Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Bloodthirsty Puppy

Though several friends emailed me in appreciation of my last blogpost, which extolled the wonders of friendship, just as many people were more intrigued by a blog topic I recently proposed, tentatively titled "My Bloodthirsty Puppy." It appears, among the readers of this forum at least, that sentiment is out-trumped by sadism.

So, here's the story. It's a very long, tragic tale, so read on only if you must:

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was a Lover of All Creatures Great and Small. Sucker that she was, stray animals flocked to her doorstep, seeming to have her number. Pet rescue agency folks grinned as they crafted "Home Needed" ads, with subliminal messages targeted specifically for her.

Her menagerie grew to four cats, two fish and--not to be excluded from her collection, for they were the most animalistic of all--two teenage sons. Then, she drew the imaginary line. She began pawning off homeless creatures on her family, friends and co-workers. Acquaintances began scurrying to hide when they saw her coming.

Yet still, something was missing in the woman's Wide World of Animals. In her infinite lack of wisdom, she decided the void could only be filled by a dog. Consequently, a tiny ball of fluff came to live with the family. For the sake of story-telling, we'll call him "Ringo."

Gradually, Ringo grew from an indistinguishable breed of chubby pup to a 75-pound dog whose parentage clearly included golden retriever.

And golden retrievers, by nature, are hunting dogs.

The woman was NOT a hunting enthusiast. Not only did she eschew shooting down innocent pheasants and deer, she went out of her way to secure the safety of all wild creatures.

The mice breeding in her garage sensed this, of course. They knew that, once discovered, they wouldn't be condemned to neck-snapping mousetraps. No, the woman would spend several consecutive nights live-trapping them, dozens of them, and whisking them all safely away to a field where she released them.

And once, the woman ordered an iced tea at a restaurant, only to discover a large black spider swimming lazily in the glass (apparently the caffeine-buzz hadn't yet kicked in). To the horror of the wide-eyed waitress, the woman actually TOOK IT OUTSIDE, to carry on its merry, though sloshy, eight-legged way.

She was a hapless, pathetic individual. So, wasn't she just a bit dismayed when Ringo, her affable golden-retriever mix, acquired the urge to kill?

Mid-walk, leash and all, he suddenly took to lunging and scooping up unsuspecting birds in his jaws. The playful bunnies in the woman's yard, lured there by her bowls of wildlife feed that became inadvertent traps, had no chance. When Ringo returned from a midnight potty break, rushing inside from the dark with a half-frozen rabbit carcass in his mouth that BRUSHED AGAINST HER LEG as the dog ran into the living room... Well. It was a moment of lost innocence for her.

Weeks went by, however, and the bloodbath appeared to be over. The woman witnessed no more of Ringo's gaily-tossing-in-the-air-of-small-creatures in the back yard. The birds and rabbits had seemingly passed along the word that the Last House on the Right on Hickory Lane was the headquarters of Wildlife Public Enemy Number One.

Believing she'd finally reformed the mutant killer dog, the woman began sleeping better at night.

Until one fall night, when Ringo came in from finishing his nightly duties. The woman washed her face, put on her nightshirt, and finally climbed in bed, where Ringo lay serenely waiting for her.

She reached over to pet him. And suddenly, she stopped. Her hand hovered above a small, dark object. It took her a moment to realize that the object, placed there so thoughtfully by Ringo, inches from her shoulder, upon her newly laundered sheets, was a dead mole.

Much as she was impelled to scream, the woman did not. For if she did so, she knew that the dog would quickly seize the poor thing within its jaws once again, and she'd be forced into a late-night game of tug-of-war. So, she casually reached for a tissue from her nightstand, and grabbed the dead creature. The flimsy tissue did little to disguise the sensation of slobber-coated dead rodent in her hand.

Ringo howled in protest as she carried it to a garbage can in the garage (only after being certain, the sad and sick woman that she was, that it was truly beyond reviving).

So, the woman rewashed her sheets, placed Ringo on permanent parole, and prayed to the gods of Lost Causes for Canines that he might somehow be rehabilitated.

