Thursday, December 2, 2010

the trip

It would be hard to miss the look that passed over my significant other’s face, since he was looking right at me at the time…and mumbling. Mumbling about something that suspiciously sounded like a criticism of my oversized suitcase, my two tote bags and the extra plastic bag of shoes.


“This just seems like…a lot.”

“Well, I’m going to be gone for a long time.”

“Right,” he agreed, huffing a little while dragging the bag up the sidewalk.

“Why? What are you bringing?”

“Couple of sweaters. A few t-shirts. Jeans.”

“That’s it? That’s all you’re bringing? For two weeks?”

“Yes,” he replied. “You know we can do laundry while we’re there.”

Right. Because that’s exactly what I want to do when I am traveling. Laundry.

And I don’t know if it’s men in general, or my guy in particular, but there’s a reason why we buy new clothes. And let me just point out here: I don’t really care for shopping. I hate the mall, and generally try to avoid any situation that ends up with me queuing up for long lines at cash registers, especially around the holidays.

But I love the end result.

My furtive online ordering, darting in and out of vintage stores and assorted “finds” over the years have somehow resulted in my being referred to, in some quarters, as, well, a clothes horse.

I admit it. I love pretty things. I don’t understand why things in the store, the catalog or on the web look better than what I already have in my closet. They just do.

And there’s something else about buying new clothes that any woman- and many men- can relate to. I’m not just buying a new outfit. When I shop for new clothes, I’m trying on a whole new me for size, too.
I’m imagining a whole new life for myself- in my new clothes. I don’t see the wan light of the fluorescent bulb in the dressing room at Macy’s.

I see soft candlelight, instead. No barren gray dressing room carpet or horribly unflattering mirrors are anywhere in my line of vision. Instead, I see soft sand and lightly tanned skin. Hands held across an ivory tablecloth, dotted with silver and crystal. 

Khaki shorts and an ivory peasant top? I bought them for a romantic afternoon on the beach.

The glittery black jacket? Why, that’s for spur of the moment trips to New York or London.

Silver shoes? Gold heels? Also a necessity for the never-ending formal possibilities in my indistinct future.

But I got sand in my shorts. Haven’t left this time zone in more than a year. And I haven’t attended an opera or danced a waltz in more years than I can remember.

But when I’m trying on clothes, still, I can dream.

Meanwhile, the re-packing continues.

“Where are you going to wear this?” Puzzled, he holds a sequined black jacket aloft.

“That one stays,” I firmly tell him. “That one stays.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

suicide hill

The sentinels stood in a row, facing out over the city. The last one wheeled into place, gravel dust puffs spinning into the air. The tiny rocks scattered loudly and then settled. We stood there, silently, as an eternity passed. One of us might have been thinking about the girl he’d left behind. Another, silently contemplating his dog and the chores that needed doing at home. Elbow to elbow, we stared off into the distance. Leaning forward I rested my chin on my hand.

“It’s time,” I told my faithful sentries.

“No…”replied one of them. “It’s just too dangerous. We’ll never make it.”

The others were nodding. Shying away from destiny. Ducking responsibility. Embarrassed to look me in the eye.

“Look,” I patiently explained. “We have to do this. If we don’t…we’ll always regret it. We have to try, at least.”

They looked at me, waiting. Knowing that no one would go unless I went first, I took a deep breath and dug my toe into the ground.

“Wait!” yelled a member of my patrol. “I don’t know. I just…don’t think we should do it today. We can do it tomorrow.” The group smiled, relieved, and as one, started to turn.

I stood there, mourning the loss. Of the hot, dry afternoon and of the risk I thought we’d never take. Resigning myself to the inevitable, I flipped back the pedal on my bike and started to turn too, taking one last look over my shoulder.

Suddenly, I stopped. “No,” I said, my voice strangely loud in my ears. “It has to be done today.” Of an accord, the patrol nodded. Looking around, we took a collective deep breath and turned back around. 

Suicide Hill. Of all the most dangerous stunts and hills we tore down on our fifth grade bicycles, Suicide Hill was by far the scariest. By far the most dangerous. The road was so steep, cars weren’t allowed to drive down it. The top of the road was closed off by guardrail. On the other side of the guardrail, the top of the hill was bisected by a narrow path, not wide enough to park a bike. The street shot straight down from the path.

Even as an adult, I’ve driven by Suicide Hill and it still looked scary.

And there were so many other, little, deaths happening that summer, too. As a group, we were changing. Growing up. Moving away from each other. Moving on. In another year, we’d be in junior high. Some of us would be in other junior highs across town. Even the upcoming year, the last year of elementary school, loomed large on the horizon. We didn’t know it yet, but by the end of sixth grade…Very few of us would still be friends.

And none of us would ever be the same, after that year.

But for this last summer, these final days of girls and boys, we were still the gang. And I was still the leader. And Suicide Hill, well, it was just one more set of monkey bars, a big climbing tree or a homemade raft to conquer. One more in my string of conquests, and the one that would be the jewel in my daredevil crown. 

We had other hills we favored for bicycling. Big Jump Hill, Cherry Drop Hill and Lemon Drop Hill all gave us a taste of what we needed. But none of them quenched the thirst we had for Suicide.

And on that day, that day of days, we’d finally talked it to death. The only way I wasn’t going to ride my bike down Suicide Hill on that day was if someone committed suicide- or murder.

It was do or die time.

We were glorious that day. After so many stops at the top of the hill, it was no wonder that the final release, that final letting go- felt wonderful. There were moments in that high-speed seconds-long ride where we came close to tumbling, head over handlebars, in what would have surely been ugly, bloody, horrific accidents.

