Thursday, January 29, 2009

Touch Me

So I just got back from taking the older cherubs to school and, as is the tradition, I stopped by the local DD's for two large hazelnut coffees, extra extra in each, and a box of 50 assorted no-nuts.

And a thought came to me, after I paid for the goods and drove off.

There are two types of drive-thru attendants in the world: those who will go out of their way to keep from touching you at all costs; and rapists.

The first group acts thusly: You order. You drive up. And you see the drive-thru window slide open but there's no one there.

Until you realize that the attendant, who is asking you for your money, is standing at the other end of the goddamn restaurant.

These people want no contact at all with humans. And here they are working in a facility that has the sole purpose of serving the public.

You reach out to give them your money - unbuckling your seat belt, reaching through your window, and through the drive-thru window, so that your upper torso is resting on the fucking cash register. You are so far inside you have to hook the toes of your boots around the steering wheel.

And the attendant stands there, leaning against the far wall, her palms turned up, her head slightly turned away, and you realize with horror that maybe it's you. Maybe you've shit yourself and she's just trying to be polite. Maybe she sees dead people and there's one sitting in the passenger seat of your car with a bullet hole in their forehead.

Either way, you're in it up to here, you're practically an employee now, but you go to put the money in her palm and she keeps lowering it. This is when you realize that she is phobic. She is telling you, without using her words like good grown ups do, that if you touch her she is going to urinate blood right there.

Daintily - ever so cautiously - and with a tad bit of guilt (because it is, after all, you're fault for being human) you drop the coinage and the bills into her upturned palm and then climb back through the windows.

Presently she returns with the goods.

"Would you like a carrying tray?" she asks you.

"No thanks."


The look on her face tells you she doesn't care if you've only ordered a single munchkin, she does not, in this lifetime, want to touch you. A carrying tray means she can hold one side and hand the other side to you. No flesh touches.

"No really, I'm fine."

She then hands you your coffee, a cup at a time, by the lid with the forefinger and the thumb. That way you are forced to grab the cup and therefore don't have to touch her fingers, but more importantly, the lid is bound to pop off, dumping scalding coffee onto your balls, which you know she wants more than anything.

To end the experience, she offers you your change. By now you understand she does not want to be touched, so you offer your own upturned palm, and she proceeds to drop the coins and bills into it from the fucking roof.

Then, you have the attendants who just want to get laid.

Or so it would seem, considering they go out of their way to fondle you, stopping short of reaching through the window and crawling into your pants.

These people greet you by sticking their head through the drive-thru window before you've even pulled up. You offer them your money and they interlace their fingers with yours and you expect them to start reciting wedding vows.

They hand you your coffee with both hands and it's so awkward that you even try to take the coffee by the lid, to avoid the molestation, and somehow they still find a way to brush a finger across your hand.

And it feels dirty. I mean, you really are left uncertain, like maybe you owe them an extra buck for the grope, you know?

I need to shower now. I'm feelin grody.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Climb Every Mountain (Or: My Novel and Other Shit)

I have a stack of pages on my desk that, collectively, represent a nearly finished novel. It's 377 pages, but it's rough. That's the way these things work.

Right now, it's not a novel but 377 pages.

A pile.



No, no. Just kidding.

It's a pile alright. Don't get me wrong. A stack of pages that, loosely, represent the workings of a fictional narrative. There is a thread. There are stable characters. There is a plausible setting and even a rising action leading to ....


That's where I'm at. The WHAT? part.

Picture a novel as a hiker does a mountain. Starting at the base, it rises almost constantly, with short-lived respites where things plateau a bit before moving upward again.

At some point, within sight of the top, you feel exhilaration. A sense of impending accomplishment. That's where I'm at in my novel. Page 377 represents that mossy area 100 yards from the peak of the mountain. The place where it flattens just slightly and no longer is your vision blocked by the trail before you, with its brambles and rocks and tree roots. When you look up now, you see sky.

Page 377 is where I have stopped, and as much as I would like to claim that I'm resting for the final push, I would be lying. It's more like I've twisted my ankle and now sit there rubbing the injury and swearing.

Something really nasty, too, like "Fucking douche bag motherfucker!!!!!!!"

Which is what I reserve for slow drivers, anyone who scores on the Patriots or the Red Sox, and for when I am stuck on my novel.

Hey, I never said I was classy.

Anyway, slow drivers and professional sporting events are easily handled.

A stalled novel, however, is a different beast altogether.

But not impossible.

