Saturday, December 29, 2012

Keep Them Safe

"Can I color?" The three-year-old I care for asks. 

"Sure." I say, walking to where the markers and paper sit stacked on the counter. When I flip to a fresh page, she asks that I tear it out. I do. She dumps the markers onto the kitchen table. Four fall to the floor. I pick them up and align them beside her paper. "There you go." I say. Two short pencils and a set of old keys have also fallen from the container. I return them to the plastic bin and click the lid closed. 

At the sink, I glance over to watch as she drags the tip of her marker into a blue swirl. She holds it up to show me. "It looks like a rose!" I tell her. Seconds later, she is holding one of the short sharp pencils and drawing a line from the blue squiggle to the bottom of the page. "Only draw on the paper." I say. (The marker ink only shows on the specific paper they're paired with.) She obeys my request, carefully keeping the lead on the page. I turn to the stove, grab the pasta pot and place it into the deep metal sink. That's when I suddenly see her head beside the kitchen island. I ask her what she's doing, afraid she's taking the graphite to the white cabinetry. She doesn't respond. Then a brilliant bluish-white flashes before her. I rush around the downed dishwasher door. I check her. She's silent but breathing and not bleeding. I look behind me. One of the keys from the marker bucket is sticking straight into the electricity socket at the end of the island. With my wits tangled by jitters, I grab the charred keys, which luckily do not shock me, and throw them onto the counter. I check the child again. I inspect her cheeks, eyes, fingers, tummy. She looks past me, sees the soot stain on the wall and begins to sob and mumble incoherent sentences. She then turns and runs away like a teenager. I let her go. I call after her, but decide to give her space. As she clambers up each step to the second floor, I watch from below. Then my sense returns. She isn't thirteen, she's three. I go after her, running up the stairs, my socks slipping me slightly. 

In her pale pink room, she tries to hide beside her bookshelf. There is a little space between the painted plaster and wood. She comes here when she needs a confined private place or when it's my turn to count during Hide-and-Seek. Today, however, there will be neither counting nor hiding in cozy crannies. I pull her to me and carry her flailing limbs to the rocking chair. "You're ok." I say over and over again. But when I sit us down, she escapes me with frantic wiggling. 

"Why don't you go into your bed." I suggest. She goes, steps up onto the ottoman and climbs over the lowered bar into her crib. She dives her face into the covers then turns her sniffling nose and mouth up for air. I sit beside her, rubbing her back and assuring her that many kids have made the same mistake. Immediately after the flash, while I was checking her for holes and singed banana curls, she'd said she was trying to unlock it, the outlet. Now in the safety of her soft blankets, she stops crying, but looks visibly weary. 

"Why don't you fall asleep." I urge. But she won't. Instead her eyes protest by barely blinking. I decide to pick her up. "I'm going to pick you up." I warn. This time she doesn't resist. I wrap my fingers around her ribs, lift and carry her back to the chair. The side of her face rests on the side of mine. The skin to skin touch soothes her. I begin to rock, shifting her head to my chest. Seconds later, her breathing deepens and her long standing cough begins to rattle within her ribs, causing a snore that sounds like that an old man. With one hand around her head and the other spanning her back, I rock to a slow rhythm for twenty minutes. As we sway, the reality of the event catches up to me. Her fingers could have been touching the keys when the electricity reached the metal. Her heart could have stopped. What would I have done if her heart had stopped? Then my thoughts begin racing on a new track. What if she has a concussion somehow and now that she's sleeping she won't wake up? This stomps my feet and halts our momentum. I start tapping her toes like piano keys and telling her that it's time to pick her brother up from school. She stirs and squints. She's fine! She's fine. She's fine. I lay her head back to my chest, collapse into the curve of the chair and rock her back to sleep.  

Last week in a Connecticut elementary school, twenty children, all just six and seven years old, were killed by the unforgiving wrath of a "troubled young man" with access to semi-automatic rifles. The school psychologist, principal, the murderer's mother and four teachers were also slain before the killer took his own life. No one shot survived. When the firemen and paramedics arrived there wasn't even anyone to revive or rush to the hospital. 

When the little girl awakes in my arms, I offer her a juice box. To my relief, the gloom is gone. The nap, it seems, has distanced her from the shock of our little socket show. Later I will have to coax her back into the kitchen, but it won't be terribly traumatic. After that she'll walk beside me on the sidewalk while I call her mother to tell her the story of the soot stained socket

Isn't it difficult enough to keep our children safe? Safe from brass keys and inviting outlets, wet monkey bars, and busy streets? Safe from cyber bullies, sexual predators, lead paint, and sharp rusty corners? Safe from chemically constructed food in bodegas, vending machines and cafeterias? Safe from prescription drugs with suicidal side effects, boiling pots on stovetops, plastic bags and abandoned refrigerators? Safe from old steam heating burners in living room corners, slippery bathtubs full of warm suds, psychotic strangers on the bus and broken beer bottles at the beach? Safe from rickety window screens, knives in the open dishwasher, bleach below the sink and pornographic popups on our computer screens? Most of us do our very best to keep a child safe and to defy, as best we can, the impermanence of innocence. Why then do we allow these semi-automatic massacre machines to be bought and sold in our stores like bicycles? Is it because the majority of us have yet to have a child shot to death beneath his/her desk, a cousin murdered at the movies, a sister shot down on her front stoop, or a father executed in his cubicle? Is it because those of us lucky enough to escape tragedy live within the assurances of statistics, secretly convincing ourselves that most likely we, and our loved ones, will not be shot dead in the next senseless massacre? Because that shouldn't matter. Love thy neighbor now. Demand from our politicians laws that protect our lives and not just our rights. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


In the five-star vestibule of attentive waiters, crystal chandeliers, a tremendously tall Christmas tree, salty nuts and shiny glasses of liquor, my father tells us about when he and my mother started having us kids. They had had no plan, he tells us. They both wanted children so when they found themselves pregnant just a couple months after their wedding day, they embraced it. 

