A Never Before Done Thing: Day Four

Day Four of the never before done challenge proves far more frustrating than the catwalk of Day Three (get it?), at least for me, since I can’t speak for my cat.

Take a look at that dashboard below.

That photo represents only part of the dashboard of the rental car which is mine for the week. There are all sorts of other electronic buttons all over the place in this car, but let’s focus on this particular screen shot. Pressing any one of those little icons at the bottom of the screen will cause a whole new screen to appear, each one full of indecipherable little icons.

Nice rental guy at the airport rental counter: We don’t have any full-size cars left, but we do have a Lincoln Continental for you!

Me (staring at him in fear): Wait, isn’t that like a really fancy car?

NRG (happy smile fading): It’s a luxury car, yes.

Me: Oh no. I don’t like fancy cars.

NRG: You don’t?

Me: Nope.

NRG: Hmm. Most people do. Well, I’m afraid it’s either the Lincoln or a Hyundai Accent.

At that point I picture the elder companions who are about to share this rental car with me for the coming week, during which we will be on a westward road trip. Here they are:

I ask myself this: Would these elder companions ride in a Hyundai Accent for a week without complaint?

Yes. They would.

Then I ask myself this: Would these elder companions like to ride in a luxury car for once in their lives?

Yes. They would.

NRG: Well, what do you think? Hyundai or Lincoln?

Me: Lincoln it is.

And so it happens that for the first time in my life, unless you count my first car, which was a Toyota that my friends and I eventually drilled the ignition out of so that it could be started with the butter knife that I kept on the floor of the driver’s seat, I find myself sitting in a car that I can’t start.

What is the point of a car key that doesn’t go into anything? I’m sure there are many, many cars in the world that now start with buttons, just like this cherry-red Lincoln Continental, but it’s a first for me.

It takes me a solid twenty minutes of sitting in the Lincoln, first jabbing the start button with the car “key,” then waving the “key” in front of the start button as if it has psychic powers that might cause the engine to ignite, then having an Aha moment in which I put the key aside entirely and press the start button with my finger, which lights up all the dashboard buttons and turns on the music and air conditioning but not the engine.

At this point I consider exiting the car and telling NRG that I’ll take the Hyundai after all. Then, in an unplanned and magical synchronicity of events, I happen to step on the brake at the same time as I’m pressing on the start button, and the engine comes to life.

Surely this is a sign from God that the elder companions and I were meant all along to rent this particular car. I pull out into the EXIT AIRPORT lane.

My youthful companion, who has a brand-new license and a lifelong love and appreciation of beautiful cars, something that she did not get from me, has been patiently waiting all this time in our own tiny, simple car, the one that she accompanied me to the airport in.

She follows me home and comes over to the Lincoln. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat, trying to figure out how to turn off the engine.

She stands there, shaking her head sadly.

YC: You’re driving an amazing car. And you don’t even know it, do you?

Me: Nope. I don’t.

What I know is that it took me twenty minutes to figure out how to turn the thing on, which I suppose is pretty amazing right there.

A Never Done Before Thing: Day Three

I blame this one on the youthful companion, as it was entirely her idea even if I was the one who ended up holding the leash.

See this cat?

His name is Hobbes. He looks serene and relaxed here in the living room, on the recliner that he leapt onto the minute the youthful companion exited the room (the very same recliner of doom that was featured in Day Two’s challenge), but he’s not.

Hobbes is highstrung, insatiably hungry and unable to govern his own caloric intake, difficult to pet because he claws and nips while being petted, and difficult to sleep next to because he thinks anyone next to him should get up at 3:30 a.m. and feed him breakfast.

He would also prefer to be an outdoor cat, but he doesn’t remember where he lives once he’s let out.

YC (months ago): I think we should get him a tiny harness and a tiny leash and take him on walks.

Me: Are you freaking kidding me?

YC: No! He’d love it!

Me: What if he did love it? Have you considered the fact that you would become known in the neighborhood as the weird girl who drags her cat around on a leash?

YC: Oh no I wouldn’t. But you would.

Me: You’re nuts.

Months pass and the YC keeps bringing up the idea, giggling maniacally each time she does so. Yesterday we find ourselves in the pet store, buying another bag of the super-expensive ultra-special cat litter that is the only cat litter that the cat will deign to use. (Denied this super-expensive litter, he pees on the YC’s backpack and duffel, but that’s another story.)

YC (holding up a wee little harness): Please?

Me: Absolutely not.

YC: It could be your one new thing of the day, though. Think about it.

Me (thinking about it): You know what? You’re right.

Later: let’s just say that sometimes, it’s immediately obvious that something you do once will never be done again.



A Never Before Done Thing: Day Two

Day Two of the month-long challenge proves rocky.

I wake up wanting to do something major and heroic, something that involves the conquering of a lifelong fear. What I have in mind can’t be faced alone, so I lurk by the door waiting to ambush my youthful companion when she comes home.

