Forget Perfection

ready for the living rm fun OCSAPeople judge you. There’s no avoiding it.

Example: Fella comes to my house one day, wants to clean a rug that lies on the floor of a room where a zillion dust motes dance in the golden bars of daylong sunlight. But the minute he walks in, his face goes pale. “What have you done here?” he shouts. “Your rugs are all faded!”

I look and he is right: The rug he has come to carry off for cleaning used to be red, tan and navy when we bought it. Now it’s rust, cream and baby blue. “This rug is losing RADIANCE!” he shouts again.

“Hey I’m losing radiance myself,” I say. “It’s OK, it doesn’t hurt.”

“Here’s what you have to do,” he goes on, ignoring me. “Pull down the shades. Draw the drapes.” He bustles around doing this until the room that has dazzled with sunlight a moment before looks ready now for a séance.

“But we love the sun,” I tell him,  feebly adding, “We sit in this window seat here, and…” “Then AT LEAST take a sheet and cover the area of greatest exposure!” he snaps. “You owe it to your carpets!” he adds, scooping up the carpet in question and hurrying out the door.

Since that day I have thought a lot about what this man said. I was sorry to have let him down, but I just can’t run a house his way, keeping the rugs bright by locking the sunlight out. Keeping things perfect under plastic. Pleasant under glass.

I used to visit houses like that when I was little, the kind that made you feel as though silken cords were stretched across the chair arms, and velvet ropes were hung across the doorways. I vowed even then that if I ever did have a house of my own, I would never run it that way.

And I don’t. We LIVE in our house. We live all over those 19th century sofas in the living room, which are only done in velvet because velvet is the toughest fabric there is – well, next to maybe Naugahyde. And I’m proud of that fact.

But now hasn’t the upholstery man just gotten after me too: He came here once for a Victorian sofa that I’d reupholstered myself a decade ago that ended up looking like a lumpy pink bed with a person sewn inside it. He took that old thing out and turned it into a pale blue dream of perfection.

Then this past month, a small visitor set her little bones upon a sofa even older than the Victorian one and blam! one leg — ball, claw and all — shot straight out from under it. The upholsterer was here to perform diagnostics on the break, but his gaze fell first upon the toddler who was clumping quietly around in his little white shoes.

“You let your CHILDREN in this room?” he squeaked, his voice ascending the scale of disbelief.

“Sure,” I answered, as the child in question smiled sweetly and drooled a little onto the velvet.

“On THIS couch!?” He squeaked. “MY couch?!”

“It’s going to lose radiance!” I could all but hear him say next.

He didn’t say that though. Instead he picked up this most recent casualty and started for the door. “Well it’s your house,” he sniffed, washing his hands of us all.

“You bet!” I told him, smiling big. Because really, it’s fine by me if our stuff is too worn out to pass down to our kids one day. What I’d much rather pass down to them is permission to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings; permission to fade, as we all must fade, gloriously, in the sun.

me working

 

 

Got Stuck There for a While

fish-in-a-bowlPersonally, I’m thrilled to have a brand-new aquarium of a year to swim around in. I feel as though for the last two or three months I was moving my little fins through mud instead of water. Put another way, I couldn’t move forward. I mean, I had 95% of my Christmas cards done on December 8th but I simply could NOT finish the rest. I called my husband at work: “I’m going to just throw them all under a bridge somewhere, like that mailman in New York turned out to be doing for months and months.”

He laughed, but I wasn’t joking. I truly I was stuck, the same way I used to get stuck as a kid in various turnstiles and revolving doors, what with my violin case and that bulging book bag over one shoulder. Time simply stopped for me around the first week in November.

Example: I had put a pumpkin on my porch some weeks before Halloween, along with one of those purple kale plants and a pretty sheaf of wheat like they talk about in the Bible when the speaker in The Song of Solomon tells his lady friend that her belly is like a sheaf of wheat.

Well, the kale died the death of most extravagantly colored plants and the stalks became dental floss for the squirrels, but that pretty pale-peach pumpkin I simply could NOT throw on the compost pile, even when neighbors up and down the street were decorating for Christmas.

Instead I set it on the stone wall out back, where still it sits.

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Even now. Even with that stubborn snowbank sullenly hanging around the edge of my driveway like a schoolyard bully making a silent point about who’s really going to win this battle we’re now joining.

