Saturday, April 19, 2014


  I woke up in a puddle of drool, only that’s not what it felt like.  It was a hot evening in late July and I had fallen asleep with my face mashed against the vinyl seat of our Country Squire station wagon, mouth wide open.  Drifting for a moment in that space between awake and asleep, it felt like my face and the seat were melting and mixing into a thin paste that would harden as it cooled and leave me stuck to the seat forever.
            It wasn’t the drool alone that pulled me fully awake; it was also the sound.  The driveway at the beach house was topped with a mixture of crushed clamshells and gravel and the sound of our tires on that driveway came up through the rubber and steel of the car and into my toes, my stomach, my teeth, my ears. 
            The drive from our house in Wilmington took about two hours, even though it was only 70 miles away.  In spite of my excitement about a week at the beach house, I didn’t usually stay awake for the whole trip.  Inevitably, we would make the drive on a summer Friday evening with beach-bound traffic clogging the roads. My parents’ voices would blend with the murmuring voices on the radio and the hum of the engine into a potent spell that could lull me asleep in minutes if I wasn’t careful.
            I wanted to stay awake so I could see the Dover Air Force Base.  The route to the beach house took us right past the main gates. If we were lucky and our timing was right, I could roll down my window, stick my head all the way out, and stare up at the huge transport planes floating just above the highway as they slowed for a landing.  They looked unreal hanging there in the sky as their shadows chased our car south.  It wasn’t until years later, when the Marine barracks was blown up in Lebanon that I learned Dover Air Force Base is used as a morgue by the military.  When I found out it added new weight to those long-gone transports floating above our car.
            Once we passed the base I felt okay about going to sleep.  I would climb into the back-back and lie down next to my brother Jerry or spread out on the middle seat by myself.  Sleep came quickly with that spell in the car.
            When we arrived that first evening, Uncle Vince and my cousin Donna were out in the water with their long-handled crab nets.  There were ten lines set, each with a raw chicken neck tied on as bait.  They were walking slowly through the stomach-deep water going from line to line, checking for crabs.  Just offshore, in a few inches of water, sat a wooden bushel basket with quarter-inch gaps between the slats.  Jerry and I kicked off our shoes and walked out to the basket to see how many crabs were inside.  The water soothed my stub-toed suburban summer feet.
            There were about forty crabs in the basket, all of them blueclaws.  The one on top was a mudder.  It was much bigger than the other crabs in the basket and much more lively.  It had used its size and strength to continuously fight its way to the top of the heap all day, even as new crabs joined the crowd.  When we came near to look in it raised its claws menacingly and brandished them the entire time we stood there.
            The slanting sun threw a warm light on the dark blue coloring the sides of the raised claws.  The crabs’ shells were a shade of green that just matched the color of the water—a rich, deep green somewhere between olives and pines.
            I looked up from the basket and out to my uncle, who was standing next to one of the broomsticks we used to anchor the crab lines.  One end of the broomstick was pushed into the sand at the bottom of the bay and the other end poked out of the waves to mark the location of the line.  The stick had thirty or forty feet of heavy cotton twine tied on near the end above the water line.  Tied to the other end of the string, sitting on the rippled sandy bottom, was a chicken neck.  The row of broomsticks protruding from the water made a dotted line parallel to the shore about fifty feet out in the Bay.
            My uncle had the string in his right hand, letting it run over his flattened palm and fingers as he stalked out toward the bait.  The crab net was in his left hand, its long handle sticking out from his armpit and pointing back at us on the beach, gathered around the basket.
            The small waves were rocking the basket of crabs rhythmically against my shins as I watched him inch his way out.  He walked so slowly with his legs under the surface that the only way I knew he was walking at all was the increasing distance between him and the broomstick.  From where I was standing I could see the muscles of his back and shoulders tense a little.  It looked like his legless torso was slowly drifting out into the bay.
            He stopped.  The only movement was his right arm pulling the string to raise the chicken neck an inch or two off the bottom.  Then even his arm stopped and he stood perfectly still, washed in the glow of the low-angled orange sunlight.  He stood there with the chicken neck underwater dangling just above the sand.  It felt like a movie to me—the entire screen filled silently with Uncle Vince and his net and a sense of something about to happen.
            The scene exploded as he stabbed the net down and through the water, in one seamless motion catching the chicken neck and the crab that had been tearing at it.  He dropped the bait back to the bottom and walked to where I was standing to add this crab to the day’s catch.  He held his net still for just a second and then flipped it so the crab would fall in with the others in the basket.  I watched it fall, legs grasping at the air, and as it fell a thought came to me, fully formed: I will catch a crab this week.
            Just before sunset my grandmother came down to the water’s edge and asked me to bring her the basket.  She must have been about fifty then, but she was an old woman to me.  Its weight felt good in my arms as the warm water ran out the bottom and down my legs.  I placed the basket in the sand at her feet and then kneeled down next to her in the sun-heated sand.  She called out to Uncle Vince to give it up for the night and start bringing in the lines.  She had her big white enamel pot, flecked with black, balanced on a wooden cutting board.  Jutting out from the pot were her tongs and the heavy blade she used to chop the crabs.
