Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 27 August 2016

Good morning,

The lingering heady smell of a ferocious rain surrounds me on the porch.  I've dragged one of my five-dollar home-made estate sale folding tables outside to write and drink coffee.  I feel the night's pressure in my lungs.  I dreamed of trying to navigate a small car through a narrow space with two passengers.  Hold your breath, I cautioned.  I struggled awake to find that an asthma episode gripped my body. Rescue inhalers make my finicky heart race, so I'm trying the openness of the porch.  Sometimes that helps my breathing; it certainly soothes the rest of me.

The wide washed expanse of my neighborhood sizzles with the song of the cicadas.  Their pleasant noise echoes the frenzy of last year's bunch,  a seventeen-year brood making an unprecedented second appearance in Missouri.  I find their chattering pleasant today, though one of them slipped through the broken bathroom screen upstairs last night and scared the daylights out of me by landing on my sleeping self.  Now they hover wherever cicadas stay -- in the ground, I suppose; and talk to each other in their rhythmic soothing way.

I had an e-mail from a client last evening which depressed me.  She's decided to surrender a fight to retrieve her child from his malicious father, who started a smear campaign against the mother at a time when she had different counsel.  She feels hopeless.  I can only imagine; I can only try to encourage her to keep the faith.  I cannot guarantee that I will undo the harm her prior attorney did, nor can I promise that she will prevail.  I shuffled through the various pleadings filed by the other side over a five-month time, and stared with dismay at the thin stack of what my client's former counsel feebly tendered.  I've done more in two weeks than my predecessor did in twenty.  When I come across such poor professional performance by a colleague, I want to weep.  I want to understand why the person put forth such little effort.  As with doctors, the failing of a lawyer can devastate the client and cost him or her thousands with no potential of any progress in their case.  It tires me just to imagine my client's anguish and despair.

I will call her later today and see if I cannot help her cling to something close to sanity.

The sound of the cicadas today reminds me of the 1998 emergence of the 17-year brood.  We had a screened porch then.   Patrick hovered in the living room near the  door staring at the horde as it descended.  Whether through an open door or a torn screen, the beasts swarmed the porch, raising their racket, fluttering against the ceiling and the side of the house. We stood transfixed.

Suddenly Patrick spied our cat crouching in a corner of the porch, snarling and growling.  He jerked the handle of the screen door before I could stop him and plunged out into the swirling mass of insects.  He snatched his cat and dove back into the living room with a furious plunge.  I slammed the door and stomped at a handful of invaders.  Patrick released the cat who dove under the couch, still hissing, her green eyes gleaming.

Patrick and I fell into chairs, laughing and crying in turns, while the sound of the massive brood  roared outside.

By contrast, this year's gentle cicada hatch speaks longingly of summer's close.  From my porch the sound blends with other noises of the morning:  the occasional car, the distant drone of traffic, voices of the neighbors, an occasional timid bark.  These few minutes outside have done their work.  My breathing has slowed; the tightness has eased; the asthma attack has loosened its grip.

I sit rocking, thinking of these next few days in which I must prepare for my upcoming trip to California.  I will lay out my clothes and pick items that harmonize with one another.  I'll move my son's guitars from the guest bed and wash the sheets for my friend who has agreed to house-sit.  At work, the client status sheet waits for my close examination.  Every available minute will see intense effort; every client will receive several hours of writing, phone-calling, or notation.  By Friday morning, files will be downloaded to a flash-drive or e-mailed to myself; notes will be scanned; and instructions given.  Ten days away from home and the office could lead to the kind of disaster which I can't allow my clients to suffer.  I do not want some other lawyer sitting with an inherited file, cursing my name.  I do not want one of my clients speaking of surrender because I failed them.

