6.10.2009

Man Plans, God Laughs

I grew up with a mom who knew how to talk. If she got nervous or if there was a pause in the conversation, mom talked. She talked about anything, people only she knew, things only she was thinking about, stories without a point. Even her husband calls her, "Big Mouth." He says it's a term of endearment. I believe him. It's easier to be around her, trying to fill empty air, than around people who are nothing but empty air.

I've learned, though, that sometimes she is just filling air. Sometimes you accidentally tune out, when she's in the middle of a 44 minute sentence, and forget to pay attention. It's not intentional but it is hard to follow where she's going. Even she gets lost sometimes.

I haven't talked to a person face-to-face in about a week, unless you count the "hi" you say to people you see while walking or while working out at the Y. My mom and her husband came up to town to hang some drapes in her apartments and, after buying me BBQ and pie, that's what we did.

We'd planned to do this yesterday. I called her up, starving, waiting at 2 PM for her to show up at noon. She forgot. My mom can't plan her day any more than she can plan her sentences. This has lost her some good friends and pissed a lot of people off. I'm sure it would have bothered me before, but it didn't now. I don't like to plan because as soon as I do, I'm thinking about how I can get out of it.

"There weren't even any drapes here before," she says. "It was too bare in this hallway. I put these drapes up and they didn't look right. The new ones are longer and more neutral. See? I pulled the colors from the carpet. I didn't want to have to repaint the whole thing."

Her husband gets the ladder and begins the hanging curtains job. It isn't a difficult job but it's the reason they drove an hour each way. I could have done it for them but then they wouldn't have a reason to go out for BBQ and pie, and my time between talking to humans would have continued to lengthen. This way it works out well for everyone.

My mom's painter comes up the stairs while we're fitting the drapes on the rods. She's pulling painter's tape from the carpet edge, finishing up some touch-up work. The painter is six feet tall and very interesting.

My mom often talks about this painter and she's nothing like what I pictured. She's got her hair all in her face, no make-up and hasn't in any way modified in her appearance from what she looked like when she woke up yesterday, if she woke up yesterday wearing very dirty jeans and an icky t-shirt. She looks like what I usually look like when I'm not meeting my mom for lunch, except for her height.

She's got an interesting name but as soon as my mom introduces her, I forget it. As the she passes us on the stairs, going up, a dog passes us, too. The dog's walking so close to the painter it's as if she's on an invisible leash. The dog is so calm and so good I have to stare. I've lost all interest in what's going on around me. It's been months since I've been this close to a pettable dog.

"She's a red Heeler," the painter says. "I didn't like dogs much but one day, in our neighborhood, there was this red Heeler wandering around. We took him in and put up signs. Some toothless guy came by a few weeks later saying the dog's crazy and he's taking him to the pound righ tnow. I said I'd keep him. He was crazy. He could jump up on the kitchen countertops at night when we didn't notice, and he'd eat whatever we had out. He was always trying to open the cupboards. He could jump over a six foot fence without a running start."

I sat on the steps near where the painter was removing tape. I started to pet the dog and she looked straight at me and licked my face.

"You know what, though," the painter said, "I took that dog with me everywhere and after six months he was as calm as this one. This one's a rescue dog, too. She's the third Red Australian Heeler I've had."

The dog licks my face some more. She puts her paw on my hand when I stop petting her so I don't stop again.

My mom and her husband work together quielty, putting the drapes up. They're doing fine and I see why they'd drive an hour each way to do this. They like to feel useful, just like anyone, even if it's just putting up drapes. If it looks better after you've been there, you've made the world a better place. That feeling is better than pie.

"She can tell who's a dog lover," the painter says to me. "Then again, she thinks everyone's a dog lover."

The dog jumps in my lap and sits there like a little puppy. She snuggles up really tight then looks up at me. This seems like more fun than whatever else I could be doing so I keep petting her. My mom and the painter lady talk about paint. I don't join the conversation even though I have a lifelong obsession with paint. I've painted this hallway where we're sitting, where the painter is removing tape, when I was 12 and when again I was 22.

"There are only four paint manufacturers right now," the painter lady says. "They've all been bought out and the factories closed down. They keep the name and manufacture the paint in Great-Leap-Forward sweatshop facility in China."

My mom doesn't like to talk about politics like this, like my politics so she's quietly straightening the drapes. She was more interested in the conversation when it was about color. I'm more interested in the conversation now. I ask the painter some paint questions. I like paint, I like her and I really like her dog.

The dog's licking me again, right on the lips.

