I am a grouch when it comes to Christmas. I hate it. It is absolutely the most miserable time of the year. I have my reasons.
1. Living in Los Angeles get pretty monotonous with all this damn sunshine. It never really feels like anything but hot and hotter. The winters here are fake, and it sort of bleeds into spring. Just a little trickle of blood that you don't really notice until you get lemon juice in the wound to let you know that you cut yourself. Like "Oh, shit. It is already March?!" And that sort of bleeds into summer, which bleeds into fall, etc. I absolutely love the snow and really wish there would be some massive freeze that would make it snoe here for just one day.
2. The fact that retailers are putting up Christmas decorations before December 1st is pretty fucking annoying. As if Christmas is some sort of all powerful holiday that commands huge sales demands starting in July. Fuck! I hate that.
3. I just get lonely this time of year. Doesn't really matter what it is about, I just get down. This year I was lonely for Minnesota. Recently my younger sister Margaret and her man Mike moved back. Before that, my brother Anthony and his wife Alyssa moved back and had a baby, and my older sister Katherine is now engaged to be married in March. I feel like there is all this important stuff going on with my family that I don't want to be left out of because I live so far away. Babysitting my niece Ada is something I really wish I could do. Watching my nephew Teddy in a high school swim meet, or play in the school jazz band would be pretty fucking cool.
This year, however, was quite different.
1. Winter this year has been really wet and cold. With the exception of a freak heat snap that left us in the 80s for a few days, I have really enjoyed this winter. Autumn seemed to happen about 3 months after the fall in Minnesota, but it was pretty cool because it seemed to follow the calendar cycle of the seasons. It didn't really feel like winter until the solstice, in the middle of a big rain storm. I love it.
Mark also cleaned out the fireplace and we have been burning logs when it gets cold. That makes it feel like winter, just seeing a fire burning in the fire place.
2. I didn't actually mind seeing Christmas decorations up before the Halloween. I was actually pretty excited to see how pumped to have a visit form Santa got Madison. She really got into Christmas this year. She got a little Christmas tree with colored lights in her bedroom (which she helped to decorate), she sang Jingle Bells non-stop for the past week, and took a picture with Santa in order to introduce her baby brother to this fella in red. She got a pink bathrobe with flowers on it and a bike. To share with Robert she got a hardcore, red Radio Flyer wagon from Grandma and Poppie. It is a pretty sweet ride. Robert got some cute things too, but I guess it was kind of pointless, because really, what do you get a baby and it is not like the child is going to remember it. But, like my mom says, you have to give a kid something to open.
We also hosted Christmas at our house this year. I got to cook the main course and desserts, and could not have been more excited. I love cooking. I know something is wrong if I don't feel like cooking for an extended period of time (And personally, this is so empowering that I can recognize these signs.). I was totally amped. I made quail and pulled pork. What?! It's like only serving champagne and beer at a party, but seriously, it went together really well. The quail was just large enough to slightly satisfy an appetite and while the pulled pork was rich and hearty and really rounded out the meal. My mother-in-law Mareda made this amazing traditional bread dressing, my sister-in-law made green bean hot dish (my absolute favorite side dish!), and Mark's uncle Phil made some killer mashed potatoes (I hear they are good fried into little potato pancakes!). For dessert I made a white chocolate, espresso torte with hazelnut praline and a chocolate, almond and raspberry tart. Holy crap were they delicious! I can't say which one I liked better. Man, they were good. We followed up the evening by playing the dice game, while rather subdued, was a lot of fun. I also got to teach my nieces and nephews how to play Yahtzee, which was awesome.
Other accomplishments of the season:
- I found the pickle on the Christmas tree.
- I went to the mall to go shopping 2 days before Christmas. It was nuts, but the energy was pretty cool.
- I made Christmas cookies and candy.
All in all, this was a really good year. No lonely feelings, a warm, fuzzy feeling inside and a lot of fun with my California family. I'd say that Christmas was pretty effing rad.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Anyway, it was getting into late evening, or so it seemed, when we rolled into Chicago. I had been asleep until we turned left off of the main road and awoke to see myself surrounded by a neighborhood that felt oddly familiar. I thought for a moment or two that Neil had turned the truck around while I was out and brought me back to my the apartment I had in Minneapolis, after I moved out of the shithole in Dinkytown. The roads looked cold and icy and Christmas lights still hung in a few small, bare trees that lined the street as they had in Minnesota, but there were far more apartment buildings, in far worse condition than the ones in my former environment and the license plates on the cars were those of Illinois, so I held my tongue and smiled that we had arrived.
The sun had gone down hours before and being on the road for the entire day really wore us out, so it was quite a relief when we found the address of Neil’s high school buddies. We both exited the cab of the truck and stretched our bones for a good couple of minutes before crunching and slipping across the frozen, wintry mess that had been, to a certain extent, slushy earlier in the day. It was always a good feeling, or sign being out on the road in the winter when the shit in the gutters was all crusty. It usually meant the day had been fair and the next few days would be as well.
We made our way up the salt sprinkled, though still completely dicey sidewalk to a well lighted, arched doorway of a classic 1920’s brownstone apartment with the heads of little cherubs watching over the threshold. The heavy, wooden door, which looked as though it had been hand carved, at the entry way was locked, which I was strangely surprised by, as every apartment building that I have ever lived in, or visited in Minnesota did not have a secure entrance. We buzzed apartment number 2L and a couple of minutes later a tall, lanky fellow in jeans and a t-shirt came down the stairs, peering from behind a nap of greasy, blond hair and glasses that were as thick as bottoms of those old-fashioned pop bottles. When he saw that it was Neil and I, he waved and jumped over the last four or five paisley, carpeted steps to let us in.
“Neil, man. How are ya?” he laughed, laying my bro some skin and embracing him in a hug.
“Not bad, not bad,” Neil said through the guy’s shoulder. I had always thought my brother was tall, but standing next to this freak of nature, Neil was a midget. “Mitch, you remember my sister Mary, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Mary. How are you? How old are you?” He asked and took me into his snake like arms, “You have grown up a lot since the last time I saw you. You had to be about twelve years old.”