The morning slips away.  A friend will be here soon for breakfast and a visit. I must make good use of my time and start the weekend's chores.    My hour of pleasant dalliance draws to a close. I drain my coffee as the sun slips behind a bank of grim clouds and the voices of the cicadas rise in the heavy air.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Next week's Musings will be posted from Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Saturday Musings, 20 August 2016

Good morning,

It's just past one.  I did myself in by eating a piece of chocolate cake before sleeping.  I knew I'd regret it:  The calories, the carbs, the sugar, the gluten.  My legs writhe and jerk now; sleep eludes me.  I dragged my heavy body out of the bed, pacing around the room in the dark.  But man: it surely tasted good.

The ghost of a girl I knew crowds me.  She settles her Peter Pan blouse around her big-boned body, easy and light.  I see her in my rocker, there in the corner, just like she owns the place.  She pushes her pug little nose up with the back of her hand, a move that tells me it's really her.  You got them all beat, kid, she reminds me right before she vanishes.

I wave my hand at her and go back to massaging my calves.

Another flash:  the storm seems to have settled in for good.  I drove home in high water, through the city all the way.  Eighty-seventh Street as far as it went, then the dog-leg over to 79th and into Missouri.  Green lights kept me going for the first 30 minutes.  I steered the Prius through intersections that had neither beginning nor end; only that emerald beacon calling me, Go, go, go.  I couldn't make out the sidewalks for the pelting rain.

When I slid down my driveway into the space next to my neighbor's girlfriend's car, my stomach did a final flop.  I pressed the button to cut the power and told myself that I had never been so scared.  I knew it wasn't true but it felt good to say it outloud in the dark.  Like a lie that keeps us walking under the moon.

The dog shook all over my white slacks when I let her into the kitchen.  I scolded her but she knew I didn't mean it.  She looked over her shoulder and trotted into the dining room, glancing briefly at the place under the  window where we stashed her bed for a decade or more before I moved it into the TV room.  I caught the guilt she threw me and huddled into it as I turned out the lights.

I dreamt a jumble of images in the hour or two before the ghosts rattled me awake.  They crowd the room now:  the people of my past; my mother, my little brother, a host of others -- some I don't know whether they live or breathe outside my nightmares.  Or maybe it's the chocolate cake, or the carbs, or the calories sitting in my middle hammering at my quietude.  What did you do to yourself, you're going to get fat again, you ate all that sugar and now look at you, muscles twitching, what were you thinking?

I think it's my mother in the rocker now, thirty-one years dead this Sunday, pushing the floor with her foot, knitting, hands quick with the yarn round the needle.  I take a drink of water and bend down, touch my toes, think, How much yoga to work off that damn cake?

But it sure was good.  I watched the two men who had just gotten married hold each other's hands to cut the first slice.  I felt the storm as it broke; the wind knocked the vase of flowers from the table by the pictures taken at the courthouse that morning.  We all moved to the front of the pavilion and sent a wave of applause in their direction.  I hugged first one and then the other, and ran for the car clutching my cake, while the wind blew the fallen branches through the park and all my angels surrounded me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

For Dan and Bobby.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm). 13 August 2016

Good morning,

A brutally restless night followed by two tortured hours of sleep between four and six a.m. remind me, once again, Do.Not.Eat.White.Sugar.  Even fabulous mousse at an unexpectedly delightful dinner at Cafe Provence.  Even shared.  Do. Not. Eat. White. Sugar.  Even.

I drag myself through the house clutching coffee.  I've left the crystal cup upstairs so I'm using Ivan Komoroski's Owl Cafe mug.  He left it on the back steps of their house after they moved two years ago.  I keep meaning to return it but it's got such a comfortable handle, I cannot part with it.  I don't think Ivan will mind.

The dog has taken to furious barking outside which will probably wake the neighbors.  I'm installing the new sixty-dollar printer that I got at Office Depot when the first sixty-dollar printer died.  The fabulous fiber connection seems typically slow today: I'm still at 30% and creeping by.  Ah, well.  That little rabbit has to nap some time. Some where.  Might as well be now and here.

