Archive for November, 2011

Our Thanksgiving dining rooms are festooned with good fortune, life’s bounty, our loved ones, and the soft, warm comfort of home.

And while we give thanks for all that surrounds us, our immediate thoughts and feelings are given rise by our senses: We see the smiles punctuated by white meat turkey and a little green thing that resembles broccoli (between two of your teeth, right there, nope, next one over, there, you got it); we taste the Bell’s seasoning in the traditional family stuffing (seconds, please, and pass the gravy); we hear mom’s comically profane “oh, fiddle sticks” when she realizes the crescent rolls are still in the oven and now probably ruined; we smell the burnt dinner rolls; we feel the pants grow a size smaller, the shirt button tighten around the gut, and a nap coming on.

We give thanks for all of it.

And four hours later it all goes into a sandwich.

We set a table for which we are blindly thankful.


On the 19th floor of the South Mall Towers on Pearl Street in Albany, a knock on an apartment door breaks the silence in a long, nondescript hallway. Need has built for itself a comfortable life here. It is already 12 hours into Thanksgiving Day.

Outside the hallway window stand the Empire State Plaza, the Times Union Center, the shiny structures of commerce and industry — buildings and offices that most other days house the center of government, a world of entertainment, and the heartbeat of a capital city.

A middle-aged woman answers the door. She is greeted with a hearty, if not overly upbeat, “Happy Thanksgiving” from two strangers delivering her holiday meal. In one reheatable container is the turkey, dressing, potatoes, vegetable. In another is a piece of pie, a cup of cranberry, and a cup of applesauce. A loaf of bread and a small container of gravy rest atop the pile. All cooked, packaged and delivered by volunteers.

Her emotions get the better of her. Through tears, she thanks the two for the work they do; for giving her a chance to enjoy a holiday meal she would otherwise have gone without. While she hugs one volunteer and again expresses her gratitude, the second volunteer carries the meal into the apartment, setting it on a tiny, cramped, hygiene-starved kitchen counter. Human curiosity forces the eyes to make a quick sweep across the disheveled apartment.

There, but for the grace of God, I go, back toward the hallway, where Karen and her sobbing new acquaintance are finishing an embrace. As I walk past, I also get a hug. The woman thanks us again and blesses us numerous times.

She says she is thankful for the work we do. For the meal she is about to enjoy. And for her son, who, after a couple of years in Iraq, suffers with post-traumatic stress. Her eyes are filled with tears, her heart is filled with ache, and her words are filled with praise and thanks. For us.

She closes the door, we pick up our baskets of food and head off to the next apartment to which we have been dispatched to spread holiday cheer.

Another knock knock knock echoes down the barren hallway. Behind us, well below on the street, the shiny Times Union Center marquee reminds us that Disney on Ice will be here in less than two weeks. An apartment door slowly opens…

For the past four Thanksgivings, and for as many as we have remaining, Karen and I are volunteer drivers for Equinox Inc. Community Services Agency in Albany, delivering meals to those less fortunate. The Thanksgiving feast at chez Mattison is served on the Sunday after the holiday. The holiday itself is spent among several thousand strangers in the Empire State Plaza concourse, where we are handed prepared turkey dinners with many of the traditional go-withs, a stack of address cards, and a mission — to improve the quality of life in one tiny corner of one giant world, even if it’s only for one meal.

This year, the gluttony at our house will be served in no-holds-barred fashion, as the complete kitchen renovation will be put to its first — and the year’s largest — culinary test. From the shiny new fridge, across the shiny new countertop, into the shiny new oven and eventually into the shiny new dishwasher, the embarrassment of good fortune and a wonderful life will serve to fill us well past the “full” line.

And for dessert, a monster helping of humility. The more perspective we allow into our lives, the more life each life contains.


Several floors below the grateful soldier’s mom, the elevator doors open in a hallway where two apartment neighbors are hanging out, chatting. In a Leave it to Beaver world, there would be a picket fence, neatly manicured lawns, and no want between them. One would be leaning on the fence, watching as the other rakes his leaves.

On this Thursday, however, one neighbor stands, leaning on the window sill, keeping an eagle’s eye on the sparse South Pearl Street traffic below, his apartment door open behind him. The other neighbor sits in a wheelchair in his own doorway, an adorable little dog checking out the strangers with baskets of food, walking toward this scene as the elevator doors close.

The two neighbors banter as neighbors do. “Here comes your meal, Dave,” says the first fellow — the one with all of his limbs in tact — as we approach. “Hi, guys,” says Dave. “Thanks so much for coming. This is so nice.” With his one “good” arm, he grabs a large pair of rubber-tipped wooden scissors — designed to help the handi-capable reach things — and with practiced precision picks up a door stopper, wedges it under the door, and wheels his contorted and crippled body further into the hallway. His little dog runs over to tell him that strangers are coming and it smells like they have food. They seem OK.

As we knocked on doors and delivered meals to other neighbors in this hallway, we chatted at length with these two men. Our lives would never knowingly cross in any other circumstance. On the surface, a shame; in reality, a moot point.

“Inspiring” is a word not large enough to describe how it felt to spend time Thursday morning with the gentle man who was dealt a lifetime of unimaginable challenge in an emaciated body.

But inspiration is one thing Karen and I receive every Thanksgiving as we share a small amount of our time in this simplest of ways. To those who answer a stranger’s knock at the door on what would otherwise be just another Thursday, it seemingly makes a world of difference.

