had a good time. I was busy, but this wasn't what you would call a deadline. None of it is what you'd call a deadline.

I don't really have deadlines. If I don't show up to volunteer, what are they going to do, fire me? If I don't make dinner one night, is my sixteen year old boy and adult husband going to starve to death?

So, here I am. I'm fifty-seven exhausted years old. My son is in high school, practically raised except for the finishing touches.

I don't have deadlines.

And yet I still have these fucking dreams. Over and over. I wake up from them in a sweat. I'm breathing heavily. I want to roll my husband over in his bed and make sure I'm not sleeping in a dorm with an oversized pillow instead.

I wonder if it's God talking to me. Or the "Universe," you know with a capital 'U.' Or maybe it's just the deeper parts of my own brain, talking in its sleep.

"Jules, you're not finished yet," it says in a stage-whisper. "You do have a deadline to meet. A dead. Line. Get it? If you don't get this stuff done soon, you will never be able to do it. Ever."

Did you know that Van Gogh did most of his paintings within four years? He was practically manic, trying to get them all done.

I sometimes wonder if he had recurring nightmares about school. Did he worry about dead lines? Did he dream that he painted in the fields of hay in his underwear?

Finally, after ten years or so of these nightmares, I realized what they were all about. The end of my ultimate education was approaching. I still didn't know a thing, I mean really know. If I was going to take that final step, I knew I wasn't ready. I would never be ready. But I had to take it because if I didn't, I leave one huge thing incomplete. And I never get a chance to complete it.

And so I am here, telling you my story, hoping I know enough to pass, feeling like I could easily fail, feeling like I'm standing here in this hall, in my underwear.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sewing with Cats

Blitz is standing on my lap while I type. He's purring but he wants both of my hands to pet him so any time I get going with two-handed typing, he lifts one paw out of the embrace of my elbows and taps the keyboard. He likes the cursor, a bug that can move in such tight circles his eyes feel a little drunk.

We could sit here like this for hours, my left hand holding back his paw. What can I do with the cursor to make Blitz's head bob back and forth in a ridiculous way? What can he permanently change in one tap of his paw?

He and I had an adventure yesterday.

See, Mike, Nick and I are going to the Renaissance faire on Saturday and suddenly Nick needs me to make him a tunic. It isn't enough to go shopping once we get to the faire like most people do. No. I have to make him a tunic so he can appear there as if he's this uber-Medieval man who made his own costume from leather and twine.

"You can make a tunic, right?" Mike said. I usually quilt, preferring the two-dimensional nature of a blanket to the three-dimensional nature of covering my butt.

"Mom, do you like sewing stuff like this?" Nick asked.

We were already at the fabric store. The two men had already chosen the fabric, a slick linen while I searched for a pattern I might be able to follow. Nothing from Vogue. I was not ready for Vogue. Nick held out the bolt to me. I'd like to have a skirt made out of this linen.

"I can do that, but in two days?" I said. Mike gave me the secret-code look. It said, 'Look, the boy has expressed an interest in something besides video games. I don't care how much money we spend or how much time it takes for us to support that but you are going to make this tunic, so help me God.'

"Yeah, honey. I like making costumes. I'm not sure about the collar. I've never done a collar before, but I'll give it a shot." I held the bolt out to the sales lady behind the counter, trying to smile faked confidence into Nick's face. "I can figure it out." The sales lady looked at me dubiously.

I probably had made a collar some time in my deep past, but I didn't explain to Nick about the trauma of learning how to sew and restitching seams so many times that the fabric eventually ripped at the seam line. At nine, I could not sew in a straight line to save my life. But this is Nick and I would do anything for Nick, especially if it pulled him away from video games. Mike is working on a leather project with him. At least I don't have to cut and stitch leather.

Fifty-three dollars later, we have the makings and the pattern of a tunic. We could have bought a tunic with a lace-up yoke and puffy sleeves for thirty five. But no.

Yesterday, I woke up early. How the hell would I be able to make a tunic with puffy sleeves and a real collar in two days? I pulled out the wad of Kleenex they use to print the patterns, expecting them to shred as they came out of the envelope. I unfolded them on the pool table. I looked at the directions. Collars. Oh, and I'd have to figure out how to sew a yoke at the neck and turn it right side in. I tried to sew it, turn it, and stitch on the collar in my mind. Mush.

I needed pins. Pins and scissors.

I ran upstairs to get my good scissors and a pin cushion and ran back down. God help anyone who used those scissors for anything but fabric. I ran back upstairs for a pair of scissors to cut the paper pattern.

