Life in the Laughing Lane

30 Sep

IMG_1138Americans are amazing, they’ll do anything they can to make a buck. This photo shows a broken down truck stuck in the mud. This guy’s trying to sell his corn. Thing is, even though the umbrellas are protecting his harvest, there’s no corn in the truck’s bed. But it sure is a good view. Nice try, too.

I work in an office with fluorescent lighting, sitting in a cubicle with beige/brown insulated-fabric dividers. I sit dressed in front of a computer. I write reports. I investigate and analyze data. Sometimes I meet with others. Other times, I’m writing. Writing is a solitary endeavor. Not for a minute do I feel that I’m not at work. I sit very close to others who cough, sneeze, and clear their throats. It’s a good day when I can finish lunch at my desk and not spill anything on my blouse. Today was one of those days.

I have a bus going out to Annapolis, so I’m mindful of the time. I have to catch the 5:06. Once on the bus, I squeeze next to someone who looks familiar, so I say hello. I’m considerate, having learned this well from my days in Catholic school, I hardly move or shift position for nearly ninety minutes. My traveling companion flips on the over head light and adjusts the air vents. I look out the window and try to remember home.

I think of my dogs waiting for me, and other ordinary things: clothes have to be washed. I could have the leftovers from Sunday. I gotta’ get new wipers. I owe Rick a phone call (I forgot to call him back last night). Oh, right, Debbi’s birthday is Friday. Finish the book in time for October’s book club night.

The bus arrives at the park and ride. I say excuse me to get into the aisle. I get to my car. It feels so good to breathe and have the room to stretch my legs. I open the windows and the sunroof. I love that my car starts right away. The drive east of 50 is fast tonight, still, I have to stop at Green Valley for one or two items. Here comes “Low-cut Connie,” that’s a song playing overhead by Rio. I pick up the mail and open the door; and because I have a large voice, I yell “Hello!” I take the dogs down to the bay, take them off collar and let them play. Tomorrow I ride at dawn.

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Frank’s Revelation

18 Jul

When I left Albany, New York for a job in North Carolina my world changed in profound ways. The food stores I’d known, the pizza places and the bagel stores, the Italian and Kosher delis, the bakery, all left behind when I left New York. I missed my friends and longed for their familiar company. Adjusting to the southern pace took me a while. In some ways I never really got it, the south, that is, the south itself. The people spoke slow, with a drawl, and they played country songs about trucks, Jesus, whisky and family. I spoke fast, with every word measured. But everything changes, as change happens. I tried to keep in touch with my friends, calling them to say hello, or they’d call me, but it wasn’t the same. Yes, those first few months I moped around in a blue southern cloud longing for the overcast skies of New York. My whole life had slowed down and I felt like I was walking in molasses.

Living in Raleigh about a year, after a first mild winter, and with March nearly over, the phone rang early on that Sunday morning. It was Frank calling to tell me he was planning a visit and bringing Italian cold cuts and semolina bread. Having had no company for nearly a year, I was beside myself with excitement.

The morning of Frank’s visit I made sure the apartment was clean and there was plenty of rum and wine to drink and cheeses, olives and hard salami on hand to make a charcuterie board.

“Hi kitties,” Frank patted the cats hello first as he always had, and hugged me second.

“Frank,” I said, hugging him hard, “It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you.”

Frank wears his chestnut brown hair long, naturally parting it in the center, if his hair gets in his way while working on his car, or in his yard, he’ll lock his hair in a clip or pull it back in a ponytail. He’s still the same weight he was in high school and, at 50, he’s caught between listening to Enya and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. He’s good-natured, but a little goofy, and uses expressions like, “Gee whiz” and “You don’t say?” and “Young lady.” A girl he used to know left him with a sadness in his eyes that could tell a story of how it feels to have your heart broken.

“Jo, I like what you’ve done here,” he says talking about my apartment. “What do you pay here, if you don’t mind my asking?” I tell him and he says, “Not bad, not bad at all.”