For this reason, I can’t determine who benefits more. There is a palpable sense of reciprocity in the “thanks” as well as the “giving.”

Here, indeed humbly, but for the grace of God, go I.


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I can’t tell you the level of disappointment I felt when I walked outside Thursday morning to start my car and discovered everything was covered with leaves.

Even though, for the next few minutes, I’ll be doing just that.

Every year, on the day that mid-summer plunges into mid-winter — the day the leaves all fall from the trees, the grass goes dormant, the wife’s car moves itself into the garage, and the ground freezes solid — my morning routine increases by one chore.

After kissing the sound effects machine that commands the warm and squishy corner of my heart (as well as most of the covers and all the pure oxygen), I make my way down the stairs, grab the coat, slide the flip-flops over the white socks, and waddle out to the driveway to start the car.

Yep. Still bringing sexy back.

Because it’s already the dead of winter, I learned long ago (must have been well into my 30s) that it’s smarter to warm the car instead of just hopping in and driving away. And not just because the frost on the windows makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see the edges of the driveway, the garbage carts, most of the road, all the mailboxes, and the cat that is not supposed to be crossing from the neighbor’s yard into mine.

But also because the defroster blows frigid cold air when it first starts up. The minutes it takes the blowing air to get warm enough to stop the teeth from chattering, the glasses from fogging, and the windshield wipers from making that scrape-scrape sound on the ice can seem like hours.

Thawing the car, I have learned in my years of experience being alive, melts the frost off the windows. This keeps me from having to pop the trunk, bend slightly, reach in, grab the ice scraper, and exert myself.

I’m a suburbanite. Finding the lazy way out is a requirement of membership.

As evidence, I offer the button that pops open the trunk, the garage door opener, the snow blower, the automatic sprinklers, the solar-powered sidewalk lights. The lawn service, the Maids, the Home Shopping Network. The Internet. Robots.

All examples of laziness.

I digress.

The other morning, I was caught by surprise. And disappointment.

I walked outside to start the car Thursday and it was warm out. There was no frost.

I put on my flip-flops for nothing?

Then I noticed the leaves. They were everywhere. By the billions. All over the car, the driveway, the yard.

Our house and trees are situated in a way that never results in leaves landing on the car. Let alone staying there for any length of time. It was the weirdest thing.

What upset me about it was the fact that I had spent the entire day Sunday getting all of the leaves into piles, off the yard, and out to the road for handy pickup. And by all day Sunday, I am not exaggerating.

I got up early, saw how wet and white the grass was, decided to wait until it started to thaw and dry, made a cup of coffee, and watched a couple of hours of home and garden television. (Suburbanite porn.) After waiting a sufficient amount of time for the sun to prep the yard, I got out there and stayed busy — until kickoff time for the early football games.

Gotta respect the sabbath.

At 1 p.m., he rested. With a malt beverage.

But there was a good two hours in there during which I worked like a mad man on those leaves. I’m amazed I don’t have blisters.

That leaf blower can wreak havoc on tender skin.

Another great invention that has contributed to the laziness of suburban life is the electric rake. A marvel of modern ingenuity with the capability of both blowing and sucking.

Not unlike the Mets.

Makes more noise than the lawn mower, can be heard coming from every corner of the neighborhood at all hours of the weekend (because all the neighbors have one), and takes twice as long to get its work done.

How did we live without it.

But, by golly, standing there with the slack of the lead cord in one hand and a cool-looking gun-like reverse vacuum (which the neighbor cat really hates) in the other, swinging the arm back and forth while chasing each stubborn leaf from the shrub bed across the yard into the pile with all of its buddies, in the long run, is one of the great privileges of owning a mortgage.

Well, that and the thrill of blowing the neighbor’s cat poop back into the neighbor’s yard.

The leaf blower’s purpose on earth is to keep the operator from having to move a muscle.

Twenty years ago, I learned this is also the husband’s purpose on earth.

I hope that wasn’t out loud.

If a leaf is stuck in the weeds or in a bush or frozen to the ground or for some other reason too darn stubborn to move by conventional means (and by conventional means, I mean by pointing this contraption at it for several minutes until the grass around it is matted like a crop circle) — even after being prodded several times by the long snout of the wind machine or, in severe cases, kicked by a grass-stained yard sneaker — it’s an obvious example of something that was not meant to be.

If a leaf can’t be blown out of the way, that’s no reason to bend over and nudge it with a finger. Or pick it up.

There is no sense getting worked into a lather, I reassure myself; if it’s stuck, it’s stuck. The mulcher attachment on the lawn mower (invented to spare us lazy-bones from having to rake grass clippings) will grind it to smithereens. Next spring.

No sense cutting the grass in November; it’s not like it’s gonna grow.

After two long hours of slaving under a crisp autumn sky last weekend, the majority of the leaves had been reassigned. My work here was done.

Thursday morning, there was no evidence that I had even lifted a finger. Which is an accurate description of just how much effort I did exert.

There were leaves everywhere.

Now I have to get out there again before the snow flies (and the Giants’ game), drag the extension cord out to the far-reaches of the postage-stamp lawn I am fortunate enough to tend with as little effort as I can muster, and coax this latest batch of rogue oak leaves out to the street.

Where they can blow away and become tomorrow’s problem for some other poor suburban slob.

But that’s what he gets for letting his cat use my lawn as a litter box.


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