Monday, January 26, 2015

Friendships in Tucson

The Realtor connected us and it was lovely.  We dined, we chatted, we agreed that we'd meet again.  We're both busy. She's not here all the time.  We'll add one anther to email lists and consider extending invitations to events we're planning to attend.

It's a Tucson friendship.

"How long have you been here?" is the first question asked.  Some friends came for college and never left.  Some followed spouses with jobs at Raytheon or transferred with military orders to Davis Monthan, our friendly neighborhood Air Force base.  Many came for a vacation and couldn't imagine returning to the cold and ice of Minnesota or Michigan or the Dakotas. 

I've been in Tucson for nine years, now, and I have yet to find someone who ended up here randomly.  No one seems to be stuck; everyone seems to have chosen our little piece of heaven to be their own. 

It's a very manageable place, my Tucson.  Two-degrees-of-separation is the approximate distance between someone I know and a stranger.  My celebrity has something to do with it, certainly, but there's more going on than that.  We're a small town, with small venues and a few, discrete areas for entertainment.  It's more than likely that I'll see a yoga friend at the Jazz Festival - just as I did last weekend. 

Bill Walton was at the concert I attended, but I didn't see him. (The boys tell me that must have been because he wasn't standing up.) Instead, I found my Friday morning yoga companion in an aisle seat as Amster and I sidled by. In class the next week, we discovered others who had been there, too.  We were surprised that we hadn't found them all that night. 

It's that kind of place.

I'm not a big joiner, but Newcomers Club opened a wide swath of activities and human connections.  We bring meals and transportation and comfort when it's needed, and we share our love of butterflies and growing things and bowling and mah jongg and books and fine dining with those we've never met.  There's something for everyone.  Those who need to serve immediately become Board Members.  Those who like to lurk around the edges are pleasantly surprised to find that others are doing the heavy lifting and all that is required of a newbie is a smile and her presence. 

Tucson's like that. 

The desert is filled with trails, although many of them are inscrutably difficult to follow.  Southern Arizona Hiking Club outings left me gasping and drained.  Those hikers were more serious about it than I was.  I made no friends in that group.  I moved on to find individuals who covered the ground at a pace more to my liking, and the Desert Hikers from Newcomers provided a larger pool from which to choose personal companions. 

While walking the trails, I found like minded souls for concerts and movies.  Often, personal stories were unimportant.  We were enjoying the moment and we were not alone.  It was a surprising switch for me.  I've always wanted to know the other's backstory; here, it seems less important. I'm in the here and now and I'm looking ahead.  The baggage brought from previous locations, prior marriages, former places of employment, is immaterial.  As I am redefining myself here in the desert, so, it seems, are those with whom I'm surrounding myself.

I'm connected to others through myself - not my children or my work or my spouse.  I'm finding myself reflected in those with whom I surround myself.  It's a beautiful garden filled with a variety of humans, flowering with spikes or bright blossoms or day-long blooms.  I can pick and choose, depending on my mood.  There's always someone who will say "Yes, I'd love to join you!"

Is it any wonder I love living here?





Friday, January 23, 2015

Cheating

That's what I saw when I walked into the service department at the VW dealership this afternoon.  I couldn't resist what came out of my mouth; something about under-inflation and trustworthiness and should I really leave them my car?  The service advisors' reactions were muted; they'd heard it all before... all day long.

Bill Belichik's been accused of leading a team of cheaters, once again.  Briefly, for those of you who rely on The Burrow for all your sporting news, footballs are checked by the officials 135 minutes before the kick-off. In the interim, they are returned to the safekeeping of each team's equipment staff.  In last week's playoff game, 11 of the 12 balls in the Patriot's care were found to be underinflated to a level below that which is mandated for game play use.  Underinflation makes the ball easier to catch, to carry, to throw.  It makes it harder to fumble.  Tom Brady, Belichik's golden boy quarterback, prefers a softer ball.  While it is true that the final score (45-7) belies the notion that the softer balls made  all the difference, or even a significant difference, there is no disputing that the Patriots were not using regulation footballs.

