Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Five: Five Great Things About Today

Things get better, right? They always do.

They always do.

Here are five great things that happened today.

1. There was a "Bun" candy bar just sitting there in the cupboard after lunch. AND lunch was leftover burritos. AND I got to eat lunch with Sweetie because it was my day off, mostly (I worked for about 1 1/2 hours this morning but it was BY CHOICE).  Have you ever eaten a "BUN"? They are phenomenal. I tend to forget about them when it comes to candy. They're not even in the candy aisle.  At our grocery store, the BUN are on a weird shelf in between the candy and baby aisles, sort of by the produce.  You have to sort of plan on getting some apples but then at the last minute change your mind and think maybe you need paper towels instead, and then you'll pass by them.

2.  I finally beat that one level on Plants v. Zombies 2.  It's the one in the Old West where you only get 1500 suns and there are chickens and hopping miners or whatever. This probably makes no sense to you if you don't play the game but if you do you know exactly what I'm talking about.

3.  Someone added "CODES" on Goodreads. I'm up to FIVE people. TAKE THAT JK ROWLING.  It's a real groundswell.

4. I found my swimming trunks. Which had been missing for a week or two. I couldn't find them and couldn't find them and I asked Sweetie and she asked if I'd looked in my closet, and I said OF COURSE I had and pointed out that her asking me that was kind of like the time I called Dell to say that Mr Bunches' tablet wasn't working and the guy asked me if I'd plugged it in. Then later I checked in the closet and they were there, so I had to say I was sorry to Sweetie, but if I put my mind to it I can probably figure out some way to blame her for it.

5. Mr F and The Big Waterslide.  Today was the day of our annual trip to the Goodman pool, our end-of-summer big day with the boys; the pool is really big and has two large waterslides at it, so it's about the closest we can get them to a real waterpark.  I like to go to the Goodman pool, and I like it so much that I will only go once a year.  To go more often would be I think to rob it of the special quality that comes from only going one time per year, to celebrate having made it through another summer.

(Summers have the peculiar quality of being my favorite time of year and our worst time of year.  I have always loved summer.  I love it with a wistfulness that imbues just the very thought of summer with sepia tones.  In the winter I look at my pictures from the summer for hours, sometimes, thinking back to wading in the river with the boys, or walking on the nature trail, to hot nights outside with Mr F on his Big Wheel, just lazily sort of cruising in the street while a hummingbird pecks at the flowers down the way, to hose fights and walking to the health club pool and jumping off the pier at the Memorial Union and just to being able to walk outside without first putting on a layer of clothes and boots and coats and scarves and hats and even then you're freezing within seconds.

But summers have always been accompanied by the worst news.  If there is bad news to be had in my life, it will hit between June 1 and August 31, nearly always. 90% of the bad times in my life have come during the summer.  Summer is the bad girlfriend I can't break up with even though she's terrible for me.)

Today, after wading around with Mr F for a while, he wanted to go on the water slide.  He pulled me up to it, up the three flights of stairs to the top.  Not all at once: we walked up a flight, and then down. Then up, then down.  Then the next one. And so on. It took 20 minutes to get to the top, three flights up.  We leaned against the rail and watched the sliders go down.  There are two slides, the green one and the white one. The green one is open on the top, and you can see people sliding down in it.  The white one is a tube, closed all around.

I lined Mr F up for the white one; we have to be careful with him.  He is as likely to stop himself on the waterslide and try to climb out as he is to go all the way down, I figured, because I've seen him try to do that on regular slides that aren't 30 feet off the ground.

When we got to his turn for the slide, he wouldn't get into the little launching area, a sort of pad before the tube.  He put his foot on it, then pulled back and grabbed my hand.

I said "It's okay. You don't need to go." And we let a little girl go ahead of us, as the people behind watched the boy wearing a wetsuit gingerly stick his toe in the water while the girl slid gleefully into the dark opening.

We tried again.  This time he stood there, then bailed.  We let another kid go.  Then Mr F tried a third time.  He sat this time! Then stood back up immediately.

That was how it went for 20 minutes.  TWENTY. Standing there in the hot sun, people crowding up, watching as Mr F would sit in the slide launching area, then stick his feet out, then back out again.  We'd let a couple people go, then he'd try again.  Finally the lifeguard (who was being very nice) said the line was backing up too much.  Mr F tried a final time, sitting and getting himself almost all the way into the slide, before standing back up.

"It's okay, buddy. We tried," I said, and started leading him down the stairs. One flight down, he balked and turned around.  He marched back up and I had to stop him, stand him at the back of the line.  So we waited again, and got to the top, and he sat down, pushed forward inch by inch by inch and was nearly into the opening ... when he stood up.

I patted him on the head.  We let a couple kids go and did it again.  Then we moved to the back of the line again.

For the next hour, Sweetie waited at the bottom of the slide.  Mr Bunches kept coming up and riding down the two slides, alternating.  Mr F and I, we would wait in line, get to the top, have him sit down, and then wait... wait...wait, as he inched slowly forward, getting closer and closer each time to sliding until each time he backed out.

