Depression is contagious. Fortunately, there are now squirrels for that!
I read an article today by a mom who describes herself saying, “When Did I Become Broken?” As she lists, point-by-point, her mental health challenges, I find myself lifting an imaginary glass saying, “Amen sister!”* After summing up the depressing qualities of life as a single mom with autism flavorings, I am thoroughly gruntled.
But, like the mom above, I too am enjoying the thrills of DBT Therapy. I decide to do a homework assignment and galump outside—grumbling the entire way, thinking “f*ck positivity” and dragging behind me a thick cloud of despair like a cloak of wet cement.
As I practice breathing–inhale, hold breath for a few seconds, breathe out–my eyes close and I felt the sun hit my face like a welcoming benediction. I muscle past the pain of echoed despair and drift toward the nearby farmer’s market.
On the way, I pass the same corner house I always do–the one with the scraggly white fence and a host of plants trying to escape through the wide, chipped painted slats. An enormous maple tree dominates the front corner and I am further distracted from my gloomy funk by the chittering of a familiar friend.
High in a crook of the tree, the squirrel gives me a concerned look–the kind that just invites you to start talking to him.
“Look at you! So brave. So bold. Not bothered by me in the least.”**
The squirrel is all nonchalance, flicking his head up and back down to me as if he has pressing things to do and I’d better cut to the chase.
I’m admiring his calm when the dog in the house intrudes on our conversation:
No doubt the dog is letting me know I am in imminent danger of doggy justice…just as soon as he figures out how to use the doorknob. I think he also told off the squirrel, but I might just be imagining the eye roll the squirrel gave me.
“You are certainly braver than me.” I tell the squirrel. “I know he’s behind glass and I’m still scared of that dog!”
The squirrel gives me the bush-tailed equivalent of “What Evs” and scampers away.
I make my way to the farmer’s market which is closing up its stalls slowly enough I am able to grab an impulse cabbage and a bag of reasonably priced Honey Crisps. Just before I leave, I snatch up a tiny pumpkin for 75 cents.
Back at the office, I place my orange gourd du season on the desk and realize, I’m feeling better–not fixed 100%–but definitely better. I have to wonder that no one has figured out a way to use squirrels as therapy animals.
So, if you haven’t heard from me in a while, don’t worry. I’m working through some issues. And if anyone asks, I’ll be with the squirrels. Apparently, it’s all the rage:
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*All beverages quaffed on this blog will be imaginary unless otherwise designated. They also will come with tiny umbrellas and fruity names like: “Divine Intoxication Infused with Chocolate Dreams.”
**No, I did not say “Squeak….squeak…chitter…squeak.” I do not speak squirrel. What kind of idiot do you take me for?
***Or words to that effect. I don’t speak dog either. But I can recognize “Fuck you and the horse you road in on!” in many languages.
_____________ You Read This Far Bonus_________________
You want to read more about squirrel potential? Great! Look no further than a nomination for president to be found at:
I highly approve the furry-tailed candidate’s promise to make therapy squirrels available to everyone! The no-parole until they graduate stance on children’s education might be a mite rigid. But, his nutty stand on gun control will at least make you smile.
On the heels of my last post “Tempest in a Teapot, ” today follows the story with an introductory Haiku—poorly crafted poetry that tries to sum up a day in seventeen syllables:
As tea steeps, rain weeps
Water fills both bowl and sky
Prepare to drink deep.
I leave the Japanese Tea House buoyed with happiness and a certain sense of rightness with the world. It doesn’t last long.*
I take my complimentary shocking-yellow umbrella from our Meijer Garden’s guide—I almost bow from recently-acquired habit—and pause to pose in front of a font for a photo. (Hit *like* if you love alliteration.)
As I am leaving, the guide casually mentions that a ‘storm’ is headed this way and I should make sure to head in by 2:00.
I scramble around the larger Japanese Garden to admire the lush-to-the-point-of- heaving-bosoms blooming flowers in the rain. I ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ a few of them with dew-laden close-ups. I might have asked a few of them to “Come on, show a little stamen and pistil.”**
I stalk the Bonsai garden—a human sequoia in a land of miniature conifers. I took several snaps of the plump, if bruised, pear growing on its tiny parent. It struck me funny that I was giving produce the paparazzi treatment when I pass it up with barely a blink at our local grocery store. (I am high on centuries of tradition, what can I say? I am a wild woman.)
The rain is steady–not too heavy but definitely a presence. My shadowy, wet companion. At one point, I am juggling the umbrella and trying to photograph the Korean Hornbeam*** when I drop my iPhone. Fortunately, it hits the rocks glass-side up, or I’d be crying in the rain.
I stop in the rock garden on my way out. The nearly invisible poetry etched into the massive boulders is made visible by the downpour.
