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Getting Away From It All

Getting Away From It All published on No Comments on Getting Away From It All
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Escape fantasies. We all have them, don’t we? When the pressure of modern life feels overwhelming and we just want to run away from it all? I remember growing up and watching those Calgon bath bubble commercials: They always featured a woman overwhelmed with juggling the responsibilities of work, family, cooking and house cleaning. She would finally sink into a bathtub full of luxurious bubbles with a Calgon box prominently displayed on the edge of the tub. “Calgon, take me away!” she would moan, eyes closed, a contented look on her face, and the viewer was left to wonder if she was enjoying an especially wonderful hot bath or perhaps something else.

Interestingly enough, I don’t remember these commercials ever featuring a man. Back then, I suppose men weren’t supposed to admit to being overly stressed. Their job was to work themselves silly, save and invest like crazy, and then die prematurely of a heart attack or a stroke so the wife and kids would hopefully be provided for. Thems was crazy times!

A soak in a hot bath is wonderful. There’s no denying that. But in my experience, the water always cools down well before I’m ready to get out. I’m left to fidget with the hot water spigot with my big toe to try to warm up the bath water, and by that time, the magic is gone. Ready or not, I reluctantly haul myself out and dry off.

Usually, by the time I’m in the mood to really need a soak, that need corresponds exactly with the tub’s need for a good scrubbing. Nothing kills the anticipation of a relaxing, hot bath quite like having to get down on your hands and knees with a sponge and some abrasive powder to scrub the tub.

Consequently, I rarely take a bath, which is a shame because they’re so good for you. But until I have a tub that remains perpetually clean, and water that doesn’t lose its heat, it’s just a whole lot easier to relax another way. No, not that way! For shame!

I’m talking about a good, reliable escape fantasy. Lots of people fantasize about being on vacation at an exclusive resort – perhaps somewhere in Jamaica or the Bahamas – floating gently in a blue, crystal-clear pool in an inflatable recliner with strong, fruity, alcoholic drinks in the cup holders of both arm rests with a tiny toothpick umbrella inserted into each drink.

A Bahamian escape fantasy would be great in theory, but my skin is pasty white, and by the time I got all kitted out with 100 SPF sun screen (which I would need to reapply at regular intervals) and a wide-brimmed hat, that would kind of suck out a lot of the fun. Also, after doing time spending over two decades in the brutally hot, sauna-like humidity of Houston, any place that exceeds 70 degrees Fahrenheit and is the least bit humid is not my idea of a good time. So scratch the water-and-sunshine thing.

Some people imagine themselves spending endless days at a fancy ski resort in Colorado or Switzerland, expertly slaloming down the slopes on skis or a snowboard, then spending evenings in a toasty lodge in front of a massive fireplace. They listen to the crackle of burning wood, drink Mulled Wine or Hot Toddies, and engage in entertaining chit chat with some of the other visitors who are, of course, all bowled over by their astounding wit, intelligence and performance on the slopes.

The ski lodge sounds nice. I love the idea of sitting in a cozy lodge in front of a crackling fire, enjoying good conversation and sipping adult beverages (as long as I don’t overdo it). But I hate snow. It annoys me. It’s difficult to walk in and it just generally gets in the way. Also, it’s a winter-time thing, and winter is too cold, and if you get trapped outside for some reason, the coldness could kill you. I had the opportunity to ski downhill once. It was the bunny hill. I chickened out. I actually tried cross-country skiing when I visited a college friend at her family’s home somewhere in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. There were several feet of snow. I lost my balance and fell right down through the snow to the hard ground below. I didn’t hurt myself, but I started laughing, and then I couldn’t figure out how to get up with my feet attached to the long skis that were stuck on the snow above. This made me laugh even harder, and then I couldn’t do anything but lay there like an idiot until I had laughed myself to exhaustion. Then I still had to get up. I don’t remember if my friend came back to pull me up or if I had to unclip my skis, but I really don’t think skiing is my thing.

A winter lodge resort sounds nice, but I’d just spend the entire time hanging out in the lodge, possibly getting bored while everyone else is out skiing, and maybe drinking too much. I think all of that pretty much defeats the purpose of vacationing at a ski resort, so I’ll pass on that, too.