“Yeah, I think I was actually around fifteen.” The last time I had seen him, I was indeed fifteen. He was just about to move to Chicago. Actually, I think it was his going away party. For one reason or another, I had told my mother I was going to swim practice and afterward had a German study group over at a friend’s house, where I would be spending the night. Instead, I skipped swimming, had Neil pick me up from the Y.M.C.A., and went to the party. It was the first time I had ever gotten drunk and of all things it was off of Stroh’s. So it goes.
“No, it is okay. I look young for my age.”
“You will be happy about that when you get older, I bet.”
“That is what they say,” I said cheerfully, but I was burning up in anger on the inside. I have never really liked my brother’s friends he had in college. Bunch of chauvinist assholes with no respect for women, and that is saying a lot, considering at the time I was only nineteen years old and had felt that way for quite some time.
“Well guys, come on in.” We did. Right up the stairs to Mitch’s second floor apartment that he shared with two other guys him and Neil had gone to college with as well, James and Tom, also a couple of pig faced mofos. “We were just about to head out for some dinner. If you would like to join us you are more than welcome. Otherwise there is some food in the fridge. I think there might even be a frozen pizza.”
“Mare, what do you feel like doing?” Neil asked as he stomped the snow, salt and sand off his shoes just before we entered Mitch’s warm, dimly lit abode.
“Um, going out for food sounds good to me, if it is cool that we tag along.”
“Mare, are you sure you want to go out and spend your money you should be saving for your apartment, when you could be e-mailing your new roommates, or at least trying to find some?” Neil nodded to me. I hate it when he talks down to me, like I am a retard trying to put my boots on the wrong feet.
“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” I took the hint. He probably wanted to go out with his friends anyway, you know, catch up on old times, “It is cool if I make that pizza?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” Mitch smiled, clapped me on the back, and led me into the kitchen to show me where the oven mitts and such were kept.
A joyous round of Hey, how are ya’s came from in the hallway had caught Mitch’s attention and just before he dashed back out to be with the testosterone convention he smiled at me and said, “You are a woman, I am sure you can find your way around this place better than anyone!” I just smiled and nodded, while on the inside I wanted to take his testes in between my thumb and pointer finger and mash his nuts until they popped. God, I wanted to scream. In my mind I imagined that I looked like one of those cartoon characters that blow their top in anger and fury like a steam whistle. All too soon though, the four of them returned to the kitchen.
“Mary, remember James? We used to play Dungeons and Dragons in the mudroom when we were teenagers,” Neil laughed. I did too because you never saw a geekier group of seventeen year olds, sitting around dressed up like wizards and such just for a stupid game.
“How could I forget?” I smiled and extended my hand. I tried not to laugh too hard, or at least not make it very noticeable, but I am not sure it worked. I have never been able to act my way out of a wet paper bag.
“Hey Mary,” James said, “I have not played D and D for so long.”
“He still has his sorcerer costume though!” Tom laughed.
“Tom, you remember Mare, don’t you?” James asked, blushing and trying to brush off the fact that he did indeed still have his costume. When they were gone that night, I actually did some investigating. It is in fact wrapped in acid free paper, hung on a hanger and painstakingly swathed in plastic from the dry cleaners.
“Yeah, Mary. It has been a while.” Of all of Neil’s friends, the one who disgusted me the least was Tom. Tom was cat that not only played D and D dressed as a druid, but also played trumpet in about five different school bands, was a member of the Mathletes, Science Olympiad, and the Future Interpreters of America sign language club. Some called him a geek, others called him a nerd, tho I think he prefers the term ‘Renaissance Man.’
“Neil, we were thinking of getting some chow at the tavern just down the street. Food is not so good, but the beer is cheap,” Mitch explained as he wrapped a long, black muffler around and around his skinny little neck, making sure that no amount of skin was susceptible to the biting winds that Chicago is known for.
“Cheap beer sounds good to me,” Neil smiled and rubbed his hands together, “Mary and I ate just outside of Milwaukee, so I am really not that hungry.”
“Well, gentlemen,” James chirped and danced toward the door, “Shall we go before happy hour is over?”
“Do you guys have the internet here that I can use while you are out?” I asked just to make sure it was okay. I always hated it when I would go out with friends and come home to a mess my roommate would have made while using something of mine without asking. Amongst other things, that was a major reason why I had had enough of living with her.
“Yeah, here, lemme show you,” said Tom, “It is just over here in the living room.” I followed him back down the long, dark hallway and through an arched doorway into a living room that could have easily been mistaken for a garbage dump. Empty pizza boxes, beer and pop cans, bottles, crumpled napkins, you name it, it was on their floor, coffee table or anywhere there was space. There was garbage piled up even where there wasn’t space. There was garbage on top of garbage. It was disgusting with a capital D.
“Sorry, it is kind of messy in here,” Tom said, kicking aside something that I am almost sure made a hissing noise, “You can just kick things out of your way.”
“Are Neil and I going to have to sleep in here tonight?” I asked, trying not to sound too unsure about the condition of the room, but like I said before about the wet paper bag.
“Yeah, um, if you want I can clean up a little bit before you go to sleep.”
“Naw, I think I will do that while you guys are out.”
“You don’t have to do that. Seriously, you should not have to clean up our house.”
“Well, you guys obviously do not know how to, so how about I clean in here, and then you guys can take care of the hot deals at happy hour?” I am an anal retentive bastard when it comes to cleanliness in the common areas of an apartment. I mean, if you are going to have to live with other people, you may as well be clean about the areas that you share. It is not that hard to clean up after yourself, is it?
Poor Tom. He cleared a path through the wreckage to a desk in the corner that was; you’ve guessed it, covered in trash. He gave a nervous giggle and said, “Well, here you go. It should be connected to the internet already, all you have to do it click on that button,” and pointed at a small globe icon on the desk top.
“Thank you,” I said, “Tom?”
