Friday, May 16, 2008

Milder

One of my friends reminded me yesterday about the "myth of education"--basically, it's the hope that, if you teach someone something, they'll act better and be of more value to the world. Obviously it doesn't always work. And another of my friends, a scientist, agreed to write a letter to the editor explaining why "creationism" and Darwinism" are not equally valid theories. So I'm mollified, for now.

I don't think I'll ever be mild, exactly, but I hope that when I get old, I'm more like my parents than their neighbors the Scotts. They used to have an amicable relationship, picking up each others' mail and newspapers when they left town (something my parents do a lot now that they're retired). Then the Scotts started yelling at kids who rode their bikes through the hedge at the end of our dead-end street (my parents own the entire hedge, and it's indestructible--once we even set it on fire, and it came back). They told my parents to forbid kids to skateboard over or play around in the hills of dirt left when a plumber had to dig up some pipes in the yard. Finally the Scotts laid down the law--either my parents told the neighborhood kids to get out of their yard, or the Scotts wouldn't speak to them anymore. Ron calls this the "dread Scott decision." My parents wouldn't agree to ban kids from the yard, and the Scotts no longer speak to them.

My calming process consisted of painting in and around the new bathroom. There's lot of trim that needed a last coat, after being hammered on. The walls needed touchups where equipment scraped them. The doorway had to have primer on the new wood parts. The door had to be stained. For the first coat I painted on a polyurethane/stain combination in "golden oak," but then we decided it didn't match the rest of the doors in the house enough, so I went back and got a "golden maple" poly gel, which is much pleasanter to work with. I had to repaint the bedroom wall around where the new door went in. Little fiddly painting and varnishing tasks with lots of different colors of paint and brush changing and washing up are very calming.

I resolve to be, if not exactly milder, at least the kind of person who doesn't get old and end up snapping at kids who want to play in my yard. The kind of person who says this kind of prayer:

Muzak, by Kevin Young

When old, do not let me bark
at passersby--let me be

like the slow motion, down-
the-street dog, ignoring

the cardinals, the colors
he cannot see, even us

as we tiptoe by--
Friend, please save me

from being the neighbors'
fool hound who woofs loud

at every grey squirrel, stray
noise, or lab rushing past

to meet some lady--from being
that cur who cannot help but howl

all night like newlyweds
keeping the world awake. O terrible

angel of the elevator, the plane,
insufferable unquiet we pray to, afraid--

Please make me mild

Actually, I don't think I have any chance of aging in a doglike way. The best I can hope for is probably to hiss quietly at anyone who dares to disturb my comfort.

The Scotts are loud in many ways; every night my parents hear them calling in their cats, who all have food names: "MUFFIN! PUMPKIN!" OH CUPCAKE!" My parents say it sounds like they're hungry. The example of the Scotts has not caused me to give up calling in my own cats, but it does amuse me to think of the food names as I stand in the dusk yelling "SAMMY! CHESTER! SABRINA! SABRINA! COME HERE, SABRINA!" And I do wonder what my neighbors think. I half expect an old lady named Sabrina to come walking up the street some night in answer to my call, the way I once made a young man in Cape Girardeau, Missouri do a double-take as he walked along the road--in those days, I amused myself by leaning out of the car window and yelling "HI, MAX" to every person I saw. The young man must have been the first (and possibly the only) person I'd passed who was actually named Max.

1 comment:

harriet said...

Your Max story made me remember a friend of mine who had a habit of leaning out of car windows yelling, "You are evil! Evil!" at people. Don't ask me why, but we found this hilarious. My friend played the bass and I had a big car, so I ended up giving him rides to rehearsals a lot. One day he started yelling out the window and the car next to us stopped as its occupants stared at us -- they were all nuns. My friend never yelled out the window again. And to this day, I think a little part of him is certain he's going to hell.