Monday, April 25, 2016

The pleasure of someone else's clothes

I've always loved borrowed clothes. When I put on my sister's or my children's clothes, I feel  part of them blanketing me, encircling me with their personality. My favorite hiking fleece used to belong to a center back on Grayson High School's soccer team. He was my daughter Maggie's first real boyfriend. He was kind of a jerk, but he was handsome, a star athlete, and the new kid at school, so my daughter saw him as a challenge and dated him her senior year. Whenever  I wear Matt's Columbia fleece, I think of all the soccer matches I watched with my daughter, how she and he laughed together and fell in love for a minute, and how after they broke up, Matt still returned the coffee cup I left in his car because he knew it was my favorite. He wasn't unredeemable.

When my big sister went off to college in 1976, I used to sneak her peasant blouses out of her suitcase after she packed. It was a terrible thing to do; we had some of our worst fights about it, but we probably both understand now why I did it. Whenever I wore Kathy's clothes, I felt cool, like I was Linda Ronstadt or some groovy college girl. My thieving gesture was one of love, although I've learned better ways to express it.

I wore my grandfather's brown cardigan for a long time, too, after he died. It was the eighties and you could get away with wearing oversized sweaters and long skirts. The little alligator on the left front made me remember the times he took me with him golfing and let me drive the cart. My grandfather used to tell me stories no one else in the family would--it was the only way I knew my grandfather's brother-in-law shot himself, or that all five of his brothers were alcoholics. When I was very young, my grandfather bought me my first tennis racket and told me bedtime stories from The Odyssey. It hit me hard when he died. When he died, I kept his sweater and made it part of my wardrobe for a really long time. Papaw used to remind me of Ed MacMurray on My Three Sons. He was a good man with a good sweater, and  wearing it, I felt like a better person. .

Lily is the daughter who borrows my clothes, as long as they are gray or brown. She comes home without having packed properly, but she is a beautiful girl, I mean like model beautiful, so she can get away with drab shapeless clothing and still turn heads. Emily, though, has the most fun with borrowing, and we have a game we call "Closet." It's simple. She goes through my closet whenever she is here, and I give her whatever she picks out. I think I have only denied her one item ever, and only because it was brand new and I had not worn it yet.

There's such a symbolic pleasure in wearing other people's clothes. The wearing binds you to the original owner. It creates a circle. We used to have a routine on the street where my twins were born in Mississippi. My oldest daughter is Emily. Her clothes went to Ashley down the street, three years younger. Ashley's went to her little sister, Jessica, and Jessica's came to my twins, Maggie and Lily. Leftovers went to Goodwill, if they weren't worn out by then. I think If everyone shared clothes, maybe the world would be more united. Imagine all the people sharing all the world. Starting with maybe an old brown shapeless cardigan

Friday, April 22, 2016

Locked and loaded: My mother's shotgun

I saw her shoot a snake once, the only day I held a shotgun, even though she wanted to teach me how to use it when I was a junior in high school. The first time I noticed Mother's shotgun,  woman two blocks away had gotten murdered in her own home by a man she sometimes hired to do work around the house. That's neither here nor there, but it was terrifying as well s tragic. I knew the woman's daughter from the swimming pool, but not well.  Later Grace McPherson went to live with her aunt. Dickie McPherson had already been paralyzed a few years before in a swimming accident, and I don't know where he went.Mother took me out in the front yard and told me I should learn to shoot. I declined. I was pretty sure I would not be able to find where Mother kept the shotgun anyway in the event of a home invasion. Also, I wanted to block out Mrs. McPherson's murder.  I turned and went back into the house, which I think made Mother mad.

The next time I remember seeing the shotgun was the day of the snake, about twelve years later. By that time, Mother had remarried Gerry and moved to his house in north Meridian, but she still had a cabin she had inherited from her parents down at Buckatunna Creek south of Quitman. I always loved the camp and I used to drive down from Memphis and stay in the  cabin with her when the twins were eight or nine. I had all but forgotten about the McPhersons and my girls were swimming in the creek. It had a nice sandy bank, where my grandfather used to put me in the canoe and take me out for a paddle. the creek hd a rope swing, and you could see where the old bridge used to be. It was a nice place to splash around. So when the snake slithered from the woods onto the sandbar, I figured we should do something before the girls found the it. I think it was probably just a black snake, but Mother went up to the cabin anyway and came back with the shotgun.

