Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Service

I have always thought my grandmother was regal, a Queen Mother.

In Wisconsin, I sat with my grandmother expending every ounce of positivity and optimism within me as neighbors drifted in with casseroles and home made chicken soups, pies and strudels.

She looked at me and said "I am so melancholy. But it is a comfort to have something delicious and good for you that someone made with their own hands. Food is love."

So after 72 years with my grandfather she must move forward alone. And food is love.

I left her condo, went to buy groceries with my father's credit card and fought the urge to pull over the car and go to sleep. My eyelids were weighted down like iron. It was a bright January day, I had slept the night before and woken at a reasonable hour. It is just exhausting not to cry.

I am an adult member of this family now and so I do not cry, till later in the afternoons when my mother comes home from work and finds me curled up in her bed. Then we cry, just a little. "He was my dad longer than my own father." She says, then goes about all the minor details that no one else even thinks of for days on end with a house full of mourners.

I put together the bean dip that she had promised for school. And then I made pans of vegetable lasagna, the kitchen is a sea of sqaush, zuchini, mushrooms and kale, with white wave tips of ricotta and mozzarella. In a frenzy of love, and helplessness, I flew around the kitchen slicing and roasting and tossing olive oil, nearly burning the garlic, whisking the butter and flour, not scorching the cream. Barely keeping my head above the water. One pan with sausage, one without for my vegetarian brother who has not come home yet.

They will cook the lasagnas the next day, the night before the service. But I am gone, to stay the night with my grandmother. Away from a full house to a quiet and newly empty condo. I brought her a tiny lasagna but she is not well enough to eat it.

I knelt at her feet and manicured her hands while softly pressing for my favorite stories. I worked lotion into her gnarled hands and she told me about picking out her engagement ring.

"I thought for sure I was blinding everyone on that streetcar with my little ring."

In the morning my beloved cousin and I made up her face the way she made up ours when we were little girls, before an outing or church. My mother never let me wear make up, but my grandmother would dab bright pink lipstick, hand me a tissue to blot my mouth....a little perfume behind the ears.

She arrived at the church, flanked by grown granddaughters, her ladies in waiting and a snow white poodle.

At her service.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A settling in.

I suppose it is time to move again. My feet, move my feet. And Fingers.

Move because I am staying. In New York, in Brooklyn, in a cozy floor-thru with a manboy who makes me laugh, mostly and lets me be often enough and doesn't carry me, just stands stubbornly beside me.

This is just a life and so here we are in Brooklyn--white very white--on our tree-lined Bed-Stuy street but respectfully pleasant. I am insistent in my "good mornings" and "have a nice days" while my boyfriend is awkwardly kind and made untouchable by his broad shoulders and thigh-sized arms. The gum popping girls with earrings as big as my purse roll their eyes when we bring our own bags to the grocery store. We are looked up and down more than we are greeted. We are outsiders in this old neighborhood full of families, the generations who grew up together are wary of us, unsure whether we are simply transients or the harbingers of an unwelcome change.

When we move it is a Christmas of boxes for me and a separate faraway Christmas in Wisconsin for him, a frozen cold January with 12 hours shifts, 7 days a week for him and a lonely, cold roommateless existence for me, with a four trains at 1 am to get home and me unsure of walking this new, dark neighborhood with cops who ask if I am lost.

But in March we walk through the park to the coffee shop and then back, it is sunlight and ice melting. Onto our street we are stopped dead in our tracks by the 5 twenty something white hipster boys who pass us. We look at each other, surprised.

Maybe they've been hibernating. Matt is not pleased by this, he does not want to be one of the gentrifiers, the hipsters, the unwelcome.

My boyfriend is handy, he puts up bookshelves first, which allow me to feel like I live here with him now, our books mixed together across the long shelves on either side of the plastered over fireplace.

Later in the fall, he builds an island with shelves where I can place all my kitchen paraphernalia. And just before his parents come for the first visit, he builds matching nightstands with white bamboo and a cork inlay. He puts a dusty blue clay on the walls of the middle room and we hang up black and white pictures there, the photo booth strips of us laughing, kissing, smiling, stoic.

