Saturday, May 30, 2009

The return of the non-native

More than ever I am convinced that the older I get, the more quickly time passes. I suppose this means I am getting older more quickly, which means time goes even faster, and so on. Even Einstein could not have figured this out.

I'm on the return trip to Chicago, although it feels like only hours since I arrived in Altoona. Was it really a week ago already that I was leaving work for the train station? Have I slept in a different bed for six nights, plus last Friday night on the train? Didn't JCVC and just enjoy my arrival breakfast?

And is it already time to return to toil?

It was a full week, with visits to family combined with shopping for a front door—I never knew there were so many options (wood grain or smooth; stained or painted; full, three-quarters, or half glass, arched or squared, transparency of glass, patterns, etc, etc.). We spent a lot of time in the van.

On Thursday we headed for the Amish country around Lancaster, via the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We passed through tunnels under three mountains—Tuscarora, Kittatinny, and Blue. The latter are right up against one another, so when you emerge from Kittatinny you're in daylight for only a few moments before plunging under Blue. These lighted, tiled tunnels have just enough room for two cars on each side, with nowhere to walk. A narrow ledge might have offered some room on which to stand if absolutely necessary, but it looked as though it would be wise to suck in one's gut and hold on tight, especially as tractor-trailers passed by within inches. In case of breakdown, I'd recommend staying inside the car, although getting a signal to call AAA might prove an insurmountable challenge. Between the two traffic tunnels was a garage-style door, which JC thought might lead to a service area. I wondered about emergency equipment after I recalled the catastrophic Mont Blanc tunnel fire between France and Italy.

I don't love man's ongoing alterations of the landscape, but since it's too late I do love the approach to the massive green mountain as it looms over the road and the plunge into its heart. Those who drive through Tuscarora, Kittatinny, and Blue Mountains often most likely think no more of it than I do of passing over the Chicago River, yet I don't think I would cease to marvel at both the loveliness and the novelty.

Speaking of rivers, we passed over the Susquehanna, which makes the Chicago River look like an ugly, choked canal. Long ago, my mother's sister and brother-in-law owned a house somewhere on the banks of the Susquehanna, at a place where you could walk up to the water's edge from their nearby picnic table. We found frogs, and I fell in love with the misty Susquehanna. When I see it in my imagination, because my visual memory is unreliable, I see a wide expanse of river with a house, picnic table, and trees silhouetted against it. It's like a movie scene, but one that can never be enjoyed again. Of course, here in its industrial center the Susquehanna is not so bucolic looking, and I suppose it's been polluted for decades. At any point in Pennsylvania, I'm apt to reflect on the land that was, the land that is, and the land that will be.

In Intercourse, we stopped at Dienner's Country Restaurant. After thinking I had done well not to eat too much, my brain caught up with my stomach, and I realized I had eaten too much probably 20 minutes earlier. I can't believe I ate the whole thing. It looked like I wasn't the only one. The patrons were an eclectic mix of Mennonites and mostly elderly tourists.

We looked at furniture and into a series of bric-a-brac shops, where I settled for towels from India (for J.), T shirts, magnets, a bookmark, and tote bags. I thought about getting J. an Amish barn star, but didn't quite know how to transport one of a suitable size, and then for some reason gave up on any of any size. I'll look into this closer to birthday time.

Separately, VC and I spotted a pony pulling two Amish boys in a red wagon with a fluorescent orange flag fluttering on a pole. We saw the same pony, wagon, and boys several times throughout the afternoon. They didn't appear to be headed anywhere or doing anything in particular, and I wondered if that were their version of joy riding. It looked like lots of fun, although perhaps not for the pony.

While there was an odd blend of Amish wares, including furniture and quilts, and country-style kitsch manufactured in China, at least one place we saw was pure Amish—strictly authentic. This harness shop advertised horse liniment near a sign awkwardly lettered with something to the effect of, "NO TOURIST EXCEPT FOR DRIVING AND RIDING NEEDS." At Lapp's Coach Shop, taking photos was prohibited. Not for the first (or last) time I thought how strange it must be to be treated like a curiosity in your own home, but then I suppose the Amish and Mennonites are accustomed to it.

