Sunday, July 31, 2005

A square peg, a round hole, and a cool father

The day I got my Driver’s License, like all teenagers, I wanted to spend my day out of the house and in the car. I found myself suddenly willing to do all sorts of errands for my parents that I wouldn’t normally consider. Sure I’ll pick up your dry cleaning, happy to do the grocery shopping. Anything at all to get me behind the wheel. And the reason for this is because, initially, Mom handed down a rule on my 16th birthday that I was not allowed beyond a painful one-mile radius of the house. And not allowed to drive at night. So you can get more practice at what an important responsibility you have now. Right; I was all ears for that message.

At the time, my father drove an enormous Cadillac. I’m pretty sure that the CRV I drive today is about a third of the length of that thing. I loved that car; it was as if I were driving the livingroom sofa. It was that comfortable. And when I needed a car, Dad was – at least on the outside – more than happy to let me use it. So long as I followed Mom’s rule and stayed within that mile radius, and came home before dark.

My patience lasted for only so long. Then I unpacked a skill I was only just discovering at the time: flirt-begging. Please. Please, please let me drive to the movies. I'll come straight home afterwards. Promise. And, looking at my father, I'd cock my head just a bit to the left, smile beneath my widened eyes, and hold the pose. It took a while to wear them down but they finally relinquished and allowed me to drive my group of friends to the movies.

But, at sixteen, the movies were the last thing on my mind. Or my agenda.

That night, I picked up two friends and we headed straight to Westheimer to cruise through the night with a wave of hundreds of other kids. Together we formed a slow-crawling traffic jam for five miles east and west, music blaring from T-tops and rolled-down windows. Each car filled with hormonal teenagers looking for something, someone, fun. That Cadillac had an excellent stereo system (meaning LOUD), and I was at the early stages of what can easily be called my music addiction. I had the tapes, The Cars, The Police, Queen, Grace Jones, Styxx and AC/DC, and we rolled through that Summer night completely confident in our music, our youth and our looks. Flirting out the windows, taking and giving phone numbers, screaming our highschool spirit, and grabbing each other when certain boys we considered foxes drove past. I had my driver's license and I had the Cadillac. We were free.

Though not so free that I didn't oblige the nagging feeling to keep my eye on the time, trying to figure the time the movie let out and what it would take me to drive the girls home, and still get home on time. At five minutes past my curfew I reluctantly turned the car away from the Westheimer excitement and headed toward my first drop-off. And then my second.

The girls home safely, I headed to my own home using the most direct street, which was Memorial Drive. If you're not from Houston, you should know that Memorial is a snake of a street, winding this way for a quarter mile, then winding that. The street is two-lane and without curbs. One more bend between me and home, I was fidgeting with the stereo to put it back on Dad's easy listening station, and I had turned the volume low. So on that last curve when I went off road slightly, I heard the tires hit the gravel. And I heard the hub cap pop off the back wheel. Crap. Turning into the first drive I could, I quickly put the car in park and shut it off. And at that point I became a ditch walker, which is nothing I was either skilled at or pleased with. With lighter in hand, I began the search for Dad's Cadillac hub cap.

That damn ditch was muddy and the lighter didn't illuminate much. I walked up one side and down the other, cursing my luck and looking at my watch, just knowing Mom and Dad were awake and had called the police, and no doubt planning ways to ground me forever. If I hadn't slipped in the grass and landed on my butt with my feet in the water and my hand behind me desperately trying to stop the fall, I might not have ever found that hub cap. But I did. Rejoice!

But my God the darn thing WOULD NOT GO ON. I hit it and kicked it, threw it on the ground in frustration, and picked it up and tried again. Finally, I popped it in place, or at least in place enough to make it home. And I drove home with the relief knowing that while I might be grounded for being late, I was returning with the car in tact, and therefore released from certain doom and cruel no-more-driving-at-all punishment.

Dad was in the kitchen when I got home, an hour late. His eyes told me that he knew I never made it to the movie just as surely as he knew I didn't walk on the moon that night. But his eyes showed no anger.

You're home late, Cat.

Yes sir. The movie let out late. (It was all I could think of, okay?)

Did you enjoy the movie?

Yes sir. (Uncomfortable pause) Um, I'm going to bed now. See you in the morning.



I wasn't at all sure what that easy exchange was about but I happily walked down the hall, not believing my luck at not only finding the hubcap, but not getting in trouble for being late.

