Sunday, November 29, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Tonight though, just a dozen thousand words from the end of my goal, I wrote a piece which did not involve anyone I currently know, so I feel safe posting it.
Enjoy the insanity of my past life!
She had to get away from him, had to leave that table NOW!
She mumbled, “I’m going to the restroom-”
not that diction would have helped him hear her, so lost in his precious baseball game was he, and away she dashed, as if a demon was chasing her. The women’s room door yelped closed behind her as if her terror had been transferred to its worn and smoke scented surface.
Inside the musky chamber there were three under dressed blondes gabbling away at the mirror as they put on their faces. They all stopped long enough to eye her, decided she was “safe” and moved back into their conversation. She entered the first empty stall, trying not to take deep breaths. Damn she HATED that smell. The door wouldn’t stay closed, of course, and with the tribe at the mirror she just couldn’t draw more attention for switching. She sat down and propped one foot against the door to keep it shut. Her head in her hands, she waited them out, trying to take shallow breaths, trying to remain calm, trying to think how she was going to get out of this one.
This was going to go down Monday morning at the office as one of the worst blind dates she’d had, and that was saying something. No car-no job guy was a favorite, while many of the girls enjoyed the stubby one that demanded in a loud pissed off voice that the waitress at the trendy downtown bistro bring him the container of oil they used on the French fries so he could assure himself that no meat by products were involved. There was the guy that took her to the Chef Boyardee fake Italian restaurant and then insisted they walk the eight blocks to the game in the rain. There was the guy that admitted he was gay and lived with his mother who did his cooking and laundry. Yes, her listof blind dates were the Monday morning highlight at work, giving all the comfortably married and happily singled something to snark about. She hadn’t minded, in fact enjoyed the adventure of it all herself. It sure beat sitting at home alone every night, watching out her knee level window as couples strolled down the street on their way home from a cozy walk around the city lake.
But this…well this wasn’t just an entertaining story, it was much worse. And why? Because NOTHING is why. It was the date that was no date. He didn’t pick her up, first off. Most of her cautious 30 something friends thought this was a good thing, alarmed as they were when date after blind date she let them pick her up at her apartment. No, he insisted she meet him at the sports bar he named quickly and then hung up. She had to look in the phone books for both cities before she found it in the suburbs of the farthest one from her. No problem, she was an expert at public transportation, deciding years ago after the divorce which left her with no car and no money that she would rather do without their expense.
When she arrived by the two buses she needed to take to get to the suburb she knew nothing about, he was already seated, which made him hard to find since she’d never seen him before. This was the early 90’s and there were no cell phones are emailed photos to bring her up to speed before they met. She just knew him by his own description, “Tall, blond, athletic, good looking, a young 30” No one sitting alone fit that description in her mind. Of course there was a large blond man sitting at the bar with two women, but he was clearly not waiting for a date…which should have been when she turned around and left. After waiting at the door for 20 minutes, the chump at the bar turned around for a moment, saw her, and waved her over. Turned out that WAS her date. The girls with him were friends from work, did she mind if they joined them? He of course didn’t wait for an answer, or for her to introduce herself before he moved to a table closer to the TV he was already engrossed in.
An hour later, she still sat at the table the foursome had moved to, still had no drink or food, as they didn’t bother to order for her or let her order for herself the two times the waitress had come to refill their ample drinks, listened still to them laugh about private jokes from the warehouse where they worked together, still watched them watch a baseball game on the TV over her head (“you don’t mind do you, you don’t seem the baseball type”), as the popcorn they were hurling at the “bad” calls by the ump drifted down on to her head. No more. Unnoticed, she had mumbled her excuses and hid in the bathroom.
And here she sat, cowering, fighting the door that wanted to open and expose her hiding spot, trying to figure out how to get out of this one. The trio at the mirror had finally left and the stank room was finally quiet. She ruminated on his inept description of himself. Athletic, if you counted arm chair quarterbacking, his gut strained over his pants, his arms hung in a doughy heap from his shoulders. He had plenty of that blond hair he had mentioned, it was greasy and messy and flowed two inches below his collar, which was turned inside out. There was a hole near the left hand side of the collar in the front, and he poked at it while he talked in a way that turned her stomach. He’d picked his nose twice, which was half as many times as he’d grabbed the breasts of the shorter of the two coworkers. He’d chosen to just glance at her chest, and only once. She’d guessed he hadn’t seen anything worth returning for, and based on the shape of the coworker, she came to understand that understated was not his preference.
Like a fool she was caught. She had counted on getting a ride to the bus stop from him, and now she was looking at a five mile walk to the transfer point, as the suburban route only ran one direction and only until about half an hour ago. She could call a cab, but only had five dollars in cash, having used the majority of her dollar bills and quarters in getting here. The cabbies didn’t take checks and she didn’t use credit cards, so she was good and stuck at this point. And starving. She exited the stall and drank some lukewarm water out of the palm of her hand to cure a dry throat and then ducked back into the stall to think.
She cursed herself, for her foolishness, for her predicament, for her decision not to own a car. She just COULD NOT go back out there, she was frozen to the seat, her whole being rejecting the idea of another minute spent in the company of those goons. It was at this point that she lifted her head from her hands, wiped her eyes and in trying to get a grip, glanced at the wall to her right. Graffiti reading could be amusing, and it took her away from her current predicament. She read about Nancy + Sam = LOVE 4EVER and the size of Mike’s manhood and that Nikki was making the rounds. She’d always wondered who these people were who had time to sit in a bathroom stall and record their darker thoughts, and now she sort of understood. She felt a kinship with all the young things that had felt so trapped that they wanted to leave behind a message of desperation for those that would come after them.
She thought about it for a moment. No need to be hasty. She had spent her whole life until two years ago being good. Or at least trying to make amends when she wasn’t good. She didn’t curse. She didn’t play the field, although she was sure her parents thought she did. She had lived with a man for six months after her divorce, and they were dating, so she was sure that everyone assumed they were sharing a bed. They weren’t, but she had grown tired over a year ago of explaining herself, so she just let people talk. In the end she was glad they were wrong, because he had been sharing his bed with someone, and when she found out she was crushed. She couldn’t imagine how much worse it would have been if she had given herself to him. It was bad enough standing up to him and making him leave, then finding another roommate to help with the rent. It exhausted her anew just thinking about those early days. Her new roommate, a woman, had been a much better roomie and when she married a year later they had parted friends. She had subsequently decided to give up the whole roommate gig, and found a gold mine of an apartment when bike riding to work one day, closer to the lake, larger, and because it was a smaller company, at nearly half the price. She loved her place, felt she could stay there forever, it fit her and her lifestyle so well.
Her walk down memory lane was rudely interrupted by a large guffaw entangled with a high pitched shriek that snaked under the door from that lovely table from which she had recently escaped. Yes, back to the moral dilemma at hand—to deface or not to deface, that was the question. Yes, she was just about angry enough. Still propping one foot against the door to keep it shut, she grabbed for her purse and rummaged around for a pen. Of course, she only had a pencil. Her favorite .05 mechanical pencil, the one she had switched to after the divorce when she decided she never wanted to write anything permanent again.
“WHO CARES!” she shouted in her head, and pressed the lead hard against the thickly repainted stall wall to break the tiny lead. Then, teeth gritted, for she hated the sound of metal grating on metal, she began to etch her message. First she dug in about shoulder high, the most important word of her message H E L P. The sound of the paint flaking off and the scritch of the metal on metal set her teeth on edge and as she tensed against the sound she lost her footing on the door and it flew open just at the hallway door emitted another patron. As she jumped up to reclose it the contents of her purse dumped out and rolled and skittered across the floor in front of the interloper who stepped on her sunglasses and broke them under her heel.
“Oops, sorry” the interloper apologized and started to help pick things up.
“Never mind--” she rushed out in horror and accepted the remaining whole items, scooping the plastic pieces into the trash.
While the woman went into a stall and closed the door she washed her hands at the sink, pretended to brush her hair, applied chapstick, and fumbled around trying to look like someone hard at work in the mirror. Would the interloper think she had forgotten to flush she worried, debating on whether going to flush now would make the problem better or worse.
When the interloper exited the stall, did her own ablutions and left the bathroom she darted back into her stall, wedged the door shut with a small pad of paper, and continued with her defacement. She applied the ever diminutive word “I” and then moved down below the H to keep her message in a neat quadrilateral space. A M came next and then T R A P P E D. She added a nick of an exclamation point to deliver the emotional side of her message, moved to another line under the A and scratched in S A V E and the final M E.
Later she realized it couldn’t have happened exactly like this, but it seemed to her that the very moment that she finished the center horizontal arm on the letter E that the lights flickered and then went out. In the dark, which lasted a second, two, three, four…she realized she heard no sound from the TVs and stereo in the bar, the sounds of which had been a muffled roar through the door of the bathroom. In fact, she realized she didn’t hear and people talking either. Could she hear them before? Of course she comforted herself, remember the guffaw? It seemed deafeningly quiet now.
