Thursday, June 28, 2012

Signs




I am way into words. Road signs. Billboards. Marquees.  Any combination of letters displayed unabashedly in public, right out in front of God and everybody, these are the things I am obsessed with.  I read them, look for spelling errors, grammatical guffaws. I point and laugh.  I even copy them down for public ridicule.  I know—it’s a cruel addiction. 

Sometimes I can’t get over the crazy ways people use words to attract attention and confused customers.  And then I wind up asking myself, “Don’t they know anyone with the spiritual gift of editing?”
For example.  I know small towns have limited budgets.  So maybe it’s a good idea to consolidate business opportunities on one giant sign. But even my husband wouldn't make a stop at a store in Snowflake, Arizona, last summer, where the marquee advertised, “Dog Bathing/Alfalfa/Homemade Fudge.” I’m a chocoholic, but we drove right past that one.
Then there are the homemade signs set up beside mobile vendors.  And by that, I mean cars.  I live in the desert.  Which by definition is a dusty place with no water.  So who, in their right mind, pulls up next to a 1967 Volkswagen parked on the side of the road in Phoenix to purchase fresh shrimp in the middle of July?  Hmmmmm??  Gluttons for punishment, that’s who.
There’s a car I see almost every day when I leave my neighborhood out here in the middle of, well, pretty much nowhere.  There are American flags flying from the rolled up windows and a giant plywood sign propped up against it, emblazoned with the hand painted message, “Good Tamales, Ten Bucks.”  Which, to me, just begs the question:  if the ‘good’ tamales are ten bucks, how much are the bad ones?  Not that I want a bad tamale, but they’d probably go well with summer shrimp.
I’d like to know why the section of Interstate 10 at the Arizona/New Mexico border was renamed The Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway.  Is that the only road in Arizona that reminds people of Pearl Harbor? It just doesn’t make me think of Hawaii when I look at miles and miles of cactus and dirt and scrub brush. Of course, I’ve never been to Hawaii, so maybe I’m wrong.
And have you ever noticed when you’re at the drive up window at the bank that the sign there is also written in Braille?  Doesn’t that scare you a little?  One of my best friends is legally blind, and even she thinks it’s a bad idea for visually impaired people to drive.  I think she’s just cynical, though.  Ever since I walked her into the men’s room that third time, she doesn’t believe anyone is truly sighted.
Some signs are so simple they’re pure genius.  Like the pair of exit signs I saw last Christmas in a convenience store in Lordsburg, New Mexico.  The one on the left double door read, “Use That Door To Exit”.  The sign on the right double door said, “This Is That Door.”
Signs.  I just love ‘em.  My in-laws lined their kids up in front of one on their street once, thinking it was a great photo op since the sign above their grinning heads read, “Slow Children”.
But one of the best signs I ever heard about was a warning placed at the private drive of a psychiatric hospital in Phoenix in the late 1950's.  It read, “Entrance.  Do Not Enter.” 
Word to the wise.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Whatever

