Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dear Madame

dear madame, yes, you, the professional lawyerly looking madame, wearing the tailored b & w tiger stripe jacket and the tight pencil skirt, with the big brief case slung over your back, and the high-high heels, please, please, don't ever stand in the middle of Churton Street at the intersection of Margaret Lane, near the court house, texting. We all watched you as you stood there, the red light about to turn green and you texted and stood and shook your coiffed head and then took another step, and it was painful to watch, and then your were there on the yellow line and the traffic from Margaret Lane veered around you and then you took another step and i prayed the firehouse wouldn't release it's fire trucks only a few yards away, because i don't think you would have noticed. And just as the light turned green, you took another step and texted some more, and you were barely up on the sidewalk . . . And just when i thought i had seen enough of you, i managed to get behind you in line at the Weaver Street Market and as your groceries are being checked out, you are jabbering away on your bluetooth, and the checker asks you for your member number and you fumble for your wallet - you were completely not present. And I wanted to grab you and tell you to save yourself before it was too late, dear madame, dear lawyerly lady with the tiger print blazer.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Just Another Blond Girl From Connecticut Against N.C. Amendment One

You might not guess it by looking at me, but I was raised in one of those Non-Traditional Families. And it was a really long time ago, before there was such a thing . . . or at least it felt that way to me. I felt like the only kid in the world who didn't live with her mother and her father all under one roof. But I was very young, so what did I know?

My parents divorced when I was almost three. And due to extenuating circumstances, I went to live with my grandparents when I was three. It was 1969.  It was supposed to be temporary. But, lucky for me, and despite the protests of my grandparents' overly concerned friends, I remained in their home until I went to college. My mother lived on the racetrack training racehorses and my father traveled around with a camera bag. It was complicated and wonderful and misunderstood and at times painful, but it all worked out - I'm here to tell the tale.

The first time I realized I was different was when a kid in my first grade class asked me why I was late to school every day? I said, "Cause my grandmother drives me to school before she goes to her job." And the kid pressed further, "Why donchya take the bus?" And I didn't know, but the reason was cause I was going to school out of my district, to a school that was close to my grandmother's job and close to the family that babysat me in the afternoons after school, so all I could answer him was, "I don't know, I live with my grandparents, and they bring me to school." The kid screwed up his face and asked me his last question, "How come you live with your grandparents? Are your mom and dad dead?" I cried and ran away from him.

As time went on I learned how to answer the questions. How to explain my situation. And I met other kids who didn't live in the Nuclear Family. And we realized we were kinda cool and kinda lucky cause we were Different.

I wrote a whole book about it, but tonight I'm using my story to ask you, if you live in North Carolina, to go vote against Amendment One on May 8th. Never mind that it's bad for North Carolina businesses, never mind that it's discriminatory, never mind that it will make our state look ignorant and resistant to the idea that all people have the right to be who they really are -- the thing that is at the heart of it for me is that it forgets that kids need their families, no matter how strange or different they might seem to you -- it's the only family those kids know, and in that family they are loved and cherished and protected. Amendment One will take that away from the kids who live in Non Traditional Families in North Carolina and that's an unbearable thought to me. A family is a family is a family and love is love is love.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Nature Show Dream Number One

I stopped watching Nature Shows twenty years ago. This was a big change in my life because I had watched them since I was a kid - it all began with Disney on Sunday nights, followed by Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I had stacks of National Geographics in my bedroom closet - in fact, many of the closets in my grandparents home were insulated with towers of yellow, going back to the 1940s. My favorite issues were anything with zebras or lions or antelope. And then there were the Wolves. Anything about Wolves stopped me in my tracks.

