Friday, July 31, 2015

Who's sitting next to you?

I spent the middle of the day at Big O with a big man I’ll call Big Bill.  He called himself Big Something Else, but maybe I shouldn’t say.

It was not how I planned to spend my day. 

But the right front tire on Mr. Plath’s truck heaved a slow, surreptitious sigh overnight and relaxed into a rubber puddle.  When he dashed out to catch up with his buddy at the BART station for a 12:45 first pitch at AT&T Park, that tire was flat.

“Emergency!” he called up the stairs, since he goes through life with split-second timing and there wasn’t a nanosecond to spare.  “Take me to BART, Honey, and call Triple A to fix this flat, please.”

As an FYI – I plan my mornings more loosely.  They hinge on slow starts with fresh home-made coffee, respectable progress on the Book Club assignment, a few Words with Friends and then some writing.

This is not to say I cannot swing into action when the situation warrants it.  And this was urgent.  BART waits for no one. 

In a flash, I jumped into my clothes, ran a brush through my hair, stepped into my slip-ons and darted to the driveway feeling like Mighty Mouse.  He had my car out of the garage and waiting.  Like a precision racing team, we hit the road.

On the way to the station, Mr. P. sheepishly asked if I would spend some time with the puppy since he’d be gone most of the day.  Sure Honey.  My pleasure.

We executed the drop-off with a quick swing through the bus-only lane – my bad – and he was on his way.  I turned back toward home and the flat tire and the puppy who refers to me as Second Best.

AAA came in due course, but did not fix the flat, or put on the spare.  Instead, the burly tow truck driver with an Elvis complex and a suspiciously visible tattoo high on his right front chest – yes, chest!  I don’t think the lapel of that jumpsuit was tucked in by accident! – pumped up the tire and directed me to take the truck to Big-O to get it fixed. 

Thank you.  Thank you very much.

But Big-O’s good, in case you don’t already know it.  Their tire?  They’ll fix it.  Free.

But of course you have to get in line.  That’s where Big Bill comes in. 

I’ll tell you how I first felt about Big Bill:  I didn’t want to talk to him.  Oh – he’s not the Big O guy who greeted me immediately, ascertained the problem, took the keys to the truck and deftly worked me into the queue. 

No, Big Bill was a stranger.  A big man with a purple ear who came in after me and distinguished himself with his deep voice, not upset but frustrated, he said, at having to spend so much time in the Big O lobby. 

Great.  And the only empty chair was next to mine.

I tried to shine him on at first.  I smiled tepidly when he eased himself down next to me saying he was tired of the mysterious problem that kept resurfacing with his valve stem.

He shifted in his seat.  He watched shamelessly as I worked a crossword puzzle on my phone.  “Boy, you’ve got good eyesight to see something that small.  Can’t you make those letters bigger?”

Another meek acknowledgement.  But before I knew it, he caught my eye.  Maybe people would be calling my dad ‘Big Roy’ if he were still around. 

I considered telling Bill his ear was purple, but he told me first.  The medication for an irritation in his ear – side effect of his hearing aid.  It stained his pillowcase too. 

Oh?  So I’d been in education? 

He was in medicine.  Radiology.  Thirty-seven years.  Retired from Kaiser twice – went back a while when they were short-handed.  Ran a walnut orchard and orange tree farm at the same time he was reading X-rays.  Same amount of water.  Same fertilizer.  Made good sense.

He knew Matt Cain pitched last night and Jake Peavy was pitching today.  We both like Brandon Crawford.

Oh?  The truck’s ready?  Nice to meet you, Big Bill. 

Very nice to meet you.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Never give up! Never surrender!

A foldy toe.  Of all things.

I didn’t see this one coming.

You never truly expect all the inevitable "aging" crapola that’s coming your way, though, right?  Even though you’ve known all along that some telltale stuff is marching straight at you, two abreast, you can look over, under, sideways, down, and plain old ignore the certainty. 

For example, you know you’re going to wrinkle.  But still, it offends.  Wrinkles scandalize.  They appall.

There’s that OMG! moment when you look and you see and you understand that while you slept, creases crept up from the pillow case and settled onto your face.

Like you always knew they would.

They found their home, their happy home, and they don’t want to move.  Ever again.  Barring surgery of the type that would stretch your face into a Jack Nicholson Joker of a caricature of yourself. 

Nevertheless, you can’t help yearning for what you can no longer have.  It’s gone and there in the mirror is the new, old you.