A word about the shotgun. It's what Mother calls a "side by side," two barrels. It was a birthday present her father gave her when she was twelve years old, so that makes it...69 years old. I guess after World War II it seemed natural to have a gun, or maybe just down in the Mississippi country where you see copperheads and moccasins as a matter of course. Mother has promised me I could have the shotgun when she's gone, but I know she'll take it with her if she can.

She showed me how to shoot. I was less resistant this time. Maybe it was that we were down in the country and I was thinking about shooting a snake, not a person. I didn't have very good aim, but I gave it a try. I know snakes flip and flop a while after they're dead, but this one either had a whole lot of nerve endings or my aim was worse than I thought. We waited half an hour and it was still moving around. Mother said she didn't think it was quite dead and she took the shotgun from me and shot it some more. She shot it a whole bunch of times. I didn't seen how it could still have any life in it or even be in one piece.

Eventually, the snake made its wriggly way to the water and I could just picture the it being swept downstream and coming up against the girls' legs. I got a stick and walked over to where it drifted in the eddy. I hooked it with the stick and flipped it back on the beach. Then Mother picked up the gun and I leapt out of the way while she shot it  few more times. A few minutes later we all went back to the cabin to get some cheese and crackers, and when we came back, the snake was gone. I speculated that it found its way back to the water or a hawk came along and picked it up.

But this is not about the snake; I got sidetracked. It's about Mother's shotgun. A few years later than that, I had moved to Georgia and my oldest daughter had gone down to stay with Mother awhile to get away from her unsuccessful marriage, so this anecdote I heard from her, but I believe. It has quite a bit of verisimilitude. By that time, Mother had become less inhibited about drinking, and Emily told me one night Mother got mad at Gerry about something  and called him a drunk (he was also given to excessive drinking but nicer about it), and she shot at him as he sat in his recliner in the den watching Turner Classic Movies. I never quite understood how he managed to escape with his life if it was the shotgun, but I've seen the holes in the chair and I've heard her call Gerry a drunk who lives off women with my own ears. Emily says the police came, but they went away without arresting anybody.

Mother and Gerry went back to their daily routine, golfing and drinking and playing bridge until Gerry died of a pulmonary embolism, not a gunshot wound, in 2007. We went to the funeral but we also began to make more regular visits to check on Mother. At Christmas, she was in a state.  Since Gerry died, Mother had been both lonely and concerned for her safety as an elderly woman living alone. She confided the concerned for her safety part to us, and we inferred the loneliness. She told us she could protect herself, though.
"I keep my shotgun close in case someone tries to break in." She drank three or four water glasses full of wine and acted like she enjoyed the visit.  However, things went quickly to hell when she picked a fight with Kathy about the twin bed Kathy asked if she could take back to Georgia. It had been a Christmas present when Kathy was thirteen.  Mother got agitated and told her we could have anything she owned, but not that bed. I was quite irritated with her at that point; she made Kathy cry.

I'm not sure if that was the visit where she told Kathy she had been a failure as a child, but I do remember that she was so outdone with the bed requests that she kept on and on about Kathy's greediness. She told Kathy that her being elected class favorite was a mistake. Many, many of  Kathy's classmates, she said, came to Mother to complain about Kathy's being selfish. This supported Mother's objection to giving Kathy her twin bed until I pointed out that Kathy had been elected class president the next year, so her classmates had seemed to think rather well of her.

That was about the time Mother called the police and told them to come arrest her daughters, as they were robbing her house.The police came to see what was going on, and I began to understand those Investigation Discovery shows like Snapped.  The whole situation was so ludicrous I could hardly believe where it had gone wrong and why I was trying to explain to two uniformed officers while my sister wept in the background and Mother glared at me over their shoulders. I remembered how satisfying it had been to hold the shotgun and I knew I better go back to Georgia fast.

But first I wanted revenge. I knew Mother's shotgun was in plain view just under her bed, so when the policemen asked us if we could calm Mother down, I mentioned the shotgun and how she liked to fire it off at family members. Reassessing the situation, the policemen strenuously suggested we go to a hotel. I said we would just drive back to Atlanta. I was furious at Mother and afraid to trust myself around the shotgun. I saw that it wouldn't be that hard to go from shooting a snake to aiming at a person. We got out of there. I stopped at a gas station, got a huge cup of coffee and powered down I-20 till we got home at three in the morning and I was over my anger.

