Category Archives: Relationships

The Information Collector

There’s a down-side to being an open-minded, non-judgmental single gal: you end up in some random-ass social situations, embroiled in conversations which include “Wanna go skydiving? Tomorrow?”

Not that there’s anything wrong with skydiving, so far as I can tell (there’s that sunny disposition again), but as I take a sip of my beer, the guy next to me continues. He sees I’m not sold on skydiving within the next 12 hours, so he effuses about his other three favorite pastimes: riding his Chopper; driving on the beach with his Rottweiler, Cujo, whose never-ending string of drool is captured in an iPhone album through various Instagram settings—look! Here he is with a beer cozy!; and perpetually working on his Scout while fashioning a sidecar for Cujo so he, too, can experience the glory of the Chopper as it revs down Front Street in Wilmington.  Read more…

Love Knows No Mapquest

These are not Internet love stories, or tales of arranged matches. These are tales of soulmates finding each other the old-fashioned way, by living their lives and leaving the rest to fate.

Eric and Gretchen Kozen

The Scene: Oakdale Cemetery, June 25, 2004.

A long overdue ceremony to mark Grave No. 5, Row No. 8 and honor Sgt. Broughton, Union soldier, 2nd West Virginia Cavalry, who died April 10, 1865. Gretchen is Sgt. Broughtons second great-niece. Shes flown in from Pennsylvania for a beach vacation and this ancestral gathering. Shes holding a box of handwritten letters from Sgt. Broughton to his mother and family, dated 1862-1865. Eric is the superintendant of Oakdale Cemetery and has outdone himself to give Sgt. Broughton a proper burial. And hes helping Gretchen maneuver the video camera.

He: OK, Ill tell the story.

She: And Ill provide the colorful commentary.

He: So, I get a call in January 2004, from a gentleman named Carl. He tells me hes doing some genealogy research and that one of his ancestors is a Union soldier. I tell him Im really sorry, hes not here; the Union soldiers bodies had been moved to the National Cemetery. I even call over there, but, unfortunately, they have no record of him. Then Carl tells me he has proof of his relative being buried in Oakdale Cemetery, a handwritten postcard with a picture: Sgt. Broughton Grave No. 5, Row No. 8, buried April 10, 1865. So, we fill out the form for a Veterans Monument and I tell Carl Ill call him as soon as it comes in. Carl calls me probably ten times in the next four weeks and finally it arrives. And I assume thats the end of it. Nope.

Carl calls a few days later and says, Id like to do a family-reunion ceremony, bring in ancestors from England, relatives So I get a bagpiper who plays Amazing Grace, the preacher finds a bible from 1865, we bring in the Daughters of the Confederacy

WBM: For a Union soldier?

She: Oh sure. If they can put on a hoop skirt, and go to a funeral, theyll do it!  Read more….

Behavioral Issues

 

Last winter, I started going to the climbing gym in the mornings.  And by mornings I mean around 11.  My freshman year in college, I judged a class’ merit by its starting time: I majored in whatever subject started at noon. In the same spirit, starting my freelance day a little later suits my natural body clock—and it also allows for free-range of the climbing wall, which is virtually empty before the lunch-hour.

Bouldering problems are marked by colored tape next to each hand and foothold sequence, and it’s significant that they’re problems, not solutions.  In bouldering, there’s a built-in expectation of failure: if at first you succeed—well then, it was just too easy.  Now go find bigger problems!

And therein lies the beauty: you try to solve a problem, but it doesn’t work. So you need to get creative, and explore other solutions; you need to find a way to problem-solve.

I like bouldering to music, but unfortunately, the stereo isn’t always free.  Most mornings there are kids activities on the main floor adjacent to the wall, where gymnastics, yoga, and what I’ve come to call socialization classes are held throughout the day.

Tony, the kid’s instructor, always gives me a nod.  He knows I like to play music, so he lets me know if the stereo’s up for grabs: “Hey Jamie, why don’t you play us some music while we bounce around the room?” and twelve pairs of four-year-old eyes follow his gaze, expectantly, waiting for me to entertain them.

But most of the time, Tony plays his finely-tuned kids’ soundtrack, and I chalk up my hands to a steady stream of child-development background music.  There’s some decent stuff on there: Israel Kamakavivole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” some hip reggae for kids, and Jungle Book-sounding music, with a groovy back-beat.  And the kids remind me of Mogli from The Jungle Book, running around with messed-up hair and curious expressions, bewildered by the big space full of colors and mats and things to roll over and crawl under, and most importantly, full of other kids to interact with.

I smile at the music and the kids exploring their bright new world. A few minutes later, Tony gathers them in a circle to regroup and review group behavior tactics.  A little girl named Daia hasn’t said a word all morning; she’s not ready to talk in public—but she’s ready to use her voice. She points to a certain chair and starts to cry: slow and steady at first, then bringing it to a high-pitch wail, the kind that makes moms very sad and makes others struggling to get a good grip on a small, sharp climbing hold, decide it’s time for a breather.

