Saturday, October 30, 2010

For Angelica

Fox 32 was airing the 1998 Halloween episode of The Simpsons when she called.  I’d been expecting to hear from her, we had tentative plans.  Her name showed up on my cell phone and I answered in a goofy voice.  “Hellooooooooo Angelica,”  I said, like the Big Bopper at the beginning of Chantilly Lace.
“Hi,” she said.  And then: “so, my dad died.” 

I can’t remember exactly what I said next, but there was at least one expletive, and expressions of shock and sympathy.  As she explained the circumstances of her father's death my cat pressed her head into an empty yogurt cup that I’d left on the living room floor, and the 8 oz. container stuck to her face.  “I’m sorry Angelica,” I said, as my cat tried to back out from the plastic cup, her shoulders lifting and dropping dramatically as she stepped backwards, like a film noir actress backing away from danger.

Earlier that day I’d fallen while running the trail in Horner Park; a root tripped me and as I flew through the air I tried to land with the least amount of damage, ending up on my stomach and chest, arms splayed wide.  I wasn’t badly hurt, a smallish bruise showed up on my right knee a few hours later, but my hands, which had acted as brakes in the dirt, were fine.  I dusted myself off and continued running.  Now the moment seemed symbolic.

Angelica is in North Carolina now, where her brother lives... where her father died.  Soon they will make the trek back to their hometown in Michigan, where funeral services will be held.  I’ve been thinking about her a lot today.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Revenge of Manual Lymphatic Drainage*

H called me from her office.  “Hi,” I said casually.  Her name showed up on my phone display, and we have an easy rapport.
“Hi,” she said, her voice starting low and dipping lower.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“So the flier…. it has the word ‘ass’ in it.”
“Whaaaat?” I exclaimed.  We’d worked on the flier promoting Integrative Therapy Week tirelessly, proofread it at least half a dozen times each, and posted it around the facility.  I’d even used photos of rock formations and Lake Superior shorelines from my trip to the Upper Peninsula, to create a mood of peaceful serenity.  “Where?”  I asked, “in a description?”
“Yup,” H said, matter-of-factly. 

I opened the document on my computer screen and started reading:

Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Experience the massage technique that uses gentle, circular, rhythmic movements to encourage the natural circulation of the lymph into the body.  One of its main purposes is to help move fluids back into the bloodstream and then the tissues, ass in severe cases of Lymphedema.  Also, MLD has been helpful for any surgery prep, those diagnosed with cancer, among many other symptoms and diagnoses.

I made the correction and put new fliers out on a different color paper than the assy ones. “For visual clarity, the green fliers are assless,” I said to H as I handed her a stack. 

Hopefully, if people even catch the typo, they’ll find it amusing.

*this one is for j.cro

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Department of Bubblegum


For some reason I feel compelled to pick out ridiculous gifts for my friends Holly and Jeremy.  One of my favorite places to shop for them is at Walgreens, where I search out bizarre and useless candy items.  I once bought them a lollipop shaped like a tongue, which protruded from a plastic face bearing the likeness of a zoo animal.  The degree of protrusion could be controlled by a plastic slide.  While visiting them in Grand Rapids a couple weeks ago, I came across some hot dog bubble gum in the bargain section of a local Walgreens, marked down from $1.29 to 32¢.

Everything about it cracks me up: the fact that the text covering the "hot dogs" reads: "BLOW YOUR LUNCH!"; that it's made to look like a package of Oscar Mayer lunch meat both disgusts and delights me; and that it's made in China for the Ford Gum Machine Company, Inc. of Akron, NY simply baffles me.   Someone ordered this gum to be shipped all the way from China, where it was made with the ingredients listed on the nutrition label (plus or minus who knows what), then packed into a shipping container and transported to Akron, NY, where it was distributed to a Walgreens in Grand Rapids, MI, and marked down to 32¢.  It's notable that the price tag marking it down is no shabby affair - it didn't come shooting out of a pricing gun, it was printed using a computer and a sheet of labels, and includes the dates that the sale price is good: 09/23-10-03/23/11. 

I bought three packages, but not before accidentally dropping one that split open upon impact with the floor and sent all six pieces of fruit flavored, hot dog-shaped bubble gum into tiny shards across the aisle, prompting M to say: "I can't take you anywhere."  Fortunately, nobody else seemed to be paying attention.