            There were about forty crabs in the basket and she was done with them in less than ten minutes.  She would grab one with her tongs where the shell comes to a point, lift it out of the basket, and hold it pinned to the cutting board.  Then she would line up the blade with the center of the shell and bring it down hard and sharp through the crab and into the board.  She would pick up her half and put it in the pot and I would do the same with mine.  I always thought it was magic, and a little sad, when the half I picked up was still moving its legs or stretching out its claw.
            She saved the mudder for last, and even though it was nearly dead and had frothy bubbles spilling out of its mouth, it was still impressive.  She held it up to catch the last of the fading light on its white underside.
            “That sure is a big one,” she said.
            “Yeah.  It sure is,” I said, wondering how many years was old for a crab.  “I wonder how old he is?”
            “Not as old as me…and you should say ‘was.’”
            “Was.  I wonder how old he WAS.”
            And with that she brought her cleaver down hard and fast and through the crab.  As she did, some salty water flew up and landed on my lip.  I licked it away.  I picked up my half of the mudder and looked at it again in the dying light as its lifeless legs dangled.  The underside glowed orange with the sky and the blue on his claw looked like it would come off on my fingers if I rubbed it.
            “I’m going to catch one bigger,” I said, more to myself than to my grandmother.
            “Someday,” she said, just as quietly.
            Jerry and I slept in a queen-size bed in a room on the bay side of the house.  We usually had just a sheet over us as we slept with the windows open.  That night I had the left side of the bed, closest to the window, and I fell asleep with the sound of the waves washing into my head through the screen.
            I had a dream that night.  In the dream I am in the Philadelphia Phillies’ dugout at Veterans’ Stadium.  I am sitting on the bench in a Phillies uniform with my baseball glove in my lap and an old brown baseball in my hand.  I raise the ball to my nose and inhale, filling my head with the smell of cut grass and leather.  I look up from the ball and the manager is signaling to me to hustle out and play right field.
            As I trot out to my place in the outfield I spot my family in the stands, but none of them seem to notice that I am in the game.  When I am in position I wave my glove to the pitcher to let him know I am ready.
            As the first pitch is thrown I know that it will be hit to me.  Even before the batter swings I am sprinting back toward the fence.  I hear the crack of the bat as I feel the Astroturf under my feet change to the red dirt of the warning track.  I begin my leap.  I find myself flying up, floating six feet off the ground, waiting for the ball to come to me.  My shoulders are even with the top of the fence as I look up to find the ball glowing white against the black of the night sky.  It is arcing down to me as I raise my glove.  The ball falls silently, weightlessly, into my leather mitt.  I float there for a second, ball in my glove, six feet off the ground, before I start falling back to earth.  As I fall I raise the ball to my nose once more and smell the grass and dew and dirt and leather.
            When I land my uniform and the stadium and the ball are all gone.  My feet splash down in the waters of the Indian River Bay behind my grandfather’s beach house.  I have a net in my right hand and I start out toward a crab line twenty feet away.  There is a soft breeze brushing past my face and carrying with it a sweet sea smell.  I have no shirt on, just shorts and some old Keds on my feet.
            I get to the stick marking a crab line and grab the string in my left hand and follow it out.  It takes a long time to get to the end and as I’m walking I hear nothing but the sound of the waves lapping against my thighs.  Suddenly, the line goes tight in my hand and it feels like the chicken is being yanked away from me.  I scoop the net down into the water and come up with the bait the same way Uncle Vince did, but I keep my eyes shut.
            As the net comes out of the water it feels heavy—heavier than just one scrawny chicken neck would feel.  I keep my eyes closed a second longer and in that second I see my sneakers on the rippled, sandy bottom.  The sunlight is making them glow as if from inside and the laces are dancing around my ankles in the currents.
            I open my eyes and there is a huge crab in the net.  I turn to go back and dump my crab in the basket, but the basket and the shore are a mile away.
            I wake up from the dream and it is still dark outside.  A warm wind is coming in through the screen and it brings with it the sound of the waves chasing each other up the beach.  Jerry is asleep next to me, his breathing matching the rhythm of the waves.  I have to go to the bathroom.
            I climb out of bed as quietly as I can and stand at the window for a second. The wind feels good on my face and chest.  It smells like the breeze from my dream and it brings my dream back to me—the smell of the ball, the flying leap, the heaviness of the net, and the certainty.  I stand there at the window and sink back into the smell and the sound, picturing myself out in the water with the net in my right hand and the line in my left.  I already know what it feels like to catch a crab—I just need to do it.
            I walk to the bathroom.  There is a florescent tube over the mirror and its light makes me look yellow as I walk by.  I don’t want to be yellow, so I reach back and switch off the light.
            As I stand in the dark, peeing and listening to the sound it makes, I can feel a few grains of sand between the soles of my feet and the cool, flat tiles.  I look down at my feet and they are black against the grey of the floor.  I stand staring down at them for a long while, not really thinking about anything, almost falling asleep.  I snap out of it when a chill shakes my body.