Would Andrew Luck have done better tossing a softer ball? We'll never know.  Certainly, the softer balls had no impact on the play of the Colts' defense, nor that of their offensive line.  That's not the point.

The point is that I have to cheer for the Seahawks next weekend.  The point is that this is a second offense for Belichik's Patriots.  In 2007 they were called on the NFL carpet for illegally videotaping the Jets' defensive signals during practice.  Denials, then and now, seem thin.  Tom Brady denying that he noticed a difference in the balls while he was on the field seemed disingenuous, especially following ESPN's talking head former quarterbacks easily identifying the too soft and too hard balls on Sportscenter.  After all, Newsday reported Monday that the Colts first noticed something unusual after an interception by Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson late in the second quarter, according to espn.com.

If the brief moment in time during which the linebacker held the football was enough for him to notice the softness, how is it possible for the quarterback to be clueless.

There is a process in place for a $25,000 fine for an underinflated ball.  There are calls for other sanctions - banning the coach for the Super Bowl or the 2015-16 season - but my concerns are more personal.  After having to tell Mr. 9 that his adoration of Aaron Hernandez was inappropriate since the man was awaiting trial on not one nor two but three murders, after removing Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson from his pantheon of heroes for abusing the women and children in their lives, I am now forced to inform him that his man cave, replete with its Patriot's banner and posters and other forms of fandom, is also teetering on the edge of immorality.

Where will he ever find his heroes?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winning

The notion has been roaming through my thoughts for the past few weeks - what does it mean to win? 

I started with a phrase - Winning Hearts and Minds.  From a conversation about Apocalypse Now, half listening to the men in my life dissecting the film, I wandered through history to the underlying thesis of the war - to win the hearts and minds of the populace.  If they could be convinced that Ho Chi Minh had nothing on Uncle Sam, the battle would be won.

Using napalm and supporting corrupt officials didn't help our cause, of course, but I was going elsewhere.  Does changing someone's beliefs count as a win?  By whose lights are beliefs right or wrong?  Because you are the other, with skin tinted differently, are you always in the wrong?  Was it necessary for the people to look at the world through an American lens in order for us to win? 

And why did we need to win?  The Domino Theory (if Vietnam falls to Communism, the rest of Asia will not be not far behind), perhaps?  Because we'd never lost a war? Because our soldiers had fallen and their sacrifices shouldn't be in vain? The backstory to our involvement in the conflict may never be resolved; the notion of winning lies crumpled on the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon, pictured in the faces of the Vietnamese we left behind.

They had hitched their wagons to those they perceived as winners.  Being left behind was their reward. 

I remember the vindication I felt when the war was finally over.  We'd done it.  The passion of America's youth had changed the course of history.  We'd stopped a war.  I thought we had won - the we being those who agreed with me.  Our country had certainly abandoned, if not lost, the war.  The Vietnamese were left with a damaged countryside and a communist regime; not what America considered a winning scenario. 

But I thought that I had won.

Perspective, it seems, makes a difference. 

Before being perforated, I never would have tolerated finishing last in a race.  ... or in anything else, for that matter.  Showing up was not enough.  I had to try to win. I compared myself to the first across the finish line, and I measured my competence accordingly.  In the first 10K I ran, back in 1979, I decided that winning would be completing the course in under an hour.  I was two minutes over that time.  Though proud of the accomplishment, I felt that I had failed myself. 

Failed myself.  Let myself down.  Not measured up to my own expectations.  It was a hard pill to swallow, even as I accepted congratulations for finishing the wet and muddy course.  I never ran another race for time again.

When Brenda Starr and I crossed the finish line at the Pecan Run last Fall, many minutes after the everyone else had packed up and gone home, my reaction was at the other extreme.  We had done it!  We hadn't sat down or given up or taken a lengthy break. We'd put one gimpy foot in front of the other and, with the encouragement of friends and family, we were done.  It was a modest goal, but an achievable one.  We were ecstatic.

