I Fall to Pieces

One of the many boxes of legos.

Bear had done right by me when he cleared out his room. Per instructions, he left the books for me to pick through. And the Legos.

There were four or five plastic containers full of the red and yellow and blue and green and gray blocks. There were some block blocks–squares and rectangles. There were some windows that opened and closed. There were also a few doodads that could turn around like a faucet or maybe could be a flower. There were bodied and disembodied yellow heads to pick through. And an amazing number of little gray connectors that must have been from the many Star Wars and knights kits that were under Christmas trees and gifted for birthdays.

I found Legos to be a wonderful mindless manipulative. It wasn’t mindful for me, as I didn’t focus or concentrate on my creations. I’d sometimes make a color pattern, but, for me, it was always indeterminate.

The Bear and the Big Guy spent many hours assembling and disassembling roads, houses, towns and worlds. It was the journey of a Creator, trying different combinations, making evolution happen and then reshaping a next one.

There were kits that were constructed following the guidance on the box. But only once. After it was made, it was rejoiced and then deconstructed and the spoils added to the pile. There were no Lego trophies that were saved for posterity. Legos made fluid sculptures.

On Saturday, I returned to my boxing duties, back to the Bear’s room. I cleaned out the craziness in the closet. I don’t believe that the back of that closet was cleared out in fifteen years. Frankly, it was scarier in thought than in fact.

For some reason, there was a big pile of coins on the dresser. Next to the pile, there was a box full of even more coins, as well as with a bunch of little rocks. Why don’t people (in my family) recognize that nickels and dimes and quarters and, yes, even pennies, are money to be spent rather than items to pile. There was once a day when I ordered a pizza only to realize that I had no cash (before delivery took credit cards). I paid for the pizza with coin I conjured from pockets, under the pillows on the couch and from the bottom of my bags–even going to the closet to rummage through every bag I owned. The Pizza Hut guy wasn’t particularly jazzed, but at least I found enough silver to include a decent tip.

I picked through the rocks (why rocks in that box, too??)  and tossed them as well as a number of wires and quite a pile of empty wrappers that made me both relieved and a little shocked.

I parsed through the books, fondly putting some in boxes and others in the to-go pile. I soon found myself sitting on the floor picking through those Lego boxes.

I started tossing out the tiny green army men I found in one box. There was some nerf bullets in another and a fuselage of a plastic airplane. The dust in the uncovered bins was charring my fingers and making me sneeze. I started combing through one of the bins to shake out the chaff, the unique Lego plastic-on-plastic sound whistling as I shook through the box.

WHAT THE HELL WAS I DOING?

Seriously. What. The. Hell. Was. I. Doing.

I was spending fifteen, soon to be thirty and likely sixty minutes going through old toys. That had more than a decade of dust on them. I said I wasn’t sentimental and here I was. On the floor. Picking through junk.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Done. Said my sane self.

I took a photo of the boxes of little colorful blocks and posted them under FREE on my neighborhood listserve. I identified them as dusty and recommended running them through the dishwasher. In less than ten minutes I had a a taker. In five more minutes I took the two trips downstairs and to the front porch to await pickup. I had two more pings for them before I took the listing down.

I went for a beer and a sandwich and when I stepped on to the porch I looked down. They were gone.

And I’m good with that.

 

Fish Story

Looking over the scrub oaks, past the pond to Tom Nevers head. ACK.

I smell bacon.

It’s unmistakable. It’s the smell of a workingman’s breakfast. It’s the smell that makes many a vegetarian yearn and even fall off the wagon. It’s the smell of something so bad that is so good.

There was a period when The Spouse was all about big breakfasts. He dubbed it the “hearty sailor breakfast.” I believe that term originated from a trip to the whaling museum combined with his summer obsession of reading Moby Dick on Tom Nevers beach. Slap me silly and call me Ishmael, but I don’t think he ever made it beyond the first third (I’m being very generous here) of his library-stolen, tattered black-bound volume with the fabric cover frayed, loosened and then separated from its spine. Me? I read the Cliff Notes.

So the hearty sailor breakfasts started at the beach house, where we’d cup our mugs of hot coffee as we surveyed the scrub oak and the annual shrinking view of the pond from the kitchen of the upside-down house. Beyond the pond, across a span of beach that ebbed and flowed according to the severity of the winter storms, was the big, wide and deep Atlantic.

It was sometimes blue. It was sometimes gray. It was sometimes green. It was often blue-gray mottled with green-blue tipped by shifting white caps with the deepest blue lapping at the horizon. I can see why Tom Nevers stood at that beachhead looking for whales. We did, too.

At night, the moon would laser its beam to light up a black-blue sea, whereupon the ocean would reflect it right back up, keeping some of the glow for itself to spread like a blanket that it cozied under. On some nights, the moon would creep up behind the ocean. On those nights it would magic itself into a giant glowing wafer and slowly, slowly, ever so slowly rise, so as not to tip off the waves. It only did this when it was a full moon. A crescent didn’t have the heft for this trick. But the giant sphere was so big it could hide in plain sight.

The morning after a moon like that, eggs and pancakes with blueberries, butter and real maple syrup and bacon would hit the long wooden table. There would be pirate talk, but mostly the boys vacuuming their breakfasts before a bike ride or beach day.

One year, the hearty sailor breakfasts continued at home. The Spouse would get up and start cooking a few strips of bacon to the delight of boys not anxious to get up and go to school. Much better than the cold cereal that The Doc offered up. There wasn’t always eggs and pancakes and bacon. Some days it was pancakes and bacon. Others eggs and bacon. But always bacon.

The smell of bacon soon permeated the morning routine. It began to greet me when I came home from work. It seemed to seep into the couch, the rug, the draperies. It hung in my coat, my gloves, my sweater, my t-shirt, my hair. After two-weeks of waking up to the smell of bacon, of coming home to the smell of bacon, of brushing my teeth to the smell of bacon, of going to bed to the smell of bacon, I felt like I lived in a greasy diner. The ones you recognize from a half-block away because of the smell of bacon. Always the smell of bacon.

Did I mention that I don’t care for bacon in the morning? I’m not big into breakfast. A bowl of cereal or a yogurt and some fruit or toast and coffee? I’m good. I mean, I’ll eat a waffle occasionally, but omelettes and hash browns and breakfast meats and toast and butter? No thank you.

Two weeks of the descent into The Great Bacon Diner, and I had enough. Enough bacon every single morning. That was it. And to this day, a dozen plus years later, I am still ridiculed for my bacon hatred and the moratorium I supposedly instituted.

Except that is obviously not true, because today, like many times in the past decade, I smelled bacon. And like many times since the purported bacon-ban, the eyes of the Big Guy and Baby Bear shone with an impish gleam. Like the sneaky moon, getting one over on the ocean. Thar she blows!

And for this, all of it, I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, Loyal Reader.

I Await A Guardian

The patronus of Severus Snape. It's a doe. It's pure love.

As the 2016 presidential campaign drags on

An intense cold swept over them all…The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart. . . .He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder.

Right. The damn dementors.

“They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil.”–Remus Lupin from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is starting to sum up the emotional drain of this campaign. The swirling cold coarseness, the frigid hearts beating hate, the hijacking of all that can be good in our country and in our political system–yes, I feel my civic soul being sucked out. I must stop it before I am left with only the cynical soullessness of us-versus-them party politics.

I need a political patronus. Something to bring light to the darkness and to protect me from the shrouded rattling of the dementor breath and the stench of the race to the bottom.

First things first, I need a happy memory. A single, very happy memory.

I’m thinking about the times that I would vote with my dad. We’d go to the gym at our elementary school. Our school was named Norman Rockwell Elementary School. This is true.

One time in particular, I remember us waiting a very long time in line. The voting booths were big–to me anyway–metal contraptions with a curtain that’d close behind you when you pulled a big stick in the center. Your vote was secret. You would move small levers to mark your vote. They would register in the back of the machine on a counter when you moved the big stick back to open the curtain. It made significant mechanical noises and the curtain caused a little breeze. There was a little practice booth that I played with as we waited our turn. Dad let me go into the real booth with him. He picked me up after he made his choices and let me pull the curtain open. He told me I voted. It was cool. I participated in picking a president, a governor, a senator and likely members of the school board.

This is a happy thought. I am holding and concentrating on that first vote. I’m trying to conjure the charm I need to protect me from political misanthropy. I made a spark, but there is not enough joy to make a corporal patronus.

I was very happy, nay ecstatic, another time when I stood in another long line to vote. This was in 2008, and the line to vote at my local elementary school was blocks long. In Washington D.C., 75% of the electorate registered as Democrats. It was clear that this year, as in every year, the District’s three electoral votes were going to populate the “win” column for the Democratic candidate. Yet people stood in line so that they could cast their vote in a historic election for Barack Obama, our first African American president. Everyone in line was jubilant, with shared smiles and high-fives all around. People radiated hope.

Now let me work my patronus with this most happy thought. Sigh. Not much more than a spark. Still not enough. I need to dig deeper.

Let me go for a more recent happy political memory. I’m closing my eyes and feel the  joy at the dedication of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. There was so much work over generations to get the museum authorized and then opened. When former POTUS George W. Bush took to the podium, there was another rush of emotion. Of camaraderie and of warmth to the president who insisted that this museum would be on The Mall. Guaranteeing that the history of African Americans would be a part of the main promenade from Lincoln at the west end to the Capitol on the east and next to the big exclamation point of the Washington Monument. An important part of the fabric of America. And the current President (D) and the former President (R) came together with thousands and thousands of Americans—representing the amazing diversity of America—to celebrate.

I’m holding this memory tight and trying to get it to spark my patronous. There is the fuzzy outline, but no, not a full protective charm. Ugh. Don’t I have a pure, happy memory?

I’m smiling now. I’m standing next to The Big Guy for early voting. We had an errand, and I stopped to vote. He pulled out his wallet and registered on the spot and voted for City Council. And he studied the voter guide for the next election and cast his vote a second time. And he voted again in 2012, his first Presidential election. And I’m thinking about the future and about Baby Bear attending a political rally and calling his buddies out for not voting. They care about what happens. They care about our democracy. They think that they can do something, and they are right.

Expecto patronum. Google translates that from Latin to “I await a guardian.”

I see my patronus now. It is bright and shiny and protecting  me from the apathy and discouragement of political dementors. I look at it, and see that the guardian is me and every other American. It is the image of America. Now, time for my chocolate to complete the cure.

As Time Goes By

Louis and Rick disappear into the midst, a beginning of a beautiful friendship. Last scene from Casablanca.

A friend from college said that his mom always made him try something three times before deciding that he didn’t like it. I guess he could decide he liked it in one, if he wanted.

The first time that I saw Casablanca, I was in my late teens. There wasn’t on demand viewing, so you waited for films to appear on the network or cable TV schedule. When you got to college there was the repertory circuit. My large state university had four or five film co-ops that took over large auditorium space in the evenings to show movies. For like a dollar, or maybe two.

There were black and white films from all over the world, soft-focused and slightly washed out French comedies, Woody Allen retrospectives and the screening of Indiana Jones and The Lost Ark that I saw with a friend who was studying archeology.* Leaning over after the first set piece, where Indy narrowly escapes the traps only to find himself face to face with his nemesis, the friend whispered, “Archeology isn’t really like that [one thousand one], it’s actually much more exciting.”

My first screening of Casablanca blew me away. Rick’s self-perserving opportunism. The corrupt police. Bad Nazis (not like there are good Nazis, but you know what I mean). The bravery of the resistance and the face of Ilsa. Watching the way her face was lit on the big screen in the lecture hall made me want to brush her cheek. The way she looked down when she lied to Rick. The hurt in her eyes. Her perfect nose. Her cute hat. I fell in love with Ilsa immediately. Just as Rick did back in Paris, which they would always have. When he turned her away on the tarmac, ruining their chance for love just for the good of the rest of the world? What a sacrifice. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I choked back the sobs. What a tragic story of love that could not be. Not at that time. War is awful.

Today a friend remarked that she very rarely rereads books. She knows what’s going to happen and there are so many unread books it seems unthrifty to spend time on the known. I reread books all the time. Especially if I loved the characters or the writing, and it’s not always the same story.

