Farewell to the Decade

31 December, 2019 | | 2 Comments

Twenty Twenty. 24 hours to go, but even less than that now, and this would have been a good decade to be sedated – at least for the tail end.

It started pretty well. From the start of 2010 through the end of 2012, there were, to my surprise as much as anything, 414 separate BUMD posts and updates. From 2013 onward, there have been 83 posts in the remainder of this decade, including this one. I can no longer imagine having the time, much less the energy, to write that much. I would love to vow to get back on that track and get back to writing more, but that would look too much like a campaign promise – sounds great, sells well, followup unlikely. The only difference is that I would, in fact, mean it. Honest!

Turning our thoughts to the end of the year looks better. Decades are big, complicated things to wrap up and review; that’s why we invented years in the first place – they’re like little bite sized chunks of a decade that we can tear off with our teeth, and if ever there was a year that needed to be ripped out with our teeth, man, 2019 might be the one.

That said, it wasn’t all bad. I posted in 2017 a short guide for the next 4 years, and those 4 years are coming due. We need to continue to persevere, to persist, and to punch above our weight class in speaking truth not just to power but to ignorance, in speaking acceptance to intolerance, in speaking the language of love to the rhetoric of hate.

Those are good words – I’m good at that. (Go read them again, if you like; I’ll wait. Feel free to use them.) But action is harder. I haven’t done a lot, personally, to foster those conversations – I haven’t marched, I haven’t protested, I haven’t even learned to knit pussy hats. I have noticed some good examples, though, outside of politics. There are a few things – a few people, really – that just make the world a smaller, kinder, and perhaps more hopeful place.

One of them is a friend we call Auntie Jenny. She started a Facebook group dedicated to living with mindful intention, to setting small, attainable goals, and to generally being there for people. It’s grown to more than 1500 people and has turned into a community of devotees who mostly try to channel their inner Mr. Rogers – posting their triumphs and tragedies, offering advice when asked and consolations, commiserations, or congratulations when not. Imagine! Complete strangers posting intimate details about their lives to the Internet and receiving validation and support. Weird, right? It makes me happy.

Another person who makes me happy is one I’ve written about before:
Pita Taufatofua, the well-oiled Tongan. If he qualifies for Tokyo this coming July, he will be one of only 15 people to have participated in 3 Olympics in a row, and possibly the only one to do so in 3 different sports. He seems by all accounts to be a terrifically good-natured person, dedicating his life to showing the world what a human can accomplish if they really put their somewhat crazy mind to it. (Yes, it helps that he’s impossibly good looking.) Like Auntie Jenny, I think he sets an example of the greatness of the human spirit. I just sent him a few dollars to help keep him in his kayak; you can help here if you’re inclined – or even if you just like looking at oiled up muscles on the big screen!

You don’t always see words like “nice” next to words like “indomitable,” but there you have it: These are nice people who, with indomitable wills, are doing their own small part to make the world a little bit nicer, maybe a little weirder, and setting an example from which I take some hope – we CAN make a difference. We can create small communities of considerate people, which can create bigger communities and eventually, nations. Eventually, worlds.

Which brings me to the last part of 2019. The Queen Mother of Pink left us this February, and this will be my first New Year’s Eve year in something like 20 years that I don’t call her at the stroke of midnight, yell “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit,” and hang up. Well, I tried to hang up, but half the time she’d say it first because she always knew it was me. She’d remind me that it was her dad’s birthday, and she’d stay up every year to toast him and wish him a happy birthday. I’d give her an increasingly brief update on the kids and that would be that. It was harder as she got deafer, but she always knew it was me, and yelled all the right things even when I was pretty sure she couldn’t hear me in the first place. Last year, she called me around 10pm my time and said, “Rabbit rabbit rabbit, I’m more than a hundred years old and I’m going to bed!”

She was a nice person with an indomitable will, and she left the world a little bit nicer, a little goofier, and she set an example from which I take some hope.

In 2020, I will hope to see the good in people who have good in them. I will hope to notice early and reasonably avoid those people (and they’re out there) who don’t. I can’t be Greta Thunberg, or Pita, or even Auntie Jenny, but I can be myself. I can remember to think before I speak and – with intention – I can speak truth to ignorance, speak acceptance to intolerance, and speak the language of love to the rhetoric of hate. And so can you.

