Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hotter Than Hell Cajon Blues

At the risk of alienating 99% of schoolchildren, and 100% of teachers, I’ve got to say this: I hate summer. I really hate it. If it were up to me, I’d be put in a medically induced coma with a note pinned to my sleeve, “Wake me in October.” Oh, you’re probably thinking, “What? What about barbecues and picnics and days on the beach?” Nope. Don’t like ‘em. I live in El Cajon, where it can be 114º in July.

I don’t like to be hot. That’s the main thing. Hot. Over 80 degrees is too hot for me. When it’s a hundred degrees plus for days and days in mid-August, it’s just too much. I can’t take it. Sure, I could go inside and run the air conditioning, but I have to go outside sometime, if only to go and get supplies before I hole up in the house for the duration.

When it’s cold, I can put on a sweater or a jacket or snuggle up with a blanket. When it’s hot, there’s no escaping it. I can’t take off enough clothes. I really don’t want my neighbors to see me naked, so even shorts show too much skin. These pasty white legs belong under a nice pair of jeans, thank you very much, and I’d just as soon not show off my flabby triceps in a sleeveless blouse. Michelle Obama is a real inspiration with her nice toned arms, but I’m afraid it’s too late for me.

I hate it when it’s too hot to cook. Can’t even think about heating up the kitchen with a roast beef or a pot of boiling pasta. And who wants to eat a steaming bowl of soup when it’s steaming outside? Give me a cool, rainy day and I’ll whip up a meatloaf or stroganoff, maybe even bake a pie. But in the middle of summer, if I can’t make it in the microwave or put it on the barbecue, I’m not cooking.

I’m not cleaning house either. We can be up to our knees in dog hair; I’m not running the vacuum and risk getting heat stroke. Washing windows? Forget about it! I’ve got my head in the refrigerator. Laundry? We’re supposed to be saving electricity, so if I’ve got to choose, I choose air conditioning.

Summer TV sucks. There’s no America Idol or Amazing Race or Survivor. I’ve seen every episode of any series that I watch—I have DVR. And who wants to watch reruns of Ellen or Oprah? Even the news seems to be the same every day. Frying an egg on the sidewalk; Padres in last place again; 90º today--“How long will it last?” You can’t convince me that they aren’t slipping in a repeat of the news once in awhile.

I hate it when it’s too hot to sleep. Unless you want to run the air conditioner 24/7, there comes a point in the evening when I have to turn it off. So I crack open a window, which has its own problems, such as kids next door playing basketball into all hours of the night, barking dogs, cars on the street with their boom boxes on 11, and still it’s too hot. And forget about going to bed for “other things” (wink-wink.) I just want to lie still on top of the sheets and try real hard to keep from sweating. “Don’t come near me with your 98.6 ° body,” I say.

Around the first of May, I start trying to think of all the good things about summer, thinking maybe this year I will feel differently. So I make a list:

Summer fruit: Peaches, plums, apricots and cherries, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew and casabas. Yum!

Barbecues: Get-togethers with friends, cooking hamburgers and hot dogs. A cold beer on a warm evening.

Vegetable gardens: Homegrown tomatoes. Mountains of zucchini.

Flowers: Every kind of flower blooms in summer.

The long evenings: It’s still light when my husband comes home from work.

The Del Mar Fair: OMG, the cinnamon rolls; the Home & Hobby exhibits; the whiz-bang slicers, dicers, and miracle cleaners, face creams and diet products; the pigs and chickens; not to mention the deep fried Snickers bars.

So, OK, there are a couple of things I like about summer. Maybe I can cope. I could do like the Native Americans did, and retreat into the mountains. I could construct a special haz-mat suit with its own air-conditioning to keep me cool all summer. I could move into Michael’s Craft Store where it’s always at least a season or two ahead. They put out the fall décor in June and the Christmas stuff by the 4th of July.