RAIN FALLING IN SPRING
AND I AM SORRY
NOT TO BE ABLE TO WRITE
I’m eating lunch in the Meijer Gardens’ café, surrounded by raindrop streaked windows and Chihuly glass installment on the ceiling, when I turn my phone back on to check for messages. There is a mildly alarming inquiry about my son from the babysitter, so I call to check on him.
That’s when I get the news…they are in the basement…there is a tornado alert for the area. I should seek shelter.
We exchange a few frantic words before I head to the front desk.
“Uh, are you all aware that there is a tornado alert?” I whisper this as if I’d cause a stampede if overheard.
The huddle of women with grey-to-frosty-white hair helmets look up from an iPad and confirm they’re tracking its progress.
“Don’t worry. We’ll let everyone know if we need to move to the shelters in the basement.”
I shrug, I’ve done my part. But in my head, I’m thinking. “Don’t tornados move pretty fast?” I make my way to the basement to grab a seat before anyone else does. Because…priorities!
Pretty soon, everybody else with an iPhone or other device is making their way down there ahead of an official announcement. If there is ever another mass extinction it will be because someone decided to wait until they were sure disaster was heading in their direction before taking action.
It’s getting crowded and suddenly all of our phones are going off announcing the approach of the storm. The officials finally make it official and start herding people into the area that is the ‘actual’ storm shelter. (Apparently they don’t consider a need for access to plumbing with the same level of urgency I do.) A service door leads to an unfinished concrete cavern filled with twists and turns and lots of unused equipment and staging material. We are urged to move as far back in the space to make room for everybody. I’m surprised by how calmly everyone is taking this. Inside I wonder if we really ought to be more concerned.
I spy a few of the people I ran into while walking the garden. I’m glad they made it back—but I do wonder about the second tea ceremony that was supposed to start at 2:00. There is a really evil part of me that whispers “Aren’t you glad you signed up for the first showing at 11:30!”
I pass members of a wedding party, one of the women is still holding a glass/candle concoction which would be an excellent thing if anyone wanted a light. (I see a future market for wedding planners —decorative flourishes that function as emergency provisions in the event of a disaster.)
I finally choose a spot that circles back to a secondary exit. There is light spilling in from the corridor so it isn’t totally scary if it is a bit cold.
Across from me a family—two grandparents, a family friend, and two children—are trying to get comfortable on the floor. I look around. Nearby there are folded chairs and a huddle of employees who, by their uniforms, work in the kitchens upstairs.
“Would it be okay if we got out the chairs?” I ask one of them. I have to repeat myself because it appears the young man isn’t used to actually talking with the visitors to the Gardens.
Minutes later, our area is much cozier with scattered seating. I quash any guilt I might feel because the woman across says, “Oh, that’s so much better.”
We exchange a few pleasantries before settling into a tense wait-and-see. The children are scared. You can tell by the way they clutch the toys they’ve brought with them. I honestly don’t feel that much fear—probably because I have no clue what kind of damage a storm like this can do. You see…
I am a tornado virgin.
I have never lived through any major storm—beyond the huge snow storm of 78’ when I was a child. And all I remember from that week was the isolation—school was canceled and we were unable to leave because the roads couldn’t be plowed. (One of the joys of living rurally.) I do recall my brothers and I deciding that the four-foot drifts were an invitation to jumping off the roof and sinking over waist deep in snow. We had to swivel back and forth to worm our way out. Oh, I’ve had to hide in a few basements on occasion, but they had always turned out to be false prophecies. So, I had a cocky optimism that this time wouldn’t be any different.
Minutes creep past. The littlest girl across from me is crying with that suppressed sob-hiccup combination that can be so cute even when they are earnest tears. I can’t make out what she is upset about other than it involves someone or something called…Balthazar?
So, I ask. Partly to hopefully distract the child and, well, because I am curious.
“Who is Balthazar?”
The little girl blinks tear drenched lashes and utters a nearly incomprehensible string of words:
“I…I…he’s…I left him…and…he’s in danger. I…I…what will…I do…if…” She trails off with more tears and no doubt a snuffly nose.
Her grandmother brushes a strand of hair away from her flushed pink face and leans toward me.
“It’s her toy…I think it’s called Bulbasaur. Or something like that.”
“It’s Bulbazar, Grandma!” This comes from the second little girl ensconced on the other woman’s lap.
A discuss pops up about the pronunciation, but Grandma shakes her head.
“No, I think it has S.A.U.R. at the end—like a dinosaur.”
“What exactly is a Bulbasaur?” I ask.
If I had known the torrent of information that was about to rain down on me, I might have tried to save myself. But then, again, there was no Wi-Fi signal and there really wasn’t anything else to do. So, I took an unscheduled course in Pokémon 101. The little redhead across from me apparently had a masters if not a doctorate.