That visit made us wary. The next Christmas, we still slept, or tried to, at Mother's. She was in bad shape, drunk when we got there, so we spent most of the day trying to find a rehab facility that would take her in.  Mother was agreeable one minute, livid the next. That night we both slept lightly. The pull out bed was dirty and she had no clean sheets, so Kathy slept in the clothes she had driven over in. I changed into pajamas, but I laid out my traveling clothes on top of the mattress to sleep on. It was a mistake. All night long I felt as if I was lying inside a chalk outline. Kathy said later she just knew she would wake up with Mother standing by the sofa, double barrels trained on us.

We've gotten--not wiser, but maybe safer. Now we stay at Comfort Inn when we go over. We ascertain location of the shotgun immediately after we get to Mother's house. We have a code word: "antihistamine." When one sister says it, it signals the other sister to go find the shotgun and move it. We usually put it somewhere we think Mother will find it after we leave but not before. We hope that she will just think she moved it when she was less than lucid.

We don't ever have a drink while we're there, so she has to sneak and go have hers in the bathroom and we do everything we can not to agitate her. We talk about Turner Classic Movies and we agree with everything she says. Neither of us relishes the thought of ending up like the snake. I can too easily imagine myself flopping around, nerves refusing to die until Mother shoots me some more.  Now whenever the police are called to Mother's house, and it's happened a few times, I make sure one of us tells them right off she keeps that shotgun under the bed, fully loaded, and they better see that it's there way before they try to convince her to come anywhere with them. It just seems like the prudent thing to do.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Not quite a disaster

We decide to try to get Mother out of the house.  She has the gas logs blazing and it's probably 85 degrees in the room. It is a lovely sunny day in April in Meridian, Mississippi, and we convince her to go for a ride. Mother has a former student who has built a yoga center/spa/massage facility out in the country. Several of the student's siblings have houses around the land, so Mother is agreeable to go. It's clear she's making an effort; she's showered, she has put on the blouse Kathy bought her for early Mothers' Day, and she seems to be sober.

We think it's good for her to get out. It's been a long time since she went anywhere except to the liquor store or to Waffle House, and she ran into that with her car, which is one reason we're here. So we hope this will be a nice little outing. We think the isolation is making her condition only worse.

I know Mother has difficulty walking, so I stay close as we go from the front porch to the car. She's a little shaky, but she puts her hand on the back of my neck and balances lightly as she traverses the short distance. We get in the car. Mother says all she knows is that it is south.

Me: Down 45 south, like you're going to the coast?
Mother: No, not down 45. Just south.
We figure out that Jenna's place is somewhere near Lakeview Golf Course, so Kathy puts Lakeiew Golf Course in the GPS and it tells us to go down 19 South toward Butler, Alabama.
"That's not right," Mother says. Kathy listens to Siri.
"This is not the way."
"No, Mother, but it's a way. If you see anything that rings a bell, just tell me and I'll go that way."
We head down Highway 19 South anyway, which would take us to Butler, Alabama, if we kept going, but the GPS tells us to turn right on Log Creek Road.
"We're going to end up in Alabama," Mother says.
Kathy: Well, we're going to turn on Log Creek Road before we get there. Mother, you ought to come back to Atlanta with me. Now that tax season is over, Wesley's going to bring Channing out to see the house, and Andrew will be bringing Allison, whom I've never met."'
"Well, I have business I have to attend to. I have to pay my land taxes."
"You have to pay them? Well, Top could help you." (Top, Kathy's husband, is a CPA, specializing in corporate taxes).
"I have to pay them, and I have to talk to somebody about them."
"I know the bosy would love to see you."
No reply. We pass the golf course. 
Kathy: "This is a pretty road."
Mother: "We came the long way."
Kathy: "So Jenna's place is on down this road?"
Mother: "I know we go past the golf course."
We come to the end of the road. No Jenna's place.
Kathy: "So we should have passed it?"
Mother: "That was if we came the other way."
Kathy: "It's on the other side of the golf course?"
Kathy: "I'm going to go up here and turn around."
Mother: "No!"
Kathy: "But if it's on the same road..."
Mother: "I keep telling y'all I don't remember."
Kathy: "I'll turn around."
Mother: "No." So Kathy turns right. We see a property with rolling green hills, some newly constructed outbuildings, and a pasture.
Kathy: "I bet that's it."
Mother: "I wonder who lives on the Kimbrell farm now. That's Berry Ward's driveway, him and his wife."
We see a sign that says "Doc and Miss Hattie."
Mother: "They had a pasture and some horses."
Kathy keeps driving. We see another property with a closed gate.
Mother: "I don't believe we can get in."
Kathy: "I wouldn't drive down somebody's driveway; I just wanted to see it."
Mother: "Well, you can't."
We keep driving and pass an old white house with a white barn.
Kathy: "I love white barns. Whose house is that, do you know?"
Mother: "It's the Carney house."
Kathy: "Who are the Carneys?"
Mother: "I don't know how to tell you who they are."
Kathy wants to take a picture of the barn, so she pulls over and gets out. When she gets back in, she asks Mother, "Do you want me to turn around and go back to find Jenna's?"
Mother: "That's way out of the way."
Kathy: "I wonder how we missed it."
Mother: "We went the wrong way."
Kathy: "I'll go back."
Mother: "No!"
Kathy" "Why, if we missed it?"
Mother: "We went the wrong way. It was up there by the lakes. Just keep going." Kathy drives.
Kathy: "Mother, are you hungry?"
Mother: "No. I could eat."
We come out on a highway. It's 45 South.
Mother: "This is the way we should have come. Out 45 South and turn here."
We drive, back into town.
Kathy: "Mother, have you got a taste for anything?"
Mother: "No."
Now we are in the center of old Meridian, where I used to live, where my twins were born, and near the 1929 cottage that was my first house, and a block from where my best Meridian friend still lives.

