Get a grip

I was on a regional bus service going to O’Hare airport around Thanksgiving. It was night and completely dark inside the bus rolling along the highway. The driver announced over the intercom that once we got to the airport, he was going straight to Terminal 3 since no passengers wanted Terminals 1 or 2. 

I wanted Terminal 2 and had told the driver before we got started, but apparently he forgot. I was sitting about ten rows behind the driver and got up to walk to the front and ask him to stop at Terminal 2. 

In the dark as the bus swayed and bumped along, I grabbed a seat’s headrest with my right hand to keep my balance. I moved forward and gripped another headrest with my left hand. The headrest had hair, unfortunately, and was actually a lady’s head. 

She must’ve felt my fingers clamp onto her scalp like a giant bony spider for a second and then I let go and apologized all over the place. She was about fifty, with white hair, matted down now, and she had a female friend in the seat next to her. They laughed and said no harm done.  

I told the driver to stop at Terminal 2 and then apologized again to the woman on the way back to my seat, and apologized a third time as I was the first and only passenger to leave the bus at Terminal 2, but oh that poor woman, sitting innocently as a stranger grabbed her head for balance, I’m so sorry. 

Men

My ancient dad just had major surgery and the surgeon was the classic personality type of his profession. My elderly mom and the doctor were standing over my dad’s bed and my mom pointed to my dad's low blood pressure numbers on a monitor and asked if it was a problem.  The doctor said, “I fail to see the relevance of that question.” End of conversation. 

The doctor put up side-by-side images on a screen, an x-ray and an MRI. My dad asked, “Which one is the MRI?” My mom said, “The one on the right,” based on her 30 years of seeing these things while volunteering in that hospital. The doctor snapped at Mom, “Are you a nurse?”

After the surgery was declared a success my mom said, “I’m so relieved!” and the surgeon snarled “Are you surprised?” The doctor’s webpage uses the word “compassionate” two times in describing him.


I watched Emperor of the North, an old movie with Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine about hoboes riding trains throughout the country in 1933. It had lots of action, grimy-faced men using hammers and axes as weapons, running along the tops of train cars in motion, and clinging to the bottom of train cars, inches from the tracks rushing by below. After the movie I had one last weekend chore and I vacuumed that apartment floor just like Lee Marvin would’ve, with a sneer. 

Young ones

Either someone is blowing soap bubbles outside my window or the neighbors are burping their baby way too hard. 

For the first time, I’ve been invited to a gender reveal party! Yikes, I thought. But it turns out to be for someone’s fetus.  

My friend’s son is starting second grade which is such a significant time — the year when I achieved my ultimate level of emotional maturity. 

Oh, Mom

My brother visited my parents at their house on a Sunday afternoon and when they started to run out of things to talk about, Mom suggested they go out and look at the flowers and plants around the house. They find some entertainment value in this, I guess. 

As always, Mom pointed out each plant and how they got it. This one came from Grandma, that one was from friends in North Carolina and it’s doing well, etc. They walked around to the south side of the house and my brother recognized a new one, a marijuana plant about a foot tall. Rather than speculate about what Mom and Dad were up to, he asked about it. Mom said it was from a bag labeled “Assorted Wildflower Seeds” that she bought from the local nursery. When Mom and Dad learned what it was, they yanked it out. 

Lucky for them, the neighbor who had full view of this specimen was 97 years old and didn’t report the thing. 

No transitions allowed

Should I take it personally when, right after I have an extended technical discussion with my boss, she notifies all staff of her upcoming vacation days?

S. looked up at me as if I were a phone. I’m not used to that kind of focused attention.

“Are you drunk? Get up!” An obese man had fallen on his face shortly after getting on the morning train and as I attempted to help him up, another man behind me did his part by commanding him to stand.  The fat man had a full head of grey messed-up hair and his face was red.  He couldn’t stand up and it appeared as if his legs had turned to jelly.  The train operator was summoned to our car at the next stop and she offered to call for an ambulance but the fat man refused help after he climbed onto a seat, huffing and puffing.  The fat man didn’t smell or act inebriated, so more than anything else I’ll remember that angry bystander who apparently brought some personal history to the situation by assuming the fat man was drunk. 

