Monday, April 19, 2010

Land of the Lunchladies

I love the US government! No, seriously. Any institution with a tax system as ponderous as ours is less like the sword-bearing-marine-mirrored-sunglasses tough guy it wants us to think it is and more like a fat black bear wearing a calico apron and trying to mix pancakes with its clumsy claws. Whenever I do my taxes I am reminded of all our ineffective bumbling bureaucracies: school lunch programs in which lumpish ladies in hairnets seem to be the direct arm of the US Federal government, mail men in Bermuda shorts and white pith helmets, the "Welcome to America" movie you see on US-bound flights with its ridiculous montage of amber waves of grain, Niagara Falls, and muscular football players throwing a pass.

Want to hear my favorite tax-day memory? Too bad, you're going to hear it anyway. I was in high school, at a dance with my cousin Katie. Her father, my Uncle Tom, picked us up from the dance at 11:48 and said, "Quick, get in the car, we have twelve minutes to get to the post office." Then followed a wild ride through downtown Buffalo and into the old First Ward. We drove through neighborhoods that looked like the one pictured below, and my uncle, while speeding through the dark streets, took the time to give us a little history of the area, first built up by Irish immigrants in the 1820s. I was fascinated by the dismal old houses. There was not a light on in any house and their steep gables seemed vulnerable yet also slightly menacing. That midnight ride to the post office made such an impression on me that and as an adult I tried in vain to find the area he said was called the "Valley" and once even got lost after crossing two drawbridges into the sort of neighborhood where people circle you like sharks when you stop for a red light.

Anyway, back on that tax day, we screeched into the parking lot of the post office, and joined a line of cars that approached a postal clerk who stood in the middle of the lot with a stamp and a bin. You handed your tax return to him, through your car window, and he stamped it with an April 15th postmark and dropped it into the bin. I seem to remember there was some generosity here, perhaps a one or two minute extension of the deadline, like if you were in line by midnight, they'd still stamp your tax return. At any rate, we got there in time, but only just. I thought it extremely exciting. My own parents' method of paying taxes was far less dramatic.

I did a search, on tax day, to see if some post offices still stay open until midnight on April 15th, and it appears that they do not. Spoilsports.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


If you are my friend on facebook, you are probably aware of the fact that our little bunny George died suddenly yesterday. We are not sure what happened to him. He was last seen normal on Sunday, the last day of spring break. Brigid had taken him outside to cuddle in the hammock with her and he was allowed to play in the garden, something he did several times over spring break. He seemed fine then. Usually we keep him inside. Monday, the first day back to school, was very busy. I worked overnight Sunday night and ordinarily, I would have been home from work by 8:00 Monday morning, but that day I had to stay late for a mandatory skills competency and didn't get home until 11:00am, at which point I was almost demented from exhaustion and went straight to bed and didn't get up until it was nearly time to leave for work for another twelve hour shift. Tuesday morning I went straight to bed without even glancing at George. Later, Drama Queen recalled that Tuesday was the first morning in four years that George did not come out of his nest box to greet her when she got up. She saw him lying in his cage, noted that he had food and water, and assumed he was asleep. Tuesday afternoon, just as I was waking up, Jon came into our room, distressed. "Something is going on," he said, "George is dead." This way of putting it made it seem like the death of George was a symptom of a large-scale unraveling of our lives. George, whose fuzzy little presence had been central to our lives, could not possibly be dead.

But dead he was, and Jon kindly removed his body from his cage while I succumbed to hysteria in my room. I couldn't bear to look at his body and Jon wrapped it in a towel and put it on the back porch to await burial, but his ears were protruding from the towel and I can't shake from my mind the image of those little dead ears. The kids weren't home from school and they all had to be told, and since they all arrived home at different times, there were individual sad scenes, spaced thirty minutes apart. Drama Queen was devastated since George was hers especially. From the very first day we got him, George chose her as his favorite.

My own grief was polluted with guilt. Maybe if I hadn't been working so much I'd have noticed George on Monday and taken him to the vet. To die alone is a terrible thing, even for an animal, and the cold, hard fact is that our Georgie died alone while I slept in the next room and Jon was buying drill bits at Lowe's. Did he wonder why no one came to cuddle him when he was feeling sick? Was he lonely? George, the most helpless member of our family, was central to our lives. Even our two dogs treated him with tenderness. When I was depressed I would play with George, and his innocence was what was most comforting. A dog will sense that you are upset and try to comfort you, but George wasn't sophisticated enough to bear our psychic burdens. Like an infant, he was entirely out for himself, and utterly secure that his needs would be met and this is part of what made him so appealing. And we had our little moments. I would sit on the girls' bedroom floor and fold the laundry while George hopped about and nudged the piles of clothes. When I was in nursing school, I would play with him while I studied, although he didn't like it when I paid more attention to my books than I did to him. He served as the model for countless of Drama Queen's drawings and she even wrote a children's book about him, which was supposed to be a charity project for National Honor Society, but the book turned out to be so charming we couldn't bear to give it away.

