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What We Leave.

When I was a kid I read a book of Cherokee legends. The story of the beginning of the world stayed with me because, according to it, all animals, plants, and trees were tested by having to stay awake for seven days and nights. Some animals—rabbits, mice, even deer—fell asleep. They became prey for the ones who stayed awake: the mountain lion, the wolf, the owl. Some of the trees managed to stay awake too. These were the pine and cedar, so they would be evergreen. Other trees didn’t pass the test, and I still remember the line: “Unable to stay awake they would sleep part of each year, and lose their hair in winter.”

I’d never thought of leaves as tree hair before that, and not just because leaves grow back while most people I know who lose their hair lose it permanently, but I still liked the phrase. And yet it didn’t explain what, to me, was the biggest mystery of all: why so many people felt it necessary to rake and bag leaves in their yards. Most put the leaves in their garbage cans, as though the trees were purposely throwing trash around. It seems like an insult to the trees. It would be different if they were sneaking over to someone else’s yard and throwing down a bunch of leaves then running back in the middle of the night, like a bunch of kids having a toilet paper party. That is something I did once—a toilet paper party, I mean, not dropping a bunch of leaves, and even though I was a teenager at the time it still seemed like a stupid thing to do.

And at least leaves are bio-degradable. Technically toilet paper is too, but leaves land there naturally, and toilet paper tends to stand out against the landscape, at least as long as it’s fresh out of the package and hasn’t been used previously, but that’s another story.

Why clear away leaves? People love to see the changing colors: the reds and yellows of trees on hills in the all-too short, beautiful time before the fall to the ground, before they turn brown and papery and crackle underfoot. Once the leaves have been shed they blanket the ground providing insulation, protection, safe spaces for next year’s insects, and nesting material for squirrels and other animals. They’ll give back to the soil what they took from it, passing it on to the next generation. A clean yard is a terrible thing, the rake and leaf blower instruments of destruction.

Well, I do use them to keep the leaves away from the doors. Tracked in underfoot they won’t do anyone any good. We don’t need leaves in the house, where we sleep.

I’m Not Scared.

For some reason the phrase “Do one thing every day that scares you” came into my mind this morning as I was leaving the house. It’s not a phrase I remember hearing recently and it’s not one I’ve ever given much thought, although now that I have it seems pretty ridiculous. Do I really want to go looking for things that scare me? Do I want to take unnecessary risks? I could easily say just driving to work scares me but, in spite of all the risks, that’s setting the bar pretty low. Since Daylight Savings Time ended a week ago and I thought it would still be dark when I started out but, for now, the change and the shortening days hasn’t caught up to my usual departure time. It was bright enough that only about half the cars I passed still had their lights on.

Then I got to work and parked in my usual spot on the roof of the parking garage, something that’s also very low-level scary. It’s exposed and, as far as I know, I’m the only person who parks up there, although there’s a garbage can which is always overflowing with what appears to be new garbage every week which suggests a lot of people are passing through, or, possibly, a few people with a completely disproportionate amount of trash.

Also there was an elevator out of service. There are two elevators—one that I guessed was working since it wasn’t closed off—and I also could have taken the stairs. The stairwell is completely windowless, though, and narrow, and cold. It’s not a great way to start the morning.

I realize that just writing this is a spoiler that the alternate elevator was fine and, aside from a slight tremor on the way down, didn’t give me any trouble. Besides I still wasn’t fully awake. At least I’d been fully conscious on the drive in but once I’d parked I was so focused on other things, including just getting in to work, that I really didn’t even consider the possibility of anything going wrong with the elevator until I was in it.

That’s the other ridiculous aspect of “Do one thing every day that scares you”. The scariest thing I’ll probably do all day was not something I was even aware of.

In Memoriam.

Sometimes in the park or even around my neighborhood I’ve seen lost pet signs. I always stop and take down the contact information just in case, although I’ve never seen a loose dog running around our area. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to lose a pet like that and never know what happened to them. There was one time, not long after my wife and I were first married, that we accidentally left the gate open. We had three dogs. Two wandered out into the neighborhood. The third, the oldest, a tall skinny dog named Jacob who was also my wife’s first Dalmatian, stayed in the yard and barked to let us know what had happened. After we got Jacob inside we drove around the neighborhood and found the other two just one block over. They both seemed relieved to see us.

Of course losing any well-loved pet is hard, even if you’re with them at the end and get that chance to say goodbye. Because every pet is unique every loss is too, which is why they never get any easier. There are only two things I’ve found that help a little: time and being around others who know how it feels. Even years later talking to someone about a loss can help. It brings up the pain, but it brings up the love and the joy too.

