Monday, February 6, 2012

New Orleans, August 2011

The Fortune Teller

Jackson Square is dimly lit. Flickering lampposts light the place, mirrored by the scattered stars in the sky. The ocean isn’t visible, but you can smell the salt of the pier and hear its breeze sweeping through the foliage of the garden. The air is warm and southern. It swirls and curves around our fingers and kisses our necks. Its hospitality is seen by the droplets of perspiration around my collarbones. One becomes heavy, and no longer able to hold its form it runs down my back.

Blake takes my hand. Our stride is careful, but full of purpose as we draw closer to shadowy figures suspended over cobblestone. Abstract shapes lose their mystery, becoming reality in our approach. A giant mass transforms into a grandiose bronze sculpture of a general atop a horse. The horse rears, and the hero raises his hat while they charge the constellations. Three or four crows are perched on his shoulders and several more share his saddle. They accentuate the ghostly nature of the statue that is set against the backdrop of the night.

We pause at the edge of our destination. I desire to stand here and be still for a while, taking in the mystery comprised of the moon, and the crows, and the shadows. I’ve always been hopelessly atmospheric, constantly getting lost in the dreams manufactured by my senses. But I am not alone on this journey, and our intentions float to the surface of Blake’s mind. He pulls me back to earth.

“It looks like we have a few options.”

I nod and we begin tracing the perimeter of the square, searching for the one we will hire, trying to remain discreet.

Our choice is between half a dozen vendors of fate, strewn about and hidden by the cloak of midnight. Some are already preoccupied with clients; young girls and boys that have flown from the Victorian balconies of Bourbon Street on a gust of adventure or a dare that’s been fashioned over too many whiskeys.

For a moment we stop to stare at a woman, perhaps to consider her. She is more than my imagination could produce in a vivid dream. Her hair is wild and free. Locks shoot out in all directions, like leafless branches of an elm tree. Her face is a circus of color. Blue eye shadow meets her brows and the rouge on her cheeks make almost perfect circles. She holds a stack of cards. Her aged hands search for precision, but they shake and she struggles to lay them in a straight line on the small table. The woman is alone, and wields no one’s fortune. Maybe some fortune tellers become curious of their own fate, and play a game of fortune solitaire, or maybe her patron is invisible.

The cards inspire a dusty memory. A memory hidden in the attic of my mind inside a cardboard box I’d labeled “God and Stuff,” along with all the other memories I’d tossed aside or chosen to forget.

I am eleven years old and sitting in a classroom during Sunday school. The room is sterile in appearance, the same way some hospitals and offices are. Eggshell walls are adorned with laminated prints of Jesus, and cornflower blue curtains sway against the open window. Our lesson is on the dangers of “toys” such as Ouija boards and Tarot Cards. The teacher recites several relevant bible verses, then says,

“The devil already exists. We should not beckon him into our lives with satanic games.”

I inspect the cards more closely as the wild haired woman turns them over. I expect to see pictures of daggers and crossbones, and figures hooded in black, but nothing menacing appears. There are only goblets full with liquid, kings and cherubic looking women.

The cards make me feel nothing. I place my new conclusion in the neatly organized filing cabinet I summon for these types of experiences. I put the earlier memory of Sunday school back in its dust laden box.

In silent agreement that she isn’t the one, Blake and I turn back toward the entrance and begin retracing our steps.

We see a man under a lamp post near the entrance of the square. The makeshift spotlight emphasizes his presence, and we can’t ignore it. Under the yellow light, flocked by night moths and mosquitoes the man sits in a canvas chair– his face buried deep in a paperback while his elbows rest on a card table. His hands grip a majestic dragon that illustrates the cover of his novel, and his chestnut hair is pulled back into a loose ponytail. Several free strands float in the breeze and pester his cheeks. He occasionally sweeps them away like flies, which also possess the annoying habit of returning to their last resting place.

I speak using as few words as possible, so as not to interrupt our reverence.


Blake responds in the same manner.

“Why not?”

With the strange human quality that allows people to sense a presence, the thin man’s eyes leave his book and meet our own. A smile of anticipation spreads across his face.

He isn’t more than 40, but the sun or other elements have cursed his skin, deceitfully leaving him two decades older in appearance. I see his hands closer now. I always notice someone’s hands, which tell longer stories than someone’s eyes. Eyes are meters of a fleeting moment. Hands are true expressions of the past. His are bony and warn. Every knuckle and vein is etched in their surface, and his nails are long and yellowing. They look like hands with a past, like ones that might be skilled in a magical trade. But then, so did the wild haired woman’s.

I suddenly recall my skepticism, which I’d lost amid the mystery of the thin man.

“All fortune tellers gather information from self-disclosed clues and nuances, not from divine gifts or crystal balls,” I think.

I immediately feel silly for weighing the merits of proclaimed psychics, something I’d never done before.

“Hi there, what can I do for you?”

His greeting startles me. I was not expecting him to speak first, and his welcoming, generic tone belongs to a grocery clerk or bank teller, not a sorcerer.

“Do you do palm readings?”

“Sure do, palm readings, tarot cards—the works. Say, could I possibly bother you for a cigarette?”

Blake reaches in the front pocket of his trousers and produces a pack of Camel Gold’s. He lifts one towards the thin man who anxiously takes the thing, snapping off the filter with his thumb and index finger in one quick motion.

“I usually buy unfiltered cigarettes,” he explains, while placing it in his mouth, muffling his next line of speech, “but this’ll do just fine. Gotta light?”

“Oh!” Blake declares, scrambling back into his pocket as if it was rude to not assume they were a package deal.

I remember an occasion where I attempted to smoke a rolled cigarette. Its harshness punched the back of my lungs, hurling me into a fit of coughs that left me searching for my beer. The thin man takes a long, relieving drag. His action burns my throat.

“So, which will it be?” he asks, looking first at Blake, then me, “Tarot, or Palm?” Smoke escapes from his mouth while he speaks, like the window of a house on fire.

I ask him what the difference between the two is, and he says there are no similarities.

“A palm reading reveals your personality, and a tarot reading introduces your fate.”

I think about how fate and I will meet eventually, and how I don’t need to expedite the process. My fear of knowing outweighs my fear of the unknown.

Maybe Blake feels the same way, because he is now sitting across from the thin man with his arm raised in obedience, his palm upturned and his fingers spread. The thin man retrieves a pointed stick, about pencil size in length, from the edge of the table. It resembles a knitting needle, only instead of a thin hook at the end it comes to a dull point.

His sermon begins without hesitancy. There is no pause in his speech as he dissects Blake’s personality, using the stick to navigate over the topography of his skin, each crease exposing another talent or curse.

“You’re very ambitious, which is admirable, but you’re also unsettled.”

At times I feel as though I’m hidden behind a church confessional, eaves-dropping on a private conversation between a priest and his confessor. Other moments are lighthearted and humorous, and make Blake and I laugh.

“You seem unorganized to other people, but the places you put things make perfect sense to you.”

Blake and I are newly dating, and there is much to be learned about the inherent qualities of each other. I’m still doubtful of the thin man’s craft, but if it holds any merit, I am learning some of my new boyfriend’s more personal traits rather quickly. This is like dating on crack.

Finally, the thin man’s prayer comes to a close, and Blake shakes his hand in thank you and amen. It’s my turn now, and I take Blake’s place at the card table, which is hidden under a stretch of crimson fabric that bares clues of a former life as a window curtain. A trickle of nervousness starts in my head and creeps downward where it settles in the cave of my stomach. I attempt to fend it off using reason, but it persists and remains. It flutters and travels, like the night moths that are still dancing above us. As the thin man touches my hand and begins speaking, a cloud moves, and the moon glares heavier on the square.

At first his words seem broad and generic, but still applicable.

“You’re curious. You question everything you don’t know, and sometimes it gets you into trouble.”

He pauses while he traces the metal utensil across my hand, holding the silence until he finds another lead.

“You’ve never pictured yourself in a job as a nine-to-five drone. You’re too creative, and routine annoys you.”

He quiets to search again.

