Brush Hogs

Last Sunday, I had to make an emergency call to the G.P.

“Dad, that stupid tree on the fence line has collapsed and now there’s a brush tunnel that looks like it goes to a magical fairy land, but is just really scratchy and leads to the overgrown weeds in the easement.  We’ve got to cut it down.”  I knew what it was like in the tunnel because I thought it would be cool to make it into a fort where I could read books, drink lemonade and eat peanut butter cookies.  This theory proved false when I was attacked by red ants and got slashed to pieces by pokey branches.  Plus, I nearly lost an eye.  The only way I’m wearing an eye patch is if it’s a part of my pirate outfit.  Or, like, if I get a sty.  In any case, “attacked by tree” is not a valid reason to become a Cyclops.

“What do you want me to do about it?” the G.P. grumbled, sick to death of working on my devil yard.

“Can you bring that pole thing with the saw on the end over?  I’ll just cut the bad limbs off.”

It was actually a nice day.  The overcast sky had mitigated the big burn of summer, and it looked like it might rain.  Dad agreed to come over, noting that if I was going to mess with cutting down a tree, wearing some head protection would be smart.  Frankly, that’s always a good idea.  I once knocked myself out in a Holiday Inn swimming pool on New Year’s Eve by swimming directly into one of the sides.  I inhaled a little water, which caused me to wake up and surface to all my friends laughing hysterically at my spluttering.  I tried to pretend I hadn’t almost killed myself, but no one bought it due to a forehead dent, and they cut me off (booze-wise), and also wouldn’t let me go to sleep.  I had to sit around bored (and very damp) until 9 a.m. when I then had to drive everyone home.  It wasn’t my worst New Year’s.  Still, you understand why people are always suggesting I wear helmets.

I knew from bitter experience working with Dad, that I’d better be well into the job before he got to my house, so I grabbed my big loppers and started cutting the branches that I could and hauling them to the curb.  I had a decent pile going by the time the G.P. pulled up.

“Why are you doing that?” he asked, disdainfully.  “I’m just going to saw the top branch off anyway.  It’ll all fall at once.”

I said something about smaller pieces being easier to haul to the curb, which was an acceptable platitude.  Dad got to work with the pole saw, trying to cut through the broken-yet-still-thick branches that had created the tunnel.  My theory was that I’d only need to saw the limbs about two-thirds of the way through, and then I’d climb up in the tree and stomp on them to finish the job.  I was on the top of the fence climbing up into the oak when Dad nixed this idea.

“What the hell are you doing now?” Dad hollered, abruptly halting his long distance sawing.

“I’m just going to stomp on it so it falls!”

“Get the hell down from there, you idiot!”

Pouting, I started my descent.  I have always loved climbing trees, and the ancient one in question was particularly good with lots of sturdy branches and hand holds.  In fact, this was the tree I had once drunkenly designated as the one in which I would build a treehouse so that my friends would have a place to stay when they totally messed up their lives – but not a very nice one, so they would also leave.

I leapt off the fence and started looking for something to do, just as the branch the G.P. was working on cracked in two.  I grabbed the leafy end and started pulling that part out of the tunnel, intent on hauling it to the brush pile.  It fell from the tree with a loud crackle – and wonked my father right in the face.

The world slows down dramatically when you’re sure you’re going to get killed.  I swear there were about three days of time in between Dad cussing and then spitting blood, and me managing to speak.  In that eternity, I was wrenched through a grist mill of guilt.

“Dad, I’m sorry!” I finally managed.  “Are you okay?”

My father spat again and returned to his sawing.  His righteous anger rolled towards me in waves.

But he said nothing.

I began to very carefully haul more branches to the pile that was beginning to resemble deadfall from a Stephen King story.  Dad sawed, and the pile and the silence grew ever thicker, punctuated only by the G.P.’s occasional genteel expulsion of bloody spit.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  We’d eradicated the tunnel, the remains were stacked and ready to be hauled off by the city. The remaining work was more for finish than function.

“That’s good enough, Pops.  Let’s quit.”   I offered, trying to find a fragile peace.

“Let me get this one down first,” Dad said, chopping at a particularly thick limb.

“Okay,” I replied, still in shock that he hadn’t turned me into emotional mush, yet.  The branch fell and I lugged it to the pile.  Dad took a sip of iced tea from his Yeti, as he put his saw into the back of his truck.

“This whole tree is a mess, Ab.  It’s going to have to come down.  We can either pay someone $500 bucks to do it, or I suppose I could just buy a really good chainsaw.”

“Why don’t you just get the chainsaw, Dad. The city comes out again in October.  We’ll cut it down in September, and I’ll just work on rolling all the bits out to the ditch for a whole month.  I’m sure I can get it done.”

My father scoffed, got into his truck and drove away.  I’m still not sure what the verdict is.  I’m pretty sure Dad is never going to cut anything down with me ever again.  That’s okay.

