Saturday, September 27, 2008

Red Eye: Safety Eye Bonanza

Saturday we decided to go to the local yarn stores. I did a search of ones in the area in case any more than the two my mother knew about had opened. Turns out there's one in Macclenny, which is about 20 minutes west.
My mother: That's where the state mental hospital is.
Me: Well, I hear knitting is very therapeutic.
We elected to skip that one.

Both of the shops are across the St Johns River. After we got off I-295, we passed an enormous strip mall on the left. They had a Hobby Lobby!

Let me explain why I care. We don't have Hobby Lobbies here in California. When I got smacked down in the amigurumi competition, my cause of death had an adorable pink safety nose. I had never seen a pink safety nose! (Safety eyes and noses go through the fabric and are secured by backings which Will Not Come Off without some seriously destructive brute force.) I asked my assassin where she got it and she said Hobby Lobby. I despaired.

I asked my mother if we could stop there on the way back, but she said we weren't going to come back the same way. Oh, well. Of course, distracted as she was, she was sitting in the left-turn lane when she said that, without realizing it. Hobby Lobby here I come!

Somehow I was drawn straight to the safety eye aisle. Oh, the wonder! The selection!

When I got back to the car, my mother asked if I got one of everything. "Except when I got two!"

A woman at the first shop we went to was talking about how Adam West and the old Batman TV series had practically changed her life. Now Star Trek I can understand, but Batman?

I got a hank of super-soft, light grey alpaca laceweight.

The second shop is half-needlepoint/embroidery and half yarn and has a mind-bogglingly huge selection. So big, I couldn't really think to browse. My aunt told me anything she bought was my fault.
Me: What, why?
Mary: It was your idea for me to come yarn-shopping!
Me: I'm not sure El is going to buy that excuse, Mary.
She got a book with some cool felted bags. I got a magazine which had a pattern for a really neat felted bag, and the wool to make it. I think Mary's going to want the pattern when I'm done, although she'd probably be even happier if I just made the bag for her.

We ate steamed crab legs with drawn butter and corn bread for dinner.

I always thought Spoon was pretty adept at wedging in when I went to bed, but Bandit has him beat. It probably helps that he's scrawny and can fit in smaller crevices, while Spoon is rather chunky, to say the least.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Red Eye: Tractor Show Marathon!

Several Christmases ago, my father handed me their dish satellite remote and said they had just gotten the PVR functionality added to the receiver so he could record shows on it. He told me I should take a look at it. And after that, explain to him how to use it. Subtle.

I guess he finally figured it out on his own, though, because he had gotten it to record shows about farm tractors on RFD-TV, "Rural America's Most Important Network."

Let me try to explain the production quality of most of the shows on this network.
[Person goes in for an interview as a camera operator.]
Interviewer: What experience do you have with video cameras?
Applicant: I've recorded all my kid's tap dancing recitals. You can never actually see her feet, because peoples' heads are in the way, and, uh, be careful watching my demo reel, because the camera waves around a lot and some people can get a little nauseated, but...
Interviewer: You're hired!
Before my (paternal) uncle had left, he had asked me to transfer them to DVD so my great-uncle could watch them. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the DVD recorder to work (um, they hid the "record" functions in a secret compartment in the remote), and I was just not in the mindset for my usual perfectionist, "I will not record one iota of anything except these programs" mode that I might normally be in, and I wasn't going to sit through every single episode so I could hit "stop" on the recorder, so my great-uncle got some tractor episodes that turned into 10 minutes of whatever program was on after the PVR finished and timed out back to the receiver. It also wasn't possible to watch something else while it was recording, since the process involved both available input devices (the DVD player/recorder and the dish receiver/PVR). So I wasn't paying an awful lot of attention. He got what he got, though, and that still left half the stuff on the PVR unrecorded.

My mother managed to put her foot in it by going through a list of my father's first cousins (he had many; his father was the oldest of 10 children, to start) who would never bear offspring (she apparently thought there were a lot of those, too). "Um, Mom, what exactly is your cut-off age?" asks her 36-year-old, unmarried, childless daughter. Mary knew what I was talking about. I can't tell if my mother didn't catch on or was acting like she didn't catch on in order to avoid actually having to insert her foot physically into her mouth.

