Archive | January, 2013

From Oologah to Amarillo/Cadillac Ranch!

27 Jan

Oologah is the Real town where Real Will Rogers was Really born and raised, but he always claimed instead the town of Claremore because, he said, “Nobody but an Indian  could pronounce Oologah.” Will was a quarter Cherokee, so this statement is nicely ambiguous. But don’t ask me, Dear Reader, to parse that ambiguity.  It’s got something to do with the layers and masks of American identity. I teach a literature course on that, but am currently endeavoring to forge an identity other than American Lit Prof. I am becoming. . .uh, what new persona * is*  it that I am seeking?

Not sure.  Will Rogers penned a column titled “Slipping the Lariat Over” and I may write one called “Slipping The Tiara On.”  Candace  Bushnell plus Dorothy Parker plus Miss Piggy. The Real me. Or not.  A student once commented, “Why are you always talking about the fluidity of identity? Didn’t you grow up in the Midwest?” Yes, well so did Will, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Madonna. All fluid folks.

In the morning of Claremore, OK, I traipsed over to my go-to diner Egbert’s, where I ate, against my will, a piece of ham the size of a small land mass. I tried telling the waitress that I didn’t want any meat but she kept repeating, “Ham? Sausage? Bacon? Hash?” I did manage to eschew gravy.  My waitress cracked a joke to another girl with the punch line “Well, we left you the black guy!”  As I left Egbert’s  I noticed a plaque on the door: “OPTIMISTS CLUB MEETS  M and W NOON TO ONE.

Be Aware Of Your Surroundings. Kim’s husband’s advice came back to me.

Back on Route 40, with its sweet,  sad  shadow  66 running alongside, I marveled at the emptiness–less scary in the day than at night, but no less eerie. Miles and miles and miles and miles of flat,  yellow acres, scrubby brush. Once in a while, an actual tumbleweed (so cute! the only spherical thing anywhere) rolling across the highway.  I thought of Cary Grant.  I mean I thought of North by Northwest, that terrifying and magnificent  last scene. . .and then indeed, I had crossed into the Texas panhandle.  Which looked a lot like the Oklahoma panhandle, but I swear I could smell oil.

Black gold, Texas tea. . .Jed’s a millionaire. . .Californy is the place you oughtta be, so they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Me too!   Just three more days of  the still salt-coated Pruis and me communing like Wilson and Tom Hanks in the middle of nowhere.  Then we’d see the outlines of the city, the realm of  Aztlan: Hills, that is, swimmin’ pools, movie stars. 

I stopped in Amarillo with two objectives: cowboys and steak.  Oddly, I ended up alone  in an up-scale wine bar eating raw tuna.  Next morning I had to get my oil changed–it seemed the thing to to in Amarillo,  and the guys at the Jiffy Lube were concerned for me: “Darlin’ you gotta get a car wash. Where you goin?”

“Um. L.A.”

They burst out laughing. “You cannot drive into L.A. lookin’ like that.”

I hoped they meant my car, not my face, or mien.

Next stop was Cadillac Ranch. I so wished Noah were there. His taste in the surreal, graffiti, and cars planted in a barren landscape has always been exquisite.  The wind was whipping aroundcadillac ranch as if it wanted to lift  the Cadillacs, me, and my little dog, too, right into the stratosphere.  Like a smoke signal, my phone trilled with a message from Noah, who sent me a picture of the upper East Side, where he was about to enter the Metropolitan Museum. I missed my boy.

I ran across the dry, ashy land back to my salty dog of a car and pointed its nose in the direction of  Albuquerque–which means White Oak,  and the Rio Grande–which means Big River.  Almost three hundred miles of  linear landscape in shades of gray and taupe. Occasionally groups of cows appeared, crowded together like small black hills. And the sky. The sky. So much more of it than  the earth. The language of the clouds shifted every few minutes, one syntax after another, from full and round to tendons stretched tight across the blue like it hurt.

GOD IS ALIVE. A new spin on billboard theology. Alive is different than real, right? All l could think was that God WAS WATCHING ME. There was no where to hide. When I start to think about God watching me I think of the line in The Great Gatsby. Wilson (strange coincidence of names here) says, “God sees everything.” Right before he (SPOILER ALERT) kills Gatsby and (SPOILER ALERT) then himself. After that, I  start to think it is likely that I have been alone a little too long.

Maybe a cowboy was waiting for me in Albuquerque.  A cowboy named Godot. The clouds were roiling, drifting, shaping some kind of face, spelling some horizon.

