Sunday, February 19, 2006

In the Absence of Dog

The weekend has been one of no visitors or houseguests (I entertain a lot when I am In House) and so I've had time to miss the Scottie Dog. There is more room in the bed, I haven't had to open the door 200 times an hour to let him out and the cold air in, and I've had to endure none of his sad, disappointed Princess Diana looks, an artform he has perfected which results in extra treats and walks and generally anything he wants. Yet, I miss him. I imagine him in Florida with his parents, strutting down Main Street of Disney World with mouse ears bobbing as he growls at the folks in the Chip-n-Dale costumes and begs to eat in the Lady and the Tramp café. To the best of my knowledge, non-service dogs are not allowed in the Magic Kingdom and he is really in a condo on the beach chasing waves and seagulls, yet this is how I imagine him. If any dog could convince Disney security that he should be allowed access to the premises, S.D. is the man.

If he were here, what I'd be doing instead of grading three stacks of papers, is playing "Bone." This is his favorite game and I don't understand the rules. He carries this giant bone in his mouth, expects me to chase him, and then hides under the baby grand piano so I can't get him. Game over. He's in control of the game, yet he always seems depressed when it's over.

S.D, turned me into a dog person. Before him, I was just a person who would occasionally smile at a puppy. Then his parents brought him home from the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, asked if I would watch him for six weeks while they were in Italy, in North Carolina, in Montana, and that was it. He was mine. They think he is theirs: S.D. and I know the truth. And you know who this has given me sympathy for? Those women who go a little crazy and steal other women's babies. I get it. I really do. I woudln't DO it, but I understand. Sure, I could get my own dog, but he is the chosen one. And the fact that he isn't with me but is in Florida? Today, it makes me want to crawl under the piano and sigh.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Wisdom of Petula Clark

Like a lot of small American cities, it's pretty easy to avoid downtown here. The major thoroughfares were constructed to circumvent it. Judging from photos, the place was hoppin' from the late 1800s thru the mid 20th Century. In the late '60s it blew up. (No, really. It did. People died. My great-uncle--now a saint--was one of 41 casualties.) In the '70s it fell victim to bad urban planning and it was turned into a pedestrian mall. People quit going to the shops for whatever reason--inability to park close, creepyness of the giant Alice-in-Wonderland style toadstool umbrellas, number of vagrants who enjoyed the fountains and ergonomic benches--and so a lot of the shops closed. New shops sprang up, but many of them had the smell of death on them before they even completed their first week of business. Wal-mart arrived and even more local businesses closed. In the late '90s, the pedestrian mall was ripped up, the signs were changed from "downtown" to "uptown" in a moment of marketing optimism, and and a few coffee shops opened. Other than the part where it exploded, my hometown's downtown isn't unlike a lot of others across the U.S. that are dead or on life support.

I like to think this one isn't terminal, so I go through rituals the equivalent of lighting candles and saying prayers to the patron saints of economic prosperity and good parking spaces. I find reasons to do business downtown. I buy watch batteries at the local jeweler though it would be easier to get them at Meijer. I buy "unique" (read: "expensive") toys for my friends' kids at the local toystore instead of the ones they probably really want from Toys 'R Us. And, as often as I can find reason to, I take my shoes to "the shoe repair guy." This is my favorite. It's very old world in there, started at a time when people needed to repair their shoes because they had one or two pairs that had to last...a time when people had "a craft" like cutting new insoles instead of just selling you a pair of Dr. Scholl's one-size-fits-most pre-formed air cushions. It's a long, narrow space, with shelves on both sides that are stacked with shoes and boots and jars of solvents and cans of polish. There are family photos on the walls, and I always feel like life is probably lived better in there than it is in most places. I don't know why I believe this exactly, but I do.

