O Crappy Tree O Crappy Tree

For the last nine years I’ve been the poor schmuck assigned the task of buying the tree.

No one else had the time they always said.  

My youngest, who has had a real eye for balance and proportion ever since he first picked up a crayon to draw a Ninja Turtle, was off at college since Christmas of ’02 and of course Old Dave has never cared. He always just wants to do his Sudoku.

My problem doing the job alone is this: I’m not good at it.

One year I got some weird kind of tree with needles that LOOKED super soft but turned out to feel like asbestos fibers when you touched them. Plus they were so closely grouped on their branches that the ornaments you tried hanging on them ended up lying sideways.

Another year I’m told I got a tree that was way too small – who can tell when you’re there in the lot with no indoor walls or ceilings to give you a sense of scale?

Plus I  didn’t see the part on the tree’s side that was sort of scooped-out looking, probably because I have a part on my own side that looks that way, a spine that, once it turned 50, started taking a right-hand turn out of the lumbar gate, then changed its mind and went left, then righted itself to head  north again. I’d show you the X-ray but it’s too disturbing. My tailor screamed when he saw it and he’s a strong man. “God! Do you know what that LOOKS like?” he said but I wouldn’t let him go on. Bad enough knowing how I think it looks: like a fat worm, writhing. Like a slug, failing the sobriety test.

Anyway, that  year when College Boy came home  December 23rd he took one look at the tree and said “Oh.”

Then  “Hmmmm.”     

Then “Mum, don’t be mad.  I’m just going to go out and get another tree.”

I wasn’t mad. I’m never mad. My job in life is to make the first stab at a thing, so others can then come in and point out the problems.

He went out then and there and got a new tree, then took every light and ornament off the slug-tree and dragged it out on the porch…..

Where began our new custom of having a tree on the porch, which is now a fake tree that comes in several parts and that you jam together using its several daggerish stake-through-the-heart elements.

The year I first came home with THAT one was a big hit. “Old TT!” shouted College Boy’s father. “Buying just the essentials again I see!”

That’s a joke between us whose origins lie here, two posts back.

Come back tomorrow for the rest of the saga.. But the holidays, man. Crazy-making or what?

Pull Up Your Pants and Answer

You whine about how busy and fine and underappreciated you are. Then you look in the Book of Job where he’s sadly scratching his scabs, everything gone but Missus Job who only drops by to offer some lemony advice, if you can even call “Curse God and Die”  a piece of advice.

Anyway he’s whining  like we all do until THE LORD shows up and puts a few questions to him.

“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” he begins. Then you picture him thinking “this little pipsqueak?

“Gird up now thy loins like a man,” God says – pull your pants up in other words – “for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me:

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened, or who laid the cornerstone thereof when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? (What an image! ah!)

“When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddling band for it, and brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

“Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days, and caused the dayspring to know his place that it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it? … Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? Or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? Declare if thou knowest it all.

“Where is the way where light dwelleth? And as for darkness, where is the place thereof, that thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?  Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born? Or because the number of thy days is great?

Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?

By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?  Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder to cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; to satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?

“Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?  The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen…. Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart? Who can number the clouds in wisdom? Or who can stay the bottles of heaven, when the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?…”

Well, there’s more. We all know there’s more. I just thought it might be nice to quote it maybe because I didn’t get to church yesterday. 🙂

Anyway I love it. 

I also totally identify with what Job says in response, which is “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee, Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”  

Been THERE all right, haven’t  you? I know I have!

We’re Human

If Rick Perry had been in somebody’s living room when that Third Thing eluded him it wouldn’t have been a big deal. His mind went blank. My mind’s been known to go blank quicker than an Etch-a-Sketch. I could be talking to Rotary or the Spouses at the Ancient & Honorable Society of Taxidermists or the Annual Tea of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Tablecloths and suddenly – nothing. 

I always feel honored to be asked to speak someplace and I work hard on my remarks, thinking up funny things and true things and writing them all down and promising myself not to depart from the text at all…

But then the day comes and here are these wonderful open faces and how can I keep looking down at some dead piece of paper when I could be looking into their eyes?  I start in telling my stories and pretty soon somebody in the back is laughing so hard her friends are thumping her on the back.  And then this one thing I say reminds me of another crucially funny un-leave-out-able thing and I tell that and then we’re all really laughing and then – whoops!  – I’ve lost  the path back to my main thought.

