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Published in: on August 10, 2010 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Seasonal Super Hero

A version of this column appeared in the Christmas Day 2009 edition of the New Castle, In. daily newspaper, The Courier-Times.

As a kid in our small Indiana town, I dreamed of being a super hero whose special power would be that he was really good at running fast on snow and ice. 

This idea first came to me in the year of the big snow, 1978. That year Central Indiana was covered in mounds of the white stuff. I had never seen anything like it.

I remember clearly the moment the idea of the seasonal superhero came to me. I was on the playground with a few other boys. We were walking, going home I think. Someone had cut a trench among the piles, a dark line of asphalt bisecting the acres of white. Naturally, we scrambled to the top of the drifts instead to pick our way like some crazy, desperate party in a Jack London story.

Progress was slow, in no small part because with each step across the drifts our legs would sink through to our hips. That’s when I imagined myself sprinting across the frozen mounds, leaving my compatriots in a blinding kick-up of slush and mud. 

When I think back about the idea, certain limitations present themselves that perhaps were not immediately obvious to my eight-year-old mind, like the fact that being a superhero whose sole power is being able to run on snow and ice is, not to be too blunt about it, stupid. 

I mean, bad guys would be running loose at least eight months per year, and I would just be standing around staring at the sky, going, “Hey, is that a flake? I think that’s a flake.” I can almost hear the screams of those in danger, yelling, “Help us, Runs-Super-Fast-On-Snow-Man!” And there I would stand, helpless.

Superman had Kryptonite, but I would have Spring, Summer, Fall, and, truth be told, most of Winter. In our area of Indiana winters were mainly endurance contests made up of the kind of frigid temperatures, piercing winds, and sunless skies that would lead any reasonable observer to mistake the pale, gaunt faces of our elementary school class for a group of the tiny undead with a keen interest in hamsters and multiplication tables..

Winters there were made more oppressive by the absence of serious snow, denying our world the beauty of regular new coats of white. We’d usually get a few light dustings, sometimes a couple of inches, but almost never enough to make it necessary to keep a dedicated superhero around.

 So, in addition to having to sit out all superhero action three seasons a year for sure, the chances to use my powers would, because of the usual dearth of snow, come only fifteen days a decade.

None of this occurred to me that cold day in 1978. The possibility that I would grow up to be a seasonal superhero seemed to me as realistic as my alternative career path: growing up to be a cruise director just like Julie McCoy on “The Love Boat.”

 It took moving to New England to teach this Midwesterner about a thing or two about snow. The Indiana weather had taught me never to expect snow before Thanksgiving, often not before Christmas. Indiana is, after all, the home of the gray, mud-colored Christmas.

New England had a different attitude, often dumping a mess of winter precipitation on us before Halloween. The snow and ice stuck around later into the spring too. The effect of this was to reduce the duration of spring and summer dramatically. One year spring and summer together lasted about twenty minutes. I slept through them. I would never have known the seasons had even changed if, when I awoke, many of my friends weren’t just a shade tanner.

Those New England winters beat out of me any fondness my soul retained for winter weather, crushed every cherished Currier & Ives fantasy I’d entertained. The last year we lived in New Hampshire, we had eighty inches of snow. Notice the close correlation of the words “eighty inches of snow” and “last winter there.”

Still, if ever being a seasonal superhero would have been helpful, that was the season. The world had set the stage for me to offer up an amazing display of my skill at running over the winter landscape. Given how frustrated, how sick of winter I was by January, I’d be moving so fast across the drifts I’d be a blur to anyone who saw me. I can almost hear the onlookers talking.

“Was that Runs-Super-Fast-on-Snow-Man?” one would say.

“I think so,” the other would reply.

“Let’s see if we can follow him,” the first one would say. “Which way was he headed?” 

“South,” would be the only right answer.

Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 12:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Film Review-Repost

This review is from a couple of years ago, but I felt like posting it again today.

Ghost_and_Mr_Chicken_B&WA mid-60’s career move by Don Knotts meant Barney Fife had to leave behind his beloved Mayberry.

