Friday, July 30, 2021

Where's my fork?

Up the street in my neighborhood they were having an Irish folk band and a food truck. I told my husband we should go. It'll be fun, I said. A chance to meet more of our neighbors. Plus, don't forget the food truck. 

My husband has a Thing about food trucks. The thing is called He Loves Food Trucks. A few years ago we were in a rut and made a plan to do more cultural activities around the city. We visited museums and went on walking tours of historic neighborhoods and strolled around at various festivals. But the real selling point for this plan was the city's annual Food Truck Festival. Did this count as a cultural activity? 

Yes, said my husband. 

It was 90 degrees when we were supposed to leave the house to walk up the street to hear the Irish band. Suddenly, I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I was trying to picture myself sitting with a bunch of strangers and making small talk. For all of my adult life, I've been a fairly decent small-talker, but lately (the pandemic?) my old shy introverted childhood self has reasserted itself. My social skills feel rusty. Do we like Irish folk music? I asked my husband. Do we really want to sit outside in this heat?

He just looked at me. He was already walking out the door. "Food truck," he said over his shoulder.

The band was playing as we approached. People we didn't know had set up lawn chairs all over the green. We had only brought a blanket. We didn't spread it out yet. We headed straight to the food truck. There were only a couple people in line and I felt perked up by my husband's enthusiasm. We could do this! Get some food. Listen to Irish folk music. Mill around with a bunch of strangers. 

I don't know anything about food truck operation. Except what I have learned from watching the cooking competition show Master Chef. But this turns out to be quite a lot, because it quickly became apparent that this truck was not going to be giving us food any time soon. 

First, there was only one guy inside. He was taking orders on a notebook page. He took our order and our money and didn't ask for our names. It'll be about 25 minutes, he told us, and then he went on to the next person in line. He wasn't cooking anything. No one on the green seemed to be eating. How are we going to know when our food is ready? I whispered to my husband. He shrugged, but I could tell he was nervous.  

The Irish band singer was making jokes about the British penal system. More and more people were setting themselves up in their lawn chairs on the green. More and more people were streaming over to order food from the food truck. No food was being prepared. 

The Irish singer was making jokes about the Australian penal system. The music was catchy and people were clapping along. I talked to a lady I recognized and told her haltingly how much I admired her garden. I felt like I was in sixth grade again, stammering to a crush. Meanwhile, my husband was growing hangrier, threatening to order a pizza and have it delivered to our blanket. A lady in the hungry, sweltering crowd volunteered to help the lone guy in the food truck.

Under her management the new system seemed to be: go up and ask for your food and the guy will make it for you now. My husband and I went up to the food truck to participate in this new system. The volunteer lady, no offense, was not a good expediter, struggling to read the guy's writing on his notebook pages. The people waiting were varying degrees of annoyed and amused. 

We were all clearly in the same boat, waiting for our food, hot and sweaty, but not nearly as hot and sweaty as the guy in the food truck and the saintly volunteer lady. 

A woman strode up, clearly teed off. All I ordered was a salad! she said to the volunteer lady. 

Turns out, her salad had been sitting there all along. The lady handed it to the woman and the woman handed it right back. Forget it, she said. I don't want it anymore. 

The volunteer lady looked flustered. We can make you another one, she said. Behind her, the guy manning the food truck, was throwing a salad together, but the woman had already stomped away. The volunteer lady held the new salad out, confused about what to do next. I wanted to tell her that I could give her some good customer service tips from all of my Master Chef viewing. Instead, I took the salad. 

I know where she went, I said. I'll take her the salad. 

I wound through the crowd. The green was filled with people I didn't know. Older couples and young families. Kids running around or strapped to people's chests. The Irish band singer was talking about the penal system in England again. Someone had put up a baby pool with ice and was setting bottles of water into it. 

I found the woman who'd ordered the salad. They made this for you, I said. 

She scowled at me and grumped, But where's my fork? 

Instantly, I was catapulted back to my high school and college and graduate school waitressing days. Back then, I admit my customer service was uneven. I might be nice to you, but if you caught me on a bad day, I might burst into tears or tell you to F off. This was because, back then, I did not know the secret to all customer service interactions. 

The secret is IT'S NOT PERSONAL.  

I started laughing. I couldn't help it. The woman's rudeness was extraordinary, but it was also absurd. I smiled at her and said, Would you like me to get a fork for you? She nodded and off I went back through the crowd. 

