Category Archives: Memoir

Silence … a Poem about a Decision

Despite how much hope and love you have for the people in your life, sometimes you just need a little closure, even from family.


Your time is up
A window of opportunity
Your silence begets

Five years I gave you
To decide
Am I human … or not

Patiently I watched you all
Dig your holes of hypocrisy
So deep
You can’t climb out

Traded sharp words
Knives in my back
Now you fear bleeding to death
To remove them

In family love is unconditional
Until you have to explain
Me to your friends
Sharing blood is not done in

Five years waiting for you
To make an effort to

Life continues on
One day you’ll wake to find
You wasted it being

With love to my mom, who has been quietly wonderful, but all too far away. Hugs!! ^.^


Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Blog, Memoir, Poetry


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Windows Into the Night

Windows Into the Night

This is not about the window I sleep beneath now. That would be too easy. And a little strange, since it opens out onto a courtyard formed when my apartment building grew to wrap the space in a smokers alcove, where voices emanate–sometimes dully, sometimes with great energy. Luckily I can sleep, or not sleep, through the best of it. I can sleep through a brass band tuning up–once I lay my head down.

No, this is about a window overlooking the urban sprawl of one corner of Baltimore City, the scariest place on earth … at least for a shy, skinny 6th to 7th grade kid. For me, life during the day was all about survival. Not so much survival of the fittest … in that town it was more survival of the meanest. If you’ve caught an episode of The Wire on TV you’ll know what I mean. That was my town. No, no … you can keep it.

But then there’s the night. At night even mean people sleep. The city that frightened me became calm for a time, almost beautiful. It’s no wonder I wanted to spend so much of that time awake, appreciating it. Whenever I was caught by my parents sitting up at some odd hour of the night, I could always blame it on my little brother’s monumental snoring and get an apologetic shrug. But he was slightly duller than a brass band tuning up. I knew it was the night calling to me.

Our bedroom was on the second floor–third floor from the rear–of our ancient brick row house, with a window facing out the back. High enough off the ground the oak tree striving to escape the dark alley beneath had yet managed to block the view.

If you’re new to the concept of “row house”, it’s basically a solid block of 100-year old brick structures sandwiched thinly against the sides of other row houses. The 3-story row house we lived in–4 from the back–would have looked precariously thin and have toppled in a light breeze if it ever stood alone, but like a shelf of books it was tightly packed together on a block-wide shelf. The only separation between them was a thick firewall from the foundation to its flat sloping roofline–back when a firewall was a thick layer of fire-resistant cinderblock rather than a paranoid computer program.

Our block sat atop a natural ripple in the geology of the city, a shelf of homes higher than the rest, the row backing up to the other side of the alley, fronts facing away from us, sat several floors below. The forgotten land then rippling up again a few blocks beyond. Atop that next ripple sat a single-story shopping mall, basically a huge parking lot with the edge of a mall to one side, as far as I could see from my little window.

This was my world at night. Expanses of well-lit asphalt in the distance, over rows of invisible black tarpaper roofs and silent shadowy streets. It might easily have been a jungle at night, or a valley between cliffs, if not for the parking lot in the distance, lit like the outfield at a baseball game, waiting for the next home run.

No game ever played there, but I was probably its most avid spectator most nights: the tiniest of things that happened out there becoming small adventures. Cars would randomly traverse the parking lot, for their own reasons. Often these cars would approach from diverse angles and meet someplace in the middle. The occupants would get out and I would revel in my ability to hear the sounds of their voices echoing over the rooftops, uttered by the ant-sized people so far away.

Only now do I realize I was probably witnessing drug deals in the night. I wonder why the police didn’t sit in windows in the middle of the night, they would catch all kinds of perps that way. I could have had a job at that.

Not all of my attention would be taken up by the non-doings of the mall lot. That was more a meditation of sorts.
Often I would spend the time also listening to the AM stations bouncing off the ionosphere from odd distant places, with the sun charging the air in weird angles out past the horizon. Late Saturday nights I would listen to the wacky tunes of the Dr. Demento Show, still a cult favorite on the internet today, decades later. In a few years this would become a hobby, listening to radio waves bouncing from points on the opposite side of the globe, using a shortwave radio I built from a kit; but for now the AM bands on my tiny transistor radio were exciting enough. Radio propagation was a magical thing to me back then.

