Thursday, November 25, 2010

Flight Risk

Fly?  No.  Thanks.  I'm afraid.  Not so much of terrorists.  Or engine failures.  Nor Marshalls with loaded weapons in pressurized cabins.  Nope.  It's the TSA screening I'm scared of.  Firstly, I think I might have foot odor.  Second, I don't profile well.  I LOOK like someone who likes fire and enjoys blowing stuff up, because well, I do, but in mostly innocent ways.  Also, I have lots of pockets.  I like pockets.  You never know when you'll need a dog treat or an aspirin, a blob of grease, or a firecracker.  Or a serious pocketknife.  And like most hoarders, its MY stuff, and I don't want to lose it, even if I don't know exactly what all it is.  And like a ten-year-old, I can empty my pockets for a full ten minutes without ever finding what makes the detector beep.  So, I'd get searched.  Strip searched.  And I might like it.  And before you know it, I'd be working my way back to the head of the security line, missing my flight for a patdown.  Soon I'd be one of those airline miles junkies who buy houses and cars with credit cards to get enough accumulated to fly to a European airport only to immediately reboard the plane,  and fly back with two friskings under my belt.  I'd know all the cavity specialists by name and have favorites, a notch on the handle of my carry-on for each experience.  I'd be hopelessly hooked and homeless in an airport in Newark.  And my family would find me and intervene, sending me to strip search rehab, and I'd have to memorize and live by the two-step program, and I would try, really try, but one night on the street two uniforms would walk by and one would ask a question I didn't hear, and the other would answer "Search me?", and I would fall to my knees and cry "NO... NO!  Search MEEE!" 
     So.  Don't ask me to fly.  Besides,  I don't have a passport.  Or money. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Grubbin it up here, Boss

- Wolves.   I was evidently raised by wolves.  I never considered that someone would complain if I drank from the carton if nobody else in the household drank milk, but complain they did, which left me with a choice; to pursue my vice in secret by swilling from behind the fridge door, or to be blatant and challenging about it, growling as I guard the box in my embrace. 
- You might say "There is another option!", but I tested that theory.  I bought an extra carton and marked one 'WOLVES'.  I didn't touch the one unmarked, and it went untouched.  So much for others turned away by my habit.  You might also suppose that I could just use a glass.  The washing seems a bit wasteful, and would also require me to think and behave differently.  This mind is besieged with requests for change without having the ability to even prioritize, much less act upon them.  So, I openly imbibe in spite of the obvious health effects of whole milk and domestic discord.
- Then, in the workplace, another request for wolflessness.  In a nondescript print on the anonymous dry erase board in the break room, someone had dared to display "NO GRUBBING IN THE M&Ms!!  USE A CUP!!".  Now, first of all, the wolves who raised me never bought a pound of candy, ever.  And if they had, they would never have left it displayed  in a bowl for just anyone to help themselves.  And if that accident of fate WERE to occur, nobody would be surprised at the multitude of snarling snouts that would quickly empty the bowl, much less complain that no one knew where those snouts had been.  So I am amazed.  Amazed that I work for a company that actually makes an effort to fatten it's employees.  Amazed that those well fed wage earners cannot refuse the beckoning of the sweet bowl to the tune of a pound of peanuts and dark chocolate per day.  Amazed that, evidently, some of my coworkers, instead of just whisking a handful to their desks, are evidently sorting, swirling, and jumping in the candy bowl like children in a McDonald's ball pit! (We all know what disease laden bacteria breeding infestations THOSE are!)
- The guilt begins to settle in.  I think about all the places my fingers have traveled in the course of the day.  Desktops, keyboards, stair rails, door knobs, steering wheels, shared pens and pencils, eating implements, armpits, and WORSE!  I DO wash my hands several times per day, but I certainly cannot guarantee the contents of the water I wash them in.  I feel horrible that at least one among my colleagues is living in fear of what the rest of us may transmit to the common vital m&m source.  So, I resolve to do something about it. 
- It's clear to me that behavior needs to change, and it's very unlikely the message on the board will change it.  There are twenty people who will scoff at the writing, give the bowl a swirl, and trail a vapor of chocolate breath back to their desks without another thought.  A few concerned citizens with less to do will stop to ponder for a moment whether 'tis a greater sin to use an extra styrofoam cup (putting the company's 'green' image at stake) or to palm at the risk of being confronted.  (The latter always wins.)  One or two will shrug, fill a cup to the brim, and take half home at the end of the day for the rat terrier they resent and wish to poison. (Sorry. Bit of a tangent there.)  But, obviously, the note on the board will cause none of these folks to adapt in a big way.  Humans are resistant to change, and it occurs to me that it would be much easier to change the viewpoint of one person than thirty, and I set about finding out who wrote the note. 
- "Grubbin' it up here, Boss!", I say to the receptionist, while I shake the bag.  She laughs, so I know it wasn't her that wrote the note. 
-  "I've never heard you use 'grub' before!", I say. 
-  "Nope.  And you won't, either." (Denying her involvement.) 
-  "But I heard you...", and I point to the message on the board.  "Uh, Uh."
-  "Were they really upset?   Did they talk about it?"  
-  "Don't know.  That showed up on the weekend.  I was off."  (Now we're getting somewhere.) 
-  "Probably just one of those night shift mood things.  She sort of has a point, if you think about it." 
-  "HEEE" (quick to the defense of the sisterhood) "won't score points being bossy, even if he's tired."
-  And so I've got my man;  male, night shift on the weekend, and surely not the marathoner or the guy who takes the newspaper to the bathroom for his morning 'constitutional'.
-  "Grubbin' it up here, Boss!", I say while shaking the bag the next morning, and every shift change thereafter for a week.  I leave an article describing the permitted number of bug parts in the M&M manufacture process.  I disinfect the desk surfaces before leaving, hinting that we all should, but only to him.  I mention that the cloth chairs he uses must be loaded with dust mites in that they are inhabited 24 hrs per day.  I wonder out loud about the air filtration in our old building.  I leave out the link to the video site that shows disgusting things that happen in commercial kitchens. 
-  Where my help for this poor tortured individual ends, others catch on and take up the slack.  Taped next to the message on the break room board is an empty candy wrapper and a note; "$1 from the vending machine in the hall! - Ungrubbed!".  Someone else Saran-wraps the candy bowl.  A few candies get left on a disinfecting tissue on the table next to a filter mask and safety glasses.  A fake audit form is filled out concerning the spread of deadly diseases on workplace snacks citing specifically items that don't melt in your hands.
- The pressure is relentless, and our poor burdened soul eventually succumbs.   As I walk in one morning, he picks up the M&M bag from the break table in full sight of the entire crew.  "Grubbin' it up here Boss!, he says as he sticks his bare hand into the bag.  "Grubbin' it up!"
- I'm thrilled I could help.  It occurs to me, though, that I, raised by wolves, might be blessed.  Wolves are happy to have a job.  They'd be thrilled to have something to eat without risking death to get it.  They can't worry about all of the parasites and stomach upsets hovering on every surface they touch.  They maintain an ordered, cooperative society that caters to the best interest of the pack.  They are civil to each other, because that is in their own interest.  There are worse ways to be raised.  And by the way, on the rare occasion that I can't walk past a dark chocolate covered peanut, I now use a napkin because, raised by wolves, I hadn't ever thought about it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Last Bob

- He only became "Last Bob" because one day the previous Bob just slipped into the trees and was never heard from again. But from the moment Last Bob became "Last", he was special. Now that he, too, is gone, the world is a sadder place.


- Don't get me wrong, I didn't always like Bob or understand him. His jaundiced skin, flippant manner, and relentless droll smile rankled me when my friend brought him along to play golf. I am a traditionalist. His presence denigrated the game. No real player would ever be seen with Bob on the course. Not that any of US ever broke ninety. After all, we're in Alaska. But we do all love and respect the game, and Bob's high visibility and doofey grin eliminated the sham that we are anything but hackers even before anyone witnessed the result of our stilted swings. I hated Bob because of what his just being there said about ME, until I got to know him, and where he was coming from.

- Bob, I'm sure you understand by now, was a golf ball. Not just any ball, of course. He was the cheapest chunk of junk plastic manufactured by the Wilson Staff company for abuse on a golf course. He was limey yellow, with a decal of the goofball kids cartoon character, Sponge Bob, smirking from his dimples. The sound and feel of a Sponge Bob ball off the club face is that of a chisel on granite. Bob is the ball that bad players pull out on the water holes, the lost ball you find while looking for your own but don't pick up, the odd one you find mixed in with range balls, the ball nobody wants. Bobs are reject balls, and I questioned him being brought into the cart.

- My friend, you see, is often an intense person when it comes to golf. He only learned to play as an adult, after his career was established, and his body had already begun to stiffen. But he attacked the game seriously when he chose it, buying the finest fitted hybrid clubs, a library of instruction manuals, and lessons from the best local pro. When his game progressed enough, he traveled to golf meccas in Florida, Hawaii, and the Monterrey Peninsula, to steep himself in golf tradition on it's finest courses. He came to know and accept the nature of the game as an allegory to life, a journey of growth, sometimes frustrating and occasionally magic. We never discussed it, but I've heard his preoccupation with golf began as a distraction from the pain of his disintegrating family. We have talked about his need, sometimes, to let a bad shot go and lighten up on the course. Usually though, after a couple of painless holes, a couple of painful jokes, and a couple of cans of swing lube (beer), he displays a mellower side. We share a special fellowship in our love of the game based on fun, integrity, and dignity; and he is the last person I'd expect to show up with Bob.