Me: "Can we go down Poplar Springs Drive to see all the dogwoods?"
Kathy: "Would you like to go by your old house?"
Me: "Yes. That way I can see what's blooming in Jimmy's yard, too." We come to the fork where you go left to Poplar Springs Drive, right to drive down 24th Avenue past my old house and Jimmy's.

Mother: "You need to turn here if you're going down Poplar Springs Drive."
Kathy: "I know, but I was going to go this way to let Lee Ann see her old house."
We drive past my old house and Jimmy's house and turn right.
Mother: "Why are you going this way?"
Kathy: "I want to drive down Poplar Springs Drive for Lee Ann, but I wanted to start at the beginning."
Mother doesn't say anything, but it is clear she is irritated. I can tell by the set of her shoulders.

Kathy: "Can we pick up anything for you to eat later?"
Mother: "I'll let you know."
Kathy: "Would you like for us to pick you up something from that place you usually go in Broadmoor?"
Mother: "You can't, it's closed. You can't get anything today except fast food and McAlister's."
Kathy: "Would you like us to get you something from McAlister's?"
Mother: "I'll let you know later."
Kathy: "Well, we'll be happy to take you anywhere that's open to get you something."
Mother: "We'll see."
We get to Mother's house. Mother hands me the keys and tells me to go around back and unlock the door.  I go.

Kathy goes around around to the passenger side to help Mother get out of the car. Mother pulls herself up and grabs Kathy's hand, which hurts all the time from arthritis. Mother knows this. She clutches Kathy's hand with every  bit of strength she has. Kathy tells me later she did make sure Mother wasn't going to fall, but then she had to wrench her hand away. She says she thought she might pass out from the pain. She takes a whole lot of Ibuprofen on the way back to Atlanta.

When we get inside, Kathy notices an old oil painting Mother has left out in the carport. It is almost ruined and Kathy offers to have it restored for her. Mother says she doesn't want the painting. Kathy says, "Well, why don't I have it restored at my own expense and hang it in my house till you want it?" I know this is never happening, and sure enough, Mother ignores the question. The damaged painting stays leaned up against the wall.

Then Mother offers to let me dig up some of the white iris I admired. I get a spoon out of the sink and go out back, and I get enough in case Kathy wants some, too. We leave. I think the visit went pretty well, except for Mother's gripping Kathy's hand so hard. I'd really really like to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I think she did it on purpose. It's probably best to take the iris, leave the painting, and call "not a disaster" a success. .

