Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Your name is what?

               So, it’s Christmas morning and now that I have put the big one down for a nap, I am completing the pantry cleanse by taking everything that is fattening or sugar-filled and creating desserts to share with co-workers tomorrow.  It’s for our own good.  The Dad is diabetic and I am determined to remain “not fat”, so yay for the hospital staff; they’ll think I am selfless and thinking of others.  ‘Tis the season, y’all.
                My absolute favorite holiday candy is haystacks.  I use my mother’s recipe and use potato sticks instead of chow mein noodles.  They are buttery goodness and taste ridiculously yummy.  Of course, the specific ingredients list necessitated a trip to Little Guatemala as no other store had even heard of potato sticks.  I like the fact that Wal-Mart does not change their inventory dependent upon geography with the notable exception of TJ Blackburn syrup and Snapple. It has been my experience that you can’t find Blackburn Syrup, the only decent pancake syrup on the market, outside of the South and you cannot find Snapple inside of the South. 

                When I was spooning the haystacks onto the tin foil (because I’m Southern, he said in response to the query of the reason he said tin instead of aluminum), I thought about who named these and other candies and how important it is, apparently, that a cook not only be creative in the kitchen but in the naming of said desserts. Haystacks look persactly like little haystacks.  It’s a perfect name.  Now, I’m not sure if they were named that by the creator (little c – I’ve not speaking of Jesus at this particular junction) or if there was a clever family member that said, “Ooh, those look like little haystacks” and the name was born.

                I have to think that those sorts of things cannot be left up to chance; names are important.  If it was left up to many cooks, we’d have an entire section of the cookbook called “tiny nom-noms or hunks of gooey goodness”.  And while I don’t necessarily think that the first First Lady actually invented her namesake treat, I like the regal nature of a Martha Washington.  And divinity fudge calls to mind religious intercession as the sugar content is enough to cause Type II diabetes from simply walking slowly past the decorative candy dish on the dessert table at your Grandmother’s house.  In fact, one of my back teeth just turned black from typing that sentence.

                And speaking of names, mi padre asked me, just this morning, if I thought Terryll  was a typical Southern name.  For those who just read that sentence, Terryll is pronounced like Errol.  As in Errol Flynn, for those over 50.  For those under 40, go on IMDB and educate yourselves.  My response was, “Number one, I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical southern name and, number two, if there is, it is most assuredly not Terryll.”

                And what is a typical southern name?  My best friend from high school (Hey, Paige!) sometimes sends me our hometown newspaper so I can see the interesting names of the populace of the bustling metropolis of Tylertown, MS.  Tykevius, Jakevius, Idaya, Todrick, Antisha, Catavious, Zaman, Traquarius, Latavius, Dartavian, Amari, Arkale and Kendrioun; and those are all boys.  It sounds like roll call in the Roman Senate.

                And you don’t even have to leave my family for some of those people with resoundingly Southern labels.  We have the men:  Hubert, Searcy, Sherman, Thurman, Thornton, the aforementioned Terryll, Odis, Lynch and the James-doubles (James Allen, James Oscar, James Melvin).  There are also quite a few with names that are initials which don’t stand for anything like RC, AV and JD.  On the women’s side we have those with individual monikers Waynette, Perrilyn, Arilla and Ercel and the doubly good Myrna Rae, Jimmie Sue, Lucy Jane, Rhoda Lee and Billie Evelyn.  And that’s not counting nicknames.  There are Uncles (Doup, Fats, T, Jun) and Aunts (Lise, Cel, Waynie, Rilla) as well as friends and acquaintances Catfish, Cooter, Johnny Boy, Tater, Dirty Red and Squeaky.  I also know both a male and a female JoJo, but we are not related; a fate which saddens me a little bit, although more color in my family tree I do not need, n’est ce pas?

                If you’ve read my book (A Gone Pecan, available through AuthorHouse.com or Amazon) you are familiar with interestingly named people such as Marcetta, Deltrenda, Crespo and Billie Shannon.  Now that you know more about my background, it’s easier to see that these names are that big of a stretch.

                Would a name have to be doubled like Bobby Merle or Willie Nell to be considered Southern?  Mind you, those sound like supporting players on Andy Griffith.  Thelma Lou, anyone?  At least Southerners aren't as bad as some celebrities with children named Pilot, Apple, Moses, Moon, Inspektor and Kal-el. Of course, it depends on your point of view whether those are preferable to Hilma Fay, Spur or Shadynasty (pronounced Sha-dynasty).  At least little Apple will have a big bank account. 
I feel sure that most children in the next generation will be named Bella or Jacob (Lord help us all), but don’t some of the newest names sounds like they are from specific TV channels like Soap Network (Fallon, Channing) or Nat Geo (Savannah, Dakota).  There are an alarming number of female Kendalls and Kinleys these days and more than a handful of Dylans and Brandons.  I blame 90210 for those last two.  There are also those amongst us that have delved into the categories of special characters and random capitalizations like De’Quan, She’Angelique, RaShad and LaMiracle.  If your child requires assistance to spell their name upon entering fifth grade, you might have gone too far out of your way to be unique. 
So, you tell me, what is the typical Southern name?  I would continue our discussion but I am, in the words of my dear sainted mother, “…too ashamed to look at you because I have done nothing but lay around and eat the live long day” and I am tired, y’all.  And with that I’ll bid you a Merry Christmas.  I’d offer to send you some haystacks but somebody ate them all.  Daddy doesn’t like them, so I don’t know who the culprit might be.  Maybe Lulu got opposable thumbs for Christmas.  Yes, that sounds reasonable. 
  And that is all I'm saying.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Two Girls, a Dance and a Ham

