Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When You Read a Gross Story and It Ruins Your Whole Day

I ordered my lunch at the counter (Joe's Special with toasted sourdough bread, though I would have much preferred rice), then sat down to enjoy a few moments of reading. Reading and lunch! What could be better?

Alas, my bliss was not meant to be. Because...I'm currently reading and appreciating Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, which is made up of Volume I and II of a 4-volume work. It's slow-going, actually, and stuffed with delicious words I've never seen or heard before. Some, I believe, are specific to the world of Wolfe's highly stylized and...mannered?...work, but others such as "tinct" and "saros" are not, and they serve to remind me that my vocabulary is not all that it should be. Anyways, I dipped my arm into my gigantic bag and came up empty. No book.

So I pulled out my phone, tapped on my Kindle app, and randomly chose a story from Fantasy & Science Fiction. I scooted down in my seat a little and scrunched up my shoulders, the standard non-posture of a reader shutting out the world. I prepared to be dazzled.

But I wasn't dazzled.

Instead, I was unbelievably grossed out. And yet, I could not stop reading. Could not. Perhaps I was waiting—hoping— for something redemptive to occur, something that would handily reverse the churning in my stomach. I don't even want to think about the story now (or ever, thanks), but I realize that I need to give you a general idea of the goings-on, so let me just quickly say that mermaids were involved. But not fairytale mermaids, no. Instead: mermaids with catfish whiskers and tiny hands and eyes on the sides of their heads. And also a lotta lotta lotta lotta rape.

Why? Why?

I should have stopped reading, right? That would have been the best thing to do. My food arrived, and I had zero desire to touch it. I took a few bites and stopped for fear of vomiting in public. At the table. With happy people all around me.

The rest of my day was, frankly, ruined. The writer succeeded in engaging me, yes, but only in the way that a freeway accident captures the morbid curiosity of onlookers. Does that success count for much when I read the story against my better judgement and when the experience was utterly without joy? I like to be knocked off-kilter, I like to think. I don't need everything to be lovely, I don't require puppy-shaped clouds and cooing babies, but throw me a bone. Give me one lovely image, one moment of beauty, something funny, a character I can embrace, and I'll stick with you, I promise. What I respond to when I read for enjoyment is the sense of proportion that E.B. White describes here:
"There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me." (read more at Brain Pickings)
The ever-shifting landscape of social media makes the blogosphere a quiet place these days, but I would love to know how other people feel about reading gross stuff.




Monday, March 24, 2014

On Having Written

Almost in spite of myself, I've finished my submission to Barbara Jane's new anthology project (I have another week or so to futz with it, as I am wont to do). She's collecting Pinay-penned essays about how and why we write, and even if my piece doesn't ultimately make it in to the book, I'll be first in line for a copy in 2015. I keep thinking of what a difference a book like this would have made to me as a new writer; it'll be a touchstone for a whole generation of Pinays. BJ has also started Fuck Yeah Pinay Lit, a beautiful one-stop spot for all things good and beautiful and painful and crafted.

Anyways, I was having a hard time getting started. I couldn't organize my thoughts; it's like they wouldn't sit still long enough for me to take a picture. Two things happened to get my head in the right place:

1. I got a massage. Not for any particular reason, just because it had been a long time, and I have (like most women my age) a lot of stress points and responsibilities and whatnot. I didn't realize how much...stuff...I was carrying around with me until I lay facedown on the table and the masseuse placed her palm in the middle of my upper back. "You're okay," she said. "Slow down. Breathe."

Oh my god. Who knows?—She probably says it to everyone, but it really was like having a cue ball thrown at my head. At that moment it became so clear to me that for months and months my breathing has been shallow and neglected. That my shoulders have been up around my ears in self-preservation mode. That I was rarely in the moment, but always five, ten, twenty minutes into the future ticking off all the things I needed to do or should do or would fail to do.

So thank you, random masseuse. Thank you for bringing me back into my body.

2. I ran across this single sentence written by Tobias Wolff: "Memory has its own story to tell." Images started to present themselves to me like gifts, and they manifested on the page in small chunks of EXACTLY five lines. This was weird to me, but what could I do? Every single one emerged that way, pre- and post- editing. I worried about it at first, but then just decided to go with it: why force a square peg into a round hole, etc. etc.


