projects and writings of T.A. Burkholder
In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 38.
Many years ago, Sean and I binge-watched Jeeves and Wooster, the British tv-show based on P.G. Wodehouse’s stories about an aristocrat and his butler. It’s charming. No more, no less. Ever since, we have referred to this kind of show as “extremely mild entertainment.”
These days if I need a particular kind of gentle, I watch the Great British Baking Show. Even though I have zero interest in baking, there is something soothing about the myriad combinations of flour, sugar and butter and the myriad ways the amateur bakers can screw them up. The whole thing feels like it’s filmed through a pastel filter. And in the end, nobody gets kicked off. Rather, they are asked- oh so politely- to leave.
This week was the opposite of oh-so-polite. After a series of long, overscheduled days, I arrived at Friday morning. Within a couple hours, I learned of the deaths of three different hospice patients I had as massage clients. Two of them had been actively transitioning the last time I saw them so the deaths weren’t shocking. The third was more surprising, as the patient had taken a sudden turn. It was also more difficult in that she was one of my favorite clients. I visited her each week, sat at the foot of her recliner and rubbed her stiff feet while she cooed about how good it felt. The problem with all this was not so much the deaths themselves – this is hospice care after all – but that I received no notification of them. I had to find out from either a surprised caregiver or a line on a computer file that had simply switched from “Active” to “Deceased.” Out of ignorance or forgetfulness, my work wasn’t considered significant enough to garner me a spot on the list of people to contact.
And because insult follows injury, at the same time I had a brief but unpleasant Facebook interaction in which my sincerity and understanding about some discounted massages I was offering were questioned by a complete stranger. This is certainly a small glitch in the social media system, as far as these things go, but I added it to the day’s “No good deed goes unpunished” pile.
This is all to say, I arrived at my weekend uninterested in a big new challenge. What I craved was some extremely mild entertainment. And so off I went to the see the Belmont Goats. The goats have been relocated to cheaper east county property so that a ridiculously overpriced mess of apartment buildings could be built on their former close-in home. Back then, many of them were little goat babies that I watched through a chain-link fence. Now, lounging comfortably in their new home, surrounded by fawning children and adults alike, they were all grown up.
It felt oddly soothing to sit next to a goat chewing slowly on some hay and pet it’s rough fur. That is until petting it’s head started to feel like stroking the temples of my dying clients. So I stepped away and just watched their sleepy eyes, their wildly angled limbs, their small, gnawing goat teeth.
On my way home, I stopped for a little more mildness at an open house for the Mount Hood Model Engineers. For decades, I’ve seen their sign hanging above the steep basement staircase of an elegant old building near Mt. Tabor. An old roommate whose father had been a member alerted me to the event. I figured the open house would be filled with little kids watching little trains move through little landscapes. Instead, I found a tightly packed room filled with mostly white bearded men using walkie talkies with each other to guide their trains through the massive layout with such solemnity I felt like I’d just crashed a church service.
I didn’t really care about the complexity of the trains and their maze of rails and I could tell my disinterest was visible to this crowd. But I wanted to applaud each of them for the care in placing each tiny tree and stop sign and car. I wanted to sink into the easy joy of miniature worlds. The engineers didn’t say a word to me. They didn’t make eye contact. Clearly, they’d been sunk in this world for a long time. I wanted to honor that they took this seriously, so on my way out, I resisted patting the heads of the little fake goats clinging to the little fake hillside.