A Short Story

This is the story of a bonsai plant, so by definition, it is a short story.

Monday, May 7, 2018

My Mom and I have had our differences over the years, but last week was Mother’s Day, and she’s still my mother, so I decided my wife and I should send her a small gift. I dislike flowers, partly because of the markup, partly because it’s so predictable, but mostly because of their short shelf life. So, I decided a plant would be a more lasting gift.

Since everything in the universe is online these days, I just pointed my browser at 1-800-Flowers and looked for their Mother’s Day plant suggestions.

Mom’s in a condo, so there’s not a lot of extra space for gardening, and one of the suggestions was a bonsai azalea. That sounded a bit exotic, nice and small, still very pretty, and within my price range. So, I ordered that for Mom, a doggie bouquet for my wife (from our Chihuahua) and called it done.

I was proud of myself – even with the Mother’s Day rush in full tilt, I had gotten the order placed in time enough where my wife’s gift would arrive Thursday, Mom’s on Friday, both before Mother’s Day with room for error and minimal excess delivery charges. Yea, me!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A flower bouquet arrived at our door. The enclosed card said it was for my wife from our Chihuahua, Rocky, and specifically said it was only from him and not our other dogs. Quite funny, even though that’s the third time I’ve put that on a card. Everybody in my house is happy.

Friday, May 11, 2018

I got a note on a different subject from Mom, replied to her, and in her reply to my reply, she thanked us for the beautiful plant. So, both gifts are delivered, Mother’s Day is coming up, everything is done. Yea, me!

For a normal person, this would be the end of the blog post. Sigh.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother’s Day. My brother was taking Mom out to brunch with some of his friends and their Moms, so we had lunch with my in-laws. Everybody’s covered. Life is good.

After I got home, I received an apology email with a $20 credit from 1-800-Flowers for letting me down. Hmm. As far as I knew, everything was delivered. I actually saw one gift arrive and got a thank you note for the other. So, I figured it was a systems error from the insanity of Mother’s Day at a nationwide florist, and forgot about it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

I got an email notice that my Mom’s gift would be delivered on Tuesday. So, that explains the apology note, since they had completely missed Mother’s Day. Wait. Why did I get a thank you note on Friday? There are a number of medical conditions running in my family, but clairvoyance is not one of them.

Maybe they just sent a placeholder bouquet until the real gift arrived, but they never mentioned that in the note.

I was confused. This is not the first time I have been confused about gifts.

Maybe I should ask my Mom. I sent her a quick, “Hey, I got a really strange email” note.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

(Happy Birthday, Ellie!)

Mom replied to my note. In fact, we had a stream of notes that day. I will attempt to summarize.

She had received a box on Friday with a tray, some pebbles for drainage, care instructions and a six-inch azalea in full bloom. However, there was no bonsai plant.

I started having flashbacks to my first long train ride with my son, when he was six or so. By the time we were an hour out of San Antonio, he had gone through everything I had brought along (snacks, books, coloring books) for the twelve-hour trip. So, I said, “Why not just look out the window at the scenery for a while?” He said, “There isn’t any scenery, just rocks and cows.”

There is no bonsai, just a small flower bush.

So, Mom had called 1-800-Flowers. (Mom and my wife call people. I use chat and email. My wife and I have a long-running debate about which is more effective.)

After a discussion with the (probably off-shore) customer support line, the 1-800-Flowers representative had agreed to send another plant for delivery on Saturday.

Hmm. That would explain the $20 credit.

The plant did not arrive Saturday, so Mom called back – and amazingly got the same customer sales representative (thank you, Evelyn, for helping Mom). They were becoming close. The delivery was assured for Sunday.

Nothing arrived Sunday, so Mom called back. Same customer service representative, who now recognized my Mom’s voice. (You would think they would have CallerID so they could swap repeat customers.) Monday, for sure.

That explained the delivery notice for Monday that I received for a gift that had been delivered Friday.

I was beginning to have visions of a bonsai forest on my Mom’s balcony.

So, I emailed Mom the picture of the bonsai azalea from the website, to show what I had chosen. Surely, that will clear everything up.

