Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's spring

Yesterday the girls stopped by to practice their wiles on my sons.
First they lolled on the couch, like puppies, legs and arms intertwined. 
Then Melissa migrated to the recliner, closer to Nick,
who sat politely in another chair, doggedly making conversation
in the face of tight jeans and light laughter.
Jade followed Sam out the back door, 
around the garden, 
along the side of the house, 
and into the den. 
They sang their favorite teen anthems, 
watching fractals on the iMac screen, 
voices hollow like lonely coyotes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Snakes and snails and jellyfish tales

My son Nick and I went to Fort Clinch State Park on Tuesday, joining other home schoolers for a day at the beach. It rained most of the trip up there (Fort Clinch is an hour north of our house, just outside of Fernandina). Nick was driving, which gave him lots of opportunities to practice not hydroplaning and also gave me the chance to practice not putting my feet through the floorboards in a pointless effort to get him to slow down. We outran the storms and got to the beach in time to meet everyone in the group leaving the beach to go to the other side of the park. Apparently the winds were so strong that no one could swim and they were all getting sand blasted. 

When the thunder and lightning finally stopped, we all drove back to the beach and the kids jumped in the water again, until someone noticed that there were large fish jumping around just offshore. This could mean that the fish were very happy about the storm being over or that something bigger was chasing them so we called all the kids back out of the water again, just to be safe.

After an hour or so, all the big fish having swum away or been eaten, the kids ventured back into the water to play in the waves for a while. Then, just as we were about to pack everything up and head for the nearest pizza place, Nick was stung on the leg by a jellyfish. 

He flew out of the water, and was immediately inundated with advice, all of it strangely similar. "Pee on it!" "Pee on it!" "Pee on it!" While he limped off to the restroom, I gathered up our stuff and tried very hard not to think about the logistics of peeing on your own leg. I also tried to remember where the nearest grocery store was along our route. Did you know that vinegar will take away a lot of the sting? So will urine, which is handier, but of which there is generally a limited amount available.

We ended up stopping at Wal-mart. I had to go in wearing only my bathing suit and a straw hat, but personal embarrassment is not even on the same scale as a jellyfish sting. 

I bought some barbecue chips to cheer Nick up along with the vinegar and also a container of Accent, which is pure monosodium glutamate. Chris, who lived on a boat in the Caribbean for twenty years and so should know, told me to make a paste from it and smear it on the sting on Nick's leg, then wrap it and leave it alone for two hours. Then she said to take a credit card and scrape off the paste, going against the grain of the hair on his leg to remove any lingering stings. 

Nick talked about his injury all the way home (an hour, remember?). "This isn't at all like what you see in cartoons," he said. "In cartoons, they make it seem as though it's like being shocked. Remember in 'Finding Nemo' and they go through the jellyfish and every time a jellyfish touches them you hear a fizzing noise, like an electric shock? It's nothing at all like that. It's more like stinging nettles. It feels like someone hit me in the leg with stinging nettles."

It's one of the things that worried Nick when we first moved to Florida, being stung by jellyfish or eaten by sharks. Well, now he knows what a jellyfish sting feels like and he's proud of himself for living through it. I don't even want to think about the other.

Nick is hoping for scars. "I'll show it to some little kid and tell him, 'Yep, that's where I got stung by a jellyfish.'"

I'll be sporting scars of my own from this experience. Fortunately, they're all on the inside. I'm already making plans to pack vinegar and Accent in the beach bag, right next to the lightning rods and shark repellant.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

I'm an asshole

The following is a short story about what it might be like when everybody in the country has a robotic car. Whoopee!

The alarm goes off and I leap out of bed. I'm going to work today!

I hit the bathroom, get dressed as quickly as I can, run into the kitchen to grab cold pizza, slip on my shoes, and then fly out the door. I run to the garage, key in my code and jump in my car. Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

Let's see, what shall I be today? A senior citizen? A crazy teenager? Nope. Today I feel like an asshole. I scroll to "Asshole" on the console screen, and immediately a nasty voice rips out from the speakers. "Hey, buttwipe! Put your seat belt on!" I buckle up and immediately my car is flying backwards out the driveway, narrowly missing my neighbor and her stupid dog, and bumping a bicyclist on the sidewalk. Everyone glares at me and I laugh maniacally! I love work days!

Zoom! Now we're racing to the signal light at the end of my street. It's just turned yellow and I think, Oh poopy! and then sudden acceleration pushes me back into my seat. Whoohoo! My car is going for it! Squealing through the turn, four seconds into the red, we cut off four lanes of traffic and everyone's car honks like crazy. I crank open the moon roof and flip them all off using both hands!