As Scott and I leave the hotel lobby where my father is staying downtown, my husband turns to me and says, "We should have a baby." 

"What? Are you serious?" I exclaim, searching his face for sarcasm.  

"We're ready now." 

I feel a little nauseous. Not by the conversation, but by all the fancy mixed nuts I've consumed. 

"Was it something my dad said? Or was it that little girl?" I ask, while he leads us through the windy city streets to the bus.


While my father speaks on topics of politics and life, a very young child becomes entranced with Scott. With pierced ears and footy pajamas, she runs to my husband and gives him coasters. With them, he plays peek-a-boo and does magic tricks. She's quite delighted, laughing with a pink bottle dangling from the grip of her tiny teeth. Despite our merriment, the girl's father appears embarrassed to have bothered strangers and takes her back to the girl's mother and older sister. When the toddler is with her family behind us, she watches Scott. And when her father carries her off to bed, she flaps her hand in a wave. We wish her "sweet dreams" and "good night."  

"What are we waiting for? We're ready now." He says. 

"Well... health insurance, but we can pay for it." I say wondering whether we can in fact pay for it as well as a baby. I don't say anything against his proposal because I am too blinded by excitement to say anything that would derail my husband's baby train of thought, however in my head I am calculating... We still owe $3000 to his parents for our car. We have $1000 we need to pay on the credit card. I still owe about $2000 in school loans and we both make very modest wages. Also, there's this: Could we live on Scott's pay? No. Do we want to have a baby in Chicago? I don't know. Can we even fit a crib in our bedroom? Probably notDo we have money to buy little baby clothes, baby blankets, a crib, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, or some kind of rocking chair? No, no, no.  

"Everyone says you'll never have enough money." We whisper during the rumbling bus trip north. We could make it work. If we just keep waiting for the "right time", it'll never be the right time. We're emotionally ready, isn't that enough? All you need is love, right? I don't know about that. We have plenty of love, but I can't write a check for rent with love nor can I fill up the gas tank or grocery cart with love. 

That night when we get off the bus and cross our street, I ask if this is happening tonight. Scott pauses. Then says that we shouldn't start tonight. That we should talk about it more tomorrow. 

After Scott falls asleep beside me, my thoughts keep me awake as they scramble from one idea to the next. If we got pregnant now I would have the baby in August... 

I sleep four hours that night, falling into sleep around 2am, and then catching myself awake at 6:30am in mid-thought. I think about baby all day long. I drink baby coffee and despite my lack of baby sleep I am baby excited. I call Scott twice to see if he's come to any conclusions. He hasn't. We'll talk when we get home from work. He's going to call his father to talk to him about it. Ok, I tell him, that's a great idea. An hour later, I call him for the second time. 

"We'll talk about it when we get home." 


That night, we talk. I am immediately disappointed. Scott knows, as I've known all along, that we just aren't ready yet. Scott's father said that we'd need health insurance a few months before becoming pregnant otherwise we wouldn't be covered. He also said that we'd need to make sure we were ok with being in Chicago for it all. Also, he said, Scott needs to be making more money. 

"I'm sad." I say. "It was so exciting to have you so excited." 

"We don't have to stop being excited. It's going to happen. Just not yet." 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Big Cowboy Hat in the Sky

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When Saturn finds itself in the same place it was when we were born, Astrologers call it Saturn's Return. It starts about the time we turn 28 and concludes by 30, or so I've been assured. If we survive this despondent phase, we reach Adulthood. However before we can cross over to the promised land of clarity and confidence, we must trudge through something resembling a poorly planned party where we are all required to play brain teasers while intoxicated on the destructive drugs of personal development and recurring regrets. Our challenge at the party, if we shall call it a party, is to cast off what isn't working in our lives to focus on what is and what will. 

Last month, I turned 29. I've been treading for about a year in a deep kiddy pool of what smells to be piss, pus and puke. For my birthday, I bought myself a used tweed bathing suit with a pleated skirt and found a couple arm bubbles for occasional rest, but mostly I just hang on the wall gagging and hollering questions at the lifeguard like he has any idea whether I should become a certified career woman or not. Three months ago, Scott turned 28. A week after his birthday, my dear husband belly flopped beside me, sinking to the plastic bottom. I watched while the yellowish green water hid his naked body like a G.I Joe guy in the grass. I thought he might be dead, drowned, but I didn't give up and eventually I drew him to the surface with silly songs and false promises of cake. Once he was breathing again, I stole him a kick board, a beer and a wet suit and we laid in the living room talking. An hour later, we were pulled to our feet, our eyes covered with blindfolds and our shoulders set to spinning. After several dizzying turns, we were stilled into wobbling nausea, given sharp pins with dangling tails and told to wander through the darkness in search of our destined donkey butts. Zealously, I accidentally poked my pin through Scott's pants and into his flesh. He cried out, removed the used handkerchief from his eyes, wiped away the dried crumblings of snot from the ridge of his cheekbones and looked at me, then looked to the pin pressing the loose denim to his hip. He didn't pull it out. Instead he just looked at it. That's when I said, We've been procrastinating about one of the most important things, our purpose in life! We thought it was theater. But maybe it isn't. Perhaps leaving the theater has been obvious for awhile. We just didn't want to believe it before. 

"I don't want to be poor anymore." He said then, a cloud in each of his deep set eyes. 

"Me either." I agreed, pulling the pin out. Strangely, he didn't bleed. Instead, he deflated a little. 

After 730 days of such demoralizing activities as these, the fishing nets of fog and fear will be dragged away.  We will be handed goody bags of the graphite sketches and the lists of declarations and newly acquired aspirations we drew while at the stubby craft table in the corner of the kitchen. We will find our dusty car keys in the basket above the fridge and our boots behind the boxes of empty bottles in the yard. 

