Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oh, God, I killed John and Lisa's big flower. It is a Hibiscus and I inherited it when they embarked upon the temporary thing they are doing now, moving from place to place every three months or so. They've had to learn to travel light and that certainly didn't include traveling with a Hibiscus, which is 4 feet tall and 3 feet in circumference, in the backseat of their car.

"What is that? I asked in dismay when I first saw it, spreading its elegant branches, on my front porch.

"It's a Hibiscus. It was a wedding present. I has sentimental value so you'll need to give it tender, loving care."

"Tender, loving care." I repeated.

"Yes," said John firmly.

He gave me instructions for the proper maintenance of a Hibiscus. Either I was to give it two quarts of water every third day or maybe it was three quarts of water every two days. I never could remember but I didn't have to because Mom took over the care and feeding of the Hibiscus. (All I ever did was lug it in and lug it back out, up and down the stairs, at the beginning of each new season.) Mom was religious in her attendance upon the plant as she is with all living things.

The first summer we had it, it bloomed with great showy coral blossoms.

John and Lisa beamed with approval upon its thriving whenever they came home to visit.

And then my Aunt Molly died and Mom went to Illinois to spend a few weeks with her last remaining sister - and caring for the Hibiscus became my job.

My life is a lot more chaotic when Mom isn't here. I have to remember to keep Caesar's water bowl full and to feed him regularly and to give him the little before-bed snack she's gotten him used to getting. I have to wash the dishes. I have to drop whatever else I'm doing and run to the store because I didn't notice that I was almost out of coffee...or milk...or bread....or.... I have to pay attention to the laundry basket and do a couple of loads before dirty clothes threaten to bury the utility room floor, leaving me with nothing to wear to work. When she's gone, there's no one to remind me about trash day or to take my pills or get the coffee pot ready at night so that all I have to do in the morning when I get up is turn it on.

So I think it's understandable, don't you, that in the midst of all this the Hibiscus completely slipped my mind? Even though I passed it at least twice a day, most of those times it was dark and I couldn't be expected to see in the dark that it had had begun to shed leaves at an alarming rate.

Then Mom called and in the course of our conversation, she asked me if I was being sure to water the Hibiscus faithfully.

"Oh, yes," I said.
"Oh, hell," I thought.

As soon as we hung up, I ran upstairs to be confronted with a pathetic sight - a mass of twisted brown limbs with a (very) few green leaves clinging to them, a mound of leaves that used to be green littering the floor.

I immediately ran to the kitchen for a large pitcher of water, hoping the plant's condition was only critical and not terminal.

Mom eventually got home to act as a Hibiscus nurse. No plant could have got more intensive rehabilitative treatment. She watered it. She tenderly patted its branches. She hovered over it, giving it on-going encouragement, trying to re-instill the will to live.

It gave up one branch at a time. I think it did it this way to torture me. I kept hoping it would survive until finally one day, only a single lonely leaf green remained. By the next day, it too had fallen sadly to the floor. The Hibiscus was dead. I was judged by my family as not only an uncaring plant tender but an inconsiderate and selfish mother as well.

R.I.P.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brenda and I Go Racing

Since I've become a NASCAR aficionado, I decided I should see a real live race. I doubt that I will ever manage an actual Sprint Cup race so Brenda and I went over to Kokomo, which featured Sprint Cars, Stock Cars and Thunder Cars. Kokomo is a dirt track.

Most of the crowd at Kokomo appeared to be old hands. Brenda and I were probably notable for newbies by our ignorance. The first thing we did wrong was choose our seats on the bleachers, a few rows below everyone else. We settled in with our purses, our bags of popcorns and our sodas and waited for the racing to begin. As soon as as the first Sprint cars rounded the track in our direction, we were hit by a hailstorm of mud. Daubs of dirt, ranging in size from a pea to a walnut, pelted us - it flung itself into our hair, cracked against our glasses, landed in our laps, our purses, popcorn and our pop.

So what do you do next? Simply sit there and pretend you like the up-close and personal experience of being smacked around by gobbets of clay? That is looks good, tastes good, feels good, smells good? Or do you simply move up the bleachers with as much dignity as you can muster, knowing that the regulars are laughing at you, having wondered why you selected those seats in the first place? We chose to stay for one more lap and then pretend we needed to use the restroom, moving in a safer location when we returned.

Our amateurishness was probably also characterized by our complete cluelessness about what was going on.

When the first vehicles came onto the track, we looked at one another before asking simultaneously, "what are those?" We looked in the freebie magazine we'd been given but of course, like most trade publications, it assumed a certain amount of elemental knowledge on the part of its readers, like, for instance, which cars are which.