- The first time I saw Bob we were playing Anchor Point. My friend pulled a yellow sleeve from his bag, opened the box, and plunked them into the clip in the cart. I saw the googly eyes, took a closer look, and recognized the cartoon.

- I wrinkled my brow, rocked my head, and gave him a "What-the-hell?" look.

- He curled the corner of his mouth and shrugged an embarrassed "What-can-I-say" back.

- I turned away and shook my head in disapproval.

- He looked the opposite way, as if trying to go unnoticed.

- After two days sharing carts and a small car, words weren't necessary.

- Truth be told, Anchor Point was just the carnival course where Bobs fit. The greens are artificial and won't hold an approach shot anyway. The forest is thick and looking for lost golf balls is a futile exercise in bug spray effectiveness. All that was missing for the full adventure golf experience was a windmill. My friend actually played pretty well for early in the season, and lost two Bobs. I lost three Titleists, and I swear I saw him smile at the other Bob when he put it in his pocket.

- We played Birch Ridge at Soldotna on the same day. This is just a little nine hole course, but I knew I'd like it before my foot touched the grass. The pro's home was a perfect victorian gingerbreaded sweetheart that greeted you just inside the gate. There were guest houses out on the course. A fire pit and benches lined the tournament party tent. The staff dressed and acted professionally. The cart ran like a bat from hell (for a gold cart), the greens looked immaculate, and the practice facility was spacious. It was a player's course, and I was dismayed when the familiar yellow box emerged on the first tee.

- I looked at the ball tray and pleaded with my eyes.

- He crossed his arms in defiance and looked straight ahead.

- I pushed my supplicant hands toward Bob and then opened them as if to ask "Why?".

- He poofed a disgusted breath, pulled out a traditional white ball, teed it up, and sliced it completely over the trees bordering the property. One hundred yards up the fairway, nearly out of sight of the clubhouse, he plopped a yellow ball onto the short grass, hit a beautiful long approach shot onto the green, and bogeyed the hole.

- That was the first time I saw him speak to Bob. Now, all players encourage their golf balls. "Get up!, Run!, Bend a little!, STOP-RRIGHT--THERE!!" are common entreats. But my friend and Bob seemed to be having a private conversation between shots, even between holes. What I could overhear was gentle, confiding even. Sanity is not a requirement on the golf course, but I was beginning to worry. Two more Bobs were lost that round, but my buddy shot a reasonable score, and I knew I hadn't seen the last of Bob.

- A full month later, I got a call from my friend inviting me to participate in a scramble the next day, all expenses paid. I laughed because I was driving past the course we'd play (in Palmer) when he phoned, and it was drenched, a record breaking rainy summer leaving puddles and bogs in every low spot on the open fairways. I told him no, I had a house guest, and besides, the tournament would probably be canceled. He reminded me that summer was getting away, and that the course condition was not important because it was a scramble. He sounded as if he really wanted me to play. I glanced over at the lady who'd enjoyed our guest room for the past four days, and asked him what time to expect me for the shotgun start. "Will you be playing Bob?", I asked. He hung up on me.

- It rained all night. When I crossed the Knik River bridge, The fog was so heavy I couldn't see the water. My friend called and asked where I was. "I'll be there", I told him. "But I don't know why. It's pouring."

- "We'll play. It's Alaska.", he answered. Sure enough, it was only drizzling when we teed off, and the sun came out at the turn.

- When I met our team, I knew we wouldn't share the leaderboard. This was going to be a strictly-for-fun outing. Scrambles are usually a good time, but they devastate my game for days afterward. Once a ball is safely in the short grass, the rest of the team tries to blast a drive as far as they can, with the usual effect that half the time you play the original and spend time searching for lost mis-hits. For a week afterward, I always have to work at slowing my swing, regaining my tempo. My friend was placing Bob squarely in the center every drive, quietly cheering him on during every ball flight; "Go Bob.., Atta boy Bob."

- Palmer is fairly flat and wide, but there are a few holes where you can miss by a little and pay a lot. Next-to-last Bob disappeared in the birch forest next to a long par three that my friend tried to reach with a fairway wood. It seemed to me he searched for an inordinately long time and was visibly disturbed during the hunt. I helped look for a while but tired of the devils club and mud pretty quickly. When I returned to the cart, I took his putter from his bag and reached into the compartment where he usually keeps his green repairer and distinctive ball mark, a steel wheat penny made back in the war shortage days. There was an empty box in the pocket, and I removed it for easier access. Sure enough, it was the box the Bobs arrived in. Taped in the corner was a little ladybug gift card with squiggly print. It said, "Daddy, I heard you like golfing now. I hope you like Sponge Bob because I do too. I love you. Penny

- I gathered myself before he emerged soaking wet from the woods. I handed him his putter. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the now familiar yellow ball. "Last Bob", he said, mostly to himself.

- "Maybe you should hang onto that one", I suggested.

- "Nah."

- He hit his putt first, and drained it.

- With honors on the next hole, he produced a low draw that carried well down the fairway, caught the backside of a hard hummock and ran forever, at least 290 yards, no mean feat on a soggy fairway.

- "HOOYAH, BOB!!", I yelled. The guys on the green ahead looked back at the shot in disbelief, pumping their fists and thumbs upping us. The rest of the team wasted good shots thirty to fifty yards behind Bob, and we managed to birdie the hole, again with Bob falling first.

- "Since when can you hit a draw?", I asked my friend.

- "Since now, I guess."

- What followed is the most amazing thing I've ever seen on a golf course. My friend played a string of seven holes with Bob not missing a single fairway or green. Our playing partners were loudly singing the praises of Bob and his flight every shot, following our lead. While perhaps not professional quality, my friend's shots were by far the best I'd ever seen him produce, and we managed together to put a string of respectable pars and birdies together with our dismal earlier scores. It became a celebration, and the enthusiasm was spreading to the groups around us. At the post tournament scorer's table, the recorder said she heard we were having a great time. She tallied our unspectacular total and looked confused. "Today wasn't about a number", I told her. "Today was about Bob."

- The seventeenth hole of the day parallels a cliff along the braided Matanuska River. My friend decided to cut the blind corner just a bit. He didn't miss by much. Last Bob went over the edge and must have hit a rock. He was sitting up prettily on a sand bar hundreds of feet below us across a ripping torrent of milky water. The four of us gathered, staring at Bob from the cliffs edge. I took my hat off and put my hand on my friend's shoulder. The guys from the other cart followed suit. My friend tested his footing once, as if he meant to go after Bob. I wouldn't have stopped him.

- When we returned to play, my friend sat in the cart for while, took a deep breath, and removed a bright pink Top Flight from his shag bag. I started to protest, but he interrupted; "I'm calling him FLAMER."

- When flamer fluttered weakly into the deep grass on the next shot, I tried to lighten the mood by suggesting "Flame Out" as a more appropriate name. Starting the next hole, I put the thought in his head that he should do his best imitation Gay Pride parade dance if he didn't clear the ladies tee, never considering it might actually happen. Of course, he topped the shot and it dribbled about thirty feet. He immediately went into the most spasmodic episode of dainty twirling and flopping I've ever seen. When he finished, nobody smiled, or even moved. Four hundred yards away on the clubhouse deck, a man's mouth actually hung open. We finished the hole in stunned silence.

- "What, not good enough?", my friend asked as we returned the cart.

- "TOO good.", I answered.

- Several minutes later, he spoke again. "Thanks for understanding. You know. My being silly about Bob."

- "No sweat. Sometimes it's cool to be silly. But FLAMER! PLEASE... God I miss Bob."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday Foodie Forum

- Mushroom omelets. Nothing special, right? Unless you have fresh eggs, veggies from the garden, just picked wild boletes from the forest, and character swiss from, well.., the fridge. There are things done right up here. Potatos, carrots, fish, berries, and wild mushrooms (among others). And for the first time in five years, I wish, while hunting and gathering yesterday, that I'd used sunscreen.
- Some AK things, though, Holy McGuffy.  We decided, after a few years, to give Garcias in Eagle River another chance.  Oops.  I ordered the chile verde, pork and Anaheim peppers with fixin's.  They served about ten half inch cubes of tough pork in a sauce that tasted like it was made from chile powder, and then spilled the black pepper jar into the mess.  It came with a dollop of sour cream on the side, cold bland rice (refrigerator cold), and a pile of jalapenos. (SACRILEGE!!)  Cold torts right off the store shelf.  The salsa was standard Old Mexico watery chopped tomatos and onion with an overload of cilantro.  (I'm tired of debating the cilantro issue.  Please don't bother.)   If someone wants to make a fortune in Alaska, they could start a restaurant offering quality Northern New Mexico cuisine using roasted Hatch green chile, barely burnt red sauce, sharp quality cheeses, freshly made flour or blue corn tortillas, meats that melt, and yesterdays beans.  Serve in a rustic building with  flagstone floors, vigas, and a view of the forest, and you could charge $30 a plate and have folks beating the doors down. 
- The Palmer potato should be coming soon.  Everywhere believes they have the best potato, and while not having traveled the world potato tour, I'll put new Yukon Golds from Palmer, Alaska right up there with any of them.  They taste nutty and sweet.  Incrediyum. 
- The carrots here are like crispy candy.  I can't describe them better than that. 
- There, I've done delved into the realm of restaurant and food blogging.  All I've established is that I like fresh ingredients, and that I'm a Mexican food snob without the guts (or money) to start my own restaurant.  Guess I'll stick to my day blog.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Golf Conundrum