One fork, please! I said brightly to the volunteer-not-great-expediter-and-yet-saintly lady. 

I carried the fork back to the scowling woman, who while she did not apologize to me, did say Thank you. Which I took as a win. Maybe we are all a little rusty with our social skills these days. 

When I relayed this story to a friend later, he told me that whenever he's in a situation like this, he wonders if he's involved in some secret psychological experiment and any moment the lights will come on and we'll see the cameras and audience and know that we're being watched and judged on our treatment of our fellow humans. 

It's a fun thought. 

But this was just normal every day life and not an experiment. So I went back through the clapping and chattering crowd, over to the blanket where my husband was unwrapping our food truck items. 

Only one and a half hours after we'd ordered, but the food was delicious and the company was lovely. 




Wednesday, July 21, 2021

George Washington Bathed Here (or so the sign says)

but I only dip my feet in. Okay, I climb in fully clothed. I don't know what I am thinking. Okay, I do know what I am thinking. It's a joy thing and lately I am trying to do more joy things. Which all lines up perfectly when my husband and I go on vacation to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia with another couple, our longtime friends. 

Those two climbed into the water too. But this was earlier in the day and they were wearing bathing suits. My husband and I chickened out. Later, after a nice dinner and two refreshing grapefruit martinis, we decide when we walk past the healing springs area of the park, we're going in.

We also climb into what basically amounts to a hole in the ground and sink down to our necks. It's really nice. 

Other joy things:

A stroll through all the shops in town and one of them has these Himalayan Sound Bowls and what you do is hold the stick like a pencil and run it around the rim to make a lovely sound, but I can't get it to make the lovely sound. But the shopkeeper is patient with me and tells me to be calm and focus, and sure enough, the sound comes forth, building and building, from outside the bowl and inside, filling up the entire store. 

Later I bring the bowl with me to the springs and call forth the sound there too, feet dangling in the cool water. This is a thing people do in Berkeley Springs. Not the Sound Bowls but the dangling of the feet. There's a canal that cuts through the center of town. Natural mineral springs flow out at 1000 gallons per minute at 74.3 degrees, and over the years, (after George Washington allegedly bathed here) they made multiple bathhouses and spas and a swimming pool and drinking fountains and spigots where you can fill up gallon jugs.

We take a long hike up a mountain and maybe it's drinking all of the healing water, but all of us make it to the top, a steep incline for 1.5 miles and then an equally steep descent. We have been friends with this couple for over twenty years, meeting when we lived (briefly) in the same town and our oldest sons were in pre-school together. This was multiple towns ago but we've kept our friendship going, even as we moved farther away geographically and all the kids grew up. 

This is a testament to my friend Deb, who always reached out over the years and planned outings, and some years, all my husband and I had to do was show up. Which turns out may be the secret behind a friendship that lasts more than twenty years. 

We walk through a tunnel and joke about the light at the end of it. It's a long tunnel and the light at the end doesn't seem to be getting any closer and I try not to have a panic attack in the middle or think about how once we make it through, we will have to turn back around and go through again. It's weirdly exhilarating. 

I can't get enough of this healing water. Why didn't we know about this place when the kids were little? Oh, wouldn't they have loved tromping in the canal. Don't tell any of them but Deb is already planning future outings with the presently non-existent grandchildren.  

We eat delicious meals out each night at various restaurants in town, throwing caution to the wind about indoor dining and the highly contagious Delta Variant and who knows all of there strangers' vaccine statuses.  

We drink a cocktail on the front porch of the house where we're staying and talk about old times and what it was like living through a global pandemic and one night Deb hands out canvases so we can paint something if the inspiration hits us. 

I paint a light at the end of the tunnel. I don't know if we have reached it yet, but this day, filled up with mineral water, feet pruny and tingling from multiple danglings, and surrounded by people I love, I'm happy right where I am. 

