Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Power Failure

Saturday morning at 10:30 I was applying “weekend makeup.” This means just enough so I feel like I have at least tried to not scare small children with my transparent paleness. My mind was wandering with plans of printing out pricing information for skate packages in preparation for speed skate shopping. There was a crack outside. Then the lights went out. The power lines that usually stretch through the tops of the trees behind the house were no longer visible. I called the electric company to report the problem and headed to Dunbar Cave for a walk.

An hour later, electric company vehicles were parked around the corner at an access point to the utility right of way that was, just two or three months ago, the site of the removal of an entire line of trees. Bits of branches that had grown around the power lines over the years still hung on them like random beads on a string.

After puttering around a house suddenly rendered incapable of access to the outside world via Internet and television, and useless for tending to laundry, vacuuming, or preparation of any food requiring the electric stove, toaster oven or microwave (i.e. everything on site except one stale overlooked cookie and some freezer-burnt ice cream), I decided to go out. Seriously, what was the point in remaining home? I couldn’t even eat lunch. The electric situation didn’t actually drive me out of the house, but it sure got me rolling to my destination instead of goofing off online all day. Come on, we all know about the time vampires known as Facebook, yahoo mail, online news services, online video games. Or is it just me?

By noon, it was it was a million degrees out and humid. This is an obvious exaggeration, but my recently installed heating and cooling system’s thermostat ceased displaying the outside temperature on the fateful day in February when it was subjected to the follow up “load balancing visit,” and now registers the outside temperature as either “- -“ or something more outrageous like “115” or “-31”. I’m pretty sure these are wrong. If it was really 115 or -31 degrees out, there would certainly have been a Facebook update from at least one of the several local news sources in my friends list. Heck, that’s how I got ALL my info during the recent flood.

Knowing it was hot from walking 1.9 miles, but not how hot, due to the aforementioned thermostat issue, I braved the netherworlds under the beds in search of summer clothing. While hanging summery skirts in the closet and overstuffing a drawer with short sleeved tee shirts and sleeveless shells I vowed to get rid of at least half of the stuff before finding what I was looking for – cargo capris. I was going to Asphalt Beach Skate Shop in Nashville for Roller Derby skates (yes, for real) and didn’t feel like dealing with long jeans.

By the time wardrobe excavation was completed an electric company truck had arrived in the driveway. On my way out, I chatted with the dude working in the woods at the end of the driveway and learned that the utility pole back there had rotted below ground and snapped. The utility company would need to bring in equipment through my driveway (no problem) and may need to trim some tree branches (heck, yes!). I was leaving, so the driveway would be clear for their use.

En route to Nashville, I called my sister. Upon hearing of Operation: Get Skates she exclaimed that “Roller Derby Queen” was one role in which she never, ever pictured me. Ha! My frustrating, alleged ‘career’ and lifelong string of failed relationships have filled me with sufficient reserves of resentment and hostility to propel me to certain success in it. That, and my incredible balance and catlike reflexes. She told me some of her high school classmates were starting a roller derby league back home which sounded a lot like another hint to move home.

Thankfully, in spite of the collapsed-utility-pole-induced information blackout, I had a general idea of where I was going – East Nashville, somewhere near my new favorite vintage store (The Hip Zipper). An art festival was going on and the street was closed. I parked and set out on foot through the festival, misread the street signs at the strange five way intersection and ended up trudging a few extra blocks in the wrong direction in the oppressive humidity, my antiperspirant failing, grateful to not be wearing synthetics, happy to be wearing casual walking shoes and capris.

Eventually, the skate shop emerged like a desert mirage and the front door was swung open to me in an air-conditioned greeting by Steve, professional speed skater/ skate salesman/ doorman. After understanding my quest, he measured my feet, a simple service long abandoned with the self service shoe departments and stores of today. Turns out, the size I need is a full size smaller than what I thought. The value of personal service!

Steve fitted me with some sweet (I mean fierce!) derby skates. I stood up in them, moved three inches and promptly landed on my butt. It was kind of funny. Well, except for the pain and humiliation. And the cluster of male employee witnesses not doing much at that moment. I laughed that “gravity is not always my friend.”

