Then & Now

Like a  Kurosawa film the action was in slow motion.

The windup, the letting go,  it  flies through the air, tumbling over and over until with the precision of a surgeon it hits the target.

The boy in the back row never saw it coming. The eraser hit the side of his face and a mushroom cloud of dust erupted on impact, leaving a chalky imprint in its wake.

One must pay attention if only to know when to duck.

Mr. Robertson had a deadly aim.

Taking an eraser to the head was nothing compared to getting a swat.

A swat. The go outside into the breeze way and wait for me swat.

Getting a swat was only for the particularly egregious crimes, like fighting.

The logic of hitting to prevent hitting is still lost on me.

It usually happened on the play ground. The monitors, with whistles dangling, or ever ready clenched between front teeth, would let loose a sound that any first Saturday of the month this is just a test warning siren would envy.

It was usually  Mrs. Tallman the bus driver, who was anything but tall, or Mrs. Myrick, also short but thick, mean and always had dark sunglasses on so you never knew exactly where she was looking.

It was usually one of them, women who clearly define the term, broads, one  of them would blow the whistle, everybody on the playground froze. It was red light- green light with out any green.

The offenders were called over with nothing more than a nod of the head or a pointer finger slowly repeatedly curling, there were no words.

They would sit out the rest of the recess, while another student was singled out to go to the teacher’s lounge and inform the teacher.

The teacher’s lounge. A mysterious place where it was rumored teachers would shed their fierce skins and take human form.

A single knock, was all it took. Cigarette smoke, stewed coffee  and laughter erupted when the door opened.

It was always dark, and you stood on the outside looking in hoping your eyes would adjust to the darkness before the door was closed,  but it never did.

The message delivered and the door closed.

It comes immediately after recess.

The class falls silent as the offenders exit, each  like a convict going to the chair.

Silent words swim, thank god it isn’t me, thank god it isn’t me.

The paddle hung by the door was taken down and the teacher follows outside.

It’s drilled with holes to decrease wind resistance and covered in signatures, proof of past survivors.

The quiet deepens, we wait, we wait to hear the moment when the wood lands. It echos off the concrete and brick, the snap  gunshot loud, crisp, … crack.

It was the echo that always made me jump.

Did they cry? If they did it was inside, cause we never heard.

The teacher would enter first, the offenders a little later.

Soon it was line up for lunch.

Lunch meant separate lines, boys on one side girls on the other. Walk don’t run, teacher watches, as you grab some gritty pink stuff  and give your hands a scrub. It was more like ajax  than soap,  reddened hands sought spouts continuously spraying, make sure you wash your hands! They always checked…

Through the door smell the rolls, grab a carton of milk.

The more recess, four square, tether ball, and talking to boys on the bleachers.

There was art with Mrs. Clemans, pink magenta with a metallic sheen, the paints she mixed herself  at the back of the room.

We sat in long wooden tables stained with the creative excesses of those who came before. Giant murals were painted, each an old Christmas card divided into squares, we work in teams, our efforts hung in the cafeteria for all to see.

There was a fall carnival, a cake walk, musical chairs and plastic prizes, like the soldier with the parachute who we could never throw high enough to untangle the strings.

There was Mrs. Little Page, silver bun, gravel voice and forever hocking loogies into a kleenex. Miss Lee with her huge purse filled with cough drops, combs and patience, everything a fourth grader would need. Mr. Sennet the original hippy, who rode his bike, and shed more dandruff than was humanly possible. Mr. Floyd the cool teacher I never had, Mr. Cauthen, who remembered my older sister, who he called the hawk, so I became the hawk-ling.

First day 5th grade, standing arms crossed, foot out, “My name isn’t Share-in, its SHAR-IN.”

Eyes do not have to be closed to remember now.

These were then memories, before tax brackets, and labels,

and titles and what do you do really means,

Are you  an important person or a waste of my time?

Gotta love a cocktail party.

It’s now. Time to go, time to see, will I remember them, will they remember me?

Yes.

The boy who made funny faces, had become the man who still did.

