Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Window Opens

I’ve mentioned my smelly car. One reason this is so extra-tragic is that I have a freakishly strong sense of smell. So for the first time in years, I’ve been driving around with my windows down. When did I start keeping them up all the time, anyway, and why? I’m sure it was to keep my hair from being a mess, but lately I’m thinking that messy hair might just be a small price to pay sometimes. I’m almost a little bit grateful to the RBO for reminding me what I’ve been missing.

Years ago, someone gave my family tickets to box seats at the circus. No question it was cool. We had our own little suite with private bathroom and everything. But it made me realize it’s not always so bad to live among the common folk. There were some things I genuinely missed while being hermetically sealed in our little Plexiglas room in the sky. I sort of missed the down-and-dirty earthiness of the experience that is the circus I remembered from my childhood: the smells of elephant musk and popcorn and excitement. The guy with change in his apron hocking “Ice Cold Coke!” from the dark auditorium stairs and people waving sparkling souvenirs-on-a-stick all around us. Breathing and bodies and clapping and peanut shells. That disco ball light thing that showered the audience in stars so that we could look down and see the actual circus lights touching us, just like the magic all around, making us a part of it in one sparkling moment.

Driving with my windows down is a little like that. I find myself wanting to drive faster just for the exhilaration of it. There are whole new layers of experience coming in those windows. The sounds rush in my ears, and as the visual scenery flashes by in a blur of houses-stores-signs-fields-trees, so flashes the olfactory scenery in a blur of backyard grill-fast food-cut grass-mimosa. And the humid wind is cool-slick on my arms and swirles my hair in a mad summer frenzy.

For a while I am back in my big sister’s orange-and-black 1969 Camaro convertible with the top down. Or even my own first car with the broken air conditioner.

The smell is much, much better, by the way, thanks to your suggestions. The thing that really seemed to do it? The coffee grounds. Was going to try the apple, but it turned out someone had eaten it. Which was okay, because I got a new one at the grocery store and used it to get rid of the coffee ground smell, which it turns out is oddly out of place in a car. It actually smells good in there now. Thank you so much!

Still, I’m going to try to remember to roll down the windows. Just sometimes. I’d forgotten there’s magic out there in the summer air just waiting to swirl in.

All that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world, in the serenity of the air, the fineness of seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colors, the fragrancy of smells, the splendor of precious stones, is nothing else but Heaven breaking through the veil of this world, manifesting itself in such a degree and darting forth in such variety so much of its own nature.
– William Law

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Improper Poll: The Beast

I recently discovered a new recipe by accident. It goes like this.  Heat one trunk to 150°.  Add one pound ground beef and cook in a sealed garage all weekend.  This is a recipe for The Beast. This recipe is the pot-potpourri equivalent of manna...from hell.  Because it will serve everyone within about a 12 foot radius.  Indefinitely.

The ground beef was double wrapped, too, so it's not like anything leaked out.  Still, Holy Cow Guts, does my car stink.  So I sprayed everything thoroughly, first with one product and then the other. Both are anti-bacterial air purifiers that promise to kill the source of the odor. But I guess since my ground beef was already dead, it refused to die all over again. Almost two weeks later, it reminds me of my favorite Seinfeld episode about the B.B.O. But this is G.B.O. Or maybe R.B.O., because it’s rotted. Either way, it really is The Beast.

The R.B.O. has sent out airborne molecules to infuse, like microscopic zombies, into everything in my car. Another car parked next to it in the same garage had its windows rolled down, and now IT smells of R.B.O., as does my garbage can (long since emptied) and the garage itself. Should I be washing my hair in tomato sauce? I keep asking random people to do smell-checks.

I went to a car parts store and asked them what they recommend, and now my car smells like chemically-infused-cardboard-jasmine with strong R.B.O. top notes. Gak.  Left my car outside with the windows down in the hot sun. Threw out the cardboard box that the R.B. had fallen into when it first began this invasion of O. molecules. A neighbor (who obligingly performed The Smell Check, and I don't even know her very well)  suggested baking soda.  It sort of amazes me who will smell you if you ask them.