My problem is that, along the journey, I have come to realize some new things about the characters, which will swing their actions in a different way. Characters are people with motives, things that drive them. And as I have progressed, their motives have become clearer. And by that I mean they no longer need me to direct them, but rather for me to bear witness to their actions.

In other words, I have to go back and change what they do earlier in the novel, which in turn affects what other characters do, which in turn...

Well, you probably get the picture.

It's not really as daunting as it sounds. And, quite frankly, it's refreshing.

Remember the mountain analogy?

So here I am with my sprained ankle, sitting on my ass these last three weeks and losing weight, dehydrated, hallucinating about naked talk show hosts and I remember a few yards ago there was a shelter with a first aid kit. If I swallow my pride and limp back there, I can get an ACE Bandage, wrap the ankle, and press upward again.

It makes writing exciting, actually. It means that my story has taken on a life of its own and all I need to do is sit back and let it unfold (as opposed to dictating the action, which is like pissing in the dark. Sometimes you hit the mark, but mostly you're just making a mess).

My desk is a testament to the hike. Around my literary pile are scattered the tools of a writer's climb. For example, I have a can of warm Mt. Dew; a bowl with a dried up apple core and a withered piece of chewed kielbasa; a cold cup of coffee three days old and growing hair; a fresh Dunkin Donuts coffee bought this morning; several pens; several 4x5 index cards; a three-pronged adapter; John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire; and Roget's Thesaurus.

These seem, to the untrained eye, merely the accumulation of debris of a lazy man.

Which is accurate.

I'm just telling you so that I can set the scene.

Which is: I have my pile of a novel I'm now editing.

And other shit around it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Passing Lament

love is sprung
upon the young
and just as quick is lost

then I wish not
to unwind the clock
and away the years be tossed

for there was a time
in this lover's mind
a lament for all we missed

for a younger age
upon a different stage
in a play in which we kissed

but had we met
when the sun had set
on younger eyes as we

I would regret
your beauty yet
be lost on youthful me

for your loveliness
I must confess
gave me pause this way:

if I met you first
and quenched a thirst

would we still be we today?

experiences past
means love now will last
the length of a million days

youth was served
so that our love be deserved
in more enriching and fulfilling ways

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mt. Blue

I confiscated some pictures from my mother this morning and rushed home to scan them before she notices.

They are images of camping at Mt. Blue State Park, a Turner family tradition since before I was even born. My mother is on a kick lately to gather all the family photos she can in order that they may be put together in an album.

I thought, just for shits and giggles, I would share a few here. They were taken when Fallon and Harrison were much younger. And so was I.

God. Look ma, not beer belly!!

I hope you enjoy.

(Oh, and yes, the fact that these are SUMMER pictures is not lost on me, sitting here in January.)

Me and Harrison, summer of 2001. He's seven years old. I'm not 7.

Fallon and Harrison, 1998. Harrison is 4, Fallon is 6. And, as always, she's got a firm grip on her younger brother.

Harrison, 1998. One of my favorites of him.

Harrison, 1, Fallon, 3, and my father, around the campfire, 1995. Apparently Harrison is pointing to the spot he wants Fallon to jump to. She's contemplating it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I walked to the mailbox this afternoon, later than usual after a busy day, and the cold air was a confrontation. It's done that a lot lately. The crisp affront has become expected; an insulting slap across the face that I have learned to instinctively burrow my chin against.

Or maybe because it's been a bad stretch all the way around that I have come to hate the winter cold so much; like it is the embodiment of all that is wrong and bad in my world. Like the frigid air is a metaphor for my own personal hell.

It's not far to the mailbox from our front door, thank God. And from it I pulled only a few items. An electric bill. A large envelope from the local theatre group for whom I am directing a show this spring.

And a card.

A card?

On January 21?

Immediately I ticked off, in my mind, the familiar annual milestones.

It's not my birthday until March 4. It's not Corrine's birthday until next September.

Our anniversary is in September. Our wedding was four months ago. And since it was addressed to both of us, I could rule out any of the kids' birthdays.

I recognized the name in the return address up in the lonely left-hand corner of the envelope and thought perhaps it was a thank you note for shipping out Surfacing.

But then again, I thought to myself, she's already sent a thank you.

I opened it once I was inside. In it was a card that featured a haiku from a Japanese poet named Masahide.

On the face of it, it read:

Barn's burned down,
now I can see the moon.

The haiku rests beneath a branch of a bamboo tree, its leaves silhouetted against a pale moon, which itself appears to be breaking through clouds.

I don't get cards much. In fact, I don't recall, other than Christmas and last year's birthday, when I got one. And I can certainly say I have never gotten a card from a near-perfect stranger.

