Sunday, May 29, 2016

Productive

I've had a very productive day so far. I got almost everything on the old honey-do list that Mary left for me when she left me.  I mean she left home to do her own thing. No, that doesn't sound right either.  What I mean to say is that she went to town this morning without me to meet Jonathan and our two beautiful grand daughters at the zoo.

I was not invited on the zoo excursion.  I don't know why.  Maybe I embarrass them when I walk around shouting "Free Willy" whenever a zoo official passes by. Or maybe because I hate zoos in general, seeing all those sad eyes and frowns on those unfortunate inmates lazing around in the dust, and sometimes mud, devoid of privacy or any of the real comforts of home.  No, I am not good company at the zoo despite Paul Simon's insistence that "It's all happening at the zoo."

Then again, maybe they only invited grandma along because they had one more admission ticket, and that they know that grandma loves the zoo.  The only thing I'm complaining about is that she gets to spend that time with our granddaughters, whom she loves almost as much as I do.  But a good thing that always comes with her spending time with them, is that she is then happier and easier to live with.  So even though she always leaves me a list of chores to do, I don't mind if she has a smile on her face when she gets home.

But I digress.  I started out to say that I've had a productive day, even though all the things I accomplished were minor piddling little irritating chores that you wouldn't normally set aside time to do.  Like I retied and replaced some of the cable ties that hold the windscreen on the upper deck railing. Like vacuuming the kitchen (even though it wasn't on the list. I just thought it needed doing). Like installing a hook in the bathroom to hang the little clock on the wall.  Like assembling and replacing in their proper place outside, the three burned out garden lights.  And get this--I even baked a dozen gluten free sugar cookies and a dozen gluten free banana muffins. And it's not even lunch time yet. And I emptied the dishwasher and took out the trash.

I accomplished all that and I didn't even have to put my pants on.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Peonies

Jannelle's comment on my previous post that showed the plantings I had done on our condo's walkway entrance stirred up some memories about the peony plant in one of the pictures. She had noted that the plant already had some buds on it, which is somewhat unusual.  The peony plant that this one came from typically bloomed in the week after Memorial Day. Those early buds make me think that I am being watched over by the man who gave me the original plant and taught me how to take care of it.....

When we moved into our house 45 years ago, we were entering a strange new world of responsibility that we may not have been prepared for.  Sure, we knew the basic duties that needed to be taken care of on a regular basis to keep our new home comfy and cozy, but we weren't quite prepared for the myriad mundane chores that seemed to increase in number every month.  The outside work, for instance, was a revelation.  I wasn't so naive as to think the grass would cut itself or the snow in the driveway would  miraculously melt before I could get my shovel, but I was unhappily surprised at the amount of time all those chores took.

But we learned to deal with all work that seemed to continuously pile up. As long as we knew what to do, we had no problem doing it. Our youthful enthusiasm and boundless energy saw us through most of the problems that were stacked on our doorstep. On those occasions when we were stymied by some household conundrum, we relied on the knowledge and expertise and good old common sense that our elderly next door neighbors had in abundance. Thankfully they were willing to pass some of that knowledge on to us.

When it came time to do some gardening or landscape work all I had to do was ask Karol, my elderly next door neighbor, how to get the job done.  Karol was a consummate gardener.  He could grow anything and have the plants thrive way beyond expectations. So when I put in a new concrete walkway from our front door to the driveway and decided to plant peonies on each side flanking that walk, naturally I sought Karol's advice on selecting the right variety of peony, how to plant them, and how to take care of the new plants. I got the idea of using peonies along the walkway from looking at the peonies that Karol had planted along his driveway.  Those peonies were spectacular when they bloomed each year.  I was hoping to get the same result with my flowers.

When I told him I planned on buying two dozen plants, he looked at me like I was crazy.
"Nah." He drew out the word into three syllables in his thick Polish accent, all the while shaking his head at such an absurd idea. "You don't buy. I give you." That made me shake my head at such an absurd idea.
"We take cutting from my plant.  We dig up like this." He took the shovel he had been leaning on and proceeded to split one of the peonies along his driveway in half, digging up a sizable chunk of root stock while leaving the other half in place.