We find a futon on craigslist, we put it in the second room where I never go to write. Our bachelor friends come all the way to Bed-Stuy and then just stay the night. We take turns buying groceries and he builds a box that sits on the fire escape, overflowing with parsley and peppers. A squirrel eats all our cilantro. And suddenly it is winter again, a new year begun and we are staying. I am learning to move within the comfortable boundaries of a life with him, a life in Brooklyn, and I am happy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Accidental Hipster Goes to Washington

We stumbled out of bed and made our way to breakfast and more importantly coffee. We walked down Connecticut Avenue to DuPont Circle and then we were on 19th st or maybe it was 21st. As we walked, the sea of people grew around us, the streets were closed to motor traffic, only the pedestrians moved at a steady pace. Soldiers stood at intersections, blocking and directing us. Slowly the crowd grew till we were walking shoulder to shoulder with one another.

We stumbled out of bed and made our way to the cold PT field and more importantly morning PT. We shivered in our black issued PT shorts and gray t-shirts with the reflective A for Army on the back. We made our way through the antique calisthenics and slowly worked the sleep from our eyes, till we were awake and ready for another day.

It was impossible to tell if we were at a bottleneck or the crowd had simply grown that quickly but we were surrounded on every side. The mood was joyful, jubilant and peaceful.

It was impossible to say how the next year would go, but this morning, just after sunrise we stood in a Kuwaiti desert and the mood was anxious, reluctant and wary.

We smiled blessings at each other, chuckled at the antics of the children around us, stood and shivered in the January cold. We cried when he spoke. We handed tissues to our neighbors. We shared a good natured laugh whenever the announcer said "Please be seated" or "Please rise." We shouted "Amen" when Reverend Lowry asked us to. We put our hands on our hearts when they played the National Anthem. And we were hopeful.

We shouted insults at each other, chuckled at the antics of our commander, stood at attention. We did our time, showed up for duty, in the proper uniform. We waited for letters from home, we made new friends and made our own fun. We shouted when they found Saddam. We watched a lot of DVD's. We saluted when they played the National Anthem. And we were hopeful.

The inauguration came a week after I was (honorably) discharged from the United States Army. For a split second I considered staying, I'd already done 9 years, what's eleven more? And with Obama in charge... But that was only an instant's thought and every soldier I passed, I wanted to smile at them and to exchange the secret Army handshake that we are not at liberty to tell you about. But I didn't want to exchange places with them not even for one last off-road drive in a Humvee.

I am ready to be a civilian, a citizen, a veteran. I have never been more proud to be an American. And I am done with soldiering.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Deep Breath

"Are you still breathing?"

My yogi asks and from the depths of my power lunge I huff and puff, desperately trying to prove that yes, I am still breathing. Instead, my leg straightens of its own volition and I stand, limp on my yoga mat. I have not been breathing.

On the street, in yoga pants and sweatshirt, I walk lazily toward Whole Foods, but am stopped by a tall, scraggy Australian. "Are you looking for a job? Do you need a job?"

Wearing pajamas at 1 in the afternoon does not mean I am unemployed.

Later I am waiting tables. A group of four, two couples, ask me who I am voting for.

I grin and try to avoid the intrusive question.

"She's voting for Obama." Says the loudmouthed blond.
"No, how do you know that? You just think that." Says the pinchfaced brunette.
"Well, I don't think I should say, since I haven't even taken your drink orders yet."
"We're all voting for Obama. SHE'S voting for McCain. Its ok. You can admit you're voting for Obama."
"DONT LET HER SCARE YOU. You're trying to intimidate her!" The brunette is hopping mad in her corner of the booth and the blond continues to expound on all the reasons why Sarah Palin is an idiot. I mutter that I'll be back later to take their orders.

Another table of five can barely order drinks, they are so engrossed in their conversation. Two couples and a single man perched awkwardly in a chair at the end of the booth. Finally one woman informs me that they have a lot of catching up to do as he (gestures to the single guy) was supposed to be getting married.

"We were all supposed to be in Dallas today for the wedding but he called it off on Thursday!"

I have absolutely no idea what to say.

At the end of the night a certain B actor is sitting in the back of the restaurant talking to a young man who is with his costar. This young man has a buzz cut and a certain bearing that I recognize. He is surely on leave or just home from a tour of duty with the military, I'd say Marine.

B Actor gets louder with each martini. "I lived on an air craft carrier, twice in my life! The shit I saw man, the shit I saw."
"Really well--" The young man is cut off.
"I was at war. I was AT WAR. Its true. Me and ---------- were filming while they were bombing Iraq!"
The military man nods his head, a nervous smile plastered on his face. "What movie?" He asks.

In the taxi, the driver actually knows my neighborhood in Brooklyn and doesn't hesitate to take me there. We get to talking about the city and business.

"The economy's pretty bad. Everbody's feelin it. And its looks like Obama's gonna win so it's only gonna get worse."

I am too tired to argue.

"Really? You think McCain's the better choice?" I mumble from deep in the back seat.

"Yea. Obama's not even qualified to be president. He was born in Kenya. There's a guy in Pennsylvania that's got a federal lawsuit out to prove it. Show me his birth certificate, huh? How come we ain't seen it?"

"So. Whaddya think of Palin?"

"Ah she's great. I tell ya what, McCain shoulda been in this thing to win. He should win and then two years in resign cuz a health reasons or something and let Palin run things for the next twelve years."

"Yea? what about that stuff in Alaska, that she abused power?"

"Aw that was all ethics. They cleared her of all charges. She fired the guy cuz he tasered his eleven year old kid. A bunch a times. It wasn't about legality. It was about Ethics."

On Tuesday I go to Yoga to the People, so that someone will remind me to breathe.

The class is half the size it normally is. Everyone is voting.

Yogi says "This is your time to breathe. Get connected to your breath. Let everything else fall away from you." Her voice is soothing and earnest, but I cannot find the breath.

At Clinton's house, we all sit on the edge of our seats, watching the coverage. We are finding it hard to believe as it seems to go more and more in Obama's favor. And it does. Colbert and Stewart are brilliant. I drink too much Prosecco, too much Miller Lite and at some point, just enough tequila. Boyfriend and I stumble home, jubilant.

I dream that there is a miscount and enough people wrote in Sarah Palin. She is the new president. I wake up gasping for air.

But we all saw him, live from Grant Park in the heart of America, behind large panes of bullet proof glass, with his family and Joe the Senator. We all know what he said and how we felt hearing it. I am grateful for this breath of fresh air.

Barack Obama is the President-Elect.

My brother is whistling "High Hopes" in the living room as he watches CNN and I am still breathing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Fear Factor

New York City presses down on you with all the weight and force of the myth and mob that is New York City while the reality of it bites at your heels.

It takes a certain amount of Aggression, Ambition and Drive to succeed here. Ambition has been dormant, afraid to fail amidst everyone else's success. Drive is in neutral, idling calmly as she waits for an open road. And Aggression is aggressing in all the wrong places.

Nearing the end of a 9 year stint in the military, moving forward into the second year of post-undergrad with no grad school in sight, I find myself without the safety net of an institution. All my choices have a heft that was not present before. It is no longer practice decision making in college classes or Drill Sergeants who make the decisions for me.

For the first time, I am working a job that I cannot afford to lose yet I certainly do not want to turn into my career. An actor who waits tables is fine, but a waiter who auditions is not going to satisfy Ambition, my sleeping beast. Of course at this point I am a waitress who doesn't audition which could be why she is too bored to raise an eyelid in my direction these days.

For the first time, the man in my bed is not just present, he is future too. It is not that we both live in the same place so let's see how things go. It is actively choosing to stay in the place where we both are. There is nothing else to keep us here, no careers or family. And so the relationship takes on a level of intensity both because of how we feel for one another and also where we are in our lives. In deciding to bind our paths together we are limiting the directions we may travel but gaining a partner for the road.

Perhaps this sounds negative. I am just becoming aware of how each choice affects the next set of options. As of yet, I am without regret. More than that, I am happy. But this burgeoning comprehension explains my inability to make a choice. To choose a path, to unleash my energy and focus. Whether it is acting or writing or something involving an office and health insurance. Once I choose, what will be crossed off and no longer an option?

And still my beast, she sleeps.

Drive, with no Ambition to spur her on, purrs along the path of least resistance, learning about food and wine in order to succeed as a waiter. This will do for now, till someone presses the gas...

And Aggression. Aggression jostles the morning commuters on the subway. Aggression hates New Yorkers in the morning. Aggression speeds up and cuts through the crowds on the sidewalk. Aggression picks a fight with Boyfriend. Aggression turns on me.

