SOUR CHERRIES AND HAPPY FACE

Bad days are like sour cherries. Even in a great batch of fruit, you hit some duds. As you munch, you’re going to get some berries that are overripe, sour, or bitter. You bite into them, make a face, and put them aside. You don’t eat them because they don’t taste good.

Life is like this. Day follows day. Some days suck.

Yesterday sucked. Finding I’d been hacked, that our money was gone. That after being so careful, we were back in the red through no fault of our own. It put me into a lousy mood.

I did not feel a Pollyanna urge to discover a bright side. I was pissed off. Outraged at what happened, doubly so by the cavalier way the bank made me feel marginalized and helpless in the face of their corporate indifference.

me with debbie's camera

I suppose I could have smiled on through, but I didn’t want to, anymore than I feel like eating the sour cherries. I had every right to be angry and saw no reason to pretend otherwise.

Was I wrong?

I don’t think so. The people who care about us will understand, cut us some slack. Leave us space to get over what’s bothering us and what’s more, they should. You’d do it for them, wouldn’t you?

The whole “stay positive” thing is out of control. If the proponents of permanent smiles are to be taken seriously, no one will ever frown again. No tears, no sadness, no anger. Ever. There will be one acceptable emotion. Happiness. We will all wear a Happy Face. Happy, happy, happy. No matter what. Has anyone read or seen The Stepford Wives?

So, what’s your problem? Losing your home to foreclosure? Got cancer? Heart Disease? No job? No prospects? Don’t be mad or sad. You’ll be fine. No matter what those doctors are saying, no matter that you don’t have a place to live. Or a life. Or a future.

According to the proponents of Happy Face, no problem is so big it can’t be overcome with a positive attitude and a bright smile. I’m betting most of the people who believe in Happy Face have never confronted an intractable problem. One day, their fake smiles will catch up with them. They will crash and burn. The corners of their mouths will turn down and their faces will shatter on impact.

I’m not suggesting we all walk around sneering, sulking, and grumpy, but we need to be allowed to express what we actually feel. Otherwise, life is a total fake.

STILL STANDING

Object Lesson - Sherlock Holmes had his pipe. Dorothy had her red shoes. Batman had his Batmobile. If we asked your friends what object they most immediately associate with you, what would they answer?


Interesting subject.

Depending on when they became a friend. Some of my earliest friends … like my cousins … see me as that weird, overly intellectual kid with buck teeth and frizzy hair. They would think of me with my nose always in a book – and they’d be right.

The local little girls with whom I grew up would probably remember the piano — and the books. If I wasn’t playing Chopin or Beethoven, I had my head in a book.

indian corn kitchen windowThen, we get to college. I was first a music major and the people I met then think of me as a musician — and remember the piano. But a couple of years later, I found the radio station. That group is likely to think of me as the other half of my first husband, who was a very popular guy and the Fearless Manager of the radio station.

Then, I was off to Israel. A confusing time, but call me a deck of cards. We played bridge obsessively, often until the sun rose. And the bread baking too. And the computers, which were just beginning enter my life. Israel was the bridge between old and new me.

Back to the USA and add some stuff: the omnipresent briefcase because I was always working. A computer. And most important, Garry. Then, after a while, hospitals because for the past 12 years I’ve been in and out of them. Still there are the computers and bless his heart, Garry.

Throughout this entire time, you would always finds lots of animals – cats, dogs birds — children. And cameras.

Life changes. We change. Our technology and tools evolve. But there is an essential “us-ness” that stays, forming a core which makes us who we are. I hope that’s mostly what people who really know me recognize.

I’m not my computer, my blog, my books, my collections, or my husband. I’m just someone struggling down the lumpy road of life, hoping to get through it still on my own feet. Getting to the end still standing would be an achievement.

NO BUNGEE JUMPING THIS WEEK, THANKS

Fearless Fantasies - How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? Would your life be better or worse than it is now?