So, I got patted down by a blue shirt in an airport in Florida this week.  My first pat down.  Apparently I either didn’t stand still enough in the porno-radiation machine or I didn’t keep my mouth properly shut.  I’m guessing it was the latter.
Twice in the past three months, we’ve flown out of Phoenix Sky Harbor and walked through metal detectors on our way to visit our ill father.  And twice, as we left our hearts with the suffering family in Florida, we were sent through an airport scanner on our way back home.  This time, I’d had enough.
I walked into the spinning cylinder and simultaneously threw my hands in the air and a look at the pseudo official.  Let me just interject here:  my dog does on the horizontal what we are forced to do in the vertical in those machines.  She lies down on her back, front paws up, legs spread apart, and tells me in canine body language that she is at my mercy, she knows it, and she surrenders.  I am not a dog.   I.Hate.That.Position.  It’s humiliating at every level.  Especially at eye level with blue shirts watching.
They finished radiating me and the agent reached out to take my hand.  I declined impolitely—I know, hard to believe a fake redhead like me could have bad manners—and told him to leave me alone.  I made it six feet past him, walked by a female blue shirt and heard her say, “Just a minute.”  She looked back at the guy I’d just passed.  “I need to pat down your right arm,” she said to me.
Really.  Just my right arm. 
Now I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid.  You can just imagine the things I would have loved to say at that point.  Things like, “Thank goodness you only want to pat down my right arm, because it’s my left arm you should be worried about.”  But I didn’t.  That’s how I know God is at work in my life.
So I stuck out my right arm and she patted it down.  And America was saved again from a middle-aged redhead in grayhair denial whose pudgy right arm looked suspiciously like a concealed weapon.  Well, I did take second place in a karate competition that one time.  
“Have a nice day,” she said as she released my arm.
“Whatever,” I answered bitterly.
“Whatever,” she replied professionally.  And then we both felt better.
She, because they put me in my place.  And me, because I refused to just smile sweetly at ignorant employees while they stripped me of my dignity, my privacy, my health and some terminally ill constitutional rights.
But, hey.  It’s all in the name of safety. And airport security means we ‘are now free to move about the country.’
Whatever. 



Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk's photostream, Flickr.com 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Clock

We flew out last week to spend time with my husband's dad.  To hold his hand, hug the family, steal a discreet photo or two while we still can.  He looked tired and thinner, but his sense of humor is still strong. Then I saw the photo taken of him a year and thirty pounds ago, holding a bass he caught with his brother on a lazy Florida river.  The clock has been busy since that fishing trip.
There’s a ticking timepiece on the sunroom wall, marking passing seconds as carelessly as a dripping faucet.  Straight-faced, it callously reminds me that the hourglass is emptying faster than I can comprehend this new reality.  How could there be a world without Rob’s dad in it?
On Sunday we went to their little country cathedral where the church family hugged us, searched our faces, and told us not to give up hope.  In the evening, the home care nurse arrived, flicking syringes and asking hard questions while her brows knit together.  And the clock on the porch marked another half hour.
We spoke sadly of the future on our way to church. But the woman on the back pew told us to “fight, fight, fight!” as we sat down.  And the clock on the wall announced another hour while we were away.
There’s a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted, the Prophet said in Ecclesiastes.  At the end of the day, Dad belongs, after all, to the One Who loved him first and planted eternity in his heart.
Some cultures measure the passing of time by the moons. But the clock doesn’t care about celestial timepieces.  It runs on perpetual motion, never pausing for broken hearts who need a few more years with a father who can’t be replaced.
The ticking of the clock.  Maybe someday I’ll enjoy the sound again.  Just not . . . today . . .

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gator Breath

Talk about adding insult to injury.  That’s what happens when law enforcement follows the letter of the law right into an unholy state of stupid.  
A southwest Florida airboat captain was giving an Indiana family a tour of the Everglades last Tuesday, when he hung a fish over the side of the boat, his hand still at the water’s surface. Now that’s just not bright.  I live in the desert and even I know to keep my hands inside a boat at all times. 
Suddenly, an opportunistic alligator saw the two-for-one lunch special, grabbed at the fish, and bit off more than he could chew—yeah, that's right. The airboat captain lost his steering hand. It was later retrieved from the animal’s stomach after the animal was tracked and . . . dispatched.  Unfortunately, its  retrieval was too little too late.  Now it’s only useful to the captain as a souvenir of a very bad day.
A criminal investigation is pending.  Turns out it’s against the law to ‘hand feed’ the wildlife.  Offering food to alligators is a second-degree misdemeanor.
Bet he doesn’t make that mistake again.

I think he's suffered enough and they should drop the charges.  He did the crime, he paid the fine.  I say they should let bygones be bygones.
After all, that was one rude 'gator—everyone knows it’s not nice to bite the hand that feeds you.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Lucy Rose

“I want to see my Lucy rose,” he said, as we took a turn around the grass edged patio, and then walked behind the pool cage to the shell drive at the far end of the yard.

