A Haunting in Oshkosh (or, Offending the God of Grid Lines)

I recently told the Jarhead that when he dies, I intend to haunt him.

It may seem backward for me to haunt him when he’s gone since it’s usually the dead that haunt the undead. (Perhaps I should say the living, since—thanks to the likes of Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer—we all associate ‘undead’ with vampires.  But, as usual, I digress.)

But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense for me to do the haunting while I’m still kicking. For one thing, if wait until I’m dead, I may not get the chance to haunt the man because he may not be alive to experience it. Even if I go first and he doesn’t immediately die of heartbreak the moment expire, I may not have the opportunity to haunt him. After all, if my death certificate buys me a ticket on the down elevator, I’ll be so busy grumbling about all the good and wonderful things that are happening to all my ex-friends and ex-boyfriends that I won’t have the time or energy to haunt anyone. And in the unlikely event that I somehow land a seat on the up elevator, it will only be because I became a better person in the intervening years, which means I will have lost my marbles and therefore won’t remember who the Jarhead is, much less that I wanted to haunt him.

And exactly why DO I want to haunt the Jarhead? you may be wondering. Based on everything I’ve written about him so far there would seem to be no motive for me to haunt the man. He’s a decent, hard-working, patient, practical kind of guy. The kind of man who never complains about the food or the condition of the house—even when he’s forced to eat leftovers for dinner three nights in a row because I’ve been at my desk all week trying to perfect a novel or hack out a new blog. The kind who wants only to be warm and comfy at home, and to get out in the woods once in a while to connect with nature or whatever.

So here it is: Although the Jarhead IS that guy, he STILL manages to get on my nerves now and then. Yes, even Mr. Clean Marine has those moments when I could just clobber him. Until recently, it used to happen quite regularly. In fact, due to some phenomenon I have yet to discover and in which scientists have yet to take even a passing interest, for a number of years he seemed to be the most clobberable about every 29 days and for about two days straight. It was eerily predictable, and frustratingly unexplainable.

But while I may have violent thoughts, I do not believe in violent action. I much prefer a passive approach to problems. That’s why, in our younger days, he routinely would lose his keys or misplace his comb within ten hours of committing a clobberable offense. This, too, was an uncanny coincidence, I would have said then—were it possible for me to do so with a straight face. The keys would always turn up within a few minutes—behind the dresser, under a couch cushion, or wherever I had put them during my fit of pique—and we would laugh together and blame the cats. Unfortunately, we were oddly cat-less for a while in 1996, so I had to give up that tactic and find a more reliable form of agitation.

And with this haunting idea, I think I’ve found it. Oh, sure, I’ll have to wait until he’s gone to make up for years of monthly clobbering offenses. And while I honestly hope I’ll be waiting many more years to exact my revenge, what fun I intend to have—after an acceptable period of mourning, of course.

First on the plan is to do EVERYTHING I have always wanted to do but apparently wasn’t qualified to do—and do it MY WAY. For the first time in my life, I’ll be able to *gulp* use the lawn mower. Not only that, I’ll be able to mow it in any direction or sequence I want without having to worry about offending the god of grid lines.

I can already see myself, in my granny-style bathing suit, cut off shorts, and protective eyewear (which, according to some people—many of them blind—is for sissies) listening to country music (just because he wouldn’t) doing the boot scoot boogie across the lawn (because those who can dance SHOULD) pushing a brand-spanking new mower (because, yes, I am going to waste money on a new mower when the old one works perfectly fine as long as we tie this here piece in place with a bit of twine.) And besides, I’ll have to buy a new one because I don’t know how to sharpen the blade. Ha!

And how will I unwind after a hard day of licentious lawn care? By enjoying a glass of lemonade while holding the TV remote controls. All of them. Every last one. I may even carry them around with me from room to room. Or maybe I’ll rearrange their batteries or decorate the tops of their buttons with nail polish. And when I’m done with the remote controls, I’m going to watch every single adaptation of every Jane Austen novel I can find On Demand, online, and at Red Box.

Although I will not be able to stare into his big brown eyes and laugh as I desecrate his remote or decorate the lawn with swirls and zigzag lines, he will be with me in spirit. And he will know not only what I am doing, but also why. And you can bet part of him will be enjoying it all as much as I am since, after thirty years, we BOTH know how the other can be.

This all assumes, of course, that there is an afterlife. And I sincerely hope there is. Otherwise, he will never know all the fun I’ll be having with that lawn—not to mention his pickup and his power tools. And it would be a shame if I were to go to the trouble of painting them all purple or giving them to complete strangers—if he wasn’t somewhere in the great beyond laughing right along with me.

Just in case, perhaps I shouldn’t wait til he’s gone. Maybe I should start today.


The Long and Short of It (wherein I prove I’m interested in more than just TV)

I don’t know how long it takes most people to read a book, but I’ve been trying to get through Anna Karenina for more than 30 years. During that time, I’ve read several other books—some of them more than once—but for some reason I just can’t get through this one.

I first set out to read Anna Karenina when I was ten years old after seeing the PBS adaptation listed among the late night options in the TV Guide. At the time I wasn’t allowed to stay up past nine o’clock, and even if I had been allowed out of bed, my dad would have commandeered our family’s only TV in order to watch the news and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on WCCO, so I didn’t know what I was missing. I only knew that the title intrigued me, and that I wanted find it.

To my chagrin, the book was not available in my school library. I like to believe I could have found it at the public library, but as we did not live in town and, more importantly, the library wasn’t exactly a hot spot for the other members of my immediate family, my dream of finding it there would go unrealized.

Flash forward to 1983 and Rushford High School where, after years of required reading, I found myself in charge of my own literary preferences, and decided again to tackle a few of the classics. Sadly, I was unable to find a copy of Anna Karenina, and thus had to settle for the likes of Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen, and Buck. And so my thirst for reading the epic tale remained unquenched.

Not that I had any more of a clue as to what I was missing even then. I still knew next to nothing about Anna Karenina apart from the fact that it was written by Leo Tolstoy, and that it was a very important novel. The part about the author came to me courtesy of my favorite English teacher, Mrs. Julsrud, who encouraged me to read the classics on the grounds that it would make me a better author. The part about it being an important novel came to me the moment I discovered it on PBS.

As far as I was concerned, its presence on the PBS lineup proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the book was worth my time. These were the same people responsible for Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Upstairs Downstairs, after all. And while I never got to see Upstairs Downstairs either, owing to the fact that it, too, was on PBS when I was supposed to be sleeping, the fact that they aired both it and Anna Karenina told me I needed to read it before I died.

Flash forward again, to 2011 and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where, after years of cooking, cleaning, working, coaching youth sports, and raising kids I found myself simultaneously recovering from surgery and in possession of a Kindle. So, after reading Sissy Spacek’s My Extraordinary Ordinary Life and Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid—both of which I highly recommend—I purchased my very own virtual copy of Anna Karenina!

I would love to tell you I finished it—that I devoured it in twelve hours flat, and that my life was changed forever by it. But no. Not even close.

Because that thing is LONG. And it has a thousand characters, each of whom goes by at LEAST two—if not three—different names. And it’s been translated from Russian by someone who was either drinking at the time, or had once used a lot of drugs.

Maybe I need to drink more or ask my doctor for a prescription. I don’t know. What I do know is that since acquiring the elusive novel, I have tried to read it four different times. Each time I start it, I get a little further than I did the last; but that’s not saying much since, even after my fourth attempt,  Anna and Vronsky have yet to consummate their love.

And then along came the movie starring Jude Law and Kiera Knightly, which I refuse to see until I’ve finished the book—yes, I’m one of THOSE people.

Maybe one of these days I’ll sit down with a case of Moscato and finally get around to finishing it. But if the four-inch stack of magazines and the seventeen books I plan to either read or write are any indication, it’s going to be another 30 years before I find out what happens to Anna.