Hay for Sale

My best friend said once, in reference to his ex-boyfriend, “You know what they say about Geminis – hayforsaletheir circumference is everywhere, but their center is nowhere.” I think sometimes that being the writing type is similar…..a lifetime of being an observer means sometimes feeling like being on the outside looking in, metaphorically peering through the warm, yellowy windows of other people’s houses, imagining if their lives – for better or worse – were yours.

 

I feel this way, in particular, about Ireland and Irish life. I stumbled upon something this morning that led me to thinking about Belmullet, a little backwater in Western Mayo, truly the back of the beyond, as they say. My ex’s Uncle had built a holiday home there back in 2002, so when I went over to see if things might work out, we decided to spend a few days out that way. What looked in pictures to be a relaxing, serene seaside town was in fact one of the strangest, most insular, lonely places I’ve ever been.

 

The house was about two miles outside of town along this road. Granted, we did have a great time walking back and forth to town (our best times together were always on long walks), and I do have a great ‘martyr’ story to tell my grandchildren about being caught in a storm after Ireland’s loss of the World’s Cup, bitterly leaning against the wind and rain, carrying 20 pounds of coal on my back, alone, on that country road.

 

But the fact is that it was a desolate place, the natives were suspicious (of us? A dodgy fucker with a Nordie accent and his bristling American alpha female companion? I can’t imagine why), and there was something quite ‘get me the fuck out of here’ about it. When I thought we had missed our bus the morning we left, I nearly cried. I was never so happy to get to Ballina, and that’s saying something.

 

I had been to Ireland several times before, but this was the most intensive trip I’d taken – a month spent traveling up and down the west coast, from Malin Head at the very northern tip to Cape Clear Island at the very southern tip, as well as time spent at my ex’s family’s place, in rural, rural Donegal, a few miles from the border with the North.

 

It was a rude awakening. All my prior trips to Ireland had involved lollygagging about in Galway or engaging in major party action in Dublin, this was my first extended experience with country life in any nation. And, while it was in some ways beautiful, I also became intimately acquainted with the dark side of Irish life – isolation, insularity, boredom, small town gossip, grudgebearing, depression, the living as the walking wounded and the maddening Irish propensity for indirectness and passivity that makes my Yankee blood boil. I was so burned by the experience that I could hardly wait to get back home to the freeways, chaos, and bluntness of America.

 

And yet. I still think, occasionally, about the Road Not Taken.

 

Once in a while I imagine my life – a life I came very close to living – there, and of course it’s cloaked in a gauzy, golden veil for the first few moments – and it involves a house with a range, some squirmy kids who play footie and/or camogie on the weekends, the occasional raging piss-up, the coziness and rhythm of family life, the closure of the diaspora’s return, and the omnipresence of the ocean.

 

All of this is very beautiful, and it’s a lovely, bittersweet daydream for a few moments, because it’s a life I probably could have very easily had, but there’s so much more to it, and I turned my back on it and came home – to my enormous, roiling, fucked-up-but-in-many-ways-amazing home. To the freeways. To the insane right-wing lunatics trying to make this country a theocracy. To negotiating race and class every minute of every day. To insane corporate control of our cultural dialog. To the ladder-climbing rat race. But also, to the jumble of Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and English. To directness. To problem-solving and innovation. To carne asada. New York slices. Proper salads. Hot water on demand, the open road, and the Holy Trinity of American cities – New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles (you too, New Orleans).

 

Sometimes, though, I think the curse of the writing mind is to be able to empathize and imagine so much that you can see yourself in any one of hundreds of different lives – and so what does that do to our own life? Do you play eeny meeney miney moe, and choose one? Or do you kick it and do your thing, until your life chooses you?

Karma

It’s 1993, high summer. I’m in Vancouver. I’ve just had lunch with a man I’m crazy stupid in love with, and who does not love me back.

 

We’re walking back from the Italian restaurant through an old, leafy neighborhood off

Commercial Street where the sidewalks are old and uneven, broken and busted by the massive tree roots pushing up from beneath the concrete. It’s sunny and pleasant, the light gentle & dappled through the canopy of leaves. I’m wearing a long, black-and-white striped cotton tank dress, a wardrobe staple that year, and a pair of black clogs. I can’t remember if he still had dreadlocks or by that time had shaved his head. He was a freakishly intelligent, deeply damaged ex-addict punk rock nurse. You can see the appeal, certainly.

 

We’re walking down the street discussing karma, which I stridently profess to believe in.

 

“Nah,” he says, with that maddening, nonplussed Gallic chill of his, “I’m not buying it.”

 

“How can you say that?” I ask.

 

“Well, what about Hitler?” he returns.

