Thursday, July 6, 2017

Finding Art

What might the artist’s message be?  What was he trying to say?  Thumbtacks secured a length of string reaching from the floor to the wall and Carey pondered the installation with concern.  All she could get from it was, well, office supplies.  Was she really that shallow?  Sigh.  The eyeball projected on a glass ball was equally bemusing.  But wait.  What is this?  She spotted a series of ridged gills emanating a stream of air.  Inhalation and exhalation.  Breath!  The sustenance of life!  She glanced about, smiling with satisfaction, eager to share her insight with some other patron.  

Something held her back though, and she studied the oeuvre more closely.  Hmm.  Ah.  Upon closer review she realized the structure was… an air vent.  Oops.

What is art?  Centuries ago, it was defined and regulated by the church.  Artists worked their craft in light and shadow, color, portraiture, movement, and emotion through religious themes. I’ve wandered wearily through the galleries of the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence glazing over at one Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection after another… and don’t get me started on the torments of the saints.  Agony… for everyone involved.

With a little inner remonstrance to pull myself together, I’ve sought to get past the themes and focus on the paintings’ elements: depictions of village life, building interiors, fashion, and drapery; the extraordinary skill in realistic representation; the emotion conveyed with paint on canvas.   While I prefer Hudson River landscapes, I recognize artistic skill and beauty.  Go back a few centuries and the “what is art?” question is unnecessary. 

It’s the use of feces as a medium that really throws me.

But I do understand that art can inform and provoke.  On a recent trip to The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL, Dave and I were transfixed by a series of photographs taken at an African diamond mine. Laden with ponderous sacks, black laborers, so numerous that any identity was obscured, waited in line to scale rickety wooden ladders up a cliff. Startling in his unblemished shirt and arrogant whiteness, an overseer stood with his clipboard amid the sea of sweating, over-burdened workers.

It was a grueling scene and underscored how little I know of exploitation, how supremely fortunate I am in my life.

As Dave and I continued on toward the Monda Gallery, a mother and young daughter emerged.  The child spun, skipped, and bubbled with excitement.  “That was SO much fun!” she said.

“I knew you’d like it!” her mom replied.

Fun? I was still haunted by the diamond mine, and fun sounded good.

We entered a dimly lit, lofty room hung floor to ceiling with ribbons, thousands and thousands of multi-colored ribbons, a sea of swaying stained glass.  Soft classical music and birdsong conveyed a sense of cathedral quiet and deep forest, yet all who entered added their own melody of pure joy and discovery. 

Small children whirled in giddy circles shrieking with laughter.  Teenagers chattered and took pictures with their phones.  Others walked slowly in a moving meditation, the ribbons parting and falling gently into place as they passed through. 

Smiling as ribbons slid over my face and skin like a breeze, I held out my arms to let the ribbons flow from them like waterfalls.  Every movement was novel, a personal creation of sound, color, dance, and joy.

What is art?  It’s still an open question, but I found it in “Pathless Woods.”  

Note: Anne Patterson, the creator of “Pathless Woods,” has synesthesia, a condition that causes sensory perceptions to overlap; when she hears sound, she sees color.  In this installation, the artist helps participants experience that same merge as they create their own path through 8472 ribbons - the equivalent of 25.6 miles – cut into 16’ lengths.  If it comes to a museum near you, GO!  

Friday, June 30, 2017

Expressway to Revolution

Perhaps it’s the popularity of the Broadway show “Hamilton,” or whispers from the spirits slipping unseen through our 1780’s house. Or… maybe it’s my despair at the frailty of the Constitution’s checks and balances in fending off the maelstrom of policies of an administration of aging white men unconcerned about the morale of the country or the health of the planet.  Yeah.  That might be it.  Whatever the causes, lately I have fled to history and the refuge of events resolved. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Lincoln have been my between-the-pages companions.

So, when I learned that a Museum of the American Revolution had opened in Philadelphia, I was eager to visit.  While home with my mother, I asked if she’d be willing to check it out with me.  Trudging brightly lighted galleries flanked with glass cases can tire anyone, and I know Mom’s not a fan of lengthy excursions, but she must have detected the plea in my voice, and trooper that she is, she agreed.

