Quixotic Matters

Yup. This is mine now.

Whenever I visit my Mom, two things happen.

  1. She sends me home with food.
  2. She sends me home with Something Else.

I don’t mind the food. I never mind the food. And Mom certainly doesn’t mind handing it over without provocation. She’ll wrap up a pumpkin pie in an acre’s worth of tinfoil. She’ll hand over garbage can-sized tin of butter cookies. She’ll insist on me taking an entire sack of red potatoes. Or she’ll load up her 1970s-era Tupperware with leftover steaks. This is just the way she operates. I think Mom buys stuff just so she can tell me to “Just take it.”

And when I finally say, “Thanks, Mom, but no more. Please!” she’ll redirect her sales pitch to my son, Alex, opening negotiations with “You like Tootsie Pops?”

And milliseconds later, Alex is merrily struggling under the weight of enough pops to satisfy every sweet-tooth in, say, Cleveland. 

I tease, but I do appreciate Mom’s boundless generosity. How couldn’t I?

But then there are The Something Elses. These gifts are less welcome and require a harder sell, but Mom is always ready and prepared to break down my defenses.  She knows like no one else how tap into the atrophied part of my brain that says things like, “Gee, I really do need that!” or “That should be in my house right now!”

And so it was a few weeks ago when I lugged the latest Something Else into my home. Moments later, my loving wife, Ellen, scrunched her eyebrows together and began to speak in one-word sentences.

“What. Is. That?”

“It’s a statue of Don Quixote,” I said.

“And why do you have a statue of Don Quixote?” she asked.

At that moment I looked at my treasured acquisition through a fresh pair of eyes.

Huh, I thought. Why do I have a statue of Don Quixote?

I began to parrot the pro-statue arguments Mom had used on me. I explained how I used to play with the statue when I was a child (The spear is removable, you see). I explained how Don Quixote is an important character in literature and that I, being a Working Writer, am clearly the worthiest recipient. I explained that the statue was originally a gift to my father and I don’t really have any Dad things in the house, and isn’t that a shame?

But as I prattled on and on, citing one talking point after another, I came to the realization that there was only one reason why I dragged this statue of Don Quixote into my home: A crafty old lady had decided to downsize.

There may have been mischief in Mom’s actions, but there was certainly no malice. She just wanted to get rid of stuff without having to endure the unpleasant task of throwing vaguely sentimental things away.

I concluded my speech to Ellen with, “I made a mistake.”

“You sure did,” Ellen replied.

But Alex, as always the optimist, offered me a shot at redemption. “But it’s old, right?” he asked. “Maybe it’s worth something?”

My wounded pride began the healing process. (The promise of a big payday can do that.)

“Yeah!” I exclaimed. “Maybe it’s worth a pile of money!” My imagination went wild. Perhaps the resale value of good ol’ Don will keep me from feeling like a schmuck. Maybe this ugly thing was worth thousands of dollars. I watch Antiques Roadshow all the time and, by golly, old, ugly crap is often priceless!

“Nope,” Alex said. (While I was fantasizing, he was doing research on his phone.) “It’s worth 60 bucks.”

My chin fell to my chest. “I’ll keep it in my office,” I told Ellen.

“Keep it away from the door,” she advised. “I don’t wanna see it when I walk down the hall.”

So good ol’ Don is in my office (and nowhere near my office door). I keep him within my line of sight as I work. His presence keeps me humble. He also serves as reminder to refuse any and all future Something Elses from Mom.

Except for the beer steins. I’m sure they’re worth something.   

I am such an idiot.

New and Noteworthy

Not my handiwork. I would never waste time feeding my family lettuce.

As a house husband, I am responsible for pretty much all of the daily domestic chores. One of those chores is Lunch Making. Each evening, I spread the peanut butter or slather the mayonnaise, wash the apples, and parcel out the Halloween candy into my wife’s and son’s respective lunchboxes.

Packing my son’s lunch is fairly straightforward: Just Lunch and Nothing Else. He’s too obsessed with building and maintaining his social circle to tolerate anything that may cause embarrassment, so I do my best to curb my whimsical instincts.

Ellen, on the other hand, gets a little something extra: a Lunch Note. These notes are nothing special, just a line I blearily compose before my first sip of coffee. When she opens her bag, she might find something like:

This sandwich was made with LOVE!

or

You’re all that and a bag of chips!

or

Stay cool, hot stuff!

Not my best work, but Ellen seems to enjoy it.

My point is, these notes never communicate any information that can’t be written on an average sized Post-It note—and that’s usually what I use. The other morning, however, I found myself fresh out of Post-Its, so I dug into the living room desk drawers to see what I could find.

I found no Post-Its. No scrap paper. No cheap notepads from various charities trying to guilt me into making a donation. I did, however, find some pretty nice note cards. Really nice. In fact, they were too nice to warrant my typical brand of tossed-off correspondence.

So I composed something more.

My Dearest Ellen, 

Oh, how I long for your warm embrace. 

I do so miss the simple pleasures of our days together. Your peach cobbler. Long talks by the glowing hearth. Bouncing our dear son on my knee. I can only imagine how he must have grown in the many months since I’ve been gone. 

I sometimes fear this war will never end. Every day we march further south. Talk amongst the men say that we’ll face the Rebs tomorrow at dawn. Sometimes I think I can hear them just beyond the next hill. I hope not, for I am sick of fighting and wish to wage war on nothing more than the crabgrass invading our lawn.

Pray for my swift return, my sweet. Stay strong. Kiss little Alex for me. Take solace in knowing that no matter what may happen to me, we will reunite in this life or the next.

Your beloved,

Michael

It seemed appropriate.

To give the lunch note just the right hint of pathos, I later texted Ellen some suitable background music.

Go ahead. Give it a try. Read my note aloud while the music plays.

Ain’t it great? It’s powerful, emotional stuff! You could play that music while reading a birthday card or a grocery list or a fart joke and it’ll make you bust our crying!

Anyway, long story short, Ellen thinks I’m nuts now.

Gourd Almighty

I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!

I love fall.

I love the colorful leaves. I love the crisp chill in the air. I love not mowing the lawn. I love not sweating.

And boy-oh-boy do I love pumpkin spice. Muffins, donuts, lattes, and breakfast cereals. If someone sold a pumpkin spice sirloin steak, I’d fire up the grill. If there was a pumpkin spice can of Pledge, I’d never stop dusting. If there was pumpkin spice toilet paper, I’d wipe my hiney with rigor and keep my nose on alert for subsequent pumpkin spiced farts.

Such is my pumpkin spice addiction, that I find myself greeting each fall with elation.

And, almost immediately, this elation is replaced with a kind of hysteria.

I must buy pumpkin spice anything! In bulk! Because it’s only available for a limited time! Three months at most! I have to act now and act decisively before my perfect flavor is unceremoniously tossed aside in favor of stupid peppermint!

And is it just me, or do they keep bumping up that peppermint flavoring every year? It used to show up after Thanksgiving, but I’m almost positive that last year toothpase-inspired cappuccinos invaded the Starbuckses three days after Halloween. What’s up with that?

So my point is, I have to stock up on pumpkin spice! I have no time to lose! I need to be alert! I need to stay vigilant! I need another grocery cart!

What irks me about all of this is that pumpkin spice doesn’t need to be for a limited time. It’s not like anyone is marching out into autumnal fields and tapping ripe pumpkins for their pumpkin-spice-y goodness. The flavor is made in a lab. There’s nothing natural about it. It could be made all year round. But it isn’t made all year round because The Powers That Be want to create an artificial, urgent, seasonal demand.

And their evil plan works. I overbuy. To prepare for the future. If I start jonesing for pumpkin spice pancakes next June, I will be ready.

But here’s the thing about that. I never jones for pumpkin spice pancakes next June. Never ever. I have the pancake mix–boxes and boxes of mix–and from December on, it just sits there taking up valuable pantry space.

I don’t know why, but eating pumpkin spice in the summer feels weird to me. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. But it just doesn’t quite…work. It never has. I know this about myself. I’ve watched myself behave this way year after year. And yet, year after year, in a fit of panic, I buy pumpkin spice.

In bulk.

Because it’s only available for a limited time, you see.