Friday, December 4, 2015

The Waiting Room

Dear Grandma,10/2/15

We get the truck’s oil changed at the dealership because they sold us “unlimited oil changes.”  Which means they get the truck for a whole day  -why most people probably quit doing it- but since I can bike home from the place, I don’t mind not having a car.  They always provide a list of things that “need to be done” to the truck.  They give you free oil changes for life, so their mechanic can scare you into getting some work done.)
“Engine air filter and cabin filter need to be changed, plus power steering pump is leaking, you should flush out the radiator too along with power steering fluid.”  Says the voice over the phone.  “Want us to change those out for you?”
“Was the power steering fluid low?” I ask.
“I’m not sure, I’ll have him check it.”
“Thanks, and can you write down how much those cost?”  I say like it’s a fix I need to budget for.  When I haul three boys into the dealership, talk about mom working nights, and then seeing us get on our bikes to get home, they’ll slow down with the scare tactics.  As long as they don’t notice the travel stickers from the Grand Canyon, Orcas Island, and “Get Lost! In Montana!” accumulating on our roof rack carrier.
Oliver is raiding the free drinks fridge in the waiting room.  He’s like a rich guy in a poor man’s bar handing out free drinks to everybody, including his brothers.  The old lady reading a magazine in a chair, who finds him cute, picks out a lemonade-he gives her another lemonade insisting “There’s lots!, here, here, HERE!” he finally yells.
“Well aren’t you sweet.” She says and then lets out a screech as he crams the cold bottle between her legs so it can’t fall out.
“You play Mine-Craft with that?”  Sam’s sitting on the arm of a chair filled with a large man holding a lab-top and seeming a little uneasy with Sam’s open bottle of lemonade swinging around pointing toward the guy’s screen, Sam’s like the guy who may have had one too many and now everybody is his friend and he’s going around visiting, which is Sam’s Mode-of-Operiti for life.
“No” says the guy, but that quick answer doesn’t stop Sam.
“Yeah, I play a little bit on the weekends, that’s when my dad lets me play…”  He swings the tip of his bottle towards me pointing.  I pretend to not notice Sam or the drops of juice-which may or may not-have landed on the guy’s keyboard.
“I’m building a castle with an underground maze to store my iron and diamonds.” he takes another swig.  “Oliver, this guy needs a lemonade, get him a lemonade!”
“No, I’m O.K.….” he says.
“Don’t worry they’re free!”  yells Sam, as he starts dispensing his wisdom that free things should always be taken, like stuff left on the side of the street.  Oliver comes over and gives Sam the thumbs up sign and starts a march back to the fridge.
“I wrote down the prices of the stuff you need”, says Joe the customer service guy.  I like Joe, he remembers everyone’s name and the many stories I tell him about what the boys are up to.  The rings under his eyes attest to his long hours.  He’s always here, except when he went to Thailand to visit his son for a month.  His eyes glaze over when he begins to talk about that trip. When I schedule maintenance on the truck, I always mention a %10 off coupon I have from another Honda dealership that came in the mail.  He always says he will match it but never asks for the coupon.  I glance at the cost of replacing the cabin and engine-air filters, $96 installed.  I’ll buy both at Napa tomorrow for a combined cost of $26.  The guys at Oil Stop will replace the power steering and radiator fluids for a third of the cost and install my new engine air filter for free.  They point out the power steering pump and I see it is wet but not “a leak.”
“Here’s your coffee dad.”  Gabriel hands me a cup of the single Krupp’s coffee you can make, it’s the same one Grandpa Ted has in his house and Gabriel knows how to use the machine.  It makes really good coffee.  I see Oliver in the distance going around the sales room handing out free lemonade bottles to salesman and customers alike.  Neither are allowed to refuse his sales pitch, as he only gets louder if they try not to take it.  The customers watch as the salesman under Oliver’s threatening eye opens his bottle before they do, making sure its ok.  Oliver leaves a bottle on each of the desks as he passes, returns to the fridge, replenishes his supply, and drops a few off with the kids waiting in the “toy area.”
“Thanks,” the kids say.
“Well,” I say, tapping the counter with a drummer boy’s beat preparing to begin a march.  “I better get going.”
“Papa!  More Lemonade Please!”  Oliver has emptied the fridge of lemonade-except the two he has in his hands. 
“Joe’s on it Oliver, thanks buddy.” 
“Oliver!” yells Sam.  “What about this guy?” Referring to the guy with the lab top. 
As we march out of the waiting room, Oliver tosses a full bottle onto the guys lap.  He looks angry at Oliver, but Oliver just gives him the look of a “Its on me buddy, no charge”, and high steps it out the door.  “Thank-you Oliver,” says the lady with the magazine.  He exits through the door I have opened for him, but then, like a performer coming back on stage for an encore, turns around and comes back in.  
“It’s in the Fridge over there”, as if he is giving the secret to free drinks for life,  “See?  Right here!” 
I used to stress about having my kids in a place like this.  But we were all kids once, and some of us were as loud and carefree as these boys.  I don’t serve up free drinks, but do pass out a little reminder of how, "you gotta live it up baby," even in the waiting room of a service center taking you for a $50 ride on a 5 minute installation that doesn’t take a screw driver let alone a “Certified Honda Technician.”


