Thursday, December 27, 2012

Insomniac, Part 13

There was no soap.  He yelled for Victoria to get him a bar and he thought she should be able to hear him.  When the volume of her music went up, he was sure. No luck. There were three ambulatory people living in this house and he was the only one who ever replaced anything.  Toilet paper, paper towels, soap, antibacterial soap, sponges, or tissues.  It was always him.  He was the only one who ever wrote the grocery items on the white board.  He was the only one who returned library books, the only one to bring dirty dishes from the coffee table in the living room, and the only one, it seemed, who ever flushed toilets.  You'd think that Victoria would be too prissy to leave her poop lying around for everyone to see, but no.

Harold turned off the shower and stepped out without bothering with a towel.  The bath rug was a sodden mess pushed up against the toilet, so water pooled at his feet.  He leaned over to find a bar of soap in the bottom drawer.  Nothing.  He dug through the other drawers, finally coming up with a tiny, furry bar of hotel soap in the back of the top drawer.  How the heck did the dog hair get into drawers in the bathroom? He never came in here unless he was dragged in by the collar to get a bath.  Yet the back of the drawer had dust bunnies filled with fur. 

Hotel soap. 

His skin would be dry tomorrow.  He'd have to go out to the store this afternoon.  He'd hoped for a day, just a single day, when he didn't have to go to the grocery store.  As it was, Hilly and Hork drank about a gallon of milk every day. 

He stepped back into the shower and turned on the water.  He'd been out for less than a minute.  How could it need to warm up again.  Somebody flushed the downstairs toilet.  He danced out of the water just in time to avoid being scalded.  He was awake now.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Happy Damn Holidays

There are ways that Christmas is a bitch. 

I still have to walk the dog, but I have to make two dozen pumpkin muffins on top of it.  Make that three dozen.  I have to make another gift basket for Christmas eve and these people like our muffins after dropping in this afternoon and polishing off four or five of them.

I hate having to package each muffin in red cellophane and tying it off with a cheerful green bow.  What a fucking waste of plastic, the earth is going down, I'm telling you. But have you ever just dumped the muffins into a basket wrapped in plain foil?  They look like shit. They're going to be in a million tiny pieces when the package arrives anyway.  I don't know what I'm worried about. 

As it is, there are two dozen cookies, or rather the crumbles from two dozen cookies on my counter top as I cook.  Don't these people know after seven years of diabetes that I can't eat sugar? Okay, Mike can and Jack shouldn't, but it's killing me, just killing me. 

And the smell, that cinnamon smell, is driving me absolutely insane.  Who wants to eat salad when that smell is in the air?

Then, there's the post office.  Now, we have a great mail man and all the people at the post office are friendly and efficient.  Still, that line is just deadly.  There's no music, nothing to look at except harried people.  There is always one unfortunate child doing pull ups on the counter.  I remember the time I stood there with a wiggly, bored toddler on one hip and five heavy packages that needed wheels on them as we shuffled forward.  That was nine years ago and watching that mom struggle is still agonizing.  You can't help them either.  If you even talk to them, they look at you as if you're a stalker wannabe.  Hell, I remember looking at interlopers with that same venom. 

I blame the perfect-mom issues that our culture harbors in this era.  We can't be aggravated. Our perfectly good muffins have to be individually wrapped in pretty cellophane, and we can't look as though a sweaty half an hour waiting in a line with a bored child attached to us is making us crazy.  Twenty years ago, the kids would have been playing a puddle in the parking lot or pulling errant stuffing out of a cigarette burn in the back seat of the car.

Thanks for listening, jules 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Insomniac, Part 12

At 4:55 am, Harold sat at the edge of his bed and turned the reading lamp on.  He farted loud and long.  What the hell had he eaten?  It didn't even smell like him.  Harold wondered how people in nursing homes could share a room with a total stranger without being revolted by the smell of each other.  He hated how he had actually begun to smell like an old person.  He flossed his teeth.  He didn't eat any differently than he had before.  What the hell was that smell?

Harold didn't need to get up for an hour.  He'd stopped wondering why.  He knew the kind of day it would be, busy with a chance of falling asleep in a meeting. He got up on his feet.  They hurt. Why the hell did his feet hurt now? He hadn't been on them for a whole five hours. He looked at the way his toe nails had begun to look like claws.

He went into his bathroom and turned on the light, squinting as his eyes got used to the changes.  His image stared back at him.  The horseshoe of hair on his head, the furry man boobs, his sagging belly, limp penis.  It had been a while since he'd woken with a woodie.  Was that normal?

He missed his hair the most.  He'd tried shaving his head the way many men had done, but he had a large, lumpy head with a crease on the left side as if he was a brain tumor patient.  It was not a good look.  He envied Patrick Stewart. 

He turned on the shower and looked in the mirror as it steamed up.  Better.  He looked mysterious and suave in the fogged mirror.

"Oh, that's disgusting," Victoria said as she grabbed his razor from the sink and slammed the door shut.  That seemed to be all she ever said to him these days.  He thought about how, in forty years, she'd probably be sleeping with a man that looked like this. That was disgusting.

He stepped into the shower without testing the temperature of the shower. The confidence, he thought, and grinned. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, December 7, 2012

Insomniac, Part 11

It bothered Harold when Hilly and his best friend, Hork, danced together, taking turns at being the girl.  It also bothered him that this scrawny kid was nicknamed Hork and both boys let it stick.

Hork and Hilly.

Hilly and Hork.

There they were, spinning around in the den as Harold heated up a frozen pepperoni pizza for dinner.  They actually held hands in between whacking each other in the head.  Harold thought of his own best friend from middle and high school.  His name was Sam, but everybody called him Dog. 

Hair and Dog.

Dog and Hair.

Was there some kind of rule that guys couldn't be decent to each other?  He didn't expect them to be nice, just decent.  Even when he met Dog at the Library, the pub where they stopped after work, the guy would practically knock him over and spit in his face before they settled down to drink a beer together and shoot the shit.

Tonight, even though it was Friday, he was apathetic about going out.  Even Hilly and Hork were heading to a middle school dance in about an hour.  Harold had been too worn out to meet Dog for at least a month.  He couldn't remember when he saw him last. He couldn't remember when he'd last gone anywhere unless he was required to go.

He sat down on his recliner and watched the boys spin.  Anne had bought fancy green pillows for over a hundred dollars apiece when Harold had ordered the leather couch. They were taking a beating as the boys danced the 'Cotton-Eyed Joe,' whacking each other each time they spun around.  They were screaming and laughing.  He couldn't keep his eyes open.  It was only 5:13 pm.  He knew it was a mistake to sit down.  Once he was off his feet, he was a goner.  At work, he'd been trying to finish his project on his feet, even taking his laptop to the top of the stairs  where he could balance it on the banister and stand up to work and stay focused for a little longer.  In the recliner, with his feet propped up, his eyes rolled back as if he'd been drugged. 

His iPhone chirped.  It was Hork's mom texting a novel to ask what time the dance started.  She was very happy about this dance.  Harold imagined her, standing at the door to the gym, chaperoning with a grin on her face as she watched the kids mill about.  He was going to let them walk to school, even though it was already dark.  Hork's mom assumed he was driving them.  Harold knew the boys would never say anything. He sent a reply.  He'd just nodded off again when she sent another long text wanting to know how much it cost to get in.  It was the same amount that it cost last time.  He texted a short reply.  The boys were still spinning, laughing and falling onto the couch with their dizziness.

The yelling became part of his dream.  There were too many people in his house.  He didn't know any of them them, except that his mother was there, telling him that he needed to rearrange the cabinets.  He opened a cabinet door and green goo spilled out onto the floor.  Everyone in the house was yelling and pointing.  The green goo was flooding the den and began to chirp at his ankles.  Harold woke with a jolt, arms and legs flying as a pillow landed on his face. 

"Sorry Dad," Hilly said even before Harold could figure out what was real and what was dream.  His phone beeped again.  Harold smelled something burning.  The pizza. 

He hopped up and ran to turn off the oven.  A cloud of smoke poured out when he opened the door.  The smoke alarm went off and Harold reached for the fan over the stove and a pot holder.  He burned his finger anyway.  The boys danced around him laughing about calling 911 and still spinning each other around in circles. 

The pizza was overcooked, but still somehow edible.  By the time the boys were done grabbing their slices, there was only one piece left with half the cheese pulled off. 

Dinner with Hilly and Hork. 

Harold looked at the clock.  They didn't have to leave for another twenty-three minutes, not enough time for him to fall asleep again. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Insomniac, Part 10

In fact, people who managed to be privy to Harold's troubled relationship with sleep invariably told him about the magic cure.

Drink 16 ounces of water after dinner.

Take large doses of melotonin.

Exercise is your cure. Get a dog. Get a personal trainer.

Take antihistamine.

Avoid drinking any water after bedtime.

Go to bed at the same time every night.

Get up at the same time every morning.

Don't watch TV.

Sleep when the baby sleeps, in otherwise, whenever you can.

Try watching the movie 'Australia.' It's long, has good music, and can lull you to sleep.

Try hypnosis.

Don't eat sugar.

