NEW DOG AND COFFEE

I took a shower for the first time in two days this morning. I used to shower compulsively, daily, and felt it was my one true way to wake up. Now, it seems, coffee has replaced the shower as my primary method of waking. 

After the shower, I went downstairs to make coffee and feed our new dog. She didn’t touch the food, so I added some chicken stock, which she enjoyed, but instantly created a fear that she won’t eat without the added flavor. Have we begun a vicious cycle of soup-laced food of which there is no coming back? And what to do about my less clean caffeine-laced mornings?

DEAR NEW YORKER,

We have a problem. You are my favorite magazine, but I don't have time to see you EVERY week! Sometimes I wish you would just get lost. Consider coming every month.

Yours,

A.P.C

DOUCHE

I used to play with toy cars as a child. I had lots of them; all with different paint schemes and body styles. I kept them in a bright yellow bucket that used to contain my sisters Lincoln Logs. When it came time to play, I would find a suitable space (usually the kitchen table, a couch, or the floor) and dump the cars out of the bucket. I had two primary scenes that I would play out. The most popular was "the race" where I would line the cars up, two abreast, single file. I determined the pole position on the basis of whichever car looked like it would be the fastest. It was always the General Lee. Second place was consistently held by a silver Trans-Am. It had an eagle on the hood.

The second scenario I would play out was "the traffic jam" which was played exactly how it sounds. Inevitably, in both "the race" and "the traffic jam" there would be one all encompassing wreck. A wreck that no car could avoid. This was my favorite part. One car would overshoot a turn, or run a red light, and that would begin the domino-like chain reaction. As the director of this mayhem, I added my own sound effects: screeching tires, sirens, honking horns. The most prominent sound effect was the car crash sound, which I created using the word "wooosh" but with a "d" at the beginning instead of a "w." To me, this was the sound of metal on metal, coupled with just a hint of shattered glass. I thought it sounded pretty accurate. My sister had bad teeth and played the violin, so I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms and concert halls. To pass the time, I brought handfuls of cars with me. I'd set up a drag strip on my legs, or conduct my business on the seat next to me. Before long, the cars would collide, "screech...doosh-doosh-ssscrrreee......doosh." 

After some time, my mom told me that she thought it would be wise to come up with another sound effect for my car crashes. I wanted to know why. She thought for a moment and said, "Douche' is not a word that boys go around saying." I didn't understand. 

Now I know.

Pat Robertson for example.

BIG-GAME HUNTING

Last week, while on safari, I saw an elephant trample a would-be poacher. Then a jackal chased a model up a hill! This might sound funny, but I can assure you it’s no laughing matter. We were a party of three. And now I'm alone in a Jeep with a left-handed shifter, there's an ominous buzzing coming from the brush, and my vest is full of honey.

MAKING HISTORY

Today, you and I played part in a historical event. 
I carved our names into wet cement.

 

E. A. S.

Why do Emergency Alert System recordings sound like robots? Are people typing weather reports into talking computers? Are announcers talking through voice modulators? Why can't it just be a normal voice? Or a European girl with a kind voice? Maybe someone sexy like Sienna Milller?

CRICKETS

Crickets crickets sing at night
outside my window 'tis delight
same song repeated
yet never trite
a shame for those
whose curtains stay closed
and cannot hear what you recite.

GOOD MORNING

It's hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. I often wonder how hard it is for others to rise and shine. I can't imagine it's as hard for them as it is for me. I could be wrong though. I have heard that different people function best at different times of the day. My best time is early evening, around seven o'clock. Maybe closer to half past seven. I've thought about taking part in some study that measures people's discomfort level while waking. I imagine there are such things. But they probably involve starchy bedding, electrodes, suction cups, and excessive paperwork.

LIFE LIST

I made a list of all the things I need to change in my life. It’s an exhausting list and the sheer volume of it speaks volumes. It’s awash with worry and the whole thing reeks of inaction and failure. I haven’t decided where I’ll begin. Instead, I’m sitting in the garden waiting for the leaves to turn.