It sounds like a speaker’s worst nightmare but you know… it just isn’t. And the reason it isn’t is that people are just so glad it isn’t them up there that they help you right out.

I ask “What was I saying before that last thing?” and some good soul down front says, “You were telling how the water leaking out of the kitchen light fixture reminded you of when just before you throw up you start drooling that  horrible way”.  (A speech by me isn’t exactly an audience with the Pope.)  And then I remember just exactly where I was going and I carry right on and NOBODY MINDS at all.

It doesn’t get recorded in the organization’s monthly newsletter.

It doesn’t appear on the Six o’Clock News.

And the reason is that we all goof up sometimes, and if somebody holding the mike goofs up too, it








The caption here as copied from Wikipedia: “Jerry is forced to act as tee, moments before Tom’s ball ricochets into his own mouth.” Keep it in mind.

What’s funnier than seeing people behaving in goofy and graceless ways when things go wrong? How about this story, told to me by a still-young guy about the time he went on a kind of bachelor party weekend involving golf?

As the young guys prepared to tee off, a lineup of old duffers sat on the wall watching this party of whimsical lads. One of them had brought a bowling ball attached by means of various ingenious gizmos to a heavy metal chain, which he affixed to the ankle of the prospective groom. (The old ball and chain, see.) Somehow they were let onto the course anyway.

The teller of this story was maybe 22, and though he was an athletic and well-muscled lad he had never before set foot on a green.

He was there with borrowed clubs which he was just then studying fervently in the hope that he might choose one that would let him get the ball to go someplace, anyplace.

He chose that jumbo apostrophe of a club called the Big Bertha, thinking its width would improve his chances.

Instead, the club took a picturesque kind of revenge both on him and his friend’s kindly father who had lent him his clubs for the day.

When it was his turn to tee off he swung, missed the ball by a good five inches, and in his awkward follow-through, saw Bertha bend, come apart, wrap itself around his neck and sock him in the jaw. Maybe he looked a little like this:

Do you doubt such things can happen? Ponder the action in Tom & Jerry’s Tee for Two; then watch this clip, from America’s Funniest Home Videos and see for yourself why they call golf a’ good walk spoiled.’

Fill ‘er Up

So let’s return to what’s funny, to keep our spirits up with all these early sundowns.

One of the funniest things ever to happen in this house happened when Annie and her palsSusan  were talking in the bathroom. Maybe they were in 8th grade.

Kids are always doing things you can’t believe they’re doing; we know that.

On this particular day as they were laughing the way only kids in 8th grade can laugh, Annie gave herself a quick boost up so she could sit on the vanity into which the sink was set if you can picture it.

No one commented on this – until, after a bit, Annie went to hop down off the sink only to find that the rear belthook of her pants was looped around under the spigot. She couldn’t turn around enough to see what was happening; she was hooked, with no more freedom of movement than a fish on a line has.

All she could so was reach two hands around behind her and with one hand try grasping the faucet while with the other she tried pushing down and unhooking that belt hook .

And no one thought to help because her whole hind end filled the sink; there wasn’t room for another set of hands.

They were laughing too hard already. But when in her effort to get free she ended up leaning on the two taps, they really laughed – because of course what she had done was to open them both by leaning on them so that water from coming from the common tap released torrents of water down into her pants.

I could hear the shrieks three floors away. And though I didn’t witness the scene, in my mind I can just picture it: water barreling out of the tap and a little wisp of a girl changing before their very eyes into Violet Beauregard from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. One minute she looked like this:

And the next she looked like this:

It’s a lesson to us all I guess, to look first before backing into a thing.

We Do Our Best

We all make mistakes. 

I’ve been refinishing a coffee table that has endured some punishing treatment. The task is about a six–part process with the stripping, the sanding, the pre-staining, the staining, the wiping down with mineral spirits and finally finally finally: the finish coat. I got all he way to that last step but left the windows open as I worked on that balmy Indian summer day and some kind of ‘particulate matter’ dust? pollen? settled out of the air and made my new finish, once it had dried, feel like stubble on an unshaven cheek.

And this picture at the left? This is  what I routinely do with our foods. Our new microwave is a mighty all right! This lava spill is really oatmeal, made the “quick” way (if you don’t count how long it took to clean up the mess.)

We apologize as we go for our mistakes.

My column last week was about this subject and in response to it a new friend from Tennessee wrote me.  I had written him to say I knew I was late offering my greetings on the High Holidays but that  had been thinking of him on Yom Kippur, especially, which was the day I wrote this piece on contrition and forgiveness.

He wrote right back. “Thank you.,” he wrote. ” May God bless you and keep you and make His countenance known to you. Thinking of and praying for you as well. Shanah Tovah and Chag Sameach Sukkot.”

And that reference to Numbers 6:24reminded me of one of the I used to get to sing over the 320 year period when I was part of our awesome church choir. Do you know John Rutter? This is one of his as he sets to music this lovely verse:

The LORD bless you  and keep you;  the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious unto you; the LORD turn his face toward you  and give you peace.”

Here it is now by the Cambridge singers. See if this doesn’t just give you shivers.

Did You Say Intercourse?

So in my column this week I told this nice story about jail and the bees and the Bill of Rights and quoted the famous scientist/ priest Pierre  Teilhard de Chardin, right? Only one of the papers that uses me got mixed up with its spell-check and called the guy DIEHARD de Chardin. DIEHARD, like the battery! Like the movie !

I guess it’s funny. And I’m hardly one to get on my high horse,  being such a lousy typist myself. My poor spell-checker is as courteous as the kindest of English butlers, offering me alternative words when it has trouble making sense of what I’ve typed. For example when I try to put ‘ actually’ it politely says “Sexually?” Did I mean sexually? When I try to write ‘of course’ and I garble the spelling it asks ‘Intercourse’?  Are we going for intercourse here?

Well I’d say most people are goin’ for intercourse most of the time to judge by the baby population but jeez. My immigrant ancestors would say it’s a good comeuppance for me for gittin’ above myself with the fancy French talk!


Bless Me Father: Appealing the Ticket

i-am-a-moronTo appeal a parking ticket you appear by appointment in the City Council Chambers, this gorgeous marbled room where you await your five minutes max with the official assigned to hear your sorry excuse.

“What IS this place?” asks the woman behind me. “It’s where the mayor sometimes sits,” says the lady beside her. “Like the throne room sort of.” (Close enough, I think.)

Being here is like going to Confession in the old days, though this same woman is stunned when she realizes as much: “You mean they take us ONE BY ONE?”  she says, appalled. (She thought maybe it would be a group pardon? Or maybe group punishment like 15 years ago when all the boys in my Fourth Grader’s class got denied Recess because one boy peed on the radiator and it smelled like the Monkey House?)

You do all go up one by one, like Judgment Day, and you whisper into the side of the head of the official who looks kindly if serious.

I watch them all as they go: Miss Civically Ignorant; the young white dude in his sweats and his stupid Red Sox cap worn backward swaggering like some big-shot tough guy; the young black man in a coat and tie earnestly clutching papers who, when he speaks, speaks in perfect, if heavily, accented English.

I watch myself and blush to hear what I say: that I park every day in front of this apartment complex to bring food to my elderly uncle only this time I parked in the handicapped spot and came back an hour later to find some vigilante justice in this note. “YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF CITY STATUTES! I HAVE PHOTOGRAPHED YOUR CAR AND I HAVE CALLED THE POLICE!” and sure enough a $300 ticket was pinned under my wipers.

My excuse in this appeals process? That Uncle Ed was not answering the phone and I simply panicked and for the first time in 18 years literally did not SEE the Handicap Parking sign.

The upshot? fine reduced to $100 and next time they throw the book at me. My grave confessor proves to be as kindly as he looks.  I make my way to the door delighted by the lenient sentence; catch sight of the moron with his cap still on and uncharitably think  ‘ now there’s a radiator pee-er if ever I saw one’ and exit, a free woman.