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Readings on chakras--specifically the heart chakra

I am reading a book on yoga which the AJC called the best book on yoga money can buy. I have to stop and look up at least a couple of words in every paragraph, wondering if my increased yoga vocabulary will enable me to imitate the crazy flexible Indian man in the black bathing suit illustrating the poses. Here's one--he's resting on his forearms. His right leg is stretched straight up. The left leg is curved behind him and he grasps his ankle. Probably never for me, but I was thinking how green is the color of envy.
 Green is also the color associated with the heart chakra, the Anahata chakra, the one I have the most trouble with. 

According to BKS Iyengar, are the flywheels in the human body. An increased supply of blood in these glands improves and increases vitality. Bandha is the bonding, joining together or catching hold of. Iyengar claims that without banda, pranayama, (controlling the breath) is lethal.
Here's what Pinterest led me to:
"A result of energetic imbalance among the chakras is an almost continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. When the heart chakra is agitated, people lose touch with feelings and sensations, and that breeds the sense of dissatisfaction. That leads to looking outside for fulfilment. When people live in their heads, feelings are secondary; they are interpretations of mental images that are fed back to the individual. When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalisations, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessens. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arises which results in the self reaching out for experience. When the throat chakra settles and energy is distributed evenly between the head and the heart chakras, one is able to truly contact one’s senses and touch real feelings."
I have already done my thirty minutes of yoga this morning, so what's left is eating a lot of green vegetables today, wearing green and getting out in the woods where the trees are budding out with their first green of April.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Superstition: when you believe in things that you can't understand

"One of the oldest sightings of a black panther [came] in 1958 near Rome, Georgia. A motorist reported that a huge black panther jumped on the side of his care and left muddy pawprints on the side of the automobile. Other reports in Georgia exist, some in the metro Atlanta area" (

Apocryphal animal stories are among the most fascinating of tales. My babysitter used to talk of a wolf-like creature that came up on her son Melvin and frightened him half to death with eyes the size of silver dollars and a long red tongue lolling out. She told me she herself had seen a snake grab its tail in its mouth and roll like a hoop. I believed her implicitly. I think I still do, but suspect she suffered from a case of myopic gullibility.

I observed superstitions up until two weeks ago. My grandmother refused to open umbrellas in the house, knocked on wood, and threw salt over her shoulder. She kissed the hem of her skirt and made a wish when it was turned up. I thought my grandmother was a cool chick, and I followed suit.

My habit got more involved as I began to collect superstitions. I built a bottle tree at my mother's cabin on the creek to trap evil spirits and thought about painting my front door blue. I drove my children to the country in the middle of the night to wish on shooting stars. If anybody ever died in my home, I planned to cover the mirrors with a cloth. Morbid, you say? I say scholar of folklore. Just preserving Southern traditions.

One October night, my mother and I sat with a bottle of wine in front of a crackling fire at her cabin when she asked me if I really thought the bottles would trap evil spirits. I assumed she must be drunk because she has a college degree and taught English for 33 years. Of course I didn't think they caught evil spirits; I thought they caught the afternoon sunlight in a fetching way. I realized my mother actually believed that nonsense.

I told my sister and she said superstitious people are assholes, along with vegetarians and people who post about Donald Trump on Facebook. The last thing I wanted to be was an asshole. Right then I made a vow to quit with the salt and the hemlines.

Two black cats crossed my path this week and I didn't flinch. They weren't together, not two black cats out on a date, but two separate cats on two separate days. Otherwise,I might have turned the car around. As far as panthers in Georgia and snakes who roll around in circles, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. A live armadillo scuffled across the trail the other day in front of me. I never saw one not dead on the road before. I saw a 15-foot alligator swimming right by my kayak last year in Ocala, Florida.

I look forward to the day when I can toss a hat on a bed, though. Not there yet.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tricky: Spellling, veggie recipes and manly blog backgrounds

I searched Pinterest for "tricky," the prompt of the day, and got a number of spelling posts for tricky homophones, a surprising number of recipes that apparently were not tricky, and one post on the challenge of choosing a masculine background for your blog.

#1: Of those categories, I guess the masculine background would be the one I'd have trouble with. But I don't want a masculine background. I like my yellow ballet dancers. But if I were a man:
--bricks. A brick wall. It denotes solidarity, aesthetic sensibility, hard work. It denotes that you were the little pig with sense to withstand the Big Bad Wolf. What's more masculine than that? I'm going with the brick wall if I ever start a manblog. Note: I used to think that I would become a man when I grew up. As though that were a higher life form than an adult woman. I'm so sorry I thought that. A yellow tutu-ed ballerina is definitely a higher life form than a brick.