However until that glorious day comes, I'll be at the sticky ping pong table, swinging at soft lemons. Why are we home nearly every night too tired and cold to socialize with this city? I wonder. We were so busy planning our move here that we didn't really figure out what we'd be doing once we got here. Sure we had some ideas, but mostly we moved to Chicago because we wanted to. I'm afraid that means we're doomed. Perpetually following our guts and hearts instead of our brains and heads. We never knew it'd be so much like life here. As strange and stupid as that sounds to say. We move and move and move with these hopes that everything will just work it's way out like a loose knot tugged from one end. But it doesn't ever. There are always snarls twisting into doubt and depression, which tightens and becomes even more impossible to separate. Particularly now with Saturn staring down at us, it's rings pointing in every direction. With all the politeness I can muster, I shout to the hidden stars above the city lights, Please Saturn, team up with the North Star and give us a little guidance down here. But that big orange stone in the sky remains silent. That's when I throw my shiny paddle at the sandbox, my cuticles burning, and declare to myself that we must stay still for a moment. Take a class. Make some friends. Enjoy this marvelous city.

I return to the craft table where I sit on a doll sized chair drawing pictures of a fictional farmhouse. I draw a dirt parking lot, a bike rack and a row of rocking chairs. I write about piles of mismatching mugs, plates and pots. I draw pellet stoves glowing in cozy corners, sending smoke to the sky. I write recipes. We'll live here, I draw an arrow pointing to the second floor windows. We'll work here, I write beside the cafe on the ground level. Behind the house is a great big field with a vegetable patch and a row of little apple trees reaching from their roots. There'll be live music. String instruments vibrating, raspy spit drenched harmonicas wailing and old folk tales telling. Patrons will sit together on tattered oriental rugs, reupholstered ottomans and blanketed love seats, sipping beer, dipping cookies into coffee and singing along. 

I show my paper plans to Scott. He smiles and tells me to stop searching the Internet for foreclosed farmhouses, but to preserve my pencil sketches and recipes because they might just come in handy one day.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sneaking into Jewelry Boxes

The sun is out. It's the 10th of November, but it's something like 55 degrees in Chicago. Scott drives us from the airport. My mother and I sit in the backseat and my father sits in the front. 

"We have a couple options." I tell them. "We can go out to breakfast right now; we can go to the grocery store and I can make breakfast or..."

"Let's go out to breakfast." My mother resolves. 

"Do you still want to go to the movie? It's at noon? We could walk there, it's only a mile away, did you bring sneakers?" The independent cinema I work for is showing Buster Keaton's Cameraman with live organ accompaniment. I thought it would be fun to see the old silent comedy on the big screen together. I also cannot help but spit rapid sentences at my parents whenever I am with them. They don't mind, they tell me after they've been quiet for awhile. They like listening. And yes, that all sounds great to them.  

While my mother and I snuggle in the backseat, she points to Sunny's gold diamond ring on her finger. She takes it off and slides it onto my right ring finger where it settles above my knuckle quite perfectly. I look down at the old gorgeous gleam, flattening my hand to admire it properly. 

"Do you want it?" She asks. An offer which is far too spontaneous sounding for me to accept. I love the ring, but I can't take it from her. It used to be my great-grandmother Sunny's, then my grandmother Nancy's and now it belongs to my mother, Sandy. Though I do suppose my mother calls me Rachey. So maybe it is meant to be. But she needs to think about it more, I decide, giving it back. 

For the rest of the ride to the restaurant, we discuss our plans for the weekend. I have them from Saturday morning until Sunday night. 

"I want to see your water." Mom says. 

"We can take Penny to the dog beach. Maybe tomorrow morning after we check out of the hotel." 

After dinner at a raw vegan restaurant where my father's noodle dish is surprisingly cold and my mother's pizza is on some kind of bark bread, the three of us sit together, sipping water and wine and giggling about how many times I've dragged them to such alternative food establishments. Then my father glances over to my mother and asks, "Don't we have a special little gift for Rachel?" 

"You're here, that's my gift!" I say, thinking Dad's assuming something he shouldn't. But then my mother surprises me. 

"I tried, but she didn't want it." She says touching the antique gold and diamond stones. 

"You were serious?" I exclaim.  

"Would you wear it?" She asks sliding it back onto my right ring finger.

"Yes." I say looking at my hand adorned with a new delicate sparkle. 

"Somehow I always knew that you used to sneak into my jewelry box and try it on like I used to sneak into my mother's room and try it on."

"I would." I say. 

"I think I would pretend it was my engagement ring." 

"Me too." 

"I've always known it would belong to you one day. Do you really like it?" 

"Yes Mum!" I do, of course. 

"Don't sell it." 

"I won't!" I would never. 

Maybe one day I'll have a daughter who sneaks into my jewelry box to try it on.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Romantic

According to Enneagrams, I am a "Type 4, The Romantic." I long for what I feel is missing. I have severe emotional intensity. I crave to be unique, but have an ever present fear that I am deficient and lacking in everything I do. I am, to a wretched fault, persistently envious. If only I were thinner, prettier or married to some successful businessman. In addition to all this seeming baggage, I am a Scorpio. I am passionate, devoted, motivated, sympathetic and stubborn. I am so interested in others that it causes me to stare at strangers in restaurants and swerve as I drive past pedestrians on slanted cement sidewalks. I crave to know what everyone around me is talking about, struggling with, wearing, feeling, like an untreated OCD addict might kiss every door handle fifty-seven times before turning it. If I had shown any promise in science, I may have become a nurse or psychologist, but I didn't. Still I like helping people. Perhaps that is why I am so desperate to start a family. Mothering, I know, will be something I succeed at. Or at the very least, something I won't be rejected from. In college, my intuitive traits drew me to expression and led me to art's open ending. My emotional instincts were what attracted me to acting and experiencing theater and film. My husband says I am the perfect audience member. I weep when they want me to, cringe when they show something gruesome, and laugh when they surprise me. When acting work proved sporadic, I learned to write my emotions (of which I have more than I care to keep) away into safely kept sentences.  