I really like my tree.

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The De-Evolution of Man

In nature, every mama bird must at some point allow her fledglings an attempt at flight.  Whether the impetus to release her young comes from nurturing or annoyance, it is still a biological compulsion – although one that occasionally results in full-bellied felines.

I’m not sure what made the Rev decide that my father and I were capable of providing care for my small nephews for three days, but I’d wager it was pure irritation combined with the bitter algebra of necessity.   There may have also been just a soupcon of “I’ll teach those jerks to appreciate me” thrown in, too.  Dad and I are convinced that she rearranges her kitchen once a fortnight for purely that reason.  If no one but Mom can ever find anything, we probably have to keep her.

In any case, the Rev unceremoniously left us to fend for ourselves while she went to what Dad called “some preacher concert in San Antonio.”

I know you’re worried, so I’ll just tell you right now: NO ONE DIED.

Day 1: Home Sapiens

I spent most of this day with the family getting sunburned while chasing children with sunscreen at Schlitterbahn.  After hauling ourselves and our arsenal of kid-specific water junk back to my parents’ house, I cooked a couple of pizzas for dinner.  The G.P. thought I had made way too much, and yelled at me.  I snuck a piece to Stadler (my dog) in the interest of proving him wrong.

After dinner the evening pretty much went as follows:

Chase Avery (age 6) into shower.  Kid starts yelling for help.  He has broken the cold water knob.  Rescue child from certain death as he is not smart enough to just get out of the shower.   Excavate pajamas from the Jabba-the-Hut sized pile of clothing that had grown fungus-like on the floor of the boys’ room after somehow sensing the Rev’s absence.   Insert kid in pajamas.  Put kid in bed. Yell at other kid to take shower. Avery is missing. Find him in the great room playing with Dad’s pool table.  Put Avery back in bed.  Give him a book. Continue to scream at Jovanni to take shower.  Chase Jovanni  into shower with shouting and threats of no more waterparks.  Avery is not in bed.  Locate Avery at dining room table making “animals” out of pipe cleaners.   Physically carry Avery back to his bunk.  Exhort him to “STAY!” Frustration caused me to resort to commands that work on the dog.  Repeat pajama excavation for Jovanni while Avery shouts helpful archeological advice from the top bunk.  Run around behind naked Jovanni with pajamas.  Tackle kid.  Insert second kid in pajamas.  Put Jovanni in bed.  Avery has vanished again.  Find him trying to lasso dog with an extension cord.  Haul kid back to bed.  Jovanni has stayed in his bunk.  MIRACLE!  Screaming/panic ensues because Avery can’t find a stuffed giraffe which turns out to be the size of a contact lens after we tear apart the bedroom looking for it.  Both children finally in bed.  Say goodnight, go to close door, “WE WANT A STORY.”   Give up.  Yell for G.P.  Let Dad finish putting the wee heathens to bed.  Clean kitchen. Go home. Collapse.

Day 2: Homo Neanderthalensis

The next morning, I arrived at my parents’ house early. I let myself in the front door, and headed to the kitchen.  It was already wiped out.  Dishes and peanut butter encrusted knives were stuck to every inch of available counter space, with entire constellations made of bread crumbs between them.  Every cabinet door was open, with the exception of the one that concealed the trashcan.  I sighed, grabbed a fresh dishcloth and got to work.  The children hadn’t yet awoken.

Avery emerged, shirtless and ruffled.

“What do you want for breakfast, Avox? How about some fruit and yogurt?”

“No.” he muttered, eyes narrowing for a fight.

“How about eggies and bacon?” I suggested.

“NO, AB!” he yelled, still a slumber-fuss.

“What about PIZZA then?!?!”  Hoping against hope that he’d eat a couple of pieces (there was still a 12 inch brick of pizza slices preserved in plastic wrap on the bottom shelf of the fridge).

“YEAH, PIZZA!” Avery shouted, excited to get an unusual breakfast.  I heated two slices up for him, and snuck Stadler a third.

At about 2 p.m., the G.P. texted to ask me if I could help him take the children to a place called “Get Air.”  I was finishing the Island Moon’s new website (www.islandmoon.com)  and couldn’t leave.

“That’s ok,” said the G.P.’s final message.  “What could go wrong?”

