Hidden in Plain Sight

By Michelle Railey

Clevenger/Railey Family Tree

New Excellent Best Playlist Ever (Spotify)

7 June 2018: Gardener’s Notebook, Volume 1

25 May 2018

Sitting in the backyard. This matters only because I began water gardens tonight, saw my first fireflies (lightning bugs, in Hoosier speak) of the season, and the stars are so bright. Cepheus is there, up above, mean old man, in his house shaped stars. Cassiopeia may or may not be there (I did not do well at planetarium class).

But, my god, even in suburbia, even in Trump’s America, they shine. 

I saw tonight, also, my first shooting star of the summer. I made, like, forty-seven wishes on it. I just hope forty-five of them come true.

As the world would have it, it’s been a heller of a day: I couldn’t sleep last night (this morning) until after 5:30 AM. At which point my brain decided nightmares were in order. 

I woke up screaming. 

Fell asleep. Had more nightmares. 

Woke up, washed dishes, feeling like all nightmares were real; went to work (late, natch) and still felt like demons were chasing me.

I had anxiety attacks yesterday.

Nightmares last night.

The stars, the garden, the two brand new fireflies tonight: these things keep me going for tonight. (Oh, and my dearest husband’s voice on the phone. He is everything.)

And it is almost morning.

(This feels like the first time I’ve typed for myself in months. Sure, I might have accidentally drank too many – the appropriate many- number of ‘Ritas (Lime a Rita, Pine a Rita, Straw a Rita, you get the picture a Rita {brought to you by our friends at Budweiser, Inc, LLC, an American [hiccup] company}).

But helllooooo, world, here I am. Rock me like a hurricane. Yeah, yeah.

Four neighbors are awake right now. 

I believe I will move the rug from the kitchen to the bedroom. (It has flowers. I sharpie the colors sometimes.)

My co-worker Becky (white) lectured my co-worker Margaret (black) today about getting enough sunlight. Margaret avoids the sun: she doesn’t want to freckle, she doesn’t want to burn, she doesn’t want to feel that hot. 

Becky wants to bask in it always, wrinkles and carcinoma be damned.

Becky told Margaret her skin would be fine in the sun: there’s only so dark it can get.

Besides, as Becky confidently advised, Margaret would benefit from the Vitamin B.

(I died on the inside for so many reasons, vitamin D and strange maternal racism among them.)

~

 A pause. It turns out, Ritas and short tables being a thing that’s happening now, typing is both brilliant and difficult. One requires, one thinks, a taller table (not available). And a restroom.

(For what it’s worth, one is handy, the other not so much.)

~

Please enjoy this version of The Boy from Ipanema while somebody visits the loo.

(And regrets a taller table or a shorter chair…)

~

Stream of consciousness has already been happening. But, kids, strap in; it’s about to get bumpy (by which, I mean, incredibly random).

Pine a Rita is my favorite, followed by Lime a Rita. Strawberry Rita is next (though, highly recommended you cut that shit with some Fresca, otherwise it’s like frenching the Kool-Aid Man.) Mango Rita is last because, (a) it’s Mango and (b) if you’ve been to Cheesecake Factory and/or PF Chang’s they will offer you Mango Tea like it only comes in the Holy Grail (it doesn’t) and, well, Mango is watered down Kool-Aid and bad Icees and effing Mango. Cut Mango Rita with Fresca, too, and at least that way you’ll have something besides bad punch to get you through the night.

It’s 4 am. 24 hours ago, I was still awake. For tonight, we’re down to three neighbors with lights on.

I haven’t seen a firefly in a minute but a Junebug did just try to eat my face off, so, happy May in Indiana.

I started a water garden tonight: in two parts. A plastic bin that can’t have anything in it until the water dechlorinates. And a shallow tray with Creeping Jenny. The Internet informs me that creeping Jenny can grow in an inch of water only.

So I, dear Reader, ripped some handy creeping Jenny from the front yard, shoved it into my best Pier One Asian style tray-thing, and watered it. 

I’ve been whispering to it for hours “survive, grow, please be okay.”

I’m funny about my plants.

The interwebs at our house, much like the dryer and the kitchen sink, is on the fritz, but if it recovers, the picture of Pier One Water-Baby Creeping Jenny will go here:

Still three neighbors awake.

There’s something comforting about typing, even if there’s only trash coming out of one’s fingers.

(Insert here the deeper, more private thoughts I am thinking; see also, the shooting star earlier tonight and forty-seven wishes.)

Three neighbors awake. I’ve switched from Lime a Rita to Pine a Rita.

Not that anyone gives a shit. Not even I, dear Reader, not even I.

I’m typing on a tray table now. It’s a little higher than cheap patio table, but it’s shaky and strange. 

Just like life. Cepheus has moved behind the house. The sky is mostly black now. Cassiopeia is off being a bitch, most likely, because she’s just that kind of gal. You don’t chain your daughter to a rock for a sea monster if you’re not a total bitch.

Of course, I could be remembering all of this wrong.

In planetarium class (fifth grade, American), I got some kind of paper wheel sky thing with brads (?) wrong and the teacher sighed heavily and berated me (We’re in the dark here, Missy, and your back was to me and your command of English is not as awesome as it should be for a born and bred Hoosier). 

My friend Coby, that day, in the dark planetarium, was wearing a brand new sweatsuit. Completely white: Her first name in black letters trailed across her back; her last name, in black, skipped down one leg.

In 1980 something, this was a sweat pant outfit to dream about, to covet, and Ms Planetarium’s mimeographed (?) paper wheels with brass brads didn’t matter to me.

I was dreaming about being Coby: tall and lanky and dark, hazel-eyed, tan and wearing a smart white sweat-outfit (!!!!) in mandatory, dark planetarium class.

Why didn’t my stupid school refer to it as astronomy????

If one is awake at 4:28 AM in my suburb, year of our lord 2018, three neighbors still have lights on. There are no fireflies. A duck just flew overhead. There are officially only four stars left in the sky (more if you go to the other side of the house because science.)

Three neighbors awake: golden lights behind curtains and shades. 

My iPad screen is the brightest thing in the night. 

(Early morning?)

My husband is in the west, in Wyoming. All I can think of is Yellowstone, and then of Jackson Hole and Cody, of that stream where my Dad and I stopped and I put my feet in the water and it was as good as any sun-dappled baptism. It was cool and peaceful; the leaves rustled and I wanted time to stand still.

I always, actually, want time to stand still.

The sky in the West is big, blue. It’s open. The east and MidWest are what they are: green or rolling, fertile, occasionally urban. But the West?  The sky is the limit, which is weird, because the sky is limitless. 

~

It is 4:38 in the morning. If I were a decent human, I’d be asleep, I’d go to work in three hours.

~

I am not a decent human.

I type nonsense, hoping to find the words for the things I know matter, knowing I’m too old for any fucking thing to matter anyway.

