Sunday, February 27, 2005

The icy cold hand of death

Yes, it is that time of year once again, when the icy cold hand of death reaches out and snatches another year away from our friend, John. It is his birthday. John is well-known in our little circle for not taking the appearance of his birthday well. Two or three years ago, his infamous birthday dinner invitation spoke about "the icy cold hand of death" coming one year closer, and so forth. Every one of us showed up in appropriate all black mourning attire and somewhere is a funny picture of us all gathered around looking extra sad.

Today's birthday brunch invitation went like this:

It's that time of year again: time to reflect on the previous year's triumphs and failures, joys and sorrows, thrills and intrigues, special effects and show-stopping musical numbers. Yes, it's time for the goddamn Academy Awards, and this year they're squatting on MY BIRTHDAY. Rather than attempt to compete directly with the decadent entertainment industry, I've decided to make this year's memorial to my waning youth a daytime affair. Come to Cafe Flora's sun-washed atrium at noon this Sunday, the twenty-seventh, to see me emerge, eyes blinking and nose twitching, from the hole of overwork, illness, despair, and international political agitation that has consumed me since last summer. Legend has it that, if I see my own shadow, spring has arrived, and if I don't, I am a vampire.

Afterward, I propose that we engage in the vernal tradition of hiding gaily colored "eggs" (represented by billiard balls in some cultures) among pockets in green "fields" by thrusting at them with fertility symbols known as "cues," to be found by "children" at the Garage on Broadway, where we can also go bowling if you prefer. All festivities will end in time for you to return to your lives of error and sin, as you indulge in the bourgeois fantasies stoked by the Academy Awards broadcast. I'll need to reserve a table, so please respond with an aye or a nay as soon as you can, and if you do intend to bear witness to this harbinger of spring, include with your response the number of guests you'll bring.

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Our friend, Karen had an excellent idea for this year's festivities:

A couple of months ago a certain They Might Be Giants song was stuck in my head all day, when suddenly it occurred to me, Mon dieu! That's the perfect John Franco birthday song! The song is called "Older," and it goes something like this:

You're older than you've ever been
and now you're even older
and now you're even older
and now you're even older
You're older than you've ever been
and now you're even older
and now you're older still

Time - is marching on
and time...(long pause)
is still marching on.
This day will soon be at an end
and now it's even sooner
and now it's even sooner
and now it's even sooner
this day will soon be at an end
and now it's even sooner
and now it's sooner still

You're older than you've ever been
and now you're even older
and now you're even older
and now you're even older
You're older than you've ever been
and now you're even older
and now you're older still

So I've been plotting to perform this song for him as a birthday surprise, and if y'all are game, I could use your help. I'm envisioning a chorus of kazoos. If anybody happens to play the bassoon or bass sax, that would be fabulous, but kazoos will do. The melody is very simple and catchy, as evidenced by the fact that I got it stuck in my head two years after hearing it only once.

Rarely does an idea achieve this level of perfection. Now, picture it if you will -

A table full of friends gathered around, suddenly burst into song with kazoo accompaniment and well-timed percussive body slaps. We received some applause and a pair of little older ladies asked us what the song was because they felt it was perfect for their younger friend's upcoming 60th birthday. I agree - let's replace the tired ol' happy Birthday song with Older.

It's out there now! Watch for it. A new meme is on the rise.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Blogging for Books #8: Winner!!

Great news!

A Shot of Courage is one of the three winners of this month's Blogging for Books over at The Zero Boss. Wow wow wow! There were some terrific essays in this group. If you haven't read them yet, head over there pronto.

Oh sure, I was all cool in the comments section, "Hey thanks! This is great..." Truth is I am expecting the cops to shoot me with a tranq gun any second because I can't stop jumping up & down on the furniture over here.

To quote this month's author & contest judge, Faulkner Fox:

"The use of dialogue in "A Shot of Courage" by The World According to Me is fantastic. It keeps the story moving, and it allows the reader toparticipate in what is going on--the roommate's squeamishness, the boyfriend's freakish interest, and the clinic's lack of support. The sharp dialogue, coupled with the rich and wise interior thoughts that we get from the narrator's point of view, make this piece a very satisfying read. Bravo! And good for you that you value doing the shots yourself, now."

Of course, the cherry on the sundae would be if that particular ex-boyfriend stumbled across Faulkner's apt description. Ooh. I just got chills.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Second Sign of the Apocalypse*

[*Apocalypse, not to be confused with Alpaca Lips, which only threaten to kiss very special guests at Alpacapalooza April 2-3. Woohooo! Can't wait!]

