Monday, April 23, 2007

Postcards from the edge: Day Seven - what the hell was I thinking?

Oy. Do I hurt.

Mom's flower bed is the anitChrist of flower beds, given the clay soil they suffer with and the massive web of roots and tree styumps that have slowly replaced the dirt over decades. So, I decided to dig the entire thing out to a depth of about 1.5 feet (the bed is trinagular, approx 10 x 5 x7 feet).

Then - mixing equal parts potting soil, dirt and peat moss - removing all roots and sticks and rocks and cigarette butts (thanks, Dad...) - I mixed each load in a garden cart and slowly and agonizingly refilled the bed.

The left over dirt (I called it mummy-dirt since it was so dead-looking and nasty) got spread all over the front lawn to become part of the grass and dirt crazy quilt of my parents' yard.

This littel endeavor took about 25 loads of soil to be mixed and reintegrated - and a little over 7 hours to complete.

In 80+ degree temperatures. In the sun.

God am I stupid.

But we planted roses and easter lillies and mums and violets. So, Mom is happy.

That - in itself - makes it all worthwhile.

Bring on the vodka and Ben Gay. Whoooo!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Postcards from the edge: Days Five and Six - The Big Talk

Home sweet home...not mine - theirs


We've had a couple of very good days - and I accomplished what I had hoped to.

Yesterday, while Mom ran out to Nebraska City on a supply run (and, frankly, to get away by herself for a well-deserved few hours), I sat down and talked with Dad.

I asked him to tell me what his thoughts and concerns were about his situation. I was only mildly anxious, but would have gladly fortified myself with a few martinis - but history has shown that I probably would have only sat there and smiled and squinted and likely forgotten everything we talked about.

As it turned out, we had a very frank and candid discussion. Dad expressed his understanding that he was not likely to get any better. He understands that their lives need to change to adapt to his debilitated condition. He agrees that they need to downsize, sell the house and move into more handicap friendly conditions.

He also understands - and appears quite humbled by the fact - that he is no longer in charge. That's not to say he won't go down fighting, but he knows that Mom and I need to make decisions that he might otherwise hesitate to deal with.

I was glad we had the chance to talk, father to son. I may not see eye to eye with my father on a lot of things, but I respect his ability to learn and to listen when it really matters. He's grown up quite a bit.

After mom returned, I felt so good that I trotted up to the college and did a full work-out in the weight room. And, of course, there were five assorted college kids on the treadmills and weight machines - so, of course I didn't want to wimp out. Consequently, I had a great workout and now I can't lift my arms above my head - and, oh yes - my boobies hurt.

But Dad felt good enough that we all played a rousing game of Yahtzee after dinner last night. That was great, since it brought back memories of how we used to routinely play card and board games growing up.

And in the past two days, I have redeemed my prolonged absence from home by:

  • repairing my mother's concrete birdbath stand with nuclear super-glue
  • fixing their ailing coffee maker
  • building a rocking chair for mom to use on the front porch
  • carrying down and delivering to the local thrift store two recliners, multiple sets of dishes, a Christmas tree and enough household clutter to fill the pickup
  • repairing their computer
  • setting-up and training them on using the digital camera and printing station we gave them for Christmas (first picture taken - their house, at the top of this blog entry)
  • and a dozen other small projects
It's been a great couple days, even if I did get the evil eye from Dad when we were getting rid of stuff. He doesn't part with things easy and, I think, resented not being asked.

And tomorrow - it's breakfast with the drooling geezer club and physical therapy for Dad. Then I am going to excavate and amend Mom's flower garden so we can plant some new roses and her Easter lillies - and perhaps help her paste her wallpaper borders back up.

That's if I can lift my arms by then. Ow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Postcards from the edge: Day Four - B7, damn it!


I have sunk to untold depths. Tonight, I played high stakes bingo at an Indian casino in Kansas.

Mom and Dad felt we needed a social outing, so we drove an hour south to the White Cloud Bingo Hall and Casino on the Ioway of Kansas and Nebraska reservation.

Of course, after stopping for gas and cigarettes - the high point of the day for my father.

