Friday, October 10, 2014

On 27 Years of Marriage

Thinner, more attractive...and very, very stupid
Anniversaries tend to uncork all sorts of sloppy sentimentality that almost loses its meaning in triteness. And, yes, I know how cynical that sounds.

Let's just say I don't do goo and treacle and I really don't want to be trite. As of 1 p.m. today, I've been married 27 years and, quite frankly, it hasn't been all Ozzie and Harriet and The Cosbys around here. To cheapen the journey by saying "It's been a wild ride" -- or something equally dismissive -- seems disingenuous.

I'll admit that I married for the romance. It really was going to be "a wild ride." I wasn't going to let life turn me and my husband into just an old married couple marking time until death. We were going to be foxtrotting into our elder years without ever resorting to polyester clothing or early bird specials. I would be his obsession and he would be my rock. We would have explosively spectacular fights and monumental reconciliations.We would be F. Scott and Zelda (before the insanity); Tracey and Hepburn (without the adultery); Bogart and Bacall (without the spousal abuse).

Then we grew up and life happened. I found out that when life kicks you in the gut, you don't have time to look like Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn or have the words to express what you are feeling like F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is when it stops being a "wild ride" and starts being dragged down a gravel road hooked to a speeding car.

When life kicks you in the gut you look like hell and you sound like an insane maniac, and sometimes you say and do things you never thought you would say or do, let alone to someone you love. I know, in the teeth of the storm, I retreat into myself; the shades get drawn and my "pithy sarcasm" turns nasty and bitter. Chuck, meanwhile, lives in a happy state of denial and watches a lot of "Restaurant Impossible."

Every couple has their process.

And you love each other through it all, at the base of it all, even when you wouldn't call it love. It's when you have to remember to love; when, for me, I resort to my faith (Matthew 18:21-22) and my belief in the institution of marriage as something that you commit to not only for "worse," but even the worst of the worse*.

Perhaps there are couples who will attest to having the type of relationship I aspired to 27 year ago. If you do, God bless -- I pray you are never tested. I don't say that to be condescending. I say it because I doubt there is any couple that has a marriage that has never been challenged by something. And I say it because I am a better person and we are a stronger couple for the testing.

So if you were expecting some sentimental goo about 27 years of marriage, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'll keep my sentimentality between me and Chuck -- because he won't tell anyone that I'm not the erudite pragmatist I pretend to be.

*...okay, of course abuse would be an exception; but not even a flicker of consideration in my
case because, frankly, I can take him.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back-to-school Shoes

Note: Ugly back-to-school shoes
Why haven't I bought my back-to-school shoes?

Why, at 57 years old, do I still at this time of year look forward to buying what were usually the ugliest shoes ever to come out of the mind of humans? Because, back when I got "back-to-school shoes," they had to be sturdy and functional; patent leather mary janes were for church and Keds (and PF Flyers) were for gym class. But school shoes were dark, leather and ugly and I got a new pair every fall.

And so, every Labor Day weekend in those moments just before dropping off to sleep or just waking up, my mind prepares itself for the first day of school. You know, back when the school supply list consisted of: a cigar box (seriously -- in first grade we asked the druggist for actual cigar boxes, which he nicely saved up throughout the year; in later years, you could get cigarbox-shaped boxes that were sold with school supplies), a pack of six crayons, a jar of paste and No. 2 pencils. In fourth grade I was excited that "ball point pens" were added to the list.

Was I the only one who insisted on wearing my new back-to-school clothes on the first day of school...and then sweated through the day because that's what you do when it's 89 degrees out and you're wearing corduroy and a sweater?

When I see kids board the bus these days, it seems so odd to me that there was a time where girls couldn't wear pants to school and boys couldn't wear jeans. No one was allowed to wear sneakers anywhere but in the gym. If you lived within a half mile of the school, you walked or rode your bike. If you rode a bus, you walked a block or so to the bus stop. Do they even have bike racks at schools anymore?

Side Note: This article from The Atlantic should be a must-read for all parents. I'm not saying we should allow our kids to ride their bikes behind the mosquito-spray truck (Umm...explains a lot, huh?) --  but playground equipment these days looks about a much fun as a handicap ramp at your grandmother's internist's office and, for God's sake, when did the school bus start this door-to-door service?

Autumn is bearing down on us and, while others are thinking in terms of apple-picking, raking leaves and pumpkins, I just remember the stress of that first day with all its dread and optimism, its jockeying for position in the classroom and its forming of hierarchies in the playground. And I remember getting home and feeling like I'd gotten something over with and now I could go back to my carefree summer life, only to realize I had to get up and do it all again the next day. And the day after that.