#2: I think I can cook although my spaghetti squash turned out  mushy yesterday.I threw some pesto in and I ate it anyway. What can be tricky is finding an appealing vegetarian option on a restaurant's menu if you don't want a salad. There's usually pasta, but it comes with chicken or shrimp. If I ask them to leave it out, they  charge the same price. Cheap and vegetarian can certainly be tricky. It's true you can resort to just getting an app (appetizer, not application) and drink two glasses of wine instead of eating. I have paid $22 for a meal featuring a bowl of ginger-carrot soup far inferior to what I make, but the wine was indeed better than the $5 bottles in my pantry.

#3: I am arrogant about my spelling. I sometimes boast that I remember the last word I misspelled. It was in the fourth grade on Mrs. Blackwell's spelling test and the word was vegetable. I spelled it "vegatable." That's a lie, though. I had to check the spelling of "coconut" just yesterday. In all fairness, I didn't spell it wrong first. Also, I am not counting typos. Lord knows I make a gracious plenty of those. But every time I write "sherriff" it looks funny. And now Spellcheck has underlined in red. I'm going to leave it. It will be a good lesson in humility.

Man, it bothers me though.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

On Chartres Street

We had been to a Talking Heads concert at the Superdome in New Orleans when I got mugged on Chartres Street. The whole event was pretty civilized, just the type of crime you’d want to be involved in if you were a small-town girl from Mississippi trying to learn the streets of New Orleans. After the fact, I felt like my date was as much a villain as  the mugger and I kept the grudge against him a long time.

It was 1984 and "Burning Down the House" had just been released. My sometime boyfriend lived in an apartment on Chartres Street right off Jackson Square. He was an engineer and could afford French Quarter rent as well as concert tickets. We’d seen a bunch of bands—the Neville Brothers, Doug Kershaw, The Radiators, Men Without Hats--mostly New Orleans names, but good stuff. I was on the fence about Andy, but he was wooing me with music that fall.

 Moreover, on my tiny newspaper salary, I was living almost in Chalmette, a slummy, ugly neighborhood that got famous later for being decimated when Katrina hit. I feel like it probably didn't look that different afterward. Andy’s apartment was the opposite of my cheap townhouse. He had the exposed brick walls, the wrought iron, the Cajun grocery on the corner, and the river two blocks away. It was the New Orleans cachet I’d moved down for, so I let him woo me, even though I suspected he had a more serious girlfriend in Lake Charles. I’d gone through his mail once when he ran down to the Cajun grocery for cigarettes and found a letter from her, but I let him take me to concerts anyway. It's not like I'm proud of it.

The night I got mugged we were coming back from The Talking Heads (who were awesome, by the way), and I’d found a parking place right in front of Andy's apartment. It was the only time I ever did. I don't remember why he went in without me, but I was getting a bunch of stuff out of my car, so he gave me his extra key. I fumbled with the key at the gate that led into the courtyard. I noticed a shadow that wasn't a lamp post in my peripheral vision. I looked toward it. A tall thin black guy stood there watching me. I hadn't seen any movement. He must have been standing there the whole time, watching me park and unload my car.

I didn’t know then about a lot of things. I didn’t think about the wisdom of dating someone who would lay out $150 for concert tickets but leave you on a dark street alone. I should have. Andy had left me at a Halloween party earlier that year to go off and make out with some girl dressed like a gypsy. I blew it off because I wasn’t that invested in Andy and I’d had a couple of margaritas.

I looked at the guy looking at me and wondered what I should do. Andy's apartment was through a dark courtyard and up a flight of stairs on the side of the building. I thought about my options. Unlock the gate, try to close it and go for the apartment. Or stand there and wait for what was about to go down. I knew something was.

I also didn't know if I had to re-lock the gate once I got inside or if it locked automatically. If I went through the gate, I thought, chances were he would follow me and I would get raped, robbed and killed, my corpse left under the palm trees that lined the courtyard. If I kept standing there, I would at least be out in the light. I decided crime-ridden Chartres Street was the safer choice.

