Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring Has Arrived

I have several criteria for noting "Actual Spring" which doesn't include a calendar or the arrival of pollen. I know Spring's here when:

I take off my sweater, put on a t-shirt, go outside to plant flowers and the temperature literally drops 15 degrees in an hour....yet two days later, it will be 72 degrees once more.

The beloved Wisteria of my childhood decorates stands of trees like floral grapes..the scent making me a carefree 6 year old again.

My favorite radio station continues their time honored salute to the opening
of Baseball Season with Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?"

All of this, along with a front lawn full of cheerful robins, are harbingers of Spring. But the one which puts the spring in my step and still makes me giggle is "Who's on First?" I don't care how many times I've heard this routine, created by Abbott and Costello in 1937, it's still funny. If you live on Mars and have never heard this silly tribute to Baseball, it consists of Baseball Team Manager Abbott explaining the names of the players to Costello. The Manager explains they give ballplayers really strange names today....and he begins by explaining that "Who" is the First Baseman. A comedy of errors ensues.

Maybe it's the innocent tameness of the piece that makes it funny. Sure, it's probably boring to today's 30 second sound bite crowd, but for those of us who love words, it's funny to hear the simplest words turned into mass confusion. After all, we can do that any day of the week with words and it doesn't usually turn out funny. All I know is after listening to a round of "Who's on First, What's on Second and I Don't Know's on third", it will stick with me for the rest of the day.

If you want to watch a performance, try this YouTube link.

This is a link to a radio performance, along with the script.

Personally I prefer the radio version because it let's me use my imagination. I can envision Costello red faced and about to blow a gasket as Abbott continues to patiently repeat the names. As for me, anyone who says "I don't know" to me today, will receive a grin....because in my head, I will hear, "Third Base!"

Friday, March 28, 2008

"Nice" is not a Terminal Disease

I've often commented to Claudie, my best friend since college, that some people mistake a person being "nice" as equivalent to merely stupid. A sucker. An easy target. Southerner with a low I.Q. who does unto others as she is foolish enough to believe they will do unto her.

Truth is, I feel sorry for all those folks who seek out a sucker to make them feel better. Makes me wonder if it's a symptom of someone who's alienated so many folks, no one wants to listen to them.

I was just reminded of how my attempt to be nice and caring resulted in mental health benefits for that person and zero tolerance for me. I got to be the Shrink who listened as this unhappy soul laid down on the Internet equivalent of a couch and unloaded. Bad divorce pending. Fighting over the kids. Wrongful arrests, trumped up charges. Every dirty trick in the book. And I sat there, listening and doing my best to be helpful. Playing...nice. I was allowed to get in the occasional complaint since my DNA indicated I'm only human, but my woes were usually brushed off with a joke. So I'd laugh...and go back to being nice.

One day my usefulness came to an end. Another person entered the picture and suddenly my ears were no longer needed. The problem with being "nice" is seeing the train wreck coming and stubbornly insisting on pointing it out in hopes of avoiding a disaster. Nicely, of course. I shared with my patient that I was worried about his inability to quit smoking, the high blood pressure, a work schedule that in and of itself was unhealthy. And then I crossed the line...I gave an honest opinion. I was polite but it was not well received. Maybe it's just me, but anyone who asks you to attend church while trying to get you to commit adultery just doesn't ring true to me. Especially when the party on the couch has stated a concern that children could be lost in such a battle...and that is ignored by the hormones on the part of the party of the second part.

So I bowed out. I tried not to feel used. I reminded myself I learned a valuable lesson about letting others take over the conversation to the point you can't get in a personal word edgewise. A real friend listens to you. And cares what you have to say. Even when the truth hurts.

I found out this week my patient had a major heart attack but survived. Will no doubt be fine because of a generally humorous outlook on life. But I was punished again for offering the truth: most of us were unaware what had happened because we had been cut out of the loop due to the continued presence of the party of the second part. I had listened for almost 2 years until this problem was resolved and because I told the truth, my "patient" contacted only those who'd wished him well. Oh sure, I'd wished him well. But then I'd added the truth.

Sure it stung for a moment. You did read the part where I said I'm only human, right? But then I had the weirdest thought. It was about all the people who'd talked to me about returning the MIA bracelet back to that Captain's son. To a person, they'd all said the same thing,"What you did was so...nice." And they said it with awe, as if nice was something rare, bordering on extinct in our busy world.

So I go on being nice, not because it's expected of me but because I can't seem to help it. It appears I've been born with this unshakable belief that everyone deserves a chance. Should they later prove you wrong, I try to discover how they came to the conclusion I enjoy having the world's problems dumped on my lap. Then I adjust my strategy accordingly.

"Nice" isn't a terminal disease...but in my case, I'm guessing it's incurable.

Monday, March 24, 2008

There's Your Sign

Today was one of those Mondays when even "Rewind" wouldn't have helped. Seemed like the more I did, the faster someone else snatched it out of my hand to take credit for it. By now, that shouldn't bother me. However, Mondays, pollen and ego crazed hierarchy aren't a good mix.

I took Boudreaux, our 4 yr. old Chocolate Lab, to work with me today and even he looked miserable at one point. Then again, he's never heard me verbally declare exactly what I thought quite that passionately before. And I wasn't smiling. He knows that's a bad sign. At one point, I offered to change places with him...he was sleeping on the sofa in my office, oblivious to the world.

On the way home I once again tortured myself with whether it's time to move on. At this point I'm pretty sure that I'll never come to love the pain of banging my head against a brick wall. I just need a sign, I grumped to myself on the way home. Some kind of sign to let me know what to do about my career. Has it peaked? Have I peaked?

Approaching my driveway at commutes end I muttered out loud,"What do I do? What has this job become to me?" Turning into my driveway, a new, bright yellow object flashed in the corner of my eye. Seems the Highway Department had my answer. The sign said....


I burst out laughing. Boudreaux looked confused but wagged his tail, just in case. Maybe tomorrow when the pollen headache is gone I can laugh at the insecurity of those above me that makes them react like children. If not, can't ask for a brighter answer to a question than that one.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Once Upon a Time

Someone said to me not long ago that I should write a book. My immediate response was a wry grin and a polite, “About what?” The answer startled me.

“Your life.”

After the initial shock, I figured the person was joking. She was not. I kept waiting for a punch line. None was offered. When I finally asked why in the world anyone would be interested in my boringly normal life, she smiled. Her answer was that few people of my generation remember much of anything about their childhood… or the art of growing up. Maybe that’s because a lot of them are in denial and believe a plastic surgeon is the cure to stop the aging process. Not me. Growing up wasn’t always fun, but it had it’s moments.

She pointed out that Tom Brokaw has documented the “Greatest Generation” and just finished a saga about the 1960s. Not being from around here, she found it interesting that the South of my forefathers was so different from my own. As a child, I began school at the inception of integration, a concept which concerned at least two generations of my family. But to a kid facing First Grade and all the “new” that would come with it, skin color was the least of my worries. After all, hadn‘t I learned in Sunday School that Jesus loved the little children, ALL the children of the world? Okay, so there were only 3 black kids in my grade for six years...two girls and a boy. But to this day, I remember their names. Not because their skin was different, but because one girl fearlessly walked the halls as if she owned them, the other was as shy as I was and the boy was the smartest kid in my class. I remember going home in 6th grade and telling my Mom he was going to be President of the United States. He was too smart for that…he became a doctor who practiced in Washington, DC.. With a name like Emmanuel, he could’ve given Obama a run for his money.

That’s it, the woman said to me with a smile. You remember. You remember growing up when kids didn’t see the skin color that made their parents wary. She prodded me to think of something unique to my childhood that kids today don’t think twice about. The Space Program, my brain announced. I remember sitting in front of the TV., fingers crossed, as that 10 count began. In my little girl mind, Mission Control’s Gene Kranz was the voice of God. I’d hold my breath until Kranz announced astronauts were safely on their way…or back home. I got up in what seemed like the middle of the night to watch a grainy black and white picture of men walking on the moon. After the broadcast, we ventured outside with my Mom to look up at the moon, astounded that men were actually up there. And I’d waved, I admitted with a grin.

The point is, the woman stated firmly, you remember. You were a kid when JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. I remember sneaking down the hall, at the age of 6, to watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, I admitted. Those are the kinds of stories that need to be told, she argued. Those who remember should share.

I thanked her, still unsure how many people actually want to read the saga of a boringly normal little Southern girl who grew up believing that good wins out over evil simply because it should. And that a healthy curiosity should never be packed away with childhood toys.

I am curious. Question is…are you?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fighting Back

How do you show pollen you have the upper hand?

You buy an Easter Egg Deep Pink Geranium to show you have no fear. Sneezes made while making the purchase don't count. The wind was blowing. And I was under a gazillion pine trees all covered in yellow pollen which were intent on changing my normal brown hair to that of a blonde. It was a quick purchase, therefore my hair remains it's boringly normal color.

