Don’t you just hate those freezing cold nights when you wear your warmest flannel pajamas and thickest socks and hurry into bed but are still surprised by the smack of cold that comes off the sheets, so you pull the blankets up to your chin, even that one at the foot of the bed—you yank that up too and tuck the blankets really close to the outline of your body like your grandmother used to do when she tucked you in as a kid and you lie really still and hope this little cocoon you’ve created will somehow become a terrarium by way of your body heat radiating off you while being trapped within the confines of your blanket cocoon and you’re sure you’re gonna be toasty warm real soon, but that doesn’t happen—you’re freezing your ass off and you can’t sleep to save your soul and you think about your furnace and the heat, like where the hell is it? and how is it possible that the thermostat (set by you—to the same temperature every night) does not produce the same amount of heat every night and why tonight it is nose-nipping cold, but you have no answer for this, and somehow by the grace of God you finally fall asleep probably because your body is so exhausted by having worked itself up in a frenzy trying to keep warm that you pass out—and you sleep for a while but don’t know for how long, all you do know is that when you wake it’s the middle of the night and you are in a panic because you’re practically drowning in a sea of your own sweat since it’s so Goddamn sweltering hot in your bedroom that you can’t strip your flannels off fast enough, and thank goodness the fifty pounds of blankets have been dumped in a mountain to the floor along with the bottoms of your flannels, and now you’re so desperate to get the wool socks off but you’re loathe to move too much at this point because you have a history of waking in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back to sleep so you promise yourself you will remove the socks without fully waking, and in order to do this you stay very still, or as still as you can, and you use the big toe of your left foot to remove the sock on your right foot and this goes pretty well which makes you happy, but you’re careful to not get too excited because this might wake you up entirely so you keep the celebrating to a minimum while you now use the big toe of your right foot to remove the sock on your left foot but as your right leg is in a chicken wing formation you get a Charley horse in your toe—if that’s even possible—and then another one in the back of the thigh of the chicken winged leg—which hurts like hell, but you can’t give in to it because half of your body is still asleep and you must keep it that way, so you try to handle the pain as best you can without making too much of a fuss, so you sort of rock the bent knee of that leg up and down, a bobbing action really, and you clench your teeth and breath heavily through your clamped bite which creates a “chee, chee” sound—this helps with the pain and is quiet enough not to wake the other half of you and then out of the dark night you hear, “What the heck are you doing?” It’s your husband. You can’t believe he would brazenly speak out in the night like that, jeopardizing you’re attempt to stay in a partial slumber. To this you reply, “Shh! Stop talking, you’re gonna wake the other half of me that’s still asleep!” Silence. Phew, that was close. Then your husband says, “Well, if that’s the case, I hope it’s the sane half.”
A friend of mine came over for a glass a wine the other night and while she took her coat off at the front door, I noticed a creepy looking bug on the ceiling. She volunteered to “remove the bug” if I got her a step stool.
Our ceilings are kind of tall and even on the third step of the stool you have to reach on your tippy-toes to stand a chance at the ceiling.
“I hate heights,” my friend muttered under her breath. She was all pleats, like a paper dragon, hesitating to extend and a little wobbly to boot.
“Why didn’t you say that before, forget the bug!” I wanted to yank her down off the stool, but things were precarious already. Any sudden movements seemed ill-advised. “I didn’t know you were afraid of heights. What do you do when you go skiing?”
“I scream a lot.” She confessed.
“That reminds me of a trip I took to Vail a hundred years ago,” I said to my friend. It was a New Year’s Eve trip I took with my husband when we were engaged. “That was a crazy trip. Did I ever tell you that story? Hmm, I should blog about that story.”
As she backed her way down to solid ground, like it was the last steps off Mount Kilimanjaro, she perked up rather quickly and asked, “How can you possibly blog about something that happened a hundred years ago? You remember the details?”
“Oh yeah. Of course I remember the details.”
I proceeded to tell her the story and she agreed it was a blog must. That skiing story to Vail prompted three unrelated flashbacks, which fractured into a handful of side anecdotes that fueld a bunch of digressions and a half dozen non-sequiturs, interrupted only by wide-open mouthed frantic silent uncontrollable howling convulsions.
The next morning, at my computer, I clicked onto my blog to write a new post−the story that I told my friend the night before. I lightly drummed the keyboard while the words would come to me−not really engaging any of the keys, as much as it was a little finger exercise to get the oxygen flowing from my hands to my brain and vice-versa.