Some piece of me still longed for the exhilaration of passing a slower participant.  Some piece of me wanted to fly by, smiling inside, knowing that someone was less than I was.

That's where I get caught up in winning.  Someone has to lose. In my youth, this was less of a problem. I was more self-absorbed, looking for ways to propel myself forward.  Now, as age and bullets and grandchild have combined to create a more mellow version of me, I'm less concerned with coming out on top.  I'm looking to win my own heart and mind, to make my own contribution the best it can be, even if it did take us an hour to walk 2.3 miles last Saturday.

We finished.  We didn't stop.  We were smiling.  And no one had to lose or sacrifice for us to feel as pleased with ourselves as we were.  I had adjusted my expectations.  I had satisfied myself.  We certainly didn't win the race in a conventional sense, but we won the race we were running.

I've converted my heart and mind.
*****
Thanks to Rain Truax for the post (here) which prompted this.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Creating a Human

She was a blob of protoplasm, carried from room to room, doted on and stared at.  She absorbed it all.

Long, slow back rubs led to cat-like stretching.  Whispering into her tiny ear brought her head closer to my mouth. Singing Miss Adelaide's songs from Guys and Dolls slowed her breathing.  She lay on my chest, swaddled or naked, rising with my every breath. 

There were creases and folds and curves to love.  The nape of her neck.... the inner bend of her elbow.... all those thigh rolls.... I could lose myself for long, lovely minutes at a time.  Her wishes were expressed in scrunched eyeballs and loud yelps, in twisting and curling away. Displeasure was clearly understandable; her face became square and purple and full of angry wrinkles.  It never felt sad; she was pissed off and letting us know it.

Falling asleep with the baby on my chest, matching inhales and exhales, everyone tiptoeing around so as not to disturb the scene.  Daddy dancing with FlapJilly swaying and dipping and twirling.  Thomas the Wonder Dog sniffing and barking and licking and taking care.  Through it all, the baby was the axis around which we rotated.

She wasn't bringing much to the table.  She didn't initiate activities, unless they were digestive in nature.  She was waking up to the world around her, and we were there to be sure that she survived.  Little Cuter kept telling her that it would be much easier to be her parent if there were words available; she'd be happy to do whatever it was that the kid wanted, if she could only deduce what it was. 

Tracking with her eyes.  Seeking the source of a familiar voice.  Finding her mouth with her hands, then individuating the fingers.  Petting the pooch with those fingers, marveling at the sensation she'd created all on her own.  Closing those fingers around Mr. Giraffe and bopping herself in the face with him.  Recognizing that getting naked and then swaddled meant bedtime, following the one arm, then the other then the legs routine with a smile on her face.  She was investigating her world one little piece at a time as we watched her grow.

She laughed out loud.  She rolled over. Then she rolled the other way.   It surprised her and she was displeased, but she got over it quickly.  There was no time spent wallowing; there were other things to learn.  The shiny Nambe rattle kept bonking her in the head; coordination was required.  Solid foods were introduced, and the tongue and lips and gums were called on to do new and more interesting things.  Peas!  Carrots!  Apples!  On her face and her fingers and down her gullet into her tummy.  Ounces and ounces of foodstuffs, pureed and, most recently, in small, soft pieces.  Without teeth, cheerios are still unapproved.  Slices of avocado can be mashed in her mouth, taking her down the path toward hot dogs and bagels. 

And now she is sitting up.  All on her own without props or encouragement, she's looking at the world head on.  In six short months the infant has vanished and a little girl has arrived.  She sits in the pink plastic car we bought her and beeps the horn.  She poses for her mother with an upright spine. 

She reaches for and knocks over the stacking toy before her and suddenly we know  - it's time to start to play!

