Dinner Theatre

It seems like every time I visit my mother I arrive during a meal, usually dinner. My mom always asks me to pull up a chair to the table and eat, offering to share her plate of food with me, but I always feel as though I will interrupt the normal ritual with this little intrusion. There is something comforting in such daily routines, especially for people suffering from dementia, and I don’t want to throw off the carefully cultivated dynamic at the dinner table. I prefer to sit to the side and watch the scene unfold with the interplay of all the characters, both comic and tragic at the same time. It is truly dinner theatre. I have never tried to write a play, but I see these nightly meals as a never-ending dramatic production, filled with all the heartbreak and laughs of any gut wrenching performance. If, as Shakespeare wrote so many centuries ago, all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, then the Deer Hill Care Home dinner play might look something like this.

. . .

Cast of Characters

Mary . . . . .   woman with Alzheimer’s, walks with a cane, early seventies but looks much older
Barbara. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . woman with a spinal injury, confined to a wheelchair, late eighties
Ted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  man with advanced Alzheimer’s, has difficulty walking, early eighties
Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . man with Parkinson’s, confined to a wheelchair, mid eighties
Bert . . . . . . . . . . . . . . man with nerve damage and palsy, confined to a wheelchair, mid eighties
Barbie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . woman with Alzheimer’s, walks with a cane, late eighties
Mirna . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Filipino woman with strong accent, caretaker, mid thirties
Jun  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Filipino man, head caretaker, mid forties

TIME: 4:30 sharp on any given night

SETTING: The elderly residents are seated around a large dinner table, each wearing colorful matching bibs, while the caregivers bring plates filled with hot dogs, potato salad, and steamed broccoli.

MIRNA: Bert, I have a hotdog sandwich for you. [MIRNA tries to give it to BERT]

BERT: I don’t want a sandwich.

BARBARA: It’s a hotdog, Bert. [yelling across the table]

BERT: Huh?

MIRNA: Bert, it is a hotdog sandwich. Here, take it. [MIRNA places it in BERT’S shaky hand]

BERT: I’d rather have a hamburger. [Begins eating with his eyes closed but looks disappointed.]

[JUN turns music on, Frank Sinatra station on Pandora. I Get A Kick Out Of You plays.]

TED: [Singing along with song.] Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all, so tell me why should it be true that I get a kick out of you?

JUN: Ted, you know all the words. [Places a plate of food in front of TED]

TED: What’s that?

JUN: You remember all the words to the song, Ted.

TED: No, what’s that? [Points at the plate of food.]

JUN: It’s your dinner, Ted.

TED: Oh.

BARBARA: Ted, you have such a nice voice, keep singing.

TED: What was that now?

BARBARA: I really enjoy your singing. Keep going.

TED: If you say so. [TED doesn’t keep singing, but stares at his plate in silence.] (more…)

Flowers in the School Garden

In case you didn’t know, I teach middle school. I also started and continue to run a school garden at my school. We have a summer watering schedule,  and students and parents have volunteered to come and water the unirrigated portions of the garden over the summer months. But I still like to stop by every couple weeks and check on how things are going, to make sure the equipment is still there, and make sure nothing is broken or destroyed. Unfortunately, vandalism is a big problem when you leave an area of a school open to the public. Sometimes it seems that teenager’s favorite way to enjoy something is to destroy it. This summer though, so far so good.

In my own garden that I see everyday, the growth and changes are subtle and hard to appreciate. But not seeing the school garden for weeks at a time, the growth and changes are much more dramatic. These are some photos from my last visit.

Now if we could just keep all the other garden pests out.

The Hoarding Gene

After my mom died we realized the extent of her hoarding. Rooms stacked with boxes in boxes, years worth of newspapers, closets that spilled out like avalanches when opened. Most items made no sense.

My wife suggested a dumpster. It felt a shame to throw it all away, a lifetime of memories tossed. In one room we uncovered a forgotten memento from my childhood that I wanted to keep.  My wife called the glass eyes creepy.

No way, she said, we have zero room at home, but I knew there was always space for one more thing. 

The hoarder’s mantra.

PHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Adam Ickes

Posted for the Friday Fictioneers Photo Prompt – a complete story in 100 words or less.

This is perfect for me because my attention span is a about 100 words.

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Too Long in London

The day starts with you in front of a tube station in south London. You and your traveling partner, who has really started to get on your nerves recently, as the two of you nickel and dimed (euroed and franked) your way across certain parts of Europe for the past month. The hostels and camping had turned weary, tired, every night the beds less comfortable and home further away. It is the twenty-first of May, the day of your return flight to America. The plan is to take the tube to Heathrow airport, which for the both of you costs three more pounds than you can scrape together. You knew those last few pints the evening before had been a bad idea. Your last night abroad had been a beer filled celebration, but it was all a blur now.

It is eight in the morning, the bustle of a weekday London morning, the entrance to the London Underground a river of umbrellas and raincoats. Did I mention the rain? The both of you look the part of the greasy vagrant, unshaven backpackers begging money so you could catch the train to the airport. In half an hour you’d only scraped up a few schillings. Then one business-dressed lady stopped for a moment, having a bit of a problem closing her umbrella. Excuse me, you say. Do you have extra money so that we can make it to the airport and get home to America? After she manages to close her umbrella she turns to the two of you and has a long disappointed look at you.  So you’ll be leaving the country then, she asks. She agrees to give you money, all three pounds that you need. But before she hands it over, she makes you promise that you wouldn’t return to Britain. Ever.

So you purchase your fare and take the tube to Heathrow. On the map it looks like Heathrow is very close. Actually it feels hours away. Much like London, the train ride seems to go on forever. At Heathrow you stand in line for an hour at check-in. You study your tickets about fifty times while you wait. Nonstop, London to San Francisco, May 21st. You get to the counter and show the lady your tickets, relieved to have finally made it through all the obstacles, to verge so close to your homecoming. Then she tells you that your flight isn’t until tomorrow.

The 21st of May, you say.

Yes, today is the 20th

Rainy Day In London (by oatsy40 on Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

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Stitched Together

“Isn’t he adorable?” my wife asked, holding up the fuzzy little muppet like it might be a puppy or a teddy bear. It was a koala bear, which she apparently purchased at a garage sale. Not a stuffed koala bear with big, cute Pokemon eyes, but a living, breathing, agitated marsupial. The eyes were not over-sized anime eyes, but rather the beady little eyes of a heartless troll. It looked at me and it felt like a piece of my soul had been harvested.

I didn’t want to know why a Koala Bear or how much the little furball had cost. What I wanted to know was what type of garage sale sells live koalas. I wondered if they had wombats or platypuses as well.

“I wanted a blender and the koala but I didn’t have enough money. I tried to haggle but the price on the blender was firm. I got a great deal on this little guy though. It was such a good deal I couldn’t not buy him. Isn’t he just too cute?”

Cute was not the word that came to mind, especially when the koala’s musky odor reached my olfactory unit. “I guess he’s not housebroken, huh?” I asked, as he peed on the carpet.

“Well, I didn’t ask about that,” she said. “Maybe we can get him some diapers.”

I could see where this was going. My wife had been pushing recently for a fertilized zygote that might lead to the birth of our first child, but I had fended her off with claims of financial instability and psychological unreadiness. Despite my best intentions I hadn’t been able to break the truth to her–that my sperm, like me, was lazy and unmotivated. The issue had become a wedge between us, slowly but surely sending us in different directions, and I didn’t want to chase her away completely. Her maternal instinct had gone into overdrive and I knew my infertility might be a deal breaker.

Maybe my wife saw the little marsupial as a surrogate child. Perhaps she was trying to annoy me with the stinky little creature until I decided that a baby wouldn’t be so bad after all. Perhaps I should indulge my wife’s new pet if it made her happy and temporarily delayed the inevitable confession. “What’s his name,” I asked.

“His name is Stitch and he eats Eucalyptus leaves, and since we have whole tree full of Eucalyptus leaves in the backyard it seemed perfect.”  My wife could never let a good deal go, even if we didn’t actually need the thing. The little koala had been such a great deal she jumped and latched on, not unlike what Stitch did when he saw my leg and mistook it for a Eucalyptus tree. He scampered across the carpet and latched on with his talons.

“Awww, I think he likes you.”

“I think he’s hungry,” I said as he bit my kneecap with his impressively sharp chompers.

“Let’s take him outside to the Eucalyptus tree.”