To her credit, she only called in the first place because she wanted to receive what I had selected. It never occurred to her that I would actually select a bonsai azalea. I’m not really sure what that says about what she thinks about my taste.

To her further credit, she does not consider a miniature azalea to be a bonsai plant. I checked Wikipedia a while ago, and it says that bonsai is a cultivation method, which means (I believe) that technically any full-size plant could be raised as a bonsai plant, given the time and patience. Speaking of patience, I’m not sure I have the energy to explain to Mom how to update the Wikipedia page to her definition. Maybe she can call Evelyn to have it corrected.

So, Mom now has two bonsai azaleas, whether they are bonsai or not. I have a good name for my next band (“Ladies and gentlemen …. Bonsai Azaleas!”)

I received another apology with another $20 credit from 1-800-Flowers.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Popcorn Factory sent me an email that said they were having a sale on popcorn tins. My grandkids love popcorn. It’s a sale. I like cheap popcorn. So, I was about to hit the order button, when I realized that 1-800-Flowers owns The Popcorn Factory. So, I used one of the apology credits to send my grandkids some really cheap popcorn.

Win-win.

Aftermath

As in, the math after it’s all over. So, I spent $39.99 on a bonsai azalea to attempt to make my Mom happy. Instead, Mom got two bonsai azaleas, a personal quest that kept her busy over the lulls in Mother’s Day weekend, and a new friend in the Philippines. I got $40 in credits. The kids got popcorn. My wife got a flower arrangement from a Chihuahua. I got a really strange blog post, even for me.

I never saw Mother’s Day as an investment opportunity, but so it goes.

I may have to use the other $20 to get my Mom some miniature tools so she can keep her azaleas small. There is nothing more embarrassing than a large bonsai azalea.

Next year, I will just toss a small plant at her and say it is a kamikaze azalea.

In the Hospital

So, I spent the night in the hospital last night. Not for me, for my wife.

She had shoulder surgery yesterday. The surgery went well, but she has a difficult time coming out of anesthesia. She told her doctor, she told her anesthesiologist, she told the nurses, she told the mailman (he was concerned), but it doesn’t matter. When she can’t wake up, people are amazed – because they are never the people she’s told.

In their defense, when a normal person, say me, has any day surgery that ends at 3:30pm, I will be coherent at 4:00pm, and out the door by 4:30pm – at the latest.

She will be out of surgery at 3:30pm, cranky by 4:30pm and barely awake at 7pm, assuming a good tailwind.

Here’s the issue: with more and more day surgery “hospitals”, they really want you out by six because they’re closing for the evening.

To get her out by six, surgery should have started last Tuesday.

So, her shoulder surgery started at 3pm, she was admitted to the hospital by 7pm and at 9pm, she was ordering Dominos because the cafeteria was closed. (Yes, they deliver to the hospital.)

I’m waiting to see the diagnosis for her admittance because I think it will be “couldn’t wake up.” Usually, “couldn’t wake up” in a hospital means people with paddles yelling “Clear!” and pressing on your chest and blowing in your mouth.

In this case, it was a nurse who had a bus to catch, and said, “If you can’t get up, we have to admit you.”

This is a stupid threat to make to someone who likes being waited on, and spends a lot of her spare time with various doctors.

It is a doubly stupid threat to make when the other person in the room is trying to postpone being the caregiver as long as possible.

So, she was admitted for “sleepiness”, and then she sent me off home to gather the four tons of supplies she doesn’t carry in her purse – which is probably what weakened her shoulder in the first place.

By the time I ate dinner, got home, walked the dogs, medicated the dogs, corralled the dogs, gathered up the four ton laundry list from the four corners of the house and got back to the hospital, it was after midnight, so I decided to just stay.

This gets many good husband points, and a crick in the neck.

I almost never sleep in a chair, except on Thanksgiving or in meetings, but the recliner was like a business class seat without the annoying person blocking the aisle.

I never use blankets on a plane, but when I woke up at four with my teeth chattering, I decided to make an exception.

(It turned out it was in the 60s in the room, so either the A/C works or the heat doesn’t.)

I slept like a baby, which is to say I woke up every couple of hours to pee and spent the rest of the time sobbing quietly, wrapped in my blankie.

