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WHEN DUTY CALLS

Nine months ago, while packing to move 40 years worth of “stuff” from New York to South Carolina, I hesitated while holding the dog’s pooper scooper. Should I pack it or shouldn’t I? After all, the truck was filled to capacity, and the doggie excavator was of the super-size variety for my rather large golden retriever. Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary where we were going; maybe the Poop Fairy would show up in the dark every night to remove the golden eggs.

Weeks before, I attempted training my rebellious husband how to pick up the dog’s waste when out in public – a chore we’d be obligated to do, once we resettled down south in Pleasant-Ville. Our new home is in a very pleasant area! If you bump into anyone, they say, “That’s fi-i-ine!” instead of giving you the northern scowl or the finger. In our new neighborhood, they pump jasmine scent into the air; the children (even teenagers) are well-mannered, and their parents drive down the tree-lined streets in shiny golf carts, mothers wearing Laura Ashley dresses and fathers in pink shorts. We’ve recently invested in the Happy Pills they take, and are learning how to mark off the calendar where every day is Saturday.

“I will Not be picking up the dog’s poop!” my husband had protested.

“Oh, it won’t be so bad,” I told him. “We’ll take turns.”

“Take turns? How many times does a dog poop in a day?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered, honestly, since she had always done her business, privately, in the woods on Long Island.

“I wonder if there’s such a thing as dog poop services.” He went online. “Well, look at that!” he said. “They come to your house on a regular basis in marked vehicles. It says dogs poop approximately 23 pounds per month. The more poop, the higher the price. It looks like it will cost us $20 per service. Kind of pricey.”

Not bad, I thought. Bruce is retired now – Hmm… maybe? But it is an art to find it and remove the __it. These people are experts…

He continued reading: “The service people move in a grid-like pattern, their eyes meticulously scanning the path before them.”

“What about behind bushes? I asked.

He ignored me because we were moving to property without a lawn, without bushes, without any maintenance at all; well, except for the removal of dog doodie in a large brick courtyard.. And once collected, whatever do you do with it, I wondered.

He interrupted my thought. “It also states their service is insured.”

“Insured? For what? If someone steps in it? If there’s unwanted poop contact?” I thought of a Seinfeld skit I once saw describing those little poop bags dog owners use, following behind their mutts and purebreds on the streets. It is the lowest activity in human life,” Seinfeld said. “If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they’re going to think the dogs are the leaders of the planet.

Flash-forward: I am proud to say my husband has now mastered the pick-up. He is a Pro at inserting his hand in the bag, scooping it up in one swift motion and disposing. Flashback: I will never forget the first time I had handed him the little black plastic bag to do his duty. His finicky back went out a little as he squatted, and then it turned ugly! Well, you don’t need to know the details. Not entirely his fault – my husband’s not handy!

But I must say, good things have come out of this. The relationship between man and his dog is different now. The way my dog looks at him all schmoopy, as she watches him do the poopy-scoopy, as if she has a whole new respect.

Speaking of Respect – R-E-S-P-C-E-C-T, aside from Aretha Franklin coming to mind, I will not forget the irony of what happened next: While my husband was trying to be discreet when walking the dog in the open field near our house where neighbors sometimes gather, the poor guy ran into a sticky situation. As it turns out, one of those neighbors was the banker he had recently met with about a loan.

“Mr. Berg?” he called. “Glad I ran into you. I just started going over your application. So, here’s the scoop…”

My husband dressed in his favorite Bob Dylan t-shirt, quickly tried to hide the little black bag behind his back. “Oh! Umm, hello!”

The gentleman, dressed in a navy blue 2-button pinstripe Brook Brother’s business suit, extended his hand in greeting and my husband nervously extended the wrong hand and flung the little black plastic bag straight at him. He tried to wipe the banker’s jacket off, but that apparently rubbed the man the wrong way.

“Err…sorry. I guess we’ll finish the application process on Monday?” my husband asked in a weak voice.

“I don’t think so!”

Hey, stuff happens.

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OUT OF STATE, OUT OF MIND

I’ve been a frustrated writer for many months now, not having written a word because our computer crashed right before our move out of state. It’s finally back. But I’m not sure I am. Just touching the keyboard now feels alien to me, like everything else. Have we landed on Mars? Have we lost contact with Planet Earth? Here we are my husband Bruce and I, in Charleston, South Carolina – voted the #1 most desirable city in the United States, and #2 in the world. Our daughter Janelle and son-in-law Mike and two toddlers moved in with us, temporarily.  To say it’s been chaotic is an understatement. (Our son, Jeffrey, always the logical one of the family, remained in New York, but we’re working on him to join our Nonsectarian cult).

Carolinians speak a different language than us; they’re low-talkers here in low-country, unlike us loud Yankees. The second we open our mouths, everyone knows where we’re from. Dead giveaways: cawfee, dawg, dawta, wawta . . . we were immediately given the test how to pronounce y’all correctly. It took a few tries ‘til we got it right.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things in life. For me it was also an out of body experience. We found the transition challenging, from our home with a big yard to a New Orleans style home on a lake, replicating the historic homes downtown with balconies, shuttered windows, brick courtyards, flower gardens, and Spanish moss. We sit on one of the three levels of piazzas, chasing our dog running back and forth barking at all the passersby with their own dogs.  There are 750 homes in our neighborhood and most families own two to three dogs. Do the math and you’ll know why we’re frazzled.

Before our move there was a ton of preparation. We had four yard sales back home on Long Island to purge all the stuff we accumulated over the past 40 years. The last sale was the toughest, parting with certain sentimental things. They’re just things, I know, but still. I remember handing over my mother’s sewing basket filled with her buttons, embroidery, ric rac, needles and thimbles to a woman, and bursting into tears. She handed me back the basket and said, “It’s okay, you keep it.”

My biggest regret was not being able to part with the thousands of photos – frozen, fragile memories encased in glass frames, separated in bubble wrap from the hundreds of other boxes. How could I possibly part with the time our golden retriever fell asleep with three tennis balls in her mouth? Or when we donned our infant son in a long blonde wig in his baby carriage? Or when our teenage daughter was balancing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in her sparkly platform heels?  I couldn’t!  It was a strange feeling when we pulled away from our house in the driveway, looking back, teary-eyed,  wishing we could take it with us, dismantle it brick by brick, and put it back together again when we reached our new destination. It wasn’t just a house, it was part of our family, and we were abandoning it forever. Goodbye house. Hope your next family fills you with happiness.    

We pulled up to our New Orleans style house with its three levels and helped the movers carry everything up the many flights of stairs. OY! What were we thinking at this age? We were emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. The heat index reached 115 degrees. Bruce and I were on edge, and either were going to head for divorce court before we unlocked the front door, or else drive off the Ravenel Bridge together.

The next morning a water hose under the kitchen sink got loose like a wild snake, and Janelle and I, who morphed into Lucy and Ethel, tried to hold the beast down, but it had a mind of its own. I grabbed the nearest thing to catch the water shooting out – a potted plant – which quickly turned into a muddy river on our white kitchen floor. We both panicked until her level-headed husband Mike came to the rescue. After the leak, we had to withstand two weeks of lightning storms, and then the infamous 1000-year-Flood. Our bottom floor had water gushing in, and we couldn’t save the rugs, but were grateful no one was hurt. Well, that’s not exactly true. Bruce slipped in the new lake inside our house and fell hard. In fact, it started a whole series of him falling, and we had to keep buying larger and larger bandages. We stayed up overnight with a giant, noisy Wet-Vac machine, and kept fans running. There was an awful loud commotion coming out of our house for three full days.  Everything was going wrong!  From no internet or phone service, emergency visits to the doctor with our grandchildren contracting impetigo, to freaking out when we discovered palmetto bugs (southern roaches the size of flying mice) trying to move in with us.

As I stood on the sidewalk, wringing out wet towels, with my drenched hair lacquered across my forehead in my muddy and torn Capris, a well-groomed southern belle drove by in a shiny red golf cart wearing her pearls and Burberry raincoat, and gave me the Queen’s wave. I stood there with my Carol Burnett mop and pail, and my daughter noticed my bulging eyes, ready to lunge. “Hold me back!” I said.

When the storms passed, and the sun came out once again, neighbors knocked on our door bearing welcoming bread. We were invited to morning coffees, afternoon teas, tennis tournaments, movie groups, book clubs, and on and on. We went on a horse and carriage ride along surrounding quaint streets with porches beautifully decorated for the Christmas season, and it didn’t take long to fall madly in love with the neighborhood.  Again, we can say it’s good to be back in our home sweet home.

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Grandma’s Emetophobia

Our daughter Janelle and her husband Mike (former Greenwich Village party-people) were very excited to be going to their good friend’s wedding in Miami. They dropped their three-year-old son, Jagger, and seven-month-old daughter, Siena, at our house for four nights. I had gone to Costco to stock up on what I thought we’d need once we became shut-in grandparents.