So we took Stitch outside. I waddled out with him still attached to my leg, and when he saw the tree he moved with sudden alacrity and determination, bolting and scrambling just high enough that we would never be able to retrieve him without some sort of scaffolding or crane or assistance from the fire department. Stitch plucked a leaf and placed it in his mouth and just stared at us with his little black button eyes. Dark, evil, soul harvesting eyes.

“He looks angry,” I said, and as I said it Stitch squinted at me like, I’ll show you angry.

“I think he just looks tired,” my wife said.  “I know how he feels.”

And then she started crying. A torrent, a flood, as if the emotional dam that held back her unshed tears had finally succumbed to the sheer volume. I hugged her close to me and held her, wanting nothing more in that moment to soothe her and stop her crying, before it turned contagious and spread to me. I felt that if I squeezed her tight enough I could hold the tears back.

As we stood embraced beneath the tree a few pellets of koala poop pelted our heads.

“So, how do you feel about adoption?”

evil koala (by :/ on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0)

Floraphilia

flora (ˈflôrə) noun; the plants of a particular region, habitat, or geological period

-phile: (combining form) denoting fondness, esp. an abnormal love for a specified thing.

I live in California. I grow plants and take photos. I run a school garden and teach Science. I am a floraphile.


 

Screen shot 2014-07-13 at 10.08.18 AMThis is the tagline for my Tumblr, which is where I post about my adventures as a plant fanatic. It started from a New Year’s resolution in 2012, and this Tumblr essentially jumpstarted my floundering creative potential. It started out with me just sharing other people’s photos of plants, and then I soon began taking my own photos. Then I got a better camera and started taking better photos. I tried to capture the photographic evidence of the beauty I witnessed in my own garden. I wanted that sense of calm and serenity I feel in the garden to be delivered through my photographs. Not sure if I can succeed in this, but I keep trying.

Just the act of creating my own content soon led to other things. Soon the writing began. Then a workshop, an online course, a novel in progress, a slew of potentially mediocre short stories. Then this wordpress blog happened because I needed somewhere to put all these extra words. Frankly, the wordy posts I had been composing about my plants hadn’t exactly proved popular on Tumblr, and every time I posted a short story at least ten people immediately unfollowed me. I have a sneaking suspicion that many Tumblr users refuse to read anything longer than fifty words, but I’ll be damned if they don’t like a pretty picture of a succulent. So now, I’ll just have to subject the blogoshpere of wordpress to all my rants, raves, and unfortunate literary transgressions. I apologize in advance.

This is a collection of some of the photos from my garden that I posted this week.

Originally posted on flora-file.tumblr.com

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The Book Hoarder

I’ll admit it–I am a borderline hoarder. I keep things I know I probably won’t need, thinking that in some convoluted wrinkle of fate it will come in handy during a future crisis. In truth, I’m afraid the ironic tendency of the universe will cause me to need any item I  dispose of, most likely moments after the recycling truck takes it away forever. Some items have travelled with me through numerous moves, and though I don’t need it currently, I just might someday, and then who will be laughing?

But books are different. Back during my impressionable twenty somethings I used to love to go to used book stores and peruse the shelves for esoteric and thought provoking books that I didn’t necessarily want to read, but I wanted people to think I read. Sometimes I actually attempted to sit down and read the books, but for some reason or another never finished. I usually read just the introductions or maybe the first chapter so I could sound like I knew what the book was about, in case anyone asked. I wanted to seem all philosophical and well read without actually putting the time in to read. My problem is I am a pretty slow reader and I have ADD. Sometimes I read so slow that I get distracted in the middle of the sentence and have to start over. I can’t read fast enough to keep my own attention.

I bought the books because I was always told that writers must read a metric ton to find inspiration and to learn the craft. I was also told that if you want to be a writer then you should buy books written by other people to support the business. I liked to imagine what my own book would look like on the shelves. At one point I had milk crates full of these used literature and philosophy books that I schlepped around with me so I could put them on my bookshelves and look at them. I have sold and donated boxes of my books in recent years, but not all of them. Some I have held onto. Some I still hold the illusion that I will sit down and read someday, which is why I haven’t gotten rid of them yet. I was curious what books I hadn’t sold, so I went into the garage and looked.

So without further adieu, here are twelve plus one of the outrageous, audacious, and courageous books I found hoarded away in my garage. I will include a jacket blurb, and just what in the hell I was thinking when I bought it in the first place. (more…)