The day started well, with a feeling of accomplishment after I spent five hours toiling to remove the stumps and roots of some prehistoric evergreen bushes my mother had cut out while they were siding and repainting the house.

They live on a perilously sloped piece of property, so it was dicey proposition - trying not to hurtle downhill every time I popped a root loose with my shovel.

But we managed to clear the patch of ground and plant a new lilac bush and a variegated wiegela for Mom.

After that - we packed into the tobacco-mobile and headed south - to Kansas.

The flattest, windiest, most desolate damned place in America. You think you know flat? You have never been to Kansas, baby. I will show you flat.

After spending $11 a carton for the reservation brand cigarettes that make my father smell like burnt ass, we backroaded it through the reservation to the shimmering beacon of light that is the White Cloud Casino.

Of course, along the way, we got to see the absolute desolation and squalor that the tribe lives in around the lovely, sparkly casino. What a testament to our treatment of the native Americans.

Anyway, the night began with the famous White Cloud all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. I chose not to take them up on that offer and settled for a fried chicken breast and some mashed potatoes with gravy. Yum.

Having already staked our claim amidst the expanse of long, folding tables and folding chairs that hurt your ass just to look at them, we settled in and waited for the high-stakes excitement to begin.

My mother had purchased a bewildering assortment of cards, sheets and acoutrements for playing the night's nineteen games.

Nineteen!? Yep - with a 10-minute break in the middle. These games are rapid-fire, with none of the traditional bingo rules. We played blackouts, kites, postage stamps, picture frames and more...I could only keep up by just dabbing randomly at numbers as they were called.

Okay - let me paint a picture for you. Picture sitting at a folding table in a smoke-filled hall, surrounded by toothless old women, mullet-wearing and tattoed men who look like they spend time jumping between the casino and prison, unsavory locals with a collective IQ of 14, and elderly couples betting their Social Security in order to continue to buy $3 a gallon Scotch and burnt-ass smelling cigarettes.

Dressed in a sports shirt, jeans and driving moccasins, I stood out like a sore thumb. Everyone in the place looked at me with that "you don't belong here, city-man" look.

And let me tell you - these are the hard-core, dedicated, kill you if you make a mistake kind of bingo players. You need to have the right bingo gear - markers, pens, tape, glue stick, etc - or you stand out like the outsider you are.

Fortunately, my parents have a bingo bag - with all the necessary acoutrements - so I escaped harm.

As it turns out - we played for nearly four hours and won nothing. My contacts self-ejected to escape the carcinogenic atmosphere. And my lungs still hurt a day later.

Fun!

We played in the casino afterwards, but then Dad's pain medication wore off and we had to hoof it for home - at 1:00 am.

Speaking of hooves - let me just tell you that there is nothing more fun that barreling down desolate country roads in the wee hours of the morning with no homes, no streetlights and suicidal deer at every turn.

After downing two cups of coffee for the ride home, I was wired, Mom was falling asleep in the back seat, and Dad was whacked out on his pain medication - and chatting like a parakeet on Benzadrine. Every stand of grass, pipe sticking out of the ground or realty sign became a potential deer hazard.

I have never been so glad to pull into their driveway.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go cough up some more of last night's fun.

Postcards from the edge: Day Three - You gotta see this...

I really have to start carrying Mom and Dad's digital camera with us when we go places. The average non-Midwesterner has no appreciation for just how different life here can be. I think I need photos to prove it.

For instance -

  • After church yesterday, we dined in a fairly cool restaurant called The Lyceum in the nearby town of Brownville. Brownville is a little Berkeley or Woodstock of sorts for southeastern Nebraska. It sits on the Missouri River, before you cross over into Iowa. There is a playhouse that attracts fairly notable stars at times (think soap opera celebrities), an opera house that features musical events, a few art galleries and - now - The Lyceum.

    Formerly the old Brownville House restaurant (where even the salad was fried and tasted like carp), the owners of the Lyceum have created a very trendy and upscale dining experience with meandering dining rooms full of books, artwork and various eclectic odds and ends - all for sale. They offer a price fixe menu with 3-4 entrees - including a gorgesou brisket sandwich - all handled quite well. And they have - for the area - an extensive wine list. At least four choices each for white and red.