“You seem organized to people from the outside, but it’s mostly a show. Behind closed doors, you’re a bit of a mess.”

He continues this for a while, touching my palm carefully, making concise statements about my character based on the little lines and ridges in my skin that I’d assumed were menial. But something happens, and I am listening more intently now. The thin man begins to whittle away at the stump of a generic life, and I begin to take shape.

“You play an instrument of some kind, and you’ve always loved music. A while back music was all that mattered to you, but lately you’ve had an affair on music with something else. Make music again. It will sooth your soul.”

More searching.

“Something once happened to you that instilled the value of keeping promises. I don’t know what it is, but you do, and it had a big effect. When you agree to something, you’ll never stray from it.”

Another pause.

“Ah-ha! A writer’s line. You love to write.”

I wonder if I’m the one giving it all away; if it’s body language, the way my legs are crossed, or a nervous shift in my seat. Or perhaps he’s studied various trends in the human population, and all hazel eyed blonde girls, about age 23, possess eerily similar qualities.

“One day you’ll have a career that is long and fulfilling. You’ll do this for a long time, until you retire, actually.”

For a moment I stop questioning his methods, but only to acknowledge a new horror. My future and I are shaking hands, being introduced right here in the square by our friend the thin man, who had once said that only tarot cards were the real spoilers of fate.

“Someday you’ll be a mother; a good mother, a nurturing mother. It looks like you’ll have two kids.”

I contemplate a mad dash back to Bourbon Street, where several vodka tonics will help me forget, and I can return to unknowing.

“And you’re one of the lucky ones. One day you’ll meet someone, if you haven’t already, who will grow old with you until the end of your life.”

He continues to throw darts, hitting another bull’s eye, exposing another truth, revealing another moment that hasn’t yet happened. I realize there is no reasoning with the moon, which is still harsh on my face. I relax in my chair, and just start listening. Perhaps fate is being disclosed, or perhaps it is not. The real mystery still lies in the way the moon sits cradled in a nest of clouds, heckling the cobblestone from above, and the crows that laugh alongside the moon, making me wonder. But only wonder.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Three Little Birds

Rows of tin shanties line the streets, pieced together with sheets of scrap metal. They look fragile and cold. It is winter in South Africa, and frost kisses the tips of the tall yellow grass. I am wearing a coat and scarf to protect me from the chill, but the wind slashes against my face. Still, I am shivering from the wintry bitterness.

There are ten million things reminding us how far away we are. The roads are dusty and unpaved, and garbage is scattered around the dry earth. I watch three little boys playing in a heap of trash, none of them older than 6 or 7. Together they sift through foil wrappers and Styrofoam as if they are searching for treasure. One of them is holding a glass bottle like a telescope. He lowers the object and our eyes meet. He smiles and waves. I do the same.

We are inside the township of Ikageng, which is two hours from Johannesburg. It is only one of the many slums in South Africa whose inhabitants suffer from Aids and starvation, among other plagues. The number of those infected with HIV is still climbing, and so is the number of parentless children. The epidemic is seen visibly in the faces of those we pass and their living conditions.

We walk onto the job site, which looks strange among the wild plants and trees that embody the African Savannah. In 7 days were hoping to resurrect a training center for foster parents of aids orphans. As of now, the site is only a poured foundation outlined with a few large bricks.

Someone hands me a trawl and rubber gloves. Were given a quick tutorial on brick laying, then team up and form makeshift assembly lines to get the bricks in place. My job is to put the mortar on top of the wall and scrape off the excess. We do this for hours, taking breaks to drink water and eat lunch.

Our quiet labor is broken by a new face that has wandered onto the construction site. Jonaha, who is 9, lives in the township and doesn’t have school this week. He wants to help with the training center because someday he’d like to be a builder. We give Jonaha a bristle brush to sweep the dry mortar off of the bricks. Jonaha takes the task seriously, and is meticulous in removing each spec of misplaced dirt.

I am singing, “Three Little Birds” under my breath while I work. Jonaha hears me and joins in.

“Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be all right,” we belt in unison.

I laugh when we finish the chorus and ask Jonaha if he is a Bob Marley fan.

“I don’t know,” he says, “but let me sing you my favorite song.”

Jonaha begins singing loudly, almost shouting. His song is an upbeat tribute to god and the earth,

“God is great, he made this land, mamba mamba,” he cries, clapping and stomping in rhythm with each verse.

I tell him I like his song because it makes me want to dance. Jonaha says he likes dancing too, so I teach him the Macarena.


Our bodies are sore from lifting and moving around the job site, so we welcome a break to help with the delivering of food and supplies to the village. The sun rests high in its blue cradle, and for the first time I am warm enough to remove my scarf. I look off into the distance, where the reflection of sky bounces off tin rooftops. I think about what it must be like to sleep in a tin shack during winter, and suddenly I feel cold again.

Today we are visiting a woman named Shiam. Shiam lives in a shanty with ten orphans she has taken off the streets.

When we arrive she cups both her hands around mine, and the corners of her mouth turn upward into a smile. She doesn’t know English, but it doesn’t matter. Her eyes speak for her.

We carry armfuls of ground corn and blankets into her meager, self constructed home. Inside there is no floor, only hard ground and a single aluminum card table. Shiam nods a thank you, and a restored faith in altruism begins to trickle back into me. Her act is a true act of selflessness.

When we exit we find the local children invested in a game of Rugby. I consider myself lucky not to be a part of it, as adolescent boys bludgeon each other for a piece of the odd shaped ball. The younger boys and girls sit atop a nearby tree stump watching the game in admiration. A little girl approaches us with braided hair and long eyelashes. She asks where we are from.

“New York City,” we reply.

“Do you know Alicia Keys?”

We smile and tell her no, and that New York City is a big place.

She doesn’t understand how this is possible. She knows everyone in her village.

We talk to the kids for a while about school and what they want to be when they grow up. They huddle around us and ask us to take their picture. We retrieve our cameras and tell them to smile. Some of them do, but most look into our lenses very seriously, focusing on nothing but holding still.

Their faces are compelling and beautiful. I want to take them all home.

When it is time to leave they begin asking for food and money. We’ve been instructed not to give them any because it causes quarrelling.

“Can I have some food? I am hungry..” I hear a young boy ask a friend.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have any,” he replies apologetically.

The little boy is persistent. “Please. I’m hungry.”

I watch as my friend looks around for observers, and then stealthily produces an apple from his pocket.

“Put this away. It’s a secret. Deal?”

The boy squeals and runs away with his apple raised high in the air in triumph.

During the car ride back I jestingly tell my friend I caught him breaking the rules.

He says, “How could I deny a hungry child an apple?”

I do not blame him.


It’s dawn, and I am leaning against the window seat of an open air wrangler. We’re moving steadily through the savannah, searching for movement in the grass to signal wildlife.

The sky is a golden hue, glowing against the hilly terrain and brush. In the distance is a hot air balloon hovering over a large basin of water. We are on safari and looking for animal life, but I am perfectly content observing the stunning 360 degree view.

A game drive the previous evening produced sightings of elephants, zebras, and even a lion, but my favorites were the giraffes. Seemingly awkward with their gangly necks stretched high over the trees, they still moved with grace and ease. So strange and majestic, I could have watched them for hours.

Our guide is a local and a serious animal enthusiast. His name is Dato, and he has a clear passion for nature and its wonders.

“Every year, thousands of Rhino’s are poached and killed for their horns,” says Dato. “It is such a sad thing. Just think of the impact this has on Rhino’s feelings? Many Rhino’s with emotional issues because of this problem.”

We all try not to laugh at this, and I quietly joke about how the park should hire Rhino Psychiatrists.

Later we see a pack of Rhinos in an open field. Their massive bodies are impressive and their horns foreboding. They look closer to something prehistoric than anything I have ever seen. I immediately dub my Rhino Psychiatrist comment as insensitive. It is a shame for something so astounding to be taken from this earth unnaturally.

Dato drives onto a trail that slowly scales the side of a mountain. We finally reach the top, leveling off into a more rocky, tree infested area. A quick gasp from Dato has us all glancing around eagerly.

“There, there!”

