Dream

I feel certain that my suffering is someone else’s fault, I just cannot settle on whose fault it is.

My sister and I decided to finally visit Walt Disney’s hometown. She had taken the day off work.  We didn’t have a plan.  I had a bad cold.  I drove her car because driving is one of her anxiety things.  “Let’s just go,”  I said, and we went.

I wish it were further away, it was only a couple of hours.

I believe the reason for my suffering is that not one of my roommates took out the trash during the three weeks I was gone, and when I opened the lid, there were wriggling and rice-shaped bugs, and I had to, for the third time this summer, slowly yank up the bag, tie it, carry the trash can to the bathtub, pour in an environmentally insensitive amount of bleach, turn on the tap, let it sit, dump it, dry it, replace it, bleach the bathtub.

I actually felt okay while doing this.  I had good rubber gloves.  It was the hating that I had to do it that made me suffer.

In Marceline, Missouri, the Walt Disney Museum is in the former Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe train station.  Every hour a train rattles the building as it breezes by.  It is the only thing rattling in Marceline.  The first thing we saw, driving in, was their incredibly sad, abandoned Sonic.

A small town without a Sonic, or a Dairy Queen, or a Tastee-Freeze.

The museum was well-made, well-written, well-kept, and after browsing the exhibits, as my sister was purchasing me a t-shirt because I was broke, the lady at the counter told us the Disney house was still there.  “Someone lives in it,” she said.

“Wow, who lives in it?”

“I do,” another woman said.  She’s the director of the museum.  “I have quite a muse,” she said.

My t-shirt has an inside-baseball kind of Disney reference.  You wouldn’t get it.

Walt Disney bought his parents a home in California, so they would be closer to him.  His parents had struggled financially, moved all over hoping for a better shot at making it.  They moved into the California house, he sent repairmen from the studio to work on the furnace, which his mother said was not working properly.  They did not fix it.  We know this because his mother died.  Whose fault was it?

The furnace maker.  The house seller.  The studio workmen.  The son.

My sister and I had ice cream at a place on Main Street.  Disney thought of Marceline as his hometown, and imagined Marceline’s Main Street when he envisioned the Main Street at Disneyland.  Actual Main Street in Marceline is like that of many small towns now, half abandoned.  Insurance agents.  Shops only sometimes open.

Did Disney have an idealized vision of this town?  He returned many times, once holding a movie premiere there.  Sure, he had an idealized vision I wish I could hold onto, as I get older, and idealized vision of something.  A place in my head that is both safe and exciting, inspiring and warm.  Don’t we still have room for idealized visions?

Here is the hagiography: he hung out under this tree. My sister and I kept calling it the “wishing tree,” but it is “the dreaming tree.”  We are wishers more than dreamers?  What is the difference?

You go see the tree.  There is a sign.

Okay, it’s not that tree.  That tree died.

It’s the second tree, but it was planted and blessed by a Disney descendant, and watered with water from Disneyland, so there.

As a child, trees were what I named.  I have never loved mountains or rivers or the ocean, only trees.  At the first home I remember, the tulip tree in the side yard.  At my elementary school, Agatha the crabapple (yes, I named them), Mary Ann, next to the creek.  There were river birches in the courtyard of my first apartment alone, and an oak behind my carriage house that was critical to my well-being.

Disney’s father did not think being an artist was a “real job.”  They did not get along well.

A fortune teller told Disney he would die at age thirty-five.  He didn’t, of course.  According to some sources, Disney refused to attend funerals, or to speak about death at all.  It’s hard to know about someone so famous, so mythologized.  The mythologizer becomes the mythologized.

We walked up to the tree.  Next to the special tree was a tree that had been cut down and chopped into firewood-sized pieces.  We were like, I guess we should touch it and wish something.  So we did.

Dreaming tree, not wishing tree, though.  Dreaming is without agenda, wishing is directive.  Dreaming tree.

How to Defeat Nazis, or, Haven’t We Done This Before Except the President Was the Good Guy?

