Spirits Abroad

The funny thing is it felt like Halloween was coming, freak blizzard or not. I lay in our bed as the wind howled and slept not a wink all Saturday night. At one point, a picture in our bathroom suddenly jumped off the wall and crashed into the tub, its glass exploding all over. I turned on the lights and swept up every last shard, then went over the whole surface of the tub with a cotton ball moistened in Baby Oil just to be sure I got it all

I went to the guest bedroom then, hoping for better sleep- luck there but the wind howled even louder in that room and sleep eluded me. I stayed anyway and dreamed a waking dream of my sister Nan though, I swear I wasn’t asleep. I saw her dressed all in white, and young again, with her long thin track-star legs.

Were there spirits abroad as uneasy as the wind? Poltergeists even?  I lay there worrying, first about our one girl flying home from Italy in the midst of all this, then about our other girl and her family on their heavily wooded street they seemed sure to lose power in this freak October storm. I threw in worry over our boy in Brooklyn, up all night as I guessed, at that Halloween party he was having with his friends.

I startled into sharp awareness at 3:00, just in time to see the branches of my favorite tree break under the force of the wet snow and swoon down toward the ground.

When, two hours later, David and I woke for real, he said, “Did you set a mousetrap in the kitchen last night? Because I heard this loud SNAP! at one point.

“Nope,” I said and turned my head to look out the window. 

“Whoa there’s your mousetrap!” The light was still dim but I could see what had happened: the pane in the upper sash of our wiggly old window had cracked all over. My heart sank…. 

But then this amazing sun rose and the night had passed and we still had power, lucky us. The trees shook off the snow and I told myself “there are no spirits,” then stepped into my morning bath  –  and yelped as a fine needle of last night’s glass drove itself into the pincushion of my thigh.

A message from Beyond it might have been, saying “Child, you have NO idea what really moves the world.” And that I can well believe.

Not Exactly Princesses

Remember how boys used to just Trick or Treat as hobos in outsized jackets with coal smeared on their faces and pillowcases to stash the goodies in?  My sister Nan and I went out as hobos ourselves, but we weren’t your typical little girls. For one interesting period, she used a dead cat in an alley as a departure point for a whole series of lectures on decomposition and the Mortuary Arts. We’d visit that poor Flat Stanley of a thing the way pilgrims visit a shrine. We would have Trick-or-Treated carrying it around with us if we’d been just a little more daring.

But to get back to the customs regarding boys’ costumes:

Have they ever changed! These days males of every age are willing to don costumes as elaborate as the girls’. They’ll be going out dressed to the nines, as Transformers or Power Rangers, as classically tragic bad guys like Darth Vader, eyeless and wheezing inside his giant black helmet. Some may even show up as poor old Nixon in that hideous mask Christina Ricci wore in The Ice Storm’s middle school sex scene.

And the point will be what it’s always been: To startle. To counter expectation.

We had a good friend back in the day. Didn’t smoke. Didn’t drink. Took old bikes from the dump, fixed them up good as new and gave them to kids who didn’t have bikes. On the Halloween immediately following some madman’s murder of several people by slipping poison into some Tylenol bottles, this friend took his kids around for Trick or Treat, himself dressed as…..a giant Tylenol capsule. He was actually surprised when another dad offered to punch his lights out.

THAT escapade countered all our expectations.

Partying indoors on Halloween will of course reduce your chance of getting punched – and you can still surprise your friends, as when the dedicated beer guzzler comes as a Mormon elder, or the biggest Don Juan in the group comes as the Pope.

I never went in for a super-girlie look; never wore makeup. But for one Halloween party we threw, I came as Cher, in heavy mascara, a leopard skin body-stocking and a giant wig exploding in cascades of inky curls. I looked ridiculous. It was great. And Old Dave dressed like Sonny and looked even better in a peasant shirt, baggy harem pants and a Prince Valiant wig. He actually looked more like the early John Denver, or Moe of Three Stooges than either of those two, but still – he SEEMED to himself as Sonny Bono.

And that’s the fun of Halloween, getting to seem like someone else for a while.

Maybe I’ll dress up myself tomorrow night. I like this costume quite a bit. And what’s nicer than dining out on one of your major holidays?

Now let’s watch that cute pumpkin video from Google and all turn to each other and yell “Happy Spooky Day!” (And I’ll just run and get that cat. 🙂 )




Rights and Privileges

Here’s what almost happened to us yesterday, a day so clear the local Chamber of Commerce could have taken a picture and used it for a postcard.

David and I were in the car,  happy and talking, as he rounded the corner just a half a mile from our house.  That’s when the truck from a side street pulled out into the oncoming lane – only he swung too wide, jumped the yellow line and was heading straight  for us.  David swerved sharply, pulling us out if his path. We just had time to see the look of sheer terror on his face as he rocketed on past.