I hadn't seen that many tourists, and the shops we went into weren't bustling. At one we returned to, the cashier told us that the owner, a wholesaler by trade, wasn't replenishing the stock. She mentioned the shop closings and changeovers due to the decline in traffic. JC and VC noted that the furniture, which used to be made primarily from oak, now is dominated by the less pricey pine. Not surprisingly, the recession has struck the Amish and their neighbors like everyone else.

After JC and VC bought a bench for their family room, we headed toward the countryside around Bird-in-Hand. In an adjacent field, a man drove a horse that was pulling a machine that seemed to poke holes into the soil. A young man and woman sat on the machine below, dropping plants into the holes, while further up a row three little ones sat and watched the world go by. There are worse ways to live.

Fire vehicles had been blocking the road in front of us, but they pulled out within a few minutes. We were more than half afraid that we'd see the aftermath of a collision between car and carriage, but there was nothing there when we passed by. When we returned, a small line of firemen dressed in their gear was sitting on lawn chairs in a yard, watching the road in much the same way the Amish children were. Waiting for Godot?

The day had been overcast, but mostly dry. On the way back, however, we saw black clouds gather and the skies darken ominously, then the thunder and lightning began, and the downpour followed. One storm began before we reached the tunnels, I think, while a second started closer to home. These storms must have covered a large expanse, and I was reminded of flying above and over from a massive evening storm. I could see the lightning sparking in one enormous cloud for at least 15-20 minutes of flight time. I imagined what it would be like to experience the pure fire of this storm from above, away from the constant staccato of the rain on the windshield.

We made it back a little after 9:00 p.m. and, after taking care of a few things, were in tacit agreement that an earlier-than-typical bedtime was in order. Half asleep, I stayed up until after 11:00 p.m.

The trip back started out uneventfully, but in Pittsburgh we learned that the Capitol Limited wasn't expected until 1:30 a.m. (which, as time passed, became later in 15-minute increments until finally the last arrival time posted was 2:30 a.m.). We boarded at 2:45 a.m.—three hours late.

After checking my suitcase, to kill time I walked around for a couple of blocks, wandered into the nearby Westin, and ultimately settled on a bar and grill that shall remain unnamed. The hostess and servers were polite, but somehow conveyed that they were doing me a tremendous favor by speaking to me. As I sat at an outdoor table, a man lifted the barrier, seated himself, rejected the offer of a menu, asked only for water, smoked, and left the way he had come. I wondered if they knew him; he certainly received a warmer welcome than I did.

Satisfied with an appetizer and a screwdriver, I meandered back to the train station, where I took over a bench in a park area near a Mennonite couple, who, after a discreet period, moved a little further away. I started to wonder what I looked like.

I called VC, but it was difficult to hear. The normal traffic noise wasn't notable, but often—too frequently, it seemed, to be random—a souped-up car or group of cars, or motorcycles, roared by. I wondered if this area were known for this—there was so much of it. Between the bright hues of the Greyhound terminal across the way and the roar of vehicles, even I had a hard time picturing Pittsburgh as once the westernmost urban outpost of the United States. Then again, Manhattan was once a verdant forest.

Sitting bolt upright in the station, with earplugs in and clutching my purse, I fell sound asleep for three hours—the very thing to make up for the train's tardiness. By the time it came, I felt better and ready to lie down.

And so l left behind the lovely little green mountains for the big shoulders . . .

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On the rails again

It's 6:15 a.m., and I'm in the Pittsburgh train station waiting for the Pennsylvanian to Altoona. So far this has been an uneventful trip. No one has talked to me; I wonder if meeting Chicago Tribune employees, amateur historians, and Mennonite farmers was a phenomenon limited to my youth, when perhaps I looked more interesting. The friendliest person I've encountered was the young man at ROM yesterday who walked me through all the choices and told me how coffee doesn't keep him awake anymore, and that he can drink it right before bedtime. If I were 20 years younger (which I remember well), I would have hoped he was flirting with me while knowing that he wasn't.

