Lyrical Laughs

Monday, July 29, 2013

Working together (without sharp objects)

I don't know if  you've noticed this, but after many years of marital... marital....

I don't know if you've noticed this, but after many years of married life, I have observed that some couples work well together and others can barely stand to be in the same room during projects. I would say S and I are somewhere in between. In the mornings when it really counts we are like a semi-oiled machine from the 1970s that has a couple of parts missing. We try to step around each other to put lunches together, after S asks the same annoying thing every morning – “What’ve we got for lunch?” which I have learned to ignore, knowing he will discover some container that looks like it’s edible eventually. We coordinate feeding the animals - a cat who emits yowls intense enough to wake the dead (but not a teenager) while winding around our feet, daring us to not somersault across the room before we produce her breakfast, and one blind dog who usually manages to slam his head on something as he bounces around the kitchen in anticipation of every meal he has as the cat looks on in disdain. If S lets the dog out I will usually let him back in. If I'm not in the bathroom, or ironing, or picking out earrings. Hey, with dressing myself comes great responsibility.

This obviously goes to prove that we can work well together. That is, if we both want to work on the same thing.

This, my friends, is rare.

Take one night a couple of weeks ago, for example.

I wanted to work on dinner. He wanted to work on the car. Granted, it was my car and he needed just a few minutes of my time to help him. Fine, I will go along with that. And it really did take just a few minutes. This time.

Then I wanted to work on dinner. He wanted to work on bottling the beer we had brewed a couple of weeks before... which, by the way, I didn't want to brew the night we did it but someone had already decided that was The Night.

The surprising thing is that I do believe S and I are becoming more compatible with age. Projects seem to go a little smoother now than they did in the dating days when he was screaming out the window of his '68 Torino which he put me in the position of towing with a chain attached to another car and I was crying the whole time, which caused the car to buck (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) and give S (this was prior to our marriage, and S stood for something else entirely that day) a rougher ride than was necessary. I mean, a rougher ride than was intended. Yeah, that's it, intended. In my mind the bucking became more unavoidable the louder the yelling behind me got... close to the point of leaving the car behind and riding away with just a bumper. The Torino eventually followed us to Maine and resides in a heap on the side of our garage, right next to the non-mowing ride-on mower and non-hovering hovercraft  (yes, hovercraft), adding to that whole redneck image we try so hard to maintain.

After almost 30 years maybe we are mellowing, though in some ways I still foresee S relishing in being a cranky old man in another 30 years, cursing the newspaper boy and kicking the cat (he will still be the one to clean up the cat vomit and dead rodents). I won't be able to hear him by then so it won't phase me much. He is convinced I'm already practicing ignoring him. He might be onto something.

Here's the thing. S also tends to be very particular and a bit critical (which is like saying Lindsey Lohan's every move is a bit over publicized), even when he specifically asks for my help on a project - not a good idea around an arm flailing Italian. If we are doing something like preparing to paint, I can't help but take offense to his sanding over a spot I just did or worse - when he asks if I did it because he "can't tell" if it's been done. There must be laws about this sort of thing... when a spouse requires assistance he (or she - come on, it happens) should be forbidden to utter a single criticism, other than necessary directions, followed by a complimentary stage in order to ensure continued procurement of said assistance. I'm just saying.

I do happen to be witness to the fact, however, that my husband is an extremely hard worker. And so this past weekend he volunteered at our annual church fair. Oh, wait... I should rephrase that a bit.

I volunteered to be on a committee which meant S got roped into doing whatever I needed him for prior to, during, and after our annual church fair.

There, that's definitely more accurate.

At times like this I know better than to question his methods. After all, his participation at all levels was by default (de fault of his wife) (I'll be here all week, folks). And so I basically just let him loose on the fair grounds to jump in wherever he so chose. And naturally, there were several areas that needed assistance of some sort, most of them entailing manual labor. Good thing he had experience moving furniture from his younger days.

He moved tables. He moved heavy furniture. He moved plants. He moved to dissolve our marriage if I ever again attach his name to a conversation about volunteering. Wait... that hasn't been confirmed yet.

Before you get the impression this is all one-sided, let me assure you, it is not. As an example - while we are all very aware of the significance Memorial Day holds in honor of those who sadly lost their lives to fight for our freedom - for several folks it is a day off from work, a leisurely sleeping-in kind of morning, maybe heading to a parade or a get-together with family and friends for a barbecue. For our family it is up-and-at-'em at the crack of are-you-out-of-your-mind? We have become the non-official water stop family for a local Memorial Day run/walk, which started several years ago when Joe Volunteer over here raised his hand and thereafter committed not only himself, but whoever happens to reside in the house at the time  - and on occasion - made the mistake of sleeping over the night before. Whether it has been one enthusiastic child who knew not what she was signing up for, kids with friends who thought it sounded cool until they didn't go to sleep the night before until 2 a.m. and had to be up by 7, or a cranky wife trudging after kids with friends, one or more of us has whined our way to the car and sleepily assisted setting up a table in order to fill dozens of little cups of water in anticipation of a sea of sweaty bodies bounding past. In what must look like a contorted statue to an innocent bystander, we assume the position, leaning forward with two fingers gingerly holding onto what is essentially a liquid rocket in the wrong hands, arms extended out in front as far as they will go in order to avoid: 1) getting splashed in the face by runners' arms swinging out to grab a swig only to crush the cup in their hand on contact, and 2) getting quite literally run into/over/aground.

