It is possible women have been lied to all along; there is no such thing as a glass ceiling.
In the time since my grandmother’s birth in 1906, women were headbutting some force, that is for certain. We were allowed into the military, and shortly after, granted voting privileges. We were allowed to earn our own living, and we might yet one day be guaranteed equal pay to do so. We have fought – and continue to fight for autonomy over our own bodies. And in my life time, we have been allowed to open bank accounts and lines of credit without a man co-signing our debts and co-owning our assets.
Don’t tell me the ceiling is glass. It would have shattered years ago under the swell of women rising. It is granite and the first head to break through was never going to do it with lipstick straight and every hair in place. This is hard, dusty labor.
Early in the election cycle – when we were all still allowed to hope for better than what we’ve already had, I wanted a different kind of President. My chief complaint about Hillary was and still is that she is no different than any of the seven men who’ve occupied the oval office in my lifetime , or really, the 19 since my grandmother was born. Her scandals are no more egregious than Nixon’s, Carter’s or Reagan’s – to name a few. But her experience is greater than Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, JFK, GW Bush, or Obama – to name but a few more. I understand the philosophical difference of political opinion where Hillary Rodham Clinton is concerned, but I reject the fallacy that she is too corrupt and not experienced. All things being equal, scandal and experience would remain ignored in a male candidate. One need only look to her opponent’s own active investigations, trials, business failures, and lack of even the most basic civic knowledge for proof.
I stand by what I’ve taught my sons and daughters: gender is no reason to vote for a candidate. But on Wednesday, it is why we will be celebrating.
Maybe this year, instead of distilling this beautiful life into shooters of thankfulness for daily Facebook consumption, what if we actually share our gratitude, not just our descriptions and defense of it?
Maybe we can honor the people and situations in our lives in a way that brings no recognition to ourselves. There is no harm in receiving a pat on the back or an “atta girl!” for recognizing that we have so much to be thankful for – but does the search of those things not tarnish the sincerity of our thanks?
Does my friend in Alberta appreciate knowing how much I appreciate my barista in Raleigh? Can my former co-worker in Iowa feel the blessing of my love for family, near and far? I suspect that it is only I, the common denominator – who benefits from the daily chore of social media displays.
Every person I know wakes up each morning and stares down one demon or another. And sometimes, we all blink. But what if, starting now, we also face everything that is good and is light? Let’s look the person or situation squarely in the eye and say, “I see you, and I thank you.” And then, we stay still without squirming long enough to give back – whatever it is we have to give. An ear, a cup of tea, lunch, or a lifetime of companionship.
I’m betting that in the absence of recognition or praise for merely stating our gratitude, we will find the real meaning of gratitude. And I’m betting we all have people who will be thankful we did.
Here’s an exercise for people over the age of…let’s see…Thirty. Thirty is good. It could take a few minutes, but it will either be delightful or educational.
Get comfortable with your favorite beverage. I’ve got my coconut chai latte. I’ll wait for you to get yours.
Now close your eyes (but not until you’ve read all the way through), and imagine your fourteen year old self. Don’t imagine you, like you are right now, today, with every interesting thing that’s ever happened to you under your belt. Imagine the real 14 year old you – the one with zits or braces, or skinny arms and legs. Parents that just don’t understand, hormones like a mother fu…nevermind. I’m keeping this one clean. Fourteen. Remember fourteen.
Now imagine the most embarrassing thing that somebody revealed about you to the entire class. Maybe they made up a lie about you and spread around the school. It happened to every one of us. Can you remember what it was? Some of you won’t be able to because it is miraculous what your brain can forget when you don’t spend every single day of the last twenty five years thinking about it. That’s ok. Think about what would have embarrassed you to the point that you wanted to quit school, or pretend to be sick for two weeks, or maybe even kill yourself. Yes. I’m talking that serious. Imagine somebody’s attempt to cause you that much shame, and what your ability to handle that would have been at the age of fourteen – again, without the knowledge you have right now.
Next, imagine you are you now. This should be the easy part. For some, that will take a minute. Again, I’ll wait.
You are 30, or 42, or 56. You might even be in your 80s. All of your childhood pals and classmates are also their ages now, except for the ones that have passed. They’re still gone – and they deserve a moment of silence. Again, I’ll wait. I’ll bow my head with you.
Now, someone you have not seen since you were that fourteen year old, insecure, unknowing, inexperienced self has just told your whole class that deeply embarrassing secret or lie.
