Abilene – another ghost dream

It was the kind of dream that I enjoy visiting. The place looked like I remembered it, only with a few new perks, like the fact that it was still there. We were just passing through, my grandmother and I, hand in hand, touring the house on Rivercrest Drive. Neither of us have been there in twelve years. Grandmother sold it in 1997 to a nice couple who promised to treasure the “history of the place.”

They vowed to restore it and preserve it as the space that housed generations; this gave my grandmother solace. She sold it at a third of its worth, and within five years, the couple tore it down to erect something bigger, newer. “We gave it a try; we really did,” they wrote us. “But it just wasn’t working.” The couple still sends a card to the private nursing facility at Christmas, and they have my Grandmother’s full forgiveness.

But there Grandmother and I were together, suddenly in the present moment, standing in the study. Sun illuminated dust in the air, where there was only a brief silence and emptiness. I used to explore the peach trees and the Rose of Sharon bushes that flanked the house like rare tropics in the dry west Texas dust bowl. Here, in the “dream” house, Rose of Sharon grew straight in, absent of window panes to trap it outdoors. It leapt inward in 3-D, the purple blossoms hyper-rich and as much a part of the room as the book cases and old rotary phone.

We were looking about us but never at each other. Through the arched entry to the formal living room with its old-timey velvet sofas, slick, shiny green dominoes lay scattered across a card table. Bacon crisped in the kitchen. There was activity there, but no signs of life driving it.

Grandmother’s space on the sofa was empty as was the chair behind it where her mother once enjoyed cornbread and buttermilk in aqua disco-era glasses. Until she died, I called my great grandmother “Mom Murphy” and danced with her in the living room, the one with the dominoes. We shared our last dance when she was ninety-seven. I was thirteen.

She liked to wear her favorite pink polyester dress, take me by both hands, and sway me around to Lawrence Welk on 8-track. Sometimes, it was Jim Neighbors instead. At nap time, we’d sink deep into her egg crate mattress, where she would tell me stories of our ancestors’ adventures settling the wild west. Then, without fail, she’d remind me that a good nap a day is the key to a long and happy life. Of course, I could never sleep. I’d marvel at the false teeth she soaked in Efferdent, their hard gums the same color as the dress she wore for dancing. The room smelled of baby powder and White Rain hairspray.

But Mom Murphy’s chair was just a mutual acknowledgment. A stop on the way. It was my Grandfather’s easy chair that caught our steady focus. Granddad was lucky in the way some men were in the thirties. He didn’t have many choices, and so he didn’t want any. He married his high school sweetheart, got a job he liked, had two beautiful daughters, and spent his weekends at a small cattle ranch with them and a few horses.

He rode in rodeos from time to time, though I never saw him in those days. By the time I arrived, the horses were gone, and he just had a few cows to feed. We’d ride out to “the place” in his big Ford pick-up truck. It was the same powder blue as their dining room, and it had a rack for the rifle he carried as protection against rattle snakes.

He’d gas up in Merkel and let me pick out enough penny candy to fill a small lunch bag: candy lipstick, fake cigarettes, wax lips, licorice. Then, we’d greet the cows by the water tank and give them a salt lick. I could never get close enough to pet them, but I wanted to. I loved their giant brown eyes that looked like love, if not loneliness.

When Grandmother joined us, she’d take me treasure seeking. We’d step through cacti and crab apple bushes, finding old pink “fancy” glass and boot spurs, surely remnants from a lawless saloon. I treasured the old shoe buckles most and then the horse shoes, buttons, and especially the arrowheads. I still keep them in an old shoebox in my dining room hutch.

But his blue valour easy chair was leaned out with the foot rest engaged. I used to climb up in that gaping seat when I’d sneak away from nap time to watch Yogi Bear and the other Hanna Barbera cartoon animals. I was too young to care much about longevity anyhow.

But now the chair was open for use, but no one was there to watch the huge, oak television set or to reach across and grab my Grandmother’s hand to tell her how lucky he still felt after 65 years. In his retirement, when he wasn’t painting in the summerhouse or feeding cows, this is where my grandfather spent most of his time. And he was happy.

Standing there together, the absence was all right with my Grandmother and I. The dusty air was all right. The near silence even felt fine. There was only the sound of the bacon. No dinner table chit chat at Christmas-time 1976, stopped short by a gunshot blast from upstairs. Not the kind of silence they must have experienced before rushing from the table, then finding their daughter like that.

To be honest, I always expected her room to be haunted. And even though I can remember her in it, remember her brushing her thick black hair, letting me dress up in her old pink taffeta prom gowns, it wasn’t. She wanted to be gone.