In the morning, me sound asleep, Dad came into my room and flicked the light on. His baritone voice gently saying, Alison, wake up. Scrambling for the covers, and wondering what was going on, I tried to focus on him standing there at the foot of my bed.

Blinking my eyes to the light, I could see that he had a serious face but he was struggling not to smile.

Nice try Cat, but that's a Chevy hub cap.

[Everything in the world tells me that the story should stop there. It's a great ending, afterall. But I have to push forward just a bit and say that this memory is classic to me because it shines a light on me and my Dad. It slays me to use the word was when referring to him, but I have to get used to it. Dad was amused by things like this. He knew I didn't go to the movies because I came home with dirty hands and muddy jeans. (Something I didn't bother assessing at the time.) He had taken one look at me and after I went off to bed he checked the car, amused if not a bit confused by what he saw. Still, he always appreciated effort, any effort, even if so misplaced as trying to force a Chevrolet hub cap onto a Cadillac wheel. This memory, this is one of my favorites, one of my heartfelt memories that, even now, makes me smile. I amused him; he forgave me. He was quite a man that way, quite a Dad that way.]

Friday, July 29, 2005

At last

I could see him out the window, walking towards the office, towards us. My eyes smiled at the familiar shape of him, his walk, his face. He was nervous, I could see that too. We had five hours to spend together, I think we all were wondering how we would fill that time.

Initially, you couldn’t call the exchange actual conversation but more like a press briefing, we asking our questions, and in return receiving short, guarded answers. He is, after all, a teenager. His Shadows assist in this, elaborating on his responses. The Shadows are there for him, to protect and support him, guide his journey and assist his evolution. They provide positive peer pressure and support. They have walked in his shoes, and they are good. These two relay for us what led them to this school. One says if he weren’t here, he’d be dead. He’s 17, it’s shocking to hear. He now is loading up his course schedule to graduate on time, and his eyes are on a college education. He does not deny his own surprise at his turnaround during his past year here, nor his pride and pleasure with who he is today. In him, we see hope.

We play Scrabble and Horse Shoes. There is conversation, some laughter. We settle into comfort. I order in pizza and Pepsi. With three teenage boys, the two large pizzas disappear in no time. Oddly, five hours pass without pain or much notice. When we are leaving, I walk beside him, slide my arm through his and ask him some of my own questions. Yes, he can see that he’s getting help here, No, he’s not angry with us for sending him here. Yes, he’s okay. Really? He looks at me, really.

He's young, but not so young. He's innocent, but not so much that there's no tarnish. He's beautiful, wholly. He's my nephew, and I love him. As my father would say, he's my special friend. I've learned today that he's okay. And all I can think about is how excited I am to see him again tomorrow.


I get to see him today. It's been eight weeks and three days. Yes I am counting.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Remnants from the land of sippy cups

When you spend any extended time with children of a young age, your vocabulary and tone tend to change. With my niece and nephew, I tried to keep aware of the tendency and divert it at the pass because I really do cringe at things said to children (and that the children repeat) such as, look at the baby puppy.

But that was several years ago that I was leading that mission, and on this recent trip to Vermont, I got all sucked in to the cutesy language of very young children and actually had fun rolling things out of my mouth that I would never say elsewhere. The problem is that now that I’m home, I’m having to mentally translate the baby talk to adult speak before opening my mouth.

For instance, in babyland, for whatever reason the girls have unique words (or sounds) for still water and carbonated water. Still water is Ay ya ya ya, and carbonated water is Dee ay ya ya ya.

So, yesterday when I was at the grocery store, while on my list I'd written Fizzy H2O, I was mentally scanning the aisles for, you got it, Dee ay ya ya ya.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Killing the trees and spreading the germs

I have a question: Why are paper towels so big today? The individual towel is 11 x 14 inches. I remember the ad campaigns, more is better and all that, but honestly, who needs that much? I don't. If I have a spill in the kitchen, or I'm just wiping down the counters, I tear it in half before using it because I hate to waste. Sometimes, like just now, I'll use the whole thing to wipe the counter and then fold it over and save it to wipe the counter again later. Because there's a lot of paper towel left.

