Thursday, April 18, 2019

Reality Intrudes

Every now and then, reality delivers a crushing blow to fantasy. Take Niagara Falls.

This is the Niagara Falls of my imagination: Honeymooners go there because it’s so romantic, the power of the waterfall underlines nature’s majesty, the shared border gives it international significance. All that and the extra my fantasies add to it.

When our family was in Argentina in 2012, we visited Iguazú Falls on the border with Brazil. It was beyond spectacular. The force of the waterfall filled every fiber of your person. It thundered through you, pounded your atoms. You had to hike trails to get to the overlooks, and it was all Nature-with-a-capital-N.

So imagine my distress to discover Clifton Hill right across the street from Niagara Falls.

No one warned me! The shock of a giant Frankenstein eating a Burger King hamburger, King Kong on the side of a tilted over Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Dracula’s Haunted Castle – it’s monster land! Then there’s Big Top aMAZEing Fun and Lazer Tag and Mini Putt. And Rainforest Café and IHOP and DQ.

“Clifton Hill: the Street of Fun at Niagara Falls.” Everything all jammed together with outside loudspeakers proclaiming the horrors within. I couldn’t imagine anything more horrifying.

This is what travel does: it opens your eyes. To wonder and beauty and novelty and awe. And sometimes, disappointment and shock that what you see is not what you imagined and just not pretty.

Tim turned to me and said, “At least we’re not here on our honeymoon.”

No, our honeymoon was spent in horrendous winds and rain on Twin Lakes. Wind so bad our tent poles bent and snapped. Wind so bad there were white caps on the lake and our pilot couldn’t get in to pick us up. Wind so bad we hunkered down under the tarp and never even dreamed of unpacking the kayak.

But at least we weren’t at Niagara Falls!

P.S. What was pretty, even very pretty: the ice to the side of the falls, the swooping cloud of birds in front, the spinning swirls of water, the mist, the Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Beauty lurks.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Welcome to Toronto!

I’m pretty sure it’s something in the water. Something that seeps into the bodies of people in Toronto and … activates them.

I’m doing my annual “urban infusion” month in Toronto. Before this month, all I knew about Toronto was that it was in Canada and wasn’t Montreal, but I’m not even sure what “not-Montreal” meant.

So I did my research and discovered that Toronto was loaded with theater, with art, with neighborhoods, with public transit – all my prerequisites. I bought tickets, signed up for email newsletters, squelched several pre-trip anxieties. But the British-thing still haunted me, the part where people don’t talk to strangers in public. I can still flinch over the trauma of my first week in London, my week of zero human interaction. Weren’t Torontonians kind of British?

There I was in Union Station, facing a steep staircase with Robin’s massive suitcase and the need to find a Shoppers Mart to buy a transit pass. What’s a Shoppers Mart? Or rather, What’s a Shoppers Mart?!? how am I going to find one? how will I get downstairs? and WHY can’t Lyft find me where I am because three drivers have abandoned me after supposedly reaching me where I’m NOT?!?
Then one very nice man carried my suitcase down, another walked me to the front of a hotel so Lyft would have a destination, and another gave me a specific address to tell Lyft. I am beyond grateful.

Two hours later, Presto transit pass and library card in hand, I was an hour early for a library program. Everyone else was there with a friend or knew the staff or was a “regular.” I could always read a book, but David, the man next to me, engaged me in conversation and, before I knew it, we had exchanged contact information so David could send me some additional information. We’re now Linked In.

Two nights later, I happened to sit next to the theater reviewer at a performance. She knew all the local companies, the casts, the playwrights, the artistic directors; she was in her element. She and I discussed theater, watched Iphigenia get sacrificed, and afterwards, Lynn offered me a ride home.

Yesterday, I stopped in at a Japanese restaurant to ask about their miso soup. I left, but several minutes later, the owner found me at my bus stop to tell me something else about miso soup. He offered to give me the paste so I could make some by myself at home.

Do you see it? This spirit of welcome, of assistance, of openness, of friendliness?

