Author Archives: paulajwray

The Countdown

Birdie knew she should be counting her blessings. Naming them one by one as the old hymn suggested, but she just wasn’t in a blessing-naming mood right now. Thanksgiving holiday was coming up, and she knew she would get in the thankful mode eventually, but right now she felt downright surly. It was most likely due to dissatisfaction with herself, but it was manifesting in a sweeping scorn for everyone else. And she felt like naming the things she hated.

She hated the roll of fat that encased her stomach. She hated the articles and websites that explained how to get rid of the roll of fat that encased her stomach. She hated the people that wrote those articles. She hated the way those people looked with their svelte waistlines.

She hated their before and after pictures because it proved that they had made some progress and had moved from miserable specimens to success stories because of their gumption and perseverance. And while she was at, she despised their gumption and perseverance.

She hated their happy smiling faces as they enjoyed drinking green smoothies, eating flaxseeds, and shunning French fries. She hated them for drinking 10 gallons of purified water a day and claiming to no longer crave anything sweet now that they had cleansed their systems. She hated them for declaring, “If I can do it, so can you.”

She hated the young women who showed up for the Pilates class she had taken a chance on (just to see if she could maybe do some of that stuff that sounded so promising). Those young women with their strong legs, sculpted arms, and flat stomachs. The ones who could sit on the mat and form a “V” with their bodies, while Birdie could barely lift one leg in the air while propping herself with her hands. If she never heard the words “strong core” again, it would be too soon.

And while she was naming all the the things she detested, she had no use for people who were always looking on the bright side. Or people who were moaning about turning 60 or 50 or some age that was younger than Birdie.

It was true. There was no pleasing her. It irked her when the people around her were cheerful, and it griped her when they were gloomy

And what about those married couples who say they’d never had a fight? Never had a quarrel. Never a cross word. Did they even live in the same house together? Or were they just too bland to get crosswise of each other? Birdie didn’t believe them. Or if it was true, it meant they were just too boring for words. And she hated that, too.

Birdie hated it when other people ranted about things instead of either changing or learning to accept the inevitable. She didn’t like to hear complaining, and she didn’t like it when people used words like hate when what they really meant was irked, ticked off, aggravated, irritated, or annoyed.

So… Birdie took a breath and began counting.

Family. Friends. Home. Books. A window seat in the morning sun. Cats. A sense of humor. A cozy bed. Down comforters. A warm fire.
Her flower garden. Golden autumns. Laughter. Health. Heated car seats. Ice cubes. Ceiling fans. The comforting tick of the kitchen clock.
Gerald, who helped clean up after supper and was not a picky eater. Synonyms. Snow. The ocean, which was entirely, too far away, although that made it sound like she was complaining again, but–just saying.
The water from their well. Red-winged black birds. Sun pennies on the lake. Baby ducks in the pond.
Porch swings. Reruns of I Love Lucy. Thunder and lightning. Chicken-fried steak. Garden nurseries. Going to the movies. New shoes. A fresh haircut. Massages.
Piano and violin music. Whistling. Sleeping in. Getting up early. Going places. Staying home. Making lists. Indoor plumbing. Ferris wheels. The crescent moon.
Long summer days. Long winter evenings. Hot water from the tap. Lemons. Texting. Pink and yellow.
And more. Lots more.


Is it Just Me or Are You Crazy?

“Look at me,” said Birdie. Lunatics Welcome

Gerald turned and stared at her. “What am I looking for?”

“Do I have a neon sign hovering above me that says, Lunatics, welcome?” Birdie pointed toward her head.

“Not that I can see. Maybe if you’d step over by the window,” said Gerald. “Why?”

“Well, you know how it is when things happen to you that if you were the star of a sit-com, it would be funny, but since you’re the star of your life, it’s not funny, and it doesn’t get worked out in a half-hour? Well, that’s the sort of stuff that’s happening to me,” said Birdie.

She shook her head. “I must have Crazy-bait hanging around my neck. I’ve looked, and I don’t see it, but it must be there. I guess only the Crazies can see it, anyway, but if things keep on going like they have been, I’ll be able to see it before long because I’ll be crazy, too.”

“Settle down,” said Gerald. “A mind is a pretty easy thing to misplace. Just make sure you keep track of yours.”

“I’m trying. But why are the nut-cases congregating around me? I try not to encourage them. Is it my aura? Do I have a crazy aura? See, they’re already having an effect on me. Only kooks use words like aura. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word aura before.”

“Oh, you might have used it before. That doesn’t mean anything,” said Gerald.

“I don’t understand what draws them to me. It can’t be my welcoming vibe. My vibe is distinctly unwelcoming. I’ve made it a point to be unwelcoming. You know how unwelcoming I can be.” Birdie’s voice rose.