One of Knotts’ first post-Andy starring movie role, however, found him right back in small town America. This time, it’s Rachel, Kansas that provides the setting for Knotts’ role as aspiring newspaperman Luther Heggs in the Alan Rafkin directed 1966 comedy, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

Knotts plays Heggs with the same combination of earnestness, hubris, and vulnerability that made Barney Fife one of television’s most memorable characters. The film’s makers play up Knotts’ connection with the show by placing Griffith show regulars in supporting roles, including Hal Smith as Calver Weems and Hope Summers as Suzanna Blush.

The story is a perfect fit for Knotts. Heggs labors as a typesetter in the basement of the Rachel newspaper, but longs to take his place upstairs as a full-fledged reporter. Unfortunately, the paper’s owner and editor George Beckett and its one reporter are convinced Luther doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the news business.

Heggs’ chance at success comes when Beckett asks him to spend the night in the local haunted house on the anniversary of the murder-suicide that took place there 20 years before and return with a sensational story.

Heggs accepts the challenge. Once inside the house he witnesses multiple spooky doings. Back at the newspaper office, he pours out the story that becomes front page news the next day.

The owner of the house, who is planning its demolition, sues the paper and Heggs for libeling his family’s name. The ensuing court case threatens to expose Heggs as a liar, but instead ends with his vindication.

Watching the film now, more than forty years after its initial release, provides viewers a glimpse back to another America, one not devoured by cynicism or splintered by intractable social problems. However it was intended at the time, the film stands four decades later as a light-hearted, witty paean to American small town life, to a time when such a life was possible.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken manages all this with nothing but a strong story and a set of talented actors, never resorting to special effects pyrotechnics, shocking violence, or graphic sexual imagery to keep its audience entertained. Though adults and children alike could easily enjoy it, the film avoids the sentimentality and didacticism of much of the recent odious crop of  “family films.”

Films that stand the test of time are those that touch on recurring human issues. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken manages exactly that. The story of Heggs’ ascent from downtrodden plebe to celebrated hero speaks to the perpetual human struggle to improve our lots.

Some films, like this one, also take on layers of meaning as they age, as the culture around them  changes. They capture their moment like a photograph.  Looking back at it we see only a dim impression of how things might have been, simple half-real apparitions that come back from the past like a specter, a spirit…a ghost.

Published in: on October 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Falling into the Season

The following is the text from a recent column published in Small Town Living magazine.

It’s October, and while I don’t want to say fall is my favorite, it is definitely in my top twentyfive percent of all seasons. In fall, the trees put on their party clothes, but the wind gets wistful.  The seemingly interminable habit the boys on our street pick up every summer of throwing a football back and forth while swearing, a game I call the “Catch and Cuss,” finally reaches an end.  Delicious qualities such as these are, no doubt, what inspired poet John Donne to declare that “in heaven it is always autumn.”

But it’s not just teenagers whose lives autumn changes. The people in my hometown seemed to have gotten the bug for change this fall. Returning home not long ago, I had a chance to witness a recently founded tradition there: the Labor Day Weekend Rummage Sale. This is more than a yard sale. It is rummage sale as ritual, as community building, as communicable disease.  From a drive around town that morning, it was clear nearly everybody had gone into business.  People who the week before had been helpless couch potatoes, bored housewives, restless students, had become overnight retailers, instant entrepreneurs. Just add junk.

For this one magical weekend, everyone ceases to see their neighbors as the people whose penchant for Rottweilers and rotting pick-up truck chassis is lowering their property values and begins to see them for what they really are: a chance to unload the fondue set that has been rusting in the attic since that time Uncle Larry tried to use it as a foot bath.

The result of such a massive effort at derummaging is, of course, no actual reduction in the gross amount of junk. Instead, this routine is a clever plan to allow the average person to sell things with no sense of loss. Anything a guy wants back, he knows he can find for sale next Labor Day in the garage of whoever just bought it from him. Any day, I expect to see a story in the paper about a fellow who in a mere four years has managed to sell and re-acquire every single item he has ever owned.