The benefit (which does not outweigh the prospect of sleep) is that because S is at our mercy as far as having a crew, he is not demanding or bossy when we set up, so it is one of the times (I won't say 'few' but I definitely won't say 'many') that our efforts seem to complement each other as we joke and tease and basically all get along. And... I will be honest with you. It is a great event, it is fun, and it feels good to help out in our small way. Just don't try to convince me of that at shoot-me-now-thirty in the morning.

 At one time it was an unavoidable fact that this would be the closest our couch potato bodies could get to participating in the event itself, but these days we are more into walking and have even done a couple of local walks, so I am convinced we would survive it. We might be dead last but we would survive. Until that time (if/when) we switch roles, we get to watch others run or sprint or walk or saunter by as we cheer them on and offer a quick pick-me-up en route, and we leave still only half awake but smiling, fully aware we can't go anywhere else in public until we go home and shower the scent of bug spray off.

And so we continue to work together even if we don't always work well together. It keeps us young. No... that was a lie. It is probably aging us rapidly. Sometimes I wonder if volunteering each other, which forces us to work together, is sort of like our version of a sadistic couples therapy.

All the more reason to volunteer us to set up the wheelchair races at the rest home in 30 or so years.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Four Weeks

I've been spending a lot of time this past week staring at our refrigerator door. It's not because I'm silently wishing it would open and a container of leftover pasta or even a large piece of cheddar would fling itself into my open arms. It's because the door itself is barely visible.  There are pictures, magnets, lists, invitations, and receipts from 2007 stuck between each other on what has become a poster board of items that may or may not still have relevance.

There are letter magnets that little hands moved around the once shiny white door and formed simple words with many years ago. Tucked away for quite some time, they resurfaced one day a couple of years ago when I found a bag of strays in a drawer. Once in a while I'll find someone has formed a small word or silly combination, so they remain a part of the montage.

There is a photo of cousins huddled together on the jetty, and another of a cat sprawled on our former deck - not even our cat but a neighbor's that we had grown to love and had lost its life too soon to a busy road.

You may notice birth announcements for children of friends and family that are now two or three years old and are no longer swaddled in a blanket with the scent of powder, but toddling around and talking - a couple living nearby where we can see them rapidly growing and changing as babies do... a couple we barely know and who, sadly, would never recognize us.

It is a mish mosh of upcoming as well as past dentist and vet appointments, incomplete lists and phone numbers of contractors from as long as 15 years ago. It is disorganized and untidy, only occasionally getting the once-over and even during those times, "what if..." so we hold on to too much.

These days there is one thing that I sense gloating at me as I walk by in the morning with the all-consuming knowledge that this one item will soon be more important than anything else on this refrigerator, and possibly in this house. It is a school calendar from Susquehanna University. A calendar that has taken the place of high school announcements for chorus practice, e-mail addresses of teachers, and finally, the commencement practice schedule. It's not even to be "officially" used until August 1 when it starts, counting down the days until my baby girl enters a new world. I was not ready the day I chose to post the calendar where we can see it every day, and I'm still not ready to face the music of these final four weeks.

Four weeks. That's what it comes down to. Not even a month. Four weeks before we deliver a small college-dorm-size refrigerator, television, assorted containers of clothing and supplies... and a child into the waiting arms of college life. Four weeks before we drive away, just her dad and I, after moving a small U-Haul's worth of things in, trying not to hold my breath through convocation, and finally, facing a "farewell reception." After hugs and tears and silly jokes and reminders about washing her sheets and not eating too much junk food and please, please don't ignore my texts or calls every time, and a few more unabashed tears.

Right now I take a deep breath and recall a blanketed infant, barely two hours old, being carried across the hospital room by her big sister who decided on her own that sitting in a chair with a squirmy baby was not as interesting as delivering her to me, as I held my breath in shock and fear, willing myself not to jump up or say anything that might jolt a six-year-old on a mission.

Given the chance again, I would take a thousand pictures of the two of you together those first moments.

Right now something inside me resurrects memories of the three-year-old who sat in the backseat of the car and pleaded with me to ask her questions... name three things that are green... name three things that are round...  until my head swam and I ran out of three things of any combination to ask.

Given the chance again, I would ask you for three things all day just to hear the amazingly creative answers you never failed to come up with.

Right now I am seized with fear by the reality of not feeling her hug me as soon as she sees me and ask, "How was your day?" As if the trivial non-events that make up my life would ever matter to her.... but she asks as if it does, and she listens with sincere interest, which will make it that much harder to lose.