The kind girl became the kind woman.

34+ years was not enough to erase faces, all looked similar if not exactly the same. It was easiest to see them when they laughed, the boy or girl who was could not hide then.

Food was ordered and most not eaten. We were filled with laughter, hugs and stories instead.

We stayed long past closing, lingered after in the parking lot, not wanting it to end.

Until now it hadn’t really hit me.

That everyone knew my name.

Shar-in.

Now I wonder when  was it  exactly that I stopped correcting people, and just let it go.

Where had the 5th grader gone with her crossed arms, bossy manner and loud voice?

When was it exactly that I forgot my  own name?

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Phoenix

Vivid blue crayon sky.

Camelback, Praying Monk, and Squaw Peak, familiar shapes rise from the desert floor.

Lunar landscape pink Papago with worn holes through and through, the place to ride bikes watch the sun set and the stars rise.

Giant saguaros marching, stopped forever in their uphill climb, arms  ever reaching.

How could you forget such things.

In town for a reunion, driving east, new roads fast and paved in basic black,  extra wide lanes with solid bright white lines, stay on your side please

Rear view mirror,  look behind, see the sun set, it never fails to impress, only see it in pieces, and curse the luck of my direction, always going the wrong way.

Invite for pizza at a childhood friends house, meet her kids, see her mom, her brother always a huge crush.
Standing around the kitchen granite gleaming, spic and span, glass shines, so unlike my own, where I consider myself lucky to have floors the color of dirt.
It is not unusual to have some foreign unidentifiable substance stuck to your bare feet…. last time it was a gummy bear.
The patio something out of Pottery Barn, a little living room, sofa- chair-tables lamp, all complete with drapes, hold the warmth in.
Here he was, the golden-haired boy of summer, how many times did I sit in the bleachers hoping he would see me?
Stories began…
His stories were crude, his language base and biased.
Jew whore, bitch, slit..I took a breath, sat and just listened.
…. we  had lit a fire outside,
I had forgotten how cold it gets when the sun goes down in the desert.
Then they both really started talking…
their  mom used to leave them for days at a time. 10 and 8 no food, mom gone… imagine.
Mommy was off for the weekend with different boyfriends.
He remembers sitting in the back of a car with his sister while their parents were in the bar  gett’n their drink on….strangers knock on the window and
laugh….
After working with children in foster care for a decade, I knew how damaging neglect could be they don’t even care enough to beat.
I watch him, but his voice is drowned out in my mind,
Coldplay Fix you….I will try to fix you…plays instead.
No way social worker girl….this is not your problem..
His story was drugs,  38 years worth, everything you could imagine. The longer he spoke the more broken he became, splintered and scattered.
I was given tours of scars and injuries, DUI’s…
I sat and listened, as rants of political views vastly different from mine began,
I hear some Fox news one liners spouted with ease.
Only when they started on immigrants did I speak.
“I am an immigrant”
She seemed shocked.
The rant became one of foreigners serving in the military,
“I wasn’t a citizen when I was in the Navy, ” I said.
She was agape.
“But you were born here, your parents had a mortgage, how could they do that not being citizens?”
The basic civics lesson ensued….one can be a legal immigrant, tax paying with all the rights and duties except holding office and voting.
It almost stopped the ranting, having a familiar face be the unmentionable, immigrant non-citizen scapegoat for all of the country’s ills.
Almost.
They ranted on, he gesturing violently punching the air, Michele Obama the intended target.
Calling Barrack, Barry, a child chiming in, age ten looking up for approval.
I watched in two worlds, seeing the boy, hearing the man.
I realized their view comes from a place of fear, distrust, and ignorance.
Not my view, I chose another way.
Yes,  I voted for Obama, I said when asked.
Yes,  I am in Law school.
“You’re not going to work for those ACLU assholes are you, those lying un-American Civil Liberty Union pricks”
It almost turned uncivil when I showed them my ACLU membership card.
My childhood friends, different paths different world views, here they were with a Democrat in the house. Don’t think there is enough bleach in the world to clean that up…suddenly I have the image of them hosing down my chair when I left.
I let them rant, the rants only outpaced by the number of bottles of beer, I lose count.
No thanks I am driving….
He asked  me for a ride to his mother’s house.
I blink and remember we are both 48 years old.
I swallowed my judgment, smiled and nodded.
He wanted to stop and get beer, wanted me to drink  a tall boy in the parking lot, I just laughed, and said I didn’t roll like that.
What else could you do?
I pulled up to the house, he opened the door, and then paused.
He turned and looked me straight in the eye and said,
“I love you, I have always loved you, and always will.”
Then he left.
I cried all the way back to the hotel,  deep sobs, and had to calm down with hot bath and an overpriced mini bar shot of  Grey Goose.
Fix you,  still playing, this time on my ipod….they seemed so splintered, and the pieces are scattered…even social worker girl knows…
There is no way to fix that.