I discovered the Capitol Limited has an observation car. Unfortunately for me, all that was visible in the waning light of twilight was a blur of houses and buildings in northern Indiana, perhaps one of the least scenic of the 50 states.

In my car, there were some musical chairs so a woman could sit with her friends across from me. I warned her that I would be up and down several times during the night. She indicated that she didn't mind, and I indicated that she might feel differently in the middle of the night.

She did. I had to crawl over her at 11:30 p.m. and again at 2:00 a.m. And again at 2:15 a.m.

After the uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) in August, I didn't have a period until January, when I experienced a little spotting—not quite the real deal. Regularly spaced, lighter periods resumed in February and March (two, because of how they fell in the month!), but after what seemed like a prolonged bout of PMS that culminated in nothing in April, I stopped planning around my periods. After February and March, I'd hoped they'd returned to regularity, but my body wasn't cooperating.

So I was completely unprepared mentally or logistically when I went to the bathroom at 2:00 a.m. and discovered that my period had arrived out of nowhere.

I said, "Now is a great time for you to make a return appearance."

The only response I received was the twinge of cramps.

There I was, on the train without protection or painkillers. Typical.

I climbed over my grumpy seat mate to contemplate my options, which came down to hoping that the women's room in Pittsburgh had something. Meanwhile, the cramps were competing with an upset stomach.

After a bit, a memory penetrated my sleep-deprived fog—that I still had a couple of emergency tampons in my purse. I'd meant to take them out a long time ago, but had decided not to, and was now glad I hadn't. Once this dawned on me, I contemplated for five or ten minutes how I was going to get past my seat mate, who had my means of egress blocked off with the leg rest, without her openly questioning what was wrong with me. Instead, she groaned discreetly, swerved her legs, saw that didn't help as I loomed over her with nowhere to put my feet, and, instead of getting up, lowered the leg rest, ceding me an inch or two more ground on which to plant my feet. She sighed.

Hadn't I warned her?

As the train was pulling out of Pittsburgh at about 7:20 a.m., I was still awake enough to look out the window, spotting two wild turkeys strolling on a walkway below the grade of the track. I did a mental double-take, thinking they must be pheasants even though they looked just like turkeys, but the children behind me had seen them, too. They told their dad, who said, "Turkeys in downtown Pittsburgh!" in a bemused tone of voice. I've seen a turkey only in the woods, just in time to watch it fly off.

Who knew the better place to see turkeys would be along the rails in downtown Pittsburgh?

I went to the cafĂ© car so I could get a good look at Horseshoe Curve from the port side of the train. The conductors on the late Broadway Limited used to point it out passengers and talk about its history and at one point even had brochures about historic places along the rails in Pennsylvania, but on the Pennsylvanian they rarely do. Perhaps it's because they assume no one on what is essentially a "local" train cares anymore. The couple who sat across from me, retired farmers from Minnesota, didn't know anything about it, nor did the man across from me, the one feasting on the breakfast of champions—beer and pretzels. Someone pointed out the highway below us, which he found marvelous, even as he commented, "It's so green here!"

The woman from Minnesota was a talker, speaking in a flat monotone that I suppose is characteristic of parts or most of the Plains. She told me about their children and trips to visit them, including one to California. I asked how that trip was.

"The train left seven hours late and was delayed another couple of hours," so they'd missed their connection and had to take alternate transportation to get closer to their final destination.

When I had asked, I thought to get an account of the beauty of the journey, but I notice that most people dwell on the inconveniences and discomforts. I suppose it's one way to make an instant connection with like-minded peers and gain their sympathy. This must be why good poetry can move us—most of us have little or no poetry in our souls, and/or no ability to express it. To most, a spider is a pest or a terror; to a poet, it's a timeless symbol of perseverance, and its web an expression of combined beauty and functionality. A trip through the glorious West is an adventure, but not in the poetic sense.