Mostly, though, I think of the new shoes...the ugly new shoes, glowing with cleanliness and not yet broken in, molding my feet to it's structure and eating away at my old worn socks.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The ALS Bucket Challenge and Snarky Memes

The Lifespan of a Trend

First there are the accolades: "What a great idea! Hope it catches on!"

Then there is the excitement: "Let's all do it!"

Then there is the peak: "We're all doing it!"

The tapering off: "We're all doing it."

The trickling off: "Sorry I'm late with this, but now I (your grandmother) will now do this."

To ambivalence: "Are we still doing this?"

Denial: "I never felt the need to do this."

And, finally, the hate: "What sort of idiot does this?"

If you don't want to do the ALS Bucket Challenge, don't. If you don't want to give to ALS research, then don't.

Nobody cared about the California drought before this, including the many golf courses and green lawns found throughout that state. The ALS Bucket Challenge is not causing the California drought or threatening the water supply in Africa.

You can't deny, though, that this "stunt" raised plenty of money to combat a horrible disease. That is a good thing -- get it? Disease: Bad. Curing bad disease: Good.

Do you have some problem you want eradicated for which you need to raise money? Try just asking people. I guarantee you won't get far.

Involve them in the effort and you'd be surprised.

That's why people run 5Ks or walk around a track all night long for cancer research. That's why people walk 20 miles around their own town for environmental causes.

So, please, enough with the snarky memes on YouTube and Facebook. Certainly there are more constructive things to be angry at than caring citizens who are just having a little fun while doing a little good.

Besides, if I thought it would raise enough money for the farm, I'd be happy to dump a bucket of ice water over Dirtman's head!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lost Shih Tzus

ALERT: The following blatherings contain spoilers of all six seasons of the TV show Lost. That's right -- four years after the series ended, I've finally gotten around to watching and commenting on it. So goes my life: four years late with something no one cares about anymore.

Oh, Lost! You left me unfulfilled. But you didn't kill the dog.

I was quite adament about not watching Lost when it first came out. Back then, in 2004, I was fighting a losing battle with media in general and network TV was my last stand. I began hearing all kinds of buzz about the show but, by the time it became evident that it was not just the usual media hype, too many seasons had passed. 

So much has been said about the series, I almost decided not to write about it at all. After all, there was so much speculation while the series was on and, from what I've managed to glean on line, plenty of kvetching when it ended. What could struggling writer from Virginia have to add to the dialogue.

I happened to bring up the fact that I was watching Lost during dinner with my extended family. I had only two episodes to go at the time and, while everyone politely asked me how I was enjoying the show, they refused to discuss it any further until I finished watching the last two episodes.

"Just tell me one thing -- yes or no," I said. "Do the Shih Tzus mean anything?"

(Crickets chirping)

No one had noticed the Shih Tzus. I went on line and Googled "TV Show Lost and Shih Tzus" and nothing came up other than the image of Hurley wearing the "I (heart) my Shih Tzu" t-shirt from season 5.

So there it is. I can comment on the Shih Tzus. First, the "I (heart) my Shih Tzu" iron-on transfer is seen on a piece of cloth in the wreckage of the airplane in Season 1. Then the t-shirt Hurley purchases and wears (that can now be purchased and worn, but only ironically) and then there is the Shih Tzu painting that is dragged out of Jacob's cabin in, I think, Season 6.

My brother John Boy pointed out that I am, perhaps, the only one who would have noticed that. And, granted,  I am more predisposed than most to noticing dog-related themes. I spent all six seasons worried that they might kill off Vincent the dog, only to be ticked off in the end because he didn't get to be dead with the rest of them. I guess he's back on the island...or maybe in some metaphysical way, he's wherever Walt went.

But back to the Shih Tzus. The reason I was so fixated on the Shih Tzus was that I had begun to notice a whole lot of little themes, most pretty heavy-handed (like those chocolate bars), some more subtle (two Mama Cass songs? Bet the ASCAP guys were scrambling for the last one.), and some that hinted at a complexity heretofore unheard of on network television (The Geronimo Jackson album that shows up several times, hinting that the Dharma people tried to replicate moder culture, but didn't quite get it right). Then there were the people showing up on the island and in the survivors' backstories. There were hints that the airplane passengers had been connected even before the crash.

I can't tell you how anxious I was for the last episode when I would finally find out about the Shih Tzus...and also about what, precisely, was so special about Walt that they spent the entire season building up to and where a loser like John Locke learned all his survival skills like knife-throwing and tracking.

So I sat through the endless treks through the forest, countless women in labor (am I the only one who could only say, "oh,no..." whenever they saw someone in the show was pregnant?), that whole Jack-Kate-Sawyer soap opera, the inexplicable arguments everytime they needed a medical supply that was in Sawyer's tent (45 people couldn't gang up on the guy? They couldn't storm the tent when he went off to pee?), and the never-ending fist fights where men were punched in the face, but noses and jaws were never broken.

