HEY HO – THE DUKE – Marilyn Armstrong

THE GRAND DUKE OF OUR ACRES

Weekly Photo Challenge: 4-Legged Friends


We got him by accident. We kept him because he needed a home. We thought eventually, he’d calm down.

He has not calmed down.

He has not become mellow.

He has not recognized that he is home and it safe to relax. Mostly, he wants to be attached to Garry all the time. Physically joined if possible.

He has calm periods, but mostly, he’s like a giant, over-wound spring and if the hour strikes just right, he goes into hyper action and zooms madly around the house, knocking over fences and making the two, relatively quiet little Scotties looking lost and confused.

Resting … however briefly

What’s going on out there!

Portrait of the beast

Exploring the outdoors

Roaming

“I think I smell a squirrel”

TOO CURIOUS TO DIE – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Curiosity


There’s a lot of talk about suicide going around and I know I could never do that. It isn’t because I don’t get depressed or because I have not been through periods when life hardly seemed worth living.


“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s just that I have to know what’s going to happen next. I realize this might sound a bit frivolous, but curiosity is a powerful emotion. I always want to know more. I always want to see how things will work out.

So, until I lose the interest in life, or my heart stops, or I get run over by an out-of-control beer truck, I think I’ll hang around.

DOOMED – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: ATM Germs


We are doomed.

Yesterday — or was it the day before? — we got our super flu shots. These are hyped up uber-potent shots they give to us older folks because we are more likely to get sick than younger people. Also, we are more likely to die from the flu because we have other issues — asthma, blood pressure, and heart problems. Sinus problems. Stomach problems. Fibromyalgia. MS. Cancer.

In fact, I don’t know why we don’t just die and give the world a break. Sheesh.

Discovering that in addition to the usual distributors of disease — other people, especially very young people — we can now worry about everything we touch including the ATM machine.

Don’t forget your flu shot …

Really? As if the handles on the shopping cart and whatever my granddaughter has on her clothing isn’t bad enough, now I have to stress over ATM machines? Not that I actually use the ATM machine. I won’t make a deposit without going to an actual person in the bank. I want a paper receipt.

Call me crazy, but once, a long time ago in a bank since absorbed by some larger bank — probably by now it’s all Bank of America — they lost a deposit I put through in an envelope that included an official deposit slip.

It got straightened out but left me with a firm belief for any deposit made by check or cash I want a written, signed piece of paper from a person.

We are doomed. No matter how hard we try, something will get us.

We don’t go out much. When we do, we usually get sick. It’s like the slow cars that pull out in front of us while we are driving. I’m sure these cars are told when to appear by drones from the super-slow drivers’ department. Meanwhile, somewhere in the air, there’s a germ-laden drone.


“Look! It’s the Armstrongs! Prepare to disperse germs!”

Mostly, Garry and I have been exhausted. All the time. For me, this typically means fibromyalgia. Garry had surgery in July and I have a feeling that this might have triggered the same thing for him. Women are more typically fibromyalgia victims, but men are not excluded.

Then again, maybe we aren’t sick at all. Maybe we just aren’t getting enough sleep. The weather has been like hot soup with interludes of rain.  Duke is shedding like a small furry hurricane. Our sinuses and eyes don’t like the ragweed and Garry is getting used to carrying around a lot of electronics inside his head.

So maybe it’s all allergies and getting even older.

When we went for our flu shots, they always ask if you think you might be sick. At our age, that’s not an easy question to answer. Maybe we are fine or as fine as we ever are. But, maybe we aren’t fine.

Am I exhausted from all the running around to doctors and hospitals or because I’m coming down with something? Am I recovering from the major house cleaning last week? Or am I worn out because our dogs are faster, friskier, and more impassioned about balls that squeak than I could ever be?

Don’t you wish you could get that enthusiastic about a big green tennis ball that squeaks? Don’t you wish you could bite something hard enough to make it squeak?

WHAT IS INTUITION? – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt – Intuition


Intuition – the sure knowledge that even though your husband swears he cleaned the bathroom, it isn’t clean. Bet on it. How can a man who is so personally fastidious be oblivious to the dirt all around him? Is this a guy thing? Some weird part of the male psyche?