While he dug up the two dozen plants I needed, he told me all about those peonies. When he first came to this country after WWll in 1948 (the year I was born), he lived in an apartment that had the remnants of a garden gone to seed. Among the weeds he found a rather forlorn and wilted peony plant that he took a special interest in. He turned that sickly specimen into a prime example of what a peony should be.  At that time he judged that plant to be around 75 years old, figuring it had probably been planted when the building was built. When he married Emma and moved to a different apartment, he took that peony plant with him.  Then when he and Emma built the house next door in 1962, he propagated all the plants that lined the edge of his driveway from that one plant that he had found abandoned in that backyard 15 years before. That made that original peony about 90 years old. We bought our house in 1972. At that time Karol's peonies, all propagated from that original plant, could be traced back 100 years. For the remainder of the time we lived in that house, 42 years, following Karol's example, I took great care to maintain those 24 plants that were the direct offspring of Karol's  original peony.

So when we sold the house two years ago, it was only natural that we would take a cutting from that row of nearly 150 year old peonies alongside the walkway, and transplant it here where it will serve as a reminder of our history and honor the memory of Karol.

Hopefully that line of peonies will continue for the next 150 years to bring good luck and beauty to whomever has the good fortune to take care of them.

Trains

We never notice it during the day.  But last night was one of those nights when Sleep was hiding just beyond the shadows, afraid that I would grab her and hold on until morning.  During the day there is too much of everything else going on that we would have to concentrate hard if we were to hear it.

Last night, however, during that sleepless interlude when Sleep was flitting in and out of the shadows, teasing me, I counted six times that I was almost lulled toward sleep by the urgent drone of a fast moving freight train. That drone, along with the vibrations that echoed through the ground from a half mile away, together were the unmistakeable announcement that something important was happening either north or south (I couldn't tell which way the train was moving) and it was paramount that the train be there on time, whether to witness or participate I could only guess at.

Clicketyclackclittyclack that train aimed toward its destination, roaring past the barricades that were meant to stop the feeble autos that would skip across the tracks after the train had pulled the last railcar down the line. That roar and its echo changed the night into a Doppler serenade, gradually dying off into a sigh that only those waiting for it could hear.

People have mostly given in to the notion that a passing freight train, heard from a distance, stirs the soul and fills it with romance. There is nothing romantic about a freight train taking its time passing in front of you with a stacked up jumble of cars jamming the one lane street, stopped and waiting for the damn train to pass on by so you can get to your very important meeting. There is nothing particularly romantic about a hungry hobo hopping on a freight train, hoping it was going someplace warm. There is nothing romantic about counting train cars as they move across your only route to that very important meeting. Stuck in a situation like that, I could never count past 50 or so because the cars were whizzing by like they were being chased by a guy named Lionel, who wanted to shrink the entire train and give it to good little girls and boys, or because the passing train was moving so slowly that I would fall asleep by a count of 30.

Can someone please explain to me the immutable law of the Train Gods that says the slower a train moves, the longer it must be with cars overloaded with exotic and other unusual goods destined for exotic and unusual places. And why does it always seem that the train workers controlling their behemoth hunk of machinery can walk alongside their slow moving status symbol, and become more haughty and seem as though they are thumbing their noses at us while we are locked in the parking lot that should be a street, where we are held at bay by that one flimsy barricade pole stretching across our path.  I'm sure that there are many like me who formed amazing fantasies about how the train workers would be tortured with rail spikes driven through their skulls with 20 pound sledge hammers, then tied to the tracks just before the express train arrived with its arrogance on full display, and while screaming for you to get out of the way, chopped those workers tied to its track into hamburgers that would later feed all the hobos on board.

Those hobos had it all wrong. I figured that if you were going to ride on the train, you would do so by sitting in a seat in the specially appointed passenger cars, or if you were really special, in the caboose.  I never bought into that romantic notion, preferring to dwell on the power of the engine that put forth the Herculean effort to pull so many boxcars behind it. That an engine, usually alone at the front of the line, was able to generate enough power to control its family of boxcars, tankers, flat beds, and the punctuation of a caboose, has always been a source of wonder for me.

My train training began when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old.  We then lived across the street from a set of tracks that sat on top of a ten foot berm.  There the tracks were so close that when it passed we could see the gleam in the eye of the engineer, who knew what a special place he held in the imaginations of the kids he waved to as he chugged on past.