I admit it—I haven’t had my car steam-cleaned yet because I keep thinking surely The Beast will give up the ghost, as it were. Move on to greener pastures. Something. Should I sage my trunk to clear out evil spirits? Call in an exorcist?

Have you ever done battle with a horrifying odor? If so, do you have any suggestions?  Other than driving my car into the city and walking away?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Adventure at Psycho Bell

If the universe is a big drive-through speaker, I lean in and order good stuff on the menu because…well, you know…who doesn’t? I am careful to enunciate, too, just so the universe doesn’t get my order wrong. Again. And then the universe promptly gathers up a bunch of psychos and plops them into my bag. Because that universe sure has a sense of humor, doesn’t it?

It was broad summer daylight just after the dinner rush last Thursday evening, and I was the only car sitting in the Taco Bell drive-thru. It’s one way, just big enough to let an extra large vehicle through. There are curbs and landscaped berms on either side, so you are lower than the surrounding area and very much hemmed in. This is in a pleasant, family-oriented, suburban area just off a main highway.

I was talking into the speaker, which is a little way back from the building. The conversation went something like this:


There was absolutely nowhere for Taco Bell's Ding-Dong-Driver to go but straight into me. Fortunately he did slow a bit, but then it became clear that his plan was to pass me. With his truck. In the space that was only about 3 feet wide. It was if he thought one or both of us would magically accordion into something skinny like that cool Harry Potter bus for stranded witches and wizards. He was literally inches from the magic when I desperately amped up the shouting and gesturing and yelling. “NOOOO!!! Back up! Go back!”

The guy inside—who did look extremely wasted or at least not at all right, pondered the situation like a Taco Bell Buddha for what seemed like an eternity. Then he gave a sage nod; he had given the matter a great deal of thought and concurred. This was the undoubtedly the smartest decision of the day for him.

He threw his truck into reverse and tried to back up at the same speed at which he’d approached, which had to have been about 25 mph, which is surprisingly fast in a drive-thru, not to mention going backward, especially considering the job he was doing going forward.

Here is what my conversation with the Taco Bell Girl over the microphone was like.

Me: “Oh-my-gosh-oh-my-gosh! The crazy man is headed back toward you now! Can you see that??! He’s crashing into the curb! Now he’s in the flower bed!”

Taco Bell Employee: “Yes, ma’am. We apologize for the crazy man, ma’am.”

Me: “He’s turning the corner and I can’t see him. Is he coming back? Will you tell me if he comes back? That was so scary! What’s he doing now?” (This was when I could hear people in the restaurant laughing in nervous horror, because the guy was now threatening to crash into the Taco Bell building while trying to negotiate the turn. Still backwards.) “Where is he?!”

Taco Bell Employee: “He appears to be trying to drive backwards on the highway, ma’am. He’s going to—no, he made it. Now he’s back on the median. Now he’s on the sidewalk—okay, he’s back on the median again. He’s really tearing up his car. I don’t think he’s coming back, ma’am. He’s definitely not coming back. (The giggles behind her were hysterical now.)

Me: “Are you sure?” There was a brief pause.

Taco Bell Employee: “Yes, ma’am. Right now he’s...(at this point her calm voice almost—but not quite—broke, but she immediately recovered her composure).  He’s stuck in a tree.” The outburst of snorting guffaws behind her was positively explosive.

At some point he disengaged his car from the pine tree and drove off. I was so shaken, it was difficult to complete my order. When I got to the window, it was interesting to see the people with whom I had just survived the ordeal. The calmly polite Taco Bell Employee, a cute blond girl who was probably only in high school, continued to complete the order with utter aplomb. One of the employees in the crowd behind her, though, appeared as shaken as I felt. He said it was the most excitement he’d seen since he’d started working there six months earlier. Then he handed me my ”nachos with trees…I mean, cheese.”

It was completely unconscious—a Freudian slip. We all laughed so hard, I was a little afraid I’d be the one who had trouble driving away that time.