Drink warm milk with brown sugar at bedtime.

Don't keep a clock in the bedroom.

Keep a sleep journal with information about how much sleep you got with what you thought interrupted you.

Don't live near power lines. Harold wondered where you'd have to live to do that.

Don't eat more than six ounces of meat a day.

Sleep in a dark quiet room.

Get a white noise machine.

Avoid exercise within five hours of bedtime.

It's adrenal shock.

It's cortisol.

It's sleep apnea.

You might have a pituitary tumor.

It's contaminants from generic medications.

It's subliminal messages. Hadn't he ever seen the breasts hidden in the ice cubes in the liquor ads?

Oh Harold had heard them all. Harold was tired of hearing them all. Harold was simply tired. Mostly, he got the impression that if he just tried hard enough, he would get enough sleep.

He must not be trying, he thought, as he sat on the edge of the bed at 2:17 am, his head in his hands.

Thank you for listening,

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Insomniac, Part 9

I'm sick of Harold and his ridiculous dilemmas.  He's boring himself, let alone the rest of us.  He needs to get a life, get some exercise, get a dog, for God's sake.  I mean, really. 

Thank you for listening, jules


A lady from church wants me to write a Christmas pageant in time for Christmas. Nick and Mike are watching new 'The Three Stooges' movie. As a veteran stooges watcher from the 1960s, I can tell you that they have totally nailed this one.

So, here's a new and revised Christmas story:

Joseph and Mary were hiking through the desert, having an argument.
"It was a metaphor, Mary," Joseph said. "I didn't really hear voices."
"So you're telling me that these "voices,'" she did the quotes in the air, "told you to marry me even though I'm already pregnant? So you were going to dump me, Joseph? You didn't just marry me because you love me? Is that it?"
"I didn't say that, Mary."
"So what did you say?"
"I said that an angel came and told me ..."
"Was she pretty, Joseph? Was the angel prettier than I am? I'll bet she didn't have this huge bulge for a belly and fat ankles. Did she have fat ankles, Joseph?"
"You're beautiful, Mary. It's just going to be hard for you in this last month. Remember, Sarah told you that the last month would be hell, remember that?"
"But I just feel so fat. Does this toga make my butt look fat?" She turned and her backside looked as if it was three sizes bigger than it was just moments before.
"Uh, well, um ... Hey, what are we going to name this little peanut?" Joseph asked.
"I was thinking about naming him Leslie."
"You're kidding, right?"
"What about Milford? My grandpa was named Milford," Mary said.
"Oh God, I've got a headache," Joseph said and he rubbed his eyes.
"Joseph, I'm really hungry.  Can you get me some ice cream, and maybe some spinach with barbecue sauce."
Joseph shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, rubbed his eyes again and looked confused. 
"That's strange," Joseph said. "My headache's gone. It just vanished."
"I thought I was supposed to be the one who was favored by God, but you know if I were really favored by God, I wouldn't have such a bad case of indigestion right now." Mary rubbed the top of her belly as Joseph took out his iPhone. In the background, you could hear a mechanical voice that said, 'recalculating destination.' He poked at it a couple of times, turned it sideways, then back, and then got a surprised look on his face.
"Hey, Mary, look," Joseph said. "We're here."  Then he looked around and spotted a well and a couple of low buildings in the distance.
"Where? I don't see anything."
"Bethlehem. See, it's right here on my map." He held out the iPhone for her to take a look.
"That thing just drove us into the Dead Sea again. It's the third time this week. Let me look at that." She took the iPhone from him and tried to zoom the map. Joseph walked toward the well.
"No, see the well? See the inn? This is Bethlehem."
"This place? There isn't even a camel crossing. Are you sure."
"I'm sure, Mary," Joseph said. He turned around and pointed. "I was born in that hut, right over there."
The innkeeper came out of the inn, took one look at the dusty duo, and crossed his arms across his ample belly.
"Where you two bozos headed?" he asked with a Brooklyn accent
"Um, here?" Joseph said smiling in a goofy way.
"I don't think so. You can just get right back on that camel of yours and get outta here." He laughed.
"My wife ... she's pregnant."
"Yeah, and that means what to me?"
"Well, we could use a room and maybe a beer and a sandwich."
"Got any money?" the innkeeper said rubbing his fingers together.
Joseph pulled a handkerchief out of one pocket. Sand fell out of it. The innkeeper took out an oversized Mag light and smacked it repeatedly into the palm of his hand. Joseph pulled out a squashed roll of Mentos from the other pocket.
"Mentos?" Joseph said leaning in, Mentos extended. The innkeeper shook his head. Joseph pulled a bouquet of fake flowers from the sleeve of his toga. The innkeeper laughed.
"Eh, what the hell. You kids can shack up in the stable around back, second stall on the left," the innkeeper said, eyes softening. "Now, get outtta here, before I change my mind."
Mary and Joseph opened a creaky barn door.
"Joseph, watch out for that .... oh, that is so disgusting." She held her nose as Joseph scraped his shoe on something. It was one of the feeding troughs for the sheep.
"Joseph, I think it's coming," Mary said, grabbing hold of her sides.
"Yeah, I think I got most of it off." Joseph was still looking at the bottom of his sandal and continued scraping his foot on the manger.
"Joseph, Joseph?" She sank onto a hay bale, holding her belly.

And then there's an intermission.

When the picture faded back in, there was a crowd of onlookers and farm animals around Joseph, Mary, and the new baby.  Three wise men did a three stooges poking and slapping thing and each of them ended up with manure on their togas. The animals shuffled around, farting and dropping loads of manure.  Except for Mary, Joseph, and the baby, there was mayhem in the barn.
"Oh Joseph, look at him. He looks just like your uncle Manuel."
"He's an ugly little bugger, for all that work. I was thinking, before, that we could call him Virgil," Joseph said, as he wiped dirt, blood or manure or both, from his hands onto his toga.
"We'll call him Extra Manuel, E-Manuel for short," Mary said.
"E-Manuel?  Is that what you think, Mary, that we should call him E-Manuel, as if he's some kind of a text message?  What the hell kind of name is that?  You think we should call him E-Manuel?  You gonna send him out like a spam email to the whole world now?  Is that it, Mary, because if that's it, I think you're onto something there."
"Calm down, Joseph."
"You're telling me to calm down?  We've been walking in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.  We have no food, no money, only a half a calf-skin of wine left before we die of dehydration. And now you're telling me to calm down?  Then we end up in a barn and suddenly you have to have your baby this very instant, surrrounded by all these pigs and their crap?  I've spent the last three hours with my hand in a vice as you screamed into my ear and you're telling me to calm down? I've stepped in manure more times than I can count in the last four hours and you're telling me to calm down?  Then, these three bozos show up, our so-called wise men, with totally useless gifts.  It's not like we can eat myrrh or anything.  They give us gold, but the innkeeper only takes silver because of the gold embargo.  These wise men start burning incense and singing 'Kumbaya' like a bunch of hippies and I'm supposed to calm down?  And the whole time, I'm hearing voices in my head saying that everything is going to be alright, that I should stop and breathe and you're telling me to calm down?"
"Maybe you should listen to the voices, Joseph." 
Joseph took a deep and ragged breath.  Then, he took another, just a little more slowly.  Then he started to laugh. He laughed so hard that tears stream down his face.  Then Mary started to laugh too and she smiled as she looked down at her baby, E-Manuel, and the tiny knowing baby, he smiled too.

 No, I don't think this lady really wants me to write them a Christmas pageant.

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Insomniac, Part 8

Harold sat on the toilet in a stall in the restroom at work, playing Scramble on his phone.  His pants pooled around his ankles.  He played the game against some Facebook friends, though he'd long since abandoned even looking at Facebook.  He had a Facebook app on his phone, but it only got his attention when he waited in a doctor's office or for his tires to be changed.  Too many people wrote comments like 'That's cool' or 'Way to go.'  It bored him and the updates people posted were pretty inane too.  He never had learned to opt out of getting a Farmville update every time one of his friends fed his pig.  Harold had also stopped carrying a book to the doctor's office or to the toilet.  Who needed a book these days?

He liked the games on his phone.  His favorite was Scramble, but he also played Words with Friends and a free version of Blackjack.  When he played blackjack, he imagined himself at a $100 table in Las Vegas, a beautiful woman in a little black dress hanging on his every move. 

He found the word 'cerulean' in his Scramble game.  That must have been his best word ever.  He wondered if he could monitor the bowel habits of his friends based on when his phone beeped.  The constant beeping and buzzing all day and all night drove him nuts, but he liked playing the games. He laughed out loud, imagining Prat32 on the toilet while she played. Someone he hadn't noticed was in the restroom turned on the water and pulled a paper towel off the roll. 