“Yeah?” he turned back around just as he was leaving.
“I am sorry about crabbing about the mess, er, your living room.”
“It’s okay.” And with that he disappeared back through the archway and joined the laughing voices in the front hall.
“We will be back, I do not know when, but we will be back!” James yelled.
“See ya Mare! Want anything when we are out?” called another voice, but I was not sure if it was from Mitch or Tom.
“Some garbage bags!”
“Good one, Maaareeey!” laughed Mitch, his laugh was so loud and unmistakable that I knew for sure it was him, “Have a good time tonight. Don’t burn the place down while we are gone!”
“I will try not to. Bye boys!”
“Late, M.J.!” Neil yelled. I quickly ran to the door to catch him before he exited to say I was serious about the garbage bags, but I was too late. The big, solid wood door slammed shut just before I got there. I stood in the hallway for a moment, assessing the situation.
If there is on e thing I am good at, it is assessing situations and breaking down what needs to be done into smaller, easily achieved goals. You could say that I am a goal oriented person, and I am to an extent, from my years as a swimmer, but if you were to observe from afar, you would realize that these goals are just lists. I make lists for everything. That way I know exactly what needs to be done, can keep track of what I have done, and that way I am sure to do a thorough job and not miss any detail. Before I go to bed at night I actually make a list of errands, chores, etcetera that must be done the next day, starting with:
1. Wake up
2. Get out of bed
3. Shut alarm clock off
I know it seems silly, and maybe even a little obsessive-compulsive, and maybe it is, but in order for me to function on some level of sanity, I need that sort of structure first thing in the morning. Otherwise I will be screwed for the rest of the day and not be able to get things done.
First thing I did then, naturally, was go to my book bag for a piece of paper and a pen, so I could make a list. I started out in the kitchen, locating some garbage bags in the cupboard below the sink and just started filling it with crap from the living room. I am usually really anal about separating trash from recyclables as well, but I really needed to set down in front of the computer and figure out what I was going to do for shelter, work, and etcetera once I was in New York, which was only a day away.
It did not take long, maybe twenty minutes, to uncover a couch, coffee table, computer deck and even a floor. What it is with guys and cleanliness, or lack thereof in this case? Even if there were a million and a half scientific experiments done on the subject, I do not think that anyone will ever know.
Getting back to the subject at hand now, as soon as the living room was transformed back into a living room once again and I had snooped around the guy’s apartment, finding said Dungeons and Dragons costume so carefully preserved in paper and plastic, I made myself a nice cup of tea and made myself comfortable in front of the computer and immediately started looking over the rooms/shared ads on Craigslist. Just as soon as I was able to calm my nerves from the long, stressful drive down to Chicago, thinking about the many uncertainties that awaited me in New York and the fact that I had just cleaned an apartment, I really started to get stressed out again when the only rooms available within my budget seemed to be with perverts or someone who expected to be able to live a sane life whilst sharing a room not much larger than the size of a refrigerator box. In addition to not having a huge rent budget, not wanting to live with a man whose requirements for a roommate was that the candidate be female and not mind him walking around naked in her high heeled shoes, I had no idea as to where each neighborhood was located. Was Carroll Gardens anywhere near Washington Heights? Did I know where Delancey and Essex were? Are there less crime and gangs and things of the sort that a Midwestern girl would soil her drawers over in Harlem or Astoria? How was I supposed to get to Staten Island if I did not have a boat? I had no idea. It was like walking blindfolded through a garden of cacti. I had no clue as to where to look, but at that point, I did not even care, I was so desperate to have some sort of stability waiting for me when I arrived.
For whatever reason, I decided to look through the rideshare ads on the Chicago Craigslist. The truck we were driving could only fit three people, but quite uncomfortably (one would have to ride with the gear shifter between their legs), unless there was a person out there who wanted to bundle up in blankets and scarves and ride in the bed of the truck and hope to Hell that we did not get into any accidents. Hey, you never know. People wanted to have roommates who would not mind sharing a king sized bed; someone might not mind a free ride to New York in the covered bed of a truck in the middle of winter. Still, I looked, just in case there was another desperate soul out there trying to arrive at any point on the northeastern seaboard.
There were plenty of people looking to get a ride to the west coast, or to Minnesota. A couple of people were already looking for passengers to take to New York. About a half an hour, and five or six pages of ads later, I came across one that sounded, well, see for yourself. It read:
“Looking for a ride to New York City or as close as I can get. Want to leave as soon as possible. Can’t give you any money, but I can play the spoons. Give a girl a chance, eh?”
How could I not have been intrigued? I quickly called the number that was listed and asked for Jean. I did not even think for a moment that Neil would object. In fact, I knew he would be all for helping a hitchhiker cover a few miles especially if it was a female rambler. I also did not care that she could donate give any money for gas or anything, but the fact that she chose to include information about her ability to play the spoons was what made me want to call. Think about it. Who the Hell actually knows how to play the spoons? Old hillbillies in the smoky, back woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a person with a lot of time on their hands. If she was an old hillbilly, or even just someone with a lot of time on her hands, it would certainly be better having someone there than being stuck in the truck with Neil all by my lonesome.
“This is Jean.”
“Hey, my name is M.J. I saw your ad on Craigslist.”
“The one where you are looking for a ride to New York City. You have another one on there as well?”
“Oh great! I was really hoping that New York would be the first response. I just need to get the fuck out of Chicago, so I posted an ad for a ride to New York and another one for a ride to San Francisco. I figured if anyone responded to my ads, I would go with the first available ride. It really did not make a difference to me, I mean, I really like both places.”
Who was this chick? I liked her already! “Well, if you want a ride to New York, my brother and I are driving. We are leaving Chicago tomorrow whenever he wakes up.”
“Sweet! Where in Chicago are you?” Now there was a good question. I had no fucking clue. I had no reason to know. Neil had done all of the driving yesterday and I had fallen asleep just before we got into Illinois.
“You know what? I have no idea where I am.”
“Are you on drugs?”