New friend Steve set me up with a skate package used by many of the Nashville Rollergirls, including upgraded bearings and outdoor wheels. It’ll be a return trip for pads and a helmet, now that I know where the place is. He gave me a bumper sticker (something about “skating good in the hood”) but I forgot it on the counter.

Then, in the ultimate act of customer service and chivalry, Steve walked me the several blocks to my car, schlepping my bags in the blazing heat. I told him he didn’t need to be my porter, but he said he didn’t mind because it was nice outside and slow in the shop. Heck I’ve had husbands and boyfriends who usually tried to load me like a pack mule with their shopping bags so their own hands were free to send text messages and talk on the phone. Good thing I am tougher than I look.

At home, four utility trucks filled the driveway, so I redneck-parked on the front lawn. There was functioning electricity, Internet and cable. I fired up the computer and the TV. I laced on my new skates and did laps through the house on the hardwood floors and the kitchen linoleum (or whatever it’s called nowadays – vinyl? inlay?) I got comfortable enough to lose focus for a second, and promptly landed on my butt in the kitchen, signaling the end of playtime.

Shortly afterward, there was a knock on the door, and a man on my porch who said he was picking a tick off his leg told me they were aware of the giant tire ridge along the side of my lawn and confessed they had messed up the concrete at the end of the driveway. Hmmm. He promised the cable and Internet would be fixed “as soon as possible,” which was funny, because it was on. But in no time, during a Sex in the City episode on some cable channel and in the middle of chatting online with Patti, the cable and Internet connections were lost. But I still had lights with which to admire my skates. I parked my sore butt on the couch, popped in a DVD and wrote. Sent Facebook updates with my cell. Read a book. And visualized gliding around the skating rink the next day.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dog Nights

Weekends, in my mind, exist to break the regularity of the ‘regular’ week. Break the drill of awakening at 6:00 and going to work. Break the routine bedtime between 10 and 11 required to awaken at 6. Stay up until there’s no longer a good reason to do so – finally driven to bed by fatigue, boredom, exhaustion of all entertainment opportunities or a lack of television programming.

Several lifetimes ago, while younger, more socially connected and unencumbered by the compromises of a relationship, this theory worked pretty well. It was a tragedy to be home on a Friday night – social suicide and a complete waste of a night with the opportunity to be out living late. Life was all around and being home constituted exile from it. Friends and I went to dinner and clubs and danced until we were exhausted, often wrapping up our adventures with an early morning breakfast.

After a series of sacrifice-riddled relationships with guys who were either too disinterested in a social scene to participate, too mentally old to keep up with one, too frugal to part with a cover charge and the cost of a cocktail, or too broke to carry their own financial weight, I am exorcised of my own social inclinations. The social butterfly was, bit by bit, numbed and tamed. Unfortunately, in no case did compromise, sacrifice and stifling a social nature insure permanence in the relationship, and the men, for the most part, are now mere footnotes and references in the fractured fairytale of a life. Perhaps there is no Prince Charming for this Princess, just a series of trolls, ogres and frogs. And there is probably a lesson buried in there – along the lines of a Shakespearan “To thine own self be true” – but lessons seem to be forgotten when hormones kick in and promises are made to a hopeful heart just lonely enough to want to believe.

Friends in the royal realm, meanwhile, have managed to ferret out Kings, Princes, Public Safety Officers, American patriots, and are halves to couples sharing busy, fulfilling lives with well-matched partners and various combinations of children and family and social circles.

Whether by conscious choice (rare) or the absence of playmates (frequent), being home alone on a weekend night is now the norm to a frequently frustrated life. This does not, of course, imply a fondness for the situation, but there has been a gradual acceptance of the fate of being just like my grandmother, who lived alone and acted independently in most matters, for better or worse, by chance or by choice.

In a city overpopulated with rednecks, soldiers and dorm dicks on the prowl, it’s unlikely I’m going to spend unaccompanied nights in a bar – in my mind that is just begging for trouble. The only decent book store/ coffee shop was claimed long ago by the latest ex, who was exceptionally fastidious in excluding me from his social scene, so entering that territory would feel desperate, stalker-like and too pathetic for even my lonely and rapidly disintegrating standards. So, by default, home and pissed off it is. We have a loser.

