Monday, October 27, 2008

An Unexpected Occasion

I had really hoped to get down to Holden Beach this weekend, to see Bennie's show and get to meet the man himself, but Fate had other plans for me. And if you get the chance, go read Bennie today - he had a horrid weekend at the show and yet, he still perseveres and tries to find the silver lining. I'm thinking of you Bennie, and sending all the good karma I can your way.

Ms. Q tossed us an early Christmas present and got tickets for the "Walking With Dinosaurs Live" that was in town. The boys are humongous dinosaur fans - they know more than I do - and are currently involved in making and educating a vast army of toilet paper roll based prehistoric critters, so obviously they were cheesed beyond delight to attend the show.
It really was a wonderful show; the stage effects were half the fun, with plants and flowers unfurling in front of our eyes, the paleontologist's droll narrative kept the pace moving, and of course, the dinosaurs were fab! I wish my pictures were sharper - my camera just isn't that great in low light - but you get the idea of how it looked.
Allosaurus and Brachiosaurus rumble in the jungle until the volcanoes make everyone head for cover.
Allosaurus back at harassing the brachiosaurs
I thought the volcano effect was awesome!
The flowers that grew up along the stage edge were fantastic. I heard someone behind me compare them to The Wizard of Oz, but I think they were even cooler, the way they used air to inflate them up and down.
A pair of Taurosaurs go at it for territory
And the winner grazes alonside of an Ankylosaur
Until the T Rexes come to town and clear the stage!It was a great show, and if you get the chance to see it, I highly reccomend it. This is one of those moments I don't miss not having little girls, because for me, I would much rather be watching this than Disney Princesses on Ice, or Hannah Montana in concert.

Thank you again Ms. Q - you rock it the best!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In The Voting Line

Even though early voting started last week, it took until today for it to reach Bumfuck USA, where I live. I got there about 9 AM, thinking "Hot damn! There's hardly anybody here!" Then I realized they weren't open yet, not until 10 AM, Figuring it would only get more crowded, I lined up with the other two people already waiting.

We were an interesting trio: Me, your middle class bohemian white girl, another woman, roughly in her late 40s, wearing a man's quilted flannel coat, cigarettes in hand, and an older sweater-clad black man, who was fairly quiet at first.

We started chatting, to kill time, and at first, we didn't talk election at all. Then some campaigner came up to us and started handing out pamphlets, which I pointed out to him, was forbidden in that area. He mumbled something to the effect, "Oh I didn't know..." and wandered off to easier targets. My line buddies were visibly relieved as he left, and confided in me that they were both first-time voters this election and didn't know the protocol of where and when campaigners may accost you. As I was pointing out the sign that told campaigners where to stop, one of our local hopefuls for the House came up, all hand shaking jocularity. I shook his hand, as did my buddies, and the woman asked him what he would do for us if he was elected. He began his list of well seeming, albeit vague intentions, and when he paused, I jumped in.

I pointed out that our town is one of only a few towns that surround Raleigh that don't have impact taxes levied against developers, that our growth is unchecked, unsupported, and irresponsible. After his eyebrows came back down to earth, he agreed, and told us he wanted to see impact taxes that would include more money for building schools and hospital/rescue services, as well as just for roads. And then he drifted away.

The cat out of the bag, so to speak, we began talking amongst ourselves about the candidates, although studiously not using names. The woman in the flannel coat muttered, "I don't want to see no hockey mom end up as president", acknowledging a fear many have, concerning McCain's advanced age, and his four-time fight with cancer already. I laughed and agreed, and turning to Sweatered Black man (and btw, I don't consider it denigrating to acknowledge someone's skin color, only to treat them differently for it) said to him, "I am very hopeful for this election, and it's potential to be of major historical significance." He nodded and told me that his sons had pushed him to go and register to vote, because they thought so too. "If my candidate becomes president it will go a long way to right a number of wrongs in this country", I said then, and he tilted his head and looked at me, as if just seeing me for the first time. "That's a really good way to put it", he said, and I went on to explain. "The divisions among us in this country have to end. So you're black, and I'm white, but we're both Americans, and we both want the same things out of life. Only by working together are we going to achieve that. A lot of Americans don't go and vote, thinking they have no representation or voice, but it's crucial that we all step up and cast our vote, and not leave it to a quarter of the population to decide everyone's futures."

