Tuesday, November 07, 2006

All We Are Saying

On this election day...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Long Time, No Post. Even Longer Before Another...

Yesterday, Robin and her husband drove all the way out to the back of beyond to stop by the café for a visit. They flew in to Portland for a trip down to Salem to see their daughter at Willamette University. Scappoose is NOT on the way… It was a lovely visit, at a time when I really needed to know that my ethereal "friends" are indeed real people.

It’s funny, isn’t it, when you finally get to see someone you know but have never met. Did you ever experience that? Like when you get a glimpse of a favorite radio personality on TV or in person; you have a picture in your mind formed purely from the sound of the voice. And then you see them, and you think, "Well, that person doesn’t look at all the way they sound."

I have to say, I had that experience with Robin yesterday. She has (as far as I can recall) never graced us with a picture of herself in her journals. And on first sight, she didn’t look at all the way I had pictured her in my mind. And yet, after sitting down and talking with her for about thirty seconds, I realized she looked exactly how she should look. Exactly like a scholar, and a writer, and a teacher, and an aspring divinity student. Does that make any sense? I’m sorry…I don’t make a lot of sense these days….

Anyhow, thank you for visiting, my dear. And for choking down that quesadilla which I suspect wasn’t what it should have been. And I hope to see you again someday when we can spend more time, and I am more coherent. :-]

I have not posted here in almost two months. I just don't have the time or the energy to maintain this blog. I'm doing most of my posting at my old AOL Blog, "Coming to Terms...."--that comfortable cyber home that I could not bring myself to abandon even after the AOL armageddon... "Better Terms" was meant to be the place for my "next level" writings. But I find I don't have any of that in me right now. So I am going to officially abandon this place, at least for awhile...until I recover some semblance of higher brain activity. Anyone who wants to check in on me from time to time, you will find me at Coming to Terms... With AOL's new hugely ecumenical policies, you should even be able to leave a comment.

Thanks for reading. :-]

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Time Spent With My Sister's Daughter

This evening, we sat and explored the possibilities of an "ancient’" game of Intellivision. This fourteen-year-old and I. The young lady who was a baby…yesterday. The one baby, the only baby I have ever loved from the moment I laid eyes on her. As if she were my own.

So much water under the bridge now… Distances and commitments. Lives and loves and jails and little autistic brothers. It seems…it was so long ago. And the connection thought long severed. Yet, in the deepest reaches of our souls, it is there.

That inexplicable love… The first I have ever known of what has been labeled the "unconditional" variety of that particular commodity.

I truly believe that, no matter what that child does…I could never, ever turn my back on her. Never walk away. Though…maybe I thought that same thing of her three cousins. Far away from me, now…distances measured in more than simply miles.

How I long to keep this one close. How I long to be, to her, the aunt I shall never again be to the other three.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Taking Time

The alarm went off at 6. A creaky arthritic arm snaked out from under the blankets to pound the snooze bar. Twice. These days, I go to bed exhausted, and wake up in the same state. Somewhere around noon, with the help of my two-ounce daily allowance of caffeinated beverage, my eyes will open all the way—for about two hours. Then I float back down into that semi-fogged world of bleary-eyed sleep deprivation I’ve inhabited since July 1.

This morning, I dragged my butt down the stairs after my shower…about fifteen minutes later than I had planned. I wanted to get to the café at 7…a half-hour earlier than I really needed to be there. So I was fifteen minutes late for being a half-hour early. And now I needed to hurry out the door if I wanted to get there in time to let the key-less cook in for the start of his shift.

The sprinklers had been turned on, and mewling livestock had been rewarded with bowls of kibbles slid under their noses. Dog had been sent out the back door to take care of business. Chores accomplished, I collected keys, purse, satchel and prepared to fly out to the car. But the kitchen window was open, just a crack…and the soft calls of the goldfinches hovering around the seed sock derailed my businesslike exit.

My birds! The drip irrigation was still dripping, and I have set up one nozzle to drip into the bird bath, refreshing the water and (hopefully) keeping it from turning too green and scummy in the summer heat. One little yellow bird was merrily bathing under that tiny drip. Fluffing wings, wagging tail feathers, scattering tiny droplets in a joyful shower on the other birds waiting their turn. I was lost in the moment. For several seconds, I couldn’t have moved, couldn’t have dragged myself away from that vignette if the house was on fire. I consciously ignored the little voice that droned that I didn’t have time for this…that I was going to be late. And the thought crossed my mind, about taking time. Taking time to smell the roses.

For several years, I have not had to take time. The roses were there. I had the time. I smelled them.

Now, I have no time. It’s all used up. There is not a moment to spare. If I’m not rushing around putting out fires, walking tightropes, planning changes, poring over invoices and schedules, I’m cramming in a couple hours of sleep in between. And those "boring" days when I had oodles and oodles of time float just outside my grasp. As unattainable as the Grail.

And now I get it. The part about taking the time. So I took it.

I watched, enchanted, while that little bird enjoyed his ablutions. In less than a minute, he finished and flitted away. But those few stolen seconds sent me off with a smile and a calm that changed the entire fabric of my day.

Time. Take some. For the important things.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Look What They've Made Me Do

Hi. I've been away. In actual fact, I bought a business. I have joined the ranks of the terminally tired, eternally frazzled but gloriously "un-bossed" entrepreneurs of our great nation. I really don't even have time to write this, but...I thought it should be shared.

Let me just say that being a “real” business owner is a fiscal nightmare. And an accountant’s dream, I suppose. I’ve decided that accountants must have a powerful lobby in Washington, because the layers upon layers of IRS rules and regulations governing just payroll are mind-boggling. This is to say nothing of the quarterly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, biennial, semi-annual, multilateral, interracial, and multi-orgasmic reports that have to be filed by a legitimate business, with every agent behind every desk of every federal and state bureaucracy in existence. One could hardly afford not to hire an accountant…one would be have no time to run one’s own business if one tried to wade through this by oneself.

We had an amazing weekend catering at an event with my old business (the twenty-foot concession trailer) this past weekend. Like shooting fish in a barrel, as the old saying goes. We brought in more money than we ever have at a weekend event. More money, in fact, than my newly acquired café brought in all of last month. Which gave me pause this morning…and touched off a tiny tug-of-war in my head. For the first time in my life, I felt the overwhelming desire to cheat on my taxes. Not just the little white-lie cheating that everybody does. I mean big cheating.

We don’t use a cash register in the catering booth. You add up the transaction in your head, throw the money in the money box, and hope you have given out the right change. (Those of us of a certain age actually know how to make change, which is more than I can say for any one of the employees I inherited with my new business…but I digress.) So, I thought about that eighteen-inch-tall stack of money I took to the bank, and I thought…no one but me knows exactly what our sales were over the weekend. My accountant doesn’t know…my husband doesn’t know. The bank doesn’t know, because I made deposits in two different banks. We have no cash register, so there is no paper trail. The only figures in existence are in an Excel spreadsheet on my computer, and I can change those to read anything I want.

I’ve never really been tempted to cheat on my taxes before--for two reasons. The first reason being that I am the kind of person that cannot get away with anything. I got pulled over by a cop once, and he told me he’d have to give me a ticket this time, but the next time he might just write me a warning (?!?) I exude some kind of guilt pheromone when I’m trying to get away with something not quite savory. So I generally just don’t bother.

But the second reason is, I always felt that my tax money was, for the most part, being put to proper use. I knew that if I expected the society in which I lived to provide things like education for the children, support for the indigent, good roads and police protection, I needed to ante up. I never could understand these anti-taxation idiots who whine about taxing being excessive and illegal, but grumble out of the other side of their mouths about the potholes and the lack of prison beds, and want to run around the world with a big stick to make the rest of the world toe the line. Where the hell do they think the money comes from to make these things happen?

Which brings me back to my newly-inspired desire to cheat on my taxes. I look at what my country is, in this day and age, and exactly where that tax money is going, and I think, “I’m sorry, I can’t support any of this.” I can’t support an illegal war financed with billions of dollars that could and should be going to support the indigent, educate the children, fix the roads, fund research to free us from the burden of dependency upon foreign oil, clean up our environment and make sure we leave our planet fit for our children to inhabit. I can’t pour my blood sweat and tears into the pit of deficit spending created by our GOP-led government. I can’t give my money to the people who will continue to ignore, abuse and disenfranchise me and the rest of the middle class at every opportunity. It would be like buying a .44 magnum and pointing it at my own head.

So, I wonder…how many tax cheats does this administration create each day? And why do I feel as if this—this difficult choice between two wrongs—is just one more betrayal of the middle class by the Bush Administration and the GOP?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

deaths and birthdays

vague shadows of the long past
and the not so long
torn, jagged churn muted and dark

deep urgent longings
assigned to those shadows
passions with no time
nor luxury to explore

buried beneath this rock
this slide this mountain
will I ever find them
will I ever find myself

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Old Dog, Old Tricks

Ago. For the longest time, my whole life, everything vital or important, was “ago.” Twenty years ago…

Twenty years ago today, I was a little more than two months from embarking upon the most successful enterprise of my life. The one that would take fully two more years to develop into the experience of a lifetime.

