Sunday, January 30, 2011

Steak and Kindness

Marriage has many, many benefits. There has been a definite upswing in my happiness factor. That joyous state has had an unintended consequence, which has been reflected in the numbers on the scale. So, as of January 3, I made a firm resolution to Do Something About This and for about a month now, I've been carefully tracking what I eat, what sort of exercise I'm getting (my right ankle remains a tender thing, so that part's been a bit disappointing), and so on. It's been going well - I still have miles to go before I sleep (to rip off Robert Frost) - but my birthday was a few days ago.

Oddly enough, FryDaddy and I share the same birthday (weird, I know), so we decided to have a celebratory dinner once he was home for the weekend. We decided to cook at home, rather than go out to a potentially crowded restaurant, then we decided on a simple menu and divided up the tasks - easy to do, FryDaddywould cook, I'd be "sous chef" and "pot walloper." (An aside - of course he was going to cook! FryDaddy comes from a family who takes cooking seriously. For my first Christmas with the family, I was given a copy of Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking because "every house needs the Bible." Further, FryDaddy doesn't brag about it, but in his pre-academic life, he trained under a chef of some renown. Early in our courtship, he came over to cook me dinner, toting a box of ingredients and yes, his own knives because as he told me gently, "Your knives are crap." And I actually like cleaning up. There's something Zen-like about it for me.) Anyway, off to the grocery with us!

I was amazed at the response of people when we explained that we wanted something special because it was our birthday. The salad and asparagus we picked out ourselves but we strolled right past the pre-wrapped meat to consult with the experts. The butcher took care to select two supremely excellent ribeyes for us (seriously - these babies were two inches thick, well-marbled for flavor and about 20 ounces each - steaks to celebrate with, indeed) and took pains to make sure we knew how to best cook them for full flavor and tenderness. The lady running the bakery took two mega cupcakes and frosted them thickly enough to make them appear to be the Cupcakes That Ate Toledo, even re-doing the petals on my frosted flower when she wasn't quite satisfied. These masterpieces of pastry were then gently packed into their own holder in a box for transport. (We made sure to sing the praises of these helpful folks to the manager before we left - everyone complains, few people compliment, and these people were as helpful as a brownie to us, whom they didn't know from Adam's housecat.)

We rolled out the grill (it was a mild day - finally!), dusted off the good china, put out flowers, lit a few candles and remembered just why this marriage idea was such a good one.

And it being us, we wrapped up the evening in the company of Mike and the 'bots watching a truly awful made-for-television movie starring Raul Julia (who really should have been ashamed of himself) called Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. The movie is very lightweight, not being encumbered with a coherent plot and the commentary from the Satellite of Love is rib-splitting.

It's gonna be a good year!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Slow Week

It's been a strange start to the spring semester. We had a snowstorm with a touch of ice come in right at the start of the semester and my little Southern town just isn't equipped. The plus side - the ice came late, so it didn't coat tree limbs, power lines, etc. and pull them down, causing massive power outages. (With the power on, snow events can be waited out much more comfortably!) The minus side - we lost the first three days of the semester as the snow froze into ice and attendance was low the rest of the week since the public schools continued to be closed and many students had child care issues.

Then this Thursday, the town experienced a massive power outage due, not to ice on power lines, but due to some quirk with an underground power line feeding a substation. My classroom is on the inner ring of one of our buildings, which means no windows. I got creative and both classes were at least able to finish their scheduled quiz, but we're even further behind right now.

On top of that, this past Monday was a holiday (and no, I'm not debating the value of observing MLK's birthday; this was just unfortunate timing this semester), so I have yet to meet with my Monday night class. Oh, and there's a threat of more "icy mix" moving in this week. So we're behind and, like Stella, I seem to have misplaced my groove, which I usually am in by the end of the second week of class.

So what's a girl to do?

Why, watch Bruce Campbell, of course! FryDaddy and I have joined Netflix to continue our "joint TV watching in separate cities" that began in the fall with our tearing through of the first 5 seasons of Supernatural and right now, My Name Is Bruce is awaiting our attention. In this film, residents of a small town being overrun by the undead mistake Campbell for his character Ash. Hilarity and the undead ensue. (Wonder if they think he still works at S-Mart?)

Add to that the fact that the graphic novelette Ash Saves Obama also rests on the coffee table just now and we're in for quite the Campbell weekend! The book, which I couldn't pass up, features Bruce Campbell's Ash discovering the dreaded Necronomicon at a comic-book convention (or, as the cover blurb puts it, the "Necrocomicon") at which the President of the United States is scheduled to appear. Hilarity and the undead ensue.

Sometimes you just have to appreciate the heightened level of absurdity in your daily life, don't you? Hmmm. Maybe I should add The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. to my queue . . .

Saturday, January 15, 2011

12 Minutes

Today, I was browsing the news with my usual amount of "tut-tutting" at how the world continues to rush toward hell without the benefit of a handbasket - an easy attitude to take following last week's events in Tucson - when I came across a story that jolted me out of my world-weariness. You can read about it here (and CNN picked it up here), but the essence is this:

A businessman is traveling when he receives word that his three-year-old grandson has been viciously attacked (that's a separate element of the story; I won't dwell on it here) and is due to be taken off life support and his organs donated - a generous decision that had to be heart-wrenching in itself. The grandfather is in LA; the grandson is in Denver. Immediately, the grandfather begins traveling to Denver to see his grandson before the boy is removed from life support. This is a journey that involves going from LA to (ironically) Tucson. The LAX airport is jam-packed and security is a nightmare, with no exceptions being made for a grief-stricken grandfather on a sorrowful mission. He gets through security and runs down the concourse, not even taking the time to put his shoes back on. He gets to the departure gate - late - to find the pilot waiting for him. The pilot expresses his condolences and says to the grandfather, "They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I'm so sorry."