Top Cottage was the little retreat FDR had built for himself, but only used a bit.  He had a few folks up there, a king and queen, sat with Winston Churchill and talked about the bomb.  Then he died.  FDR.  Though Churchill died, too, I’m sad to say.

They both could be assholes.  Complete assholes.  No doubt.

Not the type of assholes who lose all control of their faculties and blather to the public like confused toddlers.

I digress.

How could we be confronted with Nazis again?

May 8, 1945, V-E Day.

I went down to protest near T Tower last night.  I am working with my anxiety, I said to myself, walking through Rockefeller Center, and then decided to take half an ativan.  Manhattan.  Rush hour.  Protest.  It was asking a lot of my nervous system.  I allowed myself.

At 53rd and 5th, I was welcomed into the barricade by someone in a day-glo vest.  Then someone else offered me a poster board, and a marker.  I wrote on my pink poster.  We listened, cheering at the right moments, yelling the things we yell now.  It was supposed to be a protest in support of immigrants, but then the president defended Nazis, and the signs reflected either a focus on the already agreed upon issue, or a general anger.

A Jewish woman next to me said, “I’m afraid the media will make it look like we’re all like that,” she gestured to some T supporters waving an Israeli flag.  She turned over her sign and wrote on the back, another sentiment about immigrants.

I thought about how DT said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue.  He was in his building, and we were all on 5th Avenue chanting against him.

A reporter came by and interviewed the guy next to me.  The guy was a playwright, said his parents were immigrants.  I agreed to be interviewed, too.  The woman next to me was interviewed, explaining her passionate connection between what had happened to Jews then, and what was happening now.

The protest ended and we went to our subways like pool balls to pockets.

I didn’t really feel better, but I didn’t feel worse.

I had to walk twelve blocks to Grand Central.  I got a train home.  I meditated.  I ate pizza and salad.  I did some yoga for sore legs.  It felt good.

What do we do when Nazis march?  Where is Indiana Jones?

FDR had a cocktail.  He worked on his stamp collection.  He worried about his house catching on fire.  I mean his actual house.

The person who went to Top Cottage, only a month ago, seems like someone else now.  Every month now it’s like, “Was I ever so young?”  That I lived in the United States of no one had ever said “Grab ’em by the pussy” on tape and been elected president nonetheless?  That I lived in the United States of It’s Fine To Attack Veterans When You Yourself Have Never Been to War.  Or the United States of People of Mexican Descent Can’t Be Judges.

I got home today and had a cocktail, since that was what FDR would have done.

I then began itching, on the side of my left hand, on my knee, on the back of my shoulder, on my elbow.  I am bitten up though I hardly went outside today.  Just to and from buses and trains, and a little walking around campus.

I got my Hydrocortisone cream, 1% with aloe, and smeared it on each place that itched.

Not so very long ago (was I ever so young?) I eschewed any treatment for bug bites.  I would put ice on them, or pinch them for a second.  Why spend money on temporary relief?

There’s a lot to be said for temporary relief.

I was the only white person in my office today, and the only white person on the bus.  You ride this bus, Nazis! I thought.

I’m not sure bus-riding is an answer.

We protect the speech of “I think this,” but we do not protect “I’m gonna kill you.” Right?  “I’m gonna kill you” is illegal.  It’s enough.  We draw lines.

Stamp collection.  For me, stamp collection is “Call the Midwife,” the socialist wonderland where even the tragedies are deeply meaningful and never forgotten.

Seventy-two years.  That’s how long it’s been.  What is inside?  What stays?  People’s general affection for one another, people want to like each other, until they have gone without a lot, or suffered a lot.  Rare exceptions.

Commitment to forward progress, developing wider and wider groups of people willing to defend the racially oppressed, people with “weird” religions, people who can’t afford school, people who won’t express their sexuality the “right” way, or their gender the “right” way.  People who like to be in Times Square, or in the Ozarks, naked as the day they were born.  People who don’t learn quickly, or in the usual way.  People who don’t, for whatever reason, have penises.  People who don’t speak English.  People who can’t afford health insurance.

