Friday, October 25, 2013

Nothing More I Can Do: Chapter Two of Watching And Thinking About Blueberries

Last week, as Rick went outside to grab the mail and a package off of our front porch, I looked again across the street at another front porch.  The rug on it was folded over, and I could see the FedEx envelope still lying against the front door.  It had been there for four days.

"Rick, it's still there.  I don't get it.  Why hasn't Sue Ellen gotten it?  She's all over everything else over there. She's out on her porch every day.  How can she not see it?  She knows the son.  Why doesn't she at least take it in?"

"I don't know, Nance.  The yard guys should be over there soon.  Look at the bushes.  Maybe they'll see it and call.  Or give it to Sue Ellen."

"But, Rick!  I hate this.  I hate... the whole thing."

My husband looked at me with an all-too-familiar mix of sympathy and amusement.  "I know you do.  But there's nothing we can do.  There's just nothing."

It was always the same when we talked about Tish, our absent across-the-street neighbor.  Frustration, anger, sorrow, and a little fear wrested any real control from me.  I had no intellectual or rational reserves to bring to the discussion; all I had was raw emotion.  I barely knew her.  I never even called her by her first name!  And it's least two, maybe three years since I last saw her.

You met her in 2009 when I wrote this post.  Tish had left her home, but kept driving over for long visits inside.  I wondered what she did in there.  Did she look at old photos of her and Barrington in their youth?  Did she make a light meal in her kitchen, which looked out over her green yard with its clutches of daylilies?  Or, did she perhaps simply lie in the bed they once shared for decades and take a nap, holding his robe or maybe one of his fine, tailored shirts?  I never, ever knew.

Part of the mystery was solved one day when Rick and I saw her at the drugstore.  We were so stunned that we almost didn't say hello.  I found myself so overcome that I could barely speak.  We greeted her warmly and told her we missed her living in our neighborhood very much.

"Oh, aren't you lovely for saying so!"  Tish said, smiling.  "Well, you know I'm out at Wells Glen now.  Yes, it's so nice!  I still have my car, of course, so a lot of the others who don't, often ask me to pick up a few things for them when they hear I'm going out. Now I don't want you to worry.  I won't be selling the house. Not until I die!"

We said something appropriate, and then Tish said she had to run.  People at Wells Glen were expecting their things, so she had to get going.  We exchanged warm goodbyes, and we went our separate ways.

Several mysteries were solved in that one chance meeting about two years ago.  Tish was fine and still driving.  She was living in one of the local elder communities which offered varied levels of assistance, from small cottages for independent living to Alzheimer units with full hospital staffing.  And her house would remain her house until the day she died.  Perhaps it was just too big for her with too many steps.  Many of the homes in our neighborhood are colonials with laundry facilities in the basement and bathrooms upstairs.

It wasn't long after that when I noticed that Tish's big silver Buick no longer came to her home.  Many months later, her son paid a few visits to the house.  Sue Ellen next door hurried over each time.  The conversations were brief.  On one visit, he took from his car a roll of silver duct tape.  Quickly, he taped Tish's mailbox shut.

One morning about six weeks ago, I called Rick at work.  I felt stupid for doing it, but if I didn't tell someone, I felt as if I couldn't breathe anymore.  He picked up right away, of course.  "Rick, I'm sorry to call you at work, and I feel ridiculous for doing it.  But a moving van just pulled up into Tish's driveway.  Oh, Rick.  It's a moving van."

There was nothing I could do.  There was just nothing.  Nothing except refuse to watch a funereal and gauche public procession of all of Tish and Barrington Cash's worldly goods go out the front door of their house.  I went out to the kitchen, swept and mopped the floor, and then moved on to do other things in the back of the house, crying a little and trying to understand exactly why.

Was I crying because I remembered what Tish said about when she'd sell her house?  Was I crying because I was angry?  Was I crying out of frustration?  And if it was that, was I frustrated because I had no answers, or was it because I couldn't do anything?  I just didn't know, and it made me feel worse.

Rick and I kept a sort of awful vigil, looking for her obituary.  Tish was a prominent lady; it would be in the town paper as well as probably the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  We would want to send something.  It never appeared.  And now, this FedEx envelope.  But there was nothing I could do.

Until the one morning I backed out of my driveway and up into Tish's.  Calm and resolute, I got out of my car and walked up onto her porch.  I took the FedEx envelope, which was addressed to her and marked URGENT, and got back into my car.  Within a few minutes I was at Wells Glen.