I’ve never met Elizabeth but I hope sharing Buster helped her. I hope she knows it helped others.

Time For A Break.

I used to know someone who worked in an accounting department. Their department head allowed everyone to call in an occasional “mental health day”. Vacation time had to be approved well in advance, and it was usually assumed that anyone taking vacation would take several days. Anyone could call in sick if they woke up under the weather, of course, but if you were sick you were expected to stay home. Someone taking a mental health day could go to the gym, go to the park, go to a coffee shop. If the boss found out—and sometimes they did find out—it was copacetic. Someone who’d had a bad day, or a cluster of bad days, could call in and say, “I need a mental health day,” and do whatever they needed to decompress.

There were a few restrictions on this. The April tax season and the end of the fiscal year, which was the last day of June, were really busy times, and everyone was asked—though not required—to not take mental health days during those times unless it was really, really necessary. Important meetings couldn’t be skipped, and no more than one or two people at a time could take a mental health day. And obviously no one could take one every single week; three to four times a year was preferred.

It was a great idea, and it placed a lot of trust in the employees, which may be why no one abused the privilege. Whoever came up with the idea obviously knew the old saying about an ounce of prevention. And also that people will frequently do the right thing. I don’t think it’s just because they were all accountants either, though accountants are known for being sticklers when it comes to rules. A few of them might also have been actuaries, and you know what they say: actuaries are accountants who can’t take the excitement.

The one thing I never thought to ask was, how many people called in mental health days around the time the clocks had to be set forward or back for Daylight Savings Time? Because it doesn’t matter whether it’s losing or gaining an hour. The time change always throws me off mentally.

Mix It Up.

My wife has enjoyed chai, I think, for as long as we’ve both been eating Indian food, which is a pretty long time. The first time I had Indian food, which was in Columbus, Ohio—it hadn’t reached Nashville yet—the beverage was mango lhassi. It was delicious but I wish I could go back and order chai, if it had even been on the menu. I don’t remember what the main dish was, but I think it was chicken tikka masala, which isn’t technically Indian—some sources say it was invented in Glasgow of all places, but probably by a chef from Bangladesh or Pakistan, but I do remember it was tasty.

Anyway my wife has tried for years to find a chai recipe she liked that she could make at home, including mixing her own, but only recently found one that’s as good as what we’ve had in restaurants. And sometimes I make it which leads to conversations like this:

Me: This chai didn’t turn out right. I guess I could…
Wife: I’m stopping you before you say “chai again”.
Me: Chai harder.
Wife: You’re on thin ice.
Me: Chai another day.
Wife: You’re chai-ing my patience.
Me: Tomorrow never chai’s.
Wife: That’s enough.
Me: The chai who loved Me.
Wife: I said…
Me: Live and let chai.
Wife: Get out.

And then the company that makes her chai blend sent her the “get rich or chai tryin’” sticker. I can’t get away with it but they can. Fair enough—they’re professional chai makers and I’ll leave the puns to them because they’re better at those too. For me, I’ve got no time to chai.

Source: giphy

Who Are The People In My Neighborhood?

Three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, sixty-five if it’s a leap year, I have no clue who most of my neighbors are. Sometimes when I go out to get the mail I see people out walking their dogs or pushing strollers down the street, or walking dogs and pushing strollers, which is an impressive feat for a single person, especially if their dog happens to be a Great Pyrenees. Or I might pass by people out walking as I’m driving somewhere—always very slowly through my neighborhood because it seems to be a place where a lot of people like to walk which irritates me because I think I should be out walking too. It would be good for my health and also might give me some idea who some of my neighbors are.

At least I do know the people who live on one side of us. I saw the guy wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt one day and commented on it and we started talking and half an hour later my wife came out to make sure I hadn’t collapsed and died in the driveway.

The one time of year I at least see most of the neighbors is Halloween. For several years now a couple of people have organized a two-hour shutdown of the street so everyone can walk up and down without worrying someone’s going to drive through, even very slowly, which I always think is great. I’ve never taken the opportunity to walk much up and down the street myself, though, since I always put out a big bowl of candy and I stay by it to watch all the people who come by. And by the end of the evening I’ve given out handfuls of it because if they don’t take it I’ll eat it.

This year, though, I’m planning to take advantage of the opportunity to walk up the street and say hello to some people who have a really interesting yard. I plan to do it early, though I might risk missing them, but I don’t want to get there late when they’re giving out their candy in handfuls because if I take it I’ll eat it. If nothing else a stroll down the street will give me a chance to meet some of my neighbors.