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On the Road, Jack: Jesse, Jesus, and Will Rogers

26 Jan

Waiting for me in her spotless, two-car garage in Delaware, Ohio was Sherry: petite, lovely Sherry, perfectly coiffed, wearing jeans and  a snazzy blue ruffled jacket.  She had been my high school English teacher, and one of my mother’s dearest friends. She looked very small in that garage, and I leaped out of the car to hug her. She looked a bit taken aback by  my wild-eyed wild-haired embrace.

If nothing else happens on this voyage  my evening and morning with Sherry will have made the trip a wonderful thing. From the first sip of the martini she made me to the last moment of the morning in her cozy kitchen with football roaring on the television, I felt a warm blast of  home, sweet  almost home. Sherry knew me from the time my mom started teaching at Urbana High School in the early 1970’s;  we all  traveled, along with a group of other teachers, to London  together when I was twelve; she  is the teacher who told me I had writing talent.  She is the person who found my mom dead after her heart attack.

Fifteen years ago I was flying into Urbana, aware that Mom was sick, but with no idea how serious her heart condition was.  When I landed I got a phone call (no cell phones, it came to the US Air desk) from Sherry. “Kir. I think. Audrey is dead.” (The EMT’s were still working on her.) Sherry picked me up in her maroon Taurus and drove me home. Mom was indeed dead. Two years later Sherry took me to Sonoma Valley where we talked,  ate, and drank our way though valley after gorgeous green valley. A few times I cried about Mom not being there.   A trip for grieving, a trip for moving forward.  Sherry, the guardian angel of both.

After I dragged in my bag and computer, she made me filet mignon, a twice- baked potato with bits of pancetta (“Do you know how hard it is to find pancetta  in Delaware, Ohio, Kir?”)  and blueberry cobbler. We talked until one in the morning.  Crawling into the impeccably-made twin bed I wondered why I would I ever want to leave Delaware, Ohio.  L.A. seemed further away than it had last week, and I wanted to stay and talk more to Sherry, who was in her own life transition.  Tom, her husband of twelve years, died  a year  ago. Now Sherry is in the house they shared, in the town where his children live.  It isn’t exactly home for Sherry, and she’s deciding what to do next.  I would have liked to help Sherry as she did me.

“Come  visit me in L.A?” I suggested.

“We’ll see,” she smiled her wry smile.

Driving away I felt sluggish and sad.  This soon turned to bored and bored.

To be fair, as Pat had told me, Southern Ohio does have its roadside points of interest.  “DON’T MISS THE WORLD’S lARGEST ROCKING CHAIR,” suggested one billboard. “JESUS IS REAL,” pointed out another. Both of these were matters to consider, but soon enough I was in Missouri where the Jesse James Wax Museum  and Jesse James Cave Hide Out were calling to me. A new billboard said simply “JESUS.”  His reality was no longer in question, I guess.  But what did it mean? Was this an exclamation? A marking of  sacred territory? A Jesus hide out (not very well hidden)?

I was listening to a radio commentary, a man discussing Obama’s ties to “Muslim terrorism.” The earth was becoming red. DO NOT DRIVE INTO SMOKE the signs kept telling me. Should  I push onward through this Armageddon-y territory or stop? There was nowhere to stop.  All around me was a moonless dusk, mild swales of the dust bowl rolling into nothingness. A few scraggly trees, ghostly cows haunted by ancestors ( I think).

And then, rising out of the abyss, a sign: WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL/ WILL ROGERS INN. An oasis in the doom of Joad territory! I pulled off Ol’ Route 66, and into the inn, where I paid fifty two bucks for the night.  Got a burger at Egbert’s next to the Inn,  brought it back to my room with the king bed and faux  cowhide lampshades.

I lay back on my bed, fingered the dry burger, and  turned on the TV.  House was playing.  Dousing the burger with ketchup, I was ready for a good hour of  medical miracle re-runs.

This was traveling alone across country. Will Rogers is real. Will Rogers.

Parting, Sweet Sorrow And a Cracked Tooth.

24 Jan

The day before I was to sing the song of the open road I was reminded that I’m neither Carlos Castaneda nor Jack Kerouac. I’m not even Elizabeth Gilbert. Those journey-ers did not crack a tooth while eating carrots during their final days of packing. It’s even more demeaning than that, folks, it was a crown. A sign of age inflected upon a sign of age.

Before I tell of  my dental disaster, let me fill you in on the sweet and salty stuff of saying goodbye.  Sitting on a couch at  Madeleine’s,  Bethany and Pat and I wore sunglasses in order to channel LA, (a dark 15 degrees outside),  and to study my US map. Pat, a fellow “girl on the go” as we refer to ourselves when we make last minute trips to Rochester, Syracuse, and the phenomenal  Howe Caverns, planned my itinerary. She felt that my trip would not be complete without a visit to the Largest Prairie Dog In Ohio. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that.

