Sunday, June 27, 2010

Re: Humor Column -- The Not So Okay Corral...hazards of the wild...

The Not So Okay Corral

Even if I don’t go looking for excitement it comes a lookin’ for me. Case in point is my recent, “When Skunks Go Wild(ly Rabid)” experience.

It seemed like a normal enough day, what with me spending the budget of a small underdeveloped country on groceries, chasing the dogs around shouting, “Go outside when you have to go to the bathroom!” and trying to schedule some spontaneity with my husband…until the phone call…duhn, duhn, duhn.

I was in the back of my mansion taking care of some business (translation: I was folding clothes in the back bedroom of my modest home) when I thought I heard the phone ring and the word, “skunk” being spoken by my neighbor during the course of her message. Now we have a great relationship, so I was pretty sure this wasn’t some sort of namecalling opening salvo, so I ran to hear the end of the message. (Okay, you got me on that one. I walked briskly.)

Evidently, there was a sick skunk wandering around my property with its tail up and at the ready, as well as its jaws, and our neighbor wanted to let me know that she was trying to find the appropriate county, state, INTERPOL agency that takes care of this sort of thing. We met out in front of my estate (translation: we chatted in front of my deck that is the size of a roomy gang plank) to talk about the grievously ill animal she was now viewing through her binoculars. The skunk’s future didn’t look so bright, seemingly destined for Skunk Heaven and the appropriate agency was on their way.

When the agent showed up to take a look at the animal she determined that a) the animal was suffering b) the animal was rabid and c) I should go inside the house. I determined that a) she seemed to have the situation under control b) the animal was beyond help; and c) I should go inside the house.

Meanwhile, some sort of Wildlife Refuge entity had been contacted as well which, unbeknownst to us, had a polar opposite sort of differing viewpoint about the handling of diseased wildlife than our at-the-ready agency. My neighbor noted this when she was on the phone with the former and the shots heard around the block rang out as the aghast animal rescuer shouted, “What was that? Was that a gun? We could have saved that animal!” The succession of four blasts that followed didn’t enhance their communication and I guess the call didn’t end in the most positive of ways.It took five shots to transition that poor, sick animal into the skunk hereafter, after which the area looked as though we’d had a shoot-out at the Okay Corral.

The cordite and animal stench wafted through the air, vying for pungent equality. “What must the neighbors think?” crossed my mind, but we live in amongst wildlife, so it’s not all that unusual to hear gunshots. No one came to inquire about what time the “Neighborhood Watch Target Practice” meeting had started.

The agent bagged and tagged the skunk, advising me that she wouldn’t be taking our mammal lawn ornament with her, as our homeowner’s association would take care of picking up the animal free of charge. The problem was – and isn’t it interesting that I only see a problem at this juncture – that when I called my association I found out they only pick-up deer and it’s not free. “Even if I strapped on a pair of antlers to the skunk’s head?” I joked. It seemed as though this was a health hazard that someone with more credentials than myself should be dealing with. Wasn’t there an entity like the “Wildlife Safety and Attention to the Details of the Passing on of Animals Association?” I asked, which became a rhetorical question at that juncture.

Where before my neighbor had been taking care of everything I assured her it really was my responsibility, particularly now that the animal was secured and sedentary in my bargain garbage bag. But then I began to get nervous. What if that other agency in my life, the Sanitation Department, reported me for having a bullet-riddled skunk?

This thought spurred me on to call the original agency, asking them if they would pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top retrieve this creature as I was now feeling like the witness to an unreported crime. The events were all catching up to me and I like skunks, so I rather emotionally said I just wanted it all to be over, over, over to which they replied they would be right over. And they were. Thank you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pearly Wisdom...the wisdom remains as does the longing for the past...

Pearly Wisdom

As a kid, before I knew better, I tried to converse with my father about a variety of topics important to me: school, friends, bad test scores, bony knees, kid stuff – the kind of things that really need to be talked out in order to make sense of them. I remember the first time I tried to establish verbal contact with my dad.

He was reading a book at the dinner table. Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed my mother's waving arms, signaling that what I was going to attempt to do – communicate with my father – was not advisable and, in fact, had never before been attempted at the dinner hour by any living family member.

I recall thinking that my mother resembled Martha Graham in her fluidity of movement, obviously missing the point of her well-choreographed warning.I pulled up a chair, briefly gave my mother one last puzzled glance and cleared my throat to get the patriarch's attention.

Slowly he looked up at me, and I was met with the intense look that felons have often encountered as my lawyer father prosecuted them for the crimes they had committed but never admitted. For moments on end I held on to the belief that I had this hero's undivided attention and that we would soon engage in meaningful dialogue. Our eyes locked. I held my breath, waiting for the cue to share my life. I was willing to take whatever sage advice he was ready to dispense. He seemed to know my every thought, my every feeling. We were bonded through our shared heritage. This was a memorable moment, and his words would be formed in the Etch-A-Sketch that was my mind. I'll never forget what my dear papa said to me: “Have you brushed your teeth today?”

Now I know that fathers and daughters have a tough time conversing, and I suppose my father wasn't usually in close enough physical proximity to get a dental report from me. But, be that as it may, he seemed to be avoiding the issue, as they say in psychology classes. I wanted communication, for Pete's sake, not an Ultra Brite commercial!

Now, speaking of logic, or not having any, I continued to approach my father with a variety of concerns throughout my youth, and I got the same response time after time. Pretty soon when I wanted to talk to my father, I just went ahead and cut out the middleman, as it were, and brushed my teeth instead. Meditating in the foamy oblivion that is the tooth-cleaning process can actually provide one with an ample amount of time for mulling over problems and concerns, as well as making substantial headway in the never-ending fight against demon dental decay.

By the time I had rinsed, spit and tapped my toothbrush on the sink twice, I generally had come up with some sort of conclusion – usually that I was almost out of toothpaste and that I really needed to get a hobby. I never told my father that he is wholly responsible for my tantalizing smile and that it is the first thing that folks notice about me when we meet.

When I was a kid, I just wanted my dad to allow my teeth their fuzziness so my mind could be a little less so. I know that four out of five dentists probably recommend the “Did you brush your teeth?” approach to parenting and therapy and that their kids more than likely never get a straight answer either, but the approach defies logic.

My dad has been gone for almost four years now, having died on my mom's birthday after the family had been together for one last, poignantly memorable celebration with him.I no longer have him around to remind me to brush my teeth or, for that matter, to remind me that I'm someone's little girl. I miss those things.

He may not have dispensed the sage advice that I sought, but to this day, when I miss my father, I can almost taste the fluoride.

Diane Dean-Epps is a comedienne and writer. Contact her at www.dianedean

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Fatherhood Lens...the consistent father you rarely hear about...

June 20, 2010

He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
-- Clarence Budington Kelland

The Fatherhood Lens

The first thing you notice is that he’s pointing a camera at you, but you don’t feel the least bit uncomfortable. As a 15-year news photographer veteran working at KCRA-TV, Channel 3, it’s no surprise that viewing the world through a telephoto lens is second nature to him, the fatherhood lens being no exception.

Jorge Velasquez is all about family and his 3:00 a.m. start time for work provides testimony to that fact. (Yes, you absolutely read that one right. Three o’ clock in the morning.) He voluntarily works the 3:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. early morning news shift at the Sacramento NBC affiliate television station, so that he can spend time with his offspring in the afternoons. Whether he’s coaching them, helping them with their homework or just being home every night for dinner, he wants to be around and not just a little bit.

Jorge’s paternal devotion was made possible by what he deems the “best decision I ever made,” marrying his beautiful wife of 25 years, Rose Capaccioli, who he met at the College of San Mateo. (It would take a few more schools, years and meetings before he actually got to seal the deal.)

They settled in Nevada County, moving away briefly when a San Luis Obispo television job beckoned, but they returned to the place they love to start their family. It wouldn’t be long before the dining room table sat four kids; Elle, Clare, Abbey and Chris, bringing the Velasquez clan to a bounty of six. In fact, Jorge considers his kids “dessert” in the full-flavored meal that is his life.

As you would imagine, Jorge doesn’t have a whole lot of time for hobbies, but you might say his family is his hobby. He spends his treasured time with them, offering useful advice like, “everything in moderation,” served up in a meaningful way. Daughter, Abbey, said her priceless memories include, “waking up the first day of school, everyday since kindergarten, with a note written from my dad about how proud he is of me and something about growing into a beautiful young woman.”

He is a visual kind of guy who makes everyone else look good, effortlessly providing the backdrop they need to shine. Being a dedicated father, he chronicles his personal life as scrupulously as he does the subjects in his professional life, generating mountains of joyous, celebratory family pictures.

Jorge’s favorite thing about being a father is how much his brood has enriched his life. He said, “I’m an observer by nature and I’ve been observing what my kids have become. You get to experience all this different side of your life; different emotions and decisions. You get to see it in a light right in front of you, from the beginning.”

True to form, Jorge feels “every day is Father’s Day” and that his greatest achievement is the composition represented by his kids captured in a close-up shot, the focal point in their parents’ lives. They know that he leads by example, giving back to the community as he has done over the years, by donating countless hours to youth, both in teaching them about television and sports. His children also know that his unconditional love will guide them, through the school years and beyond, during the journey that is their lives.

Jorge agrees with the well-known quote, “The first man a little girl falls in love with is her Dad,” saying, “The most magical thing about being a dad to three girls is I’m their first male love.” This is not to say that raising his son, Chris, is any less magical and, in fact, it is Chris who stepped into the frame last, completing the family picture they had always wanted.

