Last week marked the two year anniversary since my Mom died. And, of course, I miss her very much, and think about her every day. But I was thinking about the concept of guilt, and realized that since my mom died, I don’t really feel guilty about anything, anymore.
It’s not that my mom intentionally made me feel guilty. Well, maybe she did. We loved each other very much, never a doubt there, but we were very different people, and in spite of the fact that we were close, we clashed quite a bit. Her most frequent complaint was that I didn’t understand her. And my immediate response was that I probably didn’t, but that she didn’t understand me either. And, not every time, but too frequently, we would end our calls with her feelings hurt, and me feeling guilty.
I don’t think I really did understand her. I was disappointed in her choices for a long time, and because those choices seemed to lead her to an unhappy life, I couldn’t accept them either. I wanted her to be different, happier. I wanted her to take better care of herself. I felt that she had given up far too soon, and held onto regrets far too long, to the point where they stopped her from living a full and happy life.
I try very hard to be a “live and let live” kind of person, but with my mother, I couldn’t be. I loved her so much that her unhappiness was unbearable to me, and so I fought her with her because she couldn’t or wouldn’t change. I have a better understanding of that now. She wasn’t everything I wanted her to be, but she was everything she could be. Sometimes, loving someone has to be enough. I wish I could tell her that now, but I never spoke to her, even while we were quarreling, without telling her I loved her. And because she loved me so much, I know she would have forgiven me for wanting her to be someone else. So I can forgive myself, and with that, the guilt is gone.
So the idea of guilty pleasure is sort of bullshit to me, because unless what you’re doing is hurting someone, why should there be guilt about it? But it came to me a few nights ago that television is a guilty pleasure for me. I love TV, always have! And I watch quite a bit of it. But because I can’t stand the reality TV that seems to make up the most of programming these days, and I haven’t yet accomplished streaming all the hot “must see” shows, I have to fill in my TV hours with odd things, like random documentaries. This week I watched two of them.
The first one was called “Las Marthas” and was about this small Texas town, Laredo, that for the last hundred years or so, has had an annual celebration honoring the birthday of George Washington, where selected debutantes dress up in Martha Washington-style, extremely elaborate, gowns and are presented to the town. What makes it so fascinating is that the participants are young Latinas, who in spite of a struggling town economy spend thousands of dollars on their gowns to honor a colonial heritage that may not even have recognized them. It was a really interesting film, and presented a lot of different viewpoints about what the celebration meant to the various participants. I recommend it!
The other documentary I saw, as part of the Nova series, was about the Honey Badger. Remember a couple of years back, the hilarious viral video by a guy named Randall? “Honey Badger don’t care!” If you don’t, just google “Randall Honey Badger” and you’ll find it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Anyway, I had no idea that the Honey Badger was actually one of the fiercest animals of all! These cute little badger-looking like animals are actually more closely related to the weasel, and they are smart, ferocious and tough as nails. They will take on hyenas and lions without hesitation. They have some strange natural ability to eat poisonous snakes and sleep off the poison. As their name implies, they are crazy for honey and will suck it straight from the hive even as they are being attacked by hordes of angry bees. And, they can emit a foul odor out of their butts at will, kind of like a skunk. No wonder the Honey Badger don’t care! If you like to know about weird things like I do, try to find this Nova on rerun. I promise you, you will be educated and amused.
This feels like a sort of random post, going from my mom to guilt to the Honey Badger with a short stop at Las Marthas. But here’s where I’ll pull it all together. Honey Badger doesn’t feel any guilt either. And even though she always went by Marti, my Mom’s real name was Martha. And she liked really fancy clothes. And enjoyed a good pageant. And I loved her, and I miss her, and that’s all I can say.
The end, for now
Many years ago, I wrote an essay called “Dogs I have Ruined.” And it was a fun one, describing my life as a bad dog owner. You can take that either way; both my dogs and I were bad! Unfortunately, this slice of canine life has been lost to the double edge sword of computer meltdown and failure to save to disk. The only part of it I can recall is the opening line: Last night my dog crawled under my covers and ate my underwear.
Don’t you wish you could read the rest?