His phone buzzed and interrupted his game to show him a text.  He never answered the phone while he was on the toilet, but he had no excuses to ignore texts.  Still, there was some part of him that felt self-conscious, as if the person might be able to see and hear as he typed his answer.  It was something from Roger just down the hall.  How the hell had Roger gotten his cell phone number?  He didn't remember giving it to him, but then, he didn't remember a lot of details like that.  It didn't work to ignore the texts anyway. Roger could send him three or four texts in the time it took him to pee and wash his hands. Victoria was like that too, but only when she wanted something. Hilly barely knew he carried a phone in his backpack. He never returned calls and he never texted.  That boy's way was better than Victoria's.  Anne never texted and hardly called.  Anne emailed.  She even emailed pick up and transfer times for the kids, then complained to Harold if he missed the information.  He'd tried telling her that he got about 85 useless emails a day, but that just made her madder.  Everything made Anne mad when it came to Harold.

Someone walked into the bathroom.  Harold silenced his phone, but it was too late.  The bells and jingles had been cheerfully set to loud. 

"Harold, it's me, Roger."  As if he couldn't tell.  "Harold, did you get my text messages yet?"

"Okay, Roger.  Give me a minute, would you?" 

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Insomniac, Part 7

Harold liked classical music, but hated the announcer between the long symphonies. She sounded depressed and she complained about the weather. 

"We all live in Seattle, you idiot.  It rains.  Get over it," he yelled at the radio as he backed out of his driveway.  He wondered how much gas he'd save if he didn't have to drive around the little traffic circles in the middle of the street every day.  The streets were too narrow too.  Sometimes it seemed a little dicey, like trying to maneuver a wheelchair through the clothing racks at a department store. 

His phone rang.  The damn phone always rang once he got into his car and he'd never figured out how he could get the phone and the hands-free going while he was trying to dodge traffic circles and parked cars.  Roger often called to work out problems about work at 7:53 when he knew Harold would arrive in about thirty minutes.  What the hell was flex time all about if he couldn't relax and get to work at 8:30?  Harold wanted to tell Roger he was an idiot.

"Roger, keep your pants on. I'm driving my damn car and I can't fix your problems right now," he yelled without actually answering the phone.  He drove up over the curb of another tiny island. 

"What the fuck!" he yelled.  The grinding metal against concrete jangled his frazzled nerves.  He wondered if this was what it was like coming back from the war, jumping at the sound of cars backfiring and helicopters flying overhead.  No, he knew it would be much worse if he'd gone to Iraq.  He knew if he'd signed up, he wouldn't have come back alive.  He didn't know how the soldiers slept at all.

Harold liked to wonder how different people slept.  He considered the President.  Did the man have an alarm set for 5:00 am every morning, or did a secret service man come and shake his shoulder?  Did you have to be a morning person to be the President?  Harold hated morning people.  The cheerfulness, the self-righteous attitude.  Roger liked to tell him he was up at 5:00 am every morning, so Harold had gotten into the habit of telling him when he was up at 3:45 or 4:15 in the morning.  It didn't shut him up.  Anne was a morning person.  She woke up slicked back and clean.  She didn't even have morning breath, though back when they shared a bedroom, she wouldn't even kiss him until he'd brushed his teeth.  He felt like that was the beginning of their breakup, when he stopped leaping up to comply.  He also blamed his hairline.  He looked and felt like a different man than when he had hair, but in all reality, he thought, he was probably just as much of a dork back then and just didn't realize it.  Harold didn't like thinking about that.  He wondered, if the President were allowed to really sleep, could he get through the four years without getting so old and gray the way most Presidents did.  He didn't imagine you could be President and really sleep. 

Harold sat at a long light to get onto the bridge.  It let through three cars each cycle.  He wasn't even on the same block as the light yet. 

He sometimes wished he could go into an isolation chamber to sleep.  Maybe that would help.  He daydreamed of silent and dark rooms with deeply comfortable beds and down pillows.  No phones chirping.  No LEDs glowing beams through his brain.  The master bedroom in his house had skylights.  Even at night, light from the city glowed over his head.  What kind of an idiot would put sky lights over a bed?

He thought about waking up this morning, 5:33 am.  He had sat at the edge of his bed long enough that he'd fallen asleep again and the alarm had gone off on his phone.  He had to get up to turn it off.  The hell of it was that there was a plug behind the headboard so he could have charged his phone up where he could turn it off without getting up, but he'd have to get on his knees, crawl under the bed as far as he would fit, which wasn't very far, and stretch out to plug the damn thing into the socket.  He hadn't bothered.  Even if he had, he thought, the damn cord would probably keep falling down behind the headboard and making him repeat the process over and over. 

He thought of the myth of Sisyphus.  Harold imagined himself nearly getting to the top of that hill only to have the stone fall back down every time.  Then he'd have to start all over again.  Of all the Greeks, Sisyphus was the one that he got.  He thought of the poor guy every time he looked at the pile of dishes on the counter.  It was never ending. The leaves in the yard worked that way too.  It seemed that everyone else in the neighborhood had beautiful green lawns with not a brown leaf in sight. Harold would blow his leaves into a pile and lose them before he fit them all into the yard waste bin only to have them strewn around his lawn by a stiff breeze. 

Harold also had a coworker who loved turning him into Sisyphus.  Harold would get the stupid format of the 364 1/2 page document ready and in the form that had been decided upon by the committee.  He still couldn't believe they wouldn't just let him decide on simple things like that.  His boss formed the committee of people from different departments, an electrical, a CAD designer, a systems engineer, a software guy, and him, the sole technical writer.  They met, according to the rules they set up, on a biannual basis, defining biannual as twice a year instead of once every two years.  Harold hated words like 'biannual.'  Nobody liked coming to those meetings, though he tried to make them easier by bringing Dunkin Donuts back when they still existed.  They all blamed Harold for holding the meetings. 

It came down to this - Helvetica, twelve point, a space before paragraphs.  Everything was defined down to the header indentations.  Boring. 

So, the systems engineer, Mike, used to argue for a different font, smaller font, different indentations.  It made the first four or five meetings really long and pointless, as if they weren't already pointless.  Harold had struggled with that ever since the boss's boss casually said to him, "Nobody ever reads this shit anyway" when he first started working for the company.

So Mike, the pointless-pain-in-the-ass, as Harold thought of him, had been changing the document to the way he liked it on a regular basis for the past sixteen months. 

Times New Roman, ten point font, no spaces between paragraphs, blue font.  Blue.  Oh, he had different fonts, sizes, and indentations for every heading too along with captions for all the diagrams.  It was Harold's job to come into work on Monday morning, find that the entire document had been turned blue Times New Roman and to turn it back, all 364 1/2 pages of it. 

"Have you ever tried to select all 364 1/2 pages of a document?" Harold said out loud as he pounded the steering wheel.  He was four cars back from the light now.  In a minute, he'd be on the bridge.  Harold's morning would also include a half an hour in Pain-in-the-Ass's office, trying to explain that engineers shouldn't waste their 'valuable' time bothering with the font when they were paid the big bucks to design stuff.  Then Harold would spend another half an hour trying to get his boss to do something about it.  Nada.  Zilch.  Resistance is futile, as the Borg used to say.  His boss was one of those unusual non-confrontational guys who are generally great to work for until there's a pain-in-the-ass problem and then you had to work it out yourself or live with it. 

Harold could feel his eyes starting to bulge out as he drove in the two mile and hour traffic across the bridge just thinking about it.  Blue font.  Blue.  He was a fucking Sisyphus with a fucking blue font stone and he knew this morning after his toast had fallen butter-side down and he'd slipped on the slick spot before taking a cold shower because Victoria used all the hot water, that the damn thing had just rolled down the hill once again and it would be blue.

He knew he'd open the damn file and the whole thing would be blue Times New Roman.  And what the hell?  It had taken him an hour and twelve minutes to drive six miles.  He was exhausted.  Harold sat in the parking lot of International Data Systems with his head on the steering wheel and fell asleep. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Opposite of Reconciling

Oh fuck.

I just got home from church with a bad case of indigestion. I should have farted while I was there.  I should have enveloped a couple of the people there in a vile cloud. 


I need to start at the beginning.  I go to church, okay?  I generally like my church, but we've had a hard time when it comes to gay people. We had a gay minister and when she left, some people were appalled to find out that she was gay.  The next minister was also gay, though she was openly gay.  I liked her.  She was a good minister, but some members of our church forced her out.  It was heartbreaking.  So last spring, one of our more liberal members asked us to consider becoming a reconciling church.  That means that we'd move away from the dictates of the church organization and support gay and lesbians in our congregation, that we'd accept a gay or lesbian minister, or that we might even break the church's rules and allow gay marriages to occur there.  Now that would be something, wouldn't it?

We did what we were supposed to do.  We discussed the issue, gingerly.  In general, I kept my mouth shut.  I could argue that gay people are just trying to live their lives in peace.  I could argue that our job, as Christians, is to love one another.  I could even argue that, if a gay person isn't allowed to be a member of our church because it's supposedly a sin, then there must be no room for a person like me who has committed real sins, some of the ones that are on the list of ten in the bible. 

I could say all that and if you agree with me, you might applaud my arguments.

If you disagree, you might come up with opposing arguments.  You might point out passages in the bible that say that being gay is a sin.  I might respond with Jesus's rule to love one another.  Doesn't that trump every other rule? But hopefully we could have a civilized conversation and then agree to disagree. 

Does anyone ever change their minds once they've made it up about something like this?  Would any of these arguments sway anyone in the opposition?  Well, they didn't tonight.  I didn't expect them to.

