Saturday, July 28, 2007

Through the looking glass

Kim had an appointment for an eye exam last Saturday, and I tagged along. Afterwards, we stopped at the local Bennigan's for a late lunch.

As we waited for our food, we leaned against the padded backrests, sipped our cold drinks, and watched the people outside the window. There were three of them, a man and two women, all middle-aged and all well-fed. I'd describe their apparel as "bikers-go-to-the-mall-wear" -- not full-out Harley gear, but enough accessories to maintain their well-crafted image.

One woman in particular interested me. Her long hair was shoe-polish black, but as she leaned over to put something in the car, the black tresses fell apart and revealed shorter day-glo-red hair underneath. The black hair was one length, the red hair was another. I could understand black hair with red roots or streaks, but this almost looked like the black hair was a wig -- something I couldn't imagine a self-respecting biker chick wearing.

Now, let me clarify that I wasn't staring at these people, merely watching idly through the restaurant's tinted window when I tired of looking at hanging antique bicycles and washboards. If I'd been staring, I wouldn't have been so shocked when the lady with the black and red hair stepped right up to the window and positioned herself exactly between Kim's side of the booth and mine.

She leaned in really close. I thought she must have heard me call Kim's attention to her hair, and I thought maybe she was about to tell me she was going to come in and kick my butt, but then, just as my fight-or-flight juices started to churn, she reached up her arms and began patting her hair into place. We watched with relief as she tidied up her reflected self, then walked away and joined her friends.

If you've read this far, you know that this was kind of a non-event. Still, I thought it was a cautionary tale worth posting. If you're ever tempted to primp in front of a window, just remember, you might not be alone.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Bait and switch

This is how the resident peacock, Mr. Pea (named by Betty of Galla Creek), presented himself in March of this year:

Whaddaya think of that tail? Pretty impressive, isn't it? That's the tail he wore during mating season, the one he fanned out for his lady while he did his little seduction dance. It takes a lot of feathers like the one below to create a gorgeous tail like that.

Mating season obviously ended sometime after that top photo was shot, and moulting season soon followed. Lately our yard has been full of peacock feathers of all shapes and sizes, feathers such as these:

Now that he's no longer desperate to please his mate, Mr. Pea has changed into his "old-married-man" tail, the peacock equivalent of running around in his boxer shorts:

He reminds me of my first husband, who drove a candy-apple-red Ford Thunderbird at the time we got married. Even though I wasn't particularly into either sportscars or status symbols, it did strike me as odd that he traded in the Thunderbird for a pickup truck within a week after our wedding.

Birds of a feather.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bright blue victory

Today was the day I've been waiting for, pleading for, for more than a year. I made another phone call to my garbage service company first thing this morning, told them my story yet another time. The lady I spoke with couldn't have been nicer. I crossed my fingers and felt a spark of hope.

Today turned out to be my lucky day!

See that bright blue baby in the middle? The short, squatty one? That's mine! It was waiting by the curb when I arrived home for lunch, and I couldn't be much prouder if I'd given birth to it myself. In fact, I may push it around the neighborhood to show it off.

During the entire one-year-plus that I spent without a lid on my garbage can, I felt like a second-class citizen. Ha! A few days with no can at all certainly put that inconvenience in perspective.

I appreciate those of you who offered support and suggestions (some of you on more than one occasion) for dealing with a company that didn't seem to care. Annie, who knew you were such an activist?

Here's part of Annie's comment from early this morning: "Velvet, just sent this essay as a letter to the editor of the newspaper in your fair city." Hahahaha! I'll let you know if your letter starts something interesting.

I also found a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, no doubt during a long-lasting battle with his own waste management company: “Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.”

Sure wish I'd had Churchill's kind of faith.

Monday, July 23, 2007

More trash talk

By actual count, there have been eight times in a year and a half of blogging that I've written an entry containing at least one reference to garbage. If I were in therapy, I'd probably want to delve into this subject to discover the source of my fixation with waste and the containers that hold it. Since I don't have a therapist, I'll go ahead and post number nine. If you stick around to read it, you may be as sick as I am.

It's been just over a year since I was so frustrated with my lidless garbage can that I considered sending a letter to the garbage man. The good news is that my son-in-law read that post, and the next time he came over, he drilled holes in the bottom of the can so the rainwater could drain out. The bad news is I never got up the nerve to send that letter. Despite several telephone calls, I've lived with that broken trashcan for another full year.

