The Difficulty of Doing Nothing

I am a retired person, and  since retirement have remained mostly unemployed.  My forays back into the work world were brief, and taught me much.  Mostly, these tiny jobs taught me that I don’t want to be in the work world anymore.  But I retain a strong work ethic, and while the logical mind realizes I contribute to our happy household economically with my pension, I still feel the need to compensate for the reduction in income with what feels like incessant home improvement projects.  My thinking is, that since our home is our primary investment, maintaining and updating it is the best way for me to pull my economic weight, so to speak.

Growing up in a household which for most of my childhood was headed solely by my mother, it never occurred to me that not working was even an option.  My mother worked, her mother worked, my grandmother’s sisters both worked.  Falling in love and marrying was something I wanted to do, but I never thought that I would stop working once that happened.  And I didn’t.  For 16 years, the nice Roger and I worked mostly different shifts, in different divisions, with different days off.  He even installed a door to the bedroom end of our house, so that someone in the outer rooms could watch tv, talk, or otherwise live a normal life without disturbing someone who had worked a 12-8 shift, and so was sleeping at noon.  The sleeping someone was usually me, and given my notably surly disposition when I get insufficient sleep, this home improvement probably saved lives. And it is still doing its’ work, by blocking Roger’s news surfing when I’m in my study.

Prior to actual retirement, I had no problem taking the occasional ‘mental health day’, and happily spend it curled up with a book for hours, or schedule a double feature of movies.  But nowadays, when Roger goes off to work, I feel obligated to work, too.  And so I clean, I repair or update (both house and furniture), I garden, and otherwise do a raft of tasks necessary (in my mind) to life maintenance.  And very occasionally, I take an hour or two here and there, and finish Sunday’s NY Times, or watch a movie that I know Roger would hate.

Monday, I finally broke the pattern.  The house was clean (relatively).  I had no social or family commitments.  There was sufficient food in the house for my needs, and Roger agreed to import Asian take-out for supper. I was free.  And so, over breakfast, I watched “Bridesmaids”.  I wasn’t sure when it came out if it would be my cup of tea. I’m generally not one for gross-out humor but the bridal shop sequence was horrifyingly funny.  I also thought the movie was sweet, warm, and wonderfully human in its’ portrayal of some truly awful behavior.  Then, I happily read the NY Times (most of it). With lunch, I watched “Grandma”, starring Lily Tomlin.  I’ve been a fan of Ms. Tomlin’s since she first appeared on “Laugh-In” in the late 60’s.  She plays an untraditional grandmother, a poet and writer still grieving from the death of her lesbian partner.  She lashes out at everyone around her at the least provocation. Her granddaughter comes to her for money for an abortion, and a road picture ensues as grandma and granddaughter drive around, in grandma’s 1950’s vintage car, trying to raise the cash from various sources.  And, since this is a movie, various deep-seated emotional issues involving both women are dealt with in different ways.  But a particular pleasure of this film was watching Ms. Tomlin beat up her granddaughter’s baby daddy with a hockey stick.  After the second movie, I finished the Times, ordered dinner online to be picked up by the nice Roger.  With dinner, since I saw I had a feminist theme going,  we watched “The Hunger Games-Mockingjay Part 2”.   I thought it was a bit slow, but since we’d watched all the rest, I rather figured we were obligated to watch the last one.  And Jennifer Lawrence was amazing.

Three movies, one Sunday paper, no work at all.  I successfully did nothing all day.  It was probably the first weekday day off I’ve taken in six months.  It’s possible I’m not actually retired.

The Nice Roger

I have been married to a very nice man for a very long time.  His name is Roger.  While Roger is very supportive of almost all my endeavors, including blogging, he would rather I did not write about him to excess.  Or, for that matter, at all, but that’s not going to happen.   He has graciously allowed me to tell one story, about a conversation he once had with his father, Ray, about his grandfather, David.  I’ve always felt that this tiny tale says a lot about Roger as well.  Apples seldom falling far from trees and all that.

Roger remembers getting a phone call from his father, Ray, whom he called Pop, containing the following exchange.  Roger’s grandfather would have been in his 70’s at the time.