I miss the infant I knew and loved.  I can hardly wait to become acquainted with the little girl now inhabiting her body.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Little Boys Never Change

I took the boys to the card and comic store last week.
Mr. 11 got off the bus as I was two cars behind its yellow rear.
He stopped to get the mail and to pick up the blue recorder Miss Texas had dropped that morning, thus saving it from The Schnozz's tires entering the driveway.
He wondered what adventure I had planned for his little brother; he was thrilled to be invited to join us.  "Just send him in to get me," he said, and I did.
 
The little one was very happy to share the joy with his big brother.
It's part of what makes him the kindest kid I know.
 
We drove down Campbell, looking on the east side of the street.
We knew it was near the old Coffee X-Change but we weren't precisely sure.
"There it is!" "NO"  "Uh-oh... keep going" "YES!"
Who needs Google Maps when there are little boys in the back seat?
Walking through the door was a blast from the past.
Messers 9 and 11 were easily interchangeable in my mind with Big Cuter in his youth.
They had the same determined stare.
They knew exactly what they were seeking.
Their smiles were contagious.
 
With a little bit of encouragement, Mr. 9 requested the boxes of football cards from the clerk.  He was happily perusing the plastic encased oldies but goodies until his big brother walked by and dismissed the whole endeavor.
"They don't have any good ones," Mr. 11 informed me.
 
Sadly, his little brother took the condemnation to heart and left the remaining boxes untouched.
There's so much power invested in siblings.....
 
On they moved to the comic books.
There were a lot of them.
DC and Marvel were boxed next to more obscure publications.
There was nothing overtly scatological or salacious, so I relaxed, leaning against the wall, watching.
Aquaman, Superman, Green Lantern.... those were the ones I recognized.  There were so many more that were new to me.
 
The collectibles were stacked on shelves.
Though The Simpsons are fun to watch on television, snuggled up next to Mom on the bed, there was no need to bring a plastic Marge home with us.
Decisions were not easily made.
"I'm going to collect some and then decide," was Mr. 9's plan. 

We left with six plastic wrapped comic books and two gigantic smiles.
I'd spent the time in my own head, remembering my little boy reveling in the smells and the textures of similar stores in California.  The details were different, but the feeling was the same.
 
I am so lucky to have generous friends who are willing to share their children with me.... and even luckier to have children who want to spend their afternoons with an old lady and her credit card.




 


Monday, January 19, 2015

Color Dash - 5K Redux

It's getting to be a regular thing for us.
Brenda Starr and I decided on Monday to do the Color Dash on Saturday.
Somehow, a 5K doesn't seem that daunting any more.
We're each walking with poles, which elongate our stride while providing just enough reassurance. They are equipped with curved rubber tips; Nordic walking poles rather than hiking poles, to be precise.
 We arrived early, secured perfect parking, and had a picnic.
The System, a gift from Basil St. John, had plaid cloth napkins and real plates and cutlery and with lox for protein and Simply Orange juice in the tiny china coffee mugs for Vitamin D, we feasted.
 There were food trucks, had we been less prepared. 
I was introduced to the concept of the poutine, and was left wondering about the person who would eat fries and gravy before exercising. 
We arrived ridiculously early, and had plenty of time to watch the pre-race festivities.
There was Simon Says and Macarena like line-dancing 
and there were many tutus. 
There was only one yeti (lurking at the right edge of the photo). 
 
The emcee introduced Ben's Bells, the charity reaping the benefits of our participation, and we were off.  Pink clad volunteers (like these) 
 were stationed every half mile or so, cheerfully tossing brightly dyed corn starch as we passed by.  The sun was out, the breeze was cool, the path was flat and paved, and we only paused twice for water breaks.  We never rested.
 
The course was a bit shy of the promised 3.1 miles, but we calculate that we covered that much between the rest room and the picnic table and the pre-game and just getting to the starting line. 
 