(I swear now. Like the endless, deadly cigarettes, it’s a thing that’s me now: I meant for anything else to happen, but instead here they are, swearing like a sailor, smoking like a chimney…

Pine a Rita??? (Don’t mind if I do.) 

Drinking like a fish?

~

Still three neighbors lights on. Maybe they fell asleep that way.

I do that sometimes, too. Nightmares are funny that way.

You’d think the lights would help, but they don’t.

~

Only four stars left that I can see. I know, of course, that there are countless more. But Cepheus has peaked and sunk, I can’t be bothered with Cassiopeia (that bitch). We’re about 30 minutes from birds chirping to announce the near-morning.

I’m awake. I haven’t slept yet.

Possibly three neighbors haven’t either.

The Trump presidency is killing me.

Just for the record.

~

After “x” many Ritas (trademark, courtesy, copyright Budweiser et Fils, et cetera, et cetera), I want to say: the world is beautiful, the pain is grim and too omnipresent. I want to say: love is the best thing we have, or maybe knowledge and humor and studiousness or devotion.

~

I think of the Rohingya being slaughtered and worse. I think of North Korea and starving people, longing for freedom and food and information. I think of child soldiers and FGM in Africa.

I think of Me Too and Witch Hunts, Deep States, and assault rifles.

I think of climate change.

I think of cancer, my grandfather’s skeletal jaws, Anthony’s bones, the dread over everyone I love.

I think of money, the raw need for it.

I think of “WITCH HUNT,” of slums in India, of human rights abuses; I think of child soldiers in Africa. I think of animals, of people, of cultures denigrated, misunderstood, abused.

The world is dark and mean; ruthless and unforgiving, volatile, unkind.

But every once in a while, a kitten appears on Twitter from Malaysia, or a couple of strangers on a New York subway share a found bottle of wine. Or I remember that there is Cepheus, in the sky, dozer that he is. That Sharpie makes highlighters. That Mark Hamill retweets fans.

That Obama took endless photos with children.

That the sky in the Western U.S. is blue, open, forgiving, vast, and limitless.

That the Northern Lights are real and I’ve seen them.

That Creeping Jennys transplanted to water-fille Pier One trays will not actually die by five AM.

That Anthony, that Papaw, that Judy, that Serena can all be gone but I still remember so much about them. They left, sure, but their memories, their selves, maybe they’re not really so far away.

That Pine a Ritas taste kinda like sour melted Dole Whip and that’s not the worst thing.

That meaning and success are useless, probably, if you don’t possess the love, affection, and respect of those you love back most dearly.

That Young M.C. was highly underrated.

That Paula Abdul was highly overrated.

That Milli Vanilli “Blame it on the Rain” is still a good song, no matter who sung it.

That now four neighbors are awake and maybe they see the light at our house and are counting it, too.

That bagels, cheese, coffee, chocolate, and wine exist.

Things are okay…I think. For now. I’m one of the lucky ones on this globe. I can take a hot shower; can sleep. Go to a job that leaves much to be desired but has much to be grateful for (Becky! Vitamin B!).

The Creeping Jenny transplant has not died yet.

Maybe it won’t.

Memory is a strange bird. So is hope. 

It’s a good morning to sleep, thinking of green things, furry cats, typing incessantly on shaky tray tables in the back yard. 

A bird just tried to tell me good morning.

I’m having none of it (none-a-Rita, Budweiser et fils, et cetera, et cetera, incorporated).

I actually love the birds. 

It’s good to type again. Trash, sure, but it’s fresh trash. 

Two neighbors still awake.

And me. 

But birds are singing, Cepheus is gone. 

Good Morning.

13 March 2018

I’m full of bad poems.

For example, from eighth grade:

Late at night

I lie awake

Looking out my window

I see a star

Off, afar,

And stop and think upon it.

In second grade, I wrote some damn poem about a goldfish. Maybe named Fred. But I don’t remember.

In high school, I was forced to write poetry for a project; a whole sheaf of them. The only one that came close to mattering wasn’t (needless to say) good. But it had to do with a hanger as an analogy: Having the words, but no ideas to place upon it (like having a hanger without the clothes, the tools without the project, you get it, you’re smart).

I’m in my forties now. 

I started a magazine so I could have a place to put my writing.

At which point I promptly forgot how to write. Not bad poems. Not anything.

Got the hanger, missing the clothes.

A million ideas in my head, truly, good and bad and ugly and indifferent. None of them important, I’m sure. And I don’t even care, so long as I could get one of them down, into words and sentences, clauses and paragraphs.

A really shit jacket on a wire hanger is better than nothing.

A shit jacket can still keep you warm. Or at least warmer than you’d be without it.

I miss whatever it was in me that used to give the permission for me to pump out words without caring so much I stopped them before they had formed.

I miss, maybe (or maybe not), being forced by the threat of a B letter grade, to write a sheaf of really terrible so-called “poetry.”

A million ideas: I start writing now and I kill things before they begin. Edit before a syllable has been (in its way) uttered.

Did I have things to say before, back when writing was a daily thing, if not a thing well-done?

Do I have things to say now, now that my fingers, my ink, my keyboard, my pages are empty?

I don’t know. 

I know a lot of words; I was a spelling champ in elementary. Sometimes, no kidding, I read the dictionary and the thesaurus for fun. 

I have, as it were, a hanger. (Yeah, it’s wire; I’m no genius. My hanger is cheap, misshapen. Things fall off it all the time; it’s the one I wait until last to use when I’m doing laundry.)

I have a hanger. Not the hanger I want, but a hanger nevertheless.

And ideas to hang on them?

A billion possible. So, like, what, patterns or pictures of clothes: 2-D, 1-D, undeveloped. 

Nothing real, nothing of substance.

The emperor has no clothes. And neither do I.

Late at night, I lie awake 

——that’s because I have insomnia and nightmares. And my husband has restless leg syndrome. And I’m afraid for daytime to appear, with its needs and requests and its repetitions.

Looking out my window

——my neighbor has a halogen front porch light. It keeps my husband awake sometimes. And, when dawn breaks, roughly at the same time I’m falling asleep, the light makes me miss the darkness. I never see stars out of those windows. I would wonder why the universe prefers the back yard, except I prefer it, too. 

I see a star

——A star is dust and so are we. Ideas? Less than that. Maybe nothing; in my case, certainly nothing.

Off, afar

——You are here.

And stop and think upon it. 

—— Good for you. Why do you have to stop in order to think? Can’t you just think?

Bad poetry, which I don’t care about; words in my head that I can’t get to gel around the ideas I can’t get a handle on? 

Now that, my star, my window, my goldfish named (or not) Fred, that I can’t quite accept. 

