Post #48: Night Itself

IMG_1374You hear it first. Really, how could you miss it?

It sweeps through with the breathtaking blur of Gene Krupa’s flailing sticks badgering and barumphing at the skins, cajoling wave after wave and whoosh after whoosh of sound. Millions of tiny jubilant splashes in a muscular trill, a cacophonous drumroll of rain.

The truth is I wasn’t expecting the storm at all. As always, it was night itself I was after.

***

Drive-in Movie: 1965

it was the pajama ride of our dreams. The three of us rattled around the expanse of backseat like kernels sizzling in a popper. We had pillows but no one was going to waste time sleeping. It was just getting dark as my Dad pulled into a parking spot and fitted the receiver onto his window. We made it! The dancing hot dog on the screen said there was just enough time to get to the snack bar. Hurry, hurry, hurry! We wanted Good ’n Plenty! We wanted Milky Ways! We wanted Raisinettes! We got a box of popcorn. For the three of us. To share.   If I stood up I from my spot in the backseat I could almost see the bottom half of Mary Poppins through the front window. No, we were not going to lay out on the hood of the car like those other people.

I turned my back to the movie and instead looked out the slanted rear window. I could see the whole sky, black as licorice. There were stars. They sparkled like Sno-Caps.   My very own snack bar, my very own show.

***

Oak Park Boulevard: 1967

It was all wrong, completely wrong, totally wrong. Which of course made it feel so very right.

A quick scissor kick (I was learning to swim) and I was free of the covers. The summer darkness in the house was damp and foggy. I gingerly felt my way to my hearts desire, left conveniently on the floor. There it was! I had it.

Light sliced from the bathroom and slanted through my doorway just so. I was drawn to it like a nightgowned moth. Very carefully, very quietly I cracked it open.   Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I loved this so much. I couldn’t wait until morning. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had an upside down house.   You could jump over doorways! You could swing down stairs! You could sit around her chandeliers and pretend they were campfires! An upside down world where everything was just right.

Looking out at the comfort of the darkness I wished that night was day and day was night. An upside down world where everything was just right.

***

Wawa, Canada: 1972

We were not exactly roughing it, unless you consider roughing it taking an overnight on the camp bus and pitching a tarp in a local trailer park. Grudgingly we took a walk into town to forage for food, proudly procuring a few Coffee Crisps, several Mackintosh Toffees, a whole salami, and a can of Pringles. We hoarded this stash shamelessly. But it was going to be okay. We just might survive our time in the wild.

I waited until it was dark and everyone else was asleep. Silently I untwisted from my sleeping bag and crept from the bus. With small, stealthy steps I quickly made my way down the path to the lake. The dark around me was dense and verdant, packed with muffled sound. I kept my flashlight beam low. Then I snapped it off. Why would I need it? The whole sky above was massed with stars, a swirling and twirling marching band before my eyes!

No one would ever believe it. I had found Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in Wawa, Canada.

***

Dominos Pizza, Ann Arbor, 1981

He pounded furiously, stretched gently, then casually flung them into the air and then down the line. Dough after dough. Never missed!   I was the toppings girl, plunging my hands into various vats of pepperoni and onion and mushrooms as if I was playing a never ending game of Whackamole. Sausage was awful and sticky. I had to keep plunging my fists into the olive juice just so I could scrape it off my hands.   I dreamed of graduating to saucing and cheesing. But not just yet.

I got off at 2 am.  It wasn’t at all quiet. Let’s get real: here at night any night percolated with adventure! But I headed for home. My plan was to be up and out by 8 am. Because that’s the quiet time here. I grabbed it.

Had my Piggle-Wiggle dream come true?

***

Riverside Drive: 1993

They are so tiny, so very small. “I’ve bought chickens bigger than that!” someone squawked as I hurried anxiously past with the double stroller. I know. They were identically fed from droppers, one boy in my arms, his brother in a rocker. I switched their places every 15 minutes. It took over an hour to feed them, each time every time. They had to eat every three hours around the clock. They took turns sleeping but they were too small to know that there was no turn left for me. Day and night blended to charcoal.

Around the corner, Big Nick Burger lit up the dark. Everything you could wish for hot and ready 24 hours a day. I wanted it. We were, after all, in the city that never sleeps! All I had to do is get off the couch…

***

Our House: Just now

The storm itself has taken a breath but the rain continues, a ready steady strum. At last the night is what I was looking for, deep and velvety and enveloping.

There is no noise to speak of. There is so much to hear. I’m listening…

Dawn always catches me by surprise.

Advertisements

Post #47: The Cartographer of Malleable Memory

IMG_1854I scribbed and scrawed and scratched and scroobed. At first with those thick lavender elementary school trainer pencils, sometimes with a nothing more than a nubble of broken crayon. In flowing royal blue fountain pen ink or a smudgy stub of pencil. I dreamed of typing in a tree house but instead I scribbled in backseats or on busses, while wedged behind a fliptop schoolhouse desk or hunched over a sticky kitchen table.

Like Livingston on a lifelong safari, I am off to capture the prize.

My middle finger is marked by a callous from gripping the pencil so earnestly, even desperately, my hands are forever stained with ink. Scraps of paper, half finished notebooks, missives tucked into books. Tantalizing clues and ciphers and keys! All for me.

The cartographer of malleable memory, I am making a map.