Not back then.
How do you react?
Are you amused? You’d forgotten that! Do you call your closest friends who missed the announcement and say, “Oh my God, you won’t believe this stupid thing I did when I was fourteen!” And then proceed to tell them with no shame and have a good chuckle? Do you end up in long conversation about how justlike you that sounds?
Congratulations! You survived some pretty horrific things for a kid your age. You are a bird – an Odd Bird – who can laugh about that time you had your mom’s poop on your egg shell.
Or, are you deeply ashamed? That secret – or that lie that everyone believed so it might as well have been true – it has haunted you through every college party, every job interview, every play group with your baby and her baby friend’s parents. You have been scared to death of what all of these people would think of you if they knew that thing you did, or might as well have done when you were fourteen years old. As the years have passed, the list of people you have to hide your embarrassing secret from has grown.
Are you mortified that someone has just brought it up all over again? Are you squirming in your chair and did you just lose interest in that beverage you poured yourself?
Great news! You can let that egg shell poop go! Today is the day you get to put that down and become an Odd Bird, too. If the loved ones in your life are just now finding out your deepest, darkest shame – they are going to be so relieved to find out you aren’t suffering by holding on to it anymore. Believe me, please – nobody else, since you were fourteen years old has been thinking about it, too.
Except, maybe, the person who brought it up again, 16, or 28, or 34, or 60 years later. Resist the urge to question the motives of that person. They aren’t your cross to bear. You are and Odd Bird now, too. You can fly.
And if you are fourteen and reading this, sweetheart, I know you feel hurt, betrayed, embarrassed, and maybe even worthless. But I primise you, you are not. Those icky feelings you have now are carving texture into an otherwise flat existence. They will be replaced with joy beyond measure, periods of boredom, different disappointments, and moments of tranquility. And you will miss every bit of it if you do not let go of the pain of this moment.
And then when life is humming along smoothly, predictably, and happily – lean in, this is the important part – be willing to let go of that, too. Sign up for the talent show, even if you’ve only ever sung into your hair brush. Apply to that university none of your friends are attending. Seek out the next challenging job. Pick up a hobby that leaves scars. Move to a place where you don’t know anyone and can’t pronounce the street names. Break up with any person who cannot allow you to grow, change, and become.
Because all of those things are adding dimensions to your very being. Without them, you will be a flat checkerboard in a Rubix Cube world.
And one day you’re going to run into some of those classmates again. You will have so many interesting things to tell each other. You could spend years comparing all that you’ve seen of this big, wide world.
Unless they never risked, never lost, never won, and never became. Those are the people who will recognize you as the Odd Bird that you are. They won’t be the first person to ever tell you this in your life, but they will say it with more bitterness than you ever knew someone could feel towards the avian species. They will resent you for not boarding up your windows and living your whole life in the same box full of hurt they believed you deserved at fourteen.
Jack’s fidgeting gets more frenetic, pacing back and forth between his big sister in the living room, and me in the kitchen. In my face he whispers desperately, “Is this really how I have to spend my last day of summer?”
I keep my voice low, but I won’t whisper back. “Yes. We are doing this for Madi. You can’t get out of it. None of us can. Go enjoy the next few hours.”
Despite an upbringing shunning such things, Madi fell in with a Baptist church earlier in the summer. They recruited her from table twelve at the Buffalo Wing restaurant where she waited tables the last three summers; invited her out to coffee, then lunch, then church on Sunday mornings and something they call small group on Thursday nights.
Small group is held in member’s homes and is made up of eighteen to twenty five year olds. Most of them are already married, something that surprised Madi, but not me. Sexual development and hormones don’t actually follow any indoctrination regarding premarital sex, and I remember vividly the pressure to give holy meaning to the weakness of the flesh. The most devout will marry young so as not to have sex out of wedlock, while the most human will have sex anyway, but assign some permanence or significance to the relationship for no other reason than to feel right, or righter, with God. I waited until she asked me to share my insights.
I admit I was leery when Madi made plans to meet the pastor and several of his assistants at a local bistro. She said they had to meet on Tuesday, because the pastor was going to Mississippi on Wednesday. My tongue struck quicker than my filter. “Why? Does he have to pick up more snakes?”
“How did you know?” she asked with eyes wide, like I was a palm reader telling her some deep, dark secret about herself.
