Thursday, January 31, 2008

Careful! I'm armed with a fork!

I was on my way one recent afternoon to return a movie to my local DVD rental spot when a fine spray of saliva was directed at my back by a visibly upset passerby. We were in a square lined with art galleries, design showrooms and my favorite espresso joint, so this encounter wasn't a private one. I walked on and so did he, while he expressed an unending flow of warm sentiments to the effect that the world would be better off without honkies like me, that I should go back to England, and that in the meantime he was going to walk me home.
Although I'm of British-Euro origin, I'm short and dark and have never really thought of myself as a honkie, Great Britain is not my spiritual home, and the dubious pleasure of being accompanied by a vociferous and bigoted escort is not what I yearn for in life. I veered off to go into a bakery, lost my one-man entourage,and then I began to feel annoyed.
That's life in the big city, but Seattle needs a little more big city life before it can comfortably take refuge in that particular cliche. Crazies abound in Manhattan, but they're encountered when you're on your way to one of the great museums of the world or to see ballet that can change the way that you look at bodies and motion for the rest of your days--not when you're returning an uninspired Bollywood flick to a small video shop.
And just why is street discourse so fraught with emotional spillover in America's cities, and why is it considered a routine fact of life? Is it a hangover from our rugged frontier origins, or collateral damage from capitalism gone wrong, or are we just a nation of graceless louts?
I'm leaving soon for a city where people may gossip about me on the streets of my neighborhood, but I'll never fear for life and limb while I'm out running routine errands. And I'm more than happy to become a resident of a country where manners and self-control are values of high priority. Until my departure, I fervently hope that I don't encounter the Screaming Spitter again, because I'm a woman who is mad as hell and armed--I now carry a sharp, two-tined serving fork.

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Train of Thought

Flying in this country has reached the point where it makes traveling by Greyhound look good. I could stand taking off my shoes and using those silly little bottles for shampoo and conditioner if I knew that my flight would be on schedule, that I'd sit in a clean plane, and that the flight attendants would have a little more cordiality than what you might receive from a prison guard at Guantanamo. But since these things have all disappeared as completely as the term "stewardess, " I travel on any U.S. airlines as seldom as possible and have decided that, for my next trip to San Francisco, I'm taking the train.
I know the sole trace of bygone days will be found only in the name of the route, The Coast Starlight, but that is almost enough. I'm sure that the dining car serves Nescafe and that any food will have been rapidly thawed in a microwave before serving. The lounge will have all of the elegance of a MacDonald's with a liquor license, and I'll probably be sitting beside small , insomniac children who are not housebroken.
And yet I'm going to travel through three states at a pace that will be leisurely enough that I can savor the different landscapes. Nobody will tell me to take off my shoes. And there will be a liquor license in that ugly lounge.
Call me crazy but I'm looking forward to this--and if it turns out to be dreadful, at least it will be a good story.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Letting Go

I never feel as though I'm truly leaving to live in another place until I begin to give things away. It's become a ritual over the years, one that's painful and challenging and absolutely essential. Although I admire people who are able to sell their possessions, I'm too attached to the objects that make my life pleasant to be able to watch strangers rifle through my treasures at a sidewalk sale.
Months before I buy my airline ticket, I have decided what books go to which friend, and who will get my favorite chair. It's a lot like making a will and then being your own estate executor, or (less morbidly) hosting a potlatch, and once I've decided who gets what, the whole process is a lot of fun.
This time I have a cat and he has made this undertaking a bit more difficult--giving him away is somewhat more complicated than presenting someone with a lamp that they've admired in the past. He's a cat with issues, having been removed from his home five years ago to wait in a pet store cage for someone to take him and become his willing slave, which I did and which I am. He's handsome and imperious and an attention-sponge, not unlike, come to think of it, every relationship I've ever been in with males of my own species. I adore him, of course.
He does not, however, travel well. The mere sight of his very expensive, deluxe cat carrier is enough to turn him into the Invisible Feline for hours, and the pitiful cries that he can produce during a brief bus ride are heartrendingly obnoxious. The thought of spending sixteen hours with him in a confined space with other passengers who are trying to sleep their way to Bangkok is enough to curdle my blood and makes me wonder if the people sitting next to me will kill me or the cat first. Then of course there are all of the viruses and parasites waiting for fresh feline blood once we arrive at our destination, which is the reason why I will be going alone.
My sister has offered to give the monster his next home, thereby proving that blood is indeed thicker than the most expensive bottled water and that I am blessed in being part of her family. It's the ideal solution and the cat and I are both lucky devils. The night that she made her magnanimous offer is the first one in which I had an untroubled sleep for a long time--until around 4 a.m. when I woke up with the realization that my sister lives in Alaska so the cat and I still have the opportunity to win hearts and minds on a mournful airlines flight--but not, thank God, for sixteen hours.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

It's All in the Hair

A year or so ago, Vanity Fair had an article, complete with group photo, of our nation's legislators. There they stood, our elected leaders in all of their glory, with most of the men quite clearly grey eminences and most of the women resolutely blonde. It was an interesting moment for me, seeing women my age and older who were definitely figures of political power proclaiming with their hair that they were worth it.
Now that Hillary Clinton has set off on the highest campaign trail, the hair issue becomes even more clearly delineated. Bill, the Elder Statesman, is beautifully, radiantly silver. Hillary, poised to pick up where her husband left off, is grimly blonde. Not for her the gravitas conferred upon the male gender by going grey, and the question becomes even more insistent: Why not?
Then Christmas came and went and one of my sons showed me photos from the year before in which I was walking beside my grown children, dressed in my usual quirky dressed for excess fashion, looking like Whistler's Mother in 21rst century drag. It was a weird awakening to how I looked to the rest of the world, and it was unsettling.
The next time I bought necessities of life I picked up a box of cheap, semipermanent, brown hair color, and ruined two towels when I applied it that evening. The next morning I looked at my reflection and burst into tears.
Having color again, after seven years of looking like an old photographic negative, was that much of a shock. It was also a wake-up call. My new hair color made me realize that my grey hair was incongruent to the way I think and dress and live. I am a woman who is not yet ready for gravitas.
Nor am I ready for invisibility. Going grey sends a message to the world that says "I'm fading; I'm not totally present. Pay attention when you have the time." It's a sign of surrender to age which confers the protection of camouflage and a sort of obligatory respect. It is the Western world's equivalent to the Islamic headscarf.
It's ridiculous, but I have a feeling of enhanced energy since I colored my hair. I feel revitalized and more of the person I believe myself to be. No, it's not the first step down the slippery slope toward cosmetic surgery--it's makeup, just like the color I apply to my eyes, cheeks and mouth every morning without fail before presenting myself to the world. And it may become more than semipermanent.