We look in the direction his finger points and see a Leopard, only about 7 feet away. At the leopard’s feet is a dead zebra, bloody and half eaten.

The leopard glances upward momentarily at our convoy, then continues his meal. He thumps his tail against the ground as he eats his prey. We watch for several minutes as nature in its truest form exposes itself.

“My whole life, and I have never seen leopard this close,” says Dato.

Suddenly, the leopard lets out a small growl and looks up. I decide I don’t like Dato’s comment. Perhaps leopards aren’t meant to be seen “this close”. Our jeep shifts weight and lets out a loud creek. The cat becomes startled and scurries into the trees.

We sit in silence for a while, until someone remarks,

“That’s not something you see everyday..”

We laugh at this understatement and drive back down the ravine.


I am at the Apartheid museum, standing inside a jail cell modeled after the one that imprisoned Nelson Mandela for a time. I stretch out my arms, and both my hands touch an opposing wall. There is no bed and no window, only a stone floor and a barred metal doorway.

Outside there are images of officers beating political protestors. Some of them are graphic, and I can’t help but look away. There is, however, one photograph that has me entranced. It shows a young, black African man leaping over a barbed wire fence to escape gunfire. His mouth is open and his eyes wide with fear. His outcome is uncertain, and I become frustrated by the fact.

1994 wasn’t long a go.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Jose and The Philosophy of Pasear

February 26, 2011:

"My name is Jessica, not Rubia" I tell my new friend Jose, who is the burly man sitting next to me on a wooden bar stool.
"But your hair is blonde. And where I'm from we like blondes, so I will call you Rubia."
This is not the first time I have heard this. Working alongside Mexican immigrants as a waitress means I've been dubbed the obvious nickname "Rubia", Spanish for "blondie", many times before. Jose is also from Mexico, and it's apparent to any onlooker. He wears a yellow tee-shirt embellished with his countries flag, accompanied by a carefully groomed mustache with ends twisted  into perfect points.

A college football game blares on the overhead TV and clusters of  Alumni fill the bar, cheering after each victorious play.

"El fútbol americano, en mi modesta opinión, es un deporte estúpido y complicado," says Jose, who is arguing with me about the validity of American Football, which he finds dull in comparison to soccer. Some sense of patriotism has been ignited in me, and I defend the sport passionately. I speak slowly, thinking hard as I counter-argue in spanish, conjegating verbs and searching my mind for dormant words. 
"..pero todos los chicos fuertes, como tú, jugar al fútbol americano." 
Translation: But all the tough guys, like yourself, play American Football."

Jose blurts out a loud gaffaw, then responds in English.
"Your espagnol is good,  but your accento...why do you speak it like a gay man?"
His bluntness has me restraining an explosion of bud light in my mouth, and I do my best to swallow. "Blame it on the king of Spain" I tell him wiping my lips with a bar napkin.

I spent a semester abroad in Spain a few summers a go and returned to the states with a love for homemade sangria and afternoon siestas. I'd also brought back a slight Spanish accent, substituting my S's for a softer th sound. This spanish lisp, or castilian lisp is a distinct accent of the Andalusian region. Legend has it that a 13th century king named Peter of Castile spoke with a speech impediment, a lisp he could never overcome. His subjects, unwilling to embarrass him imitated him in his presence. After he died, his lisp did not. Subsequently Andaslusians all sound, as Jose puts it, "gay."

I tell him this story, to which he replies:
"All of those Spaniards, they are too proper, like Americans. In Mexico we   re-laaaax.. you know, take it easy! My guess, rubia, is that you don't relax either."
 Never considering myself to be high maintenance, I'm suddenly offended by Jose's allusion that I'm up tight."Sure I do! I'm relaxing as we speak!" I say argumentatively, showcasing my beer.
"I don't believe you." Jose retorts.

"To relax the right way," he says, "means you don't have to think about it. It takes no effort. Life should be like one long siiiigghh," he emphasizes the last word, then exhales loudly in example.

I think back to my last day off work, and how I nearly went crazy with discontent from boredom. The previous week had been hectic, and after the spreadsheets and writing assignments were over I'd lost the ability to entertain myself. Unable to fully embrace the freedom of my empty agenda over the entire weekend, I secretly praised the return of Monday. It seems as though I'd gained a tolerance for stress that was hindering my ability to enjoy the more quiet things in life. Jose was right.

"Do you know the spanish verb pasear," he asks.
"Yeah I do. It means to walk."
"No, no youre wrong," he says
 I recall a memory of Ms. Ricardo, my intermediate spanish teacher, repeating a list of verbs on the chalkboard.
"I could have sworn..."
Jose Interrupts me, "Pasear is more than just to walk. It is like walking, but lazier. Pasear means to stroll. To walk with no sense of urgency, taking it all in. It is a way of life and it's not in the english dictionary. You, my rubia, need to learn how to "paseo" through life."

March 12th, 2011:

Today I am blissfully in love with this place, and I'd copy Frank Sinatra and write a sappy love ballad about the city if I had time. "New York, New York!"

A middle aged couple clasp hands on a sidewalk bench. They look lovingly into eachother, as if they're trying to discover a freckle or dimple they'd never noticed before. My normal reaction of disgust has been replaced by appreciation. I am happy to witness this glimmer of affection, which chips at my cynicism. Love might still exist.
A brown dog that's too well groomed to be stray prances down the cobblestone road past them, his tail waving at passerbys. He seems to know where he's going as he rounds the corner of greeniche avenue down west 13th.
It's 65 degrees, which means I'm drinking iced coffee and wearing the summer dress that's been hibernating in my closet since last August.. I am renewed by the sun. Is it finally spring? I feel like a rosebud stirring in the first instance of warmth. In fact, I swear I can smell them blooming, the spring roses, but there is no vegetation nearby, only concrete. My senses have been tricked by my positive mood.

"Thanks Jose", I think, as I continue to paseo down the sidewalk. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Square Peg, Round Hole

The Salt Lake valley air is cleaner than the smog ridden oxygen of New York, but I had felt so suffocated last time I was home. None of my friends in Manhattan understood why I didn't like Utah. Their homes were sanctuaries, places to escape power walking and day planners and asphalt.  But for me, going home was like traveling back in time, to an era before me that I just couldn't relate to.

My great, great, great grandfather was a pioneer. Unwavering in his faith, he literally walked across the United States in order to escape persecution and freely practice his religion.
Most of my childhood friends have similar family legacies. The mormon church colonized the state of Utah, and today, about 70% of its population are mormon's. I was reared In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and I am a non-practicing member of the Mormon religion.

A friend of mine from Las Vegas once made the remark that visiting my home town was like being trapped inside an animated Disney movie. "Everyone just walks around smiling and saying nice things to each other! Seriously, I was expecting a choreographed musical number any minute!"
While I laughed at her remark, the standards the place upholds seem to validate this claim.
Mormons do not drink coffee or tea or alcohol. Mormons do not cuss or use foul language or smoke. Mormons attend three hour church services every Sunday. And among other beliefs , Mormons abstain from premarital sex.

The majority of the world might view this as extreme, however none of these things are the underlying reason I don't consider myself a Mormon by definition.
In fact, there are many beautiful qualities about the church that I love. For example:
Mormons cherish their families. Mormons love their neighbors. Mormons always put others first. Mormons speak kind words, and  Mormons have really REALLY big hearts.
Still, the reason I do not practice is irrelevant.
I guess you could say I have just always been a very square peg in a very round hole, and I never fit.

Because of this, trips home from New York city made me feel like Hester Prynne bearing an invisible scarlet letter. It was as if everyone was always pointing. I was the outcast.

I once tried expressing my frustration to my Father, who didn't understand my feelings of alienation.
"It's like you all  want me to dance the waltz, when all I know how to do is jive."
My Dad raised his eyebrows at the statement, paused for a moment, then said,
"I think in time you'll see that the only one making you uncomfortable is yourself, and anyone this doesn't apply to, doesn't know you at all."

I hadn't heard Dad's words, and my last visit home left me kissing the dirty ground of New York upon return. The church steeples, bible verses, and testimonies had me exhausted. I swore I wouldn't come back again until Autumn.

