Thursday, March 20, 2008

Make me virtuous... just not yet

I had a check up with Dr. Fred. Aside from some bursitis, which is going to require some physical therapy, it would seem that I am in great shape. The only caveat was that my cholesterol is slightly high. I know that I have been letting the diet slip lately, so it is really just a question of getting back on track. I am pretty determined that after getting my weight down and lowering my cholesterol enough that I was able to get off the cholesterol medication and I don't want to go back. So it's back to the diet.


La Simpatica's mother, who is a lovely woman, is the enemy of the waistline of those she likes. It's almost Easter, and Nonna has been making Pizzagiana. I might add, not everyone gets pizzagaina. You have to rate. I rate. We were in a staff meeting and Nonna leaned over and whispered to me. "I brought you pizzagaina." I had pretty much forgotten about Easter, till these fateful words reached my ear.

In case you missed the post about this last year, pizzagaina is a lovingly prepared, combination heart attack and stroke, baked in a pie form that is a traditional Italian Easter pie. You gain 10 pounds if you just walk into the same room as the thing and if you look at it, at least 3 major arteries close down for business. It's wonderful!

Monday will be here all too soon. I am going to start up my diet again. Pay attention to the amount of fat I am letting myself consume. Make sure my green vegetable and fruit intake increases. Cut out the junk I've been sneaking and step up the cardio. I will probably get a little more focused because I am going to have to go through physical therapy for the shoulder and that should help keep me on track.

That way I should be in good shape for next Easter. You only live once!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Driving lessons

I can remember every car my parents owned during my childhood. I remember the ’46 Ford coupe and how when we would drive up to the northeast kingdom to visit Uncle Frenchy. We would drive up old route 7 and my father would gun the car going up the rolling hills so that all the wheels would leave the ground at the crest. This would elicit shrieks of “Do it again Dad!” from us kids and the low tones of Doris muttering “If you do that again Johnny, I’m going to kill you.” All the while the old man laughing like an idiot.

I remember every intervening car that my parents owned until I moved out of the house in 1974. But I think that I remember the 65’ Plymouth Fury wagon the best. It was, at the time, the newest used car my parents had ever owned. It was also the only car my parents owned that I ever drove.

This car was white, the size of a Midwestern state, low slung and powerful. It had a 318 V8 which made it quite “peppy”. For a family station wagon, the thing had an almost frightening turn of speed. Actually, for just about any kind of car the thing was practically capable of flight.

My parents, I think had quite a bit of fun with that car. I know Doris did. I remember one particular summer day, shortly after my parents got the car, that I had been volunteered to go and help with my mother’s bi-weekly grocery shopping expedition in Rutland. We were at a stoplight that was at the entrance to the newly constructed highway. A car with a young man driving pulled up next to us. I am not sure I remember exactly what type of car it was, only that it was one of the muscle cars popular with young men at the time. Something like a GTO or an Olds 442.

When we had come to a stop a bag of groceries in the back seat had fallen over, and Doris asked me to set it to rights. I leaned over the back of the seat, and reached for the bag as Doris sat there, occasionally glancing at the driver of the other car with a slight smile, while he sat in his car, smirking and racing his engine.

I should have known I was in trouble, but even after years of experience I didn’t see it coming.

Just as I grabbed the bag, the light changed and Doris stomped down on the gas.

I flew over the back of the seat as my mother broke out in a fit of laughter as the car leapt up the entrance ramp. By the time I managed to regain the perpendicular we were racing up the highway, neck and neck with my mother’s competitor. He was getting visibly red in the face and Doris by this point was laughing like a fiend and the needle of the speedometer was climbing.

Probably looking like a Jack-in-the-Box peering over the top of the front seat from the floor in back, my reaction was, “Mom!”

She just kept laughing and pushing the car faster and the other car was keeping pace, but unable to pass.

Just as I saw the needle pass 85, Doris took her foot off the gas, and the other car shot ahead of us. Doris continued to look quite satisfied with herself and I climbed back into the front seat.
A couple of miles further down the road we passed our friend, who had been pulled over by the police. Doris just looked at me and said something to the effect that she hoped he learned his lesson about speeding. Later on in my own driving career, I would learn that this stretch of route 4 was a notorious speed trap.

One of that cars other qualities was something of a blessing and a curse at the same time.

It handled well for a station wagon because it was actually quiet low. If we had indeed live in some suburban enclave, which I assume Detroit had designed the car for, that would have been fine. However in 1970 rural Vermont it was not an ideal design. Most of the old county roads at that time were still unpaved. Actually, after a typical Vermont winter, they weren’t even so much roads as rutted goat paths.

These roads were a test of the average suspension system and heaven help you if your car had a vulnerable exhaust system.

The Plymouth had a vulnerable exhaust system, and my mother is married to a man who is the only person on the planet that knows how to drive. Everyone else is an idiot who should never have been allowed behind the wheel of a car.

Consequently, it was Doris misfortune to always be the one driving when the car went over a particularly rough spot, which would cause the muffler and sometimes the entire exhaust train to part company with the car. More than once do I remember the car roaring into the driveway, with the muffler sitting in the cargo bay. The old man’s reaction was always the same. Jesus H. Christ, Mother! Can’t you drive? I never have any trouble when I am driving to, insert name of any one of our farmer relatives who lived on interruptions in the fields that looked like they had been created with a harrow rather than graded roads.

I can’t prove it. But I suspect that my father was a victim of these roads as well, but was merely able to reattach the errant sections of the exhaust system before he got home. Whatever the case, he was able to assume the face of injured virtue and lord it over my mother on this subject.

Needless to say, this became something of a sore point with Doris and so she would attempt to take extraordinary care when traveling on dirt roads to make it home, with the muffler still attached.

