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 d├ętente 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.