All this happened within the span of 45 seconds, and her breathing grew more rapid as her ability to come up with logical explanations started to fail her. She again heard the complaint of the door as to was pushed open and a deep, purposeful voice said, “Do you need help?”
She hadn’t realized it, but when the lights had gone off she had stood up and pressed her back against the wall to cover the carving she had been making. She toyed with the idea of remaining hidden and silent, and then realized that she could hear herself breathing raggedly and that a deep red light emanating from the exit sign in the hallway was lighting the bathroom interior enough to make her pants and black heeled boots visible beneath the stall door.
The voice took another step into the room and called out again, “I know you need help. I don’t want to alarm you, I’m not a stalker or anything, but I’ve been watching the antics of that idiot at your table all night while I worked, and I realize you would have left a long time ago if that was an option. Can I call you a cab or something?”
She found it odd that the voice hadn’t commented on the quiet in the bar or the lack of light. As if he could read her thoughts, he offered, “We closed an hour ago, but I didn’t see you come back out, and as I was heading to my car it hit me, you might be stuck in here and didn’t realize how late it was.”
She was alone with this voice? His words couldn’t be called on to make sense in her reality. How did she end up staying in here this long? She started counting back quickly. It had been a little before seven pm when she had arrived to meet her date, nearly seven thirty when he finally acknowledged her and then maybe another hour before she escaped to the bathroom. Didn’t bars usually close at 1pm? She wished she knew more about that sort of thing, but it wasn’t in her experience to frequent them, being raised by teetotalers as she was. Surely she hadn’t been in here for over four hours? The voice cleared his throat. “I’m probably not helping your situation, so I’ll leave and go turn the lights on and call a cab. I just need to know you aren’t physically hurt. If you are okay, I’ll call back in when the car has arrived and then you won’t have to sit out in the bar with me until it comes. Okay?” and the door punctuated his remarks as it slowly closed behind him.
There was something in the tone of his voice, something in the surreal nature of the whole evening that clicked in, and it was if her words carved into the stall wall were tattooing her back with their message. She was being saved. She felt safe. Making a decision, slowly she pushed off from the wall, zipped her pencil into her purse, pulled a hand through her hair and pulled the pad of paper from the stall door so it fell open.
She stood uncertainly in the stall opening, not knowing if she should make further strides in the dark or not. She hated the pitch blackness that enveloped her when the door shut, no longer getting any light from the exit sign, and as she had since she was a small child, she squeezed her eyes tightly shut. Somehow if she was shutting her eyes the dark seemed less of an affront. Two minutes that felt like two hours later the door groused open again. The noise partially obscures the voice as he is explaining, “Its on a timer, the lights, if they aren’t turned off manually by 2am they shut off automatically. We only have a few moments before they go off again.” The message complete, the door now propped open again by his arm, the voice finds her whimpering with her purse clutched to her chest and her eyes closed. What he does next is stupid, and he knows it, but he also knows somehow that it is the exact thing she needs.
He takes two giant steps to reach her and before the door groans closed behind him he is enfolding her in his arms. He quietly and firmly speaks into her ear, “The lights are back on now.” She relaxes, and, of course, her purse therefore plunges to the ground again, again spilling its contents everywhere. He takes a step back to help her pick things up at the same moment she does the same and they knock heads so hard she sees bright points of light at the center of her vision for a few seconds.
Suddenly the tension, the anger, the whole ridiculous evening rushes out of her and she laughs so hard she can hardly breathe. The voice is rubbing his forehead where a bright red spot has emerged above his aubergine eyes, and his ample lips emit a low laugh that quickly elevates to match her near hysteria, as he thrusts his square chin skyward. The voice bends again, this time to the side careful to avoid her and continues picking up her things. Her laughter holds her helpless, continues in rolls, until she is leaning helpless against the wall and wiping her eyes.
By the time the purse contents are put right and he hands it back to her, standing to his full six foot four inch height, she has slowly started to settle down. In another moment they are both enveloped in quiet, but with a smile on their lips. She looked him directly in the eyes and thought, with a twinkle in her own, I am being saved. Then she reaches out, takes his left hand in her right and pulls him toward the stall she realized she had begun to think of as her home.
She pulls him through the doorway and past her, then pushes his captured hand against the wall. “I did this tonight” she confesses as she ran her fingers across the letters, next to his inert hand. She then takes his long fingers again and pulls them along the sharp edge of her message as if teaching him a kind of Braille. He has to stoop a little and press his body against the opposite wall to read it, but then he stands again and intertwines his fingers in hers. “You are safe now.” is all he says. It is enough.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
But, since I'm unlikely to change the world, Scott and I have asked this year to change the celebrations in our families, and they sweetly agreed. So we'll celebrate Christmas and Andrew's birthday mid January when we actually might have a little money, and now we just need to survive the next 45 days until that money appears. Sounds grim, right?
Well, this week has been a week of little blessings that made it feel much less grim. We had an orchestra concert that was prepaid so we got free quality music. We had beautiful weather so we had lots of time outside, which is totally free. Scott found a way to mix cheap coffee to make it taste as good as the "real" stuff. Mom took me to a photography class in exchange for driving. Andrew had friends over three days and the sound of his happy giggles is worth a million bucks. I also found 9 dessert plates and 3 goblets at the thrift store for under $10 total, and so now we are only five bowls away from being able to serve dinners at our house.
Yes, it was a week of blessings. Six more to go!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Shortly after befriending her on facebook this am she posted this:
If we could share the REAL story, we could let others know they are not alone. YOUR secret- YOUR biggest shame, YOUR best lesson learned could HELP someone ELSE! We are all just as sick as our secrets so KEEP IT REAL and help someone else...
It of course immediately reminded me of a major theme in the book I am writing (yes Virginia I really am at a word count exceeding 31,000) and I told her so. Turns out she just wrote a book too, same deal, and is seeking a publisher.
Later in the day a signal went off in my head that it was time to listen to a cassette tape that I had had for many years. It is a recording off the radio, of my grandfather being interviewed on his local station. I knew this and knew it contained his testimony, but for years I haven't been able to listen to it. Today I knew it was time.
I decided not only to listen to it once all the way through, but I played it back slowly and wrote a transcript of much of what he said, and added it in to my book. It sort of sticks out right now, I have to find the right segway to it, but I'm happy to have it written down for later folding in.
When I was getting ready to take my handwritten notes and translate them into a typed copy I started screwing around on the internet because I was dragging my feet. 2000 words of typing really isn't my idea of fun times. I was looking into just how popular the Pioneer Woman, who comes to the Mall of America this weekend, really is (#18 bestseller on amazon.com) and stumbled across Stephen King's newest book.
Scott and I had a lengthy conversation about Mr. King when we first met, and I think our shared interest in him was one of the things that caught my eye about Scott. Anyway I was whining again about how far down his writing had fallen in later years, and Scott asked if I had read any of this book. So I pulled up an exerpt and actually, as an aside, it sounded pretty good. Gruesome but good.
Anyway, on this site he talks about telling the truth and he quotes "you're only as sick as your secrets" and credits AA with this tenant.
Later in the evening I was researching the radio station that interviewed my Grandfather, and the verse of the day on their website? "Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth." John 17:17.
So bottom line is: I want no sickness, no secrets. We'll see if I can actually pull that off.
You may have noticed that although I am posting updated word counts each day, I'm not posting any content on this blog. Turns out once I finished the rough draft of the KC Trip story and moved on to the flashbacks I felt significantly less comfortable posting the notes online.
I'm sleeping on Grandfather's entry tonight and whether I should post it.
I'll let you know!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
She stood at the closet, doors flung wide, trying intermittently to shake loose the nightmare and to plan her wardrobe for the day. She hadn’t had that particular terror visit her at night for years—knew that it must be linked to the fact that she was headed on this journey into the past, yes, that was why it was now resurfacing.
But wait, she remembers, of course she has set out her clothes for today, all ready to go as soon as she woke. She closes the door on the closet carefully, its contents fairly emaciated anyway as she is all packed for the week. She had carefully considered what she wanted to wear on the long car journey, which warranted comfort, balanced with the desire to look her best as she met her friend for the first time in 27 years.
One pant leg after another, noting as an aside her increased balance—all those workouts and runs were paying off even at this late stage in her life—and her mind thus satisfied moved back to the disturbing dream.
She had had this dream on a routine basis for as long as she could remember. Of course, that was not as long as most people who were her age. She had heard her friends speak of memories from their second and third year—considering it a fault, she did not often tell them that her first memories started ten years later than theirs.
Creamy turtleneck sweater pulled over her wild hair, she plugged in the straightening iron he daughter had taught her to use. She glanced in the mirror to determine how much work was ahead of her—was gratified to see that the color her daughter had applied in the salon last week had tamed her tresses a bit, and she’d probably only have to yank the branding hot iron through her hair for a half hour or so to get things under control.