A few hours later, the G.P. and the kids returned home bruised and battered.  Evidently, the best thing to do at “Get Air” is play dodgeball.  Unfortunately, some of the kids playing the game were prodigies trained since birth in the art of viciously beaning other people with red rubber death balls.  Avery had a black eye, and Jovanni sported a big bruise on his jawline.  Dad bought them fried chicken, mashed potatoes (which looked more like Elmer’s glue with pepper), and biscuits for dinner.  The kids picked at their food, claiming to be “too sore” to eat it.  I brought them some ice cream – a miraculous cure.

deev

Day Three: Homo Erectus

On the third and final morning of the Rev’s absence, I arrived shortly after dawn.  The gentle morning light slipping tenderly between the blue and white floral curtains revealed that the house was in a state of near total disrepair.  Detritus was strewn thick as seaweed — I counted at least four pairs of tiny (and quite dirty) tighty whities in the living room alone.  The oak dining table was covered in crayons, half colored copier paper, pipe cleaners and something sticky that might have been either glue or melted popsicles.  There were glasses half full of goopy and mysterious liquids stacked haphazardly on every available surface.   Sofa cushions littered the floor – the only marker designating the once great “Fort Brat” that tragically appeared to have been nuked from space.   Forlorn, fluffy dog hair tumbleweeds drifted across the slate floors.  Sanitation had taken a real nose dive.

The men emerged soon after my arrival.  They communicated almost entirely in grunts and shoves, lapsing briefly into pigeon English to answer my questions. They had devolved into itchy, sticky, proud farters.

They were extremely happy.

Stadler and I backed slowly out the front door, not wanting to witness what came next.   I feared they would start spitting on the floor and marking territory.

That night, Mom returned from her liturgical journey.  By the time she arrived, the well-trained G.P. had whipped the house into shape and forced the children into mismatched but modest clothing.  I think that the boys had a lot of fun being boys.  Still, it’s probably good that it was only short term.  Otherwise, property values would plummet, neighbors would move, the CDC and the EPA would get involved, and Canada would start gently suggesting ways to solve the global health crisis generated by my family.  “Fire is cleansing, eh.”

“Grunt,” the G.P. would respond.

At least I got rid of all the pizza.

 

 

 

 

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The Turning of the Screws

The decision to travel to an amusement park with small children is best made on the spur of the moment, much like when one jumps off a cliff.  If you stand on the edge for too long, you’ll be consumed by second thoughts, which tell you that, should you decide to take a chance and plummet, you’ll surely die – or at least post an epic belly flop.  It’s better to hold your nose and just take the plunge.

I can say, with some pride, that last Thursday I announced my intention of taking the G.P. and the small children to Schlitterbahn after having barely thought about it at all.  The kids were excited about a day at a water park, and Dad had been talking for months about how he wanted to float the Lazy River.  We got the necessary coolers/backpacks/water toys loaded up and coated the children in a layer of sunscreen so thick we could have shot them into space without risk of atmospheric immolation.  Away we went, returning only home once because Avery “forgot to poop.”

We arrived at the park and checked in easily.  I got lost trying to find the cabanas, and walked my poor trudging family the long way around, with some complaint from the troops.

“How far is it, Auntie,” whined Jojo.  “It takes forever to get there!”

“Yeah,” offered the mutinous G.P.  “It seems like there might be a shorter way.”

There was, but the path was designated by an arrow pointing directly up into the stratosphere.  I ignored it and veered in a direction which seemed like it didn’t require a helicopter.  Like many of my decisions, this one was regrettable.

Eventually, we arrived at Beach Access 10. The G.P. and the boys couldn’t wait, and took off down the Lazy River.  I reclined on a lounge chair with my book and a bottle of water.

Thirty minutes later, Jovanni appeared.

“Where are Grandpa and Avery?” I asked.  They were supposed to all stay together.

“I don’t know. I guess they went a different way,”   Jojo yelled, drifting away on his tube.

After another half an hour, my nephew reappeared like a clockwork canary.

“Jojo! Did you see Grandpa and Avery?”  I asked, chasing him through the shallows with the sunscreen.

“Nope!”  He laughed, happily plunging down the river, a streak of white lingering, skunk-like on his back.

“FIND YOUR GRANDFATHER!” I screamed.

I inherited my directional impairment from my father.  It was entirely possible that Dad and Avery could wind up floating the Lazy River for eternity, doomed to pass close to Beach Access 10, but never reach it, like pitiful characters from Dante’s Inferno.

Finally, I saw my soaked and bedraggled father porting his inner tube across from an adjoining pool, while Avery bounced alongside in his little red life jacket.

“GRANDPA GOT US LOST, AB!  We went around and around and around!” Avery hollered, wriggling like a minnow as I valiantly tried to baste him with sun goop.

Avery must have betrayed Dad’s great secret, because  the G.P. glared at the oblivious child before saying defensively, “You could spend years just going in circles on that damn thing.”

You could,” I replied, making an ill-fated grab for Avery and face planting in the shallows.  I emerged, spluttering, “Jojo’s been back twice.”  Dad huffed off toward the cooler and grabbed a bottle of water.

“Let’s go again, Ab!” Avery said, happily climbing into a two-man tube, ready to set sail.

“You take him,” said the G.P. “I need little break.”

At that instant, Jovanni shot out of the access canal like an otter covered in Crisco, just in time to join us.  We went around and back in record time, thanks to Jovanni’s navigational skills.  I gave the kids some snacks and chased them with the sunscreen.  I adopted a linebacker’s approach, but small targets are difficult to tackle.  The kids began begging for a ride on the roller coaster.