[Alert! You cannot read these next few paragraphs without noting my delirium of excitement about the miracles of right-time right-place. I can’t put exclamation points after every sentence.]

In the library calendar, I discovered that the Toronto Public Library has a special Arthur Conan Doyle Collection – Sherlock Holmes and fairies and séances and spiritualism – and that the annual lecture with the Friends was to be held Friday!

So, again, I walked into a room where I knew no one, but this organization has been together for 18 years and they all knew each other very, very well. A man and woman approached me, introduced themselves, asked what brought me here. Turns out Barbara has written a play about Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, and Harry Houdini meeting in the afterlife with unresolved issues about Arthur Conan Doyle; and she introduced me to Mike, the man next to me, who is head of the Bootmakers of Toronto. I am just in time for their bi-monthly meeting about Mycroft Holmes and more and more Sherlock! (Now I must use exclamation points!)

It’s not just that one Sherlock Holmes fan by luck found herself in the midst of many, many Sherlock Holmes fans. It’s that they welcomed me, they invited me in. How many times have I been at a meeting or gathering back home where lots of people called hellos out to others and moved seats to sit next to friends and there were some New People or Strangers who were on the periphery? How we might say hello … but then get right back to our conversations? Did I ever offer a Stranger a ride home? Did I embrace the Stranger?

I’ve been in Toronto only five days, and yet I’m flush with the warmth and friendliness shown me. Maybe it is in their water – it seems pretty widespread and contagious – but I’m not going to forget how welcomed I feel. I’ll bring that back home with me.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Found it!

I found it!

I found a whole ton of things! Lost things are popping up all over! I am on an incredible roll!

When too many things need to be found, the frustration eventually erupts into a war on crap de-cluttering. So I went to my art desk, saw an old, unfinished project I wasn’t interested in any more, and picked up the papers to recycle. Guess what was underneath?

The broken piece of the glass mobile! And I still had the glue and the broken mobile. All required pieces accounted for! Hooray!
So that freed me to stroll down another mental tangent. When Sophie graduated from high school and had her senior picture taken, I showed her mine. It was startling how much we looked alike (and I’ve always felt she looked exclusively like her father). So recently I came across my mother’s graduation photo, and I thought I’d line them up next to each other.

You know what that means: I have to have three things in the same place at the same time. That’s a challenge. First, I had to find my high school photo. I pulled out the carton of saved memories (yes, the same one that housed my Tab Hunter novel that my mother did not throw away).

Sitting right on top was the marionette! The marionette without shoes. And I still had the shoe. A shoe. (I actually believe one was thrown out many years ago in one of the earlier iterations of this recurring lost-and-found story.) So I put the shoe in the bag with Yvette, the Marionette, and they will lie there together, resisting de-cluttering. At least, when they go, they’ll go together – minus one shoe.

But still no senior class photo.

This saga requires another mental tangent. Two weeks ago, out of the blue, I heard from Jim, a former freshman when I was an R.A. in his dorm. We hadn’t crossed paths in forty years, but he’d discovered that Sophie and his son had shared the same freshman dorm.

A few years ago, when Jim’s class of freshmen were having a reunion, I wanted to send them the posters I had made to welcome them to college. I’d arranged all their senior pictures in a floor plan I made of the dorm, roommates with roommates. But, of course, I couldn’t find the posters….

So here I am now, looking for my own senior picture. Under the Tab Hunter carton, I discover another carton. I open it up, and right on top are the dorm posters! Jim won’t have another reunion for three years, but I’m putting the posters in the mail today. I can’t be trusted to find them again three years from now.

Eventually, in that carton, I find my senior photo. Whew! Then I have to find Sophie’s, but that should be easy. Well, not quite. She tells me over the phone that I’d picked the wrong one, she describes another photo. I’m very confused, but I have a photo that will work (although not as dramatically as I remember). This is us:

Distracted now by this box, I find all sorts of stuff. One of them is a newspaper clipping from 1972 from the local newspaper in my hometown, The Long-Islander. My high school social studies teacher, Mrs. Angela P. Ryan, had edited a book and noted she was inspired by my graduation speech, which she quoted. I remember trying once to find the book on Interlibrary Loan, and I remember trying to find her; but I never had any luck. I decided to try again.

