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SIL #3 recently wrote on her Facebook page she thought it time her daughter A.K.A Princess-Goddess needed a new jigsaw puzzle. She write P-G accused her of ‘getting a ‘Tom Spo gift’.* A ‘Tom Spo’ gift is named after the patriarch of Spos, Thomas. It is nearly impossible to shop for Tom and Christmas and his birthday are especially ticklish times. When he actually mentions something he would like he announces later on he has bought it himself before his progeny can pounce on it.  The other definition of a Tom Spo gift: a gift you receive knowing the giver wants to use themselves.  Thinking of something for Mother on her birthday or at Christmas is an easy task;  shopping for Father is tedious – and then he pulls a Tom Spo and gets it himself.  Oh the pain.

Are men harder to shop for than women? I believe so. I used to think this was because men don’t want/need things as much as women but where’s the data to support this? I now think this is based on the axiom men are not as good as women at speaking up to ask for things.  This includes Christmas prizes. Right now my brothers and relations are trying to figure out the solution to their selected Secret Santa. I’ve learned to just call the SILs and ask them directly what Brother #1-4 needs or wants.  Sometimes even they don’t know.

Someone is no exception. He never wants anything nor is he ‘into gifts’ as a love language sign.** I am the opposite: I love giving gifts and I admit I like getting them too.  Worse luck! Someone’s birthday is near Christmas making it all the worse.  Usually I get him some sort of electronic gadget or techie-toy for his birthday. I’ve learned I should spend too much as this makes him feel bad  (he is Bill-Master; he sees the credit card statements).  This year Someone is getting a whimsical holder made of stone for the kitchen sponge. It usually lies flat on the ledge of the sink making for a morass of bacterial contagion. Soon it will be standing erect to dry out between washings. This is a crying example of a Tom Spo gift if ever there was one but that’s what happens when you don’t speak up.

 

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*PG wasn’t wrong.

**I am certain I have this phrase wrong; please don’t write in.

Spo-fans occasionally ask me if I prefer being addressed as Dr. Spo rather than Spo; do I want nay demand my title be used and recognized? The usual answer is you can call me anything so long as you don’t call me late for dinner.  I have little need or interest in being addressed as ‘Doctor’ outside of work. At work it is different.  There I prefer being called Dr. Spo but this due to my fondness for proper manners not proper titles. I dislike calling my patients by their first name so I use Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. or whatever and I hope they do likewise. [1]

I despise immediate first name familiarity often used these days by brazen telemarketers, waiters, and young people. ‘Mister’ is what’s required by these sorts unless I give permission otherwise which is not often.

Someone and I as a set can be a bit ticklish. When we are out and about I don’t use “Doctor and Mister” nor “Doctor and Mrs. Doctor”. I adore the old-style two gentlemen caller plural “The Messers” which makes us “The Messers Spo and Someone”. Alas Babylon! No one uses this pre-Cambrian title anymore more’s the pity. I have to just hope people have the proper manners to reciprocate my self-introduction ‘We are Someone and Spo” with the proper ‘It’s nice to meet you Mr. Someone and Mr. Spo”. [2]

One of the drawbacks of using Dr. Spo in public is it inevitably gets the question “what sort of doctor are you?”.  I say “The P word” and the questioner either starts telling me their woes or they run away or tell my what’s wrong with my profession. [3]

Women have it worse off (don’t they always?) when it comes to titles. I recently learned some countries have banned the “Miss” equivalences like ‘senorita” “fraulein” and “mademoiselle” so all women are “Senora” “Frau” and “Madame” regardless of age or marital status. I like Ms. as convenient to ‘cover all” like Mr. does.  I also recently discovered there are new titles for folks  who are trans or sexually uncertain or just not thinking it was anyone’s business.  It’s all a bit confusing.  On the other hand one needed worry about what title to use if you use your words and ask the person in front of you “How do you wish to be addressed?”.  Just don’t use my flippant often-used response of “God Emperor”  as you will no doubt get dirty looks – worse than if you had said you are a psychiatrist.

 

[1] Work is a bit awkward the staff call me Dr. Spo but they want to be addressed by their first name. I still call them Mister or Ms. or Mrs. trying to keep things at the same level of formality. They find this amusing: they think I am being British.