Dad decided that we all ought to go.  We covered up all our material possessions with towels – invisibility cloaks as far as thieves and coolers are concerned — and headed up the hill.  Avery was scared to ride the roller coaster until Jovanni called him chicken.  Evidently, being called a fluffy murder fowl makes one very, very brave.

There was no line when we arrived, but there was a sign with a cartoon dog that said you must be “this tall to ride.”  Avery put his back against the ruler and peeped over his shoulder.  He wasn’t even tall enough to ride with an adult, unless you counted his frothy mop of curls, which they didn’t (I asked).  Jojo was tall enough to go all by himself.

Avery collapsed in a puddle of disappointment beside the ropes that surrounded the line.  There are few things in life worse than screwing up your courage and then having a cartoon bloodhound tell you that you’re too short.  Jovanni didn’t help matters by running around crowing that he was “finally getting tall enough.”  Tears began to pour down Avery’s round little cheeks.

Then the power went out.

The great blue screws that drove the torrents of water ground to a halt.   The call of, “Power’s out!’ echoed mournfully across the firmament, and folks began the slow march to the exits – dragging disappointed children and still-full coolers along behind them.

“Avery!” I exclaimed, “Look!  No one gets to ride!”  A smile crept across his face, and happily bounced up and took my hand.

“Is it broken?” he whispered, in total awe.  I’m sure that he had wished very hard that no one else (especially Jovanni) could go on the ride either, and was afraid he’d destroyed Schlitterbahn with his mind.

“No, Avox.  There just isn’t any power right now.”

“Can we come back when there is?” he begged.

“We sure can,” I replied, swiping at sunscreen streaked across his nose.

“That’s GREAT!” he whooped, dancing away.

We got our stuff and joined the exodus.  The G.P. looked over at me, as I Sherpa-like drug the cooler and all the towels and beach accessories back to the car, keeping a watchful eye on the small children.

“That’s a hell of sunburn you’ve got there,” he said.

My chest and shoulders looked like the unfortunate result of crossbreeding an iguana with a beefsteak tomato.  I put sunscreen on everyone — except myself.  The children thought this was very funny, and so our outing ended in laughter … and aloe vera.

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The “Old Man Card”

Lately, I’ve been working on cleaning up my yard.  If you’ve read this column for a while, you might remember that last January the G.P. (my Dad) dug vast trenches across my half acre back yard trying to ferret out a busted gas line.  The pits are filled in, but there’s a pretty serious rubble problem – I’ve seen less rutted wheat fields. Also, since this is Corpus and the soil is evidently made of clay, salt and driveway cleaner, nothing except especially hardy bind weed seems to grow.

Some weeds needed whacking, so off I headed to my parents’ house, intent upon borrowing the devil device.  Dad was loathe to hand it over because he and his next door neighbor were locked in The Great String Trimmer Battle of Passive Aggression.

“He doesn’t think I edge enough,” said the mortally offended G.P.  “That bastard offered to let me use his trimmer.  I’ve got four of the things.”

“What a jerk!  Can I use ONE of them, though, Dad?  The yard looks like I’m trying to create a habitat for wayward cheetahs.”

“I may be an old man,” he replied, “but I can still do that job a whole hell of a lot better than you can.”

The argument was unstoppable, but not because it was particularly good or logical.  It’s very true that the G.P., with his approximately 300 years of both actual and genetically engineered farmer experience, is much better at weed whacking than I am. However, when I was a small child, he was infinitely better at walking than I was.  I’m pretty sure it was still important for me to learn.

“I won’t get better if I don’t keep trying, Dad.”

He snorted and walked back into his office.  He knew I couldn’t win.  Like a house cat, the G.P. doesn’t enjoy playing with a dead mouse.

He came over  and worked on my yard that afternoon.  The weeds in the easement behind the fence are taller than I am, so he didn’t get too far.  He mixed me up several gallons of Round-up and sent me off on a mission of murder.  I crawled into the thicket and liberally basted everything I could reach and carpet bombed what I couldn’t.

A couple of days later, the Round-up hadn’t killed anything – some stuff may have actually gotten bigger.   I went back over to Dad’s to address the problem and gather more tools.  I’m building planters out of the boards that were left after the G.P. cut my large back deck in half (the gas line was evidently more difficult to find than Nemo), and I needed a circular saw and a drill.  Dad was in a rough mood that morning.  He had capitulated and edge trimmed his front yard – a brutal defeat.

“Dad,” I yelled, as Stadler and I barreled through his front door, “the stupid Round-up didn’t work.  Should I make some Napalm?”

My family knows to take my threats of chemical deforestation very seriously.  The G.P. practically ran out of his office and into the living room, probably expecting to see me holding a can of gas and some Styrofoam.  Relieved at my apparent lack of flammable ingredients, Dad listened to my admittedly ambitious solution to my yard problems.