This time, the Internet yielded a home address, and I’ve written her a letter.

If my luck holds – and some amazing alignment of the stars is putting things in their places in my universe – then I may find Mrs. Ryan, too.

A broken piece of glass, a shoe-less marionette, an old dormitory poster, a senior class photo, and an address – together, they feel like a triumphant victory of Order over Chaos. What was lost is found, what was broken is restored, what was forgotten is remembered. Now – in this very moment – my world feels so stable and organized and meant-to-be; I must be in my right spot, too.

Friday, March 22, 2019

An In-Home Treasure Hunt

A long time ago, I built a marionette. She hung out in a plastic bag in some not-yet-de-cluttered box, but she lost a shoe. Every now and then, the shoe would turn up, but then I wouldn’t remember which box held the marionette. Thinking they were fated never to manifest at the same time, I finally threw the shoe out. Then, during my recent de-cluttering binge in the laundry room, I know I considered tossing the marionette. I looked her in the eye and evaluated whether she gave me joy. But did I throw her out? That is the question because – you guessed it – a shoe has turned up!

When de-cluttering runs up against memory lapse, it’s unclear whether something is really gone or I-just-can’t-remember-where-I-put-it. I am sure the marionette will turn up as soon as I lose contact with the shoe.

A few years ago, my sister and I took a road trip to Corning, New York, where I made this glass mobile. Except that it doesn’t really look like that because as I was hanging it, I crashed into the window and broke the third glass strip.

I put the broken piece aside, awaiting repair.

Do you have things “awaiting repair”? Do you have a set location for items in limbo? I do not. The broken piece sat on the lamp stand for a year or so.

But then I moved it to a safer location because I knew I would repair it eventually.

I have no idea where that safer location is.

It’s all rather timely because last August, when my sisters and I went on a road trip, we encountered a glass artist. I talked with her about repairing my mobile, and she gave me a tube of E6000 to use. Of course, now I have to re-find the broken piece.

I have checked out all my secret stash locations, my pending piles, my do-something-with-it-someday spots. I checked the little decorative boxes that sit on the dresser. No luck. I can’t find the broken piece anywhere.

But then I discovered another decorative box downstairs – my raven box – hidden in what I guess is now a really secret spot.
When I opened that box, I discovered my chunk of the Berlin Wall and the scrap of Christo’s wrapping of the Reichstag from my sister! Yes, the very same items I’d assumed were inside the little, decorative, heart-shaped, wooden box upstairs when it was stolen two years ago and which I wrote about here!

Why do I feel like my house is a scavenger hunt venue? Or some escape room with elusive clues? Why do things-that-go-together (broken piece and glue, marionette and shoe) go their separate ways in my house? And you’re probably wondering, What’s with all the little boxes and hiding spots?

Note: they do not start out to be hidden. It’s just that in my world, everything has an assigned place; fabric goes in the fabric place, art supplies in the art area, books on the bookshelf. But when something is not easily categorized, it doesn’t own a designated home. Where would a chunk of Berlin Wall, a broken glass piece, and a marionette shoe belong?

Anyhow, despite all this treasure hunting in my house, there are now two things I don’t know:
  1. What was in the little heart-shaped wooden box that was stolen two years ago? (I’m guessing it was rocks. Rocks belong in my fancy boxes. Jewelry belongs in old, rumpled plastic bags tossed somewhere else. Personal priorities.)
  2. The Big, Still-Unanswered Question: Where is the broken glass piece from the mobile???

Saturday, March 16, 2019

What's your 'resting face'?

My writing pipeline got clogged.

I’d written a piece for Valentine’s Day, and I balked at posting it. I was saying nice things about Tim, about Third Third revelations and appreciation of marriage; and it just seemed so … smug. Even though I admitted to “explosions, terrible ‘discussions,’ voiced regrets, shouted furies, quiet hopelessness,” it just seemed so … self-congratulatory. Like, hooray, we’ve made it!