            I pull up my underwear and shuffle down the hallway toward my room.  But instead of going to bed, I go to the kitchen.  The window in the kitchen is closed and all I hear is the hum of the refrigerator in the dark.  I walk straight to the back door and unlock it.  There is no real plan in my head; I just want to be outside.  I pull the wooden door open and again feel the breeze like a living thing caress me.  I unlock the screen door and step out onto the peeling rust red paint of the top step, sure that I am the only person awake in the world.
            As I walk across the lawn in my bare feet and underwear the longer blades of grass tickle my ankles.  I stand on the bulkhead for a second, smelling the creosote used to waterproof the wood.  Pegasus is high overhead and as I look at him a shooting star blazes through his belly and off into nothingness.  I stare at the sky, stars filling my eyes, the sound of the waves filling my ears.  I step down to the sand and it is still warm from the day’s sunshine.  I stop where the sand and water meet, wind-driven waves rubbing against my ankles and calves like a cat.  I look to the horizon and find my constellation—Scorpio—and I am intensely aware of each star in it.  Something about the night has made the stars stand out from the black background.  It is as if they are hurtling through space right at me.
            I stagger a bit with the surging water pushing and pulling at my legs and the stars singing in my head.  I feel like I am what joins them together.  This night, I am all that joins them together.  I imagine that if I weren’t here the stars would drift away.
            I stay that way for a long time, letting the stars etch themselves into my mind.
            The breeze blows a little stronger, sending ripples of tiredness through my head and a chill over my skin.  I go back inside quietly and go to bed.
            The next morning I woke up with Jerry and we went down to the water to watch Uncle Vince set up the lines.  While he was out in the bay I lifted a frozen chicken neck from its yellow Styrofoam tray and tied it to the end of a line.  Jerry watched closely but didn’t say anything.  I picked up the stick and walked down the incline of the beach to the row of cinder blocks that marked the end of the property.
            I walked out into the water and drove the broken end of the broomstick into the bottom, twisting as I did.  The sound of the sand grating against the stick came up to me, magnified by the wood.
            As I pulled the chicken neck through the water toward me it left a trail of oily rainbows that burst silently to the surface.  I grabbed the string about a foot from the end and let the chicken dangle, dripping in the air.  I looked to make sure it was tied on securely.  Satisfied, I threw it out as far as the string would let it fly.  Before it even splashed in the water I turned and headed back to the beach.
            “What do you think you’re doing?” Jerry asked.
            “I’m gonna catch a crab, dummy,” I answered.
            “You’re not allowed.”
            “Try to stop me,” I said, picking up a crab net.
            Uncle Vince was sorting through the chicken necks, trying to find the meatiest ones.  But I could tell he had one eye cast my way as I walked out into the water, net in hand.
            When I thought the chicken had sat on the bottom long enough for a crab to find it I took the string in my left hand where it was tied to the stick.  I slowly started walking next to the line, letting it run out over my open hand.  I stopped to see if I could tell by the feel of the line if there was a crab nibbling at the chicken on the other end.
            I couldn’t.
            As I stood motionless in the water, trying to see down through the green to the chicken on the bottom three feet below, a seagull wheeled out of the low morning sun and its shadow glided silently over my skin.  I had the feeling it had come to watch me.  I turned my head to follow its flight and saw Jerry and Uncle Vince on the shore, staring out at me.
            I pivoted back to the business at hand and gently pulled the chicken up off the bottom just an inch.  When I did, there was a tug on the line that was unmistakable.  There was a crab claiming the chicken as his own, trying to pull it out to deeper water.  I let the bait sink back and then stood perfectly still.  A wind snuck by and covered my skin with goose bumps.  I forced myself to count to ten and then gave the line another little tug.  Again, the line jerked tight.  It was still there.
            As I waited I replayed the scene in my head of Uncle Vince scooping up the bait with his net yesterday.  Then I held my breath and stabbed my net down into the water where I hoped the chicken, and my crab, were.  As I raised the net up out of the bay to look inside I knew before it even broke the surface that I had caught my first crab.  I felt its unmistakable weight in my arms.  As I lifted the aluminum and mesh net out of the green, I looked in and there it was.  Big and beautiful and mine.
            It wasn’t a mudder, but it was definitely a keeper.  I let the bait sink back down and turned to put my crab in the basket.  Jerry came over to look and Uncle Vince took a peek before I dumped it in—the first crab of the day.
            “That’s a nice one,” he said.  “Why don’t you show your brother how to do that?”
            We drove home on a Sunday night.  I was spent, so I climbed into the back-back and leaned a pillow up against the inside of the tailgate.  I lay flat on my back, looking up through the glass and into the darkness.  Jerry was sprawled across the middle seat, asleep.  My parents’ voices floated back to me from the front seat, but not their actual words.   The sounds and vibrations of the engine and the wheels came up through the car and into my body.  But my thoughts were somewhere else.  We were on a dark road that ran along the Delaware River and the sky was thick with stars.
            They were shining for me again, and again I felt connected to them—like they needed me to keep them in place.  I felt somehow bigger than I had just a week earlier—like there was more of me.  My dream and my crab and my night in the water and the stars somehow stretched me out.  I stared up out of that window for as long as I could keep my eyes open, not wanting to blink, not wanting the stars to spin away and be gone.  I didn’t want anything to chase away the feeling I had of flying in the stars.  And I drifted off to sleep as I floated up to meet them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sympathy For the Devil

