"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

April 25, 2005

Two Gentlemen Meet in Verona

I met Heath, my "fella," as my grandmother calls him, in the middle of a gratuitous, Indian-summer-like week in late September. All these months later, after some pretty serious talks about our future together, it seemed time to introduce my main man to. . . well, another main man.


It wasn't my father. (My dad, consequently, upon meeting Heath, had to brace himself from bear-hugging the sweet breath out of the boy. But that was back in November.)

Heath actually suggested the Bob Dylan Show, featuring an up-and-coming Amos Lee and, of all people, Merle Haggard; we'd have to drive an hour and a half to get to the venue--Turning Stone Casino--in Verona, New York. I was amazed. Did my fair stallion understand the profundity of his suggestion? The very words "I'll look into some tickets" made my palms sweat and my heart flitter-flutter. I couldn't contain myself.

When I regained my composure, reality hit. Every Bob naysayer this side of Minnesota wafted faintly by my ears. "He'll never understand him!" one ghost cajoled. "Haaana annnna annahaaa haaannnnnnn!" another stupidly mimicked. (By the way, that's a totally outdated parody, people. If you want to mock the man, at least try to growl a little.) "Hush!" I quieted the voices. "He's got potential. He likes jazz. And he gets Green Day. And Leonard Cohen. . .and old-school Hip Hop. He's open-minded! Give the guy a chance!" I pleaded. And with that, the demons returned to the dark shadows behind Heath's fridge, unconvinced, shrugging, and shaking their heads.

[Side note: The Turning Stone Casino is a smoky, crazy lair that's sort of a cross between the haunted bar and the wicked maze which both appear in The Shining. If you can help it, don't go there, because you will get lost and lose your mind.]

Somehow, after a series of mishaps that don't bear repeating, we made it to the Concert Hall, and freely changed our seats in Section Beyond-the-Pale for some nice ones in the balcony, closer to the stage. We found ourselves surrounded, for a little while, by no one at all. Before we knew it, we were whooping and hollering for the bright young Lee, whose set sadly ended too soon. Merle played some lovely country ballads for us, and actually surprised us with his aged but soft, deep, buttery voice and fiddle-playin'.

Then the house lights came up for the last time. I knew I had to prepare Heath as best I could.

"If you smell something funny," I warned, "it's not pot--it's Bob's incense."
"Um, okay."
"And watch the roadies--they're faster than a pit crew. Watch where they put the set lists."
"And you see that curtain? That's going to be a blanket of stars soon." Oh, crap. Now I was ruining it. Shut up, Hiller! But I couldn't help myself--the ghosts had begun to fill all the empty seats around us, taking their bets off the craps tables downstairs and placing them right in front of my face.

"Two to one he thinks she's crazy for digging this guy," one apparition bleated.
"She's been to sixteen of these shows, Bub. He's gotta give her a little credit, huh?" his transparent friend elbowed.
"I say he leaves her in the parking lot."
"How'd you guys get here?" I demanded.
"We were in the back seat!" the dirty ghost snorted, and then turned to his portly friend. "He's gonna think she's a loon. A damn loon!"

"Look," I turned to Heath. "If you don't like the show we can always go home ear--" And then the house lights faded to dim.
Heath turned to me and smiled. And then, he did the unexpected. He hollered for Bob, along with a thousand or so other folks who were doing the same thing. Like Daisy Buchanan, I was p-paralyzed somewhere between really flustered and happiness.

As the stage lights rose to a heralding crimson, my apprehension spun about-face: would Bob be happy with the man on my arm? Dylan and his new band charged the stage with an infectious energy and launched immediately into The Wicked Messenger, violin bows a flyin', the sound charging towards us like an uncompromising wave. I could tell that Heath was as elated as I was by the richness of the band; his eyes were enormous. He looked like a little kid.

But had Bob seen us? "Bob," I channeled towards the stage. "We're up here."
Bob wrapped up the song, soaking in our applause. And then--I swear--he squinted up at us as he began She Belongs to Me:

She's got everything she needs,
She's an artist, she don't look back.
She's got everything she needs,
She's an artist, she don't look back.
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black.

"What's he singing?" Heath asked.
"Uh, I don't know." I didn't want to say. Bob was being possessive in his own way, a protective quasi-father-figure who pretends to know me.
"You don't know what you're saying, Bob," I channeled to him. But he kept singing right at Heath, who was enjoying himself nonetheless.