But not on that day. On that day, we flew, on battered bicycle wings, from the top of Suicide Hill to the bottom and beyond. On that day, we were beautiful.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the old lady

Due to a variety of circumstances, my niece moved in with my parents a few months ago. That’s not such an unusual state of affairs; for as long as I can remember, my parents have taken in kids who needed some sort of respite. For years, when we were growing up, a variety of family friends with “bad situations” at home stayed at our house, sometimes for months on end. Comforting and warm, my parents always offered our friends stability and safety without judgment- it’s a quality that I aspire to and admire.

So when my niece packed in her own bad situation and decided to move forward with her life, it was a natural that she would phone my parents for help. And it was even more natural that they would invite her to stay. In addition to the healing and warm environment provided by my parents, it was also meant to be a time of reflection for my niece. Of looking behind, and beginning to look forward towards a new life, bright and full with promise.

However. In the midst of all of these life-altering moments, self-actualization and self evaluation, something else happened this summer.

Slowly but surely. 

My niece is turning into her grandparents.

It’s inevitable, really. Everyone knows that when people spend time together, they often begin taking on each others’ personality characteristics. It’s just not something you’d expect, or could prepare for really, when your 19 year-old niece begins affecting mannerisms and habits of a couple well into their 70s.

And vice versa.

The transition started slowly, communing around the television. Lying around on the couch watching Iron Chef, and commenting on the judges.

“We think she’s sleeping with the chef!” piped my niece.

“Word!” my dad’s emphatic response.

My dad’s habit of repeatedly pausing movies, movies we are all watching, in order to provide an ongoing commentary of sorts, often renders me almost convulsive with impotent frustration. In my niece, he’s finally found a staunch ally.

“You know,” (pauses movie) “I thought that young fella, Heath Ledger, was quite an actor. He really knew what he was doing. Such a shame.”

“I really liked him in Batman, Grandpa. But I’m not sure about this movie.”


“I love his tatts."

“Me too, grandpa.”


“Applebee’s is a fine restaurant. You know you can always count on a good meal at Applebee’s.”

“I like their cheese sticks, grandpa.”

My health-conscious niece has even changed her eating patterns to match those of my septuagenarian parents. This started with eating seconds at dinner (“to get rid of leftovers”), and quickly morphed into eating dessert a fast 15 minutes later.

“I don’t mean to do it,” explained my niece. “But then grandma says ‘Bananas Foster’ and I start feeling hungry again.”

Mornings are as likely to begin with clouds over the coast as they are with Dutch pancakes and whipped cream. Lunch is also an extraordinary affair, as my father, sandwich-maker extraordinaire, artfully builds teetering reubens garnished with mom’s peanut butter cookies (now deftly made by my niece).

An enormous lunch means yawning faces everywhere, as my parents and my niece mumble “I’m just going to lie down for a minute,” not to resurface from their bedrooms for a couple of hours, when they stumble back out onto the assorted couches, interest piqued.

Because at 2pm in the afternoon, it’s time for my niece to reassess priorities and plan accordingly for the future, as much as anyone can.

“When’s dinner?”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oh…Canada. (alternate title: the longest kilometer)

Being in a long distance relationship has many challenges. And when your significant other lives in another country, the challenges are magnified. Especially when that country has a different way of measuring things.

Me: “How many miles is it to the store?”

Him: “Miles?”

Me: “Well, just tell me how many minutes it will take to get there.”

Him: “Minutes?”

Even trying to decide what to wear quickly becomes a struggle, when you’re dating someone who lives in Canada.

Me: “How hot is it going to be today?”

Him: “About 25.”

Me: “Should I bring a sweater?”

Him: “No. But tomorrow the temperature’s going to drop. So you’ll want to have your toque.”

Me: “What?”

Language barriers and metric systems aside, there’s something to long distance relationships. Something sweet and not yet explored by this writer. If you're considering a long distance relationship, or think you may come across any Canadians, stay tuned for more insights.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the uneasy A

When I was in college, one of my favorite classes at Miami University was my Political Ideologies course. We read books like There Are No Children Here and Robert Reich and held heated classroom debates about Locke and Rousseau. My professor made the class special. His easygoing nature and insightful comments left us feeling wiser and well-informed- ready to conquer the many political landscapes laid out before us. 

Ah, youth.

The professor had one policy that I disagreed with, however. If you were late to class on a day when a paper was due, your paper would automatically be docked 5 points. At this point in my college career, the classes for my majors (English and Political Science) all relied on papers, and they were usually a minimum of 7 pages long. Not something to be trifled with, especially by something so small as disrespecting your professor and your other classmates.


Inevitably, I was late on the day a paper was due. It wasn’t my fault, I explained to professor in his office after class. I was a.) out of gas b.) had to work and c.) confronted with a lot of traffic and a lack of parking spaces near the building.

“Piffle,” was his understated response. “You know my policy. You knew that the paper was due today, and that a late penalty applied. And you know, Lisa, when you begin your professional career, you can’t just show up late to meetings or presentations. Punctuality is important.”

But I had never had a “real” job at that point. And I certainly had no idea that one day, I’d be racing off to work an hour early to get to a meeting on time…all the while, remembering his sage words of advice.

So I argued.

I hotly debated.

And I stomped around his office, waving my arms.

My professor watched me with a puzzled look on his face, waiting until the end of my diatribe to calmly raise a hand. “You know, Lisa…it’s still an A.”

Perhaps. But as I explained to him then- and I still believe today- it’s the principle of the thing. 

