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Embrace Your Weed Eaterness

Growing Grapes

Helping Out Around the House


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by Mark Andel

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by Mark Andel

Embrace Your Weed Eaterness


“Sherman, set the Way-Back machine.”

- Mr. Peabody


I KNEW THAT I had taken a serious step toward Middle Age when my wife got me a Weed Eater for my birthday.

Weed Eater. It sounds like the nickname for a college student with a penchant for eating the ashy remnants of marijuana cigarettes. In reality, it may be, perhaps more than any other accouterment, the absolute symbol of establishment and “being settled.”

Errant blades of grass that can’t be reached by the Lawn Boy won’t stand a chance now. My sporty new Weed Eater has a high, dangerous whine like a radio-controlled airplane, and a nice heft to it, and it makes short work of the heads of dandelions. I dig it the most. As certain older men say, “It suits me up and down.”

You find, at a certain age, that things that would have seemed ridiculous to contemplate at one time creep gradually into your life, like ivy on a brick building. For example, while waiting for a prescription at Walgreen’s, are you ever tempted to check out those “demi” reading glasses that Ted Kennedy wears? And further – have you thought about suspending them from a chain of some kind? After letting your “freak flag” of a hairdo fly unencumbered for years, do you ever contemplate getting some V.0.-5 and trying out the Pat-Riley-meets-Jerry-Lewis look? Do you ever pause at those occasional displays of flannel shirts at unbelievably low prices at Woolworth’s and actually think that you might look pretty good in one of them?

Steady now – you’re approaching Geezerhood. I’m sure Paul Reiser will write a book about it in a few years when he starts showing a little gray around the temples, but if the warning signs of Geezerhood are there, it may be advisable to take action. Another example – did you ever receive a Weed Eater as a gift, and like it? See what I mean?

My daughter Jillian made a comment recently that hit home pretty hard. We noticed this bright red Corvette convertible tooling along, and behind the wheel was a man who, to be kind, was on the “mature” side. Jillian was less charitable in her description of him. “Look at that guy,” she said. “Why do all these old Fogies get Corvettes?”

Simple. They’re purchasing time machines to enable them to travel back to their golden youth. A lot of these guys probably made silent oaths to themselves when they were young and slim that one day … one day … they’d own a fine machine like that. It may have taken longer than they planned, but they did it – they made it. They arrived on the back-end of a reasonably profitable career and got the car of their dreams (although if you asked them, they’d probably trade it in today for that old rusted-out Malibu they once had, provided they could turn seventeen again themselves and have that sweet little girl – what was her name? — on the seat beside them).

There’s no going back, and we’re better off if we don’t try too hard to recapture that younger time. We need to embrace our Weed Eater-ness, and revel in who we are now.

Years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I was contemplating marriage for the first time. My fiancé and I checked out houses with my brother Chris. Across the street from one of those houses was a balding man with a broadcast spreader and garden hose, fertilizing his lawn. My brother wordlessly pointed at him with a bony finger like the spectral Ghost-of-Christmas-Yet-To-Come from “A Christmas Carol,” and I implored him, “Tell me Spirit, that this is the way things might be, not the way they willbe!” He kept pointing. The idea of turning into that man was too much to bear. Before long, the wedding was called off.

And yet, I became what I beheld. I’m a guy who uses a Weed Eater on the weekends, and there’s no Corvette in my driveway and I’m okay with that.

But if one came my way, I can’t say I wouldn’t take it for a spin.~

  ©Mark Andel 2001


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Growing Grapes


"I haven't got a thing in the ground."

- Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman"


SOMETIMES AN IDEA takes root somewhere in your

 subconscious mind. It germinates there, and before long (you never know exactly when it's going to happen) it's ready to flower. The idea that keeps poking its tender green head at me  these days is this: I want to grow grapevines.

I don't necessarily want to operate a vineyard, I just want to grow some vines in my backyard, and maybe harvest enough for some bottles of wine, which I would learn how to make. An added advantage would be that I could run some trellises up pretty high that would block the view of my neighbor's rusted-out RV in his driveway. Frost said that "good fences make good neighbors." Well, if that's the case, then good trellises must make great neighbors.  I envision the thick vines hanging heavy with luscious fruit on their arbors, ten feet high. After a season of luxurious privacy, I might even be inclined to invite my neighbor over to share a bottle of that year's vintage, saying something like, "Yes, the Catawba grape has a certain chewiness that tiptoes against the fruitiness, which makes for a lovely finish, don't you agree?" To which my neighbor would respond, "Something's fruity, all right."

The best I can account for this budding interest in growing grapes probably stems from about seven years ago, when my wife and I lived near a vineyard in West Milton, Ohio. Even the name of the town was perfect! I would quote Milton's first line of "Paradise Lost" as we wended our way up the dusty road to the winery: "Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into this world and all our woe." It wasn't an apple that led to all Adam's trouble, I'm convinced. It was a sensual grape.

