Sunset and Camden


37, college grad, 2x married, one son, one stepdaughter, four cats, one idiot dog, one very small house and small garden.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My Friend Alice

One of my best friends, someone I've known for ten years, died yesterday at the age of fifty-two. She was my next door neighbor, my friend, my confidante...she was My Alice.

She wasn't the sort of high class grande dame that makes important friendships. Alice loved everybody. She walked a lot, and everywhere she went she talked to people and made friends. She didn't care what you looked like or where you lived. If you were willing to say hello, she was willing to be your friend.

The very first time we met, about a week after I'd moved in next door, we had a terrible fight. Her dog, Rainy, was barking non-stop, and my son, Connor, had the flu and needed to sleep. I went outside and hosed the dog down to get him to shut up. Alice launched on me, and I on her and we argued for half an hour. Then the very next day, she and I both apologized and from that moment on, we were friends. (Although I have to say I never really warmed up to her dog. But when Rainy died, I held her while she cried.)

She was there for me when my son was diagnosed with diabetes, and when she in turn was diagnosed, I talked to her, gave her recipes, and we gave each other encouragement. She was there for me when my beloved dog Bonnie Bedelia passed away. She even bought a figurine to adorn Bonnie's headstone.

She loved animals. She was forever taking in strays and finding them homes. I don't know exactly how many cats passed through her life, but it had to be quite a few. The one constant in her life for many years was a cat called Mrs., who followed her all over the neighborhood. Alice would walk by the house, and a few minutes later, Mrs. would come trotting after.

Alice loved my kids. She made them sno-cones and saved cereal box toys for them; she took my stepdaughter with her on errands just to chat. She thought Connor was a wonderful son. And she loved my garden. I'd give her produce from the plants and she always brought me some of what she'd made with it. She had a wicked sense of humor sometimes; when she saw how big my zuchinni were getting, she made several off color remarks that I won't repeat, not because they make me blush, but because I'm afraid I won't be able to type from laughing.

As I've gone around the neighborhood talking to people, trying to find out who knew her, I realized something. Alice knew everyone. She took an interest in everyone. And the funny thing is that in trying to let her friends know about her death, I'm making more friends myself. Alice has left a legacy of goodwill in our neighborhood. It's up to us to carry that on.

I'm really going to miss her. She was one of a kind.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Procrastination Station

WELL! Haven't we had a week. Actually, I guess everyone has had a week. But not like ours.

The week started off with a major marital meltdown that was resolved with a rather strange agreement not to argue again until we're 70. I don't know if that's realistic, but I must report that cessation of hostilities has had a beneficial effect. It's one of those 'it's just so crazy it just might work' ideas. At the very least, we don't have to worry about calling in U.N. Peacekeeping forces anymore.

Then Bruce's truck got completely smushed by a diesel rig making an illegal right hand turn. No one was seriously injured, and I'm extremely grateful for that. But oddly enough, it got me to thinking about how much we procrastinate around here. Of course, I'll tell you why, no need to ask.

Our normal modus operandi is to decide what we want to do (paint the kitchen, clean out the garage, refinish the wood floors, etc.), make a game plan for doing it, possibly go out and buy the supplies to do the job, then...sit and stare at the undone project for the next year until we've quite forgotten what the project is. Then we come up with a new project. This method works very well for us; we may never get anything done, but we also haven't spent a lot of time in back-breaking labor, so it all comes out in the wash.

Except this time. For some unknown reason, Bruce decided to actually do something instead of just talk about it. You see, a few weeks ago, an object flew up in front of his truck on the freeway and shattered his front grille. Normally, he would just leave it for a couple of years, talking about getting it fixed every weekend, but never actually doing it. I don't have a clue what bug flew up his butt and got him motivated, but he actually did get the grille fixed in a timely manner, to the tune of three hundred dollars. One week later, his truck got totaled. He could have saved the three hundred bucks to pay for the rental truck he's having to use for deliveries.

What on earth possessed him to actually do something about anything? It's just not our style. Then the one time he actually doesn't procrastinate, his good deed is punished. I don't know about you, but I'd say this is a sign From Above. I think this is God's way of saying, "Look, I created the two of you to be complete human slugs, so don't screw it up again!" I guess even procrastinators have their place in the cosmic order.