That set of tracks also seemed busier at night, too.  That it passed through our neighborhood more slowly than normal may have been a concession to the local powers that be who wanted as little disturbance as possible for the people who lived there.  That was fine with me because I could curl up in my bed, listening to the monster across the street roar on by and feel the vibrations that nearly crumbled the walls of the house and feel safe.

I'm sure that the trains, those scary, noisy monsters, fueled my imagination and provided me the early lesson to pay attention to what was going on around me. That's why I would never cross the street without someone holding my hand to make sure I didn't get too close to the tracks. That's why, although I've never seen it, I have such a clear picture of that train in my mind, when I hear the night trains now, not across the street, but that half mile away. That sound wafting over the terrain that separates us will always bring back those early memories of when trains were exotic monsters to be respected, wondered at, and enjoyed for all their power to inflame boys, now men, with wonder.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hardware

I was in a hardware store today just because. I wasn't there for any specific reason. I mean there was nothing that I needed from a hardware store, I just like to wander around hardware stores absorbing the aura of machinery, paint, chemicals, plumbing paraphernalia, electrical doodads, and all those nuts and bolts and screws of every size and  shape that you can buy by the case or single piece.  That aura will permeate my soul, keeping it satisfied and content until I can return to recharge that feeling.

Some hardware stores are better than others, of course.  The newer ones with their nice shiny floors, wide aisles, and professional merchandizing, are a bit too slick for me.  I much prefer the old stores that you will find in any prosperous small town.  That is where the business was started by someone's great grandfather and handed down through the succeeding generations.  The store would have solid oak wood floors with ruts in it where customers habitually walk to get to the back of the store to pick up that one S-hook they need to hang the pot of petunias that the wife got at the local farmers' market.   All the walls will be fitted out with heavy duty pegboard that is crowded with the merchandise you just can't live without. Some of that merchandise has been there for years; you can tell by the accumulated dust and the faded package. The seasonal goods will be rotated in the front left corner of the store.  But don't look for Christmas decorations there before Thanksgiving, or the grass fertilizer and  weed'n'feed before Easter.

You can always count on there being knowledgable clerks to help you find the exact thing you need, unlike the new places who hire teenagers who don't know their adz from their zax.  Whenever you go into an old fashioned hardware store to find that 10-24x2 hex nut with the plastic lock washer attached, look for oldest clerk there.  He will probably be named Otis or some similar name from the past, and he will know exactly where to find any esoteric item in the store. If you are unsure of how to do something with that item, Otis will teach you. Otis knows everything there is to know about hardware.

Those old time hardware stores always have guy who can fix anything from the screen door that
your grandson kicked his soccer ball through (from inside the house), to your 25 year old lawnmower that he had to make the parts for. His workshop is usually in the low ceilinged basement lit by 4 bulbs hanging from that low ceiling. Larry (what else could his name be) rarely sees daylight and has bumps that cover every square inch of his head because of that low ceiling. The proof of his dedication to his job is the fact that if he could stand up straight instead of moving around in a bent over habitual slouch caused by the cave he spends all his days in, he would be 6'4".

Give me that hardware store anytime. Entering a store like that is like falling into the rabbit hole where everything is magical. I don't need to need something as an excuse to go into that special environment. All I need is a whiff of the unmistakable air wafting out the open door to lure me inside.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hypothetical

Mary has expressly forbidden me to write anything about her or anything that has happened to her.  That makes it tough for me to find something to write about since she is such a wealth of material, even on days when nothing happens to her.  So to comply with her wishes, I will just have to present to you a hypothetical situation that could happen to her or has happened to someone like her. I will insert myself as narrator into this hypothetical situation only to keep it simple.

Our protagonist (let's call her Mary, hypothetically, only because this is the kind of thing that would happen to her), was on her way to her hairdresser, with your narrator riding shotgun, cruising down a fairly long hill, building momentum for the climb back up the other side of that same hill. She was talking to me, pointing,and telling me that the bottom of this hill we were rushing down was a favorite place for the local police to set a hypothetical speed trap. Sliding down toward that hypothetical speed trap somehow created enough hypothetical momentum to get the hypothetical car up the hill and to the stop sign where it stopped to catch its breath.