Pop: “Somebody tried to mug your grandfather at the subway station.”

Roger: “Is Grandpa all right?”

Pop: “Yeah, he threw the mugger down the stairs.”


Grandpa David Brooks1
David Brooks, noted tough guy

And that is all there is to say about that.


Talk Amongst My Stuff

I think my things talk to each other.  This belief probably comes from the fact that I live with furniture, art, and other items that once belonged to family.  My grandparents (both sides), Roger’s grandparents, and two of my great aunts made notable contributions to our collection of home furnishings.  So, when I arrange (and re-arrange), and combine the older furnishings with things Roger and I have acquired over the years, I imagine that conversations are occurring. Sometimes, I feel like I should be making an introduction, as when I placed these two chairs together.20160309_120350

The red club chair belonged to my mother’s mother, Sylvia, whom I called Nana. It was in the living room of her house in Bethel.  The dark green wing chair belonged to Roger’s mother, Lillian. I think they would have enjoyed having a nice chat.  The upholstery choices are mine, though. The club chair was formerly covered in cracked (and not in an attractive way) red leather. I kept the color, but the fabric is silk. The green textured silk on the wing chair replaced  an itchy gold brocade. Both the side table, and the wing chair’s wooden arms and legs were my refinishing work.

In my study, I reunited Sylvia with her sister, Anne, by placing this Victorian platform rocker, which was in her bedroom, next to Anne’s Danish modern sofa bed. This piece I had re-upholstered in another green silk, this one very smooth and sleek.  Apparently, everyone of my grandparents’ generation favored itchy upholstery.20160309_113022.jpg

The rocker (in the foreground above) is a piece I both restored the finish to, and re-upholstered, replacing the ancient cloth upholstery with dark brown leather & copper accent tacks.


Behind the rocker is a mahogany desk that belonged to my father, and before that, his mother. This is a piece I repaired and refinished, using a red stain to enhance the mahogany.

I also decided that the room need a punch of color, and this vivid, gloriously loud, tropical green was what I chose for one wall.  I found myself smiling as I applied it,  just happy to be next to it.  I like how the greens of the couch and the wall talk to each other as well.  I made the long, purple silk pillows from an old pair of evening pants. The fabric was too gorgeous to throw out. And I hadn’t worn ‘Hammer’ pants in some years.

Over the desk, I placed a favorite picture of my grandmother, Evelyn, as a child, with her sister, Alice, who was a also a large part of my life growing up. I like to think they’re admiring the ironwork on the New Orleans balcony next to them, an original photo by Johnny Donnell.20160309_113829

And finally, over my computer desk, I’ve hung a framed Guatemalan textile, depicting a religious animal sacrifice, opposite a carved wooden totem by a Kansas artist.  My girlfriend Terri gave me the cloth, and the carving is a souvenir of our most recent cross-country drive.  I’m not sure I wish to speculate as to the content of this conversation, but I bet it would be interesting. And possibly terrifying.20160309_102345

I look around my rooms, and I can almost hear voices.  And they are having fascinating conversations.

On The Wisdom of Bathing Cats

I am a cat person. With the sole exception of a large, goofy, mostly Golden Retriever named Chumley, whom I adored,

Chumley & I, 1984 or so.  I have no explanation for my overly permed hair.

I prefer cats.  I like the purring. I like how they knead cushions (or people) before settling in. I like their standoffish-ness. I believe in the truth of the old joke that dogs have families, cats have staff.  When I moved in with the nice Roger in 1990, I came with three cats- Pearl, Puma, and Panda.  Pearl was the eldest, with mottled grey and beige fur on top, like a grey pearl,  with a golden cream shade under her chin and on her belly. She had a quiet, gentle personality, and wasn’t much of a talker.

Look at that sweet face.

Puma was next in age, small and sleek, with black and white fur. She was sweet and shy.

Puma is the serene lady at the top, curled up with Panda Cat, and Peanut, my stepdaughter’s Yorkie.

Then there was Panda Cat. He was also black and white, and feline. And there any resemblance to the other two ended.  He never, ever shut up. He spent his whole life on the wrong side of the door. If he was out, he wanted in. In, he wanted out.

