Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Fine Pestilence

It’s been a putterbutt kind of day.

Putterbutt is a word I learned from my friend Elaine, who learned it from her mother, and as a serious lover of useful made-up words, I installed it into my vocabulary immediately. It means to just fool around and sort of flirt insincerely with your To Do list, that primary source of proof that you are an adult and can be trusted with serious responsibilities. Putterbutting is my defense mechanism to avoid tackling a huge task I don’t really want to do. I know the task has to be done eventually, and so I put my trust in eventuality, and allow my attention to wander shamelessly, aimlessly, toward anything, everything else.

Putterbutting is a proud occupation for one or two, but it’s too personal to be a group activity. It is conducted by the rules of Whatever, guided only by whim and whimsy, curiosity and quizzical wonder. A dedicated putterbutt can spend hours reading greeting cards in the Hallmark Store and never buy one, search through bottomless bins of Kmart clearance items she doesn’t need and won’t buy anyway, wander the aisles of thrift stores motivated only by Because It’s There. A committed putterbutt knows the unbridled, guilt-free joy of saying No. An experienced putterbutt doesn’t wear a watch or make appointments that will inevitably be broken.

Putterbutting opens life to the wonders of serendipity, the unexpected discovery of delightful surprises, sweet moments that make you smile or possibly even giggle, moments that will contribute to sparkling conversation later in the telling. Things discovered serendipitously are like lovely, intriguing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that may fit together sometime in the distant future, but until they do, can be appreciated now for their individuality.

But I digress, and that’s what makes me a champion putterbutt. Wandering from place to place around the house, or the town, noticing details, nuances, subtleties, shades of differences, I ponder, dissect and reconfigure. I take the leash off my imagination. I ramble over unnumbered unscheduled detours to What If and Hmm. I enjoy the vistas on the hill above Maybe Some Day, and make mental reservations to go there again when I can stay longer.

At the end of a long delicious putterbutt day, not much has been checked off the To Do list, but I’ve been everywhere and thought everything and put all the problems in perspective. Sometimes I stumble accidentally into some item from a long-neglected To Do list, but on a putterbutt day it somehow doesn’t seem like the ponderous task it was before. A glorious day spent in fearless, lofty putterbutting has a cleansing effect, decontaminating the soul from all the rush and hurry that keeps it earthbound on other days.

Is a day of putterbutting wasted? Only if you allow guilt to intrude with its shameful Should Haves and imperative Oughts who come shaking their scolding fingers dangerously near your sense of responsibility. In fact, an occasional day spent in putterbutt limbo can be the most satisfying kind of day. There will always be other days ripe for taking charge like an adult and rampaging headlong through the To Do list, masterfully checking off jobs as if they won’t have to be done over again in another week or two.

If there were some magic elixir that would take away my inclination for putterbutting, I would tear up the prescription. It’s a disease that doesn’t strike very often, but when it does, I plan to enjoy it to the fullest. I refuse to be cured of this fine pestilence.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I have always depended on the kindness of tall people.

Whether they’re strangers or not, I am not shy about asking people to use their tallness to compensate for my lack of it. In grocery stores I’m grateful for the lanky stock boys managers frequently hire. Sometimes other shoppers will see me eying something on the top shelf and come to my rescue. Thankfully, most bookstores recognize the diversity of potential customers, and have installed ladders. Surely there is a rung of purgatory lined with shelves where the wicked under-tall stand on tiptoes and touch things with their fingers, but cannot quite reach far enough to grasp and retrieve. I am intimately acquainted with this rung.

When I met my husband Roger back in the early 60’s, I remember looking all the way up that six-foot two-inch frame of his and thinking, “I can’t marry him. He’s too tall.” He doesn’t believe me when I tell this story, but an irrational prejudice, which somehow made sense to my 18-year-old mind, led me to pair people up according to height. How fair would it be for a five-four girl such as I to marry a tall man? What would happen to all those Mickey Rooneys out there if only the willowy women were left? At the time I didn’t notice that this never bothered Mickey Rooney.

This crazy idea took me into some dreary circuitous paths until Roger and I gravitated back to each other again eight years later, when I, a little slow on the uptake, finally realized that the tall girls could look out for themselves. After all, they could reach that stuff on the top shelf without any help. In the meantime, I dated many of his buddies, all under six feet, and he and I, as fellow English majors, had a lot of classes together. Becoming fast friends, we realized that some wonderful things had developed between us without our even realizing it, and the subject of height never came up.

Our three children are all taller than I, for which I am grateful. They compassionately serve as reachers for me. My daughters, when pregnant, never look like it until eight months, but at six months, with my eight-pound babies developing, I always looked weeks overdue. All my immediate family were taller than I, including my mother and sister. My neighbor and dear friend Elaine is a six-foot tall woman, and one of our sons-in-law is six-four. Now my oldest granddaughter has passed me up.

For emergencies, when a tall person isn’t close by, I keep stools around the house so I can climb up to get things, despite my fear of falling. Roger tolerates the multiplicity of stools, but I have learned to stash them carefully so he doesn’t trip over them. (I also have a fear of extreme heights, or highdrophobia, as we call it at our house, a recent development that came with middle age, but that’s another story for another time.)

Height has always been the reverse problem for Roger. He can’t sleep in a bed with a footboard because he stubs his toes on it all night long, but I can sleep on couches only midgets would find appealing. In a movie theater I like to sit down front where my view isn’t blocked, but he’s always afraid people can’t see around him. We compromise by sitting on the side, and by not going to very many movies.

Buying an automobile that we can A] afford, and B] both drive comfortably requires extensive negotiation. As a person with a long body, Roger’s headspace inside a car is limited, but as a person whose shoulders and hips are remarkably close, I am frustrated by the visors that never quite come down far enough to fully block the blinding sun. With my insufficient leg length, I have few options for seat distance from the steering wheel. The ideal for Roger, on the other hand, would be if he could sit in the back seat and still drive the car. We each have to do a lot of rearranging when we get into the car after the other person has driven it.

Speaking of rearranging, that’s one of Roger’s most endearing compulsions. While some women might be thrilled that a spouse would care so deeply for order and organization, I tend to feel sabotaged. When cleaning closets in the bedroom or bathroom, he puts the tallest items, invariably the ones I use most frequently, at the back of the shelf just out of my reach.

In the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator and the range hood are always dusty because I can’t see them and never notice. Roger empties the dishwasher and clutters the counter with clean things, that inevitably get mixed up with dirty things, because his stiff back doesn’t allow him to bend all the way down to put things away in those lower cupboards. Many of the cleaning tools in the broom closet have extenders or extra long handles so I can use them. We won’t even go into the grizzly scene at our house when a light bulb needs to be changed.

With all these tall people around me, it is easy to feel isolated and even handicapped. It was a happy day, therefore, when our six-foot two-inch tall son brought home a girl about whom he had become quite serious, and not only is she just right for him, she’s also just right for me. We see eye-to-eye, literally, and I’m not feeling so alone anymore. Heather is now our daughter-in-law, and lack of height is only one of many things we have in common. Like me, she has always depended on the kindness of tall people.