.

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Nellie Bell, the Wonder Bread Bag, and Decades of Different Dye



 

 

 

 

 

Nellie Bell loved to dance, laugh, smoke, and drink.

Usually simultaneously.

Nellie Bell was my Nana, my mothers mother, who told everyone she was five feet nothing, but that was just a bold-faced lie. At five foot  two, I towered over her, even in her heals which she wore every day without fail.

Nellie Bell only ever gave me two pieces of advice.

The first was, “always put lipstick on before your husband comes home from work.”

I think I was 12.

The second, when I was 19 and living with her for the summer.

Spontaneously one afternoon with her highball, Pall Mall and while listening to Dean Martin on the stereo,   she turned to me and said,

“Mens bodies are awfully ugly, …you know,  I never saw your Papa naked.”

Not knowing what the appropriate response is to your grandmother voicing her sexual dysfunction, I remained silent.

For once.

Mistaking my silence for acquiescence, she continued after pausing and taking a long drag on her fag and letting the smoke simply rise from her mouth.

“He took his jammies into the bathroom every night and dressed in there.”

Only for a moment did it cross my mind to tell her that I already had formed an opposing opinion.

Nana was a brunette before I was born,  a red-head after, and a platinum blond from 1970 on. Sifting through the family photos, you realize sorting the decades by her hair color is a pretty safe bet.

Nellie would send me to the drug store, armed with a twenty, a bribe of candy, and a piece of cardboard.

Never a logical being, the cardboard which had been torn from the top of the hair color box, never bore the brand, shade name or color number. Nellie saved the photo of the model instead.

Many a long hour did I spend walking the hair color aisle in Rexall Drugs, moving from picture to picture, box to box until I made the  correct match.

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn’t the same…

It wasn’t as easy when they changed the models on the box.

The dying of the hair is something of a hereditary trait.

The sisters and I have our own …colorful past, which shall remain a secret, at least for now.

It happened in the spring of 1966.

I remember because it was right after I won the bathtub fight. The one where my sister and I fought over the right to sit closest to the bath tub spout.

I won.

Only because it was my 4th birthday, my father said.

It happened after that.

It started with the cackling, and ended with The Wonder Bread.

Well,  not the bread, but the bag.

The gleaming white bag with the blue, yellow and red circles.

My mother, my Aunt, and my Nana were having a cup of tea.

To a 4-year-old, cackling meant tea, tea meant cookies.

The cackling drew me in,  but I stayed for the shortbread.

They sat around the table, tea and shortbread at the ready, my aunt was dying Nellies hair.

This being 1966 it was red.

It wasn’t until much later I realized the early do-it-yourself hair colors didn’t really come with all the supplies you needed.

I just thought everyone wore a Wonderbread bag on top of their hair when they were waiting for it to “take”.

It wasn’t long after the final cup, the time finally came to take off the plastic, and give it a rinse.

The stove timer buzzed, the moment was at hand.

I watched the magic happen from my seat under the table, under the laced tent, where the sun came through in pieces.

The Wonder Bread bag was removed, and silence followed.

It had come off, you see.

They had waited too long. Cackled too much.

There across my Nana’s gleaming red hair, and all the way around, were the words Wonder Bread, and the bright colored circles of the wonder bread bag.

The cackling only got louder.

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Clean

The game we play, my father-in-law and I, has no written rules, no tiny hour glasses filled with sand,  buzzers, or points to be counted.   Well,  that’s not exactly true, there is a type of score. 

This time the score is 7 days, 4 hours and 27 minutes.

That’s 7 days, 4 hours and approximately 27 minutes since Griffy’s last shower.

The first move is always his.

“Sharon, I think I’ll go for a shower.”  …although he has started calling me Karen…

“Ok Griffy,” my reply.

Let the game begin.

The announcement comes mid-afternoon,  never in the morning, never at night. He declares his intent, shuffles off down the hall, slippers buffing, scuffing all the way. One does not need to watch, you can hear his progress, down the hall fainter and fainter until he reaches his room, opens the door and goes inside.

The shower isn’t in there.

There is nothing he needs to retrieve; supplies and towels are ever ready in the master bath. Do not ask me what he is doing, there are  some things I just don’t care to know.   A few minutes later, the door opens, he comes out empty-handed, and heads for the master bath.

The next move is mine.

I sit and count to 100, not too slow, not too fast, 1 -1000, 2-1000,  3-1000; like a game of hide and go seek only now there is no seeking,  just me hiding out of sight.  

I take my cell phone and into the master bedroom I go, taking my place just outside the bathroom door and wait.

Well,  not just wait exactly. I listen.

I listen for the sound of the water being turned on, and when it starts, I look down at my cell phone  and start the stopwatch.

It started out just listening, listening for trouble. The plastic shower seat, hand rails, and hand-held shower were there to assist, make it easier, but  the mommie mind  raced, never at ease waiting on the other side of the house for his return. He can barely keep upright walking on a solid dry surface, never mind on a wet soapy one. So instead of waiting out of ear shot heart racing thinking every noise is a sign of distress, heart pounding call the paramedics!  I started sitting in the bedroom listening for trouble just outside the bath room door. 

The proximity eased my worry.

I don’t know why that is, why being closer  seems to alleviate the fear. It just does. It’s the same with  all my children, as long as they are near, as long as they are close,  as long as they are under my roof, in my house, they can come to no harm.

The simple nearness is a strange comfort, but it works.  So I sit, just outside the bathroom door assuring that no harm will befall the tottering 75 year-old man just  beyond the door, nothing can happen, because I am near.

That’s when I first noticed it. I noticed that despite the fact that the water takes a while to warm up to even body temperature, it never seemed to run for very long.  

So I started timing it. The water did shut off almost as soon as it was turned on.

How soon?  

Less than two minutes. As in you have got to be kidding  there is no way  you are soaping up and rinsing off  anything in that amount of time, soon.

That’s how the game began.

It started off with me just listening, making sure he didn’t fall in the shower, and evolved into me playing  some sort of hygiene monitor.  I now arrange the soap, shampoo and even his tooth-brush and when I check them after his almost weekly attempts at personal hygiene they have not been moved.

His tooth-brush is never wet.

That’s the game we play, Griffy and I. 

He pretends that he washed.

And I pretend not to notice he was in the shower for less than 120 seconds.

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The Easter Bonnet, the Bag of Chips, and the Cricket Obstacle Course

 

Nothing rocks like a train. It catches you off guard, rolls you from side to side, throwing you off-balance.  

The ride south is sunfilled; mirror glass icons gleam, alleys and chain link fences anchored with discarded cups, straws and empty plastic bags. The other side of the tracks. The facades faded, flat; chipped paint and rusty doors rule.

The backside of business. Count the Bed Bath Beyonds’, Taco Bells, and Dominos. What the market will bare.

The city blooms and suburbs fade; smokers litter the sidewalks, each wearing plastic name tags, badges, and labels; the new lepers of polite society.

Outside please.

Big slow turn, spy the grassy knoll, see the flag, the window, brass markers gleam on the sidewalk and always remember, never forget. Yes,  it really happened…right there.

