RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: November 2014

A Taste Of The Techno Past

At some point this weekend, my Internet went down, and stayed down for a full day.

Fortunately I didn’t have any research to do and wasn’t anticipating any emails; I made a quick run up to the coffeeshop on the corner for a brunch and a quick email check, and other than that, I thought maybe it’d be a good thing overall.  I do find myself idly surfing the net at night, and find myself reading fewer books and doing less writing, generally doing less things.  Maybe I’m a bit addicted, I thought.  So this was the perfect chance to maybe get some writing or knitting or some other task done.

But then a couple hours into it I was watching TV, kicking myself and wondering why I was squandering the down time.  I even got my laptop handy so I could write a bit, but it still ended up sitting on my coffee table while I idly watched through first one weekend movie, then another.

This is not how I used to spend my downtime, I thought.  For nearly three quarters of my life the Internet didn’t even exist, and I got on fine without it.  I did a lot, in fact – I went on small road trips, explored more of the city, I would read, I would just open a notebook and write. I did things.  I was able to live without access to a web site.  And yet now, it had only been a couple hours and I was fidgeting like a junkie.

I got up and did a little puttering in the kitchen, TV still on, thinking about this.  Why was I so sucked into this?  I do have a blog, yeah, and I do have my writing for other blogs. I had to have some kind of online presence, but this was a little more and troubling.  And I’d already noticed that it was affecting my writing in general; it’s actually harder for me to write than it used to be.  I’ve found some of my old journals and some of the imagery I’ve come up with is astounding.  I was more fluent and verbose, and today…honestly, the words come hard.  Even here.

I was in the middle of stirring up some dough for cookies while I thought about this, and was in the middle of creaming butter and sugar together when I had an epiphany so striking, I froze:

I’ve gotten unused to the contents of my own head.

I’ve gotten so used to filling my head with something else right away that I don’t give myself the time to clear a space in my head and see what comes up from inside to fill it.  And my reading these days has gotten to be just quick web articles and lists, nothing longer.

I stopped the mixer and turned off the television, and the dough needed to chill several hours before I could bake, so I tucked that away, got a book and spent the rest of the afternoon in silence, reading, and trying to clear space for my own head.

….I should add the epilogue that the only thing my brain did the rest of that afternoon was to endlessly play Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here for me.  But, okay, baby steps.

Advertisements

Now, Tomorrow, Forever

One of my favorite films is Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. I try to see it every so often; it’s a powerful reminder that the people who lock horns in a lot of conflicts are, at their heart, just people.  Spike lives in my neighborhood in Brooklyn – I live a ten minute walk from the business offices of 40 Acres – and recently hosted an anniversary screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where I saw the film for about the sixth time.

And this time around, something struck me I hadn’t noticed before.  Towards the end, Spike’s character, Mookie, touches off a riot by throwing a garbage can through the pizzeria window; just before he hurls it, he shouts, “HATE!”  And there has been a lot of speculation about what he meant by this – does he hate his white employers?  Is he trying to incite the riot?  Is he trying to turn the anger away from people and onto a thing, so the only damage is to property?

But this time seeing him scream that reminded me of an earlier speech from boombox-toting Radio Rahim earlier in the film, about the ongoing struggle between love and hate, as displayed by the brass knuckles he wears on each hand:

One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Left-hand Hate, K-O’ed by Love.

And then later, the neighborhood watches two overzealous police officers choke Rahim to death, but after they leave, the crowd turns on each other with more of the same anger which lead to Rahim’s death in the first place. And it struck me, this time, that maybe Mookie’s shout is a cry of despair – despair that Radio Rahim was wrong, and that Love is not going to win the day after all.

**

I started and stopped this post about three times now, because I can’t think how it could possibly help.

I mean, really. Where do I get off speaking about what happened in Ferguson? I have plenty of the advantages Michael Brown didn’t – I’m educated, I’m white, I’m female, and the only spot on my legal record is a single ticket from a New Jersey Transit cop who was in too bad a mood to sympathize with my having lost a train ticket out the window. It is nearly stereotypical how much of a liberal hand-wringing busybody I want to be right now – I’m scolding people on Twitter, I’m tut-tutting about things on Facebook, I’m doing Google searches for “businesses based in St. Louis” so I can start a boycott.