I discovered Animal Behavior somewhere half way through my college career - I had no idea I could major in it. I thought you got to be Jane Goodall by the grace of God or the Queen or the Pope, you know?  But I was on my English trajectory, no jumping the tracks for me, do you want to be in college for the rest of your life? I did, but the family didn't. So I did what any confused college student could do under the circumstances, I got a minor! Two minors - one in Anthropology (Primatology!) and Psychology (Animal Behavior!) and so I had all these wonderful textbooks to read every night that told me why the animals did what they did. And the Nature Shows became more sophisticated, but at some point, they became Apocalyptic - oh they would start off just fine, here's a troupe of Baboons, here's their social order and then? The Poachers come and take the Alpha Male's teeth to China to be ground up and sold as a remedy for pot bellies or some such ailment.  So I turned off the Nature Shows forever.

Last night I was restless, and when I finally fell asleep, who should visit me? David Attenborough, only in voice though, he narrated. He spoke of the world getting hotter and hotter, of desertification, and then I saw his old hands holding desert flowers, tiny flowers of brilliant red - drought resistant - these would be the only flowers to flourish from now on . . .  I met refugees coming down a street and watched them board a train that would not go.

Thankfully the world is still green this morning . . .

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Have You Ever Been On A Cruise?

So this morning I took the girls in for their pedicure . . . we get to the vet at 9:39 am and it's 40 degrees outside, the last cold morning of spring really, and we check in at the desk and take our seat on the pews, yes our vet got a hold of some old church pews for the waiting room and well, the dogs love them. My girls are nervous, and they jump right up on the pews to sit as close to me as they can, not like my boy hound, he takes everything in stride, but the girls? They have to go in the car together or not at all.

So I'm sitting there, flanked by Pansy on my left and Luna on my right, and this gal walks in the door with her lovely elderly yellow lab and some kinda bouncy elk hound mix, and the first thing I notice is she's dressed entirely wrong for the chilly morning. She's got white capri pants and a billowy shirt and flip flops . . . and a tan, and painted toes, something I aspire to but never have, really brightly painted toes, and then I hear her announce to the ladies behind the counter, "We just got back from a Cruise. Oh, I feel so wonderful, so wonderful. I had a massage every day, do your hear me? Every day!" And then she turned to us, those of us waiting in the pews for our turn - dogs quaking in their coats, wondering if this will be the day that they'll just be left here, abandoned, never to go home, and just how big are those needles going to be? And what will they stick in my ears today? And I'll try not to pee on the scale, but there are so many cats, so many cats! If they would just get rid of the cats, I might be able to get through this whole thing without embarrassing myself.

. . . so she turns to us, and her billowy shirt and her capri pants are understandable now - she came straight from the gang plank to the vets, no time to get back into her civvies, and she zeroes in on me and she says, "Have you ever been on a cruise?"

"No, no I can't say I ever have . . . " as I put my hands on my hounds, thinking about what might happen next.

"Well, I highly recommend Royal Caribbean! They're just the best! I had a massage every day!" She sat down on the pews nearby and her dogs were very polite, they stayed on the floor, unlike my two,  who must have their paws on me as they await their fate, the pedicure and the scales and the cats you know? And so we are now formerly introduced, "This is Polly, short for Polly Wog and  this is Chloe, she's 16, 16! Can you believe it?"

"No, no I can't, she's remarkably youthful looking, " I say, and I was telling the truth.

"I'm sorry to make everyone so jealous, " she says, "I mean aren't you all just sooo jealous of me? I went on a cruise!"

And this is where I couldn't help myself, I just couldn't, "Oh no apologies necessary, I lived on Bermuda for two years, I used to watch all those ships go by, day and night from my house." And the billow in her shirt went a little flat and she cocked her head at me and one of the ladies behind the desk said, "Oh! I cruised to Bermuda once! Did you love living there?" And I said it was fine, just fine, and best in the Off Season and then I wanted to tell her how miserable I thought all those tourists looked when they stumbled off the ships in town, but that wasn't right for the moment, and then Mrs. Capri Pants began to tell me about the years she lived in California, about the beach she lived close to, back when Chloe was a pup and how she married her husband back in 1996 and they went to Alberta, Canada in the Off Season, how cheap the hotel was and there were hardly any people there at all, and she liked it that way, because she didn't go to a place to see people, you know?