If I could not feel fear, I’d most likely be dead of doing something stupid and dangerous.

Just as pain warns our bodies that something is wrong, fear warns our brains to be cautious. Excessive or unreasoning fear can cripple us, make us unable to do anything at all. Phobias can eliminate some activities entirely.

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If you are terrified of heights, sky-diving and mountain climbing are likely to be non-starters. If you are scared to death of insects, forget that jungle exploration trip down the Amazon!

But normal fear based on a sensible understanding of a situation keeps us from doing dumb stuff. From climbing that rickety ladder, from diving off the cliff into the rocky, shallow water below.

I think, in the context of my life, I have done many things other’s would have thought dangerous, but which weren’t. They may have been totally stupid and wrong-headed, but not dangerous.

I can’t think of anything I would have done (that I wanted to do) but rejected because of fear. I pretty much did what I wanted. Mostly, it worked out okay.

The stuff that didn’t work out?

Fear wasn’t the issue. It was poor judgment, usually of person or people. Nothing to do with danger and everything to do with street smarts.

 

I CAN’T REMEMBER THE DETAILS

Back of the Queue – Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to starting (an activity, a hobby, or anything else, really)? Tell us about it — and tell us about what’s keeping you from doing it.


I’m totally sure there’s something I planned — intended — to do with my life and didn’t get around to it.  The problem is, I can’t remember what that was.

Did I plan to get famous, write the great American novel? Yeah, that was one thing but you’ll have to forgive me. I think when this was my dream, I was 10, maybe 11. It didn’t even survive into my high school years. I can’t clearly remember If I had anything specific in mine or how I intended to reach my goal. It was a long time ago.

75-EarlyMorningTeepee_01

When I was even younger, I wanted to be the Lone Ranger. Except the job was already taken. I didn’t have a horse, and (minor detail) I was (am) a girl. The details of this “plan” elude me now. I just remember the vague outline. Maybe this plan was never more than a vague outline. I was so young and it was a long time ago.

I was going to travel the world, live in another country, get absorbed in a different culture. Wait … I did that, didn’t I? I remember. A bit fuzzy, but these memories linger long.

I was going to be a working writer. A journalist. Run a newspaper, cover issues and events. Interview important people and see my byline on the front page. It’s coming back to me. I did that, though it was in another country and almost 30 years ago. I’m sure I enjoyed it a great deal, but time has softened the edges. Life does that. I may not remember every detail, but I know it was a great time.

So I’m looking back and I think I lived the life I wanted including pretty much all the stuff I wanted to do. It didn’t always work out exactly as expected, but that’s life. Man plans, God laughs.

Add another old saying: “Too soon old, too late smart.” If I could do it all over again … and believe me, I don’t want to do it again … I’d fine tune my plans a bit and maybe have a more profitable outcome. Because I had a good time. Even the bad times were good. I had fun. I laughed. I worked hard doing things I thought were worth doing. Some of my worst paying jobs were the most fun of all.

So maybe I wouldn’t do it differently after all. Because changing anything might ruin the experiences. The old butterfly effect, you know?

I can’t remember the details anyway, so this is my story. I’m sticking to it.


In real life, you have only two choices. They are fundamental, irrevocable, etched in stone.

You can die young … or you can grow old.

How you grow old — gracefully, grumpily, in good or poor health — isn’t up to you. But these are the only choices. I didn’t die young, so here I am. And I can’t remember a lot of detail, but I remember fun.

Laughter stays with you. I highly recommend not spending a lot of time grieving over what you missed and more time laughing with people you love.

 

FIXING TYPOS IN MY LIFE STORY

Worlds Colliding –There’s work you and home you, café you and hospital you, friends you and strangers you. In this week’s writing challenge, tell us about a time when two or more of your “yous” ran into each other.


When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, blame it on the narrator. It’s all his fault.

Marilyn and BonnieMy narrator remembers everything. He fills in my back story. I’m in charge — technically — but he never shuts up. He is my third person perspective on life. In real time. I’m so accustomed to the nonstop running commentary, I’m not sure how I’d understand my world if my narrator left.