I read a story in the news a few weeks ago about a group of Satanists who have gotten together and applied for permission to build a monument on the capital grounds in Oklahoma City. The group did not choose Oklahoma City randomly for their seven-foot statue of a seated, goat-headed god. Oklahoma recently allowed a monument of the Ten Commandments to be placed at the capital building, opening the door to a lawsuit from the ACLU on First Amendment principals. As you remember, the First Amendment enshrines both the right to free speech AND the right to religious freedom.

To me, this is a no-brainer. Of course citizens have the right to build a monument to the Ten Commandments;  “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).” Also, the tale of Moses receiving the law of God is one of the most well known stories ever and the basis for 4000 years of Judeo-Christian morality. However, because of that pesky First Amendment, the state of Oklahoma finds itself in a sticky place.  Along with the right of citizens to practice the religion of their choice without interference from the government, the very same amendment bars the state from endorsing one religion over others; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

By allowing a monument rooted firmly in the practice of Judaism and Christianity to take a place of prominence on the capital grounds, the state appears to have endorsed one set of beliefs over all others. To rectify this, the state must allow the erection of similar monuments rooted in other faiths OR order the removal of the original monument. The fact that it is a group of Satanists who have announced plans to place their own monument in Oklahoma City makes me gleeful. It is the perfect group to challenge the state of Oklahoma.

The worship of Satan would most likely be abhorrent to 99% of the citizens of the Sooner State, and this will be a real test of Oklahoma’s commitment to the ideals of the United States Constitution. If Christians and Jews can have a monument on land at the state capital building, then so can other faiths, right?  That is exactly what the Constitution guarantees.

