Why am I Not Surprised?

My phone chirped, informing me I had a call on the other line.

Off to voicemail it went, as I was on a conference call with work.

Then my phone whistled that I had a text.

I followed all worldly business advice and did not glance at the phone, and secretly congratulated myself for continuing to focus on that all-important conference call.

Not ten seconds later, I hear a fist thumping on the back door. The attention stealing gods win this one. I quickly make my apologies, leave the call, and march to the door to see what’s so urgent.

No one is there, but as I’m craning my neck to see around the side of the house, I hear the front porch door slam shut with springs that have never been so up for the job of closing the gap.

I hurry toward the sound and now see a grizzled old man, sweating profusely, his fist poised to give the kitchen door a few new dents.

I fling it open.

“May I help you?” I ask, not hiding my annoyance.

“I called. And then I texted. And I knocked on the backdoor. Takes you a long time to git up and git goin’ don’t it?” He looked at me and shrugged.

“I was on the phone. Who are you?”

“Stanley. Did I surprise you? I’m super good at surprising people.”

I gave him a look that said we’re done here, and then he added, “I’m here to give you a quote about the wall that’s fallin down. You said to my son that you wanna build it back up again, right?”

Ah yes. The rock wall. Definitely needs fixing, but so do a zillion other things around here. I’d called these folks more than a month ago.

“I thought maybe I’d get a heads up someone was coming out,” I said.

His eyebrows rose. “I like surprising people. It’s what I’m super good at,” he laughed.

“I hope you’re also good at repairing rock walls.” I pointed toward the object in question and started heading toward it.

“I was a master carpenter for thirty years. When every other kid was outside playing ball, I was growing up in the basement building cabinets.” Stanley took out his Stanley measuring tape tool and began to walk along the wall. I wondered if he might be erroneously thinking I wanted cabinetry inside my rock wall.

“I bet a lot of people would wish to have that skill, although the price of lumber now is surely hindering work, right?” I was being polite, but I wanted to hurry up with the quote. I had to get back to work.

“I’ll tell you what’s expensive, darlin’. Drums!

I felt my eyebrows fuse together, but Stanley took no notice. “I wouldn’t know,” I said, hearing my words tinged with exasperation.

He pointed a finger to the sky. “Well, I would, because I used to be one. Did I ever tell you the story about when I got a call from a bunch of guys in Montana who said their drummer just up and quit and they needed one pronto? I packed my whole kit into the trunk of my car and made it there 19 hours later. They were playing at the Holiday Inn, but were staying at the Ramada Inn across the road, and when I went to the front desk to ask for the room of the drummer, they sent me to the drummer who was in the band playing at the Ramada Inn and not the Holiday Inn guy. I pounded on his door and when he opened it, I told him I was here to replace him.

“Well, you woulda thought I just told him his dog died, cuz he collapsed with grief. It was really funny.”

I looked at Stanley with disbelief.

“We straightened it out, but boy was he super surprised, cuz I do that really well.”

I pointed to the rock wall. “Any idea how long it might take to repair this?”

Stanley pulled a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and swiped across his brow. He shook his head. “Whatever length of time it’ll take, no doubt it’ll be a easier job than the one I had when I was a long-haul truck driver. Whoo-ee! That work is exhausting, and the stress of it tries to kill you every which way. People have no idea how hard it is to drive one of those big wheelers. You can’t see anything, can’t control your speed for nothin’, you’re always white knuckling the steering wheel if you’re East Coasting it. Midwest and the Northwest ain’t bad—that’s just straight and narrow—”

“Which is exactly how I’d like this rock wall to look. How bout it, Stanley? Can you do it?”

He looked at me with widened eyes. “Oh, I doubt it’ll be me. I just had a heart attack a month ago—and hip surgery to boot. My son just sent me here to measure. Maybe get some exercise, right?”

My teeth begin to itch. “I could have measured the wall and sent those dimensions to you.”

Stanley laughed and said, “Yeah, but then my son wouldn’t have gotten me out of the office and off the phone with clients now then, right? He really insists I get moving a bit—really wants me to be healthy.”

I turned away from Stanley and mumbled, “I think he really wants to get some work done, actually.”

Stanley chuckled and put a hand against a tree to rest. “You know, it’s super surprising just how much he’s like my ex-wives, always encouraging me to get out of the house and office. Did I tell you how many ex-wives I’ve had? I bet you’d be super surprised.”

“I’d be more surprised if this job ever gets done.”

