Sunday, October 3, 2010

if this floor could talk

Daily I am faced with it, wake to it, again and again. Oh, the horror of it! My bare toes shrivel at the prospect of unshielded intercourse upon this great masterpiece of filth that has become of the formerly lush and lusty pile carpet in my home. Alas, and would it were not so.

My carpet is a grungy patchwork of splotches and stains in varying shades of grey, decorating the floor in a gross accidental animal print that stretches across nearly all our living space. The incidents that rendered this impromptu abstract artwork vary wildly, and in truth, I should probably feel more nostalgic about it. What I mean is that these stains, however disgusting they may appear, also serve as a chronicle of the collective lives that have been playing themselves out inside these walls, a timeline of the narrative of my family.

For instance, here near the doorway of the kitchen is the spot where I once bled. There had been a baby gate stretched across that doorway and a baby in my arms when, as I stepped over the gate en route to the living room beyond, the toe of my shoe caught on its top edge and sent me sprawling. An old fashioned wooden rocking chair sat only a couple of feet away, and instead of trying to catch myself, I had cradled the baby to my chest like a wide receiver with a game-winning touchdown pass and fallen full force into the side of that chair, which shrieked, splintered and collapsed beneath us all at once into a pile of broken kindling. Somehow I managed to protect my daughter from injury amidst the calamity of the fall, but I was hurt – arms and side and shoulder badly bruised, one forearm gashed where a spear of snapped slatwood caught and bit, both knees deeply skinned from digging into the carpet to stop the bulk of our weight – and we lay there as my blood dripped onto the floor, the baby screaming like her hair was on fire, me shocked silent as stone.

I stayed sore, scabbed and strawberried for weeks afterward, and the damage to the rocker was irreparable, but as far as we could tell, the baby hadn't even been scratched. The cut on my arm healed cleanly, but I still have a fat purplish scar on my right knee that itches like the devil sometimes when the weather's bad. I don't mind, though. I like to be reminded of that day, when I instinctively sacrificed my own well-being for the safety of my fragile little girl. I might even think that I'd saved her life had my own clumsiness not caused the whole ordeal in the first place. Nevertheless, it still makes me feel good. Makes me feel like a father, a real one. I appreciate anything that leads me to that.

And yet, when I see that stain where my blood fell, one among so many, I still typically think, "Ugh! I hate this carpet." Wherein lies the difference between my itchy scar and the sight of that spot, I don't know.

Look – those spatters not too far away from the bloodstain are from the first time the kids caught the neighborhood ice cream truck down at the end of the driveway, and I bought my daughter a Tweety Bird sherbet and my son a Batman, both their own choices, both with eerie gumball eyes. Over there near the window is where somebody was watching television with a cup of chocolate milk and kicked it over. And that, just to the right of the entryway – yeah, the one that looks like a turtle with a long neck – that's the spot it made when the cat got into the pantry, broke open a bag of flour, and proceeded to sneeze 'til he barfed.

Speaking of pets, I'm pretty sure that one is from the brief period when we had a dog. And that one. And that one. And all those over there.

The really huge stain, the one that occupies almost the exact center of the living room floor, comes from the time when my son was so sick as a baby. During the long recovery period that followed his treatment, he took medications that caused him to throw up repeatedly, enormous awful projectile vomitings up of whatever was inside him, over and over again. He probably puked onto that same spot on the carpet thirty times or more. The old couch used to sit there in the middle of the room, and we would hold him there, or lie down with him there, knowing he'd be throwing up at least once or twice and thinking that letting that ratty secondhand couch take the brunt of the abuse was better than washing bedclothes however many times a day. So we'd sit there, or lie there, and sure as the seconds on the clock ticked off, he would throw up again, down over the side of the couch. That's why one side of that big stain is flat like it is.

All this time spent, all this well-earned wear, these moments, these memories and so many others, ground down into the knap like a diary, and still the sight of it makes me cringe and wrinkle my nose in disgust. I can't help it -- I want a fresh start. Perhaps, when the time comes and we begin the work of pulling it up off the tacks, stripping it away from the subfloor and rolling it up into logs to be hauled away, then my feelings will change. Perhaps, as I throw those great heaps down amongst all the other cast-off debris at the landfill, I'll finally make my peace with its grime and give credit where credit is due: this carpet has been through so much, and it has served us well.