But at least, as ruler of my own universe, I can determine how late I stay up and how late I sleep. Right?

Yeah, right.

Even this small event rarely works out like I fancy. Not the sleeping late part anyway. Not since Moose, the canine captain of my life took over the scene.

The staying up late part is generally successful, once I get past Moose looking at me, head cocked, eyes questioning me with what I imagine to be “Well? Tick tock, tick tock. Let’s go lady!” He is a master timekeeper and starts his silent bedtime notices around 10:00 nightly. If I haven’t gotten the message by 11:00, he may even growl and emit a sharp bark to get my full attention and race me to the bedroom. I generally ignore him on Fridays and Saturdays, and eventually he’ll curl up on the couch, half buried in toss pillows and sleep, jumping to attention any time I make a grand gesture like straightening a leg or reaching for the TV remote. I keep hoping his doggy brain will grasp the rhythm of the week, but he is fixedly attuned to a 24 hour cycle, not a seven day pattern.

No matter how late I manage to keep us up, there often exists a post-bedtime pattern. My own insomniac issues usually involve waking up almost precisely one or two hours after I go to sleep, regardless of what time I retire. I generally awaken just enough to groggily guess the time based on when I went to bed, verify it on the clock, mutter an expletive or an outright death-wish, roll over and go back to sleep.

Moose has his own little routine. He likes to mark time beginning at, oh, 4:00. With a repeat performance at 5:00. And at 6:00. Like he fancies himself Big Ben or something. Each time it’s the same – he knocks his toy off the bed – the red plush bone, the knotted rope, the rubbery chew bone – and jumps off the bed after it. Then, because he has never mastered jumping onto the bed which is a tad too tall for him, he plants himself alongside it, raised on his hind legs, front paws clawing at the edge of the mattress until I wake up. I tell him to go lay down in his own bed. He does not. I ask if he wants to go outside. He becomes excited and dances around on his hind legs. I exit the snuggly comfort of my bed, open the bedroom door, and he runs down the hallway, not to the front door, but to the kitchen. I stand at the front door, holding it open. Moose stands his ground at his still full water bowl. We look at each other. I close and lock the door and return to the bedroom. He follows. I ask if he wants to be back on the bed. He jumps around. We return to bed. For a good hour anyway.

We repeat this little ritual regularly, some nights more often than others. On a few rare and blissful nights I am spared the routine and he sleeps through, though I don’t know what the magical key is that enables it.

Most mornings, per his highly accurate internal clock, at 6:00 Moose is off the bed for the umpteenth time, followed by hopping aside it, clawing at the blankets. I admit, there have been more than a few weekday mornings this has totally saved me from oversleeping when I forgot to set the alarm clock. And I finally learned to just get up and feed him, and then he will go outside, and then we can go back to bed if it is the weekend. It took him five months to train me on that bit, but I am encouraged by knowing I am still trainable.

If only I could train him to take me out on weekends…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Legal Fun

I don’t always answer my cell phone when I am at work. Most of my clothes lack pockets, so it sits on my desk. If I’m away from my desk I may not know it rang until hours later. Sometimes I am right there, in my cubicle in a strip of cubicles, but if the call is from a number I don’t recognize, I may or may not answer it depending upon what is going on around me. Half the time it is some service provider wanting to sign me up for something I don't really want (or don't want to have to pay for).

At 2:20 this afternoon, a call rang in from an unfamiliar number. I stared at my cell for a second, thought “Oh, why not?” and answered it. The caller identified himself as being with the county sheriff’s department. Only once have I been contacted by a sheriff’s department, and it scared the crap out of my sometimes paranoid self. That time, many years ago at about 11:00 at night, the caller said they had found my cat, which was odd because I didn’t have a cat, but an ex in a town 45 minutes away did. The call came after an unfortunate relationship with a guy who decided to exhibit his adoration by serving as my personal stalker, and I was frozen that night with the fear that  my stalker had tracked me down in my new town.

