Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bozos, Blinkers, Make-Up and a Fork…

This all happens to me a lot more often than should be cosmically possible: I’m driving along a four lane thoroughfare on my way into or out of town. Up ahead I can see the rough outline of what appears to be Bozo driving a car on fire in the left lane travelling much slower than mine. The left turn signal is flashing lazily and unless they are going to enter the grass median they’ve gone as far left as they can go without making World’s Dumbest. A mile later the picture is clear: Bozo is 94, 4 feet 2, and looking through the steering wheel while struggling to reach the gas. This land yacht has three ridiculously long CB antennas needling skyward through the white smoke billowing from under the hood. It rolls over the roof down the trunk and mixes in a mesmerizing swirl with the black smoke belching from the rear. The antennas flex like fishing poles in the turbulence giving the illusion that it is actually trolling on land. As I approach on the right (think dusty desert scene from Mad Max) I accelerate past the mess and am instantly assaulted by a noxious mix of the sound of a Sherman tank and the smell of burning dirty laundry. I shoot a disbelieving glance and consider reaching out to flick shut the open gas door. This pea-green smoke machine can’t possibly accomplish more than 5 miles to the gallon and really couldn’t make an environmentalist any angrier if it were made of Styrofoam and ran on ground dolphin.

I guess I shouldn’t complain too loudly. Driving around oblivious to the world has effectively given the rest of us the opportunity to identify them by their obvious lack of skills and trademark blinker, open gas door, smoke screen, etc. Without these identifiers our safety might be further compromised. So, thanks for the heads-up, I suppose.

One morning about two weeks ago, while driving down a back road, I learned that driving while drunk apparently exhibits the exact same signature erratic pattern as driving while eating an omelet. An over-sized pick-up truck in front of me dropped two tires off the road and over steered into oncoming traffic. I squinted in the sun and looked for the outline of Bozo; and as expected, there it was – the hair, the skills, the comedic approach to my safety. A rusted 90’s Whirlpool washer slid from one side of the truck bed to the other with violent, unrestrained abandon; and to my surprise a black dog leapt into the air barely avoiding the rebounding appliance. I watched in disbelief at the next traffic light as this moron finished an omelet – with a fork. He tossed what was left on the plate (by my calculation; a small pile of chopped tomato and two pieces of bacon) and… the fork… through the sliding rear window and into the dog’s face. The dog ate what may very well have been its last meal as the light turned green. The truck left and the paper plate flipped out under my car as I swerved to avoid getting omelet in my grille.

Look, a lot of competent people eat when they drive; Butterfingers, French fries, Frappuccinos (yeah that’s right, Muffy; if it has sugar, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream it’s almost a sundae – I round up – it’s eating) … but generally mobile food is either finger food or sucked through a straw… hardly considered dining and driving… but when you can’t hold your meal you’re either eating in the wrong place or driving at the wrong time. I would argue if you’ve even considered eating with a fork off a plate on the passenger seat anytime is the wrong time for you to drive – with or without the food.

Then there are the minor offenders – Bozo’s understudies. These are the 15 MPH under the speed limit one unit traffic jams; the mobile cancer studies who smoke with the windows up and the kids in the car; the pompous intolerable who creeps along in front of me applying make-up while dodging bicycles and joggers; here’s a news flash – ever tried to write and drive? Why do think you’re any better with Mascara and eye shadow!?? You need to know something – you aren’t fooling anyone – we know you’ve done this when you show up looking like Braveheart. Then there are those who pull out in front of me to slow down; or who refuse to get into the left turn lane, so they turn from the middle lane; or those who sit at the bank drive-through with a dog the size of a rat on their lap. Look, if your dog is fully grown and still smaller than my cat you should be embarrassed… then fined. I want you to know that when I’m behind you at the bank I secretly pray your dog has a momentary bout with curiosity and gets sucked into the pneumatic tube. I fantasize its demise as it thumps into the teller booth like a chunked pumpkin and knocks the teller off her stool amid a cloud of urine-soaked fur and cheap suckers.