A blog entry which I wrote this week in my other blog reminded me of my mother's mother.  I dig around a drawer that I don't usually open because it holds things shoved into it in order to avoid them.  But I find what else lives there:  a little book which I made years ago of photos from the late 1960's.  And there it is, just as I recalled -- Nana and my sister Ann, together, in the years when Nana's right side dragged from the vicious aftermath of stroke after stroke.

I touch the black-and-white surface.  Nana.  Oh, Nana.  And I am there, again, at her home, listening helplessly as she tries to make her brain find the words.

Der-der-der.  I don't know what she wants.  I stare helplessly at this woman who comforted me so many times when my home had been chaotic.  She held me while I shuddered and cried. She wrapped her arms around me and murmured soothing things that I could not discern from underneath my thick veil of hair, buried in her warm embrace.  But I knew they meant that I would survive, that she will guarantee my survival.

Now in her living room in Lake Knolls, her brain fails her.   She wants me to get something for her but I do not know what it is and she cannot find the words.  My brother has gone into Springfield with Grandpa, to their business, the Sonotone House of Hearing.    I glance at the door to the back bedroom in which my great-grandmother, Mom Ulz sleeps.  I silently will her to come out.  The door remains closed.

Nana abandons the effort.  She pushes past me, dragging her bad leg as she navigates the hallway.  She reaches with her functioning arm and pulls open the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.  She gestures.  I start taking out bottles until she finds the one she wants and then I place it in her one functioning hand.  Castor oil.  I have no idea what it does.  But she is my grandmother and I am twelve.  If she wants castor oil, I have no right to prevent her from it.

She speaks:  Poon, poon, poon.  She shakes her head.  I know this one:  Spoon.  But should I get it?  What size?  I suddenly wonder if caster oil can hurt her.  I long for the old Nana, before the strokes, the Nana who taught us to make a bed "tight as a drum, neat as a pin".  The Nana who came to Jennings after so many blow-outs; who swept up broken crockery; bought groceries; made schmarrn and sauerbraten; and calmed every fear in my heart with her throaty Austrian voice and her gentle blue gaze.

In the end, Nana used her teeth to open the bottle and she took a swig of the horrible stuff while I stood helplessly five feet from her wishing I knew what to do.

Almost five decades later, I sometimes hear my grandmother's voice.   The last time I saw her alive she stood at the door to my grandparents' home.  My mother had come to bring my brother Mark and me back to Jennings after our summer visit.  My mother drove the Dodge Coronet which her parents had sold to her for a pittance, taking small payments though only because she insisted.  We paused in the driveway.  My mother said, She didn't say, "See you soon", as she usually does.  Or something; I am not sure, now, all these years later, what my mother expected.

We watched my grandmother for a few minutes.  My mother said, I don't like leaving her alone.  Grandpa had gone to the office.  Nana finally lifted her good arm and waved.  Mother put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway.  My last sight of my grandmother was that lifted arm, and her crooked smile, and the golden halo of her curls.

A day or so later my grandfather called my mother before dawn.  Oh Lucy, he sobbed.  I found your mother dead in bed this morning.  We knew, we knew, we knew, that my grandmother felt the fullness of time.  She understood that she would not see us again,  as we sat in her old car, in the driveway of the modern ranch home that she and her husband had worked so hard to buy after so many years together.  And  yet she let us go. And yet:  we left her there, standing alone in the doorway.    My mother held the phone and wept with her father, and then pulled on clothes, got in the Dodge, and went to be with him.

An hour has passed.  The dog seems to have quieted.  The new Epson installation has finished.  My coffee has grown cold.  Ghosts crowd around me.  A shiver clutches my body and I close my eyes and whisper, to no one, to all of them, Oh, how I miss you.  Then my heart falls still.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Saturday Musings(tm), 05 August 2016

Good morning,

I stare into the bleariness of my Saturday eyes, wondering if cold water or more sleep would help.  A light mist hangs over the backyard.  The dog hunkers down on the boards of the back porch, settling her muzzle on her crossed paws.  She's glad to be outside.