“Yeah, it’s $150 bucks more than that shithole apartment I left in Schenectady. Get a load of this,” I say, as I open a door off the galley kitchen,

“Wow, no kidding?” he says, “a washer and a dryer? That’s great, Jo.”

We sit on my deck and it’s warm enough, particularly for Frank coming from Albany, where the temps were nearly twenty degrees colder than Raleigh. The cats stay with us on the deck and they’re friendly, meowing and brushing up against Frank’s leg and on the deck chair.

I open a bottle of wine and cut up the bread, laying a platter of fruits and cheeses and crackers and the cold cuts – turkey, pastrami and prosciutto, within reach of Frank’s arm. He smiles and appears relaxed after the 650-mile-long drive.

“You must be exhausted after the drive.”

“It’s the rain. I got caught in Washington. It took me out of the way.”

“You would have made it sooner.”

He takes a swing of run, a bite of cheese, breaking off a thumb-sized corner piece of bread.

I tease him, “Who’s feeding you now? Whose house you been eating at?”

“Well…Jo…I have to admit I liked going to your house for dinner. Yes. And then we’d watch a movie. Yes…it was very enjoyable.”

“Oh, admit you loved it! You miss my ass and you know it!”

“Yes, Jo,” he said seriously, “I do miss you.”

We shared another bottle of wine, a Pinot Grigio. The night was lazy, the crickets weren’t out yet, but it was warm, even for March. We were both sitting on the outside balcony staring up at the black, starry sky. As good friends we could be alone without the need for incessant speech, and the conversation took a comfortable lull. It was good, too, because it was a weeknight, Thursday, and Friday would kick off the weekend I would spend with Frank.

“Jo….”

I turned to Frank and could see he was shaking and on the verge of tears, his eyebrows were pressed together hard.

“Frank, what’s the matter? You okay? Are you crying?”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Don’t say a word about this…please, Jo. I have to say…I’ve never said this to anyone.”

Oh, something was definitely off. I’ve never seen Frank behave this way, never seen him so upset, never seen him cry.

“Okay. Frank…talk to me. What is it?” What I was about to hear blew the doors off everything I thought I knew about Frank. I didn’t see it coming. I had no clue, nothing. It was never spoken about it. In fact, I really didn’t know how to answer him.

Looking off to the right of the balcony he says, “I have thought about wearing makeup.”

At first, I didn’t hear him, because he didn’t answer toward me, but to the wind. But then I was like, ‘No, Jo….he did just say “makeup.”’

After this admission, he turned to me, waiting for my face to reflect surprise. Yes, hell, yes. I could never play poker for that reason. I tried not to be surprised, because I’d like to think I am a friend who supports their friends, but I was in shock. I held my tongue. He waited for my answer, but seeing I wasn’t giving him one, he said,

“I have to say…I have thought about it. I know it’s crazy…but I have thought about it. I know I have effeminate qualities. Thing is, I’m not gay.”

After a while…“Okay,” I tell him.

“I want to be a woman.”

“Okay, I need some more wine. Frank, you?” I close the balcony door and head first for the bathroom. It’s amazing how much thinking one can do just by taking a toilet break.

Fully prepared to address Frank with a fresh perspective, “Hmmn.” I started, “How long have you been thinking about this?” I’m not an expert on psychology, but what better way to get around this than to ask another question.

“Since I was 9 or 10.”

I pour Frank more wine and down the shot of rum I poured myself. I looked at the cheese and fruits and cold cuts and they were getting mushy from the warm weather. I popped an olive in my mouth.

“I remember a dream I had several years ago. In the dream I was dressed in blue shorts and a red shirt and it was a blue sky, it was so blue…I was on my bicycle…bicycling down a road with the wind blowing through my hair…and believe it or not, I was wearing blue eyeshadow.”

“It sounds like a happy dream.”