 








Friday, July 9, 2021

Dispatches from Dystopia (with paper balloons)

 

On the Fourth of July I marched in a parade with the people I work with at the library. We waved at the crowds and smiled when someone would call out, "We love the library!" And one of us would call back, "We love you too!" It was hot outside,

but not as hot as what they were calling the Heat Dome on the West Coast, where it was 115 degrees in Portland Oregon and a lot of people don't have air conditioning and they had to set up cooling stations for the homeless people. The crowds watching the parade were thick and mask-less, everyone, for the most part, wanting to forget that we had all just gone through a global pandemic together, are still 

going through it together. My husband picked me up at the end of the parade route, my favorite place in the world, The Chocolate Cafe, where they serve ice-cold chocolate cake martinis. Oh, I wanted one badly after marching in that parade! But it was only 10:30 am, so, another time, I thought. I wish

I'd gotten the chocolate martini. It gives me joy and we have to take our joy where we can get it. This is the lesson I've learned from the book I'm reading, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. Balloons, flowers, bubbles are small, simple things that make us happy and counteract the darkness of the world. The other day I was walking the dog

and a shirtless man came up behind me, yelling something. I didn't understand what he was saying. I immediately crossed the street, my heart banging, an old trigger from being attacked when I was a little girl. This happened over forty years ago but I can still call it up, the visceral fear that I am vulnerable and danger lurks where you least expect it. But back to the book Joyful.


According to the author, there was a dying town in Albania, overrun by crime, ugly graffiti-ed buildings, the people hopeless and keeping to themselves, until the new mayor had several of the buildings downtown painted in bright colors. The whole place felt brightened up and he decided to paint more buildings. The townspeople got into the act, painting their own homes and planting flowers. They began venturing outside again and meeting up with each other at cafes. I want this to be true,

that something as simple as a splash of paint can be ultimately transformative. Last year, at the beginning of the lockdown, I drove to visit a friend, a planned socially-distant outing in a park near where she worked. I hadn't seen her in weeks. I hadn't left the house or driven anywhere and I was anxious and afraid of what I might find Out There. 

It was eerie. Quiet. Few cars on the normally busy highways. No people except one man on the side of a formerly bustling road, standing facing the street with his pants down, urinating. What the hell IS this? I was thinking as I drove past. Is this the end of the world? 

It wasn't. Or it isn't. Not yet anyway. 

On the way home from the parade, my husband and I stopped at a grocery store and he griped about how people had left carts in many of the parking spots. What's wrong with them? he said. It's a breakdown of civilization, not having the common courtesy to put the cart back.

But look! I told him, when we were turning down our street. Someone had wrapped a knitted design around a stop sign. The Yarn Bomber had struck again! 


 

Yarn bombing is specifically mentioned in the Joyful book. Apparently several years ago a woman named Magda Sayeg wrapped a doorknob on the door of her shop in a knitted cover and found that people walking by were delighted. She started covering other pieces in the urban landscape with yarn and called it Yarn Bombing. Now there are groups of these stealth knitters all over the world, one in our very own neighborhood.  

Home, and my husband and I strung up lights on the back patio, a place that only a couple of years ago when we moved into our new-old house, was an overgrown mass of rotted wood, a clotted up koi pond and a prison door. Now it's my happy place. 

An herb garden. A bird bath. The lights. That walk I took with the dog, running away from the menacing shirtless man, heart pounding, hand gripped around the leash, I turned down a street where I normally don't walk. In the backyard, hanging in the trees were what looked like paper balloons. They were so lovely and surprising, I immediately calmed down. I told my husband about them and he bought them.

After the parade we hung those too. 


 


Thursday, July 1, 2021

How to Wear a Book in Three Easy Steps

1. Wash it. 

When I say Wash it, I mean Put it in the Washing Machine. This is a rather large, hardcover book. With a bold bright red stripe on the cover. I checked this book out from the library. Needless to say, it is not something that should ever be thrown in the washing machine.

But I'd been multi-tasking. Tossing items on top of the dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Things that belong downstairs that have meandered their way upstairs. A pair of sneakers for the walk I planned to take later. My laptop. Oh, and the library book I'd been meaning to finish up. 

I checked it out a while ago, before the pandemic, a recommendation from my son. It's a book of essays and I've read half of them, but over time the book ended up lower and lower in the stack of books beside my bed. The library where I work has this great policy where we automatically renew books that have been checked out, up to ten times, as long as no other patron has requested them. Usually we have a 28 day borrowing period, but because of Covid, we've doubled that time. 

What I'm saying is that I've had this book out since February 2020 and it was looking like it was nearing the end of its renewals. 

Thus, my decision to read it, flinging it on top of the laundry basket before heading downstairs. 