Someone nearby overheard our question and explained that they were Sprint cars. They are called "cars" even though they don't resemble any kind of car you ever saw in your life, more like those basket seats utilized by some rides at the fair but with an engine and wheels added. They are tiny, appearing barely big enough for the driver to squeeze into. They fly lightly around the track, as if they are going to spread wings and take flight at any moment. Speed on the straight-away is important, of course, but as with most other race vehicles, expert cornering, which with Sprint cars means sliding, seems to make the difference between winning and losing.

Then came the stock cars. Most of these guys looked to be held together with duck tape and binder twine. You wondered if they would make all their laps without falling into a heap on the middle of the track. Some of them didn't.

After the stock cars, were the thunder cars. They looked exactly like the stock cars to me and I never did learn the difference between the two designations.

The various vehicles coughed and smoked and rattled with loose parts. God, I know this is going to make me sound like such a snob but I have grown used to the ultra-clean, sleek machines of NASCAR. I am used to sitting in my air-conditioned living room in a comfortable recliner. I am used to drinking mudless pop and clayless corn. I am used to breathing exhaustless air. I am used to being able to turn down the roaring, by means of remote control, if it starts to give me a headache.

I don't think my attitude constitutes racing snobbery though, as much as old age. I don't actually even have any desire to see an actual NASCAR Cup race. I've read about the traffic and the distant parking and the crowds and the heat and the relentless noise and the choking smells. When I was in my early 20's, I considered myself a Woodstock type of person. I've matured into preferring my concerts at the Embassy Theater. Pretty much the same with racing, I think.

Democratic Party to NASCAR nation

Okay, maybe it isn't very important in the scheme of things, not like who the next leader of the free world will be but honestly, I think we're screwed no matter who wins so I've switched gears. I have become a member of NASCAR nation - go Jimmie Johnson!!!!

Now, instead of Meet the Press and "The Best Team in Politics" (CNN) and George Stephanopolous and "The Place for Politics (MSNBC) and yes, even occasionally Fox News Sunday, my Sundays are filled with ESPN and SPEED T.V. Now instead of pundits and talking heads, I concentrate on men in firesuits and 3400 pound monsters of American muscle roaring down a track. Now instead of rooting for my candidate, I root for my driver.

After being a lifetime Democrat, I was furious at the Democratic leadership during the primaries because I believed, and I still believe, that they put their finger on the scale to ensure that their guy, being Barack Obama, was going to win no matter what. If they had to play with caucuses and use Michigan and Florida as chess pieces and lean on Super-delegates and wax indignant over racial politics while ignoring sexist politics, then, by God, that's what they'd do and what they did. And it was just too bad if more, or at least as many people voted for Hillary and it was just so sad if she won the big, blue collar states that Democrats need to prevail in the general election because they'd decided on Barack and they were the "deciders" (sound familiar?) and that's the way it was going to be. And if we old, racist, blue-collar types didn't like it, well, we are no longer the heart and soul of the party, are we? ("Appalachian"being media-speak for ignorant, bigoted hillbillies). Now its all college degrees and young people and African-Americans and cheese-and-wine folks who the Dems are pinning their hopes on. They basically told me to get the hell out, and so I did, although now, lo and behold, I'm getting beseeching letters wanting me to join, and of course, donate to, the DNC and Obamanation. Yeah, like that's gonna' happen.

So now, I'm not even sure I'll vote in the presidential election after spending decades of my life lecturing others about how it is absolutely, positively their patriotic duty to vote. Now, I say the hell with it - let Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean and John Kerry pull it off if they can.

There are a ton of variables in NASCAR racing and NASCAR controls the rules start to finish but at least if the team you support builds the best car and has the best driver and figures out the best strategy at each track and if his pit crew throws those tires on in 13 seconds and gets him back racing and if no one smashes into him sending him spinning across the infield or he doesn't have a blow-out and lose a whole lap or or if he doesn't speed coming out of the pit and get penalized, well, then he has a chance of winning and at least, within those parameters, they all have an equal opportunity. Big Daddy Howard and Big Mama Nancy aren't sitting there pulling the strings deciding who will win.

I got interested in NASCAR, or at least decided I had to get interested enough to do research, because I wrote a novel in which my main character is a NASCAR driver. First book I got at the library was Sunday Money, by Jeff MacGregor. I put off reading it for a while, then finally picked it up reluctantly, not something I wanted to do but something I had to do. If the proof of a terrific writer is being able to take a subject a reader is uninterested in and make it thoroughly fascinating, then Jeff MacGregor is that writer. I loved Sunday Money. I knew I'd want to read it again so I bought my own copy from Amazon. I can't recommend it enough, even for non-NASCAR people.

And I started watching the races on Sunday. Now I sit glued to the set, watching for the blue and silver Lowe's 48 car, driven by Jimmie Johnson. (And, honest, I chose Johnson as my driver even before I knew he was drop-dead gorgeous)! At this point, I'm more concerned about JJ leading at the finish line than I am Barack doing the same.