My beloved father-in-law is fighting the battle of his life. The meds keep him comfortable while his indomitable spirit urges him on.  This morning he wanted to walk outside in the fresh air.  While he put on his crocs, I quickly sandaled my own feet, took his hand, and helped him down the steps.

“Why is it called a Lucy rose?” I asked, as we shuffled together slowly toward the flower I’d never seen before.

“Lucy’s mother gave her this rose bush. Lucy gave me a clipping and I planted it here. On the first birthday after she died, it was completely covered in roses. It never bloomed on her birthday again.”

Lucy.  The second of the Bee Ridge Girls to pass away.  My mother-in-law still meets regularly with all her best friends from high school—the remaining four women from the Bee Ridge neighborhood she once lived in.  When Lucy died, the girls met together for dinner and played a Country Western song they promised to listen to in the absence of a regular memorial service.  They laughed and remembered the tiny, spunky redhead whose hairstyle long ago became a waist length gray braid, while “Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox If I Die” played in the background.

Still hand in hand, I walked Dad back to the house, helped him up the steps, and watched as he eased into his favorite blue chair in the corner of the sun room.  In a heartbeat he was asleep.  Resting. Dreaming. Fighting.

And the Lucy rose swayed in the breeze.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Slugs On A Porch


Overheard on the back porch this humid morning in Florida:

There’re some slugs eating the vanilla orchids out there.
I heard the way to get rid of slugs is to half bury a bottle of beer in the ground and then . . . .
A whole bottle of beer??
We just pour some in custard dishes . . .
. . . or a shallow pan . . .
. . . yeah, set ‘em around the yard, and they just crawl in. You’d be amazed how many you’ll find in there the next morning.
Me:  Do they just drown in the beer?
Yeah, they get so drunk they can’t climb back out again.
There’s nothing worse than a drunk snail.
Oh, I think they hyperventilate.  Their muscle relaxes and . . .
They gain so much weight drinking the beer that they have a heart attack.
The vast majority of drunk slugs die in accidents, like a near drowning.
The lesson here is don’t fill your pool with beer or you’ll become  a slug.  A drunk slug.
Yeah, nothing worse.

Duck Dynasty's got nothin' on Florida Cracker conversations.



THanks to LisaClarke's Photostream for the photo
http://www.flickr.com/photos/polkadotcreations/535239845/

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Speed Bump



So, we’re in Florida, visiting with family.  This particular city is a retirement Mecca, complete with drivers who have antique licenses, and homes that belong to the rich and famous.  The rich and famous think twenty-five miles an hour is a generous speed limit on major roadways. The rich and famous also have antique driver licenses.
And since money means power, and power listens to money, the powerful installed speed bumps the size of New Jersey on every road I like to use.  This does not make for a happy blogger.
We hit one of those bumps this morning at twenty-six miles an hour in our four wheel drive, and bruised both my kidneys.
“I don’t know why they call those ‘traffic calming devices’?   I’m not calm—now I’m irritated.”

“You’re not the traffic,” Rob said. “They calm traffic.”
“I am, too, the traffic,” I protested.
“No,” he said, “you’re the passenger.”
“Well, I’m in the car which is moving; therefore, I am the traffic,” I told him.
“No, the cars are the traffic,” he argued.
“Only because people inside the cars are driving them,” I retorted.  “If people are in the car, causing traffic, the people are the traffic.”
“Trust me,” he maintained, “you’re not the traffic.”
“Well, I’m not calm either.  So those bumps don’t do what they’re supposed to do at all.”
“In a perfect world they would,” he muttered. 
I may not understand street signs, but sarcasm is my native tongue.  So I stuck it out at the driver sitting next to me. 
And then I felt calm.
Whatd’ya know—those devices do work. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Truth In Advertising


