Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kathy's birthday.

My charming sister’s Birthday is in a few days. It’s not one of the biggies, just another odd, non-winning number in the mid-life lottery. This event occasionally causes me to take a few moments away from the very important things that I normally do to think about her for a bit.
My sister is older by over two years and I care for her a great deal. Not as much as I once did, but I certainly still like her, everyone does. EVERYONE likes my sister. (Though full disclosure requires I reveal that I only have the opinions of the living to go by.) She is, and always has been sweet, soft-spoken, and quick to giggle or applaud as appropriate, and generally reads good books. She is in fairly good health as I recall, and is married to a wonderful guy who apparently loves her a lot. She is also important and successful, in the halls of academia. She is the Registrar of a very tidy state university in southwestern Kentucky. Once again I say all these things based on the very limited information I have. Like they do with gymnastic scores in the Olympics, I threw out the best and worst things I’ve heard about her and am only commenting on the non-extreme middle-ground. For example I have heard some vicious things from her severely overworked and underpaid secretary, Susan, about Stalin-like despotism, wild and angry snack episodes, spitting, mass firings, and vengeful mutilation of plants, animals and humans. But like I said, I throw out the best and worst, assuming they are merely jealous rants, or girlish over-emotional reactions.
(I also heard from her secretary that my sister is sweet, respectful, professional, and doesn’t really sweat very offensively on the hottest of days. I threw that one out for the obvious reason that my sister probably commanded her to say those things. Susan is a nice lady, but prone to jitters and extreme, opossum-like timidity under pressure.)
My sister is my dad’s only daughter, and it always showed. I shy away from the word ‘princess’ but frankly, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. I came to be aware of this gross unfairness early on as she got the better slices of cake, the cleaner dishes, and her birthday and Christmas presents were actually store-bought. I adjusted to this inequity though as soon as I had a daughter of my own. For some reason it made perfect sense after that. So I can forgive her for that much.
I know what you are asking at this point, it’s the same thing I’ve been asking myself all day: “But Dennis, how does your sister’s birthday affect YOU?”
I’m Glad we asked.
Kathy is my canary in the mine. As I said, she’s a couple of years older, and from what I’m told, we share some DNA, so like the canary I keep an eye on her to see what falls off or goes sour, what ailments, pains and diseases might arise. This is a very important role for her, one that I hope she does not take lightly. I suppose I could consider my older brother for the same role, but having spent time with him I’m pretty sure we don’t share a whole lot of common building material. Not that there’s anything wrong with Steve, but he’s about as much like me as the old VW’s are like the new ones. Sure, they may be from the same company, but they’re just not the same.
Kathy is also not aging as well as I am. I don’t know if this is a result of the male-female differences or the soft, care-free life and constant pampering she received as a child, but I can look at her and rate myself as ‘probably better by ten or twenty percent’ on any point. That takes a HUGE load off my mind, like comparing your dinner to a poorer family’s rather than the bank presidents’, you just feel better about yourself from the perspective of looking downward.
When she first started losing her youthful appearance, many, many years ago, it was another five to ten years before I deemed myself in that same declining state. Don’t take me wrong, one look at me and you KNOW , using that same ratio, that she can’t be too bad off appearance wise, but face it, we’re not in our twenties anymore, we’ve both got some sagging, and fading, and a bit of extra protection from the cold, but Kathy at one time, was HOT!
I recall when we were in high school and she would have her friend Debbie stay over. It was all I could do to not stare, or faint. I mean Debbie was SUPER-HOT! (probably isn’t now either, but I don’t know for sure) and together, well they caught the ‘attention’ of many, many, many, MANY young 'suitors'. This was the early seventies, tight bell-bottom jeans and bra-less halter tops. Kathy had a red one… It drove dad nuts, it just confused me. Nothing tawdry here, I’m just saying if she weren’t my sister (or if fewer people knew she was) I might even have gone slumming for a bit and hit on her myself.
“But Dennis, are you saying that you were ten to twenty percent hotter?”
I am, of course, much too modest to reply honestly.

Personal to Kathy: I haven’t bought you a card yet, but I did think about it at this morning as I passed the $1 store. If you don’t get one, it’s only because someone forgot to supply me with stamps.
Your adoring brother;

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lucky to have survived.