 

I take a moment to think about it, and can come up with neither an insightful nor witty reply.

 

“OK,” I say, “Maybe you’re right, maybe there is no such thing as karma-” and before I can verbally put a period on the end of the sentence, something hard and deliberate seems to smash into my back and I go flying into the sidewalk, landing on my wrists and knees.

 

Both of us were stunned speechless. It was probably the only time I saw actual surprise or unmoderated emotion on his face.

 

“Jesus, are you OK?” he asked, giving me a hand up, “It looked like a big hand or something just pushed you.”

 

“That’s exactly what it felt like,” I said. We walked the rest of the way to the car in an almost shamed silence. Spooked.

I Don’t Want

Having recently rediscovered the joy of writing by hand, I’m sitting there scrawling happily away with pen to paper, rhapsodizing on this concept or that observation, slugging back coffee and filling pages, when I stop, reconsider what I’ve written, and it hits me: once in a while, my handwriting looks spookily like my mother’s – the steep angle, artistic flourish, the occasionally capitalized R in the middle of a word.

 

I find this disquieting. I also have her slender feet, ironically childbearing hips, and her cheekbones. It all makes me uneasy. I don’t want to be like her, in any way. On top of it, I wish if I had inherited anything from her, it had been her equestrian prowess, or her ability to fearlessly sail a little catamaran solo across a bay.

 

Likewise, once in a while I’ll catch myself sitting on the sofa, legs crossed, arms hooked behind my head, twirling my eyeglasses or sunglasses in my hand, the spitting postural image of my father. I don’t like that either.

 

I don’t want to be the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. I don’t want to be an apple, period. I want to be an apricot, a pomegranate, a persimmon. Better yet, a blackberry, which doesn’t grow on trees at all.

Waffle Skin

I’m about six or seven. I’m with my father. We’ve driven back from somewhere – Santa Cruz, Capitola maybe – and I’ve fallen asleep in the back seat. When we get home, he doesn’t wake me up – he goes into the house and lets me stay asleep in the car. I wake up at twilight, alone and confused, the leather from the Mercedes seats leaving a waffle-like imprint on my skin. I shake my head, open the heavy car doors, stand for a moment in front of the lacy anise bush in the sidewalk in front of our house. I go inside, he’s sitting on the sofa reading a book, like everything’s normal, like little girls sleep in cars parked at the curb all the time.

Molting

Some days you wspiralake up and it seems like everything you thought you knew was just an illusion, some story you told yourself so that you would trust the strength of the roof that keeps the rain out, know the texture of the four walls that hold you in. What’s brutal is when you realize that all of this was just a fairy tale, but there’s no stunning realization, no epiphany, no ‘moment of clarity’ that gives you some astute insight into what the deal really is.

 

So you just float. You’re a vapor, moving through the world looking pretty much the same as you always did, but inside hollow, scraped clean and empty-chambered, like a nautilus shell. You wait for some sense of solidity or linear certainty to replace the ether and put the ground back beneath your feet. Something to believe in, something to trust. Something to know.

Double Dog Dare You

I don’t know how people can stop meaning anything to one another. Almost every single person I have come across in my life meant something and continues to mean something, if only in the eye of memory. I suppose this might explain my relentless Googling for ghosts of Christmas past, and my habit, surely annoying to some, of turning up every few years, like a bad penny, taking stock of everyone – like some cyber mother hen, tracking her chicks down through time and space. It has been a difficult thing for me to learn and accept that sometimes, people just don’t want to be found………and that includes me, so why I should find this reluctance to connect on the part of others is pretty nonsensical.

 

What started all this today was that the Craiglist Best Of was refreshed, and in one of the more racy posts this girl used the phrase ‘double dog dare you,’ which took me back 14 years to the summer I met this dreadlocked Canadian nurse who turned out to be one of the great tragic loves of of my life – although I ended up being nothing more than a braided go-go dancer footnote in his history, I’m sure. In our courting dance, he sent me a telegram that said, ‘Come at me at 500 miles per hour. Let’s see what happens. Double dog dare you,’ and suddenly, I was freshly 21 again, with a suitcase full of lacy bits and stiff new shoes, positive beyond all persuasion that this was Part of the Plan. I learned the hard way not to ever pack a suitcase with so much joy again.

Mr. Big

MrBigHe was the only man in my life who had a vocabulary better than mine. He was also the only one who was ever content to just lie in bed with his yap shut and read his own book while I read mine, an endearing quality I still yearn for yet have found elusive in the slew of cute but spottily-read immigrants that have peopled my Booty Roster for the last few years.

