April 24, 2009

Ramblings of Springtime

Category: Ramblings — Ira @ 6:51 pm


Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it’s all right.
It’s all right.

The Beatles, lyrics: Here comes the Sun

I’ve heard it said that extended lack of sunshine causes depression. And I certainly believe it can. Or at least a deflation of spirits. For me, it triggers moodiness, and a deep sense of brooding. Plenty of reason for all that this spring. The sun hasn’t been around much.

Until last weekend. After about three straight days of incessant drizzling rain last week, right into Thursday afternoon. Farmers were the only ones cheering; I guess they needed it. After work, as usual, I was exercising at the gym. Still had some office-related errands to run, so it was an expedited session. A quick workout, a stint in the hot dry sauna. I walked out, refreshed. To an entirely new world.

The clouds had departed and were fleeing to the east and south. The sun was slanting to the western horizon. It was clear, and warm. The air was clean, crackling, fresh. The grass shimmered wet, a dark sea of Irish green. Specks of mist rose here and there from the ground.

I stopped. Stood there beside Big Blue and drank it all in. Breathed it. Absorbed it.

Which in itself was unusual. I’m the guy who always measures the pain and loss of things. Mulls the past. Lost time, lost days, broken relationships. Laments what no longer is, what might have been, what should have been, what should be.

And I’ve always been the type who bristles when someone says, “Have a nice day.” Don’t tell me to have a nice day. I’ll have one if I want. Won’t if I don’t want. Keep your annoying cheeriness to yourself.

So I don’t know why it struck me as it did. Maybe it was the exhilaration after a good workout. Maybe it was the approaching end of the week, the anticipation of a few beautiful summer days of doing my own thing. Maybe I was just so happy and relieved to see the sun.

But I stopped, soaked it all in. The intense colors. The moment. I almost felt high, as in stoned. And spoke the words aloud. “It’s so good to be alive.”

And it was. Gloriously so.

I don’t do that very often, pause and reflect consciously like that. On something so basic. Always too wrapped up in the cares of the day, and the problems of tomorrow. Can’t remember the last time I did something like that, really. But it was and is just a great thing to be alive. Despite all the economic uncertainty stalking through the land. Despite what life might have in store this year, for any one of us. Despite all the troubles, all the unknowns rolling and shifting about under the surface of things. Despite the frustrations and pain of the past few years.

Standing there in that instant of profound awareness, I felt deeply grateful. I still do. For simple things. To see spring finally break free. To soak in the sun. To feel so alive. To BE alive.

Used to be I did most of my grocery shopping at Giant, our local grocery chain. Not so much anymore, as Lancaster County is blessed with a myriad of “bent and dent” stores. One of the best is about half a mile from my house. So I shop there for my meager needs, mostly. Still go to Giant for some of the stuff not available at the discount stores.

I was horrified a few weeks ago, after a long absence from Giant. At the prices. Every-thing’s zoomed up, and I mean zoomed. I have only myself to feed, and not a family of four or ten. I don’t see how people make it.

At the office, I always run down to a nearby grocery store/restaurant and pick up a salad for lunch. Gets me outside for a few minutes. (And no, I’m not a yuppie. I eat salads to keep my weight down.) I’ve gotten pretty familiar with the restaurant staff. “Salad bar’s closed,” they holler when they see me coming. All in jest, of course. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

One day a few weeks ago, I noticed that Jane, the excellent salad bar prep lady, seemed a bit uptight. I prepared my takeout salad as usual, just under a pound or so. Jane weighed it and stuck the price tag on top. I glanced at it. It was high, much higher than usual.

“Jane, you punched in the wrong code,” I admonished. “Look, it’s almost five bucks. No way I got that much salad. Unless you’ve been watering the lettuce again. Here, weigh it again.”

Jane looked grim. “The manager just put the price up this morning,” she half snapped. “And everyone’s been yelling at us. Can’t help it. It went up a buck a pound.”

I gaped. And growled. A buck a pound increase. No way. I wouldn’t stand for that. I asked to see the restaurant manager. Jane grimly fetched him. A shifty-eyed young guy. He smiled inanely at me.

“Look,” I lectured. Firmly. “You can’t just go increasing your salad price by a buck a pound. That’s 30%. We’re in a Depression here. Prices should be going down, not up. A slight increase I can deal with. But not a buck a pound. You’ll drive away your regulars.”