My temporary parting gift from those gorgeous girls I was visiting in Vermont is a nasty, snotty cold. So I'm sure that my hands have germs on them, and keeping folded half-used paper towels around in the name of saving the environment may not be the smartest thing to do. In fact, one of my friends who is particuarly germaphobic would have a meltdown over this. She lived with me for a while and I'm serious when I tell you that she used to follow me through the house with a can of Lysol in her hands if I so much as sneezed. So, I'm thinking that if the paper towel companies would just go back to regular sized paper towels, they would not only be saving the environment but also stop the spreading of germs in this household. More is not better.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Green skies and blue trees, happy birthday to me

Today is my birthday and I've been looking forward to it for months. Not because I can't wait to add a year to the total when asked my age, but because I knew I'd be here, and I knew that being here would give me ample space and time to be calm and breathe. This is my first birthday without my father and that puts me on somewhat shaky ground. But while there is an emptiness inside of me that I can’t begin to fill, I’ve also been surrounded this past week with so much life and so much love and squeals of pleasure, laughter, surprise and awe, excited faces and clapping hands, that this morning seems to float with that fat white cloud that's slowly drifting without a care along the mountain tops outside my window.

Each morning I’ve awakened to the cool breeze through these windows, and the birds in song in the woods out back. The Wrens, Finches, Grosbecks and Mourning Doves, all chattering or warbling in the trees each morning at dawn, which by the way breaks through at around 5:15.

Yesterday, we saw a red Cardinal. A friend of mine has told me there's some symbolism there, the red Cardinal and my father, but I can't recall the exactness. Still, we were happy to see him. Augusta has been looking for them, a bit saddened because she figured they did not live around her new house. We recognized his song before Cat spotted a flash of red through the woods and then finally seeing him at the feeder. For different reasons, each of us happy by his presence.

Being here, it's easy to forget there's a city I call home. It's easy to forget traffic or knotted emotions. It's easy to forget emptiness. The grey skies, and cold concrete fade from memory. The voice of my friend, the laughter of a baby, the company of my niece, these things have been soothing to me. These simple things have brought me incredible pleasure this week.

In fact, the entire week has been about simple and casual moments that sparkle. Among them,

  • Picking blueberries off the bush with my three year old guide telling me to only pick the big dark blue ones. And to eat them. At the end of the afternoon, each of us had full buckets of berries to haul home. Her bucket, however, had three berries rolling around. Her fingers and her smile stained blue.
  • Painting her toenails, and seeing that she has the same teeny tiny, barely there nail on her little toe that her mother does.
  • Learning that every chipmunk is Chippy, and Chippy, that rascal, he’s everywhere.
  • Sipping a glass of Alison Champagne, 2002, from my favorite Vintner.
  • Building a sandcastle with the three year old.
  • Being called a Dodo bird. More than once. By people who know me well.
  • Sitting on a porch on a Sunday afternoon, reading and discussing the New York Times with my niece. (Somewhere up there, my father couldn't have been prouder.)
  • Taking a ferry ride across Lake Champlain, having a picnic lunch in a park in Essex, New York, along the shores of the lake and, afterwards, strolling the babies along the shaded sidewalks and through the town to the ice cream store.
  • Sitting on the porch at midnight and remembering how comforting the darkness can be.
  • Walking past clouds of blooming hydrangeas of the softest purple and white.
  • Being a shutterbug with my niece.
  • Breathing in the air here which may or may not be perfectly clean but it's sweet smelling and lingers in my lungs.

These are just a handful of the moments I've had on this trip, moments that have me counting my blessings today.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Today's word is P O O P

A big part of the day around here involves poop. Poopie diapers, to be exact. There's checking for poop, announcing poop's arrival, smelling poop (this when poop's arrival went unannounced), asking about poop, communicating concern because one or the other has not pooped yet, etc. With two children - a three year old in potty training and a one year old - it's to be expected.

I have a couple friends who think any variation of "poop" is always in the realm of hilarious. But their funny bones are really tickled when it comes to gas. The three year old has a lot in common with them. When she lets go some gas, she launches into a fit of laughter. When she says escue me, it is barely audible between the giggles that are so rolicking that she can hardly breathe. When the little one toots, big sister cracks up at that as well. I can't help but laugh myself. This one, she's proud of her poop accomplishments. When she has to poop, she'll tell you. When she is pooping, she'll tell you. And, when she's finished, she'll announce the presence of poopies in her diaper, including description as to whether the poopies are little poopies or big poopies. And praise is sung high around here for this.

I don't usually deal with this much poop or gas in my day (unless I'm spending time with the aforementioned friends). But I'm learning that it can be a great source of pride, poop can. And gas, well that's some seriously funny stuff.

