Monday, June 23, 2008

People-Watching in West Virginia

Dining alone, I always bring reading material. So I gathered an abandoned copy of this morning's USA Today and asked the front desk clerk for a dinner recommendation. Linda handed me a two page printout, but told me I should go to Muriale's, "It's the best." Across the interstate and along a 2 lane road, I passed a few auto dealerships and a marina. A long country mile later and I pulled into the packed parking lot. Inside, the lobby was standing room only. Mostly large parties were waiting on this Monday night, with red-cheeked, tow-headed kids giggling and zooming through the crowd into the laps and open arms of their seated grandparents. I sought a corner to stand in and prepared myself for the 25 minute wait. Standing and waiting is a strange time for reading, so I spent my time people-watching. What were the occasions for these big family meals on a Monday night? Some families had men in suit jackets and women in flowing dress, other groups came in with bermudas and t-shirts. Many men wore proclamations of their masculinity stitched above the brim of their baseball caps, advertising tractor brands or college teams. Some grandmas wore squishy crocs and others had practical buckle sandals with sandalfoot stockings. The family resemblance in some groups was uncanny. To see the same face on child, mother, and grandmother was spooky. Granddaughter needn't wonder what she'll look like 30 or 60 years from now. Each group eventually assembled and paraded behind Chelsea, our svelte teenage hostess. Finally I did too, to sit alone with my newspaper and my chicken Marsala. Linda was right. Everything was delicious and filling for the empty spot in my stomach, but unable to fill the empty spot in my heart, so far away from my family.

Friday, June 20, 2008

His first sentence, announced while we boarded:

Welcome aboard flight 1851 with nonstop service from Florida's Jacksonville International Airport you have boarded a Boeing 757, a staple of Delta's trustworthy jet fleet as you find your seat and get settled I would like to welcome you aboard this flight my name is Ryan and I am the onboard leader for today's flight to our corporate headquarters located at the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in sunny Hot-lanta Georgia along with our captain and co-pilot I will be serving you with Michelle and Clarissa, a top-rate Atlanta-based team we can assure your comfort and safety with our combined over 100 years of flying experience in just a few moments we will be briefing you with the safety information required by the FAA, and I encourage you to become familiar with the features of this aircraft as detailed on the safety information card located in the seatback pocket in front of you for now, please stow your luggage safely, remembering that all articles must fit completely in the overhead bin or beneath the seat in front of you bulkhead row passengers, those seated in the first row of each cabin, must stow all personal items leaving the area at and behind your feet completely free in case of the need for evacuation if you need assistance in stowing your articles please let a flight attendant know we will be happy to help you as you settle in for our short flight i wish offer you a sincere welcome aboard.

He never stopped until "buh-byed" at deplaning.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The endless blue sky, the purple-green hillsides reflected in the looking-glass -still water of the Susquehanna River, the flowing floral patterns of the handmade skirts worn by the Amish women walking on the roadside; my drive north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was an idyllic ride through a part of the country that has been only lightly touched by the passage of time. State Road 11 wandered through riverfront bergs, complete with white porches and patriotic buntings. The few storefronts were mostly family restaurants, diners, or general stores attached to post offices. Many were closed on this Sunday. Yet another business seemed to exist in every town, the Adult Shop. In converted farmhouses along the state route they wore large signs proclaiming peep shows and private viewing rooms. One shop in Liverpool, an historic town in Perry County, had a billboard with the daily feature, "Adult Shop – Happy Fathers Day – Special – Pumps 20% Off."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

FCAT? F That!

My daughter is brilliant. Just look at her myspace page. It's pimped to the max. She speaks two languages: American Engilsh and 'Tween IM. She knows all the lyrics to every booty-smacking, gangsta' rapping top 40 hit. She's very musical, and she has an incredible ear. She can harmonize any melody, and once she hears a tune it stays with her. Her memory is solid all around. Multiplication facts, spelling words, Greek and Roman Gods, all the facts required of memorization and recitation are no problem for my girl. She can memorize lines lickety-split. In plays she learns her part easily and also could understudy any role. Her brain is that good. She's smart enough to recognize the sad irony in MTV's Flavor of Love and also to appreciate the timeless beauty in The Phantom of the Opera. Besides, only a bright thinker could convince two teacher parents that none of her seventh grade teachers assign homework, and then go on to negotiate a sleepover on a school night.

The state of Florida doesn't believe in how smart she is. Even though she made two hundred-plus point gains in Reading and Math on her FCAT scores, on paper she doesn't look like the clever thinker we know she is. She's smart in ways they can't measure on their standardized assessment. I guess when it comes to other kinds of intelligences FCAT stands for Florida Can't Assess That.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with a high school friend - a friend I hadn't seen in five years, and only three times in the last twenty five. She looked great, and I might've allowed myself to believe that our being forty-plus was an illusion. She still has the same bright eyes, hearty laugh, and big, toothy smile of the teenager who spent many a sleepover on the shag carpet in my butterfly-wallpapered room. Best of buddies from seventh grade forward, we managed to stay out of trouble in spite of our best efforts to find it. We crushed the same junior high boys, Yankee players, and then approaching middle-age Beatles, Paul for her and George for me. Friends through Confirmation and Sweet Sixteen, we thought we were there through the major milestones of our lives. High school came and I evolved into the drama queen, she the band geek, and we found other partners-in crime. With the college years we got busy discovering ourselves, then our spouses, and then our kids. Years gone by, thousands of miles apart and yet we sat across her kitchen table yesterday, dishing the dirt as if the time hadn't passed.

Rare it is in life to find a friend like that, and I've been fortunate to have that happen again and again. First, I found my honeymooning kindergarten buddy, still the crazy West Coast friend who is too many time zones away. Then we junior high buds helped each other through the awkward development of body and soul. In college I found a friend who still keeps in touch long after the late night bagel orders and toga parties. Now I can count the friends of adulthood who give me the gift of their time not as teachers or as mothers or as wives, but as friends who can spend a lazy afternoon dishing the dirt across a kitchen table.