Monday, September 22, 2014

Still September

You sit at the keyboard of your computer, the same type of keyboard you sat at as a child, although now, it’s not a piano.  You know it better than you ever knew the piano; you think in typeset now, and you time yourself in all important events by how many words per minute.  These are hard habits to break.

You remember your first walk down the sidewalk to your first and only guitar teacher’s house.  He was probably seventy to your eight, your guitar case bigger than you.  You lugged that thing from your house on America Avenue to his house on America Avenue every Wednesday after school.  His main thing was trying to make you better when you were already happy enough the way you were.  In later years, you would liken yourself to Tom Petty when your guitar instructor was trying to make you Eddie Van Halen.

Piano lessons and guitar lessons spiraled into a nightmarish spectacle of not knowing how to do anything except to read.

Read, you could do.  There were clubs for this, and awards. You squeezed the ability to read into the lacking parts of your brain; you learned to play first-chair trumpet with one hand and your lips, you played the guitar by anchoring a pinky…basically you could do anything one-handed that other people saw as only being able to be accomplished by using more than one hand.

You look at abbreviations now very skeptically.  What used to mean something to you doesn’t mean anything to anybody anymore, and what means everything to people now has you asking questions.  But questions do not alight liltingly from your tongue into any conversation.  You are your father’s daughter.  Your eyes always cross and your hair stands on end; your tonsils grab the question back because you should already know.

Yet you have to ask. 

On your own best day when you’re liking yourself to the greatest degree, you liken yourself to a student who puts himself in the path of a bus to say, “I don’t get that.  I don’t get what you’re talking about.”  You start out all snobbish in your answer, then you soften when you realize that it was the bravest of the group who asked the question, and you’re the bus.  What does that mean? 

You were using html code in 1986 to create files and drawers that somehow were supposed to simulate the same thing in real life.  To you, the definitions of these terms were closer to what your parents put money in every week for church and grocery and taxes.  There was a test during senior year and it was the only time you ever cheated.  Okay, it wasn’t.  The mathematical part of your brain kicked in enough for you to get through High School HTML and College Math 100.  You got through without a second language, too. 

You smirked all the way to the line that divided you from the over-achievers.

Math, never having been your strong suit, is the one thing you have to get better at for the good of mankind.  Math is the only thing that saves you in times of trouble when counting counts.  Nobody showed you how to play tennis, but you learned it up against the cement wall.  Nobody has to show you every equation to prove that a certain something is correct. 

You knew how to play cards from the moment your parents needed a third for Merry Widow.



Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Survive September in Arizona


First, you need to be sick in August.  It doesn’t matter what’s wrong with you—a broken heart, a broken arm, a terminal disease, a slumbering addiction coming awake—just as long as blood tests are needed.  One of those tests should be so special that one vial of your blood has to fly cross-country to an equally special testing lab.  The travel of your blood should take place over a long holiday weekend so that your blood dies en route, necessitating more labs as soon as you are available, the nurse says on the phone. But no charge this time.

You go back to your doctor’s office to get a matching bruise on the crook of your other arm.  You are pleased when the nurse calls the following week to say that your blood arrived alive and well at the Special Lab, and that she will be faxing the results to your Special Doctor that very afternoon.  Yay.
You hang up the phone, but it will start ringing again thirty seconds later: it is the nurse trying to fax your home phone number instead of your Special Doctor's.  Your phone will ring like this every six minutes for forty-five minutes—screaming the fax scream every time you pick up—before you will be so moved to call your doctor’s office and inform them of the mix-up.  It will be after-hours, and the fax machine will be on automatic dial all night long.

You turn your phone off, thinking of the unfairness of life. 

You awaken the next morning to texts from your sister in Minnesota featuring photos of massive conifers with their roots in the air, their trunks and branches six inches from your parents’ house, front and back.  Your father’s garden is sitting about even with the roof, balanced on a web of roots, its own roots dangling underneath.  A tornado blew through while you were sleeping; your sister just wants you to know that your parents are okay.

Your heart will tighten, thinking of what could have happened.  You’ll grit your teeth and look at the floor.  You will call your parents and hear how they spent the wee hours of the morning sitting on lawn chairs in the laundry room with a battery-operated radio and a flashlight.

 *

When you feel your own and everybody else’s survival slipping, you’ll need to get out of town.  Go south.  There, in the ruins of mining towns and artificial divides, your eyeglasses will drop from you, breaking themselves.  You always remember to put mishaps this way because, though you don’t speak Spanish, you know from listening that it’s better to say “it fell from me”, not so much “I dropped it.”

You’ll begin the fix by wrapping a long single piece of Scotch tape from the screw part down the ear handle, essentially cocooning that side of your glasses for the butterfly it will never be again.  You’ll repeatedly forget that your glasses no longer have the bendy feature on the broken side; your glasses will break themselves again.  Luckily you have a pipe cleaner on you; you wrap one bristly end around the screw part and bend the rest around your ear.

You’re one step closer to surviving September.  You drive home.

The next morning, after being soothed all night by the steady fall of rain—such a treat in Arizona—you wake up to a flood, another natural disaster: Hurricane Somebody dumping tons of water on your part of the world.  You have never seen a rainy day like this, not in Arizona.  It isn’t long before everything gets canceled and the entire state is ordered to stay home, out of harm’s way, lest the citizenry cause even more problems.

Your own street will flood to the point that your yard is now everybody else’s yard, and their yards are yours.  Stay-at-homers kayak down our river-street; a child floats by in an inner tube.  One family, everybody in swimsuits, has a barbecue in their driveway.  You only know this because your friend comes by in a Ski-Doo to take you out for lunch.

Another week later—how can it be this many into September—you’ll be standing in an eyeglass repair shop with your mangled glasses on the counter.  You’re sure the man waiting on you has seen it all, like you have.  “I bet you’ve seen glasses fixed in a lot of strange ways,” you’ll venture as this man turns your eyewear over in his hands.

“I’ve never seen a pipe cleaner used,” he’ll say.

Oh, you’ll think, pipe cleaner user.

Tomorrow, another flood is in the forecast because of Tropical Storm Stupid. This could happen at any time, even tonight.  For you, it’s just a continued bloodletting, another mosquito sunrise.  Listen to a colleague before you leave work when he brings your mutual flood conversation back to reality: “Well, it’s not like it’s Hurricane Katrina.”  Katrina, the German diminutive that your mother uses when she wants you to know that everything is going to be okay.