Or I could just move about 20 miles west. It’s not really summer I don’t like; it’s summer in El Cajon. San Diego was #3 on a list of the coolest cities in the US during the summer. Seattle is #2, topped by the coldest place on earth (even colder than Antarctica), San Francisco. I’d better quit my bitchin’. There’s no place like home. It could be worst. I could live in Phoenix.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Death for Dummies

I see dead people. No, I don't really see dead people. I see people who see dead people. People who communicate with the dear departed have become a part of my everyday life. The strange thing is, I never believed in an afterlife. I wasn’t raised in any religion so I've always thought that when you die, you're dead. That's it. Nothing else. Longevity runs in my family, so I figure by the time I’m 99 or so, I’m going to be really tired. Done. And I’m not really hungering for an afterlife because I want the essence of me to go on forever. But since my mom died, I haven’t been able to accept that I'll never hear from her again. Even though she lived to be nearly ninety, she read voraciously, loved crossword puzzles and was, in her words, “Tarp as a shack.” I miss her. So, bit by bit, I've explored the notion of a life beyond this one, hoping for a peek into the Other Side.
I find a kind of comfort in the TV psychics who keep in touch with people who have passed on. I just love John Edward’s TV show, Crossing Over. In case you haven't seen it, he stands center stage with the audience stadium-style around him. He pauses a moment, rubs his hands together and then, his finger pointed as a compass, walks toward someone in the audience and says, “There's someone here whose name begins with B.” When a person acknowledges this, Edward is off and running. He comes up with amazing, detailed snippets of information about a relative or friend who has passed on, or about the people who are still here—verifying that the loved one is still around, watching over the family. He is always very specific. “You have a picture of your brother in a Carmen Miranda hat.” Or “Who dressed the dog in the Superman outfit?” The people he picks look stunned. No actor is that good. Day after day, he draws a picture of a life beyond this one. And, day after day, my resistance has worn down.
It sounds so superficial to say that a TV show has changed my fundamental beliefs. But in fact, I’d love to see John Edward in person. The trouble is, with my luck, he wouldn’t hear from my mom. I’d get messages from distant relatives or my former mother-in-law. John Edward brings through ex-husbands and ex-wives, mean ex-bosses and cranky ex-landlords. Almost everyone’s got an ex in his or her life. And that ex is for a reason. I only have one ex-husband to worry about. What’s Liz Taylor going to do? My reading would slip by with me anxiously waiting to hear from my mom, and John Edward would be asking me if the phrase “cowboy room” meant anything to me. It’s a reference to a horrible old diet doctor my sister and I went to in the days of phen-fen. (All of Dr. Roston’s exam rooms had themes: the cowboy room, the diet jokes room, the world travels room and the antique medical instrument room. We hated the cowboy room. The scales were at least a pound heavier.) Actually, I wouldn’t mind hearing from Dr. Roston. Something like, “Put down that donut.”
John Edward says that our loved ones are always around us. He says, “ Don’t bother going to the cemetery. They’re in the car with you on the way.” But aren’t there places you wouldn’t want your mom to go? What about privacy? This goes way beyond a meddling mother in law. In the movie City of Angels, angels in long gray trench coats hang around people all the time, everywhere. Besides being a pretty bad movie, I found the whole idea of being watched not comforting, but vaguely creepy. Watching me shower, sleeping, having sex? Yuck! No wonder nuns are celibate.
But maybe it’s like a cosmic television, where if you’re doing something that your dead Uncle Jack shouldn’t see, he can “change the channel” and watch somebody else. Hopefully there are “channel blockers” to keep the perverts at bay. (But of course there wouldn’t be perverts in Heaven anyway, right?) Everyday life is, for the most part, really boring. Watch any reality tv show for more than five minutes and that becomes abundantly clear. So why would Aunt Helen want to watch you do your grocery shopping when she could check out Mel Gibson in the shower? Can we only see people we knew in life? Security guards monitor multiple screens with ease, so maybe moms on the other side have multiple sets so they can watch all of their children, plus keep up with their favorite soap opera.
John Edward tries his best to explain how all of this works, and he’s so good at it, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that your great aunt Mildred is watching over you. He even hears from pets that have passed on. When my much-loved Golden Retriever, Brandon, died, many people sent cards telling the lovely tale of the Rainbow Bridge. Through tear-filled eyes, I read about the magical day when Brandon will look up from resting in his heavenly meadow, cross the Rainbow Bridge, and we’ll be reunited. But once I put down the card and blew my nose, I remembered Brandon wasn’t the only dog in my life. I had Pogo before him, and have Bodie now, and expect to always have a dog around. Are all of these dogs waiting at the Rainbow Bridge for me? Brandon, lovable as he was, hated all other dogs. I’m afraid there’s a huge dogfight brewing on the Other Side.
See, this is where I run into trouble. I start trying to figure out the logistics of the afterlife. Are the dear departed with us all the time or with God in Heaven? How can it be both? And will they recognize us when we get there, presuming we’ll be a lot older? And are these dead people ghosts or angels? I guess these are the same questions people have asked for eons. Since I don’t have a priest or rabbi, I’m left wondering. Most people born into a religion have faith. They’re not bothered by niggling details. I suppose if I were methodical, I’d take a Comparative Religion class, and find the philosophy that fits my outlook. But I’m not that organized. What I’d like is a book—Death for Dummies, a McDonaldization of answers about the afterlife. “You want fire and brimstone with that?”
Picking and choosing from books and TV, the pop culture approach works for me. I’ve even adopted notions from the newspaper. Dear Abby’s “Pennies from Heaven” philosophy maintains that when you find a penny, it means that someone who has passed on is saying hello. Her column has been filled with stories from people who have found pennies in unusual places, and even pennies with dates that are significant to them. When I'm really missing my mom, a penny will turn up. At her favorite restaurants, at the movies or at the library, I usually find one. In fact, my first day at writing workshop, I found a penny under my seat. I told the teacher, “My mom says Hi.” Mom wrote poetry; it’s fitting that she’d follow me to class.
If I only I could talk to her. The puzzle of the afterlife is just the sort of thing my mom would love to talk about. So many questions. I hope she’s ready.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Karma's Out of Harmony