As long as I can remember, my narrator — who remains nameless after all these years — has filled the holes in my story. Adding “he said” and “she said.” Describing action and scenery. “Fictionalizing” reality.

Mr. Narrator is distracting and does not respect “the moment.” No respecter of persons, he can suck the fun out of parties, or if I’m not careful, make me laugh at the worst possible moments.

I’ve also learned from my narrator. Learned to view life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, hilarity, weird characters, strange coincidences, tragedy, romance, hope and despair.

My job is to live and fix the typos. The narrator takes care of the rest.

WHEN YOU STOP HOLDING YOUR STOMACH IN

In every relationship, there comes a moment when you stop holding your stomach in. Remember? What a relief.

live-and-let-live

The day you give up trying to remodel family and friends is like that. One day, you have this huge revelation. Other people aren’t projects! You can’t fix them. Moreover, they don’t want to be fixed because they don’t consider themselves broken.

Talk about relief. Phew.

The world keeps spinning. Turns out, we never had any control over anyone but ourselves – and not much control over ourselves, either.

Welcome to live and let live.

BYE BYE SUPERWOMAN

Originally published last August, I thought this deserved a rerun. For all the women I know who are discovering they are human after all — this is dedicated to you.


Not long ago, I was Superwoman. I knew because so many people said I was, so it had to be true, right? Then life fell apart. I started to miss those leaps over tall buildings. I barked my shins and fell on my head. Finally what was supposed to be a single bound turned into a crash and burn.

Superwoman

Thus I learned I couldn’t do it all and shouldn’t try. Superwoman wasn’t so super any more.

The thing about having a superwoman image is, it’s flattering. Sweet having folks tell you how much they admire you. Great hearing them say they wish they had your courage. Even if you don’t believe it, it’s nice to hear, isn’t it? The words provide validation. You feel appreciated. Loved, even.

Unfortunately, flattery has strings. Having told you how great you are, your friends feel free to tap into the strength they admire. They know, by some instinct, you will help. It’s a reflex. You see need, you try to help. If you think about it, you almost never say no to anyone. It’s remarkable how popular that makes you.

Since retiring my cape, I’ve learned a few things. Strong people, especially women, attract needy people. It’s as if we have “free help” tattooed on our foreheads. Everyone can see it — except us.

It took me the better part of a lifetime to accept my limits and understand in my heart I don’t have endless reserves. If I fail to pace myself, when those closest to me need me, I have nothing left. It turns out emotional energy is like a bank account. You can’t keep making withdrawals unless you also make deposits.

I can’t fight every battle or support every cause. The first time I said no to someone who asked for help, I felt so guilty I thought I’d drown. Years later, I don’t say no easily or lightly, but I say it. Remarkably, the world keeps turning.

Superwomen are easy to manipulate. Guilt and an over-developed sense of responsibility makes us vulnerable to emotional blackmail. We do the hard things others can and should do for themselves. It’s a trap no less for them than for us. Most people are not too weak to do what they need to do. Strength is not DNA, it’s choice. Most “weak” people are lazy, fearful and don’t want to make hard choices. They don’t look for solutions. They look for help. Big difference.

The Superwoman (along with Batwoman and Superl...

Plenty of people have serious problems including me. I’ve wondered if I have pissed off a malign deity or am working off some terrible Karmic debt. I don’t really know how I’ve gotten through but I’m still here. It wasn’t valor; it was desperation.

People say when things get bad, you find out who your friends are. From the dozens of people I helped over the years, to whom I offered a place to live when they were homeless and much more, when life turned on me, fewer than a handful were anywhere to be found. All the rest went missing.

That was when I put my cape in mothballs. Now I take care of close friends and family. And for the first time, I take care of me.

Thirty-five years ago, my mother asked me a question. She asked: “If you were to list the people in your life that matter, who would be first, second, and third on the list?”

