The Other End of Sunset

Friday, December 07, 2007

A miracle at 14th and Pennsylvania

And please remember that I never lied
And please remember how I felt inside
--Guns N' Roses

Well, it’s been a while since I have posted. Almost a month, according to a coworker who apparently pays closer attention to my posting frequency than I do. As usual, I’m on a plane; this time, I’m coming back from the East Coast.

It’s winter. It was snowing where I just left. Pretty, but cold. And I brought only one pair of slip-on leather loafers. My feet have been cold and wet pretty much nonstop for the past 3 days. Yuck.

But, really, it’s a little ungrateful to whine about wet feet when wearing the shoes I wear. The shoes are expensive and stupid. I knew they were insubstantial. And I knew it was winter. So, in my lexicon – or perhaps pantheon – that means I have given up the right to whine.

And, even more importantly, I didn’t post a Thanksgiving post. What kind of ingrate fails to thank people? I regret that oversight, and plan to rectify it, in a sense, in this post.

I’m a California boy. No, I wasn’t born here, nor raised here, in the normal use of “raised”. I grew up in Arkansas. Much of my youth was spent running from someone, or something. Sometimes I ran from other kids, sometimes from adults, sometimes from strangers and often from those much closer than you’d suspect.

But I always ran “from”… never “to”… anything.

Until the day I landed at LAX for the first time, on a late winter morning, and saw the Pacific Ocean glinting in the pale sun. And heard the waves, and the birds, and smelled the … smog, I guess.

And suddenly found a home. OK, during the trip I lost a wife, blew up more than a few careers, but … for the first time I had run to somewhere.

That is a blessing. The power “to go”, instead of “to leave”.

Don't you cry tonight.
I still love you baby.
--Guns N' Roses

I learned a lot of things in Arkansas. I learned that small towns are small in many ways. I learned that catfish are really ugly fish, and have a preternatural meanness. (Yes, despite Kurt Cobain’s assertions about fish, and their feelings, fish can be mean.) I learned that you can, in fact, fry anything; however, afterwards, it usually tastes exactly the same as it did before, only with more grease.

I also learned how to be polite. I know that many of you will be surprised by this assertion – but it is, in fact, true. I think that politeness is pretty useful. I am often surprised by those that have none, or not enough to share.

Can’t we spare a cup of politeness for our neighbors?

I took a shuttle flight from New York to Washington this week. A little 45 minute flight or so. It was packed – just kidding. The flight was an Airbus 319 with perhaps a total a 6 passengers. There were, however, 3 flight attendants. You’d think that attendant-to-passenger ratio would generate a great service experience.

But you’d be wrong.

My traveling compatriot and I sidled into our seats, and put our rolling suitcases in the overheads. Remember, there are 6 passengers, so the overheads are totally empty. But I’m polite, and a creature of habit, so I put my suitcase in the bin lengthwise, so that others could put bags in there as well. It looked like it fit. My compatriot, on the aisle across from me, did the same. My bin was totally empty, save for my generic black bag. His held not only his equally generic bag but also dozens of pillows.

One oh-so-dedicated flight attendant came goose-stepping down the aisle, slamming the bins. When she got to ours, it turned out that our bags didn’t quite fit lengthwise. This was indicated to us in a clear, but definitive way. She slammed the door onto the bags, let it bounce back up, and walked away. No offer to help, nor even an explanation. Just stalked off, in search of her next donut. I stood up, quickly rotated my bag in the empty bin, gently closed the door, and sat back down.

Compatriot had a slightly more challenging problem. First, he wasn’t feeling well, and wasn’t quite as laser focused on the humor in the situation as I was. Additionally, the pillows in his overhead bin were in his way. He couldn’t, you see, simply rotate his bag. He had to move the pillows first.

Oh, my, what a conundrum – what to do? How to resolve this bin crisis? He’s a clever ‘un, and so he pulled the pillows out of the bin to turn his bag. In order to move more quickly, he dropped the pillows on the floor. Who knew this was a crime?

// Side note: OK, I admit it. I just got distracted by watching Family Guy on my seatmate’s computer screen. Must regain train of thought, and get to point. But that show is really… wrong. Can’t blame a guy for losing focus. //

The previously referenced flight attendant came springing over, like a gazelle on meth, to tell him he shouldn’t put the pillows on the floor. More to the point, she said “That’s crazy! Don’t you have any manners? Putting clean pillows on the floor! People put their feet all over the floor!”

He was stunned. Stuck. Trapped like a squid in a dryer, trying to understand how to respond to the newest episode of “When Stews Attack”. He managed not to laugh – unlike me. Of course, he was the one being berated. I was the one trying to find the hidden camera.

Compatriot regained his humor, closed the bin, and put the pillows away. But he was tempted to take a single pillow, and put it in the middle of the aisle when they started serving. Yes, he proposed using pillow spoor to gather the wild gazelle. He didn’t do it. I think that was the right call – in these days of security theater, he might have gotten arrested for terrorist-like behavior. It’s not so far fetched, unfortunately. But he didn’t prank his way out of the situation; he just rolled his eyes and turned on a Dexter episode.