As injuries go, it’s not very much; Just a quarter inch long gash in the center of my forehead. I’ve been told by people that they would not have even noticed it had I not pointed it out, but these are co-workers, people that I am pretty sure don’t look at me long or hard. I would ask Angel, but if it is hideous, she’ll just lie to me and say otherwise, she’s sweet that way.
I’m pretty sure that it’s quite noticeable, as it is the first thing I see in the mirror.
No stitches required, it is only a gash, surrounded by a red area indicating that healing is underway. It didn’t bleed, I don’t think, I was actually afraid to look and too far from a mirror to check, and most of all too preoccupied with the task at hand to bother.
I’ve had injuries before, a playground swing ripped open my hand when I was eight or nine, I got five stitches for that and still have the scar. I shoved a pocket knife between a couple of fingers in my left hand a couple of years later, permanently damaging the nerve endings, which still occasionally tingle. And I burned my thigh on a motorcycle exhaust; it left a permanent mark, looks like a bruise.
And of course the car wreck back in 1999, when I flipped the SUV and suffered a severe beating from the air bag. Fractured my clavichord, or whatever that thing is between the ribs, oh yeah, sternum… I just looked it up… Anyway I fractured that and it put me down as much as anything else I’ve suffered. Other than that I guess I’ve been pretty lucky, except maybe the time I was shooting hoops (wait for shock to subside) and caught my right foot in a gopher hole, spraining my ankle… yeah that’s about it.
This gash in my forehead is not as bad as any of those… I think more than anything else it reflects my general state of slowing down. Motorcycles, basketball, careless and imprudent driving, knife-play, I really don’t do risky things like that any more. Medical bill – wise that’s not such a bad thing I’ve taken a lot of the risk out of my life.
But the troubling spot is this: no matter how careful you are, no matter how sedate, cautious and vigilant, there plenty of stupid accidents ready to pounce on even the most inactive.
I was at peace, my mind wandered about, here to there, playing with the images in my mind, feeling waves of heaviness come and go, warmth rising, and rising, somewhere between drowsy and full-ahead REM, I drifted. At some point in this euphoric state I sensed that the pillow needed to be flipped to the cool side. A quick twist and pull, a simple move practiced over time to perfection.

It jammed.
Somehow the pillow locked into place, my clutched fist slipped off the edge with full momentum towards my face, my thumbnail slammed into my forehead.
I was thankful, once again for the thickness of my skull. It hurt like mad though; this was a self induced sucker punch, and a mean one.
I considered that it might have cut open, it felt, gashed. But the cool side of the pillow seduced me, and I decided then and there to just let it bleed.
If there are those among you that likewise have experiences with ‘nap-related-injuries’ I would like to hear from you. Surely I am not alone, and surely there is a support group somewhere, or a telethon, or a celebrated sports figure with a book, or made for TV movie….

Healing nicely.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mid August...