“I’m an OLD MAN, AB!  I can’t be the family’s pack mule anymore!” he exploded, stormily retreating to his sanctum, barely sparing a backwards glance to make sure I wasn’t arming myself with old batteries.

“Okay, Dad,” I said, feeling awful about asking for more than he could give.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and die for making my heroically indomitable father admit any sort of weakness.  I slunk away home.  This time I was beaten badly, even though I left with the tools I’d come for.

Twenty minutes later, I was outside scrubbing the remains of my deck, berating myself for being an ingrate.  Then, I remembered that just 5 months ago my father spent weeks single-mindedly digging up my yard like a gopher loaded on high quality methamphetamine.  “OH MY GOD,” I thought, “It’s a freakin’ gambit!”  I laughed aloud, realizing that while my father may getting old, he’s still a far better card shark than I’ll ever be.

“The Old Man Card”

My father is hilariously sly —  always,  so it comes as no surprise that he’s figured out a way to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without any argument from the rest of us. Excited, I posted my new theory on Facebook:

“’The Old Man Card’ is by far the most powerful in the familial deck.  It trumps every other card, inflicts maximum damage, cannot ever be used by any other opponent, is only applicable to one turn, and returns to the wielder’s hand directly after each use. The only conceivable drawback is that you have to BE an old man to throw it – but only for the one turn.”

“Har, har, har,” the G.P. replied.  “We may be shriveled shells of our former selves, but we still have the ‘Old Man Card.’”

I wasn’t buying it.

“…and that’s how you play the card, Methuselah. In an hour, you’ll be Thor again.”

Behind the poker face

My father is my favorite person, and bears responsibility (along with Star Wars and badgers) for my sense of humor.  He earned his “Great Provider” nickname when he decided that our demise was imminent due to the Rev traveling to Washington, D.C.  Off he went to the grocery store, reappearing in the kitchen 30 minutes later juggling 3 watermelons and two bursting sacks full of frozen bean and cheese burritos.  “WE WILL SURVIVE!” he crowed, “…but it could get a little stinky.”

 

plantaclaus

The G.P., Christmas Day, 2016.

Dad isn’t perfect, but he has given me many wonderful gifts.  He taught me about survival and self-sufficiency, and, in that way, he has saved my life many times over.  He showed me how to swim, and taught me how words work and why thinking matters.  But the greatest of my father’s gifts, as the apostle  Paul so aptly noted, is love.  He gave me not only his love as a father, but inspired my love for nature and music.  When I was most hurt, he revealed that there is a great glow that is the sum and center of us, and he has never once let me forget.  At Christmas dinner this year, my Dad stared out over the quiet sea and said, “I may be old, but I still experience moments of profound joy almost every day.  That’s what makes everything so worth it.”
I hope he lives forever.

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If the Shoe Fits

Last Saturday, my nephews Jovanni (age 10) and Avery (age 6) arrived to spend a month with the Rev and G.P. (and, by association, me).  This is a great thing for my family because the boys are for the most part well behaved and super fun.  We have some childcare problems, however.  Mom and I both work, and no one trusts Dad alone with the kids for more than a couple of hours due to an unfortunate incident a few years back.  The G.P. took the boys to the park down the street.  As they were returning home, toddler Avery started running, and tripped on the sidewalk. Dad (who missed the whole incident because he was looking at a plant) heard the crying child, and rushed to assess the injury.  Jovanni (then 7) was leaping up and down in joyous excitement beside his prone brother.  “AVERY DID A WHOLE FLIPPY, GRANDPA!” he whooped.  Aside from a dented forehead (which mostly popped back into shape), Avery was okay, but the Rev decided Grandpa Daycare left something to be desired.  This time, In order to make sure the children don’t die, Mom has arranged for them to attend art camp.

Yesterday, Pops and I went to pick them up.   The road construction downtown caused the city to resemble the more bombed out parts of Baghdad.

“Do you think they spent all winter figuring out how to mess up traffic as much as possible?” asked the G.P.

“That would represent the only concerted and effective civic planning event in Corpus’ history,” I noted in response.  I spent six months last year witnessing the city’s efficacy in areas of improvement.  I was unimpressed with anything other than how green the grass was when they finally moved the porta-pooper out from under my crepe myrtle.

Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the Art Center.  Avery’s teacher, a small, strict woman with a long black braid, told me that he couldn’t wear his flip flops the next day.  A little afraid of her (and kind of wondering if I should start checking the sky for plummeting real estate), I said okay without even asking why.

Avery tugged on my hand, “Ab, I can’t wear my shoes.”

“Why, Avox?”  I asked.

“Because they cut my feet!  We put on Band-Aids AND extra socks, but it still hurts.”

I looked at the poor kid’s ankles, and sure enough he had little lesions on both heels.

