“Quebec Is Becoming a Dictatorship.”

I fancy myself to be someone who knows a little bit about a lot of things.  An ideal Jeopardy candidate if it weren’t for the fact that I also tend to be too quick on the draw.  I’d be the jerk who buzzed early every time, before hearing the full question (or “answer,” sorry, Alex Trebek, whom I used to have a wicked crush on when I was a kid, by the by.  Him and Remington Steele).  I think this shallow wealth of mostly useless knowledge comes from having a borderline perfect memory.  I will always “remember that time” in a conversation with an old friend and I’m fairly certain I could recreate what I was wearing during most significant and even not so significant events in my life.  I could also tell you who else was present during those events.  And what they were wearing.  By that same token, I have no trouble recalling all sorts of random facts and figures, no doubt picked up at some of those same events in some of those same outfits, that you’d think would be more useful than they ever really are.

This sort of skill — knowing a little bit about a lot of things — is all fine and good when you’re called upon to referee a dispute about some series of events that took place in the past.  And it’s certainly been useful during games of Trivial Pursuit.  But, especially as I get older and the stakes associated with what I know and what I don’t know seem to increase with each passing year, I still long for the other kind of knowledge.  The kind my friend John has.

My friend John is someone who knows a lot about a lot of things.  Some would call it a gift.  I think he might call it a burden, depending on what day you ask him.  But, gift or burden, he has an abundance of information bouncing through his head at any given time and, even more remarkable, he has this amazing ability for articulating it.  Especially in print.  Most especially on Facebook.  Usually late at night.  (Many links are involved.)

Let me back up and give you some background.  John is my friend by marriage.  He’s doting husband to my friend Jen.  I’ve known Jen for about 20 years now.  Jen and John got married in Las Vegas (one of the best. weddings. ever) and have been together for so many years that I’ve lost count.  John may have become my friend because of his lucky association with Jen, but he’s my brother now.  He’s one of my bus people.  I sometimes call him Johnny Neptune because his big brain reminds me of Johnny Rocket’s big brain and because I know the nickname pleases him (he was a Johnny Rocket fan, for sure).

John talks often about things like the New World Order and Ron Paul and the TSA and CISPA and the Occupy movement.  He also talks often about literature and music and philanthropy and philosophy and, of course, Jen.  But on his Facebook page — which I pledged to religiously read for one week — it’s mostly the first group with a dash of the second thrown in.  I made this pledge because John’s my friend and, dammit, if you can’t count on your own friends reading your Facebook posts, what can you count on in this big bad world?  (And when I say “friends” I mean friend friends, not friend friends; know what I mean?)

So, down the rabbit hole I went.  Although, I think of it now less as a hole and more as an onion.  Which is somewhat unfortunate, given how I feel about onions.  But an onion it is: layer after layer after layer.  Just when you think you’ve finished reading all you could about the student protest movement in Canada (People!  There are tens of thousands of students marching through the streets of Canada as you read this!  Who knew?  Besides John?), you suddenly find yourself, after a brief respite in Chicago’s Occupy throng, eyeballs wide, in Iceland where the citizens have given the middle finger to the big banks of the UK and the Netherlands.  Then it’s on to the austerity measures that have the police in England boiling mad (I think John linked to this because he’s making the connection to potential security problems at the London Games).  The layers continue to peel back from there, and soon you find yourself bouncing throughout John’s Facebook timeline (he was an early adapter) like a little silver pinball as you light up on posts (the Patriot Act!) and reposts (the FDA is terrorizing farmers!) and comments and re-comments on posts that he already posted a comment followed by a post to.  Did I mention there are links?  Some of them have video.

A sisyphean task this is, reading everything John wants me to read.  But, oh boy, if a boulder ever needed to be pushed up a steep hill again and again it’s this one.  What did I learn from this little exercise?  I learned that, while reading the New York Times every day is great (truth be told, I don’t read the New York Times every day), it doesn’t make you truly informed.  You have to work harder than that for information, for enlightenment.  I learned that there’s a lot of shit going down in this world, shit that would keep many of us up at night if we were fully aware of it, which we’re happily not since we’re busy watching Game of Thrones and Mad Men and Girls (dear God, please tell me you guys aren’t watching Girls).  I learned that somewhere along the way I lost that fire I had in my early twenties, that burning quest for knowledge and justice and making the world a better place that, at the time, was what defined me.  Time spent with John, whether on Facebook or face to face, is kindling for me in the best possible way.  And I learned that Quebec is becoming a dictatorship.