We were tired and ready to be done and very proud ... and colorful. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dealing With the World

It's been one of those weeks.  The celebrations are finished, the decorations are boxed and stored.  The house has a curiously empty feeling; it's waiting for Valentines Day to make an appearance.  For now, I'm using up all the half burned candles in the pantry, making a drippy mess on the end table, not worrying that the dark green pillar looks pretty creepy next to the deep purple pillar beside it.

TBG and I are concentrating on getting our lives in order for the next era.  He turned 65 this month.  That means Social Security and Medicare and pension decisions must be made.  These require the computer.  He made an appointment with me, his secretary, to work on the applications.  We spent the morning filling in little boxes, answering security questions, deciding whether to take it all or spread it out, whether to kill trees and get those pieces of paper which warm the cockles of his heart or to have things delivered electronically, through me, to him. 

He made phone calls, following up on applications submitted but not reviewed.  Medicare's website says the turn around is three or four days.  It's been a month.  The woman on the phone told TBG that everything looks fine and that there is nothing else he needs to do and that it's all okay.  There was no mention of the discrepancy between the expectations set up by the website and our actual experience.

There is no further recourse.  His insurance is in the hands of the bureaucracy.  Let's hope he stays healthy until it is resolved.

My pool company seems to be going through a divorce.  I received a poorly constructed letter from the General Manager of the new company informing me that
Due to the difference between the Owner of (my current provider) and some of his employees in the direction he wants to take the Company, I have decided to form a new company that will be totally orientated to providing excellent customer service.
Run-on sentences make me anxious.  Orientated is not a word.  There is only one difference? It must have been a doozy.

I'm curious.  What direction can a pool cleaning company take?  There are chemicals, there is scraping, there is skimming.  The pool doesn't change location. The requirements remain the same.  Customer service is all they provide.  There is rapid turnover in the industry; we rarely have the same technician for more than a month or two.  A quick survey of other pool owners tells the same tale; no one is thrilled.

Do I worry about the random capitalizations in the letter?  Thank You in Advance has the grace to put in in lower case, but there is no comma before the following signature line.  It is our goal to put our customer's first led me down a merry path of wondering what belonged to me which would be put first.... my pool, my wallet, my ease with the person doing the work?

I love the bookkeeper at my current company.  I've left her a message.  I've decided to follow her where ever she goes.  It's the best decision given the paucity of information available at the moment. She's the only one who's been consistent over the last eight years.

No matter how scattered or overwhelmed I am during the Holiday Celebration Tour, there's an underlying joy which carries me through.  Now, though, it's January.  Time to confront real life head on. The mundane..... there's a comfort to it, for sure.  I just miss the frisson of happy I felt last month.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

More Stroll and Roll

The pictures warm the cockles of my heart.
These were taken by Margo who brought Miss Sugar
and Sara, who brought Earl,
 
 to the Stroll and Roll.
 
While some of the kids couldn't wait to start chalking the path,
others couldn't get enough off the dogs.
The girls were interested in the free t-shirts, but Miss Sugar found a friend all her own.
She was about as soft a pooch as I'd ever felt.
Being so low to the ground gave me an excuse to sit in the watching-kids-play-soccer chairs and rest.
Mr. 9 thought that Miss Sugar was a lot smaller than his Staffordshire Terriers,
and therefore would be much easier to walk.
Earl, on the other hand, was a much sturdier creature.
This little girl is keeping all her body parts close.
Earl, being a Therapy Dog, knows to give her space.
So, nose to nose, they became acquainted.
Tentative but brave brings gentle hands to Earl, who's resting comfortably on his mat.
The ground is pretty cold for naked butts.
It's hard to tell who is more grateful, the petter or the pettee.
And then there was Violet, who pranced and presented herself and was a quiet companion as the artist worked.
She went on a walk later on.
                                 It gives new meaning to this picture.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Withholding

Connections are tricky.  Families are complicated.  Personalities get in the way of conventional relationships.  Expectations are raised and dashed and often it's the youngest of those involved who are hurt the most.  There's almost nothing that can be done.... or so it seems.