Once I got out of my own way, I found the whole process so, so enjoyable. How many times has writing reminded me who I am, where I come from? I ought to be more grateful to / for this thing that I know how to do, and to all the amazing writers / editors who keep creating spaces, projects, potential homes for our work. It's been a dark 12 months, but there's light creeping, creeping, creeping in... 



Monday, February 03, 2014

You Know You Want It: Outpouring


Download your copy now. Like right now.

I'm so happy to have my short story, "The Photograph," included in Outpouring: Typhoon Yolanda Relief Anthology, a collection edited by the brilliant, and apparently tireless, Dean Alfar. Let me count the ways:
  • All proceeds go to the Philippine Red Cross to assist those who continue to suffer in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. As many have pointed out, news of the typhoon has slipped from the front page, but recovery will take years. I just performed a cursory google news search, and the last news report was filed nearly a month ago.
  • Feast your eyes on this table of contents! What a sexy international line-up! What? You think I'm trying to up the page views by including the word sexy here? Sexy, sexy, sexy. So what if I am? It's the sexy thing to do:
    • “The Wordeaters” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz 
    • “Invisible Empire of Ascending Light” by Ken Scholes
    • “The Photograph” by Veronica Montes
    • “A Moment in Time” by Charie D. La Marr
    • “A Gentlemen’s Agreement” by Susan S.Lara
    • “X” by Karissa Chen
    • “Cunning Syncronicity” by Berrien C. Henderson
    • “Godsend” by Joel Pablo Salud
    • “Ondoy” by Laura McPhee-Browne
    • “Rescuing the Rain God” by Kate Osias
    • “The Wish Head” by Jeffrey Ford
    • “Flash Forward” by Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz
    • “Where Sky and Sea Meet” by Dan Campbell
    • “Arrow” by Barry King
    • “Finding Those Who Are Lost” by Celestine Trinidad
    • “Synchronicity” by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
    • “We’re All Stories in the End” by Matthew J. Rogers
    • “Silverio and the Eidolon” by Vincent Michael Simbulan
    • “Tinkerers” by Jay Wilburn
    • “Finding” by David B. Ramirez
    • “Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)” by Jason Erik Lundberg
    • “Pilar Escheverria” by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
    • “Scraps” by Michael Haynes
    • “Freeborn in the City of Fallacies” by Andrew Drilon
    • “Storm Warning” by Lilian Csernica
    • “The Nameless Ones” by Gabriela Lee
    • “Whispers” by Grant J. McMaster
    • “Highway Run” by Alexander Marcos Osias
    • “Black Sun” by Todd Nelsen
    • “Life at the Lake’s Shore” by Alex Shvartsman
    • “Aliens” by Fiona Mae Villamor
    • “Little Italy” by Isa Lorenzo
    • “Discipline” by Rebecca McFarland Kyle
    • “Unmaking” by Julie C. Day
    • “Fresh Fruit” by Yvette Tan
    • “The Sparrows of Climaco Avenue” by Kenneth Yu
    • “Gellen’s Retirement Plan” by Tim Sullivan
    • “When We Were Witches” by Nikki Alfar
    • “All the Little Gods We Are” by John Grant
    • “Tuba Knight” by Cesar Miguel G. Escaño
  • It only costs $3.99, and it's 544 pages of storytelling goodness. 544 pages!
  • I get to share space once again with my friend and mentor, that most elegant Lady of Letters, Cecilia Brainard.
  • It just feels good to have a new story out in the world. Though I'm working on it, my story output is meager by almost anyone's standards, which means I have fewer shots to share my work. More on this soon!
Thanks once again to Dean for including me, and hello-and-so-nice-to-meet-you to the other contributors. Oh, look!—Another link for your convenience!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday In the Shop on the Day the 49ers Play the Seahawks

It's Sunday, and I'm perched on my stool in the shop just having exchanged a flurry of instant messages with my brother. They were mostly single-word exchanges:

Me: Gracias namiento
Him: Dinero
Me: Puttanesca
Him: Bertoli. Picolina.
Me: Kimbocha.
*20 second pause*
Me: I WIN!