What did I already know before I started this little exercise?  I knew that John is brilliant and cares deeply about obliterating ignorance and oppression in all their forms.  I knew that he thinks deeply and carefully about every argument he puts forth and that, for him, it’s as much about his own opportunity to learn as it is about the obligation he feels to teach others.  And I knew the most important thing of all: Setting aside the New World Order and Ron Paul and the TSA and CISPA and Occupy; he loves someone I love as wholly and completely as she deserves.  That big brain of his?  It’s almost as big as his big heart.

Oh, Hampton.

As my days in Gainesville slowly draw to a close, I find myself thinking about the people I’ve been spending these days with.  I think about how kind they’ve been to let me drop into the middle of their lives like this and how welcome and included they’ve made me feel.  I think about the meals we’ve shared and the games we’ve played Oliver family style with lots of laughter and name-calling and friendly-ish competition followed by more name-calling.  (There’s a reason they call it Spite & Malice, people).  I think about seeing Avengers in 3D and Titanic in 3D and South Pacific on the stage and spending an afternoon at Kanapaha Gardens and an evening at the bowling alley and an hour at that dive bar drinking beer because we went to the wrong theater.  I think about these people, these lovely people that I call “family” and that I’m so proud to be related to, by blood and marriage and circumstance, and I already ache a bit knowing how very much I’ll miss them.  But I also know that they’ll have each other when I’m gone and that meals will continue to be shared and games will be played and movies and gardens and bowling alleys and all the rest will be enjoyed.  Their lives here will go on as they did before I arrived and that’s okay and good and reassuring.  For the most part, I’ve left everything as I found it, like a good Girl Scout.

Except for Hampton, that is.

Hampton.  As I said to Mrs. Johnny Rocket the other day: “While my life, in many ways,  will be starting again when I head for Austin on June 1, Hampton’s is going to come to a screeching halt.”  A bit melodramatic, yes, but kindof true.  That dog is in for a world of hurt.

Hampton and I spend a lot of time together.  We’re together when I’m taking him for a walk or feeding him or standing over him to make sure he drinks his water or sitting with him on the lounge on the back porch or stretching out with him side by side on the couch.  Of course, we’re also together at times that are less about me wanting to spend time with Hampton and more about him being a bit clingy.  During those times, it’s Hampton following me throughout the house most days or sleeping just outside my bedroom door most nights or waiting around the corner from the bathroom for me when I’m showering or pressing his nose up to the front window when I’m off on my morning run.  In short, Hampton could be classified a stalker except that he lives with me so it’s unlikely that a court of law would take any petition for a restraining order seriously.

And so, when I’m thinking about the people I’ve spent these days in Gainesville with and I’m getting weepy about saying goodbye, I feel a serious knot in my belly when my thoughts turn to this sweet sweet dog and everything he’s meant to me and how distressed he’s going to be when he realizes that I’ve abandoned him.  Can dogs even realize something like that?  I hope not, but I’m fairly certain that when or if he does he’s going to be pissed.

So here’s an open appeal to the two-legged people I so lovingly spoke of above (you know who you are) regarding my four-legged little brother.  I probably never told any of you this, but in the days after Johnny Rocket died last year — those sad February days — I would spend hours lying down with Hampton in the yellow bedroom at MJR’s house.  That little yellow room is the spot that I most closely associate with my childhood — it’s my favorite room in the house, truth be told — and it’s the refuge I sought out in that dark hour, along with Hampton; it’s where I curled up with the lights low and cried and cried.  In that yellow room, I put my arm around that dog and squeezed every ounce of comfort out of him that I could. And he let me.  He didn’t squirm, he didn’t move, he didn’t complain.  I think he was grieving, too, in his own way.  I like to believe the comfort was flowing both ways, but who knows.  I do know this: every time I take him for a walk, every time I check his water bottle or offer him another treat or worry about his excessive scratching and the way that Loki toys with him, I’m thinking about those days and the debt I owe him.  And I’m telling you all about it now so that maybe you will, too, when I’m no longer around to repay it in kind.