None of which matters a tinker’s damn to the people who actually live in Ferguson and have had to watch their district attorney blithely explain why they’re just going to go ahead and wave away Darren Wilson’s crime. Hell, he even blamed people like me for his choice – people like me on social media blew the incident up into the public eye, he argued, and shifted focus away from the facts, and shame on us and the facts said something different he decided and so there wasn’t going to be any need for a trial, and so somehow my having Tweeted my opinion about this back in August means there will be no actual trial now in November.  (…Yeah, I’m not sure I follow that one either.)

And people like me are responding with more blog posts and more Tweets and Facebook posts and demonstrations, and I can’t help but think it all looks so hollow to the people who actually live there. Nasty racist quotes on Twitter is one thing, throwing rocks at reporters and gunshots in the street and closed schools is a bigger problem. Nothing I say is going to matter a damn to them.

But the only alternative to my saying something pithy like this is to say nothing at all – and that would mean just giving up entirely, and sinking into the despair that the America I was always told I lived in is long gone.

**

I turned away from the news in disgust after hearing the grand jury decision.  For a while I was cheered up by a documentary on PBS, about the history of the old Muscle Shoals recording studio – the music hotbed in the middle of Alabama where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers, and the like all found their sounds.  For a while it did cheer me up – Muscle Shoals was really a melting pot of musicians, founded by four white session musicians who all played on a lot of the R&B classics you’ve always heard of.  There were a lot of interviews with Aretha Franklin raving about the session drummer, the head producer raving about working with Wilson Pickett, everyone coming together and collaborating on making some of their own best work.

But then the film stepped back to focus on what was happening in the rest of Alabama at the time, to give the place some context; and they ran the famous clip from Governor George Wallace’s 1963 Inaugural speech, where he declares he supports “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”

It’s a clip I’ve seen before. But I’ve always seen it followed up by footage of the March on Selma or Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and Wallace has always come across as an ignorant buffoon.  But last night I was seeing Wallace’s speech after the news in Ferguson. And that just got me thinking of how Martin Luther King was assassinated – and so was Malcom X, and then the Rodney King verdict and then Trayvon Martin and now Michael Brown, and those are just the ones I happen to have heard about.  All cases where white people have attacked or killed black people and gotten off scott-free.

And in my own despair, I started thinking maybe Ferguson means that Wallace and his ilk all won after all.

When I Ruled The Wings: True Stage Manager Tales

For ten years I was a theatrical stage manager – a job that people often realize, when they meet me, that they don’t quite “get”.  Once, after I’d been home for a visit, my grandfather and mother were chatting about me a bit when Grandpa finally gave her a sheepish, baffled look and meekly asked, “So….what exactly does a stage manager do?” 

An unpredictable everything.  That’s pretty much what they do.  We do a lot of administrative work and above-and-beyond catch-all stuff during rehearsals, and then during the performance phase we come in early and set everything up, check all the lights and sound effects are working, fix them if they aren’t, check all the costumes and props are in place and in good shape, fix them if they aren’t, and then make sure the cast and crew is all there in time and call them if they aren’t.  And during the show we cue all the lights and sound and troubleshoot the myriad tiny things that go wrong, and then after the show we wait until everyone has gone home and sweep up and put everything away and lock up and then come in early the next day and do it all again.

Sometimes we’re like Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction – we’re the ones that have to step in and fix it when some kind of disaster strikes.  Fortunately everyone else has the grace and the respect to stand back and let us do it, which – truth be told – is often all the situation needed, is for someone to just get on with doing something rather than panicking.