When we met up with Holly and Jeremy, I gleefully dug the purchase out to show them.  "You gave that to us before," Jeremy said, "twice."

That's okay, I'll just wait until Christmas and send it to them again.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Long Way Home, Part IV - Chicago

Me, in a paddle boat, on the way to Ngor Island.
On the blue line heading home from O’Hare Airport, I stare out the window as the train rattles along a raised track, dividing eight lanes of highway traffic.  Miraculously, the suitcase and djembe that I checked at the Iberia Airlines counter at Léopold Sédar Senghor airport three days ago appeared within minutes at baggage claim, intact, with orange British Airways tags labeling them "rush".  K tells me via email that the djembe she’d brought with her broke en route to Poland.  We meet at a café later where I give her the unbroken drum, and she presents me with a set of Polish nesting dolls as a thank you gift for transporting it.

Security at the Madrid airport was tighter than anything I’ve experienced. There had been the usual x-raying of bags and bodies, followed by standing in lines determined by gender, getting patted down, answering a series of questions, and opening carry-on luggage for inspection.  The plane filled achingly slowly - a number of passengers had been taken aside for more thorough screens, then wandered through the door of the aircraft bearing facial expressions that told of things that could not be un-seen.

It turns out that I missed a bad cold snap and a flu virus that had made the rounds in Chicago, and I’m grateful.  Things that have changed since I left: it’s now 2010; Conan O’Brien’s days at NBC are numbered (this really hits home, his new show started when I got laid off, and it gave me something to look forward to on days when there wasn’t much else going on);  I’ve received two more rejections from the same potential employer I’ve been interviewing with since September, bringing the total number of times they’ve rejected me to 4 (and in the coming months they will reject me twice more);  and my husband bought us new phones and a coffeemaker that can be programmed to turn on by itself in the morning.

My first week home I sleep like it’s the key to unlocking some ancient mystery.  I commune with my pets.  I’m even less capable of handling trips to the grocery store than usual – my sensory perceptions are overwhelmed by the sight and smell of food stacked eight feet high in cavernous aisles, sealed and wrapped in refrigerated display cases, most of it processed and packaged to the point where it no longer resembles its original ingredients, all of it accompanied by incongruous music piped in through overhead sound systems.  The cold Chicago weather, while comforting in its familiarity, feels willful and unnecessary.  

When people ask me about Senegal I answer in generalities: "it was amazing," or "it was challenging," unsure of where to begin or what to say.  The tiniest events have become large in my memory – someone handing me a choice morsel of food from the other side of a plate because it’s considered rude to reach across a communal dish, and rude to keep the best pieces for yourself; Ibou punctuating his sentences with “Che Yallaaaah,” and, after being taught how to say it in English, “Oh mai god”; the empty plastic water bottles that accumulate by the front door during our stay in the rented house; joking with my Polish roommates that they should invent a new dance based on their gastrointestinal distress called “The Toubab Two-Step,” comprised of alternately sitting on a toilet and kneeling in front of it; and Abdou’s perennial refrain to my questions – “this is Africa.”

My husband marvels at the objects and photos I’ve brought back with me, the stories I tell him, and the sounds I was able to record using somewhat dated technology (I still have to upload the files to our computer).   I take the last of my malaria pills – the prescription began a week before my departure, and I have a few left.

In the months since then, I’ve taken special notice of cab drivers; Idy had told us that a lot of Senegalese immigrants in Chicago drive taxis for a living.  I always overtip them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More songs I never thought I'd hear again

Music videos I never thought I'd have to see again before working in a fitness center, that I am now forced to reckon with on a regular basis:

  • The Romantics - Talkin' in Your Sleep, entertaining, but stabbity.
  • Paula Abdul - Forever Your Girl, I can't bring myself to link this one.
  • Hall & Oates - Private Eyes, check out the 'stache on Oates.
  • Survivor - Eye of the Tiger, from the walking-while-singing school of music video production.
  • En Vogue - Free Your Mind, I can't make myself link to this video, I simply can't.
  • Toni Basil - Mickey, what I just said about the Free Your Mind video x 12.
  • The Go-Gos - Vacation, nope, not going to link to this one either.
  • David Bowie & Mick Jagger - Dancin' in the Streets, I find this one particularly stab inducing.