Recently I assisted a friend who is a teacher (Hi, Alisa!) by helping her chaperone a middle school Winter Formal at a private school in San Jose.  I haven’t spent much time around kids in this age bracket (5th -8th grades) since I was a junior high boys’ Sunday School teacher before I fled Mississippi for Alaska in 2002.  However, I looked forward to this experience as I am always curious about whether kids these days are much different than those in my day, due to the many differences in society and technology that currently exist.  I am so glad I am not a teenager in this decade, which I have been told is referred to as the Aughts.  There is far too much access to nasty, trashy stuff of which I was unaware in the veritable Mayberry where I grew up.  You can accidentally come upon something nekkid in any number of places these days, including TV shows.  Not in junior high, but toward the end of high school, we knew where the nekkid wa (behind the counter at the truck stop) but we were unable to access it.  And for that I am thankful.
I arrived early as has been my routine since the infamous band picture debacle of 1986.  I was late to the group photo and because they had already arranged the trumpets on the first row, as trumpets are the coolest people in band besides the drummers, I, a trumpet player, had to go on the back row with the flutes and other instruments no one can hear during the performance.  All apologies to Stacy and the other flautists I’ve known, but a flute in a marching band is almost pointless unless there is some random Revolutionary War theme and there usually isn't. 

As I was early, I was able to watch most of the kids arrive in their dress clothes, if that is really the term to use.  It was an odd assortment of jeans with un-tucked dress shirts and clip-on ties for the boys and party dresses with Chuck Taylor sneakers for the girls.  Is that a thing now?  At least some of the sneakers were sequined.  Since the clothes had changed I wondered if the social hierarchies were in place in California in 2012 as have been in place for decades in other locales like Mississippi and cable TV.  I paid specific attention to those who seemed to be armed with posses, or whatever the plural of posse might be. 

There was one pony-tailed young lady who seemed to have declared herself head decorator as she held very strong opinions about balloon placement and voiced promised repercussions for improper balloon handling etiquette.  Balloon Girl, as I named her, seemed to be the Queen Bee until the arrival of another girl, who I named Sparkly Skirt.  She was wearing what I can only assume were her mother’s clothes and shoes.  Otherwise, she’s not being raised right, y’all. 

Balloon Girl and Sparkly Skirt eyed each other from across the room.  Apparently it was ‘ON’.  Color me intrigued; it was like a reality show, except not skanky or stupid.  Sparkly Skirt started the dancing once Johnny Moustache (he of the overly-styled, barely visible (count them) 7 upper lip hair follicles) broke out his laptop.  After one too many renditions of the weirdly popular Korean dance song ‘Gangnam Style’ (which everyone including some of the more aggressive teacher spouses seem to know the apparent required choreography), Johnny Moustache was replaced by Aggressive Girl in High Tops with her trusty iPod.  I am not ashamed to admit, she and I shared a number of dance favorites.  Okay, I’m a little ashamed.  But the music was only the background for the drama unfolding.  Feeling the power had shifted upon Sparkly Skirt’s entrance, Balloon Girl started dancing while playing slow motion volleyball with the balloons.  Never has power shifted this quickly outside of a South American country as all the children followed suit.  
As far as I was concerned, it was going along pretty well and I was introduced to the teachers, not realizing my appearance as the ‘friend’ of the single teacher was the juiciest thing that had happened there in quite some time.  Feeling as if all eyes were on me, I texted my sister, also a teacher, who confirmed that I was not being paranoid and that at that very moment each and every one of the whispered conversations were in fact about me; specifically the level of my relationship with the single teacher that would have enticed me to accompany her to such an event.

The announcement of the voting for the Winter Formal Court caused a ruckus that refocused everyone’s attention to Sister Boogie Shoes and Mr. Bow Tie, the Art and Science teachers respectively.  Never in my life have I felt relief not to be the center of attention.  And speaking of me, I found my tiny doppelganger.  Wearing the same gap-approved uniform as his classmates, he seemed to be the only boy with any semblance of rhythm.  He would dance with abandon as if no one was watching; however, he was most definitely aware of everyone’s placement as he halted his moves if no one was looking and traveled nearest whichever Queen Bee the crowd was surrounding and start dancing again, to ensure the largest audience.  Oh sit down, Dusty, Jr., I laughed to myself. 
While we waited for the votes to be counted, we were again distracted by a drama that unfolded  just outside the entrance when Johnny Moustache was apprehended trying to sneak off with his girlfriend who, only after I caught sight of her, was summarily nicknamed Invisi-Justice as she had somehow escaped my notice while wearing a hot pink and black floral dress from the tween clothier I loathe.  How do I know?  Well, let's just say they've been selling that very dress for about quite some time since I bought it for my niece Payton in 2006 or so.  Mr. Moustache, when he was denied entree to whatever nefarious activity he had planned, was furious and refused to re-enter the gym, believing to the very depths of his almost-teenage soul that we did not have his best interests at heart.

This brings me to another male with whom I have recently come into contact, who does not believe that I have his best interests at heart.  He feels that I purposefully keep some of his wishes unfulfilled.  Regular readers and rabid followers are familiar with my father’s work.  Over the past few weeks he has asked me to find what he calls his favorite “lunch meat”.  I have tried to explain to him that they don’t have that type of meat product anywhere outside of a 6 ft. radius of Bethany, Louisiana (population 1,100 if you count individual cans of beer at the quickie mart), but he will not take no for an answer, even when said with considerable disdain.  I have actually looked for what he described but I feel as if he is accidentally combining the traits of several of his favorite foods, vile though they may be.  The description was something akin to a thinly sliced potted meat/Spam hybrid.  As my friend Dawn from Memphis would say, “ooh to the wee”. 
I had attempted to provide him actual deli ham, thinking I was splurging on something he would prefer to this luncheon loaf.  I was wrong.  He told me that he would, “eat it, I reckon, but I don’t like it that much.”  Assuming that he would just give up and find another item over which to hyper-focus, I was surprised to see that he apparently ventured out of the yard for a solo jaunt, for the first time in about 5 months.  Never underestimate a redneck on a mission.  I returned from my recent trip to DC to find that he had braved imminent death to cross the street to the Super Mercado y Tacqueria to ensure that no stone had been left unturned in the search for the favored protein of the proletariat, as it were.  I found his butcher-papered bounty was labeled ‘Jamon’.  When I asked what he was eating, he haughtily replied, “I found my lunch meat at the messican groshry store.  And you said they didn’t have it.” 