For example –

TRUE STAGE MANAGER TALES, EPISODE ONE – THE PANTS

We were about midway through the run, midway through that afternoon’s show.  I was the stage manager for the company I worked with the most, one that does older American works.  I’d just finished setting everything up for Act II, and just finished giving the cast their five-minute warning before we started again.  I was actually on my way to the crowded bathroom when the lead actor, Tod, came to me, slightly panicked.  “Uh, I got a problem,” he said.  “The fly on my costume pants just broke.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.  He showed me – he’d zipped the zipper up, but the teeth had come apart, leaving his fly yawning wide open.  He’d struggled to pull the zip back down again to no avail.  “Oh my.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said, “I have my jacket on all through Act II, and I have a safety pin here – if we pin it closed I can get through the act and then fix it overnight.”

“Oh, that’s good!”  I said.  And then stood, expectantly waiting for him to take his pants off.

He stared back at me a couple seconds.  “Uh…we need to do that while they’re still on me, right?  Or else I wouldn’t be able to get them back on.”

“Oh.  Oh, right.”  I looked down at his fly again, then at the big diaper pin he was handing me.  Then at his fly again.  I took a deep breath.  “Tod,” I finally said, “I apologize in advance for fondling you way more than we thought I ever would.”  And then I crouched down at his feet.

I was able to slip the pin into the fabric, catching both halves of the split on it.  But the pants were heavy wool, and it was a really stubborn pin.  And so for three full minutes I struggled to get the pin closed, trying desperately not manhandle Tod overtly – every time I tugged at the fabric to get a better purchase I risked squeezing him, and every time the pin slipped open I risked poking him.  He just stood still, stoically bearing it while I pinched and poked and wrestled and cursed, and all the while time was ticking away and the show would have to start again.

And then at some point I happened to glance up – and I saw the entire rest of the cast had gradually come crowding back into our half of the wings, and were standing around us in a circle, watching me in fascination as if I were trying to juggle knives.

I just stared back at them all, then hissed, “Could we maybe have a bit of room, please?”  They all blinked, apologized, and stepped back.  And a second later, the safety pin finally clicked home.  Tod thanked me, relieved, and I stood up, took a deep breath, and calmly told everyone that it was “time for places, Act II.”  Wordlessly they got into place.

…I’ve actually run into Tod since then – he lives in my neighborhood, and we’ve both since drifted away from theater.  And while we’ve sometimes reminisced, neither one of us has ever alluded to the fact that at one point in our lives I was squeezing his crotch in public.

 

 

Giving Thanks To Me

Every other year, I am a “Thanksgiving Orphan.”  And actually, I like that.

This isn’t because of any family discord, actually.  My family Thanksgivings used to be a good deal like the family Christmases, with everyone gathering at my aunt and uncle’s house and my cousins and me taking over the two top floors as our playroom while the adults got busy with the dinner downstairs.  There wasn’t quite so much sugar on hand, so after dinner things were a little more mellow – I’d hang around the kitchen, stealing stray nibbles of food and making half-assed attempts to help with the cleanup.  One year I remember my father did all the dishes while blasting Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brickand I remember sitting in bewildered fascination and watching as he sang along – “But your new shoes are worn at the heels, and your suntan does rapidly peel….”

When we cousins were all older, we started getting into lively and boisterous penny poker games over dessert, my dad and the uncles all introducing weird alternative games – Blind Man’s Bluff, Irish poker, things they most likely made up. My grandfather once won the entire pot in a game my father called “Honest John” even though he wasn’t even at the table at the time. And one of my absolute favorite stories about my grandmother was the year she’d cracked a bone in her wrist a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, and as we were setting up for poker that year my father caught her stuffing ace cards up in her sling for during the game.

And then, people started growing up and moving away. My aunt and uncle sold that house and moved to Arizona, and my cousin Kathy soon followed. My cousin Mike hit the road as a musician. My brother started a two-year backpacking-around-the-world trip, then settled in San Francisco a while, then went on another one. My cousin Sarah started spending occasional Thanksgivings with her fiance Lee.  My grandmother died one winter.  Gradually the Thanksgiving numbers had dwindled to such a small number, and my grandfather was too frail to host, so Thanksgiving just became a dinner out at a local restaurant for only six of us.  I loved seeing everyone, but it had kind of turned into a sad shadow of what it once had been.

