Tuesday—the modem woke up dead: It took longer than I like to admit to realize that without my modem working, I would not be able to search and purchase a new modem. Internet searching has become second nature, and as I thought of the usual hundreds of things I wanted to search for in the course of a day, I felt lost without it.
I do not enjoy calling tech support. I particularly did not enjoy this call, which started with my call being answered by someone who did not realize he had a live line, and thus continued his conversation with a co-worker about “when my check comes.” Once he came on the line and said hello, he was clearly chewing something, and seemed relatively new at the job. I let him take me through the prompts “Did you try unplugging it? Did you check the connections?” “Yes, yes. Several times.” (Because I’m annoyed and obsessive.) He put me on hold while he checked to see if he could do something with it on his end, then explained that I have the type of modem that won’t do that; I will need an on-site technician. He asked for my phone number for the fourth time. He told me he can send someone on Thursday.
Later that afternoon, I use my husband Chris’s phone to check in to Facebook for messages. I can’t check my e-mail because I use a Microsoft Outlook program on my computer and I can’t remember my password to check through my Internet server. Oh well, I will miss BookBub, and about a million messages from Kohl’s, Land’s End, Daily Kos, and Best Buy. I will not miss the messages from Christian Mingle (barking up the wrong tree, folks, been married for nearly 30 years), and Cialis (again, tree/barking). I look longingly at the posts on my Facebook page on Chris’s phone, but I don’t enjoy reading that size type.
Wednesday: Tech support calls this morning to ask if I still need tech support. “Yes, I do,” I answer. “What is your modem doing?” She asks. “Nothing. I don’t have it turned on right now, since it’s not working. Should I have it turned on?” “Well, YES,” as if I am an idiot for shutting a useless modem down. “The tech tried yesterday to get it to work offsite, and it would not work, but yes, I’ll turn it on and see what you can do.” A few minutes later. “We’ll send a tech. Sorry for the delay.” I occurs to me that I should have gone into tech support—I could have lettered in talking to people as if they are idiots.
I want to look up Michael J. Pollard because I want to know when he added the “J.” to his name—on the Andy Griffith show I watched during lunch, he was billed as “Michael Pollard”. I want to look up punctuation and quote marks because I think punctuation goes inside the quote when it’s a sentence and outside when it’s a single word, but I don’t remember if I’m right. I want to look up the last episode of the show . . . I can’t remember the name, but if I type in a couple of words, Google will get it . . . I did two loads of laundry, road my stationary bike for 13 minutes, am almost done reading a book I started a few days ago; I only have two chapters left of my novel to retype (the old computer ate my homework) and edit. Maybe being without Facebook isn’t so awful.
Thursday: Being without Facebook is desperately painful. I want to share the pictures of the gigantic crop of Creeping Charlie that is in full bloom in our yard. I want to talk about the male bluebird that, with his mate, is nesting in a birdhouse outside the living room window. I don’t think he understands courting—he keeps landing on his mate’s head. She shakes him off and flies away with him in pursuit. Later, she returns with more nest-building material and he lands nearby with nothing to add to the nest. I’ve known women in much the same circumstances and I’d like to warn her that it won’t get better once the eggs hatch.
I want to check on “my” baby eagles at DNR.com. They are so close to fledging, I’m afraid I’ll miss the big moment when they fly away. I want to check on the three baby eagles in Iowa and the Osprey nests in Amery and Collins Marsh, Wisconsin. I want to type “crazy bird lady” in a Google search and see if my name comes up.
The technician called. He will be here in about a half hour. I should really bake him some cookies or make a welcome banner or maybe just bow and scrape as he comes in the door.
On the other hand, I could just let the dog attack his ankles as he comes in the door and take a phone call while he’s working.
Somehow, a miracle has occurred, and my new modem has a built-in wi-fi router and my old one will go wherever I put obsolete electronics (anywhere I can forget I have it until I stumble over it in the dark). After a brief struggle to get my Kindle wi-fi connected, I’m back online. I just spent a merry hour on Facebook and have built up the courage to face my e-mail: 169 messages in two days . . . this could take a while, but I’m back, baby!