I currently have two escape fantasies, and I choose one depending on my mood at the time. The first one requires that the season be late spring or early- to mid-fall. (For the record, that’s Michigan weather, not Texas weather, which would be hot and muggy, and hot and muggy, respectively.) Daytime temperatures would range in the 60s and 70s with nighttime temperatures going down to the mid- to upper-50s. I’d pack up a nice, waterproof tent – not too big and not too small – with enough room for me and my stuff, and everything else I’d need: camping stove with fuel; cooking utensils; cooler; food; clothing; a small hatchet for chopping wood, the zombie apocalypse or whatever; flashlight and batteries; glow sticks (need to know, only); bug spray; knife/knives; small shovel with folding handle; notebook and pen/pencil for writing; small radio with batteries; beer (self-explanatory), matches, camp cot, sleeping bag, toiletries, etc.

I’d drive out to a forest somewhere far away, but not too far. Maybe a couple of hours’ drive. There would be lots and lots of trees and foliage and wildlife. I’d pitch my tent, build a fire, and make s’mores. Because if you don’t make s’mores, it’s not camping. I’d be amazed at all the stars I could see without the light pollution of the city. I’d snuggle up in my sleeping bag at night and listen to the frogs croaking, the crickets chirping and the raccoon peeing on the back of my tent. I’d fall asleep and then wake up a few hours later to the sound of rain tap-tap-tapping down on my tent.

I’d stay there as long as I needed to. Maybe I’d stay for only a couple of days. Maybe a month. Maybe I’d stay for years until a tribe of Sasquatch wandered by. I’d join them and leave behind most of my stuff, including my journal, with the last entry being, “I’ve gone to live with the ‘Squatch. Don’t come looking for me.”

So that’s one of my escape fantasies. There are certain logistical problems, such as the fact that I have two cats whom I would really miss. I obviously couldn’t take them with me. And I’d have to eventually wean myself off coffee, which I very much enjoy in the mornings. That might be a deal breaker. Maybe a tribe of Sasquatch never comes by, or they don’t want me hanging around for some reason. To quote Dude from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Big Lebowski, “It’s a complicated case, Maude. Lotta ins, lotta outs. And a lotta strands to keep in my head, man.” But I really love this one. I can almost smell the firewood burning.

Another one is a bit more extreme and involves me running away to some Buddhist meditation retreat somewhere (I have no idea where), taking my vows to become a nun, shaving my head (part of the vows), putting on orange and yellow robes, and spending the rest of my life breathing incense, eating rice and noodles with chopsticks, and never having to deal with frizzy hair ever again. I could bow to people in greeting instead of shaking hands, which I really dislike because I don’t know how germy someone else’s hand is, where it’s been and, most important, the last time he or she washed it. In short, the western practice of shaking a stranger’s hand in greeting kind of grosses me out.

There. I’ve said it. Nothing personal. It’s just the way I feel. I also don’t like people I don’t know using my writing utensils, especially without asking first. I’m not sure if that helps my case or makes me appear even more neurotic, but there you go. Do with it what you will.

As much as I love rice and noodles – eating them with chopsticks makes them taste better – and incense, which I got hooked on in early childhood when my mom would burn pine scented incense in the kitchen, I’m thinking that after a couple of days, I would have huge regrets about shaving my head. And it would take years and years to grow back.

I think a much better option for me would probably be to make a delicious Asian stir fry dish with rice and/or noodles and eat it with chopsticks while I burn a stick of incense. And then go shopping for a tent!

Whats your favorite escape fantasy?

Lump Chump

Lump Chump published on 2 Comments on Lump Chump
Photo credit: openclipart.org

I have two cats or, more accurately, two cats own me. People who live with cats will especially appreciate this dynamic. I feed them two kinds of food. My younger cat, Benedict Montgomery Cumbercat, a tuxedo with an adorably tiny, black “soul patch” on his white chin, mostly eats dry kibble, but does enjoy a bit of the canned food, as well. My older gray cat, Violet, with her two-inch long tail with which she was born (most of her litter mates also had a similar stumpy tail), eats almost exclusively canned food. Unless I am tardy in opening and serving up the contents of a fresh can. This makes her very unhappy, and she is never shy about giving me the what-for about it. On the rare occasion that she is forced to eat dry kibble, I have some serious apologizing and atoning to do.Continue reading Lump Chump

Dad’s Personal IT Support Service

Dad’s Personal IT Support Service published on 1 Comment on Dad’s Personal IT Support Service

I went to my dad’s house Friday afternoon. I try to go over at least once a week to do a load or two of laundry. It saves me money, and I get to visit with my dad.

I won’t say how old he is – nor how old I am, for that matter. Suffice it to say that we’ve both been around long enough to see technology change and advance drastically. I remember the days when if you wanted to watch a movie or television show, you had to make sure your butt was parked in front of the television at the exact time that program was being broadcast or you were out of luck until summer reruns. I used to fantasize about being able to watch anything I wanted any time by means of a device small enough and light enough to fit in the palm of my hand. Imagine that!

