Balloons

I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with DT being in town.  One great benefit of being in Kansas City is that one never has to see “Trump” on anything, except that one chiropractor on 93rd Street, which I am sure is no affiliation.  The provinces, as I think of out here, in the provinces we are a little protected.

But then I turned on the TV for background noise (this is one way I seduce myself into working from home), and “The Price Is Right” was on, which was perfect background noise.

The local news interrupted the showcase showdown.  This is the airport!  He is here.

My body filled with adrenaline, feet to crown of head, I got up, threw on clothes, deodorant, sneakers, texted my friend who was already at the protest.

I made myself drink a glass of water.  I stopped and bought three mylar balloons because I wanted to write three things on them.  Then I drove downtown.

My friend had suggested parking far from the action, and I did park far off, and started walking.  The sign I took is a little ambiguous, well, it shouldn’t be, but is: Celebrate Immigration, Cherish Journalism, Love Truth.  In our current situation, all even the last proposition is controversial.

So as I walked, and walked past some old ladies with badges who looked like they might be part of the event, and a table of Trump t-shirts and buttons, and a table of Fuck Trump t-shirts and badges.  A guy yelled after me, “We love immigrants, too!” which from his tone I could tell we had different ideas of what “love” meant.

And I’ve always been instructed, as a protestor, not to respond to hecklers, to respond to any feedback with a thumbs up, a smile, a wave.  If they’re for you, this looks kind, and if they’re against you, it makes them look like assholes.  (Thank you to Julie O’Conner and the animal rights kids who mentored me through my first protests.)

My balloons were bouncing along behind me.  One said, FREE PRESS, one said LOVE IMMIGRANTS, and one said TRUTH.  The helium seemed to have little effect, compared to the wind.  I felt like I had brought three inflatable puppies.

I passed a few other folks who looked at my sign and tried to decipher it.  And a few who gave me a thumbs up.  And two who gave me a high five, also.  And a lot of people squatting and smoking outside their office buildings, on break.  Wearing uniforms.  And people wearing their work badges, walking in twos to get lunch, or to get some air that was actually relatively fresh that day.  In the shade, it was comfortable.

I turned right and furiously climbed the hill across downtown.  I was a little sweaty and my calves strained a little.  It was a lot of Kansas City walking, not a lot of New York walking.  Seventeenth to 10th, and Baltimore to Broadway.  I got to Grand before I realized that I was going the wrong way.

A man came out of the building where I was standing in the shade realizing I had gone the wrong way in my own city, well, the city I’ve lived in the longest, by far.  “My friend is at 10th and Broadway,” I told this office guy.

“Yeah, that’s down there,” he said, as if I were straight off the turnip truck.

“Oh, yeah,” I said.  You see, I really do have no sense of direction.

I went back down the hill.  I might have realized my mistake because my church is on Broadway, but no.  I made it to Broadway and my fellow protestors.  Four corners of 10th and Broadway had people with their signs.  The kids with bullhorns, and hippie lady with facial hair, the older veterans, quiet with flags, the gay dudes, one of whom held an American flag upside down.  The people who just stood, they didn’t have a sign.  Some familiar faces, now that I have been to a few protests here.  The Poor People’s Campaign people.  The Black Lives Matter.  The moms against guns.  The immigration people.  We get together now.

And we chanted, as we do.  I learned some new ones.  We struggled over: “The people/united/shall never be….”  Some thought defeated, some thought divided.  Rhyme is so important in English.  I can’t emphasize that enough.

My balloons were in the way, refusing to float up over our heads, ready to bop someone in the face.  So I turned and tied their ribbon strings to the street barricade behind us.  And next time I looked back, Truth, Immigrants, and the Free Press had disappeared.

When the presidential motorcade zoomed around the corner, a couple of blocks behind us, people started shouting, “Fuck Trump!  Fuck you!” Which I did not enjoy.  I mean, when I listen to NPR in my car, which is too often, I frequently say, “Or, you could go fuck yourself,” but that is me alone expressing myself.  I don’t want rage in public.  In public I want to get together, and be brokenhearted, and be angry, but not raging.  Rage burns down everything.