I told her about the small sects of Baptist believers that routinely handle snakes to prove that God is protecting them. Most of the deaths by snakebite in this country come not from people who accidentally wander into a pit of vipers, but people who are intentionally handling snakes; religious zealots account for a large number of those.
Online, Madi found many pictures of the pastor holding snakes, and she showed me. Some were long and thick, some were short and striped. Others were bright green and small as pencils. Most were constrictors, but all were non venomous. Begrudgingly, I told her it appeared that he was not a snake handler, but a snake enthusiast. He does it for hobby, not for sacrament. Not unlike the difference, I learned when I got married, between an Elvis impersonator and an Elvis tribute artist.
One Sunday afternoon, Madi met us at the local brewery when church let out. We ate our carried-in burgers and drank our beer. She mentioned that she was surprised not to run into any church members doing the same; it’s a small town. Mike and I informed her that Baptists don’t condone drinking. Or dancing. Or cards. I recounted one lovely and lavish wedding I attended at my mother’s church when I was a teen. The reception was held in the church basement, with a long table of pot luck crocks and fold up chairs lining the walls for people to sit with their Styrofoam plates and eat off their own laps. No first dance, no toast, no cake cutting ceremony. Or maybe I’d already gone outside to hang out with the other bored teens by then, because I can’t think of any scriptural reason not to have a cake cutting ceremony – not even if you take or mistake everything quite literally. A few days later, Madi reported that she’d asked small group about drinking and everyone claimed that they personally would never drink, but didn’t see a problem if someone else wanted to on special occasions.
My biggest concern came one evening while I painted my son’s bedroom. Across the hall, I heard Madi listening to a podcast of the same hell fire and brimstone indoctrination my mother used to listen to on the radio and satellite television. As if channeling her dead grandmother, I found her sitting at her desk, sewing something. I listened quietly from the doorway, and only spoke up when I heard this man rail against ho-mo-sex-shuls and other despicable deviants. I could not be silent any more.
“Is this okay with you? This man is preaching hate and intolerance, and is precisely why I didn’t raise you in the church. This is not Christianity, and it’s not alright.”
She told me she didn’t agree with him, but she was listening because she wanted to know what the church she was attending really believed in. I took some comfort that if she was still listening and learning, it wouldn’t be long before she couldn’t stomach the lot, either.
Then about a month ago, Madi asked me if anything was on my schedule for August twenty eighth. It was the day before school started for Jack and Cate, but we had no specific festivities for Back-to-School Eve. And then she invited me to the river, where she planned to be baptized with about seventy other people on that evening. Their summer recruitment plan had been quite fruitful and I could not help but wonder if there was an award to the top proselytizer; a trip to Mississippi and two free snakes, perhaps?
I felt nothing but worriment last week when I realized that the day was quickly approaching. But man cannot live by dread alone, so I started planning ways I could take my sense of failure to instill my beliefs and anti-beliefs into my firstborn and turn them into something to look forward to. Also, I wanted to take some of the gravity and significance out of the day. I suggested that we tailgate the baptism; show up early with a bucket of chicken and some good tunes. Apparently my eleven herbs and spices are not that original. The event starts three hours before the actual dunking. There is live music and the church is ordering Papa Johns for the masses. I just hope that the pastor actually ordered pizza and, in the spirit of things, did not get carried away and order anchovies and crust in commemoration of the fishes and loaves.
I understood when she retook a philosophy class that she’d passed, but wanted to replace her grade to improve her GPA. I voiced my strong desire that she retake driver’s ed before getting her learner’s permit. It’s okay in my book to re-do things until you get them right, or right enough – but being born again? She did it perfectly the first time; forty-five minute labor with no complications. She was such a beautiful, easy child. I don’t understand why she wants to be born again. It’s like scoring a 1600 on the SAT and still wanting to take it over.
Jack is right to not want to spend his last day of summer freedom watching his sister sell herself into this church. But that’s what we’re doing, because she is family. And because I still hope that the steady, constant voice telling her that God is love, not judgement, not hatred, not damnation will come in louder and clearer than pulpit shouts of indictment and sentencing. And because if she decides one day to get married, there’s no way I’m letting her have a dry reception in a damp old basement.
Seventeen years ago today was a Monday. The Cleveland Browns returned to the field for the first time in four years and they beat the Dallas Cowboys by 3 points. My boyfriend, being from Pittsburgh, was a natural enemy of Cleveland anything. He was, by law, a Steelers fan, but I’ve always suspected that if he’d been born with free will, he’d have chosen them, anyway.
