I love my city.
I grew up in Southern California, which I know sounds wonderful. Sunshine. Blue skies. Beaches and palm trees and movie stars. Pretty much. But also there’s wall to wall cars, smog so thick it makes your nose bleed, and crazies, whinos and weirdos up the wazoo. It’s a sprawling universe of people who are busy and harried much of the time. People who smile and say “have your people call my people”. And you wonder if they even remember your name, though you could swear you stood in their wedding two years ago. Southern Cal is beautiful, and fun, and exciting, and memorable; but it can be hard on the soul if you don’t have your center. So many people. So much chaos. It makes me feel small and insignificant.
Parks with water sprinklers for kids to play in, swings and sandboxes. Malls, shopping centers, and independent retail shops. There are comic book shops, libraries, art galleries, and tattoo parlours. Oh, and weed sellers. That’s an official and legal business now, so we have a billion little shops that have sprung up like well, weeds, all over the town. We have two roller derby teams, a baseball team, a football team, several city and farmer’s markets, a skateboard park and a place where you can rent kayaks by the hour. We have several colleges and universities, law schools and business schools. Also a fabulous art show every summer and an independent film festival.
Oh, and outdoor movies in an artsy part of town. As well as live theatre on the streets, musicians that play while you eat out on patios, tons of thrift shops and antique stores, and horse drawn carriages at various times.
Yes, the weather is questionable. It’s too cold. It’s too hot. It’s humid or freezing or blustery. The roads don’t get plowed in time, or fixed of their pot holes, or they are being fixed but it’s taking too long. There’s too much unemployment and not enough Lotto winners. But sometimes it’s just perfect and beautiful; exactly what it should be. Bright sunny skies, crisp fall mornings, friendly people in a store you’ve never visited. It’s a good town, with enough seedy elements to make it interesting and enough artistic bend to make it quirky. So though I’m not originally from here, and I may not always live here, it’s a good place to call home right now.
What can I say? Some days there is no way to process life but through writing.
My morning walk started so beautifully, with the overcast sky, the cool air, and the scent of flowers on the wind. A beautiful mourning dove hovered over my head, looking for her nest, I thought. Unless she was hovering over me to bring me a message, which is quite possible because these birds are connected to my grandmother. I saw it as a good sign, along with the three silly squirrels who were playing a fierce game of tag, and a happy black butterfly that smiled at me as she flew by.
The second park I try to visit on my morning walk is something of a fairy wonderland, if you disregard the droppings left behind by the resident alcoholics. After I picked up an empty booze bottle, a can of worms from a fishing excursion, and an empty six pack carton, I was able to sit on a bench and enjoy the water for a while. Many of my Monday mornings start here, at the water’s edge. We have a little river ‘round here, and at this park I can watch it head into Old Town, and sometimes see people out fishing in their boats. Or I might just stand at the edge of the park, like today, and look out over the drop of the dam, staring at the frothy build up as the water cascades over the edge. It’s a fun little drop – not a Niagara Falls or anything – just a little waterfall that makes the view interesting.
I have imagined it as a good murder site for some time. I am forever thinking of plots and ideas for the many novels I intend to write one day, that are all on a slow-cook right now, back in my brain in some kind of Dutch oven. Today, as I stood over the railing looking into the water, I felt for sure this was the scene for the first murder of one of my mysteries. The fencing that I leaned over was made of stone and a wrought iron gating material, making it look rather a lot like a cemetery structure. The water drop below showed debris I don’t usually see, like a giant tree stump, a soccer ball, and bottles of booze or tea. For a while I was worried that there might really be a body in the water – there is a sign right where I stand, after all, that warns about the undertow, and how strong it is; that it can pull a body under and drown a victim, so careful, careful, it warns. Maybe there was an argument over the World Cup already, and someone tossed his drunken friend over the edge, along with his Nerf soccer ball.
Still it was a beautiful day, so I resigned myself to enjoying the moment. Little cheeps were close at hand, and I looked around to find four little ducklings chirping away. All in a clump, they cheeped loud and long, ‘till mother duck found them finally, and helped guide them away from the dangerous edge of the falls. It was the cutest, sweetest site, as mother duck and her three ducklings were re-joined by the four stragglers. And off they swam. But I kept hearing more cheeping. Are these just extra loud ducklings, who are destined for a life on the stage with that kind of lung power? No, actually, there were two more ducklings that hadn’t yet braved the water fall. Seeing mom and the others sailing off without them, the final two ducklings race toward the fall in a panic, trying to catch up to the troupe.
Over the edge they flow, and then bobble up and down in the frothy, tumultuous water at the bottom of the falls. Both of the ducklings struggle in the fierce bubbling mass – the water is high today, and the current is strong. One of the ducklings manages to find the large tree stump, and struggles his way onto the wood, finding purchase at last on the floating device. But the undertow is strong, and the stump wobbles, tossing him once again into the violent water. He bobbles, and struggles, and rights himself again on the wood. The other duckling has already lost his battle with the angry river god. I watched these two ducklings struggle for their lives, swimming and tossing, going under and resurfacing. They spent so much energy on surviving, they couldn’t even cheep out for their mother to find them, so I called to her, trying to tell her where they were. But at last, they both were under, and didn’t come back up again.
I started crying. I looked in vain for their little fluffy heads. I waited, and worried, and cried some more. And finally, I plucked two white wild flowers from off the vine on the ground, and tossed them into the river, mourning the loss of the innocent little lives.
I thought I lost another innocent last week. We have a situation of strays, at our house. My sister is something of a cat magnet, and we’ve had strays visiting us for years now. Axel, Xander, Sneakers, Bear. Some strays we make attempts to adopt, like Petey McGee. (actually peanut butter cup, but Petey stuck pretty good) Petey is the offspring of two other strays, Tiger and Smokey Joe. Tiger makes good kitties, so we also have Piglet and Ozzie now as porch kitties, because we already have Siris, Bunny, Doodle and Petey indoors. Christ. We made attempts to adopt Zorro, which ended badly, and are now feeding Snaggle Tooth as well.
Snaggle is the one I thought we lost the other day. He’s something of an old cur, we don’t know if he belongs to someone or just roams the land looking for fights and women. His legs are broken and crooked, making him walk like a wounded cowboy, or more likely, a pirate that should have a peg leg. His fur is long and mangled, and his eyes are distant and wild. He howls when he is hungry, and growls at you when you bring him food. But he’s the cutest damn thing. So we talk to him, and tell him how cute he is, and he’s been around a couple of weeks.
Last week he was howling so loud, and walking so badly, I thought he had the Death. I went out in the rain, and stood as close to him as he would let me, across the street on the neighbors lawn. I told him it was ok to die. I told him he was a good kitty, and loved, and that it was ok to die, because I was right there with him, and I loved him. He howled another howl and then fell silent behind a bush, while I stood in the rain and wept over a cat I hardly knew.
Of course those surly pirate types don’t go that easily, so he came back and got into a fight with our Piggie (Piglet, named after the character in Winnie the Pooh) so we called him a sonuvabitch and told him we would stop feeding him if he pulled this crap again. We fed him anyway the next morning, but still, you can’t treat our porchies like that! But other than the miraculous resurrection of Snaggle Tooth the Ferocious, Death has been all around me lately, though I imagine it is always all around me; I’m just usually too distracted by life to notice, or too caught up in myself to see Death’s claw marks in the sand, or his scratches on the trees.
Friends that I love have watched friends that they love die in their arms. Colleagues of mine have had parents and uncles die. And what can I do to ease their pain? Nothing. Nothing helps this kind of thing. All I can do is love. Love those around me that are hurting, and hold them to me as close as I can. Love those that are dying, and send them off with as much positive energy as I can muster. Love the world, and the earth, and the precious moments we have right now. Love in the here, and the present, and stop holding it inside me like I’m a stingy old miser who is hoarding it all for himself. I want to love strongly, and fiercely, passionately and well. I want to love deeply and many and for no apparent reason other than I love to love. Because I don’t know how many tomorrows I will have. I don’t know when the tide of life will pull me under and keep my head below the waves. I struggle and I fight to live on, and live well, but I don’t know, do I?
So I must love today. And hard. And much. And I just pray that those I care about will embrace me, accept my gift, and allow me the beauty of now.
I’ve lived in my town for about twelve years. Hard for me to believe, because I came here when my sister was graduating from college, and we wanted to move in together. But the plan was to live somewhere cool, like Chicago or Boston or Philly. The BIG plan was to move back west and live in Seattle, or maybe Portland. San Luis Obispo or San Francisco were not likely to be in our budget. The plan WASN’T, however, to stay in Michigan forever. This was just a stepping stone, a place for us to hang out while we devised and launched our secret mission, Operation Seattle. But…I’m still here.