“It really was. I still remember it.”

Frank revealed that for years he thought he was actually a lesbian and just wanted to be with another woman.

“Sweetheart, there’s all kinds of people out there like you. You’re not alone.”

“But how would I do this? What would work say? What would I tell mom, and what about my age? It would take months, years, to go through this transformation.”

“But you’ll have lived your life for others if you didn’t. At least explore it.”

“I don’t think about it too much, obviously. Because I’ve never told you – and I can see the look on your face – you’re surprised. But, the fact of the matter is, I’m too old now and I probably won’t ever go through it. It’s just that every once in a while it rears its ugly head. These…thoughts.”

“Hey, come on. You’re okay. I’m glad you told me.” Holding him close he began to sigh into my shoulder.

“Ah, Jo…now you know my crazy thoughts. So when you ask me if I’m seeing anybody, now you know why I’m not.”

The next day we woke early, agreeable to a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast before setting out to Umstead Park. The ground was muddier than it was a little green and the sky held off a fickle rain against a pallet of white clouds overhead. We welcomed the cool as we rode our bicycles, taking turns who would be the leader and who would follow behind. By two o’clock, the temperature had scaled into the 70s and we sweated getting up to the steeper terrain.

“Hey, let’s park here and take a break, why don’t we?” he says.

Ditching our bikes, we rested on a fallen tree close to a downy bank near a stream flowing clear, gurgling over jagged rocks and sand. A tortoise cautiously making its way from the water to the muddy trail, can sense our being there and pulls his head safely into its shell.

As the sun hid behind a cloud, the wind picked up and the bushes began to ruffle and the tree branches knocked together. I got goosebumps on my sweaty skin.

“What would you do if you saw a bear right now?”

“Well, I wouldn’t sit here and feed it… It’s just the wind.”

“What about a wolf?” I pressed on.

“There are no bears, there are no wolves,” said, Frank. “Just relax.”

I hydrated myself with the last bit of water from my water bottle as Frank munched on fruits and granola that he’d plastic wrapped into his backpack. He handed me an apple. “Red delicious, it’s good stuff,” he says. “You can eat the whole thing just about. I do, anyway.”

We sat in silence watching the trees shift left and right in synchronicity; the tortoise rests on pine needles and remains there shy and resolute, warming its shell in the sun. I ate the apple nearly to its core.

Frank says, “Tortoises live a really long time, fifty years or more. Maybe that one will outlive me.”

Frank rode ahead of me at a quick pace, I was short of breath even though I was hitting the gym regularly, he was clearly the more avid biker. Riding behind him, watching his hair blowing in the wind, I wondered if he was thinking about a blue sky and the colors that brought him happiness, colors of a dream that he had once hidden but felt comfortable now in admitting only the night before. When we finally reached the park’s highest plateau, where we had parked the car, I finally regained my breath.

***

With the weekend over I said goodbye to Frank on Monday morning with explicit directions for his ride to Albany. The rain had come from nowhere and hit his route back the entire way. From Washington he called crying because he’d gotten lost and took a bypass route through Pennsylvania to the western approach of Albany via Interstate 88.

When he called from Washington, I said,

“It’s okay, honey, it’s okay. The traffic’s a bear through Washington. Just take the bypass. You’ll be all right. How’s your truck holding up, okay?”

He had left at 7 a.m. and didn’t arrive home until 10:30 that night. He’d lost five hours to traffic. I felt so bad. I felt that he deserved better. I wanted to be the one driving his truck guiding him home.

“Yeah, everything’s okay,” he said.

“Are you sure? Frank?”

“Yeah…I’m okay, young lady. It’s just this damn rain.”

When I arrived home from work that Monday night I looked at my kitchen drain and saw the two plates and two cups in the sink from the toast and coffee we shared before Frank and I started our day in different directions. I held my head in my hands and began to cry.