I have been a companion of the night ever since. We moved from the city of roaming bullies to the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania, barely rescuing me from my first year in high school … a massive building that resembled a penitentiary in my mind. Again I had a third story window to gaze out from, but the view here was a moon-lit field of grass, or my mother’s sleeping vegetable garden, and the shadows playing across shades from the neighbor’s duplex. I had a silly crush on one of the tenants there for a few months, a tiny married woman who playfully joked or played Parcheesi with us on her front porch, with the popping dice in the middle. I learned from her that I would always love women who nurtured their child-like (not childish) spirit throughout their life, and to never quite grow up myself.

My hormones soon pointed me more appropriately toward the pretty girls in high school, also mostly unrequited. But my nights were much the same here, minus the fear of the city ebbing away. A quieter town nestled in the dark valley to the right, tall trees rustling quietly in the night breezes atop the hill to the left, the stars swirling with hopeful abandon above. The quiet of the night needing at least one soul to stay up to appreciate it.

I wonder now if my night vigils today were an acquired habit, or a simply part of my spirit. Was it nature or self-nurture? I imagine I’ll never know, but I can almost feel the air grow quiet in the night, as more people fall off to dreamland. The crosstalk grows silent, my mind becomes clearer, the night more full of possibilities.

I still have my excuses for being up at that time, even without a parent to randomly look in to wonder: I tell people I can’t sleep normally on my own–I don’t want to lay in the dark alone, since I can easily sleep like a “normal” person when I’m in a relationship. There is some truth to this, too. But I know, deep down, if it wasn’t for the cuddles and kisses, I’d be up at night, exploring the magic of the universe, watching life on the planet slowly ebb and flow. I am a friend of the night. I think I shall always be.

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Posted by on September 11, 2015 in Blog, Memoir


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An Ode to Neglected Apples and Other Queer Fruity Things

An Ode to Neglected Apples and Other Queer Fruity Things

If you’re expecting a serious discussion about serious subjects, you’re in the wrong place. This blog is about apples, because I have a contentious relationship with them and they know it. So how better to piss off the apple population than to talk about them in public. Take that, you crispy devils.

When it comes to apples, apple sauce or apple pie is about as far as I go. I still enjoy the odd apple–and what better kind of apple for an odd person–but there are dangers that explain why I typically skirt past them in the produce aisle.

A vegetarian ex-partner once drilled into me the dangers of the non-organic apple, whose skin wantonly absorbs those sexy pesticides they douse orchard trees with to keep non-humans from enjoying them. These same pesticides are killing our bees and fireflies, too, which is a gripe I’ll save for later. But since we eat this skin and the FDA seems to gaze through money-colored glasses, I usually eschew (faux-Latin for “don’t chew”) the non-organic apple.

You would think the organic apples would be cheaper, since they don’t have to pay for all those chemicals, but that’s never the way of it, is it? If it’s better for us, we must pay more for it! Yes. No. Not on my budget.

But wait, there’s more. When I do risk either organic or inorganic varieties, no matter how much I try to rinse them off, there’s still a taste of that wax they use to keep them pristine, kind of like the goo they pump into dead people so they look cute lying in their open caskets. (Really, why would anyone want to look at a dead person?) You can see where my mind goes when I taste that wax. And again, I doubt the FDA cares what they put in that wax to keep the apples all red and perky as they bump around with the other perky apples in the bin.

And that’s just the skin!

Let’s say we’ve gazed and admired the cover, the blurbs sound good, the binding looks tasty … eventually you’re going to have to bite this ill-fated analogy and taste the contents. I have many memories of apples I’ve bitten into and wish I hadn’t. There’s the over-ripe mushy ones, the sickly sweet ones, the bitter not quite there ones, the dried out chalky ones. Apples must be like wine when it comes to timing when to bite them, and the skin hides that experience just as well as the unopened wine bottle. I’m sure I’ve had far more good than bad ones, but the bad ones stick in my mind. Not literally … unless I have a severely alien digestive system.

I don’t really think about all this when I shop, I’m actually quite cheerful surrounding myself with food (“yay, cookies!!”). But wisps of these thoughts do playfully frolick about my mind momentarily as I pass the apple bins in the grocery store. “I should get some kind of fresh fruit for my health. Apples? …. nah”

Sadly I have a similar situation with many other fruits there. Kiwis are the worst. Just a glance from them and I’m running to the Bakery section, to be comforted by the inedibly scrumptious goodies they keep behind the bulletproof glass. My texture issues will never let me taste a kiwi without having to spit it out, no matter how wonderful it might actually taste. I’m like a little kid this way, but I can’t seem to do anything about it.

