If I learned anything from last week’s trip to Tennessee, it’s that when I’m home I need to get out more. Every person I passed on the street in both Nashville and Memphis could rattle off a dozen things I needed to see while I was in town. I can’t do the same for Raleigh. There are places and things that thrill me, but those have zero tourist value.
My friend, Jen is visiting for the week. She arrived Thursday night and we giggled until two a.m. I let her sleep in on Friday morning while I consulted TripAdvisor for things to do in Raleigh-Durham. Since it’s winter, fully 4/5th of their suggestions were off the table. Who knew we were so outdoorsy? One possibility leaped out at me, furry arms wide open. There was no time to properly vet the idea before it was clinging to my neck and poking leaves in my mouth.
I quietly knocked on Jen’s door and invited myself into her room. I bounced on the corner of her bed and said, “Hey, do you want to paint with lemurs?”
A typical response for someone waking up to this question might be, huh? But Jen’s not typical and that’s why I love her. She said, “Hell, yeah!”
And I really don’t want to tell anybody how to live their life, but maybe those ought to be the first words we all utter every morning that we are lucky enough to wake up.
We spent the few remaining minutes of the morning getting dressed and looking deeper into the offerings of the Duke Lemur Center. We met in the upstairs hallway, disappointed. Jen had envisioned some sort of human-lemur collaboration, producing a joint piece of art. I’d imagined I’d get to hold a lemur by the tail, dip him in paint, and smear him on my canvas. Either one of us could have been right, but no. For $95 each, Duke will let visitors pick what color paint a couple of Lemurs step in before running across a sheet. And you get to keep the sheet. It’s just this woman’s opinion, but that activity neither rises to the price tag, nor the legal definition of painting with lemurs.
By the next afternoon I’d taken my children to visit with their father for the holiday weekend and dropped my husband at the airport for a week of skiing and Sundance Film Festival-ing. We met up with some friends for books, drinks, and dinner. To the outside world, I looked fine. But on the inside, I was still really bummed about that whole lemur thing. Then my brain turned on.
If ideas came in color, the one I had next would have been hot pink and orange. I invited our friends over for Sunday night. We would go to Walmart and buy stuffed lemurs! I have plenty of stretched and primed canvases, and paint, at home.
Looking back, I have no idea why I was so certain Walmart would have lemurs. Nor can I explain why, when Jen was just making a helpful suggestion, I replied with such “judgey indignation” that, Ptshh. Dollar General doesn’t have Lemurs!
By the time I’d driven to the Toys R Us side of town, I was starting to feel like my brain had thrown a party that I wasn’t invited to. There was sangria and lemur painting up in there. But out here, in the cold, harsh, real world, there were no lemurs and I’m pretty sure that is some kind of racist bullshit. After striking out at a craft store, I remembered World Market.
Jen stayed in the parking lot to call her family back in Dallas, so I entered World Market alone. By nature, I am not a shopper. I don’t have the focus to comb through aisles of things so I walked right up to Tracy, the nearest sales person. She appeared to be about 30 and of at least average intelligence, so I begged for her help. “Do you have anything in here that is a lemur, or has a lemur in it, or on it? I just need a lemur and it doesn’t really matter in what form.” My point is, I clearly said lemur several times. And obviously, I was already showing signs of willingness to settle.
Jackpot! She nodded and walked me to a shelf filled with all sorts of animal-shaped ornaments. Or toys. I couldn’t really tell what use these things were, except that they were about to satisfy my acute fixation on lemurs. Then she pointed to the only two llamas on the shelf.
I didn’t want to come off as judgey and indignant again so I picked up the llamas, one white, one brown, and carried them to the register. The line was moving slowly, so I had time to name them. This is where Jen found me, with both llamas standing in my outstretched palm, like they were freely roaming the countryside of Peru.
“Serena, what are you doing?” Who sounded judgey and indignant now?
“Shhhhh.” I didn’t want Tracy to hear this.
“But those aren’t lem-”
“Shhhhh!” I hushed her, louder, and kind-of jerked my head towards Tracy, who was now helping another customer.
“They’re not lem-”
I interrupted her again, with a staccato whisper and more head jerking. “I. Know. They’re. Not. Lemurs. But she thinks they are.”
Jen’s face showed nothing but confusion. “But why are you buying them?”
I didn’t actually have an answer for her, so I moved my palm to the nearest shelf and set Jake and Elwood free, along with any hope of painting with lemurs. I hesitated at the door, trying to convince myself that painting with llamas would totally be as fun as painting with lemurs, but my one-track brain would have none of that. Besides, everybody knows Llamas are for raffling off, not for painting. I returned home, defeated.
We still had our party Sunday night, but it changed from a lemur painting party into a yoga pants party. There was moonshine sangria; there is always sangria. The next morning I nursed sore cheeks from laughing so hard the past few days and it was not lost on me that, yet again, things didn’t turn out the way I (hastily) planned; they turned out better.
My frantic search wasn’t a new one. I’ve always been hunting lemurs in one form or another. I have these ideas, sometimes silly, sometimes even sillier. And you know what? I have an awful lot of fun trying to catch them.