Happy New Year to you all!

.

I Have Some Reservations About Waiting

25 August, 2019 | | No Comment

Saturday was a day. And by a day, I mean moving the Human Tape Recorder back to college, which was an exercise in waiting in lines, and then driving SOBUMD to her MRI, which was an exercise in waiting in rooms, and then getting dinner, which was an exercise in saying “Huh?”

On the college side, the waiting was for a large cart, into which one can load most (but not all) of the first SUVful of one’s stuff. (She’s an upperclasswoman now – it takes 2 SUVfuls of stuff to properly outfit her half of the room.) To acquire a cart, the HTR had to provide her student ID, phone number, proof of residency, blood-lien against 1/7th of her soul, and first round draft options on any eventual children she might have. This is not what took the time, though – the bottleneck was with the crew signing the carts back in. This is a university that can build and deploy actual food-delivery robots capable of navigating sidewalks, pedestrians, and automobile traffic, but they can’t figure out how to put a GPS or even a damn barcode on a bunch of 3 x 5 foot carts. No one’s going to steal these, folks. Honest.

On the MRI side, once the HTR was properly loaded, unloaded, reloaded, and in line to return the cart, I came home and drove SOBUMD to her appointment in some magnets. In fact, it was just her foot, but I saw none of this as I waited in the waiting room. For the most part, I had it to myself, so that wasn’t so bad.

Once complete and in possession pictures of the inside of her foot, which I may or may not include in this year’s holiday letter, we realized we were quite hungry. The nearest food was Sweetwater Tavern, which checked many of our boxes – good food, dependable, and less than a 2-minute drive. Putting thought into action, we popped over and walked in, as walk-ins, at 7:47 pm.

It was, in fact, a Saturday night, and we were unannounced. It was, in fact, packed. There were people waiting outside. There were people waiting inside. There were people waiting pretty much all over the place. We assumed there would be some bit of a wait.

“Party of 2? Do you have a reservation with us tonight?”
“We do not.”
“Okaaaaay,” says the maitre ‘d, looking at her computer, “the first available seating I have for you will be around 9pm. The wait is around an hour and 15 minutes. Is that OK?”

Obviously, that wasn’t going to be OK, we were already hungry and not well positioned to stand at the bar for 75 minutes – between having her foot in a boot and her foray into sobriety, going on a year now, SOBUMD is decidedly not standing at a bar for any length of time. Besides, the HTR’s university food-delivery robots can beat that time. We stumped back to the car to update our dinner plans. It was now 7:53 in the evening.

“That’s funny,” she said, “This reservation app on my phone says I can book a table for two at 8pm. Hold on.” Click. Click. Click click. “Go back in there and tell them we have a reservation.”

“Party of 2? Do you have a reservation with us tonight?”
“We do, for 8pm.”
“Okay,” says the maitre ‘d, looking at her computer, “would you like inside out outside seating?”
“First available would be great.” It was now 7:55 pm.

At one minute past 8pm, SOBUMD and I were ushered to our table, total elapsed time, 14 minutes – during which we had walked in, walked out, discussed 5 other local restaurants, and proved to the maitre ‘d that we own smartphones. I conjectured that this was, perhaps, a ploy on the part of Sweetwater Tavern to keep out the phone-less riffraff, those poor undesirables who might fail to post #photos of their #dinner to their Instagram accounts. (SOBUMD much more practically conjectured that they’re probably just idiots, but I prefer to look deeper.)

I am left to wonder if any restaurant, so encumbered and in thrall to its technology that it will turn away hungry patrons who are literally standing inside their establishment seeking sustenance, in favor of potential diners who might click their way past the front desk, can long survive. Had SOBUMD not happened to check the app – after we had returned to our car, engine idling, ready to take our hunger and our wallets elsewhere – we most certainly would not have spent our money at Sweetwater last night. Had I been alone, I would have been long gone – I’m much more a Luddite than she is.

As it happened, we enjoyed our respective meals, paid the check, and walked out just at 9pm. (Ironically, this was also the exact time the HTR finally reached the front of the cart-return line.)

“Hey, hon?” I said as we left.
“Yes?”
“Good news! Your table’s finally ready.”
“Idiots.”