And those rumpled ruffles didn’t arrange themselves appealingly in the socially desirable and marginally acceptable region set aside for laugh lines.

Oh no.  These are not crinkles that accentuate a twinkling eye.  These are lines and furrows more appropriately assigned to a wheat field.  And the crop is set for harvest.

We all know wrinkles are coming.  But who accepts their arrival?  Who welcomes them as an anticipated tenant?  No one! 

Some liars claim to love and respect them as signs of a live well-lived.  Ha!  I once had a dermatologist call liver spots “wisdom spots.”  Yeesh.

But OK.  What are you going to do?  Better than the alternative, right?  Hahaha. 

And gray hair.  OK, white hair.  Big deal.  I crawled into the bottle years ago on that one.  Denial perfected.

An ache.  A pain.  A spider vein.  Means nothing.  So what if I can’t eat fried food like I did back in the day?  Big deal!

Sleeping through the night?  Any sissy can sleep through the night!  Only the stout of constitution can nod off at midnight, get up at 2:30, 4:30 and again at 6 and still be (mostly) alert and productive every fine day!

But the foldy toe may take me down.

It developed on the golf course.  See?!  I play golf.  Twice a week!  I walk the course too!  Pull my own cart!  I’m young and strong and tough, I tell ya!

Anyway, as I was saying, I was walking up for my second shot.  This is when I usually give myself an “attaboy” for hitting it straight or a stern admonition for shanking it – again. 

But this time, my thoughts were drawn away from the bucolic 4th fairway to the migration of my little toe.  As though responding to a hypnotic suggestion, it turned unannounced, inched away from its assigned station at the edge of my foot and worked steadily until it was tucked under its upright companions.


It didn’t hurt.  It just felt weird.  What are you doing there, Little Toe?  Why would you fold yourself under, thus?  What fear ye?

The toe said nothing and I kept quiet.

Members of my foursome suspected nothing.  They have seen me duff a fairway wood enough times.  They didn’t detect the shift in my sunny disposition.  That 3-putt was par for my course.

The rest of the nine, my mind held silent communion with the toe.  Instead of staying after for a celebratory Anchor Steam, I hustled to CVS and the Dr. Scholl’s aisle – you   know, where the old folks find remedies for foldy toes.

And there, nestled among the corn plasters and the arch supports, next to Odor-X and Freeze Away, I found these little gel cushion thingies that fit between and force errant toes to face the future head on, like the rest of us. 

So hooray. 

But how can one recover from the demoralizing knowledge that she’s shopping on the aisle right around the corner from the Ensure and down the way from the All New Silhouette Depends?

Stubbornness, that’s how.  Just because an apple falls one hundred times out of a hundred does not mean it will fall again on the hundred and first.

I will not surrender!  Oh no!  Not to a foldy toe!  

Friday, July 17, 2015

A puppy by any other name

We have done our best.  And yet.

Believe me; we are as surprised as you might be if you could see our deck – Dewey’s hangout.  It looks like a hillbilly’s front yard! 

A quick survey of the surroundings includes sundry items, chewed nearly, but not quite, into oblivion:  rebar, boat dock bumpers (small and very large), sticks from twigs to tree branches, rocks and concrete chips, loquat pits, rags – that is, a shredded T-shirt and what was formerly known as a hand towel – two crimped water bottles and a pistol-grip hose nozzle entangled with plant matter.  

A cluster of gnats now dizzies around the door.

A chair cushion has been repurposed as an attack dog training dummy.  Thrashed into submission, it lies in crumpled defeat near the gate.  The fleece doggie bed?  Relocated to his secret stash under the potting shed with his actual doggie chew toys – untouched – along with other items of little interest to his pure puppy brain. 

This back-woodsy scene lacks only bent aluminum lawn chairs with frayed nylon webbing, spent beer cans, crushed cigarettes and a still.

We owe it all to Dewey.

He’s four months old now – four and a half – all legs.  And feet.  And joie de’vivre.  It’s early to be making pronouncements.  I know.  But yeesh!

Maybe his name is having undue influence on his personality.  “Dewey” rose to the top of the list of possible puppy names, for two reasons:  First, we liked it.  The sound of it.  The fact that we didn’t know any other dogs named Dewey.  (Even though we loved Beau, we had to acknowledge that he was one among a legion of Beaus – all good dogs, for sure, but undistinguished by appellation.)