My Karma’s Out Of Harmony

My karma’s out of harmony. I’m a good person. I recycle. I vote in every election. I leave coupons I can’t use at the grocery store. I’m basically a “random acts of kindness” type of person. So why don’t things turn out in my favor? Why is it that even when I’m trying to do a good deed, it blows up in my face?

For some reason, I’m a magnet for lost dogs. Every lost dog in the Rancho San Diego area some how ends up at my doorstep, waiting to be reunited with its owner. So one summer evening, when a couple came to my front door, asking if I’d seen their dog, I said with confidence, “No, but if it’s around here, I’ll find it.”

Sure enough—the very next day, a dog fitting the description was nosing around in my front yard. So I got our spare dog leash, clipped it on the dog’s collar, and headed up the street. The dog didn’t seem to want to go with me, but I figured it was because it didn’t know me. But I insisted, and dragged it along, both of us panting in the hundred-degree heat. I found the address the couple had left, walked up to the door, and proudly rang the doorbell, anticipating the cries of joy from the happy family.

The man came to the door and said, “Can I help you?”

I said, “Here’s your dog!”

He said, “No, it’s not.”

I said, “Sure it is. Just like you described.”

He said, “No, it’s not. My dog’s in the backyard. ”

I could feel my face go beet red. And not just from the heat. I said, “Hmmm, I wonder whose dog it is?” Of course I didn’t think to check the dog’s license until that second. A couple of hours later, after a long sweaty hike, I found the dog’s real home. The owner acted miffed that I had taken his dog on such a long walk on a hot day.

No good deed goes unpunished. But still I carry on, trying to do the right thing.

I walk my dog (really my dog, not some homeless dog I picked up somewhere) every day. And like all good dog owners should, I always pick up his poop with a plastic bag and put it in the trash. It’s no big deal. Like changing a baby’s diaper, it’s something you know you have to do, so you do it. I take a plastic bag, put my hand inside like a glove, pick up the poop, and then turn the bag inside out, and voila—a neat solution to a messy problem.

I have no patience with people who litter. It annoys me to death to see trash strewn around, especially in my park. So the other day, after I did my usual poop scoop magic trick, when I spied a pile of fast food wrappers, I thought, “Well, I’m a nice person. I wouldn’t leave trash in the park. I’ll just clean up those wrappers with my poop scoop bag.” And I reached down with my poopy bag, scooped up the mess—feeling very self-righteous—and then a turd escaped out of the bag, and rolled across my hand, leaving a disgusting brown trail.