And isn’t that worth fighting for?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

the conspiracy theory

A while ago I wrote about conspiracies. Laughed about them really, in a half-hearted way. Because on the whole, I think most of them are pretty silly. Hangar 18. Lake monsters. Fake moon landings. I mean, come on.

But lately, I’ve been a little more worried about information dissemination. I’m the first one to admit that I’ve looked up information on people I’m interested in. I’m amazed at how much information is available for free online. In a matter of minutes, you can find out someone’s current address, businesses they own or are employed by and of course, their criminal record. When I lived in Kentucky, I told potential suitors that if we’re going to go on date, you might as well disclose all of your speeding tickets- Because I will look you up on the clerk of courts website. And I did.

I dated someone who was pretty scrupulous about removing his name from the web. In fact, I only found one or two mentions of him online, on an association website. After I told him, I think he called them and asked that his name be removed. I’m not sure why, really. But like a friendly ghost, he prefers to hover behind the scenes, instead of accepting the inevitable Internet disclosure.

I find myself trying to be more cautious about what I say these days. I don’t know why. It’s not like anyone cares. But like that dealer in Pulp Fiction (“Cell phone! This is a Cell Phone!”), I’ve been loathe to disclose too many details over the phone- or over email.

Because although it probably sounds silly, lately, I’ve been worried that someone may be listening in. And I can’t help but wonder, in the age of information overload, if someday I’ll be sitting in a courtroom while my many transgressions, from phone calls to emails (I can’t even get into what I’ve written here) are read back to me.

Start thinking about who might be listening in and it never stops. In fact, it only gets a lot worse. I have an odd habit, when I meet someone who seems familiar, of asking them if they know me. As opposed to the more traditional “Do I know you?” And I’m loathe to expose someone that I think may know me but for some reason or another, may not want other people to know that they know me.

That’s some screwed-up logic, I know.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

the answer

I write about stuff because, well. That’s just what I’ve always done. But it doesn’t put me any closer to an answer. I don’t pretend that I have all the answers. I don’t even try to pretend that I have any of the answers.

But sometimes, on a good night, I feel like I’m a little closer to understanding. Understanding why you are the way you are. Why I’m this way. I’m not quite there… But I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. I can work out a lot of things on my own, when I write.

I don’t have a hidden agenda when I write. I’m just myself. No tricks. No games. I don’t try to pretend that I am something that I am not. I don’t want your sympathy, your empathy or even your admiration. What I like best is when you read me, and you tell me you know exactly how I feel. You knew a girl just like that in school. You were bullied too. You know who the Circle Jerks are. 

It’s that sense of community, of writers and readers, that makes blogging so much fun. And supporting each other. That’s important too. Raising people up, instead of trying to put them down. Your comments here and elsewhere have meant more to me than you’ll ever know.

Looking for answers. Writing was my salvation in school and it’s still my passion today. In fact, it’s even my career. I’ll keep writing, and I hope you’ll keep reading. And I think, after all this time, that I may be getting closer to an answer.

At least, I’d like to think so.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

the dollar store

Ever since my dad discovered the Dollar Store, things have changed at the homestead, and not always for the better.

Visiting over the holidays means dedicated kitchen duty; they’re springing for the food and booze, so I’m more than willing to stack the dishwasher and scrub the pots and pans. But it’s hard to clean anything when the sponges fall apart, the dishwashing liquid makes your hands peel and the towels are made of thinly woven polyester.

And the Dollar Store has found its way into more than just my parent’s kitchen. It’s permeated throughout the house; infiltrated their lives and the effects have been felt far and wide, by everyone visiting their home. Screwdrivers that snap when you use them, suntan lotion that leaves you red-faced and worst of all, horrible $1 CDs that showcase the worst of the worst of elevator music from the early 60’s (think Lawrence Welk on an off day).

But this isn’t some new sense of frugality, only recently discovered. Throughout the years my parents have done a number of things to save money. One year, my father cancelled the cable for the summer.

“Dad, don’t you have to pay to have to install it again later in the year?”

“Yes. But I still saved fifty dollars!”

Keep in mind, my folks live at the beach. On the beach. One might bring up the point that there are other things that they could do to save fifty bucks over the course of a summer. But one might not be invited back for the next holiday, so one stays mum about the whole thing.

And I have to admit, if only to myself, that there are other reasons, beyond stale salami and no-name Fritos, why I hate the Dollar Store. It’s coming to grips with the fact that my mother, who would never set foot in a place with “EVERYTHING IS .99!” signs screeching from the plate glass windows, doesn’t really have a say in the matter. Hasn’t been able to do the shopping for years.

It’s being honest with myself about the one thing I refuse to accept or acknowledge.

So rather than facing up to the facts, I choose instead to indulge my father and razz him mercilessly about the stacks of books of games where the crossword puzzles don’t have enough spaces for the words and the root beer tastes like fizzy chalk, while my mom giggles and nods in agreement.

It’s just easier that way.

Monday, March 1, 2010

more gifts my father gave me

When I was growing up, I had very unique relationships with each of my parents.

My mother presided over a nonprofit auxiliary board, while my dad and I tutored kids in the city. My mom and I browsed antiques stores, while my father took me to yard sales and encouraged me to dicker about prices (75 cents for a frog with a clock in its stomach? You must be out of your mind!). My mom gave me credit cards to shop for clothes; my dad gave me his old poker sweater to wear out on weekends.

Mom and I dressed up and went to nice restaurants for lunch. My dad and I went to bars to drink pitchers of beer and study race track forms, discussing the best ways to box horses, debating the merits of a muddy track and wondering out loud if one of us finally landed on a winning combination.