I tried a different tack.

"I bet it was beautiful," I observed.

"Oh, yes, it was quite beautiful."

Specifics about the grandeur of the mountains, the loveliness of the streams, and the awesome power of the desert clearly were not to follow. Questions about family or delays were answered more volubly, although I have forgotten the questions and the replies. Such is small talk for me.

They listened to my half-remembered story of Horseshoe Curve with no more than polite interest, although I think the husband might have liked to have heard more. Possibly they wondered why I didn't have something more engaging to talk about, like family.

I arrived in Altoona on time, somewhat worn, but little worse for the wear, and perhaps ready to forget about work and to relax just a wee bit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head (part 4 or 5)

I've lost count now.

At some point during the wee hours, I awoke to the pleasant sound of rain. I listened to it for a few moments while trying to ignore the pleas of my tortured bladder.

It occurred to me that the weather had been fine, with no rain in the forecast.

I flew out of bed to the bathroom, where water was pouring from the light.

I nabbed Hodge and put him into his crate. I tried to remember the phone number for the front desk. I tried to go online to find it but couldn't focus. I pawed through shirts on the back of a chair to find something to put over my nightshirt.

Finally I was calm and alert enough to remember how to call.

After several long minutes, I called back, and the desk attendant called the maintenance man again to see where he was. She told me he was on my floor, working on another problem and being difficult. In effect, she said he was telling her she is not the boss of him. Saying that my problem seemed worse than the other on 12 (a power outage), she said she'd call the manager, who is the boss of him.

In the meantime, I'd had to use the bathroom downstairs, so she'd witnessed my anxiety personally.

When I returned after a trip or two, there was a ladder propped up outside the door—that seemed like a start. He appeared soon after and set it up in the bathroom even as I was helpfully saying, "Wait—isn't it coming from above?" "No, no," he disagreed as he knocked out part of the wall and revealed a pipe with a hole through which hot water was spraying out. By now the back half of the apartment felt like a sauna, and the dining room and the bedroom's east windows were obscured by condensation.

After all that, he couldn't get the clamp to stay around the hole. As a temporary measure, he wrapped a towel around it, which was like stanching a severed jugular or a cetacean's blowhole with a tissue, then took off to get another one and some more bolts.

Not really in the mood to laugh at the obvious comedy of errors, at some point I contemplated the crescent moon, at about 41 percent illumination. To the south a planet hung in the subtly brightening sky, while a second planet—Venus?—was rising to the north. I'd decided to find a positive in every negative event, and this predawn spectacle was it.

The maintenance man returned, clamped off the hole, and vacuumed up the water and bits of wet wall that he'd knocked down. After he unplugged the wet/dry vac, I asked him to vacuum the bit of hallway carpet that was wet. When he plugged it in again, into the other half of the outlet, the circuit breaker tripped.

Yes, it was going to be one of those days.

I've thrown a few things out, cleaned up as best I could, and acquired a new bathroom set to replace the old one, which fell part in the wash because, unthinking, I turned the water temperature to hot.

Of course, now I'm nervous that the clamp won't hold, for example, when I shower, and/or that something like this will happen next week while I'm gone. Actually, I'm nervous that it will happen again, period.

According to the tenets of astrology I was born under a water sign, but must it be so literal?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. New York: Broadway Books. 2003. 560 pages.

To me, the sciences are fascinating but elusive. The concepts are marvelous and compelling, but the details are difficult and tedious, especially if your grasp of mathematics is as tenuous as mine. I grew up with a love for what I knew of astronomy and the underlying physics, and an interest in such things as geology, paleontology, and meteorology. These subjects are taught badly, if taught at all, and I never understood them well enough for my curiosity to deepen into understanding.

