Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memorizing the Ordinary

I try to memorize the ordinary. A mother easily remembers the highs and lows of family life. A baby’s first smile, first steps…the bout with colic that lasted six weeks…we remember those things. We remember Scout awards, the Honor Roll, and—if she tells us—our daughter’s first crush. But in between the Christmases and the birthdays, the sprained ankles and the chicken pox, are long strings, year after year, of ordinary days filled with ordinary things.

On a February night in 1979 I sat nursing my four-month-old son. We were in the living room, the only ones awake in our old farmhouse. The clock struck midnight. I looked down at him. “He is your last baby,” I told myself. “Put this where you can find it again.”

I held my son in my left arm, cradling his head with my right hand. Snow fell outside. New milk trickled across my stomach. I felt the silk of his baby neck, and his soft hair under my lips as I kissed his head. I listened to him swallow.

Years later I resurrected that memory. The baby of the family, well fed for 17 years, was six feet tall and bench-pressing 200+ pounds. His language flew from high-tech to hard core. In his room, an amplifier was pushed to its limits, along with his siblings’ patience. Dual exhausts rumbled in the driveway.

But I’d taken a moment to impress forever an hour of infancy into my brain. That kiss on his head was as real to me as the grin I was lucky to get in passing 17 years later.

Today, in my quiet retirement from child-rearing, when the hum of the dishwasher and the gentle jingle of the dog’s collar are the only sounds I’m likely to hear on a fall evening in this old house, I close my eyes and listen hard for the sound of a vintage Camaro peeling into the driveway, and the thunderous bass of a massive, vibrating subwoofer.

I grew up in my father’s darkroom, relying on photographs to capture memories. And they often do. But when I look through the pictures I took of my children, it isn’t the lovely portraits that pull me back again and again. It’s the candids that caught them in mid-laugh or mid-leap—just doing whatever it is we do on an ordinary day…which often isn’t very much, but which can mean everything.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Circuitous Route to My Blog

A friend recently wrote on her blog, Women Over 50, about the search words people had used that brought them to her blog. She found some pretty sexy stuff, which I guess is what happens when you have the word "women" in the title of your blog. (You know how we are.)

I couldn't figure out how to bring up the blog stats for Sweet Rocket (do they exist?), so I took a look at my 40-words-a-day blog, Forty Thieves. Think about it: Forty. Thieves. What search terms would bring up the blog? Middle age crisis car? Safe-cracking instructions? Not exactly.

Here's a sampling:

Bath Fitter. A remarkable number of people clicked on my blog after searching for Bath Fitter. Apparently they weren't in a tearing hurry to get their bath fitted.

Forty Thieves Ali Baba. They must have been terribly disappointed.

She gets her kicks on Route. Any route will do?

Contractor from hell. Yup, I can sense the anger in those clicks.

Marjorie Holmes. How nice. I hope this reader was pleased with what I wrote about Marjorie.

1970s wardrobe. Well, he (she?) didn't find it on that click.

Very long nails. Hmmmm . . . . maybe this is the closest I got to sexy stuff.

Librarian from hell. How many people deal with them?

Lamaz instructor. First rule of giving birth: Learn to spell Lamaze.

Bath Fitter problem. Who knew my blog was going to become a haven for people with faulty bathtubs?

Mammography textbook. I hope this wasn't a DIY endeavor.

What is Lamaze instructor. Ah . . . a Jeopardy fan!

Jackie Kennedy. Harry Belafonte. Stavros. Who's Stavros?

Butches. Butches? What butches? I didn't write about butches. I don't think I wrote about butches. I hope I didn't write about butches.

The Forty Thieves gang in Harlem. More potential for disappointment.

Big boobs. I know—you're saying, "Isn't this sexy stuff??" No. It isn't.

Left the priesthood. Left the priesthood, and landed at my blog. Cool.

Bath Fitter salesman. Bath Fitter pitch. Bath Fitter quote. Enough said.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Intimidation as a Marketing Tool

Remember the scene in "Pretty Woman" where Julia Roberts is sneered at (and worse) by the Rodeo Drive sales clerks? I'm sure that sort of thing goes on all over the place. Scranton is far from Beverly Hills in many ways, but I got sneered at in a day spa last week.

You'll be relieved to know that I wasn't dressed in thigh-high patent leather boots and a mini-skirt, and my hair wasn't three feet long, and my eyelids weren't peacock blue from lashes to brow. (Come to think of it, neither were Julia's.) I was dressed in a style best described as Decent Casual, which in my book is one step above jeans. I wasn't dressed expensively, because I never dress expensively. But my jacket was from Lands' End, and if the clerk had been so rude as to pull the neck of my shirt out to read the label, she would have seen Jones New York. (There would be no need to tell her that I bought it at Salvation Army.)

More to the point than my clothes, I think, was my demeanor. I was smiling, friendly, happy to be at the spa, where a friend was treating me to a massage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a cheerful, polite customer (or non-customer) deserves a sneer.

The person doing the sneering was a not-terribly-attractive woman with ugly hair and a middle European accent. I assume the accent is what landed her the job. I see this a lot. Somehow Americans got the idea that foreign accents are classy and intimidating. Want to staff your sales force with people who sound like they know more than the customers do? Hire some Brits. Want to make your spa clients feel inferior, perhaps to encourage big tips? (We've all seen it: people whose self-image inflates in direct proportion to the size of the tips they leave.) Put a Russian at the front desk.

