Archive for the ‘Complicating It All’ Category

“We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Bandage”- by Alison Grambs

20130817-144643.jpg

Every summer Americans gather ’round the television set to take in the Discovery Channel’s annual broadcast of Shark Week. From hour-long specials on the science of shark behavior (“that shark didn’t mean to eat that entire South African family. It was merely investigating…”) to extensive interviews with attack victims (“Dude! It had eyes as black as a doll’s eyes and I was like, dude! that thing just took my foot off!”) the arrival of Shark Week has always been something I eagerly anticipate. In fact, I react to news of a local shark attack with pretty much the same enthusiasm meth addicts demonstrate when their local drug dealer has a sale. After all, my favorite movie of all time is Jaws; and I’ve got a bevy of movie memorabilia to prove it.

Over the past few years, however, my interest in Shark Week programming has diminished. Dramatically. Even the promise of an episode revealing gruesome footage of real shark attacks and the semi-masticated limbs of their unsuspecting limbs doesn’t suck me in the way they used to.

You see, everything changed for me the day someone I love got attacked by a shark. 

If you saw my husband, you’d never know he had been bitten by a shark. It was Thanksgiving Day 2012, and unlike the Pilgrims and Indians at Plymouth Rock in 1621, my husband and I were fighting. The issue of contention was the fact that, due to my family’s holiday plans, Tommy, a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, was going to miss watching the Big Game on television. 

“What’s the big deal?” I’d replied, reminding him that a) he had gotten to actually GO to the game in Dallas the year before and b) we were recording the game.

No matter. Tommy simply could not be consoled. And for the next half hour or so, I was forced to watch my usually mature forty-something spouse throw what can only be described as an extremely juvenile tantrum. Stomping  around the apartment. Muttering under his breath. Shooting me dirty looks. Hissing a slew of four letter words that I’m certain the Pilgrims would not approve of. It did not matter to my husband that our ancestors had suffered far greater hardships back in 1621. Homesickness. Small pox. Inevitable starvation. Apparently, Tommy’s suffering was worse. More stomping, more cursing, and  more four letter words came at me. And just when I was about to toss Tommy’s special edition Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Barbie doll out the window in a show of force, it happened…

Tommy, who happens to be quite tall, and happens to have a rather large head, made the mistake of moving his tantrum from the center of our living room to the perimeter of our living room where, dangling from a heavy duty hook and line of extra-strength fishing line, hangs a very large, very wide set of very real jaws from the mouth of a once very alive, now very dead, very big Bull shark.  

The jaws were a gift to me from Tommy a few years ago, and while we both acknowledged that hanging them from our living room ceiling might result in the untimely death of someone down the road, we just assumed that someone would be an expendable guest and happily went about hanging them.

So, there went Tommy’s giant head. Crashing into those very large, very sharp, very serrated teeth. For a moment, my husband did not move, nor did he curse. This was a bad sign. Then came the silence. Even more of a bad sign. Then the moaning followed by the awkward swaying to and fro of his body. Out of the dozens of large, sharp Bull shark teeth dangling from our ceiling, one of them had struck my husband in the forehead.

Part of me was horrified, (of course); but part of me was excited (of course). I mean, come on! I had just born witness to an actual shark attack. I thought back to everything I had learned during previous summers of Shark Week programming. Call 9-1-1. Demand an ambulance. Look for signs of shock. Stanch the bleeding. Ice any severed limbs. Contact the Discovery Channel to arrange for interviews. Hire an publicist.

As it turned out, there was, in fact, blood. To my disappointment, however, just a drop though. In fact, I draw more blood out of my own veins while shaving my legs every morning. Tommy’s shark bite didn’t warrant so much as a  bandage, although he did feel it necessary to purchase about five hundred over-the-counter ointments and salves from the corner drugstore regardless, just in case the wound ‘busted open’ and he was ‘in danger of bleeding out’.

Suffice it to say, Tommy survived the shark attack, rendering me inarguably unqualifed to put in that call to the good folks at Discovery Channel. Instead, the only call I got to make was the one to my folks in which I was forced to explain that we’d have to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, rather than in person, because, well, Tommy is injured. Alas, my parade viewing plans got ruined and Tommy got to watch the whole friggin’ Dallas Cowboys game like he wanted. (Guess Mom and Dad felt sorry for him almost dying and all.)

Now I realize that the fact that the fact that my husband was, in fact, attacked by a shark should have me tuning in to Shark Week like gangbusters all these years later. But the incident actually had the opposite effect on me. Truth is, I’m bitter. Thanksgiving Day 2012 was our one shot at getting on Shark Week. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, people, and the chances of my husband ever being attacked by a shark again, be it in the ocean or our living room, are pretty much nil. A

Three different abodes and five years later, those Bull shark teeth aren’t even on display anymore. Neither of us can bear to look at them. For Tommy, the mere sight of them causes PTSD. For me, the mere sight of them causes DGOSWPTSD (Didn’t Get On Shark Week Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)  They’re crammed into a storage container on our terrace along with the air mattress we use for camping. The same air mattress that, oddly enough, deflated last week on our camping trip due to a small puncture wound in its casing. 

Hmmmmm. Wonder if the folks at Shark Week would want to investigate?

 

 

 

“Ode to the I-95”- by Alison Grambs

DoodleBuddyDear I-95:

I want to thank you. For transporting me from one world to another just when I needed it most this summer. You see, it’s been a while since the tires of our Korean-made car have rolled along your smooth skin, and I have to admit I missed the sensation of being with you. All too often these past two years, I’ve been cheating on you with airlines. Indulging in the speedy mobility that flying provides. Luxuriating in the cool confines of airport terminals. Rolling my luggage around the sleek linoleum floors. And noshing on a $250 salad from the food court because it’s the least expensive thing available on the menu. But having the chance to take a long overdue South-to-North-to-South road trip with my husband and our rescue pup this summer, I was reminded of how very much I adore being on the open road.

It is a sensation I have missed. One I grew up on. One I don’t plan on ever-growing out of. And as our portable family unit criss-crossed your circuitous lines these past few weeks on our South-to-North-to-South trip to visit family, it occurred to me how very lucky I am to get to spend time with you. 