I jumped when the guy spoke. "Do you need some help?"  He was still staring at me. When I look back, I don’t know what that was about, but I think he might have been procrastinating. Maybe he didn't have much experience mugging people.  So I said no. It looked like both of us wanted to get this thing over with. He rushed at me and knocked me down, grabbing my purse and breaking the strap where it looped over my shoulder. I had put my money in my pocket for the concert. He got 35 cents and my lipstick. I got up, unlocked the gate and went in to tell Andy and call the police.

About half an hour later, the police called up to Andy's apartment and told me to come down and see a suspect. When we got back on Chartres, two policemen were wrestling a man on the opposite sidewalk. He was struggling, but they had his arms pinned behind his back. He wasn't the guy. I told them so and they left.  They didn't seem that invested either, and then it was all was over.

I never got all that wily; I didn't have to. I got married a few years later and raised my kids on a calm cul-de-sac in suburbia. But that night I started being more aware. Once I picked myself up from the sidewalk, I realized my car keys had been in my purse. I made Andy come outside with me while I popped the hood and took the rotor out of the distributor cap. That way the car wouldn't start if my purse-snatcher tried to drive it away later. It was the only smart thing I did that night, but as soon as it got light, I put the rotor back in and drove away from Chartres Street for good. 

So I ended up with a bruised elbow and lost 35 cents, some lipstick and Andy. Soon after, I took a job back in Mississippi as a public relations photographer and left my ugly apartment. Andy called to tell me his car had been broken into when someone smashed the window and stole his stereo and all his mix tapes. I didn't commiserate with him. I told him I was leaving and he wanted to take me to a Police concert in Baton Rouge as a goodbye present. I thought, "Really, Andy?" I felt like there would be a little irony in our going to see The Police together.

Because I didn't quite forgave him for not being there to protect me. I blamed him about as much as the guy who knocked me down, although I should have taken his measure the night he ditched me on Halloween for the gypsy girl. My mugging made me a little smarter about assessing a situation and predicting the outcome, so I told Andy not to bother getting tickets, and I left New Orleans.

Since then I've navigated other cities without mishap--New York, DC, Atlanta, San Juan. I heard Andy got married and his engineering job took him and his wife to London. I figure like me, he probably ended up raising kids on whatever the British equivalent of a cul-de-sac is. I’m not bitter. I do hope Andy doesn’t abandon his wife at parties to go make out with gypsies.  I hope when they go out in London, she never ends up taking the rotor out of their Mini-Cooper. I don't know if she was the Lake Charles one, but ’m sure she’s a nice girl. Maybe I’m just a little bitter but I can live with it.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Contrast: The more things change

The first paddle of the season is always euphoric. A winter of hiking generally curbs the craving for exercise; I love the strain of my hamstrings after a long hike on the Georgia AT, but nothing, simply nothing, compares to being on the river. It's the Broad River, outside of Danielsville, which ties for Beavertail Point in Michigan's UP for the closest place to heaven I can imagine.

Three or four years ago, I was with two of my daughters on the first weekend Broad River Outpost opened in March and it was chilly. That day I went in the river three times, while my daughters swished me aside and retrieved my kayak. I could have done it myself, but "We got it, Mom," they said. So I waited and shivered while they emptied my kayak and handed me back my paddle. That day I lost a camera, a shoe when my foot got entrapped, and probably a couple of water bottles.

But this is a different kind of paddle. For one thing, it's warm. I'm with a friend, or I think he is a friend. I'm not sure exactly what he is yet, but he is a lot of fun. He's never been kayaking on a river before and the Broad has some challenges. Today we've had a lot of rain and it's higher than I've ever run it. My friend loses it on the first feature and goes in, but he keeps his paddle. We manage to get to the rocks where he rights himself, and he stays in his boat on all the other rapids, including the four-foot drop and the Roostertail, which I think is the most furn and the hardest to navigate. I'm in my white water Pyrana for the first time on the Broad and it manages the rapids with ease, but it's tippy. I stay up. My dry bag keeps my phone and our lunch dry. I get to the take out with both shoes.

There's no huge difference in this paddle and the one three or four years ago, except I've paddled a lot more and have a better kayak. But those variables don't mean a lot. It depends on the rain and the river. I've run the Yellow River and the Broad and the Chattahoochee and the Cartecay over and over in the past few years.  Sometimes they were a cakewalk and sometimes they were terrifying. Once on the Yellow I thought I really might die in a Class IV hydraulic. I'm not constructing the river as a metaphor for life or anything; it's just a body of water, and it changes like everything else. But it's true that plus les choses changent, plus elles restent les mêmes.