On today’s call, the first thing racing through my mind was that someone had been injured or was in some kind of trouble. After that, I tried to think of illegal behavior on my part (not even a u-turn!), my car was right outside the office, and I was pretty sure Moose was safe, having never demonstrated the skill to unlock the deadbolt and walk out the door. As my blood suddenly turned to slush I wondered, “Oh, dear Lord, what has happened?” All this mental activity took place in about a nanosecond.

It was a job reference request for a friend. Mr. Law Enforcement asked me a few general questions. Far too few if you ask me. How long I had known my friend? (Many years!) Did I know of any reason why he shouldn’t get the job? (Um, what job? Don’t even know what he applied for.) Did I know of any drinking, drug or gambling habits. (No way, this dude is squeaky clean.) The entire call took one minute and one second according to my phone’s call record. That does not seem like much time to get a thorough job reference, but hey, I don’t work in Human Resources. Maybe it was just a formality. And it was one minute and one second more than some companies invest in reference checks.

Now, in his defense, my friend told me a week ago that he had listed me as a reference. In it’s entirety, the text message read, ”fyi I put u dw as a ref. K”. I asked for more info, as I like to be prepared. None came.

After my chat with the law, I had to have a little fun with it. I texted my friend: “Thanks for the heart attack with call from the sheriff. Was expecting a message of doom. Relieved it was reference call, but geez…”

Him: “Lol, sorry. I owe u, unless u said bad thgs abt me.”

I didn’t even see that one, because I was already busy with: “mostly they cared about your drug, gambling and drinking, so I told them we met in AA, ran a meth lab together and illegal poker and dog fights. You are so in!”

Him: “Lol, u suc, kisses.”

I love my friends. They love me, too. I hope. And I hope he gets the job.

Family Lobbyists

And the campaign begins…

I have been bracing for pressure when I go home to Massachusetts for friend Kim’s June wedding. My family doesn’t understand why I stay in Tennessee, unmarried, untethered. I don’t understand it either. Mostly I am just too lazy to move.

My adorable nieces work on me each year when I go home to visit, wanting to know when I’ll be back, why do I have to leave, why don’t I live near them anyway? My loneliness works on me the other 51 weeks of the year as I wander around Clarksville with no family nearby, missing out on the birthday gatherings, home and often alone on the holidays.

Tonight, my sister called to tell me about a sweet house that is for sale near hers. Obviously, she knows me well enough to know of my desire to be elsewhere combined with my laziness. And apparently, out of the blue, my oldest niece, age 11, (who they call “the visionary”) announced she dreamt I moved into the nice house near theirs with the pretty garden in the back.

I looked up the property on the realtor’s website. The listing is so new, there are no photos yet. But my sister and my mom think it’s perfect for me, and if anyone would know, they would.

While on the phone, Sis was mapping out my new life that she and Mom constructed … complete with a job at the hometown College from which I graduated, close enough to walk to work at the imaginary job I don’t have. I like the way it sounds. Maybe. I’m not sure. There are major doubts. Like the part where I move back to the town I spent 30 years dreaming of leaving. The operative word being ‘back.’ Triumphant return home? Or giant step backward?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Strange Days

Judging by the numbers of curious people who ventured to the fringes of the roads closed due to Flood 2010 (myself included), Clarksville finally had a (temporary) destination / attraction.

Sure, it was the brown, muddy waters of the Cumberland and Red Rivers that overflowed their banks to greet buildings and areas that don’t normally front the water. The same water that people were photographed playing in. The same water that had been receiving untreated sewage for several days since the sewage treatment facility went underwater and offline. Ewwwww.

There was an almost cheerful mood at the edges of closed roads where people gathered to gawk and quiz the police officers about Flood 2010. “Why can’t we go down there to the mud filled businesses?” “I know I just heard you tell these ten people they couldn’t cross this line of traffic cones, but could *I* go down there and have a look?” Obviously, these were people who were not affected by damage to their own homes and businesses. I know, because I was one of them.

It was Wednesday, and I had been away from the office for two days, cut off from my three mile commute to downtown when the bridge spanning the Red River at College St/Wilma Rudolph closed, followed by the closing of the bridge over the Red River on Warfield Boulevard. The Cumberland River had overflowed its banks, shut down Riverside Drive and the bridge at Boot Hill and created Atlantis v. 2010.