But regardless of my sentiments, next time we're getting hardwood.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

truth in advertising

There are a multitude of prescription drug commercials that have dominated American television for the past decade or so, all attempting to coerce the public into a brand-name solicitation of the product with their local practitioner. The majority of these ads are surprisingly similar to one another, consisting of flowery titles superimposed over a gentle, slightly hallucinatory montage of scenes -- blissful people walking hand in hand on a beach, or laughing at the dinner table, or playing frisbee with a dog, all slightly slo-mo -- that play out on the screen while a comforting, motherly voice proceeds to read a litany of the most ghastly possible side effects of the drug:

“Use of Clandesta may cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, halitosis, flushed skin, water retention, hives, shingles, scurvy, bloating or gas, stomach or intestinal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, lapses in bladder control, gigantic kidney stones, flop sweat, persistent nausea or vomiting, difficulty sleeping, difficulty hearing, difficulty speaking, shortness of breath, blurred or double vision, impotence, infertility, extreme nervousness or restlessness, paranoia, genital warts or blisters, muscle stiffness or weakness, numbness or tingling in the extremities, decreased coordination, shaking, fainting, seizure, hepatitis, jaundice, gout, low blood pressure, ringing in the ears, strange thoughts or dreams, unusual changes in mood, transient hallucination, racing or irregular heartbeat, unstable temperature, entoptic phenomenon, receding hairline or stretch marks, and may also increase the risk of skin, lung, bone, liver and/or rectal cancer.” After which horrific intonation the voiceover always immediately follows with the caveat, "Ask your doctor if Clandesta is right for you." Because hey, stomach cramps aren’t so bad, right?

My favorite is the spot for a sleep aid that states, "Users have been known to experience sudden depression and suicidal thoughts or actions.”

So what they're really saying, if I understand correctly, is that if you search within yourself and find you prefer your insomnia to, say, a purposeful self-inflicted death, then maybe this isn't the drug for you. And to that I offer kudos, guys; right on. We The People would earnestly appreciate that kind of blunt honesty in our advertising whether you were required by Federal law or not. Considering the content of the other eighty-something percent of television commercials we see, I'd say we need it more than ever. Need them both.

The honesty, and the drugs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I was outside working in the yard today as my eldest, who is 6, conducted his usual outdoor canvass of our property for hapless bugs to capture and observe. The focus of these quests is ordinarily worms and slugs, which he loves mightily (some might say unhealthily), but because it is spring and they are plentiful, he has recently redirected his fixation to caterpillars.

If you were to ask him (and quite possibly even if you weren’t) exactly why he feels the irresistible pull to abduct these larval Lepidoptera, my burgeoning research scientist will tell you it is of the utmost importance that he witness the development of a chrysalis and subsequent emergence of a fully metamorphosed moth or butterfly, for as he says, “I’ve never seen that.” If you were to ask me why, I would tell you that yes, I do believe his scientific curiosity comes to bear, sure, but that his true motivation is more likely due to the fact that, as far as bugs go, caterpillars rate pretty high on both the cuteness and handleability scales, and also, they’re slow and easy to catch - in other words, the perfect quarry for a kindergartner with a monster bug jones.

This morning, his hunt began with the acquisition of several ladybugs before he came across his first caterpillar crawling along on the large butterfly bush we have in the back yard (that’s Buddleia davidii, for you botanical types). He showed it to me as I was headed inside to retrieve some water for the two of us, speaking excitedly about how he had “never seen one like this before.” Though it looked small and fairly plain to my jaded adult eyes, I did my best to echo his enthusiasm in my response and demeanor before slipping into the house for the water.

When I returned, he was crouched down over the picnic bench on the back patio, and he looked up at me with an expression of supreme distress on his face.

“We’ve got a big problem, Dad,” he said.

“What is it?”

“I was watching the new caterpillar crawl on the bench right here, and he fell down there in the crack, and now he’s stuck.”

I looked where he was pointing, and sure enough, the little guy had slipped perfectly between two of the slats of wood that make up the sitting surface of the bench.

“Oh no,” I said to him, knitting my brow in concern. “What are we gonna do?”

He thought for a moment, looking back down at the bench, and then said, “We need a saw,” nodding slightly for effect.


“Then we can cut the bench and he can get out.” He looked up at me and smiled. Nay — beamed.

“Well, we could do that, sure, but if we cut up the bench, then where will we sit?”

“We can sit in chairs,” he said, a note of exasperation in his voice, as if wondering how I could be so incredibly stupid. “He’s stuck in there, and we’ve got to rescue him.”

“I know, buddy, and you’re right — we do need to help. I just think we can probably come up with some other way to get him out of there. Don’t you?”

“Well… maybe. But I really think we need a saw.”

Luckily we were able to work out another, less destructive method of rescue together, and our humanitarian efforts were entirely successful for both the caterpillar and the bench. But I have to be honest — if my ‘gentle coaxing with a folded piece of paper’ technique had failed, I’d have been sorely tempted to try his idea. Because in spite of its deleterious impact on my outdoor furniture, I must admit it would have worked like a charm.