- I used to think I could play golf.  Without the occasional bad hole blowing up a round, I was pretty competitive in the crowd I chose to be with.  I also loved the game.  I've found few other ways to spend time so totally zoned that all the usual brain clutter is silenced. 
- But then I grew up.  Golf is a waste of my time.  Golf is a waste of my money.  Golf is a waste of my/our land and water resources.  Golf is selfish.  (Proof: I've used I/my ten times already in this post!)  Better to spend time building something contributing to the common good. 
- Then, after ten years mostly golfless and living in Alaska, a coworker pushed for participation in a company tournament insisting that anyone owning clubs would not be exempted.  (It's AK!)  So, out came the five wood, the railed rescue club that never failed in the past.  The matted practice range is daunting after so much time.  My body has changed.  The clubs are relative antiques that have been shipped and stored and stacked for ten years. I've forgotten all the technique that used to be automatic.  My muscle memory is just that, a memory.  My vision and focus are shot.   
- But the picture of a real golf swing is still wonderously embedded in the closet of my brain, and I just step up to the ball and stroke it.  There is no feeling like that of a well hit golf ball.  When this magic club strikes a friendly ball on it's center, there is no impact feedback.  It's as if the ball didn't exist in the swing, just the click of it's departure, and the "feel" that the distance and direction will be spot on.  And even though I know I will never be as good as I was, or as good as I could have been, even though the season here is frustratingly short, even though fishing and berry picking and touring must suffer, I'm hooked. 
-  The rest of the practice session and tournament didn't go all that well, as I should have expected.  My solace was the poor play of the group, in general.  But everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  My door prize was a new modern driver, which I'm learning to use to effect. 
- UPDATE:  My friend has a quest.  I love quests.  He wants to play every course in Alaska.  He doesn't offer a reason why, and I don't ask.  "How hard can that be?", I wonder to myself.  So I offer to be Sancho to his Don Quixote, windmilling titleists on every groomed patch of mossy grass in this far flung land.  I didn't know, when I offered, that there are some very remote places in Alaska that also happen to enjoy golf.  So, I'm with him in the spirit of his quest, if not actually in the traveling to Kodiak for a round of golf part.  We did play five courses on the peninsula in three day at the beginnng of this season, though.  We did not play them well, but we played them.  I counted every stroke.
- Another UPDATE:  Yesterday, I played the course I've been hoping to see since the bug bit again.  Eagleglen is a track built for the military, designed by a famous architect. (Robert Trent Jones Jr.)  It winds through a spruce and birch forest, crossing Ship Creek several times and rolling through generally gentle hills.  It is a beautiful place to see, and a wonderful course to play, being forgiving and wide for beginners, and offering challenging risk/reward opportunities for true players.  Convinced by my playing partners that it was not particularly long or hilly (it wasn't), and boosted by the first perfect weather in a while, I walked, carrying my bag.  It was one of those incredible days that you'll remember forever, doing something you love the way it was meant to be done in a special place with good people.  As an aside, at 5:30, taps was played on the loudspeaker on base, followed by the Star Spangled Banner.  Play stopped on the course while everybody held their caps over their hearts.  As if planned (?), an F22 fighter jet drowned out the 'rockets red glare', and I felt the stongest welling of patriotism since the days following 9/11. 
- So.  I've rejoined the pill in a pasture dark side, knowing full well that golf time can't be recovered, and money spent playing could make a big difference in a suffering child's life in South America (or South Anchorage, for that matter).  If you climb mountains, hunt,  bicycle groomed trails or tear up wild ones, race cars or snowmobiles, run rapids, or just play video games, you are using resources that could probably be better used, except that it brings you joy, and that is where the value lies.  To me, golf is art; in watching those who play it well, in appreciating a course layout, in learning to play different shots, dabbling in the tradition and history of the game, or just allowing for a day idled outside with friends.  There has always been debate over the value and expense of art and entertainment to society, but I believe we have an inherent need for it, in whatever form.  That doesn't mean we should not try to limit the impacts of our play, but I'll ignore the nitrates from golf courses causing algae blooms in the ocean while I'm on the course, because that's really the point of being there.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sleepless Rambling

1:  I squinted when my words were later hurled back in my direction.  I know why I've got crows feet.  You are what you eat. 

2:  People work themselves to death in salt mines.  I don't get it.  Salt is just ocean - less water.  Put some ocean in a bowl protected from rain and wait.  Voila!

3:  The next time I see someone in a pricey car parked across two spaces twenty feet from the WalMart entrance, I'm gonna wait 'til the car on their driver's side moves, then park six inches from their door, film their reaction when they come out, and make them famous on a TV home video show.  With the money I'll win, I can fix the dings in MY car from doors and carts being thrown into it.  Or maybe I'll have enough to quit shopping at WalMart (for philosophical reasons), or even enough to buy a new car, which, of course, I'll want to show off to my fellow WalMart shoppers while protecting the fruits of my hard won wealth. 

4:  I know someone who jumps a foot every time the cell phone vibrates in her pocket.  Everyone around her also recoils when she gets frantic for no apparent reason, like horses on the trail when the lead spots a rattlesnake.  She doesn't get many calls, but when she does, the whole room becomes energized.   I call her occasionally from the business phone a few feet away just for effect.  I'm considering packing my own cell on vibrate, or maybe just randomly flinching or squirming like a chipmunk ran up my pants leg,  just to create some buzz.

5:  A safety memo came out warning of the dangers of leaving the paper shredder powered up when not in use.  I wonder out loud what horrible accident created the need for this notification.  I'm picturing the destruction of a perfectly good silk tie and someone's face.  I..,  um, someone... printed a copy of the document and mangled half of it in the shredder, then smeared a bit from a catsup packet on what remained.  It rested on the brink of the trash can for the night shift to notice.  It was not IN the can the next morning, and I'm fearing a long and expensive investigation into whichever sophomoric moron is not taking safety seriously in the company.  If they find them, they should fire them. 

6:  We set a record for consecutive days with rain in Anchorage.  Woo-hoo.  Not many folks seem to be celebrating our accomplishment.  I, on the other hand, am a lemonade fan.  A wet summer has many (ok, some) benefits.  The parks are not crowded, so, while we took our lab swimming (he doesn't mind the rain), we picked over forty types of mushrooms.  We brought them home  for study, compared them to the trusty guide, and found three that "might" be edible (and might be poison).  So, I took the puppy into the dark forest on the slope of my property, and found more interesting varieties, all without food or hallucinogenic value (darn).  But we learned a lot, and the shrooming season has just begun.  We did find that the rain has not dampened the bugs' spirits, or slowed any plant growth.  There were a few berries, and a place where a large animal made a day bed (probably at night).  It's looking like we can put off getting refrigerated air for another year, and there will be plenty of mulch for the perennials.  I haven't spent much time or money on golf, or wasted any effort searching for northern lights or meteor showers.  I chose not to feed my lawn in the rain, so it's growth has slowed to where weekly cuttings are enough.  Anywhere else, these rains would create torrential floods, but there is no natural topsoil for our gardens here, so the water just drains away. And as any true Alaskan knows, it's plain silly to complain about the wet;  You don't shovel rain...

7:  At the end of the golf season you can find bargains on golf balls.  I bought some new Armour brand for a third of the normal price.  They seem very playable, but I understand the marketing problem that exists with the hot-dog connection.

8:  My partner was wearing a tortoise-shell claw in her hair.  It looks like some kind of medieval torture device.  I asked if the thing was a brain monitor and how it was doing.  She said, "Actually, it's not doing much of anything."  She said it. I didn't.  Not to worry; She seldom reads this stuuuuuu

Ow.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grandma, What a Big Thirst You Have!

-  Sisters in Southeast Alaska, getting into mischief.  One of those towns where nearly everyone has a name ending in 'sen', Peterssen, Andersen, Gundersen...  descendants of the Nordic pipeline.  A village that has an interest in everyone's personal business, tolerates their quirks, helps out when they can.  Sibling girls, condemned by their mother to daily visits to the home of the town alcoholic, Mary Bersvendsen.  "That's what neighbors do", she tells them. 
-  So, every day, after school in the usual rain, they slog to Mary's house, check her health and do small errands.  They know Mary's story, how she couldn't have children, how she lost her husband in a fishing accident, how she cried non-stop until she started drinking, and how she became one of those drunks that puts the second six-pack in the freezer to cool while she drinks the first, and never freezes a can.
-  The girls understood that Mary couldn't cope, but wondered why THEY were assigned to do the coping for her.  Every day they cleaned a different kind of mess, fluffed her pillows, threw out the empties.  But God knew THEY (the girls) weren't getting anything from the experience (much less getting paid), except for poor old Mary telling them how sweet they were for stopping in, and then sending them on their way as if she had invited them and suddenly had something she needed to do or live for.
-  Years went by and Mary deteriorated.  The town kept her house livable and spoke in whisper-tsks whenever the Bersvendsen name was mentioned.  The girls reached the age where hormones and boredom cloud decisions, and they concocted a way Mary might do them a return favor. The boys their age were obsessed with MAN things, like boats, and chainsaws, and ...beer.  Not that they had actual access to many of those things, but the girl who could offer a taste would be popular indeed.
-  The girls knew that Mary seldom took nutrition except from a can, and that her kitchen had long since been relegated to storage.  They also knew how she kept a tab with the Bottle Stop liquor store and the town cabbie, who delivered a new supply every few days.  Occasionally though, she had some other random need, and one of the Olsen clan would bring their car and take Mary the three blocks to the town store, where people would fuss over her, ask about her health, wish her well, and shake their heads after she'd left.
-  The timing was never right for several weeks while the girls perfected their scheme, but on a dismal morning just two weeks before school was out, the Olsen Ford crackled off the gravel driveway with Mary preening her reflection in the window, and the girls launched the plan they'd concocted.  The youngest put on one of Mary's nightgowns, donned one of Mary's knitted  night caps and jumped into the smelly rumpled old bed.  The elder partner in crime spun the dial on the phone and handed the receiver beneath the covers to her sister.  What came out of the girl's mouth was a gravelly mix of Julia Child and Little Richard.
-  "Hello Mr. Anderssen?  Could you pick me up some beer, Honey?", much the same way they'd heard Mary ask many times before.  But Andy threw them a curve,  "Sure, Mary, but I'll be a few minutes.  I've got a real fare. That guy from the Fishing Commission and you know he won't want to go out of HIS way.  Are you okay? You don't sound so good."
-  "Sure, Sure.  Um, I just ate a red hot", she croaked.
-  Silence.  Then, "So okay, Mary.  See you in a little while.  Bye."  Dial tone. 
-  The older girl ripped the phone out of her sister's hands. "What the heck was that?", she yelled.
-  "What!?"
-  "That was the worst imitation of Mary ever!", even though she'd never heard an imitation of Mary. 
-  "You can do better?  It's not like we practiced or anything!", even though she had practiced all week.
-  "And what was that "Mr. Anderssen crap?  Mary would never call him Mister!", though actually Mary was from a different generation, who often addressed people more formally. 
-  "It sounded less pretend than 'Hey Mac', which is prob'ly what YOU'd have said.  Which, by the way, why DIDN'T you say it?" though actually she had been thrilled with the prospect of acting as Mary.
-  "RED HOTS?  RED HOTS??  Where did THAT come from?", even though she knew they had shared a tiny box of cinnamon drops that morning.
-  "I COULDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE!!", she screamed.  And that was true. 
-  The argument stopped when the crackly road announced the arrival of a car, and the girls looked out.  It was Andy, the cabby, with the state official in the front seat, tippling a brown paper wrapped bottle, then handing it back to Andy for a swig.  Evidently, the liquor store had not been out of the way after all.  The girls dove back into their roles, the eldest pretending to wash the dishes she'd dirtied for appearances, and the younger pulling the stained quilt over her head.  And then, with Andy balancing a case of beer waiter-like on his hand as he came up the walk, the girls tensed at the sound of another car pulling onto the road.  It had to be, and was, the Olsens with Mary in tow.  Andy waved with his free hand, thinking nothing of seeing the woman who had, just minutes before, called from her red hot sick bed.
-  The girls panicked.  The twice clean dishes clanked into the sink, the gown flew generally toward the closet, and two flying forms, one in a pink nightcap, flew down the rear walk where Mary, having noticed the cab blocking the front drive had asked to be driven around back, where she opened the gate just as two forms blurred past. 
-  "Hello dears!" she said to girls running at her.
-  "I've got it! Just got one bag today." she offered to the girls zinging past.
-  "You go on now.  See you next time!", she finished when the girls were already well down the street.
-  Then Mary went into her house, opened one beer from the case on the end table, put a six pack in the freezer, and settled into a strangely warm but comforting bed,  daydreaming about how nice it was to live in a place where neighbors cared enough to take her shopping, deliver sustenance, and send their wonderful children to check up on her.
-  Andy fluttered his fingertips at the girls on his way to the airport.  "D.U.I.", the eldest mouthed while beaming her friendliest smile back at him.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Low-Word

-  Pizzaman has really good local pizza.  They also serve schooners of microbrew.  So, with our house trembling from guest prep, there was little question where I was going for take-out.  When I walked through the door, a line of folks waited for seats.  One bleached little southern lady in heels bypassed the line and beat me to the cashier. "How long is the wait?", she drawled. 
-  This cashier is one of my favorites.  She is cute, courteous, professional, and very, very pregnant.  She asked about the size of the party and estimated a fifteen minute wait. 
-  The tourist raised her eyebrows, hesitated a second, brought three fingers to her cheek, and wailed "Oh Low-word!".  Thats the way she said it; two full syllables.  The hostess noticed my reaction, but controlled her own.  She shrugged an "I'm sorry", and the little belle wheeled and stormed away. 
-  The cashier smiled at me, reached for my order, and told me what I owed. 
-  I threw my hips to the side, raised my hand to my cheek, shook my head, and moaned "O Lo-word!!"
-  I must have done it well.  She doubled over and roared.  The next customer in line was laughing one of those mouth-wide-open-but-no-sound-coming-out guffaws, and the waiting-for-tables crowd, who hadn't heard the earlier exchange, were smiling that somethings-funny-but-we-don't-know-what confused half grin.  I shrugged an "I dunno" at them and waited for calm, but it wasn't happening.  The poor girl laughed so hard that she sat, actually sat, on the floor gasping.  Two waitresses ran out of the dining room to her side.  "My God, What happened?  Are you okay?"
-  Through tearing eyes, she was staring up at me staring at her with a fake concerned look.  "He...  He...", she tried between heavy breaths,  "is gonna make me have this baby!" 
-  The man behind was shaking his head.  One waitress was giving me hate looks, the other was helping the plumpish one to her feet.  She took some time, softly cradled her belly, then waved the other staff away, composed herself, and took my money.  She thanked me with a smirk, then pointed her finger at the man behind and said "Don't even think about it!"
-  From the car I could see her calmly handle business with the next customer, and as she called someone to fill in, I saw her mouth the words you come to expect from a woman in her condition, "Low-word, I gotta pee!"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fireworks - A Requiem

I used to love big fireworks shows.  Now I don't care.  Last night I sat alone in the guest bedroom and waited after midnight for the first boom.  It shook the house and startled the puppy from his sleep.  I hugged him and crated him, and went back to the show that was well on it's way.  There were no oohs and aahs, no squeals of delight, no patriotic music; Just me, a wall full of family photos, and a picture window dotted with colored splashes against the dusky Alaskan sky.  And like the movie that isn't quite good enough to involve you in the story, the show became interesting for it's rhythm, and the exact two seconds it took for the sound to travel to me, and the puffs drifting in the breeze the opposite direction of the clouds behind them.  I began to start predicting which types of shell would come next, and wandered to the realization that nothing had been new in the fireworks game for a very long time.  Then I began to remember the fireworks of my childhood, where fuses were lit only by child-like adults, and the explosions were all huge, and names were written in sparkler glare.  I remember losing power to the entire block when a tossed splattering stick crossed the feed wires. When I first beheld a commercial display, with it's shimmery old glory and layers of exploding beauty, I knew my life had purpose.  But there is no Stanford School of Pyrotechnics in my old neighborhood, and the closest I could get was to become a professional firefighter where all of my coworkers were similarly obsessed.  I had eighteen runs including a house fire one July 3rd while operating only a brush truck, and it was the pinnacle of the adrenaline driven portion of my life.  But the best, the very best, fireworks came when my girls were little, and we watched the reflections in their wide eyes, and their wriggly forms, hands on cheeks, backlit by the flashes, jolted by the booms. 
-  One of those girls came to visit last week.  We had a wonderful time, and now she's gone off again to grad school, and she's grown into a beautiful, fun-loving and independent woman that any father would be proud of, and I'm sitting here watching the celebration of the birth of our nation considering whether her generation will be able to restore any of the ideals dreamt of by the founders, then mortgaged by the people on my wall, me included.  I'm wondering if one man's vote will mean again what it should, and if real leaders will emerge that can decide issues based on diverse individual judgement rather than a party line.  I wonder if race will ever become irrelevant.  I'm hoping that the earth isn't already too polluted to recover. And I'm wondering, watching fireworks, how many of those other people watching are still proud of this country, willing to make real sacrifices for what it stands for, what it means to the history and destiny of humankind.  I'm missing that feeling in myself.
-  Mostly though, I guess I'm just sliding off the highs of last week, sad that time is over, already missing my daughters, missing my youth again.  Even fireworks don't fill that hole.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Boring Road

