Truck Nuts Boasting, and My Open Ire

You can tell a lot about people by how they present themselves to the world. I’m guessing that’s particularly true of the guy I saw in a very large pickup truck last night. I first noticed the glint of something metallic from beneath the bumper. Then I realized it was a set of chrome truck nuts.

Image

      …Only bigger.

 

Nice, right? Oh, but that wasn’t all. There were actually two sets of gleaming gonads dangling from this dude’s outsized pickup tail. Two. Above them, on the left side of the bumper, I noticed a sticker. The word LICK, printed in white on a black background. Hmmm. Sure enough, over on the right side of the bumper was another such sticker, which said MY.

And yes. These words were in all caps. I guess they would kind of have to be.

The syntax could have been better, because visually, the license plate and the truck nuts were both hung between the stickers (though the steely sacks were descended), implying that one should “LICK (nuts) (tag) (nuts) MY.” But then again, it may be safe to assume this guy doesn’t know what syntax is. “Syntax? Ain’t that uh kind uh tampon?”

But perhaps the best part was the little detail I noticed after all of this. It was a cross decal, smack in the center of the tailgate. It was small… smaller than any of the dangling participles below the bumper.  Smaller than LICK and MY. But apparently, the truck’s owner believed it conveyed an appropriate proportion of Christian value. A little bit of Jesus goes a long way.

It’s worth noting that, syntactically, it now appeared that the driver wanted the Lord Jesus to LICK (nuts) (tag) (nuts) MY.

I’m sure this truck owner fancies himself quite clever. And he’s not the first person to think that smacking a religious symbol – a Christian religious symbol (that’s important) – on an otherwise distasteful, immature, offensive and confrontational display is redemptive and proves he is a man of good intention. You know, like the Confederate flag. Why, that’s the cross of St. Andrew on that red field. At the time it was created, it didn’t quite mean what we see now. But God, Jesus and the Constitution give me the right to say and display whatever I want. And goddammit, I will. And f— you if you don’t like it.

Oh, I love irony.

See, I get tired of people using their supposed faith in Jesus as an excuse to treat people badly or to be brashly disrespectful of literally everyone who comes along. When Joseph and Mary traveled out of Bethlehem, they didn’t do it with a sticker on the donkey that said KISS MY…  And I get tired of people insisting that heritage or culture gives them the right to display offensive things. I mean, I’m half-German. You don’t see me flying a flag of the Third Reich and claiming heritage or culture as my motive.

But I’m making assumptions. Yes. I’m certainly not saying this pickup owner is a Nazi or a racist. But to some degree, I am assuming he is an unintelligent, inarticulate, somewhat self-righteous cretin. And I might be wrong. He could be the nicest guy in the world. The nicest guy in the world who somehow thinks it’s not a serious medical misstep to have two pairs of nuts.

And yes, in my assumptions I demonstrate that I might be an elitist, sacrilegious, also somewhat self-righteous snob. Which is almost definitely true at times.

But nothing on my car or my person declares to everyone on a highway that they can lick me, in any given place. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Which I frankly believe does make me a better person, at least so far as commuters are concerned.

Usually, the type of person who puts on such displays is also the type to loudly declare that they don’t care what people think of them. Good for them. Because if they did care, they probably wouldn’t like what they learned. You could say the same for me, I suppose, but I’d rather be thought an elitist, godless snob than a boorish neanderthal who claims to love Jesus.  I do love Jesus. Not perfectly, but without the need to turn my car into a mobile billboard for assholery.

Then again, I think umprompted and exaggerated displays of manhood are indicative of overcompensation.

In which case… maybe it’s more like peanuts coasting on a leaky tire.

Poor fella.

Pilgrim Itch

I’m not dead. I’m just buying a house. My brain is a melty mess of mortgage applications and inspections and lists of lists of things that need to be listed. My apartment looks like a bomb went off and then a tornado came through and scattered the bomb debris.

Yes, I know there were two presidential debates for which you got zero from me. And I’m sure you’re completely at a loss about whom to vote for or when election day is or what country you even live in. Here’s the upshot:

Debate #2: they argued a lot, circled each other like some wild animals, and it was a tie.

Debate #3: slightly less arguing, sitting down so no circling, and in my personal opinion, the president did better than Mr. Romney.

I’d like to say I’ll do a better job than that in coming days, but that would be such a total lie. I’m a week from closing and I’ve got the beginnings of some sort of chest cold and I just don’t have the mental energy. You know who you’re voting for anyway. So instead, why don’t I tell you a story about my very first trip to New England?

Mmkay!

I went to New Hampshire Thursday to visit one of my best friends from college, Angie, and her husband and their two itty bitty kids.  Joey came too, meeting me there after a quick jaunt on a terrifying prop plane from NYC. Bless him, although he’s a New Yorker and almost never drives anywhere, Joey picked up the rental car I had reserved, drove an hour to Angie’s house, then drove back to the airport a few hours later to get me and schlep me back up the mountain. And when I say back up the mountain, I literally mean up the mountain. Angie and her husband recently moved into a condo on the peak of a Plymouth mountain. It’s gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. But nobody’s getting up there in the winter. Nobody except that one deranged guy who drags his left leg behind him and carries an axe so he can hack the family to bits when he gets to their place for no reason at all except he was bored. He’s always the only guy who can get up to the top of a mountain in the winter.

The visit was wonderful, if completely different from the way we used to visit with each other. We weren’t drinking because Joey’s on the wagon, Angie’s nursing her 2-month-old, her husband is trying to stick to weekends only, and my gut was barely on the mend from a bizarre revolt it staged the night before. We were asleep by 11pm on various pieces of living room furniture instead of being up until 3:00 cracking wise and getting laughter-induced headaches.

We spent a miserably rainy Friday hauling the little ones through shops in downtown Plymouth while Joey whined that the toddler didn’t like him, and giving the students of Plymouth State University good reason to fear the next 15 years. Joey, never one to be quiet, sang show tunes at full volume, spouted profanity in front of lovely old New Englanders in shops, and played with the tot in puddles. We lunched at a classic diner where I had the best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted in my life (check that off the list of Things To Do While I’m In New England), and I posted Instagram photos just to bug Angie, who thinks they’re geigh. (That’s her brother’s alternative spelling, meant to convey a total and sincere lack of hostility toward homosexuals while retaining the essential qualities of calling something “gay.”)