She held her concerns about hiking those halls to herself, and I kept quiet about my own worry:  city driving.  My experiences behind the wheel in big cities are limited, and have occurred only under duress.  The first, 24 years ago, was when my friend Carey was in the hospital in NYC for an emergency operation.  I was navigating those New York streets pretty well, feeling a little cocky, in fact, as I maneuvered my car, flinching only slightly at honking horns and aggressive drivers.  When I neared the hospital, I thought I had it nailed.  Confidently, I took a left turn… onto a one–way street.  OMG!!!  Cars were coming straight at me!  There was no place to go but the sidewalk!  Yes!  The sidewalk!  And that’s what I did!  Like some crazy cabbie told “Follow that car!” I cut the wheel and did a U-Turn… onto the sidewalk!  Good lord.  You understand my current reluctance…

But this was a trade-off:  a morning hike through the museum for my mom, and Lea as chauffeur through the narrow streets of Philadelphia.

Both WAZE and MOM were my guides.  We wanted to beat the tourist crowds at the museum and so, headed in just after rush hour.  The Schuylkill Expressway is a beautiful route along the river, but traffic-wise, it is no treat no matter the time.  I programmed the GPS to help us once we needed it, but we took back roads for as long as possible.  Unaware of our plan, the WAZE lady with her calm, authoritative British voice tried to convince us to take the Expressway… and Mom contradicted her every direction.

“Go left,” said the WAZE lady.

“Not yet,” said Mom.  “Go straight.”

“Go left,” said the WAZE lady.

“No,” said Mom.  “I think you’ll want the second light up ahead.”

“This one?”

“No.  Not yet.”

“Go left,” urged the WAZE lady.

I felt like an eager, over-anxious schoolgirl perched well forward in my seat, both hands gripping the wheel, posture erect, hoping to please everyone, but given those competing commands, unable to.

Once we reached “town,” as my parents call Philadelphia, we gave WAZE lady the lead. I thought I discerned a smug satisfaction in her tone as she led us unerringly to a parking lot a block from the museum.  “You have reached your destination!” she announced.

With the help of my two guides, I safely delivered us to the heart of early America, so my burden was lifted.  Mom’s museum march still lay ahead. 

We walked down a lane flanked by centuries-old brick buildings.  I noted an inviting tavern and filed it away as a future possibility. Several blocks ahead, I spied Independence Hall and, having not crossed its threshold since a field trip in fifth grade, felt a tug of yearning.  That stop, and the tavern, would have to wait. 

Acquiring our entrance tickets had been another minor challenge.  For years, I had taken pride in being one of the last people on the planet to carry a flip phone and gave in only when my grandson was born.  With its text, phone, GPS, and photo components, my iPhone has opened a new world.  I had no need for its other fancy capabilities, thank you very much, until it was suggested that museum tickets be purchased in advance. The day before our visit, therefore, I called Dave in Connecticut and he talked me through the process using Safari and Google. Neophyte that I was, I was wary, and as it turned out, rightly so. 

While the Viator ticket site assured me, “Your booking is paid for and confirmed,” no voucher appeared when I tapped “View Voucher,” nor when I checked my emails. After several convivial chats with Ella at the museum, Tamara at Visa, and Sarah at Viator, I was assured two tickets would be waiting for us at the will-call desk.  And Alleluia, they were.  Another potential problem overcome.

Tickets clutched tight, we turned to see a stately, but formidable, twisting staircase to the second floor galleries.  “There has to be an elevator, Mom.  There are people in wheelchairs waiting in line.”

“I know, but this will be fine.”  At 85, few things daunt my silver-haired mother, and when they do, she’s determined to best the circumstances.  She took hold of the bannister and, resolute, climbed right up. 

I loved the museum.  Open only a month, the exhibits were a mix of traditional glass cases, three-dimensional vignettes, and interactive digital screens. I could imagine the excited volley of ideas in the brainstorming sessions that led to an entire room dominated by a full-size privateer ship, available for bow to stern clambering; a movie immersion in the Battle of Brandywine where smoke and the smell of sulfur filtered into the room as we “charged” through tall grasses with a battalion; wall-sized time-lines on which the touch of a finger to an event or document generated a blow-up and history of that item; and two real stuffed horses, mounted by British dragoons, frozen in their race.  Dramatic as it was, several visitors wondered aloud how those horses died.  A nice lady assured us that the horses lived a full life on a lovely farm and died a natural death.  Mom and I would have liked to know their names.