Mr F is nervous about slides.  He usually likes to climb up them first before sliding down them, almost as if he is inspecting them for safety.  But he couldn't do that here.  So back to the end of the line we went, and waited again.

People were starting to know him.  Little kids were coming up to us and asking if he was okay, whether he was going to go on the slide.  "He's trying," I said.  "He just gets nervous." Little girls told him "It's okay! I go on it all the time, it's fun."  One girl told him not to be scared.  The lifeguard said, each time, you can do it buddy!  People would watch as he sat, stood, sat, stood, sat again... and stood.

Each time, I hugged him and patted his head and said I was proud and it didn't matter if he went down.  We'd go to the back of the line and start over, almost completely dry by now.  Mr F watched the opening to the slide from wherever he was on the slide.

After nearly 90 minutes, we got to the top again.  Mr F sat down, again.  He edged forward.

"You can do it, buddy," I said.

"Go on, guy," a little girl said.

"You can do it," the lifeguard said.

Mr F edged forward a bit.

A bit more.

A bit more.

He looked back over his shoulder at me.

I had my hand right by him.  I said "You can go, if you want."

He edged forward the tiniest bit more.

I mean it would be just SO GREAT if I could tell you he went down the slide and loved it and was happy and had the greatest day.

But he didn't.

He stood up again, and grabbed my hand, and pulled back from the slide.  And it was time to go. We had to leave the pool and that was it for the day.  I took Mr F's hand and said:

"I'm proud of you, buddy.  You were really brave."

Sometimes, winning is just trying. Mr F kept on trying, If we hadn't made him leave, I think he'd still be there, hoping that this time would be the one that worked, and if it wasn't, getting in line and doing it again.

He keeps trying.  I know an 8-year-old boy who is my SON shouldn't probably be my hero but he is.

He always keeps trying.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Picture Of The Day

Last night I took Mr F outside with me to replant the peas and peppers we'd been growing in little pots on our driveway. The seeds were from the library; they let you 'borrow' seeds if you promise to bring seeds back in the fall, and we did that.

Our backyard is overgrown with all kinds of stuff planned and unplanned. Somewhere in there is a blueberry bush. There are two apple trees that haven't borne fruit yet but maybe that's because one was once bitten in half by our neighbor's dog.  There is a sort of path with a few bricks marking it; I mow that path once a year. There are large trees looming over the whole yard, thick untrimmed lilac bushes lining the yard, and the tree Sweetie and I moved to the middle of the yard when we first moved here because my dad said it was growing too close to the house and would undermine the foundation. It is very pretty when it flowers, that tree. It was not flowering now.

In the old wagon with flat tires that I've turned into a planter a pumpkin vine is growing. It keeps flowering with those soft, melty orange flowers that pumpkins are before they are pumpkins. There is, beyond that, an abundance of what would be weeds except that I don't mind them being there.  A weed is any plant you don't want growing where it is my mom said once.

We replanted the peas and peppers and went to get the hose. There was a big spider on the hose, so we uncoiled it carefully, me holding Mr F by the hand while I unraveled the hose.  Mr F is almost always held by the hand, outside.

We got the hose undone and Mr F turned it on and we tugged and looped and dragged it back to the new plants, past the chair and the little truck and the patch of orange-y flowers that somehow ended up growing in our backyard by pure chance, and then began watering, lightly, the new plants in their recently-patted down soil in our backyard.

After they'd had a bit of water, we stayed outside playing "hose," spraying each other with the hose and making it spray up so it felt like it was raining and giving each other "soakers," which is where you let the water run right on someone's head full blast, and shaking the hose around to make patterns in the air with droplets.

The sun wasn't setting yet but all the trees around us made it seem like it was.  You could only see a tiny bit of blue sky directly above us, and everything else was lit by soft light filtered through dark thick leaves that made the light zig and zag and zig again just to reach us.  By the time it hit me and Mr F and our water, it was soft and gauzy.

Just before we went in, Mr F took the hose and pressed his thumb to it and made the spray go out in an arc, like a wall of mist forming a giant circle of spray around and above and behind him, almost at head level.  It was like he had a halo of water droplets, all lit by the faintest last light of a summer day.

I didn't have my camera on me but that didn't stop it from being the picture of the day.

Monday, August 10, 2015

10 MInutes About "California" By Eden Lepucki

10 minutes that will start with mentioning again that I'm really putting off reading To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, which was a book I really thought sounded good, and which I like when I read it, but I find it not very compelling so I haven't really wanted to read it.  Is that weird? It probably is.  But it's probably also why the book was discounted to $2.99, which was the whole reason I bought it in the first place, which says a lot about books and discounting and readers and probably society.

So instead of reading To Rise Again this weekend, I was going to continue with Kurt Vonnegut, whose Welcome To The Monkey House contains very little science fiction, even for Kurt Vonnegut, whose science fiction has always been more fiction than science.  Most of the short stories are almost Cheever-esque, perhaps with a few more twists than Cheever put in.  In fact, Cheever's The Swimmer is Vonnegut-esque, so the two maybe have more in common than I would have thought at the start of that sentence.

In fact, Cheever had a story called The Enormous Radio, in which a woman's husband bought her an (enormous) radio that actually played conversations from other apartments in the building.  The wife becomes more and more obsessed with this, while the husband spends too much money trying to fix the problem, and that worries him. This slowly tears at the husband and wife, who were happy before (or seemed to be; it's not clear whether the radio makes them unhappy or merely exposes their unhappiness.

Vonnegut's collection includes a story called Next Door in which a boy, left home alone for the first time, hears a loud radio from next door, and then a couple fighting over the sound of the radio.  He gets more and more scared that the couple will hurt each other, so he calls the radio station and requests a song from the husband of the couple to the wife of the couple. This has disastrous and mildly surprising results.

So there's a more direct crossover between them, although saying that writers in the 40s-60s were connected because radios featured in their stories would be like saying writers today were connected because their characters used laptops, I suppose.

There is a husband and wife (how's that for a segue!) in California, too.  Two husbands and two wives, so far, and lots and lots of dread.  I began California because even Vonnegut's non-scifi stuff tends to be rather depressing, and I wanted something a bit different.  California was not really the thing to choose, then: it's also depressing, already, but in a slightly different way.

At the start of the book, Frida and her husband Cal have abandoned Los Angeles, which (along with all of society) appears to have fallen apart nearly completely, and are living in a shed in the woods, where they've been for three years.  They are trapping food (a bit) and growing food, and Frida has just discovered she's pregnant, which makes her remember when they met their neighbors a few years before -- 'neighbors' being a loose word for the distant acquaintances whose family of four also lives in the woods (and built the shed Frida and Cal are living in, and also who spied on Frida and Cal at awkward times -- and told Frida about it).

There's so much that's weirdly sad in the book, already. It's like a kaleidoscope, or maybe like looking at a brilliant, detailed miniature world that has fallen on the floor and shattered into barely-identifiable pieces.  Frida has a turkey baster, made of glass, wrapped up and hidden with her 'artifacts,' one she bought just before the two abandoned Los Angeles, and which she keeps hidden from Cal.  There's a traveling junk trader who gets tense when people ask him too many questions period.  There's the vague, unsettling talk of just how far society has gone down hill -- stores that only took gold, medicines being only for the rich, malls overtaken by trees (or possibly).  And it's all recent: Frida and Cal have been in the woods three years (having driven there and then driven their car as far away as the empty gas tank would let them, to lead people away from where they are living/hiding.)

I mentioned that I liked Footfall because it wasn't post-apocalyptic, but apocalyptic.  I like stories that take place during the fall of civilization.  A writer on IO9 recently suggested that we like postapocalyptic stories in part because of the possibility of relief they present: in a post-apocalyptic world, we might have to fight mutants or wander a desert or maybe get kidnapped by Charlize Theron or whatever, but we wouldn't have to watch our inbox fill up with emails and pay credit card bills and register for school and the like.  The idea is that there would be almost a sense of freedom to a postapocalyptic world.

I'm not idiot enough to think I'd do well in something like that; as I've often said, my own skillset would qualify me for 'monster bait' after the end of the world.  (In another Larry Niven book, a Senator helps set up a new society after the end of the world from a comet; he's picked because he knows the law and everyone respects him.  So maybe there's hope for me.)  And post-apocalypses make me sad because I think of how hard life would be. I have kids; I can't imagine raising kids in a wasteland glowing with nuclear fallout.

That's one of the things that is weird and depressing and scary already in California: Frida is pregnant, and their neighbors (?) have two kids.  When they first meet, the neighbor lady asks Frida whether she is going to get pregnant, and when Frida hesitates -- after all, the world is falling apart-- the neighbor says "You didn't come out here to die, did you?" I sympathized with Frida: you wouldn't want to feel like you are giving up, but would you bring a kid into a dead world? Or a dying one? I know that the world Frida and Cal are living in seems kind of like pioneer times, but I don't romanticize pioneer times any more than I do postapocalyptic worlds. I'd have hated the 1880s, too. I'd have disliked anything before about 1957, I suspect.

What's more interesting to me is the why of liking apocalyptic stories.  Following that IO9 writer's idea, I spent some time wondering about why I might find these stories enjoyable, if a bit depressing. Probably it's because I've got so much going on, especially over the last year or so.  If life is hectic, or hard, or challenging, it can be escapist to see how people deal with even harder troubles.  It's a lot worse, I suppose, to have elephants invade the Earth or have to flee the cities after some (as yet unknown) disaster than it is to try to fit into a new firm or have a jury trial or worry about whether I'm doing everything I can for Mr F or Mr Bunches.  So reading books like this may be a way of putting my own life into perspective.