Then it was Mary's turn to flounder. One of my father's cousins has been in a same-sex relationship for nearly two decades. (Although why my mother assumed this automatically meant they still would not somehow have a child, I'm not sure. Of course, she still automatically assumes that marriage is generally a prerequisite for offspring...)
Me: Well, you know that if they get married, it's not going to be in Georgia.
My mother: True.
Mary: Well, now, it used to be illegal to carry a lottery ticket from another state into North Carolina. They would fine you. Now they have their own lottery.
Me: But... that's just the lottery.
Mary: Well, but they are still very conservative in North Carolina, and if they can change their mind about having the lottery when it used to be illegal.
Me: ... I'm thinking there's a really big difference between the lottery and gay marriage, Mary.

We had homemade crab cakes and fried oysters (sorry, I skipped the oysters; not a big fan) for dinner. Good eating.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Red Eye: Red Georgia Clay

The small town where my father grew up is about a 4-hour drive. Once you leave Interstate 10 to go north, your scenery is limited to a lot of pine trees, cotton fields, pecan groves, livestock pastures, and towns too small to have a car dealership but which still sported multiple heavy farm equipment dealerships.

My uncle drove my father's fancy new pick-up truck. For the first time in his life, last winter he had treated himself to a brand-new vehicle, with every bell and whistle possible, down to the heated front seats. (I learned in Virginia in March that the back seats are not heated, thank you very much.) Unfortunately, he only had it a few months before he became too sick to drive it.

My short-legged mother and her sister sat in the back. I was assigned navigation duties, not like I knew how to get there, but my mother is really bad. She starts chatting and then says, "Oh, you were supposed to turn right back there." Of course, after having to get up before dawn and just being worn out, I wasn't too good at staying awake.

There's a small town called Monticello, Florida several miles south of the state line. The only thing really notable about it is the courthouse which is literally smack-dab in the middle of the road. Not just the middle of the town, but of the main road, effectively making the building a large roundabout.

I was basically off on Planet Karen most of the time at the funeral home. Seeing relatives I hadn't seen in many, many years or had forgotten completely is generally overwhelming on its own for me.

For the service, my mother had asked one of my father's colleagues to speak. He gave a very complimentary talk with a little welcome humor. Then a minister, whom my father had never met but who had talked to my mother a while at lunch, began.

My grandmother had died in March, also from cancer. The minister there, who hadn't known her either, gave a very subdued, tasteful service, which my grandmother would have liked, as she liked things simple, and which my mother also appreciated. The minister presiding over my father's service was... different.

About halfway through the litany of the various places my father had lived and places he had worked, I leaned over to my mother and then my aunt and told them that right about now, my father would have been making his impatient throat-clearing cough. Then I zoned back out when he started trying to make parallels to my father's life with Ecclesiastes chapter 3.

I think I swallowed about a dozen Georgia gnats at the cemetery.

During both drives, we listened to some of my father's classic country cds left in the truck. I still have a medley of early Johnny Cash songs in my head.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Red Eye: Worthless Dogs and More

My mother's sister and her husband drove down from Virginia on Wednesday. Because, in spite of knowing all her neighbors and having multiple relatives in the area, Mary couldn't find anyone to take care of her Pomeranian, the dog came with her. They had visited a couple weeks earlier, also with dog, and the cats hadn't wanted to come in the house for days. This time my mother told Mary that the dog was too disruptive, so the dog (and aunt and uncle) stayed in a hotel.

My father hadn't thought that much of that dog. Even though he was a cat person, he didn't dislike all dogs. Just small, loud, annoying dogs. His nickname for this small, loud, annoying dog was "Worthless Dog." Mary took great enjoyment out of relating how, in their previous visit, my father had been staring at the dog for a while. Finally, he managed to get out the words. "Worthless dog."

The squirrels in the backyard were really busy. A pair in a tree were tussling. My mother said they usually didn't fight like that unless it was mating season and settled down in the recliner for a nap. I kept watching.

