Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scare tactics

Out after dark. On a school night. I can remember it like yesterday.

It was pitch black. Music was playing somewhere off in the distance, a tinny, eerie sound that added to the suspense.

A vacant building – maybe an old school or a warehouse – would be decorated for the season with a few boxes of garbage bags, a load of dry ice, and a few splashes of theatrical lighting. Not to mention spaghetti. Guts and gore required lots and lots of spaghetti.

A new haunted house would open its doors each October, usually a community-effort that sought to raise money for a cause. It didn't matter that they were always the same. I'd be there. As a teenager I couldn't wait to be scared.

Back then I never thought about the lengths to which folks had gone to get the desired effect.

I never fully appreciated the work it must have taken to transform some ordinary place into a maze of horror. Or how many people had actually dressed up to scare the bejeezus out of throngs of halloween guests. I'd never actually counted the number of psychopaths or the variety of undead looming in the shadows or hulking around in the glare of strobe lights. I just held my breath and waited for something to reach out and grab me.

I certainly never recognized any of these actors … though it wouldn't be a stretch to think one of the ghosts might have been my gym teacher or that one of the maniacal medical practitioners might have been a school nurse.

I just remember how intricate they always seemed.

Perhaps the years have colored my recollection of these low-budget efforts.

Or perhaps inertia has.

All. That. Work. Wrapping walls in plastic. Making costumes. Hanging spiders and webs. Cutting a hole in an old card table so that Mr. Smith from the bus garage could be a head on a platter. I can't hardly imagine being the person who had to paint all those cardboard tombstones or figure out the best way to color spaghetti intestines so they wouldn't stain … should you accidentally throw them at a tourist. You know … by mistake.

Sure, it might sound like fun when a person puts it that way, but I think the older one gets the more precipitously the ratio between effort and fright diminishes (which is why they make people my age sign waivers).

Ordinary things scare me now: doctors' appointments; car repairs; going to the mailbox; waiting in line at the grocery store behind someone who says, “I vant to write a cheque.”

Seriously, I get a noticeable blood-pressure boost from remembering that I forgot my reusable tote bags as soon as I take the keys out of the ignition in the supermarket parking lot.

And the mere thought my kids will be asking for the car keys someday is enough to elicit a blood-curdling scream.

Which is why I'd like to propose a lower budget, low-budget house of horrors.

One that doesn't need costumes or props. It doesn't even need a venue, it could happen spontaneously anywhere.

All we'd need to do is have the narrator of our minds make announcements through the loudspeaker that is our mouths while trying to channel the voice of Vincent Price or the Wicked Witch of the West:

8 a.m. “Hoooooo ooooh … I think you missssssssssssssssed the busssssssssssssss.”

10 a.m.: “Attention: Gross-A-Rama customers … A repugnant shopper in Checkout Lane 9 will contaminate the environment with a raft of plastic bags and her lack of forethought. But in her negligence she's actually saved her family from certain death or at least a very real potential for gastric distress. The bags she forgot haven't been laundered and are teaming with chicken poisons.”

5: p.m.: “Whatsssss for dinner? Leffffffffffftovah Spaghhhhhetttiiiiiiiiii!”

Of course the worst part of such ordinary horror is realizing you'd even be afraid of your teenage self:
Honestly, what IS she doing out so late on a school night?”

Sunday, October 21, 2012

One ring y-dingy, two ding-a-lingys

The phone hadn't rung in a while. Possibly for weeks, but I hadn't noticed. Much.

Truth be told, the silence was a relief.

For months answering calls on the “landline” had felt like fielding fly balls on the moon. The ring would start and so would the race to find a handset, which might have been buried in the couch … or in a toy box … or left outside … in the rain. Even if I found one of the four handsets before the fourth ring switched the call to voicemail, the dang-gummed thing wasn't charged.

I would have let the calls go to voicemail and not worried, but then … Someone (not pointing fingers at THE KIDS) had unplugged the answering machine. And SOMEONE ELSE (yours truly) didn't bother to investigate the problem or at least try to plug it back into the outlet.