“Daia?  Sweetie? What’s wrong?” says Tony. “You want to sit next to Arabelle? Well, let’s use our words,” he suggests.  “Come on Sweetie. Daia? Repeat after me: ‘Dan’….”

Daia chokes back a sob, and says nothing.

Her friend Arabelle looks at the chair in question, where a defiant-looking boy is seated.  Arabelle chimes in with Tony, channeling Daia’s voice like some sort of medium, or Daia ventriloquist: “Dan?”

“Would you please?” continues Tony.

“Would you please?” repeats Arabelle.

“Let me sit there??”

Daia sniffs, and waits. We all wait. No response from Dan—just a head shake and a grimace.

“O.K….well, looks like Dan doesn’t want to move,” says Tony, stating the obvious, for the record. “So now, we need to deal with this new reality.”

Suddenly, a voice pipes up from across the circle. “You can sit here, Daia,” says a little girl, a tentative smile on her face, gesturing to the empty seat next to her.

“There we go,” declares Tony.  “Problem solved.”

 

***

I’ve been eavesdropping from the bouldering mats, and I’m impressed:  Speak your truth. Ask for what you want. Register disappointment, readjust expectations—and then problem solve.

“Hey Tony,” I call out, across the gym: “I think I know a couple of adults who could take your class.  What’s the height limit?”

I get back on the wall and attempt the neon green traverse; I’m working on endurance today, concentrating on breathing and pacing myself and just staying on the wall for as long as possible.  Back on the floor, Tony’s motivating the troops for the next round of teamwork.  “Now remember what we say when we head on the trampoline,” he tells the class.

Their small voices grow loud, rising in unison, vocal chords resonating with the ancient wisdom.  “GIVE. KIDS.   SPACE!!”   They know this mantra well.

I shake my head, suddenly wishing someone else was here, so we could jointly process the greatness.  What a phenomenal life lesson, for all ages. How many arguments, bad moods, counter-productive conversations have been logged into the miscommunication record books, because one person needed space, and the other person wouldn’t give it?

 

* * *

 It’s been awhile, but I cringe, recalling some of my own spatial relations issues over the years.

He: I’m tired.

Me: Well, we need to talk!

Insert Yell for Talk, slam door.  Wait 45 seconds.

Knock on door; or open door and look around—depending on whose door’s whose.

Alternate Ending: Slam down the land-line. Feel superior.  Start to call back, then hang up and sit on hands. Congratulate self on self-control.

Call back 11 seconds later and let it ring.  Still ringing.

A friend of mine once told me he really loves his girlfriend; but she never lets him just feel what he’s feeling.  If he’s mad, or sad, she pushes him to get over it.  He said it really bothers him.  He said he won’t marry her because of it.

Personally, I’ve learned “I don’t want to talk right now” usually means “I don’t want to talk right now,” and counting to ten in separate corners of the playground really means giving the other kid space.

 

* * *

Over at the trampoline, Daia’s calmed down. She’s still not talking, but her high-pitched squeals are now of delight, not angst. Tony is calling out other things for kids to keep in mind. Help others! Share! Be POLITE!

Be polite. I stretch my sore fingers, and think of an incident during a recent trip to Fiji.  There were four of us crossing the international dateline: my two best friends, Heidi and Sarah, myself, and one of Heidi’s work friends, the Wild Card, who vaguely resembled Naomi Campbell, and subsequently acted like a supermodel.  Enter hormones, colossal fatigue and five days of torrential tropical rain.  Patience had worn wafer-thin, and our coping skills had all but disappeared.

One rainy afternoon, an expat invited us for spontaneous cocktails at sunset, but we’d already made plans for the trek to town for Friday night festivities.  In Fiji, heading to town involved multiple bouts of public transportation and promised to take most of the afternoon—and so, on behalf of the group, I politely declined the invitation, asking the man for a “rain check,” instead.  We both laughed at the ample opportunity for a rain check in a tropical rainforest, and he sent us on our way with a pat on the back, and a chuckle, wishing the “Colorado ladies” a “very dry evening.”

The four of us piled into a taxi, my friends and I crammed into the backseat, while Wild Card stretched out up front, the only seat she deigned to occupy.

“That was so rude, Jamie,” she said, craning around the headrest to glare at me.

“Excuse me??” I countered, leaning forward into the hostile air space between us.

“Yeah, it was. In fact, you’re the rudest person I’ve ever met,” she declared, eyes flashing below overly-sculpted eyebrows.

“Whoa” said my friend Sarah, with a slight cough, trying to still the escalating emotional tide. “Now that doesn’t sound right.”