As much as I hate to rush right into the end of days, I feel the burden of information that, while it must be shared is also bound to disorient, even frighten the people who know me.

Hold on to your kishkas, now-

I have a job.

It's ok! Really, it is. It all began with the simple removal of a shrub.

It was a Russian olive, destined for great heights, but unfortunately planted underneath power lines and overhanging several walkways. It crouched on the front corner of our yard, inner thicker branches long since hacked to bits as it struggled to become the enormous plant that every person who ever lived here tried to stop it from becoming. One good friend, one chainsaw, a few beers later, *poof* no more shrub. Then it was clear that the huge leyland cypresses stuffed into the narrow space between our place and the neighbors' had to go. (I was all set to put a link here - but perhaps did not blog it? - to my tale of the neighbor, whose first ever words to me were, "Your treeeeees are killlllllllllllling my rooooooooooooooooooof." Yet, mysteriously, when I spoke with her about the great estimate we got on removing the trees she had $0 to kick in toward it. Huh. Weird.) So, we got the lovely but hazardous trees taken down and while the guy was here we had him prune some things and take out some things. All this work served a purpose unknown to any of us at the time.

It exposed the ugliest rockery in Seattle.

For those of you not living in Seattle, a rockery is a no-mortar rock wall that is a very common sight in Seattle. Rocks, usually dark gray, and stacked anywhere from just a foot or two to four feet, sometimes more, in such a way that they retain your front yard from sliding out to the street. People add cute little alpine flowers, cascading vines, and all manner of plants to little soil pockets set among the stones. Our rockery sports some of the more popular local weeds (not that weed - I'm talking blackberry here!), chunks of roots and bricks, and a single struggling shoot of vinca. I called a rockery guy to come take a look and give me an estimate on making things right. I warned him on the phone, "Oh, you can't miss it. It's the ugliest rockery in Seattle!" I met him at the front door and we walked to the front of the rockery together.

"Oh man!" said the man who does rockeries for a living.

"Pretty serious, huh?"

"Oh yeah," he laughed, dollar signs dancing in his pupils. He reached out to one of the rocks and it crumbled as his fingers grazed it. "There was some contractor, maybe 15 years ago," the rockery guy says, "used to work in this area on the city. Must have been the cheapest guy around. Kept prices low by using whatever materials were handy." We both look at the rockery, its incorporated chunks of broken concrete jutting out at strange angles, giant decomposing roots where solid rock should be, and we realize we would not be surprised to find a kitchen sink in there because everything else is in there. He tells me, "I'm very familiar with this guy's work. I owe half my business to him."

Great. So I head over to craigslist to see if I can go talk about eggs for a few dozen hours for the quick $$. I check all the weird, random jobs to see what I might stetch to be vaguely qualified to do. I send out many writing resumes and samples, I respond to who knows how many ads that could, if the planets line up just so, turn into something. Then I get a call for an interview. Then a second interview. Then they want me. ME!! So I have a nice, cozy part time gig doing customer service for a real estate start up. I like it a lot.

If you don't know me that well, you must be wondering why you are clinging tenaciously to your kishkas? What is the big deal?

The big deal is that I haven't worked in 15 years. Oh, well, you know, not really. Aside from the very occasional writing job, I manage some family-owned rentals. I spackle & paint, advertise & show vacancies, shoot the tenants when they act up and bury them in the flower bed, shop & cook & clean & run errands. But until last week, I didn't work. Hah! Three full hours every weekday, baby. I'm swimming in the deep end now!

Don't egg me on

Where have I been? What on Earth is up?

Oh, my little bloggityboos, I have some tale to tell.

I was kidnapped - kidnapped! - by eggstraterrestrials. Yes!

I answered a seemingly innocuous craigslist ad... now that I think about it, perhaps it was suspicious right from the start. It included such red flag terms as "a few quick questions," "easy money," and "would you be able to come next Thursday at 6 PM?" I answered their questions-

"Yes, I do most of the food shopping."
"I buy one or two cartons of eggs per month."
"OK, I'll be there."
& eggcetera.

Hindsight is too easy. In my eggcitement, I pencilled in my day planner and mapped the location of the "focus group." We met in the lobby over drinks and snacks designed to lull us into a sense of security. We discovered that we were six women and one man, all the primary food shoppers of our households, all had noticed a certain theme to the screener questions. They herded us into some sort of alien lab with a big oval table and sturdy chairs and video monitor, made us introduce ourselves to the group, and unveiled their eggstraordinarily evil plan. They want to take over the world and they want US to help them do it.