But Mom called me Monday to tell me Grandad had passed away. It's now Saturday, and I am sitting in the church pew next to my younger brother Austin, who seems too adult-like in a suit jacket with his arm around my back. Grandad's casket rests ten feet from me. It is a muted silver, and valentine colored roses bless its top. I close my eyes and fold my hands gingerly in my lap while they pray. They say he is with grandma  now, and I want them to be right, but even if they aren't it's still okay. What a victory he had over mortality, dying in his home with sound mentality and good physical health at age 105.

This funeral is not the typical sad occasion. Only some wear black, and there is no dark, morose cloud filling the chapel. No one mourns a loss. This is, rather, a celebration of Grandad's life.
I look around at the congregation, which has the place entirely filled with grandad's family members and friends who have traveled here to honor him.
My cousin is playing peek a boo with my dad in the row in front of me. Only her eyes and blond pigtails are visible over the bench, and she giggles too loudly at Dad's funny face.
My youngest Brother is resting his head on my Mom's shoulder. I smile at his maintaned hair-do. He traded in his usual, casual scruff to let mom style it this morning. The part is heavy to the side, with a deep swoop across his forehead.

I suddenly become overwhelmed by a realization:  I am not inflicted by my upbringing after all. I am surrounded by family, and the love is radiating off them and permeating into my soul. They love me despite my beliefs, and Mormon or not, I am still a part of something greater than myself.

As relatives recall grandad's past from behind the pulpit, one dewy tear runs down my cheek.
My brother rubs my shoulder in consolation. I look at him and wink. He grins, still facing the speaker, then blindly kicks my shoe.  
My single tear is a tear of gratitude for my heritage, which I'd taken for granted due to childish feelings of resentment.
I'm thankful for my family tree, with branches that are abundant, and sturdy, and strong. I'm not sure who or what to thank,or from where this blessing hails, but I know it doesn't matter. It doesn't make me any less grateful.

I allow my tear of thanks to fall into my lap, and it sinks into my dress.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Red Velvet is only okay when you're talking about a cupcake!

January 25, 2011:

Amy and I are riding the elevator in silence, moving upward steadily.
Amy finally speaks, giving me a caveat for what is about to take place.
“When we walk inside, everyone will probably be chanting. I’m just warning you so you aren’t surprised, or weirded out.”
I explain to her that I am fully prepared and that I won’t feel uncomfortable at all. I have already been to one other Buddhist meeting and have read up on some of the teachings.
We get off at floor 8, and cross the hallway. Amy taps the knocker on apartment C.
I can hear voices on the other side of the wall, and It sounds a bit like someone is holding a choir practice.
As we wait to be invited i feel as though I’m on the TV show “The Price is Right”, and Drew Carey is about to reveal what is behind my mystery door .I know that I am not about to win ten grand, or a new car, but Amy once testified about the benefits of Buddhism in her own life over margaritas and queso dip. I agreed to at least entertain the idea.
I hear the latch jiggle and my heart stirs some. The door swings open.
Behind it is a short, chubby man with thinning hair and an infectious grin. I am immediately sure that the smile never leaves his face.
“Amy!” He shrieks,“It’s so good to see you! And, you have a guest! That is just so wonderful.”
We enter and I see a group of about 10 people sitting in fold out chairs, facing a scroll covered in Asian characters. The scroll sits above some sort of wooden alter, and is surrounded by candles and incense. The room smells strongly of their burn.
“NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO.” Everyone utters in unison.
They continue to say the words over and over, and the harmonious sound of it is melodic, and angelic, even.
Amy signals for me to take a seat by her in the middle of the room.
A man sitting in the front row turns around, handing me a laminated card with the chant written on it phonetically. I know his actions are my invitation to join in.
I scan the room again in search of what to do by example. Next to me, a small Indian woman with closed eyes hangs her hands in prayer, her songlike voice repeating the words NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO. The man on my left has his gaze set on the scroll at the front of the living area. He is wearing a red tie and slacks, and looks as though he just came from wall street.
Aside from the voices, my ears rest on another sound. Four or five people are clasping strands of beads, and moving them in their hands in a back and forth motion, in the fashion of a child wielding a snake out of clay, or an outdoorsman lighting a fire with twigs. The beads knock against each other creating small pops and crackles.
Amy leans over and whispers, “The key is to choose something to devote your chant to. It can be a person, or a goal. Maybe it can be for inner peace, or to love others more openly. It’s up to you.”

I nod and close my eyes, becoming extremely self conscious, but inwardly knowing that nobody is judging me for being here. Everyone is in the same room, but aloof, alone in their own thoughts.
 My throat is becoming hot and dry and panicky. I feel my neck start to perspire.

“NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO”, everyone continues.

I feel suffocated by the words


I want to open my eyes and sprint from the room.


Suddenly, I remember something that was spoken at the last meeting:
“Buddhism is about overcoming obstacles in our lives through will power, positive thinking, and self control.”

I ponder this statement, then scrunch my eyes shut even tighter. My whole face is wrinkled in effort, and I am sure I look like I am in physical pain.
“Relax, Jess”, I mutter under my breath, “Nobody can hear you but yourself”
I spotlight the corners of my mind for a focal point, something worth devotion.
Filed away in a small drawer  I find a memory, long forgotten, but still precious. It is one that involves me and my family on a road trip to the red wood forest.  In this memory we are driving through a sunlit canyon near the California coast. The air smells of wet pine from a recent rain shower, and my head is resting against the window and the air conditioning is tickling my face. My little brother is asleep on my mom’s lap in the passenger’s seat, and my dad is playing John Denver on a cassette tape. I feel carefree, and the sort of contentment that only a child can have. I run fingers through my mom’s hair, as I often do out of habit. Even at age nine, I recognize the quality of the moment. I know I am lucky.
I open my mouth now, the words “NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO” spill from my lips with easiness.

'Family', I think.

January 30th, 2011:

Eamon is sitting next to me on the bed and moving my fingers into the position of b Sharp. I strum once with my right hand and an angry mix of notes reverberate off the strings.  I quickly silence my guitar, apologizing.
“Ah, sorry! That was horrible sounding.”
“It’s a tough stretch, but your  fingers will get there. It just takes time.” He says.                        
“Yeah well, Eamon, It’s true. Practice makes perfect.”
“Jesus Jess, why are you always speaking in fortune cookie? Is it all that new Buddhist crap?” He jests
“Just call me Gandhi”, I retort.
I set the guitar down and turn my palms upward, bending my fingers for examination. My nails have been clipped short. Eamon asked me to cut them last week.
“There is no way you’re going to improve with a manicure like that.” He said.
It had been hard to do. I’d always taken pride in the length of my nails and the femininity of my hands. Cutting them off was an act of dedication, and proof of my devotion to music.  Furthermore, the tips of my fingers had become calloused and rough from fretting. They were now masculine looking, like I had spent weeks laboring in a lumberyard or steel mill.
Eamon is getting up to leave now,
“See you later at the apartment, jess.”
I stay upstairs in my stuffy loft transfixed on my instrument, which has cemented a small pothole in my life that previously, I didn’t know existed. Nobody is home, and there is only the sound of my whirling floor fan and my sore fingers on the second fret.   

February 1, 2011:

I pluck the E string on my guitar, and a shrill, noteless sound fills the room. Eamon told me I need to invest in a humidifier to keep my guitar from being ruined by the weather. I’m finally convinced he might be right.
“Ashley, will you go with me to guitar center?” I need to buy something Eamon was telling me about.
“I can’t believe the amount of times I have been to this store in the last three weeks, and I don’t even play an instrument,” she replies.
I know this is not her answer, so I am silent, waiting for a response
“Sure, I’ll go.”
“Thanks Ash, you’re the best!”
Later in the evening we enter the guitar center, which is every musicians version of heaven, and probably what Led Zeppelin envisioned at the end of that stairway. The entire place is made up of two floors and ten rooms.  Odd shaped neon guitars hang on the walls with outstretched necks, and sounds of people tinkering with electric keyboards and demo drum sets fill the place.