    Sounds like a dream in the wilderness? Well, it comes close, but when my glass of Australian Shiraz arrived, it was chilled to the point of being a wine slushy. After taking the first sip, my gasps and sputterings of outrage baffled my parents. I had to explain to the waitress that red wines, in general, are not refrigerated - unless one is making sangria.

    And that art? Quite affordable - done by local artists. But you will never see a life study of a local art student who appears to be a Nebraska skin-head superimposed over celtic symbols hanging on my living room wall. Nor will you find clay sculptures resembling the Michelin man, entitled "sorrow" or "anger" sitting on mantelpiece.

  • At morning coffee at Darling's cafe - I was introduced to the coterie of geezers and coots that my father has cultivated. Their collective junior by at least a a geologic age, my father holds daily court over a variety of stroke victims, developmentally challenged oldsters and gun-toting John Birch Republicans who spend every morning pawing over print-outs of forwarded e-mails that include demoocrat bashing, boob and fart jokes, and God, Guns and Guts patriotic jingoism. Their favorite breakfast dish is a cup of sausage gravy over crushed saltines that they have renamed "Roadkill."

  • While checking out the local Wellness and Fitness Center, in hopes of carrying on my workout regimen, as well as visiting the local hospital for Dad's thrice-weekly physical therapy - both establishments feature signs, prominently displayed, that warn against carrying concealed weaponry onto the premises.

    Is this normally a problem? Where does one conceal a handgun in one's spandex unitard?

  • Mom and I drove to Lincoln this afternoon to pick up a custom-made storm door for the front door of the house. When I tell you that the drive to Lincoln is death - you had better believe it. The landscape is so sparse and so desolate, I was ready to commit sepuku well before the conclusion of the hour-long ride (which seemed an eternity).

  • I had the first of a few semi-confrontational chats with Dad today. The first included why smoking in the car with my asthmatic mother is a bad idea (especially after he threw one out the window and it blew back in - hitting my mother in the neck and lodging behind the back seat. Lord - was that ugly...you haven't seen pissed until you've seen it on my mother). The second was the contination of an age-old theme: that farting in the car or at the dinner table is neither polite nor appropriate. I literally stopped the truck on the shoulder coming home from Brownville and read him the riot act.

Dear God - four days to go...

Postcards from the Edge: Day Two - "I'm a rodent for Christ"


Sunday dawned bright and Spring-like in Peru. The sun was shining, the birds singing, and I got my ass hauled out of bed to go to church.

Church. Me. Picture me putting on aluminum foil underwear to lessen the shock of the lightning bolt when it hits.

So - off we went, after a merry breakfast, piling into the tobacco-mobile.

Dad felt well enough to attend church, so he and Mom had to go to choir practice at 9:30 - church services were to start at 10:30.

So - we pulled up outside the venerable brick walls of the First Presbyterian Church of Auburn and the folks tottered inside while I decided to enjoy the lovely Spring morning by exploring the adjacent Courthouse Square.

However, my attention was immediately drawn to a large adult person in front of a rather industrial looking building across the street - dressed in a Mouse outfit and capering and waving to passersby.

I looked for a pizza place or car dealership to try to identify what the mouse might be selling. As it turned out, the large industrial building turned out to be the New Life Church - a splinter sect (according to my father, who can't be trusted) of a four-square evangelical church in the region.

So - the mouse was selling religion. Spooky religion.

Anyway, I wandered the square, avoiding eye contact with the capering rodent. I had mentally resolved that if he should approach me, I would swiftly beat him to death.

I was thinking - "Let's see if what you believe is true, Jesus-Mouse. Bring it."

The walk took about ten minutes since there are not more than five active businesses in a four block radius - none of which were open. Meanwhile, the mouse continued to greet families pulling up to the church, while the considerably older and definitely more fragile members of my parents' church began to pull their Lincoln, Oldsmobile and Buick retirement cars into the parking spaces (usually missing the lines altogether and/or smacking into the curbs). They then began to shuffle (some were so decrepit they moved sideways - I am not kidding) into the church like extras from the most recent Dawn of the Dead movie.