I was thirty-one years old. I thought I was mature. I thought I was experienced. I thought I knew so much.

Funny how, now, I look at thirty-one-year-olds and think of them as “kids.” Young. Callow. Green.

I would have been pissed, back in 1986, to find out that someone thought that of me.

Yet, la plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme.

I am fifty-one years old. And embarking upon what I hope to be the most successful enterprise of my life. So far.

The bags under my eyes, the shooting pains in my feet, the aching joints in my fingers, have me wondering whether I yet possess the physical stamina to get me through the fourteen-hour days, the ninety-degree heat…the demands that a thirty-year-old body could meet with alacrity, but a fifty-year-old body struggles to conquer.

Are the blessings that I seek from this new venture really too much for this more-than-half-used life-force to hope to attain?

I cannot believe that. I won’t.

But when I drag myself into bed after too many consecutive hours of putting out fires and walking tightropes over boiling oil, I wonder, at least briefly:

Is it worth it?

There can only be one answer.

Monday, July 17, 2006

blog '03-'06

sneaked in
wrote life
sat mute
got seen
shy smile

shook hands
shed tears
dried some
felt pain
got kicked

kept on
waved ‘bye
stayed in
touched less
and less

no sound
fade out
see you
or not

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One Way or Another, We're Doomed

For the past sixty years, human beings have held in their own hands the power to annihilate the earth and everything on it. Frankly, I am amazed that we have possessed that power for so many years, and have managed not to unleash it, even accidentally. But, as I grow older, I realize how pitifully short is the human life span. What, after all, is sixty years, piled on top of thousands of years, tens of thousands of generations, of human history? We may yet, possibly in our own lifetimes, see the nuclear “balance of power” slide far enough out of kilter for one of those precariously balanced bombs to hit the ground and explode…to what end, no one can fathom.

And perhaps that is the crux of the matter…the unfathomability of the cost of a nuclear contest. The threat is so huge that we can’t really wrap our minds around it. We only understand that the danger to the entity who launches the first nuclear bomb is as great as it is to the target. And so we hold these things in our hands and we wave them threateningly at one another, certain in the back of our minds that to actually throw one would be suicide. Grimly sobering…and a tad ridiculous.

Judging by today’s news, our ability to totally annihilate one another no longer satisfies our hunger to slaughter large numbers of our own kind. Now, we have spawned terrorism. Obviously, there is something particularly satisfying about blowing unsuspecting non-combatants to smithereens, with minute attention paid to assuring that the deaths will be painful, ugly, and very, very public. We invent all sorts of political, religious, self-righteous grievances…to justify our lust to kill.

So as much as Iran, North Korea and any number of smaller nations lust after The Bomb, perhaps it isn’t the danger it once was. Apparently, our inherent human bloodlust cannot be sated with the “flash, bang, all-gone” nature of the nuclear war threat. We seem to so much prefer the blood, guts, gore and anguish of conventional weapons, which reduce our “enemies” to gratifying piles of dismembered, disemboweled, charred carnage.

Will we annihilate ourselves with nukes? Probably. Time will tell. But, right now, we seem happy enough to pursue that course of ultimate destruction a handful of bloody pulp at a time.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


consuming ache
the mid-century body
chafes at the discipline
of the long-forgotten dance
     two steps forward
     one back
     sidestep, duck, weave…

while mental fibers
desperately clench
clinging by fingernails
to a world of the mind
     hard-won and cherished

that prison, womb, sanctuary
holy place of silence, solace,
and finally rebirth
no turning back
     there to here
     then to now
     healing to healed

must fantasy die
by reality’s sword
must one door close
for another to open
     goodbye to words
     and art and abstract
     buried under concrete rubble

Friday, June 30, 2006

He'll Be There...

That old talisman mindset dogged my steps this morning, as I wandered, mostly ineffectively, around the house, half-mindedly applying myself to the little chores that need tending before I go to the café. The Café. That place to which I will be committing the lion’s share of my time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears as of about 4:30 this afternoon—June 30, 2006.

Talismans. Good luck charms. The rituals to which I turn when my control-freak self realizes I have no control. The last-ditch effort to court the favor of Things I Don’t Understand. And to which I have traditionally had only the weakest of connections.

I look upon today as if it were a day as momentous, if a tad tardy, as a college graduation. Of all the people past or present who were ever part of my life, the one person I ache to share this day with is my dad. He would be outwardly cautious and stoic but, just under the surface, bursting with pride and anticipation for our new venture. Which would be betrayed by a twinkle in his eye and a slight softening of the poker face he always wore when Important Things took place.

So, I was carefully planning what I would wear to this event. This signing away of my life. This sealing the deal on a dream. This meeting at which I will undoubtedly be the only one present who truly grasps the cosmic significance of the occasion. Conflicting thoughts of “dress for success” and “dress as if it were no big deal” butted heads in my mind. I finally settled on a simple version of what I probably will be wearing to work for the next umpteen months: a pristine white long-sleeved knit shirt and a pair of black pants. The trousers were chosen specifically for their capacity to make me look slimmer and taller.

And then it hit me. The Dad thing. I knew that I had to take something of dad with me today. If it was January, I might have chosen the scarf I knitted for him back when I was in high school. Or even the ridiculous “Elmer Fudd” hat that hangs by my back door, with the scarf…that pair of things that represents the presence of my dad’s gentle spirit wherever I hang my hat. But those things would be a tad conspicuous, here in the middle of summer. And Dad was anything but conspicuous. They wouldn’t do at all.

There was no help for it. I chucked the stylish, slimming pants back in the closet and dragged out a pair of black jeans. Black jeans with belt loops to accommodate Dad’s black leather belt. It’s wide, it’s worn, and it’s extremely seventies, but who cares? My Dad will be there with his arm around my waist as I step forth into this great adventure. Right now that’s the most important thing in the world.

Monday, June 19, 2006

So Close....

How, exactly, is one supposed to act when one gets within inches of attaining a dream? A dream cherished and nourished and treasured for so many years? Like a baby nurtured too long in an ancient womb…can something dreamed for decades survive the monumental strain of birth into the realm of reality?

The questions lurk in the shadowed pockets of my mind. I can’t address them…cannot even acknowledge them, for fear that the possibilities raised by the contemplation will be so huge that they will put an abrupt end to my forward progress.

It’s the commitment. The commitment overwhelms me now. Thirty years ago, I was on the threshold of the greatest commitment I had ever, would ever, make. And, same as now, I could not think in terms of forever. “If it doesn’t work out,” I reasoned, “we can always get a divorce. Walk away and start over. No hard feelings, just a clean slate.”

Not so simple, of course. Had I allowed myself to think about it, I would have conceded that. But I had to have the fallback. Needed the escape route. Because there was, is, always will be, that contrary little voice in the back of my mind that cracks the whip, hardly allowing me to dream. It scolds that nothing is forever. And nothing ever turns out as you hoped. Dreams are dreams. Reality is…. something else.

Edging away from the larger, more ethereal issues, I stumble over the more immediate sacrifice: I realize that I will be committing to a place that I call my home, that has been my home for the past five years. But to this chronologically-challenged aging child, it doesn’t feel like home. Home is the place to which I have been chained, and from which I have been running, for the past decade. Despite the words piled upon words, proclaiming the need to detach from that place, to break chains and cut ropes and burn bridges--whatever it takes to be free—I freeze. The torch is in my hand, I reach out to touch it to the closest creosote-soaked piling. And I shake uncontrollably.

I will stretch out my other hand, steady that trembling brand. I will set fire to that bridge. And to that part of my heart that has had so much trouble letting go.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

...And What Timing!

I’m absolutely certain those Guantanamo detainees who killed themselves the other day did so purely for the PR value of the act. Obviously, a bleeding heart liberal whack-job sneaked into the prison, disguised as an Electrode Adjustment Technician. Leaned in and planted a bug in the ear of some strapped-down detainee, left momentarily unsupervised, wavering in and out of psychosis: “It’s Torture Awareness Month, Abdul. Think of the impact your death will have if you hang yourself tonight when you get back to your cell. And make a pact with as many other prisoners as you possibly can…the more deaths, the better the press!”

Abdul’s pain-dulled eyes cleared and lit up immediately at the thought of stretching his own neck for the cause of generating negative press for his captors. “This’ll show them…erk. ..llkk ...aakkk ...aughhhh!”

Liberals and ragheads. They’ll do anything to destroy America's good standing among the nations of the world.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Where I Stand Now

Today, I delivered the non-refundable deposit the seller of the business we’re buying insisted he needed, in order to quit holding "other offers" over my head. So now, more than at any time up until now, this looks like a done deal. How I would love to be breathing a sigh of relief. How I would love to be looking forward, unconditionally thrilled, to assuming the captaincy of my own ship. But this whole exercise is turning out to be like a game of "Whack-a-mole." Have you ever played "Whack-a-mole?" It’s the arcade game where you get a big padded mallet, and you use it to pound these little mole-heads back into the holes they pop out of. As soon as you whack one mole, another pops out of another hole. Sometimes two or three at the same time.

