Tuesday, September 29, 2009

20 Something

Okay. Last Flughum section. While vast age certainly does not make us immune to making mistakes still, I think this piece is a classic tribute to the subject of being young and stupid.

"The first funeral service I ever performed left a bad taste in my mouth. First year in the ministry. Twenty-four years old. Knew it all. No need to seek advice about anything. Which is why I so easily agreed to help a lady scatter the ashes of her husband from an airplane flying over Bellingham Bay. No problem. Go up in the plane. Open the door. Pour out the ashes. Say a few comforting words about death. Go home.

The pilot assumed I knew what I was doing. The widow assumed I knew what I was doing. And I was certain I knew what I was doing. So up we went. I even wore my brand-new black clerical gown for the occasion.

Over the middle of the bay, at about five thousand feet, the pilot held the cockpit door open, and I took the top off what looked like a two-quart ice-cream container and poured the ashes out the door.

The slipstream poured the ashes right back in the door.

Filling the cockpit with the final dust of Harry, the deceased husband.

Covering the widow, the pilot, and me.

The results of intensive cremation are kind of like flour. Clean flour, though. Purified by fire. Which is why you wouldn't be harmed if you happened to get a lot of it in your mouth and nose. As I did. Also the pilot. And the widow.

The conventions of behavior are not clear in these circumstances. You're not really sure if spitting or blowing your nose is respectful of the deceased.

We flew back to the field in silence.

There's not a lot to say at such a time.

This situation was not covered in seminary training...

The widow was nice and calm and cool about the whole thing. "This will be...funny...someday," she said, and drove off alone in her own car with Harry's ashes beside her in the vacuum-cleaner bag.

I don't know what finally happened to Harry. I'm still too embarrassed to inquire. But I do wonder sometimes what else was with him in the bag and what happened when they poured Harry out the next time.

NOTE: It is very important first to put a clean bag into the vacuum cleaner - something you may forget to do in your haste."

Friday, September 25, 2009

More Robert Fulghum

Okay, so the story is that as a young man Robert Fulghum worked at a small resort hotel. They were fed lunch but the cost was deducted from their paychecks. One week, he says, they had two wieners, a mound of sauerkraut and a stale roll every day. After a difficult week he found the final straw was a menu for the following two days with, you guessed it, sauerkraut and wieners. That was it, he was quiting. The only person around to vent to about the food, the boss, and life in general was the night auditor, who's name was Sigmund Wollman. What follows is profound:

"...I'm sick and tired of this crap and insulted and nobody is going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it and who does he think he is anyhow and how can life be sustained on wieners and sauerkraut and this is un-American and I don't like wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat it one day for God's sake and the whole hotel stinks anyhow and the horses are all nags and the guests are all idiots and I'm packing my bags and heading for Montana where they never even heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn't feed that stuff to pigs.

I raved on in this way for twenty minutes and needn't repeat it all here. You get the drift. My monologue was delivered by blows on the front desk with a flyswatter, the kicking of chairs, and much profanity. A call to arms, freedom, unions, uprising, and the breaking of chains for the working masses.

As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman, the night auditor, sat quietly on his stool, smoking a cigarette, watching me with sorrowful eyes. Put a bloodhound in a suit and tie and you have Sigmund Wollman. He's got good reason to look sorrowful. Survivor of Auschwitz. Three years. German Jew. Thin, coughed a lot. He like being alone at the night job - gave him intellectual space, gave him peace and quiet, and even more, he could go into the kitchen and have a snack whenever he wanted to - all the wieners and sauerkraut he wanted. To him, a feast. More than that, there's nobody around at night to tell him what to do. In Auschwitz he dreamed of such a time. The only person he sees at work is me, the nightly disturber of his dreams. Our shifts overlapped for an hour. And here I am again. A one-man war party at full cry.

'Fluchum, are you finished?'

'No. Why?'

'Lissen, Fluchum. Lissen me, lissen me. You know what's wrong with you? It's not wieners and kraut and it's not the boss and it's not the chef and it's not this job.'

'So what's wrong with me?'

'Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you don't know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.

'If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire - then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy.'

'Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer. And will not a
nnoy people like me so much. Good night.'"

He goes on the say that later when he heard someone describe a moment of enlightenment he knew exactly what that meant...

"There in that late-night darkness of the Feather River Inn, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window in my mind...for thirty years now, in time of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I'm ready to do something really stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks: "Fulchum. Problem or inconvenience?"

"I think of this as the Wollman Test of Reality. Life is lumpy. And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in a breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Robert Fulghum

Reading Robert Fulghum's book "Uh-Oh, Some Observations From Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door."

