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.

Spidey Senses

Have you ever looked at a spider close up? They’re cuter than you think.

Ever since I was a little kid, I had an agreement with the spiders in my room: “If I need to get a stepstool to kill you,” I told them. “Then I’m not gonna kill you.”

This was a very fair arrangement. The spiders had the entire ceiling and a perimeter of about two feet of upper wall space on which to putter about. The spiders had more navigable square footage in my room than I did. All they had to do was stay up there — and much to my surprise, that’s exactly what they did. I don’t know if spiders understand English or what, but they always kept out of reach, spending their days weaving web hammocks the size of industrial fishing nets.

I liked the webs. I was fascinated by them. Late at night when I was unable to sleep, I would sometimes flop on my back, turn on the reading lamp clamped to my headboard, and puff a lungful of air skyward to watch the webs dance in the breeze. It was a serene and pleasant way to wait for sleep to overtake me.

I liked my spiders.

Mom didn’t.

“Oh, my GOD, what is going on up there?” she announced one Saturday morning.

Saturday was cleaning day in the Allegra house. Every week without fail Mom would scrub the house from top to bottom. The only room she didn’t scrub was mine. That was my job. She might sometimes check to make sure I didn’t shirk this responsibility, but she didn’t have to worry about me much. I was a tidy kid and she knew it, so her snap inspections were largely ceremonial. She’d only glance to make sure the carpet was lint free and the bureaus wore a lemon-scented Pledge shine.

Until that day she looked up.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had all these webs up there?!”

When Mom took this kind of tone with me, my first instinct was to play dumb. “Hm?” I looked up and feigned surprise. “Oh. I… I never noticed.”

“Never noticed? You spend all day every day farting around in this room and you never, not once, looked up?”

“Uh…”

As usual, Mom’s BS detector struck me mute.

“There’s more web than ceiling!”

Without another word she tromped down the hall, off to get her canister vacuum. Mom’s vacuum was an amazing machine. I have no idea where she had bought it, but it was a weapons grade force of nature, loud as a Harley and armed with enough suction to rip a hole in the fabric of space and time. Like Excalibur or Thor’s Hammer, I always had the sense that Mom was the only person on earth capable of wielding it.

And wield it she did. In an instant, the spiders with whom I had shared such a cordial cohabitation were sucked into oblivion.

I wasn’t exactly sad to see the spiders meet this fate — they weren’t my friends or anything — but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it all felt terribly unfair.

Now I’m a homeowner. Mom and her vacuum no longer hold sway over my life. But my views on spiders have hardened over the years. I kill them now. Often and with extreme prejudice.

I don’t exactly know when or how I changed. Maybe it has something to do with me getting older and crankier. Maybe it’s because I am no longer charmed by the entertainment value of a web hanging over my bed. Or maybe it’s because — like my Mom before me — I do most of the housecleaning. Those webs really do make a house look filthy, don’t they?

But that’s a pretty shallow reason to commit murder, really.

Maybe someday my views will shift back to where they once were. My eyes are getting worse; maybe the webs won’t bother me so much if I can no longer see them so well. Maybe I will rediscover my childlike sense of wonder. Or maybe, with a little work and a little patience, I can learn to follow the philosophy of Live and Let Live.

It’s a nice thought.

But in the meantime, spiders take note: I have a stepstool and I’m prepared to use it.