All stop. Switch westward bound. TRE means half way there, bigger train, commuter filled, bags and brief cases hogging the seats.  The sweat and barbecue sauce, oil and designer fragrance mix.

See her wipe the table top with antibacterial wipes; lemon fresh. Add to the bouquet. 

The paper napkin from the bag, unfolded, placed on the clean table. All is ready, out comes the sandwich, the juice box, the carrots and ranch?  Dinner is served. With each small bite she looks out the window; she watches where we just left.

The rolled up sleeves and black aprons board.

“Ever have a raw habanero?”one apron asks the other.

“Many times, but it’s not the hottest. The hottest she is the ghost pepper.” 

His pronoun choice makes me smile.

“Hotter than… the hat, ah what is the word,  the ….cap pepper?” he gestures with both hands  on top of his head which necessitates letting go of the strap that steadies him.

weebles wobble but they don’t fall down…Scotch bonnet

“The Scotch bonnet pepper. Ghost pepper ten times hotter, your mouth will break into sores, it is so hot. I have done this, just one time. In my country they smear this pepper over fences to keep the animals out, it works, even on elephants.”

Elephants and Scotch bonnet peppers. Gotta love the train ride, it’s a United Nations of world views all wrapped up in a moving metal box.

The aprons are quiet now. They step off  at the next stop and disappear. 

The westward journey over, disembark, destination just ahead. 

Intermodal Station,  dodge the buses, cross the street wrestling the roll bag filled with books along the cracked and crooked sidewalk. The best swear words are saved for this exact moment.

Usually.

Elevator down, push open the thick glass doors, the library awaits.

A different type of wrestling begins.

Afterwards pull the book bag, heavy black, filled to the brim. 

Class over, another day marked off; X marks the spot. 

The journey back in the night-time is aware at all times, don’t wear your iPod,  listen up, don’t be an idiot scary, sometimes. 

Still afraid of the night-time, watch and beware.

The eastward train everyone sees in, the mirror windows in the night-time limit the view; reflect only whats inside. 

Seats abound I take two one for me, one for the bag, and try to read. The same page over and over and over, give it up.

See his arm is around her, the wife beater white tee-shirt a bright contrast  to the blue and black letters, symbols and patterns that cover his shoulders, arms, and hands.  After a while he stands, reaches down, then slings a diaper bag over his shoulder. She stands now, so very much smaller than he. A slight, slim, dark-eyed, young mother holding her tightly wrapped baby in blue. He walks ahead, turns and holds her hand, one- two-three steps down onto the platform. The train moves and I cannot see them anymore. 

Almost there now, here the slow curve again feel it there in the dark; the shrine to historic horror.

The dark dims the view, but you know it’s there.

Union station after dark.

Iconic shapes vanish. Giant gleaming mirrors with nothing to reflect loom like a hole you can feel in the dark. Colors melt in the dark glass and blur the straight lines into shapeless waves.

Keep my head down, back against the wall, and wait; watching everything, looking down the track, willing the redline to appear. Loud voices appear from the tunnel, drunk laughter, high fives slapping, missing. They walk  along the bench asking all who wait for smokes or change, have to get home, need a smoke man…my turn next. I shake my head no, and they move on. 

Redline appears, last leg, northward now, soon back to green grassy lawns, brightly lit streets, jogging paths and home associations.

I like the seats that face forward, have to see where I am going.

The only empty seat is facing inward, back to the window and the world. 

Then I see the hat. 

The battered straw with a stiff pink tulle fringe around the brim.

It looks like a childs hat, minus the thin white elastic chin strap that always seems to pinch and snap and leave a deep mark on your skin. The small hat cradles her rocking head perfectly. The tulle and straw brim is pushed up against the glass. She is sound asleep against the window. Like a sleeping child her head starts to roll, sideways, then all the way back, coming to a stop against the back of the bench seat.  The hat stays perfectly planted. She is vulnerable grace, her smooth slender neck childlike. I fight the urge to place my sweater under her head. Instead I watch her sleep in her Wal-Mart name tag, and Easter bonnet. 