Alas, they did NOT all live happily ever after. At least not the wild creatures still stupid enough to wander forth into the depths of 444 Hickory Lane.

The moral of the story is: If one has a mountain of a molehill, the solution is only a dog pound away. (Though Ringo can't be rented, because the woman doesn't want mole blood on her conscience.)


Sunday, May 24, 2009

One Is Silver and the Other's Gold

Considering all my idiosyncrasies and flaws (surely more than my share, at least according to my teenaged children), I've still somehow managed to make some amazing friends in my lifetime.

Most people make dozens of acquaintances every year of their life. Beginning in childhood, we meet new people in the neighborhood, at school, in sports and activities. We encounter new faces in college, at jobs, and eventually through our own children. Some simply remain acquaintances; many just fade from our lives and our memories; and a handful we try hard to forget. (Though try as we might, why can't we forget that one particular Boss-from-Hell?)

Out of the hundreds and hundreds of individuals we meet in our life, something just clicks with some. It may be a shared interest, common beliefs, or simply a similar sense of humor. Usually imperceptibly, often unexpectedly, there's a spark, and a rapport builds.

And then one day, you realize the one-time acquaintance has become a true friend.

Some of my very best friends, still, are those I made in grade school. Perhaps those friendships have perpetuated for the sheer fact of spending eight years together during the most formative times of our lives. Perhaps it's because we have similar backgrounds, though most of us are not, individually, very similar at all.

I've had lasting friendships with a handful of high school and college friends, too. And along the way, I've come to know some great new friends, from current and past jobs, through my children, and even from vacations and writing conferences, when a mere week with these individuals was long enough to forge a continued camaraderie.

Sadly though, even the best of friendships don't always last forever. I've somehow lost touch with a few people who, at one point in my life, were among my closest friends: a grade school friend, at whose house I spent much of every weekend for years; high school buddies who accompanied me on post-graduation road trips that I'll never forget (though early adult activities rendered some parts hazy); and a couple individuals who were at one time so important in my life that I chose them each to do readings at my wedding.

I've found, however, that friendships ebb and flow. They take initiative. They take nurturing. And in 2009, they also take pushing aside a reluctance to jump on the bandwagon of seemingly trendy technology (thank you, Facebook), in order to rediscover, recapture and rejuvenate them.

I'm thankful for every friend I've ever had: the ones who are still around and the ones who've simply faded away into my warm memories. Yes, some old are silver and the others are gold. Just like precious metals, they're all treasured.

Tonight, as I reminisce, I tip my glass (refilled more than once) to you all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Unsure, For Certain

I've never suffered writer's block. My issue has never been, "What can I possibly write about?" The problem, more so, has been, "Of the million things coursing through my potentially ADD mind, which should I choose to write about?"

Decision-making, whether it be a writing topic or a dinner choice, is my real problem. Not making decisions about the big stuff: with those, I'm golden. This or that, when it's truly consequential, is somehow a no-brainer.

But planting geraniums or pansies? Grilling chicken breasts or pork chops? Those decisions render me palm-up helpless.

I carefully consider the choices, weigh the pros and cons of each. Then, I finally sigh and make a random choice, praying my decision is the right one.

But damn. I'll bet that pork chop would have been especially tasty tonight.

And tonight's blog topics? I couldn't quite pinpoint which might be the best. Writing about the Dilemmas of Dating or about My Bloodthirsty Puppy? So, in the end, I didn't choose either.

Is it me, or is life just filled with too many difficult choices?

Tomorrow night, I'm just skipping dinner all together.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Advice for a Young Woman

In my last blog entry, I mentioned the summer hosteling trip through Europe that a friend and I had planned after our college graduations. We figured some savings from our fast-food jobs, a railpass and a backpack were all we needed for a month of freedom exploring another continent.

Instead, that plan of yesteryear was wiped away when reality and practicality stepped in. I accepted a full-time job as a newspaper reporter, took on an apartment lease, and entered the lifelong world of Responsible, Tax-Paying Adults.