I will however, cling to the one Old Wives Tale my Grandma drilled into my head as a child, "Never plant before Good Friday." Turns out it wasn't a religious belief but her garden knowledge that after that date, most of our Frosty southern mornings are gone. So the geranium is keeping me company next to the computer until Easter. Unless it makes me sneeze. Then it will snooze on the back porch until I feel safe to release it into the wilds of my backyard.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anyone Get the Number Of That Bus?

The one that hit me yesterday. Nasally speaking. I know it was yellow, because it's covering everything. I'm not a fan of spring because it brings pollen. My nose has decided pollen isn't just bad, it's evil and must be eradicated from my body using any means necessary. My body is a little over enthusiastic about it's job. Enthusiastic to the point I think it may be a covert operator for the CIA, given it's zeal in a desire to terminate with extreme prejudice. Then again, if you saw something like this invading you, you'd probably send everything you had to the front line of defense.

Deceptive. Yet even beneath the microscope's light it seems interesting.

Personally, I prefer it stay under the microscope and way from my nose. Oh the irony. The little trees are blooming and spreading their joy and I am contributing to the destruction of trees by the amount of tissue currently in use to turn off the water faucet that has become my nose.

Someone please go outside and enjoy Spring for me....then report back. In the meantime I'll go look for a new box of tissue.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Take a Deep Breath

Today was one of those days that, if you grew up in the era I did, you look around to see if Allen Funt has risen from the grave to bring his Candid Camera series back to life. Translation: As the day went from sublime to ridiculous, I kept waiting for Funt to pop around the corner and say, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera!" Let's just say it was the kind of day that made me ponder if it was legal to allow so many I.Q. challenged people to gather in the same place at the same time without it being a political fundraiser.

I got home and found amongst the nine million catalogs that gather in my mailbox on behalf of my aunt, who's in the nursing home, one gem that made me smile. No. Laugh. Until my sides ached. It's called "Catalog Favorites" and has the catalogs have to offer if you have lots of money and time on your hands. Lots of silly t-shirts and plaques, among other dust collectors. The first page had a plaque that made me smile. "Take a Deep're HOME now."

The t-shirt pages have stuff that your Mom might not approve of but the tamer ones are funny. Like,
"I'm Confused. ...wait, maybe I'm not."

"I use to care but now I take a pill for that."

"Sometimes I wonder 'Why is that Frisbee getting bigger?' And then it hits me."

"Do not meddle in the affairs of Dragons for you are crunchy & good with ketchup."

Then there are the ones you can show your Mom.
"Lord keep Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth."

"Mom likes ME best."

"Ask not what your mother can do for you. Ask what you can do for your mother."

They have doormats with sayings such as "Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit..look who's here!" Then there's the simple, "Hi. I'm mat."

Okay there were a few I laughed at that I have the good sense not to list here. In case Mom's reading. But the plaque on the last page left a smile on my face that erased the annoying parts of today.

"Remember, as far as anyone knows, we are a normal family."

Enough said. ;)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Future Presidential Material?

The other day the kids I work with in the After School program were doing that whiny song and dance of "I'm Bored!" Sadly, they don't know how to entertain themselves and expect me to come up with SOMETHING for them to do. I've tried explaining the concept of being a kid and using your imagination. Blank stares. They ask me what I did as a kid and when I replied, "Played. Made up games. Used my imagination," they sighed and said they felt sorry for me because I didn't have computer games.


So I turned the tables on them. The 4th graders are currently studying the Constitution and combined with the Presidential elections, they're somewhat interested in how America works. I had them all take a seat at the table facing me and told them we were going to play "Meet the Press". They would pretend to be running for President, and I would be the reporter asking how they would run the Country. Surprisingly, they were interested. Of course they began shouting, "I want to be Hillary or I'll be the old guy", while one of the boys stuck to the candidate he has renamed "Taco Bama". I shook my head, telling them they had to be themselves. They seemed surprised at first, then got in the spirit of the game.

I asked the first one what he would do and got the usual reply of, "Give people money." When I asked how he would do that, he said, "From taxes." I reminded him that the people are the ones who pay the taxes, so how would it help to tax them, then give them the money back? He wanted to make a law for it. I told him he couldn't, he'd have to get Congress to make the law and they don't always agree with the President. He then declared he didn't want the job.

This was pretty much how it went...everyone having a worthy goal and no plan to achieve it. Sounds all too familiar if you're a voter. And then I got to one of 4th grade girls, who declared calmly, "I would make sure that all the homeless people got a house and food." Before I could ask how, she kept on going. "I'd open a canteen. Cause you know people like to snack and they would all come to a canteen. And I would fill it with snacks that rich people liked the most. That way I'd be earning the money to build the houses and buy the food."

I told her she had my vote. Maybe some of the presidential candidates might want to hire her as their Adviser.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Rambling on a Rainy Day

Rain frustrates some people. They see their plans washed away, like a ballgame called on account of rain. Not me. I love it. And not just because we're in a drought situation those little droplets will aid in alleviating. Rain makes me introspective...which makes me want to write. Sometimes I don't have a clue what to write about, but when that gene gets itchy to play, my fingers seek a keyboard to help.

This morning began with a trip to the grocery store, prior to the rain's arrival. I'm happy to report it was boringly uneventful this time. Maybe grey skies keep weirdos indoors. Who knows. I got back in my car and began listening to a Book on CD which my sis-in-law had lent me. I almost didn't even bother because she groused when handing it over, "Here, see if you think this stupid thing is better than I did. I hate how it ended." I'm glad she didn't tell me...thus my curiosity would've been quelled before it even got started.

The book is entitled "Alone" and in the first five minutes I discover I'm about to spend the next couple of weeks commuting to a story about a police sniper. One who is accused of murder for doing his job. Now if this seems a bit morose, you have to understand that I tend to read genres that I'd never write about. Think Stephen King. Okay, so I don't read that bodice ripper romance stuff either. Why? Because it's not nice to giggle hysterically when someone took an hour or so to put together a supposed tale of love and lust complicated by greed and/or social status. I'm keeping the promise I made to myself last year to read for the last 45 minutes of my lunch hour. Last week I finished a Patricia Cornwell book. Let's just say for a polite, southern girl, some of my family don't understand why I'd read novels about a Medical Examiner...which includes detail. It's not because of blow-by-blow autopsies [yuck...I don't even watch stuff like CSI]. It's because I understand the world weary, overweight and burdened by the knowledge of what people can do to each other Detective. Him I understand. Knowing the world isn't fair, but participating anyway.

Yesterday, after discovering what will keep me company on my ride, I decided to lighten up a little at lunch. I pulled out Shug's book of poetry "Strange Bambo". Sadly, when I was growing up, poetry was often placed in the category of "For intellectuals only". Wordy tidbits for the artsy-fartsy crowd or college professors feeling a necessity to dissect each and every word searching for nuance and hidden meaning. I felt that way until I discovered Ogden Nash. How can you not like a guy who writes stuff like, "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker"? When I realized that poetry could be fun, I read more of it.

So with no need to perform autopsies on bodies of words, I opened Shug's book...and read it cover to cover. Yes, I did take time to "savor" but sometimes it was a phrase that snuck up out of nowhere that caught my attention to tug at my heart. "My Mother's Dictionary" spoke to me of a love of words that I totally understand. "Summer in Dumfries" made me smile because graffiti in public places is the same, no matter what part of the world you reside. As someone who's been in that uncomfortable box called Writer's Block which makes you reach for the most ridiculous concept at times, I laughed just reading the title "A Poet Sitting Under A Wall Mistakes Some Pints of Magnars For The Muse". Self explanatory. "The Lost Poems" made me think of stories I carelessly tossed aside, then longed to recover, knowing those thoughts defined who I was at the time the words arrived. "Marked" is a hilarious ode to grading papers while under the influence of liquid courage.

Two poems startled me....moved me unexpectedly, as if blindsided. All writers, no matter how hard they try not to, tend to leave a piece of themselves in their work. The first was "The Man Whose Last Kiss Was Me" in which a man goes from spontaneously celebrating a favorite team's victory to the cruel realities of life as his own is snuffed out. Then there was "My Father". An ode to the uniqueness of fathers everywhere...from offering advice to disarming made me catch my breath in its contradictions. A man able to vault walls with ease as well as chase down his wife on a busy street to punch her. The father leaves and I suppose leaves his child wondering why...for a very long time.

A friend's father passed away yesterday and I recall her description of him filled with the same contradictions. The poetic father and hers both seem to succumb to a Jekyll & Hyde change when alcohol was introduced. It made me glad, quite selfishly, that my Dad never drank. Both the poem and her loss made me think about my Dad...the most unselfish human I ever met. I also inherited his off-the-wall sense of humor, which is good given I inherited his sinus problems as well. The combination of poem, loss and my Dad, who I lost 12 years ago to a particularly nasty cancer, made me remember how easy it is to take the good for granted. To assume that those you love will love you back and offer a hand up when you need it or a pat on the back when you deserve it. It drove my Mom nuts when my Dad would grin at me and say, "You done good." For someone who loves words, that grammatically incorrect phrase warmed my heart because there was pride attached to it each time.

There are times I am content to let my memory replay that line like a ghostly loop. I wonder, if our three Dads could sit down and talk, what would they say about us?