Life won't stop for a lost pet. There was dinner to get, although we weren't hungry. Drama Queen had a mandatory study group with her AP history class and we had to go to the University library for materials for her English paper. I didn't have the energy to dress myself and went about town wearing an oversized sweatshirt, which is just barely socially acceptable in Charlottesville, but I didn't care. I was magnificently cloaked in tragedy. At the library in particular, Drama Queen and I with our red eyes and sloppy clothes, got some odd looks, as if people thought we might be homeless or victims of a terrible crime. Then, confused by grief, I accidentally shredded my own credit card.
Miss G, meanwhile, had to keep score at a lacrosse game and I have this to say to the parents of the Coventry School and Charlottesville High School JV girls lacrosse teams: To those of you who chose, during the April 13th game to purposefully bully and harass the FOURTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL who was keeping score and then bitch about her behind her back, and yet within her hearing, what a bunch of ASSHOLES you are. It's not like she was wearing a sign on her back that said My bunny died today, but could you have cut her some slack, considering her youth and the fact that she had to keep score AND keep track of all the different plays and write them in a book AND her hands were numb from the cold and she could barely hold her pen AND, most importantly, she was keeping score according to what the referee said, and for you to try to try to bully her into adding more points for your team just sucks and you all suck. Seriously. So thanks for making a sad girl even sadder.
Some George pictures:

George goes exploring

George with Drama Queen

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Armoire Accomplished

I can't believe it was barely three weeks ago that I dragged an old door out of my basement--it had been sitting in the same place for probably fifty years or more--and now it has become the basis for a fabulous armoire for my daughters. The furniture maker delivered it today and it's exactly what I wanted.

Door before just after I pulled it out of the basement, liberally coated with grime.

It was necessary to cut the top panel off, so the finished armoire wouldn't be taller than the ceiling.

Gratuitous picture of Mr. McP

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter blues

I don't know why Easter is such a depressing holiday for me, but it is. It might be anxiety about the change of seasons—knowing that the hated heat of summer is coming soon, and having to switch to summer clothes instead of hiding behind sweaters. It might be that the priests say that Easter is a time to rejoice, making you feel doubly anxious that you don't feel particularly joyous. It might be the unhealthy feel of eating too much chocolate. It might be that everyone around you is saying, "Hurray, it's spring!" when, in your case, spring is the season of anxiety, since it is the herald of summer, which you detest. Or maybe it's just everybody saying "Hoppy Easter" and thinking they're being clever. I used to think this attitude was freakish, on my part, until I read a short story by Julie Hecht in which she mentions the despair one feels when the stores put out their Easter decorations, and I realized I'm not alone, although I'm probably not in the majority either. At any rate, it's 6:20pm on Sunday and there is just Easter dinner to get through (leg of lamb, potatoes, asparagus, tiramisu and the last thing I want right now is a heavy dinner) and then I won't have to worry about Easter again for another year.

I'm having trouble thinking of other things to write about. We could discuss how House is the dumbest show on television, but surely you can see that without my telling you, right? Right? For one thing, these doctors work in a hospital that apparently has no nurses and they singlehandedly do the work of doctors, nurses, radiology techs and patient care techs. And while six months of working as a nurse doesn't make me an expert, the scenes of medical ridiculousness always have me shouting at the TV. The other night, for example, the patient is lying on a table, being watched by two doctors through a glass door. Suddenly alarm bells start ringing and the one doctor says, "Her heart rate is normal, but her blood pressure is dropping!" They rush to the patient, where one doctor starts CPR (Hello? What about her "normal" heart rate?) and the other says, "She's bleeding around her heart!"—making this diagnosis without any assessment whatsoever and immediately plunges a needle through the patient's sternum. Later in the same episode, two of the doctors show up at the apartment of some guy—the patient's mysterious illness is somehow connected to the fact that she stalked this man for a night—and tell him, "We MUST search your apartment" and try to force their way inside. The man, sensibly, and well within his rights, slams the door in their faces. In what world do doctors function as police detectives? Another scene that stands out, from a different episode is where a patient becomes ill from an overdose of Coumadin because two different doctors ordered it for the patient and dispensed the medication. In a real hospital, it's the nurse who would give the Coumadin and who would see two orders and would clarify the dosage and prevent the whole problem. I suppose if I were a "forensic anthropologist," if there even is such a thing, I'd be shouting at the TV every time I watched "Bones" but I am comfortably ignorant about that particular field, so I can allow that Bones is entertaining, but House is moronic.

We could discuss what I'm reading right now, Cod by Mark Kurlansky. Kurlansky seems to be making a tidy living for himself writing books about things that nobody else ever thinks about: cod, salt, the Basque people, etc. Cod is certainly interesting and easy to read and includes old fashioned recipes that are fun to read, but would be very difficult to attempt in the modern kitchen. I'm also reading Reservations Recommended by Eric Kraft. It's about a toy company executive who also secretly writes restaurant reviews under a pseudonym. Like Cod, it's readable and adequately entertaining. Anyone reading or watching anything good lately?