Saturday, March 27, 2010

Driving like an old lady

I started to learn how to drive in an old truck (which my dad still has!) with a stick shift and no power steering. When it appeared that my dad was going to have apoplexy trying to teach me, my mom took over and I resumed leaning in the family car, a Ford station wagon (the Ramblin' Ranch) which was also a stick shift. 

My first car was a Ford Falcon, with a stick shift. So was my second car. I later was given the Ramblin’ Ranch, which we had to leave behind in Oregon because when we moved here because something was messed up in the front end and it wouldn’t tow properly behind the U-haul truck. 

Since then we have owned quite a variety of cars, some with standard transmissions, some without. The car I drive now has an automatic transmission, but the two main cars – a Toyota Corolla and a Ford Ranger – are both stick shift. Just saying all this so ya’ll believe me when I say I know how to push in a clutch and shift a gear, which is why what happened yesterday is rather embarrassing.

So yesterday morning when I set to leave out of here for town, there was such a thick coating of ice on my car that my dearly beloved suggested I take the truck, which he had earlier scraped the ice off of so he could haul the trash up to the highway to be picked up.

So I set off in the Ranger, which doesn’t have a whole lot power and definitely needs the 5 forward gears on the floor to get up to speed. I stopped at the intersection and waited.... and waited.... for the stream of high school kids driving to school to pass. The speed limit there is 45 mph but many of the drivers on that road coming in from the countryside are moving right along, probably at 55. I probably should have let two more cars pass but I was tired of waiting, so I pulled out, shifted into 2nd as I completed the left turn, accelerated some more, and got ready to shift into 3rd. 

Instead, I ended up in 5th gear. Naturally, the engine lost all of its power, so instead of continuing to accelerate, there I was poking along at about 30 mph with cars coming up behind me having to put on the brakes. I should have immediately shifted back down to 3rd gear and started over, but I was sort of rattled and so I didn’t. I can just imagine what they were thinking.

I’m not old enough yet to be an old lady driver!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

We have lost Wayne

I graduated with about 600 other students from Gardena High (part of the Los Angeles Unified School District) in the Summer Class 1967. We were the Avantes! Nearly all of us were born in 1949, and not surprisingly, nearly all of us became 60 years old last year.

It is always a shock when someone your own age dies. It is especially shocking when one is young; indeed, some of the young men in our graduating class were dead within a few years, having lost their lives in the Vietnam War or from accidents or other misadventures, but the shock doesn’t get any less as the years pass. By 2007, the death rate had risen to about 1 person per year, and the In Memory page of the 40-year reunion program contained 48 names; which was probably not all of the Avantes who had actually died by then.

Among our graduating class was Wayne Collette, a sprinter. He ran fast.... very fast. I loved to watch track meets when I was in high school. I watched Wayne run many times.

And after he graduated from high school, he went to UCLA. He continued to run fast. So fast, in fact, that he won a silver medal at the 1972 Olympics. He probably would have won more medals at that competition, but he made a mistake, a very bad mistake. He did not stand respectfully on the podium during the medal ceremony and so his achievement at winning the medal was overshadowed by the IOC decision to ban him from participating in any further Olympic competitions.

As far as I know, Wayne Collett was the only one in our graduating class to do something reported in the national news. First in 1972, and again last week, when he died.

I know that Wayne practiced law and had a successful career. He was married 37 years. He had children. And for his family, I think it is a very sad thing indeed that all that people are remembering of his life was the mistake he made in 1972.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Sissy Poo

As I sit to write this, it is goin on 4:00 AM where my sister lives, and I hope she is sound asleep in bed next to her husband. Before too long, though, she will wake to begin her day as a daughter, wife, mother, and school librarian. And today she becomes another year older.

Thinking back over the years that we were together as sisters at home with the rest of the family, I can only remember getting angry at her once. It happened when she was about 5 years old and I was about 14 and she got  into my nail polish -- or maybe it was my bottle of Evening in Paris perfume -- which was sitting on my dresser. 

I will not be there to celebrate this special day with her. I wish I could be. I love her. She is my best forever friend.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Moths, mice, and the ravages of time

For quite a few years I cleaned peoples' houses to earn extra money. But sometimes what was even better than the dollar bills I carried away in my pocket was the really cool stuff I was given. Stuff that was no longer wanted: books... food.... clothes... curtains... all sorts of goodies.

I could hardly believe my good fortune when one day, one of the women whose house I cleaned pointed to a stack of blankets and said, "help yourself." And I was happy to help myself. I brought home two blankets. One of them covers the recliner in the living room; the other one, a beautiful, soft blanket made in Peru out of 50% alpaca wool, 40% virgin wool, and 10% cotton, is on the bed.

I feel so organic sleeping under it. 

Yes, it is just a tad itchy against the skin, but it is forms a very nice cap on the layer of blankets under it.

When I got the blanket out as Fall was sliding into winter and the temperatures began to drop at night, fuzz began flying in all directions and I was dismayed to see that time has not been particularly kind to this blanket.

The moths and mice have taken their toll;

I suspect I have not stored the blanket properly against the heat and humidity of the summer.

But it still has a few good years left. If it becomes too threadbare, and I am feeling very ambitious, I might attempt to make a pieced top for it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Testing the air

March is a month with manic-depression syndrome. One day it is bright and sunshiny and cheerful, and the next day it is sullen, cold, and rainy. The creatures that hibernate through the winter have to figure out when to rise and shine.

The chipmunks have been out and about for several weeks now.

One evening last week I began hearing the spring peepers singing at the pond, and on lovely afternoon a few days ago, I spotted these two black snakes coming out to assess the situation.

Perhaps a baby snake from last year and an old grandpa snake.

No, they are not miraculously coming out of the solid wall. At one point in the journey of this house through time, it rested someplace else over yonder, and when the highway department built the first bypass around the town and carved a swath through the farm that was here originally, the house literally did make a journey: they picked it up and moved it where it sits now. Then the owners added on a screened-in porch, which they eventually enclosed to make the room where our boy slept for many years. The foundation for the porch doesn't quite meet the foundation the owners constructed when they moved the house. Not only that, the porch wasn't square (one wall is 7 inches longer than the other wall), the walls are not plum, and in fact -- as you can see in the picture -- this part of the room hangs out over the edge of the foundation. If Richard were writing this blog he would have quite a bit to say about the skills of the people who built this house. But he isn't writing it.

Getting back to the story at hand: the end result is that there must be a very a nice, cozy space in there on the other side of the bricks where the snakes go to spend the winter. I would love to be able to slip one of those little cameras that are attached to a cable that field researchers use in their studies to investigate burrows. I would be very interested in seeing just what all is in there during the winter. Are they all curled up together in a ball? How many are there? Inquiring minds want to know, but I think I probably never will.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Now where did I put that...

Richard makes a coffee creamer using a chocolate-raspberry hot cocoa mix, powdered milk, and sweetener which we keep in an old ice cream tub in a cupboard. Early yesterday evening, about an hour before the kid and I were supposed to leave to hear the bagpipe band, I made a cup of coffee and added some. And then I went back to work on the manuscript I was trying to finish before we left.

This morning when I got up and made my coffee, I looked for the creamer and it was nowhere to be found. We all knew I was the last one to use it.

Ok, he says, where did you put it. It is sort of big and hard to miss.

Like I said, this stuff is in a half-gallon ice cream tub.

I had no idea where it was, at first at least. We looked in a few of the obvious places.

Well, I said, maybe I put it in the refrigerator.

Sure enough. there it was. It wasn't too bad of a mistake, actually. There are probably 4 half-gallon ice cream tubs in there filled with marinated carrots, soup, chopped lettuce, that sort of thing, so it was easy enough for me to get distracted and stick it in there when I was done.

However, it still reminded me so much of that sad scene in the movie Away From Her, where the character played by Julie Christie (who was nominated for an Oscar, and rightly so!) is putting away dishes with her husband and she sticks the skillet in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator.

I know everybody my age does this sort of thing a lot--you know, frantically looking for glasses when they are on the top of your head. But still, when I make mistakes like this it scares me a bit.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bagpipes or Bigfoot?

It was a huge deal for us in this part of the state when the university in Springfield decided to put a satellite campus in West Plains. The campus grew.... and grew... and eventually a Civic Center was constructed to provide a venue for the basketball team and also for University-sponsored performing arts through the Missouri Arts Council and other organizers. And the University began bringing performers of all kinds – Japanese drummers, Native American dancers, blues bands, guitarists, opera singers, Mark Twain... and it has been very good. Very good indeed.

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, the university scheduled a performance of the Tullintrain West Pipes & Drums group in the performing arts theater for tomorrow. How cool! Me and the kid are going.

A few days later the newspaper mentions that at the same time the Civic Center Board scheduled the Thunder Slam Monster Truck event in the arena.

So at the same time the bagpipes will be piping and the drums would be tattooing in the performance arts theater, monster trucks would be crushing cars and hurling themselves through the air next door.

The University was not exactly happy – the roar of monster trucks would certainly be heard in the theater – so the start time of the bagpipe group was moved forward an hour. If we were so inclined, we could easily watch and listen to the bagpipes and drums and then wander next door and watch monster trucks.

Having just immersed myself in several books’ worth of the mental meanderings of Andrew McCall Smith’s heroine Isabel Dalhousie, I found myself thinking about the value of bagpipes vs monster trucks and why one sort of entertainment would be far superior to the other, and the sort of people who would attend the bagpipe performance (cultured, sophisticated, upper-class types) would thus be far superior than those who would fill the arena to watch monster trucks crush cars (rednecks).

And then I had to sit myself down and give myself a good talking to. How dare I! What cultural snobbery!! The fact that watching monster trucks crush cars is about the last thing in the world I would want to do doesn’t make another person’s enjoyment of this spectacle any less valid. Get over yourself, woman!

Ratta tat tat...

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Internet is keeping me sane

Yesterday, finally, I was able to see the movie Avatar. I was just stunned by the movie. I came away thinking “Geez, this should get the Best Picture award" even though I knew it probably wouldn’t. And indeed, it was more or less panned by the Academy. So what.

From publicity about the movie I knew it was going to "ring a bell..." and indeed as I began watching the movie develop I realized this was not a brand-new story line. For many, many, years beginning in the early 60s and through most of the 80s, my literary focus was on science fiction – I read all of the novels by the major writers and I read the large volumes of short stories that were culled from the Sci-Fi magazines.

I have forgotten details of so many of these stories, but one that always stuck in my mind had to do with an expedition to the planet Jupiter, with an atmosphere very hostile to human life, where they used humans to link with the indigenous life forms on the planet’s surface.

Of course I couldn’t remember the name of the story or who wrote it and it was making me rather depressed. But, hooray. This morning I did a Google search and I did find out what I needed to know....

It was Poul Anderson's 1957 sci-fi short story called "Call Me Joe." (Note that the short story has some plot differences from the movie, but this link could be construed as a "spoiler" if you have not seen Avatar)

Richard informs me that I have a mind like a steel trap. Yes, but I fear the teeth are becoming somewhat dull. I also remember another story about a giant turtle who controls the life of a planet (and no, it is not the Terry Pratchett novels about Disc World) and children who are being pursued by bad guys and the turtle saves them. But I can't remember the name of that one; eventually it will come.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

I try out for funniest home videos

Once upon a time I watched one of those "funniest home video" programs on television. For about 10 minutes before I turned it off in disgust. I found it extremely disturbing that these videos--which were supposed to be so funny--showed hapless people having horrific-looking accidents.

I suppose that people having accidents has been a foundation of visual comedy for many years - from the time of silent films and the proverbial banana peel; but in real life, people having accidents is not funny. I have had several falls that were just hilarious. Oh yeah. Hilarious. And I have the permanent injuries and scars to prove just how funny it was.

So actually no, I did not try out for funniest home videos, and I didn't fall (thank Heaven for small mercies), but had someone been following me yesterday with a video camera, they would have had few minutes of amusing footage watching me chase litter.

For the past several years, a continual source of irritation has been the litter left by the slobs who turn right onto Willow Road at the T intersection to get to 76 Highway. These people seem to think that Willow Road is their very own personal dump. We are disgusted by their lack of consideration for the land and for others.

Especially we are disgusted by the person we dub the "Beer Guy," because between 76 and the T-intersection, it is not uncommon to find most of a 6-pack of empty beer bottles along the right of way.

Not only is he not drinking responsibly, he is also not disposing of his empties responsibly.

We have spent quite a bit of time thinking and talking about this person. We figure he stops off at the package store on the way home from work and buys a six pack, and then drinks them all as fast as he can.

By the time he gets to Willow Road, he has drunk most of them and then he tosses them.

Or else there are two people in the car drinking the six pack and they both toss them. I suppose it is also possible that he leaves the house with the six pack in his car and then begins drinking and tossing as he heads down Willow Road to 76. And there is probably yet another possibility that we haven't considered.

Last week Richard decided to stop talking about how angry he is at the people who are littering and to start picking up the litter. We have a metal grabber doohickey so I can reach stuff at the back of the top shelf and it works well for picking up the trash. I suggested he make me a tool with a nail on the end so I could help him on the days when I walk with him. He did.

Yesterday he and I ventured out with our plastic bags and instruments of litter removal. We started off together but he decided to take a longer walk so I turned around at the intersection with the highway and began picking up the trash on that side of the road as I returned.

It was windy. The wind caught my half-full plastic bag and ripped it out of my hand and off it went, blowing down the road and everything I had picked up was back on the ground again. There I was chasing after it. Hilarious. I picked up the mess I had made. I went a few more feet and picked up some more litter, and dropped it again. I picked up all the trash again. And so it went. I did manage, however, to fill the bag and get it back home.

About the same thing happened to Richard on his walk, only even better, his bag filled with trash blew out of his hand and across the road right in front of a sheriff's car.

One of my favorite literary characters is Isabel Dalhousie, the creation of Alexander McCall Smith, who is a philosopher and edits a journal about ethics and philosophy. She spends a lot of time analyzing things in her head, which I find just delightful. In his first book of her adventures, The Sunday Philosopher's Club, she thinks
Perhaps somebody would write about the ethics of litter. Not that there was much to say about that: litter was unquestionably bad and surely nobody would make a case in its favour. And yet why was it wrong to drop litter? Was it purely an aesthetic objection based on the notion that the superficial pollution of the environment was unattractive? Or was the aesthetic impact linked to some notion of the distress which others felt in the face of litter? If that was the case, then we might even have a duty to look attractive to others, in order to minimize their distress....

Well, that certainly puts a whole new spin on things...