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Loose Fittings

May 31, 2017 • By

Four days of spring rain. I spent them writing. About serious things. My binge started in a place of self-acceptance. That lasted two hours. I tapped on the keys and got sad and sadder. I took breaks, but chose the wrong distraction, MSNBC. I sulked after day one and whined all day two. Day three I yipped sarcasm at my computer monitor and every car that drove past the house. Day four I exhaled obscenities.

This morning was cloudy, cool, and breezy, but no rain. Time to get outside.

First on my list, wash our 2002 Toyota Camry, white. And no (Child #1), it does not have a backup camera. This vehicle was part of the family. I dug out the fancy golden car wash liquid from the back shelf. Household dish soap was not good enough for this dependable beauty.

Bucket, soap, brush, and mitt collected, I turned the spigot. And noticed the leak puddling on the blacktop. I suspected a loose reel-to-rubber-connection was the cause. If I unwound the hose completely, I could press out any kink, rewind the hose and voilà, no more leak.

Water off.

Someone (husband) neglected to tell me the hose reel, looking tidy as ever inside a gray poly plastic cube, did not unwind easily. Or at all. Assuming a squat, my right hand pushed the handle counterclockwise while my left grabbed the next two-foot section of hose and tugged. Did I mention the bone spurs in my right shoulder?

The hose snaked in misshaped figure eights in front of the dirty car. I got a pair of pliers and a small hand towel. I protected the two-inch section of kinked hose with the towel and gently pressed it round with the pliers. I was no novice at DIY projects. I had YouTube.

Tools back in their box, I returned to my squat and reversed the process. My left arm straightened the hose while the right pressed the handle forward. Every few seconds I hit a rhythm. In between I re-positioned the hose on the reel to wind a perfect balance of coils left to right leaving enough hose out to fill the bucket and rinse the car.

Spigot back on. So was the leak.

Fuck it. I had done the best job possible. Obviously the reel, the hose, and the fittings were junk.

The rain held off. The car got washed.

Before abandoning the hose, I decided to water the flower pots on either side of our bricked front porch. A trusty blue plastic watering can was close by and ready to fill.

The perpetual leak had produced an puddled ecosystem that could sustain a brood of fuzzball ducklings. I picked up my pace to conserve water. Filled to the top, I hauled the can fifteen feet, tipped it gently and watched water dribble down the side off the bottom and onto the porch. Some sprinkled out the dotted holes on end of the spout, but more washed the bricks.

I poured, and daydreamed. The clear water trickling on burgundy and chartreuse petals began to look like gin. Not good, it was 11:30. Spigot closed.

I decided to mow. I combed a patch of grass with my fingers, and wiped them dry on my jeans.

Our house was built on a hill. That was great on flash flood days; our sump pump never kicked on. Not-so-great on mowing days. But I was grateful to Agile Systems Inc. for the self-propelled lawn mower (I am an analytic, of course I looked this up). We bought our bright green deluxe self-mulching model twenty-one years ago. Another member of the family.

I rolled the dependable green monster to the center of the garage and checked for gas. It was low. The faded red galvanized steel gas can got a makeover last fall with a new spout. It looked brand new. I bent the flexible arm and tipped the can toward the opening. Fuel flowed slowly into the tank and down the spout onto the chassis. Shitfulness. Too late to stop my pour. Tank filled, I snapped a blue cloth off the roll and wiped the metal to a green shine relieved not one drop had hit the pristine garage floor, chip sealed years back (thanks Child #2 for the high school graduation project).

The grass was long, and (okay) damp. I left the wheels at their highest setting. Thirteen ritual presses on the plastic priming bulb later, I heaved the pull cord with that right arm jutting back into that right shoulder. If I exerted full-out effort it would start the first time. It did. Perfect passes in a deliberate diagonal pattern were narrow, but fewer lines of  dried clippings would be visible so the extra trips across and back were worth it. I turned the wheels downhill.

Fourteen mature oak trees punctuated our backyard. I adored them in June, abhorred them in October. Their shade was luscious to people, not so much to grass.  It was a full-time job to reassure every blade it got enough sunlight to grow and should spread that message of vigor to the root system. One pass across the lot and I saw no evidence I had been there. Time to lower the wheels.

Engine off I adjusted all four tires. Left hand tight on the handle I hinted the mower forward and heaved the cord with my right. No go. My gratitude to the engineer gods of four-stroke combustion motors had been premature. On the level I started this baby with one pull, one shoulder pang. On grass (its natural habitat), the machine revolted.

Two more yanks and I suspected I had flooded the damn contraption.

The fourth yank would be my last. And required profanity. I dug my heels in for leverage, leaned back, and wrenched my right shoulder part way out of its socket, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, save us!(not my exact words). Putter, putter, success. I tipped the mower onto its rear wheels until it puffed at full throttle. I mowed in haphazard passes; up-and-down, around-and-around the trees. Then parked the machine inside the garage.