There I was, barreling down the freeway, late as usual, doing . . . uh, the speed limit, like I always do, when I nearly sideswiped two cars in the lane right next to me. 
Rent A Tire:  Rent To Own Tire And Wheels”
There’s just no getting around a double-take for a sign like that.  Who rents a tire? A unicyclist?  A wheelbarrowist?  (Is that a word?) 
Now, I know the economy is bad.  People have lost jobs everywhere.  And the silver lining to that cloud is this—entrepreneurs now have a guilt-free opportunity to launch the million dollar idea their wives never believed in.
But come on.  What is the demographic who’ll buy into this? Prom dates trying to impress their girlfriends?  Robbery victims who come back to the parking lot after a movie and notice a wheel missing? I guess if you get a flat tire it might come in handy.  But honestly, that's what AAA is for - and they make house calls. 
And can you rent only one wheel at a time?  Or will you be forced to rent wheels in pairs just so they wear evenly?  Do wheels wear?
Curiosity got the best of me, so finally I went to the internet for answers.  I’m not saying the internet is any source of truth, but I figured it might look more legitimate if they had a website.  Then again, is every website legit?
I googled Rent A Tire.  That was enlightening.  A multi-colored wall of graffiti appeared with a tireless wheel rolling off all by itself.  But it was artsy fartsy.  And applying for a loan is so easy—just complete the online application and then bring it in with me to the dealership. . . wait. . . . bring in my laptop to the dealership?  For collateral??  That’s unclear. I’ll need to check on that.
They also want my driver’s license, my social security card, my current paycheck stub, my vehicle registration, and a utility bill.    That way they can clean out my bank account and take over my life in exchange for one to four questionable spheres of rubber.  It was beginning to look less and less desirable . . .
But the ad said my life will be so enriched if I ditch the wheels that came on my Tahoe and support this company.  If I have no credit, it’s no problem!  I can ‘live large’!  There’s even an enhanced on-line credit feature!  Double wow!  Wait til I tell my husband!
Imagine how that conversation would go.
“Hey, honey!  You know how we spent a thousand bucks on those overpriced Michelins last summer and then drove six thousand miles of tread off of them the same month?”
“Um hmm.”
“Well,” I continue, “we could have rented them instead.”
“Is that right. So, what happens if we miss a payment while we’re on vacation?” he wants to know. “Do they hunt us down with satellites and repossess our wheels during the night from the Motel 6 parking lot?”
“Oh, you’re always so negative,” I’ll say.
“What do they do with those repossessed tires?  Re-rent them as new with paperwork to match?  Is there an odometer setting somewhere to prove there are still 45,000 miles of tread left on them before I start shelling out my hard-earned cash to  . . who?”
“Just look at this testimonial!” I gush.  “Josie in Lugnut, Texas, said Rent A Tire hooked her up with some awesome wheels and tires!”
“I  don’t think we want wheels or tires from a place that advertises hookers,” he says.

“No, you misunderstood,” I continue.  “Look, here’s a guy named Vinny who said he comes to ‘rent a wheel because they hook me up and nice to me.”

“Yeah, well that’s not even a complete sentence,” he mutters, and changes the channel.

I still think there’s genius in this idea.  Maybe we could store our Michelins in the garage for the summer and rent four stand-ins from these guys.  That way, when those weird little groundhogs on the backroads I drive lose their suicidal game of dodgeball under my wheels, I won’t care about the gooey mess. 

I’ll just let Vinny take ‘em off my hands.  In broad daylight. With a lot of witnesses. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shadow Box