16 December 2017: Christmas 1994 (New York)

That was you, you had your hair freshly cut, a full 8 inches off (Her name was Helga. She wore white jeans. She had an accent. This was not the Fiesta nor the Great Clips of Home.) You stopped by your employer, a cut-rate ophthalmologist on Broadway. He didn’t recognize you at first. The power of a good hair-cut and your fanciest coat.

That’s okay, you thought. He paid under the table, a phrase you’d never even known existed until you moved to New York. The first day he’d met you, he said you looked “corn-fed” or “wholesome” or “corn” something. It had never really sat well with you, but what could you do? Well, you’d quit in a month or so, because, after all, he really was quite an ass and one of your co-workers was racist and, well, depression is a beast and even at 19, at 20, eventually it catches up and you realize selling dumb frames for untaxed money is vaguely dishonest and seriously interrupting your vocal rehearsal, stretching, laundry, and memorization time, and 

Back to December. 1994. New York.

(A pause: the present being what it is, the author had to Internet search her old grocery store- The Fairway, her old buildings- The Broadway American in December but The Ansonia in January, and Fish’s Eddy- which no longer seems to have a location on the Upper West Side, which makes the author feel sad. It was an excellent place to visually feast when one was dawdling on the way to any detested classes.)

1994. New York. December, specifically Christmastime.

You ate a lot of pears that month. Quite a few bagels (from Fairway, mostly; from H&H occasionally, depending on pocket money; maybe two from Zabar’s, which store smelled the best of all of the three). There was a steel-drummer hanging out in front of Zabar’s; he played Caribbean versions of Christmas songs. And you, in the present, writing this now, you hope he’s still there.

You spent one crystal cold, clarified butter sun, icy cold morning dealing in Tower Records. Your stupid-ass assignment for Musical Theatre 1-0-whatever was 1776 and “He Plays the Violin.” So you needed the damn CD: you walked there, in velveteen heels (the 1990s had a neo-Victorian kick), and a couple floors up, bought the original cast recording. 

Back to your room. Listen. (The roommate is witchy; she’s prone to sitting on the floor in front of candles that are blue, red, and orange, and chanting in languages you’ve never heard. But, luckily, she must be doing one of those “Just Drama Student” things and isn’t present…thank god.) Pause to listen to Harry Simeon Chorale, to Harry Connick Jr, to every Christmas mixtape you had ever made. A pause to think of your mom (always, especially, forever your mom), your dad, your little sister. Maybe another pause, but you can guess what our homesick dumb-ass self was doing just then. 

Damn 1776. Rehearse (lip synching, mainly, in the tiny laundry room; your school had precious few rehearsal rooms — distinctly odd for a school that specialized in any kind of vocal, musical performance, but -as the kids say now- “whatevs”). The good thing about the laundry room was that it was tiny. It was warm. It was very, very private. You could sit on the dryer and rehearse (inaudibly— not helpful, if your thing is vocal performance) and/or scrawl capital-F FEELINGS in your journal, while doing your laundry, avoiding your roommate, and being alone. (This, the warmth and the privacy, is a commodity, highly prized, in December, in 1994, in New York.)

At any rate.

There was, at that time, a lone Hallmark sort of store: one street over from Broadway, probably the 70s, but I’m old and don’t remember. It had stickers by the roll and all the normal Hallmark card sorts of things, plus a distinct aura of “our days are numbered.” Maybe they knew printers and Internet so soon would take away their mojo, but the carpet had too few shelves resting on it; the cashiers numbered one; the entire theme was “going out of business.” Nevertheless, the times and me, being what we were, I bought one roll of wrapping paper and a couple stickers. If I hummed “He Plays the Violin” in my head, dreamt about home, and/or got so homesick for my mother, for proper over warm Midwestern mall stores with their wholesomeness and their kitsch and their schtick and their mistakes, well, it didn’t matter that much. A decent bagel and cup of coffee was a block away. If I walked fifteen minutes, I could both smell Zabar’s and hear the steel drummer…and I was pretty damn content/reliant on the part where I knew I’d be going home in a couple days (after the 1776 thing; after the last shift or two at the shady optometrist’s). So, weird 1990s Hallmark, whatever with your ghostly out-of-business-ness. But thanks for the wrapping paper (pink, with Christmas tree illustrations; Indiana had never seen anything like it. Not then, anyway.)

(An interlude to ask oneself: why record memories, perceptions, especially from the ’90s, which doesn’t count for anything. It was so long ago and other decades mattered more and…)

You went to Macy’s, at Christmastime. The real Macy’s, the one in Times Square: you did not see Santa (disappointing), you did visit The Cellar (kind of homey), you bought a stupid needlepoint pillow with angels for your grandma (Spoiler: she never used it but did, at least, that one Christmas, pretend like she thought it was nice. It was, actually, nice. And very grandmother-y).

You went, that December, into fancy boutiques. You walked past the occasional gated courtyard, pristine and severe and so very gray. You studied in Barnes and Noble and the New York Public Library; you cursed the Xerox copying fees. You thanked God and Santa and everything holy and less-than-holy for the privacy of the laundry room.

You went to Nick’s ( a Greek cafe) and you ordered falafel, received free baklava (one per order!), watched the elderly waiter; you ate grapefruit and pears from Fairway, bagels from H&H. You dutifully practiced a rancid combination of vocal performances: a saccharine thing from “Cheaper by the Dozen,” that goddamned “He Plays the Violin,” and an assortment of Purcell for Voice Potato, who had, apparently, never explored the depths of any other bel canto or art songs or, well, anything other than Henry Freaking Purcell.

It finally reached the 23rd of December: you had smelled smoking and roasting chestnuts and almonds on every New York street. You had viewed the decorations on Fifth. You had seen all the Duane Read or drugstore parfumerie chains drape themselves inside out and sideways with red and white and feathers. You had had, quite frankly, enough.

You longed, at that time, for a perfectly decent (in fact, innocent) cup of coffee: no flavors, no paper cup, no sweetener, no anything. Just Joe. In a cup. 

You longed, at that time, for the sublime over-abundant-schlockiness of a mid-western mall: the Santa, the excess, the chains, the fundamental ordinariness.

You longed, at that time, for the creche placed on the piano at home. The white-lit tree in the living room, the multi-lit and remembrance-garlanded tree in the basement. The ornaments from your first Sunday School, the badly-glued star from some church thing or another, the neighborhood back home you could count on to be extravagantly-lit. The mint-chocolate-chip ice cream you knew would be in the freezer. The sleepy headed sister you would wake up with nudges and “It’s Christmas!”

You. Longed.

The early morning of the 24th of December, 1994, was wind: themed by wind; a cacophony of wind, a perflituity of wind; nothing but wind. It howled between the stucco and old walls of old and new New York. One in the morning, two in the morning, three in the morning: all of it was listening to howling, maleficent wind blowing between skyscrapers and threatening flights.

Flights home.

At four in the morning, you concede to the banshee wailing of the wind. You pack your few packages, your memories, your stupid “He Plays the Violin” and Henry Purcell December. You thank God for Entenmann’s in New York but dream of sugar cookies and Chex Mix at home. Screw, you think, the wind; I’m going home.

You, freshly hair-cutted, with pink-wrapped packages, with nostalgia and impatience, take Penn Station and every earthly device to get to the airport.

It’s nice in New York, you rehearse: there’s a steel-drum in front of Barnes and Noble, I get free baklava at Nick’s, the streets smell like smoke, chestnuts, and history. 

You rehearse but your heart is stuck in popcorn balls, pipe-cleaner icicles, Hershey kisses, coloring books, your parents, your kid sister, cheap felt bathrobes and cookies for Santa (Chex Mix and carrots for Rudolph and team).

Never did a flight take longer. Never did a flight move so fast.

Even in 1994, one could move from concrete jungle to cornfield in an hour, give or take. 

Even in 1994, one could take their fancy New York haircut and still find their way home. They could (you could) forget your bad Broadway, turn on the radio and hear Bing Crosby, and just be home again.

It’s 2017. 

I don’t sit on the dryer anymore. I don’t keep a diary. I have not, since that time, had wrapping paper that is pink.

I haven’t had a haircut from Helga.

I haven’t worked under the table. (Look, the Indian/Calvin Klein/ Donna Karan eyewear is quite nice.)

I haven’t sang, performed, or even studied “He Plays the Violin.” Nor anything by Henry Purcell. Nor, another ditty of the moment, from She Loves Me, “Dear Friend:” “charming, romantic, the perfect cafe…”

In the million years that have passed, I have not any of the following: been to a “going out of business” Hallmark, purchased stickers from the roll, listened to a steel drum while it spit snowflakes, spent the 23rd into the 24th of December in a sweat while the wind howled angrily and intimated I might not go home.

In the million years that have passed since 1994, I have not forgotten a single year that preceded it: my family is everything and the years I have lived until 1994 are, quite possibly, the mother lodes and keystones of the essential “my existence.”

In the million years since 1994, I have perpetually been grateful that I do not open my door and instantly fall into my roommate’s strangled (and, no doubt, quite genuine) emotive thrusts to the red, orange, and blue candles. In whatever (probably very blessed) language that was.

In the million years since 1994, I have been glad that Sunset Boulevard has not hit some kind of resurgence. It had two good songs. And, well, not much else.

In the million years since 1994, I have been married twice, divorced once. And I would go through a million divorces to reach the marriage I have now.

I would go through a million years to find my parents and my sister and revisit any Christmas from about 1980-1992.

But, failing all of that, I would write too many words. To revisit one Christmas is to revisit them all. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And in 1994, if that damned plane hadn’t landed on time, well, there’d be a news story for the ages.

1994, 1984, 1974, 2004, 2014, doesn’t matter the year: If I can’t be home for Christmas…

Well…

Fish’s Eddy has glass things that sparkle in sunlight. H&H Bagels has the freshest, puffiest bagels in all Christendom. Zabar’s still smells like cloves and sophistication. Nick’s (most probably) still has free baklava with any order. Fairway still has cheap Bosch pears and “pimple mousse.” And, well, it’s 2017.

You’ll still prefer the chain generics of home. You’ll still take a flight too early, too crowded, too windy.

You’ll still— you’ll always— go home.

There is, really, no place quite like it.

24 September 2017: Hemingway’s Cats and Cleopatra’s Nose

29 April 2017: It’s a Small World

19 December 2016: The Man With the Peach Blanket

A couple weeks ago, I was driving to work, late as usual (I can’t sleep. It’s a problem.)

There was a man at the corner of Southport Road and Madison. He was eating cold pizza under a streetlight, in a late November sun. His cardboard sign asked for food and blankets. “Anything will help.”

And three seconds later, I’m jerking my tardy car into a strange parking lot because, as it turns out, I’ve got a blanket.

The blanket I’ve had since 1986, when my mom bought one for me and one for my sister. It has been my beach blanket since 1999: the blanket I keep in the back of my car on the chance that I might accidentally drive to a beach. It doesn’t usually happen, but you never know. The blanket is peach flannel. Lightweight. Soft. A girly color* and full of 1980s good will and children’s dreams in the age of Wham and Barbie and the Rockers.

The guy accepts this blanket, with or without my memories attached. He rolls it up and it becomes a beacon on the top of his more staid and masculine blue backpack.

I watch him walk on. He didn’t say thanks. He didn’t say anything. Those are my memories on his back now and I just think he’s cold. My peach blanket is bouncing along Madison on the back of a stranger.

Most strangers ask for money. He asked only for food and a blanket. I had a blanket.

I don’t know how to solve homelessness. I don’t know how to solve cold. I hope my memories as much as the flannel embrace that man but I don’t hold any hope that a blanket can solve a social fabric that has holes.

It is good, in this world to give to others. But I wish there was, in this world, a version in which need was not necessary and want, a virtue of luxury and not food and blankets.

Bless that man.

Bless all who need blankets. And all who need food.

And bless those men carrying peach and girl-y blankets. I bet there’s not much heavier, if you want the truth.

*I “get” that color is ungendered, but as things go, this particular peach carries connotations of associative femininity.

22 February 2017: Poor Photography Hygiene, Mount Washburn, and Me.

At the top of Mount Washburn, you can’t see the future. The air is thin but not that thin.

7 November 2016: The Manson-Dixie Line

Oh, youth, you were so cute. You were from Texas and genetically gifted. You were in my conservatory classes in New York and you were, well, vapid seems harsh and I’m going to believe you grew out of it.

You upspoke, before up-speak was a term.

And there was a time, God love you, when you stood up in front of the entire class and blathered on about the Manson-Dixie Line, that one which divides the south from the north, that one which had its correct name in 12-point font on the paper you were holding. That one you might have actually heard of growing up in the South and all.

And your inflection and your tone went up and you were 20 and perfect. But so wrong.

Student loan dollars being what they are, I’m feeling my loans from that class were exceptionally well-spent. Oh, Manson-Dixie Line, I almost wish you existed, a magical line dividing serial killers from paper cups and/or Designing Women.

The Mason-Dixon Line is so boring by comparison.

21 October 2016: Damn It, Madonna (La Isla Bonita and Memory)

 

11 October 2016: Three Fragments for Fall (Brass, Tempera, and Violets)

 

August 3, 2016

 

8 July 2016: Queen Anne’s Lace, Dusk, and Me

the horizon is endless green farmland and summer is in every fibre of every living thing

30 June 2016: That Time My Sister and I Detasseled 

28 June 2016: The Dairy Lodge. (Twisty Cones are So Meta)

15 June 2016: Guessing the Color of Cars

There were days, a long time ago, when my sister and I sat on a porch swing. Eating popsicles, when the sun was shining, after it rained, always summer. We were children. We watched the street. We played a game I call “Guessing the color of cars.”