Yesterday, I took three things into "the shoe guy": a pair of Haflinger slippers that have developed a case of leprosy, one purple Dansko clog (don't ask), and a leather field bag I bought when I got my first post-college job in 1989. I'm thrilled to have three things to bring in, though once I've plopped them on the counter I want to kick myself for not spacing out the joy. Why not sprinkle out the shoe/bag repair over a series of weeks? The part I love most, aside from being in this space, is when Mr. Marinakes himself looks the items over. He's thoughtful. Is the shoe worth saving? What can he do to fix the problem? While he examines the damage, his assistant talks to me about the weather. Mr. Marinakes turns the slippers over, tugs on the insole that looks moth eaten, and shakes his head. The slippers are good, he says, but the insoles are shot. He can make me new ones out of leather, but it will be pricey. How pricey, I ask. Six dollars, he says. I'd pay twenty just for an excuse to come in. And I really do love the slippers. He asks when I want them and I say I'm in no hurry. It's Friday. I'll have them at the first of the week, he says with what may be pride.

I leave feeling kind of happy and I wonder if maybe Petula Clark wasn't on to something when she sang "Downtown." No doubt she was talking about a more _vibrant_ city (one where you could listen to the rhythm of the gentle bossanova while looking at neon lights), but, to quote another bossy musician, this is MY hometown. And somedays, just seeing remnants of what it used to be (with the occasional horn honk) is enough for me.

I have a non-poet co-worker who writes a lot about this place, but she is a transplant from the East, and so when I read about the poverty she sees here or the grammatical idiosyncrasies of the residents or the lack of culture, I sometimes want to challenge her to a smackdown. Most of what she says is true, but how dare she judge MY hometown. It's probably like family. You can say shitty things about your own siblings, parents, cousins, but if someone else does--even a friend--something goes icy in your gut. Where my non-poet co-worker sees decline, depression, dereliction, I see a history. I see the corner where my maternal grandfather had a car lot, the post office where my paternal grandfather worked, the dimestore where my grandmothers shopped, the bank where my parents met, the movie theatre, the bakery, the furniture store, the old (better) library. It's sentimental. It's nostalgiac. But there's still life here. I'm not as optimistic as the "uptown" city planners about the prospects here, but I kind of love it and want the best for it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Planning Ahead

On any given day my lesson plans look something like this:

Discuss "Shrek" & intertextuality. Do that bird exercise. Have them write about that one article.

Right there, in a nut shell, is why I decided higher education was the place for me. If I taught in a high school, the adminstration would expect detailed, week-at-a-glance type lesson plans that spelled out exactly what I planned to do as well as the objective of the exercise. They want these, one assumes, so if you get hit by a garbage truck on the way to school, your class can continue without interruption.

I've never really wanted to be thought of as "easily replaceable," so my lesson plans tend to be more along the lines of Post-It Notes stuck to the back of a recycled "Hello Kitty" folder. If I'm roadkill, I want my students to flounder for a few weeks in memory of me.

I'm not a bad teacher--in fact, I think I'm a good teacher. I know what I'm going to do. I know what the objective of the lesson is. But if I had to write it out, weeks in advance, it would no longer seem interesting or viable to me, so I'd have to think up a whole new set of things to do. It's more efficient in the long-run to do Post-It Note planning on the drive to work.

Which brings me to my current dilemma.

Last week, a co-worker, poet, and friend, asked if I wanted to go with her to Ireland for Spring Break. She's going to see her boyfriend. It's a love story with a thirty year interruption that I am particularly fond of, and Ireland has been a sort of surrogate boyfriend of mine over the last several years. In fact, the relationship is currently monogamous. Since I was just there in November for a week's writing workshop with Hugo Hamilton, going again seems a bit extravagant. Also, I'm not sure if the c-wpf really invited me or if I whined so much about going that she felt compelled to agree that I could tag along. Also, I'm not sure its ever a good idea to spend that much time with someone you are fond of but don't know ALL that well. Also, I was raised with my mother's axiom of "fish and company smell after three days." So I've been torn. Mostly, I've been leaning towards doing the right thing--saving for a house I'll never buy--and skipping the trip.