My dad and I still go to thrift stores sometimes, puzzling over which vintage lamp to buy for my bedroom. My mom studies books on feng shui and told me where to place my bed for peace and prosperity (though neither has happened so far).

My dad and I are alike in other ways, too. We’re doers; we have ideas, we talk about them and then we act upon them. And we’re both frustrated by the inability of talkers to follow up or follow through. Life is too short, my dad always tells me, and I agree. Both of my parents have told me often to live my life making the people I love happy, while making the most of my time on earth. And I think I’m doing a pretty good job.

I can talk to my dad about a lot of things that happened when I was young. Sometimes I even think he hears me. Every once in a while he’ll bring up some point I made, telling me how much it meant to him. It’s surprising, because we disagreed so much when I was younger. It took a long time for each of us to build up trust. It’s taken even longer to forgive. And we’re so quick to fall back into our old patterns. The patterns I hate; the patterns that made up so much of my childhood. We’re always careful around each other lest we give in to our old resentments.

But a long time ago, I decided to forgive my parents for every real or perceived wrongdoing. I think you can only go so far in life by blaming your parents for what’s gone wrong in your life. I also believe that at some point, you have to let all of your resentments go, in order to move on and move forward. I know now that my parents are just trying to get through life the best they can, just like we’re all trying to get through it too.

There are a lot of gifts my father gave me that I want to pass along to my own children some day. I want to take them camping in a remote wood high atop a mountain, eating fish for breakfast and bathing in ice cold streams. I want to show them bear tracks and bald eagles and how to dig for the best clams on the beach. Take them on road trips through the desert in cars without air conditioning. Tell them stories, of a passionate great-grandmother who supported the IRA and an even more passionate grandpop who believed in independent thinkers, taking a stand for what you believe in, embracing opportunities for risk and loving the people around you fiercely, and with your whole heart.

Each holiday and birthday I struggle over what gifts to give my parents. I’ve had old photos of them as a young couple restored and framed, given them gift certificates to favorite restaurants and taken them to the theater.

This year, I’m going to give my father another kind of gift. I’m going to tell my dad that I believe him when he makes a promise to me that I know he may not keep. I’m going to tell him that I miss him and I love him, and that I know he’s doing his best.

Somehow, I think he’ll like it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the call

Up until a couple of years ago, my mom had a cell phone that rivaled the control panel on Star Trek. Big and boxy, it took up the entire top of the end table, already crowded with Kleenex boxes, hand lotion and assorted old magazines.

Last year, everything changed. My mom got a new Motorola and after a number of hang-ups, dropped calls, and forgetting to turn it on, achieved an uneasy sort of détente with the gadget. When she got her new Bluetooth earpiece, all of my careful instructions fell apart. First there were the endless explanations over the phone of how to get it set up. Then, on subsequent visits to the beach, I found the earpiece had not in fact been Bluetoothed, and finally set it up myself.

Worst of all were the phone calls.

“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

“Mom, you have to put the earpiece on your ear.”

“Hello? Who is this?” In an aside, to my father: “There’s no one there.”

“Then hang up. Just hang up, Joanie.”

“I don’t know how!”

This went on for a while until finally, the Bluetooth earpiece went the way of the old magazines and the Kleenex, resting amid the clutter of the end table. “In case I need it,” my mom explains to anyone who will listen. “I need it close by.”

But my mother’s love of her newfound toy, her cute little cell phone, has not abated. She is absolutely unable to ignore her ringing phone. The result is a lot of oddly distracted or upset phone calls that usually go something like this:

“Hey! What are you doing, mom?”

Sotto voce: “I’m in the doctor’s office.”

“Um, I don’t think you’re supposed to talk on the phone in the waiting room, mom.”

“I’m not in the waiting room. I’m in the little room down the hall.”

“Mom! What is the doctor doing? Isn’t he upset that you took a call?”

“Oh, he’s just looking at my file.” Trilling at the doctor, “I’ll be off in a minute, it’s my daughter. Hmm? Ohhh, yes. He says hello.”

“Mom, just call me later.”

Since my parents love to travel and are often on the road when I call, the other phone calls tend to go something like this:

“Hey! What are you doing, mom?”

“We… No, that was your turn. No, I don’t want to go there, that’s too much like the other one.”

Dad, in the background: “Well, you liked it when we went there last time.”

Mom: “Well, I don’t want to back there today.”

Beep. Beep. Beep. “I can’t, why is this phone not ringing?”

Dad: “Did you dial the number?”

“Yes, I dialed the number.” Click, click, click. Beep. “Hello? Hello?”

“Mom…I’m still here.”

“Oh (put-upon sigh), I’m trying to call someone about the thing. I have to call you back. I have to call you back!”

“Ok. Have a nice-” Click.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

the cake

I’m standing in the oversized grocery department store trying to explain my request for a cake for my parents’ wedding anniversary party to a very bored bakery clerk. Who is already aggravated because I had to have her paged to help me.

“I just want a simple sheet cake. With these photos scanned on the top.”

“That’s gonna look kinda plain. You sure you don’t want roses in the corners?”

“No roses. Just the photos and the inscription across the top.”

“How about border? We can put a border around each photo and around the edge of the cake.”

“No thank you,” I said. Grimacing at the fat frosting roses on every square inch of every cake in the joint. “I just want it to be simple.”

“It’s not gonna look very good.”

Capitulating for a minute, I agreed to some rainbow sprinkles, then quickly changed my mind. “I just… I want it to… look really nice. You know. Nothing… Nothing too gaudy,” I finally squeaked in desperation. Feeling like a tiny replica of my mom. “Classic.”

