Sunday, October 12, 2014

As Luck Would Have It

As Luck Would Have It
            We all know one or more of “those” kinds of people. Maybe you are one. Well, then, more luck to you. Not that you need my wishes. You are the type who could break a mirror on Friday the thirteenth, carelessly walk beneath the open ladder, ignore nineteen black cats crossing your path, and fall into the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

You make money buying lottery tickets. You win the snowmobile door prize at the Volunteer Fire Department’s fundraiser. Whenever there is a raffle, you buy one ticket and win the prize.

You get the good seat at the ball game while I’m peeking from behind the post. You snare the last sought-after-item on the shelf while I stand empty handed. You walk into the pizza parlor and as the lucky one millionth customer, are presented with a certificate for free pizzas for life.  I’m next through the door. I purchase rolls of raffle tickets and never win so much as a John Deere cap or Insurance Company calendar.

Do you think I sound resentful? Me? Well, maybe. A little bit.

Let me tell you about my latest brush with Lady Luck. I enjoy playing cards. I win some; lose some. No big deal. Playing is fun. That is why it is called “play”. Some days the cards come my way. Some days they don’t. I like a complicated game, something requiring a smidgeon of skill along with holding the right cards. 

My friend and I play a card game or two or three most mornings. Over the last several weeks we have enjoyed a particular, rather complicated game, one with a gigantic pile of cards, one with several strategy points. Some days I am lucky. Some days she is lucky. Some days we split the difference: Win one; lose one. To fracture a cliché, ours is not to win or lose, but to enjoy the game. Our mornings are full of banter while we deal and play.

All well and good. Until three weeks ago. How can I explain what happened. The cards abandoned me. They turned on me. They began to hate me and showed their hatred by sticking out their collective tongues and chanting neener, neener, neener. I swear this is truth.

Three days pass and I don’t win a game. Four days. Five. Nada. The cards seem to swoon over my friend. They love her, adore her, leap into her hand in perfect order. We play longer hours, more games. She wins every stinking game. Sometime into the second week, we quit bantering. I handled my cards with a grim determination. She not only beat me, she skunked me, time after time. I felt like I sat stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway, engine off. She buzzed around me doing ninety in her little red sports convertible. Toot! Toot! Know what I mean?

“What’s wrong with me?” I forced through clenched teeth in the third week of being a loser. “Why am I not getting any cards? I’m not making bad plays, laying down the wrong cards. I’m not playing any cards. I don’t mind losing if I at least get to play. Well, I do mind losing every game for three solid weeks. I feel like something is wrong with me.”

“The cards come,” she said. “I just play the cards as they come. This isn’t fun for me either, you know.”

I snorted, embarrassingly close to tears. After she left, I went to my best friend, my trusty Oxford English Dictionary.

Luck. The action or effect of casual or uncontrollable events affecting (favorably or unfavorably) a person’s interests or circumstances: a person’s apparent tendency to have good or ill fortune: the imagined tendency of chance to bring a succession of (favourable or unfavourable) events. Italics are mine.

I grabbed the deck of cards and stomped out the door and down the street to a quiet little park and parked my posterior beneath a banyon tree. Making sure nobody could hear me, I growled to the deck, fingering each card, “Listen up, you flippity pieces of cardboard. I feel like you hate me. For pity’s sake, you are inanimate. You have no power. You can’t do this to me. But if you don’t turn the tables and begin shuffling my way, I’m tossing you in the trash, one torn and tattered card at a time. Got that?”

I didn’t wait for an answer. But the following morning, I won the game. A hard-won contest, card for card battle to the finish. Lucky me.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

October 9, 2010

Fool’s Gold Is Where I Find It

Fool’s Gold Is Where I Find It
            Half way back from my morning walk, I reached into my pockets, all four pockets. One at a time, naturally.  I’d forgotten my keys. The last thing I do when I leave my apartment is turn the lock in the doorknob. In a flash of memory I could see my keys—in the bottom of my bag—in the house. I felt a combination of desperation plus an urge to throw up. Over-reaction? Certainly.

             My mind was pre-occupied. A friend is hospitalized and the family is gathering. But still . . . still, I felt like a fool, a silly sort of fool (rather than a major fool), to have caused myself this minor inconvenience.

            I don’t mind feeling like a fool. A familiar feeling. I have years of experience. I even went through a period of time where I deliberately practiced doing foolish things—self-prescribed therapy.  

            One day in the mid-eighties I had just left the bank, head in the clouds, when I stumbled on an uneven hunk of pavement. Immediately my face burned bright red and I scanned the street to see if anyone had noticed me. My mind, ever-ready with a pithy comment, said to my body, something like this, “Stupid idiot. Clumsy fool.”

            But in that instant of “seeing myself”, my red face, my worry that someone might have seen my awkwardness, I “got it”. Everybody stumbles on rocky pavement now and then. It is neither a crime nor a sin nor a misdemeanor. Instantly I understood that I held myself to some impossible expectation of behavior that brooked no awkwardness, no mistakes, that needed me to “look good” in certain haphazardly defined ways. Had I sprawled on the sidewalk, helpless with broken bones, I suppose I would have had to simply fold up and die on the spot.