Then we went back to the house and started searching for tiny unfindable toys so the tot could stop screaming and take his nap (and Angie could stop muttering her own obscenities while she turned the house upside down). And Joey and I buried ourselves under a blanket on the couch and revisited the ’90s by watching “Sex and the City” reruns and a VHS copy of “Frankie and Johnny” while Angie fed the infant. Around mid-afternoon, Angie’s parents, grandmother and… surprise! brother Jim showed up for the tot’s birthday party the next morning. Now the wisecracks could start; everybody loves Jim. The 30-somethings left the kids in the custody of the grandparents for a night out to dinner and the bar, which is where the Old Angie came back and nursed a cosmo instead of a baby. This was the part where we quoted old favorite movie lines and gave each other crap about behaviors past and present. The fun continued when we got back to the house, snacking on Nilla wafers and homemade cream cheese frosting (damn Angie’s husband for introducing me to this combo) and watching an old VHS copy of “High Fidelity” while assembling a child’s plastic play kitchen, complete with microwave, cordless phone and salmon sizzling in a skillet. It’s a really interesting collision of worlds when you’re quoting Jack Black with your college chums while assembling children’s playthings.

(We had to use box cutters to separate the pieces from their plastic tethers. I hate those plastic tethers. I nearly stabbed myself in the femoral artery.)

(Twice.)

Saturday was the proper celebration of the tot’s birthday. But first, Angie took Joey and me down the mountain to pick up the boy’s Thomas the Tank Engine cake from an amazing in-home bakery and see a few sights. We traipsed through the muck at a family-run farm to visit some cows and munch on some apples. We drove through a covered bridge, which I’d never done. And we saw the 300-year-old farmhouse Angie and her family lived in for the first few weeks of their New Hampshire residency while they househunted. (She bitched that she couldn’t get it clean and I told her she was probably vacuuming up a Founding Father.)

Joey and I left early in the afternoon for our next jaunt, to Hampton Beach. New Hampshire is mighty hospitable in that it doesn’t take much more than 90 minutes to get anywhere worth going to. I have another friend – not from college- who lives in Hampton Beach, and I never see him, so Joey gamely came along. He was lured by the promise of a coastline and a darling bed & breakfast that featured, it turned out, a Scotty named Lincoln, a guest who looked like Donald Rumsfeld, and a lazy-eyed innkeeper who served as the perfect jumping-off point for the Agatha Christie-like murder mystery we immediately began writing aloud. The drive from Plymouth was spectacular, and we spent the afternoon trolling the beach and getting soaked to the knees with the cold sea spray before meeting Colin for an early dinner with his girlfriend and his five-year-old daughter.

On Colin’s urging, Joey and I headed north to downtown Portsmouth after dinner. What a super-New Englandy place. There was an antique shop run by a guy I swear came directly from 1924… book stores and cafes… restaurants and ice cream shoppes with the extra P and the E… churches with clock towers bathed in light and framed by fall foliage… and curving roads lined with brick buildups four stories tall. Perfection. Puritan perfection.

I kicked around Manchester on my own Sunday after dropping Joey off at the airport, since my flight was in the evening. Turns out, everything in Puritanical New England is closed on Sundays, so the little nooks we had found on our drive up to Plymouth were locked up tight. I wound up, if you can believe this, going to see a Disney movie and doing some browsing with my house in mind at Kohl’s, Target, Bed Beth & Beyond and a Sleepy’s mattress store where I stretched and relaxed my aching back while feigning interest in a Simmons Beautyrest Shakespeare Collection Avondale Plush queen sized mattress.

Alright, not feigning. That was a damned comfy bed.

I got home at a relatively early hour and watched Jessica Lange fake a New England accent via my DVR in the first episode of this season’s “American Horror Story” while uploading my photos from the trip. We had done it right, hitting four storied New Hampshire towns at the peak of leaf-peeping time and getting home without feeling exhausted. But the key part of it all was spending good time with great old friends. Things have changed, to be sure. It’s odd to see Angie as a stay-at-home mom after all her years of raging against society for putting women in that place and raging against children for being children. But what has never changed is the depth of the connection my friends and I share… and the charm that New Hampshire gives in fall.

Oh look! Photos!

“This Is Your Captain Freaking.”

Say what you want about the journalistic principles of the New York Post; that headline was brilliant. They used it to describe what happened when a JetBlue pilot went off his head (that is, I believe, the technical term) and potentially tried to take down a plane he was supposed to be safely flying to Las Vegas.

According to reports, Captain Clayton Osborn got to his flight from New York to Sin City much later than usual. Apparently, the destination was part of the problem. He reportedly started talking about religion as soon as he got on the bird, muttering about the sinfulness of the town where they were meant to land.

Now, I’m sorry. I have sympathy for those whose minds are less than sound, be it temporarily or permanently (Lord knows I’ve had my doubts about my own). And I have faith, however I may wrestle with it.  But if you get on a plane and start talking about religion? One of us is getting off said plane before it taxis to the runway, knowwhatI’msayin’? 

At the controls, Capt. Osborn apparently told air traffic controllers to be quiet. In the air, he shut down some of the stuff that was supposed to be turned on, including the lights inside the cockpit. And then he told his co-pilot that “things just don’t matter” and “we need to take a leap of faith.”

“We’re not going to Vegas,” he said.

Now. If you’re going to tell me my flight isn’t going to where I thought it was going, then the next thing you say had better be, “We’re going to Hawaii instead.” This guy? This guy didn’t really specify where they were going instead.

But then the captain made a mistake that foiled his plan. He left the cockpit. And the co-pilot? Locked him out.

This is getting so good, right?

Our boy Osborn then went alternately speaking calmly with the flight crew and rampaging about the cabin, yelling stuff and grabbing flight attendants in ways most captains have never grabbed a flight attendant before (and that’s saying something). So the co-pilot got on the intercom – because at this point I guess the cat’s out of the bag and everyone pretty much knows they’ve got a problem - and told basically everybody on the plane to restrain Capt. Osborn.

