LIFE WITH A FAHRVERGREMLIN

In a prior post involving supernatural phenomena, I mentioned the FahrverGremlin that lived inside my 1989 Volkswagen Fox.  I owned Foxy for ten years, until she was nineteen with 279,000* miles.  That little “driving annoyance” kept me junking, jury rigging, and devising workarounds until the minute the title changed hands.  I presented a potential buyer with a two-page list of Foxy’s quirks and he scoffed, saying I “wasn’t gonna scare him off that easy.”  We settled on fifty bucks, but before I could collect it, he laid a hard luck story on me.  I gave him a 100% discount, but still felt as though I’d ripped him off.

As you might imagine, Foxy’s impish stowaway caused a few crazily comic scenes.  The look on a friend’s face when I hit the brakes at a stoplight and the glove box flew open, spewing its contents all over
her feet.  The glower of the parking valet when I tossed him my keys with a warning that both the AC and reverse gear were out of order. The E-check gal’s wide-eyed alarm when she brushed the horn button with her boob during the emissions test and it blared mercilessly until she pulled it out of the garage and shut off the ignition.  I wonder if Foxy’s still on the road, how much more mischief the FahrverGremlin has stirred up.  Below are some examples from my own experience:



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DREAMING OF A GREEN CHRISTMAS

Friday evening, I took a break from my Christmas prep to attend the Solstice poetry reading sponsored by our local Land Trust, an agency dedicated to preserving our little corner of the planet.  Communing
with fellow tree huggers and listening to verse inspired by the natural world was a sharp contrast to our society’s lack of environmentalism, especially during the holiday season.  I’ve put together a short list of “green” ideas.  If each of us did JUST ONE of these things, we would save millions of trees and eliminate tons of trash.

Forego cutting down a tree.  If Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a tree, invest in a high-quality faux tree.  Better yet, purchase a live pine (with the root ball wrapped in burlap) and plant it after the holidays.

Consider sending e-cards instead of paper ones.  Or postcards, which are less expensive to mail and don’t require an envelope.

Patronize secondhand shops.  They keep stuff out of landfills and offer quality books, DVDs, toys, clothing, furniture, and more at a fraction of the retail price.  You might find one of those lighted ceramic tabletop trees, like the one your grandmother used to have… another potential solution to the tree dilemma!

Instead of purchasing a new item, have an old one repaired.  When the zipper in my favorite purse went off its track, I paid the local shoe and leather shop to replace it for me.  My purse is now as good as new.

Ask Santa to bring you a reusable coffee mug and carry-out kit (a tote bag with two or three washable leftover-sized containers) and make a New Year’s resolution to use them, instead of throw-away coffee cups and restaurant to-go boxes.

Reuse cardboard shipping boxes and packing materials (like air pockets and bubble wrap) for any packages you need to mail.

Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper.  I’ve wrapped our family’s gifts in the same dozen bags for at least five years.  Our dogs and cats prefer gift bags, paws down, to wrapping paper and Scotch tape.

Gift card holders can be re-used, too.  Leave the inside and envelope blank and write the To: and From: and your message on a slip of paper or a post-it note.

Use a trash bag and a ribbon instead of a sack specially designed for oversized or odd-shaped gifts.  You’ll need one for clean-up anyway.

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STEPPING INTO THE TIME WARP

The hands of the clock seem to move faster after Daylight Savings Time ends.  One minute, you’re raking leaves.  The next, you’re eating turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, watching the game, and deciding what time to set your alarm on Black Friday.  Then you’re flipping the calendar to its final page, wondering where the time went, when autumn’s colorful mane began to turn gray around the temples:

Between pewter skies
and terra cotta landscape,
November evaporates

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ALL WORKED UP OVER NOTHING?

After last week’s post, I googled “funny epitaphs” and found these.

      Uh-oh…

Dozens of fellow hypochondriacs echoed Tippy Gnu’s sentiment:

Two-thirds of my long nursing career was spent in an office, caring for Internal Medicine patients that ranged in age from AARP to elderly.
A lot of that time was devoted to phone calls, including the triage of various symptoms.  It’s a fact that when you hit a certain age, bodies start to go haywire.  Your eyes go wonky; suddenly, your arms aren’t long enough to read a menu.  You forget things.  Your energy flags.  You get dizzy.  Your heart flippy-flops in your chest.  You get winded walking your normal route.  Your knees ache.  Your back aches.  You develop constipation.  You can’t sleep.  Etc.  It could be nothing, or it could be something.  I ended up scheduling a lot of appointments to
let the doctor sort it out.  Many of the patients consulted online sites like symptomchecker.com or diagnoseme.com before they called me.  (Who says older people aren’t computer-savvy?)  They knew what they had, or at least, what tests should be ordered.  When the results came back negative, instead of breathing a sigh of relief, they’d protest and demand a more intensive work-up.  I know from experience the flurry
of testing that one piddling complaint can set in motion.  That said, I
am hesitant to mention every little twinge.  My approach (one I do not advocate for everyone) is as follows:  if it’s minor or can be solved with a trip to the drugstore, I shut up about it.  The hours I have left on this earth are limited and I’d rather not while them away reading outdated magazines in some doctor’s waiting room.  This poem’s for you, Tippy.  Enjoy that Redbook circa 1995; the doctor will be with you shortly.