So tonight, we voted about it, just the members, mind you.  Just the members of our church. 

One woman brought all of her grandchildren, at least the ones that had been confirmed in the church within the last three years.  There were six children there between the ages of thirteen and fifteen.  Six.  She was one of the most vocal members when it came to dumping the gay minister.  So, technically, all six of these children could vote about the church issues, including the one regarding being a reconciling church.  Now, that may have been as smart as the Republicans offering to take ballots to the mail box, but personally, I think it was sneaky. I'm sure these kids were coached, every single one of them.  It would never have occurred to me to bring a child to a meeting like this. 

So, before we voted, people were allowed to make statements.  It was interesting.  I listened quietly when a man talked about all the rules the bible was supposed to have against people being homosexual.  I kept quiet and listened.  Then I realized that if we did vote and someone came to our church, thinking that we were open to them having a spiritual experience there, we could actually hurt people, badly.  Then someone actually said what I'd been thinking, but by then, the moderator had pointed to me and asked me if I had anything to say. 

Now, I'm not a very good public speaker.  I don't usually get my thoughts in order before I open my mouth. Then, when I think of a better way to say something, it sounds like I'm repeating myself.  Editing doesn't go down very well when it's live.  But this time, I knew what I wanted to say. 

"I believe this was an important civil rights issue," I said.  "Many of the other civil rights issues have already been addressed at least in some part.  Women gained the right to vote.  There is a black man in the Oval Office, but we still have some work to do regarding gay rights and I think this is a great opportunity ..."

"Oh for God's sake," I heard a woman say two rows ahead of me.

She didn't just say that.  I finished what I was saying, but it didn't matter what I said. To tell you the truth, I had been proud of what I said.  I got to the point and then I quit talking.  I didn't repeat myself, not even once.  But it was the audible 'Oh for God's sake' that everyone will remember.  Shit, it's what I remember.  I barely remember what else I said after that except that I'd thought I'd said it well.

Oh for God's sake.

I'm one of those people who figures out what I should have said an hour later.  I should have stopped talking and said, 'Excuse me?' to this woman.

I now realize, it wasn't really an open discussion.  Some people were allowed to voice their opinions without being interrupted, but I wasn't.

Oh for God's sake. 

This woman is in a book club that I go to on Thursdays.  I think of all the times I talked about what we were reading.  I was always sincere when I spoke up.  I felt as though what I had to say contributed to the group.  I don't want to sit in a room with this woman now, not unless I can fart and then walk away. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Insomniac, Part 6

Harold sat in his 7:00 am meeting and wondered why people who were efficient were never fat.  Anne wasn't fat.  Sherry wasn't fat.   He tried to list efficient people he knew that were fat.  None.  Zilch. Was he one of those fat bigots, he wondered.

He hadn't gotten to the meeting until 7:06.  Sherry, the systems engineer, had looked pointedly at the clock when he tried to close the door quietly behind him.  He had taken the only available chair, next to Sherry, at the conference table. 

He wondered why they had to meet at 7:00 am anyway.  Couldn't the people from New Jersey wait until 11:00 am for their meeting? 

He wondered why he even needed to be at this meeting.  It was about changing the angle of the control panel to fit with New Jersey's specifications.  It wouldn't affect him until they decided whether or not to do it.  Then, they could just as easily send him the three page email with attachments that would inevitably go around to everyone here along with at least fifteen more people as well.  The CAD guy wasn't here.  Why did he need to be here if the CAD guy didn't.  Then, he wondered why New Jersey's control panel couldn't be like Arizona's and Colorado's control panels.

"... and we've found that the display panel is ineffectual when vertical since ..." Blah, blah, blah.  There was a phone in the middle of the big table and it was talking.  Everybody but him stared at the phone as it spoke. 

"... Human Interface says that the ineffectual nature of the panel will interfere with the functionality ..." the phone said.  Ineffectual.  Ineffectual. Ineffectual.  Rhymes with 'sexual.'  Harold snorted.  Did he actually do that out loud? Sherry, the systems engineer stared him down.  He didn't know what he'd done to tick her off, but the harder he tried not to make mistakes around Sherry, the more mistakes he made. 

Harold doodled on his new pad of paper.  He wondered how much he was getting paid to sit here and listen to stuff he didn't need to hear.  More doodling on his pad.  Math would look good if anyone was watching.  As long as he didn't use dollar signs, no one would be the wiser.  He'd get about $55.  Why couldn't he just sit back and enjoy getting $55 for doodling on the company's paper? 

Because he'd fall asleep if he did, Harold thought.  He'd fallen asleep in a meeting once.  It wasn't pretty. 

Harold wondered how much money they were spending on this conference call.  He guessed that the average salary of an engineer in this room was $75,000 a year.  He wondered if that really was the average.  So then, these people were billed out at about $37.50 per hour.  Two hours each for the ten other people around this table and at least six in New Jersey, this was scheduled to be a $1200 meeting, plus his $55, plus new pads of paper for at least half of them, $12.75, pens they'd probably take home, $4.25.  There was the package of jumbo Costco muffins that Sherry picked up yesterday, $3.99 and napkins, another $1.99.  He put his left arm around his pad in case Sherry leaned over to look.  He felt like he was in middle school again.  He should add the hour she spent yesterday too, $37.50.  It was a grand total of $1315.48.  He should have been an accountant.  So, if just six of the people here, including him, could be off in their little cubicles doing some real work, he could save the company $463.58. He looked up triumphantly and ...

everyone was staring at him. 


"Um, yes, Jim." He hoped that just leaving the question hanging out there would make someone repeat it.

"It's Roger, Harold," the phone said. "What are the effects of the anglification of the control panel on the Specifications Manual?"  Anglification?

Harold had no idea. 

"Ah, uh, there are at least twenty diagrams of the box that will have to be redone by CAD and imported into the manual," he said.  He wanted to ask outright why the CAD guy wasn't here, but this was the best he could do.  "And we'll have to add a section to cover the, uh, the ..."

Sherry was glaring at him again.

"... the changes," he said with relief.  Sherry tried to make eye contact with Tom, the team leader.  It looked as though she had talked to him about Harold before.  Tom tilted his head and then looked away from Sherry.  Tom's a good guy, Harold thought.  If it were up to Sherry, Harold would be printing resumes at the library. 

Harold hated these meetings.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Insomniac, Part 5

Harold came home from the grocery store with three boxes of Hostess donettes, since they were going out of business after all, a bag of Frito's, a bottle of Mountain Dew, sour cream, drain cleaner, mini muffins, which he knew fell into the same category with the donettes, but he didn't care, and a Sunday paper. 

He hadn't remembered to buy coffee or milk.

He got home at 7:43 am and crawled back into bed at 8:11 am. 

He woke up with a jolt at 10:46 am, when his daughter got up and started slamming cabinet doors in the kitchen, presumably to find coffee that wasn't there.  He could hear her all the way through the den, up the stairs, and around the corner to his room. 

She was still slamming doors, the pantry door and even the door out to the garage, when he shuffled into the kitchen.  His son was sitting in front of the television, eating Coco Roos out of a salad bowl with the TV turned on.  The sound was set so low it may as well have been muted.  What the hell was wrong with that boy?

"I'm going to have breakfast at fucking Starbucks!" his daughter yelled.  She left the kitchen door open, got into her black Hummer and backed out of the garage before the automatic door was all the way up.  His wife had said that she needed something solid and reliable and bought her the Hummer. Harold remembered his first car.  It was a twelve year old Chevy Nova.  He had loved that car.

Harold's wallet lay open on the counter.  There was no cash in it. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Insomniac, Part 4

His name can't be Harvey.  It was Harvey in 'American Splendor.'  Great movie.

Harold didn't know how long he sat at the edge of his bed.  He didn't even know why he slept in that bed instead of the good one that his wife left upstairs.  This one sagged and the mattress was four inches thick.  "Upstairs, there is an eighteen inch pillow top mattress with 600 count sheets on it, and I sleep on this piece of crap," he said out loud. He knows why.  That was Anne's room.  Every pillow was in place.  No socks laid on the floor.  No jeans were draped over the chaise.

What's his wife's name?  Anne.  Anne Westminster, a successful name.  He used to joke that she married him for his name.  She used to be Anne Raper.  He always hated that name. Lately, he hated the name he gave her too.  "Anne Raper," he said.

He thought about shambling up the stairs to the kitchen. There would be no coffee.  He forgot to put it on the list.  Anne kept a running list next to the telephone.  It's something that was just like her.  Organized.  "That way, you can just tear the list off the pad when you're on your way out," she used to say.  She said it over and over, as if Harold hadn't heard it the first fifty times she said it. No matter how he tried, he couldn't get it right.  He either forgot to put stuff on the list when he ran out or he forgot to bring the list to the grocery store. 

There would be no coffee and no milk. 

It was Sunday morning at 6:06.  He could go to the store, come back, put away the groceries, and go back to bed before the kids even cracked an eyelid.  He could.  He should.  He should "tear the list off the pad when he was on his way out," he said out loud.  He heard Anne's voice overlay his own.