Oranges and tangerines are lovely to taste and their crispy moist munchiness a pleasure to partake, but the sheer effort of getting at the innards reminds me of frustrating picnics in my youth back east, trying to acquire sustenance from a pile of Maryland crabs.

imageI think this may mark me as lazy eater, which might explain my simplistic dinner menus at home. Still I will sometimes force myself to eat an orange, hoping it, too, won’t be too sickly sweet or hardened like their friends, the apples. I’m usually happy with the effort, if a little sticky.

Lemons and limes are interesting critters, but I can’t see them as food. They seem most happy riding piggyback on an iced tea or margarita, respectively. That’s where I know them best. Occasionally I will take a bite of these, just to remind myself why I don’t buy them in the grocery store. I may change my mind if I ever take up juggling.

Melons … well, melons all wave to me as I pass without a glance in their direction. I have tried them all and they have the most lovely crisp texture. I adore them for that … but like green peppers, they all create a severe bitter aftertaste for me that “normal” people don’t seem to taste at all. We’ve already established I’m a little weird, right? The taste has sadly kept me from taking a second bite of the entire melon family.

Ah, but there is one melon that somehow escaped this phenomena: watermelons. I think I have yet to have a bad watermelon. I’ve eaten the mushy overly sweet parts, I’ve nibbled the greenish hard parts near the rind, I’ve even swallowed the odd seed … somehow it’s all yummy for me. The only reason I don’t grab one of these whenever I see them is the size of them. In my current domicile my refrigerator lives quietly under my counter and takes up slightly less space than a dishwasher (not the human ones (me)–the mechanical ones). Fitting any part of a watermelon in there would be a miracle. I don’t want to eat an entire watermelon on my own, even a small one … it would be tragic if an over-watermeloned stomach put me off this wonderful fruit, so sadly I often do without.

Luckily there are two other fruits that I can be happy about. When thoughts of scurvy begin to nibble at my mind, I usually head straight for the pre-cut pineapples. I avoid the ones in a can–they taste like … can. The store-cut ones take care of that prickly pineapple armor. (It makes me wonder if pineapples have had holy wars with coconuts in their long history … whyfor such awesome armor?) Happily, I skip home with my plastic tubs of fresh sweet armorless yumminess.

Another happy fruit for me is strawberries. These are another chancy fruit when it comes to ripeness, but luckily these little Omnominoms wear their hearts on their sleeve, advertising their freshness on their skins. So although I might avoid them more often than not because of how squishy or green they look on the outside, if they have that healthy pall about them, they’re MINE! bwahahahaha!

This has been a queer person’s uninvited treatise on fruit. Sorry if it’s not what you expected. ~giggle~

~crunch, crunch, crunch~

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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Blog, Memoir


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Rolling Evangelists of Hair

Anyone who has happened across my blog, or me, will probably agree that I’m a little … different. Between my many foibles and my affinity for heights, my shy extrovertedness, my artistic geekiness, or that I’m a tall feminine lesbian, I may raise an eyebrow in passing. And yet I consider myself to be a member of “normal” society. I think we all are, in all our glorious uniquenesses.

But there is one thing about me that gets a little more (and thoroughly undeserved) attention than anything else: My hair.

imageIt’s a little long. Okay, it’s a whole lot of long. Nowhere near as long as my paternal grandmother’s, whose DNA I happily blame for this situation, but longer than most people expect to see walking down the sidewalks of Portland. As you can see from this faux-candid picture taken just now at a local Starbucks.

No, that’s not the backside of Cousin It.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t like the random attention it gets at times. I just wish I wasn’t so damn shy to make the best of it. Thankfully it’s only now and then, and not too creepy. Well … most of the time…

Most of the time it’s downright funny the reactions I get. I feel like I’m part of a social experiment, one devoted to the perceived miracle of long hair. I get called many things, most complimentary, often from a great distance at high volume, sometimes behind my back as if they don’t think I can hear.

Things I’ve heard so far . . .

  • Top pick: “How long have you been growing that hair?” (uhm, all my life)
  • (Yelled from a block away) “Rapunzel!” ( … eek!)
  • “Oh, you’re like Crystal Gayle,” (only taller! and blond! and not as talented!)
  • “I bet that takes a long time to wash/comb/brush” (yes, it truly does)
  • “Wow, it’s Venus de Milo” (seriously?)
  • “Are those extensions” (uhm, why?)
  • “Wow, that’s dedication right there…” (it is? oh, yes, of course it is…)
  • “That’s the longest hair I’ve EVER seen!” (where have you been?)
  • (drunkenly) “I just bet my friend your hair is real. Well, is it?” (go away)
  • “It’s lighter/whiter at the top” (that’s 7 years of hair, but thanks so much for pointing that out)
  • “Holy crap!/Oh my fucking god!!” (you okay?)
  • (from a guy) “You know, I could really get into that . . . ” (no. just … no)
  • “Don’t ever cut that hair, girl” (thanks for your support!)
  • “You could be that girl, the one on the white horse . . . ” (no, I’m not taking off my clothes for you)