The second time I saw Casablanca was on home video. The Spouse had hooked up a new rig, and I bought some classic movies I thought we’d like to see. We bought them, so they would need to stand up to rewatch. The pile included Nashville, Ran, Wizard of OzNotorious, Bladerunner (pre-director’s cut), GhostbustersIt’s a Wonderful Life, ChinatownStar Wars, Bridge on the River Kwai, The Princess Bride, and, of course, Casablanca.

I draped myself over The Spouse on the couch. I made popcorn. We pressed  ⇒. Intro and the map of North Africa. Then there was the impenetrable armor of Rick, the injustice of the lawless law, the heaviness of the Nazis crawling around the bar, the bravery of those trying to help refugees to safety, and that petulant Ilsa. That immature, selfish woman who in a pique was ready to abandon her husband as he worked–at grave danger–to defeat those awful Nazis. You know, the man that she made a promise to? Her HUSBAND? I hate infidelity. I hate that someone makes a promise and throws it aside when times are tough. I hated Ilsa for her childish grab at romance when the world was going to hell. And where did she get that stupid hat? War makes people do bad things.

I instituted the three times rules with The Boyz. It was useful when applied with truth. That is, if they tried it and did NOT like it, they could push it aside. They would never be forced, or even cajoled, into imbibing in that which they didn’t like. It wasn’t a trick, but an approach. Sometimes they didn’t like something because of the texture. The Big Guy was like that with tomatoes. Sometimes it was the flavor, I’m thinking about that thing with tarragon. Sometimes both, that would be Baby Bear and cooked carrots. I don’t care much for cooked carrots, either. No matter, the idea of revisiting something you didn’t like to see if it’s still true seems a classically liberal approach.

The third time I watched Casablanca, it was to be cooperative. There was an outdoor screening that The Spouse was involved with. The movie was the backdrop to a family evening, and I got extra spouse points since my disgust with the film was duly noted years earlier, while draped on the couch. The Boyz were pretty sophisticated cinephiles and there was a picnic in the works. I was in.

It was just past dusk when the movie hit screen. There was too little contrast for the first ten minutes until the dark moved in and filled in the black parts of the black and white. As expected, there was a stiff Rick in his monkey suit looking like he needed a double on the rocks, the crooked police chief handed his winnings declaring that he was SHOCKED to find gambling going on, the irony of hating the Nazis for occupying the French in its colonial empire–but Nazis are still the bad guys, the Nazis getting drunk and singing their stupid song until the brilliant resistance leader drowns them out leading a patriotic chorus of “La Marseillaise.” That crazy pillbox hat on Louis Renault, the police chief.

The lighting of Ilsa’s face was still beautiful, but she’s the backdrop, just another Mary Sue. But watch how Rick and Louis play cat and mouse with each other. Are they on the same side? Well, in a way, yes. Rick is on his own side and Louis is on his own side. Not exactly the same side, but interesting. They’re both trying to stay upright on shifting ground, trying to stay alive in a dangerous world. Then, to make sure that the resistance leader gets to safety, Rick threatens the police chief with a gun. Wildly, the police chief supports Rick’s murder of a bad guy Nazi. Now Rick and Louis have resolved their conflict, realize they’re good together, and walk off into the fog to maybe defeat more bad guys. A buddy movie. War brings out the worst and best.

I take in art through the lens of my world. As a young Doc, Casablanca was a love story, as a recently married Doc I saw a barely adverted betrayal, as a Doc with kids, the movie was bigger than a hill of beans in this crazy world. Different flavors at different times.

I haven’t tasted City Lights in a long time. It would be my third time. The charm. Play it, Sam. Again.

_____________________
*Fun fact. This was the same friend whose mom instituted the three-times rule. 

Democracy Happens

Jigglypuff helping VP candidate Tim Kaine deliver his speech.

Tonite’s post-dinner dialog went like this.

The Spouse: Who’s speaking tonight?
Me: Uncle Joe is up. So maybe POTUS tomorrow?
Big Guy: (walking in the hallway toward the TV) It’s not on now. I just checked.
Me: PBS. It’s on PBS. My girl Gwen is on it. Other channels are in and out.
The Spouse: Yeah. I heard their coverage is great.
Me: Channel 20.

