Birdie Up Close and Personal

“If you count a sense of personal space as important, then air travel is not for you,” thought Birdie as she tried to get settled in her assigned seat on the small regional aircraft branded Canadair. The cramped area that each seat made available to its occupant caused Birdie to marvel at the suggestion that Canadians could be that diminutive.

Birdie and the young man sitting next to her unintentionally brushed thighs, accidentally rubbed arms, and unwittingly played footsie while trying to get comfortable. Neither one of them acknowledged any of this inadvertent touching and Birdie was glad when it was over. The young man? Well, who knew if he even realized any of it had happened. Maybe it was a generational thing.

The lack of personal space extended to the terminal as well. Birdie found that people would practically hop in your hip pocket as they were trying to make it quickly down the concourse. Birdie was swept along heading for gate B84, when all of a sudden, the person who had been speeding ahead of her and with whom she had been unconsciously trying to keep pace, stopped suddenly to search the monitor for his gate information. Unfortunately, Birdie couldn’t stop quickly enough and forward momentum planted her bosom between his shoulder blades.

Because she is hard-wired to apologize, Birdie mumbled an embarrassed “Excuse me,” while simultaneously trying to act like it hadn’t happened. Then she stepped back, avoiding any eye contact with the stranger she had almost been intimate with, and continued down the concourse.

Birdie noticed that the only place in the whole flight experience where people seemed successful at keeping others at a distance was in the seating areas at each gate. There, the travelers were vigorously reclaiming their personal space and expanding its boundaries by strewing their luggage over several seats. It didn’t matter if other people had to stand. No. “My luggage needs its own seat. My purse needs its own seat. So does my sack lunch from Heidi’s Deli. And my coffee from Starbucks.” Birdie guessed everyone was enjoying some breathing room before being crammed into the next airplane, where the only personal space obtainable would be in their heads.

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Indoors

The sadistic marketing department at Better Homes and Gardens delivered a garden magazine to Birdie yesterday. Two feet of snow and temperatures well below zero made browsing such a magazine exquisite torture for Birdie. Life in the Rocky Mountains served up long winters, so it wouldn’t be gardening weather until May. Because of this, the real-time calendar and Birdie’s internal calendar could get totally out of synch and cause Birdie the misery of hope deferred, so she had been keeping her internal calendar in check by sitting in front of the fire, reading books, writing, simmering soups and stews–all things that generate winter contentment.

The picture on the magazine’s cover showing raised beds full of herbs, a picket fence supporting rambling red roses, and the words Create Cottage Style caused a stab of longing for spring in Birdie not unlike the pain experienced when waiting for the phone to ring after a first date with your high school crush when you thought he’d surely call right away but he didn’t.

Birdie knew that falling into the magazine would be tantamount to falling off the wagon. She shouldn’t flirt with false spring. It was a cruel seduction. It would only open up longings impossible to fulfill. She knew all this as she ripped the plastic that encased the periodical. Sure enough, every article made her think she could smell the green of growing and every picture of blowsy gardens caused her to hear the buzzing of the honeybees, while the subtext taunted, “You are trapped indoors. (Evil laugh)” The people in the articles had turned hard clay soil into fertile loam, had brought in water features, and had transformed their former uninteresting lawns into enchanting garden rooms . They were wearing flowing skirts and broad brimmed sun hats. Their dogs and/or cats were being whimsical companions. Their spouses were sitting on wooden benches in shady bowers. It was all just too Gertrude Jekyll. It made Birdie ache.

The snow in Birdie’s yard that, just yesterday, had been sparkling was now drab. The icicles hanging from the eaves that had been crystal sun catchers were now looking more like prison bars across the windows. The cold temperatures that had been bracing were now “make-the-skin-on-the-back-of-your-neck-crawl” frigid. The enforced coziness in front of the wood stove was now just frustrating boredom laced with the craving to crumble friable soil with her bare hands. Birdie’s internal calendar had flipped from January to May.

Hmmm. Maybe the Burpee’s catalog will come today.

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This post was written for Alphabe-Thursday Letter I

Birdie and the DMV

The same day Birdie signed up for Medicare, in person–on line did not prove as easy and foolproof as Patty Duke promised– she decided she would stop by the DMV to renew her driver’s license as well. She had tried to do this on line also, but she had discovered that she was officially too old to be allowed to renew her license that way. She had to show up in person. So “in person” she was.

Birdie is never at her best when carrying out “official” chores. However, she had answered all the questions asked. It wasn’t really a quiz–just things like weight, height, color of hair and eyes. And she had told the truth. It made her wince to say her weight out loud. Birdie believes that if she never vocalizes the number associated with her weight, no one will ever realize she is overweight. She also thinks that if no one ever sees a photograph of her, no one will ever realize how “not good” she really looks. As if they can’t judge that by seeing her in person. Ridiculous, but body issues usually are.