Damp clippings perfumed the air. I was high on nature. The flowers up on the deck awaited my attention. Underneath, I unwound the hose from the wall mounted reel with ease. Gratitude. I pulled out the length of hose needed for the job and paused to admire the collection of thriving hostas, ferns, and a couple hundred weeds flourishing in the shade.

I smiled. It was spring after all. The cool air made me regret my short sleeves but the sun looked as if it might push through the clouds. I turned the spigot counterclockwise. Then watched the streamlet hug the wall and disappear into the mulch at the base of the foundation.

And wondered when leaks had become a permanent part of my family.

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Card Catalog Crush

May 11, 2017 • By

Profound discoveries happen behind the wheel of a car and when my mouth is foaming with paste meant for sensitive older teeth.

“I may have a problem.” A meek morning confession began at our common sink.

A problem?” My husband spit.

“Okay, I may have a problem to add to my list.”

“This one?” His gargled monotone was mildly irritating, but he’s had me around nearly forty years.

“I may have an unnatural infatuation with libraries.”

One more spit, a grunt, and he left for work.

I often wondered if there was such a thing as a library craving and if that could ever go too far. There might even be a label for the affliction. Perhaps I harbored latent longings to be a librarian. I didn’t think so, although I had been asked at Border’s several times, “Can you tell me where the biographies are?” Of course I could and accepted the question as a compliment. My husband said it had something to do with the way I dressed.

Teaching undergraduates on several campuses for thirty-one years may have pushed my affection for libraries to the level of problem. What tipped me off?

The final, final exam was proctored early today. Grading began soon after the first was dropped on my desk. Most of the past two days had been spent grading other exams. The rubric was fresh in my mind. An assortment of colored pens ready, I dug in.

Seven hours and twenty minutes later scores were recorded, grades computed on a spreadsheet. Semester over. I was done.

Done.

Done.

I clicked grades off to the Registrar’s office and inhaled the freshest air in four months. Freedom. Weeks and weeks of blank pages on my calendar. And I had a plan: get to the library and stockpile books. After all, I did have one faculty perk: NO DUE DATES.

Lips lifted to a satisfied smile. I ambled past the faculty room. A couple of colleagues leaned on file cabinets sucking down leftover donuts from their morning exam snackfests. I had forgotten to stop and pick up a positive student evaluation bribe—again. My mind was focused on the book wish list I penned before sunrise.

Every corner of the library was occupied. The final crunch of the last munch of information was being shoved into young minds. A few students had taken up semi-permanent residency on the corner couches barricaded by Monster drink cans and chips that could last the week. I weaved my way through computer clusters with eyes straight ahead to avoid casting unmerited looks of sympathy. Some coeds were no doubt visiting for the first time since the early February thaw.

My feet echoed up the familiar flight of steps to the door labeled ‘Quiet Floor’ where one could sleep undisturbed. I paced my quest and pulled the wish list from my worn tote, now light and roomy. Amazing how much weight dozens of ungraded words organized into essays added to paper, to my life.

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Mirror Mirror in the Classroom

April 6, 2017 • By

I teach sociology. Remember that class freshman year? That 8:00 guaranteed-to-get-you-up-in-the-morning class? The one you only showed up for on exam days? That’s the one.

Lecture topic today, self-concept. Self-concept consists of the words I use to describe, well, me. Example, most evenings when I turn the lights out, I decide I am a pretty good person, honest, try hard, and appreciate most of what happened in my day. This self talk has not changed much over the years.

I introduced my eleven o’clock class to Charles H. Cooley. He wrote a lot about how we acquire a sense of who we are, our self-concept.  He agreed with his contemporaries that separating us from the rest of the animal kingdom is the fact that we can act toward ourselves the same way we act toward others.  I learned this in my early twenties. Easy to memorize at exam time, but the reality of what that fact implied came years later. Cooley meant that each of us has the real potential to speak only words of positive self-praise, support, encouragement, and love to ourselves. This revelation was followed by a monumental blow to my own self-concept. If I was such a pretty good person, why did I spend hours every week talking to myself in less than supportive, encouraging, loving, or even friendly ways?

Cooley offered clarity. Using the analogy of a mirror, he outlined the ‘Looking-Glass Self.’ The premise is straightforward: we develop our self-concept by seeing ourselves as others do. A simple three step process is involved and most of the time we are unaware it is happening.I listed the steps on the board to personalize the process for every student.

  • I imagine how I appear to others,
  • I imagine how others judge my appearance,
  • I develop feelings about myself based on those perceived judgments.

Class discussion followed. I posed questions and solicited opinions with examples to support their responses.  Is this an objective or subjective process? Could a stranger make you feel badly toward yourself? Can you change your concept of self, depending on where you are, or who you are with throughout the day?

When the volume in the room softened, I noticed several minutes remained before class ended.  A novel question entered my mind and exited my mouth.

“If you agree we use this process to form a self-concept, and that some people use those around them as their social mirror more than others, can you tell me why I do not use you as my social mirror?”

Silent stares. A couple hands raised high.