I take out another book, give it a try.

“Whats that book?”

Don’t look,  don’t answer, don’t flinch; can’t you smell the  booze?

Didn’t notice him until he spoke. That’s not good.

“Acing Torts” I hear myself reply.

“whats that mean, ….acing?”

I see the little boy he was, unable to read, trying to sound out the words, and wonder when and why he stopped trying.

“It means earning a high-grade, to do really well on a test, getting an A is acing an exam.”

He brings out a bag of chips munching as he speaks, “You…going to college or something?”

Every syllable spews flecks of potato chips in my direction.

“Something like that,” I answer.

For a moment I imagine teaching him to read. I stop the fantasy when he starts  just talking, out loud crumbs flying, one of those crazy out loud cross the street he’s a whack job rants,  to no one in particular.  I keep my head down, reading the same page over and over.

Johnny Depp’s doppelgänger boards and stands between the bag of chips man and me. 

“Nice boots” chip man sprays.

“I got these bad boys in New Orleans.” Depp replies

“Man you from New Orleans… I’m from New Orleans!” They grab hands bend elbows and chest bump.

“I miss that place man been here since Katrina man…that was hard dude, how long you been here?” chips only occasionally fly.

“I’ve been here five years bro.”

The train stops Doppelganger and Chip man step off. 

They too fade to black as the train pulls out.

Last stop Parker road. The car is parked at the far end of the lot.  Old fears creep in, push them away.

I am Eowyn, see me roar.

Fuck off fear.

Step off the train, looking back, the Easter bonnet is still asleep. I fight the urge to wake her.

what if she’s riding it back downtown and this is the only sleep she gets? ”

Black bag behind, the brick path rattles me inside and out.

The lot is empty, my car a foot ball field away.

I start to walk, aiming for each of the pools of light.

I didn’t see them until they jumped.

Crickets. Big black armoured crickets having a gathering under all the lights. I ponder my next move.

Either walk right through them and stay in the light, or go around and risk darkness.

Place your bag in front of you, not behind, and use it to clear your path….

Thanks Eowyn, brave sword wielding  princess,  I think I’ll just do that.

I put the bag in front of me and began to run, staying in the light, crickets parting like Moses and the Red Sea.

Car straight ahead, keys in hand, click to unlock throw in the bag, lock the door.

Safe!

Driving home I can’t wait to see what tomorrows train ride will bring.

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The Dinner Table, the Burping Alphabet Bet and The Peter Pan Collar

The table was always set, every night, fork to the left of the plate, knife to the right, paper towel napkin folded in half tucked under the knife.  The fork was always in the left hand, still is, the knife in the right, and napkin always stayed on the lap. Under no circumstances was said napkin to be balled up, held in the hand or otherwise disfigured before the end of the meal and it found it’s way to the trash.

Mom do we need spoons?

You always asked, one didn’t want to have to set and wash spoons that were not used and more importantly;

Spoon meant jello, or custard or canned fruit or on very special occasions, ice cream.  

Spoons meant  dessert.

The fruit cocktail single half a red cherry mined and fought over;  the pears packed in syrup juice drizzled over the warm Birds custard a half a pear on the side; the frothy rectangle jello, scoopable and smooth;mix the can of evaporated milk, pour it through the hole in the top the moving blender,  the whirling teaches patience as the jello orange or strawberry creamy treat takes a while to set. Listen to the roar,  the foamy layers settle;  see them forming in the glass 8×10 on the refrigerator shelf, shake the dish still not ready,  close the door!

Will we need a spoon?

Yes,  we need spoons.

Never is the fork  to be switched the right hand  and turned up  in the- too busy shoveling to hold both required utensils maneuver; the knife was never used and then simply set aside across the plate. The knife was to be held and used with every single mouthful.

That along with  a hand around the top of your plate, guarding it as if someone was about to walk by and steal it before you finished were uncouth, common and ill-mannered and got you either a slap with the flat edge of the knife across what ever flesh was available, or if particularly egregious, a full-out stab with the tines of the fork.  In my father’s defence, he usually only gave you the  loud silent stare, a clearing of the throat, and left the stabbing ritual for my mother as she was within reach most of the time.