That was the problem with Anne.  She wasn't gone. She was an earworm, only without the kicky tune.  Her voice ran over and over in his head, a different phrase for every spot he slowed down.  Maybe that was why he slept down here in the second guest room, the one that was the repository for all the stuff he had never managed to put away, all the collected junk that had driven Anne nuts for all those years.  Stacked boxes of his stuff lined the walls.  They formed a wall, in fact, a wall of boxes marked 'Harvey's junk' in Anne's neat handwriting.  Harvey had never gotten around to going through his stuff when she organized and it had ended up down here. 

Harold couldn't remember that Anne had ever put any guests in this room.  She was more likely to put people on the couch in the den.  At least that had the green leather couch, a 52 inch plasma TV, and a faux leopard rug on top of the plush cream carpet. Harvey remembered Anne pacing from one end of the house to the other with the interior designer.  He had never understood why she needed an interior designer. When they talked, he had had trouble figuring out which was the designer and which was the client.  His room was the only one in the house they had never 'treated.'  He didn't know why, but it was a relief. It was why he was there, in that ratty bed with that ratty pillow.

"The house doesn't look so good now," Harold said out loud.  He did that, said things out loud that were running through his head. 

He had gotten five and a half hours of sleep, to bed at 11:38 pm, up at 3:13 am, to bed at 3:57 am to 5:58 am, two minutes before his alarm went off on weekdays.  He counted the hours with his fingers. 

Harvey couldn't remember how long he had been sitting at the edge of his bed.  He clicked on his iPhone.  It was 7:04 on a Sunday morning.  He should be asleep.  He pulled his jeans off the back of the chair and put them on.  He put on the same shirt he wore the day before, the one that had been hanging underneath the jeans.  He grabbed his keys from the fruit bowl by the front door.  He forgot the list.

Thank you for listening, jules

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Buttery, and Not In a Good Way

Alright, it was easy to come up with stuff I hate today.

I keep reading these gratitude entries on Facebook.  Am I missing something?  Would I feel better if I were grateful about something instead of venting about stuff that drives me nuts?  Would that make me a better person?  I don't know.  It just feels so right to have a place where I can sit down and just bitch, bitch, bitch. 

So, here is my anti-gratitude thought for the day. 

I hate when the dog takes his slimy kibbles, one at a time, to a place on the carpet to eat them.  Eat the slimy kibbles out of your bowl!  What is the deal with that? 

So as I was cooking dinner, I dropped a buttery cube of squash on the kitchen floor just a bit ago.  No big deal.  It's a vinyl floor. Without thinking, I yelled, "Uh oh!"

That's the word I trained the dog to hear when I'd dropped something on the floor that he could eat.  See, sweet potatoes are all the rage at the funky dog food stores and my dog is one of those crazy dogs that love these treats.  It figures.  It would be nice to toss him a Milkbone once in a while and be done with it.  Whenever anyone hands him a Milkbone, he takes it gingerly and then drops it with a look that says, 'You expect me to eat that?'

So when the dog came running in to find out what I dropped and didn't want to have to pick up, he was excited to see that it was related to his beloved sweet potatoes.  And there was butter!  Instead of gobbling it up the way any normal dog would do, he carefully picked it up without dislodging any butter from it onto his tongue.  Then, he walked into the living room, to his designated eating spot, and proceeded to wipe all that butter onto my carpet.

My carpet used to be a very pale green.  Just picture a cream carpet with a sage tint.  It was lovely.  It was wool and very thick. I loved my carpet. 

Now?  Not so much.  After twenty-one years of dogs, cats, and boys eating, puking, peeing, and pooping on it, my carpet has just about had it.  Oh, there are places where it is still that lovely thick sage carpet that I used to know and love, like behind the couch and under the piano, but mostly it's gray with small spots of brown clustered around busy areas.  I still try, however, and get it professionally cleaned every year or so. 

Why bother, you might say.

If I give up on this, what keeps them from pulling down the sheetrock and spreading bales of straw around on the floor?

I always promised myself that I'd have place where people felt comfortable walking in with their shoes on, where they could put their feet up on the couch without embarrassment.  Those places never feel comfortable.  I tell you that I've never been invited to sit in one friend's living room.  It is a place to view, not a place to have a conversation over coffee. 

But still, I could do without the little brown buttery spots in the middle of the living room floor. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, November 16, 2012

This Is Not Paul Giamatti

This is not a pipe.

You know, it isn't right that I keep mentioning Paul Giamatti, as if the real man is my story.  Sorry about that. I keep imagining the finesse that the real man could put onto playing the role of the insomniac.

This poor guy needs a name.  Chester Baumgarten?  Harold Unterbrau?  One of his coworkers could call him 'hold the wonderbra.' Harvey Westminster, maybe?  With that last one, people be constantly asking him, "How is the good queen today, Harvey?"  You could picture his response after he hears this line thirty or forty times. 

In the morning, he'd try to use the toilet and find there was no toilet paper.  He'd step on dirty laundry lying in front of the washer, trying to reach the rolls of toilet paper that are stored on the top shelf.  It never occurs to him to move them to a lower shelf now that his wife has left.  They cascade down onto his head.  He misses one of the rolls.  It falls behind the cat's litter box, which hasn't been cleaned in a while.  The grit from loose bits of cat litter stick to Harvey's bare feet.  Within a month, that roll of toilet paper will be crusty from getting a little wet and stuck all over with little clumps. 

Harvey gets into the shower, but the hot water runs out almost immediately because his daughter got in before him and stood there under the hot water for forty-five minutes.  The kids come and go while he tries to get out of the shower with a little decorum.  He realizes that he still has shampoo in his hair when he combs his hair.  He rubs it with a towel and it lathers up a bit.  This makes for some interesting hairstyles in the mirror that only serve to highlight his receding hairline.  He finally gets back into the cold shower and rinses it off, only to realize his towel fell off the drawer and into a puddle of water.  His robe is missing from the hooks on the door.

"Oh Dad, that's disgusting," his daughter says as he runs naked for his bedroom.  She's wearing his robe. 

Later, in the kitchen, he tries to stack the dirty dishes to expose the coffee maker.  He stands there staring dumbly at the dishes in the sink, the glasses and bowls stacked up next to it.  It's futile. 

His son comes in, overfills his cereal bowl and sits down to eat.  There are bits of cereal all around the bowl.  The boy is a little chubby.  Harvey tries to remember the last time he showered.  He's lost track. Harvey can tell the boy needs to start wearing deodorant, but he's too tired to argue about it.  His boy's name is just as bad as Harvey's.  Sometimes Harvey wonders if it wasn't his wife's way of punishing them both for eternity for being men.  Hillmann.  That's his name.   Hillmann Westminster.  It doesn't fit him, not in the least.  Harvey calls the boy Hilly, though he knows that won't help him either. Hilly quietly eats his cereal, his face hanging over his oversized bowl.

"Dad, you might just condescend to run a load of dishes now and then," his daughter says as she prances into the room.  She takes a tiny yogurt out of the fridge and looks, with scorn, at her brother.

"You eat like a horse," she says.  She needs a name too.  She'd be Victoria Westminster, high brow, a good name that will someday get her a job doing nothing along with her natural good looks.  She's skinny, smart, and very pretty, but she's a brat.  No one will hold her accountable for her behavior.   

"You could run a load yourself," he says.  She goes out the door with her backpack as if she hasn't heard him.  Her skirt is just a little too short.  Is that too much of a cliche?

Imagine Harvey at his son's parent teacher conferences, lined up along with four hundred other parents, waiting to see teachers.  He's missing a meeting that his boss thinks is important.  His phone buzzes at least five times while he's waiting.  He tries to respond to the texts, but the phone makes some embarrassing corrections to his typing.

He manages to see two teachers after an hour's wait. For the first teacher, his phone rings during his ten minute session and he makes the mistake of taking it. He would try to care about these meetings. He really would, but he'd end up telling the second teacher, a sympathetic-looking woman, in detail, how many hours of sleep he actually got last night in between interruptions. His phone, the cat, the dog, lying on the couch with the TV on.  He'll spend most of the time talking about that.  A bell would ring, indicating the next round of discussions, something like speed dating. 

"Hillford just needs to apply himself, that's all," she'll call as he shambles out the door. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Paul Giamatti in 'Insomniac,' Part II

So, Paul Giamatti is up to his old shenanigans.  He'd gone to bed at midnight and wakes up at 5:03 am, nearly a full hour before his alarm is supposed to go off.  So, he gets up, puts on a ratty robe, and wanders out into the living room.  He sits down on his recliner and pops the foot cushion out.   He picks up the remote and clicks the TV on, flipping futilely through a couple of hundred channels.  Finally, he manages to fall back asleep.  It's 5:52 am.  The TV murmurs an infomercial for slimming belly fat as his mouth drops open and he begins to snore.  When he wakes up, the alarm in his bedroom is chirping and his daughter pointedly goes in and slams the button to turn it off.  She looks like her mother as she stands in the living room staring him down.  He thinks how that isn't necessarily a good thing.