I smiled and said, “You realize that jamon is Spanish for ham, right?”  I believe the correct spelling of his reaction is, “Hmpf!” followed by the dismissive smacking of lips and judgmental clicking of false teeth.
And I don’t really know what else to say about that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Isn't over-sharing the point of a blog?

                This past week I had the opportunity to visit Stanford University’s campus for a lecture series.  As they are located about 2 miles from my office, it is a convenient way to learn new things without signing up for an actual class, which I will only do if Condoleeza Rice is the instructor.  This particular speaker was going to discuss Emotional Intelligence and I am all about self-betterment through knowledge.

                So I head there straight from work and I have surmised, based on the number of people who knew the location of the School of Education that the next great generation of teachers is matriculating elsewhere.

                Before I took my seat, I had to take a rest, so I found a room specifically designed for such activities.  When I finished my business and was washing my hands I noticed the gentleman at the next sink was cleansing his hands with the dedication of a surgeon about to operate.  Having worked in healthcare for the last 15 years, I practice proper hand hygiene and was drying my hands with a towel and kept it for use as a protector when I opened the door to exit.  This gentleman, instead, grabbed the door handle with his bare hands and held it open for me.  Then he smiled this maniacally happy smile and I thought, “Good Lord, I hope that’s not the speaker” and chuckled to myself.

                Not surprisingly, I entered the auditorium and there sits Mr. Nasty Hands in a lotus position in a chair with his shoes and socks removed grinning like some deranged cell phone salesperson waiting to fill our minds with glitter hugs dipped in rainbows, I imagine.  But, as I am not one to judge, I decided to see what he had to say.  After all he is an executive with an internationally known and respected company.  I won’t say which one, but it rhymes with Google.

                He starts to talk and mentions he is a Buddhist, which was unexpected as he spent the first 10 minutes or so talking about how awesome he is and based on my limited information about Buddhism didn’t think arrogance was one of the basic tenets.  Although based on the activities of the Dalai Lama, celebrity stalking might be.  However, he made a statement that got my attention.  He shared that he was listening to a Buddhist Nun and in the instant that she said a particular phrase, he became a Buddhist.  This must be some phrase, I thought.  It was ‘the answers are all inside you’.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Glitter hugs indeed.

                But it was what he said next that sealed my exit from his presence.  He said, “In that moment, I understood EVERYthing.”  And he wasn’t kidding.  Well, that was more than I could take, so I quietly left the auditorium and headed to Starbucks to get my Venti Black Iced Tea with 3 Splenda and no water and ponder this preening donkey’s statement.  He knew everything, huh?  Well, you don’t know proper hand hygiene.  Of this I am certain.  You don’t know the proper footwear for public speaking.  You don’t know how goofy you sound.  And that’s just off the top of my head.

                But that got me thinking.  Would I even want to know everything?  Cate Blanchett, at the end of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, learned everything from that big ol’ alien whatever and all it got her was an exploded head.  No thanks. 

                Now I know lots of things, most of which don’t matter to anyone, which is why I am so good at trivia.  However, I do know lots of things that I wish I didn't so I decided to compile a list and I will share it forthwith.

                I wish I didn’t know:

1.       How an old man’s popcorn-greased hand feels on your head when they are on the row above you in the movie theatre and use you to catch themselves at the end of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ when they lose their balance trying to talk to their wife and fish the cigarettes out of their jean jacket.

2.       What a coke tastes like with cigarette ashes in it.  Thanks Daddy in 1978.

3.       What it feels like to haul hay.

4.       How a pickled pig lip tastes.

5.       That there is a 24 hour nightclub in Birmingham, AL.

6.       Acid-washed jeans don’t always support, and sometimes reveal, your buttocks.

7.       What shrimp salad from a vending machine will do to your digestive tract.

8.       That drinking water in San Diego has the same outcome as #7.

9.       What it feels like to ride a bike from Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito (see August 5th blog).

10.   How to involuntarily cliff dive on a trip to Canada.  Full disclosure: involuntarily means they pushed me.  I am still ticked and it was in 1993.

11.   What it feels like to, even at age 42, avoid walking past storm drains at night because the movie ‘It’ messed me up, y’all.

12.   What it feels like to be forced to watch overweight middle-aged hippies make out to progressive art rock songs that last 25 minutes each while waiting for Yes to play their one hit song…and then they don’t.

13.   That liver somehow gets bigger when you chew it.

14.   What it feels like to be bucked off a horse you didn’t want to be on in the first place.

15.   What it feels like to get kicked in the stomach by that same horse just because it’s evil and had nothing to with the fact that you were in the pen trying to kill it with your mind.

16.   What it feels like when your calf is the only competitor in its category at the county fair and it still comes in third place.

17.   What it feels like to know Dick Cheney continues to go unpunished.

18.   What it feels like to go tubing for 8 hours with no sunscreen and end up with burns so bad you miss all but 1 of your senior parties.

19.   What it feels like to watch the third Twilight movie.

20.   What it feels like to play football against your will in junior high (see YouTube video “Dustin Thompson VA”).

21.   What it feels like to get a haircut so bad that you have to be physically restrained from harming the stylist and causes you to forever hate the word ‘Bubble’.

22.   What it feels like to be judged for your musical tastes when your friends think you’ve switched iPods with a 16 year-old girl.

23.  That the dimmer switch on a '77 Volare is on the floor by your left foot.
24.  What it feels like to have to hitchike, after you hit a dear on New Year's Eve, and catch a ride with a man in a Ford Pinto station wagon with the passenger door roped shut through a hole in the roof who ends up being the uncle of your cousin's boyfriend.