He was 13 years my senior and suddenly I was the ‘younger woman,’ feeling like a stereotypical bimbo when the valet would hold the door of his 525i open for me. But it just wasn’t *like that*, damn it! It was a true intellectual soul connection! Even as I smoothed down my polyester miniskirt and teetered down Sunset Boulevard in platform slides, I was secure in the knowledge that Mr. Big knew the Real Me – I might look like a Hollywood ho on Saturday night in LA, but come Monday morning in the Bay Area I was back cracking the books at Mills College with my horn-rims on, even if half the time I was penning him steamy missives instead of taking notes.

A few short years later, I was suddenly the ‘older woman,’ playing Mama to an adorable but infantile puppy of a man, forced to grow up fast by circumstance and just, time. Now I’m careening towards middle age (but 40 is the new 30, right?) and in a few short years I’ll be the same age as he was when we were dating. His girls are both in college. I have a retirement account (paltry though it is) and dogs. The age of post-grunge power pop and heroin overdoses seems quaint and nostalgic.

It all started one sticky summer night (doesn’t it always?) at one of those music showcase weeks so popular in the 90s. There was another woman, several shots of Southern Comfort, some straight mackin’ in the back of a cab, an Alice-In-Wonderland hotel room, a cigar (this was long before Monica), and all of a sudden I was hooking up with Mr. Big.

Big was a Man. Man with a capital M. He had an ex-wife, kids, a high-pressure job, a cute ride, a frightening amount of frequent flyer miles, and a shitload of charisma that had, and still has, chicks shimmying out of their knickers at the merest hint of his Mona Lisa smile and understated laugh. That and his crazy patchwork hazel eyes had my 26-year-old knees weak (and frequently in contact with a solid surface) and my heart thumping.

At the time he worked in LA and flew up to the Bay every other weekend to see his two daughters; tawny, dappled pre-teens so haloed by gold light that they fairly floated. Those girls made me want to be a stepmom, which I still consider one my life’s ambitions. We spent time at his modernist bachelor pad in West Hollywood, my shabby-chic low-rent flat in the Lower Haight, and his ex-wife’s spread with the pool in Marin (she was in India on yoga retreat and was real cool about these things).

He talked me out of going to law school. He gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received, “Sometimes the best thing you can do is just keep your mouth shut and listen,” although I have a harder time applying that advice than I do treasuring it. He had a fantastic bathroom in LA, with a full length window in the shower and a painting of the ocean that I *still* want, all these years later. He made me gross Echinacea-laced smoothies when I was sick. I fell asleep on a dirty couch in a rehearsal studio while he jammed with his friends as the rain pounded down on LA (rain! LA! I know!). I hated the way he drove – typical BMW driver – accelerate & brake, accelerate & brake.

We ate steaks at Morton’s, romped through the pumpkin patch with his daughters at Halloween, had Thanksgiving with his parents, and spotted otters in Monterey Bay on a very wet New Year’s Day. We barbecued, went to see The Who, The Stones, and Medeski Martin & Wood. We watched The X-Files while his daughters squealed with delight and fear, and we argued with his youngest about how, yes, she did have to wear socks with those pleather sandals. He took me to yoga somewhere in west LA, and laughed at how the Ashtanga made me sweat, and taught me that it was OK come out of pose if it hurt too much. We also got it on everywhere, from his ex’s hot tub to the back of her SUV to the viewing platform of his friend’s yacht to right between his expensive sheets.

I loved his Manness – his ‘established’-ness, his endless stories (like going into his frat house’s sauna with an 8-ball and a 6-pack the night before a big paper was due, or nailing his au pair), his solidity and intelligence, the effortless, alpha-male machismo that exuded from him like pheromones. He loved my ass, I’m sure, my mind, I know, and that my life, from his eyes, was so free, open, as-yet-unwritten.

I have a picture of Big that represents his quintessential je ne sais quoi – that afternoon on the yacht, in the candy-floss pink sunset light, kicking back in the deck chair like a king on the throne, Scotch in one hand, cigar in the other, with a smug, cat-that-ate-the-canary postcoital glow illuminating his expression. King of the Hill. Top of the Food Chain. Alpha Male. My Hero.

I got so much joy from Big. He made me really happy. For six months I was over the moon, and my writing output was phenomenal – he still has a hatbox with about 90 letters and cards I wrote in those six months, and he says every once in a while, he pulls one out and enjoys that moment in time and space. I remember it as a golden age, a brief period when everything fell into place and all the planets lined up and the angels sang Ave Maria or some shit – that is, before things do what they always do, which is shift under your feet and list like the Titanic and you grab onto the railing and hang on and wonder when the lifeboat’s arriving to carry you back to shore, where you shake the water out of your hair and look around, stunned, wondering if it was all in your imagination.