This second time, he wakes up with lyrics going through his head.  He wonders how he knows all of the words.

top of the world, lookin'
down on cre-ation
and the only explanation I can find
is the love that I've found ever since you've been around.
Your love's put me at the top of the world." 

He sings this as he loads the dishwasher.  He wouldn't even bother, but there are no more spoons.  It's too late when he realizes he won't have any hot water left for his shower.  He starts the lyrics again, pausing in between the words.

top of the world ..."

"That's just sick," his teenaged daughter says and storms out of the kitchen. 

"You think this," and Paul points to his head, "is all about you?" He doesn't say it until after she's out of the room.

The earworm soundtrack starts at the beginning again. 

 He looks in on his son in his bedroom, tells him the bus comes in five minutes.  The boy is still in his underwear and is dancing as if the song 'Maniac' is playing in his head.  He notices by the way a mirror is leaned up against a book case that the boy has his same silhouette and he's only four foot three.  Only momentarily switched, his 'top of the world' soundtrack resumes. 

"I'm going to hang that mirror on Saturday," he says.  His boy ignores him.

"Or smash it."

"Smash it, Dad."  The boy spins around, his arms in the air.  Both songs are playing in his head for a minute.

"Cheetos," he mumbles.  The cheerful soundtrack's volume grows louder, coming back around to repeat itself again. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hell of Earworms, Cell Phones, and Chatting Me Up

What is it with the universe that the minute I get an hour of free time for one thing or another, something happens or someone needs help with something? I mean really. Just now, I had an hour after the guys left for the Scout meeting at the pool but the neighbor came over to chat.  I didn't want to chat.  She chatted for thirty-five minutes.  Call me antisocial if you will. 

Truthfully, I usually like to chat.  I really do.  I have trouble getting out of the library in just a few minutes because the librarians want to tell me what they're reading. They wouldn't do that if I hadn't asked a million times what they were reading.  Hey, it's a good way to find out what's worth picking up.  It's just that even when I don't feel up to chatting, they still start talking the minute I walk through their doors anyway. 

It's like that at the market too. 

"What are you having for dinner," Jody asks.

"I don't know.  What should I have?" I usually reply.  Then we're off talking about stew, goulash, and tater tot casserole.  I've never made the tater tot casserole, but doesn't that sound good? 

The problem with all of this is that when I'm done chatting, I want to be done chatting and I don't want to have to listen either.  I'm a great study in black and white. 

Sleep works that way too.  This morning, I fell asleep for an hour after everyone left for work and school.  I figured I might get a total of seven hours of sleep if I worked at it some more.  It was one of those mornings.  My phone buzzed at least three times with reminders, texts, calls, and such. I finally figured out how to keep my phone from buzzing when my Scramble and Word friends played against me.  The damn phone was buzzing and chirping at all hours of the day and night before I got that figured out.  Right now, my phone buzzed to tell me that I have a meeting in a half an hour.  I know, I know!

My phone is a nag. 

This afternoon, the kids had the television on and I was already tired because I only really got six hours of sleep last night and there was no way I could concentrate to do my own thing. I crave the sounds of silence. The television can drive me absolutely batty.  I'm not one of those people who keep it on all the time just for the sound of it.  I'm fine with the quiet.  Besides, if you listen, there are a couple of clocks ticking, cars going by outside on the highway, the dog groaning, and the cat shuffling around inside the plastic bag that has my new quilt in it.  God forbid I give that quilt to someone who's allergic to cats.  He's had his paws in every level of the work.  He even pushes stuff off my work table to make room.

Yes, I crave the sounds of silence.

Now, that song is going to spin through my head for the next three days before something else catches up with it.  It could be worse.  It could be 'It's a Small World After All' or 'Tiptoe Through the Tulips.'  That can drive you nuts, can't it? It's almost as bad as the phone chirping and buzzing.  There my phone goes again.  It's one of Jack's friends asking what his Xbox name.  I have no idea.  He changed it over the weekend because of some software glitch. 

Yes, an earworm is preferable to the nagging of the phone.  At least I don't have to leap up to respond to the ear worm. How easily can you catch an ear worm?  For me, all it takes is a reference to a song.  Right now, 'Small World' is vying for the top spot with 'The Sounds of Silence.'  Frankly, I hope that Simon and Garfunkel win.  I loved that album when I was a kid.  It's ingrained. 

I give up.

I'm going to try to figure out what the Xbox name is before I have to go to my meeting. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, November 12, 2012

Post-Apocalyptic Preteen

I'm not prepared for the next seven years. 

Is it just me or is raising a child agonizing at times? 

Oh don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about.  How do you feel when a middle school teacher says your boy is really kind and you snort back a laugh that you can't quite disguise? 

What you see when you're with him is that he calls you weird when you straighten a crooked pile at the store, asks in disgust what better thing you have to do when you tell him you can't pick up his new video game tomorrow, and throws a tantrum because you won't let him spend all of the cash you gave him right now on a toy you planned to get him for Christmas.  He argues against taking out the garbage even if it's the only thing he's responsible for all week.  He leaves dirty dishes, piles of toys, and bits of food and garbage every time he moves from one spot to another.  He won't take a shower all weekend unless someone pretty who is his age happens to be coming to the house.  You get dizzy with all the television and video games he plays and when you ask him to read a book or, God forbid, to write a sentence, he looks at you as if you're an alien.  He hates exercise of any form, even if it's karate, which you pay an ungodly amount for every month because he swears it's his thing, but then he hisses at you when you tell him he needs to go more than once a week.  Yes, I said that he hisses.  It's a misery to get him to walk a single mile with you at the dog park. And don't even think about his spiritual state of mind.  He wants to join the military to fight in a war when you marched in the protest against it.  And he tells you he wants to kill something so he can make a leather-bound book from scratch.  Does that tell you anything about his spiritual state of mind?  Mind, body, and soul, you feel, at best, distaste and at worst, anger and futility.  And that was just today after he got home from his sleepover at a friend's house.

Then, for the second time in a week, your friend, someone who doesn't even know the above-referenced teacher, calls him kind. 

Just who are these people talking about? 

Are all twelve-year old boys like this?  Is this my fault because I was too strict with him or my husband's fault because he was coddled?  Will he change into a human being before I die in agony? 

My excuse is that I blame the television, but my husband doesn't want him to turn the damn thing off.  He wants him to log the time instead, then work with those numbers.  It's more likely that the log book will lie forgotten on the table beside the couch until I am driven batty from the sound of commercials next Sunday afternoon.  I want to take a sledge hammer to the television and let him earn the money for a small television by working in the yard, then I want to charge him to run that as well.  I would charge $7 per hour for TV time.  It would be nice if it were also hooked to a stationary bike and he had to pedal to see the screen.  Or maybe it should be hooked to the vacuum cleaner.  Why can't someone invent something like that?  Oh, that's right, they have, but where can I buy one?  Instead, our TVs are designed so that we need to move less.  Don't get up.  You can switch the TV on and change channels from your seat.  I'm amazed they don't come with little conveyor belts with chips and cheesecake swinging past now and then.  Some people put the mini-fridges next to their couches so they work as an end table and they need to do nothing more than lean forward to grab a quart-sized soda during a commercial. 

Okay, it's not just the television. 

I know it.  I've failed my son.  I'm going to have to give up on the things I hoped for his future.  He's not even going to be able to hold down a job as a landscaper.  Those people actually use their muscles.  I'm going to have to live with someone with whom I have little in common, who has only a small bit of respect or regard for anyone else in the house, who has almost no ambition to move or to educate himself, and who sees no beauty in the world.  This is not a self-sustaining system.

We're having a rather bad day with a forecast for more to come.

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Correct Orientation

I hate trying to figure out which way the blankets go on the bed when I change the sheets.  The directions the flat sheets go on are nicely indicated by the wide hem at the top.  I like that.  Not so much with the fitted sheets these days.  They are gathered all around and I nearly always get the short side along the length before I realize I have it wrong.  They could do something about that.

Plus, that's about the time the cat jumps up onto the bed intent on playing.  Can he hear the sheets?  Really? 

Jack and I made the mistake of playing parachute with him once after Jack had his turn.  Now, he's a little monster, trying to get into position to play endlessly under the floating sheets.  I just wanted to get the stupid job done, not spend an hour trying to fly the queen sized sheet over his head all by myself.  Then, as I was routing through the linen closet trying to find the pillow cases I like, he jumped in. 

I do not want to imagine him in there, sitting on my hand towels and wash cloths with his naked butt.  Doesn't he realize this? 

He probably does.

But the worst thing about changing the sheets are the fleece blankets.  Don't they understand that if you're in a queen-sized bed, the blanket is almost square?  The problem is that it's not quite square either, so it matters if it goes on wrong.  And invariably, there's nothing to indicate which way is which. 

I know this is petty.  What, you wanted me to complain about politics some more?  Did you think this was about some referendum or other?

I just hate having to put the damn blankets on wrong each time.  Really, I should have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right, but I don't seem to do that.  So with two blankets on three beds, I waste a lot of time getting six blankets on wrong before I put them on right. 

There should be a law about it. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mortify Me

It was a good day to embarrass myself.  I cried while telling a story at a meeting this morning.  Oh, I hate when I do that.  It's bad enough that I stop everything to tell a story about my grandfather, and worse still when I get all snuffly about it.

