Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chickens Crossing the Road?

We all HEAR about the chicken crossing the road and we all PONDER the different answers to this eternal question, but in reality, has anyone ACTUALLY seen a chicken crossing a road? We see chipmunks, squirrels, deer, rabbits, and the occasional possum crossing the road. Sometimes we see snakes crossing the road - at night in the desert. Or coyotes or roadrunners. But chickens?

Don't chickens stay in barnyards or hen houses? What self-respecting chicken farmer would ALLOW an investment, like a chicken, to put itself in harm's way? Surely the farmers KNOW that cars use roads and will HIT unsuspecting chickens if they are not crossing fast enough.
Chickens meander and mosey too. They don't go fast unless a cat is after them. And what are the chances of a CAT chasing an actual chicken ACROSS a road?

It's like dogs named Fido. The mainstream media always refer to "Fido" when referring to your dog and people always seem to KNOW that FIDO is a code-word for DOG. Like it is some kind of really, really, popular name. But WHO IN HECK really has a dog named Fido? I have NEVER, ever, heard of a real dog named Fido.

Duke and Max, yes. Lots of dogs are named Duke or Max. But NO DOGS ARE EVER NAMED FIDO.

So - one of these days I am going to get a chicken, as soon as I can train my dachshunds not to KILL the chicken. The problem is they have a rubber chicken that they "kill" all the time. So I am not sure this is going to work. Dachshunds can't tell the difference between rubber chickens and real chickens. (Unless they are barbecued.)

AND - I am going to name the chicken FIDO.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Water, water, everywhere.....

I am surrounded by pools. They are everywhere. Big, clear, and inviting - they taunt me.
From my second floor window I can see 3 of them in the yards behind and beside me. The beckon and cajole. They call my name. But they are not serious.

Behind me is a beautiful built-in pool with elaborate stone work and one of those lazy pool snake things that is supposed to move around and keep it clean. But it doesn't move and the water is kind of green and murky-looking. In the 2 years I have lived here, nobody, EVER, swims in that pool. People live there - I can hear them, fighting, yelling, partying, yakking on the phone. But they walk AROUND the pool. They sit BESIDE the pool. They are NEVER, ever, IN the pool.

Kitty-corner behind me is another one. This pool is one of those molded things that was dropped into a hole in the ground. It is pristine and very blue. It is plain and not gussied up. It is surrounded by dirt. The original owners used it - usually late at night. But the new owners put a wrought iron fence around it and walked away. It stays clean. It stays pristine and inviting. But - it stays empty. Even their big black DOG can't get at it. He lays next to the sliding glass door, tongue hangning out, panting. But he can't go in the pool. It seems NOBODY can.

Next door is a family with 3 teenagers. The yard has never been landscaped. It is barren dirt and weeds - with a doughboy pool perched right in the middle. Every week some guy comes buy in a white truck to "take care" of the pool. I have seen the boys in the pool once and the mom once. The girl - never. The dad? Nope. It stands there amid the desert beseeching for swimmers. Nobody comes.

I work with several teachers who OWN pools. I was unabashed and unashamed to let them know that I envied them and that I REALLY LIKE TO GO INTO POOLS. They all say the same thing: "Come by anytime!" But they never call to invite me. They never write. And I am too self-conscious to just call them up and ask. (Phone phobia is not good at times like this.)

So I stand there on my little deck outside my bedroom looking at these pools and thinking about injustice. No, I didn't go into debt to get one of them. No, I didn't put up with pool contractors and loan officers and large earth moving equipment to get a pool. I didn't have to put up with some cheesy sign planted in my front yard announcing the construction of "yet another" pool by this very over-worked and over-priced company. So I can't say that I BLAME these people. Not really.

But sheesh. Here I am, willing to USE their pools, dog-paddling away, displacing a bit of water while they do whatever it is they do as they ignore their pools in this record-breaking heat. I am willing to love their pools, appreciate their pools, ENJOY their pools while they turn a blind eye to them.

It is some kind of cosmic torture - the unfairness of the world laid out before me, like dogs and kids with noses pressed against the glass, yearning to be free - an unable to get past the screen door.

Yes, I could go to the PUBLIC pool and swim with hundreds of screaming children. Yes, screaming. They don't swim, they scream. I deal with children all school year. I don't need them SCREAMING in my ear as I swim. I just don't.

I can go to my health club. I can endure the embarrassment as I walk from the locker room to the pool in my bike shorts and halter - AS IF I could get this fat butt into a bathing suit. But there is some kind of foamy stuff on the top of this pool. And there is some strange guy who swims back and forth and stares at me while I do the same. I've read too many true crime novels, I guess. And bacteria? Let's not go there.

