Looking to Cheer Up

Episode 14 of Looking Back is below. Enjoy!

I talked to my sister over the phone a couple of weeks ago. She was overly cheerful. It was her fake happy persona. I’ve never understood why she thinks she needs to cheer me up. My happiness or lack thereof is wholly in my hands. Like my psychologist often says, “You are in charge of your emotions – you get to choose how you react to the world.” Some days I decide to laugh and other days I cry. When she starts trying to manipulate my emotional state I fire back. She has no clue what my buttons are but I’ve got her number. We chatted about inane topics until she got to the meat of the call. There were trust funds set up by our parents that had just come to light. She wanted to know if I’d be willing to sign mine over to be split between hers and DJ’s kids, “since, you know, you don’t need it.” I’m not greedy. Then again, my parents didn’t do me any favors while they were alive so I’m kind of partial to any sign that they acknowledged me as one of their offspring. I told her absolutely – not. I’m pretty sure she thought I’d just relinquish my claim. But who knows, I might eventually need a little pocket change in my old age. Anyway, I started pushing her buttons aggressively. I called her Beth. She hates to be called anything other than Elizabeth. I then mentioned that I had never met her husband or her spawn and wasn’t inclined to give money to strangers. She started to sputter when I said the word “spawn”. By the time her auditory nerves registered “strangers” her indignation was palpable. I managed to get in a few more subtle jabs before she decided to end the call. My coup d’état was when I told her I loved her as she was saying good-by. Her call did actually cheer me up or rather I cheered myself up at her expense. Life is so unpredictable.

Watching the Clock

Time passes and before you know it you are facing a birthday milestone. I usually don’t put much stock in the birthday number. I think it has to do with the hoopla surrounding birthday #16. I had bought into the idea that turning 16 would be some grand life altering moment. Yep. I turned 16 and it was just another birthday, just another day. I approached my thirtieth with ennui. My 40th birthday came and went without fanfare. By my fiftieth I was completely jaded. Now that my 60th is upon me, I want to celebrate. I pretty much ignored all the other birthdays but this one seems to be screaming for a little panache. I’ve already resigned myself to share it with International Laboratory Technicians’ Week. We will have doughnuts/bagels on Monday, a gift on Tuesday, a potluck on Wednesday, Thursday is the ice cream social, and we have half day off on Friday. I, however, will be going out to dinner on my birthday to East of Tokyo for my half off all you can eat sushi. Sparky and the boys have to work so I’ve enlisted a friend to join me (she has never had sushi). I may even wear a fancy hat with feathers or bells.

That the month of January is near the end already seems incredible. Time is passing at an accelerated rate in my world. I was working when suddenly the lights went off. All of our lights are on a computerized timer and they turn off at 7:15 PM in my office. I hadn’t realized that it was so late. This is happening more often, in fact, it is becoming routine. Here is a little time themed haiku:

We are time’s canvas
Wrinkles form on face and hands
Masterpieces made

Looking for a Name

As I mentioned, I got a Roomba for Christmas. I’m really enamored with the little guy. Since it is my robot I decide to give it a name. After much deliberation I chose MO. MO is short for Microorganism Obliterater, a cleaning robot from the movie “Wall-E”. MO is single minded in his mission to get rid of all “foreign contaminants” as is the Roomba.
I named it MO before I ever heard it speak. In fact I had no idea that it talked. MO says things like “Please recharge Roomba” or “Roomba cannot return to the Home Base” and even “Move Roomba to a new location then press CLEAN to restart.” It is a good name even if MO has a female voice.

Sparky on the other hand calls my Roomba “Chappie” and refuses to call it MO! I cannot and will not call him “Chappie” for several reasons:
1. I have a friend whose husband’s nickname is Chappy.
2. We have relatives with the last name of Chapman and I think it is rude to name it Chappie.
3. I don’t want a robot named after a turkey of a film of the same name about a reprogrammed sentient police robot raised by gangsters…
4. It is my robot and I should be able to name it.