Sometimes you smell of the freshly cut grass wafting from the farms in the rural areas of your route. Sometimes you stink of diesel fuel or a nearby paper mill, causing my husband and I to gag dramatically as we attempt to seal up every air vent in the car. Sometimes you make us curse really loudly as we find ourselves forced to take life-saving measures to dodge tractor-trailer drivers who seem hell-bent on squishing us as they pass unnecessarily from the right lane to the left lane to the right. And sometimes you inspire us to sing really loudly as the miles roll into other miles and we happen upon a local radio station playing a  heavy metal love ballads rock block.

I forgot how fun it is to constantly get in and out of the car to fuel up and stretch out as we count down the miles along your path.  I forgot how fun it is to admire your bumps and bruises in your construction zones and guess which drivers will fail to reduce speed in time to avoid a speeding ticket from the kindly highway patrol officer hiding her vehicle behind a sandbag. I forgot how fun it is to gauge the likelihood that the restrooms at a Rest Area are clean enough to utilize and that the fellow travelers using it are civilized enough to not snatch me for human trafficking. I forgot how fun it is to play “Spot the Lot Lizard.” I forgot how fun it is to watch the sun set in different states and spot wildlife peeking out behind trees in those same states. I forgot how fun it is to hear the local accents of the local people dotting the residential areas of your route. I forgot how fun it is to nap in the passenger seat because you not only allow me to rest my bare feet on the dashboard, but encourage it. To mock your poorly worded billboard signs and questionable speed limit suggestions. To buy heinous souvenirs at Pedro’s South of the Border because you, and you alone, thought to take us to that magical place.

Sometimes you get in the way of our fun, though.

Like, say, for instance, when you leave a 10 foot ladder in the middle of one of your lanes, threatening to take out all 400 cars coming up on it. Or when you permit a bunch of texting-while-driving a**holes to slip in and out of their lanes without incident while the rest of us have to duck for cover from their fast advances.  Sometimes you cramp our muscles and test the linings of our bladders when you fail to provide a Rest Stop in a timely fashion. And sometimes you force us to improvise a three-course meal out of whatever packaged food items we can find at some creepy gas station since the Carter administration. And sometimes, you have a cruel knack for pouring torrential rain through our sunroof with no warning whatsoever.

Despite all this, though, you sate me. It’s not that your pretty (you’re often not.) And it’s not that your functional (you’re often dysfunctional.) But you have a power right now in my life that no other entity has: you make it possible for me to see the people, places, and things I am missing while simultaneously helping me escape the people, places, and things I am most sick of.

All in about 22 hours one-way.

Thank you.

 

 

“The Wrong Side of the Road”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_0428I drive this route all the time,” I hissed defiantly as my husband and I zipped down the golf cart path of our Florida community. “I could make this trip with my eyes closed, thank you very much.”

It was, of course, at this precise moment that my husband casually pointed out that I was driving on the wrong side of the road.

And by ‘other side’ I don’t mean I had just meandered a few inches over the dotted line; I was driving entirely on the other side of the golf cart path. A golf cart path that provides for two-way traffic- not just “Alison can drive wherever she wants” kind of traffic.

“Oh, puhlease!” I sputtered indignantly now, rolling my eyes for dramatic effect despite the fact it was pitch dark outside and Tommy wasn’t looking at me. (He was too busy clutching at the hang bar on our golf cart, shrieking that we were about to die.) “It’s not like anyone’s even coming this way,” I pointed out smugly, slowing down the cart so I could turn off onto the grass and reverse the cart. “So, just, ya know, calm down, dude.”

I mean, come on. My husband spent twenty years working in a profession in which he dealt with life and death situations every day. Seriously scary stuff. Hero stuff. Hardly was me and my cute little golf cart going off the road for, like, a nanosecond any reason to get all hysterical, right?

“It’s not like you can even tell which side is which in the dark,” I was stating even more smugly now as we continued down the path…in the wrong direction. 

That’s when my husband pointed out the fact that our golf cart has headlights. Very bright headlights. Headlights that light up the road for a good, oh, quarter mile or so. (Whatever.)

“Well, my contacts are bothering me lately, ” I snipped back annoyed. “I can’t see.”

That’s when my husband pointed out that I was not wearing my contacts. I was wearing my new glasses. The new glasses about which I have been raving because “I can see so clearly in these beauties!” (Whatever.) 

“Well,” I continue, still in defensive mode and still rolling my eyes, “whoever built this path should, like, have marked it way better than they did. You really can’t tell when you’re on the wrong side of the road.”

That’s when my husband pointed out the large median divider to our right. The one that was supposed to be to our left. The one that the designers of this golf cart path apparently added to certain points of the otherwise open path to alert commuters to the fact that there are two separate lanes of traffic.

Again, I roll my eyes, now adding a huffy huff for added effect. “Well, you can barely see that thing!”

That’s when my husband pointed out that the median is not only long enough, and wide enough, to accommodate several full-grown palm trees and bushes within its perimeter, but is also outfitted with myriad reflective devices. Reflective devices he claims are intended to discourage drivers like me from failing to see the median. (Whatever.)

“Well, it’s not like anyone is coming towards us,” I remarked casually. “We’re all alone.”

A comment my husband responded to with some murmuring about how that could ‘change at any time.’ That someone might come from the other direction. (Whatever.)

I was having none of it.

“Well, what can I say?” my voice now raised involuntarily to that slightly hysterical pitch that means I have lost the argument on paper, but am still fighting it hard-as-nails in my head. “I’ve got a lot on my mind. And the last thing I can be worried about is stupid traffic lanes.” 

Although certainly not the response the Department of Motor Vehicles would want to hear, this was true. I did, in fact, have a lot on my mind. 

Only ten days into the month of April and it’s been a whirlwind of activity and stress. Exactly a year has gone by since I was in the hospital. Pulmonary embolisms had sneaked into my lungs and threatened to take me out. Until now, I hadn’t ever really understood how much the whole almost dying thing can rattle a person’s psyche. The world looks different when you come lose to not being in it anymore. Yeesh. Close calls. And we’ve all had those close-calls. The only difference is, I was totally aware of mine at the time.

