Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fantastic Headline

Over at the Herald.

My Unruly Mind

Last Friday I arrived at the one of our two local laundromats which I'm comfortable frequenting, even though it's the busier of the two. The other is, shall we say, pretty retro, and until our municipal smoking ban went into effect last fall, it was a hazy roughneck den. Two laundromats to serve a town of 13,000 is not enough, but I'm not going to open another one, and that's not the point of my story anyway. I started three loads of laundry -- whites, darks, and denim -- in a central row and settled with my back against the middle washer (darks) and my nose in Mark Reisner's 1986 Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. (Witty and scary as hell, and acutely applicable today.)

Very shortly a brand new Jeep Cherokee pulled up, and out climbed a small bejeweled Mexican man and two petite women wearing acrylic nails and liquid eyeliner, followed by two tots, a girl and ponytailed boy, ages approximately four and three, respectively. They loaded nine washers with the contents of two 4'x2' wheeled gray plastic storage totes and settled down at the table by the pop machine, across from the divided door to the attached dry cleaners, the top half of which was open and through which one could occasionally see the cashier busy behind the counter. (Didn't this paragraph totally sound like a word problem from a 4th grade text book? But on with my story.)

I managed to ignore the shrieking siblings but at one point glanced at the folding table at the end of the row of washers I was facing, where I saw a semiautomatic pistol. The little chrome and black number had a slide and a magazine in the grip, and it just lay there alone, pointing towards the front of the room. And I thought, I had better get out of here and call the cops. The man saw me looking at it and wandered nonchalantly over, ostensibly to check on the progress of the washing machines, but on his way out of the aisle he picked up the gun. He ambled back to his chair between the two women and proceeded to admire it and caress it lovingly, then casually aimed it at one woman's head with his elbow in the air. Click. She shrugged her head away, never looking up from her magazine, and he continued waving it around, at which point I saw the orange plastic ring inside the barrel. A toy. Probably it belonged to the little boy, but sure as you're born, that man was enjoying letting people think it was real.

Because I wasn't the only one. The instant I realized it wasn't real, the clerk from the dry cleaners came streaking across the room barking, "That had better be a toy." The man nodded fiercely and indicated the orange plastic tip. "You're upsetting my customers. You need to get that thing out of here." She went back through the door to the counter, where another of my fellow laundromat patrons was scowling at the man. He had passed the gun to the boy, who was now pretending to shoot his sister in the head.

My Mexican ex used to casually point real but unloaded guns at me despite my protests. He never understood why it made me uncomfortable. "You know it's empty!" It took me a while to realize that it's not the gun that makes me uncomfortable, it's the person holding it. I have no problem with Kelly's armory because I trust him, and I take the difference between them as proof that empathy is not instinctual. The vato at the laundromat is clearly missing the same "respect chip" Oscar lacked, and I have to choke down and fight back the racism that quietly blooms whenever I witness similar behavior in Latinos, because I know that certain people of all races are missing that chip. It's just difficult for me not to draw those parallels because of my past.

Anyway, the family took off after transferring their clothes into all the available dryers, so I loaded Puck up and got the heck out of there, like I hope to load up and get the heck out of here. I want an apartment with washer and dryer hookups, or better yet, a city with a multitude of laundromats to choose from.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

29 and Holding

It's my birthday! I guess The Cruise might have temporarily removed my ability to get excited, because all week I kept forgetting. But today it's a nice thought, and we're going for a picnic.

This will be the last year of my 20's, and considering how they began, I think I've made a lot of progress in this decade. More than a lot. I had to make up for some blunders that most people don't have to deal with this early. But I dumped them and paid them off and got them out of the way, and I learned. And now I am going forward confidently. Toward what I don't know, but at least I know who will be with me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Alaska Pics

And they're up. I'm working on a post that might explain some of the photos, but then again, it might not. Enjoy. (There is a comment feature in the gallery! Fire away!) ("Up" is the link. Honest.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Smooth Sailing

I’ve been on solid ground for just over 37 hours and I can still feel the press and heave of gravity as the Norwegian Star swayed from side to side, an alternately uplifting and totally flooring phenomenon. I’ve been home for about four hours and, having unpacked, done some necessary maintenance on the cat box, and begun to fill myself in on everything I missed in the world while we were in another one entirely, I can’t believe how quickly I’ve settled back in and that temporary world – which was a complete and consuming and lovely reality, with its own routine and problems and solutions and decisions, for a whole week – has already become hardly more than a dream.

Our week in Snoqualmie/Seattle/Ketchikan/Juneau/Skagway/Prince Rupert was incredibly wet, often truly astounding and never completely awful. Thank goodness for my waterproof Olympus; I took 1,082 digital photographs (some of which will be discarded as duplicates, darks, or blurries) and three short videos, and I’ll try to post at least the most fabulous 300 images (because it’s a pain to upload any more than that to the gallery, but also because I’ve discovered that no matter how interested and fascinated most people are, they still have a limited attention span or just limited time), but it’s going to be so hard to choose.