At one point, she tells me her name is “Kay”
(Names changed just because.)
I tell her, “My name starts with a ‘K’ too!” She beams at me; we are now friends for life.
She points to her sister, “That’s Dee.”
“I recognize that is Pokémon.” I say, pointing to the yellow pillow-type thing Dee is holding as if someone were threatening to take it from her. Then I point to whatever lump is in Kay’s hands. “But what is that?”
Kay giggles. She holds up a lumpy, terry-clothed thing.
“It’s a towel! ‘Cause I did a ‘Dee’!”
And then she plops the thing against the side of her head.
Of course. This make perfect sense. No doubt my expression says as much.
Her grandmother laughs and explains. “She bumped her head earlier and they got her a cloth with ice in it.”
Kay holds back her bangs to reveal nary a bruise. The ice must have done its job or the strawberry hair is hiding the evidence. Kay is now picking through the washcloth and slips a sliver of ice into her mouth with her grandma none the wiser.
Grandma smooths the bangs again, adding, “Anytime we bump our heads, we say we are doing a Dee because she used to run into all sorts of corners and things when she was little.”
Kay pipes up again and points to her sister. “Yeah she bumped her head a lot! So we say ‘We did a Dee.’”
Everyone is nodded and smiling. Then Kay adds, “And when we fart we say we did a ‘Kathy’. Because Grandma farts a lot!” And she points back at her grandmother, who is now laughing—though a tiny bit mortified by this announcement.
Grandma Kathy murmurs something about maybe sharing too much information but she isn’t really mad and her granddaughters know it because they are both laughing, snuggled safe in loving arms.
Kay pops back up from this to launch into a detailed explanation of Bulbasaur’s relationship to Pokémon.
I learn there is something called the Rocket Team—and they are definitely bad guys. And someone named Ash who spends a lot of time in the gym.
The grandma throws in a comment to clarify a point Kay is trying to make with hand gestures that look like something is exploding.
“The Pokémon can evolve.” She says.
But into what is never clearly explained. I picture something like a Transformer—which is my cultural experience with toys that are more than meets the eye—but rounder and cuter.
I learn that the Pokémon can fight. That Pikachu has a secret weapon—something called a ‘Thunder Shock.’ And here, Kay puffs out her cheeks and demonstrates:
“His cheeks blow out really loud and he says, ‘Pikachuuuuuu!”
Apparently this devastates his enemies.
The girls are laughing and chatting back and forth when all of our phones go off at once.
Some of the alerts are voiced announcements notifying us of a Tornado alert in our area and to seek shelter. There is something really unnerving about the shrill cacophony of notes chiming throughout the cement block room. No one is laughing now.
There is a human instinct to huddle. To crouch low as if to make a smaller target. I find myself looking at the little girls across from me shrinking back and arms that had been holding them loosely now tightened. Reassurances are whispered and Grandpa is a stoic figure who rarely says a word but is a calm presence in the face of the unseen.
I try to comfort them, knowing I am helpless to be there for my own son tucked in the basement with a babysitter who definitely deserves more than I pay her.
“So, the alarms are like the ‘Thunder Shock’ Pikachu makes. It’s just a reminder to be careful.”
Then a little girl in a frilly dress toddles past and loses a bow. The pink ribbon falls near my feet and I seize the opportunity.
“Look she lost her bow. That’s a bow alert!”
Kay is delighted by this idea. When an oblivious little boy in an adorable suit trundles through bumping into nearly everything in his path, she calls out, “Baby Alert.”
Soon Kay is reciting once again the episodes and even an entire theme about her favorite TV characters. She sings some sort of anthem—it went on for about seven verses—and it is too fast and her voice is too high for me to do more than pick out one word in ten.
I’m reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad is listening to the baby sea turtle explain the way to get to the East Australian current. After the pipsqueak voice winds down, Marlin says:
“You know, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you are saying! Say the first thing again.”
For whatever else I miss, I understand that this language is helping Kay and Dee to deal with a frightening situation. No one can call out. All attempts to text and get replies are blocked by the surrounding concrete cocoon that keeps us safe from tornados as well as causing wireless signal fatigue. So, while we sit and try not to worry about the ominous thumps we occasionally hear overhead—we share our stories to distract each other.
Instead of spending our moments anticipating whooshing air signifying imminent destruction, we find the strength to laugh, to find the humor and our humanity in the darkness.
Eventually, the crowds that had been loitering near raw plywood and collapsed tables usually only seen fully clothed with the ruched skirts to protect the legs’ modesty, start to part. People drift away and cheers go up as we realize the danger is past. With very little fanfare, the crisis is over.
I say goodbye to the girls and soon the crowd separates us. We are all ready to be done with the claustrophobic space.
The wedding party is making its way back to their celebration. I spot a woman who is still clutching her slice of wedding cake. I can’t help but comment on her foresight.
