Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Old wives and lost rings

By Felix Carroll

You only need to hear so many old wives tales about lost wedding rings to start questioning who the hell these old wives were anyway. Surely they had a knitting circle, smoked hashish and had anger issues.

"Okay, how about this one," one of them cackled, knitting a calico sweater with no hole for the head, "step on a crack, have an asthma attack?"

"No, no, no," another said, knitting a scarf in the shape of a gallows knot. "Step on a crack, break your mother’s back."

The room must’ve erupted with a resounding "Yes! Write it down! Write it down!"

"Beatrice," the old wives' chairwoman says, "this is why you’ve been named Most Sadistic four years running."

And ever since then, whenever children accidentally step on a crack, they hoof it home, fearful their mothers have suddenly been put into traction.

I lost my wedding ring three weeks ago. Poof! Gone. I can only imagine the old wives taking delight on the day lost wedding rings were on their docket.

"Okay, okay, how about this: If you lose your wedding ring, your mother will have an asthma attack?"

"Come on, enough with the asthma attacks already."

"Okay, okay, how about if it falls down into the toilet, then both the man and the wife will be incontinent for seven months?"

"Hmm. Promising."

"No, no, no. If your wedding ring falls off, rolls out the door, down the street, into a graveyard and rests upon a headstone of a Confederate soldier, you’ll soon be signing divorce papers at Appomattox Courthouse?"

"Whoa. Sick."



"Wait, wait, wait. That’s all fine and well," says Beatrice, "but we also need a tale that’s universal. You know, share the scare."

So here we have it: Losing one’s wedding ring is a harbinger for marital disaster — maybe imminent death, maybe unfaithfulness, maybe one partner is hauled off by a giant bird.

We’ve checked everywhere for the ring.

I removed it because it was digging into my finger when I was splitting firewood. I swear I left it on the kitchen island, a three-feet wide by eight-feet long jungle where the detritus of domesticity washes ashore: homework assignments, car keys, a stud finder, a hole puncher, a building permit application for the woodstove, a nametag, a beet. Three times we've formed search parties to scour the island. Three times we found more Legos.

We’ve checked all pockets, all rooms, all cars, all day, all night. We’ve disemboweled the vacuum cleaner. We’ve considered having the dog X-rayed. We've petitioned the intercession of St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things, but he must be out on assignment searching for signs of intelligent life in the U.S. Congress.

The more we look, the worse it gets. The longer it goes, the more I wistfully think of that momentous day 11 years ago, under blue skies at Race Point in Provincetown, Mass. She placed the ring on my finger, a simple gold band that served as a sign of love without end. I'd never take it off. That was the deal. Unless it caused bleeding, which it did three weeks ago.

Three weeks gone by, and only the rut on my ring finger remains. My thumb, a mere three digits away, still reaches for it out of habit, a kindly neighbor making a well-being check, but it finds only bare flesh. It's gone, gone, gone — gone without leaving a note.

In the realm of inanimate objects, a wedding ring's disappearance seems a gargantuan calamity with no equivalent. What could be worse?  Let me think. Oh, here's one:

"Yeah, so I was heading home from work the other night, and I rounded the corner and pulled into my driveway, but my house wasn’t there. Poof! Gone. In its place was a dentist office. Weird, huh? I’m really bothered by it. What do you think that means?"

"Well, there’s an old wives tale that says if your house is mysteriously replaced by a dentist office, you’ll have seven years of bad teeth."

(Beatrice must have been out sick that day.)

I’ve played by the rules of those old wives. I don’t swallow my gum. I don’t open umbrellas indoors. I broke a mirror once, but I've been making restitution for it, combing my hair now by my reflection in the dog’s eyes. If a black cat crosses my trail, I throw salt over my left shoulder, stick six frozen cranberries in my shoe, turn my back to a magpie, lay a handkerchief over a bowl of oatmeal, and hope for the best.

Somewhere out there there's a wedding ring that belongs to me. And for obvious reasons I need to find it before my wife grows old.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Be Mine: A Love Letter to the Beloved Hen

By Felix Carroll

Dear Hens,

First, an apology. A generation or two ago, we put away our hoes, we paved our roads, we snubbed our noses, and left you back in the dust. Let others toil the land. We had other places to be.

