Monday, November 22, 2010

Talking My Walk

It is with no small degree of trepidation that I launch myself into this topic, knowing full well that it might come back and bite me in the future as “Exhibit A” in a commitment proceeding brought by Fred and Kate as a last but necessary resort in dealing with the old lady. Still, it is what is currently in my craw, so I will foolishly rush in, quivering angels be damned.

Even though we all may not embrace the concept with equal dedication, we all know that exercise is good for us. It is a difficult bit of information to avoid knowing since the message is ubiquitous – on line, in print, and long ago replaced astrological signs as an ice breaker at parties. Often after a numbing comparative analysis of the aerobic benefits of one form of exercise or another, the author concedes that walking is the best choice for most people. It is easy and doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment or a membership in gym. People can walk in all sorts of places and in all kinds of weather, provided they have the right clothing. Where I live, gortex is de rigueur about six months of the year.

Dr. Fay tells me that walking is good for my heart and my blood pressure. My jeans tell me that it is good for my fanny as well. Not surprisingly perhaps, it turns out that walking is also good for dogs. Cesar Milan, the “dog whisperer,” observes that to be healthy, happy, and well behaved, dogs need three things: exercise, discipline, and affection. When I read that, I concluded that his prescription for dogs pretty much covered my needs as well and I embraced his admonition with the obsession of a zealot. Dogs not only add companionship to the daily slog, they bring guilt to the equation, which goes a long way to making sure I hit the road every day.

As a consequence, I now look upon these daily dog walks as my job, something that must be done, rather than a choice I make if there isn’t anything else going on. All things considered it is “nice work if you can get it!” Where else might I find employment that I can wrap up in a couple of hours spent out of doors in the company of pleasant co-workers. This walking time also is prime talking time and the dogs provide a nice foil for this. If a passerby catches me gesticulating to emphasize a point, I simply point to the dog. None of the locals would assume I was schizophrenic. In my neighborhood, you are suspect if you don’t have a dog and I am pretty sure most of my friends enjoy similar canine conversations. For sure, they are missing out if they don’t.

After a couple hours of chatting myself up, I can’t help but marvel at my brilliance. How insightful, how witty, how amazingly astute! From time to time I break this scintillating silence to confer with the dogs in order to discern their opinion. Invariably, they signal their concurrence with a wag while fixing me with an expectant look. That is my cue to turn the conversation to something they particularly enjoy with a remark like – “Aren’t you the best dogs in the world? Don’t you think you have a treat coming?” On cue, they sit and look at me, and I dig a little something out of my pocket, once again confirming that we are in total accord.

Then we set off again. Walk. Talk. Talk. Walk. By the time we get back to the house, the dogs are ready for a nap and I have the tough choice of deciding whether to sit by the fire and read, or clean up the kitchen. We are relaxed from the exercise and rejuvenated from our long mutually satisfying conversation. Is it any wonder that it never occurs to me to pick up the phone and call someone for a chat let alone drop by for visit? Some of my friends have suggested that my failure to do so indicates that I am becoming a reclusive, antisocial crank – well, no one has used those exact terms, but I can read between the lines. “I haven’t heard from you in such a long time, what have you been up to?” “Has your phone been out of order?” “I swear we saw more of you when you were working!”

I was starting to think that there might be some truth to that reclusive crank assessment until I realized that after spending a couple of hours every day talking to myself, I didn’t really need to talk to anyone else. Been there. Done that. Besides having experienced the joy of talking to myself, conversing with another person would surely tax me. First of all, I’d have to let them talk at least some of the time. I can’t think of a single friend who wouldn’t demand equal air time. Then there is the very real possibility that they might not agree with me on all points, resulting in some inevitable relationship angst. Finally, as if all of this isn’t enough, there is the certainty that they will want to talk about something other than me – themselves or their children or their own dogs, for crying out loud. Who needs that?

We are pretty happy with things the way they are, so for now we are sticking to our present regimen. Provided, that is that I quit being a slacker and get a move on. Indeed, at this very moment, if I am interpreting their wags and wiggles correctly, they are admonishing me to turn off the computer, get off my fanny, and, in a word, walk my talk!

Monday, November 8, 2010

On A Roll

I made a trip to the cabin the last week in September. Fred wasn’t able to go so I invited a couple of girl friends to join me. Bonnie and Linda were promised several days of rest and relaxation, punctuated with long walks along the river or on forested logging roads, ample quiet time to sit and read by the woodstove, along with food and beverage in abundance, though not gourmet. You can tell that I got my marketing ideas straight out of the Personal Ads. Well, they bought it and realized too late that all of this was just code language for come on over and I will put you to work and maybe if you are lucky offer you a cold beer at the end of the day.

Buoyed by my recent triumph behind the dryer and the piano, I added the cabin to my cleanup agenda. The cabin purge began with a large storage area which is accessed by a ladder going up to the second story from a deck on the back side of the cabin. Next to the door is a large wooden sign placed there by my father, which reads “Odds End.” I smile whenever I think of it as it is so quintessentially my parents. More than anything else, they enjoyed a play on words, and “Odds End” qualifies on many levels.
The cabin itself is pretty much a collection of odds and ends, from the initial structure to the recycled cupboards and furniture. Just as it was the end of the line for much of what comprises the structure as well as the furnishings of the cabin, so it was the final place of fun for a pair of “odd ducks” like my parents. (Their self description, not mine.) As it turned out, it is also the final resting place for their ashes, and though I doubt that they considered it at the time, I am confident that the cabin is where they would most like to be.