As the seasons outside were changing, and the people back home were switching junk, our twoyear-old daughter came into the kitchen one morning to make an announcement.  “Grrr,” she said, one hand tensed into a claw. “I am the big bad wolf.”

This was a revelation. Granted, the birth of a child is a big event, full of action and emotion.  Things become a blur. Still, I’m pretty sure if anyone had uttered the phrase, “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Abbott, you have a brand-new big bad wolf,” I would have remembered.  I paused in the middle of making a sandwich.  “Do you know what Daddy does to big bad wolves?” I said.

My daughter, a look of confusion on her face, said, “What?”

“He chases them down,” I said, giving chase.

“He grabs them up,” I said, lifting her in the air.  “He turns them upside-down.” I flipped her over.

“He bops their heads on the couch.” Here I lowered her until the top of her head touched the cushions of the couch.

“Then, he throws them out the window!” (Note: this last bit was only pantomime. I maintain a strict policy against throwing toddlers through windows, or any large structure made of glass, really.)

Laughing so hard she could barely speak, she managed to say: “That was…NOT FUNNY…  Daddy.”

She immediately wanted to do the not funny thing again.

So we did.

We would be doing that same not funny thing still, had the responsibilities of life not dragged me away. I was reluctant to go because, unlike this little one, I am old enough to know such moments will not always pass between us. When spring comes again, I will be forty, still young by many measures, but old enough to know life only holds only so many glorious seasons.  I picked my daughter up from the couch and said, “OK, go play. Daddy has to get ready for work.”

I watched her waddle off, the tail of the trusted blanket she holds flapping behind her. As she went, I was reminded how brief a season this is.  And how grateful I am to be here when it is fall in our small town, when it is fall on earth, as it is in heaven.

Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 1:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dream Trip

This it the text from a recent column of mine published by Small Town Living magazine.

The boys in my neighborhood when I was a kid spent as much of the summer as possible in the air.  They’d go flying on their bicycles from the ends of ramps built with two by fours and a sheet of presswood. From my bedroom window, I could see them on their “dirt bikes” pumping hard to pick up steam before hitting the grassy hill that divided the street. Near the top, they would do a trick that would send them flying, landing again with a smack of tires on the bare dirt where their falls had worn the grass away.

I knew where I would land if I were to try a similar stunt: in the emergency room. The threat of pain—and there would have been pain either from an accident or, just as likely, from my mother when she found me doing something so dangerous—was not all that dissuaded me. While I do not claim to be a person with an insatiable craving for mental stimulation, even as a kid I needed more than could be provided by riding my bicycle up the same hill 7,000 times a day.

I wanted a bike only to go. Those two wheels, I knew, would expand my world. No longer would I be confined to rambling along the cracked sidewalk of our tree-lined street. A bicycle would set me free. A bicycle would, no doubt, throw open to my exploration our entire block.

Thus began my longing to go. From early on, I wanted to see what there was in this world. “Let’s just see what’s around the corner” became my motto.

So when a cousin of mine returned from a trip full of tales of a vacation she’d had, my longings only got worse. Her family had taken her to a place unlike any other, where every corner was crammed with wonder. She had been to a place where every step led on to another marvel. She had been to a place populated by people whom I had believed, until that time, existed only in books. She had been to Disney World.

After hearing her describe it, my desire to go grew into a flame in my little chest. I probably don’t have to tell you this, but walking around with a chest full of fire hurts. I ached for Disney World, for its comforting Main Street, for its whizzing rides, for its hopeful vision of an antiseptic future. I couldn’t stop wanting it, and the pain lingered. For a while, the happiest place on earth made me completely miserable.

What I learned was that Disney World was a very exclusive place, a kind of club that simply did not take the kind of people we were.

We were the kind of people who didn’t have any money.

To remedy this, I started filling the small bank in my closet, a gray metal box shaped like a safe, with pennies, certain that someday the fund would grow large enough to get us to the gates of Disney World. 

