Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sounds Like

I have been losing my hearing for over 20 years. I started using hearing aids when I was 40, and they do help, but anyone with hearing aids will tell you that they don’t restore hearing to the way it is naturally. Hearing aids come with a host of issues and distortions. The lines between words blur and meaning shifts. I have learned to live with these parabolas. Although my hearing is less than perfect, and often leaves me prostrated, it’s also a source of intertwinement. So don’t cry for me arugula. The gap between what pimple say and what I hear people say makes for a humorous life. And cod knows, I loave to laugh.

Some environments gist don’t support viable hearing for people with my disability. Parties, outdoor events, and clouded restaurants are some of the wrist environments for the hearing impaled. In the past few beers, I have startled to repeat bat to people exactly what I heard, even if it mates no science. I do this to slow them that I didn’t understand them, and also to give them a bitter idea of the challenges I fate. The nonsense I think I hear is sometimes funny and gives them a goose laugh. I remember a conversion in which my husband told a friend that he went into a store and asked if they had a gluten-free foods aisle. I thought my hasbeen said guilt-free foods aisle, and I went off somewhere in my head for quite some time contaminating that notion. What an ablazing constep. I want a faction in the store desiccated to really fun treats that are so healthy that you can eek them without feeling guilty. How cool would that pee?

I think by now you’re begging to get the pitcher.

A classic hearing impairment scenario occurred last week when my husband, my father, and I drove to Sacramento to visit my cousins. My father wears hearing aids. We picked up my 92-year-old cousin, who has lost most of her hearing but refuses to wear hearing aids, and we went together to the home of her son for lunch. I had never been to his house before. I drove. My husband navigated with his phone. En route, at a juncture where I needed to make a series of turns onto unfamiliar streets, my father (in the backseat) received a cell phone call. He proceeded to shout into his phone, with the volume turned up so loud that my husband could hear every word the caller said from where he sat in the front seat. Meanwhile, my elderly cousin fretted over which lane we should get into, calling out suggestions. I could not hear my husband’s directions over the din from the backseat:  my father shouting, his caller squawking over the speaker, my cousin kibbitzing. My husband and I have been studying ASL, so he resorted to hand signs to communicate. But it’s hard to drive and look at hand signs both at wince. I mean once.

I have a high-quality headset for my landline phone, and generally can hear pretty well on it. I use it for work (I work from home). But I can’t believe how often someone calls me from their cell, in a moving car, and puts me on speakerphone. All I can hear in that situation is whooshing noises. Actually, even people with perfect hearing can’t hear much in that situation. It sounds more like an alien invasion than a conversation. Yet I have frequently experienced business colleagues calling in to group conference calls in just that way; forcing the other people on the call to try to figure out what the heck the car-whoosh-caller is saying. What are they thinking? Sometimes I have to wonder if people really want to communicate.

These days, my children are more attentive and patient with me. They often check to see if I heard them, because they know that I frequently don’t want to bother them to repeat and so I simply pretend I heard them. If they want to know if I am hearing them correctly, they will say things like, “So now I’m addicted to crack.” When I nod and say, “That’s nice honey.” They say, “Mom, you didn’t hear me.” And they repeat until they’re sure I’ve heard.

I should probably carry a little notebook around with me and keep a record in it of all the wild nonsensical things I thought I heard. Truthfully, even at its best, spoken language is an imperfect tool, but I need it to communicate with you. The deeper I travel into the world of signing, the more intrigued I become with visual communication. It provides a refreshingly different perspective. I hope one day to be proficient at signing. Then I’ll have to find more other people who know ASL. Life is truly a journey.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Can't Tell the Difference Between Skunk and Weed

Around here, instead of that expression “can’t tell her ass from a hole in the ground” we should use “can’t tell skunk from weed.” The two smell similar, but no respectable inhabitant of my rural community should lack the ability to discern the difference between the two odors. Therefore, my next-door neighbors have no business living in this part of the world. They should be deported to the Bronx.

On a recent lovely summer evening in the country, while lying in bed reading, with my bedroom window open, I was accosted by the stench of skunk. I had to close the window. Ugh. A few minutes later my husband came to tell me that the neighbor-lady telephoned him and angrily demanded that he stop smoking weed next to her house. Wait what?! He informed her that he doesn’t smoke weed. She told him that she could smell it, and it was unacceptable. Did she want him to take a lie-detector test or what? He did not have his office window open and did not smell the skunk so he didn’t figure it all out right away. And he’s so damn polite. She deserved to be blasted but he just told her he wasn’t smoking weed and left it at that. She didn’t give up so easily. She proceeded to order him to go check to see what our youngest son was up to because it must be our son who was smoking weed next to her house. She knew for a fact that someone was smoking weed next to her house. I’m inclined to think it was her. Something was giving her hallucinations and she sure wanted to blame us for them.