Here’s how you play: you call out the color of the next car that will drive past. If you’re right, you’re right and your sister knows it. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong and your sister knows that, too. But it’s, pardon the sorta-pun, a two-way street: if she’s right, you know it, and if she’s wrong, you know that, too. And that is how a summer afternoon is passed in the early 1980s or maybe the kids these days still play it. Somewhere. I doubt it, but you never know.

We didn’t keep score, my sister and I. We might have tried to, but after 5 or 6 cars, well, the days were languorous in a Tennessee Williams sort of way, and when time is sticky, the point spread doesn’t matter much. I’m right with a white car and then she’s right with a blue.

What is magnificent isn’t the game: it’s the fact that you’re there with your little sister and time is elastic and you rock on a swing, in the heat of a summer afternoon, and the next car could be black or maroon. You’ll both be right. You’ll both be wrong. No one wins. No one loses.

I miss those summers, swinging on a porch swing with my sister. I miss the times when our only mission in life was to guess the color of the next car that would drive past. I miss the times when it didn’t matter if we were wrong or right, it was just waiting and guessing and seeing and it was downtime: watching the cars while part of our brains were dreaming of other things, any other things. The summer was endless. Anything was possible.

The next car is red.

If there is a heaven, time is like that there. An endless summer afternoon, sharing a swing with my sister, guessing the color of cars in a game that is no game at all. Everyone’s a winner. It’s summer. And the world and your life stretches in front of you, an open book with endless pages.

And perhaps it will be blue. So many of them are blue.

8 June 2016: Dear “Tony Alamo, World Pastor”

27 May 2016: The Mystery of the Universe = Sandy Koufax

16 May 2016: Henry Purcell and Voice Potato (New York, 1995)

19 April 2016: Sign Language. Or Something.

11 April 2016: Bad Ideas

20 March 2016: Sometimes Things are Like That

10 March 2016: The Power of Place

5 March 2016: Industrial Arts

26 February 2016: Do It Yourself (DIY!): Waterbed for Barbie

17 February 2016: That Time I Went to a Psychic

Thirty dollars in New Orleans is eternity, if you spend it right.

18 January 2016: I Kicked Tammy on the Tetherball Court

8 September 2015: A Funny Thing Happened in the Middle of the Nachos

 

Rainbow Eucalyptus

13 May 2015: Happy Birthday, TWM. I Wish You Were Here

I like, very much, whatever it is that makes certain that nothing ever disappears. Not even a grain of sand. — Coco Chanel

It’s May 13th. There is not a single May 13th that I have never thought of you.

Thank you for asking about my dinosaurs and pretending that you’d never heard of my friends Stegosaur, Brachiosaurus, Trilobite, and Pterodactyl.Thank you for driving me in that yellow Nova and for always smelling like calmness and Aqua Velva, with a hint of Old Spice.

When I sang my first solo ever, you said how my necklace sparkled. (It did. Indeed.)

When I triumphantly showed you my First Rating blue ribbon medal, you asked if I would build a case for the rest.

When I was three, you sat on the kitchen floor like you were my size. When I was five, you hoisted me on your back. You said “good gravy, Davy” at the weight and said I was a bag of potatoes. And you carried me up the stairs. When I was nine, you colored a coloring-book-dachsund with the bittersweet Crayola crayon and you said there was no other color a dachsund could be (And that’s still true. All dachshunds are, in fact, bittersweet). When I was ten, you looked at my acrylic heart earrings and you said you liked them, because the bottom heart was “what do you call that? Ice blue?” Yes, ice blue.) And when I was eleven, you tried to tell me about solar powered cars and electric engines and the car in the magazine was red and you were, well, you were sick. And I tried so very hard to ask something smart and to care about cars.

You used Chapstick every night after dinner. Original, the black wrapper. Your sport coats had leather buttons. Your garage, with its old brooms and its grandfather smells; its nails in old coffee cans and that weird orange-colored epoxy stain on the floor, was one of my favorite places in all the world. Next to your (and Mamaw’s) pantry: paint-stained nineteen-thirties chair and saltines tin and warmth and closeness and safety and wisdom and calm.

I will live my entire life trying to re-find that and you.

You were very fond of that sea turtle coloring contest I completed: you seemed proud when I won and it was displayed at the municipal pool. You are still the only person I ever knew who could create sailboats from Solo party cups. You’re so much like my mom, still, it hurts.

And there has never been a May 13th that I don’t think of you and wish you Happy Birthday.

You liked Anne Murray and Abba. There was a framed photograph, signed or at least stamped, from President Ronald Reagan on your desk. And there are, at least, five radio patents that are registered in your name.

I wish I had known you better.

I never built that case for my medals. But I do still like dinosaurs. But not as much as I like you. I wish you were here. Happy Birthday.

-The “not even a grain of sand” quote is paraphrased from one I read years and years ago in a biography of Coco Chanel. It was written by Axel Marsden. (Whoever wrote or said it, I like it.) I’d have to re-read that book to be certain. And I just don’t feel so fashionable right now.

20 November 2014

“This will be so much fun to color,” said No Kid Ever.

 

 

16 November 2013: The Photos I Took. The Photos I Didn’t.

6 November 2013: Gatsby and Me on Waikiki

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.

The Moana Surfrider: Main Portico

4 July 2013: Your Daily Dose of Americana — Lily Martin Spencer

Lily Martin Spencer, Kiss Me and You’ll Kiss the ‘lasses (1856). Brooklyn Museum.

n general, I find myself fascinated by the idea of American identity. I’m an American, after all, so engaging in the casual exercise of national navel-gazing is, if a little vain, at least not surprising. It inspires me that there are a minimum of 310 million ways to be an American (and that’s just right now) but they all fit together as “American.” Who we are, who we think we are, and how we relate to one another and redefine one another is a study that’s not totally unhelpful. And today, on the Fourth, it’s something to celebrate.

So, in celebration of one version of our identity, I give you this dose of Americana, this reflection of collective self: Lily Martin Spencer’s 1856 work, Kiss Me and You’ll Kiss the ‘lasses. Today, I’m celebrating our saucy independence, our frankness, our fulsome super-abundance. (I’ll pause so you can appreciate “saucy independence” while referring to a painting in which a pot of molasses has a starring role.)

I could have chosen almost any American artwork: something from the Ashcan School or the obligatory Washington Crossing the Delaware or the Signing of the Declaration. I could have used one of the ubiquitous encaustic flags of Jasper Johns. I could have courted spambots and being flagged as “mature content” by focusing on Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nude series. I could have gone with an Ansel Adams photograph, or Georgia O’Keefe’s magnificent Radiator Building at Night. All of these say something about us, too.