Music videos I see on a regular basis at work that are awesome, either in their own right or in the context of being played in a fitness center:

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Long Way Home, Part III - Madrid

Thousands of displaced passengers wait in lines that snake around the multilevel sprawl of the Madrid airport.  Passengers stuck en route from one European destination to another appear far more harried than the passengers who’ve arrived from Dakar.  “We’re going to die here,” a French-speaking woman complains dramatically within earshot.  “Really?”  I think, “this seems pretty nice to me… people are waiting in orderly lines, customer service representatives are helping stranded passengers - in the order that they present themselves, no less, and information is being disseminated as it comes in...”  I spot my fellow passengers from the Dakar-Madrid flight; tranquil islands in a sea of irritated Europeans, but I’ve lost track of Ram.  A tall man in a kaftan turns to the woman behind him, points to his suitcase and then to his eyes, indicating that he wants the woman to watch his bag for him, then leaves to find a payphone or perhaps a toilet.  Unfamiliar with the sense of common interest that exists on the continent a couple hundred miles south, the woman bears a surprised expression as the man walks away without his property.  She watches the bag for a few minutes, her eyes darting around until she locates it's owner, then picks it up and marches purposefully in his direction, plops the bag down next to him, and stiffly returns to her spot.  I smile, remembering my own reaction when Idy asked me to transport luggage for him.
“I’ll have to look inside,” I said to him, “they’re going to ask me at check-in if I’ve received any packages from anyone else, if I packed the bag myself, and if it’s been under my control since I packed it.”  For emphasis I added: “And I’m not a good liar.”   
“That’s fine,” Idy said, not a trace of worry in his voice, “you can look inside, it’s just presents.”  The bag had been filled with brand new clothing with the tags still on them, and unopened toiletries.  He’d asked the favor casually, leading in with the question: “how many bags are you bringing?”  Now – wherever it was, I hadn’t seen the bag since I checked in at Dakar yesterday, it contained my clothes and items I’d purchased in Senegal.  I had a sweatshirt and a pair of long pants in my carry-on, my electronics, the two talking drums I’d bought from Malaal, and little else.  Even my toothpaste and deodorant are packed in Idy’s suitcase. 

I send M a text message: “So, looks like i'll be spending the night in Madrid, they had snow and it screwed everything up, 1000s of stranded ppl.”  I make my way to the front of the line, where an Iberia Airlines representative explains my options: I can stay here for two nights and get a direct flight to Chicago, or I can come back tomorrow morning and fly: Madrid-Barcelona; Barcelona-NY JFK; take a shuttle between NY JFK and NY LGA; and finally LGA-ORD.  "Um, make that 2 nights in Madrid," I text to M.

After receiving instructions to come back the next day to pick up my boarding pass, I go out into the drizzle and find the courtesy bus that winds it's way through Madrid and drops me off in front of the Hotel Tryp Atocha,where displaced passengers make an orderly line that reaches across the reception area, the front stairs, and out into the street.  I check in and weave my way through the maze of a hotel until find my room, which once again inspires me to take pictures.

S had my outlet converter and I was almost out of battery power; this is one of the only photos I took in Madrid.

The next few hours are filled with little luxuries: I run hot water into the cavernous marble tub in the en-suite bathroom, take a bath, then go downstairs to the dining room where a buffet dinner has been set up.  I help myself to a heaping plate of pasta, visit the dessert table twice, and head out into the drizzle to find a payphone.  I call M and we talk for 30 uninterrupted, unhurried minutes.  Then I go back to the hotel and watch Spanish TV until I fall asleep, and stay asleep for 9 hours.

In the morning I help myself to a complimentary breakfast that includes fresh squeezed juice and espresso, and navigate my way back to the airport using the clean, efficient Madrid Metro, where people are reading newspaper headlines about the recent unexpectedly snowy weather front.  While transferring subway lines,  someone asks me for directions.  I shrug, smile, and say: "no habla español," secretly delighted that I'm blending in with my accidental surroundings.   Last night's mayhem has dissipated at the airport, and it only takes a few minutes to get my boarding pass for tomorrow's flight home.  With the entire afternoon on my hands, I make plans to take in some art; M had told me - no, more like pleaded with me, to see Diego Velásquez's Las Meninas and Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado Museum.

The museum is walking distance from my hotel, but before paying a visit I take stock of the situation: although I've bathed, I've been wearing the same socks and underwear for going on three days, and haven't had access to toothpaste or deodorant; I have begun to look and smell like a homeless person.  I stroll the Calle de Atocha in search of inexpensive underpants, stopping at what looks like a budget clothing store.  "Buenos dias," the proprietor says to me as I walk through the glass doors.  "Buenos dias," I reply.  I locate a cheap umbrella and a 3-pack of argyle socks, but can't find underwear.  "Um..." I begin, while standing at the register, "do you have... sous-vêtements?" I say, trying the French word.  The proprietor doesn't understand.  "Underwear?" I say, patting my hips.  The proprietor watches my demonstration, walks out from behind the register, and picks up a pair of leggings.  "Oh," I say, "no, um... "  I pat by butt with both hands, hoping this will clarify my needs.  The proprietor's eyes widen, and he searches the aisles, returning with a 3-pack of white cotton underwear that look like they might actually fit me.  "Perfect," I say, "thank you... gracias."  Next I find a convenience store that has toiletries within easy reach, where I purchase a stick of overpoweringly manly deodorant, and a tube of gritty toothpaste.

I shower, brush my teeth, and apply deodorant like a civilized person, dress in the same pants I've been wearing and the one extra shirt that I'd rinsed out in the tub the previous evening, and head to the Prado, where I am overwhelmed by art.  M is the artist in the family, but I'm the one who gets to see this; I feel undeserving of the experience, and make sure to soak up as much as I can.  I'd seen depictions and reproductions of Las Meninas, but had been completely ignorant of Bosch until this very moment, and stare open-mouthed at the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, my gaze moving slowly from one panel to the next, resting on something new and unexpected every time.  I'm equally impressed by the other Bosch pieces in the Prado collection, and Francisco Goya's Black Paintings.  I end up spending the entire afternoon at the museum, returning to the Bosch paintings before finally leaving the museum with the last remaining stragglers, employees in the the museum bookstore and cafe closing out their registers as I make my exit.

I consider making my way out into the rainy Madrid evening to find something more exciting than the hotel buffet - tapas y cerveza perhaps, but I've been enjoying my quiet, hermit-like existence after spending so much time surrounded by people.  I go for another pasta dinner at the Tryp Atocha, and spend the evening watching more Spanish TV and preparing for tomorrow's journey home.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Poetry from Cassie's refrigerator

Yesterday I went to a clothing swap at Cassie's apartment; I brought three pairs of shoes and a bunch of headbands and hair clips with me, and left with a skirt and two tops.  She has poetry magnets on her fridge, here's some choice lines:

  • virtual twine
  • she likes a slice of casserole
  • I celebrate coffee of the wicked morning
  • drunk death scratch sludge
  • care to evacuate toast
  • sorry the knuckle is funny but I play for the synthetic hair
  • live high and late
  • cold as an ocean gazelle above a night landscape
  • stare out my eye
  • sing magnificently with some gristle
  • why are broken electronics always tragic

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October Already

I didn't post anything yesterday because the September Blog Challenge is over, and the piece I was working on didn't feel finished.  It made me feel kind of sad and lazy.  I liked having a reason to post something every day, even if sometimes what I posted was nonsense.  It kind of kept everything moving in my head, and forced me to notice things around me that I might not have otherwise.  Some good posts came out of it too.  I counted the number of posts I've written about Senegal - 15 so far, and I still have at least one more to go.  The first post I wrote that mentioned Senegal was back in March, and I'm still thinking of things I want to say about it; the September Blog Challenge really pushed me to write more about it, and I'm glad.  It was an experience I'm not likely to repeat, and this blog will give me a place to archive my memories of it.  Having taken very few notes while I was there, I wasn't sure how much I'd end up writing about it, and it turns out to be the biggest subject I've written about.  Once it's done, I'll have to figure out where else to turn my attentions, which will be it's own challenge.