Reunion

I contacted Steve, a childhood friend, 42 years after last seeing or hearing from him. We had lunch. I found that my memories are sometimes accurate, sometimes not. Also, it turns out people can acquire all kinds of things in that span of time — in my case, an awareness of neuroses, in his case, a family with triplets in college.  

I had searched online and found him working in downtown Chicago like me. I postponed emailing him but decided that if he happened to move to Australia next year I would feel really stupid about not even saying hi. 

Why reach out to this kid I mean middle-aged man? Because for the five years we were in school together all I remember is lots of laughs. We were still able to laugh during our 2017 lunch, just about grownup stuff now. 

When Steve was a kid he had Clyde the dog and Oliver the cat. But in my memory he had only a cat named Clyde. Why did my brain delete a dog and give his name to the cat? 

I remembered more things about our grade school than he did. Privately afterwards, this led me to conclude that I peaked in sixth grade and it’s been downhill ever since. Maybe not totally true. Steve and I both found good work in the big city. But his life is larger and more complicated and therefore maybe it compressed or decreased his memories of our old school.  

As different as we’ve grown to be, we have a few simple things in common. Standing at different cashiers in the Corner Bakery, we both ordered the BLT. We’re both interested in architecture, we have cats in our homes, and wonder why some people need to share photos of their meals. 

In the end, I was grateful to reconnect with a kind spirit and he may have been relieved that I didn't try to recruit him into Amway or Scientology.

Request for correction

Dear Estate of Carl Sandburg,
I’m writing to correct a grievous error in one of Mr. Sandburg’s poems. In the one titled “Fog” the first line is “The fog comes in on little cat feet.” As you can guess, he must’ve meant to write “The cat comes in on little cat feet.” I imagine Mr. Sandburg was getting old or at least distracted by the time he wrote that one and he surely can be forgiven. I found lots of other mistakes but this one was the most obvious. To preserve his reputation I hope you’ll reissue a corrected edition of his work in a new anthology. 

Another library story

Between years at college I worked at the hometown library. One week I was assigned to the children’s room. It hadn’t changed much since I first walked in there as a six-year-old. 

I was shelving thin books with lots of pictures and behind the books on the bottom shelf I saw something crooked leaning against the wall. I felt for it and pulled it out. It was a digest-sized magazine of erotic letters. No pictures, just x-rated descriptions of sex. I hid it inside a book and smuggled it home. 

It was disappointing. I’m sure I read every page but I was too critical to get anything out of it. One item described a woman who was so aroused that her nipples stuck out “one and a quarter inches.” That couldn’t be right, I read it again. It was the same, 1.25 inches. That couldn’t be. It made me think of being at a diner at the cash register where there's a spike on the counter on which they stick the paid receipts. Weren’t there any fact checkers on the editorial board of this periodical, or was that only for the New Yorker?

The haiku limerick

The haiku limerick was not invented by Kiyoshi O’Malley but he certainly popularized the form. 

Snow sparkles under 
Black boots. Fresh whiteness, blue sky. 
My gosh I must say,
If I could walk that way, 
I never would need any talcum!

O’Malley exploited the haiku limerick’s (and the limerick haiku’s) conventions to convey the sense of dichotomy that he felt pervaded twentieth century society. 

There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
Petals on the pond. 

Kiyoshi wrote haiku limerick songs in an effort to further popularize the form but their inherent shifts of rhythm were probably the reason they failed to chart. 

Leafy branch gently
Sways before a mountain view
He said to the lass,
“I don’t mean to be crass,
But in France I’m known as a genius!”

Feral

Years ago, Marc Maron trapped four feral kittens and brought them into his apartment to save them from a life on the street. At least he knew enough to keep them out of the bedroom:
When I shut the door to my bedroom to go to sleep, they’d all emerge. From under my covers, it sounded like my house was being ransacked and robbed. I would let it go on because I wanted them to have fun. When I woke up and walked into the living room there were no cats but half the couch was ripped open and the stuffing was all over the floor, books were destroyed, the rug was partially unwoven, and the TV was on.
From Maron's book Attempting Normal.