(So, perhaps this is the better question: Why did they stay in that house, dipping their cornbread in buttermilk, dancing to Lawrence Welk, playing dominoes? Why weren’t they the ones to tear it down?).

The dream continues, but the atmosphere changes. The house is gone and now my grandmother and I are walking down a dusty path at the ranch, looking for treasures again. I fade to the background and my grandfather’s palm replaces mine in my grandmother’s hand. I watch as they continue walking ahead together, leaving me behind.

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Sharon Jones Shakes It; Drunk Girl Breaks It

So, despite the late Tuesday timing, I went because Chrissy promised I’d remember this one. It was 9:30 pm and the opener hadn’t taken the stage. I’d done fifteen minutes in the beer line to get my bottled water only to learn that the bar was cash only. I was life threateningly parched; still, I obediently stepped out to the ATM, then did my time in line again.

I heard a few cat calls from front stage and knew it was time to weave back through the mass of tall bodies that refused to acknowledge the existence of shorter ones. By the time I reached the front, I was pretty well ready for a fight. Enter drunk girl. A decidedly beautiful twenty-something trying to look like a 1970s super model interrupted her faux, stage-side photo shoot to get up in my face. She reeked. I no longer regretted opting for Aquafina vs. Fat Tire. I got a contact buzz just from the fumes. “Where do you think you’re going? What’s happening here?,” Glamour Girl challenged. I still don’t know why.

“Are you a bouncer?,” I asked. She let me pass.

I rejoined my friends and within the next thirty seconds, the opening act owned the room (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZ_BZM0GrD0&feature=related). An L.A. band, they call themselves “Fitz and the Tantrums” and they put on the best live show I’ve seen since David Byrne performed with the Tosca Strings in 2005. And speaking of David Byrne, Fitz looks like the love child of Byrne and Geraldine Ferraro, a trait that certainly works in his favor for me.

It took me a moment to recover from my recent and unanticipated confrontation, but soon all the soul in the air had me shaking my groove thing. Glamour girl was too, and I even felt a slight kinship with her as with everyone else in the night club. “We are all just stardust together,” a friend lists on her Facebook profile under “Religious Views.”

I felt a slight sense of loss after the Tantrums ended their set and I fretted that Ms. Jones might not live up to the hype. Um, she lives up to it, with her eight-piece brass band, perfectly controlled wail, and a fifty-year old strength that makes every woman in the room want to be just like her. As her song lyrics indicate, she learned a lot the hard way. But she learned a lot.

If I could even just stand still as confidently as she does, I know no one would dare get in my face to ask me where I think I’m going.

And Jones was kind. Even to drunken, Glamour Shots Girl. Jones invites a lot of crowd participation, a habit I would not tolerate from any other stage diva. Note: I really hate sing-a-longs. Jones invited “the youngest man in the room” to join her on stage. And let me tell you, baby-faced, white, and likely an SAE, that child did not look like he was going to be able to handle her. Ah but he delivered. Hip swinging, shoulder shaking, and a down and dirty groove face-to-face with one of the most spirited songstresses on the international music scene. Button down polo shirt or no, that frat boy got downright pornographic. Get it, frat boy.

Then it was “the ladies” turn. Two of my friends took Jones’ offer alongside about five other femme fatales from the audience. I stayed glued to the sticky floor down below but enjoyed seeing them shine. They were awesome, though a bit eclipsed by the aforementioned horribly intoxicated young woman who kept blocking Sharon Jones’ spotlight. The shit-faced urchin kept bending over and shaking out her hair like a stripper; spinning around, wiggling her booty, stumbling drunkenly, bending over like a stripper again, and then repeating the whole cycle almost indefinitely. She did do this Wonder Woman whirl that was pretty good. It was hard for Sharon Jones to get her off the stage.

For much of the remainder, the young woman’s friend banged an empty beer bottle against the stage in rhythm with the songs. “She’s going to break that,” my friend yelled into my ear. Smash. After the crowd dispersed, we noted the jagged remnants left behind for the clean up crew.

Once we reached the open air, we saw shit-faced girl running wildly into the street and then back to her boyfriend like a pet dog that’s just been let out to pee before dashing back to its master.

I was a little worried about her.

I hoped her friends and (MUCH older) male companion would make sure she got home safely and that she would remember a great night fondly (if not a bit spottily). I hoped we both went home “a better woman than we were before.”

Perspective

Did you know: Orange is supposed to be the most intellectually stimulating color.