“I think the surprising thing is going to be how much it’s gonna cost, so I’d suggest you better stop lollygagging around here with me and git back to your phone calls, right? Go make some money, honey. That’s a phrase I used to say to the girls when I used to—”

I held up my hand. “Don’t wanna know, Stanley.”

He snorted and slapped a thigh. “Okay then.” He turned and headed back to his truck. “I’m sure you’ll hear from us soon.”

I shook my head. “I’ll be surprised if I do, Stanley. Super surprised.”

~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Class (And Glass) Warfare

Growing up in Wisconsin, my mother’s most prolific advice, which was usually offered up at least once a day during what felt like the presence of nine months’ worth of winter per year, was this: Don’t forget to dress in layers.

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If memory serves, these words were likely uttered as much a reminder to herself, during the span of one full decade, where the poor woman tried to live with a biologically unbalanced hormonal heating and cooling unit housed within her own body, as to the rest of us, pointing to the fact that we lived on the perimeter of the frozen tundra. You were usually either outside, where one could occasionally entertain yourself by spitting icicles waiting for the morning school bus, or inside, where woodstoves were cranking out such an impressive amount of heat, most people’s homes could easily double as a sweat lodge.

But for my mom, I do believe the idea of recalibrating her settings to some sort of acceptable functional state was as elusive a finding as locating the Holy Grail—it’s mythological, tons of movies have been written about it, and some of the fight scenes still have us doubling over with laughter when recalling them.

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Back to the idea of layers.

It really had me thinking lately about how complex we, as human beings, truly are. Depending upon the situation, it’s not unlikely that we rarely show—or know—who we claim to be. And uncovering that which is camouflaged can either be as mouth-wateringly exciting as digging into that triple decker hot fudge banoffee pie parfait, or as painful as peeling back an onion, where the whole endeavor, although necessary to accomplish that life-sustaining ritual we call dinner, will have you weeping and bitter over the caustic exercise.

To illustrate, as per my usual methods, I will use examples from all that’s within arm’s (and eye’s and ear’s) reach around me.

I’m a writer.

I live in (or rather get my rations from) a town where you cannot swing a dead cat without bumping into another resident’s published book.

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You cannot order a cup of coffee at the counter without hearing someone behind you utter the phrase, “Well, with my first novel …” And the introductory expression, “My therapist says,” has long been replaced with its shinier version, “My critique group pointed out …”

I think you get my point.

We are a community of book-bosomed logophiles whose end-of-year financial ledgers reveal we’ve contributed the same number of pennies to the local coffeehouse for liquid sustenance as we have to the library for our overdue book fines.

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But there are writers and then there are writers.

I have heard my town’s writerly residents humorously described as usually belonging to one of two strata of the classic French pastry, the Napoleon, or the mille-feuille. You’re either like the puff pastry—where you’re flaky and half-cracked, and people make a wide berth of you because you’re temperamental and difficult to work with, or you’re the pastry cream custard—where you’re likely too rich for your own good, you find yourself spread out too thinly, and everyone wants a lick of you.

Together, we are the elements that make one kickass memorable mouthful, alone, we are broken down into the ingredients that most physicians warn you to stay clear of in order to maintain optimum health.

My town loves to separate itself into these definitive, identifying tiers. Do you do yoga or yoga?

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Translation: Do you attend a class where the Native American flute music is often jarringly interrupted by the high-pitched feedback loop of a plethora of hyper-sensitive hearing aids and everyone breathes a sigh of relief no one threw a hip during the hour? Or do you attend a class where the temperature on the room’s thermostat is a topic for debate for the Intergovernmental Panel as to whether it may be a contributing factor to climate change and people leave the studio utterly amazed at just how much anger they’ve been storing in their thighs?

Here’s another one. Do you eat health food or do you eat health food? Translation: Do you shop at Whole Foods, or do you buy half your food from the myriad closet-sized natural food stores in town and forage the rest of your meals from within the cracks of concrete parking lots and roadside ditches—and of course only harvest the edible, invasive species that likely deplete the earth from its over-reaped holistic nutrients because we have to feed the earth as well as ourselves?

It can be tough to be “authentic” in this community.

Of course, there’s also the level of success one has achieved that stridently separates the massive cluster of word-slingers in my village, and that was made indisputably evident the last time I hauled my empties down to the local recycling center a few days ago. It can be a sobering and illuminating realization of where exactly you stand in the accomplishment stratification when elbow to elbow with someone whose prosperous wordsmithing has them dumping out a couple of wooden crates full of bottles previously filled with Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer Cristal whilst I am unloading a cardboard box full of empty Two Buck Chuck.