I’m not an especially dedicated house cleaner. I’m one of the “good enough for company” school of cleaning. Vacuum the dog hair and clumps of dust. Wash the kitchen floors. Vacuum the dust wherever you see it and every once in a while, go nuts and actually dust a few things. Not everything. I’m physically not up to a full top to bottom cleaning anymore.

I used to put on a round of “Credence Clearwater Revival” and push my way through a 9-room house in about 2-1/2 hours. Now, that same amount of time I can do the living room, hallway, and kitchen. It takes a lot longer to do the same stuff I used to do without even thinking about it.

Intuition is also knowing how much I can do without exhausting myself and winding up sick.

Let me return to the beginning of this and talk about the nature of my kind intuition. It isn’t a “gut feeling” that “comes out of nowhere.” That “gut feeling” is an accumulation of a million bits of information you’ve collected over your years of life. The older you get, the more intuitive you become because you’ve collected more and more information. You may not even realize you’ve collected it.

I often say that I listen but more importantly, I listen to what is not said. What people fail to say is often the most important part of the conversation. Silences are louder than shouting, sadder than falling tears.

When I used to do horoscopes, if I was reading in the presence of the person who was paying me, I got hundreds of “tells.” The widening of an eye, a tic of the cheek. A tightening of a hand. A jittery foot. In the end, I always preferred to do initial readings without meeting the person. Because those tells can throw you off as much as put you on a trail. They can mean something related but very different than you think.

Sometimes people would start a reading asking me to “guess” or “intuit” their sun sign.

“Why?” I asked them. “Why use all that energy when I can just ask you? You know, there’s a lot more to astrology than your sun sign. Depending on how the orbs are arranged, other things may be much more important in your life than where the sun is placed.

No one ever believed me. Too many astrology columns in the newspapers of the world.

I know a lot about people, often from brief conversations. I am particularly amused by “anonymous” bloggers who think no one knows anything about them. I don’t know how much money you have, but I know a ton of other stuff. How? The words you use. The subjects you pick to write about. The flow of your words. The authors you love or hate. The places you visited.

Do I know your name and address? No, but I’m sure I could find out. The Internet is good that way. You can dig out data about anyone and anything. I don’t because it isn’t critical to me. I don’t need to know if you choose to not offer the information. Anyone who chooses anonymity will not be a real friend because anonymity screams one thing loud and clear: “DON’T GET TOO CLOSE!”

Gotcha. I observe borders. I hear what you are saying,  what you won’t say, wish you could say. Are afraid to say.

Intuition.

It’s everything I’ve read, seen, done, experienced. Live, loved. The more you live, the more intuition you gain.

SUBLIMINAL IS DIFFERENT FOR DOGS – Marilyn Armstrong

Word Prompt: Subliminal

Our three dogs think they have the whole subliminal thing down pat. Like last night.

Thunder was rolling through the valley. Not very loud thunder, but definitely thunder. Rolling. It might mean rain … or just the heat of the day breaking up. Our dogs are not particularly nervous about noise. Guns, fire-crackers, thunder? Meh. Only when lightning actually hits the house does everyone — human and otherwise — react.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s hard to not react when a bolt of lightning hits the house or relatively nearby. It hit a pole in front of the house and burned out two computers — and they weren’t even turned on. It hit the pump in our well — 450 feet (that would be almost 138 meters) underground.

I thought that was really weird, but the guy from the insurance company was unphased. He said the combination of electric current, iron, and water had a way of enticing lightning. Not so unusual after all.

I was really unbelievably grateful we had insurance!

Meanwhile, our dogs have figured out when there’s a storm, we check on them, just to make sure they aren’t getting weird. I don’t think they have any idea why we check on them, but they know it’s something about storms, so as the thunder roared across the valley, they poked their three little noses into the bedroom.

Bonnie was first because she’s the dominant canine. Also, she knows Garry will let her do anything.

“Hi there,” she said, waving a furry black paw.

Gibbs’ nose appeared next. “Hi Mom, Dad. How’re things hanging with youse guys?”

Of course, The Duke was grinning up at us. Panting a little bit and using one of his front paws to point to the kitchen. Where the food is. Because nothing makes a dog less apprehensive about rolling thunder than a quick snack.

They were so cute that I got up and gave them one of the little treats.

Gibbs

We have treats in three sizes. Small, which isn’t small unless your dog is a Wolfhound or St. Bernard. Pretty small, which is maybe the size of the upper joint of your thumb. And teeny, tiny … maybe the size of my littlest fingernail. That’s the one I give them when they are looking particularly beefy. They are all permanently on a diet, too.