When we are labeled into types, signs, stereotypes and palm lines it would seem that destiny is predetermined by some godly chemist in the clouds, but what about when we add in every factor? Can one truly sum herself up into a single list of ingredients? I wouldn't know the first thing about the mathematics, in calculating life long calorie percentages, but we can forget about all that for the time being. I am the third child of four. One of three daughters. My mother used to call me her peacemaker. I am twenty-eight years old, nearly twenty-nine. I am caucasian. My husband says we're middle class though we're broke as tramps. I am 5'8 and 147 pounds on a good day. I have an extremely delicate soul and seriously sensitive skin. I am Irish, Italian, English, and French Canadian. I am an American. I have dark brown hair and when I'm worried, strands of it stick between my wet fingertips as I rinse it of shampoo in the shower. I have bluish brown eyes. I have a freckle on the center of my throat and visible veins beneath my brows. I was raised a Catholic and I married a Jew. I want to find a church or a temple to attend, but fear I'll be too embarrassed because God doesn't seem to be very popular anymore. I miss the days when "God bless you" was nice and not offensive. I sweat and blush whenever I'm embarrassed. I wake up early every morning to walk to the beach where my dog herds birds who sit on the water like buoys of beaks, wet feathers and wide wing spans. It injects joy into every pore of my body and pumps bliss in and out of my lungs like menthol. I want to pay a psychic to read my ora and predict my future because I am gullible, hopeful and supremely interested in what's to come. I am an actor. I am a writer. I am a product of my mother, my father, my ancestors, and my generation of so many others equally lost in this current American era here upon this benevolent Earth. We are all scrambling for guidance and acceptance, no matter our birthday or birth order. But labels, it seems, can help our minds name complex matters by aligning our differences into categories and explanations. I separate myself into pieces, roots and stems because I hope in better understanding myself, I will understand how to better myself. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012


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We live in an apartment building with a courtyard, mailbox key and a maintenance man named Tom. Sometimes the beagle across the yard howls an horrendously shrill cry. One time, I stuck my head out the window and said, "it's OK pup!" in my gentlest way, but it only made him bellow longer. We live in Chicago now. I play my guitar and sing covers of songs with simple chord progressions. We ride busses to live shows. We walk the dog to a fenced-in beach with fresh water waves and damp sand marked by overlapping paw prints. I live in Chicago now. I miss my mother and my sisters, my brother and my father. I miss my state. My friends in Massachusetts. My life in Massachusetts. I miss knowing where everything is though I like discovering this new pace, tree leaf lace and storefront face. I ache for my mother's arms and my father's coarse kisses, but I love how scary this all is. There's a time difference between my home state and here. One hour. That means I have more time every day, or rather that's how it seems when I call and it's a just little too late to chat. But there aren't any mountains here. Just a hill at the park where I like to take pictures of people standing beside their bicycles, perspiring running partners or holding spools of strings that connect to kites on windy days. I don't know that I can be home for Christmas and I'm afraid my father will be melancholy to not have his mother or daughter there beside the tree, at the dinner table or in the church at midnight. I want there to be a better word for love. A stronger, sturdier word for miss. Because I love and miss more than these small familiar lines of letters can express. Sorry is so pathetic when I want it to be valiant and bleeding. I don't regret moving here, paying for a truck to lug our life nine hundred miles to the left, for quitting our jobs, or for straining relationships with the complexity of physical withdrawal, but I am still sad for it, which is another word lacking in true depth. 

The film, Away we Go, written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida and directed by Sam Mendes comes to mind a lot lately. It is one of my favorite films. Verona, played by Maya Rudolph and her husband, Burt, played by John Krasinski have this conversation, while they huddle by candles for warmth. 

Burt, are we fuckups?

No!...what d'you mean?

I mean, we're thirty-four-


and we don't even have this basic stuff figured out.

Basic like how?

Basic like how to live.

We're not fuckups.

We have a cardboard window.

BURT (whispering)
We're not fuckups.

VERONA (whispering) 
I think we might be fuckups. 

BURT (whispering)
We're not fuckups.

On our wedding anniversary, we sit in a restaurant where we both feel a little under dressed and we talk about three years of marriage and nine years since our first kiss. Numbers. Astounding numbers followed by the self-calculating word, years

"What do we want to happen before our four-year-anniversary?" Scott asks. 

"We could prepare ourselves to have a baby." I say. "Figure out what we need to do to be ready."

"That would be awesome." 

"I think we're emotionally ready. We just need to be financially."

After dinner, we sit on the train as it rattles on its elevated tracks toward the North Side and I tell him, "My mom used to say we should run our own bed and breakfast." After three weeks of employment searching stress pressing on my shoulders, I suddenly need something real to be striving for. If it's a bed and breakfast then it's a bed and breakfast and I can start taking classes and buying used books on hospitality. 

"We should try and win the lottery. Then we could buy a big house and not have to pay a mortgage and we could open a bed and breakfast." He says.

A few days later I bring it up again and he asks, "How would this be easier than working for a company?" 

"Because we can be our own bosses." I say with multiplying impatience. Then I realize my bed and breakfast dream is just like when I thought we should buy a house because we couldn't afford rent any more. It isn't logical. Only money can truly beget money and we have no money. My hopes pull like the kites I've seen on windy days. Pretty in their diamond silhouettes, but far away. Maybe when the weather calms... I could make warm breakfast every morning for our guests and wash the linens and sweep the uneven wooden floors. Scott could set up a projector and show films at night. Our kids could run around the back yard where a vegetable garden would grow, a rectangle swing would float from ropes and benches would stand waiting for the morning sun. We could have beer and wine and live music on the weekends. We'd meet so many new people and invite old friends and family to come and stay with us.... My plans always hide the practical, but never do my detailed daydreams fully suppress my fear that we'll never be grown ups, that we'll always be just a couple of fuckups.