The plane takes off twelve minutes late.

Now, twelve minutes might not sound like much, but in the airline world - it's eternity. Airlines completely turn planes around in twenty minutes - it's both art and science. Airlines simply cannot (and do not) hold flights. That's why they tell you to get to the airport two hours early (the grandfather in the story had gotten there two hours early, by the way - LAX was just crammed). Were other passengers probably wondering why they were still on the tarmac? Sure. One or two of them might even have been Grinchy enough to grumble about it. The airline higher-ups might be startled at the pilot's decision, but probably not. The airline in question is Southwest and the official line is that they completely support the pilot's actions in this case. Southwest has quite a good reputation in the area of customer service, much like Piedmont did back in the day, which my daddy flew for.

Think about it. Twelve minutes. Twelve minutes that meant everything to that grandfather, because things were so wildly out of his control. He's in the middle of the worst day of his life and no one seems to care. Then someone tosses the rule book and said, "Nuts to that. This person needs help and I can give it." And - maybe only for a minute, but there was that minute - a crazy, cruel world got just a little saner and kinder for someone in pain. That person knew that his pain mattered to someone else - "They can't go anywhere without me and I wasn't going anywhere without you."

I'm going to try hard to remember that. School's started back and students are always flummoxed at the beginning. I'm going to try to remember that the extra minute or two (or even twelve) that I can give somebody might really, really matter.

And all it'll cost me is time.

Golden Rule, people. There are worse ways - many worse ways - of living one's life.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Life Lessons Learned from a Movie

Ring in the New Year, Readers Mine!

OK, so that's a few days late. It doesn't matter, not really. Kindly permit me to tell you why.

Some years, you see, I make resolutions for the new year and some years I don't. This year, I made several, but they all can be boiled down to one central concept - with everything (and I mean everything) I do, I plan to first ask myself, "Self, how can I enjoy this more?" I hope asking myself this question will remind me of where I am and what I'm doing there. Of course, the new year is currently still in single digits, so I don't have much evidence to report just yet, but I can say that asking this question does have the tendency to stop me in my tracks and re-direct my thinking. After all, we only get one shot at this life and I don't want to waste it away by not even realizing why I'm doing what I'm doing. At the end of it all, I would greatly prefer to have a long list of regrets from things I actually did as opposed to things I missed because I was too busy.

Therefore, when I had the chance on Thursday to go to a restored movie theatre here in town to see the Jimmy Stewart classic Harvey with some friends, I went. The syllabi for next week could wait. And hey, only three bucks a ticket!

Wow. I'd forgotten what a sweet, charming and downright wise film this is. Rent it - you can learn a lot from a tall, invisible rabbit. (I hear he believed in the message of the film so much that he agreed to sacrifice his usual fee and only work for scale.)

Among the gems in this film: a shrink is trying desperately to get to the root of Elwood P. Dowd's delusions about Harvey. Surely Elwood has just made up this creature and taken the name from someone he knew at some earlier point of his life. Elwood will not be swayed.

"Didn't you know somebody, sometime, someplace by the name of Harvey? Didn't you ever know anybody by that name?"
"No. No, not one, Doctor. Maybe that's why I always had such hopes for it."

That's after this: "Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."

Elwood drinks a bit, but he's pleasant and puts on no airs, despite being quite wealthy. The patrons at his local don't mind Harvey all that much (when asked if Elwood is alone, the bartender replies, "Well, there's two schools of thought, sir."). Elwood realizes that life has some very sharp edges that people tend to get snagged on and he sees his nightly bar conversations as a form of what we today might call therapy:

"Harvey and I sit in the bars, have a drink or two, play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. . . . And they come over and they sit with us and they drink with us, and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us. "

Since only Elwood can see Harvey, Elwood is thought to be a nutter. His very respectable sister wants him locked away in a sanitarium, away from respectable people. A doctor suggests that he can cure Elwood with an injection that will remove the delusion. While the sister at first approves of this treatment, a cab driver sets her straight:

"I've been driving this route for 15 years. I've brought 'em out here to get that stuff, and I've drove 'em home after they had it. It changes them. On the way out here, they sit back and enjoy the ride. They talk to me; sometimes we stop and watch the sunsets, and look at the birds flyin'. Sometimes we stop and watch the birds when there ain't no birds. And look at the sunsets when its raining. We have a swell time. And I always get a big tip. But afterwards, oh oh . . . They crab, crab, crab. They yell at me. 'Watch the lights. Watch the brakes, Watch the intersections.' They scream at me to hurry. They got no faith in me, or my buggy. Yet, it's the same cab, the same driver, and we're going back over the very same road. It's no fun. And no tips. After this he'll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!"

Elwood's sister doesn't want to lose her gentle brother and if the only way she can have him is to accept Harvey, well . . . there's your happy ending, folks. Elwood's figured out that, while life will always be hard, we don't have to be so nasty to one another about our trials. As he puts it, in that inimitable Stewart drawl, "Years ago my mother used to say to me . . . 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me."

"Normal" is a big tent. I joked with FryDaddy that Harvey could never be set in the American South, for we like our eccentricities too much. We'd never lock someone up for having a tall, invisible rabbit for a companion - we'd probably set an extra place at the supper table for him.

Yet we do get caught up in "normal."

Bad habit. Lesson learned from a rabbit.

(Hey, that rhymes!)