On top of that, all the longterm, personal writing projects I’ve been working on for the two years are finally coming to a state of finalization now. Which means I have to do the unthinkable: cease focusing on the creative writing (my strong suit and personal joy), and get to work mapping out marketing plans for each of them (so very not my strong suit and so very much not my personal joy.) It’s that time in the game when a writer no longer gets to say, “Oh, I’m still working on that project. Stay tuned.” The work is done, and now has to be pushed out and judged by the masses. (Or, in my case, the one person who will buy my books.)

Plus, I’m really, really disappointed with the season finale of “The Walking Dead.” Is Glenn still alive? Is Daryl dead? Does Alicia Florrick know that her new lover has a penchant for baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire? Not to mention how very weighed down I am by my failure to become fluent in French by the time my mother and I fly off to Paris this summer for a mother/daughter adventure. The best I can do right now is order un croissant. (And I’d probably mess that up by accidentally calling it a poisson.)

“Just get back into your lane please,” my husband, his voice now palpably testy, advised with an exhausted sigh.

It was the kind of exhausted sigh I hear him often. The one he lets out every time I break the kitchen garbage disposal by shoving artichoke leaves into it. The one he lets out when I decide to spray paint a piece of furniture in the house hot pink and accidentally end up spray painting parts of the house itself. The kind of exhausted sigh he lets out when I use the pointy ears of his full-size Yoda figure to dry my wet bras while doing laundry.

“Please…” my husband groans.

But I’m not ready to get back in my proper lane yet. Being on the wrong side, if only for a few seconds, feels good. I feel alive. Granted we’re traveling only 10 m/p/h, but it’s an exciting 10 m/p/h because it feels different. Defiant. Dangerous. Wild. For two years now I have been driving this golf cart of ours down the proper side of the road, following all the rules (well, except for that time I accidentally drove into the exit of a golf cart tunnel, but I digress.) 

There are people in the world who don’t follow the rules. Ever. People who do precisely what they are not suppose to do. People who climb mountains they’re told not to climb. People who write books they’re told will never sell. People who instigate fights they’re told they can never win. People who take up causes everyone else deems futile. People who drink milk not just past its expiration date, but waaaaaaay past it.  

As the golf cart keeps traveling the wrong way I do a quick mental check on where I stand among these people. Do I break the rules? Sometimes, yes. I can be just as impulsive as I can be practical. And, at least creatively, I am quite certain that I function way more out of the box than it in. And I like that. But sometimes I’m so busy functioning outside of the box that I have trouble finding my way back in it when it’s clearly time to grab hold.  That sucks. Then again, sometimes I think I play it too safe. Way too safe. And people who play it safe don’t make history.

But then again, do I want to make history? Not so sure. If it’s making history because I do something important like save people’s lives or invent a cure for a disease or discover a new country, sure. However, with my luck, the only way I’ll ever ‘make history’ is by getting attacked by a Megalodon in a swimming pool. Making the 10 o’clock news for being the first victim to die in the mouth of a previously extinct shark- a shark that then dies of Salmonella poisoning after eating me because I had sucked down expired milk that morning. Well, call me crazy, but that’s not the kind of history I want to make.  

I don’t exactly see my parents bragging at a dinner party about, “how very proud we are of our little Alison. Getting eaten by that historic shark in the kiddie pool at the Motel 6. (And yes, she’s even littler now haha!)” 

Breaking rules is fun. But man, it’s hard to know which ones to break. Hell, do I even know what the rules are on any given day? I mean, when you’re in your 40s, it sort of feels like the rules are always changing and somehow staying exactly the same. Weird. It’s hard to know which rules are for breaking and which are for following. What to challenge and what to accept in life. Which dreams are worth pursuing and which should just be dumped on the shoulder of the road as we drift onto a familiar exit ramp.

I stayed in the wrong lane of that golf cart path for a tiny bit more, trying to come to terms with what kind of person I am when it comes to rules. I doodled along just long enough to enjoy the sensation of the wrong direction breeze in my hair and chuckle at the sideways, wrong direction expression on my husband’s face. I was laughing; he was not. 

And then I freaked out and got back into the proper lane.

Tommy stopped clutching at his heart.

And we moved on…back on the right side of the road. 

 

 

 

“SOME PLACE TO BE”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_9618Dear Santa,

Sorry to nose in on your time here, fella- I’m sure you’re swamped. Just wondering if we could take care of my wish a bit early this year? Thinking you might have a delinquent elf who needs a project for extra credit to get him out of Detention in one of your North Pole igloos or wherever the hell it is elves shack up in your corner of the world.

Here goes:

When you get a free moment in between fattening up and explaining to Mrs. Claus why you didn’t load the dishwasher correctly for the eighth time this week, please review your Christmas lists and see if you come across one particular lady. She’d be in, oh, I’d say her early 60s or so. You’ll recognize her by the oversized sunglasses she is wearing in her profile picture and her hair, which is so obnoxiously coiffed and overly bleached that a farmer is likely to mistake it for a bale of hay. I’m betting her name is Shirley or Rhona, but for all I know she will come up in the database on your end as Lucifera. Which would be more than appropriate.

I met this lady last week. I was stopped in my recreational vehicle along the quiet, easy-going path in our neighborhood- a path that runs parallel to a busy, high traffic road when she pulled up next to me in her vehicle.

CAN WE GO????” is what she barked at me from across her seat, tilting her giant sunglasses off the bridge of her nose with her fancy manicured fingernails as she stared me down, seething with impatience.

Well, out of respect, I’m staying put,” was my impromptu and somewhat perturbed response. An impromptu response that was instantly met with a snort, then a huff as the lady with the bad dye job and shrill voice took a quick glance at what I was looking at.

“Well,” the lady barked even more loudly now, flipping her oversized sunglasses back onto the bridge of her nose and pressing her foot to the pedal of her vehicle. “I have some place to be!” 

Vroooooooom! Vrooooom! And just like that, the lady with the obnoxious hair and shrill voice sped off down the path, leaving me sitting there in my stopped vehicle, mouth agape with shock and awe.

I glanced a few yards down and to my left to the high traffic road running parallel to mine. The high traffic road along which I had been sitting still with my vehicle in pause out of respect. The high traffic road along which several blue and red emergency lights were spinning authoratatively. The high traffic road along which the usual flowing traffic now stood at a complete standstill. The high traffic road along which two vehicles had apparently collided. The high traffic road along which the passengers of those two vehicles were being hoisted onto stretchers by EMS.