Of course, these are "old-timers" who know their church and local community - and apparently, I was a considerable threat to their safety and moral well-being, seeing as I was obviously decades younger, wearing sunglasses, leaning on the tobacco-mobile's hood in a menacing way, and idly thumbing through a paperback science fiction novel I had found in the truck - in a threatening fashion. They gave me a wide berth and I think one even crossed himself - surprising, seeing as the catholic church was nowhere near.

I was just about to resign myself to enduring an hour of non-threatening spiritual enlightenment when I noticed a family emerging from their car in front of the New Life Church. The three small children shrieked with delight and ran towards the spiritual rodent. The mouse himself was obviously delighted as congregants had patently been ignoring and/or avoiding him all morning.

The children - ages 3-7 or so - took turns hugging the mouse and shrieking their rapturous joy.

Finally, the oldest - a boy - got his turn to hug the mouse. Jebus mouse threw his arms around the boy and gave him a big hug.

In what turned out to be the high point of the day, the boy then proceeded to beat the hell out of the religious rodent. By the time this 7 year-old child of God had finished, the mouse was limping and his head had been rotated about 90 degrees. In fact, he resembled other rodents we had seen on the roadside earlier that morning.

The mouse disappeared into a van after that - and was never seen again.

Chuckling heartily - my sense of the world being in perfect order - I happily entered the church and sat through the mostly innocuous service.

The choir sang very well - everyone in the church found their way over to find out who I was during the part where you walk around and say "Peace be with you" without me hitting them - and I didn't look totally Satanic when I refused to sing any of the hymns.

All thanks to the joy given to me by a velour -clad mouse - and his 7 year-old attacker.

May Jebus smile upon you.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Postcards from the edge: Day One - continued

"Hustling, bustling downtown Peru, Nebraska - wish you were here!"

We arrived back in Peru around 7 pm - having unsuccessfully attempted to secure a table at the Omaha Outback Steakhouse - a major disappointment, as neither of my parents have enjoyed the ethnic taste treats of the down under digs.

We ended up dining instead at the Bellevue Keno parlor and restaurant where - get ready for this - you can eat AND play Keno for big bucks. (Think VFW hall with menu)

Sadly, I managed to embarass the waitress twice without trying. First when I asked her what beers they had on tap - and she had to check. As it turns out, they had Bud, Bud Light, Pabst (What!?) and Old Mill. I asked her what kind of beer Old Mill was - a lager, an ale....no response. She became quite flustered and managed to say, "..well, it's like...beer. On tap."

So - I cut her some slack and just ordered one. Embarassing moment number two came when we placed our dinner order (I had a ribeye steak - you just can't beat the taste of midwestern beef!). My dinner came with a salad and she asked what kind of dressing I'd like. I asked if they had a vinaigrette.

Again - blank stare, mouth agape.

"What's that?" (Meanwhile, I am being kicked under the table and reminded that I am no longer in New York)

I attempted to explain - even tried to let her off the hook by asking if they had oil and vinegar I could mix together. She said they had ranch and italian - was that, like, close?

I succumbed and ordered the italian.

About this time, I realized that my eyes were burning. It then dawned on me - having had my senses dulled by the mobile, upholstered ashtray we had been riding in - that everyone in the place was smoking! OH MY GOD

And even more surreal - right behind our table was a glassed in enclosure with doors and about eight tables - the NON SMOKING SECTION! THEY SHUT THE NON-SMOKERS AWAY!

Meanwhile - to either get to the restroom or the Keno counter to place a bet or retrieve your winnings - you risked shaving years off your life just by breathing.

So - we enjoyed our dinners, lost about $16 collectively, and headed for home.

But the fun wasn't over yet! Not by a long shot.

Annie - a fixture in the town of Peru, Nebraska ( where my folks live) was turning 75 and there was a big birthday party for her at the Peru VFW. Mom said "we just have to make an appearance."