I made a shadow box today.  Filled it with priceless construction paper art made by my granddaughters.  With their little two- and four-year-old handprints now immortalized on a black velvet background, I added photos of them taken just this spring.  And then I hung it on the wall to enjoy for years to come.  A piece of time captured behind glass where nothing can disturb or change the view.
If only life were like that.  I wish I could hang on to the moments I share with the people I cherish.  I’d live every delightful moment over and over again until I wore out the CD of those memories in my heart.  I’d hold my loved ones in my arms, never letting life take them away from me.  I’d cherish the fragrance of their skin wafting up from every embrace, like a bouquet of roses. I’d never ache for the sound of their voice.
But you can’t capture life in still frames.  Babies are born and, before you know it, they’re bringing home report cards and boyfriends and diplomas and wedding invitations and birth announcements and . . .
The circle of life begins again.
When I was a young mother, I thought there would never come a day when I didn’t carry a baby on my hip.  But it came and went unnoticed.  Twenty years of childrearing seemed as eternal as the view from an infinity pool.  But those are both illusions.  It’s already been ten years since my youngest graduated high school.  Next week my oldest will celebrate the fifth anniversary of his wedding which just happened yesterday.
My husband told me once that “our song” is one Jim Croce made famous, “Time In A Bottle”:   
            If I could save time in a bottle . . .
            If words could make wishes come true,
            I’d save every day like a treasure, and then
            Again, I would spend them with you.
If only I could.  Then I wouldn’t fill shoe boxes with photos, or DVDs with videos, or keep re-saving the voice mails of my loved ones.  I’d never ever have to say    good-bye. 
Boxing with shadows, unable to hold on to moments or hugs or people.  For now, the best I can do is capture the shadows of memories behind glass until the day comes when I’ll never have to say good-bye again.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Paper Parade

Her Majesty, The Queen, is celebrating sixty years on the throne.
I’ve been watching some of her Diamond Jubilee on TV.  Aren’t they jumping the gun a little?  We make people wait seventy-five years before we proclaim their perseverance to be worthy of diamonds.  Then again, the English are flashier than we are.
One news anchor remarked, “The Brits sure know how to throw a party.”  And it looked like a theme party, too!  The parade route was decorated with hundreds of colorfully dressed women in oversized hats that wore them, and elaborate soldiers whose wooly mammoth headpieces could be a problem if the paths go under any low lying bridges. 
But the style of the Queen is flawless. She is dignified.  Stately. Classy.  Though she has advisors, she always knows exactly what is appropriate to wear for any event.  And her fashion gurus certainly do think ahead.  The hems of all her skirts and dresses are weighted so that no defiant gust of wind can ever reveal a royal rear end.  Brilliant. 

“We don’t want to see a flash of royal underwear,” a designer remarked.  Always covering their bases, those Brits.
The more they talked about the Queen, her sense of humor and her sense of modesty, the more I realized how true to my English roots I am.  I’m conservative.  Funny.  Loyal.  Bossy.  I like fish and chips.  I carry a purse.  I look good in hats.
But it was those weighted hems that snapped me back to reality.  That’s OCD taken to a whole new level. And even though I wear pants in public so I don’t have to worry about wayward breezes, I’ll still never be cautious enough to qualify for royalty. 
I have TPS—Toilet Paper Syndrome.
The memory of the day I was diagnosed still haunts me.  It was the end of a tiring road trip, four thousand miles long.  Three weeks away from home, we only had another two hours before returning to the comfort of our own beds again.  One potty break away from non-public toilets.  And one grocery store stop before dinner at home.
We made our pit stop, rolled on into the Valley, and parked at the local Safeway.  I grabbed a cart, headed first  for the dairy section at the rear of the store, and loaded up with bread and other necessities as I made my way back to the checkout counters.
Suddenly, an older woman appeared out of nowhere and threw an arm around my shoulders, like she was reuniting with an old friend.  Surprised, I looked into her eyes and tried to place her face.  Did I know her from church? Or the fire department? Was she a long lost great-aunt?  No, I was sure we’d never met. I couldn’t figure it out. 
She leaned in to tell me something in confidence while I tried to determine if I was being kidnapped or arrested.  Confusion written all over my face, I felt myself flush every shade of red as reality dawned and she whispered in my ear,
“Honey, there’s a piece of toilet paper hanging down from the back of your shorts.”
Something like this would never happen to a Royal.  They may wear birdhouses on their heads, but fluttery Charmin tails will never be in vogue.  
Don't worry. I'm coping with my disorder.  I know I'll never be the belle of the ball, but I'm happy to wait on the sidelines while the parade passes by.  You won't have any trouble spotting me, though. 

I'll be the one with the streamers.