Given the chance again, I would lead a more interesting life so your eyes would light up with surprise and excitement at my recitation of each fascinating event.

Well, maybe not. Maybe I would have handled it all the same way because that's what parents do. We wing it. We make mistakes, we ask you to understand without always explaining, and we form apologies in our heads that may never be said. We waste precious time and we wish for more of it. Sometimes - but not always - we want you to grow up... but not out of touch... not out of reach.

On the day we dropped her sister off at college more than six years ago, she held one of my hands and her dad held the other as I stumbled between them off the campus grounds, ineffectually fighting back tears that blurred the path to our car. I tried to tell her yesterday that it will only be her dad holding my hand this time, but my voice caught during the conversation. There's a lot of that going around these days.

Four weeks.

At that time the spot on the side of the fridge where the calendar is hanging will need something new. Seriously, I could just move things around from the front and fill in the space, and nobody would ever know, there is that much stuff on our fridge. It might be time to remove the magnet letters for good, since there won't be anybody here to make up any funny little combinations.

It occurred to me in the early morning hours as I lay in bed thinking too hard about this anniversary of sorts, that there is no "again." I was given the chance once to make the decision - right or wrong - for her. This is now her chance - to stand on her own, form her own opinions, express her passions, welcome new experiences, and still ask questions.

Always ask questions, my girl.

Her sister, protective and very willing to play the part of older, wiser sibling, will be watching out for her from Philadelphia (it's a chance for the first born - our trial and error child who beat the odds of surviving our clueless parenting - to let her maturity shine through). Her cousin in New Jersey has already said she is available for emergencies since it's only a few hours away (less if she is driving). Two wonderful grandfathers watch over both girls from another world, I truly believe this. I am terrified to let go and yet hold on to a little bit of peace knowing there is a blanket of love surrounding her.

Four weeks will be four days too soon. I wish I had taken more time off in the summers to spend with her, and her sister before her. I wish I had let her take horseback riding lessons when she asked. I wish she hadn't had to grow up so soon during that dark period when her sister was away at college and her dad worked incessantly, trying to make up for a lost income as I fought the cancer demons off. I wish I could believe that she never felt like I wasn't paying attention, and I wish... that I had paid more attention sometimes.

I hope she will still look forward to coming home between semesters, that she won’t be asking too soon to live anywhere but here during here breaks, or work anywhere but here for the summer. I hope she will still want to watch movies with me. Tonight the feature is "Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron." I can get through this, I know I can... and then the very last line is spoken.

"I had been waiting so long to run free, but that goodbye was harder than I ever imagined."

And the very last line is sung.

"It's to you I will always return."

Four weeks. And one small, college-dorm-size refrigerator. I think it might just need a few letter magnets.

Monday, July 22, 2013

G P S-top The Voices Please

Remember not so long ago when you used to get those big fold-out maps at the gas station or AAA (that once opened would never fold back the same way again) to plot out a road trip? Remember when the person driving trusted (mostly) the person navigating to help them find their way as they followed the map lines with their fingers, often shouting out "Turn here!" at the last possible moment? Remember when you were the only voice (other than the occasional backseat driver) giving direction?

Me neither.

My husband is semi-obsessed with the voice of the GPS. For years I have gotten us from Point A to Point B with nary a detour (even after he got into a heated highway battle with a 14-wheeler and the map flew out of my hands through the open window only to be likely ripped to shreds somewhere on I-95), and yet now he insists on having me hold my phone and let the voice tell him what to do. What’s the fascination? I've been telling him what to do for almost 30 years. Oh - right... back to the driving part.

We are now taking fairly frequent trips to Pennsylvania to see OK and The Boy as much as possible, and as I've barely (hah) mentioned, to bring YK to the college (three times now) that she hasn't even started attending yet (four more weeks. Gulp.). Each time we take the trip we somehow manage to go a different way. Often there is a side trip involved for family, causing us to come at PA from different angles. I don't necessarily find that the GPS on my Droid thinks "safety" as it chooses our route. No, it seems to be geared more along the lines of "demolition derby."

I prefer to drive on many of the long distance trips as long as it's in daylight. It keeps me from having to be the passenger in charge of the Phone With The Directions when I would much rather be the one reading them out loud. I have a nice voice, really, and my volume is easier to control - no need to keep hitting the dang bar on the side of the phone to shut me up. I will just stop talking and stare tearfully out the passenger side window if I get yelled at for leading us astray. And the GPS doesn't always cooperate. Take this past weekend for example.

We were visiting friends in Massachusetts... driving toward Cape Cod... on a summer Saturday. Not bright. We left almost an hour later than we had talked about (but not appropriately planned) and were hit with the equivalent of whatever small country lays claim to the worst people in cars (calling them drivers is too kind) on the planet. Suffice it to say I witnessed vehicles swerving, stretching, bending and contorting around other cars/trucks/toll booths in ways that would have made Gumby jealous.