Pools, pools, everywhere - and not a one for swimming.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The New Juicer

Well, friends... After much thought and consideration, I bought a Jack LaLanne juicer. It is very fancy and very expensive. But what price for good health? Watching Elaine LaLanne shove all matter of fruits and vegetables through that chute and creating wonderful, delicious, healthy juices just inspired me. After all, Jack is older than dirt and looks damn good. He also hauled a boat across a harbor with his teeth so there must be something to this juicing business.

I went to the market this morning and bought 3 different BAGS of apples - for that uniquely blended apple flavor. Did you know you can shove the WHOLE apple through the chute? Yes! The whole thing, although it is recommended that you remove the stem.

I also bought a whole BAG of oranges, 2 cantaloupes, a whole pineapple, and blueberries. Yes, 2 boxes of blueberries at almost $4 per box because they looked so delicious and they just chock-full of nutrients designed by Mother Nature to thwart all matter of illness. I also bought bananas but Elaine and Jack strongly stress in the little manual that one should NEVER put bananas in the juicer. It is BAD to put bananas in the juicer.

Here are my observations to date with regard to said juicer:

1. $4 worth of blueberries yields 2 teaspoons of juice.

2. One gala and one granny smith apple, stems removed, and one package of $4 blueberries creates 3/4 of a juice glass of juice. It is a purplish green color and tastes quite good.

3. Regardless of adherence to directions, the juicer is quite active. When the plastic "pulp collector" spins right off the juicer, which it did twice, fruit pulp flies all over the kitchen.

4. There are 8 parts which must be washed thoroughly when the juicer is finished creating 3/4 of a juice glass full of greenish-purple juice. All of these parts are interlocking and the remaining pulp adheres snugly.

5. Although dogs will eat almost anything, they will not lick up fruit pulp flung onto the floor, cabinet doors, or the refrigerator door. Any pieces that hit the dog dish will be disregarded.

I will say that my kitchen is squeaky clean after scrubbing and mopping but I am a little concerned about all this fruit in my house.

Jack and Elaine must have a maid.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Strange Box

Taking possession of human remains is a very serious thing. It is one of those events that causes a great deal of introspection. There is an implied responsibility, a sense of the sacred. And - it is just plain weird.

How many times in your life can you turn to someone and say, "So - my father's ashes have been delivered to my house. They are in a box on the dining room table. The box is - lovely." It is a blond oak with brass corner things. When you open it, there is a brass urn - rectangular in shape with rounded corners.

The box is a very nice looking box but it is not the sort of box I would pick to place on the table as part of ordinary decor. I think the shape of it is funereal, but I may be influenced in my perception because I know what is inside. It is the sort of box you bury, but not in your backyard.

There is some poetic justice in having this box sit on the dining room table. It is the table my grandfather created in 1940 when he found the top of it underneath the house on Holland Ave. He turned the legs himself, attached them to the top and created a table. He placed that table in the dining room - where it remained for the next 65 years. My father sat at that table many times. He did his homework there and he tinkered with things there and he ate there - a thousand times?

What would he say had he known that the ashes of his body - all that remains of him on this earth - would one day rest upon this table and that his daughter would be unsettled by their mere presence? He might have laughed. Maybe he would have caressed the spot he thought his ashy bones would settle. Maybe he would have walked away, too overwhelmed to think about it.

My son walked past the box several times before realizing what it was. I lifted it out of the non-descript and everyday cardboard container and tried to hand it to him, unaware how heavy it was going to be. My son did not wish to handle the box. He stepped backward. Strange? How would I know?

Although tempted a few times to say that "my father was delivered" to my house by some guy driving a Ford Explorer, I resisted. My father is not in this box. What remains of my father has been reduced to something like 8 pounds of ashes - ashes that, if I remember correctly, look strangely like what gets scooped out of the barbecue after a few weeks of grilling. The body - the man - is gone.

"You have memories," the well-meaning say, and I want to reply that they are not enough. Memories are not enough. I have emotions. I have anger. I have a deep and abiding sadness. I have frustration that I cannot pick up the phone and tell him something. He is not here.

I have a box. A strange and unsettling box that needs to be somewhere out of my sight because it reminds me that he is gone. I had whole days when I was starting to feel better. Hours would go by and I wouldn't think about him. But now I am reminded. My father is dead. All I have is a box.

And a box on the table is not enough.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sausage-Casing Girls

There is nothing quite like picking up the newspaper and finding that one of your favorite columnists is writing about something that you have noticed, something that niggled, pestered, and bothered but was let go. Because the topic is just not quite right for general discussion.

Well, if Robin Abcarian can write about it and the L.A. Times can show pictures of it, then I can talk about it.

