Today is the Day

Safe through the storm is how we  prayed we would come, though it was hard to believe we would when the wind was whipping round the house like filaments of cotton candy around the paper cone.

Yikes! is all I can say.

Last year it was snow.

This is year it was rain AND snow.

Both years it was wind like you wouldn’t believe.

48 hours ago got a call from my daughter Carrie who lives 20 miles from here asking if her little family of five could come shelter at the old place where she grew up – here with us, along with their Halloween costumes just in case.

And now that great day is here.

Officials are still calculating the damage, in numbers of dollars so high I personally can’t conceive of them. Most of us can’t, is my belief , but especially those of us who remember Green Stamps, and the way you could once buy a perfectly nice dress at a good department store for just $12.

I feel a little like someone falling fast down a covered slide . Plummeting in the dark, if you can picture it. And with this painful election going on and on I feel even more dread at what bitterness may lie ahead for us.

But then I think of Jack O’Lantern mushrooms, which gather with their brethren in the woods and all by themselves in the quiet dark spring forth one day and glow like a bank of votive candles in a church.

I’m taking my comfort from them and keeping my own flame alive. I am believing, as Lincoln said in bidding farewell to the people of Springfield, that all may yet be well.

The Kids & The Animals

Here is something I wrote some good little while ago.  It’s  from my second book , that book of days Vacationing in My Driveway. Hoping it might bring people a smile in the wake of all this mess.

Oh, to be young again in autumn, I think on these windy midnights, these short sun-slanting afternoons.

The reports from First Grade come home these days all in headlines. Of course Halloween is a big part of the excitement.

“WE’RE LEARNING TO PAINT IN ART CLASS!” went the headline two weeks ago from our first-grade boy. “I PAINTED VAMPIRES THROWING UP ON EACH OTHER!”

Later there was a witch-drawing contest. “My witch is great,” he hollered that day getting off the bus. “There’s blood in her hair and her eyeball is falling out and a spider is lowering itself down from her eye socket…”

The season just seems to call for such dismantlings and such grotesqueries, though some kids take it to extremes:

“The lunch ladies were really mad today. One stood up at the front of the room and made an announcement,” he said clambering up onto a kitchen chair and imitating the sour outraged face of a disapproving grownup. “’Someone has been doing something really disgusting around here!’” he imitated, and went on to tell a dark tale involving accumulations of spit left close to the food.

Imitation is the name of one game at this season. We do on Halloween what we would like to do all year round: hide who we are; become someone other; prowl past unnoticed; and defy a few rules.

Years ago, when this child was small, I had some say in how he dressed on Halloween. One year he was a fat flannel pumpkin with an orange lid tied like a baby’s bonnet to his unprotesting head. Then, two years running, he was Dracula, with hair moussed back and a tuxedo shirt and a medallion (he really looked like Lawrence Welk.) But this year he did it all on his own; discussed his costume not at all with mom or dad, but came down the stairs sober-faced at five o’clock Halloween night in full regalia: black clothes and an eye patch; a hook hand and Creepy Teeth; scary fingernails and a woman’s wig of black shoulder-length curls. He looked like a cross between Cher and the prophet Isaiah.

“Uh, who are you supposed to be, Michael?,” some bigger boys asked, seeing him later on the moonlit streets.

“A monster!,” he called back over his shoulder, literally sprinting from house to house, his dark ringlets bouncing like Scarlett O’Hara’s.

“R-i-i-i-ght! Way to go, Mike!,” they called kindly after him.

Something big happens when the seasons turn that has nothing to do with the rule book.

Last weekend, as usual, the First Grade met on various teams to play one another in soccer. The wind was warm, yet bare tree limbs swayed like skeletal arms. In mid-game two small boys attempted some soccer moves, then fell to wrestling like puppies, then assumed classical ballroom dance positions and waltzed down the field. Two others wandered toward the sidelines where they found a book, sat down and began reading it.

“Does this mean the game has ended?” asked the perplexed coaching dad forlornly.

No, it just means that autumn is reigning. The air, having turned first to cider and then to applejack, intoxicates us with its tang, especially the more sensitive among us.

I woke to a noise one night last week: willed, not accidental, by the sound of it; unmechanical; just furtive enough to be unsettling. A thwock followed by a swish, and then silence. The same thing again. A pause, then two such sounds together. I looked through the whole house for the source if it. A silence grew as I searched; and came at last upon the cause: our black cat hard at a game of street hockey with a Tootsie Pop, her chosen booty from this pagan feast called Halloween.

It’s the season that does it. I lie on the carpet in my upstairs study and look out the just-washed windows, on the inside stripped of curtains, on the outside stripped of the framing fringe of ivy. I watch the sky go by, muscular arms of wind pulling clouds past by the handful. The world is trying to turn a new way, it feels like. Stop rotating to the right, and begin again to the left, maybe. Turn itself inside out, like a sweater pulled off over the head.