“No,” I laughed, and sighed, “I wish I was though, but no. Unfortunately I am not that lucky.” I felt like I needed something, a little shot of whisky even, to help me calm my nerves, and not feel so anxious. I know what you are thinking. It was probably not a good idea to turn to chemicals like booze or what not to relax, but whatever, you are only young once, right?
“Why do you not know where you are?”
“Oh, sorry, I am not from Chicago. I have no idea where anything is in this town.”
“Where are you from?” she inquired.
“Uh, Minnesota, actually. The Twin Cities.”
“Cool. Me too. I used to live off of Grand Avenue and Dale in St. Paul.”
“Of course! I know exactly where that is! Small world, huh?”
“I’d say. Are you and your brother staying in a hotel tonight?”
“Oh, no. Neil, my brother, knows a couple of guys from college who live down here, so we are staying with them tonight. They are all out at a bar now, otherwise I would ask them were in God’s name we are.”
“I see. Well, I would like to meet you before tomorrow, just so you can change your mind about taking me if you wanted.”
“Okay. I have no idea when they are getting back her, and I do not know if they have a cell phone.”
“Can you see any street names from where you are?” she asked. Damn, this gal was like a freaking detective.
“Good thinking. One second, lemme look,” I said as I hopped off of the overstuffed sofa and bounded across the hardwood floor to the huge wall of windows that stretched from the floor to the ceiling facing the street. I had to scratch a good, think layer of ice from the window pane to be able to see anything.
There is nothing like chipping and scratching away at a section of ice on a window pane. The little shavings of frost that could serve as mini sno-cones, how quickly the tips of your fingers get or trying to see how big of a piece you could remove from the pane without having it break. Next to sitting in the hot tub while it is snowing out, scratching ice from windows is my favorite indoor activity in the winter.
“I can see a corner from here,” I strained to see what the signs said, “Uh, it looks like Crystal and, shit I can’t see that far. Crystal and Rockwood? Dockwell? I dunno. Does that help at all?”
“Is it Crystal and Rockwell?”
“Could be,” I squinted my eyes, thinking that if I pinched them almost closed that I would somehow see the sign more clearly, “Yeah, I think that is what it says. Does that sound familiar to you?”
“Yeah, it does. You are just down near Humboldt Park. Actually, I am pretty close to there right now. Would you like to meet me somewhere in a little while?”
“I would, but I do not have any keys to the apartment. If you want to, you are more than welcome to come over here.”
“Yeah, that will work. Just one second, let me get a piece of paper and a pen so I can write down the address.”
“I think I am the most useless twat there is in this town,” I laughed.
“Why is that?”
“Because I do not actually know what the address is. All I know is that the building is in the middle of the block, and I am on the second floor.”
“Well, you tell me how we should do this, because I think it is important that we meet before you decide to cart my ass anywhere.”
“I agree with you, “I said racking my brains for an idea of what to do, “How about you make your way over to the area where I am, and in the mean time I’ll find some tape and put a big X on the window with it.”
“And shine a light on the X so I can see it from the street.”
“Did you watch The X-Files a lot when you were a child?”
“Yes!” I broke out laughing, “Every Friday night. My mom called it her weekly date with David Duchovney.”
“That is so funny. I used to watch it every Friday night too, on channel twenty-nine.”
“Oh my word! That’s right!” It was pretty funny talking about The X-Files with a complete stranger who grew up in the same town as me. I would, over the next two years, have more than one occasion such as this. In fact, without giving away too much of what happened to me, this one afternoon while working at a bakery in Greenwich Village I was talking to a co-worker about his second job. He told me he worked with a girl with whom I had been in Girl Scouts with when I was younger. That just goes to show that you should behave yourself wherever you go because you never know who you will end up knowing.
“Okay, I am about fifteen minutes away. Is your brother around, so I can meet him too?”
“No, he went out to the bar with his friends.”
“That is right. Is he going to mind that I am bumming a ride off of you guys?”
“No, actually. He said earlier today that if we did see any hitchhikers on the way out that we would pick them up, so no, he won’t mind at all.”
“Cool. Well, I will see you in about fifteen minutes. If I am not there in twenty, call this number again. It is my cell phone.”
“Alright, we’ll see ya!”
Monday, December 6, 2010
Just some thoughts:
There is something to be said about being bundled up, all cozy and warm in your jacket, hats and mittens. I love feeling absolutely warm in the cold.
However, I also feel the opposite is true. There is nothing like going for a swim in the pool on a miserably hot day.
Hmmm...that is all.
There is something to be said about being bundled up, all cozy and warm in your jacket, hats and mittens. I love feeling absolutely warm in the cold.
However, I also feel the opposite is true. There is nothing like going for a swim in the pool on a miserably hot day.
Hmmm...that is all.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Jak and I have spent the entire morning cleaning up the cabin, packing clothes, and trying to burn as much of the remaining wood as possible and we are now getting gas at a c-store on Highway 23. It is kind of sad to leaving the cabin, partly because I do not know when I will get the chance to come back. Though it always has been sad to leave. I remember, as a child, trying to hide in the woods, in various forts my cousins and I had constructed, while my mother cleaned the hut and packed up all of our shit that we had brought with. I always hoped that in the flurry of cleaning and the number of kids that almost always seemed to be there, she would not notice that I wasn’t in the car. Unfortunately, I have never had that kind of luck before.
I have also had the unfortunate luck of losing Jak to her IPod, so now any hopes of a conversation have been shot straight to Hell, and the fact that what would have been a five minute stop has now turned into twenty, for she is not accustomed to the way I am used to getting gas. I suppose I could have asked her for help, but the sadistic side of me likes to watch her freeze her ass off in the cold truck.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
A sharp wind passed over the sleeping city. Across deserted sidewalks, this swept little clouds of loose snow into a whirlwind at the intersection of University Avenue and Fifteenth Street. Another gust, stronger and colder than the last whipped down the carefully laid grid work which is Minneapolis. It caused massive oaks to groan and old home to answer with high pitched creaking. The trees acknowledged the homes by caressing their skin with long, boney fingers. From within the eerier rat-tat-ta-tap-tap-tap upon window panes stirred the slumbering occupants. By the time the seven o’clock alarm sounded, the eastern horizon had already begun to grow pale.