So, I whacked the "financing" mole. And I mashed the "mollify the seller" mole. And I’m working on wrestling the "OLCC" (liquor license) mole back down into his little hole. But, what’s this? A monstrous head just popped out of a crater the size of a manhole. Egad...it’s the "present owner’s overly-emotional manager" mole! Mr. Present Owner has gone out of his way to warn me that this girl’s family has lived in the county for a hundred years, and that even the appearance that she has been ill-treated in the transition could cost me big in terms of community relations for the next...century. Oh. Thank you so much, Mr. Present Owner!

I have met this girl. She is very nice. She is sweet. She is eminently likeable. In fact, everybody likes her—customers, staff and (obviously) Mr. Present Owner himself.

She is the absolute antithesis of me.

Nothing can strike more abject fear into my heart than the prospect of dealing with a sweet, likeable, fragile psyche. I am the personification of the bull in the china shop, when it comes to personal relationships. I have no guile, no political savvy, no off button. As a general rule, whatever is in my mind just falls out my mouth. I know enough not to be outright rude or abusive, but somehow that makes the situation even worse. It really hurts my feelings when people don’t get me. If I had a rhinoceros-tough hide to go along with my social ineptitude, it wouldn’t matter to me that I make such a god-awful impression on most people the first (second, third, gotta-know-me-for-a-year-before-you-can-tolerate-me) time I meet them.

Mind you, I only have to work with this girl for two weeks. And Mr. Present Owner has already promised her a generous severance package. All she has to do is work with me long enough to allow me to get my feet under me concerning the day to day operation of the place. But when you combine what he has been so "kind" as to tell me about her, and what I know from having interacted with her for a couple weeks a year ago, I know that she and I will get along like gasoline and a match.

I am scared shitless. My friends…. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Taking Responsibility

Reading a conservative blog this morning, I see that the few remaining faithful are crying that the Marines involved in the Haditha incident should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Does the concept of innocence even exist for our troops in Iraq? We attacked their country. Our leaders chose to dispatch our forces to a nation that had committed no crime against the United States of America, that presented no threat to our national security. The incumbent administration took full advantage of a political climate charged with 9/11 bloodlust to mount an invasion whose true justifications were back-room politics, power-lust, and avarice. An invasion they had planned for a decade and chose to launch the instant the political tide turned favorable. From the moment the first US jet aimed a missile or dropped a bomb that took one Iraqi life, the hands of the US military were irredeemably covered in innocent blood.

What a country! We’ll slap a fifteen-year-old in prison for the rest of his life because he sat outside in a car while his buddies used a gun he didn’t know about to kill a convenience store clerk. But when it comes to the deaths of tens of thousands directly caused by our leaders’ lust for world dominance, we cry “Innocent!” Make no mistake: All the blood shed in that country since we attacked –the blood of savagely beheaded hostages, the blood soaking the uniform of a soldier cradling the body of a tiny girl mortally wounded by an “errant” bomb, the blood of our own troops dismembered by countless IED’s, the blood of young Shi’ite men herded off a bus and executed by “insurgents”—every drop of that blood is on our hands.

It can come as no surprise that our troops are now in the business of heaping atrocity upon insult. War is atrocity. It’s not a damned video game, people. It’s not about a bunch of superheroes being dispatched to all corners of the globe to whup up on the bad guys. It’s about blood and guts and gore and murder, hatred and fear, aggression and insanity. It’s about every single thing that is ugly and hopeless about the human race. And we made a conscious decision to take that atrocity and release it in another country. A country conveniently distant from our own home shores.

Conservatives are ever so fond of the concept of “taking responsibility.” It is way past time for them to walk the walk when it comes to this war. We started it. Our troops are not innocent of anything that happens in Iraq as a result of the war we chose to make.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Overthinking It

For a moment, I consider that I am simply too old to be standing with a foot suspended over the abyss of the unknown. On the verge of leaning forward, about to shift the weight to that outstretched foot, confident that the resultant free-fall will be an escapade of the highest order. I have been there, and I have done that. Thirty years ago, that expectation of adventure was richly rewarded. There may have been accompanying bumps, bruises, a compound fracture or two….but they always healed quickly, and always the golden nugget of knowledge, of experience, was squirreled away into memory.

Perhaps there are, at last, too many of those little nuggets stored in the cupboards and closets of my mind. They are stacked to the rafters and oozing out under the doors and around the hinges; no longer golden, but turned to dross. Unrewarded risks, confident forays into mud or mire, heedless wagers placed on losing horses… They mock me; they haunt me. They drag me down. To safety. To uncertainty. To paralysis.

All I can do is strap on the blinders…allow no look back, nor to the side, nor too far ahead. Certainly no further ahead than the next footfall. Just make myself keep moving, and I will get There. And once I am There, the fear, the restraint, the immobility will be pushed aside by the process of contriving to make it from day to day…the simple groundwork of success.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Farewell to One of My Own

When I sat down to think about it today, I realized I didn’t know how old he was. Between my decaying brain cells and the sheer numbers of animals we have called family, the exact adoption dates have blurred and jumbled in my mind. He was seventeen. Born sometime in the spring of 1989.

In those days, we were the keepers of one very homesick niece who had moved halfway across the country to make a point to her parents…and came to live with us. In an effort to cheer her up, we got her a kitten. She and her uncle cleaned up this tiny, flea-infested scrap of fur…indeed, nearly killed him with an overdose of pesticides, trying to rid him of his cast of thousands. Then she considered the now soggy, slightly groggy mite, with an eye toward giving him a name. Upon hearing his tiny, high-pitched kitten squeak, she laughed. "I was going to call him Willie (after Willem Defoe, her then-favorite screen star), but he sounds more like Beaker (after Muppet character Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s language-challenged sidekick.)" So Beaker it was.

But even the little mostly-white-with-a-striped-tail-and-matching-nose-splotch kitty couldn’t entice the niece out of her funk. Before he reached his first birthday, his young mom packed up and moved back to the midwest (where she promptly got another cat, which she did name "Willie." Who, coincidentally, died just last month.) Beaker was left behind like a discarded toy. It was a less than amicable parting, and we had to fight with her to keep her from packing him off to the shelter (out of spite?) instead of leaving him in our care, in the only home he’d ever known, where he was perfectly welcome to stay. Eventually she relented, and left him with us to raise as one of our own. And so we did.

We had read all the books when we brought him home. And all the books said to put a pillow or a scrap of cloth in your new kitten’s bed to ease the loneliness he would feel being newly separated from Mom and littermates. So we put a gigantic red wool sock in his bed for him to snuggle. He nursed and nibbled on that old thing for months. Unfortunately, for the rest of his life, wool was Beaker’s "comfort food." We quickly learned to ascertain the fabric content of any upholstery or clothing material that might, unattended, find itself at the mercy of his oral fixation. He licked bald spots in wool rugs, gnawed wool fringe on pillows, and ate holes in my favorite wool jacket. He was like a giant furry moth with whiskers.

When Beaker was only a few months old, we acquired yet another member for our "pride"—a mink-tipped, blue-eyed little acrobat we named "Ming," but has been known for most of her life as "Bebe." From the moment she crossed the threshold, Beaker accepted her as his own personal kitten. The four older cats hissed at, spit at, or ignored the lowly youngsters. But they couldn’t have cared less. The two of them ate, played, and slept together, twenty-four/seven. Their favorite toy was a "Tinkerbelle": a little spot of light, either accidentally or purposely created, that inspires cats to fly off the ends of couches and skitter across glass end tables... I have archive footage of the two of them, rushing from one end of the living room to the other, up speakers, over television, across carpeting, chasing a flashlight beam.

And then there was "kitty fishing"—the toy which consisted of a pocket-sized fishing rod loaded with kitty bait, usually a feather or a catnip mouse, which you would cast across some large open space in the house—across the family room or down the hall. Then reel in any cat who happened to be in the vicinity. Beaker’s favorite lure was a giant jingle bell that had fallen off some ancient Christmas decoration. He would chase that bell until he was too tired to stand up. Eventually, that toy was lost in the bottom of a closet somewhere, but for years afterward, Beak would come running whenever he heard a bell jingle.

How the years have stacked up, one upon another, since those days. Beaker and his mates moved with us from that home to another, and another, and yet another. Hugged the woodstoves in dismal weather, stretched out in the rare sunspots on the winter carpet, sniffed at screen doors and raptly followed the ever-changing cast of Kitty TV in four different back yards. From the "pig tree" to the pines to the Dougs to the poplars. Chickadees and thrushes, finches and grosbeaks, hummers and squirrels, jays and siskins.

