Archive for December, 2012

The broken ornament

The broken ornament

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to sing “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.  Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat” because it reminded my mother that her father (my Pop-Pop) was getting old.  So we had to sing “good man” instead of “old man” to keep her from being depressed about it. 

I’m not sure what it is that is making me think of all these things during this week between Christmas and New Year.  Maybe it’s because of our kitty, Peanut, dying too early.  Maybe it’s because Simon broke an ornament that my mother made, and now she’s gone and can’t fix it.  Maybe it’s because Patrick won me a present from Sideshow Collectibles that reminds me of Victor and presents he gave me for Christmas, and Victor is gone, too.  Maybe it was the potential for the end of the world on the 21st.  Maybe it’s because I read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and somehow, all that stuff relates.

Especially now, when it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m baking a quick double batch of chocolate chip cookies for Patrick and Simon to have while I’m gone because tomorrow morning I start my drive to Tampa for the second residency of my MFA in Creative Writing.  And as I’m baking the cookies, I thought about how many cookies I baked for Christmas.  And how I’ve now involved my neighbor’s daughter in them, and she loves doing them, and I have to teach her how to bake them.  Which reminded me of when I learned to make Christmas cookies.

I think I was 12 the first year I made Christmas cookies.  My grandmother – Nanny – had always made the Christmas cookies.  She made more than a dozen different kinds, started them in late November, and stored them in tins (real metal tins, not the plastic ones you buy at Wal-Mart nowadays) on the top shelves of her pantry, which I only remember as being big, dark, and cool, and it had a huge hook with hundreds of re-usable bags from different stores.  She had the time to bake them, in between cleaning house and taking care of my uncle, Victor, who lived there, and my grandfather, Pop-Pop, who was often hiding in the basement, building things.

Nanny had arthritis, and she decided she was not able to make the cookies that year.  So she sent down her cookie cutters and her cookie cook book.  And suddenly it was my job to make the cookies.  I had no idea how to make them; she didn’t sit down and teach me.  She just assumed, and rightfully so, that I could figure it out.  But it was a lot of trial and error.  All that I knew about the cookies were how they looked at the end.  The rest of it was one big mystery.  But I tried, and I tried, and I tried…and after a few years, I had the right idea.

Now, every year, I make Christmas cookies.  And I have to say, they come out pretty damn good.  But this year, I got an additional challenge that I haven’t tackled yet.

One day, not long after the tree got put up, we heard this noise.  Kind of a cracking noise, like plastic being stepped on or a piece of something being snapped.  Since Simon, like any other ten year old, tends to break the more fragile of toys, we rushed out to the living room and looked around.  He said, “It’s broken,” but he says that all the time, and he couldn’t point to what was broken.  Whatever it was, we figured, it wasn’t important.

But then I was staring at the tree one day, and I realized that one of the ornaments that my mother had crocheted was no longer hanging right.  It had been a ball.  Now it was more of an oval.  Or a football.  Either way, it wasn’t good.  Apparently Simon had been playing with it, maybe squeezing it, since he loves to squeeze things, and obviously the plastic globe was finally old enough to snap under the pressure.  None of it had fallen out, but it had collapsed.  And there’s no way to just put another plastic bulb in there.

I came up with a solution, though.  Knowing what I know, just from being around my mother all those years while she did the creative stuff and I typed up the instructions she wrote out longhand, I decided that what I would do is carefully remove the broken plastic and blow up a small balloon in the middle.  Then I could starch the crochet ball around it, and once it had hardened, I could pop the balloon and pull it out.

I haven’t done it yet, though.  It’s a good plan.  On paper.  Or in my mind.  But I’m not sure it will play out quite the way I planned it.

So maybe that’s another reason why I’m having this blog about reminiscences.  Maybe the broken ornament is all it took to remind me of what I was missing and what has been lost over the years.

Loading up.  By MConnors, MorgueFiles.  http://mrg.bz/Swjz99

Loading up. By MConnors, MorgueFiles. http://mrg.bz/Swjz99

“Violence rules, guns are cool, and we have guns in our school…”  Or so sayeth The Dead Milkmen in their song “Violent School.”

When I was in high school in New Jersey many a year ago, we had an “incident.”  Even with our security guards (who hit on the teenage girls and ignored it when they smoked in the bathrooms), there were still drugs and violence and bullying and other typical – or what seemed like typical – high school stuff going on around us.  Except that one day, a security guard apparently walked into the boys’ bathroom and discovered that one of the low-level drug dealer teenage boys had a gun.  Oh my (as George Takei would say).

The school extended our homeroom period and asked us to talk about it.  Because that would fix the problem. And we’d all feel safe then.  A few friends and I walked around, singing from the Dead Milkmen song.  We didn’t feel safe, but we didn’t feel any less safe.  Way back when I had started there, the big news was about someone who had gotten stabbed in front of the local diner (Ralph’s) and gone through the window.  And at some point, I can’t remember if it was before or after the incident with the gun in the bathroom, we had a neighbor a few blocks over who had shot and killed his father.  There were claims of abuse; I want to say it was the eldest who shot his father, and I only remember that he had a sister named Gia who was closer to my age. It was so long ago that it’s only a faint memory. 

What’s my point again?

That this isn’t new.  In Houston, right up the road from me now, a high school student was found with a loaded gun.  This isn’t new either. 

I’m not going to make any comments on guns and the NRA and all the other things in the news.  I’m not trying to make any point about how guns are good or bad.  I’m just going to say this – guns exist.  Guns are already in schools.  And if you’ve read my two previous posts in this series, then you know that I’ve looked at two other things: the fact that we’re fascinated with bad things and that we love to blame “others” for those bad things.  We’re still doing the same things.  Nothing has changed. 

Walking a tight rope.   Image courtesy of chanpipat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Walking a tight rope. Image courtesy of chanpipat/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s all just a question of crazy.  What makes someone snap and do it?  How is a single murder less horrifying than a mass murder?  Can we argue the point that anyone who can make the move to kill another person is in some way mentally ill?  Why do we feel the need to classify and explain? 

We need to see killers as different than us, as out of our mainstream.  Because then we can wave our hands and do our magic and pretend it’s not us, it can never be us.  But here’s the thing.  It is us.  It’s always us.

So my son is 10.  And autistic.  Does he sometimes respond violently due to frustrations?  Yes.  Like any 3 or 4 year old would because that’s where he is.  But being bigger, he’s more dangerous.  We do all we can to mitigate and fix the situation, but do we have to worry about this forever?  Yup.  Hopefully something will work sooner or later, or maybe we’ll have a break-through and he’ll learn to communicate instead of pinching and squeezing.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

He’s different.  And, to be 100% honest, he may be dangerous.  But who isn’t?  Who’s normal?  Who’s safe?

“Normal” and “safe” people snap all the time.  Being diagnosed as different doesn’t mean that we should be more or less afraid – we should just be aware.  Aware that everyone has the potential to go in any direction and making assumptions doesn’t help anything, doesn’t fix anything, and doesn’t change anything that’s happened. 

After the school shooting in Connecticut, groups had to come forward to tell others to not blame autism for the shooting because there was a report that perhaps – perhaps! – the shooter might have been somewhere on the autistic spectrum

He might have also had other conditions, as well.  But everyone focused on his disabilities and tried to blame them; they were his reason for snapping.  They made it happen.

But let’s look at this again.  It anyone capable of violence somehow different or disabled or mentally unstable?  Or are we all there, on an edge we don’t even recognize, ignoring what’s staring us in the face every time we look in the mirror and try to tell ourselves that it’s okay because it’s not us; it’s someone different.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Such an upbeat song.  About death, destruction, and mayhem caused by a 16-year-old girl. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaHAvEEbQOE

I was actually listening to the song a few weeks ago, the Monday before the incident in Connecticut, and I wanted to post up some of the lyrics to Facebook, but when I went ahead and looked up the song, I saw a reference to the fact that it was based on a true story.  What?

