When Raegan packed the van for the Dykes’ trip out of town a few weeks ago, there was room for her and Glenn, Glenn’s parents, and Kanyon, Rayn, and Woody, along with the bikes, Rayn’s twelve hundred changes of clothes, and everyone else’s luggage. For the trip home, Glenn repacked the van. The bikes and luggage fit nicely, Raegan tells me, but there was no longer room for Glenn’s parents or for Woody. Fortunately, his parents weren’t coming on the return trip. Woody was, however. “Where were you planning on putting your dog?” Raegan asked Glenn.
It’s a shame my brother wasn’t along to help out, because if Chuck had packed the van, there would have been room for six or seven golden retrievers, without throwing away any of the luggage. Left to his own devices, Chuck would throw out most of the luggage. When packing for himself, Chuck takes along one change of clothes, a book, and a dozen sock monkeys, and calls it done. While in most respects a minimalist, with regard to sock monkeys Chuck is more of a maximalist. There always seem to be more sock monkeys around than you’d think that the ordinary person would need. Not that Chuck is what you would call an ordinary person.
By contrast, Glenn and Raegan have always seemed to me like normal people. For a long time, I thought that they were normal. I am always on the lookout for normal people. I am easily impressed by normalcy. I was sure that the Dykes were normal. That was before I saw Glenn mowing his lawn in a golden crown with the price tag still attached.
I don’t think my brother even owns a crown.
Kanyon and Rayn own crowns, of course. They have lot of stuff like that — wigs, wands, ball gowns, fancy gloves, tiaras, paper earring stickers, fancy dress shoes.
You can buy ball gowns and fancy dress shoes at the thrift shop, but if you want fancy gloves you have to make them yourself. Glenn and Raegan make fancy gloves by cutting up tights. It was Glenn’s idea, but Raegan has gotten pretty good at it.
Since Glenn wears a crown while doing yardwork, I am assuming that his crown-wearing is not about glamour or power; it is just to provide a finishing sartorial touch. When Kanyon wears a crown, on the other hand, the whole point is to exercise the crushing royal power that people with crowns in the movies deploy.
While I was talking with Raegan one afternoon, Kanyon came up and asked her Mom to help tie a blanket around her head. “She is being a princess,” Raegan explained as she tied the blanket around Kanyon’s head. “A princess bride,” she corrected herself.
“Earlier today she asked me to write ’Come bow to me’ on a piece of cardboard and then to call all of her friends and tell them to come over so that they could read the sign and bow to the princess. I told her they wouldn’t come. She asked me why not and I said, ’Um, well, they’re not home.’” It is hard to explain satisfactorily to a five-year-old other people’s lack of enthusiasm for bowing and scraping. When Annika was in the second or third grade, she and her friends compromised by playing princess all at once, bossing each other around and bowing to one another. Frankly, this is not the sort of game that one likes to encourage in a democracy, although just at the moment it’s not clear that the democracy we have isn’t that kind of democracy. There seem to be an awful lot of royal despots, princesses, and royal henchmen running things in business and academia; in government, things are worse.
Among non-humans, one cannot expect democracy. Trying to institute democracy among birds or dogs or cats, for example, only causes an uproar. That is true of the birds and dogs and cats I know, at any rate. They expect service. Whenever I am out of town and Ivan is putting food and water out for the birds, and is feeding and watering the cats and doing their litter, there is general dissatisfaction. He does what needs to be done, but it is not the quality of attention to which the birds and cats are accustomed. These are not middle- or working-class birds and cats. They are more your princessy-type cats and birds, and they demand a certain star-struck, Old-Retainer devotion and happiness-just-to-serve.
For a while, other children may play along with five-year-old princesshood, but it is a fragile affair. One summer when Annika was about five, Tom’s and Annika’s neighbors, Diana and her little brother, Dylan, were over and Diana was trying to get Dylan to act out a new play with Annika. Two days earlier, I had watched Dylan perform very graciously with Annika in a play of their own making featuring “Tim,” a poor laborer, and the princess, “daughter of the king.” That play, which had been concerned entirely with the marriage of Tim and the princess and the birth of their child, featured Annika in the starring role. Despite Dylan’s earlier willingness to play a supporting role, he balked at performing in another play with Annika, possibly because his new role was not even nominally princelike.
Diana’s idea was for Dylan to pretend to teach Annika to walk again, in a gender role reversal of The Secret Garden. Dylan refused. “I’m not following her around,” he told Diana.
“No, no, not follow her around; you’ll teach her how to walk,” Diana explained.
“That’s what I’m not going to do,” he agreed.
Further negotiations were offered, and for a while it looked like Dylan might agree to at least a bit part, when Annika shouted, “There’s going to be a queen in this play.”
Dylan countered with, “We’re not going to have a whole play about everyone teaching her to walk! She can have servants for that!” It happened to be the moment when Dylan was supposed to go home anyway, so he raced home in great satisfaction, shouting, “There’s not going to be a play!” with Annika shouting after him that she had done it all his way last time, and he was supposed to do it all her way this time. Dylan wasn’t around to contest the claim, but there were those of us in the audience who wondered if a play entirely about the princess — daughter of the king — in which she proposed to Tim the laborer and then gave birth in solitary splendor while he watched the news about it on television, was so absolutely a reflection of Dylan’s desires and so completely something that Annika had to sacrifice her own wishes, to appear in. But of course the principle of compromise is a very sound one, if anyone but Diana could be brought to agree with it.
The trouble with democracy is that so often there is only the one person who really wants to try it.
Tom and Annika with Audrey
Tom and Annika with Diana
Seeing Kanyon in her princess-bride headdress, I realized I needed a picture. “Kanyon,” I said, “stay right there. I have to go home and get my camera so that I can take a picture of you being a princess.”
“Take a picture of me too,” advised Rayn.
I am in trouble with Rayn for having put a picture in one of my web stories of me sitting with Kanyon and some puppies. “Where is a picture of me with Audrey?” Rayn demanded, when her mother showed her the story.
When I came back next door with the camera, the girls were eating “Otter” popsicle sticks in plastic tubes. “Would you like one?” Raegan offered. “I have two hundred and twenty of them.” That is the smallest size they have at Costco.
Rayn went inside to gather an armful of clothes to bring outside. Rayn loves clothes and just that morning she had inherited a bunch of her sister’s hand-me-downs. “These are all for me?” she asked, immensely gratified. She tried them all on at once. While Raegan was telling me about it, Rayn stood in the hallway to show them off through the open front door.
“Those are great,” I said, “really beautiful.”
“I know,” said Rayn. She brought them outside and put them on her campstool so she could sit on them. Raegan asked her to take them back inside. Rayn sat there imperturbably.
“Why are you sitting on that pile of clothes?” I asked.
“Because,” she said.
“But because what?” I wanted to know. The thing about being a philosopher is that you keep thinking that there are answers to questions like this.
“Because I want to,” Rayn said.
“But why do you want to?” I repeated.
“Because,” she repeated.
“Ah,” I said, “now I understand.” I was lying, because I didn’t really understand at all. But I was starting to realize that the Dykes may be a lot more like my brother than I had realized. I am not necessarily going to understand the why of things.
As it happens, Rayn is also a lot like my sister was when she was little. Much like Barb when she was that age, Rayn changes clothes a minimum of five or six times a day. If she gets even a drop of water on an outfit, she tells her mother that she is soaking wet and has to change. Occasionally she neglects to put on the new clothes and comes out of the bedroom stark naked. When my sister was two, she used to streak around the yard stark naked. She also changed clothes five or six times a day. She told Mom she had to. There was no choice; it was out of her hands. It drove Mom nuts, but Barbara always did it before she could stop her.
If Raegan gets a spot of water on her own shirt, Rayn urges her to change. “Don’t you want to change your shirt, Mommy?” she asks. She is solicitous but she is also a little embarrassed at having a mother with water on her shirt who acts as is she doesn’t have a whole wardrobe of other shirts she could be wearing this very minute.
My sister was only embarrassed by Mom if she sang in the car. When Mom sang along to the radio, Barb would look straight ahead fixedly, muttering urgently out of the side of her mouth, “Close the window, Mom! People can hear you!” That was later, when she was a teenager, which is the age at which children discover how embarrassing their parents have been all along, if they’d only realized.
Presumably because other people’s colorful relatives are not embarrassing, only one’s own, Raegan is very anxious to meet my family. “Be sure to bring them over when they visit,” she told me. When she found out that Chuck and Kaarin had been here over the fourth of July, while she and Glenn and the girls were in Phoenix, she was despondent. “They were here? Right here!? And I didn’t meet them? When are they coming back?” she asked.
It’s not as if Chuck and Kaarin didn’t try to meet Raegan and Glenn. They waited on the Dykes’ front porch, but eventually had to leave.
“Tell Chuck to put some sock monkeys in one of those photos, and we’ll call it even,” Raegan suggested. Chuck was happy to comply, since he believes that sock monkeys can make good most losses and disappointments.
Kanyon is five, though she tells me that she will be turning six practically any day now, which her father explains means eleven months from now. Kanyon does not plan to be a princess when she grows up. She has her heart set on being a Costco pizza maker. She can hardly wait. Rayn, who is three, plans to be a doctor. That is if she doesn’t drive her mother crazy first. One afternoon Raegan came out of the house saying, “I was on the phone to Glenn. Rayn is driving me nuts.”
I was sympathetic. There were seven kids in the house. “Well, you have all these kids around today,” I said.
“Yes,” said Raegan, “but only Rayn is driving me nuts.” I asked what Rayn had done. “The doctor gave her a sticky hand to throw at the wall,” said Raegan, “and it got dirty, so she washed it and I told her not to use the towel to dry it because it would get the sticky hand covered with lint, so she immediately used a towel on it and got it covered with lint and then she screamed at me because of the lint.”
I asked Glenn later about this sticky hand business. Apparently a sticky hand is a gummy, slimy, stretchy piece of plastic that kids can throw at the wall and it slides or stretches down. It sounds like the worst possible invention. “It doesn’t stain the walls?” I asked Glenn.
“Yes, it does stain the walls,” he said. “I think that the whole point may be to stain the walls. It’s a way of selling more paint.”
After screaming about the lint, Rayn pushed everything off the bathroom counter and onto the floor. “When I told her to pick it up she screamed at me that she wasn’t going to,” Raegan said. “So I asked her, ’Do you want to have a spanking?’ and she said, ’Sure.’ You’re laughing, but it isn’t funny.” It’s funny to me because it is her family, not mine. She denied that it was her family. “It’s Glenn’s genes,” she told me.
“Better ask your Mom what you were like at that age,” I suggested.
“I was nothing like that,” Raegan said firmly.
I will have to ask Raegan’s and Glenn’s parents what they were like as kids for myself. As adults, they are very can-do people. Joe and Annika are like that, although Annika used not to be. My sister and I have never been like that. Once I have bought the can of paint and a roller and brush, I need to rest; I can’t immediately start sanding and taping and painting. I have to let the whole overwhelming idea settle and take hold for a couple of weeks. When Glenn and Raegan decide to do something, they do it that same day. Glenn came home one afternoon to find that Raegan had torn out the bathroom. “We need to redo the bathroom,” she said. There was not a lot of ambiguity about it. The remains of the old bathroom were already on the front porch.
Joe calls this “enabling.” When he thinks it is time for the laundry to be done, he enables it by starting a load of laundry that Barb will then feel obliged to finish.
Joe does not like big projects like refitting bathrooms. He likes little projects, like doing a load of laundry, or better yet having Barb do it. Even small projects tend to feel overwhelming to Barb and me. A few years ago, Chuck sent everyone in the family the Chasaruby Encyclopedia, a “must read” CD summarizing his existence thus far and containing every document with any bearing on Chuck’s life and interests. Barb and I did not open it. We felt that it was too much to ask of us. Just barely keeping up with living our own individual lives as we do, there is no question of reading documents pertaining to our brother’s life, most of which we have already been present for in any case. Recently Chuck mentioned the CD to me, and I said something indicating that I was familiar with its contents. “You read my CD?” he said. “I didn’t think anyone did.”
“Barb and Joe and I did it together,” I told him. “Joe made us. Barb and I said we couldn’t do it and Joe said, ’Come on, it’ll be fun! Look, I’m opening it right now.’” That is what I mean by can-do. On our own, Barb and I would not even have inserted the CD in the drive, let alone clicked it open.