So this afternoon when we all went to Shelburne Farms to see and pet the farm animals, I have to say that while I was amused by the little name game in the picture below, it did not surprise me in the least. After all, POOP IS THE WORD.


And in this corner...

After we finished dinner last night, I happened to glance out the dining room windows to see this:

Cloudy sunset

My niece and I grabbed our cameras and practically flew upstairs to the balcony. Troy followed with the girls who are both infatuated with the camera, and for whom the camera returns the love. They gave that sunset some serious competition for lens time. And easily won.

Take my pictureWalking

Spinach faceExplosion of curls

Friday, July 22, 2005

Blessings are the light of fireflies

In my pocket is a small barrette, bright blue with a pink butterfly. I am taming the explosion of curls that is hers. Looking at her in the mirror, I tell her she looks beautiful. She looks back at me, says, Mmmmmmm. And her eyes flash wide. She jumps off the stepstool and scampers down the hall calling to her Mother to see her hair.

I hold the little one in my arms. She looks at me with fierce and unblinking intensity. Then she cracks her chubby cheeks into a toothy grin and bobs her head at the surprise of it all. She has toes that remind me of champagne grapes. She walks now, but prefers the rapid pace of her crawl. She's a Momma's girl, that one. She'll seek Mom out with a radar the Navy would envy, and when she finds her, she wraps her chubby hands around Mom's legs, pulls herself up to a stand, then throws her arms up, tosses her head back and says, Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

I tell Augusta how strong she is as a mother, how amazing it is to watch her with her children. She hugs me and tells me I am beautiful. She says in my ear how strong I am through my grief.

Last night, my niece and I sat until midnight in the Adirondack chairs on the back porch. We turned all the lights off inside the house, so it would only be us, the darkness and the stars. Lightning bugs played hide and seek through the woods along side of us. We talked as if she were older than her years. She's strong, that one. Hers is a musical, peace-loving soul. She's somewhat rueful she didn't live through the 60s.

I realize how at home I am with these two women. I realize that I know them better than I know anybody.

An afternoon summer storm drifts through the mountains, my windows thrown open to the breeze. I am sleeping in the branches, fat raindrops falling on the leaves, thunder rolling across the mountaintops. A soft rain blankets this house. In a way that is my own, I think I feel it covering with blessings all those within.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

It started out with Maisy and Blues Clues, and got better from there

All we have to do is follow the river, she suggests. She is my niece, and we are walking the banks of the Huntington River, trying to get to a spot where we can get our toes wet. But walking the banks is not exactly true because you cannot walk this river's banks. What we are really doing is following a path that has taken us from atop the river gorge and then across and down, and across some more, and then down, down, down to where the waterfalls have fallen and rapids have swirled through their fury, and the water is calm again. Our path is a narrow foot path that takes us over rocks covered with moss, and across the pine needle floor of the woods, winding us this way and that. We navigate fallen logs, where we lean for balance on boulders that are three times our height. (My cute leather sandals that I bought at Foley's last year are hardly appropriate shoes for this trek, but I make it.) When we do reach calm water, we take our shoes off and splash our feet through the shock of cold. We wade a bit, take loads of photos. I skip stones across the water and teach her how to hold the stone just right, how to aim to skim it across the water's surface so that it catches just so, and lunges forward again. She tosses one in. Kerplunk. It might take some practice.

Huntington River Gorge II Huntington River Gorge I Huntington River Big pond

Returning to the house, we are greeted by the girls. They are very busy with bubbles and their cars and their sand box, a found stick, a discovered blade of grass. The spoken words are DeeeeeeeeeeeeeDee, and I drive, and, push us again Daddy.

Wanting a ride Watching bubbles Driving
I don't get many days like this, days with my niece, with my godchild, with me dearest friend. Days with babies and forests, waterfalls and skimming stones, bubbles and books and sandboxes. I'm sure that if I'm even remotely conscious when I'm leaving this world, and the best of my life flashes before me, this day will be one that I see.

Color my world

In and of itself, Houston isn't very colorful, mostly the bland of concrete, green in the landscaping and parks of course, and color in the building materials and paint. But it's not necessarily a canvas on which nature paints. So the first thing that I notice when I'm away from home is the colors around me.

Here, the world around me is drenched in color. There are unbroken miles and miles of green, dotted with flower patches of yellow and lavender. Last night's sunset went from crimson to stripes of salmon and violet. The mountains in the distance shifted from green to a dark purple to grey. The night was black and deeper than the distance. Not a light to be seen but for what was inside the house.