Being of somewhat average intelligence with a strong sense of right and wrong, I naturally detested the Cowboys. I grew up in a virtual football desert; The Carolina Panthers didn’t exist until I was an adult, which is probably why I don’t count them as a real team, even as they turn 21 this year. Wipe that look off your face, neighbor; it’s the same as when you couldn’t embrace green ketchup even though it tastes the same.
Carolina Panthers. Green Ketchup. There’s a choking metaphor in there somewhere.
Speaking of choking, Miami Dolphins. That was my team, I thought. Most of my school buddies chose to pull for the closest teams to our north or to our south – Redskins or Falcons. I chose my team by far more scientific methods; I thought Dan Marino was gorgeous. Years and years later I’d realize I was really only his fan. The rest of the team just didn’t interest me that much.
“I’m going to marry him. What’s his name?” I declared just moments before he lost the last Super Bowl he ever played. It’s possible, I bet, that I’m the jinx he could never shake.
But seventeen years ago today, he wasn’t playing, and neither were the Steelers. We were simply celebrating the return of Monday Night Football. We cooked several pots of chili and invited some friends over. The Browns emerged victorious and the bowls were all loaded into the dishwasher when we lay down to unwind on the couch before bed. I was not expecting what happened next. At least, not that moment.
See, I totally ignored that whole don’t get your meat from the same place you get your bread rule and started dating a co-worker. He had a goofy sense of humor and perfectly straight teeth; apparently the only standards I possessed at the time. One day he overheard as I was espousing to another co-worker the superiority of Dan Marino over every other human, living or dead. He stuck out his hand to shake and said, “Hi. I went to high school with Dan Marino.”
And that’s when I was sold.
I may as well have ordered a side of Brooklyn Bridge or beach front property in Arizona because as it turned out, he only went to the same high school as Dan Marino. Thirteen years later. But that’s another story.
A year and a half after his little white lie, I was laying on the couch with him in my apartment when I said, “Hey, you know what I really want?”
He said he thought he did, and told me to close my eyes. I complied and after a few seconds he told me I could open them.
He was still lying there, beside me.
“Where’s my chocolate?”
He looked confused.
“You said you had chocolate.”
“What? No I didn’t!”
I looked confused.
There, sitting on top of the afghan I’d thrown over us was a square box. It contained the thing I’d been anxiously avoiding for a couple of weeks.
On one occasion he’d asked if I ever looked through the jar of sand I kept on my kitchen counter. I saw the tip of the diamond and a couple of gold prongs poking out and said, “Why? It’s just sand,” before quickly leaving the room.
On another occasion he asked me to bring him something from the dresser drawer I’d designated as his. The box was right on top, but I moved it to the side and took him the item he requested.
If my memory serves me, there was another near miss, but I’ve forgotten the details. I definitely didn’t expect or want what he was trying to give me. Before him, I’d dated a guy who casually said he thought I’d look good in a dress he saw in a magazine. It was white. So I read between the lines and did the only proper thing; I waited a few days and told him I moved to Alaska.
But there I was, trapped between him and the sofa cushions with an afghan and two ton diamond ring on my chest. It was almost a karat, but the weight. Oh my God, the weight.
He asked the obvious question and I said yes. It would have been rude not to.
That sounds like bullshit, but it would have. I did not want marriage, but he did. And since it meant something to him, but not to me, it seemed a small price to pay for someone I had come to love.
Plus, I’d grown up a little bit since that time I didn’t actually move to Alaska.
Ten years later, I suspect to the day, Mr. I Didn’t Really, Actually, Truly Go to High School with Dan Marino went on a business trip and fell into the vagina of the co-worker he’d been making fun of on the way to the airport a few days earlier. At that time, Dan Marino had been retired nine years, and was hiding the illegitimate love child he’d created when he fell into a co-worker’s vagina. Be careful, guys. It is a va-jungle out there. Apparently.
I’ve gotten rid of both the Dolphins and the Dan Marino paraphernalia that’s been foisted on me, usually by in-laws, over the years. Except for a few pictures in each of the kid’s rooms (and the kids themselves), I’ve also rid the house of any ex-husband memorabilia.
I wouldn’t even bring this up, and anniversaries like this one would go completely unremembered if not for the Facebook Memories feature. But lest you think this is all depressing commentary, let me assure you this is actually very, very good news.
