Friday, May 24, 2013

Barbie vs. Mrs. Pillsbury

I met a real Barbie one day. It wasn't so much how she looked—if she really looked like Barbie, she'd probably have lower back problems and fall over a lot. Rather, it was her lifestyle that brought the comparison. It happened when my older daughter, Miara, needed a ride home from a friend's house. I'd already changed into my pajamas and didn't want to change back, so I put on an old army-style coat that I'd gotten from a friend who wanted to throw it away. I couldn't find my shoes, so I stepped into my winter snow boots. I'm sure I looked right at home—that is, if my home was under a freeway overpass.

I drove up the steep hill, past the country club, to the friend's house. All the houses there were very nice, very big, and each one very unique. They must have had restrictive covenants requiring meticulous landscaping and Range Rovers. The view of all the lights in the valley below was pretty awesome.

I rang the loud, clanging doorbell and Ken and Barbie answered. Barbie had immaculate hair and makeup, even at that late hour. Ken's sporty sweater hadn't a wrinkle on it. They invited me in to the parlor, where I stood on the shiny hardwood floor next to an equally shiny Steinway. Two very well behaved dogs strode in and sat quietly.

By all measures, it was the perfect couple, with a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood, and perfect dogs. I'll bet they even trained the dogs to use the toilet. Despite how nice it was, I felt extremely uncomfortable and out of place. It wasn't my clothing, but more like I'd stepped into a totally different reality. They told me how much the girls had enjoyed their time down in the theater room all evening. Ken asked what I did for a living. I told him I drove trucks for the landfill.

Luckily Miara soon emerged from the palace basement and rescued me. Once she saw my attire, she said goodbye to her friend and pushed me out the door. After that, she always asked Mom to pick her up.

A few months later, my younger daughter Ro Ro needed a ride home from a friend's house. This neighborhood was the exact opposite of Barbie On The Hill's. It was sandwiched between a freeway, a hotel, and a refinery. The houses in the cul-de-sac were originally all the same, but several sported additional rooms and sheds attached to the main structure. Toys, bikes, lawnmowers, and dogs cluttered the yards. One house had an old muscle car on blocks in the driveway with an engine dangling above it. The sidewalk had some cool skateboard and bike ramps where tree roots had lifted up the concrete slabs.

I parked in the single-car driveway and held the screen door steady so I could knock on it. A half-dozen kids rushed to welcome me in. I gathered that they lived in nearby houses but used this one as their second home. The living room had a mess of toys that the kids were having a great time playing with. A slobbery, crotch-sniffing dog lumbered around and knocked stuff down with his tail.

The mom walked out of the kitchen and my first impression was of Mrs. Pillsbury—Poppie Fresh. She wore a stained apron and carried a spatula. Bobbie pins held her greying hair back. Her bare feet looked used to stepping on Hot Wheels and jacks.

She immediately related how much fun it was to have the kids all there and invited me to stay for dinner. It smelled wonderful, but we had to leave. For those few minutes I was there, though, I felt completely at home. It was like I'd known the family my whole life.

I don't want to force a value judgment on these two families. I'm sure Ken and Barbie were wonderful people that I could have become good friends with—if I had season opera tickets. And I have a lot of respect for someone who's ambitious enough to afford that lifestyle. I'm also sure Poppie Fresh sometimes wished she had a bigger home and someone to cook for her once in a while. But it struck me that Poppie's home was so much more inviting because she wasn't out to prove anything.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Strawberries vs. Juniper Berries

Two of my sisters-in-law are in town for a few weeks from Taiwan. They're both very nice and generous, and have enjoyed traveling many places, particularly in Asia and Europe. During a conversation, they talked about The Strawberry Generation in Taiwan—referring to many young people who can't seem to do anything on their own. The strawberries live with their parents, can't find a decent job, and rely on others for everything. The comparison to strawberries comes from the fact that strawberries go bad after a very short time if not stored in optimal conditions.

Delicate Arch
While they were here, we visited Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point. Anyone who's traveled to Utah's Red Rock Country knows the climate there is hot, dry, high elevation desert. It's beautiful, but extremely inhospitable. We hiked to the iconic Delicate Arch. That trail isn't a particularly long hike, but can be arduous for those not accustomed to hiking, especially in that climate. Our Land Cruiser is well-suited to slick rock four-wheeling so we took it up the relatively mild Gemini Bridges trail and stopped at many of the overlooks and took way too many pictures that we'll probably never look at again. (We didn't take the Cruiser on the Metal Masher trail, because we needed to get back to Salt Lake City in one piece.)

Along with cactus and sagebrush, juniper is very common in Red Rock Country. Junipers (杜鬆屬) are a scrubby evergreen with stringy bark and small green berries. I love junipers—they remind me of many family vacations to Southern Utah in my youth. Junipers can survive the harshest of climes, high and low temperature extremes, deep snow, no water for months at a time, and very poor soil. They're the exact opposite of strawberries.

My daughter Amria and I later talked about our trip and realized that many people fall into these two categories—strawberries and junipers. Some people can't handle the least amount of discomfort or can't function when facing even small adversity. Others, like the mountain bikers we saw on the Gemini Bridges trail, seem to relish hardships. Call it "character building," "learning from experience," "training for the zombie apocalypse," or whatever you want, but perhaps having at least a little adversity in our lives helps prepare us for the big stuff. Like zombies.

Red Rock Country Junipers

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Life Doesn't Stink

I'm by no means a wealthy or famous person. I grew up in a lower-middle class neighborhood and that hasn't changed much. I've never won any great awards or sporting events. I've never invented anything, though I did make a cool house for our cockatiel Tiki. Probably the most notable thing that's ever happened to me is my elbow was in an episode of the TV show Touched by an Angel.

Little Miara (and Bumper)
But every now and again, events happen to remind me that perhaps my life is worth something. One of those happened last week when my oldest daughter got married to a nice and well-deserving young man. Miara and Colton are a great young couple and I know they have many happy years ahead of them.

As children, we don't realize how much we mean to our parents—or how mean we are to our parents sometimes. But once we have children of our own, most of us soon discover that our most important work in life is doing our best to keep our children from crashing and burning. It's difficult enough just to manage our own affairs. But add to that the needs of a spouse, one or more children, a career, a house, friends . . . You start to wonder how anyone makes it through life without going totally nuts.

Miara has always made us proud. She's artistic, funny, smart, pretty, and fun to be with. She often makes very astute statements—Miaraisms—that everyone should take to heart.

Big Miara
"People should be required to take a test before having kids."

"Dad, you can't wear plaid with more plaid."

"Mom, you don't need to teach me the facts of life—I learned all that in fourth grade."

"Can I have a hippopotamus for my birthday?"

"I'm not sure if the Easter Bunny is real. I saw him at the mall, and there aren't any real bunnies that big."

"The planet would be a lot better place if there weren't any people on it."

"The problem with the world today is people don't watch enough Disney movies."

With astute comments like that coming from my offspring, how could I ever feel that my life isn't worth anything? Thanks, Miara, for making everyone around you happy. And thanks, Colton, for making Miara happy.