Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Be sure your sins will find you out…

My Mom was always able to tell when one of us kids was in trouble. But she wasn’t the kind of Mom that tried to catch you doing wrong. She didn’t need to. I believe her theory was that one way or another, sooner or later, whether it was her or my dad that found you out, or it was just the final come-uppance that you could count on from God, you could always be sure your sins would find you out!
And yet, I still tried to pull off the monkey-shines. There’s something in the teenage genome that made me believe I was invincible, impregnable, impervious to the consequences – and just a little too tricky for my parents to catch me. Armored by those teenage “defenses” and a really thick skull, I rode out to do battle against my parents’ wits, only to keep losing and being found out. I never seemed to learn. It never occurred to me that teenagers since the time of Cain & Abel have been trying to fool their parents, and there is little evidence that I should be more adept at this lost cause than any of my predecessors. I wonder if it isn’t true that half the fun of shenanigans comes from the fear of getting caught.

I skipped my last year of high school because my college of choice had a program where you could get in just by having enough (and the right kind of) credits. I did OK grade-wise in high school, but I kept getting kicked out (the Academy had some pretty strict rules, but the shenanigans were nobody’s fault but mine – I knew the rules.) So, I thought I would do well to by-pass the drama of getting kicked out in my senior year. In retrospect, I realize that I could have forgone the drama by just behaving myself. But that didn’t occur to me then, which proves that I probably wasn’t really ready for college as I was just too busy having fun. In fact, I was having a lot more fun than I was having study time. I did have a part-time job doing some sort of paperwork for the music department, but it was a breeze. Classes were pretty easy – I took almost exclusively music classes and didn’t even type my own papers. I left that chore to this cute blonde farmer’s daughter I had met for the first time the year before at Band Camp. (No, seriously! And then a couple years later we were married and talking about kids.)

When it came time for Thanksgiving break that first year, I told my folks that I was going to stay in Lincoln and work at school instead of coming home. I knew that if I came home for break, I’d be working for my old man with no time left over for fun and games – and that’s just not fair; not when you’re 17. So, once again, I tried to pull a fast one on Mom and Dad.

I didn’t work at my music job at college that week. Instead, four of us piled into Jack’s VW van and headed to Colorado to ski. The van was just barely reliable enough to make the trip with a lot of crossed fingers, and was sorely deficient in the heater department. It was freezing cold as we drove all night to get to Colorado. I remember that Dan and Suzie (the names might have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent) spent almost the entire trip to Boulder in a sleeping bag in the back of the van trying to stay warm. It must have worked because the van’s windows fogged up very badly. Jack & I stomped our feet and wished we had a couple sleeping bags in the front seats too so we could stay warm. Suzie offered to share theirs, but there wasn’t really room for three people in it and I could tell by the look in Dan’s eye that he wasn’t going anywhere.

As I recall, it was mostly a miserable trip, but we didn’t care – we were off on a fabulous adventure. Just a quartet of kinda-hippies living wild at the thought of having no one to tell us what to do. We got to Boulder on Tuesday and headed up to the Lake Eldora Ski area. Cheap, close and not so high in the mountains that we couldn’t survive a night or two in the drafty, cold van. My brand new, perfectly fitted skis were at home in my closet. Since I was not supposed to be within 500 miles of home, I rented skis that first day. Bet you can’t guess what happened next…

Second run; feeling good; high on life and skiing as fast and recklessly as you might expect from a kid with no one to tell him what to do. I low-bottomed a dip in the moguls and went flying through the air to land in a damaged heap amongst some rocks and logs. Though it was a jarring, twisting landing, my rented too-tight skis hadn’t come off. After a moment of being stunned, I reached down to unbuckle my skis and that’s when I noticed something amiss. Oh yeah, that’s it: my foot is pointing the wrong way! I’ll just take off this ski and turn my foot around to the front. There, that’s bett…oh holy $%*#($. And then I think I went into shock.

Boot-top fracture, both bones, non-compound, but seriously messed up. Lake Eldora in 1971 didn’t have anything in the way of a medical unit. In fact, they could not even get me an aspirin for the pain. They DID duct-tape my shattered leg onto a folded piece of cardboard and took me down the mountain on the stretcher of shame. I climbed into the back of the van as I pondered my options. Finally, I figured that since my parents would eventually find out my nefarious scheme and I would have to ultimately take my lumps, I might as well head on home to Loveland to the hospital there. So, we headed down Boulder Canyon to catch the Diagonal to Longmont and then home.

The VW POS Mini-van broke down on the Diagonal.