I don’t actually follow football anymore. My team was probably never really my team, my player let me down, and I have remarried a man who’s far more into soccer and is content to let me ignore that sport, too. But the laws of space and time dictate that if this is the seventeenth anniversary of a preseason football game, this – here, now – must also be football preseason, too!
Unless the laws of physics have completely broken, autumn is on the way, ya’ll! Here’s a recipe so you can celebrate, too. Leave out the karats.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 onions chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
3 pound brisket
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, no casing
2 pound butternut squash, diced.
3 (14.5 ounce) cans peeled and diced tomatoes with juice
3 bottles of Shiner Bock (pour the other three on your garden to kill slugs)
3 cups strong brewed coffee
4 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
3 (14 ounce) can beef broth
3/4 cup chili powder
1/2 cup cocoa power
3 tablespoons ground cumin
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoon dried oregano
3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 teaspoon ground coriander
3 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon wasabi paste (or to taste)
5 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans
5 Anaheim chili peppers, chopped
3 serrano pepper, chopped Directions Place brisket in large roasting pan. Brown Italian sausage and add to brisket pan.
Sautee onions and garlic in the grease from the sausage, add to brisket and sausage. Pour in the tomatoes, coffee, tomato paste, beans, and broth. Add all dry seasonings. Roast at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Cook Anaheim and serrano peppers, 5 to 10 minutes. Add to roasting pan, along with one Shiner Bock and return to oven. In one more hour, add another Shiner Bock. In another hour, add the last Shiner Bock and the diced butternut squash. Continue cooking until the brisket is easily pulled apart with a fork.
Remove from oven and do that, then stir all together. If you prefer more heat, you can add habanero to the skillet with Anaheim and serrano peppers. They make my teeth hurt, so I don’t use them.
Serve with your favorite toppings; we like sour cream, cheese, and fresh green onions.
Oh, and bread. Preferably homemade, but if you don’t live with Martha Stewart, use whatever you like.
In celebration of Earth Day last week I sprinkled a little bit of attention on the small piece of earth I own. A few years ago I created myself a beautiful bed of shapes and colors out in the back yard; it was just one of my many steps to eradicate any trace of grass from my lawn. And at the time, it was the meditation I needed to stay sane during a really shitty period in my life. On Friday I faced that neglected zombiescape with a great amount of shame.
The cherry tree I rescued is thriving and heavy with now-fading bloom, but the barren, boney limbs that were too far gone to be coaxed back into production are grey and brittle, poking towards the sky. I never understood exponential multiplication until I started growing Iris. Where they once punctuated with sharp, green blades and colorful frills, they now threaten to devour the deceptively delicate looking camellia I only bought because it was on sale. Some girls are suckers for abandoned puppies or designer shoes; I can’t pass up a flowering perennial.
My red, twisty Japanese Maple that I affectionately refer to as my dragon tree, is full and lush, but slowly being choked out by the skeletal remains of the fallen army of Chinese Forget-Me-Nots that jumped their flower pots and made my border bed their battle field. They scratch my flesh and pull at my clothes when I walk too near. All of it is calling out, “Tend to me.”
I have, once upon a time, loved this garden. It wasn’t something I ever intended to complete and then maintain; my joy was in nursing, adding, moving, and gifting my plant babies. I started every February and continued until the heat chased me inside for the season. But last year was different. In February I already didn’t feel very good and I barely kept up with weeds. Had I been paying closer attention, I’d have identified the Chinese Forget-Me-Not problem sooner and my arms would not now be covered in long, thin scabs. By the end of May, I was recovering from a surgery to remove a tennis ball sized tumor, along with the ovary it was rooted to. When I was well enough to work in the garden again, my heat limit had already been exceeded. Coincidentally, that’s when I rediscovered an old flame of mine: travel.
Not that I ever forgot my love of road trips; the highway will always be the best hairdryer and my favorite therapist. But I fell in love again with air travel and taking the longest possible route between any two locations. While I was busy not keeping up with my garden, I went to Boston (regrettably, straight through). I visited New Orleans by way of Minneapolis; from Philly to Phoenix to Spokane so that I could spend a long weekend in Montana. I flew to Orlando so I could drive to Savannah and St. Augustine. And then I started on my quest for passion, flying into Nashville so I could drive to Memphis for Elvis’ birthday, and then flying into London so I could spend Easter in Rome. Even as I stooped to yank the uninvited plant life out of my garden, I was making mental preparations for my upcoming trip to Dallas and trying to decide where I’m taking the kids for summer vacation. I have, it would seem, grown myself a lovely little set of aluminum wings, and I love them. But my fingernails scratched at a different love, there in the dirt behind my house.