He did not hit us, though it occurred to me that if he had, we would have fit  what the statistics show to be the classic profile for your typical motor vehicle accident: Broad daylight. Dry pavement. Less than five miles from home. 

He did not hit us.

But if he had hit us and if David had been grievously injured and lay unconscious at the hospital, as his wife I would be instantly recognized as his next of kin and been granted all the right and privileges  pertaining thereunto.

But this post isn’t about a near-miss car accident.

This post is about marriage and how unfair it surely does seem to me that same-sex couples in the vast majority of these 50  states are denied the right to marry.

I won’t go on here but will  just invite you instead to click on the ‘Play’ icon below and see how you feel when watch these couples in Asheville North Carolina being turned away, however kindly, when they come to the  Buncombe County Register of Deeds office to ask for a marriage license. 

It’s true this was an intentional gathering and that they knew there would be cameras. But just note the quickly suppressed expressions of sorrow on their faces when that “not you!” judgment is once again made about them. Just look and listen, especially to the voice of the woman in her mid-60s.

 I expected to feel only anger at the inequity of these laws watching this video.  Instead, I found myself sobbing:

In Pustules and in Health

Here’s more about the body, this time about the body when it’s ailing:  One of our honorary kids called me from school once to see if I could bring him to the pediatric practice that oversaw his care. He said he had a rash that was just tormenting him and the school nurse was stumped.

“She had no idea what it was,” he told me when I picked him up at 2:30. “She said, ‘Well, this one on your neck could be a bug bite, and this place on your arm could be heat rash, and this on your foot could be irritation from your shoes. I thought how likely is it that it’s three separate things?’”

When he first phoned me I had asked him to call the pediatrician’s office to see if they could fit us in.  But oops he didn’t do that, as he told me while we were pulling into the parking lot of the medical building. Thus did we present ourselves, all unexpected, at the receptionist’s desk.

“Can I help you?” she greeted us pleasantly. 

“I have this rash,” said the teen, holding his arms out for inspection. She glanced over at me.

“And … you have an appointment?”

“No, actually,” I stammered. “We just thought it might be as easy to make the appointment in person as over the phone.” 

She looked at the two of us,  one blooming in pustules and the other feebly smiling. She looked down at her book.

‘I can fit you in at 6:45,” she said.

It was 3:15.

I didn’t know what to say to that. Could the boy miss practice? Miss dinner? I wasn’t sure I could really make that call. And the boy himself went totally mute.

“So … you’ll come back?” she asked, but still we just looked at her, buffaloed.

“Okay, well how about this? How about I write you in for 6:45 and you can also wait here now, in case something opens up in the next 40 minutes. Do you want to take that chance?”

We nodded gratefully. And sure enough, in 10 minutes’ time, his name was called and seven minutes after that he had been diagnosed with a fine case of poison ivy and sent on his way with the name of the magical relief-bringing cream.

I think of all this now because I’ve recently been speaking with an RN friend  who was advising me how to help someone in my family get an appointment with her own doctor sooner rather than later.

“Tell him to be very pleasant when he calls but also to say he needs to be seen. Then, if he goes in there, he should be even more pleasant and wait patiently until someone can speak with him.”

Amazing huh? So maybe you really can just show up and stand there with your foolish smile in hopes that they’ll work you in.  But if they do  – IF THEY DO – it won’t be because you were just that nervy but because they were just that nice. And I wouldn’t try this very often either.

Whose Body Is This?

When Our Bodies Ourselves first appeared in Boston as a stapled-together pamphlet in 1969 it was hard to find reliable information about birth control. Why? Because thanks to the Crimes against chastity law, the distribution of contraceptives by anyone other than a doctor to anyone other than a married person was illegal, even in the now-progressive state of Massachusetts.

I don’t mean abortion; I mean birth control.

This man, Bill Baird, was arrested at Boston University when after addressing an overflow audience of 2500 he gave a condom and a package of  contraceptive foam to an unmarried undergraduate woman. 

Arrested. Hauled off to jail and held there for months.

This was in 1967.

The law was still unchanged  in the summer of ‘69 when the women of the Boston Women’s Health Collective were writing this pamphlet that would become a book. 250,000 copies of it sold in the first year, mostly thanks to word of mouth.

I was about to enter my senior year in college in the summer of ’69. The summer before that, I had fallen in love with a boy named David. We had told our families that we’d be marrying as soon as I graduated. I was 19-and-a-half. I didn’t know much, but I knew I needed a prescription for the Pill.

But how would I get such a thing? Especially on the serene and cerebral  campus of  my women’s college? Lucky for me that college was Smith College, that drew from every state in the union,  and the roommate I’d had freshman year was from the sunny sane west. A citizen of the world from Aspen Colorado, she knew a lot more than I did.  “Call the Infirmary and tell then you have to see a doctor.” she said. “Say ‘I’m thinking of becoming sexually active and I need protection.’”

