Monday, April 25, 2011

The Year We Had No Easter Tree

When I was around nine, my parents decided to attend services at a variety of churches and dabbled in an even wider variety of faiths. We checked out Christianity, Catholicism (distinguish from Christianity), Judaism, Buddhism, Native American beliefs and so on; but the one that got stuck in my mind? Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It stuck because I was a kid and holidays were awesome, and Jehova’s Witnesses don’t celebrate much. A week before Easter we went to their version of mass. It was so boring I thought I might die. It was so lengthy even my parents started to fidget. Never mind my five-year-old brother crawling under our bench.

God seemingly took a back seat. The Bible and its teachings were all that mattered and Jesus rarely entered the room. Easter and Passover were mentioned as examples of ritualistic traditions that shouldn’t be acknowledged, and on and on it went.

After an hour we were allowed to leave, and we went about our agnostic lives except for the dreams. Those awful dreams.

I dreamed there was an Easter tree in our living room. It was fully flocked in whitish pink and wrapped in spun glass known as angel hair. Hiding in the branches were eggs and candies, and I wanted at that thing so bad!

“No,” said my mother, who then called to my father to help her throw it away. “We are Jehovah’s Witnesses and we don’t celebrate Easter.”

How unfair. Poor other Jehovah’s Witness kids, and their pragmatic parents, who were so deprived of the joy’s of holidays. It didn’t occur to me that there is something beyond the trappings. For many it is the essence of their beings. The external is trivial, gifts are unnecessary, indulgence isn’t divine and as long as you’re a good person of some sort that’s all that matters.

I pinched myself awake Easter morning and ran for the living room. There was a note on the hallway wall telling me to go to the front door, and taped to the door was another note: “Open slowly.”

There it was. A huge basket filled with eggs, Peeps, fake grass, cards for my brother and I and one massive chocolate bunny. Hooray for heathenism!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gentrify This

There's a new trend in city maintenance: red bark. I don't understand it. It's ugly, it gets everywhere and my dog won't poop on it. I live in an urban world, and those little patches of dirt with trees that poke up from the sidewalks at even intervals are what we urbanites--and our dogs--rely upon for the task.

I can't get too peeved, though. The city is trying to make my neighborhood all nice and pretty so the criminal element will go somewhere else, like the suburbs. I'm all in favor of that. If I lived in the suburbs, well, I wouldn't live in the suburbs. I have friends who grew up in suburbs, and trust me. They are wholly unprepared for a visit.

Who is doing some of the work? Convicts. I'm delighted by this. I wonder if some have been sent back to the same places they were popped to make amends with the locals? In fact, the XXX "Theatre" has a nice, new facade with potted plants surrounded by red bark. If you've been exposed to such a place (pardon the pun), you know what happens when a client ignores the code of conduct. I envision registered sex offenders delicately patting red bark around geraniums, right under a window display with a scantily clad mannequin in a suggestive pose.

The other thing they're doing in an attempt to cut down on the lurking about is to add a lower deck of lights to every street light. This is being done by qualified professionals--I hope. Not that being a convict rules out the 'lineman for the county' skill set, but there might be some liability issues.

These lower lights stay on all night, unlike the higher street lights, and have already had the noticeable effect of not digging the homeless population out of their sleeping quarters. Can't hide in a dark doorway if it isn't dark, right? It's harder for them to relieve themselves without an audience, is all. Urine pooled on a bus stop bench is one thing, but inadvertently catching a glimpse of the urinator in the act is an experience I hope never to repeat.

Bright lights shining away, the dealers and prostitutes busily do what they need to do between the hours of 3:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. as always. The drunken fights outside the bars still happen, as inebriated individuals have no sense of their surroundings. The more gang-inclined young men stand like peacocks under the new lighting, perhaps hoping their gold jewelry will glint all the more. That's what I'd do.

The good result is that I feel less likely to be mugged or attacked as I pass near patches of red bark and stare into the bright bulbs. It might be a false sense of security, but I'm thoroughly conditioned. It's in literature and folklore that light and clean is good, and dark and dirty is bad.

It's also impossible to grow up in a larger city without being taught a few survival skills that include light vs. dark training. I've learned from friends, enemies, experts, parents, teachers and my own encounters with the dark side. Stay clear of alleys and doorways, walk with a purpose, hold your purse tight and your chastity tighter!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Plight of the Intersexed

The word "hermaphrodite" has an insulting connotation. Though using it would have given my title a lively rhyme, I refrained, and in the process I learned a new word: intersex.