Something happens at this season of the high winds and the swirling oak leaves that makes us restless. We wake at night and ask, “What is it?”

Only the kids and the animals know. And the kids and the animals aren’t talking.

The clouds are low and hairy in the skies

All I can think of right now is Robert Frost’s poem. I have a recording of him reading it that I think was made around 1960 just before he died. He read it fast with hardly a pause for breath, in his old man’s voice. It was as if he was hurrying to get it recited before he too had to run and ‘prepare himself for rage.’

Here it is, two ways:

The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.

And this is he reading it via iTunes.. You get 90% of it; enough to hear the wonderful quaver in his voice.. Click right here

But there’s no quavering in our voices today, right? Although before all this is over we just might be glad the cliff is backed by continent… Good luck everyone!

Let Go

I guess everyone gets hungry, and squirrels do love a nice fresh pumpkin.

We have to just accept it.

‘Feed my sheep,’ said Jesus when somebody asked what work they should be about after he was gone.

Look after everybody, he meant and maybe by sheep he meant not just the wayward flock of bipeds known as human but all creatures.

So there’s a hint about how we should live: mindfully, gratefully.

e.e. cummings wrote If swallows tryst in your barn, be glad, nobody ever earns anything , everything little looks big in a mist….  So when raccoons apply those fine little fingers to our trash bags, I guess we should be glad too.

My sister Nan  in  Florida feeds her neighboring raccoons whole turkey carcasses which she heaves into her yard forest’s edge and they love her for it.

You have to detach from the outcome, the sages all  tell us. Give your gift to the world. Set out those plump orbs of vegetable gold. Then what happens, happens.  Anyway we’re all just passing through.

 

Racing, but to Where?

Maybe people are just stressing out and that’s why they send along nasty demeaning emails, like the ones I was talking about here on Monday.

Maybe stress is also responsible for the curmudgeonly ways of that crotchety shopkeeper I told about Tuesday.

A documentary dealing with stress and what stress does to our kids was screened in my town the night before last. I couldn’t go see it because I was three towns away getting sweetly peed upon by a naked baby just now learning to sit upright, which is what she was doing, on my lap , while the two of us watched the soapy fun her brother was having in the tub.

Still, I honored the event in my own way yesterday morning, when I looked up the documentary on Google and watched its every trailer and clip, the coverage the New York Times gave it the interview Katie Couric did with Vicki Abeles who made it – everything I could find about it on the Internet in short.

In Race to Nowhere as  director Abeles has chosen to call her film, we get a look at all the must-do’s in our public schools, from the hours of assigned homework to the introduction of  the high stakes testing that came on the scene with the No Child Left Behind program inaugurated by the previous President George W Bush.

A chief point made in the documentary is that the so-called “high ability” kids are so pushed to achieve that many are nearing the breaking point, even as other students, who do not do well on standardized tests, are growing discouraged by their results on these standardized tests and dropping out of school at a much higher rate than in the years before this program was implemented.

Additionally most educators agree that when you merely “teach to the test,” working to prepare students for a single  exam that will be used to label the teachers and the school system AND the students, you drain all spontaneity and creative ferment out of the classroom.

Maybe you’ll agree with the film’s thesis and maybe you won’t but one thing is sure: with adults in this society exhibiting the levels of stress that they do the last thins we need it to be inflicting more stress on our children. As the Mayo Clinic’s website puts it, ““When the stressors of your life are always present, leaving you constantly feeling stressed, tense, nervous or on edge, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The less control you have over potentially stress-inducing events and the more uncertainty they create, the more likely you are to feel stressed. The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including heart disease, sleep problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment…” And that’s just a partial list.

Watch the clip now and see what you think.

Stuff You Rarely See

Here are some things you almost never see:

  • Teenagers skipping. I saw this after school the other day and was amazed by such blatant high spirits, blatantly displayed.
  • Guys getting pedicures. You see guy getting manicures sometimes but only confident and cool guys. Guys getting the soles of their feet sanded and buffed? Not so much.
  • Squirrels lying down. You see squirrels cavorting, leaping from branch to branch, bunching in furry balls and just generally vibrating with excitement over whatever it is they have clutched in those little paws but you never see them lying down.

Also:

  •  You rarely see swans one by one. Swans come in pairs. They’re twin ships, sometimes facing in the same direction like the Niňa and the Pinta making for Cathay, and sometimes facing prettily away from each other, like bookends. I saw a lone swan only once, standing incongruously at the bottom of the Post Office steps. So charmed was I by a moment seemingly straight out of Disney I extended my hand – and got a good hard bite for my trouble.
  •  You rarely see cats in those satellite-dish collars designed to prevent an animal from getting at some below-the neck wound or affliction.  You see dogs in these collars all the time and your heart just goes out to them, the way dog so stoically accept their fate. It is another way with cats: I had never seen a cat in such a collar until our fifth kitty Abraham had to be buckled into one after some surgery. With his grave expression and that stiff white cone encircling his face he looked like some stern nun or else like a mightily annoyed husband whose wife made him dress like a nun for Halloween.

And speaking of Halloween and rare sights, here is another thing you rarely see:

  •  Snow on trees that are still in full leaf, and yet that’s what we got around here a year ago: a true Nor’easter that howled around the corners of my ghostly galleon of a house like the banshees described by my Irish great-aunties. A record 32 inches of snow fell in one New England town. They even postponed Halloween in some communities, the least moveable of all feasts in the eyes of the nation’s children.More examples?
  •  You don’t see many tutus worn over snowsuit bottoms – unless it’s Halloween night and freezing out, and the wearer is under six years old.
  •  You don’t see bras worn on the outside rather than the inside, though you couldn’t prove this by Madonna or Lady Gaga.
  •  You don’t see many people using a blender to mix fabric dye and now I personally know why. (You have to hold that top down HARD.)
  •  You don’t see duct tape used much for the patching of window screens, but I know for a fact that it is used that way, and who can blame the user when you consider the versatility of this wondrous substance?
  •  You don’t see many women affixing clip earrings to the collars of their blouses  just because they look so sweet there, but of all the memories I have of my Aunt Grace from the last year of her life, the memory of her delight in this new accessorizing style remains among the most endearing I have of her.

I could go on. Anyone could. The rare thing crossing our path unsettles us all at first – until we learn to relax and appreciate the unusual just as much as we appreciate the sameness of the comforting day-to-day.

The Customer’s Always… Wrong?

First I fumbled the scissors as I pulled them from the kitchen drawer and saw them land, point side down, on my instep.  Then I lifted my glass of juice only to have the whole thing slipped from my grasp and land bang! on the kitchen table, its contents spilling everywhere.

Then I got too wrapped up in writing something and missed my exercise class at the Y.

“Shoot.” I thought. “I might as well get the dry cleaning, buy the groceries and bring my earring with the missing stone to that jewelry-and-accessory shop that does repairs.” I figured I could cannibalize the bracelet that matches the earrings since the bracelet is already missing a few stones. But when I walked into the place I discovered I had the still-good earring with me and not the messed-up one. Dang!

I would have settled into a real pout at this point had the shop’s proprietor not done that thing I can almost count on seeing her do every time I am in there:

She was interacting with an older man and woman who were also there to get a piece of jewelry fixed. The difference between them and me was they either wanted their job fixed for free or else they were sore because they had bought it there, then  it broke and now here was the proprietor giving them the bad news about how it’s costume jewelry and when it breaks it breaks. Not her problem, she tells people. She even has a sign to that effect that she points to when this happens. “Read the sign!” she says levelly, looking over the rims of her glasses at whatever poor petitioner stands before her.

I missed the first part of what the older couple’s was saying but this is what I did hear:

Customer: “We just …”

Proprietor: “Hey! You want to do me a favor and not harass me about this?”

Customer: “But …”

Proprietor, again interrupting: “What’s your name sir?

Customer:  “Joe” (I will call him.)

Proprietor: “Well, JOE, you want to quit saying the same thing over and over? I said I couldn’t help you.”

Customer: (inaudible reply, meeker in tone.)

“And what’s your name, Ma’am? she then said to his wife/

The man’s wife then answered meekly.

Proprietor: Well, you two. You know what I want you to do? I want you to go have a nice lunch somewhere. Joe, take your wife out to nice lunch, what do you say?”

Customer and wife, gathering their things: “All right then.”

And they pass me on their way out, in a kind of slow toddle, whispering to each other.

It was my turn at the counter then but before I could ask about my messed-up earring whose repair I had every intention of paying for IF I could ever manage to bring it into the store, I heard myself say, “I love how you’re always disciplining your customers,” which could have been a rash thing to say if it offended her, but it didn’t.

“And they love it!” she said. “They come back for more!”

I didn’t get my earring fixed obviously but I did give her a bum watch I spend 80 whole dollars for at T.J Maxx that broke within a month. I let six months pass before I tried to get my money back but by then I had lost the slip so no dice.

Back then, I brought it to this same shop and had the proprietor sell me a battery that did no good at all. Now, today I was trying one more time.

She unwrapped the new battery and inserted it into the watch, all the while chatting pleasantly. She set the time for me and set it in motion. “We’ll see what happens,” she said.

And an hour later, when I looked down at my wrist and saw its hands had moved only five minutes, I knew for sure that the watch was bad.

I could have gone back to my fierce friend and asked that she take the battery back, it being brand new and all but I didn’t dare.

Instead I hurled the thing into the nearest trash can trash and went home to tend to my wounded instep and police the kitchen floor for teensy shards of glass.

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