Archive for the ‘Complicating It All’ Category

“The Woofing Circle of Life”- by Alison Grambs (Dedicated to Julie, Denny & Beau Riley)


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Ladies and gentlemen, meet Zelda the Beagle.

My husband and I met Zelda the Beagle last week at the Humane Society/SPCA of Sumter County, Inc. where we’ve just begun volunteering. Our dog, Bily, passed away back in May. Grieving, and in dire need of animal contact, we have found that spending time with shelter dogs, and focusing on their needs, has helped us pay forward Bily’s spirit a bit. 

We met Zelda the Beagle last week and spent some time playing with her and exercising her in the yard.  It didn’t take long to notice there is something special about this deceivingly spritely 6 or 7 year-old pooch. She was calm, but peppy, confident, but loving, and had a touch of that “Nothin’ bothers me because I’ve seen it all and just take each day as it comes” spunk to her that only older dogs can boast. We were eager to help her find a ‘forever’ home, but had no idea where to start. 

Funny how life works. 

As it happened, a dear friend of mine back up in NYC had just informed me of the passing of her own beloved beagle, Beau. Her love for animals, and willingness to take in needy ones, has always been inspiring. Like other pets already in the Riley household, Beau had been a rescue. Julie and Denny had stepped up when others were not willing to do so, giving Beau a remarkable second chance at life. An older dog who already had a number of health issues, Beau could easily have been overlooked by potential adopters. But the Riley family gave Beau a loving home, and a wonderful life. They saved him. No surprise, though. That’s the kind of people they are. Point of fact: their other dog, Minnie, is also a rescue. She is deaf and suffers from puppy palsy. See what I mean? 

“What a sweet pea he was,” Julie says of Beau (he’s the beagle lying down in the photo above.) Naturally, Beau’s passing broke her heart.

Hmmmm. It got me thinking…

“Um, we just met a beagle at the local animal shelter down here,” I began to type out in text form to Julie a few days ago from the car as Tommy and I headed home from our first day volunteering at the local shelter. We smelled like an odd mix of animals and sweat, and were covered in grass and puppy prints from spending the afternoon romping with the shelter dogs.

Not sure if Julie’s  ready to even consider adopting another needy dog so quickly after Beau’s loss, I had said to Tommy sheepishly as I hit the Send button and watched my iPhone struggle about 6 minutes to transmit the message to Julie’s phone. On a hunch, I followed up with a photo of Zelda the Beagle. If nothing else, I figured, it will make Julie smile to see a Beau-like happy face.

Well, it’s 4 days since that exchange with Julie, and I’m happy to report that Tommy and I will be picking Zelda the Beagle up from the shelter shortly, and then escorting her personally up to her wonderful new home with the Riley family in NYC. Was this all meant to be? I think so. Out of state adoptions can be difficult to maneuver. We were heading up to NYC anyway for a road trip. Our backseat just happens to be recently vacated. Plenty of room for a beagle, right? Hmmmm. What are the chances?

For the next few days we will take Zelda the Beagle under our wing to prepare her for her journey home. We have laid out some of Bily’s favorite toys and all 500 of the personal beds he insisted on having in every corner of the house, and do our best to help Zelda the Beagle adjust to life outside of a cage. We will tell her all about Julie and Denny, and show her pictures of Beau and her new sister, Minnie. We will encourage Zelda to romp around the house to her heart’s desire, something she hasn’t been able to do for who-knows how long. And then we will slowly make our way up North by car, showing Zelda the Beagle the sights along the way as we cross over into various states, each border crossing getting her one mile closer to her new family.

We don’t know Zelda’s travel history- often these rescue shelters have little background information on the abandoned or neglected dogs they’ve saved. But we suspect this will be the most exciting road trip Zelda has ever taken because the final destination is a caring New York City family waiting for her arrival with open arms. Eager to give her a wonderful new life. Everything came full circle in this wonderful story, and I’d like to think that Beau and Bily are looking down on Zelda the Beagle from Doggy Heaven, panting their approval.

So, here’s to everyone who has ever loved a pet. Here’s to everyone who has ever lost a pet. Here’s to the Humane Society/SPCA of Sumter County and everyone else who has rescued animals in need. Here’s to the Riley family. And here’s to the proverbial Circle of Life, which has a funny way of making sure what is meant to be can be.

You’re going home, Zelda! You’re going home!

www.NapoleonWasQuiteTall.com

“To The Creep Who Pushed Me” (“NY Times Metropolitan Diary”) – by Alison Grambs

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Thrilled and honored to have my piece To The Creep Who Pushed Me included in this week’s “New York Times Metropolitan Diary.” 

Here’s  the direct link to the NY Times section… or you can read the item below -but it’s in a waaaaaay less impressive font.)

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/07/to-the-creep-who-pushed-me/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog+Main&contentCollection=Metropolitan+Diary&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body

“Dear Diary:

To the Creep Who Pushed Me On the Street:

You may think you won today.

But you didn’t.

You may think that you intimidated me with that glare you gave me as I sat stunned on the ground.

But you didn’t.

You may think you’re tough. That hurting a woman who did nothing to you but accidentally bump into you on a crowded street somehow makes you Lord of the Streets now.

But you would be wrong.

This is New York City, pal. To survive the chaos, each of us has to decide which kind of New Yorker we want to be: the kind who deals with the crowds politely, or the kind who resorts to violence. You chose aggression, finding joy in making someone else feel weak. Vulnerable. Perhaps, you were having a bad day? Well, Mr. Creep, a lot of people are having even worse days. And yet, none of those people are going around hurting others.

I bet you’re at home right now smirking to yourself because you scared a woman today. Shame on you. But if you think I’m at home right now loving N.Y.C. any less because of you, you would be wrong.