Upon the demise of our beloved Andrew—the last of our Illinois cats—Beaker stood to inherit the title of "alpha male" of our brood. He was fat, happy, middle-aged, and ready to rule the roost. But something went wrong. He suddenly dropped a bunch of weight, began to look hollow-eyed and scruffy. A trip to the vet told us he had developed diabetes. At the ripe old age of eleven, he began the two-shots-per-day insulin regimen that he would follow for the rest of his life. And so he became our "problem kitty." The diabetes gave him continence problems, an insatiable appetite and unquenchable thirst, and clouded his eyes with cataracts. Still, for five years, he lived quite comfortably in spite of his condition. Until a couple of months ago, when his appetite tailed off, his eyesight got noticeably worse, and he started having "spells" that were almost like seizures. The vet discovered gum disease and pulled two of his teeth, but warned us that there was probably something more sinister going on with him, since he was showing signs of kidney failure and was anemic. He was a sixteen-year-old cat who’d been an insulin-dependent diabetic for a third of his life. His systems were just starting to wear out.

Last week, it became obvious that old Mr. Beak was probably not going to last much longer. I laid him a bed of an old towel in his favorite spot—under the china cabinet in the dining room. From there, he still had a view of Kitty TV, was close to me as I prepared for my upcoming event, and the other cats could snuggle up to him and lick his head from time to time. He was just…winding down. Didn’t seem to be in any pain, really. I had it in my mind to let him go naturally, in familiar surroundings; spare him that traumatic last car trip to the vet.

But cats are so tough. They don’t let go of life easily. He lingered and lingered, dying by centimeters as the days passed. I had to leave for my job on Wednesday. I knew, one way or another, he wouldn’t be there when I got back. I crawled under the china cabinet, petted him and said goodbye. Told him to go ahead and join his brother Andrew, and grandpa (my dad), and that we knew he would be waiting for us on the other side of the bridge. Husband came home from work on Wednesday, saw how sick he was, and made the tough decision that I had been trying to avoid. He packed him in the cat carrier and took him out to the vet. Mr. Beak was too sick to object. And a few minutes later he died in his dad’s arms.

In the end, we broke down, pushed Nature aside and arranged the death of a beloved pet to fit our crowded schedules. I hate that life’s frantic busyness doesn’t allow us time to deal with the really important things. With all the other colliding agendae going on in our lives right now, neither of us had time to sit vigil beside a dying cat to ease him on his journey. But we didn’t want him to die alone.

I picture him today, sprawled on a wool rug, occasionally rousing himself to chase a gleaming fourteen-karat jingle bell cast by my dad’s expert hand…

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Have You Heard About It?

Inspired by the United Nations’ designation of June 26th as "International Day in Support of Survivors and Victims of Torture," a "who’s who?" list of national and international human rights groups have gathered to endorse June, 2006 as "Torture Awareness Month." Did you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams, that you would see such a grisly reprimand directed toward the United States of America? We were always the good guys, the liberators; the ones who shook our fingers at Moscow and Beijing and Hanoi. That halo turned brass a long time ago. But, apparently, there are those who prefer that Americans continue to think of ourselves as the guys in the white hats. How much have you heard or read about "Torture Awareness Month" in the American media to date? I personally learned about it from Andrea at A Small Group of Thoughtful Concerned Citizens.

Groups of no less stature than the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch , to name just a few , have designated next month as a thirty-day campaign to focus awareness on the Bush Administration’s penchant for playing fast and loose with international law when it comes to torture. In woefully transparent stabs at political sleight of hand, our government has either shipped detainees off to other countries where torture is performed as a matter of course (a process known as "Extraordinary Rendition,") or simply declared prisoners "enemy combatants"—a designation invented by our government as a vehicle to strip detainees of their Geneva Convention rights as "Prisoners of War."

The Bush Administration has irredeemably damaged our stature among the nations of the world with its swaggering, ham-fisted, America-centric foreign policy. And we, the American citizenry, are guilty by association. As long as we find the truth too shocking or too depressing to contemplate; as long as we avert our eyes from the evil we know in our hearts is being perpetrated in our nation’s name--in our names; we might as well be applying the electrodes with our own hands.

Make some noise. Get involved. Make it stop.

Friday, May 19, 2006

And Now, We Wait...

I feel like I have just run a marathon. Today was THE day. The day to quit the hedging and second-guessing and put my money where my mouth is. Or, try to get someone to put money into my mouth. Or something.

This morning at 3 AM, I was stacking and patting down the last of the documents I had collected, copied, polished and printed for my presentation to the bank. To get the money. To buy the business. I had assembled, as best I could, snapshots of my life—old and new—that I hoped would tell the story of a competent, experienced restaurant manager on the threshold of realizing her lifelong dream of buying a place of her very own. It felt like walking down the runway in the bathing suit competition at a beauty pageant. Half-naked, exposed, wishing real life could be air-brushed…

I dragged myself out of bed at 8:30, attended to my chores, and rushed upstairs to get ready. It was so bizarre…superstition ruled my toilette. I hunted down my "lucky" shirt and built my dress-for-success outfit around it. I thought about lucky earrings, and realized I had one small pair left from the days of my late lamented dream job. They’re tarnished, bent and sticky with old hair-spray residue. But they had to be part of the ensemble. I even found, under my vanity, an old bottle of the cologne I used to wear back in those days. After a cursory test-sniff to determine whether it had gone off from age, I splashed that on as well. Liberally. Like holy water.

In the end, after all that trouble, I never even got to see the Loan Officer. She was busy with another client, so I just dropped off that folder full of my life’s blood at the front counter. She never saw my casual-yet-conservative power outfit, never glimpsed the sticky little onyx hearts that dangled from my ears, never got a whiff of Victoria’s Secret’s "Her Majesty’s Rose." It didn’t matter. All that mumbo jumbo had comforted me. It made me feel as if I had wrapped myself in a robe of positive ions. Old positive ions, but positive ions, nonetheless.

Arriving back home, I had a moment of panic that the ineffective-looking receptionist might not realize how hugely momentous was the information that I had entrusted into his hands. How direly it needed to be relayed to the all-powerful Loan Officer. I walked around the house,making coffee, scrounging up breakfast; but it was no good. I couldn’t get shed of that electric knife in my gut until I made the phone call. Called the Loan Officer, made sure she knew the packet—my life—was in her hands now. Casually, she laughed. "Oh, I haven’t seen it yet. They must have put it in my box." In your box? I wanted to scream. Go get it, woman! Have you no ken of how vital this is to the continued existence of the universe? But, no, that wouldn’t do. So I merely stuttered, "Well, I just wanted to make sure you knew I had dropped it off…"

I hung up the phone, and felt like all the air had just gone out of me. Like someone pulling the plug out of one of those big multi-colored punch balls we used to play with as kids. You’d pull out the cork, it would make that loud, flabby flatulence noise and go limp. And everybody would giggle.

Yep, all the spunk has just farted right out of me. Right now, I’m going to sit with my feet up and stare at…well, maybe nothing. Even television doesn’t sound appealing right now. I don’t want to think or worry or even move. For about an hour or so. And then I’ll blow some life back into myself, get up and go on to the next thing. Carrying around that little knot of apprehension in my stomach. Which is not likely to become untied until about 4:30 Monday afternoon. When I get to hear what fate the mighty Loan Officer has assigned my dream.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

CBS Hearts Moms

I should know better than to watch anything on television that touts itself as a news program. This past weekend, it was CBS' "Sunday Morning" that curdled my non-dairy creamer. I'll assume Sunday's show was intended to be a Mothers' Day nod to American women. Charlie Osgood stepped aside in favor of veteran commentator Leslie Stahl. Happily, we were not regaled with 60's-esque segments on keeping your family happy, healthy, and well-fed, while remianing the petite size 4 that attracted the husband's lacivious eye at senior prom. Program directors are way too savvy for that, regardless of the political preferences evidenced by media ownership these days.

So what did the network deem of supreme interest to today's American woman? In one segment, a reporter displayed two different diamond engagement rings to interviewees and asked them to make certain judgments--about the man who gave the ring, the woman who accepted it, their relationship, and their social status --based on the relative sizes of the diamonds sported by each ring. Big rock--"He's got a good job." "He really loves her." "She's confident, knows what she wants." Little rock (less than 3 carats)--"Well, it's a nice promise ring" "He's trying, but not very hard." "She's a nice girl, not materialistic." Who knew that we were all wearing little crystal balls on our third finger, left hand? Oh..and the median cost of a diamond engagement ring in today's market is $4900 and change. Let's see...that would buy two dozen copies of my 1970's vintage bling.

And then there was the report on handbags, where we learned that a purse is not merely a purse, it's a status symbol. That the guts of your life--the fruit roll-ups, pampers, current novel, and the bic from the teller's counter at the bank--need to be enfolded in an artfully arranged assortment of fabric, leather, buckles, zippers, and handcuffs, preferably displaying a conspicuously evident designer logo, that cost roughly as much as my first new car. And that there are $12,000 handbags which women will endure the ignominy of being placed on a waiting list in order to possess.

I don't know...maybe we are not up for images ofwomen grieving at the gravesides of their young sons or daughters who returned from Iraq in flag-draped pine boxes, or mothers in Darfur lovingly cradling lethargic, emaciated, dying babies, at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning. But surely there is more to American women than this program--this disgusting celebration of shallow materialism and rampant consumerism--contrived to suggest.