As the sneeree, I was more amused than anything else, especially when my friend showed up and I told her the story, complete with accent. We had a good laugh. But it made me realize something. Since I do accents pretty well, I could have given Ugly Hair's right back to her. Next time I will. And won't that be fun.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My mom in jewelry

Another portrait of my mother taken by my dad.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

NYC Apartment, c. 1940

This must have been my parents' first apartment. If so, it was on Barrow Street, in the Village. See the painting between the windows? It's a watercolor, rather monochromatic and very soft, and today it hangs in my bedroom. Long before I saw this photo, I decided it would look good between two of my tall windows.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Those Tricky Interview Questions

I had a job interview today. My daughter warned me to be prepared for tricky interview questions, so I spent last evening reading up on them. I was ready to tell my prospective employers what kind of a car I'd like to be (if I had to be a car), who my role model is, and how my friends would probably describe me. In addition, I was prepared to describe my finest accomplishment (besides my children, of course), demur when asked about my previous boss's faults, and deflect any concerns that I might be overqualified.

I got to do none of those things. The interview was straightforward. Everything related to the job, and everything made perfect sense. How disappointing!

In the process of doing my research, I ran across this list of undesirable qualities in a job applicant.

* Too self-assured
* Too aggressive
* Too domineering
* Critical of previous companies and superiors
* Non-enthusiastic
* Cold
* Badly dressed
* Non-eye contact
* Too much talking
* Being unprepared
* Being late for interviews

Let's see if we can provide some examples, shall we?

* Too self-assured
"I knew you'd give me an interview, you sucker."

* Too aggressive
"I hope you don't mind if I share your chair."

* Too domineering
"Why yes--I always wear thigh-high boots and carry a whip. Stand up when I talk to you!"

* Critical of previous companies and superiors
"My last boss? Pond scum, I tell you!"

* Non-enthusiastic
"I'm sorry. I didn't hear a word you said. I was thinking about lunch."

* Cold
"No, you may not call me Susan."

* Badly dressed
"If you were up on current fashion trends, you'd know that lots of people wear jammies to work. May I have my bunny slippers back now, please?"

* Non-eye contact
"Mmmmm . . . what?"

* Too much talking
". . . so when I realized I'd be interviewed here I called my girlfriend to see if she wanted to do some shopping afterward, but she had to go to Middletown to visit her son at college because he ran out of money—apparently he has a gambling problem, which we think he inherited from his deadbeat father, who was only active as a parent for three years before he took off with a dental hygienist--who works just down the road, by the way. Do you know Dr. Flatko?"

* Being unprepared
"Very nice to meet you, Mr. Rockwell . . . excuse me? You're not Mr. Rockwell? Oh, sorry . . . Mr. Anderson? Oops--not him either?"

* Being late for interviews
"I did it again, huh? Trust me, I always want to be on time, but stuff happens, ya know? I'm sure you've been late, right?"

Good luck to all my fellow job hunters.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gone, and Forgotten

I don't know how cemeteries work. That is, who takes care of them? Yesterday I set out to find an old cemetery in a remote location inaccessible by car. I hiked up a long, steep hill (a very long hill . . . so long that I went up backwards part of the way—or maybe that says more about my lack of conditioning than the length of the hill) and was rewarded with the sight you see above. Despite the tangles of bushes and sapling trees, the place had a stately quality common to most old cemeteries. And peace, of course.

I was sorry to see that so many stones had almost disappeared into the ground. They'd sunk so low that their tips were buried under grass and leaves. I kept tripping over them. I was also sad to see that the remaining gravestones were so overgrown. They were erected to honor the memories of people who were loved, by family members who probably never imagined that 100 years later visitors would have to fight their way through brambles to read the inscriptions.

But read them I did, at least the 21 stones that were readable. And I photographed them, and uploaded the pictures to the FindAGrave database. As I've said more than once on this blog—and many more times elsewhere—gotta love the Internet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Great Day

I'm gonna miss wearing my Obama buttons. They sparked conversations with all sorts of strangers. Like the cashier at the redneck butcher shop who was turning 18 in a few days and who said he was so happy to be able to cast his first vote for Obama. And the psychologist at a nearby table in restaurant where a friend and I were having lunch, who said, "Excuse me . . . I just wanted to say how glad I am to see the two of you wearing those buttons so proudly." And the somewhat elderly Home Depot clerk who said if Sarah Palin found herself assuming the presidency she would "excuse herself." Uh-huh . . .

I had a bunch of them (the buttons, that is). There was my favorite, BLONDES FOR OBAMA. And the one that looked like an album cover, JAZZ FOR BARACK OBAMA, with his profile in blue. I was qualified to wear REPUBLICANS FOR OBAMA because, well, I'm still on the books. And then there was my extra-large purple MICHELLE OBAMA button.

I'll miss them. But I'm resisting the impulse to order one that says I TOLD YOU SO YES WE DID.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Just Beautiful

My beautiful daughter and her beautiful family have a beautiful new house on a beautiful lake. This is simply the best word I could think of.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Now You See It . . .

. . . now you don't.

I was vacuuming a little while ago when I spotted a wasp walking on the living room floor. I picked up a piece of paper—a photograph of Jennie and her family, actually (hi, Jennie!)—and held it on the floor near him so he would walk onto it, which he did. Then I stepped outside and blew on him, thinking he would drop and land on one of the foxglove plants. That's what wasps tend to do this time of year.

Instead, my breath launched him into the air. He flew from the porch, past the Winesap apple tree, and over the hydrangea. I stood there, marveling at the miracle of flight, no less miraculous in its natural state than in a Pan Am jumbo jet, and ever so much more appealing. Isn't that something, I thought.

He flew past the green-and-brown remains of the flower garden, heading . . . well, we'll never know where he was headed, because after he passed the flower beds he flew into a truck.

I hope my vacuuming is more successful.