I listed my son, my husband and a close friend.

She said: “You’re wrong. The first name on that list has to be YOU, because if you don’t take care of yourself, no one will. You won’t be able to care for anyone else, either.”

I thought it a strange thing for her to say. Her own life had been taking care of others. She was dying then. I suppose it changed her point of view. She was right, of course. We are responsible for ourselves. Only when we make sure we have what we need can we take care of anyone or anything else.

God — and maybe Superwoman — will have to take care of the rest.

IF YOU WANT IT BAD ENOUGH

The biggest and most damaging lie we tell our kids is this:

“If you want it bad enough and work really hard, you can achieve anything.”

We all bought into it as kids. Even though life has taught us it’s not true, we still try to sell it to younger generations. It’s the worst kind of lie. True enough to sound inspiring, yet deeply misleading.

You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and actual talent. Luck helps too.

75-SunriseClematisHPCR-1

We cannot always achieve what we want because we want it a lot. You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write without a gift for words. Some things can’t be taught. Yet these days, anyone who objects to the lie that hard work alone is always enough is called defeatist — or elitist. I am neither, but I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism became politically incorrect. It’s cruel. It takes people with potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong thing.

When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up whatever because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, it annoys me. I’m a very hard worker, but I’m old enough to know that hard work only takes you so far. I would rather work on something at which I have a chance of succeeding.

Yet we keep hearing the same enticing lie. “Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!” We always read about the successes. What we don’t hear about are the myriad failures, those who tried their hearts out and were defeated. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We ignore real gifts in favor of magical thinking.

Creating a good and satisfying career should be part of everyone’s life plans. First though, we need to figure out what we do well, then focus on it. Hone talent and build a future that works. We need to help our kids do the same. Then network like mad and hope to get the Big Break because the wild card in the mix is always Lady Luck.

Don’t buy a lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be the best they can be. Help them succeed.

VALOR AND SURVIVAL

It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasantly uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I hardly deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or you shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people too) is instinct, not valor.

Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.

If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.

I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.

The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

WELCOME TO KINDERGARTEN

There I am. Probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others seem awfully big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years.

P.S. 35 looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and it will seem tiny, a school in miniature. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is always on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old and she’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones they have that everyone can use are all broken and mostly, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff that all the other kids mothers know.

There were no air conditioners when I went there. We just sweated.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just the walk is all uphill and I’m tired. Why do I have to do this?

By the time I know the answer, I am in third grade.

IF YOU LOOK GREAT BUT FEEL LIKE CRAP, SMILE!

I decided to take a selfie this morning. I look pretty good. I walk like Quasimodo and mumble “Oy” under my breath a lot. My chest hurts … not only the new incision, but the implanted breasts my surgeon built a few years ago.

As I feared, they’ve taken a serious hit in the course of this mess. Putting on some kind of support garment helps some. Between my chest (new incisions and old incisions), my back (new damage, old damage, calcified damage) and the oh my God itching … it’s a symphony of sensation.

But I look fine. My hair hasn’t (yet) fallen out. It has thinned, but not completely disappeared and I’m glad I didn’t precipitously cut it off, though there were times in the hospital when it was stuck to everything, in my bandages, my food, my mouth … it was a very hairy world for a while. At that point, I was sure I should have gone for pixie cut, just for the ease of maintenance. And not having it adhere to absolutely everything.

selfie - marilyn - me 4-27-14

The discrepancy between how I look and how I feel is more than a bit weird. From the mirror, out peers a healthy-looking woman who can’t pick up a small dog or a frying pan and creeps around the house hunched over mumbling imprecations, mostly in Yiddish.

Garry and I have discussed this, how strange it is when you look fine but don’t feel anything like you look. How do you deal with compliments when everything hurts?

Answer: You say “Thank you! ” Then you smile, showing as many teeth as you have remaining in your mouth.

As Garry says, “It’s all packaging. As long as the package looks good, print the legend.”