My dear friend’s mother had died and I wanted to go to her funeral. I really, really wanted to go. For a person with social anxiety, it’s a little like asking me to hang by a crochet thread over a pit of crocodiles, but I put my foot down and insisted. The first indicator that the SA wasn’t going to give up without a fight was a sleepless night. I woke up late and uncoordinated (I also have MS). I allowed myself one cup of decaf and started making deals with myself.
“I will take a shower and see how I feel after that.” “I will eat breakfast and see how I feel after that.” “I will get my clothes ready, just in case I feel I can go.” “I will get dressed just like I’m really going.” All the while, I had to assure myself that I would be able to back out at any time. All the way out to my vehicle, all the way into town, all the way to the church . . . “You can just turn around any time you can’t bear it.” Of course, I had sabotaged myself by running late. Driving to the church in a panic doesn’t do much for an attitude of peace and acceptance.
I drove through the church parking lot, dismayed at all the cars (of course, at 100 years of age, and having been a golden soul, Esther would have a crowd). An elderly man arrived at the same time, and I waved, hoping we could walk in together, but he was surprisingly fast. I walked through the parking lot to the door, telling myself that it would not be at all odd if I turned and ran, but “for now, just try to open the door.” I went inside, confronted with the image of the family circled in prayer in the narthex for the procession into the apse. With an inward groan, I realized I was really late. I spotted the basket for cards right near the door, and thought “I could just drop off the card and leave.” But I wanted to see my friend.
Still negotiating, I dropped the card in the basket and thought “just move to the back of the crowd for now.” I stood uncertainly in a doorway until I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hi, Mary! How are you? You look great!” My old boss and dear friend Debbie was smiling me through another wave of panic. We chatted a little and she said “I’ll help you find a seat in the church.” And that was that, I was ushered to a pew in which sat another old friend.
“Want to sit here?” She scooted over and smiled. I sat beside her, Debbie patted my shoulder and went back to her funeral service duties. The service began, and I took some deep, calming breaths. I’m sure my pew friend thought I was falling asleep. Esther’s son told stories of her life, some I knew, others I had never heard, all very sweet, and some very funny. We prayed, we sang, we shared our love for Esther and her family, and I couldn’t help but think it was a service she would have planned for herself. Through all that precious time, I was still fighting my battle, still promising that I could leave if it got unbearable “but just stay through this song, through this prayer, through the sermon, and this song—you love this song . . .” And I made it through the entire service.
Would I stay after the funeral? I hadn’t had a chance to talk to my friend, and the family had left for the cemetery service before returning for lunch . . . so yes, I stayed for the lunch, and sat at a table with my kind pew partner and her friend and have a delightful time. I was feeling a little more comfortable, but as flighty as a chickadee, no longer bargaining, just wondering how long I would make it.
Then my friend arrived and I asked her if she could sit with me for a few minutes. It was so good to talk to her, the time stretched to . . . well, I had no watch, so I don’t know how long. That was the beauty of it—the anxiety had gone, the SA was held at bay while we talked and laughed and remembered our moms, and I didn’t need to negotiate with myself for one more minute. As I drove home, the weight of the world off my shoulders, it occurred to me that I might just conquer my social anxiety in this way: break it down into steps, allow myself an out without actually letting it happen, and let the purpose of my being there take precedence over my desire to escape.
I’m glad I made it work today, and glad that I had friends to help me. I really wanted to be at Esther’s funeral.
A friend posed this question on Facebook the other day, “What do you say out loud (or in your head) the most during the day?” Answers ranged from “WTF?” to “Where’d I put my . . . ?” My answer was “Oh.” It’s the truth. I think or say “oh” a lot during the day. The more I thought about it, I decided that it’s a pretty profound word.
“Oh, my bed is so cozy. Oh crap, I have to pee.” My first waking thought is “oh”.