Second, the name “Dewey” met the requirement for having a strong, plosive first letter.  Soon enough, Dewey will be a working dog, earning his kibble in the duck blinds.  Such employment demands a name beginning with a burst of air that the beast will recognize and obey quickly.  Or so says Mr. Plath.  

That’s why we renamed our first Labrador retriever, Snooky.  We adopted him from a single mom with two unhealthy waif-like children.  She said her kids had developed allergies to Snooky.  Looking at their translucent skin and dark-rimmed eyes, it seemed plausible.  And, as we came to learn, he shed approximately one bushel basket of dander-laden hair daily.

At any rate, she advertised him for sale and we brought him home when he was 18 months old but not yet housetrained.  Maybe they were all allergic to dog pee. 

But I digress.  The point here is that we renamed him.  Mr. Plath could not envision himself hollering “Snooky!” when other hunters were calling out to Duke or Buddy or Butch.  Not enough machismo.  Or, no first letter burst.  However you choose to see it.

So Snooky became Ted, a wonderful field dog and stellar family companion summoned with near-perfect plosivity.

Could be that our mistake was in naming Dewey before we met him.  We couldn’t wait.  We aren’t those flower child parents who get to know their kids for days on end before they attach a moniker.  We didn’t take time to assess his essence and name him according to his spirit.  If we had, we might have called him Conan.  Or Pigpen.

We didn’t consult the What-to-Name-Your-Puppy books.

But let’s pretend we did.  Blogthings in retrospect, says of people and dogs named “Dewey”:  You are balanced, orderly and organized.  You like your ducks in a row. 

See?  Ducks in a row?!  We would have thought Dewey was the perfect name for our little fella.    

And here – You are friendly, charming, and warm.  So very true!  And to give him full credit, he pees outside and on demand.  He has a soft mouth.  Weeks ago he quit slicing us up like the chef at Benihana!  My wounds have all healed and only one left a mark.  He didn’t mean it. 

You are very charming... dangerously so.  Yes.  That little cock of your head and we forgive our injuries and the wasteland you have created in our formerly genteel yard. 

And finally, you are unpredictable, adventurous, and always a little surprising.
Surprising how interacting with you makes everything so sweet.  Dewey!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mind your own guilty pleasures

OK.  So I eat peanut butter out of the jar. 

Sometimes!  Not every time!  I admit to taking my spoon and dipping into the Skippy.  Yum! 

I don’t even sit down.  That’s right.  I stand at the kitchen counter with the pantry door wide open.  After a couple of nibbles, I bring out the apricot preserves and go full-on decadent:  Peanut butter residue in the jelly jar. 

It’s crucial to be able to explain yourself if you’re caught in such instances, so I can rationalize it:  Even though it’s gauche, it constitutes fewer calories than a straight-up, socially acceptable peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Yeah!  Never thought of that, did you?  And, it’s gluten free!  Take that!

You didn’t consider the possible benefits of my guilty pleasure because you were too busy judging me!  Oh yes you were.  No use denying it!  You got all uppity.  You would never eat Jiff out of the jar!  Or, more accurately, you would never fess up to doing it. 

Tell the truth now – you have a secret treat of your own.  Maybe you eat your peas with honey – I’ve done it all my life.  It makes my peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife!  Sorry.  My Asperger’s kicked in.

Still, most of us maintain an underground extravagance.  Perhaps you read romance novels under the covers at night and cry every time over lost love – it’s so beautiful!  Or, you can never drive past Krispy Kreme so you dispose of the incriminating wrappers before you get back to the house. 

I knew a woman – a weight loss consultant – who confessed she hid the evidence of her binge ice cream eating in the washing machine.  No one else ever looked there! 

Maybe you Google all your old flames and follow them on Facebook.  What’s that alternate email account for?  Or when your spouse comes into the room, you have to switch channels away from the Kardashians.  Really. 

For me, it’s “Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda.”  Well my, my, my.  I like watching this crusty old detective.  Mostly I love seeing the bad guy get what he deserves.

That also explains my indulgence in back-to-back episodes of “ForensicFiles,” the no-nonsense crime solving series proves time and time again that no matter how “highly intelligent” felons are, they cannot account for every insect wing or area specific weed pod or thread or fiber or eyelash!  Haha! 

My husband finds it macabre.  I say it’s no more graphic than Shark Week.

BuzzFeed describes a guilty pleasure as something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it.  The "guilt" involved stems from a fear of others’ discovering one's lowbrow or embarrassing tastes.  Harmless, but awkward.  Borderline mortification.