No cell phones in those days, so we hitch-hiked with a mother and teen-age girl to the hospital in Longmont, where a welcome shot of morphine came none too soon, and a humble call to my Mom happened way too soon. Besides being in a lot of pain, I think I finally realized just how selfish I had been and how pulling one over on the old folks wasn’t as cool as it had seemed just the day before. I was pretty doped up for the next few days, but I’m still pretty sure that Mom never said anything. I was in a constant state of foggy horror at the thought of being confronted by her about my lie. I think she may have sensed that the pain I was going through might actually slap me into having a clue.

I was in a hip-to-toe cast for 6 months; on crutches for 6 weeks. My leg itched so bad I had a specially bent clothes-hanger that left gaping holes in my bleached-white skin from my constant, aggressive scratching. I had only 2 pairs of pants that would fit over my cast: a pair of overalls (shucks, garsh, I’m just a country boy) and a pair of Red, WHITE and Blue jeans (what a radical, eh?). When I finally got out of that cast, my leg was the size of a baseball bat handle. I’ve been overeating ever since trying to fill that leg up to its original size! Well, I exaggerate a little, but that puny leg looked more like a T-Rex appendage than anything else, and actually has affected me the rest of my life. Wearing the walking cast for so many months caused my pelvis to tip sideways, which, in turn, caused my spine to twist, which eventually paid off the school loans of more than one chiropractor.

But, no, Mom never chastised me for my lie. I know she was disappointed in me, but more, I think, she was hurt. Hurt I’d lied to her, then hurt because she knew I was going to be hurt by my own actions. And great moms hate more than anything to see their kids get hurt.

Mom, it’s your birthday in a couple of days. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate the way you handled this epic adventure in one of the time periods when I was most trying to you and Dad. I appreciate your love too, through it all, and I know that’s why you’ve done so much for me; it’s all about the love. And I love you more than words can ever say.

Oh, and thanks too Mom, for teaching me words that I not only believe but am quick to use to admonish others not as lucky as I was to have a phrase that, once taught, didn’t have to be overused in order to be effective: Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day equals Romance

They say that Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday. Created and perpetuated by the evil card company Hallmark and aided and abetted by those corrupters of souls, Russell Stover & FTD Florists. It’s a holiday fashioned by retail companies solely for the purpose of capitalizing on the fact that humans are hungry for romance. But you can’t really blame them; it’s just business, and the fact is that we need Valentine’s Day. Made up or real, it is a very important day for couples and wannabe-couples.

Valentine’s Day is all about the “romance.” This is why it has lasted so long and, I suspect, will never fade away. However, there are two distinct definitions of “romance,” and this causes a disconnect for just about every couple at one time or another. You see, “romance” means a very different thing to the inhabitants of Venus than it means to us Martians. To the fairer sex, “romance” means the validation of their value to their mate; the proof that their men love them and cherish them and want to dote on them and protect them and honor them forever and always – with gifts and treats and (horrors) conversation! To the male of the species, “romance” means sex. Period. All the machinations that we go through to prove our undying love on Valentine’s Day (or any other day for that matter) are just a bunch of peacock feathers spread out in a display to attract the female; just a puffed out throat to impress her into saying yes; just a hopeful set of abracadabras and magical flourishes in our too-thinly veiled attempts to make her objections disappear.

Unless, of course, you’ve been faithfully married for 36 years and really DO want to show nothing more than your undying love and reaffirm your promise to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.” Then, “romance” means the same to both of you. Really! Honest! No, really – I’m not just saying that! This year will be the 37th Valentine’s Day that I’ve shared with my best friend, Marcia. 37 times I’ve picked out a card – usually 3 of them: a funny one, a romantic (to her) one and a romantic (to me) one. 37 times I’ve wondered if dinner and togetherness says enough or if I should buy her something special. 37 times she’s said she doesn’t want “anything.” 36 times I’ve not been fooled by that line. (There was that one year when I was young and na├»ve and thought that “don’t get me anything” meant she didn’t want anything. What I found out it meant was that if I wanted “anything,” then I better get her something, no matter what she says!)

You’d think that love and romance would get old after that much time, but this is not the case for me and my Baby-cakes. We still hold hands when we take a walk or a drive. She still blows me kisses from the couch to my barca-lounger and I still catch them. We still watch romantic movies together and are still touched by the stories. We can talk about anything or we can talk about nothing and still feel comfortable. We enjoy sports together; we watch American Idol together; we do housework together; if I cook, she cleans and visa versa; we go on hikes together; we sit around like couch potatoes together. I play love songs on the guitar for her while she does her needlepoint. We so often finish each other’s sentences and have the same idea for dinner that it’s actually a bit spooky. Before long, we’ll probably even start looking alike. Yes, folks, I’m a lucky man indeed to have married my best friend and found a mate for life. So many couples we’ve known don’t stay together for so long – with or without a ring.