“Well, I didn’t want to miss out if it was gone when we got back!” she says with a smile.
“I am just surprised you didn’t eat it while waiting.”
“I didn’t have time to grab a fork,” she replies.
I laugh, “A little thing like that wouldn’t have stopped me!”
Before we part, we agree, this is a wedding no one is likely to forget!
Outside, there is little evidence that a major storm front has gone through.
“Another much ado about nothing!” I think.
It’s not until I am nearing home that I spot the devastation. Trees that had survived sixty to a hundred years of bad weather were torn and scattered on front yards and crushing cars and houses like giant match sticks dropped by a careless hand. I’m not even a mile away from home and it suddenly strikes me how close it came. How violent the winds had to have been to snap oaks and other hard wood like dry kindling. I later learn this was a weak system–only a category EF-0. I don’t want to ever see what something stronger could do.
My house and family are fine–two city blocks west of the path of destruction. I pay the sitter and she shrugs off the seven-hour ordeal caused by our separate vigils in the dark. Thankfully, my son was totally oblivious of any danger.
I didn’t really face the dragon—but I felt his breath on my neck. I survived his reign of terror and I can imagine how differently things could have turned out.
Thus ends my tale. The only thing left is an appreciation for Japanese culture which creates a tea to feed the soul and a Pokémon to calm the tempest in the pot.
I leave you with a final haiku:
Trees dance and bow low
Thunder applauds with fierce claps
Making dancers fall
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
* It never does
**Floral porn, take one—“Come on, you know you want to bee pollinated!”
***You were expecting a dragon ala Harry Potter, weren’t you?
We cross Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI and discover exactly how big the ‘Great Waters’ really are. Overly excited child keeps a thrilled eye on the cars and even boats being loaded onto the S.S. Badger. The ferry has a proud history serving transit needs of travelers on the lake. I’d tell you all about it, but people took up the space in the history lounge sleeping on every surface, making it hard to take notes. This is our first non-vomitous boat ride (for child and, by extension, me). Hurray for Bonine and sea bands.
Deposited in Manitowoc around noon (we crossed a date line so I’m can’t remember if it was Michigan or Wisconsin noon) we head to a park recommended by a fellow blogger!* Fritse Park is well worth the bizarre detour from the highway—I think I took seven turns in about two miles. The playground is impressive, though my twelve-year-old apparently had reservations about the incredibly long slide built into a hill. We walked the bridge that spans two cities and enjoyed the view and the stern breeze which threatened to swallow my hat until I just clutched it there and back. I’m just glad I hadn’t read this article before visiting.
It was a brief stop on our journey to Wautoma where we traveled the back roads to find relatives who live so far off the grid, the GPS tracker wished us good luck and shut itself off. A home-cooked meal of cheese sandwiches and salad and a nice long conversation about mutual relatives and photo admiration capped the day. On the way to our cheap-but-clean accommodations at Motel 8 a giant rainbow spanned the sky as if welcoming us to a brighter, more beautiful journey than the one we set out on the day before.
Day 3: I see dead people. Lots of dead people.
Two cemeteries and about three photo albums worth of ancient German heritage abounds in Merrill, Wisconsin. A lie on Ancestry is revealed and I am scandalized that someone co-opted the wrong grave markers to claim a heritage that isn’t ours. Either that, or my distant cousin, Lee, is wrong. But with his facility at naming generations of Krueger/Latzig family members, I doubt it. That he visits the graves weekly and tends their flowers suggests he had more vested in the memorial than just capturing a photo, like I have. (See photos below of the true headstones.)
We visit a former convent/girls school to reminisce with one of the last matriarchs of my father’s generation—Joan. She is 87 and, despite admitting she has memory loss, seems pretty sharp and witty during our visit. She even tolerated my giant twelve-year-old sprawling on the tiny floor of her assisted-living quarters. She shows off the photo albums she compiled. In them, pages and pages of documents identify the family tree. I see pictures of my father in his infancy and grandfather dressed for hard work, welding pipeline in unidentified states. I meet new relatives in grainy black and white and faded Kodachrome color. The photo album’s shiny pages make for poor copying, but I do my best to snap pictures on my cell phone. There is a comforting sameness to the faces—sturdy, kind, loving. Family.
Day 4: Get up and enjoy continental breakfast at Quality Inn & Suites, Menominee, WI. Son insists he wants to swim, so we wait the half-hour for it to open and he dips in it for about 5 minutes before saying, “All Done.”
I review our options and consider a nature walk, until I step out and see the rainy weather. Oh well, we did make a stop at a really good gas station.** If you haven’t heard of these, Kwik Trip was just about the best gas station I’ve had the pleasure to stop. So, here are pictures of its glorious selection. May you all be so lucky in your travels.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I will happily give credit to said blogger, just as soon as I figure out who it was.