I hesitate on referring to that discarded plan as a "regret" (a term I prefer to reserve for minute mistakes such as being overserved at the bar). Still. Backpacking through Europe? Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

If I could travel back in time, I'd tell my 21-year-old self to take the trip. Put off responsibility for one more month. Forgo making commitments that, once made, can't be broken, however temporarily.

My 21-year-old self might not have listened, especially to a now middle-aged woman. (Do they ever?) But the fact is, I've learned one or ten things through the years, which I would pass along as advice to the younger me:

- Pursue your dreams now. They get only more elusive as you get older.
- Be a good friend even to those who've become distant. The distanced ones may need you the most.
- Don't be so anxious for that first credit card. It will buy you everything but freedom.
- Hang onto how it feels to be young. Your future children will thank you.
- Don't let the gas tank get too low. Trust me on this.
- Spend more time with your parents. They will not live forever.
- Bet heavily on Mine that Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
- Marry if you love him, but don't expect love to conquer all.
- Don't buy those huge, round-rimmed eyeglass frames, even if the optician tells you they look great on you. Just don't.
- Don't second-guess bad decisions unless you can change them. Avoid regrets. Focus on repairs.

Until future technology finds a way for us to travel back in time, I can't offer any of this advice to the young woman I once was. The best I can do now is offer up a list of suggestions for my own two children, who are now both young adults themselves.

They'll make their own decisions, good or bad, for certain. But when they look back on those decisions, far in the future, I hope the term "regret" has become obsolete. And the need to "repair," at the least, a rarity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Regrets Only

The daughter of a close friend just graduated from college. The economy as it is, she has yet to find a job. Amidst her fervent search, she's pursuing the next most logical plan of action for a 21-year-old: She's taking a road trip to Florida with friends.

"Good for her!" I responded with much enthusiasm.

My friend eyed me with a half-smile. "Well, I figured you'd say that."

(With Yoda-like philosophy, I briefly pondered the implication of her remark. Irresponsible, am I? Exceedingly hedonistic, perhaps? I finally settled on "spirited," using the spin my optimistic mother always did in describing my sisters and me in the most wayward periods of our lives.)

"OK, still. I know she can't really afford it. Yes, she needs a job. True, all that," I said. "But remember the trip you and I planned for our summer after college graduation? When we were going to go hosteling through Europe for a month? Remember?"

She nodded slowly, and we were silent for a moment, save a soft sigh that escaped from each of us.

The Europe trip never happened, of course. We'd talked about it, daydreamed a lot, did a bit of research. But in the end, we simply persisted in our job searches and found permanent employment. We began careers, married, had children. We did all the right things. All the things that were expected of us as respectable young adults. (We did a few less respectable things too. Another blog topic perhaps, for another day.)

I can't remake the decision I made--or more accurately, didn't make--that summer after college graduation. And given a month of freedom now, I wouldn't choose to spend it sleeping in a room with strangers, worrying about the multi-legged creatures who might also be sharing our space. I travel these days with a mega suitcase filled with several pairs of clean underwear and an assortment of shoes.

I have few true regrets in my life. I believe regrets usually serve a purpose only when you have the ability to resurrect, recapture and redo a decision you once made and would now make differently.

I don't regret where I am in my life. But if I were 21 again, I might choose differently where I was going.

And I'd go there with just a few dollars tucked into a pack on my back, and wearing an old, worn pair of sandals.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Keeping a Proper House

I have limited blog time tonight, as I'm preparing to leave town yet again this weekend. My list of things to accomplish before I leave is mind-boggling. In between my bitching and moaning about them, I'll barely have time to finish them all.

Cleaning my trashed house, really, is toward the bottom of my to-do list.

I'd have been such a loser in the last century.

Sure, I have a respectable amount of intelligence. I'm told I display a dash of wit from time to time. I've managed a successful career for many years.

But these qualities in, say, 1909? They'd have garnered me little respect once anyone set foot in my house. Back then, a woman's worth was measured by the proper house she kept. And my house? Well, my house is not kept. Unkempt, sadly, is a more appropriate term.

The truth be known (and it is known, truly, by anyone who's entered these dustbunnied-halls) is that I'm less than an impeccable housecleaner.