Around what should have been the almost halfway point we switched seats and I drove. This meant S was on the passenger seat letting our GPS friend do all the talking. That is, until he forgot during a long pause that it was still on. Just as I was about to ask how far we were from a certain exit, the GPS spoke up. I lowered the radio. Here's how it went.

S:                  What are you doing?? (grabbing for radio dial to turn it up)

Me:                  I'm trying to hear the GPS! (using control on steering wheel control to turn it down)

S:                  I'm trying to hear what they were saying on the radio!

Me:                  What are you talking about?? That was the GPS!

S:                  Oh... I thought they were making some kind of announcement...

Me:                  THE ANNOUNCEMENT WAS FROM THE GPS!!!!

How do you growl and laugh at the same time? Leave it to me. But once we stopped laughing and I could focus and the GPS (knowing it was dealing with idiots here) made its "announcement" again, the ride went pretty smoothly- until a little while later when I listened to someone in the car who said, "There's probably a rest stop soon," just as I was leaning toward an exit with a few places where I could use the rest room. From that point on it was downhill, and not in a nice coasting kind of way.

The route we had chosen seemed like it was right outside of Boston. It was actually the closest you could get to the heart of Boston without being on Route 1. It wasn't until maybe five minutes before we hit the tunnels (I hate tunnels) that the time on the GPS suddenly jumped from our destination being one hour and twenty minutes to two hours and something... I don't remember - I was too busy frothing at the mouth and clutching my bladder. We drove (slower than we could have walked) through the tunnel, after which we sat (basically parked) in what started out as six lanes and seemed to get swallowed into three. At some point during this interminable delay as I was grumbling to myself about my stomach cramping, S oh so wisely announced, "You don't do well in traffic."


Immediately aware that making this observation about a woman who is now writhing in the seat behind the steering wheel and looking for a Port-O-Let in the middle of I-93 was probably not the swiftest move, he clammed up following my ranting response - which probably saved his life.

Eventually escaping from the congestion and seeing hope on the horizon (in the form of exit signs) I chose to find a handy mart or some such place right off the highway to use the facilities (by that time I had to send S in to scout the place out to avoid an extremely embarrassing scene if I couldn't head - no pun intended - straight to a rest room). I growled (not followed by a laugh this time) at Little Miss GPS to SHUT UP when she tried to reroute us.

We got close to where we were going when we ran into another little snag. Our charming directional unit had directed us to the name of the street with “Avenue” on the end and refused to even acknowledge there was a similar street right around there somewhere with “Lane” on the end. Desperate, we called our host who “walked” us through directions to their house and literally stood at the end of their road so we couldn’t miss them (honestly, I wouldn’t have put it past us to still manage to go right by). We tripped out of our car an hour later than anticipated, but there were welcoming hugs and the food was hot on the grill, plus the dessert I brought had remained in tact. It was a great afternoon meeting new folks and reminiscing with old friends. Ironically we were on the road more than off that day due to the fact that we had to be home the same evening, but it was truly worth it.

Words cannot express how relieved I was that everyone else had also reached their destination and stayed put that evening, which meant no traffic issues. It was smooth sailing back to Maine (with a couple of pit stops, naturally).

I just hope it’s a long time before any electronic device tries to give me directions. I just might reply with a direction or two of my own.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Cold (and Hot... and Cold) (Office) War

It’s 7:30 in the morning. You walk into your office when the temps outside are already 75 degrees. You think to yourself, “Ahhh, the comforts of a programmed thermostat,” as you sip on your hot coffee, almost happy to be at work where the air conditioning hums softly and cools you down until you no longer feel like you took a steam bath walking the two blocks from the parking garage to the building.

A couple of hours later you notice your toes feel a tad chilly, but you brush it off because – hey – you’re not going to complain about a little chill when you can look out the windows facing the street and see passersby crawling through the heat vapors, begging for water or beer from some kind soul. Even going down three floors to the lobby to check the mail sounds like too much of an effort… what if someone opens the lobby door and sweltering temps grasp the walls, causing instant heat exhaustion? No, no – best to stay in your office and find some non-arduous task like tackling that three-month-old box of shredding, or drafting your 12th email to coworkers with a list of what not to put in the recycling bin.

Your boss, whose office has a large window and a deck that overlooks the water (actually, overlooks the roof of a building next to a wharf, where pigeons in droves tend to…. unite), is fanning herself with your recycling email and asking you to “bump the air on” because her room has been subject to the morning sun which is deceptively strong, and maintenance just came in to check out a report of smoke wafting out the deck door.

An hour or so into the frost cycle a coworker comes out of her nearby office in an LL Bean parka and mukluks and asks (as she is reaching for the thermostat), “Mind if I turn it down a bit?”

What have we got here, folks?

Summer in Maine, where you drive to work with the air conditioning on, have your heater going on the way home, and put the ceiling fans on high as soon as you enter the house. At least in your own environment you have some control of how the temperature is set. At work, not so much. We have so many different zones in our office that someone can walk in and start sweating (less so now that we have a new programmable thermostat that cranks up the ac at 7 a.m.), turn the corner toward a hall where you dare not wear open toed shoes for fear of frostbite, proceed a little further to what is sometimes referred to as “the conference sauna” and finally come to the end offices, otherwise known as Siberia. Prior to the new thermostat when the lobby was often beyond what you would call balmy, clients experienced a strange mix of various tolerances.

