Spring

Been a while since I’ve posted. Have a piece of fiction!


I stepped into the waiting room from the back of the office and tried not to rub the injection site. The fluorescent ceiling lamps tried to cheer the windowless space, but instead just reflected off the sanitized vinyl-covered chairs and dated glossy magazine covers.

An old man dressed in shabby jeans and a worn-out flannel shirt slouched in the corner seat. His hands hung over the arms of the chair. He was slumped so far down as to almost rest his head on the seat back, but his left sneaker tapped impatiently.

I sat down in the chair nearest the examining area door, set down my timer on the side table, and picked up a magazine to leaf through. Before I could open past the front cover, my eyes watered up and I sneezed one of those thick watery sneezes that you know has covered you with slime.

I reached for the packet of tissues in my pocket, but it was empty. I sighed.

“Need some of these, then?” The old man stood next to me, holding out a box of tissues. I nodded gratefully and took a few. “Nasty cold?” he asked.

“Something like that,” I replied, glancing at the timer.

“Ah. Allergy shots. Me too,” he said. He lifted a small digital timer matching mine out of the breast pocket of the flannel shirt.

“We picked a lousy day to be stuck in a waiting room for thirty minutes. It’s beautiful out,” I commented with a nod toward the medical center’s lobby. The weather was the general topic of choice among the allergy shot patients in the waiting room most days.

“Well, it’s warming up finally. I’ll give it that,” he said. Today was the first day since the January thaw that we’d been able to go outside without a heavy coat.

I smiled. “Thank the gods for spring, huh?”

At this the old man’s brow furrowed, “You mean summer, surely,” he said. His crisp blue eyes cut into me.

“Nah, winter’s too cold for me, and summer too hot. I’m all about the spring,” I smiled. Quickly I grabbed another handful of tissues, and sneezed again. “Fall’s too depressing. Spring is just right.”

The man’s frown deepened and he sat down in the chair next to me, glancing at the clock as he did. Lowering his voice he said, “I don’t know how you could say that if you’d met him.”

“Met him?” I asked.

He leaned in, lowering his voice again. “I’ve met Spring, and he’s a real rat bastard, that one is. You can tell me all you want about how you can’t wait for him to arrive, but honestly I’d rather he skipped us altogether and let Summer come right in just as early as possible.”

“You mean the season?” I asked, wondering for a moment whether the gentleman belonged in the psychiatry office down the hall. He rolled the sleeves of his flannel shirt up so that he could scratch at the welts that were forming at the injection sites on his biceps. I recognized a faded tattoo of the Sign of the Solstice on his sinewed arm. Not wanting to offend his religion, but curious, I replied, “Isn’t Spring…um… female?”

The old man laughed, the deep but steady sound belying his age. “So you’ve never met him but you know I’ve got it wrong, eh? Mother Nature and all that?”

I nodded. “I mean no offense-”

“Yeah, that’s the story they’ve sold you,” he continued as if I had not spoken, “but that’s not how it actually goes down.” He caught himself scratching the welt on his left arm and pulled his hand away in guilt.

“Think about it,” he said, pointing a bony finger at me. “Women like to get their shit organized before they settle down and build a nest. They’re in it for the long haul. Population dynamics and all that. Doesn’t pay to burn all those calories making a creature you’re just going to starve to death in a matter of weeks. And March? Not really a good time to feed the kiddies. That’s why you fill the bird feeders in spring. None of the plants have produced fruit, the new growth is too young to really fill the stomach, and the prey animals are all skin and bones themselves. Nope, women have their shit together way too well to be running spring. Mother Nature’s first name is Autumn.” The man nodded to himself, then continued.

“But Spring, his first name is Randy. He is all about sowing his wild oats. Sex and booze are all he cares about.”

I raised an eyebrow, and wondered if it was safe for me to sit next to this man. He put up his hands and smiled. “No, I mean literally. Don’t give me that look. Spring was the first one to use the wind to fertilize living organisms.”