OK so I have a thing about names. I do believe in the power of a name (see my story about Merit V. Bidwell). There is control over things we name. If you can name a fear it is diminished. If you can name an enemy you are that much closer to vanquishing them. And if you name someone, even a nickname, you can influence their interactions with others. Which brings me to the IU South Bend magazine. They were featuring students who were firsts in their family to graduate from college. It was sad. One nice looking young man was named “E-Lexus”! How awful is that? On the next page was an earnest boy with the name “Echo”. I read his name and mentally screamed why?!?! In my job I see lots of strange names. It makes me gasp when I see names like Armani, Allyesunn, Gifty, Revell, and Yersinia (no, these are not international students with ethnic names). I nearly fell out of my chair with that last one. I suppose if you are not in the medical field it isn’t too bad but the causative agent for Black Plague is Yersinia pestis! Heaven help us. Speaking of which, my niece has a step daughter named Nevaeh (neh vie eh) which is heaven spelled backwards. I wonder what possessed these parents to give their children such odd and potentially scarring monikers.

OK, I have now stepped down from the soap box and am headed to work where I will ponder what Moon Unit Zappa thinks of her name and what her friends call her…

Looking at Pet Rats

Looking Back presents episode 13.

I once had a pet rat. It was my sophomore year in college. The dorm had a strict rule about pets which was you were not permitted to have any pets. This rat was a leftover from the pet store having outgrown the cute stage and gotten too big for snake food. He was free with any rodent chow purchase. I wasn’t prepared to be responsible for another living creature. For the first week he lived in a cardboard copy paper box. He chewed his way out. Then I managed to rig a home-made Habitrail using 2 liter pop bottles, 20 ounce bottles, and a 2 gallon plastic ice cream bucket. I had it set up under my bed and around my desk. He didn’t spend a lot of time in his house since he was usually riding in my pocket, the hood of my sweatshirt, or curled in my lap. I didn’t want to get attached but it was inevitable. He even came to lectures with me sometimes. I had no idea that rats only live a couple years. It was a shock when I found him dead, curled up in his nest of hair scrunchies and Kleenex. I promised myself I’d never get another pet. I broke that promise several times. I cried when they died. My psychologist seemed to think that was a positive sign. She is still waiting for me to mourn my parents. I don’t think that will ever happen.

Looking Thirsty

The new school year has arrived. I am always surprised at the beginning of the semester to see how thirsty for knowledge the students seem. Usually it wears off by mid-semester. By that time their thirst has been slaked. It becomes more akin to Dumbledore drinking the Potion of Despair by the end of the semester… I’m teaching a class again this semester. In the past the class size was limited to a maximum of 8 students. This time around there are 10 enrolled. When I teach a class I have to be careful not to drink anything at lunch. That is because there isn’t time for potty breaks. So as thirsty as the students seem, I’m always pretty sure I’m thirstier! And like Harry Potter I’m going to be forcing them to drink even when they seem to have had their fill. Hopefully they won’t burn out, dry up, or drown… pick your metaphor!

“Give me water”
Dumbledore begs Harry Potter
Splashing like an otter
Neck deep in liquid learning

For knowledge burning
The student on fire yearning
Until burned he’s turning
At final exam dismay

It’s too late to run away
This is the piper’s payday
Put your smarts on display
Write the answers on paper

Panic as thoughts turn to vapor
Cheater revealed a faker
A bottom of the barrel scraper
Check a box – make a guess

Future graduation success
Employment opportunity distress
Alumni card repossess
Life flashes before sad eyes

A dream’s sudden demise
Storms gather in the mind’s skies
A down pour threatens to capsize
The psyche in salty tears

This poem is written as a Vers Beaucoup, a poetry form created by Curt Mongold. It means ‘many rhymes’ because each stanza of 4 lines has a rhyme scheme of a-a-a-b and the stanzas are interlocking since the first 3 lines continue the rhyme of the last line of the preceding stanza. Thus the stanza should look like this: a-a-a-b, b-b-b-c, c-c-c-d, etc.

Looking Frozen

Winter officially began on December 21, 2017. The last day of winter is (according to the calendar) March 19th. Here it is the middle of January and I have forgotten what it is like to feel warm. The furnace is controlled by the thermostat which has been programmed to maintain the interior temperature at a reasonable 70 degrees. Except for during the day when it drops to 65 degrees. Sparky has configured the settings supposedly for optimum monetary savings. What this means to me is that I will not feel any warmth unless I’m standing in a steaming shower. But even that is transient. As soon as the hot water runs out I am forced to exit the shower into a frigid bathroom. I have perfected drying off in the shower and being able to get my clothes on faster than “The Flash”. That isn’t to say I haven’t run into some problems. The other day I discovered my underwear was on inside out.