“I can’t fault you on your industry in that area,” said Gerald nodding his head.

“Seriously, I’ve gone from just an occasional, intermittent Crazy-encounter to three bona fide, constant Crazies in the last six months.” Birdie held up three fingers and waved them at Gerald. “From NO full-time Crazies to THREE full-time Crazies. That’s a 300% increase, if my math is correct. Even if my math’s not correct, it’s too much.”

“If you’re going to start talking about math, then maybe you have gone ’round the bend,” said Gerald. “Just think. Our math teacher was right when she told us we would use percentages in our everyday life.”

Birdie sat slumped in her recliner. “When it was just intermittent Crazies I could rely on my go-to strategy which is, run like the wind, but you can’t do that when the crackpots are integrated into your daily life. You can’t run from your life no matter how insane it gets.”

“Sometimes, when they’re in the midst of all their lunacy and sharing it with me as if I had asked them to, I’d like to just call a spade a spade, or in this case, call a nut-job a nut-job. I’d like to say, That’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever heard. ” She ran her fingers through her short hair in a quick dismissive gesture.

Birdie leaned her head back and exhaled loudly. “But I can’t, because what my mama taught me shakes its finger in my face. ’Birdie, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’ Personally, I tend to believe that if you can’t say something nice, it’s because there’s nothing nice to say, but I keep my mouth shut and practically get a cramp from the involuntary eye rolling that I have to suppress.” She closed her eyes in sympathetic response as she mumbled something about everybody and his duck being absolutely bonkers.

Gerald took the lap quilt that Birdie had pulled up to her chin and tucked it in around her. “There, there, my little loony tune. Save some crazy for another day.”

Birdie, Bread, and Life

“What had happened to her thoughts?” Birdie wondered. They were swimming listlessly, round and round, like dying goldfish. No luster. No verve. Birdie had definitely misplaced her verve.

She blamed it on trying to be nice, which was an ill-fitting uniform that Birdie had tried to wear. Birdie had always judged herself as innately kind, and had never worried about being nice. In Birdie’s mind there was a distinct difference. However, with some people, being nice was the only currency that you could spend.

So, Birdie had made an effort to become consciously aware of her interactions with others. Some well meaning persons had pointed out that tact was not Birdie’s strong suit. Maybe they hadn’t actually said those very words, but that’s what they meant. They had said something like, “I wish I had the courage to be as direct as you are.” Then they gave a little laugh. It was definitely a criticism dressed up to look like a compliment. Birdie wasn’t fooled.

So she worked on changing. Instead of interacting instinctively, she had become mindful. No, make that tentative, concerning her words and actions. And she had turned into white bread.

Birdie didn’t want to be white bread. White bread was okay for some things, like when you wanted a Braunschweiger sandwich or a ketchup sandwich, but you shouldn’t even be eating those things. She wanted to be that 21-grain bread she got from Serious Delights Bakery. Or even Russian rye. Even better–that demi-baguette with the sesame and poppy seeds.

Yes, demi-baguette was better all around. Chewy and flavorful. With seeds that became lodged in your teeth, sure, but seeds that served as a reminder of how delicious your encounter with the demi-baguette had been. She definitely wanted to be a demi-baguette. And who ever said a demi-baguette wasn’t nice? Nobody, that’s who. Nobody who was right.

How to get back her demi-baguette? Stop being thoughtful and considerate and all the other ways that seemed the ways one should be when relating to others? Birdie didn’t want to run rough-shod over anyone’s feelings. That wouldn’t be the way. A demi-baguette wouldn’t do that. But, a demi-baguette would be itself. How could it not? It would make you work a little harder for its deliciousness. It’s toothy-ness. It’s nutty goodness. It would be worth it. It wouldn’t be stubborn or recalcitrant, just chewy.

Demi-baguettes didn’t worry that they weren’t more like white bread, or that they weren’t the first choice of people who preferred white bread–people who don’t want the bread to play any real part in their life’s sandwich. People who have become so de-sensitized that they don’t realize that white bread turns into sticky gobs of mucilage when you chew it. People who are still eating like children, whining about having crust on their bread.

Birdie would be a demi-baguette. She would be the bread that was the perfect complement to rare roast beef, cheese, or real butter, with soup or stew or all by itself. The bread that you find yourself thinking about later. Wishing you had some more. And she would be the demi-baguette, not the baguette. The baguette was too much, and it came without seeds. A demi was just enough for one or two people at a time. And the seeds made it perfect for only certain people. Not everybody. Yep. Birdie–the demi-baguette.

Mmm, mmm, good.

Mmm, mmm, good.