She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She's a hypnotist collector,
You are a walking antique.

"Aw, Bob," I demanded. "Leave him out of this. I'm a changed fan! You need to deal with that. Remember that guitar I inherited the summer I first saw you? Well, I sold it. Priorities change, Bobby. I can't scream for you anymore, but I can sing with you. Dig?"

Bob wasn't having it. In response, he began belting out It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding). The sarcastic s.o.b.

But somewhere in the middle of the tune, Bob looked up at us again. I don't know if we were holding each other or what, but his gaze softened. He'd had his own dance with reality, I suppose: the young, naive fan who was once bold enough to bare a shocking amount of skin, toss notes of appreciation on stage, and dance with strangers at his shows was now a mature, seasoned fan who carried breath-fresheners and humbly asked strangers to share their binoculars. I was silently pleading with Bob to accept the new man in my life.

And in an instant of reconciliation, the first few bars of Just Like a Woman found their way over the crowd and into our balcony seats. The ghosts shifted on their hindquarters, uncomfortable, reluctantly forking over chips to one another.

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows
That Baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.

The rest of the concert was a delight. Bob indulged me by playing my new favorite, the achy power-chord, bad-ass Cold Irons Bound, and some old favorites (Desolation Row, Stuck Inside of Mobile). I think if Bobby could have, he would have leaned over and tossled my hair. "Good fella you got yourself," he'd say, and walk away his proud, cowboy strut, witness to the slowing down of another rolling stone.

April 07, 2005

A Poem for School

Dear Faithful Readers,
Many of you are teachers, and may appreciate this poem that I wrote last year sometime between the end of classes and the beginning of final exams; my seniors were itching to get out, and I was on the cusp of what was supposed to be only a one-year exploratory sabbatical (which has turned into a permanent leave, as I'm now residing happily in Rochester). I resurrect it now because the weather is beginning it's most catalystic/cataclysmic effects on our students once again.

TLF: a love song for watertown high school

behold these faces in the halls: the pre-pubescent,
the adolescent, their prisms of emotions worn
within them. they move together,

shoulder to shoulder, avoiding other passing
crowds, small schools of deftly moving fish.

laughter reverberates in this place,
off of the unnoticing, unnoticed white walls;
echoes of newfound masculinity,
of birthday surprises.
a tribunal of boys eye the staircase
from its highest rail, in a mockery of
balcony romeos anticipating their juliets
ascending towards them in short, pink skirts.
consolation happens in corners,
where girls are turning into women.

1. fall

in september, i am already spellbound by names
which i cannot pronounce yet, in an unbending,
new gradebook,
transfixed by a girl who confides in me
a secret she protects, like a small bird.

i dust off my imaginary soapbox and
remember what it is to stand upon it,
for hours, in heels.
the lethargy of summer is still heavy
in our suntans, in the heat of the room.

one floor down, across the school,
the home ec. class is making bread.
from the classroom, we watch the leaves turn
their familiar orange-red, ablaze with an early sunset.

homecoming rouses old rivalries;
teachers reminisce together,
around a photocopier, like veterans
telling stories
around a campfire.

2. winter

an audition: a rosy-cheeked boy sings,
open-jawed, with his eyes shut tight, clenching his fists
together, as if holding a holy rosary to the stage gods.

another boy puts his fist through a wired glass pane,
something we cannot understand,
someone has made a painting
so poignant it, too, eludes us-- there surfaces a white-noise
ocean of misunderstandings, of frustrations, of
the angst that comes with an age.

at the bake sale, the almond-eyed armenian girls sell seven-layered
heaven cakes. they quibble over napkins and correct change,
and teach me new words, with patience. here, they
become their mothers, the comforting language of food
bridges our generations, our cultures.

we watch the first snowfall through the classroom window,
we gasp at its beauty, the newness of it, anticipating
the whiteness of the season, when we begin to see
the paths of our futures, revealing themselves
delicately, like sparrow tracks in the snow.