 

© Terry Rachel

Take the Umbrella

9 Mar

The other day while sitting at the diner, eating some scrambled with little interest, three people sat behind me in a nearby booth. I imagined they were all friends, the male and female on one side, coupled, the other, the third, a woman sitting opposite. All were in their mid-40’s. 

The couple began, seemingly in agreement, telling the woman  she should file bankruptcy, that she would get out of debt quickly, and maybe even have all her student loans forgiven.

I took an uncustomary turn, and listened closely to what I overheard.

The couple seemed very convinced that filing bankruptcy would make their friend’s life easier and the pressure she was feeling would soon be relieved. The couple, having filed bankruptcy before, knew the burden taken off their shoulders, and they strongly advised the woman to consider it.

Are you one of those people who still give advice? If I tell you to stop doing it, you probably won’t stop. I use to give a lot of advice. No one ever took it. No one takes advice. Most of the time, people ask for your advice, but in the end, they’re going to do exactly the opposite of your advice. That’s why I’m not going to tell you to stop giving others advice. 

The woman said, “I can’t file bankruptcy. I got myself into this mess, and I’ll get myself out of it. Besides, it would adversely affect me for years. By that time, I’ll have paid all my bills.”

I asked the waitress to bring me a side of bacon.  The anticipation would be perfect, smelling the bacon coming in on a hot plate, eying the waitress’ extended arm as she brought it out, making room on the table. To my delight there were 5 pieces – generous! usually there’s only the customary three.

I picked up each piece of bacon and bit into it with wanton ferocity. The greasy blast completely changed the paradigm of the scrambled eggs, and it allowed me to tune out what it was, and, by all accounts, I did an admirable job.

When finished I got up, paid for my coffee, and when I caught the eye of the woman, I smiled at her as I passed by. 

I didn’t say, “Good for you, I think it’s admirable what you’re doing. To be accountable for your actions,” nothing like that. 

The hostess asked, “Was everything all right?”

“Yes,” I said, “very good. Loved the bacon.” 

It was raining hard, but it wasn’t when I arrived and entered the diner. This blasted winter. I was without a hat and had forgotten my umbrella in the car. With the wind, the umbrella would be useless. 

 “Are you going to be okay,” said the hostess, “it’s raining so hard. We have an umbrella for our patrons!”

 “But how am I going to get it back to you if I have it with me.” I told her. 

Without hesitation, “Don’t worry,” she said , “I’ll have one of the busboys meet you at your car, and he’ll have another umbrella.” 

 “Okay,” I said, “I’m going.”

I grabbed the umbrella and summoned its explosion in the diner lobby. It was wide, a golfing umbrella of some kind. It held up in the downpour. The busboy met me at my car with a dual umbrella, same kind, different colors.

I said to him, “How did you know it was me, my car?”

“We watched you run out.”

As I was about to pull away, I saw the three people who sat in the booth behind me, running, trying quickly to get to their cars. The guy held his companion about the waist as they made it down the row of parked cars; the diner was busy. The single woman ran out in front of me trying to get to her car and I bucked quickly to hold the break. It looked like she had taken a menu from the diner to shield her hair and face from the rain.         

Watch “The Beatles- If I Fell Live 1964 (HD)” on YouTube

18 Feb

The Beatles- If I Fell Live 1964 (HD): http://youtu.be/oYcZkk0rZro

Those Punches, Those Lines

14 Feb

Today I was listening to a Long Island radio station playing back-to-back love songs in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Ode to the lovers of the day, what a symbolic day to be a couple, to offer sweets to your sweet and perfumed red roses for the – hopefully – blazing passion you share with the object of your affection.

I can’t recall the last time I spent a Valentine’s Day with someone, but hey, I’m not without a romantic heart. And when in love – well, at least this is what I tell myself, I am pretty romantic. But this blog is about songs, well, lines from songs, meaningful lines that really leave a punch.

Remember “having a song,” one that you shared with your lover that was, “your song.” There was probably a song that came out when you started dating or a song that really seemed to amplify your experience as a couple in some way.