I have taken to dressing in layers. This results in no one being able to appreciate the cute top I’m wearing. You see I wear a turtleneck knit shirt as my base layer. Fortunately I have a gazillion in every color of the rainbow. This is followed by the cute top, sometimes. Then I put on the sweater or jacket. I have a couple that are my favorites due to being denim or navy/black micro fleece. And over that I have my fleece or crochet/knit poncho. My MIL asked me how many ponchos I owned and I had to truthfully say 7 winter ponchos. As I type I’m wearing a brown turtleneck under a wool plaid shirt dress with a short denim jacket and my caramel fleece poncho. It isn’t a tailored look to show off my figure, but it has the advantage of conserving body heat.

We have 2 space heaters. We run one at night in the bedroom and the other is positioned next to my chair in the computer room. Even with the space heater in the bedroom, I sleep in fleece pajamas, socks, flannel sheets, a heavy comforter and my CuddleDuds® thermal blanket. I’m still cold. Sometimes I wake up and I’m practically wrapped around Sparky in an attempt to get warm. He doesn’t mind as long as I don’t put my icy hands on him… If the nighttime temperatures continue to be in the negative numbers, I’ll have to resort to wearing mittens to bed!

So I’ll leave you with this little haiku:
Frigid winter air
fails to respect my boundries
Crawls up sleeves and skirts

Looking Down Memory Lane

Episode 12 for your reading amusement. I’ve decided the title now is going to be “Looking Back”.

Once you start down Memory Lane it is hard to find your way back to the present. That’s why it is attractive and also why I don’t want to remember. It is true that you can’t escape your past. Until I’m in the last stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, I’ll carry around a lot of baggage. I don’t talk about my parents too much anymore. I used to blame them for lots of stuff that wasn’t really in their control. I also blame them for things that were totally their doing. Foremost is my wretched name. Secondly, I really didn’t know my dad. My sister has lots of fond memories, my brother has some too. I can only remember once when he wasn’t scowling or criticizing me. It was a little thing and when I brought it up once, he didn’t even remember. He had worked late and I had fallen asleep in front of the TV. Everyone had gone to bed and just left me there with the TV spewing static. I heard him come in. He wasn’t being quiet. He made himself something to eat and came into the family room to read the paper. I was awake but pretending to be asleep. He turned off the TV and covered me up with one of the blankets draped over the back of the sofa. Before he picked up his plate, he leaned over and kissed me on the top of the head. He then quietly turned off the lights and disappeared into the kitchen. I think that was the only time he ever showed some affection or positive attention to me. I used to watch the other kids being picked up or dropped off at school and how their mothers would hug or kiss them. I was jealous. I spent a few years trying to figure out what they did or said that made them more lovable than me. I never figured it out until I was an adult. The problem wasn’t that I had no value; it was that they were cold. Of course by then I was so emotionally distant that the chasm would never be bridged. I didn’t cry when they died.

Looking for Peace

I wanted to be a hippie. I was however just a bit too young to make that move. It probably saved me from many perils and heartaches. As it was, I embraced the concept of world peace. It was with the naivete of youth and a narrow world view that I embraced the “Coca-cola” philosophy.

I’d like to buy the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company
That’s the real thing

What the world wants today
Is the real thing

As I prepare to celebrate 6 decades on this planet, I’m reminded of that time when I really believed that world peace was possible. The Vietnam War was ending, there was detente between the US and China, and the Cold War was winding down. There was a sense of hope. The same idealistic vibe was being expressed by John Lennon in Imagine:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

I am older and wiser. I know it isn’t as easy as providing a bottle of cola to one’s enemies or sharing a cold beverage to become friends. There is no easy fix to greed, suspicion, aggression, subterfuge, prejudice, and hatred. I want a world where right and wrong are clearly delineated in a black and white way. My years have taught me that there is more grey in the world than either black or white. Even the most clearly good things can be used in bad ways and evil things can in some circumstances result in good. And therein is the rub. I don’t have any answers. I can’t formulate any grand plans to bring about world peace. My only actions are at the personal level. I try to be kind. I attempt to be generous with my time, treasure, and talent. I strive to apply the “Golden Rule” in my interactions with the people in my life. Sometimes I fail. But that’s OK because I’m only human. It just gives me another chance to get it right.

