Perennial

Bruce’s amaryllis is getting ready to bloom. Which is a miracle really, because I forgot to cut it back. Amaryllises thrive on abuse apparently. If you whack off the leaves, deprive them of water and let the bulb poke out of the soil way farther than you think it should, those things will bloom like a son of a gun. This particular amaryllis has red flowers.

Bruce gave it to me two Christmases before he died.

Amaryllis is kind of the go-to flower for a quick Christmas present. A bulb in a pot. You water it and, bam, instant flower. I got one from my sister a couple of years back. It bloomed wildly and then sort of passed away.

But the one Bruce gave me seems to go on forever.

I have to admit I wasn’t too kind to it when it first arrived. Not that I fault Bruce for getting it for me. I’m notoriously hard to shop for. Even when people know my favorite obsessions, I’m not always obsessed with them that particular day. Brian took me to Dark Delicacies bookstore. “Look at all the vampire books!” My response: “Oh, Irish ghost stories.”

It’s like that.

Anyway, Bruce gave me this flower. Well, it wasn’t a flower yet. It was dirt in a pot. Ummm…thanks. I put it out in the garage, intending to one day plant it somewhere in the yard.

Eight months later, Bruce was diagnosed with HIV.

It’s funny how your brain works at times like that. How you want to do something when there’s really nothing you can do.

My first thought was to bring in the plant. As if somehow my treatment of a Christmas present had caused the whole thing. But when I went out to get it, I discovered it was covered with slugs. Big slimy slugs of all shapes and sizes, eating holes in the bulb and leaving shiny trails all over the pot.

I was furious.

I got a stick and knocked them all off. I washed the pot clean. I brought the amaryllis inside and put it in the window.

In the morning, there were more slugs.

I don’t know where they came from. Out of the dirt, out of the bulb. Maybe one of them had laid eggs in the dirt, I don’t know. I cleaned them all off again.

Next morning, more slugs.

The reasonable thing would have been to just let the slugs have it, but I couldn’t do that. Not with Bruce’s Christmas present. Not with Bruce in and out of the hospital. So I killed slugs. I killed a lot of slugs. I guess in my mind, if I saved the amaryllis, Bruce would get well.

But slugs are a lot easier to kill than the HIV virus.

Bruce died in August. The amaryllis bloomed for the first time the following Christmas. It blooms almost every Christmas or sometime around the beginning of the year. Even when I forget to prune it.

Maybe Bruce got the right present after all.

Death on the Oregon Trail

Rest in Peace

The Oregon Trail is dead. At least on Facebook. Otherwise, I would be playing it now. Luckily, I didn’t even know it was there until the last two weeks of its existence, which led to a frenzy of activity because I wanted to get to Oregon at least once before the game disappeared.

I have a longstanding rule about not playing Facebook games. No Farmville, no Frontierville, no anythingville. I mean, how many virtual cows do you really need? But right after Christmas when I was too sick to do anything more strenuous than click Facebook links, I discovered that The Oregon Trail was testing a Facebook version.

I had to try it.

Back in the day, I loved The Oregon Trail. For those who have never played it, the premise is basically this. Take a wagon train from Independence, MO to Oregon City, Oregon without dying. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I probably died twice as many times as I actually got to Oregon, but each trip you learned something. You learned to take a little extra flour or pack an additional snakebite kit. You learned to leave in March instead of May. You learned dysentery isn’t as funny as it sounds. Mostly, you learned that being a pioneer was pretty serious business.

The Facebook version had a neat twist. Your party is made up of your Facebook friends. You don’t actually have to tell your friends that you are putting them in your party.

That way you don’t have to tell them that they died of cholera farther along the way.

So I buy my supplies, I get my wagon party together and we start off across country. Dana drowns at the first river crossing. Brian can’t stop getting bitten by snakes. Mark keeps falling out of the wagon.

I should have chosen better friends.

Meanwhile, winter is approaching. On Dec. 22 (game time), you are done, through, kaput. We had left a little too late and so we are only halfway to Oregon when we are told that Winter Has Arrived. I’m given two choices. Go Back to Independence or pay 5 Trail Bucks to turn back time.

Turn back time? Seriously?

Guess the Donner Party was all out of Trail Bucks.

I choose Go Back to Independence.

Which is apparently a euphemism for dying on the trail because the next screen is my tombstone.

Now I’m determined that I’m going to beat this game without the use of Trail Bucks, the deus ex machina of the new Oregon Trail. Bitten by snake? Trail Bucks make a doctor magically appear. River too wide to ford? Trail Bucks provide a ferry. The ultimate was when Brian died of cholera 81 miles outside of Oregon City.