As the sun consumed more and more of Night’s blackened sky, snooze buttons were hit, dreamlands abandoned as four walls became familiar once again. An hour later after a refreshing shit, shower, and shave people would leave their homes with bellies full of oatmeal, and eggs, and toast, and coffee thick and black as tar. Woolen sweaters would be worn to keep the early morning chill off the backs of necks.
The New Year came and went without much excitement. For the couple of days previous I drove my ass all over Minnesota to say my good byes to various friends and relatives, and then D Day, January 2 came like any other. Only this time instead of waking up to go to work, I packed up my father’s red, Ford truck and said my last good byes to my family.
I was so incredibly scared. Having never done something so completely new and unknown, something so huge was incredibly frightening to me. I can honestly say that as I stood in the driveway, shivering in the cold air, telling Lea that I loved her and really, truly, meaning it, more so than I ever had in the past, was the scariest moment in my life. If some dude tried to rob me, with a gun pointed at my head, at that moment, I would have told him to fuck off, cause if he was trying to make me panic it was already far too late.
“Mary, you know that you do not have to do this if you don’t want to,” my mother said, wrapping her arms around me, burying my face in her graying, straw-like hair.
“I know ma, but even if I did not want to, I would feel like a chicken shit for not trying.”
“Well,” she said, choking back a load of tears I knew was she going to let loose once I was in the cab of the truck, “I have always wanted to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade with all of those big balloons and shit in the air, so if you are still living in New York come November, I will come and visit you.”
“Will you bring dad too?” I muttered through the water works already streaming down my cheeks, and snot dripping from my nose.
“I will see what I can do. Just call us from the road so we know that you and Neil are safe. Call me when you are all moved into your apartment.”
“Yeah, sure thing ma,” I stammered, looking quickly to the ground to try and avoid her eyes, which would know that I was lying thru my teeth about having a place to stay.
That is actually not entirely true. I did not know for sure if I had a place to stay. The night before I had been frantically searching for a place to work as well as a place to live on Craigslist.org when I came across an ad that was looking for a person to work the front desk at a youth hostel on the upper west side at about 101st and Central Park West. I immediately called and was told that I would have to come in and speak with the manager on duty. In order to save me from worrying my mother anymore than I am sure I already had, I told her it was a really great, inexpensive place (glad she knew as much about housing in New York as much as I did), with really great roommates (In hindsight, I have come to know that in very rare cases, one actually can find a really great roommate), and in a really safe neighborhood. It seemed to appease her nerves for the moment. It sure did a number on mine as well.
“Neil,” mother half screamed, half sobbed, “Neil. Make sure she is safe. Do not let her out of your sight until you absolutely have to. Make sure the locks on her doors are in proper working order.”
“Yeah, yeah sure. Whatever you say,” Neil yessed her in hopes of getting on the road as soon as possible.
“Do not yes me to death. This is hard enough, watching my baby go off alone, without you having to yes me like that.”
“Well, ma, we have got to get going if we want to make it to Chicago by this evening. We will call you as soon as we are there.” My brother knew a couple of fellas he had gone to college with whom we could spend our first night out.
It sounds sadistic of me to say, but I felt pretty happy to see my mother crying. In a way it let me know that she still loved and cared about me, even though I was doing something that she whole heartedly disagreed with. It felt good to cry too. Cleanse the system, you know. Get ready for new adventures, heartaches and whatever else causes one to cry about.
Now that I am getting to a point in my story where my older brother Neil comes to shine, I should tell you about the relationship I have with him. He and I have always been very close. He was then, and still is as much so now, my best friend. The dynamic that existed prior to my moving to New York was that he was always the one who had held the reins of knowledge, life experience, etc. I had always looked up to him, still do, and not just because he towers an astonishing eight inches over me, but because whatever it is he has to say, I always want to listen. I also look up to him because I literally owe him my life. I do try to thank him every now and again for being a good boy scout and for pulling me from the bottom of a lake when I was about two years old. He really did not have to do that if he didn’t want to. I would have died otherwise and, consequently, would not be here telling you this fantastic story of a young girl’s morph into womanhood and better understanding of the world around her. When we get the rare chance to see each other now, I feel like the both of us have a unique experience under our belts with which to educate and enlighten the other. Somehow I always saw him as a peer, even when I was four and he was twelve and already in middle a school. Now I feel that he finally sees me as a contemporary as well.
When he was just a couple years older than me, he quit college and moved to California for a few years to explore life and see all that there was to see, do all that there was to do before coming back to Minnesota to finish his college education as a physicist, akin to what I was doing myself. He loves adventure just as much as I do and will jump on just about any occasion to get a fix. He driving me across the Midwest and on to the East Coast was the perfect opportunity for the both of us to have at least one last adventure together before I was ostensibly gone forever. The experience was especially bonding for me, if not the both of us. There was a lot of nasty, gritty, B.S. that was gotten out of the way, by means of conversation or screaming, that brought our friendship a Hell of a lot closer. It was not very pretty, but it needed to be done.
As we headed eastward down Interstate 94, the sun crept high and higher in to the sky. Its golden rays hurt my puffy, cried out eyes, but I welcomed the feeling, as it would be the last time for a long time that I would enjoy a perfect, unobstructed sunrise over the St. Croix River.
“You are being awfully quiet in light of such a momentous occasion.” Neil said clearing his throat, just as we passed through Eau Claire, Wisconsin about an hour and a half later.
“Yeah, sorry,” I mumbled, “I just get so involved with watching the trees going by that I forget where I am.”
“Fuck you, then. Do you want to drive?”
“No, I am serious. I just get spaced out after a while.”
“Right on,” he cleared his throat again, “What are you thinking about?”
“Just how scared shitless I am.”