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bathing in the Metolious

Dear Grandma,                                                          July 23, 2015
The Metolious river springs from the ground.  Not as a trickle but a a river.  Its headwaters are a bubbling cauldron and nobody knows where the water comes from.  It just pops out.  I didn’t know rivers could originate like that, I thought they started as small creeks eventually combining to become large enough for someone to call a river.  Since the river is short, it doesn’t have time to warm up in the 90-degree heat so getting the children bathed-especially Oliver, who thinks cleaning is some stupid ritual grown-ups demand as a right of passage, one he will surely discard when he is older-can take some convincing.
When bathing a 3 year-old covered in dust and dried blood from periodical falls during the day, it is important not to let him wade into a cold river. I place him on a large rock while I wade in and pretend it isn’t cold. 
“See, watch Papa…” I’m in and out of the river like water popping out of hot oil.  “Just like that” I say, rubbing my arms to warm them up.  I apply soap and start scrubbing.  Oliver looks at me suspiciously. There is something askew here but he can’t put his finger on it.  People say you are not supposed to lie to your children but they haven’t seen how dirty a boy gets in a dry, dusty campground “building trails” from camp to the bathroom.  When using a kid’s hoe proves too inefficient to move pine needles and cones out of the way (like a fork during dinner), he resorts to using his hands.  I place him in the sunshine to get good and hot before dunking him in the river.
“One, two, three…” I say.  He takes a breath and closes his eyes.  But hitting the frigid water they are shocked open.  I lift him back to the sunny bank and start scrubbing him with soap.
"That was cold Papa!"  He yells.  I play the foolish parent who hasn't warmed the bath water properly before putting their child in.
“Really?”  I say shaking from standing in the water while scrubbing him.  “Nooo, its refreshing.”
He gives me the stink-eye, “What’s ‘refeshing?’” I’m shaking him back and forth from scrubbing so hard.
“Ohh, that’s when you are hot and you get in the water and out again and now you feel great.”