Fast-forward to total behavioral meltdown, heated talk of new lodging arrangements and parting of ways and finally, upon my suggestion, a group conference in the living room, Real World-style.

In this case “giving each other space” wasn’t the answer; I think we actually needed an escalation. Because the old way of doing things wasn’t working, and it was time to face the new reality: Wild Card and I were two totally different types of women—and we weren’t getting along.   However, the old reality was still in effect: we were on a group vacation on the other side of the world, down several dirt roads and five days into a 15-day excursion. We had to find a different way to deal with each other.

To my astonishment, Wild Card apologized—twice, in fact, saying “You know, I just say what’s on my mind. Sometimes I don’t think!” I listened without interrupting, begrudgingly admiring her self-awareness, impressed by her ability to take responsibility.

Our anger cooled. The rain stopped. We put on dresses, and went out drinking.

And she and I actually enjoyed each other the rest of the time.   For her high-maintenance looks and uncanny knack for taking over the front seat, Wild Card had a surprisingly pliable travel persona.  She’d throw her perfectly ironed hair into a baseball hat and come kayaking; when the first shuttle was full, she opted to walk back in the mud.  Our last night as a group we decided to splurge, and end our trip on a four-star, air-conditioned note, and we stayed at the Hilton; Sarah and Heidi left the next morning, while Wild Card and I flew out a day later.  We were last seen laughing, just the two of us, toasting the end of the Fiji chapter at the underwater bar.  We took the same flight to Australia, navigating through customs – and customs detainment – like good travel partners.  We shared a taxi through the streets of Sydney to her friend’s flat, before finally parting ways.

The taxi continued on to my own friend’s flat and for the first time in weeks, I was on my own.  I took a deep breath, and sighed.   The driver pulled in for petrol, and I asked if I might sit up front.  Then I thought of Wild Card, and laughed; she’d ridden in the back this time. And I sort of missed her already.

* * *

I hop back on the climbing wall, refocusing on today’s bouldering problem: yellow tape with blue stars, and long reaches for my short arms between almost every move.  I glance over at the kids. Tony’s moved them beneath a giant rainbow-colored sail and I’m not sure what the lesson is now, because I can’t see them, can only make out the outline of their little selves crawling around under big sheets of fabric.

The mood in the room is optimistic, however.  It seems they’ve managed to maneuver the trampoline, without trampling on anyone’s fingers—or feelings.

 

 

Yard Sale in Green Fringe

I start the day early because I didn’t put a time on the signs.  I figure the sale will start when I’m ready to drag all my shit out and lay it across the lawn.  But I’m wrong.  The rummagers come early and while I’m partially set up by 8:15, one seriously- seasoned expert in the yard sale field starts rifling through the side of a black hefty bag still tied up in a knot.  “Help yourself,” I say, nodding toward the heap of god-knows-what.  Go on, find the hot ticket while I add some more sugar to my first cup of coffee.

The lawn is a nice shade of green across the big patch of space by the dumpster (above which, conveniently, I reside.)  The green leather rug, what I consider my prized possession for today’s pickings, looks rather camoflaged against the blades of grass, but the fringe is shaggy and erratic and makes an noticeable impression, kind of like green grass gone wild.   Still, I need to look closely to see where the grass ends and the shag begins so we put out a red construction paper sign: “Leather Rug, $20”.

And we start laying out our shit on top of it.

The thing about yard sales is, you never think your shit is actually shit.  You’ve worn it, read it, drunk great wine out if it, put it up on your walls for years and listened to it over and over.   My rogue friend Jonathan told me I should sell all the CDS for $15.99.  Plus tax.

As it turns out, whatever you’ve loved and valued isn’t worth much more than $2 to the general public.  Around 11:30, we decide it’s time to ramp up the snacks and beer portion of the promotion and Autumn goes to fetch margarita fixin’s and hang a couple more signs, just in case – in their mad dash to catch of glimpse of “live girls in bikinis” – our target demo’s taken a left, when they should’ve taken a right.

While she’s gone, a rather weathered, worn-in looking man ambles across the lawn.  “Hi there,” I say, with a smile.  ‘How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know, just seeing if you got anything I really need.”

“Well, this is America. You don’t really need anything, but maybe you’ll find something to brighten the day, ” I say, amiably.

He walks toward the table and chairs – yes! – and points to my friend’s faux-flower vase on top. It’s the kind that would sit nicely on a bedside table or a windowsill and a few wannabe-wildflowers are sticking out the wannabe-soil.

“How much you askin’ for that?”

I laugh.  “I think she’d be good with $2”.

He stares at it for awhile, then walks around the other side of the table.  He cocks his head, then squints,  apparently trying to size up the flowers from a different angle. “Huh.  I live in a studio.  I don’t know if I have room.”