Such a pointless exchange is possible because unlike yesterday, with its welcome parade of customers, today is 49er game day and no one is interested in me or, more importantly, my beautiful toys. I content myself with smiling at people as they rush by in their 49er jerseys, caps, hoodies and, I assume, socks and underwear on their way, I'm guessing, to the party at their neighbor's house. I won't watch the game, but I'll be able to hear quite succinctly the blood-curdling screams, gasps, groans, and cheers from the small deli across the street. In this way I'll be able to deduce who is winning.

I will work a little bit on an essay that I'm writing, and I won't feel guilty. I'll sweep the floor again, dust the tables, re-arrange the German furniture in the Maine-made dollhouse. When, by a small retail miracle, someone does walk in, we will each be bewildered that the other is not watching the game.

Maybe it will be the small old woman who frequently stands outside and smiles at me through the window. Sometimes she comes in, clutching her purse close to her body. She's always in a pink cardigan and elastic-waist gabardine pants, her hair silver and close-cropped. She told me once that she lives in the senior home on El Camino and likes to take walks. Her daughter and grand-daughter live in nearby Hillsborough, but I have never seen them; she's always alone. She moved here from Michigan, she says, after her husband passed away. I think I'm part of a promise she's made to herself to talk to someone, sometimes.

She told me her name, but I can't remember what it is.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sounding the Alarm

Not to be an alarmist, but...okay, well maybe I do mean to be an alarmist...if there's something you want to do or say, you should do it or say it already. Except for unnecessary plastic surgery; do not have unnecessary plastic surgery.

You want to square dance? Then square dance! Not that I understand why you would choose to do that, but still: square dance!

You want to re-read the entire series of Game of Thrones books? Do it! I totally understand why you would choose to do that!

You want to tell someone you haven't seen or talked to in 5 years that you love them deeply and for all time until every river runs dry? Go ahead! At your own risk, that is. If you can't think of another option, that is. If your spouse won't be upset, that is. I can sort of understand why you would choose to do that!

Cut your hair off! Eat Jell-O in its crystallized form! Break into song at the mall while simultaneously eating at, I don't know, Panda Express!

Write the book, paint the canvas, print the t-shirt.

Learn to play the violin! I guess.

Master five yo-yo tricks! Take photos without using an Instagram filter! Toss your iPhone off a bridge!

Time is a finite resource, that's what I'm trying to say. It's slipping away from you even as I type, even as you read. The people you love dissolve into the ether, the person you were yesterday doesn't exist anymore and, per the great poet, the center cannot hold. I repeat: the center cannot hold.

Do the things already.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Teenage Filipina Letter Writing / Daly City / Circa 1982

I'm in thinking-and-jotting-down mode for an essay that I hope to start writing soon.

A new image pops into my head every day, usually during the morning. The hours pass, and this initial picture grows bigger and bigger just like a Bubble Yum bubblegum bubble. Yesterday's image: a zoom in on the loopy, extraordinarily ornamental penmanship of my high school girlfriends—Pinays, all.

As the bubble grew, the image morphed into a densely packed missive written on college rule binder paper with the florid sign-off of "love forever and ever and always..." Then I saw brown hands with tapered fingers, maroon-colored nail polish, and the initials "LM" written in black ink on the web of skin between thumb and firefinger. The hands folded the letter in on itself until it became a self-contained envelope. Then it was pressed against the sender's mouth, sealed with a kiss from cherries-in-the-snow lips.

These letters were transmitted hand-to-hand, or furtively tossed into a locker during passing periods, or sometimes sent via a third party, which was especially thrilling when the third party was a boy. In a black derby jacket. Smelling of Jovan Musk.

Receiving letters and writing them cemented friendships, certainly, but they were also the perfect fodder for betrayal, manipulation, or out-and-out war. The modern-day equivalent is a text conversation, I suppose, but texts don't have the charm of doodles in the margins, or an inked wreath of flowers crowning your name, and they don't arrive intricately folded into origami ninja stars or hearts to discourage tampering. The old days RULE!

I wish I had known how large these letters would loom in my old-lady memory because I would have saved some, and there would be a picture here for your viewing enjoyment. As it is, I'll have to make do with a random internet photo that kind of gives you the idea, but not quite.

That's it for my first, stilted post of 2014. May all that follow be more fluent, more amusing, more...something. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Post Where I Say My Father Died

A few days after I wrote my last post here—months and months ago—my father died.

It's impossible for me to write about him right now (believe me, I've tried) but it's also impossible for me to continue writing in this space until I acknowledge, here, that he is no longer walking the world, upsetting proverbial apple carts and looking for ways to get in trouble.

I've looked at this photo of him since I was a child, but I see it differently now. I have to go, he seems to be saying. But I'll see you soon, my baby.

Norman Delfino Montes
December 14, 1937 ~ April 17, 2013



Saturday, April 13, 2013

Owning & Disowning My Age. And Also: Invisalign.

I had a birthday a few weeks back, and I realized that I'm one of the few people on Facebook whose profile includes the year of their birth. At first I thought, "Yes—I own my age! I'm okay with my age! My youth is long gone, but my wisdom grows! I can afford more expensive shoes! My list of fears has diminished (except for karaoke; I still fear karaoke)! I barely care what people think of me! I know how to do so many things now! My children are really good (at the moment)!"

And the next day I thought, "You are a crazy-ass old woman."

And then, because I am re-reading To the Lighthouse, "You are 'nothing but a sponge sopped full of human emotions.'"

And in subsequent days at subsequent times: "You are a woman of a certain age." "You've still got it, gurl." "You've lost it." "You never really had it, whatever it was." "It's not important, whatever it was." "Eat a brownie." And whatnot.

Anyway.

Here I am, just moment ago, 46 years old and with the fine and not-so-fine lines to show it. It is what it is. Also, it should be noted that I am still rocking the same crooked left tooth I've always had, which inspires me to end with this startling insight: I am too old for many things, but I am not too old for...Invisalign.


Monday, February 04, 2013

I Should Not Be Saying Any of This

This is so not nice of me. This is so crossing-the-line of me. Because it's one thing to blog about your nutso kids when they're 3- or 4- or 5- or...10-years-old, but to blog about them when they're 13-years-old is unforgivable. Truly.

Ha! LIKE I CARE.

Here's a list of things currently twisting me into a knot about my teenage girls:

  • Although they have their own phones, they seem to prefer mine. They use their uncanny ability to hone in on my device, snatch it without my knowing, and then use it to take about 40,000 pictures of themselves doing that duck-lip thing that girls do now when taking their pictures. When I asked Vida to explain the phenomenon she said: "It's so we don't look dumb." Got that, everyone? They make duck lips so they don't look dumb.
  • They leave their stuff everywhere. I long to tell my mother this, but she would just laugh hysterically and point at me and say something about karma and I would totally deserve it.
  • When not engaged in feats of athleticism, they just...loll. They drape themselves over the furniture and twirl their hair and stare into the distance. If I had to imagine what song was playing in their head while this Roman-esque relaxing occurs, it would be that One Direction ditty that's supposed to make me feel tender, but which instead CRACKS ME UP (I don't know what it's called; it's the slow, rhyme-y, extra-corny-with-a-side-of-chees-y one).
  • The fact that they can drape themselves in this way, that they are long and lanky and drape-able in this way, also drives me crazy. Or maybe I'm just jealous. Because I was, contrapuntally (what. why are you looking at me like that? is that not a word?), short and squat.
  • When one of them is exercising her right as a 13-year-old female to briefly transform into a lunatic, the other one turns into the best kid ever, thus forcing me to become a suburban female version of that Two-Face character from Batman: one side of me responding pleasantly to the Good One, and the other side of me responding like a kraken to the Bad One. And then sometimes I get confused and yell at the wrong one. I think they think this is funny; I think they plan it this way.

Huh. I just read this back, and they don't sound so bad. Must be me...

Sunday, February 03, 2013

That Time I Opened A Store

I opened a shop on Black Friday 2012.

More specifically, on Black Friday 2012 I opened a toy shop and soon-to-be playspace. The urge to do this was not unlike the urge (for me) to write: I just wanted to tell a story. It turned out to be a story about two friends who have the best tech-free playroom ever. And they have these eccentric traveling relatives who send them toys from all over: Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Peru, France, Spain, Italy, Vermont, New York, and...um...South San Francisco. And they have parents obsessed with good design and, apparently, the color orange.

Here's command central:


And here's some Danish foxes and monkeys chilling in a French pram:


Here are some very lovely things sitting upon a shelf:


Judging from the expressions of confusion and disconnect that have flitted across the faces of friends and acquaintances, my "walking off the plank" (someone said that!), has caused some confusion. But the truth is that small biz-ownership suits me well. First of all, as I said, this whole undertaking feels like a big story to me. Plus, I love experiential retail; I truly believe that customer service is an art; I thrill to the hunt for beautiful things; and I enjoy tearing the learning curve to shreds.

Oh but wait, there's more: the collection that I curate in the shop reminds me of a simple and sweet time in the lives of my own children. Yes, I have been pleasantly surprised by the tween and teenage years, but the truth is that I miss being able to scoop them up with one arm, plop them on the couch, and read board books together. And then on the flip side of that is that I wanted them to see me do something...not so amorphous. Like most women my age, I'm still a jill-of-all-trades/responsiblities, but now there is at least one thing I do that's simply defined.

Oh my god. I opened a toy shop.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

That Time I Went to Salinas

I spent last Saturday in Salinas for "A Conversation of Filipino Writers: Past and Present," an event organized by the now-legendary writer and local educator Oscar Penñaranda (so dapper in his barong Tagalog!). It was held in conjunction with the exhibit "Filipino Voices: Past and Present," which is on display at the National Steinbeck Center through this weekend, I believe. If you miss it, don't worry: this Fall it will be moving to the War Memorial Building in San Francisco. Here's a write-up from the San Francisco Chronicle. Many good folks, including the wonderful Jean Vengua, put a ton of work into this project and it shows and shows and shows.

I had been wanting to see the exhibit, but Salinas is a 90-minute drive and I'm a whiner so I needed a bit of a push. Said push came in the form of an invitation to participate on the morning panel, which was going to be a discussion about pre-1965 Filipino American writers with the central question being: Hey, why is Bulosan the only writer from that era that anyone ever talks about?

I felt a little weird about the invite, mostly because I couldn't figure out why I was invited to be on the panel. First of all, I'm not an academic or an educator and second, I'm not an academic or an educator. So I let the message languish in my inbox until one morning I woke up and thought why not? As in why not venture out of my comfort zone? Why not state my thoughts and opinions about pre-1965 Filipino writers? Why not take a 90-minute drive to Salinas? Why not what the hell oh la di da di da.

I immediately plunged myself into Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos (my favorite), NVM Gonzales, Wilfred Nolledo, Jose Garcia Villa, and—on the off-chance that I might be able to slip them in to the conversation somehow—Paz Latorena and Estrella Alfon. So this was unspeakably enjoyable to me, all this time spent reading. As it turns out, I did get to say a little about each of these writers: yay! As for the central question of why Carlos Bulosan seems to garner all the acknowledgements and name recognition, I just spoke my mind:

1) people are interested in his writing and his life, what with the inches-thick FBI file, his blacklisting as a Communist, and his work in the multi-ethnnic labor movement.

2) and then his end was distressingly sad: he died in Seattle from malnutrition and tuberculosis.

3) unlike some of the other writers, who came to the United States as pensionados (students) and went on to study at some of this country's most prestigious universities, Bulosan arrived here as a worker who then hobbled together an alternative education for himself, reading and studying widely on his own. I'm impressed by this; this sticks with me.

4) in my opinion, he's the least talented of this group of writers, but he can be engaged with on so many different levels, which is why he maintains his iconic standing.

The other folks on the pre-1965 panel were my buddy multi-genre writer Tony Robles, poet Lou Syquia, and novelist/playwright Cecilia Gaerlan.

Here's a blurry photo taken at the end of the day. With me are a few of the hardworking SFSU students (so young, so young...) who organized much of the goings-on. They were an enterprising bunch, and I suspect we'll see and hear much from them in a few years! Also pictured is the ever-delightful Marianne Villanueva, who I hadn't seen in so very long:






Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Pivot Left!

If you don't mind, I'm just going to ignore the fact that I've been absent from this space for...oh, a very long time.

{  pivot left !  }

The twinkers are wrapping up their first year of middle school, and I can't lasso all the thoughts pinging around my head. When September started, they were just goofy little nutjob kids. And now here we are in June and, yes, they are mostly still goofy little nutjob kids, but more and more I catch sight of the women they're going to become. And the kind of women they are going to become are the kind of women WHO KICK ASS. They are all about words that begin with "s." They are super studious, social, and studly. I will give you pictorial evidence of the stud-ness:

Why is that silly girl chasing Risa! She will NEVER catch her:


Why would anyone hit a grounder directly to Vida? Vida will scoop it up, whip it to first base, and even though the batter will run with all her might, she will be OUT. So out:


I'm just guessing, but I think it's probably not too easy to be the twins' little sister. In fact, if I were their little sister I would spend most of my waking hours rolling my eyes and making faces whenever they speak. Lea is much nicer than I am, though, so rather than suffocate under the weight of their twin-ness and "s" words, she just makes her own way. She sings and dances and makes people laugh, kind of like a miniature Carol Burnett. When we were in New York City this past April, she plopped herself down in front of the Mad Hatter and proceeded to have a lengthy and quite serious conversation with him. I didn't listen in; some things are private.


The truth is that this has been a triple X crazy year. The truth is that it's only going to get crazier. And the truth is that these three girls are what keep me going.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Post In Which I Describe My Bummer of a Dream

I'm in the madly spinning vortex of life change. Also, I appear to be a fan of hyperbole. But if you've been with me this long, you already knew that.

I'm at turns bewildered, empowered, super tired, and vaguely elated. Because it takes me longer than the average person (I think) to process this type of life adjustment, it's a challenge to blog about it. But guess what? It's March Madness, and I'm willing to give it the old college try. Though I risk turning you immediately away from this post, I am forced to begin with a line that instantly kills any interest I might have in a conversation: So...I had this dream.

Still with me?

Said dream occurred about two years ago, and it's the only one in my life from which I awoke in a fit of uncontrollable weeping. Simply put, I was in a number of scenarios in which I believed I was fully participating. There was a ride in a horse carriage, a party at which much photograph-taking occurred, dinners at restaurants, etc. A jolly good time, if you will. But eventually I realized, a la Bruce Willis in that whatever-it-was-called-movie, that I was not at all participating in these scenarios because I was...cue spooky music...dead. Then suddenly I was standing in a windy spot somewhere with my father, who was able to see the barely-there me, the bit of me still left. I gave him a hug. "I have to go," I said. And he said, "I know."

And then I woke up, as noted, weeping and attempting to recount the dream to my spousal unit (I'm sure I was fairly incoherent). I am not one to invest an inordinate amount of time deciphering dreams, but this one was a clear call-to-arms. A year later, I finally understood that my childhood, which had lasted 41 years (41 years! how lucky am I?), had come to an end.

So now here I am a grown-ass woman with grown-ass responsibilities that I'm doing my very best to meet. I won't go into details because I want to protect the privacy of others, but I will say that I think I'm doing good. I was a good kid, after all. And good kids turn into good grown-ups.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

At the Dialysis Center

I have a new routine. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I roll myself out of bed quietly at 5:45, tip-toe into the den where I get dressed in the sweats I have left warming near the heater, cross the hall into the kitchen (avoiding the squeaky spot on the floor), retrieve a tin that I have packed with a little fruit and some graham crackers the night before, grab my purse and my keys, and drive five minutes down El Camino to pick up my Dad. Then I take him to the dialysis center, hand him his tin of fruit and graham crackers, drive back home, and crawl back into bed for an hour.

At 9:30, I go back to pick him up. The majority of dialysis technicians at the center are Filipino, and they are unfailingly pleasant and efficient. They call my dad "Tatay" or just "Tay," and they tug his ponytail and say, "You're so Jeproks, Tay!" They tell him to "listen to your daughter," which cracks both of us up.

There are so many stories waiting in that center. The stoic older gentleman in the khakis and the alpine sweater, who never says anything (I helped him once open his can of Ensure, though, and he said, "Oh, thank you very much."); the thin young man from Mexico, whose ride is never on time to pick him up; the wizened guy in the woolen cap who I swear to god cruises me every time I'm there; the young woman who I hope is on the waiting list for a transplant; the man without legs, the woman with no teeth and the one in the blonde wig, the guy who goes on and on about politics even though no one is listening.

So many stories. Maybe I'll tell them one day.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Adventures in Zen Gardening

Not that I'm doing any Zen gardening, mind you. I refer simply to the fact that last week I taught some 4th graders an art lesson about Japanese Zen gardens. This required much rooting around for supplies. First on the list: shoebox tops to serve as garden containers. Where the heck, thought I, am I going to find 30 shoebox tops? I considered emailing the parents and asking them each to send their child to school with one. I thought about randomly raiding my friends' homes. I thought wistfully of all the box tops we had broken down and sent out with the recycling right after the holiday. And, finally (my brilliance takes time, you see), I thought: a shoe store!

So I headed over to a shoe store that shall not be named. At the door I was greeted by a young woman with one of those Madonna headset things (evidently, selling shoes today requires more...communication?...than it used to). "Hello," she said. "Do you need help?"

"Yes. My daughter's class is working on a project, and they need shoebox tops."

She stared at me with nary a glint of oh-I-get-it in her eyes. I explained further: "So I thought I'd come here and ask. Because this is a shoe store. Do you have any shoebox tops?"

"Oh...no," she said, not quite sure of herself. "We don't have any of those."

"Really? 'Cuz this is a 2-story shoe store, so I'm thinking you probably have some shoebox tops."

She looked around. "Well, let me ask someone..."

I left her without saying farewell. I found a manager, who told me to come back at closing time, and she'd give me everything they had. Thank you, manager lady!

Next on the supply list: river stones. Easy.

And then: moss. No problem.

Moving on: twigs, acorns, pebbles. Done!

And, finally: sand. Sand which would be placed in a nice layer at the bottom of the shoebox top, and then raked with a fork into pleasing lines and curves and whatnot. I went to the craft store. They were selling 3/4 lb. bags of sand for $3.49. I figured I needed about 10 lbs. I left the craft store and walked into...KMart. I've never been to KMart before; I will never go to KMart again. And, besides, they did not have sand.

I went to Home Depot. Smallest bag of sand: 60 pounds. They sent me on a semi-goose chase to the lumber department, where a nice man named Jamar whispered, "Have you tried Orchard Supply Hardware?"

I called Orchard Supply Hardware. "Do you have small bags of sand?" I asked. "A ten pound bag, let's say?"

"Yes, we do."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, ma'am, I'm sure."

Great! I drove to Orchard Supply Hardware, where I accosted the first salesperson I saw. "I need a ten pound bag of sand, please."

Again with the blank stare. "I don't think we have anything that small."

"I just called. The lady on the phone said you definitely have 10 pound bags of sand."

We walked over to some sort of display with various tickets depicting various bags of sand. "You just want, what, regular sand?"

"I guess. Like the kind of sand that goes in a sandbox."

He stared at the display. "Smallest bag is 50 pounds."

I sighed. "Okay. Can I buy the 50 pound bag, take what I need, and leave the rest here?"

"No. We wouldn't be able to do anything with that."

I looked dramatically around the store. "You mean there's absolutely nothing you can do with some sand in this HOME AND GARDEN store?"

His loathing was thinly disguised. "No. We would just throw it away."

"You would throw the sand away?"

"Yes. Uh-huh."

It was at this moment that I thought of the headset-wearing young woman at the 2-story shoe store. I hoped with all my heart that these two people would never meet, never fall in love, and never procreate.

So, anyways: I bought a 50 pound bag of sand. And do you know how much it cost? $4.99! I was grateful for one thing only: that I hadn't purchased 10 bags at $3.49/each at the craft store.

Here's what the kids made:



***

In other news...just yesterday I received a text from the taxi driver who took me back and forth from the airport in New York sixteen months ago. Here's what it said:

Hello Veronica! Happy New Year from crazy New York. May Almighty God Bless u and ur families with Health, Peace, Happiness and lot of money. Tarek, ur Egyptian Taxi Driver.

Happy new year, Tarek! And happy new year to all of you, too!