Slavery, the “peculiar institution” that Lincoln abolished and that troubled our Founding Fathers’ consciences (clearly, not enough) was highlighted throughout, more than I expected given the usual coverage of the Revolutionary period. The historians who planned this museum wished visitors to contemplate the enigma of those who fought for their own equality and unalienable rights while holding others’ enslaved.

One of the interactive screens provided images of a number of historic people and events and asked viewers to consider “What would you do?”  In one case, Eve, a slave for the wealthy Randolph family of Williamsburg, feared her son George would be sold, so mother and son fled to the British lines in search of the freedom they promised. They arrived to find the British camp infested with smallpox.  Eve was confronted with a terrible choice: stay and chance disease, or return to the Randolphs where punishment, enslavement, and the possible sale of her boy awaited. 

What would you do?

I stood before the lighted panel and pondered.  I‘d learned about Eve when Dave and I visited Williamsburg two years ago.  I tried to conjure this flesh-and-blood woman whose life was unpredictable and beyond her control.  I thought about being owned… owned by a master who could sell my son.  Eve was so respected in the Randolph household that she carried the keys to almost every lock in the house, but she could be sold like a bureau or table if the master wished. I pushed the button marked “Stay in the British camp.”

In a flash, the screen told me my choice matched Eve’s.  But the British lost the Battle of Yorktown… and Eve was returned to slavery.

Several years ago, the Fairfield Museum hosted a traveling exhibit about Abraham Lincoln.  A pen used by the Great Emancipator to sign the document that freed the slaves was in a lighted glass case, low to the ground.  In awe, I sank tearfully to my knees – again, the case was low, but still, the actual pen once held by that extraordinary man and employed to such purpose?  Praise God and thank you, Mr. Lincoln. I respect General Washington, and enjoyed seeing his blue sash, leather duffle, and war tent, but Lincoln holds my heart. 

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote of equality, rights, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while owning his fellow humans.  Just shy of 100 years later, Lincoln took a step toward upholding those assertions.  To this day, we falter in living them.  The Revolution is behind us, its principles touted and enshrined, but abroad and at home, Americans continue to fight.  Peace, respect, tolerance, and compassion are sacrificed because of distrust… oh, and for oil, money, and power. I ache at our willingness to kill and be killed for such things.

Mom had marched ahead of me, her hike complete, and was waiting on a bench in the hall. As I exited the final gallery to meet her, I passed through a wall of mirrors with a sweeping sign in large gold letters:  MEET THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.  The founders wrote often of their responsibility to posterity; we must give more thought to the generations ahead whose well-being depends so fully on what we do now.

Or, what will they have to say of us?


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Soooo Much Fun, But Be Careful!

Friday’s deluge left satisfying slicks on the balcony that runs the length of Tucker and Lisa’s house.  Once the rain stopped, and the charms of building block towers, scaling stairs, and reading books have been exhausted, Dave and I release our small grandson to jump and march in the balcony’s puddles.

Careful! The word and warning circle in my head, and I strive to stifle it as Paul gleefully scampers the length of the balcony and dances in the pools.  Fun!  The squishing, the flailing, the drumming, and splashing.  The thrilling surprise of a little slip and a slide!  Careful!  Oh, it’s hard to contain it, and I sense Dave’s eyes rolling at my worries.  And then, oops! Paul goes down, his feet whipping out from under him.  He lies in the puddle, eyebrows furrowed, and whimpers.  A brave, little question of a whimper.

“You’re fine! “ we assure him with exaggerated heartiness as we set him on his feet… and off he goes!  It would take far more to squelch this little guy’s high spirits.

Eventually he tires of the wetness and running, or maybe we are the ones who tire first?  Anyway, we head inside, but the good times are not over.  Dave readies a bath with just-right-warm water and spells out “Paul Sylvestro” in yellow-red-green letters, vibrant against the white porcelain of the tub.  A waterproof book, rubber ducky, and small Rubbermaid bowl float in readiness.  Who wouldn’t want to dive in?

Getting clean is barely a consideration as Dave and I whoop, holler, and applaud as water flies.  In a high-pitched trill, with more than a hint of Julia Childs, Dave initiates a tale, “It was a lovely day in a calm little pond, and the fish were enjoying a quiet swim, when suddenly there was… A TSUNAMI!”  What splashing and waves and giggles ensue!  It requires one demo only for Paul to embrace the game, and he waits expectantly, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips, as Dave prattles about the pond…and then… TSUNAMI!