Especially one with a check in it for $100.

Marie Harris, thank you.

I don't mean to call you out like this, to put you up and into a spotlight, but I must.

To my readers, Marie Harris is a fellow blogger who I discovered in that random way we find writers while out searching the blogosphere. I liked what I found on her blog - she is a creative spirit, a writer, a searcher like me - so I commented on her blog one day. And she reciprocated. And, like the rest of us, a blog friendship was formed.

I don't know Marie beyond the electronic landscape, which is to say I don't know Marie at all. I know her words. And, from them, I have formed a very shaky image of the person. But I don't know her any more than you who are reading this know me, really.

I mean, let's face it, if you were to draw a mental picture of me based on my latest posts, your image of me would be fairly dark. What with frozen, bursting pipes and all.

But we know Marie better today. Her card's haiku could not have more perfectly framed our life today if we wrote a thousand words in a thousand blogs for a thousand days.

It speaks of the unexpected freedom we can get from the ashes of a seeming disaster. Something bad happened, yes, but look at what you have gained. It's there. It's a bright, shining thing you're going to miss if you keep staring at the burnt barn.

And we got this message in the form of a haiku on a card from a near-perfect stranger in California.

Folks, that's a 3,000-mile random act of kindness.

I won't share with you what she said in the card, other than to say that it was in direct response to our latest pipe-bursting, frozen bathroom crisis. Her words are kind and generous and have, in their special way, thawed this winter of ours.

Her act of kindness has, in one fell stroke, shattered the ice cold of a merciless winter that has petrified our will and paralyzed our hope.

Our house has burned down, it seems, more than once lately.

But now we can see the moon.

Thanks to our perfect stranger.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Civics In The Livingroom

We gave our children the opportunity to stay home from school today for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I think it should have been a national holiday. Every inauguration should, just as every national election should too. Both are the ultimate civics exercises, when we get a chance to do something very few in the world are afforded.

No matter your political bent. No matter what color your state is or the letter you put next to your politician's name. You have to be moved by the ascension of a common person to the position of Leader of the Free World.

So we sat and we watched and we said nothing, witnesses to history on many levels. The obvious: Barack is our first black president. The not-so-obvious: Barack is the first president whose father was born in Kenya and whose mother was white. The not-so-known: Barack openly admitted to experimenting with drugs in his youth, an admission that would have ended his political career not so long ago. Or how about the fact that he's our first president with an iPod and BlackBerry. Probably our first who knows what the term "I got Googled" means, too.

I admit here, proudly, that I voted for him. I also admit that, not too long ago, there was rumor Colin Powell would run and I was ready to vote for him. He was a staunch member of both Bush administrations, let's not forget.

I would have voted for Hilary, too, who is also making history even if not quite what she wanted.

But what I really like about today is that Fallon, Harrison, Alyssa and Ty all said yes when asked if they wanted to stay home from school to watch it.

These are not kids who miss school, folks. They are all honor students. They have sports and tests and homework due that will now be late a day because they stayed home. They did not sleep in. They would not have been allowed. Nor would we have extended the invitation if we thought they would abuse the privilege.

I was not surprised, honestly, that they sat, in silence, and watched. They're much more politically astute than my generation was. I never saw Carter or Reagan or Bush inaugurated. I saw Clinton, but by then I was an adult and knew the magnitude of the moment. And I watched H.W. Bush too.

What did surprise me was that our day care children clamored for a seat before the television too. Not one of them could tell you the names (other than Obama, whom they argue is brown not black, something they were told in school I guess) of the people on the television. But they understood that this was a magnificent, momentous event that deserved their attention.

They giggled when Aretha Franklin sang, because they had never heard of a large black woman named Aretha, apparently, but maybe it was the hat she was wearing. And they pulled a face at the name of Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated cellist who played with three others. I didn't dare confuse them with the bit of trivia that the man who composed the piece was the same who composed the Star Wars, Superman, and Jaws movie themes.

Either way, it was a moment that they can now proudly look back upon and remember having taken part, if not on the ground in D.C., at least on television. The same way many saw the assassination of Kennedy, the first man on the moon, and the Columbia disaster, to name a few.

What happens from here - the ramped up expectations, the critics champing at the bit, the foul economy that has clouded everyone's future - remains to be seen.

But it will not take away from the fact that my children saw something historic on this day. There's just something about that that makes a missed day in a stuffy classroom worth it. I think they would agree.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Can You Read My Mind?

Fallon Paige received a new digital camera from me and Corrine for her birthday and has been spending the last couple of days taking pictures. She's quite good at capturing the sentiment of the moment. She has an eye for it I think.