I looked up the story.

As per Snopes.com, “On 29 January 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on children arriving at Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego from her house across the street, killing two men and wounding eight students and a police officer.  Principal Burton Wragg was attempting to rescue children in the line of fire when he was shot and killed, and custodian Mike Suchar was slain attempting to aid Wragg.  Spencer used a rifle her father had given her as a gift.  As to what impelled her to this form of murderous madness, she told a report, “I don’t like Mondays.  This livens up the day.”’ 

I decided I didn’t want to listen to it anymore, much less post it.  I could understand the fascination with the news story and with her mind.  Snopes provides other lines Spencer reportedly told police, such as “There was no reason for it, and it was just a lot of fun,” and “It was just like shooting ducks in a pond.”  She even commented that “[the children] looked like a herd of cows standing around, it was really easy pickings.” 

I know, we as human beings are always staring at accidents and looking for dead bodies in the weeds and watching true crime stories.  But the song seemed to do exactly what the girl wanted; she wanted notoriety and attention.  She got it.  I mean, really, what’s the difference between being famous and being infamous? 

Anyway, the bottom line – I didn’t post the lyrics.  I didn’t keep listening to the song.

And then Connecticut happened.

And I’m seriously numb to it.  My brain just can’t wrap itself around the concept.  It’s too removed from reality.  Impossible  I heard a song about it (sort of), and then it happened.  I couldn’t imagine how the people felt in 1979, and I can’t imagine it in current day, either, even though we’re supposedly inured by violent music, movies, and video games.  But none of those things are reality, and those emotions just can’t be translated.

ImageThey roll in from unknown places, mysterious and unexplained. They take root, take over, spread to all corners and refuse to be eradicated. no one can say why they came, but there’s no arguing that they’re up to no good. These plants are out for blood, and getting rid of them will take a certain kind of hero – the best kind.

 

Twenty-five tales of evil weeds to entertain, enthrall and change the way you look at the unwelcome invaders in your lawn. From feral tumbleweeds to ravenous seaweed, from alien life forms to migrating asteroid fields, in these pages you will find fairy tales and weird westerns, space romps and chilling horror stories.

 

Scary or silly, wicked or wily, these plants are here to stay.

Amazon print version: http://www.amazon.com/Wandering-Weeds-Tales-Rabid-Vegetation/dp/1481158767/

Amazon Kindle ebook version: http://www.amazon.com/Wandering-Weeds-Tales-Vegetation-ebook/dp/B00AHGKUUM/

Jenna Bush on her wedding day (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Jenna Bush on her wedding day (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

So continuing with my end of the world theme that I began, there was more news today that really made me think that the apocalypse is indeed on its way.

Ex-President’s Bush’s daughter, Jenna, is preggers.  Yup.  Spawn is on the way.  Another Bush (although this one will be called a “Bush-Hager,” perhaps?) is going to be part of this world. 

Should we be concerned?  It is truly a sign of the end of the world? I hadn’t been too concerned before, even with Godzilla making impact, but another Bush.  Wow.  I might have to start stocking up, like my fellow Houstonian who is prepping for doomsday

Slugs having sex! Photo by Daniel Ullrich, CC-by-sa-2.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons

Slugs having sex! Photo by Daniel Ullrich, CC-by-sa-2.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday it was Godzilla plummeting to Earth, having already wreaked havoc in Japan with the earthquake and minor tsunami.  Today…it’s giant slugs who eat houses.

No kidding.  Miami, Florida, is currently host to some Giant African Land Snails, which can grow to 10 inches long and eat the stucco from the sides of houses, like kids attacking life-sized gingerbread houses.  They are, obviously, a non-native species, and they have been there for a few years now. 

Luckily, I know what to do about it, having been one of the lucky few to have watched the awesome 1988 movie Slugs: The Movie.

So beware – as it was prophesied, the end of the world is coming, and if it isn’t Godzilla, it’s slugs.  (And if the trailer isn’t enough to convince you not to watch it, the whole movie is available online!)