One lap around the block takes about twenty minutes.  That’s all I’m sayin’.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole.

I’m going down the rabbit hole this week, dedicated readers.  I’ve pledged to read every post, every link, every article that my friend John points me to over the course of seven days.  You guys don’t know John, so here’s the thing: he’s way more plugged in than any of us on what’s really going on in the world and he’s pointing me to a lot of stuff.  Oh, and his brain is about ten million times bigger than the biggest brain you can think of.  So stay tuned.  I’ll be filling you all in on everything I’ve learned next week.  If you don’t hear from me by next Monday, send someone down this hole after me.  Please.

(I can’t help but think that this will all end with me relocating to the small island off of Spain that John told me about where we’re safe from the New World Order.  But I can’t remember the name of the island.  And I can’t remember if it’s where we’re safe from the NWO or where the NWO is headquartered.  Truth be told, I’m not 100% clear on whether I should be for or against the New World Order.  Fuck.  Probably shouldn’t go there until I figure that out.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn.)

Things I Know About My Big Sister.

Today is my big sister’s birthday.  Over the years, I’ve occasionally been johnny on the spot about acknowledging this day: sending a card, maybe even a gift if I think about it far enough in advance (Jenny and I haven’t lived in the same city for over 20 years; proper recognition of a birthday means a trip to the post office).  More often than not, I’ve allowed my sister’s birthday to pass with nothing more than a brief email or a phone call that I knew would likely go to voicemail.

The worst part?  My sister is one of the most thoughtful gift givers I know.  If the woman has ever bought a gift card I haven’t been witness to it.  She thinks about the gifts she gives.  She remembers that obscure item that you mentioned you were coveting or she seeks out the perfect accessory to your latest hobby.  The hobby you told her about in passing three months ago.  Or she makes you something wonderful with her hands.  Because, besides being a thoughtful gift giver, my sister is also the good kind of crafty.  Over the years, she’s gifted to me an assortment of handmade quilts, pillows, scarves, mittens, ornaments, and jewelry.  Treasures, every one of them.

Here’s the thing.  Today is my big sister’s birthday and I have no idea what to give her.  I look at her and the life she’s lovingly created for herself and I see someone who truly seems to have it all; at least everything that counts.  And I just couldn’t give her another gift card.  So I’m sharing this list with her (and with you) in the hopes that she’ll enjoy it and cherish it and know that it comes from the very heart of me.  For the woman who taught me that sometimes the gifts you make with your own hands are the finest gifts of all, here’s something I’ve made for you:

Things I Know About My Big Sister:

She rarely ever curses.  Instead, she says things like “fiddlesticks” and “fudgecakes.”  And when she does curse, she really can’t pull it off (not that we’d ever tell her that).

She went to a Men at Work concert with her friend Eden Sommerville when Men at Work was all the rage.  I sat on her bedroom floor and watched the two of them get ready, in their color-coordinated outfits — neon bodysuits under identical black skirts — with “Who Can It Be Now” playing on the stereo and my nine-year old self thought “My sister is the coolest girl in the world.”

“Nifty” is her favorite word.

She favors dresses and skirts, never pants.  Except that I recently introduced her to black leggings.  Those she likes.

She calls me way more than I call her.  I need to work on that.

She loves being a grandmother.  Dorothy lights her up.

The quilt she made me, the one I call Strawberry Shortcake Necktie Quilt, is one of the things I’d grab in the event of a fire.  The other quilt, Green and Brown Stained Quilt, isn’t.  But I’d think of it fondly later.

She sleeps naked.

She is gracious and kind and polite, but if you fuck with her kids, she’ll cut you.

She is really good at her job and her job makes her happy.  But her family is her life, it’s what sustains her and lifts her up and is the essence of who she is.

She and our dad could talk for hours and hours about things that failed to capture the interest of most of the rest of us.  He delighted in her conversation.

She’s a wiz with numbers and can make sense of tax codes and regulations that read like gibberish to us common folk.  (Seriously, if you need an accountant I can hook you up.)

