Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Bath Towel's Cry for Help

(In order to make any sense of this post, you need to have read my post “Long-Term Laundry” from last month. If you haven’t, click the link to go there first.)

Editor’s Note: A piece of paper with this message on it blew into my yard yesterday, and I thought I should share it with my readers.

December 29, 2012

If anyone happens to find this note, we desperately need help.  My laundry mates and I were given a nice and much needed wash back in mid-October, and were put out to dry on the clothesline on a warm sunny morning.  It had happened before, and getting out in the fresh air always made us feel good, especially the underwear, who arguably have the toughest job among all of us.  (The towels used to wipe up after the dogs might take issue with that.)  Sometimes we would be out here for a few days, but we always were brought back inside to resume our normal activities.

Not this time, much to our horror.

Days passed, and those days turned to weeks. The temperatures grew colder, the nights longer, and our circumstances increasingly difficult.  We were dry, then wet, and then dry again.  We were warm, then very cold.  We ended up frozen stiff regularly.  Birds and squirrels have perched on us.  The children from inside the house spent an afternoon throwing rocks and sticks at us.  It was that day that the red flannel shirt fell to the ground, an omen of things to come.  Over time, the hunter blaze orange hoodie next to me has faded into more of a beige color, and a nasty crow left some droppings over on the “Triple H” wrestling t-shirt shortly before Thanksgiving. 

The month of December has been the toughest of all.  Some of us have been starting to show tatters from being whipped in the wind.  Snow and freezing rain has fallen on us, weighting us down and causing some of us to drag on the ground.  The socks and underwear were lucky enough to stay out of the mud and snow, but those of use with some length, such as myself, the other bath towel and the jeans with the worn-out knees, became filthy once again.

My fellow laundry refugees and I literally reached a new low just after Christmas.  A howling snowstorm came raging into town, and the winds toppled over one of those portable basketball hoop things right onto our clothesline.  It snapped, and we were plunged into the deepening snow below.  In no time, many of us were buried.  Only a few lucky dishcloths and one gym sock were fortunate enough to have their end of the clothesline stay above the snow, though they continue to be battered by the harsh elements.
“What have we done to deserve this?” we ask ourselves.  We have covered their bodies, kept them warm, wiped up their messes, and in some cases made them look, if not fabulous, at least okay.

Sometimes, late at night, buried under all the snow, I dream of the good old days, when I was on a warm shelf at JC Penney, brand-new and neatly folded, with no knowledge of my future of wiping someone’s soggy bottom after a shower, and then…this.  It all seems so long ago. 

So now, we wait.  We can only hope that someone inside the house will eventually remember us out here, shivering under more than two feet of snow now.   Don’t they know that laundry was not intended to be left hanging on the clothesline for more than a day or two?  What are they wearing without us?  How are they drying themselves off after showers?

If anyone gets this, please, for the love of all that is clean and fluffy, send help!  To say we are getting desperate is an understatement.  The wool socks are starting to look hungrily at the washcloths, and the frilly blouse can’t stop crying.  A family of mice has taken up residence in the pocket of the pink sweatpants with “Baby” printed across the rear end, and the holes in the jockey shorts are getting bigger and bigger.  At this point, we are nearing three months out here.  I don’t think we will make it until spring at this rate.

Please send help, and pray for us.

The Red Striped Bath Towel

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winter Wonderland Is Just The Worst Song Ever

Knee-deep in the Christmas season as we are, it is almost impossible to avoid holiday music.  It’s on television and radio, over public-address systems in businesses, and frequently being whistled, sung or hummed by people around us.  My own personal rule is no Christmas music until after December 1st, though after that point I will listen to and enjoy some Christmas tunes.  The Vince Guaraldi Trio, the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Bing Crosby are particular favorites of mine in the holiday genre.  Not only do they elevate my holiday mood, but their styles are quite different from the typical fare I listen to during the rest of the year (e.g.-grinding guitar-based rock), so it’s a refreshing, albeit temporary, change.
Yes, I am okay with Christmas music for the most part.  I can even tolerate some of the cheesier tunes like Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and Holly Jolly Christmas in manageable doses.  However, there is one holiday song that will send me screaming into the hills as soon as it starts playing.  It’s a song that stands high atop the pile of the most ridiculous songs ever recorded.  A song that makes me yearn for something with a more pleasing sound to it, like a piano being fired from a cannon into a wall of Styrofoam.  That song is Winter Wonderland.  I just cannot stand it.

It's more of a Winter "It Makes You Wonder" Land, actually.

