Friday, August 29, 2008

About last night: Abraham, Martin and John

A lot of rhetoric, a lot of people, a lot of lights, a lot of history. Later, a lot of analysis and a lot of criticism.

I am truly a child of the '60s, for I was a child in the '60s--so far away, now. A dream long gone?

But I woke up hearing this song in my head:

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Has anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good in you and me?
And we'll be free
Someday soon
It's gonna be one day

Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walking up o'er the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.

Monday, August 25, 2008

About weddings

Just another Saturday afternoon wedding with the usual suspects.

The young couple-to-be, with expressions alternating between too-wide grins and dawning apprehension. White lace and promises.

Young women in colorful gowns destined to be worn once, with sculpted hair and graceful flowers. Guys in stiff suits and bow ties and shiny rented shoes.

Little kids in ruffles or white tuxes, slicked down or up-do'ed hair, baskets of petals, pillows with rings, looking alternately terrified and blissfully unaware.

Parents looking both relieved and heartbroken.

An elderly minister who's the groom's grandpa. Full of humor and wisdom, he ad libs his way through the ceremony with audible admonitions to his grandson to smile.

Rows of guests who might rather be out in the August sunshine, but are enticed to the wedding by assurances of cake.

Here are the promises made at a million million and more weddings, promises made again and again, promises that will be bent and broken, remade, reworked, maybe, sometimes, sadly, removed.

Today in this auditorium church the promises are made in voices young and strong, and for a moment everybody believes, everybody knows, this set of promises will keep.

Applause as the new family is presented, as the guests are dismissed from church with a hug and a handshake, and a "thank you for coming."

An evening reception with all the trimmings, the cash bar and the buffet; the wedding cake and the chocolate fountain. A stack of presents in white and silver. A wedding planning to announce the grace-before-the-meal (again offered by Grandpa), the toasts, the garter, the bouquet. The smashing-of-cake in each other's faces. The bride-and-father dance, the groom-and-mom dance. The bridal party dance (to, really!? Kung Fu Fighting?).

And finally, the last disintegration to carnival. All the tribal rites completed, the DJ assumes command, the table ranks are broken, the veil comes off as well as the shoes, bow ties, and cummerbunds. And every romantic "You Look Wonderful Tonight" is followed by two or three '80s anthems that gets the whole assemblage on the dance floor, Bon Jovi being a favorite of the bride.

And who considers themselves totally married without a rousing rendition of "YMCA," with a "Chicken Dance" shooter?

The bride and groom have a 6 a.m. flight on Sunday morning, but they're still dancing as we say goodbye at 10.

O kids, I want to say (though they're not, and I don't)--be happy, though I know you will have sadness; stay lighthearted, though I know your hearts will be broken; hold tight to each other, though I know how easy it can be to drift away; remember to make the most important promise of all--when one of you screws up (and you will), love and be kind.

Keep doing the chicken dance, for it will make you laugh.

Friday, August 22, 2008

About housework

The way stuff piles up. The mail and the papers and notes to myself and lists and books. Until a bonfire seems to be the only way to rid ourselves of all the paper.

The way things get dirty, and you get used to seeing them grubby, and don't even realize how much something needs scrubbed, like the pantry door, or the white walls, or the kitchen cupboards.

Dishes and dishes and dishes and dishes. Always more dishes.

The way stubborn little messes won't go away, like the little pile of dark green Play-doh that hardened on the hardwood floor in a hard-to-get-to corner of the dining area, and I try and try to remove it. For. Years. And neither soaking nor a paring knife nor a scrubbing vac can make it go away. Accept it as part of the landscape.

The way dust falls and falls and falls, always more dust. The way the TV and the DVR and every electronic box in our house attracts dust, loving the dust, drawing the dust to themselves. The thin, pale veneer of dust that is hard to see until a certain slant of light picks it up, highlighting it, shaming me with its ever presence.

The dirtiness of our shoes, the tramp, tramp, tramp of dirt and mown grass and little sticks and God knows what from the outside to our inside; the roar of the vacuum sucking it up, one more time; the stain where the Coke fell, and the scrubbing to obliterate said stain; the slow acceptance that part of the Coke is going to be with us, forever.

The cat: its long, white hair, everywhere. His food messes, the way he barfs when he eats too fast. On the carpet. Twice. The litter box. His bad aim. The dead mouse on the sidewalk.

Last night, a quick cleaning: Papers, throw out, sorted. (Or, hidden.) Surfaces scrubbed. Play-doh, ignored. Electronics, dusted, a wing and a prayer. Vacuum roaring. Litter cleaned. Counters swiped. Dishes done.

Just of couple of hours. Just a little tired. And just enough improvement to make me feel just a little better about the state of the homeland.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

About August

Locusts screaming at us every night.

Driving down a country road in Ohio, the corn so high it's a green-topped-with-gold tunnel.

My parents' mile-high tomato plants drooping with fruit, picking the ripe ones, that sharp smell. Eating one still warm, like an apple, a little salt. Too much juice. Just right.

A tree already highlighted with yellow leaves, us saying, "Turning early this year." Or is it too dry?

A stormy day with hot, heavy air morphs through dusk into an evening with a hint of coolness, fall lurking in the darkness.

Backpacks and notebooks and pens filling the aisles at the store, filling me with longing for that first-day-of-school feeling, that new dress-and-new-lunchbox feeling, that sense of anything-can-happen-this-year.

Driving by the school in the evening and catching a flash of color on a green field that is football practice.

Stopping by the farm market and feeling guilty at the embarrassment of riches, the peaches and peppers, the watermelon and cantelope, the tall bunch of fuchsia gladiolas, the sweet corn I'll cook in boiling water for just a minute then serve with salt and pepper and butter, and savor its crunchy freshness in my mind, all winter long.

