Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Off to the 3 Day

Why I Walk--- Do you really want these little kids to have to deal with breast cancer?

Everyone from the guys at Fleet Feet, who sold me this year's Saucony/Nike shoe mix (Saucony's are snugger and great for morning; the Nikes are perfect for the afternoon when my feet really are a size 10) to our beloved doorman think I'm gonna do just fine. But I'm the one who knows I ain't been to yoga above twice since the layoff and barely checked into the training teams all summer. I know I can do it, but it's gonna hurt.

That said, I want to thank everyone who supported me in gathering, raising, soliciting, begging for the necessary $2,300 minimum. It's going to a good cause and will be administered by one of the best-run organizations I've ever seen: The Breast Cancer 3Day benefitting Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (There, I've finally got the name right!) In 2008, the 3Day series raised $110 million, 72% of which was invested in mission programs and services. The remainder, well below the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Standards for Charitable Accountability (, was spent on management and fundraising.

FYI:The 2009 Breast Cancer 3-Day Series includes 15 events in Boston (July 24-26), Cleveland (July 31-

August 2), Chicago (August 7-9), Michigan (August 14-16), Twin Cities, Minn. (August 21-23), Denver

(August 28-30), Seattle (September 11-13), San Francisco (October 2-4), Washington D.C. (October

9-11), Philadelphia (October 16-18), Atlanta (October 23-25), Tampa Bay, Fla. (October 30-

November 1), Dallas/Fort Worth (November 6-8), Arizona (November 13-15), and San Diego

(November 20-22).

My friends, you gave to help me, to honor your daughters, your mothers, your sisters, aunts, cousins and friends, and I am deeply grateful:

Thanks to Janeann and Steve, Serey and Mike, Ralph and Julie, Evy, Cary, Debra, Andrea, Gus, Mary and Mike, Karen, Jean, Pat, Rob and Donna, Marty and Lee, Chris, Patricia, Kevin, Faye and Bill, Jane, Pat (hi Kara!) and George, Claudia and Bob, Patrick, Sarah and Linda, Colleen, Laurie ---- and the Downshifters of Brooklyn.

Thanks to J.Jill at Phipps for hiring me even though I went on "vacation" immediately...the new pink A-line T-shirt is divine.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dangerous Book - Episode 17

Monday, April 29

As a result of last night’s game, I’m in. I’m among friends. To push the idea of myself as a foreign visitor, I’d say that last night I was given a green card.

In my first year in Atlanta, I learned how to behave like a proper foreigner. To be quiet and watch without observing too much. To refrain from comparing anything: experiences, traditions, even views —even the color of the sky, to New York. In Atlanta, a popular bumper sticker read “We don’t care how they do it in New York.” It was understandable. Here is a culture no one from the outside cares to understand. A civilization, as the lady wrote, gone with the wind. But not quite. What remains of a culture so dependent on hypocrisy? An economy based first on cotton and the slave trade and then on tobacco. It is laughable to think that an international airport, a large soda company and the introduction of air conditioning could change all that. (And the peaches?) I moved South without realizing any of this, of course. Without realizing who I was or that who I was was where I was from.

In Tuscaloosa among natives of an even older and smaller society, I watched with deliberate patience and was rewarded: Kate and I have plans for shopping, and I will be joining Billie “soon” for a drive to the “Dismals,” a series of Indian caves about an hour’s drive north.

And when the game ended I found them all quite tactful. After the old ladies evaporated into their airless bedrooms, and Professor Sergeant disappeared with Juniper for a long walk, Kate, looking resigned, dragged Jacob home. He was drunk but more cheerful. He had won, beating Peter in a head-to-head poison chase that kept them both away from the bar.

Billie and Allen closed their door leaving Peter and me in possession of the night. We pulled up stakes and hoops, collected the balls, which I wiped clean before replacing in the wooden box where they lived. And when he kissed me goodnight, I’m fairly sure not a single neighbor was watching. I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t have mattered if any had been watching.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Off the Grid: Week - What I Got to See Today

The corner of Boulevard and Freedom Parkway is tricky for everyone at all times of the day or night but most especially the pedestrians, runners and cyclists. Essentially, anyone without 3,000 pounds of metal around them. And for those folks, there's the panhandlers.

If you've lived or visited downtown Atlanta, you know the intersection I mean. Eastbound, Freedom Parkway is just cranking up and westbound is a nice dump into the connector exits or onto International for the drop into downtown. Westbound, it's my favorite open secret way of getting over the interloping connector and onto Piedmont. North and southbound it's a war zone between Sweet Auburn and the hospital formerly known as Georgia Baptist. As an added bonus, the Freedom Park path, a walking trail from downtown to Stone Mt., also runs east west.

