Over the phone.
Me: "So how was your day?"
MH: "Pretty good. The war protest was on campus today."
Me: "Oh yeah! So, how did it go?"
MH: "Good. I think we ended the war."
I can't concentrate at work, being that the "Cat Lady" is in my personal space again talking about her cat's pregnancy. The other day she actually imitated "the babies inside my kitty's tummy." Lady, there are so many things wrong with what you're doing - not to mention that someone should have taught you that female species don't carry babies in their "tummies" next to Taco Bell or Meow Mix or whatnot.
At the present moment she's describing how last night the cat gave birth, "squishing out the kitties" and saying in a high-pitched, supposed-cat-like voice, "get them out of me! get them out of me!"
So, since I'm on the ledge of tolerance and about to consider the benefits of beverage consumption in the workplace restroom, I might as well cool off and blog.
Occasionally I break down and watch an episode or two of the ridiculous Sex and the City. It's not my favorite show, by any means, but it has its moments. And in one episode, Carrie says this: "Despite the fact that there are over eight million people on the island of Manhattan, there are times you still feel shipwrecked and alone. Times even the most resourceful survivor would feel the need to put a message in a bottle, or on an answering machine."
And all I want to say today is, thanks, Mr.Broken Toes, for returning my message in a bottle.
You and me? We're gonna keep this world spinning. And I have all the confidence in the world that no matter where we end up, if we toss out a message in a bottle (or a text message), we'll catch it for each other.
Her name is Dessa. A local gem, I stumbled into her show at the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis. I know little of her, but she keeps me captivated, that's for sure. Her next show is April 11th.
"She's a latter day saint but a saturday sinner...
He doesn't make me happy /
but he helps to still the shakes /
consolations to the nice guys..."
When my peers were taking study abroad trips in college and leaving for the Virgin Islands and Australia, I signed up for domestic exchange in Boston, MA. In January. Studying programs for the homeless.
Well, in any case, that experience gave me a whole new perspective on the homeless. They can be fierce and they can be distraught and broken. They can be irate and they can be gentle. They can be optimistic with every hope in the world and they won't hesitate to tell you to "fuck off." I often wonder what it would have been like to study homeless programs in sunny California vs. snow and ice Boston.
On a nightly basis I helped the administration of Boston's largest homeless shelter. On my first few nights I was perky and outgoing and smiled constantly, trying to be the best bright spot I could in the lives of these men, whether it was giving them a warm meal or handing out Vaseline in the clinic for cracked, sore feet.
"You gotta quit that," one of the security guards said to me. Short, cocky, and too handsome for his own good, he had been quite 'friendly' with me already, and I knew it was a matter of time before I'd have to deny him my phone number. He didn't mess around at the shelter: he monitored the metal dectectors, broke up fights, reprimanded the disgusting old man in the wheelchair when he made his vile comments at me EVERY night, and ushered the exceedingly drunk and the obvious drug addicts out the front door when they tried to get a room for the night. Not a fun job. But then he'd search me out in the clinic and talk to me in the same tone of voice I'm pretty sure he used with his mother.
"I gotta quit what?" I asked. It was 9:00 p.m. at night and the dining hall had emptied out, so I was helping clean off the dinner tables.
"You gotta quit being so nice. I mean, I know it's in your blood, and I know you're from Minnesota... but people don't look these men in the eye. They'll cross the street when they see them coming. You're a beautiful blonde woman, slim figure, gorgeous smile, and a wonderful personality - not to mention you smell great. If you keep being nice to them like you are, you'll make some guy's year because of the fact you even gave him the time of day, but you'll also give someone else too much temptation that they won't be able to resist."
I was silent for a moment. I never thought about it in that way: I am part of a world of people "like me" and they are part of a world that makes up "them."
