Wednesday, September 30, 2009

World's Greatest Pop-Pop

I have been a bit absent from the computer lately. There are two parts to a successful blog: one, having adventures. Two, writing about adventures. Not necessarily in that order. In fact, I am a big proponent of writing about wishing I had adventures. Not lately, Constant Reader. Lately, I have been an adventurer who has lapsed in logging of said adventures.

You would probably expect me to tell you about some of my recent exciting experiences, and yet it is actually a mundane occurance which has prompted me to wake my hibernating computer today. After work, I headed to a Happy Hour for a few rounds with my colleagues. Unfortunately, I left a few minutes after them, and I ended up behind a (sloooow) car with a license plate holder that proudly proclaimed the owner of said car to be the "World's Greatest Pop-Pop".

Umm....I think not.

Seriously, I looked at this guy when I finally managed to pass his slow-ass. He did not look all that great. And I happen to know that the World's Greatest Pop-Pop died in 2000. Yes, nearly ten years ago, and my little pea-brain can still manage to contour up his exact laugh at will. I can still hear him say "Yeah, yeah, yeah," when he hears some random story he likes as if I had last heard him say it yesterday. I hang on to these memories because they are all I have left.

My Pop-pop was a plumber who had big, stiff, working-man hands and whiskers on his chin at all times. When I was a little kid, he came to the house and we rubbed cheeks to say hello. He always wore a fedora-type hat, and he was impossible to buy Christmas presents for. He was the type of guy who didn't need much to make him happy, and who bought whatever he did need. My siblings and I gave him silly things for Christmas - like levels and cheapo tools, hunting gear, joke books, cook books, and pictures we drew ourselves. My parents bought him cigarettes and beer, until he gave up smoking. Yet, he always opened each gift and thanked us so whole-heartedly, that our hard work in thinking of that perfect thing always paid off. One year, I bought him a new fedora with a fancy feather in the band. He never wore it, to my knowledge, but it was still in the house when he passed away, in the original packaging. In his own way, I think he truly appreciated these gifts, even treasured them, but he never really needed them at all.

My Pop-pop loved corny jokes, and he told them all the time. Our favorites were the "almost dirty" kind - What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino? A HellifIknow! He told the same jokes nearly every time he visited (like, weekly) and he always always laughed out loud at the punchlines. Somehow, I never grew tired of them.

There was nothing my Pop-pop seemed to enjoy more than making my grandmother argue with him. In fact, I think they both enjoyed it. Even to the days when his body ravaged with cancer, and he was weak with pain, I remember him telling her that she was not removing the lid from the "Ensure" can correctly. Did they argue because they were actually mad at one another? Or because bickering about mundane daily life kept them from worrying about the big issues?

My Pop-pop had endless patience (with us kids, not with the Ensure can manufacturers). When he got home from work, I went into the basement and asked him question after question after question. I do not once remember him being short with me, or ever suggesting that I was asking too much. He explained what every tool in the workshop did, when he used it, why he kept it stored in such a way, how he cleaned it, why I shouldn't pick it up, how it worked, why I shouldn't plug it in, and where the sharp parts were.

My Pop-pop was in World War II, and he flew a plane. Though we often bought him plane-themed gifts (for lack of a better option), we never knew a whole lot about his plane-flying days. It was not until his funeral that we heard the tale of his homecoming from the war - when he flew a plane just above the power lines on a residential street over his mother's house, to let her know he had safely returned. He received only a small fine for the infraction.

Worlds Greatest Pop-pop? He truly was, and it is amazing how I still remember him so clearly. I hope I never forget.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Life Lessons

When I was just a young (very young) tyke, I remember a conversation with my Mom. She told me we would go to church to learn about God. "What's God?" I said. She told me that God was responsible for making all the people, and plants, and things in the world. In fact, she claimed He made the world itself. I had a vision not unlike the Monty Python cartoon God - a man, a little scary, in the clouds. "But Mom," I said, "if God made the world, then who made God?"

I don't remember a response. I think she may have changed the subject or something.

A little while later, I remember eating lunch at a neighbor's house. My friend's mom had made the most delicious meal I could think of: macaroni and cheese. And not that crappy stuff that takes all day to make either - this mac 'n cheese came from a box. As we ate our food, my friend and I compared fingers. Amazingly, we realized that we both happened to have five fingers on each hand. I remember being unbelievably surprised at this coincidence.

At one time, I thought it was customary to pick your last name when you got married. My father's parents were divorced and I knew that their last name was different from our own. Likewise, my mother's parents had a different last name. I asked my mother why my teacher, Mrs. Etchberger, would have chosen such a crazy last name.

In kindergarten, I pretended to go potty so I could be first in line, and an hour later, I realized this was a very silly thing to do indeed. In second grade, I went to a neighbor's pot luck party and ate enough brownies to make myself sick. In college, I made a similar mistake with vodka.

The point, my Constant Readers, is that life is all about experiences. There was a time when we did not know even the simplest things, and somewhere along the line, we picked up little tidbits of information. Some things, like the very beginning of existence itself, we ponder all our lives. Others, like the size of our bladders, we figure out pretty definitively after an unfortunate occurrence.

Sometimes though, we just forget our past experiences and open our big fat mouths. Like today, I entered the gym and was a bit surprised to see that the check in guy had shaved his head. Yesterday, he had long-ish hair, kind of feathered. Not the most up-to-date hairstyle, but certainly not all Michael Bolton-y and sad. He had hair on top; he had no comb over. I handed him my card and calmly reacted: "So, did you lose a bet or something?"

