Thursday, July 28, 2011

Of Birds & Men

Check out the lapel on Sears JR Bazaar shirt from
Area 58 on Monroe.

The guy behind me in the big, black truck flipped the bird.
I was meekly merging onto the Maple Street Bridge. I know it's fuel-efficient to speed up and join the flow. 
But unlike Interstate on-ramps, which offer you a little teaser lane from which to find your way way, this ramp ends in a yield sign. There’s not room for error and the traffic was, well, not bumper to bumper, but heavy. I was lame. I stopped and waited for a hole.
So, when Big, Black Pickup marshaled the rhetorical power of his middle finger, my strongest desire was to flip one right back. Experience has taught me to hesitate (for example, the person who honks at you while you’re running and nearly causes you to shart yourself could well be someone from work or who knows your grandmother. The honker may think they're being friendly, even funny). 
I also considered an alternate reading: this chap with the pickup was flipping off traffic in general, not me in particular. F*&^ you, Maple Street bridge! Up yours, enchanting summer sunshine!
And then I remembered that there’s nothing special about returning anger with anger. Permit me a little Jesus talk (this summer I've been revising essays about my evangelical upbringing, after all). The New Testament upends that eye-for-an-eye, bird-for-a-bird cycle. What’s the point of church or prayer or scripture if it doesn’t increase one's capacity for love or peace? 
Reader, I didn’t flip the bird. I entered traffic as soon as I could, and then hauled ass so that guy couldn’t catch up with me (to flee temptation, of course).
In spite of this stray bird incident, I had a fantastic summer evening. I was crossing the bridge, after all, to meet my friend Janine for a nine-mile run around Bowl & Pitcher, an especially scenic part of Riverside State Park. I’m usually a pavement girl, but I’m learning to love trails. You have to negotiate rocks but not much traffic, save the occasional biker or runner. We were only two or three yards from the Spokane River, in the shade and that sun-warmed pine needle smell I associate with campgrounds (did I mention it's a campground?). We also passed an artillery range across the river. I asked Janine if she was nervous, and she said no way, so I trusted that and kept running.

Without a proper segue, allow me to say that I like the vision of my new shirt from Area 58 on Monroe. And that store: what a treat! It lives up to its marquee promise to showcase “the old and the odd.” It was like walking around in a roadside museum where you were allowed to rifle through the stuff.
The print on the shirt makes me hum “Shiny Happy People.” (For readers 30 or older, you may also think, like I did, of Hands Across America).
I’ve mostly purged my wardrobe of polyester and wide lapels. Retro for me now means more MadMen aspirations. Pencil or pleated skirts, things that affirm I have a waistline. If this sounds vain, well, yes, my vanity is bottomless (let's address this another time, eh?) 
Suffice it to say that I shuffled through high school and college draped in gigantic jeans, baggy blouses, and flannel shirts (many borrowed from my dad). I bought a purple cotton muumuu at a consignment store because I loved its bright flower embroidery. I had no compunction about wearing birks or clogs with dresses. Most of my shirts had hoods. I was no stranger to the poncho. (Be gentle. This was the 90s. Notice there are no pictures in this section). 
This new-to-me Sears shirt from Area 58 doesn’t identify its fabric. It must be synthetic, but it’s light (not like those thick floral hippie shirts I wore that were as breathable as a good patio tablecloth). It’s cut well, to avoid that curse of shorter shirts: The Box. 
And, it has a moral.
Next time I’m tempted to return an unfriendly gesture, I’ll think of this pattern. Let the circle, or the stripe, be unbroken! You, the insecure man in the giant truck, we are all part of the same family. Come, clasp hands! 
Notice (that photo feels really far away now) that the shirt repeats a figure wearing a killer headdress and a blue jumpsuit with shoulder pads. Nothing says peace quite like that. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Getting My Kicks