I bet they had some place to be too, you selfish bitch,” is what I muttered as I watched the rear of the lady’s speeding vehicle get smaller and smaller in the distance as she moved along the golf cart path.

Perhaps the woman was having an emergency of her own, Santa? I’ve really tried to convince myself of this, I swear. Maybe she was racing for a medical appointment that just couldn’t wait a few lousy minutes so that two injured people along the road could be attended to without the hassle of passing vehicles? Or maybe she was being eaten up by a roving band of fire ants that had somehow gotten inside her pants?

But I don’t think so.

There was something about her casual, disinterested countenance that wreaked of entitlement, Santa. The way she huffed when I pointed to the emergency crew working along the road- the way she shrugged (yeah, dammit! She actually shrugged at the accident scene!) She didnt even take a second to consider what the people around her were going through. She didn’t care if they were dead or alive. And that tells me that she wasn’t in a rush because she had to be; this lady was in a rush because she wanted to be.

So, um, if you happen to see the name of this lady with overly coiffed hair and shrill voice on your Nice list, can you please do me a favor and shove her on over to the tippy top of your Naughty List so she doesn’t get any presents? I picture her asking for a pink Cadillac- screw that, right? Huh? Okay, yeah, yeah, maybe that’s not fair. I see your point. Perhaps she’s a lovely lady who was just having a really bitchy day. Yeah, yeah. Fine. I see your point. Understood. So, forget what I said about the tippy top of the Naughty List. How about you just shove her and her over-bleached hair onto, like, the middle area of your Naughty List, okay? Huh? Really? Wow. Fine. Okay, fine, fine. I realize I’m overstepping my bounds here, and that’s probably gonna land me at the tippy top of your Naughty List which I totally do not want. Let’s see. Um…

Okay, got it. How about we agree that the lady stays on the Nice List (I’m being nice here) but you bump her and her overly coiffed hair way down to the bottom? Like, the very bottom. Like, she gets a pink Cadillac, but it’s one of the miniature replicas the size of a matchbook. Sound fair? Ah, good. I’m so relieved. Thank you, Santa, you rock. Seriously. You totally rock.

Oh…

Um, one more thing if you don’t mind? When you leave the present under the lady’s tree, can you include a little note from to her? I think that would add a nice personal touch, don’t you? Everyone always loves hearing from Santa. Maybe something like this:

“Dear Lady With The Overly Coiffed Hair & Shrill Voice & No Manners: 

Sorry I couldn’t get you that real pink Cadillac you asked for this year. But I had some place to be.

Sincerely,

Santa Claus”

 

 

 

“The Urethra’s Silver Lining”- by Alison Grambs

Watermarked Photo

 

“Oh, and by the way, your urine is perfect.”

Perfect? I muttered to myself dubiously. Isn’t that going a little far there, Mr. I Wear A Stethoscope So I Look Important? I mean, how many things in this world are truly perfect? And yet, that was precisely what the nurse was telling my husband.

“Yeah, your urine is totally perfect, Bro.” 

Oh, so now it’s totally perfect, Bro, huh? No longer just regular perfect; now it’s totally perfect. Great. I snapped my head to the right and glared at my husband, trying to quell the temptation to smack that smug look off his face. Thanks to him, we’d spent the better part of our day in the waiting room, surrounded by moaning and whimpering people who had, for reasons sometimes self-evident (a washcloth wrapped around a bloody finger, a failing oxygen tank connected to a wheelchair), and sometimes totally unclear (staring vacantly into space, playing with their phones), also decided to pass this particularly sunny afternoon in this manner.

“My urine is perfect!” Tommy repeated gleefully as we exited the office and headed toward the parking lot. 

Is that a friggin’ spring in his step? Is he friggin’ kidding me? While his aching body seemed to instantly be on the mend pending discovery of his perfect”  And pee, my own body was clearly not faring so well. The waiting room chair I’d been sitting in longer than a Mayfly’s life span had wreaked havoc on my lower back. Then there was the mental damage I had suffered being forced to watch the man sitting across from me wolf down a packet of potato chips with crunchy abandon, and then proceed to lick the salt off each and every one of his dirty fingertips about ten times over. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, he would walk around the waiting room touching everything with those sticky, saliva-covered fingers. And because said Sticky Fingers Man also included in his tour the nearby unisex restroom, I wasn’t about to go in and use it- no matter how badly I wanted to thanks to the four gallons of water I had guzzled down.

“Did you hear that?” Tommy was saying with nauseating braggadocio as we crossed through the parking lot and chatted about his annual checkup. “Perfect! Not just good, but perfect!” 

I admit I hit the gas pedal pretty damn hard as I threw our vehicle into reverse in the hopes it would jostle some of my husband’s obnoxiously ‘perfect’ urine inside his bladder. 

As I waited alone in the parking lot of the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts- the Dunkin’ Donuts I had strictly forbade my husband and his perfect urine to patronize because I don’t want him getting clogged arteries- I found myself feeling oddly weighted down by a cloud of disappointment. Perfect. I could not, for the life of me, shake the word. Why was it bothering me so damn much?

I pulled out my phone and opened the Dictionary app to check on the definition for this most bothersome adjective the nurse had so enthusiastically assigned to my husband’s urethral manifestations.

“Perfect: Having all the required or desirable elements, or qualities, or characteristics.”

I felt an involuntary sneer spread across my lower jaw as I watched Tommy and his perfect urine exit the doughnut shop with a giant ball of fried lard stuffed inside one cheek. He waved. Waved the cocky wave of someone who is incredibly fond of their own urine. Then he offered me a bite of a second doughnut that was lurking in the discreet brown bag he clutched tightly in his left hand. 

No, I snarled in my head, unable to work up the courage to say the words aloud because that would make me an even worse wife than I already was. I do not want any part of your donuts, you urine-centric jerkhead. In fact, I will never take another bite of another doughnut in my life. Doughnuts are for people filled with joy, not misery and resentment like I am. It occurred to me that this bitterness was not the proper response for a loving wife to have towards her adorable, kind, big-hearted, and devoted husband’s offer of a shared snack. But frankly, I was not in a loving mood.