These things were never spoken, but clearly understood, the social moray’s of the meal.

Among the other verboten table manners were burping, spilling, chewing with your mouth open, using your fingers, cramming in or eating too-fast, and serving yourself.

My mother always served.

There was always enough, but just. 

The portions filling, but never outside of  the Thanks Giving Turkey, and Christmas Standing Rib Roast were there any left overs.

Milk,  the only beverage, salt, pepper,  the only acceptable spices.

We five sit and wait as my father brings in the evening paper,  and turns on the news. 

Noise of any kind was strictly forbidden at the table, including talking…

The news is on.

“I canny hear the news!” the usual single warning uttered before temper flared.

Above all he must be able to hear the news.

In his defense my brother was easily led a stray.  One could actually egg him into doing almost anything before the age of ten.

Something this especially evil older sister did with regularity. 

“I bet you can’t burp ten times in a row before dad gets here,” I offer.

Honestly they came so quickly I really couldn’t count them, so I had him do it again.

Never once did the boy ever ask to what I was betting, what he would get in return, never once.

He just innocently accepted whatever challenge I could think of.

Sucker.

“ok…I bet you can’t say the entire alphabet while burping.”

It took him two glasses of milk, three attempts but he was able to do the entire alphabet in two long consecutive burps.

Laughter was uncontrollable. My brother was laying flat on the floor as his stomach was distended with the large gulps of air he has swallowed to produce said entertainment, when my father finally entered the dining room.

Silence in hind-sight was too much to ask.

Silence upon the sight of  brother rolling on the floor in pain was just impossible.

“QUIET!” came the single warning.

My brother cames out from under the table, proceeded to take another gulp of milk, look straight at me,  and giggle mid swallow.

Milk upon meeting a closed throat due to laughing proceeds to exit ones nose.

Milk spewed.

Mayhem ensued.

Laughter reined.

My father lost it. Unable to hear Walter Cronkite, he roared,

“Enough!”

My father then began ejecting children one at a time, the sequence of which were based both on the timing of who laughed next and the proximity to his chair.

My brother has lost his seat at the table first, quickly followed my older sister, baby sister, and then me.

All except one were ejected pre dessert.

With each ejection my father rose and pulled out the chair, and pulled you up from your seated position by the arm, and generally motioned toward the direction of your bedroom.

He never really uttered the words, “Go to your room”

So I didn’t.

Instead I laid in the hall on the floor army crawl style and spied on my sister the last remaining laughter hold out.

I don’t remember what made her laugh, or even if she ever did.

My father rose and stood behind the last remaining hold out.

Instead of grabbing her arm,  he grabbed her collar instead.

The collar gave way with a rip, bouncing my sister back down into her chair, leaving him standing there with the peter pan collar in his hand.

From the four corners of the house, laughter broke free.

My father defeated, tossed the collar aside, returned to his chair and finished his supper alone, fork in the left, knife in the right, napkin on his lap.

The sounds of our laughter drowned out Walter Cronkite that night.

They still do.

And now you know the story of the dinner table, the burping alphabet bet, and the peter pan collar.

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Tell Tale Heart

The Cardiologist carefully  lifted and replaced the stethoscope onto each quadrant, front and back, before listening again to the front with eyes squeezed shut. The “lets give it a listen” full eye contact, and  comforting smile disappear instantly.

The words pulse silently in my head, heart murmur, heart murmur,  heart murmur a terrible triplet.  A new symptom to add to the list.  I watch the professional eyes open and then avoid; they never do meet my gaze again.

Fucking whimp.

I want to scream at him.  Go ahead asshole tell me. What you hear I see.

It is Poe printed in black bold on thick white cotton bond, this heart tells tales; See him sitting all day long, not moving, watching TV, waiting, see him dizzy, grabbing hold, holding on, see him on the floor, see his lips mumble his not quite conscious first words,

“I don’t want to live like this.”