I hope you had a happy Mothers' Day, America. And please, contact CBS News and let them know how much you appreciated their "gift."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Opposites Attract

red coil
steady glow
welcome reliable
burning warming
he is electricity

surging dying
too hot one minute
winking cool the next
she is fire

to him
she is wild
to her
he is constant

never quite comprehending
but forever

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking Forward Through the Past

Eleven years ago, the world I knew came to an end. In 1995, I might have been gearing up for my fortieth birthday, and all the changes, real or imaginary, that would take place in my life when I exited my thirties—the last decade during which I could be credibly called a "young" anything. Looking back, I sincerely wish that were all I had to worry about. Because my fortieth birthday in July of that year faded into the background of upheaval and grief that was the final desperate illness and death of my big sister. And my misguided notion that I needed to sink every ounce of strength I possessed into comforting and binding the wounds of her bereft family.

Another thing that got buried under that load of sorrow was the demise of my "dream job." After spending fifteen years bouncing around like a pinball on the game board of my chosen profession, in 1986 I fell, quite by accident, into the best job situation I had ever encountered. Possibly the best anyone could hope for. In the next eight years, I accomplished more than I ever thought I could, grew more and in more directions than I had ever thought possible, mentored and guided and taught, spoke my mind and worked my butt off. But I was good at what I did, I was successful at what I did, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was fulfilling some kind of real purpose. I never realized how much employment success affected every aspect of life. I was happy at work, happy at home, outgoing and magnanimous and on top of the world.

Then the roof caved in. As it often does in the restaurant industry. Times change, fads fade, concepts come and go. When the corporation I worked for started to fall apart, the first guys to take the hit were we managers who had carried it to the top by the sweat of our brows and had been able, for a couple of years, to enjoy the fruits of our labors. All at once, we became an overpaid liability and were targeted for "redundancy," as the Brits so aptly put it. But it was not a quick and merciful severance. It was a traumatic, year-long pummeling process that felt like being beaten to death with a tack hammer. By the end of 1994, I was unemployed, exhausted, and emotionally trashed. And for a little extra added excitement, I was scheduled for major surgery.

I was still recovering from my own health disaster when my sister began her abrupt slide toward death in the early days of 1995. It could be argued that my sister’s illness "saved" me from going down into the pit of depression my own pack of troubles had been pushing me toward. I needed to rouse myself, stiffen my spine and "be there" for her and her family. That mission, that determination to be strong for someone else, actually kept me going for several years. I put my own trauma on the back burner, stepped up for the people who "needed me," and never looked back.

But my relationship to the working world never recovered. Still wounded and shell-shocked from the demise of my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I could never quite muster the confidence or the courage to get back on the horse and just…ride. I’d scramble up, but I’d jump off at the first sign of a rocky road. I changed horses so many times over the next several years that it got to the point where they would lock up the stables when they saw me coming. Eventually, the other half of my life began to fall apart, the part where I was supposed to be this rock of support for my sister’s husband and kids. Then, in 1999, my dad passed away, and my remaining sisters and I went through the tortures of the damned trying to deal with that loss.

As my relationship to my family took a nosedive, I realized that in the course of less than five years, I had lost virtually everything I believed I’d gained during that halcyon time when I felt like Queen of the World. I thought I had "arrived," but the place I’d arrived to had crumbled and faded before my very eyes. I was living the darker reality of the old cliché, "Life is a journey, not a destination." I tried to run away from my troubles with my family by running full-tilt back into the world of work. It was then that I found that I had no "world of work" to return to. I was pushing fifty, my resume was crap, and the doors of opportunity in the restaurant world, that I had always slipped through in the past, were only open to younger, happier people who weren’t afraid of their own shadows. Restaurant work is not for the faint of heart.

I tried office work for awhile, attracted by the nine-to-fiveness of it all, but found I absolutely hated it—from the enforced physical stagnation, to the back-stabbing, credit-grabbing, passive aggressive nature of office politics. The more I tried to put my restaurant past behind me, the more it rose up before me as the luminous icon of the only thing I had ever put my hand to that made me happy.

So in 2002 I started my own business. Something I probably should have done a decade or two earlier. But the time was never right, the money was never available. Once again, death changed my life. This time, it was the deaths of my husband’s parents…which provided us with the few extra dollars that made it possible to scrape together my concession business. Scared to death, but with no other real options open, I sallied forth into the world of the small business owner. It’s been a frustrating, enlightening, back-breaking four years. I’ve been able to pick up and dust off some of the scraps of myself that I had thought were irretrievably lost. It’s been a proving ground for me…showing me that I still can do this and I’m still damned good at it.

But the seasonal nature of the business has been at once a godsend and a handicap. Where it’s allowed me to creep forward at the snail’s pace that seems to be all that I can handle, it has also allowed me to be picky and half-assed about the challenges I want to take on. I can back away when I become intimidated by what the next move forward might mean, hit the brakes when I get frightened of putting my heart into yet another doomed effort. I love my little business, but I’ve come to realize that my complete healing lies in the direction of something much larger, much more engaging, and much more challenging.

And there it is, creeping up over the horizon like a late-autumn sunrise. A real restaurant. A roof over my head, a floor under my feet, a full-sized three-compartment sink in the kitchen. A place to go every day, to scheme, to strive, to formulate and refine. Every day. It’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to want anything this much. I want it so bad it hurts. But it’s a good pain…a pain of promise. Not unlike labor pains, I would imagine. This may be the closest I’ll ever come to the privilege of that pain. The pain of wrestling something new and vital into the world.

A snarky whisper in the back of my head mocks me about this. It taunts that what I am actually doing is preparing to lay out what amounts to three years of my dream job’s wages to…buy myself a job. That over the years, I have so trashed myself that I am not fit to be employed by anyone else. That little voice had me going there, for a minute. But I managed to put a sack over its head and conk it with a sledge hammer. Now I’m on my way to drown it in the creek. Because no stinking negative little demon is going to rob me of this opportunity, or tarnish the promise and anticipation. And I refuse to entertain fears that I’m too old, or too rusty, or too timid, or too anything to make this happen. This is my time, for the first time in a long time. And I am going to rise.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My Life's Music

I was nine at the start of the British Invasion. But I was also the youngest of five sisters, and wherever they went, I followed, as fast as my skinny little legs would carry me. Sister D was fourteen—a high school freshman—in 1964. The perfect age for a Beatlemaniac. And so she was, and dragged the rest of us right along with her. When a Beatles song would come on the radio, we would let out ear-piercing screeches and scramble into the living room to the vintage console stereo that we had got second-hand from some old aunt. The kind that looked like a piece of furniture. The record player, not the aunt. Four girls, ages nine through fourteen, ears glued to the booming tweed-covered speaker, leaving half-eaten plates of food cooling on the dinner table, to my dad’s immense annoyance.

We sang all the songs. Knew every word, all the harmonies. Sang while we cleaned up the dishes after dinner, or in the car on those six-hour station-wagon odysseys to campgrounds in the North Woods. The Beatles, of course—When I was younger so much younger than today… But there were others: Chad & Jeremy--…but that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone… Peter & Gordon—Woman, do you love me… Herman’s Hermits –Mrs. Brown you’ve got a lovely daughter… Every Simon and Garfunkel song ever recorded. I handled the Garfunkel harmonies. At the ripe old age of ten. Hello darkness, my old friend

You were either a Beatles fan, or a Stones fan. Never both. I remember seeing the Stones on Ed Sullivan…the same place we had seen the Beatles for the first time. We had swooned over the Fab Four…and complained that the Stones were "ugly." Even in their sterilized, censored Sunday night American TV personas, the Stones were too high test for our vanilla suburban souls. To this day, I’ve never been able to warm up to Mick Jagger… And then along came the Monkees, spurned by the older, more refined fans, who were by now…seventeen. But, hell. I was twelve. I went for them ass over teakettle. Take the last train to Clarksville, and I’ll meet you at the station…  When I think of the old music, that's what comes tomind. My brain shorts out when I realize exactly how old it is.

Then there were the seventies…the longest decade of my life. From high school and graduation’s emancipation to marriage and a mortgage in ten jam-packed years. Rocky Mountain High to Saturday Night Fever. John Denver ‘round the family campfire to BeeGees disco lessons with the handsome young husband.

After that, my musical history smears to a blur. We threw over mainstream music for Christian Rock for half of the eighties. Though Heart of Glass and Sweet Dreams are Made of This penetrated sinfully past the halo. The Cars and the B52’s, Devo and Ten Thousand Maniacs dented my consciousness. And after that…I seem to have fallen off the face of the earth.

These days, my "new music" is a collection of New Age, Celtic and Acoustic CD’s. Which, I now realize, I started collecting in the early nineties. I wish I could say my musical tastes have become eclectic and refined. But I know the truth. I have finally gone down into the tarpit of old farthood. And I wonder how I look… On second thought, I don’t wonder; I know how I lookto twenty-first century fourteen-year-olds (I cannot possibly be old enough to be their grandmother.) Rolling my cart down the grocery store aisle singing out loud with the muzak tape--And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, there walks a lady we all know….