Flight Team Avenger! Go! Provided you’ve understood a single word of what was just said on the piece of crap intercom!

In true post-9/11 American fashion, a bunch of people jumped on the dude – who was pretty big, as I understand, and was ranting about bombs and Al Qaeda, from what I’ve read. It kind of seems like he wasn’t yelling that he was going to be the Al Qaeda bomber guy… more like he was scared someone else was going to be. But still, I’d prefer that those words not be used in-flight.

And you have to ask yourself: what would I do if I were on that plane? The general consensus among myself and those I’ve talked with about this is that everything would be on the table. Mixed martial arts, biting, hair-pulling… hanging onto a leg while he drags us down the aisle… all options and very likely to be employed.

There’s video of this whole thing, by the way, taken by a passengers. It’s hard to hear what’s going on toward the front of the plane, but you can see a bunch of people standing in the aisle and leaning on their seats.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvqvXhXwMbw

Kind of makes you realize there’s not a whole lot of room to wrestle a guy to the floor on a plane. Nothing on the little Cartoon Card O’ In-Flight Problem Solving demonstrates how to take down a deranged captain. Oh, and in case this hasn’t become, like, really, really obvious, there was no federal air marshal on this particular flight.

There was, however, an off-duty pilot deadheading back from wherever he had been. And so he went up to the cockpit and took over, landing the plane at its diversion point: the not-so-Vegasy city of Amarillo, Texas.

Once on the ground, Captain Crazypants gets taken down by the feds, all the while screaming and hollering about Iraq and Israel. Just randomly yelling out the names of countries we’re kind of allied with but sort of kind of quietly not very comfortable around. And then… and then he yells, “Oh, I’m so distraught!”

Watch and listen (sorry if there’s an ad first):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvaQHEea2Yw

Alright, wait.

Wait… is this…?

Are you…?

Are you, like, Will Ferrell in a costume, or something?

Is Ashton Kutcher on this flight? Are we being punk’d? Who yells, “Iraq! Israel! Oh, I’m so distraught!” while actually being distraught? How is the next thing he says not “He punted Baxter!” or “Milk was a bad choice!”?

(I’m quoting Anchorman starring Will Ferrell, in case you’re completely lost. You should see it. It’s awesome. And there’s gonna be a sequel, and I’m not groaning with dread. So that’s a hearty endorsement.)

Amazingly, nobody was badly hurt in this whole endeavor, and also the plane stayed in the air until it landed completely properly and not even a little bit on fire. What are the odds that you’ll have an off-duty pilot deadheading on your flight right when an on-duty pilot loses his mind? Not very high, to my way of thinking.

Luck, be a lady tonight. Get those passengers to Vegas – every one of ‘em’s gonna hit the jackpot.

Live In Concert: Me. In My Car.

One of the best things about my schlep to work is that, when the weather is nice, I get to rock out for a whole hour. I don’t really do that when the weather is crappy or when it’s cold. I tend to be more subdued in those conditions, but if it’s warm and spring-like and sunny, look out. I’m crankin’ up some Springsteen and we’re gonna car-dance. Pushin’ 75 on the highway with one hand on the wheel. We’re ridin’ out tonight to case the promised land.

You cannot NOT rock out to that song. I’m sorry. You just can’t.

Yesterday was such a day. Except it wasn’t Springsteen, because I’d done that twice and needed to change things up. So I pulled out a mix CD (yes, I listen to CDs… my car doesn’t have an MP3 system). It’s a pretty damned good mix, I don’t mind telling you. From mile three of my trip, my fellow drivers were treated to a Car Star.

I was moving from the opening measure of Annie Lennox’s “Ghost In My Machine.” Head bobbing, I motored onto the beltway. By my first lane change, I was belting out the lyrics. Mouth wide open. Window down. Inhibitions rendered non-existent. The Stones’ “Satisfaction” only served to up the attitude and the volume, and my left leg jangled because I got the moves like Jagger. Until Janis’ “Me and Bobby McGee” brought a more thoughtful and subdued but no less superstar beat. I skipped Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” on the grounds that it’s too depressing, even though it’s a fabulous recording done in 2000, decades and a lifetime after her first version, and offering a tremendous bookend to the original, youthful recording. The 2000 version makes a listener smile because her voice has aged with her mind and her soul and it’s clear now that she really knows what she’s singing.

So, yeah, skipped that. Moved right on to the next jammer, wind in my hair.

That’s a lie. I rolled up the window because the road noise was too loud and turned on the air conditioning instead.

So, fine. Moved right on to the next jammer, air conditioning in my hair.

There is nothing that makes you feel quite as good as a car concert. When you can release your inner rock god or goddess, pour out some energy and use your hour-long commute for a purpose that lifts your spirits before you resign yourself to a windowless basement for the next eight or nine hours, you do yourself a solid that helps to keep you going when you don’t have half enough coworkers to complete a project in any sane way and yet are still required to make all your daily deadlines without exception, excuse or error. It keeps you up when you’d rather bind and gag your constantly yelling, beat-boxing, open-mouthed chip-chomping, singing, swearing coworker and wheel him in his chair to another room and leave him there in the dark. It keeps you positive when a micro-managing temporary supervisor who has the same job as you any other day of the week stands breathing down your neck waiting for your TPS reports.

That was an “Office Space” reference.

I believe you have my stapler…? It’s a Swingline…?

When work is done and it’s super-late at night, the car concert doesn’t happen. Instead I listen to NPR or C-SPAN radio all the way home, learning stuff. Lower the lights, take it down a little bit. Make sweet sweet love to my mind.

I know. My idea of mind-love-making is… um… disappointing.

But today? If the sun is shining and the weather is warm, You had better expect to see me boppin’ down the highway, loud and proud. Mock me if you will. Move along. I got this.

