Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Eye of the Storm

The last few days have left us with flooding and wind damage, and a clutch of tornadoes have made their way across the Great Bluegrass State, just in time for us to host the oldest continuously-held sporting event, the Kentucky Derby. As I write (partly to allay my anxiety), I'm awaiting word from friends in Alabama. A colleague's son and daughter-in-law lost their home, their business, and very nearly, their lives, to one of the tornadoes in that state. We are collecting money at work to help them get back on their feet.

Last night, I looked out my laundry room windows and saw low, fast-moving black clouds hovering over the town...and then I realized that the rain had stopped. I opened the back door to check the barometric pressure and felt the oppressive weight of the air, and yet- I looked up the National Weather Service's alerts for my area, and there was no tornado warning. I turned on the weather radio and began monitoring the reports.

Tornadoes frighten me. When I was five years old, a series of devastating tornadoes crossed Kentucky. A town in western Kentucky where some of my maternal cousins lived was completely flattened- the death toll was enormous, and the high school gym was used as a morgue. A few years ago, the same town was flattened a second time.

The Chez sits on a cliff overlooking a valley that stretches into the next county over from ours- I remember watching a tornado descend from a swirling cloud mass and split into two separate funnels that then traveled opposite directions, wreaking twice as much havoc as the single tornado would've. One night as we sat at the dinner table, a tornado jumped our house; it happened so quickly that we had no time to react as we realized we were in the eye of the funnel. There are two things that one sees in movies that I can confirm as very realistic based on personal experience: the roll-cam in simulated car accidents, and what a tornado looks like from the inside. The churning wall of devastation sucked our patio furniture straight up into the air, carried it beyond the edge of the cliff, and dropped it into the river before moving on to damage the city park below the ridge.

Tornadoes are not 'cool'. They are not 'fascinating'. They are dangerous and should not be taken lightly. Having also survived a hurricane, I can tell you that they aren't any fun, either. I once interviewed for a job in Florida and was reassured by the college administration that "where we are, hurricanes just don't hit us". That city was laid apart by a hurricane not too many years after the interview. The upshot is that weather will come and we have no control over it; we can just seek shelter and pray that we survive. There is nothing that man can build that's guaranteed to withstand the ravages of nature- the Japanese are superior engineers, and they know this better than anyone right now.

So now we play the waiting game. I have yet to hear from my friends in Alabama, and I'm developing a cracking good migraine from the stress...I'm already on overload from dealing with family matters, and just not capable of fending off this irrational fear as well as I should. To everyone who has lost loved ones to this weather system, my sympathies; to those who lost their possessions but not their lives, I am grateful that you were spared. We have too many petty arguments afoot in society right now that must be set aside to deal with human issues, so can we just suspend the political hostilities and work on helping others in their hour of need?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

From Dog Barf to Cat Poop: It Just Keeps Getting Better!

I've been away from home for just under a week, and returned late Monday night after spending part of the evening with my father and Quinn, the barfer. I drove into the garage at the Chez in my mother's car and could hear all three dogs barking their heads off, especially Quinn, who my father says now starts crying at the foot of the stairs around 4 a.m.; the poor little old guy is about twelve or so, and when he wakes up alone in the middle of the night, it frightens him. This is his expression most of the time I was there the other day:

Quinn, panicking.

So, after disappointing him so badly, I rolled on to my house, another sixty miles southeast. The Airedales were thrilled that I was home, but the Siamese cat, Frosty, voiced his displeasure loudly and at length. I found other evidence of feline displeasure almost immediately; the grey cat, Gus, had peed all over the refrigerator door. I cleaned that up, and exhausted, went to bed.

In the middle of the night, I got up to visit the the bathroom and smelled something funny; I reached down to straighten a bunched up rug and felt a substance that should not have been there. I confirmed it as the source of the odor once I flipped on the lights; nothing like having to clean up cat poop and put the bathroom linens in the washer at 3 a.m.! It seemed like things couldn't possibly get worse until I picked up a shoe in order to move the rug...and a nice, hard kitty nugget plopped out on the floor.

The Culprit

It then crossed my mind that I'd heard the Siamese, in a rare departure from his sustained yowling, scratching around the bathroom. As one of my childhood friends mentioned, there probably should've been an immediate decrease in the aggregate feline population of my house as the horror sank in. This, however, is the cat who talks to my mother on the telephone all the time. Last night, as I wearily made my way to bed, I leveled a threat just before turning off the light: "Frosty, if you leave me any more presents, I will duct tape your butt closed!" 

He must've gotten my point. A few minutes later I heard him alight the stairs, headed for the cat box. I have too much going on to deal with cat poop in my shoes, although it perfectly illustrates how I've felt for the last week.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

That Dog Barf Won't Clean Itself Up, You Know...

I'm staying with my parents for reasons that my father prefers I not discuss, and in order to keep my mother reasonably calm and happy, I had to take her very spoiled Papillon to the vet today. Gigi is twelve and a half pounds right now, some of which is due to the little "treats" she receives by leaning on the table while my mother eats. I love my dogs, but my two gigantic Airedales sit patiently beside me on the floor. They don't get up on the table and they know that they'll be denied all scraps if they try it.