Say Cheese

The other day, a lunatic asked Birdie for a headshot to include in a brochure for an event in which Birdie was scheduled to participate. (Note to reader: Birdie assumes only a lunatic or a cruel and callous person would ask her for a picture to plaster about on real and digital telephone poles like a poster for a lost cat. Birdie believes in giving the benefit of the doubt, so she has pegged this person as a lunatic rather than cruel and callus. It seems the kinder estimation.)

Since the shot needed to be recent-within the last decade, anyway-the lunatic may as well have asked for a feather from a Dodo bird. Or in this case, the Dodo Birdie.

In her search, Birdie ran across the family picture that had been taken last Christmas. Unfortunately, this picture of Birdie could have been included in The Illustrated Directory of Deadly Diseases.

Birdie looked like she was in the last stages of tetanus. Her jaws were locked in a toothy grin that had the tendons in her neck looking like you could pluck a tune on them, and her eyes were unnaturally focused on the camera. The rest of the family looked relaxed and, well…photogenic.

Birdie has always dreamed of being photogenic. For her high-school freshman year-book picture, Birdie’s intent was to convey a sense of mystery and romance. As she looked into the camera, she thought far-away thoughts and smiled an enigmatic smile. The picture shows her nostrils flaring in a “what’s that odor?” kind-of-way and a visage resembling someone beset with temporary amnesia.

The earliest hint that the camera was not going to be kind to Birdie was in the first grade. The photographer lined up the children on the steps of the elementary school, told them to move closer together, and without warning, snapped the shutter. The class was facing into the sun, and so, Birdie exhibited her trademark sun grin, this one so severe that she was actually grimacing, the tip of her tongue sticking slightly out the side of her mouth. The picture made Birdie look as if she wasn’t quite ready for the intellectual demands of first grade.

When she has advance notice that pictures will be taken, Birdie quickly inventories her options, trying to come up with something the camera won’t ridicule. She could tuck her chin, but that usually increases the number of her chins by at least one. She could smile with teeth, but then her lips disappear. If she smiles without teeth, it appears she is suffering from nausea but putting up a brave front.

Gerald, says, “Don’t think about it so much. You have sparkly eyes when you smile. Just relax and smile.”

Birdie has tried that, too. When she relaxes, her shoulders slump, and her stomach pooches. And her eyes? Well, when Birdie smiles, her eyes become slits, just like her sister’s Chihuahua when someone scratches its belly.

“Roll over, Birdie. Say cheese.”

Birdie and her Pet Elephant

imageBirdie believed that one of the hallmarks of growing older gracefully was the ability to embrace change. And since there was no good alternative to growing older, then she wanted to do it gracefully. The hitch in the plan was that she had never done anything gracefully that she could remember. So maybe, she would just have to grab change in a big, old, bear hug and squeeze it till it cried, “Uncle.”

Birdie knew you couldn’t avoid change. When you’re growing old, change is the elephant in the room. You might not want to acknowledge it, but it’s still there, right in the big middle of things, making you squeeze past it to go about your daily routine. It will crush things you thought were valuable and irreplaceable in the process of trying to make a place for itself. And it will produce lots of by-product.

“The irritating thing about change,” thought Birdie, “was that it hardly ever gave you a warning.”

Not one that you were intuitive enough to recognize, anyway. So it always seemed to loom up out of nowhere, expecting you to put on your boots, hitch up your pants, and head out to unfamiliar territory at a moment’s notice. It required a bit of spontaneity.

“I can be as spontaneous as the next guy,” mused Birdie. “I just need a little advance notice.”

Turning on a dime was not in her bag of tricks. She could turn, but she needed a much larger coin to do it on. Something like a silver dollar.

“But change she would,” decided Birdie. “Change was sometimes necessary, change could be good, and change was inevitable.”

“Besides,” she thought, “if you’re going to have an elephant in the room, you might as well have some fun with it.”

Cosmic Slurpy

Sitting in the dark, shoes stuck to the floor by decades of residue from spilled soft drinks, eardrums vibrating to booming decibels, inhaling the aroma of popcorn, savoring the anticipation of a whole box of Good and Plenty with a large Dr. Pepper in the cup holder at her side while coming attractions are flashing across a giant screen–this is as close to Bliss as Birdie can imagine. Sort of a Nirvana Slurpy.

Since Gerald doesn’t share Birdie’s excitement, they don’t go to the movies very often. Consequently, Birdie spends her coins of opportunity judiciously, not squandering her movie experiences willy- nilly. She plans carefully. Executes precisely. Ultimately, though, the end result is up to those double crossing stars, the somewhat misaligned planets–the Cosmos. And unfortunately, the Cosmos often leans over and sucks up Birdie’s Nirvana Slurpy.