Except for the last one, from a trio of men in a park–who I’m so glad didn’t follow me–most of the comments are very complimentary. Some even funny. I don’t have any tattoos (yet), so I don’t mind that my hair is a good conversation starter … even if it tends to stall after I smile sincerely and say, “thank you!” (and facepaw later when I think of the possible life friendship/soulmate I may have just missed out on).

For someone who has spent most of her life feeling invisible (my secret super power) it’s kind of nice getting a little random attention now and then, even if it is something as useless as hair follicles that grow out of my head–for free! Sometimes I feel a little guilty about this … I mean, people think I’m putting all this work into growing my hair long, when actually I’m just too lazy (and poor) to go get it cut and styled. So I let gravity do it for me.

That and it does feel kind of nice when it brushes against the tops of my calves when I walk. ~hehe~

Not all of the reactions I get are positive. This seems to be a universal fact of life as a human being: No matter what you do in life that makes you happy, there will always be someone to come along and try to take that away from you. Maybe it’s jealousy, or they don’t feel you’re worthy (which usually means they don’t think they deserve it, so why should you), or they’re just mean hateful assholes.

I met one of them today, in fact. I was walking down the street (actually I was on the sidewalk, a pedestrian can get killed on these streets) minding my own business, when a woman drives by in her car, slows down in the middle of traffic to yell out her window at me,

“Give your hair to a cancer patient!”

Now I totally agree that this would be a very sweet thing to do for someone in need, and there are quite a few people who would benefit from it. But when is it okay for you to make that decision for someone else? I mean I have a couple of very functional kidneys, a healthy liver, corneas like an eagle, a happily pumping heart and various appendages that would benefit quite a few people right now. I imagine you have a few of these things, too. But I’m not about to scream at everyone I see on the street to donate these things; nor am I lining up to have myself chopped into little bits either.

Perhaps she thinks hair has a lesser value than organs. Well, not to ME! It’s all part of my body; part of what makes me ME. This is not really up for discussion. My hair is a part of me. When unknown men (or women) ask if they can touch it, that’s not terribly different than asking a total stranger if you can touch their breast. Get to know me first, show me that I can trust you (and I know you wash your hands), then maybe we’ll see.

All this went through my mind (again) as this woman’s command echoed across traffic. I was about to let it go, knowing there is really no point in arguing with an idiot. But another part of me thought, maybe this woman has never had anyone tell her this was inappropriate behavior before. So … I quite childishly yelled back, “mind your own business!” and walked on.

Darned if she didn’t turn the corner, park her car across the street, get out and yell at me further, “It IS my business! God talked to me and told me so! Bitch!”

Oh, well. There you have it. This woman speaks for God. And God thinks I’m a bitch. And if she says so, then it must be true! I guess I’ve been told. ~giggle~

Crackpottery aside, I only wish instead of my initial response I had said what (of course) came to me 23 minutes later, when it was too late (not that it would have mattered at all). In response to “give your hair to a cancer patient!” I should have come back with, “sell your car and give the money to the homeless!”

Seems like a reasonable response to me.


Posted by on August 12, 2015 in Blog, Memoir


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Earning My Wings

Earning My Wings

I’ve mentioned my weird happiness around heights before, but have I told you how high I’ve gotten so far? Oh, stop giggling, silly. I didn’t mean that way. I meant physically . . . though the euphoria of doing it was pretty mind-blowing.

I’m talking about flying. Not the unassisted flying I do so much in my dreams, but when you climb into a plane–in the front seat, with the wheel thingie and pedals–and fly yourself into the sky like a deranged penguin with an engine strapped to its back. Sure, I enjoy getting on a commercial flight and taking off to heights that made my little two-seat Cessna jealous, but to sit behind that windshield with your hands on the controls flying yourself into the sky . . . That’s the biggest self-inflicted wonder of all.

But this post isn’t really about me . . . it’s about my grandfather, a quietly amazing man I never really got to know. My grandfather was an engineer . . . an aerospace engineer. He was one of the many who helped create the very first space shuttle, or parts of it, working for Martin Marietta out in the desserts beyond the suburbs of Denver, Colorado.image

Perhaps it was no fluke that his engineering talents were directed toward that particular project. I wonder if he too was inflicted with this odd desire for altitude. Perhaps he even yearned to be one of the engineers aboard the shuttle when it finally left earth’s hold. I like to think he had. I kind of wish I’d had that opportunity myself.