I successfully pulled the biggest, ugliest weeds on Friday. In this garden, neglect fruits more prolifically than my labor ever did, and I clearly have to make some choices about where my energies are going to be expended. With legs cramped from all of the stooping and squatting, I turned to herbicide as an answer to the pesky grass, clover, thistle, and lemon balm that have appointed themselves as ground cover inside my flower beds. Just as the 1.33 gallon jug of Round Up ran dry, fat, juicy rain drops splashed onto my forehead. For the next twelve hours, all of my chemicals were washed away, reminding me that there really are no short cuts. Not with roots, and not with wings.
Some words are universal. I’m sure there are examples of Italian words that we leave alone, but I cannot think of any. In English, one such word is Pacemaker. It is the same in every country, though investigated far more thoroughly in Europe than I’ve ever encountered in the States. Here, I can declare my pacemaker and be waved around any metal detector. After making my declaration over there, I had to show my Medtronic device card and passport. I was escorted around metal detectors then patted down, where available by female police or security. Thoroughly. So thoroughly in the Naples airport, in fact, that I learned exactly where I fit on the sliding spectrum of sexual preference. Let’s just say Mike enjoyed the show and I needed a drink when she finished.
We were told in advance that there was no real reason to learn Italian because everyone speaks English and is eager to help. With a handful of exceptions, most of whom were Gypsies, this was blatantly wrong. We ended up playing a lot of charades, the most futile game of which took place in a Naples farmacia just seconds before they locked their door for the night. I hurried in and asked the pharmacist if he had any Tums. The café and wine based diet has one major disadvantage. He gave us the universal non comprendo shrug. It made sense to me that if pacemaker was universal, heartburn would be as well, so I said it while rubbing my tummy.
He smiled, went to the back and left me standing with his cashiers for an awkwardly silent amount of time, then returned with an item in each hand; panty liners in the right, tampons in the left. Later, Mike tried to spin this into flattery. “At least he thinks you look young enough to still need those.”
I reminded him I am still young enough to need them, just not right that moment. The interaction left me grumpy until our next bottle of wine.
Back to the farmacia. I said no with my mouth, my head, and my hands, and tried again.
“Heartburn. Stomach acid.” This time I rubbed higher up, on my rib cage. He retreated to the back again, and returned with a green box labeled Anacidol.
That seemed like a reasonable translation of anti-acid, so I said grazie, perhaps overly enthusiastic to end this game of charades, and paid the seven euro.
The seven euro was my first hint that I was not buying the right product. So far, everything had been much less expensive in Italy. By my calculation, Tums should have been no more than two euro for a box that size.
The box was my second clue. Tums doesn’t come in a box at home and by what I’d seen of Italians so far, they shunned unnecessary packaging. Hell, sometimes they shunned sanitary packaging. When we reached that next bottle of wine, I investigated my purchase. Magnesium and dimethicone. Constipation and gas.
That’s when I decided to smile more, so as not to look alternately menstrual and constipated. And that’s where the wine came in handy.
Now, this tidbit of information may only apply to the parts of Europe we were roaming last week, but Mike, with his silver hair and Carribean Sea blue eyes seemingly has the word ‘American’ stamped across his forehead in blazing, capital letters. I, on the other hand, with my muddied DNA, could be (and in varying degrees, am) almost anything.
I watched as multi-lingual beggars, aggressive street vendors, and other peoples with questionable motives approached him and, in decent English, asked for money, pitched their wares, or attempted their ploys to lure tourists into dark alleys. These are tenacious people who do not take, ‘no,’ for an answer. When walking alone, just as many people made their appeals to me in God-only-knows what languages, but never in English. On our first morning in Rome I realized there was no language in which I could rebuff them that they don’t speak better and could continue their spiel. So I made one up.
Raise your hand if you remember the Ricky-Martin-spawning, Puerto Rican boy band, Menudo. If you don’t, I’ll give you a minute to familiarize yourself.
All caught up? Good. So, Menudo doesn’t sound like a real word, right? With each unwelcomed entreaty, I gave a sympathetic shake of the head and said, “Menudo.” Sometimes I felt a shrug and a, “No, menudo,” was a better response.
