Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ode to Norton

Several years ago I had rotator cuff surgery. For those of you that have had it are contemplating having it or are about to have it, yes—OUCH! Having heard horror stories of the recoup time and the physical therapy, I was not looking forward to it, but alas the time came when it had to be done.

Being single, living alone and having no one in my life, my parents volunteered, or rather insisted on coming down to help me out. Regardless of the fact that I had already made plans to be driven in and taken home, it was appreciated. I am astutely independent, but knew I would need some help getting around and figuring out how to do things one handed for the first few days.

The horror stories told me though, turned out to be untrue. Stephen King could NEVER have imagined anything like this. Venus popping out of one’s forehead would have been a relief. I was told later that the pain in the first 48 hours after surgery is the closest thing to childbirth pain a man could experience.

Screw that! Being a chicken I chose the option of neck dislocation, as my surgeon told me this was the safest and with the least painful recovery time. This not being for sissies, I whole-heartedly recommend it, fearing what pain might have come doing the alternative.

My surgery had been scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving, and being the independent little cuss I am, after the initial pain subsided, and the wonders of Percodan kicked in, and other than the fact that I couldn’t work buttons and zippers or sleep lying down, I was back to normal.

I had started my own holiday tradition of cutting down my own Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. So my parents and I went to Pusey’s Tree Farm, as I always do, picked out a little six-foot blue spruce, my father cut it down and we brought it home.

Mom and Dad, although both allergic to pines (or that’s their meager excuse for one of those nasty fake Christmas trees) struggled to get it in the stand, and another Holiday tradition was taken care of. Once in the stand, it was left on my front porch, which is roofed, until my parents decided to leave and thereby not bothering their Scrooge-like sinuses.

My parents live in East Tennessee, and I, at the time, in North Eastern Maryland, so the drive back for them is routinely 8 hours. They, and most of my family members here, always choose to leave rather early to avoid heavy traffic through Baltimore and Roanoke, which are located as to hit rush hour traffic in both cities should you choose to drive in one straight shot.

The night before they left, my Christmas tree was brought in the house. Mom and Dad clipped on the lights and the star that goes perched on top. The rest, I so determined I could by myself, and it was left in the traditional place in my living room. We then watched something on TV before turning in early.

At 4 AM that next morning, my parents awoke me from a groggy Percodan sleep and made sure that I had everything needed. I had been smart enough to purchase or already own lots of sweat suits; sneakers with Velcro, etc. and in a few short days had mastered the art of pulling a tee shirt over my head without moving my arm. With intrepidation my parents went on their way back to Tennessee, and I returned to sleep.

Now at this point, and for the next 8 weeks, sleeping meant being on the living room couch, sitting up leaned back against a couch husband—one of those big stiff pillows with arms. This is actually more comfortable than it sounds, as I could actually lean my left side against the couch with my back and neck against the pillow without putting undue strain on my right shoulder; which was not only uncomfortable, but painful.

Parents gone, and in the loving comfort of Percodan, I slept…for a while. Before the sun came up I was awakened by a strange sound in the house. I could have sworn the Christmas tree was shimmying. Naturally, I assumed the Percodan was especially good that morning and informed the tree I would finish dressing it after I had some more sleep.

No more than 15 minutes later, I swear the tree danced again. I painfully reached up and turned on the lamp and stared at the tree. It was still in place. It had not moved. I chuckled and thought maybe I was just subconsciously “missing my Mommy and Daddy”, turned off the lamp and settled back down.

Then I distinctly heard it again. I would say I sat up, but I was in fact already doing that, so I guess my body tensed. I was certain that I was being burglarized. So I panicked and feigned sleep as visions of sugar plum burglars panicked through my head.

How I was going to get to the phone? How the heck did the burglars get in, as I have only one door directly behind me, and what the heck could they possibly think I might have worth stealing? I sat/lay there; eyes closed, pondering my next move. I remember the time I was being burglarized before, and decided on reusing that tactic.

When I first moved to Nashville, I was homeless and broke and too proud to let friends know, so on the occasions that someone didn’t invite me over I slept in my car and showered at the theatre I was rehearsing in. At the time I drove at 1968 Maverick, and it contained all my worldly possessions packed neatly in the floorboard of the back seat. Across the backseat was a travel bar, on which I had hung all my clothes.

When the nights came that I had nowhere to sleep, I would simply pull into a large parking lot of an all-night business, avoiding bars or noisy spots. I would then go into the business and purchase something, so I was after all a customer, then slip into the back seat of my car, and sleep undetectable underneath the travel bar of clothes.

One night while doing so, I heard strange sounds and realized someone was trying to break into my car. I stuck my head out from under the rack, stared at the man trying to jimmy my door and screamed, “We’re Closed”. The poor man, obviously not very good in his chosen profession or perhaps just new, screamed like a little girl and ran. Other than the urine stain in the parking lot and the jimmy still stuck in my car door, everything was again safe and untouched.

I decided this was the best approach for this situation, hoping that my burglars assumed I was a heavy sleeper, very stupid or dead. I would wait until they were close enough, flip on the lamp and shout something witty and thoughtful. I eased my hand slowly up to the lamp switch and pondered a short but cutesy greeting…and then that damned tree shimmied again.

Short but cutesy, went flying into my shorts, and it was my turn to scream like a little girl. On came the light, but the tree stopped its evil possessed dance. My first inclination was to ask, “Jacob Marley, is that you?” but I remembered I didn’t know Mr. Marley and his Christmas Spirit was obviously at the wrong address. Even restless apparitions must get confused from time to time. I informed the tree, as calmly as I could, of the mistake and gave him the name and address of my current boss.

I then was hit with a wave of curiosity, forgetting what that did to the cat. The tree had definitely been shaking. I first contemplated a post Thanksgiving earthquake and checked the walls and ceiling for cracks. No damage. Surely that’s what had to have happened, so I looked at the window in the door realizing it was now daylight and thought a quick walk outside might inform me of what disaster had caused my Holiday Spirit to be so, well, spirited.

My inspection out of doors lead to nothing. The Pharmacy across the street was intact. The house next door, fine. I even walked to the end of my driveway and peered to both corners of the street, even the stoplight was still working. Hmmm, obviously, it was the Percodan.

Suddenly realizing that I was standing on the sidewalk in broad daylight wearing nothing but CK briefs, a sling and a slightly slept in bloody bandage on my shoulder, I thought it best to retreat inside, especially since there was no earthquake and before there was panic and/or screaming in the streets. I nonchalantly strolled back inside, in case someone had noticed just to give the assumption that this was usual post dawn stroll attire for downtown Rising Sun.

Back inside, I switched off the lamp and began the rather slow process of re-positioning myself comfortably on the couch. Soon the drugs began to work their oh so wonderful magic and I was drifting off to sleep. That’s when I heard something just a little different…crunching.

I listened intently for a moment. Yes, that was definitely crunching. It kept going. I was just about to flip on the lamp again, when in the kitchen I heard something scoot. I wasn’t my imagination this time; something was definitely crunching and scooting across the counter top in my kitchen. I bounded up, screw the pain, and bolted to my kitchen and flipped on the overhead lights.

At that very moment, I saw with my own eyes, drugged or not, a bag of Herr’s Barbeque Potato Chips walking across my counter top! Now I worked at Barter Theatre and lived at the Barter Inn in Abingdon, Virginia both of which have documented sightings of whatever. I admit I am witness to several hard to explain phenomena, but never in all my 29 years (yes 29—dammit!) have I seen a bag of potato chips take a stroll by itself across a Formica top. So once again I did the manly thing and screamed like a little girl.

The tactic seemed to work. The chip bag stopped in its tracks. I grabbed the bottle of Percodan, on the other end of the counter top thank you, and begin to see if side effects were listed. Just when I assured myself that it was just a side effect and I was no longer in THAT much pain, the bright red bag began to convulse.

Oh my God! Linda Blair had died and come back as a family size bag of Herrs! I began shouting things at the demon cholesterol that I thought an exorcist might say. Once again the bag calmed down. I thanked Jesus that Mark Meade made me see “The Exorcist” three times in high school. I was feeling very pleased with myself. It wasn’t every day that one had the opportunity to vanquish Satan from deep fried fatty foods.

The former demon bag was obviously happy, too. It moved no more, but the little trooper had used all it’s strength and fell over and off the counter. I squatted down to soothe exhausted bag but once again it began to convulse. Realizing that I didn’t smell that bad, I again shouted scripture and wondered if Acme was open at dawn and sold Holy water.

Once again my exorcism worked, hopefully for real this time. The bag flipped over in the opposite direction, opening toward me and stilled. Only this time, it gave birth. Out of the mouth of my possessed Herrs squirreled none other than a baby squirrel, no more than 3 inches big. We both froze, but only momentarily.

The little squirrel was the first to break ranks. He looked me directly in the eyes, stood up on his haunches and, I swear, gave me the finger. He then reached inside the bag, grabbed a chip, darted across the kitchen and up my Christmas tree. For most of the rest of the day, this little squirrel and I had on ongoing battle for domination of the Christmas tree.

He was a perseverant little bugger and just refused for give up space, although he would accept an occasional potato chip. I shook the tree myself, and he’d hurl little squirrel curses at me and hold on. I opened the front door, pointed at it and just insisted he leave. I swear he again gave me the finger. (The lack of respect these street squirrels have is just appalling).

Desperate to be smarter than the squirrel I decided, this being the stuff situation comedies were made of, I deigned a sitcom solution. I opted to ignore the squirrel as a squirrel and treat him like a member of my family, well a member of a non-dysfunctional family. I chose the latter approach as threats, screaming and throwing things had already failed.

I first ignored him, and then started having conversations with him.

“So, Norton”, I said, feeling myself like Ralph Kramden, “what would you like for lunch? I could order a pizza.” And on and on the day went. From time to time he would peek out of the branches, or drop stealthily to the floor, raising my hopes of his heading toward the open door only to chirp and hop back in his protective blue sprucey cover.

I tried every thing. Singing, demanding he clean his room, re-enacting George Bush, Sr.’s inaugural address, everything I could think of that would send me screaming from the house. I even forced him to watch daytime television, only to find that we shared tears during a rather touching episode of “Days of Our Lives”. I finally just resigned myself to having a little furry roommate for the next 31 days, and wondered if I should by a litter box.

It was during a late afternoon snack, that the solution, so simple and so insipid came to light. I dropped a potato chip on the carpet. Little Norton swooped out of his perch from the tree, grabbed it and scampered right back. The proverbial little light flashed above my head. Relying on my acting skills, I improved a rather sloppy stroll from my living room to the yard, leaving a light trail of chip chunks across the carpet and out to the porch.

Sure enough, the little fur ball of disrespect scampered greedily to each chip and wolfed it down. Fortunately, his greed and/or hunger overcame his awareness of space and obvious intelligence. Instead of grabbing a chip and dashing back up the tree, Norton scampered to each chip, gobbling it up, luring him completely out of the house and to the front porch.

Hah! He assumed I was off wandering the yard. But no! My artful acting skills (See Marc Dawadziak you were wrong!) I only made him THINK I was strolling, when in fact I was standing on a chair by the front door! As soon as he was close to the edge of the porch, it was I who jumped out of my perch and between this rude little rodent and my front door. Despite the Percodan and the pain, I quickly popped inside the house and slammed the front door shut.

I had won! My home and my tree were mine again! To the victor the spoils! I contemplated my victory dance when I caught a glimpse of the loser standing at the edge of my porch, looking back at me through the window. At first, I thought him to be frozen in anger and shock, but upon a closer look it was something else.

The little booger was looking back at me, blinking in sadness. He had been betrayed. He had made a new friend and that new friend had fed him transfatty acids and salt and tricked him unmercifully. I swear the little booger started rubbing his eyes.

I just felt awful. Just like when the waitress said a lady gave her twenty bucks to wait until she got in her car to give me a napkin from my blind date with the scrawled words “I changed my mind”, my heart began to break. This time, instead of thinking, “Well you weren’t no prize either”, I began to think it is getting cold outside and Norton is just a baby. Where are Mommy and Daddy squirrel? Have they abandoned him?

It was then I remembered Christmas and opened the door to allow Norton into my home and life, a pet, a friend, a partner at last. I opened the door wide and lovingly shouted, “Okay, Norton, fooled ya! Come on in, you are letting the heat out!”

With that Norton stopped rubbing his eyes and looked at me with a little smile on his furry gray face. He made a happy hop toward me, and I imagined a low motion romp toward each other and a happy embrace. Instead, after Norton’s initial hop and smile, he stopped, gave me the finger again and darted through the latticework on my porch and disappeared.

Damned squirrel!

However, from that day on through the next year, Norton became a regular part of my life. He would scamper up to the porch when I was seated there and chirp at me until I gave him food. He would always lovingly thank me by tossing food remnants at my feet and giving me the finger before scampering off. On weekends we would even share a frosted cinnamon Pop Tart, Norton, being a rodent of refined taste, refused all other flavors.

My Uncle Delmar even built a squirrel feeder that I kept full of peanuts and corn kernels and potato chips for him. When I would go to work in the morning he would scamper across the wood shed roof and hop on the feeder I had on the fence next to my car. It became a little game between us. Could I get out of the driveway before he pelted my windshield with hulls and wet things he found in the feeder in time? Oh the good times we had!

Now every Christmas I pay tribute to my long lost friend. I have purchased or have been given several ornaments shaped like squirrels that hang on my tree. At the garden shop in Kitchen Kettle Village I also found a “pot hanger” that looked amazingly like my little buddy Norton and I hang him in my Christmas tree near the top in order to always share my tree with him.

I miss him terribly sometimes, and often see the little creatures running up and down the trees in the yard next to mine. I call out his name hoping to hear that familiar squirrel raspberry and see him shooting me the bird. Alas, no, none of them are him. Forever there will be a whole in my heart that can only be filled by that effing little fur ball with attitude.