Rivers are eternal. Mark Twain knew it, as did Langston Hughes and James Dickey. I know a little about rivers myself now and the more I'm in the water, the more I learn to trust or at least accept it. Same river or different river, there's no better place on earth to be than in the water. The river always knows where to go.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Clarity Pain Brings

When I pushed my hands into ice-cube-filled sink, I thought this is crazy. No one can do this. I wanted to jerk them out immediately. I asked the girl timing me what was the time to beat. She said Mr. Bird left his in for 25 minutes. I knew it was a lie.

I made it one minute, but it was hard. At about three I was pretty comfortable. I thought I'd just see how long I could go. The teacher said I could pull one hand out and then put it back in if one was easier than the other. I thought to myself you can go to hell with that pulling one hand out business.

 It was a science experiment and I have no idea still what they were trying to prove. I didn't care. I had just been sitting in a desk in my classroom planning a shower for Megan's wedding and thinking about tiramisu cupcakes when the teacher came in and asked it we wanted to help. So I said sure. I always agree to anything anybody asks me to do. I figure I can back out later if it doesn't work out.

So there I was with my hands in ice and once I was in, I was in. At four minutes, the students began to marvel. The timing girl said you're doing great. She said it a couple of times. I had sent my goal for five minutes, but when the timing girl told me five, I felt like I had a little left, so I decided on seven. At five and a half the finger I dislocated jumping down from a rocky ledge and getting it tangled in my hiking pole strap began to hurt like a bitch. It wasn't seven yet, so I ignored the weak finger.

The last minute was nearly unbearable, but I kept my hands in the ice. My finger felt like it was turning into rock, a rock about to explode. Janie leaned over my shoulder and said she's a competitor. And  she's goal-oriented. If you give her a challenge, she's not going to quit. I thought I was hiding it better.

Then I began to wonder why I was putting myself through this torment. There was no purpose. It was just to see if I could. So I did. When the girl got to seven minutes, I left them in for another seven seconds just for spite and then I pulled them out. They were swollen and red. The teacher said get a picture of the winner, so I guess they were lying about Mr. Bird after all. They took my picture and then a picture of my hands. It took about forty-five minutes for the feeling to come back, and I wondered how long it took to get frostbite. I thought take that, Jack London, you jerk.

Janie told the other teachers about my hands at lunch and I was embarrassed. Then I decided to own it. Yeah, I stuck my hands in ice for a pointless seven minutes and seven seconds. I can also run a Class IV rapid, had natural childbirth with twins and survived two alcoholic parents. That's why I did it. I am a badass. That's my clarity.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Your mad scrawl

Your handwriting makes me think you are insane. It is the handwriting Henry VIII might have had.  If David Berkowitz had ever sent me a letter himself, I would've glanced at the envelope and assumed it came from you. Those angular right-angled tails of your js and gs, the spiky K of your first initial--they are all so singularly bizarre. I wonder why you don't use orange ink. Or a gray the color of a spider's hair.

I have wide experience with deciphering illegibility. I can recognize the handwriting of a person with a learning disability in a heartbeat, but yours is not that. It's not exactly not that, either. You might have a learning disability, but something more ominous lurks in the curves of your capital s.

There is a term that students with IEPs use, dysgraphia. It just means bad handwriting to me. I have been in a conference with a parent who became enraged with a teacher who said he could not read the son's handwriting, as if it was a character flaw. Also, I am certain it is a character flaw. Everyone can learn penmanship, and if one declines to do so, that indicates laziness, narcissism, dysfunction and squalor. Your demeanor--and I mean yours, not just anyone's--can fool a lot of people, but the minute you scribble on a Post-it, you give yourself away. You would do better to email all with whom you must communicate, not that I want to abet you in masking your psychosis.

But enough. I don't want to think about your frightening handwriting any more. Visualizing the slopes and swirls makes me feel like Alice in Through the Looking Glass as she tried to follow the path that kept giving itself a shake and turning back to the same door. It is a volatile path, your  handwriting, and the door it leads to is madness. I used to sign the test papers they made me bring home with your flourish whenever I made a C. I shiver to think how perfectly I can emulate it.