I am frozen with fear. My next move, unmakeable.

Then the summer heat breaks. The breeze whispers into the Village on a Saturday morning as we stroll hand in hand up Broadway and the rock hard shell I have been encased in crumbles around me. The cool air prickles my brittle skin and my pace quickens. We buy vegetables at the Greenmarket and wander from booth to booth talking about nothing of any importance. Eventually we descend into the subway, catch the L home to Brooklyn and curl up with the New York Times.

I stop feeling sorry for myself while my beast...

she stretches catlike and growls.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Are You There Hillary? Its Me, Allison

Are you there Hillary?

It's me, Allison.

I know you're probably angry and I know you're disapointed that I chose another over you.

But since your purpose was really to better this country and not just a personal quest for power, I know you'll let whatever bitter taste is still in your mouth go.

You'll rise up and take this woman by her hair and shake her down to size. You will send this smug attack dog running back to the wild with her tail between her legs.


Because I am scared of this woman who wants to legislate my personal decisions based on her religious beliefs.

I am frightened of this woman who thrust her own child into the harsh media glare to further her political campaign.

Because I have lost respect for a maverick politician who makes choices based on the best way to win the election and not the best way to govern once the election has been won.

So, Hillary...could you fix this please?

Monday, August 18, 2008

the campus life...

The hipsters, who have taken over the neighborhood where I now reside, have turned it into to a post college campus. People in my apartment building leave their doors wide open. Like we live in a dorm. And across the street, there’s the coffee shop that’s also a video rental place next to the Natural food store and deli counter. And on the other side of Campus, or two blocks up and one over there is another coffee shop, a bigger natural food store and another complex of warehouse loft apartments.

In college we got work study service. Now it’s hipster service.

I leave my apartment and go across the street to the coffee shop and order a toasted bagel and cream cheese. Seven minutes after I order, the barista notices that I am waiting for something.

Barista: Oh yea you wanted a bagel right? Toasted? Cool. Yea alright. And cream cheese? Ok. Right on. Yea.
Four minutes later
Barista: Can I help you? Oh right man. Here’s your bagel with peanut butter.
Me: Mine was cream cheese.
Barista: Oooh , I totally gave cream cheese to the guy who wanted peanut butter.
Me: It’s cool, I’ll take peanut butter.
Barista: Right on.

I take my bagel home to find that it is in fact cream cheese.

My street looks like a Broadway set for the musical Rent. The old brick buildings have been professionally graffitied with huge mural-like street art, in bright colors. If it weren’t for the occasional rat I would think I was in the Brooklyn exhibit of Disney’s Around the World at Epcot.

A few blocks away there is genuine graffiti and the kind of streets you don’t want to walk alone at night. But here, at the heart of campus, they’ve taken the look of the street and made it cartoonish and PG. We say we live in Bushwick and cab drivers roll their eyes, “One of those Urban Pioneers. Ten years ago I wouldn’t drive out there even in broad daylight.” But they take us there now. Our little community has smoothed over the grit, polished up the rough hew and settled in.

And we still get to say we live in Bushwick. There’s a certain ‘street cred’ with living so far out. We won’t settle for Williamsburg, that Satellite Manhattan. No. We are too authentic for so cookie cutter a spot as off the Bedford stop. We live off Morgan, that Satellite Williamsburg.

My boyfriend meets me late on Friday night when I finish my shift at a West Village restaurant. On the way home, we stop in Williamsburg proper for my favorite: bar burgers and beer. Spike Hill offers excellent both so we commandeer seats at the bar and commence to munch. When the second or third round of beers is gone, (somewhere between 2 and 3 AM) Boyfriend finds it difficult to get the bartender’s attention. Two girls with those busy, studded ankle strappy sandals and brightly colored sundresses come up and easily get service. They order very specific mixed Grey Goose drinks. Boyfriend, who just wants another Stella, begins to steam.

“These fucking girls. This is Bedford. They don’t even know what this place was ten years ago. It wasn’t SEX AND THE CITY.” He spits out the words with contempt but I am mid-bite and unable to remind him that recently I arrived home to find him knee deep in season 3 with my roommate. “It was crack dens and punk rock!”

I swallow, and say pleasantly, “Oh. So you were there?”

He ponders this for a split second and says, still indignant, “No. But at least I wish I was.”