Cardiologist looks down and away, at his chart, at the wall, says, “his EKG is abnormal,”  holds it up,  the paper with the squiggly lines held aloft.

…do I look like I can read electronic scrawl?

I silently dare him to look at me, he doesn’t.

Bad girl takes over, refuses to look away; see  high-waisted  khaki pants,  a slight tuck to the left, buttons all done up tight, scrub faced  always wears a white undershirt, tightie whities, faithful deck shoes awaiting a deck, a walking ad for  L.L. Bean.  Safe money says this is an only gets blow jobs on birthdays kinda guy.

Bad girl wants to swear just to see him jump. Big juicy swear words roll around and almost slip out.

He starts asking questions.

“Ever had swelling of your legs?”

“Oh years ago in Rome… I was” Griffy starts,  only stopping to inhale as the story is lengthy an requires frequent oxygen intake to complete. I know the end of the story, but the cardio-boy will never hear it he has moved on to question two.

“Do you have shortness of breath?”

“Oh yes… why just today I was out of breath only walking to the chair and”

“Do you tire easily?”

So close …almost got that second answer fully out before the third was asked. Close  but no cigar.

“Well I think you’ll need some further testing to exclude cardiac reasons for your fainting.”

“I’m sorry, ” I stammer. ” Isn’t Multiple System Atrophy and the related autonomic mal-functions that cause both high and low blood pressure the cause of Griff’s fainting?”

It is as though I wasn’t in the room. He looks right at Griff and says,

“A 70 % blockage would be enough to cause your symptoms, I recommend further tests.”

Cardiologist man then stands,  opens the door, looks down the hall, and says, “you know how to get out of here? They’ll set you up at checkout with the appointments.”

Dr. Oz he isn’t.

“You do know he has MSA a degenerative neurological disorder than is chronic, progressive and fatal?” I add as I get up and start to wheel Griff out.

There was no answer to the query.

First impression note for the field guide he is a silver-haired Tempe Arizona frat boy who thinks waitresses belong beneath him and always put out.

Honey, you are quickly becoming a walking cliché’ … Remember No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Thanks Eleanor, but really this place would piss off Gandhi.

“See the blue light? its right, then another right,  down the hall to the blue light, then straight on til you see checkout  Take care.” as he disappeared in the opposite direction.

Strike One.

“Blue light?” I hiss. What the fuck is this a super fucking K-mart? Blue light special on aisle three. Blue Light?” I steam out, pushing Griff at a safe but speedy pace, his hair only gets a little bit tossed, we come to a stop at check out.

There isn’t room for the wheelchair in the checkout cubicle, its three by three, three sides, padded, convenient, with a high counter, and two over stuffed chairs in a blue that screams I’m supposed to make you feel comfortable and right at home !

News flash. Your chairs just piss me off.

Strike two.

I wonder if this place has ever heard of access for disabled persons.

Strike three.

All this is before she speaks.

“The doctor wants him to have a chemical stress test as soon as possible.”

“Excuse me? I thought we were referred for an echo cardiogram?”

She makes a fatal mistake by repeating her exact words in exactly the same manner only a hundred decibels louder.

The exchange continues.

“A stress test for a man who is unable to walk the 20 feet down the hall to the bathroom without passing out?” I ask.

“Can he get out of that chair?”

“Yes”

“Well then he won’t have a problem, can he lie down, lie still? ”

“Yes and yes”

“And did you come here for Dr….. ” here she pauses to look at the computer screen as there are no less than 12 attending cardiologist that frequent this lovely Cardiac Care Center. “yes,  Dr. M, so you came for DOCTOR M’s advice correct? DOCTOR M-wants him to have a chemical stress test, then an echo.”

Griffy sits head a little tilted, face drawn. I have talked over him literally, and lost my cool, again.

He didn’t need this from me.

I take out the green book, my Dedicated Griffy Information Depository and open to write down the appointments.

It slips on the way out,

Mother Fuckers!

Griffy laughs, at least we have this.

If nothing else, I can still make him laugh.

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