*****
Incidentally, you might have noticed that a good many of the songs on my Car Concert Mix CD are quite old. In fact, they all are. Let me give you the full playlist. Keep in mind I’m a girl:

“Ghost In My Machine” – Annie Lennox
“Satisfaction” – Rolling Stones
“Me and Bobby McGee” – Janis Joplin
“Both Sides Now” – Joni Mitchell
“Passionate Kisses” – Mary Chapin Carpenter
“Have A Little Faith” – John Hiatt
“The World I Know” – Collective Soul
“Einstein On the Beach” – Counting Crows
“Old Love” – Eric Clapton
“Dreams” – The Cranberries
“Breathless” – The Corrs
“Personal” – Fergie
“Natural Woman” – Aretha Franklin
“It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – REM
“Home” – Michael Buble’
“Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley
“The Rising” – Bruce Springsteen

Given this list, leave me suggestions for any music newer than, oh, 2005, that you think I’d like. I’m already on the Adele thing. DO NOT give me country.

Go!

kony 2012

KONY 2012

There are new ways to wage wars.

The Arab Spring has shown us that social media can be used for a power greater than gossip or banality.

The link below will take you to a powerful piece of production. Production value sometimes makes us trust the message less. “How is it so slick,” we ask, “if it’s so dire?”

But if you can suspend that for 30 minutes, if you can give that time, you will understand so much more.

 

 

 

 

You will learn who Joseph Kony is and what he is doing. You will wonder how it’s even possible.

 

 

If you think it does not merit involvement, your sentiment will not be without precedent.

 

 

You cannot un-know.

 

Make Joseph Kony famous.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc

rain ny

New York State of Mind

I’ve never loved New York. I like it, for about three days at a time. It’s not a place I’ve ever found to be hospitable.  It’s not a city that troubles itself with your happiness.

I find it to be a place crowded with lonely people, moving together en masse, headed toward meetings or lunches or subways or home, caught in a tangle of moods and schedules and left to feel superfluous if one life’s pace doesn’t match another’s.

When I came up to ground level at 59th and Columbus Circle, the day was typical New York: raw, damp and gray, the color of fattened pigeons. I realized this was part of my New York construct – I’ve never been there during “nice” weather. I put my hands in my pockets and headed east across the bottom edge of Central Park. With my messenger bag slung over my shoulder, its strap crossing my chest, I was on my way to meet a former coworker for lunch on the Upper East Side.

When I made it to 1st Avenue, the Queensboro Bridge rose ahead of me, and I felt like I was on the edge of the world. I’d never been to this stretch of the city, looking at the lanes that take so many people out of the center of the universe and over to a somewhat marginalized borough. I’d been to Queens, once, but I’d been carried by a subway, left unaware of the terrain from Manhattan’s perspective.

When my friend’s lunch hour was up, I walked down to 53rd and 5th and headed into the Museum of Modern Art. My messenger bag checked as required, I wandered unburdened and unattached. I am not generally an audience for modern art, so I didn’t know what to approach. My first exhibit was a media work about the impact of the Iraq war. I listened and watched while video presentations brought me the thoughts of the artists, apparently read aloud by actors. Some seemed to be reading the material for the first time. I don’t take well to presentations roughened by missteps in the language and struggles to find the sense in a sentence, to static shots of ill-prepared participants. I only spent about 20 minutes in the room. I needed to see something that seemed complete.

Eugene Atget, 1857 - 1927, from Documents pour Artistes, Museum of Modern Art, NY

The photography exhibits were much more my style, and I perused wall after wall, reading the small bits of posted information, always wishing for more: who is this woman? what is she doing? why did the photographer take this picture? Absent a story, I felt separated from the image, disconnected despite wanting to be engaged. Was it me? Was I missing something?

On the sixth floor was a new and much talked-about exhibit from Cindy Sherman. She has

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #1531

been taking photos, almost entirely of herself, for decades. She uses the shots as a kind of forceful satire, a statement on who women are, who we want to be, who others see or want to see when they look at us or imagine us. The realizations, for me, came slowly. She takes all these photos herself, in her home studio. But you’d never know it. You’d think someone else took them, of her, as she lay in a bed looking unsettled, or sat in a chair dripping old money, or cowered in a gutter as though someone had dumped her there, full of gravel and damp. The costumes, the makeup, the wigs, the scenery… it must have taken hours on end to set up each photo. And there are hundreds. To dedicate so many years and so much time to telling the story of human identity and expectation was astounding. But it seemed like such an isolating pursuit. Did she ever leave the house without the intention of finding a piece of clothing for the photos?

I headed down to Times Square to meet Joey at his office. His newest off-Broadway play was running in SoHo, and it was the reason for my visit. We talked about the reviews as we rode the subway and then walked to the restaurant for dinner – a tiny Italian place, because Joey had declared a need for carbs – further indication that the reviews were bothering him. He told me that he hasn’t wanted a drink so badly in a long time.

Before the small house opened, I talked with a couple of Joey’s friends, one a slightly affected book publicist and the other an eager soon-to-be graduate of our alma mater, finishing his internship at a casting agency in the city and headed back to Ohio in two days. He was constantly smiling and nodding, hoping for acceptance and inclusion, the midwestern gay 22-year-old excitedly on the fringe of the life he hoped for, but would likely never truly lead. Musical theater majors who exude only the act of confidence almost never make it. I felt for the years of struggle he had ahead, even as I knew he needed them to temper his youthful enthusiasm.

Joey sat turned away from me, curled into the corner of the seat next to mine, as the actors gave life to his words. Knowing the play, knowing its genesis, its well-hidden roots in Joey’s late younger brothers, I found myself pleased by one actor and disappointed by another as they embodied the lines I had read. The play took much longer to watch than to read, despite the lines delivered in that hot-on-the-heels manner typical of so many productions I’ve seen. I wondered at the phenomenon of time.

When it ended, the small audience gave hearty applause and the cast took two quick ensemble bows before leaving the stage for good. Joey gave my shoulder a squeeze as he went to the little lobby to tend to the politics of playwrights. As I made my way there myself, I flashed back to the first reading of his work I’d attended, in the basement of our college campus center. This seemed so much the same. No matter how much small theater I see, I think I will always be a little surprised by the smallness. I think I will always expect grander houses for plays deemed worthy of an off-Broadway label. I think I will always wonder how frustrating it must be to spend what one hopes will flourish as a body of work, playing in sporadic runs to houses of 25. I never could have done it. It’s not that it isn’t honest art; it’s that it’s so much work that’s barely seen.