Winter will win it of course, just like the House always wins at the casino. A few more days and we’ll be shin-deep in snow again and quaking like the leaves on an aspen tree. And I know, I know: It’s not as if this is the Yukon, where hardy men send straight strong streams of pee into the frigid air which then freeze into stout shafts for use in their damaged dog sleds. It’s not as if this is even Minnesota, where people’s eyelashes get cemented together while they’re trying to crack open the diamond-hard shell of ice encasing their cars.

Still, it’s winter and winter is cold. And we mind the cold, hothouse tomatoes that we are.

Yet already the days are growing longer and in just eight weeks that old Uniform Time Act will have us all reading the paper in the park until almost 7:00 at night. Until almost 9:00 by the end of June.

Then what? Then the days will start getting short again alas, because Time is a big old ferris wheel that never does stop moving, except ever-so-briefly, to let new little folks on and the rest of us less-than-new folks off, each in our turn.

So what is the universe trying to tell us? Maybe to love the pumpkin for all its beauty and then to let the pumpkin go. Maybe to love what is given today.

It might also be hinting that no matter what bleak, stuck place I find myself in, I should really never throw 200 handwritten, sealed and stamped Christmas cards under a bridge, because does it really matter if they arrive a little late?

Let’s hope not! You guys should be getting mine any day now. 🙂

the cards go out at lastat the post office

Easy Street

a turkey knows when it's done

I was pretty spoiled as a kid. Raised by a mother-and-aunt combo, I never had to do a lick of kitchen duty. Instead of enlisting my help, this  were forever shooing me away so I could rest up for the night’s homework.

Man, was that a sweet deal.

The amazing thing is, they  didn’t even seem to mind all the holiday cooking they had to. Rather they seemed to actually enjoy the job, perhaps  because of the amazing tales it yielded up over the years – like the one about the Thanksgiving Eve deep in the Depression years, when their lawyer-father came home with a peculiar kind of payment for handling somebody’s case:

A turkey, slackly wet and freshly slaughtered. “Here you go, girls!” he cried happily, slinging it down on the kitchen table and walking away fast to take up his pipe-smoking ritual in the deep peace of the cozy front parlor.

As the story goes, the bird had been butchered, sure, but not completely plucked, alas and alack. Decades had passed by the time my sister and I first heard the tale of this night and our grownups’ frantic city-slicker efforts at getting those feathers off . There was the tweezing attempt, the singeing-over-an-open-flame attempt  and more. We never forgot the gory facts, and them every November from then on begged for more details about out how they finally got the job done. (“Six words,” my mother finally said in a show of merry candor: “A good big bottle of Scotch.”)

So for years Thanksgiving meant pure ease for me, right on through the first chapters of married life when my young groom and I would nervily show up at each of our childhood homes in turn, to gorge ourselves and stretch out like fat lounging hippos in the living rooms afterward. We didn’t cook a thing.

THAT sweet deal came to an end about five years in to our marriage, when seeing us off, my tiny mother-in-law sidled in close and gave it to me straight: “Next year? Your turn.”

From then on, I TRIED with the turkey every year, I really did, but so much went wrong: There was the one I roasted with the giblet-mess still inside, smelly and dark in its butcher-paper wrapping; the one I cooked upside down for added moistness which, when I went to remove it five hours later, disintegrated like papier-mâché and came to the table looking like a fourth-grader’s failed art project; and let’s not forget the one rendered SO moist at cooking’s end that it shot straight out of the oven and slid into home plate on the kitchen  floor.

Those were some hair-raising meals all right. Luckily there were only about 30 years of them.

Now, with this reputation going before me – AND a daughter who wedged culinary school training in between college and grad school – I am back on Easy Street, with Thanksgiving at her house and the lightest of assignments for me: The salad, and come on, who eats salad on this High Feast Fats and Flour?

Finally, a picture of me back on Thanksgiving back in the early golden years at my mom-in-law’s house, she bustling busily around the kitchen amid her pretty-spoiled sons and me, her brand-new not-quite-getting-it daughter-in law, perched on a stool and sampling some grapefruit.

Thanksgiving Day with the fam

 

 

Let’s Get Scary

scary-guy-with-abe

Sometimes, come Halloween, I ask myself: Who would I dress up as if right now today they announced an actual Halloween for grownups?