That's where The Short History of Nearly Everything comes in. Bill Bryson explains much of what we know and how we came to know it through an abundance of examples and similes, not through formulas and theories. Not surprisingly, he's at his weakest in the most difficult areas. He tries to explain particle physics but is forced to fall back, fairly enough, on, "The fact is, there is a great deal, even at quite a fundamental level, that we don't know . . . The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don't truly understand." When it comes to string theory, he throws up his hands helplessly, which is understandable since most physicists seem to find it nearly impossible to articulate. Bryson is on firmer ground with Einstein's theories, which make more sense to me now—gravity is not a force, per se, but "a product of the bending of spacetime . . . no longer so much a thing as an outcome." Even here, though, he admits, "Our brains can take us only so far because it is nearly impossible to envision a dimension comprising three parts space to one part time, all interwoven like the threads in a plaid fabric."

Where Bryson shines brightest is on terra firma, geology and the earth as well as ocean sciences. As Bryson shows in numerous cases, once upon a time, science wasn't just for scientists. Charles Smithson of The French Lieutenant's Woman was not just a figment of author John Fowles' imagination, but representative of a Victorian spirit of scientific interest and discovery. Even Einstein, at the time he published his special theory of relativity, had attended only a four-year course "designed to churn out high school science teachers" and was working in the Swiss patent office—not exactly the type of credentials associated with today's Nobel Prize winners. The 1800s were an especially fruitful time for dedicated amateurs represented in literature by characters such as Smithson and Roger Hamley of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. There was Roderick Murchison, who "became with rather astonishing swiftness a titan of geological thinking," or fossil collector and seller Mary Anning, who was the first to discover a plesiosaurus (not, as Bryson puts it, to "find the first plesiosaurus") and who "could extract [fossils] with the greatest delicacy and without damage." Lest we think the entrepreneurial spirit of science dead, however, Bryson introduces Reverend Robert Evans, who, from his home in Australia, had as of early 2003 discovered 36 supernovae. To help the reader comprehend the magnitude of this feat, Bryson provides ample context.

Science is often focused on the numbers, but it's difficult for the human mind to grasp the very large and the very small that are well outside our physical perception. If my teachers had used comparisons and analogies like Bryson's and his sources, I and my classmates might have understood the significance of all those swirling numbers and formulae. For example, most of us have seen the typical solar system chart neatly tucked into a textbook or displayed on a poster. But the planets don't come one after the other at "neighborly intervals." If Earth were the diameter of a pea, "Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away and Pluto would be a mile and a half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn't be able to see it anyway"). Bryson adds that the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, would be nearly 10,000 miles away at this scale. It's easier to appreciate the size and wonder of the universe when presented in a tangible way rather than as a bunch of 10s with superscripts.

Bryson covers a lot of territory—astronomy, earth science, oceanography, physics, chemistry, biology, evolution, origins of man, and even the microbes that keep us healthy and make us miserable. Earth and its life depend on delicately balanced systems and processes, with the potential for natural or man-made disaster ever present. The chapter on the Yellowstone supervolcano ("Dangerous Beauty") would keep any nervous soul up a few nights, while humbling chapters like "Lonely Planet" reveal how much of what we rely on is beyond our control—the molten nature of Earth's interior, our moon that is just the right size and orbit to keep our planet stabilized, the position of the Earth relative to the sun (five percent closer or 15 percent farther, and we would cease to exist as we know ourselves). Bryson reminds us that we are a hair's breadth from unpredictable and/or unpreventable disaster, whether from space or from within our own home.

As we live day to day, going to work, shopping, eating, sleeping, spending time with friends, even vacationing with the family at Yellowstone, it's easy to forget that we're part of more than a neighborhood, a city, or even a country. We're also part of the complex systems that sustain us, our planet Earth, and the universe around us. If you have, A Short HIstory of Nearly Everything may help you to recall the wonder and the fragility of it all.

Sunday, 17 May 2009.
Copyright © 2009 by Diane L. Schirf.


Having missed the 171 bus from the Shoreland, a young man was tearing at top speed after it for a block or two until a red light at 55th and Hyde Park Boulevard cut him off. He had to settle for watching from the opposite side of the intersection as the bus, which runs only on the hour and half hour on weekends, pulled away from the stop. I'm sure he slumped. I wondered why a healthy young man with the energy to race two blocks to catch a bus can't find the reserves to walk the mile and a half or so to campus, especially since he was not trying to make a class. John Adams and son John Quincy Adams used to walk five or six miles every day after breakfast at Auteuil. Walking, once a pleasure, is now something to be avoided.

After pushing to get all the major weekend chores done last Friday night, I realized I didn't feel up to much. Every day drains me of life and saps my imagination. I want to hide. It turned out, however, another cause added to my inherent angst—someone from my doctor's office called to let me know my strep test was positive. I'm taking an antibiotic (875 mg amoxicillin) and, just for a little balance, a probiotic. I just thought I felt lethargic before. Now when I'm writing at lunch, I fall asleep mid-word. I've been using lots of correction fluid.

Overnight last Friday I'd left the window cracked open to let in some air, and the sound of the blind tapping rhythmically against the frame in the wind woke me (the second time) at 7:00 a.m. It's too bad I didn't dream about the bat tapping at the window in Dracula. That sound, which I never heard as a child because we had curtains over windows that wound open or closed, yet there is something about that rhythmic tapping that my primal brain associates with gloom and storms. And vampires.

When I returned from my second of three trips to the stores last Saturday, the couple who bring their white-and-ginger tabby out on a harness was there. The beast seemed intent on eating some grass. Again I had a feeling that something else was there, so I turned to spot the rabbit to my left. The cat looked up periodically at the rabbit, but both predator and prey pretended they weren't within 15-20 feet of one another. Hodge would have ripped the harness to shreds in his eagerness, and the rabbit might not have been so complacent.

Sunday afternoon, even as weak sunlight fell through the unfurling leaves and reflected off the dirty bottom of the pool, sheets of rain descended from a passing cloud. I could see no rainbow, but the lake was a changing canvas of deep blue and pale sea green—blue where the clouds overshadowed the water and green where the sun illuminated it. I watched through the rain as the wind blew the clouds about and the lake's color patterns shifted with them. I wished to be an artist so I could capture the odd and changing juxtaposition of color and mood. Nature and art became one.

Saturday J. spent $117 at the garden fair followed by another small fortune at Bonjour. After we had sated ourselves and I had reached my saturation point, I went to Treasure Island. The two unisex rooms, one with urinal, were re-labeled Men's and Women's a couple of months ago. When I arrived, four men were in line for theirs. One of them was telling me that the women's room was empty when another man in line darted into it. The man talking to me said something to him about, "There's a . . .," but the darter was so quick he missed it. After my turn, the line had disappeared, but the moment I opened the door to come out, a man dashed passed me to get in. Old habits die hard. Perhaps if a feminine products dispenser were installed, the male of the species would find he could hold it just a bit longer.

J. suggested a walk, so I dragged him over to Wooded Island, where the leaves are thick enough now for the birds to elude me. Except, of course, the ubiquitous Canada geese. I did spot some yellow birds and what I think was a female red-winged blackbird carrying nesting materials in her bill. Nearby, a male trilled our ears off. We also saw some dodgy people. I told J. that, if we were mugged, we should start coughing and comment how we're almost over swine flu. He said that we could point out, "At least there's no blood in the phlegm," and I added that we could say, "Yep, no blood, so the tuberculosis must be under control." Hack hack.

I need to bring a pedometer on that walk. It's not that long, but as a measure of my winter torpor, my legs and lower back protested mightily all evening. And that was on flat land. On the positive side, J's blood glucose reading, post-rustic sandwich and lemon tart, was 102. He knows what that means—should he suggest walking again, I will drag him far no matter how much it hurts me.