My place is at the end of the line, reading a book and hoping my number won't be called anytime in the near future.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Sugar Britches and Pantalones

I really hate to say this, but my husband is a deeply disturbed individual. He has a very checkered past, but frankly, that's not what concerns me at the moment. His current addiction is much more emotionally upsetting.

My husband is addicted to online gaming.

I'm not talking about Vegas style crap, or betting on horses, or fantasy football or anything financially destructive. I'm talking about strategy war games like 'Command and Conquer,' 'Ages of Empires,' and 'Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.' He gets online and connects up with other deeply disturbed individuals and spends hour after hour doing what we've taken to calling 'killing pixels.' They sort themselves into teams and choose maps, weapons, and characters. Then they try to kill each other. It's not a very Christian activity.

This obsession truly knows no bounds. We once had the opportunity to invite one of his gaming friends to stay with us for a weekend. He seemed perfectly normal until he'd been here for a few hours. That was when I went to the kitchen to start dinner and found our new friend hooked up to the internet on his laptop. I was highly suspicious, so I went to look for my husband and found him online on -his- computer. The man had come all the way from the east coast to sit in a separate room from my husband and do the exact same thing they do every night; gaming. He could have saved himself the trip and just emailed us a picture. Call me crazy, but that is the sort of weird that gets you thrown into circus freak shows.

What really worries me, though, is the way they talk to each other. Yes, they can communicate verbally over the internet. They call it 'Team Talk.' I call it 'Trash Talk.' (I'm considering getting my own online hookup through my laptop not so I can play, but so that I can get my husband to talk to me. It would be much easier to just put on my headset and say, "Sugar Britches, ETA for dinner is T minus seven minutes OR ELSE." It would certainly get his attention.)

They give themselves extremely odd, occaisionally suggestive, and generally humorous names. My husband has been, at various times, Arathor, Slush Mitten, Demon Seed, and Major Idiot. (Okay, I made that last one up. But if the name fits...) And he's one of the macho guys. Last night I became the first woman in America to walk into her husband's office and hear the words, "Dude! Pantalones is just sitting on a game!" I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to have to make a run for the potty. Anyone else listening to these guys would write them off as candidates for immediate interrment in the nearest state facility. On any given night I can sit and listen to a one-sided conversation that goes something like this:

"Hey man, who's on? We gamin'?"

"Yeah, I got OWNED last night by Fluffy Bunny. And dude, check this out, this guy online, Sweet Talker, has a record of 14015 and 12...there's no way man. That's BULLshit, dude."

"Who's got the map hack? I got my ass handed to me earlier by some ASShole claimin' to be newb...we playin'? Okay, no rushing? Right."

"Who's pink? Is that Squirrel Baggins? Figures. Dude, my scuds go online in less than a minute. You got a nuke ready? Okay, let's take 'em."

"Where's my guys? Holy Fu!@#$% SH&*^%! "

This is not exactly a contender for Intellectual Conversation of the Year. And it gets worse. I have christened my husband 'Sugar Britches' and he was daft enough to actually tell the other macho pixel freaks what I said. So now we have he and George W. Bush playing the Chinese against Pantalones and Sit Up and Beg as the Terrorists. I don't get it either...don't even try. It's like trying to wrap your head around the concept of time travel. All you get is a headache.

But at the very least, my husband now has a fan club. Someone called Demon Egg, aka Target (or as I say, Tar-zhay) has decided that hubby darling is a Legend in His Own Time. He is apparently warm for Bruce's form. I can't say I blame him, but I'm going to be very put out if one day some guy comes along and woos my husband out from under me with sweet words and promises like, "You know...we could just game all day...she'd never have to know. I want you, now, online, rush me hard Sugar Britches!!"

Maybe I'd sleep better at night if I stopped listening.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Spoiled For Choice

Here is my issue du jour: the agony of choice. Don't worry, I'm not about to start an internet war over the abortion issue. I'm talking about the issue of having too many choices. We live in a society that overvalues the words 'selection' and 'convenience.' We want it all, right now, and in one location so we don't have to drive around all over heck and gone.