WALKING, JUST BEFORE DARK

I took a walk through the woods to focus on recent victories and past regrets. I searched the ground for a stick, found one, and picked off its bark until the wood was blonde and smooth. I enjoyed it for a while then tossed it, side arm, into a clearing.

I continued walking, stopping every so often to catch a glimpse of a songbird or other assorted creatures of the wood, but my senses weren't honed, and I stared blankly into the thickets.

A man passed by heading with great certainty in the opposite direction. He was thicker and sturdier than me. A water bottle dangled from his belt. His boots well worn and earth-caked. I felt silly in comparison what with my flannel shirt and canvas shoes. An inventory of my pockets revealed little more than a few loose breath mints and a cell phone with no reception. Good judgement beckoned me to follow, and it was here that I made amends with my regrets, took stock of my victories, and scurried out of the woods before darkness closed in.

maître d'

At my favorite eatery the waiter is played by a slow-talking gent who looks like an aged Super Mario without plumber cap or princess. He is also the restaurants host, cashier, disc jockey, and resident artist - always drawing large humming birds flying among naked trees. He is quite prolific in his art, but with little room to display, his scenes have begun to pile up like stacks of white rectangular pancakes. He has a few off-putting traits and a wealth of cryptic jokes that begin as soon as you walk in the door.

"How are you?" I ask. 

"Horrible," he says. 

I have learned not to ask, or I frame it in a way that "horrible" cannot be the go-to response.

He routinely seats groups of guests at tables directly beside one another (even when the restaurant is completely void of other patrons), and has a proclivity to offer personal stories that focus on techniques for self improvement. Like a traveling showman, he prefers the group setting (for maximum exposure) and since I usually eat alone, I am generally excluded from storytime and left free to witness others fall victim to his routine.

One such instance happened recently during the midday rush to a table of businessmen wearing ill-considered neckties. Perfunctory introductions were made, and our host came at them with the "horrible" bit, which, to my surprise, was met with much fanfare from this group of four. Sensing an opportunity, he launched into a sermon I have never heard, a recipe for "the best BBQ sauce you've ever tasted." He guaranteed it. The description took the better half of four minutes, during which, I watched another group, a party of two, hover around the entrance way waiting to be seated. They were extremely patient, these two, and for a moment I thought about interrupting on their behalf, but they left before I could speak, unacknowledged and unhappy.

 

RESTORATION

If you ever find yourself at the corner of frustration, depression, and innocence lost: find the nearest garden hose, strip off all unnecessary garments and shower yourself. Stand still and drip dry. Repeat as needed.

DOCTORS ORDERS

I'm taking an antibiotic to dispel clogged sinuses and to lessen a hacking cough, but the drugs don't work. So far they are only good at producing lavish nightmares and loose stools.

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

My grandfather, my mother's father, was 94 years old when he died. He was born in 1908 before the advent of the automobile, before the telephone, before movies had either picture or sound, and before airplanes had become commercial, private, or military. He had colossal ears like Dumbo, eyes the color of frosted pewter, and saggy neck skin that looked like a pelican or the goblet of a wild turkey. He bagged groceries at the Piggly Wiggly, delivered bread door to door, and later became a district manager for the Coca-Cola Company. I had been told that he used to smoke cigars, but, by the time I came around, he had given up smoking and preferred instead to chew on their moist leathery ends.

Several weeks after his death, my mother, my father, my sister and I traveled to Florida for his burial. It was the middle of May and the weather was typical for that time of year. The air was thick, spongy, and the Bermudagrass was stocky and potently green. Not much had changed in the thirty-eight years since my mother had left Jacksonville. Just to make sure, after the service had ended, my family gathered in a rented Pontiac for an impromptu tour of the neighborhood she grew up in. We drove by her schoolhouse with its red bricks and clouded windows. The state flag outside laid slack with the absence of wind. I pictured the students inside; impatient, sweaty, and ready for the school bell to ring. I thought of my mom as a young girl walking to school, a yellow sundress dancing across her ankles. She probably sat in that same boiler room, just like the children do now. I wondered if she ever thought that she would return so many years later in this Grand Am with her adopted children and her former husband? I wondered if she ever thought her father would live in two centuries?