Birdie passed the eye test. She was even congratulating herself for having the second proof of physical address with her when she hadn’t even known it was a necessary item to have. She’d witnessed two other people–geezers like herself– who had shown up without it. Things were going well. Too well.

The official who takes the photographs and fingerprints called Birdie up and asked for her full name and address. Birdie recited it. But she left out her middle name. An oversight. So DMV Official asked for her middle name and Birdie replied, “Jane, er, Jean.”

Birdie had gotten her middle name wrong! At the DMV of all places. She laughed and made a joke about not studying hard enough for the test. How stupid was that? DMV Official was very nice and laughed, too. He even offered the premise that everyone is entitled to at least 15 minutes of insanity every day. Birdie thought the DMV was an excellent incubator for insanity, but she was hoping not everyone present would exercise their 15 minutes. At least not all at the same time and not 15 consecutive minutes each. Not until she left, anyway. Let DMV Official handle it by himself. It was his theory, after all.

Birdie had been sitting next to a man who looked like he was about to cash in his quota of daily insanity. He was dressed in leathers, boots and chains. His arms and neck were emblazoned with tattoos of snakes, dragons, and skulls. His old lady, uh, moll, uh, significant other was seated beside him, in black lace tights, short skirt, long red nails, and big hair. Dragon man would lean over to Big Hair and say something each time DMV Official would call someone else’s name. The Dragon Man’s theme was that he had been here before the others and was being passed over. Steam was beginning to build, and Birdie was mentally formulating her plan to run for the exit if he blew. She mainly hoped DMV Official wouldn’t put her ahead of Dragon Man. It could turn into a hostage situation. And what if Dragon Man didn’t know his insanity was only supposed to last for 15 minutes?

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It’s OFFICIAL

Birdie had been getting mail from AARP for some time now and had also been taking advantage of senior discounts at the movie theater and fast food restaurants for quite a few years, but she hadn’t been OFFICIALLY OLD. Not OFFICIALLY. Recently, however, the government had alerted her that she was, in fact, OLD. It was now OFFICIAL. Birdie was on the government mailing list for OLD people. It was time to sign up for Medicare.

Birdie went on-line, being assured by Patty Duke, the patron saint of Medicare, that it would be a snap. She began filling out the form but encountered a glitch on the line that asked for her place of birth. She typed in St. Louis. The form kicked it out. Birdie put it in again. Kicked out again. So she reasoned that perhaps the electronic gods of Medicare did not like the abbreviation St. She typed in Saint Louis. The gods mulled that one over for a while and finally digested it and allowed her to click the continue button. She completed the form and was assured that she would hear something soon from Medicare or possibly from Patty Duke, herself.

Birdie did, indeed, hear something soon. She received a letter that told her that the information she had given on-line concerning her place of birth did not match the OFFICIAL OLD PERSON records. She would have to go to her local Social Security office to clear up the misunderstanding.

This was Birdie’s first ever visit to the Social Security office. She found that it is almost as hard to go to the Social Security office as it is to go through the airport, just not as much fun because there is no vacation on the other side. You have to empty your pockets, take off your jacket, surrender your cell phone, and walk through a security monitor. You can leave your shoes on. Apparently shoes do not pose a threat to Social Security officials.

Birdie explained to the young man behind the bullet proof glass, who will probably never get to collect Medicare or Social Security himself, why she was there and showed him her letter. He conferred with his OFFICIAL OLD PERSON computer records, and it turned out Birdie was OFFICIALLY born in Saint Louis or St Louis but not in St. Louis. Good to get that cleared up. So just as soon as Birdie can manage to have another birthday, she’ll be OFFICIALLY eligible for Medicare. That is, if her card arrives in the mail in time. Sure hope they don’t send it to Saint Louis.

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The Cannonball Express

Birdie thought it was interesting how she and Gerald were so very different in their approach to mornings. In fact, it was so interesting, she found herself clenching her jaw.

Birdie needed a bit of space in the morning. Some quiet solitude. Steeping time. Whereas, Gerald entered mornings at full boil. Birdie wanted to slip into her day quietly and easily without making any ripples in the pond of morning. She needed to test the water, dipping a toe in and perhaps just sitting on the bank for a while as the light threw sun pennies on the surface of the pond. Then, as she made peace with wakefulness, she would slowly wade in, testing her footing and allow the morning to baptize her into another day.

Gerald liked to run off the end of the dock and do a cannonball into his mornings. Unless Birdie was vigilant, he would knock her in, too. And vigilance, especially in the mornings, was terribly wearing. Birdie did her best to stay off Gerald’s radar screen. She would go through the necessary motions of preparing his breakfast, while keeping herself separate, so that Gerald would see no opportunity for conversation. Of course, it didn’t always work.