My belt buckle has seen better days but I’m still wearing it – I still hope for world peace…

Looking Cleaner

My big Christmas gift this year was an iRobot Roomba. My youngest sister got one several years ago and I was fascinated (and a tad jealous). It really was a marvelous contraption. Then she bought one for my mother. Again it worked like a charm. It is especially useful since my mother is 85 and it is more difficult for her to push a heavy vacuum cleaner around. I had seen them on sale while shopping with Sparky. I longingly caressed the box and mentioned that I’d always wanted one. Of course I also dismissed the suggestion as being extravagant and unnecessary. Sparky bought it for me on the sly and I opened it on Christmas day. I was very pleased! Fast forward a couple days and it was still sitting in the box. This was mostly because we were so busy with activities and events that we just hadn’t had time to mess with it. So while Sparky was at work and I was home alone, I unboxed it and read the instructions. I had worried that it was going to be complicated like installing the sound bar on the HDTV. It was easy.

I turned it loose in the kitchen and it made a pass under the table and headed to the dining room. It must have banged around under the table and around the chairs for a solid 15 minutes before discovering the living room. Once in the living room, it got tangled in the electrical cords behind the end table. After rescuing it from my lamp, it headed to the Christmas tree and those electrical cords! I put up some barriers and all was well. After closing the bathroom door and the door to the basement (just in case, even though the instructions said the sensors would prevent it from falling down the stairs), I headed upstairs. While sipping my hot chocolate I could hear it whirring and bumping around. Then suddenly it went quiet. I had the same feeling you get when the kids go silent – you know there is trouble.

The Roomba is a good robot. It was low on battery charge and had gone back to its docking station to recharge. In associated news, my house is cleaner. This is all relative of course, but I emptied the little catch bin. I was expecting it to be full of dirt and debris. However it just had a few crumbs and some dust. Much cleaner than anticipated! If we still had a dog I’m sure it would have been packed full of hair!

Looking at the License Plate

Here is the latest episode, #11 to be exact, in the story “Looking Back”.

I was watching TV when from outside I heard the unmistakable noise of tires skidding to a stop. I held my breath waiting for the sickening crunch of metal. It didn’t come. Instead I remembered driver’s education. The classroom stuff was excruciating. The videos had to have been made in the 1950s. The narrator droned. I was not the only one to nod off. Of course no one could tell since my hair was a veil over my face. Our instructor was Mr. Garvey, who usually taught the shop classes. He wasn’t the kind of teacher who smiled. We had spent several weeks driving in circles around the school parking lot. The first day of street driving I managed to change lanes without incurring Mr. Garvey’s wrath. One of the kids in my group was named Kevin. He was mostly brain dead from too much booze and too much dope. We had just gone on the highway for the first time and we were supposed to merge and then get into the left lane and pass the slower vehicles. Kevin was behind the wheel. I don’t think he had any clue but he loved to drive fast. He merged into traffic like a mad man. In the back seat I held my breath as Kevin swerved into the passing lane. I was sitting in the middle and could see the speedometer numbers climbing. As he hit 80 miles per hour, I knew it wasn’t going to end well. He was flying past cars like they were standing still. Mr. Garvey had tried to modulate his voice to sound calm as he ordered him to slow down. Kevin wasn’t listening. I can still see the back of the car ahead of us. The license plate got closer, close enough to read the words on the frame, “No worries… Jesus has my back” and then Kevin hit the brakes. We had been going close to 90 mph when he decided not to ram that car. The world spun as the tires made a sustained screeching sound against the pavement. There was an instant of silence before we hit the guard rail. The car scraped the rail throwing sparks as the metal ground a long groove along the passenger side. When the car stopped moving, Mr. Garvey tried to open his door. He ended up shoving Kevin over and out of the driver’s side door until he was able to climb out. He then nearly ripped the back door off and ordered the rest of us out of the car. Kevin was comatose and just stood there as Mr. Garvey screamed at him. When he was done yelling at Kevin, he turned and vomited. I wanted to throw up too but there wasn’t anything in my stomach.