All This And No Surprises

People followed us around in grocery stores when I was little.

This picture of my mother was taken by my father in 1971, probably.

You may recall my Dad died in 2007 on April Fool’s Day, which under other circumstances would have amused him greatly. Mom and Dad didn’t like one another much and divorced while dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in middle school. Much to everyone’s surprise, including hers, Mom died a few weeks ago – on April Fool’s Day, which would have made Dad laugh and Mom reeeeeeeeally mad.

Of my siblings, I look the most like her, but not a whole lot. Our coloring is completely different, for one thing. For another, she resembled a blond Elizabeth Taylor, and I do not. Thus, it was unusual that at the funeral home viewing, with Mom laid out in the casket and everything, a mourner who has known me since I was a child approached me with trepidation, gasped and called me by my mother’s name, “…Lucy?”

“Shh!” I said, “Only you can see me.” I told her I was me, Domenica, but she didn’t let go of me for quite a while. The next day at the church service, Mom’s college friends couldn’t wait to show me a binder of pictures of their lives through the years, by which I mean the entire assembly behind me waited while I stood nervously in a doorway, glancing at pictures of my mother as a young coed, sitting in a tree.

Three days later, we all drove up to Cape Cod for the burial. In New Jersey, we left spring behind to find the end of winter in Massachusetts, for which almost no one was prepared. Mom wanted to be buried next to her mother. Her first cousin found a burial plot in the family cemetery. Next thing we knew, we were sitting and standing in a cold, wind-swept graveyard full of our ancestors and the Black, female minister from the Cape Cod church in which Mom, Daria and I were baptized before the invention of rope, when the minister certainly was neither Black nor female. But change is here, and now, and sometimes for the best.

Mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just over a year and a half ago, but a friend assured me Mom had suffered depressive and manic episodes for decades. Her depression I had seen, but I never saw manic behavior until these last few years. In her manic episodes, her sharp mind was somehow even sharper and she outwitted our efforts to get her help over and over again. Her anxiety made her postpone surgery she desperately needed, and waiting too long ultimately cost her her life. I’ve mentioned before the impact untreated mental illness has had on my life and the lives of my family members and friends. This did not have to happen. If Mom had gotten treatment for her anxiety and bipolar disorder, she might have lived to a ripe old age.

Mom was also really smart.

There’s no substitute for large hair curlers.

You might think this is a sad story, and in one way it is. Mom had a very rough childhood, and if ours was a society that invested in the physical and mental health of children, maybe Mom’s life would have been different and even healthier. On the other hand, at the funeral home, photo displays my sisters put together overnight showed a life in which my mother was smiling, active, athletic, singing, surrounded by family and friends, traveling, modeling silly outfits and dancing. Mom had a tough internal life she balanced with a life spent in happy motion.

Maybe the best thing we can do is keep moving.

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The Light of the Night

I can't tie my shoes, either.

Last week, Pete and I flew to Canada to visit my stepmom Darla, her new family and her parents. Flying sucks, Customs sucks, being selected for additional security sucks, being photographed after a terrifying flight sucks. We had a fantastic time and can’t wait to go back!

Expert Texpert Choking Smoker Don’t

Today, lots of people are making Seven Layer Dip for a party celebrating a televised spectacle in which enormous grown men beat the crap out of each other and smaller white guys make a mint. Between the misogyny and the dripping testosterone, it’s bad news for women all around, but that’s nothing new. You know what is new? I’m physically able to do stuff all day again.

Come here often, sailor?

We can’t keep meeting like this.

Perhaps you remember that five years ago, I had hip replacement surgery and made recovering from it my job. I ate with healing in mind. I exercised and did physical therapy with great seriousness while telling jokes for months on end. And then, two years later, I did it again. The physical therapy place should have a wing with my name on it. I felt a million percent better and have gone on with life as if none of that ever happened. Sometimes I forget how limited my life had become, how dealing with pain sapped my energy and strength, how few things I could do in a day because arthritis in my hips made sitting, standing, lying down or anything in between exhausting.

Perhaps you remember my grandson Panky is whip-smart. He has not had it easy with school systems designed to push ordinary kids to graduation day and administrators who are scared of smart kids. One day it dawned on me he should spend time with the smartest kids and adults used to the quirkiness of smart kids. He should go to space camp. Once I thought of it, I began scheming about how I could make that happen.

I would need a part-time job. Then one came to me: the bagel place in which Pete works three days a week needed someone to bake cookies and cakes, mix compound cream cheeses and generally clean for 4.5 hours on Saturdays. I started work five weeks ago. At first, I moved through what I had to do, didn’t think much about it and suddenly, I’d been on my feet for five hours. Five hours! I didn’t know I could do that. And then I did it again the next weekend and the next.

The new, the old, the perennial.

So many intersections, so few red lights.

Apparently, I can do that now! But this weekend, I did a few different things. On Friday, I set up croissant dough, because I can! Yesterday, I did the complicated rolling and folding after working at the bagel place. I smoked eggplants in the backyard smoker. Today, Pete and I rolled out and folded pain au chocolat. I whipped up baba ghanouj. We baked off the best pain au chocolat of our illustrious careers, which is to say the last year. This afternoon, Pete and I made breakfast sausage from scratch and stuffed it into natural casings. You should see me standing atop a kitchen ladder, stuffing raw pork into a hopper. Ridiculous! But, even a year ago, I couldn’t have done all this in one day, even with good planning.

Progress in life takes different forms. In my case, progress takes the form of cookies and sausage and space camp. Five years ago, I could not have imagined it.

