I remember phrases from childhood travels, not images or events.  Glass-bottomed boat.  Lion Country Safari.  Circus Circus. The musicality of the words meant more to me than the actual experiences.

All I remember about the glass-bottomed boat was my incredulousness.  How could a boat have a glass bottom?  I pictured a little motorboat with a slab of window for a bottom.  Wasn’t that dangerous?  Wouldn’t it break?  Couldn’t ladies shatter it with their high heels?

I don’t remember the actual boat, or the coral reef, down there in the Florida keys.  all I remember is those four syllables, and the fact that my dad went snorkling instead.  Snorkling.  What a word that was!  I couldn’t imagine what he was doing.  Dads did mysterious things, though.  My dad went to an office downtown most days, and I had no idea what he did there.  Snorkle.  Glass-bottomed boat.

We went to several outfits like Lion Country Safari.  We visited one in Florida, and one in Texas.  They strike me as ill-conceived now.  You stay in your car.  “Wild” animals wander around.  Giraffe, deer, maybe even ostrich.  The lions, my father insists, were actually in cages that you drove by.  I remember you could get your photo taken with a lion cub for an extra charge.  My parents disapproved of this on the grounds of both safety and thriftiness.  I did not get a picture. I just kept the name of the place, forever.  Lion Country Safari.

Circus Circus, I’m told, is still there.  I visited Las Vegas when I was three.  My grandmother paid for me to be made up as a clown.  I was only spoiled for my first few years, the ones I have the fewest memory of.  Afterward, I kept the red foam nose, with a sprinkling of glitter.  Sometimes I put it on my nose again.  You needed glue to hold it there, though, and I didn’t have that kind of glue at home.  You actually need souvenirs to remember trips when you are a child.  You actually will forget.  Circus Circus. I either saw, or thought I would see, trapeze artists in the atrium.  I’m not sure which.

We also visited Muir Woods.  We ate Chinese food in San Francisco, which I liked as a city name only second to Cincinnati.  You would think the Hearst Castle would impress more with its architecture than its name, but my world was made of words, not marble.

Stepping Stones

As I mentioned in our last episode, I was recently visited by a screeching demon of a panic attack, followed by days of anxious malaise– all less charming than Woody Allen movies might suggest.

One particularly nasty problem with a panic attack is that you feel isolated.  Of course, you are isolated, to an extent. It’s not like you can point to your hair on fire or your dangling limb or the gunman aiming at you and have someone say, Whoa, I get it, how scary! Which sucks because you truly, deeply, emotionally and physically feel like something that terrible is happening.

In between doses of kindness from friends (all much appreciated, friends), because I was out of town, I also met many strangers who kept me from going completely nuts.  Here are some of those people, with thanks for Thanksgiving.

1. Lady next to me on the plane.  I waited frantically for her to put her book down, and once she did, I cultivated our conversation like a prize orchid.  We talked about Orlando, Las Vegas, Asheville, and her work as a nurse.  “Well, when you work in a hospital, people dying is just part of the job,” she said cheerily.  What was there then to fear?  She and her husband played blackjack and craps in Vegas.  I could think of nothing less appealing than adding more risk to my life.  But, hey, whatever makes you happy.

2. The guy who drove my bags and me to my hotel room on the grounds of the huge resort.  He told me about his recent dental surgery, having half his teeth pulled and replaced with implants.  He apologized for sounding funny.  He was wearing a retainer.  He was worried about not being able to eat solid food at Thanksgiving, or at his 15-year-anniversary-of-employment dinner.  I felt a little less sorry for myself.  Just a measly single root canal can kick my ass.

3. My groupmates at the afternoon session of my conference, who encouraged me to play “the gay kid” in our skit about homophobia in the classroom.  This was because I was the only straight person in the group.  Pretty cute, I know.   I couldn’t concentrate on my own freaking out when I was the star!  I was representing all gay kids!  Strange but true.

4. My cab driver on the way to dinner.  We had a great talk about the cost of goat meat (he was from Pakistan), the horrors of Chicago weather, the astounding cost of plane tickets overseas, and how Americans would benefit from seeing other countries.  He told me he thought change was good, and he had no desire to ever return to Pakistan.  I needed that positive, forward thinking.

5. On the way to the airport, I sat next to a teacher from Detroit.  Teachers all size each other up by grade level and subject and suburban/rural/urban.  “Do you teach in the suburbs?” she asked me.  “No, I’m in the inner city.”  We were now good friends.  Inner city teachers are like a gang.  Just that tight, just that loyal.  We swapped stories, talked about why our schools worked.  Hers is going to have a ton of students added from other schools, and she was justifiably anxious about if they could maintain a high quality program.

Thanks again, you all did me good, although you probably didn’t know it.


I had a boyfriend who refused to read “Bartleby the Scrivener.”  Over and over again he refused.  Some people get that.  Some people don’t.  I’m in a Melville mood lately.  Forgive me.

I was at Silver Dollar City last weekend.  The weather was perfect, and people were making things with their hands.  If I were to be relied upon to make things, the whole world would look like Bedrock.  I appreciate manual skills.

