Rosacea girl

White bread, wheat bread, Pringles because regular Lays tends to turn to “dust,” Karen says, a bottle of moderately priced cabernet sauvignon because if I go too cheap then she’ll think it is of lower quality, even though when I run into Scott a moment before he says he goes for this one Australian brand, two bottles for ten dollars, and it tastes quite good – “it’ll never fly” I tell him appreciatively – and my non-alcoholic beers we call “Haacke Beck betties” because Karen makes up names for everything to be whimsical and I love that about her. The girl, her badge says Siobhan, and she has jet black hair that is coming out of her ponytail and which falls around her ears, rings up each item robotically and then her voice tells me the total, “twenty-six oh two please.” I give her thirty dollars and she hands me change. “Could you double bag the beers, please?” She does, and the package comes down a little hard on the counter, her rosacea cheeks turning a little more red. “Thank you,” I say. “Thanks. Have a nice night,” she says, her voice ringing with fabricated mirth that would almost fool you over the phone but in person is out of joint, dissonant, at odds with her face, and belies a pain that is from more than just our being together at that counter for 45 seconds.

photo: dogmadic

All in the delivery

“Put in something about church involvement, and take out that stuff about writing poetry.”

He looked up and handed me my resume, his thick, sleek blonde hair at 45 combed directly back over the top of his head, giving him an aerodynamic look of moving through time and responsibility very rapidly. Continue reading

At the end of the day

Each boy required a two-pint container of his own, green recycled something-or-other cardboard, for strawberry picking.

We had planned to go Saturday, but the skies were threatening and it was a bit on the cool side. Sunday surprised me, with warmer than forecast temperatures and rich, blue skies. No forecast for rain, as originally thought. After church, our traditional pancake lunch, and rest time, we loaded up the Odyssey.

Karen bought herself and me an iced coffee from The Sweetest Thing in the Hamilton Shopping Plaza, even though her first preference was to drive down to Starbucks. That, I argued, would have taken us an additional twenty minutes out of the way, and given that Dunkin Donuts is closed while moving locations within the shopping plaza, Sweetest Thing was our best alternative.

The boys were happy. Of course, Dad forgot to sunscreen Teak as well as bring along “taggie” (his blanket) and “Stripey” (his tiger Webkins, which is all the rage among little kids). Thus, Dad heard a brief lecture from Mom on proper preparation for family outings – “You know taggie and stripey calm him down….” He had heard this lecture before. Many times. Each time, he failed to take class notes. He was destined to repeat the class for eternity, or so it seemed, like one of those dreams where you are always taking your Chemistry 101 final without having studied.

I took a long draw on my iced coffee and said, “OK. Let’s hit it.”

We drove the back way to I-95, through Bradley Palmer State Park, where the posted 25 MPH speed limit road winds and rises and dips, enough to make me want to skateboard it sometime, or at least imagine that at 44 I could still dust off the longboard and get out there to go downhill fast. As I drive and wind and do maybe a little over 35, I imagine doing it on a skateboard, with a camera fixed on my helmet or perhaps followed by a chase car with the passenger holding a camera out the window and taking a video of this beautiful road and then posting the video on this blog. And then I think, “Nah, too much video posted on websites, not enough copy.” This is a convenient ruse to cover up the fact that I am actually afraid of flying out of control on my board and eating it, leaving behind most of my elbow and knee skin. It is a delightful sensation nonetheless, feeling that I could skate it if I wanted to, and backed up by three boys who would probably consider me a hero for doing it.

Cider Hill Farm is in Amesbury, which charmingly has an old mill in its downtown, a number of shops and restaurants and a rotary that makes its other roads feel like loose spokes, giving it an Old World milieu. I recall coming here in 1999 looking for a place to live before we ended up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, and K does as well. The farm is about a mile outside of town, though, and as we pull off to the right onto the property, we see maybe ten people at most in the strawberry patch, stooping over and searching. This is a good sign, I tell myself, not really knowing, truth be told, whether ten bodies is a lot for the 100-yard long, 25-foot wide patch or whether it can withstand more capacity, especially three small bodies with my last name.

We have a pep talk in the car about manners, loudness, and internecine cooperation, and then head to the store to get details on picking.

Last night I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie, and K and I each had a slice with a scoop of Brigham’s vanilla ice cream on top. I had asked the boys to contribute four strawberries apiece to the pie so we’d have enough. Carter, usually compliant, willingly found four nice ones from his container. Bennett reluctantly offered two. Teak was busy downstairs in the playroom, so his strawberries were conscripted.

photo: anker1922

Casual Friday

Carter and I went hunting for frogs. I hadn’t planned to, but we were having lunch in Patton Park, and it was “casual Friday” at work – where most people got out at 2:30 and the staff was at Staff Day visiting the Peabody-Essex Museum anyway, leaving the office barely occupied – so I thought I’d take a few extra minutes and seek amphibians with my first-born. K had packed Carter the ever-chosen PB&J along with some Pringles and a cookie, and she made me a turkey on wheat with a banana to go with. We had water bottles. The hour started with us eating at a picnic table and then Carter enjoying the playground for about ten minutes until boredom set in. Then we decided to be a little more venturesome. Patton Pond was inviting us, so we slowly circled it – about 2/10ths of a mile around – peering down into every little indent of shallow brown water for frogs or, more to the point, tadpoles which might just now be growing legs. Upon spotting one, Carter would bend down carefully and try to grab it. Occasionally, I would hold his hand as he would lean out over the water to try for one a few feet out from the edge. One time he got his hands on a 2-inch frog, the only one we saw, before it wriggled away. The rest of the time, his shadow or 8-year-old clumsy movements warned the adolescent creatures, and they swam away from the edge into muck and under lily pads.