***

BRAVE: Oak Park Boulevard

Ah ha! Nobody is watching. My moment has come. I kick my tennis shoes off into the summer grass and gingerly ease my feet onto the hot sidewalk. I am expecting a sizzle but it doesn’t happen. Step by step by step. I can do it! Like the firewalkers that boldly skitter over hot coals I am brave enough to walk the fiery pavements of Oak Park Boulevard with my bare feet! But even so I make certain to step carefully over every single crack. Because I love my mother very much.

***

AWAY: Hudson’s Department Store

Like a moveable steel Everest it loomed imploringly before me.   Each step rising up and up and up and then somehow folding away into some mysterious and inviting heavenly realm. Where did it go, where did it lead? I had no idea. All it took was just one tiny step and I was on my way, lofted upwards on a moveable stairway to adventure! As my mother turns I wave and then, in an instant, I am out of sight.

***

BEAUTY: The Beauty Parlor near Coolidge

It’s Friday and all the ladies are there ready to be made behived and beautiful. With enough hairspray the hairdo will last for the whole week. Each lady swathed in a plastic apron, they face their mirrors without ever making faces, and they sit in chairs that spin without ever spinning wildly. How do they do it? The air is thick with chatter and cumulous clouds of hairspray. But if we are quiet, there is a quarter for each of us.

In the corner, in the back is the Soda Machine! My sisters and I stand transfixed. Red Pop or Orange or Rock n Rye?

I am the oldest so I already know which is best. Without hesitation I drop in my quarter and twist the dial. In a moment a tall bottle of Faygo Grape is in my hand.

I swig right from the bottle and I think maybe that being made beautiful just might be worth it.

***

VICTORY: Camp Walden, Girls 9

High noon on a sunny day. We are inside, of course. That’s where the real action is. The floors are hard and swept and smooth.   You could bounce a quarter off my hospital-cornered bunk. I know. I tried. I am toe to toe with my halter-topped, feathered-haired adversary. I’ve got this. Then with one practiced hand I knock the jacks into a perfect arc and with the other I flourish the ball in the air. My left hand sweeps through the maze and in a flash it’s all over.   I am the official jacks champion of Girls 9.

***

WELCOME: Kingswood

The Oldsmobile pulls around the circle. I get out and the car pulls away. I am here. Knee socks and loafers, pale blue blouse and a brown jumper with pockets. I desperately need the pockets, where else can I put my nervous hands? I walk up the steps and pull open the doors. I am in the Green Lobby, a simple name for a space so exquisitely beautiful no fancy words could hope to ever do it justice. My heart skips a beat and then it almost explodes from my chest. How can this be?  How can you come home to a place you’ve never been to before? But I have. At that moment I know part of me will never leave. Or perhaps it is that this wonderful place will never really leave me.

***

BELONG: Carnegie Deli, New York City

Sunday morning, 8 AM, Seventh Avenue. The doors of Carnegie Deli are unlocked before my eyes. Where are the crowds? I cannot figure out where everyone is. Don’t all real New Yorkers rush out at pre dawn hours on Sunday mornings?

I sit uncomfortably on a bentwood chairs at one of the long tables and I wrestle with a menu that is as massive as the Ruben’s Triptych.   Pen and pad in hand the bow-tied, black-jacketed waiter is waiting. And waiting.

I panic. So I order the first things that come into my head.

In a few moments he places a warm baked apple and hunk of Russian Coffee Cake in front of me.   I take a few bites and I start to relax at last. It is very good.

When I look up to pay my bill three other people have ordered exactly the same thing.

I have done it. I belong.

***

SEALED: Haagen-Dazs, The Upper West Side

We stood there together, our noses pressed against the glass case. I hardly knew him. So will it be chocolate or mint chip or strawberry or mango? Rum raisin or butterscotch or fudge Ripple or plain vanilla? Cup or a cone? Sprinkles or sauce? Can an ice cream choice define you? Of course it can.

“I’d like an egg cream,” I said. His eyes, behind his round tortoise shell glasses, were wide.   “That’s amazing,” he said. “Me too.”   The kiss, and the life together that follows, is especially sweet.

***

JOY: Riverdale, 16th floor

The identical little people in identical pajamas were so small they couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds without toppling over onto each other. That didn’t matter. They fell down they got up, they fell down they got up again. And they laughed, a rich and rollicking and rolling laugh that blended into a jazz trumpet duet that would have knocked Old Satchmo, Louis Armstrong himself, back on his heels. My oh my!

We never got the joke. Just the joy.

***

MEMORY LANE: Around the corner

He traveled that route like a tiny King in a Yankee cap. Perched proudly in his green wagon he had the presence and bearing of Caesar himself. I pulled the wagon. Down the street, around the corner and a curve through a cave of trees, back and forth day after day to take his brothers to  elementary school. It was my job, but small as he was, he was certain it was his.

Then when he was old enough, for a time he walked with them. And then, older still and the only brother left, he walked Memory Lane alone.

Except for this last time. It was his last day on this beloved path at this beloved school. He asked me to walk with him. No wagon necessary. I did. We walked the path together one more time.

And in front of everyone he held my hand.

***

For me memory isn’t solid at all but truly more like shimmery green jello. I love jello. It shifts in the light. It wobbles. It changes. Memory I think is meant to be stretched, sometimes reshuffled or perhaps rolled like dice from a cup to continuously recreate the treasure map of a happy life. Follow the dots wherever they lead again and again on a zig zagged path to happiness.

.