On the train to Brooklyn, Joey told me he was going to take a break this summer. No writing. He said he was thinking of giving it up. “I’m making no money at it,” he said, “and it’s so demanding, and for what? These tiny audiences and bad reviews?” The reviews were not bad; they merely made assumptions about Joey’s intentions and then dismantled them. Joey’s whole life has been geared toward this work, and I couldn’t imagine him giving it up. I don’t believe he will, but I understood his existential debate. Writers write to be heard. It matters. Without it, there’s only the tedium of finding the right words, and turning them loose to echo into empty space.

Tea Lounge, Park Slope, Brooklyn

I woke to a quiet morning in a borough where I’d never been, comfortable in a big, soft bed. The window looked out on a half-full lot of jalopy cars and unused delivery trucks tagged with spray paint. The sky stretched out gray and solid. I had lunch with Joey’s mother Mary Ann and her partner George, just in from Ohio with plans to see the play themselves. After, I had a few hours to kill until I needed to catch the R train back to Manhattan and connect with the PATH train to Hoboken to visit Brad, Carrie and Max before hopping Amtrak for home. I was weary as I walked a few blocks to a coffee shop where I would sit and write this post by hand. My shoulders ached from the messenger bag, and my thighs were numbed from the damp, chilly air. In the coffee shop, I listened to four women talk about a community effort to do something with their kids, the group of them a personification of desired diversity: two African-American, one Asian, one white, older and odd. Hers was the highest enthusiasm level and wordiest support, full of catchphrases that brand the Borough Mom. I wrote, in my own world, while listening to worlds turn around me, and once again felt the tinge of isolation amid a crowd. It is the tinge I always feel at the thought of eight million hearts beating on a concrete island.

old_train-1920x1080

Time Travel

From my seat on a quiet car, declared by small paper printouts taped to the crossbars in the ceiling, I watch old cities go by. There is no hassle in this travel, no removing of shoes or early arrivals to ensure timely boarding. I’d gotten to the train station 30 minutes before my trip and had more than enough time for coffee and a muffin. I had watched a few people run to catch their rides, guessing this was their regular commute and smiling at the ease of arriving minutes before leaving.

Sleepy in my seat, I hand the conductor my ticket and watch him punch a simple hole with a simple instrument I probably still have in a drawer somewhere from 20 years ago. Such an old-fashioned, simple way to do the job. Train travel sends us back in time.

Outside my window, scenes roll by in quaintness that quickly slides into sadness, the images punctuated by the sudden passing of trains heading south within inches of my eyes. But when those trains clear, the scenes do not: dilapidated houses, crooked and perpetually on the brink of falling down. When had that begun? On what day had they settled into their lurch toward the ground? Were lives still lived inside them, or did their walls house only the memory of vitality? This is the fate of the homes along the tracks – once beloved, now abandoned to chance and decay.

This stretch of rail running through the Northeast never looks for signs of civilization. It merely reflects the signs of what once was, rolling through the past and making riders wonder how they once must have appeared. Could they ever have been shiny with promise?

A few minutes’ time, and another town gone. Aboard this train, I watch hundreds of years go by in minutes. Buildings stare back at me from their places in glory days, unused now, and blighted, signs of industry once lauded and now left to rot. The tracks are littered with the detritus of ages, with ties that may have been there for months or decades. I think of Ayn Rand, and a wan smile comes to my face. It is railroads that have put food on my family’s tables for a generation and more. Pulling through Philadelphia, I watch workers make repairs and wonder if I will see my uncle.

This is always the surreal part of the trip, riding parallel to I-95 and watching cars on a highway I often drive. I see familiar street signs and identify neighborhoods, recognizing easily the ramp I would take to go to my grandfather’s house. And then, with suddenness, I remember he is not there, my image of him in his chair changing to one of the chair sitting empty, the home’s occupants since 1945 both buried now in the cemetery of the church a mile away. The snap back to the present makes me feel less connected to the city, less from it now that there is less in it for me.

But then Philadelphia is gone, and Trenton comes. I look out at the bridge with its dormant sign that will glow red in tonight’s darkness: TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES. Aged pride now turned to bravado. The giant words seem to try to convince rather than to declare.

My train passes empty platforms in Trenton, in Metro Park, in Newark. When it pulls to a stop at Penn Station in New York City, there is no crush of clustered riders waiting. There is only a picture in my mind of corseted women and suited men with bags and baby carriages, sepia-toned and charged with human electricity as they wait to embark on their journey.

By train, there is no sense of tomorrow. There is only yesterday.

Now on my bookshelf: The Magician’s Assistant – Ann Patchett

Streets of Saint Louis

Can I Go Now?

Nothing makes you want to get away more than encountering a screaming man on your way to get a salad.

I brought my dinner to work yesterday, but as often happens, I didn’t really want it. It was rice and chicken and broccoli and it was boring and seemed like it was going to be kind of heavy. I decided I wanted a salad instead, so I climbed out of the basement (which was really probably half the motivation for wanting to score some chow somewhere else) and headed down the block to fetch one. As I crossed the street, I could hear a man yelling. This isn’t terribly unusual, and I figured it was probably a homeless man out of my line of sight.

But as I approached the restaurant where I meant to get my salad, I discovered I was wrong. In fact, it was a guy I believe to have a home, in his 30s, wearing shorts and sandals and a hooded sweatshirt (a sweatshirt, in 90+ degree heat), and bellowing into the phone. Something about “..and now she’s dumping it on me?! She’s dumping it on me after I wasted a hundred minutes of cell phone time?! I wasted a hundred minutes on my cell phone and she’s dumping it on me now?!…”

He was standing about ten feet away from a silent homeless woman who I’ve seen before. She intrigues me because she’s black (I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive with that vague description; quite the contrary – I don’t know if she’s African-American or an Islander or otherwise), but she paints her face darker. With big round circles left unpainted around her eyes. Like she’s making her own private statement on Vaudeville or something. I’ve wondered before if she’s just touched in the head and doesn’t realize she’s already dark-skinned. But given her company on the sidewalk, tonight I was thinking she might have been the saner of the two.