There was a part of me that wanted to write about the Battle of Gettysburg, which ended 150 years ago yesterday, leaving 7,000 Americans dead in the fields of Pennsylvania, a sobering reminder of the cruel price of unity. The art historian would here compare Spencer’s image of the feminine antebellum North with Matthew Brady’s photographs of the war and then finish with Winslow Homer’s subtle 1865 masterpiece The Veteran in a New Field. (“If it could be put into words, there would be no reason to paint.”

The other direction I could have gone is important, but perhaps too easy: look at Egypt yesterday, where the Arab Spring has become an overripe perma-Arab Summer and the revolution continues. President Morsi removed from power by the will of the people and the might of the military. Look at Syria. Look at the change, the uncertainty, the growing pains as a people try to discover who they will be and how they will chart their course and how they will be governed. Aspiration and violence and revolution and all the things we Americans once were but now are not.

We are independent and we are thankfully, sometimes miraculously, past that revlolutionary episode, past our American Spring. (A spring I wish we would more often remember as we look and judge what is “happening over there” with “those people.”) For all our profane and ridiculous, vitriolic politics; for all our disagreements, our inequities, our commercialism, our vanities, and our errors, we are independent.

Saucily independent, frequently surrounded by overripe abundance. Prone to a flirtatious self-confidence and a basically good-natured sense of humor. Kiss me and you’ll kiss the ‘lasses.

It’s an identity I’ll take, happily and with pride. It’s not the only identity we have, certainly, but that doesn’t diminish our ownership of it: it is ours. We, the people, in our more-and-less perfect union, our more-and-less perfect identity.

27 May 2013: No More Frames. 

On the first floor of the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis is a wall with five wooden frames. These are the photographs of Indiana service members who have fallen during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Five frames filled with young faces, six by eight in each frame.

21-year-olds from Rossville. 30-year-olds from Columbus. 18-year-olds from Fort Wayne. Haunting and brave, often smiling.

The frames always arrest me when I walk by: they inspire frustration, doubt, sometimes anger. Gratitude. Respect. Humility. Awe. Mostly they are heartbreaking.

A sixth frame was added in March. It wouldn’t fit on the same wall. There wasn’t enough room for more young, lost faces. So they added the sixth on the other side of the hallway, where they face the other five frames, their 240 brothers and sisters.

Our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our friends, our parents and classmates. Our heroes.

I hope the sixth frame is never filled.

I hope there is no need for another wall, another Operation, another Memorial.

For a moment today, please remember them. Please remember their fellow lost soldiers from other places, other times, other wars. Thank them, hope for them, and their families, too. It’s the least— the very least— we can do for those who gave everything.

24 May 2013: A Little Less Me. A Little More You.

On a dark and rainy night long ago, a 16-year-old was driving a blue Cutlass Ciera. The idiot girl did not have her headlights turned on. She was deservedly pulled over by the friendly local police. He asked to see her license and she obliged, worrying what she possibly could have done.“Did you know you were driving without your lights on?” says the officer to the teen.

“No, sir.” Pause for consideration. “I’m sorry. But it’s okay. Don’t worry; there are streetlights and I could see fine.”

At which point the officer should have written the feckless moron a ticket and reminded her that the point of headlights is not to enable the driver’s nocturnal vision. The point of headlights is to enable other drivers to see the otherwise invisible cars that other people are driving. In the nighttime. In the rain.

The 16-year old will grow up. (Thank god.) For some strange reason, she’ll remember the night she drove without her headlights. She will remember the night she said, all wide-eyed, well-intentioned innocence: “gosh, officer, no problem because I can see.” She’ll feel foolish, many years later, and she’ll also theorize “well, you know. It would have been nice if, at 16, or now, or sometime, my life didn’t revolve so much around me.” It will worry her that, more frequently than she would like, her thoughts are of the “don’t worry, I can see just fine” variety and not of the “how well can you see?” and “can everyone else see okay” variants.

So if this really happened, that whole blue Cutlass Ciera (if you want to know what song was playing in the tape deck: it was “Norwegian Wood”) without the headlights on in the dark thing — and I can assure you, it did — this leaves me, the driver of the Ciera in question, both reminded and determined to make good on the whole headlight conundrum; to work harder to consider everyone else’s visibility, to consider the views and the sights of others. A little less me. A little more you. It’s something to aim for, in the dark and in the rain. Even in a Cutlass Ciera.

May 22, 2013: Helpful hint: Replacing “love” and “lover” in ’80s tunes with chores makes chores infinitely faster. For example, Endless “laundry,” that’s what we ha-a-ave or Secret “groceries,” they’re in the ba-a-ack… I’m saving “Take on Fridge” for the weekend, though.

9 April 2013: The Day that Margaret Thatcher Went Away

10 March 2013: Bright Dry Things

It was a cold, gray day in Indianapolis, a day of putty-colored sky against putty-colored road accompanied by putty-colored drizzle and a cold, damp, unforgiving wind. Four-lane road, busy at rush hour with no visibility because it’s all just one dun-colored world.

And there they were, the busy road and they, The Sweatpants, on the sidewalk wearing non-descript, invisible coats. If it weren’t for the sweatpants, the pair of them would have been camouflaged, completely unseen in the shared non-color of their coats and the sky and the rain. But she wore brilliantly hot-pink sweatpants and an air cast. He wore sweatpants that were somewhere between cobalt and bluebird. The Sweatpants were seen. In the rain. On a busy road. Hugging one another for dear life and for reasons I couldn’t possibly imagine.

They were nowhere near a bus stop. The sidewalk, frankly, led to nowhere. I don’t know where they could have been going or how they were going to get there. But there was some kind of story there. In 35 degrees Fahrenheit of cold and wet misery, on a four-lane road backed up with short-tempered commuters in dirty, spotted cars, the Sweatpants hung on to one another, unsheltered but anchored, the only bright, dry things on a wet and sullen road.

20 November 2012: The Goat Woman of Crawfordsville

23 November 2011: Quoth the Dorothy, Nevermore

Once upon a time there was a babysitter. Her name was Dorothy. She looked after me and my sister when we were about five. Dorothy was nice, although not particularly conversant in “young kid.” This was on Webster Street, where she served us canned cream of mushroom soup (again, not particularly conversant in “young kid”) in her kitchen. She had a 1950s-style dinette set with an oval, formica faux-marble top. The chairs were ripped, felt-lined grey cabbage-rose covered naugahyde. Incidentally, all of the above was the same color as the cream of mushroom soup.

After our soup, Dorothy would send us into a little room off the living room.This was, unlike either kitchen or living room, the playroom. It contained a toy or two and a tiny, collapsible card table sized appropriately for a four or five-year-old child. On said table there was a ceramic Christmas tree. It lit up. I had never seen anything like it outside of a nursing home, so I thought it was pretty special that she put it in the playroom for us kids to enjoy. Also on the table? A huge– I mean, seriously, the thing was massive– container of crayons.

You know what? I could eat the nasty un-kid-friendly cream of mushroom soup all day long. You bet. I could accept the complete and utter lack of cake in that place. (Did I mention? I don’t remember Dorothy ever giving us any cake.) What I cannot— nay, never — forgive, no matter how kind and sweet Dorothy was (and she was), was the fact that she dumped those crayons into one, gigantic, waxen, Tupperware-encased mess of disorganization. The nerve! As if she didn’t know that crayons belong in their box, in chromatic order, and that periwinkle should never touch melon should never touch sea-green.

But no! Alas, poor Dorothy. She didn’t know. And that’s why she was the world’s worst babysitter (probably an exaggeration, because she really was kind. Plus she lived on Webster Street, the best street). Dorothy mixed the crayons, the beautiful, amazing, hundreds of crayons. They were thrown helter-skelter, willy-nilly in an un-beautiful heap in a Tupperware container.

The saddest sight my five-year-old eyes ever did see. Thank god she had the Disney channel and that light-up tree or I might not have made it to age 6.

Appendix: Apropos of Dorothy, A Brief Moment in Celebration of Great Crayons of the 1980s.

Crayola crayons are sort of like a First Love. It’s difficult not to always think they are forever special or not to get nostalgic when thinking or seeing them. However, sometime in 1982, I was introduced to Prang crayons. My friend Megan had them. At first, I spied them suspiciously. They were not Crayolas. How could they possibly be good?

Crayon snob! Prang crayons of the eighties were waxier than a standard issue Crayola, it is true. However, their color was far more saturated than Crayolas ever could be. I learned to love Prang crayons. Sadly, they were difficult to find in 64 flavors colors. That was the drawback of eighties-era Prang.

And circa 1983, in a house of brown on Loomis Avenue in Colorado Springs, My sister and I were each gifted a box of K-Mart brand crayons. Yes, their box and wrappers sucked. They screamed of “generic.” But it would be misguided not to give them a chance. Waxier than Prang; waxier than candles; waxier, in fact, than wax were the K-Mart brand crayons. But there has never been a prettier color, not in nature, nor in artifice, than a 1983 K-Mart brand crayon in Kelly Green.

And in second place? Prussian blue. Also of the K-Mart persuasion. Crayola had nothing like it.

Crayola remains the grand champion of crayon manufacturers. But K-Mart, while they’re not so successful now, they will always be the ones who gave the most beautiful two colored crayons to the world. In 1983

22 October 2011: On the Past Ten Years and Leaving Iraq

It has been a decade since the towers fell on 9/11 and the U.S. began its war on terror by entering Afghanistan.

A strange, sad decade of a so-far bewildering and uncertain century: ten continued strange years later, with domestic and economic quagmires that seem to match the foreign policy perpetual nightmares, we remember back. We entered the 2000s amped up over Y2K, which was a punchline well before the second day of 2000. And then, the year, the years, turned strange: the bombing of the Cole, the Gore/Bush election and month without an election result, and then 9/11. We didn’t see it coming. And we’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since.

And our ways of making sense of it seemed strange and bewildering, too. Magnetic U.S.A. ribbons on the vehicles of America, the Patriot Act and questions of security vs. rights. Freedom fries. Color-coded terror alerts. The Department of Homeland Security. Airport body searches, shoe-bomb plots and plastic explosives in underpants and a general impression that we should be watchful, suspicious, even, because whatever 9/11 was, it wasn’t done and there would be more to come.

But most of all, there was war. First in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. And now we strike in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan. And with this global War on Terror came things I would never have imagined my country would do, questions I never imagined I would have about liberty, morality– identity, even. Guantánamo Bay prisoners of war or “war” that we can neither try nor release and Abu Ghraib. Torture, rendition, the term “black site.” The use of contractors and mercenaries like Xe/Blackwater. So many U.S. troops repeatedly deployed, injured, and killed. So many wounded, terrified, and dead civilians in countries whose histories are longer and sadder than our own. Predator drones. Occupation and destruction. And the unparalleled discomfort at all of it, perhaps most recently signified by the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, without trial but with the certainty that these were probably “good” things. But still, we, I, believed our principles mattered more than our safety; that they were worth sacrificing for. Besides, the risk, the potential price was too great. And so it has been this decade: rights and wrongs intermingled and a vague sense that we were doing our sorry best but the world had gone mad and there was pain all around. Life has always been ambiguous and complex, but the decade of war following 9/11 has made it viscerally so.

Ten years of war without American precedent. And we are finally, finally leaving Iraq. I would like to say that this is cause for unmitigated celebration. I was opposed to that invasion from the first garbled whispers of it. With every act of bravery in pursuit of an unspecified and uncertain goal, with every casualty, with every news cycle and power outage and civil unrest and coyly-named strategy, I supported the troops and hoped to god that something good might come to the Iraqi people. And I believed none of it. Iraq was euphemistically mixed in with the spectre of terrorism, the global game of Whack-a-Mole, the many-headed hydra. And all I have been able to see is, no matter how well intentioned, we were part of that hydra, too. I think we still are.

Saddam Hussein is gone. We helped that. Perhaps that saved lives. We stabilized (temporarily?) a violent war-torn country. But I don’t feel solace in any of those things. It is impossible to tell how many of the “problems solved” were caused by our actions (“war-torn Iraq” but didn’t we do a fair bit of that tearing?); impossible not to feel that for every good built, something else was destroyed. We invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, nothing to do with our immediate security. And we probably did some good along the way but what do we owe them for the well-intentioned and misguided bad? Electricity, clean water, stability, security, reparations?

Yes. But that’s not in our capabilities to provide, if we’re honest. So, we leave, which seems to me the next best thing to do since we cannot realistically leave with an Iraq that was better than we found it or an Iraq that is at some imaginary baseline of what it would have been had we never went in there in the first place. So we leave, I hope, with some honesty and integrity, some humility and apologies.

Already there are very loud voices in the political realm decrying our departure from Iraq on the basis of unrealized victory. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) this week even pulled out the “Iraq owes us repayment” card at the CNN GOP nomination debate.

There was never the chance of victory in this. Historian Simon Schama once likened the Iraq invasion to the U.S. taking a hammer to a bead of mercury. And that seems pretty much right to me: no victory in that action, just a million beads of toxicity to stop before it harms too many people and an act that can never really be undone, only accommodated, mitigated, apologized for, and learned from. And, to take a different view, there is to me a small nobility, a small and unconventional victory in finally standing up honestly and saying good-bye to one part of this madness by leaving Iraq.

I’ve tried before to express my feelings about these wars, the soldiers, the events of the past decade. It’s always excruciating. It always falls short. It seems, in fact, the stupidest act in the face of things; an insult to the bravery of our soldiers and diplomats and the memory of all the lost and injured. I feel the attempts to express thoughts about all these things cheapens and degrades the realities of all those closer to 9/11, to the wars, to life and death in the Middle East. It feels, in fact, like cowardice to write amateurishly instead of getting my hands dirty by making an actual sacrifice and taking a real action. Because no matter how I feel about the wars or what we’ve done to respond to terrorism, I am an American so I’m responsible too. And prissy little blog posts and a decade of morose contemplation don’t help satisfy that responsibility.