I hope someone found the balloons.  I hope they didn’t choke birds, or whatever other bad things loose balloons do.  “Hey, truth!  Here it is!” someone said.

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Triangle Stories: 1

  1. Four little pigs went out on Halloween.  Their mother did not know how to count.  Every time, she was with the: one, two… wait…. And the four children waited because what else could they do?

She pushed them in a stroller-for-four, up and down the apartment hall, and each neighbor was curious.  One, two, three, four?

“They’re not kosher,” one neighbor whispered.

“And who is the big bad wolf?”

“And why aren’t they blind?”

“And where is the grandma?” other neighbors said.

“I don’t know.  I don’t know,” the mom said.

Mom had three more children and she dressed them as the Beatles minus John.

 

2. The owner of the building didn’t even know what he owned.  He was on life support at Mary and Associates General.  A machine breathed for him, like Frankenstein, he breathed, but without Frankenstein’s innovative thrill at being able to breathe.  The owner of the building and the body was not working

His wife came to visit twice a week, and his son once a month, and his daughter every other week, and his lawyer, once a week.  He owned 40 buildings in the area, and it was going to be a bitch-mess untangling of assets when he died.  He resisted will-making because he didn’t like death.

A man named Harum trimmed his fingernails, and toenails.  A woman named Isolde bathed him, as much as he could be bathed.  The dirty water never looked very dirty.

He lived a long time.

 

3. The plantains were not bananas, she realized as she unpacked the toys for her new day care.  It was in the first floor of the building.  It was called “Little Angels,” and like all places with “angels” in the name, it was to be terrible.

When inspected, dead bandaids would be found stuck to the floor and the toys, and a piece of broken glass would be found amongst the Duplos.  And the soap dispenser was empty.  This owner, though, was Excited to Serve the Community By Making Money.  She had just been diagnosed with MS, and needed a desk job, like applying for grants for day cares.

“Are we supposed to have weird food?  Should I get the plastic sushi?” she said to no one, as she hobbled over to the trash with the play food plastic shell packaging.  She was hobbling from stubbing her toe earlier, the MS had not caught her that tightly yet.  “I don’t know,” she said to herself.

Proud

I went to a reunion of the school where I used to teach.  I hugged people, and then we asked how we were.  I asked what they were up to, and I worried that unless the answer was, “I have conquered the world with my college degree!” or had a baby to show me, they would say, “Not much.”

We pushed college so hard.

One of my kids (who isn’t exactly a kid anymore) said, “I’m driving a school bus.”

“That’s an important job!” I said.  “I’ve been subbing and I’ve seen how important those bus drivers are, making sure the kids get on the right bus and behave and are safe.”

“It’s not what I thought I would do.”  And looked wistful.

“Most of my  life has not been what I thought I would do,” I said.

So, Dear Former Students,

Life is much harder than we told you.  We told you GO TO COLLEGE, and if you went, that didn’t solve everything, did it?

It was hard to stay in, once you were in, wasn’t it?  It was for me, too.

I know it didn’t solve this violent city, or whatever family shit you have, everyone has some, and some people have a lot.

It didn’t make you taller, or make you feel like you could handle things.

(And I know, I’m 30 grand in debt.  I hope you kept all your scholarships.)

I went to my ten-year reunion because I was going back to school to be a teacher, and this was a good story to tell people.  When you go to parties, you always have to have a story of what’s going on with you, and it’s best if it’s not, “I don’t have a fucking clue,” at least not until after midnight and several drinks.

One time at a party, a guy told me he had been molested by a priest.

Another time, someone told me he was on a payment plan for his incredibly huge credit card debt.

But these were anomalies.

My twenty-year I did not go to because I was in New York, which was something, but I was also broke as hell, and I didn’t particularly want to discuss that with any of my former classmates from one of the fanciest public schools on earth.

Yesterday I dropped by a thrift store my stepmom had recommended.  Found a pair of pants and a skirt that fit me, and a dress, too, what a deal!

The guy who runs the place is Australian, or speaks with an incredible fake Australian accent, one of those two things.  A lady who was a nun, in habit, was in line when I walked in.  Most of the rest of the shoppers were speaking Spanish.  I was out in Johnson County, which for my east coast friends, is like Westchester.  Or it used to be.  Perhaps parts of it are now Yonkers.  (I am housesitting in the Park Slope of Kansas City, pretty swank, without the famous people.)

I lined up to pay, and a couple next to me had a shopping cart full of shoes and clothes.  The man was looking at a list and reading things off, as if they had made a list for a whole lot of people.

“I’ll get you first,” the cashier said.  I paid for my pants, skirt, dress, and the Nancy Cunard bangle I had found, last minute (50 cents).  “You helped three people eat today!” she proclaimed.

That was nice.  They feed people for $3.  Apparently.

It was nicer to be among recent immigrants so close to the 4th.  And see a few of ’em cleaning up at the thrift store.  They had a lot of good shit there.  And help the Australian guy hold the door open for another dude who was buying a table.

Driving a bus is important.  You’re being a good citizen.  That’s all we wanted from you.  That’s all we want for you.  We’re proud of you.

I went to see the Mr. Rogers documentary last night, and that is one of the things I have taken from him: how powerful it is to tell someone you are proud of them.  That’s one of the things I miss doing, as a teacher.  People can hardly handle hearing that.  It blows their damn minds.

I’m proud of you, women arrested for protesting immigration insanity.  I’m proud of you, union fighters who try to get us treated fairly, even though, lately, over and over again, you are shut down and turned back.  I’m proud of myself for writing to my congresspeoples even though sometimes I feel like I don’t care anymore and it doesn’t matter.  I’m proud of everyone who came to the March for Our Lives.

I’m proud of the times I asked questions instead of snapping.  I’m proud of asking for help.  I’m proud of you for reading something someone else wrote.  You can bet I look at the page views occasionally, and when there’s some numbers there, it feels good.

I’m proud of the community our former students have, how they still take care of each other and show up for each other and care about things bigger than money or power, because that was the main thing we were really trying to model.

Happy Fourth.

Know/Don’t Know

Things I do not know:

  1. What do to about Donald Trump.
  2. What not to do about Donald Trump.
  3. How to get people to stop shooting guns.
  4. How I feel about going to graduate school.
  5. If I’d rather fail at things, or succeed.
  6. If I’d rather never fall in love again, or not.
  7. If I will have a child.
  8. How I feel about leaving New York.
  9. How I feel about being in Kansas City.
  10. Why I keep moving around if I want to have a home.
  11. How I ended up so fucking broke at 41.
  12. Why my friend got laid off.
  13. Why playing with a little kid’s hair is so soothing.
  14. That I don’t know what I want to write about.
  15. Whether I don’t want to write because I don’t know what to say, or I think I have nothing to say.
  16. How to stay connected with, or let go, my former students.
  17. Why money doesn’t make people feel safe.
  18. When I want to do my freelance work, though I have the choice of doing it during any of the 24 hours in the world.
  19. Where I will ever, ever again find pants that make me feel good about wearing them.
  20. Or a summer skirt.
  21. How much of my bad mood is my normal moodiness, and how much is hearing that people got shot on the news, and that our democracy is crumbling.
  22. Why my 20-year-old cat is still alive and a glorious grouchy bitch who loves being alive.
  23. Why I have so much trouble transitioning that I can’t leave the house, or get anywhere on time, or, sometimes, take a damn shower.
  24. Why my writing has not been more successful.
  25. Why God doesn’t “fix” things, in any sense of fixing, I would be fine with.
  26. Whether I should designate one desk in the lovely little house for “creative” writing, and the other for work, or not.
  27. What might make me “happy.”
  28. If I would have loved Sartre, and wanted to sleep with him, or if, like many charismatic smart men, I would have been too suspicious of his charisma and been like, nah, he’d never talk to me.
  29. If the clothes I outgrew will fit again if I get more exercise.
  30. Why some friendships flourish, and some crap out.
  31. What kind of furniture I would buy if I ever actually had money to pick out and buy furniture.
  32. What car I would buy if, the same, because the Toyota Avalon only comes in an automatic.
  33. If I can buy or order a glass of rose, without the presumption of “it’s for other people.”
  34. If my friends will ever convince me to use hallucinogens.
  35. If I will ever again meet a man who is not married and gorgeous and I think, I want to talk and talk and talk with him.
  36. What my nieces and nephews will grow up to be, as humans beings.
  37. If I will ever remember to re-watch “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”
  38. If I will ever be pleased with how flexible my hamstrings are.
  39. If, at my funeral, anyone will talk about how I was a good tipper.
  40. How to sew my own skirts so they fucking fit me.
  41. Where I’d like to travel to next, and how on earth I will ever have the money to go there.
  42. To throw a dinner party.
  43. To do anything with makeup beyond putting on black mascara and eyeliner.
  44. If I want to kiss someone.
  45. How much interacting with the manicurist makes her feel like a person.
  46. How to sell myself.

