Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Counting on Something

Eight fire trucks closed the street, emergency lights blazing
Though the fire was already out

Twelve old townhouses, sharing walls,
Vulnerable to spontaneous combustion

Four doors down from our home an empty unit
Had a collapsed first floor and smoke still rising

Two-thirty in the morning on the seventh day
of the twelfth month, we were safe

Four of us in one car, still in PJ's,
Evacuated and waiting for the all clear

Two children with only their blankets
Two adults with issues unrelated to the fire

Zero damage to our house
But I still waited for an explosion that seemed inevitable

     Three months had passed
     Since I detonated our comfortable life

     One bad night had changed
     Our marriage, our jobs, our hope for the future

Thirty minutes of holding tight
And then the fireman told us it was safe to go home

Ten concrete steps to the front door
And I hoped the fireman was right

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Jag

My father was a car salesman when I was a teenager.  And he was good.
He had a way of dismissing you into wanting whatever he had to sell.
“Yeah, I’ve got this one here.  But, I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you’d really want.  It doesn’t have such good gas mileage.  But, that’s what you get with a V12 engine.  I mean, it’s just impractical to have a car that can go from 0 to 60 in less than five seconds…”
(Long drag of cigarette.)
“Nah, this Jaguar’s probably not for you.”
As a salesman, he could drive one of the cars from the lot.  And that meant he’d often have a different car every day. 
Jaguars were my dad’s favorite cars.  So they became my favorite car.  When he’d get one of those on his Sundays off, we’d sometimes go driving through the back roads of North Carolina – just to see the tobacco farms go by real fast.
He’d have Vivaldi blaring on the stereo.  We’d open the windows – and occasionally the sunroof.  He’d have a cigarette in one hand and a Solo cup full of bourbon on ice in the other.  But, he’d still manage to conduct the orchestra while we barreled down the road - he steered with his knees.  He had been a fighter pilot – he thought that meant he could multi-task if he was going less than 500mph.
The cars gave us a chance to feel rich.  In reality, the family was in a long, slow decline.  By the end of my twenties, he was living in his mother’s house and working part-time at a pawn shop. 

Still, he managed to scrape together enough to buy an old 80’s Jaguar: British racing green paint job, tan leather, sunroof.  It was about his only possession… and it was in the shop a lot of the time.  But when I went back to visit him in North Carolina, he would take me for a drive around the city, cruising the back roads… because the cops didn’t often patrol there for drunk driving.
We never could talk about what was actually going on.  We’d occasionally share a memory from a building we passed.  “Hey, remember the pancakes there?”  That was the sum of our visits.  But, when I’d hug him goodbye he would always say, “Sweetheart, when my ship comes in, I’ll give you whatever you want.  And, at the very least, I’ll give you my Jaguar when I die.”
Now, when my father actually died, I thought and felt all kinds of things.  But, this is just a story about the car. 
My older sister had been keeping track of his finances. She told my younger sister and I that he’d been in a real bad state in the weeks before he died, just swirling the drain.  On a lark he decided to drive down to Pensacola Florida – where he had his fighter pilot training.  While he was there, someone stole the Jaguar.  That was his story, anyway.
I never expected that he’d be able to keep that promise; he didn’t keep many.  But, as my sisters and I were driving around after his funeral, we started joking about the bills he left unpaid.  And I said, “Yeah, well, he promised me his Jaguar.  And I’m not getting that.”
My older sister said, “Yeah, he promised the Jaguar to me too.”
My younger sister said, “Yeah, me too.”
And at that point, we all began to suspect that perhaps the Jaguar’s disappearance was intentional – just so he wouldn’t get caught.  And we could just hear him up in Heaven somewhere…
(Long drag of cigarette.)
“Nah, this Jaguar’s probably not for you.”

Doo Wop Debacle

Scientific research has shown that the same part of your brain that processes music also processes memories.  That’s why listening to music can suck you back into the past.  In fact, many Alzheimer’s patients can still remember old tunes, even when they’ve lost many other memories.

This fact is true.  And so is what I’m about to tell you.

Back in 2001, my father was watching PBS and saw this fundraising special.  It was a reunion concert of old doo-wop bands.

The music took him straight back to the early 60’s, down to Ocean Drive, South Carolina.  That’s where my father and mother used to go and shag dance.  They were really good and would win contests and all that. 