And oh, the fascination of a sinuous, crystalline thread poured from the Rubbermaid bowl. Paul’s eyes sparkle as he lifts both arms, angling his hands this way and that, opening and closing his fingers around that elusive, shimmering thread.  And when I pour A WATERFALLLLLLL (for Dave and I intone this with as much volume as the TSUNAMI!) over his head, Paul sobers a moment, blinking his eyes clear.  He wonders if this is unpleasant or delightful, then warms to the idea, dousing himself repeatedly, unconcerned, by then, about water in his eyes and nose. 

“Look at that,” says Dave as Paul lifts the bowl, having assumed the role of overhead-waterfall-god himself. “He’s figured out how to aim the stream even though he can’t see it.”  For as much as Paul is fascinated by every piece of lint on the rug, every twig in the grass, every sound we squawk, so are we fascinated by this boy and his quick grasp of things new.   

When the water grows tepid, we lift this perfect, precious, slippery, little soul from the tub and wrap him in a cozy, froggy, green towel.  Who’s that cute boy? We ask, as we peer into the mirror.  You’re all green! Are you a frog?  What a joyous respite from adult cares this is for us, to dwell with Paul in a world of primary colors, Pat the Bunny, TSUNAMIs, tiny sneakers, and frog towels! 

Once he’s dressed and had his snack of Cheerios, blueberries, cheese, and yogurt treats, Paul squats on his haunches and flips the silver catch on Dave’s guitar case.  Flips, flips, and flips.  Flips, flips, and flips.  Such focus!  Such study! What is he thinking?  What is he learning as that chubby, index finger persists in flipping; as he hears the click of metal against metal; as he sees the light shift and change as the catch moves?

And if home and tub contain wonders aplenty, a walk to the park holds a surfeit of splendors.  Paul discovers acorn caps pressed into the soil, filthy but intriguing, definitely worth digging up.  And look!  Oh Paul, look!  A squirrel!  Do you see him? See his bushy tail?  Or, do you hear that sound?  It’s a bird.  Can you say bird?  And passing by on the road: a bus!  Look!  A bus!  And I break into song, The wheels on the bus go round and round… Every passing vehicle, every creeping creature, every flowering plant seems a fortuitous offering, an opportunity for learning and joy.  What a gift to re-open to the world’s small miracles oneself, when walking about with a little one. 

“Look, Paul!” says Dave, slowing his gait to one weak and wobbly, and holding a curved stick in his hand.  He totters along muttering in a creaky voice, “I’m just an old man leaning on my cane.” Paul is mildly amused, and he likes the look of that stick.  While still too young to see a gun there, thank god, he senses its value and picks one up. How natural, so boyish, but of course, I worry.  What if he stumbles and pokes out an eye?  I want to deliver this child intact to his parents, and my habitual risk-avoidance antennae are on full alert.

For this weekend is an experiment.  For the first time since Paul’s birth, Tucker and Lisa have stolen away to relax and refresh, leaving their boy in our care. And I feel the full blessing and responsibility of that trust.  So, on our way back to the house, like a guardian crone, I hunch over my grandson, holding his hood so he won’t face-plant on the sidewalk.  I’m sure Dave’s shaking his head at my hyper-vigilance as he strolls beside us, pointing out leaves, car tires, violets, and tulips.

Once back inside, Paul races to the sliding doors that open onto the balcony: he’s ready for more puddle fun.  But, the sun has been out and doing its work, drying. The boy’s face is a study as he trots to the balcony’s end, turns in a bemused circle, tries out a little dance, and bends down for a closer look.  Where did the water go?

Without the rain carpet, I tune into the possibility of splinters, so no more barefoot frolics.  Sigh.  Another carefree joy stolen by an adult. Dave says nothing, but I imagine he’s biting his tongue as I take Paul in my lap and tug on his socks and blue sneakers.  So stoic my Dave in holding back comment. So stoic, his Lea, in limiting, as best I can, my knee-jerk cautions about playing ball in the house, about the size of bites of food cut for Paul, about running on sidewalks and balconies.   

