Friday, October 21, 2011

Why there is not a man in my life

Why there is not a man in my life
I am a single woman. I live alone. Ordinarily, I don’t give my situation much thought. I am reasonably happy in my solitude. Oh, there are times I would love to turn from the doorway where I am admiring a particularly spectacular sunset and say to my partner, “Oh, come look.” I miss sharing the simple pleasures of the day.

At other times I wonder about my single state. I am an intelligent, gentle and good person. I am neither cross-eyed nor pigeon-toed. From time to time I do notice a glint of interest in a man’s eye. But nothing ever comes of it.

Now, at last, I know why I don’t have a man in my life. I discovered the reason quite by accident. Some mornings I have coffee before work with the guys down at the city shop. They are a great bunch and I enjoy their company. The other morning I mentioned that on Saturday I just might drive down to Grass Range for a burger and piece of pie.

In unison the men turned puzzled faces to me and said, “Why?” Then they erupted in a series of other questions.

“You would drive all the way to Grass Range for a hamburger?”


“Why Grass Range?”

“Why not?” I countered. “These are the last precious days of autumn. It is a stunning drive. And a hamburger and homemade pie at the Little Montana Café is a treat. I don’t just sit at home all the time. I go out and do things.”

“You could be watching good stuff on cable instead of running all over the country. We’ve been telling you that you need to get a television,” one of the men said to me. He shook his head at my obtuseness. “HD, maybe even 3-D, big screen. My cable package costs me only seventy dollars a month. I have unlimited choices, anything I want for entertainment. And you will . . .”

“Yes, I will spend seventy dollars on gas to drive to Grass Range for lunch,” I interrupted him. “I get more pleasure from that than I would from any amount of television.”

“You’re missing some really great reality shows.”

“But driving to Grass Range is reality,” I argued.

“How can you live without television?” another man said. “I get home from work, kick off my shoes, grab a beer, sling back in my recliner with the remote and watch all the football games. That’s real living.”

“You know, when you finally see the light and go shopping for your new television, you gotta get a recliner too. You can’t have one without the other,” another voice jumped into the fray.

“Make that two recliners. One with a man in it,” yet another snickered.

Something about their teasing conversation stayed with me. I made an informal survey of the average Montana home. Sure enough, they all had the two things that my home lacks. Big screen television and recliners.

I walk into the center of my living room. I like my living room. It is inviting. It offers a pleasing balance of warmth and comfort and beauty, a relaxing place for visiting friends and stimulating conversation. I snuggle into my overstuffed chair, put my feet up on the ottoman, and grab a book. My cat jumps into my lap, purring. I shudder at the thought of television muscling into my space. I despise recliners.

And that is why I live alone.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
October 20, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Tri-cycle

All I Want for Christmas is a Tri-cycle
My friends Dick and Jane motored over from Havre on their motorcycles. Jane had recently traded her old machine, which was quite nice and not old at all, for the spiffiest looking new bike. It is a stunning shade of red. Jane said wherever she goes, men drool over it. I have known Dick and Jane for years. Dick and I went to Harlem schools together, rode the same school bus. Then he and I lost track of one another. Since we got back in touch, he has become one of my best friends. I heard great things about Jane long before I met her. I knew I’d like her. Dick is a veteran biker from way back. When Jane got together with Dick, she took to motorcycles like a pro. Jane was instant biker babe.

Ever since my first ride on the back of a motorcycle, my chin pressed into the leather-clad back of the man with his hands on the controls, I fell in love with riding. Through the years friends would pick me up for a jaunt around town or up into the hills. Despite my infatuation, the only long bike trips I have taken were in my fantasies. I’ve never owned a motorcycle.

A few years ago I came to grips with the fact that if ever I were to get a cycle, it would have to be a three-wheeler, a tri-cycle. Whenever I would meet a tri-bike on the road, I would wave enthusiastically if maybe a bit enviously. But when I went looking and saw the sticker price, I put my dream way up in back on the top shelf. Watching Jane standing next to her new red bike adjusting her jacket and gloves, my dormant dream re-awakened and caused me to pull it out of storage and dust it off.

I was telling another friend, Kathy, about Jane’s new bike. Kathy lives in British Columbia. She and her husband Richard rode their BMW cycles cross-country to visit me a couple years ago. They got to meet Dick and Jane and talk bike talk. Kathy had all kinds of questions for me about Jane’s bike, like, “What kind is it?”

“Red,” I answered. “But not ordinary red. It is the most beautiful red I’ve ever seen. It shimmers with red. Jane’s bike has given me a bad case of motorcycle lust.”

“I put my bike up for sale,” Kathy said. “But if you get your three-wheeler, I’ll have to keep my bike so we can tour the country together.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” I told her. “I can’t afford a bike today. But who knows about tomorrow. I am surprised how strongly I feel about what I thought was a long-gone dream.”
Kathy and I have traveled together for years. We like to drive the blue highways, poke our noses in out-of-the- way places, stop to see the mystery vortex house, buy lemonade from kids at road-side stands, find mom and pop cafés for breakfast, turn down unmarked side roads, check out yard sales, begin each day with no agenda and no idea where we will spend the night. We search out the adventure of the moment.