-  There is a road in New Mexico that no locals want to drive.  "It's the most boring drive in the world", they say.  "Look harder", I tell them.
-  Hauling a load of European tourists, I kept hearing how beautiful the rocks were.  (The ROCKS!)  How the layered colors of the badlands played the light between snow and shadow, the sedimentary folds in the cliffs.  I remember feeling closed in when I first visited a place where the vegetation was so thick you couldn't see into the forest.  I remember visiting a place where the sun didn't come up that day, at all, and the still cold caused the cabin smoke to shoot a fifty foot column into the air before it dispersed.  I thought it was beautiful, but I didn't live there.  Those who did live there thought it dreary, and miserable, much the same way most feel about this road.  It's a matter of perspective, and the willingness to look.
  - Folks used to mount plates that read PRAY FOR ME. I DRIVE NM44. The highway number has changed. The speeds have dropped while the surface is better. But black ice and alcohol, large wild animals and very rural driving habits still kill people here too often. The old road ran along the cliff edge. You can still see remnants of Dead Man's curve, where a pile of old cars used to rest.
-  There is a place close by where water flows in decent volumes from the ground, so hot you can't touch it without scalding.  But cold water flows on the surface here too, and by careful placement of a rock or two, you can soak in a healing bath, take in the clean pine scented air, and study 600 million years of geology in the red sandstone cliffs across the canyon.  When the air is still and cold, you can see the steam plumes here; hundreds of them.  There was a hotel, with a swimming pool, once.  Then it became a commune catering to "flower children", and they predictably didn't pay their bills, and the tribe that owns the land bulldozed it. 
-  There is the old Blanco trading post, where the trader McDonald was murdered, and his ghost still wanders.  Navajos avoid the place.  The "chindi" drives them away.
-  There is the long white hill, at the north end of magic valley, so full of fossils that a young mother told her little daughter that a whale had died, and all the little creatures it had eaten are preserved there in stone.
-  A rancher still runs his cattle along the Rio Puerco in a place infested with tree cactus.  On the day he rented equipment and chains to clear it, the blooms were stunning, and he couldn't destroy them.  The same rancher found the body of a man who had "fallen" from an airplane on a remote part of his property.  How did he know where to look?
-  The ghost town of Cabezon somehow still exists near the volcanic remnant with the same name.  They filmed a movie there, but nobody knows it's name.  The Spanish conquistadors camped near long before.  What maladies did they encounter along the trail of the seven cities of gold to have named the mountain "Head of the Devil?"
-  There is a place the bureaucrats call a wilderness, where no tree grows, just round clay hills, plates of sandstone, hoodoos, and wide fossil filled washes.  I did have a picnic under a tree there, however.  Sticking out of the undercut bank of a black arroyo was a huge petrified log.  The sand was moist and cool, and the shade was most welcome. 
-  A narrow guage rail line ran here, to haul lumber and coal.  The real old-timers still hear a steam whistle now and then. 
-  Just over the hill on the old road, before the washed out bridge, is a field of random large white boulders.  There are no white mountains nearby. How did they get there?  In the fall, the fields around those boulders are filled with purple aster and grey sage.  One hill beyond is arch spring, with its little black and red painted Ansazi birds, and the outlier ruins on the bald hill across the valley.
-  Near the gypsum cliff is a square rock that will warp your radio signal.  A physicist told me that is impossible.  His radio didn't work either. 
-  Two sandstone owls used to guard the magic valley, the boundary between the nomadic Navajo and Apache lands, and those of the more citified pueblos.  The legend says the owls warned the pueblos when raiding parties came near, and that as long as the owls stand guard, an uneasy peace will exist between the tribes.  Today, the owls have eroded to nubs.
-  "La Ventana" was a long stone arch you could walk across only fifty years ago.  Today, it's a pile of rubble, and almost nobody knows why it has a name. 
-  There is a gnarled grove of pinon trees, just hundreds of feet from the highway and hundreds of years old, that will produce, every seven years, the sweetest fattest nuts you can gather anywhere.  At the right time you can lay an old sheet under a tree, send a limber young person into the branches to shake it, and within minutes you'll have more pinons than you can use.  You will also have one filthy, tarry limber young person in the car with you, so take an extra sheet. 
-  There. We've traveled the road some think is boring, and we didn't get into any of the outlaw stories, or the tales of the rough and tumble Truby sisters.  We didn't discuss horse rustlers, or quicksand in Largo Canyon or barfights at the Coon's Holler.  We didn't mention that the whole town of Counselor was for sale not long ago.  Wiese's place with the ancient orchard, sawmill stories, Chaco canyon... Shoot, we're really just getting started. 
- Every boring road has a thousand stories.  Many quiet persons have a tale or two to tell.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Growler

The widow's lamp is still lit.  The Iditarod is still running.  Half the field has finished.  Lance Mackey and his dream dog team won again.  The Seaveys, Mitch and his son Dallas, finished strong in the top ten together.  Dee Dee Jonrowe smoked in her pink outfit (the dogs had pink booties) and took 22nd.  She dedicated the race to her Mom who has cancer, and whom I'm sure is so dang proud.  Newton Marshall, from Jamaica, looks like he'll finish, but is rumored to be a bit miffed at the -40 deg temps Alaska provided.  Pat Moon is recovering from the conk in the head he got from running into a tree.  Celeste Davis also blacked both her eyes on a tree, but she's still running for the red lantern.  Trent Herbst, the fourth grade teacher from Idaho who summers in Homer, has made it into Safety and looks sure to finish.  His students, who helped build his sled and sewed booties for his dogs, are probably glued to their monitors, cheering.  Wattie McDonald, running Siberians he raised in Scotland, looks to finish his first run.  The lost dog, Whitey, was found, and flew in his owner's arms back to Anchorage.  The convicts in Eagle River correctional center took care of the dropped dogs until they could be returned to their home kennels, and I'm guessing some serious bonds formed in the week they had together. 
Vik stopped at the Moose Tooth for a growler of Raspberry Wheat for yours truly, and I'm sitting next to a comfortable fire, raising a frosted mug to the athletes, man and dog, gutsy enough to run the Iditarod, the last great race.

Action in IHOP

-  5a.m.
-  IHOP near a military base.
-  "Good morning sergeant-major", as the last seat is taken at a table full of camo clad soldiers planning a day of training.
-  Two elderly gentleman meeting for almost silent breakfast, like they do every morning.
-  Two young men in civilian dress, but clean shaven heads and hangover eyes.
-  Two gumpopping waitresses loudly discussing their boyfriends. 
-  A very young couple walks to the register.  He's in fat pants, sheer t-shirt and sideways hat. She's in heels, tight jeans, and cut frilly blouse.  She knows she'll be watched, so she puts on a show.  Everything that can bounce and jiggle does. 
-  The breath audibly leaves the hangover boys. 
-  A forkful of waffle stops midway to a mouth at the geriatric table.  The conversation stops, though, for only a few seconds.
-  Training of he US military is temporarily on hold.
-  Waitresses roll their eyes.
-  Boyfriend is oblivious as girl looks back and smiles big.  She takes her boyfriend's arm and struts out.
-  My partner says "Clank", and I say "Ow."

Some are concerned there is debauchery here.  Nope.  Just nature.  Some are concerned that men see women only as sexual objects.  Nope.  Very sexual beings, and so much more.  Some would say something evil happened here.  Guess I missed that part.

I'm allowed to notice, just not to stare.  She says she'd worry more if I DIDN'T notice.  I tell her it probably wouldn't matter if she worried, I'd probably still notice, but I'll try to not over-notice.  She used to say she knows where I sleep, and she'll make me get down the heavy old cast iron pan so she can clank me with it.  Now we're older and that sounds like more work than it's worth, so she just says "Clank", and I say "Ow", and we get the gist if not the lump.  It's a pretty good arrangement, but it's still in my best interest not to notice to excess.