“Oh” is a recognition word. “Oh, I get it.” I bought a new sewing machine in November and I’m still learning about it. “Oh” has always been a sewing room word. “Oh, dammit, the zebras are all upside down!” (This was as I sewed a bathrobe on fabric I purchased several years ago, irreplaceable fabric, huge mistake—except the robe is as cozy as I imagined, and the zebras don’t seem to care. “Oh well.”) “Oh, look how pretty these fabrics look together!” “Oh, she’s going to love this!” “Oh, why did I start this project?” I’m also trying to learn the mysteries of entrelac knitting. I follow patterns, watch videos, knit along with knitters who work so much faster than I do, and all the while, my mouth forms a silent “Oh” as I start to get the idea.
“Oh” is the all-purpose answer to nearly any answer to any question. Think about it:
“Have you seen my socks?”
“They’re in the refrigerator.”
“Oh.” Is there a better answer that doesn’t involve asking another question? Do you really want to ask that question that hovers on the tip of your tongue? Or would you be better off just silently retracing your steps for the answer. You grabbed socks from your drawer after you dressed, you went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, placed the socks on a shelf while you pulled two eggs out of the carton . . . and shut the door. “Oh.”
“Oh” ends the discussion in its tracks . . . if, indeed, ending is what you wish to do (if Facebook and Twitter posts are any indicator, a lot of people don’t want an argument to end—ever).
“I just contacted the overlords over the intergalactic synctranian system and they are planning the Salusian invasion to coincide with your party on the 5th, so I definitely would reschedule, if I were you.”
In my life, “oh” is an expression of joy, awe, fear, boredom, confusion, delight, and understanding. It’s like a Chinese word that means ten things, depending on the tone of voice when it is spoken. It’s my all-purpose-go-to word when all other words fail me. Words have been failing me for a while now, and I’m trying to get them to work again.
I’ll start with “Oh” and see where that takes me.
Because we want Christmas again after two years of halfhearted attempts at gaiety. Because we are a little goofy. Because we always feel better when we are working together (although sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this). Those are just some of the reasons we decided to buy fresh pine garland and drape it on our front porch railing.
Chris is a methodical worker. When a job must be done, he sets about clearing his workspace, setting out the tools and other items he needs, and planning how best to accomplish the job. Mary is fond of the willy-nilly system, which involves planning . . . no, wait, first we’ve got to get all the lights out and plug them in . . . no, wait, we really should measure the railing . . . no, we don’t need to measure, because look at all that garland, we’ve got enough to drape it twice, so we should . . . which drives Chris a little nuts, but he copes as best he can.
We chose to use two sets of lights: one blue and one white. (The colored set had too much hot pink for Mary’s Christmas sensibilities and the white was too tasteful for the Hubbell’s casual ambiance.) That settled, we twisted the two sets together . . . outside . . . in 17 degrees . . . with a small dog whining under our feet because it was 17 degrees and we appeared to be creating a new and disturbing leash for him and we really should be inside, where it’s not 17 degrees. Then, we wound the lights around the garland, which we had trimmed to fit the porch railing (and which was 10 feet shorter than I had planned because when we attempted to drape it with a couple of little scallops, as we’ve seen on other homes, it bent itself at an awkward angle and looked unhappy). Thus, we had 29 feet of lights, and about 10 feet of garland . . . no one wants to do the math in 17 degrees, with a garland losing branches with every new twist, so we whipped it on as well as we could (I voiced my many misgivings about how very difficult it is to camouflage bright green wire in natural green pine boughs, how awful it looks when doubled, how it is going to look just terrible in the daylight—all while Chris patiently winds the wire around the garland and never once squints a steely eye in my direction).
We put it on the railing, with Chris wiring it in place, swearing a little because he based the size of his ties on the ones we had used for a fake garland on a wooden ledge at our old house, and they weren’t working well for fresh garland on a wrought iron railing. I left Chris to finish up and went inside to warm up. A few minutes later, I went back out to see how he was doing.
“You know what’s in my brain right now?” I asked him. He stopped sweeping pine needles and looked up at me.
“Ah, I hate to guess,” he answered diplomatically, sweeping again.
“The butter wouldn’t melt so I put it in the pie,” I said, in an English accent. It’s a lyric from the Beatles “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and over the years, it has come to one or the other of us in times of mild stress, like getting a week’s groceries on $30, or putting up Christmas lights after years of abstinence; it never fails to break the ice. Because we are goofy, we laughed hysterically. Because our front porch is going to be pretty and lit and smell like Christmas, we kissed. Because I can hear Chris in the family room, preparing for another little chore I mentioned earlier today, I know he forgives me. Those are all the reasons I will do some math this week; whatever the weather, I will be counting my blessings.