AND.... I can write about it: The sausage-casing girls.

We have all seen them because they are legion, everywhere we go. The image of these girls, squeezed into too-tight hip-hugging jeans, pencil-thin teeny little tank tops, with rolls and rolls of fat hanging over like a spare tire - they are unavoidable. How in the world can ANYBODY stand to wear pants that crawl up the crotch and dig into the belly, and then ALLOW that tight squeeze to force the fat up and over - all the way around? Those little spaghetti-strap tank tops that are often worn in layers - are they really MEANT to hug the rolls between a too-small bra and a belt fastened on the very last loop valiantly holding up skinny jeans meant for somebody 30 pounds lighter?

I see these girls everywhere. They walk along with their exposed bellies jiggling like jello and I want to say something - like, "Do you realize how UNATTRACTIVE THAT IS?" Something like, "Have some pride! Respect yourself!" But I don't. I just can't. Maybe it's a generational thing comparable to the enormously baggy pants worn by some teen boys and the comical hair styles that often accompany them. The fact that I consider it silly and ridiculous to let half your boxers show on purpose doesn't dissaude any of them from doing it.

Robin Abcarian writes that most of these girls do not perceive themselves as fat - they buy the clothes they THINK they should fit into and ignore everything unattractive and uncomfortable about the reality of their bodies. One potential interviewee was actually 'hurt' and 'upset' that she was asked for an interview on this subject - "She thinks she looks cute, " her cousin explained. ("Cute?" Has the definition of the word changed that drastically in 20 years?)

This is not just one or two girls - seen just often enough to evoke comment. This is a majority of the teen to twenty-something female population. And to make matters worse, I observe it daily in my elementary school, little girls who are already overweight baring their bellies and celebrating their poor eating habits with tight jeans and teeny little tops not intended for real children.

I am aware every single day of my life that I am overweight. I hate having to buy and wear large size clothing in order to camouflage 40 extra pounds. I would LOVE to ignore it. I would LOVE to accept it. I would love to LOSE IT and KEEP IT OFF. I would even like to have it SUCKED OUT with surgical instruments. But I could never, ever, in a million years, leave the house dressed like a Sausage-Casing girl - "cute" as I may be in those Size 9 Levis.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Packrat Tales: Continuing....

Aunt Trudy loves containers. She has many, many, containers and she uses them to hold all matter of stuff. There is no container that is too old, too big, too small, or too mishapen to use. All containers have value and worth.

Most important are the bags. She has quite possibly saved each and every shopping bag she has ever encountered. Paper bags are neatly folded and stacked. She keeps them in closets, on the floor, and on top of her vintage 1950s era washing machine. Anytime she wishes to do laundry, the bags of bags must be moved - to the floor - until the laundry is finished. Then they are replaced to their perch on top of the washing machine.

Inside her closet are bags of newspaper bags. The kinds of bags the newspaper comes in are plastic - oblong and really not very reusable. But Aunt Trudy saves them and they sit in a brown paper shopping sack on the floor in her closet.

"Let me recycle these," I say, moving them out of the way to gain access to an elusive treasure she wants me to unearth from the back of the closet. "Oh no," she says. "I need them."

"What will you DO with them, Aunt Trudy?" I ask, straining to be patient as I move a box of very old-looking drapery hardware. "You have plenty of other bags."

"I use them when I sort things out," she says, as if sorting things out is something she does early and often.

The plastic grocery sacks she uses for garbage - quite literally since she refuses to USE the garbage disposal lest she "wear it out." She also uses them to line her trash cans and the extras area placed into this crafty-looking hand-towel plastic bag saver that an elderly neighbor gave her for her birthday ten years before. I would wager money that the FIRST bag she ever placed inside this thing still resides there.

If there is an after-market for 'disposable' microwave dishes, Aunt Trudy could make some nice pocket change. Each and EVERY disposable microwave dish that has EVER crossed her threshold remains in her kitchen until there is no space left. THEN they are stacked into like piles and put into bags and placed - yes! - on top of the washing machine with the paper bags. They too get moved down to the floor when a load of laundry is in the washer.

Yogurt and applesauce containers get stacked up too. After washing, they may get used to hold paperclips, rubber bands, nuts and bolts, staples, empty prescription bottles, tape, and old pens. They are everywhere. They are legion. Those unworthy of cluttering the house get relegated to the paper bag and will reside on top of the washing machine, to get a change in scenery whenever the sheets need laundering.

