Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Break Down South? (Richmond, VA)

Next week is the start of my week-long Spring break, which I feel I am approaching in the same manner in which a parched man, marooned in the desert, would inch towards an oasis -- tongue hanging out, arms clawing forward, eyes dry, yet full of hope, mind bent on only one thing: salvation. The same way a woman, alone on a desert isle, would frantically signal a ship that she was there (can't you see her arms wildly waving?) --Come get me!!!! -- needing to escape her environs, to change her diet, to rest her bleary eyes on a different horizon, to converse with others -- not about sand and palm trees and bloated and beached marine life, not about the bleached out, frayed "fashion" she currently sports, not about the same-old same-old that the blazing sun and punishing waves have brought her (seaweed, mostly, but perhaps an occasional treasure, as well?), not even about her ability to survive in the harsh environment -- which has made her proud of her creativity and strength, yet leaves her feeling dried out and depleted. That's exactly how I feel. Well, more or less.

I'd been playing with the idea of heading north, but because the main reason for doing so would be to see my son and because he would rather study for a huge exam (go ahead, R! Don't feel guilty, you big little heartbreaker, you!) than see his mother (and rightly so, except that I'm hugely disappointed), I don't have the energy to plan an escape. Even though I could still see my brother and his family and my sister-in-law and her family and love them to death and really want to see them, somehow I don't think I can will my way forward.

So, if I stay here, down here in the Capitol of the Confederacy, will I sit and stew? Will I catch up with life outside of work? Dance more? Sleep more? Meet up with friends? Make my reservations for Mexico? Or take to the road (or to the skies) on the spur of the moment?

Stay tuned....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Male Call (Richmond, VA)

I have a free hour and decide to catch up with a coupla folks I know and love, relatives and friends I haven't spoken to in way too long. Most of them are not available when I call, so I leave messages; some try to call back but the phone (not me, for a change)is busy....

I dial D's number, feeling quite guilty. I had received an email at least a month ago that she'd had surgery and people were organizing to bring her food and help out with whatever she needed. I made a mental note to call, visit, whatever -- but promptly lost it. So, I call her cell phone, hoping she's out and about and better than ever.

A man answers. "Johnny?" I ask, although it sure doesn't sound like her son.

"No. Bob," the man responds.

My mind bobs around. Is this a new boyfriend or -- oh, my G-d! -- she's had to hire help or the relatives have come in to take care of her or...

"Can D come to the phone?" I cry. "Is she okay?"

"I don't know," Bob says. "There's nobody here by that name....But I like your voice!"

I'm flustered and surprised. I guffaw and guffive, apologize for dialing the wrong number, hang up, and call the right one.

It's not the first time I've been told that I give good phone.

Years ago, while working for a magazine distributor, I'd talk with a Wisconsin-based publisher several times a month. In my mind's eye, I envisioned him as a handsome hunk.

My mind's eye has always needed glasses.

When the publisher eventually came to a meeting with me in New York City (business only, I assure you), the result was what usually happens when starry imagination clashes with stark reality.

We looked at each other and actually laughed.

"I thought you'd be tall and blond," I said. "And gorgeous," I didn't say.

"I thought YOU'd be tall and blond!" he said. "And gorgeous,' he didn't say.

We were both short, dark, bespectacled, and not quite as good looking (by a long shot) as our voices had made us out to be.

These days my (temporarily) husky voice is obviously sending out a garbled message about what I look like. Like Bob, other men seem quite pleased to hear from me. A police-officer colleague has told me that I'd be able to earn a nice living by working certain phonelines at night -- a possibility, perhaps, if I should lose my day job.

I think I did Bob a great favor by hastily hanging up the phone on him; in his mind's eye, the woman who called him can be anyone he wants her to be. His dream- woman: a tall, willowy blond? A buxom brunette? A randy redhead? Whatever! I allowed him to keep his fantasy alive. And because he'll never meet me, he won't even know how badly he needs glasses.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Voice Over --- and Out (Richmond, VA)

I spent all of Tuesday interpreting at meetings between parents and a group comprised of teachers, a psychologist, a speech and language therapist, a social worker, and others, to determine whether or not their children would be eligible to receive or continue to receive special education services. From 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., I echoed what everyone in the room was saying, Spanish to English, English to Spanish. By the last session, I was so exhausted that although the parent never showed up, I was still repeating everything in Spanish. Finally, someone turned to me and said, "No one here speaks Spanish, B. You can just listen!"

Listening is not my forte. I'm a talker.

That's part of the reason why I ditched my dreams of becoming a professional interpreter. It suddenly dawned on me -- after taking all language classes, all of the time in college -- that I didn't want to just repeat what someone else said to me. I had my own (often strong) opinions about such things as war and religious persecution that I wanted to be able to interject. Alas, as I explain to the people for whom I now interpret , an interpreter is like a window. The people on the outside talk through it to the people on the inside. The window, itself, offers no suggestions or arguments or advice.

These days I can be a window, but only sometimes. Luckily, my job and other activities offer me plenty of opportunities to speak for myself.

Sometimes I shouldn't.

The best conversationalists are often people who listen more and talk less. Let me give you an example...

Years ago my father, depressed and lonely, came to live with us after my mom had gone from hospital to nursing home and while my brother and I tried to arrange to move her here. Every day my overweight, chain-smoking dad would slowly make his way to a nearby 7-11 and after a coffee and cigarette break, he'd inch along, stopping to rest from time to time, until he landed at a coffee shop. He'd spend most of his day there, reading, caffeinating, and filling his and others' lungs with tar, nicotine, and a treasure trove of other toxins.

