Subject: Diane Keaton is Coming on Saturday

As of today, I have been in Tucson, Arizona, for three weeks. It's my second attempt at a great escape, but this time there is no penis involved. Well, Spawn is here and he is the primary reason for my compass pointed in this direction (seems a lot of us old-timers are doing this to our kids), and he has a penis, I’m sure, but last I thought about that was some 22 or 23 years ago when it was a “winkie” and before I started forking over extra rent money for separate bathrooms. So, there’s a penis, but not one I’ve thought about until typing this just now. I’m also here to work on my Native American Studies project for school and to find out if that might lead me down a new, more useful path someday. And to look at stuff, of course.

I’m “airbnbing” (the whole world’s a verb!) in one of a series of nine adobe townhomes originally built in the 1880s and refurbished in the early 2000s. It is on South Convent Avenue. My first week, I had a next door neighbor named Olga. These were, of course, the most comforting signs the Universe could offer me: a Convent and an Olga.

Originally, I was to be here for a couple of weeks, but the owner has the complex up for sale and made me an offer to stay through the first week of April that I couldn’t refuse, as they say. This is also a comfort, because I get to give the town a fighting chance to hire me.

When I first arrived, the owner took me on a tour of all the adobes, each unique and with a story to tell. He was very proud to tell me that, a few months ago, Diane Keaton had made an offer that he turned down, because he had too much money (and, I suspect, heart) invested in the project. Then, today, three weeks later, I opened my email to a message from him that said:

Subject: Diane Keaton is coming on Saturday

Apparently, Ms. Keaton is coming back for a second look-see. And, in particular, she wants to tour my little adobe. One of her requirements is that the owner and his agent be nowhere nearby. For some reason, he assumes this rule applies to me too, so he has very politely asked me to skedaddle. But Ms. Keaton made absolutely no mention of not wanting to meet me. Soooo………………

I’m going to tidy it up a little and hide my unmentionables, but I think, when she arrives, I’ll either be reading on the couch and pretending that I completely forgot Diane Keaton was coming on Saturday, or I’ll sit in my car and watch from the street, but leave something (I haven’t decided what) that might catch her eye, so I can always think Diane Keaton took notice of it. Perhaps, a resume. She’ll look at it and hire me on the spot to be her Tucson personal assistant or Adobe Manager. I can end my days fetching wine and ice and hats and irons and movie scripts.

One of my favorite movies that I think I’ve watched one time less than I’ve watched Pride and Prejudice is Something’s Gotta Give. Big fan, I am. The thought of her near my stuff is a lot. If I weren’t set on cremation, I would want “Diane Keaton is coming on Saturday” on my tombstone. Well, that’s not a good outcome for her, so I take that back. Cremation is still best.

I have a few more weeks here before I give up and return to what, I don’t know. The weather has been incredible. The people have been warm and welcoming and refreshingly lacking any sense of real urgency. The sunsets are, of course, transcendental. There are no words for the full moon rising between the mountains, the spring desert flowers, the saguaro, the Texas Mountain Laurels that smell like grape soda, the Mesquite trees full of hummingbirds, the Mission, the Reservations, the parks, the University, and all the new things to learn. But most of all, there are no words for the room to breathe.

Now, I know if I get to stay, there is a heat to come. I’m asked, “Have you been here in the summer?” I say, “No, but I’ve heard it’s a dry heat.” And people laugh. So I know it’s not messing around. Arizona doesn’t change the clocks for Daylight Saving Time because, and I quote, “It’s too damn hot for any more daylight.” But the way I see it, I’d rather be inside with sun streaming through the windows for a few months a year, than inside fighting for happiness with the Indiana Grays or the Georgia Humidity.

I’ve been quiet about this escape attempt, because I was loud about the one in 2014 and we all know how well that turned out. Speaking of, I thought the trip here would rid me of the haunting thoughts, but it hasn’t. My life is still divided into two parts: The Before and The After, and I now think it might always be. I’m determined more than ever to find my funny, though. I’ve noticed that in interviews here, I’ve been much lighter, less draining, and maybe a little more fun, for lack of a better word. It has helped too, especially when I’ve been across a conference room table from three interviewers whose combined age is about 8 years older than mine, asking about my 5-year plan and the reasons I think they should hire me. I really don’t know how to take millennials with this kind of power over me seriously. Typically, we just look at each other until I smile a little and give the Mom look of “Seriously? You’re not going to use a coaster?” And they smile and move on to the next question or thank me for coming in today.

No matter what happens, it has felt right to be here. Spawn checks on me almost every day, he has texted twice for unplanned dinners, he still laughs at my jokes and I still laugh at his, and I now know he still likes me, whether he likes it or not. So, even though I’m in an Airbnb waiting on a job and Diane Keaton, I feel like I’ve been at home. It may be temporary, but I hope not.

Because Diane Keaton is coming on Saturday, and something’s still seriously gotta give.

Everything I Thought I Wanted

Ever since I moved to Indianapolis in 2002, I’ve wanted to eventually move to Maine. There, I thought I’d walk the Marginal Way each morning, listen and write to the ocean waves in the afternoons, and have lobster rolls and moxie with my Maine man by night.