I once told Marcia that I thought the reason we’d been together so long was that I had no ego. After the swelling went down from the roundhouse slap I got when I didn’t clarify my remark soon enough, I explained myself – slowly and carefully. What I meant is that I think that with a soul-mate/wife/lover/partner, happiness and harmony come from not letting your ego require you to be right all the time. This goes beyond just simple compromise which is certainly important in relationships; this thought process actually requires you to acknowledge that someone else is smarter, more logical, better informed and more reasonable than you are – at least part of the time. Our natural inclination, even when it goes against someone we love, is to desire to not be in the wrong. Following this natural inclination is a recipe for marital disaster or frequent dust-ups at the very least. At its worst, it kills “romance,” no matter what definition you adhere to.

You must realize that two people living in close proximity to each other (and desiring to keep up said living arrangement) cannot both be right all the time. Therefore, my advice to my kids and any other couple who asks about the secret of our longevity is to stop being a baby and give in and give upmore often than you think you should. What can it possibly hurt to let your loved one be right more often than you? This is especially good advice to the men out there who wish there was more “romance” in their life, but don’t quite seem to comprehend that their egocentric arguments cause a direct INVERSE relationship to the amount of “romance” that they enjoy. An equally true state of affairs is that a woman who must always be right is a woman destined to have her man rarely show her the kind of “romance” that she desires – unless of course, he is accommodating her desires solely to get the kind of “romance” he desires.

Oh, it’s a vicious circle boys and girls and this is where Valentine’s Day comes in handy. The giving of the cards and candy and flowers and jewelry and pajama-grams takes the focus off our egos and puts it squarely onto the shoulders of Hallmark and Russell Stover and the Vermont Teddy Bear company where it belongs.

That way we can all get what we want for Valentine’s Day: ROMANCE!

For Marcia – I love you babe!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Passing of Man's Best Friend

My best friend (not counting all my human BFFs) died yesterday. Suddenly. Quietly. Alone.

He was only a little over 7 years old and seemed to be the picture of good health – strong, muscular, agile, confident, alert. We spent the morning together – eating breakfast, watching the birds at the feeder, and then reading the paper before we went our separate ways to carry out our normal routines. I never saw him alive again…

Marcia (my other best friend) and I came home yesterday afternoon to a bad odor in the house. Thinking that Starbuck had had an accident, we started looking for poop, but found instead our big black cat sleeping for the last time under the bed.

There are Cat People and there are Dog People in this world. I’m told that there are people who (horrors!) swing both ways, but we won’t speak of them in this G-rated eulogy. I believe that Dog People like dogs because they are unfailingly faithful and will love their owners even if they are ax murderers or child pornographers. Cats, on the other hand, know what’s in your heart and will disdain and abuse you for the slightest perceived mistreatment. They will hold a grudge for months merely because you bought the on-sale cat food instead of the Fancy Feast.

Still, as a species in total, I don’t care much for dogs, although I’ve been fond of a few special canines over the years. Dogs, I find, are way too much trouble – all the walking and poop-scooping and bathing and grooming. They drool and they smell, and this despite the fact that they seem to like to lick themselves, but maybe because they only lick certain parts of their body. While this private-area licking may seem desirable, I actually find it extremely distasteful, (pun intended) particularly when you factor in the drool effect. You see where I’m going with this?

While I don’t really buy in to the theory of dogs being man’s best friend, I do understand the comfort and companionship that a pet brings. Which is why many Dog People berate Cat People – how much comfort and companionship can you expect from a cat? After all, cats are aloof and snooty. They won’t chase a ball, and you can’t train them to shake hands. Eccentric Cat People sometimes say that this is because cats are actually more intelligent than we humans – sometimes even claiming they are a superior race from another planet who merely abide our existence due to their inability to operate a can opener, since it was their brains that evolved and not their opposable thumbs. These people are nuts. But then, so are the Dog People who allow their dogs to French kiss them (see note above regarding licking + drooling.)

On our block, it’s easy to know every neighbor who has a dog. Partly because of the barking, but mostly because you see them walking the dogs, day and night, rain and shine. On the whole, I prefer to see them walking their dogs in the daytime and in the sunshine as they are far less likely to bend down and fondle the feces of the frou-frou poodle when it’s cold and dark and raining outside. It is after those bad nights that I find myself prospecting the front yard with a shovel before I mow the lawn. Give me a litter box and scoop any day of the week. I like to reserve my grass for wrestling on with my grandkids!