The fact of the matter is that 2015 has been one helluva tough year. Not without its inarguable highlights, both personal and career-wise, of course; but definitely challenging in ways that, well, challenged me in new ways. There was simply nothing “perfect” about 2015. The things I thought were going to work out perfectly did not, and the imperfect things that I assumed would never befall me, did, in fact, befall me. And hard. From family tensions to financial fears and crippling writer’s block, 2015 proved to be a year that I just couldn’t get anything right. Not even my urine was up to snuff according to the doctors and nurses monitoring me when I landed in the hospital this past Spring. Not only did I have pulmonary embolisms, but a urinary tract infection to boot! My own urine was miserably imperfect.

As it turns out, the only perfect thing about 2015 for me was how wildly imperfect it was. And apparently, I’m not the only one. Many of the people I care most about in this world had the same kind of crap year: relatives died suddenly, marriages faltered or crumbled entirely, careers floundered, financial pressures encroached, health issues arose , etc. As for people I don’t know? Strangers across the nation and the globe, well, it seemed that 2015 was a year replete with terrifying and painful incidents all around. Horror kept being redefined and so much suffering becomes, well, insufferable to watch the evening news. 

So, um, yeah, I thought to myself as I watched the cinnamon-flavored powder dust itself across my husband’s perfectly trimmed goatee, when the New Year finally has the decency to roll in, I will be more than happy to wave off the old one goodbye. And aim my pointy middle finger at it as I do. Goddamn perfect urine. Perfect, perfect urine. Must be nice to have perfect urine when the rest of the world is falling apart. Still though, I had to figure out what was irking me so much about the perfect urine. Was I jealous? Not at all. I want everything to be perfect in life for my husband. I’d rather me suffer than him on any day. But that word perfect. Hmmmm. On its best day, urine is icky, smelly, a weird hue of yellow that no one would want painted on their walls. So how can it possibly be ‘perfect’?

And that’s when it hit me…

There is a perfection to the simplicity of perfect urine. The fact that one can take such joy in something so seemingly irrelevant as perfect urine says something about the holder of said perfect urine. They get it. Regaling in one’s superior urine is not arrogance- no, no. It is a demonstration of the most basic key to happiness: perspective. The fact that my husband’s urine happens to be in a particularly good place right now should give me hope that other aspects of our lives and the lives of those we love- the less urine-y aspects of being- will also fall into place. Neither our bodies nor our lives will ever be perfect all the time. Duh. But with every dark cloud (or cloudy urine?) there can be a silver lining. We just have to look hard for it. 

If I had to do this very rough year over again, oddly, I think I would opt to ride out all the bumps and bruises again same at the first time because they rounded me out in a way that I could not have envisioned before the imperfect urine hit the fan. Am I a bit stronger for it all? Hopefully. Wiser? Definitely. More forgiving and less judgmental? Damn straight. Somehow, the losses can be twisted into gains- at least emotional ones. 

So, as the holiday season flutters in, and we all quietly assess the speed bumps we hit in the past year so we can improve our navigation skills in the next, let’s all agree to take joy in the tiny perfections this world still gifts to us every day. Whether it’s in the form of a perfect book we read, a perfect meal we dine on, a perfect vacation we take, a perfect chat with an old friend we haven’t spoken to in years, a perfect visit home to Mom and Dad, a perfect walk through a favorite neighborhood, or a perfect score on one’s urinalysis test, it is the unexpected and often overlooked joys in life that make the icky parts more bearable. 

Wishing you all the merriest and happiest of everything. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my bladder is feeling perfectly full…

 

“Was Footloose; Now Friggin’ Frozen”- by Alison Grambs

  
To the Radio DJ who just played the theme from ‘Footloose’ and then that ‘Let It Go’ song from ‘Frozen’:

What you were thinking following such an awesome and classic anthem of my generation’s youth with that shrieking mess of musical whining? Just when my feet felt as if they would never stop tapping…and I was doing some mighty fine time traveling back to my pimply teen years, when life was so much simpler and yet, somehow more profound at the same time… you broke this much-needed musical trance I was in and changed the mood so draastically.  

Good Sir/Madam: I used to dance in the streets to that amazing ‘Footloose’ song. Those awesome guitar chords were the best every strummed…that synthesized powerhouse of sound could launch me into fits of ecstacy…the memory of Kevin Bacon stomping and bouncing and doing his fancy footwork along the walls…well, it all served to empower a generation, dear DJ of Anonymity.  I was simply reveling here in ‘Footloose’ perfection., and it was just about the finest feeling EVER!

And then you went ahead and ruined it. 

Now my formerly footloosed blood is suddenly  ‘frozen’ with frustration and my feet are feeling just a little less ‘loose.’ I cannot breathe, I cannot think, I cannot write, and I probably won’t be able to ever listen to the radio again for fear of suffering, once again, the trauma I have just endured. 
I will do my best to ‘let’ this travesty of justice ‘go’ as I am woman enough to recognize that many little kids love that movie and that song. Even some adults. But trust me when I say that their love for THAT movie and THAT song doesn’t even come one icicle close to the unwavering, decades-long adoration MY generation has for Kevin Bacon and the Kenny Loggins tune to which Mr. Bacon so bravely footloosed his forbidden dance in that town of sadness and misguided blame. 

But I forgive you…

In the future, please think before you so cruelly wound the souls of your Generation X listeners. I shudder to think what you’ll play after the theme from ‘The Breakfast Club.’

Yeesh…


“LIVING HISTORY”- by Alison Grambs

 Last year, I was in DC for a few days during a road trip. 

Went to the Museum of American History where they were featuring a WWII exhibit. 

As people milled about looking at the various displays, I noticed an old man walking around in the cramped quarters. 

Small in build, frail. But smiling. Had a cap on his head, a knapsack on his back, and his hand clasped around the tiny hand of a little boy. 

My parents taught me at a young age to pay close heed to the sacrifices made by those who serve in the Armed Forces, and I had a hunch this man was a veteran. Walked over to him and sheepishly asked. 

He was. WWII. I shook his hand knowing full well that soon there will be a time when there are no WWII veterans left to thank. 

What struck me was how surprised this man was  to be noticed in the crowd at all. How appreciative he was to be appreciated in that moment, as he stood anonymously in a room tributing his own history. 
Some of our history is on display…and some of it is standing right next to us.

Happy Memorial Day


“Let Go of My Sock, Please”- by Alison Grambs

FullSizeRender

Bily & Sumter in Repose

 

One year ago today, my husband and I lost our furry baby, Bily.

He was 11 years old and loved us with all his heart and all eight of his remaining teeth. He was our daredevil companion on every road trip we took, be it via car or motorcycle, traveling all over the country with us and well up into Canada on several occasions as well. He was witness to us climbing down a 143 foot cliff over the Bay of Fundy. An adventurer at heart, relishing in new sights and new places. Afraid of nothing. A lover of life; a hater of pigeons.

Having no children of our own, Bily was the center of our daily focus. The four-legged child we’d ‘rescued’ from a pet store in upstate New York because he looked just so damn in need of a saving. He was a body and soul entirely dependent on us, and we reveled in our responsibility to give him a happy life. His personality was, for better or worse, a hilariously canine reflection of our own. And we were supposed to have many more years with him.

The seizure this otherwise happy pup suffered in April of last year had been a signal. Intellectually, we knew that of course, but emotionally, we just couldn’t process that there might be an end in sight. And for a few short weeks, all things pointed to the chance that the seizure had been an aberration. That our baby would continue to steal my ice cream out of my bowl, pee on the carpets, growl at my husband whenever he made the mistake of moving one of his toys.

So, there was a big, fat, gaping hole in our hearts when Bily died a month later, leaving us weakened us at the proverbial knees. Our once  happy threesome had instantly been dwindled down into a numbed twosome. The grief felt insurmountable. The trick God had played on us felt unforgivably cruel.

Hell, nooooooo, we said to ourselves repeatedly. We won’t even look at another dog for a long time, let alone get one!

Six months later, we met Sumter in Florida. One of the many unclaimed pups scheduled for mandatory euthanasia by the local animal control services. But a quick thinking staff member at the local Humane Society nearby had saved him from that end- scooping little Sumter up and taking him to her no-kill shelter for safe keeping and ( hopefully) adoption. 

A wildly comical puppy, Sumter reminded us so very much of Bily in spirit and temperament. It was eerie. But not enough to convince us he was meant to be ours. “He’s adorable,” we kept sighing. “Someone will snap him up in a heartbeat.” After all, we had made a promise not to get another dog until we felt emotionally and intellectually ready. This was too soon, we reminded ourselves as Sumter licked our faces. It would be a betrayal of Bily’s memory. Blah, blah, blah.

Still though, there little Sumter staring back at us through the pen every time we visited the shelter to volunteer. Doing his ‘run, run, run, leap!’ prancing/jumping thing around the shelter yard. Doing everything he could to demonstrate just how happy he could make us. Despite ourselves, we had already lovingly nicknamed him Maniac.

Four weeks later, under the cover of a torrential rainfall, that little maniac was coming home with us. It is a decision that changed our lives for the better, and a day that sent us on a wonderful new path to being new puppy parents. Since that day a lot has happened in my life that has been hard to suck down. Life changes, especially those that are unexpected, can be crippling both mentally and physically. But somehow, with just one long, sloppy wet drag of his happy puppy tongue across my face…one ‘run, run, run, leap!’ peace in Central Park…Sumter manages to make everything feel manageable. 

With Sumter’s age unknown, but the timing pretty close according to his size and weight and puppy teeth, we decided to make May 9th Sumter’s birthday. A tribute to his predecessor, whose spirit we glimpse in this little maniac every day. Sumter is an annual reminder of how the seemingly cruel cycle of life is, in fact, a perfect circle- the greatest of blessings if you look at the situation just right.

Happy Birthday, Sumter!

Now…let…go…of…my… sock…please.

 

“A MESSAGE TO THE CUTE KID”- by Alison Grambs




Dear Cute Little Girl Sitting Behind Me on the Bus Yesterday:

You are an idiot. 

I spent 2 1/2 hours listening to you look out the window and say, “Look, Mama! I see cheese!” 

Over and over and over again, yammering on about this supposed “cheese” you were seeing. 

You have no idea how upsetting this was for me. I friggin’ love cheese. Would’ve given anything to see cheese out the window on that bus ride. You had me so damn excited and hopeful. I can’t tell you how many times I actively ceased reading my book just so I could look out the window and observe this amazing “cheese” you kept babbling about. 

Well, honey, I saw cars. I saw trucks. I saw people. I saw buildings. I saw snow. I even saw Big Foot relieving himself on the side of the road. 

But you know what I did not see?

CHEESE.

Not a single blessed hunk of gouda. Not one iota of feta. No mozzarella or cheddar to be had for miles. 

So, listen to me carefully…

I do not appreciate being deceived like this. Your careless actions shattered my faith in humanity and have left me reeling with a sense of dismay. Is that how you roll? Who raised you? The Devil himself?

Do me a favor, you cute little thing dressed in your cute purple snow coat. 

The next time you are on a bus, lying to passengers about what’s out there in the landscape, consider whose feelings you are toying with. If you see cheese, by all means, say something. But if you do NOT see cheese? Well, then keep your trap shut and stop playing with people’s lives.

“Poop In My Pocket”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_8030When the average person reaches into his or her pocket, out comes a mitten, or some loose change, or maybe a set of keys that was assumed lost forever. I, however, am not your average person. I’m not sure whether that means I am below average, or above average, of course. But if what one finds in their jacket pocket is any measure of one’s normalcy, I’m way, way, way off the charts.

Because I found poop in my pocket.

It happened when my husband and I were taking our dog for a walk two nights ago. I love walking. I could probably walk across the country, if it weren’t for the fact it would mean me missing a full season of The Real Housewives of… whatever. Walking is a cure-all for me, a way of shutting off the parts of my mind that are bugging me and get back down to the basics. I will walk in rain, I will walk in snow. I will walk in the scorching heat. For there is nothing more glorious to me that the feel of my feet against pavement.