So yes, I’m fearful.

I imagine my erudite friends would find it difficult to appreciate my weakness for the decidedly lowbrow adult cartoon, “South Park.”  I don’t want them to know I watch it and I certainly cannot recommend it to their genteel selves.  Cartman is so hilariously reprehensible!

They might not understand Kenny – neither do I for that matter, but that’s his appeal.  And how can I explain his gruesome death every episode – those bastards!

Oh yes, if I’m found out, there could be consequences.  So, if South Park ever comes up, I feign ignorance, or shock and revulsion.  I don’t want to be expelled from their book club!

According to that pre-eminent source of cultural wisdom, Wikipedia, “guilt·y pleas·ure” means “something, such as a movie, a television program, a piece of music or fashion, behavior, certain foods – or eating habits – that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.

Say, for example, Elvis.  Elvis is held in low regard.  Pretty sure dying on the toilet did it.  That, and the hair and the bloat and the sweat and the jumpsuits. 

But I cannot forsake the King.  Since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell, down at the end of Lonely Street, at Heartbreak Hotel… with my Teddy Bear and the volume up high when everyone else is out of the house.  Air guitar.  Swivel hips.  Sneer.

Please – don’t tell anyone.  Uh…thank you.  Thank you very much.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Our own profile in courage

OK.  Tell me if you ever heard of this before.  Ever. 

In your history of observing your own aging parents or the parents of friends, or even elderly strangers, I challenge you to match this story for courage.  Find a better role model and tell me all about him or her. 

In your own experience, can you remember an older adult who took care of himself and his family by relieving them of the struggle during the inevitable transition from independence to any sort of assisted living?

I’ll bet not.

What we hear over time is the familiar story of a proud and independent person who finds himself in a situation he knew was coming, but never wanted to be.  And in spite of the inevitability of the circumstance, that person will engage in an emotional battle with himself and his family, resisting the changes mandated by the passage of time and the impermanence of flesh and bone.

We hear of strong-willed and intelligent people abandoning their own stated principles.  After a lifetime of claiming the right to self-determination, they oblige saddened and distraught family members to step in and make the clear choices for them that, barring dementia, they could make themselves.

Rather than making their own decision to hand over the car keys, for example, they will continue to drive after accidents and near-misses and the admonitions of physicians present evidence enough of the need for change.  They tussle and brawl and hang on to the thing they know they must let go.  In so doing they force their family members into the roles of conspirators and thieves. 

But not my father-in-law, Mr. Lloyd B. Plath, aged 95. 

A year ago he fell in his beloved home up on the hill in Danville. 

This was his home on Kuss Road just below the historic Eugene O’Neill residence.  The home his wife of 55 years designed and he built.  The home where he raised three children and loved multiple pets.  The home with stairs to get in and stairs to get out and stairs between levels inside.  The one with a sweeping view of the San Ramon Valley and Mt. Diablo where he’d been living alone since his wife died in 1998.

He tried to get up and fell again.  He lay on the floor for sometime recovering his strength and thinking about the phase of life that had come to meet him that morning.

Then he did get up.

He called his sons and said, “I think it’s time for me to sell this house and move into some place more reasonable.”

Wow.  What brought this on?  Sure we had all been thinking about those stairs and those levels and the life he’d led in that house.  But we hadn’t broached the subject straight on.  We had only tiptoed around the idea.

“Oh, I had a fall this morning.”

He wouldn’t hear of living with any of us “kids,” so we sold the big house.  We moved him to the flatlands and a one level apartment on the ground floor.  He adapted just like that.  Chuckled and insisted he liked it.  Enjoyed his new neighbors and their comings and goings.  They quickly found affection for him too.

In March he mentioned his long-time friend got a great deal on a place with some jazzy amenities.  He got all his meals and laundry and housecleaning services.  Medical attention.  It was pretty nice Lloyd said.  We knew he had never been much for planning meals or shopping or cleaning or serving himself.

Lots of stuff going on in that place, Lloyd said; people to meet.  No kidding.  We looked at that place and a couple others like it.

Then he fell in his new apartment.  And he fell again.

It is hard to see him diminished.  He is wobbly and cannot walk much at all.  His eyesight is failing, maybe due to a small stroke.

We know what all this means.  As does he.  So he told us to get him set up in assisted living.  And we did - because he told us to.

He remains in charge of his life.  We are his loving and humbled servants.

I only hope when it’s my turn I will be so brave.