I was watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week, and was extremely excited when a sexy little wire hair fox terrier named Skye took the big prize, Best in Show. See, my first bad dog, the fabulously neurotic Dino, was a wire hair fox terrier, as handsome a lad as you ever did see. Unfortunately, while he was much beloved, he had issues! He ate an entire bathroom carpet (he may have been thinking, who the hell puts carpet in a bathroom—perhaps it was just a statement on bad interior design). He also ate my sister’s precious marionette. Dino was terrified of vacuum cleaners and thunderstorms, to the point that on two separate occasions he broke through fences during storms and ran away. He was found both times, but on the second incident it was after he had been hit by a car. Fortunately, we both lived through the trauma, and after that I would sedate him when storms threatened, with Dos Equis Dark, his preferred beverage.
Dino’s worst malfeasance occurred when I still lived with my mom, in the Chatsworth condo. He had a habit of barking incessantly when left alone, much to the angry annoyance of our neighbors. One day, as we were coming home, he escaped out our front door, and ran straight into the open door of our nearest neighbors, the very same ones that complained about him constantly. As they stood looking on in shock and horror, my mom and I ran through their house chasing him up and down their staircase until we could capture him and wrangle him out the door. Let’s just say it didn’t improve the neighborly relationships.
I tended to be forgiving of Dino’s antics, especially since I had acquired him through nefarious means. The statute of limitations has long expired on this crime, so I can safely confess. I had been searching for a little dog at pounds and shelters, to no avail. Getting discouraged, I happily accepted when my brother offered to drive me to a shelter in a neighboring county. There I found the sweetest looking little puppy, a terrier with a white body, tan ears and face, and a perfect black circle around his little tail. It was love at first sight, and I immediately ran to the office to claim him. I was told that he had just been found, and that there was already a waiting list of people who wanted him. They were going to hold him for a week, and then randomly select one of the eager prospective adoptive parents. Well, I wasn’t about to lose my dream dog, so the next day, the shelter received a phone call from a gentleman, claiming that he had lost a small terrier puppy, with a white body, tan ears and face, and a perfect black circle around his little tail. A few hours later, my brother placed my little Dino in my arms and, I’ll be honest, I’ve never regretted my crime.
Dino lived to a ripe old age, and eventually mellowed. Things became a little too calm in our household, which at the time we shared with Kerry and her awesome Lab Astro. That is, until Yahtzee, the Jack Russell from hell entered our lives.
If Dino was troubled, Yahtzee was satanic! We couldn’t blame a troubled, unknown past, or time in the doggie slammer, on his behavior. He was the first dog bred by some close friends, who had recently started a kennel for Jack Russell Terriers. This was before Frasier’s Eddie, nobody knew much about Jack Russell’s back then. What I came to learn, was that they are extremely mischievous, high spirited little dogs, who require a very disciplined and strong owner. Since I was neither, and of course I loved this little trouble maker with all of my heart, he challenged every rule, destroyed more property than even Dino, fought regularly with the much larger Astro, and generally turned our home into a battleground. And he was so darn cute and loveable when he wasn’t trying to kill or maim, that I found it impossible to tame him.
I tried taking him to obedience school, in the company of friends who all owned Rottweiler’s. Yahtzee terrorized them and all the other dogs in the class, and we were soon banished to one side of the field, apart from the other students. I’ve tried hard to erase the shameful memories from my mind, but I’m pretty sure he bit the teacher. I know he bit me at least once, when I reached in foolishly to break up a dogfight. He also bit my sister, who is practically an animal whisperer. She had even forgiven Dino the marionette, but she and Yahtzee never reached a détente.
Those were wild and noisy times. I was young and pretty ignorant about how to be a good dog owner, and unfortunately, I had selected breeds that specifically required robust and vigorous training and reinforcement. Many years passed, and both Dino and Yahtzee had gone to the happy heavenly hunting ground for dogs. I was living alone at that point, and decided I needed a dog with a much kinder and gentler, and perhaps even, less bright, personality. Hence the wiener dog! And I have to say, when I got my Louie Dog, it was a relief. He was so sweet, a little slow, and really, a very good dog. He may shrink at his own shadow, but he’s never tried to attack anyone or kill a puppet, and, thank God, he loves my sister. In fact, he’s practically a perfect dog. Well, except for that underwear eating thing. But that’s a story for another day.