The “Odds End” storage area is a place that I had never really ventured into before. Of course I knew it was there and I recall climbing up and taking a quick peek upon occasion but I know for certain, I never before garnered the courage to go face to face with the spiders and wasps that I assumed had claimed it for their own. Whatever was up there could simply stay as far as I was concerned. After all, “out of sight, out of mind” had worked pretty well so far.

What prompted me in September to abandon this laissez- faire attitude and embark on an unprecedented foray into the unknown, was the vague belief that an extra screen door might be lurking somewhere in the detritus of flotation devices, extra plywood, and discarded mattresses. The new closed in sleeping porch that was under construction needed a screen door and the options I had checked out in town the day before were a little too upscale for the cabin. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer – no screen door emerged. No real surprise there. But in the course of confirming this, I decided a purge was called for.

My parents weren’t exactly pack rats or “hoarders,” at least not in the pathological sense that we hear about these days and that I often witnessed among my clients as well as a few relatives that will remain nameless for the time being. Since we share a common gene pool, I prefer to think of them as pioneer recyclers. Dad never encountered a piece of wood that he didn’t think he might use in some fashion or other later on and mother could never let go of a piece of fabric that might prove useful in a quilt or a rug. Mom didn’t stop at making rugs from fabric as I discovered when I opened a large black garbage bag and found a collection of colored plastic bread bags and a two foot oval rug that was a work in progress.
Having competent and energetic help at the ready, I started pitching things out of the door at a feverish pace. My friends, waiting below, hauled and sorted stuff into two piles - one destined for the burn pile and the other for the dumpster. Richard the resident handy man was then deployed to dispose of the collection, which he did with admirable dispatch. Before you let yourself feel too sorry for my friends who I readily admit I hookwinked into this project, you should know that they are both closet “neatniks” and I suspect felt as if they were saving a soul by doing the heavy lifting for this undertaking. Two “treasures” Bonnie and Linda insisted had to be salvaged from this purging included a “bathinette” and a wooden shipping box for Black & White Scotch whiskey.

The “bathinette” is a baby bathing device undoubtedly acquired in 1940, in anticipation of my brother Peter’s arrival. A pink tag was still attached which read: “The BATHINETTE of course! Your friends will look for the name like sterling on silver.” The rubber bathtub, which by the way is more than “hospital” rubber attaches by a hose to the sink water supply as well as the drain. Once the baby has been bathed, the tub converts to a changing table. By simply by stepping on a foot pedal a sturdy cotton cloth stretched between two dowels comes up and locks into place over the tub. The freshly bathed infant is placed on the changing table and for added security, a strip of fabric about five inches wide with holes for his arms can be fastened over the child, so that there is no chance the wee one will fly off the table while the changer is looking for a safety pin. Disposable diapers were as remote at the time of the “bathinette” as a landing on the moon.

I had seen the Scotch box before and was delighted to find it still intact. Frankly, I have a bit of a thing for boxes myself and confess to having trouble parting with them, especially if they are made of wood. The fact that scotch had originally made its way across the Atlantic in the box coupled with an inherited fondness for the stuff, moved this treasure into the keeper category. It is now screwed onto the wall in the kitchen, next to the old wooden telephone, where is serves as a mini bar. There are wooden dividers at both ends that accommodate and secure six bottles. In the center, there are removable slats with rounds cut out the size of the neck of a bottle that slide into the middle of the box to hold them in place.

While I was occupied cleaning out “Odds End” at the cabin, Fred was busying himself at home cleaning out the garage. Now this is a task that I have been talking about for a good part of the 43 years we have lived here. And though he has never outright denied that a good cleaning might be called for, whenever I brought it up as a possible activity for the weekend, he chose instead to characterize it as a “rainy day” project thereby putting it off for some yet to be identified time in the future. Given that we live in “rainy day country” you might suppose that the rainy day list, no matter how extensive, would be completed in any one season. In Fred’s case, he manages to be gone during a great deal of the rainy season, so what appears on the surface to be a legitimate effort to prioritize work, has evolved into a great avoidance technique. Oh gosh, fooled me!

Though at 6:00 a.m. on a very rainy Sunday when I left for the cabin I didn’t know of his plan to tackle the garage, I did learn about it during the day, somewhere east of Ephrata. While I was stopped in a wheat field to give the dogs a run my cell phone rang. Fred was calling from the land fill to advise me that he had just dropped off 600 pounds of stuff that up until that morning, one of us at least didn’t think we couldn’t part with. He confessed that he was motivated more by the fact that he had decided to jump start a weight loss resolve by fasting and drinking only water that day than by the encroaching clutter at the work bench. Staying out of the kitchen and staying busy made this resolution easier to keep.

With those inroads made in the garage area, I came home and threw myself into the potting shed and greenhouse. What a pig sty! The potting shed was a virtual maze of buckets and wire, cluttered with countless discarded plant pots and overlaid with a patina of filth! You will be spared the details largely because I have some embarrassment about publicly acknowledging them. Suffice it to say that it is a project that I am still working on; despite the fact that I keep moving the “finish” date back, great strides have been made. So far, in addition to sorting and cleaning and culling the pot collection down to a manageable number, I have scrubbed the greenhouse with a bleach solution, tackled the fly nests and spider eggs, and placed a moratorium on Fred’s penchant for stopping at garage sales on the lookout for something that he might use as a planter or a tray.

We are on a roll around here that I am determined to keep the momentum going. Really all this getting rid of stuff is pretty heady. Fred managed to lose some weight in the process and I feel lighter, just knowing I have gotten rid of a lot of crap. Still, don’t expect to see a photo montage of either the garage or the potting shed with the Christmas letter. Nor should you anticipate being entertained there any time soon. These areas may be clean and tidy by “Gentry standards” but that is several notches below anything that might pass inspection with the health department let alone meet the hospitality level worthy of our friends.