Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'll Get Right on That, Reprise

Another blast from the past. But this year, I swear, I will surely be on top of things:

I'll Get Right on That, Reprise

It all started, I believe, with my intention of paying a late bill.

I remember logging onto the computer, figuring I'd best ensure my checking account wasn't once again in the red. Lo and behold, I spied an email from Ticketmaster, announcing an absolutely MUST-SEE concert which, deficit funds be damned, I could conveniently put on my credit card.

So I hurried to the kitchen to check my desk calendar, which was buried beneath a week's pile of unread newspapers. As I scooped them up, I caught an interesting headline. Whoa, what's up with this global warming shit; well, aren't those polar bears screwed?

Halfway through reading the article, I remembered tomorrow was recycling and trash day. I tossed the entire heap of papers in the garage (figuring an ignorance of current events never hurt many elected officials), and decided I should take a moment to clean out the molding leftovers from the refrigerator too.

I threw some days-old chicken bits to the cats and lobbed four indistinguishable food items, plastic containers and all, into the garbage. Before I closed the fridge, my eyes lit at the sight of a hardly-touched bottle of Bloody Mary mix in the back. Might as well finish that up before it went bad, so I could recycle it, too. Plus that soon-to-be emptied vodka bottle. First, however, I should clean up that steaming pile of cat-puked chicken bits from the carpet.

But cat puke on carpet is best left to harden, I deduced, so it can simply be peeled off the next day. (I'm all about time management.) Which led me to recall that I hadn't yet checked with the pet-sitter about the date of my impending vacation. So I rummaged through my purse for my cell phone, and broke a friggin' fingernail.

The second broken nail in two days, which TOTALLY pissed me off, because it undermined the aesthetics of an otherwise unflawed, candy apple set of eight. The others, sadly, would have to be filed down to a more uniform length. I headed down the hall to the bathroom for the nail polish remover which, I astutely reasoned, should be my next step.

Holy Mother of God, do I live in the desert or what? What's with these giant, threatening tumbleweeds in the hallway?!? Clearly I needed to brush the dog more often. Which I decided I must do, immediately. But as I reached for the brush, I chuckled. Tumbleweeds of dog hair? Haha! Terrific concept for a blog post in that.

So I sat down at my computer. With broken fingernails, an insanely potent Bloody Mary, and a nearby pile of drying cat vomit.

Oh! But look who's on Facebook now!

Call me ADD or diagnose me with early senility, if you'd like. I choose to label myself a busy overachiever.

Yet it's a good guess I'll find myself too damn preoccupied tomorrow to talk on the phone, when the collection agency calls.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Moan in the Mirror, Reprise

One of my early posts. And sadly, I haven't gotten any younger...

The Moan in the Mirror

Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Who’s the fairest of them all?

Not you, oh Demon Glass of Gloom. No, you aren’t playing fair at all these days. In fact, you have some ‘splaining to do.

First off, what’s with the chins? Didn’t I used to have only one?

Though I’m lucky I can see the chins at all, what with this big honking nose in the way. Perhaps you thought I couldn’t smell adequately with the old one? Yes, a funny joke indeed, your lopping an inch or two off my already inadequate stature. But must you shift every lost inch to my nose?

The mushrooming nose might be tolerable if it weren’t for that bump on the end of it. And the bump on my chin. And the one on my other chin. Apparently, you’ve adopted a catchy new advertising slogan: “Big Zits: Not just for teenagers anymore.”

And speaking of my teen years, remember when I used to stand before you and actually PLUCK my eyebrows? Oh great mirror, where did my eyebrows go? As you’ve been busy focusing on amplifying my pores, you seem to have misplaced my eyebrows altogether.

Ah, but fortunately, my tweezers have not been rendered useless by the mere disappearance of my eyebrows. Not with this stray hair you show sprouting from one of my chins. Thank you for that.

Not to despair. I am not saddened by the state of my eyebrows, my chins or my nose. No, I welcome this metamorphosis with much joy and mirth, if the crow’s feet and laugh lines you’re presenting are any indication.

So, should I wear these fabulous new additions to my face like a badge of honor? Yes, I will do so. And when these odd gray hairs, which are now promptly yanked from my head, start to multiply like fish and loaves? I will wear them proudly, too. Or perhaps I will consequently go bald.