Who can resist that face? Me, for one. She's a bit fatter these days, but this is the look she was giving Dr. Smith.

Gigi put on an award-winning performance as "The Poor Little Matchstick Dog" for Dr. Smith. She panted heavily, gazed sadly at him with her big, brown eyes, and limped around the examining table while softly whimpering. The best he can tell is that she's sprained her shoulder; given that the dog swan-dives off the back of my mother's fully-elevated lift chair several times a day, this was bound to happen. She just took a big leap and landed wrong, much the same way my mother, a swimmer and diver in college, did off of a dormitory bunk bed. That's how Mom ended up having her first back surgery.

So, anyway, I got home with Widget (one of her nicknames) and her medication, only to be greeted by a heaving Smooth Fox Terrier. I had Foxies of my own until Jane died of renal failure and Ozzie succumbed to cancer...we had Fox Terriers throughout my childhood too, so suffice it to say that I've been mopping up terrier barf all my life.

I must love my parents, because no sooner did I get down on my hands and knees to attack the first mess, than I heard: "Hurka, HURKA, HUUUUUUURKA!" *SPLAT*.  My father was on the way to the garage to get another roll of paper towels as the damning sound of "urrrrrrrrrrp, urrrrrrrrrrrp, HURKA HURKA, urrrrrrrrrrrrrp" resumed behind me.  Good thing we keep surgical gloves for just such eventualities.

Now, I am a dutiful child, but I'm going to be away from work off and on for the foreseeable future due to the current situation. I needed to take an online compliance quiz for work that had to be completed before the end of this week, and today was my last guaranteed chance to do it online. No sooner did I tell my folks I was going upstairs to the office to do the quiz, I heard: "NO, QUINN! NOOOOO!" ***hurka, HURKA, HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURKAAAAA*** SPLAT!

Dad had to get that one.

Yes, that's why we both have these advanced degrees. I'm sure he thinks med school was a superior preparation for this situation. (I have the sneaking suspicion that I'm going to be seeing Dr. Smith again tomorrow, with a different dog. I just hope the little guy doesn't yak up the back seat of my car on the way.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Post That Started It All

This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the incident of The Letter That Changed Everything. In that spirit, here is the blog that was the genesis of The Random Irrationality of the Airedalebrarian:

A few things occurred to me a couple of days ago on the way into the library: one is that two history degrees might not have been such a great idea, and the other is that in some ways, I'm a hypocrite. I was just as prepared to leave home for the Ivy League as any of my friends, but I had seriously failed to consider how the reality of the departure East of one specific person a year ahead of me would take hold. After one of my college friends started posting pictures of our merry little band of pranksters from UK today, it gradually sank in how committed I was to trying to forcibly obliterate it from my mind, while drinking myself into a stupor most of my junior and senior years.

Scene: Concourse of Green County High School, approximately April, 1986; it's sunny and people are mlling about before the first bell. Two students, a boy and a girl, stand facing each other at the top of the room near the school doors. She is reading a letter. It's supposed to be good news; for him, it is, but for her, the world is rapidly falling away in shards- she's holding his acceptance letter from a very competitive university back East. She is one of the select few with whom he entrusts this information. She is suddenly sick.She has also just done the first preliminary interview as a prospect for Yale University one year from this date. It's finally hit her that she's got one more year of High School Hell without him. It's looking pretty bleak. The room is beginning to spin. She manages a credible (she hopes) ten minutes of smile-and-nod before excusing herself to go vomit in the girls' restroom opposite their locker.

Over the course of the next year, she will interview for Yale two more times and be rejected on the basis that her guidance counselor failed to send in his evaluation form- she will enroll at the state flagship school (her largest scholarship offer) where only one of her classmates is attending with her. She spends her whole freshman year plotting to transfer to the East Coast school he is attending. Fortunately for all concerned, she fails. It's famous for its med school, its science programs, and its university press. She is a humanities and social sciences student...and in the meantime, although she doesn't know it, he's headed home, anyway.

He'd done the odds before graduation. He never planned to come back. He gave her The Friendship Speech. She limped inside the house from his car at five-thirty in the morning on graduation night, hobbled by the heels she thought made her look graceful at the party (instead, they kept sinking through the slats of the host's porch). She got up the next morning after praying all night that she would die. Three weeks later, she packs her bags and leaves to attend summer school at a nearby regional university on scholarship in a program for rising seniors. All eight weeks, her mind is hovering around a hog farm back home.In August, she returns in the middle of band camp, throwing herself full-force into a senior year about which she no longer cares.

She has met a new boy at college, another rising senior on the fast track to a National Merit scholarship and the valedictorianship of his class...quite a coup. It's all very forced, but that's what your senior year is supposed to be, right?: the right boyfriend, the right parties, the right dances, the right test scores, the right applications. And it means nothing- her heart and mind are in Baltimore, Maryland. School? She's phoning it in. She manages to maintain the facade of a good relationship with the boyfriend until prom night, when he dumps her so he can attend his school's prom with another girl- something she doesn't learn until she meets his best friend in college the next year- the official reason being that he is attending a university a hundred miles away from her and they will never be able to see each other. A hundred miles is ridiculous compared to the six hundred that crushed her spirit a mere eight months before. She accepts his excuse only because she never genuinely cared that much in the first place.