This morning, the mountains soaked up the rising sun and seemed to glow beneath a rose and coral sky. I sat on the back porch, with a hundred birch trees behind me and the valley that is the yard before me, and the mountains beyond that. Birds of blue, red, and yellow and black were all around me, singing and twittering, chasing each other from the bird feeder perches and low slung branches. Busy, they were. But not me. I sat in the big Adirondack chair that Troy made, and relished the breeze on my face. Not a sound but that breeze in the leaves, and the birds and chipmunks. This, this is nature's canvas. And it's well painted.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Green Mountain State


I couldn’t write about this trip earlier because if I had, I promise that Emily would have sped up and headed North across the Gulf and the trip would have had to be postponed. And I’m not sure I would have handled that with much grace or maturity.

There is one reason I'm in Vermont. And that is mine and has been mine since February. I need the space and I need my friend. I need to let the grief out, let it breathe in her shadow and light. That will come.

As soon as I arrived, as soon as I saw their faces, I knew that this would also be a time of happiness, and the odd satisfaction and acceptance of life's continuation through death and birth. And in that, it's perfect. And these two angels of hers, well they've stolen my heart. Yet again.


Monday, July 18, 2005

The big surprise was Led Zeppelin

Stevie Nicks Saturday night:

Five friends
A big SUV
(with a driver)
Some champagne
Some wine
Some beer
(which is why there was a driver)
A hill that was dry even though it had rained all week
Some laughter
Some dancing
Some singing
Rock on
For two of us, our 6th Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks concert together
For three of us, our 5th concert together
For a different three, our second together
Me? I was at them all
This night was a birthday gift from C&J
The people in front of us asked us to be quiet
My birthday is a week from today and yet I am still being told to keep it down
I love that
Celebrate good times, come on

A big thank you to the friends below:



In a word, they are the best!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

You must always tell

In 1982 I discovered Interview magazine. In a word, it was cool. The music it covered, the clothes featured on its oversized pages, the photography style. Even the non-coated paper, column sizes and fonts were on the edge for a publication back then. It was cool, and I wanted to be. But of all the things I am or I was at the time, you wouldn’t use “cool” to describe me.

Still though, I did find something in those pages that so far has lasted my lifetime. It’s a poem by an anonymous writer. There was no introduction to the poem, no story of its path to the magazine page, nothing at all but the poem and the word Anonymous beneath it.

For years I carried it with me in my wallet. And then for years I kept it in my jewelry box. Over time, and no doubt its time in my wallet, the edges of the paper have become tattered, the fold creases deep and permanent, and the paper color yellowed a bit. Last year, I had it framed, pressed and floating between two pieces of glass, and hung it in the entryway of my home.

This poem touches me with its simplicity and hope. I read it often and throughout the years I've found myself in different lines, but it’s in the truth of the last two lines that I find the strongest connection.

“You Must Always Tell…”

You must always tell the world what you’ve been through,
It does concern the curious who pass;
The stories of our hearts and of our dead
Can all improve our image in the glass.
I am a child who carefully picks her way
Here, or down there, or anywhere I stop
Tipping my had to twenty thousand truths,
Deep in a Now about to open up.

You must always tell the world just what you’ve learned;
It was not chance that took you where you went.
And when I search my pockets what I find
Is far more hope than I have ever spent
You must always tell your secrets to the world,
Those passers-by whose business is the same;
And those from a land where all that’s holy’s dead
May not themselves be totally to blame.

You must always tell the world that you’ve been happy,
Loaded with talent, yes, a great success,
That you built beacons from brutality
And made your music from the pain of love.
We cannot both be ignorant and live
Let’s not just say we sheltered here a while
When one’s known death, and life–which is always there,
One tries to make a poem—and to smile…

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Whenever I call you friend

I remember the night I met her. I remember life before knowing her, and then meeting her. It was never the same again. I did not know that night that she'd have such an impact on me. I did not know that we would become friends. I didn't know how many things I would learn from her, or how many adventures we would share. Nor did I know that night that life would take so many turns and I would one day have my eye on her back at her mother's memorial service, or that she would be watching my back at my father's service. I did not know that night that she would always be in my life, or that I would spend so many years trying to find the right spot for her. Today she is very much on my mind and I don't know why. Maybe it's the rain. Maybe I had a dream last night that I can't recall. Maybe I'm missing the days before the pain of loss, and her face and her laughter were part of those days. Maybe I'm missing the days before I knew how it would all turn out.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Airport incident - but really, it wasn't my fault