Part of what makes the intersection such a tender bitch is the collective attitude of the drivers. And that's odd since many of them are listening to NPR and heading home to Va-Highland, Inman Park, L5P, etc. We're talking small cars with affirmative bumper stickers here. Of course the north-southbound drivers are in trucks and for some reason will not believe that people are actually walking anywhere near the exit ramp, but much less dragging small and medium-sized kids from the elementary school just two blocks south. WTF?

So, I'm heading home from Candler Park where I've finally taken a yoga class for the first time since the lay-off and get stopped at the light where I'm gunning to be the last left over the connector. But it's all jammed up and there's an emergency vehicle stuck way to the west heading east, siren going, nobody moving, whether they can or not. Note: the road game here is to jump an EMT's space and take advantage of whatever fresh real estate is before or after it. But that's not happening to anyone here. Instead, cars and trucks have turned into sullen cattle and no one's giving anyone an inch.

Until this "street guy" who seems quite crazy strolls purposefully, manfully, into the intersection and starts herding cars. At first it's like he's crazy. Like still-in-Saigon crazy only it's not really 1978, it just feels like it sometimes. The man (no longer a guy) is trained to do stuff like this but he's still nuts. But it works. Like, he puts himself in front of this jackass who's gonna try and get his ass through the light no matter what or where the EMT, which has now reached Boulevard and needs to get off the southbound exit and turn around in a hairpin to get north to the hospital formerly known as Georgia Baptist. Note: I didn't know this last part until the EMT loomed into my sideview mirror. (should I have moved?) I, everyone, 8 lanes of sitting drivers, are watching this no-longer-crazy guy choreograph the EMT's northbound maneuver, and, like a headwaiter, bow it on it's way.

I'd have honked in appreciation, but that would have been dangerous. I believe we all felt that way.

When our traffic here finished the job, he sauntered back to his panhandle corner (westbound) and took a damn bow!

And we all went on our way home. And I repeated the line "what I got to see" over and over until I could get up here and tell you all about it... Sometimes it's just so good to pull my head out of my ass.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Off the Grid: Week 20-something

Here's something I know well: None of our unique feelings are all that unique. Every week I'm going to have one day when the image of life off the grid is so petrifying I can't think at all but just boing from bed (an hour later than on other days) to the kitchen, the studio, the path, the internet, the stores and make a couple of crappy decisions because I feel like a failure.

Worked three days at J. Jill, my first at what is not, must not, cannot be a career change but simply a stop gap until I find, manifest, land another real job. A job, or an assignment, that will allow me to spring for the $130 ticket Leonard Cohen's people are charging at the Fox next week.
(Although I must say, that's a hell of a price to pay for a concert, isn't it? It seems very high to me, but the guy's an old guy and something tells me I've long lost track of the price of things like concerts, ball games, etc.)

While at J. Jill, unpacking endless cartons with the other new part-timers, only one of whom was a proper shop girl, learning how to handle the steamer (I want one!), and fold sweaters like a midtown queen, the crusty inner dragon who wants me out of the house was sated. The inner sensible person, soooo nascent, nagged "Buying lunch at the food court will cost you an hour of work."

Yesterday, I learned my paperwork for the online job (I'll be teaching online soon for a college in the midwest, wearing Pure Jill yoga styles) was delayed because the identity proof I used (an old passport) had been expired too long. So I spent the morning sending off for a birth certificate and just for the hell of i,t and because I like self-immolation, I walked to the local social security office and sat for an hour with a lot of people who don't smell very good and don't know this season's J.Jill colors are amethyst, pearl and granite.

While there, a man with teeth the color and solidity of an antique library book, told me "They're trying to hang me!" So the fuck what, I thought. But said, politely (I thought) "That's nice." I mean, jeez, they don't hang in this state.
He was so offended I thought we were going to have a fuss.
"I thought you were kidding," I said. But it was too late, he moved his seat.
I gave his seat to my purse and no one came near me again. And I kept thinking, this is another example of impulse vs. inspiration. When I feel bad, I use my time foolishly by walking in the rain, sitting with people who are crawling with germs and not too shy about sharing them, and ranting inside when I didn't have to. I could have done this online, though you still have to show someone your proofs. I could have spared myself and that silly man a rudeness. I sat there thinking, why are you punishing yourself? What are you hoping to learn from being on the wrong end of a bureaucratic interchange? Maybe that I've lost that ranking we all have as members of the employed. I used to feel left out as a single person. All the marketing, after all, is targeted to those with nuclear families. Now I get to experience the thrilling anonymity of the unemployed or the one claiming benefits (though all I was doing was replacing a lost card.)