When my grandfather died a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, everyone quietly agreed that we would “cancel” Thanksgiving that year, to spare us all another big travel slog so soon after we’d all gathered for the funeral. I made a modest meal for a couple friends who came by for a couple hours, but otherwise was on my own.  At some point I called Mom to check in, and at some point she confessed that “You know….I kind of like not really doing anything today.”

“….You know what,” I agreed, “me too.”

My brother moved back from California the following year, with his wife and daughter in tow; they actually bought our grandparents’ house, and my brother has sort of taken on the mantle of Family Anchor ever since.  The house isn’t big enough for everyone to stay in, but my parents and I get squeezed into folding couches and air mattresses and everyone else joins us for Thanksgiving dinners, and Christmas dinners.  But not every year; my brother and sister-in-law handled the “whose family gets to see us” bugaboo by trading off which in-laws they celebrated which holiday with each year.  The year they’re with us for Thanksgiving, they’re with his in-laws for Christmas, and vice-versa.

My other cousins and aunts and uncles started doing the same, synchronizing their holidays around my brother; so the first time Thanksgiving was going to be just my parents, one aunt, and me, we all looked at each other, thought instantly of how calm that solo Thanksgiving had been, and decided to just do that.  We met for brunch the weekend before Thanksgiving, but then on the day proper we all stayed home.  And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing every other year since then.

And I love it.

I’ve tried checking to see if any friends are about and want to drop by, but they’ve always been off at their own family things. My friend Richard has an aunt in the city he spends the day with; my friends Colin and Niki always join Niki’s father, who’s been flying her whole family to the Caribbean every Thanksgiving. (The lucky sods.)  And honestly, I’ve only been half-assed about finding people, because there’s something so lazy about spending the entire day just for me when most of the rest of the year I’m trying to do things for and with other people.  I do cook something for myself – something long and slow and elaborate, something I can check in on now and then as I putter around the house.  A lamb stew one year, a turkey soup another year.  Once I managed to find a small enough turkey breast and made a mini-size Thanksgiving dinner for one, complete with two kinds of single-serve pie.  But other years I just lay in a stock of generally decent food, and don’t even fuss with it – spending the day reading and knitting, reaching for some random snack food while lying on the couch in a haze watching Twilight Zone reruns.  The idea is to spend only as much effort as I feel like, on anything – dressing, grooming, cooking, anything.  If I’m inspired and really want to treat myself, I’ll make something fancy; if not, to hell with it.

And so this Thanksgiving, while everyone else is going to be getting up early to get a turkey in the oven and setting tables and trying to time out all the sweet potato and squash and green ban casserole or are getting up early to get all dressed up and hustle the kids and ten covered dishes into a car to drive like mad to be somewhere in time for dinner, I’m going to sleep in until about noon, then get up, get into my tackiest flannel jammies and shuffle to the kitchen to throw a turkey breast in a crock pot, then either read or watch a corny movie or maybe even take a nap until it’s done; and then at some point reheat the squash soup and mashed potatoes I made the night before, eat most of the cheese in the house, and then have only two slices of the turkey and half the soup and the mashed potatoes before finishing things off by eating an entire cheesecake from Junior’s and then maybe having a bubble bath before falling asleep on the couch again.

And it will be glorious.

Advent Came Early

So, okay, I always did like Christmas.

Especially when I was a child – while my family spent Christmas morning at home, we would then bundle everyone into the car and drive two hours to Cape Cod, to gather with the rest of the family at my aunt’s enormous house overlooking Buzzards Bay. Nearly as soon as we got there my brother and I would first claim our rooms – the house had eight bedrooms, so my family stayed there, and we would often pick a different guest room each time – and then would go scampering through the house with our cousins, swinging between playing with all of their toys that they’d already unwrapped, coming up with other chase-each-other-through-the-house games, gorging ourselves on the cookies and chocolate candy and mints my aunt set out for snacks, grabbing handfuls of popcorn from the big three-flavor tub my aunt ordered every year (she’s the only person I know who ever got one of those things, honestly), or going to our parents and whingingly asking “when are we going to open our other presents?” while they were bustling in the kitchen trying to get dinner ready.  Then there was the orgy of further unwrapping in the big den after dinner, us kids all still vibrating on sugar highs, before we kids finally gradually crashed and wandered off to bed, leaving a drift of wrapping paper and cookie crumbs in our wakes and leaving our parents and aunts and grandparents to no doubt make themselves drinks.