If it's really important, I told myself, they'll call the cell phone. Honestly all we're missing without the home phone are wrong numbers, robocalls … and …

Oh. Yeah ... doctors' offices.

Inertia has it's price.

Showing up for a “bumped” appointment wasn't that costly. Someone else in the practice could fit me without rescheduling, so it wasn't a total loss. But it did prompt me to move some heavy furniture, relocate a warren of gnarly dust pookas and try to solve the problem of the non-working answering machine once and for all.

Not that I was successful.

Someone (not pointing fingers at THE DOG) had chewed through the wire.

But even that wasn't the whole of the problem. One trip to a big box store, four new phones and one new answering machine later and someone (giving all the credit here to THE MAN) emerged from the basement, scratched his head and exclaimed:“There's no dial tone. Did you cancel the service?”

Wishful thinking.

Three days later … when he (VERY REASONABLY) asked if I'd called the phone company to sort the whole thing out … I looked at him, cocked my head to the left and growled.

More wishful thinking.

I will call. I will call. I will call.

Which I did -- two days after that – fully expecting to rearrange one day, five weeks from now, so I might wait for a technician to arrive somewhere between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

What I didn't expect was a return phone call – five minutes later – telling me the problem had been fixed from their office. At no charge.



Why did I ever want to get rid of the landline? I asked myself. How on Earth could I have seen it as a nuisance?

The home phone is communal. It's part of the family conversation. With it (and numerous extensions) I can be assured that at some point in my children's forthcoming teenage courtships I will know who's calling. I might even be able to glean what they're saying.

Cell phones don't tether as easily to apron strings.

And with that, my new love of the landline is rekindled.

“Oh, by the way,” I mention to my husband in passing. “The phone is fixed. The problem was on their end. They fixed it remotely.”

For a moment he is silently stunned, as I will be when words finally tumble out of his mouth.

“Perhaps we should just get rid of the landline,” he says as I wait for the punchline.

“Seriously? The easiest problem ever fixed in the history of things that need fixing around here and you want to get rid of it?”

More silence.

“Who said that? Wasn't me. Must have been the dog. I was over here just minding my own business, chewing on the telephone book.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How the other half lives

Dim lighting. A corner table. Secluded.

Somewhat secluded..

On the tenth anniversary of our wedding we are as alone as a couple can be in a trendy restaurant.

The place is hopping with young couples, older couples, people from the neighborhood just stopping in for a nightcap.

Hair done, make-up on, new clothes -- that have been hanging in my closet forever, waiting patiently for this moment -- all conspire to make me appear as if I belong.

Yet, I can't help but feel out of place.

Were the couples flanking our table to overhear our conversation, they'd have been treated to the following inanity:

“Is this the wood year?”

“Nope. That's the fifth anniversary. Ten is tin.”

“Aw, shucks. And here I am getting you new logs for the wood stove.”

“That's fine. I got you foil. I just had to eat the candy that was inside of it first.”

“That's love for you.”

To anyone who couldn't help but overhear that, or perhaps the one about a trefoil plant and an unfortunate skin reaction, let me be the first to apologize.

We need to work on controlling the volume of our voices. Also … we don't get out much.

It's not as if we are strangers to the pleasures of dinning out. But truth be told, we're more accustomed to places that offer crayons with their butcher paper table coverings … even when we have the luxury of a babysitter.

But special occasions warrant a certain amount of discomfort; a certain amount of mispronouncing menu items and over-indulging in high-caloric desserts.

They warrant something, anyway.

Ten years.

Ten years, two children, three dogs (two in dog heaven), countless fish (in fish heaven) and a cat with seven lives left.

Ten years, two houses, two kids to get onto the school bus each morning and off of the school bus each afternoon.

Ten years, no telling how many fights, and, luckily, an equal or greater number of well-meant apologies.

Ten years of recirculating ideas that ocassionally lead to a revelation but mostly lead to the feeling of brick wall meeting head.