“Hello, have a seat here in our lobby. Would you like a glass of water while you wait?”

“Yes, please… sure warm in here.”

“Haha, yes – I think people are bringing all the hot air from outside in with them.” (This may have been slightly illogical considering we are on the third floor of a building, and chances are the client took the elevator, thus leaving the hot air far behind, I would think. But hey, small talk is small talk.)

After three glasses of water and a towel to wipe the sweat from the client’s brow, we proceed to the conference room.

“The others will be right in. Is there anything I can get for you?’

“Maybe a cup of coffee, or even hot chocolate? That walk down the hall was a bit brisk… and do you happen to have a sweater I might be able to borrow?”

“I can see if we have anything that will fit over your suit jacket, but I should warn you, this room doesn’t cool off as well, so you may find yourself a little too warm after the coffee.”

“I’ll take my chances (blowing on hands).”

By the end of the meeting part of my duties is typically to revive the client from a heat-induced nap and send them on their way – into the building hallway that is 15 degrees cooler and will have him high stepping (and needing a bathroom) onto the sidewalk.

Why don’t we have these same issues the other nine months of the year? Granted, it’s not like we always agree about what the thermostat should be set to in the office, but from late September until June we are pretty balanced, with only an occasional adjustment needed. Something about summer triggers stronger preferences. Then again, maybe it’s simply the idea of working through the summer in a place nicknamed “Vacationland” as hordes of carefree tourists and anxious vendors line the streets and sidewalks and the only access you have to the outside world for the majority of the day is to mail a letter.

Fine, back to temperatures. Here’s my theory. You can always put more clothes on. You can only take so much off…. at least in most countries.

I am not heat tolerant. Sweating does not feel good to me. Now S on the other hand will sweat with the best of them. He can tolerate temps well above normal without withering, while I am whining as soon as it hits 80. Our girls are also opposites. OK, who is more like her father, lives in a city where a breeze is a luxury, and while she may not enjoy walking home from work when the temps are in the high 90s, she is not leaning against buildings on the way, frothing at the mouth, whites of her eyes showing, as I would be. Her sister YK would rather keep the air conditioning cranked and have to put on four layers than take a chance on opening windows and feel a smidgen of humidity. As much as I prefer to have the windows open and feel the breezes throughout our home, I am with her when it comes to this. And yet we all managed to live in the same house for many years with very few arguments about what temperature to live with. Of course, agreeing on who does the laundry is a completely different story.

But summer in Maine is short, and so we are forced to make the most of it knowing these fickle temperatures – inside and out – won’t last very long. We are off to enjoy the weekend before heading back to the office and preparing for the cold and hot wars once again.

I just have to make sure I packed gloves – and maybe a bathing suit – for Monday morning.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I had to wash my hair...

I was brought up in the kind of household where, if you were told to be somewhere at 2 p.m. and you weren’t there by 1:50, you were late. My wonderful spouse of 29+ years is of a slightly different mindset…. If you were told to be somewhere at 2 p.m. and you weren’t in the shower at 1:50, you were going to be too early.

When S and I were dating, a friend’s dad needed some help moving furniture around and S was happy to volunteer. His friend told him to be there at 9:30 Saturday morning. That Saturday morning S strolled down the friend’s driveway at 10 a.m. on the dot. The friend’s dad smiled and said naively, “Hey, look at that - right on time.” S turned to his friend. “I thought I was late. Didn't you say 9:30?” The friend smiled and replied, “Yes, I did.”

This should have been a sign.

It is this type of ‘deadline denial’ that lends to us being late for 90 percent of the events we attend together, including church, family and friend gatherings, and doctor appointments. When we were expecting YK and I took a Lamaze refresher course, he called about 20 minutes before the class – on the road for work about 30 minutes away – wanting me to wait for him. Needless to say, trying to demand anything from a very pregnant, Italian woman can be dangerous to your health. He met me there ten minutes into the class.

I share these memories with all (both) of you so that you may understand this.




Last weekend we had a wedding to attend, the daughter of friends that we have had the pleasure of watching grow into a beautiful woman over the last 15 years. We had many months to prepare. Months, mind you. Now… I will admit I had hoped to get a new pair of shoes for my outfit that day, since I had procrastinated and was panicking. The wedding wasn’t until 2 p.m. at our church less than five minutes away, so I had all morning to run out and hit at least the two local shoe stores. This would not be an issue.

Pick an outfit - any outfit. Not that.

On Saturday morning, around 10-ish (with plans to leave shortly for shoes) I was ironing my outfit when I asked S what he was wearing. I fully expected him to come out and show me a pair of pants and a couple of shirts to choose from. He came out with a pair of dark gray, heavy winter pants. This was not good.

“You can’t wear these!”

“Well, I don’t have anything else that fits me.”