When I went into class the next day I was a very vocal debater. For weeks I had been listening to the extreme liberal ranting of some students about how the large shelter I was working at didn't do society justice. They chose to study small, grass-roots organizations that served dinner to five to six men a night. The men were welcome to help cook the meal, the staff ate with the men, and everyone cleaned up together. Such a setting fostered dignity, they said, and helped the men get back on their feet. If they had been drinking, they weren't allowed in the doors.
"I tell you what, if I was homeless in Boston for one night, I'd be drinking, that's for sure. It's freezing cold out there and sanity is fleeting if you think too much," I said. A few chuckled, a few stared me down.
"How can you support that organization? They do nothing to give back to society but continue to enable the problem," one student said.
I wasn't receptive.
"Because, while you're baking bread for five hand-picked men from the street, I'm busting my butt with a handful of other people to get close to 900 men off the street, through the door, fed, and their medical needs addressed. Do you have any idea how one night on the street can violate your soul?"
"I totally do, that's why it's important to restore dignity..." he started to say.
"Yeah, you do that. Which, by the way you're doing to feel better about yourself, not really for them..."
He scowls at me. But before he opens his mouth I continue.
"But meanwhile I'm going to try to help a few dozen people so men holding master's degrees and men who never made it past eighth grade aren't raped or beaten when they fall asleep -- or! -- simply go insane because of hunger and bleeding feet and haunting memories of the house they used to own and the wife they used to sleep with and dog that used to crap in the yard they used to have. It's not that I have some amazing love for humanity. Last night a man vomited something unrecognizable all down the front of me and then told me to "pull my head out of my ass." Some of the men disgust me. But I guess, for the sake of this class and educational enlightenment, we differ on what we see as the definition of help. So tell me, how do you pick from the masses which five men out of 900 in this neighborhood deserve dignity the most?"
I reported for work that night at my shift and again, the man in the wheelchair licked his cracked lips at me and gurgled something to do with yoga, a cunt, and a thick penis. I notified the cocky Puerto Rican security guard and he gladly pushed the wheelchair-bound man back outside for me, swearing and cussing all the way the was wheeled.
And I was more confused than ever what the answer was.
Today I came across this photo. It reminded me of a homeless man I saw in Uptown last summer. He was holding a sign that said "Chuck Norris killed my family and I'm the only one left alive." Typically I give money only to organizations and not to individuals, but I couldn't help drop him some bills.
When I saw signs like that, and when I see signs like this, the living pulse of creativity reminds me that "they" are a lot like "me."
And I can't help but be afraid that depending on who ends up running the world, if I ever become one of "them" I'm worried that someone might not select me as one of the five that's let inside the 'dignity' shelter. Simply because some undergrad student wants to run a program that makes him feel better about himself, his value as a generous human, and his place in the food chain of humanity.
In high school I owned a pager. It was teal. I bought it at Kmart.
Just so you know, I was awesome.
On the afternoon of St. Patrick's Day -- an incoming text from M.H. (hosting a dinner later that evening with two Irish men): "We need a pound of duck or goose blood."
Turns out he wasn't kidding. As it ended up they couldn't locate the blood, but they did find pigs feet.
It was a good thing, though, that the men put together lots of other good food, including brisket and cabbage, soda bread, and rutabagas.
I also had my first shot of Jameson. Whiskey. Wow. Talk about potent. I guess if your people are eating pigs feet, though, you're gonna wanna wash it down with Jameson.
But, like most of our get togethers, it's not the food or the drinks that really make the night. It's the friends. The biggest pot of gold in the world couldn't buy better friends. I get so excited to get together with these people, even when we have to look at pig's feet.
I nannied so my friends could celebrate their anniversary out of town. The kids and I started by making an egg tree. You know, poke holes in eggs, blow the guts out, paint 'em up. The two little girls looked at me like I was the head of NASA for coming up with the idea.
Little L won't wear socks, so after we went outside to find the branch for the egg tree she wanted to take her socks off. I said, "But what if your feet get cold?" To which she simply responded, "That's why I have warm feet." Oh. Duh.
