Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The United States of Money

I was telling my son about the 4th of July a couple days ago. It must have stuck in his head because today he decided to make a U.S. flag. (Meaning: he decided that I was making him a U.S. flag.)

He brought me some green paper and a turquoise crayon and told me that he couldn’t find red, white and blue so this would be okay. I took the crayon and drew some stars and stripes for him and then we made a construction paper flag pole and taped it on.

As my son joyfully waved his flag a few minutes later, I was amused: our flag looked like a dollar bill perched on a pole. Somehow this seemed appropriate. Hasn’t our great country become a symbol of wealth, commerce, free trade—in a word: the American Dream?

My son decided to use his flag in place of the traditional torch and pretend to be the Statue of Liberty. My mental wanderings continued:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words once called to those who sought freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom from oppression. As my son inexplicably holds aloft his “dollar bill” flag, I wonder if people are still attracted to America for the light of freedom—or the dollar bills waving in the wind?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fiction: Flora


Virginia Marie Conrad sat alone in her parlor, peacefully dozing. Other than the faint intake of her breath, the room was silent. No neighborhood sounds penetrated her carefully crafted solitude. To glance at the room, a stranger might think they had stepped into Victorian England.

Miss Conrad—as she insisted forcefully on being called—was wrapped in a volumous dress from her ankles to the top of her neck. An antique brooch perched on her breast, slightly hidden by a meticulously detailed lace shawl. The knitting needles, crochet hooks and miscellaneous yarns and strings next to her chair hinted at the shawl’s origins. Her face was lined with wrinkles, a testament to the anguish and pain that had defined her past.

The “back parlor”—as Miss Conrad insisted forcefully on calling this room—looked out at green foliage on every side. A first impression might have labeled this view as a jungle, but closer scrutiny revealed careful cultivation of the flora. The huge ash tree was pruned into symmetrical perfection and led the eye to beautifully shaped antique roses, grapes crawling purposefully along a trellis, and masses of foxgloves reaching for the sky.

The faint rev of an engine nearby was the only hint that this paradise was, after all, in the middle of modern suburbia. Miss Conrad had always been a very light sleeper, and frowned vaguely at the reminder of the city that had grown up around her.

A louder sound abruptly pierced the air. This sound reverberated from within the Victorian incongruity. Miss Conrad, already partially aroused from her nap by the engine noise, opened her eyes immediately, suddenly animated into life. Her lips drew together into a thin, almost invisible line and her eyes were dark and sharply serious. Although blazing with fierce intensity, they admitted to a groggy confusion as her mind was expelled from the land of imaginings into the stark light of reality.

Miss Conrad noted her state of mental confusion and was annoyed by it. As the jarring sound invaded her serenity again, she pulled her eyebrows together in disgust. “Michael!” she screamed in an autocratic tone of voice. The power of the voice resonated in stark contrast with the frail frame that produced it. There was no answer.

The sound pierced her ears again. She looked at the originator of the sound—a small, wireless telephone—feeling offended and annoyed. It’s sleek design and modern contours contrasted sharply with the house surrounding it. Miss Conrad felt somehow affronted and tense as she looked at it.

“Michael!” she screamed again, “Answer the telephone!” She didn’t seem to consider the idea of picking it up herself. As it commanded her attention again, she covered her ears to dull the intrusion, leaning away from it. Her face weakened and she moaned softly, rocking back and forth. “Michael…?” she whispered, suddenly looking small and vulnerable. “Where are you, Michael?” The phone continued to ring.

Then she remembered. Michael was gone. “I’ll never see him again,” she gasped slightly. She choked softly as she repeated the word “never” in a barely audible whisper.

She felt shockingly alone, vulnerable and weak. Then, just as suddenly, her strength of character seemed to awake and revolt. She fought off the creeping depression. As the last echoes of the phone faded away, Miss Virginia Marie Conrad gingered picked up the offending item and hurled it forcefully across the room. Two things then happened.

In the heat of her emotion, she had misjudged rather badly her state of health and suddenly felt her arm burn with pain. She had no idea what she had done to herself, but felt a series of painful contractions in her arm and chest. She gasped loudly in unexpected pain as she watched the telephone descend. It flew in a picturesque arch and landed in the middle of Michael’s forehead. She screamed loudly now, absorbed in what she saw, not noticing until Michael’s head seemed to shatter into dozens of pieces that it was merely a framed photograph.

She wanted to run to where the picture had fallen to assess the damage, hoping only the glass had been broken, but the pain was too intense. Battling both physical and mental pain, she whispered, “I’m sorry, Michael. I lost my temper and I hurt you and I don’t know how much. But you know I didn’t mean to. I love you.” The words faded away as more sensations of pain ran through her body. The intensity left her breathless for a few moments and she leaned back and fainted.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Suburban Claustrophobia

Canada Red Choke Cherry. Small tree forming a rounded pyramidal crown. The leaves come out light green, then turn to reddish-purple later in the Summer. The flowers are white and bloom in April; fruits are dark purple. Easily grown and very cold hardy.