Monday night is garbage night in this neighborhood, and last Monday was the last time I had to roll that old can to the road. Sometime between last Monday and Saturday afternoon, it disappeared.

I do have a theory about this: It's only been a month since my last phone call to the garbage company to ask for a replacement. The girl who took my call said they were in the middle of an audit, so it might be a while until they could give me a new can, but she assured me she'd put my name on the list. I'm thinking that phone call got some action. The reason I think that is that my next-door neighbor got a brand new garbage can at the same time mine disappeared.

To be honest, hers was in the same shape as mine, and she needed a new can, too. I'd actually considered asking them to bring one for each of us but didn't want to complicate an issue that already seemed too difficult for their comprehension.

I'm trying to think like a garbage-can-delivery-person, so my suspicion is that he (they?) got confused upon finding two cans in my driveway. I live in a two-family home, but it isn't obvious that it's for two families. He would have encountered my beat-up, piece-of-crap can right next to my front-yard neighbor's relatively new one. Six feet away he would have spotted my next-door neighbor's can that was just as bad as mine.

"Hmm," he might have thought. "I see two cans that are ready for the trash-receptacle graveyard. Which one am I supposed to replace? And this other one here looks pretty good. Maybe we already brought a replacement and didn't pick up the old one? (Sometimes this job is really hard. If I'm gonna have to make decisions, they ought to pay me more.) Okay, I got it. I'll replace the one over here across the driveway, take both old ones in, and that'll leave one good can at each location. That ought to keep 'em off my butt."

Or not. I called today to report my missing garbage can. I explained that I'd recently requested a replacement (again) and that a brand-new can showed up next door, a few feet away from mine. The lady on the other end of the line asked one question: "When did you notice the can was missing?"

That's the question I answered: "I noticed it missing on Saturday, but it could have happened earlier in the week."

She put me on hold and came back a moment later: "No, ma'am, he said he didn't pick it up."

Oh, really? "Well, it seems like kind of a coincidence," I said, "that a brand-new can showed up at my neighbor's house exactly when her can--and mine--disappeared. I figured you guys must have delivered the new one, so that's why I assumed you also picked up the old ones."

She stuck to her guns. "Well, he said it wasn't us...but we'll go ahead and send you out a new one tomorrow anyway."

I won't hold my breath. But I am stuck holding two big bags full of trash.

UPDATED 7/24/07: As I expected, no new trash can was delivered today. Ironically, today's mail brought me a brightly colored sticker from my waste management provider -- the sticker that goes on the trash can to show the bill has been paid.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nights when the laughter lingers

When the nights are as hot and sticky as they've been for a few weeks now, my mind and my body go different places. My body heads indoors in search of air conditioning, but my mind, triggered by the moist heat, travels across the miles and back through time to the hot, humid nights of Missouri in the late 1940s and early '50s.


Wherever we walked, I could hear the lady laughing, a raucous, almost malicious cackle that simultaneously repelled and attracted me. I was afraid of her, but she fascinated me. I wanted to get closer to see her better.

The fat lady rocked from side to side as she laughed, as if she alone were privy to the funniest joke ever, and the rest of us were so stupid we wouldn't understand the joke if she told us. Her hair was unnaturally black. Her eyes were black, too, flat, empty eyes that belied the smile on her painted red lips.

My mother said my sister and I weren't old enough to visit the house where the fat lady stood on her porch and laughed at the people passing by. I pleaded. We'd be okay if Mother would go with us, I argued, but she insisted that the house was for grown-ups, not children, and led us away.

I understood that the reason the lady laughed was to get people to come closer, to lure them into her house, and I knew it cost a lot to go in there. I noticed that the adults who came out the door were laughing, but teenaged girls seemed to duck their heads and huddle closer to their boyfriends, and a couple of kids who went in with their parents came out crying. Maybe Mother was right.

At least once every summer we visited the neighborhood where the fat lady lived, more often if we went to the nearby skating rink, but it wasn't until I was twelve that Mother gave in. Our visit to the lady's house was brief. All I really remember about it now is the darkness, the spiderwebs in my face, and the fear I felt at the sudden appearance of an angry wraith who reached out as if to snatch us when we passed.

That was our one and only time inside the house. As advertised, it was indeed a fun house, but the reality of it wasn't as thrilling as the anticipation we'd felt during all the years when we weren't allowed to go inside.