Sam joins us in his swimsuit and not realizing how cold the water is, jumps in, then scrambles back up the bank screaming, “That water is freezing!”
“Yeah Sam!”  Oliver says, as if describing something I need to understand better because I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about, “That water is FREEEEESSSSSIIIINGGG!”
Before I can tell Sam to keep his mouth shut, that I can’t have a three year-old walking around a rehearsal dinner looking like a Feral Child, that Oliver is going back in this river to rinse off and it would be better if he doesn’t attempt to run away from me while I do this Sam starts in again.
“Papa, that water is so cold you could FREEZE TO DEATH!” Sam has his big blue eyes wide and Oliver is buying what he’s selling no matter what I tell him.  "Get some soap Sam and start scrubbing," I say not engaging in a debate about freezing to death.  Gabriel and Jenny come down the bank, walk into the stream and let out a yelp.  Oliver is starting to back away from the bank.  I grab him which smears his soap on me, I will have to be rinsed again. 
“No Papa!”  Oliver says, “That water will freeze you to Death!”
“Naaa…” I say “Watch this…” and dip him in and out of the water, place him on the bank and grab the towel laying on the rock and wrap him up before he can recover from the shock to protest.
Sam is so impressed with my speed, he tells Oliver he is lucky because he must have had fun to get whipped around that fast.
“Can you do that to me?”  He asks.  Now Oliver looks at Sam like he is crazy too.  His whole family is becoming a bunch of idiots right before him.
“Sure,” I say, happy to have Sam part of the convincing committee with his volunteering of going back in.  Jenny and Gabriel are soaping up on the bank.
“Don’t Sam!!!” Oliver yells trying to save his brother, “it will freeze you to death!”
I grab Sam and whip him in and out of the water but not as fast because he weighs twice as much as Oliver.  I feel something in my back yell at me about the weight like Oliver did about the cold water.  “You do that again” my back threatens, “and you won’t be walking…”
Oliver waits for Sam’s conclusion of going back in but he is quiet trying to get his bearings from going down, up, and out of very cold water.  Sam has a shiver go up his back like he’s been hit with a small electrical current.  Oliver has seen enough.  He starts up the bank. 
“Wait Oliver!”  I say so he doesn’t get dirty again.  I still still have soap on me and he looks back to see the shock on my face as I emerge from rinsing.  It cannot be disguised but I try to smile as I run to scoop him up.
“Papa, Papa,” he says seriously as I cradle him in my arms.  Jenny and Gabriel scream again in the distance from their rinse, reinforcing what he is about to say, “that water will freeze you to death.”
It’s going to be interesting getting him to bath before the wedding tomorrow.


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 Finalist for 2015 Big Brick Review Essay Contest

Sunday is the safest day to go the hardware store, empty and safe enough for three boys age 9, almost 7, and looks 3.  The day before, when I went to check on them building bridges for the sandbox, I remembered the sump-pump that I had stored under the wheelbarrow.
An exceptional toy can be created whenever one incorporates a construction grade tool, so the next morning we headed to the hardware store to wait for a sales clerk to ask, “How can I help you?”
The clerk, Charlie, by the name on his pocket, was lured outside by the clanging and loud voices, maybe thinking some teenagers were going to get caught in the act or he was out to get fresh air from a late night of drinking.  He was older, had disheveled hair and was given a shift which isn’t very busy, but still nobody wants. It could be his excuse for not going to church. “I gotta work Sunday mornings,” he might have said to his mom if she asked, “I’ll try to get it changed”.
            When he realized it was us, he went back around the corner. He could have escaped, but Gabriel had caught him smoking near the rear exit and the sign that said, “DO NOT SMOKE WITHIN 25 FEET.”
            He stared as Gabriel began. “We need a hose that’s 24 inches, I mean 24 feet and 1 inch long.”
            Charlie quickly snuffed out his cigarette, but not hard, and carefully put it into his breast pocket.
            “What kind of hose?”
Gabriel digs into a pocket but can’t find the piece we had cut to show the guy exactly what we wanted.  Luckily, I had cut a piece for each boy so Gabriel instantly digs into Oliver’s pocket. Oliver protests with the eloquent “AAHHHH!” and slaps his hands on top of Gabriel’s intruding ones. He probably thinks Gabriel is going after his fruit snacks.
            “Oliver,” I try to placate, “he needs the hose I put in your pocket.”
            “What’s this for?” yells Sam.  We are in the outdoor section of the only hardware store in town-the area out back where they keep everything contained by a high fence. Sam tries to pull a box off the shelf, but its too heavy for him.
            “It’s a picnic table,” gasps Charlie, walking toward Sam, in case it starts to fall.
            “This!” yells Gabriel finally freeing the piece from Oliver’s pocket, who screams, then stops and picks up the fruit snack bag that also came out and holds it up to me, “OPIN-PEAZ! PAPA!”
            “We need 24 feet and 1 inch of this!” I had Gabriel measure the old hose before we left.
Charlie looks at it, “We have that inside.”
            I think, “Oh no, we can’t go inside yet”.  These three in a hardware store are a re-stockers nightmare, especially if Oliver gets to the plumbing section and starts rearranging the 90° elbow pieces, mixing with the 1 1⁄4’ couplings, mixed with the 3⁄4’ reducers, and some 1 1⁄2’ Y pieces, etc....
            “We also need some pipe.” I say. “Something 4 1/2 inches....”
            “OP-IN-PEAZ PAPA!” I reach down, tear open the snack bag and hand it back to Oliver.
            “What kind?” Charlie asks.
            “Sam, please come over here.” Sam has now braced himself so he can give one more big pull. “I wanna see what this is!” he yells. He is short and muscular.  His name is Samuel, but that devolved to Sam as it better fits his day-to-day relationship with the world.
             “It’s a picnic table,” says Charlie.
            “Look at the picture on the box," Gabriel yells. Sam’s mission has evolved from “seeing what it is,” to "can I get this down?”