Control—now there was a word that probably spoke a bit about the dream. She’d been tested and analyzed and advised like so many of her mates in the 90’s, and so she knew the jargon. Chances were, they said, that the lost memories were a protective device called into service by her mind. They slyly implied that something quite shocking had happened to her—but no, she was not going to turn that trip trap over in her mind again, no time, not if she wanted to stay on schedule. Still, while brushing her teeth the dream came back to her. She had noticed that running water always stimulated her mind, she got great ideas in the bath and while doing dishes, and even, if she was not fighting her gag reflex, while brushing her teeth. Another mystery that, why was she so sensitive to anything being in her mouth? Of course, anything other than food and drink that is, she seemed to have no problem keeping that down she observed as she patted her ample belly. Ah, that belly, they had grown to be close friends by this time, as they had been in each other’s company for over 22 years, it arriving and settling in to stay right about the time of her second child’s birth. They went through rough stages, at times she hated it, especially when the answer to, “Oh, when are you due to deliver?” had to be met with the honest, “Eight years ago.” She was practical though and realized she was fortunate to have extra long legs. Fortunate that she carried her weight primarily in one spot. She daydreamed again about finding out she was carrying a benign 15 pound tumor in there. Being told it could be taken out simply in an overnight at the hospital, followed by eight glorious weeks spent recovering in the company of a swarm of books and a carafe of coffee. Ah dreams, what a crazy one that was, she didn’t need a psychologist to tell her that. As if the accumulated troubles we pick up along the years could be cut out in a moment, and all put back to right and leave no damage behind.
She sighed. The nightmare from last night catching her attention again. The setting was an odd one, the sewing room in her grandparents home in rural North Dakota. Everything was beige, which is probably accurate, her grandmother not being the cheerful sort, nor one to be concerned about decorating. She knew from asking her mother, that she often slept in that room when they went back to Grandpa and Grandpa’s house, back to North Dakota where she had been born and her brother, and where she had lived, right next to the grandparents, and then on a farm a few miles away until she was seven. Seven years, and yet she has only one small memory that she thinks might be her own.
Like the dream, it is another setting near bedtime. She thinks it is a summer evening, for the light is fading but has not yet left the sky. It is looking in the window, warming the wooden built in drawers that march down one wall of her room, and she hears her mother making comforting noises of cleaning up dishes in the kitchen, occasionally entering into conversation with her father. The feeling she has when drawing up this memory is a complex one of comfort and discontent. Perhaps she petulant about having to be in bed before dark, but also enjoying the familiar sounds of her parents taking care of the business of their home. It is a mere wisp of a memory for sure, and may still be proved to be not her own, for she can almost hear her mother telling the story and showing her a picture. But no, she will claim this as her own. They moved from that yellow house next to Grandpa and Grandma’s when she was not quite six, so that would be a nice early memory to be able to claim. Still, she is unsure.
That time feels so lost to her. The location of the houses, the things they did during the day, the schools they attended, all these facts are supplied by her mother on the occasions she seeks to reach back to that time. So is this nightmare about the sewing room a fragment of something from her past? She doesn’t know, is never sure. It certainly doesn’t make sense; she is sleeping on a little cot there, it is late afternoon or early morning. The light coming in through the high awning windows enters the room weakly and at a deep slant, that is how she knows the time. Of course in northern North Dakota, in winter, this could be very early in the afternoon indeed. She does find it entertaining and a bit perplexing that the quality of the light is so integral to both the dream and the memory. Was this an early indication that she would have interests in the finer things, painting and photography, literature and music of the enduring sort?
She hears her little boy stirring in his bed, and hurries to pack up her toothbrush and the few other toiletries she left out for the morning. Her last bag is now by the door, the rest already in the car, again to assure a quick exit. Was she allowing enough time? She hadn’t made this trip in a decade, and hadn’t factored in any road construction.
Road construction – that phrase again pulled her back to the dream, for a type of construction is taking place there. First, the young girl on the cot, herself she had always believed, hears the sound of a washing machine chugging and sloshing a load through its paces. This sound is regular and insistent, and she realizes it has the gallop of a heartbeat as well, a heartbeat that is getting louder and faster as the little girl wakes. Right from the start there is a feeling of fear, getting stronger as the various elements unwind. She peeks open an eye and sees her grandmother’s sewing machine first. This helps her know where she is, but doesn’t explain the noise she is hearing.
And then, on the edge of her vision she sees that it is neither a washing machine or a heartbeat she is hearing, for the sound is syncopated perfectly to the bricks. Yes, the room is filling up on the inside with red bricks, mysteriously appearing like a video game just in time to stack one level at a time around and around the room, faster and faster. Although the windows are high in the wall, they will be covered over soon, and the door is already half inaccessible. This scares her, terror engulfs her to the point of making a scream impossible, breathing difficult. Still, the mounting bricks march on.
This is usually the point where she wakes, and it is also now the point where her hair is straightened and the iron, is tucked into an outer pocket of her final bag to finish cooling. A flash of orange and her little boy has flown into her bed, burrowing beneath the pile of pillows and making his usual morning squeaking noises. She grabs him and gives him a morning tickle and then a quick kiss, and turns around to find her husband stretching awake and hoping for his own greeting. The joy of snuggling them both chases the dregs of the dream away, and it doesn’t reenter her mind again.
Ten minutes later she and her husband enter the elevator, he carrying her final bag, always the gentleman. She must look worried, probably the residue of the dream, because for once she doesn’t feel her normal panic setting in upon heading out to try something new. Still something is in the air and he asks, “Are you worried?” She kisses his cheek and returns, “Worried about what?” wondering what he has sensed. “That we are going to kill each other when you are gone?” he quips, bringing to the forefront the volatile place the relationship between her husband and her youngest son has reached at this stage in their lives. “No, I think you will get along famously.” She makes the words a prayer and sends it to her God. Positive thinking does in fact make a difference, and God certainly can work that minor miracle. He chuckles, holds open her door, tucks her case in the backseat and wishes her a safe journey. And then she is off.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
It is almost over. This is the thought that invades her mind before her eyes have opened to greet the day. As always, as soon as the first thought enters her mind, she removes to prayer and this line is delivered plaintively to her Maker. It is before she has had time to remind herself to look for the good in everything. It is while she is still off guard against negativity. I want more she breathes to the Creator, and I love what I have been given, thank you for what I have been given. Yes, now she is more fully awake, now she is striking the proper tone, the tone that she will take with her into the new day.
A smile now reaches her lips, the ghost of the one that guided her to sleep last night, and she snuggles deeper into the warm covers for a last minute of indulgence. It is early, and they went to bed late, much later than her in fact, and so she is surprised when during this last extravagance she realizes that voices are issuing forth from the kitchen below. Why how can they possibly already be awake? She doesn’t like to admit it, but she prides herself on being the one-with-stamina. The one who impresses all with how she can keep going and going. Yet in this she is clearly being shown up by her old school friends. Affronted, the last half of that indulgent minute is dispensed with as she hurls herself purposefully out of bed, hastily pulling the sheets and pillow cases off into a neat pile for the laundry. Another second is afforded to sadness as this action reminds her she will not sleep here again. She comforts herself by reminding , while she dresses, that after a time, she will sleep again in her own home, after snuggling with her lovely little family, and she is back on the positive side of the fence.
She is a snob, there is no two ways about it, but she ameliorates this by poking fun at the very things that make her thus. As she bounces down the stairs to see who has beat her out of bed, she therefore mocks her horror at this aloud, and easy laughter pervades the room, just the tone she had hoped to set. Quietly though she acknowledges only to herself the fact that she is the only one who dressed for the day and packed all her belongings, bringing them to the foot of the stairs, so in a way she can feel calm in the fact that she is still somehow ahead of the game. She is not proud of these thoughts, so makes more fun of herself in another tack, just for good measure and settles in to a nice cuppa with the two mates that are up.
She easily lets her mind glide over the facts, which are that Chris is already hard at work cooking a grand meal for them to eat in an hour or so. Glossing over the facts that might tip the scales away from her again is her especial skill, and they all pick up where they left off, remembering the past, both shared and otherwise. She had walked in on a conversation about childbirth, a landscape they have all crossed, although not while in each other’s lives. She loves hearing the stories and sharing her own, and soon the fourth of their party joins them. They head back out to the deck, another beautiful day is in store and like all true Midwesterners, they recognize their duty to enjoy any agreeable weather, knowing it is likely that tomorrow will bring something entirely different.