“You mean pollination?” I asked.

“Well, spore fertilization first, but eventually pollination. These things take time to develop.”

If this was a creation myth, it was the most intriguing one I had heard in my five years as an anthropologist. I considered pulling my phone out to record the conversation, but the stern “NO CELL PHONE USE IN THE WAITING ROOM” signs that hung on every wall stared down at me. “Okay,” I replied, “Why?”

“Why? Well to make yeast and apples and corn, of course. Randy — I mean Spring — he’s a huge fan of brewing his own beer and wine and cider. Home brewing, though obviously it was the only kind available when he was growing up. He was the first one that figured out when the earth starts to warm, the wind gets to blowing, and a few well-placed stamen and pistil results in a quite literal orgy of tree and grass sex across the land. The rampant sexual conquests of all plant-kind in spring directly results in bumper crops of home brew by November, and Spring spends the cold months on a bender that would make a frat boy blush. It’s no wonder we can’t get consistent weather this time of year with him nursing a home brew hangover and horny as hell when he’s sobered up.”

Despite my misgivings, I smiled.

“Problem is he’s got a chip on his shoulder against anything that moves on its own. If it eats his plants, or it steps on them, or if it contaminates the brewing process….” He ticked the offenses off on his fingers. “Spring bitched and complained for years about the animals eating up all the new growth on the grasses and flowers and bushes just when his personal pornographic show time was just getting good, but the other seasons, who put a lot of time and effort into planning those births and those hatches and those colony awakenings months before, told him to kiss off. It was bad news to tangle with an angry Autumn. And Randy has other ways to deal with too many herd animals. If some flock of sheep got out of hand, he infected the grasses with fungus and they all died off anyway.”

“You’re telling me that Spring kills off baby lambs if he thinks there’s too many of them? Spring?”

The old man waved his hands to signal for silence. “Yes, he kills cute little lambs for ruining his whiskey. I did say he was an asshole,” he hissed. “But for Moon’s sake lower your voice so you don’t draw his attention. Spring hates humans. Hates us. We’ve spent centuries now domesticating his wild oats and apples and grapes, and feeding them to the animals.”

He tapped me on the arm that rested on the chair. “Get this. He claims we’ve taken the ‘bite’ out of his home brew. He used to have to store it in ceramic because it would eat through glass bottles in under a season, and now it won’t even etch the glass. When he figured that out, he tried to adjust the weather patterns so that the whole human race would be confined to caves until it was too late to plant spring crops.”

“Did it work?”

The old man shrugged. He glanced into his shirt pocket to check the time left. No patient was allowed to leave the office until the allergy shots had been in their system 30 minutes. “He’s really only pulled it off up in Minnesota and Toronto. I hear he’s still working on Boston.”

The man rubbed at the tattoo on his forearm thoughtfully. “You know, he could’ve tried talking to us about it. There were plenty of tribes back in the day who would’ve kept hunting and gathering for a cut of the brew. But Spring’s too self-obsessed to consider us lowly humans as worthy of parlay.”

“After a long time of thinking much harder than he should have needed to — I think the climatologists called it the Wisconsinan glaciation, because Spring just never showed up in these parts — he decided that he’d play the long game. He came up with a plan that lets him gets his rocks off watching the plants pole dance while simultaneously making the rest of us miserable, until eventually it’ll kill us.”

“Yeah?” I asked, now fully immersed in the tale, despite my desire to stay objective. “What’s the plan, and why haven’t I noticed it?”

The old man broke into a broad grin. He pointed at my timer. “Allergies, of course. Have you noticed every generation has them worse than the last?”

This time I was the one surprised. “I thought we were causing them by keeping our environment too clean.”