I got only baffled looks in response as my accosters retreated. It worked so well that Mike started using it.
Only once we reached Naples did it occur to me that I might have inadvertently been saying an actual word. How would I know? I turned to Google Translate. Great app; I recommend it for everything from ordering lunch to deciphering graffiti.
“Menduo,” as it turns out, means nothing in Italian. However, “Ma nudo,” which is how it is pronounced, means “but naked.”
So for four days we had been startling street people around Rome.
“Can you spare change?” But naked.
“Do you need tickets?” No, but naked.
“Have you any bread?” No, but naked.
“Selfie sticks, five euro!” But naked!
“Have you seen my daughter? She’s this tall with brown hair.” But naked.
I really have no idea what was being asked of me when Mike wasn’t around, telegraphing his Captain America beacon. But, I learned that in dealings with people whom you cannot understand, instead of pretending to speak a language they’ve never heard, it is perhaps more effective to appear insane in a language they know well.
And only now does it occur to me I’ve been doing that for years.
In fourth grade I had an assignment I can no longer remember the specifics of, wherein I wrote about my imaginary invention – a Flash Dark. It’s the exact opposite of a flash light and can be used to point a cone of darkness into any space. My teacher told me that’s called a shadow, but I told her it was darker than that. She gave me another exasperated look and a C minus. I didn’t yet have the physics background I would need to explain how to go about sucking all of the light out of a space. Decades later and I still don’t, but I’ve since met people that can do it merely by showing up.
My mother told me even if it were possible, it wouldn’t be a useful invention to anyone. Over the years she came to use Flash Dark as a code word for things I thought were a good idea, but that she just couldn’t see any use for. Curiously, she did not apply this to my marriage at 18 years old to a boy I’d just met, but right up until her death still referred to my second husband as a Flash Dark. She wasn’t wrong.
This morning I wonder if my mother noticed the influx of Dutch speaking souls up there in her heaven, and I wonder if it prompted her to take a peek at what’s going on down here on Earth.
If she did, she no doubt noticed the buildings all around the planet that have been lit in the colors of Belgium’s flag as a show of…something for the people of Brussels after their terror attack yesterday. Black, gold, and red lights. I don’t mean UV black lights that would undoubtedly leave us all scratching our heads as to how bodily fluids got all the way up there, everywhere. I mean to say they are literally shining a lack of light.
And then I think about how devoid of any comfort or peace this gesture must be to those affected and I realize my Flash Dark has been brought to fruition.
I bet you didn’t know all those roads that lead to Rome are, in fact, covered with the same material the ancient Proverbians used to pave the road to hell: good intentions.
And mama, my intentions were the best.
This whole journey was intended to be the next stop in my search for passionate people doing the thing they’re passionate about. My first stop was kind of a bust, if I’m being honest – which I’m almost ready to do – so I had high hopes for attending Easter mass with the Pope. I observed Lent for 35 of 40 days, attended mass 6 times (half of which were in Latin, because it only counts if you suffer), and just to give you an idea of how serious I actually am about this, I followed the rules. Well, The Rule, to be specific.
What rule? The one on the Vatican website that instructs the faithful masses how to get tickets to the Papal Masses. Per their requirement, we downloaded and completed the request form. We faxed it to the Prefecture of the Papal Household because this organization is notoriously not an early adapter of anything, and we have, per instruction, been patiently waiting since November 12th to receive the Golden Ticket by post. Except in this case, the Golden Ticket is merely a confirmation that our fax request was received, along with instructions to take said letter to Vatican Will-Call* on the afternoon before Easter to find out if any tickets were issued.
So here we are, folks. Two mail deliveries left before I slip the star spangled bonds of America and begin the European leg of my passion quest and I think it’s pretty safe to go ahead and call it. Under normal circumstances, I’d probably be scheming a plan to crash the mass, but the documentary I just watched on the Swiss Guard has convinced me to just accept this as the universe’s way of rearranging my adventure for me.
So besides church, what exactly does a traveler do in Rome on Easter Sunday? I’ll keep you posted.
*Yes. The Vatican really does have a Will-Call. And a fax machine. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 90’s, I recommend you fax them your favorite comic strips every morning (+39 06 698 85863). If they can’t get around to sending me a confirmation letter, they probably won’t send the Swiss Guard to your house to ask you to stop.