The four way stop at the hypothetical intersection is confusing enough at times. Drivers from all directions vie to be the next in line to move forward, thinking that it is their turn to go. Of course, with all those drivers thinking it is their turn to go, there is a lot of starting and stopping, waving of arms, exasperation on their faces and quite a bit of finger messaging going on. Our protagonist finally got her turn to proceed and squeeled her tires to show how impatient she was. She was determined not to be late for her hypothetical appointment with her hairdresser.

After starting out from the stop sign, our protagonist would suddenly hear, nearby, the chirping sound a squad car siren makes when it is clearing its throat, readying itself for a full blast wail at the villain he is pursuing.
"Did you hear that?" She might hypothetically ask your narrator. " where is it coming from?"  She probably would be a bit confused upon hearing that same chirping getting closer. Finally she would see the flashing blue and red lights behind her.
"I should pull over and let him past." She is after all, a careful driver, observant of all traffic laws who has never gotten a ticket for any vehicular transgression. So she would dutifully pull onto the shoulder to aid the following policeman in his pursuit of the scofflaw that he was after.
U
"What is he doing?" she would ask upon seeing the police car follow her onto the shoulder and stop in the position of control that they do when apprehending serious criminals. "He can't be after me, can he?"  Her hypothetical incredulity was working overtime.

The hypothetical policeman was polite, but cold, when asking our stunned protagonist if she was aware that the law required her to pull to the side of the road whenever a police car was flashing its lights. She would likely answer, a bit petulantly, "of course I know that. I've been driving since I was 16."
"Then why didn't you pull over when you saw me behind you."
"Because I didn't see you there." She would then roll her eyes at the obviousness of it all. "I was looking where I was going, not where I'd been. So why did you stop me"
"I had you going 15mph over the limit coming down that hill back there."
"Well of course I would be going faster down that hill." She was certainly not going to let the logic of the situation be missed. "It is downhill after all."
The hypothetical cop would then take her license and vehicle registration back to his squad car and take his time writing her a ticket while our protagonist would sit and stew in the invective that would be choking her. She would dig deep to cuss that lowlife cop who was making her late for her all important appointment with her hairdresser.
A hypothetical situation like this would probably get a ticket that would set her back around a hundred bucks and the loss of 3 points. She would not be smiling when she told whoever was riding with her (like our hypothetical narrator) that he had better not post anything about this if he knew what was good for him. But all her companion could think of was all the ammo that just filled his domestic armory and how she would never live this one down.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

hang on

We have been in a replacement mood lately. It seems that things in our household that we take for granted are deciding to wear out at the same time. I just hope that we aren't part of the trend.
The truth is, I like having new machines and such around the house. Those new, technologically up to date gadgets and gizmos keep me interested. It seems like I always have a new toy to play with. That is, of course, if I've been good and Mary sees fit to reward my good behavior.
Well, I must have been especially good lately because she bought me a grand spankin' new, up to the minute dodad-wise, testosterone oozing, ready to attack first and damn the nametaking, VACUUM CLEANER! And it'is RED, my favorite color.
I'm telling you, this puppy is hot. This morning it was sitting in the garage in a closet that holds most of the rest of the cleaning stuff we have--you know, like the half dozen mops (each with a particular function), all those special rags I've mentioned here in the past, brooms, extra plastic bags just in case, a couple of rugs (the runner type in case someone with dirty feet wants to enter the house and defile it with their unwelcome dirt), you get the idea. I could sense that there was something amiss whenever as I approached that closet. I felt a strange vibe coming from inside. At first, I ignored it, but the longer I took to acknowledge it the more palpable that unhappy aura became. I finally gave in and freed the grumbling machine from its cell.
It sat in the middle of the room (I swear I could hear it purring the way a lion does when it anticipates a kill), arrogantly daring me to plug it in and see if I was man enough to take it for a spin. I figured no vacuum cleaner, no matter how red, was gooing to get the better of me. So, with a tinge of trepidation, I took the controls in hand and let her fly.
I was in control of the beast but could sense that it just wanted to take off and go where no vacuum has gone before. It handled like an Italian sports car, cornering like a Ferrari, and eating up the straightaways like a Lamborghini racing to the finish line. I felt like a real man chasing after that vibrant red machine. No toy, this one. When I was done with the vacuuming I felt like a conquering hero. I showed that pissant vacuum who was boss.
Mary must really love me. She buys me new toys and let's me help clean the house. What more could a guy ask for.