The end, for now
I’ve lived in my neighborhood for almost 10 years. It’s a sweet, tree lined, family oriented little ‘hood, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. The houses were built right after World War II, for the returning G.I.s. Some of my neighbors have lived here, or their families have lived here, since the houses were built. Kids play in their front yards and ride bikes up and down the street, people carol at Christmas, and at Halloween, you are likely to run out of candy before you run out of trick or treaters.
I’m a bit of an anomaly in this neighborhood. A single woman, surrounded by families. When I first moved in, several neighbors asked me if I was going to be living here all by myself. My house isn’t large, two bedrooms, an office and a single bathroom. But my next door neighbors had four children when I moved in, so I can understand how they thought it odd. Now they have eight kids, ranging from teen to teeny baby. I have no idea where they put them all.
Speaking of neighbors, I feel like I have the ideal sort of relationship with them. I’m on friendly but not intimate terms with the people on either side of me, and across the street. We wave at each other as we come and go, and occasionally chat across the yards. I’ve watched the kids grow up, and bought their lemonade and Girl Scout cookies. I know I could go to them in an emergency, and I hope they know they could come to me. I think I could probably borrow a cup of sugar from them. Or an egg.
It’s been fun watching the kids grow up over the years. When I moved in, the children on both sides of me were very young. But, you know what happens? They get older! Now the teeny little tot to my left is a tall, slender, soccer player who still giggles whenever I talk to her. The teenage boys from the house on the right are now into movie making and will sometimes have a whole crew in the yard filming as I drive up. And the oldest girl in the family, surrounded by older brothers, goes around the neighborhood with flyers for the chores she can do to earn money. It’s very sweet, and might I say, she does a good car wash!
Like any neighborhood, we have our characters. There’s the nice man who has been walking slowly past my house twice a day for the last 9 years. He started with two older dogs, then had one, then had none and now has a young peppy golden retriever to keep him going. I think this man has lost about 100 pounds in the ensuing years, proof that even slow walking is great exercise. Another neighbor is a little creepier, the type that keeps an eye on everyone. He once scared the heck out of me as I was backing out of my driveway, by tapping on my car window. When I lowered the window, he said he had been watching me, but couldn’t figure my schedule out. Eeeek!
Last weekend was the Superbowl, which holds no interest for me. So I had intentionally saved up some of my weekend errands to run while it was playing, expecting to enjoy a near empty grocery store and Target, and then pick up dinner at my favorite, but always jam packed, sushi joint. I waited until the game was about 15 minutes in, and grabbed my purse and headed out to my car. I then saw that my driveway had been about half blocked by someone’s car, actually a Mercedes SUV, although I guess that doesn’t really matter. What did matter was that there was no way I could pull out of my drive.
I saw my next door neighbor outside and asked him if he knew whose car it was, and he said no, but guessed it belonged to someone at the “boat people’s” house, as they appeared to be having a party. The “boat people” are the newest additions to the neighborhood, living across the street and two doors down. They have a boat! They are also fairly young for this street, and in addition to the boat, have all sorts of speedy motorcycles and ATVs and things, and race up and down the street a lot. I wave at them as they speed past. They seem nice enough, but we haven’t gotten to the chat across the yards phase yet.
So I wasn’t feeling too comfortable about knocking on their door to ask about the car holding me prisoner. But Dean, my next door neighbor, had no such qualms and gallantly inquired. Someone came out of the house and looked and said he didn’t know whose car it was but would ask them to move it right away. So, I waited, but no one ever came back out.
At this point I had some decisions to make. Now I know I could have technically called the police to have the car ticketed or even towed. I could have also gone to the neighbors and screamed like a banshee until someone moved the car, but I did neither. First of all, one of my personal codes is “don’t be a dick.” So, even though “they started it” with their own pretty dicky move, I chose not to engage. It’s not like this happens every day, or even, ever before. It’s also not like I had anywhere urgent to go, the only thing I was missing was spending money at Target, and uncrowded sushi access. And not that those things weren’t important, but I made a decision to just stand down, chill out, watch the replay of the puppy bowl (so cute!). So I chilled, but I did keep an eye on the street. And sure enough, a few minutes after the Superbowl ended, I saw a lady leave the house, get into her Mercedes and drive away, freeing my path to sushi.
