Pet me.

When my husband Frank had a survey job in our very urban Silicon Valley city long ago, he didn’t expect to end up being the object of intense affection. He was a good-looking man (is, sorry Frank!) but he wasn’t often chased by yearning females. Not ever, in fact, until that memorable day.

When he got to the job site he found himself on a farm, right there in the middle of high-tech Fremont. The parcel remained like a ghost of the past in the midst of our fast-developing city, surrounded by expensive homes of technology-sector executives. Frank knocked on the door of the old house and the owner led him out to the back where, in what seemed like a time warp, there was a large garden and a few chickens and geese and some penned pigs and goats. Frank set up his equipment and got to work.

While he was concentrating on doing whatever surveyors do—I’ve never really been clear on exactly what that is—he saw a vague shape moving in back of him out of the corner of his eye. It turned out to be a large cow. Very large. Unpenned. Frank, who wasn’t used to farm animals, was a little alarmed. But he remained calm, until the cow started moving toward him. Then it started moving faster, until it was trotting. It was looking at him intensely with big cow eyes.

No longer calm, Frank left his equipment and began to head for the only way out he could see—a chain link fence that he would have to climb over. He looked back and saw the cow moving even faster, gaining on him. So Frank started moving faster too, until he was racing as fast as he could go. The cow started racing too. Frank made it to the fence just in time, got a good footing, scrambled up to the top and threw his leg over just before the cow got close enough to him to get a grip on his pant leg. He hoisted himself over the top and dropped down to the ground on the other side.

Then he turned to look at the cow. Looking lovestruck, it was staring right back at him. With those big cow eyes. And then Frank saw that a little girl had been following the cow. cow-634283_640“Here I am, Daisy,” she said with great affection, “I’m right here, baby.” She reached Daisy, put her arms around her neck lovingly, looked up at Frank fiercely, and said, “She just wanted to be petted, mister.”

Frank’s retired now, and the farm is gone. It’s been turned into a tract of homes like the executive mini-mansions surrounding it, with a park or two added in. You know how it is with old familiar things that have been gone for a long time—eventually the day comes when you forget that they were ever there at all. That happens a lot in our ever-changing city. But whenever Frank passes the housing tract where the farm used to be, he always thinks of Daisy the cow, who was loved dearly by a little girl.

Moms and secrets, LOL

campfire-1031141_640I’ll always remember the night my daughter outed me while we were on a Girl Scout camping trip. Michele was eight when she joined Girl Scouts. I should say when we joined: I resolved to be involved. It was a big step for shy, self-conscious, anxious me. But I was a single working mother, without a lot of friends or extended family nearby, and Michele and I spent an awful lot of time with just each other. I knew I had to find more friendship and support, for both of us.

When Michele brought home a flyer that the Girl Scouts would be at her school to answer questions and enroll new members it seemed like a miracle. We went, read the flyers, walked around talking to leaders of various groups, and signed up. The two young moms who led our group were friendly and energetic and arranged for a lot of great activities. It was the right move.

We signed up for a summer camping trip at the beach. I was pretty nervous. I’m a recovering alcoholic, with thirty-two years of sobriety, but back then I had been sober for just a few years. Sobriety was still a new state of being for me and things got stressful and bumpy at times. They were smoothing out, but still I found the thought of hanging out with Girl Scouts daunting.  I felt deep down that I was different from the other moms. I didn’t’ quite belong in respectable society. And worse, I was afraid they would find out who I really was and reject me…and my daughter.

But we went. We carpooled and I really enjoyed Bev, the woman driving the van Michele and I rode in. I knew nothing about camping, but Bev was an expert. I followed her around and she told me what to do and I did it. It was a great system. She could set up a tent and cooking area and all the rest of it with her eyes closed.

After an afternoon swim for the girls and then dinner, we sat around the campfire roasting marshmallows and talking in the flickering firelight. After a while I screwed up my courage and told a story. It was about Michele’s Grandma Myrl, on her father’s side, and a huge crab.