Little L is at that age when almost everything she says is golden. She gave me so many hugs with adorable little ramblings - "You're the bestest babysitter ever" and "You're staying overnight? AWESOME!" and "We can go to the zoo to see the annam-moles?"
So I decided to ask her, "How do you spell Mississippi?" Without missing a beat she said, "E - I - O - sippi."
I loved naptime.
After some pizza and a game of monopoly, we went bowling.
Then we went home and watched "What About Bob." When she fell asleep, I didn't bother to put her in her big girl bed. I let her sleep next to me. It was possibly my favorite part of the weekend, her little body snuggled up next to me, sleeping soundly, safely, peacefully. And when we woke up, we trekked out to the zoo.
We heard the tiger roar. I was depressed. The tiger was skinny and morose-looking. He lumbered about a cold, Minnesota den and looked misplaced. It was my least favorite exhibit. He continued to make this half-hearted roar, just enough to get a few oohs and aahs out of the children, but most of the adults looked unimpressed and said, "Let's go see the African-hoofed animals, kids." Little L hooked her fingers into the chain-linked fence and watched the thin cat move about slowly through the snow. It growled a few more times.
"OWWWWWWW..." she imitated. We watched the cat silently for a few more minutes.
"You want to go watch the polar bear again?" I asked her.
"Yeah, cause we both love the polar bear, right En-im-lee?"
I hoisted her up into my arms and she squeezed me around the neck and together we trudged down the path to go watch the polar bear again.
"I luff you," she said, nudging her head into my shoulder.
"I love you too, princess." We sat at the polar bear exhibit for twenty minutes, watching him swim back and forth, loving the giant white bear together.
Some of the other parents had children who pounded on the glass and threw fruit snacks on the ground in fits of rage and hit their siblings with full fists or with the legs of their Barbie doll. They'd run off with the digital camera and lick the railings and tell their mother that she was "stooooooopid poop." Meanwhile there was little L, tucked in my arms, rocking with me gently, counting the number of times the polar bear swam back and forth. Such a large animal moving so gracefully, such a small child sitting so peacefully.
My desk is amongst a corner full of copy-editors. She sits with her back to me. Me, a writer on a MAC, and her, a copy-editor with a PC. She also owns a mighty purple pen she uses for all of her edits, signing "PN" neatly on her finished projects.
That's how we met, I suppose, although I don't exactly remember our first conversation. I'm going to assume it's because at some point I likely spun around in my chair and asked her something about hyphenation or lack thereof, such as in "webcast" and "Web site."
The woman has red hair. Not red hair as in "Oh dear, the Clarion box did not work out well for you," but red hair that shows the world this is what red hair is.
"I wear cashmere because it's a way I've decided to treat myself," she tells me one day, quietly, humbly, sweetly, wearing an impeccably soft pink sweater.
She tells me this as not to brag, but as to give me wisdom: every woman should learn how to treat herself with kindness, honor, grace, and passion. She instructs yoga and makes chocolate chip cookies six cookies at a time (so they're warm after dinner) and drinks decaffeinated lattes and blushes like a schoolgirl when she talks about the love of her life. She's one of the most remarkably feminine women I know.
I sit here for numerous hours a day, repairing passive sentence structures and staring at documents until my eyes fuzz up, waiting to hear her voice behind me to see if I want to walk down and get coffee or have lunch. Sometimes we pass sticky notes that say "You're fabulous" or "You remind me of a princess (in a good way)". And when someone brings a putrid smelling microwavable lunch into the area, we look over our shoulders and roll our eyes, then fall apart to giggles.
She sits behind me again today, just like any other day, headphones in her ears; steadily working to edit a catalog; purple pen in hand; and delicate, long earrings dangling against her neck. And I think it's wonderful to be able to think secret little thoughts behind her back about how much I adore her as a friend.