Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lucky Duck

New ways I’ve embarrassed myself: In a moment of panic two minutes before the taxi came to carry me away to the airport, I scrawled a love note to Z on the back of a rent-a-car scratch-and-dent checklist and shoved it under his pillow when he wasn’t looking. Surely this is not behavior befitting a middle-aged woman. What if he’s repulsed by its cartoonish sentiment?

And so here I am at the Seattle Airport, undoing all of the steps that brought me here ten days ago, a sort of unwilling reverse time-traveler. Despite my bad attitude about having to leave, I don’t hate the people surrounding me and like to think that if the winkdog lady was here—even WITH her winkdogs—that I wouldn’t hate her either. This is what ten days in the love bubble with Z does for me.

Seattle has a pattern of celebrating my departure with good weather. I try not to take it personally. Today, there was plenty of time before my late-night flight to soak it up. Z and I walked down to Pike Place Market and ate at Lowell’s, which overlooks Puget Sound. Because it was Sunday, the place was crawling with tourists and crowds of people that made it more exciting, though I was secretly loathing them all, sure that they were in Seattle for more than the next six hours. Other people I loathed: couples walking dogs and/or babies because there is a good chance they live in the same zip code. Z doesn’t understand this quality in me—this melancholy how-can-I-enjoy-the-present-when-the-immediate-future-is-not-to-my-liking. I am thinking that if he doesn’t understand my sadness at leaving that I must remember to never tell him about how the only time I was ever happy in 1979-1980 was Friday evenings because it was the only point on the weekly calendar at which I was furthest from phys. ed with a woman known as Ms. Hitler-man. He’d never understand that by Saturday evening I was mournful at the thought of having to tug on my embarrassing red-and-white striped gymsuit on Monday morning, like some sort of junior high convict.

What he does get, however, and what always surprises me because not many other people do, is the way my brain works. We took a walk on his campus today, where a pair of mallard ducks has taken up residence in the chapel reflecting pool. All week I’d been hoping to see them, but they never made an appearance and Z speculated that they’d moved on to fancier, duckier digs. While we were walking this afternoon, I was in a particularly forlorn (okay, okay, pouty) state re: my impending departure, the nature of long-distance relationships, how us together is too good to be true and hence too depressing to leave, blah blah blah, but as soon we approached the pool and I saw them I brightened a little, and Z said, “See. There you go. A sign. Everything will be okay.” He didn’t actually know I was in a complete funk. He definitely didn’t know that I’ve taken particular comfort in waterfowl sightings ever since he left my world permanently five years ago & on the day of his departure I stopped at one of our haunts to collect myself before going to work when seventeen or so Canadian geese and goslings waddled right past me, as if to let me know everything would be fine. But he knew a couple of displaced city ducks would mean something to me. I find this condition of being known so surprising and welcome, even if it does mean I can no longer hide behind a blank fa├žade.

So anyhow, here I am in the airport, surrounded by people who don’t know me and who will likely elbow me and nudge me into a corner so they have more room on the sardine can of a plane I’m about to get on, but it’s okay. I’m sad, but it’s okay. I’ve had a good ten days, Z knows me, and planes fly both directions.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Maybe it’s because I’m here with Z—cocooned in layers of affection, far away from real-life frustrations like the 82 annotated bibliographies that will be waiting for me when I get home—but it is so much easier to enjoy the small things in this city. Like for instance, I helped Z pick out table service for four at the thrift shop and we were both quite pleased with how much six dollars will buy when you aren’t at Macy’s. Buying a newspaper seems like an event. At home I would drive around a parking lot six times looking for the spot closest to the front door, but here I think nothing of walking twelve (or twenty) blocks to get a cup of hot chocolate.

Today I can feel sadness trying to lap at my shores, but I’m not having it. I’m not wasting one day with Z because I’m sad that I don’t get more time with him when the time I have had has been so delicious. I’ll be sad tomorrow and I won’t be able to keep the tide at bay, but today I. WILL. NOT. GIVE. IN.