“Good. You should be scared.”
“Thanks for the advice. Anything other bits of wisdom you care to share with me?”
“If you are broke, there is always prostitution. There is nothing like getting paid for getting laid.”
“Oh go to Hell.” I fucking hated it when he would say that. It is not like he meant anything by it, just being a real funny guy, but I was, and still am, totally irked by that.
“I think what you are doing is great. I am not sure why you decided on moving to New York, but I really dig that you are doing your own thang now before you get too sucked into this, this,” he repeated, sort of spacing out himself just looking for the word, “This life.”
“Oh, yeah? Were you scared when you moved to San Fran?”
“Sheesh, you bet I was,” he glanced in my direction and winked, “Only I was too naive to realize how frightened I should have been. Damn.”
“I bet you are going to meet some really fuken cool people.”
“I hope so. That would be nice,” I closed my eyes and imagined all of the über fashionable and artistic types gathering in a loft style apartment smoking hand rolled cigarettes from fancy cigarette holders and calling them “fags” instead of cigarettes or smokes, listening to new music that no one in a million years in Minnesota would ever hear of, and talking about shit beside the weather and no name little debutants I had gone to high school with that no one really gave two shits about anyway. It all seemed so refreshing and I welcomed the day dream with an open mind.
“I bet you are going to see some truly exceptional independent films,” he continued.
“I do not know about that,” I laughed and opened my eyes. I have never been a big fan of watching movies, because:
1. They are too long, and my three minute attention span does not cope well.
2. Movie stars are really bothersome. Their flawless skin, their seamless hair and designer clothes. What a load of shit. Their nice, smiling, glitzy, well rehearsed answers for Jay Leno or David Letterman. Please, I would rather have my one good eye taken out with a rusty, fucking spoon.
3. Books are much more fascinating, and do not kill brain cells at an exponential rate.
“Well you will probably see some fascinating art then.” He had the biggest smile on his face and his eyes blankly watched the yellow, center lines zip by on the salty, black asphalt. I knew he was thinking about all of the people he had met, all of the movies he has seen and all of the wonderful art that is all around in the more cultured corners of this United States of America™.
“I remember the first time I ever saw San Francisco after driving for days across Nebraska and Colorado,” his bright blue eyes twinkled and the corners of his mouth twitched in and out of a smile, as the images flashed across his brain.
“What the fuck did it look like? I have never been there, so I do not have any sort of reference.”
“Oh, right. Sorry,” he laughed, “I always forget that most of my family and friends never came out to visit me when I lived there.”
“Sorry,” I said immediately. I felt, somehow, that he needed to hear that, “I really wanted to tho.”
“Oh, no. I did not expect you to visit. You were still pretty young then, weren’t you?” I nodded. He reached over, squeezed my knee cap and then turned his sights eastward once again.
“I remember it was really fuken late. Prolly ‘bout two-thirty or three aay emm. The interstate was twisting and turning in and out of these mountains, not really mountains, but,”
“But bigger than what we are used to seeing.”
“Precisely. So the road is twisting and turning for what seems like ever. At that point I was so damned tired and so incredibly excited to be out of the car and in San Fran at last, that when I finally did see it,” he paused for quite a few moments, and was only brought back to the whole point of his story when the right tire started drifting over the rumble strip on the side of the road, “When I finally saw that big, orange bridge poking out of the dense for that tumbled right out of the water and on up the hill side. When I saw downtown S.F. and all the glittering lights, I started crying. I could not help it. I just started bawling like a fricking baby.”
I smiled, and we both came back to I-94 and the snow covered farms dotted along the frozen Wisconsin country side. We drove in silence for a while. Neil reminiscing about the fog, cable cars, Chinatown and life out West, while I dreamed of art and coffee and bagels and pizza at four thirty eight in the morning and wondering if it was true what they say about New York, that it never sleeps.
“I think this will be really good for you. You will find out a lot about who you are as a person.”
“I fucking hope so, because I am so lost right now. I hate to admit that I do not have a good grip on my life, or reality, but I figure that if something was kick my ass, so to speak, New York would be the perfect place.”
“Just be careful you do not actually get your ass kicked.”
“Oh do not even talk like that. I don’t know what I would do if someone tried to rob me.”
“Just fucking trust me. Let them take your wallet, your earrings, whatever. Just let them take it. It is not worth getting hurt over.”
“What if they want to rape me?”
“You can’t rape the willing.”
“Fuck you, Neil. I am serious! What do I do if someone tries to rape me?”
“I don’t know. I have never tried to rape anyone before. Kick and scream. Make lots of noise. That might be worth getting hurt over.”
“Do you think I should carry as knife or something?”
“Maybe you should carry some mace. You would not want anyone using a weapon on you.”
“Where can I punch my attacker that will make him lose is grip on me?”
“Grab him by the testes and with his nuts between your thumb and pointer finger, pinch ‘em until they pop.”
“Amongst other things, that will make him lose his grip on you.”
“Neil. I am so scared. I do not even have a place to live.” He slammed on the brakes and we skidded to a halt on the snowy shoulder.
My heart nearly stopped at the same moment the truck did. Neil glared at me with a look of surprise and utter disbelief.
“Excuse me? Um, Mare, did you just say that you do not have a place to stay?” He looked away and locked his gaze upon the dashboard. His breath was fast and erratic and that alone really freaked me out. I could not even look at him I was so scared at what he might do. I just looked out the window at the peaceful grove of pine trees and crows circling over head.
I said nothing for quite some time. I had tried to though, honestly I did, but every time I opened my mouth to say anything only a small choking sound would escape.
“We are not moving until you answer my question,” he said, not looking up from the dash, “Do you not have a place to live?” This time his question was yelled, and he pounded his hands on the steering wheel as if it would make his inquiry come across more clearly.
“No,” I whispered.
“What did you say?”
“I said ‘No’ God damn it!”
“Did you even think about that one minor detail before you left?”
“Yes, but Neil,” I started to protest but was cut short.
