Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wish It Were Different

About a year and a half ago, or maybe it was a hundred years -- it seems like that some days -- I left the house to walk in the early morning, trying desperately to shed the pain I felt after talking to my mother on the phone.

She hadn't yet been diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease, but I knew that something bad was happening to her. A few months before, I'd made a commitment to call her on the phone every day to keep tabs on her. With each passing day she vomited into my ear such bitterness and hateful memories that I would come away from each encounter shaking, feeling battered to the heart. I heard things about her life that I should never have been told; I would rather have gone to my grave without knowing the secret feelings she harbored.

Anyway, on that morning, a hundred years ago, I walked and walked, and cried, and prayed, because there was just nothing else I could do. After a while I turned to head home, and there in the sky was a rainbow, which the Bible tells us is God's promise to never again destroy the world in a flood. I really felt that the rainbow, for me, was a promise from God that eventually, everything would turn out all right.

I remember that rainbow every day, just about.

I remembered it last night when I got a call from the Pennsylvania State Police, asking me to please call my mother and "reassure" her. She'd called 9-1-1 to complain that she couldn't get her caregiver to leave the house. I explained to the trooper that she has Alzheimer's and doesn't understand that she must have 24-hour care. He was understanding, but I could imagine him rolling his eyes at the ceiling in exasperation.

So I called Mom's house, and she answered the phone, even though it was after 11pm her time, and she should have been in bed. I tried to "reassure" her, and she reacted just as I knew she would, with invective and curses, threats to cut me out of her will, loud and angry demands to be given a competency exam, and just plain old mean ass shit-talk. Nothing I could say made any difference in her anger. Finally I just gave up, and as she shouted, just said over and over again, "I love you, Mom," hoping that somewhere in that ravaged mind the woman I admired so when I was growing up would hear my words.

She hung up on me in her fury, and after a few minutes I called back and asked to speak to her caregiver, which she let me do, to my surprise. I had a long chat with the caregiver, a pleasant chat; the woman is surely earning a place in heaven putting up with this aggressive, nasty stage of Alzheimer's.

I'm trying to keep the rainbow foremost in my mind.

Friday, April 18, 2008


There, in the shadows of the lemon tree, a very fiend of the jungle lurks.

Yes! It is the scarlet macaw of the house, the dirty-fighting biting bee-yotch, Molly!

Alex and John adopted Molly last September, while I was gone at the other end of the country and could not say, "Do not bring a #@!!##! parrot into this house!" In chagrin and fear, I have tried to be friends with the bird, in spite of the fact that I still cannot forgive her for the nasty bite on a finger she gave me during the first couple days of NaNoWriMo, which caused me to limp while typing for the rest of the month.

If only she didn't bite, I would be crazy about her.

Today was her very first ever day OUTSIDE. John has a kind of leash to keep her from climbing too high, and Bernie let her climb up in the lemon tree. She was clearly bemused by the sounds and sights of the world, biting off the lemon blossoms, tasting tiny unripe lemons, gnawing on the grapevine that has looped over into the tree.

She wasn't too thrilled about the harness (called a "Feather Tether") but put up with it until she was indoors again, and then chomped it to bits.

Molly is only a little over a year old, a mere baby in a species that lives to be over 70. She has to be either indoors or on her leash: if she gets lost, like a little child, she might not be able to find her way home. And in this season, in this land, there isn't a year-round selection of fruits available in a jungle canopy.

She looks great against the green lemon leaves, though, and she had a great time climbing on a little clump of branches.

For me, the best part about her behavior was seeing her watch a bee that was buzzing from blossom to blossom. You could see INSTINCT kick in as her eyes focused on the bee, and she tracked that insect with such interest that I know macaws eat bugs.

Macaws do have expressions on their faces. This last picture is of Molly, La Mollissima, with a happy smile on her face about her first play-date with the great, wide world.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poem In Your Pocket Day

I thought a lot about what poem I would like to share with someone today, almost too long as today is nearly gone.

But finally, I decided on an excerpt from Don Marquis' book Archy and Mehitabel, from the chapter entitled, "mehitabel dances with boreas." Mehitabel is a cat with loose morals and no home. She's a free spirit, who will not buy into conventional life. At times, that makes her suffer, but she's willing to suffer, just so she doesn't have to cave. Since I was in Junior High, Mehitabel's spirit (not her sexual morals) have been an inspiration to me in hard times.

"whirl mehitabel whirl
spin mehitable spin
thank god you re a lady still
if you have got a frozen skin

blow wind out of the north
to hell with being a pet
my left front foot is brittle
but there s life in the old dame yet

dance mehitabel dance
caper and shake a leg
what little blood is left
will fizz like wine in a keg

wind come out of the north
and piece to the guts within
but some day mehitabel s guts
will string a violin

moon you re as cold as a frozen
skin of a yellow banan
that sticks in the frost and the ice
on the top of a garbage can

and you throw a shadow so chilly
that it can barely leap
dance shadow dance
for you ve got no place to sleep

whistle a tune north wind
on my hollow marrow bones
i ll dance the time with three good feet
here on the alley stones

freeze you bloody december
i never could stay a pet
but i am a lady in spite of hell
and there s life in the old dame yet

whirl mehitabel whirl
flirt your tail and spin
dance to the tune your guts will cry
when they string a violin

eight of my lives are gone
it s years since my fur was slicked
but blow north wind blow
i m damned if i am licked

girls we was all of us ladies
we was o wotthehell
and once a lady always game
by crikey blood will tell

i might be somebody s pet
asleep by the fire on a rug
but me i was always romantic
i had the adventurous bug

caper mehitabel caper
leap shadow leap
you gotto dance till the sun comes up
for you got no place to sleep"

That's not all of it, by any means, but that last stanza has been a billboard for me, all my life. Hard times come. They hurt, and they're cold. But

"you gotto dance till the sun comes up
for you got no place to sleep"

Still dancin', Mehitabel.