One of my favorites is a candid of her youngest brother, Griffin, next to whom she was sitting last night. With camera in hand, she snapped a quick shot of Mr. Smile a Mile, which is my new nickname for him. It used to be Sir Shitsalot.

The photo is a perfect reflection of who Griffin is, I think. Now, mind you, he isn't smiling in it and the boy smiles more than any child I've ever met. He is a very happy baby. But lately he's hit an emotional growth spurt. That stage in a 6-month-old's growth in which their entire world becomes interesting. Before, all they really can and want to do is eat, sleep, and poop. Now, he wants to KNOW. He wants to UNDERSTAND.

He has become much more attentive now that he can hold his head up and completely still, so he spends a lot of his time staring at people, and I'm dying to know what the hell the boy is thinking.

He looks deep into you and it's freaky. Harrison, my second oldest, used to do that at Griffin's age as well. He would spend long amounts of time just observing. Calculating. Contemplating. I used to joke whenever Harrison stared at me at length that he was thinking "Crap, you're my father?"

Fallon's picture, like I said, captured Griffin's latest stage in growth perfectly. He looks right into the camera, straight through it even, as if into your eyes. And the look on his face says "You're a mystery, please explain yourself. I promise I will not judge you. I just want to know."

I love that look.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sunshine or Shit

I went to college for a year. It was a mistake to even go, to be honest. My dream, in high school, was to backpack across England, Scotland and Ireland, and to be a novelist. Instead, I flew west to Texas where I enrolled at Abilene Christian University.

My thinking back then was that the safe way trumps the dream way. The practical outpaces the outlandish in almost every race.

Meaning, standing at the crossroads I saw to my right a career as a teacher, with a stable salary and benefits and a house and car, etc. To my left, I saw the romance of being free to travel and write, but without a salary or benefits or any sense of how I would survive.

We live with our choices, good and bad. We just learn more from the bad. And boy have I made some doozies.

But I told myself over the past few years I would not live with regret. I had been, you know? I had been stockpiling my mistakes and keeping them in a safe place so that, when something bad happened, I could chalk it up to karma coming back to haunt me for my past errors.

It works like this: you make a decision that ends up hurting people you love. You see the error and you repent. Your intention was never to hurt, but you did and there it is, a blemish on you and your character and you feel legitimately sorry.

So, time passes. Then shit begins to happen. To you not by you. And you can't help thinking "Well, that's what you get for ..." and then fill in the blank with whatever you did that you regret.

That was me. That was me in spades. Hammering myself into the ground for making mistakes. Living with regret and pulling them out of a deck of cards. So that your hand is never a winner. Let me be plain: YOU stack the deck, then deal yourself a shitty hand. Is it any wonder, then, that you never win?

That was then. This is now.

I am, as some of you have been following, on the worst losing streak of my life. I won't enumerate them all here. Let's say for the sake of brevity that for one whole year it's been bad luck upon bad luck.

And to some I know, and maybe even to you that read this, my life is shit. My life is a black hole.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

My life is filled with richness and fulfillment beyond imagining. It is a life no longer dictated to me by shame and guilt and regret.

I have changed my perspective by acknowledging that shit happens, but it's just shit. It is not exacted upon me by karma and is not a direct result of anything I have done. And it certainly does not define me.

There's shit and there's sunshine. Both fall upon us all in equal amounts, we don't have a choice there.

I have found, though, that where you do have a choice is in which one you choose to bask.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Less Than Zero

This morning, the pipes in our bathroom burst as I was feverishly trying to thaw them. Specifically the pipes behind the shower.

The previous owner, when renovating and installing the bathroom years ago, failed to put in shut off valves which proved (up to this point anyway) disastrous. I raced down into the basement to shut the water off to the bathroom and could find no valve. After three more trips up and down the basement stairs, looking and looking, I finally got the previous owner out of bed with a frantic call. I learned that I needed to shut the water off to the entire home.

I sit in our living room writing this, awaiting the arrival of my brother-in-law and my sister's boyfriend, both of whom have the knowledge and equipment to fix the pipes. I'm tired. Corrine is tired, and crying, and our bathroom is destroyed.

This is not an exaggeration. The floor, the sub floor, the baseboards are soaked and ruined. They will need to be replaced. The pipe that burst will more than likely not be the only one. When you shut the water off to the house, there is still water in the pipes, unless you blow it out.

It's 26 degrees below zero outside. The day care - our source of income - had to be closed. No running water means no bathroom breaks, no way to make lunch (unless you make them sandwiches).

