Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Daddies, Dumps, and Birthdays

When I was six, a chilly February day rolled around here in Central New York. It was Saturday, dump day.

Back then we lived in the country (ie, out of town) and didn't have garbage pick-up. So once a week my dad and I would go to the town dump. We'd throw all the week's trash in the truck and trundle out of the driveway, up the back roads, and arrive at the dump, which was on a hill outside of town. I had specific dump clothes, raggedy old things that, in my six-year-old fashion mind, seemed appropriate for an afternoon involving garbage.

On that particular chilly February day I recall dad asking, "Hey Stick, you wanna go to the dump?" Stick was my childhood nickname, short for Stick-in-the-Mud (I think dad was implying with this moniker that I was stubborn but to be honest I don't know for sure because I never thought to ask). Naturally I said yes, LOVED going to the dump and certainly loved spending a few hours of one-on-one Dad and Stick time. I put on my dump clothes and off we went.

I don't remember anything about the dump that day. Don't remember if we stopped for a bite at the local diner afterwards, which we sometimes did. Don't remember anything, in fact, except returning home and walking into the living room to find a dozen little girls in multi-colored party dresses yelling "Happy Birthday!" It seems the folks had planned a little surprise party, always a lovely idea for birthday girls. Unless, that is, the birthday girl had been to the dump.

There are several photos of me that day, but the one that stands out is of a short child in plaid pants, a striped shirt, and a ratty knit cap covering tangled hair scowling into the camera, clearly unhappy about arriving at her own birthday event in dump clothes. Even though I ended up with a new bicycle that year, I remember thinking, "For crying out loud, couldn't Mom have suggested I wear better clothes when I left the house since she knew I was coming back to a party?" 

Dump days are long gone, 50+ years gone in fact. Surprise parties are few and far between at this point, and that's probably a good thing because I've never been accused of being a fashion plate. Still, birthdays are special times. An opportunity to reflect on the year before, to take stock, to ponder "Wow, I made it to another one." I think about my mom and dad on my birthday, and how those sweet people plotted together to get little Kathy out of the house all those years ago, albeit to the dump, to set up for the big number six. How behind the scenes they tiptoed around putting bows on a bike and sending invitations and blowing up balloons and making a cake. I was a blessed kid.

Another chilly February is here. Last night, which also happened to be my birthday eve, a gang of old and still good friends arrived at my house for a class reunion committee meeting. One of those friends, whose been my pal since seventh grade, brought with her a surprise cake. Candles were lit and they sang happy birthday, followed by toasts and merriment. Cards have been flooding my mailbox this week and I awoke today, at 58, with dozens and dozens of salutations on Facebook, by text, and by phone, a very nice way to start a birthday morning. 

Sometimes, as life takes its shots, it's hard to see many positives. We just have to refocus, I think, look left instead of right, squint a little, and notice that even if you're wearing dump clothes there's an awful lot of good going on all around.

Blessed child. Blessed adult. I have the best friends in the world and am glad to be spending another year letting them know how much I love them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Trying to Feel The Love

Everyone on the news, and everyone I talk to, and everyone in general is complaining about the weather. When I moved to upstate New York in 2010 I knew what I was getting into. I grew up here, knew that winters could be brutal. I was often smug on Long Island this time of year, observing the snow-pounding my hometown was getting in February while on my suburban landscape was just a dusting. Of course that's not the case anymore. Thanks to Facebook I can see nobody on Long Island is smug these days. Snow there, snow here, snow everywhere.

I've never been much of a weather watcher, or a weather talker. It is what it is, I used to say. Compulsively tuning into meteorologists' predictions only opened an opportunity for me to run out and get milk before the blizzard came. But I'm cracking now. I listen to the news slack-jawed as weathermen gesture excitedly at maps and point to the next winter storm moving across the country. I stand in the doorway and see trees covered with snow, and streets, and houses, and towns. There's an eight-foot-long, one-foot-thick icicle hanging from an eave outside my office window. I've given up pushing snow off my car with the little auto brush and now just use the broom. I feel like I live in Alaska. Or Siberia. Or on some planet where spring never comes. Or in Hell, where we've been hoodwinked into believing it's hot and where in fact it snows every day, all day, for the rest of a miserable bone-chilling eternity.