I figured the last episode would blow me away because that storyline about Desmond and time and Daniel Faraday the physicist with his all-knowing mother was potentially brilliant! Brilliant, I tell you! Here were all these bits and bobs of pseudo-scientific gobble-dee-gook swirling around that would all fit into the gigantic puzzle!

And in the center of that puzzle would be the Shih Tzus.

And so I sat in that stupid temple with the dirty water unnecessarily long and waited. I waited through a slapped-together ancient backstory with YET ANOTHER WOMAN IN LABOR.

Then, The Last Episode. I waited through gauzy, over-processed sappy love connections (did the writers think all the viewers were sixteen-year-old girls?). I waited while people were picked up and dropped off in a storyline about as interesting as a AAA Triptik.

Finally, everyone assembled in the church. Bright lights. The End.

Wait!

What about Michael?

Why do only couples go to heaven? (except Boone, but he had that creepy sister thing going on, so maybe that was his...ahem...love interest?)

When did Penelope Widmore die?

For that matter, when did Hurley, Ben, Kate, Miles and Lapides die?

Who is in charge of the Island?

Where is Miles and Lapides?

What was the point?

What? Did the writers get tired of writing or did they make their storyline so complicated, even they couldn't figure it out? My neat, tidy puzzle ended up being a box of puzzle pieces, only half of which belong in the actual puzzle.

AND WHERE ARE VINCENT AND THE SHIH TZUS?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Just a Couple of Guys

Let me tell you about a couple of guys.

Actually, I was just going to tell you about one of them, in honor of Father's Day. Then it turned out I had to travel to New Jersey this week for the funeral of the other.

The first one is, of course, my own father; the other is my Uncle Ciro, who was also my godfather, who passed away this last Tuesday at the impressive age of 95.

Tom Brokaw called them members of "The Greatest Generation." The television show Mad Men presents them and their peers as misogynistic cavemen. The more I think of both those extremes, the more uncomfortable I am with painting one group of men with one, wide swath. It robs them of their humanity and make too many assumptions.

And yeah, yeah...they were just normal guys. Pa was a salesman; Uncle Ciro was a pharmacist. They went to work, paid the bills, took their wives out for anniversaries and birthdays, fired up the barbecue, popped a beer, always drove. They were the framework and infrastructure that enabled our mothers to focus on nurturing and, if at times they seemed to be less present than our mothers, a lot of ground could be gained by an afternoon at the ballpark or a Sunday picnic. 

Even that is too broad a description of what these two men meant to me. The thing is, even though they were in-laws, Pa and Uncle Ciro genuinely liked each other. And they were both really funny guys. They would find some stupid TV show (their favorite show to rag on was The Lawrence Welk Show), turn off the volume and then dub in some stupid recording they always managed to have around. When my brothers, cousins and I would try to "put on a show," they'd sneak off, festoon each other in Crazy Foam and join the act. There was never a generational separation at family gatherings in those days.

In fact, one of my fondest memories are of the post-dinner conversations, the tablecloth covered with crumbs and coffee cups (and probably a bottle of Sambuca), sitting sleepily on Pa's lap listening to the grown-ups swap stories. They'd talk of people with exotic names and sometimes a story would slip out I wasn't supposed to know about. I'd try to keep very still and very quiet so that there would be no cause for anyone to realize it was close to midnight and I was still up and taking in every word. It was a very secure feeling.

Oddly, as secure as I felt and as calm and light-hearted as my father was, I now know that during some of that time, my parents were going through some major financial troubles. I never knew, never saw or felt any indication of the disaster from which they were trying to recover. 

All I remember are the crazy, quirky, wonderful things that used to just spontaneously happen. We were supposed to be driving the four hours home to Maryland from New Jersey one night when Pa and Uncle Ciro decided that instead we were going to go to the New York World's Fair. One boring, hot summer day in Maryland, we were just about to be sent to bed when up drove my Uncle Ciro, Aunt Marie and cousins Steven and David; they'd been out for a Sunday drive in New Jersey and just decided to visit us in Maryland. 

So you see, I could write about how Pa and Uncle Ciro fit in as members of The Greatest Generation and defend them from being cast as the shallow caricatures of 1960s businessmen. But I'm no sociologist or historian. I'm just a grown woman who remembers two men I love sitting at the head of the table, clinking together frosted mugs of Ballentine Ale, one attempting a toast in Italian (my father) and the other in German (Uncle Ciro) and both laughing at each other's mangled accent. 


"Don't feed the dog at the table -- do you hear me, Jeanne?
If you feed the dog at the table, he'll always be begging. Don't
let me catch you feeding Shane at the table.
Do you understand?"
I just quote 'em as I hear 'em.