The Atlanta airport is a BIG airport, and spread out long. Not sure if it’s larger than Houston’s international airport, but its size is undeniable and it even involves a train. (Wahoo!) After you’ve checked in, you go through security, and then you’re free to walk one hundred miles to your concourse, or you take the train to the A, B, C, D, or T concourses. The T Concourse, by the way, is Baggage Claim. I figure that they put it way down in the alphabet to leave room for growth, or to confuse the heck out of people since B, C, D and T sound the same. And when you’re on the train, the recorded announcement telling you at which concourse you’ve arrived isn’t very sharp at the front end of the letter so at every stop what you hear is, Now arriving at Concourse E.

Good luck at Concourse E.

You might think that this little story involves me getting off the train at the wrong concourse, and that would be a natural conclusion considering that I’ve already confessed my inability to decipher between the Marriott and Residence Inn, but you’d be wrong. The story takes place in Security.

But wait, before I tell you the story, I first have to confess that no one would ever refer to me as, say, a cool and collected flyer. While I am capable of flying without having a breakdown, trust me, my nerves are shredding on the inside. So, someone like me has a natural inclination to be a good member of the general public and keep my eye out for suspicious looking people or unattended bags. You know, like they tell us to do. It’s our responsibility in the scheme of national security, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

Standing in the security line, I see it... a suitcase all on its own. It’s cleverly placed near the front of the line but not actually in the line, just off to the side a bit. I keep my eye on it and, as the line moves forward, no one claims it. It seems to me that no one even sees it. I’m feeling a bit nervous that the terrorist would leave the suitcase right there, and a bit safe since the terrorist knew that there was no way he (okay, could be she) would make it through the tough Atlanta security. And, truth be told, I’m also feeling like a good citizen, and that sort of excites me, sort of like the times I was selected to stay after school and help my Second grade teacher clean the erasers.

I move up a bit in line, look around me, and still no one seems to notice the bomb-ladened suitcase. They’re all caught up in their travel plans. (Ahem... I canNOT believe that I am the only one doing my part, canNOT believe that no one else has seen the suitcase that clearly places all of us in danger.)

As my belongings disappear on the conveyer belt and I am instructed to walk through the security monitor, I look at the agent on the other side and tell him, “Excuse me but there is a suitcase right there that seems to be abandoned,” and I point to it.

The agent approaches the suitcase, and what do you know? Here comes Mister Can’t-Take-My-Suitcase-with-Me-Even-though-It-Has-Wheels. The agent questions the man if the suitcase belongs to him, and then, looks my way and says, “There was some concern.” He doesn’t exactly finger me as the informant but it is pretty darn obvious by that glance. Lazy bones had apparently moved his suitcase to the front of the line so that he could go the restroom and then return to the end of the line, so as not to cut in place. Likely story. I can only assume that he didn’t want to be so incredibly encumbered by the burden of wheeling his suitcase beside him.

While Lazy bones is explaining himself to security, he shoots me a look that is balanced nicely between its dual message of MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS and I DESPISE YOU. And wouldn’t you know, it’s just my luck that the area is congested with people blind to suspicious-looking items, but very in tune to what’s holding them up, so they all join in. And in no time I am the hapless recipient of a chorus of nasty looks.

While I'm thinking that they can all piss on themselves because I’m not the one who broke the rules by leaving my bag unattended, I betray myself. What I say to the security agent, and loud enough for everyone to hear is, “I’m sorry.”

That would have been enough, just that simple apology.

But I just couldn’t let it go and had to follow it with, “I was trying to do my part, you know, trying to be a good citizen.”

Because I am so queer that way. Because something inside me thought that if I said it, the agent would maybe give me a key to the city, or at least some plastic wings, or, I don’t know, let me stay after school with the teacher and help clean the erasers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What a long strange trip it is

I never made it to Atlanta yesterday. After the three and a half hour delay and a gate change, we were finally scheduled to leave Houston. Scheduled to leave, however, is no promise that you'll actually be leaving. We boarded the plane, were all accounted for, seatbelts buckled, cabin door shut, and cell phones turned off. We sit there. We sit there a while longer. Then we are told that the flight has been delayed another hour and a half. If we want to do so, we can get off the plane. Or what? Sit on this plane parked at the gate for an hour and a half with no air circulating? I hardly think it an option. Standing near the gate, considering what options I did have, the next thing I heard was the announcement that our flight has again been re-scheduled. We will now be departing three hours later, at 9:24. Upon investigation, I learned that they hoped to depart at that time (their word, hope, not mine) but it was still no guarantee that we'd be able to do so as there was still unstable weather in and around Atlanta. Unstable = Severe thunderstorms. At this point, unstable = me. After six hours at the airport, I changed my flight to this morning, and headed for home, dinner and sleep.