Am I being punished because I’m smug? I admit it makes me feel good to give the little “you go ahead” wave when I get on the freeway. It makes me happy to donate my gently used clothing to the Goodwill. I love the oohs and aahs when I bring a batch of cookies to my co-workers. But I don’t just do nice things because it makes me feel good. I’m good because it’s the right thing to do. But don’t cha think I deserve a little reward?

After the returning the dog to the wrong house happening, and the poop pop out episode, I was feeling a little wary. But what can you do? You can’t just stay home. That would be letting the terrorists win. So I continued my good deeds, smiled and waved to old people, did the “after you” gesture at elevators, shared my homegrown tomatoes with the neighbors and then went to Ralph’s for some milk and bread, and left the coupon on the Wheaties box that was too big for just me and my husband.

When I got back to the parking lot, I didn’t recognize my car right away. Something was wrong. I couldn’t quite place it at first. What it looked like to me was that it was missing a front tooth. Then it dawned on me—the front hubcap was missing. I had no idea how that happened. Somebody could have stolen it, or it could have fallen off and I didn’t hear it—I’ve been known to play my music pretty loud in the car—or I could have knocked it off attempting to parallel park. A dozen scenarios went through my head… Anyway, it was gone. Bummer. I slinked home, parked the car in the garage and moped.

The thing is, I’m overly fond of my car; it’s a red VW New Beetle. It’s so cute, if it had cheeks you’d want to pinch them. The missing hubcap made it look really sad. I could almost picture a tear roll out from one of the headlights.

I heaved a big sigh and wondered what I would tell my husband. John takes meticulous care of his truck. It’s more than seven years old, but you’d never know it. It looks like it came right off the showroom floor. So when John drove up, I cringed. A missing hubcap would never happen to him. “I lost a hubcap,” I said, “I don’t know how or where. I went to the store and when I came out, it was gone.” I wished I could say, “I saw some boys running off with it, but I couldn’t catch them.” But since I’m good person, I couldn’t lie. Karma already had it in for me. A lie would just make it worse.

John said, “ You won’t believe this. I just saw a VW hubcap propped up against a stop sign down the street.”

“What?” I said, thinking, “Could I be that lucky?”

“Yeah, down by the dip in the road, ” he said.

Well, I couldn’t jump into my car fast enough. John hopped in, too, and we zoomed down the street as if someone else was after that hubcap, too, and it was a race to see who got it first. We got to the stop sign, and pretty as you please, there was a VW hubcap leaning against the sign, just waiting for me. Just like a coupon on a box of Wheaties.

I snatched up the hubcap, and said to John, “Well, finally. Karma’s paying me back for all of the good things I do. ” I drove back home feeling so smug. So vindicated. A little self-righteous. I mentally went down my checklist of good deeds. “Yeah, finally, ” I said. I couldn’t wait to put it back on my car.

We got back home, pulled into the driveway and I jumped out of the car to fix the hubcap. I handed it to John, who’s the handyman in the family, and he bent over the wheel to pop the hubcap on. Then suddenly he stood straight up. He had a puzzled frown on his face. “This isn’t the same hubcap,” he said. “Not the same at all.”

“What?” This was news to me. “There are different kinds of hubcaps? ” I said.

“Sure,” John said. “There are hundreds of different kinds. It was a long shot that this one would match.”

“What?” I was totally deflated. All of my puffed up self-importance whooshed out like a balloon raspberrying around the room. I had to sit down.

The universe that had been in perfect balance suddenly tipped off its axis.

It’s just not fair. What about the time I returned the dog? What about the poop incident? And all of the coupons I’ve clipped? I’ve made plenty of deposits in my Karmic bank account. Am I making up for some past life where I was a heinous criminal?

In the television show, “My Name is Earl,” Earl Hickey is former petty thief who wins $100,000 in lottery money, only to get hit by a car seconds later. While he’s in the hospital he hears about Karma, and he figures that the accident was payback for all of the bad things he’s done in life. So he makes a list of his sins and goes around making it up to people and checking them off his list. His philosophy is “Do good things and good things will happen to you. Do bad things and it will come back and bite you in the ass.” And every week, he checks somebody off the list and the world is right again.