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Losing Religion

My personal religious history has led me to a state of profound agnosticism. Raised Catholic, “born again” as a twenty-something; baptized in The Church as an infant and in an elder’s swimming pool as a consenting adult, I have been steeped in both the dogma and the charisma. But, battered and beaten by years and tears, the core concepts of religion became harder and harder for me to swallow without question. Eventually, I arrived at a place where I was so deep into unbelief that nothing short of an intimate chat with a burning bush was likely to penetrate my skepticism.

Milestone birthdays have a way of causing sudden, urgent reevaluation of one’s past, present, and future. Turning fifty touched off an odd chain reaction in what is left of my mind; I suddenly realized that mortality was all too certain and (relatively) imminent. I felt an urgent need to explore the concepts of spirituality and the afterlife, if only to keep myself from becoming paralyzed by the fear of death. Also, I’d been suffering from a feeling of real isolation in my life; I envisioned that becoming part of a community of believers would be a side benefit of my search. I believed I craved that “human connection.”

My spiritual odyssey came to an abrupt end when I realized that the timing—not just my personal timing, but the universal timing—for such a quest was all wrong. Human connection? What was I thinking? What connections do today’s organized religions offer us? War? Murder? Ostracism? Ritualized bigotry? Hatred? Turn on the television or radio. Read the news. From every window on the world, violence and hatred in the name of some group’s perception of God devastates the landscape.

Christians hating Muslims. Muslims killing Jews. Sunni despising Shi’ite. Evangelicals bashing Catholics. Fundamentalists straining to drag us all back into the Dark Ages. It’s painfully obvious that the path to peace, progress and harmony does not lie in the direction of organized religion. It’s entirely possible that the continued existence of the human race might depend upon us eschewing religion altogether.

Yet, old habits do die hard. For years, even as my agnosticism grew, it was important to me that the Christ I had been spoon-fed from birth retain some aspect of deity. I held to the conviction that for Jesus Christ—or any prophetic figure of any faith—to have been remembered, much less venerated for so many centuries, there must have been something, some mystic connection to the Creator that gave his story such amazing staying power. But even that rationalization has been given the lie by the bizarre happenings here in our own country over the last five years.

We have witnessed first-hand the power of groupthink and political pressure, and the ability of talented individuals with hidden agendas to manipulate the emotions of entire populations of frightened or disillusioned people. We have seen for ourselves what happens when a party gathers unto itself enough power to literally turn its every whim into the law of the land. We’ve seen them turn lies into truths which people will embrace to the point of martyrdom.

The antics of our current national leadership have given us a glimpse into a degree of domination and corruption we never thought to witness in this society which touts itself as the beacon of freedom and enlightenment to an errant world. But, beyond that, they have made me completely re-evaluate the phenomena of historically prominent spiritual figures. Like Jesus Christ. Or Moses. Or Mohammed. Or Baha’ullah, or the Angel Moroni, or Jim Jones. The right political climate could make any society desperate for a savior. Or make a prophet out of almost anyone. Even George W. Bush. Just ask him.

How sad that the human race is on a course to destroy itself with the very code it created to keep from destroying itself. Religion is ever the double-edged sword. Perhaps the edge that refined and controlled human behavior has been wielded to the point of permanent bluntness. And now we hold the other side of the blade to our own throats.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

writing the night

there is work
to be done
but I have not
the patience or
the focus for it

in my head
I retreat
to the days of
the music and the bic
and the spiral notebook

so many years
yellowed in candlelight
the words that gushed
and flowed to the old songs
with so much force

I could hardly capture them
now are choked
and stuttered
and micro-managed

I am that girl, but not
now a loose-skinned woman
decades beyond the words
and the heart and the need

but the heart still beats
the need remains
the words still come
more slowly
but not less urgently

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Whaddya think....?

Remember the disastrous job experience I wrote about, right around this time last year? (Come to think of it, I only wrote about the job in "Coming to Terms..." I wrote about the disaster in "Brainsurfing"...  But, trust me; it was a disaster.) 

Well, guess what? The "scene of the crime" just went on the market. And yours truly happens to be IN the market…for a local restaurant opportunity. Okay…what do you think I should do?

The Old Paper Bag Trick....

The Bush Administration’s disastrous Iraq War lies like a huge pile of shit on Washington’s sidewalks. They know it. They see it. And they’ve come up with an executive policy to take care of it. They load it into paper bags. Bags labeled “Social Security Reform” or “Immigration Policy” or “Moral Values”. When the hidden mess starts to seep through, they torch the bags. All eyes rivet on the leaping flames; all debate centers on how best to deal with the raging blaze.

There’s one problem with this practice that the Bush Administration hasn’t quite figured out yet. When someone finally wades in to stomp out the fire, the bag disintegrates and the shit flies everywhere. All over the sidewalk, all over the on-lookers, all over the debaters. Only now, it’s hot shit.

Just one more example of the Bush Administration’s execution of sound public policy…

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fear of....?

I opened the front door this morning to the glorious, too-often-a-stranger sun, prepared to skip down my front steps and trot the half-block to my mailbox. In my neighborhood, our "car route" mailboxes are planted in groups of five or six along one side of the road, to make life easy for the local mail carrier, in her car with the steering wheel on the wrong side… Just as my foot was poised over the sidewalk, I looked up to see the neighbor from across the street heading down his driveway, apparently with the same postal objective in mind. Our mailboxes are right next to each other.

At the prospect of actually meeting and having to interact with another human being, I hit the brakes and veered left, to the gate that leads to my back yard. Surely I could find something with which to busy myself…until the coast was clear. Even as I chickened out and opted for solitude, I chided myself for being such an antisocial old fart.

But as I headed for my gate to refuge, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbor suddenly make his own left turn, head for his car that was parked on the curb in front of his house, and appear to be very focused upon some aspect of his windshield. I slyly detected a kindred spirit. Once through the gate, from the vantage point of the step up into my back door, I could see over the fence just enough to catch Mr. Neighbor heading toward his mailbox as soon as I was safely otherwise occupied.

I was at first amused—that there was indeed at least one other person in the world as transparently allergic to casual social interaction as I am… And then, somewhat relieved—that maybe I am not quite the "old fart" I believe myself to be… But, in the end, disturbed—that the social reticence that I had until now taken as a personal quirk is, apparently, an increasingly common malady in middle class American neighborhoods.

It is sad, isn’t it?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Danger: Whining Ahead

I have to admit, I don’t often think about being fifty years old. I don’t let myself go there. And when I do, I honestly can not believe it. There’s something about being middle aged and childless. Without an ensuing generation to put one’s age in perspective, one just does not accept that one has attained the age that one has. Fifty? C’mon…a couple of years ago, I was cringing as I inched toward the big 3-0. This coming October, I will have been married for the big 3-0. My oldest niece just turned 36. There is a cognitive dissonance here that surpasses all understanding.

But this…this is one of those nights that I’m really feeling my age. And then some. My knee joints feel like they’ve been injected with spray-foam insulation. If I bend over to pick up one more thing heavier than, say, a piece of kleenex, my spine will split in half just below my waist. My fingers, toes and ankles are snapping, crackling, and popping as energetically as any breakfast cereal. Much as I can’t believe it and I hate to admit it, my little business is beginning to outstrip my physical capabilities. To put it bluntly, I’m too old for this crap!

Today, husband and I dragged ourselves out of bed at sparrow fart (well, the sparrow was blowing bubbles in the liquid air, anyway…) to be hot dog/espresso/hot chocolate vendor at the county’s official Easter Egg Hunt. Easter. Doesn’t that holiday call forth images of daffodils swaying in warm breezes, blue and yellow sky, snuggly bunnies and downy yellow chickies cavorting in the soft green grass…? In Columbia County Oregon, Easter apparently means winter temperatures, sideways rain and hail pelting the pastel balloons attached to the canopy I had to erect over my service window to protect my erstwhile patrons from drowning. Which would, as the wind whipped the fabric of the canopy, occasionally vomit torrents of trapped water onto the heads of them as might be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. It took all our customers’ strength to force their clawlike fingers to hand me their soaked bills. The look of gratitude in their eyes when we pressed paper cups full of hot liquid into their frozen hands was painful to behold.

I’m sitting here trying to come up with words for how awful today’s event was… It cannot be described. All I can say is, all at once, I came to the realization that I am about two millimeters from the end of my rope with this thing. After nine hours of grueling, cold, slimy, grinding labor, we ended up making about $100. NOT worth the effort. Not anywhere close.

So far this season, we have been frozen, drowned, last-minuted, cancelled, mechanically challenged, and negative cash-flowed. I have about developed an ulcer worrying about my $20,000 “new” vehicle succumbing to a threatened $3000 break-down, or my five-year-old gigantic red elephant of a trailer dying a premature death, as oversized animals are wont to do. And taking me with it. If things do not change significantly, Café de la Rue will not survive past October of 2006.

Riding home next to the husband (whose eyes were glued to the side-view mirror because he swore he saw smoke coming from the back of the truck and/or the wheels of the trailer) I had the most overwhelming feeling of failure. I felt like, “…and this is what I have to show for the last four years.” A darkness settled in my mind...to match the somber clouds spitting needle-like rain onto the windshield.