With Sweatshirt Guy screeching away, I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses and walked into the restaurant. It took 20 minutes to get my salad because there was only one person preparing food and there were about four people ahead of me. When I walked out of the restaurant, I was surprised to find that the same guy was still standing outside, yelling into his cell phone. And I could swear I heard him call the person on the other end of the line “Mom.”

Wow, I thought as I stood at the curb waiting to cross at the light. You’re a real winner, huh? I could still hear him yelling after I’d crossed. Who was this guy? Who were his friends? Who could possibly like or love him? He’s screaming at his mother through a cell phone on a city street with lots of people around. And it’s not just that maybe she’s hard of hearing or the connection is bad. There’s definite anger involved.

You’re not real, I thought. You are a character in a sitcom or something. I’m being punk’d. You cannot be real!” 

And then I thought, You don’t see nonsense like this in other countries. 

I have been fantasizing lately about fleeing the country and visiting some really awesometastic place. Not like Bengali or Bora Bora (although I have friends who went to Bora Bora and let me tell you, the photos were pretty freaking awesometastic). No, what I’m craving is something more “oldest established.” London. Paris. Rome. Florence. Prague.

Yeah, I’m mostly limiting my fantasies to Europe, I guess. But I think I want to go somewhere that I have an image of in my head, as opposed to some totally new place where I don’t know what to expect. I mean part of the fantasy is the idea that it could actually come true, right?

I’ve been to Paris. Before I went, I had told several people at varying times that I would generally like to spend my money traveling to different places rather than returning to the same place. It was a big part of the reason I had repeatedly told my friends in Melbourne that I couldn’t come back to Australia before I’d done some more globetrotting. When I returned from France, I promptly told everyone (except my friends in Melbourne) that I had lied. I wanted to go back to Paris as soon as possible. I know it’s obvious and trite and, like, soooo 1900s, but it’s true. I fell in love with that city and I didn’t get a ton of time to explore it, so I have to go back and finish my unfinished business.

Bonjour, Rive Seine..

I want to go to London. I used to not really be enamored of London at all… I didn’t really care if I saw it or not. But now I want to go, and I can’t really say why. The accents are cute. What? It’s all I got. That and the stone structures everywhere.

Even when the rioting broke out, I still sat at work and deliberated and decided I would rather be there than in a basement. I knew the unrest had gotten bad when the postcard my sister had sent from London several weeks ago threw itself off my refrigerator door two nights ago. When even the stationery is in an uproar, there’s a problem. And you have to be impressed by the solidarity.

When I bent over and picked it up, I looked at the collage of photos of the city and sighed.

I want to go to Italy. One of my coworkers just returned and had all these great stories about randomness that happened while he and his family were there. They just jaunted up to Castel Gandolfo from Rome one day and wound up being blessed by the pope. They got lost in Venice. How great does that sound? To get lost in Venice? It’s hard to care that you’re lost when you don’t really know where you are to begin with. They ventured into neighborhoods and found hardware stores and markets and I kind of hate my coworker now.

Then I came home and I watched back-to-back episodes of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and one of them was in Rome, shot entirely in black and white. And now I want to go to Rome in black and white, please.

From planetearthdailyphoto.blogspot.com

I realize that I was just in a pretty great place.

Castaway Cay, Bahamas, with a storm brewing

I’m ready to go to another great place now, thank you.

I don’t know what’s causing this craving for change and adventure. I’m a little bored, I admit, but that happens sometimes. I guess I’m restless, but that’s a motivator. It’s only been three weeks since my vacation. Most people would tell me to shut up. But apparently the Mickey Boat and getting out of the basement and walking down the street to find a guy screaming at his mother on a cell phone is not enough adventure for me.

At least if there was a guy screaming at his mother in France, it would sound nicer.

********
Now, for my lovely subscribers and/or commenters: the laptop works. You can imagine my relief when I closed my eyes and squished up my face and turned my head away while I hit the power button to find out what would happen. The lights came on, the little computer music played, and I swear, angels sang.

Glory, hallelujah.

361

“Righteous! Righteous!” Thoughts On a Disney Cruise

Disney cruises are magical.

They have to be. How else do you explain why 1500 crew members working 12-15 hours a day for months at a stretch are so damned pleasant all the time? Pixie dust. They gotta be hittin’ the pixie dust.

I have returned from my Amazing Race trip. As you have been able to tell if you’re a subscriber, I didn’t get to post while I was away. I’m sure you’ve survived that particular horror relatively unscathed. To be honest, I did occasionally wonder about how I could write a post about the trip when really, nothing funny or worthy of snark happened.

What? Nothing worthy of snark? In my world?!

Let me see if I can work something up.

I’ll spare you the day-by-day synopsis of what we did on this trip, because you don’t know me in person and therefore you don’t care. So I’ll just say we set sail Friday evening from Port Canaveral and arrived Saturday morning in Nassau, where only my Parents and I got off the ship because Sisters 1 & 2, Brothers-In-Law 1 & 2 and the Nephs were all trying to get a handle on their respective life schedules at the time. (When you put twin 3-year-olds and a 16-month-old on a cruise ship full of pools, water slides they’re an inch too short to ride, larger-than-life Disney characters and food, after a flight and shuttle or a long drive, you get combustible conditions. They were astonishingly good on the trip, with meltdowns associated only with lamenting their height and the 8:15pm dinner seating, which was decidedly past all of their bedtimes, but regrettably could not be changed for a party of 11. I did have to chase Neph 1 halfway down the length of the ship on the pool deck because he has a tendency to take off, but that was it.)

About 1/3 of the pool deck on the Disney Dream, empty because of a tropical storm at sea.

In Nassau, Parents and I promptly looked for and found ways to part ourselves from our money. I’m sure it’s a beautiful and interesting city, but we barely got more than three blocks in from the shore. We were in port until 2am but Parents are not particularly adventurous, and therefore no excursions were scheduled. No big deal. I set foot on land and can therefore say I’ve been to Nassau.

Nassau from the upper deck

Here’s the kind of awesome thing about cruising to that town: there are tons of jewelry stores within spitting distance of the ship, and they lure you in to look at their sparkly shiny things with promises of free sparkly shiny things. And then… they actually give you the free sparkly shiny things. Fine, so I bought some other stuff to go with the free thing at the first store (because what can one do with a loose one-carat midnight sapphire other than set it in something?). So I have a new pendant. And then we went to another store offering free 1/2 carat gemstone pendants… and they actually gave them to us. A free pink topaz on a silver chain, and eh, ten bucks for the matching earrings. Then, the saleswoman said if we went to their other location, two blocks away, we could get a free smoky topaz, too. And so we did.

It was like trick-or-treating for jewels.

Sure, they’re probably not that valuable, and sure, they generally look better set in yellow gold, and sure, I don’t wear silver, but that’s immaterial. I didn’t pay for them.

The next day was Castaway Cay, which is a Bahamian island owned (nay, leased for 99 years from the Bahamian government) by the charming giant rodent and his pals. Although it’s a little contrived and you’re stacked on top of each other like cans of sardines in a grocery store, you’re still sitting on a Bahamian island with a cocktail in your hand, splashing around in the blue-green water, so shut up.

All complainers, walk the plank!

That brings me to a larger point with which I did battle several times over the course of the trip: there can be, really, no complaining on a voyage like this. You are entertained at every moment you so choose, by live shows, first-run (Disney) movies, swimming, sunning, drinking, eating, dancing and lounging. The presence of vermin is assumed (this is how Disney gets around rodent complaints – “What did you expect? Our most popular characters are mice!”), you have literally everything you could possibly want or need at your beck and call (for a small fee if you want it delivered to your room)… and if you want to complain about the fee to deliver something to your room, you can’t, really, because it’s being schlepped there by some poor 20-something from an Eastern Bloc country who’s working, have I mentioned, 12 – 15 hours a day with a smile on his face all the freaking time, listening to songs from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Little Mermaid all day, every day, just to make your spoiled ass Feel the Magic. And the service is unbelievable.

I suppose you could complain, but you’d look like a jerk.

I had a little trouble navigating this dichotomy with Parents. Mother is not much of a complainer, but Father tends to randomly spout thoughts that come out as though they’re complaints, and when I try to counteract them with possible explanations, he gets irritated. My point, which I don’t make aloud in so many words, is that you apparently had thousands of dollars to burn by giving it to the Disney people and making them cart you around on a ship and feed you unlimited amounts of food prepared by relatively top-notch culinary artists, and cater to your every need, taking you to poor locations where you soothe your conscience by telling yourself that tourism is their greatest economic contributor and therefore the people there need you to give your money to the Disney people and make them cart you to their island, so you can spend more of your money.

Which is actually true. But still makes you out to be a d-bag, doesn’t it?

Now how do you say that to your father? You can’t.

And you do spend money. Not everything on the ship is included in your cruise package; you do have to spend extra on gratuities, particularly at the end of the trip, when you give to the stateroom host, the head server (which Father complained about, since you don’t see him much more than once a night – but you give him literally a dollar a day per person in your stateroom, so deal with it), your main server and your assistant server, who, by the way, is busting his ass to make your indecisive, mixed-message-sending self happy as an animated clam under the sea). You pay extra for merch and you pay extra for alcohol.

Bahama Mamas, served up by Dorian of St. Vincent. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.

Oh, yes. The alcohol.

That’s where roughly $150 of my end-of-voyage billing statement came from. Plus $100 for the above-mentioned gratuities (I handled Sister 3’s end as well, since she was my stateroommate and she’s only 21), and $150 for a massage, which I got easily, despite the Disney Commies telling me everything was booked when I tried several times before departure.

Oh, and $40 for professionally-done photos.

Sucka.

But they make it so easy, you see, because they give you a little card with Donald Duck on it, and it has your name and some code numbers on it, and you use it for everything, from getting into your room to turning on the lights to accessing a foreign country to buying stuff. You use it so much in four nights that, when you get back on American soil, you’ve forgotten that you need keys and funny-looking paper and metal cash and, like, a thought in your head to get around in life.

But this card, my friends, this card is further evidence of the communism at work. They use it to track your every move. They scan it and your picture pops up. It tells them what room you’re in. It lets them charge you for stuff. It might as well be a microchip implanted in your flesh. It’s so fabulously convenient that you lose sight of the fact that you are basically under their control with that one little card.

Ahhhhhh, villainy disguised as charm. Gets you every time. Hell, that’s what Disney movies are about.

A bunch of Disney Bad Guys (and Gals) on stage in one of the Dream's onboard theaters. No flash photography; my camera picked up the ambient light just fine.

Still, I have exactly zero complaints about this trip. I even got to spend a little quiet time in the Quiet Cove pool area, sans children (people actually obey signs on Disney cruise ships!), watching the watery world go by for two hours as I sipped a cocktail and dozed on a cushy cabana seat as we shipped out from the Bahamas to head back to the States… slowly.

Does not suck.

I’m glad I grabbed that time, because the next day we were at-sea the whole day, which meant all 4,000 passengers on board were on the pool deck, and Quiet Cove was overrun by Worn Out Adults. I took 365 pictures with my camera (hooray for digital). I saw the Nephs’ faces light up with happiness and made my family laugh with my quips. I saw sunsets and super-impressive lightning storms (we sailed around a tropical storm) and laughed in the rain. I rode a giant twisty turny on-board water slide in a raft.

And I got my picture taken with Minnie Mouse. For whom I have newfound respect, because the people on these ships work so incredibly hard, away from their own families for months, just to make you happy and make some cash that they can send home to their families in Indonesia and Bulgaria and Slovenia and Peru.

It’s a small world, after all.

——
Featured image of Crush from “Finding Nemo” NOT swiped from Disney film, but taken by me onboard during a little dinner entertainment. Don’t sue me, Mickey.

disney_dream_686986c

Cat and Mousecapades

Me, to the cat, exasperatedly: “You really must grow opposable thumbs.”

Cat, nonplussed: “Meow.”