Whoops! We're being tailed. Looks like someone pushed the "Homicidal Maniac" button this morning! Damn! I wanted that option but my wife said we couldn't afford the insurance. It's a hot looking car, too. A big mudder with chrome everything, tractor-sized tires and black window tinting. It looks like pure evil coming up behind us! My heart is thumping so hard I think I might pee my pants.

Screee! The truck comes up to my car's rear bumper and jams on the brakes hard enough to give its passenger whiplash. I try to see into the front of the truck but the windshield is too dark. Is there anyone even in that thing? There must be. Cars don't drive themselves. They drive us! Anywhere, anytime, anyhow!

I can't even imagine how it must have been before, when you had to actually do things to get somewhere! Turn a steering wheel, shift gears, push pedals with your feet, sometimes all three at once! And you had to be so alert and careful! You had to take a test and everything before! This is so much more fun! Every day is like a brand new rollercoaster ride!

Now my car starts swerving in and out of traffic. This is one of my favorite parts of the ride. My body rocks back and forth in my seat and I close my eyes, but not for long. It's so much more exciting when you watch the whole way there!

There are at least four other cars doing the same thing on this stretch of road. "Assholes of the world, unite!" I shout. We come within a frog hair of each other, weaving a tight, four-stranded braid from Old St. Augustine Road right up to San Jose Boulevard. Ha ha ha! My stomach hurts from laughing so much, but I feel so alive! This is such a great way to start the day!

I look at the other cars' passengers. They're all laughing, too. I'm so so glad I decided to be an asshole today!

With a jerk and squeal of the tires we jump a curb into the office parking lot, beating out some poor sod who was patiently waiting for a spot to open up in front of the chiropractor's office. My car yells at me to get out. "What are you waiting for, buttface?"

I'm still gasping for breath, so it's hard to get words out. But I have to. "Take me back home again, car." I've forgotten to bring dry pants again. Damn it! That's the third time in two weeks! Oh well, I'll just have to step on it to back again before it's time to open up. I wave to Mrs. Godin, standing outside the doors to the building. "Be back in a minute," I yell out the window.

Then I scroll down the menu on the console and select "Nascar." Whee!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mr. Coffee haiku

The coffeemaker is my friend
Faithful dispenser of caffeinated warmth
I don't deserve you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Modest Proposal to Help Our Libraries in the Form of an Imaginary Conversation with Sue the Librarian

"Eight thousand, six hundred and forty-two dollars," Sue said, looking expectant.

I stopped in the act of pulling out the debit card from my wallet and gaped at the librarian. 

"That can't be right," I said. "I mean, I know I have some overdue books, but they can't be more than a day past due. Could I see…?" I craned my neck, trying to peer around the monitor in front of her.

"I can print out the charges, if you like," Sue said, helpfully. I nodded and she handed me a sheet of paper. I quickly scanned it and sure enough, there were the four books, there was the due date, and there was the charge per second. Wait. Charge per second?

"The library charges per second now for overdue books?" I squeaked.

"Yep, since last month," said Sue cheerfully. "The board decided that with this new policy we'll be able to make up our budget shortfall in no time at all. I've taken in so much money in the past two days that we've been able to re-instate our staff salaries at the investment bank president wage level, plus go from being open from noon to three to nine to five again and put a swimming pool in the employee lounge. If this keeps up, we may be able to add a whole 'nother day to the schedule! That'd put us at four days a week!" She seemed very happy.

"That's great, Sue. I'm glad about the wages and the new pool and things. It's just I don't think I have the whole amount  in my account right now," I said, apologetically.

"No problem," she chirped. "We'll just put you into our special low interest rate loan program. You'll be able to continue to borrow materials and the monthly payments are really affordable. Now, which card design would you like? The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle or For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway? Of course, you can also choose any favorite book or movie for your very own personal imprint." 

"Um, the caterpillar will be fine," I said. A line was starting to form behind me.  

Sue tapped some more information into her computer. "I'll just transfer all this information from your regular membership card and then pull up your current credit report, and hey, good news! You pre-qualify for the Gold Preferred Benefits program!" 

"Is that good?" I asked uncertainly. 

"It sure is!" Sue beamed at me, then handed me a credit card with a picture of a cute little worm made from bits of colored paper on it. It was still warm.