I’m still not entirely convinced that Apple and perhaps a bunch of other tech companies didn’t steal my idea. Somehow. I can’t prove it. Not yet, anyway. I don’t care about naming rights. I just want my money.

Naturally, my childhood fantasies of portable, high-tech entertainment gadgets inspired me to pursue a university degree. In French language and literature. After which I became a high school classroom teacher for many years.

So maybe I got a little off course, and maybe not. Who’s to say? Life throws you curve balls sometimes, and if you live long enough, it’ll throw you some real whoppers. The point of all this is that despite what I ended up doing as a profession, I’ve always seemed to have a knack for figuring out a lot of things when it comes to computers. I’m no expert; I think we’re all fairly clear on that point. However, with a little bit of intuitive poking around combined with real-time Internet research, I’ve managed to solve quite a few problems on my own.

As challenging as it’s been for me, my dad has had an even steeper climb keeping up. But he’s done a pretty impressive job, and I’m actually quite proud of him. I’ve seen people his age and even younger who are so intimidated by computers that they won’t even try to learn how to use them; they won’t even do email. Dad’s not afraid to dive in and start poking around.

Back in the mid- or late-90s, he decided to join the digital age and purchased his first computer. I had moved from my childhood home in Detroit, and was living half-way across the country in Houston at the time, so when he had questions or needed help, he’d give me a call. As soon as I’d see his name pop up on my caller ID, I’d reach for my headset because I knew this was going to take a while. It always did. I didn’t mind helping him out. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Dad liked to figure things out for himself, and when he got to the point where he realized he was in over his head, he had a hard time stepping back and letting someone else take over or show him what to do. I know this because I am exactly the same way.

I would sit at my own computer listening to him explain to me what the problem was so I could figure out and talk him through the solution. Sometimes, it was just a matter of getting him to understand how a computer does and doesn’t work. But it wasn’t always that simple. Frequently, as I would be trying to talk him through a solution, instead of listening to me and following instructions, he would still be trying to figure it out on his own. He would repeat what I had just said a couple of minutes earlier, and I would say, “I just said that, Dad!” And then we would have to start all over again because, of course, he hadn’t really been listening to me the first time. It could be very frustrating. Once, I literally started to lightly bump the side of my head against the wall.

“What’s that noise?” he asked.
“What noise?”
“That bumping noise?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the cats.”

I would receive these tech support phone calls two to three times a week for a while, and they would easily last a couple of hours. I figured this had to be payback somehow for all those times growing up that I know I must have driven my parents to the brink of insanity.

Once I moved back to the Detroit area, solving Dad’s computer tech problems has gotten easier. Sort of. Whether it’s a handheld device or a computer, he’ll complain to me about how he can’t get it to work properly. I’ll hold out my hand – or ask him to move so I can sit down, as in the case of his computer – so I can take a look, but he ignores me and continues poking away. I’ll tell him I can’t help him if he won’t let me. He continues to poke around and ignore me. I give up. Eventually, he hands the thing over – or surrenders the chair to me – so I can try to figure out what’s wrong. For a while, he hovers over me, and then walks off when he gets bored or thinks of something better to do.

So while I was at his house doing my laundry, Dad informed me that he was having trouble with his Wi-Fi connection. He was on the verge of going out to get a new Internet cable when he finally allowed me to give it a shot. One would think the fact that I have already resolved a lot of his technology problems would have earned me some kind of “cred,” and he would be a little less resistant to allowing me to try the next time he runs into a problem. And one would be horribly, horribly wrong. Because one does not know my dad.

I dug my iPad out of my bag and tried logging onto his Wi-Fi. He had a signal, but the usual password wasn’t working. I disconnected the Internet cable from his router and connected it to his computer so I could at least get online. At this point, I informed him that I had just saved him a trip to the store to purchase a cable he didn’t need, as that wasn’t the problem.

I asked him a few questions and learned that the problem started about the time that my niece and nephew had been in town to visit right after Christmas. What he told me wasn’t very helpful. He’d had to take the computer to the shop recently for some work, so I thought that maybe the Wi-Fi password had reset to its default. No, he did not have that information. I tried every number on the box provided by his cable company, hoping that one of them would be the default Wi-Fi password. No luck. Then I went looking for his IP address. Fortunately, I had recently had to do this on my own computer so I could customize my Wi-Fi name and password from the factory default settings. I was getting nowhere fast, and was thinking I might have to call his cable company until I had what I thought was a really great idea: Maybe I could bypass this entire problem by creating another Wi-Fi signal with its own name and password! I’d never done this before. It sounded kind of exciting, especially if it actually worked.