About 20 blocks after you shoved me, I had another encounter. This time a woman accidentally bumped into me. But here’s the difference, Mr. Creep. I didn’t shove her to the ground or curse at her. Instead, I just stepped aside and gave her a wide smile.

Guess what?

She smiled back.

I win, Mr. Creep. I win.”

(New York Times “Metropolitan Diary” section 10/7/2014)

 

 

“Longing for a Leash”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_5852For over 11 years, this little face was traveling with us on every road trip my husband and I took.

If we camped in Canada, Bily was there. If we hiked in Montana, he was there. If we motorcycled through the Smoky Mountains, or the deserts of Nevada and Utah, he was there. If we went anywhere, Bily went to that ‘anywhere’ with us. This pseudo Yorkie picked a fight with at a 3,000 lbs. bull in Wyoming, and explored Route 66 with us. He summited Mount Washington and descended caves with us. He chased seagulls on the Maine coastline, and pigeons in Central Park.  

And while he peed on every friggin’ carpet in our apartment (and anyone else’s) he never once peed in our car. Or our tent.  The little guy just loved to travel. 

So, yeah, it was hard this summer to take to the open road, only to look in the backseat of our car and not see that furry, drooling, slightly maniacal grin staring back at us. His was that magical canine smile of complete excitement over just being alive. And every amazing experience we had was just a tiny bit less amazing because our baby wasn’t there to enjoy it with us.  Seeing the world through a dog’s eyes makes the world look better, ya know?

Oddly, it was only when we met up with my parents on this road trip of ours- out in the mystical Badlands of South Dakota and under the Big Sky of Montana- that I, now suddenly dog-less, felt temporarily settled for the first time in months. Perhaps, it was the warm hugs from my mom and dad that momentarily cured my soul. The sound of their voices right beside me after too many months of being separated from them by 1,000 miles. It was their words of comfort I had needed so desperately the night we lost Bily to that seizure; and now it was their presence I needed to revel in as I watched other campers walking their dogs and felt a pang of jealousy.  (No, jealousy isn’t the right word. Envy maybe? No. Not that either. Longing. Yes, that’s it. Longing.) And what mixed emotions I felt as I snuggled up against Mom and Dad’s adorable Tibetan Terrier on this trip. She is a puff of white and black fur, with just about the sweetest disposition I’ve ever witnessed in a dog. Bily had never been nice to sweet Roxy. Something in his brain caused him to get terribly aggressive with other dogs for no reason. But Roxy was always patient with him. The Tibetan spirit within her has always. She always rises above the muckity-muck of others and just take it all in stride. This time, Roxy’s fur felt extra soft to me. And when she fell asleep against my body at night in the cabin, I was in heaven. 

When they heard about Bily’s passing, two of my dear girlfriends each sent me something to help me cope. One (who had just lost her own beloved German Shepherd not too long ago) sent us a memorial candle to light in Bily’s honor. It bears the inscription, “Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you… I loved you so- ’twas heaven here with you.” (Isla Paschal Richardson is the attributed author). And the other friend sent me a “Hope” rock, and beautiful, hand-carved Peruvian Spirit Animal figurine, which symbolizes the ‘loyalty, unconditional love and protection’ that a dog provides in the spirit world- the dog’s willingness to serve and forgive. These items have helped immensely, and remain in a place of honor on our coffee table, beside a photo of Bily that was taken, most likely, while he was peeing on one of our rugs.

Soon enough, we’ll get another dog. But for now, like so many people out there who are buckling under the weight of grief for a lost loved one, human or animal, I’ll just hold onto the memories of all the great road trips we took with that wonderful ball of fur sitting excitedly in the backseat.

(And peeing on god knows what parts of our camping equipment.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The End of the Road”- by Alison Grambs

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Road Trip.

Over.

Spent 4 weeks driving across the country with my amazing husband…

Put 8,000 miles on the car…

300 miles on a motorcycle…

Slept in tents, log cabins & motels…

Explored mountains, valleys, plains, canyons, reservations & ghost towns…

Met so many cool people…

Learned so much about our nation’s history…

Observed wildlife in abundance…

Peed in 26 states..

It really doesn’t get better than that.

Thank you, Husband, for getting us so far and keeping us safe in the unknown. I’m sorry I ruined all your favorite Led Zeppelin songs by singing along to them in the car for 30 days straight. (But then again, you blow-burped at me in the car after eating beef jerky, and that’s just as rude.) We have had so many incredible adventures over the years. You are the Lewis to my Clark; the Hillary to my Norgay; the Ernest to my Shackleton. The Led to my Zeppelin. Can’t wait for our next road trip.

And thank you, Mom & Dad, for raising me up on the open road. Your wanderlust is contagious, and I will forever be a glutton for travel because of you. We loved meeting up with you in the Badlands of South Dakota, and the wilderness of Montana. How cool was that?! We loved revisiting the Great West through your eyes. Reminded me of all our family vacations when I was a kid.

Perfect. It’s all just been perfect. You are the best parents ever.

Until our next adventure…

“Never Forget”- by Alison Grambs

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September 11, 2001.

Reports of a ‘small’ plane hitting the World Trade Center.

Then another.

No, these aren’t small planes; they’re big ones. It seems deliberate.

Confusion on Lexington Avenue as I head to work. A man in a business suit shouts out that the Pentagon had just been hit.

I stop at a pay phone. Cell service is down. Long line.

We are under attack.

Construction worker standing in line behind me whimpers quietly to no one in particular:

“My dad is a window washer at the World Trade Center…I can’t reach him.”

“Shark Weak”- by Alison Grambs

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It was a day like any other.

The air was cool, the sun was shining.