[2] Fat chance of that.

[3] They like to tell me what is wrong. If I play along I put on my more obvious “I am analyzing this” demeanor and reflect back something guaranteed to make them nervous.

Mother isn’t doing so well. She’s been showing signs of depression in her deterioration and lack of hope of going home any time soon. I persuaded her to try medication. She did but it had to be stopped after a only few days as it made her quite knackered. Last weekend I got several calls from various relatives worried she had been poisoned with mild implications this was all my fault.  We are determined to get her home for the holidays if only for the day. Brother #3 is going to rent a van that accommodates a wheelchair to get her home at least some time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – lord willing.

In my attempt to coordinate everything I see I am taking on my usual assigned family role of Time-keeper/Whistle-blower/Referee.  Father hints there’s work to be done prior to Christmas Eve such as tidying up the house (which I imagine is quite bad) and get food ordered bought and cooked.  While I want Mother to have a good Christmas (which may be her last) I want a good Christmas as well. I want a traditional family get-together the type Andy Williams sings about, all of us hohohoing around the usual eats in the same house one last time prior to its probable sale in 2020.

I see a lot of folks in my practice who don’t have jolly holidays because what they have now is not what it used to be. Usually it is the death of a family member who had the base for everyone. Now that (fill in the blank) isn’t with us anymore the survivors have gone their separate ways and Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. There is a lot of sorrow over this. Christmas = loss.  This is made worse by our tendency to wax nostalgic prettily painting the past up as more warm and happy than it was.

My challenge isn’t how to cook a pot roast or find out where Mother stores the Christmas things but my own expectations. I cannot recreate a childhood-type Christmas.  If you can’t have tradition (I tell my patients) have an adventure. Best to do something different that doesn’t maudlin memories attached to it that evoke emotions of deficit.

At the time of writing this Brothers #2 and #3 have communicated they are willing to make some the Spo-traditional holiday dishes and imperial tidbits. I won’t have to do it all myself. A relief.

We wont be having a lavish Christmas-morning under-the-tree-bonanza but no one seems worried about that. Food and good cheer – and Mother’s happiness – are what we are aiming for.  I just hope I’ve brought enough Ritalin for everybody.

 

Last week an ex-blogger texted me I should to go to Facebook to read David Cooper of “Facing Traffic” had committed suicide. He wrote a farewell entry explaining his circumstances and the reason for his suicide. There are nearly 200 comments now filled with sorrow and salutes, reflecting one of David’s assets: he was adored by many.  I don’t think many realized the entry reflected another of his assets: he was a brilliant writer. His suicide note was a brilliant piece of prose. It made me almost agree with his inevitable conclusion this was the right thing to do.

What was not mentioned in his note nor in the comments was anger. I am aware I have some. While I certainly have sorrow it cannot completely whitewash the red rage that crept up my neck like a hot hand to discover this awful news. I thought if I wrote it out it may help.
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He had lost his health and this in turn lost his livelihood (he was quite clever and handy at building things). This led to financial destitution. He had depression too; he states he could not afford healthcare for his physical and mental well-being and his funds for daily existence were meager. His situation makes me hot with rage. Only in the f-cking States of America does one go bankrupt when you become sick. If you are lucky your relations may take pay and take care of you and if you don’t that then it’s too darn bad for you. I sense if he had had health care things may not have been so despairing.

There is a lot I don’t know of course. I don’t know if his depression had been treated nor if it was a great influence to his decision. So many what-ifs and he had not confided – at least not with me.

Another area of upset was reading over a hundred comments from folks who cared for him so including a cousin (so he had some family).  Where were they in his decline? Did they know and not do anything? Did everyone assume someone else was watching out for David?  Was it the other way around David shut out everyone including those would have helped him? I am part of this. I had not heard from David in ages – and I have not reached out either.

My experience is when someone makes up their mind to kill themselves no one can stop them really. All the same whenever someone commits suicide the survivors wonder what they could have done to prevent this. I still think if we had a better health care system; if we as a nation was truly a Christian nation as the hypocritical Right-wingers want; if David had kept in touch; if we did a better job – If I had done a better job at helping could it have prevented his death?

When feeling lost or powerless I often want to do something. Once upon a time I was struggling with all the what-ifs of a similar suicide. The listening priest advised me ‘Better to ask yourself now is there anything that can be done to heal the wounds?” A fair question.

I will remember David for his excellent prose and the one time we had supper in Scottsdale. He was part of the original Spo-shirt tour. What can be done to heal the wounds – I don’t know yet.

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Mother decided what she would like for Christmas dinner is a roast.

Oh the horror.

This came out of left field; I was not expecting this. I figured she would want a honey-baked ham or one of her casseroles viz. something I know how to make (or where to order such). I have never cooked a roast.  I am having ominous visions of putting down my ‘first attempt’ roast on Christmas day in front of a dozen diners – and it is dry or burned or flavorless. I am in a bit of a panic on this. I have three weeks to figure out what to do here.

First question: what exactly is a roast – is it the same thing as roast beef?  I suppose I can go to the supermarket and admit I haven’t a clue and hope they don’t sell me the beef-equivalent of  “summer rain’ perfume.  It’s like asking for directions. Don’t real men know what beef is and how to cook it?

SIL #3’s father is a butcher. I bet she knows what is a roast. Perhaps if I ask her sweetly she will tell me what to look for or better yet get me a proper roast no rubbish.  However I probably have to brine the thing for a few days ahead of Christmas day cooking so perhaps I am on my own.  My parents shop at Kroger goodness knows if they have roasts.

Second question: Is there more than one way to cook the damn thing? Is there a proper method? I hope it isn’t too difficult.

On the other hand I have lots of cookbooks to cruise through I bet one of them can tell me what to do. I will forgo The Moosehead cookbook on this one and The Vegetarian Times is probably useless too. I may just directly go to YouTube and hope it has some oh-so-practical videos on the topic.

My third question of ignorance is about the trimmings. Photos on the internet succulent beefy joints surmounted by cooked carrots and potatoes. This sounds kind of bland to me. I wonder if I can serve a roast with other sides or is this blasphemy?

What’s driving all this angst is Mother of course. It’s rather Freudian in a way. Imagine Mother getting home finally and sitting down to the long-awaited roast only to look down and see it isn’t properly done. Mother is far to nice too Midwestern to say what did you do to this and where the hell did you get this bristle slab – but I will know.

Spo-fans who know are Roast-masters (and mistresses)  are invited to leave tips and advice in the comments.

“Mother, this is blogger-roast, you’ll love it!”

It looks like Mother isn’t going to home any time soon. Lord willing she will get out for one day at Christmas. I fly home the weekend prior to Christmas so I have 3-4 days to do whatever she needs to have a good day. I suspect the house wants attendance for I cannot imagine Father has kept up with the housekeeping.  I will tidy things and put up some decorations for her sake as well as the day’s. Niblings #1 and #2 were dears at Thanksgiving: they hauled up from the basement the tree so it can be decorated by Urs Truly in time for her homecoming.

Traditionally Mother organizes the “Secret Santa” drawing and tell us who has whom. She also cooks the cookies and prepares the Christmas dinner. She isn’t able to do any of this. As the elder child I take on the role (again) as time-keeper, whistle-blower, and referee to organize the relations and get things done.

Spos are ADHD-wired; one may as well keep a clutter of cats still for a photograph. This week I am sending out a series of emails asking Brother #3 to organize the SS and Brother #2 (or 4) to count noses for 12/25 attendance.  If this is not done promptly I am giving all Ritalin as stocking stuffers and telling people what to do.

Over the weekend I asked Mother to think of she would like at Christmas. Not only am I the oh-so-practical elder son I am the gay one. As my friend Martin says: “It takes the fag of the family to put on the show”. I would love to cook up a dinner the type The Ghost of Christmas Present sits upon.  However this is Mother’s day, not mine. If all she wants is mush I will make oatmeal.*

I do hope she isn’t going to be too ‘Midwestern’ and feel guilty for someone doing the work and end up saying: ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter what we eat so long as everyone is home’. Oh the pain. On the other hand Spos are not into new and adventuresome foods at Christmas time. What they want are traditional eats. These dishes aren’t complicated or spicy but they are full up with nostalgia. Mother usually makes a sort of crockpot beef stroganoff (bland) that is served over noodles and there is a Christmas birthday cake for Baby Jesus.  On Christmas morning there are eggs for days and bacon.  Dinner is usually a honey-baked ham with cheesy potatoes followed with “S” cookies for small chocolate cone.  We shall see.

I am curious to hear from Spo-fans if they cook at Christmas time and what traditional dishes are ‘must-haves”.

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*Proper Scottish oatmeal no rubbish made with real oats and not the quick cheap Quacker stuff.

Now that Thanksgiving is over the Christmas season begins. Christmas 2019 will be a sort-of ‘non-Christmas’ for Urs Truly. Someone and I try to go to Michigan every other year to have our holidays with the family. We haven’t gone in some years now – what with getting coverage at our jobs.  Last summer I promised my parents we would go.  Mother was pleased as punch. In the interim her physical health has deteriorated and what happens next month is anyone’s guess. The main point of this trip is making Mother (and Father) happy. This may entail merely giving Father a break by running his errands and the cleaning house (rumored to be quite shoddy) while he attends Mother who now in a physical rehabilitation centre with an unclear future. 

Another element for a ‘non-Christmas”: Someone will work nonstop. I will go to Michigan earlier than he does. We talked yesterday and decided we will have no time really to put up the tree and decorations prior to my departure on 21 December.  I am not sure if we will even buy Christmas prizes for each other or for the family.   

My brothers have not said so out loud but there is a sense this is to be Mother’s ‘last Christmas” so it would be nice to make it as festive as possible. Unfortunately this may be without tree or gifts given the circumstances. 

I like to know things ahead of time but this year I must live with uncertainty. It’s all up in the air where I/we will stay and what/if any Christmas activities will happen. My priorities are care taking the parents. If there is free time I may see chums but who can tell.  If Mother is happy and Father is rested then I will be content. 

I have an active imagination and this has been so from the get-go. It was later on in life (perhaps around six years old) I discovered I was not alone in my yearning to go down rabbit holes. To my delight I read and heard of people throughout history who have longed to explore imaginary worlds and ride fantastic beasts. As a boy I was a rapacious reader; as a teen I was into Dungeons & Dragons. This sh-t never stops; it got reinforced in my studies of Jungian psychology. I suspect seasoned Spo-fans grow weary of reading fantastical posts extolling cucumber trees and three-legged Cyclops. The Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections is sick of it all themselves but they don’t dare downright damn the stuff: to do would puts them out of a job.

I used to think thems in touch with the archetypes were the rule not the exception. As I’ve aged I encounter more and more people disinterested in using thieirimagination other than to figure out how to get more fame, money, prestige, and other things of little value.  It seems the world is becoming more dominated by the Gradgrinds. Mr. Gradgrind is a character is Dickens’ novel “Hard times”. He was a practical man who wanted nothing but facts taught to the kiddies – no rubbish topics that didn’t directly help shape them into complacent factory workers.* I was fascinated and appalled by The Gradgrinds who were up in arms over the Harry Potter books. They did so on the manifest grounds the book were ‘un-Christian” but I couldn’t help but think the real issue was their fear reading fantasy books unleashes the mind from the yoke of custom and convention causing the kids to ‘think for themselves’. Paradoxically chasing white rabbits and galloping about with the hobbits makes one better at discerning the BS of real life. Anyone who has read the “Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever” series sees how the our present-equivalent High Council congressmen are a bunch of Ravers.**

Despite their many faults I will welcome the ongoing stay of The Cup Sprites and The Car Key Gnomes – even the truculent Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections.  Some will say I have a few screws loose but wasn’t it Don Quixote (or was it John Lennon?) who said seeing reality for what it is is the worse insanity of all?

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*I cringe whenever I hear people call for a moratorium on classes in art and music or slashing financial support of the arts.  Education is not merely learning a trade but a means to becoming a thinking and compassionate person.

**I hope some Spo-fans get this. Explanations are given on request.

cropped-thanksgiving2008.jpgSomeone is working this Thursday and most of the holiday weekend too so we won’t have a Thanksgiving. I will be home alone. He will be quite tired when he gets home and want to go straight to bed and not eat a full meal, so there is no point in us cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner. In past years we sometimes made a dinner on Friday or Saturday, but he works those days too. We are both on diets anyway, so we are skipping the whole thing.  

I keep this to myself at work and with loved ones on Facebook as the announcement one isn’t doing Thanksgiving is met with all sorts of emotions other than a just a head nod of assertion. Not all Americans ‘do’ Christmas but everyone does Thanksgiving – and to not do so is almost a blasphemy. “I won’t have a Thanksgiving” is often met with horror and/or pathos. People who don’t know me very well sometimes hear this and blurt before even thinking I could come to their place. This is based on the unspoken agreement no one should be alone that day. 

Going without Thanksgiving is something I am used to as I often worked the day myself. No one wants to go to the emergency room on Thanksgiving Day and I got lot paid lots of money for mostly sitting around for eight hours. Someone has long worked on theday too volunteering to work so others won’t have to. 

It will be very quiet peaceful day. I usually have a nice at-home breakfast and then I go to the gym and after that whatever I want.  “Thanksgiving dinner” this year is soup in the crockpot which I will eat with relish.  I will call Mother who is in a rehabilitation center after she had a fall.  

I called her today to find Father was there visiting. He tell me Brother #2 through #4 and various daughters-in-laws and grandchildren have ordered a Thanksgiving dinner ‘to go’ from Costco (really!) to bring in to her so they can all eat something together. When I reflected I assumed they would just cancel the day given she’s in hospital etc. Father was bewildered as the office folks by my logic. It’s Thanksgiving ! One just has to have such.  He asked if I was home alone again this year and I said yes, which didn’t surprise him given my history I’ve mentioned.  He said they would all call me on Thursday so I would not feel left out or alone.  They are dears but you see the point – one can not be allowed alone on Turkey day in the USA. 

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I just hope he has tasty giblets 

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Last night Someone took me to his ushering gig in Tempe to see “American Psycho the musical”.  I haven’t read the book nor seen the movie so I wasn’t going with any expectations.* It was a thoughtful show in-between the murders. Were the 80s really that greedy and solipsistic? I spent mine engrossed in my studies so I missed out on the opulence. I grew up in a Midwest WASP household that did not care tuppence for ostentatious living. Indeed, being showy in ones possessions was looked upon as something ‘not nice’.

The audience in last night’s blood bath/song and dance mostly consisted of college kids, who I’m guessing weren’t born at the time of the show’s setting. They seemed to have enjoyed it. The lanky lad sitting on my left was having himself a ball.** Were they thinking it all quite silly or were they secretly longing for these sorts of times? There was a scene in which the young male executives are showing off their business cards trying to up eaach other in their cards’ paper and ink quality.  No one uses business cards any more I suppose but I wonder what do today’s youngsters have for status symbols?  Cell phones? Laptops? Scooters? The mind boggles.  I don’t hang out with youngsters or members of the “A” lists having ‘the best’ isn’t needed.

Mr. Bateman certainly had money, prestige, and a chiseled body*** so his black hole of endless envy seemed absurd which was the point apart from giving him an excuse to dismember his fellow YUPPIES.  I won’t give away the ending lest Spo-fans have not seen the movie or the musical.**** I walked out feeling a bit deficit about my lot in life compared to the successes of the Hampton-going lads seen on stage. On the other hand I am not a psycho-killer-whore so that’s a mercy. Walking out I felt glum about my lack of status symbols but I cheered up reflecting on my own underwear. I have a few Derek Rose boxers; they cost about forty dollars so all is not lost.

 

*That’s not entirely true. I got it confused with “American Beauty” another movie I hadn’t seen.

**I felt like Margaret Mead among the Bantus observing tribal customs and behavior. I sort of felt like a dumpy wicked old screw.

***The actor playing the role of Mr. Bateman frequently stripped down to his underwear to display his 0% body fat. He wore tighty-whities which seem incongruent to the rest of his wardrobe which he constantly reminded us was top designer-wear.  He mentioned his boxers cost 60$ but there were no signs of such on stage worse luck.

****It ends badly.

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