Shortly after we managed to retrieve my mother, she died. Dad, my son, and I flew up to New York for Mom's funeral and burial. After a day filled with grief and a stomach filled with fat-laced pastrami, my father had heart failure. Although he survived for four more years, he never returned to Richmond.

However, during my rare stops at the convenience store and frequent forays to the coffee shop, people would ask me about my dad. More than once someone would say what a great conversationalist he was.

I was always surprised; my dad was a man of few words and fewer conversations. I don't remember any discussions in which he would add much more than a smile, some nods, and an occasional short, corny joke. And that's why people liked and remembered him: They got to talk about themselves and he listened to them.

My son has the same talent for listening. He often sits back as conversation swirls around him. He'll throw in an acerbic, perceptive, often hilarious comment from time to time, but he doesn't --- at least not while I'm around -- dominate the conversation.

I, on the other hand, can be a conversational dominatrix.

After spending Wednesday on the phone, conducting a workshop, and teaching; Thursday on the phone, at meetings, and (once again) interpreting at parent-teacher meetings, followed by repeated, unsuccessful attempts to chat above the sounds of blaring salsa music; and today, Friday, (twice again) interpreting, talking with A. and then M., talking, talking, talking, I've run out of juice, steam, and voice.

So I'm trying to maintain silence. And I plan to do so for the rest of the day -- at least while I'm alone.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weather or Not (Richmond, VA)

This is what weather is supposed to be: 60-ish degrees, the sun shining brightly, pure gorgeousness even at 8:30am.

Suddenly, memories of being snowbound and gagged fade. I grab a light, bright pink jacket, step outside, and a smile slips into place. I want to dance in the streets. But not the streets where I live; I would be squashed like a bug on the windshield of a passing Volkswagon bug. So I head to my zumba session instead.

Two hours later, after shaking my bones loose to the Latin beats, after showering and dabbing my lips and cheeks pink, I sail out the door to meet my Colombian daughter and granddaughter at a bookstore cafe. I plug in and power up. I purchase a green tea with coconut and wait for it to cool down. I feel so relaxed that I can hardly believe that it is me or I or anyone else I know inhabiting my body.

I raise the cup to my lips and burn the hell out of them as the steaming beverage catches me in a mini-tsunami.

My grandmother had asbestos fingers. She could reach into a hot oven and pull out a casserole bare handed. No blisters, no burns.

I, on the other hand, have scars on both hands, arms, and (most likely, thanks to the boiling green tea) face, the result of accidental mis-fires. Maybe I need to be intentional, like the yogi who walks over beds of nails or red-hot coals, like Nana, who never used a potholder or oven mitt. Maybe I must overcome a fear of frying.

My familia arrives. I. is the distillation of cute: big eyes heavily lashed and exuding intelligence, teeny pink and white polka dot sneakers. She'll be five this month and is full of confidence and wonder.

Once we were at a dance club together, my "adopted" daughter and I. An obnoxious acquaintance walked up to us and I introduced C. as my daughter. He looked us both over: the coffee-skinned beauty, with thick, glossy cascades of black hair and flashy, flashing deep brown eyes; and me, freckled, pale skinned, curly haired, blue eyed. "You look alike," Mr. Obnoxious says.

"Actually, she looks more like her dad," I say, as we roll our eyes and walk away.

Now I. and I discuss our favorite princesses before her mom and she depart. After they replace I.'s outgrown wardrobe, they'll meet me at an art gallery opening.

In the meantime, I'll tap out a few words, then close up the lap top, and emerge into the perfect brilliance. I might even dance in the parking lot.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Giving It A Rest (Richmond, VA)

I might very well be back on track with the lift weight-lose weight-dance more-eat less program that I've set for myself. Except that I haven't done the weight lifting yet.

Last Saturday I did, however, take five (yes, five) dance workshops to improve my not so hot bachata and my salsa styling. In the evening I spent three hours dancing, trying to remember what I'd learned. On Sunday morning, I had my zumba class, and by Sunday afternoon, my knee was making popping noises so loud that I could have merely walked into an audition for percussionists and landed a spot on the spot.

Monday morning I awoke to the sounds of a normal knee (i.e., silence) but the tendon was so tight that I could have limped into an audition for percussionists and landed a position as a drum.

On Thursday evening I went to my regular salsa class and dance, but the same knee and/or maybe the other one was protesting. I was not quite up to sub-par.

I've decided to skip today's zumba workout and, hopefully, to stop the snap, crackle, pop, and pull of my knee by taking it easy. I'm not planning any running or even walking around.

Maybe the rest will make the rest of the weekend better; I do plan to zumba tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blockhead (Richmond, VA)

My head is on the block, along with thousands of others'. Our illustrious new governor and our state's and country's economic woes promise to place in jeopardy one out of every five positions in the school system for which I work. Everybody is nervous, wondering who will stay and who will go.

One of my colleagues is two days away from buying a new house. Another has a pre-existing medical condition. Yet another is only a few years away from retirement. I love my job.

In this culture, where we are defined by what we do to earn a living, being jobless means being considered a leach, a burden, or a bum. Even when unemployment skyrockets, as it has, the longer one is unemployed, the less chance he or she has of snagging a new job.

You're either over- or under-qualified. Desperate or disinterested. Lazy or loser.

We might very well be what we eat, but -- in the USA -- we are what we do or don't.