Things I Do Know

  1. What I would like to drink, in any bar.
  2. The coffee I would like, and how.
  3. To throw a cocktail party.
  4. To parallel park.
  5. To write to my senators and representatives.
  6. At least three people to call if I feel the worst I have ever felt.
  7. If I want to hug someone.
  8. How to write an essay, a book, a poem.
  9. How to get kids to settle the fuck down.
  10. How to get most kids to read something or write something.
  11. How to sort out a family fight (eventually).
  12. How to get a drink, or dinner, or to travel, alone.
  13. The right pens to use.
  14. How to read standardized test directions in a fun and obnoxious way.
  15. How to get kids to pace themselves.
  16. How to set up a tent.
  17. How to get your car inspected by someone who will give you the sticker regardless.
  18. How to bake bread.
  19. How to not freak out when I can’t sleep.
  20. How to read and write.
  21. Several places in the world I feel inexplicably joyful and at home.
  22. How to not be too pushy.
  23. How to accept people.
  24. How to administer holy communion.
  25. How to behave in a religious service of really any kind.
  26. How to use public transit.
  27. How to go to any neighborhood.
  28. How to use chopsticks.
  29. The museums of New York City.
  30. The life of FDR.
  31. How to climb things.
  32. How to put on high heels when you feel terrible.
  33. How to drive with an open container.
  34. How to grade an essay.
  35. How to write curriculum.
  36. Yer basic English literature canon, dead white men edition.
  37. How to hold a baby.
  38. How to take ativan and get on an airplane without becoming lost forever.
  39. To stay still in the heat.
  40. To watch comedies regularly.
  41. How to go on a first date.
  42. How to swim.
  43. How to play the guitar (on a very basic level)
  44. I will live somewhere else in six weeks.
  45. How to buy fancy cheese, even though I don’t really eat it.
  46. Where to buy fancy chocolate.

I Am Your Air Conditioner

I… am… your air conditioner.

I… am doing what I can.

This is my week.

This is my moment.

My lungs are as full as they are, and then they are as empty as they’ll ever be.

I’m trying; I’m trying.

This house, its rooms, all empty, and yet you  ask me, all day, to make them 72 degrees.

And I try, but where are you?

You are in another 72-degree-place, drinking coffee that is 100 degrees.  Give or take.

You see the men outside today, pouring the concrete and guiding the lawnmowers?  They are my yang.

I am yin.  I am air conditioner.

Is it just the cool you want?

No.

You ask dehumidification.  I don’t even know how that works.

Something happens inside me.  I take the moisture, I take it away.

Do you ask where it goes?

(Some of you watch TV shows on “the way things work.”  Some of you actually work for HVAC companies.  Or install HVAC yourself.  Apologies, comrade.)

You do not ask.

Any time, anyone, could open the door, and she could breathe.

As God intended?

I am your air conditioner.

I am your window unit.

I am sucking and blowing as fast as I can.

I know I am loud, but that is what it takes.  It takes the energy of a big, fat plug.  A special electrical connection.  That’s what I take.

Sit before me.  Feel better.