But then I felt bad about putting aside a post that was so nice to my husband (since “nice” is not an adjective I really own); so I just … ran aground. That stalled post was blocking all alternative and future posts.

Combine that with winning a free two-month trial of Team Training at my athletic club and my discovering how utterly exhausting fitness can be. Basically, I ran around the room zipping through exercises that involved things like kettle balls and medicine balls and sliders for my feet. And big long ropes and elastic stretchy things and hanging from the ceiling. Not to mention jumping up and down and squatting for interminable periods of time. After all that, swimming a mile seemed like a rest day.

I was comatose by 7, asleep by 9.

We’d been on vacation and saw relatives, alligators, and manatees. In Epcot Center, in record-breaking rain, Sophie and I were on Spaceship Earth and somewhere along the line, they took photos of us. Afterwards, cartoon characters showed up in a video with our faces. Sophie’s face was pleasant and smiling. Mine was scowling.

“How’d you do that? Did you know when they were taking our photo? How come mine is so grumpy?”

“I just have a better resting face.”

“Resting face? Who ever heard of a resting face? Do people have resting faces?!?”

Well, I guess they do. And what I thought illustrated curiosity on my face actually looks like confusion if you’re generous and pissed-off if you’re accurate.

So then I had to practice a better resting face. Which is impossible while hauling kettle balls and medicine balls and pushing up. Or just sitting around fretting about that bit-of-love blocking my blog.

Someday, I’ll tell you about the valentines my husband has hidden around the house for me for thirty years, but right now, I’m just going to borrow a little quote from one of my favorite authors, David Grossman. In Someone to Run With, he describes the rotten underworld of the city, but then the wise woman of the novel, Leah, says this:
“You need a man with a big hand,” Leah pronounced. “You know why?” 

“Why?” She knew she would now be painted a picture. 

“Someone who will stand with his hand up, open, strong, steady – like the Statue of Liberty, but without that ice-cream cone she’s holding – only his hand, open, in the air. And then” – Leah raised her square, rough, nail-bitten hand and moved it gently from side to side, like a flying bird – “even from far away, from any place in the world, you’d see that hand and know you had a place to land and rest.”
That is my husband’s hand. And when I think on it, my resting face smiles.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Pearl of Wisdom #1

We don’t reach our Third Third without accumulating some wisdom. One of my little bits of wisdom isn’t earth-shaking. It’s not high on the list of Great Values or Good Deeds or even How to Be a Better Person, but it does pop up again and again. So I’ll call it a Pearl of Wisdom. I’m sure you have them, too. Tell me about yours.

This one started at a summer job at Tramco Automatic Transmissions. Oh, there were so many things I learned there – sexism, unfair working conditions, boredom – but this is not about that. Our job at Tramco was to assemble transmission repair kits according to specifications printed out on a sheet. The women sat in one room and assembled the kits and got paid less. The men roamed the warehouse, filling the bins with the right parts, and got paid more. One other woman and I were rovers; we were given shopping carts to go out into the warehouse, find the right part in the bins, gather all the parts for an order, and bring it back to the women with the kits.

Sometimes, as I wandered the warehouse, I would come upon an empty bin for a part I needed to complete my order. I’d stare at it, wondering what to do, and one of the men would say, “Oh, check with Maria. She has a private stash of J2Z89 gaskets.”

So I’d go over to Maria, who had some sort of domain in a corner of the warehouse, and I’d ask for a J2Z89 gasket. Marie had five, but she was unwilling to part with one. I’d cajole her, somewhat confused: “How am I going to fill the order without one?” Eventually, after telling me about her grandchildren and how they were doing, she’d relent, and I’d walk off satisfied.

Until I needed a 2KL47 ring, and that bin was empty, too. “Check with George. He has a private stash.” George, too, had his little corner, filled with his own little boxes and tubes and containers.

“Hi, George, can I have a 2KL47 ring?”