We are working on taking care of all these people, being responsible to each other, for each other, in awesome defiance of a president who, even with a Jewish daughter, can’t restrain himself from siding with anti-Semites.

Forward.  Resting.  Ignoring no celebration.  Forward another seventy-two.

And don’t forget to make your V-T Day plans.

We’ll write musicals about this.

Anxiety Goes to the Monastery

Photo on 8-4-17 at 8.41 PM

 

Oh.  That’s the problem.  Not the panic attacks, the anxiety, the what happened and didn’t in New York, the what does it mean to not be a New Yorker or to leave.  Not any of that.

My sister friend asked what I was afraid of, and I said, “I’m not worthy.”

Nuns again for the win. “You’ll take that to Kansas City, or New York, or wherever,” she said.  I knew, so much that I cried, because it sucked.

She gave me sound suggestions for feeling my feelings and befriending them.  I knew it was all very true, very scary, and not at all what I wanted to do.

One part of my visit to the monastery is always raising the demons.  First I rest, then I feel great, then I raise my demons, and I gotta work with them, and it’s hard.

Usually I stay long enough to make peace with them, and leave in peace.  This time I left with my demons still actively eating at my stomach.  And ready to do some google searches for images of demons.  How do people

 

“I’m the only person to sit in your office who actually is unworthy,” I said, though I knew she would say, “No.  And you’re not unique.”

She meant that in a good way.

My anxiety is a dark slate blue and enormous, goes on forever.  It’s a black hole at my solar plexus.  I remember when I learned the sun would go out someday.  It was the first time I was really afraid.  It is negative infinity.  Its enormity means I am alone like last human on earth alone.  Last human in the universe alone.  Last human ever.

It sends out black insects that fill my mind and my heart and my lungs and I can’t see or think properly.

If you had meditated more.  If you were more friendly.  If you worked out.  If you did yoga every day.  If you ate more vegetables.  If you didn’t sneak out of work 10 minutes early.  If you didn’t spend so much money.  If you watched less TV.  If you called people you should call.  If you opened your mail.

Not thinking, though, she said, not storytelling, feeling.  Feeling and describing and holding.

I’m really good at thinking.  Really good.

My Christian tradition tells me that I am not in charge, that I am limited by my humanity.  I only have certain talents, a certain amount of time.  It tells me that shortened, broken, disastrous-looking things can move into resurrection.

That’s all very nice in theory.  I’d rather be perfectly happy all the time, never worry again about having a panic attack, or feel like I’m about to shake apart and burst with anxiety.

I’d rather be madly in love, have had all my dreams come true immediately, have yummy meals every meal, great exercise, a steady, rewarding career, and have already won a Nobel Prize for writing.  Yep.

How are you Christian and anxious?  How do you have a very deep and real faith, and still lose it all in terror?

It happens.  It happens just as much as it happens.

My sister friend said, “It’s because you want to be such a good person that you worry.  If you didn’t care, it wouldn’t matter to you.”

That does sound good.  But you don’t know me.

I leave work ten minutes early!  I ignore the trash hoping someone else will take it out.  I don’t open my mail because it scares me.  I buy things until my card gets declined because I’m too scared to keep track of my money.  I watch so much television.  No one watches more television than I do.  No one runs away from her problems more.

No one runs toward challenges that are too big, and too scary, in spite of having a definitively diagnosed anxiety disorder.  Why do I do that?  Of course I have to take medication to go into Manhattan.  IT’S MANHATTAN.

I’m a terrible, terrible mess who can’t remember anything good or nice she’s every done, and is convinced I have caused another round of wrestling with the black hole.

I’m not enough.  I don’t have enough, I can’t control enough, I can’t be enough.  I try, and I can’t, and it makes it worse.  I have to try, though, right?

Sister prayed with me and hugged me, and I returned to my room at the monastery.

I curled up in a ball on my bed.

I drew my black hole, many times.  I wrote for my demon.  Hello, my name is HELL.  Hello, I SUCK AT EVERYTHING.  Hi, I’m BROKE.  Good morning, I’m DESPONDENT.  Hello, there, I’m STRANGLED BY GRIEF.

Then I wrote something weird: “How brave are you?  I learn.  How smart are you?  I’m curious.”  I liked that.  That sounded right.

I folded it up, took it down to the chapel, put it on the altar.

I still felt awful.

I bought a vial of holy water.  To go.

I was not ready to go.  I felt shaky and exhausted, though I had slept and eaten.

I was supposed to stop, breathe, and then focus on a positive thought.

Had I felt and held my fear enough?

 

I was not enough.  My hunger to make myself enough only gets bigger and bigger.  It only raises the jumps every time I pass, and it doesn’t care if I fell, or if I fell twice.

I left anyway, with my pictures and the book I got, and the handouts, and my journal, and all my quotes from all the books I read.  And instead of watching TV when I got home, I would tell my parents what I had learned about myself, they would shrug reassuringly, like, definitely, we’ve all been there, and I would write a little, because that’s one way I can feel my right size, not so small I can go down the drain, or so big I will blow up.  Just right.

 

East to West

IMG_2875

Eleanor Roosevelt has one white rose on the desk she doesn’t use anymore, because she is dead.

My mother and I sat in the reconstructed saloon of a German family.  Her grandfather had taken his salooning skills all the way to Nebraska, others had stopped short of that.  Others had lived in Germantown, in New York City.  That’s far enough.  Germans took their whole family to the bar.  Everyone ate, the children drank kinder beer.  They brought in kegs, the wife made sausages and bread, everyone ate.

This was illegal: it was illegal for bars to be open on Sundays, although it was the only day people had off, the only day they could go to a bar.  There was a complicated system of it being illegal but okay.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s front door has a patch of stained glass in the center.  No one knows what it means.  I thought: Joseph leading Mary on a donkey, to Egypt.  Why did I think that?  They could have been going to Bethlehem, or it could be some other scene, entirely.  The Parks service, the historians, do not know what it is, or where it came from.

Our tour guide told us the Roosevelt historic site recently went through training on LGBTQ issues and what we know of Ms Roosevelt.

Another tour guide told us the ceiling is falling in, a little, in FDR’s childhood home, and the current and threatened funding cuts to the National Parks Service were threatening their ability to keep the site safe for future generations.

At the Morgan Library, we peered at J.P. Morgan’s Gutenberg Bible, and J.P. Morgan’s cicada brooches, made by Goths, around the year 500.  Cicadas disappear, seem dead and gone, but revive.

I saw the freak show at Coney Island.  It’s finally back.  “Three dollars,”the lady said, in front of the tent.  It was starting to rain.

I paid.  Cases on sawhorses, typed signs, dusty skeletons, taxidermy.  Then a lady who did that hollow-bottle-mix-up trick, halfheartedly.  More heartedly, she swallowed various swords for us.  I tipped her and she gave me a copy of her comic, which I began to read on the subway, and dissolved out of.

In Poughkeepsie, New York, we sat in the downstairs bar of an Italian restaurant, returning me to my vow to eat in a local Italian place everywhere I go.  A family, the family of our waitress, talked loudly and laughed.  “How long has this place been here?” I asked the waitress.

“Oh, a long time,” she said.  “Like ten years.”

I drank a glass of wine from a glass the size of my head and ate their specialty pizza.

A small child was put on the floor to practice walking.  All the child’s adults danced to “Friends in Low Places,” and looked hard at the child to make her dance, too.  She just looked back at them, confused.

“That’s a bad hotel,” our driver told us.  “Everyone there is on welfare.  And there is something in the air conditioner that stinks, like mold.  Everyone who goes there comes out smelling like that, it’s terrible.”

