February 19, 2013

JoJo the Bruce

A few months ago I went and broke my only rule.

Born of heartache and well-intentioned misdeed, this rule had served me well over the years.  It was especially designed to minimize frustration, expense, inconvenience and eventual heartbreak.  This rule had saved many lives . . . many innocent lives . . .

Only one rule . . . one lousy simple rule.  And I broke it.


It all started with a simple, sweet request from my beautiful daughter.  “Dad?  May I show you something?  It will only take a minute . . .”

This “something” turned out to be several pictures and two videos of a little Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix named Popcorn.  Before I could say anything my wife appeared out of nowhere to stand by my daughter’s side; a silent and foreboding apparition reminiscent of the Ghost of Christmas Future . . . Uncharacteristically silent I should add . . .

My blood ran cold.

Before I could muster a defense they cut off my flank with incisive precision, reinforcements arriving in the form of my son . . . my only son . . .

It was three against one and not just any three; my wife silent as the grave; my son willing to trade his inheritance for the mere pittance of approval from his mom and sister; and my daughter whose big blue eyes begged me not to fail her yet again.

“W-w-w-well,” I stuttered.  “Who’s going to take care of it?”

Weak you stupid idiot get ahold of yourself man

“Oh I will do everything Dad!” my daughter assured me.  “Feed him, bathe him and play with him!”

It sounded all too romantic so I decided to throw some poop in the fan.

“What about the dog crap?  Who’s going to clean that up?”

My daughter looked startled but before she could say a word my wife placed her hand lovingly on her shoulder, turned to me and said with finality, “Don’t worry about that I will help you.”

“W-w-w-well,” the stutter returned, “Isn’t this going to be expensive?  Can we afford a pet?”  My wife just smiled at me pityingly.  I had forgotten what a big heart she has and how generous she is with my money.

“No, honey, it won’t be expensive,” she assured me.  “Just $40 for shots and some dog food.  He doesn’t look like he could eat too much.”

So in the end love and generosity prevailed over cold logical reason.  Promises were made, commitments were forged and blood oaths were signed.

The kids wanted to name the dog JoJo which was fine by me as Jo is a family name.  And after witnessing the dog’s penchant for big black females ten times his size and his napoleon-like demeanor I tagged on the surname Bruce because he seemed so princely in a medieval Gaelic sort of way. And yes I realize that makes absolutely no sense . . .

Good bye Popcorn . . . Hello JoJo the Bruce . . .

And now after approximately $800 in expenditures (shots, license, neutering, medicine, doggy obedience school, sweaters, leashes, collars, play toys, blankets, bedding, costumes, inside kennel, outside doghouse, doggy treats and a year’s supply of food) and weeks and weeks of potty training he has become part of the family.

The chores have been divided up as fairly as possible with my wife doing most of the work while I take care of the poop and pay for stuff.  And the kids play with him sometimes.

Reflecting on all of this leaves me feeling lost and deserted.  I think I need a new rule.


November 25, 2012

God's Waiting Room (Part 2 of 2)

We pulled into Misty Meadows and I was immediately impressed.  The grounds were tidy, the scenery lush and the people friendly.  We toured the facility, met some of the locals and got the lay of the land.  Then while Dad was completing the check-in process we began making preparation for the move in.  This is when we had our first reality check.

 We had moved Dad out of his single-level home in under an hour.  But the path we had to navigate to move him in was a circuitous route from the parking lot, through two double doors, to an elevator, to the third floor and down a long hallway that looked like it could have been used on the set of The Shining.  “Wendy, I’m back!” – Jack Nicholson.


Alan and I looked at each other with our patented “it’s going to be a long day” look, took one deep breath each and got to work.

Hour one: It took a while to find a rhythm.  We learned to walk through the first set of double doors in order to hit the handicap button that was conveniently located on the inside for those handicaps who were trying to get in from the outside.  (I suppose this helped keep gangs of elderly handicapped people from storming the facility, but I think a deep moat full of alligators would have been more effective.)  Hitting the handicap button swung both sets of double doors open at the same time.  If you timed it right you could then walk back outside, pick up your load and scurry through before the doors closed back upon you.

