Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Under siege from a crazy-ass Cardinal

The crazed Cardinal rat-a-tat-tatting on the doors
in our darkened den. As you can see, I've lowered the storm
shutters almost to the ground but that doesn't stop him.

We have been under siege for two and a half months from a whacked-out cardinal who is trying to break into our house. 

He appears in the yard every morning with the sun, chirp-chirp-chirping as he maniacally flits from tree to tree, stopping every minute or so to rat-a-tat-tat on the windows and doors. Our dachshunds, who weren't that emotionally stable to begin with, have been driven insane by the nonstop noise. My wife and I aren't far behind them.

From what I’ve been able to learn, Mr. Cardinal sees his reflection in the glass and, thinking he’s face to face with another bird, attacks his own image. But I wouldn’t call what he is doing an “attack.” It’s too gentle. He's not doing damage other than leaving bird poop on our windowsills and porches and beak boogers on the glass.

I placed some ugly coral fish the previous owner left behind in the windows, thinking those would scare him away. He ignored them. I positioned lifesize wooden sculptures of beach people (yes, we have such things) in front of two large windows. They scared our pool guy so badly he said he almost wet his pants. The bird stayed away from those particular windows for a couple of hours then resumed his attacks. Online message boards suggested taping kraft paper over the windows so I did that where I could and lowered the storm shutters over the rest of the windows and doors, a no-no according to our community association which stipulates they are only to be deployed when a hurricane watch has been issued. But they are made from shiny aluminum so he pecks at those too.

Thursday, for the first time in weeks, we heard nothing all morning so I raised the shutters. Within seconds he was back, trying to drill his way inside. It’s almost as if he is trying to get into the house to tell us something or that there is something he wants.

Friends have suggested we buy a BB gun and blast him but we would never do that. He is an exquisitely beautiful creature. And, in a strange way, we have come to admire his exuberance and persistence.

That said, it is tiresome living in a dark house with barking dogs. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The boy in the oval picture frame

This column was first published in the Wilton (Conn.) Villager the week before Memorial Day, 2000. It was reprinted in the paper twice and this is the second time it has appeared on tomdryden.com. Several people mentioned in the original have died since I wrote it, and I've made a few updates to reflect their passing.

Atop a table in our guest room is a hand-tinted photograph, taken in the summer of 1933.

The photo is of my grandparents, Burton and Judith Tate, and the first four of what would eventually become a brood of 14 grandchildren born over a span of 35 years.

On my grandfather's lap is my cousin Robert, six months old. Robert grew up to be a computer specialist. Grandma is holding another baby, my cousin Nancy. She grew up to be a nurse. Kneeling in front of them is my six-year-old cousin Paul, who, when he grew up, married his childhood sweetheart and became an Army General. Next to Paul is my cousin Jimmy, a boy of four. Jimmy was killed in Korea in 1951. He was 21.

Nancy, Paul and Jimmy were the children of my mother's sister, Margaret, a tiny wisp of a woman. In 1923, Margaret married a giant of a man, Pat Timmerberg, who stood six feet three inches tall. Pat's parents had immigrated from Germany and settled on a farm near my grandparents' Missouri home. When America entered World War I, Pat joined up and was shipped off to fight his own people in the fields of France. When he returned, he was a soldier through and through, who loved to sing war songs and tell war stories.

Margaret and Pat's oldest, Paul, joined the army in 1945, the year he graduated from high school, just in time for VJ Day. Like his father, Paul showed a natural aptitude for soldiering. He was selected for Officer Candidate School and, shortly thereafter, was a Second Lieutenant, on his way to earning his stars.

Jimmy, who graduated from high school in 1947, enlisted in the army the next year, when he was 19. After basic training, he was sent to Colorado, where he captained the 21st Engineer's basketball team. He was shipped to the Yukon for eight months, back to Colorado and, in August, 1950, to Korea, where he was a machine gunner with the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division.

Jimmy was killed in action near Changgong-Ni on April 28, 1951. His tour of duty was almost over.

When they received word of Jimmy's death, the Timmerbergs were preparing for Nancy's high school graduation. She had graduated first in her class, and was looking forward to giving the valedictorian's speech at Montgomery City High School. She went ahead and delivered it, though her heart was broken and the audience knew it.

In those days before jet planes, families often had to wait months for their loved ones to arrive home for burial. Jimmy's flag-draped casket arrived in Montgomery City on a Wabash train on November 20, and he was buried with full military honors. According to his obituary posted on cousin Robert's family web site, a quartet sang "In The Sweet By and By" and "Safe In The Arms of Jesus." A solo, "God Understands," was also performed. My mother couldn't attend. She was in the hospital, having given birth to me three days earlier.

We visited Aunt Margaret and Uncle Pat often when I was growing up. They were always full of news about Paul and Nancy and their growing families. But I was always aware of the presence of a third Timmerberg cousin, a handsome dark-haired boy of 18 or so with a fixed broad smile, who peered from a gold oval frame on the dining room wall. Of him, never a word was spoken.

Pat died in 1963 and Margaret, who lived alone, began spending a lot of time at our house with my mother. They spent hours discussing the family and events of the past. But they would never mention Jimmy. Every Memorial Day, my mother took Margaret, who never learned to drive, to the cemetery, and they would return looking grim.

As a teenager, I used to accuse Aunt Margaret of being a pessimist. She wasn't much fun to be around. She always seemed to look on the dark side, to expect the worst out of life.

I take it all back, Aunt Margaret. Now that I have held my own sons in my arms and have seen them grow into young men with their own hopes and dreams, I understand. And I want to tell you this: You were amazing. I don't know how you were able to go on, but you did.

Margaret died in 1988, and was laid to rest next to Jimmy and Pat, near my grandparents. My mother continued making the trek to the cemetery every Memorial Day until she stopped driving.

Paul died in 2008 and was buried at Arlington in an impressive military ceremony with a 13-cannon salute befitting his rank. He was inducted into the Military Police Hall of Fame and there is a building named for him at Ft. Leonard Wood.

Up to the day before she died last April, Mom talked on the phone at least once a week with the last of my Timmerberg cousins, Nancy, and kept me up to date with what was going on with her and her family.

But nobody in our family ever spoke, or speaks, of Jimmy. I don't think those who knew him can. Though his headstone has faded, the horror of his loss never will, until the last person who loved him is gone. And there aren't many of them left.

Many of my grandparents' 14 grandchildren accomplished great things. One graduated from West Point, as did Paul's son, their great-grandson. The youngest, named for his cousin Jimmy, is president of a major music company. All of us married, most had children and grandchildren, and two are even great-grandparents.

Scattered from Florida to California, the ten of us who are left will celebrate Memorial Day. We'll enjoy sunshine and picnics. And I guarantee that all of us will remember the boy in the oval picture frame on Aunt Margaret's dining room wall, the boy who, unlike the rest of us, never grew old.

I hope that, whatever else you have planned, you will also take the time to remember Jimmy Timmerberg ... the hundreds of thousands of other young men and women who paid for our freedom with their lives ... and their parents, who buried the best of themselves with them.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mr. Fixit

I am the unhandiest man on the planet. I don’t understand how to put things together, how things work, how to maintain them, or how to fix them when they break. I don’t understand tools. I can neither comprehend nor follow instructions, especially those that use diagrams instead of words.

What I do understand, fifty years after I learned how, because my father insisted I take Latin rather than Shop, the only other elective offered to freshman males in my high school where my classmates were taught practical manly things about which I shall remain forever clueless, is how to conjugate verbs in Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire which undoubtedly collapsed because it was run by guys who sat around all day conjugating verbs rather than keeping the Colosseum and aqueducts in working order.

Go ahead. Laugh at me. Everyone does. Which makes me all the more determined, whenever something needs to be assembled or repaired, to do it myself.  I’m always convinced, whenever I start a project, that this time I’m not only going to complete it, it will be done right. But it never is and I always have to call someone in to finish the job. 

Right now I’m frustrated because I’ve spent two full days trying to repair an elaborate pool umbrella that collapsed two days ago. The pole that holds the canopy snapped off just above the round thingamajig that’s filled with sand and keeps the whole shebang from toppling over. It looked like a simple fix.

Since then, I’ve been on the phone with the manufacturer three times ordering replacement parts that now total $972.13. I was pissed today, when I visited the store where we originally bought the damned thing to get an idea of how to fit the parts I’ve taken apart back together, to see a floor model identical to ours on sale for $899 including delivery and set-up.

When the parts I've ordered arrive I’ll putz around for a couple of more days trying to figure out how they fit together with the parts I’ve disassembled from the original, and will wind up having to call Tony, the handyman I keep on speed dial, to put them all together. That’s assuming I have ordered the right parts in the first place which I probably haven’t.

Realistically, I don’t want anyone sitting under that umbrella until I’m sure it has been repaired properly because it weighs a ton and they’d be hurt or killed if it collapsed on them. 

And that, as they used to say in ancient Rome, would be a horribilis thing.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Nursery rhymes for today

Rock a Bye Baby

Rock a bye baby,
In the treetop.
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall.
Then we’ll sue the tree service
For not telling us this could happen.

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Now they live in foster homes
Because Social Services says children 
need to live in buildings with running water.

Pop goes the weasel

Round and round the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought t’was all in fun
Until the weasel demanded a safe space 
and that the zookeeper resign for failing to provide one.

This old man

This old man,
He played one.
He played knick-knack on what I had always told myself was my thumb but, 
with the help of my therapist, have come to realize was a part 
of me nobody should ever, ever touch without asking
which is why I’m coming forward after all these years.


Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, 
Baker’s man, woman or trans.
Bake me a gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free cake 
As fast as you can.

There was an Old Woman

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children,
She didn't know what to do
Thanks to the Republicans who blocked funding for Planned Parenthood.

Old MacDonald

Old MacDonald
Had a farm
And on his farm he had some chicks
But they weren't free range so PETA picketed the nation’s 
leading supermarket and restaurant chains urging them 
not to sell Farmer McDonald’s eggs 
 so now he's a greeter at Wal-mart.

Three blind mice

Three visually impaired mice.
Three visually impaired mice
Were admitted to Harvard, Yale and Princeton respectively 
because slots had been held open by the diversity officers 
in the admissions department at each school 
for applicants like them.

Georgie Porgie

Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie.
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
Now he's on the list of registered sex offenders.

Little Tommy Tucker

Little Tommy Tucker
Sings for his supper.
What shall we give him?
White bread and butter.

How can he cut it
Without a knife?
How will he be married
Without a wife
Or husband?