"... Oh, yeah, it's definitely mating season."

My father's brother had left for Georgia early that morning. Not having much imagination, my mother and I thought Whitey's sounded like a good idea for the second night in a row. Like I said, they have a huge menu and good food. They had fixed the Lobster Zone machine! Oh, no, I forgot my camera phone! No picture.

On the way back, my mother told the story of one of the times she lost her temper with the nurses at the hospital. "Well, your husband is verbally abusive to the nurses." "My husband has a brain tumor. Do you think he would be acting that way otherwise?"

If I had been in the room, I would not have been able to keep a straight face. My father has never been a patient patient, to say the least. Fortunately, this was a new hospital, so my mother could get away with that bald-faced lie.

I had both cats waiting on the bed, although when I had to move Coco to pull down the covers, he got huffy and left.
Bandit slept next to the pillow, although when he started his bath I had to rollover to escape the cat food breath fumes.

Knittin' Crap: Mine!

squarespoon And it's not even done yet.

Red Eye: Lobster Zone

The following night, my mother, uncle and I went to Whitey's Fish Camp for dinner. What used to be in crap-all nowhere is now being chased by suburban sprawl. The drive used to be mainly pine trees and a few homes, but now the trip sports cookie cutter apartment complexes and condominiums and an enormous mega-strip mall, replete with every chain store and restaurant under the sun.

Whitey's has a huge menu, more than half of it fried. It won't increase your life span, but it sure is good. (Want to know where to get frog legs and gator tail? Here's the place!)

Just in front of us in the parking light were two women, one with two towheaded and rather under-controlled young boys. "Let's not sit next to them."

In the entrance, they had one of those mechanical claw "prize" machines. Except instead of stuffed animals, this one sported live lobsters. Unfortunately, it had an "out of order" sign on it. :(

We told stories and lingered after dinner until someone further down the large porch started smoking. Time to go.

The medical supply company had removed the hospital bed during the day. Bandit was waiting for me on the guest room bed. waitingbandit

Red Eye: The Jungle

With my father waiting for the funeral home in the family room, my mother in the office/my guest room sending emails, and my uncle keeping his distance in the living room, I didn't really have any place to go to be alone except the backyard. By then it was late afternoon, and even though it was still warm, I was very cold.

My parents had had an escalating war with the backyard squirrels for several years, trying to find a bird-feeder they couldn't get to. Well, the only one that had managed to keep the squirrels out also kept almost every bird bigger than a bumblebee out, including my mother's beloved pair of cardinals. So, my parents caved about a year ago and gave the squirrels their own take-out window.


This doesn't always keep the squirrels out of the bird-feeders, though, particularly if the squirrel feeder is out or the squirrel just has a hankering for bird seed. They each seem to employ their own bizarre methods for accessing the bird feeders, though. This one shimmies down the pole, grabs a handful of seed, then climbs back up and sits on top to eat it. He'll repeat the cycle dozens of times in a row.

The yard also had a bumper crop of anoles this year. They used to be a favorite target for the cats, but the current pair are the "the females are supposed to bring home the bacon" types and so there are some very large anoles, and a zillion little babies. I mean maybe 4 inches long, half of it tail. It is somewhat amusing to walk around and make them all zoom for their home plant or tree.

After they took my father away, Bandit once again got on the now-empty hospital bed.
He finally came in and slept against my legs that night.

Red Eye: Red Eyes

My flight from Atlanta was on time. My uncle was too sleep-deprived to pick me up from the airport. My mother told me just to take a cab the 30 miles from the airport. "Um, how much is that going to cost?" "Just get in the cab, Karen."

I was tearing up, so either I didn't have a chatty driver or he knew better than to ask.

My father was still breathing when I got to the house.

His breathing suddenly slowed, then stopped, several hours later. It was as quiet as one could hope for.

The previous weekend I had promised him that I would see him again. His final gift to me was to let me keep my promise.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Red Eye: The Kindness of Strangers

My mother had called me the morning of Friday the 5th to say she thought my father was probably in his last week or so and that I should come within the next few days. I went to work, applied for family leave, and made plane reservations that would put me out there Monday night.