To his credit, he simply said no and left it at that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Farming in the City

I finally made it to the Farmers Market this morning. It's something I have been meaning to do, along with getting my car in for an oil change, getting my wheezy cat in to see a new vet, researching new vets, going to BJ's for a refresher on my gum reserves, buying new pants, etc, etc. The reasons for trying to buy more local foods are many - it reduces ones carbon footprint, it helps the local economy, it saves money, blah, blah, blah. I can practically hear Adam's brainwashed Fox News fan parents yelling from Pennsylvania: "You liberal hippie! It's all a plot to put our hard working Walmarts out of business!" (Ironically, these folks live on 52 acres of land and pretty much already grow or personally kill all of their food...though they do buy canning supplies and ammo at Walmart.)

But I digress. Even if all those real, politically and socially motivating things do not convince you to buy local products, here's one you just can't beat: The stuff tastes better. So, a few weeks ago, after buying yet another mealy peach that was pretty much inedible, even though I know peaches are in season in my area, I took the plunge. I began committing myself almost strictly to the "homegrown" section in the supermarket. I thought this would limit my diet, but it hasn't. For one thing, I have bought and used produce that I would not have bothered with before - like Asian pears (grown in Northern Virginia, don't ask me), eggplant, and corn on the cob (more on this in a moment). This is all well and good, but I know from my handy little pamphlet distributed by Maryland's Best (, that there should be more variety. The grocery store ran out of peaches and corn last week. While they still had tons of eggplant and bunches of absolutely delicious I-could-eat-a-flippin-pint-in-one-sitting baby tomatoes, I grew weary of the same old same old. And really? There's only so many ways to skin an eggplant.

I dutifully printed out the list of local Farmers Markets which actually sync with my schedule and location from the Maryland's Best site, and went to the market on this, a cold, rainy, fall day. They had - peppers (hot, sweet, and bell), butternut squash, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, fresh herbs, tomatoes, peaches!, onions, carrots, beets, green and yellow wax beans, chard, and cucumbers. Oddly, no eggplant. There were only two vendors there, so I made sure I brought some from each, and I was on my way. I bought so many tomatoes! They smell like heaven, and I got bunches of hot and sweet peppers, so I'm going to make fresh salsa if I can ever manage to stop reading blogs and do some recipe searches.

I really can't wait to start a garden if we ever manage to find a house. In fact, my house hunting has actually been yard hunting. It could be a big, woody lot with a tent in the middle for all I care. Umm, scratch that for I do appreciate modern plumbing.

There are some contingencies to this garden though (see how I can now use real estate jargon in my daily communication?). You see, when I was a kid, we grew all our fruits and vegetables. We planted, we weeded, we picked. And picked. And picked. My garden will (hopefully) be a stress reliever, not a stress creator. Read: tiny.

You (an innocent bystander): Oh how wonderful! You must have loved growing up with all that fresh food!

Me (a wise worker): First off, I was a very picky eater and refused to eat pretty much all vegetables except corn. And we had so much corn, that my dad would put three ears per meal on each plate. None of my siblings really cares much for corn on the cob. We all OD'ed on it back in 1987. What I remember? Was the work. When the green beans came in, we picked beans for about two to three hours in the hot sun, then came inside and cleaned them. (We got to do this in the living room and watch a movie, so this was not too bad.) Then, we froze them. My parents operated the stove, boiling the beans in batches for three minutes, then racing them across the kitchen into an ice water bath. We kids were the baggers, pulling out handfuls and tossing them into bags, sucking all the air from the bags, and securing them with a twisty tie. We would finish up around 9pm.

Imagine doing this every three to four days, all summer, for various veggies and fruits. It is not really a kid's idea of fun.

So, it has taken me a good twenty years, but I am finally ready to plant a garden. A small garden. All I need now is a yard. Until then, I'm off to the Farmers Market.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Shower Party

I came home the other night and headed to the bedroom, where a bunch of unrecognizable people were gathered, apparently having a party. I was tired from work and thought I would have a shower, but the people in the room told me Adam was already in there. A friend handed me a drink from the makeshift bar (Adam's desk) and advised me to sit down and take it easy while I wait. I sat with one ear to the bathroom, where I began to hear female giggling. I was told that Adam had two lady companions in the shower.

I wrestled with myself. On one hand, I felt I should be self confident enough to know that the jaunt in the shower was just a friendly (albeit very friendly) thing. He might enjoy the company of these girls, but I knew he loved me, so I told myself it was no big deal. On the other hand, it was a big deal. Why wasn't I enough for him? Tortured, I drank my drink until my friend suggested that I join them in the shower.

I was not confident that I would stack up against these girls. By the sounds of their giggling, they were likely to be supermodel types, while I, ashamedly, am not. I disrobed behind a screen and donned a blanket to cover my nudity as I approached the bathroom.

I opened the door, and the giggle girls were there, as pretty as I thought they'd be. I cried. I just couldn't bring myself to take off the blanket in front of them and I thought it was very disrespectful of Adam to assume I would be cool with this, regardless of whether an actual infidelity had been committed.

The girls laughed at me and Adam argued with me, and I woke up, short of breath and humiliated.

It was still dark out, Adam was sleeping soundly, the cat was likely puking somewhere, and all was well. But the feelings of anger, humiliation, and indignation, remained. I could not go back to sleep until 6:28, when I reached over to turn off the alarm which was scheduled to beep in two minutes. I ventured into another shower-related dream which took place at my parents house in their newly renovated bathroom. They had converted this into an all-shower room, and the water pressure was so great, that I awoke again gasping for breath because I was drowning in a veritable waterfall of water. But the original bad dream stuck with me throughout the day.

I found myself a bit angry with Adam because he was mean to me in my dream. I told him about it, hoping for some reason that he would apologize. However, he did not feel he'd done anything wrong, and was actually looking to me for an apology since my tossing and turning is not conducive to anyone's sleep.

I'd like to come up with a witty ending for this post...but for some reason I am very tired....