Sunday, July 27, 2008

Forget the iPhone. I want an iHug!

I love the high-tech tools, and I especially love how they help me to keep in touch. Though we're separated by thousands of miles, my family and I are up-to-the minute in communication with one another. I pix message the 100-degree reading on my car rental thermometer here in Mississippi, and EJG texts me right back about the update on the cousins reunion in New York. I flix message a video of Hansel, our crazy cat, chasing his own tail to my sister in Brooklyn, and she calls me back laughing at the same scene I'm witnessing live. I've even taken part in eSeminars, an online meeting where I worked with teachers from places as far apart as St. Croix and Seattle, all together in real time. The world does seem smaller when we use these tools to connect, and I'm especially grateful for these innovations when I travel for my work.

Even though I'm connected to home through images, text, voice, and video, nothing can replace the human touch. Not the R-rated touching stuff. The hand-holding, bear-hugging, pecks-on-the-lips that happen in the daily lives of loving families that make us human. For 3 1/2 weeks I was away from home and my hands were unheld, my arms unhugged, and my lips unpecked, and I started to feel like my potted impatiens in the hot, late-afternoon July sun. High tech, virtual world, digital connecting may be an effective interim replacement, but connecting cell to cell, biology style, beats it every day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Silent Offerings

It happens in the cover of silence, in the darkest hours of night. Silently, stealthily, she pads her way across the house from the great room, through the kitchen, past the front door and down the hallway. Gretel’s nightly pilgrimage with her toy is rarely witnessed by human eyes. Clenched firmly between her teeth, Gretel transports the toy by its bright pink and yellow 18” string. As she walks in her low and cautious gait the foot-long transparent plastic handle drags behind her. Each morning we awake to see Gretel sitting vigil beside her offering, watching the toy as she patiently awaits her morning cat snacks. Usually she journeys alone as Hansel, her brother sleeps soundly through the night. Once, on a late night bathroom stop, I witnessed the silent journey. Gretel led the way with her determined sense of purpose and Hansel tagged behind. He thought it was play, making a game of chasing the handle as it dragged behind Gretel. Somehow I know this isn’t just play to Gretel. The toy offering is serious to her. Maybe she feels it is her duty to hunt and capture and then offer up her find to her hosts. To Gretel this might be her way of evening up the tab with her human caretakers.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The View From the Front

I didn't feel guilty as I sat in seat 1C on the MD90 Jet at Gate D6 in Salt Lake City. I was bound for O'Hare, on my sixth flight in five days. Sure, there were families plodding their way to the back of the plane, laden with baby gear, toddler toys, and 'tween electronics. Sitting in 1C as the flight boarded made me the first passenger encountered by everyone heading back to coach. I busied myself with a video podcast on my iTouch, nodding and smiling at the little ones who passed into my line of vision. Not a moment of remorse entered my soul when I reclined as soon as we soared out of the Salt Lake Valley, feeling that my enduring flight after flight and delay after delay has earned me the right to sit in that seat. Granting first class seats to frequent flyers is almost like the airlines saying "We know that this flying thing stinks." But I earned my extra elbow room during winter snow and summer squawls. I paid for this privilege in the uncompensated hours away from my family – the same hours that would mathematically reduce my hourly honorarium to bupkus. I wasn't feeling smug, only justly compensated for my time and inconvenience.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Officially an Islander

It isn’t that I dislike Orange Park. OP seems to be a reasonably respectable place to live. It has Blanding Boulevard, Wells Road, and the convenient-if-not-frightening Orange Park Mall. Orange Park has definitely improved in the last decade, at least by my standards. It has a couple of decent Chinese food joints, a feature that was non-existent when we moved there 12 years ago. OP is up to four Starbucks locations, an indicator that it has some people with taste. Despite all of the improvements, I am proud to state that I no longer call Orange Park my home. As the result of a bold decision by the Unites States Postal Service, I left Orange Park as of July 1. Now all my bills, junk mail, and Mint Magazine carpet cleaning and Papa John’s pizza coupons will be delivered to my home on Fleming Island.

Fleming Island is different from Orange Park. This is a community with a sense of identity. We’re not hip like the Beaches folks, or a trendy “everything old is new again” gang like the San Marco crew. Fleming Island is mostly a bedroom community with a substantial NAS-JAX influence. With three quality elementary schools, and Clay County’s top-ranked high school (bearing the community name, of course) Fleming Island has a rep for being a good place to bring up a family. It’s a small-town feeling within a large town, a place where you can see Everyone if you take your coffee to the patio tables in front of our Starbucks. This is a place where you know the folks you really don’t know, whether from sharing a sweat session at the Y, offering up an emptied cart at Publix, or sharing “good morning” during a run or bike ride on the Black Creek Trail.

As a proud resident, I’m not ashamed to point out Fleming Island’s shortcomings. It sorely lacks in ethnic diversity. If Fleming Island residents pray to any god other than a Christian variety, they probably cross a couple of bridges to join their congregation. The Fleming Island Democratic Party could fit its meetings in my house, if it even existed. A decent bookstore means a long car ride, and any new cinematic releases must be suffered through at the AMC Orange Park Mall movie theaters. The library here is a lovely, new structure with sparsely-populated shelves. But every place has room for improvement.