Saguaro are the typical, tall cactus, you know. Green and slim, with the whimsical arms. When they die, they leave their skeletons in place. Clusters of long vascular tubes stand in place while the vegetable matter sloughs away, like a loose suit of clothes.
It’s lovely being here in Tucson.
So lovely, that I become lax on everything. I haven’t been posting to the blog (as you’ve undoubtedly noticed). I only answer some emails (a BIG stretch for me, compulsive email-checker that I am). I haven’t even been reading much.
I’ve been watching quail. Gambel’s quail, for those not in the know. At my folks’ place in Tucson, the quail come streaming along — they’ve got this amazing run where their legs move in a blur, but their bodies and heads remain still, so they move like ballerinas across the stage — spilling over the low wall into the patio. They drop like so many pieces of ripe fruit, cherry head-feathers bobbing. Lemon-drop finches cluster on the thistle-sock. A flicker sings a piercing whistle and hits the heavy seed feeder. The air is redolent with orange blossoms, which are in turn heavy with the hive-buzz of bees. They look identical to us, characteristic of commercial bees, and my stepfather threatens to have them followed, to exact his share of their product.
We visited Catalina State Park, and dutifully read the signs on the birding trail. Three habitats: riparian, desert scrub and mesquite bosque. The last is pronounced BOS-kay, from the Spanish for forest. We learned that our neighborhood flicker is an gila woodpecker (I linked it, just so you can see how pretty he is). The mesquite bosque surprised us with long, lush grass beneath the denuded shrubs. The sun heated my skin, welcome fire after the cold of winter.
This morning, we walked through the neighborhood. Past the patio homes surrounding Hilton’s El Conquistador resort. Here, off the roads, off the paved golf-cart paths and in my folks’ golf course-boardering patio home, we see all the birds and more. Vermillion flycatchers. A cactus wren or three. A roadrunner poised on a hillside fencepost. Bunnies and javelinas. David dubs it the fourth habitat: the Hilton bosque. Thoureau said travel was unnecessary; that everything could be witnessed in one’s own backyard.
So, I lie in the lounge chair on the patio. Watching the world come to me.
I have to wonder what’s up with sink stoppers.
I mean, are we really at state of the art here? I’m in a very nice Hilton. And, if i haven’t mentioned, I love the Hilton chain. I love them better pretty much with every stay, which is saying something. They work hard to give me everything I need to make it bearable for me to be on the road so much. So, (nod to Penelope Trunk and her promo links), here’s the free promo, Hilton. Full disclosure: I’m a Hilton gold member, which just makes it all the better. Nothing like a premier program that really makes you feel special and gives you perks you actually want to have.
But the damn sink stopper doesn’t work. I don’t lay this at the hotel’s feet. Were I filling out the survey, I’d have to say, no, I didn’t report the problem and therefore gave them no opportunity to fix it. Because I’ve grown tired and jaded and have reported this problem at multiple hotels in multiple cities in the past and they maybe don’t fix it or maybe fix it and it breaks again immediately. In fact, I get so disappointed when the sink stopper seems to be fixed and then gives way, that I’d rather not have my hopes raised.
I know this sounds silly. But I wear contact lenses, the non-disposable, semi-soft, oxygen permeable kind. Which means they cost $150 each. I don’t mind this, because they last for years. As long as I don’t lose them. Like, down the drain, for instance.
No, I don’t want to have LASIC — I see better with my contacts than EVERY person I know who’s had any kind of vision-correcting laser surgery. Color me deeply unconvinced. Let me keep my contacts and let me not wash them down the drain while cleaning them for the night.
Here, I am, in my lovely hotel room, with my Kindle 2, my Blackberry Storm, my Dell Latitude laptop and my Heys plastic luggage. Oh, and my new laptop bag. All pretty much state-of-the-art technology, at least for a luddite like me. But the sink stopper construction is the same technology that’s been in use for, near as I can figure, the last 40-50 years. The same that I’ve been crawling under sinks and adjusting for my entire contact-lens-wearing life (which is 32 years now, for those keeping count). Did all the plumbers gather together, decide rubber stoppers were passe and the stick/pulley design could never be improved? Am I traveling with a plastic drain screen because I’m the only one who has a stake in whether the sink will seal?
Yeah, yeah, I know — everyone else has had LASIC.
I read this book when I was a little girl, called “Spring Begins in March,” by Jean Little. I would go on author kicks then (I suppose I still do) and read everything on the library shelf by an author. In this book, the girl gets a cold and is not liking the wintery weather. Her mother comforts her and tells her to hang on, that Spring doesn’t begin until March. By the end of the book, it’s turned to March and it is, indeed, Spring.