Portraits - Part 3 - Springtime in Moose Tooth

-  Oh, he was good.  Spectacular, even.  Professionally groomed, I'd say.  He had short curly brown hair, sparkling dark eyes, and artist's hands that floated through the air when he spoke.  His age, rounded down, was twenty.  His smile glistened, and when he deemed the timing right, he flicked it on like a light switch.  The tie knot was tight and straight, the white shirt new or starched, his sweater brushed wool in formal gray.  Not many folks in Alaska wear dress wool, but he was pulling it off.  The person he was selling to had a dour expression, but was being won over.  Every face in the Jim Carey portfolio was being dealt with deft plasticity.  First coy, then boisterous laughter.  He was SO confident; and he was winning.  He was... polished. 
-  Across the room, a bicyclist ate vegetarian.  Middle aged,  round Lennon glasses, a graying beard, pink knit hat with tasseled ear flaps, a loud coarse Scandinavian sweater, and tight lycra pants that delineated not only his package, but his flat, almost non-existant butt.  But people noticing were seeing his shoes; faded red plastic crocs with no heels and big holes like pale flesh colored polka-dots. 
-  Near the door, a heavy couple ate a heavy meal.  The man had dark red hair and a perfectly manicured matching beard.  His head shape and size were that of a buffalo, and his demeanor the same.  He was bullying the timid waitress, glaring as he complained loudly about the soggy crust on his pizza. 
-  Near the big picture window in the back of the room was a boisterous family from the Alaskan bush.  They were ten strong, and celebrating something, perhaps a birthday, or the return of the sun.  At the head of the table, Dad was putting on a show, dinging his beer glass and toasting loudly.  He was a large man, large voice, large forearms, large belly, large scraggly beard.  He'd taken off his stained hooded work jacket, but not his crumpled ball cap, or his frayed flannel lined shirt.  His joy spread across the table, the adults giggling at him, the children excitedly taking in the strangeness of their surroundings, guarding their slices of pizza. 
-  Two tie-dyed watresses worked the room.  The smaller girl with dark hair had a round face, honest walk and smile, and a confident, serious manner.  She flowed, minding her tables without being obtrusive, conversing with the customers that prompted, but silently caring for others conducting business or wishing to be left alone.  She was reserved, but her eyes danced, and her posture and clear sharp speech suggested strength, like a "takes no crap" note was pasted to her forehead. 
-  The other waitress was more geisha-like in her approach.  Like many girls who deem themselves too tall, she slouched, and ducked her head when she listened or spoke.  She crossed her hands and backed away from the tables when she'd taken an order.  Her eyes turned dreamy when Salesman flirted, but welled with tears when she shuffled away from Buffaloman, nervously stroking her pigtail as she returned his food. 
-  A glance in the four directions of the brewhouse showed four men raising their glasses simultaneously.  Salesman alternated pizza bits on a fork with measured swallows of red ale, careful to dab both sides of his mouth each time with a napkin.  Vegan swirled the lime in his light ale and sipped, sampling each taste as if it were his first.  Buffalo bit at his dark stout, slarping audibly and wiping his mustache with his sleeve.  BushDad took long draughts, examined the foam lines on the glass, then poured from the pitcher and took another.  A ten year old at the table proudly downed half of his root beer in one pass, leaving the foam on his lip just like his father. 
-  As if a silent alarm had sounded, four sets of eyes searched for the restroom sign, four glasses were lowered, and four men stood. 
-  Salesman said something apologetic to his client and winked, actually winked, before he danced Astaire-like down the aisle, sparkling at every woman who caught his eye along the way. 
-  Vegan shifted the crocs he'd removed back onto his bony feet, slid out of his booth, stretched his arms high, and rolled his head in circles both ways before he strode strode away like a nordic skier. 
-  Buffalohead rose slowly and painfully, adjusted himself, then waddled exageratedly bowlegged between the rows of tables.  The tall waitress dove out of his way, but the little server, carrying his pizza, saw him and froze in the middle of the aisle, challenging with her stare.  The standoff lasted several seconds.  He finally heaved a huge disgusted sigh, and worked his way out of the passage.  "Excuse ME!", he snarled at her.  "Okay," she said pleasantly, and took the platter to his table while he struggled his way to the john. 
-  Bushdad burst urgently and comically from his chair and hurriedly walk-ran to the bathroom smirking, mumbling and apologizing to everyone and noone in particular while his family smiled lovingly after him. 
-  I believe that a great deal can be known about an establishment by observing their greeting and leave-taking, and how well they design and maintain their facilities, including restrooms.  This restaurant does a wonderful job, and I was caught once studying the abalone tile mosaic on the Moose Tooth bathroom wall.  The facility is beautiful if not spectacular, and clean, but small; too small for the crew of four full grown that gathered there with business at hand.  I can only imagine the exchange that took place, as I'm rather glad not to have attended, but I can report that each of the four was smiling when they left, looking toward their tables and rolling their eyes, and I have never seen an entire restaurant of patrons more interested in a return parade from the loo.
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-Aside: My co-fly-on-the-wall believes the man with the large head may have had a medical condition in his nether regions causing discomfort he couldn't help but share.  Thinking back, she's probably right. That's the thing about her.  She believes man is intrinsically good, and there is always a reason for lousy behavior.  I say we are a diverse group with choices in how we act and portray ourselves.  We are not always good, or bad, or genuine.  But we certainly are interesting!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Portraits - Part 2

-  I didn't buy enough finish nails to finish, so ten dollars in fuel and an hour was spent to get less than a buck's worth of pin steel from the megamart. 
-  Four college aged girls were smacking a puck around the store's arcade air hockey game, shrieking as they traded turns.  Their joy was contageous.  Bank tellers and stylists in the neighboring booths were giggling just listening to them.  As I walked by, there was a loud 'chink', several simultaneous screams, and a laughing "OH... MY... GOD!!!" as the little disc flew out into the store and skidded under the cart of a surprised mother pushing two toddlers.  Both little heads swiveled to watch the puck slide under, then turned to see the gangly figure charging out of the arcade to retrieve it.  "Sorry... Sorry... SORRY!", she said as her arms and legs flailed; the most uncoordinated portrayal of running I've ever seen.  "Get back here!" she said to the puck, as she slid to a stop, hovering over it.  "HA!", she huffed as she plucked it from the rubber mat at the stunned cashier's feet.  "I've GOT you!"  And she stood, holding the puck extended over her head like a gleaming medal in the flourescent sun, then marched back into the game room where her friends were appreciating her performance.  The girl in the pink pajama capri pants was actually sitting on the floor laughing, her legs folded, her head tossed back, clapping and rolling in little circles of joy.  Another, in a green UAA sweatshirt two sizes too large, was bent at the hips with only her head on the the hockey table, holding the plastic paddle to her stomach, shuddering strangely, drawing long straw-sucking breath sounds between horse-laughs. 
-  The toddlers studied the foursome, filing every mannerism for future use, I would guess.  The cashier just smiled and said "Ah, spring break in Alaska, poor things."  The greeter, who'd missed the flying puck scene but was enjoying the after-riot, said "I guess you had to be there!", and the store manager poked his head around the corner, found nothing in the ruckus that would create paperwork, and resumed his rat-killing. 
-  Foot traffic at the store entrance began to move again, and as I walked past the arcade, I noticed the fourth girl.  She was standing calmly by the table, her hockey paddle held to her chest, lovingly smirking at her friend's antics.  There was something about her, something familiar, a connection to her my mind wouldn't drop, and I watched longer than I should have.  When she sensed I was looking, and I am convinced women can sense such things, she scanned, and we locked stares.
-  Let's get something straight right off the bat.  I was not stalking or attempting at a love interest here.  I have distant daughters older than this girl.  The curiosity I had was more familial, like recognizing a shared heritage. Imagine running across a brother or niece of whom you weren't aware.  That's the connection I felt, and it was stronger when our gazes met. 
-  Normally, in our culture, holding eye contact with a stranger is exceedingly rude or flirtatious.  Standard procedure is to avert your gaze, sending the message that you are not wanting to offend, nor do you wish to allow unfamiliar others into your space.  But this girl held her eyes on mine, and I was mesmerized, in part because they were so piercingly blue.  In the place where I was raised you occasionally met people with Old Spain blood that had dark blue eyes, but these eyes were deep heavy blue, like the blue of the glory pool in Yellowstone.  They were bottomless, and sadly haunting.
-  When I was able, after about ten seconds, to smile apologetically and work my way toward the finish nails, I began to analyze her image captured in my brain, and why it was so interesting to me.
-  It wasn't that she had Hollywood good looks or spectacular fashion sense.  She didn't.  She was dressed plainly in comfortable jeans and a sweater.  Her hair was very dark brown, semi-eighties high, and had that just-out-of-the-shower crazy bounce that really curly hair gets.  She wore very little makeup, but then she really didn't need any at her age.  She wore wide striped socks in Birkenstockisk sandals, but with a closed toe.  It was as if she tried to dress as goofy as her friends, but something wouldn't let her pull it off. 
-  I kept remembering her intelligent eyes,  focused on the brows, the heavy lashes. Then it hit me.  There had been redness to the lining of her eyes.  Perhaps she was sick, had allergies, or had been crying.  Maybe she'd just laughed so hard with her friends that she teared up.  But there was something else in her eyes when she looked at me.  A longing maybe?  A question?  There was of course no way for me to know what she was thinking, and I laughed at myself for my habit of reading too much into the moment, a tendency I have.  But she touched something, and I couldn't figure it out or make it go away. 
-  I'd stopped on the greeting card aisle after the hardware section because a birthday was coming up, and because it feels silly to go through the line to spend 79 cents.  The girls had been carousing through the store, laughing and yelling in that sorority dialect so popular today.  Pajamapants was pretend skating past my row, her hands behind her back as she shoosh-shooshed onto the seasonal card section one aisle over where her giggling friends were gathered.  I listened to the voices, wondering if I could recognize which went with blue eyes. 
-  They read the first page of several St. Patrick's day cards, then held the card open for the others who hooted, leaving me to guess at the punchlines.  "That's what you get for listening!", I scolded myself. 
-  Then Puckchaser blurted "SHEEZ.  They've already got Mother's Day cards!  Even FATHERS Da...", she stopped herself.  "God. I'm sorry Karen.  I'm so stupid." 
-  "Yes", said PJ.  "You are."
-  I finally heard Blue Eyes, Karen, speak.  "It's okay."  She started to sniffle.  "I just really miss him.", and she started to throw big heavy croaking sobs.
-  "We know you do.  Cry it out, girl."
-  A church bell clanged in my heart. I felt like I was going to break in half.  I hurried past the group hug on the card aisle. The cashier looked like she was about to call security re the crazy person trying to hide his welling tears, crying over a 79 cent purchase.
-  What I wanted to do was join their hug. What I wanted was to tell her how sorry I was for her loss, that her father had to be so proud of her, and that he would want her to live a full and happy life. I wanted to tell her that if she needed anything...
-  What I did, however, was rush out of the store, overwhelmed by the sudden release of my suppressed grief over my own alienated daughters.  My parking lot sobs rivaled hers, and theirs, until I could gather myself enough to guide the Jeep home. 
-  That look.  Those forever eyes.  The connection I couldn't have guessed.  They haunt me. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Portraits - Part 1