In the cab to the airport, to leave New York, our driver turned around several times, looking curious.  I don’t think he had enough English to ask what that sound was.
“Cat,” I said.  “I have a cat.”  My cat, in the carrier, was bitching and moaning as she usually does.

“Oh!” he said.  “Scared me!”

We were able to ascertain he had a dog, but not a cat.

He asked, “Where you going?”

“Kansas City,” I said.  “In the middle.  In the middle of the United States.  In the middle of America.”

“Oh.”

“Where are you from?”

“China.”

“What part?”

“South,” he said.

It seemed impolite to inquire further, as his English was a struggle.  It took us a while to figure out he was saying, “What terminal?”  Terminal B.

In Poughkeepsie, they have a long railroad bridge that has been turned into a pedestrian bridge.  The thing to do is just to walk it.  We didn’t.  I wrapped up my work, and packed my enormous summer visit bags, and went west.

For/Fourth/Forth

fireworks 2.jpg
I make positive protest posters.  They say what I believe, what I want, rather than what I’m against.

One of my signs was “Freedom from Fear,” copyright Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1941.

I am for freedom, but not the freedom libertarians talk about, which is no freedom at all, the freedom to die alone and miserable with a gun in your hands.  I want freedom that comes from logic and wisdom and connection.

“In future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

“The first is freedom of speech and expression– everywhere in the world.”

Freedom to express one’s political opinions, particularly about the politicians one employs and the job they are doing, without fear of personal attacks in return.  We can critique them, that is our right, and they do not critique us.  By “us,” I include the press, who are “us.”

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his [sic] own way– everywhere in the world.”

Freedom to not be judged by the way one worships, or does not worship.  Freedom from judgment for those who desire to become Americans, and are willing to join our secular society.

“The third is freedom from want– which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants– everywhere in the world.”

Freedom from want of health care.  Freedom that comes from government ensuring no one profits from another’s ill health.

Freedom that comes from a government that redistributes wealth to decrease crime and illiteracy and addiction and self-destruction of our citizens.

A commitment not to “jobs,” but to the government making its priority to provide education and opportunities to all Americans, not merely those with the money to fund political campaigns.

“The fourth is freedom from fear– which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world.”

Freedom from fear of personal attack by our politicians, who work for us.  The freedom from fear of assumptions that one’s culture, more than another’s, relies on violence or oppression, when all human cultures include a history of violence and oppression.

Freedom from an obsession with terrorism that stuns and paralyzes our better angels.  People go on, through terrorism.  They actually do.  It isn’t, at least not yet, an atom bomb that would end us all.  We work to catch what we can.  We accept what we can’t, the cost of a free society.

Freedom from fear as our primary operating system, fear as our primary motivation for our immigration policy, our budget, our votes.  The scope of our imagination motivates our immigration policy, our budget, our votes.  What could happen?  What could we make?

We form our military policy from a sense of protection, and coalition building with our neighbors to make all of us safer.  Power distributed more evenly is safer for all.

Freedom from fear that the thirst from political power will trump the safety of our institutions.

“This is no vision of a distant millennium.  It is a definite basis for a kid of world attainable in our own time and generation.  That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

In our time, the tyranny of the presidency used to make money, to bully, to reel in allies who may think, “We can use him.”  Dictators meaning people who take office and show no knowledge, or respect, for our traditions, the office, our branches of government, and the way we want them balanced and respected.

These are what I want, what I dream, what we deserve.

Image: Fireworks Display over Lagoon, from the Chicago World’s Fairs series, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What is the Whale

IMG_2757.jpg

We were given square canvases and teal and purple and white paint.  I found the teal and the purple horrible.  The teacher was going to guide people to paint a dandelion with its winged wishing seeds in the wind.  We did not have to paint that.

It took me a while to figure I wanted to paint a whale.  I sketched from a picture on my phone, I made a shape to trace on the canvas by running my pen over the outline repeatedly, until the liquid of the ink weakened the paper so much I could tear it out.  Then I mixed the teal and purple into a navy for the water.  The whale could be white.  I was pleased with it.  The Whale.

