Sunday, July 30, 2017

I don't want to say 'I told you so'

I don’t want to say I told you so …

Night had fallen, and the house was turning to sleep. For some reason, the long days of summer have made us early to rest and late to rise.

The human residents as they are.

The feline and canine residents like to test our abilities to tune them out.

Makeup brushes (the rattling, clattering stand-ins for hunt-able mice) are carefully hidden once their gift has been bestowed.

And usually, any casual barking is quieted early with one last lap in the “dog yard” and a bedtime snack.

This night, however, the barking continued. One bleat here, another there. Not rhythmic enough to consider pressing.

"Timmy" was not stuck in a well.

I'd like to clear that up right now. 

"Lassie," however, was not convinced. She paced with fervor. Her nails were clicking against the uncovered floors in a way the silence of midnight tends to amplify.

Once the pacing had stopped, then came the bark. The dog's short, ear-piercing yips seemed to be all worry, as her body -- still curled tightly into a ball -- conveying no similar urgency. 

Why? There was no distant thunder. No storms detected on the radar. I listened for the smoke detectors' low-battery chirp. Nothing.

I checked her sleeping charge, where she had stationed herself for the night. She quietly gazed up at me, curled up tightly on the boy's scatter rug of already-worn clothes. Unmoving.

Go to sleep, I whispered and patted her head. Her boy was not in peril; instead, he was inhaling deep sleep and exhaling snippets of a dream. 

"Pink bunnies are actually danger-mice."

She was silent long enough for me to get back into bed and settle in.


Go. To. Sleep. I called from beneath the covers with the exasperation of a nearly new parent who hasn't slept more than two hours at a time since ... well, they can't remember when.

The husband tossed and turned, grumbled a bit but stayed silent. He who never gets to say “I told you so.” 

Things didn't end well the last time he sleep-groggily demanded I get up and let her out at 3 a.m. to quell her barking.

It was a different nature that called her that night.

The black and white-striped kind, which requires a recipe of peroxide, baking soda, and dish detergent to cut its perfume.

This strange upset, I had convinced myself, would remain an unknowable intrusion: a leaf that tumbled across the window pane; a motion-sensor light several hundred yards away set off momentarily by some nocturnal creature's late night errands.

A one-off.

Wishful, blissful thinking.

The morning brought my dutiful husband retching halfway up the stairs, having gone only halfway down them on his morning quest for coffee.

I don't want you, dear reader, to envision the scene if you are midway through your breakfast. ...

Suffice it to say we don’t own a Roomba, but the potential horrors associated with the automated spreading of liquid fertilizer realized anyway.

“I don’t want to say ‘I told you so …’

Sunday, July 23, 2017

One of the best

I don't hate weddings …

I have a job to do. And it starts with a mental affirmation.

Think of all the pretty pictures.

Don't even have to close my eyes. … the inspiration is all right in front of me.

A sunlit field. A treeline pond. The most beautiful place for a wedding if ever there was one. And I haven't even mentioned the bride; a natural beauty from all angles even when her face twists into an asymmetric sneer just for laughs.

There was no way to screw this up, short of equipment malfunction or stunning natural disaster.

There I was, cameras in hand and filled with dread, trying to blend into the woodwork.

I don't hate weddings. I just harbor the Charles Bukowski sentiment of happening to "feel better when they're not around."

It's an odd attribute for a so-called wedding photographer to harbor, I'll admit.

If shooting one wedding a year (that I refuse payment for) suffices for the use of that moniker.

I just have to do my thing. Be me. Plod on through the awkwardness of my being.

"Be careful of this one," laughed the father of the bride. "If anyone makes a horrible face, smacks a kid or falls into the water, she'll get the pinnacle moment. Guaranteed."

I am not put off by his jest or the statement. He knows me well enough to know he was opening a door. He'd probably even asked for that imaginary picture to be framed for posterity.

Of course, in that moment, I had to confess to feeling apprehensive. And going through a penance of meaculpas, to I'm not sure what ends. I should have said 'No.' The bride would have been better off with a real photographer. Someone who can control a crowd.

He assured me I am exactly the perfect fit.

I have never been a commanding presence. And weddings -- despite their familiar form -- always need someone at the helm whose skills include taming lions and herding cats.

That's not me. I'm not even skilled at pouring liquids through a funnel.

I can't seem to make the scene in front of me – the 160 guests; a roasted pig; the bathroom on wheels, fancier than any fixture in my house – fit into Just An Ordinary Day.

Behind a lens, however, I have a sense of timing that seems to work in my favor. I don't even understand why or how. It just happens. 

Maybe it's as simple as the difference between looking and seeing.

Which I guess is also the bridge between pomp and circumstance. 

For richer or poorer.

In sickness and health.

As long as we both shall live.

The most meaningful, if not somber moments of the entire event, lifted by a kiss and a DJ spinning "The Best Day of My Life."

And me, clicking away the whole time.

It was a really good day. Maybe one of the best.

That evening as pictures of smiles and glances full of love flash past me, and I funneled them into cyberspace for an optimal viewing experience; I breathed a little easier.

I know why I don't hate weddings. As good as they are, they remind me, the best days are still to come.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Doctor Google School of Medicine dropout

It happened while I was running.

Pain. The kind that makes you ask: is this live or pre-recorded?

It had been manageable in the beginning.
I thought I had even gotten past it after the first mile. The mental milestone of all long runs where will has to work against won't.

Eventually, all the individual parts of you that have been begging to stop fall silent and align with the path ahead. You hope it's the one with least resistance.

Until you feel something more.

Maybe it taps you on second mile or the third?

It has a familiar tug. Like a child's. You divert attention to it for a while and try to ascertain if its needs are urgent.

More often than not, I try to ignore this pain's chirpy insistence and lumber onward.

I hope the tugging will go away or wait its turn if it's not truly an emergency. As a last resort I will send my mind's "healing energy" to the spot that calls.

Sometimes it works.

But not this time.

This time the tugging promised to rage and break me into little bits if I didn't stop. Perhaps it was already too late for fingers-crossed reasoning by that point, I couldn’t be sure.

So I walked -- or limped, as literal accuracy requires – back home.

And then I rested. And rested. And rested. Until I couldn't rest anymore. At which point, I again tried to run.
Now, it was not the unmitigated disaster you might have expected since my ever-so-tentative performance was being enhanced by compression athletic-wear and a small, but mobile, dispensary of OTC anti-inflammatory medication.

But the next week?

It was, as you might imagine, a disaster.

And it never really got better.

But I persisted to believe it was something minor that time and rest would heal.

Still. Not. Better.

How many weeks, now? I've pretended not to count.

Smeared the pencil marks on the calendar and made the dates illegible.

Eventually I start to worry enough to enroll in the Dr. Siobhan M. School of Medicine at Google University.

By noon I had contracted three-quarters of the illnesses that end in "-itis" and every known cancer imaginable.

"You need to see a real doctor," said my daughter, who, at this point in the year, had already graduated from the Meredith Gray School of Medicine at the University at Netflix and was heading into her summer internship with Hank Med.

"But don't panic. The chances of cancer are still very slim. It's likely caused by inflammation from repetitive motion."

Still, I remain unconvinced. She is, after all, 13.
Seriously, try to remain calm.”

"How can you say be calm after that recommendation? EVERY Royal Pain on Gray's Anatomy ALWAYS turns into the worst-case-scenario!"

And in that moment, she smiled and laughed, and channeled her grandmother, who would have already sent me down the straight (if not exactly narrow) path toward professional intervention if she were still with us: "That's just the story arc on TV. You are not going to win the Hollywood lottery. Make yourself an appointment."

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Stealing thunder

The sun lit the horizon like a fuse, burning through to a center of plum-hued pink. The kids were antsy as we drove toward Who-Knows-Where.

They didn't -- for good reason -- believe Who-Knows was a real place. It's not like Stratford-on-Avon or Castleton-on-Hudson, which they've seen in travel magazines and during construction detours. They were just going along.

My imaginary hyphenate held the promise of fireworks, and that's all that usually matters to anyone enriched with time and a tank full of fossil fuel after sunset on July 4th.

The children probably would have appreciated the splendor of Albany's display. They might have even enjoyed the crowds.

Of course, I could be wrong on that last count.

My children's enthusiasm dampened for things that light up and explode one summer night four years ago amid a crowd of chain-smoking tipplers who by10 p.m. were all toppling over.

The scene frightened them enough to forgo public displays of pyrotechnics as if the razzle-dazzle only released rattle snakes into the air.

This year, emboldened by friends, we thought we'd try an adventure. Suss out the sizzle we'd heard happens annually at a nearby farm. We were told: Just park along the lane, pitch a few dollars into a collection plate and, you'll see celestial skyrockets until the cows come home.


But, as our luck would have it, the firework extravaganza was a thing of yesterday. And our rumor-monger informants had missed it, too.

Cue disappointed release bated breath.

So we did what all parents (who would rather have a root canal than traverse the seat of government looking for safe, yet percussive, patriotic explosives) are wont to do in this very situation:

We piled back into the car and started heading in the direction of water. We were on the lookout for small ponds, mid-sixes lakes, large puddles in front of new developments heretofore unencumbered by old-growth shade trees. Anywhere our sense of stereotype might pin DIY fireworks as a major part the evening's entertainment.

"I feel like a creeper," said my daughter, her voice somewhere between guilt and excitement. The earsplitting squeal she let out the moment a tiny pop of sparkle ignited above.


Off we went. Toward the lake houses, piled one on top of another, divided by narrow streets.

"You might try the turn-around at the end of the road," said a man who didn't want us to park near his gate. Not that we asked with actual words but I'm sure he could see the desire to park in our eyes as he pointed that-a-way ... "There's a cove down there ... it's pretty wide open."

We the cove much as he had described: A clearing bordering the lake's east-side elbow. Although it was open and inviting, the location obscured any view of the boats that had assembled along the western shores.

We could hear fireworks but we couldn't see them.

I tried to pretend; saying "Oooooh" and "ahhhhh" has the pops sprinkled the air. Described the sights I had seen (or wish to have seen) in my youth.

"Where are you looking?" exclaimed my exasperated son, who stopped himself from throwing a can of bug spray at me when I fessed up to fibbing.

"You are killing me!"

We got back into the car.

Windows open, radio off, we cruised along listening for bursts of manufactured thunder and  looking for cracks of chemical lightning.

"I think I see something," my daughter hollered. "Take a right."

We saw it, too.

We pulled off to the side of a long county road, inched up to a scrawny tree, and, giving the impression that we were trying to hide our gargantuan vehicle behind the sapling for cover, we turned off the engine and scrunched down in our seats.

No one was fooled.

The shooting lights that had erupted from the lawn party, to which we hadn't been invited, suddenly ceased and desisted.

We gave up and crept onward.

Over hill and dale, down one dark road after another we searched.

Nothing. ... And just as we were about to give up, the air above us exploded into red and purple sparks.

Everyone screamed. We pulled the car over and got out. Standing at the edge of knee-high corn and looking toward a driveway lined with angled pipes, we waited and bounced.

And the tell-tale whistles revved up.

One by one, fast and furious, the hits kept coming. Twirling, dancing undulating lights cracking into loud booms overhead and lighting up the sky. The girls screamed, the boys silently orchestrated with an imaginary baton.

When it was all over, we gave rounds of enthusiastic but apologetic applause. And our accidental hosts replied in kind with the ultimate sign of forgiveness:

"See ya next year."

We may have been stealing thunder, but we certainly hit the mother lode.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

In the swim

For a quarter of an hour or so, he adjusts his swimming gear until the fit nears perfection. His suit, mask, flippers, towel ready and arranged just so.

Swimming is serious business. It requires attention to all manner of details.

A smear of sunscreen across his neck leads my eye to the small patches of greasy foam visible on his arms. Since he's a do-it-himself kinda guy, I fully expected the shot-glass-full amount all the morning shows preach (for efficacy's sake) to be spattered all over the floor. Even so, he refuses to rub the stuff into his skin. This is fine, he tells me, as his swim shirt is the only real protection he needs.

He fights with his swim trunks trying to turn the pockets wrong-side inward. All pockets should be this way, he contends, lest he loses the stuff he's collected on the way to the beach. Fashion aside, there is no "right side out" when it comes to pockets. Mostly he ignores this social rule until he finds the smoothest shell or the flattest skipping stone.

He doesn't wonder why pockets exist in swimwear until he has to empty them into my bag before he ventures into the water.

He's already wrestled on a swim mask - tight over the head, extracting the fringe of his hair, piece by piece.

One errant lock and the protective bubble will pop, sending water cascading into his eyes and up his nose.

The process is arduous. Though not as arduous as it was before my son found a way to swim underwater without a full-body submersible.

Back then a single drop of water plopping onto his face was enough to make him sputter and claim to be "drowndeding."

And whoever was nearby at the time of the dousing got all the blame, deserved or not.

Mostly his contempt was well placed.

I still remember the moment one swim instructor nonchalantly dropped him off a diving board into the waiting arms of another ... before he said: "I'm ready."

It was the cardinal sin of all swim lessons sins and a sin which most parents thought had been abandoned during the sea change of a new millennia wherein no one in their right mind would advocate for simulated drowning as a teaching device.

She may not have known he was never going to be ready.

I knew.

And as I watched him sputter to the surface, screaming an incoherent recrimination to his now-chagrined looking torturer, I knew without a doubt that it would be a full year at least before he'd even step into a puddle again.

I knew swim class was over. For a long, long while.

He might not have forgiven her, nor me until I broke down and charged the cost of a toy-store mask and swim fins to my credit card.

Twelve dollars later, and with enough guilt ammunition to defy the printed No-Swim-Goggle rules, we returned to the pool.

Looking pinched and frog-like, he stepped back into the swim of things.