A prime example: potato chips. When I was a kid (I can -hear- you all sighing and rolling your eyes), there were two flavors of potato chip: plain and barbecue. And there weren't very many brands; just Lay's, Pringle's, and whatever local or store brand existed in your area. There was onion dip, but no ranch. If you bought Frito's corn chips, you could get bean dip to go with it. That was about it. And we were all perfectly happy with that limited selection.

I can actually remember two halcyon days in the history of the American Chip (bear in mind that in Europe, a chip is a french fry, and a crisp is a potato chip). The first was when Lay's introduced the new 'sour cream and onion' flavor chip. Suddenly, everyone at my school had breath that smelled like oniony yak barf. Barbecue was out as the cool flavor; yak barf was in. The second moment was the advent of a new brand: the Cape Cod Gourmet Chip. They had plain flavor, but also two exotic ones: vinegar and sea salt, and white cheddar. I had no idea, up to that moment, that cheddar even came in white.

Then, not ten minutes later it seemed, there were dozens of chip brands and dozens of flavor choices. I kid you not that just the other day I stood in front of a Lay's display and debated over whether to get Cool California Dill flavor, Texas Mesquite flavor, or Jalapeno Lime flavor. I ended up passing altogether. I couldn't make up my mind.

And that is where the agony of choice comes into it. In the consumer world today, we've become inundated with so many choices that we're stymied. We have this terrible feeling that we should have it all, and right now, thank you very much. After all, as the hair commercials keep telling us, we're worth it. But are we?

I can't see that we are. In many parts of the world, the big daily choice is whether to starve for the day or stand in line for a bowl of rice at the refugee center. And my big choice today was whether to take a nap or write this blog. Somehow, I don't feel worthy of the option of smoky bacon flavor chips.

And is this much choice really necessary? People in the industrialized world are faced with such an avalanche of choice, information, options, items, products, and services that I'm amazed we can get through the day without losing our minds. Suddenly, the word 'simplicity' has an exciting appeal. There are so many choices in every area of lives these days that many of are choosing not to choose. We either do without, or we put ourselves deep into debt to have it all. But where would we put it? (In our house...the garage. That's where the excess goes to die.)

I believe that having too many choices is bankrupting us spiritually and morally. The ease with which we can get anything at any time has had a jading effect. Our children grow up believing they're entitled to whatever their hearts desire, in several designer colors. And adults believe that since they didn't have all this nifty stuff when they were kids, they somehow owe it to their children. So the grownups are broke and kids are spoiled. Not a perfect setting to develop decent ethics for living for either group.

But what can be done about it, oh Majestic Dispenser of Moral Turpitude? I hear you ask. (Well, actually, what I can hear you saying is, SO!? Why can't I have smoky bacon flavor chips??) The answer: not a whole heck of a lot. We're certainly not going to be able to convince corporate America that we want fewer choices, as we have already demonstrated that we just love to spend twenty minutes a week trying to choose a shampoo. I can confidently predict that we will be faced with a growing legion of choices in every aspect of life. You can't even have a disease in this country without being faced with a pantheon of medical selections. (I suppose that's a good thing, but I wish all these celebrities would stop trying to 'raise my awareness' about every ailment under the sun. My awareness level can only go so high. And I do not believe championing a worthy cause gives them legitimacy. With rare exceptions, it just makes them look like they feel sorry for the little people.)

The only way out of this morass (what a delightful word for this situation...More? ASS!) is to turn a blind eye to consumerism and focus on something simple. Not an easy task, given that nearly every inch of our lives is plastered with advertising of one form or another. I am just as guilty of gross consumerism as the rest of you. But I have noticed that every time I give in to my greedy desires, the pleasure in the choice fades the minute I get home and realize I've spend money fruitlessly and wasted another chunk of a finite and rapidly vanishing lifetime.