She loves her husband.  So much.  They met because of Dungeons & Dragons.  His first name is John, but only men of the cloth call him that.

You can tell when she’s genuinely tickled or happy or amused because her eyes shine.  She’s got a beautiful smile, my sister.

Last February 10, she sat in a dark hospital room with me and held my hand and her breath while the numbers on the heart monitor went from 88 to 78 to 68 all the way to zero.  She was present during the most profound moment of my life and she made me feel safe and surrounded and thankful.

She took ballet classes when she was a kid.  Yet, she’s not super graceful.

She’s good to my mother.  I admire their relationship.

When we were younger, she ate sunflower seeds by the bagful.  She also ate paper.

She says “I’m sorry” way more than someone who doesn’t often have anything to be sorry for should.

She calls Mrs. Johnny Rocket every night on her way home, never fail.  They talk for a while and then Jenny goes through a no service area and she loses the connection, never fail.  She always calls back.

She has a weakness for McDonald’s french fries, but she also has some serious willpower.  Usually, the willpower wins.

I love her and I know I’d be lost if she weren’t around.  I thank my lucky stars for her.

And, being the daughters of an astronomer, we know stars.

She’s a good big sister.  The very best.

Happy birthday, Jennifer Anne.

Things I’ve Noticed About Life In Suburbia: #12.

#12: New York City spoiled me for many things, but I’d say, hands down, one of the conveniences that I most miss is being able to walk into any number of salons on any number of city blocks and get a first rate(ish) pedicure in a clean(ish) environment with shiny(ish) work stations and new(ish) tools.  Since I’ve been away from New York I’ve probably visited four different nail establishments and every time I felt like I was playing Hepatitis C Russian Roulette.  Now, I feel about Hep C at nail salons the same way I feel about bed bugs at hotels: Decidedly against it happening to me, exceedingly sympathetic towards those afflicted, and irrationally paranoid (seriously, crazytown paranoid) that it’s just a matter of time.  In short, I miss meeting Carrie at the Dashing Diva on Smith Street with its fifty shades of pink on the walls and upholstery and the super sweet staff offering “hot tea or water?” and the strange Japanese cartoons on the flatscreen TV and the selection of nail colors with names like “In a New York Minute” and “Bridge & Tunnel.”  And the big microwave-y looking thing that they sterilize all of the tools in between treatments.  I probably miss that the most.

 

To Do Redo.

Let’s check in and see where I’m at with that to do list, shall we?

Here’s an update:

Hand wash delicates.  Check!

Vacuum room.  Fuck.

Learn everything you can about the year 1986 (more on that later).  Making good progress on this one.  Felt somewhat guilty the other day when I was excited to discover that both the Challenger disaster and Chernobyl happened in 1986.

Buy Jenny’s birthday present (I have been agonizing over this one for days; all suggestions welcome, family!).  Have decided not to buy her a present, but will still be giving her a present.  Intrigued?  Check back here on May 21 if you want to see it.

Write some blogs for next week (Patty and I are hitting Palm Beach and I don’t want my six dedicated readers to have nothing to entertain them.  You know who you are.)  Check!  That’s how you’re able to read this.  Yup, take a moment to picture me and Patty lounging in our private poolside cabana.  That’s where we are.  Right.  Now.

Remove the old coffee maker that has been replaced with newish coffee maker (Probably won’t do this; probably will ask brother to do it).  Brian did this!  Three cheers for Brian!  (More on Brian later)

Reply to ____’s email (former client, super lovely, who sent me a sweet note last month and I haven’t written back yet.  Must do this!)  Fuck!

Reply to ____’s email (also a former client.  Not as lovely.  Probably won’t do this.)  Check! (Meaning, I’m not doing this one.  Ever.)

Buy that thoughtful gift for the Bestie that you keep forgetting to buy.  Check!  

Wax upper lip (full transparency here, people).  Check!

Get some health insurance.  Not yet.  Soon.

Make a budget.  Ha!

Download WWOZ 90.7 FM App to iPhone so that you can listen to the smooth sounds of New Orleans as often as you’d like (Actually, already did this, but thought you guys would want to know about it so you can, too)

Schedule Living Social massage that you’re starting to regret buying because the place looked a bit sketchy when you Googled it.  Still not sure about this one.

