If Phillip Lopate Broke Up With Me…

If I was dating Phillip Lopate and he wanted to break up with me, I hope he’d do it with this…

(Lopate’s original poem, We Who Are Your Closest Friends can be found here.)

We who are

your string of dates

feel the time

has come to tell you

that every Thursday

we have been meeting,

as a group,

to devise ways

to keep you

in perpetual uncertainty

frustration

discontent and

torture

by neither loving you

as much as you want

nor cutting you adrift.

Your true love is

in on it,

plus your boyfriend

and your ex-fiancé;

and we have pledged

to disappoint you

as long as you need us.

In announcing our

association

we realize we have

placed in your hands

a possible antidote

against uncertainty

indeed against ourselves.

But since our Thursday nights

have brought us

to a community

of purpose

rare in itself

with you as

the natural center,

we feel hopeful you

will continue to make unreasonable

demands for affection

if not as a consequence

of your disastrous personality

then for the good of the collective.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I love everything about baseball: The silent anticipation before each pitch. The smell of peanut shells being crushed under beer soaked hiking sandals. The crack of the bat as the pinch hitter poles a long one into deep left.  Take Me Out To the Ballgame being softly chanted during the 7th inning stretch as young and old enjoy watching bloopers on the jumbo screen. The taste of a juicy hot-dog with just the right mix of green relish, spicy mustard, and sweet ketchup. The roar of the crowd at the double play in the top of the 8th to clinch a close win. Baseball players filling out their uniforms as only a baseball player can… I love it all.

Never one to claim to know “everything about baseball,” but someone who grew up with a super fan father, I felt confident in my abilities to follow the Japanese version of America’s Favorite Pastime. And I was right. Kind of.

The game of Japanese baseball is identical to it’s American parent, but the fan experience is something different entirely. There are cute baseball players of course, but there also cute cheerleaders (yes, cheerleaders). And cute cartoon bird mascots. Tiny, cute little mini-umbrellas opened only when a run is scored. Cute babies wrapped in cute hats shaped like cute baseballs and cute birds and cute cats and cute fish. Cute little tiny baseball bats that you bang together when something exciting happens on the field. Cute bento-boxes full of cute sushi rolls. Cute chairs not suitable for my cute American sized backside. It’s a lot of cute.

But it isn’t the cute that sets this experience apart. It’s the symphonious chanting: “Every time try! Every time try!”  The pep-band playing peppy jingles that everyone knows by heart. Stands of people singing in unison celebrating base-hits, caught fly balls, stolen bases, base runs, line-drives. You name it, they celebrate it. I’ve never been to the championship football game between two big 10 colleges, but I can’t image anything being more raucous than this. It’s intoxicating.

I’ve never had more fun not watching a baseball game in my entire life. I have no idea what the final score was, but I know the home-team lost by a significant margin. And it wasn’t because I glanced at the score-board, it was because all the cacophonous joy that was being had, was had by the opposing team’s fans.

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What Would Virginia Do?

Do you remember those bracelets? You know the ones, WWJD? They were popular about 10 years ago, when the Jesus wave was reaching the dry shores of Greeley, Colorado. I mocked them then, thinking they were nothing more than a marketing scheme to get a young-fresh crowd of people into the pews. And they probably were. But the message they were meant to be spreading wasn’t too bad. And it finally reached me today.

Now don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not pondering what Jesus would do if his grandmother was dying because he likely would react the same way I am. No, what I mean is when I reflect on my short life and all that I’ve learned, I marvel at how much someone my grandmother’s age must know. In her lifetime, the United States of America lived through the Great Depression, helped win a world-war, put a man on the moon, produced one of the largest grossing electronic companies in the world, and elected a black president when only four years before her birth did women win the right to vote. It’s remarkable really, what can be measured in a lifetime.

My uncle alerted the family today that my grandmother, Virginia V. Johnston, isn’t doing so well. He is unsure of what the future holds for her and how much time she is choosing to stay on this Earth. So after my initial shock and a good cry, I focused my energy today on What Would Virginia Do?

When I rode past the chrysanthemum bush being carefully tended by its gardener this morning, I wondered WWVD? Would she wave hello? Stop and have a chat? Invite the gardner into her home for a spot of tea? Yes.

When I walked into my first period class with no motivation to interact with students due to some bad news I got earlier would she wallow and pout? No. Virginia would put on a smile, wrap them in a hug, and tell each and every one how special they are to her.

When I rode past the adorable school children huddled together bustling home from school would she snap a photo, or smile and say good afternoon? Yes.

I miss my grandmother. Every day. I miss the smell of her skin, and the softness of her touch. I miss how she opened her arms to every child she met as though it were her own. I miss how she stood up for herself when my grandfather was being unreasonable. I miss making strawberry jam on steamy North Carolina nights. I miss playing games in the living room by the fireplace that never hosted a fire. I miss the leather chair, still warm from her lap, that I curled up on as bed time approached. I miss the stories she would tell me about my dad as a little kid and the tiny treasures hidden around her house.