This fact made me miserable for a while, and for several years I saw nothing around me but the negative. Cold, frozen winters visited me year after year, and I shivered through, loudly proclaiming that I was an inch from my death and that the hairs in my nostrils were freezing together, which would surely form into an impassable wall that would prevent me from breathing air ever again. If I didn’t die from the cold, perhaps I would die from boredom, as it seemed there was nothing ever going on around town. The sheer force of will it took me to etch out an existence in such a bothersome, loathsome city was a testament to my bravery and ingenuity. Or really, maybe I just didn’t die of boredom because we found some pretty cool video stores to rent movies from. Not the chain stores you find any-old-where, but home grown businesses with quirk and personality, and interesting selections that I didn’t think I would find anywhere but a cool and hip city. So ok, I decided I might be able to tolerate staying alive for another day or so, or at least until we finished watching whatever shows we had already bothered to pay for. Then perhaps I would succumb to death by sudden weather change, or perish from the plague of unemployment.
Over the last few years, my attitude has changed radically, and I’ve fallen in love with my town. Maybe in part because of the geography of where I work, in the Downtown area of the city which is full of unique and personal restaurants, busy little shops and an actual nut shop that still sells fresh roasted nuts. It didn’t hurt any that a local squirrel frequented this nut shop, and would lay himself out on the sidewalk during the summer, panting of exhaustion until patrons offered him bottled water to re-hydrate himself, and some fresh nuts from their bag to sustain him. He made sure to stand on his legs and beg if passersby weren’t fully aware that he was parched to the bone and hadn’t had enough treats yet that day.
Maybe I’ve fallen in love with my town because I’ve found somewhere to work that I really love. A place full of interesting people whose views, opinions and ideals are similar to my own. Going to work is not a drudgery for me, and I sometimes find myself at work on my days off, or long after I have clocked out for the day. It is a wonderful place to hang out, whether you work there or not. Then again, this change of heart may have started right around the time my doctor hooked me up with a nice dose of anti-depressants. Drugs can definitely altar the viewpoint. And though I wasn’t on drugs when I was reminded about Tourist day, I was in an induced state of being from a lengthy walk around my favorite area of town, which had produced a happy high in me.
I happened to be in a bead shop, and I found a little stack of booklets by the business cards. I’m a sucker for pamphlets, booklets and menus. It’s a whole crazy OCD/collector insanity that I can’t even go into right now, the web of the pamphlet monster weaves itself so deep into me it would take hours to tell the story. So obviously, I picked up the booklet; I had to. Was compelled to. And it was this little passport, for the Tourist day which was happening the following week. I looked it over. On the back page were all these cute little boxes lined up in neat little rows. Each box eagerly awaited receiving a stamp from a store in town. The instructions indicated that you should collect as many stamps from as many locations listed as possible, and then you enter your stamped passport into a drawing, to potentially win fabulous prizes.
Well that’s it, I was sold. Because for one, there were going to be people rappelling off the tallest building in town; which – in THIS town – isn’t as high as all that, but STILL, rappelling in your own town is pretty cool. And for two, many of the locations where you could receive a ‘stamp’ were close by my own home, over where I work in Downtown, or in my favorite spot, Old Town. So I convinced my sister that the next weekend would be full of walking, stamping, and silliness. Because, really, this event is surely geared for children and families. But hey, I’m a kid at heart, so off we went.
Who knew the day would be so full of fun? A stop at my local library showed billions (well hundreds) of kids signing up for the kick off of the summer reading program. A guy giving away balloon animals made all the kids squeal with delight. A walk down the block revealed frightened individuals frozen on the top of the building, doing less rappelling than we wanted to see, and more nervous nothingness. Our dad was a sometimes rappelling instructor, so we expected to see bounding off the walls, and exciting feats of bravery. What we saw were two people at the top of the building quivering instead of moving. So on we went in search of stamps. We found them at the art gallery, outside of whose building I wrote my name in chalk on the sidewalk, along with countless other names and drawings scribbled there. Then we skipped across the sidewalk and headed off to the bus station to receive our stamp from a tired and bedraggled, but smiling attendant. We visited the music store and got a free kazoo and guitar pick to accompany our stamp, though sadly, we have no guitar. We got stamped at a local historical building that I am convinced is haunted, and briefly discussed this theory with an agreeable volunteer who seconded my opinion. We went to the farmer’s market, and the huge fancy pet store. We walked along the river to the surveyor’s museum, and snuck into the air conditioned visitors centre several blocks over. Bit by bit we accrued our stamps, until – exhausted – we maneuvered down to Old Town, for a bite to eat. After snapping up the few remaining stamps we could before the end of the day’s events, we happily rested at an outdoor table and readied ourselves to consume much needed delicious morsels that would refuel us after our excursion. Sitting outside, enjoying fine food and watching the “tourists” finish off the day, I couldn’t help but marvel at the complete happiness I feel living in my city. I remember how eager I used to be get out of this town, and now, I can’t find enough time to do all the things I want to do in the city.
This city, this day of being a tourist in my own town, was a treasure, and my most recent accidental happiness.