Saturday, January 30, 2010

Something I wrote for a Family Humor Contest that didn't win

How hard could have been for my mother to remember what my brother and I wanted on our sandwiches? After all, we both wanted liverwurst. Of course, he wanted the Butcher’s Branch liverwurst, which was sliced. Whereas I wanted the braunsweiger that was a spread. Of course, there was the type of bread for her to keep in mind. Now who was it that wanted wheat, and who wanted white?
When it came to which kind of pickle to put on the sandwich, it was simplicity itself. Dale and I both hated sweet pickles and bread and butter pickles. Dill pickles were, and even to this day are, the only pickles Dale and I will eat. Of course, one of us wanted pickle on the liverwurst sandwich and the other didn’t. (Which was easy, really, because Mom just had to remember it was the opposite of the one who wanted dill pickle on a hamburger and who didn’t.)
Now, Mom could get the liverwurst right, and the bread right, and the pickle right, and even remember which sandwich should be sliced and which shouldn’t. None of it would matter if she got the mustard wrong.
My brother Dale preferred French’s mustard, which was a tad spicier than my Morehouse brand mustard. And if you think we couldn’t tell the difference, then you have gravely underestimated the nuanced elementary school palate.
I continue to be astonished that not only did our mother listen to our finicky requests, but that on a fairly regular basis, she fulfilled them. It’s almost more astonishing than a mother’s capacity to clean up vomit or endure scoreless soccer matches.
My mother could remember all of our dry cereal preferences, how dark we liked our toast, the right cheeses for grilled cheese sandwiches, who liked cinnamon on applesauce and who didn’t, tomato soup or chicken noodle, green or red apples, chips or pretzels (and about those chips – corn or potato), and she knew who preferred low fat and who preferred non-fat milk.
I think of my mother while making lunches for my kids. The boy, the oldest, wants peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread, strawberry jam and only Skippy peanut butter – CRUNCHY. The middle child, girl, would like a piece of steak, but if she can’t have that, she’ll settle for no more than five and no less than three pieces of salami on a flour tortilla. The youngest girl – ham, lettuce, Monterey Jack cheese on a hamburger bun.
I sometimes wonder what’s a more fitting cosmic retribution for those liverwurst sandwich demands: my children’s lunch orders or occasional bouts of gout?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Up in the Air

Everything is pretty from far away. Especially from high above. A dump, a swamp, a sewage plant… nothing looks too bad if viewed from thousands of feet in the air. Something about keeping a distance.
Last year’s award nominated film, Up in the Air, provides many lovely aerial shots, along with a clever script, humor and competent performances.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a big believer in keeping his distance. His life is about not letting anything, or especially anyone, close to him. In this film, directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking and Juno) from the novel by Walter Kim, Ryan Bingham has based his life and his philosophy on travel. He spends all but a couple of his weeks in airplanes, conference rooms, rental cars and hotel rooms. The few weeks at “home” are in an apartment with as much personality as the hotel rooms that are more of a home to him.
Bingham has two jobs. One is as roving “life transition consultant” (he fires people for bosses and corporations who would rather avoid such messy situations) and as a motivational speaker. In his speeches he uses the metaphor of a backpack. He asks his audience to imagine a backpack on their shoulders. He asks them to load the knick knacks of their houses into the backpack and then to imagine the feel of the straps on their shoulders. Then he asks them to imagine their furniture and car and house or apartment all in the backpack and the weight they would feel and the impossibility of moving around.
Then he asks the audience to imagine their friends and family in the backpack. He argues that the more attachments one has, the tougher it is to move -- and moving is life. Talking to salespeople, he changes metaphors, and says they are sharks, and if they stop moving, they will die.
There is something to be said about not being attached to material possessions. Jesus has a lot to say about being willing to give up stuff that would weigh us down. But in the film, Bingham reconsiders his attitude toward relationships.
It’s true that keeping people at a distance keeps us from ugly sights (aerial views are prettier). But ultimately, Bingham learns that though people sometimes add to our loads, more often people help us carry our loads.
In his job, he sees people that lose their jobs and have no place to turn, as opposed to the people who face such difficulties with the support of friends and family. The film also has an extensive scene in a Lutheran church. Sure, it’s for a wedding, but it is a reminder of another place support can be found to carry our loads.
The writer of Hebrews, in chapter 25:10, wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
We might be able to travel more quickly on our own. But we won’t necessarily get where we want to be.
(Up in the Air is rated R for sexual situations, language, and nudity.)