Nevertheless, when I think about those summer evenings we spent at Doling Park, I remember the fun house. I remember it in the same way I remember the carousel, the bumper cars, the cotton candy -- warm, pleasant memories, but not necessarily magical ones.

The magic still belongs to the fat lady, the mechanical gypsy whose laughter reached the farthest, darkest edges of the park and the deepest recesses of a little girl's mind. More than half a century has passed since she captured my imagination. In all that time, she's never let it go.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I've been thinking about life and its challenges and have come to the realization that CBS's hit show Survivor is a metaphor for life as I've observed it so far.

One of the first things that happens in the TV reality show is that the contestants, usually 16 or 18 of them in the beginning, are divided into two "tribes." Each tribe is given a different colored "buff" (a multi-use, tubular band of cloth) for each member to wear to distinguish themselves from the members of the other tribe. Now, these people don't know each other ahead of time, they all have different personalities, and nobody knows right off the bat which other contestants they'll like or dislike. It's just all of a sudden, "Poof! Your tribe has the green buffs, so these are the people you're supposed to hang out with, rely on, etc. Don't trust the guys and gals with the orange buffs."

In life we're born "in the buff" with different colors of skin, and skin color seems to categorize us into groups for the rest of our lives, at least in some peoples' minds. We're often taught by example that it doesn't matter if an individual has values, goals, tastes and thought processes exactly like someone of a different skin color; it's that color that matters in determining who can be trusted and who can't.

Isn't that silly? I'm glad most of us manage to dispel that myth for ourselves.

On Survivor, as in life, the ability to interact with others is of supreme importance. Some people fit in and get along; others don't. Fitting in can help contestants to advance in the TV game and in the game of life. I'm not suggesting that individuality isn't to be respected, because it is, but it can put a target on one's back unless that individual can interact successfully with others who'll form a support system. If we don't make at least minimal effort to fit in, we get voted out early.

The contestants on Survivor face challenges each week -- elaborate games or contests to win rewards or immunity from banishment. If they meet those challenges, they have a better chance of staying in the game. And what does staying in the game mean for them? Until the payoff at the very end, all it means is that they get to stay and face more challenges.

Isn't that just like life? You encounter a difficult situation, and you get through it somehow, even if you weren't sure you would. You have a brief respite, a little time to rest and reflect, and then along comes some real lulu of a problem that takes all your focus and strength to resolve. Fortunately, with each obstacle you surmount, you become stronger and more confident in your ability to handle the next problem life tosses in your lap.

In between the challenges, and depending on the outcome of them, some Survivor contestants live better than others. Some have more food and more adequate shelter, which might make them better equipped to handle the challenges -- or might make them think they can rest on their laurels. At the whim of the producers, all that can flip; the "haves" can become the "have-nots."

Life is whimsical, too. A tsunami or a hurricane, an accident or an illness, a death or a divorce -- any of those events can turn life upside down in the blink of an eye. Some people have a better chance of surviving than others, but resting on one's laurels is a sure step towards disaster.

In addition to the two major challenges featured on each episode of Survivor, there are dozens of smaller ones: loneliness, tropical heat, lack of creature comforts and hygiene products, bug bites, annoying neighbors. Those are the constants, the equivalent of real-life "daily-grind" issues. The contestants who fare best on the show don't focus much attention on every little thing that's wrong. Instead, they fix their minds on the big picture and watch for opportunities that will get them a few steps closer to their common goal: to survive until the very end of the game.

I've thought a lot about what it takes to survive in life, and, just like on TV, it appears that being the best or the brightest doesn't hold any guarantees. There seems to be one single trait that determines who will survive and who won't: fortitude. We have to "keep on keepin' on."

Of course, a lucky break every now and then is helpful, too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I love books. All you have to do is slap a random bunch of pages between two covers and I’m right there, eager to open it up and discover what’s inside.

In fact, I love books so much that I’m predisposed to think any book I’m about to read is going to be a good one. Nothing pleases me more than to begin reading something that hooks me early on, engaging first my mind and then my heart until I’m entangled so deeply in the story that I almost feel I’m a part of it.

The flip side, of course, is that sometimes it takes only a few pages to dampen that initial enthusiasm. I may continue to read, hoping something better is yet to come, but my heart won’t be in it, and my mind will wander to a dozen other things. I’ll suddenly realize I can’t remember a single word of the last two pages, and I’ll feel irritated about having to reread words that didn’t hold my interest the first time.

Some books are treasures, some are a waste of my time.