I know! And we all went quiet for a moment and the dogs shifted in their seats and finally, a door opened and the vet tech called, "Luna? Pansy? You can come in now . . . "

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

baseball . . .

Colby Rasmus the baseball player spoke to me in a dream, and he said something like this, i’m almost sure of it . . .  my mother named me for her favorite kind of cheese. i like to read philosophy books, Aristotle makes me a better baseball player . . . did you know that the dali lama likes to watch baseball? he does, and do you know why? because it quiets his mind . . .

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Checking on a Horse at Night

where is last night’s moon?
driving with the window down
and the rain coming in
half asleep on highway 70
remembering the funeral procession
of a few days ago
right on this hill
we all pulled over
and the cars drifted by
the windows full of sun and black
a train carrying coal 
was it the old man hit by a car in the rain
last saturday? somewhere
somewhere on this road
he was 66
headlights in my eyes
i watch for the walkers
and one materializes
almost like deer
he's carrying a paper bag
and walking the line

i found him way out in the field
down in the grass
in the hot April sun
his nostrils beating
all the signs that we know
taught to us when we were small
what does a sick horse look like?
like this
like this

you cannot sleep on a sick horse
no one can
lights in the barn at midnight
are never right
the horses blink and stir
the taste of camphor
until i find my horse standing at his door
with none of the signs
a pat and a waking dream of the bones
of the old horses,
now buried near a swimming pool

i play the radio on the drive home
the rain is cooler now with the front
they said would come
something makes me stop the car
just before home
a snapping turtle
old as boulders
mouth agape
he’s come out of the river
i leave him scrambling
at the neighbor’s mailbox
supposing he knows
exactly where he's headed

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

John Cheever Says . . .

17 July, 1947

Dear John,
I have my troubles. Mrs. Fitch French, who does my wash, has a middle-aged and crippled cat she wants Susie to have. Susie wants the cat. I don't want Susie to have the cat so on Sunday I bought three rabbits; one for Susie and one each for Irene and Jackie, the cook's children. This cost four dollars. Then I brought the rabbits home. I put them in an old duck pen where I thought they would be comfortable. Irene went around behind the duck pen to take a piss. She sat down on a hornet's nest. The hornets waited until she got to her feet, which is typical of New Hampshire, and then attacked all of us with vigor. We weren't able to get near the duck pen again until after dark. I then moved the rabbits from an old duck pen to an old turkey pen where there were fewer hornets. The next evening when Susie went to the turkey pen to feed her bunny she found that he was dead. She screamed. She cried. She was inconsolable. I buried the rabbit at the head of the garden while the gardener stood beside me and told me I was wasting my time. I should throw the rabbit into the woods for the skunks, he said. He is a communist and is so steeled against bourgeois sentimentality that he hasn't even given his horse a name. I then went to the duck pen to investigate the causes of the bunny's death and found some poison there, left for the rats by "Guts" Winternitz, my father-in-law. This poison was manufactured by the Chemical Warfare Branch of the United States Army to be fed, presumably to Russians. All of the rabbits tasted the poison, but only one of them died. Do you think this is a threat to our national security? Do you think there ought to be a shake-up in chemical warfare? . . . there's a lot of talking about filling the void in Susie's life with Mrs. Fitch French's crippled cat.

As ever,

from The Letters of John Cheever edited by Benjamin Cheever (Simon & Schuster, 1988)

Wolfy Cooks Again . . .

I made up this spring salad for dinner last night - you might like it as much as we did:

Cannellini Bean & Potato Salad For Two

Roast a pound of fingerling potatoes at 400 degrees with kosher salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh thyme til golden brown.

Saute half a head of garlic (smashed & chopped), with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, add some chopped sweet peppers, when softened add a can of drained cannellini beans, kosher salt, pepper, and more fresh thyme.

Chop small head of romaine lettuce and a bunch of radishes.

In two large bowls, divide the lettuce, then the radishes, then the saute of beans/garlic/peppers, then the potatoes.

Dress with Yogurt Dressing: whisk together 2 cups of Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (or fresh lemon), a pinch of kosher salt, and pepper.