So, it was with great pleasure that we slipped on our jackets, snapped on the dog’s leash, and set out into the moonlit night of the Florida community in which we are vacationing right now while my home town of New York shudders under the frosty chill of an arctic storm front. It was a perfect night. We were talking about deep things, enjoying the twinkling stars dangling above our heads, and watching our puppy, an endearingly curious, happy-go-lucky rescue, romp around the street exploring everything with his nose. A whispering tropical breeze sifted through the palm trees along the streets, making the most awesome rustling sound. Sigh. I was in heaven.

Until I reached into my pocket and pulled out poop.

To be clear, what my hand was suddenly clutching wasn’t poop in standard poop form. It was poop in a baggie. One of those fold-down sandwich baggies you can buy a box of 500 for at Walmart for a $1. The kind of baggie lots of responsible dog owners use to pick up after their dogs because they are small, compact, and do the job.

“There’s poop in my pocket!” I exclaimed to Tommy, who was just as confused as I was by the discovery.

I held out the baggie in the palm of my hand as evidence. The poop tucked inside it was room temperature: not too cold, not too hot. And oddly, scentless.

“Why the hell do you have poop in your pocket?” was his rather predictable response.

Well, I couldn’t for the life of me think of an explanation. And yet, when one finds a bag of poop in one’s pocket, an explanation is rather mandatory.

“Is it Sumter’s?” Tommy asked, nodding to the bag of poop and then to the puppy.

Well, I wasn’t going to run a DNA test or anything, but yes, based on the recognizable baggie, and the general size and texture of the poop, it seemed possible that the poop was from our dog.

“Why did you put it in there then?” Tommy asked with a shrug, as if this was the eightieth time I’d found poop in my pocket.

But I didn’t. Why in hell would I put poop, my dog’s, or any other dog’s for that matter, in my pocket? What did I possibly have to gain from doing such a thing?

“Maybe you put it in there so you wouldn’t have to carry it…” Tommy offered up distractedly just as Sumter took a squat and pooped in the street.

No, I positively did NOT put the poop in my pocket. Granted, had I done so, it would have been excusable. Unlike in Manhattan, where one need walk no more than one block in either direction to find a trash receptacle, out here in the suburbs you sort of have to hustle for a while to find a public trash can. Still though, I’ve been picking up dog poop for nearly all my life now. I know how to carry a baggie, even if it’s for miles. And I sure as hell know not to put poop in my pocket.

So why the hell was there poop in my pocket?!?!?

I pulled out a clean baggie from the baggie holder attached to Sumter’s leash and picked up Sumter’s poop. Great. Now I was holding TWO bags of poop. It took more than a few glares from me for Tommy to figure out the obvious. Eventually he got around to offering to hold the new bag of poop. Which left me still dealing with the mystery of the poop.

Whether the poop belonged to my next of kin or not, the question remained: how did it get in my pocket? Had a stranger slipped the poop inside my pocket when I wasn’t looking? Was there a politically motivated poop pocketing cabal forming in my midst? I tried not to panic, but the varying unknowns of my situation was disturbing to say the least. For the remainder of our walk I tried to talk about non-related poop things. History. Literature. The series finale of “The Sons of Anarchy.” No matter what I did, though, poop kept permeating my thoughts.Eventually, I had to do what any smart woman who finds poop in her pocket does. I took a lesson from the poop. Yes, yes, there was most certainly a message in this cosmic poop delivery.

Poop happens…

There are many mysteries in the world. Who built Stone Henge? Where is the Loch Ness Monster? Why can’t a human being swallow a gallon of milk in one sitting? We may never know the answers to such important questions. Just as I may never know how the poop in my pocket came to be. The question is, does it matter? 

 

 

“Mystery Family”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_7925Dear Family That I’ve Never Met Who Sent Me a Holiday Card:

I have no idea who you are, but thank you for sending me that most beautiful holiday card.

The family portrait you included is stellar! What a set of genes between the lot of you. And I’m particularly impressed that you were all able to squeeze together onto that scenic wooded rock formation for the photographer. (Ansel Adams, I’m guessing?) How did you all balance in that position for so long? With such ingratiating and warm smiles nonetheless. (Not sure about the skirt one of you chose to wear for the photo, to be honest. Paisley doesn’t seem all that festive a print to me. But to each her own, right?)

The fact that you cared enough to include me in your holiday card mailing (with first class postage nonetheless) truly warms my heart. No doubt a good looking and jovial family such as yours has many friends on the list for cards, so I consider it a personal victory of sorts that I made the cut. And I firmly believe that you really do want me to have a pleasant “holiday season” and “all the best” (not some of it…ALL) in 2015.

You guys rock.

And despite the fact that I’ve never seen your adorable faces before in my life, heard your names, or even been to the address you list on the return portion of the envelope,  it’s certainly nice to know that you are thinking of me from so many miles away. Clearly, I am in your thoughts and prayers, not to mention your Shutterfly account. In fact, I’m feeling a bit guilty now. I realize how egregiously remiss I’ve been in failing to include YOU on my Christmas card list this year. Truth be told, I didn’t send out cards this year at all. My bad. Too much going on with the new puppy and the move to get around to it. So, there you most likely are, sitting in your home right now wondering where my holiday card to YOU is, right?

Shame on me! 

Worse still, not once this year did I think to wish any of YOU any kindnesses. A Happy Birthday…a tree-filled Arbor Day…a warm and wistful Presidents’ Day. Damn it all to hell! I just let every single important day of the calendar year go without recognizing your family as important to me. Geez, I didn’t even think to wish you well on Halloween.

Can’t imagine how this must make you feel. I’m an awful person, and I apologize for letting you down.

Still, despite my own shortcomings, you sent me your beautiful and thoughtful holiday card. Clearly, you are a better family than I am a human being- you thought to do what so few people do in this age: care about a stranger. 

So, thank you, Mystery Family, from the bottom of my abashed heart- for reminding me of all that is good and kind and postal about this otherwise cruel world. You took on the responsibility of sending me tangible well wishes for the holiday season and I want to assure you that your altruistic efforts warmed my heart and made me feel oh-so special. 

I look forward to your holiday card in 2015, and many years thereafter. Perhaps, one day, we can meet up and pose for a picture on that wooded rock formation, no? I will wear paisley.