There is no specific reason for why this song has gotten so far under my skin, but with every passing year it gets worse.  It could be that the lyrics are so incredibly hokey.  Maybe it is that the song romanticizes snow and winter weather in general, which can be the bane of our existence here in my part of the world from November until April.  It might be that the melody is one that gets in your mind and refuses to leave for hours.
According to that unimpeachable source of information Wikipedia, Winter Wonderland was written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith.  It is said that Smith wrote the lyrics while looking out the window of the sanitarium in which he was hospitalized for tuberculosis.  I suspect that he was under the influence of some kind of prescribed drug with unspecified mental side effects at the time, but have no proof other than the song itself, which ought to be enough.  Winter Wonderland has been recorded by more than 150 different artists.  Among the versions that would likely cause me to claw out my eardrums are those done by Ozzy Osbourne & Jessica Simpson, the Three Tenors, Billy Idol, and Radiohead.  It’s not even a Christmas song, really.  Nowhere is the holiday mentioned in the lyrics.
One of the hokier lyrics in the song involves a love-struck young couple building a snowman and fantasizing that it is a member of the clergy who will seal their relationship in holy matrimony. Surely you remember:
"In the meadow we can build a snowman,
then pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He'll say 'Are You Married?' We'll say 'No man,
but you can do the job while you're in town!'"
Seems to me that if you are goofy enough to think of something like that, then you are probably not of sound enough mind to get married anyway.  If you do take the plunge under those circumstances, you’d better get cracking on building two divorce lawyer snowmen pretty quick.
In 1953, the lyrics about having a hand-molded pile of crystalline water officiating at a ceremony initiating a lifelong commitment were considered by some to be inappropriate for children, likely by the same people who would later only allow Elvis to appear on TV from the waist up so as to protect America’s youth from those dangerous swiveling hips.  I mean, if we allow people to pretend inanimate objects can preside at marriage ceremonies, who knows where that may lead?  Next thing you know, toasters will be opening their own wedding chapels.  
But I digress.  At any rate, the lyrics were changed to the following, which did not completely supplant the originals, but can still be heard in some versions of the song:
“In the meadow we can build a snowman,
and pretend that he's a circus clown.
We'll have lots of fun with Mister Snowman,
until the other kiddies knock 'im down!”
It was out with ridiculous puppy love, and in with fear of bullying. Hooray for progress. Is it just me, or does this seem like something Dana Carvey’s Church Lady character from Saturday Night Live back in the day would have come up with?
It has become a game for me to make it all the way through the holiday season without having to listen to the song all the way through.  I’ve eliminated any and all versions of it from my music library.  If it comes on the radio, I switch the station.  If it comes on TV, I hit the mute button or switch the channel.  When in a store or other public place, I have been known to leave or at least go into the restroom for a few minutes if the song comes on over the P.A. 
It’s kind of silly to do this, and I fully realize that.  My evasion of Winter Wonderland is purely for my own amusement and is not even remotely serious.  Think of it as my grown-up version of that game many of us played as kids, trying to move from one side of a room to the other without touching the floor because “the floor is lava”.  I have successfully avoided listening to Winter Wonderland all the way through for four Christmas seasons now, with one tragic exception last year.  I was sitting in a chair, halfway through getting a haircut, when it happened.  The worst possible version of the song imaginable, one by 80s pop cheesemasters Air Supplycame on over the P.A.  There was no way to escape.  My head was wet, it was -10 degrees with the wind blowing outside, and only one side of my head was trimmed at that point.  I explained my avoidance streak of, at that time three Christmas seasons, to the lady cutting my hair.  She just laughed and kept on cutting, never even offering to turn the music down or off.  She did a great job on the haircut, and I've gone back to her many times since, but I still hope she got coal in her stocking that Christmas.
I can’t help but wonder if my behavior in this regard may be genetic in some way.  My 87-year-old maternal grandmother absolutely cannot stand Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, and will mute her television or turn off the radio if the song ever comes on.  It’s kind of funny, since my grandmother on my father’s side used to practically worship the ground Bing crooned on.  (See post: Out Home at Christmas with Bing from last December on this blog.)

There must be at least one Christmas song that makes your toes curl and your skin crawl.  Maybe it’s just a certain version of a particular song.  I know from listening experience, for example, that even the best Christmas songs can become cruel instruments of torture in the hands of the otherwise-talented Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland I’d like to hear from you about the Christmas songs that are your Kryptonite.  Leave a note in the comments section below, or you can contact me via Twitter or e-mail using the info in the “About Me” box at the top of this blog.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Tribute to Uncle Ralph

My father's brother Ralph  passed away recently after a period of illness, and what follows is what I said at his funeral.  It took a while to write and I got a lot of good feedback on it afterward, so I thought I would share it here on the blog as a further tribute to him.