But since they’d gotten me up and into the kitchen once, they were sure they had it nailed. As I was getting back into bed I heard the little “scratch, scratch” on the door. This is a big improvement over Bonnie and Duke’s previous method which was to fling themselves — TOGETHER — against the door.

Our interior door are not all that sturdy and this usually meant an explosion of dogs into the bedroom.  That did not go over well with me. Garry, of course, slept through it. Will he sleep through it after he can hear? Because having your dogs break down your door is pretty damned loud, deaf or not. Even if you can’t hear it, you can certainly FEEL it.

We discussed the whole “breaking down the door” thing. I explained that if they didn’t cut it out, I was going to put all of them into crates. They didn’t like that idea.

So now, it’s a gentle scratch and if I didn’t fully close the door, a little push and a few noses in the doorway.

That is our dogs’ version of subliminal. Really subtle. Below the level of our inferior human understanding.

Duke is smart. Too smart for his own good and not as smart as he thinks — and seems to feel we need clear instructions about how to do what we ought to do. Since he can’t type, he points. With paws and nose and sometimes, entire body.

They all lick their jowls, just in case we aren’t clear that what they are hoping for is food.

After I told them to cut it out and settle down, they did. But don’t imagine for a moment that they’ve given up. All the subtle hints — like pushing the 40-pound crate of food into the living room, for example — will continue. I suppose we could try to discipline our dogs. Make them “obey” us. But I’ve never really had an obedient dog.

They all do pretty much whatever they want, even when they know better. I don’t really mind because they are much more fun “au naturale.”

THE WOODSTOVE – A BIT OF ECOLOGICAL FICTION

The woodstove had been in the family a long time. No one really knew how long, but a few of generations for sure. It had heated the family home for years.

Now the house had real central heating, so the woodstove had been relegated to a corner in the basement for a dozen years or more. It was unclear exactly when it was originally consigned to that odd dusty corner where unused but valued things end up.  The goodfers. Too good to throw away but maybe someday they’d have a new purpose.

For a while the family figured they’d put the stove in the parlor. Or maybe they’d get around to finishing the basement. It turned out the woodstove was too efficient to use like a fireplace. The amount of heat it pushed out its fat little belly was impressive. Log by log, it turned anything but a very large, open area into a sauna. It was much more efficient than oil heat and cheaper too, but oil heat was easy. No one had to split endless piles of logs, stack them in the woodshed, haul them into the house to feed the stove. It cost more money to heat with oil, but no one’s back got broken to keep the house warm.MaineCabinTXT

The woodshed still contained some wood. Enough to enjoy bright fires on cold evenings and keep the wood chopping skills of the men in the family up to snuff. But they didn’t need dozens of cords. It had taken a lot of wood to keep a family cozy through the long, bitter winter of northern Maine.

The year that Hank built the cabin, the woodstove found a new home and a purpose.

Hank built the cabin entirely by hand. It was to be a retreat, a place to get away from everything modern, from televisions and alarm clocks. Hank didn’t own the land, but the lumber company that owned it was willing to lease plots to families who wanted to build cabins by the lake. After the trees grew to maturity, the lumber companies would come and cut the trees, but it would be years before the trees were ready for harvesting.

The cabin was intended to be a warm weather retreat, just for the summer. It turned out to be so pleasant, despite it having no electricity or running water, family members and their friends liked going to it from early spring into the late autumn, sometimes even after the first snows had fallen.

The woodstove was ready and willing to keep the cabin toasty. It gave more than heat. The smell of the woodstove was friendly, familiar. The tang of smoke in the air reminded everyone how their houses used to smell of wood smoke. They recalled choosing wood for its scent. Apple, maple, sassafras, oak, even pine … each had special qualities.

It turned out you could cook on the stove too, though the technique of cooking on a woodstove was sufficiently different that each person who used it had to reinvent the process.

Over many years, many springs, summers and autumns spent by the lake, listening to the loons calling across the water, the woodstove came to symbolize a simple and peaceful life. It was the heart of a cabin deep in the woods, far from a paved road. Drinking water came directly from the lake, along with a goodly number of fresh water bass and trout, caught from the canoe and consumed with corn harvested from local farms, blueberries picked on nearby burns.

