Books are better'n kissin' - sort of... 

Story Time (previous tales)

I Like to Walk:

Well. Not really. I'm more of a stroller. Like Dad always said: "There's no use making your heart beat faster."

I've read that the "average" walking speed is a little over 3 miles per hour and that seems pretty slow to start. My meanderings run about one-third slower—and that's when I pay attention to moving forward, which I don't always do because there's so much to see, even when you take the same route almost every, single day. Birds and bunnies. Kids on bikes. Clouds and sky. It's amazing how much variety there is in the things that appear to be static.

But what slows me down the most are the memories. Some are fairly recent: There's the spot where the pretty, short-shorted, red-headed woman on skates smiled at me. Some are more distant: I remember when my little kids used to ride their bikes along here with me. Others reach 'way back in time…

When I was small, I spent thousands of hours on Midway Beach, on the East Side of Conneaut Lake, PA. Us Midway Kids were there all the time; during the summer, for sure, but also autumn, winter, and spring. On the south end of that beach, near the water, grew several splendid examples of Populus deltoids, or Easter Cottonwoods. One of the largest and fastest growing native trees in North America, they had their feet in good soil, all the water they could drink, and were sheltered by the Lake's microclimate. As a result, they were very straight and tall with trunks at least 4-to-5 feet thick.

The wizened Widow McCready, who lived up Lakeview Avenue a few houses from the beach, used to call me to her front porch and give me dimes to buy us Popsicles from a nearby neighborhood grocery ("banana or root beer, or nothing, please"). We'd sit and she'd talk of her memories. I remember very few, except for her telling of her and her father planting those trees on the beach when she was a child, in the 1880s. People think the past is so very far away, but it's not, you know?

Cottonwoods are considered "hardwoods." Hearing that, most think of useful trees: Maple, Oak, Hickory. Cottonwoods are nothing like that. Their wood is fibrous and difficult to work. They're prone to rot and insect damage with limbs brittle and apt to breaking. Any good wind brings twigs and such tumbling to the ground.

They're messy, too. Girl Cottonwoods (yes, there are girl and boy trees; it's biology, for crying in the bucket), Girl Cottonwoods cast off thousands of sticky seed pods that adhere to everything they touch, leaving behind stubborn yellow stains—especially on the bottoms of bare feet. There's also the white fluffy seeds that give the trees their common name. The grassy beach, the sand, and the water would be covered in the stuff. There are two things in particular about the Cottonwoods that I remember best… A light breeze would set their leaves to shaking, producing a distinctive rattle, like pebbles in a shaken cardboard box. Only quieter. That and their aroma. A strong and pleasant smell of crushed, dry wood.

The trees were taken down decades ago when their advancing age, decomposition, and propensity for tossing large branches made them a danger to beach-goers using them for shade. I still see them though, standing tall, if not a little ragged.

My present, daily stroll takes me along a bike path close to my home. It's part of the Rails to Trails effort that converts old railroad rights-of-way to recreational use. The path is nice and flat. I like that. The part I walk takes me through back yards and wooded areas, to a small crick that's bridged where I turn back. It's a conveniently measured mile.

At the speed I travel it's easy to notice all sorts of things. How the cracks across the asphalt path are spaced either 7 or 11 paces apart. The small animal trails that leave tiny, muddy footprints on the pavement. I even once saw a tortoise out laying her eggs.

About two-thirds along the way there's a small and spindly Boy Cottonwood growing on the far side of the west ditch. I think it's a boy because it makes no seed pods nor cotton. But it does cast off branches and twigs, it does make that sound in the wind, and it does produce that smell that always hurries my slow self back to my childhood on Midway Beach.

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Can we buy real poo next time?


So... This morning I get into the shower.


I’m carrying a brand-new bottle of shampoo. My favorite brand. I use it all the time. Really. It enables what little hair I have to be soft and glowing. Sure does. Yep. I saw it in a commercial. So it must be true.


I’m in the shower. I’m soaking wet (no surprise there). I snap open the lid of the shampoo bottle and hold it over my upturned hand... Nothing comes out. I squeeze the bottle. Nope. Nothing. At all. I unscrew the cap. Beneath, I find a plastic seal.


What the heck? On my shampoo? A plastic seal? Against what? Shampoo thieves? Shampoo diluters? Shampoo adulteraters?  Shampoo switchers with hair removalers?


What's this world coming to? I bought the same brand and size bottle a couple of months ago. There was no plastic seal. Probably some Homeland Security rule or something. The Shampoo Czar declared an orange state of emergency for all bottles. I shouldn't joke, I know, I'll end up on the watch list - if I’m not there already.


I try to remove the plastic seal. Should be easy, there's a little tab to pull. I pull on the tab. The tab pulls off. The seal stays on. I curse (out loud) at the wonderful engineering behind such a design. Now what? I’m nekked. Soaking wet. In the shower. What might I have that has a chance of piercing a plastic seal? My teeth? For a shampoo bottle? Even *I’m* not that dim.


I have a valve at the shower head that lets me turn off *most* of the flow, to save water while I'm soaping up. I don't use it, of course, being a Wasteful American, but it's there nonetheless. I manage to rip open the shampoo bottle's plastic seal using the edge of that shower head valve-handle. A couple pieces of plastic manage to escape. They hurry down the floor drain. To wait several months before causing a clog. At the worst possible time. Plastic's bad that way. Ornery plastic. Mind of its own, plastic has.


I screw the cap back on, trying not to get any water into the shampoo. That'll change the composition of the shampoo. And, somewhere, give a shampoo chemist bad dreams. I hold the shampoo bottle up and, with vim and vigor, snap open the top.


Hold on... What's that coming towards me? It's a big blob of un-watered-down shampoo. Heading straight for my right eye.


!! BLINK, FOOL !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. My eyes are sort of slow, sometimes. They've been headed downhill ever since I started wearing bifocals.


Blam! The shampoo lands right on the lashes of my right eye.


!! DON'T BLINK !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. And it blinks. I told you they were sort of slow, didn't I? My right eye is now filled with searing shampoo-lava. It burns. With a big B. And a big URNS, too. I hear a shampoo chemist giggling, somewhere (later, when I’m thinking more clearly, I'll put some water into the bottle to get even). I stick my face into the shower stream to flush the chemicals from my eye.




I don't know what mornings are like at your house. But here, it's a whole lot of people vying for limited resources. That's why I’ve always crawled outta bed first. No matter where I’ve live or whom I’ve lived with. I want to be at the top of the schedule. The first in line. I always want to kick off the schedule. It comes from being a second child. Really - ask any second child you know. If they say it isn't true, they're fibbing like a sack of (sham)poo.


Top of the schedule I am. Still, during mornings, everything has to run like clock-work. Everything. It's like the tides at Normandy on D-Day. The orbits of the planets on a moon launch. Everything has to be lined up just so. Bing. Bang. Boom. Including the amount of time *I* spend in the shower.


It's not that somebody's waiting to use the shower. Nope. But. There are only so many butts and only so many commodes, y'know? And, in a house this old, butts, commodes, showers, and faces are all connected by pipes. All in one nice, neat, sweet, perfectly connected string of events. Like the co-incidences that brought you to this point in time.


I'm running behind my regular schedule because of the sealed shampoo. And my face is in the shower because I’m rinsing shampoo-magma outta my eye. My right eye. My left eye wonders what's going on.


Somebody else, somewhere else in the house. Lifts their butt from a commode. Relieved at finishing one of their first tasks of the day, they push the flush handle... I feel a drop in the water pressure - the cold water pressure.


!! FACE...BACK !! My brain screams.


My face (which isn't nearly as slow as my eyes) pulls back from the soon-to-arrive flash of heat. I even manage a step back and away. Some reflexes, huh? Of course, it takes an instant before the water rises to scalding temperatures and another instant before I realizes that the course of the shower spray is now aimed directly at what some would politely term my “naughty bits.”


My brain screamed something at that point. I don't recall what it was. Except it started with bad words and went on with bad words and ended with bad words. I think I used every bad word I know. That's a LOT of bad words. Trust me. Lots. Luckily I was ‘way too busy dancing around the too-hot water to listen very much to what it was I was saying.


I was kind of tender toweling off. My shampooed right eye looked as if I smoked a bale of weed (perhaps I should say what I have read a bale of weed eye would look like. Homeland Security and all that). My left eye looked more angry than anything else. And slow.


Stupid shampoo.