 Eventually, my passion cooled and my pocket money went into candy and comic books rather than into my bank. At some point along the way I looked into my savings and realized that no family of four, regardless of how many corners they cut, could get from our small Indiana town to the Magic Kingdom on 68 cents and a Bazooka bubble gum wrapper.

The dream went on a shelf in my mind marked “Someday.” Even then, it was a crowded shelf. There it sat, along with plans for college and, naturally, a safari.

Sometimes dreams come off the shelf. As you are reading this, there is a very good chance that I am on my way to Disney World or perhaps standing right outside Cinderella’s magic castle.

A trip to Disney World is actually happening, in part, because a few years ago, my wife and I did exactly what every personal finance guru who aims to help you realize your dreams tells you to: we signed up for a credit card. Not just any credit card; this was a special Disney credit card that promised a Disney “dream dollar” for every hundred real dollars spent.

This spring we turned around and found our account, unlike my little grey bank, was flush with fake Disney money. It was time to start planning.

Now we’re off. As summer closes and autumn looms, we’ll be touching down just outside the long-dreamt-of destination. Then it will be home to the regular world where what is enchanted is much harder to see. There will be dishes to do, dogs to walk, babies to raise—but before all that, I’ll just have to sit down and write a long letter to my cousin.

Published in: on August 12, 2009 at 2:55 pm  Comments (1)  

July 6, 2009

When I, the devoted husband, answered the phone and heard a hint of panic in the Mrs.’ voice, I was willing to go anywhere to help. I imagined myself called to a scene of imminent danger, one plagued by violence, to counter the effects of crime or accident. I steeled myself for a journey to the emergency room or an overgrown ditch beside some forgotten road.

Still, what I heard surprised me.

“I need you to come down here to the jewelry store right now,” the Mrs’. voice insisted. “Our daughter has shoved a bead up her nose and we can’t get it out.”

I grabbed my hat and rushed outside. My office is only a few blocks from the store and I booked it down Main Street like a man on a mission to save his baby from inhaling expensive gems. If I’d had a portable siren, I’d have strapped it to my head.

“I’ve called the doctor,” the Mrs. said as soon as I stepped through the shop door. “They’re going to fit her in as soon as we can get there.”

I reached out and took my beautiful, sweet, two-year-old daughter into my arms. She was smiling and acting as if nothing unusual had happened, proving she has not only the storage space, but also the unshakable nerves necessary for a career in jewel smuggling.

As we headed to the car, I said to the clerk, “After we have this dug out of her nose, we’ll make sure to get it back to you.”

 She looked a little befuddled. “No,” she said. “That’s all right.”

 On the way to the pediatrician, I heard the full story. 

When my wife’s grandmother died a couple of years ago, she left our daughter a box of plastic costume jewelry. On occasion, my wife has allowed our little one to play dress-up with some of great-grandma’s things.

One of the necklaces, a string of dark blue beads, had broken and the Mrs. had taken it to the jewelry store to have it fixed.

“She was sitting on the counter while I was talking,” the Mrs. said. “We heard her laughing and saw she had two beads stuck in her nose. We got one out, but she pushed the other one deeper in.” 

 I was instantly grateful she hadn’t been playing with a stack of $17,000 diamonds.

At this point, apparently, our neighborhood jeweler stepped in and attempted to solve the problem. I mean, he has a lot of experience removing jewels from small spaces, right?

As I have been told, he laid our daughter on the floor and peered up her tiny orifice using his loupe to get a good view of what was going on in there.

I can only imagine another customer, upon seeing this, would have been inclined, after purchasing a new brooch for mom, to ask if the owner didn’t have a minute to spare to determine what had been causing the earache that had been needling her for the last couple of days.

 “Well,” the jeweler said, issuing a final diagnosis, “I don’t think I ought to mess around with this.”

 The Mrs. agreed and called me.

At the doctor’s office, we were able to see her regular doctor, a round-faced boyish man whom our daughter has been seeing since birth. Dr. B is shy with a wonderful, comforting manner. On the day our daughter received her first vaccinations, the room was flooded with tears and cries of “No! No!” as soon as he entered with the needles. But, after a few minutes, thanks to his warm personality, Dr. B was able to get me calmed down.