It’s a nothing of a day. We get out of bed late, we eat breakfast late, we wander around a grocery buying nothing in particular, we stop in another bookshop that I wish I would have discovered earlier. Eventually we end up at Dilettante, a little wine bar of place that sells chocolate instead of vino. It is decorated in dark, chocolaty colors and I’m instantly sure that this is the place I wanted to come five minutes after Chocolat was over the first time I saw it. We both have versions of hot chocolate—Z’s is sweeter than mine, both come with cups of teeny chocolate chips. Surely nothing ever tastes this good at home.

No, it might, but at home I would be in such hurry to get to my next thing that I’d never enjoy licking the cream off of my lip or listening to the hushed conversations that are taking place around us. Instead, I’d go zip-bang from my hot chocolate to whatever was waiting for me next. I want to stay here, drinking chocolate and sitting with Z, forever, pretending this is my place of habitation, but knowing if it were, I wouldn’t be enjoying the simple things half so much.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Where the Streets are Paved with Mold

Crawling thru rat-infested sewers didn’t sound like a good time but the guidebooks said Seattle’s Underground Tour was worth the eleven bucks, so we went. It takes place in the oldest part of Seattle,--an area called Pioneer Square where many buildings are now on the National Historic Register, and which has been so nicely restored that it doesn’t feel like the rest of the city. It is shady and bricky and trendy. The best independent bookstore I have possibly ever been in, Elliott Bay Book Company, is there, and there is a clog store. Nothing inside but clogs. Big clogs, Little clogs. Red clogs, Blue clogs. Even used clogs. It, coupled with the bookstore across the street, is like my (and Dr. Seuss’s) dream shopping experience.

What’s even more interesting to me is that all this splendor is on Skid Row. Literally. This is where the term was coined. Logs used to skid down one of the big hills toward the lumber mill at the base, which was a good thing during the Boom, but when the Boom went bust, the area became derelict. There are a few remnants of what the place was like before the revitalization of the 1980s and 1990s. For instance, the Bread of Life mission is still there, advertised with neon lights that give Jesus an eerie glow and makes the place look more fun than it probably is. Across the street there is still a hotel sign that advertises rooms for 75 cents. (I assume those rooms weren’t en suite either.)

The tour took us underground into a series of dusty tunnels where we were told we were walking on what used to be the main streets of Seattle. The city burned (like all good city’s did back then) and it was decided that ground level needed to be raised, but since that would take awhile, business owners were encouraged to go ahead and rebuild at the original, lower level and add a door on the second story where ground level would eventually be. As we winded thru the tunnels we looked through archways and doorways that would have been the front doors and windows of the shops and banks that are now above ground. Of course there were also ghost stories and 4th grade sewer jokes and a gift shop at the end that the tour spills out into, but it was all good.

At the end of the tour, we both signed the guest book, and our tour guide was suddenly agitated about what we’d written. I assumed that there would follow a conversation about Zimbabwe and how did Z get here from there and aren’t things bad there right now, etc. This happens sometimes and I’m always amazed at how Z acts like it’s the first time he’s ever had to explain his origins.

Instead of conversations about Africa, Ed the Tour Guide said the name of my town and exclaimed that he is from just up the road, that he went to college in town, and so we talk. He was in The Sound of Music at the local community theater with my aunt when I was just a kid. He cautioned me that his 98 year old grandmother was still driving and that I should be careful on the roads. It was good fun to run into a paisano on the other side of the country. I should have asked him if he found the geography in the Pacific Northwest difficult to navigate and if he had an inclination like Cousin #3 to root for Indiana basketball teams.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Island Girl

Here’s a tip: when you find a deal for a cheap room in an historic inn on the San Juan Islands, make sure the room has a bathroom included and that you aren’t expected to share with other guests.