There are two movie theatres in Birdie’s small town. One of them is a stadium type complex where each theater is designed so that every seat is a good seat unless a giant wearing a 10 gallon Stetson happens to sit directly in front of you. Any movie that requires 3D glasses, relies on bathroom humor, is animated, appeals to 13 year-olds, or has at least one comic book super-hero is shown at the stadium complex. On the other hand, if a movie employs character development, or has a story line that would interest grown-ups, it is shown at the “No Seat is a Good Seat Theater”. This theater has a barely sloping floor guaranteeing that each row of seats is approximately 1/4 inch higher than the one in front of it. Can you hear that sucking noise?

Gerald had agreed to go to a matinee. They had two choices. An animated feature at the Every Seat is a Good Seat Theater or a grown-up movie at the No Seat is a Good Seat Theater. As Gerald put it, “We can always rent the animated movie and watch it at home with the grandkids.”

Birdie knew it was necessary to get there early in order to buy their tickets and queue up at the entrance to the theater so that as soon as they were allowed admittance, she and Gerald could rush in and grab Birdie’s two favorite seats. These are far enough back to accommodate Birdie’s far sighted-ness and since there are only three seats in the row, it discourages having anyone sit next to them.

Birdie and Gerald established their beachhead, and Birdie began to savor her Slurpy.

The theater started to fill at an alarming rate. The row in front of Gerald and Birdie was quickly being claimed, but the two seats directly in front of them were still empty. Birdie decided to stack the deck against the Cosmos. She put her jacket on the empty seat in front of her. Blonde Page Boy walked down the aisle, looked straight at Birdie and asked, “Is this your jacket?” Birdie retrieved her jacket and offered a drink of her Slurpy to the Cosmos. Blonde Page Boy sat down and deposited her stuff in the adjoining seat. Shortly after, Blonde Page Boy’s husband came in and sat next to her. To top it off, that rare species, the Solitary Movie Goer sat in the third seat in Birdie’s row during the Coming Attractions. Three big gulps for the Cosmos.

Birdie believes it’s only fair that if you arrive late to the movies, you should have to sit wherever seats are available. It’s the price you pay for being late. The Cosmos doesn’t agree. Someone actually came in after the previews started rolling, asked a whole row of people to “Please scoot down so that me and my friend can sit together.” Birdie thought, “Why didn’t she just go ahead and say- Even though you all came early enough to choose the seats you wanted, you’ll have to sit somewhere else in order to accommodate me and my friend who came late, and one of us is still out at the concession stand buying Raisinettes-?” The Cosmos is so rude. “Suck.”

Oh, and what about Oblivious Woman who walked up to the front of the line while Birdie and Gerald were waiting in the lobby to enter the theater? Oblivious Woman asked, “Is this where we go in?” making a motion to open the door. Someone politely informed Oblivious Woman that the theater was still being cleaned. Someone else said, “Why do you think we’re all standing outside the door?” That’s exactly what Birdie was thinking, except she added, “IDIOT!”

It makes Birdie want to accidentally spill what little is left of her Slurpy down the back of someone’s neck. See if the Cosmos can suck that up!

In a Dissimilar Vein

Birdie drew blood the other morning. Or, rather, she had it drawn. Her doctor ordered it as part of Birdie’s “Welcome to Medicare” physical. “Welcome to Medicare” sounded to Birdie like an induction ceremony for the initiates to a special club. The kind where the leaders go into a back room and vote on nominees using white and black balls. Birdie was not black-balled. She’s in. They have her blood.

The technician, Helen, tied on the tourniquet, asked Birdie to make a fist, massaged the vein in the bend of Birdie’s arm, and stuck her. Since blood and having things stuck into her arm makes Birdie’s color pale, she didn’t watch, but she heard Helen make a noise. Just a slight noise, but a noise that definitely implied, ”Hmmm. That didn’t work.”

Helen apologized and said she’d have to find a different vein. As she removed the blood-letting paraphernalia, she explained that this vein had been too small. She’d go for one on the back of Birdie’s hand. Birdie found it sad that of all the things that could have been small–her waist, her nose, her feet, her behind–it turned out to be her veins.

Helen directed Birdie in a number of hand calisthenics in order to pump up the chosen vein with the required volume of blood. Another stick, and they were on their way–filling up two small vials with Birdie’s essence.

After it was over, Birdie recounted her experience to her daughter, Lexy. Lexy said, that unlike Birdie, she had veins that begged to be bled. They stood up and waved–practically shouting, “Choose me! Choose me!”, giving high fives to all the technicians gathered around marveling at the purple plumpness lying practically on the surface of her arms and hands.

It was apparent that Birdie and Lexy did not share vein DNA, but at least, Birdie was in no danger of bleeding to death during the blood-letting ceremony at the “Welcome to Medicare” initiation.

This is my entry in this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge

20130416-093218.jpg The prompt this week was the third definition of color