 There was a loft area up there inside the wine shop, where you could take your freshly uncorked bottles on a summer night, and snack on cheese and crackers or send out for a pizza to be delivered. The sight of the pizza delivery truck kicking up dust in the distance was memorable. From the smeared window up there on your perch, you could watch the sun setting over the hills, and measure time in the length of the shadows cast by the grape arbors. The wine was sweet and chilled, and our proximity to the product was as intoxicating as the product itself.

So, grapes. We go way back.

On another occasion, I was the dinner guest of an Italian couple. We drank wine that he had made with our meal, which included crusty loaves of bread that she had baked. I thought tragically of all the Soave Bolla and Wonder Bread I had consumed all my life, and my soul was touched with rue.  To make the things that one eats and drinks seemed like an endeavor of the first order. So, consume I did -- so much wine that when the espresso was served in tiny cups at meal's end, I wound up being so delighted by everything that I sprayed a fine mocha mist over the table cloth trying to ward off a belly laugh. They forgave me instantly. I'm still working on forgiving myself.

When you reach a certain point in life, no one knows why, you develop an interest in gardening. You take great pleasure in planting things. You want something to grow long after you are gone.

When the great Muddy Waters was getting on in years, he grew tomato plants in Westmont, Illinois. By all accounts, he poured himself into the job -- and he loved giving them away to people. Gifts from the heart -- just like his songs.

I hope someone is tending those plants now.~

  ©Mark Andel 2001


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Helping Out Around the House


YOU REACH A CERTAIN age, you come to realize that the perfect weekend lunch is a hot dog from the cart at Home Depot.

You go there and you find yourself in the company of other couples and guys in flannel shirts carrying around faucets and conduit and monkey wrenches and gallons of paint and you order up the jumbo dog with mustard and celery salt, and for a moment, all is right with the world.

Until you get home and realize that your wife expects you to be able to know how to use the monkey wrench you just paid thirty bucks for. And then you get down to brass tacks, as they say -- not the ones you picked up in aisle four, but the real ones that you use to cobble together an old house.

Wives expect husbands to know how to fix things. They presume that all men have the home repair gene, maybe somewhere near their Y-chromosomes. Those scientists who are doing that human genome project? They were looking at the blueprints for all the cells used to comprise an average male and they discovered one named "Norm Abrams."

But what if your whole life you simply looked over the shoulders of guys fixing things, maybe bringing them a beer and laughing when they cussed at a stubborn slip nut? What if you laughed when you heard the term "slip nut?"

What if instead of thumbing through a repair manual for a 1969 Shelby Mustang when you were a teenager, you were thumbing through the "Selected Poems of  Wallace Stevens?" If that's the case, when your furnace breaks down much later in life, you are less inclined to say, "I think it's the thermo coupler," and you lean more toward, "One must have a mind of Winter." And to you, that actually has some real significance and heft to it. It's difficult to describe the kind of look you get from your wife at such an utterance, as she draws the blankets around her feet and reaches a lit match toward the pilot light.

Men have different ideas than women when it comes to helping out around the house. To a man, "Helping out with the laundry" means bringing the basket down to the basement and putting it next to the machine -- you know, the one that fills up with water and spins? Helping out with the vacuuming means raising your legs up at the appropriate time and being willing to crane your neck a little so you can still see the game. Dishes? They go in the sink or the counter, don't they? Shower curtains? When the liner gets caked with scum, you get a new one, right? And you never, ever throw anything away that you find in the refrigerator or freezer, even if it's a hard aluminum foil covered ball with frost on it or a dish of orange-something that sort of resembles macaroni and cheese if you let your mind stretch a little.

When something breaks in my house, my first reaction is to see if my next-door neighbor Leon is home. My wife doesn't even tell me if something needs repairing now. She just asks, "Is Leon home?" My answer? "What broke?" Leon is tremendous. He knows all about my house, from the early days of the previous owners, and he can tell war stories about stuff that went wrong. "One time the water got left on in the middle of winter," Leon will say, "And there was a big block of ice going all the way down the stairs." "That's horrible!" my wife says. "One must have a mind of winter," I say. Leon just gives me this quizzical look and shakes his head. My wife shakes her head right along with him.

I admire Leon. He can fix anything. Last week, my water pressure was down to a trickle. Leon checked the garden hose pressure outside, and said "This is unfiltered. Your water pressure's fine. You just need to clean your filters. Any time you shut the water off, when you open it up again, you're going to draw in all kinds of sediment."

Then he showed me how to scrape the filters, and a veritable torrent of Niagara Falls proportions blasted into my sink. How do certain guys know these things? Once there was a leak around the toilet. My friend John asked, "Did you check the wax ring?"

Wax ring?

All I could think to say was, "The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream."

John replied, "Let's go to Home Depot and get a ring."

And I say, "How do feel about celery salt on hot dogs?"

 I get by with a little help from my friends. ~

©Mark Andel 2001


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