MID-LIFE HYPOCHONDRIA

Some ailments run in families;
it’s proven they’re genetic.
I’m ripe to have a heart attack
or wind up diabetic.

I found a scary-looking mole;
I’m positive it’s cancer.
But Doc will say it looks benign,
his standard go-to answer.

I’ve put on six or seven pounds,
my hair is falling out.
My thyroid must be out of whack;
too low, without a doubt.

I suffer from exhaustion
and my feet are always freezing.
According to my online search,
anemia’s the reason.

My allergies are flaring up.
I’m riddled with arthritis.
This sharp pain in my abdomen
could be appendicitis.

My check-up turns up nothing
but alas, my mind won’t rest:
I know there’s something wrong with me!
Please, Doc, just one more test?

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WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A DIRT NAP

Last week’s post was all about life, birth, coming into the world.  This week, we’re zooming to the other end of the spectrum to introduce a new poetry form.  An EPITAPH POEM is one designed to appear on a tombstone.  They are necessarily brief and often rhyme.  They can be funny or serious or poignant, however the deceased would want to be remembered.  If you could write your own epitaph, what would it say?  Here are a few of mine.  Feel free to add yours in a comment, below.

WRITTEN IN STONE

Laid corner to corner
in her graveyard suite,
she’ll slumber in death
as she lived: Oblique.

Moving into
this dimension
is just another
reinvention.

To the dates,
pay no mind.
She was only
twenty-nine.

Below the daisies,
things turn a 180.
My body will rot,
my teeth will not.

Took my vitamins, ate my kale,
drank protein shakes, to no avail.
Healthy or not, we end up dead,
wishing we’d chosen pie instead.

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THE BIRTHDAY GIRL’S ADDRESS

Two score and nine years ago, my mom and dad brought forth on this planet, a new baby, conceived in January or February, and dedicated to the proposition that any child born into a Catholic family must, within a reasonable timeframe, have a sibling.  Thus, the minute I arrived home from the hospital, I already had what my older sister had waited three years for:  a friend.  I don’t recall much about our first meeting, but I’ll bet she peeked through the bars of my crib making silly faces, singing songs, or showing me her toy telephone and urging me to hurry up and start babbling so we could get our money’s worth from AT&T.  She called me a few days ago, and it was one of those rare occasions when the planets aligned and we both had time to talk.  A two-hour phone conversation might sound frivolous or decadent, but when we connect after a long hiatus, that’s how we roll.  We catch up on the day-to-day, spill our news, share our triumphs and tragedies, laugh like crazy, take
a pee break, and laugh some more.  I’m dumbstruck by how much alike we turned out, having had only haphazard contact for the past thirty years.  My solution to a front-loading washer that leaks a bit?  Shove a towel under it.  Her solution to a broken dryer button?  Turn it on and off with a pencil eraser.  Two peas in a pod, I’m telling you.  This seems like a point for nature in the ongoing nature-nurture debate, but don’t forget, we grew up together and shared a bedroom for fifteen years.  Mom would tuck us in and tell us to be quiet and thirty seconds later, we’d be chattering about something of vital importance:  what fourth grade was like, whether Santa Claus was real, what kind of dog we’d get if mom would ever let us have one.  Today, it seems like every kid has their own room.  I’m glad I didn’t because if I had, I’d have missed out on one of life’s greatest treasures.  This poem is dedicated to the world’s best big sister and my very first friend:

LIGHTS OUT

After nighttime prayers were said,
Mom would send us off to bed.

Close your eyes and go to sleep;
no conversation, not a peep!

We’d cover up, lie really still,
and summon every ounce of will

But quickly our resolve would crumble,
cautious whispers turned to mumbles

Jokes and secrets of all sorts,
muffled giggles, squeals, and snorts

The raucous chatter siblings share
drowned out Mom’s footsteps on the stair

but her command to QUIET DOWN!
cut through the din and shook the ground

Instantly, dead silence reigned,
save for the snores my sister feigned

Once satisfied she’d changed her course,
we’d carry on without remorse

On nights we earned a second warning,
talk was tabled until morning

Then, touching hands between our beds,
wordless wishes traded heads

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WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

Seems anything can be a sport these days, even things that require little or no physical skill or talent.  Like chess.  Or poker.  Since I suck
at chess and cannot control my “tells,” I need the Olympics to hand
out gold medals in something for which I possess natural aptitude:

THE BEDROOM SPORT  —  Sonnet
(No, not that one!  Geez, get your mind out of the gutter.)