At least in Earl’s world. In my world, it’s not the right kind of the hubcap. I never come close to winning the lottery. The guy I voted for doesn’t win the election. The light’s always red when I’m in a hurry. The one pair of jeans that fit get a big stain on the butt. I try not to take it personally, but you’d think Karma would throw me a bone once in awhile. But I guess that’s my mission in life. To give Karma a big belly laugh. Life is just one big cosmic joke. And I’m lucky I have a sense of humor.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Good Intentions

The Road to Hell

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I’ve got a 6-lane superhighway and I’m going 90 MPH. I have so many grand plans; I’d have to live to be a hundred and fifty to get everything accomplished. If I could do everything I intend to do, I’d be Mother Theresa, Danielle Steele and Oprah combined. And I’d have a fabulous figure, too. But if you saw the layer of dust on my Total Gym, you’d realize it ain’t gonna happen.
I don’t know why I can’t give up the dream of being a size 6. Or of writing the Great American Novel. It’s not that I want to save the world. A small goal like “eat healthy” seems doable. The lettuce, celery, cucumbers and kiwis look beautiful in the grocery store. But a couple of weeks later when the crisper drawer is filled with slimy green soup, I think, “Well, that’s another good intention down the drain. Let’s go to McDonald’s.”
And as I’m eating my burger and fries, the thought drifts in that someday, I really will write that book. I used to have a full-time job, so I couldn’t write then. And then I got laid off my job, and felt like I had to be “Super Housewife,” so I couldn’t write then. And then I went to full time to college, so I couldn’t write then. And then I got another job, so I couldn’t write THEN. So I quit my job so I could write. But I couldn’t write then because……I ran out of excuses…And found out how hard it is to transform intentions into reality.
My husband, God love him, is a doer. Every Saturday morning, right after coffee and a dog walk, gets out a pencil & paper and makes a list. He writes down “walk,” “wash the car,” “build an armoire for the living room,” etcetera, and then spends the day rushing around actually doing this stuff, crossing tasks off the list as he completes them. I’ve tried the list method. It just makes me feel guilty. I do a few things, and then run off to lunch with my sister or something, and never get back to the list.
I never learned self-discipline as a kid. I was the youngest of five children, and by the time my mom was raising me, she was pooped out. I tried all types of lessons while I was growing up—piano, violin, tap dance—but when I got bored or lazy, Mum would let me quit. Why didn’t I inherit the “stick-to-it gene?” Why are some people driven and some are not?
My sister has two sons. She raised them the same way. But Rob is a high-powered lawyer and Ryan is a baggage handler for Southwest Airlines. Not that one is better than the other, but Rob seemed to be born with the drive to succeed. At eight years old he decided to go to Stanford, and worked hard to attain that goal. Ryan went to college on the 6-year plan, and never really decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. He’s always been content with “whatever” and drifted along. It’s not that I wish I could be a Rob. I’d just like to drink a little of the same water he does, so I could get done the things I’ve been meaning to do.
But that to-do list is soooo long I don’t know where to begin. Besides the Total Gym covered in dust, I’ve got a great computer that’s only used for e-mail and Ebay, a sewing machine with a half-done Halloween quilt draped over it, recipes clipped but never tried, an electronic piano that can’t seem to play anything but “Fur Elise,” and a library of books that I’ve only read the first ten pages of. Not to mention the 15 boxes of photos to be put in albums, the Mount St. Helens of ironing, and the Amazon jungle of weeds in the backyard. Besides, weeds grow back and clean underwear always takes precedence over novel writing.
I started this essay more than two years ago. It’s been a joke that I have “good intentions” to finish my essay on good intentions. So now you’re hoping that I’ll say that I bought those Anthony Robbins motivational tapes and I’m a whirlwind of activity—on my way to a Pulitizer prize. Nope. Sorry. And I’m too old now to be called a prodigy. Luckily for me there’s no time limit on being a “late bloomer.” I figure I’ll be the Grandma Moses of writers. And be wearing adorable size 6 polyester stretch pants.