The ferry ride on Monday from Anacortes to San Juan Island was beautiful but cold. We wended our way between islands and Z and I made periodic dashes outside to stand on the bow for a cold but unobstructed view. We guessed about what islands we were passing, and as is typical of me, I feared we were passing better islands than the one we had made arrangements to be on. In a little less than an hour we had docked in Friday Harbor—the “city” by island standards—and made our way up to Friday’s Historic Inn, where we were cordially greeted and given a key to our room. That’s when we discovered that despite beautiful antique furnishings and a harbor view, we would have to go downstairs for the shower and toilet. I’m not a princess, but I am an introvert with certain hygiene requirements, and I was not prepared to spend my two-night un-honeymoon in the hallway of Friday’s Inn making small talk with hair-shedding, toilet-seat-leaving-up tourists while I waited my turn. No, it wouldn’t do.
The desk clerk didn’t seem surprised at all when I came lumbering back down the stairs with my credit card in hand and was directed to a slightly pricier suite with private bath and Jacuzzi.

I don’t know if I’m cut out for island life. The San Juan Islands are beautiful and the views are breathtaking. The people are friendly and the pace is very laid back. But there is this tiny panic in my core—what if I need to go to Wal-mart at two in the morning for nail polish remover? There is no Wal-mart unless you go back to the mainland, and there is no ferry at 2:00 a.m. WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A LATE NIGHT NAIL POLISH REMOVER EMERGENCY??? I’m reminded of my last visit to the much less inhabited and much more rustic Inisbofin off the western coast of Ireland, when the electricity was shut off for the entire day while they did upgrades on power supply from the mainland and I had this sudden, crazed desire to plug something in.

But mostly I am able to keep the dogs of anxiety from barking. Z is good for that. We have tame adventures, driving around the island, having an impromptu picnic on the doc in front of the Hiro Hotel where Teddy Roosevelt stayed a couple of times. We walk on the beach and pick up driftwood for a shelf Z hopes to build (but fears will stay driftwood on his kitchen floor). We look for whales and see them with every crest of wave, only to discover a log or a shadow instead. We look at a seal/sea lion and try to remember how you can tell one from the other before it swims away. We drive past Pelendaba Lavender Farm after buying lavender from their shop in town, where Z impressed me terribly with his internationalness and asked the clerk what the South African connection was because he recognized the name as Zulu. (I can’t remember what it means now, but think it is “please do not gag while eating our lavender-flavored chocolates.”) We visit baby alpaca's and I consider buying $75 alpaca slippers and say a silent prayer of thanks when they do not fit. It's a good life, this island one.

There is a lot to be said for a few days of relaxation on vacation instead of the style of tourism I usually sign up for, which involves packing as much activity into as little time as possible so I can say I’ve done it all. They say Friday Harbor is hopping during high season, and if that is so, I’m glad we came in March when the roads weren’t crowded, their were no waits in restaurants, and we had our pick of rooms that were en suite. We both agree that it is a place we would return to, though I know as the ferry takes us back to Anacortes I’m going to wonder if next time we shouldn’t visit one of the other islands to see what it has to offer.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Crimes Against Humanity

We meant to see a movie downtown, but somehow we ended up in the middle of a war protest instead. Z and I were killing time before our movie started when we saw some picket signs, some barricades, and heard the bullhorns. If we’d watched the news the night before instead of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we might have known to avoid the area, but we quickly got caught up in it and I had a sudden vision of Helene Hanff accidentally getting arrested in 84 Charing Cross Road in a protest.

There were all sorts of people there: old hippies, mothers of sons in Iraq, children, and even a little beagle who proudly wore a dog-sized sandwich board outlining this administration's sins. The downtown square was packed full of people with anti-war T-shirts and signs. There were a few anti-protestors (surely there’s a better term) on the fringes, but even so, it was a very civilized gathering. The police outlined the group on motorcycles and horses, but they didn’t look too worried that violence was going to break out. One of my favorites was a grizzled old guy in a tie-dyed shirt who was doing some sort of spinning scarf dance for peace.