“Do not ‘But Neil,’ me. I thought you told mom and dad you had a place to stay?”
“I did, but Neil.”
“’But Neil I lied.’ Is that what you are trying to tell me?”
“Yes, but Neil.”
“Oh my fucking Lord M.J. What were you thinking?”
“Neil if you would just shut up for one God damn minute I would tell you. Jesus H. Christ!” I screamed. I still could not look at him. My mind was reeling and praying to whatever higher power, that may or may not be, would listen to my plea that the front desk position at the hostel would be available. For some reason tho, I still could not speak.
“Well MacGyver? How do you plan on getting out of this one? If you want we could stop at a hardware store and pick up some duct tape and chocolate bars. I know I do not have any on me, but I am sure you could find some way to use them to save your ass.”
“Shut up, would you?”
“Then fucking talk to me, damn it.”
“Alright! Alright! Will you drive please?”
“Back to Minnesota, or to New York?”
“To New York, please!”
“I will only if you tell me honestly that you have a place to stay.”
“I do,” I peeped, looking up to see what his reaction would be, but his eyes were still on the dash and his fists were white knuckled around the wheel, “Sort of. Just shut up and drive.”
“M.J. I am going to tell you this now so that you are not surprised,” he started to explain as he pulled the big, red truck back out onto America’s black vein and chugged back up to sixty-five miles per hour, “That if what you are about to tell me is a load of crap, I will not think twice about turning this vehicle around and bringing you back to Minnesota.”
“Fine,” I huffed, “Last night I was looking on the internet for any rooms available, people looking for a roommate, etcetera, when I came upon an ad for a youth hostel that was seeking a front desk clerk in exchange for a room. I called the number that was listed and was told that I would need to speak with the manager on Monday morning.”
“And what? That is it.”
“Oh Jesus, Mary. Are you serious? Please tell me that you are not serious.”
“I am serious, Neil. Why do you say that?”
“Have you given any thought as to what you are going to do when you do not get the job?”
“Oh ye of little faith.”
“I am serious ye of little brain.”
“I am too and yes, I have thought of that. While I was on the phone with the guy I asked him what the rates were. The cheapest was forty-five bucks a night and one fifty per week. And since I have a hostel card the rates would be a little cheaper, but he did not say how much less it would cost.”
“And in the mean time you could find a job waiting tables somewhere.”
“Exactly, and since there is a six week maximum stay, I would have to find an apartment quickly too.”
“What about money in the meantime?”
“I have some money, but that is also another incentive to getting a job quickly.”
“Mare, only because I do have faith in you that this hair brained idea might actually work, I am going to keep driving. Just promise me that if you get into trouble, or run out of money, you will not hesitate to call maw and paw to send you some cash, or buy you a plane ticket.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have thought about all of this and I have a plan of action all ready should the need strike. Hopefully it won’t, but it is there and ready.”
“What is your plan?”
“Call ma and pops collect, tell them I made a mistake and ask them to buy me a bus ticket home.”
“Nice, so I will be seeing you again in a couple of weeks?” he asked and cleared his throat again.
“Just because you said that, I am even more determined to make it work.”
“Good, that is why I said it. Just thought I would up the ante a bit.”
I felt bad for lying to my brother, my best friend, about having a place to stay. You would have too, if every damn person you met wanted to know where you were planning on living in New York, cause they had been there once and really liked Times Square, so you should live there too, damn it. Or not to go to the Bronx, because they heard that the Bronx was really tough and you will get mugged in an instant. I just started making shit up as I went, and wouldn’t you know it, every time someone asked me where I was living my neighborhood, roommates and apartment just kept on getting better and better. It is just too bad that my imagination cannot work just as well in reality.
We drove in silence for a few more hours, watching the country side and the occasional truck stop whiz by. Even when we had stopped for gas we did not even speak to each other. Not out of anger, but rather, out of habit. Whoever was driving was always in charge of pumping the gas, and the passenger washed the windows. We would go Dutch on the cost of fuel and whatever munchies our stoner appetites craved. It worked out rather well that way. It should though, because we have been working on a routine that would be flawless ever since Neil began driving at age sixteen or seventeen in his 1970 Mercury Cougar. Damn, that was one sweet whip.
Getting back to the story now I should let you know that about three months had passed since my encounter with my favorite hobo, and in that time my family experienced a great loss. However tragic, it was also a blessing in disguise.
My grandmother passed away at the tender age of seventy-five, but not before doing what most parents, both of whom are still alive, not necessarily living together, but alive none the less have a difficult time doing. When she was twenty-nine after being married for ten short years, my grandfather died, leaving her five children between the ages of eight years and mere months. Making a long and incredible story of a remarkable woman painfully short, she passed on with her children by her side. She was the original, hardworking woman who inspired not only me to do great in everyday life but my mother, sisters, and aunts as well. She touched everyone she met and was loved by all. You would have really liked her too.
During her funeral I had to read a passage from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (I don’t know where in the Bible it is either.). It spoke of love as being the ultimate. Basically, if you do not have love, you don’t have shit. Something about standing up there in front of a church full of people who loved my grandmother just as much I had made me feel really powerful. Maybe that was the moment I stopped being an obnoxious teenage and was reunited with my “old soul.”
By the time I said, “This is the word of the Lord,” I knew that by the end of the year I was going to be living in the Big Apple. If my granny had enough will and energy and love to work as a waitress while raising five snot nosed kids by herself, what was me moving to NYC? Beans in my book. She did not give up even when things got a little rough, and neither would I. Besides, if living in New York was something that I have always wanted to do, it was not going to get accomplished sitting around Minnesota day dreaming.
Later that day over little finger sandwiches and fruit punch at my uncle’s home I told my mother I was going to move.
“The Hell you want to do that for?” she asked.
“I have always wanted to, “I replied through sips of pure sugar in a red liquid.
“What is wrong with Minneapolis?”
“Nothing. I just get this feeling that I need to be in New York.”
“Your great-auntie lives in Massachusetts. Why don’t you go and stay with her for a couple of weeks before you go and make any dumb decisions?”