Oddly, ten years feels like an accomplishment as equally as it feels like a stitch in time.
He pulls out a worn picture from his wallet. And there I am, dog-eared and faded, smiling the smile of someone who has yet to learn the true meaning of the term: “Sleeps Like a Baby.”

I don't have a picture to of him show. My purse is filled with plastic toys scooped off the floor in a last-minute, The-Babysitter's-Coming and We-Don't-Want-Her-To-Think-We're-Hopeless-Slobs kind of way. The wallet is jammed with cash receipts and plastic cards I've long stopped using.

There's no room for anything more.

Sometimes I think marriage feels like this.

As it goes on, you get the feeling that there's no room for anything more.

Not that you've outgrown it, just that maybe the fit is a little more snug than is comfortable.

The candle flickers as we look over the table at one another. We haven't really talked about us since we sat down. We haven't marveled at the life we've made together and that will be waiting for us when we get home. We don't really need to. Like a current, it's always there carrying us along.

In a moment someone will arrive at our table bearing drinks: A gooey blender variety for him, something pale and nondescript for me. The servers always try to put his pretty concoction at my place setting.

He'll take a sip. I'll take a sip.

And then we'll switch them.

It doesn't hurt to, once in a while, taste how the other half lives.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Clouds in my coffee

I can see my breath.

At least I think it's mine. All around me clouds of white mist -- a combining of exhalation and coffee-scented steam -- appear in thin puffs only to dissipate into the sky.

Honestly, I never thought I'd be here: Standing on a sideline, watching a child of mine (let alone two) in a too-long t-shirt and ill-fitting shin guards relentlessly following a pack of other similarly dressed children, all of them trying to kick a quilted ball.

The romantic in me might explain that the mere idea of raising children seemed itself like a distant hope … but the cynic in me would just beat the romantic over the head with rolled-up newspaper and yell: “Who are you trying to kid, Soccer Mom!?” They proceed to taunt me with the label.

Oh … “Soccer mom” … sounds so sardonic in my mind.

Would I need a mini-van now? Would I start yelling plays and words of dubious encouragement at the team? Would I berate the players and try to steal the coach's hat?

I try on the coat of encouragement first. I jump up and down, wave my arms and yell: “Good one,” as my daughter's teammate solidly kicks the ball. My husband leans in and whispers “It was offsides.”

“Perfect,” I think to myself. “Dubious Encouragement fits like a glove … I'm not going to even bother trying on any hats.”

Positive thinking. Positive thinking. Got to have positive thinking. …. This is going to be fun.

I shift from one foot to another as I try to watch both kids play in separate fields.

The waddle of children in The Champ's age group follow each other around like penguins, instinctually mimicking movements as they propel the ball from one goal to another. Their coaches are all smiles even as they try to herd the kids away from the nearby basketball court where the game has accidentally traveled. Their strategy is simplicity: “Run THAT way. Try to kick the ball.”

Ittybit's age group by contrast are each assigned positions, and, like jobs of yesteryear, each player stands in place, assembly-line style, waiting for the work to come their way. Ittybit's first occupation is “Maytag Repairman.” She stands inside a goal post, nothing much to do but wait. Soon she's rotated to another position and for it she fast-walks toward the ball.

I have no idea what's going on but I know she should be running.

I worry the lack of hustle is problematic and will affect her value to the team. Things are going to be different in the future, I think. But I stay quiet.

A mom standing next to me starts speaking in tongues to her daughter.

“Dribble to the defender. Cross in. Watch your center, watch your center! Go for clearance!”

I smile, thinking: Always go for clearance. But I resist the urge to tell her about the cleats we bought on sale at the sporting goods store.

No need to gloat.

The kids are having fun. They are out in the fresh air, learning about something that takes skill and teamwork wearing padded legs and pointy-bottomed shoes.

And then I realize what the game has to teach me I won't find in any rule books.

Neither of them are worried about winning or losing. They're not worried about the future even five minutes away. They're just playing in the moment. One all smiles and motion, the other all tongue-protruding concentration. It's just us. Here. Now. Together.

Soon enough the steam from my cup will stop rising, and this moment will be over.