GROWING OLDER

Marilyn and I are watching a “NCIS” episode involving Gibbs and his dad. Mark Harmon and the late Ralph Waite. We’ve seen it before but it’s an especially poignant show because Waite died just a few months ago and the story deals with a difficult father son situation.

It also touches home on aging and health issues. Gibbs’ dad, his driving license just revoked, is desperate to find an old war buddy who is dying. Gibbs is preoccupied with a case and impatient with his dad. Conversation is awkward. It reminds me of another father and son.

My dad was never big on intimacy. We’d talk about sports and men’s clothing. Towards the end of his life, My dad talked a bit about frustration with his health. He was a big, strong man who was very handy for most of his years. Now, he mostly sat in the dark as his strength ebbed. Conversation was even more difficult. Even sports and men’s clothing drew little interest. The award-winning TV news journalist was having difficulty talking to his father. The image of my father, the younger man, kept flashing through my mind as we sat in silence. I made a silent vow that I would not become my father, wrapped in silence.

Almost 20 years later, that vow is still flashing through my mind. For one thing, I’m no longer the perennial young man whose pictures adorn our home. Mortality has made its presence known. Marilyn is fighting to regain some semblance of quality of life after complex heart valve surgery. She is a proud, fiercely independent woman who doesn’t like asking for help. It’s awkward for both of us. We make jokes about our so-called golden years but we don’t really laugh.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

It’s funny because we actually look younger than people our age a generation ago. But it doesn’t help when we hear our bones creaking. It’s certainly no joke to Marilyn who wonders if she’ll be able to do some very basic things to re-establish her independence.

Marilyn has had health issues most of her life so she is no stranger to pain. Fittingly, she sometimes looks at me wryly when I complain about aches. Who do I think I am? Well, I am that vain guy who burned through a lot of prime years with little regard about paying the piper.

The dues are coming in. But the reporter in me must acknowledge there are so many others who have more serious health issues. That’s probably an understatement if you just flip through today’s news stories. Still, growing older isn’t the picture perfect stuff of those old movies.

Print the legend!

THE CASE WITH THE MISSING EGG – RICH PASCHALL

The story of Harold (Soup and Sandwich) continues with a new week.

Sunday started like any other Sunday.  Harold arose punctually with the sound of the alarm clock.  There was never any pressing the snooze button for Harold.  Time was too valuable to be wasted pressing a snooze button.  The world never snoozes, so why should Harold?  He quickly went through his morning routine, then went on to the kitchen for coffee.

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD

Han Dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD

As expected, Harold found the coffee already brewing.  He set it up the night before so that there would be no fumbling through the coffee-making process in the morning.  When Harold was ready, so was the coffee.  You would not expect anything less from the time managing genius that he was.  He had a light breakfast, did some light reading and followed that by cleaning the dishes and neatly putting them away.

Now Harold, master of organization, commander of the schedule, and ruler of all the cleaning supplies, was ready to begin.  He would start cleaning in the living room at the front of the house and follow through all the rooms, closets included, until he got to the back of the house.  This would generally take all day with a little time off for a second cup of coffee and then again later for a light lunch.

So Harold dusted and vacuumed and swept.  Every item was cleaned.  As there were very few item on tables or cabinets, the job could be done quickly.  Each drawer had to be opened and inspected.  Everything had to be in place.  A quick visual inventory was taken by Harold’s computer like mind, and nothing was out-of-place when he was finished.  Actually, nothing was out-of-place when Harold started, but he just had to check to make sure.

Tang Servant

When he got to the bedroom closet he spied a box on the top shelf above the space where his clothes were neatly hung.  Harold removed a two-step ladder from behind the bedroom door and put it in from of the closet door.  He used it to reach the case on the shelf and then carefully lifted it as if it held a king’s treasure.  He brought it carefully down the steps and carried it to the living room.  There he set it on the coffee table, which never saw any coffee, and he sat down on the sofa.

