Sunday, July 27, 2003

the eyes have it

There is a nineteen-year-old kid who works for me in the shop on the rare occasion that I can manage to schedule myself a day off. Yesterday was one of those irregular occurrences, and when I returned to the office this morning, I found the following list on the front desk, bordered on its left side by hand-drawn checkboxes that I would assume classify it as the “To Do” variety. It read:

• Hook up system
• Do laundry
• Tint windows
• Hang poster

Ah, to be ten years younger, when the extent of my concerns was such as this. Nothing that involves business or finance or any greater responsibility than lightening the skidmarks in one’s own underpants. But boo hoo, I’ve broadcast this boring woe-is-me-just-look-at-all-the-wrinkles libretto too recently to rehash. Besides, if I’d written a comparable list at the same age, it would have looked more like this:

• Attempt to further ingrain tenets of Communism in terrarium’s hermit crab population
• Sniff clothing from floor to ascertain degree of odorous objectionability; separate
• Tape aluminum foil over apartment windows
• Hang roommate

Oh, and each item would have begun with “Get stoned and…” to boot, so I think the kid’s probably got me beaten in the responsibility department by a sizable margin.

Sometimes I am struck in a very Jerry Seinfeld sort of way by the warnings printed on product packaging. This happened Friday when I had occasion to examine the label on the outside of a tube of vaginal cream (please don’t ask) and found it to read “Not for ophthalmic use.” The warning wasn’t on the box or even the back, where the other warnings were listed, but right on the front of the tube, just under the product’s name, in big bold letters. Now there’s a story I’d love to hear.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

about the weather

As I write these words, there is a hurricane building strength down in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical weather systems are multiplying, combining forces and gunning for the coast. Meanwhile, the shockwaves from this meteorologic conflagration have been rolling outward, causing high winds, violent electrical storms, and unseasonably heavy rainfall all across the southern United States.

Earth’s weather affects its denizens in many different ways, some direct and others more circuitous. A sudden downpour can destroy a house as easily as it can a briefcase full of paperwork. Heavy winds can pick up and carry away a beloved family pet as readily, and thoughtlessly, as your hat. Rain and hail and sleet and snow have no flight plan; they simply fall. Wind has no planned trajectory; it merely blows. We can only duck and cover, and hope for the best.

Three weeks ago, at the end of a particularly long day at work, my cell phone rang in my pocket. It was my wife Holly calling.

“I didn’t want to tell you over the phone…” she began, a phrase that always sends my stomach diving down into the heel of my left sock, “…but I couldn’t wait ‘til you got home.”

I thought my silence on the other end of the line would have been answer enough, but she wouldn’t flinch, drawing out the suspense, so finally, timidly, I answered, “What?”

“I’m pregnant.”

And I started laughing.

My wife and I have been trying to get pregnant for a long time now. She was pregnant a little less than a year ago but miscarried about six months along. Since then we’ve both been gunshy about starting back up in earnest, but recently we’d decided we were ready. She had gone off the pill and was one month into the three-month recommended limbo period between halting the flow of extraneous hormones into the system and proceeding with the flow of — well, you know. One month, and suddenly there we were again: Parents Pending.

I was on Cloud Nine. Cloud Ten or Twelve, even. We were in the midst of a huge race at the track where I work, a massive influx of people and product, constant scrambling to accomplish everything that needed doing, and still I coasted through the weekend like I was on roller skates. The weather was beautiful, sunshine and clear skies. It was an incredible few days.

Then, late Sunday night, it began to rain. On Monday, Holly miscarried again. After three days of the nicest weather of the year, that Monday’s temperatures were the area’s lowest in 126 years of recorded data. It seemed only fitting.

The two of us, my wife and I, slipped into a familiar malaise. Work kept me busy, but it couldn’t hold my attention. Holly started back to school, and word problems and quadratic equations vied for her thoughts, but woe was winning. We spent a lot of time staring silently into space, feeling sorry for ourselves.

As for the weather, it continued to be on again, off again, alternating between gorgeous and dangerous. The nastiest storm to hit the area grounded last Thursday night, a week ago today. The rain was bad, but the wind was worse, pulling down trees, billboards, and power lines all over town.

At 5:15 that night, Brad and Lisa Cunard, an Atlanta couple in their mid-thirties, were driving home from the local printing company they co-owned. Brad was at the wheel of their Toyota Land Cruiser, and Lisa shared the back seat with their two sons, Max and Owen. They had just picked Max, 3, up from day care; Owen, only six months old, had been with them at work.

Several minutes from their home in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of downtown Atlanta, an oak tree that had stood tall and strong for over a hundred years began to sway. It waited until the Cunards’ SUV was almost past it to fall, landing directly across the back seat. Brad’s wife Lisa and their sons were killed instantly; Brad stepped from the wreckage without a scratch, out into the rain and the rest of his life, alone.

The funeral for Lisa, Max, and Owen was on Tuesday. All three were buried in the same coffin, which was the light blue color of a cloudless sky.

I am a lucky, lucky man. No matter what falls.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003