The Great Fairfax Coffee Caper

23 July, 2019 | | No Comment

You know that feeling when you’re looking for the UPS drop box because you got a Nespresso machine for Father’s Day and you’ve finally filled up the bag they give you to send the canisters (don’t call them pods, dear god, not making that mistake again) back for recycling, and you’re in a bit of a hurry to hustle those suckers out of the house because the bag with the used coffee pods, pardon me, canisters, had that nice coffee smell for about the first 3 hours but for the last 2 months it’s just smelled of rancid coffee mildew death, as does the cabinet it was in, and now that the bag’s in your car you’ve got maybe 30 minutes before the odor permeates the supposedly impregnable plastic of your simulated rosewood dashboard and interior trim? 

That feeling?  No? 

Well, let me tell you.

UPS Drop Box!
Who the hell is Carolyn?

There we were, dropping the Human Tape Recorder off for her appointment at the Carolyn Building.  We knew that it was call the Carolyn Building because it said on the UPS App.  There are no other recorded instances of anyone ever referring to it by this name.  We wondered who Carolyn was, and the Human Tape Recorder replied that it was very likely some chick named Carolyn who’d had a package delivered there one time in 1993, and they figured, what the heck, good a name as any.  I mean, Carolyn sounds like something your kid sister would have as a middle name in the ‘70s or something.

But there was the UPS App, claiming that there’s a drop box there, into which we can drop our UPS postage paid package of rancid coffee grounds. 

Of course the Carolyn Building was locked, but the Human Tape Recorder had the code. The primary code didn’t work, but the universal code worked.  (The universal code is “knock twice and show some cleavage.”  The guy with the cleaning supplies almost tripped letting her in the door.)  The Human Tape Recorder vanished up the elevator for her appointment and we drove around back to find the UPS drop box. 

It wasn’t there. 

Luckily, the App showed there was another box a few buildings down.  And there might be, too, but if so it wasn’t outside, and the building was locked.  No box.

Next building.  No box.  Drive a little farther.  Next building.  No box.  Drive a little farther.  Next building.  No box.  Check the door.  Locked.  No box.  The car is starting to smell of fair trade privilege and decay.  Hurry to the next location on the UPS App, around the parking lot, in the back – there, two boxes!  Saved!

No.  One box was USPS and the other might have started life as a UPS box, but it had turned into a FedEx box since the UPS App pushed its most recent update. 

I came close to dropping it in the FedEx box.  Same concept, right?  People must mix those up all the time. 

I can just hear them in the Great Shared Sorting Facility:
“Fred, got one of yours here.” 
“Thanks Bob, here’s two for you, Texas.  What’s that one say?”
“Nespresso pods, er, canisters.”
“Aww shit, really?  Trade ya?  Those things stink.”
“Heh.  All yours good buddy, says UPS on it.  All yours.”

But I’m not sure I really believe in the Great Shared Sorting Facility, and so, being a responsible coffee drinker, I continued to risk my car and nasal cavities by driving a little farther down the line.  We found a dead end, which held some merit but didn’t seem sporting, since there were houses there, and we found a Dumpster, which I have a really hard time distinguishing from a UPS Drop Box some times.  (The reverse is also true, which is also why I’m never going back to a certain business park near that bar in Cleveland.)

Finally, the UPS App map swore there was supposed to be a drop box at Building 3251, which is called Building 3251.  We found it by dint of winding up parked right in front of it; SOBUMD asked what the address was, and I had to open the sunroof to check the numerals, which are two stories high, declaring themselves to the world, from the rooftop.  Right building…  And, closed.  Box inside.  I could see it. 

As with the Carolyn Building, there was a person inside 3251 with cleaning supplies.  As an overweight, middle-aged Big Ugly Man Doll, doors DO open when I flash my cleavage, but they’re usually doors that you can’t unlock from the inside, and sometimes the officers bang your head on the car as they put you through them, and besides, the flashing lights give me the headache.  So, that was out.

We went around.  The back was no good.  Well, it might have been good, but there was a party happening in the rear of the parking lot, with a nice fire going.  It seemed like a very well-attended party.  Since we hadn’t been invited, possibly because of our having a fixed address and boring shit like that, we decided discretion was the better part of valor. We went around to the front of the building and pulled into the exit lane, to return to the open road and continue our quest. 