Behind the desk I see a boy standing, fiddling with an electric guitar. His eyes are on his left hand as he moves up and down the frets with ease, playing some improvised rock solo. His face is hidden behind his long, wavy hair. He is a natural blonde, and with locks like that, most likely the envy of every girl he’s ever dated.
“Do you have any humidifiers?” I interrupt.
He stops playing and looks up at me. His eyes are blue and stormy.
“Well, not over here, but probably in the acoustic section.”
He walks out from behind the desk, and says  his name is Trevor and that he’ll lead the way. I follow him to a hidden section below the register.
Trevor is sporting a pair of fire truck red, velvet trousers. Now, normally the combination of the color red, and velvet wouldn't be acceptable unless you're talking about a cupcake, however, in his red velvet pants Trevor looks like a sexy rock star magician, or Steven Tyler at a Christmas party.  I’m not unhappy with his sense of style
“Is this what you’re looking for?
“Huh?” I say. I am too busy thinking about me and Trevor under the mistletoe at a Christmas party to respond.
“Guitar humidifiers. That is what you need, right?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah. Are these them?”
“You got it. Anything else I can help you with?”
I want to say: You can serenade me with pink Floyd then run away with me to rocker neverland. Instead, I say:
 "Nope, I think i can take it from here."
My rebellious prince charming gallantly saunters back to the heavy metal section. I am left with my daydreams, and a wall of guitar supplies I know nothing about.
“I have to give him my number.” I say to Ashley in an urgent tone.
“ You’re crazy,” she says, with raised eyebrows, shaking her head.
“No, I’m telling you, we had a connection. Did you not feel it? I have to do something!”
“Well then, go for it, but don’t expect me to be anywhere nearby when you go through with it.”
I quickly choose some inexpensive guitar humidifier off the wall, and proceed to the checkout.
“Should I just give the checkout lady my number and say to pass it on?” I ask Ashley.
“What are we in second grade?! Just walk up to him, and say ‘I think you look hot in those red pants of yours, here’s my number’ and walk off.”

I write my number on my purchase receipt, and glance around the room. 15 feet to my right stands Trevor, passionately plucking away at a fender. 15 feet on my left is the exit, accompanied by a doorman.
I am faced with one of those decisions. You know, the decisions you’re forced  to make hastily, but if you weren’t crunched for time you could weigh and measure pros and cons for hours. 
The more cowardly side of me tips the scales.
“I am just going to give my number to the doorman and tell him to pass it on.”
“It’s Your death sentence,” Ashley says.
I approach the doorman and make eye contact. Ashley is behind me, but trailing by a good distance to avoid what she has instinctively picked up on as impending doom.
“Hi, sir, how are you, could you do me a favor?”
“Umm.. sure”, he says with a puzzled look on his face, “What is it?”
“Do you see this piece of paper?”
“I sure do” he responds.
“And do you see that boy over there in the red pants?”
“Trevor ?”
“Yes, that’s him, and this is my number.  I am about to leave, but I was wondering if you could give it to that boy.”
At first the doorman doesn’t react. I wait anxiously for some type of response. Then slowly, the corners of his mouth rise into a mischievous smile. He resembles the Grinch who stole Christmas in the scene where he gets that wonderful, awful idea to terrorize whoville. I am instantly petrified.
“Why, of course I can” he grins.
The doorman picks up the telephone sitting at the desk in front of him.
“What are you doing?” I blurt.
“Attention attention, “
The man’s voice echoes loudly over the store intercom,
“Attention, Trevor in guitars:  We have a 601 on our hands. There is a blonde girl in the front of the store who wold like to give you her telephone number.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I watch as Ashley bolts like lightning out the revolving doors. I am alone in this self created awkward moment. Mortified by how this is turning out, I feel my face grow hot and flush.
There is a customer standing next to me, a middle aged man with a guitar on his back who has just witnessed it all. He is laughing audibly. I turn, shooting him a poisonous look for finding humor in my folly.
“This is funny.” He says between fits of laughter.
“Well, you can thank me for providing your entertainment quota for the day. Am I turning red?”
The customer suddenly perceives my state of panic, and silences his giggling, becoming slightly sympathetic.

“No, no you’re not. You look fine. “
Five other people who heard the announcement have now conglomerated near the exit of the shop to watch the events unfold.
Only 20 seconds have passed since I regrettably handed over my number encrusted receipt, but it feels like 20 minutes.
I am faced with another urgent decision: To wait by the door for Trevor, willingly accepting my unavoidable fate which is surely extreme embarrassment, or to escape.
“Trevor, Trevor?” the doorman repeats over the intercom.
“I think that’s my cue to leave” I tell my audience.
I push past the doorman, stammering thanks, but that I really have to go, hurriedly moving through the turnstile.  The automatic doors burst open, and I run like a soldier on the beaches of Normandy toward Ashley, who I spot a block away.
I hear a voice calling at me from behind. I glance backward while I am jogging, and see the doorman standing outside the shop.
“Run forest, run!” he yells.
I finally reach Ashley, panting some from my Olympic sprint.
“Well that really backfired on you, didn’t it”, she says.
“I don’t even want to hear it Ash.”
There is a subway sandwich store nearby and Ashley is hungry. Ashley orders something, and with no appetite I sit at a Formica table in horrified reflection of what just happened.
Ashley finally joins me with a turkey sub, and we make eye contact. We stare at each other for a second, taking in the previous scenario, then rupture into thunderous laughter.
“Bet you didn’t see that one coming,” I tell her
“With you Jess, I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
We decide I should write a new add for mastercard:
Metro Card to guitar center: $2.50
Guitar humidifier: $13.00
Life lesson on how NOT to pick up on a man, especially one in red velvet pants: Priceless

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'll never be, your beast of burden

            December 28th:

I am finally aboard Delta flight 729. An east coast blizzard has terrorized manhattan, and I’ve been in Utah for four extra days eating leftover Christmas cookies and anxiously checking the New York Times for weather updates.
I didn’t mean to cry when the ticket agent called yesterday, telling me my flight had been canceled for the 5th time. The tears just sort of materialized without warning. I hadn’t even realize they existed until I felt them spilling over my cheeks, hurting dads feelings.
“I didn’t know you hated it here so much,”
“I’m sorry daddy. You know I don’t hate it here. I just really need to get home.”


This was the first time I had called it that, New York I mean.
For the last four months living in New York had felt like an extended holiday. Manhattan and I were a blossoming romance, in the premature, infatuation stages of our relationship, just getting to know one another.
We had finally moved past that.
This city is no longer my lover, but my companion.

Were facing east now, my direction of choice. Outside the window it is black, and all that is visible are hundreds of runway lights laid out geometrically on the pavement. It reminds me of the designs I used to make on my light bright as a child.
 The pilot puts the plane in gear, and gravity pushes me into the back of my seat as we pick up speed.
 After my plethora of delays and cancellations, I feel like the present is too good to be true. I am waiting for the plane to come to a screeching halt, or for an unwanted announcement from the cockpit.
Instead, I hear the landing gear retreat to its airborne home. I peer out the window once again, and the dim lights of Salt lake city flicker below me.   


Laguardia airport is full of holiday traffic and relieved passengers who have been stranded at their previous destinations.
I am anxious to get back to my apartment, but the taxi line stretches past four terminals, wrapping around the edge of the building.
I feel defeated by transportation. Someday, we will think ourselves from place to place, with the assistance of an advanced technological gadget, and I hope it’s in my lifetime.

I feel a tug at the back of my jacket.
“Car  ma’am. $35. You can skip the line?”
I spin around to find the source of the foreign voice. I glance downward, my eyes meeting a petite man who’s shorter than myself, with tussled black hair and oversized jeans.
“Sorry to bother ma’am, but I have a car. It leave into the city now. I give you a good deal and you have no wait.”

