Posts Tagged ‘story’

Liittle Jefe

20 March 2012


Dear J-

The age of wonder is over to be replaced by the age of what-did-you-get-me. Yesterday the items that I’d ordered (admittedly a little late) for theVet’s birthday finally came and figgy was interested: what’s in the package, can we open it? We rushed out to dinner and came back where the interrogation continued until we finally did break them open to reveal the semi-arty stuff within: some writing pads of nice paper, a fountain pen, and a portable watercolor set which figgy immediately latched on to and would not surrender no matter the cost or bribe offered.

“But it’s mommy’s present.”
“We don’t have time.”
“How about a movie instead?” &tc.

She responded with a stubborn jut to her jaw and the same thing over and over: “I want to paint it for mommy.” Blame it on our weak hearts but at that point we ended up running to Target to get a little watercolor set and a pad of paper at a fraction of the cost that I’d spent on nicer gift things. We throw little disposable crafts her way when she’s around to occupy her — paint-by-number sets and velvet coloring cards — so it’s no wonder that when she saw what was in the box she assumed she’d get a crack at watercolors and sketching. The cost of the watercolors and paper for her was nominal and the time was minimal, but it was a little burble in the usual night time routine.

I suppose that saying what-did-you-get-me is too harsh; if it wasn’t such a big deal and it made her if not happy and ecstatic at least calm then why am I still thinking about it? When I was six or so I remember whining about going to the toy store or at least the Ben Franklin (five and dime) until my dad, fed up, went into the basement and grabbed some present from years back out of storage, handed it to me, and walked away (it was a baseball game played like pinball with a little manual plunger and flippers and holes in the plaing field would tell you if you’d scored a run or gotten a base hit). Time and effort expended on getting it must have been pretty low but still, it tasted like ashes in my mouth even then: I’ve whined my way into earning this. I ended up playing with it for maybe half an hour, total.

I’ve always looked at that as a lesson for me to be always careful in how I go about getting things; is it for the right reasons or have I just worn down the opposition? Today I believe there’s still lessons to be learned: if it’s such a small thing, why am I sweating it? I actually loved having the opportunity to take her out of the usual evening routine of snacks and yelling at her to hurry up, stop dragging around. And it made her happy enough, and the financial cost was low (though I wonder what sort of lesson it teaches) so why not, right? Right?



Watch Words

24 October 2010

Dear J-

I suppose it’s in poor taste to carry it around* but watching what’s as close to instant karma in action today makes me want to take note. At SeaWorld San Diego, they have what’s called the Bay of Play (with a friendly Sesame Street theme) where kids of all ages will find something that they enjoy doing; for figgy, there’s the three rides (Abby’s Sea Star Spin; Elmo’s Flying Fish; Oscar’s Rockin’ Eel, all of which forbid expectant mothers, so I get to ride on those a lot lately) and lately, the cargo net and the bounce area (which for some reason puts me in mind of Finding Nemo‘s sponge beds). That particular bounce area has specific rules: no shoes, no shoving, six kids at a time. As crowd control, there’s a switchback-line with a fence. When we were walking up a couple ran over and the dad boosted the kids over the fence, cutting off the people who were walking around it in order to get their kids in first.

It’s really not that big of a deal — the lines were still short, and you’d only have to wait another two or three minute cycle, but that was odious, and the wrong lesson, besides — push your way forward, take every advantage you can get. So the kids get into the very next cycle but here’s the catch, they get split up because of that six-kid rule, some get to go now and others have to wait. The mom comes up and strenously argues with the attendant to no avail (that six-kid rule is as bold as day, posted there at the entrance) and the incredible thing is that another mom offers to pull one of her kids out of the current group (it’s clear that the kid doesn’t want to go, he’s scared). Even with that incredible generosity the first mom is dissatisfied and asks the operator if the kids in the bounce structure can essentially go twice, not having to leave for the next go-round. The operator sticks to the rules and says sure, as long as they all go back to the end of the line.

Once the session is over, that mom huffily pulls all the kids out, muttering about the unfairness of the situation. No one’s pointed out that they cut in line in the first place, and really, she’s only punishing her kids and not the operator. There’s all kinds of people at SeaWorld who’ll push their kids in front of you and then stare right through you as if you don’t exist. I don’t make a scene primarily because I’m not bold enough to, but also because it’s really not a big deal, and especially not big enough to freak kids out over. But kids learn everything you do, and when they expect your worst, that’s the best they’ll hope for.


* The Zen story I’m thinking of comes from Jon Muth’s Zen Shorts. I prefer this version to the other ones I’ve read, primarily because the other versions talk about how monks are forbidden to touch women, making it a failing of the monk rather than that of the passenger. Anyhow, the story:

Two monks are traveling together, one old, one young. They come across a lady in a sedan chair whose bearers have gotten stuck in some mud and even as she’s screaming at them to get loose, she’s also yelling for someone to come and take her someplace dry, she’s getting wet, all her finery slowly running in the rain.

The younger monk wants no part of it and hurries by, but the older monk stops, rolls up his pants, and waddles over, carries her to a roadside shelter, helps the attendants out, and generally acts like a one-man Automobile Association, getting them back on their way while the younger monk fumes a bit. Without a word, the lady’s party dismisses the monk and they continue their journey.

And the younger monk keeps fuming the further they go, almost as if distance multiplies his frustration until he explodes. “Brother, we didn’t have to stop. We didn’t have to help! And she never said an ounce of thanks!”

The older monk turns to his companion and asks “Brother, I set her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

Morning Glory

11 May 2010

“You know what I miss most about the mornings? BREAKFAST,” he offers, as he slides his plate down next to me.

I look over with a touch of asperity; from the size of his gut to the seismic shift as he touches down on the bench, it’s clear that he hasn’t missed many meals lately, or perhaps the reverse is true. Here I was getting my groove on and marking time in my head, and now this metronome of small talk howaya, pleesta meetcha fires off in my ear every few moments.

He goes on: “If I were in charge [… static …] When I ran that project [… details …] Back when I was divorced, the hours I used to put in were immense; my youngest son started to act out because he knew that it would get him noticed. Kids, you know, they don’t see no difference between notorious and famous, and all they want is a little attention.”

The undercurrent of loneliness washes over me; here I’ve been thinking of ways to eke more hours out for work, and wondering why I can’t seem to control life at home. One pushes the other; there are only so many ways to slice up the day’s pie and I’ve been hogging all the best parts for myself.

I remember letting my belt out an extra notch last month.

I remember pushing her away and steeling myself against the cries.

I look over and the resemblance is startling. Again. “You know what?” I rejoinder, “I do miss breakfast and all the quiet hours of the day we spend together. We know how valuable our time is, and we need to invest wisely, don’t we?”

The smile creasing his face is all I need to know.

– Lumic Lutcher

Wool Worth

13 October 2009

Dear J-

My senior year in high school I ran across a couple of red wool shirts (one in plaid; the other in a houndstooth check) in the back of the closet; my dad had put them there after he had bought them, worn them a few times, and forgotten them.  Grunge was in full swing so anything flannel was favorable, though being wool meaat that there was a bit of scratchiness involved; eventually as part of my obsessive-superstitious mentality (this I think had something to do with initially believing that being uncomfortable meant being more alert; after the first midterm I was willing to try anything), they became part of my regular wear on exam days.  Thus they followed me to college and many exams later, I ended up donating them to a thrift store worn nearly paper-thin.

This morning the unfamiliar sound of water running through the roof gutters greeted me as I got up and went on eBay to look for a cheap replacement; although the variety found there is large, so is the search criteria, which is ultimately what keeps me from shopping there more often.  Putting the right search terms in is like trying to guess Rumplestiltskin’s name:  you get it wrong and you never end up with quite the right thing.  Some years ago my brother gave me a handsome Pendleton shirt which I wear as a liner under my bike jacket when it gets cold.

One thing that relentless survival story reading/watching has taught me is that wool insulates when wet, unlike cotton.  It’s not necessarily the behavior you’d expect, but it let me laugh off the Bay Area foggy morning chill; it’s that feeling of invulerability that I think gave me the confidence for great feats earlier in life.  Funny, though, that I’d ever believe that girding woolen armor would grant me magical powers; they say it’s an attitude, the difference between things happening to do and you making things happen, and sometimes it’s a lucky shirt that makes it.


Head Apple

5 October 2009

Dear J-

I suppose I haven’t been headlight shopping lately (put it this way:  the last ones I replaced were sealed-beam units, meaning bulb, reflector, and cover glass all in one, almost twenty years ago), but like any good consumer must, I’ve done plenty of reading after the purchase.  The ones I selected are supposedly brighter and closer to daylight temperature (as a photographer, the claim of 4100K is appreciated and noted), but with a dramatically shorter life span — they estimate twelve months, not the twelve years I got out of the Subaru’s OEM bulbs.  In Sylvania’s line, they’re not the most expensive, but they are right up next to the top of the line (this goes back to the apple story* I read as a boy); for the price I paid in the store to have them in my hand, I could have gone through an on-line retailer and gotten the full-blown SilverStar Ultras.