This bemused me then, as a Colorado girl. No one there in their right minds looks for Spring in February. The hopeful look for it in April. The experienced hold out for May and the jaded wait forlornly until June. Arguably the Rocky Mountain West has no Spring. We go pretty much from winter to summer. In fact, Spring was my least favorite season for most of my life, including now, since I live in Wyoming, because it is just the last nasty, dirty, slushy, miserable phase of winter. Only when I went to college in St. Louis did I discover that Spring can be a season all its own, with gentle warmth and nature in bloom.
This is on my mind this morning with the snow blanketing Alabama and Georgia, and moving to points north. In what they call a “late season storm.” I suppose we all speak from our own perspectives, and the more populated areas of the country speak with louder voices. But the news is jarring to those of us still in full winter. Though here it’s been “unseasonably warm.” I wonder if the meterologists and newcasters have a big book of seasons, perhaps with a map of the country with complex graphs, showing what the season is supposed to be like. Perhaps it has transparent overlays, with anecdotal evidence for what March was like in granny’s day.
I take the agnostic approach: Spring begins when it damn well wants to.
I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Even in college, when everyone else was heavy into coffee for all-nighters, I hit Cherry Coke instead. Even when I started living with David, who practically injects coffee before he gets out of bed, I never drank it. I liked the scent of it. But, really, all my drugs of choice are pretty much sedatives.
I didn’t get the Starbucks thing, the coffee hut thing, the tall/skinny/mochafrappaloopychino thing.
Then, about two years ago, I got serious about losing weight. It’s the old story. Woman hits 40 and realizes that she can’t keep gaining three to five pounds a year. Realizes that she can’t kid herself that she’s just a little overweight, that her body fat percentage is now in the OBESE category. I can’t tell you how horrifying it was to face that I had to apply that word to myself.
I did a little South Beach, to get me started. I worked to get the belly down, but I found it ultimately unsustainable. Then I hit Body for Life. I’ve lost over 20 pounds of body fat, down about 15 pounds overall. (I added some much-needed muscle.) And I discovered the sugar-free, non-fat latte.
It’s sweet, creamy, warm and delicious. And I can have it for a treat. Instead of a cookie, instead of a coke. Most of the coffee syrups don’t use aspartame, which as a former neurophysiologist, I won’t touch. Over time, I’ve become particular about my latte-acquisition. Starbucks is my friend — I travel a great deal and I love that I can almost always find a Starbucks and that they’ll give me exactly what I want. Sure, I’ll try the local coffee house, but I don’t like arguing about what sugar-free means. (Yes, I know that was a Dunkin’ Donuts, but the principle remains.)
Yesterday, I bought a thermos-cup. I polled everyone I ran into (okay, pretty much) for a week about their thermos-cup preferences. This is a new realm for me. I found one yesterday that meets all characteristics of the ideal cup. Today, David went and got me a skinny caramel latte in my new mug. An hour later, it’s still hot! (Did I mention I’m a slow drinker? David thinks it’s unnatural. Could be my coming late to the coffee game.) It’s stupid that this makes me so happy. I fully intend to take it with me to Indiana tomorrow and refill it before I get on the plane. I’m looking forward to this.
I’d feel more dumb about this, if my friend, the actress and director, Lesley Malin, hadn’t responded to my FaceBook post with how much SHE loves her thermos-cup and how it’s transformed her quality of life.
And yet, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire last night. (Yes, it finally made it to our town.) It’s easy to feel guilty about our rich lives, in comparison to those shown in the slums of India. That kind of suffering is incomprehensible to me. My suffering is avoiding sweets and crunching weights. Maybe I can count in the job stress, which seems to increase in a slightly greater percentage than the raise that accompanies it. I work hard for the money I make. If a little thermos-mug gives me so much pleasure, so be it. Call me shallow. At least I have my treat.
This girl I knew in high school sent out a Facebook message asking for inspiration. I don’t know why. I’m not sure I need to. We’ve added each other as “friends,” but haven’t taken the time to really reconnect. I gather from her posts and open conversations that she has two young children who take up a lot of her time. She’s out in DC now, far from our Colorado home. I thought about what kind of inspiration to offer, which of my favorite quotes to send her, but all that came to mind were memories of her, back in the day.
Kathy was a friend of a friend, really. Much more Kristy’s friend than mine. But Kathy was so funky and cool that I glommed on, tagging along with them like a third wheel little sister. I was content that they let me. Kathy had this way of being unconsciously artsy. She danced this kind of modified Charleston I’m sure she made up, that involved kicking up her legs and swinging her arms to meet them. Doing this, she would spin in a wild wheel around the dance floor to the tail end of British punk we still milked in the early 80s. It was a dance of full-on joy in the music, a dance I ruthlessly ripped off when I went to college, where no one would know I had stolen it. It served me well for years. And I always remembered Kathy, her flame-red hair, her full immersion in life, when I danced.
Kathy lived in a funky house, too, off Parker Road in the Denver suburbs. The city was still spreading out to our area back then. The highway leading out to the town of Parker was becoming a road, with stoplights and intersections linking to housing developments. But Kathy lived in a house that had been built according to no five-model plan, but sat among fields in a curve of the road where it passed the Highline Canal. I went to a Halloween party at her house and went walking in the frosty stubbled fields with my first love. In my mind, I always gave Kathy credit for that, too, that she held the party that let me be with him, that let me dress up in a romantic costume, all the better to catch his eye.
I remember another of Kathy’s parties. Maybe I went on a trip back from college and her family had moved. All I really recall is Kathy’s certainty that a hot band that was playing locally would come to the party at some point. We hung out for hours, Kathy so certain that they would arrive, as they’d promised. Kristy was her emotional counterpoint, sure that the evening would end in disappointment. I remember Kathy crying, the way the heart-broken do. The way that only those who completely give their hearts and hopes can.
Her picture tells me she hasn’t changed. This is probably illusion. Just because she has the same wild red hair, and the funky cat’s eye glasses that proclaim her a suicide-girl under the skin, doesn’t mean that she has the same joy in life that she did at 17. But she holds a camera in her hands, and the sly smile is the same. She’s also posted some amazing art on the ‘net. Perhaps with a darker edge than I might have seen in high school. It’s an edge I like. I’m really not supposed to be buying art right now, but I might have to.
Then I’d get to tell people the artist is my friend and I can still be a little cool, by association.
So, I bought a new laptop bag.
Probably you all figured that’s what I’d do. I’m the easy target, the consumer ready to plunk down her credit card for the immediate solution. I did identify a likely repair shop in Denver and nearly left an hour earlier for the airport last Monday to drop it off. Then didn’t. I’ll drop it off sometime when it’s more convenient. Then I’ll have a back-up wheelie laptop bag. No, I’m not sending it to McKlein — they don’t get any more of my money ever. Listen hard… do you hear them weeping? No, I didn’t think so.
Did I mention my new laptop bag has a lifetime warranty? I can’t find the word “limited” on it anywhere. I guess we’ll see. Right now it’s the new puppy. I bought it in the Charlotte airport, where I remembered seeing it before. So I thought. I remember airports really well when I’m in them again — I can go right to my favorite shops and restaurants — not so much in theory, like when I’m planning the trip. However, this time I strongly suspected a shop there had a bag I’d admired. And there it was! They even let me unpack my shoulder laptop bag and put my stuff in the new one. Then they donated my shoulder bag to K-9 training. Presumably to teach them to search laptop carriers for contraband. Not sure how I feel about that bit, but at least it’s not in a landfill, I suppose. They had it all set up to make it easy for me.
It’s daunting sometimes, to see how well I respond to their targeted marketing. Yes, I pick my connecting flights based on which airports I like. And yes, that often has as much to do with the food, shops and ambience as much as whether I’m likely to be trapped there by bad weather (die, O’Hare, die!). I like Charlotte’s white rocking chairs in the atrium (also in the Philadelphia ariport). There’s a Body Shop in most airports now, where I can pick up Body Butter on a regular basis. I can even get a manicure or a pedicure in many places if my layover is long enough. Good use of otherwise wasted time, to do something frivolous I usually schedule out.
I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. But pursuant to my rant (my mother has accused me of ranting lately) on local merchants, and since today seems to be follow-up-on-previous-topics day, it turns out that the local childrens store DID ostensibly do a registry for my friend. She said they followed her around with a list. So the salesgirl was either lying or ignorant. Bad service, either way.
Maybe this is capitalism at its finest. Give me what I want and need; make it easy for me. I’m happy to give you my money in return.
Certain things are characteristic of the South. And I’m just in the piedmont region of North Carolina, not the Deep South, by any stretch. On top of that, the connected communities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel form the “research triangle:” an academic corridor created by proximity of Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So, this isn’t the barefoot-in-the-fields South or the living-in-a-house-on-stilts-in-the-swamp South. And yet.