The first thing Joe came to in the Encyclopedia was a series of French lessons. “Okay,” Joe said, “we can skip those. You two already know French.” Then he came to some Italian lessons. “We’ll skip those, too,” he said. “None of us knows any Italian.” Some of us may have to learn Italian before too long, however, as sometimes Kaarin speaks Italian to us and no one understands what she is saying. It is not impossible that this is not our fault. Perhaps it is bad Italian, given that Kaarin is only just learning to speak it. However, no one is in a position to say.
We are not really sure how Chuck and Kaarin communicate. They are always trying out new languages, in case another one works better. Chuck owns copies of the children’s books about Gaspard and Lisa in every language in which they are published. Since he does not speak most of the languages, he copies the text onto the computer and uses Babelfish to translate it. If he has a dictionary for a particular language, he translates the book himself. His version of Lisas erster Flug was teeming with lines like, “I could myself so correctly distend.” Although Chuck already owns the American and British versions of the books, he does not feel he can rely on their translations. In Britain, Gaspard is called “George.” Chuck feels that there is something inherently hilarious and unreliable about a title like George Goes to Hospital, though any single line of Babelfish translation is more inherently hilarious than that.
The first thing Joe, Barb, and I looked at closely on the CD of Chuck’s life were photos of Chuck’s and Barb’s and my childhood. We spent a lot of time looking at the photos, feeling very virtuous for delving so deeply into the CD.
Next were some math lessons. Joe did one of the problems and skipped the rest. Joe is good at math, and Barb and I were permitted to coast on his success.
Among other things, there were stories, drawings, documents, and quizzes on the CD. We looked at anything that was easy. Chuck had gotten hold of some quiz on personality and the meaning of life from a magazine, and it looked easy, so we took that together. It had questions like, “Would you say that blue or green or orange better describes the essence of your existence?” It was fun, but we failed the quiz.
Lately, Chuck has been working on a new CD Encyclopedia, but he is taking a rest from it for a year. When he and Kaarin visited us on the fourth of July, Chuck told me, “By the way, don’t send me any interesting letters or photos or anything this year. I am taking a year off from documenting things on my CD, and I don’t want to miss anything. So you can send me letters, but not anything interesting enough that I would want to keep it.”
In the spirit of keeping things interesting but not that interesting, Ivan and I took Chuck and Kaarin to the new city library, which was closed for the holiday. It was not as if we had a lot of choice. Everything else was closed, too. Still, it is an interesting library even when closed. Earlier in the summer, the Utah Arts Festival was held there.
Chuck loved the library plaza, although later he pretended not to. “Thank you for taking me to the library,” he wrote. “I have never been taken to a closed library before. I enjoyed the moat.” Chuck used to be an architect major, but this does not make him an expert on moats. I think he must have skipped the course on moats, because the library does not have a moat. By now, Chuck has probably told everyone in Portland that Salt Lake City has a library with a moat, but all it really has are pools and fountains.
When I wrote to Cris, I sent her some pictures of the library’s “moat.” She and Stephanie have been tearing apart their house in Maine, and Cris wrote back saying that the moat reminded her of home improvement projects gone wrong and water trickling down the stairs from a bad pipe fitting. That is the trouble with can-do people. They are constantly being reminded of other plumbing jobs to tackle.
Glenn came by the other evening and asked for the name of our plumber. While I was getting it for him, Glenn asked, “Does he come pretty quickly?”
“Usually,” I said. “Is it an emergency?”
“No,” said Glenn, “it’s not an emergency. Dad is here helping me do some work on the house and as long as we were at it we thought we’d get a plumber in to help us with some stuff.” There was a plumber there the next morning.
Glenn’s Dad is also a can-do person. I went over yesterday to take Woody for a walk and only Ted was there. “Where’s everyone else?” I asked. “Do they just take off and leave you here to do all the work?”
“Usually,” he said. “That’s generally pretty much how it goes.” This was an impressive and poignant story ruined only by Glenn coming back from the hardware store with new tools.
The Dykes are not our only neighbors. The neighbors kitty-corner from us have three cats that like to sun themselves in princess-like splendor on their front yard.
Other neighbors have fake but colorful animals.
It is a colorful neighborhood.
The neighbors across the street from the Dykes are a dentist and a podiatrist. It is almost as if our vet knew about them being our neighbors, because when I took Trillin in for her yearly check-up, Dr. Foster said, “Her heart is running a little fast. Better keep an eye on that. You can do that from home.”
“How do I check her heart at home?” I asked.
“With a stethoscope,” he said.
“What if I don’t have a stethoscope?” I asked.
“The neighbors have one,” he said. Apparently stethoscopes are like those really long ladders; someone in the neighborhood is bound to have one.
Kanyon and Rayn clearly regard Jason as a superstar. When he drives by on his motor scooter or in his jeep, they chant, “JAY-son, JAY-son!” Jason is a dentist, but since I have not visited his office, I do not have the prejudice against him that I have against other dentists. Also, he does not fit my idea of a dentist very well. I think of him more as a rock star.
Jason and Lola
Jason’s and Nan’s dogs go into a frenzy whenever I am in the Dykes’ yard playing with Woody or taking pictures of him. Lola and Bully do not really like to see that kind of activity right across the street.
I suspect that they are a little jealous of Woody. Woody is a canine superstar. I take a lot of pictures of Woody. Raegan says, “We never had this many pictures of Woody before in his entire life. We could fill a whole album with the pictures of Woody you’ve taken.”
Actually, they could fill a number of albums with the pictures of them that I have taken. Like Jay, the Dykes have begun to think of themselves as being on the verge of a modeling career. They are modest about it. “We do fair bit of modeling,” they say. “Pro bono, of course.”
The main games Woody likes me to play with him are tug-of-war and ball chasing. Often, it is only pretend ball chasing; Woody will dash off, pretending that I have thrown the ball, but the whole time he has the ball in his mouth. He does not like to give it up. I only get to throw it once, at the very beginning of the game, unless I am sneaky. After the first time, Woody guards the ball firmly, watching me suspiciously but hopefully. Kanyon has suggested that I sneak up behind him. “How can I?” I ask. If I get anywhere near Woody, he turns to face me. He knows I am after that ball.
The Buendías give me their used tennis balls to share with Woody, and Ivan buys him peanut-butter flavored tennis balls at Petsmart and gaudy squeaky toys at the supermarket. Not that he doesn’t already have a bunch of toys, but we think he might need more. The latest toy Ivan got him was pink and plastic and bumpy with a large green worm wearing spectacles and emerging from the pinkness. It looked like someone’s brain, Raegan said. Ivan also gets Woody dog cookies, dog bacon, bones, and rawhide chews. I take some of them to the office for Indica, but Indica is a little leery of accepting them. “She wants them,” Jane has explained to me, “but she doesn’t want them here.” Tomorrow I will take some to Indica’s house, where Jane also lives.
Indica and Jane
I keep my stash of dog treats in the trunk of the Nissan, and as soon as Woody sees me, he trots over to see what all might be in the trunk these days. Sometimes Glenn will see me giving Woody a dog cookie. “Are you spoiling my dog?” he asks. “No,” I lie. Everyone tries to spoil Woody but he is unspoilable. He is an angel. Indica is also an angel. Even ducks and quail love Woody and Indica.
|Quail in Woody’s yard
Indica leading the ducks in Liberty Park
The gifts we give the girls are more modest than the ones we give Woody. Recently, we gave Kanyon the cardboard box that Ivan’s new grill came in. She used it to play house. It was a little crowded, as she insisted on using full-size furniture.
The size of the grill box does not convey a realistic impression of how much that grill weighs. When our old gas grill melted, Ivan bought an E-Z, no-tools-necessary-to-assemble gas grill. It came with an offer of free assembly from the store, but the woman who sold it to Ivan assured him that he would have no trouble at all putting it together himself. Ivan is gullible in the extreme, and although he had no reason to think that the salesclerk had ever put a grill together herself, he immediately took her assurance at face value, happily coming home with a grill that weighed half as much as the car. The salesclerk, incidentally, weighed about 83 pounds.
We could barely get the boxed grill out of the car and there was no question of carrying it through the house and onto the porch. We opened the box and took out all the removable parts, or at least all the ones that we noticed. If we had thought to open the hood of the grill, we would have noticed a couple hundred more parts. When we had removed all the parts that seemed removable, we were still left with a grill too big and heavy to move.
“I know,” said Ivan. “I will go buy us a hand truck.”
“There is no need for that,” I said. “You can rent them for $7 a day.”
“Oh,” said Ivan, disappointed. “You think I should just rent one?”
“Yes, I do,” I said firmly. Ivan’s first thought is always of ownership; renting rarely occurs to him. It is amazing that he does not buy a new car every time he goes to the Mayan conference in Austin, but so far he has always just rented a car. When I muttered to Joe about this over email, he explained that it is okay to rent cars, because they are right there at the airport and you don’t have to go out of your way for them like you do for a hand truck. It is nice of Joe to show such solidarity with Ivan when, half the time, Ivan forgets that Joe is his brother-in-law or even that he knows him at all.
Although it was a holiday weekend, Ivan had no trouble renting a hand truck. He still felt that it was a mistake, however. Not only did have all the trouble of returning the dolly the next day, but, he pointed out, if he ever did need a hand truck again, he wouldn’t have it handy. He would have to go rent one all over again.
“What would you ever need one for?” I asked.
“Glenn might need to borrow our gas grill some time,” Ivan said confidently. When Glenn had come over to help us lift the heaviest parts of the grill, he admired the new grill, and Ivan was determined to lend it to him.
It is unlikely that Glenn is equally determined to borrow it. Glenn and Raegan’s back porch is even higher off the ground than ours is. It is not the kind of porch you would drag a neighbor’s gas grill up to on a whim.
Plus, Glenn and Raegan already have a gas grill.
I didn’t mention this to Ivan, however. All I said was, “There would be no way to get the grill off the porch without dismantling it. You’d have to take it apart all over again.”
“Not necessarily,” Ivan said. He is a little stubborn about these things. It would not be out of the question for him to contemplate rebuilding the porch with a special ramp, to take the grill up and down, in order to justify buying a hand truck. I would not particularly endorse such a plan, but it is a better plan than taking apart the grill would be. The E-Z, no-tools assembly of the grill not only required a minimum of three adults, a hand truck, and an electric screw gun, but it took three hours the first day and two hours the next to complete — and that’s not including the extra shopping trips and hand truck rental expeditions.
Joe later wrote me an email for no other purpose than to point out that “one of the joys of owning (rather than renting) a hand truck is that you can compare hand truck features and performance with your colleagues.” (I have corrected all of Joe’s spelling and grammatical errors.)
I did not forward Joe’s email to Ivan. Ivan needs no encouragement of that sort. Also, it is not certain that he would remember who Joe was. It would be unfortunate if Joe’s feelings were to be hurt.
I tried to get some photographs of Ivan grilling but I was not as successful as I’d hoped to be. Every time I went out on the porch with the camera, he was sitting next to the closed grill reading Tony Hillerman. I made helpful suggestions. “Isn’t it time to put something on the grill? Should those bratwurst really just be sitting there in the open air? I could put them back in the fridge. Do you want to pour some beer over them or something?”
“No,” said Ivan. I suppose the camera was a tip-off, because he did not talk to me about the bratwurst or the possibility of pouring beer over them. “Lack of photo opportunities around gas grills is normal,” he assured me.
It is true that the photo opportunities near the gas grill are limited. I am going to go out to Oregon and find out what the photo opportunities are like around charcoal grills. While I am out there, I will check out the crown situation; I need to see whether my family is more normal than the Dykes.
Not that crowns are the key to the whole story, I’m sure. Besides, motives for wearing a crown probably vary. My sister doesn’t wear one, but there was a time when it might have enhanced her standing as a mother considerably. If she had thought of it, she might have worn one. When Annika was about four, Barbara thwarted her — when Annika was four, this was quite easy to do — and Annika shouted at her, “I don’t like you!” and stormed out of the room. She was back again in seconds. “And I don’t like your clothes!” she added, slamming the door behind her. This was one of those moments when a simple gold crown might have made all the difference.
Main web site: http://www.pauahtun.org/audrey.html