We apologize for the crazy man, ma’am. ~Taco Bell Employee

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ten Things I Learned from My Father

 1.  A real man is big on the inside. He has a booming laugh and tough, warm hands that almost make a muffled sound when they clap, like slapping oven mitts together. If he is tall and strong, it’s so he can lift you onto his shoulders to help you see better. His size and strength only emphasize his tenderness.
2.  Everyone should have a sense of humor and use it often.
3.  Encourage your child to ask questions about life, and then have the patience to answer honestly. If the question is about sex, give an honest, straightforward answer. Then shrug your shoulders and add (with wonder in your voice), “That’s the way God made it, and it works!”
4.  My father was a man’s man, a one-time boxer, a former Nebraska Cornhusker football player, an ex WWII marine. But he was also a talented artist and in many ways so much more intuitive than most of the women I knew that for most of my childhood, I thought the stereotype of creative woman/pragmatic man was a joke. I learned that the best people go against stereotypes.
5.  Lying is okay if it’s done out of genuine love. When I asked my father if he was sorry he didn’t have a son, he grimaced with mock horror and asked, “What would I want with icky boys when I have the three best daughters in the world?!” Of course I knew he was lying. But how I loved him for it.
6.  Sometimes it’s the things you don’t say that speak the loudest. When I asked him about WWII, he got that look and got way too quiet. And then he’d perk up and say, “Here’s a funny story….” He’d tell things like the time he was supposed to swab the deck and got the “bright idea” to clean the mops by tying them to a rope behind the ship, without thinking about the fact that they had metal on the handles that would set off the torpedo warnings. When I got done laughing, I was left contemplating that prologue of silence. It was the things he didn’t say about the war that made me ache.
7.  Small people put others down in order to feel bigger. Big people lift others up because they have the strength to spare. They know how to be humble. They admit they have faults and know how to laugh at themselves.
8.  Absolutely the best gift a man can give his daughter? His respect. Not for the way she looks, but for her mind and her soul. Because of course men who are confident enough to be able to love and respect strong women are the best men there are. And I don’t mean in that slightly cheesy, “I am excessively chivalrous” way that’s really an excuse to posture. I could have an intellectual conversation with my father or just be silly. He worked in local politics toward the end of his life. At his funeral, a female politician approached me and told me all the things she admired about my dad.  But the thing that struck her on the deepest level was what set him apart from all the rest. “Your father was the only man of his era I’ve ever known who genuinely knew how to treat women as his equal.” She was right. I’ve always cherished both that truth and her gift of putting it into words.
9.  The most important thing really is being there.
10.  There is a great deal to be said for having nothing left to say when it’s time to die. Sometimes you have to greet each other by your nicknames, do the “secret handshake,” and know that’s the best goodbye there is.

Miss him? Yep. Happy Father’s Day.

When all is said and done, 90% of being a dad is just showing up. ~Jay from Modern Family

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

More Hot Dead Guys

The other day, Val Thevictorian mentioned that Nathaniel Hawthorne was “a bit wordy.” I have a theory that writing schools of yesteryear taught that word quantity was a big determiner of greatness. Big word count=big writer. They never just grabbed the Velveeta. They pondered before the tremulous hands hesitantly reached out in desperate longing for the processed cheese food. And if the author was Russian, the hand would belong to a guy whose name you could never pronounce and there would be peasants and starvation and the Velveeta symbolized something dark and mysterious.

But Hawthorne has one big advantage over other writers of his day that has propelled some readers through his books in rapid and frenzied anticipation: the picture that’s usually printed along with the author’s byline. I am combining expletives here from Lynn and Sioux in order to create one, slightly more socially acceptable expletive when I say: oh-my-greasy-gracious-holy-flying-lardfish.

Hawthorne was hot.

