Friday, August 26, 2011

Tube Story (Intermission)

The boy at the center of the case had been eight years old when he first sought asylum in the UK. His uncle and his uncle's wife, a childless couple, arranged for the boy to come live with them after the Taliban killed his parents in Afghanistan. Immigration officials felt his story was not quite right. Instead of allowing him to wiggle his roots down into safe British soil as a permanent resident, they granted him temporary status until he reached the age of seventeen and a half. He could live with his uncle for nine and a half years.

Something was not quite right, wrote the immigration agent sitting below me on the Tube. Standing above her, I swayed back and forth with the other upright passengers as we rode from Heathrow to King's Cross station in London. She wrote in a looping longhand style with a yellow pencil, then erased heartily, with the conviction of a first grader. Bits of pink erasure dandruff clung to the hips of her black suit skirt.

When she felt called to make notes on the legal documents in the files stacked up on her lap, it interrupted my reading. She bent so far forward over her work, the label on her skirt poked out like a tongue. She blocked my view of her confidential notes. Fortunately, she spent more time reading than writing. We were underground now, somewhere east of Kew, and I had already read all of the advertisements around the top edge of this train. None were as interesting as watching the rejection of an immigration case in a country not my own. She leaned back to appraise her own scrawl, and I continued my visual eavesdropping.

What was "not right," as the British government discovered, was that the uncle was actually the boy's father. The uncle/father left Afghanistan, left the boy's mother there, pregnant, ducking behind sand colored cinderblock walls for safety, and he moved into Europe, to England, to a walk-up flat in Tottenham with a damp foyer that smelled of curried eggs. The papers did not document this. The papers acknowledged the DNA connection between boy and uncle/father. I imagined the rest.

The immigration agent wrote with passion and energy; she rocked her feet up on her toes when she bore down on the paper. She scrawled something on one page, then sat back and held the pages up to face what she'd written at eye level. These deceptions by the uncle/father not only jeopardized the safety of the boy, but also put the uncle/father's wife's status at risk. Currently in the UK with temporary status, the wife also wanted to stay, despite the three flights of stairs she had to walk up carrying reusable Tesla bags full of rice and onions; despite the curried egg smell in the foyer. She wanted to stay.

Did the uncle/father's wife know the truth of the relationship between the boy and the uncle/father? Did she know the dead mother back in Afghanistan? The British government could not determine how much the woman knew; their uncertainty about her role in the drama tipped the case against her. We clacked back and forth on our passage. The man next to the immigration agent slept with his head tilted forward, his arms crossed against his chest as if to lock himself into a polite space on the row of seats.

The British government also failed to determine the exact age of the boy. His mother dead, his uncle/father a liar, they wanted to believe the boy when he showed up at the border and held up eight fingers. That was seven years ago; now other evidence (not specified) indicated he may have been nine, or even ten. He was so thin, so drawn, when he held up his fingers at the border. The circles under his eyes were caves. The papers did not document this, either.

He could not stay. His father/uncle had lied. There were holes in the story. There were undocumented elements of the case. The immigration agent held the end of the pencil to her lips as if to shush someone. Because the boy could stay in this safer country until he turned seventeen and a half, the British government had to give him an age, but he would still be eventually returned to Afghanistan. They decided to call him fifteen. He could live with his uncle/father, a permanent resident, for two and a half more years. As for the uncle/father's wife, she would have her papers revoked. She would be deported immediately for her connection to such tenuous and uncertain ties.

The immigration agent bent over her papers to scrawl something in the block of white space across the bottom of the last page of neat legal type. As the automated Tube voice announced King's Cross as the next station, the man next to her woke up and rubbed his fists into his eyes. She slid her stack of papers into a worn, black briefcase with tape on the clasp. She had written: What a pity.



Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Tate Modern

“When objects of any kind are first presented to the eye or imagination, the sentiment, which attends them, is obscure and confused; and the mind is, in a great measure, incapable of pronouncing concerning their merits or defects.” –David Hume, Of the Standard of Taste, 1757

I stood in front of an enormous pile of porcelain chips painted to look like sunflower seeds while the guard at the door slowly nodded off in the afternoon quiet. Husband walked up and stopped behind me. “Hmph,” he said. I could feel his breath on my neck. “Yeah,” I agreed.

We’d been having this same conversation all over the Tate Modern. After a brief tea in the outside courtyard (museum tours should always begin with scones), we climbed to the top of the gutted power station and started working our way down, winding through white-walled rooms of inexplicable images. A giant wooded plug hung down from the ceiling in one room. In the next space, the walls glowed with a rosy hue as the lights filtered through gauzy red silk draped to recreate a reverse staircase spanning the entire ceiling.

I know, I know…. It’s hard to describe. Modern Art is hard to describe and often harder to appreciate. There were the usual rows of blank canvases, white canvases with a single black line, canvases rent or burned or shot at or spit on by the artist; all of the images that prompt the small-minded “my kindergartener could do that” responses from museum-goers overly proud of their “obscure and confused” sentiments.