Eleven years later, I’m pretty sure I want none of it. Except the lobster roll. I definitely still want the lobster roll. Just from Arnold’s in Eastham, Mass, not from Maine. Along with a side order of their onion rings built for a family of four. Oh, and a brownie to rouse me from the coma. Yes, just that. That’s all I want. Delivered and in the off-season to avoid the lines, of course. But just that. 

What has become of me? I think I got old is what. There’s a lot of aging between 40 and 50. People like to say 50 is middle-aged, but shoot me now if I have to be in this world at 100. God only knows what will be on TV by then. I always wondered why older people stayed home so much and now I know: I need a drink or a nap just from a trip to the store lately. It’s all work

Read More

On Cape, Like a Native

Be warned, this post could be over the top with positivity and as such, extremely annoying. Plus, there are pictures. Vacation pictures. Everybody loves those, right? Aunt Flo’s slides of the road trip to Phoenix? Come on!

I left Indy Friday morning and drove to Binghamton, New York. I dreaded this drive so, because I had planned to take I-70 through Pennsylvania, it being the shortest route between Point A and B. I hate highways. The trucks, the mini-vans, the people in the left lane who should be in a parking lot or an institution – highways are where idiots go to collaborate and travel in impassable packs. And this highway, this I-70 in particular, is from the devil. If the Universe wants to punish me, he or she could just sentence me to an afterlife driving an endless loop of I-70. But luckily, a conversation about I-86, the Southern tier expressway across New York state, was had at the last minute Thursday at work and given the stamp of perfect solution. A few more miles but a road less traveled, reminiscent of Highway 36 out to Colorado last year.

This trek is the extent of my experience with the actual state part of New York, but I highly recommend it. Just beautiful. Low clouds hang on the mountains and valleys of lush farmland (though I never could tell what exactly was being farmed). I can’t find any information online about what this area is called, but I sure hope it’s called something. It deserves to be official!

Read More

Don't Say Ruminate to an Overthinker

ru·mi·nate

Pronunciation: /'r{uuml}-m?-?nat/ 

-nat·ed ; , -nat·ing ; 1:  to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed :  chew the cud2:  to engage in contemplation

I'm about to leave for a three-week trip to Boulder, Colorado!! Ask me when my last three-week trip was. Go ahead. Ask. The answer is NEVER. One week at a time, maybe, what with work and the single mom bank account. The trip originally started as just a weekend to attend the eagerly anticipated Original Impulses: Creative Boulder, but then an extended house sitting opportunity generously presented itself. It's been a bit of a struggle getting to the point of acceptance that I can indeed do this, but I'm here now and actually excited.

In recent weeks, I've turned it over and over in my head how I shouldn't, I appreciate it but I couldn't possibly, go. I've hesitantly brought it up in friendly conversations only to be told how wonderful and divinely timed the whole thing is since my last project, thankfully, ended June 3rd. No contract would dig anyone being gone that long anyway. Friends say spend time writing, spend time on your projects, spend time on YOU. Say whaaaa?? Mostly, people act like it's no big deal. It's an extended vacation. So what? People do it all the time. Get over yourself. Just do it. (Freekin' Nike.)

I have been referred to as an "overthinker" a time or two. I think it's the single mom in me. Or it could be that I was raised by two overthinkers. As someone who plans and worries and then plans and worries some more, I want to make sure I consider all the consequences of every little action. But it's been paralyzing, too. Recently, a friend emailed and said, "Stop ruminating!! Everything's fine." Fine?? Well, if I knew what ruminating meant, maybe. So, on top of all my other worries, I had to find ruminate in the dictionary. Then, I had to think about the origins of the word and how it's used in a sentence. Thanks, friend. At least that took my mind off vacation for a few minutes.

Vacation. I have it all mapped out. Well, sort of. I'm driving and will stop in Hannibal, MO, to visit Mark Twain's boyhood home and museum first. Then, I'm going to Red Cloud, NE, to visit Willa Cather's hometown. Then, Boulder. Colorado. Forests. Mountains. Creeks. Wildlife. Walks. Outdoorsy people. Creative types. Hippies?!?! I bet they don't ruminate much there. Well, not in a worrisome way, anyway, and not without pot. Wonder how much a nickel bag goes for nowadays. And if drug dealers take Discover. See? If it's not one rumination, it's another.

Post-Trip Note and Pictures: I had the best time (and even added Taos to the list) and can't even put it into words. But here are some pics. Because, no words.

I Made It There, So Now I Assume I Can Make It Anywhere

This is a repost from 2009, the last Spring break Spawn and I spent together. This month is his last "real" semester in college (he has two classes to take this summer to finish), and next week is his last Spring break. It all made me think of this trip. I never had more fun with him.