When the microwave sounds, I take my mug of yesterday's coffee from its grimy depths, promising myself that the entire kitchen will get swabbed with vinegar when I wake enough for housework.  I climb the stairs back to my room and sit in front of the monitor, thinking about art, and fundraisers, and the pale sky outside my window.  I close my eyes and picture a long stretch of this same delicate hue over an endless sea off the shores of northern California.  I see the lighthouse rising above and the mountains towering behind me.  If all goes according to plan, I will sit on that shore in one month's time.

My vanity mirror rises above the laptop and I stare into those tired eyes.  Yesterday's meeting with a client left its stamp on my heart.  He brought his mother.  A grown man, feeling the need to bring his mother to come ask questions of his lawyer.  I sympathized.  The subject which had to be broached daunted him.  The court has ordered both mother and father to submit to a psychological examination.  This man wanted to know why he had to do so, why either of them should, but more importantly, how a female mental health professional from an affluent area of Johnson County, Kansas could evaluate the choices made by a father of two from the city.  He did not say the word he wanted to include so I spoke it for him:  White.  How can a rich white lady from Kansas know anything about me and my black children and their black mother, living in the city, all of us just doing the best that we can with precious little money and too many demands on our dollars?

Oddly enough I had said the same thing to my secretary just before his arrival, not of the psychologist but of the guardian ad litem.  I just think she's from a different world than these folks; I think it's impossible for her to understand them. It's not "skin color".  It's culture.  It's what they have, and what they don't have, and where they live, and where they don't live, and what society expects of them.  I told my client: I once represented a father who had to explain why he spanked his son with a belt for speaking rudely to his teacher.  My client sat on the witness stand and told the judge, "If my black son goes into a QuikTrip and talks like that to a clerk, he might get shot."

This was a decade ago, and the client in question had himself been a Kansas City cop.

I did not pretend to comprehend what my client, his children's mother, and their family faced on a daily basis.  I did not tell him that I knew.  All I could say, all I did say, was that I keenly felt that what they face sharply differs from what I face.  We met halfway between his world and mine,  balanced on a thin reed,  We shook hands before he went back home to his fourteen-year-old daughter and his ten year old son, the latter of whom has severe epilepsy which even the Mayo Clinic has not been able to cure. Instead of offering platitudes, I had made a list of action-points, and outlined what I would do  to try to bring his case it to a close.  I leaned forward while the mother voiced consternation about the cost to her son of this lawsuit.  I knew she meant more than the money.  I nodded my head.  My brow tightened as I tried to assure them both that I would do what I could to keep the costs down as we moved towards trial or settlement.

 In the end my client and his mother stood and thanked me for my time.  I murmured something vague, dismissing any thought that I had been inconvenienced by the visit.  I followed them from my office and bade them a pleasant evening.  I suppressed the desire to run after them, embrace them, and remind them that we are more alike than different.  We are just parents, worried about our children, challenged by more pressures than any person ought to endure.

I did not presume.  I let them go; but just before the door shut, my client turned and smiled.  I think he knew.  I think he knew.

When I was in grad school, I worked at a pharmacy in the Central West End of St. Louis.  The store, and even the building which housed it, both have gone now.  The owner was a little man, fussy and nervous.  But the other pharmacist, Arthur Perry, was a black man with a wide grin, big shoulders, and a broad twinkling countenance.  One evening, just before close, the power in the store failed.  I happened to be talking to Art at the entryway to the pharmacy when the lights flickered out.   The noisy cash registers fell silent, powerless.  The hum of the florescent lights and the inane, endless loop of the Musak both abruptly stopped.   In the silence, Arthur spoke in his quiet resonant tones.  I like the dark, he said.  In the dark, we are all the same color.

Mugwumpisly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Dusk at Pescadero, California.

The Missouri Mugwump™

My photo
I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.