Friday, December 31, 2010

Crown Me the Queen of the Oblivious

If there was a National Society for the Oblivious, I'd be their poster child.
From the vantage point of my 30+ years on this earth, I can now look back and see those moments when I was totally oblivious to the situation at hand, yet somehow lived to tell about it.
(And yes - I know I'm WAY older than 30. But I'm oblivious to my true age, so saying "50+ years" is not within my capabilities. Got it? Good. We shall never speak of this again.)
I remember visiting my great-grandparents in Hazeldell, Illinois, when I was in grade school. We rode the train - my sister, my mom and my Aunt Lois - and I got to wear my Sunday shoes for the trip. Other than that, I only remember one thing: that the Mayor of Hazeldell let us sit on his horse.
Truth be told, Hazeldell was about the size of Mayberry so the Mayor probably wasn't named Bloomberg. He was probably more like my great-grandparents: loving, hardworking, no nonsense Christian folk who'd rather visit with you on your front porch than gush over your new car.
But heck, I was seven and I was impressed that THE MAYOR let us ride his horse. When I got back, I told that story to anyone in my third grade class who would listen.
Then a few years ago, my mother pointed out that what I got to ride was a MARE that belonged to a neighbor who was the town Constable. Hazeldell, it seems, was too small to have a MAYOR.
Um. . . . duh.
When I was 1o or so, my grandmother had a few apartments that she rented to school teachers. My dad and I were in my her backyard one day when the art teacher who lived above the garage headed to his car with a painting under his arm. He unwrapped it and showed it to my dad and me, telling us that it was the first painting he'd ever sold. I was awestruck. It was the most beautiful painting I'd had ever seen: a creamy, golden sunset filtering through a forest. My dad clapped him on the back and congratulated him. He was less than effusive when I exclaimed "Wow! Is that a paint-by-number??!"
Um. . . duh.
The ensuing years have not bestowed upon me any greater sense of savvy. I'm still as gullible and oblivious as ever.
A few years back, a friend bought one of those new zippy Porsches. A sporty little thing it was, with a push button starter. I wondered how he kept it from being stolen, what with it not needing a key or anything. He explained that the car was SOOOOOO tech savvy that it actually had facial recognition and wouldn't start unless he was behind the wheel.
Wow, I exclaimed. It's a good thing you don't grow a beard in the winter.
Two weeks later, I recounted this story to my dad who gently explained that facial recognition had nothing to do with it - the push button starter only worked if you had the key with you.
Um. . . . duh.
A few years ago, I worked downtown. Every morning, I passed a neatly dressed man panhandling in front of my office building. I appreciated that while his clothes were old and not in the best shape, he always took care to be clean and polite. I could picture him as a tragic icon, an ethical man pushed to unimaginable limits to care for his modest family during his unfortunate unemployment. More than once, I ate peanut butter sandwiches because I'd given him my week's worth of lunch money. But by golly, I was happy to help. In the spring, he'd hand out daffodils as thanks for my modest donation.
Then one day, my boss cautioned me against giving any money to panhandlers - especially that young guy who hung out in front of our building.
Why? I asked. What's wrong with him?
Oh, nothing, she replied. But if you watch him at 9AM, he drives away in a new Lexus and those flowers he hands out are from the city flowerbeds at the back of the building.
Um. . . duh.
My penchant for being oblivious sometimes has immediate and quite public effects. Last week, I was in another building at work and used the ladies room. Now as far as I can tell, I don't think about anything particular while in the ladies room, but I must have had something on my mind this day because I never noticed that the toilets in this ladies room were equipped with automatic flushers.
When the toilet flushed, I about jumped over the stall door. I think I also screamed, because a few coworkers I hadn't yet met came in to see if I was okay.
Didn't you see the flushers mounted on the back of the toilet?, they asked.
Um. . . duh.
Many people make grandiose New Year's resolutions. They want to stop eating so much, or make more money, or learn French.
Not me.
In 2011, I just don't want to take any wooden nickels.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I fingered the blue wool coat with its velcro straps and eyed Sammy. Bare-tummied Sammy, who is built for long walks in summer heat, not leisurely strolls in winter snow.
Sammy hates his coat. He sees me pondering it and hides under my chair in the living room. I check the temperature gauge tacked to the window. 35 degrees. I peer out at the back yard where all the bushes and trees hold their arms to the still-dark sky. No wind.
"OK, Sammy," I finally concede. "No coat." I pluck his harness off the hook by the back door and sit on the desk chair just in time for him to barrel into my lap.
Ultra-furry Charlie, long strapped into his harness, starts running in tight little circles of anticipation by the back door. I zip my coat, pick up my gloves and check the desk clock glowing in the darkness.