I'm not asking anyone else to do this, but I'm going to try to keep my eye on the prize; the here and now, and what I can do that will be meaningful for myself, others, or possibly both. I am sure I will fail dramatically and repeatedly, but with practice I should be able to reduce my consumer urges to a minimum. But first...I think I'll make myself a cup of coffee. Should I have that with cocoa powder, cinnamon, or plain cream and sugar? Oh...the agony of choice.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Vesuvius Has Nothing On Me

I was reading my weekly Dave Barry column this afternoon, which I have emailed to me every Monday. Normally, I absolutely love Mr. Barry, but today's column (which was an old reprint because the Man Himself has taken a year-long sabbatical) got me to thinking about men and why their thinking patterns are so different from the rest of us. Meaning, of course, women.

Interesting factoid: scientifically speaking, females are known as 'the ancestral sex,' while males are known as 'the deviant sex.' In other words, all embryos are female until a renegade genetic switch gets flipped and changes things. I think this explains a lot. For example, women tend to understand the way things are, as opposed to the way they are supposed to be. Men, on the other hand, think that things are supposed to be their way. Women have the weight of history on their side; the phrase, "Same as it ever was" isn't just a beer ad to us.

I think this also explains why most of the women I know are really just a smoldering slagheap of hot lava, ready to explode at the slightest rumbling from a man. Why women are prime candidates for chronic eye trouble from the sheer force of the rolling that goes on in our orbital pits. Why women have honed the art of the sigh to the point where it is practically a second language; we have a sigh, a growl, a snort, or a tut for just about everything. Why we know for a fact that nothing ever changes; life is the same for us now as it was for our mothers. We just have more electrical outlets now.

I suppose I'm a bit irrititable right now because I've been basically home for two days with a sick kid. My only diversions have been a few levels of a video game, reading a disgusting romance novel because it was the only book I had left, and having my cervix scraped with a wire brush. (I had a doctor's appointment.) Now, a man would say, hey, what a great opportunity to catch up on some housework! I say...bite me. Doing housework is about as purposeful as building a sand castle too close to the water's edge; the minute you're done, a wave comes along and wrecks it, and leaves you to clean up the mess.

Why is it that men just don't get it? What is it about our situations that is so difficult to comprehend? Whether you work part-time out of the home and full-time in the home, or you work a full-time job both in and out of the home, or you work solely full-time in the home, you're exhausted. And that's -before- you've even picked up a sponge and wiped your first surface of the day. Women are responsible for nearly everything outside of money; and many women are responsible for that as well. Men go to their jobs, come home, drop trail all over the house, and then complain about anything they don't like. Then they go bowling. Hey, -she's- there to watch the kids, why do I have to be there?

And in the workplace, men are even more clueless. What mental function do men have that makes them think it's perfectly all right to take credit for a project that a woman has done? Why do they think it's acceptable to pay women less than a man for the same job? A man would never do these things to another man, but don't think twice about doing it to a woman. It is almost as if they think they're entitled to a better career, a more exciting social life, and an easier path through life simply -because- they don't bear children and run a household.

I know that I'm being unfair to the many hardworking men who do take the place of the woman in the home as well as hold down a job. Single dads, widowers with children, and men with largely absent spouses. These men are given a taste of what life is like for a woman. Some of them do it their whole lives, and do it well. But I believe that most of them would jump at the chance to have a woman in their lives to take over their household duties. And many of them do.

I suppose we can chalk all of this up to the age-old battle of the sexes. But in today's world, the battle lines have grown murky. Women want a more complete life than their forebears were given. But most of us don't get that. I can tell you for sure that I see the value in 'mistress' seterotype; they get the best of the man and don't have to wash his socks. And no one tells them what to do. But we carry on in this largely fruitless lifestyle for one reason: we're hoping that when all is said and done, someone will say thank you. Someone will be there in our waning days to hold our hands. Someone will finally see our value as human beings and show their appreciation by refraining from trying to control us. That it won't all be a collossal waste of time. That the loneliness will be held at bay by the comfort of another human being. It doesn't always work out that way. But we are, and always have been, cynical optimists. Either that, or we actually -like- hitting our heads up against brick walls. Who can say?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Skin Is In

Well, we had our 'mother-daughter' bonding skin care experience today. Courtney was given a hooky day off from school so we could go when it wasn't overbooked. Good heavens...what an odd morning.

