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.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Despite Our Differences

It is Friday and the movie starts at noon. I’m able to park close to the cinema door since my car is one of maybe five in the cavernous parking lot.  Do I have the wrong time?  Is the theater closed?

No. The door is not locked and I ride the escalator upstairs to keep the ticket seller, concessionaire, and ticket-taker company.  For there are only four of us in that vast popcorn-scented multi-plex lobby emblazoned with floor to ceiling “Coming Soon!” posters.  This is the second time in my life that I’ve gone to a movie alone; who knew that I would be so truly by myself?  A little weird, but freeing as well.

I go to the bathroom; give the nice man my ticket; walk down the long hall, and enter the theater.  It is empty.  So, where to sit?  On the aisle, of course, for easy bathroom access.  In the middle row?  Hm. A little too close to the screen, so I move back two rows.  Perfect. Two women enter and, with a laugh, I bid them “Welcome to my theater!” I unzip my pocketbook and pull out the water bottle and granola bar I’d smuggled in.  I feel a little daring about that small felony. Look at me, so bold today!  Smuggling contraband and alone at the movies!

I love Disney, cartoons, and musicals, and Dave does not.  I wanted to see “Beauty and the Beast” and Dave certainly did not. I love previews, and Dave does not…and the fantasy selections blaring and darting in bright light – geared to the “Beauty and the Beast” audience – delight me.  Dave would have been sneering or snoozing over “Wonder Woman,” a sequel to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Coco,” an animated film about a small boy’s journey to the land of the dead.  Now that I’ve braved solo movie attendance, I plan to see them all. 

The ponderous velvet curtains pull further to the side as the lights go down. “When You Wish Upon a Star” swells through the room just as it did at the opening of "The Wonderful World of Disney” when I was a kid.  Onscreen, colored stars arc over the soaring towers of Cinderella’s castle and cascade in a shimmering shower of sparkles. I grin in the dark.  Yippee!   

Oddly, I am weepy several times during the movie, and not just when the brutish Gaston kills our – by now, beloved – Beast.  What are the triggers?  I’m not sure.  Nostalgia? The appeal of enchantment as a solution to seemingly unsolvable problems?  A yearning for happy endings?  In “Beauty and the Beast,” arrogance and bullying inflict pain, harsh judgments reveal the flaws of the judges, exteriors belie interiors, and mob mind and mob violence are shown for the horrors they are.  The themes in “Beauty and the Beast” are not cartoonish: they challenge us now.

Later, when I return home, Dave has to listen to me re-tell the tale because I am so uplifted, so excited, so HAPPY after seeing this movie.  He says, “So, it has a plot like every other fairytale about the restorative power of women.”  Whoa.  I am whipped from a defensive response at the start of his comment to astonishment at new insight in his closing. “Say that again?”

“It’s a story about the restorative power of women.”

While a friend recently told me she’d read an article debating “Belle:  Feminist or Brain-Washed Captive,” with my new Trump World heightened feminist sensibility, I love Dave’s expansion of the traditional take on the movie’s message. For, despite the appeal of powers beyond those human, enchantment was not the path to the movie’s happy ending. Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is about loving despite differences.  In the film as in life, kindness and love are the saving grace.