Flight landed twenty minutes early. EARLY. That’s never happened to me. The new Indianapolis airport is empty (feels a little like it's throwing a party and nobody's arrived). And clean and nice. Shelves in the bathroom stalls for your stuff. At LaGuardia, the ground transportation counter woman called my shuttle reservation number three times while I wasn’t paying attention. She finally came up to me and asked, “1017?” loudly in my face to get my attention. Thanks to her, we got right on the shuttle to the hotel. I can’t say enough positive things about the Westin Times Square. We were upgraded. Had a southern view above 42nd Street so I could watch all the people going to work and home again at the 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal. It was perfect. Quiet. Completely non-smoking and renovated. Big rooms for the city. Ideal location for us. Nice, helpful people. Fast and yummy room service. Super lathery soap (very important).

Day One: Walked up 8th Avenue a hair and stopped for a Nathan's hot dog, kept walking to Columbus Circle to the Barnes and Noble on Broadway. Walked through Central Park (stopping to rest at the skating rink and listen to a sax player under a bridge) to Park Avenue and over to Lexington for the heck of it. Walked back to 5th Avenue to the Plaza Hotel (shame on you Plaza Hotel owners for the horribly stained carpet at the 5th Avenue entrance) and sat in the lobby for a minute or two. Walked down 5th Avenue to see the stores. Sat in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, awestruck by the ceilings and the windows and the altars. Lit a candle and said a little prayer. Austin dipped his fingers in the holy water and gestured the sign of the cross. (I laughed at him, of course, because he makes fun of me for any sign of faithfulness. He minimized it all by saying, “It’s magic. I’m not going to turn down magic.”) Walked to Rockefeller Center where I could’ve stayed all afternoon. Found the Magnolia Bakery by accident (the whole trip was full of “where is X, we need to look for X” only to turn around or walk a few steps and find it) and stopped for chocolate butter-cream cupcakes. Walked back to 42nd Street and the hotel for a “barking dogs break”. Had a nice dinner at Shula’s in the hotel, and then walked around Times Square a bit to see the lights at night.

Day Two: Caught a cab to the Flatiron Building, then NYU and Washington Square Park. Walked through Greenwich Village and SoHo (where I swear I could live even though Austin thinks not). Caught a cab to the WTC site. Walked to Wall Street (Austin’s favorite part). Caught a cab to Katz’s Deli in NoHo for lunch. Saved room for a walk to Chinatown and a dumpling sample. Or two. Walked along Canal Street and bought a tote bag, some tourist crap and a fake Dolce and Gabbana purse for Katie, my lovely dog/house-sitter and really good friend of Austin’s. Caught a cab back to Times Square where we got Junior’s Cheesecake supplies and went to the hotel for a late room-service dinner.

Day Three: Snow?! Luckily, it stopped by 10am. Walked to Grand Central Station (now we know what’s at the beginning of Damages each week) and the Chrysler building. Caught a cab to Pier 78 for the NY Waterways Harbor Tour (Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Statue of Liberty (and up-close, too!), Governors Island, Ellis Island, etc.). Walked back (wanted to take a cab, but the Empire State Building looks close until you start walking towards it when it gets farther away each block – glad we did, though, because we saw a lot on the way) to the Garment District, Penn Square/Station, Madison Square Garden, Macy’s, the New Yorker Hotel and finally the Empire State Building Observatory. Caught a cab to the United Nations Building, then another to the hotel for another “barking dogs break”. Got dressed up for a dinner at Keen’s Steakhouse for the best Porterhouse steak and creamed spinach and crab cakes I’ve ever had, even though it was unnerving being the only woman among twenty men my age in the Teddy Roosevelt Bull Moose Room. Caught a cab to the hotel and one last Times Square at night experience.

Memory One: I remember waking up in the middle of the night between Day Two and Day Three and remembering where I was and thinking “Oh god, I have to do NYC again tomorrow”. My back hurt on Day Two but was fine by Day Three, and I didn’t want to leave by Day Four. But leave we did.

The shuttle to LaGuardia drove by the Ed Sullivan Theater where Late Night with David Letterman is taped and took a back route through Queens, so we got to see some of that area complete with a just-opening flower and fruit market. Perfect flight back to the still empty Indianapolis airport.

Memory Two: Austin seeing Times Square for the first time and saying, “This reminds me of Tokyo.” The bastard. :)

Memory Three: Waiting on the shuttle back to LaGuardia in the first floor bell captain area, I learned that there can be as much happening on the 5am side of darkness as there is on the 9pm side. Four scary-looking men – two had huge hoods on hiding their faces – walked up to the glass at the hotel window right by us. One hit the glass as hard as he could. Then, they headed for the revolving door to enter. One of the security guys immediately picked up his walkie-talkie-thingie and said something like “21 to dispatch. Backup. Standby.” One of the bellmen, in his full-length black overcoat, sped over to them all Breakfast Club Judd Nelson / Matrix like and stuck to them like glue until they acted right and left. Then, the Matrix bellman came over to apologize to me and asked if I was alright. Big brown eyes, dark hair and complexion, full-length black coat and a New York accent asking if I was okay. I damn near fell out of the chair and faked a dizzy spell. When the shuttle came 16 minutes late, said bellmen took our bags before I was thinking straight and told the driver, “You’re 16 minutes late. You told her 5:30. You shouldn’t make the lady wait.” I had to hold onto the door for support. This was a New York highlight for me. I loved every minute of the whole trip, but this was an unexpected mama bonus and all it took was a few hoodlums and a 5am wakeup call.

  • Best pre-trip purchase: Cross-body tiny purse
  • Personal space violations: One in the cupcake line by a man who should’ve been in the cookie line and one on the NY Waterways boat trip by a middle-aged father who was narrating over the tour guide to his family
  • Mother vs. son street fights: Six, but fairly clean and inconspicuous (usually caused by Austin saying “Mom!”, me saying “What?”, him turning away from me to point to and explain something, then me saying, “I can’t hear you when you talk in the other direction”, then him saying, “Then you need to listen”, then me trying to explain why I can’t hear him and him getting mad that I might be anywhere near pointing out an error).
  • Lessons learned: Study your East River and Hudson River locations before getting mad at any cab driver. Austin and I can still crack each other up. And keep moving in Times Square.
  • Next time: Ellis Island, the MoMA and the burroughs
  • Final tally: Three pounds lighter (despite eating my way through town) replaced with an increased level of wanderlust that might be harder to work off.

All in all: Happy dog. Happy spring-breaker. Happy mama.

A Fond Look Back at the Welty Symposium

As I write this, the Mississippi University for Women's annual Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium is in full swing. The event honors one of the MUW's most famous alumnae by offering a slew of Southern writers to read from their works and tell a little about themselves. I've attended twice - in 2001 and again in 2007, but my experience in 2001 was one that I can still feel today.

In 2001, I was an Application Developer for MCI Worldcom, which was a good job that supported me and my son. I was also attending school to finish a Bachelor's degree (my first attempt in the 1980s was interrupted by a boy - well, me and a boy). To put it lightly, I was a horrible Developer and an even worse CS student. I am still friends with folks who will attest to this fact. And I was miserable.

My first loves have always been writing and reading and studying and researching. These are the things that jazz me. So, when I stumbled across an event that combined all that with a college steeped in Southern history and writers who write about all things Southern in a place that I could get to without too much maneuvering around babysitters, I signed up.

It was held in Poindexter Hall. To get to Poindexter, I had to walk and walk through the campus.  October. Fall. 120-year-old campus. I could barely breathe. Inside, I found a seat I liked, away from the collections of college kids who were sitting together like fish in a school (ha) probably mandated to attend for class credit, and readied myself for the program to begin.

Poindexter is over 100 years old and three stories tall and round inside, with huge floor to ceiling windows and a beautiful stage and wonderful acoustics. It is the musical heart of the school - and the town of Columbus, for that matter. The building has been maintained meticulously and perfectly. Looking around, I thought of the years and years of performances and audiences and...and then?

Of course, I spontaneously burst into tears. A writer hadn't even spoken yet. But it happened and would happen again during the program, despite all the logic I threw at myself. (Kleenex has unprotected sex in my purse and I was almost alone on my row, so I was able to be fairly quiet and inconspicuous.)

The writers read from their books and told stories about their paths to their writing lives. Each one better than the next. Then? She spoke. Elizabeth Strout (who is in no way Southern, but could be). At the time, her first novel, Amy and Isabelle (one of my absolute favorite books - I still miss the characters), had just been published. She read a few excerpts and then talked about her windy path of a writing life. She was unassuming, shy, self-deprecating, and funny when she recounted her disastrous 6-month law career. She said that even though she had loved writing since high school, she went to law school to avoid failing as a writer only to end up failing as a lawyer. (She went on to win the Pulitzer in 2009 for Olive Kitteridge. That says so many wonderful things about me, doesn't it?)

To this day, I swear she was reading my mind and talking just to me. The theme of the conference was “A Kindred Soul to Laugh With”, and I could not have felt more connected to her. I wanted to tell her about me, about my life, about how bad I was at my job and my schoolwork, about how much I wanted to sit at her kitchen table and listen to her stories about her life and her characters. But rather than stalk the poor woman, I came home and wrote her a fan letter. I had never done that and haven't felt the need since. She's the one for me. Well, there's Tom Jones, but that's a different kind of connection entirely.

In formulating what I wanted to say to her, I came to the conclusion that this day at the Symposium was divinely orchestrated to show me how far I had veered from my meaning of life - that interdependence of authenticity, spirituality, and nurturing of one's soul. I realized that I was ignoring it and dishonoring God at the same time and had for most of my life. I still had a pretty expensive child to raise, but I knew what I must do. I had this picture framed to remind me. I take a small version of it to every cubicle gig I've had since. And will until. And I look at it and look at it, and I write in the meantime.

I will always regret missing the 2002 Symposium. That year, Jeanne Braselton, Rome, Georgia, author of A False Sense of Well Being, read and spoke about her life. She killed herself the following Spring after losing her husband the previous year. Life and logistics kept me away until 2007. By then, they had moved the event to Cochran Hall, which is no Poindexter (it's new and attached to a dormitory), believe me. But Nan Graham spoke and told the most hilarious story of her trip to the Symposium, and Ellen Douglas read and said, "Thank ya'll for being so proud of me," and I felt like a member of this special little MUW club again.

I hope Dr. Dunkelberg knows what a gift he's given us and that he is able to keep this Symposium going for years to come. I swear I'm going next year. I'm long overdue for a slow, warm, enveloping, Southern hug.

Nova Scotia Bound, Sort Of

If you know me at all, you know that I've talked about going to Maine once my Spawn had swum upstream to do whatever it is people in their twenties do these days. I have never had an explanation for it, but it's just always been on my mind. Sort of like a calling. I don't know what's calling me exactly - black flies, snow, lack of jobs - but something still does.

Knowing my current contract is on its last legs and a job I'd had my eye on hasn't panned out, I've started my perpetual search for work. Nothing's happening here in Indiana, and though I will always think of it fondly, we've never really been each other's types, so I've been venturing out. Sometimes, it's overwhelming to have nowhere to be, no ties, no anchor. But most of the time, I like it pretty fine.

Just for fun a couple of weeks ago, I paid $4.80 for an astrological/numerological chart that might give me a hint at where to look. Silly, sure. But believe it or not, my red zone (red indicates a good place for vocation, culture, creativity, and a little romantical acSHAWN, if you know what I'm sayin') was in Nova Scotia!! A hop, skip, and a jump from the Maine I've had my eye on.

So, Nova Scotia, it is. Just one tiny problem. The zone doesn't include a cool town like Halifax. In fact, it's not really over that whole pesky land part. It's in the stinkin' ocean. Okay, all may not be lost. I could buy a boat. I could dock in Halifax and still get my groove on. But I get seasick. Near death seasick, in fact. That's not going to be very attractive for all that creative work and romance.

It did dawn on me that the zone runs north and south, so I could do just fine in, say, the Bermuda Triangle. But the problem I see with that is that I could very well be groovy and nobody'd ever know it.

So much for my $5 plan. Maybe I need to take baby steps and think about something like Chicago for now. I hear it's toddlin'.

Vegas, baby.

I haven't been feeling old enough lately, so I signed up for a trip to Vegas on my first gal-pal trip in well over 20 years. Mission: Tom Jones show at the MGM Grand.

Honestly, I didn't have very high hopes after the 4-hour plane ride with the married couple who apparently didn't know each other AT ALL. They never, ever, EVER stopped talking. The yard, the cars, the neighbors, the basement, the girls, the soccer team, the scouts, the school, the shoes, the shut the hell up. (I was never happier for my iPOD.)

But, once we got through the very confusing hotel check-in process and did a thorough bedbug check, it worked out to be a wonderful trip and one for which I will always be grateful.

I doubt I'll go back in this lifetime (unless Tom makes me), but I enjoyed a lot of things about Vegas. I talked to my son one night and told him that I thought he'd like the town very much. "There are lots of girls with very little clothing on." He said, "Well, duh. It's hot as hell there."

Best Meal: Tao. Period.

Best Snack: Gelato in Ital...I mean, the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes

Best Dessert: Apple Crisp at the Grand Lux Cafe

Best Drink: Still looking

Best Vibe: Bellagio Cafe/Gardens/Fountains

Best Casino: They weren't all the same?

Best People-Watching Perch: The Venetian casino on a Friday night. My neck is still not itself.

Best Surprise: Dior mini-makeovers

Best Moment: The surprise birthday gift from Sheila - the most creative and thoughtful gift ever

Most Memorable Gal Conversation: The Will-Call line at the Venetian

Most Memorable Boys: Boothbay Harbor firemen in the hotel check-in line and the fine, upstanding one helping his elderly mother at the Vegas airport gate

Best Laugh: Deciding that the reason nobody waited on us in Jimmy Choo was because Sheila was wearing her sandals from the Tractor Supply store, not because of my JC Penney purse

Best part of the airplane experience: The man in the middle who reached up and adjusted my air for me on the way home. "Is that good?" "More?" "Here?" It made us laugh.

Best Show: Phantom of the Opera (That dude who plays the Phantom could sell ice to eskimos with that voice.)

And the Best of the Best of the Best brings me to Tom, of course: Oh. My. God. Worth the entire credit card bill. The charisma, the machismo, the sex that oozes off that man. It's just more than this old gal can handle. When he asked, "Is it hot in here or is it just me?", the whole audience shook its collective head and said practically in unison, "It's just you, baby, it's just you." Typical man, though. Wasn't long enough. I just thought I was addicted to him before. Now I've moved on to Tom hoarding. And, no, thank you very much, I do not need nor want an intervention.

Next stop...somewhere sitting down. Maybe even lounging. With Cape Cod Cabana boys fetching us the perfect drinks.

It's Not Unusual

I do love a road trip. Tom flies in from Vegas, sometimes another place depending on his schedule but usually Vegas, and we get to spend a few uninterrupted hours together. After saying our hellos and flipping through inserts together, I slide his shiny, still too cool for school self into the little slot in the dashboard and off we go.

He sings and I listen. I sing and he just keeps singing. I talk and he professes his love in so many different ways – each about three minutes long and separated by tiny moments of silence for reflection. I like to reflect on his hairy chest and unbuttoned white satin shirt with the ruffles, and he likes to reflect on my crackerjack driving skills and uncanny knack for navigation.

We laugh (oh, how we laugh when we pass the sign for Stinking Creek Road somewhere in Tennessee) and we reminisce about our other road trips together.

Most of our time is spent talking and singing about life and love. I say I’ll never let him go (meaning, I won’t leave him when I return the car to Hertz), and he says that he’ll turn the tide for me with his hands (tide, maybe, but apparently ol’ Thunderball can’t do anything about the yay-hoos going 55mph in the left lane).

At this, we laugh some more. He takes a sip of scotch (I’m driving) and starts singing “She’s A Lady”. I am reminded of how much he really does mean to me, so I pat his little jewel case, take back the unladylike namecalling and graciously accept the turning of the tide. 

Stay until tomorrow? No, I know. We say our goodbyes and he heads back to work. I take one last look as I put him back on the top shelf and can't help but smile. Till next time, young man, till next time. 

And He's Back

Austin got news recently that a great aunt in Atlanta committed suicide. She left no note, had just remarried her ex-husband and was preparing for her son to return from Iraq at the end of the month. Austin didn’t really know her and neither did I when I was married to his father, but it’s sad all the same.

“Dad called and told me that he went to the wake today. Betty’s son was there. They let him come home early to attend the funeral. Ironic, huh?”

“Yea, that is so sad. Poor kid.”

“He has a bunch of stuff in California, so he and his father are going to fly out there to get it and then take some time to drive back and see the country.”

“Oh, that’ll be FUN.”

roadtrip.jpg

“What?”

“I’d love to do that. Wouldn’t you?”

“Uhhh, I think it’s supposed to help the kid get over his mother blowing herself up with a shotgun. Nice, Mother. Very nice.”

“Oh, yea. I didn’t mean FUN fun. I just meant that it would be a cool trip to take.”

“AGAIN, Mother, the woman is dead.”

“Jeez. When did you get all caring and sensitive?”

“I’m going out.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Wouldn’t you like to take a trip like that?”

“Not with you, so don’t even ask.” (smiling)

“We had fun in New York.”

“This would be in a car. For days.”

“We could find the big ball of twine.”

“I’m leaving.”

“Fine, Get out.”

“Exactly.”

And Boys On The Side

My Easter weekend visiting my good friend, Lisa, in Lexington didn’t start out so well. Friday was full of tornadoes, storms, wind, rain….and holiday traffic. Though not crucified, I was definitely persecuted. :) At one point in my quest to avoid wrecks, I found myself passing a sign that said “265 END” and making a U-turn at another sign that read, “No bridge to Kentucky” in Utica, Indiana. Thank God it was daylight, because I could definitely have missed the signs and ended up in the river. Biblical, right?

Anyway, the five-hour trip for a three-hour destination aside, it couldn’t have been more fun. I miss having a gal friend to chat with and laugh with and make fun of boys with. And Lisa was the perfect antidote for all three.

I met Annie (I still just want to throw a big ol’ red ball to her) and Austin (who I wanted to take home despite not liking cats at all), got a tour of her cute house, and went to dinner at Ramsey’s for a nice meal and a catch-up.

Saturday morning, we spent some time shopping in Joseph Beth Books and then met up with a couple of friends of Lisa’s at the Bronte Bistro for lunch. Then, off to the Three Chimneys Farm for a tour and a close-up visit with Big Brown, the winner of last year’s Derby and Smarty Jones, winner of a past Derby, I believe.

Read More

Yin and Yang

I have found that it’s best for me not to post anything here when I can’t be positive. There is a lot to be positive about, but, you know how it is, some folks, especially we menopausal ones, find it hard to think about anything but the negative at times. So, I’ll spare my little Interwebs tract of land the whine fest. There are people in Ethiopia, after all.

I leave for New York City tomorrow. As I say it aloud in my head as I type, I can’t not sound like the salsa guy. I’m happy but in the middle of my normal nervous phase right before any trip involving airports. It’s not the plane, just the airport. Once I’m on the plane, I’ll be fine, so there is that.

Let me try another tack to be positive here: I just know my personal space won’t be violated while touring the city like a Japanese person. Besides, it can’t be any more violated than sitting in a cubicle surrounded by folks from Plainfield, Indiana. Damn. Do you see my struggle? This little skirmish between good thoughts and bad can be serious. But, luckily, I could be in a whole different frame of mind in an hour.

Unrelated thought - The Goodbye Girl was on cable this weekend and it’s a personal favorite. I googled Quinn Cummings and found that she has a blog called the QC Report and a new book coming out in July. Her blog is quite funny – she blogged yesterday (the day after the movie aired) about an increase in traffic and the google search terms people used to find her. Cute.

There it was. Positive. For a minute anyway. ‘Cause there are things like the cubicle and the airport to think about.

Auntnie and Uncle Frank's House

Every time I take a road trip, the memory of a family excursion to see my grandmother’s sister and brother-in-law comes to mind. (I say excursion, because all of our family trips were just that. Huge undertakings. My mother was a perfectionist and vacations just magnified the difficulties she had dealing with a group of imperfect people.) When I look at houses along the road in what most would call the middle of nowhere and start to wonder about the lives inside, I am always taken back almost forty years to Auntnie and Uncle Frank’s house.

This is not their house, but it looks just like it does in my head. 

This is not their house, but it looks just like it does in my head. 

Uncle Frank had retired years before from wherever he worked in Dyer, Tennessee. The Pattersons, my grandmother’s family, all lived in Dyer. But when Frank inherited some land outside of Jackson, Mississippi, he convinced his wife to make the move. Escape the big city life. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide. Fa-a-rm livin’ and FRESH AIR! They would visit the city and her family often. I don’t know if they did and didn’t really care. I was five or six or seven. 

But what did interest me was their life. It was so different. Open windows and a constant fan noise. Well water. Chickens. A couple of stray yard dogs that had no names and no food bowls. Vegetables growing in their very own garden. Wood screen door in the back with no lock. Front porch with pastel metal chairs that glided back and forth. A hanging porch swing. A tire hanging from rope around a tree branch. An outside cellar door I was forbidden to get near. (I wish they were alive so I could ask why it was off-limits.)

The television they couldn’t remember buying was a piece of furniture. It sat on the floor and there were frosted knick-knacks on top. The radio in the kitchen played preachin’ all day. Not the good kind, but the kind where the man’s voice was yelling at you for stuff you hadn’t even done yet. Auntnie called it “gettin’ church without leavin’ the house”. We had to hurry through Saturday night dinner to watch Hee-Haw through the static waves. My grandmother suggested they watch Lawrence Welk some time, but Frank was quick to say that he just didn’t have a taste for that kind of music. 

I slept in a feather bed upstairs in a tiny bedroom. I think it was the equivalent of a loft. I remember jumping into it and being able to sink into the feathers. It was fun for jumping but not great for sleeping. I complained to my mother, but she just shushed me, because manners were still important in the middle of nowhere. 

No matter where you went on their land, you could see the big road, Hwy 55, which streamed like a silver ribbon between two bright green blankets of cotton fields. The sun would sink right into that highway at night until it was pitch black except for one huge light on the barn and the thousands of lightning bugs that I’d try to catch in a mason jar Auntnie let me “borry”.

To this day, the details of them and their house – my most country childhood memory - are what come to mind when I see houses dotting fields along the highway. It feels like sinking into a really old-fashioned feather bed on a hot summer Mississippi night. Sort of sticky and strange at first, but a comfort once you get used to it. 

Scavengers

A funny (well, it’s really not so funny) link a dear friend sent me this week: http://aclu.org/pizza/images/screen.swf

I recently participated in an Untours scavenger hunt. The contest was pretty easy – just find things around their Website and submit via email for a chance at the prize of $200 off a future trip.

I, along with some others, won the prize. I’m grateful and all, but unfortunately, that $200 doesn’t put a dent in the inflated prices they charge single travelers (this practice is rampant and hasn’t caught up with the demographic shift of the entire world yet – why should it, after all, when it can make a fortune off of us).

They suggest we singles hook up in the Café and travel together, allowing us to take advantage of the “normal” prices.

Good lord. <shivering> I’d sooner travel with a spider monkey than a complete stranger.

So, hold on, the World's Greatest Railway. Save me a spot in decade number two. I’ll be there.

Regrets? I've had a few.

Everybody has regrets. And they’re all the same. Things we wish we’d done, things we wish we’d said, opportunities we ran from, offspring we yelled at a little too long, too much alcohol making us think we should fly to NYC to see a boy....

But when I think regrets, the one that always floats to the top is this:

South Haven, Michigan. Downtown. Late spring weekday. Quiet sidewalk shopping. A little indie bookstore. Love those. Must go in. A man, about 80 - maybe a little older - at a tiny postage stamp of a card table set up on the sidewalk right by the door. Arranging his pens and his papers. And the stacks of his book.

He stopped fumbling. Looked up at me. Hope. Anticipation. I smiled. He smiled. I froze in unnecessary fear and walked right by him into the store. Then, we danced the same dance as I left.

Why didn’t I ask? One little question. Did you write a book? Followed by a much easier What’s it about? And thumbing through while he told me his story. And buying. And asking him to sign it.

Regrets? I’ve had a few. But I will always be especially sorry that I didn’t talk to this man.

My Thirteenth Tale

“Which floor?”

“Thirteen, please.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. Pray for me.”

“Oh my. I didn’t know hotels did that anymore.”

“The Hiltons have total disregard for their customers' safety.”

“You probably could get a different room.”

“I suppose I could. But apparently my laziness outweighs my better judgement.”

“Hopefully, you’re not staying long.”

“Just tonight.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“Yes, a comfort, really.”

DING.

“God be with you.”

“Thank you. And with you."

I tried not to stand too close to the glass windows. I was careful to steady myself in the bathroom at all times. I moved everything out of the path to the door.

I made it to the morning and got out alive.

Thoroughbred Retirement Home

I’m not a horse person. I don’t dislike horses, I just don’t know any. I sometimes nod at things my friend, Lisa, who is a horse aficionado, tells me just so I won’t look so stupid.

Between Louisville and Lexington on I-64, there are not quite 100 miles of horse farm after horse farm. All the same. One after another, after another. Rolling fields, pastures I’ve heard, covered in snow after the weekend blizzard and corralled by low, dark wooden – I think – fences. An occasional barn. Some as big as houses. A horse here. A horse there. Nothing remarkable once you’ve seen the first ten or fifty.

And then.

At the end of the trek, right before the nirvana of Lexington, is the “Thoroughbred Retirement Home”. Huge happy bright green sign. Barn? Looks like a clubhouse. Brick. Crowned with gables. Country club lighting. Swimming pool? Maybe horsey hot tubs.

Deliberately lined with trees. Impeccably spaced and manicured. Letting in only the perfect mixture of sun and shade. Every so often, buckets of sorts. Actually, they look more like oversized loving cups. Full of something cool to drink. Filtered water, perhaps?

Higher and possibly heated ground. Not a speck of snow in sight, yet in any other direction, there is tons of it. Greener pastures, as it were.

I see cables. Not yet underground utilities? Lights to read by? Outdoor space heaters? Stereo? Intercom system? To call for dinner in the dining hall. Or to the parlor when family comes to visit.

The equine retirees gather in groups. So much to talk about after all. Such full, happy and productive lives.

Lone - and probably bitter - horses on the outside stare longingly in the Home’s direction. I wonder if they’ve ever tried to jump the fence. Only to hang their heads in shame at being returned to their subsidized homes where they belong. Probably only do that once.

If only they’d performed better. Saved more. Made better choices. Had a better start in life. Had more talent. Were encouraged by their parents to pursue said talent.

Somebody got mad at me last week for comparing human beings to animals in our survival of the fittest instincts. Hrmmmph.

Knoxville. The drive was beautiful. The hotel room view was beautiful. Room service was beautiful. And Tom Jones. As he puts it, he’s just “200 pounds of heavenly joy.” Then. And now.

Back home now. And so sad. I know why, of course. I count twelve reasons. Unrelated to each other, too. Oh wait, thirteen reasons 'cause I know I'll probably never make it to the people version of the Thoroughbred Retirement Home. :)

Chills and Fever

Could this be a sign? Austin is going to Galveston the first week of April for his last High School Spring Break. It dawned on me that I might go somewhere, too. So, where do I look first? Tom Jones’ Website, of course!! (Seeing him LIVE is tops on my life's to-do list.)

He’s performing at MGM that week. I calculated about $600 to get there and stay for one night. Plus the $100 for the ticket.

Then………….and luckily...…

I spotted an article or a review or some cyber thing-a-ma-jig that said he was touring the country!!

So, I delved a little deeper….

St. Louis!! 4 hours away!! An arena, though. Did I want to see Tom Jones in a hockey rink? Not so much.

Prairie Some Place, Iowa. For Tom – the first entry on my life’s to do list? Apparently, not so much.

Knoxville!! 5 hours away!! In the Tennessee Theatre where their symphony plays. Row L. Close to aisle. Not bad. Hilton 3 blocks away. Coupon. Done.

I’m a lady with chills and fever who feels the green, green grass of home.

And I don't mind if I do help myself to a lil’ puppet man.

Columbus, Mississippi (Part Two)

This post makes more sense after reading A Fond Look Back at the Welty Symposium and Columbus, Mississippi, Part One first. Assuming you're in the mood to indulge me. :)

A quick shout out to the Hampton Inn who so kindly put a full-length mirror on the outside of the bathroom door! The door opens in to the bathroom. If you’re a lone traveler like me, you, of course, don’t close the door to tinkle. So, before even thinking, you sit to take care of business and look in front of you at a full-length, up-close, birds-eye view of your entire self sitting on the toilet.

I could’ve died a happy woman NEVER seeing this. I wonder if I have a lawsuit on my hands here. I certainly feel scarred for life. That’s got to be worth something. I’d complain for a complimentary free night’s stay, but I’d have to pee again and relive the horror.

Maybe I’ll just start closing the door. And I leave tomorrow anyway - for Memphis! I’ll stop by and say a few words to my dead. I’ll drive by my grandmother’s house. I’ll remember and smile and feel a little loved.

The Welty Symposium! At first, I was a little disappointed. It was in Cochran Hall this year, not the historical and traditional Poindexter Hall I loved so much.

Cochran Hall is a dormitory and certainly didn’t have the atmosphere to fit the event. The events were held in Cochran’s ballroom, which is a recent room addition to the front of the building connected by one set of doors like an adjoining hotel room .

It didn’t feel Southern, it wasn’t old, and I didn’t feel any ghosts. Not to mention the constant slamming of doors from student traffic to and from their rooms. It was frustrating that nobody in charge ever thought to close the ballroom doors to muffle the noise.

But the authors who spoke and read made up for most of the logistics. Nan Graham, Rilla Askew, Ellen Douglas, and Karon Luddy were my favorites. I’m so glad I came, as usual. I feel special every time, like I’m part of a secret club. To hear Southern women writers read their own stories and talk about their writing lives is like a long, slow, warm enveloping hug.

I will always regret missing the 2002 Symposium. That year, Jeanne Braselton, Rome, Georgia author of A False Sense of Well Being, read. She killed herself the following Spring.

With any luck, I'll be back next year. Not to the Hampton, of course. I couldn't take that again.