This is the nature of peer reviews and anecdotal evidence; someone will be very unhappy and warn you away, and someone will act the part of unpaid shill and proclaim them the best product ever.  The truth is always somewhere in between.  I do like the new headlights, but I also like driving with two bulbs, not one; the question is not whether some headlamp is better than another but rather how we want to classify them — are they safety equipment or fashion?  Should they be dead reliable and not stretch the design, or should they run on the margin and risk potential sudden failure?  And why do people buy bulbs that throw a visibly blue-tinted light (if you’re planning on converting to arc lights, you may be better served by finding a car that already has them)?

I am not necessarily against frequent bulb changes, except for the added burden on landfills, but I wonder what the manufacturer thinks beyond the equation more frequent changes = more profits.  I suppose that fancy bulbs are a luxury item, and worrying about whether that means forgetting to change them as recommended might leave me stranded probably implies that I’m not a good candidate for fancy bulbs in the first place.  The things we sell ourselves saying that the upgrade is worth it aren’t always ruled by logic though.


* The Apple Story (paraphrased from memory; I read it in a book of Bible stories sitting in my doctor’s waiting room when I was seven).

At dinner when they passed around the plate of turkey slices, Michael picked the biggest, juiciest piece for himself before passing the plate on to his grandfather.  His parents frowned but said nothing, and the grampa shook his head — wisely — and with a wry smile, helped Michael’s brother before serving himself.  Afterwards, as the fruit was going around, Michael again helped himself to the biggest, reddest, ripest apple; anticipating a mouthful of crisp delicious, he instead bit off a mushy, soggy, rotten mess (and in his mind’s eye, somewhere in the brown cave his mouth left, he thought he could see the track of a worm).

Grampa spoke next, the first words since turkey time.  “Now MIchael, do you understand why God gave you that apple?”

“I picked this apple, though!”

“He gave you a choice, and you wanted to take the best one for yourself.  It was your pride — which you deserved — that led to that apple.”

Unconvinced, when pie came around afterwards, this time in reverse order, Michael chose the last piece; his family, by now wearying of the opportunity, left the biggest slice for him.  And in transfer from pan to plate, the spatula slipped, dumping pie in his lap; everyone else shrugged and went back to work on their dessert as Michael’s lesson finally hit home.

* * * * *

I still have a hard time picking fruit in the store.

Professional Help

15 July 2009

He pins me with a hard stare and continues.  “All’s I’m saying is –” jes’ folks, here, friendly-like “– all’s it is is that we’re all professionals here and we work as long as we need to work to get the work done.”  I squirm.  How can I not?  Isn’t it clearly directed at me?  Demons of the past float up to haunt me:  parents telling me to stop hitting younger children, teachers admonishing me for not writing proper farewell greetings, faculty asking me how serious I am about staying here.

His eyes, roving again briefly, catch mine and hold them, flashing.  “What we’re missing, maybe, is respect.  Respect for the work.  Respect for your, uh, elders.”  That last, thrown in for me; any high school graduate knows the tenets of Confucian thought are based on filial piety and respect for elders.  Violating that is tantamount to Christians wearing a pentagram and throwing up devil horns.  At Christmas services. Did I just physically flinch?

I’m not going to fry an egg on my increasingly hot scalp, but I’m getting close, I think.  Memories, having flown by in a hot rush, are soon replaced by rage and shame; shame that I should have known better — didn’t I brag in my interview that if I needed to stay, then stay I would?  Rage, though, displacing it; rage at my silence, rage that I’ve managed to drag the whole group in for my sins.

And then, to my horror, my mind dredges up that overwrought moment in Star Trek II where Spock, having gone in to manually activate the warp drive, explains to captain and friend, “The good of the many outweighs the good of the few … or the one.”  I renounced Spock in grade school and yet here he is, chiming in like my conscience’s own Jiminy Cricket, echoing the words beating down around me — no, us.  It’s conscience, then, dogging your footsteps, slipping into your shadow.  It’s conscience that gives these voices weight, even as my head jerks numbly into a nod as prompted.

— Lumic Lutcher