I’m sure there are other cats on our block, though we never see them since they don’t require – verily, they will not tolerate – being walked, and the coyotes and bobcats and great horned owls in the scrub oak prevent even the most callous owners from risking their pets’ lives in this neighborhood. I bought a cat leash once and tried to walk Starbuck outside. Though the leash was attached to a body harness made especially for cats, he Harry-Houdini’ed it off in about 3 seconds and ran wildly into the house to hide under the same bed that I found him under, lifeless and cold, just yesterday.

So, we’ve always been Cat People, Marcia and I, with a long succession of best friends over our last 37 years together. First, there was Ajax, the white tornado (named after the bathroom cleansing powder tag line and due to the fact he was a pure white Iowa barn kitten – read feral – who tore gaping holes in my hands when I first chased him down in the hay and picked him up.)

Then, there was Ajax II (we may have been overly influenced by TV ads at the time) only he wasn’t new and improved like the cleanser. He was dumb and stubborn, although just as white as Ajax the first. The dumbest cat we’ve ever had, he would get up on the sofa beside me and look at me with eyes that said, “Please don’t hit me,” and then would pee on the sofa. Over and over again. Day after day. His term as best friend did not last long.
We had a cat named Ptolemy who don’t remember much about, which is strange given his (her?) name. You’d think I’d at least remember why we named it that…

But, we definitely remember Frank. He was the first cat that we ever had for any length of time – about 15 years. He was a Man’s Cat. An un-neutered Tom with all his claws and an attitude of swagger to go with it. He was the meanest sonamabitch on the block and often came home with small farm animals clenched in his massive jaws and drop them on our porch, showing off his hunting prowess to “his humans” before he devoured his prey. We didn’t spend much money on cat food in those days as we backed up to an open field and Frank went wherever he wanted to whenever he wanted to. With all his toughness though, it was probably Frank that turned us into Cat People for good as he was also the most loving cat we’ve ever had. He would sit and purr and rub his nose on my chin and give me the look that said, “You, for a human, are very cool to live with.” It was a sad day when Frank finally had to be put to sleep after contracting inoperable cancer.

While we had Frank, we got Beans – our first black cat. Beans didn’t last long, so she was replaced with Ernest. (Get it? Frank & Beans. Frank & Ernest. We cracked ourselves up!) Ernest didn’t last much longer than Frank and so we started all over again with George and Gracie. Gracie was a demur, tiny lady that had been abused before we found her, so was skittish all of her 13 years with us. George was a hulking pig of a cat that would spend hours lying on his stomach with his front paws and nose buried in his food dish. He eventually weighed in at 22 pounds of pure flab – his belly flap alone was as big as Gracie. His claim to fame, though, was that Chelsa and Bryn liked to play “clay kitty” with him. As fat and lazy as George was, they would arrange him in all kinds of crazy positions and then see how long he would stay that way. Usually, the only thing that made him move from the “clay kitty” positioning was gravity – and that happened very slowly.

Lastly, we had Eddie McCattrey and Starbuck. They were the best buddies ever, even though Eddie was 3 or 4 years older and weighed about 2/3rds as much as the younger Starbuck. Eddie was named for the great Bronco wide receiver as he was “predominantly orange” much like the PR agency for the Broncos promised the new uniforms would be even though a color-blind dog would’ve easily seen they were all blue and very little orange. I ran into Eddie McCaffrey, the football player, in the local King Soopers and actually pulled him aside and told him the store of the naming of Eddie McCattrey and how we made him stand up and lift his arms while we shouted “Touchdown, Broncos” before every game. He said he was honored, although I suspect he was a little bit scared.

We always called Starbuck a black cat, but up close and in the light, he was actually a deep dark espresso coffee color. But that is NOT why I named him Starbuck, or at least not the main reason, although my love for Grande Americanos was a factor. Sometime before we got him, I gained the nickname “Cap’n.” This is a story unto itself and I’m already waxing a bit too eloquently, so we’ll save that story for another day. In Moby Dick, Cap’n Ahab’s first mate is Starbuck, thus by new BFF became MY first mate, Starbuck.

Starbuck was, like Frank, a Man’s Cat. Huge headed and fierce looking, he really was a pussy at heart. He was a great mouser and kept our home free of any critters seeking refuge from the wild open spaces behind our house. He scared the grandkids and awed anyone else who he deemed worthy of his presence. He didn’t much like to be held, but when he chose to sit his 20 lb. bulk in your lap, you KNEW it. He sat in my lap that last day he was alive – something he rarely did, especially in the morning. I choose to believe he knew it was time to go and wanted one last ear-scratching before he used up the last of his 9 lives. I’ve also got to believe that he’s happy now in kitty heaven with his best buddy Eddie. The two of them are probably sleeping like spoons on the great comfy bed of the Cat Lady in the Sky.

Good night Starbuck. Sleep tight.