It is not even Thanksgiving yet, and the moral dilemma over whether to wish friends “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” has begun. It’s been an ongoing controversy for many years, dubbed “the war on Christmas,” few people know that it originated with the John Birch Society, back in 1959. In a flyer titled “There Goes Christmas”, the Society espoused the idea that a Communist plot to “take the Christ out of Christmas” was afoot, replacing traditional Christmas decorations with United Nation iconography in an effort to stamp out all religion and cede U.S. sovereignty to the U.N. (If this sounds sort of familiar, it continues as a popular conspiracy tenet within some groups.) In more recent years, conservative television and radio hosts, such as Bill O’Reilly, have taken up the cry (although they leave out the Birch Society theories and place the blame on secular humanists, atheists, and liberals).
I find it amusing that so many of my friends, huge fans of “Our Founding Fathers” have no idea that a real war on Christmas was waged by our own Puritan ancestors, when they outlawed Christmas celebrations in the Massachusetts Bay Colony:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”
The Puritans could find no biblical reason to celebrate Christ’s birth. The December birth date for Jesus wasn’t established until several centuries after his death (although many historians believe that Jesus was most likely born in September, and others believe it may have been March). Moreover, holiday celebration generally included drinking, feasting, and playing games—all activities the Puritans frowned on in their serious pursuit of pleasing God. Christmas was banned in the Boston area for 22 years, and didn’t really gain in popularity until the 1800s.
“Happy Holidays” can refer to over a dozen different celebrations observed by many countries and cultures, not the least of which are ones in the United States that fall in the few weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Eid al-Adha (Islamic New Year). Like it or not, we are a multicultural country (anyone remember taking great pride in America being a “melting pot”? Apparently, we’re not so proud of that, anymore. We’ve taken a dislike to all those foreigners and their odd customs, despite the fact that our grandparents and great-grandparents brought their own traditions with them.)
You can say “Merry Christmas”, you can shout “Happy Holidays”, you can send me cards that say “Season’s Greetings” or “Joyous Jule”, you can even write “Merry Xmas” on your holiday letter and it won’t bother me a bit (by the way, using “X” for Christ is not derogatory—it’s the Greek letter “Chi”—an abbreviation even Jesus would approve). How you greet me doesn’t tell me much about your religious beliefs, your ethics, or your morality. You’ll demonstrate all of that in how you behave in the 365 days after Christmas. So, enjoy your holiday season, and don’t worry so much about how others greet you; appreciate that they thought enough of you to extend their best wishes and offer them the same.
It’s happened once before, so I wasn’t entirely taken aback. I was watching television in the living room, thought I heard a little scuffling noise, and hit the “mute” button to listen more closely. A little more scraping, and then a plop. The plop got me to my feet because I knew exactly what was happening. A mouse had found its way into the ceiling fan and fell out onto the papers on my desk. Ok, I admit to being pretty horrified, although, as I said, it has happened before. I gingerly moved papers around on the desk, trying to get the culprit to move or squeak so I could smash it with a heavy book (it pains me to use great literature in such a fashion, but I didn’t have any other weapons handy). I found it, it moved, I smashed . . . again, and again, and again. The itty bitty, apparently immortal mouse took note of the dire situation and leaped from the desk to a better hiding place under the china hutch. I screamed, of course, in this whole process, but the quiet snoring from the bedroom told me that I was on my own in this battle. I considered my possibilities: I could take a broom handle and slide it around under the hutch until the mouse reappeared, whereupon I could try “booking” it to death again; I could search for the electronic fly swatter and try to zap the little creature (of course, a dead mouse under a heavy, full china hutch seemed like a dismal outcome), or I could just go to bed in the knowledge that our dachshund Clyde, who had caught a mouse the other day, would most likely find and dispatch it in the morning. It was 10:30 p.m. I was tired. With a little shiver of revulsion, I took option number three and went to bed.