Hmmm…I lifted my head to stretch my neck and to ponder what it was exactly I was going to blog about.
What the hell was it? What was the story? I crunched my brain cells and condensed my memory and strained for clarity. What was so funny, the thing we howled over, that story that I remembered all the details to? I racked my brains. I thought about how we sat in the kitchen talking about food and eating, and over-eating. Then we sat on the couch and talked about movies, what to see and who might win at the Oscars. Then we talked about work and art and what we wanted to be when we grew up. Hmm. Nothing. I couldn’t remember “the story.”
I texted my friend. “What was that story? The one I was going to blog about? The one I remembered all the details to?”
“Geez. Umm. I don’t know.” She texted. “Was it about the kids? Like when they were young? I think it was about the kids when they were young. But, that’s all I got.”
Yes! It was about the kids. I always blog about them. They are very funny people. And even funnier when they were young. Hmm…what was it about them?
Maybe I could nudge my friend’s memory. I texted her back.
“We laughed. Remember? A lot. No-sound laughs. Remember? Remember the story now? We thought we were going to pee from laughing so hard, remember?”
“Yeah! No. I don’t remember.”
Darn. Then all of a sudden I remembered a post I wrote months ago on remembering stuff. The post was titled: Memory Retention for DIYers. It gave 19 tips on how to improve memory retention naturally. One of the tips was to retrace your steps. Literally. Like say you were walking through your house and halfway through the living room you thought about taking something out of the freezer to defrost for dinner but by the time you got to the kitchen you couldn’t remember what you wanted to do there. According to this tip, you should go back to the living room and retrace your steps.
What did I have to lose? Nothing. So I got up from my computer and I walked to my front door and opened it. Then I closed it and said, “Hi, don’t you look fabulous! I’ll hang up your coat.” As I waited for my invisible, imaginary friend to take her coat off, I looked up at the ceiling. Don’t ask me why I did. I don’t know. But as soon as I looked at the ceiling I remembered the bug, the step stool, my quivering scared-chicken of a friend cowering on the third step, her purported fear of heights, a question about skiing, her confession about screaming and, and my Vail trip!
About which I remember all the details.
But that’s another story.
The night of my son’s 14th birthday, he chose to have his celebration dinner at a restaurant in a town about 25 minutes from our house. Typically one would get there by taking the Garden State Parkway for about 10 minutes and exit onto a very busy 3 lane highway for the rest of the trip.
My husband agreed to this choice under one condition: we take the back roads. No parkways or highways. No shopping crowds or traffic lights. No Saturday night crazies. Back roads only.
“But the last time we tried that we got lost and you got irritated and dinner was, well, unpleasant,” I reminded.
“That was before the G.P.S.,” he said. “We’ve got the G.P.S. now. It’s gonna be different this time. Plus, I know these back roads. The G.P.S. will back me up.”
We climbed into the car with rumbling stomachs at about 6. Our reservation was for 6:30. I got behind the wheel as I usually do since I get car sick at the mere mention of a road trip. My husband quickly programmed the G.P.S., or Bev, as we refer to
Bev chimed in right away. But we really didn’t listen since we knew the way around our own town. My husband told me to drive to my daughter’s school and he would direct me from there.
Early on I had a hunch things would not go well when Bev and my husband spoke simultaneously. I found myself straining to hear what Bev said to see if she contradicted him.
“Don’t worry about her,” he said with a wave of his hand.
(Just a side note. If you were in our car, you’d think this funny, because the voice coming from our nav system is male, though we call her Bev. We actually switched the voice to a female voice for a while, which our G.P.S. allows us to do, but the directions she gave us were horrific. Like when she expected us to drive over train tracks or brought us to the edge of a pond. That’s when we switched the voice back to male and everything was fine. Good directions. It was clear that we got a nav system which identified female, though she’s a factory born male.)
Hubby said, “Just go to the end of this road. We need to go a little farther west before we head south.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Bev did not agree. “Recalculating,” she quickly chimed.
But I stuck to this road, nonetheless, winding through a residential area, dark already yet it wasn’t very late. There were no street lights, no house lights.
The car rattled and bumped causing me to slow to a crawl as I navigated a street whose black top was raked in preparation for repaving.
“Jeez,” hubby said. “This street wasn’t like this on Monday. Alright, let’s get off this street, turn left.”
I turned left.
“Recalculating.” She was now annoyed.
“Take this to the end,” said my husband.
