Friday, June 27, 2008

One Way Ticket

$300 is a lot to pay for 1.5 hours of mediocre entertainment. I've known people who paid less money for a few minutes of fun and at least got a sexually transmitted souvenir. Today all I got was a small Diet Coke with very large ice and a stewardess demanding that I discontinue the use of my portable electronic device.

But the change of scenery was worth it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Today I emptied the pots.

Five will be filled with new dirt and new plants and live with my sister. Rosemary and Thyme will stay with me, if they survive.

These two herbs that I love best were packed into a moving pod this morning. It will be a week before they arrive at our new home. A week without water. A week without wind. A week without sun. I pray for them, my herbal Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom, suffering in their hot hiding place. I hope they survive. I think they might. Maybe.

Their brothers, Oregano and Sage, were left behind. Like orphans of the apocalypse, they will wait. I will not return. I abandoned them along a fence in a pile of their own earth. I hope they take root, turn wild, and grow. If it rains enough, and soon, I think they might. Maybe.

This will be a long journey of hot mornings and many miles. There will be new seasons and new sunlight from a new sky. I wonder who and what will survive.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oil Cap

My car is red. It accepts both oil and gasoline, but each into different receptacles. Its tires, like most of our recent presidents, should be changed at least once every four years. Other than which radio stations are pre-set to which buttons, this is everything I know about the mechanics of my Jeep.

And so, when the Lube Pro told me today that my oil cap was missing, I smiled and asked, “is the oil cap something that fits on top of the engine or underneath it?”

“On top,” he said.

“Does that mean that unless my car rolls over, the oil will stay where it’s supposed to be?”

“No,” he said and swiped my credit card.


Gary, the man at the auto parts store, was only slightly less helpful.

“I need an oil cap for my 2001 Jeep Wrangler.”

“Engine?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

Gary sighed, unamused.

“How big?”

Such a personal question. I told him, but in a whisper.

Gary disappeared between the shelves and returned a few minutes later, carrying my new oil cap.

“I should probably know this already, but where exactly does this thing fit?”

Gary paused, judging me.

“On your valve cover.”

“Oh . . .”

Another pause.

“The valve cover? Where exactly is that?”

More silence.

“It’s right on top of your head.”

On top of my head? Really? It seems like I would have noticed it there somewhere between my last rinse and repeat.

Apparently the “head” has something to do with the "engine block,” which is essentially the same thing as the “engine,” only with the word “block” attached. Until today, I had no idea how much mechanics have in common with politicians, preachers, and physicians.

Since Gary was determined to show his knowledge without sharing it, I walked into the parking lot alone, lifted my hood, and looked for a hole that needed capping.

I found it, all by myself.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

extra credit kid

My new friend Leah can’t speak sign-language, but she could when she was young.

When she was ten, Leah’s 5th grade teacher used the hour after lunch to teach her class the beautiful language of the deaf. Even though everyone in the class could hear – even though they all listened to their radios at home and turned their TVs louder than their mothers would have liked – this particular over-achieving educator decided she wanted her class to know sign language. She wanted to teach their still innocent hands how to do something constructive. She wanted them to learn gestures that would communicate without offending the elderly. She wanted them to learn sign language.

The children loved it. Once, during a silent game of Ring Around the Rosie, they even got so rowdy that the teacher had to remind them to use their inside hands.

After the first week of silent speaking lessons, one of the 5th graders told the teacher that his grandmother was deaf. He said that everyone in his family knew how to speak sign language. He had been doing it for years. Sometimes, before bed, he even used his hands to read out loud to his grandmother.

But not the Bible. All the whosoevers and wherefores made his knuckles crack.

The teacher was amazed. Like an exotic exchange student from a faraway (and quiet) land, the boy was a native who already knew the language. He was a natural tutor. And so she offered bonus points to any child who spent time with the boy whose hands could talk.

He was the extra credit kid.

Apparently, within hours of the teacher’s edict, the extra credit kid became the most popular kid in class. His lunch table was always full. His seat was always saved. He never spent recess jumping rope by himself.

Every afternoon the extra credit kid leapt off a bus full of friends, eager to tell his grandmother how popular he was at school. With exhausted fingers he bragged about how everyone wanted to spend time with him because he was good at something. Because he knew something. Because he could do something no one else could.

Because he was extra credit.


I heard the story of the extra credit kid on a Saturday, three days before an important job interview. Although Leah lost contact with the boy sometime during puberty, I found myself needing to believe that in his epilogue the extra credit kid passed from the 5th grade into adulthood as a successful worker, a confident lover, and a compassionate friend all because someone was wise enough to recognize his extra credit.

“Hitler was a nasty exception,” I convinced myself. “Most people really do look to see the potential in other people. The extra credit kid lived happily ever after. So will I.”

Three days later, I changed my mind.

Sitting on a park bench an hour after the unfortunate interview, I thought about the extra credit kid and was forced to wonder what happened when he crossed back from extra to ordinary. What did he do when the children all mastered singing Happy Birthday with their hands and didn’t need him anymore? How did he react when the teacher’s arthritis forced her to stop teaching sign-language and start teaching something more practical, like meteorology?

After a month of mailed resumes and more silence than response, I need to know what the kid did when he stopped being extra credit. I need to know what he told his grandmother that night, after a day of learning about weather systems, an hour sitting alone at the lunch table, and a recess spent jumping rope by himself.

Did her ever find that calling, that hobby, or that unexpected other person who reminded him that he is still, and will always be, extra credit?

For all of our sakes, I hope so.