Then, it turns out that the article I was asked to write for the Veteran's Day ceremony was turned around on its head and instead, I was interviewed.  Oh, I do not want to have my name in the newspaper, or worse, my picture.  Oh man.  Can't I just write the article?  Please?

Then, to cap it all off - yes, you thought that might have been enough embarrassment for one day, but no - someone asked me if Mike was my son.  Mike, the Scoutmaster, the guy I'm hugging, my husband.  I was hard to straighten that one out.  I was silenced.  If only I'd been silent at the meeting this morning, or when the reporter arrived at the Veteran's Day ceremony and started asking me questions. 

Mike, to his credit, didn't laugh too hard and later told me that the old guy who asked must have been really old and must not have very good vision. 

Thanks for listening, jules

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some Votes Are More Equal Than Others

I want the presidential election to be one voter, one vote. 

Why isn't it?  I have never heard a decent justification.  The only thing I've heard is that we've always done it that way.  Well, that's just plain stupid. There are no good reasons to continue to use the electoral college.  It's wrong.  It's a way to fiddle with the true results and the candidates use that information to manipulate their campaigns. 

I looked it up and got a great explanation on YouTube from C.G.P. Gray who talked about how the electoral college works.  It kind of made sense to use the electoral college back before we had such good methods of communication.  Not so much now.  Actually, not at all now. 

Thanks to this C.G.P. Grey, I can see how a candidate with only 20% of the popular vote might get elected to be president.  It's what happened in 2000 with George W. Bush.  The man would not have been elected if we'd used a system in which each person got a vote that counted as one vote.  I felt totally disenfranchised after that election. 

Don't fiddle with the results of my vote.  I want one vote.  I'm not asking for more influence because I'm better than you or anything.  I just want my one vote to be relevant, to be equal to everyone else's vote.

So cut out the funny stuff. 

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Election and A Cyber War

So I can't get the Internet to work right now. I have email that needs to go out before I'm done for the day. I'm telling you-I am done for the day. It's 1:21am!

Suppose someone finally did the cyberwar thing and implemented it at midnight on Election Day? That would be really creepy, plus it could ruin the election. Aren't there people out there who have to vote electronically? Oh, what do I know?

I'm going to bed. Email and cyberwarfare be damned.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Standby Expenditures

I hate that I can't open my dishwasher in the middle of a cycle without having to restart it when I close the door.  Can't it figure out that I'm likely to want that load washed anyway, that I only opened the door to add a fork I dirtied before it got too far along?

And what the hell is going on with the recessed instructions.  It says where it is in the cycle, but you have to lean over and look in at it from an angle when the door is closed.  What is the problem with having the buttons and cycle information right where I can see them?  Oh, it's not pretty to have buttons on the front.  I tell you, if they do that with my next oven, I'm going to scream!  I want to see the settings.  I don't need lights, just an indicator that tells me where the damn thing is set. 

And what is it with everything and their lights?  I have more than one appliance that has a light on to indicate that the damn thing is off.  Really?  Do I need the little red light to tell me that?  No. I don't.  I just need the little green light to turn off and then I know.  I'm actually pretty smart here.  How much energy do we expend on appliances that are busy indicating that they're off?  Wikipedia calls it 'standby power.'

Did you know that up to 10% of our power consumed is from standby power?

It's something to think about, isn't it?

I wonder how much money people saved on electricity in New Jersey this week? 

Last winter, we didn't have power for seven days after an ice storm and our bill was no less than usual.  You'd think that a decrease of 25% of the monthly consumption would have lowered our bill.  Why didn't it?

Now, you need to sit and think about these things, don't you?  I guess if you power off, you're really only in standby mode too. 

When are they going to figure out how we can power our own houses using the kinetic energy from the people playing our video games?  Now, I'll buy one of those appliances, even if it does have a little red dot on the front telling me when it isn't running.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, October 29, 2012

Zits and Hairballs

I've spent the day using Photoshop.  I like using Photoshop.  You can blend away blemishes, a person you don't like, or even an errant finger in the corner of a picture.  If you get going, it can look more like a painting than a photo. 

Mike said I shouldn't add any zits to anyone's faces.  Bummer.  That would have been fun, just to add a couple of red dots and some shine on a forehead.  I'd only do it to the bitchy ones.  I actually think I could have carried that off.  What I learned was that if you zoom in closely enough, you have control of each pixel.  That was so cool. 

Just watch the red-eye reduction feature, though.  In one shot, the guy's eyes were at an angle and the red-eye feature changed red from his lips into dark grey!  Then, I got to playing with that little bucket toy, where you can pour paint into an area.  That went totally wonky.  I lost nearly half a woman's face to that because it was in shadow and happened to be the same value as what I intended to change.  Value is a funny thing, isn't it.  You can put a hue next to two very different values and make it look totally different.  It's the difference in value of the neighboring colors that counts. 

Blah, blah, blah.

I think my cat just threw up.  I have to go now.  I'm busy cleaning up hairballs and adding zits to shiny faces in Photoshop.

Thank you for listening, jules


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sailing the Garbage

So, I'm calling my friend to see if she's okay after the trauma of losing her cat.  It feels like it's too late to call.  It's only 8:27pm.  Since when do we look at our clocks so closely?  Since we started using our phones instead of wind-up wrist watches, since we moved to nuclear time.

Who even wears a wrist watch any more?  Well, I followed a very funny post on Facebook the other day when a friend said she didn't know where to go to get the batteries replaced in her watch.  Mike had that same problem and since the watch never worked right after he had it done, he asked me to buy him a new one.

This pisses me off.  Manufacturers don't build things to be repaired any more.  Televisions don't have any visible screws.  Dishwasher salesmen tell you that your new dishwasher is guaranteed to fail within the next seven years and you should spend another $300 for the five-year service contract in case it explodes early.  They said that about our refrigerator too.  We bought a new espresso machine just like our old one and it isn't put together as carefully.  It leaks sometimes, so I don't believe it will last half as long as the last one did, which was almost twenty years. 

We can't get a stupid can opener that works at all.    Why the hell can't we get a can opener that opens my damn cans of garbanzo beans?  We've bought three of them in the past six months.  At this point, we have to struggle to make the one we have work.  Where the hell is my receipt for this thing?  I want to return it.  Why is all this stuff failing?

It's because manufacturers have colluded with each other to deny us the ability to shop for the highest quality that we can buy.  It just doesn't exist any more.  All of the dishwashers were made using the same cheap plastic parts.  What the hell?  Not even the most expensive one was worth spending the money on because it was built out of the same crappy parts. 

Stone age
Bronze age
Iron age
Plastic age

If our culture survives what we're doing to it now, it will be known as the age for which all future cultures paid the price.  Oh hell, it might just be known as the petroleum age.  Did you know that 4.6% of our petroleum goes toward making plastic parts?  And half of this crap will be floating in our oceans in about ten years.  The site where I read about this said that they can't even say how big the 'great Pacific garbage patch' is, possibly bigger than the state of Texas. 

So, imagine that you want to sail around the world in a sail boat.  It's a beautiful picture in your mind.  You imagine spending some time in the doldrums.  You figure you'll stay up for 72 hours straight at some point battling stormy seas.  You'll lie on your deck sometimes and soak in the sun.  Your distance vision will get more acute as you stare at the shifting line between ocean and sky.  You'll study the stars.

And you might spend a week traversing the Pacific garbage patch.  How does that fit into your vision of your expedition?  Did you plan on that?  Imagine going with your husband or wife.  Do you want to take a midnight swim in that? 

Well, let me know if you find my old dishwasher in there.  I'll come pick it up.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Crisis a Day

Can't I get a break?  This morning, just before dawn, a tree fell and took out two other trees in our front yard.  The trees out here are tall.  These were cedar, maple, and alder.  The good news is that nothing else was smashed except that the strain relief broke on the power line and the cable and phone lines are now lying limp across the garage roof.  All afternoon, we cut and stacked wood and piled up the brush. 

I'd really like time to process one thing before the next crazy thing happens, but life doesn't hand it out that way, does it? 

I can't keep up.  I'm still dreaming of intestines spilling out all over into my hands when I close my eyes to try to fall asleep. 

There are things that just aren't normal to say.

"I had intestines on my shoes."


"His intestines got tangled up with the seat belt." 

At least I spoke to my friend Tracy this morning.  Remember the vet who is also a very good friend?  She's amazing.  She told me that whatever I did wouldn't have made a difference for poor Ruger.  She told me that intestines are hard to handle and not to worry that I was bumbling, that I was trying to help him. I keep thinking about this poor cat who was still alive during all of this.  Oh that poor sweet cat needed help that I was inadequate to give.

I generally feel inadequate.  I knew I couldn't clear the driveway by myself today either. I spent all day working with the power and phone people to get the lines fixed.  Tomorrow, I need to call the cable people.  I hope this guy doesn't want to talk. 