// Side note, 2: Although funny, the analogy in that story did NOT hang together. Gazelle are herbivores; plants don’t generally have spoor. Thus, the gazelle would not have responded. Additionally, that isn’t the correct usage of “spoor”. But it’s a fun word to say, even inside my head, so I’m going to use it. And giggle. Because I can. Deal with it. //

We landed safely in Washington, and deplaned. As we walked off, I listened to the crew’s conversation – she actually said “Didn’t his mother teach him any manners?”

Yes, his mother did. He has excellent manners, actually.

And, a message into the Ether directed at said hopped-up-Gazelle: I hope you don’t have children. Because, for god’s sake, what are you teaching them?

Precious and fragile things need special handling.
My god, what have we done to you?
--Depeche Mode

I recently got an email from a friend from that little town in Arkansas, the one with that white house with the black shutters and the secrets that constrained me. Actually, I got two emails – a pair of twin sisters grew up a few streets away from me. Each contacted me. Those twins were the people I looked up to, the people I wanted to be. I never managed to achieve that goal, but I knew what my goals were, and how they embodied them. This part is irrelevant to the story I am about to tell.

The second twin to ping me told me something touching. In fact, her email reminded me of what people should be like. That is the story I now shall tell.

It turns out that her father-in-law died on the same day Jeanne died. She told me that she is convinced that her father-in-law joined her mother-in-law (previously passed), and met Jeanne on that fateful day as they both came wandering into Heaven.

I am sure that Jeanne was happy, relieved, and slightly confused at that moment. SL once wrote a posting in the form of a letter from Jeanne at that moment. Her posting is perfect, even though they never met. Anyway, Jeanne was also probably lugging some ridiculous number of pairs of shoes in a bag that pulled her off balance as she staggered her way into Heaven.

Now that I think of it, she probably ran headlong into my friend’s in-laws on the sidewalk! Anyway, that interaction between the in-laws and JR undoubtedly revealed – according to my friend – that JR loved me, and that the twin was my friend, which would have instantly made Jeanne “almost family” in that way that happens in good Southern tales.

If so, Jeanne had someone to help her find her way around, and get comfortable, and talk to. And, no doubt, when Jeanne needed a cup of politeness, she could borrow it from my friend’s in-laws. I’m glad.

Look, there's a big purple rectangle
--The elevator in the DC Marriot

Along with 50 million of my closest friends, I am on Facebook. I don’t really know why, but I love the iPhone Facebook application. I update my status when I’m bored. Kind of like blogging, only with fewer song quotes.

My last several Facebook status messages have concerned the service itself. First of all, they serve terrible ads. So I pointed that out in my status message. Really, it turns out there are systems that serve good ads. Yesterday, I noticed that all my friend’s changes were marked in a grammatically incorrect manner – when a woman changed her email address, Facebook asserted that my friend “updated their profile”. I know that there has been lots of coverage of how FB employees can (or do, perhaps) read private details about their users, but I’m assuming they aren’t involved in changing users’ profiles. Thus, I am assuming – without facts, I should acknowledge – that my friend, alone, changed her email address on Facebook. So the pronoun should not be “their” – their is plural, not singular. FB was (probably) trying to use “their” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. But it isn’t. So the usage is wrong.

And, besides, gender is in my friend’s profile, so they know she is a she. They didn’t need to use an incorrect pronoun, they could have done a lookup an returned “she” as the appropriate pronoun.

I hate sloppy programming. And I hate grammar errors.

And, yes, I’ve made several so far in this post. I shall not correct them, just because that would be … cheating.

Blessed means you get to dig the graves.
--Lynn Abbey

From a great distance, I can hear you saying “Wait, isn’t this post supposed to be about thankfulness?” But the post is about giving thanks, don’t you see?

Maybe not. Let me try again.

We are created at the start. You might believe we are created by some God, in his image. Me? I don’t believe that. I’m not sure God exists, and, if so, I am not at all sure God is male. I believe we were “designed” by evolution.

However, “we” are created by a nearly mystical interaction at the moment when egg and sperm combine. More expansively, we are created by our parents, our siblings, our hometowns, our racial and ethnic identities, by the bullies that terrorize us, and the victims that we in turn abuse. We are created by the deaths of those we love.

All these accidental interactions, like butterflies, create the storms of our lives, sometimes far away. As children, we are truly sinners in the hands of an angry God. We are created.

And then we… are. We carry wounds and associated scars, muscles built through toil, and the slight discolorations of our creation throughout our lives. We spend all of our time being. Our energy is consumed by existing. We more or less relive the same experiences over and over again, whether we recognize them or not. Even worse, despite the repetition, most of us never get them right.

But among us, there are a happy few who get to create ourselves anew. We can make ourselves in any image we wish; we are truly the graven images of our hopes.

We make ourselves in the few seconds between seeing the woman in the international arrivals monitors and when she emerges from the doors. We make ourselves in daily actions, in commitments, and in beliefs. We make ourselves by laughing, by crying, and, most of all, by learning.

I hold the chisel to make my own graven image in my hand. I fear my hands are not ready to the task. But, perhaps, better I should say, “I fear my hands are not yet ready to the task.”

Thank you for riding another year with me, as I stumble and careen my way through life. I will wield the chisel with as much wisdom as I can. I shall attempt to make myself anew. Feel free to guide me as you see fit.

Take my word,
I’m the madman,
Don’t you know?
--Elton John