Thursday, December 10, 2015

Miss Scarlett & her champagne

Last time I drank champagne in the afternoon, I wound up with my hands resting peacefully in the thick sugary frosting on a slice of wedding cake.

Things like this happen when I make an internal observation that I’m ever-so-cool.  That’s when I am brought face-to-face with a more humbling reality: I’m really not that cool at all. 

Those moments – the ones where I cannot ignore the truth of my awkward-idity – arrive with such impeccable timing that they cannot be denied. 

And they’re abetted by champagne.

So – I went to two weddings in one day, back in the day.  Two cousins.  Across town from each other and across a wide gulf in style. 

The first, a lovely morning, mimosa brunch affair set in the Rose Gardens atthe Philbrook Mansion, timed to side-step the Oklahoma heat.  The bride’s dainty flower girl wore a halo of baby’s breath.  The pristine, tiered white cake had strawberries around the perimeter.  The champagne flutes were frosted with sugar.  And the Mumm was ice-cold.

I drank two.

As I replay the events of that day, it seems plain that I most likely arrived at the second soiree with a bit of that sugar glaze on the corners of my mouth.  I hadn’t felt a thing.  Imagine.

The mid-afternoon timing of this second cousin’s nuptials was an accommodation of the NASCAR schedule.  She and her groom would catch a honeymoon flight to the Pocono race track where they would whoop it up as husband and wife.

Her vows were exchanged in the chilly confines of the Southside Baptist Church’s basement rec room.  The ping pong tables were covered with white plastic sheets and the words “Patsy and James Together Forever,” stenciled in glitter and attached to 10lb. test weight fishing line were strung up between the Fire Marshall’s mandated utility windows.

The Korbel was iced down in a galvanized trough, brand new for the day but to be turned out to the farm for watering the cattle after.  Linoleum tile and folding chairs completed the ambience.

Am I starting to sound snooty?  Well.  There you have it. 

I had begun to feel my Scarlett O’Hara, perhaps the effect of a couple more – or was it three? – plastic cups overflowing with the bubbly.

I looked good for one thing, or so I thought, compared to my cousin’s country friends.  I had the best hair.  The best dress.  The sexiest shoes.

It was in this superior state of mind that I took my Styrofoam plate with a big chunk of Sam’s Club wedding cake and a plastic fork and found myself a seat. 

Rather than digging in right away though – how crass! – I sat and smiled serenely at my male cousins and their buddies who clearly had an eye for me. 

I crossed my ankles, just so.

Oh, here comes Terry with his friend Junior.  They certainly do have goofy grins. 

“Hey Carolyn!”

“Hi Terry!  Can’t believe Patsy’s tying the knot!”  I admit it – champagne brings out my tendency toward the inane.

“Hey Carolyn!”  This was Junior, giggling.  Not the brightest bulb in the pack.

“Hey Junior.”

“You gonna eat that cake?”  Now why, oh why would he ask that?  And that infernal giggle.  Honestly.

There was plenty of cake for everyone.  But OK.  I don’t want more cake today.  He can have mine.

But when I went to hand him my serving, I found that the back of my left hand had eased onto the icing ever so gently and rested there like a goose settled onto a clutch of eggs.  The weight of it had pushed that whipped confection out into fat bulges on each side. 

My right hand, set palm-to-palm with my left, just as Miss Manners prescribes, allowed those down-turned digits to dip into the frosting also, giving them perfect sugary-white gooey fingertip caps.

That’s when those big corn-fed country boys burst out laughing and pointing to smarty-pants me. 

I cannot recall the rest.  I only hope the commotion didn’t draw too much attention away from the bride.

So you can see why it is with some trepidation that I prepare to attend a champagne ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon. 

I don’t know if I can be trusted.  What if they serve Moet & Chandon?  Whatever will I do?

Therefore, I have a plan:  Mr. Plath will accompany me.  His instructions are to spirit me away immediately following the toast.

Fiddle dee dee!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Buddha and the haircut

A friend of mine is going to Chang Mai to get her hair cut.

OK.  She’s going for bigger better reasons than that.  She already went once all by herself, to study Buddhism.  For a year!  By.  Her.  Self.


I’m working hard to think of anything I have ever done in my lifetime that can be held up alongside that.  I got nuttin’.

Oh, once I went to Cuernavaca for a two week language immersion school.  By myself. 