This morning, when my car was blocked in by the fallen trees, I had to drive the kids to school in our old truck.  When I got to the market afterward - I needed milk - my truck had a strong smell of fresh gasoline.  Oh right.  When I got home, the smell was still hanging about.  It's an old truck, sure, but I'm not certain I want to be driving around in a bomb, at least not that kind of a bomb.  One thing at a time would be nice.  Not an option, is it?

The hardest thing about handling extraordinary things is when I'm still expected to attend to ordinary things.   Meetings, groceries, dishes.  My friend was worried about one of the boys getting his feelings hurt and sent me more than fourteen long text messages about it.  I kept trying to tell her that we'd work it out, but we need to wait for the other mom to get back to us.  The funny thing is that I think the boys should be setting all this stuff up.  I know that they're not quite used to it yet, but they need to start.  And isn't there a point when you just get on the phone and talk about it?  Texting has its limits, especially when I was in a meeting tonight and the texts kept piling up because I was trying to be polite and pay attention. 

One thing at a time would be nice, really nice.

Tomorrow night, the notary is coming so we can refinance our house properly.  I just my name is right on the paperwork.

You could say that I'm getting about one thing a day to deal with, one thing I need to manage, then I get to stop with yesterday's thing and start working on today's thing.  I just hope I'm not too surprised by tomorrow's thing.

Thank you for listening, jules


Some days are inspiration for a horror movie.  Today was that day.  The hell of sleeplessness is still with me.  Three hours of sleep is all I got last night.  What is that?  It's not enough for me to work with. 

Oh, my day started okay once I was awake, sad, but okay.  A good friend, Ashley, lost her husband a year ago and she had his memorial at the National Cemetery this morning.  I tell you that if Mike's Boy Scouts could have seen the Honor Guard, they would have had more of an understanding of what lies under that flag, the lives of the men and women who served.  That is why respect is needed.  In this case, Sid, the veteran, outlived the war and he lived a good and unusual life. 

I didn't get going here to tell you about my friend's husband.  I will tell you, however, that her cat, Ruger, lost three pounds after her husband died.  Ashley told me that he'd just begun to recover, to gain the weight back.

I'd gone to lunch with her and some friends after the ceremony.  We laughed.  We toasted Sid.  We told stories.  I mostly listened.  I was off my game, what with night after night of being awake.  No one noticed and maybe, for once, I listened better than I spouted. 

I had just gotten home and hadn't yet changed out of my funeral duds when my phone rang, Ashley's special ring. 

She was screaming, crying into the phone.  "Ruger's been attacked by something.  He's by the door.  His gut is hanging out!" 

"I'll be there in five minutes," I told her. "I'll call my friend Tracy on my way there."  Tracy is a veterinarian, a good one.  I told the boys that I had to leave again, that Ruger was sick.  They'd been doing their homework when I got home.  I asked them to finish and I'd be back as soon as I could.  At the bottom of the driveway, I texted Mike to let him know the boys were alone again. 

I pulled out onto the highway and started crying as I dialed Tracy's office.  She asked me to bring Ruger in rather than try to put him out of his misery myself.  I hadn't brought a gun, so what was I supposed to do?  I pictured myself using a big rock and knew I couldn't do that, leave him unrecognizable for Ashley.  Tracy told me that she didn't even need to see Ruger to know that with exposed intestine, recovery would be a long hard way to go if it was possible at all.  "The infection," she said and let the words trail off.  I told her I'd bring him to her office if I could. 

See, Ruger looks just like my cat.  Whenever I'd see him, sitting on his outdoor perch, waiting to be petted, I'd feel just a little sorry for him, having to brave the cold, the damp, the predators, and the highway.  Ruger always seemed to love being outdoors though.  He was a well-muscled version of my indoor kitty.  He had the run of the carport and a heated kennel.  Still, I worried that Ruger struggled more than my cat did in his daily life. 

I zipped up my hooded jacket over my favorite cream-colored sweater and had gathered my wits by the time I turned into Ashley's driveway.  I took a couple of deep breaths as I turned the car around, ready for a clean exit.  I grabbed the dog's furry blanket from the back of the car.  I knew I'd need to wrap Ruger in something for the ride, if he was still alive.

Ruger was lying in the carport.  A loop of his intestine was wrapped half way around his litter box with dirt and cat litter stuck to it.  I took another steadying breath.  This poor guy was still alive and I needed to keep my head to be able to help him and Ashley.

I dropped the blanket over him, praying it wouldn't hurt him too badly when I rolled him over onto it.  He groaned.  I crooned to him that he was going to be okay.  It was not going to be okay.  It really wasn't.

When I stood up with him in my arms, Ashley walked toward me and screamed.  Ruger's intestines were dragging on the floor.  Oh man. I tried not to jostle him as I used the blanket to pick them up and fold them in.  They were slippery and I dropped them at least twice.  What the hell was I doing, laundry? 

I looked into Ruger's eyes and he looked at me. 

"Oh honey," I told him as Ashley gently took him from me.  "Where do you want to go?" I asked her.

"I don't know," Ashley said.  I know we said more than that, but I don't remember what.  We both knew that Ruger wasn't going to make it.

"Can I take you to Tracy's office?"  She nodded.  I pulled out the seat belt and carefully buckled her in.  Ruger kept looking at me and it's a wonder I didn't rear-end another car on the five minute drive to Tracy's office as I looked back into his eyes.  He struggled.  He even nipped Ashley's finger.  I tried to distract her by talking about his strength, by asking how bad it was.  I could see it was just a scratch, though a cat bite always seems to become infected.  Ruger struggled some more.  Ashley tried to rock him and hold him in place.

"Try not to move at all," I told her.  The rocking might be comforting her, but probably felt like torture to him.  I told her that intestines don't have pain sensors on the outsides.  I don't know if that's true or not, but it seemed to settle her a bit.  Ruger tried to roll out of her arms.  She held on, holding the blanket tighter.  I'm afraid I didn't wrap him tightly enough.  I felt like an ass.

When we pulled into the lot, I unbuckled Ashley's seat belt, jumped out, ran around and opened her door.  I leaned over to get the seat belt off of them.  His intestines, more than a handful, got tangled up with the seat belt.  I winced.  What was all this bumbling doing to this poor cat?  I lifted them up and folded them into the dog's blanket, not worrying about getting blood on my hands.  There wasn't much blood.  Dog hair was all over the blanket.  There was no sense worrying about keeping it clean now, but I wished I'd had the foresight to bring a clean sheet.

We were both crying as we walked into the office.  Ashley took Ruger straight in while I went back for my purse.  I figured someone would have to give the office staff some information.  When I came back in, a cheerful little dog approached me wiggling and wagging her tail.  Without thinking, I put my hand out to pet her.  She cringed and started to shake, turning back to stand between her owner's feet. 

"I'm sorry," I told her as I backed away.  The smell on my hands.

They took me back to where Ashley waited.  Tracy walked in from another door just as I finished washing my hands. 

"There isn't anything we can do.  He's in shock now and the damage is just too extensive," she said.  Oh, she explained and Ashley listened, nodding now and then, but I kept wanting Tracy to rush to Ruger's side and put him down before he suffered for one more microsecond.  It may have taken just one minute for both of them to make the decision, but it seemed one minute too long.  Thankfully, I held my tongue.  There was no bumbling going on with them.  Decisions needed to be made.  Ashley's response needed to be considered.  Tracy really is an amazing veterinarian.  In another moment, she came in with Ruger wrapped in a clean towel, like a baby snuggled in after a bath.  She had already given him the injection.

Ruger didn't look like he was sleeping.  His mouth and eyes were open.  His teeth seemed to be bared. There was no rush now, no pain to be considered except for Ashley's.  It was only a few more moments until Ashley was settled back into the car with a little box in her lap.  I hugged Tracy, wanting to tell her I was sorry for all the bumbling. 

I drove Ashley home, hoping I was going no slower than I'd gone before.  I wasn't at all sure if I'd been speeding.  When we pulled into the driveway, she said, "I want to put him up behind that trailer of Sid's.  Ruger and Sid really did have a connection."   I knew that the story needed to start there, the story that would make Ashley forget the horror of seeing her cat's insides on the outside.  I let her talk for a while

"I need a shot of something," I said. "Do you have anything good?"  I didn't need a shot, but Ashley did.  She poured us tiny portions of a licorice liqueur from Finland. 

"Here's to Ruger," she said.

"He was a good cat," I said and tapped my crystal to hers.  It burned a little on the way down, but it was a good burn.  I asked a couple of times if Ashley was going to be okay to bury Ruger on her own.  She nodded.  I let her talk, trying to get her to talk about Sid, a wound that wasn't quite so fresh.  Two and a half hours from the time of her call, I got back into my car to drive home and started bawling.  I'd held something together, but it was unwinding now, spilling out.  I called Mike on the phone and blubbered so much that he couldn't understand what I was telling him.  I canceled my night out with friends, got into a hot shower, and spent the rest of the night in my fleece robe, one that Ashley had made for me. 

I got to thinking about the day-to-day business that Tracy runs, examining, cleaning, stitching, healing, euthanizing, and comforting.  I have no idea how she does it, how she looks at a loved pet with something this gory gone wrong, this agonizing, and manages to keep her head.  I was a mess.  I still am.

Thank you for listening, jules