Write the Astronomy Department Chairman a letter about your dad’s fund.  Next week!

Figure out your future.  I think about doing this one every day.

Get an oil change.  Soon, Cleveland, soon.   Although I did recently read a Self magazine piece that said we probably don’t need to be getting oil changes as often as we think we do.  

Make a new running mix on iPod (Please, please try to remember that you don’t enjoy running to R-E-S-P-E-C-T by Aretha Franklin.  Seriously.  Stop putting this on all of your running mixes).  NEW

Go through all of your boxes and pick out items to take to Austin on June 1.  NEW

Take MJR to the YMCA.  NEW

Conflict.

Love + Conflict.  That combination makes for a messy, complicated equation.

I’ll start by saying that there are a handful of people in this world that I would throw myself in front of a bus for.  Some literally, some figuratively.  I’m sure most of you feel the same way about your assorted family and friends.  Throwing yourself in front of a bus in the literal way is self-explanatory.  Throwing yourself in front of a bus in the figurative way can mean a variety of things.  To me, it basically suggests that you’d put them first in a “me versus you” showdown:  Packing a bag and heading to someone’s side without hesitation when the worst thing imaginable happens; setting aside your own plans in order to help someone reach for their dreams first; rearranging your life and home to welcome someone in need of shelter and a fresh start; not saying that hurtful thing in that moment because you know you really can’t take it back later.  Sometimes figurative bus throwing can be even more difficult than literal bus throwing, I suspect.  Although far less lethal.

Recently, I lost a friend that fit into that former category, the literal kind of friend.  Someone I would have jumped in front of a bus for.  When I say I lost her, I’m not being entirely honest.  I know her phone number and her home address and I know exactly where she is most hours of the working day.  But, due to conflict, she’s lost to me just the same and when I really think about it — especially when I think about how essential that friendship was to me when we were in the very thick of it, how glorious it was — it makes me profoundly sad.  But I also don’t think about it as much today as I did yesterday.  The thing about our love + conflict equation, this friend’s and mine, is that while we probably thought at the time that the conflict was so so big that there was no getting around it, I think we both know now that maybe the love was just too small.  How strange to wake up one day and realize that we’d turned our backs during the journey and gotten sloppy and neglectful and that love had shrunken along the way.

I think I was once the type of person who spent way too much time thinking about the people I felt certain would be willing to jump in front of a bus for me; tallying and re-tallying, arranging everyone meaningful in my life into those two categories (jump vs. no jump) and then adjusting the columns accordingly when called for.  Trust me, that math can take a lot out of you.  Now I prefer to focus on the people I’d jump for and not the other way around.  And when those people — those literal and figurative bus jumping people — drive me bananas and make me want to pull my hair out and leave me feeling frustrated and like I’m always giving, giving, giving (truth be told, I’m pretty lucky because my people rarely do any of this), then I do what I have to do to divert my attention back to that first part of the equation, the love part.  I focus on that in the hopes that it doesn’t shrink and that it stays strong and resilient and flexible so that it can weather any sort of conflict, any sort of storm.  If there’s one thing that losing someone close to you — someone you couldn’t have imagined ever leaving your life — makes you sure of it’s that you’re not going to let it happen again.  Lesson learned.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs. Johnny Rocket.

Mrs. Johnny Rocket’s real name is Barbara. If I’m not calling her Mrs. Johnny Rocket, I sometimes call her Babs.  But, much more often, she’s Mom.  And what a mom she is.  Generous, quick witted, compassionate, whip smart, tireless, top notch shopping companion, matriarch, card shark, domino diva, Bones devotee, tamale pie baker, wet wash cloth bringer, word search freak.  And, truly, so much more.

She’s the kind of mom — the kind of quality gal — who deserves more than just a generic Mother’s Day card (which she’ll also be receiving, of course).  A mother of this caliber deserves a custom made Mother’s Day Wonderword Word Search (did I mention she’s a word search freak, our MJR?).