**You may take pictures of your cultural landmarks and famous fountains. Me? I’m impressed with a gas stop that has fresh produce and every recharger you could hope to find in stock!
Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement. Welcome to a journey I’m calling “The unintended road trip on the serendipitous path of lung-wrenching discovery.”
It is the Fourth of July and the crabby son needs quelling; so into the car we hop. My child barks directions: “left,” “straight,” “more” from the back seat. We drive south along Highway 196 headed nowhere in particular–when someone suggests ice cream.*
We brave the lovely town of Saugatuck packed to the gills with red-white-and-blue spangled holiday goers. Quirky shops nestle along the Kalamazoo River. While the pre-teen scarfs gelato as if I hadn’t fed him in weeks, I manage a quick interlude at the Saugatuck Tea Company. Decorative teapots and art-inspired mugs lure shoppers in. A huge Russian Samovar painted in bright, enameled colors squats in a corner behind a room divider–the space manages to be bright and airy despite its modest dimensions.
In addition to tea paraphernalia, one entire wall offers loose-leafed teas with elaborate names like ‘Dragon Tears’ and ‘White Monkey Paw.’ I exchange words with the proprietress. She waves me to the wall of glass jars and lets me sniff the various contents. When I mention a favorite tea I purchase from a rival gang Teavana and how expensive it is, she suggests I get the list of ingredients next time I’m there and she can try to reproduce the results.
After smuggling my score out of the store in an attention-getting paisley bag, my child and I meander. With no great plans, we are unbound by expectation. It is very carefree and relaxing. I suspect this is what leads to the eventual cacophony epiphany to come.
We pass the gazebo in Wick’s Park and I can’t help myself, I have to stop and photograph the beautifully painted cinder block building that houses the public restroom. Who wouldn’t want to pee here?
Then, it is along the water to the nearby point of local interest–the chain link ferry. I brought my son here many years ago, when he was just a little guy. In a fit of nostalgia, I drag him to recreate the experience.
College students busk for tips, joke with passengers, and lure small children into photo ops turning the hand crank that churns the small boat across the river on a rickety chain. It is a swift journey and we are deposited on the other side to seek the experience that will make our day: the climb to Mount Baldhead.
As we leave the small boat, the crew encourages us to: “Be careful as we disembark.” And in passing, they say, “Oh, enjoy the 302 steps up! Don’t worry, it doesn’t get hard until the last two!”
Join me in the ascent. And like the experience itself, I will let the view speak for me…mostly because I am wheezing and turning magenta as I make my way up the vertiginous climb.
My son quickly leaves me in the dust. He prances ahead a spastic, loping blur of red–I am struck by the fanciful notion that for once, the sun/son rises in the West. Hypoxia sets in very quickly it seems.
As if climbing a sheer-faced cliff, the higher up I get, the less oxygen there seems to be–despite the valiant effort my lungs make imitating a wounded bellows. I get dizzy by the fourth flight and feel as though the signposts are talking to me***:
Cautionary warnings mark the trail, if only you know where to look:
I pause frequently to admire the view/find peace with the inevitability of death.
Before long, the signs of the prophets speak their words of wisdom–no subway walls required:
Many have come before us…
Some found love to hold and keep them strong–quite recently it seems:
Some return with their love to mark the passage and constancy of their union:
Some are a bit defiant about it:
Step-by-gasping-step, life lessons are revealed…though the truth is somewhat debatable:
Some who wander the path share their pain with the world:
She has a lot in common with a fellow traveler:
And then, there is the impetuous voice of youth speaking to the ages:
The stair treads pass slowly. I pause more frequently and try not to feel as if one quick shove would send me over the edge. The signs urge me on….
I reach the top victorious where my son hands me his lemonade to open. I stagger over to admire the view which is truly spectacular–if somewhat buried in the surrounding trees.
I get mere minutes to enjoy the splendid view before my child hares back down the path as if gravity has no greater significance than a propellant to urge him onward. I am more cautious–and cognizant of how difficult it would be to get a gurney up to retrieve my broken ass if I fell.
There you have it. Wooden aphorisms mark a trail for the intrepid explorer to follow. You can be your own Magellan–circling the world to find answers to life questions. You can take the wisdom of others–picking and choosing to see what fits.
You can wear your epiphanies on your chest–much like my son’s perspicacious porcine persuasion.
Or you can wander off the path to make new discoveries and record them in out-of-the-way places to be discovered or not as the universe sees fit.
As for me, I follow the signs that speak to my heart:
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*It might have been me.
**I now have ‘connections’–so, if you need some prime, illicit loose leaf, you know who to call.
***Actually, I did not see most of these signs until I was making my way back down. Call it ironic hindsight.
And for those of you caring folks out there who wonder how this kind of thing happens, when your child turns down ice cream, recognize it as the sign from the universe it is and get him home tout suite.**
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote*
*So far, the only thing the Febreze products have managed to do is stun me for a short period of time. Whenever I turn up the A/C, my nose feels like it has been punched by a Midnight Storm.
I am the proud owner of a new Toyota Prius V. Or rather, I’m very close to being a proud owner. Unlike horseshoes and hand grenades, being close to owning a car isn’t very satisfying. (Although, one could make an argument that having hand grenades explode isn’t desirable either. I guess it depends on whether you are on the receiving end of that exchange.) This is why I am grateful for pastries. Allow me to explain.
Last week Wednesday, I’m anticipating the joy/terror of getting a brand new car.* I am giddy after finally making up my mind (despite the pressures of family and friends to pick almost any other vehicle) to buy a Toyota Prius V. Blue. It must be blue. In a delighted state of anticipation, I walk to the nearest bakery on my lunch hour to indulge in taste-testing a champion cupcake. Chocolate. It must be chocolate. Cakabakery won awards** for being able to stand the hot lights of fame and produce magical muffins on the Food Network Cupcake Wars bake-off. I had to try these puppies. Victory never tasted so sweet. As it turns out, I celebrated a bit too prematurely.
It’s Thursday, I’ve just signed over the contents of my checking account and put a hefty balance on my Visa when the nice car guru takes me out to teach me all the confusing knobs and dials I need to learn to be able to drive my car***
Guru: “And this button here will interface with the satellite to allow you to revisit 70’s music.”
Guru: “Why does it need to interface with a satellite?”
Me: “Why would I want to listen to 70’s music? Living through that era was bad enough.”
As you can see, it was going swell. Then she tried to swipe the magic screen developed by Hogwarts School of Engineering when…nothing. The screen locked up. For the next two hours, the fine folks at the Toyota dealership tried to figure out why. Time passed…slowly. I was dropped off to buy the car so I have no way of demanding my money back and stalking out, not unless I want to walk the sixty or so miles home and my phone battery is nearly dead. My blood sugar drops as my ire increases. To save the lives all around me, I walk to the nearby Rykse’s Bakery and Restaurant for lunch. After enough chicken salad to pacify a slavish horde, I purchased a cookie for my son. This bakery makes great things, one of which is iced cookies that they number with frosting (for no real reason I can see). My son loves numbers. I pick out a six—at least one of us will be happy. I’m walking back to the dealership, cookie balanced atop my leftover, when it happens. The cookie flies off and hits the ground. The cookie cracks; the number six is now just a sad suggestion of its former numeric self and I learn my brand new car will need to be fixed.
I really want to cry.
Broken pastry in hand, I finally leave the dealership with the loaner car and a strong longing to never return. Except they have my car. My blue, blue car. Sigh…blue, blue me.
To assuage my grief, there were more cupcakes to be had. This time, I hit the Cupcakes by Design people in Grandville, MI. These confections had a ratio of at least 75% frosting to 25% cake. If you like frosting, this place is for you. I snatched a caramel, mocha chocolate and a chocolate brownie cupcake to taste test at home. (Some crises call for a double-chocolate antidote.) If I have to suffer, the upside will come glazed or slathered in frosting. That’s just the way I roll. (Emphasis on roll.) Defeat has never tasted so good.
Tuesday I went to yoga and discovered the downside to a combination of cupcakes and Netflix binging.
Today, I have survived nearly a week of car nebulosity and will be returning to the dealer to—hopefully—pick up the newly repaired, blue beauty. And if it isn’t fixed? Well, sometimes, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*New car smell is immediately washed away by the stench of anxiety waiting for that first dent.
For those of you who enjoyed the past holiday weekend…bite me. For anyone else who spent the day at an emergency med center making sure your child hadn’t broken or permanently damaged any part of his body, join me in a moment of reflection.
Can you remember before you had the awesome responsibility of parenting? Can you think back that far? (You could be a parent for all of thirty seconds, and still the crushing realization that you are now responsible for a life beyond your own will be smacking you in the face…hard…like Mike Tyson in the final round, testosterone-flared-nostrils-in-your-face hard.) Do you remember what that life before was like? Seriously, what was it like? Oh, wait, now I remember. It was freedom. That’s what it was. Glorious freedom. Those days are gone.
I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I can tell you, after this past Fourth of July, I’d really like to go back and celebrate what freedom used to mean. B.C.—Before Children—life was a dream. I didn’t know it, of course; I thought I was living a life of drudgery and low-paying jobs. I had no idea I was reveling in the greatest wealth the world can offer: freedom. I was reminded of that this weekend when I decided to take my son to a local parade in our new home town. And what better way to get there than riding our bikes?!