            I redirected Charlie back toward me, “How much is this pipe?”  I try to fathom explaining the project to Jenny.  The 100 ft. of pipe I’m going to have in the backyard.  The sump-pump pushing the water uphill so it can return down the newly purchased pipe, cut lengthwise, so the boys can see their additions floating down.  Jenny will stare, in her pajamas, half awake and squinting in the afternoon sun, before a cup of coffee and another night shift.

      “I’m not sure,” Charlie says.  “Let’s go inside to check.”  Here we go with the bad “back inside” idea, again.
Charlie ducks as the sample hose from Oliver’s pocket goes whizzing between us.  Gabriel found a bamboo stick for holding up tomato plants, slid the hose on and flung it.  Sam thinks this is brilliant, “Can I try?” he says climbing off the shelf and the picnic table box. Luckily, the back parking lot is empty-except for my car- and they proceed to launch the hoses from one side to the other.
             I look at Oliver to be sure he isn’t choking on a whole bag of fruit snacks stuffed in his mouth. He’s laughing as they launch the pipes through the air covering his mouth to keep fruit snacks from flying out.
            “This too,” I say pointing at the corrugated plastic drainpipe that fits at the end of gutter spouts.  “What’s the difference in the white PVC, the grey, and the black?”
            During these few moments of  “occupied” children, I drill the guy with questions, not telling him what I’m doing with the pipes.  My time is too precious to bog down in the details. We now go inside to get the prices, the hose, and some elbows. 
            As Charlie checks his computer for prices, I fill up a bag of free popcorn and hand it to Oliver.  “Can I have some?” The older boys ask. “No,” I say. “Oliver will share.”
            “Ohhhh...” Sam complains, “Why does he get to hold the bag?”
In reality, it's because if he is holding the bag his hands can’t rearrange the shelves.  If he is holding the bag, you can keep close tabs on where he is.  If he is holding the bag, he will walk up and down the aisles like the King of Sheba, while glancing back to see if he is being followed and he won’t find the plumbing section or the neatly arranged nut and bolts.  If he is holding the bag, we won’t get permanently kicked out of our only local hardware store.
            “So he can learn to share, Sam,” I answer.
            “Share, Oliver,” I say in my most pleasant voice.  Oliver reaches into his bag and carefully pulls out one kernel for each brother.
            “Dad, can I look at the pocket knives?” Gabriel got a pocketknife for Christmas (silly grandparents) and is now (and has been) on the hunt for something bigger.  Way bigger.
            “Sure” I say.  He knows exactly where they are.
            “I’ll take 20 feet of that, 20 feet of this, a 10 footer here and 15 feet of that, which I can cut in half long ways.” This may not be exactly what I need but I don’t have time to come up with a three-dimensional blueprint; the boys have entered the building, and Charlie is typing in my orders with the pointer finger of each hand. 
“What are you building?” Charlie finally asks. He has obviously become an ally.  I look down the aisle to see Oliver spilling half his bag of popcorn while grabbing a squirt gun.  I’m thinking, “it serves the store right for putting it at a two year olds eye level.”
            The hardware marketing genius-“if you place the merchandise at the child’s level, the child becomes your advocate for the sale...”-can pick it up.
            “A water feature.” I say, “Now I need some elbows.”
Charlie stares at me still trying to comprehend a water feature with four different kinds of pipe over 100 feet long and a hose 24 feet and 1 inch. I snap him out of it, “You guys have 4 inch elbows?”