This day, after inspecting the situation, he stepped out and returned to the room with a small plastic rod that, when attached to a small light, looked for all the world like a miniature light saber. I mean, if Luke Skywalker, in his effort to overthrow the dark Empire, had ever been called upon to extract a forty-year-old piece of cheap costume jewelry from the nose of a toddler, I feel sure this is what he would have used.

“What is that?” I asked.

“It’s an ear speculum,” Dr. B. said. “Normally, it’s used for getting out ear wax, but.…” He trailed off and shrugged as if to say, “Sometimes you just have to improvise.”

My daughter lay down on the examining table. She seemed to be thinking, “Hunh, so this is what happens when you cram jewelry up your nose. They take you to the doctor and everyone pays you a lot of attention. I bet I get a lollipop out of this.”

Dr. B. inserted the probe and after a couple quick flicks of his wrist the bead was lying on the outside of my baby’s face covered in, well, exactly what you’d expect a bead dug out of somebody’s nose to be covered in.

We all stared at it.

“I need to save that. I need to fix the necklace,” the Mrs. said to Dr. B., then added, “I mean, I’m going to wash it first.”

Dr. B. plucked the bead up with a piece of gauze, dropped it into what looked like a urine sample cup, and handed it to my wife.

On the way out, we asked our little Chud what the lesson of this experience had been.

“Don’t stick any beads up your nose,” she said.

 Indeed. A lesson that, sooner or later, we all must learn.

Published in: on July 6, 2009 at 3:48 pm  Comments (2)  

June 19, 2009

We live in a nice neighborhood. Except for the occasional incident in which one neighbor shoots another through the throat at close range with a high-powered deer rifle, it’s been quiet. 

To be fair, the shooting thing has only happened once in the three years we’ve lived here. But who knows? Maybe our neighborhood averages a shooting every four years. We could be due for another one.

The day after the violence, I was working at the local newspaper and was assigned to cover the story. I showed up at the house where the victim lived. Family members were abuzz with conversation out in the yard, which is understandable since that’s where they kept most of their furniture. If by “furniture” you mean the back seat from a 1997 Chevy mini-van.

I walked up to ask a few questions. Here I was, a member of the media, forcing my way in on them after a tragedy. The guy who would turn out to be the spokesman for the family eyed me a little suspiciously at first. The split ends of his stringy hair brushed his shoulders as he turned. The bristles of his moustache hopped as he opened his mouth to reveal gaps where his front teeth ought to have stood. He took a long drag on the cigarette he clenched in his rippling fist.

His eyes narrowed as he locked his gaze upon me and said, “You live right down the street, dontcha?”

Appearances to the contrary, they turned out to be a welcoming bunch, and surprisingly nonchalant about the proceedings of the previous evening. A member of their household lay in the intensive care unit after having had a large chunk of his airway ripped apart by a large caliber bullet, and his family’s attitude seemed to be, “Hey, why sweat the small stuff?”

The perp, they said, had claimed the shooting was an accident. Yeah, he was angry. Yeah, he knew the gun was loaded. Yeah, he pointed the barrel at his neighbor. Yeah, he pulled the trigger, but the whole thing was an accident in the way everything is an accident for certain people who’ve forgotten to take their meds. The victim lived, and as far as I know still bunks down, next door to the dude who shot him. Let no one say people in our neighborhood aren’t willing to let bygones be bygones.

Our neighborhood seen from the air would be a single loop set away from the main road with an inner and outer ring of houses. They are small and close together, built for working-class inhabitants. I love living there and every morning my heart swells when I step out of the house and look around.

Still, strange things happen.

Almost since we moved in, I have been mowing not just our front yard, but the adjoining yard of one of our next door neighbors. Lately, the job has gotten complicated.

You see, our neighbor is a nice enough guy, but his dog is wanted in six states. For murder.