Fallon's birthday is today and I called her at her mother's and sang Happy Birthday to her. The party we had been planning for her will now have to be moved to my parents and there's a good chance we will not be able to buy her the gift we wanted to.

Oh, and the truck wouldn't start because of the cold.

And the furnace will not keep running and needs to be restarted constantly.

We sleep on mattresses in the living room during the night to conserve heat.

We have the wood stoves in the kitchen and the living room going, with sheets hung in the doorways to keep both rooms warm. Therefore, when you walk through the rest of the house, you can see your breath.

I am searching for the humor, because that is what we have left at this point and that is my primary coping device.

I'm sitting here writing this with my winter jacket on, my boots, and Gabrielle sits next to me eating apple slices and caramel dip watching Toy Story 2.

How's that for funny?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No Nuts! (And other exclamations)

Our two-year-old, Gabrielle, is at the age of verbal discovery, deciphering what she is told, and weaving it into her own special spoken tapestry.

This morning she produced a drawing that included a heart. The heart was Corrine's contribution amidst Gabi's colorful scrawl. (Lots of lines, circles, loops and wriggles) She came to me as I sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the 36th time in my life.

"A hawt!" she yelled, and I looked down at her holding her drawing. She was pointing to Corrine's heart.

"You're right. It's a heart!" I yelled back (because all forms of communication are in the form of window-vibrating exclamations. "I HAVE TO GO PEE!" or "IT'S CODE IN HERE!")

I then asked her where her heart is. She looked at me and scowled. A look of confusion.

"Here!" she shouted, but it came out as He-You because she can't yet wrap her tongue around the letter R. She was pointing at Corrine's drawing.

"No. That's a drawing!" I yelled, but happily. I believe in boisterous positive reinforcement.

She looked at the drawing, then at me and scowled again.

"Hawt!" she said and pointed.

"Where's Gabi's heart?"

She pointed at the drawing.

"Nope. That's a drawing!"

I then tapped her on the chest.

"Gabi's heart is here!"

She giggled. She's ticklish everywhere. I can point at her from across the room and make her giggle.

"Gabi's hawt?!?" she said, and tapped her own chest.


"I want to see it!"

She lifted her sweater and tucked her chin into her chest and studied her shirt.

"It's inside," I said.

"Inside? Why?"

"It's in here. It's inside!" I yelled.

"It's inside? Hawt inside?"


And so on and so forth for another ten minutes. She didn't grasp the concept of course, and really I didn't expect her to. I really just conduct these conversations so that I can hear her talk. I remember Fallon and Harrison, when they too came out of the verbal fog of toddlerhood to form complete (if not a bit garbled) sentences for the first time.

It was as if on a Monday they could only chip away at the words here and there, and then magically lifted a veil on Tuesday and could string words into sentences.

Fallon liked to sing "Strawberry Peels Forever!" when I was going through my Beatles stage 15 years ago.

Gabi's vocabulary list now includes hundreds of words, but these are some of my favorites:

No Nuts = Donuts "Daddy brought no nuts! Tanks you Daddy!"
Rinn = Corrine (She is learning that her mother has another name; e.g., "Riiiiinnn! Come he-ya. I gotta poop!")
Code = Cold ("Brrr. It's code")
Fiffin Seeping? = Griffin Sleeping?
Dissious = Delicious (Things that are pretty to her are delicious) "My Gabi Turner. I'm delicious."
Pider = Spider "That's a baby pider!"
Ring a-wound a Horses! = "Ring around a horses" when singing ring around a rosey.

There will only be one window of time that her conversation will be considered cute of course. All children go through this window and once on the other side, the side in which talking is almost exclusively arguing, it ceases to be cute, and becomes annoying. And then I'll have to wait another 15 years or so before our talks become enjoyable again.

But that has not happened yet, so I will take advantage as much as I can now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Deprived of Sleep

It's 12:48 a.m.

I am beyond tired. I'm flipping through the channels and finding nothing. I did happen to go to bed but was kicked out by Gabrielle, our 2-year-old warden. She started out on my side and when I went to bed, I hoisted her into my arms and carried her to her own bed.

She insisted, loudly, to be returned to my side of the bed. This leaves me with a quarter inch of mattress.

Doesn't really matter anyway. The furnace has once again shit the bed, which requires me to sleep on the couch, keep the living room fire going and every so often venture down into the basement to see if I can get the bastard going again.

Corrine hates this. Well, so do I for that matter.

I feel banished. Curled up, trying to sleep but waking every half hour to make sure the fire doesn't go out.