A year goes by. College sucks. She's where her parents chose, not a school of her own choosing. If not for the Honors Program, she would be suicidal. She makes it through and comes home for the summer, hiding from everyone and waiting for it to end. Early in the fall semester, her sister nearly dies in a car accident. In the midst of reevaluating her life, she dumps the boy she's been seeing and starts coming home frequently, where she learns that *he's* back. She doesn't give a damn that he might be embarrassed by it; she's just deleriously glad he's there, relieved that he's close by. What could be worse than having your sister nearly die? Having your wings clipped and ending up back under your parents' roof only a year after you made good your escape? Oh, a bad date. A date so epically bad that she's writing this now in the knowledge that they haven't talked since that night, although they have crossed one another's paths a couple of times since.

She does not find her feet or realize who her friends are until late in her undergraduate education. She lives in England over a summer. Life goes on.

I have a lot of regrets. I dwell too much in the past (historian?). But ambition was something that we all had, the ambition to get the hell out of Dodge and not look back. In my vanity, I had always assumed that I would not be dismissed like everyone and everything else as he blazed his trail out of Green County. I was. And this long after the fact, it still hurts. There are a few axioms in this world that are quite true, but one I would posit to which you should pay some attention is do NOT date your friends. Do not even TRY. It will only end badly.

I received a critical hit in April of 1986, and a night in late May finished me off. If I am honest about it, I have never and will never fully recover...I am One of the Guys. I am Such a Nice Girl. I have Such a Pretty Face, But. I cannot accept the bald truth, that I did not matter as much as I would've liked to have believed. He never asked for this and he did not cause it. I have brought this on myself, and because I cannot dismiss it, it haunts me. I struggle to value what I have, and I should let go of my angst about what was never mine to begin with; some days it's more in my mind than others. I wish I could forget, but to forget means letting go of him forever.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Twenty-five Years from Ground Zero

Twenty-five years ago, my world imploded. It marked me more than I ever anticipated, with a form letter on Johns Hopkins University letterhead. It was the beginning of the end in so many ways.

One of my friends, with whom I was talking about all of this, did a little of that "harsh truth" thing quite deliberately, to wit: "He doesn't want to see you again. That's obvious."

Thanks for that brilliant observation. I think I figured that out, and with greater insight than yours, about a thousand years ago. Doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, or that I will give anyone the satisfaction of hurting me just for the satisfaction of seeing me wince...admittedly, though, it's the fastest way to get from point A to point B in delivering the coup de grace.

I'm still working through it a little at a time, crawling along and feeling my way, trying to negotiate the jagged edges. Part of me doesn't want to believe, but another part of me is bludgeoned into acceptance. Sometimes being part of a shared past is a negative, not a positive. Knowing where the bodies are buried can get you buried with them in an anonymous shallow grave.

All I have are my memories, and a knifelike perception of the day that it all turned on a dime. What was intended to protect me, slaughtered me. I don't need anyone to twist the knife, because it's already done its worst.

Win, Lose, or Draw

I've been campaigning steadily for a while now to rescue both Wayne and Hopkins from their current underemployment, without much success. The college was supposed to be advertising an IT position fairly soon that had some serious academic computing responsibility and it was going to be an equivalency, i.e., you could equivocate X amount of computer background or previous employment plus education instead of necessarily having degree-in-hand. We do tuition remission, which in Wayne's case, would work out spectacularly- as I understand it, he's not too far off completion of his bachelors'. Hopkins, I'm not so sure...he's been quiet for a while, so I would've sent him the position announcement and let it go, in the hope that he would at least read it first.

Last week, we found out that the IT facet of the job will be written into a faculty librarian position, for which neither of the aforementioned friends is qualified. Not that we don't need a librarian (we so totally NEED to replace my supervisor, who is retiring), it's just that I was hoping to improve somebody's situation with the IT job. Oh, well. We all know what's paved with good intentions. I do, however, have one friend from my undergrad days who is qualified for the librarianship if advertised that way- and his sense of humor is even drier than mine. We'll see what happens.

Thing is, I never meant to be pushy about it, but I also should've realized based on past experience that Hopkins would likely perceive it that way. Yes, it happens to be where I work- although that was one of my last considerations. It just sounded like his job was a little dead-end; at the very least, not a challenge and not making the most of his phreak-ninja programming abilities. Perhaps my recessive Mom gene kicked it too hard, who knows? Anyway, the job isn't going to happen, not the way it was originally conceived.

I want my friends to live up to their potential- if Hopkins thinks that whining about how his ship sailed a long time ago is going to cut ice with me, I'm the wrong audience for it. Wow, that's my control freak side manifesting, isn't it? "You're not a failure until I say you're a failure!" Even at that, you'll be waiting until the end of forever to hear it.