Myrl was on a tourist crabbing boat in Alaska. A crab escaped confinement somehow and was crawling on the boat floor when it speeded up suddenly and raced straight toward Myrl. Somehow it ended up latching on to her glove.  “It was scary,” I told everyone. “In the photo it looked like it was dangling from my mother-in-law’s hand. But actually it was only latched onto her glove. Thank God the tour guide had given her gloves that were way too big!” You couldn’t see it in the photo, but there were inches of empty space between the tips of Myrl’s fingers and the huge claw.

Chuckles and murmurs and OMGs rose up around the campfire, and then Michele’s clear young voice rang out. “Grandma isn’t your mother-in-law,” she said matter-of-factly from her perch across the fire from me. “You and Dad were never married.”

I froze. Then I did what I always did, I focused on the negative, and from there I launched into my familiar, habitual catastrophic thinking. Now they knew, I thought, and they would reject me. I would be ostracized. Maybe I would be expelled from Girl Scouts. I wondered, do they even accept unwed mothers as members? I didn’t remember seeing anything about that on the form. Then my anxiety thoughts, that were gaining momentum and increasing in speed, were interrupted by a hearty, long-lasting group belly laugh that rang out around the fire, coming from moms and kids.

I relaxed. “Thanks for letting us know that, sweetie,” I said, to more laughter. And then the troop leader, a single mother like me, said, “I was never married to Lydia’s father either.” There was yet more laughter, and I laughed too, with great relief. I looked across and saw Michele laughing, and talking with her new friends. I leaned into an unfamiliar but very pleasant feeling that all was well.

That’s the night I learned that “normal” society is not uptight and boring and judgmental, as I had thought for years. It isn’t even normal, because normal doesn’t exist, except as a setting on a dryer. And I knew I was right where I belonged. With the Girl Scouts, and these awesome mothers and daughters.

Blogging, rhymes with snogging

I love to blog. My only problem with it is the way the word “blog” feels and sounds as it rolls off the tongue. And it rhymes with so many unsavory words that have distasteful meanings. Smog, for instance. We all know what smog is. No one likes smog.

It gets worse. Blog also rhymes with bog. Bog can mean a stretch of swampy wetland, which is a valuable natural resource providing habitat for birds and other wildlife, but it can also mean a difficult situation from which it is difficult to disentangle oneself. She blogged about the sticky office romance she was getting bogged down in. And—this I didn’t know before—it’s also slang for toilet, and for what gets deposited in a toilet, of a solid nature. Yuk.

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Blogging rhymes with snogging, which is full-on, passionate kissing. You’d be surprised at how many things snog. Even snails. But how can such an unappetizing word describe something so delightful? Kissing sounds lovely, and it is, but snogging sounds yukky. It doesn’t sound like something people would enjoy, but of course lots of people do. 

Blog rhymes with flog, meaning to beat someone with a whip or stick as punishment or torture. And it rhymes with clog, to hinder or obstruct with thick or sticky matter. She was in her office blogging, while unbeknownst to her the drain in the bathroom was silently clogging. And let’s not forget slog, to walk or progress with a slow, heavy pace. While the mad doctor worked in his isolated laboratory, his frightening swamp creature slogged across the bog.

Of course, there are lots of words that rhyme with blog and are not off-putting at all, like log, frog, dog (who doesn’t love dogs?), fog, grog, nog as in eggnog, jog…you get my drift. And words I’ve used above as examples of unpleasantness also have cheerier meanings. Take clog. It can mean a plugged drain pipe, yes, but it is also a shoe with a thick wooden sole. Clogging, in addition, is a delightful folk dance that features loud, striking rhythms created by the dancers’ footwork. But I’m not interested in those, I’m interested in sleazy words that rhyme with blog and support my theme.

The word blog comes from the original term, web log, which was combined into weblog and eventually truncated to blog. That’s how this ungainly word came about. I love doing it, as I’ve said, but hate saying it. I’m old, nearly seventy. If I were a very successful poet or journalist or novelist, I would be a distinguished poet, a distinguished journalist, a distinguished novelist. But if I had a hugely successful blog…well, distinguished blogger just doesn’t sound right. The words don’t go together. It’s just wrong. Even elderly doesn’t seem right. No, I have to face it. I would be just what I am, an old blogger. But I’m a happy old blogger.  

 

This is my year to keep it real.