Or are you in a car, using yet another air conditioner?

I am a fan.  Come and pick me up at a particular address.  Haul me home on the bus.  I can help you blow the hot air around so it feels not at all better, but different.

I am your power grid.  I gotta go.

The Past

“Whisky, by the way, circulates more freely in Westport than is altogether safe in a place where every man carries a loaded pistol in his pocket.”

-Francis Parkman, Jr., 1846

Westport is where I have done a great deal of my drinking.  At the end of our education program, a classmate and I had whiskey on a Westport patio.  He ordered the second-most-expensive one on the menu.  I had a sip.  We generally vacated Westport before midnight, preferably before 10, because in the later hours, people tend to shoot at one another.  Still.  (The difference now is, Westport is now part of a city, and a lot more people are killed when guns are on the loose.  My least favorite part of being in the midwest instead of New York City.)

The past isn’t over.  In case you hadn’t heard, it’s not even past. After five months of living with my parents, I flew into a fury and was angry about everything I had been angry about twenty-five years ago.

Being angry at your parents is one of the “wrestling the tofu” moves.  You won’t get anywhere, and you’ll probably punch yourself in the gut or pull a muscle in the process.

We had a divorce and a remarriage, and everyone had reason to be scared, angry, betrayed.  Over the years, I learned that all the other (then) kids (there are six of us) felt scared, angry, betrayed, overlooked.  In between these feelings, we developed relationships that are tender.

As someone who does not have a spouse, that is especially important to me.

This time it took me about 72 hours to feel my old anger was out of my body.  That we all have been hurt, that I have hurt other people, and that’s a normal state of affairs.

No matter what I do, I will periodically revisit these items:

  • no one cares what I think
  • no one values what I do
  • I will never get it together
  • evil men will triumph
  • so fuck it

And all these things are, to some extent, true.  What I think isn’t that important, in the scheme of eternity.  Capitalism doesn’t value art or education, and it never will.  I will always be the kind of person who will not hang up her clothes or do her dishes after eating, and who is late, while swearing mightily that she will stop doing these things because come on, Liz.

Evil men will triumph, and I keep thinking to myself that I should spend some time with Ecclesiastes, two ancient pieces of literature which harp on these themes at length.  (I didn’t get around to this until today, though.)

So.  Fuck it?

So, let people take care of you when you are upset.  So buy a giant unicorn and go to a unicorn party for a 7-year-old.  So write the daily messages to your Congressmen, and no matter how you feel about it, that’s the right thing to do.

Sartre would be like, thumbs up.  Were Sartre the sort of guy who gave people a thumbs-up, I am sure he was not.

Among [the emigrants] are some of the vilest outcasts in the country.  I have often perplexed myself to divine the various motives that that give impulse to this strange migration; but whatever they may be, whether whether an insane hope of a better condition of life, or a desire of shaking off restraints of law and society, or mere restlessness, certain it is, that multitudes bitterly repent the journey, and after they have reached the land of promise are, happy enough to escape from it.

I grew up with the statue of the pioneer family frozen on the front lawn of our Pizza Hut.  They were going somewhere.  We were not.  They were scrubbed and pale and virtuous and adventurous.  They were going west, which made no sense to me, as I had always wanted to be east.  People then found them vile and restless?  History written by the victors, the people who who were happy with their move west?

I hadn’t thought about it, but the Ingalls family, who taught many of us everything we know about Going West, ran out of money and moved again and again, and never really got their shit together.  Somehow it all seemed cleaner and nicer than that when you read the books as a kid.

The adult version, the mature version: messes, spiral repeats of the same hurt, staunchly walking away and then returning to what and who one loves.

No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.  – Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes ends with a clearly a tacked-on explanation, one which has no relationship to the honesty it has previously displayed.  You should follow the rules because they are important.  Right.

It’s interesting to try to comprehend what goes on under the sun, though.  It is interesting.  And sometimes our attempts to comprehend it, or even merely represent it, are lovely.

Image: Westport Road and Pennsylvania, 1885, Kansas City Public Library/Missouri Valley Special Collection, via Midtown KC Post