25.   What it feels like to not know how to end a blog post.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Perks of Knowing a Good Ol' Boy

Throughout the time I have shared with you the ins and outs of living with my Daddy, I haven’t done a whole lot of reminiscing about the more interesting perks of having a good ol’ boy for a Daddy. 

I recently spent a week in Hawaii with my family, which now includes my niece’s boyfriend who is saddled with the unfortunate nickname ‘Rica’.  

This very nice young man’s parents named him Chad.  My sister started calling him Chad-rica, for reasons known only to her.  And as she is prone to do, she shortened it to simply Rica and refers to him by that moniker in all our conversations.  So, I have started calling him Rica in my head; for example, when I was making my Christmas list I actually wrote “shirt for Rica”.  My Daddy even calls him Rica and thought he was Hispanic, which made for an odd conversation when they arrived at my house this June and in walked a blonde boy.

My Daddy ever so eloquently stated, “I ain’t never seen a blonde-headed messican.  Are you sure that’s Rica?”  When I attempted to make light of the situation (due to the reddening face of Rica himself) by stating that Castilian Spaniards can be blonde, my Daddy flagged down that train with his usual bluster, “Casteeya-whatayasay?  There ain’t no such thing as a blonde-headed messican.” 

And I shared all that to say this – I returned from my trip on Wednesday night, Thanksgiving Eve, if you will, and reminded my Daddy that he had promised to eat dinner at a co-workers home the following day.  Well, you would’ve thought I had asked him to wear a tutu or volunteer at a nursing home considering the look he gave me.  He says he doesn’t like “old people”.

You see my Daddy is not a social person, which comes as a bit of a shock to some of you.  Granted he can turn on the charm when he wants to and if you can get past the shockingly un-PC statements he is prone to make, he will make you laugh, albeit sometimes nervously and always looking around to see who heard you laugh as it was probably slightly vulgar.  He can “act right” in front of company when he wants to.  Unfortunately for me, I am not considered company.

To ensure that he remained in a reasonably interactive mood, I plied him with breakfast at our favorite diner, Jason’s, and let him get in a nap before we left for Greg and Louise’s.  One of the only reasons my father agreed to attend is that Greg is one of his favorite people seeing as how he looks like a biker and actually owns a Harley.  I think he likes Greg more than he likes me.  Scratch that; I KNOW he likes Greg more than me as, and I quote, “Greg is macho”.  Shockingly, I am not considered macho which is a term used exclusively by my father and the Village People.

When we got to Greg’s, I distracted Daddy with football on the big screen and Ruffles with onion dip until dinner was served.  Thank goodness they had a Honeybaked Ham, my Daddy’s favorite holiday protein.  After we ate, he sat back down with Greg and watched football and told lies about Vietnam (the country with the fighting back then) and Germany (the women back then) and other standard après dinner conversation topics.

After a couple of hours, which was very much surprising, he said we needed to go as his a-double-s was starting to hurt.  On the way to the door someone asked why my Daddy calls Adam (my management trainee) George.  I tried to explain the nicknames my family doles out and the odd names my father loves to give to the various animals that have had the joy of being members of our household.  Dogs named Missy, Goober, Digger, Licker, Snoopy, Satan, Sophie, Pepper, Hot Dog and Lulu.  And I just adore my Lulu.  I just wish that her name was not the same as a now-deceased, overweight, reformed stripper who became a Christian and sang on Hee-Haw.    Since my Daddy has claimed I have “stole” his dog (which is accurate), I have tried to get her to answer to Paisley but she will have none of it.  You can take the dog out of the patch…

The conversation then turned to the odd assortment of other animals that we have owned such as horses, cows, sheep, guinea pigs and parrots.  One parrot in particular was named Seymour.  Christmas 1981, we drove the 13 hours from Oklahoma to my grandparent’s farm in Alsatia, Louisiana, population 27, not counting goats or horses.  My mother was driving.  I, my sister, brother, 626 Christmas gifts and our poodle (Pepper) were in the backseat and my Daddy riding shotgun with Seymour on his shoulder.  Yes, you read that correctly.  As he was slumped in the front seat sleeping, some random but soon to be unfortunate heathens mistakenly thought my mother was the only adult in the car. 

Somehow finding enough confidence to terrorize a family while driving a Ford Pinto, these ruffians proceeded to pass us and then pull over in front of us and slow down to 20 miles an hour.  As I inherited my lead foot from my mother and because back then Oklahoma highways had no posted speed limit, my Mother easily passed them, making great time on our sojourn toward the farming community of her youth.  After several episodes of the passing and subsequent slowing down with these hooligans, my Daddy woke up and asked her what was going on. 

When she explained the situation, it poked the proverbial bear, and he asked me if I had brought my early Christmas present, a knife.  My sister wondered aloud what good a pocket knife would do, having apparently forgotten that my father somehow mis-interpreted my Christmas wish list to include “Bowie knife with 8” blade and snakeskin handle” when what I had actually asked for was “Electronic Battleship”.

I grabbed the knife and we had a mid-air swap as he threw the parrot into the back seat and proceeded to hang his upper torso out of the window and wave the knife asking the “M-Fers” to politely join him in a discussion of the merits of leaving us alone.  For some unknown reason, assumingly alcohol, the threat of a large bearded fellow waving a Bowie knife was not enough to distract these wayward souls from their intended mission of, I am guessing, “harassing people” because they repeated the pass and slow down routine several more times.

Having more than enough of the situation that he cared to endure, my Daddy asked my mother ever so politely if she was finished with her (glass bottle of) Tab.  When she indicated that she was, in fact, no longer in need of the diet refreshment, he asked her to pull alongside the Pinto.

When he could see the whites of the driver’s eyes, like General Washington taught us, he proceeded to introduce the half-full bottle to the area in and around the driver’s ears, nose and throat, causing an abrupt departure of the Pinto from the pavement.  And with that, he turned to my mother and said, “Solved that problem, Mama.  Let’s get on to Alsatia.”

Lesson learned?  Actions do speak louder than words. 