I’m not sure how to respond to this quandry so for once in my life, I say nothing.  In truth, I’m not sure if it’s worth another sales pitch.

“You got any furniture?” he asks.  I bite my lip.  There may be no room for fake flowers but dammit, he might be able to squeeze in a loveseat! We walk upstairs and I show him the nice heavy over-stuffed loveseat.  He spreads out his arms, stretching them to the estimated width of the sofa and then carefully holds the tension, from elbow  to elbow, as we walk back downstairs.  “I’m gonna go measure my apartment and then I’ll come back with some money.”

“Great, we’ll be here!” I say and then I wave, hoping I can get him to wave back and lose his measurements – just for fun – but he holds his forearms taut and teeters down the sidewalk, all concentration.

About 10 minutes later he comes back, shaking out his wrists, arms once again at ease.   “Don’t think it’ll fit.”

The vase, or the loveseat?

“I’ll take the flowers though.”  He peels two one-dollar bills from his pocket and pauses, eyeing the flowers one more time, checking his measurements.  “Yeah, these’ll work.”

It was a big decision so I’m glad he took his time; there’s nothing worse than the feeling of regret over $2 ill-spent at a rummage sale.

***

I keep talking up the bookshelves, the table and chairs, the green leather rug but they were destined to become the main remains of the day.  For some reason, the bizarre random items – the pie plate, the fish coffee mug and the magic 8-ball (no surprise there, really) are quick sellers, along with a stack of salad plates that have become the apple of the neighborhood girls’ eye, which were snatched up like fresh-baked bread from an early morning, just-opened bakery.

I don’t want to drag everything upstairs at the end of the sale or, please no, haul it somewhere else to get rid of it, so it’s time to encourage any and all offers.  A little girl runs back and stares at the dishware, telling me she broke her plate.  Huh.  Well how bout you buy a headband and I’ll throw in another plate?

Autumn laughs but the little girl chews her lip, thinks, then nods in agreement.  I throw in another headband – Customer Appreciation Day on the lawn.

We both have tables, rugs, vases.  Hers go first, while mine watch with envy like red-headed stepfurniture as Cinderella tries on shoes.

Should we try again tomorrow?

A neighbor comes by to chat and asks about my 50+1 CD player and speakers, which have given me much pleasure and bass over the years.  He heads back to his place and then returns with a printer of his own.  He puts his box on the sidewalk not far from my own printer and catches a potential buyer’s eye.  The man walks away from my printer, moves towards his printer and hands the lawn-poacher a twenty.

Whoa!  Get your own yard sale, my friend.  No usurping my blades of grass, my hours of sign-hanging and strategically-worded facebook posts.

“You get half,” he tells me.

Good man.

We return to the topic of my stereo and he says he needs to make sure it works. “Oh, it works,”  I tell him.  I plug it into the outdoor outlet and wipe off the droplets of rain that have suddenly appeared. I grab Gladys Knight and the Pips and fast- forward to Track 5.  We waltz, dance, sway to Midnight Train to Georgia and I press the Groove On button.  The sidewalk shakes and Pips serenade the dumpster.

Sold, for $10.  Maybe my luck is changing.

Alas, the rain picks up and we ponder the potential damage to the cashmere sweater and the Miller Lite wife-beater (surprisingly still up for grabs) and the scantily-clad leather rug, now that the pie plate and the backpack and the stretchpants have been stripped from its surface.

A few minutes later, the sun comes back out and we sit down on the lawn to collect ourselves.   Suddenly, we’re exhausted.  Too much commotion, too much wheelin-and-dealin’ and really, too many margaritas too fast.  It’s been a long day of fending off street urchins trolling the salad plate section and honestly, we sort of don’t care anymore.  Or I should say, we care more about lying down in the sun.

I stretch out across the green leatherness while Autumn lies down on the hanging carry-on bag positioned between the Doc Martens and the martini shaker.  The sun sinks into our willing shoulders and at last, the bikini tops feel like a good idea.  We doze off and a perfect amount of peaceful time goes by.  I awake to the sound of birds and a cool breeze and an extremely sad sight: everything is still there.  Even the salad plates.

Autumn softly snores – it’s been that kind of day – and I look around, assessing the picked-over trappings of my life.  I consider making the street urchins a salad.

The Truth Behind Aspen’s New Year’s Resolutions

Someone dragged their Bowflex home gym down the stairs, onto the snow and out to the dumpster. A discouraging sight for the New Year’s Resolutions department, considering it’s only January 11. More optimistically, maybe Mr. Bowflex’ fitness goals include getting out onto the cross-country course and away from those “one machine, fit for life” infomercials?

Or is it a sign of the times? Have New Year’s Resolutions become a thing of the past, cultural lore, something to be humored but not honored? Do people really resolve to make a significant change and consciously commit to making it happen in 12 months.