This one’s for you, Mrs. Johnny Rocket.  I made this word search with words contributed by your loved ones (Jen, Elspeth, Marc, Keith, Karen, Taylor, Moira, Brian, Me) and lots of love.  And some cursing.  And maybe a broken pencil or two.

H R O M A N C E N O V E L S A
P T E H C O R C A R N O L D P
Y M M L O T S G N I K C O T S
H Y O G R E A T G R A N D M A
G O K A R T I C H O K E M E R
P A S A N T A F R I E N D O S
Y J O H N W A Y N E L O K I M
W O R D S E A R C H F R E A K
M G M I T T E H G A P S D A D
H A M P T O N T R A V E L Y I
B O N E S H C R A I R T A M S
P R O V I D E R S I S T E R N
C A L I F O R N I A W I T B E
M O U T O F T H E W I L L M Y
A Y S E O R E H R E P U S O A

Your words:  Arnold, artichoke, Bones, BMO, California, crochet, Disney, friend, great grandma, gym, Hampton, John Wayne, Kay, Loki, matriarch, MGM, mom, “out of the will,” pool, provider, romance novels, Santa, sister, spaghetti, stockings, superheroes, travel, wit, word search freak

Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs. Johnny Rocket!  Happy Mother’s Day, Babs!  Happy Mother’s Day, Barbara!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  xo.

I May Have Done a Bad Thing (Or, WWJRD?).

Confession time, dedicated readers.  I may have done a bad thing.  I should preface this by saying, my eye doctor is a Dick.  With a Capital D (that’s why I capitalized it, not because his name’s Dick.  His name’s Brian.)

Long story short, I recently lost my yearly contact lenses.  I’m not going to tell you how I lost them because it reflects poorly on me and this story is going to do that plenty well already.  What’s relevant is that I lost them and I was in need of a replacement pair.  Knowing that I could get a better discount through 1-800 Contacts, I called my eye doctor’s office and asked for my prescription.  Forget about the fact that that took a total of four phone calls; we’ll let that slide.  When the prescription was finally written it was for a pair of lenses that I could only order through my eye doctor at a much higher cost.  Back and forth we went, me and Christine in his office, until she suggested I write the doctor an email directly explaining my frustration and asking for a prescription for lenses that I could order via 1-800 Contacts.

Okay, I can see a few of you nodding off.

Cut to the chase: He sent me a very dismissive email back telling me that, “for the health of your eyes”, maybe I should just go to a new doctor in Florida and get a new exam and have them give me a new prescription.  Which might make sense, but (1) who has the time to find a new doctor between swimming laps, baking elaborate chicken and pasta casseroles, and playing Draw Something with Lance and PJ and Marc? and (2) I still haven’t sorted out the ol’ health insurance (oh, to do list, you minx).  Plus, it was said in such a condescending way that I was really annoyed.  Not to mention, I kindof already thought he was a Dick before this email exchange (he always brings up “the health of your eyes” when he wants you to do something his way).

Which brings us to the bad thing I may have done.  You be the judge:

“Dear Dr. ___,

I appreciate that you don’t want to write me a prescription for lenses other than the ones that you previously prescribed.  But, here’s the thing, my father passed away (1) which is why I’m in Florida (2) and I’m afraid that, between settling his affairs (3) and taking care of my handicapped mother (4) I don’t have the time to look into finding a new eye doctor and taking a new exam in order to get a new prescription (5).  If you can’t make an exception under these circumstances, I understand (6), but I wanted to make sure you understood my situation.

Sincerely (7),

Becka”

(1) True. (2) True-ish. (3) I consider contemplating cleaning out Johnny Rocket’s closet to fall under this. (4) Look, MJR is less handicapped than she is handicapped, but she does have a handicap decal.  So I say True due to a technicality.  (5) False, I do have the time.  (6) False again. (7) False, false, false.

I can honestly say that this is the first time I’ve used the “my dad died” card in such a blatant and self-serving way.  Girl Scout’s honor.  And I did pause before hitting send.  But then I thought to myself, “What would Johnny Rocket do?”  And I knew that my dad would have approved, for sure.  My dad would have recognized Dick for the Dick he was (although he probably would have chastised me for using that word) and he would have told me to hit send.  So I did.

He wrote the prescription.