Friday, September 28, 2012


I wonder what a jogger from 2012 would look like to folks on trolleys, in shops and on sidewalks during 1930s Chicago. Hot pink sneakers, spandex shorts, tank top, sweat bands and white wires connecting ears to pockets. They'd run away screaming. Or they'd just start running too, for World War was just around the corner and maybe bomb threats had already reached the papers. Now, runners are commonplace. Runners passing joggers. Joggers passing walkers. Walkers are another story entirely. Ever pass two women walking really fast side by side, their elbows jutting out like the wooden oars of an Olympian rowboat? Listen close. Are they trying to solve one another's problems or just talking trash? It will be one or the other. But forget that, I want to discuss the act of running for exercise. I had tried a few weeks back with Penny-the-dog, but my herding, tracking, protective pup started to panic, naturally, pulling me to every smell she could reach and to where she hoped to find safety. The fur on the sides of her face stuck out, her tail was stiff and her ears were back. To prevent this panic, I walked the rest of the way and eventually she became preoccupied with pissing on every tree and calmed down. Today, sans dog, I go out on my first real run since moving to Chicago. In old peeling sneakers, a baggy lavender t-shirt with a dinosaur on it and my dark running shorts I go. I pass runners wearing all kinds of spandex. So much spandex they could swim in the Arctic and go to a penguin prom if they so desired. I also pass runners wearing things on their feet that resemble folded skies or like giant mouse traps. They kind of bounce as they run. Science Fiction books from the seventies and even eighties could never had predicted the weird shit people do for fitness nowadays. My head is tilted down with my royal blue baseball cape covering my eyes and flushed cheeks. It's strange that we do this, this running. We once traveled only by foot. Food was scarce. Now it's everywhere we look, convenience stores of candy bars, fast food french fries, sidewalk carts of tacos. And the poorest are often the fattest. We all once had to cultivate land and/or forage food and water. Now most of us sit all day sipping from the faucet and cardboard coffee cups. Then like third graders released for recess, some of us bust outdoors to run down sidewalks, dodging old folks, children in school uniforms and shrieking loonies at crowded bus stops. I'm not wearing headphones today. It's safer, I decide. I can rely on my eyes and my ears. Scott almost got hit by a truck this morning in a crosswalk. We had the signal, but the truck had the green and apparently the driver didn't feel like waiting for us so he drove between our moving feet and the curb. Scott's head was down though and hadn't seen the truck so I yelled, "Scott! SCOTT!" He stopped just in time and looked up. We both glared at the butt of the truck as it drove off. A girl with an inhaler in her hand just passed me. I feel mildly chubby. The chewed up baby carrots in my stomach are bouncingWhenever Scott and I are with anyone who mentions running marathons, my husband will say "Rachel and her sisters ran the Boston Marathon." I always correct him. "Jogged. We jogged the Boston Marathon very slowly. Took us five and a half hours." Then, if I'm feeling silly or tipsy, I tell them the story of the porter potties before the race. While my sisters and I stood in the long line for the toilets, I begged my little sister to let me go in before her (the enormous pasta dinner we had the night before was executing an unexpected exit strategy). She refused, smiling as she entered the tall light blue rectangle of shit, sanitizer and Evergreen stink. Two minutes later, she emerged ridden with despair. No toilet paper! She told us. OH NO! What did you dooooo? We asked. She grimaced and mimed pulling up her pants without wiping. My other sister and I were in hysterics. For a good poop story always kills in my family. What did I do as the next person in line, you wonder? I grabbed one of those free hand towels they were handing out all over the place. I held my breath, walked into the little blue house of horribleness, pooped, wiped the most luxurious wipe of all time, tossed the towel into the bucket and walked out of there ready to tackle that marathon one fourteen-minute-mile at a time. I would be much faster at running long distance if there was some kind of fear involved. For instance, if I lived in a post apocalyptic world with dragons, angry aliens and/or mythic monkeys that could fly helicopters and jump through volcanoes, then staying fit wouldn't be a top concern because I'd be in incredible shape. I'd be skinny for lack of rations. I'd have tons of muscles from running, crouching in brush and fighting battles with my ax. And I'd be so fast because I'd have death-by-fire-breath chasing me wherever I went. I mean, that'd sure as hell beat saying that the fastest I've ever run was up the basement stairs of my parents' house. A sprint, which was never even recorded or witnessed by anyone besides the fictitious ghost that gave me the chill that inspired me to run up the stairs in the first place. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Beams of lime green light move in synchronized swiveling sweeps from the stage. Vinyl records bellow from electric speakers. I have a yellow bubbly beer with an orange slice. I am not drunk. I'd like that to be noted. My cup stands surrounded by other cups, strangers of ice with red skinny straws stuck into most of them. On the floor, my purse and sweatshirt huddle together in a hidden heap. They wouldn't take purses at coat check. This is fine since they would have charged me $3. And because I haven't had a paycheck in over a month $3 feels more like $10. I call it the deflation of an unemployed person's pockets. We six dance like maniacs to the disc jockey's selection of 70s soul. It's awkward when we first get onto the painted black dance floor, but soon it's clear we all embrace some kind of individual love for dance. We twirl, squat, jolt our hips, point our fingers, shake our butts, clap, snap, run in place, mime holding a baby whenever the lyrics call a lover "baby", and mimic the opening to The Cosby Show as best we can. Some of us look insane. You know that saying that's usually carved and painted onto little wooden boards and hung on dorm room walls, the "dance like no body's watching" quote? Well, we literally dance like no one is watching. We feel the beat and jerk our bodies accordingly. Sometimes we look like modern dance aficionados, improvising choreography like salaried artists, but a lot of the time, we just look like we're poking fun at this old silly human tradition of moving to music. There must be a name for what we're doing, something like Freestyle Dance, but I prefer to just call it Fun

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"The times, they are a changin.."