Sunday around noon my cell phone beeped to tell me the battery was low. When I dug it out, I saw that my mother had called at 8AM that morning. Crap. I had meant to put the phone by my bed. I called her back. My father had started having extreme difficulty breathing in the middle of the night and had basically not been conscious since the previous evening. The hospice nurse gave him 6-12 hours at that point. My mother decided not to call right away because in that time frame, there was no way I could get out there in time. 12 hours later, though, he still had the same labored, steady breath.

I scrambled to find a flight. If I had actually answered the damned phone when it rang, I would have been able to get a flight that would get me there that evening. But at that point I was looking at red eye flights that would put me there first thing in the morning. The problem is that the airport there shuts down for the night. Not for the same reasons the Burbank Airport does, where it has to cut out the noise because of the residential neighborhoods surrounding it. The Podunk, Florida airport is in the middle of podunk-nowhere even by podunk-nowhere standards. The only thing the planes disturb are the mosquitoes.

I booked the flight that would get me there first, at 8:36AM. It left LAX at 11-something. I called my dear friend Steve, who was kind enough to drive me, then threw a bunch of stuff in a suitcase, then killed my back working on assembling my squares blanket while I waited.

I was in such a daze at the sirport that, although I thought it was odd that the woman at the counter stuck what I took to be a baggage claim sticker on the back of my boarding pass, I didn't really think about it. Yeah, that was no baggage claim sticker. I don't know if it was just random selection or because I booked a last-minute one-way ticket or because I had previously used the term "mail bomb" in my blog, but I had been flagged for a search at the security checkpoint.

Fortunately, I was dazed and tired enough not to care all that much.

At least I can assume that I wasn't the victim of standard racial profiling, since I'm a rather generic-looking Northern European female. Also, I've never heard of Fundamentalist Agnostic militants.

I went to the gate to sit and wait. A man was sitting next to me, asking the occasional polite question. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I was just terribly out of it. Finally, I ask where he was going. To Fort Lauderdale, after a business trip. I told him where I was going. He asked if I was visiting someone. At that point, I broke down and told him my father was dying, and I was trying to get there to see him before it was too late. The man next to me looked sadly away, then asked me if it was cancer. "Lung." He said a few kind but not cloying things and it was time to board.

When the woman scanned my ticket, it beeped "search baggage" again. "Um, they already did that at the checkpoint." She said it was normal and shooed me on my way.

The plane was a Boeing 767. It had those personal video things on the backs of the seats. We got on while they were still booting.

I had a window seat, and it turned out that no one was in the aisle seat next to me, so I managed to doze most of the way to Atlanta.

To be continued...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Things I Got From My Father

Some of the things I got from my father:
  • My mutant blood
  • A constant need to read
  • My inability to suffer fools
  • A sense of humor so dry and tongue-in-cheek that I occasionally risk chewing my tongue off
  • My blank "I'm going to pretend like you never even opened your mouth to say that" stare
  • My love of cats
We buried my father next to his parents in the red Georgia clay yesterday.

Easter 1974 at the Brookfield Zoo

December 1974

July 1975

Christmas 1975. Note the tiny Siamese kitten in the crook of my father's arm!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sunshine State Part 2

I forgot to mention certain little things... Like how I forgot to bring cds to listen to in my rental car. And the only station I can even vaguely tolerate for 3 days/4 nights was the classic rock station... which played the eponymous song "Bad Company" all 3 days while I was in the car. You know what's sad? Singing along to Journey. That's really sad.

Note to self: Don't forget cds. The mp3 player is only helpful on the plane.

My parents' desktop computer is painfully slow. I turned off a bunch of start-up crap, which makes it boot faster, but it gets bogged down and pegs the RAM quickly. When I go there next time, I will have a new 1Gb DIMM to stick in memory slot, thereby increasing the RAM by 150%.

Note to self: Don't forget the RAM. (I ordered more for my sluggish computer while I was at it.)