Some days, I just want to feel the muck and let it scare the crap out of me. It's a way to test my faith in myself and in what's now clear is a determination to keep making art during the day, not at night when I'm too tired to execute properly. Why I do this, I don't know. That's probably a lesson from another hour in another line.

Dangerous Book - Episode 16

April 28 Sunday

Very early. Coffee and brownies filched from last night’s croquet.

It is the weekend and I am luxuriating in a morning alone. All my mornings are solitary, yet it’s only when I’ve had a compliment of company that I can bask in it, selfishly stretching my legs along the length of this couch. The sun is mine, the smiling dog mine.. This empty page---ours. As I write I am one, but later, when I read this, I’ll be older, different, someone else. And who knows, someday I may have an audience.

Spent last night on the island of old friends, passport stamped, natives friendly. We played croquet, a game of war, survival and the complexities of a surface existence. Oops, I meant to write a social existence. Peter played at romance, I at love. Kate played possum. Jake played not at all. He’s an impatient man and a bit of a bully. I couldn’t live with him, but Kate has an inner pool of calm that draws angry people to her for sustenance, and perhaps their fire warms her.

Billie and Allen lived in their own made up world, reminding me of paper dolls from the 1950s or of the parents in an old reader. Dick and Jane’s parents. Physically alike and turned towards each other. As soon as I saw the happy couple emerge with the croquet set, I ran out to help. Then I ran back in again and changed. I’d put on a knee length dress with a low loose waist, but when I saw Billie and Kate in shorts, I changed into a pair of my own. This necessitated some thought as to a top. I’m past the age where the most comfortable T-shirts can be considered flattering or even passable. My best ones were in the wash, so I made do with a cropped white blouse. This gave me a slightly over-dressed look, but I realized I would probably be the only one to think so. I dithered over jewelry until the absurdity of being so nervous made me laugh.

In Atlanta I lived in a small apartment building and enjoyed knowing most of my neighbors. We’d admired each other’s balcony gardens; walked together to the bus stop or nearby museum. Listened to each other sing in the First Presbyterian Church at Christmas. Some of the old renters had been friends for years. I’d even loaned my apartment to a neighbor for her family’s use during a reunion. I fully expect to experience more or better relationships with this Tuscaloosa group. Yet, I’m aware (for the first time?) of seeming bit older and different. Of coming in on a crowd that was tight and intermarried. And face it, I was aware of an attraction to Peter that confused and excited me. In going out to meet him again among his friends I felt like an actress making an entrance into a play that had begun months or years ago. And in this play, I have a role but no script.

The croquet set belongs to Peter, who bought it "on impulse" at a garage sale, but it’s kept here with Billie and Allen. It is, as he was first to establish, a tournament quality set. Swedish. Since they’ve only had the set a week, the rules are agreed upon by consensus. Jake insists he’s the most knowledgeable because he’s played on a real one-hundred-foot course, or field. He calculated how long we’re most likely to play (two hours) and compared that against the skills of the participants (low).

“We should play teams with six wickets,” he said.

Peter and Allen over-ruled him immediately. His surrender was so graceful, I had to laugh. Something told me he was getting his own way after all. A wink from Kate confirmed that. Bad-tempered yet tactful. An interesting combo.

“My turn,” said Allen, winking at Billie.

“Let me go,” said Peter. “You took last night.” (Had they played last night? Where was I? What had I missed by shopping for tonight? Was this linen romper worth it?

“Tough,” said Jake. “It’s my turn.”

“Tonight we'll play with Jacob’s memories,” said Kate. She'd elbowed him away from the drinks table and was making gin and tonics for all with a generous hand. The brownies and deviled eggs were long gone.

“I’ve been chasing croquet memories for the last hour,” I said. “When Jake set out the course, my instinct was to correct him. As if whoever had taught me to play had to be right. “Maybe it’s only our childhoods that had to be right,” I said.

“They really do take turns,” said Billie.

“We could get the rules off the web site,” I said. "I mean, I already did. I downloaded them.”

“Oh, not you, too,” said Kate. “They’ve all downloaded the rules. They just don’t care.”

“They read them in secret,” said Billie, settling herself into the only lounge chair. She tightened the head of her mallet efficiently. "Have a drink before we start; there's plenty of time."