And between the three of us, the experiment’s a success!  Tucker and Lisa return beaming from their time away together, and we hand into their waiting arms their son, happy and whole.

Well, almost.  A half-hour before their arrival – despite constant attention and old crone hunching – Paul swiped at the balcony floor and got a stitching of splinters!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Without Science, I'd Be...

Rain dripped from sodden umbrellas and streamed off cheap plastic ponchos hastily purchased from vendors along the march route.  It was cold, yet the woman wearing the red cape, star spangled shorts, crimson bustier, tight blue leggings, and gold tiara of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman seemed still to brim with energy.  As those marching for Science on this wet Earth Day 2017 wearily reached their destination in the plaza before the Capitol, Wonder Woman leapt onto a retaining wall to take a selfie with her friend. 

Dave and I had spotted a number of full-bodied tyrannosaurus costumes and bushy white Einstein wigs, their connection to science clear, but a comic book super-heroine?  Not so much. Still, part of the Science March experience lay in appreciating people’s creativity and cleverness in conveying whatever message compelled them to come to the nation’s capital this day. So I asked Dave to hold my poster and umbrella, and darted over to the wall to take a picture of Wonder Woman.  Then, Dave and I trudged off in search of the nearest Metro stop. 

Once on the train, blissfully warm and dry among other tired marchers still clutching signs with ink now weeping, Dave and I pulled out our phones, and like those around us, began to swipe, swipe, swipe through our photos, re-living the day.  Only then did I look closely at the photo of Wonder Woman and thought to enlarge the picture so I could read her poster.  “Breast Cancer tried to kill me, but Science…”

Saved her.  Made her strong again.  And made her Wonder Woman in the eyes of those who loved her… just as science gave my doctors - Mary Pronovost, Anke Ott-Young, and Barry Boyd – the tools and knowledge to save and restore me.  

During these times when government support of climate science is of major concern, I hadn’t given much thought to the sweep of science… and to its direct, life-saving impact on me. Science is not separate and abstract. The people in lab coats hunching over microscopes have helped us learn what makes us function, what makes Earth function, and what it requires to ensure that our individual and planetary systems thrive. Why, in 2017, would those in power choose to deny and underfund these?  

The day before the march, Dave and I had arrived in Washington leaving enough time to tour the monuments and memorials on the National Mall.  We scanned the seemingly endless lists of names of those lost etched in the Viet Nam Memorial.  Read the words of Nimitz and Truman inscribed on the wall of the WW II Memorial. Observed the haunting figures of shrouded soldiers drifting past ghostly images of departed service people gazing from a polished granite wall at the Korean War Memorial.  So many sons, fathers, daughters, mothers, and brothers – cherished loved ones – sacrificed in war after war after war.

At the exhibit below the Lincoln Memorial, I spotted a woman, apparently bald, wearing a scarf.  I approached her and asked if she was going through chemo treatments, and she said yes.  Briefly, we shared our experiences and found that Herceptin was part of both our regimens.  When I had breast cancer in 2009, Herceptin had been available for only eighteen months.  From my understanding, this drug made all the difference in my prognosis.  I hope science will help this woman, too, evolve from a scarf-lady to Wonder Woman.     

After a wonderful overnight visit with my cousin and her husband, Dave and I arrived on the mall at the Washington Monument Saturday morning. We had passed through the security checkpoint, jumped over puddles, and gingerly tip-toed through swaths of mud to join the umbrella-sheltered throng before the stage.  “Can you believe this?” said Dave.  “It’s 2017, and we have to march to support Science?  What the hell?”

What the hell.  But the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts in jobs and funding at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), so march we must.

The first Earth Day in 1970 targeted pollution and led to the regulations that have cleaned our air and water and protected endangered species.  Since then, April 22 has been a day for concerts, school-organized clean-ups, and reminders to recycle.  It has been a celebration of strides made and incitements to improve.  This Earth Day was different, dire, and much like 1970, a warning that failure to act – or worse, to reverse gains made – will threaten the future.

Dave and I stood beside a tyrannosaurus to watch videos of polar bears, penguins, and whales gracefully diving deep below murky blue waters.  