I was just drifting off when I heard a ruckus. “Can you describe the ruckus, sir?” (That well-known line from “The Breakfast Club” popped to mind.) Well, yes, I can. It sounded exactly like a small wiener dog, having been awakened from a sound sleep, leaping out of his kennel and, with much scrabbling of claws on the carpet, cornering a mouse somewhere in the bedroom. I sat up, put my feet over the side of the bed and encountered warm fur, which made me gasp and recoil, reaching for the light. I realized right away that it was Clyde underfoot . . . well, his body, anyway; his head was jammed under the nightstand, his tail was beating a double-time tattoo on the wall. Clearly, the dog was in the middle of a mouse hunt. He pulled his head out long enough to look to me for support. “Sure, Clyde. Let’s get us a mousie.” I sighed and went for the broom.
On my knees, poking under the night stand with the broom seemed to have the desired effect, if I could judge by Clyde, who dove under the bed and made more scrabbling sounds. Chris rose up in bed at this point and looked at me blearily.
“Aw, did you fall down? Are you o.k.?” He asked.
I opened my mouth to answer and let out a scream as the mouse made a mad dash toward me. Now I had friend husband’s undivided and less groggy attention. I explained about the mouse as I tried to ply my broom behind the door. “Here, Clyde,” I said. “He’s right behind the door. See?” Clyde appeared to be having second thoughts about midnight mouse hunting; he peeked at me from behind the bed. The mouse, sensing the indecision, scooted under the dresser and Clyde leaped into action again, nose to the gap under the dresser, more tail-wagging and snuffling. Chris was offering advice from his cozy vantage point, but seemed reluctant to join the madness. I tried the brush end of the broom under the dresser, came away with some truly remarkable dust bunnies, but no mousie. Clyde seemed to give up at that point, and sat quietly by the bed while Chris got up to go to the bathroom. I climbed back into bed, hoping that Chris would think of some great plan or at least offer to take me to a motel for the night.
There was another scuffle out in the hallway, some incredibly gross crunching noises (you think you might know what a mouse skull in the mouth of a dog would sound like, but it turns out you really have no idea, and once heard, you can never unhear it). Chris called from the bathroom, “I think Clyde took care of it.” I peered down the hall, and yes, there was a tiny corpse just a few feet from the bedroom. The mighty hunter had retreated deep into his kennel, gazing out at me with wide, shining eyes. I knew that Chris would handle the interment, so I climbed back into bed. Minutes later, Chris joined me. We lay there quietly, trying to get into our sleep rhythm breathing again.
“Where did you put the body?” I asked.
“Tossed outside,” my sleepy husband answered. I hoped it would serve as a warning to other mice that want to move in. We were quiet again, for a long, long time, and then I couldn’t help myself.
“Was it merely dead, or most sincerely dead?” I asked.
“Most sincerely,” the coroner replied; then he rolled over and began snoring.
As Halloween approaches, beasties and ghoulies and other friends clamor for the story of “The Nightmare on Paperjack Drive”, the tale of our son, Ozzie’s, haunted house. I wrote a weekly column in our local paper in the late 1980s, and this story landed in my lap on a Monday night when I was under deadline, wracking my brain for ideas, and really annoyed because it was Halloween and I had to keep answering the door. As any reporter or columnist will tell you, it often happens that the best story is right under our noses, if we would only look down and notice. I was looking everywhere else for inspiration, while a true and delightful story played out in my basement . . . and to think I almost missed it by being a crankypants.
A few days before Halloween, Ozzie had approached me about having a “real-live haunted house” down in our basement. I wasn’t sure it would be much of an attraction in our bright basement of many windows and few finished walls, but I o.k.’d the project. I came home from work that Friday night to find him and his friend, Mike, industriously creating horrors our of a standard split-entry style basement. I gasped at the first horror: my good Chicago Cutlery carving knife embedded in a two-by-four and dripping with ketchup blood. I took a deep breath, assessed the safety (solidly in the wood—sigh, yes; high enough to be out of reach for little kids—yes) and decided to let it go on the grounds that I could replace the knife more easily than I could deny the kid his dream of a truly scary haunted house.