Since Aunt Trudy rarely buys shoes, the shoe box population in the house does remain manageable. These boxes are old and I imagine that anyone collecting old shoe boxes would consider them a treasure trove. On the bottom of most of the boxes are the lids - serving as coasters, no doubt, and spending more time on the bottom of the box than they EVER did in their rightful position on the top. The boxes have old coupons, old bank statements, letters, documents, medical bills, rolls of tape, address and phone books, clunky hardware, old tools, pictures, coffee cups with broken handles, key rings from touristy places, and painstakingly dated papers that need to be "gone over" before they are relegated to another pile, file, or the shredder tray.

"I could sure use these trays for paint at school," I say, hoping to reduce the clutter on top of the poor old washing machine.

"If you can use them, take them!" Aunt Trudy tells me, happy that her containers were saved and will now find a proper home.

"Wonderful! The kids will be so pleased. How about these? And these?" I hold up the bag of yogurt containers and plastic bread bags.

"Take them! Take them all." And before she can change her mind, I haul all this loot to the car, fully intending to recycle them once I returned home.

But later that night she calls my mother-in-law, in a panic.

"Kimberli threw out my containers! They were perfectly good! I can't find them anywhere."

"You gave them to her for paint at school," reminds my patient mother in law.

"Well.... I just hope I don't NEED any sometime soon." AS IF she couldn't use those useless newspaper bags.

The Packrat Files: Post 1

My 96-year old great-aunt is a packrat. ANY piece of paper that enters her home must be dated and then painstakingly read with her magnifier. Since this is a tedious process, the papers back up.

The stack I went through last week went back to 1998 - I kid you not, and MANY of these papers were advertisements for things she cannot possibly ever use. She is loathe to let ANYTHING go without having personally inspected it so I will try to be her eyes and speed the process up a bit.

"Fifth grade girls science camp, Aunt Trudy?" I ask ask I pass the ad to the recycle pile. "I guess not," she replies, somehow disappointed. "How about vinyl siding - Sears had a sale in 2004," I say with a perfectly straight face.

"I just got the house painted. Why would I want siding," she snaps.

"So - I can toss it?" (I toss it.)

"I don't know. You never know if you are going to need siding."

She has boxes and boxes and bags and bags of papers - receipts, old bills, flyers, company mailings, prospectuses, statements - you name it. One bag has cancelled checks from the 1950s written on a bank no longer in existence. But she won't HEAR of throwing them away because she may NEED them one day.

She has a shredder. Many, many papers are stacked on a tray in front of the shredder. But they don't get shredded until she's had the chance to "go over them" one more time - with the magnifier - just in case something was put there in error.

All over the house are these stacks. With each stack there are boxes - small, medium, and large - filled with rubber bands, paper clips, stubby pencils, markers, grease pencils, odds and ends, measuring tapes, staple removers, antique staplers, index cards, string, pictures, business cards, letter openers, envelopes - and other detritus of the disorganized. The boxes are ALL old shoeboxes or vintage boxes that she could never part with and they all hold mysterious treasure. One has postage stamps going back to the Nixon era, along with penny and 2cent stamps to use when you have to make up the difference because postage is no longer 21 cents.

One day I arrived and she was indignant. She has fired, ONCE AGAIN, a companion sent over from an agency that charges well for its services. This woman's crime? She went through the cupboards and freezer - tossing out cans that my aunt had diligently labeled - with dates going back to the late 1980s. 12 "perfectly good" cans of cranberry jelly from the early 1990s were tossed, along with packages of meat that only the bravest of souls would have defrosted for further inspection. These meat packages had been laid ON THE FLOOR and my aunt was carefully reconfiguring them in the freezer.

"Perfectly good meat! On the FLOOR. Right there!" She was incensed. The wastefulness of some people is just something she cannot fathom.

And speaking of freezers..... on top of the erstwhile stack of paper nearest her magnifier was a letter from SoCal Edison offering rebates to anyone buying an energy-saving refrigerator or other appliance. Clipped to it were several refrigerator ads from the local paper that she had collected over the course of several days.

"Is there something wrong with your refrigerator?" I asked her, leafing through pictures of stainless steel side-by-sides and the latest Sears Kenmore over and under model - complete with icemaker, water dispenser, and a little compartment for those items you need in a hurry.

"No, of course not. It's only 28 years old," she snapped.

"Well...then why all these ads?" I ask carefully.

"There's a rebate. $50.00!" She huffed at me like I was some sort of buffoon.

"So.. you are going to buy a new one?" I venture, steeling myself for the verbal attack that was sure to come.

"Of course not! Why would I?" She answered.

"So... why do you want to keep these ads .... and this letter from Edison about the rebate?"

"Just IN CASE!" She snorted. "JUST IN CASE! It might be a good deal."

"All right. Shall I create FILE for you? A 'Just in Case' Refrigerator file?"

"No. I don't need a new refrigerator. This one's only 28 years old."