She lopes down the stairs to fetch the warden a cup of milk. Gabi can't sleep without her milk.

Corrine doesn't say anything when she comes down. I think she's sleep waking (sleep milk fetching) .

The fact is, we both had forgotten these days. The days of caring for young kids. The days of having to set aside all things in order to keep our attention squarely on completely dependent souls.

Our other children have been fairly self-sufficient for some time. They bathe themselves, feed themselves, go to the movies without us needing to escort them.

We've been able to sleep relatively unencumbered (see: childproof) for years. Now, we're back to the days of breastfeeding and bed relinquishing.

Okay, the furnace issue has nothing to do with child rearing. I would be down here on the coach, writing my blog and keeping the fires hot regardless.

I am beyond tired, and Robert Downey Jr. is climbing a ladder in his underwear in a movie that came out when I was 20.

God this sucks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Burke Mountain, Vermont

Taken in 1998. Fallon is six, Harrison four, on the slopes of Burke Mountain in Vermont. My favorite photo of them together. They were running around, chasing each other as they often did, and I told them to stop so I could take their picture. This is what they gave me.

It pretty much embodies who they were and who they became. Close, a little goofy, a bit competitive (he's keeping a bag of Oreos from her).

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pipes Filled with Ice

I had to thaw a pipe beneath our kitchen sink two days ago. And so began the winter of our discontent. Chapter three.

Our first winter here, during the 2006-2007 campaign against the cold, was my induction into a special fraternity shared with Maine homeowners. A special breed we are, I learned quickly.

When we bought the house earlier that summer I was told by those with knowledge of such things, that I was destined to have problems with my pipes. I passed off these comments the same way you shrug off someone who tells you to change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles. You hear it passively, more excited about your shiny new car than to hear advice on how to avoid running it into the ground. Hubris, I think it's called.

Well, we had a shiny new house - built in 1850, mind you - but shiny new to someone like me, who had never owned a house. I was more excited about finding a three-hole privy in our barn than about the possibility of frozen pipes, the danger from which was months away.

"Dude, people used to actually shit in these things? Cooool."

Yes, I certainly gave passing thought to the idea of pipes when I went into the basement, but nothing more. I mean, the basement was not a place I ventured to very often. And when I did, it was a cool, musty place that made me sneeze and where pregnant spiders liked to hang out and ensnare my face with their webs.

I certainly remember seeing pipes down there, running along the wall in pairs, joining with others in dark corners, crawling up into the floorboards above or disappearing through walls. There were fat pipes too, but I had no clue what those were. And a lot of valves that appeared as if they had not been turned for years.

So, knowing my luck with machinery and things made of metal, I ignored the pipes altogether, chalking them up as necessary but mysterious workings beyond my small understanding. Like, you know, Slim Jims. Or ships in a bottle.

And so it came to pass that summer turned to fall, the leaves changed and then fell. The ground turned hard and the grass stopped needing mowing. And on a particularly nasty day in late November, I got THE CALL.

Corrine, downstairs, yelped and I came running.

"There's no water in the bathroom!"

And, with my acute sense of awareness and a striking ability to face an emergency clear-mindedly, I said, "Huh?" And I cocked my head to the side the way a dog does when you ask him if he wants a beer.

"The pipes are frozen!"

This sets a man in motion if nothing else does. When you are told that the pipes are frozen, the first thing that springs to mind is Gene Hackman in The Poseidon Adventure wading waist deep, the seawater surging higher, frantically looking for a way out of the doomed ship. You are sure this is your fate.

Your hand grabs the doorknob to the door leading down into the spider incubator and you wonder "Shit, if I have to step into water will I get electrocuted from the furnace?"

Seriously. It brings to mind a CNN crew on your front yard interviewing your neighbors.

"He was a great guy. I mean, I just talked to him yesterday when he was pouring K1 into his oil tank."

Anyway, I ripped the door open, despite the imminent drowning that awaited me, and I dashed down the stairs. There wasn't a drop of water anywhere, of course. I hurried to the general area of the bathroom, which is to say I had to stop and draw a picture in my head of the first floor, and then trace my steps to that spot. Of course, had I just, you know, FOLLOWED THE FUCKING PIPES ABOVE MY HEAD I would have gotten there quicker.

I knew somehow that thawing
the pipes meant using a blow dryer. (Technically, if you're from Maine, it would be "unthawing", the same way we call a driveway a dooryard. Or foot riggin for shoes. We get it if the rest of the world doesn't) .