I just needed to wait for that UPS truck to turn in front of me.

Picture it!  There I was, about T-minus 3 minutes before our stinking rattle-sack pillow of coffee bones and despair leaked enough malodorous malevolence that I’d have to buy a new car, and there’s a big brown box truck of deliverance turning left right in front of me!

“Follow that truck!” I shouted. 

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” said SOBUMD.  I did a right and proper, by which I mean highly illegal, U-turn and pulled in behind the truck, as he stopped at Building 3251.

I pulled in right behind him, looked at SOBUMD again (she was holding the baby), and said, “Right, out you pop!”

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” she repeated, handing me the flopping aluminum stink-sack.

I got the bag out of the car with only seconds to spare – the paint was starting to peel, and that was on the inside. 

The poor UPS driver climbing out of the truck had clearly been busy hating his life to start with, and being handed a squirmy baby made of shifting aluminum and sustainably harvested, eye-watering compost canisters did nothing to change that. 

“I didn’t find the box, but I did find you,” I said with the good cheer of a man who now doesn’t need to file a dubious insurance claim about that smell in my car.  He took the bag.

“Yeah.” 

He tossed the bag onto the floor of the truck.  Clang-kerclunk-rattle-pew-thud.

“Thank you!” 

“Yeah.” 

I could see the delight in his eyes, and by delight I mean the flashbacks of loves lost, poor decisions, and bad fashion choices that had lead him to this job, this truck, this route – on this night.  The pod people were always coming for him.  Or canister people.  Whatever. 

We left the poor UPS man with the steaming sack of a hundred used cups of Joe and peeled out of there before he could change his mind and/or quit his job.  As luck would have it, the final UPS App Drop Box effort had landed us across the street from a dessert store called, in an example of truth-in-advertising gone too far, The Dessert Store.  (I have to assume they share an ad agency with Building 3251.)  It’s in a strip mall with not one, not two, but three hookah shops, two of them actually adjacent to one another, and a clock and watch repair guy who probably closes at 5pm on the very, very, precise dot, presumably for a smoke.

We got some desserts, because how else does one celebrate one’s emancipation from certain coffee mildew death, and besides, it’s what they sell at the Dessert Store.  We watched the rain, raining sidewise for a bit.  Two young women walked out, decided they’d wait on the bench outside, started to get drenched and came hesitantly back in.  I told them that rain like that was a good reason to stay for more dessert.  I guess I sounded convincing, because they were still eating when we left, as the rain dissipated.  I should be in sales.

From there, we still had a nominal amount of time to kill before picking up the Human Tape Recorder at what we now knew to be the Carolyn Building, and we’d already called Geico.  (Geico has actually blocked my number at this point.)  We went to Starbucks.  Closed.  They roll the sidewalks up early in Fairfax.  We drove past enough other places that I wondered what these people do for fun in the evenings, other than smoking hookah and dreaming eponymous dreams.  Finally, we found Earth Fare, with 9 minutes remaining to shop before they closed.  We shopped in 7 minutes, because we’re professionals, and because I dragged SOBUMD out, to her consternation, with only 4 bottles of coconut amino acids.  Her coupon is actually good until December, which is good, because we’ll be back.  The checkout person was throwing things into our bag at near relativistic speeds to ensure our timely departure, while maintaining a smile all the time.  She may have been a robot. 

Thus happily unencumbered by coffee canisters of dubious odor, equally happily encumbered with snacks, and grave with desserts, we pressed on our appointed rounds in time to retrieve the Human Tape Recorder.  She emerged, asking after our evening.  We launched into this recitation and she said something on the order of “Oh, yeah, the UPS box is right inside, I could have brought that in.” 

Next time.  Next time. 

And so ends the saga of The Great Fairfax Coffee Caper. 



Dear Gram

9 March, 2019 | | 6 Comments

Over the course of the last 10 years or so, I sent my grandmother a number of letters, on the order of 40 or so. Mostly, I told her, this was because she didn’t own a computer, and I didn’t feel that the lack of a computer and Internet access should exempt her from having to read the deathless prose of the Big Ugly Man Doll. She was, after all, the Queen Mother of Pink! (And yes, I addressed most of the envelopes to “The Queen Mother of Pink” at her address. The Post Office had no trouble finding her.)