My mother had set up a hospital bed in the family room for my father. His cat, Bandit, would spend the nights sleeping between my father's legs, after taking a leisurely bath. We had to take my father back to the ER the morning after I got there. My mother spent the night at the hospital with him, but I went back to the house. Bandit was still getting up at the foot of the hospital bed, even though my father wasn't in it. I can't tell who misses the other more.

Note to self: Don't forgot to stop and pet your own kitties, who comfort you when you need it, too.

Some dumbass woman in the row across from me on the flight back from Florida to DFW was arguing with the flight attendant about how she didn't need to turn her iPhone off before take-off because it was in "airplane mode." Bitch, what part of "TURN OFF ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES FOR TAKE-OFF" did you not understand? I was getting ready to climb over 3 people to smack her upside the head. It would have been so worth it. And how stupid is it to be arguing with the flight attendant anyway? I would have confiscated the damned phone for the duration of the flight.

Note to self: Don't get your ass put on the no-fly terrorized-dumbass-passengers-who-need-their-iPhones-shoved-up-their-asses list. It's a long drive to Florida.

The flight from DFW to Burbank was probably only about half full. I had the window seat in the 3-seat side of the aisle. No one had the other two seats. Finally, I could lie down on my side and actually sleep, something I have trouble doing on my back and halfway upright. All in all, it wasn't a horrible flight experience. The planes were pretty much all on time, give or take 5 minutes. My luggage didn't get lost. I only wanted to smack two other passengers.

Note to self: Flying doesn't always have to suck. Sometimes just the reasons for it do.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunshine State My Ass

Actually, my family moved to Florida 26 years ago and our area never got a direct hit.

I flew to Florida for the long weekend. The leg from Burbank to Dallas/Fort Worth was rather uneventful, but once in the terminal at DFW, I noticed two things. First, the Arrivals/Departures software they use apparently runs on Windows. How could I tell?
Well, that's not a very clear picture, but I was trying to be vaguely surreptitious with my mediocre camera phone, but trust me, it was a Windows "Uh, sometink iz brokn" box. Oddly, it only appeared in the Arrivals screen, which kept updating beneath, and it was only on one set of screens I saw. Another set further down the same terminal showed no such error message.

At any rate, after ascertaining that my connecting flight left from a completely different terminal, I decided to use the restroom before getting on the tram. I did a double take after seeing the orange sign in this picture:
I stood there wondering exactly why they would build a women's room that experienced severe weather. I've seen some scary ones, to be sure, but I've never actually seen a bathroom with its own tornadoes. I carefully went in, but seeing no people getting carried on cyclones and thrown against the ceiling, I decided to risk it. But I didn't linger.

During the flight to Florida, I sat next to The Most Important Businessman In The World. The one whose elbows stick over the armrests while he's using his laptop. The one who turns on his cell phones, yes, plural, when we haven't even landed yet because he has to check on some important deal. The one who leaps from his seat as soon as the plane lands, like that's going to get him off the plane any faster when we're in, hello, row 23.

Um, if he was so important, why was he sitting in coach?

Anyway, I hate Florida in the summer. It's like walking around in a swamp, and that's when you're actually above the water level. I've avoided summers there for 17 years. Only something of great import could have changed that, and so it was.

My father is dying.

He has lung cancer, which wasn't diagnosed until it had already spread to the brain, twice. The second tumor caused bleeding in the brain, which makes it very difficult for my father to speak, and also robs him of much physical strength and motor control.

There aren't really any options now, except to make him as comfortable as possible. Which means if he wants chocolate pudding for every meal, that's what my mother is going to give him.

I can't say we've been particularly close, not for a very long time, but he is my father. And no one should have to go this way.

I only heard him say about half a dozen complete sentences while I was there. Usually the best he can manage is "yes" or "no," if that. But after one of his physicians left, I leaned over and asked him why his doctors all looked like they were 12 years old. He told me, "You look like you're twelve years old."

That's my father. Of course, I will probably always be 12 years old, or 5, or 3, or a baby to him. Because he's my father.