We replaced the backyard coop with the backyard patio. Meanwhile, with increasing urgency, you pecked at the old earth a telegraph to the ones who left you behind: Danger. STOP. Factory farming. STOP. Know your food supply. STOP. We’re lovable. And Easy. Don’t be stupid. STOP, STOP, STOP.

We’ve gotten the message. You are right. We were wrong.

Nations may fall. Waters may rise. We may all be dead tomorrow, but probably not for lack of fresh poultry products. In the suburbs and cities across this penitent nation, they’re retracing their steps, drawn by the utilitarian ideals you represent and all the promises you pack into a single oviduct.

Just read the recent pun-plagued headlines: “Council ‘scrambles’ for by-law change,” “Cooped Up: Urban Poultry Farmers are on the Rise,” “Chicken owners no longer run ‘afowl’” — that sort of thing. You know you’ve made it when even the publishers of the Dummies book series instruct “How to Change Chicken-Raising Regulations.

Hang tight, gals, we’re coming back for you!

Here in America's outlier locations, we’re no dummies. You have long scratched at our earth, bathed in our dust and strutted around like you own the place. Still, as more and more families embrace backyard, back-to-the-land sensibilities — yes, that’s a homegrown pickle, take one, and have a jar of preserved peaches as well — you, dear hen, represent the natural next step.

Agway has shoved things around to make more room for your feed. Our librarians report you are subject number one (or two or three) in interlibrary book loans. Our postmasters are no longer startled to discover cardboard-encased special deliveries that cheep from within.

How ridiculous it was to not have you in our lives all this time. Let’s count the ways.

You are a giver, by design, practically a philanthropist. Unlike the dog, somnolent on the feather comforter (shh, he needs his sleep), and unlike the cat by the window doing its yogic stretches, you actually bring something to the table. Something edible. And you eat ticks, and grubs, and Japanese beetles. And to top it all off, you poop a near perfect fertilizer.

You have a touch of the madcap about you. After a day spent pecking at this hand-me-down land, re-stitching its seams, you promptly put yourself to bed without having to be asked. We watch you. With perfect posture, you file one by one like debutants balancing books upon their heads. Up the ramp you go, and nighty-night. Just your breed names alone could be mistaken for that of drag queens, or local militias: Buff Orpington, Araucana, Sicilian Buttercup, Lamona? Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rock, Black Sumatras, White Leghorns?

You teach us the virtues of poverty. A little food and water is all you ask for, and somewhere to slumber, preferably heavily fortified and with a perch. You feel no special urge to run off down the road chasing smells, like the dog (that moron). You stick around.  

And you get us thinking. It’s a tough world. If we didn’t know it already, we know it now. You caused many a newbie backyard chicken owner to pause and consider whether the grim realities of ambivalent nature are worth a golden yoke. Predators in the night? Wanton death? Feathers disappearing like ellipsis across the early morning lawn? It’s no wonder you sometimes look so panic-stricken. Hawks and foxes circle in the black underbrush of your genetic code. We know these things now.

But that you desperately lack the ability to survive without us is another characteristic that endears you to us. What with those inefficient wings that carry you only so far, you might as well wear a suit of parsley and carry a letter of introduction to your suitors with the sharp teeth. (And by the way, you’re not a piece of meat to us. Not you. Don’t even think about it.)

Also, your pecking order allows us to feel a little less ashamed of our own species’ ruthless dictators.

And now fall is coming. That fluffy little chick in spring is now a feathered-out hen. You’ve lost your youthful good looks. And so have we. But it’s all okay. We’ve made amends. It’s soon time for our higher calling. Together, defiantly, we curse the darkness. We secure your coop till we meet again in the morning when, dear hen, as your scouts and sentries stand by, the pact between human and backyard chicken will be formalized once again with a succession of clucks that resonate across the yard, across the patio, and into the kitchen.

And there we have it — the very symbol of renewal. 

Of life itself.

