Saturday, December 24, 2016

Swimming Toward the Christmas Lights

I'm writing this on Christmas Eve at the end of one of the most challenging years I can remember. 
I've found swimming during the 
holidays can be challenging; I almost 
drowned trying to keep my Santa hat on 
while doing the breast stroke.
Image, copyright, Teece Aronin
My mother passed away in February, a friend took his life in September, another died the night before Thanksgiving, an old schoolmate lost her baby grand-daughter to a rare genetic disorder, and another friend lost one sister only to have another nearly die in a car accident just weeks later.

And that wasn't all of it. There were other serious illnesses and even deaths among those close to me this year. 

Then, like wolves, arthritis took me down. These days I use a cane - on bad days, not all days, thank God.

Christmas has a way of stroking our cheeks with the faux fur of holiday stockings, then snapping our bare backsides with Santa's big belt. We find joy in how children wonder over Christmas and then grieve over our own memories of it and just about everything else - the sad, the sweet, the bittersweet. Those memories crystallize into something needle-like and pierce straight into us like thorns on mistletoe. 

A very wise woman once told me that something positive comes from everything that happens to us, no matter how tragic. After some introspection, I'm thinking she's right.

I challenge you to find at least one good thing to come from any memory haunting you this Christmas. Whether it's a lesson learned, a more compassionate self, a ripple effect that's touched others in positive ways, I believe you can find at least that one thing and maybe more. 

Take me and my arthritis. I don't know how this'll all go down in the long run, but for now, I'm taking it as a scary, painful wake-up call to lose weight, eat better, and move more. I've joined my local Y and am reaping the benefits of swimming, including less pain, more flexibility and a bit more muscle definition in my back. And I'm learning that there are lots of treatment options available to me and that remission is a real possibility. 

I'm also looking at my cane with new eyes and finding that it adds a certain coziness to the entryway. It leans against a table that holds candles and family photos. I think of my Aunt Izzy who suffered not only from arthritis but a severe hand tremor. But those things didn't stop her from cooking and baking and lighting our lives with laughter and wit and fun well into her nineties. She's the one who smiled at her nieces and nephews just before her passing and told them she was having "such a wonderful death."

I'm choosing - and some days it's hard - to believe that having arthritis might ultimately boost my quality of life as well as my longevity because it's forcing me to make better choices regarding my health. 

And you? What light has come to you because of the dark? 

Whatever it is, may it guide you to a better Christmas - this year and for all the years to come. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Even When He's Not Here, He's Here

You remember the ex, right? Michael? The one who visited last weekend and dressed up like a pimp? The one from whose visit I'm still recovering? 
Virtual ex-husband, Michael waving hello and calling me 
a dum- dum, probably from my own virtual window. 

Now, it seems he's discovered an app called Bitmoji which allows him to create an avatar of himself to place in a variety of memes and messages - or, in Michael's case, to annoy former spouses. Pictured here is the one he sent me last night. 

Notice that Michael's avatar is either leaning in through or out of a window. I'm not an expert on window construction so while I'm sure he could be leaning in, I'm not as sure he could be leaning out. 

If he's leaning out the window, it could be that Michael is inside a place where he's actually allowed (although there are damned few of those these days) and is calling out that charming greeting.

If, on the other hand, he is leaning in through the window, it's likely the window is mine, and with no sense of propriety, boundaries, or personal space, Michael is barging in with his big shaved head to wave and call me a dum-dum. 

I was aghast to learn "dum-dum" is an acceptable alternate spelling of "dumb-dumb." At first I thought it was because too many people were too dumb to spell dumb-dumb. Then I learned that it might have come into use thanks to candy company sales manager, I.C. Bahr. 

In 1924 Bahr worked for the Akron Candy Company and named its new lollipops Dum-Dums, figuring dum-dums was a word "any child could say," but he, apparently, could not spell. The correlation to Michael and a whole lot of bad jokes is just too easy, so I'll let it go. But get this: Even "hiya" can be written correctly as one word. Iaskya, what is the world coming to?

But I digress . . .

I doubt that whoever dreamed up Bitmoji - by which Michael will be enthralled until the next new thing comes along - thought the app would be used to shove a user's virtual head through his ex-wife's virtual window, but Michael always was creative in that way . . . 