They made us talk about eggs for two hours.

Apparently, we of the focus group/alien abduction were deemed substandard egg eaters. What on long lost Earth, I thought? I buy a couple dozen eggs a month and we are only two people. That's below average? How many eggs is everyone else eating? What are they doing with all those eggs?! I was reeling from that little revelation when they explained. Some sort of egg farmers or eggracultural organization wants to get the good word out about our ovoid friends, the way the "got milk?" campaign did for milk. OK, sure. Everyone deserves a piece of the pie (quiche?), go ahead, try out your campaign ideas on me:

Did you know eggs are only 75 calories?

Did you know eggs are a perfect protein and that your body absorbs it almost entirely, leaving no waste?
Good point, but you might not want to go into it to that eggstent.

30 minutes later...

Did you know eggs are an amazing super food?
Yeah, but that's just PR from the FDA, and after they counted ketchup in my school lunch as a vegetable, I can't get eggcited about their labels.

Did you know that all that hoo ha about eggs and cholesterol is a myth? Really. Really. They are just handy dandy to eat and likely won't kill you.
Hmph. I find that rather eggregious.

30 minutes later...

Did you know an egg white has just 10 calories?
Kill me please. I no longer wish to eggsist.

Did you know eggs make a great meal any time of day?
Please... just... show me... my last precious staggering braincells... the eggsit...

My memory is hazy after that until suddenly I became conscious, alone in my car, with nothing to prove my eggsperuence by an envelope of cash and a tiny oval-shaped scar right where my fingernail lines up with my palm where they may have inserted an implant because every time I drive by IHOP I feel a meggnetic pull.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Shot of Courage

Blogging for Books #8: Risk (Guest Author: Faulker Fox)

Risk is an inherent part of life. We take our lives in our hands each day just by getting out of bed. Risk is responsible for much of our pain in this world, but it's also the source of all of our pleasures.

For this Blogging for Books, write a blog entry (2,000 words or less, please) about a time when you took a risk in your life on someone or something - a new romance, a new career, a new home, etc. Were you successful beyond your wildest dreams - or did you crash and burn?


A Shot of Courage

I am not a big risk taker. I learned this back in junior high school as I was crossing an icy parking lot and my friend Lisa, laughing and cupping her hands around her mouth, shouted out to me, "Lilly, you are such a careful stepper!" And I am, for the most part. Some of my friends are wild risk takers, and when they tell me about the time the parachute failed to open correctly or the time hitchhiking along a lonely highway in Kansas, I listen to every detail. I try to imagine the sounds, the scents, the thoughts that raced through their heads, the rapid beating of their hearts, because to the core of my self I know that will never be me.

Except for the one time when it was me, poised at the doorway of the plane, faulty parachute strapped to my back. All I knew was that there was no way on this green Earth that I was leaving school. No way I would let the illness-invader best me, force me out of an Ivy League school just so I would be close enough to my doctor's office to go for my shots twice a week. The problem was that I had no medical support in the one-cow upstate town. I talked to the school's health clinic (motto: We're Dying to Help You), and they let me know that my prescription did not impress them.

"But I'm a student here and I have a prescription."

"Sorry, we only dispense insulin injections."

"What difference does it make what's in it? I just need a nurse to give me my shot."

"But it's not for insulin."

"We could pretend...?"

Next, I tried to hire a nurse from town. No nurse, no doctor, no candy striper would help me because I was a student and the school clinic had turned me down. I was strongly considering trying the veterinary school when I hatched my plan.

"You can't be serious," my doctor told me.

"As a heart attack… ha ha! O.K., you're not amused, no, really, I am very serious," I assured her.

She quirked one eyebrow in her quintessentially European way, all at once questioning my statement, my intent, and my sad American sense of humor. "It is too large a volume to self-administer. You get dizzy and disoriented after your shot here in this office. It is not safe for you to do yourself."

"I have to do this!" I urged. "I have to stay in school!"

"Why?" she asked. "Your health... perhaps you should take some time off."

"If I don't do this, I will always feel like I am behind and that it's because of fear."

We looked at each other while she considered. "All right," she breathed. "The nurse will teach you."

The nurse brought in a large tray loaded down with everything I never wanted to know about shots. Little bottles of differently colored fluids, rubber tubing, syringes and alcohol swabs. And needles. I felt myself fight to focus on the lesson on how one needle gets dull piercing the soft rubber tops of the bottles so a fresh needle goes on before you inject yourself. Just a little science experiment, I told myself as I floated above the surreal scene. La dee dah, mix in a cc of this, a cc of that, no big deal at all. Easy as pie. Soon, 10 cc's of terror sat glinting in the bright medical office lights.