And as always the last word on Halloween goes to Lou Reed.



It Came From Beneath The Sea.

Release the Kraken!

–Zeus, Clash Of The Titans

The creature superimposes itself upon you by a thousand mouths; the hydra incorporates itself with the man; the man amalgamates himself with the hydra. You form but one. This dream is upon you. The tiger can only devour you; the octopus, oh horror! breathes you in. It draws you to it, and into it, and bound, ensnared, powerless, you slowly feel yourself emptied into that frightful pond, which is the monster itself.

–Victor Hugo, Toilers Of The Sea

What a scene! Seized by the tentacle and glued to its suckers, the unfortunate man was swinging in the air at the mercy of this enormous appendage. He gasped, he choked, he yelled: “Help! Help!” These words, pronounced in French, left me deeply stunned! So I had a fellow countryman on board, perhaps several! I’ll hear his harrowing plea the rest of my life!

–Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Swallowing my disgust I reached under her slippery head and draped it over my arms. It was like picking up entrails. Carefully, carefully, I carried her outside and deposited her on the ground at the bottom of the porch steps. She had enough energy to carve a wicked gash in my arm with a talon before vanishing.

–William Sleator, Interstellar Pig

The Kraken stirs. And ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance.

–Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

–Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Kraken

Had a person attempted to taste me so soon after we met, I would have been alarmed; but since Athena was an octopus, I was thrilled. Although we couldn’t have been more different — I, a terrestrial vertebrate constrained by joints and bound to air; she, a marine mollusk with not a single bone, who breathed water — she was clearly as curious about me as I was about her.

–Sy Montgomery, The Soul Of An Octopus

Extra Vehicular.

I’d just picked up the mail and was walking back to the house when I heard the yelling. I looked and could see an oversized SUV—that may be redundant—with someone leaning out of one of the passenger side windows yelling. I thought maybe they were picking up someone but then they drove down a few more doors and the same person leaned out the window and yelled again. I couldn’t see who they were or make out what they were saying but they drove past my house and up over the hill, then I heard yelling again. Maybe they were looking for someone they knew but it seems like a weird way to do it.

Since it’s that time of year it reminded me that there’s a handful of horror films about possessed vehicles—only a handful because the idea is just goofy. Stephen King is responsible for two: Christine and Maximum Overdrive, neither of which are frightening. There’s The Car, and I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle. I’ve never understood how the idea of a demonically possessed vehicle is supposed to be scary. Once you get inside a building or even behind a solid wall you’re safe. Maybe the force that’s possessed the car can teleport it through solid matter, but if it’s that powerful why does it even need to be attached to the vehicle? And once the vehicle runs out of gas what’s the worst it could do? Play AM radio at you? Blind you with high-beams? Vehicles by themselves just aren’t scary. It’s who, or what, might be behind the wheel that is.

That reminded me of another incident from when I was a Boy Scout. At the time I was a patrol leader and I was walking a group of younger kids back to our campsite from a big gathering. It was always important to me that the new Scouts especially had fun. I’d seen so many drop out, some after just one or two meetings, or after their first camping trip, and I hated to see them go. I also felt more than a little responsible for them. I was, in most cases, three or four years older, but there’s a vast gulf between the years of eleven or twelve and sixteen, and at times I was the closest thing to an adult around. Not that I was always the best role model. Other patrol leaders would say, “Let’s learn how to tie a clove hitch,” but I’d say, “Let’s see who can stuff the most marshmallows in their mouth!” But the important thing was to have fun.

Anyway we were walking between the woods and an old country road when a car, an old, rusted Oldsmobile, drove by. Someone on the passenger side leaned out the window and yelled indistinguishable at us. We all stopped. The car was moving slowly and probably would have kept going if I hadn’t yelled, “Assholes!”

Like I said I wasn’t always the best role model.

The car screeched to a stop. And we all started running straight for the woods. There was a path through the woods but we weren’t close to it yet. We were taking our chances going straight into the trees. I should have stayed back to make sure the younger kids made it safely, since I was responsible for them and the trouble we were now in, but I only remember all of us running together. And a voice behind us: “Yeah, you’d better run!”

The people in the car must have decided we weren’t worth pursuing. When we finally stopped and looked back, the road still visible through the trees, the car was gone. We clambered through the trees to the path and back to our campsite where we sat down around the fire.

I was still pretty rattled, my heart thumping heavily, my lungs burning, but one of the kids just looked over me and grinned.

“That was fun!” he said.

Source: giphy