“Because if I wanted to live in a small town in Massachusetts she would be first on my list. I want to live in New York, and I am going to live in New York.” Remember what I said about being and obnoxious teenager? Maybe growing up came later.
“Well if you want my opinion I think it is a terrible idea. In fact, I think it is down right ridiculous.”
“Actually, I did not ask your opinion. I was simply telling you my plans. You know, including you in my life.” Growing up definitely came later
She didn’t have to be happy for me. I did not expect her to. She could have at least supported my plans rather than calling then idiotic. It felt as tho she had called me stupid for even considering moving.
However upset I may have been though, I am also just as stubborn and in an instant, it seemed, I had to prove not only to my mother, but to myself, that I could make this dream become reality. I had to. There was no other option.
Later on in the cab of my dad’s truck, smashed in the middle of me and my mother, on the drive back to their quiet, suburban home I told my pops what I had up my sleeve. Maybe while he was driving wasn’t the best time to have told him such huge information.
“No,” was all he could say for a few minutes. Not a no in the tone of voice I had heard nearly everyday of my teenage years, but rather a soft, choked up and pleading no. I actually saw his grip on the steering wheel loosen and could almost hear his heart break.
“Honey,” he said a few minutes later, after he seemed to regain control of his emotions, “I do not think that is such a good idea.”
“Well obviously!” I nearly shouted, “What parent would think that it is a fucking wonderful idea that their daughter move to the other side of the God damn country, just for the Hell of it?”
“Mary Joan Wesling, do not use such filthy language when you talk about your country!”
“Sorry mom,” I coughed under my breath, “But seriously dad, I have always wanted to live there.”
“Honey the one and only time you have ever been to New York City was when you were eight years old. How on earth could you possibly always want to live there?”
“I don’t know mom, I just have. And by the way, I was trying to have a conversation with dad. I believe you and I have already gone over this subject matter, and I am pretty sure I already know by now that you think is it a damn stupid idea!”
And that was that. The one and only time I ever spoke to my parents about leaving the dumpy, average sized, suburban town of White Bear Lake, everything I had ever known, ended on a slightly sour note. I suppose it was better to have told them. It could have been worse though. I could have just waited and left a note that read, “Moved to New York City. Be back when I am broke, bored or pregnant.”
However, for as much shit that I gave my parents for not supporting my decision vocally, I always knew that they would have my back in any decision I made in life, even if I was on the other side of the country. For the most part, even when I was just a child, my parents have pretty much let me live my own life, within very loose guidelines.
The months between September and January, when I packed my shit up and left town went by all too quickly. The days bled into the weeks, which bled into the months and before I knew it, it was time to go.
One night, about a week before I made like a prom dress and took off, I was hanging out with a friend of mine getting high.
“I do not know if I am doing the right thing, Jak,” I said taking a hit off a multi colored glass pipe.
“Yeah you are. Just put your thumb over the hole.”
“Huh? Oh, no. I know how to smoke pot dude, I just do not know if moving to New York City is the right decision.”
“Right,” she laughed and took the pipe from me, “Why do you say that?”
“Well, how do I explain?” I thot out loud, “The first two lines of ‘Repent Harlequin,’ Said the Ticktockman were ‘My soul would be an outlaw. I can do nothing with it.’ It goes onto say that whatever his body would do to stop it, his soul would rebel.”
“Okay, you should know by now that when you start quoting from sci-fi picture books that I won’t understand what the fuck you are trying to say. Yes? Now can you give me an example?”
“For example, I started going to school for massage therapy, right. Then my pops gets sent to Spain for fucking Operation Enduring Freedom. If that was not horrible enough, my mom leaves to join him because she cannot live without him by her side.”
“Oh, that is so sweet.”
“It is but, dude, quit parking on the grass, man,” I smiled and took a hit and settled myself back into the seat of Jak’s car, “It is sweet, but my world fell down around me. I was constantly thinking ‘Why stay here when I can go bum around in Spain?’ It seemed as tho the choice was out of my hands. That is when I just up and went to Rota. No reason other than my soul was telling me to go.”
“There is nothing wrong with that.”
“I know but I just quit school and left my little sister to the care of my older sister.”
“Lea may not have necessarily enjoyed living with Ann, but at least you did not leave her up to her own devices.”
“Yeah but nothing dude. Lea was fine and your soul loves you for letting it explore the other side of the world. Damn it girl, is that bowl cashed?”
“Naw, sorry. You are right though. I just do not know if I will be able to do it. I do not know shit about the place other than it is located in New York State.”
“You are fucked!” she laughed.
“Tell me about it.”
“Mare, you are an adventurer. You need more adventure than what Minnesota has to offer.”
“I know. I just do not know how to take the first step. Apparently that is the hardest one to make.”
“You call Neil driving you to New York City not taking a first step?”
“I am just so fucking scared.”
“I think if your soul tells you to do something, your body will find a way,” Jak said after a while, “Being proactive is a much better option than just bitching about it. You will be okay. Trust me, you always are. Once you drive into the city, things will seem much different, and you will soon realize that there was nothing to be afraid of to begin with.”
Jak was a good friend of mine. She would always let me know her opinion on a matter, even if I did not want, or care to hear it. I’ll never forget that night. Due partly to the fact that it was the night I realized that whenever she opened her mouth stupid nonsense about these boys, who only want one thing from her, would come out like diarrhea. She would, of course, give it to them, but expect a loving relationship in return, and be totally shocked every time they would, in one unbelievably callous way or another, turn her down. That is beside the point tho. She did help me make sense of my move and gave me an extra boost of confidence. It is just too bad that people grow apart even though they seemed so close at one point. She was very kind, but too many people took her kindness for a weakness and she has failed to see that. I cannot help her anymore, because I am also one who will tell her what I think on a matter affecting her life, for example, whether or not she cares to hear it. Mostly she did not care to hear it and that is the saddest part of what our friendship had been. Too bad, because she was really a genuinely nice person.