Saturday, June 17, 2006

B Double-E Double-R U N, Beer Run

beer tap.bmp
(this post's title is from here)
Reason #5 why I like my new neighbors:

Today was a typical Midwestern summer day, hotter than the hind hubs of Hades (an expression my mother taught me - apparently Hades' chariot has rear wheel drive which makes the hind hubs get hot). Actually, comparing the Midwest to Hell doesn't do it justice. Hell, being on fire, has a dry heat, much like Las Vegas and, therefore, would be tolerable and even welcoming to tourists who would never visit southwest Ohio in July or August.

Here, it is humid and infested with flying bugs which would frighten Satan's hounds. So there is almost no good reason for being outdoors working on a day like today, except if you washed your deck last week and need to seal it before it rains tomorrow. You have to wash your deck because the persistent humidity turns to a green, slippery gunk after prolonged contact with wood. (Deck sealing tip: When you spray the water seal on the deck, you walk backwards so that the sweat pouring from your head falls on the newly sealed area and beads up in small puddles rather than soaking into the wood.)

Speaking of hell, I was ready to sell my soul to the devil for a cool breeze or an ice cold beer.

So, there I was, halfway through this project, when my new neighbor walked over and asked, "John, are you a beer drinker?" Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear genuflect in the woods? "Why, yes, I occasionally enjoy a brew." "I have some beer in that refrigerator over there", he said. "Please get yourself some."

This was quite a generous offer and brightened my afternoon - but wait, it got better. He said, "see the tap in the side? Just get yourself a glass and take what you want."

Oh. My. God. The man has a tap. In a keg. In a refrigerator. In his garage. A garage which is no more than ten steps from my driveway. I slowly turned and, with sweat stinging and gnats buzzing in my eyes, I gazed at the kegerator like a cartoon man crawling in a cartoon desert stares at a cartoon mirage oasis.

I finished sealing the deck, and went to the tap and pulled a glass for myself and one for Satan and we toasted the man who is my new neighbor and my new best friend.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Don't Ever Tell Anybody Anything

catcher.jpgIf you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was when I first heard about Catcher in the Rye, and what my lousy childhood was like and all that Holden Caulfield kind of crap.

When I was about 13, Susan and I flew by ourselves from LA to visit our grandparents in Lexington, KY. Our cousin, Karen V, who was about Susan’s age (16 or so) was there also, visiting from Evansville, IN. One day Karen happened to mention that she had read “Catcher in the Rye” as a school assignment. She described it as being an engrossing story about a boy who was having a breakdown while trying to deal with adolescence.

My Grandmother looked as if all her saliva had just turned to lemon juice. She told us that she had picked up that book at her daughter’s apartment one day. “I counted 12 ‘goddam's on one page,” she reported, “and I decided I didn’t care to read the book.”

For whatever reason, I left before Susan did, flying back to LA with a stopover in Pittsburgh. Upon arival in Pittsburgh I went directly to a book stand and bought “Catcher in the Rye”. Not only did it contain a plenitude of 'goddam's, it had a couple 'fuck you's too. If you had a million years to do it, you couldn't rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world.

Being a 13-year-old, fairly-well-adjusted, LA boy in 1969, I naturally identified with Holden Caulfield, the 16-year-old, depressed, NY kid from 1949. I guess it was that universal desire to avoid becoming an adult. What I had to do, I had to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.

Maybe it was just that he was a rebel that said bad words. If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think about it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Veni, Vidi, Vedding

latin_romance.jpgOne day back in 1977, I picked up this girl in a Greyhound station in a seedy section of downtown Los Angeles; she's been my wife now for just over 30 years. The story of how we got there involves coal miners, a large measure of snow and an ancient Latin teacher.

The genesis of our meeting was the moment my sister, Susan, decided to take Latin in high school. I don’t recall the reason she chose to study a dead language when Spanish might have served her better in Southern California. If I did, I might place the causality earlier, but, in our family history, that is where my road to marriage began.

Miss Kron was the last Latin Teacher that Inglewood High School would ever have. She was a most excellent instructor in the classic tongue because it was her native language. Based on her knowledge and her state of advanced withering, we knew she must have grown up under the rule of Julius Caesar and had undoubtedly had a torrid affair with Cicero.

Miss Kron not only taught Latin, she organized and sponsored Latin Club. Susan, always power hungry, became President of Latin Club and traveled to a state Latin convention. There, perhaps inspired by tales of Anthony and Cleopatra, she fell into a romance with another attendee, John E.

Omnia California divisa in tres partes est: Southern, Central and Northern. John E. was from Northern California; Susan was from the South. Fortune smiled on them because John was planning to attend Occidental College, near Pasadena, a mere 30 miles (or 3 hours drive) from our home. A couple years later Susan also matriculated at Occidental.

Meanwhile, as either an adoring younger brother, or an aimless youth lacking initiative and imagination, I copied my sister and took Latin at Inglewood High, became President of Latin Club and enrolled at Occidental College. Like the narrator in "A Prayer for Owen Meany, John E.'s only function was to bring together characters and set things in motion. I stopped short of falling for John E. and instead I met Pam, who became my girlfriend for most of our college years.

A few years after graduating, Pam went off to Indiana University for graduate work, where she served as RA in a dorm and met Karen, one of the residents.

In 1978 a blizzard hit the Midwest and, seizing an opportune time to make their point, coal miners went on strike. Faced with a shortage of coal and a glut of freezing temperatures, IU decided to give students an extended spring break. Pam was returning to SoCal for the break and invited anyone interested to join her and Karen was the only one to take her up on it, L.A. being someplace she thought she might live one day. They set off on a Greyhound bus.

Pam and I had been in kind of an on-again, off-again relationship. While I was thinking we were in an off-again phase, Pam thought we were on-again and spent the cross-country trip regaling Karen with tales of our impending engagement.

Pam had asked me to pick them up at the bus station and I did, transporting them to Pam’s mother’s house in the foothills. During the spring break visit I got to know Karen. She was intelligent, attractive and artistic. She laughed at my witty remarks and humorous comments which proved one thing: she was easily amused (my kind of woman).

When she returned to Indiana I tried courting her by mail (this was in early American times when email, IM’s and text messages did not exist). In deference to Pam, Karen resisted my wooing. But who can long resist the charms of a shaggy-haired, acne-faced accountant who could spout Latin mottos (Semper ubi sub ubi!)?

Eventually I won her over. What clinched the deal was that Karen was 5’8” and knew mostly short guys. I was 6’6” and thus it was the first time she had the opportunity to date a guy while wearing 4 inch heels. It’s always about the shoes with women, isn’t it?

Karen returned to LA for the summer, traveling this time with her high school best friend Marti. They stayed temporarily in the small apartment with me and my roommate and best friend, Marshall. A year later Karen and I were married and Marshall and Marti were wed a year and a half after that.

And thus Latin, the root of all romance languages is also the root of a love story for four people brought together by foreign language, labor strife and Greyhound bus.

*In the classical Latin taught by Miss Kron, "V" is pronounced as "W", so veni, vidi, vici, (I came, I saw, I conquered) becomes way-nee, weedy, weeky.