Later that day I was with a friend and walked past the Sea Glass carousel in Battery Park.  She is a native New Yorker, and had never heard of it.  “Will they let us ride?” she said.

“I think so,” I said.

We got tickets.

We entered the bowl, so to speak, it is shiny silver on the outside, and round, and the fish are soft neon pastels, with a plastic softness and bubbles in them and tiny sparkles.  I saddled up inside a pink fish, it was not very wide, just wide enough for a person to sit inside the “o” left in his body.

Then they began: the music, a twinkly classical piece I couldn’t identify, and the moment of the fish was not around, simply, it was rotating on four separate turntables, and up and down, and the whole thing was rotating, too, slowly, not like some octopus puke-ride, but like a loose dance.  Around, up, weaving in and out, seeing one side, another, one fellow fish rider, another, and outside it was becoming dusk, it was the longest day of the year.

I took the train past Philadelphia, late at night I arrived.  My brother and his fiance stood at the little station to pick me up.  They took me to their little duplex, up the steps to their spare bedroom.  They had put a pillow shaped like a whale on my bed.  It was a whale shape, white, with a blue outline and eye.

Is the whale about something you can never have, but are always chasing?

Is it the thing that swallows you when you try to run away, and gives you a space to think long and hard?

Is the whale the same as the blue glass one I bought during my worst spell of health, years ago, and there was something about the weight and smoothness and color and palm-sidedness of it that soothed me?

Is the whale the playful signal that the New York waters are cleaner than they’ve been for years, thus the whales are again in our waters, ramble-swimming and curious-surfacing?

A very large head, a tiny eye.

Is it the whale of the Natural History Museum, who hangs impossibly from one small spot on his lower back, and forever stays almost dived into that sea life room?  The whale who is annually vacuumed, with a long, long attachment.

A huge self, quiet until she sings, underwater almost always, but for air, only for want of taking in air through a single hole, she must surface, she may surface, she can.

Aside: the music for the Sea Glass Carousel is:  “Aquarium” by Camille Saint-Saëns; Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Mozart; “Daphnis et Chloé,” Suite No. 2, by Maurice Ravel; “Dance of the Knights” from “Romeo and Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev; and “La Mer” by Claude Debussy, arranged in new ways, with new instrumentation, by composer Teddy Zambezi.  More details.

The Office

When I worked downtown at my dad’s office, I saw my dad’s secret life.  I saw that the people who worked for him thought he was fair, and solid, and a little crazy, all of which I knew was true. I was sixteen, and I did everything I could to show them I was a hard worker, not spoiled, and not a snitch.

One of his secretaries was about to get married.  Someone brought in a book with pictures of naked men, and they tittered at it, and said they shouldn’t show it to me.  I was seventeen, not scandalized or impressed.  It was funny to me that they found the book so lurid, being grown people.

Dad and I sometimes ate lunch together that summer.  There are six kids in my family, so this alone time with Dad was strange and good.

We went to an Italian place for lunch.  I remember they had Ott’s salad dressing.  Recently my roommate threw out my Ott’s in my Brooklyn refrigerator.  Otherwise she did beautiful work and I am grateful, but salad dressing doesn’t go bad!  There is no other salad dressing with horseradish in it.

I was delighted that the guy who clearly owned the lunch place knew my dad, they chatted.  Clearly Dad had been going there forever, getting the same thing every time.  I was a getting a secret view of my dad, a place he could be free in a different way.  Someday I would have my own home-away-from-home restaurants, with kind and generous proprieters.

The downtown crowd at that time was so small, it was like its own little small town.

Walking to lunch, or to make the daily deposit at the bank, we would pass this old fountain that looked like silver trees.  That was where the homeless and the sketchy hung out, and you were supposed to walk past their quickly, so they wouldn’t draw you into their dangers.  I didn’t know anything about poverty then.

There were also ladies in heels and skirts, holding them so they wouldn’t blow up when the wind ran up the canyons of the buildings.  I wore long skirts then, anyway.

By dinnertime downtown, everything was closed up, and only a few sketchy wanderers, or people who were going to an evening event like the opera or the circus, would be downtown.

The lawyers I saw in movies and on TV made eloquent speeches in court.  I knew my dad went to court sometimes, but that he wasn’t the kind of lawyer who studied evidence and persuaded jurors and knew criminals.  Mostly he wrote and read and went to meetings.  That was a bummer.

Rarely, he had to go out of town for work, to do a “bond deal.”  I had no idea what that meant.  For one bond deal, he went to New York, and stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria.  He came back with a box of lotions and shampoo from his hotel, which I treasured.

I never thought of his work world as a world of men, though I could have, I guess since he was always so insistent about me looking like a “lady lawyer,” and learning to mow the lawn.  Powerful, independent women were valued in our family.  My “lady lawyer” outfit was a white blouse with navy polka dots and a bow to tie at the throat, with a navy skirt.  It made me feel extremely grown up.  The only feeling I ever wanted to have was “grown up.”

Even now, I guess it’s one of my favorite feelings.  I’ve got this!  It’s probably one of my dad’s favorite feeling, too.  We like to take care of people, not necessarily in a touchy-feely way, more of a practical, protective way.

During the short period when he was single, after divorcing my mom and before remarrying, he took pride in teaching us to make salad, explaining he used to be the salad guy at a restaurant. He bought us little aprons to wear in the kitchen when we were on kitchen duty.  I cut the tip of my ring finger off, cutting radishes.  I preferred to help my little sister, get her into her overalls.  She had an incredibly adorable collection of Osh Kosh b’Gosh outfits.  She had the short and long overalls, the short and long sleeved shirts, mix and match, and I’m frustrated I can no longer dress her like that.

I loved Dad’s giant desk, his enormous swivel chair.  I loved that the Law Building sign was right behind his head.    I loved that the Law building in downtown Kansas City was abandoned, full of pigeons and crackheads or whatever.  (The building has since been torn down, and is a parking lot.)  I loved the leather, and the conservatism of the law. I loved how everything in the office was so heavy, physically and aesthetically.  In complete opposition to his in-the-wind childhood as a Navy brat, we had a deeply settled home.  Nothing was going nowhere.

I loved seeing how the other lawyer and my dad operated their weird work marriage.  They had a shorthand, and jokes, and rituals that I was on the outside of.  For dozens of years, there is an envelope they deliver to one of their clients.  It has a name: the Niffi ‘lope.

To the other attorney, I was the impish, trouble maker girl, oh no!  She has another ticket!  I happily rarely availed myself of the lawyer’s daughter privileges.  Maybe two speeding tickets.  A couple of fender benders.

My dad’s work world was hidden, but also very much a part of our family, as with any family business.  The real estate market, and the economy, would make our boat rise or fall, and we got used to that.  Only at the beginning of his career did he work for someone else.  I remember that man for the cigar boxes he gave me, Partegas, they have my favorite yellow inside the lid.  And I remember all the z’s in his name, probably because I have one, too.

My sixteenth summer I reorganized the files in the space next to the offices.  My dad rented two suites.  The one on the left was unfinished space, just bare shelves and boxes and columns.  I gave numbers to the boxes, rearranged them.  I listened to the White Album over and over and over.  I had stolen my dad’s Beatles CDs, and he would never get them back.

I was in frequent and passionate conflict with my dad through my adolescence and early twenties, the evangelical Republican dad versus the ecumenical leftist.  But I obsessively listened to the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix (the same music he listened to at my age) and I wore a brown corduroy blazer of his, until its linings wore out.

After my dad moved his office to the suburbs, downtown Kansas City went from ghostly to hopping.  They are turning his building into more fancy apartments.  I prefer the ghostliness, the otherworldliness, the half-emptiness, that I first knew.

Image: The Law Building, 12th Street and Grand, Kansas City, 1941.  Anderson, Kansas City, Missouri, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.