Sam-dog was up to some mischief with a budding daffodil. He chewed the leaves and I snapped, "Leave it." He stomped all over it and I pulled his leash a little tighter. Then, as a final insult, he drenched the poor thing in pee. While all this was going on, I was sneaking glances at a couple coming up the street.

One was tall, slim and attractive, and the other was quite a bit shorter and more on the pretty side. My temptation was to peg them as a lesbian couple, but something was holding me back. They chuckled over something one or the other said, and Tall bopped Short on the head in a teasing gesture.

They were now within my limited hearing range, and Tall said to Short, "I was born with both male and female genitals."

Short said, "Me, too!"

"No way," I mumbled to Sam. "Right here, right now they are discovering each other?" Sam wagged his tail.

Tall then said, "I knew I liked you for some reason. How cool. I was raised as a girl, but I feel more boyish so I'm going with that for now." Short smiled and said, "I feel more girl, but not always. You get it." They fist bumped with joy and changed the subject to video games.

They seemed completely unfazed by my presence, and that gave me a moment of joy. The world and all its humans still has trouble accepting intersex individuals, so for these two to speak so freely in front of an audience... and they chose the right audience because I was nothing but happy for them... and a little relieved.

It's not a comfortable thought for anyone who doesn't have the condition (Condition? Genetic make-up? Gift? Curse? I'm lost in semantics, here.) to think that a penis and vagina--in all different stages of development--could exist in one pelvic region. We think of the classic breeding pair, with an innie and outie and eggs and sperm and that's how we're, well, conditioned.

While their voices were going out of range, I was thinking of worms. It still takes two of them to breed, but they have both parts, those crazy, lucky worms. In the worm world it's perfectly natural, so why not in the world of humans? Why the heck not?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keep It Stupid, Simple

Eloquent, concise, informative, easy-to-read signage is hard to find. Sam-dog and I came upon this during an exploratory walk. We were getting bored of the usual routes, and decided to squeeze down an overgrown alley behind an aborted construction project. Now we know exactly where to go when we need...

...a good laugh.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Name Basis

"What's your name, sweetheart? You're out late. Sorry we was doing something wrong there. You forgive, right?"

As she spoke I fixated on her two absentee teeth, and the gold crowns on the shards next to the gap. Her gums black with decay.

"Wendina. And no worries. I could care less what you two were up to. What's your name?"

"My name is Kelly. Pleased to meet you. You're cool, and you have pretty teeth."

I wanted to pay her the same compliment, but a little white lie would have ticked her off. She's smart--brilliant, even--and she was so flamed on crack she was pacing and flailing. To top it off, she's the same prostitute who threatened to beat the shit out of me a few months back.

There was a brief moment of recognition before we continued. Without acknowledging, we forgave each other for the messy incident, the menacing, and the frantic call to 911. Bygones.

"Thanks. I'm about to lose the same two you're missing." The direct approach. Find common ground, Wendina. Find it fast, because there won't be another opportunity quite like this.

"That's a fucking drag. The only good thing about that is they give you those Vicadins after they yank. They're not my favorite, though. I'm on some great pills, I tell you. What kinna pills you like?"

"Sleeping pills. They aren't what got me in trouble, but they're a big problem."

"That why you up so late? Can't sleep? Man, I love to sleep. I could crash right here and now if it weren't for that other stuff. Hey, I could be your AA sponsor. That'd be funny as hell!"

I stepped a bit closer to her and tapped her arm as we shared a good laugh. My instincts were dead on. Next thing I knew, she was listening to me ramble about my lifelong battle with insomnia, consoling me and telling me her woes.

Her smaller friend leaped out from behind the trunk of the tree we were under and offered to make a phone call. She wanted to hook me up with whatever I needed. Damnit if I didn't consider it for more than a few seconds before I declined.

"No, I can't go there, but you're an angel for offering."

"He could be on his way. Let me know."

"I will." She went back to hiding behind the tree.

Kelly and I then proceeded to have a rousing discussion about drugs, teeth and the fact that the two don't go together. Addicts are drawn to each other. There's an instant affinity regardless of lifestyle, history or differences in personality; and we always have bad teeth. It never fails.

"Go inside and get some rest, hon," said Kelly. She gave me the nicest toothless smile I'll ever get.

"I'll try my best."

"Before you leave, what's your dog's name, anyway?"


"Sam. That's a perfect name for him. Goodnight, Wendina and Sam."

"Goodnight, Kelly."