I’m listening to Sade’s, By Your Side remembering where I was when that song came out. I know it was winter. That February I had just broken up with a woman from Vermont (there’s a lot of breakups this time of the year. Seems like people hook up around October and then go through the holidays, and right after Valentine’s break up.)

Anyway, one of the line’s in By Your Side is, “Think I’d leave your side, baby, you know me better than that.” What a good line. How reassuring to tell someone to stop worrying, that I’m with you, that I’m loyal, that you’ll be there for them. We all once  said similar words.

If I can’t remember how a song starts, there’s always one line that sticks. Maybe that’s the idea. The “Hook.” I associate songs to events, or think of people who liked a particular song. My friend, Mike, always sings Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” at karaoke.

There’s the irony of love and the bittersweet. “I’ll Never Fall in Love” sung by Dionne Warwick, is still a kicker. Just kick someone’s heart to the curb. And, because of  its, “lies, and pain and sorrow,” she’s never falling in love again. I can’t blame her. But wait, and here’s the irony, she finishes with a defining inspiration, “So for at least until tomorrow I’ll never fall in love again.” Dionne may not have been lying about the hurt one feels when love fails, but she was definitely giving it one more try.

Remember “Crying” by Roy Orbison? I don’t remember how it starts, but I know the hook, “Cry I – I – I n –g…over you… Cry I – I – I n –g…over you.” It’s so sad a line. Given Orbison’s powerful voice and the complexity of his range, when he sings Crying, I simply melt. He IS crying in the song. I can’t imagine leaving someone so alone, so broken down, that they’re standing on a doorstep crying their eyes out. Who has the heart to do such a thing? Plenty of people, that’s who.

When Brook Benton’s song, “A Rainy Night in Georgia” came out in July of 1969, I was a teenager. I can still remember reeling from the pain and agony I heard in his voice as he sang the line, “I feel like it’s raining all over the world.” To be that distressed and troubled is no easy place to be. If you listen closely you can hear the rain.

By the same token, you can also hear the joy of cymbals and flutes in Oliver’s, “Good Morning Starshine,” such a happy, good-feeling song, with the unforgettable chorus, “The Earth Says Hello!” But I somehow feel like I should be sucking deeply on a bong somewhere in flowered pajamas when I hear it.

Off the top of my head I can’t recall how all songs start – who could – but the following one lines come to mind:

Roxanne! You don’t have to put out the red light

Welcome to the Hotel California!

A Whole Lotta Love

Sittin’ in the morning sun, I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes

Billie Jean’s not my lover

Rhiannon rings like a bell in the night and wouldn’t you love to love her

Little diddy about Jack and Diane…

Mrs. Jones….we got a thing…going on…..

You’re getting the idea right? I figured as much.

When Edie and I met, our song was, I’ve Had the Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. It was big and splashy and it exemplified the two of us in some meaningful way. I guess we were big and splashy. It went like this:

Now I’ve had the time of my life

No I never felt like this before

Yes I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you

‘Cause I’ve had the time of my life And I owe it all to you!

We were young, exciting, in love, and we owned the streets we walked. What a team – her, blonde-haired, green-eyed, leggy, smart. An Anglo-Saxon, All-American with a “pirate smile” as Elton John wrote and sang in Tiny Dancer. And her counterpart, a dark-eyed, mysterious, wild, a double-dare persona – me, bordering on crazy with a mane of unruly black hair.

Later she gave me the breakup song by Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Whenever I hear that song I still feel an ache somewhere in my heart. It’s true: I had the time of my life with Edie.

I know Justin Timberlake’s, “Mirror” saved this one lesbian couple who was on the verge of breaking up their marriage. That song brought them back together while the other woman – uh, that would be me, was left holding the proverbial “bag.”