Even in cool weather, you could bathe in the lake, then warm your chilled body by the stove. It was where you hung your clothes to dry them after washing. The same place around which everyone gathered in the evening to tell stories. Once upon a special time, a quiet time, telling stories and laughing around a fire or an old woodstove was enough entertainment for any man or woman. Rowing on a crystal lake was fine. No one needed a speed boat. Friends were enough.

As the years rolled on, many people with cabins on the lake bought generators so they could have electricity. They installed washing machines. The lake water was no longer safe to drink. They brought televisions and at night, you couldn’t hear the calling loons. There were telephones, water pumps and plumbing.

It wasn’t the same and after a while, no one came to the little cabin. Hank passed away, the kids moved away. The cabin began to collapse.  Finally, it was gone, its contents including the woodstove, junk, rotting and rusting in the woods. It was as if it had never been.

It didn’t matter anyway, because enough years had passed. The trees were mature. The lumber companies came and clear-cut the woods. The rubble from the cutting washed into the lake and the fish died.  With the fish gone, the loons  didn’t have enough to eat and they flew off to nest on other lakes.

That world went away. Memories linger. I have pictures.

WHEN UMBRELLAS FLY

Although I ran this about a year ago, it definitely speaks to today’s prompt. It has the advantage of being true and funny, my favorite combination. Beware of flying umbrellas!


Once upon a time, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were, because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full-size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen.

He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup and laugh a lot. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

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Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

75-BeachNK-00

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to always be polite to grown-ups.

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

“I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — pretty long walk, all the way at the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with enthusiasm because Nathan’s does have the best hot dogs, “And fries. I got five, two for her — no mustard — and three for me. I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his substantial belly, “I started walking back. I could see where to go — I could see our striped umbrella all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly began to change.  Suddenly. Big clouds coming in from the ocean. And getting windy. This was all happening fast while I was out getting the dogs. Funny how weather changes so fast at the beach, you know? So now, I’m almost there when up comes a big puff of wind. That umbrella pulls right out of the sand and flies at me. Whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my head was gonna come off.

“I dropped the food and fell over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Compost!”

Beware of flying umbrellas at the seashore. They can turn you into compost. That’s bad, especially if your hands are full of hot dogs.

I MET A MAN WHO WASN’T THERE

Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today …

Gee I wish he’d go away.”

Childhood ditty 

When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never lonely because I had friends who understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. More accurately, they consolidated and acquired a more sophisticated persona.

“They” became a “she.” My narrator. And she as been with me my entire life. A companion for sure, but also a “shadow me.” She sits on my shoulder and almost never shuts up. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, I can blame it on the narrator. It’s all her fault.

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My narrator remembers everything. She fills in my back story. Technically, I’m in charge of my life, but sometimes, I wonder. My narrator seems to know what will happen before I do. She never stops telling my story.

She is my third person perspective on life — as I live it in real time. I’m so accustomed to her running commentary, that during her brief silences, I become alarmed by her absence. She is so much a part of how I make sense of life (the universe and everything, thank you Douglas Adams), I’m unsure whether or not I could understand anything much without the accompanying narration.

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As long as I can remember, my narrator — who is me but not me — has had no name except maybe a form of mine. She is writer-Marilyn. She has a job. To fill the gaps in my story. To add “he said” and “she said.” To describe the things people do. Sometimes supply a little mood music, suggest changes to the script, and scenery. She “fictionalizes” reality.

My unreal pal distracts me and has no respect for “the moment.” No respecter of persons either, she will make me laugh precisely when I shouldn’t. Over the years, she has gotten me into trouble with bosses, teachers, spouses, and complete strangers. I can hardly explain it’s not me laughing at them … it’s that damned narrator.

Despite the perils of the relationship, I’ve learned a lot from my nameless friend. She has taught me to view life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, hilarity, weird characters, strange coincidences, tragedy, romance, hope, and despair. Because she weaves the story lines together into the epic of my life, I have a better world view, a more cohesive vision of how I fit into the fabric of others’ existences — and how other people fit into mine.

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She complicates my life and at the same time, simplifies it. My only job is to follow the script, even when it makes no sense, and to fix the typos when I spot them. My narrator takes care of the rest.