All my fair weather language learner wannabe friends punked out on me as the trip got closer.  One by one they fizzled on our red hot idea to submerge ourselves in the culture and come out fluent. As each one became wan and apologetic I held my head up knowing that the next one would go.

Until finally, I had to actually go – by myself.  I had to do what I’d talked so big about – or shut up and slink away, credibility tattered.  Never talk about it again.  And let’s face it, shutting up is not in my nature.

So I signed up for classes and booked a flight.

But I was terrified.  I stood on the curb at San Francisco International Airport and cried after my husband dropped me off.

At the other end of the flight, I got in a shiny red car with the smiling man who held a placard with my name on it and had visions of his being a kidnapper who would spirit me away into the labyrinth of Mexico City instead of delivering me to the doorstep of the family who did everything for me except run my bath. 

And I was so homesick my stomach hurt! 

Then, when it came time to come home, I cried again for leaving such lovely people.  Muchas gracias por todo mis amigos. 

Now we’re Facebook friends.  

So I suppose I can claim to be a person of conviction.  I don’t spout off about a value-driven life and then go on about my merry business without a value-driven bone. 

But dang.

How’d I get to be her friend anyway?  She has that Buddhist patience thing you hear so much about.  She doesn’t butt in when you talk or anything. 

I hope I don’t prattle on.  She looks serene no matter.

This trip must be a refresher course.  Five weeks.  A touch up you might call it.  Maybe Buddhism’s like a haircut – gets a little shaggy after so much growth.  Needs to be shaped up.  Add some highlights.  Cover up the roots.

So it makes sense she will get her hair cut while she’s there.  She said she is looking forward with happy anticipation to sitting down again with Vera, the stylist who managed her minimalist coif when she was there before.  Vera, she says, understands Western hair.

Wow.  That’s deep.

I wish I understood Western hair.  And Buddhism, for that matter.  

My training in the Southern Baptist tradition did not take, much to my grandma’s dismay.  I let go of all that hell’s fire back before I cut my own hair from sit-on-it to shoulder length.  Truthfully, it was harder to give up my hair than it was to turn away from all that judgmental-ism. 

I love to sing those hymns, though. 

Do Buddhists sing?  Oh I know they chant.  And hum.  You know – resonate – with the Om.  But that is not the same as a good old Bette Midler belt.   Cathartic!

But I digress.      

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          When a person finds a hairdresser who understands her hair, who can make her hair perform – her hair whisperer – well, desire for worldly things falls away.  It’s a Buddhist thing – like the 3rd Noble Truth. 

A person will go to extremes – even to Chang Mai – to be in the presence of such a Master.  Because after all, a bad hair day creates anguish for the wearer which may be projected outward onto the unfortunate world she encounters. 

And, it follows, the converse is also true:  Good hair = good thoughts.  A noble path to true happiness.

It’s a Buddhist thing.

If you have the courage of your convictions, you get on the plane and go.


Friday, October 16, 2015

You may be aging awkwardly

If you know a formula for getting older with any kind of style, please send it my way.  I don’t think it’s too late for me; but at the same time, I’m not sure I can trust my own judgment.

There are days when I just want to get me to the plastic surgeon and stretch my jowls up over my ears.  Hearing is overrated anyway.

My search for steps to follow, a manual of some sort, anything that could point the way to doing this thing without looking like a fool has produced limited results.

I feel as though the vanishing cream has kicked in – a loss of pigment – from technicolor to sepia to 1950’s black and white, right on down to chalky charcoal daguerreotype.  This is psychological, of course, except that my hairdresser now dyes my eyebrows along with my roots. 

In the meanwhile, Dear Reader, from astute observation and painful self-recognition, I have begun collecting guideposts.  I offer excerpts here from my Notes to Self: 

#1 – Keeping up

Dear Carolyn,

If you’re on Facebook trying to convince Millennials and Gen-Xers that Boomers are the coolest – because we had muscle cars and Mick Jagger – you may be aging awkwardly. 

Furthermore, even if you tweet and tumble and podcast your guts out, you have to admit that you are a tourist in the technological world.  You’re quick witted, but you’re learning that stuff like a second language.  Younger people were born into it:  They’re natives. 

So make jokes about it.  Put up that picture of a telephone booth with the caption, “When I was a kid this was my mobile phone!”  But, when you post pictures telling people they’re awesome because they remember VHS cassettes, or roller skate keys – you might be aging awkwardly.

#2 – Holding onto your looks

And, if you’re shopping online for “plus size high-waisted skinny jeans,” you could be aging awkwardly. 

AARP offers “11 Ways to Look 10 Years Younger”:  Among them – wear V-necks and exfoliate.  Gosh, thanks. 

Oh and by the way, I’m sick of Christy Brinkley and Jane Seymour.  Why don’t they just stay home?  All those grinning celebrities on AARP covers are air-brushed and photo-shopped daily – just like I would be if I could be.  But I'm not bitter!

Yeah, I want someone to skirt around me at all times holding one of those giant light-reflecting umbrellas for the photographer and making sure I always turn my good side, the youthful side – the other side – the one I remember from my 35th birthday party.

Do I sound angry?  Oh pshaw!  (It’s a family blog – I’m tempering my epithets.)  Pshaw, I say! 

#3 – Winning

You can’t win by ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ the post that says, “I graduated high school without Google or Wikipedia.”  Or, “I’m old school:  I was raised to respect my elders and have good manners.” It just makes you sound like an old you-kids-get-off-my-lawn sourpuss.  And, you are aging awkwardly. 

So, play a different game.  Be nice. 

That is all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Advice to the lovelorn Benicia Herald contributor

Never pursue a distancer.

This is a cardinal rule in love.  Because neediness is not sexy.  Begging never pays.

So, if the man of your dreams takes a step back, you take one too.  Or, at the very least, stand your ground.

If you advance toward a distancer, you will most likely set in motion a fruitless and embarrassing series of desperate actions that will leave you feeling foolish at best.

That’s how it seems these days with the Benicia Herald. 

We had a sweet little love affair.  Is it over?

Oh, maybe some would say it was one-sided.  Contributors contributed.  The Herald accepted.  It might seem that the paper got the better end of the deal.  Who wouldn’t want to sit back and receive what he required without effort or acknowledgement?

The Herald needed us, or so we thought.  We filled the pages.  Why, without us, the character – and characters – of our town are absent.  Our small town paper’s charm is diminished.  

In his farewell, the out-going editor said we made up an important thread in the fabric of the community.  Our contributions, he said, made our little hometown paper “a gem.”  We’re left with dry reports of impersonal city government, the generic community calendar and another full-page map of First Street merchants.

The paper has stepped away from us.  Or more accurately, Publisher David Payne has.

From one person’s limited viewpoint, Mr. Payne keeps the Herald like a step-child – neglected and listless for want of support and appreciation.  His talented editorial staff and reporters, forced to accept that he finds their needs a nuisance, decided not to pursue their relationship with him.  They left him for cleaner, shinier shores where they will likely be treated well and paid better.

Reliable sources say Mr. Payne hired one promising candidate, but apparently she took a closer look and excused herself.  Scuttlebutt has it that interviews continue, but Mr. Payne “hasn’t found anyone he likes.”  That works both ways, of course.

Why doesn’t the Herald report its own story?  The only mention of the shake up comprised a one sentence “pardon our construction” disclaimer below the date and weather report two weeks ago.

And now, contributors cannot get a return phone call or email.  Articles submitted garner no response, no ink.  What are we to think in a case like this?

Should we pursue the Herald?  Plead with it to accept our work?  Take us back!  Please take us back!

Advice to the lovelorn says ‘no.’

We can, at best, stand our ground.  Wait to see if the new Herald will be the same Herald – the one we loved and that loved us.  The one that seemed to value our work even if we weren’t paid for it. 

And here I am – writing again.  For what?  Page 4 goes to the Chamber of Commerce.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Remodeling the empty nest

You can thank me for the rain.

I was dancing the ‘happy dance,’ got carried away, flung my arms in the air and twirled around, singing “the hills are alive!” like Julie Andrews.  The rain came as an unintended consequence. 

Is it wrong that I dance behind the door?  Am I a bad person because I do the jig in the upstairs hallway in delirious anticipation of something that hasn’t even happened? 

Dear God, please let it happen!

Of course, I’m way out in front on this one.  But I can’t stop myself – the kid is going on job interviews!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Haa le-e looooo jah!

I know.  I should pace myself.  An interview does not a job make.  So sayeth Yoda.

Let’s play it out, Carolyn.  Take a deep breath:  He has to get the job first.  Exhale.

OK.  But, let’s say he gets the job. 

It’ll be a good job.  The kind that sorta makes me mad because he would be making more money at entry level than I made after 10 full years as a classroom teacher. 