Avery shoe RGB We delivered they boys, and informed the Rev of the problem.  She showed me Avery’s Converse sneakers were designed in the most child chopping way possible. The medium high tops bent in towards the ankle at approximately a 70 degree angle.  They were also definitely too small.  New shoes were in order. I decided to brave Burlington Coat Factory, hoping that the crowds wouldn’t be too bad at 4 p.m. on a Monday.

“You need to take him with you,” said my Mom.

“No WAY!” I replied, fearing further kid transportation, especially since I’d just fed both kids large amounts of a frozen sugar syrup they called ‘Slushies.’  “I’ll just take one of his old shoes and find a slightly bigger replacement. It’ll be much quicker.”

“Not if you have to go twice,” replied the Rev, doubting my genius.

To the trenches

I made it to BCF in record time, and rode the escalator up to the children’s clothing department.  I was pretty positive that this whole endeavor was going to be a huge success, despite the Rev’s warnings to the contrary — right up until I hit the children’s shoe section.  What the crap, you guys?  Avery’s old shoes were a size 12.  I thought I needed to find a 12.5 or a 13. Wrong! For some strange, untenable, mysterious reason children’s shoes loop from a twelve to a 1.  I only figured this out because I developed a “trust nothing” attitude when the numbers didn’t work, and just started measuring Avery’s old shoe against every single new one.  After much cussing and confusion, I finally found a pair that looked like it would fit, and took it to the register.

“Hi,” I said to Valerie, the clerk, “um…do you have kids?  Because I’m not sure about these shoes.  Is size one bigger than size 12 here?  I mean, it looks bigger, right? What’s with this numbering system? Is it a freaking clock?  Is this some kind of guy thing, where if you’re lost in the wilderness you can tell time by your weird shoe size? Why don’t they just start at zero and go UP?  You know, like ALL OTHER SIZES EVER IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY CLOTHING.”

“Um….I don’t have any kids,” replied Valerie (age 16), clearly unsure whether to laugh or cry.  “Would you like to give me your phone number in case you need to return them?”

“Okay,” I replied, for the first time in my life not rattling off the digits to the dial-a-prayer hotline.

Fleet Feet FLASH Bonus Pack

Because I am a terrible person who absolutely did not want to have to try to figure out the demonic Dewey Decimal System of children’s shoe sizing a second time, I decided to make an enormous production when presenting Avery with his new shoes.  I put the shoes on a sofa cushion, mimicking that hyper-intelligent Prince who decided true love was (at least in part) based upon the proper fit of footwear constructed of profoundly stupid materials. “Avox,” I called, “Get in here and try on your NEW SHOES!”  He ran through the door and hopped on the couch. I pretended to put the shoes on the Rev’s much bigger feet. The kid didn’t get the Cinderella reference, and was impatient to try them himself.  I gave up on fairy tales, and shoved his feet into the shoes.  Thinking fast, still trying to prevent an “I HATE THESE SHOES” outburst, I said, “The lady at the store sold me an upgrade for these puppies. It’s a FLEET FEET FLASH BONUS PACK.  She said it will make you go 200% faster!  Better try it out!”

Avery’s eyes lit up.  He leapt from the couch.  “I’M GONNA RUN NOW!” he yelled, generously insuring that Rev and I didn’t miss a second.  Off he went, chugging like a locomotive across the Rev’s slate tiled floors.

“You’re so fast!” we yelled.

“It’s like you’ve got rockets attached to your butt!”

Avery continued to run circles around my parents’ great room.  “What if they’d been too big?” the Rev asked?

“Avery did another flippy?” I responded.

It looks like the G.P. isn’t the only watcher who needs watching.   Wish the Rev some luck.

 

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Graphically Speaking

Dearest Readers: This was set to be my column this week, but it was declined for being too graphic.  Just changing the word “pecker” to something less offensive wasn’t enough of a compromise to get the article published, so I wrote something else and elected to publish this only here for you loyal few.   I hope you like it, oh best beloveds.

For many years, I worked in marketing and advertising as a professional graphic designer.  In fact, I’m the schmuck who does the layout for your weekly Island Moon Newspaper.  It’s really not a big deal. Graphic Design is a job with ups and downs – just like any other, but folks seem to have some very incorrect ideas about my profession.  There is a definite perception out there that we’re all super talented, and that our jobs are utterly romantic – involving wearing all black haute couture clothing to gallery openings where rock stars casually converse with the ghost of Andy Warhol.  This concept is pretty far from the truth.  Back in art school “real” or “fine” artists would shout insults like, “SELL OUT!” at poor Graphic Design majors trying, slavishly, to conjure attractive 3-D packaging concepts out of pasteboard and a glue we affectionately called “elephant snot.”

“At least I’ll have a job, you stupid ceramicist,” was often the response.  Even at our most idealistic – we knew we were essentially the cost accountants of the art world.

Graphic Design, like all other art forms, is fundamentally about communicating ideas and emotions.  However, most of the time, graphic artists aren’t telling our own stories.  We make other people’s thoughts look good by using rules that are the equivalent of psychological hacks.  What we know is how color, text and spacing have impact on visual dialogue, and that’s important if you only have two and a half square inches to sell a product.  However, since we’re rule bound, primarily about marketing, depend upon client approval, and since we have to start every project focused someone else’s need to tell a story, we don’t get the prestige of “fine artists.”  Fewer of us starve, though.

People often ask me about being a “creative.”  “It must be so cool to make stuff all day long!” they exclaim, looking at me like I don’t deserve such a “fun” career while they have to slave away at being a “financial consultant for a mid-range investment firm” – whatever that is.  What they don’t understand is that my profession is just as limiting as theirs.  I had a client who hated the color blue – not just royal or Prussian or aquamarine, ALL blue and every secondary color involving blue (every green and purple).  After I spent two days designing the day spa logo, trying to keep things calm and natural, I gave my presentation.  “Oh,” the owner responded, “I hate brown, too.” Logo work can get expensive.

Once, while getting a haircut, my stylist got literally teary eyed in admiration.  “It must be so amazing,” the nearly twenty year old exclaimed, wiping her face with the back of her hand directly before tackling my bang trim.

“It’s nothing of the sort,” I said, trying to save her from her illusions, “unless you think those chicken benches at bus stops are the height of beautiful functionality.  Somehow, I don’t think Frank Lloyd Wright is too worried about his legacy.”

“What are you talking about,” she asked, distractedly snipping.

“We mostly work on marketing campaigns for small businesses.  I often design advertising for bus stop benches.  Right now, you’ll see a lot of pictures of fried chicken.  Sometimes, I  get to do billboards for strip clubs.  It’s a noble trade.”

Honesty may not always be the best policy.  My bangs ended up looking like an emergency room doctor cut them in order to stitch up a head wound after a car wreck.  The truth isn’t always popular.

Newspaper design is new to me.  Although I’ve been with the Island Moon for a little over a year, I’m still learning. The Moon office is great fun – but it lacks the elegance that is so often (erroneously) associated with my job.

Here’s a look at a Wednesday two weeks ago at the Island Moon:

I went in to work at 8:30 or 9 a.m.  Wednesday at the Moon is press day, which means we build 18+ pages on deadline.  Jan and Dale Rankin (Publishers/Editors/Sales Directors/Bookkeepers/Computer Technicians/Writers/Photographers) usually arrive at around 10 a.m. with the office dogs (Greeters/Alarm System/Crumb Vacuums), Lizzy and Sugar.

Dale has long since succumbed to the regular dust storms from the Great Sahara Development across the road.  He coughs and honks like a goose in distress every time the wind comes up.  The resultant cacophony sounds like cold and flu season in the COPD ward.  It’s awesome.

Jan, my office mate, has decided that she’s going to have an aneurism after falling off the side of her pool onto the other side of her pool.  In truth, the left side of her forehead does look a little like a cantaloupe that got dropped off of a roof.  She is deeply concerned and has been spending a greater portion of her day than usual on WebMD researching aneurisms.

“Mary, look in my eye and tell me if my brain is going to explode,” Jan begged Dr. Mary Craft, Optometrist – who was occupied, at the time, with writing the Moon’s Business Briefs.

“Jan, I CAN’T SEE YOUR BRAIN THROUGH YOUR EYE,” Mary firmly replied, trying to figure out when Dragonfly’s happy hour was.

“THAT’S NOT TRUE, MARY!  YOU TOLD ME YOU CAN SEE TUMORS AND STUFF!” Jan forcefully argued, waving her finger in front of her own face, following it with her eyeballs, trying to trick Mary into an impromptu examination.

“I think it starts at 5,” Mary said calmly, continuing to type as Jan made strange faces, testing for hemorrhage.

Dale coughed and wheezed his next door, diligently checking our first proof, and ignoring the panic attack coming from our side.  He may be immune to our antics at this point (very strange snippets of conversation  float his way for most of the day — I imagine the air in his office heavy with wafting questions like, “How much to do think a monkey brain weighs?”)

“Do we really want to put in this picture of a horse with his pecker out?” Dale yelled (hoarsely).

akbar

All “elite” and off to work.

“What are you talking about?  It’s not like he has a boner,” Jan yelled back, one hand over her left eye experimenting with her homegrown “stroke check.”

“Would you like me to fix it in Photoshop?” I yelled back.

“Yeah, just get rid of that,” said my valiant editor-in-chief.

I scrawled the words “pecker edit” on my little yellow legal pad and went back to trying to spit clean a ketchup stain off of my Admiral Akbar t-shirt while minutely adjusting the kerning in an ad for air conditioning repair.

Some days, I can hardly stand all the glamour.