I wish I were a perfect driver, but I’m not. Which brings me to my point – I know I’m not; so I am careful to not pull out in front of you, or not drive with an animal on my lap, or not eat a full meal… with a fork… or not scoot over when you enter the highway. I will inevitably do something to someone from time to time to upset them but I apologize when I do it and it is far from purposeful or chronic. If you’re a clown, the next time you drive, do it with a slant towards the other driver and not so much towards yourself. Try to pay attention to those around you and consider if what you are doing is inconveniencing them… it’ll make you a better driver – and an all-around better human being. And if you’re reading this and driving right now by chance, put the phone down and turn off your blinker, Bozo – I’m the guy behind you laughing at the rat on your lap – and stop smiling and waving at me; I’m not saying hi.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Oracle of Corian…

Junk is the stuff we throw away; stuff is the junk we keep. In my kitchen, balanced between the toaster and the Tupperware; nestled next to the sink and the silverware; there’s a rarely-purged sad little drawer full of flotsam and jetsam. In it you’ll find a magnificently eclectic, oft- forgotten collection of mottled minutiae. It’s not just any minutiae; it’s the most valuable minutiae in the house – that’s why it has its very own, special little drawer. While at first blush it seems random, there is something unseen binding each item to the other; a thread that runs through each article connecting it all in a wonderfully sad, perfect little collection. A quick root reveals birthday candles, batteries, mystery screws, and displaced bits of metal and plastic – each of which I swear I recognize the longer I stare. It harbors the keys to long-forgotten locks and once-owned vehicles, locked locks without keys, and maybe even a needle or thread – but rarely both. Dig deeper and you’ll find an earring and a matchbook – both without matches, erasers without pencils, and pencils without lead; but the most poignant presence in that drawer is the memories – and that defines the collection’s value both as the sum of its parts and its part as a whole.

We are all photographers. Our experiences are our frames; and our memories are the snapshots we save in them. Like old Polaroid’s, they are yellowed, blurred and taken out of context from some distant moment passed. As my fingers push and pull at the agglomeration in the drawer more obscurities reveal themselves. The collection captures me as I sift through its members; the meter and rhyme revealed with every sweep. It speaks to me in verse as I spy every item: a pipe cleaner, a poker chip, some pushpins, and a pebble; a bread tie, a bubble wand, and some bolts without nuts. With the legato of poetry it soothes – as my mind swims in the flood of memories it affords: an old photo, an old coupon, a new penny, and some gum; a lipstick, a glue stick, some Chap Stick, some Tums… I am confronted by its beauty – comforted by its song – taken by its reveal.

In the corners and creases there live glimpses of past holidays: a sequin from a Halloween costume long gone – pinned under a bobby pin from some wedding or prom. Stuck to the back wall is a dried up Peep – my father’s favorite for each Easter he lived; and a lead ornament hook with a Christmas tree bulb that I won’t find come December. There’s a plastic spoon and a plastic favor from a birthday in ’04, and a napkin from “their” wedding – now living happily divorced; a dried weed for Mommy that was meant to be flowers, and a portrait titled “Daddy” – that was drawn in an hour. These are some of my items, and some of my memories they carry…

My drawer is a living masterwork and encrypted in it are secrets to my memories. It is a Rosetta stone that decodes my past and offers a glimpse into my experiences; a cosmic magnet slowly gathering spicks and specks of my life, my experience, into its collection. But if this collection, this scattered representation of my life, can be read it can be read only by me. If art; pastiche. If feast; a cornucopia. If color; a prism. If anything; a mirror. Each who gazes into it sees what matters to them – as it matters to them. It is special in that way; that it is unique to every beholder and carefully considers its audience before it reveals any message – any secrets.

In your kitchen, tousled somewhere below the toaster and the Tupperware; nestled near the sink and the silverware; there is an unorthodox record of who you are and what you’ve become. Go draw it open, and like an oracle throwing bones, slowly caress its contents upon your countertop and listen to what it reveals. Don’t call it junk – don’t call it anything – let it call to you. Accept the memories it holds and you will no longer question the mystery behind its customary and almost-universal presence in your kitchen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Zero Gravity, Zero Sum...

For years I have explained to my daughters on those rare occasions it’s come up that there are two types of people in prison. Those that are there because of things they did and those that are there because of who they are. Those that make mistakes can apologize and reconcile themselves with their victims. Neither of them deserves any place in my family’s life but at least with the former there can be an attempt at closure and redemption before we go our separate ways. But those that are just bad people must be stopped, and followed so they do not have the opportunity to repeat their offences – because they will.

One day a year ago, my wife was speaking with a friend. Her daughter was a gymnast. She shared one of her daughter’s routines during a meet on film with Meg. Our oldest, Alexa, saw it and mentioned it to Reese. That was the beginning. Soon Reese wanted to do what she saw on the video. We joined Zero Gravity Gymnastics because that’s where the older girl trained. Over the last year, Reese has fallen so deeply in love with gymnastics it is hard to imagine her not participating in this sport...