“But what if I need it?”

“Do you need it?”

“I might.”

So I’d chat him up a little, beg a little, finally get my 2KL47 ring. But I had to do all this wheedling and convincing and persuading just to do my job. And this happened over and over again. The solution just seemed so obvious, so I made an announcement:

“Everyone, if we all gave up our little private stashes and put everything into the bins, we could do an inventory and see what we really have and what’s really missing.”

You would have thought I’d planted a bomb. “That’s not how we do it.” “Crazy college girl thinks she knows how to run the place.” “What a stupid idea.” “If we gave up our stashes, they wouldn’t need us.” (We wouldn’t be indispensable.)

Aha! That’s my pearl of wisdom, but it didn’t register until I worked for an organization much later on. Now I wasn’t dealing with gaskets and rings; I was dealing with information and skills. For example:

“How many employees have been reassigned in the last year?”

“Which employee are you interested in?”

“No, not one, any of them. I’m looking for a pattern.”

“Give me a name, and I’ll tell you.”

“No, I need the whole list.”

“I’m the one who keeps the list.”

That’s The Guy Who Keeps the List. Or maybe it’s The Woman Who Operates the Machine. Or The Person Who Knows the Number. Do you know them too?

It’s about private stashes of information or skills or knowledge … and the resistance to sharing. Yes, there are some reasons for dividing labor, but when the Common Purpose requires sharing, private stashes get in the way. When someone holds on to being indispensable, organizations flounder. Any organization. Any group.

I was 18 when I worked at Tramco Automatic Transmissions, and the guys in the warehouse seemed to smell me out as I wheeled my shopping cart around. Somebody decided that was inappropriate, but I was the one fired. The guys felt bad and got together to find me another job … as a topless dancer. Which so freaked me out that I ran from them on my last day of work.

There were a lot of lessons learned on that job, but the little bit of wisdom that lingered had everything to do with sharing … or refusing to.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Public Restroom: A Technological Challenge (Take 2)

I used the restroom in the new wing at the Anchorage Museum yesterday. It was all very sleek and design-y, only brushed metal fixtures, totally clean and spiffy. A thrilling 10 on my personal Public Restroom Rating Scale. I did my business and washed my hands. With soap. From a soap dispenser recognizable as a soap dispenser.

But then I was stumped: how to dry my hands?

Nowhere in all that sleekness and stone walls and minimalism was anything that resembled towels or air. I should have been warned by the motion detector light when I entered: I was entering a Smart Restroom. Actually, a Smart Inclusive (private stall) Restroom that even signaled vacancy:

I’ve had my challenges with restroom technology, chronicled here. But this was going so well: the water turned on, and the soap dispenser fairly shouted normalcy. There were even two hooks on the restroom door because we have purses and we have coats and two hooks is such a convenience and do you see why I’d give it a 10? (And, of course, the two hooks were Museum quality design.)

Behind the toilet, there was a steel plate with some kind of sensor-thing named Toto. Toto flushed the toilet. See what I mean by sleek?

Other than the motion detector for the light, there was nothing else on the smooth, stone-like walls.
I left my private Inclusive Restroom and walked out into a neighboring Inclusive Restroom, thinking maybe mine was the only one missing the hand-drying thing. Nope. It looked the same.

I took my wet hands out to the security guard and asked, “How do we dry our hands?” He said I had to hold my hands under the faucet arms.

Now, you have to tell me: would you have guessed where to dry your hands?

And in case you think the difficulty is not clear by my drawing, I’m going to go so far as to include a photograph. See? (Tim says it looks like a plane landing on the sink.) I’m just proud of myself that I didn’t think the arms were handles to regulate hot and cold.

I held my hands under the faucet arms, and a good blast of air dried them right off. But I challenge anyone – of any age, any Third of their lives – to enter that restroom cold and discover the dryer. Personally, I’d need a little sticker on the arms saying, “Dry hands under here,” but I’d guess that would disrupt the design.

Either that or I could have a lot of fun counting how many people come out shaking wet hands.

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