We listened to Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who concluded his talk with a stirring call for “informed science.” Astronaut Mae Jemison spoke of the power and beauty of seeing Earth from space.  Maya Lin, designer of the Viet Nam War memorial, described her next project, “What is Missing?” which she said would be a “wake up call and call to action… we must balance our needs with those of the rest of the species on this wondrous planet.” Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970 and founder of the Earth Day Network, warned, “If we lose this fight, we will pass on a desolate, impoverished planet to future generations.”  As numerous posters stated, “There is no Planet B.” 

Jamie Rappaport, president of Defenders of Wildlife, reminded us, “Extinction is forever.”  Because of the Endangered Species Act, itself endangered under this administration, the bald eagle and manatee have been saved.  “Without science,” said Rappaport, “there will be no Monarch butterflies, no polar bears, no red wolves.  Science, for these, is literally a matter of life and death.” Opening with, “I am a patriot.  I fight for spacious skies and purple mountain’s majesties,” James Balog stated, “I am a photographer and scientist, and I have photographed the visual evidence of epic changes…  I have seen it…  Nature isn’t natural anymore.”  

Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said, “Did you know that in Kentucky, they just put the largest solar farm in the world on top of a coal mine?  We are getting there!  We just need a collective intentionality to curb carbon emissions by 2020.  Can we do that?  Of course we can, because we don’t have another option.” She spoke of a vision she has had of hundreds of eyes staring at her and asking, “what did you do?”  She added, “This is a question for all of us.  The answer must be that we work together to do everything we know that is necessary.  In that lies the future of mankind.”

The future.  The future was a drumbeat conjured, portrayed, and agonized over. Many speakers spoke of their children and grandchildren.  Climate change is not in question; it is here.  And while the Great Law of the Iroquois urges consideration of the effect of all decisions even unto the seventh generation out, current plans to curb environmental regulations will affect not only our unknown descendants, it will affect those we know and love… our littlest ones - baby Paul, Ava, Rob, Hazel, Miles, Bennett, Isabel, Sam, Finley, Lily, Lila, Henry, Victoria, Jake, and all children, many of them attending the march.  Some slept on parents’ shoulders, sheltered under umbrellas.  Others peered curiously from beneath stroller canopies.  Still others stood rain-spattered and proud, holding their own hand-lettered signs. 

Many scientists, science teachers, and science students attended the event, and the tone and subject of chants and posters reflected that. There were proud cries about democracy in action, but also calls and responses of: 

“What do we want?”  

“Evidence-based science!”  

“When do we want it?”  

“After peer-review!”  

The pink pussy hats of January’s Women’s March were few, replaced with artfully crocheted caps of twisting coils of gray brain matter.  Posters bore renderings of formulas, graphs, and charts that left Dave and me scratching our heads.  Geologists proclaimed “Geology rocks!” Researchers and doctors demanded, “Fund the NIH!”  Molecular biologists wore elaborate spindly constructions on their heads that we took to be models of molecules, but like I said, we were out of our league in this group.

Like Wonder Woman, many attendees held posters thanking science for cures or listing torments science has consigned to the past.   “Got Polio?  Me neither!  Thank science!” and the more expansive, “Thank a scientist for: antibiotics, polio vaccine, chemotherapy, clean air, clean water.”  Countless posters held images of our beautiful Earth, some with an arrow pointing at the planet, stating, “I’m with her!”   

Humor helps power a message without a finger wag, and Dave and I chuckled often as we wandered about to read signs and keep warm:  

“It’s not rocket science…well, actually, some of it is…”  

“I’m a Mad Scientist”

“What do you call a massive solar energy spill?  A nice day!”  

“Girls just want to have fun…ding for scientific research”

A man and woman standing side-by side held Dave’s favorites.  Her poster read, “Science saved our relationship;”  his said, “Without Science, I’d be bald and flaccid.”  

The presenters onstage were an organized and disciplined lot.  They kept their words succinct and focused, and when the scheduled march time  - 2:00 PM - drew near, they wrapped things up. At the last minute, the moderator announced a final send-off and blessing: a tweet from Pope Francis.  A tweet of all things, praying, “Lord, bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.”

With cheers for the Pope, chants of “E.P.A.!  E.P.A.!,” and a rousing chorus of trumpets and saxophones, the crowd surged forward.  We lifted our rain-wilted posters and flowed from the green by the monument down to Constitution Avenue… hoping that those in the domed and columned buildings within sight were watching and listening.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Peril of Drinks Interrupted

The BMW was sleek, white, and snappy, and it was nose to butt with my car like a greyhound sniffing a portly black lab.  There was about a half inch of space between the two, and there appeared to be paint-bare patches on my bumper.  Rats.

