Posted in Contemplations, Fears and Worries

Puzzling Times by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Putting a jigsaw puzzle together with pieces that look like they should fit together but don’t takes patience, tons of it. And it takes careful noticing. Does the piece I need have two knobs and two holes (also called keys & locks or tabs & pockets)? Or three knobs and one hole? Are the knobs on opposite sides of the piece or next to one another? What colors am I looking for? Are the pieces skinny, fat, large or small? Does my sought after piece have unique curves or weird indentations? Good lighting is crucial, as is enough space – to spread out all those pieces and divide the colors and designs of the puzzle. But PATIENCE is what I need most of.

Some people are drawn to puzzles. These COVID Days can feel long, boring, repetitive, and uncertain because the future ain’t nothing but a fat, shaky, stuck-up question mark! During these pandemic months, jigsaw puzzles have soared in popularity. Perhaps people stuck inside enjoy the challenge and the distraction of complicated puzzles. However, in my speck of space, I have a complicated relationship with jigsaw puzzles – I loathe them but can’t seem to avoid them. 

During the second week of 2021 our good friend Sandra gave Gary a 1000 piece jigsaw that depicted the Dracula movie poster from 1931. This gift took up over eighteen square feet in our den of 100 square feet in a condo of just over 900 square feet. Both our coffee/dining table and a folding table we had stored in a closet were covered with 1,026 ( the true number of puzzle pieces) stiff paperboard pieces, leaving no room for four tv controllers and our dinner plates. I felt like the puzzle’s Bela Lugosi vampire had his arms raised and his cape spread open, forever looming over me in my home. The poster depicted the caped bloodsucker with outspread arms hovering over the red letters of his name with a huge spider web backdrop. It was almost all black except for Dracula’s red name and a few yellow accents. Over a thousand pieces of frustration! 

It took us five weeks to complete that jigsaw, and it would have taken double that time if our son had not stopped by to help us so often. Casey has the gifted puzzler’s keen eye and the stamina that can study the photo on the puzzle box, scan a few hundred same-colored pieces, locate the needed one with the correct holes and nubs and neatly snap it into place before wanting to scream and run from the challenge. 

Casey’s skill sometimes inspired me to use my own plodding puzzle strategy: to staring at an empty spot, counting the holes and nubs needed, and then methodically trying every piece of the correct color that has the nubs and holes in the right places. I would try all 211 black pieces with three nubs and one hole as if I were an assembly line worker at the beginning of a shift who fit small round loops into tight square sockets coming down my conveyor belt. I used mechanical movements that made finding the correct puzzle piece catch me off guard.  After 87 minutes of looking, I’d break into an idiotic grin when the piece of cardboard connected with its mate. I’d stand up, slap the edge of the table, tap the piece twice with two fingers and exclaim, “Ah ha!” to my dog sleeping under the folding table.

The first night Gary and I turned off the tv distraction, set the radio dial to Sun Radio’s “Blue Monday” program, and gave the puzzle three hours of our lives, Gary had searing lower back pain, and I had a headache that felt like bats was eating my brain. I think we had found a third of the straight edge pieces. And those are supposed to be EASY to find! 

Thirty-six days (and nights) later we finished the horrific Dracula puzzle. We left it out on the folding table and ignored people’s suggestion: “You should frame it!” Gary wanted to drive a stake through its heart.

For two full days we let our pride make us feel like we were somehow now productive members of society because we had correctly interlocked 1026 pieces of paperboard into their right spots on a 38X27 picture of an undead creature that sucks the life blood from healthy humans in order to exist. There’s some kind of irony in this nightmare!

Then the next morning after I masked up and got ready to venture out to our HEB grocery store, I told Gary, “Get rid of that damn puzzle before I get back.” I had hopes for returning to a light and airy apartment with more table and floor space and less stress.

Fifty minutes later I returned home to find Dracula gone, but a new pile of over a 1,000 small pieces of cardboard – all white and blue – on the folding and coffee tables in our main living space: Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Wave”!!!!

How could he!?

As I dropped grocery bags on our 4X3 foot kitchen table – the only flat surface in our whole condo with any available space, Gary unbelievably smiled and said, “I found this in my closet – the puzzle Evan gave me for my 70th birthday!”

My melting ice cream delayed me from verbally abusing my husband. I whisper-prayed a Hail Mary through clenched teeth and asked for patience. I unloaded the groceries as Gary separated 126 border pieces from the rest of the nuisances that left superfine puzzle dust behind in the box. I hid my anxiety behind the statement, “Maybe purchasing this 48-roll package of paper towels wasn’t a wise idea.”

He ignored my lame attempt at humor as he hunched over the coffee table and used his index finger to separate 605 pale beige and white pieces from 421 light and dark blue pieces. 

Our struggle to locate and connect all the frame pieces would last eight days. Only after Casey gave up half of his Sunday did we have The Wave’s full border. Holding up an amoeba shaped piece with no holes or nubs, Casey said, “This is a true jigsaw! No two pieces are alike.” I picked up a piece with four holes and one part looking like Thor’s hammer hand. 

“You’re right,” I said.

Gary added, “That should make this puzzle easier!”

Three weeks later Hokusai’s Wave is about to drown us in despair.

I find myself sitting at the folding table, staring at a spot for two missing pieces of white and blue sea foam in the bottom left corner of the jigsaw. Then 86 minutes later, I’ve forgotten to take the dog on his afternoon walk, the cat is meowing, and my throbbing headache convinces me I may have COVID. And I’ve found neither puzzle piece.

I daily remind Gary, “This is the last damn jigsaw this apartment will ever know! You understand?” And if he pretends to not hear me, I say, “This place is not big enough for two adults, a 60-pound long haired dog, an ancient forever-meowing cat, AND a thousand piece puzzle!”

I believe Casey’s cool spatial recognition skills and his visual stamina will keep me from divorcing his father. And I don’t think I will really accidentally overturn my grandma’s old folding table while sweeping up dog hair one morning. That’s the optimist in me.

However, I have begun to regret downsizing from our 1,600 square foot, four bedroom home for this “cozy” condo. The jigsaw frustration and the pandemic uncertainty may be what sends me over the edge of Nietzsche’s abyss.  

Katsushika Hokusai said, “It was not until after my 70th year that I produced anything of significance,” but at age 64, I do not feel I have the time or the patience to reconstruct his fantastic wave out of misshapen bits of colored paperboard before I enter a new decade!

Posted in Boo, Fears and Worries

Water Issues by Nancy Malcolm

            My closest friends know I have issues about water.  I worry we won’t have enough.  I always bring my own and I don’t drink bathroom faucet water unless it is at my own home. I know that the tap water from the kitchen sink is the same water from the bathroom sink, and it’s not that I think your bathroom isn’t clean…it’s just that, well I’m not sure why.  There is something about it that makes me squeamish.  I’m not proud of this, mind you. I am just being honest.

            I cannot go to Costco without purchasing a case of water and I carry bottles of water in my car at all times.  Until this third week of February, when I was completely discombobulated by our freezing weather, loss of power and depletion of water.  We had twelve bottles of water in the garage and just a mere trickle of droplets coming from our faucets before it completely cut off. As a former Girl Scout, I was totally chagrined at my lack of preparedness and cavalier attitude.  My years of lecturing family, friends, and coworkers on the importance of drinking enough water every day and planning ahead fell flat as we stood at the sink for hours at a time to get enough drops to half fill a small saucepan with enough bad water to boil.  We also scooped snow and stored it in a cooler to use for flushing the commode.  Oh, the horrors and indignities we suffered!

            It used to be, if anyone complained of a headache, I asked, “When is the last time you drank some water?”  Stomachache, sore throat, bad mood?  “Here, drink this glass of water.” Water is the answer to all your ills.  I firmly believe that, and the fact that this week Boo and I have been less than cordial to each other on a few occasions just proved the point that we needed water. 

            When we travel, you can be sure that I have packed water bottles in my suitcase and cuties in my purse.  Once, on a cruise, I brought a case of water and checked it like luggage.  They actually let me do it and even brought it to my room.

            “You embarrass me sometimes,” Boo said.

            “Do you know they charge $6 for a bottle of water on the ship?  You should be proud of me.”

            Once, we were on vacation in Philadelphia.  I had drunk all my water and asked Boo to go across the street from our hotel and purchase two bottles of water from a rather shady McDonalds. 

            “If I go, I’m going to smoke first.”

            “OK,” I said.

            I stood at our fifteenth-floor window and watched as Boo came out of the hotel.  He smoked and then walked across the busy street toward the McDonalds.  Then I saw three rather unsavory-looking guys approach him and they stood in a circle talking. One of the guys must have been the ringleader because he talked the whole time and gestured with his hands.  I watched as Boo gave each of them a cigarette, opened his wallet, and handed the man who was talking, some dollar bills. I was yelling and waving my arms, but of course he couldn’t see me from the fifteenth floor.  Then the main guy put his arm around Boo, and they turned around and all four walked down some dim lit steps that led to who knows where.  I stood frozen as I watched them walk out of sight.

 I’m not going to lie, I was scared.  I had a vision of Boo being mugged and left for dead.  He would be lying crumpled at the bottom of those stairs, with his empty wallet nearby, and blood gushing from a knife wound.  I thought I should call the police, but I stood frozen watching out the window for what seemed like hours.  I envisioned the police report and how I would have to admit I sent him out at 10:30 p.m. for bottled water.  Seven long minutes later, Boo emerged from the dingy steps with his new best friend’s arm around him.  They said goodbye at the corner and Boo walked up to the hotel, holding a McDonalds bag.

            “Boo!!!!  I’m so sorry.  I was so worried and thought I should call the police, but I froze!  I saw that guy with his arm around you.  What happened?” I cried.

            “Oh, they wanted to bum cigarettes and then said they were hungry, so I bought them all burgers.  Then, the one guy told me he would escort me into the McDonalds and keep me safe from the riff raff while I bought the water.  He said we would be friends for life.  It was quite the experience. We had to go down some scary stairs to the Mickey D’s.  The things I do for you.”

            I was appreciative of Boo’s heroics, and I knew I may have pushed things a little too far. So, I got my own water from then on out, and tried to plan ahead.  Which brings me full circle to our Polar Vortex, the very same one I was not prepared for.  As Boo and I lamented about the fact that our only baths had been with baby wipes and we had drunk all the beer and Gatorade, I remembered a cheery bit of information to pass on.

            “According to the Mayo Clinic, men should drink 15.5 cups of water a day.  That’s only 124 ounces,” I quoted.

            “Are you trying to drown me?”

            “I don’t care, the Mayo Clinic is never wrong,” I said.

            “Good, I love mayo on my ham sandwiches.”

            My quote of statistics does fall flat in the light of February’s disaster for so many.  My gratitude has grown for all of the things I have taken for granted.  Clean clothes, clean dishes, clean water to drink.  Not to mention so many without electricity and a warm place to stay. My fellow Texans have had a very rough few weeks, and I sincerely hope and pray things are getting back to normal considering the Pandemic and all.  As for me, I promise to be better prepared, more grateful, and less haughty about ‘bathroom’ water.

Posted in Fears and Worries

Spooky Street by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Spooky Street

As the sun rises, I walk down a quiet shady street. No sidewalks – a long road with eerie undertones. 

When I first discovered this spooky street, I saw no one out so early in the morning. I passed double-wide trailers with front porches that were permanently planted in large lots. Most yards were mowed and cared for while a few looked like a dumping ground for Frankenstein cars and forgotten toys. A house and a two-story duplex broke up the pattern of mobile homes. One residence had a rusted bike mailbox stand with several vintage cars parked in its side yard. Another place had a huge unhealthy palm tree that looked like a Dr. Seuss drawing and a yard crowded with cacti and tired metal chairs. Near the end of the street a poop-brown trailer had a “Zombie Crossing” sign in a window. Next to that dwelling was the huge Boo Radley house that looked abandoned. It lurked on a deep long lot behind a slanted chainlink fence with several crooked trees and an abundance of trash in the yard.

For weeks, I saw no people during my walks. Each residence had between two and seven vehicles parked on its property, so I assumed they held multiple families. I guessed at the trailers’ secrets. Why was no one ever outside in the mornings? Drug dens or meth labs? Late night partiers? Werewolves, vampires, or aliens? (zombies were too obvious a guess).

The first human I saw during my walk was a skeletal old woman wearing a loose house dress who appeared behind her screen door. She glared at me before slinking away and slowly closing her front door. The next week I spotted a young woman carrying a lunch box and purse heading to her car. She saw me and hurried back into her house. Had she forgotten something, or did she not want to blow her undercover CIA assassin disguise?

As I made up backstories for the street’s assorted residents, I pushed down my nervousness of walking alone on an empty street. Then one morning a dusty & battered brown pick-up clunked onto the street as I moved onto the street’s grassy shoulder. The driver slowed to a crawl and stopped next to me. His window creeped down, and he brushed dirty fingernails through a scraggly grey and brown beard that touched the top of a faded flannel shirt collar. “Need a ride?” he said.

I gave him my best fake smile. “No thanks.”

He nodded, said, “OK,” and drove down the road like a person with no place to go.

I called Gary as soon as the truck was two houses away. “Listen up. I’m on the Spooky Street and some guy in a truck tried to give me a ride. Keep talking to me until I get to a busier street. Ok?” My husband’s voice calmed me down as I walked and talked. When I was almost at the Radley house, I noticed that the old truck had backed into the driveway of the neighboring trailer. The man was still sitting in the truck, smoking a cigarette. I walked faster and made it to a street with sidewalks.

“You alright?” said Gary. “Still there?”

I nodded and whispered into the phone, “ I think so.”

I’m 87% sure my fears are wasted on the Spooky Street. The brown truck guy is more quirky then threatening. A month later developers tore down and hauled off the Boo Radley house. Four small modern homes of different colors with garages and private yards now take up the huge lot. The slate blue, whisper grey, smooth olive, and eggshell white houses look out of place on the Spooky Street, and the stray cats who once roamed that area have moved across the street. 

I think FDR was right about being afraid: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And I like the lyrics of the “Ghostbusters” song. These days I need to face my fears, keep walking forward, and stay connected to those who love me most.