"Ok," she said, "You're ready."

I didn't feel ready. As a child, I helpfully volunteered my brother at the pediatrician each year to be first for getting any vaccinations. My first question before a trip outside the country was always, 'Will I need a shot?' because that might be a deal-breaker. I had come so far in the past months in handling my fear of needles. I had to. I had had so many blood tests that the lady at the lab and I knew each other by name. Once during a particularly long draw, she looked confused for a moment and muttered, "It's stopped."

"What do you mean, 'It's stopped?'" Blood doesn't stop! It can't just stop, can it? Can it?"

"Hey, stay calm, you're starting to hyperventilate," she said as she bent my arm around some cotton gauze.

"I would say that's the least of my problems right now! My blood has STOPPED!"

Pushing my head down between my knees, she explained that all my blood hadn't stopped, just this one vein had collapsed. "We drew too much blood."

Unbelievable! I thought, both impressed and appalled. The Queen of Needle Avoidance had come to this.

I stared at the 10 cc syringe. It was the size of a roll of quarters and I would have to inject that into my own body twice a week. It would hurt and make me feel sick and dizzy and I would have to do it alone in my dorm room with no help from anyone. I would have to reach into myself and dredge up the strength to take this chance or give up my dream school.

A bubble of nervous laughter escaped my lips as I raised the syringe over my thigh, and I froze in mid-air. Suddenly, I realized that my old stand-by strategy for dealing with needles was not going to work. There would be no looking around the room, pretending nothing unusual was happening, distracting myself, Ooh, bright shiny objects... then - OW! - it was over. When giving myself a shot, I could not look away. I had to choose a spot on my body and focus very hard, my eyes burning warmth and expectation into it until the skin began to tingle, sending the lizard part of my brain into a frenzy, What are you doing to yourself??


Then long, long moments of slowly pushing a liquid roll of quarters into my flesh.

My freshman year roommate had spent the first week of school clueing me in to the fact that boarding school had made her very worldly and mature. My request that she help me with my shot by being in the room at the same time every Tuesday and Friday set her maturity level back a good ten years.

"Oh gawd! Oh GAWWWDD!!" Tracey squealed.

"Jesus," I muttered, "I'm not asking you to do it. I just need you to be in the room."


"You have to be here for safety, in case I pass out. Just stay this time and by the next time I will find someone else to babysit me." I told her not to look, and she buried her face in her pillow moaning in misery just imagining what was going on in the room. My hands were shaking as I followed the recipe, moving from vial to vial, accidentally dropping the fresh needle on the floor and fumbling in the box for a replacement. When I told her it was over, the pale, sick look on her face left me wondering which one of us was more likely to pass out.

By the next week, I had a new boyfriend. Bob's flaws were many and varied, but whatever else could be said about him, he was there for every last one of my shots. He found out about them when I asked for help bringing my bed down from its loft position over my desk. I had discovered that my upper glutes were my best injection site, but after my shot placed what felt like a golf ball in the back pocket of very tight jeans, I could not climb the ladder to my lofted bed. I was never sure how to regard Bob's fascination with the shots. At first it seemed to be an engineer's interest in the mechanics of how it all worked - the careful angling of each vial to avoid air bubbles, the rolling of the syringe between my palms to warm it, the slight pull back on the injection to check for blood in case a vein had been hit.

Later on, Bob invited whoever was around to come see me give myself the shot. "Oh, is it six o'clock already? Wait a sec - Hey, Les, man, you gotta come see this!" Since most of his friends were ROTC, I found it funny how many of them lost their tough-guy cool the instant a needle made its appearance. If they seemed to take it in stride, my cheerful offer, "You want one?" would elicit the squealing and head shaking my boyfriend found so funny. Only the gung ho Marine ROTC down the hall stood his ground without a flicker of emotion. "That's some damn fine work, soldier," he said to me. I never knew if he meant the shot or the ass, but I guessed I'd take it as a compliment either way.

After six months or so, Bob asked if he could give me my shot. He had seen me do it fifty times, I considered, why not? I watched as he carefully mixed the recipe from each little vial. He replaced the mix needle with a fresh one and tore open an alcohol swab packet. "O.K.," he said, "drop ‘em."