This morning, Gerald assailed Birdie with a query about diet versus exercise. He wanted to know if there were diets that took into account the caloric burn of exercise needed to offset caloric intake of food eaten. Why in the world would a person be thinking of something like that first thing in the morning? The mere thought of it wore Birdie out. The discussion of it–well, no wonder she was clenching her teeth.

When his phone rang, Gerald abruptly dropped the subject, clambered out of the pond, dried himself off, shaking the water from his eyes, and walked off into his day. He never looked back to see Birdie sputtering from water up her nose and swallowed the wrong way. It was no use for Birdie to try and sit on the edge and begin again. The real beginning had been used up. She’d been dunked.

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Birdie and the Great Bane

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Wood smoke was the bane of Birdie’s existence. She wasn’t sure if a person could have more than one bane, (as bane seemed to have a rather singular connotation), but she thought that the number of banes tormenting anyone’s life certainly ought to be limited. Although, even if a pack of banes was allowed, wood smoke was Birdie’s Great Bane.

The Great Bane had awakened her this morning. It had sneaked out of the wood stove in the kitchen, tip-toed up the stairs, hopped on the bed, hovered above her head, and licked her nose.

Birdie had first realized her aversion to the smell of wood smoke as a young seventh grade teacher at a school in rural Missouri. A small, cheerful boy named Jimmy, who smelled like a smoked ham, caused her stomach to roil during first period class every morning when she came into contact with him. It wasn’t fair to keep her distance, and she truly liked everything about him except for the “smoked ham thing”, so she just didn’t inhale when she was close to him.

Neither did Birdie find campfires romantic. The smoke would envelop her, smarting her eyes, becoming tangled in her hair, and invading the fibers of her clothes. While others were singing “Kum Ba Yah”, she was thinking about showers and laundry.

The forest fires that did their war dances from time to time on the mountains surrounding Birdie’s home brought with them the daily morning inversion of smoke that accosted her upon waking and was viewed by Birdie as insult added to injury. She found the smoke abrasive, aggravating, chafing, irksome, irritating, rankling, vexing. Smoke was inescapable. You couldn’t close your eyes and avoid it. You couldn’t cover your ears and tune it out. You had to breathe, and there it was.

Smoke escaping from the wood stove was an enigma. The stove shouldn’t smoke. The seal was tight. The chimney was abiding by the formula for chimneys, which is a complicated math problem concerning length and diameter of stovepipe, distance from the peak of the roof, wind velocity and direction, and barometric pressure, all squared by the number of surfaces inside the house that will get coated with grime if anything goes wrong. (That last one isn’t really in the equation, but it should be.)

However, Birdie found you couldn’t count on physics to keep a Great Bane in its place. One of the variables in the equation would invariably lose its focus and unleash the Great Bane to romp about the house, assaulting Birdie’s nose and bedeviling her sinuses, while huffing and puffing a layer of grime over her life.

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Spiders Go Postal

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Birdie’s mailbox was infested. And not just with political advertisements. There was a spider lurking in the back of the box. Not a Charlotte’s Web type of spider, either. An Arachnophobia type spider. The kind of spider that jumped at you and ran toward you. A spider with way too many legs. One with vampire teeth and a harpy’s laugh. One that wore disguises–was black one day and orange the next.

Birdie discovered the unwelcome resident on a day when she had routinely gathered her mail and climbed back into her car. Spidey appeared, crawling out from between the letters on Birdie’s lap. Fortunately, Birdie hadn’t yet closed the door of the car, so she jumped out, scattering the mail on the ground and allowing Spidey to escape and retain possession of the mailbox.

Birdie didn’t know why she hadn’t sprayed something in the box to exterminate Spidey. Probably because she never thought about Spidey until she was reaching in to retrieve the mail. Birdie always pulled down the lid and peered in as if she might be able to see Spidey lurking in the back of the box. But Spidey was really good at blending into the background, so Birdie had to pull out each piece of mail, one at a time, and beat it against the mailbox to dislodge whatever might be creeping among the day’s correspondence. It looked like some strange ritual. “Thrashing the mail to exorcise bad news.”

One day, Spidey took the offensive and rushed at Birdie when she opened the box, running toward her on the open lid. Birdie was able to knock Spidey to the ground, where she disappeared into the gravel and leaves below. This time Spidey was orange. She’d always been black before. Perhaps Birdie had interrupted a disastrous hair coloring experiment, and Spidey was in a bad humor. Or maybe it was a different spider altogether. Whatever it was, a bad hair day or a visit from Spidey’s aggressive Aunt Velda, it was scary. There’s nothing like a territorial orange spider to get your adrenaline pumping. So far, none of Birdie’s mail had been worth it.

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