It was so very nice to be so very gone for so very long, especially after I shut my cell phone off because the water plant SCADA computer called me out one night at 11:30 and after that I never thought about work again, although in Skagway I did think of texting T. and Robbie a photo, but that was because Brent was texting Katherine to ask which of his nieces collects snow globes (the 14-year-old) and which collects shot glasses (the 12-year-old).

The only everyday things I missed were Puck (of course), who was parked in Snoqualmie (and who has racked up just 10 miles shy of 10,500 miles after this trip and who got an astounding 37MPG on one leg of our journey and who got along just fine when Brent drove him), and the cats, who seem to have done fine without me but also seem pretty pleased to see me, prodding and purring, and who welcomed me home by flushing a hobo spider the size of a gopher out from under the kitchen table, where I spotted it and killed it with my plastic jelly shoe. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the flimsy, perforated slipper was only substantial enough to knock it unconscious, at which point I would have run for the ice pick.

And speaking of ice, just wait until you see the pictures. I’ll put them up this week while the memories and details are still fresh.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bon Voyage

I've had so much to blog lately and hardly any time to do it, and now it's going to have to wait another 11 days, because I'm going on The Cruise. I'm leaving tomorrow (Thursday); Brent and I are heading up to Seattle early in Puck (who went to the dealership for an oil change, a 23-point inspection, and a tire rotation at 8,600 miles, all for the low, low price of $17.99) to visit friends and will meet the rest of the crew (this means you! to some readers) at the dock on Saturday, when we will all depart for Alaska's Inside Passage. I am beside myself. I've driven the guys crazy at work obsessing over what to pack. I guess they'll be glad to see me go and get it over with.

The house has a new upstairs tenant, an older guy who walks quietly and gets his 12-year-old daughter for visitation most weekends. Bud finally picked a date to retire, but there's more to it than that, which will have to wait. Bekah turned 29 (ha, you'll always be older than me!) and Eric zipped himself into my suitcase while I was packing, and then packed my swimsuit and some socks to go to a "meeting" in the lilac bushes. Travis got a brand new Kawasaki bike, which he rides like a monkey on a unicycle.

I may never catch you up on all the news, because soon there will be hundreds (literally) of cruise pictures to sort through. But now it's bed time, if I can sleep. I have to try.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

There's an older woman standing next to me in an aisle, perusing photo frames with an expectant posture. She shuffles them around to get a look at every one and holds one out to me when she finally finds what she's looking for. "That's my son," she says, indicating the appealing, gap-toothed, towheaded anyboy peering from the frame in black and white over the head of a subdued Dachshund. "This was years ago." We have a short visit but I don't ask how long ago it was and try to imagine his probable embarrassment now if he knew his mother was showing strangers in a T.J. Maxx the photo with his serrated teeth and satellite ears. He was probably a very happy boy. Children can't help looking unnatural when forced to smile in photos. She claims she buys the frame whenever she finds his photo.

I spend a pleasant while amongst the frames wondering about the other people in the stock photos, the perfectly groomed upper class families and angelic children and romping retrievers. How old are they now? Eventually I look past the people at the barns and lighthouses and stone walls, misty southern fields with even fences and halos of sagging trees dripping moss. Are the farmhouses still standing? Are the fences still unrelentingly uniform? Some images don't even contain people, but immortalize a single trillium blossom or a field of daisies or a glossy brook or a stand of still trees. Any of these places might be parking lots now.

The photos feel like a pause in a film; the dog should finish his bound and begin another, the brook should begin to pour, the daisies should quake in a breeze, blazing in brilliant color. The family should continue to tussle and the children should grow and the lighthouse should flash and the brick wall might crumble over time or shortly find itself the perch of an old man with a knobby cane. He should have been in the picture. Grandma used to scold and say there was no point in a picture without anybody in it. "Years from now nobody will know where that was or who was there." And it's true. I don't know where the brook runs, I don't know where the wall waits, I don't know where the daisies sway in the sun.

The strange thing is, I care. The photos feel orphaned. The people who purchase the frames will take them home, peel out the glossy paper with sepias and grays, throw them away and replace them with photos of their own. Early in the history of the camera, Native Americans and members of other cultures resisted having photos taken, afraid the camera would capture their souls. Maybe that's not the way it works; maybe souls, or some portion or slice thereof, become trapped in the photographs, become communally encased in shoe boxes destined for the flea market when a family dies out or the photos become misplaced. If enough pictures of one subject were put together, would there be enough soul to make a whole one? I wonder if the woman whose son's face sells frames has mounted a lifelong campaign to collect all the pieces, suddenly possessive of the image she allowed to escape.

How many times have I stared at a photograph of an unknown person clearly long dead and felt a jarring sense of recognition or some nameless emotion, and always with that underlying curiosity of who they were and what they left? Children and grandchildren? A building? A work of art? An original recipe? A book, or a story passed down? Or maybe nothing they touched exists anymore, destroyed in a fire or buried with them, which might be the preferable circumstance, so no future beholder, a stranger, can peer at their features and judge their clothing or posture or number of remaining teeth.

Or maybe a photo is just a sheet of sealed paper with nothing in it but patterns of colored ink, and it has no more connection to the past than the paper has to the tree that produced it or the ink to the stone or plant. That is a less-than-satisfying scenario.