The Big Guy turned on the TV just as Tim Kaine was entering from stage left with his hands grasped over his head like a local prizefighter.

Big Guy: He’s walking in like this. (Clasped hands rocking over his head to the left and to the right.)

The Big Guy stood in line with me when I voted for city council, mayors, and presidents. He punched my ballot for me at least once. He’s put my ballot in the box. The poll workers were invariably older women. They always gave him an I Voted sticker, and he’d wear it to school the next day. One of the times he came voting with me, he pulled out his driver’s license, filled out the form and cast his first ballot. He’s done it more than once. Not the registering but the voting.

The Spouse brought him a peppermint tea. The Big Guy is illin’. This is his rare night off. And he got out of bed to watch our nation’s democracy do its thing.

The Big Guy, like many Millennials, cares.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All?

Seriously. Charmander will hand Squritle's ass to said squirtle.

Confession time. I am afraid of Pokemon.

Let me start by telling you my Pokemon history.

The Gameboy was bestowed on The Big Guy when he was not so big. Like he was seven. I will never ever ever never ever ever forget that day.

The batteries were in the handheld, the cartridge was in the slot, it was powered up. And then–cue the sad trambone–nothing.

Well, not actually nothing. We were introduced to Professor Willow. And we (the playa) was supposed to do something. But I watched and “guided” the Big Guy around the house, along the left-right, up-down grid in the room.

We couldn’t get out of the house. The Big Guy would position himself on the mat, at the doorway out of the room and proceed to walk into the door. To absolutely no effect. Keep pressing that key forward and keep seeing that that poor Ash would never get out of his effing parent’s house.

My response? Looking at the tools available, I said, “Throw a potion at it.”

That was all I had. Throw a potion at the door. Maybe it would open. But it never did. And my seven-year-old learned on that very day that I had no friggin idea. This didn’t have had to be brought to his attention at such a tender age. I’m just saying.

Somehow, he managed to get out of the house, despite my lousy admonitions, and go forth and capture and train many a Pokeman. He might not have caught them all, but between red, blue, yellow, silver and gold, ruby and sapphire, diamond and pearl, many pocket monsters were captured and tamed. There was more than one device employed over the years, too.

There was that day when I was driving the minivan from school to soccer or from soccer to school or maybe from school to soccer to grocery store to home. Where is less important than what. There was a constant, perhaps incessant, chatter from the back seat about Pokeman. Like all about it. I was listening intently, to understand and to respond, but in all honesty it had been going on constantly. For hours. I could do no more.

“Sweetie,” I said with more pleading in my voice than I intended, “Doc can’t listen about Pokemon any more right now. So you can still talk, but I can’t listen.”

He said, “Okay, Doc. Can I talk about it later?” I said yes.

To his great credit, two-hours later he asked, “Hey, Doc, can we talk about Pokemon now?” I once again said “yes,” from my freshened self. And I learned about the different types and the different levels and the evolutions. I asked the Big Guy to build me a matrix of the monsters. He learned what a matrix was and saw how he could display attributes–or data. I liked this. Alot.

Pokemon went to the wayside after the acquisition of the game systems attached to the TV. The crudeness of the gameplay made it much less interesting than Spyro the Dragon, and, eventually, and years later and very interestingly, John Marston.

Fast forward to today.

There is a just-released version of Pokeman for smart phones. It’s called Pokeman Go. It’s brilliant in that it takes the game outside of the console (in this case phone) and incorporates the location knowledge of the phone with the game. The game is the same silly, but it incorporates the silly outside the fourth wall. You can walk through your urban landscape via your phone and “see” wild Pokemon to catch  with Poké Balls tossed with a flick of your finger on your phone.

That’s what scares me.

I am afraid to download the game because I will be one of the freaks “seeing” Pokeman  behind the mailbox, next to street lamp and on the subway platform where I frantically swipe up and right and down to catch the monster as I watch the train pull away. Because I will become totally obsessed with catching them all.