I had purchased a bike this past winter and stared at the blizzards fantasizing about biking around in the summer with my son. It was going to be a glorious, technicolor dream. There would be butterflies and rainbows. Even with my bionic enhancements, my physical limitations make it hard to keep up with him on foot, so I thought, “Hey, if we are both on bikes, then I can enjoy the experience and not worry about him getting away. After all, he’s strapped into it and it weighs about ninety pounds. What could happen?” Saturday, we get on our bikes and head toward the city park where we can watch the parade. Cautiously, we cross the scary, busy road near our house to cut cross the cemetery to hit the bike trail along the river.* It all sounds bucolic and delightful doesn’t it? Wait for it…
We’re tooling along, practicing passing people on the left and not mowing down little kids or elderly people who think I’m kidding when I yell: “Watch out. He can’t brake yet.”** Then we get to the section of the path that is becoming our bone of contention—the fork in the road that is the pain in my… ANYWAY, the kid is behind me and has stopped at the fork. A woman with a stroller is passing him and I call back, “No, Booger…we aren’t taking that route today. We can take it on the way ba…” I can’t even get to the end of the sentence before the berserker rage strikes. My son is peddling for all he’s worth–near missing the baby in the stroller–zipping in a mad dash past me and heading towards trouble. All I can do is watch; it isn’t pretty.
My son rides a very sturdy Ambucs Trike.*** This was a wonderful gift from an organization that helps families to buy special trikes for special tikes. (Sounds sickeningly cute, doesn’t it?) What’s more sickening is the experience of watching your agitated child pell-mell his way into an emergency med center visit. As expected, the “Hulk Smash” rage ended in disaster. Helpless, I watched as my son exceeded safety limits, causing the trike to wobble, and then come crashing down on top of him—face first into the asphalt. The good news is, road rash on all bendy parts, a smashed nose and lacerated lip (inside and out—made me want to puke when I saw it) aside, he is going to be fine. The not-so-good news is we spent the entire holiday sitting in waiting rooms just to determine that he hadn’t broken anything. By the end, all we wanted to do was crawl home and collapse. We didn’t bother with going to any Fourth of July celebrations that evening. As my mother-in-law said after we survived the harrowing experience, “We’ve had enough fireworks for one day.” It was unanimous; we spent the holiday huddling in our house avoiding any further excitement.
So, how do I celebrate freedom now? I cherish the moments that work and recover as quickly as possible from the ones that don’t. I will count surviving the day as a win. I will try very hard not to mourn a time when freedom was as easy as leaving my house and getting to my destination unscathed. And I will be buying knee and elbow pads for any future ventures that might lead us astray along our rocky path to freedom.
[Of note, the Bandaids should be coming off just in time for our camping trip to the U.P. later this week. I’m not worried, inclement weather notwithstanding, what could possibly go wrong?]
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*No, this is not foreshadowing. Foreshadowing would have involved an anger management seminar.
**Subtext: you are worth 50 points you old codger, so you’d better get out of the way.
***Sturdy and a bit clunky, these are the Cadillac of kids’ bikes. Solid steel construction—built to inflict the most damage in whatever they hit.
P.S. It wasn’t until after I wrote this that I learned of the terrible bike accident at the Tour de France. I have the sincerest sympathies for the mothers of each and every one of those riders. I am very happy everyone walked away from that one.
WARNING, a blatant and oversimplified generalization is about to follow. You may or may not recognize the fault of personality with which I am going to whitewash the entire human race. It doesn’t matter. Call me Tom Sawyer and pass me a brush.*
People learn lessons very slowly. In my case, make that very, very slowly and with rerun episodes that are so familiar I can practically recite the dialogue by heart. The reason I mention this is that today was a prime example of my tendencies of running myself into a rail and then over the edge of a cliff. I would say I didn’t see the warning signs …but that would be a lie. I practically ran the sign over as I sped Thelma and Louise-style toward the abyss. The sad part? I was trying to reach a perfect state of Zen. (FreeDigitalPhotos.net, James Barker)
It might help if I explained my brain to you for a moment. Uh…perhaps a visual would help. Imagine a giant warehouse somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Even GPS can’t find this spot with any accuracy. Now picture this building stuffed to the rafters with squeaky hamster wheels, rusting in place because all the little hamsters died of starvation while the owner was lost looking for kibble. That is my brain…oh…and it’s located on a fault line that occasionally threatens to suck the entire works into a massive sinkhole. In other words, I live a frantic existence. Now, back to the search for Nirvana.**
I will sometimes have one of my hamsters spring to life. (Side note: these are zombie hamsters and are not to be trusted out of their cage!) The zombie hamster will insist that I absolutely need to do something like, say, learn how to make an origami lotus flower. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfMGjjW4avc] I will search for a how-to video and I will immediately plunk down hard earned cash on the most expensive paper you will ever find. It might have been cheaper to make lotus flowers out of actual currency, if dollars came in the right dimensions. I followed the step-by-step instructions and, voila, success. I made a perfect replica of the one on the video. I am the Queen of Arts and Crafts. All bow down. The zombie hamsters are activated by this achievement and immediately start churning out all kinds of ideas: Maybe we could make a bunch of these flowers, figure out how to laminate or waterproof them and turn them into floating lotus lanterns and host a summer river festival of lights. You will be happy to note, the other zombie hamsters captured and ate the one that produced that idea. Yes, they are cannibalistic zombie hamsters. It saves on buying kibble.