5:15AM. We'll be out the first outside today, before anyone in the neighborhood is up. My favorite time to walk.
I open the back door and two noses push open the storm door. I follow the dogs down the three steps but they wheel back and snuffle at something on the top step. As I reach back to quietly close the door, I notice the yard and driveway are a seamless blanket of white snow, perfect and smooth. Except for tiny footprints that tattoo their way from the back of the house, down the driveway and up our back steps.
I look closer. They look like cat prints, and it seems the cat spent some time on our top step while DaBoys were blissfully pawing their way through doggie dreams last night.
Satisfied that the intruder is gone, DaBoys pull me down the driveway and into our morning walk. Our first visit is to the young maple across the street, where grass stubbles its way up past the thin half inch of snow. From there, we turn west down the sidewalk, out of street light range. I'm the first to blemish this snow, but DaBoys find a scent in the grass and pick up the pace as they sniff and snort along its trail like little detectives.
Further along, the Wilson's uncut straw flowers and ornamental kale make a tapestry of their snow blanket. Two perfect tire tracks stripe the snow from garage to the street, evidence of Cathy's early shift in the ER.
Already, the sky's inkiness has burnished to navy against pinpoints of stars. DaBoys stop to water a fire hydrant.
I listen.
Miles off, a train lumbers away. The last echo of it's whistle barely threads the early morning air. I take a deep breath. Not enough snow to scent the air but enough to clean away the musky smell of fall that lingered yesterday.
Both dogs move on past lawns neat as graves beneath the thin snow. We turn down Parkview, a half-moon shaped street tucked away nearby. Big old trees, manicured flower beds and friendly people make this one of DaBoys favorite destinations for daytime walks. But I like Parkview best just like this. I thief my way through this neighborhood unwatched, while it is still quietly put away for the night.
It's peacefulness is what I'll steal to begin my day.
Almost right away, though, we find evidence of visitors before us. A rabbit has looped it's way from Merrick's hydrangea bed to the woods. The prints it left behind - dots for the front feet and dashes for the back feet - look for all the world like Morse code.
Further on, the Harrold's new cat has made it's way home from it's nightly explorations. It's eyes catch a glow from the yard light as it waits by the front door, puffed and patient as a hunter.
We make our way around the first bend. Houses rise up on our left with their generous lawns spread out before them. At their back are yards that slip down long, wooded hills to the quiet expanse of a city park.
A little gust of wind cartwheels a lonely maple leaf and it stitches its way across the snow in front of us.
In the Simon's driveway I spy a string of pawprints, probably from the family of raccoons they feed in the winter. Along the hedge that rings the Henry's yard are the perfect staccato prints from the deer who wonder up from the park to feast on leftover plantings. DaBoys are unimpressed by how perfectly each hoof print was left in the snow.
Craftier animals have explored the lawns overnight, leaving the snow on the sidewalks undisturbed. The dogs follow each scent through the grass, their noses scooping along the snow as we make our way around the second bend and back toward our street like ghosts.
At the corner, I turn to look back. We have been messy interlopers; there is evidence of us everywhere. My footprints waggle down the sidewalks, crossed by smaller prints from the dogs. Deeper drifts along flower beds are left churned up by snuffling noses. There's a patch by the Thompson's old walnut tree where the grass has been brushed clean. Evidence of our stop there lies securely tied in the poo bag I'm carrying.
We turn toward home, Sammy finally giving in to shivers. I think of his warm doggie coat back home on the table and wonder if he'll ever let me put it on him.
The sky has blued a bit, already bruised by the morning. Soon, it will have the daytime look it carries for everyone to see. Then, lights will go on, streets will be filled and lives will be lived.
But perched here on the tipping point between night and day, the world's stillness is fresh and special like a gift.
We turn down our driveway to join the outbound prints we left in the snow a mere 20 minutes ago. We follow them to our backdoor, up the steps and into our warm house. I hang up leashes, wipe off icy feet and hand out treats. The smell of the coffee I left brewing is too much to bear and I make my way through the dark house to the kitchen. Cradling the steaming cup in my hand, I tiptoe to the living room and open the draperies. Upstairs, Ken is still sleeping. I sit in my chair by the window, holding my cup high until DaBoys settle on my lap.
All the world is still.
The furnace hums on, and then back off.
I listen to the creaks in the bones of this hundred year old house.
Already, both dogs have fallen asleep. I listen to their breathing and sip my coffee.
Outside, the street lights wink out one by one by one.
Up above, the stars are bowing out of the waning night sky.
They leave behind the first blush of a fresh morning, unashamed and hopeful.
It is good.