This morning was a new day and all was sunshine, on schedule, and smooth flying. Sadly though, not smooth driving. Note to Budget: When you say that my car will be ready in a few minutes, what I hear you say is that my car will be ready in a few minutes. I do not hear you say what you really mean, which is that you hope my car will be ready within an hour because you have no cars and can only give them out as they are returned, and after they're vacuumed and washed. If you would just tell people the truth up front, then they wouldn't be checking their watches every two minutes and stomping up to the counter to inquire when their car will be ready. A multitude of red-faced hissy fits are going on at the counter and I'm sitting in a seat reading my book. Why not? Waiting is the theme of this trip. Plus, I let it go because I know that we're only human and mistakes do happen sometimes.

I understand that very well on this trip.

Finally, I arrive at our office, give my presentations, attend my meetings and wrap the work day at a reasonable hour. Time to go to my hotel and relax a bit. But when I get to my hotel and try to check in, the woman behind the counter looks at me and flatly states that they do not have a reservation for me. At this I begin to crack. I begin to feel a hatred bubbling up in me for people behind counters. I begin to feel that this counter just might be the one that produces my own hissy fit.

How could you not have my reservation, I ask nicely but, I admit, with a bit of exasperation. Thinking someone around this place cannot type, and maybe can't hear, I slowly spell my name for her. She re-checks. No reservation.

I explain to her that I called yesterday to notify them that I would not be arriving as previously scheduled, but to still hold my Wednesday reservation. I explain it calmy but very seriously. Still, what I get in return is: I'm sorry Mam, but I do not see a reservation under your name.

In a bit of a huff, I drop my briefcase to the floor, flip it open, pull out my printed confirmation, and read her the number in a tone that conveys my confidence because I DO have a confirmation number and that number proves I have a reservation, and she WILL honor it and GIVE ME A ROOM.

Not their confirmation number.

This is the Marriott, isn't it?

No Mam, this is the Residence Inn.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Not quite a two-hour trip

My flight to Atlanta this afternoon is not one, two or even three hours delayed, but will leave Houston three and a half hours after its scheduled departure time. Apparently the hurricane Dennis-related weather in Atlanta is not something the airline industry deems safe at the moment. Fine by me. The current downpour at our own airport has delayed all flights departing here as well, so for reasons here and there, no one is going anywhere at the moment.

The waiting area I’m sitting in is divided by people engrossed in watching the woman I’ll tell you about in a moment and the guy who assumes he’s above the rest of us, and is extremely put out that his flight is delayed (nevermind the safety of the pilots or flight crew). His polo shirt tucked in, making his beer gut hang over the top of his shorts, he is booked on a flight to New Orleans and is presently demanding that he be upgraded to first class due to this delay. HE has a meeting in New Orleans and HAS TO BE ON TIME. Oh really, Mr. Important Guy, I wonder what global urgency hinges on your presence. The counter crew is not giving in, nor have they killed him. They deserve an award for their patience.

I’m not sure which is bothering me more, this guy or the woman sitting two rows across from me who is eating fried chicken. I’d say she’s going after it like a raccoon on a crayfish but that’d be grossly unfair to the coon. My goodness she must be hungry. But why couldn’t she eat it in the restaurant? Why do people eat fried chicken in public? This entire area now smells like chicken, and it’s disgusting to watch her not only gnawing on the chicken, but LICKING HER FINGERS after each bite. The guy sitting next to me looked at me and said, “Great, my flight is late AND I gotta see her eat that chicken.” I think it’s a universal us vs. them thing – you either do it or you don’t. She does; we don’t.

So, this waiting area is filled with people either rolling their eyes in disgust at the guy, or glaring in disgust at that woman. And each and every one of us is forced to breathe in the scent of fried chicken. I’m just thankful that neither is on my flight to Atlanta.