My excuse over the years has been that, with raising two sons and working full-time, who has time to clean a house? Strong justification, I've reasoned, for hiring a cleaning service twice a month.

Even so, for at least two weeks a month, my house is well below par for 1909 standards. Or 1919. Or 1929. Or, well, you get the idea.

And my justification falls even shorter when I imagine all the daily tasks I endure (with much of the aforementioned bitching and moaning, thank you) that the women of yesteryear had even tougher. Washing dishes by hand, washing clothes through a wringer, cooking over a wood stove, strangling and plucking the chickens for dinner... Their list of daily chores is unfathomable.

And to top it off, they had no cable TV, no music CDs, and no computer through which they could find some relaxation and refuge at the end of the day.

But still. Even in 2009, somehow there aren't enough hours in the day to handle everything we need to without becoming stressed.

I'm so very thankful for my dishwasher, my microwave, my indoor plumbing. Aren't you? But in 2039, when the technology gods have made my life even easier, I'm sure I'll still find a way to bitch and moan about everything I have to do.

What invention are you most thankful for? What chore are you still wishing for the technology gods to obliterate?

Feel free to chime in. It will make me feel better, as I sit here tonight at my computer, ignoring the piles of dirty dishes and unwashed clothes surrounding me...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Out with the Old

A consortium of governmental entities has decided my past is insignificant.

This week, they began demolishing the shopping mall where I spent much of my youth. Soon, they will also start razing the high school where I misspent the rest. And the sentimental buzz-kill: They've torn down the sports arena where I saw my first concert (Aerosmith, before they were anyone's grandfathers).

Not one to stand in the way of progress, I understand the desire for newer and bigger and better. (Suburban sprawl? Guilty, guilty, guilty.) Yet part of me wonders, in this current "green" society, if we couldn't find a way of simply fixing and improving what we already have. Or, at least, recycling it for a different use.

I'm not full of ideas, only ideals. Of wanting to preserve a piece of the past while adapting for the future. Perhaps, in light of an upcoming high school reunion, I'm confusing logic with sentiment. Yet still.

It's too late to save Southwyck Mall. And the Toledo Sports Arena won't ever rise from its ashes (formed greatly, no doubt, from the illegal substances smoked there in the sixties and seventies).

But if Steven Tyler and gang are still up for a good show, I know a nice little high school gymnasium with lots of empty bleachers.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

Another high school reunion planning meeting this week... I'd announce the precise anniversary, but really, it pains me.

Why is that? Why am I not totally comfortable with that multi-decade numeral?

Is it because I'm alarmed by the age at which it places me? (Let's just say I'm in the throes of middle-age, but have not yet been the proud recipient of an AARP card.)

Is it because I'd thought I'd have accomplished more in the years since I've last seen these old friends and acquaintances? (I'm not on welfare, by any means, but I've also not yet managed my way onto the New York Times Bestseller List.)

Is it because I couldn't fit into my senior prom dress with a gallon of WD-40 and a giant shoe horn?

I'm still 16 in my heart and in my mind. My body, apparently though, is not a team player.

I doubt I am alone. I'm certain many of my old classmates are anticipating this event with the same combination of excitement and trepidation.

How much have each of us changed? How much have we remained the same? Either could be to our advantage, or could work against us. High school memories are entrapped in images of long ago. The pages of our yearbooks are preserved in perpetuity.

Will people still remember me by my legacy of "Best Sense of Humor" and "Best Party Giver?" If so, I may fail them, considering the best party I've given in the past 20 years entailed a small boy peeing his pants as he waited in line for his turn at the pinata.

My guess is that we've all evolved, while preserving a bit of our 17-year-old persona inside. I'd like to think I'm better off now than I was then. And that I'll look at my classmates at this reunion and say, "Wow! Look at you!"

Because, like Alice through the Looking Glass, we all have the chance to change yet. And whom we see today may be totally different than whom we view tomorrow.

Unlike Alice, no magic drink or pill will make the difference. Only years and personal experience and growth will morph us into someone new.

Are we happy with whom we are today? Perhaps it doesn't yet matter. Because when we peer into that looking glass, it's reassuring to know we'll always have the power to alter the vision.