Leaving Dave under a streetlamp at the curb with the cars, I returned to the warmth and light of the pub where we’d just had dinner to ask our friend Aaron, the bartender, to see if one of the patrons owned the BMW.  At his announcement, a slender woman, age thirty or so, raised her hand.

I approached her and said, “Your car is parked right behind mine, and I think you scratched my bumper.”  In my mental re-enactment, my demeanor was sheepish, maybe even apologetic.

With her pale face set in indignation beneath a mane of flowing white-blond hair, she rose from her stool, adjusted her short, tight skirt, and teetered behind me on shimmery scarlet pumps with four-inch heels.  Sputtering at her side was her similarly attired friend, an exotic, statuesque brunette.  “Seriously?” the brunette fumed, “We literally walked in ten minutes ago.”

With arms flailing as if to dismiss me, a fly most annoying, the blond spewed denials as we walked past dark storefronts down the city sidewalk to Dave and the cars.  “My car, it was very expensive and has cameras and sensors everywhere.  I did not hit your car.  Impossible.”  When she spotted my cozy C-Max, she erupted.  “My car did not hit your piece-of-shit car.”  Ouch.

Having moved the C-Max forward, Dave crouched between the two vehicles so he could inspect the front bumper of the BMW. 

While I could not place the women’s accents, they raged with an abundance of Mediterranean passion as their fury mounted.  The brunette stood square before me, the nail of her raised middle finger as fiery red as her painted lips.  “You f*@*ing bitch,” she said, drawing out the vowel to a scornful beetch and nailing the “f” hard through white teeth and lower lip, the “ing” resonating in the back of her throat.  “You totally ruined our night.  It’s my friend’s birthday, you beetch. We literally just sat down.”

And I, literally, just spoke to them.  How could they be so angry so quickly?

“Relax, ladies, relax,” Dave said.  “Maybe it wasn’t your car,” for the hood of the BMW was pristine.  Not a mark.  But in this brief span of minutes, the ladies were past hearing, way past relaxing. 

 “You ugly, old, f*@*ing beetch,” Blondie screeched, giving me a close-up look at the exquisite quality of the manicure on her middle finger.   Her voice menacing, she warned, “I am calling my husband!  You have no idea who we are.  He is going to kill you.”

I hoped this was hyperbole, but given her ire, I wasn’t sure.  I pitied the husband at the end of the line as she screamed into the phone.  “These two f*@*ing, ugly, old people say I hit their piece-of-shit car, which I did not!”  The poor man heard this score in a thundering, repetitious tirade that rose in volume accompanied by a spontaneous choreography of waving arms and tossing hair.  No doubt, he was familiar with it. 

“It wasn’t your car!”  Dave repeated as she stabbed her phone to end the call. 

“I want you dead,” she yelled, “But the baby’s sleeping, and my husband can’t come.”

Dave and I shared a quick look.  Omigod.  This woman had a child.  That poor baby. Where did this anger come from?  What had happened in these women’s lives to build this repertoire of invective? How can that baby thrive in an unpredictable environment where a minor annoyance triggers such rage?  

“Please.  Get out of the road," I entreated.  “You’re gonna get hit.”

“Don’t talk to me, you f*@*ing, ugly, old beetch,” she snarled.

Despite my blessed lack of exposure to anything like this before, ever, I was oddly impervious to their insults.  They bounced off like arrows stopped by a force field, and I just wanted it to end.  But the ladies, apparently, did not.

Finally Dave succeeded in penetrating Blondie’s wrath-induced deafness and she stood triumphant before her car.  “You see?  You see!  Not a mark!  I did not hit your piece-of-shit car!  Call the police! You ruined my birthday for nothing, you f*@*ing…….

Wearily, I chimed in on the chorus, “ugly, old beetch…  I know… but your birthday doesn’t have to be ruined.  Go finish your drinks…”

So.  Whoever tapped my car was gone, leaving the space open for the BMW.  Had they wished, the ladies could have fixed us with baleful looks and flounced back inside with as much flourish and sass as those tippy heels would allow. But their wrath was whirling around us and could not be restrained.  Against their cutting cacophony, as he has with countless angry children at school, Dave kept saying calmly and quietly, “Tell me when you’re ready to listen.  Just tell me when you’re ready to listen...”