So here’s the thing, in case you were wondering if this was going anywhere. Being part of a neighborhood, and being a good neighbor, involves some flexibility and tolerance. I don’t complain when the kids next door get too loud, or the semiannual party on the other side of me goes too late and keeps me up. My neighbors don’t tell me that my dogs bark too much. We exchange pleasantries, and plumbing tips, and if we all don’t know each other’s last names, I’m pretty sure we would all have each other’s backs if needed. And to me, that’s what being neighborly is all about.
The end, for now
I had my taxes done this weekend. I know it’s early, but I had the paperwork already, and expecting a return, was eager to get the process started. So I made an appointment for Sunday morning, with the same H&R Block guy I’ve gone to for the past few years.
I’ve been an H&R Block client for about a decade, and have generally been pretty satisfied with them. I have an itemized return, but it’s usually fairly straightforward. For about 6 years, I saw the same person, and really liked him. It became a nice annual event to catch up with him, chat about our year and our families, etc. He was nice, he was quick, and he was accurate and efficient. But his “real” job was managing care facilities, and eventually, he left the tax business to devote himself to it full time.
After that, I had one really bad Block experience, with a woman who kept exclaiming “you make a lot of money for a single gal” as she prepared my return. So, the following year, when I called to make my appointment, I requested someone with a lot of experience, in a different office. And I was assigned to the gentleman we shall call Max, which is not his real name. Max, Master Tax Advisor.
Max is an older guy, and reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield a bit in his appearance, large, a little sloppy, and a slow talker. Additionally, I think one of his eyes is glass. Which, I’m sorry to say, I always find a little disconcerting, because he likes to talk to you very slowly, while looking you in the eyes. And I try to be polite by looking right back at him, but I never know if I’m just supposed to look in the working eye, or what? Anyone know the etiquette on this?
And every year, for the past few years, as Max repeats himself, fumbles for paperwork, misspells my name, and does it all again, slowly, I squirm with impatience, and think to myself, I need to find someone else to do this next year. But, he always does a great job with my taxes, I always get a nice return, and in spite of that slightly uncomfortable annual hour, I have even recommended him to friends, who think he is great.
So this Sunday, I am waiting for Max to show up to the appointment. I had made it for 10:00 but he had called and asked if I could change it to 11:00 and I agreed. Chronically early as I am, I show up about 10:50 and the office is completely dark. It’s a little chilly outside (yes, I know, but California chilly, about 55 degrees, and of course, I’m wearing a thin shirt). So I’m shivering outside the office, looking down from a 2nd floor balcony at Ventura Blvd. and watching the action below. Saw the police pull someone over and frisk them. Looked at the people pouring into Chili’s and thought about chicken wings. Still, no Max.
Now it’s 11:10 and I’m getting a little irritated. Suddenly, I see this old beater of a car screech up. I can see looking down on it that it’s filled with junk with one door painted differently from the rest of the car. I’m thinking, it can’t be. Sure enough I see Max stumble out, look up and wave at me. He rushes up the steps, breathing hard, and I see he is wearing baggy shorts and a sweat drenched t-shirt. He apologizes for being late and says he has been working out. Um, yeah. He opens the office, and I say, do you need some time to, well, I think I said “get it together” but I swear I said it nicely.
I’m thinking, he’s gotta change, right? He’s not going to do my tax return in baggy shorts and a sweat drenched t-shirt. I didn’t see him bring in any clothes, but I’m hoping there’s a suit lurking somewhere in the office. And a shower! And he’s sort of crashing around the office, saying I’ll be with you in a sec. So I, well, murmur, please, take your time!
But, he doesn’t! He sits down at an empty desk and says, let’s go. I can barely look at him, but in trying to avert my eyes from his soppy shirt, I keep looking in his eyes. Eye. Oy! He seems to be talking, and working, even more slowly than usual. He wants to chat too. Time is actually standing still. I can tell, because the sweat on his t-shirt never dries. And then he sneezes and wipes his nose on the shirt! Seriously, I am so grossed out and uncomfortable, I just want to grab my paperwork and flee. And he’s a nice guy, and I don’t want to offend him, but isn’t there some sort of H&R Block code that requires long pants and a clean shirt?
Finally, the taxes are done. I’m getting a much needed, healthy amount in returns. And Max smiles at me, really he’s a sweet old guy, and says, see you next year. And, in spite of everything, because I’m a sucker with a short memory, he probably will.
The end, for now