I turned and unzipped my jeans, lowering them a few inches. I waited for the OW! I waited what seemed like a long time. I turned to look at him and saw his hand shaking slightly. "Just aim for an old bruise," I told him. "Those are the best spots." Waiting… waiting…


"Hey," Bob said with surprised relief, "that wasn’t so bad."

"Sure, for you. I was the one getting stabbed," I laughed.

"I could give you your shot every time if you want."

It should have been music to my ears. Six months earlier that offer would have been a miracle, but I was shocked to discover I hated not being in control of my shot. The days of finding relief in games and distractions were long gone. I knew too well what my reality was and I needed to be in charge of it.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Alchera Project: Dan's Departure

This month's entry in The Alchera Project has the following guidelines:

"Write a scene from the point of view of a character being left by another character. If possible, avoid all clichés of soap operas and televisions and bad books and movies. Unfortunately, that doesn't give you much room to work. It seems everything on this topic has been said to death. You'll need to reach down into your characters to find something fresh, something particular to them. If you want, keep dialogue to a minimum. Work with action and gesture." --The Writer's Idea Book, Jack Heffron

Follow the above guidelines, using the scene in a piece of fiction.

Dan's Departure

Carrie’s first thought as she awoke, as it was every morning, was to silence the awful bleating. She never intended to actually wake up when the alarm sounded and many mornings she succeeded, triumphantly rolling over and slipping back to sleep in blissful silence. This morning the memory that Dan had an early meeting bubbled into consciousness and sent her eyelids sliding to half-mast.

"Dan… " she mumbled into her pillow. "Dan," she said more insistently, pushing at his shoulder, "you’ve got that thing today, that thing with those guys for the funding."


"You have to get up, get dressed, shave, make your presentation."

"Mmmph. Five minutes."

Carrie knew after two years together that five minutes would lead to five more minutes and then five more. Finally, with only twenty minutes to go from zero to out the door, Dan would get himself up. Today was too important for that.

"Oh, no!" she laughed, rolling over and straddling him in one fluid motion. "You," she punctuated each syllable with kisses landing on a different part of his face, "need… to… get… rea… dy."

Carrie sighed. Dan really did need to get up and start his day but he was so warm and sleepy and snuggly and fit so well underneath her… Shaking herself mentally, Carrie eased off the bed, marched over to the window, and threw the curtains open.

Sunlight flowed from the window, drenching the bed and engulfing Dan as he squinted into the brightness. Scratching his head and looking none to steady on his feet, Dan wandered to the bathroom and soon Carrie heard the toilet flush followed by the concentrated rain of the shower. She fell back against the pillows and smiled at the sparkling slice of blue sky captured in the window. For no reason she could quite pin down, the day seemed full of promise. Maybe she would get up early for a change and enjoy some time to herself before all the errands clamoring for her attention on her day off.

Deciding to get up was one thing, but getting space at the sink and mirror were another. Carrie ducked under Dan’s arm as he traced his razor up his neck, grabbed the little bag she kept stocked with travel sized shampoo and conditioner, and darted into the shower. When she emerged from the bathroom, towel wrapped securely around her, she found Dan half-dressed, filling his briefcase with files from his desk. Looking down at the pale skinny legs sticking out from beneath his shirttails like two toothpicks stuck into pimento-red socks, she advised, "You might need some pants before you head out into the big, bad, breezy world."

Grinning his patented hint-of-wolf grin, his eyes raked over her wet skin. "Really?" he asked, "‘Cause I’m starting to see good points about an entirely pantsless day."

Laughing and holding her towel with one hand, she reached out and hugged him with her free arm. She breathed in the mingled scents of soap, shaving cream, and Dan. Her eyes drifted closed as her head tipped back, but the kiss never arrived.

Carrie’s confused eyes met Dan’s for the first time that morning and she felt herself go cold.

She stepped back from him instinctively, scanning his face, his posture for the thing that was different. The elements of him looked the same as she watched him return his attention to his files, from the vein that snaked a blue line up the back of his knee to the cowlick that never quite lay flat at the back of his head. The pieces of Dan were all there, but they no longer added up to her Dan. It was, Carrie decided, the air itself that had transformed someone she knew into someone she once knew. She held the towel tightly to her breastbone, walked back to the bathroom, and closed the door with a soft click. Wave after wave of questions buffeted her as she braced herself on the edge of the tub. When had he been planning to tell her it was over? Had he been her Dan yesterday at the restaurant? Last night when they returned to his place? Not that it mattered, she knew from long experience. He had already left her and clearing her few things out of his place today would leave no trace that she had ever been there.