“All lies. Spring found a way to make us allergic to plants just by exposing us every year to small doses of pollen. It’s the ultimate in microscopic warfare against our own immune systems. Spring thinks it’s his best work. Now, instead of spending our time outside growing plants, we’re inside our caves. We intentionally inject ourselves tiny doses of pollen to keep from dying because Spring is infecting us with small doses of pollen to slowly kill us. You say what you want about how much you love spring. I’d rather he stay drunk on cider so Winter can pass the torch straight to Summer and we can enjoy ourselves for once. In fact, the Committee–”

The old man’s timer began its shrill alarm. As he pulled it out of his pocket, the door opened, and the nurse called out, “Mr. Greenstone? The allergist will see you now.” The old man nodded and rose from the chair.

“Thank you — for the tissues, and the story.” I called after him. He turned and faced me, nodded, raised a finger to his lips, then stepped away.

As the door closed behind him, I sneezed again. I blew my nose, then reached up and ran my fingers over the injection spots on each of my arms. They were both the size of golf balls. I began to wonder whether perhaps there was something to be said for skipping straight to summer after all.

Published!

My first article for that day job which keeps me off the streets was published today. It’s nothing exciting but still marks the first time I’ve been paid to write for something published for the world to see, so I’m pretty happy about it.

A memorial

I probably met Dr. Virginia K. Proud within a few weeks of my birth, but my parents discussed me with her well before that. I was their first child, born with a staph infection, and hospitalized for the first week of my life.

My parents weren’t starving, but they weren’t high-paid professionals, either, and along with my health, the cost of a week in the hospital for their very ill newborn was scary. Dr. Proud said, “Well, it’s not like the hospital is going to take her back if you don’t pay the bill. Send them ten dollars a month. It will be fine.”

Dr. Proud, by the way, is my Aunt Ginny, my dad’s only sister.

Many years later, i watched the movie RED and wondered who had been spying on Aunt Ginny to write Helen Mirrin’s part, Victoria. At one point, Victoria travels down an escalator into a restricted area and a guard repeatedly says, “Ma’am, you can’t be here.” She repeatedly answers, “It’s fine. It’s fine. I’m sure it’s ok…” And then she knocks the guard out with her purse.

“It’s fine” is the way Aunt Ginny lived her life. If she was any more than five foot, you couldn’t tell by looking at her, but that didn’t make her someone that listened to “no” easily – if she bothered to ask for permission in the first place.

Aunt Ginny and Uncle Ken were forced to leave one of their first apartments because they adopted a dog, and when she told me the story close to forty years later, she still seemed amazed that the landlord was serious about the no-pets policy. But, she told me, it gave her the chance to rent a professor’s house instead, so it was fine.

She had no qualms about walking down South Street in Philadelphia after dinner at 11:00 at night, even with an 11-year-old (my sister) in tow. South Street was on the news virtually every night back then, and I’m pretty sure my sister was convinced they were going to be shot. “It’s fine,” Aunt Ginny said, and it was.

When she had the kids at the beach and someone needed to use the bathroom, she marched all of us through the lobby of one of Virginia’s most stately hotels, sandy and dripping, to use the restrooms at their pool. We weren’t guests, and I was sure someone was going to come yell at us any minute but Aunt Ginny said it was fine, and it was.

She was the kind of person who didn’t worry about what time it was. The idea that an aquarium would be annoyed if ten of us showed up fifteen minutes before closing, or that a restaurant wouldn’t just reopen the kitchen if we showed up for dinner at nine o’clock and they had already closed the grill, never seemed to enter her mind. And if those things did happen, it was fine, we’d just make another last-minute plan in its place.

From Aunt Ginny’s example I learned that expressing confidence in a decision was much more important than knowing every single piece of data required to always make the right decision. Gather just enough information to say, “It’s fine, and here’s our plan.” When better information is available, change the plan accordingly. Don’t look back and regret things that can’t be controlled or information that arrived late, which might have taken you down a different path. All that matters is that you make the best decision you can when a decision must be made.

She also taught me that responsible people do their research, write down the facts, and work hard. Confidence breeds trust, but it’s not enough to nourish the trust into a long-standing healthy relationship. Only sharing knowledge, being sincere, and love can do that.