Only a few more days until I will be on my way to Pennsylvania, my first vacation since Christmas. This may not sound like a long time to go without, but I need it—now if only I could relax and enjoy it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dream: Awkward moments

A friend invited me to an event where we would be sitting near the members of the Grateful Dead. I was interested in the event so I accepted, even though I wouldn't recognize any of them.

Once there, she pointed them out, so I was spared the embarrassment of having to ask. She didn't mention names. All I thought was that they looked more cleaned up than I expected and that I hoped no one would notice that I really did not fit in.

There was a break in the event, and one of them, who was seated in my row on the opposite side of a semicircle, came straight toward me after my friend had gone to get something. He spoke to me, and I was acutely aware that I was supposed to be thrilled when all I felt was embarrassment that I didn't know his name and horror that my friend, who would have been thrilled, was missing this. I sensed, however, that he had come over to see me because she had left.

I was seated at a table at an elegant outdoor event. I suspect my mind chose that venue because perhaps I would look my best if forced to be dolled up for something special, even if unnatural for me. I was alone when who should appear but TB! All those dreams in which I hoped and prayed he would notice me and all those dreams in which he didn't, and all those dreams from which I awoke heartbroken—and now, out of nowhere, without my thought or hope, here he was, about to fulfill my fantasy and speak to me! To acknowledge my existence with words! What amazing things would we talk about? How could I help him to discover the incredible, desirable person under the plain, dull, withdrawn veneer?

"So," he said, "what do you know about Bozo the Clown?"

(Nothing. I know nothing. I don’t want to, either.)

I remembered the wise words of Spock: “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

I wonder if I will dream about TB again. Rewind?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dream: Stairs to nowhere

More random bits from a few dreams: I came home to find a piece of a cat's tail on the floor. Horrified, I opened a drawer and found another piece in it. Feeling denial, I looked at the cat, who indeed was missing part of his tail. The end was healed and covered by fur, and there was no blood anywhere. It was as if this, whatever it was, had happened a long time ago. I wondered about bits of flesh ending up in a landfill, which struck me as surreal.

When I picked up a dog, perhaps from boarding, I was surprised to find he could speak, and I could understand him. He was equally surprised by my ability to communicate. We thought it best to keep each other's ability to ourselves.

I was at a bar or a house with a friend from high school and left to look for the bathroom I'd found earlier. I went down the same stairs, but they ended in a step up into another room. I found more stairs, but they led down to stairs that went up. Some stairs ended in a step down so huge that it was more like a wall. I could make no sense of any of this, although at least I have seen the step up in some split-level houses. But there was no reason for these oddities. I felt like I was in The House That Jack Built.

Finally, I encountered some people I knew from school, always walking away. I recognized them from the backs of their heads, even though I knew they wouldn't look like I expected now, all these years later. I tried calling to some, but couldn't make any sounds.

I was grabbed by two robots or androids, one of which pinched my face and breast to pin me down. They were looking for someone named "Marvin," who I had to protect. A phrase came into my head that I repeated like a mantra even as I woke up. I've forgotten it now. I tried to free my face and breast without sustaining injury or damage. I wondered if it were possible.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dream: Twice trapped

In the wee hours of Saturday, I had a marvelous dream that I was sure I would remember when I woke up. I didn't. I think it involved water.

I remember a second dream. I had to return to a party because I'd forgotten something, but the only way to it was by a stairway arched like a rainbow. It looked impossible to ascend, but when I touched a step, it flipped, and the contraption started to move like an escalator, with the steps on the other side flipping down.

At the top I tried to stop at the doorway, but the escalator kept moving. The door was locked, anyway, and I wondered even as I passed helplessly by it if they would open it for me out of kindness or only if I were demanding.

In the back of my mind I may have thought that the weird escalator was a circle, not an arch, in which case it would drag me underground, perhaps crushing me.