It occurred to me recently that I think about people the same way I think about books. Usually, when I meet new people, my expectation is that I’ll like them. With rare exceptions, I’ll give the new person a vote of confidence and the benefit of the doubt before the first greeting is exchanged.

Most people, like most books, are pleasant enough. They may not be exciting, but they hold my attention. If somebody mentions them, I’ll remember them with a degree of fondness.

There are other people, unfortunately, who begin to disappoint me with their first words, to let me know that if I continue to “turn their pages,” all I’ll find is more of the same rudeness, ignorance, hostility and intolerance. No doubt those people have their stories, too, but I usually don’t stick around long enough to learn them.

My favorite people are the ones I feel a connection with early on, the way an especially good book engages and enthralls right from the beginning. There's an energy about them that seems to radiate an invitation: "Come with me; I’ve lots to tell you and lots to show you, and we’re going to have a good time.” People like this challenge me in the best possible way. They make me think and inspire me to feel.

People like this –- and books like this –- are my idea of classics. I know I'll gain new insights by spending time with them. Maybe I'll even discover something I never knew about myself.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lola, laughing

Mammaw (my grandmother Lola) was born 111 years ago today. She lived to the age of 92 and made the best of every single day. When I was a child, she was my rock, my safety and consistency. Sometimes, when I wrap my arms around myself to ward off a chill, it's Mammaw's soft girth that I feel beneath my fingertips. And more and more often these days, it's her face I glimpse when I look in the mirror.

If positive outlooks could be measured, Mammaw's would have been off the scale on the high side. She saw the good in everyone she met, and her joy in being in their presence showed in her face. I know how hard she worked to keep house for a family that included four generations, but even as I remember her cooking or hanging laundry on the line, I see her smiling, her face serene and worry-free.

This photo was taken when my grandparents visited relatives on the East Coast in June 1954:

If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see Mammaw's unbridled joy at wading in the ocean, probably for the first time ever.

Approximately a year later, sometime in 1955, the broadway musical Damn Yankees introduced new song lyrics to America: "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets." Teased about the song, Mammaw smiled and replied, "It's true. I do get whatever I want -- but I always know exactly how much I can want."

Mammaw may not have been rich in the way of worldly goods, but in choosing to be happy with whatever life served up to her, she had the world by the tail. And she offered it to all of us who loved her.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Hunters and gatherers

Of all the possible ways to categorize the humans and animals on this planet, perhaps one of the oldest is to classify them as either hunters or gatherers. In the microcosm that is my yard, there are examples of both.

I fall clearly into the gatherer category, happy to eat a can of this or a jar of that to avoid grocery shopping one more day. Kim (I'll count her because she's here almost every day) usually gathers, but sometimes she's willing to drive miles to hunt for whatever it is she craves.

Butch is a gatherer, too. He waits until I finish eating, then thoroughly sniffs the chair in which I sat and the floor all around it, vacuuming up any stray crumbs he manages to find. (Sometimes I drop crumbs on purpose, just to build his self-confidence.)

Kadi gathers to eat, but she hunts for sport -- lizards, mostly. When the back door is opened, she bursts out onto the patio and does a quick search of the patio furniture, the rain spout, the screens on the window and the door, and the cracks between the fence slats. She's done this for ten years now, but it was only last week that she caught her first lizard. She held it to the ground with her nose and watched its legs and tail wave frantically for about three seconds, then she lifted her head and let it go. Mission accomplished.

Lucy is another gatherer. She collects every single fig that falls to the ground and every one she can reach on the tree -- even the green ones. She likes to pack her mouth full of them, then flop on her belly in the grass or, better yet, bring them in the house to eat. (She's actually a little fig obsessed, if you want to know the truth. She asks to go outside at least once an hour and always heads straight for the fig tree.)

And, of course, there's this guy -- part hunter, part gatherer:

It's his hunting tendencies that worry me. Where there are hunters, there are also the hunted, and I'm beginning to feel like he's stalking us.

I turned into the driveway at lunchtime today and saw what appeared from a distance to be a pile of rags laid up against the front of my house, right next to the front door. As I grew closer, the pile of rags raised its head and looked at me. The peacock was lying on the carport floor, presumably waiting for someone to come along and feed him. I had to wait for him to get up and move before I could park my car. These are the fluffy underbelly feathers he left on the doormat:

I fed him his lunch before I fixed my own and thought that might be it for today. Nope. Just as the six o'clock news began, the neighbors' dogs started barking their distinctive "oh-no-not-that-bird-again" bark, so I looked out the front door and there he stood.