Friday, July 08, 2005

And the distance out there

Speed River at my feet
Running low and flat
I’m sitting here burning daylight
Thinking about the past
And the distance out there
Where the earth meets the sky

Cowboy Junkies, from Bea's Song

I’m driving to the cabin, a drive I have made over a hundred times. It’s a drive that takes me out of the city and, in a short time, off the freeway. Then I’m on country roads for the rest of the way. Passing pastures and mighty Live Oak trees with their branches spread low and wide. Passing flags hung from fences and mailboxes. Passing giant round bales of hay, fields of cotton and corn, and hand-painted signs advertising Watermelons for sale. I turn my head and see a group of older men playing cards beneath a tent rigged from poles and sheets, a pyramid of sweet watermelons on the table before then. I think about it but drive on. I pass fire stations and feed stores and hardware stores with screen doors and wide front porches. I pass small town bars with gravel parking lots and names like Neon Moon and Miss Ellie's. It’s a drive across a small area of Texas, but it’s wide and flat, and it stretches out like the sky. I roll down my windows. It smells like summer, dry and hot. Tonight, the sky will be filled with stars I never get to see in the city. But that's tonight. Right now it's a bright blue with fat and lazy clouds. Right now I'm tearing through the air. Right now I breathe deeply and inhale the scent of summer.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

In the news

You may or may not know this but Houston has a rail system, yes we do. No, seriously we do. Oh wait, system implies something like several lines or tracks or even trains that, I don't know, maybe trains that have stations and that connect with other trains that move commuters from home to work and back. No, we do not have a rail system. What we do have is a train that moves from downtown through the Medical Center to our Sports/Concert stadium, and back. Because, as most people know, that's exactly where the heaviest traffic is in a major city, between the stadium and downtown. And it's a good thing it goes through the medical center because the trains hit so many cars (driven by sign-ignoring fools, but Texas drivers are another story) that they could build a special section on the back and throw a few gurneys in there and just drop off the injured at the hospital of their choice along the way.

Anyway, the tv is on right now and a few minutes ago there was a local Breaking News segment in which the news crew let us, the citizens of Houston, know that safety crews have checked the Metro trains and found no problems (bombs). We are assured that our trains are safe.

Okay, let's be serious here. It's terrible what the terrorists did in London and I would not make light of that. Understandably, New York is checking their trains, Boston as well, and in San Francisco, I imagine they're going over the BART pretty thoroughly. But Houston? That is a joke. It's jumping in the photo when you don't belong there, it's interrupting the speaker to compare a story that has absolutely no connection. Like a really bad joke, it's wrong and hilarious at the same time. In this case, the key word is joke.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

More and less

I watered the yard this morning. Just like my father taught me to do. I appreciated the dawning light this morning, just like I used to watch him do. This morning I admired the progress of the two trees I planted a couple years ago. I looked at the height they'd achieved, I reached out for their leaves. And when I connected, I felt not a leaf but my father.

I miss him every day, but I tell you something that I've learned during these past five months: Death may end a life, but it does not end a relationship. In the strangest of ways, I feel close to him.

Did I ever say out loud that I wished to be more of him and less of me?

It's hard here without him. I've fallen down and gotten back up again so many times since he's been gone. It's more tiring to fall than to get up. I never used to think it that way. But he left his strength behind with me, and that has changed my perspective. I know he left his perseverance with me.

And I know that losing him has doubled my heart.

I spend a lot of time with his words in my mind. I sew some of them together with memories of him and I look closely at what forms. I find him telling me that it is not what we do, or even for whom we do it, it is the method by which we live our lives. Through steadfastness, through courage, through perseverance. Through love, and through kindness. These are the important things. There is no education that can teach us that, only years.

Painted wings and giant rings, I wish to be more of him and less of me.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

If the shoe fits

To the people who sat in Spots Park or along Waugh Drive to watch the downtown fireworks display last night:

If you were one of the many, many people who left behind your bottles, cans, napkins, paper towels, chip bags, cigarette packs, and everything else you didn't feel like carrying back to your car when the party was over, WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH YOU? You go to the park and presumably enjoy the fireworks that are in celebration of our country, and yet you trash it. Are you proud of that? Do you know what example you set? I'm sure you don't even think about it. But what you did was so completely unnecessary that it's disgraceful.

You should be ashamed.


Monday, July 04, 2005

Saturday, July 02, 2005


"WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all.”

Please, go to

Please, sign it.

When we realize the power of ONE, we'll realize what We the people can really do.