-  The convenience store clerk is cherub faced, receding fortyish, round features, big creamy flitting eyes. His flowered shirt is buttoned half way up, and tufts of reddish chest hair waft out.  His arms are just as hairy, and his cheesy (actual cheese smears) company blue vest with the Tesoro monogram is a size too small.  He runs, actually runs, to the back of the store when I walk in.  Vik says I look like a cop, but this guy was working alone on a snowy night, and I'm guessing he was thinking I might represent the other end of the crime spectrum.  He watched me from behind the soft drink machine.  I'd come in for a loaf of bread, but I should have known they'd have only three day old cheap heart stopping 'Sunrise' brand, with baked-in-Alaska plastered on the side (as if Alaska bakes better).  I make a point of searching too long, acting shifty for the clerk's sake, then choose the wheat bread (as if the bit of extra brown in the commercial "wheat" version  might prolong my life), then I catch the man watching and lock onto his eye, and when he he looks away, I walk to the counter.  I hear the air poof out of him.  His shoulders drop, and he starts toward the register.
-  The cashier looks relieved, at first, when another customer rushes in.  This guy looks rough, and urgent.  He has a black scraggle on his face and a three day neck beard.  His eyes are black, his crumpled frayed cap is black, his carhartt bibs and plaid flannel shirt are mostly black, and his mood, black.  He nods an apology, but steps in front of me anyway.  "I need to use your restroom", he booms.  God, what a deep, clear voice. 
-  The clerk glances at the open bathroom, but snits, "Well.., actually..., our restroom are reserved for our customers, and..."  He turns his head to the side when he talks.  His voice is as light and creamy as his skin. 
-  The other customer cuts him off.  "I think I'll use it anyway", he snarls.  He glares, gets no response, and hustles into the john. 
-  The clerk looks only at the register and the bread while he silently charges me three times it's actual nutritional value, then bags the bag in another bag, which I remove.  I stuff the change in my pocket and start out the door when I notice the liquor side of the store.  Beer is on the list, so I trip the door sensor, pull a pack of Molson's, and put it on the shared counter.  The other customer has returned, looking much relieved.  He is buying a pack of cigarettes from the sulky clerk, perhaps validating his use of the restroom, or more probably just needing a smoke.  He smiles and shrugs when my eyebrows rise at the announced cost of his Marlboros.  You must need a good job in Alaska to support an addiction.  He opens the pack, taps one out, and lights it.  Rules don't rank high on his priority list, evidently. 
-  The clerk turns to my beer and whines, "Fyi, in the future, you can take your bread into the liquor store and make a single purchase.  You just can't do the reverse."
-  Several responses crossed my mind.  I could have told him I'd just remembered the beer.  I could have apologized for inconveniencing him.  I could have walked back into the other side of the store and bought a quart of milk for the hell of it.  I could have told him that the order of my purchases was none of his damn business, and walked out.  But what I DID do was laugh, and start to leave, when I heard that big voice again.
-  "F---Y---I!", he almost shouted.  "In the FUTURE, it don't matter how me or this guy get our shit, so long as it ain't here! Cuz you are the creepiest fucker I've run into in a long long time."
-  I nodded my agreement, stripped the flimsy plastic bag from my beer, fired up the Suburban, and waved... to them both.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dog Gone

Last year we discussed how much I enjoy this dog race.  Today was the ceremonial start.  All the mushers' profiles, pictures, and human interest stories were in the paper.  The food caches are stored.  The GPS trackers are in place.  The game faces are definitely on.  We decided to skip the crowds and catch a more remote view of the first day.  Still plenty of folks cheering, though. 



Vik had a good time.  A girl even told her her hat was cute.

The dogs seemed fresh and happy.  The dog on the right can touch his eyebrow with his tongue.  We all have talents.
And I decided I NEED a fat tired bike.  Like these:

Occasionally I get to do a post Facebook style; the "Gee, I had a great day!" kind of post.  We got cold and wet, we saw heros, we talked to normal folks having a wonderful time, we saw silly kids playing in the snow, we were mocked by a raven,  we ate at Mark Schlereth's favorite burger joint in the world, and we sat together by the fire watching it snow.  All in all, the kind of day you wish they all could be.  Doggone good.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stop That!

A wonderful mom created a wonderful story with a wonderful purpose. 

"The queen ant was directing her workers, urging them to push a huge ball of horse manure up the cone of the ant pile.  You ARE aware of the food and heating value of horse poop to an ant, right?  She was directing her workers with antennae sign language because, as you should also know, ants don't speak English.  As the lump approached the steepest part of the hill, some of the ants started to goof off, thinking the job was essentially done.  The queen called for larger numbers to ease it over the crest.  But the extra workers didn't respond quickly enough,  The ball teetered, and froze, the pushing crew straining against it's weight.  More ants scrambled to help, but the number of slacker ants was growing as well.  The ball started to rock, seemed to lean, and began to creep back down the hill.  The gathering mass became terrified, and several colonists were crushed, but the army continued to grow heroically, everyone looking to the resolute Queen, firmly on the battle line, signing orders to her workers."

At this point, the mom made a fist, then extended her index and little fingers, waggling them at her rapt little audience like the queens antennae.

"The colony was at risk, and the Queen made sure they knew it.  Not one ant quit.  Even the goofoffs gave their all.  It took everything the community had, but they managed to change the momentum, and eventually, under the direction of their unbending queen (waggle, waggle), the dungball was wrestled into the burrow, and the colony survived the winter warm and well fed.  (yuk)  Of course you know what the Queen was signing, right? (waggle again)  She was saying...  STOP THAT HORSE SHIT!!!"

When this mother was in public with her sometimes unruly children, even after they were grown, all she had to do was waggle, and they would giggle, and settle down to pitch in.  Her family is warm and well fed.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cookies

-  It's that time of year.  Cookie time.  Cute kids in badged brown banners hawking kill pills.  Must have. 

-  Like a toll taker at the traffic funnel exit of the store, she flashes that gapped smile and lisps her question, prompts your answer with an affirmative nod, then glances at her military stanced father for verification she'd followed procedure. 

-  I told her I'd waited a year for a thin mint and a snickerdoodle, and I wouldn't be denied.  She didn't understand.  I said, "A green one and a blue one, please."  She selected one of each from the stacks behind the polished "display" boxes, setting them carefully by the cash box, awaiting payment.  I asked if she had change, and offered a twenty.  She looked as if I'd slapped her, and whispered, "Yes."

-  Her father snapped into action, opening the cash box and taking the bill.  "So!  At four dollars each, he wants two.  How much would that be?", he pressured his daughter.  She could only muster a blank look.  "Four...,  Plus four?",  he asked. 

-  "Eight?", she whimpered. 

-  "Righto!  And how much change should we give him?"  She just shrugged and looked at me apologetically.

-  "Well then....",  he snitted.  "I guess it doesn't matter."  He reached into the pile of money and started to give me a fistful. 

-  "DDAAAADDDD!!"

-  He handed me the correct change.  "Sorry", he said to me.  "She's just like her mother."

-  I don't know why I chose to continue her pain, but I did.  "So!", I said (mimicking her father), "I would like to take this twelve dollars and donate two to your 'Help the Wounded Warriors' box."  I held the two ones in my left hand, the ten in the other.  "How much will that leave me?" 

-  She looked pained.  Her dad looked more pained and turned away.

-  I gave the ten a little shake, and her eyes lit up. 

-  "Ten!!"  She puffed her chest out.  Her Dad looked back, shocked.  "Right!", he huffed.

-  I put the two dollars in the slotted reciever, winked to her and said to her dad, "I'll bet her Mom is cute and a lot of fun, too." 

-  They put a third as many thin mints in a package as they used to.  Not many left in the rig when I got home.  I'm thoroughly busted.  I have  ten dollars.  Must go back.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Soft Point

The night's rest is not complete, my mind hovering in that phase between dream and controlled thought, when through a blurred half-lid I see the sillouette of her backlit by the dawn, and my hand travels (because it has to) to the soft curve on her side, my favorite, where her hip meets her waist, where she is so very female, and I embrace for the thousandth time how fortunate I am to share her bed, and her life.  She starts at my touch, and I glide into the small of her back with my palm; slow, rhythmic circles. When her breathing is steadier and heavier I ease the motion and press deeply into her back with my hand, and the wakefulness seems to drain from her in a relaxed wave.  I slowly, ever so slowly back away as she starts to gently snore.  Then (because it has to), my hand travels back to the soft curve of her hip.  I mouth the words "I love you" into her curls, and she answers from her sleep, "You, too."  And I wonder for the thousandth time how she does that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sweethearts

-    Sweetheart candies have updated flavors and sayings.  "Text Me", XOXO, and "Email Me", are written in brighter colors and boingier flavors instead of  faded ink on chalk.  I liked best the accidently old fashioned message I found.  It should have said "MEET ME", but a few bars were missing, and it said "MELT ME" instead.  Sweet.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Build It...

      Old guys cuss youth.  What is, is.  Deal with it. 

-    Today's kids are gutless. 

-    There was a cool old dude in another century that would do things to stimulate the neighborhood kids.  He had no children of his own and enjoyed watching the crew where I was raised.  He would grab a chair and popcorn when the sandlot games began.  Binoculars sat on the window sill, handy for snowball wars.  An old push scooter just showed up on his lawn one day, and the temptation was too great not to test drive it. We didn't consider we'd stolen it.  Just used for a bit.  The scooter became the property of the entire neighborhood, and when not in use, could always be found under the juniper bush in the old man's yard.  When it broke, it somehow got fixed. 