Our neighbor keeps this Rottweiler in the backyard. Whenever I push the mower past the fence separating front yard from back, the dog hits it with the force of a spurned buffalo. The fence, built with all the structural integrity of a cheap kite, shudders along its length. Meanwhile the hound is barking in a way that indicates that on the day that fence falls he’s got an “accident” planned.

And I fully expect that dog to get free some day. In my imagination, I can see a long line of people missing limbs outside our neighbor’s door, demanding their arms and legs back, and my neighbor frantically tearing up his back yard with a shovel shouting, “Just a second, I’m sure they’re here somewhere!”

So I’ve just stopped mowing the half of his yard the dog can see. Since his own mower has been broken for years now, this leaves half his front yard nicely manicured and the other half looking like the set of “Platoon”.

The day before yesterday, we encountered another of these odd locals. Every summer, the local ice cream man comes tootling down our street. His big paneled truck roams around with pictures of cold, sweet treats plastered to its side. For a few quarters, the driver, Mark, will offer you heaven on a stick.

But Mark is not just an ice cream man; he is also a prophet of doom, though only part-time. In the winter months last year he wrote a book that purports to explain “why society has all these problems.”  I know this, because right there on the side of his truck, right next to the advertisement for “Rocket Pops”,which feature three jolly, fruity flavors, is the cover of his book. It features a mushroom cloud.

Talk to him for a few minutes, and he’ll be happy to tell you the extent to which society has fallen apart due, in part, to a rotten educational system. There are plenty of other causes too, for sure, but if you’re interested, you’ll have to flag him down and buy the book.

I avoided the subject when we stopped him earlier this week. I groped instead for something else to talk about.

“So,” I said, “you’ve been driving this truck for a long time?”

“Thirty-two years,” he said, smiling broadly from behind the lenses of his pizza-plate-sized glasses.

He started up the truck and pulled away. As he did, he flipped whatever switch started the music coming through the loudspeaker atop his vehicle. It seemed Mark had been playing the same cassette tape for his whole thirty-two years. The tune was cheerful but warped, distorted as if floating to us from a far-flung seasick circus band.

From now on, when we hear that sound coming down the street, and my daughter looks up and says, “What’s that, Daddy?”, I think I’m going to say, “Well, sweetie, I’m not sure, but it sounds like the Apocalypse.”

Published in: on June 19, 2009 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

June 17, 2009

The compulsion continues. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how after becoming a father I began to see that adults everywhere are unable to prevent themselves from giving certain children or, in our case, a certain child, lollipops. Sometimes, these friendly, stick-bound candies turn up in the oddest places.

Many months ago, the Mrs., an avid consumer of household hints and tips, read somewhere about the process of making homemade vanilla extract. I’m not sure of all the details, but I know it involves a lot of liquor.

And a vanilla bean.  From what I can gather you let the raw bean bathe in a Ball jar full of vodka in a cabinet somewhere for half a year. If it doesn’t become vanilla extract, at least you’ll have a pleasant smelling way of igniting charcoal. 

Now that I’ve written about the vanilla making, I feel certain there must be more to the procedure but, really, such things are out of my domain.

We must have been running low because the Mrs. took it into her head to make some more of this concoction a few days ago. The vanilla bean she picked up at the local food co-op, one of those crunchy-hippie places that sell frozen flax seed pancakes and always smell like a blend of cardamom and patchouli. It’s a temple devoted to health and wholesome living. You can easily pick up a copy of Yoga Journal while waiting in line to pay for your carob bar with raisins and asparagus bits.

Given the co-op’s mission to promote health and vigor, they decline to deal much in cheap booze. For that, we had to shop elsewhere.

We live in what, in Kentucky, is called a moist county. No, it has nothing to do with the humidity.  Many counties in Kentucky are dry, meaning all alcohol sales are prohibited. Some are wet, meaning alcohol sales are permitted under normal legal limitations. We live in a county where alcohol can only be sold in restaurants of a certain size and whose main source of revenue is food sales. But, there is not a liquor store or straight-up bar within the county limits. 

The county just south of us is wet. Ten seconds south of the county line liquor stores start sprouting up like weeds after a week of rain. Coming home from visiting friends last weekend, we could see them up ahead, their garish yellow lights screaming “Last Chance! Last Chance!”