I’d taken this walk on our screened-in patio a thousand times before. The footing was familiar, and I knew every nook and cranny of the hammock I had purchased on Amazon.com using my Rewards Points. (I also got one of those Perfect Tortilla Bowl makers, but that’s not relevant here.)

As I slid my body into the soft sling of savory cotton, Kindle and perfectly brewed iced coffee in hand, I had no reason to think there was danger lurking below. The patio has always been my sanctuary. A place where I can clear my head and think deep thoughts. Swinging to and fro in my hammock, my mind slipped into a state of complete and utter relaxation. I thought deep thoughts: like, “Why is the sky blue?” And “How, exactly, is a Twinkie made?”  

Suddenly, I was struck by a force as powerful as a freight train! (If freight trains were made of lightweight resin.) Something strong and angry had plowed up from beneath me, knocking me out of the hammock (which, by the way, I also got free shipping for thanks to my Amazon.com Prime Membership privileges) and onto the floor. Christ! I plummeted violently  6 inches to the ground, landing with a thud! In the distance I saw a shadow. Gray on top, and white on the bottom- like an Oreo cookie, if the Oreo cookie is very stale and has been split in two, and was left out to rot in the sun for about three years. And then the shadow was gone, as if by magic. “No, no,” I assured myself as I shook my head in a vain effort to banish the thoughts rushing through my head. “It’s not possible. Not here. Not on this screened-in patio…”

Stunned, I laid motionless on the floor for a moment, trying to comprehend the mystery of what had just happened to me… and how my Kindle ended up in my iced coffee. There was a pain in the back of my thigh. Reaching my hand around to feel it out, the tips of my fingers were met with something sharp. “No, no,” I assured myself, as I shook my head in denial. “A bite wound? It can’t be. Not here. Not on this screened-in patio…” Sure enough, it was not a bite wound. The searing pain I was experiencing was the result of the straw from my perfectly brewed iced coffee beverage having plunged into my thigh during my fall.

“Whew!” I sighed with relief, though it was difficult to catch my breath now. “Now, if…I can…just get back up… on my… hammock,’ I told myself as I reached my hand up to the sling of savory imported cotton. “Then… I can… get back to thinking… deep thoughts… and figuring… out the whole… Twinkie thing.”

But the hammock was so far away now- too high to reach. (At least 6 inches)

“This must be how Sir Edmund Hillary felt,” I thought to myself as I pooled all my energy and reached for the summit of the hammock, so very far off in the distance now as it was. Gasping for air, and immensely annoyed that my iced coffee had spilled on the floor, I pulled myself back into the hammock.

“Thank God I am safe now,” I said to myself in a soothing tone. “Nothing bad can happen now. Clearly, that was the worst of it. Rest, sweet Alison. Rest your weary soul now.”

But the gray/white/Oreo-ish shadow of evil moving beneath the hammock would not allow me to rest. Oh, no. It had an entirely different plan in store for me.

Wooosh!

It was the eyes that I noticed first. Black as a doll’s eyes…except for Barbie’s eyes. (Hers are like, a beautiful Parrish Blue.)

I screamed out a blood-curdling scream of fear, ‘OH MY GOD! LOOK AT THOSE EYES! THEY ARE BLACK AS A NON-BARBIE DOLL’S EYES!!’

Before I could react, the massive jaws of the gray/white/Oreo-ish shadow of evil bore down on me, its teeth cutting into the lining of my hammock. Anger and revenge were in those teeth as, row after row of razor-sharp teeth, sank into the fine cotton blend (imported from Guatemala, I believe?) of my hammock. The force of the jaws was unlike anything I had witnessed in a patio shark attack before! Oh, how my hammock screamed out in pain! But what could I do? What defense could I, a lithe woman of, oh, 120 lbs. tops… okay, it might be more like 175 lbs…possibly do to save the hammock? Unaccustomed to fighting sharks out of water, I was wholly unprepared for this battle.

“GO AWAY, YOU NASTY GRAY/WHITE/OREO-ISH MASS OF TOOTHY EVIL!” I shouted in dismay, as I pounded at the protruding proboscis of the attacking creature. “THIS ISN’T THE HAMMOCK YOU WANT!”

But the assailant was determined as it was coy, rising up from the 6 inch depths of the floor to consume the hammock entire. Instantly, my mind reeled with the realization that this was a test. God was clearly testing my character? Would I be ‘that’ person who let an innocent hammock die?

“NOOOOOOO!” I shrieked, as I reached out my head to the offending assailant, instantly blocking its bite into the stitching of my hammock. “TAKE ME!” I wailed. “TAKE ME, YOU BASTARD!”

“YES!” I yelped again, aware that this could very well be my last moment alive. Would my family miss me? Would my friends post a memorial blurb on Facebook?  “THAT’S RIGHT! TAKE ME INSTEAD OF THE HAMMOCK!”

Oh, I felt so brave. So altruistic. With a mixture of fear and inner prowess, I watched as the jaws opened wider, and I prepared to meet my end. 

Just then, the eyes (black as a doll’s eyes) well, they rolled. Not ‘rolled back’ in the way I learned from the Discovery Channel that a man-eating creature of the sea rolls back its eyes for protection when attacking a victim. Instead, these particular eyes (did I mention they were black as a doll’s eyes?) just sorta rolled… like, in that “I’m so bored” way people roll their eyes. The same way I roll my eyes at my mother when my parents ask me to help them wash the dishes at their country house.

“GO ON!” I railed, now a bit offended by what I was certain was a hint of rejection coming off my attacker’s aura. “TAKE ME! TAKE ME! I’LL GO DOWN THE SAME WAY QUINT DID IF IT MEANS I CAN SAVE THE LIFE OF THIS FINELY STITCHED, IMPORTED HAMMOCK FROM GUATEMALA! YOU… YOU… YOU SON OF A BITCH!”