"You'll get your first statement in a week to ten days. There's no annual fee, zero percent APR for six months on new fines, and it's accepted at all Hooverville Public Libraries. Plus, as a special added bonus, you can pay your fines online and eliminate ever again having to own up to your bad habits in front of God and everybody. Thank you for borrowing from the South Middle Ipswich Library East. Next!"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Alice TV

I click the phone icon in the Skype window on my laptop and hear the funny bloopity blip noise as it makes a call. One ring, two rings, and Alice picks up.
"There's no video. Are you decent?"
"Not quite."
(Panicked pause) "Are you alone?"
(Laughter) "Yes, I'm alone! I'm just not camera-ready!"

The video comes up and I see my daughter hastily smoothing down the sweater that I sent her last month. She's got a job teaching English to elementary school students in South Korea. We Skype each other because it's free, fun and surprising. I make a mental note to let her do the calling from now on. It's no problem for me to answer a Skype call. I live with two teenagers, so I'm always "camera-ready."

Alice settles in on her bed with the laptop in front of her. I can see the cherry blossoms coming out from either side of her head, left over decor from a previous tenant who lived in her apartment. To her right I can see part of a tiny refrigerator with a microwave on top of it. On her left are the pictures in CD covers that I sent out in the last package. I notice that she's changed some of them out.

The biggest drawback to using Skype to communicate is that the video also contains a miniature video of me in the corner. My eyes are always drawn to pictures of myself, I guess because I find myself endlessly fascinating.

Right now I think that my nose looks too big, so I scoot back a bit from the laptop and that makes my features more proportional. Unfortunately, my face is now a tiny circle in the middle of a big rectangular space. The graphic designer in me can't live with that, so I angle the laptop cover so that my head is more toward the top of the screen. My daughter is too polite to notice me not paying attention to her while all this is going on and continues to tell me about her day.

She's recounting how she taught her fifth grade class, all boys, how to play a drinking game she learned in college, called the Five Finger Game. Each person holds up one hand and swears that they never, ever did a certain thing, usually something sexual. Anyone else who can't make the same claim has to put a finger down and take a drink.

With the fifth graders there is no drinking or talk about sex. Instead they treat it as an opportunity to punish one of their classmates by deciding in advance who is going to lose the game and then craftily asking questions that will make this happen as quickly as possible. First person: "My name is not (insert name of agreed-upon-loser-boy here)." Second through fourth persons: "I am not holding up (four, three, two, one) fingers."

Alice, being a nice person and with no previous experience of other people's children, is appalled by this ("They're so mean!") and decides to make new rules. No one can use the "I am not holding up however many fingers" gambit and the teacher (Alice) gets to go first. They agree. She holds up one hand and says, "I am not Korean." Much whining ensues and then they pull themselves together and working as a team, eliminate her forthwith from the game. She doesn't care. She got them all down one finger, mwahahaha!

It's two in the morning in Busan, South Korea. I know she's tired but she wants to talk some more and I let her. I am happy to watch and listen while she recounts her attempts to purchase shampoo with only the pictures on the labels to guide her (she doesn't speak or write Korean). She laughs, gets up to check to see if her dinner is done cooking, bounces back on the bed, peers over my shoulder when one of her brothers passes behind me and calls out to him to come and talk.

We take turns showing each other what's new since the last time we Skyped. She shows me some illustrations that she's drawing of "Bob," a cartoon character that she uses in her classes to communicate tricky vocabulary words like "thin" and "fat" and "handsome" and "ugly." I show her the dead shrubbery in the back yard that her father spray-painted gold and silver in time for Christmas.

Skyping with Alice reminds me of when she was in high school and she used to come sit on my bed late at night and tell me everything she was thinking or feeling. I would drink it all in, thinking that it wouldn't last forever and that I should enjoy her company while I could. It wasn't long after that she left for a year to go to school in France. Then she went to Senegal for six months during her junior year at college. Now she's halfway around the world. She's planning to go to France again next year.

With Skype, I hear the sound of her voice and watch the movement of her hands and enjoy the play of emotions on her face. I'm so glad I can have this, so grateful that she shares her life with me this way. It's like having my own little reality channel called Alice TV. I don't know how long it'll be on or when the next episode will be. I only know that I never get tired of watching it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I'm posting to a different blog

Hey everyone, anyone. I've begun a new blog called Runs, Shoots and Leaves. The link is on the right here. It's more of a photo blog than anything else. I've been taking lots of pictures again and just wanted to share them. So take a look, if you like and let me know what you think.

I've been having some difficulty writing. The pictures are kind of a way of getting back to writing without actually telling myself that it's writing. It's supposed to be fun and it is, it is. I like photography. A lot. Anyway, hopefully this will help me say what I want to say without freaking out about it all the time.