The complex is quite large, and it looks like a nice hotel.  I found the main entrance, parked, and sat for a moment in order to compose myself for what I was likely to hear.  When I felt calm, I walked in through the front doors.

The woman at the front desk saw me approaching and smiled kindly.  "May I help you?" she asked.

"Yes.  Tish Cash used to live across the street from me.  This FedEx envelope was left on her doorstep several days ago--"

Here, the woman interrupted me.  "Awww," she said, in the way that someone says it  right before they say the words that's too bad.  "I'll see that her son gets it."

I was quite taken aback.  What did that mean?  "Thank you very much," I said.  The woman looked at me pityingly.  She put the envelope on her desk and looked back at me, clearly considering the matter ended.  "I'm sorry," I said, "but, Tish...she is still a resident here, isn't she?"

The woman looked at the nurse next to her, then back at me.  Her face dissolved again into the same sorrow-tinged, pitying look.  "Yes," she said quietly, "she's still here."

I nodded and walked back out to my car.  There was nothing else I could do.


Sunday, October 13, 2013


I was going to make a (lame) joke about the Dept. of Nance being closed as part of the Government Shutdown as a way of explaining this gap between postings, but the longer this crap has dragged on, the more my outrage has grown.  I'm always unreasonably  incredibly outraged by republicans in general, as you know, but this time, I am so angry and so incredulous that I find myself unable to write about anything else until I get this out and sorted.

If there were more time, each and every one of these idiot House members should be forced to go to their district, rent at their own expense a commodious enough hall, and have an open meeting with constituents who can grill them with Reality Questions, such as, "Do you know how much a pound of hamburger costs here?" and "Do you know how much it costs to fill up the average family car with gasoline?" and "What the goddam hell is it that I am paying you to do in Washington and why in the holy hell are you doing something else?" and "What are you, a big fucking idiot?"  And that moron should have to stand--oh, yes, by heaven--STAND there and answer every single question, no matter if he/she is there until noon the next day.  Or the next.

But, of course, there is no time.  Because we are Governing By Panic Button.  And, by "We", of course I mean the republicans.  Please do not sprinkle rose petals on my path and Pollyanna at me by saying, "Oh, now.  It's both parties' fault.  Everyone is to blame.  Both sides need to come together and yadda yadda blah blah blah."  If you do that, be prepared for me to smack the everloving shit right out of you.  Because you are also a big idiot.  It is not both parties' fault.  Do the Democrats want to go back in time like a science fiction character and change a four-year-old law that has already been declared constitutionally sound by The United States Supreme Court?  That's really the only example that is germane here.  Which party is known as The Party Of No?  Which party touted itself as having an agenda as Jobs Jobs Jobs, yet held more than thirty-five meaningless votes--that they knew would go nowhere--to abolish the Affordable Care Act?  Where are the Jobs Jobs Jobs?

Some people with Jobs Jobs Jobs lost them because of the Sequester, brought to you, ultimately, by the republicans, who are happy because it contains their favorite thing, spending cuts.  It was another game of chicken before another debt ceiling fight, and they begrudgingly cut defense spending as long as a bunch of other cuts were made.  Oh well, they said.  At least we tightened America's Belt.

Now, thanks to the republicans and their inbred cousins, the teapartiers, we are in the kind of position that makes me aghast and ashamed.  It's the same way I felt when I watched with ever-increasing horror the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Every moment of news coverage, every day, I stared at footage and reports with wide eyes and gaping mouth.  I kept repeating the same questions over and over again, "How is this my country?  How is this happening in America?"

I'm saying the same thing now.  It was with complete and utter disbelief that I listened to the report that America, The United States of America, had to accept charity in order to pay the death benefits to the surviving families of fallen troops.  And then the reporter said, "This will ease the pressure on both sides, giving them a little more time to work towards an agreement now that this has been taken care of."  Ease the pressure?  I would think it would increase the pressure, knowing that this country cannot even take care of the people who "gave the last full measure of devotion" in service to their country.  It's appalling. The United States of America goes begging like a street urchin.

What on earth has happened to my country?  Who are these people sitting in Washington D.C.?  Have they no conscience?  Have they no loyalty to anything but themselves and their screwed-up ideologies?  Have they no responsibility to those of us who live here and work here and care about what it means to be an American? Have they no sense of history?  No love of this country and the men and women who have fought and still fight for it? 