It gets a little fuzzy at this point. I know I took the laptop out of the basket and the sneakers. I did the wash. I took a walk. I wrote for a bit. 

I don't know if I can adequately capture what the inside of the washing machine looked like when I opened the door later. So, I will show you a picture:

*note the pink tinge

I honestly didn't know what I was even looking at. Something had exploded? A box of red tissues? I pawed around inside the washing machine drum and found

a clue:


A library book barcode. A plastic cover. What was left of the spine of a book. The rest was the consistency of what I would guess you'd call "wood pulp." The book had apparently gone back to its natural state. To say I was sick about this-- A book!! A library book!! How will I clean this mess??!!-- is a massive understatement. 

Anyway, number 2. Clean up the mess. 

This begins with picking chunks of mushy paper out of the clothing and the holey drum of the washing machine. There's a vacuum cleaner involved. Several more wash cycles. The dryer and the vacuuming out of the dryer. Shaking individual items of clothing out in the back yard, slamming some pieces on the fence to shake loose the bits and chunks of paper. Cleaning out pockets and other crevices. 

What can't be cleaned: the damage caused by the red dye from the book cover. Now, all of my husband's underwear and T-shirts are tinged pink. And my pair of pants, the light gray ones, are a pinkish-gray, with a new random bright pink dot design. 
 

3. I wear them to work the next day, realizing as I settle up my account (the book is a reasonably priced $28.95) that I am wearing, in a sense, a book. 

I plop a bag of collected book pulp material on my circ manager's desk. In her many years working at the library she has seen everything that can happen to a book 

except this.




  



Friday, June 25, 2021

Channeling Gladys Kravitz* in the Hellstrip**

I don't know how it happened. 

How I became the nosy neighbor, the crotchety woman peering through the blinds. I promise you I am not a total karen, but the other day I could feel the itch to storm out onto the front lawn and shoo away the loud kids playing in the street at nearly midnight. 

I wasn't that bothered by the loudness or lateness, (although midnight is late!! And why did they have to yell so loudly??!!) No. It was the fact that they were trampling the flowers I'd just planted in my hellstrip. Every time a car drove by--which is a lot, because we live on a fairly busy street--the kids would jump onto the curb

AND ONTO MY NEWLY PLANTED FLOWERS!

But I took a deep breath and closed the blinds. The entire point of my hellstrip project was to plant hardy, non-fussy flowers, flowers I wouldn't mourn if a dog peed on them or someone traipsing back from the Starbucks dropped crumpled straw paper litter on them. I spent no money on this project. Everything was recycled. The seeds from plants I'd grown last summer. Clumps of flowers dug up from my backyard. The only cost was my time. 

Okay, it was a lot of time. 

I had to shovel up the grass and weeds and do my transplanting and set out mulch and flat rocks. And then there was the watering, to keep it all going through the 90 degree heatwave we were having. The work was done and my vision was coming to life and I was feeling joyful,

and then came the Night of Noise and Trampling. 

For a few angsty minutes I watched through the blinds and then closed them, embarrassed. I had a sudden memory of my younger brothers playing basketball in the driveway of the house where we grew up and how every time a ball bounced over the hedge, they jumped through the bushes into the next door neighbor's yard. That lady scared the crap out of all of us, 

charging out of her house to shout about her lawn and pristinely coiffed bushes. At some point my brothers stopped going over to get the ball because one of them got his legs torn up. The creepy rumor was that the lady had purposely planted deadly thorny roses next to her bushes. I don't know if this is true, but if it is, oh my God, what a loony tunes she was, I mean

these were just kids playing outside on a summer night, 

and anyway, plants will grow back. 


*Gladys Kravitz. The nosy neighbor in the old Bewitched TV series who was always trying to catch Samantha the witch doing something witchy. I always thought of her as anciently old, but it turns out, the actress who played the role, Alice Pearce, was in her mid forties when she appeared on the series.




**Hellstrip. What the people in my neighborhood call the strip of land between the front sidewalk and the street. In most places you'll find grass and/or weeds, but people around here like to plant flowers and other plants to attract bees and butterflies.  