. . . for a dumb-dumb. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Ex was Back in Town!

My ex-husband, Michael blew (I mean flew) in from Maryland on Friday and Michigan hasn't been the same since. Even the snowstorm currently hammering much of the region can't hold a Christmas candle to the aftermath of Michael, the Human Storm of 2016. 
Michael Aronin, father of my children,
can get pixelated without even drinking, 
as you can see from his shirt..
Photo, copyright: Teece Aronin

Preparations for the storm's arrival started Thursday night when I texted him from the grocery store:

Me: "Coke or Pepsi?"

Michael: "Pepsi please."

"That's just so she'll know what to sneak the poison into," his friend, Jeff warned him. 

The next morning he called me at work:

Michael: "Are the roads really icy?"

Me: "Oh, I hope so." 

Actually Michael and I get along very well almost all the time and with the weather predicted to be dicey we decided his visit would be a low-key weekend with him free to spend time at the house. That way he and the kids wouldn't be on the roads as much and they could enjoy time with him somewhere other than hotel rooms and restaurants. 

Due to a birth accident, Michael has cerebral palsy and his mobility is extremely limited, so the next thing I said I really meant.

"Listen, I'm parking on the street, so when you get here, pull up as close to the house as you can; this morning the driveway was icy. Let us know before you get out of the car and we'll come help you in."

"Okay, no problem," he said. This was "Michael code" for "There's no way I'm calling you first so I can get help walking on the ice, but thank you anyway." Then he quipped: 

"As long as you have good homeowner's insurance, I'm not worried. Besides, I probably won't fall."

"Yes, but anyone can take a tumble on ice - if they're pushed hard enough," I said.

He pulled up in front of the house later that afternoon and without letting us help, got out of the car with a huge grin on his face and his arms loaded with flowers and Christmas packages. There is no railing on my porch steps.

"Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!" I hissed as our son, Jon and I scrambled down to help and even on ice and steps with no railing, he really didn't need our help. Within minutes he was in the house safe and sound where the only things that could hurt him were hardwood floors or an accidental smack in the head with a broom handle.  

He posed with the kids and our dog in front of the fireplace, a robust fire crackling behind them. Then he uploaded the shots to Facebook. A friend, Bruce posted a comment that read, "Kids, your dad needs to be turned over; he's done on that side."

Michael went back to his hotel later that night, but not before posing for his picture wearing our daughter's coat and carrying my cane while trying to look like a pimp. This is hard for someone who's more pimple than pimp. 

Of course I have a Facebook account too so I posted the picture. This is some of the exchange that followed:

Friend One: "Well, he does seem to have a nice smile . . . But he's an EX for a reason!"

Friend Two: "Good luck . . ."

Friend Three: "The humor abounds!"

Friend Four: "Had my husband's ex spend 17 days with us in a tiny apartment. There are no words."

Me (in reply to Friend Four): "There are saints who've accomplished less than that."

Friend Four (in reply to me): "And she is . . . interesting in an omgwtf kind of way."

Friend Five: "Ohhhhhhhh boy!"

Friend Six: "Don't you have locks on your doors?"

Me (in reply to Friend Six): "He slithers under doors."

Friend Seven: "No words . . . "

The plan was that Michael would stay until noon Sunday but with the weather getting worse and the airport almost two hours away, he decided he would take us all to dinner then head out and get a room near the airport. Before we left, Michael made a call-ahead to the restaurant to cut down on our wait. We took his rental and my car so he could head straight out from the restaurant. 

The restaurant was packed and the rental car didn't have a handicap plate so Michael parked in a handicap space and hoped for the best. He was starting to get tired so he gave in and let Jon help him into the restaurant. 

I stepped up to the hostess and told her of the call-ahead. She said the wait would be about 20 minutes. Then Michael asked if he needed to be concerned about the handicap space and explained that all the other spaces were too far for him to walk. Three restaurant staff, including the manager, stared back at him. One of them finally said, "I'm not saying anything. I don't know what to tell you."

Michael turned back to me. "It'll probably be okay."

"I can go move the car and then pull it up to the door after dinner," I offered.

"No, that's okay," but he sounded hesitant.

"Really, I don't mind. Give me the key and I'll be right back." 

He had backed into the parking space so when I got into the car, although the design of the gear shift struck me as a little odd, with no PRNDL on it anywhere, I pulled out with no problem. The closest parking space was on the far side of the restaurant, way in the back. 

As I started to pull into the space, I tried to back up to adjust my position and that's when it occurred to me that I'd forgotten the order of the gears; I couldn't remember PRNDL. Every time I tried to put the car in reverse it slipped closer to the parked car in front of it until I was afraid to keep trying for fear I'd tap the other car.  

I got out of the rental car and looked. It was worse than I thought: the cars were touching. Neither of our kids drives yet so I called Michael and told him he had to come move the car. I felt awful knowing he was tired. Five minutes later he came bustling with Jon around the corner of the restaurant, actually outpacing our son, and trying not to look stressed; Michael always stresses out over rental cars. 

"What went wrong?" he asked with a nervous laugh, and so I explained. "Okay, no problem. I can see how something like this could happen. Everything's going to be fine!" He was talking like a man whose ex-wife had just backed his rental car into Donald Trump's limo and was trying to believe everyone would pleasantly exchange insurance information.     

He backed the car up then shifted into drive and pulled into the space. 

"It's a good think I love you," he said. "And I really do, pal." 

"I love you, too," I smiled. 

We walked back into the restaurant where our daughter Syd was still waiting with the little vibrate-y light-up thing that goes off when your table's ready. But even in all the time her brother, her father and I had been cavorting in the parking lot, we still had no table. Michael stepped up to the hostess to ask what the wait time was now. 

"About another 20 minutes," she told him. I looked around and all the benches were filled with people waiting for their tables. Not a soul appeared willing to make room for Michael whose disability is perfectly obvious. I got angry. I walked back to the hostess, stuck my nose in her face, and five minutes later we were comfortably seated in a nice, roomy corner booth. 

I remembered how when we were married I was always getting mad about something he was having to deal with, mostly because it was stupid. 

One night not long ago he, his wife, and stepson were eating dinner in a restaurant and overheard a man telling his table-mates about a coworker he said had CP. The man was making fun of his coworker's slow speech, another common characteristic of cerebral palsy. 

When Michael and his family got up to leave, Michael approached the man's table, delighted at what he later described as the man's "Oh, fuck . . . " expression. Michael said, "It's okay. When we're alone, we make fun of you guys too." 

Thinking about that story made me remember something else: Michael rarely needed help from me when we were married and he didn't much need it now.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sam Spayed, Dog Detective

It was a dark and stormy night in a city of secrets and lies. I hovered over my desk - a hot stove with nothing cooking - and prayed for a scream in the dark, a wailing siren, a ringing telephone - anything, anything to end the boredom, the uneasy sense of uselessness from sitting around doing nothing. Who am I, you ask?
The murderer always returns to 
 the scene of the crime. 
Photograph copyright Teece Aronin

I'm Sam Spayed, dog defective - I mean detective.

I'm a mutt with a nose for crime and no case of mine has ever gone unsolved. But right then I didn't even have a case. And I needed a case. I needed a case like an unscrupulous dame needs an unsuspecting dupe. Yeah, I needed a case that bad.

Just when I thought I couldn't stand it anymore, the phone rang, its jagged brrrriiiinnng-brrrriiiinnng beating out a hellish tattoo in the dim and dingy office.

I snatched up that phone on the third brrrriiiinnng.

"Spayed here."

The call was from a dame, and a hysterical one at that. It seemed that the cunning jewel thief known simply as the Cat Burglar had struck again - this time in the vicinity of Dogwood and 34th. But unlike the Cat Burglar's other conquests, this was a murder too. I dove into my trench coat, grabbed my faithful fedora and disappeared into the night.

I reappeared ten minutes later at the posh and pricey penthouse doghouse of one Kitty Marmaduke. I was met at the door by the dame who'd called me, the cute little chickie who'd been doing all that yelling. Her name was Furniece Marmaduke and she was Kitty Marmaduke's daughter. 