Unlike those children, however, the ladies were not.

The brunette was in my face, her middle finger erect, teeth bared.  Too easily, I could imagine those red nails raking across my cheek, so I stepped back as she snapped, “Apologize, you beetch!  You interrupted us!  Literally, we had just sat down!”

Yes.  Yes.  Literally.  I know. 

She glared into my eyes and bit off her words, “F*@*ing beetch!  You were so mean, so nasty…”

Wait, what?  I was mean?  We had entered an alternate universe in which venom was ample and words were limited, the same ones circling round and round, and I just wanted to go home. But I also needed confirmation and a reality check. 

Somehow, I slipped away and scampered down the sidewalk and into the pub, abandoning poor Dave to the harridans.  I knew the men who were sitting at the bar next to the two glasses and empty stools vacated by the ladies.  I said, “Just checking guys.  Did you see me tell those women about the scratches on my car?  Was I nasty?”

They looked at me like I was crazy and said yes, they’d seen the exchange, and no, I wasn’t nasty.  Aaron, the bartender asked, “Are they still railing on out there?”

“Oh yeah.  It’s bad.  The blond called her husband so he would come kill us, but he’s too busy babysitting.”

Aaron rolled his eyes and said, “Sorry this is happening to you.  Bridgeport can be crazy.  I’m calling the police.”

When I returned to my beleaguered husband, he was telling the women that since there was no problem with the car, they could return to the bar to enjoy each other’s delightful company and their drinks. The blond was shrieking at him while the brunette tried to convince her that Dave was handsome and nice; it was the f*@*ing beetch that was the problem.  Blondie was of the mind that his choice of vile girlfriend tainted him as well.

“She’s my wife, actually,” he said with a fond smile, perhaps hoping to raise me in their esteem.  “My wife of 42 years.”

“Whatever.  Beetch…” sneered Blondie.  The good news is, words lose meaning when endlessly repeated.

“Look,” I said.  “Your drinks are still on the bar.  Go in and enjoy them.”

The brunette cocked her head and wagged her index finger in my face, giving her middle finger a brief rest.  “No!  You ruined it!  We literally walked in….”

Good God!  Again?  “Yes, I know.   Literally.  Ten minutes before I interrupted you.”  She did not think me clever in joining her chorus and launched into such a litany of foul language and abuse that Dave whipped out his phone to record it.  Blondie flew at him and shoved him against a pathetic sapling struggling to survive in its bed of asphalt. Dave’s cell tumbled, and Blondie’s sequined purse sailed to the sidewalk. “You can’t record her without permission!” she howled.  “She’s a model!” Dave, a paragon of patience, spun around, finally pushed too far.  Was he going to throttle her?  I stepped in front of him, unsure, and he backed away.

Relieved to have even a hint of respite from the head-on hatred, I turned and bent to retrieve Dave’s phone, happily intact, as well as Blondie’s purse.  When I moved to hand it to her, she snatched it back and snapped, “Beetch!  Don’t touch me!”

Sigh.  I’d had enough.  “Dave? Honey?  Give it up.  I’m gonna sit on the curb. Come with me.”

“Your girlfriend?” said Blondie.  “She’s a beetch….”

“My wife of 42 years,” again Dave tried. “Well, almost 42 years.  Our anniversary’s in June.  The 14th.”

“Whatever, she is such a….”

F*@*ing bitch.  I know.  Ugly and old too.  Tired as well. Omigod… let this stop.

I will belabor here no more, although they did.  It went on and on until a man I had just met in the pub – a blessed soul – emerged to entice the ladies back inside.  At his intervention, their anger melted miraculously to damsels-in-distress tears.  As the man took the brunette’s arm to guide her back to the bar, she whimpered, “We are so upset.  That beetch was so nasty. She ruined my friend’s birthday!  We had literally walked in ten minutes before…. “

Deep breath.  Lengthy exhalation.

After they departed, Dave and I retreated with relief to the refuge of my much-maligned C-Max and slumped into our seats to wait for the police.  “If they’d been men, I would’ve smacked ‘em,” he said.  We looked at each other and shook our heads, so grateful that their burden of anger was not part of our lives.