But don’t expect to see me smiling about it. An unlikely scenario, now that you’ve decided to do away with my lips.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Final Goodbyes, Reprise

Continuing with blasts from the past. Here's a favorite, though bittersweet, post from last fall.

Final Goodbyes

It wasn't the kind of goodbye I envisioned.

I knew saying goodbye was inevitable, once the plastic tubs crammed with clothes and electronic equipment and a thoughtfully packed first-aid kit were unloaded from the van, once the futon and lofts were assembled and arranged, and once $400 worth of textbooks were procured (and most thankfully, paid by a blank check from his father). We'd enjoy one last supper together, not really tasting the bites of sandwiches consumed amidst our animated discussion about the campus and classes and crew practice.

And then, before I left for the long drive home, we'd have our goodbye scene. I'd offer a farewell speech, peppered with insightful parental advice, and we'd have lengthy mutual proclamations of love. It would end with a final hug on the sidewalk in front of his dorm.

But dinner ran late, and he had just minutes to make it to a mandatory student orientation meeting. I pulled up in front of the classroom building. He eyed the clock in the car--two minutes to get inside and find the room. He opened the car door and quickly slammed it shut.

No opportunity for any of the elements of the scene I'd already drafted in my mind.

"Good luck, honey," I told him. How did I condense a ten-minute speech into thirty seconds? "I'll miss you."

"I know." He offered a sympathetic smile. "I'll miss you too."

"So, see you in six weeks."

"Yep." He glanced toward the building and gave me a quick wave before backing away. "Love you," he yelled.

"Love you too," I called after him. But he was already several feet away, his back turned to me.

I inched forward before the line of cars behind me honked and I was forced to hit the accelerator. My last glimpse of him was a fleeting image, through the open car window, as he raced toward the building.

"Just as well," my sister told me the next day. "Short and sweet is better than a long painful goodbye."

Perhaps she's right, I thought. Although even short goodbyes can still be painful, at least they preclude massive emissions of tears. And I'd promised myself on the drive to Milwaukee that I couldn't cry.

For several weeks leading up to this, I prepared myself for a tear-filled farewell. It was, after all, the Ritual of the Strings-Cutting Parent. Particularly in the case of a youngest child, it was normal. It was justified.

But nothing makes you reassess your own life more than someone else's death.

Three days before our departure, a boy down the street was killed in a car accident.

He, too, had just graduated from high school and was preparing to head off to college. He, too, was the youngest of two children. While his parents had been helping him plan and pack for the start of his new life, on a campus three hours away, I'm sure they were filled with excitement, trepidation and grief at the idea of him leaving for school.

But in the instant it takes for an out-of-control car to strike a tree, their grief was the only emotion that remained.

Jake would be starting college next week. The event is probably still scribbled on a family calendar. No doubt it is etched upon his parents' minds.

I'm certain they would welcome, so very gladly, the opportunity now to see him off to college. To hear him say, "I love you," before they drove away, perhaps teary-eyed but knowing they'd see him again in six weeks.

As I maneuvered my way out of downtown Milwaukee that day, leaving behind my child to live the life yet awaiting him, I did cry.

But not for the reasons I once imagined.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Drunken Wench in the Night, Reprise

OK, so here's the deal: I'm taking some time off from the blog for much of the rest of the next month, to concentrate on a novel and on some fabulous trips and on recovering my sanity. In place of new stuff here, I am posting The Best of Stuff from Sherry. (Or what I've been told is my best.) Have a suggestion of one you remember? Leave me a comment.

Here's one from last winter. Hope you enjoy (again):

"When you write the story," she begged, "do you promise to be discreet?"

I agreed, knowing that "discreet" is a vague term and that verbal contracts mean shit. But I am feeling benevolent tonight, so I will acquiesce and withhold her real name. Henceforth, I shall simply refer to her as the Drunken Wench.

A nor'easter on the shores of Lake Erie, with a threatened dump of snow, is nothing to reckon with. But we were four strong women, willing to sacrifice our wellbeing to attend a fund-raiser an hour away to help with the medical expenses for a family friend. Surely the God of Insufferable Winter Weather would acknowledge this goodness in our hearts. Besides, the evening promised great food and many drinks, and that is always OK by us. We're charitable that way.