Now, mind you, I am still in 911 mode, thinking that at any moment all of the pipes within the house would explode. So I am rushing, my breath puffing white clouds, my fingers aching, assured that this is how people were found dead from hypothermia. I raced upstairs and did the best ER impression ever, pulling Nurse Corrine aside by her arm. She was standing at the head of the stairs, obviously listening for the sound of me drowning or burning up from electrocution.

"Are you mad, woman? Find the space heaters. Stat!"

I found the hair dryer and plummeted down into the freezing bowels of our house once more. I hurried to beneath the bathroom and found the outlet in a corner. I plugged it in and turned it on. My eyes fell upon the place where the pipes turned 90 degrees and up into the floorboards of the bathroom.

I went to it in a rush and yanked the cord right out of the wall.

"Heinous Mother of the Invisible Bile Monkeys!" I shouted.

I needed an extension cord. And I knew, I JUST KNEW, that I was using all the extension cords in our house because every room only comes with ONE OUTLET.

I raced back upstairs nevertheless, found a cord in our bedroom and nearly destroyed the lamp into which it was plugged.

"To hell with light! Save the basement!"

Nurse Corrine was hovering in the bathroom door. I pointed and shouted, just before disappearing back into the basement, "Stand guard and check the water every three minutes!"

Not sure where I got three minutes. In the heat of the moment, in instances of high drama, it is best to shout important-sounding things to put at ease the harried minds of the women folk.

Corrine scowled but nodded in affirmation. She is my rock, I'm telling you.

I plummeted again, straining my ears for the telltale eruption of metal, the crushing wave of water I was certain would come down upon me at any moment.

I plugged the blow dryer into the cord, the cord into the wall, turned the power on high and aimed it at anything that looked cold or frozen or long and filled with water.

I brushed the hot air onto the pipes as if I were painting. I focused it on the bent places that I was later informed were called "joints." It's important to know the technical details of these things, I find.

My arm started to get tired. My legs ached from dancing in place to get circulation of blood to the toes. The cobwebs were dotted with dead spiders and blew lazily from the frantic waving of the blow dryer.

Corrine called down, three minutes to the mark.


"Damn the copper gods!"

I trained the blow dryer more intently, the nozzle barely off the cold pipes. I waved more crazily, thinking that a greater exertion of my energy would transfer into the blow dryer and out of the nozzle.

Three minutes later, "Nuthin!"

"Hyperbole of Saint Ignatius Toad Kissers!" I roared.

And then a horrifying realization. As I looked at the parallel pipes, it dawned on me that there are cold water pipes and hot water pipes and that I hadn't a clue which was not working.

"Which pipes aren't working?!" I shouted at the ceiling approximately where Corrine's feet would be.

"The bathroom pipes!"

"No shit! Which faucet won't turn on?!"

"The one to the sink!"


There was a pause. I heard the tinkling of water and hope rose suddenly.

"The COLD!"

So the hot water was working, then, I told myself and then aimed the blow dryer. But then quickly lowered it.

"Left or right?!" I harangued.

"What the hell does that mean?!"


"Oh. Cold is on the right!"

I had been warming the hot water pipes for the last 10 minutes.

So, needless to say, after a furious assault on the other pipes for a few minutes, I heard the magical words from above.

"Got it!"

I turned the blow dryer off. I unplugged everything. I trudged back upstairs.

That night, after a day in which the stress of potential more frozen pipes that meant checking the water every three minutes, Corrine and I slunk upstairs tired and beaten. We turned the corner and Corrine made her way around to her side of the bed.


Yes?" I said, and yawned, absently scratching the small patch of dead skin on my frostbitten fingers.

"You forgot the extension cord to the light."

Friday, January 2, 2009

I did something New Years Eve that I have wanted to do for awhile.

I got my ears pierced.

I took my nearly-seventeen-year-old daughter to get her bellybutton pierced and, while I was there, decided to get my lobes done. Both of them.

A few years ago I took my seven-year-old son and together we got one ear pierced. He got one stud, I got the other. His looked cool. Mine got infected and I had to remove it. I had not gone back until December 31, when I chose to have them both done.

I like earrings. I like tattoos, too (I had my first done last year - an ink quill on my right interior forearm. Get it? An ink quill?)

Anyway, there's still something a little naughty about a man getting earrings and tattoos. but not nearly as scandalous as it used to be. My brother, Woofie (that's his real name, and another blog for another day) was the first guy I knew who had either done. I thought it was cool but I feared for his life, too. I mean, these things were not looked upon by our parents as being all that cool. In fact, we attended a church whose leadership preached that such things were an assault against the temple of God. Even earrings or makeup for girls.

Woofie, as you might gather from his name, marched to a different beat. You just expected him to get marked and pierced. I mean, the guy had shoulder-length blond hair and was the drummer in his own rock n roll band. He smoked and he was the first person that I can recall ever swearing in front of our father.

I do not think of myself as a bad ass. Let's just get that clear right now. I have no delusions about myself. Well, yes I do. (I'm pretty sure I think I'm cleverer than I really am.) But not delusions about how tough I am. I cried once when I had to remove a band aid from my big toe. I have hairy Hobbit feet! It hurt like a bastard.

I got my ears pierced because I like how they look. That's really as plain and boring the truth of it is. It's a purely vain, cosmetic reason. It's my boob job and lipo.

I have to admit too that a part of it feeds my ego. I mean, the reaction I get from people is priceless. It's a study in personal expectation and perception that others have of us. We expect someone to be a certain type. We perceive people within the context of personality frames. I wear glasses, keep my hair short and build web sites for a living. Nothing screams geek more. Or take Corrine. She's a mother of four and used to work in the local school library. Trust me. There is nothing dowdy about my wife. Nothing. (She has a tattoo on her lower back that is the hottest thing I have ever seen.)

People see me newly adorned and I witness a rainbow of thoughts spread across their brows. It makes getting them pierced well worth it. Most are kind and say they like it. But, behind their eyes, you see the gears clicking. The judgements falling into place like tumblers.

A 40-year-old getting his ears pierced and a tattoo screams MID LIFE CRISIS.

Of course, there are those who make the gay references, too. Oh Andy, how thweet. I juth love the new you, they slur, wrist bent.

They joke, but I always wonder if they are truly affronted. If they, deep down, wonder about my "orientation." Are people still that insecure? Are they, well, naive? Shallow? What's the word?

Well, for the record, I am not under the influence of a mid-life anything.

And I've never been more "oriented" in my life.

I love my naughty librarian. I visit her stacks every chance I get.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My 2008 Resolution. Yes, I said 2008

Be forewarned. This blog will disappoint. I'm just saying.

I used to keep New Year's resolutions the way you make a grocery list. I would fill it when I was hungry, and therefore made wild, unrealistic entries. I would randomly rip them off the top of my head as they came to me, excited at the possibilities of how much change I was going to wreak upon myself in the coming year.

Because of how much of a complete failure I was setting myself up to be, I stopped making lists a few years ago and instead implemented the one and done plan. One resolution. And not some supersize resolution either, to make up for the list of many. Like "Save Mankind". And not something vague that I could wriggle out of, like "Work out." Work out what? My Taxes?

I also made the decision to NOT publicize what that resolution is. Not because if I failed at it people could nag me, but because I superstitiously felt that telling others would jinx me.

So I will REFUSE to tell you what my New Year's 2009 resolution is, but I will gladly share with you my 2008 resolution.

To marry Corrine.

Okay. I can already hear the grumbling dissatisfaction in some of your heads, the ones who know me. You are saying "Well, that was a toughy. You had been living with her for two years and had two children together. Please."

Well, the truth is, there was a sub clause to my resolution. A sub-rez if you will. A dependent clause. One that finished the sentence with an ellipses, thusly:

To Marry Corrine...Because It Feels Good, Not Because Others Want Me to.

Basically, I wanted it straight in my head that I was marrying her out of no obligation other than for love. As Hallmark Card as that sounds, it's the truth. I had her already. I enjoyed a fulfilling happiness, a deep friendship and passionate connectedness. We had a house. We had two children together and each brought two more into the family to make it a cozy 8. We had a couple of pets.

We also had all the headaches every couple have. Mortgage and fuel and groceries and no money ever. We had tension. We had highs and lows in the same day. Hell, in the same minute.

Marriage was not going to change anything is my point. Not a thing, except legal status. Corrine would have the dubious honor of absorbing my debts and take my last name. Lucky lass!

So, to resolve to marry Corrine in 2008, it had to come with the supplemental tidbit that I would marry her purely and absolutely because it felt really good to do.

We got married in a Legion Hall down the street. She wore a dress designed by my niece. I wore a long-sleeved shirt and dress pants. We had hay bales and straw scarecrows and Christmas lights strung. (we had planned to do it outside at our house, but Mother Nature intervened.)

We had a justice of the peace. We had no processional music. We walked with all of our children to a stage, got it done, and then ate with our friends and family.

The beauty of it was in its simplicity and how it reflected who we are. It was what we wanted.

It felt right. It felt good to do.

Resolution made and kept.