And oh, did she love. No matter how bitter, burned-out, or nasty I was feeling, Aunt Ginny loved me. Even when she was frustrated with me, she loved me. She told me how amazed and proud she was of me whenever she saw me. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a doctor like her daughter, or a teacher like her son (both of whom she lauded regularly), or a firefighter, CNA, biologist, pharmacist, or professor like so many of my other family members who have saved lives. It didn’t matter that I saw myself as worthless, that my daily battles with anxiety and depression left me feeling broken. Those were (and are) my doubts, not hers.

If Aunt Ginny did measure me agains my own potential, it didn’t show. She looked at who I was at that moment. If she could help me learn and develop, she did. And if she could learn from me, I knew she’d be pulling out one of her yellow legal pads filled with unreadable doctor writing so that she could write down everything I said and study it.

A few years ago, Aunt Ginny was diagnosed with multiple myleoma. With her daughter’s help, she engaged teams of specialists from Boston, MA and Duke University in North Carolina. She made it into remission. She saw the birth of her first grandchild. And the cancer came back, this time with an attitude.

Aunt Ginny brought the attitude to the cancer in return. She rollerbladed until it became too dangerous to continue. She biked with a rod in her thigh. When I visited her a month ago, she groused about having to use a walker, and planned to walk the Virginia Beach half marathon with me Labor Day weekend. She wasn’t just wistfully hoping to beat the cancer; she bought a sea kayak.

When I saw her ten days ago in a hospital bed in Norfolk, she could barely stay awake from the pain drugs, and she was having a terrible time finding a comfortable position to lay in. She wanted to know where we – she included herself – were going out to dinner that night.

When I saw her Sunday and Monday of last week, she had been moved to hospice care in her home, and to be honest, I don’t believe the true spirit of my aunt was still in the body that leaned on us for support. Those were very hard days, but we got though them in part because of the confidence perseverance she taught all of us, and in part because of the love she gave us, and we to her, and to each other.

Aunt Ginny, Dr. Proud, died late in the night last Monday, July 15th. My family and I spent as much of the week as possible with her family. I see reflections of her in every one of them. I am honored to have been welcomed to stand by their side.

On Friday I attended her memorial service, along with dozens of her peers and co-workers from the hospital, parents of patients, family friends, and family. I heard firsthand accounts of the doctor I rarely met and the family member I already knew. I am so amazed and proud of her I can only say I love her.

The hole she left in this world is huge, and will not be filled. Her death has pushed us on to roads we’d preferred to have left untaken, but it will be fine. We will gather the knowledge we need to navigate around the hole. We will find our confidence again. We will share what we know and share our love. We will never forget that the hole is there — that somewhere in the universe she is there, even if we can find her only in our memories and our stories — but it will be fine.

It has to be. She won’t have it any other way.

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Precision

From Inflationary Epoch on Wikipedia

It is not known exactly when the inflationary epoch ended, but it is thought to have been between 10 –33 and 10 –32 seconds after the Big Bang.

…Yes, because if it was 10 –33 and a half that would have made all the difference.

This is why I wouldn’t have made it in physics.

The big two-oh

Twenty years ago (give or take a few days) a sixteen-year-old boy invited my sixteen-year-old self to go to a birthday party for his grandfather and cousin. We’d dated a few times before that, but this was the first time we held hands and the first time we were Going Out.

Twenty years later that same boy, now a wonderful man, is taking me out to dinner.

We’ve been together for more than half our lives, more than our entire adult lives, and all but three and a half years of my sister’s life. That’s a damn long time.

Our relationship is more hard work than luck, more stubbornness than providence. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to be on this man’s arm, living this life, every day.

Pun warning.

The chest freezer currently holds:

  • One 14 lb frozen kosher turkey
  • One frozen whole chicken
  • Two frozen ducks

I officially dub this “The Winter of Our Discount Hen”.

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