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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Art of the Story 

Stand by for tears. Today's journalists all take the same approach to news. “Make it bleed, then it leads.” Make it graphic, make it coarse, make the mundane and immaterial seem a life threatening atrocity. Reporters all swinging for the fences of maximum reach. Reach means circulation, circulation translates to money, supplied by advertisers as desperate as the American population themselves. Well, as desperate as the 98% of Americans not enjoying the economic contraction brought on by greed. The state of the country is chaotic, news services are either folding their unit altogether, or expanding the glam and hype of their broadcast for greater appeal. America stands to lose what we have long taken for granted and grown used to its synthetic replacement. Shame on us for not demanding better, or at the very least, not knowing the difference. There was once was a tasteful approach, a reporter with panache for telling stories to the American public.

The story of a child who loved color, who loved to paint, but who, as an adult, was an unsuccessful artist, then became a villainous leader of catastrophic proportions.

A life-long innovator and entrepreneur, believing in his own ideas as much as America’s promise as the land of opportunity, was facing his own last chance.

Our history as a country was kept in good conscience and defended, mirrored, and distilled by a man who served as a walking, talking history book for perspective.

When, in 2008, gas prices soared to over $4 per gallon, he reminded us that we had been here before, by reissuing the headlines from newspapers dated 65 years ago. He compelled us, without volume or hatred, without renouncing one political party for another, he compelled us to examine our country, our choices, our selves. We had been there before. He was the voice of reason, relying solely on our past experiences that we chose to either ignore or devalue.

Who else would give us the innocent, pitiful portrayal of a lil’ Fuhrer to remind us that we’re all human? Who else would remind us that those who try and try again just might be the next great Golden Arches of America?

Who else would entertain us with news of our day, our lives, our country, grounded in the one humanity, one planet, that we all share? Who else… but Paul Harvey. May he rest in peace, February 28, 2009, and since his stories are timeless and America suffers short term memory loss, may his broadcasts play on forever.

United Spiders 

New homesteads always take a little getting used to. The different sounds at night, the pumps that run, furnaces that clank, the sound of rain on the roof – they all take on a cadence and timber of their own. The nights are short and filled with terror until these common effects become a part of your natural resting state. Apart from the usual adjustments to sounds, I will never be comfortable with foreign-body invasions.

I went shopping at the Home and Garden section of our local department store the other day. Possibly for the first time ever. Which explains why I was kind of nervous and clammy. Had no idea what to buy, just what I needed: garden hose and nozzle to spray the spider infestation off my innocent garage and around the adorable side-entrance of the house. Following with some serious spider death spray to finalize the watery wash-out, just so they’d know I mean business. This innocent massacre material was easy to find and I headed back to the scene of the crime already in progress.

I actually felt kinda bad at one point, realizing, “Hey, they’re not hurting anything. They’re spiders. Hanging out is just what they do.” I wondered what the psychology or natural motivation was for spiders to spin and live in high places and dangle from front doors and garages and if they could be pleasantly coerced to do so some place less obvious to me? Do they have a Union Rep I could maybe negotiate with? And then I saw this huge ass black and red monster, actually crawling in a way that made me see how pissed off he was and I nailed him with the death spray. This really, really angered him. I buried him in the stuff; white with chemicals and he kept on climbing! I thought, “uh-oh. I’m setting myself up for retaliation from the spider posse.”

Even though I had on full regalia more fit for handling killer bees than a few domestic spiders, I felt disadvantaged. Just one scamper up the pant leg would send me begging for roaches any day. But like David and Goliath, I persevered. In the end, I realized spiders aren’t bad. It’s not me against them, really. They’re just a slight nuisance to me, and I’ll sweep them away, as often as necessary. Preferably they’re dead when I do this.

As long as I have my elbow-length gardening gloves, knee-high rubber boots, and death spray, I can handle this.

I really did mellow during the whole massacre. I started out with the kind of determination that only fear could inspire. And ended with a peaceful sense of accomplishment. Then I swept my walk and cleared weeds from the front steps and took a small sense of pride in my new place and responsibilities for upkeep.

Isn’t that just so Laura Ingalls of me? Apart from the poisonous death spray, I mean.