Z and I are both observers—he’s a bit more scientific about it than I am because all I’m looking for is good story material whereas he has en eye peeled for crimes against reason and sound rhetoric. Another difference between us is that Z easily moves from observer to engager, so when he went up to a woman holding a banner that read “Give Peace a Chance” I skittered off to the sidelines with the homeless people and street musicians and, I’ll admit it, pretended I didn’t know him all that well. I could say it was because I felt it was wrong to harass someone who had strong political convictions—stronger than mine since my main concern was would this dalliance with the politically active make me late for the 2:00 showing of Wild Hogs, but truthfully, it was just that I like for everyone to get along and I don’t think it’s nice to add to someone’s distress by pointing out to them that peace isn’t really on the table. Troops out now, sure, Try Bush and Cheney for war crimes, why not, but it will be a long, long time before peace is an option.

Mostly though I didn’t want Z engaging the protestors because I feared a scene. You can put a Midwestern WASP in the middle of the apocalypse and her primary concern will be fretting about whether someone is causing a scene just because the rivers are running with blood. This isn’t really a characteristic about myself that I like, but it has its advantages. For instance, I’ve never had a black eye for provoking a war protestor.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to look oblivious to a person and simultaneously watch him out of the corner of your eye because you want to make sure he doesn’t get strangled with a bed sheet spray painted with Quaker slogans? I was relieved when he finished his debate and suggested I go buy a disposable camera and snap some photos. And I was even more relieved when Quaker Bed Sheet Lady stopped during the parade so we could take her photo—an indication that whatever Z had said to her, she had no hard feelings. I shouldn’t have doubted him. He is not without charm, not without compassion, and of course he wouldn’t have caused a scene. I should have had a little faith.

My favorite part of the day, post protest and post movie, was when we stopped in a little park and sat amongst the daffodils and tulips while eating $6 cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. So peaceful. No confrontation. Delicious.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Remembrance of Things Past

The geography here confuses this Midwesterner, who is used to her wide-open spaces, her linear roads that occasionally curve softly around a creek or gorge. Today, we drove to Bremerton to see my cousin and his family, and I had a hard time with the notion that if Puget Sound had been frozen over, we could have driven straight there in less than 30 minutes, but since it wasn’t and since we didn’t want to fork out the money for the ferry ride, we drove down to Tacoma and up the other side of the Sound.

My youth was spent with Cousin #3, playing Frankenstein on my grandparents’ farm and attending weekly UMYF meetings together. But we grew up and he joined the navy and had a family and I went to college and misplaced my religion. We haven’t kept in touch, so I was nervous about the visit. I didn’t know what I’d find, what I might be inflicting on Z, or how long it might take the two of us to remember that we used to eat Fudgecicles together.

I worried needlessly. He looked the same, though older and a bit more like my grandfather. His wife was friendly, and though his three year old was cranky and his daughters looked at us with detachment (If you were that important we would have met you by now seemed to be the sentiment), it was an easy afternoon, catching up on family and former classmates, and hearing about his life in the Pacific Northwest. When we were kids he had been a serious, bright kid who was tormented a little by his older brothers, so I was happy to see him grown up and not harboring any grudges for the summer they called him “Waffle Pants” because of an unfortunate incident with a too-hot register.

He’s a practical guy and this is his life out here where the roads are not straight, but I got a hint from him of what it would be like to leave the Midwest for a different geography. He’s obsessed with Hoosier basketball and any team for any sport that is from Indiana. He longs for the quieter pace of what he remembers of Midwestern life. He laments that airfare from here to “home” is steep for a family of five, so visits with relatives are few and far between. In fact, other than his mother and brother, I am the only other family member who has made the visit and witnessed where he lives his life.

I wonder how long it would take me, if I lived where he does, to realize that the closest distance between two points is not the direction you point your car when you are ready to make a journey. Do you get used to circuitous routes or do you always hanker for an open road and a clear horizon?