The First Amendment protects the right of stupid people to say hurtful things exactly as strongly as it does the right of Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak so beautifully about equality. That same First Amendment protects the right of any citizen to pray to any arbitrary and omniscient being he or she chooses, while at the same time guaranteeing the government cannot endorse one particular omnipotent being (or set of beings) over any other omnipotent being (or set of beings). For the Constitution to mean anything, it has to apply equally. For the citizens of Oklahoma, that means you either have to take down those Ten Commandments or clear space for Baphomet (the goat-headed Satanist monument), Shiva, Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and any other imaginary being people choose to worship. That is the enduring truth of the First Amendment: it is at its most beautiful when protecting what many find most ugly.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Next Career

Five months ago I started a new job. Five months is long enough to now have some actual opinions and thoughts about how things are going. But before I write about those, it feels important for me to at least recognize that something big has shifted in my life.

For 25 years I was a teacher. I taught English in Yemen for 2 years, I was a teaching Naturalist at Brandywine Creek State Park in Delaware for a year, I taught severely emotionally disturbed teens in Delaware for 4 months, I taught Outdoor Education in Massachusetts for a year, I taught preschool in Montana for 3 years, I taught teens at an in-patient psych ward in Montana for a summer, I taught carpentry, construction, backpacking, and rock-climbing skills in Montana for 5 summers, I taught Special Education in Upstate New York for 3 years, I taught English and Global Studies Upstate for 3 years, I taught fifth and sixth graders in Connecticut for 7 years, and then back to preschool in Ithaca for a year.

In retrospect, I can say that I was a good teacher.  I was patient.  I was dedicated to my students. I kept myself informed on many topics. I communicated well with parents. I was a good colleague. I taught by example. I was willing to follow tangents if they were interesting and productive. I listened to my kids. I helped them see that testing is a game adults make kids play, and test scores are NOT a valid yardstick with which to measure a child. In the end, it was a great run.  The highlight for me was getting to have my daughter, Isabel, in my class for a year. It was a pretty great year.

But after all of that, I have nothing tangible to show for it.  There is not one thing I can point to and say with certainty, “I did that.” The successes are invisible, as are the failures. I have the kind words of parents in the end-of-the-year cards they sometimes give to teachers, but they are not concrete, either.  If I reread them, I can feel good, but still I cannot hold in my hand one thing I have created as a teacher.

For 25 years, that was okay with me. It was a job full of rewards and I truly loved it. For the last ten years there was not one day where I said to myself, ‘I would rather not be a teacher today.’ I know that is hard to believe, but it is true.

As we moved to Ithaca 18 months ago I started to play with the idea of getting out of teaching and into something else.  I was not sure quite what I wanted to do, but I could tell that teaching was nearing the end of its rewarding life.  I was starting to feel a bit run down from having to always care so much.  As a teacher, I could feel the weight and power my words and attitudes had. When you are a teacher there is no room for casual remarks or jokes at the expense of a student.  There is no room for tuning out while a student tells you about something they find important. You have to care—all the time. And, in the end, I knew I was getting tired of caring so much all the time.  I wanted to be able to let my guard down, to tune out of boring conversations, to poke a little fun without worrying if someone was strong enough to take it.

In the end, I feel like I did a lot more good than harm as a teacher and I did not want to skew the balance of that equation by remaining in the classroom too long.  There is nothing worse than a bitter teacher.

So, now I am a writer! And I am loving it. I am working for Cornell Engineering in the Marketing and Communications Department and mostly what I get to do is find fascinating people and write about them. My boss took a real gamble and hired me with no professional experience. And because she did, I get to learn all sorts of amazing science, I get to talk to geniuses, and then I get to close my door, not care at all about anyone for hours, and write words. After a while, the words show up out in the world, on websites and in magazines. There is a finished product I can point to and other people can judge. It is so different for me—and so good—to be able to share something I have done for work.

It is good to have specific tasks, to have deadlines, and to get concrete feedback in the moment on how I am doing. As a teacher the feedback is clear as you watch your kids.  You know if they are bored, if they are confused, if they are getting it. But that feedback has as much to do with their internal states as it does with your teaching. The other feedback you get as a teacher is test scores, administrator evaluations, and that inner-voice that lets you know how you are doing.  None of these is a truly objective measure of your ability as a teacher.