Who do I think I am, standing on my roof in new-to-me boots?
The West is the best (for boots). 
After five years in Utah and almost a year in eastern Washington, I’ve been stamped by the American West in a new way. 
I’ve extolled the vibe and selection of Spokane’s Fringe & Fray in earlier posts, and when I stopped in last week, tall boots stopped me in my tracks.
One of the advantages of buying local, they say, is a personal connection with the maker or seller. And it’s true! Grace, the store's proprietor, knows I have a soft spot for stripes and dots. She knows I need big shoes. I tried on two pairs of boots (men’s boots, but a close enough fit) in versatile black leather with fun stitching. 
This was coming full circle. I'd tried on some boots at Fringe & Fray earlier this summer. Thus my bootlust was born.
I became a different person, stalking Sierra Trading Post’s web site. My lust was so bad I considered backsliding on my rule: I have to love, not just like, the clothes, and they have to love me back. There I was, wobbling around in some weary caramel so-so looking boots at Value Village, surfing on someone else’s serious pronation, on the verge of taking them home. I tiptoed around in a polka dot size 9 ½ pair of boots at Nordstrom rack, fooling no one but myself that my feet would be fine once these elf-size kicks were broken in. This was serious. 
Imagine my delight last week when the taller black boots fit great, as though they'd been waiting for me. Grace cautioned that this might be my gateway pair of boots. I'm willing to chance it.
While I was in Europe a few weeks ago, I browsed many sundresses and sandals, but I couldn’t buy them. I was traveling light and also the season to wear that stuff here in Spokane is short. I can’t justify many tank tops. I can, however, make ample room for coats, woolens, and boots.  
I wore my new boots with a pinstripe Banana Republic cotton skirt to church on Sunday and felt my toughness go up by several points. Come fall, those freshmen had better check themselves.

Friday, July 15, 2011

New essay in Tampa Review

I'm delighted to have an essay afloat in Tampa Review issue #41:
A few summers ago my intrepid Peace Corps friend Elaine traveled with me to Romania to gawk at the Bukovina monasteries. Confusion, pine trees, false cognates, and a measure of insight were experienced.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Room Full of Naked Women (Euro Vision Part I)

“Forgive the analogy,” my landlord said, “but it’s like being in a room full of beautiful naked women.”
A daffy, middle-aged sailing bum, he stood next to the washing machine, chatting with me about Europe. I've just returned from a four-cities-in-two weeks blitz with my kid brother.
The daycare near our hostel
in Paris showcased an awesome
animal jam band.
My first thought was that the naked ladies analogy was kind of weird, given my landlord’s rhetorical situation. But I also saw where he was coming from. So much to look at, and in such a short time.
Given the number of art museums in Europe and the ample representation of nudes alongside waterlilies, self-portraits, and fruit, "a room full of naked women" is a handy metonymical tag for the place.
I know in my last post I promised tales of secondhand Paris fashion. Alas, the exchange rate crushed me, and the vintage boutiques were beyond the reach of my experience except as small museums. 
I'm not sure what's so risque about this
dry cleaner's but I can't resist a
provocative awning.
There was so much to look at on this trip. And a feast for the other senses, too. If I hadn't forgotten my audio recorder in the luggage room on our first day in Paris, I might have recorded: men (only men) jangling half moons of tiny Eiffel Tower keyrings like tambourines, a pack of orange-brown windup dogs barking on a blanket near the Seine, a 7-piece band playing "If I Were A Rich Man" in a metro tunnel, a busker on Champ-Elysees with quite a crowd for his Phil Collins/Sting medley, giggly field trip kids everywhere.
If I had a smell recorder, I would have saved the bakery and the little fish market near our hostel and the lavender at the Jardin des Tuileries near the Place de la Concorde.
Even though three or four days are far too quick a stay to exhaust a city, this trip gave my travel muscles a serious workout. (Travel, like flirting--and here’s my own questionable laundry-room analogy--is a muscle, with the same use-it-or-lose-it urgency). When not drinking espresso, I was reading maps; speaking embarrassed monkey language in the stead of foreign language proficiency; chanting “easygoing and joyful” to myself when the museum/church was closed/hard to find/crowded; shrugging off idiot taxes like the unforeseen extra charge to sit outside in a cafĂ©; celebrating the small victories of finding a laundromat and achieving clean clothes.
One more analogy (why not): As soon as I finished my first marathon a few years ago, I had the  following thoughts: where are the bagels, that was a crazy experience, and I want to run another one.
Now that I’m home, unpacking, sorting photos, and trying to reacquaint myself with the notion of work, I’m already looking at the calendar for my upcoming breaks. Already I’m making a wish list of guidebooks, angling for the next trip. Someday I'll be one buff traveler.
Who can resist a shot of the Eiffel by night? Emerging from
the metro earlier that morning, I smelled croissants and saw the tippy top of the
Tower in the same moment. Instant Paris!