I want a place of my own. Indoors. In a building. That I can go to every day. Like a real person, with a real job. Please, can I have just this one little slice of...what seems to come so easily to everyone else?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More Fun With Words

Last week, when I wrote about how blogging has changed the way I write, some folks were probably wondering how someone could write to, well...no one, for more than three decades. Hard to say… I’ve always been a decent writer. A few wonderful teachers in high school recognized my talent and nurtured it. But I wasn’t used to being recognized or nurtured; ultimately, my life didn’t go in a direction where my literary talent was going to get a whole lot of exercise. Even so, I never outgrew feeling that it was easier for me to write what I meant than to say it. I got quite a rep as a note-scribbler. At my little bakery, my crew used to roll their eyes and sigh every time a two-page hand-written missive was posted on the bulletin board. It wasn’t a terribly effective means of business communication, but at least it was communication. Let’s just say, it met with mixed results.

As I said, though, blogging has been a whole different experience. It has been challenging, exhilarating, intimidating and liberating all at the same time. And what a stretching exercise! I’m sure I’m learning things about writing that I would have learned way back when, had I taken my talent to the next level of education. Here I am, fifty years old, discovering by trial and error things that a twenty-year-old college student got out of a textbook in Writing 101. So I’m a bit of a late bloomer…. What can I say?

But my writing isn’t the only thing that has been undergoing a metamorphosis. I have found that my increased attention to words, and how to put them together, has changed the way I talk. I’ll be having an intense discussion with my husband or one of my sisters, and something so creatively metaphorical will burst out of my mouth that I almost turn around to see who said it. Have you ever been watching your favorite TV drama, and a character will come out with some eloquent soliloquy, very emotive, very poetic…and you screw up your face and say, “Oh, come on…people don’t really talk like that!”

I don’t know…maybe they do. At least, maybe the guys who write the scripts do, so they think everybody else must, too. Because that fascination with language doesn’t seem to be something you can turn on and off at will. It just becomes part of you. Time was, I despaired that my vocabulary had dwindled to about a dozen favorite words. If someone told me a sad story, I was more than likely to emote, “Wow! That sucks!” or something equally juvenile. The other day, my sister was venting about her husband, and how he had dredged up some old wound in a fight they were having; and I said to her, I kid you not, “You live with someone long enough, and you learn a lot about them. You can either use that information to cherish them, or you can use it to push their buttons. Unfortunately, some people choose the latter.” Now, that’s not particularly eloquent or literarily significant, but it is about two dozen more words than my response would have been, say, three years ago. Earlier that same day, I was having a discussion with my husband, trying to describe the unbreakable connection I seem to have with my dysfunctional family. I blurted, “Sometimes it feels like a safety belt, and sometimes, like a garrote.” I actually said that. It came out of my mouth, I swear to God. Whoa.

Who knows where this will lead? Either I will soar to new heights of improved communication with my fellow human beings, or I’ll be branded a hopeless snob, intentionally unintelligible to the unwashed masses. I may find that my days of eloquent utterances are numbered; because in a very short time, no one will be speaking to me anymore. This should be an interesting ride…

Friday, April 07, 2006

About Writing...

There’s one thing I have to say about blogging. It has so changed the way I write. When I first started doing this, back in September of ’03, there was an interesting constraint to the experience: the 2500 word limit imposed by AOL in the early days of "Journal Land." There I was, the one who could churn out four or five single-spaced pages of stream-of-consciousness in a bored hour or two at work, reduced to trying to express myself in what amounted to about four paragraphs.

Eventually, we were freed from the word limit ball and chain. Going forward, I found I had learned a good lesson, and I carried it along with me into the world of the expanded blog. I had learned how to edit. How to distill my prose down to an almost poetic economy of words. And how to stick to making one point about one subject, and not indulge in my usual butterfly-flitting-from-thought-to-thought style of writing. The hyper-examination of every word has worn off some; but I have been bitten by the editing bug. And the computer makes it so easy! I hardly crank out one sentence without backspacing, "control-x-ing," moving things around or just deleting large quantities of print altogether.

Gone are the days when I could jump on my train of thought and shovel whatever came into my mind into the boiler. Suddenly, it has to make sense. It has to communicate. It has to be more than bile, or tears, or hysteria. It has to say something. Writing has gone from the smooth flowing fun with words it once was for me, to being a stutter-step, start and stop process that decidedly does not flow. But I can’t blame it all on editing fever. What’s really to blame is that pesky thing called an audience.

Readers. Nobody ever read my writing. For years. Not since high school, anyway. That would be many, many years. Until now. Readership is a powerful drug. It changes everything. Everything. It has kept me coming back here, even when my heart was sore, when I felt I’d been rejected or misunderstood, when I was afraid I had alienated the world, when I thought I had run out of things to say. Even though my audience includes almost none of the people I started out with. Even though I don’t feel the same "relationship" I did with the first half dozen friends who fell into stopping by and seeing what I had to say. There is a relationship, nonetheless. And for a writer, it’s the only relationship that matters. Someone reads.

Now, I wish I commanded the audience of a Dave Barry, or even a Margie Boulet ("women’s viewpoint" columnist for the Oregonian.) Or maybe I don’t. Because I have a hard enough time trying to write things that are true, meaningful to me, topical, and engaging to the six people who read my journal. I work for literally hours on a 3500-word post. Editing, revising, re-reading, trying to make sure I’m really communicating. I think about people who write for a living…who have to crank out something good, concise, and interesting five days a week. Oh, my god….the impossible dream. Or writing a novel. At the rate I obsess for my handful of readers, it would take me 200 years to write a book.

It’s unfortunate that even a small taste of very limited success makes one crave more. I’m pretty sure I don’t have what it takes to ever get to the point where I might actually be paid for what I write. And, you know…I’m not sure that’s my goal. I write stuff here, and some of it is good. And I know that there is such a thing as making a living as a writer. But I don’t look at writing in those terms. For me, the reward is all about the communication; the connection to at least one other soul on the planet. Having readers is still new enough for me that I haven’t yet reached the point of wondering how I might profit from the experience. But then, how cool would it be to make a living doing the one thing that you have always felt the call on your heart to do?

The world is full of people answering calls on their lives not even remotely connected to their highest calling, to their native talent. We all make do. We all find our lives more influenced by who we know, where we grew up, what our families did, the expectations put on us by others, rather than the true voices of our souls. I feel fortunate that, as one of the misdirected masses, I have stumbled across the world of the blog…this microcosm of what I should be, what I would love to be. I can get the tiniest taste of what it is like to do what I am meant to do. Many people are not that lucky.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Where I'm From

Cynthia, Wil, and Mary all partook of this wonderful writing exercise. Their resulting pieces were beautiful, magical, deep... And, well...this is what I ended up with:

I am from station wagons, from Kool-aid and Turf-builder.
I am from the three bedroom, one bath ticky tacky box
with the swath of weedy lawn; from lightning bugs, june bugs,
and mosquitoes the size of small birds.
From nights near as hot as the days, spread-eagled on sticky sheets, crickets creaking, horns honking,
trains rumbling and whistling in the distance…
I am from Snow to the eaves, jewel-studded ice storms,
and green-black thunderstorms with sideways rain

I am from bright red tulips, honeysuckle berries,
and worms on the driveway after a cloudburst;
From daisies, tiny wild strawberries, "Queen Anne’s Lace"
and crashing the kite into power lines.

I am from "look what followed me home from school"
and never having too many animals; from Taffy, and Rusty,
and Sunny, the yellow-headed parakeet, who could say
"Happy Birthday" but only when he thought no one was listening….

I am from the women who shuttle the carpool, punch the clock,
scrub the toilet, then climb into the bottle, the herb,
or the fantasy to quiet the noise in their heads
and the men they choose to rescue, or who choose to rescue them

From "when you meet the right one, you’ll just know"
and "Your dad was a virgin when we were married…"
I am from the dutiful eldest daughter who paired off,
home made and pro-created at the appointed time,
and the other four who didn’t.

I am from the tearful Catholic and the stoic agnostic;
the rope stretched taut between belief and unbelief,
pulled one direction, then the other…the eternal tug-of-war never won.

I'm from pioneers of urban exile; before the country clubs,
the soccer, and the rolls royces.
I’m from the first McDonald’s and the last Tastee Freeze.

I am from the great mouldering box in the upstairs closet,
roaring twenties studio sepias stacked on
shiny square instamatic shots discoloring with age.
I am from the five stair-steps, the Christmas trees, the campfires,
and the blurred mountains captured from a moving car.

I am from the unlikely union of a country boy and a city girl,
brought together by Hitler and Hirohito,
and the neighborhood of compromise that kept them both sane…almost.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

It's Here. Now.

Spring has come and gone here in Oregon. We had approximately 2.5 days of it, and now the weather has switched back to its stubbornly wintry ways. I’ve been reading all these stories about global warming lately. But believing the dire predictions has been an exercise in not trusting my own eyes. Because if had to judge by what the weather has been doing here in Oregon this spring, I’d have to swear we’re going into another Ice Age.