As a writer, my bosses and editors can tell me if something is unclear, too long, too informal, wrong on the facts, or just plain NOT what they were looking for. And then I can go back and make it more clear, shorter, more formal, correct, or more like what they were looking for. And I can do this by myself, in a room, without having to take anyone’s feelings into account. I feel remarkably free in this new job. After 25 years without direct, in-the-moment criticism of my work, I find it refreshing and very helpful to get feedback right away.

Another thing I love about my job is that I have an audience. If most teachers are honest, part of the thrill of teaching is being on stage every day. You have a captive audience for your brilliance, your jokes, and your special insights. But it is a small audience, and it is also there when you are having a bad day. As a writer, my larger audience only gets to see my edited work after it goes through several drafts and several critics. The crappy stuff doesn’t make it onto the website or into the magazine. I get a real thrill out of seeing my name in the by-line.

Another huge benefit of changing careers at the age of 48 is that I get to learn all sorts of new things. And, as an ex-teacher, I know the value of learning new things.  It keeps a brain young and makes me happier.  I feel pushed and challenged and excited about work.

So, I am happy to report that I loved being a teacher for 25 years, and I am also very happy to report that I love being a writer.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cheney For Senate?

Let me start by saying that I am not from Wyoming, though I do go there once in a while during family visits to neighboring Montana. If you add up the number of days I have spent in Wyoming as an adult, you might get to 60. This total would most certainly NOT qualify me for a resident fishing license. According to Wyoming Fish and Game regulations, a person must live in the state for a year to qualify for the lower-cost resident license.

Surprisingly (to her), Liz Cheney also did not qualify for a resident fishing license in Wyoming. When she applied for permission to fish in Wyoming’s trout-filled steams and rivers, she said she had lived in the state for a decade. (Actually, she had only lived in the state for 72 days.) Cheney says the clerk who took her application must have made a mistake. Whoever made the mistake, it was a costly one to Cheney. She ended up posting a $220.00 bond for the high misdemeanor of swearing a false oath. 

It may be the most expensive $220.00 fine ever paid. It may cost Liz Cheney a Senate seat.

Like Montanans, Wyomingites do not cotton to liars. Or carpetbaggers. And Ms. Cheney certainly seems to be both. She and her husband bought a house in Jackson Hole in 2012 and shortly after, she announced that she would run in the Republican Senate primary in 2014. This has struck many observers as an interesting choice. Wyoming already has a Republican Senator in that seat. His name is Mike Enzi. I can certainly understand why Tea Party-types are “primary-ing” Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. They think he is not pure enough in his conservatism. Same for Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Susan Collins in Maine, Orrin Hatch in Utah, Lindsay Graham In South Carolina, and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee—all of whom voted to re-open the government after 16 days of self-inflicted economic damage had been done to the country.

But Mike Enzi did not vote to reopen the government, even though Wyoming is home to several amazingly beautiful national parks that had to shut down. In fact, Mike Enzi voted to continue the shutdown, even in the face of looming economic disaster. In his three terms as Republican Senator from Wyoming, Mike Enzi has earned the following ratings and scores from various interest groups:

Rated A+ by NRA
Rated 100% by National Right to Life Committee
Rated 0% by the American Public Health Association
Rated 100% by US Border Control—a private anti-immigration group
Rated 0% by Citizens for Tax Justice

In addition to these ratings, Senator Enzi has shown where he stands by voting no on limiting farm subsidies to those making under $750,000 a year, voting no on extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks, voting with the Republican Party well over 90% of the time, and voting no on increasing the tax rate on those earning over $1 million. 

Why on Earth does Liz Cheney feel the need to run against this man? Does she feel the voters of Wyoming need someone more in line with their values? Is Mike Enzi too liberal for Wyoming? I can think of only two reasons why Liz Cheney would move to Wyoming and try to unseat Mike Enzi: ego and love of power. 