This, of course, was before the hair on his head migrated to his face in great, walrus-like excess as it seemed to have been wont to do in that era. I’m not knocking bald, either—I’m knocking those great, sweeping Fuller Brush push-brooms that sprouted out of their upper lips with disappointing regularity. The ones where I imagine they had to slide food up under the Great Wall of Chia like inserting mail into a letter slot, because how else would you get food past all that briar-rose-shrubbery without sucking some of it in? Bleah.

Here he is in his non-massively-mustachio-ed days. This portrait is akin to female English major porn, which is ironic when you consider how he wrote about all that shameful sinfulness. But he does remind us of one of the cardinal rules of writing: show, don’t tell.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Michael (on dating his coworker’s mother) in The Office: “The only time you should care about a woman’s age is if she is too young for you. And I am not robbing the cradle. If anything, I am robbing the grave.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Improper Poll: Apostropeeved…and Feeling Weally Larry

So…this week’s poll is about grammatical peeves. I’ve mentioned before that I get annoyed when I keep reading plural’s that have been made into possessive’s by the (fairly recent) tendency to add an apostrophe to everything with an s on the end. I’m sure it’s because spellcheck isn’t really able to catch these mistakes since so many words can be either plural or possessive. Still…it’s not that hard to figure out if the noun is more than one thing or owning something. Or a contraction with “is,” as in the sentence, “Dad’s a golfer.”

But because I’ve been feeling particularly peevish, here’s one I just looked up because I recently heard it again. I keep hearing “wary,” “leery,” and “weary” interchangeably and wanted to make sure I’m using the first two correctly because I wasn’t sure I knew the difference. Turns out that’s because there really isn’t one. The two are considered synonyms for being cautious or careful. So you can be wary OR leery of the salesman when he’s a little shady and you don’t trust him. As a side note, though, I’ve always used “leery” when the meaning expresses a little more suspicion and “wary” when it expresses more caution. So I’m leery when I think he might be dishonest, but I’m wary of salespeople in general. Maybe it’s just me. Feel free to tell me if you think so.

“Weary” probably became a victim in all of this simply by virtue of sounding like a combination of “wary” and “leery.” “Weary,” of course, means tired—so you’d only be weary of the salesman when he’s stayed at your kitchen table for hours and hours, though he could still be perfectly trustworthy.

But the other day when I had been standing at a nursery in almost 100° heat listening to a man who worked for a landscaping company talk endlessly about the need to be weary of certain landscapers, he might have been using the word correctly, after all.

What are your grammatical peeves?

From The Office: Michael’s having a hard time with the gender part of Spanish. So I told him to mark everything with the international symbol for gender and, um, I should have been more specific. [to Michael] Your office is full of genitalia. ~Oscar

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hello Computer, Goodbye Ray Bradbury

 It’s good to be back after a long absence with a broken computer. Now I’m back at last…only to find out that one of my all-time favorite writers ever, Ray Bradbury, died this week.

I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with his unique style—that unlikely combination of horror and lilting poetry that sings to my soul. I think I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school. Excerpts from The Martian Chronicles inevitably end up in high school anthologies, so I think that’s where my feelings began to deepen. But I believe it was after Something Wicked This Way Comes that it became pure love.

The one that reads to me like sips of a precious elixir to the spirit is Dandelion Wine. I rocked in the nursery rocking chair and read it to my abdomen after I found out that the fetus therein was male. To this day it remains one of my all-time favorite books and proof to me of what I once read about Ray Bradbury to those of us who worshiped him: he was not really a science fiction writer, but a poet.

I relished each word of Zen in the Art of Writing. Then last Christmas, I got the most thoughtful gift of my life when a dear friend sent me an autographed copy of The Halloween Tree. It’s one of the few I don’t have. I was almost speechless.

“How did you know that’s something I’ve always wanted?” I asked. I’d never said.

I could hear his infamous shrug over the phone. “I don’t know. It just fit you.” Which is, of course, what I could say about all of Ray Bradbury’s work. I’m not sure why, but it fits me.

I read that Ray Bradbury died during the rare transit of Venus. I hope that’s true. I imagine he would have liked that.

Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together. ~Ray Bradbury