Bands like Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs and the Dominoes would play at these little beach parties where everyone drank rum and cokes and danced barefoot in the sand.

Back then, my mom and dad were golden Kennedy youth – all shiny and full of promise.  But, over the years they fell apart like something out of a Pat Conroy novel.  My mother developed MS, my father developed into a full-blown alcoholic.  And by 2001, they were divorced after more than thirty years of marriage.

But, those songs… “under the boardwalk, out of the sun… under the boardwalk, we’ll be having some fun…” My dad couldn’t resist.  He pledged $150 to get the whole box set.

When they arrived, he called my mom at her apartment across town and said, “Hey Trish, I got these great CD’s of doo wop.  You gotta listen, they’ll take you back.  I’ll bring them by.”

My mother said something like, “MM-hm.”  She had no intention of listening to those CD’s.  She didn’t want to be reminded of the past. She hadn’t walked, much less danced, in over a decade. So, when he dropped off the 4 CD’s of 101 doo wop songs, she just left them by the door.

He called up a week later, “Hey Trish, didja listen to ‘em?”


“Why not??”

“Because I didn’t want to, Elbert.” 

His bubble was popped. He thought the music might be a way for them to have a conversation like old times.  “Fine!  I’m coming to get them.”

“I’ll leave them outside my door.”

“Good, I didn’t want to see you anyway.”

But, when he got to her apartment, the CD’s weren’t there.  He banged on the door, but my mother wouldn’t answer it.

And so the great Doo Wop battle began.  

He accused her of stealing the CD’s, she accused any number of neighborhood kids of stealing them.  My older sister asked if perhaps the neighbor could have picked them up, thinking my mother was away.  She was barked down by both of my parents.

My mother believed, in fact, that my father HAD picked up the CD’s, but was just accusing her in order to have a reason to call. Her bluff was called when he sued her in small claims court - think Judge Judy, without the cameras.  A sheriff’s officer came to her apartment to ‘investigate’ and asked her a few questions.

My mother was distraught.  She called me up, “Megan, your father is SUING me for $150.  And I don’t have it!”

Now, I work in public media, so I was furious.  “$150??  Those CD’s only cost $70.”

“Well, he says he paid $150.”

“He better not be telling the IRS that because he made a tax-deductible contribution to his public television station and received a GIFT worth $70.  He shouldn’t be able to sue you for any more than than the fair market value.  Have you told him that? Have you?!?”

She hadn’t. And I think the sheriff must have discredited my father’s claims, because the suit was dropped.

Finally, my older sister decided to check next door, over my mother’s protests.  “Hey, is there any chance that you saw some CD’s…”

The neighbor was totally embarrassed.  “I did!  Ohmigawsh, and I TOTALLY forgot to bring them back over.  I hope it wasn’t any problem.”

This is how you know this a story from the South: my sister said, “No problem at all.”

She drove the CD’s over to my father, who no longer wanted them.  My mother didn’t want them.  And so they sit in my sister’s garage… To. This. Day.   And the memory of that calamity could be tucked in there as well.

But then I turn on PBS during their eternal pledge drive:

The memories just come rushing back.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween is Over

Three Musketeers gets a bad rap. It's not Snickers, but it's still creamy, chewy and sweet.

Sure wish I had one more right. now.

Friday, October 26, 2012

TEDx Favorite!

Made it to the TEDx Favorites page - takes the sting out of being removed from my old work website.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Feline Dream

I was living in the back yard of my childhood home. Outside the door, I saw a mountain lion walking toward the house. Then, a cougar appeared, a lynx, all kinds of big, slinky cats. No lions, but I saw a baby leopard - still with the camouflage badger stripe on its head standing at my doorstep, as if waiting for me.

In the dream, I made sure the doors were locked, that my kids were safe inside. But suddenly, my son ran outside. I screamed for him to get back in, I was too scared to go after him. I grabbed his arm and tried desperately to re-lock the door, but I couldn’t find the right key.

As I tried to turn the deadbolt, a black panther slinked up to the door. I was trying yet another key when the panther lifted a paw and flicked out its thin claws and began to pick the lock. My dream Husband yelled for me to lock the door already, but I became hypnotized by the green eyes and long nose of the big cat and couldn't move.