I think I might have blown his mind, but in a good way, I hope. It's too easy to let our differences qualify us, to divide us, but what is this nation but a melting pot of ethnicities, of cultures, and should we let old rich white men call the shots for a culture of that kind of diversity?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Road Trip

We got up at the "butt crack of dawn", as Bea likes to say, to head down to Newport again. Bella, Bea's Siamese cat with the chronic lymphoma thing going on in her mouth, was showing signs of irritation again, and Bea was afraid it might mean the cancer was back with a vengeance. I went along for moral support, and took one of the furry herd, Pooh Bear, for his check up and shots.

We loaded the cats into Bea's back seat in the dark and headed out. I should say, my husband loaded my cat carrier, because not only do I NOT function in the pre-dawn hours, I've also been fighting a horrid chest cold this past week that's left me unusually weak and easily winded.

I had thought taking Pooh Bear would be a good call; he's generally a quiet cat - a total squirrel job, replete with nuts, but quiet - and he wouldn't upset poor Bella with a bunch of constant yowling. It's an almost 3 hour drive and the whole screaming cat thing gets old long before we've even crossed over I-95. (If you're wondering why we're going that far to see a vet, read this)

You might be asking right now, (and btw I'm really glad, reader, you've stopped using that strange poetic form of address where you started everything with "O". That was weird) "So, Tapdancing Woman, how did that work out?"

It's funny you should ask: the thing is, that damn cat, the one who was supposed to be the QUIET one? He meowed and meowed and meowed almost the entire way there. By the time we were going through New Bern, and almost there, I turned around in my seat to see what WAS this cat's deal, maybe even rattle his cage, just to make ME feel better.

I looked into his carrier and saw not one, but two pairs of yellow-green eyes looking back at me. I rubbed my tired eyes and counted again. Yep, four eyes for one cat, because obviously there wasn't just one cat in that carrier, there were two. Simon had stowed away, rather accidentally, and my husband, who apparently isn't at his best at 6:30 AM either, didn't seem to think a 30 pound cat was anything unusual.

It certainly served to break the mood of doom we had been driving under (we were worried about Bella, remember?)and the day just kept looking up. Bella did need the boost of a new antibiotic, but overall she was looking good, for a cat with a terminal disease. Pooh got his shots, Simon got his ears cleaned as incentive to never get in a carrier again, and we had an awesome lunch of local steamed shrimp, clam strips, hushpuppies, and sweet potato fries at a place called The Crab Shack. And on the way home we knew who to blame for the ever-present feline song of "Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow,..."!

Addendum: I completely forgot to tell you what happened when we got home that evening! I of the perpetually full bladder, had to winkle as soon as we pulled into the driveway, so I hobbled-ran past the hubman, and told him to get the cat out of the car, puhleeze! He took one look in the cage, asked Bea if the other cat was going to her house, and when she said no, he sighed heavily, thinking I had brought home another stray. The dork. Bea had to tell him to look again, whereupon he figured it out and great hilarity ensued. I mean really - who the hell can't tell the difference between carrying one cat and two? It's not like they're tiny kittens - these are some meat-packing males, ya'll!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brief Candle

She was smaller than I remembered, shrunken in upon herself. Her hair, which had always been neatly coiffed was cropped short and a little tousled. It had only been two years since I had seen her but it was as if she had aged twenty years in that time. It was that rapid aging, I think, that slapped me the hardest with the obvious truth. It's one thing to know intellectually of someones illness, it's quite another to witness it firsthand. My aunt is dying. She's dying and there's nothing to be done but watch. Nothing to do but wait and make small talk. Nothing and that's the hardest part to wrap my head around, because I'm a do-er, a fighter. It's excruciating, the passive waiting, the watching, but it's not my call how this ends. I am "but a poor player that struts and frets", and I only have a walk-on part in this particular tragedy.