That’s why they’ve taken to calling it “Global Climate Change.” “Global warming” is not necessarily descriptive of what climate change means to all areas of the globe. Some places will turn into saunas. But weather patterns and gulf streams and such will undoubtedly be affected to the point that some of us will actually get cooler weather. And my fantasies of owning a house on the ocean may come true without my even having to move. I won’t have to go to the beach. The beach will come to me.

Of course, I’ve been aware of the concept of global warming for a couple of decades, but I haven’t been able to make up my mind about it. It all seemed so vague, so theoretical, so…slow. I understood that we humans have been thoughtlessly fouling our nest for the last hundred years; but the process of the incremental increases in global temperatures still might have been explained away by the theory that we were in the process of emerging from the last Ice Age. A much simpler and much less frightening explanation. It’s amazing how easy it is to rationalize something that scares the shit out of you. Especially something that you feel is completely out of your personal control.

So when I came across articles about bird migrations taking place weeks earlier than they did fifty years ago, or glaciers shrinking by a couple inches more a year than they used to, I filed them away in the folder in the back of my brain labeled “Things That I Probably Should Be Worried About But I Don’t Want To Deal With Right Now.” And then came the hurricanes. And the fires. And the floods. And the huge cyclone that ate a chunk out of Australia. All in the space of the past twelve months. And as I put on my winter coat to take out the garbage, and look at the snow covering the low foothills in the east, the like of which I haven’t seen in the twenty years we’ve lived in Oregon…I get it. All of a sudden, it’s real. And it’s very possible that it’s all going to go to hell a lot faster than we ever imagined. Here’s the clincher, from Jeffrey Kluger’s article on climate change in Time Magazine:

What few people reckoned on was that global climate systems are booby-trapped with tipping points and feedback loops, thresholds past which the slow creep of environmental decay gives way to sudden and self-perpetuating collapse. Pump enough CO2 into the sky, and that last part per million of greenhouse gas behaves like the 212th degree Fahrenheit that turns a pot of hot water into a plume of billowing steam.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Scare tactics? Perhaps… But it sounds, and looks, all too plausible.

My Dining Room Window

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bush is Losing the War of Words

Today, I caught the first few minutes of a “Hardball” segment before I growled to my husband to turn it off lest I physically attack him to gain control of the remote. The topic of the day was President Bush’s recent campaign to paint the press as the bad guys in the Iraq War. (It must be mentioned here that we are on vacation; ensconced in a beautiful little cedar-shingled cabin perched among the treetops overlooking Siltcoos Lake, one of a string of freshwater lakes separated from the Pacific Ocean by the sandy hillocks of the Oregon Dunes. I am here to watch the birds, inhale the scent of laurel blossoms, and search out the perfect Oregon coast dining experience. Not to have my stomach soured and my blood pressure raised fifty points by the latest Bush Administration campaign to transfer blame for its history-changing fuck-ups on to anything but its own incompetence.)

It took a few days of following Mr. Bush all over the country, and having veteran Washington analysts gush about how (why?) he unexpectedly set aside his extreme aversion to informal and unrehearsed interaction with the press, to figure out exactly what his game is. Out of one side of his mouth, he is joking, cajoling, bantering, and buddying up to the press. And, out of the other side, he is blasting them for focusing on pessimistic reports coming out of Iraq. Somewhere in there, he is attempting to salvage the image of the plain-spoken, dedicated War President being wronged by the sensationalist, money-grubbing media which insist upon focusing upon images of death and destruction coming out of a war zone. How un-American of these defeatist reporters!

I guess my answer to that is: Mr. President, if you wanted positive images to come out of Iraq, perhaps you should have sent in a humanitarian force rather than an army. Perhaps you should have focused on building schools and improving infrastructure and promoting diplomatic understanding from the outset, not as “let’s make nice now” damage control after an ill-considered pre-emptive military invasion of a sovereign nation with a complicated and convoluted history which you made no effort to comprehend.

In the early days of the Iraq war, with their embedded reporters and vise-like grip upon the information and images trickling out of the war zone , the Bush Administration was able to tell exactly the story they wanted—no more and no less. They were unquestionably (in their own minds, at least) in perfect control of the message; it was an easy step to believing they controlled not only the perception of the war, but the war itself. A classic and tragic case of believing your own press. Alas…in its own stubbornly contrary fashion, the Iraq conflict did not magically resolve upon the airing of the “Mission Accomplished” speech scarcely two months into the nightmare that was, at that point, only just beginning. Though, admittedly, the ADHD-afflicted American people have been a little slow on the uptake, it has become painfully clear—an additional two years and ten months into the steadily decaying process—that the mission is anything but accomplished.

Control of the media has been, from day one, the most powerful weapon in the GOP’s arsenal. Time and time again, the administration’s gurus have expertly manipulated the message that reached the eyes and ears of the American people. What has gone wrong? Could it be that they’ve gripped the information pipeline so tightly for so long, they’re cramping up? They’re starting to tremble, and dance, and juggle, and look more and more foolish as they struggle to hold on to that weapon that is quickly slipping out of their grasp. Bush and Co. are scrambling to reconcile their early-war “We’re out to save the world” image with the increasingly desperate situation that they can no longer hide. Demonstrating their typical bull-headed inability to change gears when the situation calls for it, they continue to reach for that weapon to which they’ve grown so attached. This time, however, they find themselves in the schizophrenic position of trying to kiss up to the press, and slap it upside the head at the same time. It’s quite the Laurel and Hardy moment. And the American people, treated to this sorry bit of slapstick, are finally ready to turn off the movie and focus on reality.


I've been neglecting poor little "Better Terms..." I think it's become a casualty of having too many blogs. I'm going to drag a couple of Blue Voice posts over here...

Meanwhile, I want to change my profile picture...so here it is:

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Favorite Fours

Cynthia (A Crazy Quilt Life) tagged me, but she didnt thinkI'd really do this. It's been a long time since I've done one of these. I think I lost my thumbs this past winter...[obscure Dick Van Dyke Show reference that no one will get :-)]

Four jobs I've had in my life:
(Oh, my! How do I choose…?)
Production worker, Little Monk Home Winemaking Kits
Pizza Queen!!
Manager, Le Chatel Bakery, VRC
Production Manager, Ultimate Baking (biscotti!)

Four Movies I Can Watch Anytime:
Gone With The Wind
Little Women
While You Were Sleeping
Holiday Inn

Four Places I have lived:
North Suburban Chicago
Willamette Valley
Suburban Portland
Columbia Valley

Four favorite television shows:
Boston Legal
Judging Amy (reruns)
What Not To Wear
Designed to Sell

Four Places I have been on vacation:
The Baseball Hall of Fame
Grand Canyon
Door County, Wisconsin
Glacier National Park, Montana

Four of my favorite dishes:
Red Robin’s Mile High Mud Pie
Hot, crispy, batter-dipped French fries
Fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies
Spaghetti with garlic bread

Four Websites I visit daily:
The Blue Voice
Dogpile (Search Engine)
Weather Channel Forecast

Four Places I would rather be right now:
Toiling away in the back of the house of my own restaurant
Washburn State Park, feeding the jays from my hand
Getting off the plane for a six-month stay in Europe
Anywhere warm, dry, and sunny

Four bloggers I am tagging:
Tina of Ride Along With Me
Meredith of Another Country Heard From
Jackie of Pixels, Politics, Posies, and Pussycats
and Judi of talking to myself

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Winter, Spring, and Words

Tina wrote on Sunday about the power she gains from some combinations of words that suddenly seem to come to life for her. Her latest discovery is, "It is what it is." I so understand what she’s talking about with these five little words. I recently discovered them myself, and they have unlocked a lot of chains for me.

I found another set of timely words for myself the other day. It’s not a motto…it’s more like a sound byte. But it explains a lot of what is going on in my life right now. And it might even go a long way toward explaining the general "blahness" that seems to be afflicting just about everyone in the Land of J these days.

Only 30 percent of those polled by the Los Angeles Times believe that the country is on the right track. That is such a historically low number it's a surprise Americans even get out of bed in the morning.

The current political scene in our country is so dismal. War. Bigotry. Hatred. Political infighting. And there’s nowhere you can go to get away from it. If you turn on the television or radio, open a magazine or newspaper, it roars at you like a constant gale, blasting away and wearing you down until you are simply…numb. The world, seen through the darkened lens of our national moral turmoil, looks drab and bleak and hopeless. The fitful weather of the last gasp of winter only serves to enforce that lethargy induced by the sheer weight of the depressing issues we face on our political landscape.

Personally, I’m languishing for want of Spring. I’m desperate for soft, warm breezes, coquettish sunlight peeking out from between the clouds, and bright green knobs of new life breaking through the dark, damp, icy earth. And for the warmth of charity, the light of wisdom, and the life of understanding and new leadership to break through the murk of the cold political fog that has settled upon us. I don’t want to hear that "It is what it is." I want to know that it can be so much more…