“Nothing that doesn’t have eight pockets on the legs.”

Upon review it also came to light that none of his button down dress shirts fit him properly anymore (by this I mean where he could breathe when he buttoned them) and his tie collection was more of a tie glob. My dream of new shoes was quickly flitting out the window. It was obvious we would be going clothes shopping for S.

I know right now the burning question you have is – why doesn’t he have any decent clothes for occasions such as this? Just a couple of shirt, tie and summer slacks combinations, right? Apparently you have not seen my wardrobe. It is a rare morning that I am not standing in front of my closet, staring at several (two) different choices I have to wear to work that day, waiting for a top (preferably not stained) and bottom to miraculously levitate toward me so I know it’s the right pairing. In other words, I hate to shop, and so I will take at least some responsibility for this last minute  (stressing minute) necessary shopping excursion.

Sometimes accosting a stranger is what it's all about

It was approaching noon when we raced to a store not far from home where I immediately shoved S into a dressing room and proceeded to throw several season appropriate shirts and slacks in for him to try on. Many outfits later we hunted for the ties. When I tell you that I have almost no fashion sense, this is not an exaggeration. I would be ecstatic if all clothes were based on the Garanimals concept. It wouldn’t have to be animals – it could be more adult themed… perhaps a glass of wine on a blouse and skirt – something relatable. I was whipping through the tie racks when I spotted a gentleman deftly (and oh so innocently) pairing shirts and ties with obvious fashion sense.

“Excuse me… do you know much about matching shirts and ties?”

“I do.”

“Great! Can you help us?”

This poor guy proceeded to skim through the racks with S and me as we held the shirts against one tie after another, awaiting his approval. We finally came across a spiffy little number that matched the blue (probably more like periwinkle - I have no clue) shirt S had decided to wear (looked great with his new light gray summer slacks).  Our tie helper angel let it spill that he had worked in the men’s department of a well-known department store, and was very good at choosing outfits.  His time and expertise went a long way with two bumbling fashion idiots at that moment. A few minutes later I turned to glance at another row of button-downs, and when I looked around he was gone.

“Thank you, kind stranger,” I uttered to the empty aisles.

With just over an hour to go before we had to be at the church, the mission continued – because hey, I had already said I needed shoes. We paid for the oodles of clothes S would now have in his closet for just such a fashion emergency and dashed over to a nearby shoe store. Much against my better judgment, I tried on a pair of sandals with a toe loop and let out a yelp. Skimming the rows of summer styles, one pair finally caught my eye – flat, cute but not flashy, and nothing to saw my toe off. They went well with the skirt I had at home (ironed, thankfully). Sold. And I had a coupon! Ah, but the catch was that the shoes were one cent short of the minimum to use it. Really?? So I did what any red-blooded American on a panic-shopping trip would do… I paid another $6 on peds to get $10 off. I don't even wear peds - YK does. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to convince her to pay me the $6. Sigh.

Homeward bound, where I flung the ironing board and iron into the living room, speed-ironing through what I hoped was an acceptable pressing job on several of the newly purchased items so S would have a choice and then put the rest away.

Put them away? Who was I kidding?? This man has clothes from 1978 still following him around, begging to be donated to the Animal House Museum. Nothing is going to fit in his closet at the present time. A purging is required, and for that he will need the assistance of the resident fashion consultant/teenager. And so at the moment clothes are dangling precariously on whatever kind of hook or extension he could find… but the point is - he had something to wear to the wedding.

Do we recognize anyone here from the store parking lot?

We made it with 5 minutes to spare. Well, longer really, because how many weddings actually start on time? My husband looked quite handsome and I was proud of his choices. The other good news was that the pair of shoes I had plucked in a miraculously short time actually fit and didn’t need to be broken in, which meant my toes weren’t being amputated as we danced and the backs of my feet hadn’t rubbed raw between the church and the reception. Let’s not go far as to say we were a fashion statement. We were presentable – that’s a major achievement in my book.

I have learned to almost tolerate the fact that S will forever be the guy who requires a range of at least a half hour in order to ensure he will arrive anywhere near close to on time. Often I am the only one who is ready to string him up because we are running late… I have to admit more often than not someone else will arrive after us at most functions. It is not intentional – he doesn’t start to get ready to leave the house with the idea that he will do 17 other things before we walk out the door. The problem is that he gets distracted much, much too easily.

The birdfeeders, which have been empty for two weeks, have to be fed two minutes before you are leaving for a dinner.

The cat box has to be cleaned, and what better time to do so than when I have the car motor running in the driveway?

He can’t find his sunglasses.

He can’t find his cap (he has 31 of them, all desperately needing to be thrown in the wash).

He just got out of the shower.

He just went into the bathroom.

He just has to finish this game of online Solitaire.

He just has to pay a bill online by noon today.

He just has to find the bill he was supposed to pay online by noon today.

All very valid reasons, wouldn’t you say? Me neither.