When I get my tri-cycle, I picture me and my friends tooling down the highway to Sturgis, South Dakota, to mingle with bikers from all over the country. Dick and Jane will lead the pack.

They’ve made the trip many times. Richard and Kathy will zoom along next in line. I will bring up the rear on my nifty yellow three-wheeled motorcycle. Yes, I definitely can see it, daffodil yellow. In our meandering pace it probably will take a week to get to Sturgis and then two weeks to get back home, sun burns, crazy tee shirts, tacky souvenirs and all. There is a lot of country to see and nobody to tell us we have to go straight there and straight back.

Oh, the sights we shall see. Oh, the people we shall meet. I’d better begin shopping for my leathers. Do they all come in black? Black is not my best color. I’m visualizing rusty-reddish-brown. I’ll probably have to stitch up my own leathers. I’ll need kerchiefs. Definitely a Harley kerchief. Boots. Saddlebags and such. A discrete tattoo. I wonder if I might need a trailer.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
October 13, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Look Out Techies; Here I Come

Look Out Techies; Here I Come
Back in high school, many a year ago, I took an aptitude test. I scored off the chart in mechanical ability. That made no sense to me. I could change a tire if I had to, but I wouldn’t have known how to change a spark plug or identify a distributor.

Four years later, when I lived on a ranch south of Dodson, we had electricity but none of the other niceties. No running water. No bathroom. No bathtub. I did have a precious electric wringer-washing machine. It sat in a corner of the kitchen. I hauled buckets of water from the pump out at the corner of the yard, heated it on the wood stove, then hauled more water for the rinse and poured that into a galvanized tub. In the dread of winter, with my brand new baby in diapers, my washing machine quit. Back then all diapers were cotton. So every day I had to wash by hand. Diapers, sheets, towels, my husband’s work clothes, everything—on the scrub board. My husband teased me that if the creek wasn’t frozen I could pound diapers on the rocks. I did not find it funny. He was a cowboy, not a mechanic. He knew better than to dig into the machine. Since we were snowed in, there was no way to bring a repairman out from town.

The daily scrubbing had me in tears. One night in a dream I saw how to repair the washer. The next morning I gathered tools. I lay on the floor, head tucked underneath the washing machine. I took it apart, following the steps that I remembered from my dream. I placed the parts in the order I removed them. I found the disconnected whichit and put the whole thing back together with only three extra parts. I plugged the washer in and it worked. The aptitude test proved right. I was a mechanic.

Fast forward to the brave new world of the computer. Electronics terrify me. Computers are mysterious. My children freely experimented and learned. I was afraid if I touched the wrong button, the computer might go up in smoke. Eventually my eight-year old son, who was already writing programs, taught me a few simple functions. Over the years I learned more. But when I had a problem, I called Ben to rescue me. Then I moved to Montana. Now we live a thousand miles apart. So I have been forced to learn more computer skills.

Today I am ready to dust off my resume and enter the no longer daunting field of computer repair. Here is how it happened. I was racing a deadline for my column in the Havre Daily News when my computer turned itself off. In a panic I called Ben. “It’s okay, Mom. One of the fans malfunctioned. You can use your computer for short periods, but turn it off when you are done. If you leave it running it will overheat. I’ll ship you new fans.”

Sure enough a few days later two fans arrived in the mail. Ben called and said, “Let’s fix your computer.” So I unplugged it, hauled it over to my work bench and set my phone on speaker. First he told me to take off the side panel. You push a button down and the panel slides off. It’s quite slick. Then he told me to unplug the skinny fan on the back of the computer. Next, remove the screws. I untangled a nest of wires and quickly installed the new skinny fan. Next Ben had me work on the larger clunky fan. “This one is trickier. Carefully lift the fan straight up. Don’t jiggle it because the CPU might be stuck to its bottom.” I tugged. Tugged again. “It won’t budge.” “Lift harder. Be careful though because the CPU has little prongs made of gold and if you bend them, you will be in big trouble.” I squinched my eyes shut and lifted harder, harder, harder, straight up and the fan released with the CPU stuck to it.

“Remember exactly which direction the fan came up. Carefully remove the CPU from the bottom of the fan, and put it back on the mother board. Don’t touch the sticky stuff,” he told me as I swiped my finger across the goo. I marked the edges of both the CPU and the new fan so I could remember which direction they went and placed the precious little prongy unit back where it belonged. I found the tiny lever which allowed the thousand gold prongs to slip into the whatchajiggy and took a deep breath. Following Ben’s directions, I replaced the new clunky fan. I plugged in the computer. Both fans whirred.

As I hooked my computer back up, I thought, hey, I could start a new business: Sondra’s Repair Shop—Computers and Wringer Washers, Our Specialty. But I still don’t change spark plugs.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
October 6, 2011