I immediately commence an inner dialogue between my capacity for common sense, and my desire to be at home. It goes something like this:

Desire: Sweet deal! $35!? You would pay thirty bucks for a yellow cab, and you’ll have to wait in this ridiculous line for two hours.
Common sense: It’s late. It’s dark. Where is his car? If this is legit, why isn’t everyone hitching rides with Ecuadorian midgets?
Desire: Because people are silly, and it’s your lucky day. What’s the worst that could happen?
Common sense: I can think of a few possibilities. What if he’s part of a South American drug ring, and he wants to kidnap you and ship you to El Salvador to work on some sort of farm?
Desire: That dude? He’s bite size! Even if that were the case, I’m sure you could take him!
Common sense: He could have a posse.
Desire: Quit being lame, and get your ass in that car.

(Why is it that desire always wins?)

“Alright sir, where’s your car?”
“ I go get it now. You wait here. Don’t go anywhere.”
I watch as he hobbles off with a not-so-subtle limp.

Desire chimes in again: Yep, you could definitely take him.

Five minutes later he returns, followed by an attractive boy, about my age or a little older with a guitar on his back. He is unkept, in a cool 90’s grunge sort of way, and is sporting a leather jacket.

“Alright desire,” I say to myself, “Now you’re just showing off.”

Together, grunge and I follow the little man around the building, behind the terminal, and across the parking lot. I am becoming distressed as I trek through piles of snow left by plows large enough to be ski slopes, but my fellow hipster passenger seems blasé about the journey. I decide I’d better play it cool.  
We reach our destination and load our guitars into the back of the suburban, climbing into the back seat.

Neither of us speak for six awkward minutes. I finally say:
“So.. You’re a musician?”
“Yep,” he replies, looking at me like I just asked John Wayne if he was a cowboy.
“Awesome.” I say, feeling a little embarrassed and lost for words, a phenomenon which doesn’t happen all too often.

Five more minutes pass.

He breaks the second span of silence with a question.
“How long have you been delayed for?”
“ Umm.. a few days. I had 5 canceled flights, you?”
“I had four. It sucked ass. I offered to give the lady behind the ticket counter a grand to get me back. She wouldn’t take it.”
“Wow, pretty desperate to be back in New York, huh?”
“Yeah, I have too much going on right now to be stuck at home.”
“I hear you,” I agree, nodding my head, “It’s nice to be with family, but any longer and I would have snow shoed, or hired sled dogs to get me here.”
“Yikes, that bad at home? Where are you from?”
Utah, I respond.
He laughs and says that explains a lot

The next 10 minutes are a standard get to know you session, where I determine the following:

My hunky, new friend is Ron Pope. He is a professional musician and New Yorker who just finished a tour, and a contract with universal records. He has a large fan base, especially in the city, and just started a new band and produced a hit single.

I have heard of him and his music before, but pretend I havent.
He asks what I do and I become nervous, the word professional, or even profession, isn’t in my autobiography. I consider lying for a split second, then opt for the truth,

“ I just finished school this year, and moved out here simply because I wanted to. Right now I am in transit, trying to figure things out. I am hoping to save, and travel, and write. We’ll see what happens.”

Ron is an artist, and he can sense my apprehension.
I wait for the guidance I know he’s about to give me, like some great kung fu master, or yoda

“You don’t have to be nervous about that you know. Doing what you love is all that matters in this life. It’s cliché, but you can’t buy happiness. When I was your age, I was playing music on the subway every day. My parents used to chastise me, and be like, “Ron, what the hell are you doing? You’re a fuckin’ street bum.” But, I just knew that music was my life, and I had to do that, you know? Then one day, somebody appreciated what I did, and things changed. But, even if that hadn’t happened it wouldn’t have mattered. This is my life, and I want to live it passionately.”

I don’t respond. I just smile. We both know that he is right, and that life is an experience, not a mountain we climb. We cannot conquer it, we can only live it to our satisfaction.

The driver pulls up to my apartment too soon, and I tell Ron thanks for the advice and promise I’ll come see a show sometime. As I walk up the steps I am happy to be back, and revived from my encounter, which reinforced every reason why I love this place.
It feels good to be home.

January 7th, 2011

I am already in Manhattan with no plane to catch, so I am embracing the incoming storm and bone numbing chill as it stings my face and creeps through my jacket.
Ashley and I enter the cornerstone tavern for some relief from the weather.
The bartender is Irish, and I can tell by his accent that he is from Dublin.
I begin chatting to him about the place I miss so much, and we reminisce about our favorite pubs and Irish sausage.
The band on stage is playing covers of 90’s rock songs and asking for requests.
“Third Eye Blind” I yell audibly.
“I think we can do that”, says the lead guitarist, “but, only on one condition. You have to let me wear your awesome vest while I play.”

My vest, which was a gift from my mother, is loud fashion at best. Lengthy faux fur envelops the entirety of it. It’s apparent that no animal could have produced such a thing, except for, according to my younger brother, The abominable snowman.

I absolutely adore it.

I tell him that it’s not a problem, and climb on stage assisting him with one sleeve while he stretches his arm into the other.

“Thank you dear.”

They begin strumming the three chords which make up one of Third Eye Blinds yesteryear hits. Ashley and I dance and since loudly while onlookers mock. We really don’t care. We never do.
“I’ll never let you go, I’ll never let you go…………”


Outside, the city is blanketed in a fresh coat of fluff, and we stop to admire the pristine, cleanliness of it. As we glance around us at the white lampposts and mailboxes, we realize that the streets are empty, except for us. All is silent in sound and in sight.
“This looks so strange, doesn’t it?” I say
“It really does,” replies ash.
Quiet and solitude are things you never experience in a place that always exhibits life. By 7am, Fifth Avenue will be bursting with men in suits, public busses, delivery guys, and flashing lights.

We celebrate having the city to ourselves by lying on the ground and making snow angels side by side on the snow covered pavement.


I remember seeing this same painting on an overhead projector in 8th grade. The whimsical darkness of Van Goghs starry night had me mesmerized, even at age 14.

I had strategically waited to view this masterpiece at the end of my tour inside the MOMA. I planned my visit of the museum a bit like I would a visit to an amusement park. The smaller, less thrilling rides first, working my way up to the bigger stuff so nothing would lose its thrill along the way.

13 Pollock’s, a dozen Picassos, and a few Monet’s later, and here it was. Imagination on canvas.
I stare into the paintings depth for at least ten minutes, without moving. It is vivid, yet surreal, and I become lost in every brush stroke. I feel like crying, or jumping up and down. I know that neither are socially acceptable here, so, instead I do what is. I update my facebook status. I key in:

“Next time I’m at the MOMA, I’d like to pitch a tent, and camp under Van Gogh’s starry night.”

I once read somewhere that Van Gogh, who produced over 2,000 works of art in his lifetime, didn’t even begin painting until his late twenties.
Here I am, worrying about my feats at a childish age of 23.
Van Gogh has left me feeling young and alive, and ready to live.

I'm left with this thought,
While most of us will probably never excel to the heights of Van Gogh, there is still much time for us to create our masterpiece.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

We Fly by The Seat of Our Pants

 It’s January 9th, the day of New York Cities No Pants Subway Ride. As I approach Foley Square I am impressed by the masses of people surrounding the large granite sculpture in the middle of the plaza. The crowd is more eclectic than I’d projected, and the seemingly conservative are intermixed with troubled youth, married couples, apparent goofballs, and other personalities. There is no obvious stereotype to describe this crowd.
Maybe New York isn’t all business. Maybe New York has a sense of humor after all.
I overhear a conversation between two men in gray suit jackets. They’re chatting about the interesting statue that landmarks the place.
“It’s called, ‘'Triumph of the Human Spirit,' Says a man in black rimmed glasses holding a briefcase,
“They built it in 2000 to symbolize human rights for minority groups in the city”
I find this fact ironic. While there is no formalized club or association for pantless persons, today , new Yorkers will celebrate their human rights by choosing to forgo their trousers. I wonder if this meeting place was chosen for its hidden symbolism.

I finally track down my friends John and Chase. The bright sky is deceiving, and the suns efforts to warm cannot combat the winter chill. The easterly winds are lashing against our faces, and I am glad I am not in my underwear, yet. 
A mans voice is thundering around me. I cannot find its source in the crowd. It’s as if it is pouring from the sky, and I’m being directed by Zeus or another Greek god.  For a minute I forget that I’m only part of something silly. The turnout makes me feel like I’m at a political rally, fighting for some noble cause, rather than participating in a large scale prank.