Pre-packaged protein: an egg.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

When the battles finally come to a 'draw'

By Felix Carroll

We found in our son’s school folder a drawing he did on the sly, not meant for public consumption. It depicts a certain teacher at a certain school. It’s not flattering. She has talons.

“Don’t apologize,” I said to him, holding his drawing to the light for a closer inspection. “It’s okay, it’s okay, just don’t let her ever see drawings like this.” He was horrified that we found it. He tried to snatch it back. He begged me to toss it into the woodstove, but this one is a keeper, so too bad.

“Wow,” said his mother when he had gone to bed, “it kind of does look like her” — and it does, in a Ralph Steadman-ish kind of way. 

I'm not posting it here, based on the advice of my team of attorneys. Suffice it to say, it’s a line drawing done all in black. By the boldness of the marker strokes, it’s apparent he applied a lot of himself into this — probably all 62 pounds of himself. She has wild eyes. A hornets’ nest hairdo. Reptilian limbs. A bullet strap draped across the chest. A heart-shaped tattoo on each leg for whatever reason, one with lovers’ names that have been crossed out. Hedge clippers. A mouth with sharpened teeth and spewing what could only be invective.
In person, she’s a lovely lady, by the way, but she does hand out a lot of homework, and really that’s what this is all about. In our boy’s guileless division of good and evil, evil has a new lady in town, and she’s a teacher. And you know what I think? If she wanted to be drawn in periwinkle, exuberantly waving her arms from a tiny, green sports car under a smiling sun and with birds perched upon a rainbow, she should have applied for the first grade teaching position.

This is fourth grade after all, and, man, this is an age of Armageddon-on-paper, mostly when it comes to the boys. Even I’m not safe — me, his father, probably a mere unreasonable ultimatum away from my likeness finding itself proportionally 20 times its size, stomping on our house during a violent lightning storm while devouring helpless puppies with my lizard beak.

What he doesn’t realize is that, as a former grammar school student who would draw devil’s horns on hand turkeys, I can only empathize. Perhaps not in the form of hand turkeys, per se, we know from an early age that evil lurks in our midst.

Indeed, no matter how much we’ve sheltered our children from violent imagery, when they put marker to paper it seems peaceful resolutions rarely appeal to their artistic sensibilities. We would be fools to expect them to sit down and draw a rendering of Generals Grant and Lee engaged in a firm and noble handshake at Appomattox Courthouse, or Henry Kissinger engaging in shuttle diplomacy, or Hamas and Israel chasing butterflies at Camp David.
Jeez, can’t you see?  We’re under attack! Grab the flamethrower, the potato bazooka, the slingshot — whatever you’ve got! Buildings will be demolished. In a boy’s artistic arsenal, the reds and blacks are always depleted before fresh supplies arrive, so he may have to resort to depicting mere armed robbery.

Clearly, he’s working some things out in his mind. He’s lost some battles, but never the entire war. The good guys win — always — be they bank tellers held up by bandits, or earthlings fending off an alien invasion, or fourth graders whose free time is being filched by a chalk-wielding overlord.

There’s good and there’s bad. And that’s that. Still, his bad guys are starting to soften up a little, their evil intent undercut by a propensity for slapstick. These days, the alien invaders have been known to drop bombs etched with the word “Sorry.” These days, the last utterance of the bloodied and beaten bank robber is not always “Ow!” Sometimes it’s “Yeesh.”

We stash away a lot of these drawings. Over time the narrative arch surely will get more complicated. Someday, he will inhabit a world where evil isn’t always so obvious and good doesn’t always win, where there are two sides to every story, where right and wrong find themselves partnered in a whirling, swirling contra dance of contradictions.

Maybe the bank robber was only trying to feed his family. Maybe that evil teacher was only trying to reduce the odds of her students becoming bank robbers.

I was probably his age when it became clear to me that things weren’t always what they seemed to be. I recall how, with righteous indignation, I turned in my toy sheriff’s badge, six shooter and cowboy hat for a pair of moccasins, an Indian headband and a tomahawk. I would not be on the wrong side of history.

As difficult as it gets, we still have to draw our own conclusions, otherwise, why draw at all.