The boys had exhibited amazing ingenuity for two fourteen-year-olds on a limited budget ($4.99 for a spooky music CD). The lights and sound were connected to the breaker switch in the basement, so that the horror could begin with the flip of a switch. They had hung blankets up to wall off the walkway and block the streetlights shining through the windows, and had used an old mask and a wig stand for a decapitated head, lit in gory detail by a dim green light bulb. After passing this creepy part of the exhibit, they had arranged for a cymbal to crash to the floor behind the unsuspecting guests. I helped them create a spooky spider web out of some quilt batting and a genuine floating ghost on a pulley system that allowed it to fly at people. I didn’t think anyone would notice that the ghost was made from a piece of pale green fabric (the “ghost” on our front porch was wearing my one and only white sheet).
Ozzie made signs for the front door, advertising his free haunting, but early on, there were very few takers. The little kids and parents were out in force, and all the kids wanted was candy; just being out after dark was scary enough. Finally, a group of girls who knew Jason from school agreed to take the tour. Screams and giggles and Jason’s evil “boowahahaha” echoed through the house and out the front door, scaring a few little goblins and their parents right back down the driveway.
It wasn’t long, however, before word got out that there was a “real spooky house” on the corner of Paperjack and Bilmar, and I found myself playing doorman to an odd collection of creatures waiting in the hallway for the signal. Jason would shout “ready!”, the first strains (or groans) of music would begin, there would be a riot of screams and laughs, and then I would usher to same creatures out, while directing the new ones to wait on the stairs. Two other young ladies of Jason’s acquaintance enjoyed the haunting so much, they decided to stay and help him for a while, with a new attraction: grabbing feet as they passed by the pool table.
There was a long lull in the haunting business after that. I was writing at my desk at the top of the stairs, so that I could see any trick or treaters. I could hear the muffled giggles and planning in the basement, and I vaguely thought I should really go down and make sure that all new attractions stood up to my safety standards, but I had a column to write. I heard a car pull in the driveway and my little basement ghouls hurried up the stairs. They conducted a long, shouted discussion with the parent in the car, about whether the haunted house would be too scary for the children. Finally, the parent gave permission, and the guests were instructed to wait in the stairwell. I listened to the conversation, gathering that there were two boys and two girls all around age 9 or 10. “We’re men,” the boys kept assuring each other. “We can take it. We’re REAL men.”
The o.k. was shouted, and again the ghostly music floated up the stairs. I could hear the usual chorus of screams at the appropriate places, as well as the “spooking” screams of Jason’s two assistants. Then I heard a sound that I couldn’t immediately identify because I hadn’t heard it at any other time in the evening: sneakers hitting the floor at top speed. I got up to investigate and made it to the top of the stairs in time to see the “real men” making their escape, screaming into the night. Their companions, looking dainty and sweet in their princess costumes and tiaras were slowly ascending the stairs, just like, well, royalty. “Where’d they go?” one of them asked. I gestured to the door and they exited, laughing.
I had a good laugh with Jason and his crew and then sat down to write one of my all-time favorite columns.
It was at the end of a trip to an apple orchard. Chris had to pick apples for us, and I had to sit it out and worry about his back and his knees and the bees. I was tired and he was tired and we didn’t linger long after he came back with his harvest. As we walked to the car, I watched a motorcycle pass in the next parking aisle.
“It’s open,” Chris said, of the car door. I was watching the motorcyclist, a familiar head held just so. I leaned and ducked, trying to get a better look as it passed out of sight. “It’s open, Sweetie,” Chris said again. I opened the door, watching over the roof of the car for the motorcycle. It must have parked, I thought, and then I saw it come around the corner, headed to a parking spot two spaces away. I just stood and stared and Chris asked again if I was o.k., but I didn’t have a reasonable answer to the question, so I just stood and stared at the motorcyclist as he parked and got off and helped his companion alight, all the while unaware that the woman two spaces away couldn’t fill her eyes with enough of him because he looked, moved, seemed so much like her dead son that it was like having him back again . . . almost.
I watched him walk away. His companion turned and stared at me for a second, and I was afraid she would break the spell by saying something, so I turned away. I looked back as they moved through the crowd. He walked with more of a swagger than my son would have, but he was wearing heavy boots; he looked back at the motorcycle and our eyes met for the briefest of intervals. I just wanted to keep staring at the shape of his jaw, at the way he held his head, at any other similarity that offered a few more moments of the relief, comfort, and thrill I felt when I first glimpsed him. Chris, mystified, waited for me by the car. I was shaken, my voice wobbly, teary.
“That guy, did you see that guy with the motorcycle? He looked just like Ozzie.” Chris hadn’t seen him, hadn’t noticed the direction I was looking. “I should have told you to look,” I was immediately sorry. I had been afraid to break the spell, to bring reality to my few seconds of fantasy, afraid to hear “No, I don’t think he looks at all like him,” which, of course, Chris would never say. Thus, I had denied him the same eerie, sweet experience I had just had.
It’s happened before, that glimpse of my son in a stranger. A few weeks after he died, I followed a car for miles because the back of the driver’s head looked just like my Ozzie. Months later, I couldn’t tear my eyes from a young man who was waiting in line at a brat stand, one arm crossed to hold the elbow of the other, another familiar Ozzie stance. Psychic medium Theresa Caputo says that when a memory of a loved one is triggered like that, through a song, a photograph, a scene in a movie, or someone who resembles them, they are with us in that moment; letting us know that’s how close they are, just a thought, a memory, a sensation away. I can believe that. I can imagine Ozzie telling me “Get a load of this guy, Mom.” For future sightings, so that Chris doesn’t have to miss it, we developed the code word “doppelganger”, which is a German word for someone who looks like someone else (it can also mean a ghostly counterpart to a living person). Sunday afternoon, I saw Ozzie’s motorcyclist doppelganger–I wonder if he ever glimpses his musician counterpart . . .
I was spritzing on a bit of Yardley’s “English Lavender” cologne the other day when it occurred to me that my bottle of the fragrance is REALLY OLD. I thought back to when I bought it, 1973 or so, which means it’s around 40—apparently, even inexpensive cologne can last a long time. In that same time period I’ve been through at least five bottles of “White Shoulders”, a favorite since childhood, when my mom wore it only for very special occasions (I squander it almost daily), a brief stint with Georgio’s “Red” and the relatively recent “Lovely” by Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ve got a hankering to try the Jasmine fragrance Goldie Hawn was wearing on the Katie Couric show, which Katie commented on effusively, but Ms. Hawn was cadgey about the brand, saying only that she always wears jasmine.
Thinking of that old bottle of cologne reminded me of all the other old bottles of “pew-fume” (our baby name for Mom’s fragrances: “Tweed”, “Intimate”, and “White Shoulders”) I have stowed in odd places around the house. In a container under the bathroom sink, I found Jovan “Musk”, the essential oil lemongrass, and a nearly empty bottle of sandalwood oil (I’ll have to add that to my shopping list—I love that stuff!). In my jewelry box, I found a very old, ornately labeled, but empty, bottle of “Strawberry” essential oil, a newer bottle of “Strawberry Delight”, and, oh, there it is, good old reliable patchouli oil, the proven aphrodisiac of my generation!
I first captivated my husband, Chris, with the heady combination of patchouli and strawberry oil. Patchouli is one of those “you either LOVE it or HATE it” fragrances, and you know immediately when you wear it who’s in which corner. (As a production manager at the local newspaper, I nearly had to resort to a chair and bullwhip to get my employees back to their work stations when a man smelling of patchouli came into the office to place an ad. Those randy ladies followed the scent right through the building and then stood near him, sniffing and trying to appear busy! On the other hand, in my teen years, I had to put my patchouli oil on outside and then wash it off before I came home—my mother just HATED it.) It’s a sharp, aggressive, defiantly foreign scent (some say it smells like marijuana or hashish), but when coupled with a few drops of the sweet, fruity fragrance of strawberry oil, it sends out a soft, sensual purr. Chris said it was the sexiest fragrance I wore, because it always led to sex . . . however, we were in our twenties, and as I recall it, even when I wore no fragrance at all, we were headed to the bedroom at some point or another. Impetuous youth!