And that is all I’m saying.

Monday, November 5, 2012

If we pawned America, how much would we get?

I was out to dinner with a friend (hey Terri!) Friday night.  As per usual, I texted my Daddy and reminded him of my plans as he gets irritated if he doesn’t know where I am.  As per usual, he ignored my text.  Had he bothered to open his flip phone, he would have known it was not the morning when he awoke at 6.  Since I wasn’t there to inform him of his error, he thought Friday evening was Saturday morning and proceeded to make coffee and eat his oatmeal.  He also took his morning meds, one of which is a diuretic. 

When I got home about 9:00 pm he was confused as to where I had been and why I was carrying a box of leftovers.  However, he was not confused about his desire to eat the contents of my doggie bag and he happily munched on half a turkey burger with black bean and corn salsa, while I asked to what I owed the pleasure of piping hot coffee an hour before bedtime. 

He said, “It’s almost nine in the morning, boy, what chu talkin’ bout bedtime?”  When I pointed out that it wouldn’t be pitch black outside at nine in the morning, even if there was a storm a-brewin’, he looked at me as if I had stolen the last bite of the burger.  It never occurred to him why I would have a turkey burger for breakfast.  “Food’s food,” was his reply accompanied by the burp one would expect from one as couth as he.

Once he realized that it was, in fact, not Saturday morning he spent the next hour berating himself and wondering aloud how someone could be so stupid.  I told him that it happens to everyone, although usually when one is doped up on cold medicine or hung over from too much partying.  Since he is fairly well doped at night as I save all his “may cause dizziness” medications (and there are several) for right before bedtime, it would have been understandable.  And due to his current physical condition, partying like a rock star would include things like heading to The Wal-Mart without his scooter or walking outside to check the mail more than once a day.

I thought it was funny that he had made an error but I very quickly swallowed that giggle when he threw a look my way that I haven’t seen since my Southern Baptist mother found out I voted pro-choice back in college.  When I reminded him that the time was going to change again on Saturday night, he asked me, “You like messin’ with me?”  When I assured him it was not a ruse to confuse him, he told me, “If you don’t mind, I’ll ask somebody who didn’t eat hippie hamburger what time it is tomorrow.”

He awoke Sunday morning at a bright and early 4:00 AM.  Even though I had changed all the clocks in the house, he was using his watch which he had refused to allow me to change.  His clippity-clopping on his way to the kitchen to make the coffee was bad enough but he decided to fry, yes fry, a steak for breakfast and the ensuing noise was enough to wake the dead, myself included. 

We have discussed before how I cannot keep up with his swirling vortex of filth and funk.  In order to keep some semblance of cleanliness in my home without losing my sanity, I hired a service to come in every other weekend to clean.  And while they are the nicest people, I feel odd sitting there whilst they are there so I decided that we would venture to the outlet mall as they were having a clearance sale at my favorite shop (Robert Talbott) and Daddy was lured by the promise of lunch at Hometown Buffet.

When I got into his truck, which we were forced to take because he refuses to get into my car which he says is too fancy.  It’s a Hyundai Sonata.  And while I think it looks much more expensive than it is, it is still a Hyundai Sonata.  When I asked him to define fancy, he said, “It’s too nice to fart in.”  I would like to think that I am too nice to fart near, but when I posited that question, I was met with a resounding “No”.  Well I’m assuming it was a no; there wasn’t actually a word offered.

So, we pile into the grapes of wrath truck and head toward Gilroy, Garlic Capital of the World.   When I got in I noticed there was a grape tomato on the floorboard of the driver’s side.  As my Daddy had driven himself to his doctor’s appointments on Wednesday, he had stopped by the farmer’s market on campus.  Apparently he had purchased tommy-toes, as he pronounces them, and left one behind.  I laughed and put it in the drink holder of the console, intending to throw it in the trash once we reached our destination.

When we arrived and got out of the truck, I noticed him chewing something.  When I asked what it was he said, “My tommy-toe.  Why?”  Being used to things like that at this point, I just said “alright” and continued on my quest for discounted designer ties.  Inside the store, I searched for fabulous things while he wandered around, loudly excoriating any company that would charge so much for “somethin’ that’s not even clothes”, laying down on their couch, using their Employees Only restroom and making an un-PC reference to people of Hispanic origin having used my trouser seat as a domicile when explaining to the salespeople why I chose to not purchase the chinos I had tried on.  I think the deep discounts they offered were to hasten our exit especially when I told them I thought the loud older gentleman might be homeless and I couldn’t figure out why he was following me around.

After an interesting lunch at the buffet, which he informed me was less-than-enjoyable due to the large number of people also there, including thousands of children.  Okay, maybe not thousands, but when you get a dining room with a maximum capacity of 150 and a full 100 of those are children hopped up on orange ice cream and cotton candy, it can seem like you are trapped on Bourbon Street at midnight on New Year’s.  Not that I would know anything about that. 

I concurred with his discomfort and understood when he was only able to polish off 3 plates (including one of just ham that he pronounced "I've had better") before he was forced, FORCED, to flee to the confines of his truck.  Well, flee in the sense that he walked as fast as he could on feet that work correctly only about every third step.

When we were driving home he asked who I was voting for on Tuesday.  As I voted by mail two weeks ago, I told him that I wasn’t sure, just to avoid that discussion, but wondered who he would vote for, were he registered to vote in California, which he is not.  When he told me that he would pick either Charles Bronson (who is dead) or Rick from “Pawn Stars”, I felt somewhat happy he isn’t going to cast his vote.  Although, a lot of pro-Romney people say we need a businessman in charge and if making a living running a pawn shop isn’t a sign of a business-minded person, I don’t know what is.  So, if you don’t like Obama but aren’t really jazzed about Romney either, you could just choose ‘Pawn Stars’ for President!

Would it really be any worse?  And that is all I’m saying.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Can you be from 3 states at one time?