Still trying to figure out why I had purchased a carload of crap from a mega store, my daughter called and said “We’re coming by now to drop off the kid’s. For a fleeting moment, I wondered why we needed all my stuff and now all her stuff. My eyes widened when the two fully-loaded SUVs pulled up at our front door. Janelle handed me my granddaughter. Mike unbuckled Jagger out of his Houdini car seat, and my grandson ran around me in circles, pulling at my sleeve for attention. “Cracka,” (he calls me Gram Cracker) “I’m going to sleep over your house in the bed with you and Papa King.” He looked so excited. And he seemed fine. Just fine.

At dinner Siena sat in the high chair, squeezing avocado between her fingers and smearing it over her pudgy cheeks. I was disappointed that Jagger didn’t want to eat his dinner, but I was pleased enough with him drinking almost an entire gallon of the nutritious Mysterious Green Drink. At least I got ONE thing at Costco that paid off, I thought. Sure, it was worth the $400! On the label of the bottle, it actually states: “It looks weird, but tastes amazing.” It not only contains five different fruits, but also Spirulina (whatever the hell that is.) Oh, wait! Let me Google it.  Definition: “Filamentous Cyano-bacteria that form tangled masses in warm alkaline lakes in Africa and Central and South America.” NO LIE. In addition to alfalfa, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, barley grass, wheat grass, ginger, and parsley. And, by the way, these things are “sustainably grown and harvested”.  After dinner, I left the dirty dishes on the countertop and in the sink, thinking I’d get back to them later.

I read Jagger his favorite storybooks while we cuddled in our king-size poster bed and noticed his eyes looking kinda glazed-over. I felt his forehead and it was warm, but I didn’t think it was unusual; he looked almost as exhausted as I was and fell asleep quickly. I started to tiptoe out of the room so I could clean the mess in the kitchen. But Jagger had different plans for the evening. With only one foot out of the master bedroom, I did an about-face when I heard déjà vu audio from the movie The Exorcist. Poor Jagger bolted himself into a sitting position and projectiled all that green goodness onto our white down comforter. I thought of the label again on that big green bottle. It says to be sure to SHAKE WELL … Jagger took care of that!

Carrying the three year old to the bathroom was like moving slow motion in my worst dream. And I don’t know what I was thinking he would do once I got him to the vomitorium, being this was a first for him…he had no idea he had to aim the green machine into the bowl, instead of EVERYWHERE else! I couldn’t blame the poor child.

He sat on the floor, trembling, and looking at me in shock. “It’s okay,” I lied; I didn’t want to let on that I’ve always been phobic about throwing up (Seriously!). “Um, don’t move, I’ll go get Papa King,” I told him and ran down our (50-foot-7 inch long) hallway (I just measured it) as if I had wheels on my feet. “Come with me! NOW!” I yelled at my husband, knowing he’s a slow-walker. “MOVE IT! MOVE IT!” Papa King, who had been mellowing out at the other end of our house, listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, had no clue what troubled waters he was about to embark upon.

 

He rose to the occasion though, stripping the sheets and comforter off the bed, and wiping up the floors. I was quite impressed. Jagger and I both sat on the floor with our green hair, watching him clean up. As soon as the shock wore off, he screamed, “I WANT MY MOMMY!” My heart crumbled.

Siena was starting to stir in her crib from all the noise, and the craziness got crazier. It was like a scene from a nutty movie. Even our golden retriever, Jude (who I named after the Saint of the Impossible) joined us for what looked like fun to her, and grabbed the baby’s pacifier when it dropped from Siena’s open, crying mouth, and the six-year-old dog pranced like a puppy, taunting us to play chase. “You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!”

My once clutter-free home, which is up For Sale, by the way, turned into a circus. I couldn’t imagine how I’d prepare to show the house the next morning for the realtor who was bringing prospective buyers. The HGTV show came to mind … how they talk about “staging” … I tried to recall if there was ever an episode called Exit, Stage Left.

That entire night, I slept zero hours, minutes, seconds, waiting to hear sounds from my two little grandchildren, my precious little cookies, and I was doubly tortured by Papa King’s snoring (the man can fall asleep on a picket fence); I wondered who would be next in line to get the bug?

In the morning, when I asked Jagger what he wanted for breakfast, he answered, “I just want my BIG Gre-e-en drink.” My gag reflex went into immediate action.

That day, in between my lack of sleep and cool baths to bring down his 104 temperature and delirium, photos of the wedding party were being posted on Facebook…and there stood Janelle and Mike in their cool sunglasses with big smiles on their faces, holding cocktail glasses with little umbrellas in them. How could I tell them what was happening? I couldn’t. I would just have to wait ‘til the next day when they’d be in the middle of their post party hangovers.