3. springtime

it is a delicious disaster, a late-season flurry
of papers, of ‘visions and revisions’, of connections,
and corrections, furtive glances from wiser eyes,
important dances, and exhausted laughter.

limbs, buzzing from new growth, cannot help but move,
no one can sit still; the air is finally fresh:
the romeos don their stances
for their coltish, coquette-juliets, who pretend to be studying.

in room 347, i am saying goodbye to the transcendentalists,
thanking them, packing them away until another lesson.
the leaves grow thick again outside the window,
disruptive lawnmowers roar, vying with my voice for attention.

students are contemplating themselves,
their imminent flight from one stage to another.
i am saying goodbye to the whiteboard, now
full with old notes,
goodbye to the leftover handouts, the urgent, reused nurse’s passes,
the leaky pens and dried-out markers,
goodbye to the youthful music of these crowded hallways
goodbye to weary late-night reading
and morning-pleading with weary eyes.

here’s to the joy of paths begun in flight!
and here’s to time, that great white slate upon which we’ll
write our histories together, and say, someday,
we knew each other in another age.

April 01, 2005

The Mysteries of Rochester: some solved, all very unabridged

Is there a link between vitamin D (aka sunshine) and blog neglect? I think Harvard needs to take this on as their latest labor of research unless one of you can explain to me what it is--precisely--about spring that makes me want to take up all creative enterprises except for the beloved blog. As some of us know, Rochester ranks right up there with Seattle as being one of America's rainiest cities, so that probably has something to do with it; but 'Roc City' has nowhere near Seattle's committment to the fine art of taking coffee. In fact, the busiest hubs of socialization (outside our city proper) is Starbucks' Coffee (flagship shop in. . .you guessed it: Seattle). That's my explanation for this unnerving hankering for playing SPUD and kick-the-can surging through my veins (sans caffeine, mind you) today--it's about 50 degrees and the sun is streaming through these 8th-grade classroom windows. Maybe we'll have to leave it to science.

Another mystery I'm in the process of unveiling about Rochester concerns the less than six degrees of separation that seems to connect about 78% of the white population in this city. Here's my case-in-point: I know a man, let's call him R., who I sought to act in the final class of my playwriting seminar; it just so happens that R.--who works in the district for which I'm subbing-- was, coincedentally, later recommended to me by H., a man I've known for many years, who has acted with R. before, and whom I bumped into a few weeks prior at a production for a play at a local college. When our final class (and therefore our staged readings) commenced, R. entered the room to find A. and E., both of whom he'd worked with before; it just so happens that A. and E. know B. and N., two of my playwrights (neither B. nor N. had spoken prior to the actors'--that is A. and E.--being chosen to read as well). Enter a man whose name escapes me, who has directed R., A., and E. in past shows, and who also knows H. "Oh, pshaw," I hear you say. "That's the theater community for you--totally inbred." Alright, then. Want another example?

I walk into a school district's human resource office to drop off a resume. "Oh, you must be Nancy's kid," the secretary says. Keep in mind that 1.) I have never been seen with my mother in this office, and 2.) I've never been this office at all before. I ask the secretary how she could possibly know this information. She tells me that I look just like her, and that she worked with my mom years ago in another school. (Oh.) "That's Nancy's daughter?!" another staff member asks. "Oh, wow! Are you Monica?" This is freaky.
(Alright, so the school systems are also a quagmire of inbreeding--people invariably shift from one school/office to another. But so far, I'm the missing link between teachers and actors--or maybe that's R.'s role here.)

At--of all places, a shiva sitting--I enter the begrieving's living room to find a woman who had observed me subbing/teaching earlier that morning. "Monica!" she cries. "How weird!" Indeed! After we'd played the miniature version of "Rochester Six-Degrees," aka "Jewish-Rochester Six-Degrees," she remarked that it was imperative that I meet So-And-So, my being new to the area and all. But it just so happened that I'd met So-And-So at a recent holiday gathering.

I suppose this is how it is here: if you're in education, and just happen to be Jewish, you're bound to bump into the same people repeatedly. Makes me think of that Hungry Hippos game we had when I was a kid. Same hippos, same metallic mechanism-track-things, different day.

The most pressing mystery of my city of origin concerns our drivers: why do they slow down-- from a smooth 70 to a dizzying 35-- when there is no weather-related, traffic-related, accident-related, roadkill, or car-consuming pothole to cause the sudden change? Take 390, 490, or 590 any day of the week, at any time of day, and some yahoo is bound to slam on his brakes for no apparent reason whatsoever. From my driver's seat, it seems someone has just remembered that s/he left the iron/stove on and this revelation causes leadfoot on the wrong freakin' pedal. Unbelievable. I have no explanation for this one. Please call me to discuss it.

Thanks for reading through this entire, unintentional rant. If you've survived it, please know that the next blog will be far more cheerful and pleasant, as most of my blogs are. After all, readers: what are Rochesterians if not full of mystery?