                How appropriate that my father has become an officially licensed heathen (i.e. resident of California) on National Pagan Holiday or whatever evangelicals call Halloween while still buying Snickers in bulk...for the children.  His free gift with purchase was a fair amount of attitude from a woman in a multi-colored wig which was apparently not a costume (again, I apologize Shelisia) and stickers that make his Grapes of Wrath truck legitimate but only in the sense that it is not illegal to drive it.  It is still illegal to think you’re cute in it, as I am continually reminded each time I must commandeer it to transport him for the purposes of physician visit or yarn procurement.

This has been an arduous process the likes of which I have never seen.  When he moved to this great state in September 2011, his tags had expired the previous month.  When I asked him about it, he said he’d get around to it sooner or later.

                As the sole driver of said vehicle, I was jouvous every time I drove it, afraid that I would get a ticket for expired tags.  And CHiPs are serious about tickets out here, believe you me.  If you don’t know what CHiPs means, you are far too young to understand my humor and should laugh at random intervals so grown folks think you ‘get it’.  And that nervousness was apt when I was stopped back in January for an illegal U-turn while attempting to steal a prime parking spot outside Armadillo Willie’s BBQ.  If it hadn’t been for the scooter in the back of the truck I would have noticed that the car directly behind me was a full-on police car with lights and everything. 

                When I got out of my Daddy’s truck wearing kelly green chinos and said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see the ‘No U-Turn’ sign; it’s my Daddy’s truck and I’m not used to driving it”, the cop took pity on my misplaced preppy self and only gave me the U-turn ticket.  I informed my father that we were getting tags post haste or even faster.

                To make this story as short as possible, I have been attempting to get him California plates and a license since February.  We made it through the written test communicating across the room with more signs than an indecisive little league first base coach.  California requires you to take a written test if you are from another state, regardless of how long you’ve had your license.  And the rules out here are different and weird.  There are questions about smoking in your car (illegal), phone use in your car (illegal except when dialing 911) and other random things about light rails, child seats and something about twin babies in a back seat that both I and my Daddy both missed and still don’t understand.

                Once he had the license, we could get the tags.  That’s when I realized we were in for a treat with the lovely people at the DMV.  My father had, in his assortment of ‘portant papers, a Colorado license plate, a Louisiana registration and a title that had been transferred from Mississippi to Alabama.  When I asked how that was possible, he accused me of being too picky.  When I informed him that it was the state of California and not I that wanted these three items to be from the same state, he told me I was just trying to figure out a way to make him look dumb.

                So, cut to me, spending four different days of vacation time over several months attempting to get unwilling state employees to tell me what was acceptable as they changed their minds more than a political candidate.  Then I had to contact the respective states, finance companies and insurance companies to get the necessary paperwork while mi padre sat and watched loudly complaining that it was taking too long.  Don’t make me type out the thoughts that ran through my head because they are not fit for mouth or print. 

                I don’t know if the impending legality of his method of transport was the primary motivator for change or he was simply inspired by the political climate, but he decided very recently that he can drive himself to the doctor.  He was forced to drive himself while I was away for 9 days in the last two weeks.  However, upon my return he decided that he was fully capable of taking himself to and from his appointments for the foreseeable future.

This past Monday, I was headed to work around 7  o'clock in the AM while my Daddy had an appointment at 9:30.  That he left the house before I should come as no surprise.  I was so excited about it the prospect of a day not interrupted by the use of family care leave to cart him home that I took a photo of his truck when I was behind him at a red light.  It’s a strange photo because his scooter with side mirrors looks somewhat like a ghost from Pac Man wearing Mickey Mouse ears, but it was a beautiful sight indeed.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, I would’ve posted it to the blog and not actually written anything.  Alas, it is not worth that many words, but it was worth about that many calories as I celebrated with a turkey and cheese croissant from Palo Alto Baking Company which is serendipitously on my drive to work, if I take 5 extra turns and go about a mile and a half out of my way.

And the driving of himself has continued to his appointments yesterday and today and tomorrow.  I know that is a lot of appointments but we (the doctors and I) are trying to fix everything from bad feet, gnarly toenails and obesity to poor circulation, lung disease, diabetes and depression.  There should be a reality show about ‘refurbishing’ my Daddy to some semblance of good health.  We could call it ‘This Old Redneck’.  I’d be the unwilling family member, forced, do you hear me FORCED, to share the screen and subsequently steal the spotlight and finally get my own TV show that everyone’s always talking about.  And when I say everyone, I mean me.

And that is all I’m saying.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Psychology of Chili and Cheese

The hallmark of humor is honesty and I although I have over-shared in certain areas I haven’t been truly honest about the realities of living with my father.  I try to find the humor in the everyday differences betwixt us but of late there has been less and less to amuse or share. 

I admit, I was naïve about his moving in, expecting to be gaining a roommate, but since he has been here he has devolved into a difficult and depressed person.  It’s confusing and exhausting.  We have never shared a bond in the traditional sense of father-son relationships (as seen on TV).  Ours is more of a familiarity with each other’s reputation than anything else.  I know him well enough to accurately predict some reactions or behavior but in a vaguely anthropological way.  I’m Jane Goodall and he’s “Redneck in the Mist”.

There is, however, one behavior which I simply have not been able to become accustomed; the crying.  I do not remember my father crying at any time in my life before my mother died, including when his father died my freshman year in college.  I saw him cry for the first time at my mother’s memorial service but the impact was lessened by the fact that everyone was crying. 

Now my father cries randomly and often.  He sometimes cries when he is unaware.  He’ll be sitting at the dining room table and get this far-off look in his eyes and the tears start and when I ask him why he’s crying, he says, “I’m not crying.  What are you talkin’ about?”  Then he wipes his eyes, stares at the wetness and looks at me accusingly, as if I’m responsible for this unmanly moisture.

And he cries over any number of things but mostly it’s my mother.  He’s mad at her for “leaving”, as if she chose to die.  He’s mad at God for taking her away.  He feels God is punishing him by taking her and leaving him here.   What he thinks he’s being punished for, he will not say.  And I have asked.