She harrumphed and harangued and finally agreed, stating she’d write “really plain” in the notes to the cake decorator. “I better take your number though, she’s probably gonna want an explanation.”

Great. Now I’m going to spend my afternoon “explaining myself” to the cake lady.

And I haven’t even got sand in my shoes yet.

Friday, February 19, 2010

the river

Even in Oregon, especially in Oregon, I am drawn to the water.

We'd talked about going to the blues festival. But in the end, she asked me to grab two bottles of red and go to the river to dip our feet in the cool water. To just talk for a while. And that’s what we did.

Drinking, smoking and talking. while young men did flips off the dock. The old man frowning at his fishing pole and contemplating a move upstream.

Learning once again why we became friends. Admiring her great beauty. Her strength. Her many accomplishments. Her beautiful family. Planning for when we'll once again live in the same time zone. The trips we’ll take together. To Seattle (her). To the theater and the opera (me). Hiking to distant rivers (her). A booze cruise at twilight (me). We balance each other. That’s why we stick.

Later I curled up on the davenport with a handmade afghan. Much later I slept. In her daughter’s bedroom on a soft mattress with even softer pink sheets and a bed that creaks softly when I roll on to my back. Dreaming.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Spy at the Sand Dunes

Three little ones standing on a pedestal drinking from a fountain of spurting water, splashing and laughing too;

Lovely teen-age girls in tiny bikinis stretched out anywhere and everywhere to work on their tans, I want to give them spf 50 but I don’t;

Sweetly chubby kids pushed by morbidly obese parents into choosing the cookies and cream ice cream bars;

Single dads impatiently cake-walking their kids for the holiday and asking me oddly personal questions: Do you think that means he’s had too much to eat? Is it ok to give him this for lunch?

The perma-grin rictus of an elderly man’s death’s head, stumbling and shuffling to an empty seat by the lake;

Large sexy bald man covered with tattoos, hands baby to tattooed girlfriend, seeing me he winks hello;

Three bearded fishermen arguing in not-so hushed whispers about what pop at the concession best complements bourbon;

Me, kneeling at the bottom of the sand dunes, opening my arms as my nephews come hurdling down the hill.

More from the I Spy series.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

cherry blossoms

At the foot of the hill we have to get into the old bronco to go on. Big hulking truck with cracked leather seats, deep green and soft from years of use. Close your eyes, I tell him. But I don’t believe he won’t peek so I make him bend at the waist, placing his head in his lap. I look over to see him smiling. His face twisted with pleasure.

Driving over the crest I slowly shift to take the bend slowly. Coast into park. Tell him to look. All around us, there are cherry trees. In full bloom. Budding. He looks around the orchard in wonder. Finds me. And smiles. The old quilt is on the back seat, pushed down. A bed for campers. Lovers. Later, after walking in the stream, pants rolled up to my knees, t-shirt splashed and wet, I will push him down, too. I smile in anticipation. He knows me well and he smiles too.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

letting go

For a long time, I had a lot of stored-up anger. It was directed at a lot of different people and for good reason; all of them had wronged me, in a number of inexplicable ways. With some of them, the wrongs kept coming, and I let the hurt keep growing over the years.

But then I realized. A lot of my anger was really meant for me. I was mad at myself. I allowed those people to affect me, when I should have just ignored them.

I understand a lot of other things now, too.

I know that most people are not stupid; but they are sometimes lazy. Complacent. People fear the unknown and don’t particularly cotton to a challenge, either. If you show them that you are fearless, they may resent you for it even while claiming to admire you. This was a hard lesson to learn.

And it used to really, really hurt me.

I understand that some people are jealous when they see someone who is happy. These days, when I feel someone trying to pull me down, take the stars from my eyes or generally bring me back down to earth, I laugh it off.

I know now that when it’s time to step up, some people will inevitably be left behind. I found this out the hard way, again and again.

And I am still learning.

Over the last few years, I decided to change my life. I’ve taken all of the anger and resentment that I have felt over the years, and I’ve given it back. To its rightful owners, so they can continue to wallow in their unhappy lives.

I’m not going to compete for an affection that I don’t want or need anymore. I’ve moved forward and left the unwanted resentment behind.

I feel lighter already.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


When I was in high school, I used to love staying at my friend Saylor’s house. I’d often show up on a Thursday, not to return home until Monday. Saylor lived in a big modern home on a golf course. Her father, who traveled for weeks on end, was never around and seeing his Ferrari in the driveway was a rare occurrence.

Saylor was an unusual girl. With a laid back demeanor and an ever-present cigarette and glass of wine, she was easily the worldliest person I knew. She fascinated me and I loved being around her, as if she might someday rub off on me.

Saylor had something else that attracted me to her house for days at a time. A regulation-size Asteroids game. I played once, twice and I was hooked. I could play for hours. Waking up early while the rest of the house slept. Staying up late when couples paired off and everyone else crashed. It was my favorite game and I quickly conquered it to have the highest score of all time, a score that withstood years of attempts by others to win.

I learned a lot that summer. It was the first time I was accepted by the older kids, courtesy of Saylor’s handsome older brother. I developed a crush on his best friend that lasted for years. It was a summer of firsts and it was an exciting time for me.

Saylor’s neighbor, Paul, went to school with us, but didn’t really go. He was a heroin addict and Saylor blithely told me she’d slept with him just out of boredom. For some reason, this didn’t shock me. I accepted it as easily as I accepted everything else that was happening around us.