Now, you may be wondering why I insist that this beautiful and perfect moment was such a disaster? Allow me to explain. Once one zombie hamster has risen it makes more zombie hamsters…that is its sole motivation. After the idea to create floating lanterns died a grisly death, the zombies got together and decided… “If she can make origami lotuses, she should be able to make ANY kind of origami flower.” So I am back at the YouTube altar, trying to find a way to make roses. How hard can it be to make roses? Do you want to know HOW hard it is to make an origami rose? I’ll tell you how [expletive deleted] hard it is…Making origami roses is harder than raising hamsters from the dead. It is also as far from approaching Nirvana as you can get. I tried four videos with different instructors. I folded, I crimped, I re-folded, I re-ran the 18-minute video (I kid you not) trying to recreate what these disembodied hands made as if they were manipulating the dna of the paper to transmogrify it into a rose in full bloom. I failed, repeatedly and spectacularly. The zombie hamsters were booing and goading me to find a better video. Things were getting ugly.
I was getting frustrated. “Why can’t I make the stupid fold slide into the slot the way the guy on the video is doing it?” I was aggravated and the zombie hamsters were running amok. Meanwhile, in the background my poor son has restarted his favorite concerto for the 330 millionth time and I just SNAPPED. I yell at my son. I threaten to melt the CD if I have to hear it one more time. I just absolutely lose it. My son ran off to his room crying. Even the zombies laid down and pretended to be dead.
And this is the moment when perfect clarity strikes. I should have stopped at success. Success for me is a recipe for disaster. I’ve done this before.
I once played a carnival game that I now know is so stacked against the player the odds of winning are probably astronomically against it. I am not sure, I do not have Stephen Hawking on speed dial to corroborate. The game involved throwing quarters and having them land in a square on the board. Sounds easy, right? (The zombie hamsters applaud.) Well, in my case, it was. There was this stuffed unicorn I wanted so badly, I could taste it. I had a few dollars in my pocket burning to be thrown away. I plunk down a dollar and I get my four quarters. The first quarter lands in a square with a 3 in the middle. The man frowns. “Okay, you got a three. That will get you a prize in this row here.” He points to the worthless crap that even zombie hamsters would turn their noses up at. I point up to the delicate and beautiful unicorn floating overhead. “I want that one.” The guy, probably used to whining, sniveling brats, just says, “The unicorn is 7 points. You need four more points.” I get out my next quarter and boom, it lands in a box with an X. Now, if I have failed to mention it, the quarter has to land exactly in the center of the box. The box has a relative dimension just a hair past of the width of a quarter. I look up at the man and say, “What’s the X stand for?” I swear, he looked at me like I had two heads. “That’s worth four.” He reaches up and grabs the unicorn and hands it to me. I take my unicorn, ecstatic to a degree that I have never quite managed again in my life, and I am about to turn away when one of my hamsters (they aren’t dead at this point) squeaks: “Maybe you can win more?” I turn back, and plunk a few more dollars worth of quarters on the board and every single one of them misses. The man in the booth says, “Maybe you should just stick with what you already got.”
To this day, that is probably the best advice I have ever been given. What a shame zombie hamsters just don’t listen.
You would think that, knowing I am ruled by undead rodents and knowing they are pernicious little fu… that is to say, annoying little pricks, I would cut their tiny heads off and leave them on stakes as a warning to all the other mad ideas that try to crawl from the crypt. You’d think that wouldn’t you. Sadly, I often feel helpless in the face of the zombie hordes. It can take reaching a point of insanity for one of them to raise its little paw and say, “Uh, Boss. You might want to reel it in. You’re scaring your family and mangling the origami. Maybe it’s time to give it a rest?”
What have we learned from today’s lesson, kiddos? If at first you succeed…stop. Oh…and if someone offers to teach you how to fold an origami rose…RUN. Don’t Walk. Or the Zombie Hamsters will be eating your brains too.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*For those of you who are wincing, thinking, “But Tom avoided the responsibility of painting the fence by tricking someone else to do it. That analogy makes no sense.” You are correct. You are also welcome to go rant about it on your own blog
**Not the band by Kurt Cobain, but instead, the state of peace achieved by reaching a perfect stillness of the mind…but not a space filled with dead hamsters either.