The shark paused, took one final look at me, muttered something about how ‘childishly inane” my last blog post was, and swam away.

Was I relieved? Yes. A bit hurt by the rejection? Sure. But at least now I can live with the knowledge that, when attacked by a shark on my patio, I will always do the right thing. (Unless, of course, I opt to save myself…)

THE END

www.NapoleonWasQuiteTall.com

 

 

 

“Under the Dome?”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_6203Yesterday morning, as is my tradition, I walked outside to begin my writing day on the patio. Freshly made latte in one hand, laptop in the other, I was feeling refreshed from a good night’s sleep and on target to finalize a writing project that has been consuming my mind for months. The sun was shining. The salamanders were thumping around the lawn. The birds were chirping. And my favorite patio chair was waiting for me to slip into it, just as I always did. It was a perfect morning.

And yet, something felt wrong.

One look up towards the sky and I saw, oh yes, that something was indeed, quite wrong. My hands felt their way against the air and all that I felt in return was a solid form against them. Some sort of wall. Some enclosure.

I was trapped under a dome!

“OH MY GOD, HONEY! I AM TRAPPED UNDER THE DOME!” I screamed out to Tommy who was busy in the living room practicing a Led Zeppelin song on his guitar (sounded more like a Placido Domingo tune to me, frankly, but you didn’t hear that from me.)

“No, you’re not…” Tommy muttered back in a disturbingly un-disturbed tone.

“YES I AM!” I yelped back as I took note of the barely perceptible white shroud suddenly surrounding me. The panic set in. “I AM VERY MUCH TRAPPED UNDER THE DOME! YOU HAVE TO HELP ME!”

“Be there in a minute…” was all I heard, as Tommy continued to practice his Led Zeppelin/Placido Domingo scales.

My mind began to race with all that I stood to lose now that I was trapped under the Dome. I’d learned a great deal about this whole dome thing from what’s been going on in Chester’s Mill (according to the CBS network.) Total fiasco. Lives have been lost. Families have been separated. Cows have been split in half. Not to mention how many Facebook friend requests and online bank statements have been lost due to failed Internet service.

“I CAN’T LIVE IN A CAGE, MAN!” I shouted out to Tommy, hoping that the quote from Point Break might get his attention. But there was no response. Clearly, the dome had cut off all sound. I was insulated. I was cut off. I was ALONE!

“OH MY GOD! I AM INSULATED AND CUT OFF AND ALONE!” I shouted out.

Silence. (except for the faint sound of the Maury show coming on the television in the living room.)

“HELLLLLLLLO?” I shouted.

More silence. (except for the sound of some guy being told he was not the father of someone’s baby.)

Wait! Did this make sense? I could hear what was going on outside the Dome, but couldn’t be heard by anyone outside the Dome?

Hmmmm. I thought back to all I had learned about Chester’s Mill. According to this week’s revelation, I should soon be expecting the skies to rain acidic blood. So, I sat there and waited for the blood to pour down blood. Nothing happened.

“HONEY! JUST SO YOU KNOW, I’M STILL TRAPPED IN THE DOME! WAITING FOR THE ACIDIC BLOOD TO POUR DOWN ON ME. ARE YOU COMING SOON?”

Silence. (Except for Maury now telling some girl on his show that she has to be strong and keep looking for the father of her baby… despite the fact that the first fifteen guys she thought were the father turned out not to be.)

For the next hour I tried to stay calm. I took stock of my current supplies: laptop, latte, flip flops, running shorts from Walmart, a pen, a notebook, purple patio chair and table, iPod. Well, I certainly had enough to get me through the average day on a beach, but how long could I last without food? Would I have to eat my own arm just to survive the night?

“HONEY, I MAY HAVE TO EAT MY OWN ARM TO SURVIVE!” I shouted out to Tommy.

Silence. (except for the sound of a commercial about how the ingestion of the medication being advertised to treat depression might cause suicidal tendencies.)

I thought about all the great explorers of our time. Shackleton. Lewis & Clark. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Did I have what they had? Could I survive in these extreme circumstances? Being trapped under the Dome with just my laptop, latte, flip flops, running shorts from Walmart, a pen, a notebook, purple patio chair and table, and iPod?

“I’M PROBABLY GONNA DIE UNDER THIS DOME HERE,” I warned Tommy.

Silence. (Except for the sound of a commercial inviting old people to send in their life savings to some insurance company.)

What would my life be like now, trapped under the Dome? Would Twitter light up with updates on my Dome status? Pulling for ya, Al! You can make it! Would the library charge me overdue fees for not returning my book loans on time? Suddenly, I was having trouble breathing. Oh no! The air was depleting. I hadn’t even made it ten minutes. I reached for my latte cup and sucked on the straw, hoping the air in the bubbles might provide lengthy sustenance. No such luck. I was gasping for breath. The Dome was going to kill me.

“IF I DON’T MAKE IT,” I wailed to Tommy through the Dome, “I GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO MARRY SOMEONE ELSE.” I began to cry. “I… (sniffle)…WANT…(sniffle)… YOU…TO… GO…ON…(sniffle)… WITHOUT…ME.”I cried louder. “TO FIND… HAPPINESS… SOMEHOW, WITHOUT ME.”

Harder and harder I cried. Would my parents miss me? Would my friends hold a big memorial in my honor in Central Park? Would Amazon.com donate copies of my books to a charity founded in my honor to provide scholarships to writers suffering from Writer’s Block?

Silence.  Then the sound of Tommy’s feet approaching. My heart raced. YES! He was coming to save me. My very own Big Jim (only his name was Tommy.) The sound of a sliding glass door opening.  And there, much to my relief, my husband stood.