I like his writing. Most of the time I find him mildly amusing. Occasionally he goes all flower child/hippy on me, and I find myself thinking he went a little too far. I'm a big fan of one's right to swing their fist as long as it stops before the other person's nose. He doesn't always share that sentiment. Years ago I was particularly irritated with a dandelion story he told. In fact, this is the first time I've read one of his books since and I still find I really want to tell him...JUST SPRAY THE DAMN WEEDS!!!!

Oh! Glad I got that off my chest!!!! Amazing what you'll find in the deep dark recesses of your mind.

Back to the here and now. Maybe you have to be 50+ to appreciate this but I find myself in agreement with this excerpt of his:

"There are clues that my life is entering a new stage. My children are beginning to look middle-aged, and they pat me in a patronizing way for no apparent reason. I don't want to ask why they are patting me - I'll take all the affection I can get from them in any form they want to dish it up. But I'm not used to being patted yet."


My children would, of course, be offended to be referred to as middle aged, (they are beginning to put on a little extra weight though and one can see a hint of what they'll look like 10-15 years from now.) But I do understand the patting thing. They're already starting to do that. The absent minded, fond pat one reserves for a faithful pet or the favorite over stuffed chair... Just makes you want to say, Hey! HEY! I've got a lot of good years left in me. Where's a motorcycle. I'll show you!

I know why someone came up with that bumper sticker that says:

Avenge yourself. Live long enough to be a problem to your children.

And then one gets a little reality check. Just walking into the house yesterday, caught my toe and took a massive spill on the front porch. Hands were full: mail, purse, pop, keys...and in a second I was face down on the cement. Landed hard. Hard enough that, even though my first thought was a mortified, "Oh, no, did anyone see?" I knew it was prudent to lie still and assess the damage. That there would be blood was a given, but I was unprepared for the fact that my body was not going to obey my mind and just "pop up" when commanded. Great. So, I decided to try to crawl into the house but the body disassociated itself and took a siesta in full view of the world. I finally managed to roll into the shrubbery and get myself upright and going again and while it only took minutes it seemed forever...

Motorcycle indeed.

The only avenging I'll probably do is late night prank calls to the kids from my nursing home room.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


So, got a shipment of some 100+ hour liquid paraffin emergency candles. Of course I had to make sure they worked! Pulled the top off of one, lit it, realized it needed more wick, figured out how to...blah, blah, blah, blah.

Then I delivered remaining candles to friends who had ordered along with me. Stopped at friend Shirley's and started to share "things I had learned" with her. The conversation, in part, went:

Me. "Remember it's 'liquid' paraffin. Don't tip it without the cap on!
And always put the cap back on after you use it, also uh, make sure not to touch the metal part until it's cool..."

Shirley (busts out laughing), "This is where I don't ask how you know that, right?"

Pause. "Right."

Thursday, September 17, 2009


This parable has a lot of different variations but, I'm just going to go with the version that says:

There was an elephant and three blind men. The blind men had never seen or known an elephant before. So each agreed to examine the elephant to see what they thought it could be...

The first blind man felt the elephant's trunk and ran his fingers over the long, smooth, curving muscles. He jumped back in fear for he thought it must be kin to a python. The second blind man laid his hands on the elephant's ear and smiled to himself for he thought he was holding the wing of some exotic bird. The third blind man picked up the end of the elephant's bristlelike tail and frowned in puzzlement because he thought he'd picked up a bottle brush!

Dean Koontz is an interesting writer. He lives on the fringe of where I don't like to go and yet makes any number of dead on observations about the human condition. His comment on the above was:

"So it is with any experience that human beings share. Each participant perceives it in a different way and takes from it a different lesson than do his or her compatriots."


That sounds about right.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kind Words of the Heart

Ran across a blog written by a woman about her mother-in-law. She wrote for several months from last spring to the middle of this summer. And. Wow. Did she have issues with the MIL.

You know, it happens. I understand many of her frustrations and it was almost funny but rapidly became distressing, especially in how the blogger expressed herself. The WTF's absolutely flew. She apparently was way past being able to simply distance herself from the problem or seek a higher plane. It appeared the MIL couldn't breath and do it right. The DIL was at the point where a simple invitation for the grandchildren to come and swim was reason to engage in major tactical warfare. And then the blog stopped.


Wanna bet someone found the blog?


You know if you're going to put stuff out here in cyberspace, you are going to have to be prepared to own it because you never know who will find it and read it. If you're going to bitch about someone you might not want put down anything you wouldn't say face to face...Yes, it could be quite the interesting little discussion but still, just saying...

Anyway, I did find one gem amongst the ranting. In an amusing "pearl of wisdom," (it was a comment in response to some hard feelings left over from a deceased MIL) Whoopie Goldberg was quoted as saying:

"Don't say nuthin bout the dead, lessen it's good. She dead. Good."

Hopefully, my DIL(s) won't be laughing as hard at that as I am...