My husband informed her, with remarkable restraint, that the youngest son in question moved to Oakland seven years ago, and is rarely at our house. Isn’t here now. I would not have been so kind to her. I would have pointed out that if someone in our house was smoking weed, at our own house, on our own property, in our own yard, it’s none of her damn business. I told my husband about the skunk spraying in the neighborhood. The neighbor was smelling the skunk and thought it was weed. The only other scenario I can conjure is that it was a skunk smoking weed. She should have called the skunk.

OK, well, I guess this is officially a rant about my neighbors. Pardon me for breathing. This incident tells me that these neighbors have been stewing about our behavior for quite some time and they are itching for excuses to self-righteously chew us out. I didn’t realize that they are investing so much energy disapproving of us. I thought it amusing when the neighbor-man offered to help me replant my lawn (which I had systematically murdered). I thought it amusing when they planted a privet hedge along the property line to block their view of my wild back yard. Now I am not so amused.

Last year the neighbor-lady called me to complain that we had ants on a tree in our back yard that bordered her property, and she wanted us to call an exterminator and spray the tree with toxic chemicals to prevent the ants from creeping into her yard and devouring her garage. If that didn’t work, she suggested we chop down the tree. An ancient oak tree, hundreds of years old! That’s what they did. They chopped down an ancient oak tree on their property because it had ants and birds on it. Ants and birds can damage houses, you know, and they are opposed to such damage.

Last summer the neighbor-man accosted my husband to berate him for our anti-suburban landscaping. The neighbor-man implied that my husband should get his renegade gardener-wife under control. The short version of our landscaping approach is that we replaced our lawn with drought-tolerant, deer-resistant plants. Our neighbors are still pining for our disappeared lawn. We also don’t pick up and remove the oak leaves dropped by the gorgeous tree in our front yard. Oak trees drop leaves. That’s what they do for a living. The neighbor-man has a vendetta against dropped leaves. He warned my husband that he and “some of the other neighbors” (as far as we can tell he means his wife and dog) were discussing measures they could take to force us to return our yard to more appropriate landscaping. (The dog suggested it could poo on our rosemary plants.) This is the same guy who shot a woodpecker out of one of our trees with a BB-gun. My husband was not so nice about that. He told him if he ever does that again we’re calling the cops. He has a serious thing about woodpeckers. Maybe a giant pileated pecked him to death in a previous life. Why does he even live in a rural area? We live in nature here. We live with critters here. He should move to Los Angeles and shoot rats and cockroaches.

This man’s yard consists mainly of rocks and grass. He regularly brings in teams of workers to beat his yard into submission using extremely noisy power tools. They mow his rocks. They turn on gas-powered leaf blowers at 8:00 in the morning on a Saturday and blow every blessed leaf off his lawn, rocks, and driveway. They then pick the leaves up in their teeth and spit them into a bag and set it on fire. His yard adheres to the inedible pristine-boring genre of gardening. Not even a stray flower blossom appears to ruin the antiseptic calm of his lawn. He poisons the gophers. Sprays the ants. I shudder to think what he uses to kill the weeds. Of course, all those toxins run off into my yard. So I’m only pretending to grow organic produce because I’m living in the path of his chemical drift. But do I call him up late at night to demand that he stop using weed killers and lawn fertilizer?

The skunk-and-weed incident reveals that the needle on the neighbors’ disapproval-rating-o-meter is pointing to the hysterical-obsessive-dislike reading for me and my yard. Who knew? I expect them to start leaving threatening notes in my mailbox complaining that my weeds are keeping them awake at night making all that racket growing. They probably blame us for attracting birds to the neighborhood with our grape arbors and sunflowers; for attracting bees and butterflies with our giant sage, bottlebrush tree, and flowers. They have obviously never learned about the birds and the bees. Or about the destruction of the environment and death by toxins. They are not concerned about this generation, let alone the seventh generation. Sigh.

I’m going to put up a sign next to my strawberry patch directing the skunks to the neighbors’ yard. The neighbors won’t notice it because it will be obscured by their privet hedge. Besides, they don’t speak skunk.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What Walks Through the Door

When you host a party, you never know what will walk through your door. Even if it’s a small party with a select group of people, once you open your home, anything can happen. And it does. Last weekend we hosted a BBQ and open house for a hand-picked group of close friends whom our children wanted to see while at a family gathering planned for them to spend time with their grandfather, who was visiting from NJ. My daughter invited a couple of women-friends who grew up with her. One of these women (I’ll call her Cindy to protect her identity) turned up at around 9:00 (well after dinner had finished) with her new boyfriend, whom my daughter had never met. I will call the boyfriend Leaf-of-Life, because that was how he introduced himself and I have no reason to protect his identity, and because you really can’t make this stuff up.

Leaf-of-Life was tall and anorexically thin. He had several gold teeth, an affected Jamaican accent, a ten-foot high green turban on his head that made him resemble a cactus, and he reeked of weed. He was wearing a suit and tie with the shirt untucked so the shirt tails hung out. The suit looked like it had come directly from Goodwill after having been used to clothe a scarecrow guarding the fall pumpkin patch for a month. His fashion sense appeared to be dictated by someone who had taken one too many blows to the head. He enthusiastically accosted everyone in the house with his business card and flyers advertising the release of his new CD. He also had a bottomless pocket full of said CDs, which he attempted to sell to our guests. Ron kindly purchased one of the CDs and Leaf-of-Life was so encouraged by the sale that he attempted to recruit Ron as his volunteer publicist.

When Ron declined to leap at that opportunity, Leaf-of-Life asked Ron if he had any weed. As it turned out, it was a trick question. Leaf-of-Life had an enormous bag of his weed on his person. Once he determined that he couldn’t mooch any weed off my husband (who didn’t have any), he retired to the deck and proceeded to smoke volumes of his own stash. This was our first real clue that he was a certified freeloader.

When he returned from his session on the deck, he resumed his conversation with Ron, revealing that his actual name is Lincoln. Why would someone select Leaf-of-Life as his stage name when so many other catchy names could have been chosen instead? Leaf-of-Life sounds like a name that came to him in a moment of inane epiphany while colossally stoned. Oh, wait, that’s probably what happened. He might as well have named himself Legalize-It. When he introduced himself as Leaf-of-Life to the older of my two sons, my son nodded his head once in acknowledgement and said, “OK, well, I’m out of here.” He left Leaf-of-Life standing beneath a ceiling fan that was off with his skyscraper turban poised between the fan blades, flashing his gold teeth, surrounded by a fog of weed fumes. My son went to talk with an old family friend who said quietly, “I’ll give you $10 if you turn that fan on.” He didn’t turn the fan on because 1) he’s not that mean and 2) he was afraid of what we might have discovered underneath the turban. A bird in a birdcage? An enormous bag of weed? Giant Russian nesting dolls? Nesting turbans? A nuclear reactor? Pot roast? Jimmy Hoffa?

My daughter felt so embarrassed that her girlfriend had brought this unsavory character to the party. At one point, I took her aside and said, “I thought Cindy had pretty good taste in men.” My daughter replied, “No way. She has dreadful taste in men. If she had told me beforehand that she wanted to bring her new boyfriend I would have told her no, sight-unseen. This one is even worse than her last one.” Eye-roll.

And the worst was yet to come. Round-about 10:00 I began to tackle the massive clean-up in my kitchen while family and friends congregated in the front room for a music jam. My youngest son began to play the piano, my husband plugged in his bass guitar, one young friend sat down at the drum set and another picked up the lead guitar. An assortment of percussion instruments was passed around to other guests. I was all set to groove to the beat as I sorted my kitchen, and then the bomb dropped:  Leaf-of-Life returned from another session on the deck with his friendly weed, commandeered the microphone, and “rapped” along to the music. (Or should I say he raped the music?) He did not sing and he did not make any sense. He chanted nonsensical strings of words in a monotone. My father said to me, “That music is weird.” I didn’t want him to think this was the kind of music to which his grandson was devoting his life, so I told him, “It’s not music, Dad. It’s Leaf-of-Life destroying everyone’s groove.”

I considered paying Leaf-of-Life not to rap. Not to open his mouth. I almost took the microphone away from him and showed him the door. But Cindy is one of my daughter’s oldest and dearest friends, despite her abysmal taste in men. The musicians attempted to ignore Leaf-of-Life and simply play together in spite of his droning. He drove all of us crazy for some time before the munchies got the better of him and he wandered into the kitchen in a weed-induced stupor to look for food.

My daughter’s boyfriend had the presence of mind to grab the open microphone. He began to sing along to the music jam and suddenly all was right with the world. Having finished cleaning up in the kitchen, I picked up a tambourine and joined the fun. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Leaf-of-Life and Cindy were hunting and foraging in my refrigerator. Before long, Cindy came over to me and asked, “Can we open a watermelon?” I told her to go right ahead.

Not much later, I went into the kitchen to refill my glass of wine, and discovered Leaf-of-Life and Cindy with my cutting boards on the table and all the fruit in my refrigerator (which was for breakfast for my family) spread out before them. They had bananas, peaches, cantaloupe, grapes, the last of my homegrown apples, and the homegrown strawberries that I had lovingly picked specifically for my children out on the table ready for dissection. They also had a box of Ziploc bags and they had already filled two of them with chopped watermelon, cantaloupe, and banana. They were preparing to cut up all my fruit and take it home with them! I was furious. I thought, step slowly away from my fruit. But I said to Cindy, in a calm and even voice, scrubbed of all hysteria, “You asked me if you could cut up a watermelon, Cindy. This is more than a watermelon. You can’t have all my fruit. This is for our family’s breakfast.” “Oh, yeah, OK,” Cindy mumbled, while Leaf-of-Life grinned enthusiastically. I took the fruit away from them and put it back in the refrigerator. I put the Ziploc bags back in the drawer. I left them one bag with chopped banana and watermelon.

Leaf-of-Life appeared crestfallen. “I didn’t get to eat my dinner,” he whined. “My plate disappeared.” This happened because he was too stoned to find his plate and it got cleared and cleaned up. It was after 11:00 at night by this time, for crying out loud! The food was put away and most of the guests had left.

“I have leftover barbecue if you would like some of that,” I offered graciously. “I’m sure we can find you something. But you can’t have my breakfast fruit.”

“I’m vegan and I only eat certain things,” he told me, sadly, as if being vegan was a disease. “It’s harder for me to find something to eat.” He was still trying to abscond with my fruit. But I would have none of it.

“I have vegan food,” I replied. “I have barbecued tofu and zucchini. There’s kale salad. Tomatoes. Quinoa salad.”

“Do you have any barbecued salmon?” he asked hopefully.

Salmon? Salmon?! “Fish is not a vegan food,” I informed him. He looked confused. Perhaps he thought salmon was technically a vegetable. I lost my patience. Game over. “I don’t have any fish. You know what? The kitchen is closed,” I said firmly. “Eat the watermelon and banana you cut up.” I pointed to the bag. I was not in the mood to start bringing food out again to feed a stoned-out freeloader.

While Leaf-of-Life remained utterly oblivious to how badly he was behaving, it was beginning to dawn on Cindy that I did not approve of him and that I was angry that they had tried to clean out my breakfast fruit. She hastily gathered her things, said good-bye to my daughter, and headed for the door. But then she couldn’t find Leaf-of-Life, who, as it turned out, was consoling himself for the discovery that fish was not a vegan food by smoking a spliff the size of the Empire State Building out on the deck. He had smoked so much weed on the deck by then that he was attracting skunks. (For those unaware, weed smells much like skunk spray.) Cindy told him she would bring around the car and he should meet her out in front. I wondered if he would need a compass to find the front of the house.

A few minutes later, Ron went out to his car to get something and discovered Leaf-of-Life roaming up and down the driveway looking disoriented. For a terrifying moment, Ron thought that Cindy had left Leaf-of-Life behind with us. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. But then she pulled up at the foot of the driveway and Leaf-of-Life wove his way to the car, his turban glowing in the moonlight.

As I said at the start, when you open your home for a party, you never know what will come through the door. While I had to take a few deep breaths during the course of the evening to prevent myself from picking Leaf up by the scruff of the neck and placing him on the front porch, it turned out that his presence at the party provided an unexpected boon. At breakfast the next morning, while we enjoyed eggs, bacon, roasted potatoes, toast, and the rescued fruit (delicious), the topic of conversation was Leaf-of-Life. My children had all of us in stitches riffing on our encounter with that disastrous individual. One lucky person will receive Ron’s Leaf-of-Life CD in their Christmas stocking this year. We are rubbing our hands in glee as we try to decide which child that will be.

I thought a photo of fruit would be more pleasant to look at 
than a stoner wearing a turban.