“I need to stop here,” the Mrs. said. “I need some vodka to make the vanilla.”

We pulled into the parking lot only to notice that acquiring what we needed would be so easy no one would even have to get out of the car. The store featured a disturbing innovation. It had a drive up window through which clerks were passing a steady stream of intoxicating brews to drivers.

We got in line. When it was our turn, the Mrs. rolled down her window and said, “I need the cheapest bottle of vodka you’ve got.”

“It’s for cooking,” she explained.

The clerk, bearded and bespectacled in a worn t-shirt that revealed a mess of less than elegant tattoos, mumbled about our options, which made it even more difficult to hear him over the racket created by all the metal in his facial piercings clanking together.

Somehow, the Mrs. selected her brand, and the clerk clomped off.

When he returned, he fixed his eyes on our two-year-old daughter strapped in her car seat in the back.

“Does that baby want a sucker?” he asked. His eyes sparked with excitement over the prospect of giving a child a lollipop.

“Uh, sure, she would love one,” the Mrs. said.

Leaning forward from the passenger seat, I asked a question that suddenly seemed pressing.

“Do you get a lot of children shopping here?”

No, the guy said, but sometimes parents bring children through the drive-up and he likes to be able to give them a treat.

Back at home I asked the Mrs. if it seemed odd to her that the liquor store would keep a stock of lollipops on hand.

“Well,” she said, “it keeps them coming back.”

“Yea,” I said, “just like alcoholism.”

Published in: on June 17, 2009 at 2:28 pm  Comments (4)  

June 15, 2009

Any weekend in which you wipe out an entire civilization with a household mini-vac is a memorable one, and I won’t soon forget what happened to me during the one that just ended.

Sunday morning as I sat at the dining room table, a perfect perch from which to check Facebook on the laptop while monitoring the Chud, I felt a peculiar itch on my forearm.

When I turned my arm over for visual inspection, I found an ant, a tiny one, frantically searching for a way off the strange, fleshy landscape onto which he’d wandered. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say he found a way off that was likely less pleasant than what he had hoped for.

Five minutes later, the itch had returned. Another ant was crawling across my arm, probably looking for his colleague with whom he was quickly reunited in ant heaven.

“Where are these things coming from?” I wondered, fearing I might already know the answer.

Our house has a tendency to be buggy. Spiders haunt our corners. Deciding their fate is a routine part of my husbandly duties. I am both gladiator and Caesar in the arachnid arena. Sometimes I let them live, carrying them wrapped in tissue outside to shake them free in the yard. Sometimes I crush them and flush away their creepy carcasses. 

Every summer we battle ants as well. When I got up to inspect the area around the dining room table Sunday, I found them streaming by the hundreds back and forth from some spot near the baseboard to the gap beneath the coat closet door, where we store, among other things, a big bag of dog food.  You might be unaware of the popularity of dry dog food among the ant population but, let me assure you, it’s huge.

As I stood watching this miniature army march in formation across the hardwood, two aspects of my personality, a tendency to panic and a deep-seated commitment to finding the path of least resistance, combined to create a perfect plan.

I sucked them up with the dustbuster. Their little bodies disappeared up its whirring snout like mobile homes in a twister. I could see the surprise on their little anty faces. I flung open the closet door, knowing speed was of the essence, and yanked out most everything stored on the floor. A battalion hid there; I went to work on them.

I left the vacuum’s motor running as I scurried outside to empty it, banging the pieces against the rim of our massive plastic trash can to rid them of their cargo.

Back inside, I found a few survivors. These, I beat to death with my bare hands, slapping the floor wildly.

The Chud walked over.

“What are you doing, Daddy?” she asked.

I did not want her to panic in the face of invasion.

“Nothing, Sweetheart,” I said. “I just found a few ants here and I’m getting rid of them before mommy comes to take us to church.”

The Chud, perplexed by the sound of my hands banging on the floor asked, “Are you hammering them out?”

