Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Will You Walk?

Judy’s youngest was about to graduate from college. Her last of four, who marched to a slightly different beat, had taken five years to accomplish this milestone. But accomplish it she did. There were smashed relationships, difficult roommates, changes in majors, demanding professors, and family crisis to contend with but somehow she made it … toughed it out, finished her academics and learned to solve her problems.

Now Judy’s question was: “Will you walk?” Meaning, in the terminology of soon-to-be college graduates, will you go through the ceremony, marching up on the stage with your mortar board tassel slung casually or placed with reverence to the proper side of the traditional graduate’s headgear? Or will you leave the campus hurrying on to the next stage with little sentiment, little regard for the ceremonial, just glad to have it over?

The question hovered over the final weeks until her youngest decided that she wanted this ceremony. She wanted the flowers and photo ops and congratulations that would be denied her if she left the years on the lovely grounds with all its many life lessons in haste. She not only wanted this, she needed this to seal her accomplishment.

The bagpipers led the procession with their haunting ceremonial piping … marching in under the big white tent on the best of sunny May days. Two hours later, the same pipers led the 300-plus newly graduated out, full of pride and barely heard sage wisdom delivered by inspirational speakers.

Judy was not much given to tears, speculation, or to sentimental reflections and thus kept her head down to mask her emotions as these hopeful young souls filed out into the best of sunny May days. What she saw with her eyes lowered was the most amazing array of footwear. Neon green sneakers, flip-flops worn plain or with colorful mismatched socks, snowboard boots, fancy sandals studded with faux jewels, clumpy school marm pumps, Manolo Blahnik heels, scrunchy knee-high boots, polished wingtips, hard-toed work boots, ballet skimmers, and yes, even bare feet showing off tattoos on the arches above the ruby red pedicured toes.

Not only did her daughter march to a slightly different beat, it seemed that this whole group was defying being sheep, not even being like each other. Where would these shoes, these feet, take them? Would some lose their ability to walk due to war or accident or incurable disease? Would a pair of these feet walk through the doors of a medical institution and find a cure for a formerly hopeless disease, or travel into the halls of government and rid it of “gotcha” politics, or travel to Carnegie Hall and impact the world with music?

Judy lifted her eyes from the grassy green aisle trod by the exiting graduates and returned from her reverie to her practical self. She took the photos, gave the spray of roses to her youngest and spread a sumptuous picnic for her family on the lush lawn of the little campus on the best of sunny May days.

It was a time to be in the moment.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Acculturated to Craziness

Emili rapped her knuckles sharply on the window pane above her kitchen sink. Some day she would surely put her hand right through the glass with her agitated knocking.  She did it for two reasons. She did it when she saw a particularly athletic squirrel defy her state-of-the-art squirrel-resistant bird feeder and hang upside down, gorging on the fat black oil sunflower seeds.

She also did it when she saw that crazy lawn keeper once more take out his tiddly-whacker and whiz in her flower bed. Neither the squirrel nor the lawn keeper paid her the least mind.

What the hell was the matter with that boy? He had a body like Adonis (working shirtless as he did, she noticed). He also had Three Stooges tufts of wiry hair poking out over his ears and under his backward baseball cap. Emili had laid down her parameters and her demands for the care of her lawn and flowers but did not think that she had to say it included not being allowed to pee in the petunias. In fairness, he did exactly as she asked and for a surprisingly modest fee.  He had come with the best of recommendations and his work rendered her small gardens pretty enough to be featured in Home and Garden magazine as he arranged pots of coleus and vinca and Martha Washington geraniums.  Lovely, lovely work from the rough Vermont redneck nut who could not keep his zipper zipped.

Emili had moved to Vermont three years ago. She had wanted to get out of the city with its crazy people, pushing and shoving and driven. The quarrels on the subways and the homeless in cardboard boxes on the street depressed her. She longed for a place of gentleness and calm. There was little reason that she could not do the work she did on the Internet in a more peaceful place. Escaping the city craziness, she was not prepared for the rural form of craziness. Here, among the green hills and blazing fall colors, the Vermont crazies were seemingly everywhere. They mowed your lawn, painted your living room, repaired your furniture, wired your kitchen and waited on you at the country store.
In addition to the lawn Adonis, there was Tom-Tom. Not Thomas or Tommy or Tom; he was Tom-Tom -- and he made that abundantly clear. He was pleasant enough as he expertly yielded his brushes and rollers on her walls ... IF you called him Tom-Tom. He was firm about his name in a way that defied understanding and hinted at a deeper cause and determination to have something in life his very own way. He sported a scruffy three-day growth of chin whiskers that never seemed to grow or go away. He always wore brown jersey gloves with the fingers cut off and they were always clean, not a spot of paint from her living room dotted the immaculate brown hand covers. Emili had visions of a stack of such gloves in the tool box on the back of his rusty pick-up truck.  Did he go home at night and sever the fingers with a meat cleaver? Or did he use scissors from the Dollar General to amputate the offending fingertips?  How did a vaguely askew painting contractor go about acquiring this unusual trademark? And why?

She tried asking him once.  She thought maybe he was allergic to something in the paint he used or had scars.  His response was a silence so hostile that she backed out of the room in fear and shame that she should question his garb when his work was as near to perfect as she could hope.  His silence let her know it was none of her damn business. This was his business as was the painting in which he took great pride. Tom-Tom had come with glowing recommendations,  not a spot on his record any more than there was a spot on his truncated gloves.

Jake was another one. He was as talkative as Tom-Tom was silent. He babbled on and on while he re-wired her kitchen. He'd start on lengthy one-sided conversations about Johnny and Sam and George and their wives and kids and dogs as if she knew them all and cared deeply about their successes and failures. She might have if she knew who the hell they were but she hadn't a clue who these people were that peppered his incessant chatter. To make matters more difficult, he talked around a chewed stub of a slim cigar. She had made it clear that there was no smoking in her house. But he technically did not smoke it and it did not change any more than Tom-Tom's eternal three-day stubble. The cigar might have been made of some magic substance that did not deteriorate in spite of the spittle that must have soaked it day after day.  What was up with these people?

And there were more. A whole battalion of Eugenes that delivered her FedEx packages, plowed her road, assessed her taxes and waited on her at the Vermont State Liquor store. There was a veritible conspiracy of Eugenes that she found extremely odd.  Who was the Eugene that so prompted the excess of this name in the area? Was he, by chance, the revered grandfather of them all? Was he the local terminator of the deer hunting crowd or a Vietnam hero? Having her questions rebuffed before, she was afraid to ask, to show her ignorance.

Emili did find it vaguely disturbing that she had not found it possible to converse about politics, a good book, the economy or any other quasi-intellectual matter. The only safe subjects seemed to be weather, roads and the job at hand.  Since she did her work at home on the computer, she was often lonely and isolated in this land where the village had more idiots than Hillary had supporters. She so wanted to be accepted but did not know how to KNOW these people.  She was by no means a snob. In fact she had a deep reverence for people who were really in the trenches in their jobs. She was as disturbed by the cocktail party set that knew only the buzz words of education as she was by her cadre of loonies. She had met plenty of people that led life as if they had learned it from CliffsNotes, skimming over life with as little depth as a puddle in a pothole. Where was there balance and connectedness? Still caught up in some of her city paranoia and struggling, she simply did not know how to achieve this.

She did  not know if she should be afraid of these new people that populated her new life. Would she be assaulted by the penis-wielding lawn man? Would Tom-Tom explode in a homicidal rage if she erred once too often and simply called him Tom by accident? Would Jake discover her inability to relate to the locals and leave her wiring hanging dangerously out of holes and sockets while he went to work for a more compatible Johnny, Sam or George? Would one of the Eugenes leave her roads unplowed or toss her FedEx packages into the resulting snow drifts if she could not make the slightest effort to understand them? Unlike the city, where you could avoid confrontations by crossing to the other side of the street or leave the eccentric workers to the apartment building super, here she had to learn to put aside all the oddities and cope or give up.

Until she did one or the other, she took solace in her long walks with Bruno, her chocolate lab, and reveled in the way the sun played on the hilltops and the way the clouds threw shadows on the valley floor.  She read, worked and started dating a pleasant and normal enough man she met at the Northshire Bookstore. She tried to ignore the preponderance of strangeness. Still, she mentioned it to her new boyfriend.  He laughed, recognizing his own adjustment when he moved to Vermont.

"It is all a bit of a test" he said. "Watch, you'll see."

And gradually she did. Her neighbor, an elderly woman with a yapping little Westie, was out walking the critter one icy day when she fell, her leg cocked unnaturally beneath her. When the ambulance arrived, none other than Tom-Tom leaped out of the back and ran to her aid, kneeling and comforting her, his gloved palms stroking her brow.  Tom-Tom?  Her Tom-Tom?  And here, in a matter of minutes, was her road man Eugene, spreading an extra layer of sand on the treacherous ice. Before the volunteers of the Rescue Squad left, her Adonis detached himself from the growing group of on-lookers, pulled a Blue Seal dog bone from the pocket of his now mercifully zipped-up jeans and comforted the whimpering pup.

She was surprised....

The biggest surprise was that she considered these people "hers." A transition had occurred and she did not even know that it had happened. She would make it here after all. She just might even learn to embrace the craziness and enjoy -- without qualms -- the texture of the people as much as she enjoyed the changing of the seasons,  the sun shining on the hilltops and clouds throwing shadows on the valley floor.

Previous Posts:
Who's a Hero?
In the Still of the Night