I’ve always loved to wear fragrance, whether it was my own “Apple Blossom” scent that came with a toy makeup kit when I was six, or the “Emeraude” I pilfered from my sister (that scent would never smell as lovely on me as it does on her—a boy in my high school English class told me it smelled like rotten lemons!!!). I’ve always been a fan of florals: “Muguet de Bois” (lily of the valley), “Straw Hat”, a fragrance of the 1960s that was only available in the spring and summer, “English Lavender”, and “Jean Nate” (another little theft from the same sister—with much better results!).
Except for the time I smelled like “rotten lemons”, I’ve worn fragrances lightly. My mother used to say “a little on the wrist, and a little behind your knee”—I added a little behind my ears because movie stars always seemed to be putting their perfume there—with wonderful results like having Cary Grant or Robert Redford nuzzle them. (My penchant for old movies has led to movie star crushes that span generations.) I have, over the years, encountered a few people who drenched themselves in their favorite fragrance, leaving the rest of us gasping wretches in their wake.
One of my most memorable bosses was a “pew-fume drencher”. We could predict her arrival in the office in two ways: her perfume always preceded her into the room and the decibel level went up at least 100 points. We never could concur on which was loudest or more bothersome, the Dior “Poison” or the nasal voice and raucous laugh; when she discovered “Giorgio” perfume, we had our answer. I found it oddly satisfying when wearing “Giorgio” was banned in several restaurants in Los Angeles. We often discussed whether there should be a single, dreadful location in hell for the boss who drenches in obnoxious perfume and then looms over your desk to loudly point out your inadequacies. I’m forthright, so I asked her once, how she applied her perfume (first referring to my mother’s advice, hoping she’d take a hint). “I spray a bunch in the air, and then I walk through it,” she answered. “Wow, that must get expensive,” I commented, to which she replied (and no hourly employee on the planet would convict me for the murderous thought that entered my head as she said it) “I can afford it.” Thus, I paraphrase Avon in my advice to all women and men who love a little fragrance in their lives “Whatever you wear . . . wear sparingly.”
We live at the end of a long, straight, boring stretch of country road on which the speed limit is 55 mph, which ends at a T-intersection. Over the years, cars have driven off the road and into our yard. Just weeks after we moved in, we were jarred awake by the sound of a school bus crashing through the yards and into a tree. No children were on the bus, and the bus driver (who had fallen asleep at the wheel) was only slightly hurt. We started petitioning the state and county highway departments back then, but nothing much was ever done. As a general rule, T-intersection problems are “solved” with rumble strips, which we and every neighbor within a half mile is firmly against, because of the noise.
Our solution, over the past eleven years, has been a 100 watt red light bulb facing the highway. It really has helped, and people stop us all the time to thank us for it (it’s visible on a foggy night and lets drivers who know the area just where they are); even the police approve. The light is on a timer, on at dusk, off at dawn, thus, the electrical cost is negligible, and really, who would put a price on the peace of mind it gives us? Friday evening, the light didn’t go on, and we assumed the bulb was burned out. When Chris went out to investigate, he discovered tracks in the snow leading from the road to the light . . . apparently someone had stolen the bulb.
I know that people who steal don’t give much thought to who they are stealing from and what effect it might have on them. I suppose the thinking is “I want it and I don’t care how I get it”, and they simply take the item and feel no guilt, empathy, or shame when they look at or use the item. For most of us, the guilt and shame would forever taint the item and certainly limit the pleasure we derived from having it, but we can’t count on thieves to do much thinking on those lines. We understand this, but even a theft this minor makes us feel vulnerable and violated. We wonder if we will now have to replace the light more often (the bulbs are around $5.00, and last around six months) as the perpetrators make a game of stealing it, we wonder if those same thieves would also break into our house, we wonder if now is the time to make a stronger case to the state for a solar-powered stop sign (retail cost: $600.00, cost for county to install: $10,000 and up—don’t get me started). We wonder if we drove around town some night, would we find our red bulb lighting someone else’s yard?
While Chris and I enjoy wondering about nature’s mysteries, whether we’ll have good weather when we need it, what it would be like to be independently wealthy, and how we could get that way . . . we are not enjoying the wondering that comes with crime, however minor.