Friday, June 18, 2021

Today we can take off our masks at the library

if we're vaccinated. And if we want to. We've stopped quarantining our materials for four days, but we still have our plexiglass partitions, which I hate. It's hard to hear what patrons are saying, and inevitably, I have to roll out from behind the partition on my roll-y chair so I can hear them better. Especially the mumbly kids, 

who aren't old enough to be vaccinated and still wear their masks, so maybe I should keep wearing mine too in solidarity? And how do we go from wearing a mask every day to just... not, and how do we know who's vaccinated, and odds are it's 50/50 around where I live, and I'm no longer worrying for myself at the moment because I understand how vaccines work, but what about dangerous variants--

and all of this analysis of risk and what my responsibilities are to my fellow human beings is making me tired. I just want to talk about books,

the book I read last week, for example, called Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips which takes place on a remote peninsula in Russia where two little girls have gone missing. All of the chapters are different, interlocking stories, women in the area, who are doing the best they can, but feeling trapped and everything they know about their world seems to be changing and it's hard for them to make sense of it.

Or the book I read before that, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which is about a woman from Nigeria who moves to America to study, her experiences as an immigrant and as a Black woman who is not African American, the cruelty and casual racism, the crappy arrogant way white Americans view immigrants and Black Americans, but also, it's a love story about a long ago romance with a like-minded man and how they've gone their separate ways and somehow manage to find their way back to each other, in Nigeria. 

Or the book I read before that, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, which was about a despondent girl who regrets most of the decisions she's made in her life, but is given a second chance (actually, she's given a million chances) to try again and again and again, until she gets it right.

I don't have many regrets, but I do appreciate second chances, and aren't we profoundly lucky, those of us who've made it through this thing, the first Global Pandemic since 1918, so far, anyway, slipping our masks off or keeping them on, 

for just a little while longer, mindful of each other and our varying degrees of trauma, our wishes to return to normal, to browse in libraries, to read books

and to share them.



Friday, June 11, 2021

Mercury is in retrograde

and I don't know what that means but it seems bad. Something about the planet appearing to move backwards and maybe that affects relationships? or signing business contracts? This is according to astrologers, so make of it what you will, but how else do you explain

people losing their minds on airplanes, or yesterday when I was first in line at a green light and three cars shot through the red light, or that "doctor" testifying before the Ohio Statehouse saying it was a fact that people who had the Covid vaccine could stick a spoon on their face because now we're all magnetic and she knew this because she saw it on Youtube.

The other day our dog refused to go for a walk, which is so odd, because always, even if you whisper the word (walk) she will come running, but this day, she planted her feet and wouldn't budge. She hadn't been eating, and then she was panting and shivering. 

My husband and I brought her to the veterinary hospital and I was having ptsd, remembering the last time we came to this place with our dying cat, but how kind the people were. They took the freaked out dog from freaked out us and did blood tests and pumped her up with fluids. Nothing physically wrong that they could see. Has there been any recent trauma, they asked.

Well, our daughter and boyfriend moved out a few weeks ago and took their dog with them, but I never thought of our dogs as being friends. Still, who knows what goes on in a dog's head, and then my husband and I went out of town for a week and left her with a stranger, so there's that.

I went to work tired and a man strode into the library without a mask. Which is okay. We have a sign on the door that says Masks Appreciated, but more and more people are ignoring it. Which is okay too. But still, the man seemed to be gearing up for a fight. When will the computers be back, he demanded. When will you have seating? When can we have meetings? 

I was sitting behind plexiglass and I smiled under my mask. We're working on it, I said. 

It was the same thing I told the mom who asked when we'd have toys back in the youth department. I could read the impatience on her mask-less face. We just opened the library a few weeks ago, I said. We'll get there. What I didn't say: Maybe it takes a little time to come out of a global pandemic. 

But I get it.

The masks, the plexiglass, the empty toy room are all outward signs that we just went through something scary. Some of us are struggling with this more than others. IE: losing their minds on airplanes or running red lights or trying to stick metal spoons to their foreheads. 

When I was in California with my son, we were sitting at a red light and he told me his philosophy of red lights, how traffic signals are really the only experience most people have with laws, with the social contract. If we didn't have traffic lights, we'd all just drive straight through. But here we are, stopped, even when there's no traffic going the other way. Most of us follow the rules, 

wear the masks, get the vaccines. We're scared too but we want to do what is right, not just for ourselves, but for other people too. 

The vet sent the dog home with fancy wet canned food and the dog gulped it down and then crawled into bed with us. In the morning I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk and she came running. 


Some days are harder than others