The end came fast and brought us to a dark, one lane stone-covered bridge. It didn’t look like a bonafide street or feel like one either, as I sensed the surface beneath the tires shift to what felt like dirt. There were no cars in sight.
“Should I go through or turn around?” I asked.
“Go through,” he said with certainty.
Bev was not happy with that choice.
“Bev says to go the other way.”
“It’s alright,” implored my husband, “Go through. And hurry. A truck’s coming this way and only one of you will fit.”
“Recalculating.” Bev disagreed. Vehemently.
God, I hate it when they don’t agree.
I shot through the bridge like a shucked pea and tried to keep the peace between those two, bobbing and weaving her “recalculating” and his “don’t listen to her.”
Then, curiously, we drove for a long stretch during which neither of them spoke a word. Odd, I thought. We must be really, really lost. Thank god the kids knew better than to tell us how hungry they were.
After what felt like a couple of miles, Bev’s voice severed the silence.
“Drive one mile. To destination. On left.”
We all cheered.
My husband took out his phone. “I told you I’d get us there.”
“Yes, you did.” I said, sneaking a peek at the dashboard clock. “Who are you calling?”
“The restaurant. Gotta make sure they didn’t give away our table.”
photo by David Hill
Seventeen years ago−the last time the Periodical Cicadas reared their creepy, red-eyed heads−I was living in New York City. I’ve existed, my entire life, unaware of this species of critter. All that has changed. Now I live in New Jersey, and when I heard that the “cicadas were coming,” I had mixed emotions.
First, to be honest, being the true skeptic that I am, I didn’t believe anyone’s cicada stories. Most people are inclined to exaggerate. (In fact, no one’s more inclined than I am!) All this talk about “millions of them” “swarming in massive cyclones before your eyes” having “cacophonous” mating calls. (Well, cacophonous was my word, actually.)
Puhleeze. Calm down folks! We’re talking about a bug here!
Others warned that I’d need to “bob and weave” them while walking down the street, that the “crunch underfoot” was impossible to avoid, and sweeping sidewalks would be a nightly chore, creating “snow drifts of carcasses” left to die and stench.
I’ve learned two things thus far: exaggeration is annoying, and I only have tolerance for my own. And, as it happens, no one was exaggerating.
Once I was assured of their arrival, because I began to see them with my own eyes, I became mildly excited. I’m typically curious about nature. The hows and the whys of evolution and the survival of the fittest and all that jazz. I was prepared to be fascinated. They come every seventeen years and produce high decibel mating calls from on high in trees, and suck the moisture from plants and pee like rain and have five eyes and shed their skins and leave their little jackets all over the place like my kids! Heck, they sound like performance artists! I was practically tingling with anticipation! Then they mate and produce scads of holes that blanket the lawn to return to their burrows for seventeen years, yards below the ground. If that’s not sci-fi enough for you, I don’t know what is. Hmm, that had me wondering, could they be a life form from another planet here to enlighten us? Just as my curiosity was peaking, my cicada-savvy friends were in a tizzy. I giggled at their hysteria and silently scoffed at “They’re here!!!” announcements of panic.
It’s a bug, people. What the heck?
It’s been approximately four weeks since they’ve arrived and−I’ve had it!
Their deafening serenade is not enchanting. It wakes me on a daily basis just after midnight. And annoys throughout the day until dusk. Contrary to my initial impression, having five eyes is not cool. Especially since they’re not used effectively to avoid flying into my face, my eyes, my hair, my mouth, my house. There is no allure to the hundreds that are covering my yard furniture. The stench coming from heaps of dead carcasses is not stirring any sense of wonder and I no longer think it’s amusing to get urinated on by cicadas overhead in tree branches. If they do in fact turn out to be an alien life form, keep it to yourself−I don’t give a crap.
Today, as I stood at the top of a ladder, clipping a holly in front of my house with electric hedge trimmers, I almost pruned my head off my shoulders. A bat flew out of the shrub and got tangled in my hair! Okay, it wasn’t a bat, it was a cicada. But the shadow it cast on the side of my house was ginormous. And when I tried to flick it from my hair, the zizzing blades of the hedge trimmer came dangerously close to my neck! I nearly fell off the ladder! And plunged to my death! (Okay, I’m exaggerating.)
I’ve had it with these stupid bugs.
Leave town, cicada! You don’t live here! I do, and you’re bugging me! Go home!
And by home I mean six feet under.
Which I’d be happy to arrange.