I’ve tried to set his alarm clock just a few (10… maybe 15) minutes fast in the morning so he would be done in the shower a little earlier and I would have more time in there. I think he programmed it so I can’t reset it without his being able to tell it was tampered with. I’m terrified that if I make any changes, the alarm will go off even louder and more often than it does now (because S firmly believes in multiple snoozes) and I will hurt someone (him) in my sleep-deprived stupor.

I’ve attempted to speed the process up in our daily lives by doing little things like preparing lunches the night before a work day. Still we are dashing out the door while calculating just how many summer tourists I have to run off the road to get to work on time (thank goodness most of them sleep in). I used to be so prompt. Now I'm usually working on an apology (i.e. excuse) on the way to facing scowls and snickers from assorted hosts and other guests.

You could consider it a bit of an irony that my intention is always to have this blog updated by Sunday evening at the latest (this is usually a realistic goal, considering my original plan was to publish every Saturday morning), and here I am mid-week just getting around to it. Hey, I had a very legitimate reason.

I just can't share it with you because I may need it for another time. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

So much to say, but such a tiny screen

We are on the road this weekend with nothing but our Droids to type on - and we all know my fingers would fall off attempting that - so the blog will be up Sunday night.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tourist Season in Maine - a Spectacle to Behold (and Avoid)

A small crew of what is either a family not from around here or the entourage from a reality show stands in the middle of a sidewalk in Portland, Maine, slathered in sunscreen and taking pictures of each other posing in front of a bell that someone else's child is hanging from by his feet.

Another small group is speaking in foreign tongues, walking at a snail’s pace across the street while drivers tap their steering wheels, pointing wildly to street signs I’m pretty sure they can’t read, referring back to an area map that doesn’t have enough pictures for them.

A blur of bicycles whizzes through an intersection against the light just as yours turns green and you have pulled forward, evoking a rather direct one-fingered response from no less than three of the riders.

Ice cream vendors and sandwich trucks have taken their stand on every corner, there is a line starting to curl into the street for the Duck Tours because nobody understands the concept of waiting on the sidewalk, and it takes 20 minutes to drive three blocks because of this pesky “Pedestrians have the right of way” law.

Yes, friends, it is tourist season in Maine.

Why isn’t the term “tourist trap” literal?

To be truthful, I usually don’t mind it so much – after all, tourism is the livelihood of many Maine businesses. On occasion I will even offer directions (as if I know where anything east or north of Commercial Street really is) and suggest restaurants (most often for those who have paid a trillion dollars for an all-inclusive cruise) and smile at their blank faces as they try to keep up with the flow of pedestrian traffic and not break their necks on the bubbled up brick sidewalk while trying to recall how many children they started out with once they finally all decide on a place to eat or shop or stand bewildered.

As you are aware, this year Independence Day happened to fall on a Thursday, and many people had Friday off to give them a nice, long weekend. All the more reason to avoid Portland like the Plague right now. So what did we decide to do? After clawing my way through traffic Wednesday afternoon and avoiding colliding with wanderers looking for a place to eat (it is a rare sight to have less than three restaurants on one street here – just pick one already), strollers which have evolved into SUVs since my kids were in them, and pets that the locals are trying to maneuver around the map-reading visitors, the plan was to go back to Portland – on the holiday - to board a boat for fireworks.

Chances of finding a parking space? Stop laughing, please. I do have a garage parking pass and I am a monthly parker, so I figured we might be able to jam our Fusion in next to a Yaris if it’s parked by a cement divider. Let me get back to the boat part.

Boats and me – not close buddies. And that’s in the daylight. So the idea of packing like sardines onto a boat with who-knows-how-many others, cruising around before the fireworks actually started, waiting for it to get dark, which obviously meant being trapped on this vessel (when was this thing inspected last?) heading who-knows-where for who-knows-how-long before the boat and my stomach stopped lurching – I’ve had better offers.

Because I wasn’t in any hurry and was possibly trying to avoid actually making the trip (this is not an admission, just an observation) we found ourselves in a sudden rush to grab sandwiches at the local Subway, hightail it out to Portland, find (thankfully) a parking space on the top floor of the ramp garage (there is power in the monthly parking pass) and walking as swiftly as possible through sightseers, animals, musicians, disgruntled homeless people whose spots were taken by the musicians, jugglers, and a few kayakers who took a wrong turn on Wharf Street. We made it to the boat with ten minutes to spare.


What – me, worry??

My head was spinning as we climbed aboard. What if there was a freak storm and we were taken out by a lightning bolt? What if the boat had a flat tire – or whatever the equivalent would be on a boat – and we were stuck out here (and none of the other 638 boats noticed our distress call)? What if… wait – do the kids know where our will is? Should I text them our attorney’s name and phone number just in case?

The boat headed out to open water, filled but not sardine-filled. We sat on the top deck and had a lovely view of the captain’s little box where he offered Cliff Clavin-type trivia into the loud (emphasized) speaker facing us. Really, the views (to the side) were gorgeous and I snapped what could have been several award-winning shots with my Droid. It was a perfect, sunshiny evening and we munched on our subs in contentment as time passed over the calm waters. I had been sure the hours would drag – what can you possibly do from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on a boat while you wait for fireworks? As it turns out, you can just relax and relish rather than resist the fact that you are not in control.