Bethany, with whom I’ve the pleasure of studying Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry of travel, gave me madeleine cookies, beautiful  jewel toned spheres. Popping one in my mouth, I remembered something. . something important. I was transported to my Wegman’s list. I needed to buy dental floss before my trip.

Later, Claire and Emily and I met up at the gym for the last time for a long time. Claire made me promise not to date any murderers. That’s a private joke. ( I did once date a murderer. What worried me about him was that he smoked.) Emily provided dark organic chocolate for the drive, and they both told me they were counting on me to be age-inappropriate.   Because they are dear friends, I will try to live up to their expectations.

Elizabeth gave me a tape recorder and paper plates and napkins for the drive, and  excellent  advice. As she watched me place china in a box for LA, she said, “Kirsten.  Fuck the Breakables, just get your ass to LA.” So I put the china back. Her husband Paul’s final words to me also bristled with wisdom: ” Don’t end up in the bin bag.” ( He’s English. ) Their daughter Rebecca had no words, but cuddled me like I’ve not been cuddled in a very long time.  And she did it while wearing her flannel Christmas pajamas and my long black boots. A send-off  full of love and style.

And then I ate the carrot and cracked my crown. My dentist met me the next morning. She and her assistant Kim are familiar with my bad bite, and gnashing issues. My dentist sighed, “Kirsten, you are one of my nicer patients. And you have one of the most difficult mouths.” Yeah, I’d heard complaints about my difficult mouth before. Anyway, she fixed my crown temporarily and sent me on my way.  As I left the office. Kim said,  “Try to relax out there. Stop gnashing.” And then she added some advice from her husband the corrections officer, “Be aware of your surroundings.” Now she tells me. For decades, I’ve  wondering what to do with the surroundings. I generally try to ignore them, hoping they’ll just go away.

I left upstate New York in a blinding blizzard. I was crying with fear and sadness. And fear. Also, fear. Was the blizzard a sign? I could see only six feet in front of me, the road was eerily not plowed, and already I had seen three cars in a ditch. Was I not supposed to go, after all? I am not Castaneda, Kerouac, or Gilbert.

From a rest stop I called Sherry in Ohio–where I was supposed to spend the night. She recalled my mother and her intrepid attitude about driving, traveling, life. I got back on the road and white knuckled it some more, singing along with Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”: ” Did you see any action/Did you make any friends. . .” Back in high school, Nicolle and Suz and I used to sing this at the top of lungs on our way to parties in Yankee Ridge.

Nicolle is in LA, studying raw cuisine. I was near Erie, PA.  I was aware of my surroundings. They sucked.  I kept on driving, and singing, and crying. This is my journey and I’ll cry if I want to. . .On The Road (what I could see of it), a menopausal Kerouac, Castaneda with a cracked crown, heading not for prayer or love, exactly. Something more like Meet, Bray, Shove.  Fuck the Breakables. 

Dear reader, I made it to Ohio.

13 Degrees Of Preparation

19 Jan

chair in snowThree days before take off. Or. . .push off, since I’m driving.  Woke up to snow and thirteen degrees cold.  Shivering and alone, but thanks to the tanning gift certificate from Noah, not too fish white.   Thanks, Son.

Though I have been planning this trip for 6 months,  in the last two weeks  I have been paralyzed. Unable to pack. I have been trying– organizing a little cutlery, say, then suddenly lost and blue. That always leads to thinking about Jon Hamm’s jaw, which leads to lying on the couch and watching 3 to 4 episodes of Mad Men.

But today had to be the day.   I already did the other stuff:  got the car checked  out–Prius is sound ( though  mechanic had concerns about the driver.) Went to several doctors where I was weighed and prodded;  certain parts were pressed between glass, other parts surveyed like geological terrain. . .all well, or at least passable, that terrain. (Might get better because– along with changing my name to Kitten while I’m in in the city of Angels– I’ll also become a vegan. ” KITTIE VEGGIE”.)

REASON BEING:  my friend Natasha–the one who convinced me to move to L.A.–is enrolled in a  raw food culinary institute.   And  I expect her to cook for me.  It’s the  least she can do, given that I’m forsaking a cold, loveless Upstate New York existence to  fritter away hours at Santa Monica Beach under palm trees singing Cheryl Crow songs.   Natasha, you do see that  you owe me, Sweetie?   The selling of my soul will cost us *all*.  Plate that kale/carrot/wasabi/pomegranate cake will you?