There are people in our lives with whom we are bound to interact. Siblings.....Parents...Aunts and Uncles and Cousins and Grandparents.... society expects us to know where they are and what they are doing.  Holiday celebrations are designed to bring us closer together, to show our faces to one another, to relive and rehash and reconvene.... often with disastrous consequences.

An aunt reaches out, shares her children and her experience and her love... such as it is.  She creates an attachment, she sets expectations for the future, she becomes part of the extended family.  The littlest one is thrilled.  His family is small and this is a fantastic expansion.

And then, as she always does, as she's done since she was a little kid, as she will, no doubt, continue to do as she enters her dotage, the aunt creates a scene.  She's right.  She's always right.  She knows best.  She always has and she always will.  Her opinions are golden, her plans perfect, her advice solid. 

No matter if you come at the issue from a slightly different perspective.  No matter if you think the issue is none of her (DAMN) business.  No matter if you weren't looking for counsel on that particular matter. 

Agree, or lose the relationship.  She's very clear about that.  You're on her bus or standing on the sidewalk watching it drive away. 

That's easier to deal with when you are a grown up, even if it tears at your heartstrings and puts you in a sad space.  But when you are ten, when you've just begun to explore family outside the four walls of your house, that loss is devastating. 

There are cousins attached, cousins you'll no longer see, even though they were quite interesting to you.  Circumventing the grown-ups is tricky when you are ten. 

I can try to replace what is lost, but the larger issue remains.

Those of us on the outside, connected but not involved in this particular piece of her drama ... although we've all had our own personal share of her drama ..... try to reassure.  "It's her loss."  "You are just the next in a long line of those she's alienated."  "It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her."  Coming from experience - long, painful, awkward experience - we know our words are true but ultimately useless.

The loss is there.  She cannot be retrieved unless she's willing.  She's not..... not without an apology and an agreement that she was right and you were entirely in the wrong. 

What she gets out of the tumult remains a mystery.  Being at the center of the drama is certainly a piece of it; it's something to talk about, to rage against.  With drama comes attention, comfort, solace, conversation.  If life goes smoothly, the phone won't ring.  If there's An Event, people will come running.

I'm sure she thinks she was doing a service and was poorly repaid.  That's the problem with those who are so convinced of the rightness of their position.  There's no conversation.  There's no discussion.  She can't hear it because she's firmly dug into her position, and she's not budging. 

I've watched this play out for decades.  It's an awful quandary.  I try to remove negativity from my personal space, but this little slice is permanently attached.  Family is family and the ties bind tightly.    She cannot be avoided, but she can be marginalized.  That leaves the angst, and the possibility that her personality will overflow the boundaries accepted in normal society and her venom will spread. 

I've had relatives I couldn't invite anywhere, relatives I couldn't take out in public, because there was no filter between brain and mouth.  It's harder when the trauma is fresh, when you've invited the toxicity into your house and then have to wait for her to decide to go home.  She's left behind vitriol and unhappiness and a sense of loss mixed with confusion.

It's the confusion that's the worst of it. 

She's awful.  Why would I want her around? 

She's my cousin.  I miss her.

It's a predicament, that's for sure.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Snippet

I spent last week trying to take care of myself. I decided to lose myself in literature.  I went to the library and took out the last five books of Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone mystery series. 

Muller has a great sense of place.  I turn the corners with her.  I recognize the buildings she describes.  I've sat on the grass in the parks she traverses.  I was delightfully invested in the characters and the surroundings.

I wasn't thinking about anything Tucson related at all.  That was the goal.  I was happy,  I went through one, two, three and a half books reveling in my new companions' travels and travails in San Francisco until Sharon McCone hears about the shooting in Tucson... where "Gabby Giffords was shot.... and six people died.... one of them a kid"

NO. That was my kid. I was there.  And that's not where I wanted to be again. 

The best laid plans.......

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