                He cries when he talks about her.  He cries when he can’t dream about her.  And it’s all rather unsettling to me as I have been indoctrinated by him that crying is a weakness to be pitied.  And while I do not pity my father, I am at a loss how to respond to his tears.  If I acknowledge them, he gets embarrassed and then angry.  If I ignore them, he feels like I am cold-hearted and gets his feelings hurt, which causes him to be angry.  So I become the anthropologist; I question the root cause and keep a clinical distance from the response.  Of course, this makes me feel somewhat callous and detached and truthfully is taking its toll on me.

                When my mother was very ill and (we had been told) was about to die, I spent the night in her hospital room, simply holding her hand.  Having no frame of reference for how to act when losing one’s mother, I didn’t really know what else to do. We didn’t say much; she was too sick and I was fighting a sense of helplessness.  I ventured a question, “Why you?”  She responded, “Why not me?”  And that was what made her life so remarkable; she was always so wise, so loving and so important to everyone around her. 

                My father, apparently, learned nothing during his life spent with a prayer warrior and eternal optimist, as he continually laments, “Why me?”  He questions why she left and why she loved him.  The first answer is easy; the second answer is better left unsaid. 

Unable to ask her myself, this is nothing but conjecture, but I think it was she was attracted to someone who embodied the complete opposite of her good girl, church-going self and she was drawn to the "excitement” and by the time she realized the complexity and level of emotional baggage he had, she was too far along in the marriage to simply abandon it.  Baptists just don’t do that; her version of Baptist at least.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression because my father is not a bad person.  He is not selfish; he would give you his last nickel.  But he is self-centered and there is a difference.  He doesn’t, even for an instant, think about how his words or actions will affect anyone.  I think my Mother thought she could save him from himself.

I know he is angry and he has every right to be, but he also needs to realize that no matter how much he wants it, she is not coming back.  She is gone from this earth.  She lives in my heart and my memory and I visit her often; sometimes with laughter, sometimes with an exquisite ache, but I don’t let it stop me from living.  That's not what she would have wanted.  She did not abide self-pity.  As someone who was pretty adept at planning pity parties as a teen, I know whereof I speak.

                My first year of graduate school afforded me the opportunity to take several education-focused psychology and counseling classes as my major was Education Administration.  I said that to state my frame of reference for recognizing depression in its various forms.  My Daddy is depressed and not in that “I’m sad because they cancelled the Rockford Files” way. 

As his frame of reference for proper mental health is himself, you can see why he would be unaware he was hosting a pity party.  As he talks to no one but me and only to share litany of woe involving his random aches, his unquenched desire for chocolate ice cream and continuous fart jokes, he doesn’t realize what he is feeling is not normal.  He thinks he’s fine and I suppose he is feeling most of the same things he has always felt, about himself and the world.  He has been somewhat irritated for as long as I can remember and my memories, however vague, begin somewhere in late 1973.

                As I am the “weird one” amongst his offspring, he doesn’t think I am qualified to dissect the intricacies of his psyche or offer suggestions for how one should feel.  He didn’t actually say that.  What he said was, “Stop tryin’ to get in my head.  You ain’t a shrink.”  And that is true.

                But as his primary caregiver I felt he needed to talk to someone and his doctor agreed.  They assigned someone to help with his chronic pain management.  When he asked me if (his doctor) was a psychiatrist, I said, “No, she is not a psychiatrist.”  And then I stopped talking.  She is a psychologist; there is a difference.  Judge not, y’all.

You see, his constant back pain makes him feel bad, which worsens his depression, which makes him more susceptible to pain.  It’s a vicious cycle and one that is not going to improve through my wishing and hoping.  It’s also not going to improve through the ingestion of Krispy Kreme donuts, as he continually suggests, but that is an experiment I support once every three or four months.  You know, just in case.

                And in the last couple of days, there has been a marked improvement.  He has actually requested to accompany me on tomorrow’s Columbus Day-inspired jaunt to the outlet mall in Gilroy, home of any true Southerner’s favorite duo, Sonic and Super Wal-Mart.  Nothing says happiness like clearanced priced Robert Talbott neckties followed by a cherry root beer. 

                Whether or not he will be able to maintain his improved outlook once he has witnessed the carnage of an outlet mall clearance event remains to be seen.  Regardless of how tomorrow goes though, I know that there is nothing so bad that a foot-long chili cheese coney and tater tots can’t temporarily fix, people.  And that is all I’m saying.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What if Goldilocks was a Red-headed Dude?

                It has arrived.  We celebrated Daddy’s one year anniversary in California with the purchase of a new recliner.  He also celebrated with a bag of iced animal crackers he stole from my shelf in the pantry and he thinks I don't know, but I do.  This new recliner is leather because that particular material is less prone to retaining smells and subsequently my monthly Febreze supply can be at least halved.  This will free up significant cash reserves to be used for all manner of fun things like SusieCakes salted caramel apple cupcakes and thrift store sweaters, as the fall season is upon us.  Well, not so much ‘us’ here in the sorta-western-central-just-south-of-Napa-Valley part of CA, but for the rest of you people who have to suffer through extreme weather outside of the 55-80 degree year-round range.  Apparently, money can buy happiness.

                Now I’m not saying that anyone out here in Silicon Valley used their significant brain power to harness the weather and make it as wonderful as it is.  I’m simply positing that the Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, had to have spent their youth doing something besides playing three dimensional chess, paintball and inventing computers, if I am to believe the hobbies and interests portrayed by the nerdy geniuses on the Big Bang Theory.  If Sheldon built a CT Scan in the wilds of Texas, one of the Steves could have built a weather-controlling device at the behest of a golf-loving father.

The unnervingly nice weather is one of the things that delights and confounds my father, who has spent all but three of his 71 years in locations where the presence of any moisture, like saliva, is a sign one is from elsewhere.  The one three month stretch he spent in California, during the summer before my senior year in high school, was as a welder in Boron, which is reportedly as fun as you would imagine a town named after an element in that section of the periodical table would be.