The nice thing about this sewing set-up that I have is that I get a great workout doing it. The pool table is generally clear enough that I use that as a cutting table for any projects. It's downstairs. My sewing machine is upstairs. This is my stairmaster, forgetting my scissors and pin cushion. Up and down, up and down, until I've done my thirty minutes of aerobics or more.

When I got back downstairs, the pile of tissue was on the floor. Blitz stood a foot away, nonchalant. There was a single hole in the top layer of the pattern.

I glared at Blitz and picked up the wad of tissue. One small piece slid out from my grip and Blitz was on it, all the feigned disinterest gone from his face.

"No, you do not get to play with these," I said. I'm sure he understood what I said, but he's a cat. He had no interest in complying.

I spread the linen out onto the table and ran my hands over it. A skirt is two pieces, a bell and a waistband. Pockets are easy. No. I needed to learn how to make a tunic, one with a yoke and a collar.

The pattern for the tunic had six pieces but I had to distinguish them from the pants, the scarf, and the pirate band that wrapped around the model's heads. I began to cut the tissue with the cheap scissors, separating the six pieces from the others. Blitz leaped onto the table and sat down on the fabric.

"Get off," I said, trying to be gentle as I pushed him away from the pile of already-torn tissue. His naked butt pressed into the linen and he used one claw in the fabric to resist. His intent was apparent. The crinkly paper was a perfect new toy. It would shred into a million entertaining pieces.

I lifted him off the fabric and put him on the floor. I had just smoothed out the fabric again when he leaped back on. So, I moved the pile of tissue to the other side of the pool table and finished sorting them. Before I cut any of this, I thought, I'd need to measure Nick. I was just getting proficient enough with a pattern to add length here and subtract width there. I ran upstairs to get Nick out from under the spell of the television.

Because I was making this tunic for him, he submitted to the measurements. He's growing up. Even a year ago, he would have grumbled at the interruption even if it was something I was trying to do for his benefit.

When I got back downstairs, Blitz dropped a straight pin from his mouth. I screamed. Blitz bolted.

"Nick, I need you!"

Nick and I spent the next half hour trying to coax Blitz out from behind the suitcases in the under-the-stairs closet and examine him ears to tail. Nick held him belly up while I checked his mouth for damage and rubbed his neck and belly to see if he had any pain. I called my vet while I continued to rub, squish, and stare at Blitz. Blitz stretched out and let me massage him all over. The vet said that if he had anything in his mouth or had swallowed a pin, he would be in distress. This cat wasn't in distress. She said we should probably keep an eye on him for the next twenty-four hours just in case.

That cat needed more than one eye on him.

When I got back to the pool table, there were five straight pins scattered around the pin cushion. I was always careful with my straight pins. I had hated getting them stuck in my feet as a kid and always picked up each one whenever one fell. Blitz jumped back onto the pool table.

"Oh, no you don't," I said. He glared at me as I stuck his pointy toys back into the pin cushion and swept under the fabric with my hand for any more. It came out with one pin stuck into it. Great. I would bleed on the tunic before it was even cut. The cats had never messed with my pin cushion in my sewing room. Now, suddenly, it was a toy or a hazard, depending on your perspective. I reached up and placed the pin cushion on a high shelf.

Then, I smoothed out the fabric again, nice fabric.

I gathered tissue pieces from the floor where they'd floated when I'd screamed and Blitz had scattered. There was another tear in one of them. I laid them down onto the fabric, trying to replicate the drawing in the instructions. The front and back had to be cut on the fold. The sleeves would need to be less puffy to fit the rest.

Seth jumped onto the pool table and stretched out on the other end of the fabric, shifting a piece of tissue out of his way. Nice fabric. It would make a good cat bed. I picked him up and put him on the floor. By the time I straightened up, Blitz jumped onto the table and dislodged another piece of the pattern.

I was getting nothing done. Not one thing.

I needed to move the fold in the linen to make it work. I picked each cat up and put them on the floor and lifted the linen by one corner before they could jump back onto it. Tissues floated away. Blitz batted at the long piece of fabric as I tried to move the fold to about a quarter of its width. Before I spread it back onto the pool table with the fold just right, Blitz jumped back up and sat down on one end.

"Neat game," he seemed to say. "Your turn."

I crawled under the pool table and located each of the six pattern pieces. I grabbed the pin cushion off the high shelf and tried to hold it while I pinned the tissue for the front of the tunic to the fold in the fabric. Blitz played with the little strawberry that hung from the top of the pin cushion while I held it.

Just then, Mike walked in the front door. He was home from a hard day at work.

"Hi hon," he said looking from one cat to the other. "You having fun?"

Thank you for listening, jb