But all right.  He gets the good job.  He still will need to stay here in that perfectly lovely bedroom which he’s transfigured into a dormitory laundry room hovel.  He’ll need to save a few months’ salary, fix that old truck so it runs; sell it and the wimpy girlie car his grandpa gave him; combine that money to buy an affordable, dependable babe-magnet form of transportation.  That’ll take time.

He’ll need first and last month’s rent and a security deposit.  By my calculations …

I know - I don’t match the PsychologyToday description of a parent facing empty nest syndrome.  By their definition the emotions attendant with the eminent departure of my grown up child would include loneliness and depression.

And that would not be me.  Oh I love the kid.  SO much.  But, no.  Not lonely or depressed at the prospect.

For one thing, it won’t be the first time he’s gone, if he goes.  He’s one of those ricochet kids you hear so much about. 

He left at 19 and ping-ponged around making funky forays into various scenarios, some of them star-crossed and others ill-fated.  Then he boomeranged, a bit forlorn but still a contender.  Still the sweet, smart, good-hearted, funny, handsome, single boy – er, young man – our hopes are pinned on.

And now, he’s completing his schooling – round two – and about to launch.  He’s flapping his fledgling wings.  He’s testing the waters.  He has his finger up, checking the wind.  He’s thinking of going.  He’ll go!  I just know it!  He’ll go!

So I’m following the advice of Psychology Today, the Mayo Clinic, Circle of Moms and Wikihow, getting myself ready for the inevitable impact of the kid’s exit. 

They pretty much agree on the basics for anxious parents who are fearful of the melancholy when they have no more children in the home to follow around behind, closing doors, turning off lights and handing money.

Oh!  Who will I buy groceries and toothpaste for, if not my spouse and myself?  Who will I remind to take the out trash, bring in the newspaper, unwad his clothes and put them away?

Who will tell me when I have bad breath?  Or that he’s out of shampoo or shaving cream or toilet paper? 

According to the empty nest gurus, I should take up a new hobby or schedule a massage.  Or plan a ritual of release!  Maybe I'll light a candle, chant “adieu” and waft the smoke into the corners of his room.

Sure.  I’ll miss the kid.  I will!  It’s been so sweet having him here and having it confirmed he’s a really good guy. 

I’ll gladly set up his kitchen with a rice cooker and crock pot and spices and dishes and hand-me-down pans.  I’ll call him on Thursdays and text on the weekend.  I’ll invite him to movies and he’ll never go and sit next to me with popcorn and elbow me at the good parts like he used to.

Uh oh.

A little sadness.  Some premature nostalgia.  But no worries – no job yet. 

Take your time Bud.  I can dance later.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Advice to the Dearly Departing

I know how this works.  Seen it before.  Lived through it.

Twelve years of my 30 in education were spent in the role of principal.  It’s a high-profile position in the community of students, parents, faculty, staff and district personnel. 

One of the most interesting parts of the job was learning to accept that all those constituents felt free to comment on my performance, using their own criteria.  Fair enough.  Public servant and all.

Still, there were times when I felt shackled by the “polite protocol.”  It seemed that almost everyone had an opinion to impart about me, my school, my students, my teachers, my parking lot, my standings in the football league, my school food, my quad, my litter…  And they all held license to “share” those judgments with me – sometimes with their outside voices – whether we were in my office, at the game, at Mary’s Pizza Shack, or in the produce department of Trader Joe’s

Yes!  Free to express themselves, they expressed!  My charge was to remain circumspect.  Maybe all those years of repression carry the fault for my pontificating now!

To be sure, I heard many good suggestions and tried to implement them all.  Sundry acrimonious complaints also found their way to my ears accompanied by no recommendations for remedy.  Some folks felt righteous indignation about their issue and demanded that I figure “it” out and fix it.

Disclaimer:  NONE of that outweighed the sheer joy of working with young people every day. 

Because of that frequent and dependable sense of exhilaration, I rarely missed a day on the front.  It ennobled the struggle to give those kids a leg up.

It’s not hard to understand how a person in that position begins to think of her legacy.  Was I helping?  Did I make a difference? 

People told me I did, but being on the ground there, at the epicenter, I couldn’t always see the ripples.

When I retired, each those groups did truly nice things for me, showering me with gifts, parties, notes and hugs. 

E.g.:  A happy-go-lucky senior said, “Mrs. Plath, you’re the Randy Johnson of principals!”  Wow – in the same sentence with the Big Unit!

A Latino girl who lived below the poverty line shyly asked to keep a windbreaker with my name embroidered on it, to remember me by – and probably to keep warm.