As my Daddy has a shoulder injury from long ago, I was able to talk him in to getting a remote controlled chair that will recline the back and lift the feet with the push of a button.  As persnicketiness is apparently hereditary, he was adamant that he ‘tryout’ the chair prior to purchase.  This required a sojourn to the La-Z-Boy showroom in Santa Clara, about 15 miles from our house.  He is a lifelong customer of this particular merchant as their name is his retirement mantra.  And they are sole producer of what is known as a ‘Big Boy’ recliner.  To the uninitiated that pretty much means a loveseat with elevated leg supports.  This recliner, while just a smidge smaller than his previous chair, is still wide enough to necessitate full size sheets were one to outfit it properly for sleep, which is the activity most enjoyed in this particular piece of furniture.

You can only imagine the circumstances that arose when he, not unlike a dog, felt the need to ‘mark’ his territory by subsequently farting in each chair.  He ambled his way around the showroom and sat in every chair including those I knew he would never buy, like ones with floral chintz or wooden legs.  This was while he was still using his wound vac for the “lower back” surgery.  The vac is housed in a shoulder harness that looks like a tiny messenger bag.  He was very self-conscious about tha bag when anyone of any level of brain power could see there were tubes running from his “man purse” to his body and deduce it as a medical device. 

However, to ensure that all and sundry knew of his macho-ness, he, very loudly, stated that he was “not carrying a man purse”.  He was but a simple macho paratrooper forced to wear a “contraption” because of my “a-double-s surgery”.  My face turned the color of my orange chinos and I immediately took up with an Asian family standing nearby, convinced them I was an in-store designer and helped them find the perfect sectional sofa.

He was looking forward to getting his chair that day but it had to be special ordered because he wanted one that had an extra-long leg rest for reasons known only to him.  His inseam is 27” but his patented way of sitting (a series of leg hikes, contortions and scooting) and his need for 100% of his feet and shoes to be supported by the chair make it almost impossible to find the perfect chair.  And the perfection of the chair is important because he spends all day and all night in this de facto bed.

Lately, however, due to his increased pain from his back he has been spending an inordinate amount of time in an actual bed.  He has a hospital bed from the VA but he says the mattress is “too hard”.  I put an egg crate mattress topper but he is adamant that it is still too hard, like an overweight Gingerlocks as his hair is still red, despite the copious amounts of white in his beard.  He is forced, he says, to sleep in the guest bedroom, which is the most attractively decorated room in my home.
When I first moved into this house, I chose this bedroom for its central location and it became an art deco haven filled with my favorite furniture like a cream linen headboard and mirrored dresser, nightstand and lamp.  The boldness of the purple accent wall is tempered by the pewter comforter and occasional chair with pops of pink and lime green found in the wall art, throw pillows and vases.  It is an amazing room from which I was summarily roused by the nightly brouhaha that emanates from his bedroom due to his and apparently Lulu’s sleep apnea. 

I now reside in the former guest bedroom which while it is well decorated with a leather wrapped sleigh bed and a color scheme of coral, aqua and off-white, is not a room to make one ‘feel fancy’ which was one of the main purposes of the art deco world I attempted to create.  If one cannot make up for childlessness with fabulous décor, what is the point of celibacy?  I would have ridiculously fabulous children were I to ever find a woman brave, forgiving and fantastical enough (like, say, a former Miss America) to undertake a life filled with more pizzazz than is warranted outside of a theatre.  I am the physical manifestation of jazz hands, dear readers, and I am aware that I am a bit much, at times.

My father protests that there is too much “fancy” in this house, but I think it interesting that he chose the best bedroom with little fanfare.  I came home from work one day and there he lay, like a dead sea lion oddly placed in the housewares section of better department stores nationwide.  Don’t look at me like that; Tractor Supply hats and suspenders do not scream art deco people.  What it does scream is, “Help Me!” a point that is, by now, moot.  He looked so out of place I almost thought there had been an attempted burgle from a narcoleptic criminal.  What?  I prefer burgle to burglary.

He has insisted that the mattress, a pillow top from Serta, is “too squishy” but it seems that it is more than “just right” as he has slept in that bed for the last two weeks, on a blanket on top of the comforter lest his ‘old man smell’ ruin the ice-pink 800 thread-count sheets from the people who brought you the pyramids.  What?  I’m not being mean, it’s not like the man sleeps in pajamas; he sleeps in the same clothes he wears all day.  The only difference between his ‘awake and going to Wal-Mart’ outfit and his ‘dozing/sleeping’ outfit is that the latter doesn’t include the hat, glasses or teeth, but does include the phone.

So it has fallen to me to break in the recliner, if you will.  I spent most of Saturday afternoon watching a Big Bang Theory marathon while he slept away the effects of his medicines and it was a revelation.  You would imagine something that large would seemingly envelop you and you would be right.  I was so comfortable curled up in that chair, I chose to skip my snack as it was all the way in the other room and my body said, “Seriously dude, do not get up”.  Apparently my body’s inner voice has assimilated to California-speak much more quickly than the rest of me.

With the level of comfort in was experiencing, I made the decision to watch the latest Dr. Who episode without the added delight of Snapple or Garden Salsa Sun Chips, my latest favorite thing, when Daddy chose the stroke of 6:00, the start time of said BBC sci-fi selection, to arise and request assistance with medicine, food, etc. 

No worries, I told myself, it will re-run at 9:00.  You can already guess that he arose again at the stroke of 9:00, demonstrating that timing is everything.  And the timing in the future shall be that of a move to the nursing home nearest Shreveport, LA and his sister, if he makes me miss another episode of one of only four shows I watch in any given week.  What?  It’s not like I haven’t admitted to being downright persnickety.

Y’all need to pay attention…and buy my book (www.authorhouse.com). And that is all I’m saying.