But we kids weren’t exactly completely feral beasts, either. For a couple years my cousin Kathy and I got into the habit of writing little plays that we enlisted our brothers to also appear in, and would present them to the family after dinner and unwrapping.  Sometimes they were seasonal, sometimes not – I think one year we did some kind of political comedy where my brother and my cousin Mike played the President and Vice President in some kind of “typical day in the Oval Office” skit.  And our parents were also pretty good about encouraging us to appreciate giving as well as getting – I remember eagerly thanking my cousin Tom for a copy of a Billy Joel tape one year, and a moment later overhearing my aunt telling him, “see, look how happy Kimmy is, isn’t that great?  That’s so nice of you, Tommy…”

I also got into the giving as well, so much so that even though people have told me that I really didn’t need to give gifts to the grownups in the family, I still did, and still do even today. In fact, my extended family has tried a few times to curb the gift-giving obligations; one year we tried the “everyone pick a name out of a hat and that’s the one person you get a gift for” thing, and we’ve also tried the “we’re not going to give gifts at all” thing.  But each time we’ve tried that, there’s invariably been someone who cheated – “I know I was only supposed to get something for Susan, but I saw something perfect for you too….” and we’ve all given up.  Even one year when I was pretty much flat broke, I found a way to get the giving done – I had a huge stash of yarn and a lot of extra time on my commute home that year, so I spent two straight months knitting on my commute home, making a big pile of different hats of all sizes, styles, and colors, which I then brought to the family Christmas in a big santa-sack, dumping them all out on a table and telling everyone to just pick out the one they wanted.

But the past couple Christmases I’ve been a bit lackadaisical.  Money’s been tight, and for a while I was either unemployed or working a job I really hated. All I wanted to do with any time off I got from work was sleep – the thought of traveling and being merry was nice in theory, but also sounded exhausting in practice.  I didn’t even really feel like decorating the house all that much, because I wasn’t even going to be there all that much and didn’t have the energy to have friends over for any kind of a party so who cared…I managed to rally enough for the family, but truth be told I was feeling pretty grinchy.

This year, though, there’s been a perfect storm of influences on my mood:

  • I already know what I’m getting all the adults in the family for Christmas. I won’t divulge (I know some of y’all read this, so I’m not talkin’), but it’s something utterly perfect, something I can obtain easily in one fell swoop, and something that isn’t going to break the bank.  That means I’ll have plenty of time to take my time over the shopping for all the little kids – which just sounds like an excuse to play with toys – and as for my friends, I can make several of their gifts.
  • This means I will actually have the luxury of time to putter around in the kitchen doing things like making cookies.  And then eating them.
  • And I will also have the time to take long walks outside admiring the decorated shop windows rather than trying to cram myself into the stores themselves.
  • Speaking of the kitchen, while cleaning it recently I re-discovered a package of Christmas Crackers my Irish friend sent me as part of a Christmas gift one year, and which I tucked away for later because you need a crowd to enjoy those things.  They will most likely find their way into the family celebration this year.
  • I also found three whole rolls of wrapping paper left over from last Christmas so that’s yet another thing I don’t have to shop for.
  • I am now working at a day job I love, so my mood is a lot more upbeat.
  • Mom and I have gotten into the habit of watching the Kennedy Center Honors broadcast the day after Christmas while I’m there, and I’m actually excited to see what they do for them this year.

Which brings us to today – six weeks before Christmas.  Sometime this morning, I made the mistake of watching what is possibly the world’s most adorable Christmas shopping ad:

And then after that, suddenly I found myself doing Google searches for Christmas decorating ideas and hot cocoa recipes and browsing tree ornament shops online and planning my Christmas outfit and basically lapsed into a Christmas fugue that lasted nearly an hour before I chided myself – “it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, what am I doing?”

I think I need a bit of the Grinch energy back for a few days to calm down.