“You’re not trapped under a dome. You went the wrong way. This is the screened-in lanai.”

Huh?

Tommy shoved my glasses on my face. The glasses I had forgotten to put on that morning when I rolled out of bed. The glasses that I absolutely must be wearing to see if I don’t have my contacts in.

“You’re a jackass,” my husband said in a not-at-all compassionate tone, as he left the screened-in lanai and returned to the living room to continuing practicing his scales while Maury did his best to sort out yet another pregnant teenager’s plight.

Well, perhaps I am a jackass, I thought to myself, relieved to not be trapped under the Dome, but ashamed of my own stupidity. (But at least I know the difference between Led Zeppelin and Placido Domingo.)

“Road Twit”-artistic rendering by Alison Grambs

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“Gone Eyebrow” – by Alison Grambs

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I once had a weird dream.

I was walking alone down a dimly lit, completely deserted Manhattan street. Except for the patter of a light rain falling at my feet, the usual cacophony of city noises was conspicuously absent from the atmosphere. Likewise, my stride, usually confident and aggressive, was uncharacteristically tentative in this dream. I remember a sense of danger hovering over me as the heels of my boots clicked awkwardly against the wet, cracked pavement. You know, that feeling you get deep down in the pit of your stomach when you sense something isn’t quite right, but you can’t pinpoint why. My mother always taught me to pay attention to that instinct. And so I was paying attention to it in my dream. (See, Mom? I do, in fact, listen to you!)

In this dream of mine, it was somewhere between passing a series of garbage cans and a pile of newspapers that a masked man suddenly leapt out from behind the shadows. I remember my Dream Self wanting to scream, but not having the time to do so. Without a word, the masked man shoved me down on the ground until I was flat on my back against the wet pavement. My Dream Self did not put up a fight; I was simply too stupefied to make even the slightest maneuver in my defense. Instead, I remember my Dream Self saying to myself, “Yep. I had a feeling something bad was gonna happen. So I guess this is it. Wow, this sucks.”

Scared, I remember my Dream Self trying to wake my Sleeping Self up so my Dream Self could get away from the masked man. But no such luck. Before I knew it, the masked man was hiking one leg across my body and straddling me. The jet black leather pants and jacket he was wearing- some sort of motorcyclist’s outfit maybe – it kept squeaking as he climbed on top of me and straddled me across the waistline. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. This God awful, relentless squeaking! I remember that, even amidst the fear I was feeling in my dream, I found the squeaking immensely annoying.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

Then the masked man leaned in close to me and spread his lips apart…and…

…proceeded to…

…ask me a question. 

“Which one?”

I remained frozen in silence.

Which one?” my attacker repeated in a sinister voice. 

I’d like to say I replied with something snarky like, “Which one what, you creep? And while we’re on the subject, sir, mind explaining what on earth are you thinking wearing that ridiculous outfit in public? But instead, I just laid there on my back, straddled by this squeaking stranger, locked in a state of silent panic. The masked man leaned in even closer to my face and repeated the question yet again.

“Which one?”

I remember my Dream Self thinking hard. I’ve always been a reasonably competent test-taker. Maybe this was some sort of addendum to the SAT’s? Which one. Hmmmmm. Which one… Which one what? Try as I did, my Dream Self could not understand the question. Hell, it wasn’t even a complete sentence, grammatically speaking. So, I just did what any person bearing an English Literature degree would do when engaged in a tete-a-tete of words with a squeaky, masked, leather-clad assailant with slightly stale breath:  I posed an equally vague question back.

“Huh?”

I guess my huh-ing pissed off the masked man because I distinctly remember him wringing his fists in the air with frustration soon after that. (You know, the kind of pose an action hero strikes in a movie when his lover has just been mangled in sausage grinder. “WHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYY?”) Clearly, I was getting on my attacker’s nerves. And I remember saying to myself in the dream, “Not only is his squeaking annoying, but now he’s finding me annoying, which makes him more annoying.”

For a moment there was an awkward silence between my Dream Self and the squeaky masked attacker. Would he let me go? Would he kill me? Would he ask to borrow my library card? I did not know what the future held for me. Such a state forced my Dream Self to confront my life, possibly at an end. Had I lived a reasonably fulfilling life? Yes. Was I a reasonably decent person? Um. Guess so. Would Heaven be my next residence? Or Hell? And more importantly, did either one of them offer rent-stabilized apartments?

Before I could whip out my iPhone and go onto CraigsList to research after-life housing deals, the squeaky masked man suddenly made a move, withdrawing a disposable razor from his pocket.

Uh-oh, I remember my Dream Self muttering under my breath as the squeaky masked man pressed one of his gloved hands against my forehead… and with his free hand…aw, man, this is really hard to write about… hang on… breathe deep, Alison… breathe… okay… um… the masked man…

… shaved off my left eyebrow.

Poof! Just like that, my eyebrow was gone. So ‘gone’ that if Ben Affleck were available for filming, he’d ditch that Gillian Flynn project to star in the movie about my life: Gone Eyebrow.

Now, usually, I’m not the kind of person who has vivid dreams. Or at least I don’t remember my dreams once I wake up. I’m rather shallow that way. But this eyebrow nightmare shook me to the very core. When I finally managed to awaken from the dream, I did so in a panic, racing into the bathroom to check on the status of my eyebrows. They were there, of course, looking a bit unruly in their present un-plucked state. But there just the same. Considering this, I should have been able to move on with my life from there. However, no matter how hard I strove to divert my thoughts,  I could not shake the fact that this mysterious Eyebrow Shaver had crept into my mind in the middle of my night and absconded with part of my face.