I never understood how service dogs worked. You're dealing with a tragedy and some dog in a vest comes in and you get to pet it for a while. So what? You're still dealing with the tragedy although now you're dealing with it along with some dog on a leash held by some guy just standing there. It doesn't seem like it would do anything a cup of tea wouldn't do better.

I could really use a cup of tea. Whenever I used to work on these apartments, they're always cold. There's no bathroom and the work takes so much longer than at your own house. Today, though, I don't want the painter to finish up and take her dog. I could use some petting time with a pet.

"We're done here," my mom says. "We can go."

I say goodbye to the little dog while my mom gets back to talking to the painter about the immediate business at hand. I've been service dogged, I can tell. I'm much more calm than I was right after the pie, like that's a surprise.

The ride back to my apartment, where they will drop me off, was calm, too. Instead of disagreeing about political philosophies or why rich people suck (that would be my end of the conversation, so can you see why there were disagreements?), we were talking about family. My family. I thought she'd forgotten I had one since it seems like she only talks about her husband's family anymore, since that's who lives the closest. She doesn't have to drive to see them. They come to see her.

It was so fulfilling to know she remembered my family's names and she seemed sincerely interested in them as people. I was happy. My mom's husband made a wrong turn and drove further away, giving us a chance to talk for longer. It was so peaceful to sit in the back of someone's car, something I haven't done for weeks, and go somewhere without being in charge. If I want to go anywhere anymore, it's my feet that have to take me and I have to direct them. Consequently, I go nowhere until I'm down to my last glob of sour half and half.

The car stops and we're back to my apartment. All I have to look forward to is work I will put off until the weekend. It's Tuesday. I have way too may days to fill with way too little challenges. Now I'm the one continuing the conversation.

If mom does one thing well, it's giving you an excuse to stay. She started to talk about a 92 year-old woman she knew from the Chamber music board. She might have known her from somewhere else, I'm not sure. I'm not sure why she even started talking about her. That part was where I wasn't all 100% on the attention-paying.

I was thinking about how I wasn't going to do any more work today. I wanted to but I just couldn't. I couldn't think of anything else but a cup of tea. That's what motivated me to get out of her car or I'd still be there. I was getting out of her car to say good-bye thinking about tea and forgetting to focus on what my mom was saying. We'd already hugged.

"She's just a face full of wrinkles," my mom says. "Really tanned and ear-to-ear wrinkles. She's 92. She looked it. But this woman, I'm telling you, she was very put together. Whenever we saw her, she was dressed to the nines. She wore clothes that you could tell were very elegant and very classic. I'd imagine she had these clothes for a while, they were very nicely made clothes. Always dressed to a T."

It's hard for me to pay attention to stories about people I don't know and who I will never know. She's done this her whole life so I know more about her friends than I do about my own friends. Or, I should say, I know about what she thinks about her friends than I know about my own friends.

If you asked me what my friends wore, ever, I wouldn't even know if they're wearing clothes, although they aren't like that. My friends probably wouldn't know what they're wearing, either. That's why they're my friends. We aren't the "notice what I'm wearing" types. What does dressed to the nines even mean? Isn't to the tens better?

"I hadn't seen her for a while and then when I did," my mom continues, "her face was smooth. Here she was, dressed to be tied, and now her face is smooth. Where did her wrinkles go? I thought, 'She must have had a facelift.' I couldn't imagine that. At 92?

"I got closer to her and looked for the tell-tale signs. I looked for the scars in front of her ears, the vertical marks everyone has when they've had that operation. Darn if I didn't see them. There they were, all righty. Proof she'd had a facelift. At 92! That says something, doesn't it? That she'd spend the $12,000 on a facelift?"

If I were feeling my usual self, I would have gone political. She's always had more than enough. She couldn't live one day of my life. When I try to make her understand my politics, it's like talking politics. I decided not to mention a better use of that 92 year-old's facelift money. I didn't even know her. For all I know, she's 91.

This woman, no matter what her age, has some kind of confidence. You've got to believe you're going to survive the operation. Elective surgery at that age doesn't seem like something you'd elect to do.

Every year she lives, she makes that facelift more worthwhile. I'm doing the math in my head as my mom talks. When she's 100, that's eight years of facelift. $12,000 divided by 8 means her facelift cost her $1,500 a year. If she lives to be 105, that's under $1,000 a year. From what my mom's noticed of her clothing, that's probably less than what it costs to dress to the nines.

You could make all the plans in the world and never end up being 92. You could live to be 92 with enough money for a facelift but who would plan that? You could plan your day around putting up drapes and end up sitting on the stairs, talking about paint, getting licked on the lips by a beautiful dog.

Man plans, God laughs.