We made a series of right turns and arrived at 22nd Street. This was the street she grew up on, where her mother perfected chicken dumplings, where her brother was bullied, and where her father stubbed out his cigars. With some difficulty, she was able to find the precise location of her house and quickly commented that it didn’t look as decrepit as it did now. I did take note of the fencing that extended from the backyard to the very edge of the curb. A chain link fence that once shone like silver had now turned to a blackish rust. Every house on the street had one of these fences, and they were all in various stages of freshness and disrepair. The fences were very short, no more than three feet high, and I wondered what, if anything, these fences could keep out? I felt pretty confident I could leap over the fence with ease, like a pole vaulter but without the pole.

We rounded a corner that took us back to the main stretch of road and stopped for lunch at Krystal, a hamburger chain that offers miniature hamburgers about the size of a sea shell. The hamburgers come adorned with only ketchup, and are served in little pouches that resemble the pockets of jeans. I ordered a Coca-Cola to wash down my half dozen burgers. Coca-Cola was something that always bound my grandfather and I together. We were both strict Coke loyalists. He had been a delivery driver for the brand, and had passed down his partisanship to my mother, who, in turn, passed it down to me. “We got a free case every week, and you could buy a Coca-Cola for a nickel. A cherry Coke cost six cents,” she said. ”One time, poor thing, he had his foot run over by his own truck, but he never swore,” she added. I kind of wish he had. 

Growing up, our family summers were divided equally between visits to my father’s family, who lived in the suburbs of Atlanta, and between my mother’s father, who spent several weekends every summer in Ormond Beach, Florida. I remember these summers fondly, sitting on rubbery lounge chairs by the stucco encased pool. It was here that I learned about the ocean, about outside showers, white wicker furniture, balconies, and doormats made of AstroTurf and decorated with plastic flowers. In pictures from this time you can see my grandfather, always fashionably dressed in a Lacoste polo shirt, neatly pressed slacks, slip-on white loafers, wide-eyed circular squared glasses, and a newsboy style cap. This ensemble was topped off by a custom made wooden cane which had the brass beak of an eagle attached to the top where you rest your hand.

A year and a half after his second wife Lucille died, my grandfather boarded a plane and traveled as far north as he had been in nearly forty years. He was placed in an assisted-living facility in Annandale, Virginia, about a five minute drive from the town house my mother lived in following her divorce from my father. I had just graduated from college, and had moved home while I worked on a short film I had written and planned to direct later that fall. I was happy to have my grandfather in such close proximity to me, and I became a regular visitor to the facility.

People say that clothes make the man, which isn’t really true, but when a man turns into an elderly man clothing can serve as a type of barometer to measure a person's decline. I watched as his beloved cane was retired for a plastic gray walker. The kind with tennis balls fastened to the ends. Shoes went from slip-on to Velcro, shaving went from straight razor to electric, and the bladder went from something you owned to something that owned you. My grandfather lost weight. His pants, which had always sat comfortably just below his nipples, had begun to win their fight against his suspenders. Similarly, his belt, after years of constant adjusting, had eventually run out of holes. I remember my mother taking an ice pick to his leather belt in an effort to produce more holes. I wasn’t sure if wielding sharp metal into cowhide was the best way to remedy this problem? Why not just buy a smaller belt I thought? But it was her father, and I guess she needed to feel like she was in control of things, even if the only thing that she could control was this goddamn belt. I have learned it's best to choose your battles, even if the point of contention involves something as wholesome as leather work. My mother did the best she could for her father, but nursing homes have a way of turning the brightest days into dull ones. They are places where the stories of someone's life are whitewashed into the linoleum floors, and where happiness is measured by an extra dollop of ice cream. Nursing homes, after all, are the places we people are sent to die. And no matter how hard one may try to create a perfect situation, nursing homes always find a way to dampen your mood.

My grandfather and I did what we could given our situations. I got answers to questions of things that only people in their ninth decade of life would know, and he answered questions about my mother that only a father would know. I could just be with him, surrounded by his century of living, and feel fully content and fascinated. I made friends with his neighbors, and snuck cigarettes to one particular gentleman who sat on the bench in front of the building. He never had any visitors, and it made me happy to see him sitting in the sun smoking my tobacco. I made a point to learn the names and the schedules of the caretakers at the facility, and they, in turn, learned my name and my schedule. I think my grandfather got better care because of this. I was happy to give back what he had given me.

It was also good for my mother to be afforded these extra years with her father although at the time I knew she felt much different. There is nothing wrong with father and daughter sharing another basket of jumbo fried shrimp. Nothing wrong with enjoying one more glass of iced tea, or one last goodnight kiss. We were all able to have three more Christmases together, a couple more birthdays, and several more Thanksgiving dinners. The latter being particularly nice since grandpa was the only one who ate the dark meat. 

If you factor everything together everyone did alright, I guess. But it’s hard for me to figure out who suffered more: the daughter or the father? The person who cares for someone who is 94 years old, or the person who is 94 years old? Those questions don’t really have answers though. The only way to know is to keep on living. Which is what Morgan did for nearly 100 years.

SUBURBAN GRAND PRIX

She was making good time and took note of the morning light reflecting off the interstate signs, never noticing they could be anything other than common green, common brown, or that dingy cookies 'n cream white. They shimmered as she passed, and she thought she saw a rainbow. 

She reminisced over the manner in which she had left. A smile crept through her guts and erupted on her face. The sun was getting higher and she pressed hard on the accelerator. Everything got further away.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN WILLIAMS

Dear John,

Thanks for composing the music to Star Wars, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. When I was a kid I didn't realize all the films sounded the same. Now I realize they wouldn't be the same without you.

Happy Birthday,


A. P. C

A FISHING STORY

I grew up fishing along the Potomac River. My dad and I usually rented a boat at Belle Haven Marina and we'd motor out in search of fish. I remember my mom offering to fry up whatever we caught, but we rarely caught anything more than some father-son time, which, I guess, is more important than batter-dipped fillets. 

I went fishing yesterday for the first time in about 7 years. I view fishing as sort of mid-level hunting, especially after I read an article about the psychological trauma and physical pain a fish goes through when hooked. I got several bites and managed to reel in a flounder. He was too small to keep. He wasn't a "keeper" so I tossed him back and had to come up with another plan for dinner.

MAY 19TH ROUNDUP

I took a walk to the ocean today. It was sunny and I ate an apple while I walked. I saw a hovercraft, which, if you don't know, is a boat that sounds like it would be very space-aged and sleek but in reality looks very bulbous and clunky. I also saw a "Limited Edition Indiana Jones" Diet Dr. Pepper can that had been cast off into the dunes. Did they even notice Harrison Ford and his bull whip?


Peter Mayhew is 64 today. He has played Chewbacca for 31 years. Chewbacca is a wookiee from a planet called Kashyyyk, and the co-pilot of the fastest ship in the galaxy. He is so popular that Pepperidge Farm named a cookie after him. They were called "Wookie Cookies" and tasted buttery like shortbreads.

LAST NIGHTS DREAM - VOLUME 2

I travelled to England and was upset with myself that I didn't bring a camera.

Was informed by palace guards that the reason for "the yanks" poor turnout on election day is a direct result of our refusal to write handwritten letters. The Brits communicate in longhand with such ferocity that curbside mailboxes have become inundated with calligraphic correspondence. Excess letters are fastened to the branches of trees.

I kept running into other Americans who were learning German and wanted to speak it to people on the street. They were having good luck with this. I told them they wouldn't have such luck finding bilingual people in America. I spoke these words in German.

The menu stated draft beer comes in 3 sizes: 1/3 pint, 1/2 pint, and pint. The pub had only two choices: Miller Lite and Budweiser. Embarrassed and horrified by my country's invasion of the British pub I ordered hot chocolate. The drink was delicious, and I found comfort in the discovery that Swiss Miss had yet to reach the shores of England.