Newport Flowering Plum. Dark purple foliage holds its color well in full sun. This tree is more tolerant of changing temperatures than Thundercloud. Single, pink flowers in early spring followed by fruit.

Chanticleer Flowering Pear. This tree forms a narrow, upright, somewhat pyramidal crown with crisp, glossy green foliage that turns reddish in the Fall. The flowers are white and form in clusters.

For months now, I have been battling the slow onset of suburban claustrophobia. The neighbors' homes, which have always been too close for comfort, now seem to be expanding every day. Is it possible that they have foundations on wheels and once in a while, when nobody is looking, they push a little closer to me, boxing me in more and more? Perhaps not but it feels like it.

My crisis began when I contemplated a fix for my problem.

Problem: I feel that my yard has no privacy and I may as well be in a public park (which I despise greatly) when I step outside. (Note to self: is it reasonable to feel like I have to be dressed for public, hair combed, makeup on (ha ha... gotcha.. I never wear makeup except when I'm going out and even then, only rarely...) before I go through my back door? I say NO! Not reasonable!)

Proposed Solution: Line the backyard with trees, which will grow and fill in and make me feel less like my neighbors are holding binoculars up to see my movements. (Note to self: that is absurb on so many levels but I never claimed to be exempt from absurdity so ha! As if my neighbors would need binoculars to see ten feet away? and what would they be watching?)

Putting the plan into action: Look at map of yard. Problems emerge: It will take years for the trees to mature and fill in. If I were to plant them NOW for the privacy I want NOW, they would overrun each other and become tangled within two years. But I don't want to wait two years to go lie down in my backyard with tangled hair and holes in my clothes. I want to go stretch out in whatever I feel comfortable in--lying in some position that is completely ridiculous-looking but COMFORTABLE--and I want to do it NOW!

Perhaps I feel like a spoiled child who has been denied a piece of candy. Or that brat in "Willy Wonka" who screams, "But I want it NOW Daddy! Now Now Now!" Perhaps I need to chill. One feeling I couldn't deny, however, as I stood shyly in the shade of my french doors was the sense of unhappy claustrophia. I wanted to run and sing and act like a child in my back yard if the mood struck me. I didn't want to feel on display. As I mulled these things over, I waved to my neighbor who was jumping on the trampoline in her back yard. Each bounce reminded me that I am part of a larger community--like it or not.

When my husband got home from work yesterday, I told him I was feeling claustrophic in our neighborhood but I was trying to not think about it. I laughed it off, because he wasn't thrilled with my plans to buy a half acre in Lehi and get a house half the size for the same cost. I wasn't particularly thrilled with THAT aspect of it either, but I digress. I laughed it off but the feeling remained.

Long Story (even longer than what is posted) Short: The doorbell rang this morning and somebody from my landscaping company was at the door. "Where do you want these trees?" he asked. I stood there dumbly.

"Umm let me come look at them," I said. I walked all around my yard while the landscaper stood there (semi)patiently. First I chose one spot. Then another. Then another. Then after I'd finalized where I wanted everything I changed it all around. Two flowering pears in the front yard. The Canada Red Chokecherry and Flowering Plum (Newport) in the back yard. I had to face the facts: no amount of rearranging four small trees is going to turn my .19 into a 1.19 acre lot. Claustrophia set in again.

But now, as I look out my second story window to the neighbors down below, there is one more piece of humanity and nature planted below. Humanity because my two Flowering Pear trees are joining a whole procession of perfectly-proportioned, spring-blooming, autumn-coloring, not-too-small yet not-too-big, neighborhood-friendly trees that my neighbors would approve of. I resisted this variety at first because it is so popular in landscaping right now and I have that tendency to want to prove I think for myself rather than blindly following the pack. But facts are facts: these trees are gorgeous and no amount of rebellious, individualistic free thinking can change that fact. So now I have one more thing in common with those around me.

As I was driving away after the trees were planted, my neighbor called out, "Flowering Pears?" I nodded and we discussed them. My neighbor approved. And suddenly I felt protective of my little trees. They're like children when you get down to it: my trees may be smaller than my neighbors' or less perfectly oval or vaselike in their shape. But they are mine. And because they are mine they are beautiful. If they grow ill, I will worry and watch over them. And if they die, I will feel a real sense of sorrow as a piece of me is forcefully extracted from my being. And until then, I will have headaches over them but love them. And perhaps we'll add more to our family one day. I'm already thinking about a weeping cherry. Or a corkscrew willow. Or an ash. Or a braeburn apple to harvest each fall. Or a peach tree for my husband. Or apricot just to get those beautiful blossoms even though I can't stand the fruit....

YourTube MyTube, We All Cheer for YouTube

Here's something to cheer up your day. Legal/Copyright questions aside, I have enjoyed several "We really ought to get to sleep... Okay, just one more link" moments courtesy of YouTube this week. Quirky though they may be, here they are to waste some of your workday or sleeping hours. Bon appetit!

The One, The Only..... Weird Al!
White & Nerdy (final version) :
White & Nerdy (take #1 for all you Donny fans) :
The Saga Begins :
All About the Pentiums :

Rock Me Amadeus! :
Vienna Calling :