I'd never met Furniece, but I recognized her from the society pages. She knew me by reputation. I expressed my condolences and we got down to business. She led me across the foyer to the darkened study where her mother was stretched out on the floor, one ankle daintily crossing the other. Dawn was beginning to break and there was enough light in the room to see that on the floor near Kitty's head was a collar, a collar with a diamond-shaped tag engraved with the initials, C.B. 

Hmm . . . Cat Burglar? 

One look at Kitty proved she wasn't posing for a spread in Dog Fancy Magazine; in fact, she was a little long in the tooth to be posing naked, and besides, she wasn't naked. But she did look to be one dead dog, and none of her diamond-studded collars and her lifetime membership to the American Kennel Club could help her now.

"Miss Marmaduke, have you touched anything in here?" I asked.

"No," Mr. Spayed. "I remembered I wasn't supposed to. The lamp was off, too. I haven't touched that either. Oh Mr. Spayed," Furniece cried, all breathy and fragile-sounding, "Why did he have to murder Mumsy? She would have handed over her jewels without a fight."

"He murdered Mumsy - I mean your mother - because he knew she could identify him," I said, my eyes skirting the room for evidence. Loose pearls littered the floor and the chaise. Maybe the Cat Burglar had yanked the pearls right off Kitty Marmaduke's neck. Or maybe Furniece was wrong and her mother had put up a fight.

Suddenly someone growled and Furniece's wide brown eyes locked with mine. 

"Hey, don't look at me," I told her. 

"Well it certainly wasn't me," Furniece snipped. 

That growl was followed by another and Furniece and I turned to see Kitty Marmaduke's ankles uncross. Furniece's eyes were bigger than milk saucers, and she gasped as her mother moved again. 

"Mumsy!" she yelled, high-tailing it to where her mother lay. It seemed that reports of Kitty Marmaduke's death had been greatly exaggerated.

"Oh, my head," Mrs. Marmaduke muttered, slowly sitting up. "Someone hit me on the back of my head."

"That was the Cat Burglar," Furniece explained. Then sobbing into her mother's neck: "Oh, Mumsy, thank goodness you're alright!"

"Oh, Furniece, for heaven's sake, get your paws off me!" barked Kitty Marmaduke. Furniece looked wounded and came back to huddle against me. 

It seemed that Kitty Marmaduke also knew me by reputation because she snarled: "Get away from my daughter, Mr. Spayed." Then she shot me another order: "And come over here and help me up!"

"Yes, ma'am," I said, strolling to her in my own sweet time. No broad like Kitty Marmaduke was going to order me around. I started wondering how a doll like Furniece could have a mother who was such a b . . . well, you know. 

I helped Mrs. Marmaduke into a chair. Furniece was at her side again in a flash.

"So, ladies," I said, "You've both had quite a night. Whatta ya make of this?"

Furniece Marmaduke looked at me while dabbing her eyes with a hankie. She appeared innocent and vulnerable. Kitty Marmaduke looked at me while rubbing the back of her head. She appeared disgusted and insulted.                

"I would think, Mr. Spayed, that you're the one who should be making something of all this," she snapped. I had the feeling that staying clear of Kitty Marmaduke's teeth was a very good idea.                    
"Sorry, ma'am, and you're right," I said. "And I think I have an idea. But it means staying put, the three of us, right here. Nobody goes anywhere. Nothing personal, Miss Marmaduke," I said to Furniece, "but you're a little upset, and I can't risk you saying or doing anything that might spook the Cat Burglar. He'll likely be watching for you." 

Something I'd said had all the color draining from Furniece's spots. Would I have been that nervous in Furniece's place, thrown into a plot to trap a jewel thief? I wondered. Her mother, on the other paw, didn't bat an eye. 

"Miss Marmaduke, have you talked to the police?"

"No, Mr. Spayed. I was frightened, had heard about you and just phoned. I'm not sure why I didn't call the police."

"That's alright," I reassured her. The police and I don't often agree on methods and since there was no real murder here, I think we can work around them for now. You know what I'm thinking?"

"Of course we don't know what you're thinking," snapped Kitty Marmaduke. "Suppose you tell us?"

Her barb stung a little but I let it go.

"I'm thinking that the Cat Burglar will be missing that collar, the one with C.B. engraved on the tag. I also think he'll be desperate to get it back in his possession. So we're just going to hunker down for the night and wait him out. 

Hearing these words, Furniece was one scared puppy - even more than before - but Mrs. Marmaduke was one ticked off old dog. And the tick who'd had the misfortune of annoying her at that moment hit the Aubusson rug after a quick but merciless death. 

"What? On the butler's night off? I should think not, Mr. Spayed! The very idea is preposterous! Kitty and I would have to fend for ourselves under very stressful circumstances! Why I never!" 

"You did at least once, ma'am," I smirked, my eyes cutting toward Furniece. I enjoyed having Mrs. Marmaduke by the short hairs. "And besides, if you want me to catch the Cat Burglar, it's best you play along."

I hustled Furniece, who was simpering about the butler, into an adjacent room. Of course, the pup doesn't fall far from the pooch, so I had to bring her a bottle of Purrier on ice before I could shut her in. If marrying rich meant busting my tail for a dame as spoiled as she was, I'd rather stay single and poor. 

After I got Furniece settled, I rejoined Mrs. Marmaduke in the study and turned the lights back off. There was nothing for either of us to do but wait. Before I knew it, there came the distinctive clicking sounds of someone picking a lock. I then had the pleasure of shoving Mrs. Marmaduke to the floor where I quickly re-positioned her the way the Cat Burglar had left her. Then I slipped behind a curtain and froze. 

It was darker in that room than the inside of a doberman's heart. I held my breath and imagined the Cat Burglar pussy-footing across the floor. Then I sprang from behind the curtain counting on the element of surprise. 

It worked. The Cat Burglar let out a hiss and then a yowl as I grabbed him and took him down. We struggled for a minute, but cats aren't as strong as dogs, so it was only a matter of time before I had him cuffed. Then I tied his hind legs together to keep him from running. 

When I turned on the light, there he was, a panting, raging little pussycat with his hair standing on end. Then I opened the door to the room where I'd stashed Furniece and hauled her out of there. To be on the safe side, I took my heat out and pointed the gun's muzzle straight at her.

The Cat Burglar took one look at Furniece and hissed, "It's her fault! She's the one who's behind all this!" 

"Just as I suspected," I said.

"What are you talking about?" demanded Furniece.

"Well, sugar," I said, "the first nail in your coffin came when you said you 'remembered' that you weren't supposed to touch anything. 'course that's not proof of anything, but it did get me wondering if someone might have coached you on a few things. Then you nearly fainted when I said we'd all be playing it cozy for the night and waiting for a visit from Puss-In-Boots over there. It wasn't much of a deduction to figure out the rest."

"But why, Furniece?" asked Kitty Marmaduke, and I have to admit, I felt sorry for her - but only for a second.

"Oh, please!" shouted Furniece. "You and I both know that I'm not even your daughter; I'm your niece! My father ran with that horrible pack and one day he just never came home. Then my mother found out she was expecting me, and you undermined her confidence until I was born and she begged you to adopt me. You even named me Furniece as a constant reminder that you would never see me as your own daughter. I hate you! 

"Then, when we argued one night and you threatened to cut me off without a cent, I put feelers out through the criminal grapevine that I wanted to talk to the Cat Burglar. When he got in touch, we made our plan and part of that plan was that I'd give him one third of my inheritance plus whatever jewelry he could nab if he killed you during the break-in. I hate you!" 

Furniece threw that second I hate you in there just in case her mother or her aunt or whoever Kitty was, had missed the first one.

Still, there was something I hadn't figured out yet. "But doll-face, why did you call me in?" I asked.

"It was a calculated risk," Furniece explained. "Calling you in made me look more innocent. And it did, didn't it, Mr. Spayed? You have to admit that it did. What doomed me came later when I gave myself away."

"And you, pussnick," I said, gesturing toward the cat. "I'm guessing you came back for your tag. Does C.B. stand for Cat Burglar?"

"No - my name - Cecil Butterbottom," the cat muttered, too embarrassed to look me in the eye. 

He had reason to be. I burst out laughing then picked up the phone. I tucked the receiver between my shoulder and ear so that I could call the police with one hand and hold the gun on Furniece with the other. I had to admit, it was pretty sweet knowing I'd bagged two criminals with one trap. 

I guess you could say I'd collared them.