If snoring were to be declared a sport,
a competition all night long would rage
Chuffing Chortle versus Thunder Snort,
contenders on the PosturePedic stage
Pure monotone or wild cacophony?
Scoring-wise, it doesn’t really matter,
but uvulation is compulsory;
the judges gotta hear them tonsils rattle
A deviated septum raises hell,
like a double chin or lying on your back,
all guaranteed to boost your decibels
and jerk the needle on the seismograph
But in the end who wins, you or your mate,
depends on who’s asleep and who’s awake

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ONLY GOD CAN UN-MAKE A TREE

Perhaps can is the wrong word here…  Maybe I meant to say should.
A crew of tree guys has been working in our cul-de-sac since sun-up to trim pesky branches away from the power lines, the air vibrating with the buzz of chainsaws, the rasp of rakes, the chunkety-chunking of the wood chipper.  The big ash tree in our front yard is barely hanging on,
a victim of the dreaded ash borer.  During high winds or heavy rain, he litters the roof, lawn, and driveway with all the brittle, hollow branches that have succumbed since the last storm.  Cutting him down would be the prudent thing to do, and we have gotten an estimate, but foisting euthanasia on any living thing is hard for me.  His lowest branch is still sturdy enough to support our Amish swing.  He leafs out in springtime and his canopy, albeit haphazard, converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, gives shade, and shelters the birds and squirrels we so love to watch.  His roots are active as well; every year or two, they sneak through the hairline crack in the sewer tile, go gangbusters, and surprise us with a back-up à la commode.  How does one justify killing something with so much joie de vivre?  When he does eventually come down, I would like
to keep one thick round from the stump for posterity, preserved with
a coat of polyurethane.  With my finger, I’ll trace the rings that tell his life story, scan the pages of his colorful and meticulously kept journal.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Hidden in the rings of trees
a life of secrets never told
Densely rippled diaries
hidden in the rings of trees
Circumferential histories
inscribed in umber, red and gold
Hidden in the rings of trees,
a life of secrets never told

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RE-ENTRY INTO FELINE SERFDOM

Questions arose last week about whether Peaches is my first cat, my first foray into feline serfdom.  Actually, he’s not, but I’m a bit out of practice.  We took a kitten into our apartment in 1989, then another, then another…  For the past 28 years, we’ve had at least one and as many as six cats fleeing the vacuum cleaner and winding themselves around our legs.  Runty Caper set the house record for longevity, 23 years.  When she could no longer outrun our puppy, she began playing dead, proof that an old cat can learn new tricks.  As the cats aged, we moved them into a (baby) gated community in a spare bedroom that slowly devolved into a nursing home and then a hospice.  I thought my cat years were over, but during a brisk end-of-autumn walk, our dog flushed Ginger out of a corn field.  Ginger was a decidedly outdoor cat who roamed the neighborhood in weather so inclement it would stop even the postman.  She played with the local skunks, showed up every morning for breakfast, knocked on windows using her paw when she wanted to come in.  It was a new experience for me, a veteran indoor cat person.  When Peaches moved in next door, he was smitten with Ginger and followed her everywhere.  He was heartbroken when we lost her and moped around for weeks, hanging out in our flowerbed pining for her, and eagerly accepting any affection we would give him.  The neighbors (renters dismayed when the owner put the place on the market) closed on a new house last week, one near a state highway.  Afraid for Peaches’ safety and unable to keep him inside all the time, they asked if we’d be willing to take him.

Peaches was docile and affectionate.  His people said he loved being indoors, probably because it was such a rare treat.  Our new adoptee slept in his basket, basked in the sunny bay window, quickly mastered his litterbox, and licked the gravy off his canned food before finishing the tidbits.  Despite ample opportunities for escape, he never tried to make a break for it.  I figured it would be simple to transition him to a house cat.  WRONG.  On Day 5, he did a runner.  Why would he take off on such a cold, drizzly day?  I can only guess he spied his name on the calendar next to the word vet.  I spent the better part of the morning trying to find and capture the scrappy bastard, completely forgetting that since orange cats possess limited ability to camouflage, Peaches would have spent the last two years honing his feline Ninja skills and familiarizing himself with every nook and cranny in the neighborhood.  Trust me, opposable thumbs are no match for a combination like that.

Below is my account of the experience told in SHADORMA, a Spanish form with six lines and the following syllable count: 3 / 5 / 3 / 3 / 7 / 5.  Any subject is fair game; no final shift or turn is necessary.  Shadorma may be written as a single stanza or a series.

INSIDE A CAT’S HEAD

Keen instincts:
On scheduled vet day,
he slips out
the dog door,
reveling in freedom and
his own cleverness

Detailed maps
of the neighborhood:
every fence,
every tree,
spaces under decks and sheds
where he can lay low

Strategy:
outfox, outrun, hide
until owner
surrenders,
slogs home in muddy rain boots,
cancels appointment

Internal clock:
wait fifteen minutes,
reappear,
purr sweetly,
and insist the whole thing was
just coincidence

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