First, let me say that I've never been a good 'beauty patient.' I dislike people poking me and prodding me so I find it difficult to relax. I think this may stem from a childhood trauma. It was impossible for my mother to keep her hands off our faces when we kids; she'd chase us down and sit on us until we let her pick at any stray hairs, blackheads, or pimples. She also had a habit of making us spit on napkins and then rubbing our own spit into imaginary food spots around our mouths until our skin turned bright red and began to peel off. So I grew up with a morbid fear of letting anyone touch my face.

Now, Courtney was so excited about this that you would have thought I was taking her to see Hilary Duff herself. Courtney loves stuff like this. I think this may stem from a childhood trauma; her mother never held her down and picked at her face. In fact, her mother rarely held her. So I think maybe she's making up for lost attention.

When we got to La Petit Salon, we were greeted by none other than (gasp!) La Petit Napoleon. You remember, my hairstylist from last week? Seems she's a cosmetologist as well. All the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention. Courtney, however, waved nonchalantly, sighed as though bored with the world, and sat down in the reception area with a glamour magazine. A true beauty veteran already at the age of ten.

Her appointment was first, and she elected to get the full European Facial and skin analysis. I half expected her to come out looking like Brigitte Bardot. She was called to the back of the salon, and she smiled coyly and gave me a little wave before tossing her hair like a true California Girl and sauntering off to be 'done.' She was gone for an entire hour, and when she emerged she looked as though she'd been smoking pot; she was so relaxed I was pretty sure her bones were liquid.

La Petit Napoleon than crooked her finger and gave me the hairy eyeball. My stomach aquiver, I walked the green mile to the room of gloom and doom. The lighting was low; I assume that was supposed to help relax me. All it did was make me wonder what implements of epidermal torture were hiding in the shadows.

I changed into the modesty gown and laid down on the table. She proceeded to mummify me from shoulders to toes in egyptian cotton towels and fuzzy blankets. I never did like getting tucked in; it makes me feel panicked, and just then I was so tightly tucked I could barely breathe. Plus, I am on the downhill side of the slalom race toward menopause; the addition of blankets was totally unnecessary. I popped with sweat instantly. After a hissing steam machine was stuck over my head, I was pretty sure she was trying to drown me in my own body fluids.

She stuck a bright light in my face and proceeded to examine my every pore. She seemed disappointed when she couldn't find anything wrong with my skin. "You don't have any blackheads," she pouted. YES! Score one for vegetarianism. I used to have tons of them; my face looked like a connect the dots picture. But after abstaining from meat, my skin cleared up. No zit sucking machine for me today! Hooray!

For the next thirty minutes, I was slathered in a variety of potions and goo, had my face and upper chest muscles pummeled into submission, and spent about half of that time trying to control my bladder, which had been sent into a frenzy of urinary desire by the 'soothing waterscape' soundtrack playing in the background.

Although I emerged only sightly less relaxed than when I went in, I must say that the hot towel part of the facial was a treat. If she would just dump the hot, wet towels on my face and leave for half an hour, I'd be happy. I liked the hot, wet part. (AHEM! Get your mind out of the gutter...there isn't enough room with me in there already.)

We celebrated our new high-class glamour with lunch at La Belle de Taco, and went to Target to buy Courtney her own hair dryer and 'styling wand.' I should have seen this coming...she's now desperate to use it on my head. More prodding and poking. Oh,well. At least when Courtney does my hair it ends up looking good.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Hair Raising Bonding Experience

I just got back from Le Petit Salon, where I went with my stepdaughter to get our hair done. Hubby pre-paid for the 'works,' so we could have some girl time together. She and I will probably never be best buds or anything, but bless his heart, he keeps trying to help. (Although I did embarrass her by ascertaining ahead of time that the salon would only use cruelty-free products, so I wouldn't get any nasty surprises. That earned me the infamous eye-roll.)

Now, it is a fact that I am NOT a girly girl. I have often envied girly girls and wished I could be more feminine, but alas, it is not to be and I've accepted that. I like to play in the dirt and let the cats chew my fingernails. I like not having to fuss. It is one of the things my husband loves about me...he likes being with a woman who can be ready to go and waiting in the car in ten minutes flat. I am also occaisionally willing to sit at Starbucks and gawk at women with him. (And before you go ewwww, ladies, realize that you do the same thing. We all do. We're hardwired to check out the competition. The only difference is that while most women are thinking of ways to 'keep that woman away from my man,' I'm thinking...hey, nice boobs. I wonder if they're real?) On the other hand, my general inability to create the perfect home, due to a deficient nesting gene, tends to exasperate him. To my way of thinking, as long as no one comes down with a tropical disease from my slap-dash homemaking efforts, we're good to go.

But my stepdaughter is a girly girl, and she despairs of me ever looking what she calls acceptable. (She says I'm a walking hair emergency.) So when we go to the salon, she instructs me to just put my head in the hands of the stylist and shut up. She was done before me, and then spent the entire time the woman was working on my hair deep in consultation about what should be done to fix my head. This is no easy task; I have a tendency to simply chop off any stray hair that gets in my way, and as a result I look like my hair was styled by Black and Decker. But between the two of them they figured that I needed some body to my 'do, some perkiness. Oh, dear. I don't do perky. Manic, sometimes. Stressed, often. Completely nutty, always. But never perky.

The stylist, in conjunction with Courtney, decide that I need 'product' in my hair, which amounts to some smelly mousse stuff. I do my silly thing, making a face and saying "MOOOSSSSaaaaka!" in a series of odd voices. I get another eyeroll. The mousse gives my head that 'just been licked by a water buffalo' look, so that idea goes out the window.

Courtney then says, "I always try to give her some curl in the back with a round brush. Her hair needs to come up a bit." The stylist, who I am now secretly referring to as La Petit Napoleon due to the fact that she is yanking the comb through the dried mousse with the force of category five tornado, making my scalp feel like the loser at Waterloo, agrees with her. Courtney points to a tubular device that looks like something only a Borgia would love, and says, "My mom has one of those. They work really well." (MAJOR brownie points for correct use of the word 'well,' MAJOR irritation because her mother is now intruding on OUR time. Oh, well. She is the child's mother. It's not like I can make her disappear, more's the pity.)

The stylist picks the thing up and proceeds to squoosh my hair in it, pulling it up in a circle. Suddenly, I notice smoke coming off of my head. Fighting my panic, I say with forced nonchalance, "Say, why does it do that steamy smoke thing?" La Petit Napoleon replies, "Oh, it's just burning off water and mousse." My heart rate skyrockets. The words 'burning off' are not words I want anywhere near my head. But then I look over at Courtney, who is now clapping her hands and making ooh-ooh noises at the curl in my hair, and I resign myself to Kentucky Fried Tresses. This is for her benefit, after all, and I wouldn't want to scar her for life by leaping out of the chair, running from the shop, screaming "Fire!!"

And the funny thing is, as the gal goes around my head, scorching the curl into the ends, other people in the salon start to notice and nod approvingly. I think, well, maybe the kid is right. Maybe my hair does look okay. I'll just wait until she's done and then look.

Big mistake. When I see the finished product, I look -exactly- like I've stuck my finger in a lightsocket. For some reason, everyone in the shop seems to think this is a great style for me, so I just swallow the lump in my throat and go into 'nodheadsmilenicely' mode. I give the stylist a tip, and make my way on shell-shocked legs to the counter, where I pay an obscene amount of money for special hair products for Courtney's hair which, by the way, looks fantastic and a little too adult for her face. How did I end up looking like Herman Munster's mistress and she looks like Princess Amelia? There is no justice in this world.

All in all, we did have a good time. I really enjoyed the scalp massage. I almost fell asleep. And the stress-inducing hair style notwithstanding, I would say the experience was worthwhile. Then again, check back with me next weekend. I'm letting Courtney have a hookie day off from school so we can go get facials. I just know I'm going to end up with Cruella DeVille waving a zit sucking machine in my face while she ends up kicking it with a soothing avocado face mask and copy of Teen People. Oh, well, no one ever said stepparenting would be painless. I just didn't realize that meant losing a layer of skin in the name of beauty.