I’m going on vacation. This vacation has Amazing Race-like qualities, in that it will take several legs and modes of transport to arrive at the eventual destinations… but it is not at all like the show, in that it requires positively no energy other than schlepping to said modes of transport. With thousands of my human kin, I am embarking on a four-night Disney cruise.

Which is somewhat odd, as I have no children.

I do have nephews. They’re going. That’s how we justified the reservations.

This trip will involve my Parents, Sister 1, Bro-in-law 1, Twin Nephs, Sister 2, Bro-in-law 2, Youngest Neph, Sister 3 and myself. It’s actually pretty great that we still do the group vacation thing, though it doesn’t usually involve the wide-open sea and a giant, luxurious cruise ship full of larger-than-life rodents and princesses. We’re trying to extend the life of that group vacation effort indefinitely, even though some of us have bred, and I moved away from everyone 16 years ago and never got closer than two hours away since, and then my parents moved away even farther than I ever was (thus giving me the privilege to rebuff all passive-aggressive forms of scorn for having moved away at all).

But, as you know if you’ve ever gone on a vacation as an adult, it involves a great deal of planning and chore-doing before you actually depart. And combined with the joys of full-time employment, long commutes and other obligations, that means you get to do a load of Whatever Colors There Are, To Hell With It laundry at midnight the night before you leave, while you alternately stuff things into luggage and wander around your home muttering to yourself incessantly about what needs to be done before you go.

And, in my case, have a dirty martini.

I’ve been on one other cruise, and it was 12 years ago. That time, though, my parents had taken care of everything. Which means I had no idea how laborious a task it is to get it together to get on a big boat and go somewhere. The communists at Disney want to know everything about me, including the name of my firstborn, and if no such child yet exists, the potential name of my firstborn, and if the potential doesn’t exist, the reason for the lack of said potential. I’m signing contracts, I’m filling stuff out online, I’m being urged by Goofy to make sure all my passport information is entered, I’m triple-checking baggage tags, I’m making a list of the lists I need to make and checking that stuff off, I’m communing with the Department of State… it’s overwhelming.

Leave it to Mickey Mouse to turn grown women into whirling dervishes.

Rat bastard.

But seriously, I’m looking forward to it… now. Because I figure everything’s done, and what isn’t… well, it’s not going to get done at this point. Once I leave work, I’m driving straight to Sister 2’s house (2.5 hours), going to bed, getting up a short time later and heading out with her, her hubby, their tot and Sister 3 to the airport, from which we will fly to Orlando, and then take a shuttle to their hotel, and then get picked up from there by Parents, who will take Sister 3 and myself to our hotel, where Parents are also staying. At some point, Sister 1 and BIL 1 join up with us, with Twin Nephs in tow, having gone to Orlando early to visit BIL 1’s brother and his family.

They drove all night (cue Cyndi Lauper) last night, and I understand Twin Nephs did not want to sleep in the van, because they thought they had to sleep on the “Mickey Boat.”

We stay tomorrow night at the hotels, and around noonish on Friday, we board the Disney Dream for four nights of seafaring adventure. Ports of call: Nassau and Disney’s Castaway Cay. They own the joint.

It’s an island.

And they own it.

Imperialists.

(I actually love Disney, for the record. But come on. You know they’ve got a plan for world domination.)

But I digress. What’s done is done and what isn’t, isn’t. And in point of fact, what almost wasn’t… was getting someone to feed the cat. The cat, having been acquired as an allegedly low-maintenance pet, developed transient diabetes a few years ago, throwing in a UTI and pancreatitis for extra fun, and now cannot eat dry food. She has to have wet food, and wet food cannot be left in a great heap on the floor for days and days and days. So I need a cat-feeder if I go away for more than two or three.

My Budd-ish neighbor, Shanti-Mayi/Toni, has my spare apartment key. She has two cats, Agape and Tres-Siete (three legs, seven lives left), and she’s very kind about feeding my cat if I go anywhere. Alas, Shanti-Mayi/Toni appears to be out of town.

Would that I had realized this prior to 11pm last night.

Okay, this is fine. I have two other neighbors, and they’re both super nice and love animals. They’ll help.

Notes went up on doors. The night passed. The notes were still on the doors come morning.

Oh. They’re not here either.

(What the hell, people? Am I the only one in the building? Okay, new rule: if ever there is only one person in the building for an extended period of time, said person should be notified of their status as the solo resident so that they don’t go trying to save the rest of the group in the event of a fire, for naught.)

So… everyone’s gone. And I’m going to be gone for six, and possibly seven, nights.

Me, to the cat, somewhat desperately: “You really can’t open cans by yourself?”

Cat, still nonplussed: “Meow.”

Sigh.

I was coming down to the wire. The carriage was about to turn into a pumpkin. This morning, while I was madly cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, washing dishes and calculating time constraints, I had to email my former neighbor, Ali. “Ack! HELP!” was the subject line. I begged her to either come dump a supply of the cat’s food every two or three days, or come get her and take her to Ali’s place, whatever works. Ali now lives 20-25 minutes from me and she’s a single mom, so this isn’t an easy drill. I sweetened the pot with an offer to have her and her son stay at my place at least for the weekend, using such luxuries as cable, internet access and pool passes, and granting free and unfettered access to my bookshelves and DVDs.

I think she bought it. In any case, she’s feeding the cat. Phew. That was close.

Her agreement to help, and possibly stay at my place for the weekend, then necessitated a flurry of new and unplanned mandatory activities, like putting fresh sheets on the beds (requiring another load of laundry), vacuuming the whole place instead of just the part a casual feeder would see, cleaning the bathroom, and figuring out where to hide two separate keys: the one to the building and the one to my apartment. I think that was fairly well accomplished, unless someone finds the one I hid outside before Ali does on Friday. Then we could have a problem. The management won’t let her in because they don’t know her. I’m not reachable at that point, and even if I were, I couldn’t come home. I’m with a giant mouse, on his boat.

And as we know from a previous post, the cat isn’t so great about catching up with mice, or knowing what to do if she did.

Bon voyage, readers. I wasn’t able to write any posts ahead of my departure. I’m told Mickey does offer wi-fi at sea… but he charges for it, of course.

Commie. 

Cat. Nonplussed.

 
——
Featured image from palmbeachpost.com