Back in the old days, little girls went out dressed as princesses or kitty-cats on Halloween; as witches or ghosts, if they could stretch far enough toward the dark side.

Little boys seemed to resist the whole dress-up thing somehow, maybe because they got stuffed into jackets and ties a lot more back then. Maybe it felt to them like yet another conspiracy on the part of the females in their lives to deck them out like fools – then go taking their pictures even. So I guess they went out dressed as hobos, most of them, borrowing outsized cast-offs from a handy male grownup, smearing their faces with charcoal.

My sister Nan and I went out as hobos ourselves, come to think of it. Nan set the whole tone for my whole childhood, with her nose for the slightly ‘transgressive’ as the saying goes. For one particularly instructive period during a certain autumn, a dead cat came to our attention in an alley we then began visiting the way pilgrims visit a shrine. “A corpse!” we exulted on first discovering it, giddy with that blended jolt of joy and revulsion. We’d have gone out that Halloween CARRYING the dead cat if we’d dared to. If we hadn’t by then taken the common childhood pledge to shelter our grownups, innocents that they were, from life’s spicier side.

Today of course males of every age are far more “plumed” than they once were, and less fixed on the need to seem macho too. It’s my sense that these days little boys’ costumes are as elaborate as little girls.  This year they will once again going out dressed to the nines, in masks portraying horror-movie villains: Jason. Chucky and the rest. Every now and then you sometimes even see old Tricky-Dick Nixon, who still enjoys a strange afterlife in the Rogue’s Gallery of your standard costume shop.

And the point will be what it’s always been: To startle. To counter expectation.

We had a good friend back in the 80’s. Didn’t smoke. Didn’t drink. Took old bikes from the dump, fixed them up good as new and gave them to kids who didn’t have bikes. On the Halloween immediately following one lunatic’s murder of several people by slipping poison into random Tylenol bottles, our friend took his kids around for Trick or Treat, himself dressed as a giant Tylenol capsule – and was actually surprised when another dad offered to punch his lights out. THAT escapade countered all our expectations.

By partying indoors on Halloween, you can cut down on offers of violence (depending on who you friends are of course) and have fun too – by seeing the dedicated beer guzzler come dressed as a Mormon elder, say, or the biggest Don Juan in the group come decked out as the Pope.

I don’t go in for much in the way of girlie stuff as a kid; never even wore makeup til I got to be 50. But one year at an adult Halloween party I dressed as Early Cher, in heavy mascara and spangly bathing suit top and hip huggers, and of course a giant wig exploding in cascades of inky curls.

I looked ridiculous. It was awesome. And my mate, Sonny to my Cher, looked even better, in the 70’s-era peasant shirt our kids found for him, and some baggy bohemian pants and a Prince Valiant wig.

Of course with his wire-rimmed glasses, he looked more like early John Denver, or actually with the wig more like Moe of the Three Stooges than either of those two, but still – he SEEMED like Sonny Bono.

That’s the fun of Halloween: getting to seem like someone else for the night.

So whatever you might be up to tonight, just be careful, like my old cat Abe here. ‘Cause you just never do know who you’re going to meet.

Acting Your Age

baby-dressed-in-granny-wig“Act your age” grownups were always saying to us when we were kids. I recall vividly one time I heard it. It was the time my big sister Nan flipped me onto my back, straddled me, pinned my arms out to either side and began ever so slowly lowering a long string of spit down from her mouth toward my screaming face.

That’s when our mom suddenly loomed in the doorway and boy, did Nan get it then. “Here you are almost 20 and acting like this!” she shouted by way of winding up her tirade.

In fact Nan was all of 12 at the time. And she was acting her age. Sort of. Certainly the 12-year-old boys we knew were doing this kind of thing to each other all the time

Whether or not Nan ever did heed the command to act her age, I know I could never quite seem to. I say this because when I was 14 I acted like I was 40, probably as direct result of the sad thing happened in our family that year. All I really know is that within a month of this terrible detonation I had changed completely from a carefree self-involved 9th grader to someone who had committing herself to a habit of over-functioning that lasted for more than 50 years.

Give you an example: Every Thursday night in my early 30s I would leave the house to tutor some young people in English. I would get them started on their essays, tear over to choir practice at the church just across the street, then tear 90 minutes later to work with the young people for another 90 minutes. I thought I could add in anything, help anyone, transport some ride-needing youth clear across the state and still be back in time to make the supper. Of course I could! I’d just need to get up a little earlier in the morning.

I might have gone on like this indefinitely if the year 2016 had not offered me some surprises.

First, I broke a bone in my back by running around the edge of the swimming pool to get to a shivering grandchild. Then, six months later, I tore my biceps tendon by lunging for the ladder of a dock while attempting to leap jauntily from a moving swim raft. And just last week I twisted my fists into my eyes, causing one of my contact lens to fold in two and shoot up into my head, where it remained for four excruciating days and causing a painful infection that had me just about blinded for almost week.
But what did I expect, knuckling my eyes so childishly? And trying to stretch like Gumby between a moving swim raft and a stationary ladder? What did I think would happen when I ran around an indoor pool past no fewer than four big signs that read “NO RUNNING“?

It’s a mystery to me. At 14 and all through my teen years I behaved as if I were 40. Now in my 60s I’ve been behaving as if I were ten. Will I ever come to understand how old I really am and start acting accordingly? Check in on me when I’m 90. If you find me in long sable curls and my bell-bottoms from the 70s, take me aside and counsel a wiser course.

PS. Of course I did also fall into the lake when I practically yanked my arm out of its socket reaching for that ladder – and that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from On Golden Pond. Enjoy!

 

 

 

You’re Doing That Wrong

you're doing that wrong.jpgIn  my post of a few days ago, I did all this bragging about how competent women are; about how we women GET THE JOB DONE.

This  Harry Bliss cartoon shows the flip side of that in that it illustrates our need to control and/or comment upon just about every aspect of life around the house.

Maybe that’s a human thing more than s a gender thing though, because in truth we all have our domains.

My husband’s domain is Pantry Management. Every three or four months he takes every single item off the pantry shelves and lines them all up on the kitchen counter according to category. That way, when I note an absence of, say, cornstarch, and go to the store and buy some, he can do what he always does: With neither fanfare or remark, he walks over to those many shelves  and take out all three, or four, or five of the boxes of cornstarch that I somehow didn’t see.

Come to think of it, I guess I should count myself lucky that he never, in our many years together, has said I was doing the shopping wrong. (It’s true he never buys the food or helps me bring  it in from the car – “I have no shoes on!” – but he does put it all away God bless him, and that’s a job I hate even more than. emptying the dishwasher!

 

 

My Classic Nightmare

the-emperors-new-clothes-1My recurring nightmare isn’t the one where you’re naked in public on the subway platform  with only the odd stray animal there to help cover you up – though I have had versions of this nightmare.

I’ve also had the one where I’m 15 again and walking toward my 10th grade locker, only to look down and see that I’ve forgotten my top and – darn it – my real-life bras just never look like the bras you see on the Victoria’s Secret cuties.

But the phantasm scenarios that really haunt me are the dreams like the one I had last night. These dreams , which I have had a million times, involve being unprepared:

  • Unprepared to give that speech I am slated to give, with not a notion in the world  about what I’m expected to speak about, as I stand  before an  audience of 1,000 people.
  • Unprepared to talk off the top of my head while being videotaped for a news site.
  • Unprepared as a teacher to give a math lesson in front of the principal because I didn’t even know I was teaching math this year….and there  are a dozen others.

Last night’s bad dream had an education  theme like that third  one. It took  place at a school completely new to me  so I didn’t know my way around the building. Worse yet, I was a student yet and it was a Spanish II class I enrolled in and  was expected to attend , only I had apparently skipped all of Spanish I, skipped it for whole months at a time over the previous school year.

This is the kind of thing that really makes my vision wobble and pulse in any bad  dreams: the idea that I didn’t just fail to prepare for one single event, but that for  dating back who knows how long , I had been derelict. I had failed to do the work.

I’m a woman, so  you can see why this would terrify me. Because women do DO the work. Women do the reading. Women wouldn’t dare  close their eyes on a school night without knowing just what clothes the kids will be able to put on in the morning and just what food they’ll be able to eat before they get  home from school again tomorrow.

Women get the job done –  not unlike the more than 300 years of immigrants to these shores have done. Take a minute now and listen to this cut from the runaway Broadway hit Hamilton. It’s about the embryonic nation and Washington’s victory at Yorktown. To me it’s very inspiring and illustrates the truth of what the hitherto marginalized can accomplish.  Plus the music! Ah, that music ….!