Years earlier Harold had the case made to his exact specifications.  While its outward appearance was of an ordinary cardboard box, it was reinforced on the inside to hold the heavy and precious items Harold had so carefully collected in his lifetime.  The sections were of various sizes because the contents were all different in shape.

While no one who saw Harold’s neat, clean and modest apartment would ever suspect, Harold was a collector of rare Japanese and Chinese porcelain.  They were the only collectables in his possession and they were as much an investment as they were a collection.  The pieces were carefully procured over many years.  He had to be careful in his choices, as there were many fakes on the market.

The items also had to be something that Harold enjoyed.  If they were not aesthetically pleasing to his eye, he did not purchase them.  He could not imagine spending a lot of money on something, if they were not good to look at.  Of course, he was the only one who ever saw them.

Once Harold went to China for vacation, partly because he thought he had a lead on a piece of Imperial porcelain of the Yuan dynasty.  It turned out not to be so, but he settled on a piece from a later period.  It was his only trip outside the country.  Everything else was purchased from collectors and auctions.  Now he had a box full, a little bigger than the standard shirt box.

As always, Harold carefully removed the cover.  On this day, as in every Sunday, he would pick up one piece and examine and admire it closely, but wait!  There was a piece missing.  A porcelain egg was not in its place.  Harold’s mind was racing.

Where could it be?  Did someone break in and steal it?  No, that makes no sense.  Why steal the egg and leave the rest?  Did he lose it?  Impossible!  He never took them out of the house.  It must simply be misplaced.  How could the well-organized Harold have misplaced anything?

Harold was frantic.  He wanted to get up and start searching the house but his body went numb.  He started to shiver.  Never was an item of Harold’s life out-of-place and now a precious piece was missing.  His stomach was all twisted in knots.  He struggled just to get to his feet.

Sui Dynasty musicians

Sui Dynasty musicians

When he got his wits about himself, he started a careful and well-organized search of the house.  Since it seem unlikely to be in any of the places he just cleaned, he searched everywhere else, some places multiple times.  When the egg was not found, Harold sunk to his knees and prayed to St. Anthony, patron of lost items.  The egg remained lost.

Harold returned to the sofa, sat down and stared at the case with the empty space.  Through the careful collection of these porcelain items over the years, Harold felt that his very life had gained in value.  Now the missing porcelain egg, soft and beautiful in his mind, caused a tear to come to Harold’s eye.  He could not shake the feeling that now he himself, through stupidity or carelessness or whatever, was worth a little less.

TOSSING THE DICE OF LIFE

Take a Chance on Me

What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

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My life has been so full of chances taken, some of which worked out very well indeed … and others which left me digging my way out of the smoldering wreckage of my life. They all had one thing in common: they seemed like a good idea at the time.

And maybe they all were. That’s the thing about risk-taking. You don’t know whether it will work out. That’s what makes it risky. If it were a sure thing (Question: Is anything in life a sure thing? If so, what might it be?), there would be no risk, no chance.

Life itself is chancy. Full of risk. Every single decision, every little choice can ultimately leave you wondering “what if?”

The biggest chance with the most risk I ever took was being born. Since then, it’s just been one thing after another.

I call it life, but you can call it Harry, if you prefer.

MY BRIEF CAREER IN ANIMAL CONTROL

I live in a small town. Just under 13,000 people call Uxbridge home. The village, or as we say around here, “downtown,” has a classic brick town hall, circa 1879, an elegant old library, and several other historic buildings.

1893 Thayer Library Photo: Garry Armstrong

1893 Thayer Library Photo: Garry Armstrong

Our closest neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis.

Their town hall is a unit in an old condo building. The center of town is a sub shop. There’s no sign to indicate you are in Millville, so it’s easy to miss. When you get there, it will be closed anyway. The following notice is posted on Millville’s website:

Due to budget constraints, effective immediately the Town Clerk’s office will only be open on Mondays from 9am-1pm and Wednesday evenings from 6pm-8pm for public assistance.  If you cannot be at the Municipal Center during these scheduled hours, please call the Town Clerk’s Office to schedule an appointment.