Warmest regards,

Alison

“A Tale of Three Wagging Tails”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_7434

Sumter in the arms of his new daddy

meeting zelda 4

Denny, Julie & Zelda the Beagle

Cooper 7

Cooper

As I type this, I’m sitting on a wobbly stool in my new Manhattan apartment, watching my laptop get gnawed on by a four month-old puppy with teeth that rival those of a Great White shark in both size and strength. I should be appalled at the sight of my computer being masticated by this pooch; but I’m not. Instead, I am thrilled.

This puppy is the karmic culmination of a most strange year. He is the everything that I was working towards without even knowing it until just now. 

Sumter is a rescue dog from the Humane Society/SPCA of Sumter County in Florida. (http://www.hsspca.org/contact.asp) Most likely a sheltie/retriever mix, but honestly, right now he looks like a fawn. So, here I am, back in my beloved New York City after living in Florida for the past six months, walking a pet deer along the Upper East Side. Meanwhile, over in Queens, my friend Julie is walking her new rescue pooch, also from the Humane Society/SPCA of Sumter County. Neither Julie nor I was expecting to welcome a new dog into our lives this year. We both took hard hits in 2014, each losing a beloved dog within months of each other. Grieving, we were determined to ride the rest of the year out in mutual mourning.

And yet, here Julie and I are right now in N.Y.C., snuggling up against the warm, fuzzy bodies of our respective new rescue children.

Sumter wasn’t supposed to be here: at all. An unclaimed puppy found roaming the streets, on October 21st he was scheduled to be euthanized at a ‘kill shelter.’ But the extraordinary and loving staff at the no-kill shelter Humane Society swept in and saved Sumter’s life- offering him longterm care and shelter, and a chance at finding his ‘forever home.’ Was it a coincidence that this is precisely the time that Tommy and I began volunteering at the Humane Society? No. It was nothing short of kismet. We saw Sumter and immediately fell in love. Couldn’t get him off our minds for weeks. Still though, we did not have the guts to adopt him. We’re not ready yet, we told ourselves. It’s too soon. Our lives are so unpredictable right now. It’s such a big commitment. 

Instead, we just spent time with Sumter, assuming someone else would snatch him up immediately, and focused our efforts on getting a beautiful six year-old Beagle at that shelter adopted. Guess who adopted her?

Julie.

“So it’s been 9 days with our Zelda,” Julie wrote recently to update the shelter on Zelda’s progress. “I am happy to say that she is exactly how Ali described her. Sweet, and lovely and yes adorable. Zelda truly does not deserve to spend the rest of her life in a shelter. And she never will again. As pretty as she looks in the pictures that were sent to me before we met. She is exactly that. Gorgeous. Yes she was nervous leaving Ali and Tommy to go with strangers. That was to be expected. But within 24 hours she was freely roaming around our home, and doing the typical Beagle sniffing all over the place. She tested all the dog beds and furniture, and found the feeding spot right away. She had gone out for several walks with her new sister (also a rescue, by the way), and sniffed up the neighborhood. We live in a pet friendly building so Zelda very quickly came face to face with several neighborhood pups, and it went very well. All the Butt sniffing ended with tails wagging.”

When back at home Minie seemed very happy with her new sister. And now 9 days later Zelda and Minie and our 2 cats are running around with each other. They are eating next to each other, in separate bowls of course. But no arguing. I want to mention when Zelda and Minie go out for their walks they are both squirrel and bird chasers and go nuts trying to take off after them. It’s amazing how strong Beagles are when they are determined to get that squirrel. I know they have scared the you-know-what out of the squirrels. During the squirrel run, Zelda finds her voice. Oh yea, She can bark! I love the sound of dogs barking when they are having fun, and she does it real well. After their walks they come home and decide where to take their afternoon naps, which they take on the same furniture, close to each other. I’m sure after a while they will be cuddling during their naps Minie is showing pure happiness now that she has a new sister in our home, and Zelda is becoming more content as the days go by.”

“We were still morning the loss of our Sweet Beau, and honestly didn’t know if or when we would adopt again. Then suddenly all it took was a few texted pictures and Zelda’s story. It was a done deal. Of course there were adoption rules to go through but again, with Ali and Tommy’s help we got through them painlessly as well. I was thinking I would pick her up in a few months when I travel to Fla to visit my daughter and grandson, when they told me they would transport her right to us. Again, a done deal. The entire process couldn’t have been easier. Everything was so unexpected, but sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and heart. We are so happy we did.”

A few weeks later, my mother, father, and mother in-law are each taking their turns playing with Sumter, their new furry grandson. The pup who wasn’t supposed to be here… at all is now here…with us. Meanwhile, over in Queens, Julie and her husband Denny are busy doling out homemade meals and lots of love to Zelda the Beagle. How grateful we all are to the devoted Humane Society/SPCA of Sumter County staff (especially Carol and Anne and Claudia, who made us feel so welcome and do so much for so many, four-legged and two-legged alike.) 

Right now I’m smiling because Sumter is playing with a bunch of Bily’s old toys- as well as a new tug toy that Julie sent him as a welcome home gift. It all feels so very karmic. (Oh, he’s also attacking Tommy’s sneakers…while Tommy is wearing them. I know I’m not supposed to encourage such behavior, but geez, it’s so friggin’ hilarious to watch a puppy test out new things. Confession: I also laughed when Sumter peed in Tommy’s suitcase.) Truth is, Tommy and I see so much of Bily in little Sumter and Julie says she feels the same way-Beau’s spirit is in Zelda. Unlike her wacky shelter cousin though,  Zelda doesn’t have time to chew on sneakers or pee in suitcases.  Why? Because she’s far too busy playing with her new brother. Yep, that’s right. Julie just adopted another dog! His name is Cooper and he’s an 18 month-old fox hound rescued from a kill shelter in Alabama. Word got to her about Cooper through the very same shelter from which Julie adopted her dearly departed Beau. Great twist, right?

So, there it is. The beautiful and furry karmic culmination of a fascinating past six months. As if by magic, loss turned into gain, and friends not only rescued pets, but each other. Two pups left this world, and made room for three more in need.

It’s the cycle of life. A tale of wagging tails.