The voters of Wyoming are smart enough to see right through Ms. Cheney. By now, she may have earned her resident fishing license, but she surely has not earned the votes of the people of Wyoming.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Sprinkle Plants of East Haven

When Isabel was 4 we lived in East Haven, CT. Our house was an 80-year old place that had been bought and updated by two guys who reminded me a lot of Tom and Ray Magliozzi from Car Talk. The hard wood floors had all been stripped and polished, the washer, dryer, fridge, and dishwasher were all new, the wooden accents around all the windows and doors had been taken down and refinished and rehung, it had central air conditioning, a new super-efficient furnace in the basement, and multi-zone control of the temperature for maximum energy savings. It was a beautiful house.

Only one thing was wrong with it—it was in East Haven, CT.

You may have heard of East Haven—it has been in the news a few times in the last couple of years. Four of its police officers have been charged with federal civil rights abuses; some of the charges stemming from a falsified police report about the arrest of a Catholic priest as he filmed two East Haven cops harassing a shopkeeper. Others of the charges are the result of one officer’s assault on the owner of an Ecuadorian restaurant who tried to photograph the officer harassing his customers in the parking lot.

Or perhaps you heard of East Haven when its mayor, Joe Maturo, was asked what he intended to do to help Latinos in his town feel better about his leadership. In all seriousness, the mayor said he might go home that night and have a taco for dinner. And then he could not understand why this answer might actually be offensive, or just the wrong thing to say. Or, if you didn’t hear about the mayor’s taco comment, perhaps you heard about the hilarious response to his taco comment from some in his community.

If none of these stories rings a bell, then maybe it was the more recent case of the group of East Haven cops who left their jurisdiction, lights flashing and sirens wailing, and went to New Haven, where they provoked an accident, took a woman and her car hostage, and then changed their stories about what happened as Internal Affairs investigated. Well, whatever the case, East Haven was where this beautiful house was located and we simply did not have the resources to jack it up off its foundation, put it on a truck, and cart it off to somewhere a bit better, (like Camden, NJ).

We lived in the house for two years, but we should have known from Day One that it was not the place for us. As the movers were unloading our stuff from the truck, there was a teen-aged girl on the front stoop of the house next door, talking loudly into a cell phone and cursing a blue streak. On closer examination, her ankle bracelet tracking device made itself evident. The girl’s heroin-using mom hit us up for work once in a while when she needed money.

Or, if we didn’t realize it was not the place for us on Day One, maybe we should have realized on Day Two, when I took Isabel to the playground in the local park just down the road from our house. Isabel LOVED to swing and she could do it for hours, so whenever she woke up real early, I would get her out of the house so Erica might be able to sleep-in a bit. So, that second day in East Haven Isabel and I went to the park and I put her in the kid swing and started pushing her. And then I looked down and noticed broken glass all throughout the sand under the swings. The more I looked, the more glass I saw. Oh, and also some used syringes. Before long, Isabel took to calling it the Glass Playground, to distinguish it from the Giant Playground that was a twenty-minute walk away from our house.

The first time Isabel ever said the F-word, she read it spray-painted on a slide at the Glass Park. Ah, memories…

 And if not on Day Two, surely we should have known five months into it, when our Subaru Outback was totaled while parked in front of our house. Seems a guy fell asleep behind the wheel on his way home from the methadone clinic. It wasn’t even his van he was driving—it belonged to the plumber who had just that week hired him as an assistant. (I ended up feeling a little bit bad for that guy.) Anyway, what got me thinking about that house in East Haven today was a cupcake I saw on somebody’s desk this afternoon. It had white frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

The sprinkles acted as the visual equivalent of Proust’s madeleine; one glimpse brought back two full years in East Haven. When I saw those sprinkles I right away pictured our front yard. We had put a white picket fence up after some punk stole the good cooking pot we had left on the porch. The pot was full of self-service Halloween candy so that we could both go trick-or-treating with Isabel. Inside that fence we had created a large L-shaped garden to grow tomatoes and basil and lots of flowers.

As I remember it, for our first Easter in East Haven we put a small shaker of sprinkles in Isabel’s basket. Then we told her that if she buried a few sprinkles in the garden, a sprinkle bush would grow. So, she planted some sprinkles in the garden. A few months later, Erica and I placed a few new plastic jars of sprinkles in the branches of a green pepper plant and then reminded Isabel of when she had planted the sprinkles. Right away she wanted to go check the plant, and sure enough it had borne fruit. In retrospect, the look on Isabel’s face when she saw those plastic jars full of rainbow sprinkles outweighs all of the negatives that came with living in East Haven, CT for two years.