STOOPID QUESTIONS

ANSWER A STUPID QUESTION
The BLACKLIGHT CANDELABRA

I was shopping in a department store and had the pleasure of overhearing a mother and her (approximately) sixth grade son having a conversation. They were in the men’s underwear section and the son was not particularly happy with the experience.

The boy says to his mother, “Why do all these packages have men on the packages? Why can’t they show women wearing the underwear?”

We all know the obvious and most clearly correct answer. Don’t write about that. Instead, your challenge this week is to devise a sociological, psychological, or other intellectually infused explanation for why underwear manufacturers don’t sell their product using irrelevant images like other businesses do.

Stupid Questions R Us. I used to work in advertising, an industry about which it can be said — without fear of argument or contradiction — there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

calvin klein underwear

Or, for that matter, a stupid answer. It is an industry with a passion for stupidity. It embraces it. An industry in which the demographic bottom line makes a slow third-grader look like a budding Einstein.

When I worked at Doubleday, we used to put warning labels on books. “Warning: May contain sexually explicit material.

Usually, there was no sexually explicit material. It was boilerplate and we put it on boring books to make them look spicy. We received complaints, too, from our customers. Who had sought in vain for The Good Parts, but had found nothing but … literature.

We pointed out we had said “MAY contain sexually explicit material.” We hadn’t actually promised it did. No guarantees, implicit, implied, or whatever.

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In the name of pure research, I asked my husband if he, as a man (not as my husband, as a reporter, or as an otherwise intelligent human being) thought naked women in men’s underwear advertising would be a good idea. He said (and I quote): “Well, it would probably be a smart advertising ploy.”

Psychological, sociological, or cultural explanations? Nah. Irrelevant. It’s about money. Advertisers will do anything to sell the product.

Sex sells. It always has. Always will. Put a naked body on the cover of any book and it will sell better (not to me, but to somebody somewhere). The same book without a naked person will sell fewer books. Fact, not opinion.

Getting back to the important issue of marketing men’s underwear. The kid had a point. While I think women wearing the men’s underwear might confuse customers (presumably men), as you can see, there is far from universal agreement on that point.

Of course there ought to be sexy, naked women selling men’s underwear. They should be gazing at it with longing. Rubbing it all over their bodies while they gasp with pleasure. Caressing their breasts with it.

As for the larger question — why aren’t men’s underwear manufacturers already doing this kind of advertising?  Who says they aren’t?

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JUST A SUNNY DAY

SUBCONSCIOUS DREAMSCAPE
The BLACKLIGHT CANDELABRA

I have no idea what this means. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean anything except that drawing in Photoshop (which isn’t a drawing program, really) using a mouse and squinting a lot probably isn’t going to produce high-quality artwork. And sure enough. It hasn’t produced high-quality art.

Part of the problem is a lack of skill. I am a doodler, not an artist. If I used the correct tools — which I own but have never figured out how to use — the output would be pretty much the same. Not  art. Not real art. Advanced doodles at best.

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So here I am. In front of my computer. It’s a sunny day and we are on our way out. We’re going to the doctor, then the grocery store.

{Six hours pass … }


Doctor, all good. Groceries, quickly accomplished. Home again, home again. And I found …

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WHEN THE MACHINES WENT DOWN

Dateline: Uxbridge, Massachusetts 

It was an ordinary day. A sunny day in southern New England. Cool. Almost crisp. The leaves had changed and shone bright yellow and orange. Autumn. The best time of the year.

An ordinary day. Except, we ran out of half-and-half.

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In most homes, this would have been no big deal. It would surely not have been an emergency requiring an immediate trip to town. But in this household of addicted coffee drinkers, no way we could get through 24 hours without half-and-half for our coffee. Someone — okay, Garry — would have to buy half-and-half.

The nearest shop only sells tiny containers and sometimes, has none at all. So it was off to Hannaford’s.

Hannaford’s is our grocery store. We don’t own it (I wish), but it’s the one we patronize. Not big or fancy. Even for Uxbridge, it’s a modest store, but that’s one of the reasons we like it. It’s part of a small Maine-based chain. Prices are pretty good and the produce is usually fresh. They offer locally grown products in season. You don’t need a special card to get discounts and they offer a 5% discount to Senior Citizens every Tuesday. Most important, they are close to home, easy to get to, and have ample parking.

I was in the middle of a book — I usually am — so I didn’t pay a lot of attention as Garry went out. Not a big deal. Just half-and-half. Maybe pick up something for dinner. He came back a couple of hours later, a bit longer than an errand like this should take. Garry looked amused. Maybe bemused.