So, it’s morning and we’re waiting for discharge papers. After that, we have to get the four tons of equipment I retrieved plus all of her new medical equipment home and unpacked.

Then, we set her up in a chair and teach the dogs, “No! Not on Mommy’s shoulder!”

Then, I’m taking a nap.

Genealogy From Spit

This is My DNA Profile that I received today. It’s not the most exciting set of results.

I’ve been working on my family tree off and on for years. I don’t really need to do a lot of work as my Mom’s Mom’s family seems to have an unofficial historian and there are lots of notes out there. My Dad’s family is not well-documented – I think I first discovered my grandad had a brother when I was in my forties. (Dad didn’t talk about his family much, and when I asked him once what “Gilhooly” meant, he said, “The bastard down by the stream.” He may have just been stressed that evening.)

My wife has done some work on her family tree, but some of the branches seem more interested in their own specific branch than where the entire tree goes. I think it’s pretty much you go as far back as the people you saw at Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, and call it good. That, and she’s Brooklyn Italian, so a quarter of the branches in her family tree end up in the East River.

When I found out about the AncestryDNA kits, it sounded like an interesting idea, but a bit far-fetched. I wasn’t sure want bodily fluid was required to extract your DNA (it’s saliva, so calm down), but it sounded scientific and mysterious.

Why trace people’s names when you could find out you were part Gypsy just by spitting in a tube?

The test is interesting – you actually do spit into a tube (up to the fill line), seal it with another tube that has preservative in it, shake it, drop it in a post-paid envelope, and wait for the results.

I may be the first guy who was looking forward to a DNA test coming back.

They tell you it takes six to eight weeks to get your results, but I was pretty sure that was setting expectations low. I was correct. I mailed off my spit in a tube at the beginning of the month, and my AncestryDNA test results arrived today. Actually, I got an email that said they were available on the web site.

There is nothing earth-shaking in them, which is good and bad. Good, because it means nobody has been lying to me about my origins, and bad, because it means I actually am descended from these whack-jobs.

My wife and I sent out samples in the same day, and mine are back, and hers aren’t, which just shows alcohol is easier to process than tomato sauce.

It did occur to me that genealogy would be a wonderful subject in high school, when everyone is desperately trying to prove they’re not descended from the tyrants at home.

I’m pretty sure my wife’s family will now buy kits for each other, since they all criticize each others’ cooking and eating habits, and the greatest insult is “You can’t possibly be Italian.” Well, let’s see, shall we?

My key results:

56% Ireland, which would be my Dad’s contribution, as his family is from a small town in northern Ireland – which is not to be confused with Northern Ireland. We’ve visited there, it’s beautiful countryside, and small farms. If you go far enough north in the beautiful countryside, you will meet British soldiers with tanks and automatic weapons. That would be Northern Ireland.

24% from Europe West, which must be mostly Mom’s donations – her family emigrated to Texas from Germany (probably technically Prussia) in the late 1850s, and my maternal grandfather’s family was from Alsace, which is either German or French, depending on who won the last war. Mom’s family left Germany since all of the sons would very likely be forced to go into the Kaiser’s army, but ironically got to Texas just in time for some of them to fight in the Civil War for the South. Ouch. Luckily, I don’t think any of them saw active duty, they just wandered around the State, not fighting Yankees, since they’re weren’t any in Texas. Yet.

6% Scandinavia, which I have no idea, but it explains why I like lingonberries. If it’s ancient DNA, then it’s just the invaders who went to Ireland to rape and pillage, and found beautiful countryside and small farms. Either that, or the invaders who went to Germany for Oktoberfest.

6% Italy/Greece which is probably just from the gallons of tomato sauce that Virginia has fed me over the last 16 years – some of it is bound to be in my blood. Either that, or it’s from my ancestors who left France to teach the Italians how to cook and make wine, or the ones who left Germany to teach the Italians how to make sausage, or the ones who left Ireland to teach the Italians how to make love.

4% Great Britain which is probably some of my Irish relatives getting lost going home from the pub. “Sean! It must have rained while we were havin’ a pint. I don’t remember having to swim across the street when we left the house.

There are traces of random other stuff, but I’m not an African Prince, so don’t email me money, no matter how much I ask.

This is a wee bit more specific than “Irish and German” which is what I’ve been told all my life.

The results can’t say I’m German (it’s Europe West), since I think when my family left for Texas, they were Prussians. When my family left Ireland, they were technically British, but they were not happy about it.

I really didn’t think that I would ever pay a company $99 to process a vial of my spit for two weeks, but my cousin had done her DNA test a while ago, and we were discussing her results last month. Her results showed a lot of Great Britain in her DNA, which is  interesting since her Mom (my Aunt and my Mom’s sister) and Dad are from the same small town in Texas and have roughly similar family trees. (My Mom’s home town had five or six founding families who all tended to marry each other.)

The DNA results did predict that my cousin and I were cousins, so that part of the test works.

There’s a part of me that was really hoping to find out I was descended from gypsies or pirates, but so it goes.

Now that I have my results, I have to get the dogs checked. Rocky cannot be all Chihuahua.

Rights

A long time ago, I was taught a brief sentence in a political science class. It should be a summary of resolving all disputes between people. Its origins are cloudy, but it applies more today than ever before:

Your rights end where my nose begins.

You can swing around all you want, but if you hit me, that’s an issue. The Left does not understand or respect this, which is the genesis of all of the Culture Wars and crises of the past few years.

Think about marriage.

A secular marriage was a state-issued contract between a man and a woman. Now, it’s between any two people. Fine. Whatever. That’s the law. it was a poorly-conceived opinion in many eyes, but it created a right, so that’s the law. It also got tons of “Likes” on Facebook, which if you read the opinion, is what the Justice was apparently trying to achieve.

I think it’s bad law. I think it was a horrible decision. However, the results don’t bother me – the process that created the results do.

My belief is that there shouldn’t be a law either way. The State should not be in the marriage business. Anything the State regulates eventually causes conflict because somebody is on the wrong side of the regulation. Also, it’s not like marriages are regulated very well, since some people have collected so many of them.

A sacramental marriage is a secular marriage blessed by a minister of a Church. Each Church may have different ideas about what constitutes a valid couple for marriage than the State does. For now. A Church may also have different ideas about what it takes to invalidate a marriage, since the civil contract is relatively easy to cancel.

The point many are missing is that changing the law does not change people’s beliefs. It also does not make those beliefs invalid. The State is not in charge of beliefs. This is where the swinging is hitting peoples’ noses.

So, any two gay people can get married. However, many of the early couples seemed hellbent on finding service providers who are not comfortable (for any number of reasons) with the concept of gay marriage and then suing them out of existence when they won’t comply.

There is a word for this. Bullying. Isn’t that what the gay community has been fighting against all these years? Maybe the Human Rights Campaign should help protect those whose religious beliefs go against what some potential customers demand.

I’m happy to officiate any marriage ceremony, but I’m happier if I know the couple ahead of time. I’m an ordained minister. I have a laminated card and everything. I think it’s up to you who you choose as a life partner. I also do hope it lasts forever, because I’m divorced, and the divorce was one of the most painful periods of my life, and forever altered my relationships with my family, my friends and my Church. If your partnership is legal, since the State pushed its way into it, I’ll officiate it and try not to judge. However, if I was not comfortable performing the ceremony, why couldn’t you just find a minister who is? It’s not like I’m the only lapsed Catholic, divorced and re-married, online-ordained minister out there. Do you really want unhappy people forced to work at your most important day?

There are levels in the Universe.

I can fight for your rights. I can support your rights. I can accept your rights. I can tolerate your rights. I shouldn’t have to participate, if it is against my beliefs. My not participating does not prevent your right to get married.

Why is the Left not happy until everyone believes what they believe? You won. Stop being sore winners.

You have the right to get married. People have the right to follow their religious beliefs. Neither right is stronger than the other. However, the State should not compel people to go against their religious beliefs for commerce, and that is what is happening. This is not “I hate those people because of their color or condition”. This is “I fervently believe this ceremony is invalid in the eyes of my God, and I do not want to take part in this ceremony.” It’s about the ceremony, it’s not about the people. All of the recent decisions basically say the right to be gay is better than the right to be religious.