But could it BE that easy? Could I just say that to some stranger, just as if I had a right to ask such a thing?  It could and I did. I said what she told me to say and just like that I was protected until the time of my marriage and for half a dozen years afterward, until this David and I welcomed our first baby and thus began upon the joyful chapter of life that brought us three kids of our own and the opportunity to welcome and shelter a five more kids beyond in their teen years.  

Our Bodies Ourselves, now in its 11th printing, is not just about sexual health but about health of every kind. Here are  some of the women who worked on it, as they looked in those heady and complicated early years, this from the forepages of a companion work Ourselves and Our Children. I salute them. 

Body Talk

How ’bout we make this Frank Talk About the Body Week here at Exit Only? I figure we might as well since we began the week evoking the image of a man sleeping with one leg thrown over his bedmate. In fact let’s start there:

I know lots of guys like to sleep that way and if their partners like it too, fine. Still, I have trouble imagining that many women like it. I mean here you are sound asleep and suddenly boom! a 40-pound leg arrives on the delicate breadbasket of your pelvis. AND you’re lying on your side where there isn’t that much cushioning!

I know I couldn’t be with a guy who liked sleeping that way. I go a million miles away when I sleep. And when I wake I’m not sure even sure who I am never mind what century it is. I’d be a terrible candidate for this kind of straddle-spooning. Lucky for me I’m 40 years with the same guy who sleeps like the very dead, even when awake. Plus he was a preemie and did time in an incubator. That means he totally gets it about the need for ‘space’ when you’re sleeping.

But back to our human bodies which are let’s face it the least unique and most interchangeable things about us. Yet there’s all this talk always about the body, who’s thin, who’s thinner, who’s had breast augmentation, who’s had his back-hair dipped in hot wax and snatched off so as to look better on the beach or in bed. What must God think of us?

I bet He’s proud of the ones who have honored the body and told the truth about it. This is the 40th anniversary of Our Bodies Ourselves, a book about women’s health and sexuality produced by the organization then called the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective back in ’71.

Let’s talk a little about that tomorrow, why not. I won’t make anybody blush I promise, or encourage you to speculate about your friends sleep. In fact let’s call the picture below “What are YOU lookin’ at?” Because the sleeping room as they call it in German really is the one place we  can find sweet oblivion, and our minds can rest at last as slumber knits up what Shakespeare called the ‘raveled sleeve of care’. 

Bringing the Distant Close

All day yesterday I thought about how I saw Orion the other night, as proud in that sword-wielding pose as a six-year-old. It so comforted me to see him Sunday night, not poised menacingly over us but lying on his side as he was on that first cold night of this fast-aging autumn. It reminded me of ‘Choose Something Like a Star’ by Robert Frost with words that cphill me every time, evoking as they do the star’s distant and taciturn quality, its serene sense of remove from the messy woes below.

When I began looking for it here on the web I came instead upon ‘The Star Splitter’, also by Frost and what do you know? Frost also speaks of Orion’s close-to-the-horizon position, only his image is even more animated. Rather than saying Orion is merely reclining, he has him heaving one leg up over the tops of trees. The words suggest great energy and at the same time call to mind the image of a man sleeping, as some men do, with one leg thrown over his partner’s flank.

As to this poem, it is set in a small country town and tells of the man who burned his house down and used the insurance money to buy a telescope.

I was going to quote a little of it here until I found this link that has the poem and the voice of Frost himself when you touch the “play’ symbol; of Frost dead these nearly 50 years, but still here reading! Reading to us in that memorable folksy voice the phrases that sound so much like those of a man come to town for a keg of nails you can hardly tell that they’re part of a poem.

Click the link even if you only for a moment and listen; just listen to that voice. I did and was able to catch hold of them and hitchhike my way clear back into my own family’s past on a lonely farm in the mid-1860s. I did and was transported back to the dimly remembered day when as a little girl I saw a young president take the oath of office while an old poet squinted to see the page he was to read from, then gave up and recited an even better poem he knew by heart.

What you hear is Frost’s own mortal voice, And this, this is his ‘Choose Something’ poem, here set to Randall Thompson’s music and paired with images captured by the Hubble telescope in those close and distant heavens.

Peeping Tom Reclining

I know they say the stars are so far away that the light from them left before the birth of Jesus; before the dinosaurs were even in middle school but still. When you look up at them they seem so present and benevolent, bending over out little cradle here.

Say you’re having one of those nights when you’re making twisted ropes of the bedsheets with all your tossing and turning, and adrenalin shot of anxiety keep jolting through your body.

Desperate, you get up and begin touring the house in your insomnia, straightening the pictures and talking to the chairs. You drink some water, not too much. Maybe you take a hot bath, hoping to stun yourself sleepy that way. Then, at the end of all that, just as you’re crawling back into the rope-nest of disordered sheets your eyes travel to the window and there on the other side of it is… Orion, big as life and back for the winter.

Even schoolchildren know Orion on sight, even on his back like this with his belt in its perfect three-star line-up, his dagger attached, his upraised arm and those wide, wide shoulders.

There were meteor showers over the weekend and you tried to see the 15 shooting stars an hour that were said to be visible. Alas clouds had rolled in by then and anyway you couldn’t stay awake.

There are no clouds this night and no meteor showers either but awake you are and glad to see this old gladiator lying on his side, leaning on one elbow and looking in at you as if to say “Hey.” You smile and turn away from him and are sleeping within 30 seconds.

Tenants’ Revenge

The old place really needed painting and last week we shaved off its mustache AND its beard –  picture doing that to the Amish man! – with the result that certain somebodies are now unhappy. (The story of the tea-cozy of ivy hugging our house until now is here on yesterday’s post with Before and After pictures available here and here for the too-busy-to-go-back.)

Who are these angry somebodies?  Who but the local bird population. They have relied on us for years and, come to think of it, they’ve grown even feistier since that addictive little app started appearing on people’s phones. Did they hear about Angry Birds® somehow and decide to start throwing their weight around? 

Maybe so: The summer before last a pair of mourning doves took up residency on the windowsill of my second floor office, and, nicely hidden by the fringe of ivy, copulated, brought forth babies fed the babies taught them to fly, then did the whole thing again six weeks later. It was charming until the gathered mix of grasses and guano began piling six inches into the air.

Then, this past summer, a mother sparrow decided to build make her nest in our front porch light. We almost burned the place down before we realized she had stuffed it with enough straw to stuff a loveseat: all we had to do was flip the switch on. Plus once the eggs appeared we could’ve had omelets.

Once they’d used up their maternity leave and gone back to their jobs we removed all traces of their nests – which didn’t mean other birds weren’t also nesting inside the ivy; they were. Every summer for years I would watch them swooping in and out of this rustling curtain of leaves just next to my office laptop. It’s a wonder they weren’t asking to pop inside and check their email.

These last days though, with the ivy stripped off, all was silent – until just a  few hours ago anyway when I heard a hard and rhythmical tapping. It didn’t bother me. In fact it made me smile as it called to mind that time our 20-month-old dressed in nothing but a diaper, toddled to my brand new car and began laying a little line of dents along its perfect flank with a ball-peen hammer he had somehow come upon.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap, Tap-tap-tap.

‘ I wonder what THAT is.” I thought dreamily, tapping away myself on my keyboard, Then then suddenly dreaminess vanished and I KNEW: it was a woodpecker who, flying by, noted these bare and brand-new shingles and decided to do a little writing of his own.

Shave and a Haircut

When an old 70s guy like Tom Selleck shaves  his mustache he looks so different we hardly know him. When a long-haired girl goes short it’s dramatic too. Remember the cry that went up when  Keri Russel lopped off those curls she had as Felicity?

Great changes in appearance are jarring even for the person walking around with the new look.

I’m jarred myself today, not by anything to do with my hair which, over the years has gone from looking like Janis Joplin’s….

to looking like Demond Wilson’s as Redd Foxx’s boy in that great golden oldie Sanford & Son.  

I am jarred by what’s happening to our house:

It has gone bald. It took 15 years for the ivy to grow, as, inch by inch, it lifted itself to where its tiny green fingers now reach clear to the roof. 

How I have loved it in summer when it’s the bright green of a tree-toad! How I have loved it in autumn when it blushes with the cold and turns to shades of maroon and burgundy:

How I have loved turn the corner  at any time in the growing season and see how it has made the  whole south side of the house shimmer and billow.

But ivy is bad for old shingles – new ones too, they say – and we did need to paint. We knew the men would soon pull it all down to do their work as they would have done if had David not decided he wanted to do the job himself, in the same way you want to be the one holding your beloved pet when the doctor inserts the final needle. He came home from work that day, and without even coming inside, set his things down on the grass and began pulling at the vines. I could hear the ripping sound from inside a closed window, and in no time at all those shiny green leaves lay face down in the dirt.

I have rooted for the ivy, even knowing it causes damage; I applauded it this past summer when for the first time it rounded the corner and began growing outside the bathroom window.

To me it was beautiful.

Anyway here’s how the place looks now: new and ordinary, not old and a-shimmer and it feels like such a loss. 

Still, there is beauty in the new dark-chocolate stain and the bright white trim.

And the ivy, pruned to its roots, is still alive after all, and come spring, like the hair on the head of the vanquished Samson,  will once again be growing, growing, growing…. 

Her e