The time passes quickly and soon the fifth and final player in their party is motoring down the drive. From the first glance she sees how this last performer will play his role—he is destined to be the successful one. She has heard that he worked hard to be thin and well groomed at each of the previous class reunions. His car is one designed to give the impression of a car one is driven around in, and it takes a second look to realize it is mostly a disguised standard import. It sweeps around the curve, and there is a pause as they all wait at the balcony rail for him to emerge. In those few moments what is he collecting? His thoughts? His courage? A final look in the mirror? Then the door opens and out he comes and all his hard work is not lost. It is not only her breathe she hears sharply drawn in, although the others have met him once or twice in the ensuing quarter century. In school, Doug had been one of only two boys in their class that received any attention whatsoever, although not the type of attention he probably sought. Doug and Chris, friends all through school as far as she knew, were the cream of the crop, and a weak crop it was. She believed it was commonly this way, that most of the boys her age were a bit of the doddering fools. Blushing often, uncomfortable in the company of women, even the unformed women of their class, lost behind the girls who had better grades, better ways of communicating, and better visions of what a boy they would date would look and act like. Amusingly there were several from the class a year behind theirs that fit the bill and it must have further enervated them to see the girls run past them into the arms of those they saw as pipsqueaks from the junior class.
But Doug and Chris were in a different situation. Secretly, many of the girls did want to catch their eyes, but on the face of it they were so enjoying the male companionship that they received from these two that they mostly did not seek them out for a date. His glorious smile emerged as soon as he exited the car, and although this tall, slim, urban stranger surprised her, the smile brought it all home. She tried to remember as everyone exchanged greeting hugs, if she had thought of him in a romantic way…it seemed easy to believe now, but she thought perhaps she had not seen his potential in high school. She remembered he tended to come across as pudgy, although she didn’t remember him being actually fat. When discussing various classmates that turned out to be gay, she got things mixed up and she inadvertently put his name on the list. She was corrected soon after, but she was even now seeing how she could have made that mistake. He cared about how he looked, he paid attention to details that most boys his age not only missed, but couldn’t have cared less for, all the girls adored him in a brotherly way. Signs enough. She was glad this particular set of thought remained unspoken, she realized with horror the unfairness of them and moved back into the group conversation, shivering at her prejudicial inner remarks.
They decided to eat the breakfast that was now ready, and sat ‘round the formal dining room table complementing the chef and getting reacquainted. She found herself less in charge of the conversation as she was used to—upon reflection this was actually very common when the group grew beyond one or two others. It was partially why she so hated parties and other large gatherings—she found herself lost and adrift most of the time at these affairs. In this case she just enjoyed the ebb and flow of the talk, taking in all the extra knowledge this group had of her past—Kim and Doug especially seemed to have an encyclopedic memory of all that had transpired for the years they had schooled together. She found out she used to send many coded messages to members of her group, a fact that completely shocked her, as she did not for a minute remember this. After a time they retired to the media room where Chris shared a slideshow of family pictures and they searched Facebook with the big screen television displaying the results as they looked for more classmates. The group was soon divided into two invisible categories; those who found their dearest memories were firmly imbedded in the halls of their high school; and those who could not imagine that being the pinnacle.
They took a break to take group photos outside, Chris’s husband now home was pressed into service as photographer, this being a large part of his career, they weren’t concerned that the outcome would be undesirable. She knew she needed to hit the road soon, and so snapped some additional family photos and began to detach herself from the group. Others were also reaching the same conclusion, so her goodbyes grew long as it was decided all would leave at once. At first she was a little annoyed by the delay, she may have lived 2/3 of her life in Minnesota, but she was not one for long goodbyes. But when she found her eyes misting up with sadness at the prospect of leaving this lovely week behind she was glad for the bustle and distraction it all brought.
Heading out of the city an hour later, into yet another rainstorm, she tried to sum up and review all this trip had meant to her. Lost friendships rekindled, enjoyable touristing, great entertainment, meeting the new and the old were all wonderful. But mostly what she had been given on this trip was herself. For years now her life had been fractured. The utter horror of her first marriage and all the drama that surrounded it served as a bunker, keeping the territory she had already traversed a country away from the person she had become in the aftermath. She had believed that person dead and gone. She had assumed that she had been foolish, unworthy of remembering, inconsequential. What these four old friends had been able to give her was a sense of a girl she knows she would have liked. She saw through their eyes someone who knew where she wanted to head, and was making progress in that direction. Someone who showed the world she was sure of herself. Someone who mattered to the lives of at least these four. Someone who would have mattered to her. What a gift this trip had been in that fact alone.
She turned on the third section of Capote’s classic and lost her 45 year old self in the landscape and storyline, content not to think more on her life for the space of time it took her to head back to her home.
Monday, November 9, 2009
That night, as we headed down to the Plaza, four old school chums reacquainting themselves after 27 years, I could sense that this event would be special. That the time on the Plaza would be a moment we would all remember for the rest of our days.
The rain had stopped, the air was not too chilly. We were only a few moments late for our dinner reservations and they had held them for us upon my call. I hadn’t eaten at this restaurant in our own town for a year or so, PF Chang’s is part of a nationwide chain and they have excellent food. We ordered, again I noted how people ordered, for I feel what we eat and how we approach a menu tells so much about a person. We all enjoyed a great meal, I had a hard time choosing and was pleased when the shot in the dark I ordered turned out to be excellent. We paid and walked out onto the mall, the dark settling in, listening for where the greatest concentration of people appeared to be as that was probably where we were headed.
We found the reservoir after only a few minutes, and the bonfires lit upon it were stunning. Chris and I had our cameras out and turned on in no time, and as we took the steps down to the riverfront, the music washed over us in fine waves. A thin young man was performing tricks with a ball of fire on the end of a stick, and I was horrified and fascinated all at once.
The fires helped warm the pleasant air even more, so even though it was now full dark we were not chilly. We wandered up and down the canal, taking in the sites and the sounds and chatting now and then. We did not have a schedule, but we found a stage were in half an hour or so a circus like tumbling act would be shown. Chris chatted with a fellow photographer and we staked out our territory, then realized we were too early and did some more walking around before returning to our spot. It got very crowded right before the show was to start, and there was some of the usual bad behavior you get in a crowd situation, but overall we held our ground and got a front row view of the lovely gymnastics set to music. In keeping with the theme, four darkly clad women entered the stage as the last act, and their special elongated fingernails were set on fire, creating light patterns as they danced across the stage. It was exhilarating. We wandered some more, talked about getting a beer, strolled past the carriages and stopped while Kim and I admired the beasts. While we fed cookies the owner gave us for the horse, Christine snuck over to the manager and hired us a carriage. With a smile she ushered us into the pumpkin shaped carriage, outlined in mini lights, and for the moment, we were princesses. Kim and I both went nuts, I think I even teared up a bit, as this was a treat I had hoped my whole life someone would take me on. We waved to the onlookers as we rode through the streets. This truly was a night to remember.
Later at the bar we selected for dessert and a night cap, the talk grew more serious. Some of the sadder tales of which we had been forced to be participants came out, and we sought to give each other comfort, if belatedly. Suddenly, we all grew tired, and we knew it was time to call the evening a success and head home to sleep.
In the morning a fifth member of our high school would be joining us for brunch, so we needed to get some rest. I’m sure that as I drifted off that night I had a smile of happiness on my face.
(the rest of my words for today's portion aren't publishable. THey again, like yesterday are just the random ramblings of a very tired, possibly ill woman who is just hellbent on meeting her daily word count. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow and there will be more worth posting!)
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Her throat felt like a living room trashed after a frat party. As she slowly regained consciousness she realized this probably meant a cold was coming on. Grateful that she’d held off illness this long, she said a quick prayer hoping for at least a few more days reprieve.
This was the day she would drive north to meet the first of the two girls she had met on the internet that lived in the area. Although they were a little older than her actual daughter, they were part of a small group of gals she had talked to on a scrapbooking website that she thought of as her surrogate daughters. They all had their own unique personalities, or so it seemed online, but they were friends and she loved their fresh perspectives and their zest for living.
Heading downstairs, she and Chris enjoyed a quiet hour of breakfast, coffee and conversation before they both met back in the three season for a half hour workout. Denny had decided to head to their lake home and start to close it up for the season, winterizing the boat before a deep freeze ruined the motor. The stretch and warmth of her muscles felt good and she knew it would come in handy as she had some long drives ahead of her.
The town of St. Joseph and the home of Bre was her first stop. It was again raining, and she had gotten a late start, so she again skipped the photo session of her parent’s old home and headed straight north by a different route than she had been using to enter and exit the city. Packed in the trunk were some gifts for each of the girls from Nancy, a small packet of craft supplies, and some photos. The plan was to meet and scrapbook for a few hours, a nice distraction and the first thing they had in common, then caravan back to the city to meet the ever busy Shan.
This back route was plain and consistent, the road smooth and wide and the countryside open and quiet. She toyed around with the radio, not finding what she desired. This view seemed to call for some plaintive blues in simple tones. Radio off, yes that was best she thought, and she let the quiet fill her and clean her up for this next phase of her trip.