This was mostly the hubris of her eldest grandchild speaking, but I was reliably informed that she appreciated the updates – by her, because she often wrote back with comments. (The comments were often variants on “you’re out of your mind,” proving that comments on blogs are the same the world over, regardless of medium.) The other reason I sent the letters, though, was because I was never really great at sending thank you notes when I was young, despite Gram’s unfailing ability to remember my birthday. (Between Christmas, birthdays, Easter, and Valentine’s day, for myself and all my cousins, and all of our kids, she must have sent literally thousands of cards – possibly keeping the local Hallmark afloat.)

I know she kept quiet track of the notes: When she found out that I had joined my high school debate team, she sent me the one medal she’d won while she was on HER high school debate team. I thought this was pretty cool, and when I won a (one and only) medal, I gave mine to her the next time we were in Chicago. She thanked me and laughed and said, “This gets you off the hook for a lot of missing thank you notes!”

The Queen Mother of Pink
The Queen Mother of Pink

The Queen Mother of Pink passed away a few days ago, at 101, in her own home, just as she’d said she would. She lived her life her way, tiny and fierce, short of stature and strong of will. She was the nicest person I know of, and certainly the nicest person I’ve ever known in person. Nice was never the same as weak – she had a will of iron. I learned a lot from her.

And so, finally, one last Thank You note – late, as usual.

Dear Gram,

So, you’re dead. I’m sure you’ve finally got WiFi now, so I know you’re reading this. I’ll miss your reply, typed on the old Smith Corona – I never understood how you did that with non-standard paper sizes. Even the checks were typed.

Thank you for teaching me what power grandmothers have. My earliest memories of you are from Omaha: You and Grandpa were visiting, and I was perhaps 5 or 6. I had been being my most usual self, I’m sure, and was about to get in trouble for it. I heard the words, “Do you need a spanking?” And suddenly, before I could say anything, I heard “Oh, not while Grandma’s here!” I’m sure my mother must have been near apoplexy, but to me, this was paramount to Mr. Rogers himself reaching through the television to intercede on my behalf. Wow!

Thank you for providing a road map on how to age without really getting old. You earned a college degree in the 1930s, and you never stopped learning. Learning to drive in your 50s? Going back to a local college in your 70s and 80s, to audit courses about the history that you’d lived through? That’s genius. Staying in your house, in your 90s and 100s, because it was your house and you damn well felt like it – that was maybe a little goofy, but strong. And reading – I didn’t get to your house very often, but there were always books. Not a library, hording them like I do, but you were always reading some new books.

And thank you for being an example. As I face my 50th year, I think of all the things you saw. You saw two states admitted to the union, and three Federal holidays created.  You were there to see cars replace horses; you saw Ford replace the Model T with the Model A.  You saw the infield fly rule amended to not apply to bunts. You lived through 18 Presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson. (Jimmy Carter was the first one younger than you were!) You saw the end of the Great War, and then presided over a century that saw little else. 

And yet none of those things made you jaded, or less hopeful – not even the infield fly rule. You saw the good in people.

Thank you for sharing some of the stories about that history. You told me that when the victory in Europe was announced in May of 1945, and everyone was banging pots and pans in the street to celebrate, you had to use a stool to reach some of yours from the cabinet – and this was when Uncle George first realized, “Mommy, you’re short!” The end of the war? Never mind that – his mom had to use a stool to reach the pots! Man, that was a milestone!

One of these days, I shall compile my letters to you, with your replies, and post them as an epistolary record. Just to be goofy.

I’m sure you’re enjoying things there. I hope they have Twinkies, and Peeps for Grandpa. We’ll keep things moving down here, and we’ll try to live up to the examples you set – in niceness, in compassion, and in strength. Maybe not in pink, honestly, but I’ll see what I can do.

Much Love as Always,

-Big Ugly Man Doll

1 January 2019 – Long Letter Follows

1 January, 2019 | | 2 Comments

Still aint’n dead.  Missed most of the last year – slept right through it.  Will work on updating this more often – a genuine, shiny new year’s resolution.  Hey, I’ve got to have something to fail at, right?

Be well, stay safe, think positive thoughts about the end of the current administration.  The watchword for 2019 is HOPE.

Oh, and be nice to each other while I’m away.  Your fellow humans are going through a lot right now.

Bide.  And hope.