A young Indian student came to my office and touched my feet.  A gesture of reverence and respect, he said.  Thinking of it still brings me to tears.

But also, at the very moment I announced my retirement, a disheartening conversation began repeating itself.  With group after group, it went like this:

Me:  I’m retiring effective the end of this school year.
Them:  Who’s taking your place?

Talk about an ego deflator!

No time for nostalgia!  The Queen is dead.  Long live the Queen!

I had to acknowledge that I would be forgotten.  In about four years, the cycle of students through a high school, the institutional memory of me, me, me would have faded. 

Teaching staffs turn over.  Fewer and fewer remain at that site to remember what fun we had, what lives we touched and touched us. 

Now, five years out, my contributions have merged into the fabric of the way things have always been.  Or, maybe a few stand in contrast to what the new guy has done.  That’s about it.

I have yearbooks from all those years; the students’ inscriptions call the good parts back to mind.  I confess to going there now and then.  Pull one off the shelf in the guest room closet.  Sit on the corner of the bed and leaf through.  Ah!  2010!  That was a very good year!

But when I sing along with Bruce Springsteen about my glory days, it’s a solo performance based on my own revisionist history.  And, that’s the only way to go:  Wipe out, as best you can, the cranky insults tossed from the sidelines by second-guessers.

Elevate and expand the myriad, if small, instances of soul-building positivity.  I had a great run.

That’s my counsel.  It’s an editor’s job, after all – making the best of the good, the bad and the unprintable.

Best wishes to you, Marc Ethier.

Fare Thee well!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sit down and write!

I believe a dose of Methylphenidate might get me off the dime.

You know, Ritalin.  Stimulant.  Schedule II controlled substance.

Yes – Ritalin treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and, counterintuitively, narcolepsy.

Those are precisely my symptoms:  I fluctuate between flitting about cheerfully dusting knickknacks and deep snoring sleep.

And I’ve built up a tolerance to Starbucks.  Desperate times.

I have a job to do, yet in spite of my good will and determination, I ping pong between distraction, an inexplicable urge to rearrange furniture and the powerful draw of that sunny spot on the comforter next to the cat.

Euphemistically, I linger in the pre-writing stage. 

 Pre-writing is that stage of writing we scribes sometimes love because it adds to our mystery.  Here’s the beauty of it:  When you’re an enigma, you don’t have to answer pragmatic questions like, “What are you doing in there?”

I am at the keyboard in my enchanted place, here in my study with my special stuff all around me:  My crystal ball; this molded glass head full of black and butter and kidney beans; the electric piano that I can still barely play; a light-up globe with a broken switch; a black-and-white photo of my brother and me, ages five and three, on our dad’s Harley-Davidson. 

This is my happy place.  Here convene the elements of alchemy.

After all, writing is magic, right?  One minute writers behave within the parameters of normalcy.  We go to lunch.  We converse, make eye contact.  We listen and respond.  We turn a phrase and keep the banter lively.

Next minute we are seized with inspiration, jump up, run to the computer and gush, like Old Faithful.  Or we speak furtively into our cell phone recorders or snag the proverbial napkin and dash off our pithy insights – the seeds of the next screenplay, the lynchpin of the story arc.

Either that or our eyes glaze over as we make a mental note and then sit later, in the quiet of the night, bleary-eyed in front of a glowing screen trying to call that pearl back to consciousness.

We love it when non-writers express wonder at what we do.  No need to dispel that misapprehension!  They don’t know that we marvel too.  More accurately, we don’t know what the heck we’re doing, much less how we go about doing it.  We wonder too – if we will ever actually get a word on the page.

Or, like Hemingway, we dismiss the act sardonically:  “Writing is easy.  All you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed.”

Oh, we love the drama!

We love the precariousness of it.  The fear.  The teetering on a tightrope suspended high above solid ground. 

Nobody asks anybody why he doesn’t write!  So you would think, when one is stuck in the mystical, infuriating prewriting phase, that person could simply stand up, correct her posture, and say, “Balderdash!” with some satisfaction before turning her attention to…what?  Anything she wants!  Anything else!  Bookkeeping, let’s say.  Or archeology.

But writers cannot quit:  They know the mandate – a writer can’t not write.   Even when suspended in the air.

So yes.  Here we are – prewriting.

The prewriting stage encompasses key features of a writing project including, but not limited to choosing your topic, identifying your audience and purpose, brainstorming ideas, organizing information, sorting laundry, solving murders with Lt. Joe Kenda, communing with your cat, staring into the ether and look!  An osprey over the water! 