How to Heal a Heart 

Dad had a heart attack on my last visit home to Michigan. Now, as heart attacks go, this was a mere tickle. But he was in the hospital for a week before they could make a diagnosis. The doctor wanted to do a catheterization to check out the blockage. Since Dad had a quadruple bypass 12 years earlier, they needed to get the records from the hospital where he had the surgery. The Doc kind of wanted to know where the graphs of the bypasses are (heart valve graphs, not pie charts…) so he doesn’t bump one when he’s peeking around in there. Seemed wise. Particularly complicating things is the fact that we were coming up on the Christmas season which, for a jeweler, is a yearly goldmine his business counted on. And now he was incapacitated for the foreseeable future. Well, this is as good a thing as it is difficult. He’s beginning to see the incredible stress he’d been mismanaging for so long and, without this incident, could have been the death of him. So I’m glad that was nipped in the bud. And honestly, if your Dad (God forbid… ) ever lands in the hospital and his wife is terrible at just being there and throws herself into her work to avoid dealing with it, it’s really an amazing opportunity for you to bond with your father in a way you’d been longing for and hadn’t even realized. You can just sit and un-anxiously pass the time, because you both know he’s not going anywhere. And he’d rather shoot the proverbial breeze with you than drool into his pillow alone. You can talk about your favorite Paul Harvey broadcasts and what a fine orator he is. You can talk about the resurgence of Big Band music and your father will regale you with stories of gliding around the dance floor on a first date in the Fruitport Auditorium to the sounds of Jimmy Dorsey. You’ll get to time-travel with your Dad back to the days when he was a prankster and spent the majority of his waking hours thinking of ways to shock and surprise his three younger sisters. And you’ll both feel the importance of remembering, together. And you can feel your relationship build because you just took the time to chat about silly things. Whether they’re actual accounts or works of creative fiction spawned by a need to rewrite ones own history to ones liking is immaterial. Just be there to listen. And, from time to time, you’ll run to get his nurse when he grabs his head being ravaged by another nitro-induced headache. When he gets a pain in his chest that turns out to be gas, you both laugh about it, and express gratitude that the gas was in his chest and not the more usual place he gets it. You can stroll the hallways in the cardiac wing and greet the new members of the Zipper Club, just you, your Dad, and his IV drip robot. You can finally cut those overgrown toenails of his since he has a hard time reaching his feet these days. And while you’re there, you can give him a relaxing foot massage too. Most Dad’s have never had one, so it will be doubly special. You can go and buy him Sounds of the Ocean to listen to at night because his trusted nighttime radio will have lousy reception in the hospital. And surprise him with the latest copy of MAD magazine. And he’ll be surprised at how much he still enjoys the silly things. (Include also a LIFE, TIME and NEWSWEEK, so the neighbors know he’s respectable.) You’ll get to know all his nurses on a first-name basis and make sure he answers the questions honestly. (Dad’s tend to not be very self aware.) And then you can ask the nurse questions that your Dad is too exhausted to think of because he just wants to go to sleep and have it all be over when he wakes up. You can take part in the conversation with the social worker whose been made aware that his heart condition is largely stress-induced and talk about real ways to remedy that by learning to delegate responsibilities and help think of ways to solve future problems. And get your Dad talking for the first time about doing less and delegating more and empowering himself to do that. Because he’s the boss, and the owner, and the guy who went without a paycheck through the lean years so he could just keep the doors open. He’ll need to know that he’s earned the right. And you can listen to him talk about his fears, when he doesn’t realize it’s his fears he’s talking about. And you can reassure him that everything will be ok. And that you love him. It’s a lot easier to say, for whatever reason, after you’ve spent hours just being together. And then he’ll surprise you one day when you walk in and, as if this were an old habit, he leans up to give you a kiss. And then you tell him to uncross his legs because it’s bad for his blood flow. He’ll keep forgetting this all the time. And you’ll talk about the pets you used to have when you were a kid, and how much fun the dune buggies were and learning to sail on the sailboats that Mom never liked. And about the Christmases he remembers being more excited about the toys you were getting more than you or your brother were upon opening them. And he’ll tell you stories about your grandparents who you thought you knew so well. And about what it was like being in the service. And the night he first met your mother. And how they were just kids “who didn’t have a clue.” And how, through the years, he loves her more and more. And how he’s afraid that changing his life to one that contains more leisure might spell the end because he doesn’t think that’s her thing. And then you can remind him of all the times she wanted to go cross-country skiing, and how she likes going on the powerboat for dinner and sunsets, and how she likes to take walks to pick wildflowers, and how she likes to go antiquing. You can point out all the times she wanted to have fun with him that he doesn’t remember because he has a fixed impression of her. You get to be her surrogate. And he can listen to you without the usual baggage blocking his ears. And then he’ll talk about that little cabin on the lake he’s always wanted. And you tell him it sounds beautiful. And everything’s going to be ok. And that you love him. And when he asks how things are going at the store, you can tell him it’s great. That you sold everything, and are expecting shipments today so you have new stuff to sell tomorrow. And he’ll laugh and let go of being worried. Well, he had a catheterization the following Monday morning. It was possible that, when they went in there, it could just be a matter of a little metal stint to fix him up or angioplasty (balloon) and then he’s “good like new.” Poor guy. Just wanted to be good like new again. And somehow, regardless of what’s to come, you’ll feel as though those places that don’t show-up on a catheterization of his heart, have miraculously been healed in his as much as in your own.

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