The direction had her a little muddled when she arrived in St. Jo, and after trying unsuccessfully twice, she stopped and called Bre for an insider’s advice. Bre had moved to this town recently from the other side of Kansas, settling in to the new place because her husband had recently taken a promotion to the radio station in town. As she exited the car at their townhouse she realized she had forgotten the dogs—Bre’s two little canines were both a close approximation of her own Dilly that was a mainstay in the middling years of her childhood. Seeing these happy, fluffy mutts brought her back to the day he died laying on her bed in the farmhouse. In that room she had plaintively song “Evergreen” and “Afternoon Delight” so many times her parents must have torn their hair out. The bedroom tucked into the eaves of the little white house that contained a crib for the runt pig in the dining room. The bedroom into which she locked herself in a fit of teen angst and with peanut butter and a loaf of bread threatened to stay forever.
And then she saw the fat little hand of Maxx curled around his momma’s and she was back in the present and couldn’t get to that handsome boy fast enough. One of the great things about having so many younger friends, she realized, was the lovely little babies they tended to have. She was in the throes of a longstanding baby crush, not wanting the hard work of another of her own, but so enjoying the luxury of those that went home to fuss with others.
The introductions were unhurried and relaxed, and she knew almost immediately that Bre was one of those rare people who is exactly herself at all times and in all environments. This of course meant that she knew her already, even though they had never physically met. A relief. As much as she loved meeting new people, the prospect of a day with an old friend was much more appealing.
Bre showed her around and in the livingroom where they talked a bit, Maxx came right over and crawled into her lap, mutely requesting she work the TV remote for him. It became clear this was a gesture of friendship, for he most certainly did not need her help in working the device. He was showing an aptitude for electronics even before his second birthday, and she smiled as he showed off his skills. Maxx was a solid little man, neither fat or thin, but rather built like any one of the defensive backs for his mother’s favorite team, the Patriots.
Both Bre and her husband are part of that crowd of beautiful people that cause the average person to feel a tinge of envy. Dark haired, dark eyed, original and pleasing face shape, she could see broad strokes of both of his parents while she was watching him. She remembered the first time she saw a photo of Bre and Dave she thought how they could most definitely be brother and sister instead of husband and wife, their looks were so compatible. They made a beautiful baby, that was for sure.
Soon they were settling down to scrapbook, falling into their comfort zone while Maxx played nearby. IT was hard to get started at first, but soon they were both working on their individual projects and talking about the people they “knew” online. Maxx went down for a nap and they begin to work with more intensity. They had seen so much of each other’s projects online, and it was fun to watch the creative process behind the scenes for the first time.
Dave came home and plopped down the couch for some DVR TV watching as a break between the two parts of his job. By day he administered the radio show, at night attending a local game. The show he watched was trashy, and both she and Bre called out commentary from the other side of the room. So much for his relaxation time!
Soon it was time to leave, and Dave got the baby up, changed him and got his shoes on while Bre packed the large bag of items necessary for a mom out for the evening. After cleaning up her own mess and packing her finished pages away to be added to her album at home, she snapped a few pictures of the Dave and Maxx, so cute together.
She updated Ashley’s facebook page, the third “daughter” who lives nine hours away in Indiana and was trying to make the trip down for the weekend so we could also meet in person. What a treat that would have been on top of all the fun already planned. Ashley is the kinda girl that doesn’t just find the party in every situation, she IS the party!
In the warming sun of late afternoon, making a brief appearance to light their drive, they headed inland to the city perched on two sides of an imaginary line between states. Navigating The Kansas Cities can be filled with peril once one reaches the inner ring. Like Buda and Pest, there are strong differences between the two sides, and working with two city and two state governments can make for interesting intersections of road. Bre deftly navigated the mix thanks to the advice of Shan and they were soon pulling into the neighborhood that she knew at a glance must contain the inimitable Shan. This was precisely what she had envisioned for Shan’s dwelling place, the neighborhood one that was filled with old trees and older, well maintained brick buildings. Dwellings were small and generally came in apartment blocks, the inhabitants being filled with a sense of culture and style but not necessarily yet filled with an excess of cash. Where Bre’s habitat was more about what was inside, Shan’s was still about what was outside the door. She said “still” to herself because she saw a natural progression in life, from parent’s home to university, to post university neighborhood to marriage and a family setting. Do we move from type to type as we feel the new phases coming on, or do we move to help propel us toward them? She shook these ponderings from her head and settled into this new setting, one that she had always felt comfortable in although she had never earned time in it with her own life.
As Shan poked her head out the window to greet them and encourage them up the three flight of stairs to her pleasant apartment perch, her questioning mind turned to the matters at hand. Would Shan be as much herself in person as Bre had proved to be, or would it turn out her drama training and passion have lead her to create a persona online that varied from her true self? They did another round of meet and greets as they entered the apartment, and she was again showered with gifts, this time a vintage wooden box Shan hoped she would alter. She smiled at the gesture and the challenge of it. Maybe a place to store some keepsakes from this trip, or some small scrapbook pages that held special meaning.
The apartment held to the feeling of the neighborhood—aging gracefully since it was built around the 20’s, furniture serviceable and well laid out. They sat around, letting Maxx be their focus as small lapses in the conversation occurred from time to time. She turned the question over and over in her mind; how to categorize Shan, how she would speak of her going forward. Shan was a little different than expected, but she wasn’t sure it was due to an artifice. She finally settled on believing that it was merely that Shan was complex, hard to pin down into one type or another, emerging still, a transitory version of her final self. Classification aside, she liked Shan, and enjoyed her company as another facet to the refreshing day. They agreed on dinner at a pub on the Plaza, which turned out to be only a scant distance from Shan’s. It was also exactly the kind of place that she would have thought they would dine at so this too felt comfortable and inviting. Which turned out to be good, because the staff at said establishment was anything but inviting.
At the door they were not-greeted by a surly boy who gave them a stare that said, “What the hell do you want?” Their waiter, a bean stalk of a boy was trembly and inept, and had not a smile to share with any of them. In the end, he netted a fifty three cent tip from their meal of beer, appetizers and dinners, which was probably two cents over what he earned. This tip decision bound them further together as they all felt the pinch of poor service together. Luckily the beer and food was excellent, so it mattered not that it was served with ill humor. She made a mental note to come back another time, sit at the bar where the bar tenders were bound to be a notch above, and order one of their many craft brews.
The girls were delicate eaters; Shan had allergies and Bre wanted her burger with “no vegetables touching it of any kind”, reminding her of her little brother asking for peanut butter and jelly, hold the onions. They talked of how their relationship formed and how they had saved each other along the pioneering trail toward adulthood. She loved to watch their affectionate friendship, each girl her own person, but their long history having extended tender vines of familiarity that would bind them together forever. Sure there were moments of frustration from time to time, they were both passionate and felt things deeply, but in the end they always came back together, knowing they wanted a future as linked as their past.
They half-heartedly snapped a few photos in the darkening sky, enjoying each other’s company enough to want to document the event and yet enjoying each other’s company in a way that distracted them from trying hard to get a good shot. She realized that her week had been filled with this same photographic ennui—lots of great scenery shots, but the people not ever fully coming into focus—as when she was around them she would much rather be with them then hiding behind her lens.
They headed back to Shan’s place and sat around on the floor, trying to rebalance to comfort after the overly filling meal and watching Bre try to prevent Maxx from reprogramming Shan’s DVR. Playing with Maxx and hearing Shan talk about her job and her relationship with her man was a great way to end the day, but she was getting sleepy and still had a half hour drive ahead of her. Hugs all around and she was out the door, into her car at the curb and back to Chris’s to catch up on sleep and prepare for the next day which held more reunions.
KC Trip: Day Five
Although the children had had the last two days off school, and the whole week had been a vacation for her, she awoke Saturday morning with a distinctively Saturday feel in her body. She wandered downstairs in her PJs and joined the kids in the family room for some TV, the first time she’d exited her quarters without first dressing. They whiled away the morning watching the Bratz movie, which was actually better than one might think, while Chris dealt with the drama on the phone surrounding her eldest who had spent the night at friend’s house and was having second thoughts about babysitting for her mom that night. Of course tonight was the dénouement, when four friends from high school were finally reunited after twenty seven years. Here was the main purpose of the trip, so of course the daughter would have no choice. Chris did try to find an alternate babysitter, but children these days are quite busy and no one was available. The two other school chums were expected at around one p.m., so her slacker pace didn’t concern her, until around 10am the phone rang again and the reality was that the twins were already on their way over from across town. YIKES! Chris still needed to grocery shop and pick up her daughter and so she flew out the door with her friend promising to keep an eye on the young ones while she straightened up a bit and got dressed. But first she finished up the last few minutes of the movie—crazy, but she was in it now and couldn’t break away, like a bad train wreck. For the next half hour there was much scurrying around, as she showered, dressed, directed the kids to help with clean up and gulped down the last few sips of coffee.
