Saturday, July 31, 2010

a fine morning at the cemetery

though none I think do there embrace."

Yesterday was a good day. I think this may be in part because I left the house unusually early, around 8am, for no good reason other than I'd been up since six and didn't want to lay around as I often do. So I hopped on my bike and rode the usual route down Central towards work; and came to the Catholic Cemetery on along the way, and having the time, turned in.

Now I should try to explain that I love some cemeteries; not all, but just the oldest ones, those places with leaning stones carved with now-lost skill, their inscriptions softened and eroded by time and the acid rains. This particular graveyard is lovely, planted thickly with tall oaks which strew their acorns across the lane; I can hear them crunching under my tires. On the face of it, the entrance is narrow, and Central is a busy street, so the place is easy to miss. But the land stretches far back, several blocks, and is only bordered on the south by backyard fences; to the north and east is the rail yard devoid of buildings, for the most part. Under the oaks the light is dim and a little gray, and the weathered stones are pearlescent. The traffic sounds fade quickly as I pedal down the lane, and by the time I reach the turn-around, all I hear are birds and the quiet hissing of sprinklers where the newer plots are being watered.

I love this cemetery and others like it, because of the peacefulness there. I've never felt as though spooks or malevolent forces would be found there. The place is more like a refuge. A quiet place in the middle of the city, where souls went to their rest. The Irish immigrants and the Italians, the very occasional German Catholic; names of unknown lineage as well. And the dates, people who died before my grandparents were born. Babies whose birth and death dates were the same; beloved Mothers, Fathers. Brigid and Mary and Irene. Patrick and John and Malcolm.

I stayed about half an hour, and left the bicycle leaning against a tree. I noticed an old neglected stone, a flat one (the cheapest kind) just inches from the pavement of the lane. It was barely visible under the large trash can which contained metal bouquet holders, rusting and rain-filled. Shoving the precarious metal container to one side, I pushed at the obscuring soil, polishing the marble with the toe of my shoe: "Charles." I wandered, and gathered worn fragments of silk flowers, the tattered and weather-beaten remnants of which I've incorporated into a sewing project recently. I admired the carving of markers whose owners' names had long been erased, and noted the way older markers were assembled in stacked parts, which separate from each other over time. Stones topple occasionally from their bases, more often I suspect than they are ever interfered with by the living. Wonder what that sounds like, in the stillness.

In the back of the cemetery where the oaks thin and turn to maples before the sky gradually reasserts itself, are the newer, cheaper headstones: many unadorned and flush with the grass, occasionally an older one belonging to a lost infant, markers no doubt purchased with the help of a priest after a hurried, sorrowing baptism. And then most of the dates are from the 1970s and 80s, when the vogue for money spent on the dead had begun to fade -- church funerals gradually being replaced by services held right in the funeral homes themselves. These stones are a little depressing, held down they seem by the weight of the sky itself, shelterless; like so many pavers in the courtyard before the Father's mansions.

But I do so love it there. And the sense of peace I had there lingered well into the day.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Quote of the week?

"Kori was driving the motor home about two weeks ago and the entire front driver side tire tread blew off, broke the side mirror frame, bent the fender and tore half the bumper loose.
Changing it in interstate traffic on a Sunday sucked consenting diseased donkey dicks. But hey, millions of cars driving millions of miles a week, something goes to shit sooner or later."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

So in between all the time I spend arguing over the specs on new security systems, answering questions about the carpeting in room 105 and watching the rehab bill for the boiler tick its way into five figures, I get to hang out on other people's blogs. I also go to art group meetings (had a great one last night, if short and punctuated by loud claps of thunder), read magazines, and find ways of sneaking in a dining-out date or a massage pretty often. It's not such a bad life, really.

Places in Northeast where I have recently dined:

The Modern Cafe - Really my number-one spot for daily dining. And Jim the owner gives me the horn!
Mayslacks Bar and Grill - "Nobody beats Mayslacks' meat!" What else is there to say?
The Sample Room - A little bit hyped, but on the river and very nice.
Origami - Best. Sushi. Ever. But they stopped using the hot "finger towels", which is a bummer.
Perkins Restaurant. Yeah, well. The kid likes it, which is important.
LouAnn's Diner. Unremarkable in every way, but I had gift certificates.
Psycho Suzi's - My favorite bar, and the pizza's not bad either.
Elsie's Dining and Bowling Lounge - They serve everything, and it ain't half bad. The taps are good, the mixed drinks are cheap but weak. Which is fine, when you're bowling.
Plus drinks at the bar at Hell's Kitchen(though that's downtown).

Now, ask me what I spend all my money on.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

a link-heavy tribute

Oh, it's a great big world out there... full of great big people, and some little ones, and lots in between.

Look! Here's Wendy B in hot pink two-tone Versace, celebrating her love for Mr B and remarkably, possessing the shoes to go with it. How does she get the wind to blow her hair around so artfully for the camera?! And she has a little dog in tow (the one on the left) who reminds me of "Gizmo", our neighbor Juan's equally electric pup. (Juan and Camela are heading back to Long Beach to take care of Juan's ailing mom at the end of the year. I'll miss them, partly because my son is infatuated with Gizmo and partly because these two Angelinos had never even SEEN snow before they landed in our neighborhood! We caught nearly 24 inches of the white stuff at one point last winter, and Juan came over to ask "Is this NORMAL? I mean, is this okay?" He looked concerned. I love those two. I'll have to bake them a Tres Leches cake before they go.)

I had breakfast yesterday with Aneesa, who is a public school teacher moonlighting as an activist for ISAIAH, and she gave me the lowdown on our local efforts in transportation and social justice. Since my years with BikeAthens down in GA I've kept a small fire burning brightly in my heart for the needs of folks who can't or don't drive (two-thirds of the American populace in fact, including moi.) Aneesa is an inspiration; between her and the wild rice pancakes with strawberries served me at the Mill City Cafe, I walked away energized towards use of our new community center as a locus for empowering community dialogue around transit, jobs and the local economy.

And finally, I took my scruffy long-suffering self out to drinks with friend JH tonight, and we tried the new Asian/fusion place (if that's what you call it), Ginger Hop, just down the road from the new Grace Center. We talked about everything, which was a relief. He had a couple Eye Candy martinis, I experimented with the Caipirhini before reverting to Mohitos -- and we walked along the Mississippi a little while before ducking into the Aster Cafe to enjoy a glass of Bells. I'm still a little buzzed. Some people are just so funny and smart -- I'm lucky to know the fine folks I do, and to blog with them too. (See the Song of the Day blog at the sidebar).

And yesterday I had a massage and a little energy work with my friend Sally. Thank God for massage. If it weren't for Sally I think I would have lost my mind months ago.

So how can I feel blue for long, when I know such wonderful people? Thanks all!

Friday, July 23, 2010

I should be in bed

But if I stay up a little longer I'll be hungry again; and then I can drink some more too. What a fucker of a week. My word.

Good thing I have Wendy Brandes to cheer me up. Not only is she a babe, with fashion tastes both informed and adventurous, but her very existence completely absolves me of the guilt I feel when I look at the number of shoes I own. (Wish I could afford more of WB's jewelry designs, but that's not her fault). Wendy B must have a big room for her outfits, which is nothing to be ashamed of; she applies her conscience to bigger problems it would seem. My heart is warmed by the sight of her in mile-wide sailor pants, or silver sequined sneakers, or anything Versace. Thanks Wendy! Oh, by the way you can find Wendy's blog on the sidebar or catch her act on Facebook here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Posting with Toni

"Vince dint tell me his bidness til they got him put away." This from the mother of a three year old, laughing with another man on the bus who apparently knows Vince (but hasn't seen him recently). Vince writes though, evidenced by the letter in the girl's hand. "You visit him?" Asks the friend. "Much as I can" she says.

Things could be worse.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Sunday, July 18, 2010

ending? beginning?

What happens now?
I spent an hour watching my kid frolic in the local wading pool this afternoon, and thought about that. Though first what I asked myself was, Why?

As of this morning, it looks like we have truly bought a building -- we're building a community center. It's mostly clean, the air conditioning is almost up and running, and if I'm lucky I will soon have access to phone and data ports. Nevermind the two weeks I've spent running back and forth between the new building and my old office -- this morning, the church held its first worship service in the multi-purpose "cafeteria" space, and it felt okay. It felt like a place we could get used to, while the new sanctuary is being constructed in the center of the building.

The process has entailed so much work, so much sacrifice in one sense or another, and no small amount of contention -- plus, the gradual wearying of seemingly every one of the church's regular volunteers. Fortunately we have many community partners in some have pitched in, here and there, to help us along the way. This week, like many others, felt like a seven-day week. Yesterday I put in another 6 hours helping with final preparations, and towards the end it was just the boss and I, moving the font, the communion table and the lectern. Hymnals, a large icon, other necessary articles. I left, feeling guilty, at around 5pm; at 9pm he was still at it, trying to get things just right. He did a certain amount of the hard work all alone in that big building; and it was his vision, really, from the start, that got us there.

Why have I worked so hard towards this end, worked almost as hard as he has? He might have seen it clearly as an attainable vision, all along; but I didn't really feel a firm conviction until we got the financing just six months ago. The year-long process before that entailed months of anomie and disheartening uncertainty, waiting and wrangling over the theoretical, trying and being rejected by one bank after another, arguing with the school district (who sold us the building) about whether we had the right to choose our own tenant partners, competing against local political interests and gentrification schemes in order to realize a dream of community empowerment and fellowship. 19 months.

I don't know what it means, really, to do something for "the glory of God." And to be honest, my motivations for continuing along this road after three years of highly changeable church employment, plus another 19 months of utterly nerve-rending transformation and effort, have changed and morphed again and again. Certainly faith has played a part; so has loyalty. And persistence -- I'm no quitter, I'm too proud to admit defeat, though the urge to cut and run has come and gone multiple times. I worked my ass off, like a woman who has the courage of her convictions. And I do believe in the vision itself. But as often I have simply followed along, have trailed along in the wake of something, someone, more clear and sure than I.

And now there it stands. Someone else's dream, made my own and well on its way to being not only a concrete reality (as now) but a realized quest. There was something more that I wanted, I realize now, and I'm not sure whether it will materialize. I've had about all the acknowledgement I'm entitled to, it's not that. What comes next? Lots of practical tasks, the list is long. Somehow it seems I still need to find the apex of this process, need to define that for myself whatever it may be...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Captain Crack with CrackBerries

I bought a BlackBerry 9700, in Flash White with all the trimmings, and now I can't put that sucker down.
I met a friend at a bar recently, and he showed me his iPhone. This unfortunate soul has lost his BlackBerry (or his kid lost it for him), and had his laptop stolen the same week. And he thinks it's pretty funny (which I suppose it is) that he, the "not artistic" one, should be so turned on by the "intuitive" and very visual iPhone; while I, the artistic and not consistently tech-friendly one, should be growing hair on my palms over the BlackBerry. But it's a God-send, if I can use that phrase in all seriousness. It keeps me from having to carry my laptop in many ways, particularly right now as I'm bouncing between two or more work locations daily.

I love that I can see all my messages and email and notifications all at once (though I turned off lots of the bells.) I love that it has touchpad navigation. I love that it is NOT a touch-screen device, because there's something uncomfortable for me about smearing my finger grease all over a screen or a piece of glass. (Bad enough that the CrackBerry gets all smeary after I use the phone.) I love that the sound actually WORKS and I can HEAR outdoors (unlike the TMobile Dash, which led me to seriously reduce the number of minutes I need on my plan.) And did I mention that it's pretty pretty?

If only it had a vibrator attachment.
I'm kidding guys.
I'm giving it a name... because I love it so. Like I named my bike.
I'm calling it "Toni," and ditching the CrunchBerries reference; think "the Captain and Tenille", and white polyester, and eighties hair. AWESOME. Tee hee.
Hey, I have an idea.
Let's just assume that everything you read here is possibly true, possibly confessional, but probably obfuscatory in some way. I mean, let's face it -- sooner or later, every blog I've ever written has been tanked because someone I know has read it and gotten royally pissed off. This one has gone on quite a while, compared to the others. But nothing I write here will be completely frank, because y'all just do not know what to do with the information. That said, I love you.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Well. The weekend is a collage of images -- sun-showers, fresh vegetables from the farmers' market at our food shelf, the bar at Hell's Kitchen (no relation to the tv show), rosemary potatoes at our friends' place, a broken bowl, the garden and patio, boys chasing each other with the sprinkler, rainier cherries, fans and a hangover in church, a lawn mower, a long walk... lots of socializing this weekend, and lots of motion, and too much wine.

It's what I wanted. The amount of work to be managed this week is still a hand-wringing prospect, but at least I got some real sleep last night. I went to bed early, found later on that my son had crawled into bed with me. He slept soundly for a change, and only rain blown in through the window was sufficient to pull me away from sleep for a few moments.

I had my hair colored this week -- an unnatural shade of red (on me that is), but I wanted something different -- maybe red because I need more energy, need to be brave if not brazen, and don't need as much approval from others right now as I usually do. Not that anyone has given me the thumbs-down (though there are some strong feelings about how I look, around here, and I suspect a couple people don't care for it). Change is hard for some people -- maybe I chose red because it's all about change, lately, and I want to "be" the change rather than hide from it.

I had to go downtown this weekend to do some printing, and wound up meeting a friend there for drinks, just for a little while. Crossing a busy intersection I glanced up, and did a double-take -- a skyscraper-high tsunami had crested over the skyline, and the whitecap at the top of the wave was just beginning to curl over -- I could see it frozen there between two buildings, like a scene from a B movie. Lots of crazy clouds this weekend, changeful weather.

I saw cops slapping the cuffs on a shoplifter. Saw a woman whose artwork I used to represent, riding the bus in her wheelchair and sporting a leg cast. Saw my son laughing, and crying, several times. I lost a couple of hours to sheer drunkenness, and acquired a couple bruises whose origins I can't recall. I shopped for tea, and watched my son carefully pick apart and eat a huge quantity of fresh peas. Cleaned, prayed, loved.

Monday, July 5, 2010

on being sent

You must rely on the people to whom you are sent, to provide you with food, shelter; we can't share the love of Christ alone. I'm paraphrasing here, both the apostle Paul in Galatians and the sermon this past Sunday. We have been sent. How will we be received? We don't know. What does it mean to be received? Received by whom? -- By those to whom we are sent -- our neighbors. Who is our neighbor? It's the question I asked last week, the question of this week's Gospel of the "Good Samaritan." It's the question behind the strange, wonderful, sometimes painful journey we are on (we the church) - Are we being sent? Assume we are (even if you have trouble believing it), how will we be received?

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem. Well, I would say from personal experience that we certainly have been tested on this journey, by lawyers -- and by realtors -- and tested too by bankers, by politicians, by bureaucrats. We have been on the road for four years, I sometimes think -- the entire time I have been associated with this church -- we have been sent out together, as Pastor Craig said, and not alone, but we've been on the road. Again and again some new figure has appeared along the way to teach us the law, to test us according to the law. At times I've felt we weren't so much journeying as merely limping along, exhausted, sick at heart, and I've wondered who would have mercy on us -- who would take us in and accept our mission? Who would receive us? Who would be our neighbor?

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers. They stole his clothes and everything he carried, and left him for dead, naked and bloody, by the side of the road. A busy road, as it turns out -- both a priest and a Levite passed by, and seeing the poor man's trouble, took care to cross to the other side of the road in case the trouble was contagious. But a man of Samaria had mercy on the victim, and took him in and provided for him.

The priest and the Levite, like the lawyer, had their reasons. They had that internal conversation -- what should I do? Is this man my neighbor, should I help him? Should I stay away, mind my own business, protect myself in case the robbers are still lurking nearby? Should I wait and see? Perhaps if someone stronger and braver than I shows up to help the naked man then I will help him too -- perhaps if someone with more resources than I shows the robbed man mercy, then I will know that this is the appropriate action, and I'll help him too. Jesus, tell me who is my neighbor.

I know a few wonderful lawyers, wonderful people who know the law, who are helpful and kind. I'm more skeptical of realtors, but only because one of my best friends was a realtor. I don't know any bankers really, and I wish I did. I was angry, for a while, when we the church were struggling to understand the road before us and to find our way -- through painful staffing cuts, through trying internal conflicts, through the gradual disintegration of comforting routines, through rejections and failures of every kind. I thought that if we could get the right advice, if we could get the loan, if someone would just see and believe in what we were trying to do -- if they'd receive us with open arms, show us mercy -- then everything would be alright.

It seemed to take an awfully long time, mostly because of the law -- we weren't being rejected personally, oh no, but by the lending climate, the real estate market, the political landscape in good ol' Northeast. It seemed certain that eventually we WOULD reach Jericho -- but whether we'd make it on foot or in a wheelbarrow was a real question for a while there.

We were sent to Jericho. We were on the road. We are on the road. Maybe Grace Center is our Jericho, and once we settle in then we get to decide how to be the Good Samaritans, how to best love our God and our neighbors. But we are on the road with them, with those neighbors, at the same time -- we are naked, we are hungry, we are bloodied by all that we have lost. We rejoice in each other; we aren't alone.

Friday, July 2, 2010


We opened the food shelf at the new location this morning. Picked up a few more donations and finished stocking, helped a good number of households, enjoyed the wide-open service space and the good lighting, the proximity of the kitchen and the easy-to-manage entry. Thank you God. We're still a little disorganized, but we'll work it out. Time to call the Metro Lutheran back now, and tell them whatever it is they want to know... !