Me to youthful companion: Thank God you’re home. You have to help me with today’s challenge.

YC: Why?

Me: I’m going to do a headstand and I can’t do it alone.

YC: Oh God! No!

Her reaction gives me pause. There is genuine consternation on her face. She is an extremely athletic person with very little physical fear. Can it be that the youthful companion is herself afraid of doing a headstand?

Me: Wait a minute. Are you afraid of doing a headstand?

YC: Hell yes! I’ve never done one.


YC: Oops.

We forge on. Against the wall? Against the couch? In the middle of the room with YC grabbing my legs and hoisting them up?

We, meaning me, decide on the recliner, as it is the only chair in the house with a back tall enough to let me gradually slime down over the top of it so that my head will end up on the seat and my legs up in the air.

Are you out there reading this and thinking with scorn and derision, That’s not how you do a headstand!? If so, I don’t blame you, but still, that’s how my headstand was going to happen.

Was going to happen. Past tense.

YC, upon hearing of the plan: No! Don’t use the recliner!

Me: Why not?

YC: Because it reclines!

The YC is right. The recliner does recline. Not only does it recline, but it reclines fast and also tips entirely over, flinging me off and crashing me to the hardwood floor. MAJOR PAIN ENSUES. The one good outcome is that the YC rushes to my side to see if I’m okay, which makes me feel loved and cared for.

There is an actual dent in my leg from the mishap. We both peer at it in interest.

YC: You should ice that right away.

Me: Are you kidding? I haven’t done the damn headstand yet.

But guess what? All further attempts at a headstand prove fruitless. The YC comes up with a new plan, which involves a yoga chair pose followed by a gradual tip into a headstand. You know, the way yogis do it. This works right up until the gradual tip into a headstand part.

I decide that the tip myself up against the couch plan is, at this point, the best bet.

YC: Kick your legs up! Kick them!

Me: How? HOW?

All efforts prove futile. How do people do headstands, seriously? More to the point, why do they do them? Can’t your spinal cord get mushed, with all that weight on it?

YC: Can’t you please do something else?

Me: Like what?

YC: Have you ever planked?

Me: Oh for God’s sake. Anyone can plank.

YC: That’s not the point. The point is to do something you’ve never done before, right?


One new thing a day: 8 July 2012

Today’s my birthday, and I made a birthday vow to do something I’ve never done before every day for a month, starting today.

This something-never-done doesn’t have to be huge, like climbing Machu Picchu. It can be tiny, like trying an old-school cocktail that you’ve never had before. Such as this one, below.

This drink is called a Sidecar, and trust me, it’s extremely tasty. Not too sweet, even though it looks like it might be. Served in a martini glass, which is my favorite kind of drink glass. Kind of like a brandy gimlet, so if you’re a fan of vodka gimlets, take heed.

The something-never-done-before can be as simple as taking a right turn where you’ve never taken a right turn before, on a walk you do nearly every day, an hour+ walk so familiar to you that you literally know every single tree.

But take an unexpected right turn –something you probably wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t been on the lookout for something you’d never done before– and look where you end up:

Where you end up is a path through the woods that skirts the years-long familiar path you take with your dog, but which feels 20 degrees cooler and like an entirely new world, one running parallel to the world you walk in every day.

So many never-before-done things, right here in your own neighborhood. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

What the Dog Perhaps Hears
– Lisel Mueller

If an inaudible whistle
blown between our lips
can send him home to us,
then silence is perhaps
the sound of spiders breathing
and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving,
headfirst, into the light
and the long brown sound
of cracked cups, when it happens.
We would like to ask the dog
if there is a continuous whir
because the child in the house
keeps growing, if the snake
really stretches full length
without a click and the sun
breaks through clouds without
a decibel of effort,
whether in autumn, when the trees
dry up their wells, there isn’t a shudder
too high for us to hear.

What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?
For us there was no birth cry,
the newborn bird is suddenly here,
the egg broken, the nest alive,
and we heard nothing when the world changed.

For more information on Lisel Mueller, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lisel-mueller

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Poem of the Week, by Sharon Olds

Little Things
– Sharon Olds

After she’s gone to camp, in the early
evening I clear our girl’s breakfast dishes
from the rosewood table, and find a small
crystallized pool of maple syrup, the
grains standing there, round, in the night. I
rub it with my fingertip
as if I could read it, this raised dot of
amber sugar, and this time
when I think of my father, I wonder why
I think of my father, of the beautiful blood-red
glass in his hand, or his black hair gleaming like a
broken-open coal. I think I learned to
love the little things about him
because of all the big things
I could not love, no one could, it would be wrong to.
So when I fix on this tiny image of resin
or sweep together with the heel of my hand a
pile of my son’s sunburn peels like
insect wings, where I peeled his back the night before camp,
I am doing something I learned early to do, I am
paying attention to small beauties,
whatever I have –
as if it were our duty to
find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.

For more information about Sharon Olds, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/sharon-olds/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts