Saturday, February 26, 2011

eyebrows, tattoos, and nuclear bombs

My eyebrows are disappearing, like the polar ice caps they are melting beneath the continent, only little grey hairs left.  An aging woman is a testy thing and I applaud myself for being rather sensible about it.  But I miss my eyebrows and that long ago flat stomach and legs without varicose veins.  My weight is the same as when I was eighteen years old, it just hangs on my bones differently, boy does it ever.

I had dinner with Sonny and Miss Cathy on Sunday and the subject of tattooing came up.  We were passing a tattoo joint in a seedy part of town and  several such establishments sprung up after the city council realized they had no constitutional authority to keep this kind of business out of our Christian neighborhoods.  I would never get a tattoo, Cathy commented.  Might as well get this over with and I announce that I had a tattoo engraved on my shoulder when I was 45 years old and going through some kind of empowerment thing.  My points seemed kind of flakey that night in the car and I hate having these conversations in front of  my father as he has no tolerance for feminist theory.  I did have my eyebrows tattooed, Cathy added, evidently cosmetic purposes fall into a different category.  I once sat next to a woman in a bar who had the same  procedure  and I asked if I could touch them, such is the influence of several coke highs.  The little arches were well defined,  but stubbly where she had shaved them. Cathy had her tattoos done at a beauty parlor and I traveled across the river to a little shop in a Wisconsin college town with a candle burning on a human skull and half a bottle of vodka next to it.

I don't mind getting older. The inconvenience is that we just have less time. My sister and I had a discussion years ago on the event of a nuclear disaster.  If the bomb was falling and we couldn't flee where would we want to be?  In the center of the target area, instantly vaporized  into a gaseous blob or on the outskirt of the mushroom cloud, destined to live out our days eating cockroaches and burned roots and watching our radiated hair fall out.  Amy chose the center, let it be fast, let me be oblivious.  And I wanted the outer circle, a life albeit a scrappy, scary one and probably the illogical choice, but I still want to be there. I need to know what's going to happen next.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Iron Maiden, indeed

Sick again. Such is the price for spending time with small children. Cameron and I visit the play center at the local mall and this little germ-harboring area is sponsored by a local hospital  and the sliding board has giant broccoli stalks for sides and there's a TV screen that plays non-stop pictures of skin cancer moles, a great pre-lunch place.

My bug claims me and I fall asleep in front of my laptop after losing a succession of solitaire games.  My niece, a college freshman, has beat me repeatedly at facebook Family Feud for the last two weeks  and I had been the champion and I need to win at something and this won't be it.

 I swear I smell a lilac-scented cologne.  Hello Mom, I say to no one. And then a key in the  door  and it is my father, bringing a load of Des Moines Register sports pages for the cowboy.
I'm sick, I moan.  "You can't be sick," he says, "you're the Iron Maiden."  Iron Maiden, I like that, perchance my next password.
"Are we still going out to eat tomorrow?" he asks in a worried tone.  "Is it okay if I bring Cathy along? I think everybody should be getting to know her. Dave should meet her," he asks.  Groan, Miss Cathy.  Damn, I need to be well for this, I need to be doing cartwheels down the sidewalk.  I don't want to disappoint my father, so, I go. And actually, I want to go. I am curious.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

garage envy

We are experiencing that late winter thaw, a teasing week of warm temps and the men in my complex will be coming out of their houses checking driveways for chunks of cement lost to snow plows.  As the snow recedes a great deal of dog residue will be visible to all of us walking the city streets.  Good citizens become lazy old things during cold months and  their pets' deposits remain unscooped.  I have had the misfortune all my life to be surrounded by neighbors who own small yippy dogs with incredible digestive tracks and the mutts  prefer my yard for their necessary activities. Yes, the grass is greener on my side, but I  pay a price.

I walk the neighborhood surrounding my grandson's school, waiting for the bell to ring.  I find a fledgling pussy willow bush blossoming and a small iris pushing its way through  redwood chips. An Iowa spring is a cruel, fickle season, a combat zone for young green things and perhaps the small iris will make it and then again not.  Although our hearts are light as we walk through these melted pools we know that next week it all could and most likely will come crashing down  as the polar snows reclaim our countryside.

I live in a row of townhouses and all the garages face front and everyone can see the junk we have deemed valuable enough to save.   I have dubbed my neighbor two doors down the "Nazi," as he has a strong Aryan appearance, pale skin, receding blond-grey hairline, watery blue eyes and a scary secretive persona.  It strikes me as odd  when I find him crouched over a crevice in the parking lot digging out weeds with a  soup spoon.  There is nothing in his garage, no rake, no snow shovel, no stack of empty ice cream tubs. And he has painted the walls a bright tangerine. And here I am taking a picture of those walls and  I clearly need  to find a new adventure.

Anybody need a meat grinder?
 The point of all this, and it is a weak one, I want that tangerine garage. The cowboy is a hoarder and I am the oldest daughter of an ex-Marine who can bounce a quarter off his freshly made bed.  I crave organization and control in my environment and if it were up to me everything we own would be in cardboard boxes with their contents clearly noted in black magic marker. I just need to find a box large enough for Dave.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

one more thing

We're off the beach and wearing underwear again, ah, stateside we are.  Glad to be away from the pressure of  being  happy and titillated all day long.  Resorts are dedicated to mass contentment mania and I can only hold the pose so long.

I jump into my Iowa routine with nary a glance over my sunburned shoulder. A day like today makes my descent back into snow country a lot easier. The warm breeze feels like an April kiss and the child in me wants to be outdoors. And there are lots of children out here today.  Young runners wearing only shorts, t-shirts and foot gear - and one wearing all that and a pair of gloves, don't know what that's about.  They are leaping and dancing on air and they race each other down the melting hills, so alive.  I gotta smile and I remember a professor back at the University, a long-haired, bearded fellow and he was teaching me Psychology and Personality. Yeah, I took courses like that which explains my current pay scale. Anyway, he calmly explained that first day of class on a frigid January morning that his lectures would be dependable  during the snowy months but once the weather improved we would see less of him.  He would be outside, playing, and  despite the guy's PhD he was back in school for an undergrad degree in physical education.

So, today we play.  The three-year-old grandchild announces that she will not be wearing her jacket.   I decide to nix the errand-running and we spend the morning chasing down trains and watching cars go through car washes all in the warmth of my Impala. Watching the surprise in her eyes is a gift.  Groceries can wait.

One more thing.  I can't say I'm proud of this photo.  Davey's zany friends    descended on our table and insisted on saving the memory.  Note how they are all clustered around Dave except for the owner of the bare arm behind me, but she was tottering from too many rum punches and needed the support and her gesture did not indicate any level of affection. One cannot escape the look of extreme boredom on my face and I miscalculated when the flash would go off and the camera does not lie. And for those who find this an immature reaction on my part, may the sand fleas from the Jamaican beaches follow you home in your seashell collection and infest your new lazy-boy.     

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Simon says

I cringe as sweaty joggers run past me on my walk to breakfast.  Perhaps they could be relocated to a different beach so we don't need to watch skinny people exercising.
Today the maintenance staff is painting things green and I am watching a young man getting ready to do just that.  A square sheet of cement on the edge of the property with a large lidded cistern sunk into its middle is his assignment. Sun-baked mud around the sides and in one corner a small, algae-filled puddle.  The brush strokes go on smoothly incorporating mud and puddle into a green swirl of paint. No prep necessary, such is Jamaica, all is green.

I return from the bathroom to my ocean side table at the elegant Italian restaurant and there is a tall, loose-limbed young man dressed in white linen vigorously pumping my husband's hand. When he sees me he comes to attention and I swear I hear his heels click as he gives me a small, curt bow. He has a very European way about him, all flourish and attentiveness.  This is Simon, Simon again only with the Italian pronunciation, the Florentine chef and he will give me the recipe for the lasagna Dave had ordered and swooned over.  I look at Dave incredulously and he doesn't bat an eye and I pull my notepad and pen from my purse and pretend to carefully copy down the instructions the young chef is spurting at me in half English, half Italian. The  bolognese sauce is followed with a rue of cream and butter and white wine and some grated Parmesan and oh, " cooooook  the carrots and onions with the ground veal until it is dry underneath them and then add the red wine"  and there is tomato paste and tomato sauce and I have never purchased ground veal.  I put my pen down and smile at him.  As he walks away I glare at Dave over my wine glass.  Chef-boy-ardee, for you my friend, chef-boy-ardee.

There are few things more comforting than the sound of ocean waves and some scientists say it takes us back to the womb and the sound of uterine fluids swishing past our embryonic ears, but those kinds of discussions make me nervous.  I walk the beach  picking up sea shells because this is what Midwesterners do.  We have no sea shells in Iowa so we  take them home and put them in jars and they become another dustable on the shelf.
Dave has met a lot of people  and we can no longer enjoy a quiet walk on the beach as every third person calls out to him. I am tempted to deposit his peach mango rum punch down the front of his trunks.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reading list

I trudge up a sandy drift and note the step-suck-release motion of each foot, not unlike a walk in the snow.  Stop, I tell my brain, stop that now.  My ears are itching and Dave has fallen in with a group of scalawags from Wisconsin and they are buzzing about me, this solitary woman who walks the beach.
 "Doesn't your wife drink?" asks Mark who has yet to take off his Green Bay Packer t-shirt. I don't drink during the day, not a good fit,  my body doesn't know how to metabolize alcohol until nighttime hours.  Look me up later, I am thinking. The island does not recognize Kessler's whisky, but  Jack Daniels is a worthy substitute.

 Mark is trying to stay awake.  Yesterday he passed out midday on a beach chair and his comrades painted his toenails coral pink and draped a lacy teddy on his large sunburned torso. Pictures were taken and  I was told it hit the Internet by three o'clock.  "I'm swimming in a lagoon tonight," belches Mark, "I want to remember that," and he sticks to light beer all day.

You can't beat a Land's End bathing suit, ladies.  There is none of that endless tugging of fabric over the buttocks or the repositioning of boobs. My head is definitely on vacation mode as that is the most  important thought I plan to have all day.

The fruit of Jamaica can levitate one's self to a most sensual state.  Lush, firm yet yielding, plump and vibrant with color, heady with scent. And I want to put my face in the paw-paw. Every trip to Jamaica I bring along David Palladini's easy half-day read, A Year, More or Less, in Jamaica.  He writes,"When I first arrived in Jamaica I saw locals eating fruit in a most remarkable manner. . .  Whole fruits were shoved into the mouth the skin spit out while walking along the road. One morning the gardener ate a fat ripe papaya from our tree.   After twisting it from its stem, he slit it open and brushed out the black fish-egg-like seeds with his finger.  Then he put his face in the paw-paw.  I watched him munch away while a big smile came over his face, covered in chunks of ripe papaya. He looked so happy and satisfied.  Suddenly I understood.  There was only one way to eat fruit in Jamaica."

So, at breakfast I try the technique.  I did not have a whole fruit but I selected a rather large slice of papaya and I push my face in the paw-paw feeling the  slushy pulp move past my teeth and gush out on my lips and cheeks, cool and soothing. I feel ridiculous. I smile at Cowboy Dave and a strip of peel shows, a regular Cheshire grin.

a day in the Jamaican life

The Jamaican people are a tough and gritty lot, descendants of African slaves stolen from their continent and brought here  to work the sugar plantations.  I stand underneath the broad leaves of a bread fruit tree, a plant brought specifically from European shores by the infamous Captain Bligh to feed the growing slave population. Walking  in the  village I see a range of African nations represented, from pale brown skin with amber eyes and cinnamon hair to deep blue-black hues, heavy-lidded warriors, tall and lithe. This is a beautiful people, and I  talk to the townsfolk and I discover an atlas of other nationalities. Chinese, English, Lebanese, Scottish, Filopino, and these are only some. A shop owner tells me there are traces of the Arawak tribe here, the natives inhabiting the island when Columbus landed and the Caribs, for which the Caribbean is named.  Out of many. . .one people,"  thus speaks the motto of Jamaica.

Everyone in Jamaica carves wood and this vendor has a stunning piece that I must have. The young artist tells me it is "Nanie," a heroine of the Maroon nation. The Maroons were Africans that escaped from the slave ships into the Blue Mountains of inland Jamaica and the British soldiers were never able to recapture them, a remarkable feat considering the differences of weaponry.   Nanie has one arm missing due to a soldier's sword and she is looking steadily into the eyes of a child.  And now comes the traditional form of commerce in Jamaica, higgling and I have no talent or taste for this.  It involves a crossfire of price finagling between seller and customer and this makes no sense to me.  Just tell me what it is worth. I will pay it.  Dave clears his throat and steps up to the plate. He is a wagering fellow and quite adept at this process.  I walk away wondering why he just can't give the guy the extra five dollars. The poor fellow looks like he owns just the one pair of pants.

I am handed a steaming plate of jerk chicken from the road vendor and he ladles sauce onto the marinated meat.  Jamaican jerk is barbecue taken to its highest level and  my tongue readies for the spicy brown bonnet pepper, hotter than anything I would have stateside and I detect cinnamon and nutmeg as well.  The dish begs for a cold Red Stripe.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A woman adrift in Jamaica

I wake to a tropical morning and the tree frogs have stopped their tinkling song. Nighttime in Jamaica is a cachophony of insect and reptile noise and it is a wonderful way to fall asleep. If Dave would only let the patio door stay open . . .

Like any good German Catholic daughter I thrive on routine and purpose and there is none of this in Jamaica.  I'll calm down in a couple of days I tell the housekeeper. She has been summoned as I have dropped a bottle of red nail polish and my bathroom looks like the slaughter of the Innocents.

 Activities people wear whistles around their necks and they prowl the rows of beach chairs looking for people who might be fun.  My nose is in my book and after awhile they stop trying to make eye contact.  My husband, of course, is every activties person's poster child and they all know his name and his story.

Cowboy Dave has met many new playmates and I remind him that he must not introduce me to any of these people.  They are farmers and construction builders, beer salesmen and nurses. They are mostly from the northern states of the Midwest and the Canadian provinces with a few Brits thrown in.  Those English people go everywhere.  This is not a theme park so the Asian division is not represented.  Let me explain what appears to be political awkwardness on my part but the Japanese are rude travelers and I have met many sane people who share this opinion. There are a few Spaniards wearing spandex on the far end of the beach and hopefully, they will stay there.

 I cannot decide on which soup and so I order both.  Potato and leek with real cream and a savory chicken vegetable simmering in golden broth with fresh vegetables, some of which I cannot name.  There are two things that are consistent in Jamaica: the soups are exquisite and the public toilets will stop working by four in the afternoon.

We dine on strip steak and a marvelously rich gumbo and  I excuse myself back to the deliciously quiet solitude of my room and Dave explores the nightlife.  The next morning as we walk about the property strangers are seeking Dave out, slapping his back and speaking to him with a touch of awe and marvel in their voices.  Evidently,  the cowboy was the star of the island's entertainment last night winning a reggae dance contest and beating one of the activities kids in a push-ups competition.  It's amazing what a consistent supply of Appleton rum will do for a person.


Friday, February 4, 2011

and it's all about Bob

My brother Mark observed you can get anywhere in this town in eleven minutes or less.  I have tested this theory and  found it to be true. But this past week his travel formula  evaporated in the wake of a blizzard that dumped thirteen inches of snow and  travel slows to a crawl when there is no place to put the stuff.  Broad avenues are  reduced to narrow paths, sheer snow cliffs on either side and I was going down just such a street today.  A car came towards me and the driver was talking over his shoulder to a backseat companion. Only room for one and I hugged the right side not realizing how close that parked jeep was.  A grating, gouging sound as metal pulls away from metal and only a few cables hang where my side mirror had been.  Words came out of my mouth my grandchildren did not need to hear.  Cowboy Dave is not going to like this.  This is the third side mirror I have parted company with in our history together. My love affair with winter is wearing thin these days.

So, I'm leaving.  Once a year Dave and I get on a plane and I carry shorts and flip flops in my backpack.  Just past Florida and before Cuba I take myself to the cramped airplane privy and put on my warm weather uniform.  We are winging toward Jamaica, mon.

My bestest vacation would be a secluded cabin surrounded by tall ponderosa pine, snowy mountains in their background, a crystal lake viewed from my rocking chair on the front porch.  But the cowboy is footing the bill so we are at an all-inclusive resort and I will live in a bathing suit for a week looking out over turquoise waters reading book after book.  Dave will be at the pool bar trading stories with other Midwesterners and touting various rum and fruit juice drinks. The sweet blooming mimosa barely hides the barbed wire on the high  fence surrounding this property.
I choose to investigate outside this plastic Jamaica, making my husband nervous.  I take to the town and visit grocers and flea markets, buying local paintings and talking to their artists, sweet smell of marijuana everywhere.  I note where a policeman is at all times and the fruit sellers and street musicians are friendly.  They tell me the stories, the religion, the romance that is Jamaica.
It is difficult, a third world country.  There is no comfort zone, only rawness. My guide sees me leaning towards a young mother with her hand out asking for money.  She only wants it for drugs, he says and motions me away and I wish I had brought granola bars for the children. I am more communist than capitalist and wonder why I should have so much and they so little.

And then there's Bob. I pooh-poohed reggae music the first couple of trips, dismissing it as repetitive island drivel and  missing my state side Clapton and Lennon. And then one night it clicked, those strong reggae rhythms on the second and fourth beats,  unlike the northern hemisphere melodies set up like a Sousa march.
In 1999 TIME-LIFE magazine declared Bob Marley's Exodus album to be -not the album of the year, not the album of the decade, but the album of the century. It is poetry, religion, revolution and one love, one heart all in one package.  Bob had it figured out, but he died too young. In this photo you can  see the cancer already claiming him.  He was Rastafarian and his religion disallowed any tissue surgically removed, including malignancy.  Pity, the world could have used more of his brilliance.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

your tax dollars at work

At the bottom of my Lands' End packing slip is printed:  "Thank you for your order.  We hope you love getting this as much as we love sending it!"  Wow, they love sending me stuff.  I can imagine a busy warehouse with rows of workers wearing orange florescent jackets and holding huge rolls of shipping tape.  And they are smiling and laughing and slapping each other on the back and some of them are even singing because they love, they love sending complete strangers suede clogs.

I always purchased a subscription to Vanity Fair for my mother and every year I would receive renewal reminders to send them more money.  At first the notes were insignificant and kindly but as the weeks went by their intent became loud and demonstrative, the envelopes slashed with red capital letters an inch high.  It became a game waiting to see what the publisher would do next.  They saved the best for last. It came in a plain white envelope and printed in an average font:  Don't disappoint Marie Giegerich."  Guilt, the all powerful guaranteed manipulator of human behavior. These people have psychologists in their ranks and I'm writing a check.

My son is somewhere in Laos and his mail is forwarded to my house and he got a letter from the Social Security administration and we have all received them. They give projected estimates of what our retirement benefit will be depending on what age we leave our jobs.  Across the envelope it states: this letter is to be opened only by the addressee UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.    Has anyone ever broken this law and been arrested?  How come we never hear about it?  Where are they imprisoned? How long is their term? I never see their name in the newspaper police beat.  FBI agents surrounded the suburban home of Herb Krogotski early Tuesday morning.  He was alleged to have opened Federal mail despite the fact he was not the payee.  Krogotski's attorney states, "This is a total set-up.  Mr. Krogotski accidentally opened the notification thinking it was his TV Guide bill."

On my copy of  It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"  this warning is printed:  "Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized pictures reproduction, distribution or exhibition of copyrighted motion and video tapes."
Never saw one of those video copiers mentioned on the Ten Most Wanted List in the glass cupboard at the Post Office- only serial killers and drug traffickers there.  The guy is probably serving time with Herb Krogotski in a faraway Federal penitentiary cursing the day he wanted an extra video copy of an imaginary pumpkin.