The reason that packing is  hard is because it is REALLY unpacking. A life. Loss Writ Large. With My Name On It.   There is all the disorganized paper work from my disorganized writing career. Fine. Then there’s the box with my mom’s cremated body, for which I still haven’t found a proper container.  Mom. I’m so sorry.

And the letters my dad wrote to me when we couldn’t talk, because he felt I’d betrayed him as a daughter. I felt like he stopped treating me as a daughter when I was ten.  And now, in a drawer,  there’s that photo of him and Noah at three–laughing together. Noah in Batman underpants. My dad looking at his only grandchild. He had three more years to live.

And the  marriage stuff. My second husband’s Finnish flag.  A poem he wrote.  A postcard my first husband wrote to me with a witty comment. He was, and is, so damned funny.  How can  I go forward when I’m surrounded by the Detritus Of The Sad And Strange?  Down on the couch.  Mad Men. The Jaw.  Betty is getting, unbelievably, fat. With that sweet older husband, Henry.    Do I throw away my former fat clothes, or the  former skinny clothes? I’m in the middle now. I will be vegan. And raw.

The real elephant in the room is the genius’ s portable electric piano.  He bought it  when he said he’d be here every month, and we’d set up some kind of life for the future. I was touched. He gave Noah a lesson.  He also talked about his Grammy every time we met a friend of mine.   My friends like glamor and fame well enough.

I have been unable  to lift the elephant ; it weighs like 500,000 pounds. The genius was sweet when he occasionally  actually looked at me, talked to me.

But then I called  a move,r and the elephant got shoved into the back of a storage space. Probably playing torch songs back there.  I was ACTUALLY going forward.  A few hours later I was in the line for auto-banking, and a song came on the radio– I had to ask the teller to wait while I wrote down these lines from  “The Fairest of Them All”: “Oh let me be in the city of angels/Yes this is what I want/To put on my dress and some red, red lipstick.”

Like I said. Going. Forward. Next step will be in the  dress (which arrived from Neiman’s today) and red lipstick (more gold than red.)

Never mind that the girl in the song ends up snorting coke and acting like a freak. I happen to be too old for that. Thanks to my son I have a tan line, thanks to friends I have a sense of humor, thanks to my mom and dad I know that while there’s no place like home, there’s always somewhere else you might belong. Another self, another life, and there’s always the storage space.

Leave in two days.

The New Year

2 Jan

Well, it’s full of renewal and redux for me. The actual night of New Year’s I ate a lobster tail and drank a glass of champagne and watched Mad Men. By myself.  And I slept on the couch. Because I’m a woman in transition. Sleeping in my bed would not have worked, I can’t feel at home in my own bed.What does that mean?

It tells me that it’s been a hard year: beginning with a move to an apartment (different than this one) around Christmas, then a period of depression–couldn’t write could barely feel. Just lonely, and adjusting to my life without my beautiful old house.  Son on his own, but not–I sensed–doing well. I had some cash, a boyfriend who lived five hours away, a loft apartment that was a block away from my ex-husband’s house. (I hadn’t realized *quite* how close it was because I saw it at night!) Just when I got my mojo back  I had an appendectomy, and then a week later, was ill with an infection as a result of the surgery–ten days in the hospital.  I lost 20 pounds and all  muscle tone. I got great support from friends, but there is nothing like being alone in the middle of the night with nausea and withdrawl from pain medication. In early May: I said to myself: I have to get somewhere else.  Warm. Fun.

So I planned to go to LA–with my BF, the jazz musician, who travels around the world.  But by August I realized this was not to be. Geniuses not always the best partners.

The new plan was to go by myself to LA.  Fast forward to this Christmas with Noah. He buys me me 5 tanning sessions. He and I stay up late watching movies, and he is finally able to cry about the fact that Felix, his beloved Golden Retriever, died a month ago. The next morning we laugh hysterically when he says “Where did you learn to make a breakfast casserole”? Sometimes there is magic. That’s how I learned to make a breakfast casserole.

My friends Elizabeth and Paul give me sunglasses, a lizard scarf, and a collection on LA writing.  My friends and son actually think I’m going to pull this off.

And here’s the redux: a man I dated 13 years ago is now interested again. God, those blue eyes. Is this good karma, or Ithaca Recycling? My Toyota has been recalled for  the steering shaft, but the letter says the part isn’t available. Significantly increased risk of crash. Talk about a mixed message: you could die but please wait.  Actually that’s not a mixed message. It just means  you are screwed.

So the day after New Years.  I see the ex wife of blue-eyes  in the locker room of the gym. She’s wearing a thong.  Great ass.  I gotta get outa here.

Happy New Year.