When Chris returned, with a charmingly resigned Kenzie, she headed upstairs to dry her huge mop of hair. They were much later than expected after the phone call, which of course fueled concerns that they might be lost. The twins that would make up the final half of their foursome had moved a lot in early childhood, but from their early teens until the present day that had not moved more than fifty miles from the epicenter formed by their little high school. She had talked to one only once, the other not at all, and was both excited and curious to see what such a stable home front produced in a woman her age, she felt her own adulthood had been so flighty—and yet upon further reflection she realized she too had settled into a place fresh out of high school and hadn’t moved far since, so they only had a few extra years of location stability on her.
While her hair was still being blown toward dryness she heard adult conversation downstairs and knew they had at last found their way. She paused to consider finishing her task first, but couldn’t hold back her excitement another moment and rushed downstairs. They had exchanged photos over the ensuing month before getting together, so none were surprised by how the years had shaped and changed each face. More hugs and excited smiles and they were into the thick of conversation almost immediately. First sharing what the last few days had held and then slowly working back into their shared past.
The sun had decided to make another brief appearance and with a fresh pot of coffee brewing they headed out to the deck to soak it up while it was with them. The conversation wound on for hours, at some point a mini photo shoot happened. Kim distinguished herself as the one who remembered the most, putting names and dates and details to stories that at least she and Chris hardly remembered. Painful memories were also shared—details of the behind the scenes lives of friends that in high school were kept quiet. A deeper appreciation of the quiet life her parents had created for her was reached. As Kim talked of a home life filled with horrors hard to imagine and spoke or her push to escape that part of her world at the expense of her relationship with her twin sister, tinges of guilt surfaced for not realizing, for not giving her a place of refuge more often. Yes, she realized she had been a self-focused girl, caught up in her own petty dramas and her church bred morals, which she apparently felt the need to rain down on all that entered her range.
She remembered being closer to Kim growing up, but when Dianne spoke she felt that things had changed, and although she liked them both as adults, she felt closer to Dianne now. She was honored with the transparency with which they all spoke, not a bit of the artifice she had thought would show up. Dianne spoke of her oldest daughters unwed pregnancy, nearing the end of its term with candor. She felt comfortable sharing her thoughts from her own young pregnancy—sure she wasn’t unwed on the day of the child’s birth, but that was only due to a hastily conceived marriage after the pregnancy was discovered.
What most moved her was the solid feeling she got from all three of these pals from the past. It occurred to her that perhaps she was more herself in those young years than she had thought, that she was more formed and her choices more real than she had come to believe. She did know that she loved these women, that there was a feeling of continuity that one would not anticipate after over a quarter of a century. They moved back inside to ready themselves for the evening on the town that they had planned.
Friday, November 6, 2009
the first video is just a cool one I found while searching for the second one, which is a 15 year old video of Mr. Washington plying his trade. This post might be a little shorter than my norm, busy day on hand, but more coming on the weekend to get my numbers back up! Enjoy!
She was glad she admitted her lack of knowledge regarding jazz music right up front, because the first sound that assailed her ears upon re-entering the Blue Room was Horace Washington on a flute, and if she had professed to be an expert she would have had to pretend that this did not seem foreign to her. Her friend Chris was a flutist back in her day, and she was also taken aback by this, but it only took a few bars before they realized that this was really working. Washington played the tenor and alto sax as well throughout the evening, but it was clear that he preferred the flute, and if the fabulous playing was any indication, the flute preferred him as well.
Yes, a hallmark of the Horace Washington Quartet was Washington himself, an accomplished reed man on saxophone and of all things flute. Later she was to find out he was a mainstay in Kansas City, recording in the early 90’s and playing venues like the Blue Room for decades. The other band members were also quite good, but of course she didn’t catch their names. The guitarist looked like he’d blend in better in the Oak Ridge Boys, but he was awesome. The ease and flow of relaxed, classic jazz filled the room and the audience shouted out praise at the end of each piece. This was a different music experience than they had tasted on Tuesday; the setting and the type of music made it more personal, and their increased comfort in each other’s company changed the dynamic as well.
After the second set, the two girls spoke with a glance and called a powwow at the bar with the staff to discuss late night food offerings in the area. It was still too cloudy for an enjoyable dessert at Skies; there was mention made of Jardine’s, which also had live jazz, and of a couple of wine bars. Their own Apollonia drew them a cocktail napkin map detailing the location of one such place and they were off in pursuit. They never did find that location, but they reconnoitered and decided on a late night Tapas bar in the vicinity of their freeway entrance. They pulled in late, later discovered the place was due to close just a half hour after they arrived, but the staff was more than happy to serve them, and they were lost in conversation almost immediately.
Chris headed to the bathroom leaving her friend checking out the menu. She perused it top to bottom and decided to issue a test to her refound friend. When Chris returned she said, “Look through the tapas list and see if you can guess which one would be my first choice.” It was a silly, frivolous game she knew, but she had a feeling that almost anything could happen. And happen it did, when Chris ordered flawlessly, choosing exactly as she would have done herself. Her eyes sparkled as she marveled aloud over this with the waitress, and Chris laughed and blushed.
When they left an hour later, they left behind only two servers calmly polishing the bar in anticipation of their exit. She returned Chris’s insight when they rounded the corner of the building to find two young men loitering in the parking lot between the girls and their cars, and changed the pitch of the conversation to soothe Chris. They reached their cars unimpeded and headed back home.
Upon their arrival they found that Chris’s husband had come home two days early from his South Dakota hunting trip, and the couple spent some time on introductions and bringing each other up to speed on the week of events. She just watched their interactions and was pleased after some time to realize she liked this guy. He was intelligent and friendly and very much just himself in a way that calmed and reassured her. So nice to feel that way about the spouse of a friend. They all soon said good night and headed to bed exhausted.
What a day it had been for her, with all it’s changes and it’s wonderful surprises. She struggled to achieve the sleep she so needed, thinking ahead to what the new day would bring, realizing that her time on this trip was slowly winding down. Eventually though, some reading and a glass of water slowed her mind enough to release her from consciousness.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
kinda got a late start today, but I made it! over 6,700 words under by belt 43,000 more to go!
The Blue Room is a little memorabilia-filled night club in the same building as the Jazz Museum in Kansas City. Although not near the place she got her hair done, it didn’t take long to realize this would be another leg of the journey her spouse would consider sketchy. She parked her trusty, rusty thirteen year old car at the curb around the corner from the front door and hiked in the cooling night air to the entrance.
The sign was a clever and very visible marquee shaped like a baby grand, with the neon blue name flashing pleasantly in the gloom. No doubt, she had found exactly the kind of place she was hoping for that evening. When travelling, she preferred local color to tourist traps. She preferred the intimate to the massive. And she liked her music up close and personal.
She had arrived a half hour later than planned, but an hour before the performance began. Her friend, without a cell phone for more frequent updates, had let her know before she left home that it might yet be awhile. She settled at an interesting round table that was a heavy glass top over a collection of blues and jazz memorabilia. The scrapbooker in her was immediately intrigued. In perusing the items in her particular table she realized that jazz and blues are two parts of music history she had not really studied. She loved the mood the music set, she had a few favorites from more recent years, having thoroughly enjoyed the Buddy Guy and B.B. King concerts she had attended, but the history of both of these American music movements were a mystery to her. She made a mental note to consult her brother upon her return home—his knowledge of all things musical was nearly encyclopedic, although he was quick to deny this, and he would be a great help in getting her started on learning more.
The band members were setting up, some of the staff helping out, and it was clear this was a group of men comfortable with each other and with their music. She settled in with anticipation of the night of good music she knew was to come. Wine or beer did not seem the right accompaniment to the evening, pop a harsh slap in the face, so she opted for an old favorite, gin and tonic. Of course there were options on that; tall or short, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray or 10—apparently a smoother offering by the Tanqueray distillers, who have also produced Tanqueray Rangpur—she didn’t expect to receive an education in white liquors along with her free admission to the club. It was a night to reach for new experiences, so she chose 10 and short and filed that information away to bring out when a rough patch in a party called for some clever, distracting discussion.