I pinpoint the speaker, standing on top of a staircase near the middle of the square.
“Who is our youngest pantless subway rider?” Shouts a bearded man behind a megaphone
I see a stroller being hoisted into the air, followed by muffled yells.
 “15 Months”, repeats the director. “Can anyone do any better?”
Behind me a young couple lifts up a chubby baby in corduroy trousers and a snow cap. He is unphased by the attention, and he wiggles his legs in a running motion.
“9 months!”
“Wow, nine months” echoes the loud speaker, “Sorry stroller, looks like we have a winner.”

Were sorted into groups and assigned train cars. Clusters of us start walking toward canal street to catch the NQR.  Like elementary students on a field trip, we march in line through chinatown to the subway station. We pass the NYPD and other curious onlookers. People selling knock of handbags and Rolexs heckle us to buy their goods.
“See my perfume! I make good deal for you..78.9 percent off!” Says a little Chinese man in broken English.
His proposition for such an odd discount has us laughing.
“Do you only get the discount if you can calculate the math correctly?” Chase jokes.

Two stops on the train, and I am standing in the car wearing my winter coat, scarf, leather boots, and underwear.  Half of my fellow passengers are in participation. An older man with heart patterned  boxers is reading the New York Times on the bench, and a young women in boy shorts is standing while gripping the overhead pole, bobbing her head to the beat of her ipod. Chase, John and I battle to keep a straight face, as two women enter and raise their eyebrows in confusion.
We’ve been instructed to not break the fourth wall, and “Ride the train as we would any other day,”
I really lose it when the boy next to me wearing boxer briefs is questioned by another fully clothed passenger.
“Can I ask you why you are in your underwear?”
“Oh, I just didn’t feel like wearing pants today.” He says nonchalantly.
An elderly couple with shar pei  like wrinkles and gray hair are holding hands. They are wearing smiles of contentment, knit sweaters, and not much else.
I decide to play Tetris on my phone in order to distract myself from the hilarious circumstance.

We get off at 14th street, Union Square, and scale the platform where were greeted by the gusty January air and thousands of people without pants.
Surrounded by bare legs adorned in whitie tighties, polka dotted boxer shorts, and silky bottoms , it feels like I’m in an episode of the twilight zone, or a member of some free spirited colony from the 60’s.

A bystander is handing out yellow pamphlets entitled, “The history of pants”
Chase opens one and reads us the first paragraph:
“In early times peoples used ferns  and leaves to uphold modesty. They later switched to cloth and hide due to outbreaks of poison oak and Ivy.”
“Thank goodness for that!” Chuckles John.
My favorite pub, ‘Lilies’ is only a block away from Union Square. We walk to 17th street and dress on the sidewalk.
Inside we sit at a candlelit table drinking imported beer. Our goose bumps finally dissipate after bowls of soup and finished pints.  
I am riding the high of spontaneity and playfulness.
I will fly by the seat of my pants more often, or… no pants, if I must.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No matter how great her dress is, a girl will never never look pretty doing the robot on the dance floor...

The diner is full of its usual patrons. There is an older lady with an over sized mink coat and too much rouge in the corner booth, and two construction workers in orange vests exchanging jokes with harsh, long island consonants.

The place is my favorite of its kind. The grandmotherly pink interior and lack of tourists make it an authentic, hidden gem in the city. I am happy to share it with my friends, who are visiting from out of town. To me, the place embodies New York City.
Were are retelling stories about our adventures together in Ireland, and laughing until our cheeks hurt.
Suddenly there is a pause, and the conversation takes a turn for the serious,
"Jess, what do you want to be when you grow up," Sara asks.
I sigh a little at the question which has been pressed far too often in the last few weeks.
"Well, the answer is: I don't know. Luckily, I'm nowhere near being a grown up."
I explain to my friends Sara, Erica, and Jenna how this was the main topic of discussion during my trip home for Christmas break, which came to no conclusion. After 9 days of dad's prodding, and me insisting that I was content with life's mysteries (I didn't convince him) I'd never been more ready to get back to the city.
Everybody keeps silent, and continues eating their breakfast.
I know that no one at the table is judging my response, but with all the recent interrogation I feel self conscious anyway. Maybe everyone's right. Maybe living in the moment is to be reckless with your future?

The N train puts us at central park where we walk through snowy gardens and pass people getting their portraits drawn by sidewalk artists. I don't remember the city being this frigid when I left. My boots have been defeated by the slushy sidewalks and my feet are wet and icy.
"This is nothing compared to Montreal right now," my friends tell me.
I begin to make a mental note to never visit Montreal between December through March.

We arrive at Wolman rink and rent ice skates from the vendor. My girlfriends are all Canadian and I am certain that they'll be whizzing past me like Tara Lapinski, doing double salchows and triple axels.
We step cautiously onto the ice and enter into what looks like a danger zone. The rink is packed with out-of-towners, and the scene resembles the bumper cars you find at any county fair.
Were doing our best to stick together while weaving in and out of traffic, but the amount of people is making it difficult.
I tell Erika that this is what it must feel like living in India.
"Look out!" Jenna yells as an Asian man wobbles around in front of us, his arms flailing, trying to grasp the air for balance unsuccessfully. He hits the ice and skids two feet.
We move fast and veer around him in order to avoid a 5 car pileup.
"Man down!" I shout in passing.
Were hysterical from the incident for the next two laps.

After skating we walk down 5th avenue. Erika is taking pictures of the lights and window displays. Gucci, Fendi, Tiffany's, Cartier, Chanel, Louis V, and Armani are all within eye sight.
"Alright", says Erika, (a fashion major from Toronto), "This is my favorite street in New York,"
While I'm not much of a shopper, an offense to my gender, I admit that window shopping down 5th during Christmas isn't so bad. The view is a bit commercial, but the sparkle makes it whimsical and maybe even a little breathtaking.
There are hundreds of twinkle lights and decorations. Ribbons and wreaths line the streets, and a Giant swarvoski snowflake is hanging from a highwire above 47th street.

We walk to the Rockefeller center where the large evergreen stands in the plaza, looking stirdy and festive, then wait in the que for Magnolia bakery.
"Hey guys, check this out: According to a Zagat survey, magnolia bakery has the best cupcakes in the city.", Sara reads from a plaque they have displayed on a pastel colored wall.
"I'm ready to put that to the test." I chime, my sweet tooth triggering the excited feeling I get from looking at things with frosting and sprinkles.

One vanilla cupcake and a stomache ache later and I've made my decision:
Magnolia Bakery cupcakes are not cupcakes, they're heaven in dessert form.

Since it is new years eve we have dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant in the West Village. We walk back to the house where we hurriedly get ready and call a cab. The streets are cobblestone and the winter snow from the latest blizzard still exists, making it difficult to walk in our heels.
Danielle and Ashley have joined us for dinner, and I am feeling a wave of gratitude wash over me. It's pleasant having so many people I love at the same table.
I order a glass of pinot girigio and butternut squash ravioli. It tastes divine, but I am coveting Sara's fried calamari appetizer. I know that "thou shall not covet" is one of the ten commandments, but since I'm quite agnostic, I decide this doesn't apply and ask her for a bite.

We settle the bill and taxi to Brother Jimmy's, a bar in Murray Hill. Ashley orders everyone a fishbowl, which is literally a giant glass bowl filled with some deadly booze infested concoction, 30 neon straws, and a plastic alligator. Danielle is right behind her with a round of tequila shots.
More tequila shots closely follow.
Soon Ashley and I are attempting 'the robot' on the dance floor, which probably looked more like: 'The robot with a short circuit.'
I look at the mounted TV screen where they're broadcasting the ball drop live. We talk about how strange it is that just two blocks away thousands of people stand huddled to see what should have remained in the 70's fall from the sky.

It's 11:59, one minute til midnight.
A tall boy with blue eyes and a handsome 5'oclock shadow asks if I'd like a drink. I think he's cute.
I tell him no, but that he can help me bring in the new year.
"How about both?" He replies
I agree, and I wait with him at the bar while the seconds slip from the evening,
I kiss my stranger, which is actually kind of nice for having only met twenty seconds prior, then smile excusing myself to celebrate with my friends.

Sara asks for our attention, and raises her champagne glass in a toast,
"Here's to one person bringing so many amazing people together tonight, and to having 365 days ahead of us to make this the best year ever,"
We lift our glasses in unison and take a deep drink of chandon, laughing at the silliness in her words, but inside we know the sentiments are true. Our hearts are grateful and full of contentment from the moment, and hope for the future.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grand Theft Auto

The following story is one that is sharp in my memory from my childhood. It is a story that I could use to define the way I was raised, and the way my father raised me, in particular.

When I was 9 years old, my dad and I went to a sporting event and had our car towed.........

Dad and I broke into the car lot, and took it back.

Now, before you typecast my father as a villain, or call the police, let me explain:

Upon discovering our missing vehicle we contacted the car-towing company, where a wayward employee told my father to meet him after hours to exchange the car for a very large cash sum. My father, being business savvy and nothing close to naive, knew he was being swindled. It was late, and we had no way back to our Salt Lake Suburb, which was 30 miles away. 
Either Dad assisted the unruly man in making some extra change through the back door, or he could claim the car already know the outcome.

Dad and I made our way to the lot in the middle of the night where we climbed the fence, hotwired the car, unchained the gate, and drove off.
Well, Daddy did all that, but I was still there.

Days later the towing company called saying they had our car and we could pick it up for a small fee. According to them, the car had been taken from a close location, and the payment to reclaim it was minor.
Dad responded into the telephone calmly:
"That's impossible. You can't have my car. It's sitting in my driveway."
"Oh, right. That's strange. Very sorry sir. There must have been some mistake."
Daddy hung up the phone and it was never addressed again.

This is an event in my life I have only learned to really appreciate with age.
I mean, here I am, nine years old, assisting my father in grand theft auto. 
I didn't grasp the magnitude of the situation at the time, and the recap you're about to read is from that childlike perspective. I'm sure if my Dad retold it, it would be a much different version. A version filled with a little more anger, a little more fear, and maybe even a little remorse. At nine years old, I simply thought it was fun.

Now  that I am older, I realize that car theft isn't something normal people do as a pastime. I also understand that not every instance of bullying requires such drastic action, and, unlawful action at that. But, as my father's daughter I can testify of my Dad's honest, trustworthy nature, and this one time scenario simply embodies the concepts he was always trying to teach me, just usually in a more diluted way.
 The morals of this story are parallel to everything I've ever learned from him:

Family first
If you're going to do it, do it right
Stand up for yourself
and, Sometimes it's okay to bend the rules

Thanks Dad, for being the kind of parent that not only teaches me lessons, but lets me live them.
This one's for you:

I am sitting in the passenger's seat of our 1999 ford ranger. I am small enough that my feet dangle from the bench seat without touching the floor. A Billy Joel hit is playing on the radio.
 Daddy is concentrating as he drives down the interstate, eyes fixated on the lane in front of him while his lips move in unison with the chorus. 
"Every bodies talkin' bout the new sound funny bit its still rock n roll to me..," we sing.
It is another winter's night where the cold creeps up on the sides of  the windows.  Frosty patterns warn of the below freezing temperature. Daddy and I are on our way to the Utah Jazz Basketball game.
 The game is my Christmas present to him, which I think is quite clever. I enjoy the team as much as he, and I gave him two tickets with the intuition he'd have me as his guest.
 Were approaching the arena now.
Dad says,"Dunno if were gonna find parking sis." 
  Rows of cars line the streets and men in orange vests patrol the nearby lots, holding cardboard signs that read '$10 to enter'.
A sandwich shop sits kiddy corner to the venue. Lit in yellow fluorescent lights, the familiar chain is hard to miss.
We pull into the shop's parking lot and make our home in a stall near the entrance.
"All non-patrons will be toed," screams a large white sign facing our windshield.
"That's exactly why were going to have a sandwich," Dad says while smiling and cutting the engine.
We enter the basketball arena clutching two plastic bags that contain our ham and cheese dinner. Our seats are near the back, but nothing to worry.
"We'll move closer to the action," Dad tells me between plays, "We can go at the end of the quarter. It should be fine,"
I am now sitting next to daddy in row 7. I am closer than I have ever been to the court, and Karl Malone seems more like an actual sports heroine, than an actor who plays a basketball player on channel 13. Daddy and I cheer loudly, and laugh at the mascot during halftime while eating snow cones and cotton candy.
The jazz win the game, which I have credited to the luck of our presence. Were exiting with the rest of the excited crowd. I have my dad's arm in hand and half of a salty pretzel.
 My elation is doused  as we walk across the street to our car, which is no longer parked in its stall.
"What do we do now, dad?", I ask. This is more than an inquiry than a vocalization of worry. I know dad will take care of it.
At  the hotel next door dad asks the man behind the counter to use the telephone.
"You mean to say you have my towed it?!" dad growls, agitated.
"...and you want how much money, and to meet you when??" He yells
then puts down the phone.
His voice reminds me of the time I tricked my little brother into giving me his $6 allowance... Daddy found out.
"C'mon Sis", Daddy says holding my hand as we walk down an unpaved road, neither of us dressed for adventure. Cotton clouds float from our mouths as we breathe out the frigid air.
I see an overpass ahead, where a homeless man warms his fingers over a lit up trash bin. I feel dads grip on my hand tighten.
25 minutes have passed and my fingers feel like otter pops. We finally come to a tall chain-link fence. Its presence seems foreboding, and I know it's not the same kind of fence used to keep dogs in the  yards at our subdivision, well, not golden retrievers, or beagles, anyway. 
Daddy's face is pressed up against the cold metal as he inspects what's inside.
"Looks clear, I'm going to lift you over sis"
I am now standing on top of what I think was Henry Fords first vehicle. The once sky blue exterior is mostly red from rain and oxidation. The place is a landfull, riddled with car after car which are mostly broken down, and corroded with rust and missing tires. The parts and tin somehow all fit together, in a puzzle like fashion, leaving little room for the pavement below. Dad jumps on the roof of one vehicle to the next, a little bit like the chimney sweep in 'Mary Poppins', searching for our little white truck.
Finally Daddy is waving his arms in victory. He has spotted our needle in the haystack. And, there's bonus, the old toe truck by the Mercedes has a fully stocked tool it. 
I feel like tom sawyer or someone from a made for TV movie. Dad is a superhero! Yeah, that's right! Daddy is invincible and I am his sidekick! He is john wayne and I am Walter brennan. he is Indiana and i am Short Round... he is batman and I am robin...he is.. well, you get the picture.
I'm a whiny sidekick now, so consequentially I am sitting inside the little truck, and watching as daddy uses pliers to twist the chain-link free from its grip on a metal pole. The car has been hot wired and the heat is turned to a temperature that would thaw any Eskimo.
Daddy taps his fingers on the window and I roll it down. The chill creeps in and dad's nose is red from the cold.
"alright sis, open the door and scoot over. were gonna drive 'er through."
Dad puts the car in gear and although the chain link is off, the bare bones of the fence still remain. The truck is too wide.
I'm old enough to know he might prefer another word besides dagnabbit, but his sidekick has small ears.
Daddy reverses, opens the car door and steps out, pushing the rear-view mirrors flat against the cars sides.
He gets back in and shifts into first gear. We pull through, with only centimeters to spare.
We park just outside the front gate, and I wait a little longer while daddy stretches the chain link back over the fence, and fastens the wires. "2:00am" glows the dashboard clock. My eyes feel heavy from the use of adrenaline and the time.
Dad finally gets back in the truck and lets me forgo my lap-belt and lay across the seat with my head on his knees. The corners of my mouth are upturned into a smile while I close my eyes. My imagination is running wild with thoughts of a crime-fighting, father-daughter dynamic duo.

As I drift off I keep entertaining one thought: "Next year, I am buying Dad season tickets."