Friday, January 27, 2012

To My Husband of 25 Years

"Most like an arch-two weaknesses that lean
into a strength. Two fallings become firm.
Two joined abeyances become a term
naming the fact that teaches fact to mean...

" It is by falling in and in we make
the all-bearing point, for one another's sake,
in faultless failing, raised by our own weight."

- John Ciardi, Most Like and Arch This Marriage

This isn't how we planned it. How could we not have realized that we'd grow old? But here we stand, holding on to each other's arms for support; two weaknesses leaning blissfully into each other to make a strong marriage. It's been quite an adventure so far. So, what's next? I'm signing on for another 25. Another quote, this time from Dag Hammarskjold:

For all that has been, thanks
For all that will be, yes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stir Fried Rice and Advance Directives

"If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?"
Chuck Palahniuk

If I were nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, Congress probably wouldn’t approve me. I hasten to add that it’s not what you’re thinking: i.e. because my dues to the California Bar Association are almost ten years overdue. It’s the other criminal activity I have engaged in during the course of my lightly checkered past. Let’s face it, who hasn’t at one time or another committed an illegal act like, say, failing to return library books on time.

I was reminded that today when I went to make pork fried rice to use up the leftover pork shoulder roast. My favorite Chinese food cookbook is “Victor Sen Yung’s Great Wok Cookbook”. You might know this author as “Hop Sing, the Chinese cook on the ‘Bonanza’ TV series”. My copy of this 1974 edition was due at the Department of Public Libraries, Montgomery County, Maryland, Silver Spring a while back. Specifically: 2/14/75.

In my defense, I was moving to San Diego then, and plus the book is really good, notwithstanding that I didn’t particularly care for Bonanza and the homoerotic overtones of all those guys riding horses; or that I envied Little Joe’s perfect frosted hair. Perhaps not so strangely, he’s (Victor, not Little Joe) never steered me wrong, or should I say, “stirred” me wrong, particularly when making fried rice.

Which isn’t a terribly smooth segue to the topic of today’s post: posting about stuff besides gardening. In fact, it’s no segue at all: from stir fried rice to blogging -- unless you want to consider the existential similarity that when either are good, they are very very good, and when they are bad they are inedible, or illiterate, or both.

Truman Capote famously distinguished between what he called writing and what he called typing. I am not so discriminating, I carelessly type my outrage du jour or whatever I’m inspired to write by what I happen to be reading. I submit that sometimes typing is the best way to vent, particularly when you have, over the years, had your own personal spell-check learn all manner of profanities, thus preventing it from whinging about their prolific use.

But back to posting. I make no apologies. My garden blog has, much like my life, overflowed the tidy stack of garden-oid topics like a stack of 2011 financial stuff being assembled for the tax lady that I just knocked over this afternoon. Like this once tidy stack, like my blog, now spills all over the floor with posts about train rides, fried rice, lethally incompetent bureaucrats, and the therapeutic benefits of posting the accumulating evidence that there must be some conspiracy that is making me feel old, sore, tired and in need of updating my advance directive.

Which brings me back to the other part of the title of this post: Advance Directives, updating. After due consideration, I’d like mine to depart from the state-approved form into a more creative writing exercise. I’m still polishing my customized AD but here’s what I’ve got so far:

In the event that one – no make that two – or more of the following conditions are manifested in my behavior:
a) Drooling even when sober;
b) Wearing diapers someone else has to change;
c) Letting my once excellent personal hygiene practices slide like congealing gravy down a volcano of mashed potatoes on a chipped dinner plate;
d) Become just another tedious old lady whose spittle-punctuated rants involve rage at inanimate objects that piss me off;
e) I happen to wake up one morning as a different person and cease to be the devoted, compassionate and generous friend/relative/sister/favorite aunt who you all know and love:

I hereby authorize my authorized representative to respectfully hold a pillow against my face so I can “Say goodnight to Mr. Pillow”, subject however, to the following:

In the event that said authorized representative determines that greater comedic value can be realized thereby, authorized representative is hereby authorized instead to dress me like a Franciscan nun and write with a magic marker on my pristine white over starched bib: This is what happens if you don’t make the Nine First Fridays, or you have sex before marriage; and prop me in a folding chair along the path to the parking lot after Mass. (For the record, I must have made 8/9 of dozens of First Fridays and effort should count here).