I clicked around until I got to where I needed to be, and then I was given a choice of security settings including “security type” and “encryption settings.” I was now officially in over my head. Time to do some research. I pulled up Google and plugged in some terms so I could try to figure out which setting would be the most appropriate for my dad. After getting through that part, all I had to do was decide on a name for the new Wi-Fi signal and a password. I was finally ready to click “Finish,” then I began searching the available Wi-Fi signals for the one I had just attempted to create.

Nothing. Just as I was about to go back in and retrace my steps to see if I had overlooked something, Dad spoke up.

“Hold on. I just remembered something,” and he opened the top desk drawer to my left and pulled out a random sheet of paper that had been folded not-so-carefully in half and handed it to me. It had something printed on it from the printer, but that didn’t concern me. At the bottom, there was a series of ten letters and numbers printed by hand in pencil. The blocked shapes of the characters told me it had likely been written by a man.

“What’s this?” I asked, thinking I probably already knew.
“Walter wrote that down.” Walter is my brother-in-law. From what I could piece together, Dad was having trouble with his Wi-Fi, so when my sister and brother-in-law and their kids came in from Canada to visit right after Christmas, Walter and my nephew, Jack, had fixed the problem and had changed the password on my dad’s Wi-Fi. Walter had written down the new password on a piece of paper and Dad had stashed it “in a safe place.”

I pulled up Dad’s old Wi-Fi signal on my iPad, entered the ten-digit code written on the paper and waited. After a few seconds, I saw the tiny, fan-shaped icon in the upper left portion of the screen that indicated that I was now online.

Saying nothing, I disconnected the Internet cable from Dad’s computer and reconnected it to his router. I went through the same steps as with my iPad and used the same code. After a few seconds, the bars at the bottom right of his monitor’s screen indicated that his computer was online.

“Dad,” I said, trying to remain calm as I pointed at the tiny bars, “Do you see those bars?”
“Yeah.”
“You’re online. I just spent the past ninety minutes messing around on your computer, and you had the ten-digit code the whole time. If you had written it in that stupid Internet password book I gave you several years ago, we could have avoided this whole thing!”

Dad was surprisingly silent. The only time he’s that quiet for any period of time is when he’s got a mouth crammed full of food, is doing something he’s not supposed to, or has had surgery and is knocked out. The rest of the time he’s either talking or, if sleeping, snoring.

I turned around and looked up to see why I wasn’t hearing anything. He was laughing. Except that he was in that phase where you’re laughing so hard, you’re not making any noise. His face was red and his eyes were watering.

I took the red password book – the one I have referred to on more than one occasion as “disappointingly empty” – turned to the letter “W” for “Wi-Fi,” and wrote down the ten-digit password in pencil. By that time, he had regained his ability to speak and decided that he also needed to write it under “P” for “Password.” I decided not to point out than the entire BOOK was for passwords. The fact that it’s in there, at all, somewhere… anywhere, was good enough.

That is ninety minutes of my life that I will never get back.

Halloween 2016: Bad Batman and Other Stories

Halloween 2016: Bad Batman and Other Stories published on 4 Comments on Halloween 2016: Bad Batman and Other Stories

The Dark Knight Rises… And Tries to Steal All My Candy
This year for Halloween, I went to my dad’s house to do a load of laundry and pass out candy. I sat on a plastic chair on the front porch freezing my buns off, a tan Tupperware bowl filled with bite-sized chocolate bars perched on my lap. Dad remained indoors – where it was warm, I might add – working on his absentee ballot for the presidential election. He sat at the dining room table so he could watch the parade of costumed trick-or-treaters through the front window.Continue reading Halloween 2016: Bad Batman and Other Stories

The Taunting

The Taunting published on No Comments on The Taunting

gauntlet“It’s on!” For my sister and me, these words mark the official beginning of our annual holiday gift giving tradition: The Taunting. The first to throw down the gauntlet takes the immediate lead. This is always accompanied by a mandatory taunting in a conversation that goes something like this:

“Just so you know, I got you something today.”
“Oh, no, you did not!”
“Yep! It’s on the table. I’m looking at it right now.” This is said slowly and deliberately and in a teasing tone that would make any fourth grader envious.
“That’s not right!” said seriously, followed by an excited “What did you get?”
“Nope! Not telling. You’ll have to wait. But you’re really going to like it.”
“Fine. It’s on, then!”
“Just so we’re clear on the score so far, I have one point. You have none. Have a nice day!”Continue reading The Taunting

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