It's snowing again right now. Another bunch of inches expected. Two inches, six, ten, a million. What difference does it make? I used to think snow was pretty, those dreamy flakes drifting out of a murky sky. Serene white fields. White-tipped pine trees. Now the flakes might as well be bits of asbestos as far as I'm concerned, or a swarm of locust. We are locked in a freezing mountain of snow that won't melt (if it ever does) until June.

A Tennesee friend moans that Memphis keeps getting weather threats, but so far no snow. She wants to bundle in a flannel shirt and eat chili, put puzzles together, delight in an outside frosting that never arrives. Meanwhile I'm cruising around the Internet, wondering if I can get a cheap flight to Mexico. One-way.

On this Valentine's Day, many wintery miles from the sandy beaches of Cancun, I'm trying to feel the love...if not the romance...of snow. But as Ringo once said, it don't come easy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Heroin Train

I was so disappointed on Sunday to learn that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died. Of course I didn't know the man, who lived in that peculiar fast lane of money and celebrity and recognition by millions of people he would never know. As one of those faceless millions, I was a fan. I remember watching him in Twister and thinking, "Wow, this guy's really over the top...kinda reminds me of John Belushi." He had an on-screen intensity I liked, but short of that I knew nothing else about him. Didn't know he'd struggled with drugs and alcohol, didn't know he had three kids, didn't know anything other than when he was in a movie, I tended to sit down and enjoy.

Hollywood types have tweeted outpourings of sadness and shock. What a loss, what a great guy, what a great actor, and so on. News people are tsk-tsking over his demise. I'm not sure how anybody who knew him could be shocked that he overdosed as he'd apparently gone on a week-long heroin binge a few months back, though I suppose it's always a shock when the inevitable finale arrives to those who decide that the artificial high is more important than the actual highs of life, the latter in his case being a brilliant career and little children and waking up every morning to a sunny day. Dr. Drew Pinsky -- the newly-appointed media addiction expert -- advises that we must separate the man from the addiction. I get it, Dr. Drew, addiction is a disease, but separating is easier said than done. There seems to be more to it than that, a cultural disconnect for those who choose nodding to living. Admittedly, I can't begin to imagine what such an addiction is like, although I have, sadly, known those rather close to me who have fought and lost the battle with this particular monkey. They weren't famous, nor were they rich with a penthouse apartment and children waiting. They were just young people who played Russian Roulette with heroin, and found the bullet.

When I was in high school and college, drugs were all around: pot of course, LSD, mushrooms, some coke. Heroin, though, was considered "big time." The heavy hitters used heroin and stayed in their own circles, sniffing and shaking and shooting behind the curtain of other more "acceptable" experimentation. We marveled at the celebrity heroin users like Keith Richards and James Taylor, both of whom, miraculously, survived. My friends and I didn't associate with anybody who used heroin. Or rather if we did, we weren't in on their dark secret.

Heroin isn't a dark secret anymore. It's right out there in our faces, the cheap sister to the pharmaceutical industry's opiate trade. Get hooked on Oxy and check the calendar, because sooner or later the money for prescription drugs will run dry and then you'll be forced to the street where heroin is, I'm told, cheaper to buy than marijuana. Kids across this country are using heroin now. Just last week more than a dozen teens in the Pittsburgh area died from what officials are calling tainted heroin. Nobody out there is tweeting about how great they were, how talented, how special. There are just a bunch of funerals going on in Pennsylvania this week. Families are sobbing. Lives are ruined. I have to wonder why so many people are trumpeting the pros and cons of legalizing pot when the great heroin train is thundering along, mowing down god knows how many kids in its path. It's a bit like shouting about sprinkles when a nor'easter in roaring up the coast. Midwest mothers are hand-wringing about a new century Reefer Madness, ignoring the fact that doctors are prescribing their pills, street dealers are making their cash money, and undertakers are making their plans. 

Indeed, Hoffman's death is a tragedy, although no more one than those of the Pittsburgh teens. That Phil was, as his Hollywood friends are saying "a supremely talented actor, a great talent, an actor's actor," is irrelevant to me. In the end he was just another guy, dissatisfied with life, sitting on the floor in a darkened bathroom with a needle in his arm. 

And the beat goes on.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum