The Existential Pee

I believe we humans are actually spirit and don’t require bodies to exist. Yet, here we are in physical form, ensconced in flesh. There must be a reason, something to be learned or gained from carrying around this hunk of meat everywhere we go. My view is the body connects us to nature, giving us information about the third dimension we inhabit. When we check in with our bodies, they also serve to inform us of our emotions and how our thoughts affect those emotions. The body is a better barometer of what is actually going on with us than the mind. The mind can justify all sorts of atrocities, but only a closed heart will fail to report the truth.

Being squarely in the body is of paramount importance to me, and yet I still sometimes have difficulty listening to my own body/heart instead of my intellect/conditioning.

This is where the pee comes in.

I decided one day to walk from the apartment I was subletting in the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver to the Museum of Anthropology. I checked the Google Map; it was a long walk, about one hour 45 minutes, but that’s a good walk. I’ve walked farther many times. I could take the bus back and there was a great exhibit at the Museum at the end of the walk.

I started out later than expected but took time to pee once more before I left the house. Being in my 60s, I find I usually have to go twice in quick succession to get out the door and this day was no different.

After that, I was ready. I had a pretty good notion of the map in my head. It’s a simple walk, straight out West 4th to Chancellor Boulevard takes you directly to the museum. No turns to make, just keep walking.

After 30 minutes, I have to pee. “Not possible,” I tell my body, “you peed twice before you left.” I keep walking but at Jericho Beach park the urge is not going away. I know I have at least another hour left to walk. It’s okay, I tell myself. After the park we’re back in civilization again. There’ll be a Starbucks or 7-11 or something, so no problem, I can keep walking.

Those of you more familiar with Vancouver than I will realize immediately after Jericho Beach park on West 4th there is nothing even remotely resembling a Starbucks or 7-11. It is the most unmerciful stretch of quiet residential neighborhood that ever existed. There’s not even a sidewalk. Clearly NO ONE ever walks this stretch of highway. Ever.

By now the situation is beginning to be a little desperate. Perhaps it would be better to wait for the bus to UBC which takes this route. All I have to do is find a bus stop. It feels like miles to the next bus stop and after I stand there waiting for five minutes, I realize standing still is even worse than walking. And, with little faith in the Vancouver transit system, I know I could be there holding my pelvic floor tightly for another 20 minutes.

I continue walking.

The bus passes me.

I really, really have to pee.

Then, suddenly, like manna to the Israelites, a park appears. And it’s not a small park. It stretches on and on as far as I can see. There will be a place to pee. Maybe I’ll be lucky and there’ll be some sort of cafe or boathouse. If not, it’s a park for heaven’s sake. There’ll be trees.

Only there’s no cafe and the trails, even the one with trees are very open and public. And there are people. What the hell are all these people doing in this gigantic park on the water’s edge? They are walking their dogs is what they’re doing, walking them down every single secluded spot I can find.

I walk deeper and deeper into the park and I begin to wonder, “What would Diane do?” I know the answer. She’d drop trow and pee behind a tree, any old tree, because she doesn’t have a thing about taking a pee when she needs to. This is one of the functions of a great friend, giving us courage to do what must be done, being a role model. Only I don’t heed her call to liberation.

I know I’m being weird and not taking care of myself but my brain keeps telling me it’s inappropriate to pee where people might see my bum. That’s ridiculous, I tell myself but each time I muster the courage to pull down my pants (and of course I’m wearing pants, long underwear, gloves, scarf, a bulky coat, and a backpack, so it’s going to take a while to do that) a dog walker saunters past and waves at me. Usually in Vancouver, no one looks at me, even when I’m tossing a chipper good morning or how’re you doing in their direction. But here in the park when I desperately need a bit of anonymity, they couldn’t be friendlier.

I ask the next owner of a canine whether I can get to the Museum of Anthropology if I continue through the park—my bursting bladder has erased the image of the Google map from my brain—and she takes out her cell phone and shows me I need to get back up to the road or add an additional 20 minutes to the journey. I thank her and hike back up to the road.

Another ten minutes of wondering how this is going to work out and suddenly there are trees again. There are some semi-private areas at their bases. However, these trees are up against the wooden fences of a very lovely condo development. I’m at risk of a ruptured bladder and peritonitis but still find the idea of peeing on someone’s nice fence abhorrent.

Now, I know I’ve gone crazy. What would Diane do has been truncated into a mere WD—would Diane? Of course, Diane would, she would have gone by the edge of the road or in the wooded park or on the neighbor’s fence. I should take courage from her example, be bold.

It’s gone further than that, though. Now I feel God has been giving me opportunity after opportunity to pee and I’ve been rejecting each one. I feel I’m caught in the old joke about the man who’s drowning but keeps turning down the assistance saying, “God will save me.” Like him, I’m spurning all of God’s advances toward me and now, not only do I have to pee, but I feel very, very guilty and ungrateful as well. Tears well up and I’m sure I’ll either die or have to take the bus home in wet, smelly pants.

Then, as if to assure me that God’s love is never ending, never fading, a path appears. Yes, it’s between two incredibly ritzy mansions, but it is shaded from the road and partially private from the three car garages and formal gardens. There’s even a downed tree blocking it, so I know it hasn’t been used much lately. In hasty gratitude I pull off my backpack and pull down my pants and sense the exquisite joy of release.

By then, I’ve used up so much time, going off track and out of my mind, there’s little time left to see the exhibit. But dammit, I went through a lot to get there and I was determined.

It was worth it.

A Watched Pot…

…does actually boil. I know because I watched mine this morning. The old adage is not about temperature or water or pots, but you knew that already. The old adage is about patience, how standing over something, willing it to grow or boil or take flight, doesn’t help the process go any faster. If you’re like me you’ve interpreted this to mean, do something else while the pot is heating up—that way you won’t waste time. This is how I’ve mostly lived my life, multi-tasking, slipping 5-minute jobs in between longer efforts. Now, as I enter and activate this slowing down period of my life, I wonder if I haven’t missed a great deal of life by trying to pack everything in. It’s scattered and tense and timed and impatient. And isn’t that exactly what we’re being told about watching that pot. Don’t be impatient? Continue reading…

A Little Bit Lost

Traveling with my friend this summer brought up an interesting question—how do I feel about being lost?

I get anxious when I’m with another person. Especially if I’m with another anxious person who’s driving the car while I’m navigating from shitty Google Maps’ printed directions. When I’m by myself, I actually like when I’m a bit lost.

Notice, a bit. I don’t believe I’d like to be blindfolded, pushed into a helicopter, and offloaded into endless dunes stretching for miles in all directions. But, in a place I live or have visited for a few days, I have a general sense of well being. For years I lived in an area of New York City considered dangerous by many of my uptown friends. To me it was simply the neighborhood. I knew the shops, the families, even some of the street people. That experience makes me think most neighborhoods are far less dangerous than up-tight white people’s imaginations would lead them to believe. As none of you are up-tight white people, I’m sure you understand.

Continue reading…

It’s Like the Cribbage Board

People are different from each other. This is both obvious and simple while at the same time complex and difficult. We process information and experiences differently based on a whole host of scientific and esoteric reasons. It’s good for the species, it gives us variety, adaptability, a human for every situation.

However, when two or more humans attempt to coexist on a day to day basis, adjustments and adaptations must be made.

Like the cribbage board.

Cribbage is a card game played by counting points in each hand and pegging those points on a tall, narrow board with 60 holes in it for each player. The holes are arranged in two rows of 30 each. As a child I was taught to go up the outside of the board and down the inside of the board as the game progressed, making the entire circuit twice per game for a total of 120 points to win.

I’ve taught lots of people the game over the years. I taught my friend, Diane, 35 years ago. When we travel together, I keep the board and cards handy in my purse. Waiting in an airport? We play a hand or two. Dinner taking longer than expected? Break out the board.

Now, I taught Diane and we’ve played for many years, so you would think I’d know everything there is to know about Di and cribbage, but recently she surprised me.

I set up the board, putting the black pegs on the side nearest her with the bottom of the board (where the pegs start their path) toward the outside edge or bottom of the table. This is how I do it. How I’ve always done it. For 50-some years, this is how I’ve always done it.

Diane looked at the board, frowned, and said, “The pegs need to switch.” I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t figure out what she meant. Sighing with exasperation, she switched the pegs to the other side of the board, turned the board upside down with the starting point toward the inside of the table, and then smiled, completely satisfied and at ease.

I was even more confused. This was just wrong. Wrong. What was she thinking? I went ahead and played the game but it felt unnatural to me. I thought perhaps it was an anomaly.

It wasn’t. Continue reading…

Travel and Trust

Photo of Cappadocia, Turkey

Morning balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey.

There are probably as many reasons to travel as there are people who travel. I have a whole list of things I love about it. Art and architecture, culture and color, people, places, food and fashion. Most of all, I travel for the experience. I’m with my best friend, Diane, and this is a long trip for us—almost two full months on the road. From apartments with two bedrooms, a kitchen and spaces large enough to dance, to the tiniest of hotel rooms with two feet between the single beds pushed right up to the peachy pink walls and a bathroom where you sit on the toilet to shower with a hand held faucet dribbling water, each day is filled with unforgettable experiences. I’ll admit, I sometimes can’t remember which city we were in or what day it was, but I remember the laughter, the exhaustion, the exhilaration, the waiting, the getting through it to the next thing, and the incredible gratitude for a life that allows me to live deeply and expansively.

Along the way, I get to work on my own issues. Trust, self-confidence, authenticity, trust, courage, fear, creativity, trust and responsibility.

I said trust, right? Continue reading…

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

Day one of extended writing and all I can think of is whether my ass shows through my leggings too much.

I’m wearing one of those impulse buys—a rayon shirt cut on the bias with long tails hanging on either side. It’s a deep olive green, one of my favorite colors, and looked amazing on the rack at the street festival where I got it. I should have tried it on but the booth was closing, I was late to meet my family, and the vendor assured me I would rock that shirt. Besides, that color, the color of my 11th grade prom dress, the color of clothes I’ve loved in my life—how could I go wrong with that color?

The color still works for me. The style, I believe is more appropriate for a boyish 12 -year-old than a 60-year-old woman.

I’ve tried to wear it several times, over different pants, pulling it up in places to create folds and gathers that might camouflage my slightly poochy belly. Of course, when I do I have to reveal either more of my bum in the back or girl parts in the front. With leggings neither is a look I want to sport. Continue reading…

Poem Shot

This morning I awoke to my husband’s honking iPhone alarm. Barry continued to sleep as I jumped up to check whether our son was texting for an early morning ride home from last night’s sleepover. Sliding the lock to the right, I saw it was a reminder, not a text, that read:

Max flu and poem shot

It took a moment before I realized he meant flu and pneumonia shot.

I really liked poem shot, though. I’m uncertain if it’s a vaccination against or a dose of, but I like it either way. To think you could be inoculated for poetry, hit with just enough to keep it in your system forever, steeling you from it’s intoxicating effects was rather profound. You’d be immune to its power, aware but unafraid to go places it exists. That could be useful.

But for me, give me a shot of poem straight up, no chaser. Let it burn my throat going down, heat up my toes and make my head spin.Whether I like the taste or not I will experience the flavor concocted by another human and, if I’m lucky, be transported by the draught to unknown lands, learning a new topography and language.

Besides, hanging out with poetry drunkards is bound to be more fun than meeting with the theorists, critics and editors.

Oh, the joys of misspellings and malapropisms. I love that man.

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

An article in the New York Times today seems to have finally settled a debate in our house—whether clothes are important to how we feel and behave. If you see my son Max, you’ll know on which side of the question he stands; the same is true of my husband Barry. It may not be immediately obvious what my feelings are on the matter (I’m a middle-aged self-employed Mom—I love my fuzzy sweatpants) but the truth is I’ve known for a long time what you wear can make a great difference in your feelings and performance.

Certainly, there were hints of this in high school when a Villager skirt and sweater with Pappagallo ballet flats could make me feel I ruled the world. However, the most striking instance to this day of the magic an outfit can create was the summer of 1977.

I was doing an outdoor drama, Wings of the Morning, in St. Mary’s County, Maryland and for our Second Stage production, director Andy Weisnet chose Jean Anouil’s The Lark. I had hoped to land the lead role, Joan of Arc, but as these things go I was cast as Joan’s Mother. This was a small role yet I was onstage the whole time as was the rest of the cast. We performed by candlelight in a restoration of Maryland’s  first statehouse in sweltering humidity on our day off. When not “onstage” cast members sat motionless on benches in tableau awaiting cues to stand and perform. I committed to doing the play though I was less than thrilled with my part, that is, until I put on the costume.

Designed by Andrea Sachs out of bits and pieces left over from the costuming of the main show, my dress was plain and coarse, a sort of burlap and rag creation. I put on my heavy peasant dress with wimple each night and slipped into another era. I became another person; I moved differently, spoke differently, felt I was Joan’s mother. The effect was so profound even my colleagues treated me as if I were someone they had only just met. There was a reverence in that costume and a stoicism accompanied it. I sat immobile each night of the play enduring heat, dripping sweat and flies just as Joan’s mother had endured what happened to her daughter.

I’ve had outfits since then that made me feel wonderful or powerful or pretty but those feelings pale by comparison to being transported through time into a new identity via the power of clothing.

Pulling Bottles

1950s Coke BottleIn the late 1950s, I loved going with my older brother Warren to the barbershop. It was an old-fashioned place, large, dark, and manly, three hydraulic chairs in front of a long bank of mirrors with exotic bottles lined up along the shelf below. The unvarnished wooden floor was black with years of footprints and the cavernous green walls were heavily stained from cigarette smoke.

This was the domain of men, men both big and small. I was an outsider and knew it, so the barber shop held a compelling fascination for me, like some exotic foreign island I could visit from time to time but never inhabit.

In the front section of the building was the barber shop itself. The side with the barber chairs brightly lit, the opposite wall where I sat on a deacons bench, dark and shadowy like the rest of the building. Midway through the room ran a low open railing with a sort of gate at the gloomy side of the room. Beyond that barrier lay the pool hall.

If the barber shop was an exotic island, the pool hall was the 9th circle of Hell. You simply didn’t go there. It was too dangerous, tinged with sin, full of riffraff. And, as such, was just about the most alluring place a five-year old girl could ever hope to see. The smoke, the dim lights, the crack of balls smacking against each other, blue chalk and mysterious red cubes shaken from oddly shaped containers kept me fascinated while my brother was on the chair. Some part of me knew I should be paying attention to my brother and Mr. Bill Upchurch the barber, but my eyes and ears were constantly drawn to the dark smoky richness behind the barricade.

As children we were not allowed to pass the gate except to go to the Coke machine. Mr. Bill must have felt the strength of that pull to wickedness because invariably he would open the cash register and give me two nickels, one for me, one for Warren, and I would open the gate and step into that other world gingerly and breathlessly. Sometimes, though not often, an older boy with slicked back hair and a pack of cigarettes tucked into a rolled up shirt sleeve would look up past pool cue and bulging bicep to grunt some word of acknowledgment before returning to the concentration of the game. I was insignificant to him, but that moment of being seen was heady stuff for me. I was thrilled.

I’d go back to my seat on the other side occasionally climbing up to the red leather banquette where businessmen came to read the newspaper while a tiny old black man rubbed paste wax on the their shoes, buffing and polishing like a machine, which is how he was often treated by his customers. From time to time he would be present during Warren’s haircut. He would smile and help me up to the leather bench that floated high above my head and once treated my tiny brown oxfords to a professional shine.

Like as not, once I got my Coke, Mr. Bill would hand me a pack of salted peanuts to go with my drink. A Coke was good, but a Coke with peanuts was pure heavenly delight. I’d open the package with my teeth and pour part of the nuts into the cocola as we all called it. Then I’d take a big swig of liquid, filling my mouth with peanuts as well. What a taste sensation; sweet and salty, liquid and crunchy, rich and mouth filling.

By this time Warren would be finished with his haircut, dusted off with talc and doused with cheap perfume. He’d come over to my perch, climb up and enjoy refreshment and entertainment with me. We were both loath to leave, knowing it would be weeks before we got to reenter this wonderland. And so, to pass more time, we began to pull Coke bottles.

The Coke machine was big and red: retro versions have popped up all over the place in the past decade or so, but this was the real thing. You put in your nickel, you pressed the button  (there was only one) and an ice cold drink clanked through the metal flap at the bottom into a trough awaiting pick up. A wall-mounted bottle opener was attached to the railing between barber shop and pool hall, and to the left of the machine itself was a tall (at least for a 5-year old) rack with angled slots where people would place their empty bottles. Beside that were wooden crates where the bottles would eventually be organized for return to the bottling plant, our nearest being Goldsboro, North Carolina, a mere 20 minutes up the road.

It was the angled metal rack that was important. The bottles went in base-side down. This way any unconsumed liquid stayed in the bottle rather than spill on the floor. Only the bottle necks were visible and accessible. The bottom of each bottle was embossed with the name of the town where the bottle originated. Because we were so close to a bottling plant, most of the bottles in our rack came from Goldsboro, most, but not all. Coke bottles were surprisingly mobile in those days. You might pull a bottle from Oxford, Mississippi or Little Rock, Arkansas. It was the custom of the pool players when not betting on their own games to bet on the bottles from the rack. Greatest distance from Mt. Olive won the bet. An ancient map of the continental United States hung above the rack to aid in settling any confrontations about whose bottle had travelled the farthest.

I started pulling bottles before I could even read. Warren and I would each choose carefully, draw the bottle from its resting place then take them over to Mr. Bill who would read out the names for us. Exotic locations blossomed before us as those names were read out. Jacksonville, NC; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and my personal favorite, Tuscaloosa, AL.

Oh, those names, musical and magical. I knew one day I would see those places. I felt it deep in my tissue and bones; I would see the world.

I have gone much farther than Tuscaloosa in the ensuing years. The wanderlust imprinted on my soul is just as palpable as the embossing on those bottles. The excitement I feel seeing each new place is the same sense of wonder I had at five hearing their names read aloud. Travel has never disappointed me.

Perhaps I owe it all to the Coca Cola bottlers of the South, and if that’s the case, I humbly thank them.