The ten foot moving truck is parked out front. The dog doesn't understand and keeps running to bark at the suspicious vehicle through the screen door, causing me to yell and my heart to punch at my chest cavity. For two weeks, we say goodbye to the familiar. Goodbye bathroom where our toothbrushes lean, bye Main Street where we ramble, bye bedroom with the orange curtains and streetlight beams, bye to the mountain trails we travel and to the kitchen sink where we stand to wash. This is the last time I'll see this, do this, drink this, I think, staring at bricks, porcelain, dirt, smudged car windows and a stemmed beer glass of stout. Amy and Mark are moving away too. When they leave for Canada, I cry a little, but it feels like tap water stuck in a damp clump of hair, rust, and toothpaste spit. My body must be rejecting this impending sorrow. Well this is happening, body. I say, playing sad music on the car stereo. Eventually, a breach busts through and two salty streams surge for my dear friends and for all the friendships, which will warp by the weight of distance. Goodbye old pals, I'm sorry if you fade into archived photographs, storied memories and precious artifacts of love. 

I watch Martin Scorsese's documentary about Bob Dylan called No Direction Home. Afterwards, I buy two of Dylan's old folk albums and sit at the computer listening to his rhythmic voice and guitar picking poetry. As a young man, he found himself in New York City's Greenwich Village where Allen Ginsberg was howling and small folk bands were collecting change in baskets and playing three song sets between poets. Alcohol, cigarette smoke and dancing coins passed through the candle lit darkness of crowded folk cafes in Greenwich during the 1960s. Strangers sat together while they witnessed art. There were rustic record players, but mostly entertainment was found when alive and in cafes, theatres, street parades and traveling circus tents. One big reason we're moving to Chicago is so that we can sit as strangers in theatres, old movie houses, comedy clubs and music venues, witnessing art. 

Once he got famous, Bob Dylan was asked a lot of stupid questions by the press, questions he'd question back or blow cigarette smoke at. When he started playing with a band and an electric guitar, he was booed and heckled, called fake, a sell out and even Judas. All for moving away from his acoustic folk sound. Imagine if every change we underwent faced a mob of angry audience members, of fans who are no longer. I don't have anything like that. But if I was faced with a similar sort of harassment, I hope I too would have the courage to play on. 

Tomorrow I drive my dog to Toledo, then on to Chicago.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"I can't wait to regret this decision."

"When are we getting our tattoos?" Scott asks whenever we find ourselves hipster-watching.

"I don't knoooooooow!" I screech. "Are we really?"

We almost get inked on our cross country road trip in February, but we don't really know what we want to get and that's perhaps the worst time to get a tattoo (aside from when drunk and/or brainwashed by an abusive lover or cult). Luckily, we are never tempted into spontaneous tattooing for all the parlors we pass from the East Coast to California are too intimidating to enter and we run away giggling like peeping toms ducking below whorehouse windows.

Then one day Scott meets a tattoo artist. His name is Tim and he's opening up a new shop the next town over. Orange hair, freckled skin covered in colored images, twenty years experience and a delightful personality, Tim is like a beacon, a lighthouse with a swooping green light and an ocean front tattoo parlor. If this is really going to happen, Tim is our man.

Scott would like a tattoo to replace his wedding band. His falls off too easily and he stopped wearing it months ago. We've never really been the jewelry wearing types. I wear my engagement ring for its history and shiny blue stone, but besides that and the occasional bracelet, I don't wear much bling or metal at all.

Finger tattoos, Tim explains over the phone, are never really a good idea. Due to the texture of the skin, they tend to fade and distort quickly.

I'd like a small feather tattoo on my wrist, I tell Scott. A reminder to let things go, stay light and not be so heavy hearted all the time. Scott likes my idea. We decide to get matching feathers to replace our wedding bands. We'll be like blood brothers only ink brothers and not brothers but husband and wife. "I can't wait to regret this decision." Scott says smiling. He researches owls and learns of a couple traits he thinks are much like us. Owls, he explains, are not very attached to their homes (unless they have owl babies). They focus solely on whatever goal and task is at hand, letting go of all other distractions. We too prefer vagabondage (for we are still without babies), and we are, it seems, in constant flight toward our own small fury targets of happiness.

"Don't tell anyone in our families that we're getting tattoos!" I beg Scott. "I don't want them trying to convince us not to get them."

Three weeks later, on a warm evening in July, we sit in the new studio of gray walls, flat screen televisions and dentist like tools and pay Tim to puncture permanent pigment into our pale skin. The shop space, once a dance studio, has a wall made entirely of mirrors, allowing the day's fading light to bounce. Behind the building is the bike path and next door is Sophia's, a pirogi shop. So it's not exactly inside a lighthouse, but the river is close enough. To entertain and distract us, Tim plays episodes of the comedy show, Portlandia. When Scott becomes weary of the electric needle etching the underside of his arm, Tim takes off his gloves and retrieves him a warm can of iced tea. After two Portlandia episodes, Scott's feather is complete, raised and black, hallowed by pinked skin. It's my turn. Tim replaces the needles, gloves and ink. I sit and point to where I'd like the stencil placed. It is pressed and pulled. Then the buzz of the vibrating needle begins to hum. It feels like stinging bees and staples somehow, but I conceal my discomfort. Tim is so alert, however that he stops to checks in with me when I look for Scott's hand to hold. "Do you want a break?" I'm fine, I tell him, knowing this small tattoo will not take him very long.

Later that night, while eating vegetable burritos and watching Battlestar Galactica, we take turns saying, "This" (pointing to our wrist) "is permanent!"

"Everything is permanent." Scott says. "And that's what I love about this."