But you and I know it’s never that easy. I worried about the two little girls who were having the time of their lives running back and forth, up and down the steep stairwell. I worried about the kid two seats up who was several shades of green and complaining about not feeling well. I worried about whether or not my turkey sub was going to settle each time we were hit by a wake from some sleek motorboat zipping by in a hurry to get to…. why do you hurry to get to anywhere when you’re on vacation?

Eventually I ran out of things to worry about – except for killing the battery on my cell phone because I was so entranced with taking pictures of the sunset and later, the celebratory bursts of light in various colors and design. I didn’t even worry (but probably should have) about sitting in traffic along with the thousands of others on shore who would be slinking down the hill after the pyrotechnics and a concert with Don McLean singing his 27-minute version of “American Pie” under the stars. 

The night was beautiful, the company pleasant (we chatted it up with another couple on the boat for some time), there were no sick souls hanging over the edge, and though a few of the more ‘seasoned’ viewers kept hoping for a bigger display of illumination instead of a steady lineup of single shots until close to the end, all in all it was an excellent way to spend the evening. Following a 40-minute display (with music piped in to add to the patriotic ambience) we set about making our way back to the car.

Oh, right, the car. On top of the roof of the ramp garage. Whereupon reaching said car we could see nothing but glaring headlights en masse coming from all directions, seemingly linked in Slinky fashion with three inches of space between them. Do we sit it out until traffic clears at dawn? Do we brave this frontier and plunge head on into the fray? Are there bathrooms up here?? Fine, let’s go.

Down we went, circling the floors of the garage, which almost nobody was leaving because most of them were either staying in a hotel or out on one of the many islands we had passed on our pre-fireworks tour. That was easy! And then we got to the street. The steady stream of cars could be reckoned with because they had to stop for the intersection traffic lights. The pedestrians, on the other hand, made their own rules – and none of them involved letting the cars move. They watched the “Walk” light turn magenta as it flashed the obvious “DO NOT WALK” sign (actually it’s the shape of a pedestrian in red, blood spatter I believe, laying underneath the tires of a car making little moaning sounds – you would think this should be effective, yes?) and simply continue walking with the crowd, assuming no 2,000 pound hunk of metal could possibly pummel through the three-person-deep swarm.

A little less pedestrian bonding, please?

So sit we did until finally we saw an opening… or rather, made an opening.  I did worry some about S deciding to loudly proclaim his disgust with “Stupid people” who crossed against the light so we almost didn’t make it through. The last time he mouthed off at someone from the car window, we had a tattooed, bandana-wearing…. errmm… tourist… on a Harley spin a 180 at a 4-way traffic light and pursue us with a vengeance. We managed to ditch him somehow but not before almost having to have the car seats cleaned. It is a memory that stays with me, which of course means that it will stay with S because I will resurrect that story any time he thinks about yelling something – anything - out a car window. Fortunately, this time they would have had to chase us on foot, so we were ahead of the game.

I know all these people could not possibly live in the area. I know Portland, Maine does not have the biggest, most exciting Fourth of July Light in the Sky displays in New England.  And yet, we sat at each light (six of them to be exact) for approximately five minutes before we got to the highway. That doesn’t sound like a lot – except you can only fit four cars at a time on each strip of road for these lights. Again, the pedestrians ruled – not even trying to make it look like they were in a hurry or at all concerned for their own safety, some taking long looks around at various buildings, some talking on cell phones as they ambled across the street in front of idling motorists, some staring into our windshields as if daring us to make a move. I was genuinely afraid one of them would growl, “You want a piece of me?” which S would reply to by gunning it.

Eventually we made it to the highway and arrived home, worn out but content, some time after 11 p.m. I could sleep in Friday morning since our office was closed, but S had to be at work. It was the first time in I don’t know how long that I had the house to myself for a day. It was a little befuddling and took me a while to find my stride. I got lost twice going to the kitchen because the animals weren’t trying to trip me in the hall, leading me to their dishes (S had fed them) and wasn’t sure if it was all right to drink the coffee since there was only one cup next to it (I will explain the “matching cup” obsession I have at a later date). I tried not to think about how I could get used to this, because I can't, but I did make the most of the day and it flew by, naturally.

Is going back to reality really necessary?

In the end, it was a successful and enjoyable holiday and long weekend. YK will be home Sunday evening and the countdown to her entry into college begins in earnest. It was good practice to have her away this past week visiting OK in Philadelphia – a trial run so to speak for S and me. So far neither of us has been kicked off the island. I am hopeful we will survive the Empty Nest.

Now I just have to make it through the tourists, crafters, musicians, requests for change, lobsters in costumes, and restaurant chalk menus half the width of the sidewalk, all within the two blocks between the garage and my office on Monday. Proof enough that only the strong survive Vacationland.