            Lord knows I’ve done some major-league foolish things in my time. Those things I preferred to tuck away on the top shelf of the hall closet, along with family skeletons, and lock the door. I don’t pretend to know my whole mind, but that day when I stumbled, what if all the foolish deeds burst out of the over-stuffed closet for everybody to see and judge. I seemed to me more concerned that nobody “see” than that I might have hurt myself. I didn’t say I was healthy.

That day, on Jensen Way in Poulsbo, Washington, I understood how silly, how truly foolish, was my over-reaction. I also realized how totally self-centered my response. And I determined on a plan of action. I would deliberately do some foolish little thing every day.

Simple little foolish things. I had fun with my project. I wore silly hats. Or mis-matched socks, thirty years ahead of a modern fashion statement. I pasted gold stars on my forehead for a job well done. I had to first go buy the box of stars, in itself a foolish thing. Nobody would make eye contact with me when I had a gold star on my forehead. Try it. Walk into a grocery store and watch the clerk get vitally interested in a box of mac ‘n’ cheese.

So, foolish me; today I forgot my keys. Mentally I dressed myself in motley, complete with cap, bells and baubles. I detoured around to the fruteria on the corner, jigged a little song and dance, and asked Quito if he would call a locksmith for me, por favor, and continued on home. I perched on the planter in front of my house and waited for the locksmith to show up to let me in my house.

In those twenty minutes I devised a plan of action: Henceforth when I take my morning walk, I will lock only the deadbolt. That should insure that tomorrow I go out the door, mis-matched socks on my feet, a gold star pasted in the middle of my fore-head, and house keys clutched in my fist.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

October 2, 2014

When I Grow Up, What Will I Be

When I Grow Up, What Will I Be
            In a note to a friend I mentioned that I have lived my life in chunks. The years on the ranch. Years raising my children. Years recovering furniture. Years in theatre.  Years in city government. Those sorts of chunks. Some chunks overlap. Some chunks I have tried to bury far from memory. Others I treasure. All are part of what makes me, well, me.

            I wonder what will define this particular chunk of my life. Lord knows, it is different from all the others.

            Looking back, I can find clues to what led me to decisions I made. For example, when I needed work that would enable me to be on hand to care for my children, I made a list of things I liked to do; of skills that I had accumulated.

            Actually, three girlfriends, each of us floating in the same boat, got together one day. We brain-stormed to come up with lists of interests and talents. Martha wanted to be a nurse. She said, “I can clean toilets.” So Martha cleaned houses to put herself through nursing school. Karla said, “I like yard sales and finding bargains.” She began collecting items for the weekend flea market. These many years later, Karla still makes her living at the flea market.

            Two of the items that stood out on my list were my sewing machine (I began sewing when I was eight) and tiny rooms of furniture and accessories I created in shoe boxes with discarded paper, paint, glue and junk, (also when I was eight, nine and ten). So recovering furniture seemed an obvious choice to me. The clues were all in front of my face.

             It didn’t take a lot of training to add to the skills I already had. For a good number of years I fed my family and paid the bills with the work of my hands and my creativity.

            Now I have entered a new and outrageously different phase of life. For a variety of reasons and physical necessity, I live a life of sloth and ease. I sold all my accumulated gear and made a beeline south where I found a small apartment in Mazatlan on the coast of Mexico.

            Should today be my last day on earth, I do not want “sloth” to be the defining word on my tombstone. I’m a do-er. My chunks of life have all been defined by verbs. Suddenly I am a noun, a be-er.  At times, I am a most uncomfortable noun, itching to “do”.

            When I examine my simple life, I don’t find much to put on my list. I mop each day. One could “eat off the floor”, not out of personal fastidiousness, but in my struggle to keep all crumbs away from critters: scorpions, cock roaches, centipedes and pesky little ants. I’d hate if “she mops” defined me.
            Many days I play a Mexican card game I learned on the beach. I’m pretty good. We play for fun. Gambling has never appealed to me as a viable vice. The few times I’ve gone to casinos with friends, I’ve donated my designated twenty dollars “fun money” on the nickel slots. During rehearsals for “The Queen of Bingo”, Billie and I went to bingo nights at the Elks to get the real feel for the game. Neither of us ever won a card. I still cringe when I think of a night, nearly fifty years ago, when a group of friends played a particular type of poker and I lost my shirt, so to speak. So that isn’t it.

            And I read. That comes closest to defining me. I’m a reader; you could say a promiscuous reader. I lose myself in a book for a portion of each day. That is my pleasure, but I feel a compelling tug to be out and about.

            Something will come along to give me do-purpose. But that little something has not shown up yet. Friends say, “Be patient.”

            I heaved a sigh (I’ve longed to write those words.) and looked around. In the years I’ve made trips here, I’ve bought every trinket and gadget sold on the beach. I have a copper pitcher, wooden boxes, clay bowls, silver jewelry, ironwood dominoes, leather parrots, a rusty iron pelican, woven rugs, blouses and serapes, hats and sunglasses. If I gathered it all, I could occupy at least one good season as a beach vendor. I’ve been told I look Mexican. My Spanglish is improving. “Beach Junque for sale. Happy hour. Almost free. Ten pesos.”    

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

September 25, 2014