Friends getting dope from their parents. Kids sent away to an archaic, gothic juvenile hall. The always-available drugs and the alcohol that flowed freely. I was an outsider, still, looking in on a life that I wanted for myself. Shooting spaceships with nimble fingers. Introspective, often quiet, an observer who was still learning.

The last time I saw Saylor she’d moved in with her mother. Her father had remarried and his young wife didn’t like all of the (even younger) girls hanging around the house. In addition, she tried to enforce rules, which were a joke, said Saylor. Things like curfews and doing dishes. Saylor’s mom was like one of the girls. A slob like Saylor, she didn’t have a maid like Saylor’s dad. She liked to smoke with us and hang out.

The last time I saw Saylor she was inhaling white-out from a plastic bag. Huffing lighter fluid. In addition to no longer living with her dad, his support payments often got lost in the mail and Saylor and her mom struggled. Sinking deeper into addiction.

I’ve tried to find Saylor on return visits home. Ask other friends from Eugene if they’ve seen her or talked with her. No one has. I heard that her mother passed away, much too young, but I don’t know what happened to Saylor.

I still think about her and I wonder, always, how she’s doing. Remembering that I still owe her.

For the last game and for the other things she taught me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Spy: night-time

A farmer in baggy overalls and a John Deere cap, quietly studying the river;

Children watching the baseball game, scorning mother’s repeated call;

Old couples flirting on riverside benches;

A giant of a man sitting on a lone bench. softly speaking, “Hey Girl”;

Fishermen on the banks, pensive and still;

Homerun Fireworks (just enough);

Young man mumbling coordinates into a cell phone, the Caddy with the other caller pulls up to make an exchange;

A low whistle from a shadowy figure in yet another Cadillac;

Ducks sans babies (already put to sleep for the night);

My vintage pumas running down the steps and then back up again.

More from the I Spy series.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Spy After a Death

A goat-like man with white mutton chops, rhythmically chewing his mid-morning meal;

Thirtysomething woman pushing baby in a stroller, clicking heels along the cobblestones;

Balding man intently calculating figures on a bench; he spies me and smiles;

Older man, younger woman holding hands, hello;

Homeless man, twirling a big umbrella- he spies me and begins to follow. Umbrella dragging, then up and open and close and twirling, repeat;

More people than usual at this time of day. Curious onlookers huddled in groups, anxiously eyeing my approach;

My own hands wringing, in anxious anticipation; the river, swollen and anxious too;

The police tape, a windblown grave marker for the body that washed ashore this morning.

More from the I Spy series.

Monday, February 1, 2010

the wait seems longer every year

High school marching bands

Biting into Concord grapes

Camping by a running stream

Bumping along on hayrides

Peering round every corner inside haunted houses

Driving by farms with the windows rolled down

Drinking liters at oktoberfests every weekend

Crunching through leaves on the pavement

Drive-in movies on crisp evenings

Can’t wait for fall.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

gifts my father gave me

Every few years or so I travel to Montana, the Mecca for my dad’s side of the family. Montana is crazy beautiful, I never tire of visiting.

A few years ago, my parents picked me up in Oregon and we drove together on the usual route, through eastern Washington, down through Idaho and into Montana for our family reunion. After the trip, they asked me to join them on a drive through the Canadian Rockies in Alberta (also crazy beautiful) for several days.

It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up- several days with just my parents and I, all on our own again. My dad told me all of the stories of his childhood in Montana; from hopping freight trains to building a dam to the many interesting people he’s met on his journey so far. Luckily, I had my journal.

“After WWII, the Japanese took beer cans that were thrown away by American GIs and made them into toy cars and sold them here. They were perfectly formed.”

“At one time, Japan had a town named USA, Japan, so they could stamp items “made in the USA.” I think that’s stopped now.”

“The railroad was allowed to come into each state across the country by Congress. In Bitterroot, people built permanent homes on land owned by the railroads. Then Northern came in and said their deeds were no good, and the railroad was coming through.”

“In the early 70’s when you filled up with gas in Montana you were given a free glass of beer. I remember I drank the beer and gave the glass back to the guy working. And then got in my car and drove away.”

“In 1952, I worked on the Hungry Horse dam between Libby and Troy. We worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. On Saturdays, some of the men would drive to Troy. Troy was full of cathouses. It took them two hours to drive there and two hours to drive back. They would come in Sunday morning just in time to go to work. I remember my foreman was married to my kindergarten teacher from Big Fork! I went to see her and they were living in a tent. Made good money though.”

My dad would hop freight trains after he was transplanted to Minnesota. It was the only way he could afford to go home to Montana to see auntie gin. Sometimes he would get hassled by the po-lice while he was riding the rails. One time the cops caught him, hauled him “downtown,” and asked him why he was hitching a ride. He explained his financial restraints and they told him never again. It’s illegal. It’s dangerous.

Then they took him to the edge of town and dropped him off by the railroad tracks. It was the only way he could leave town.

And I have a memory of picnicking along the river in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho with my mom and dad and my father pointed to the high train tracks curling around the mountain as he told me he remembered swinging his legs from the side of the car, looking over the town.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

the birthday girl

Many of my high school memories have faded into the background. Forever, I hope. But there are other memories that, like a beautiful dream, remain as clear and as vivid as if they happened last week.

I remember swinging from a rope into the gravel pit. The splash of water, muffled by the pounding music. Turning to face the shore, I saw her, swaying back and forth and singing. To Heart, of course. Her favorite band back then was manned only by women, but given her independent spirit, that was hardly a surprise.

I remember when she came over dinner and my father told us, ponderously, that he didn’t mind if we got into his booze but “for the love of God, please stop watering it down.” No problem, I replied coolly as she slowly drizzled in embarrassment underneath the table.