It probably wouldn’t sting so badly if my neighbor’s raised eyebrow of acknowledgment didn’t also silently smirk and say, “How’s the book comin’, kid?”

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Makes me think I should probably take my mom’s sage advice and keep a few extra sweaters on hand. They may be useful to pass out along with the myriad icy stares I give in return to that unspoken question.

~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

You Want to Step Outside?

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive.

You can tell even more about a person by the way they drive AT YOU going 40 mph on a thin and curvy country road while you are out for a leisurely Sunday stroll.

Not everyone is paying attention, as is clear by the amount of drivers that will suddenly swerve when they finally identify that you are a person on the side of the road and not a woodland deer on two feet, or a slow moving tree attempting to make a break from the forest.

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And not everyone is particularly concerned about speed, or laws, or the fact that studies have shown it is easier to drive a vehicle if you are in charge of the direction you’d like for it to move. Pesky windshields and steering wheels. They so get in the way of reading emails.

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As a person who spends the majority of my conscious, upright hours in a chair, I have made a pact with myself (or Beelzebub) that states that if I fail to take a head-clearing, leg-stretching, lung-cleansing walk by the end of the day, I must refrain from breathing for a full thirty minutes as punishment before going to bed. Or for as long as the dog’s last nap divided by pi and rounded up to the nearest tenth. Whichever is longer.

I rarely fail to take a walk.

When at home, my routine is measured and predictable. There is no choice in direction living on the peak of a great chunk of rock. You are allowed to go … down. But then you have to come back up if you’re hoping to get dinner. As I never tackle this adventure without my trusty rusty hound by my side, and because it’s clear to anyone who has heard me wax lyrical about the animal (and declare I’d give him a kidney if he needed it), I am usually swayed to flip a 180 once we arrive back to base camp and trek down half the mountain again as a bonus for a little added caloric burn.

I have been warned that I am way too indulgent with this mound of fur on four feet, but as he assures me he would pull me out of a burning house fire, I feel I need to continually shore up our relationship—and his muscle strength—as a just in case insurance plan.

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If I’m visiting my parents, my walk is more residential, peppered by driveways, cars, and the containers holding last night’s dinner—a gift tossed out truck windows from a good chunk of folks who have yet to meet an area of the world that does not confuse them as being an extension of the county landfill.

Should I find myself in town and in between appointments, I make use of the tennis shoes I keep in my car for such an occasion and stroll in whichever direction the wind is blowing. Coincidentally, the wind seems to push me right to the nearest bakery, which I take as a sign from the universe that I need a lot more gluten in my diet.

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And I’m all about tuning into cosmic conversations. I’m like a fully carbed out Jodi Foster, only instead of sitting on the hood of my car surrounded by giant, rotating satellite receivers, I am standing in the city center, inhaling in all directions seeking the tiny refrains of active yeast strains.

I can smell otherworldly puff pastry creations from sectors of space that have yet to be mapped by astrological spectrographs.

There are countless things to learn on one’s habitual daily walk, like how much the winter snow contributed to the health of the burbling brooks, or how fast maple trees leaf out in spring, or how much porcupines do not appreciate being taken by surprise.

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Where folks are closer together I’ve discovered that neighbors like to communicate their personalities through mailbox and yard art. Perhaps as a way of scaring off any real forest critters from feasting on hedges, flowers and veggies, fake ones are strewn about the lawn. Most complete with bullet holes. Some driveways are so crisply outlined in nighttime headlight reflectors, one could safely guide a Boeing 757 into the garage at the end of it. And if one house has decided to grandly name their abode, you can bet your bottom dollar that ‘Ben & Jen’s Lake House’ will soon find it’s sharing the same street as ‘The Earl of Norfolk Hall,’ ‘Chateau Belvoir,’ and ‘Killkerny Castle.’

In closing, it doesn’t matter if I’m in the forest, with my folks or following the fragrance of fine French bread, I really love to walk.

My hope is that I will remain healthy enough to do it for years and years to come.

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Another hope is that I will continue to recover from all the ditch diving I have had to practice in order to avoid speeding vehicles driven by amateur multi-taskers.

And my last hope is that I will finish this post before the clock strikes midnight so that I can squeeze in my daily walk and not be forced to calculate how long the dog’s last nap was.

I love to walk.

But I love to breathe more.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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