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The thrill, the exhilaration, the excitement of bringing in the new year doesn’t happen for me on New Year’s Eve. It happens in the morning, when I wake up on New Year’s Day. No, “it” is not that. I know what you’re thinking, you naughty blog reader.

This year my husband and I went to Monterey for New Year’s, as we have for the past ten years. They have First Night, an “alcohol-free-family-friendly” street event. There are little puppet shows, a guy with ten parrots that pose with kids while parents shoot pictures for free, a juggler, a clown, and other gentle activities and entertainment. What might be the world’s smallest parade, at twilight, features people on stilts dressed as the moon and planets and stars, young dancers from local dance schools, a troupe of middle-aged belly dancers, a small paper-lion dance…. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Food booths and a few small bands are scattered around the town and stores and restaurants are open until midnight. Every year we eat at the same Greek restaurant, Epsilon, and every year the menu is exactly the same. I always have the dolmades and Frank has the chicken kabob. 

It wasn’t what you’d call a rousing evening. But when I woke up in the morning on New Year’s Day, I absolutely quivered with excitement and anticipation. Like I always do. I quiver because I remember where my car is! It’s in the hotel parking garage. I even know the space number every year. I’ve been waking up sober since 1984, when I awoke on New Year’s Day sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’d been drinking alcoholically for twenty years. I also had what is called in alcoholic circles a Moment of Clarity. I woke up knowing without a doubt that if I didn’t stop drinking I would lose my family, my friends, and myself. The very next night I went to a county alcoholism treatment center near our house and have been sober ever since. I enrolled in their treatment program and in another venerated organization they recommended (go ahead, guess!). I have thirty-one years of sobriety.

So there it is, the honest, naked truth about me. My past is not pretty. Among other things, I had lots of missing-car experiences. One New Year’s Eve I was inebriated and a good friend drove me home from a party in my car. The parking lot at my apartment was full (poachers). She parked two blocks away, walked me home, put me to bed and drove away with another friend who had followed us. The next day I was shocked to find someone else’s car in my parking space when I walked out to drive to the grocery store.  Panicked, I called my friend, who reminded me what had happened and told me where she’d parked my car on the street. Thank goodness she was home. In those days there were no cell phones and people only answered the phone when they were at home or work.

Another morning, during the week, I was hung over but determined to go to take an SAT test I had scheduled. When I rushed to my car, it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I rushed back to call the friend I had been out drinking with the night before, and saw her note by the phone that she had driven me home, followed by a friend, and my car was around the corner from my apartment. I found it and raced to the university, where I annoyed the testing staff because I was a tad late and obviously hung over. They grudgingly let me take the test and somehow I passed it.

In my most spectacular misadventure, I woke up in bed in a hospital, unable to remember a single thing about the night before. I learned eventually, from the police, that I had left a popular restaurant located at the edge of an estuary of San Francisco Bay, and driven my car off-road into the water. I somehow got out of the car and swam to shore, which I was told was quite a distance. Several people saw me stumbling around and called the police. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know where my car was that night. Nobody knew, for several days until it was dredged up.

There’s a point to all these stories. I’ll tweak a line by old-time entertainer Sophie Tucker. I’ve been drunk and I’ve been sober. It’s better sober.

By the grace of God, and with recovery programs and a lot of other support available, for the past thirty-one years I always know where my car is. It’s such a good feeling. I would even call it a buzz. I’m particularly grateful for this on the morning after New Year’s Eve, which of course is the biggest drinking night of the year. And to think I didn’t even have one. Yay. It’s great to know I don’t have to ever again go outside to my car and see an empty space or someone else’s car where it should be. After all these years it hasn’t ceased to delight me. But of course the real miracle is that I didn’t injure anyone—or worse—all those years I was driving under the influence.  

I just wish I always knew where my keys are. I’m constantly losing them, and spend half my life searching around the house. I always find them eventually, in the oddest places: my underwear drawer, my tax file folder for 2012, the mini-freezer in the garage. But I’m grateful that I’ve lived long enough to suffer from this touch of dementia. Considering how many times I drove drunk and how many years I abused my mind and body with alcohol, I shouldn’t even be alive. And here I am, blogging away.

Happy New Year from a grateful blogger.