Show me how to fight for now

And I’ll tell you baby,

it was easy Comin’ back into you once I figured it out

You were right here all along It’s like you’re my mirror

I’ve just thought of something. It’s a song by Don Henley of the Eagles where he talks about “Forgiveness.” It’s the “Heart of the Matter,” and it goes something like,

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter

but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter

but I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness even if, even if you don’t love me anymore.

Tonight on Valentine’s Day, there won’t be any chocolates or roses, no weekend getaway, no heart-shaped tub to jump into, and no special dinner planned.  There isn’t a lover, a date, or an Internet chat.

So why live now without love, when I once loved so deeply and so well? Why choose to be alone?

Oh, that’s easy, “Cause I couldn’t stand the pain, and I would be sad if our new love was in vain.”  

Come on, I know you know that line.

A Different Road

4 Feb

I am moving again. Back to NJ.
LI is no longer me. Funny how it is, funny how where you came from may not always welcome you.

I’ve got wanderlust and I can’t seem to find “Home.”
It’s probably my wandering, searching soul… always a page in me to explore, to somehow be rewritten, to unlock something else.

I admire people who settle down, born and raised in their town, high school chums, have a family, buy a house… Proliferate, promulgate, fruitful and fortified fortresses of all you have worked hard for.

I chose a different road. My choices have surely been different, free; I walk out of meetings that make no sense; I flip the middle finger nicely – and yes, there is a certain way to do it – and I surely am my own woman.

But all this freedom has come at a cost.

So what’s the better path?

I do believe I couldn’t have done it, this life, any other way except for the way I’ve already done it.

No regrets. I have loved and have been deeply loved. Money will never count for the love I have enjoyed in this one life I own.

I have traveled around enough to know that, in the end, all that matters is Love. …and then Lynora came.

The Push

24 Aug

The Push

 

I walked the Airport road, three miles at least, passing hillsides and rambling meadows, scents of honeysuckle and clematis filled the air, and I was as far away from an airport as you could be. It’s a good road to walk, without a light or a stop sign, and if you’re on horseback, you can come up on a racing horse very fast, and then suddenly, you would stop to meet a main road. But by the time you reached it, you would have already had your thrill. The main road is not that big or busy, it’s just another way to get into town. But back roads going north to south are different, they’re less busy, and with the day’s casting overhead and a misty morning, it was a good time to walk on.

I came upon a railroad crossing and looked down the rails. Grey gravel, tightly bound and unmoving, flanked the rails. Stepping into the gravel, I tried my footing. I could walk on it and follow the length of the rail. Walking on the gravel for a time would be good, I thought. I could easily turn back and would not get lost, as I often do. I tried walking on the gravel. Because I was not in shoes, but only sneakers, I walked slowly. It was a bad idea. I could not walk for long and turned back to reach the road.

Standing in the middle of the crossing with my dog beside me, I looked to her, and she was looking down the rails, too. Sitting between two large cornfields facing east to west, until the rails touched the horizon, and the gravel looked flat, and I could no longer see where it ended, where both rail and gravel looked as one, it was there, at that vast expanse of rail, silver and straight, and the gray muted gravel, stark and supporting, that I thought of Paul.

Paul walked the gravel every day, checking railroad cars. “Paul, just how long is a railroad car?” I asked him one day. When he told me the cars he inspected were over a mile long and that he walked the parked cars, each one of them, every night in the Albany freight yard, and that was his job; he was a railroad car checker, an inspector, I was surprised. He always blamed the railroad and that darn gravel for pushing him into an early retirement.

I thought of Paul as I walked up the last hill and down the next. I called for my dog to hurry; the rain had picked up. I wore a white cotton shirt and I knew it would not hold up for long. I reached the car; my dog was wet as she jumped into the hatch. I toweled her off. I got into the driver’s seat, adjusted the mirror, and opened the window to get some air into the car. I wiped the rain from my face and the fog from my glasses. I had come clean and nothing else on my mind.

 

©Terry Rachel, 2014