Dear Love,

I found out that one can actually be arrested for having an expired
license tag. I could be locked up wearing a fashionable orange jump
suit right now, and Big Barb could be waiting for me to drop the soap
in the shower. So, if I’m arrested for having a suspended license tag
for lapse of insurance that never really lapsed, and I decide to spend
my one phone call on you, here’s what to do (don’t lose this email):

Sound comforting while I sob some incoherent nonsense about jail
cafeterias, the Bone Yard, and How I had to hammer out my own new
license plate while visiting “the Big Yard.”

Next, instruct me on some crucial martial arts maneuvers that could be helpful for surviving any sudden and violent prison riots.

Finally, say something sweet about how I look great in orange, and
hang up the receiver.

Now, call Ablaze Bail Bonds at 542-BAIL.

Tell the sales rep that “No, we won’t qualify for the discount since
this is only my first arrest.” For future reference, they grant discounts to third time customers. But you have to have done something really bad.

Find out how much it’s going to be to bust me out, and go to the
Chatham Marketplace and take up a collection.

Pay Ablaze whatever they ask, and don’t leave without grabbing one of
their bright red promo ink pens labeled, “When You Need a Little Help from the Pen.”

If you can’t raise enough money, buy a dry erase board from Staples
and haul it on over to the Bynum General Store. Call a Community
meeting and devise a way to rig up some explosives near my jail cell
for a break out.

For what is enjoying the constant challenge of life-long love if not to have someone to help you plan prison breaks or to call when your neurotic fear of unjust arrest becomes a bright orange reality?

You know I’d do the same for you.

Ghost Dreams

Now that you know that tornadoes and Oldsmobiles regulary haunt my subconscious, you should also know that I dream about ghosts. A lot for some reason. Once I dreamt that I was house sitting someone’s basement play room. There was one door to the outside, and the slide lock slid into place without human assistance. Toys were played with by some unseen hand. I asked the entity if it was happy living there. I watched the condensation on a single window shift to slowly reveal the letters Y-E-S. I could not see the fingers writing, but I could see the response rendered.

In another ghost dream, I’m a guest at a Caribbean resort that once operated as a sugar plantation. Gauzy whiteness dominates the place, spreading and ensnaring as Kudzu. I’m sitting in a white wicker love seat on a rear patio. Nearby palm fronds casually sway atop tall, thin and bending trunks. Something about their carriage reminds me of 1920s catalog models with their chic cigarette holders. Elegant, relaxed, aloof.

Across the room, a woman wearing a white sundress sits with her feet folded beneath her in a chair matching my hard woven seat with pale floral cushion. I do not know her. She reads a contemporary home decorating magazine, yet something about our surroundings feels like an Agatha Christie mystery set in the jazz age – or maybe it’s more Victorian era. Mist hovers like mosquito netting as the white ceiling fan above us whirs with slow-motioned repetition.

Though the air feels heavy and too sticky to inhale, the current from the fan feels sensual as it brushes my shoulders. I catch a brief chill. A young girl approaches me and places a miniature teapot in the cup of my hands. She explains that if I hold it to my ear like a seashell, I can hear the sounds of the house where she found it.

She clasps my fingers around the handle and gently raises my hand to my ear. And I do hear the sounds of home: the clanking of pans, footsteps, a call to dinner. Then there’s the voice of another young female who explains to me that her house was destroyed by a hurricane years prior. The teapot comes from the ruins where her family perished. Again, I feel a chill, this time coupled with suspicion.

The pre-pubescent girl on the patio with me bounces, happy and eager. “See?,” she says, indicating that no one else would believe her. Somehow, I realize that the spirit voice is using the teapot as a conduit to return to the living, like a body snatcher. I want to consume more of her story, but I know that the more I hear, the more she’ll consume me. I tell the little girl never to play with the teapot again. “It’s dangerous.” I carry it with me as I walk away from her before waking.

Just Fine

IMG_0096The horses were indifferent. They were the chance offspring of chance offspring. They were here and so they grazed. Tip-toeing around ping pong piles of equine droppings and the foot pricking remains of dead sea oats, I’d wandered inland and alone from the beach. The horses I found there are called “wild,” which seems imprecise considering their nonchalance. I’m serious. They really don’t care.

Last summer, my significant other worked on a certain reality t.v. show that has recently become the darling of tabloid covers. The episodes he did were set “on vacation” at yet another NC island touting Iberian Stallions as a prime tourist attraction. The female lead, normally a shrew of Shakespearean proportions, suddenly began to wax Snow White: “Oh they’re so free,” she crooned. “Those are the happiest horses in the world.” If one didn’t know better (but believe me, one did know better), one might have thought the Wizard of Oz had bestowed upon her a soul.

In contrast, my findings held that those horses weren’t happy. They weren’t unhappy. They were just eating grass to fill the time until there was no more time to do so. They were fine with that.

Looking for a spot clear of bio waste stacks, I settled into the sand 10 feet from them. Apparently, this was their boundary. I tested 9 feet, but they took a few steps away now placing me at 13. I stepped again closer but stopped at the estimated 10 foot force field. They seemed fine with it.

The island was vast, as islands can be. Something about the spotty patches of grass and low lying shrubs evoked memories of Cape Cod. I closed my eyes to better hear surf, grass chewing, and big bugs who were far less motivated to feed on human juices than I’d feared. I half fantasized that the most elegant of the herd, sensing our kindredness, would allow me to jump right up, grab some fitsfulls of mane and ride him bareback like Alec in the Black Stallion. But I couldn’t remember the timeline required for Alec to step across the 10 foot personal space barrier. The horses didn’t know me.

So, I just was and I just watched.

The stillness made me need more stillness.

Just over the bank lay long bare stretches of beach, bayside and seaside. And beyond that lay “the line-up.” On my walk to the horses, I briefly met “David,” a stereotypically sun-bleached, sanded-down surfer who instructed, “Enjoy the day; that’s what it’s all about.”

“Really?,” I asked. “I thought the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about.” We watched one of his wet-suit be-clad friends glide through North Carolina’s version of the “tube.”

“Hope I’ll see you again,” an inspired David called back as he took off toward the water. “You’re the King of the Waves,” I called back doubting that he could hear me.

He was the third in a week to tell me to live like the horses. Another man in a weathered red ball cap was grabbing take-out from the all-locals cafe in Beaufort. The cafe manager ordered him to have a nice day. “Every day is a nice day,” He said. “Isn’t it?,” he asked looking directly to me for an answer. Do I really look like a completely harried non-profit director weathering the worst economic crisis in US history, even when I’m vacationing? Do I look like I need to be reminded to enjoy my day? Do I look paranoid about people reminding me to enjoy my day?

For the surfers and the horses, problems are not problems. Chasing happiness is just something people do to keep themselves unhappy. There’s no difference between good and fine. They are fine with being just fine. Now that I’m back inland doing non-profit management (something often akin to indentured servitude) with no horses or surfers in sight, I hope I can be too.

Fini and Fine.

Far More Fond of Cabbage

eddie_vedder1 They called her “the Grunge Girl” because she was the only female on campus  who regularly wore flannel. She had long, curly red hair like Eddie Vedder,  and she knew more about rocks and Seattle rock music than anyone I’d met.  She was my hero, so refreshing amongst the typical mobs of head-banded  sweat shirt and  pearls girls so feverishly protesting requests for the infirmary to distribute condoms and birth control.

I too had been told that I didn’t fit the typical Furman mold. My English professor said this to me in our first advisory meeting. She added, “That’s a compliment.”

Lisa was a geology major, and she lived on my freshman dorm hall. Somehow, she detected that I might be someone who could halfway understand her. It was because I had a forest green comforter instead of the matching Laura Ashley bed sets that our other hall mates coordinated & purchased before move-in. Plus, she’d heard me playing Rush’s seventh studio album, Permanent Waves after dinner one night. It wasn’t a lot to go on, but she was feeling desperate.

Soon, we found a third kindred, a prankster named, J-Ro, daring enough to wear hats to class. Not a pearl nor add-a-bead necklace in sight.

Though both blonde and relatively square, J-Ro and I reveled in feeling separate from the conservative, high income Aryan hegemony. We felt that the situation allowed us to move more efficiently through the cumbersome task of locating the college soul mates who would stick with us from dorm to assisted living (for what’s the difference really?), where we would someday sip Pina Coladas and motion for Cocoa, our cabana boy, to come give Mama her back rub. Some treated us like we were wicked pariah’s, the Dark One’s minions, communing in the night plotting untoward sexual activities that would require frequent visits to the infirmary for latex. But at least we didn’t have to sit around doing cross-stitch on a Friday night.

We were all about locating adventure and reviving the American disco movement, which we did. We valued the fact that our hats and mismatched bed covers acted as beacons drawing us to those like ourselves with whom we bonded quickly and firmly. Plus, we were twisted, and we were pretty sure we were having more fun than a lot of folks. Todd’s exploding duck incident proved that.

Furman has a famous lake. It’s really just a large pond, but it’s impressive for a small college campus. Visitors like to picnic on the banks after church on Sundays. Todd, whose television must have been broken, grew bored and decided to craft a decoy duck. He filled the faux fowl with explosive material, lit it, and set it afloat on a Sunday in November.

Though entertaining, dynamite ducks and disco were no consolation for having to live among homophobes and listen to Hall & Oates waft through the hallways. Lisa’s patience wore thin in an academic establishment where college radio shows were modeled after Limbaugh’s “The Right Perspective,” trumpeting broadcasts by young college males who de-contextualized scripture to support their belief that God intends women to be subservient and for man to exploit nature. Lisa knew she had chosen the wrong school, and there was to be no pussy footing around that realization. She was not to deny the absolute wretchedness of the experience, and anyhow, she hated disco.

Once she faced facts, Lisa grew more and more badass.

I remember a night when we were sitting, legs crossed on my dorm room floor snacking on tasty bear-shaped choco snacks. We’d just been to see The Last of the Mohicans and were bemoaning the evils cast upon humanity by humanity. “That’s just the sort of thing that makes me want to live in a cave, eat grass, and kill bad white people,” Lisa lamented. Righteously, I began to craft an essay about the virtues of trees vs. humans. Trees smell nice; they produce oxygen; they protect small woodland creatures from the cold; they only kill living things when they fall on them, and that’s almost never intentional. Lisa loved trees and small woodland creatures too, but that was momentarily overshadowed by her freshly inflamed inner misanthrope.

Then the University discovered the summer prior to our sophomore year that they didn’t have room for us in the dorms. That went for all three of us: Lisa, JRo and me. Coincidence? I dunno. But we were excited to be the only sophomores living off-campus. This boosted us to a whole new level of notoriety. We’d be in charge of paying our own rent, making our own dinners: mac & cheese with Lucky Charms on the side. We could have alcohol if we wanted. We were women now.

We hadn’t counted on the challenges posed by living across the courtyard from the Sigma Chis. From our kitchen window, we could see straight into their alpha bachelor pad while we washed dishes. Strange and unsavory things transpired there: activities that often incorporated male bonding, nudity, and peanut butter as early evening as 6:30 pm. Even we, the minions, were a bit shocked.

One night during pledge week, Lisa was cramming for a Geology test while I was suffering through my first Experimental Psych paper. This paper marked the end of the Skinner Box phase of the semester, which also marked the end of my positively conditioned rat, Sherlock’s life. I was mourning; Lisa was panicking, and the energy in the apartment felt heavy and oppressive. Things worsened. The Sigma Chis stationed their own minions, twelve prideless peanut butter pledges, in the courtyard. They might have been safe from harm if only they’d not been aligned in rows single file, serenading the residents with lewd, lecherous limericks of a rather sexist nature.

Lisa’s lizard green eyes rose from her rocks for jocks text. Full of calm and resignation she stood, pushed back her chair and began removing the contents of our refrigerator: a jello salad, some processed cheese slices, left-over mac, tuna casserole, chips, salsa. She hid behind the barrier provided by our walled second floor balcony and began hurtling neglected leftovers at the enemy. Some targets spewed profanity; others laughed nervously attempting to conceal their fear and trembling.

Filled with rage and triumph, Lisa shot a head of iceberg lettuce, like a canonball, toward the front lines. Her impulse was met by the thud of vegetable matter on abdominal muscle followed by a piercing man-shriek. As with only the finest dramatic climax, there was a brief moment of silence. Lisa slowly stretched upward from her knees to survey the carnage. She knew the skirmish had spiraled slightly south of where she had initially anticipated. It might warrant dialing EMS. Maybe, with a little luck, this might get her expelled.

I’m certain from their lowly vantage, Lisa’s spirals of red, grunge-coifed curls were unmistakable to the Sigma Cheese. The silence broke: “I-I-I see you, you dirty little cabbage womaaaaaaaaan!” shouted the cabbage casualty.

These are the moments that stick with you, even a good 16 years into graying strands and the newfound drive to sample every Oil of Olay product on the market. This is what makes that four year transition between adolescence, when one dreams of how she will handle political upheaval, cyclic economic downturns, and social injustice with utter heroism, and the period when one actually handles political upheaval, cyclic economic downturns, social injustice, not to mention complicated adult relationships with whatever metal she can muster,  seem so packed with richness. It’s moments like these that make one far more fond of cabbage.

In case you’re wondering where the “dirty, little cabbage woman” is now: http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/ocw/ocw-20100819-2106-Rapidly_Rising_Young_Rocks-048.mp3. SO proud of her and SO coveting her life.