I miss her and I love her and I want to crawl into a hole and not come out for a long time. But that’s not what she would do. She would live. She would take a walk in the beautiful autumn weather. Or make some tea and read a book. She would go to her garden and tend to plants, or listen to the birds, or sing a song, or maybe all three of those things.

So that’s what I am going to do. Wipe the tears. Have a glass of beer, then tend to my garden with the care and love my grandmother would give her hydrangeas. I’ll listen to the crickets play their evening symphony and remember fondly the North Carolina nights I spent chasing fireflies with her. I’ll wave hello to the children passing by and give thanks to God for all he’s given me, because that’s What Virginia Would Do.

Love life. Be always grateful. Don’t waste time dwelling on things you cannot change. And live. That’s What Virginia Would Do.

 

American Songbirds

Something happened to me last night; I managed to transform from a rational human being into a babbling idiot.  I met two of my favorite singers: Misty Boyce and Sara Bareilles. In fact, I was so excited to chat with them that I’m pretty sure I word-vommitted all over their backstage lounge. Sigh. Anyway, I strongly urge you to listen to Misty sing in the video I included. She is amazing, but the end of the video is conclusive proof that I shouldn’t be allowed to talk to famous people. In my defense, I can’t help it. I get so excited and proud of these artists as they open their hearts to us. We are beyond privileged to be the listeners of their stories. So keep singing, and writing, and composing no matter how nerdy your fans are because you are inspiring Misty Boyce and Sara Bareilles. Thank you.

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Ghost Man

Where I stand is where I was.

There, beyond the Eucalyptus branch, sifting through the mist his figure sharpened as he approached.

Noticing nothing. Sharpening still.

His gait was, somehow labored as though the passing years had worn him away.  Slightly limping from the uneven weight of the burden’s he’s born. And gently bent from the wind of a hundred secrets.

Promises kept. Promises broken.

Ancient hands curled carefully around each other. Slowly twisting all the memories lost into one song. One story. One moment. One reality that somehow slipped through his fingers until all that was left was… nothing. Nothing more than sweet smells of the past winding their scents into this place.

Whispers of who he was and who he is.

A ghost, thick with life and stories and children and lovers and hatred and betrayal and loyalty.

A hero, maybe? One who’s legacy is far from known. Forgotten even, once upon another time.

So, where I stand is where he was.

There, beyond the Eucalyptus branch, sifting through the mist, his figure softens as he fades.

Noticing everything. Softening still.

 

Melting Pot

Barcelona, Spain. International Airport. 3:05 p.m.

Standing at baggage claim, awaiting my adventure in this new country and looking forward to practicing some rudimentary Spanish that I kind of remember from high school, and as soon as I think it I find myself in this conversation:

[Enter, oldish man wearing no front teeth, chapped lips, and a blue blazer. He shuffles toward Andrea, standing at the baggage belt. And says…]

“No puedo encontrar mi equipaje.”

[No response]

“No puedo encontrar mi equipaje.”

[Startled] “Oh, um, me? Um…siento, hablo sólo un pequeño español.”

[Pause]

“No puedo encontrar mi equipaje!”

“Again, um, otra sir, no entiendo. Lo siento.”

[pause]

“Usted no es de España?”

“Nope.”

[pause]

[Louder] “No puedo encontrar mi equipaje!”

[To self] “Equipaje? What the hell does that mean?”

“Um, bags? Las bolsas están aquí.”

[Gestures to baggage belt directly in front of them.]

“No, no, usted no entiende.”  [Slower and louder] “¿Dónde está mi equipaje?”

“Oh, you don’t know where your bags are? Um…”

[Points to the arrivals screen.]

“Qué aerolínea? Did you fly? Where? Donde?”

“Nueva York”

“Claro. Belt tres.”

“Gracias señora. Buenas dias.”

[Man shuffles off. Andrea is left at baggage claim flustered, but smiling.]

Conversations like this happen quite frequently when I travel to Europe. In Turkey I was asked questions in Turkish, in Greece in Greek, even in New York I’ve been approached in Italian and Spanish. I guess I look Turkish, or Greek, or Spanish, or Italian. Is it my olive skin? My brown eyes? My chestnut hair? Could be.  The truth is my cultural heritage is a mix of Scottish, English and German. My family’s theory is that when the Romans conquered the British Isles during the Roman Empire, some burly Roman soldier found a Scottish milk-maid he fancied and made his love “official,”  thus securing my future as a melting pot person. I like it actually. I’m proud to be an American of diverse cultural heritage.

I wonder if I’ll be mistaken for Japanese on Thursday?