I never knew my grandfather in his heyday. I hope one day my mother will regale me with her memories of him then. All I truly know about him was that he was happy off of the ground. And he loved to build things. Those two desires came together in his garage, where a cloth-winged airplane was taking shape by his hands. Perhaps this is where the seed was planted for me, seeing this project at such a young age.

A couple of decades later, I would embark on an adventure in flying that sadly began when his ended. It was such a poignant irony I found myself writing a little piece about it in my poetry class. It’s about the weird day I officially earned my wings after months of practicing to fly, first with an instructor and then on my own. It goes something like this:

               Last Flight
My grandfather’s home was the sky
His heart aloft from the ground
An imagination that helped
Launch our first shuttle to space

I remember purple-doped wings at eye level
Drying on sawhorses in his garage
But a fluttering heart stole their air
His license floating away in the wind

Unsmiling pictures of him, fettered to the ground
I ached to see him take wing again
Taking lessons as soon as I left the nest
But the ground took him too soon

The morning I earned my wings
I alit from my perch so early
Wing’ed faeries still flit about
Setting diamonds to the leaves

A stern stranger sat right seat with clipboard
Ready to catch any falling mistakes
Checklists and run-ups, then “Clear!”
Pointed questions as we taxied

Cessna’s were not designed for the ground
An empty coke can rattling on asphalt
But once the Earth drops beneath
An aluminum bird returns home

The climb brought my grandfather’s eyes
To unruffle my sputtering nerves
The clipboard man slipped behind a cloud
My purpose became clear blue sky

I’m a bird, climbing, rolling, stalling, diving
Seeing the airport reminded me of rented wings
Runways shaped like a crooked cross
The shorter piece tree-hemmed and disused

I faltered here when clipboard pulled a lever
My engine mock-failing before approach
I saw a sloppy circle to runway’s end
The shorter far too close beneath

My confidence veered, I froze in midairimage
Then … I imagined a hand touch my shoulder
I heard “Whoa!” from the right seat
As I banked, left wing pointed at the ground

Right pedal down, flying sideways
We side-slipped straight down,
Righting, flaring, touching like a feather
Before my hands were my own again

I felt my grandfather’s proud grin
In place of clipboard’s shocked stare
I taxi back to undeserved praise
Happy he got his last flight

One day I hope to take to the skies again. I know I’ll be thinking of my grandfather when I do. And thank him for helping to make it happen. Happy flying Pop-pop.


Posted by on August 7, 2015 in Blog, Memoir, Poetry


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A Love for Drowning Places

A Love for Drowning Places

Natalie Goldberg has been an awesome inspiration for writing memoir for me lately, especially her book Old Friends from Far Away, which I’ve been “reading” for quite some time. To me, attempting to read this book like any other book would be a complete waste of time if you’re a writer. Nearly every page includes a writing prompt you can choose to inflict upon yourself, which I couldn’t resist trying . . . one or two prompts a day, when I can. She usually asks for just 10 minutes of writing from each one, but when things get going I don’t want to stop.

Some of her prompts are a bit strange, but often it’s the strange ones that inspire the most interesting memories. For example, page 123 prompts us to write about “swimming … or drowning.” I got a bit of both out of that one, and it went something like this:

I’m not a great swimmer, at least not in the normal sense. That whole gasping for a breath under your armpit coordination thing either never came to me or I never gave it a proper chance. The thought of getting any more water in my lungs was enough for me to basically flunk the more advanced portions of my one swimming class, had they been giving grades.

Swimming to me has always been in pools or inland waters, where waves don’t suddenly roll over your head without provocation. And there I’m rarely ever swimming on top of the water like most people want to do. What’s the fun of sticking to the interface between air and water, when you can investigate the mysteries below the surface.

I tell myself this is the reason and make my fun with it, but I know deep down that’s not really what it is.

Except for the way they burn my eyes, pools are especially great for underwater swimming, because there are solid sides to them. I love to kick off from these with all the power my legs can offer, shooting through the water with my hands pointed forward, like how Supergirl flys through the air. I can almost make it across the entire width of a typical public pool doing this, before the drag of my body slows me down and I have to start the strokes that will continue to the other side … and steal my air.

Finding the sweet spot between speed and exertion is the key to staying under as long as it takes to make it to the other side, especially when you’re swimming the length of the pool. Using your muscles burns through oxygen and shortens your time under. Once I started making it to the other end of the pool lengthwise I felt as if I was quite a good swimmer indeed, though my range was nothing compared to those “interface swimmers” doing laps above me, with their underarm breathing. I’m still a little jealous of that talent, though it looks very mechanical and chancy to me. One slight slip and I could turn my head too soon or too late and get a gallon of water in my mouth heading for my lungs.

I don’t want to do that again.

The first time it happened must have made quite an impression on me. I might have been 4, or maybe 5, playing in the surf at Ocean City as we tend to do during summers in Maryland. OC is still the place I think about when I think of going to the beach, although I’ve been to better since. Childhood memories always taste sweeter, even when parts of them have bad endings.

imageBack then beach vacations were an almost surreal departure from regular life. My parents would get everything ready ahead of time the day before, though I don’t have any memory of this part. I only remember the weird otherworldly feeling of being woken at 2 or 3 AM, long before human beings are supposed to be awake, and feeling like the day was put on backwards: we were getting dressed, grabbing the few things we wanted to take along and piling into my dad’s huge Ford truck–the one with the wooden floor–while the sky was still pitch black outside.

This was back before seat belts were law … or even a thing. My dad had setup a bunch of lawn chairs in the back and we would ride along, trying to keep from tumbling off of them on the tighter corners as we headed east into and through Baltimore City. The sky would begin to take on some color about the time we reached the Bay Bridge, a lovely impossibly long structure of asphalt and cables and thick square arches, stretching out across the Chesapeake Bay. It was a signal to start getting excited … the beach was only a couple hours ahead!

Once we crossed a much smaller version of this onto the Ocean City peninsula, we knew the fun was about to begin. We’d find a parking spot somewhere, tumble out of the truck like tiny clowns, fold our lawn chairs and redistribute all of our beach gear between us for the trek toward the boardwalk. The asphalt was hot and muggy, but we could already smell the sea breeze and hints of a lunch we might have later in the day … greasy fried chicken or hamburgers wafting from slatted windows of the restaurants we passed just before climbing the stairs on the wide wooden walkway that spanned a hundred blocks. The smell of boardwalk creosote and food gave it an otherworldliness. To this day I get excited when I hear the clatter of dishes through windows from the backs of restaurants.

Careful not to drag our bare feet across the well-worn planks of the boardwalk for fear of splinters, we’d traverse it to the even wider sand beyond. Sometimes the beach would be incredibly wide, others the night tide had sucked much of it beneath, only to reappear the next day. Sometimes it would be flat and fluffy dry–but so hot in the sun we’d have to put our flip-flops back on–and others it would be strewn with gooey seaweeds, or sand cliffs taller than us. We would hate to walk in the seaweed, but love to walk the edges of the cliffs and ride them down as they disintegrated beneath us to the real beach below.

When we finally reached a suitable place close enough to the water that the tide wouldn’t sneak up on our things, but we could still be seen in the water, my parents would roll out the brown blanket. No blanket I’d ever seen to date was like this thing: dirt brown, rough, impervious to harm, always there on our outings, never the worse for wear. I think it might have been wool. It was good to have it out there on the beach, to blow the musty smell of my dad’s old Ford from it.

Near one edge of this, my father would smite the beach with the pointed end of a huge beach umbrella, the colors of which we had memorized to find among all the others when the tides moved us down the beach. Rainbow colors, but mostly blue. It was a thick linen affair that also seemed to last forever. My father seemed to have a knack for finding things like this … or perhaps things really were made so much better then.

There was never any boredom on the beach. We’d take turns burying our father, or each other, then run to the water and wash the sand out of our suits. We barely had to get used to the temperature of the water there, it was so warm. Not like it is here in Oregon, where you need a wet suit and a plea of insanity to actually want to go out in it.

At some point, when our limitless stores of energy were finally flagging and our stomachs began to grumble, my mom or dad would go off to the boardwalk behind us and retrieve a bag of something to eat. I vaguely remember once we brought cold fried chicken from home, which was unexpectedly good; but I don’t think that experiment was repeated. We would savor and eat far more than we should, so hungry that we were completely oblivious of the grit of sand that inevitably blew into our food before we could finish it.

We could barely wait the thirty required minutes before we could return to the ocean, like so many frustrated mermaids. The sheer suspense of it probably making proper digestion impossible anyway. I recall many a cramp at the beach, though it never stopped us from having fun. The warm waters beckoned, channels needed to be made, sand castles erected, self-filling pools dug.