This is a father for whom patience is elevated to an art form. Clare’s favorite recent memory details one of the many moves her father has assisted her with. “I had to move quickly to be back in time for my sister's senior ball. He told me to be ready to load the car at 11 a.m., and when he arrived at 11 a.m. to help me pack up and move out I had neglected to pack any boxes or any of my stuff at all. (I slept through my alarm.) Without complaining at all, he climbed up and down the three flights of stairs to my apartment over 30 times, bringing all my stuff to the car, while I frantically tried to grab my things and pack and afterwards he took me out to chipotle for lunch.”

If Jorge represents an ordinary father, we would all benefit from a little more ordinary in our lives. Like all great fathers he doesn’t define being a father, being a father defines him.

Clare expressed this succinctly when she said, “My dad makes our family strong because he is able to be calm, consistent and grounded while encouraging us all to try new things and be better people. I try every day to be more like him.”

Link to the article in THE UNION:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Home on the Range...appliance humor...becoming a Range Rover

Home On the Range

There’s so much to know in life. Sometimes this knowing extends into the ordinary, as in the ordinary, albeit quite handy, stove-oven combo we all enjoy known as the “range,” where we turn home cooked, frozen meals into fork-worthy taste treats. Recently I decided I would replace our ailing stove-top with a new one, thinking it would be easy. (See what happens when you grow up with Easy-Bake Ovens?) So I embarked upon a Range Rover mission, if you will.

Upon arrival at the first store and my inquiry into all things “range,” a salesman walked me over to the most expensive oven in the showroom. He proceeded to give me a quick “top 10” list as to why this range, within the entire price range was the best bargain he could uh-range, which seemed strange given the sheer range bounty the establishment offered.

He carried on, rhapsodizing about the wonderment I’d been missing that is the convection oven and I realized, belatedly, that I had misunderstood when I told him I’m not a candymaker, whereupon he guffawed. Convection, not confection. Oh. He looked at me as though I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what I was doing. I smiled as though I did have a clue. We both knew who was bluffing in this game of retail poker.

Hope springs eternal and even moderate commissions buy nice things, so he was still sniffing the scent of sale on me while I calmly steered him over to what I eagerly referred to as the “low end” ranges. He sighed once, twice, and then a final propulsive time, as though I was personally disappointing him because I could afford the range, but I was insisting on not affording the range. On to store number two.

This guy seemed open to suggestions, but it rapidly became apparent that quick stepping the customer over to the most expensive appliance on display is listed in the appliance selling training handbook somewhere. Whether it’s because the consumer will buy the priciest item after immediately falling in love with it or, by comparison, all other appliances will look cheaper, which will also lead to a purchase, I’ll never know. The nuances don’t matter, so much as the nickels it would take to buy any of these models. How many nickels are there in sixteen-hundred-dollars anyway?

The next store found me looking at ranges with grills, my personal favorite. Who knew that I didn’t possess a fraction of the budget needed to healthfully grill my family’s food? I advised the salesperson that this had devolved into merely a fact-finding mission at which point he jammed the requisite business card into my hand after launching into a detailed – and I do mean detailed – procedural account of how to install a drop-in stove. I confirmed that humor doesn’t garner a deal when I suggested perhaps he could “drop-in” a discount which is when he ran to answer a call on his non-ringing cell phone. This was rapidly turning into Goldilocks and the Three Bears with a twist.

Next, I went to a more moderately priced appliance shop, offering access to the masses, where the clerk immediately thought I was in the market for an industrial oven. This is when I realized I should never dress in all white when shopping for kitchen appliances, lest I be mistaken for a chef or butcher, neither of which landed me a cut rate.

When I said I just wanted a “regular” oven for the common people his sales commission expectations and flair for the dramatic became simultaneously apparent because he was literally floored, plunking down on the floor right after my notification. Once again, a business card was thrust into my hands. This time I was told that I wouldn’t find a better deal on a new range anywhere in town. And you know what? He was right.

The Easy-Fix-It appliance repairman will be here today at 4:00 o’ clock.

Link to The Union:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Not My Stories...poetry of remembrance...words of hope

June 5, 2010
Not My Stories

In honor of "Memorial Day," the magazine, Eye on Life, published one of my poems entitled, "Not My Stories." While I often write in a somewhat humorous (at least that's the intent) vein, the yin to that yang is my dark, always emotion-filled poetry.

Just such a poem was born as I walked the rather torturous path that was my journey to understanding my father who was a World War II veteran and former prisoner of war. He’s been gone for almost 4 years, but it was always Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day that meant more to him than any other holiday or his own birthday.
He never wanted us to forget him and we haven't. I miss him now. I will miss him always. I see him in every family success, in books filled with knowledge, in my kids' strong Dean chins, in my small, feminized version of his hands, in my need to know everything -- now!

May 18, 2010

Not My Stories

The stories of the grandfather are not the father’s
For the generations have been kinder as memories falter.
The stories of the father are not the daughter’s
For the generations have been not in kind and memories soften
The stories of the daughter are not the granddaughter’s
For the generations have been their kindest and the memories are reborn.

Diane Dean-Epps

Link to the (publication and) poem: