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Shezzed Clean

Last night when the dishes were done, with the boys upstairs not fighting in the bath and my wife connecting with an old friend on the phone, I opened the back door to look at the rain.

It pattered on the deck and freckled the water in the stainless mixing bowl the dogs stole. The air smelled clean, finally free of the relentless pollen that makes me hack like a tubercular on morning walks these days. Underneath the protective span of a couple saw horses, baby grass poked through patch medium that looks like soggy cardboard. The cedar shingles on the roof of the shed in the back corner of the yard were dark above the crisp white hardiplank siding.

This is good, I thought.

For a couple minutes, I just stood there. Not mulling over work, or the next thing. Simply taking absurd delight in the fact that grass was growing where the dog had dug holes and that a shed I’d built was sound, surveying the postage stamp of a lawn that is my domain, secure in the knowledge that my family, for the moment, was safe and at peace.

Maybe this was the knowing Stevie Nicks wrote about in “Dreams,” when the rain washes you clean. (Yeah, I had to look that up, because I always thought it was some enigmatic made up verb, pronounced “shez,” as in “When the rain will shez you clean, you'll know...”). Or maybe my moment was some kind of psychic sigh after having watched a Frontline piece the other night on Moldovan sex trafficking. One poor woman who lived in the shadow of Chernobyl was forced into it to pay for medical treatment of a little brother suffering from radiation sickness. An articulate, heartless pimp named Vlad described how he sold a friend’s wife into slavery in Turkey.

The banality of good and evil in the world, and its inevitable connection to what people do for mo-nay-ha-hey, isn’t normally what I think about on a Tuesday night, but I have been in a reflective mood lateley because it’s time for another Washington Post Magazine article. Once again I am about to enter the birthing process of a fast turnaround rewrite with a multi-thousand word piece that I thought was done months ago.

Loyal readers recall that prior to the publication of my last Post piece, about building a canoe and not getting National-Board certified, the latter stages were fraught with revision. Eventually the piece did go to bed (and much later I even got The Prize), which gives me hope that I can survive the gauntlet this time too. But one never knows.

The topic of this, a first for me, is only tangentially related to being in the classroom, although it’s still predicated on the fact that I’m an educator. My working title is “Rich Bro, Poor Bro.” The piece deals with how my twin brother and I, from the same seed and the same suburban upbringing, took such different paths in life as to end up on opposite sides of the mythical “top 1%”, salary-wise. (I’ll compel you to read the piece by not revealing which one of us, the teacher or the lawyer, is above that line and which is below.)

In the article, I explore the delicate topic of how we spend how much we make, and try to quantify, to the degree possible, the happiness money can buy. The trick is to be salacious enough so that readers can engage in our mutual obsession of neighbor-gazing, while at the same time not air the family’s laundry to a degree that might jeopardize future Thanksgivings. I guess my trusty editor felt that a dude who could write a feature article on failing a test would be able to pen one on being chronically broke (shoot, let the cat out of the bag).

My immediate challenge, in revision, is that I have to make it current, in other words, include how the financial meltdown has affected both of us. This is a problem first because, as I mentioned, I originally wrote it before there was a flipping recession—yes, that’s how long these pieces stay in the pipeline—and second, because, other than not opening any of the envelopes from the retirement or college accounts, we’ve survived this economic downturn with no major concessions: educators’ day to day budgets are pretty much in line with the frugality that somehow got spun into “recession chic” over past months (Hey Washington: thumb your nose at the economy by buying those inaugural duds from a retro clothing store!).

Woe is me. I’ll report back soon on the progress of the rewrite, lawn versus pooch, and any other backyard epiphanies. Time to go walk around after the dogs with a plastic newspaper bag over my hand and think about some of my editor’s tough existential questions like “Do I envy my brother?” and “What made me become a teacher?”

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