Friday, July 20, 2012

For the Betterment

As I have aged, my treasured logic has repeatedly excused itself, drifting off to mindless monotony, while recklessness grabs the reins and gallops me through meadows of drunken debauchery, banana split boats, cigarette cravings and bottomless cups of strong coffee. I cannot be here with this sober body. I must submerge into an altered state. There, I will be better than I am. I will be funny and lax. I will be coveted company with more interesting things to say and the courage to say them. A bottle of merlot. A box of pinot gris. A shiny pint of cold ale that wets my pink palm, eases my body with warmth and hinders me as I walk crookedly toward dimly lit bathrooms in barroom basements. The dick jokes ensue: vulgarity and the hilarity of vulgarity. Crude crass and the excuse of drink as we yell over electric record players, competitively cacophonous crowds or lusty local bands. I crave cigarettes. I imagine licking little pieces of paper, spreading the dry leaves, rolling them into scrolls, striking matches, cupping butts and sucking smoke. I'd be like James Dean. Pass the whiskey and I'll sing like Tom Waits. Get me drunk and I'll strum like Johnny Cash. How sexy it is to have a callous regard for one's devout liver, blood, skin, stomach and lungs. We'll sleep when we're dead, we say grabbing at the cuffs of our baristas for large coffees with splashes of cow cream and paper packets of saccharin. Coffee for breakfast. Beef burgers on chemically engineered buns for lunch. Deep fried fish and bourbon for supper. Sleep when we're dead because we'll be dead by nightfall anyway. Besides, I could die today, we say. Hit by a bus, brain aneurysm, dropped A-bomb. Duffel bagged eyes, hours of carousing and the stink of excreting bacon and eggs. What stink. What miserable belligerent stink. It's like the end of Thelma and Louise. We never see the car crash into the canyon. Instead, we are left with a freeze frame of freedom in flight. No crashing metal, no burning engines, no bloody guts splattering the orange dusty rocks below. We are not devastated by their double suicide, but inspired by their courage. We don't imagine retired rock stars in hospital beds, rehabilitation centers or weekly support groups. Instead we look to magazine photographs of pyrotechnics, lines of cocaine, and gaggles of groupies. Let's drink until dawn! We cheer, though by 3AM, we're on the kitchen floor stiff with indigestion and impending diarrhea. Ignorance is sweet bountiful bliss, however is it still sweet when we're sweating out last night's french fry oil or belching up mayonnaise, margaritas and mozzarella sticks? Is it still sweet when I go from sober to drunk to hung over all during the course of one house party? 

Over the years, I have ordered different prescriptions for pleasure, but the problem is always the same. Eventually I piss out the pills and am left nauseous, unfulfilled and sadder than before. Temporary bandages that fall off in the pool, clog the drain and disgust all guests.     

That's not to say, I can't enjoy the works of drunken musicians, coke head writers and cigarette smoking actors, but that I don't have to mimic their methods. I don't really want to be like Waits, Cash or Dean anyway. I'd much prefer to be like Geena Davis in A League of Their Own. Top of my game, smart, and strong. So, for the betterment of my body, I have abandoned my position within the norm of popular American culture. In December, I quit coffee. In February, I quit the consumption of animal products. In June, I quit all excessive alcohol. I feel whole for the first time in years. Like my body has just relearned independence. Every day, I have clarity, unyielding health, and strength. My only aversion is how others respond. Some are curious, some supportive, some make jokes, and many are completely clueless. What do you eat, grass? Looks like they don't have leaves or tofu on the menu. You're not getting a drink? I'm learning to not be so shy and sensitive about my lifestyle. I quit the popular poisons of my past and there should be pride in that. There will be pride in that. 

Scott tells me that he loves how impressionable I am. I had always thought that it was a bad thing. "No," he assures me, "it's a great thing. You are effected by something and you actually change because of it." 

"Where does this trait come from?"

"Why does it have to be from somewhere?" 

"I don't know, because I want to know why I am this way. Why I care so much."  

Why others appear to care so little, which is an unreasonable assumption to make. I've just changed and others have not changed with me. I can't blame anyone for that. All I can really do is take care of myself, which I am. 

No, I'm not pregnant. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When the Screeching Stops

Thunder rumbles like a starved stomach. It's 7PM and 89 degrees on this day in May. I want to walk Penny before the storm floods the streets and blacks the sky. I take a plastic bag and an umbrella. Quick twenty minute walk, a little loop, I tell Scott before clicking Penny's leash and leaving. The white curly haired dog on the left comes bounding toward us, barking at the edge of his property. Penny pulls to meet him, but I yank her to the middle of the street. When we return to the overgrown grass on the side of the road, a small squirrel darts by my dog. Penny rushes the frantic little thing, snatches it up with her teeth and crushes it until the screeching stops. I yell at my dog to drop it, but then scramble away in fear the tail of the deceased will graze the backs of my bare legs. After a few fretful seconds of scolding, she lays her limp victim down in the center of the suburban street. I jerk her away and stare at the stilled body. When I look up, two men and a woman stand in their driveway staring at me and my dog. They have witnessed the entire event. I can see it in their opened mouthed expressions. I apologize for the horror, but then I don't really know what to do. "It's okay." The woman says and I take this as an indication for retreat.  "Big storm coming in." I say to the strangers as I pass by. The woman smiles faintly and agrees. I would have transported the animal with a stick back to the side of the road, but Penny would have grabbed the stick and then grabbed the squirrel and I would have screamed like a fool. So instead, we leave it behind and walk toward the school yard. Once on the other side of the softball game, where thirteen year old girls in purple uniforms hang on a fence chanting rhymes to distract the yellow team's pitcher, Penny poops. I pick it up with my plastic newspaper bag. As I tie the knot, I notice the older of the two men walking up the road toward the scene of Penny's crime. I can't tell, but I think he has a shovel. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I call this the year of Rejection

I take the day off work. In bed, I watch the director's most recent film, Young Adult, on my phone with headphones. I make sure to go jogging to pink my cheeks. I wear the same dress I wore to my audition, along with my tall brown boots and cranberry colored cardigan. I eat lightly, apply makeup carefully and keep my heart from abandoning its steady beat. Scott drives the two hour journey. I sit beside him, rehearsing my lines and giving him directions. We find the run down office building we're looking for. The first and second doors I try are locked, but the third opens and I walk inside for my first callback of a major motion picture. 