Panda Cat, sunbathing in our backyard.

Now, while the nice Roger was very pleased to have me move in with him, he was less enthused about my cat companions. It turns out I was moving in with Allergy Boy, allergic to everything from cut grass to pollen to yes, indeed, cat dander.  This substance would cause his eyes to close and his sinuses to clog with the most minimal of contact.  So when I came across a magazine article recommending monthly baths for cats to minimize the dander, I thought this was a spectacular idea. With the proper equipment, as suggested in the helpful article, and perhaps the assistance of another person, I could do this. Roger would sneeze less and the cats would look lovely.  What could go wrong?  If my cats could have spoken to me, I believe they would have told me that this was a bad idea.  In retrospect, I believe it is entirely possible that the author of the helpful article had never even seen a cat, much less bathed one.

Roger’s allergies obviously excused him from this task. So I turned to my girlfriend, Terri, to come over and help me. She had long had both dogs and cats, and is notable for, among other things, her utter competence in most everything. I then went to the hardware store, per the helpful article, and bought allegedly puncture-proof protective gloves, thickly coated with a bright orange rubbery substance. This seemed a sensible suggestion. But now, the helpful article made an odd suggestion. It told me that if I took a pair of old pantyhose, and drew a leg of the pantyhose over the cat, against the grain of the fur, it would both facilitate a more thorough soaking of the fur and help restrain the cat. Basically, make a cat sausage.  This was the theory.  I thought to myself, “How hard could that be?”   Sadly, it did not occur to me that stuffing a cat into pantyhose would be more difficult than stuffing myself into them.  We now have a bad idea, made worse. Much worse.

Bath day arrived. Terri came over and we began our preparations.  Heavy, long-sleeved shirts were donned.  Towels, gloves, and pantyhose were placed in the bathroom.  A shallow bath of warm water was drawn.  One by one, we found each cat, hiding under furniture, and carried it to the hall bathroom. They clustered behind the toilet, looking at us with hostile suspicion, Panda meowing his complaints out to an unimpressed audience.

We put our gloves on and began. Puma went first, since she was the most docile of the three, as well as the smallest.  I picked her up and held her while Terri stuffed her terribly tense body into the pantyhose leg.  We placed her in the tub, and began to wet her down as she cried piteously.  I felt bad, but we carried on, soaping her up, rinsing her, and removing her from bathwater (and pantyhose) to towel without injury.  Next up was Pearl, who while gentle, was also quite large, at roughly 13 lbs. And Pearl was substantially less cooperative, wriggling her tubby body (albeit ineffectively) and howling in full voice. We got her stuffed in, and went through it again.  This time, the hose got shredded and some minor injuries were sustained by the bathing staff, but a wet, angry Pearl was undamaged, and (relatively) clean.

Pearl and Puma returned to their refuge behind the toilet, staring out sullenly, and growling low in their throats.  They sounded really mad.  Now it was Panda’s turn. And he was not having any of this nonsense. No sirree, Bob. Scratching, clawing, and yowling his outrage at this indignity, he fought being put into the fresh pair of pantyhose. We had just managed to get his back legs in when it happened. The not terribly effective bright orange protective gloves were so heavily coated that we couldn’t hold on to the frantically twisting and clawing cat.  We both lost our grips, and watched with horror, utterly helpless, as he slid, screeching horribly, down the entire leg of the pantyhose into the tub, where he continued to howl at full volume and flail at his nylon cage. I genuinely wish we had been able to help him sooner, but Terri and I had collapsed in hysterical laughter on my bathroom floor, wet, soapy, and bleeding from several places, overwhelmed by both the lunacy of what we had just attempted and the sight of the incredibly pissed off cat in my tub.  Imprisoned in shreds of pantyhose.

We finally regained enough self-control to rescue the furious Panda, who, with the other cats, took off like shots when I opened the bathroom door. We didn’t see them for hours. I have no idea if the cat-bathing helped with Roger’s allergies.  I suspect it did not.  Eventually, he installed a door to block the bedrooms off, creating an animal-free zone, until all the cats moved on to their next lives.  I miss them still. They were fun and I loved them. But I chose never to bathe them again.