For 5 Trail Bucks, you can raise the dead.

Hallelujah.

(Brian is still mad that I didn’t raise him from the dead, by the way. But I didn’t have any Trail Bucks even if I had wanted to break my own code and dabble in the Dark Arts.)

Don’t get me wrong. I had a blast trekking across country, picking up gold nuggets and trying to keep my friends from shooting themselves in the face. I just missed the realistic edge of the original version where you actually could starve to death if your shooting skills weren’t up to par.

I made it to Oregon City. Twice. The second time it was a rush to finish before Facebook took the game down.

I doubt any number of Trail Bucks will bring it back.

What Do You Open the Day After Christmas?

Santa Anita, of course!

Back in high school, December 26th was the most exciting day of the year because that is the day that Santa Anita Racetrack opens their winter meeting.

And they give out free calendars with racehorse pictures in them.

It was a yearly ritual. Mike, Kathy and I would hop into Bruce’s old green Chevelle with the dented grill and the one hubcap early, early in the morning because we had to get to the track before the calendars ran out. Besides, there were a few stops to make on the way. First, Keystone Liquor store to buy a Racing Form. Bruce was the best at actually reading a Racing Form. The rest of us would mostly hold it up in front of our faces and nod knowingly.

Then a stop at Butcher Block Meats to get some deli sandwiches for the long trip to Arcadia. Bruce always had to get turkey and avocado. I always tried to talk him out of the avocado, but he was insistent. And, granted, I hated avocados at that time (I have since seen the error of my ways), but my reasons were valid. Because every year Bruce would get a turkey and avocado sandwich and every year he would drop avocado in his lap while he was driving. Then I, because I was sitting shotgun, would have to try and retrieve it.

It went something like this:

Bruce: (Munch, munch, munch) Oops.

Me: Did you drop the avocado again?

Bruce: No, I think it was some of the turkey. And the bottom slice of bread. (Bends his head to look.)

Me: No, no, watch the road. I’ll get it. (Probing in his lap for slippery and, at that time, despised avocado.)

Bruce: That’s not part of the sandwich!

Me: Sorry.

Meanwhile, Mike would be in the backseat perusing the horses for the first race. Just in case we actually got there in time for the first race. “Who are you going to vote for?”

“Bet,” Kathy would correct him. “Bet on the horses.”

Everyone laughs, including Mike.

“But, really, who are you going to vote for?”

Mike never did quite figure out the difference between horse racing and elections.

By the time we got the voting and the avocados figured out, we would be exiting the freeway in Rosemead. This was the most perilous part of the trip. Because Rosemead is full of…Rosemeadians.

Now I’m sure most of the residents of Rosemead are fine, upstanding citizens. I even met a lady from Rosemead once and she was great.

Rosemeadians are another matter altogether.

You see, one year, on our way to Santa Anita, we noticed that the trees in Rosemead had been recently pruned. Not just trimmed, but chopped to within an inch of their lives. Just trunks sticking up with amputated limbs a foot long here and there. Now why on earth would you cut back those poor trees so severely?

It follows that there must have been something living in those trees that the people of Rosemead wanted to keep an eye on. Some kind of fearsome, top-knotted creatures with foot long toenails and roses growing under their armpits.

It doesn’t?

Okay, never mind.

Anyway, we’d make it through Rosemead alive, get our calendars and spend the rest of the day losing money. None of us were actually old enough to bet, but Bruce had an awesome mustache (he’d had a mustache since eighth grade. Well, almost a mustache. He got an A for effort anyway.) He’d make his wagers in the offhand bored way that long time horseplayers do and no one ever carded him.

The deal was that whoever won the most money had to buy dinner for the rest of us. Since we hardly ever won enough to break even, we usually relied on Bruce to have an emergency twenty hidden in his shoe. We’d stop at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, ironically back in Rosemead, on the way home and relive the day over hot fudge sundaes, dreaming of the next year when we were going to win big.

But time passes.

Santa Anita opened Monday, just as it always does. They gave out calendars, just as they always do, but we weren’t there. Bruce and Mike are both gone now and I haven’t seen Kathy in years.

I don’t know why Christmas stories are always so bittersweet. Maybe it’s the time of year, when life is ebbing and hoping for renewal. Maybe it’s because good times can’t last forever. Whatever it is, it’s tough writing stories about dead people.

Bruce, Mike, Merry Day After Christmas, wherever you are. Mr. Commons won the Malibu Stakes on Opening Day.

He was the one I was voting for.