Directed by Jason Reitman, the film, Labor Day, stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin and is scheduled to film in Massachusetts during the months of June and July. I had auditioned a few weeks before in Northampton with Suzanne, a friendly casting director who was only slightly distracted by her sudden sniffling sneezing sinus infection. Surrounded by script sides and tissues, she wore sandals with jeans and stood looking over her reading glasses and camera saying, "I like you." Two weeks later, I got a phone call from a New York City telephone number while driving the twins I nanny home after a morning of toddler adventuring. My chest expanded to accommodate my flipping heart as I held the phone up, chanting, "Voicemail. Voicemail. Voicemail." I couldn't answer it. Not with boys in the backseat who crank their voice boxes from minimum to maximum whenever I answer the phone. 

"Who you talkin' to? RACHEL, 'scuse me, WHO YOU TALKIN' TO?"

Questions along with urgent jabber about passing fire trucks, grazing cows and spinning or not spinning weathervanes quickly accumulate. A voicemail was left. I made the boys lunch, sat them down at the table, told them I had to make a very important phone call and requested that they PLEASE not fight.  Jessica, from the casting office, "...wanted to see if (I was) available to come back for a callback with Jason on May 2nd..." With a notebook, pen and phone in hand, I closed the bedroom door and called to calmly confirm my callback. At my audition, I had read for both the Nurse and the larger role of Bank Teller. The casting director told me she would send me the sides for the Bank Teller, but that I shouldn't be upset or surprised if the role has already been cast by the time of my callback. Primarily, he wants to see me for the part of Nurse, which consists of one line spoken to a news reporter about the convict's (Brolin) escape from the hospital where she works. One line. Two sentences. Twenty-one words. I had never rehearsed a single line so much in all my life and now I would have a chance to do it again for the film's famous director. 

I arrive to my callback on time, a little early, but not too early. The building is a maze of white walls and coarse blue carpet, but I follow appropriate signs and find the two casting directors. They instruct me with smiles to sign-in on their clipboard and have a seat. Soon, three other brunettes between the ages of twenty-five and forty show up, sign-in and sit. I make awkward small talk with the girl beside me. "SO quiet." I whisper. Then I see him, the director, Jason Reitman, walking down the hall toward us and the audition room. He wears a dark winter hat and stares at his phone. As he passes by me, we make eye contact and I say "hi". He returns my salutation by pressing his lips into a small smile. I was the first brunette to arrive which means I am the first to be called in. I walk in with my headshot, which I know they won't want and my Nurse and Bank Teller sides, which I know I won't need. The casting directors point me to where I am to stand. They are friendly, but fast. Jason requests that I move in a step. I do. Then, in this bare square room, with two young casting directors, Jason Reitman and a small Canon camera on a tripod, I am read the news reporter's line. Oh, it's happening right now! I realize. No introductions. No chit chat. This shit is happening. I find my focus and when it's my turn to speak, I deliver the Nurse line as I have rehearsed it. "Good" He says. "Now can you try it again more frazzled?" 


The casting director reads the line again and I deliver my beloved two sentences as frazzled as I can. "Great." He says next, standing. He then explains that he's also looking to cast another small part, a pregnant woman. He then pauses in his explanation to jokingly ask if I can get pregnant by June, of which I respond, "I'm on it!" far too loud and with an embarrassing amount of enthusiasm, which is echoed by a light chuckle by the casting directors. He then asks me to stand in a particular spot, hold a protruding imaginary belly and pretend to shop. Simple enough, an experienced actor and improviser should think. However, I have never been very comfortable with miming objects. I much prefer props. But with no time to practice, I grab my pregnant paunch of air and begin sifting through invisible fruit. I reach and grab for a piece of something undefined and pull my clawed hand back toward my face to observe. After careful inspection, I return this unidentified piece of produce to its shelf. The room is quiet. I reach for another oddly shaped object. This time, however, I study my blob of nothing and decide it's good enough to drop into the invisible basket by my feet. Fucking brilliant. I am an oafishly unnatural shopper of blobs. He's seen enough. He concludes my one minute callback by shaking my hand. I thank them, find my things on the floor by the door and escape to the hallway where I can return to real time and run to find my husband in the parking lot. I pass the brunettes. "They go right into it. No intros or anything." I tell them. They nod their heads a little, but they probably know how this works. I'm sure they'll all be sniffing oranges, feeling melons and picking out bananas like a bunch of grocery store champs. Not me. This was my first time. Clearly. I hike across the parking lot. 

Two days after my callback, I email to thank Kate and the casting company for their thorough professionalism and kindness. She emails back that I did a great job. 

It's been three weeks now and still no word. I try staring at my phone, willing it to ring. I try ignoring it in hopes I'll have a voicemail when I discover my phone hours later. However, my superstitious pleas to the universe prove useless. I'm tired now of inventing false hope, fantasizing scenarios where the casting directors apologize that they've been too busy to call me with the news or that director, Reitman has been sidetracked and hasn't watched the callback tapes yet. So today, of all dreary days, I decide to email Kate, the casting director. 

Hey Kate, Is it safe to say I was not cast in Labor Day if I haven't heard anything? Thanks:) ~Rachel 

One minute later, I receive this message: 

Hi Rachel, You did a really great job, but, unfortunately, you were not one of his picks. Thanks. Best, Kate. 

For the past several weeks, I've had dreams where I suddenly find myself hanging out with Kate Winslet. I have nothing incredibly witty or interesting to say, but I somehow know not to bring up her film, Titanic. She appears grateful, lingering in my quiet company. I expect these dreams will cease now. 

After work, I find Scott on the couch and collapse beside him. "I'm never anybody's pick." I say, tugging on the twisted frays of my cut off denim shorts.

Looking to me, his despondent wife, he says. "I think it takes more guts to be your own pick."