The air conditioner failed sometime Sunday afternoon. I don’t know exactly when, there was no bang, pop, screech, or puff of black smoke. Like the proverbial frog in a sauce pan, we just figured it out after a while. It simply was not cool in the house anymore. I checked the thermostat, It was set to maintain seventy two degrees, but the actual temperature read eighty four. It was seven o’clock on a Sunday evening, there would be no service call till Monday.
We did all the right things, checked the filter, removed panels, reset breakers, and fiddled endlessly with the overly-complicated thermostat.
We’ve never liked the thermostat, it has time zones. To set it you push mushy, multi-function, poorly - labeled buttons to establish desired temperature for each four hour period of a twenty four hour day. It takes forever. There is a button though that says ‘Hold’. It merely maintains the current setting until turned off. That is where it stays all year. We are using a two-hundred dollar sophisticated computational device as if it were a light dimmer. Too hot, up it a little, too cool, back down. The clock is many hours off and blinks angrily at us. We ignore it.
The thermostat has asserted and avenged itself; the outside compressor-big-noisy-fan thingy does not turn on, at all. The air blower works and responds to on/ off commands from the master controller, but the vented air is stale and exactly the same temperature as the damp, ambient air.
Sunday night sleep was sweaty and shallow. We employed our fans and hoped for a cool breeze that never came. Waking up many times during the night searching violently for a fresh cool corner of damp pillows, all blankets not only pushed aside, but tossed several feet from the bed as if they were the source of the stifling heat.
This heat wave was in it’s second week, most days reaching and teetering around one hundred, those days when it only made it to the mid-nineties seeming almost pleasant.
Monday morning, mouthwash, and toothpaste have warmed to a sickly unnatural state. The very walls of the efficient house now storing the warmth per their modern design. The steamy shower did not even fog the mirror. The only relief in sight; the drive to work. Angel would not be so lucky, the dogs don’t care for the heat, and this day would prove to be miserable for them. Angel called for service, of course they were backed up, busy, busy, busy, could we wait till Tuesday?
We have become soft, we recognized, our first house a Victorian monster in downtown Springfield had no air conditioning, at all, so poorly insulated and high-ceiling spacious that any attempt even to cool a single room would spin the electric meter off it’s expensive axis. At that time we had kids in the house, bitter, edgy, frustrated kids accustomed somehow to more comfort and luxury than they had actually ever experienced. I don’t recall struggling with the heat so much as I recall the kids complaining about it. It was what it was.
Monday, as Angel and the dogs suffered to stay less than miserable, I whiled away in my cubicle, concerned about their plight, but secretly soaking up and relishing every stale atom of air conditioned comfort.
I arrived home about six P.M, inside the house the temperature had risen to ninety four. Angel had purchased four more inexpensive box fans and scattered them at all angles through the great area, open to the living room, kitchen, dining room and foyer. This moved the air, as fans can only do, across the sweat to speed evaporation giving the sense, if not the reality of cooling. I bagged ice cubes and laid them in bowls in front of the fans. I hosed down the deck and sprinkled the front yard hoping that my meager understanding of thermodynamics and evaporation would make a difference. As the sun finally set, the temperature began to drop. Inside the house, by eleven, it had nose dived to eighty seven degrees. Outdoors the billions of insects that actually own and rule our acreage buzzed by and laughed at our plight, the inside of the modern insulated house was an easy five degrees warmer than the outside.
We were uncomfortable, but optimistic, celebrating each degree drop as it occurred with the attention and giddiness of kids watching an odometer zero out. A quick dip in the small tepid swimming pool and off to bed. Not much was said as mere chit-chat seemed to heat the air and add to the edginess. Our conversations are generally smart-alecky (from Angel’s side) and in this sultry state the quips seemed more barbed and personal than usual. So we each kept our tongues at bay, so as not to make a bad situation worse.
The watering and fanning seemed to work, sleep was not so difficult, or we were just too lethargic and drained to do anything else. The dogs awoke early though, even in the basement where it is always a bit cooler, and with their own set of fans, the comfort level was less than perfect. I left for work a bit early, once again the seventy three degree air whipping into my truck windows feeling much like the open doors in the frozen food section at a supermarket.
Now I sit in my cubicle, cool, comfortable, the service call scheduled for eight A.M. maybe. If not, if Angel must endure today’s expected one hundred and three high, I may not go home. I doubt she will stay there herself.
We have become weak and soft in our old age.

Follow-Up… 08/15. The service call took place at seven thirty and took a mere half hour. According to Angel “There was a rusty part that they said wasn’t really important anyhow, so they bypassed it.” By Tuesday evening the house was cool and the dogs and family were basking in the spoiled luxury of seventy one degree remanufactured air. Outside, a record was broken for the day: one hundred three degrees.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The witness.