Thus it was, on one fateful sunny summer day, my mother decided that she wanted to go and visit my Uncle Al and Aunt Elsie.

I went along so I could visit with my cousins. Generally speaking it was always fun visiting Al and Elsie. Their sons were close to my age and we generally would find something fun to do that if we had been caught would have landed us in trouble. Fortunately, Steve and Dave were masters at subterfuge and we rarely got into trouble, or at least any that stuck for long.

I also had a newly minted drivers permit burning a hole in my pocket and was hoping to get to drive. Doris however was having none of it. For reasons that were a mystery, she was dead set against me getting a license. I have since formulated some theories about that as well, but at the time it was just another injustice and hope welled in my teenaged breast every time we went out that I would be able to get behind the wheel.

As I said, Doris had set herself against me driving, so she chauffeured us up the rutted track to Al’s farm, a road that ended just past the farm at the home of one of the local service station owners, Whitey.

We made it to the farm without event and my cousins and I went off to find something stupid and dangerous to do while the adults settled down to gossip and the consumption of an impressive amount of beer. The afternoon flew by and I made it through with all my limbs still attached so we must have had a good time and finally Doris announced, somewhat bibulously that it was “time we headed back home.”

We drove down the hill from the farm and turned onto the road. We hadn’t got far when, ahead of us, Whitey came barreling down the road in his tow truck.

Doris eased the car towards the edge of the narrow road that was a tight squeeze for 2 cars at the best of times. A huge station wagon and an even bigger tow truck was just not going to make it without someone going into the ditch. Doris kept edging over and edging over when suddenly, the wheels of the passenger side of the car went into the ditch. Whitey sailed past us, and Doris who has an impressive vocabulary of swear words was exercising her knowledge of all of them, when looking back, I saw Whitey pull into Uncle Al’s driveway and turn around.

He pulled up beside us and getting out of the truck went around to the stricken side of the car. After a quick look, he walked over to the drivers side and said with the brightness of the near terminally drunk, “Well Doris, it looks like you’ve got yourself stuck!”

He and Doris had a rather good natured exchange and then Whitey hooked the tow truck up to the car and pulled us out and drove ahead of us until he reached a spot where he could pull over and let us pass. Through some miracle, the muffler gods were feeling merciful and the exhaust system remained attached.

The entire drive back I was on the receiving end of a rapid fire description of how miserable my life would become if I ever told my father about what happened. Knowing what my mother was capable of my silence was easily purchased.

Not that it mattered with what happened next.

The house that my parents bought in 1960, and in fact still live in, has a number of peculiarities. One of them is that it has a blind driveway.. From the road grade to the trees there was a berm that was at about a 45% angle slope from the road grade down to our lawn. At the time we still had a stand of 5 large trees in a front of the house. 4 sugar maples and an elm. The elm demarcating where the driveway began. In spite of a large tree and a reflector mounted on a pole at a height of about 4 feet as visual markers, my mother had a lot of trouble distinguishing where the driveway began and there were a number of unfortunate incidents involving the driveway, whatever car we owned at any particular moment, the hedge and on one memorable occasion the elm tree and our 1953 Ford.

Twilight was just coming on and this only added to the uncertainty as to the exact position of the drive. Also, Doris was a bit distracted with threatening my life should I be incautious enough to betray her to Dad and the fact that she had been keeping up with my Aunt and Uncle on the beer consumption. She hit the turn signal and started to crank the wheel.

“Mom, this isn’t the driveway!”, I shouted.

“Don’t you tell me where the driveway is young man.” I was informed sternly. “I’ve been pulling into this driveway ever since we bought this house.”

With those unfortunate words, Doris cranked the wheel and drove the car down the embankment between 2 of the maples, taking the muffler off the car.

“God dammit! Why in the hell didn’t you tell me I was missing the driveway?”, were the next words out of my mothers mouth.

It goes without saying that my father was out in the yard when this occurred.

Doris drove across the yard and pulled up in front of the house. Johnny, who had not been neglecting his daily recommended allowance of beer, was grinning like a jack-o-lantern and shouting “Jesus H. Christ, Mother! What the hell are you doing?”

Any of my mother’s blame assignment fell on deaf ears. This was too good for the old man to ignore. Mom heard about this for ages.

Payback however is a bitch.

Many years later, I was up visiting. I hadn’t got through the door when Doris and my younger sister greeted me at the door that the old man had finally got pulled over for speeding. Not simply that, but by a female state trooper and being my father, he had only made things worse for himself by being condescending to her. My sister had had the pleasure of witnessing this, because she had been in the car as a reluctant passenger, because she, with her freshly minted drivers permit, had wanted to drive and the old man had insisted on driving because he is the only person on the planet that knows how to drive. I was hearing all this at the tops of their voices as they were both laughing their heads off when I heard the old man’s voice from the living room, “Jesus H. Christ, Mother! Why don’t you just take out an ad in the paper?”

I’m sorta surprised Doris didn’t take out a full page notice in the paper.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Orchid update

I mentioned in a past post that a couple of my orchids had thrown up spikes. One is not doing so well, but this guy has pulled through for me.

I am hoping that my other orchids take the hint and get down to business. With it still being cold and gray here in the northeast, it brightens things up a little having this guy spit in Mother Nature's eye.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring fever

Spring is seeming a little distant today. We got snow this morning. I needed to do something before I finally lost it, so I got out the gift certificate that the Niece has given me for my birthday and went shopping for plants.

White Flower Farms is like crack for gardeners. I refuse to admit how much I spent, but this spring I am putting in some new varieties of echinacea and a second New Dawn Rose. Yes, Mikey, this time I'm planting it on the short side of the fence, so it will be climbing in your direction.

I could use some time out in the garden. There is something about working out in the garden that is incredibly soothing. So I am already planning on where to plant these babies.