I am not very religious. I’m more spiritual, as in, “There is a God, but He’s not paying much attention to what’s going on down here, except apparently for global warming – and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t actually give a shit about global warming”. I do not feel particularly welcome in my Church because of my divorce. However, we all have the right to believe what we believe, as long as it doesn’t harm others, and we shouldn’t have others tell us that we’re wrong and we have to do it their way. If I don’t have Baptists or Methodists dragging me to services every Sunday, why do gay people want to drag me to their weddings?

It certainly would be easier for the religious people to just do the gay weddings, smug in the knowledge that the happy couple will someday burn in Hell for all eternity. However, that’s not how many of those people believe. They don’t want to be involved at all. They don’t want to become collateral damage. Why can’t those people just be left out of it?

If you wouldn’t take your vegetarian, PETA-supporting, lesbian friend to a dog fight, maybe you shouldn’t force religious strangers to celebrate your gay wedding.

A Strange and Disturbing Relationship

Full disclosure – I’m divorced and have alienated any number of people over the years, so I’m certainly not an expert at relationships (even though my second marriage has lasted four times longer than my first so far – although it may end when someone special reads this post.)

That said, there is one relationship I simply don’t understand at all – that of a woman and her cleaning lady. First of all, I hope “cleaning lady” is PC, I think they used to be called maids and before that, they were servants.

First, cleaning ladies strike fear in women’s hearts. Ask yourself this – do men snake all the pipes and replace washers before the plumber arrives? Do men replace fuses and make sure all the wiring is straight before the electrician arrives? Of course not – that’s why you hire a professional. So, why is it mandatory to pre-clean the house before the cleaning lady arrives?

Contrary to their ability to strike fear, cleaning ladies also seem to be confidantes. I do not know any male who has invited their plumber or electrician to their wedding, but I can think of at least one woman who invited her cleaning lady, and I know one woman who hosted her cleaning lady’s wedding.

Every time I hear about the relationship between a woman and her cleaning lady, I flash back to an old Seinfeld episode, where Jerry starts sleeping with his maid, and it turns out she’s really a hooker. She also starts doing less and less work, which may be a more critical point from the male perspective. Sex is fine, but those curtain rods aren’t going to dust themselves.

When men complain about the costs of a cleaning lady, the counter argument is usually that the current one is worth the money and a cleaning service (e.g. an anonymous cleaning lady with no connection to the woman of the house) would be much more expensive. The secondary argument is that if someone were paid to actually clean the entire house, then the woman of the house would have to pre-clean properly in advance. (“I admit it. The house is cluttered. How could someone possibly clean it?”) What?

My one theory is that a man should just cancel the cleaning lady and then tell his Spousal Unit that the cleaning lady has been rescheduled to the next day. Then, the Spousal Unit will frantically pre-clean the house in preparation.

The other issue – where I am not alone – is that the cleaning lady puts things where she thinks they belong, even if it should be intuitively obvious where they belong. “Let’s see, I have a clean glass. Here is a cabinet with 337 glasses in it. So, I guess this glass belongs in the cabinet on the other side of the kitchen with the plates. Also, all the husband’s shaving equipment is lined up neatly by the bathroom sink. It must belong in the drawer under the other side of the sink beneath the tampons, or perhaps in the closet in the other bathroom.”

As a man wiser than I once said, “The cleaning lady comes every two weeks and it takes me two weeks to find the stuff she put away.” (I would quote him directly, but I’m protecting the innocent.)

I am not friends with my plumber or my mechanic. There is a part of me that would like to discuss my Spousal Unit’s failure to get excited about my new blog (and my inability to tell her why this really hurts) while my mechanic is watching the oil drain from my car, but I don’t think he  likes being distracted. Also, I have no idea what his name is, which makes it harder to confide my true feelings in him.

If I had one of my friends helping me with work around the house, I would be paying in beer and pizza, not cash. They probably wouldn’t expect a clean area to work in, either. Mainly because they live alone, and they don’t have cleaning ladies.