“There is shock and confusion in downtown Uxbridge, today,” he announced.

“Shock and confusion?”

“Yes,” Garry said. “I thought it might be delayed PTSD from 9/11 or changing seasons. Everyone in Hannaford’s looked stunned.”

“Stunned? Because?” I questioned.

“The credit card readers were down. You couldn’t pay with your bank or credit card. Everyone had to pay cash or use a check. They looked shell-shocked. Thousand-yard stares. Stumbling, vacant-eyed around the store.”

“Holy mackerel,” I said. “I can only imagine.”

“You could see them mumbling to themselves. They kept saying ‘cash!’ I could tell they were confused and unsure what to do.”

“Wow,” I said. “How dreadful! What did you do?” I asked. Garry seemed to have survived with his sense of humor intact and brought home the half-and-half.

“Oh, I paid with cash. I had enough on me.”

He went off to the kitchen chuckling to himself. I hoped everyone would be okay back in town. A shock like that can haunt people for a long time. Cash. Imagine that. Everyone will be talking about this for weeks.

The day the machines went down at Hannaford’s. That’s huge.


Weekly Writing Challenge: LOCAL FLAVOR

BEING HERE AND NOW

Oedipus defeats the Sphinx by correctly guessing the answer to the following riddle:

Sphinx-riddle

As babies, we crawl on hands and feet, using four legs. When we grow up, we stand. Thus, as adults, we stride through life upright, on two legs.  In old age, we are bent over, so in the evening of our lives, we walk with the help of a cane, on three legs.

This was how human life was summed up a couple of thousand years ago and even today, there’s truth in it. But not Truth. Because the riddle’s narrow perspective focuses on the physical changes we experience though life. It leaves out the emotional and intellectual changes … the most important stuff.

As kids, we want to grow up. Children are in a terrible hurry. We race full-tilt towards a future in which anything is possible. We want it all. We want it now. When we get there, we run even faster towards the next goal.

We slow down a bit as we get to the middle of life. We accept responsibility. We load ourselves down with possessions and obligations. We simultaneously discover life doesn’t work as we expected. We see our best plans and fondest hopes dashed on the shoals of random chance, a bad marriage, a boss who doesn’t like us. Or sheer accident derails us. A bad economy makes the profession for which we prepared irrelevant. We discover, in a personal way, that people die. For no good reason. In war, in traffic. Of disease, suicide, stupidity. Unlike Hollywood, real death is usually inglorious and sad.

By the time we reach our forties, we’ve lost a few rounds and are the worse for wear. We’re slower to judge, less sure of the future. The answers of youth are replaced by more questions and the wariness of people who’ve seen a few things. We begin to pay attention to security, realize we are “peaking” professionally and should make the most of whatever opportunities are available.

And then, flash! You are not young. Seventy is not the new forty. Holy shit! Who is that old person in the mirror?

You look around the office. You’re the guy kids come to for advice. Maybe you find no one interested in your experience because “the company is going in a different direction.” People in their forties seem awfully young. Ouch. How did this happen?

We all know, on some level, we will get old. After all, if you don’t get old, you get dead. Alive is the preferred state of being at every age and stage. But no one expects to be really old. We plan to be like we’ve always been. Maybe a few gray hairs. A wiser, more mature version of the person we think we know so well.

Times changes us more than we thought possible. We quit running towards the future and start looking around to see what’s going. Here. Now. This is the future. We made it. The rainy day for which we were saving? We look up to see clouds. Rain is falling.

No more “we’ll do that someday.” Buy the camera you always wanted. Get the car of your dreams. See Paris. It’s your turn. Finally.

None of us plans to die, but we know we could. Time to shift our focus to enjoying what we are, what we have, who we have. While we can. Life is fragile and we are transitory, just passing through. It’s a very different perspective from younger years.

Will the good old days come again? Doubt it. How good were those old days? Do we want them back?

The only time we own is today. Use it well.


Ice, Water, Steam: Weekly Writing Challenge

CHECKING IT TWICE

Countdown – ‘Tis the season for suspense-building lists.

Everybody loves (or at least loves to hate) a list. This is especially true around the end of the year, when our inclination to rank things and to build coherent narratives out of the chaos of loosely related events goes into overdrive.