I think all of them--but most especially the republicans--need to read something.  It's something that will remind them why they are there.  It's not to advance their own stature or to get a plum committee assignment so that they can puff up their resumes to run for something else.  It's not to advance their personal biases and prejudices to a national platform.  And it's not to create chaos and headlines to stroke their ego.  It's about how government and democracy are hard-won.  It reminds them that people other than them do the dirty work of freedom.  It reminds them that democracy is somehow always fledgling, and it needs care to grow and flourish.  It won't take long;  it's less than 275 words.  Send it to your representative and remind him/her that it's your America, too.  Go, read.


Tuesday, October 01, 2013


A few days ago Rick and I had occasion to drive by what used to be the site of a high
school in my hometown. Now it's just piles of dirt.  It wasn't my high school, but my sister Patti's.   She made lifelong friends there, had a lot of fun, and it was a big part of her life.  She's sad, noting that now, all three of the schools she attended have been razed.  No more Palm Avenue Elementary, no more Whittier Junior High, and now, no more Admiral King.

I went to Whittier and Palm Avenue, too, but by the time my brother and I were ready for high school, the city decided we South Side Kids deserved our own high school. Yet, if that school was knocked down tomorrow, I wouldn't think twice about it.  I had a great high school experience there, but to me, it's just a building.  It means nothing to me.  What I remember when I think of high school are the people, and when I do remember them, in many cases I miss them.

Esther was one of my more unusual friends, and not because she was Puerto Rican.  Where I lived, if you didn't have Puerto Rican and Mexican friends, then you simply didn't have very many friends.  Esther's mom spoke very little English, and her dad's English wasn't very good.  Esther had a motorcycle, and she used to ride it over to my house, nine blocks away, to hang out.  It took a ton of begging for me to be able to ride on the back, behind Esther, just to go back to her house. 

Over at Esther's house, I got treated like a celebrity.  Apparently, at one point my father, who was a security guard at US Steel, did her father a favor when he was coming in or leaving by the gate Dad was stationed at.  My dad's badge had only his last name, and Esther's dad unfailingly called me by my last name whenever I was there.  I'd come in and say, "Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Rivera.  Nice to see you!"  Their faces would light up, and a double-barreled barrage of Spanish would follow, interspersed with my last name and "Esther!" in varying degrees of intensity.  A whole menu of dishes and drinks would be translated and offered to me via Esther, her eyes rolling, and I would usually smile and refuse gently. Once in a while, something too good to say no to would appear, and when I'd accept, Mr. and Mrs. Rivera would be thrilled.

Esther's mom had a pet mynah bird named Jose who spoke English and Spanish, but his best trick was impersonating an airplane taking off. It was uncannily accurate.  Mr. Rivera had a pet rooster who was downright vicious.  Until the neighborhood kids got wise, Mr. Rivera used to put a heavy string around the chicken's ankle and then sit on the front step.  He'd call out to passing kids, asking them if they wanted to come and see his rooster.  As soon as the kid would come up the front walk, he'd let the slack out, and this Tasmanian Devil of a chicken would go tearing down the path wildly, squawking and flapping.  Those were the best Sundays of his life, I think.

We'd spend hours sitting on the Rivera garage roof when the cherries on her three trees were ripe.  She'd yell down to her baby brother to hand up her guitar sometimes, and we'd eat cherries, spit the stones at the robins, and then she'd play (and sing) the only two songs she knew on her guitar, Something Stupid and Spanish Eyes.  At one point, I think she started working on getting Strangers in the Night, but I don't remember exactly.  I do remember her mother being really upset about the whole garage roof/cherries thing.  She was sure that I would either fall or get sick.  She didn't seem too worried about Esther.

Senior year, one of the best-looking boys in school started paying a lot of attention to Esther.  A bunch of us were, unfortunately, surprised.  We always knew her as a tomboyish, quirky, brainy friend.  If we had paid any attention at all, we'd have seen what he had been seeing:  cute figure (stacked even), big dark eyes, long eyelashes, great smile, smart, effortless confidence and fun.  They started going together, but it didn't change a thing.  She was still just herself. 

Esther once made a Time Capsule during a slumber party.  Our friend Patty ended up with it.  I talked to her a few years ago and she mentioned it.  I think it was in a Tic Tacs container, or maybe even a Sucrets tin.  I don't remember.  Does it matter? 

I doubt it.  But again, I don't care about the container.  We had lots of slumber parties, each one more fun than the last.  And I have the memories of them still, even though Esther, Patty, Lana, and I have all moved away from our hometown and each other, and whether they knock down our school or not.

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