Think Of The Kids

Early last week, I had a fantastic work errand. I work with an NGO, and some of the field staff was in New York for a big event, and some of us in the home office lead groups around the city for a day of sightseeing. So I was playing tour guide to a woman from Mozambique, someone from the DRC, and a pair of guys from Jordan, answering their fantastic and innocent questions (“how tall is that Christmas tree you say is in the city every year?” “Wait, the Statue of Liberty is in the middle of the harbor?”) and trying to warn them against some of New York’s hustles (“huh.  Okay, guys, just so you know, those people dressed like Mickey Mouse in Times Square want you to tip them for that photo you just took…”)

After a while, I noticed that whenever a little kid came near us in the crowd, one of the guys from Jordan would almost instinctively pat them on the head or the back as they ran past. A few times he stepped away from us to check in with the home office on his cell, and even then he’d smile at any kid who came near us and pat their head or muss their hair.  I thought about subtly taking him aside and saying that I know he meant well, but some mothers in this country could be very overprotective, and so maybe he should hang back…

Then I remembered what he did.

In Jordan, he’s in charge of the unaccompanied children who turn up at the refugee camps; the orphans, the kids who got separated from their parents. The buses get to the camps at night, so he starts work at midnight, jumping onto the buses before anyone gets off and keeping an eye out for the kids, winning their trust and playing “older brother” until he can find any of their relatives or helping them find a safe place to stay.  He had a wonderful childlike manner himself – he had his iPad with him, and every five blocks he would use it to take selfies of all of us as we walked, an enormous grin nearly splitting his face. Whenever someone else was taking a picture of him, he would flash the same grin, both hands thrust out in dual thumbs-up.  When we saw the costumed guys in Times Square, he was the very first to move towards them for a picture, giving that same grin to the costumed Mickey Mouse and Elmo.

And then I thought about my grade school principal, Mr. Haddad.

We all thought Mr. Haddad was a little scary at first – he was a tall, silver-haired stern-looking man with a huge, booming voice that commanded respect whenever he used it. Only rarely did he make any appearance out in the halls or in class assemblies, and usually it was when someone was about to get in trouble. But sometimes we caught a glimpse of his playful side; one day he came into the cafeteria on a day when we were being served some slightly unripe bananas, and we kids were all protesting. Somehow word got to him, and he came to the cafeteria and stood, sternly looking at us all and waiting for us all to stop talking, the way we always did when he gave us that look.  “I have heard you are all wondering why the bananas in the cafeteria today are green,” he then said, in his deep booming voice.  “The reason the bananas are green….is because we ran out of blue ones!”  And then he walked back to his office without another word, and without cracking a smile – but with a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

Then when I was in fifth grade, I got sight of the depth of his compassion. I was a finalist in the multi-grade spelling bee, one of the last five contestants left standing – and then I made a dumb mistake spelling “checkers” and got called out.  And I pretty much had a meltdown. My teacher tried to cheer me up as she lead the class back to our classroom, joking about the “new word” I’d spelled – but that just made it worse, and my tears and wailing got even louder, right as we were passing Mr. Haddad’s office. My teacher dropped the jokes, and focused on getting us all back to class and the rest of the class out and ready for recess.

I don’t really remember Mr. Haddad coming into the room after us, I don’t remember him talking to my teacher at all.  All I remember was that, shortly after we got back to the class and while the rest of my class was at recess, Mr. Haddad was talking to me all alone, telling me about his daughter in college who had just failed a test. “She knew every single answer  on that test,” he said.  “We know she knew it. But sometimes people just make mistakes when they get nervous and their on a test. It doesn’t make them dumb. I am just as proud of my daughter as if she passed, and I am just as proud of you.”  He kept telling me that over and over, telling me exactly what I needed to hear and just letting me cry everything out until I was calmed down.

I’ve told that story to people before, and they’ve always been moved. But there’s one detail I’ve usually left out – the fact that as he was talking to me, Mr. Haddadd had me seated on his lap and he was hugging me.  And I’ve left that part out because I’m afraid people would get the wrong idea.