Ralph was with us for 75 years, and all of us have mental snapshots of some segment of that time with him.  My own go back to the early 1970s, when I was a young kid.  Ralph was not yet married, and spent the vast majority of his time then driving truck for his god friend Joe up and down the east coast.  It didn’t make much sense for him to have a place of his own to maintain if he was only going to be there a few days a month, so when he was in town, he lived with his parents, my grandparents, Mark and Verda.  I was a frequent visitor to my grandparents then, so I saw Ralph often when he was in town.  He was always easygoing and loved to tease me, my brothers, and my cousins.  As kids, we could always count on Ralph to be light-hearted and fun.
When he wasn’t on the road in those days, Ralph liked to catch up on the sleep he didn’t get much of when he was on the road.  Trouble was, Ralph could sleep very long and very deeply, and an alarm clock just wasn’t enough to roust him.  So it fell to my grandmother to wake him when he needed to be up and getting ready to head out again.  Waking Ralph up was a very, very difficult thing to do.  I can still hear my grandmother upstairs, in a sharp voice that was not at all in character for her, saying “Ralph! Ralph! Time to get up!”  She’d learned long ago that the gentle approach got her nowhere when it came to getting Ralph out of bed. He’d typically ask what time it was, she’d tell him, and then she would head back downstairs.  Five or ten minutes would pass with no stirring from above, and she’d go back up and try again.  By the third or fourth time, you could almost see the smoke coming out of her ears as she went up the stairs.  There were days I’m sure when she would have picked him up and lugged him out of bed herself if she could.  My grandfather, wisely, stayed out of it.  Eventually Ralph would get up and have to race around to get out the door, and even then he was usually running late. 
If any of the grandchildren were around and willing, Gram would send one or more of us up there to try to rouse him.  I personally found that yelling and drumming on the foot of the bed tended to do the trick, though that was one of the times when I think I saw Ralph’s easygoing attitude start to waiver.  It wasn’t the gentlest way to be awakened, but he’d already had his chance to get up peacefully when Gram had tried.
Procrastination was a part of Ralph that sometimes drove those around him bananas, but it was part of what made him who he was.  Gram liked to say that Ralph was probably going to be late for his own funeral.  Well, he passed away 13 days ago and we did not have the funeral until today, so you be the judge if she was at least partly right.  She usually was.
Ralph drove a tractor-trailer for 45 years, and as a young kid I was always intrigued by Ralph’s truck.  I always kept my eye out for it when we drove past Joe's place on the way to my grandparents’ house.  His truck and Joe’s looked identical, except that Ralph’s was blue and Joe’s was red.
Ralph often liked to tell us about the things he saw and did when he was out on truck.  Being the tease that he was, some of what he told us was kind of “out there”, especially if his audience was quite young.  Gram always made sure to monitor his tales and didn’t hesitate to step in and set it all straight if Ralph got a little carried away.  Nonetheless it was clear to us that he enjoyed his job and his life.  Sometimes the stories he told about his trips into cities like New York and Boston made them sound like fun and exciting places I’d like to see someday.  I remember being very impressed that he had seen the Statue of Liberty and Bunker Hill in person, even if it was through the windshield of his truck. 
At other times though, his stories made the big cities sound like places I never wanted to set foot in as long as I lived.  The shady characters and dangerous situations he sometimes encountered on some of those trips to the inner city were pretty hair-raising.  I believe Ralph was robbed more than once while loading or unloading his truck in dark city depots late at night, but in the retelling it never seemed to bother him.  It happened, he was smart and survived it without injuries, and he moved on. And it never scared him away.
To the young kid that I was at that time, Ralph made driving a tractor-trailer seem like quite an adventure.
Years passed, and lives changed, as they always do.  Ralph got married and had a family.  My cousins, siblings and I grew up, moved on and started lives of our own.  I didn’t see nearly as much of Ralph in my adult years as I had when I was a kid, but when I did, he still seemed like the same old Ralph that I remembered, right down to the procrastination for which he was so well-known.
One of my most recent memories of Ralph is from the winter before last.  We had just had a large snowstorm, and I had driven out to his place one morning to do some snowshoeing.  The plow had come by while I was out on the trail, and my car got stuck in the pile of snow at the end of the driveway as I went to leave.  Even though it was brisk and windy, and the snow was deep, Ralph didn’t hesitate to come out into the cold with a shovel and offer to help me get my car out of the snowbank.  It made more sense for my bulk to do the digging and pushing, and for him to get in the car and work the accelerator.  That car was very mired in the heavy wet snow, and it took us quite a while.  I was getting frustrated and was ready to call my father with his four-wheel drive and a chain, but Ralph kept his cool.  He had some ideas, we tried a few, and eventually we got the car unstuck.  Incidentally, the following spring, I traded that car in for an all-wheel drive. 
It’s kind of nice that one of my last interactions with Ralph was like that.  For me, it was a good representation of the man he was: kind, easygoing, helpful and giving.
There were good times and bad times in Ralph’s life, some easy ones and some very difficult ones.  Through it all, he stayed true to himself, and I respect him for that.  You always knew what you were getting with Ralph.  He missed his wife Carol a lot over these past 11 years.  It’s time now for him to rest in peace with her, and time also for those of us who knew him to hold on to the fond memories he gave us.
Godspeed, Ralph.