NO! I will not join in. I will not be a cultist member of the game, because if I were to play, I would constantly be pulling my phone from pocket or purse, trying to catch them all. And, to be real, it is the least important thing I can do. There are dishes to wash and dogs to walk. In. Real. Life.

So, my phone becomes the portal between the real and the pretend world? And I can interact with a fantasy word while I am awake and while I am sober? Put the phone down on the table. Walk away. Walk slowly, but away.

Okay. I downloaded it. But I’m not going to play it. Okay. I chose Charmader. I know he’s the hardest to play. Must. Not. Play.

 

No Safe Harbor

A selection of crayons that show a spectrum of color, all called flesh.

When I was a much younger Doc, AM and BC (after marriage and before kids), I worked with Lynn.

Lynn was older than me–in the way that when you are young everyone seems older, but looking back she hardly was. She was the backbone of the organization. She suffered fools not at all, and everyone respected her. Frankly, most of us wanted to be her friend. She was the friend that would tell you TRUTH and the friend that would have your back. Okay, we wanted her to be our friend. I don’t know that most people knew how to be her friend.

She was the commensurate professional as the new guard took on a leadership role. Others were unsure and insecure. Lynn? She rolled with it. She knew she was good. She ran the member database like a boss, negotiated hotel and AV contracts like a shark and charmed the board like a bartender who makes everyone believe they are friends–but they really aren’t. They have a business relationship.

Over time, Lynn decided that I was okay. That I could be trusted. That she could talk to me. That we could share lunch. And it was one day over lunch she told me that she was relieved that her son could get his non-driver’s ID. He was thirteen.

I was like, “What’s that about? He’s not learning to drive, is he?” I knew her delightfully goofy, barely teen son. What was the point of an officially laminated card for a middle-schooler?

“Oh, Doc,” she said, “My son is only thirteen, but he is already 6’2″, so to the cops he is a black man. I want, that when they roll up to him because someone a few blocks away was robbed or the gas station was burgled or a drug bust went down, he can prove-by showing an official government document–that he is NOT a man. That he is a thirteen year old boy. So they can run his name to see he doesn’t have a record. And for them to know it wasn’t him.”

I am sure I looked at her like a confused puppy. With my head cocked to one side and the opposite brow raised in a question.

“Doc, let me tell you what I told him. If a police car pulls next to you, STOP. Do not move. Always show your hands. Never run. NEVER never run. Do not mouth off. Do not challenge. Keep your eyes down. If they tell you to get on the ground, do it. I’ve got on the floor to show him how. Because they are looking for someone, and it’s easy if it’s my son if he’s in front of them. And they would not hesitate before they shot him.”

I heard her. I didn’t know. My eyes were likely like saucers. I know that my mouth was dry. I had heard love in her voice when she spoke of her son. I had heard pride in her voice when she shared his successes. I had heard joy in her voice when she told of their exploits.

But this day? I felt fear in her voice. And she was never afraid. Of anything. She shared something with me that white people miss. That we are ignorant of. That is foreign to our existence. And I was afraid for her son. She spoke a truth that I didn’t know, but she taught me.

So, White People who don’t know, let me explain white privilege to you.

You who don’t worry about your children having an encounter with the police. You who had the cops call you when your kid got pulled over for drinking because boys will be boys. You whose kids have cursed out cops. You whose kids come home safe after cursing out said cops. You who tell your kids that if they’re in trouble to call the police.

You who haven’t had “that talk.” No, not that one.

The talk where you tell your kid to be polite, to defer, to acquiesce, to say “Sir” and “Ma’am,” to take the insults, to keep their hands out of their pockets, to not run, to swallow their anger at being falsely accused and harassed. Because when they have an encounter with the police they just might end up in the hospital or…or…or….

I can’t bring myself to type the next word. I can’t imagine telling my sons that they have to walk an arbitrary and capricious line, a line that may shift, a line that holds their life in the balance. Because of anything and, in this case, because of their skin color.

That, friends, is white privilege.

I have extra sons. Sons that are brothers with my sons but from different mothers. Sons who have brown skin. I tell these young men–young men who were scouts together, who ate my waffles, who walk my dog when I’m lazy, who call me mom–to put my number in his phone. And always, no matter what, call if he needs me. I hope he never needs me.