I remember absolutely everything about that moment and that conversation, and I know for an absolute fact that Mr. Haddad’s hug was completely and totally innocent; I also remember that it was exactly what I needed.  I was a little girl who needed a kind word, but I also needed a hug, and that is exactly what I got.  But what stops me from mentioning it is what probably stops teachers and principals from hugging kids today – the fear of an accusation of improper conduct.

And, honestly – I get why people are afraid. There are absolutely people who’ve preyed on the trust of children over the years, who’ve used that trust against them and hurt or abused them.  And we are a lot more open about that now than we were when I was a child. But it’s also made us all a lot more suspicious – suspicious of teachers, suspicious of principals, suspicious of friendly neighbors and strangers. And the teachers and principals and friendly neighbors are much more likely to play it safe – and much less likely to hug a child or pat them on the head, especially if they are frightened or sad or scared.

I remember how much Mr. Haddad’s hug helped me, and I know exactly how much I’d have missed it if he hadn’t.  And if I were a ten-year-old blowing a spelling bee today, and Mr. Haddad were trying to console me, he wouldn’t.

Our guest from Jordan was only going to be here for a couple days, and was then going to be going back to the camps, where he would be seeking out frightened children to help them.

I held my tongue, and let him keep patting kids’ heads.  Someone should still be able to.

 

Dreams Of Boys Past

I don’t dream as much as I did when I was younger; I’ve read that has something to do with getting less sleep than I used to. And for my entire adult life, my dreams have also been somewhat frustratingly G-rated.  The closest I came to a sexy dream within the past year was about going on a date to a bookstore with the actor Stephen Fry, where we shared a couple of discreet and chaste smooches.  (Chaste as it was, if you know anything about Stephen Fry, you know why this left me with all sorts of questions about myself when I woke up.)

So that’s why it was all the more surprising when I had borderline erotic dreams about not just one, but two old boyfriends last night.  Neither one got into full-on sex, but things still got far enough to be novel for my dream life; first one, in which a guy I was recently dating casually ran into me unexpectedly, we got to talking, and one thing led to another and there was a bit of lip-locking before we stopped.  And then immediately after that – it was unclear, the way dreams are, whether this was the same dream or no – I ran into another old boyfriend, someone I dated much more seriously and who is now married.  Him, I followed back to his apartment and we got rather a bit further (although I’m going to draw a veil over just how far, thanks).

It was novel enough that I wondered about that this morning.  What was it about these old ghosts?  I hadn’t been missing either one especially much recently, I hadn’t been especially lusty recently either.

Well, except maybe in one case I kind of had.

That “recent” casual date was very recent – in fact, within a couple months. We got on very well, and enjoyed each other’s company greatly; but he lives too far away, and his life is in too much of a state of upheaval, for things to really catch fire with us. Still, we tried to stay in contact as much as we could – until a couple weeks ago I noticed that I’d been the one doing more to stay in touch than he did, and still hadn’t heard from him in a couple months. I tried calling him one last time, got his voice mail yet again, and left him a message saying the ball was in his court from now on, and otherwise, take care.  Effectively, unless he ever calls me again, it was a breakup.

But a breakup over the phone after two months’ silence still feels a bit hollow. That’s actually what broke the kissing in the dream – a sudden stop, and a sad look at each other before one last embrace and then taking our leave of each other. And I realized – the only parts of each other that said goodbye were  each others’ recorded voices.  I never got to see his face or touch him one last time.

Maybe, then, the dream was because my body wanted to have its chance to say goodbye to his.

As for my other dream – that guy was a much more serious relationship and a much bigger breakup, and it’s much further in the past – about eight years now.  In fact, at some point in the dream I asked myself whether he and I should even be making out like that (until another part of my brain said to shut up this is just a dream just go with it). We haven’t spoken in years, I think maybe this summer I saw something on LinkedIn about him, he doesn’t even live in New York any more.

However – even though he’s married now, I dreamed him back into his old Brooklyn apartment, saddled him with a really obnoxious roommate and dreamed he had a really tacky 80’s hair-band mullet haircut.  So that was probably just petty revenge.