But she understands dysfunction. So no apologies necessary.

And I remember walking. For hours and hours, we walked and we talked, full of things to say to each other, even though we’d driven to school together (for she faithfully picked me up every morning) and driven home together, and I believe I’d even stopped in for a visit after school. We talked about the boys we loved, the friends we knew and the people we’d become.

We never, ever ran out of things to talk about.

In college, things didn’t really change. We went to different schools, moved with different friends and yet still, we managed to see each other all the time.

One fateful night, after yet another wild party where we’d socialized with others but always came back together to giggle at someone’s sloppy drunkenness, to ask if “he” was looking over at us and just generally to check in, I popped that inevitable, eternal summertime teenager’s question:

“So, do you want to go swimming?”

The fountain and the oversized pond beckoned and shucking clothes aside, we waded in at a little after 2 in the morning. The resulting dogs barking, lights turning on and general mayhem (“Lisa, let’s go! Now!” “I can’t find my glasses!” “Leave them!” “I can’t drive without them!”) inevitably resulted in a fast drive home… with most of our clothing left behind.

And on my last official day of college, after I finished up my final exam (Statistics), instead of hanging around for my graduation ceremony, we hopped a plane for San Francisco. A few days in a beautiful old building in Pacific Heights, and we hit the road in my brother’s Miata. By Napa Valley we had been on top of each other for days:

“I want to go back to wine country.”

“Everywhere we go is the whine country, Angela.”

We got our sense of humor back by Eureka, with an entertaining stay at the Vista View motel, the ugliest motel in America. And the drive up 101 to Oregon was breathtaking…it’s still one of my favorite drives today.

That’s what memories are made of; that’s how friendships are born. Through heartfelt associations and instant connections that sometimes, we’re lucky enough to make with new people. “I recognize you,” I thought when I met her.

And I was right; I knew her all along.

I believe that connections are important; we should acknowledge them and accept them as natural part of living and loving. I’m thankful for the friends that I have. I’m lucky to continue to make new connections and new friends as I continue to grow up and grow older.

But there’s something special about high school friends. They capture a place in our heart and characterize a place in time that no else can ever reach. That no one else can ever touch.

Happy Birthday, Ang.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

hope to hear from you soon

“Hope to hear from you soon. Ciao, bella.”

Ah… The third unreturned call.

He’s been a great friend. He’s a wonderful person. And by all accounts, he possesses all of those, um, attributes so favorably looked upon by most women.

I first met him when we lived in the same old neighborhood in Cincinnati. I was the crazy twentysomething climbing up the scaffolding outside my apartment building at 2 in the morning when I realized I didn’t have my house key. He was the mature, charming veep of an international company who always laughed at my (many) mishaps.

A slight age difference didn’t prevent us from having great fun when we met for the occasional drink and we started hanging together a couple of times a month. He was from Washington, and we often ruminated together about the places and people we missed out west.

He moved back west several years ago. I’ve seen him a few times when visiting Seattle. We spent some memorable afternoons together. Enjoying leisurely, alcohol-laden sushi lunches on the Sound. Drinking buckets of beer and eating lobsters in the San Juan Islands.

He moved to Washington to start a new company, and then left the company to care for his ailing ex-business partner. Never tending to himself, and somehow never finding anyone, though with the scarcity of good men in Seattle he’s a real “catch.” And still we talked. We made a pact to speak on the phone once a month. And we’ve stuck to that promise over the years.

A few months ago, in a fit of vulnerability and a true gesture of warmth, I decided we both needed a break from hospitals and families. So I asked him to meet me in Seattle for an upcoming weekend.

And now we’re on unreturned call number three.

So, what’s the problem? Nothing. I mean, he’s absolutely perfect.

Oh yeah. I guess that’s the problem.

Everything that I’m trying to avoid, everything that I don’t want… that’s what he represents. Suburbia. Tennis clubs. Upscale cocktail parties. And if I was with him, that would be me, too. There’s nothing dirty about him. Nothing less than perfect. He’s shiny and clean, with beautiful manners. And he always knows exactly the right thing to say: He’s the first to notice my streaky hair. A pair of sexy new heels. Five stubborn pounds lost.

And for some reason, I just can’t return that call. As usual, I have to over think everything and turn it into much more than a phone call. It’s not a fear of the unknown; it’s a fear that I’ll be swallowed up by the other country club wives and end up hanging around the pool, plastered on pills and regretting too many things. The little wifey. Having affairs with stable boys and spouting off in front of the other wives at weekly barbecues. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad.

Damn. What’s wrong with me, anyway?

Monday, January 25, 2010


Everything happens for a reason. I believe this with my whole heart.

I tried explaining this to Helga, the woman who cuts my hair. She wasn’t buying it. “We spent all of this money so our son could be an engineer. And what does he do? He married a stripper! After we went into debt so he could become an engineer!”

When I relayed THAT conversation to my friend Bob, he had a slightly different take: “Well, that’s why we become engineers, Lisa. So we can one day marry strippers.” Ah, yes. A “higher degree” of love. Cause and effect.

I don’t take new situations lightly. If something happens and it’s unexpected, I wonder about it for days. And a potentially random conversation often has a deeper meaning for me, a fact that never ceases to amaze my friends. It drives them crazy. Hours after hearing an inconsequential remark, I’ll still be asking questions.

Why did you say it? What did you mean by that? Do you really think that’s true?

And I have other questions, too. Why at this time in my life did I have to learn this? Find that person? What’s the reason for everything that’s happening to me?