He took us to the naval base where he works, and we had to show ID before we were allowed access. Z’s ID gave the guard pause, and I had a sudden vision of all of us being stripped searched. To my mind, Z is not a shifty looking character, but in a world where old women get flagged at airports for security checks, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Luckily, we were given the nod and so got to see the base where Cousin #3 was stationed when he first joined the navy, see a hint of the work he is doing there, the PX, the base McDonald’s, the bowling alley, and then, for some reason the part that fascinated me most, the area where the tired, old ships are “mothballed.” To me, it looked like something out of a horror movie: the amusement park after hours, the empty school gymnasium, the meat-packing plant after the last shift has gone home for the weekend. The ships look like ghosts of themselves, their names and identifying numbers have been painted over and some of their parts have been salvaged. I kept asking what would happen to the ships because I couldn’t imagine that they’d just have to sit there for the rest of forever, like they are in some sort of boat nursing home. But that’s the plan. I stared at them and felt like if we were very quiet we could have heard the voices and sounds of the life that used to be on them. Should we should bring them flowers, bake them cookies, set up televisions so they can at least watch “The Price is Right” as they wile away the days in familiar geography but with no place to go and no one who would recognize them anyhow?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Eternal-ish City

When I was in Rome two years ago, I met a friend of the cousin I’d gone to see who was resident director for some American college students who were staying in the university’s hotel/dorm. She was in her early twenties, small and perky, and she was climbing onto the back of a motorcycle with a handsome Italian man. They even said ciao as they sped away into the night. God help me, I was jealous. I was jealous because I was no longer twentysomething. I was jealous because when I was twentysomething not only was I not living in Rome, but I was in Indiana not riding motorcycles with handsome foreign men. I was jealous because I imagined their ride would end somewhere romantic, outside the Pantheon, on the banks of the Tibor, near the Trevi fountain, and then at some point they would get back on that bike and go somewhere private to have loud, hot, sweaty, Italian sex. While Puccini played in the background.

I really kind of hated that girl and I only knew her about three minutes.

Today, I was in Seattle, which is not as sexy as Rome. I was walking in army green Crocs (not sexy leather boots) instead of riding on the back of a sexy motorcycle. My hair was it’s typical Seattle, Meredith Grey unsexy. Instead of looking at ancient, sexy lifelike sculptures carved into Italian marble, I was looking at abstract cubes and giant typerwriter erasers in the Olympic Sculpture Park. But I was with Z, who smelled so good and held my hand so well and who occasionally molested me in little, welcome ways behind particularly big sculptures. I thought about that girl and realized young, young her could not have been half as content, half as giddy, half as sexed up as I was, standing next to my 50% Italian as we tried to figure out what in the world a series of rusted shapes could possibly mean, as we laughed at the sometimes pretentious explanations of the hulking heaps of metal, as we noticed a young mother who was breastfeeding her baby on one of the works of million dollar art. The sky was clear, the Olympic Mountains were in the distance, the waters of Elliott Bay were calm.

Yeah, I feel a little guilty about that hate now.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flying Alone

The main reason I shouldn’t fly alone is this: I hate people. When I fly with another person, I’m usually too engaged in conversation to notice that despite a sea of empty chairs at the Indianapolis airport, two different sets of people have decided to bookend me. I loathe them instantly for crowding me, and even though I know it is the airport that smells of dirty feet and not my new neighbors, I blame them just the same. The lady next to me just flopped down a red and white L.L. Bean tote that has “winkdogs” embroidered on the side. There’s no telling what a winkdog is, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like them either.

Anyhow, this is one of my character flaws. When it is 6:30 in the morning and I’ve been up since 3:00 a.m. and I had to drive thru the Spring rains Central Indiana to get to the airport, I just don’t want to be bothered. Add to this that it isn’t even the REAL 6:30 but the imposter 6:30 the governor imposed on us when he made us adopt Daylight Savings Time. My jeans are soaked to the knee from the walk from the car to the shuttle stop and back to the car to retrieve my iPod, which, it turns out, was actually in my pocket, and then back to the shuttle.

But I’m not complaining. So far my flight is on time and Z is on the other end of it waiting on me. (Well, technically Z is asleep, but if he were awake, he would be waiting on me.) I must learn to embrace my co-travelers and their winkdogs.