You know, doing almost anything but pecking out sentences on the screen.

And I’ve outgrown caffeine – the gateway drug. 

I considered drinking.  I wouldn’t be the first writer to slosh along for a good while.  Alcohol would facilitate the napping.  So there’s that.

But I think you need to be a Dorothy Parker – really good and well established – to get away with it.  Someone like me could find herself inebriated and alone at the Algonquin.

That’s no good.

So yes, if I can find an unscrupulous doctor, I think I’ll try Ritalin.  That’s what it’s come to.

My topic?  Well!  If you have to ask!  My audience??  Apologies, Dear Reader.  It’s all for you.

Purpose?  There’s the rub. 

And look!  A cloud shaped like a penguin!

Monday, August 31, 2015

You're gonna need an ocean

Once, in my halcyon college days, I took a botany class. 

Everything was interesting to me then.  Kind of like now, except I was 24. 

Following a long-standing habit of late bloomers, I enrolled in my first college courses in Santa Barbara a full six years after graduating from high school. 

And, due at least in part to my ho hum high school experience, every course was a wonder.  Sociology!  History!  Psychology!!

And botany!  The scientific study of plants!  Man!

"Plants," I learned, as though a true revelation, include a wide range of living organisms from the smallest bacteria to the largest living things – the giant sequoia trees.  By this definition the classification comprises algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, ferns, conifers and flowering plants.  

Big wow.

And California botany at that!  This would be ‘way different from Oklahoma botany.

Oklahoma botany, to my childhood recollection, included mainly waving wheat, like in that song; assorted grasses dominated by the crab and Bermuda varieties; and the occasional tumbling tumbleweed, if you found yourself out in the Panhandle drifting along – like in that other song. 

Oh, we had trees, but not like California!  We had elm trees and maples just like everyone else in the continental US.  Big deal.  The most exotic tree I encountered as a child was a mimosa. 

Once I got caught in the cross-fire of a whipping my grandma gave my cousin with a “switch” from her willow tree.  There’s a lesson in botany.

But California has redwoods!  And ice plant and bougainvillea and, and…

Poison oak.

Now in Oklahoma, I encountered poison ivy often enough to know my way around a bottle of calamine lotion – like in that song!  I learned by way of miserable nights not to scratch because fingers were conspirators in poison ivy’s plot to take over a skinny girl’s body.

I knew to let the pink stuff dry and curl up and flake away like so much sun-beaten paint. 

And, like a cut-rate pre-pubescent  contractor, I slathered on second and third creamy coats of that cool substance to fields of blisters without sanding, so that I wound up with a thick paste caked on my ankles and wrists and the insides of my elbows and the backsides of my knees. 

Sumac could raise a field of bubbles too.  So I learned to identify and cut a wide perimeter around both those sinister plants.

That was my plan with the poison oak my botany instructor spoke about prior to our field trip freshman year.  We were going to trek along the Santa Barbara hills and document our botanical finds.  Turns out, we didn’t see any poison oak that day.  But I got it.

I repeat:  We never found a single poison oak plant – but I broke out with an impressive cluster of itchy bubbles. 

All these botanical bad dreams resurfaced this week after Mr. Plath cleared the hillside below our house of cacti – to the tune of 30 truck-loads of prickly arms, joints, ribs and barrels – along with wild fennel, palm debris, scrub plants of unknown varieties…and you guessed it…poison oak.

I should mention that Mr. Plath is among those happily oblivious folks who wander the jungles and deserts and tangled woodlands of the world without fear.  He is not allergic to the virulent plant.  Isn’t that just great?

But he took extreme precautions at my urging:  long sleeves and pant legs, gloves, glasses.  When the task was complete, he tiptoed into the laundry room like a burglar touching no surface, leaving no trace.  He stripped down and put his radioactive clothing straight into the washing machine on hot, with bleach.

We circumnavigated each other in the hallway with arms overhead like two crabs vying for the same stretch of sand.  Hey!  Hey!  Hey!

He didn’t even chance to give me a peck on the cheek, which he ALWAYS does when he passes within range.  Directly into a decontaminating shower he went and scrubbed down as though for surgery. 

All the while, I stood by in my own hermetically sealed hazardous waste jumpsuit.

And I still got a nice big dose of the nasty stuff. 

Oh the irony!  Oh the chagrin!  Oh the recriminations!

Oh darn.