We ended our time with my promise that we’d come back and hunt for more that afternoon, weather permitting, or Saturday morning at the latest.

photo: mhunter111

"Telling the truth"

Yesterday in Pittsburgh International Airport I was steps away from one of my heroes. A true celebrity in my book. You’ll say “who?!” when I tell you her name.

Now, you need to know that I’ve been kissing distance from Sharon Stone, Tom Hanks, Muhammad Ali, Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates – and was really within kissing distance to Cates (please see Young for Your Age) – Donald Trump (multiple times), Bette Midler, Bill Gates, P-Diddy, Senators, Congressmen, Susan Sarandon, Larry King, Matt Lauer, Barry Manilow, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford, Tony Randall, Andie McDowell (twice) and others. Cindy Crawford once stared at me from across the street while she was eating lunch at Isabella’s on 77th and Columbus. I am dropping all those names – and hopefully you were impressed – only to underscore the relative obscurity of Annie Lamott.

My writing hero.

Next to Victor Hugo, who is pretty much my all-time writing hero…or maybe Cervantes is…Annie Lamott stands out as the writer who has most influenced my writing and even led to my decision to publish a bunch of Lamottian-like essays in the form of Lullabye.

I was waiting for the plane back to Boston, and off the jetway came walking quite unnoticed to all the oblivious people around me…Annie Lamott. I was unsure at first, but then it was unmistakable. Shortish white woman with dirty blonde dreadlocks, crows feet around the eyes from a soul filled with laughter, baggy clothes. Knew it was her. And I was on the phone at the time with the Lovely K – who has neither dreadlocks nor crows feet yet has a soul filled with laughter – and I said, “Hold on a minute, honey, I think I see Annie Lamott.” She knows about Lamott, because she bought me a used copy of Bird by Bird last summer from Hastings in Kerrville, and reading it changed the way I write. “Good writing,” she says, “is about telling the truth.” All those movie stars were sort of cool to see up close for the curiosity factor, and it was kind of nifty to see the richest man in the world, but I was like shaking when I realized I had gotten that close to the writer who was so meaningful to me during the last eleven months. Still talking to K, I can’t think straight, and I get jittery.

I am star-struck.

So I kind of paused and ummed my way through the next few moments wondering aloud whether I should go after her, as she passed me by, and ask, “Are you Annie Lamott?” or, as I suggested to K, “Is your name Annie Lamott?” because if it wasn’t her, then the second question would make a whole lot more sense to a stranger and, after all, I don’t want to make a total a#$ of myself. (Of course, this is already a fait accompli on the other end of the line.) But as I was pondering and ruminating and umming and thinking way too much about it, Lamott disappeared down the corridor of B Concourse toward the people mover walkways and baggage claim. I told K, “Hey, let me hang up and go find her. I want to meet her.” So I shuffled off down the corridor, looking for her dreadlocks and baggy jeans and, finding none, I hovered around the outside of the ladies room about fifty feet from the gate, because the restroom is usually where I go first after deplaning, and I pretended to read my email on my PDA and study the departure board on the wall, very regularly peering up suspiciously at the doorway of the…ahem, ladies restroom. (TSA had probably trained their security cameras on me at that point.) But after a few minutes it was apparent that Annie Lamott had disappeared somewhere else or was doing business in there after which she would be in no mood to be accosted by a preppie, non-dread-ed Fan.

Dejected, I walked back to the gate, called back K, and while boarding some ten minutes later, I ask the agent, “Where did this plane come from?”

“San Francisco.” Where Lamott lives. So it was her.

I am kicking myself.

I look over toward the seats to my right and, I’ll be darned, there’s John Sununu slouching back in a blue suit and red striped tie loosened at the collar. I’m sure it’s him, and he looks tired and ready to get back to New England.

It’s a big letdown, seeing Sununu after Lamott. Because after all, it’s just John Sununu.

And how in the world did I get in a higher zone than Sununu?

photo: Mark Richards

twang

“Hot or mad?”

“Excuse me?” I replied. The boy behind the counter at Cozy Corner serving lunch couldn’t have been more than 10, maybe even 8 judging by his height. He had lighter skin than the man of 30 or so, who was a deep brown, also behind the counter, but they had the same jaw line and smile.

“Hot or mad?” Oh. I get it.

“Mild, please.” Last night’s chicken from Gus’s had ripped through me earlier in the morning, yet I was willing to have a little of the hair of the dog for my sliced pork sandwich, served with slaw already on it. The sign by the dining area said, “This section for self-service only,” and a computer print-out sheet over the arch leading to the section announced to all customers who were gearing for a fight, “The only one who’s right all the time is Jesus…” There was no AC, just ceiling fans circling lazily.

He punched in numbers to his register like he’d been doing it since sippy cups at age 4 and then processed my credit card – “debit or credit?” – this kid didn’t miss a beat. As the machine started to spew my receipt, the boy looked up at me and said, “You ready to write?”

“Sure.”

My receipt came out and he placed it on the counter in front of me. Then he plopped down a purple pen that was nine inches long and about an inch thick, and his face remained stoic, staring at me. I let out a belly laugh.

“Good thing my bill wasn’t as big as this pen!”

***

“You wanna snake with your meal?”

The lady behind the counter at Famiglia Pizza in the Memphis airport queried me as she rung up my cheese pizza and bottled water.

“Excuse me?” Seemed to be my favorite saying today.

“A snake.” She motioned over to the muffins, cookies, and fresh fruit to the right of the register. Oh. I get it. Snack.

“Sure. I’ll have a banana.”

***

“Where are you headed?” the flight attendant asked the couple across the aisle from me.

” ‘Crowshay’ Mountain.” Spelled Crochet.

Pause.

“I grew up in New Hampshire,” she said with a smile. “We call that ‘crotchitt’ mountain.”

photo: berenika