Much merriment followed: lobster and laughter and witty conversation. Meanwhile, as promised, all hell was breaking loose outside. And then I realized we had a Drunken Wench on our hands.

Her shit-faced condition was unexpected, considering she'd consumed a full dinner and only three glasses of wine over several hours. But sometimes the God of Liquor just looks down and laughs and claims you as his own. After witnessing her gleeful conversations with less-than-gleeful strangers, and her Jello moves on the dance floor, I deduced it was time we left.

I was the designated driver. I grimaced, pushed my way through the knee-deep snowdrifts, cleaned off the SUV, and pulled up to the bar's entrance.

Lori and a third comrade, Lisa, climbed aboard. I peered into the rear view mirror, eying the sole empty seat. The Drunken Wench was not following protocol.

"Get in," I yelled through the open car door.

No response from curbside. Just a muffled giggle.

"What's the problem?"

"I can't get in. My legs are a little... rubbery." More giggles.

Lisa climbed out to help. Lori and I silently cheered her generous spirit—or her escalating impatience. We didn’t much care which it was. We cranked the heat and waited.

Over the howl of the nor'easter, we soon heard sounds of a more relentless force of nature. Let this be a lesson to you students of physics: Nothing is as unbudgable as a Drunken Wench with Rubbery Legs.

Lori sighed and joined them outside. I hunkered down in the driver's seat. I was already serving as designated driver. How selfless must I be?

Oh, the coaxing and pleas that ensued. "Grab my hand," "Just one more step," and "No, don't sit down in the snow, you might suffocate."

By now, the Drunken Wench managed to intoxicate her assistants with her laughter. (Their own consumed cocktails might have played some part.) I hadn't heard this much giggling since a sixth-grade slumber party. I knew futility when faced with it. I honked the horn. "Leave her here," I shouted. "We'll come back and get her tomorrow." My sympathetic nature was frostbitten. Did I mention it was cold?

Ten more minutes passed. In late night winter storm time, this equates to roughly six hours. My frozen hands managed to pry open my door. I took several giant steps through the snow. "Move aside," I growled at Lori.

Lori was happy to oblige. She had laughed so hard she'd peed her pants. They were already frozen to her legs. She'd be forced to peel them off later.

I stood on one side of the car and pushed. Lisa stood on the other side and pulled. We pushed. We pulled. The mass that was the Drunken Wench didn't appear to understand the law of physics. Still, we finally managed to get her half-sprawled across the back seat.

"OK, stop, stop, I'm good now. Let go," she slurred.

We hesitated before pulling our hands away. She slid off the seat into the snow.

But we heaved and we hoed again, and managed to get her entire torso back on the seat. Only her legs remained sticking out of the car. I offered a suggestion for this, but apparently no one was in possession of a chainsaw.

Lisa shrieked when I decided to simply shut the door on the protruding legs, cramming the Drunken Wench inside like one might sit on an overstuffed suitcase to close it. So I took, instead, to bending the legs. This way and that way. I squinted as I peered down at them. One didn't seem to be bent in an entirely natural position.
Regardless, she was in! I slammed the door, the howl of the wind masking the whimpering which was emitting from the back seat.

Sure, she'd be bruised the next day, the Drunken Wench. But she'd wake up in the comfort of a warm bed, not a blanket of snow in front of a downtown bar. Dislocated limbs aside, I figured she'd thank us for that.

And you can bet I'll think twice, before I ever again go out drinking with my mother.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Cupful of Memories

I grasp my grandmother's hand as we wait for the bus. She squeezes back, and I peer up at her. Even at age six, I recognize she's the kind of woman who draws admiring looks from others. Dark with high cheekbones and a slightly beaked nose, traces of her Algonquin Indian blood from generations past.

I do not know, until years later, the effort she makes each day to mask the wear her daily factory work takes on that beauty: the ointment she applies every night upon her face and arms, to soothe the wounds from the flying metal fragments embedded in her skin. The wigs she wears to cover the hair that grows thin from similar spots on her scalp.

In 1967, I realize none of that.

We climb on the bus for the ride from the Old South End to downtown Toledo. I've just become accustomed to my bus ride to my suburban school, where I'm in the first grade. This bus ride is markedly different. Grandma, who doesn't drive, appears used to this route and its array of passengers.

"Grandma," I announce with wide eyes, "look at all the chocolate people!"