-    We had an abused soap box go cart that steered with rope and when the hard rubber lining stripped away from the wheel, a new full axle set was found in the street. 

-    We used the concrete flood channels for playgrounds.  Skateboards were ruined where the steep sides met the flat channel bottom.  The old man down the street spent a weekend building curved plywood ramps in the ditch.  We never considered that he spent retirement income on us.  To my knowledge, none of us ever thanked him.  When he died, nobody went to his funeral.  We read his name in the paper and thought of him fondly. 

-    My home sits on a steep circle drive.  The island in the circle is the respository for snow cleaned from the roadway, which we get a bit of.  From the piletop of snow to the bottom of the street is a vertical drop of about twenty-five feet. 

-    I've watched a dutiful mom pull her bundled little people up to the base of the snow pile and give them a gentle shove.  I've listened to the squeals from the toddler and noticed the eight year old looking wistfully up at the huge mound of snow. 

-    A coworker gave me a small broken fancy toboggan because I have tools and time.  I fixed it.  It hogs a surprising amount of valuable storage space in my garage. 

-    I'm sure you know where this is going.  I cut a staircase into the backside of the hill.  I flattened the top for a perfect mounting platform.  I sunk past my waist filling the gaps between peaks.  I piled and packed, got cold and wet, polished the path, misted the soft spots, waxed the sled, set it in plain sight atop the hill, and went inside to warm up and watch. 

-    Nuthin'. 

-    Now I am certain my activity was noticed.  My old Santa shaped neighbor shook his head.  The sulky teen who shortcuts through the deep snow in the corner of my yard walked past and turned his head away instead of offering to help me extricate myself.  The two little guys who had already made the street glassy had their faces plastered to the minivan windows when they came home from school and daycare. 

-    I got a long stare from one kid I've never seen before.  He walked the entire circle, suspiciously inspecting the setup from a distance, but could never make himself climb the hill. 

-    The lady I share my life with laughed at me.  She told me that while I won't admit it, winter is getting to me.  She says that I so miss fishing that I built a deathtrap for children, and I am enjoying watching them being drawn to it.  She giggles that the children are too smart for me.  She says I am fascinated like a NASCAR fan waiting for a wreck, or a hockey fan.  She won't quit.  She says she doubts our insurance agent would be impressed.  I say "What sled run?  What Toboggan?"  She says that perhaps I should demonstrate the sled run for the poor hesitant children.  Right.

-    And now I have an epiphany.  The nice old man from my childhood was evil.  He was a disaster junkie and empowered children to kill themselves while distancing himself enough to deny liability. 

-    The sky turned red and I retrieved my toboggan with disgust.  Cowards, this new generation.  Smarter than we were, but cowards.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tell me how to feel...

     Someone close got news that mattered.  Her monster died.  The man that molested her when she was a child passed away.  She was not alone; he was a pedophile all his long miserable life.  She managed to protect her sister from all but the introduction to his 'affections'.  She confronted him when she was old enough to do so.  She alienated distant family by warning them to guard their children. She has always felt guilt for not managing to do enough to stop him.  Sadly, the people most of us depend on to protect us were no help to her.  She has lived in the shadow of what happened for forty years, and now he is dead.  And she is not sure how to feel about it. 
     I don't see her celebrating.  She won't call attention to his memory or travel to grind her heel on his grave.  She can't grieve him or offer solace to those who cared about him, but I've heard her consider what drives someone to that sort of addiction.  She wonders if his 'illness' was inflicted by a previous generation, and if other family was involved or victimized.  She wonders if  he suffered Karmic retribution or guilt.  She believes in the power of forgiveness.  But she can't.  Even in death.
     She describes being "ruined", his taking something precious he didn't deserve.  Her love relationships have been rocky, and she understands that HER choices were to blame, but can't help the discomfort her introduction to intimacy caused.  I've seen her reaction to the place where it happened, and I don't think her mind has blocked anything, though she doesn't talk details, and I don't ask. 
     She opened up more to me than she ever has when she heard he'd died.  She'd like to care.  She'd like to stop hating.  She'd like to forgive, at least those who should have shielded her from him.  She'd like to forget.  But his death seemed to just stir the old emotions. 
     All I could suggest was to be thankful for the future.  He can't hurt anyone else.  Times have changed and folks don't sweep psychopaths under the carpet like they used to.  Allowing him to occupy her thought empowers him, even in death.  Maybe some day she will understand what drove him, or those who wouldn't stop him.  But dwelling or forgiving isn't necessary.  There is so much positive in her world now to busy her. 
     She is a caring and nurturing partner in a ten year stable relationship.  She is aware of her trust and intimacy issues, and is dealing with them, finally.  She has special bonds with her children and has a second grandchild on the way.  She creates art in the kitchen, and has embraced the technologies she feared, even blogging and skyping with joy.  She is appreciating her own health, getting baseline tests and watching her figure.  She is funny, and capable, and generous.  And now the evil in her mind's closet is dead.  She may not be able to celebrate, but I am.  I will celebrate that she is wonderful, and capable of overcoming what he did to her so long ago.  Ding, dong.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MLK Day at My House

First direct sunshine on my house this spring.  Houseplants are doing their sunshine dance.  (slow, but joyous)

Didn't last long... but woot.



No moose tracks in the yard.  (droppings either) Just sled tracks.



Hoar frost lacey in the trees.  Only a foot or so left.  Spring verging!  (right.)

Bigger

Like a stuck song jailed in my brain, a good story has been simmering for weeks now.  For the last couple of days,  following a clear dream (that terrified me), the issue has not been how to develop the plot, but how to tell the story without casting a dark shadow on those I MUST draw the characters from.  They have done nothing wrong.  Exactly the opposite.  They are perfect. 
Perfect people give me the willies.  In the six decades I've been watching, I've known exactly four perfect couples, and three folks who got it right on their own.  The catch phrase is "old souls"; folks who instinctively know the right direction, choose the right partners and careers, are comfortable with their bodies and their faith or lack of it.  Perfect people are untroubled (from this viewpoint).  But evidently God wants to challenge all of us, because in every case, the perfect people I've known suffered some random disaster that dramatically changed or ended their lives.
They all reacted heroically, of course.  But being close to the tragedies that felled them due no fault of their own, the rest of us suffered, too.  Makes you jaded.  Most of us fail the life test early on; I sure did.  All I could do was start over, and celebrate the folks still on their game.  But after watching them cut down, I'm like the fan at baseball watching a pitcher's flawless performance; you don't dare mention it, for fear it will end, and you'll be blamed.  I love these people.  I don't know if I could stand the heartbreak. 
Of course I have to write the story, if just to purge it from my thoughts.  The characters might be changed enough to deny liability should the plot or future similar events prove true.  But I'll know.  I know now.

(edited)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Sitter

The family was considering going to an "R" rated movie. The youngest in the group (four) wasn't interested. Neither was the oldest (eighty eight). Finding a sitter on short notice was proving difficult.

"What's wrong with Great-Grandma?" asked Great-Grandma, miffed that nobody had considered her capable of watching a kid for a few hours.

"We'll be fine", she said. "We both know how to use a phone if we get in trouble."

The cars hadn't left the drive before the evaluation started.

"Do you know how to make cookies?"

Yes, I do.

"We should make cookies."

No, we shouldn't.

"Let's go to the park!"

I don't drive anymore.

"Do you want to play on the computer?"

Do you know solitaire?

"Hmm. I think I'll take a nap."

Sounds good.

"I'll get my bear. You start the movie."

Movie?

"I can't go to sleep without my bear and my movie in my room."

OK. Get the bear. We'll see what we can do.

When the family came home, great-grandma was slumped on the couch, snoring. The four year old and the stuffed bear sulked next to her, arms crossed. The DVD player, the computer, and the kitchen needed reconfiguring.

The little girl has a new respect for her regular sitter, offering plainly that great-grandma "doesn't know much."

And the next time there will be an answer to the question, "What's wrong with Great-Grandma?"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not Like You, Dad!

My friend was worried about his sensitive youngest son. The hockey coach said the boy was distracted. His teacher (fourth grade) reported worse work than usual. Dad decided it was time for a talk.

Ok buddy. What's wrong?

Sorry Dad. I don't feel good.

Really? Should we see a doctor?

No.

So?

The boy started to weep. "It's Heather."

Heather? Hockey Heather? (The only girl on the Mighty Moose team.)

"Yeah." Sobs.

What about her?

"I'm in love. And it hurts inside... so much." The tears are falling hard, now.

Dad put his arm around his son and just sat for awhile.

Then, "Listen Buddy, I understand. I've been there."

Yeah?

Yeah. But listen. You need to leave a little room in your head for the rest of your life. You don't want to be like me.

What?

"Look at me. I'm old. I'm chubby. You're mom tells me what to do." He opens his empty wallet. "I don't have any money. I don't have a degree. I can't even skate."

His son stared like he'd never really seen his own father. Then they hugged again.

"You're right, Dad", he blubbered. "I don't wanna be like yoouuu..."

That's right.

Later, after they'd beaten the Mooscateers, the boy asked his father if he'd really ever been in love to the exclusion of everything else in his life. "Still am", He said. "Thank goodness you're half your Mom or you'd be worthless." He winked.

My friend hopes the boy carries a picture of him, pulls it out whenever he faces a life decision, shrieks, and does the right thing.

There is more than one way to be a role model.