And yet, to cross the street from the building where we’re working, we had to walk on grassy berms and dash across six lanes of traffic because there are no sidewalks, no crosswalks and no pedestrian signal. My colleague wondered why several cars honked or hooted at us, if they hadn’t seen women before. I replied that no, they just didn’t recognize people outside of their cars.
Once we reached the Dunkin’ Donuts across this busy road, I encountered language problems with the cashier. She believed that a “sugar-free” latte was one without sugar. I explained I wanted a sugar-free sweetner. She said it won’t be sweet without sugar. I finally hit upon “sugar substitute that enabled me to acquire at least Splenda, though sugar-free syrups were clearly not within the realm. Krispy Kreme donuts are, however, available at the hotel breakfast buffet.
I remember this, from coming to visit my grandmother in the summers. Once I suggested a walk after dinner, as I was accustomed to do at home with my foks. Always anxious to please me, my grandad and grandmother put me in the car and we drove in search of a park they’d heard of, a place people went on purpose to walk. They walked with me, too, though I feel certain they must have been hot, tired, and uncomfortable.
“Ross, give me some air,” Grandmother would say, an eternal plea for more air-conditioning. Outside was something she passed through from one inside to another. She taught me to decorate cakes, making the frosting from Crisco and powdered sugar.
Our hotel is in a new area of town, so there are interconnected trails, winding around picturesque scenery in a business park. I took a walk before dinner and passed several other women, walking and jogging. Tomorrow we’ll stop at a Starbucks we spotted, where they understand non-fat/sugar-free.
We won’t try to cross the street again.
An old college friend sent me a FaceBook request the other day. This isn’t unusual – I’ve only been “on” FaceBook for a couple of months now and I’ve been receiving a lot of “friend requests.” For the uninitiated, you have to be officially friends with someone for them to view your FaceBook information. You can find people you know through groups like your high school or college or what have you. When you find someone you know, you send a request that they add you as a friend. Once you’re friends, you can look at their list of friends and see if there’s anyone you know and want to add. Several people I haven’t talked to in twenty years have found me and it’s been fun to catch up. This person, who contacted me the other day: not so much.
I’m surprised she wanted to “friend” me. She has refused to see or talk to me for years. Before that, when we did communicate, she acted mean. Inserted little digs about me. Made herself generally disagreeable by doing pissy things.
I’m not stupid. I can take a hint – eventually. When only her husband (both were good friends – I introduced them) returned my voice message and wanted to visit with me when I was last in town, I asked him what her problem was. He said I’d have to take it up with her. I said, no, it was her anger, thus incumbent on her to bring it to me. Later, he sent me a very cold letter. Like I said, it takes me a while, but I’m not an idiot. I wrote them off as no longer friends of mine.
Three years later, she asks to be my FaceBook friend. I stared at the choices: Accept or Ignore. So far, in a rush of bonhomie, I’d accepted everyone, even friends of friends, who I haven’t met. I’ve friended people in high school who wouldn’t have noticed me in the school hallways. Why she wanted this friendship when she’d thrown the real one away, I didn’t know. Except that I know some people track their count of friends: at last a score for social connectedness. But I’d made my decision about her place in my life long ago. I clicked Ignore.
I’m thinking about this as I fly to North Carolina, place of my father’s birth. And, coincidentally, his death, nearly 40 years ago. My grandparents are gone, but his brother still lives there, along with his wife and two adult sons. In years past, when I’ve traveled to the area, we’ve met for dinner. I went out for a family reunion a few years ago. This time, I haven’t called. The last contact I had was went my uncle emailed me a photo of my younger cousin’s college graduation, though I received no other announcement. I called my cousin to offer my congratulations. I mailed him a card with a generous check. Cashed without a word.
I’m no longer part of their world, as I was when the boys were younger. As I was before both sons decided to devote themselves to ministry. Before my aunt made it clear how much she disapproved of my godless lifestyle. The part of me that’s still 12 years old, is stunned that they don’t seem to love me anymore.
I suppose it’s part of life, the pruning back of connections. People can be friends for a while and the friendship can die, or be cut away. Family members move in different directions. It’s maybe one of the great lies of love, that it cannot die. Love dies just as we do, from neglect and starvation, from disease, from critical trauma. No matter the venue, death arrives. In the end, they’re all natural causes. And nature can be cruel.