In Sunday's version, I thought some friends were getting onto an elevator with me, but when the door closed behind me I was alone. I went to push a button, but there were none. There was no door, either, and no way to get out. The only break in the solid walls of the cubic chamber was the lighted digital floor number.

I marveled at how this had happened. I wondered if I should panic.

[from 2 and 3 May 2009]

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Snippets from life

Capitalists in the making
College female 1: . . . a concept for class. That's how Jamba Juice was created.
College female 2: Oh, wow.

When reviewers need editors
From a book review: This is a book that every single parent needs to read.

[That's single as in every parent, not as in every unmarried parent.]

Something old, something new
Chicago History Museum headline: DUDE, WE WERE ON FIRE!

Poetry in transit
Metra sign: My love for you is like a shiny heart-shaped metaphor about the sea.

Phone sex?
Women speaking into her mobile phone: Take it off vibrate. I don't pay for that.

Capitalism redux
Electronic sign at Walgreens: We have swine flu masks! We have Hallmark cards for Mom!

College doesn't equal smart
RedEye quotation: Some students purge or starve so they can binge drink.

For when video games just can't keep them entertained
Offered by the Illinois Tollway at oases: The popular Captain Tollway coloring book

Whatever happened to "Billy" and "Susie"?
Dad calling his children back: Willow! Montana!

When your marriage is as comfy as an old shoe
Elderly couple at the bus stop discussing the man's choice of gym shoes:
Woman: Is there any reason you made that weird decision?
Man: If it aggravates you, that's reason enough.

Taking the high road to higher education with no pit stops
Window sign at Roosevelt University:
Dedicated to the enlightenment of the human spirit

Capitalist dreams, part III
College student on mobile phone in elevator: If I major in econ. and work on Wall Street, I could be your sugar mama!

The lusty month of May, 2009 edition

It's that time of year when suddenly I notice the signs of spring, or perhaps suddenly they appear.

I spotted one of the first dandelions last week from on board a CTA bus—there was just a scraggly handful of them. Today the lake at 53rd Street is sporting a thick pelt of them Like last year when I first noticed those patches, I wondered why entire swaths of grass were yellow before I realized what they were. I may be mistaken, but I associate dandelions with late March in western New York. Spring's harbingers seemed to appear a month earlier there. But that could be distance and nostalgia speaking.

Earlier, I'd noticed the bushes at the Flamingo sprouting leaves. Last weekend, finally they appeared on some of my favorite trees, including the horse chestnut across the way. Now some of the trees along 55th Street are in full white flower.

Last weekend, twice I flushed a male cardinal, once by the back gate and once by the back door. While the cardinal is a snowbird, a favorite of Christmas card producers, he's in nesting mode now, less shy and more protective of his territory.

When I came home the other evening, I stepped off the sidewalk to look at what appeared to be a patch of dead white grass surrounded by healthy green grass. As I was prodding it with my foot and realizing that the clods had been loosened from the earth, something made me look to my left. There, a few feet away under the bushes, the mama rabbit I'd been worried about all the long, cold, snowy winter was peering placidly at me, her nose twitching. Oh, I can't be 100 percent certain it's her, but this one had a similar silver coat and a similar alert but unafraid demeanor. I've seen two rabbits together, so I am hoping there will be babies this year just like the last couple of years. I miss my two companions of a few summers ago, who sat under my table while I wrote, more like favorite pets than wild animals.

Today dawned sunny and so clear that the deep green of the watered grass (April showers) and the deep blue of the lake are almost painful under the cloudless sky. The anticipation of such agonizing beauty is what keeps me going through March, when even I have had enough of pewter skies and leaden waters.

If I could burst into song, I would.

Afterthought: While I was at Bonjour for little more than one hour, clouds appeared in the west. By the time I got home (where the maintenance people had removed the pool cover and were painting the patio furniture, more indications of spring), clouds were intermittently blocking the sun. From clear to cloudy—or springtime in Chicago.