Indeed I was. After a few moments, I seemed to have won. No more ants were in sight, save those whose wrecked bodies now littered the folds of my hands.

I went to the bathroom to wash away the carnage, returned to the scene and cleared the evidence of battle. I removed the remaining corpses with a whisk broom and dust pan.

When the Mrs. returned to drive us to church, not a single ant lingered.

When we came home a couple of hours later, I saw all my efforts had been in vain. In the intervening time, the bugs had rebuilt their operation.

It was my delicate bride who, upon returning from a beautiful service devoted to the worship of the Prince of Peace, broke out the weapons of mass destruction.

“I’ll get the spray,” she said.  “You get some paper towel and get ready to wipe up all the little bodies, that grosses me out.”

Ten seconds later chemical weapons had solved the problem. Our floor was a pool of poison and dead ants. I wiped vigorously.

Then, the house was quiet. Word seemed to have spread through the colony not to mess with the Abbott’s. We’ll see how long it lasts. I fear they will be back, that already in some tiny crack in the molding some small sentry lurks twitching his antennae just waiting until the coast is clear.

Published in: on June 15, 2009 at 3:34 pm  Comments (4)  

June 12, 2009

The other night the Mrs. and I went out and bought our little Chud her first bicycle, one covered with Disney princesses and sporting training wheels. The Chud was quite excited to see it also came with a water bottle. That’s to keep her cool on those long, grueling rides from one end of the driveway to the other.

I’m having a hard time accepting that my two-year-old now has her own means of independent transportation. I mean, theoretically, she could go all the way to California on this thing. A trip complicated, no doubt, by the fact that she is unable to work the pedals, but still, it could happen.

This kid loves her “bikissel”, even though it mostly serves as furniture right now. Instead of riding it around outside, she sits on it indoors and watches Max and Ruby, or just makes believe. The morning after we bought it, she got up from bed and ran to where it sat in the living room. She climbed onto the seat and said with a touch of melancholy, “I pretendin’ to drive ’cause I don’t know how to work my bikissel.”

She’d been obsessed with having one for months. I first noticed her interest last fall on a camping trip. Some little girl had a bicycle parked outside her family’s camper. Our Chud would cry out, whenever we passed it, “May I sit on that little baby bikissel?” Eventually, the Mrs. took her over to the bike and was granted permission from the owner for our daughter to sit on it. It was a big moment for such a little girl.

Since then, she has been declaring, often multiple times a day, “when I get a little bit older, I can have a bikisell!” Any occasion remotely related to two-wheeled transportation devices would serve to elicit this proclamation. If she saw a bicycle on television or someone riding one in the street, out she’d come with it. Even motorcycles would cause this response as she seems to be confused about the difference between a bicycle and a motorcycle. I fear that she soon could be the only Hell’s Angel to turn up in Sturgis on a Disney princess bike.

After months of practicing this response to even the mere mention of bicycles, the other night when she overheard the Mrs. say, “Let’s go out tonight and buy her a bicycle,” she launched into her “when I get a little bit older” routine.

Always before we had responded by saying, “Yes, that’s right sweetheart, you can.”

This time I said, “No, you won’t get a bicycle when you get a little bit older.”

I wished instantly that I hadn’t said it. Her little face fell. She stared at me, confusion and hurt marking her face.

“Yes,” she said. “My mommy said I can.”

I tried to make it better by hurrying the punch line. I picked her up.

“No,” I said, “Not when you’re a little bit older. Today. Today is the day you get a bicycle.”

She seemed to get it. At least, no permanent damage was done. There didn’t seem to be any lingering pain.

At least not for her. I’m still struggling. From the moment she was born, I knew she was on a journey away from us. Each milestone we’ve passed in the last two years has been bittersweet. I still think of that newborn who couldn’t raise her head, couldn’t turn over, couldn’t talk.  With all the joy her growth has brought, each new development has been in the direction of independence, of autonomy, of leaving. I knew this would happen. I guess I just never expected her to have wheels to help her do it so soon.

Published in: on June 12, 2009 at 4:08 pm  Comments (1)