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  1. Squirrels in the Doohickey

    March 12, 2017 by Diane

    A subscriber to this blog encouraged her fellow bloggers to repost the first piece they ever posted. (Yeah, you, Sarah Brentyn.) So without further ado, here is my first ever post, from way back in April of 2013. And for those of you who’ve followed this blog since its inception, you deserve a medal. (Yeah, you, auntie Joan.)

    old-fashioned-tv

    It all started with the radio.

    We were doing fine, dwelling in the same living space, enjoying the same music. A little country, a little classical, a whole lot of evening jazz. We were relaxing to Beethoven and cooling off to Chris Botti and singing along with Blake Shelton and then, when I wandered over to the Big Band station, the radio turned itself off. A little Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman….click. Every time.

    The TV got wind of this. The TV decided to do its own brand of censoring.

    When I first hooked up the television I had a smorgasbord of stations. I was hooked. It saw that I was hooked. It knew that I could be spending my time on more productive endeavors, like rewriting my novel. So it started eliminating the stations one by one until I was left with one station.

    One station that aired the original Star Trek series and the old Dick Van Dyke show.

    Night after night I watched Bones and Spock and Kirk “…boldly go where no man has gone before,” and then I watched Dick come home from the office in his suit and tie, tumble over the hassock and get the wind knocked out of him.

    I checked the connections.

    I jiggled the cord.

    I called the people who are dedicated to fixing these problems, and a man wearing a hard hat drove up in a white van.

    He strapped on his tool belt.

    He clanked through the neighbors’ back yard.

    He clattered up the telephone pole.

    Twenty minutes later he was unstrapping his tool belt, flinging it into the back of the van and telling me I’ve got squirrels in the doohickey.

    “They’re building condos up there,” he said. “Sharpening their teeth on the wires. AT and T will want to replace all those wires running to the house. You can spring this on your landlady now,” he said, “or wait.”

    I opted to wait.

    Because I knew, I knew it had nothing to do with the wires; it had to do with the fact that my radio and TV were in cahoots. They were trying to control me.

    Okay…this is dysfunctional thinking. This is the kind of logic Bones might manufacture. Luckily, I had a Spock-like rational self who pointed out that the sensible thing to do was replace the radio and deal with the faulty wiring. Luckier still, I had a wise self, a Zen-like Captain Kirk, who suggested that the radio and TV were doing me a favor. They were telling me to spend less time tuning into them, and more time tuning into myself.

    So I did the mindful thing.

    I turned off the television.

    I pulled out the meditation bench.

    I settled down and straightened up and focused on my breathing and two minutes later I was channel-surfing in my head, my thoughts scampering around like squirrels in a doohickey, and I found myself wondering, what’s next? Will the blender regurgitate my breakfast smoothie? Will the vacuum cleaner suck up my faux fur slippers?

    It could happen.


  2. The Day I Said Yes to Everything

    March 5, 2017 by Diane

    Saturday morning started like any other; the radio popped on to classical music, forty-five minutes later I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, meditated, ate my breakfast bowl of oats and granola and ground flax seeds and sliced bananas and strawberries topped with oat milk…

    I won’t bore you with the details.

    The only difference between this Saturday and any other is that I pledged to say “yes” to everything.

    Everything?

    Everything.

    While preparing lunch in the kitchen…

    “The outside lamp isn’t working,” my landlady said, suddenly appearing at the end of the counter. “It might be the timer. I think it needs to be reset. Would you—?”

    “Yes! Right now!” I put down the knife.

    “Maybe I could stand over your shoulder and read the instructions out loud.”

    “Yes! Fantastic idea!”

    “I need my glasses.”

    “Yes!”

    “And a flashlight.”

    “Yes! Take your time. I’ll wait!”

    While eating lunch…

    I turned on the television. Two men were talking about turf grass.

    “Yes! I’ll watch this show!”

    They stood on a swath of lawn facing each other wearing nondescript clothes. In fact, both men were nondescript; if I had to pick them out of a line-up, and all ten men were wearing the same beige pants and aviator sunglasses, I wouldn’t be able to single out those two. But there they stood, face to face at a golf club, discussing turf grass.

    “What are the different types of grasses?” said the interviewer, the man on the left.

    The man on the right answered in the most monotonous tone allowable by law: “You’ve got your Fescues and you’ve got your Bermudas and you’ve got your Zoysia and you’ve got your Kentucky Bluegrass and you’ve got your St. Augustine…”

    The remote sat next to my hand. I could have changed the station. Due to the minuscule size of my cottage, I could have reached over and turned the television off. But I was transfixed. Two men discussing turf grass was so compelling, I lost all awareness of the food I was shoveling into my mouth.

    “We should get our clubs and test this grass,” the interviewer said, and both men strode purposefully toward the camera.

    The next shot, they were facing each other, on another swath of lawn, without their clubs.

    “Which grasses are best for homeowners?” said the man on the left.

    “You’ve got your Fescues and you’ve got your Bermudas,” on and on the man on the right droned. “For shade, you’ll want your St. Augustine.” His voice never rose or dipped. “In the south, you’ll want…” on and on, and I don’t know if it was the unfortunate way his pants were pleated, or how he stood with his right leg in front of his left, but he appeared to be—how can I phrase this delicately—extremely passionate about turf grass. It was hard not to notice his passion. It distracted me from the fascinating conversation, until the interviewer suggested that they get their clubs and try out the grass, and both men strode purposefully toward the camera.

    The next shot, they were facing each other, on another swath, discussing bugs. “How do you know which pests you have on your lawn?” said the man on the left.

    I won’t bore you with the details.

    But I will share this trick: You squirt dish soap into a bucket of warm water, and pour it onto the spots where you see pest damage. In one to five minutes, the bugs will surface.

    And this is where the action really picked up. Both men squatted onto their heels, and examined the turf.

    It was mole crickets.

    A whole show about turf grass! I sighed, watching the credits roll.

    While deciding what to do next…

    I had an hour to spare before meeting up with a friend. We’d made plans to catch “Murder She Said,” an Agatha Christie movie at the retro theater. I looked forward to the outing, although I doubted it could top the show about turf grass. With sixty minutes of free time, I faced a dilemma: should I work on my short story, or exercise?

    “Yes! I’ll do both!”

    I had wrenched my back earlier after reprogramming my landlady’s timer as she fumbled through the directions in the dim hallway, and on Saturdays I normally lift weights, but with those sore back muscles…

    “Yes! I’ll lift weights!”

    I bent over to fish the weights out from under the bed, and the muscles in my lower back went into spasm. I couldn’t move.

    Lying on the floor contemplating the ceiling, I decided it might be a good idea to stop saying “yes” to everything.

    To which I immediately said, “Yes!”


  3. Intrigue at the Laundromat

    February 26, 2017 by Diane

    Laundry machines in public laundromat

    I was at the laundromat on a Friday morning washing the big stuff—comforter, mattress cover—the stuff too big to cram into my landlady’s washer. It was just me and three others: a geeky-looking guy with earbuds reading a book on Communism; a woman covered in tattoos sorting through newspapers; and a blonde in a purple pants-suit standing at the dryers.

    While my stuff spun dry, I sat in my car with a clear shot of the laundromat, feet on the dash, reading a detective novel. Suddenly a cop breezed by my open window, marching a young guy in handcuffs straight through the laundromat, past the blonde who fell back a step, and out the door.

    I roused myself. “That was weird,” I said, checking my lumpy load in the dryer. I added a couple more quarters.

    The blonde looked over with worried eyes.

    “You know him?” I said.

    “He’s my fiancé.”

    “Oh. Gosh.”

    The geek and tattooed lady got real fascinated with their reading.

    The blonde looked out at the police car, at the guy in the back seat, his head turned away. She sighed a lot as she folded her sheets. The cop nosed around an RV parked nearby. I figured it belonged to the blonde and her fiancé; maybe they were on their way through town, decided to catch up on laundry and rip off a nearby liquor store. I wanted to know the story, but didn’t want to pry.

    Then again, maybe she needed to talk.

    “Are you okay?” I said. Stupid question.

    “It depends on what happens,” she said.

    I couldn’t read her; did she want a sympathetic ear, or did she want to be left alone? If I was a stranger in town and my fiancé got arrested, I’d want the sympathetic type to sort out the mess in my head. But not everyone wants a fix. An ear, yes. Not a mouth to go with it. So I kept mine shut, and hovered nearby in case she wanted to talk.

    She went back to sighing, snapping her towels as she folded them, occasionally glaring at her fiancé stuck in the heat. Was the cop making him sweat it out? Thirty minutes later, they drove away.

    By then, I had my feet back on the dash.

    The tattooed lady appeared to be doling out the sympathy, leaning one hand on the counter while the blonde folded clothes, nodding. Over the top of his book, the geek’s eyes darted behind hipster glasses.

    Sometimes, when I’m in a public place, I’ll think: what if a couple of thugs wearing ski masks burst through the doors right now waving their guns, ordered everyone to hit the floor, and then tied us up? We’re all strangers, and suddenly we’re bound together.

    I had that thought as I pondered the three I might be bound to, and zeroed in on the tattooed lady. I’d seen her arrive in a beat up four-door. A man dropped her off, staying just long enough to wrestle the heavy basket of dirty clothes from the trunk. Her husband, I’d assumed, or boyfriend, judging by the peck on her lips before he roared off, no doubt to do manly things involving a six-pack and football while she did the woman’s work. That’s the story I spun. Watching her with the blonde, the way she leaned in with legs firmly planted, then rested back against the giant dryer, arms folded, looking like she’d heard it all before, been there before, had come out wiser—she didn’t look like someone who took the backseat to any man. Shows how wrong you can be, judging people.

    I decided if I was held hostage in the laundromat, I’d want the tattooed lady tied to me.

    The next week, I scoured the papers for any mention of the arrest. Evidently it was so uneventful it didn’t warrant a sentence. I don’t like stories that leave me hanging. Why was the kid hauled away in handcuffs? Did the blonde forgive him? Did she bale him out, or leave him sitting in a jail cell while she drove the RV to the Sierras? Maybe the tattooed lady joined her on some wild Thelma and Louise adventure.

    And what about the hipster reading the communist book? There was something big there, something waiting to be discovered.

    If I was a detective, I might nose around some. But I’m a writer. I’ll leave it to my imagination.