This time I picked up the camera when I went to get his trick-or-treat bag and managed to get one very short video:

I spent about ten minutes feeding my bright-blue buddy his evening meal, then stopped because something caught my eye and convinced me there's a downside to having a peacock for a friend. Here's a picture of the trunk lid of my car:

Those foreign objects laid out in a row from one side to the other? Yup! That's peacock poop. Lots of peacock poop.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, America!

Holidays that fall during the middle of the work week don’t allow a lot of time for celebration, but they sure do break up the week nicely.

Kim and I started our holiday last night with "take-away" from Outback (mmm!) and a bagful of movie videos, then she and her pups spent the night. Early this morning we heard the peacock outside. Kim hadn’t seen him recently, so she jumped up, grabbed a handful of cereal and headed out to the driveway to wait for him to come down off the roof.

I watched through the glass door as the peacock ate cereal from Kim’s hand. He seemed nervous, and I brilliantly deduced that the reason was the two barking dogs behind the fence next door, plus the four dogs gnashing and growling ferociously at my feet. It occurred to me that if I’d let our dogs out into the fenced-in backyard, they could still see, but they’d be farther away from the peacock and less distracting to him.

Bad idea.

When the peacock heard the barking come suddenly from a new direction, from behind him, he panicked. He flew up straight at Kim and popped her a good hit on the arm with one of his sharp spurs or talons. In seconds he realized his error and settled back to the ground to beg for more snacks, but by that time Kim had had enough. With blood seeping out the puncture wound on her arm, she threw the rest of the cereal on the ground and hurried back inside. It was a scary moment. Fortunately, a little soapy water and peroxide seemed to take care of the damage.

Later Kim and I found ourselves laughing about the peacock incident. Of all the things we could have imagined that might happen today, it never would have occurred to us in our wildest dreams that she'd spend the morning suffering from “bird flu flew.”

Happy 4th of July! I hope you're having a great day.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Where'd the weekend go?

Despite my best intentions, I've frittered away the weekend without accomplishing anything worth scratching off my list. With the laundry done and the house cleaned earlier in the week, I had plans this weekend for major grocery shopping, extensive blog reading, and at least one substantial post of my own. Instead, I ate the last of the cereal for breakfast and the last of the frozen pizza for dinner. (The two meals were close enough together that there was no need to worry about what to have for lunch.)

I turned the dishwasher on but haven't unloaded it, so my pizza baking pan is now in the sink. I needed to shower before going to the grocery store, but I also needed a haircut. It made sense to cut my hair before the shower, and by the time I'd finished all that I'd figured out how to postpone the grocery shopping for one more day.

This morning's newspaper is still in its plastic bag, unread. In fact, the newspaper would still be in the driveway if Kim hadn't stopped by and brought it in for me. That's because I put my bathrobe back on after the shower. It was already late in the day, and there didn't seem to be much point in getting dressed since I wasn't going anywhere.

I did complete some things that were not on my list. I finished Harlan Coben's latest book, The Woods, which was a pretty good read. I snuggled on the sofa with Butch and watched old movies on TV. I started a jigsaw puzzle, something I used to enjoy and haven't done in a year or two, and worked late into the night without realizing what time it was. The puzzle beckoned to me early today and I, weak-willed, gave in. That's what happened to my Sunday.

Expert rationalizer that I am, I'm telling myself (and you, now) I must have needed some R&R time, some mind-numbing quiet activities after the stress of my own and Kadi's recent health problems. I suspect "want" is a more appropriate word than "need," but I won't examine it too closely.

For the record, Kadi is back to her wonderful, bossy-dog-in-charge self. It's as if the stroke never happened. As the vet predicted, her recovery was quick and apparently complete, and I find it amazing. I'm still watching her very closely. Last night, when I woke in the night and realized I didn't hear her snoring, I tried to see her breathing, but it was too dark. I talked to her to wake her up, just to reassure myself that she was okay. At first I felt inconsiderate for waking her from a restful sleep, but then I remembered how many times she's done it to me.

As for me, I'm feeling much, much better. There's still a little soreness in my shoulders, especially when I'm on the computer for long stretches, but the discomfort is minor at this point. The present level of pain isn't enough to stop me from doing whatever it is I need to do.

It must have been something else that stopped me this weekend. Perhaps the lead in my behind?

P.S. I just realized what the date is. Happy Birthday, Joe. I miss you guys.