Still, I write it anyway. It’s my response to the endless asides in the media and political worlds that say the American people haven’t been involved in the wars and don’t pay attention to them after all this time and/or during economic troubles. I disagree. I think the American people are better than that. I think they’ve been aware. I think they’ve felt helpless and guilty and sometimes scared. And maybe that’s just me. The U.S., my country, went to war and I did nothing. But I did pay attention. And, even though the government didn’t really pay for it (yet) and the public wasn’t asked to, I sent a small donation to the U.S. Treasury to acknowledge that we should have been asked, that it’s part of all of our debt, that the responsibilities we have to our soldiers will cost money, and that even wars I never wanted need to be paid for when they’re rightly or wrongly fought in my name.

A small act like that is insignificant, of course, and just as cheap as blogging about disaster. But we’ve passed the decade anniversaries of 9/11 and Afghanistan. We’re leaving Iraq. I dropped a token to help pay for it, which is well-intentioned but probably meaningless. Still, it’s what I’ve got, I guess. And until I can find a better way to make sense from the senseless, I’ll have to go with that.

Here’s to a better decade for all of us.

4 July 2011: The Lake House

I sit here, my feet dangling in a fake lake (retention pond) and there are minnows approaching my toes and friends in the house playing cards.

Still, I sit here.

It seems everything has been neglected of late. Life has pulled some funny twists and though I’ve kept up with my extra-diligent note-taking and have so many things to write about (presidential race, Medicare/Medicaid, Afghanistan, Cleopatra’s nose, soul-sucking architecture and urban studies in Indianapolis, et cetera, et cetera)… well, there has been no time, no mental energy to write about them.

And so, as I sit with my feet in lord-knows-what, I will share this:

My grandparents had a lake house once upon a time. It was a quiet lake— more pontoons than speedboats, a quiet place. I don’t even know that speedboats were allowed, frankly. If one could combine Hemingway’s “clean, well-lighted place” and Woolf’s “room of one’s own” with a fresh-smelling lake, that is the place. There was a gigantic sun-porch, screened from the mosquitos; the yard behind was shady. The lake was over-grown with lily-pads and water vegetation and the air smelled of fish and lake and worms and summer. And grace.

There was a stone fireplace inside. I felt certain that fireplace in the cottage was built for me, waiting for me to be adult enough to light it for myself. There were small bedrooms, a tiny shower, a kitchen where I ate many a peanut butter sandwich. And now that I am old enough to long for such a place it is gone, gone, gone.

My grandfather passed away early, very young, at only 51 or 52. A not uncommon story; a far too-common story. The lake house was sold. And year, after year, after year, as surely as I have missed my beloved grandfather, I have missed that lake house, its quiet rules, its fishy smell, its possibilities.

I long for my grandfather, so many years after his passing. I smell him; his coats in the closet in an ancient (so I thought) house smelled of him: Aqua Velva (or was it Afta? Cool blue) and goodness, leather buttons, heavily-varnished and glossy dark wood doors with metal ovular door knobs. I smell his morning breakfasts, still mingled with his after-shave, and always it is 5:30 in the morning, sunlight streaming in, on him, his glass of Tang and his bowl of All-Bran. He was quiet, he was smart. He was funny and unfailingly kind. My grandmother still tells stories of him doing cartwheels on the yard at the lake house, not too long before that final diagnosis of cancer, not too long before he was gone. I miss him. My heart, in fact, frequently breaks at the thought that I never got to know him as the fully-grown me, the one not too self-absorbed in that whole business of growing up to ask him who he really was. I wish I had known. And in moments of trial, if intercessors there be (I know not), I pray to him as much as to anyone: Lead the way, my Papaw. I still miss you. I wish I had known you better. Please ask god to send help for x, y, z.

And too, I pray for that lake house. For fireworks on the Fourth of July followed by chocolate Sprites and cheeseburgers at the Streamliner, sweet sleep in the cottage, and sausages and bacon in the morning when the grass is still wet and the air smells of magic, sunscreen, fish, and possibilities.

It’s been a foul month, this June 2011: bad news for loved ones and a job that prevents me from living, prevents me from writing, from reading, from thinking, from feeling like myself or being good for or to those I love so much. And so I dream, I ache for that lake house. How I long to trundle that cat of mine, the laptop, a staggeringly heavy pile of books to that lake house. I’d light a fire in the stone fireplace at night, at day I would split time between that sunporch and the dock, dangling my feet in mossy, lily-pad waters. I’d think. I’d find perspective. I’d find my way.

I would write the kind of stuff I’ve longed to write all along. I’d read. I’d daydream. I’d be a better person, I’m just sure, at the lake house, with memories of Papaw, and my quiet little lake. Heck, I might even find a way to make sense of it all, the bad news, the past, the loss of my grandfather, the way I’ve squandered my soul on worry. The lake house was really that special. But it just can’t be. So, here: I share this with you as I soak my feet in the retention pond (oh, suburbia, you cunning wench!) where the neighborhood children both fish and pee (I’ve seen it). And there is something in it that approximates the dock, so long as my mental eye is kind and squints a bit. I have friends in the house, playing cards, and they are kind and I am grateful. And my family is only a phone call away, tied strongly by heartstrings, blood, and a sense of humor that is peculiarly our own. I live in the U.S., where it is a national holiday and I am, at heart, a patriot.

I long for the lake house. But it’s not bad to be here. Bless us. Bless those fighting for us. Bless the lake house, my family, and oh, oh, oh, my sweet Papaw. And bless the possibilites that come when one’s feet are in water and summer is here and evening falls. Perhaps there will someday be time to write the stuff I mean to write, to learn, to love, to study, to make a difference.

And, even if not, there is still water. And memory. And the smell of Aqua Velva, sunscreen, and lake.

Happy Fourth of July.

3 July 2011: I believe the words you’re looking for here are “Good Grief.”

June 4, 2011: The Laundromat

October 1997: North Putnam Color Guard, “Erich!”

I loved these girls. I still do.

December 1995: American Musical and Dramatic Academy “Dear Friend” 

(only thing I’m proud of is the final ‘heart.’)

December 1995: American Musical and Dramatic Academy “He Plays the Violin” 

November 1995, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, “Salad Days” 

(Please note: I was assigned this song. Borrowed the dress. Everything else is my own stupidity.)

March, 1992: Kokomo High School Winter Guard, “A Night Out” (state finals video)

October, 1992: Kokomo H.S. Karisma Singers

DIrected by Susan Brooks

December 1991: The Red and Blue, Kokomo H.S., Indiana

1991 ISSMA State Finals: Kokomo H.S. Marching Wildkats 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.