What did it mean? Our dreams are supposed to reflect some inner truth. We are supposed to analyze them and learn from them. So, what the friggin’ hell did this one mean? I thought hard. Out of all the things the Eyebrow Shaver in the squeaky outfit could have snatched from my person, why did he go for something so inconsequential? My engagement ring, yeah, sure, I could understand that. It’s pretty. My watch. My purse. Even my bra would’ve made more sense because it cost more than my college tuition thanks to Oprah endorsing the brand as one of her “Favorite Things.” Any of those items would have been logical objects for any self-respecting Eyebrow Shaver to snatch. But this thief of the night coveted nothing more than my eyebrow. I needed to know why.

My husband theorized my dream was just residual fury from a bad eyebrow waxing experience I’d had a few years prior. Half my eyebrow had been melted off by a ‘professional’ who tried to make amends by offering me a discount to rip off half of my other eyebrow for half the price. A decent hypothesis, I suppose. Still, though, I knew there was something deeper to this whole eyebrow ‘Huh?” debacle. Clearly, I was supposed to be experiencing some sort of epiphany. So, in an effort to learn something from this seemingly uninstructive incident, I decided to start with the obvious. My eyebrows. One had to assume that, as long as they were still on my face, they meant something.  So, there I stop, in front of my bathroom mirror one night, studying my eyebrows. Running through the gamut of my daily facial expressions to see how my eyebrows react.

First I flashed my “OMG! I can’t believe it’s not butter!” surprised look. Sure enough, both of my eyebrows jumped upwards like furry cheerleaders. But upon closer inspection I noticed that my right eyebrow was leading the left in the eager ascent up my forehead. Then I tried out my, “Yeah, I forged my college diploma” expression of shame, which instantly launches both eyebrows into a deep furrow. Once again, I noted that my right eyebrow led the charge. As for my quizzical, “Hmmm. I wonder who shot JFK?” expression, my right eyebrow popped up enthusiastically, but when it came to my left one? Well, that sort of sulked on my forehead like the fat kid at recess who never gets picked for the dodge ball team. A few more tests and, sure enough, my extremely advanced scientific research led me to the following conclusion: my left eyebrow suffers from a severe insecurity complex.

So, why, I pondered, had the squeaky Eyebrow Shaver wanted this eyebrow of mine? My left eyebrow is nothing but a bore. A loser. A follower. It is, hands down, the eyebrow so not likely to ever win a Pulitzer. Stealing it is akin to stealing the only car on the block that doesn’t have an engine. 

“Which one?” That’s what the Eyebrow Shaver had asked me in my dream. Which one?

Then it hit me. An actual epiphany!

What I had originally mistaken for an act of victimization on the culprit’s behalf was not that at all. The thief had been giving me a choice. No matter what, I was going to lose an eyebrow in this nightmare of mine. But the Eyebrow Shaver was giving me the power to decide which one. Urging me to care about something that, except for the occasional waxing and plucking, I’d pretty much ignored my entire life. That left eyebrow in my dream represented all the seeming little things that I quickly take for granted until they are gone. I see now that the Eyebrow Shaver’s act in my dream was not one of malice, but instead, a message of empowerment to me. Because up until now I’ve never appreciated my left eyebrow. I’ve always favored the right one, mostly because it does what I want and is far more lively. The left one? Not so much. It’s the weaker one of the pair, always trying to keep up, but never quite managing to do so. And therein lies the rub.

My nocturnal encounter with the Eyebrow Shaver revealed something in me that gave me pause. For what kind of person am I that I’ve consistently favored the ‘easier’ of my eyebrows all this time? Until now, I’d paid no mind to the state of predestined defeat such nepotism would unleash on my left eyebrow. I’d been nothing short of an eyebrow bully – favoring the cooler and hipper Rightie when it was the awkward and weaker Leftie that needed… no wait… deserved my attention.

I decided to learn from my dream.

Instead of shunning my left eyebrow for being such a flake, I opted to embrace it. Now I tweeze my left eyebrow with a little bit of love, and make a concerted effort to arch it just as often, if not more, than I arch my right one. The effect has been quite noticeable as my left eyebrow is slowly, but surely building up muscular strength and confidence. I dare say, it’s got a bit of pluck to it now. With any luck, one day it will play with the big boys. Yes, my left eyebrow has become a furry reminder that, as I poke along the path of life, it is essential I take time to nurture what needs nurturing. In a day and age when we depend upon instant gratification, and are reminded constantly (and sometimes violently) of our collective fragility by stories on the evening news, it is essential that I stop and smell not just the proverbial roses, but the proverbial wilting dandelions that always get ignored. We must do this because a little nurturing goes a long way.

So, if you have a moment today, take a look at your own eyebrows in the mirror and ask yourself this question:

Which one?

 

“Custer’s 2nd to Last Stand”- by Alison Grambs

Watermarked Photo-1Right this moment I am reading Stephen E. Ambrose’s book, “To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian”

Just fourteen pages in, and this memoir is already irking me. Suppose I spontaneously decide to become ‘an historian’ and thereby, wish to personally reflect, in writing, upon America? While I certainly can spontaneously become ‘an historian’ and begin reflecting on America, I am bothered by the fact that I would not be able to title my own memoir about doing so using the very title I would want to: To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian, because the far more esteemed Mr. Ambrose beat me to the punch. Puts me in quite a jam. What if that was the only title worthy of my tome once I suddenly become “an historian” making personal reflections about America? I am devastated. Although, come to think of it, this fallout is probably just as well, since I’ve never quite understood the rule about ‘a’ versus ‘an’ preceding the word ‘historian,’ (that silent ‘h’ really throws me.) Inevitably, I would have committed an egregious grammatical sin by calling my memoir, To America: Personal Reflections of a Historian.  

Anyway, the point is that I am reading Mr. Ambrose’s book on Father’s Day in honor of my father, who is presently about 1,000 miles away from me, sitting on the deck of the beautiful country home he and my mother recently acquired. As I type this Dad is most likely sipping iced coffee feeding the squirrels that scamper in from the neighboring woods, and reading some book about the history of something. In dreaded anticipation of being separated from my father this holiday weekend, I picked up a copy of Mr. Ambrose’s book from a charming independent bookstore in St. Augustine. I knew I would need to feel a bond with him on this day, and Ambrose seemed to be the perfect fit: a/an historian reflecting on America while I, a/an historian-wannabe reflect on my father, my history guru. The book is a hardcover book. Since converting to a Kindle, I haven’t read a hardcover book in years. I am abashed to admit that I have forgotten how to turn non-virtual pages, and find myself buckling under the weight of this book. But I am sticking to this project so that I can experience a/an historian’s musings in the same way my father, a/an history buff, would opt to experience it: old school.  

As Mr. Ambrose so eloquently reminisces about his experiences in the early ’70s exploring the historic battle sites dotting the plains of the West, and spending time with Native Americans on the reservations, learning about their culture, I find myself reminiscing about similar trips my father has taken us on over the years. Ever since I was a baby my father has made it his civic duty to teach me about history, both America’s and that of other countries. Whether he was reading aloud from passages of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee as our Volkswagen sputtered along the unpaved roads of various battlefields out West, pointing to markers where Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse once fought so valiantly, or touring me through the ancient ruins of European cities, my father has always been my personal Reflector of History. It is through his eyes that I have learned the details of momentous occasions that have shaped the world I live in today. Although sadly, I do not exhibit his aptitude for information retention, I have learned to love what my father loves about history. Frankly, that is enough for me. Despite our difference in brain power (he’s the smart one, I’m the twit) I am relieved to see a hint of my father in my own investigative instincts when traveling.

I am curious because Dad taught me to be curious.

Upon arriving in a new state or country I do not seek out the finest restaurants or fanciest hotels. Instead, I immediately dig into whatever guide book or history site Dad has recommended, and attempt to extract as much information as possible about my surroundings. The information I acquire doesn’t stay long in my head because I am, well, a twit when it comes to history. Prone to confusing dates, places, and the historical figures who were present at each. But oh, how I do relish in the fleeting moments during which I actually can regurgitate, with some confidence, which Confederate states seceded from the Union during the Civil War. Who fought at Wounded Knee. Which countries made up the Allied forces during World War II. For every fact that I can keep straight in my tiny brain is a step towards paying tribute to my father.

Our idea of Father/Daughter quality time is watching The Big Red One. Sharing breakfast at our favorite NYC diner while chatting about some History Channel special we both made sure to tape. Or exchanging books we’ve discovered with a historical twist. While other kids were reading The Hardy Boys my dad had me reading Ambrose Bierce’s Chickamauga. It is thanks to my father that I get excited about a Ken Burns project. It is thanks to my father that I dip into museums rather than gift shops while on vacation. It is thanks to my father that my Netflix viewing history is comprised mostly of documentaries. And it is thanks to my father that I have the wherewithal  to read a work penned by Stephen E. Ambrose, esteemed historian. Somehow, reading a book by a/an historian just seems a fitting tribute to my father, a/an history enthusiast, on the national holiday celebrating dads.

In a day and age when everyone is so damn obsessed with mapping out the future, my father has taught me to care about the past. 

Of course, I’ll never be as knowledgable as my father is. I know that. Unlike him, I will never be able to sort out the who, when, where, how, why issues of the greatest moments in our nation’s history. In fact, there are times I don’t even know who our current president is. But I take comfort in knowing that at least I strive to be a little less dumb every day in Dad’s honor.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to reading this Ambrose book so I can learn a whole bunch of fascinating historical facts from a/an historian… and then mix all those facts all up just in time to sit down to a delicious breakfast with my father in about two weeks. Dad will regale me with the details of what happened at the Wounded Knee Massacre. He will be humble in his presentation, and judiciously fair in his representation of the warring factions. And I, ever the adoring daughter, will sit in awe, soaking up every morsel of history. Then, in homage to the fallen, I will use my fork to carve my waffle into the shape of Sitting Bull. My waffle will probably end up looking more like Justin Bieber because I stink at waffle art. But my dad will appreciate my efforts nonetheless. 

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

 

“Soooo, You’re Saying I Shouldn’t Lick Myself?”- by Alison Grambs

Gone, but still fetching.

 

A week ago today our dog passed away. 

He died at home with us, for which I am thankful. However, his passing was sudden, and unexpected, and for that, I am eternally resentful. He was only eleven years old and still so very much a puppy in behavior and spirit. I am angry. I am depressed. I am devastated. I thought I could write about Bily’s death today; I wanted to do something to immortalize the being that is no longer tangible to me in furry form. I thought it would help me to put into words the many destabilizing emotions I have been experiencing for the past seven days. Like everyone who has experienced a loss, either animal or human, Tommy’s and my world has been turned upside down, rendering us unable, at least for the moment, to imagine proceeding through our lives without our crazy Yorkie nipping at our feet and trying to steal every morsel of food we are eating.

But the truth of the matter is, the last thing I want to do right now is think about the void Bily’s passing has left in my heart. I am not a girl used to feeling weak. I am unaccustomed to letting the negatives of a situation outweigh the positives. And yet, here I am, feeling intolerably incapacitated, cheated, and jaded. Bily was one of the happiest, most innately joyful creatures I have ever known in my life. All he wanted in life was to enjoy every day. My God, I’ve never known another being so completely enraptured by the simplest of pleasures. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, right? When God closes a door, he opens a window.

So, here I am, determined to find that window and let the sun shine through it and bask me in positivity. In little Bily’s memory I am going to start living my life a bit more like Bily did. 

When I have to go to the bathroom, I’m not going to scratch at the door or whimper. Instead, I’m just going to the nearest rug in the house and lift my leg. 

If there is something I need from across the living room, I’m going to ask Tommy to toss it, long and low, and then scamper after it on all fours.

If I see a pigeon, I will chase it down, barking the entire while at a decibel so high that any and all incoming pigeons immediately reroute and head in the other direction.

If I don’t like the food someone has put down in front of me, from now on I plan on picking it out of my bowl piece by piece, gumming each piece a bit, and then spitting it out on the floor.

When I am taking a nap, I am going to twitch and flip and flop unnecessarily, just to remind anyone who is nearby that I could awaken at any time and begin an hour-long fetching game that will drive said person to his or her knees.

If I feel like eating something off the ground, I will do so. Even if it is decayed and indigestible. And if I then feel the need to expel whatever I put into my body that shouldn’t be in there, I will embrace my ability to simultaneously expel it from both ends because it’s fun to watch someone try to clean up that kind of mess with just one paper towel.

When on a road trip, from now on I will sit in the backseat of our Rock Lobstah red/orange Jeep and pant uncontrollably in Tommy’s ear. When he offers me water, I will confuse the matter further by refusing the water. But I will still continue panting in his ear. For hours and hours and hours.

When camping in the woods, I will scrape at the walls of our tent until there is just enough of a hole for creepy crawly creatures to push through, preferably ones with stingers.

When I have to go to the doctor for a check-up, and he sticks his finger in my butt under the premise of depressing my anal glands, I will turn right around and do the exact same thing to him.

When it’s raining outside, I will drag Tommy all the way down the block until his perfectly coiffed hair is completely wet. But if the sun is shining, I will refuse to leave the house and instead, go pee on the bath mat right where he steps out of the shower.

I will collect all my toys in a pile, gum each one until it is adequately slathered in my saliva. 

I will bark loudly at night when everyone is sleeping, but then make sure to be very quiet when an intruder busts into the house armed with a machete and chain saw.

Lastly, whenever I get bored, from now on I am going to lick myself all over in public. (During parades especially because then visiting politicians will know exactly how I feel about the job they are doing.)

Yes, it’s going to feel very good to get my canine on. 

Woof.

 

“I WILL CRY”- by Alison Grambs

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This is the first Mother’s Day I will not be with my mother.

She is up North, and I am down South. She is chilly right now where she is, and I am wiping the sweat from my brow where I am. As my husband and I went into town this afternoon to do some preliminary Mother’s Day shopping I found myself staring at the mothers in my midst. The ones who will, I imagine, be enjoying the company of their daughters this weekend. A part of me was happy for them, of course. Their happiness should in no way detract from mine. Still though, the other part of me felt a bit envious. I want to be with my mother this weekend. But practicality and our respective schedules just aren’t making it possible this time around.  

None of the gifts I got my mom for Mother’s Day will do her justice. She’s an artist, both in spirit and profession, so anything that is already in existence just isn’t creative enough to bestow upon her. And yet, when I sat down to try to sew her an apron, my fingers just could not conquer the thread. When I next designed to frame her a photo collage, my head felt muddled and weak looking at the beautiful woman I am over one thousand miles away from right now. So, I ended up buying my mother silly trinket type gifts. The kinds of things she can tuck into her  bag this weekend and then retrieve when she needs a giggle. They are meaningful in that they are meaningless. It seemed like the right move. To send something gushy or tear-inducing would be cruel. I don’t want to make her cry this Sunday. 

But I know I will cry on Sunday.

I will cry for all the times I stretched my mother’s patience over the years.

I will cry for all the times I didn’t listen to her advice… or figured out it was good advice just a bit too late to save myself the agony of defeat.

I will cry for having talked back to her when I was a teenager.

I will cry for not having talked enough when she needed to hear my voice.

I will cry for the mother/daughter trip we’ve been planning to Paris, but haven’t yet gotten around to taking.

I will cry for the Real Housewives of …Blah, Blah, Blah marathon sessions we can’t enjoy together right now, which means we both feel stupid, not only for watching them, but watching them alone.

I will cry for every seemingly insignificant  scrap of paper I lost on which she ever laid the tip of her pen to express a thought to me in permanent ink. Even if the note said nothing more than, “Bring home milk or don’t come home at all…”

I will cry for all the times I’ve forgotten the sacrifices she made to give me a better life.

I will cry for all the times she said something I didn’t quite hear, but I didn’t bother to ask her to repeat it because I was busy doing something stupid like thinking about what color to dye my hair.

I will cry as I sift through the many photographs of me as a baby in her arms- photos my father, a photographer, was insightful enough to take back in 1970, long before chronicling a child’s every breath was considered hip, or even practical. 

I will cry for the times I called her in the middle of the night in a panic because something I thought was going to work out didn’t, and forgot to thank her for staying up until dawn to make me feel better about my stupidity.

I will cry for every cup of tea I sip because she makes tea so much better than I do, with just the right amount of sugar and milk mixed in. 

And I will cry as I choose to be as alone as humanly possible this Sunday, because to be with anyone other than my wonderful mother on Mother’s Day would tear my heart out of place from the very roots. 

And then I will stop crying.

I will stop crying because, unlike so many daughters and sons out there tonight, I still have the pleasure of hearing my mother’s adoring voice with a simple phone call. And I still have the privilege of reading a new text message or email from her. And I still have the comfort of knowing that, in a few short weeks, I will be flying home to be with her. 

(And frankly, I’ll probably cry then as well because Mom inevitably screws up the DVR settings for “The Good Wife” and we’ll have to wait, like, a week, to catch up on the newest episode.) Give me strength.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.