Hour one (continued):  We learned that elderly people like to visit with two nice young men who don’t have anything better to do than move their Dad in and try to get the U-haul turned back before 5:00 p.m.  This wasn’t all bad because they soon instructed us to hit the “close” button on the elevator door immediately or we would be waiting longer than necessary.  I suppose this sort of thing is important to people who don’t have much time left.  Also, we learned that elderly people don’t mind sharing the same elevator with two hard working mover-boys several times in the same hour, probably because elevators are a great way to “capture an audience” as it were.

Hour one (still continued—it was a long hour): There was a game of Misty Meadows horse racing going on in the community room next to the elevators.  Several wooden horses were being propelled along the floor and the participants were betting Monopoly money on the outcome.  The winners could later redeem their cash for such luxuries as an extra piece of bread at dinner or 15 minutes of additional free time with the door to their rooms unlocked.

Hour two: I don’t typically perspire all that much, but by hour two I was sweating profusely.  The combination of the Sacramento Valley humidity and the fact Misty Meadows had their thermostat set on “geriatric” was almost more than I could bear.  Speaking of bare, I was tempted to take my long sleeve shirt off, but all I was wearing underneath was a tank top undershirt that my family affectionately refers to as a “wife-beater”.  So once again, political correctness prevailed over my comfort level, which seems to have become the story of my life.

Hour two (continued): A new set of obstacles appeared for us to navigate.  There was fresh meat in town and word had traveled fast.  Packs of elderly single ladies with precious little time to waste stalked Dad’s hallway like matronly cougars pursuing their prey.  Once they had him cornered they descended upon him like he was an innocent little 68-year-old.  For a second my mind wondered just what kind of freaky, shenanigans went on at Misty Meadows, but I realized whatever it was it would have to be over by 8:30 p.m. at the latest.

Hour three: One of the employees happened to notice my plight.  I don’t know if it was the way I was crawling along the floor that got her attention or maybe my gasps for air as I clutched my chest and prayed in Latin.  Either way she kindly mentioned to me that they had carts available I could use so I didn’t have to carry everything in my arms.  I replied that “No, I did not know that”.  She replied in turn, “Oh, I just thought you didn’t want to use them.”

Talk about mixed emotions.  But I think she may have literally saved my life so for that I am grateful.

Hour four: Job complete, Dad ensconced and boys tired.

We bid Dad a fond adieu.  It could have been a more meaningful, tearful and emotionally bonding moment but Dad was hungry and wanted to get to the dining room and sit with his new friends.   He walked away with joy in his stride and purpose in his heart, no longer in need of our services.  Alan and I decided to linger no longer.

We got the U-haul delivered back on time with no extra charges and we made it safely back over Donner Pass before the snow started to fly.


November 23, 2012

God's Waiting Room (Part 1 of 2)

Dad turned 81 this year.

After three trips to the hospital, four near car wrecks and the now infamous Walmart shopping cart incident, Dad has decided to scale back and embark on a new adventure as the newly installed resident of Misty Meadows Retirement Community; or as I like to  call it, God’s Waiting Room.

 The first step on this journey was to help Dad downsize his life.  Moving from his 1700 square foot two-bedroom, two bath home to a 450 square foot studio apartment would be no mean feat.  But his kids and grandkids stepped up to the plate and generously relieved him of the burden of his car, his furniture, his tools, his extra crockpot and just about anything else that wasn’t nailed down.

 But we left him his dignity.  It was the least that we could do.  The very least.

 The second step was to load up what was left of his belongings (bed, TV, computer, dresser, desk, recliner, microwave, toilet bowl scrubber, garbage can, two lamps “that’s all I need” – Steve Martin, two more chairs, framed pictures, bookshelf, luggage, clothes and boxes and boxes and more boxes of his stuff.  Or maybe that was all of Mom’s old stuff . . . You know the stuff she forbade him to part with after her death on threat of a good old-fashioned haunting . . .