But then today another co-worker who just went to Dublin brought me a copy of Hugo Hamilton's new memoir, which won't be available in the U.S. until September, and I read the first two pages and I started aching for Ireland. Longing. Why would I NOT go to Ireland with the c-wpf when I'll have free lodging, will get to explore the southern bits of the country, a place I haven't yet been. I rushed back to my office and checked for the fare she'd mentioned to me, only it wasn't there. It had gone up $130 which pretty much pushed it out the range of do-able.

What a non-planning dumbass I am.

She stopped by and we talked about the trip I wouldn't be taking. The things I could have done. (It turns out there's more to do in Waterford than just the crystal factory tour.) We stretched ourselves over my Irish road map and speculated about places I could have seen.

She distracted me from my One True Love though by asking what the deal was Friday with the visiting writer, my two-day crush.

What deal?

He was flirting with you, she said.

He was? I knew I was flirting with _him_, but he was flirting with me?

Seemed like it to me, she said. He was mostly talking to you all night. He kept saying that thing about having you come down and taking you up in the chopper. I think he was flirting.

Here was me thinking my co-workers were embarrassed for me last week, flirting so pathetically with the famous writer, the author of one of the best 25 books of 2005. Here was me not knowing he was maybe flirting back. Oh, how I wished I'd have shaved my legs. Maybe I would have been bolder. Maybe, at the very least, I would have gone to Comfort Inn and pelted his windows with tiny chunks of Hoosier limestone.

There really is not any Hoosier limestone here. I said that to be poetic. I apologize.

It's hard to live your life with no foresight. It gives you the opportunity to be spontaneous (there's no plan to stick to), but without a plan sometimes you forget what your goals are. Fares go up, you miss a trip. Legs aren't shaved, you miss, well, out.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Darwin and the Book of Love

There's this guy I should like. He's funny, smart, polite; he'd announce himself as a feminist; he's not un-cute; a co-worker friend praises him for his worshipfulness of me. (I've never been worshipped.) I'm 39. I wouldn't mind another relationship. I wouldn't mind a baby. He could provide these things as well as quiet evenings reading and not talking about NASCAR or deer hunting. People would see us and think we were compatible. A fit.

But here's the thing: he just doesn't do it for me. I haven't been able to pinpoint why. He looks a bit like my cousin Randy, which is a drawback but not a deal breaker. He's not an alpha male, but I've always been partial to betas. He's not particularly ambitious, but then I'm not either. So I've been trying to figure out what the problem is, and yesterday it came to me: he has weird earlobes. They are giant. Too thick. Too wide. Too jutty-outty. You haven't seen earlobes like this before.

My cousin's wife once told me--in front of him--that I was single because I was too picky. The implication seemed to be that she hadn't been and had reaped the rewards. (I tend to think it was my cousin who wasn't picky enough.) For the record, I don't believe I am too picky. I do think if you are talking about something like a relationship that might end only when death doth part you, you should be choosy. Careful. Selective.

Which brings me to Darwin. Am I too picky? Recent evidence points to it. Or does something happen on a subconscious level--a molecular level--where we are able to recognize what would be a bad concoction of DNA? Perhaps a person with giant earlobes and a person with an abnormally large Irish American head shouldn't do anything that could potentially result in a big-headed kid with earlobes so massive you could figure your taxes on them. Seriously. This would be a child who couldn't get into a Toyota Prius.

It's not a theory based in scientific reason, but I like to think I'm not _that_ picky, not doing anything a bunch of turtles and blue footed boobies in the Galapagos wouldn't do.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Real Estate

It's Sunday. Some people go to church. Others settle in for an entire day of televised sports. I look at the real estate listings in the paper. I'm not what you would call 'in the market.' I could be. Probably I should be. You see, I am a Gen X loser who--oh, this hurts to admit to total strangers--LIVES AT HOME. Yes, I know. Pa-Thetic. I don't really know how it happened or why it is I lack that gene that makes most normal people run screaming from the idea of living with parental units. It helps that my living space is bigger than most New York City lofts. It helps that 1/3 of my year I am In House with the Scottie Dog, that I travel a lot, and that the majority of my life is lived in my head where a 3BR/2BA and attached garage is unnecessary.