For this week’s challenge, I invite you to breathe new life into the established genre of the end-of-year countdown list.


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I don’t make lists unless I’m going grocery shopping. I just don’t. I keep a running list of things I need to deal with in my head. I keep a calendar on my computer with appointments and other important dates, but no lists.

Do I love lists? Do I hate lists?

I have no feelings at all about lists. They have a place and serve a purpose, but can you really call it writing? I know David Letterman made a career out of lists, but he’s not a writer, is he?

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I thought I’d add a postscript on the subject of the tree. Every year, we face the Christmas tree conundrum. I love real trees, but I hate the mess and I always feel bad watching the tree die.

tabletop live tree

It bothers me. Maybe it’s stupid. No doubt I’m excessively sentimental. I anthropomorphize animals and plants, but there you have it. So, we decided to buy a live tree from L.L. Bean.

It’s a baby Alberta spruce that comes decorated with lights and real starfish. When the ground thaws in the spring, we will plant it in the back yard and watch it grow.

I get to have a real Christmas tree and don’t have to watch it slowly die. Instead I can watch it grow and thrive. I don’t know how the rest of family — other than Garry who helped me choose it — will feel, but I’m happy.

Even should the rest of our tribe decide to put up another tree, this one is small enough to be a beautiful centerpiece that will happily occupy the dining room table throughout the holidays and live on long after the wrapping paper and bows are gone.

I’M JUST FINE. THANKS FOR ASKING.

BLAST FROM THE PAST:

A mere two years after a double mastectomy, I’m facing another medical crisis. I’m not handling it gracefully. Too many crises. Dozens of surgeries. I can’t bore you with details; I have, thankfully, forgotten them.

Fake breasts

I’ve spent more time in the hospital than most interns. I’m a professional patient with the scars to prove it. When I die, they should stuff me. Put me in some kind of museum proving with enough medical attention, even the totally unfit can survive. Each doctor who redesigned some portion of me can tattoo his signature along the appropriate scar, assuming all the doctors are still alive. Probably they aren’t because I started my career on the wrong side of medicine while still a teenager and apparently am not due for retirement anytime soon.

I need a new mitral valve. I used to joke and laugh, saying the only major system in my body that continues to work is my heart. I laughed too soon. Probably jinxed myself.

I go into each surgery with fear and resignation. I know how I’m going to feel when I wake up from the anaesthesia. I will hurt. I will be sick and disoriented. I will realize I must have survived because I’m aware how totally miserable I am. Again.

Last time I woke up and the first thing I did was look down at my chest to see if I had a semblance of breasts. I did. Lumpy, not flat. Though I knew they weren’t original equipment, I was comforted by the familiarity of the landscape. With all the pain, drains and anger at my body for betraying me, it was nice to know I would at least appear — on the surface — female.

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View of Boston and Fenway Park from the Baptist Hospital

That was when I said: “Never again. I’m never going through this again.”

I should just shut up. How stupid am I? I can’t remember how many times I’ve woken from that weird deathlike anaesthesia sleep and have fought my way back up to the light. Each time, just a little weaker, a bit less sure of the future — but alive. Hanging on.

Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford

Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford

It’s too soon. I’m not ready. Maybe this time the magic won’t work. My first husband died following complications of mitral valve replacement surgery. I watched him die. After the surgical accident that killed his brain, he remained technically alive, but in a vegetative state for 9 long months. I took care of something that looked like him, but whose eyes were empty. When finally he passed completely, I and the rest of his friends gratefully wished him well on a journey he should have taken nearly a year before.

Probably no surprise that this particular surgery holds a special terror for me.

Less than two years since I vowed “Never again,”  again has come. I suppose I’ve already made the choice to let them fix me, or try anyhow (does “or die trying” sound too ghoulish?). The alternative — slowly dying while my heart becomes less and less able to pump blood — doesn’t sound attractive. An attractive option does not seem to be available. But, there’s no advantage in waiting. I won’t get younger or healthier. The older I get, the more dangerous surgery is.

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Glass shaft at the Dana-Farber.

I gave myself a little gift of time. I put off my appointment with the surgeon until the beginning of September. I need to get my head into a better space, to settle down emotionally. A few weeks of denial before I tackle another scary reality.

So for the next three weeks If you ask me, I will tell you. I’m just fine. Thanks for asking.