 

 

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Jogging: A Cautionary Tale

This is dedicated to my dear friend and comedy hero, Teri Geahlen who nearly requested it.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working pretty diligently to get myself into shape (I’m going for something other than “ovoid”).   My body is a sneaky, uneducated hoarder whose sole desire is to spend its days intermittently interrupting nap time by cramming processed “food” and Miller Lite into its pie hole.   I spend many hours strategizing like a general, applying formulas stolen from “The Art of War” to diet and exercise.  Still, my body pines for potato chips, covets cheese and has tantrums for tacos.  Despite my immaculately executed tactical assaults, my weight loss often stalls, and I have to return to the battle council to find another way.

I hate running with the desperate passion most people reserve for fascist dictators, broccoli and Kelly Rippa.  If someone pointed a gun at my head and said, “Run or I’ll shoot,” I’d probably respond by saying, “Ok, but give me a minute.  I gotta work up to it.”  Ironically, nothing takes the pounds off me faster than jogging — probably because my extreme hatred microwaves the fat cells right out of me like homemade laser liposuction. Last spring, I had about 10 pounds left to lose in order to hit my first goal, and I thought that I could probably handle adding the activity for a mere couple of weeks.  “I can do anything for 14 stupid days,” I thought to myself, willfully ignoring the fact that there are a great many things that I can’t do for that long (holding my breath comes to mind).

Since I knew that I disliked running, I decided that I’d try to make it easier on myself and my poor knees by purchasing proper equipment.  My friend, Bethany-who-sometimes-jogs, was the greatest authority I could find on the subject, although I did consult Wikihow.  She hauled me to Academy and made me try out shoes by running around the store.   The newness of the insoles made me feel like winged Mercury as I bounded through the hiking boot section.  Bethany laughingly tried to tell me that I looked like an idiot, but I was happily jumping about, pretending the benches were an obstacle course.  You really can’t take me anywhere.  I eventually bought some new shoes, and decided I’d start my amended routine on the following Monday.

So often in our lives, expectations don’t match reality.   I pictured myself, gazelle like, cruising gracefully in front of the sea, my loyal black lab Stadler flowing alongside me as we sailed to the land of skinniness where you can have all the cheese and margaritas you want.  Visualization is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The morning of our first jog, I awoke excited.  The weather was chilly, so I threw on a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt.  I keyed up some music, put on my brand new shoes and started stretching.  Ten minutes later, Stadler and I were out the door on our way to Ocean Drive.

Everyone always says, “Once you lose the weight, you’ll get a whole new wardrobe.  Won’t that be great?!?”  No one ever remembers that getting skinny is a process.  There are a lot of sizes between a sixteen and a six.  Who wants to spend a bunch of money to buy clothes that won’t fit in two weeks? Not me.  I  despise shopping.  I started wearing all my too big clothes tied on with a bit of rope, Jethro Clampett style.  It wasn’t a great look, but it worked – for the most part.

I strode out of my house that morning wearing yoga pants that were four sizes too big.  In my defense, they didn’t feel that way when I donned them, fresh from the dryer.  They were skin tight!  As I ran, however, they stretched becoming looser and looser with each thudding stride.  I reached back with the one hand that wasn’t occupied with the leash, and pulled them up.  It helped for a second — then disaster struck.  My pants fell all the way down to my ankles, causing me to trip and fall toes over teakettle  to the sidewalk, my enormous purple polka dotted panties clearly visible to all the drivers on their morning rush hour commutes.  Stadler valiantly tried to “help” by tangling both of us in her leash and then by standing on my shoulders poking her nose in my face to see if I was dead.  I finally got the dog off me and stood up.  Stadler ran joyous victory laps around my ankles, tangling us three further times before I screamed her into submission and finally raised my poor puddled pants.    There was much honking.  One guy laughed so hard he had to pull over and park in the bike lane for a few minutes to get himself together.  I stormed past him towards our house, the back of my pants gathered in my right hand, holding fiercely to my dog and the remains of my dignity.

I was so furious at my failure that I couldn’t give up, even though my knees were skinned and my palms were raw.  I charged into my house and put on a pair of pants that had a draw string at the waist.  I choked that sucker up as far as it would go, and triple tied it in a knot from hell.  Even the smallest microbe wouldn’t have been able to slide between fabric and skin, it was that tight.  Stadler and I set off again, this time on quieter street.  I no longer cared about the view.  I plodded down the road, flat footed and miserable.  As I trudged, I felt something strange happening inside my new bottoms.

My underwear was falling down.

I stopped mid-plod, and quit.  Stadler and I sat on a curb for a minute.  I caught my breath and cussed while Stadler rested her head on my shoulder, and gave my cheek a consolation lick.  Eventually, we started the walk of shame back home, panties tragically sagging the whole way.

Since then, I have purchased many new pairs of pants which all feature belt loops.  Stadler and I rarely run now, but when we do, I wear compression jogging tights and we go in the deepest, darkest night to hide our shame.  I still hate every stinking minute of it.

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