Passing yellow school buses on my way to work.

Staying up too late watching Olympians in China, regretting it the next morning that seems so much darker than just two weeks ago.

Checking the baseball standings, wondering if this is the year the Cubs really will, well, you know, not fail.

Trying to remember that summer's not really over until after Labor Day, not even until late September.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

About his birthday

So it was his birthday yesterday, my long-gone "baby," and I remember wondering what he would be like when he was this age. But I didn't have enough imagination--I couldn't have dreamed, when he was one, what he would be at 29. For that seemed so, so far away, an infinite time, for I was young and he was little and there were all those years of growing up in between, for him and me.
And I would have laughed, even then, that today he would so closely resemble his baby self--oh, he lost the round face somewhere around 8th grade--but the blond hair, the blue eyes, the tall build--still there.
And would I laugh to recognize myself? Ah, no--those lines around my mouth are no laughing matter, and I would never have imagined myself in those. Nor do I feel like my 23-year-old self anymore: I've learned a lot of patience since then.
So yesterday was his birthday, and it was not a particularly good one. He had a busy day, filled with meetings and phone calls and clients and decisions. His last meeting didn't start until 4:30 and intruded right in to what was supposed to be his birthday dinner. And the deal-making was so stressful and protracted that he was taking text messages right through the birthday cookie and happy-birthday-to-you.
And I could have thought, that poor kid. He's working too hard. Why can't they leave him alone? It's his birthday. Let him enjoy it.
But I'm no helicopter parent. Back then, or now.
It's hard, NOT to be a helicopter parents. Because when your angelic little boy puts on the catcher's equipment for the first time at 9 years old and heads out to catch a game in 90+ degree heat, well, you think he's going to get too hot. And he might get hurt. And, why do people YELL at the catcher when a ball goes past him? Isn't that the pitcher's fault (note to pitcher's moms: sorry, that's a catcher's mom typing).
But you let him. You let him at age nine, and age 13, and age 18, and on up through even college, if he loves baseball enough.
He gets beat up--catchers wear a lot of gear, but sometimes it's no match for a fastball. There's a lot of non-protected area, too. But he learns to shake off the tears and get down in the crouch, one more time.
He learns to take verbal abuse too--from the other teams, from the other fans, sometimes even from his own, during a bad enough game. How to ignore it, how to learn from it.
He learns how to take care of himself, and he learns how to be a good teammate, and he even learns a little about coaching and teaching and cheering and how to have fun and how to show a little class, winning or losing. How to fight back when things look bad. Oh, and how to cuss and spit--as ballplayers do everywhere.
Especially in college, I feared he learned way too much about the fun and the swearing--but even college years fly by.
And soon you've got a job you wear a suit to, and a beautiful wife, and an amazing little girl, and a house and a couple cars and a full, grown-up life.
So yesterday, instead of felling sorry for him him, I was happy, and grateful, for I knew we'd raised one tough kid, with a strong work ethic, somebody who could take the bad days and the good days and know how to handle both of them.
And if his birthday didn't turn out quite as he wanted, he replayed it today: dinner was on time tonight; then he bought that plasma TV he'd been eying and saving for, finally.
He took it home with a big grin, ready to set it up and watch the Cubs.
Like I said, he's pretty tough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

About books

So it's that time of year when I just want to find a book to fall into and into and into and that book would never end. Like when I was a precocious kid on summer vacation and all the grownup books were new to me and I'd read anything, good or bad, and something long or with multiple volumes was the best book book of all.
And I didn't and don't care if it's great literature or pulp fiction.
Especially in summer, I don't care. So the summer I discovered Harry Potter was a good summer then another year it was Ron Faust and another it was A Series of Unfortunate Events
This summer I'm searching, I read Playing for Pizza and that's good but short and I've read most of Grisham anyway. I think about re-reading an old favorite but I already re-read ...And Ladies of the Club last winter and I'm not in the mood for Gone With the Wind.
I'm lusting for something new when I catch a wisp of buzz about a new book in a series about vampires, not a subject I'm particularly interested in but something in the reviews catches my interest and I order a used copy from Amazon, my favorite way to acquire a book cheap, especially when I suspect the hold list at the library stretches into the next decade.
So Twilight comes and thank God it's a week with not much going on, because suddenly I've fallen hard and can't quit, I just can't quit reading. The story opens its covers and invites me in and it's like I've been bitten--I step into this new world and don't want to leave.
And when the first book is done I'm dying for more, so I say casually, let's got to Wal-mart, we need a couple things. And he thinks I mean paper towels and orange juice, and I what I really mean is Eclipse and New Moon and Breaking Dawn.
The stack of three books on the table calms me as I think of the pages and pages before me and I start the first one and disappear. I read when I have a minute and I read when I don't and I read when I wake up in the morning, I read in the car, I read til 3 a.m., I wake up tired and don't care. Because I just want to keep reading. I read like I am 12 and the only obligation I have is my chores and if I don't do them my mom will. I'm not 12 and I have to go to work and it's a temptation, a horrible temptation to bring my book to work with me and read instead of work, but I resist, my inner grownup is in there somewhere.
So I read and read and read and I want to finish, no I don't -- I don't want the story to end. I don't want to turn the last page. Yes I do. Of course. Is it why I like books? They can end tidily, as this series does? With, even, a happy ending?
Maybe so.
How I loved this past week, lost to me in any substantive way, perhaps, as I lost myself in that fiction-world. Who knows how long until I find another story or another author who will invite me into a place I don't want to leave? Yet I know, I will.