Charlie blinks, “Aisle 38.”
            As I grab what I need, Sam is putting pipe couplings and elbows on his body. “Look at my armor, Oliver!” Oliver laughs, drops his bag and slips some over his arms and legs too.
           “Dad!” Gabriel says from the end of the aisle evidently finding us when Oliver screams at Sam for trying to put a “helmet” over his head. “I found the pocket knife I want.”
            Charlie finds us as the helmet is sent rolling down the aisle.  Charlie kicks it back to Oliver, who has taken up bowling for knights. 
             “I gave you 25 feet but wrote 24,” handing me a sheet saying which pipe we are buying. “Thanks.” I say. We are at the critical juncture where we can be out of here in 5 minutes or leave with the staff chasing us out.
            “Boys, take off your armor.” They stare at me. Oliver bowls again.  Charlie kicks it back to him, smiling.  I am losing them. We have to get out of here. 
            “Sam,” I bark, “take these elbows, hose, and sheet to the cashier. Gabriel, show Sam your pocketknife and take a picture of it so we can ask mom if you can get it.  I’ll meet you at the SUV.”
            Sam takes his pipes off, throwing them all into one bin. Charlie pretends not to see; he is aware of the situation and knows there’s a little collateral damage with every large mission, his boots crunching the popcorn Oliver spilled when he decided to prepare for battle.
            I dis-armor Oliver and head to the SUV, strapping him into the car seat where I know he can’t “help.”  Charlie starts to load the pipe through the back and out the front passenger window. “You sure you don’t want these cut?” the pipe is hanging out about 3 feet diagonally from the passenger window. It bends over the back of Oliver’s car seat. “We only have a couple of blocks to go” I assure him. Charlie gives me the “Water feature” look again. 
“You got twine?” I ask. 
            The long pieces get strapped to the top with the ends tied to the front and back of the SUV. I leave Oliver and pay the cashier, buying three suckers and sending the two older boys back to trade Oliver’s sucker for the squirt gun.  After taking his armor off, Oliver had picked up the gun again, Charlie had ignored that too.
            The boys squeeze under the pipes to fit into their seats.  I duck as I drive because the pipes bend down in front of the windshield.  Driving home, I turn wide like a semi-truck.  Any pedestrians will have time to get out of the way. 
            The boys yell, “Whoa” when the pipes start dancing around from crossing the railroad tracks.  I open the sunroof and tell Gabriel to stand on the middle console and hold on to the pipes strapped to the roof.  Sam wants to help but he is jailed behind the 15 footers.  I see a police cruiser in my side mirror-the only one that I can use right now-but he turns toward the intersection I just passed.  I make another slow turn one block early to get out of the cop’s view.
            A phone is thrust in front of my face.  “Here’s the new pocket knife I’m going to get, Dad!”  Sam wants to see the picture and Oliver kicks his seat yelling, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
            I move the phone so I can see where I’m going and instruct Gabriel to hold on to the pipes with “TWO HANDS.”  I’m about to yell at them again but see a neighbor staring at our car.  I turn my frown into a gentle “everything-is-under-control” grin. His mouth remains open as we go by; his hand comes off his rake to wave.


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Link to The Big Brick Review and another story they published entitled SPRING