Thanks for the thought, Don Marquis.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gorgeous Weekend

A lovely weekend, it was indeed.

On Saturday we spent a day on a friend's patio beside his pool. He threw a grand barbecue for his wife's birthday, and Bernie's and my 33rd wedding anniversary. The temperature was in the 80's, the food was good, the company delightful. For a brief time, I got into the pool with the kids and swam around in the perfect water. (He had solar heating put in, just so he could stretch the season.)

Sunday was downright hot, and yet our pool was just a tad too cold for me to get in. I did wade a lot, and played water games with the dogs, fixed the north side sprinkler system (I do that when it's running -- a great job for a hot day), and made liberal use of the "mist" function on the hose.

Alex, after doing some heavy-duty cleaning, was hot and itchy enough to wade right in.

Later, Lil came out and spent about an hour in the pool, and her lips didn't even turn blue.

By time for bed, I was hot enough to brave anything, and took my skin out in the dark and yes! The pool was chill ... but oh, so nice.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Telemarketers and the F-word, Be Prepared

I truly hate using the phone; I have ever since I quit smoking cigarettes.

And that drawing of a phone really dates me, when the concept "phone" brings such an image to mind.

Phones have been on my mind for the last few days, after Bern started getting nuisance calls from heavily-accented women demanding he tell them what medications he was taking.

He hung up on them, of course. But after some days of being called twice a day, he got fed up on Monday morning, and when his phone woke him up and he heard the garbly voice, he just climbed out of bed, found me in the kitchen, and handed me the phone, saying, "It's for you."

There's a reason he would do that.

Because I hate the phone, and hate being required to answer the phone, I [hate squared] telemarketers. I have been known to revile them. On one memorable occasion, I delivered a long and intense lecture to a telemarketer about finding another job, a job with some honor to it, a job that would not accrue the bad karma that she was attracting to her soul. I'm not sure why she listened to me for 20 minutes. Maybe she went on to find another job.

In any event, Bernie's handing me his violated phone was exactly like pointing out an intruder to a junkyard dog and saying, "Sic' em."

And so, I did. I allowed all my inner Darth Vader to spill into my voice, and added to that my usual morning grouchiness (never have been a morning person), my fury at someone having disturbed my husband's sleep (over-protective -- well, yeah, a bit), and my hatred of telemarketers. I demanded the name of the company that was calling. I demanded that the caller speak slowly and clearly. I informed the caller that I was going to report them to the FCC for calling a phone number on the "Do Not Call" list. I explained forcefully that their company faced a $500,000 fine for violating the Do Not Call list. (I think I read that somewhere.)

Some time during the sentence that boomed "I want you to remove this phone number from your calling list right now and never call this number again," the caller hung up on me.

Heh, I said to myself.

And then the shitheads called Bernie again after he'd gone to work.

Clearly, some new strategy was necessary. If they could withstand my Roar of Anger, there was no point in me roaring at them again.

Oddly, they would call at specific times. 9am. 5pm. I kept Bernie's phone with me this morning, and when the phone rang at 9am, caller ID showed me it was our buddies at US Pharmacy (which Google identified as a source for "phentarmine"), I cleared my throat and answered, in my most professional receptionist voice, "Ruess Writers' Group, may I have your account number?"


They called back at 11:30 and I did the same. A man's voice expostulated some foreign word three times, then he hung up on me, too.

Tomorrow, when they call, if they call, I'm going to ask them which writer they have an account with, and when they futter around, I'm going to give them the number to our main office ... which will be the police department's non-emergency number.

If I can't get rid of them, I may as well fuck with them.

So to speak.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Water, Water, Everywhere

I'm dry now.

Today was the day I had been waiting for, for weeks. I am well again (though still experiencing a round of morning coughing): that's one criterion for The Day; two, I actually had some energy; and the third requirement was a genuinely warm day, because I knew that I would be soaked before I was done.

Today was Fix the Back Bank Sprinkler System Day.

Along the 60 foot stretch of garden, I have installed a "drip" irrigation system. None of it "drips", however, as each emitter is a sprayer of some sort. The ground doesn't freeze here, so I don't have to worry about split pipes except in freak years ... and in such a year I'd just replace the whole thing for about $30. No worries there.

The main line is 1/2" tubing, and little 1/4" flexible lines come off of that, each ending in a spray emitter of high or low flow as required. Easy. Kind of like plumbing tinkertoys. Every spring, once the need for watering returns, the system has to be checked, groomed, and if necessary, repaired. After an initial test run about two weeks ago, I knew I had some repairs that needed to be done; the streams of water spraying 20 feet across the garden gave me a hint that winter had been cruel to my emitters.

Today I donned my reading glasses, squinted at the automatic sprinkler instructions in the garage, and turned on the system. There's just no efficient way to find out and fix broken emitters and sprung tubing without the water running.

Some of the emitters had just fallen over, but others, being plastic and in the full California sun, had disintegrated. I started at the south end of the bank and carried my bucket of parts, pulling the emitters out from under weeds, setting them up where they had fallen down, replacing the ones which were dead-o. All of them, of course, were emitting water. Cold water. And if you try to replace a tube or an emitter while the water is running, of course, it sprays all over the place under high pressure.

Howie thought it was a wonderful project, water spraying everywhere, his Mama soaking wet and shouting "Aughhh!" every time a new emitter failed to make positive connection with the water line. He helped so much by following me along and pulling the emitters out of the ground the better to bite the spray.

But now it is done, and my cherry tree and my nectarine tree are assured of regular irrigation. Not to mention all the rest of the plants, too.


I'm dry now.