She was right. There was time to watch Jake and Peter argue over the measurements, rustle up more food from everyone’s kitchen before the guys finally had the field lined up according to memory and Association rules. Before Professor Sergeant and Astible arrived and joined Phoebe and Veronica on the verandah steps. “To watch,” he said. “Just to watch.” But I noticed he communed more with my puppy than with any of us and was never available for a ruling, though we called on him often.

The basics we all seem to remember and agree upon:

There are nine wickets set out in two diamonds placed to fit the space available. At Monnish Court this is practically the length of an official (100 feet) court, but not quite, so we adjusted accordingly. I'd never played on so large a field and had some trouble getting "out" of the start stake and the first two wickets. In your standard suburban backyard and playing with a child's set, there is only about a foot between the starting stake and the second wicket. In tonight's game, this length was about three feet. Our lawn is dry and only appears flat. It's actually full of stones and tufts, and, given the yield of my garden so far, bones and amulets. Play was uneven. But that's the game.

As with life and love, over time you get to know the terrain. Until then, every stroke yields a surprise.

Croquet details we all need to know:

· Hitting (roqueting) another player's ball brings choice.

· The order of play follows the colors designated on the two end stakes: blue, red, black, yellow, green and orange.

· It is war, played to win, to kill and to survive.

· To roach: to chase players, not wickets. Sign of bad sportsmanship or inebriation.

· Poison defeats its pursuers. Poison is what you are when you have played through and “won”. To win in croquet is not your goal, you must kill. The first person finished comes back into the game as “Poison” and tries to hit other balls.

· To be hit by a poisoned ball is to die.

· To hit a poisoned ball is to die. Once you finish the course and also become poison, you are safe to hit poisoned balls.

· The last ball is the surviving ball.

· Surviving is winning.

So. Just when you think you’re finished, you discover you are not. Just when you think you have won, you must play again. Just when you think you have lost, you have not. Because you might still win in the poison afterlife and so must continue. It’s as if the game itself is a form of life–and poison a form of hell. The game is over, but you are not over. Life ends with death, you end with hell. For in the end, we are all either poisoned, nourished, kept ‘alive’ with that corrupting elixir, or we are victims of it. The truly dead do not got through the final wicket at all, do not become poison, but perish on the field.

I have not found heaven yet, but the season for finding it has just begun. There is life in the garden. And that is what heaven really is.

Back to the game. Back to life. Croquet is about roqueting. Bumping into others and making a choice.

Roqueting yields a choice:

  • Player may take two bonus strokes


  • Player may place his own ball in contact with the struck ball in such a way as to send both balls in the desired direction.

This useful shot, called a croquet shot, was dubbed by Kate “lover's ball.” When Billie’s ball lay nestled near a wicket, Allen kissed his mallet head and roqueted her through the wicket along with his own. “Lover’s ball!” she cried. A little later, when Peter sent us both through the third wicket, she called it buddy ball. Whether lover or buddy, the striker has one remaining stroke. It’s a sweet, non-competitive moment used to keep everyone happy until the end, when corrupting influences take over the night.

And, finally, how to croquet:

Place your own ball in contact with the struck ball and place your foot over your own ball (rendering it immobile). Strike your own ball and whammo! Send your opponent where you will. Or, if you’re wearing sandals, where you can.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dangerous Book - Episode 15

I want to go lightly with Peter, as I did not go with Marshall. I want the dizzying happiness--- the kind you don’t even worry about believing in because it’s made up of laughter. Is he a good kisser? He’s goddamn good enough. Good enough to get better, and I am looking forward to sleeping with him. My body’s been in a cave and this is the man who will roll the rocks from the entrance. No, I have not told him what he is waking me from. No, I will not tell him. I have to say I’m embarrassed, or that I feel very very privately about the mourning I’ve experienced. Oh, like there’s some unwritten feminist law that says you can’t let yourself be harmed or even affected by this thing. The rule about abortions: if you’re going to make it a sin, if you’re going to feel guilty and sad, then you shouldn’t be doing it. I don’t know where I got this idea. I have a wisp of a memory, of a woman I didn’t know and will never know, in a bar or at a meeting where abortion was on the table. She threw back her head and its lot of hair and exclaimed, “I’ve had four!” As if daring the room to object. The level of my own shock was so deep I laughed at it. How quaint. I felt I had no right to be shocked, much less disapproving, but my god, I was both. So, no. I will not tell.

And you know what that is, Nora? That’s a little wall. The secrets we keep are walls. Something between you. Not that walls are bad, not that perfectly happy people who live together for years shouldn’t have them, but know what you’re building.

Look how quickly it happens. We meet, we desire, we flirt and skirt and dance and start lying in less time than it takes to suck the lime out of a gin and tonic. We hand each other variations on the truth and see how they play. Even with the best of the romances, the ones we remember fondly, there are lies. With Beattie there were not lies but there should have been. Instead there was a screen door and two fingers touching wire, one body just gunning to be gone, the other an aching basket. This will not be that way. This will not be that way. Repeat three times. This will not be that way.

I know a woman who doesn’t believe a word a man says for the first six months of knowing him. Can he believe her?

Half of what Peter and I talk about is nothing more than showing off. We’re not bragging about ourselves, just displaying our shared prejudices for the pleasure of agreeing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Less than a Month to the 3Day

Most of the 3Day walkers I know are united in finding this year's fundraising effort to be a hard one. Far more challenging than in past years. The goal has been raised to $2,300 and fewer people are walking. My team, which walked about 70 people last year, is walking 20 this month. Many are not walking because of health issues, others simply knew they couldn't raise the required minimum. I'm not the only mammory on the government tit (no pun).

This weekend, I drove down to Dunedin to participate in a mini fundraiser that just a few of us conspired to hold with funds going to just the few of us. Each year the team (Thanks for the Mammories and the SOB's [sons, others and brothers, our guy's team]) runs a series of fundraisers beginning with a yard sale and moving up the intensity scale to a casino night. Smaller groups get together to hold events like ours. Janice and her sisters did the lion's share of this weekend's successful vintage car show thanks to members of the Downshifters of Brooklyn.

The downshifters are car enthusiasts who like to hang out together in likely places, wear black jeans and T-shirts and show off their vintage automobiles, while helping out worthy charities. We gathered sponsorships for trophies from area merchants and services, held 50-50 raffles and the inevitable bake sale this Sunday at Bif Burgers in Pinellas Park, southish of St. Pete. It was a beautiful day. Typically Florida hot but without summer's bite.

Bif Burger owner/manager Troy was the greatest! He just kept on shelling out the cash, buying so many raffle tickets that, of course, he won. But when he won, instead of pocketing his half of the take, he donated it right back either to the team or to the pot. What a sweetie!

Instead of pricing the baked goods, we just asked for donations. Couldn't have done better than that. People were so generous.

Unfortunately, there were too few people on hand to help us reach our desired goal, but we did really well with about $2,700. That's enough to help several of us reach our minimums and take the fear out of the rest. The thing about the 3Day is, once you commit, you commit.

It's kind of like having cancer. There's no halfway and there's no backing out. If you don't raise your minimum, you don't walk. But you don't get the money back, either. In two weeks, I need to pony up what's owing. Today, that's $800. Not sure how we'll divvy Sunday's haul but I know I won't be putting $800 on my Visa card. I'll let you know.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Some days are just a gift. For this morning's walk, my neighbor F., and I waited till mid-morning and walked over to the Carter Center. F, who used to work for President Carter before she retired (lucky girl), said there was an event going on. She made it sound like a little office bun fight in honor of the newly renovated presidential library and, oh yeah, President Carter's 85th birthday.

I guess for someone who attended the Nobel Peace Prize celebrations, a little birthday party in the garden is no big deal, but for me and a few hundred others, a rendition of Happy Birthday, Mr. President, led by a dozen grandchildren and others, was pretty special.

It was lovely to see President and Mrs. Carter looking so chipper. Ditto the Mondales, Reverend Lowery (still funny), Mayor Franklin (still grim) and even the token Republican, Gov. Purdue (still red).

I'd been fretting lately over the lack of 'neighborhood' immediately surrounding my high rise.
there's a price to pay for the view I cherish. Sometimes I wish I'd bought in midtown, closer to shops, coffee houses and people with permanent addresses. But as I strolled through the Carter Center's gardens, I remembered that just 10 minutes away was one of the pretties places in Atlanta. I just needed to remember it's here. Hell, I just need to look out the window and to the right.
I'd also been wishing, just this morning, that I'd kept in touch with some of my former ACA continuing education students. Teaching at that school provided my life with more meaning than any other of my many many jobs and I would like to know how they are doing and if they are still writing. Wouldn't you know, sitting two people to my right and known to F., was a woman from a class I taught back in the 1990s! She didn't say if she was still writing, but she did tell me about another woman she met in that class and how they are still friends.

How often do we get what we ask for? More often than we realize, I think. We just have to remember to remember we asked and remember to look for the gift. It's right there.