“I’ll take your advice into consideration,” he lied, still looking shifty. Smiling smarmily. I knew nothing would be done.

Back at the office, I fumed. “This will not stand,” I raged to Patrick, my boss. “I’ll eat at McDonalds before paying five bucks for a salad.” A bit of hyperbole there. You couldn’t pay me to eat the junk at McDonalds.

The next day, and the next, salad prices remained the same. I raged at Jane. Well, not at her, at her manager to her. “Go to the store manager,” she advised me the second day. “He’s the boss over the restaurant manager. We’re tired of it too. Everyone yells at us, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Go take care of it for us.”

No further prodding was needed. Couldn’t have other customers yelling at the help and getting everyone upset. So I promptly marched to the customer service counter in the main grocery store. Asked to see the manager. Of the entire store. I wasn’t going away quietly. The nice customer service lady dialed the manager and told him some-one wanted to see him. She smiled at me brightly. He’d be right down.

Sure enough, he soon walked up, a tall lean mustachioed guy. Smiling. Shook my hand. What could he do for me?

I showed him my tiny sad excuse of a salad, which I’d just paid for. “Look,” I said. “I come in here every day of the year. Every weekday, anyway. I like your store. I like your restaurant, and the staff who works there. But I just paid five bucks for this itty bitty salad. Because the restaurant manager increased the price by a dollar a pound.”

I paused. He stood there, smiling. He was good. I continued. “I won’t be coming in here every day anymore, if that price increase stays. I just won’t. Ain’t gonna do it.”

“Tell you what,” he said smoothly. “Why don’t we just give you this salad today?” He turned to the nice customer service lady. “Give him a refund.”

Oh, boy. Now I’d done it. He thought I was a freeloader. I protested. “That’s not why I asked for you, to get a free salad. I’m just telling you the price increase is outrageous. And it will drive away regular customers.”

He was good. Waved off my protests. Promised he’d see what he could do. Shook my hand again and thanked me. Smiling all the while. Genuinely, too, it seemed. I shame-facedly took my refund and left. The salad was particularly crisp and tasty that day, though. “Free” works a lot of magic.

The next day Jane and her coworkers were all smiles. The salad price had dropped. By fifty cents a pound. I’d won half the battle, anyway. And I could live with that. And so I have. I still make my daily trips to Jane’s salad bar.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Update on Anne Marie. About two months ago, she had her first MRI scan since the brain tumor operation in December. The results were quite good. No visible new growth. A copy of the results was sent to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for review.

Johns Hopkins was very slow in responding. After emailing, calling and waiting for more than a month, Paul and Anne Marie finally received their opinion. No radiation recommended as of this time. Anne Marie was encouraged to continue her natural program. JH will also review each new MRI scan in the future.

Paul and Anne Marie were delighted. Disbelieving, but delighted. That an institution like JH would recommend no radiation, and a natural treatment.

Anne Marie, of course, looks great as always. Radiant and healthy. Bouncing around with more energy than most people could imagine. She’s busy planting her garden and caring for Cody and Adrianna. I am still a regular welcomed Sunday night guest at their house on most weekends.

Earth Day came and went Wednesday, along with all the expected asinine prattling from politicians, leftists and a host of other wussy do-gooders. Every day is Earth Day, the more pious ones love to gush. Gag me. To combat them, I lit all the lights in my house for a couple of hours and idled Big Blue on the drive for awhile. Just kidding. These people will not stop until we all live in caves. Or at least simplify, like the Amish.

This weekend is the great annual Gospel Express fundraiser auction at Mel’s Stables in New Holland. A huge tent set up for the auction, another huge tent for tons of good delicious Amish and Mennonite food. Not good for you, but good. Nelson and the boys will be whooping, hollering and singing, to raise funds. I always stop by on Saturday around noon to grab a good old Lancaster County grilled sausage sandwich. And to see a few friends and chat with lots of acquaintances that I see about once a year, there at the auction.

Baseball and the Phillies mourn the loss of legendary announcer Harry Kalas, who “died with his boots on” in the broadcast booth. The league and the team paid proper respects. It’s ironic that his team won the last World Series of his lifetime.

Years ago, I used to watch the Phillies just to hear his stentorian tones. No one, but no one, could deliver that trademark line like he could. “That ball’s OUT’A HERE!!!!”