So anyhow, I browse the real estate section, imagine a future in a dozen different bungalows, do the math and think about how, yeah, I could swing it. My friends would encourage this move, particularly the ones with miserable marriages who might need to sleep in the spare room. Some days I go to open houses and mentally arrange furniture and look at paint chips. But then I get sleepy and postpone such decisions until later.

Who else is in the market for real estate? A couple of Canadian geese who are paddling around the pond at the House. This doesn't look like a roadside stop, either. The male stands up tall, looks around menacingly, as if he is already establishing the borders of his property. Meanwhile, the female pecks at grass on the bank, testing bedding for the nursery. If I have my facts straight, these are mate-for-life birds, but let's be honest, when you are dressed exactly like everyone else in your neighborhood, how do you measure something like monogamy?

I wonder if I should run them off before they get settled in. I can imagine the turf wars when the Scottie Dog returns. It will end one of two ways: S.D. pecked within an inch of his life or Gosling Snack Crackers. Neither seem ideal, but frankly, I have no idea how you get rid of a couple of geese. Do you shake a stick at them? Throw rocks? Type up an eviction notice and have it notarized? No idea. As I write this, the geese are looking at carpet samples, making long-term plans.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Spinster Housesitter

I got this compulsion to start a blog tonight while I was at an Irish Dance performance in my small Hoosier town. The tickets were given to me by the owners of the house where I sometimes watch their Scottie Dog and where I sometimes--like now, when he is on vacation on the Gulf Coast with them--just watch the house, redecorate it in my head, and basically think of it as my own. Anyhow, the performance was no "Riverdance." When the dancers came out something seemed not quite right. For one, they looked like a high school drill team. For two, they didn't have what you might think of as professional dancers' bodies. They were nice bodies that I personally wouldn't mind trading up for, but they lacked that elk or swan look. After their first dance, one of the musicians introduced the troupe and explained that all the dancers were not so much from Ireland but from the Midwest. That explained it. They were _cornfed_. Healthy. Thick. Their curls were not natural, created by parents who love Guinness, but were synthetic. For the fourth dance, they came out, inexplicably, in too-short kilts and did what could only be called an Irish step-dance strip-tease. The lead dancer had on a belly shirt and her navel glittered when the spotlight hit the rhinestone that was nestled therein. She flipped her hair and taunted the audience with a pre-baby Britney Spears "I'm Not That Innocent" come-hither look. She and the other dancers rolled their hips and slapped their own asses. At intermission, I had to go.

The Owners have a new light in the bedroom that changes color according to the temperature and pulses when there is a chance of precipitation. It's blue right now, bordering on purple. It's pulsing. I think that means sled-riding tomorrow. At first I hated it. It kept me up at night, but I've grown to appreciate it. In the absence of dog, it has made a pseudo companion. Maybe I should get an ant farm and bring it with me when I am In House.

For the last two days we had a visiting writer at the college where I teach. He was my age. Dead middle of life. Totally suckable lips. He flew away this morning. And so I had a two-day crush. I find I like the two-day crushes. When I was younger, there was time for longer crushes that might develop into something if the planets were aligned correctly. But this speed crush, well, it works out nicely. You don't have to rearrange your calendar, figure out schedules so you can skulk around places the object of your affection might be, or fantasize about him taking you to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. He's here; he's gone. For 36 hours or so you giggle a lot and flip your hair if you are having a good hair day. (I was.) I recommend it.

This is what you need to know about me: I'm single; I'm 39; I'm putting Japanese olive oil on my face once a day because I got sucked into DHC's marketing and free catalog samples, and also because I want to look better when I turn 40 than I did at 35. It could happen. Cher was strutting around that battleship in pantyhouse and a leather jacket when she was 40 and she looked damn good. I don't have goals so lofty. I just don't want a creased 40 year old forehead next year. A cornfed faux Irish dancer's body would be an added bonus, but I'm trying not to hope for too much. If it happens, I'll buy a kilt. I'll even post a photo.