Half way through her drink, eavesdropping on the two men keeping the barmaid company, she decided not to wait alone any longer and headed for the stool between the man that could be her son and the man that could be her father, except for the pigment of their skin, and settled herself with the lame opening line of, “I’m bored.” They kindly drew her in to their conversation, introduced themselves and soon we were a cozy little foursome talking Prince stories and exchanging business cards. I called the barmaid Apollonia, and she was mine for the taking from there on out. It really was no stretch at all, her beautiful butterscotch skin, her long gorgeous dark hair and the comical image of her as she popped out of the cupboard from the backroom was something that only someone of Apollonia Kotero’s diminutive five foot four height could have so easily accomplished. When conversation switched to “their” lost child after she called the little spitfire this, she realized that in terms of their Prince knowledge they were wannabes, as even she knew he never had a child with Apollonia, and it was Mayte Garcia’s child with him that died shortly after he was born. Nonetheless, “Trey” talked in a gushing manner about his time working backup for Prince in Vegas, and she could tell he was falling into a well-worn groove of a story when he told her about how his beautiful hair had apparently intimidated The Symbol when he was asked point blank to cut it off. He bought her a drink, a thank you for knowing Prince’s work well enough to be impressed by his interactions with him, and for the simple fact of being from Minnesota. She accepted the offering, but then carefully calculated that since she was operating on no lunch, and she didn’t have as much drinking experience as must gals her age, that if she didn’t eat something soon she would be falling off said barstool in a matter of minutes. The other gentleman, the older one named Pye, heartily recommended the catfish at The Redvine, a Cajun saloon just a block down the street. She had her eye on Harper’s, which was directly across from the Blue Room. I asked about it and no one had much to say. Harper’s caught her attention because she had read about it in the Visit KC magazine as a soul food venue that prided itself on using mostly local produce. It just sounded unique and like the kind of place you’d go with a girlfriend and not with your traditional meat eater spouse or pizza and taco nine year old.
Armed with her options, she darted across the street, asking Apollonia to fill Chris in on where to meet her if she arrived suddenly, and rushed in through the front door. There was a buffet style setup in the small, comfortably decorated room and it had the feel of the recently opened. Her entrance did not garner the attention of any employee of the establishment, but several of the patrons, all women, stopped mid-conversation and looked up at her. Curious. The smells were delightful and as she continued to wait by the door to be officially acknowledged, she sensed this was just the perfect find on this day filled with charming discoveries. Her high hopes evaporated when a server came to greet her and explained that a private party was under way, and that another party was expected later in the evening. Harper’s was closed to the general public that night. She held his eyes for a moment and without a word from her he volunteered to check with the chef about accommodating the two, since it was to be such a small party. She toyed with the idea of giving him extra ammunition, she was from out of town, she was really hoping for just this type of experience, she would be willing to eat whatever Ms. Chef had already chosen to prepare. In the end she merely waited and received the final word that there was no room at this particular inn tonight. Back across the street to wait more at the Blue Room, and the Redvine it was to be. When Chris arrived a few minutes later she introduced Chris around and then they said their goodbyes and headed out for some fresh catfish.
It was still early, and the place was nearly empty, so they again sat at the bar, drawing up next to a handsome older man nursing a drink, the tilt of his bus driver’s hat jauntily announcing he was now off duty. She introduced herself and her friend Chris and found out his name was Ed Johnson. He’d been working his routes for over 30 years, has father before him, and today had been a middlin’ sort of day. After ordering the catfish (“You want the whole thing honey?”) she asked him about his worst day on the job, and he admitted it was the day a gun was pulled. He chuckled serenely and said, “Actually, that was more than one day.” He lived upstairs of this fine establishment, which clearly had either recently opened or recently been redone. The televisions were turned to sports of one sort or another. They talked grandchildren and retirement and he admitted he hoped to own this bar in a couple of years with the help of his brother who lived in Dallas. He’d been saving and this was exactly the kind of thing he’d like to be doing upon retirement. He’d continue to live upstairs and keep a close eye on the place—he could tell it had real potential. She vowed to come back for catfish in a couple of years to check on his progress toward the dream.
While this conversation wandered on, Pye stepped through the door, coming to wish us good night as he was heading out to play some cards. Didn’t want us to come back to the Blue and find he’d left without saying farewell. We wished him the best, shook his hand and off he went into the night. Even with the delicious breaded catfish settling into her belly, the gin had gotten its hold first, and she knew she’d have to drink slower the rest of the evening in order to balance things out. It was time to head back for the music at the Blue.
The sky was now dark and although still heavy with clouds, the air had cleared somewhat and there was a feeling of weightlessness. Half way down the block on the other side was the Gem Theatre, its marquee also lit up and causing the whole beautiful storefront to glow. A photographer was settling his camera on its tripod and the girls stopped to admire his choice of subjects, wishing for their own cameras that had been left at home. And then they were back. The room was partially filled now, and the music had already begun. Apollonia was busy, but as soon as she could free herself, she brought over “the drink I was saving for you” and with coats now off, they settled in to enjoy the tunes.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
As she approached the museum through the late afternoon mist the letters carved deeply into the surface of the limestone running along the lintels said, “The Soul has greater need of the ideal than of the real.” Victor Hugo. With that, she eagerly rushed the steps, taking them two at a time, knowing that she had found a place of import, knowing that she had not allowed enough time to take in all the wonder that these linked buildings would contain.
This was not the first time today she marveled at this Midwestern city. When she was researching for her trip she was floored to discover that both major art museums charged no admission. The Arboretum she had sought out yesterday was also free of charge, as was the music on Thursday nights in the Blue Room where she was planning to spend the evening. Even the theatre events were reasonably priced. Maybe she had misjudged this place. She was beginning to see that these venues were not free because they had nothing of value, but instead, it appeared that the residents of Kansas City wanted to be sure that beauty and “the ideal” was available to lift the souls of all, regardless of ability to pay. She caressed the heavy stamped brass doors as she entered the sanctuary.
She shook the last raindrops from her hair and scarf, dripping on the marble entry floor and glanced back outside. Not that all the art was contained within she saw, and from the doorway perched 15 feet above the lawn she saw there were many outsized sculptures scattered about the gardens that she had missed in her dodge of the damp.
A stocky, kind faced guard stood at attention and therefore noticed her hesitation. “Pretty dicey out there today, yes?” she murmured to help tip the arrival’s decision toward staying inside. “Yes, but getting clearer.” Her charge conceded, and moved on squeaking soles toward the first gallery to the left.
A strong bias toward all art pieces painted, drawn or welded caused her to blanch at the door to this room for it was filled with lit cases that were filled with dishes. She always avoided the amber boxes, the gilt utensils and the earthen vases at her own local museum, and with time at issue, wanted to cut to the chase. Too late – for in the moment spent in indecision a single, exquisite teapot had drawn her in for a closer look. She drifted from case to case, and thought about her mother’s fixation with cloth napkins and formal table wear. She had always resisted this mindset; her Scandinavian practicality winning out over her English sense of propriety and her Irish flair for the dramatic. And yet, seeing these beautiful wares and imagining the afternoon teas and the morning coffee served with a scone on the stacked dish seemed suddenly just the right thing to do – well and there was all this talk now days about landfills and conservation—she made a mental note to pick up some charming fabric for some linens and some pleasing cups and saucers from the jumble sale upon her return home. She’d keep it quiet from her mother and the friends who were hell-bent on saving the environment; let their low opinion of her remain a while longer, for some reason she wanted that unchanged.
Finally released from the delicate table wear, her dried boots now tapping out an echoing staccato in the soaring entry, she crossed to the tiny old elevator and made her way to the third floor. At last she reached the first room of paintings. Although she began by chance in the American art gallery, seeing work by many of her favorites from the Hudson River School movement, and a large collection of work by Thomas Hart Benton it did not take long for her to realize that since her recent delving into the mystery and politics of Spanish and Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries, she wanted to view works from the masters she had been reading about, and after consulting a map, she hurried down the back stairs to the second floor. Now is the point in her day when time stood still. Rather it hurled her back 300 years and then it stood still. The additional reading she had done did indeed have impact on her enjoyment of these canvases she previously had skimmed past. The colors, the light, the choices in texture and paint thickness and in the way the subject was positioned. It pleased her that new illumination could be extracted from her studies.
Before she knew it, the time for the museum to close approached, and she retraced her way through the halls, here and again catching a work she had missed in her haste to take in as much as possible. “I will come back next year and allow more time.” She pledged to herself silently, a promise she intended to keep.
Back outside she walked briskly to her car, the rain clouds now thinning and letting small bursts of the sun’s power peek through. Again, as if a touchstone, the words along the top of the building brought a coda to her visit. Yes, the ideal was an important balm, a necessary stop in the urgent march toward the practical. And march toward the practical she must—she extracted her cell phone and quickly dialed her hostess; their meeting time was fast approaching and one look in the rearview mirror as she entered the car told her that a stop to have the tangle of her hair re-tamed was a necessary step in her enjoying the evening of live music they had planned. They agreed to a new meeting time which accommodated both her need for a stylist and her friend’s need to finish fetching dinner for her kids that were to be kept at home, and she was off in search of the drop-in hair salon she had subconsciously registered on her way to the museums earlier that day.
Although in a neighborhood her suburban husband would label “sketchy”, she got a good feeling when she finally located and entered the salon. The two stylists were busy and the waiting area crowded, but they immediately greeted her and assured her that they could wait on her shortly. The good natured verbal jabs being directed at one of the clients from the “gallery” came from a rowdy bunch that had apparently come in to cheer their friend on as she got “done up” for the evening on the town. In a matter of moments their bright and joyous chatter surged through the door and suddenly the place seemed silent. “They were a fun lot” the other customer commented, and we all chuckled in agreement. As she studied this client from across the room she realized it was not clear if she was in the presence of a fellow woman or a man. The already short cropped hair was being shaved off to stubble everywhere but a thin stripe down the center—there was much discussion on just how long the mohawk could be left for the comfort of the boss at the day job. At night, the client was engaged as a club band, and there of course were no limitations of hairstyles in that realm. Man or woman? Man or woman. Overall the appearance brought to mind K.D. Lang, and the Lang look-alike left after paying with the woman none the wiser as to whether it had been miss or mister.