Between its inviting temperature and my young age is perhaps how I let it sneak up on me.

If you could ask my father, or my mother remembered, they might tell you the water barely went over my head … but in my memory the wave was immense. The kind that turns over cruise ships and makes you climb to the bottom to get out, like in Poseidon Adventure (I never could figure out why there was a hole at the bottom of that ship).

One moment I was playing at the edge of the water, the next I looked up to see the world’s most horrible tsunami barreling down on me from above. Then I was engulfed, thrown immediately forward with great force, then tumbled head over heels backward as the air was wrenched from my body. I could hear the gurgle of screaming (me) through the water, which wasted my remaining air. My world had become a spinning thrashing noise, flying sand and pain, inside and out.

To say that I was frightened at this point would be the grandest of understatements. For a child to be introduced to the idea of her own mortality at the sensitive age of five is almost unthinkable, but as I tumbled with no idea of “up” or “air” while feeling the surge of water pull me into the mouth of the ocean, I was quite literally aware that I was probably done for. It was not my most favorite feeling. Still isn’t.

I don’t remember much after that … my air probably ran out, not that there was much more than water inside of me. I was probably pretty well drowned at that point.

My parents get major kudos for being on the ball that day: I woke up coughing out the huge portion of the ocean I had sucked into my lungs, hugging the beach like an old friend, crying like a five-year-old should cry when they meet death and get thrown back like a little fish.

I’ve been trepidatious with big bodies of water ever since. Its one of my dichotomies that living or walking near water seems to feed my spirit, much as it does most people I’ve met. Almost every major life’s choice I have made successfully was thought through while walking a beach, for miles. But I still don’t trust it.

My fear has never kept me from enjoying the waves. I haven’t let it take that much from me, but I’m only comfortable enough to play in that zone when I have a boogie board with me. I love to use these to ride the waves in. I once tried a surfing class, which probably would have worked out had we not spent the first hour of it sitting on the board listening to instructions rather than using it. The up and down motion made me so seasick I had to go sit on the beach.

So, although I can have fun swimming in the ocean, without my floatation support I’m truly a failure as a swimmer. Unless you drop something in the water and can’t find it. Then I’m your girl.


Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Blog, Memoir, Review


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Peeping Toms and Hand Grenades

or … “My Window on the Sidewalk”

This one might be a little worrisome to my friends and what remains of my family. It worried me, too, at first … but then I got to know this town, P-town, and relaxed a bit. In the six years I’ve lived here it’s pretty much behaved itself, even in the inner city. But I can’t say it hasn’t been a little weird at times … so I guess this is business as usual for my friends and family after all!

For those of you who are avid readers of my blog (and let me stop for a moment, so I can run around and give you each a hug), you know I’m a lover of heights. Not in a thrill-seeking adrenaline-junkie capacity, but more in a I’m-so-comfy-in-my-lofty-but-humble-perch kind of way. I practically started out my life falling off a bridge, grew up climbing trees and crossing abandoned railroad trestles without pause, helping with roofs and antenna towers was a hobby for me, and flying little airplanes a pleasant habit I’d really like to get back to.

5c9edd318196f5e14b65a6761c5e795bBut when it came to my choice of apartments, my student budget (read: those student loans you hear about indenturing kids to the wrong side of the financial system for life) stole away my hopes for a fourth-story walk-up, and relegated me to the smallest studio on the ground floor. A city sidewalk crouched ominously just outside my window.

Oh, would I have copious stories to tell–and will–about the milling crowd that once frequented the pub across the courtyard from me–and probably will again … but that went out of business a few months ago, so that colorful clientele has greatly diminished. I’m here to tell you that the remaining crowd has been no less entertaining.

First, I’d have to mention the old man who thought he owned my kittens. The fact that they had an apartment he didn’t live in seemed not to dissuade him at all. Every morning I would prematurely awake to the sound of tapping, or that squeaking sound a finger makes when rubbed on a window. Despite my initial upset at this intrusion, I could never bring myself to chase him away, especially after I heard the endless adorations he murmured through my window. Cowardly, I decided to let this one go and let the man have his fun, although I did leave a card in the window about the tapping.

Apparently he couldn’t read. The tapping got louder, the squeaks turned to bits of twine and sticks rapping on the pane and whatever other toy he could find to entertain “his” furry children. His words had become more insistent over time, as well, assuring his glass-enclosed felines he would liberate them from their bondage soon. My perturb was beginning to make a comeback, and brought worry along for the ride. Would he actually break in to save them?

It all ended when he realized the cats would chase sun reflections on my curtains, which were being perforated at an alarming rate … Finally I set out down the hall and set our friendly behemoth of a night manager on him, who calmly informed the man that he would be charged as a peeping tom if he didn’t desist. I felt guilty taking that one little pleasure away from him after so many months, but my curtains were much relieved.

Summertime approaches and my windows are open more. Smokers from my building, and perhaps the ones next door, seem to think my window is just the right legal distance from the front door to light one up. Of course the one person in the building allergic to cigarette smoke is the one they put in the ground-floor apartment. But I must give our local smokers credit: once I show myself in the window, looking a little green around the gills, they move on as pleasantly as possible. Yay Portland! But it has taken a long time to train the local smokers not to pick my window.

From cigarettes to cellphones, the endless meandering conversations that waft in from under my window I can do little about. And sometimes I don’t want to: these are the most entertaining part of all! It’s amazing how silly most phone conversations sound from only one side, especially when your side has no idea there is someone listening from a foot or two away, just on the other side of a very thin curtain. I’ve heard many a strange conversation suddenly cut short when I couldn’t help but giggle a little sitting here at my desk.

We won’t talk about the conversations where the caller is missing their cellphone altogether … I figure they are having a conversation through time, with someone from their own unfortunate history. I hope at least in this version they get ahead in life.

I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention the singers, some of which are truly amazing. Every known genre of music is represented passing across my little patch of sidewalk. I’ve heard snatches of opera going by my window that should have had agents chasing after them!

1658_JELD_WEN_Field_ExteriorThe sports fans come next, as the summer rolls in, crowds of chattering and excited fans wearing green and yellow, cheering, singing, goofing, and general hubbubing on their way to and from the nearby Timbers stadium. It is best not to try to get in or out of my building when a soccer game is about to begin or end, for fear of being trampled by good-natured sports fans.Some of these make up for the lack of the closed pub, especially post-game; their hubbub a little more outrageous and confrontational than before the game.

Occasionally the quieter times on my sidewalk are broken by a more depressing mix of verbalizations, usually a homeless couple–or soon-to-be, from the sound of things–arguing over whose fault it all is. This is never a productive subject to argue about, I murmur to myself as I turn up my music. Over time I’ve come to recognize a certain level of inebriation that affects their relative volume, violence and choice of vocabulary (the three V’s) of these tirades–all increasing at the same time.

I’m amazed at the difference one windowsill can make in our minds, once we’ve become acclimated. If I were on the other side of mine, standing on that sidewalk so near at hand, … er, foot … I would be ducking for cover as these screamers tromp past. But my pre-high school experience growing up in the hell of inner-city Baltimore seems to have come back to me, where out of sight really is out of mind … and I still have a veneer of shielding from the violence of the city itself, even if it is just sound. I have yet to witness anyone actually being harmed physically here …

Although I can attest that words often hurt far more.

If it wasn’t for my tightly fitted metal screen–and my common sense–my inner child would love me to wait for moments of verbal distress like these and loft hand grenades out the window. Not REAL hand grenades, but something that goes “POP” and showers the victims with confetti or something equally distracting. I mean, it works with dogs bent on squirrels or other dogs! Break their focus and they forget what all the fuss was about.

I can see CSI-Portland dusting bits of confetti for fingerprints now. Oh, well … it was fun in my head.

Now it’s full summer. My windows are once again glued shut during the hottest part of the day, but–eek–open at night to capture some of that cold dry air that sneaks back out from the shadows once the sun has mosied on. Except for a few one-sided conversations and the rare cussing-at-god moments passing outside, the scene is a relatively quiet this time of night. I’m usually taking this time to game online, or write in my blog (like now), or cuddle with my kitties while watching a movie, or just relaxing with the breeze . . . a normal night . . .

Until something rare happened a few days ago: my kitties and I heard feet shuffling outside the window, then silence. (Were they trying to peek in?) . . . then the sound of running water. Oh, ugh.

It seems someone thought my window was just the legal distance away from the front door to relieve their bladder. So not something I wanted to be sitting nearby to witness, even by sound. I waited for the feet to shuffle off and quickly closed the window before the smell of that wafted in. (Thankfully my building manager is ON things like that and hosed it off the next morning.)

I’m hoping this is a rare once-in-five-years kinda thing, which means I won’t be around to witness the next one. I think I’ve had my fill of the city for a lifetime. With a year left in college and a one-year lease, I’m settled in for that long; but after that I have no idea where I’ll go next.

But you can bet it will be high above any sidewalks.

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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Blog, Memoir


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