Annie was famous for her donut shop that she used to run on the main street (downtown Peru consists of about five buildings, a gas station and a grocery store - and is located on a cul-de-sac). Annie was a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense lady who tolerated nothing - but made a damned fine donut.

So we stopped in.

Once again, I found myself in a carcinogenic, smoke-filled hall of noisy revelers. A local band consisting of five guys ranging in age from about 35-60 were on stage in Hawaiian shirts- guitars and banjos in hand, cutting loose with something that sounded like the Irish Rovers playing honky-tonk.

Table after table was laden under the weight of covered dishes, casseroles, and unidentifiable substances bubbling in crock-pots. People of all ages were milling around, guffawing loudly and quite obviously pointing at me and whispering to their neighbor.

I offered to get drinks from the bar - and wound my way through the throng of portly, sunburnt men in overalls and rotund women in home perms, stretch pants and floral polyester tops.

A white zinfandel for Mom, a diet coke for Dad and a double vodka on the rocks for yours truly. Grand total - $4.75.

The evening was looking up.

So - after finding Annie and listening to her exclaim how I hadn't changed, hugging and kissing her and wishing her a happy birthday, I found my way back to our table.

At the end of the table sat, quite possibly, the handsomest farmer I have ever seen. Dark, close cut hair - olive, sun-kissed skin - dark, nearly Asian eyes - and the kind of chiseled physique you can only get from a lifetime of chucking bales of hay, wrestling livestock and lifting 100 lb bags of grain.

We exchanged head nods and looked our separate ways.

Mom, meanwhile, had rounded up every person in the place that she thought might wish to meet me. Strangely enough, I did remember a few. And surprisingly, Annie's sister had flown in for thebig event - from Poughkeepsie! A fellow New Yorker! In Peru freaking Nebraska.

I returned to my seat to find Mr. Farmer looking my way again. And then, much to my surprise - he cruised me!!! The man actually gave me the visual once-over! And smiled after he saw that I saw!!!

Apparently he hadn't questioned his homosexuality enough (see Day One - Part One post).

I drained my vodka and thought, "Oh no - I am so not having a Brokeback Mountain moment right now - with my parents here - in a freaking VFW hall in nowhere Nebraska."

I returned to the bar and procured another $2.50 double vodka (I am telling you - this was the highlight of my day - bargain drinks).

When I returned, a formerly undisclosed Mrs. Farmer had joined her attractive husband at the table.

I knew I had to have been mistaken - he was married, right? I was just imagining things.

WRONG

I couldn't help looking his way and - once again - caught him giving me the lascivious eye. With his wife right next to him! Oy yoy yoy

I found myself going against every impulse and tried desperately to tell my brain that I wish he could quit me.

Fortunately, Dad started to feel badly (wait - that sounded really bad the way I said that) and couldn't even stand under his own power, so I helped him up and out to the truck. And off we went - home bound at last.

I was never so glad to be in my parents' home.

I dragged my bags to my room, changed out of my nicotine-laden clothes and jumped into the shower - sluicing away the bizarre events of the day.

I fell into bed - and slept until 8:30 the next morning, when I was roused for church.

Church. Oy vey

Watch for the next installment of "Postcards from the Edge: Day Two - I am a rodent for Christ"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Postcards from the edge: Day One


The time has come. I have flown back to the heartland - land of my birth and adolescence - America's breadbasket - Tornado alley - the Bible belt - you name it. God help me - I'm in Nebraska.

Anyway - I had to come home for the kind of activity every son or daughter dreads - the "big talk" with aging parents. Dad isn't doing well - and it's time to have the tough talks.

Surprisingly, the travel didn't totally suck, even though my flight from Albany to Detroit was packed - and I was seated next to a window (which I hate) and directly in front of Betty BirdFlu who sniffled, snorted and tried to hack up a lung all the way to the Motor City.

Seated next to me was the quintessential Lady Texan 55-something - let's call her Frosted Fannie Football Helmet Hair - complete with ankle high cowboy slip-ons, glitter and sequin sweater, chewing her gum with her mouth open, mingling the scent of her hot juicy fruit breath with whatever perfume she bathed in that morning.