She settled into the chair by the sink and relished the extra heat as her young stylist massaged shampoo into her hair. The age of the stylist of course immediately brought to mind her own young daughter, a stylist now for three years. Before her daughter had graduated, the woman had used the time during salon visits to sleep, but now that her daughter was “in the business” she found herself more engaged, and it was not long before she knew the name, age and childbearing status of the woman who was washing her hair and putting it back in order. She encouraged the stylist to provide more details, and her mind wandered off as they were provided. Where did it wander, you might ask? Well, to her own children of course. She thought about how young this girl was to be a mother of a two year old at the age of 19, to be working fulltime in a salon. What excited her interest was the focus; this girl knew what she wanted and had set about achieving it. So like the woman’s son-in-law; a homeowner at the early age of 20, a wounded war veteran by 22. She could see reassuring logic to a plan that included early graduation, immediate enrollment in a vocation-based school, and then to pursue further higher education with a marketable fall back trade under ones belt. Yes, she would talk to her husband about these ideas and they could together find ways to encourage their youngest to consider this type of path --a practical plan with accommodation for making a living wage while pursuing higher knowledge. The sense of it made her smile, and that smile reflected back at her in the mirror the stylist held up to her now completed coiffure. Just so. Now she could proceed with her plans without the distraction of frizzled, windswept bangs.
She said a quick prayer as she paid, tipped and exited to her car, entrusting the hands and heart of the young stylist and her child to the protection of the Creator, and then she was off, hurrying back across town to a night of jazz music and friendly chatter.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The third generation artist of a family filled with artists, Jamie Wyeth has been quoted as saying his father’s work was like that of Robert Frost. On the surface familiar and comfortable, but beneath something altogether different. Andrew Wyeth’s work is something I am a little familiar with, but I was thrilled to have a chance for a deeper look at it when visiting Kansas City. Not only that, but I got to study works by his son and his father as well. Both amazing artists in their own right. Thursday of my trip was the day I had set aside entirely for myself. I knew Chris would most likely be busy with her kids who had the day off of school. It was too early in the week for Bre, who was still settling in to her new city and home, and Shan had a big party for her residents that night. I had all the perfect excuses to take the time for myself and do just exactly what ever I liked. Of course whenever I find time to myself, what I like almost always involves art. Although mom and dad had lived in Kansas City for almost 15 years, I only visited one of their art museums on one occasion. We usually visited at holiday times, and I imagine that mixed with the desire to find activities that please everyone is what kept me away. I do remember having lunch with mom in the lovely atrium of the Nelson-Atkins, so I know I had been there at least that one time. My original schedule for that day looked something like this:
Coffee shop for breakfast Drive by Mom and Dad’s house for pictures Drive by downtown library for pictures of the parking ramp 10:30am arrive Kemper Museum of Art Lunch (a V8 on the road) The Nelson-Atkins Museum 4pm Drive to Crown Center 6pm Dinner at Skies Hyatt 7:30pm American Heartland Theatre play 10pm sleep somewhere undecidedBy the time I arrived in Kansas City I knew I would most likely be staying with Christine if she would have me – my attempts to contact Shan made me realize she was just too busy to have an overnight guest. I woke on Thursday morning to a sky that foretold of a day of soaking rain. Not a light drizzle for a few minutes, but instead the heaviness that tells you will be damp all day. Not to lean to heavily on the metaphor, but this most certainly dampened my spirits and altered my plans. I lingered over the breakfast that Chris had ready for me, not really wanting to go out in the muck and yet so excited to get started on my day of art reflection. I mentally pushed back the photos of dad and mom’s place to Sunday, I decided against the play, which I only felt a mediocre interest in anyway. It was no problem at all for Chris to talk me into meeting her for dinner; I decided the Skies idea would be less fun on such a dreary day and switched to the following plan instead:
It is hard for me to categorize where I stand in the fashion world. I rarely don makeup, in fact I only own a complete set because my daughter got married last year and I felt it was called for to have it available for that day. My hairstyles run toward the simple, I almost never use any type of styling product. I have never understood the shoe fetish that most of my female cohorts ascribe to. I can’t stand to pay extra for a special name on my clothes, and yet I do understand that a well-made garment wears better. I want to look as if I just “throw on anything as I run out the door” but I am wise enough to know that can only result in a fashion disaster. So I try to blend. On this day I chose a black outfit; when one is among artists and art lovers, and especially when one is still a bit overweight, it is always smart to dress with ample amounts of black. Plus, it easily seconds as a dressier look for the evening when I wasn’t planning on going home to change.
10:30am Finally get my sorry butt out of the house
Stop at the local Walmart for a much needed purse and small umbrella
Drive downtown to snap pictures of the library parking lot which really was not that far from the art museums
Head to the Kemper and park; once finished there walk the couple of blocks to the Nelson-Atkins
Call Chris to arrange a final meeting time at the Blues Museum for a quick run through and then eat dinner at or near the Blue Room while listening to great live, free jazz music. Well, that is not exactly how the day went down either, but it got me started and out the door with the correct maps, and before I knew it I was in the Walmart parking lot.
On into Walmart to pick up a simple umbrella, but of course I walk out empty handed. I stood in front of the selection for 10 minutes – did I want a small purse sized one, did I need a purse to put it in, did I want to carry a wet umbrella with me all day, would I rather just dash from location to location…all the choices lay before me and although I did pick up a handy little purse which kept my portable camera and keys dry, I did not take with me a new umbrella. Who has an umbrella hang up other than me? I can commit to men and to children and to a career and to a solo trip 400 miles from home to stay with strangers, but I cannot commit to an umbrella. For this I would spend a damp afternoon, wishing I had been stronger.
The dampness started early, as I arrived downtown carefully following the google map directions to the Central Library. I was to find out at least one other time this week that google maps is not always best at telling left from right in their directions. I parked across the street from where the map indicated the libarary would be, but as soon as I got out on the street I could tell that I was still three blocks away. Three very wet blocks. There was a moment of uncertainty; this library parking ramp was incredibly hard to track down on the internet, and I was basically going there on a whim, hoping this was the correct library. I had seen a photo once on the internet a year ago, and no one who I had asked to research it for me had come up with any additional information. I was thrilled when my wet walk and persistence paid off; there across the street was a city block sized parking ramp, and one side of it was decked out to look like a shelf of books. Of course in the dreary rain the pictures weren’t amazing, but I felt I had vanquished the enemy of poor information and obtained the photos that my mom and I both wanted to have. It was not until later that I wished I had gone on inside the library and looked for any additional information on the whys and wherefores of this monument.
It was getting late and I took my soaked little self back to the car and back out toward the museums. Along the way I realized I would pass right by the Union Station; I had wanted to see the Van Gogh movie and I glanced at the time and saw that if I hurried I could get there in time for the next showing. I again parked out in the rain and rain, now dripping into the cold and echoing Union Station I paid the slow ticket clerk and rushed into the theatre just as the movie was beginning. It was a lovely documentary with a charming set of narrators and a pulse quickening story line to keep the information fresh. I left so glad I had added this in to my already busy day and finally made my way to the Kemper.
Again, yes, you guessed it, in the pouring rain. Since I found street parking nearest the administrative building for the Kemper I started there, and saw several interesting works in their lobby and conference room. I joked with the receptionist about clearly being lost in Seattle when I thought I was vacationing in Kansas City, and then braved the last block to the Kemper. To see the Wyeth family works online only is to not see them at all. I was familiar with the work of N.C. and Andrew, not as much with James or Jamie. Andrew having died earlier this year, the exhibit was a post mortem tribute to him and his family. The works were mostly privately held and loaned expressly for this exhibit. All three were as in touch with the texture of the thing as the image they were creating and I had to use my best restraint to keep from running my finger across each work. I found myself reading about the physical ingredients of each work as much as about its date and title. I wavered back and forth trying to decide which generation of Wyeth struck me the most profoundly. I loved that the rain and the weekday had kept the crowds away. Quietly contemplating a room of beautiful art can take the chill out of the rainiest of days.
There were very few other works I was interested in at the Kemper, and the Nelson-Atkins was closing soon, so I got clarification on the direction to walk from the front desk and headed out. The Kemper and Nelson-Atkins museums are situated on either side of the Art Institute of Kansas City, which is populated with beautiful, peaceful old buildings, brick fences and iron gates. The rain was more of a mist at this point, and my camera came out to play for a bit on the lovely fall landscape.
To be continued tomorrow…