There are approximately 3100 people living in Millville, spread out thinly.

Downtown Millville.

Perhaps 7 years ago — I don’t remember exactly — the town of Millville decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It may have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.

This was about as part-time as a job could be. The pay was $1200 per year, payable semi-annually. Before taxes.

Millville already had a Senior Animal Control Officer who was theoretically in charge, but passionately fond of golf. I suspect he also had a full-time job elsewhere too. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer and would be on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

I’m basically an optimist. I figured Millville is tiny. How many calls could there be? I took the job. I was sworn in, just like in the movies, hand on the Bible. I promised to protect and serve.

A mere couple of hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. Since it was my first call — and a weekend — my “senior officer” thought maybe he should come along, show me the ropes as it were. Luckily, the skunk did the right thing and went from nearly dead to absolutely dead while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I was informed by my erstwhile boss that the skunk had probably been rabid and I should not touch it. If the skunk had not died on his own, I would have been obliged to shoot it.

Me: “Shoot it?”

Boss: “Yes, shoot it. With the rifle.”

Me: “Rifle? What rifle?”

Boss: “Oh, didn’t I mention that? We have a couple of rifles in the office. When an animal is behaving suspiciously, you have to shoot it.”

Me: “Behaving suspiciously?”

Boss: “You know, approaching people rather than running away. Acting weird. Most of the animals you’ll get calls about are rabid. There’s a lotta rabies around here so you don’t want to get close. Just shoot’em.”

Rabies. Shoot the animals. $100 a month. I was getting that creepy feeling I get when I think maybe I’ve signed up for something, the implications of which I had failed to fully grasp.

After we bagged the skunk — literally, using gloves and shovels provided by the town of Millville — to send to the Worcester county animal medical examiner, I promised to go to city hall as soon as they reopened to discuss guns and the other equipment I would need, like shovels, leather gloves, heavy-duty plastic trash bags (the non-human version of body bags), tags for the medical examiner. Forms to fill out. Oh, and where to put the corpses. Turns out, you can’t just stack them up in city hall.

My boss was unconcerned I’d never handled a weapon other than a Red Ryder Daisy BB rifle. I’d never shot anything currently or previously alive. I was puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call, actually needed a rifle, but it was locked up at city hall which was pretty much always closed. Would the offending animal make an appointment for a more convenient time? Or wait for me to call someone, get them to unlock the gun cabinet, then hang around while I drove over to get it, then drove back to shoot him? Are the rabid animals of Millville that cooperative? Was I supposed to keep the big hunting rifle in my house in case I needed it? The rabies thing had me spooked, too.

When I was finally able to get to city hall, I demanded a rabies vaccination. No way was I going to handle rabid animals without a vaccination. They pointed out rabies vaccinations are expensive and I was only the deputy. They suggested I pay for it myself.

Me: “How much will it cost?”

Clerk: “Around $450.”

Me: “That’s four and a half months pay.”

Clerk: “Well, we don’t normally pay for it.”

Me: “I’m not doing this unless I’m vaccinated.”

It turned out that the animal medical examiner could provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look alarmed – drove me to the doctor. While the doctor prepared the inoculation, we got a rundown of exactly how common rabies is in our neck of the woods. “Why,” he said, “Just the previous week they found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer … even possums get rabies.” The only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune. Go figure.

The following day, I got another call. A really big snapping turtle had wandered into the road and was blocking traffic. It didn’t sound too threatening, so armed with my shoulder-high heavy leather gauntlets (no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.

A common snapping turtle.

Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, feeder creeks, lakes, brooks, ponds, pools, and swamps. Snapping turtles are called common for good reason. They live just about everywhere you find water. Undoubtedly, the big snapper had wandered into the road, lost his bearings. Someone needed to grab the turtle and carry him back on the river side of the road. That someone was me.