I pretended to sleep, but between the frightening prospect of Betty BirdFlu hitting me with bits of plague from behind, and my fear of my airways being poisoned by the unholy perfume/hairspray/juicy fruit gasses emanating from beside me - it wasn't easy.

Finally - after a plane change and 3-mile terminal dash in Detroit - I arrived safely at beautiful Eppley Field in Omaha, where my mother was waiting.

Mom looked great - albeit a bit older than the last time I saw her - but she looked as she should: a midwestern, middle-aged woman, aging gracefully. Her nice new hairdo elegantly showcasing her increasingly greying hair.

We piled into my parents' truck which, thanks to my father, is essentially an upholstered ashtray that seats four (BARF). Open a window, man! Jeeez

As we wound out of downtown Omaha, headed for Route 75 for the hour-long ride home - a billboard just outside of the city showcased an attractive blonde woman with a hopeful smile on her face.

The billboard read, "I questioned homosexuality. You can recover too."

Yep. I'm home.

Damn.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Christians are creepy


Okay - at first I thought this was a joke - or at least something like the Mormon magic underwear.

But it's for real -and it's JUST STRANGE.

I mean - boogie men under the bed are bad enough - but what kind of freaking satanic bullsh*t is coming at you that you need a helmet and shield?!?

And what's with Little Bathsheba? She doesn't even get a freaking sword - just a veil so that the forces of evil don't have to spring for a hat after she has been abducted to the seventh level of Hell.

Even funnier than the actual post I stumbled across on this - are the responses the host blogger was getting.

Enjoy.

CREEPY!!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

How NOT to run for president

Watch me as I wave my hand slowly - ever so slowly - in front of your eyes - watch...watch...watch...

Are you drowsy? Good.

Now - I want you to prepeat after me:

"English is good; speaking Spanish is evil. English is good; speaking Spanish damns you to Hell. English is good; speaking Spanish means you are here illegally. English is good; people like Antonio Banderas are not speaking real Spanish - because they bathe regularly and speak English and don't randomly kill people."

Newty "Hot-pants" Gingdong (oh wait - I just threw up in my mouth a little at that image...) has come out against bilingual education in America. He likens it to "ghetto-speak" - his words, not mine.

WTF?

What isn't reported is that when he was asked about Ebonics, he slapped on a little black-face and imitated Rudy from the Fat Albert cartoon series while lighting a cross in someone's front yard - all while laughing and pointing at the horrified onlookers.

I can't believe Newty is actually convinced that he has a shot at the presidency. Sounds like a last-ditch effort by the KKKuntservatives to find another mindless candidate that will toe the line, do what they are told, and save the rest of America from thinking for themselves for another 4-8 years.

Let's talk about Newty's morality, first of all. (BTW - if you never saw the interview with Newt's parents after he called Hillary a bitch, it's a must-see - watching his tragically endearing chain-smoking, trailer-dwelling, bug-eyed mama rasp on as if her lungs were on the cusp of failure- just to share with us what she loves about her "Newty" - is pure gold)

This man admitted that he himself was having an ongoing extramarital affair during the time he was prosecuting President Clinton for getting a hummer or two from Ms. Lewinsky.

Moral rectitude, what?!?

I love how the "enemies" of the ultra-right wing are hounded to their graves over a lapse of judgement or a moment's indiscretion. Yet - when one of their own falls - they gives a sorrowful gaze, a little tsk-tsk of the tongue and they are patted on the bottom and told "you must do better next time."

Contrast:

Clinton/Lewinsky humdinger sessions - consequences: a stained GAP dress and America being forced to look at Linda Tripp on TV - result: prosecution, impeachment movement

vs.

GW Bush and BushCo. - Secret prisons, torture, illegal wiretapping, politically motivated US attorney firings, CIA agent disclosure, lying to American public about reasons for going to war - consequences: hundreds of thousands of human lives lost, individuals tortured to death in US custody, children raped and killed by US military, careers ruined, Americans reviled across the globe - result: we're fucked.

Discuss.

And be disgusted.