"Shh," she whispers. "They're called colored people. You know, like Moms Mabley."

I nod, still staring at the dark woman across from us. I don't know any colored people. But I'm familiar with Moms Mabley, one of my grandma's favorite entertainers. Later, Grandma explains that we must be careful to show respect for everyone; that my words, even spoken out of innocence, could offend or hurt someone. I'll bet my grandmother has never hurt anyone's feelings. I don't wish to either.

Grandma rides the bus with a quiet dignity. I chatter away, like my mother and my mother's mother--my other grandmother. Grandma Stanfa smiles down at me. Unlike so many other adults I know, she answers my endless questions not just with patience, but with interest.

I'm one of three children and one of my grandmother's seven grandchildren, but today I feel special. I was allowed to pick out our supper menu, given a whole can of black olives to devour by myself, and even asked to choose today's movie: The Jungle Book. I know my sisters and cousins have had their own days like this with Grandma; we're probably all special to her. Yet that doesn't diminish my feelings.

I hesitate at the concession stand. I've been told Grandma doesn't have much money. I've learned that she's worked for many years at a factory job. She raised three sons without a husband to help her. Her first husband died of pneumonia. He was the father of my Uncle Bob, who still lives with Grandma and was in the Korean War and hears voices. I'm kind of afraid of Uncle Bob, but Grandma makes me feel safe. Her second husband was father to my dad and my Uncle Sonny. I don't know exactly what happened to him. My dad met him once, when he was three. I overheard the story. "You're doing a good job with the boys," he told my grandmother when he visited. Then, he was gone for good.

At the concession stand, Grandma insists I get something. I squint, considering, before ordering a grape drink, served in a plastic, purple fruit-shaped cup.

From my velvet-covered seat in the Pantheon theater, I stare mesmerized at the movie screen. The only sound I make is an occasional slurp through my straw. I look up to see my grandmother gazing down at me with a smile.

When we return to Grandma's house, she pours herself a drink. Whiskey. She lights a cigarette. When she's not looking, I stub it out in the ashtray. When I'm not looking, she lights another.

The next morning, we walk to Mass. I attend a Catholic grade school, but my parents aren't so religious about weekly Sunday services. Grandma's a good Catholic. The kind who goes to Mass every morning, seven days a week. The kind who doesn't remarry after a failed marriage and a long-gone husband, because the Church doesn't believe in divorce.

When my parents pick me up, I casually kiss my grandmother goodbye. I wave at her as I climb into our car. I leave her behind in her tiny two-bedroom house, with her freshly printed church bulletin, her pack of cigarettes and her schizophrenic grown son, for whom she will care until she dies in a hospital bed, seven years later.

Some people leave your life too soon. Often, years pass before you truly know them and can begin to understand them. Before you fully appreciate them for what you didn't know then and what you still remember now.

Sometimes, you wish you'd collected every one of those memories and saved them, perhaps in a purple, grape-shaped plastic cup.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A New Gig

"I think I need a new gig." She fingered the stem of her wineglass, sighed, took a slow sip. "You know? Something different. Something new."

I nodded. "You mean a new job?"

"I don't know. Yes. Maybe. Maybe not. I just need a way to jump-start my life, a way to reinvent myself."

"A new house? A move to a new city?" I squinted, studying her, seeking to comprehend.

"Yeah, all of that. Or none of it. I don't know, really." She sipped more wine and frowned, her eyes focused on the distant horizon, searching for something beyond her vision.

"Yes." I nodded again. I understood.

Nearly all of us understand that, don't we, at some point in our life? Some vague sensation of discomfort and unrest which we wish to overcome and repair. We don't know what we want or need, exactly. And even if we're fortunate enough to figure out that much, something often stands in our way of initiating the means to change it. Uncertainty. Fear. Weakness. Simple inertia.

"So, what do you really want most in your life?" I prodded her. "The comfort of a relationship? The challenge of a new career? The excitement of different surroundings?"

She bit her bottom lip. "Do I have to choose? Can't I have it all?"

I shrugged. "Perhaps. Some people believe they do."

"But how do I get it?"

"Well, I think you first need to decide what you want. And then you need to take the necessary steps toward it."

"So I need to figure out what I want?"


"OK. That's easy."


She sighed again. "I want a new gig."

The questions are simple, for all of us. For most, the answers don't come so easily.