About five miles from my home, on highway 21, the area’s best kept secret as it is fast and under-utilized all the way into the city, Is a small state park. Sandy Creek Covered Bridge. It indeed has a covered bridge, not necessarily an architectural masterpiece, originally built with only local labor and very modest funding. It has been restored several times.
Back in the early 1900’s this was on the main road north/south and provided covered, ice–free traverse over tiny Sandy Creek. When Highway 21 was built, this whole low section of creek crossing was bypassed, the thirty foot wide creek now crossed with barely a bridge, barely a notice.
Remnants of the original road remain, marked as ‘Dead End’ on the south side, the park itself lies on the north bank. To get to the park, you must exit off 21, take a right turn on to the old road and past the Goldman Fire Station. Except for a scattering of mobile homes, the fire station is pretty much all that’s left of Goldman, never more than small town, in fact a ‘Ghost Town’ according to Wikipedia. This old road follows the original bridge road, though once you enter the park there is a barrier blocking vehicular access. The barrier is/was a state-park style rough timber 10x10, about twenty feet log, heavily bolted to two incredibly sturdy rough 10x10 posts driven a mile or so into the ground. Mounted in the middle of the barrier is a standard size STOP sign. The actual parking lot, with no more than ten parking spots, is to the left of the barrier.
At the small, but tidy park you can walk up into the bridge and read the history of the construction and restorations. You can also read the graffiti with which local hoodlums have temporarily immortalized their existence, passions, and romances. You can also walk down to the creek, not much of a thing at this spot. Swimming is not banned, but is certainly warned against as there is no full-time Department of Natural Resources presence. The creek is quite alive with very small fish that the locals refer to as ‘bait’.
I walked around the park on a very hot early August afternoon on my way home from work. I was alone. No one else around at all. This was fine with me since I was only there for research. I needed to see if the rafters of the old bridge were exposed, yet secluded enough to suspend a corpse. (Don’t panic, the writer’s club I joined is sponsoring a ‘Mystery Short Story’ contest and I needed an exotic, but familiar location for a macabre crime scene.)
After checking the angles, the shadows, the architecture, and the exits, I stepped out of the bridge toward the parking lot. From this angle I could see straight out of the park and nearly a mile down the road past the fire station. What I saw, heard, this time was a bit unusual. A small, shiny, blue pickup truck was heading into the park at a significant speed. If I were to guess, I’d say forty five to fifty mph, though I cant be sure, but the engine was cranking out some noticeably high RPM’s. I didn’t have time to ponder the why’s and wherefores as to the intent of the high speed entry.
It got a little surreal here.
Surely he’s going to slow down, there’s nowhere to go. He can’t possibly make the hard turn into the parking lot at that rate, the truck’ll flip over… he’s not even slowing down.
Yes, he crashed through the barrier, splintering that big beam into three pieces, which flew to the left and right. That slowed him down considerably, though not completely. Doing some really fast and rough geometry, algebra, botany and physics, I sidestepped behind a stand of three mature oak trees. He might get through the barrier, but not even a loaded semi would have enough momentum to take out all of those old, hard trees.
He never actually stopped, though he did hesitate long enough for me to see that his windshield was not only shattered at the bottom, but caved in as well. There was no steam or smoke, or indication of an air bag deployment (I know this because the guy was still conscious… have you ever been hit by one of those things?) I did not notice much more, though I did find a side mirror and part of a grill a bit later.
He started to back up. It occurred to me that this man, alone in the battered truck, was not even going to get out to check the damage. He looked straight at me, for a few seconds. I could not make out specifics about him as I was looking through a spider web of broken glass from about fifty feet away, but I do know that he looked right at me since his expression changed a little as I started shaking my head and pointing to my holstered cell phone. He left anyhow.
As he turned around and drove away I had the lucidity to stare at his license plate and started repeating the number over and over to myself as he drove away, 348-NP5, 348-NP5, 348-NP5, 348-Nathan Paul 5, 348-Nathan Paul 5, over and over again till I got to my truck, to an an ink pen and a scrap of paper. I looked around, I was once again the only person at the park.
I 411’d the Sheriff’s office, reported the ‘non-emergency ’ (my choice since there were no injuries and the perp had already left the scene) to a deputy, who passed me over to a ‘dispatcher’. The dispatcher sitting in Hillsboro about three miles from where I was standing asked me the address for the park.
“The address for the park?” I was confused, and perhaps indignant. “It’s the state park, just north of Hillsboro, next to Goldman. “

The dispatcher was not satisfied. “What’s the nearest cross-street off 21 to the park?” He asked, as if I were a thousand unfamiliar miles away. I replied: “I don’t know the street names, I live here! It’s a state park, the only state park, with the only covered bridge in the county! Just tell the deputies that, surely they’ll figure it out!”
“Okay sir, I’ll try that, do you wish to be contacted?”
“No, that’s not necessary, You’ve got the guy’s license plate, he’s not going to be able to fix that damage very quickly, but I will stick around for a bit in case the officer arrives.”
“You don’t have to do that sir, but if you like, that will be fine.”
I had done my civic duty, reported all the important stuff to the proper authorities, left my contact information in case they needed to know more. But to just leave? I don’t think so! This was, without a doubt the most interesting thing that had happened to this cubicle dweller in a long time. I was the sole witness to an actual crime! I had the clarity of mind to gather and report accurate information! I needed closure! I needed an end to this wonderful story!

After an hour and a half of sweaty waiting, they never showed up. So I really never actually got a good ending …..