We stopped to visit the knife-maker, and the bead-stringer, both of whom are very familiar to my family. As we picked through the dangling tresses of her wares, the jewelry maker told us her dream was to travel to Lascaux, France, and see the ancient cave paintings.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  Then I watched the knife guy hammer red-hot metal, casually stab a steel drum by way of demonstration, and lightheartedly insult Oklahomans.

Either because I had taken this neurological medication, or because I’ve had these mysterious chronic headaches messing with my brain, I would occasionally drift into thoughts of doom.  Like when I was watching cheerful people tromping through a song and dance number, I thought, Why do they bother?  Don’t they know how death makes everything meaningless? I have encountered these types of thoughts before, since I have a moody temperament, and knew that they were just thoughts, not directives.  The next day, this particular type of madness seemed to have passed.

I hadn’t seen the glass blowing since I was a kid, and I didn’t really see it this time, either.  I sat down on the floor because my feet hurt, and so I only caught a glimpse of the molten glob on the end of the lance, only for a second saw the man turning it to whirl it into a bowl.

I wasn’t sure, suddenly, how it all worked.  Was there sand in there?  They dumped a vat of sand inside there, and then pulled out glass?  Really?  After the demonstration ended, I walked up and looked into the furnace.  It’s just like when the Nazis take the lid off the Ark.  It was wonderful and terrible.

In the adjacent shop, I found a cobalt blue whale.  The chemical cobalt is the basis for vitamin B 12, which humans and whales, all mammals, require, and which the nurse injected me with last week, in the hopes of making me slightly healthier.  Adding cobalt, the glassblower explained, makes the glass blue.  My whale is cool and from the depths of the ocean, heavy and calm as eternity, and straight from the firey furnace.

Paine ‘n’ McCain at the OK Corral

“We have it in our power to begin the world again.” –Thomas Paine

“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year.” –John McCain

I just got back from the southwest, where I met and insulted a charming cowgirl.  I expected Tombstone, Arizona to be sort of like Frontierland at Disneyland.  Instead, we parked across the street Lefty’s Corner Store, where they offered a wide selection of guns and ammo.

There was even a saloon that looked not like a dusty Hollywood set, but a shiny, functioning, gorgeous Western tavern, complete with pool table and a panoply of intoxicating bottles lounging before a long, blaring mirror.

Tourist souvenir shops did dominate the main street, to be honest.  We wandered into a few.  A pair of baby booties that looked like cowboy boots lured us in.  “Where y’all from?” the clerk asked.  “Kansas City,” we said.

I asked her if she lived in Tombstone, or if anyone actually lived in Tombstone.  “I don’t, but some people do.  I only come here to work one day a week, and to bring my kinfolk when they visit.  But some people move here so they can live full-time like it’s 1880.”   Freaky!

“Do you think these booties are okay for a girl?” my friend asked.  Now this clerk, she wore close-cut white hair, a spanking-ironed pearl-button shirt, arrow-straight jeans, and lovingly polished cowboy boots.  “Girls can wear anything they want,” she snapped cheerfully.  I was a little in love with her.

Looking at the cowboy booties’ packaging, my friend remarked, “Hmm… made in China– isn’t that funny?” Because I’m kind of an idiot, I returned, “Well, people in China need jobs, too.”

I had betrayed myself as a pinko liberal UN Esparanza wacko to the cowgirl I loved.  Conversation had to immediately turn to how awesome American workers are and how awesome the stuff they make is, and at least I was wise enough to not go on my pontificating rant about how much I love Japanese cars.

Back and forth, enemies and allies.  The spitters and Hitler/Obama melders and race-baiters aren’t them.  They’re us.  Much as you might try to maintain strong enemy relationships, the world is a slippery place.  Enemies to allies.  Allies to enemies.

The health care reform plan is market-based, largely runs through the private sector, and maintains our position in the world as a right-leaning democracy.  Still, John McCain is so angry that he’s taking his toys and going home, when his job is to cooperate.  Unless you get elected supreme dictator, that is your job.

John McCain won’t always be an enemy.  He’s resolutely anti-torture, and I admired and respected his stand.  He didn’t cave to his party for political gain.

Thomas Paine was also a strong-willed man.  Towards the end of his life, people constantly approached him with pleas for conversion.  Paine called himself a Deist, and said things like “My own mind is my own church,” which lit a fire under many evangelically-minded Christians.  He died slowly, and ignored all the begging to accept Jesus.  He stuck to his guns the whole way.  Religious symbolism rings peaceful and true in my ears, but I respect his stand and his faith in himself.  His idea about recreating the world is, in Christian terms, “resurrection.”

I like old women who have never given a shit what people think of them.  I’d guess my cowgirl grew up in the 1940s or 1950s, and thinking of her wearing what she wanted and living free through those stifling times made me happy.  On the other hand, I also do sincerely believe that Chinese people are no less deserving of jobs than Americans, and that there can be enough work for everyone.  Allies to enemies.  Enemies to allies.