And just what am I supposed to do with all of this newfound knowledge? Sit on my ass and do absolutely nothing? Or take some as yet undiscovered action to change my life’s direction? Or is something happening not for my benefit, but to help shape someone else’s destiny?

Am I their reason?

Recently I wrote about a near-miss car accident. And I’ve had a number of near-misses in my life. I thought my cards would be played a long time ago. But I’m still here. And I know there’s a reason why.

I understand and acknowledge when things are going wrong for me. I’m the first one to admit when I’m unhappy, and ready for a change. But I often have to wonder why things have to end up the way they do. Why things can’t just be easy.

Uncomplicated. Why other people seem to accept their fates willingly and without argument. They all seem happy. Content. Are things really ever that easy? Or are they as fraught with apprehension as I always seem to be? Are they just better at hiding their feelings? Living a lie?

If you broke into their homes, what would you find? Financial debts? Emotional debts? A life left unpaid?

And what do you do inside of a home, anyway?

I’ve always felt things strongly. Been sensitive to what’s happening to people around me. And like I always tell my friends, my emotions are right on top of my skin. If things happen for a reason, what is that reason? And when am I going to finally see the light? Make smart decisions? Make wrong decisions that turn out right?

Maybe I’ll never know if I’m doing the right thing. In the long run, it’s just about being happy, and doing what’s right for me. Trying to be healthy. Practical. And smart.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. I have to.

Friday, January 15, 2010

hello, I must be going

For whatever reason, the Shell gas station in Lake Oswego’s 1st Addition is often closed at odd times. Well, odd compared to when a reasonable person might expect them to be open. Thankfully, there’s another gas station on the way to West Linn, near *Curry in a Hurry.

I stopped by the other day on the way to the coast for a fill-up. It was quiet, so I started chatting with the attendant, a very nice looking man with a charming personality.

I explained how I’d recently been pulled over and received a lecture instead of a citation (“No really,” I told the flabbergasted officer, “I’ll take the ticket.”). He joined the chorus of Every Man I Have Ever Known in detailing his disgust at the fact that women “never” get speeding tickets. He also cautioned me about driving carefully over the pass and insisted that I drive over the coastal range during daylight hours only.

Everything was going swell until I asked him about his studies:

“So you’re student? Where do you go?”

He mumbled something that didn’t sound like Portland State, OHSU or any of the other universities that I’m familiar with. My confusion must have been evident, because he quickly explained:

“It’s the high school. Right up the road here.”

“Can I get my change?”

*Cheryl: “Curry in a Hurry is really very slow. So if you want Curry in a Hurry, go somewhere else.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

things you should never say on a blog

We celebrated the third anniversary of the rose city journal blog last month, which is something of a milestone. The elusive Panther, also known as Vin, also known to Blogger users as the Lord King God of all Blogger Help issues, told me once that he liked the “organic” nature of this blog. Because it wasn’t started to make money. It was started to reveal more about the area of the country where I was living. To talk tourism, and to share information about music, festivals and other events. However.

A couple of what another blogger termed “highly personal” blogs and a raft of comments, and I found my niche: a mix of local happenings, yeah, but also some “other” stuff mixed in. Because apparently, I just don’t have the discipline to talk only of things related to the region. It’s cool. I’m happy with the blog as a whole and rather surprised that I have so many posts now.

Over the years, I have sometimes met people who read the blog, which always makes me stop and wonder: What exactly have you read on the blog? Are you, right now, remembering something that I wrote? Something really embarrassing? Or just slightly quirky?

And I’ve learned a few things over the past three years. Like some things that you should never say in a blog:

“I like giving gifts.”

“I still have your t-shirt.”

“I fall in love a lot.”

I’ve had some interesting input from the readers, too. This, as it turns out, is really the best part of the blog- hearing from you.

Most surprising comment from a reader: “I read posts from your blog to my seminary students.” We can only assume that they filter for content.

Funniest comment from a reader: “I hate it when people start blogs and then just write about whatever they want.” Move along, son; there’s nothing for you here.

Most “ouch, ya got me” comment from a (long-time) reader. “I don’t know if I would have posted that about your ex-friend. Maybe you should just talk to her, instead.” - A comment that actually resulted in my deleting a blog post, something I’ve only done three times in three years. Each time, I worried that something I wrote might offend someone (the wrong someone), so I removed the post in question. Otherwise, no regrets.

Moving into a New Year, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your readership. You keep me on the straight and narrow.

Well, you keep me on the narrow.

Best Wishes for the New Year, dear readers.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

the self-rule

It's always been really important for me to maintain my independence. Even when (especially when), I am in a relationship. That means a lot of different things but I can sort of sum it up by explaining, no big jewelry for gifts, vacations are fine as long as I pay my own airfare (or otherwise kick in for the tab) and of course, keeping a separate residence.

I always worried, if I didn’t stick to all of these strongholds of independence, these self-imposed rules, that I would lose something. That I might somehow forget myself. I also know that giving up my independence will ultimately result in some sort of letdown. Nothing lasts forever.

And if I give you everything I have, where will I be when you’re gone?

I have never needed someone to prop me up. Never dated just for the sake of dating. In fact, I resent that whole idea and have always eschewed it in favor of being alone. Sometimes I am in a relationship. Sometimes I am not. Either way, I’m happy.

I’ve always been fine on my own.

But sometimes, I think that idea, of maintaining my independence, might be to my detriment. I could have compromised more. Taken more chances on love. Maybe I should have set my pride aside and allowed myself to just accept being part of a couple. Maybe then, things might have worked out differently.