 

 

It’s A Clean Machine

A thousand slides can make you feel like you're a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Dad’s images of a Cape Canaveral launch from 1975, including a surprising number of boats, which were in space, but not the same way.

Starting sometime in 1963, Dad started photographing everything: his wife, his children, the neighbors, street lights, college classmates, train tracks, rockets, places he went, birds, plants, boats, statues, co-workers, bonfires, bodies of water. When he died, a mountain of his work moved to my apartment. Since July, I’ve scanned and uploaded about 2,000 images to a private Flickr museum of these images. It’s an ambitious project, facing a number of obstacles.

First: some slides were originally developed with dates and numbers, some with just dates or numbers, some with no dates or numbers. Second: Dad kept over 800 mixed slides in carousels, rather than dark plastic containers, and in these less than ideal conditions, some slides have faded or developed mildew damage. Third: at some point, my stepmom Summer labeled a bunch of plastic slide containers, which may save my sanity; unfortunately, about a decade’s worth of slides were stored together, which may send me round the twist. Fourth: a few years ago, the digitizing company I paid to scan slides essentially poured separate groups of slides into a machine and I have yet to undertake separating them because I panic every time I think about it.

Despite all this, I’ve made progress. I’ve started to recognize pictures that must have been taken at the same time, significant places and faces I haven’t seen since childhood. My father was 21 and my mother 22 when I was born, and these images start before I was a year old. It is strange now to see my parents as young twenty-somethings, to witness my father’s learning to see the world and his life through the camera’s lens. In these pictures, I see that we, his children, were photographed constantly and were completely accustomed to it. I don’t remember being photographed constantly, so in some ways, it’s like looking at someone else’s life with my face.

There’s another obstacle: not all of the slides are here. Enough dated and numbered slides are present to render obvious the gaps. Where are these missing slides? I don’t know. Summer doesn’t remember Dad mentioning them. I don’t know what that means, or what it would ultimately mean if thousands of images were just missing.

At this stage in a blog post, I usually make a joke about how some ginormous thing in my life is totally small, except in this case, that’s too literal. This ginormous thing in my life is meaningless to all but a handful of people on the planet, and even they don’t really seem to care much. So I am doing this because I can and I should, to the best of my ability. When I’m done, I’ll store the slides as permanently as I can, but I doubt anyone will ever look at them again. Dad would have been as surprised as anyone else that there could be a private museum of his photographs, and for that reason alone, I will keep building it.

 

His Heart Of Their Anger

Mercury is in retrograde and even if I did not believe in it, I am living that dream. My laptop turned its back on me, my bicycle clangs, my phone rings and people try talking to me. It is Hell. I want to hide out in my garden but we have carpenter bees and the sentry is trying to kick my ass.

shadowy.jpgToday would have been my dad’s 75th birthday. You may recall that he died some years back and has been refusing to phone home since. It’s very inconvenient. I’m sure if there’s an afterlife, he’s annoyed and demanding a taller, stickier croque en bouche.

I know I would.

As I Waved And Went

The Urban Dictionary defines Seedbombing as:

when an individual or group who throws, shoots, or slingshots pellets of dirt filled with seeds, often into empty or abandoned lots; usually part of an urban renewal project or event

Larry: Let’s throw an awesome event where we eat, drink, and mingle in between seedbombing expeditions around the neighborhood!

Jim: Cool! Let’s go buy some seed pellets and slingshots!

Previously on Poor Impulse Control:

We dismantled Dad’s kitchen and I ended up with a bigass container of dried black beans; by bigass, I mean a 7-quart Sysco restaurant container, and by beans, I mean of indeterminate age and/or magical power. For many long months, I stared at this container and waited for inspiration, which means breath of the gods and there’s just not enough Gas-Ex, thank you. One day, a plan came to me. Pete laughed out loud, uncertain I’d do it. Two nights ago, we filled a quart bag with beans and went for a walk. The plan:

1. On a rainy night, fling beans near chain link fences everywhere.
2. Wait.
3. Watch out for falling giants.

The possible results:
1. Planting.
2. Composting.
3. Feeding outdoor critters.

We enjoyed furtively peppering lawns, alleys, empty planters and scrubby gardens with prospective beanstalks, which process became more entertaining the closer we walked to the center of town and spectators. No one asked us what we were doing. No one said, “You’ve literally beaned me.” No. People watched as Pete and I walked by and I exhorted our little legumes to grow toward the sun, be free, be free! This public art project memorializing my father is called the Beany Benediction.

No cows will be harmed in the making of it.

Not to mention this and this and that. Essentially, seedbombing is one of my favorite things and recently, a thing happened.

Ammo, art supplies or weapon of vengeance, but also seeds.

Ammo, art supplies or weapon of vengeance, but also seeds.

Two of my dear friends are retiring, packing up and moving out. They offered me their seeds. I was kind of heartbroken for them, being without a garden for the year or two in which they assemble their new life, but they are joyful. My friends brought me four approximately shoebox-size containers filled with carefully alphabetized and labeled seed envelopes. I started feeling like I’d taken decongestants in a room full of black light posters.

Last Saturday, I sat down with the boxes and discovered my friends had brought me a problem and a solution. More than half of the envelopes were dated three years or older. Once I’d pulled out envelopes for 2011 or earlier and poured the outdated seeds into five pint containers, the project of plantable seeds looked much more manageable.

Yesterday would have been my dad’s 74th birthday and, over the weekend, my youngest sister Dara had her first child, a little boy. For the past three days, I’ve been flinging seeds everywhere while I waited for someone to stop me or say anything at all. No one does.

Everyone fears a random giant.