This turtle was not in the water, not docile. His beak was sharp. His neck was extremely flexible. Not my kind of nature pal.

So there I was, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of pissed turtle. He seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Okay, maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a nice pace. And he had that snaky neck and was determined to bite me.

Meanwhile, an entire construction crew, these big brawny guys who supposedly repairing the bridge, were watching. They didn’t seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who called in the first place.

I eventually herded him across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation as to strength of gloves versus power of turtle’s jaws, decided the gloves weren’t all that sturdy.

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Have you ever tried herding a turtle? Of course not. You can’t herd a turtle, but I did. I don’t know exactly how I got him across the road. I know there was a big shovel involved, but otherwise, it’s a blur. The next thing I remember doing after getting the turtle over to the river side of the road, was calling the clerk and resigning.

The turtle was enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a large gun and I’d shoot my foot off.

They tried to bill me for the rabies shot. We settled for not paying me. I think I got the better part of the deal.

CHARGE! – Marilyn Armstrong

To keep the world running, I have to charge things that recharge and keep a stack of AAA and AA rechargeable batteries ready to go.

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My world — the entire world and now, my heart too — runs on batteries. Mostly rechargeable batteries, except for my pacemaker which needs new batteries every 4 or 5 years (I think) and I do hope the batteries are very high quality.

Add 3 laptops, 2 Kindles, a couple of tablets, cellphones, 5 (6?) cameras, voice recorders, mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), a wireless keyboard, a GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand.

I have never lived in a house that had enough electrical outlets for things like lamps and televisions, much less a way to accommodate these chargers. So, I own power strips.

They are everywhere, snaking around corners, between dressers, behind the sofa, on each side of the bed and of course near each computer. They are also hiding in a lot of places you might never think to look. Throughout the house, in every room, power strips keep chargers charging and electrical devices functioning. From high-end hubs with surge protection to whatever was on sale at Walmart that day, every one is full or nearly so.

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Most power strips are designed by people who don’t use them. I have reached this conclusion based on the design that presumes you will never have anything larger than a lamp plug that needs a socket. Not even a vacuum cleaner cord fits properly, much less a power supply.

Typically, power strips don’t leave room to fit more than 2 or 3 chargers in a strip designed for half a dozen plugs. There’s no allowance for odd-shaped power supplies that will use half a strip.

 

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I don’t understand why chargers have to be so inconveniently shaped, or why they can never make a 3-pronged plug that will fit into an outlet without a fight. Why do most chargers require that you insert them at the end of the strip. No one ever seems to consider that there are only two “ends” and only one without a cord in the way. There’s some kind of Murphy’s Law that say if you are going to need two wall outlets, both devices will need to be on top or on the bottom.

I have 2 electrical sockets in the bathroom and 2 devices that require electricity. Only one can fit. The other socket is always unusable. The one charger blocks both outlets. Always.

The first day we moved into this house, two events occurred that have since defined our lives in the Blackstone Valley. The toilets backed up and the power went out. The toilets backed up because the crooks who sold us this house parked their van on the septic system’s outflow pipe and crushed it. The power went out for the usual reason: heavy rain, high wind, and lightning. Getting to know my neighbors meant figuring out how to find an electrician and plumber before I’d unpacked.

I don’t notice how dependent we are on batteries until I’m packing for a vacation. Half a carry-on is allocated to chargers … just for things we use while we travel: laptops, accessories, a pair of Kindles, his and her cell phones, mouses, portable speakers and more. I used to pack this stuff carefully. Now I just shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

High tension wire, golden maple leaves framed by an azure sky.

If you think our civilization can survive anything, ponder this. All our stuff depends on batteries and electricity. Without electricity and batteries, life as we know it would end in about a week or two, at least in cities. It might go on a little longer in rural areas. After that?

Life will be a jungle in where every man, woman, and child will fight to the death for a working AA battery.