Still it only took my brother Alan and me less than an hour to fill up a mid-sized U-haul truck.

The third step was to drive over Donner Pass to Roseville, CA.  Being the eldest and the responsible one I was worried about the weather and two approaching storms.  The first storm was currently dropping rain along the entire stretch and the second storm was threatening to drop the snow level to 6000’ by nightfall.  As the elevation of Donner is over 7200’ this could mean being stuck somewhere in the Sierra’s in the middle of the night.  “Donner, party of three . . . Donner, party of three . . .”

 But Alan wasn’t troubled by responsibility, having previously announced that we were going to be traveling at “Alan-speed” throughout the day, whatever that meant.  As son number three, Alan has never embraced the importance of increasing one’s stress level to the maximum in order to be an hour early wherever he goes.  At least not to the degree that Dad and I have.  And even though Alan has always been Dad’s favorite I blame Mom for his behavior; always have, always will.

Besides Dad was hungry and we needed to make a stop for fast food. Being the epitome of efficiency that he is Dad had managed to get his phone turned off and his car turned over to his granddaughter three days too soon.  So when he ran out of food two days earlier than planned he had been forced to subside on a bag of Fugi apples and a block of cheese.  Of course this didn’t stop us from rejoicing over the fact that we didn’t have to pack any food stores into the van.

Alan and I flipped a coin to see who would get to ride with Dad.  I won so Dad hopped in the U-haul with Alan and I jumped into my Jeep and cranked Pandora radio to my favorite station. 

I told Alan I would drive behind him in case he had trouble with the weather, but I had forgotten that he had utilized his fancy Army Airborne training as a truck driver in South Korea.  He drove that U-haul so fast over the pass that even Mom’s spirit had a difficult time keeping up.  He soon lost me and by the time we had reached our destination he was a full fifteen minutes ahead.

 The fourth step was to get Dad moved in . . . To be continued . . .

November 19, 2011

Reflections on Leaves

Our front porch is littered with leaves; a multi-hued memorial to yesterday’s beauty.  Each leaf a singular event, separate yet connected to the whole.  Their color fades with my memory of what was, leaving nothing but a brittle skeleton to remind me that life is short and nothing temporal lasts forever.

I am disquieted . . .

But I am not going to sweep them away.  I like how they look, the natural disarray so contrary to my organized and controlled life.  The desire to write about these leaves has haunted me for days, yet I fear spewing forth mundane and cliché thoughts on depression, decline and death.

The trees let go of their past glory and the leaves fall, though some stubbornly cling to the branches in a futile attempt to resist the changing season.  Yet death is not so much an end as it is a beginning, a step towards metamorphosis; a preparation for rebirth.

Leaves spread along the ground like rose petals on the bridal path . . .

Leaves cushioning the journey like palm branches strewn before the humble king . . .

These leaves represent my memories and I long to be the child who merrily rakes the dead fragments into piles and jumps upon them with joy, a carefree scattering to the wind.

November 12, 2011

An Attempt to Write . . . Something . . .

I like to write.  I want to write.  I don’t write.  These days I find inspiration to be as rare as a periodical not featuring Kim Kardashian though not quite as rare as a decent Presidential candidate. 

Life has wrapped her bony fingers around my neck, thumb securely placed in the hollow of my esophageal track, increasing pressure so slowly that my oxygen-deprived brain has atrophied unaware. 

And Spotify doesn’t seem to hold the answer . . .

Choosing each word is an effort; a sentence forms as painfully as a crowning newborn.  To write a long paragraph would be to endure a lifetime of grief.

Question: How do I find my inspiration again?  Do I need a muse? A therapist?  A young priest and an old priest?

My reverie interrupted by Love of Lesbian singing Los Colores De Una Sombra  . . . the colors of a shadow indeed . . . how fitting . . . Throw me another bone Spotify . . .

Kathleen Norris in her book The Cloister Walk discusses the designation of “despair” as an aspect of the sin of pride.  She states, “I find this designation enormously helpful.  Among other things it defeats my perfectionism, my tendency to give up when I can’t do things ‘just right’.  But if I accept the burden of my despair . . . then I also receive the tools to defeat it.  I have a hope that no modern therapeutic approach can give me.”

To piggyback onto Kathleen’s eloquent words, some days I realize the greatest sin I could commit would be to give up.  So I don’t . . .

Random thought: How do you tell a crazy man he is crazy?  Does he know he’s crazy?  If I were crazy would I know it?  Crazy has compared to what?  Some social norm I had no say in formulating?

Spotify once again saves the day with Cults singing You Know What I Mean:  “Tell me what’s wrong with my brain cuz I’ve seemed to have lost it.”

Took a break from writing to read an article written by mi amigo Louie located here.

Rediscovering thankfulness could be just the ticket . . . After all a wise VeggieTale video once instructed me, “A thankful heart is a happy heart” . . .

Let the quest for thankfulness begin as I take up the sword against the dragons of cynicism, doubt and hopelessness . . . Die you bitches . . .

October 30, 2011

A Time to Reflect?

Sometimes I receive life-coaching from the mundane . . .

The other day I noticed a shiny new Autumn-esque poster at my favorite Starbucks that read, “Fall back in to just a little time to sit and reminisce”.

A few days later I picked up a book entitled, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster. I read a chapter called The Prayer of Examen. The word “Examen” (hence examination) is from the Latin and refers to the tongue, or weight indicator, on a balance scale; thus conveying the idea of an accurate assessment of the true situation.

And then today (and out of the blue) a friend gave me a copy of the book, The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, a pseudo-memoir about her experiences in a Benedictine monastery.

Hmmmmm . . . perhaps I should consider taking some time out of my day to mediate and reflect on my life . . .

I want to reflect. I want to meditate. I want to find the key that unlocks the door leading to peace of mind. But there’s a problem . . .

I suffer from benzo-induced tinnitus; a constant ringing in my head (ears?) that varies in intensity depending on a variety of factors. And it is consistently at its worst when I am at rest or trying to be at rest, as it were.

I have suffered from this malady for close to two years now and there seems to be no relief in sight. I have learned mainly to ignore it, however it can sometimes make me cranky with those I love the most and it certainly interferes with any attempts to enjoy the “peace and quiet”. Or pray. Or meditate. Or reflect on my life. Or just be . . .

So the burning question in the face of all this is what to do next. I suppose I will take a deep breath and just give it the old college try and see what happens . . . Frustrating to say the least . . .

Or maybe I should just read my new book first and take it from there. Yes, that sounds more plausible. Good planning based on useful information certainly can’t hurt.

August 10, 2011

Adventures In a Taco Bell Drive Thru

It was decided against my better judgment (as per usual) to treat the kids to Taco Bell instead of the superior Del Taco feast. There’s just no accounting for taste . . .

As I get custody of the wife’s H3 on the weekends, I wheeled the mighty rig into the drive thru line, spotted an opening and darted ahead. Unfortunately the incessant chatter emanating from the interior of the vehicle distracted my otherwise stellar focus, resulting in me bringing the H3 to a stop some two car lengths past where one typically places the order.

I mumbled a four letter word . . . “oops” . . .

My first instinct was to back up so I quickly scanned my rearview mirror for obstacles. Lo and behold the driver behind me had noticed my dilemma (presumably aided by the peace and tranquility emanating from the interior of his own vehicle) and had stopped one full car length ahead of the speakers.

I backed up, placed the order then pulled ahead to the pick-up window. Feeling grateful for the courtesy just afforded me I decided to express my thanks in an unusual way.

I paid for my order than told the Taco Bell servant I wanted to pay for the car behind me. She looked surprised and made me repeat my request. She asked me if I was sure and I explained to her what had just happened. She told me the amount. I paid her. She looked pleased. She commented how fun this was and that she would enjoy passing on the good news to her next customer.

I felt good. My wife felt good. My kids felt good. The servant felt good. And the family in the back was about to feel real good. That was quite a return for a few measly bucks.

Our Taco Bell lunch tasted a little better than normal that day . . .

Yay me . . .