If I was a determined and dedicated company girl, it is certain I could have gotten to work by a circuitous route involving a six mile trip to I-24, seven miles on the Interstate, then five or so miles back into town, in the company of every other rerouted driver in the region. The bigger danger was not being able to get back home later, as the water was still rising and the list of closed roads still growing. And I could cope, crash at friend’s, sleep at the office, whatever, but I couldn’t abandon Moose at the house when there was doubt about getting back. And I wasn’t dragging him into the office. Actually, that never even occurred to me as an option. It’s not like I save lives or the place would fall apart without me. Seriously, I work in marketing.

So, Monday and Tuesday I stayed home under sunny blue skies, the temperature in the mid 80s. And it was weird. I didn’t even have that much work to do, at the office or from home. All the moving parts to my projects were either at the printer, en route to the client from the vendor, or with the client for approval before going to the printer. I handled a few phone calls on a client brochure order, then I took Moose for a walk down the hill to the end of my own street after hearing it had been closed. The water from the lake at Dunbar Cave had been creeping higher with the downpours all day Saturday and on the Sunday morning early leg of a harrowing excursion to Nashville International Airport (another story for another day). The golf course had new meaning to “water hazard,” the front yards of the houses across the street were collecting deepening liquid reserves. The river was snaking around there somewhere, too, contributing to the rising levels.

At the intersection with Haymarket Road, the sight was like that of a boat ramp, flanked by houses under water. And I mean under the water – to the edge of the roof gutters or higher. I felt like a voyeur. A man standing on the porch of a dry house yelled out that he didn’t recommend a swim. Not a chance, dude. I took a couple pictures with my crappy yet portable Kodak Easy Share camera and Moose and I trudged back up the hill in the sweltering heat. At home, I planted flowers bought during an earlier toilet paper and bottled water junket to Kroger.

Tuesday I worked a solid three hours from home. It was harder than working at the office. The couch is not an office chair. The laptop is not the desktop. My lap is not a desk. My desk is not even a proper desk with the awkward antique upholstered chair. The dog, constantly walking across my lap and the computer for no other reason than to get the other side then trying to snuggle, rendering one arm useless was a crippling (yet adorable) factor. All my notes and to do lists were on my cubicle wall or the computer desktop, not accessible on the company server. An email from the boss loaded with links paralyzed my system and necessitated a call to our IT goddess for correction. The font size on everything accessed via remote desktop was so microscopically small it made my eyes feel like they would erupt in geysers of blood any second. Files took forever to load. I went outside and planted some mystery flowers left by friends a week earlier after they thinned their garden.

The sewage treatment plant was closed and the request issued for restricted use of dishwashers, washing machines, and toilet flushing, which meant I had a free pass on those household tasks. Unfortunately, I was glued to Facebook and the TV news for updates, and was also not writing, making jewelry, reading, or even feeding myself. This is what happens when I am left unattended. I couldn’t remember any of the things I routinely fantasize about doing at home when I am at the office.

By Wednesday I was done dealing with the deeply ingrained Puritan guilt about not being at the office working, topped with an icing of guilt over not doing any personal work. I needed out, and had a new determination to get to the office, as Dad would say, “Come hell or high water.” Well, we certainly had the water. It was all over the place. And it was feeling kind of hellish. One bridge had reopened, so it only took 45 minutes to get downtown, versus the usual 12 minutes or the longer nightmare it had the potential to be.

The roads downtown were a labyrinth of closures marked with orange barrels and cones. Trails of mud marked where the water had been at its highest. Dumpsters were overturned. The river water was everywhere. The office, which sits on the third block up from the river, separated from the water by a five lane road and a waterfront park, was now spitting distance from the water. I went closer with my camera early in the day, and again after work. I even ventured around the general area, and for the first time in my nine years here, it was possible to be a pedestrian and not fear for safety. Bicyclists were zipping around on the auto-free streets, enjoying an unprecedented mobility. It was nice. And kind of eerie.

And later, back at home, it was just another normal evening for me and Moose. A cobbled together dinner. Time wasted on Facebook. Texting friends. On my end of the street, anyway. Others in town were not so lucky. I knew it, and felt a little bad for the normalcy under my roof.