She could only handle short visits, so the hubman and I left to let her take a nap before dinner. We headed to the woods near where I had lived, a park called Chestnut Ridge. My mother's parents had their ashes scattered there, so in a sense, I was visiting my grandparents, but also like them, I find solace and refuge more readily in nature than in a church. I went there to cry, to have it out with myself before I had to appear again at dinner time, with an outwardly happy appearance. I thought a lot about the past; of the years we did live closer, of the family rift that seems to only deepen with time, of our imminent mortality and what we leave behind, each of us, as a legacy to those we loved.

Did I have an epiphany and go back to shed the light of my enlightenment upon those less fortunate? God, no. What light does anyone really want shed upon their personal time of grief? I walked under the ancient and gnarled apple trees in the park, collecting their freshly fallen offering. I cried as the grief came to me in waves and leaned on the strong shoulder of my beloved. I took strength from nature's cyclical immortality, and knew the blessing it is just to be alive. I gathered myself enough to go back calm and serene, and to not cast the burden of my grief upon already weighted shoulders.

There was a moment when we parted that evening; I held her face in my hands. I smiled at her with all the love I could not articulate. We embraced for a long moment, and said goodbye.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fly On A Very Strange Wall

Bea has the Psych degree - I have no formal education in the field, but I grew up in the household of a man who went from being a steelworker going to night school, at my birth, to a PhD in Psychology when I was about 12. I think it's a little bit more than just staying at a Holiday Inn Express, in terms of what you pick up, both in terminology and concept, as well as exposure to illustrative circumstances.

Which in plain English means as the kids of a shrink-in-training we were exposed to an underbelly of life other kids never saw, much less even thought of. My dad would take us with him on weekends, to Dorothea Dix Hospital while he saw patients. We didn't actually go inside the hospital, and frankly, I'm grateful - hospitals of all kinds are bad mojo, in my opinion - but we hung out on the grounds with the less dangerous patients. Comforting thought indeed, to a 9 or 10 year old, that these people, often aimlessly milling about, sometimes talking to themselves, were the less dangerous ones.

Once, my younger brother brought a Hot Wheels with him and was running it up and down one of those large, sort of pagoda-roofed trash cans. My older brother and I watched him idly, bored, killing time. An ancient looking old man kind of tottered over to us, stood near us, fascinated with the movement of the little red car. Up and down, up and down the trashcan my brother ran it, somewhat nervously looking at the rapt old man watching his every move. Abruptly, the old man reached out and took the car from my brother. We all stood slightly back, and a little closer together, as we watched him run the little Hot Wheels up and down. Up and down, up and down. My dad called to us just then, from the top of the steps, up at the front of the hospital, and we went to him. We left the car behind with the old man, figuring, as my younger brother said later, "He needed it more than we did."

As benign as that encounter was, it was disturbing to us. We knew something wasn't right, but we were clueless as to what that was. And for every benign, albeit strange encounter, there were others with darker undercurrents. I remember a woman stopping our car as we drove through the hospital grounds one summer evening. She leaned on the side of the car to talk to my dad, her arms prominent in my view from the backseat. They were covered with freshly healing wounds; slashes, gashes and holes crowded her arms from wrist to elbow, and I stared at them in horrified fascination. When I asked later about the scars and wounds my father's answer wasn't explicit, which is probably as it should be, but I still wondered about that woman and what had happened to her.

It made me look at the people on the street differently, wondering how many of these seemingly normal, well adjusted people who smiled as they passed were in actuality fragile and hanging by tenuous, invisible threads. It made me aware that the creepy man in the trenchcoat at the park wasn't there for the ballgame, and that every bum passed out in the bushes by the capital building, reeking of cheap wine and urine, had been someone's child once.

Perhaps that's where empathy is born - in that startling flash of clarity when you see someone who is ill, or hurting, or subversive - and you realize that you could just as easily be that person, as they could be you, given a different set of circumstances.

"Life on the streets, it isn't that bad
or all that it's cracked up to be.
Some are half crazy, others plain stupid,
some they just want to be free..."
Peter Case

It's been a rough couple of weeks. The trip to New York was - difficult - I'm still processing it. I've been sick as a dog twice in that time as well, went to an epic birthday party at Cleo's where the Captain did me in, and life goes on, regardless of whether you're strapped in and ready for the roller coaster ride.