Notwithstanding the foregoing however, and subject to all the other provisions of this advance directive without regard to the degree said provisions may be found inconsistent or simply contradictory, please change my diaper sometimes.

(Finally, imagine you were trying to set a record for keywords or labels for a post that were extremely unlikely to be seen in each others' company. If you were, I just did.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sleeping on a Train

"In the morning I came awake as I always do, like a man trapped in a car going over a cliff."
-- Russell Hoban, The Medusa Frequency

It sounded like a good idea – taking the train from the bottom of California to the top of Oregon. I have the time and the scenery alternates between lovely and imaginative in a surrealistic kind of way. Between Richmond and Oakland, there are miles and miles of trackside graffiti, some of it displaying a sophisticated use of color and line, and some of it clearly violating the Sponge Bob franchise copyright.

Only it takes a long time. The first leg, from San Diego to LA is just over 2.5 hours. The trip from LA to Portland is a nice round 30 hours. Together, the trip is, let’s see now, wait for it: too damn long. And that’s not counting a layover of several hours in the gorgeous art deco station at LA. The experience is spoiled a bit when armed police demand to be shown tickets in order to prevent beggars and homeless people from living in the nice comfortable chairs in the nice heated station. Only the police don’t prevent it, managing instead only to keep the desperately poor people moving and sleep-deprived and a bit cranky.

The accommodations in what is disingenuously not called steerage are tantalizingly almost comfy. Although the seats provide more foot room than first class airline seats, and although they not only recline to about 45 degrees they also include an occasionally functional shelf under the seat designed to lift up your lower leg at a 30-degree angle, they don't promote an optimal sleeping experience. The idea that with the seat reclined and the footrest thingie raised is that you get to attempt to sleep stretched out in a zig and then a zag, a bit like sleeping on three steps of a narrow padded staircase.

The seats take away in width what they give in length. They also lack a center arm, acquainting you with your seatmate perhaps a bit more than would be desired. When you try to sleep, you find yourself snuggled up against a stranger close enough to smell the beer he/she had in the billiard room or whatever they call the car with the bar.

Then there’s the other passengers sleeping in the same room: the smokers making a stampede to the doors when station stops are longer than 30 seconds, the lurching drunks, the fussing babies, the kicking toddlers, and the sprawling sleeping teenage girls whose untidy luggage in matching plastic grocery bags migrates to the center aisle while they fling the stray arm or leg out to snag the wary traveler.

And don’t get me started on the restrooms. In fact, competent Amtrack staff manage to keep the restrooms mostly tidy, if a bit under-ventilated. Too bad passengers seem intent on bathing (or perhaps doing their laundry) in the miniature sinks while managing to spray water throughout the tiny compartments and not bothering to wipe it up. Perhaps such careless behavior is prompted by the signs on the mirrors saying Clean Up After Yourself without using the word “Please”. How rude, am I right?

In the end, apart from discovering that I am too old to enjoy the adventure of spending two days and a night on trains with strangers, I found my faith in my fellow travelers renewed. People are generally kind, tolerant, and quick to aid one another. An older man saw me taking pictures out the window and stopped by to advise me of an approaching photo op. A younger man saw me struggling to place my suitcase in an overhead bin and quickly did the job for me without even being asked.

A guy in the café car told me the small bottles of red wine were chilled adjacent to the white (!) but would be warmed up just right by the time we made it to through the five intervening cars to the last car we both occupied. I had the perfect lunch. A grandma with a small child shared a sympathetic smile as she saw me cringe away from my zaftig seatmate during the dark of an almost endless night.

And best of all, the gentle swaying of the train, accompanied by the squeaks and rattles and bumps is one of the most soothing experiences in the world.