Although we made it to the Tate late in the day, we happened to be there the one night of the week they kept the doors open until 10:00 p.m. We could afford the time to try to come up with some way to measure the merits or defects of the rooms and rooms of post-1900 art. We paused in a few dark hallways to watch video installations. I slid down the wall and sat with my knees drawn up in front of me to watch fifteen minutes of a young black man kicking a bucket around the 1970s streets of New York City. The bucket rattled and clanged in the video; it also rattled and clanged through the otherwise empty museum rooms. Walking out of one room of photographs of Russians wearing red, both of us in that sort of museum daze, we found Rodin’s The Kiss scooched off to the side of a connecting room. We first saw a version of this piece when it visited the High Museum in Atlanta for the Olympics as part of the Rings exhibit. “Oo!” I squealed. Husband kissed me.

On one floor, we found a temporary exhibit of Miró’s work; we split into different paths around the wing. I watched the art progress from almost naïve pastorals of Miró’s childhood farm life to the vast canvases of primary colors swirled with angry strokes of his later work, and I thought about seeing Guernica in Spain. Two hours later, Husband and I found each other in a room of canvases calculatingly scorched and charred.

We agreed that we had developed enough taste for one evening, and we could now pronounce the merits or defects of Modern Art with considerably less befuddlement. Now, on to find some pop culture, alá Harry Potter’s last gasps.

On the way out of the Tate, we passed a tall Tate guide with his pants a bit bunched and his long, black hair a bit mussed. He had the air of a young Museum docent—trying to maintain a look of disdain for the tawdriness of the general population while desperately seeking some affirmation of his existence. “Excuse me,” I stopped and said, “can I ask you a non-Tate-related question?”

He took a step back. He looked like he had expected us to think him on exhibit, and he had suddenly been recognized as animate.

I reached into my purse and pulled out a ripped newspaper page with listings for Harry Potter. We wanted his opinion on the closest cinema (not “theatre,” never “theatre” in England.) Every cinema was named Odean something or other—Odean being the AMC of London.

“Oh, they’ve got Odeans all over the place. You practically trip over them,” he assured us.

If there’s one thing we had not tripped over while hiking through London’s main arteries, it was a movie theatre. I pushed a little harder for specifics, and he guided us to the nearest one; then he seemed to enjoy this unexpected moment of human interaction. He asked where in the States we called home. “Georgia,” we replied.

His eyes lit up. “REM!” Tate Guide/REM fan confessed his love of the band and proceeded to tell us all about the trajectory of the band’s career and his own disappointment with some of their artistic decisions. Husband teased the poor guy with stories of band interaction from his teen years in Athens. Since I already knew the stories, I stood quietly and watched people milling about the café. Images of art flitted through my mind, which previously obscure and confused, had now found a way to appreciate Modern Art through the process of appreciating Modern Art. I felt the weight of Miró’s political anguish; the sound of that metaphor-rich bucket still clanged in my head.

A Japanese man sitting upright in one of the café chairs suddenly dropped his chin onto his chest, fully asleep. Feeling the fullness of our day hit me, I agreed with his sentiment.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Broken Wall, the Burning Roof and Tower

About the London tourist’s visit to the Tower, Rick Steves nails it. Go straight for the jewels.

In a sleepy drizzle on Saturday morning, we headed from Old Street Station on the Tube down to Tower, then dodged between slow moving families down the ramp to the park entrance. Following Rick’s advice, we aimed straight for the building in the center of the complex that houses all of the HRH’s finest playpretties. While those other jokers fumbled around with their soggy park pamphlets, we toggled through the empty cordons of red velvet roping and slipped into the jewel vault while guarding Beefeaters watched the storm. It all felt very Thomas Crowne Affair.

The attraction of brilliant jewels lies in their stories of intrigue, curses, and heist. If I was to steal anything from the Crown Jewel exhibit, it would not be the enormous fist of a diamond; instead, I’d take the taffeta coronation robe woven with threads of pure gold. Especially on a cold, rainy London morning. Husband and I strolled through the exhibit, the gold punch bowls and knick-knacks knotted with rubies and sapphires, and wondered at the role of the monarchy today. Of course, we also imagined that most visitors wandering through the Jewel Hall at any given point in its history had wondered about the role of the monarchy today, whenever “today” happened to be. Especially in that place, in this center, sparkling, heart of the Tower complex, one wonders whether all the murders, executions, decrees, uprisings, upheaval, all of the monarch’s long and sordid history—did all of it eventually collapse into a neat assessment of Kate Middleton’s spiffy style? It is nearly impossible to mentally connect the historical goings-on with contemporary morale-boosting media snippets about the family living down the lane.

We backtracked to the first gates in a steady downpour. Monkeys caught in poses of aggravation, reclining lions, and a chained polar bear with a supplicant expression perch around the parapets and rooftops of the Tower complex. All of these are made of chicken wire; they recreate the exotic menagerie that once prowled the grounds. The Royals’ subjects could poke at the creatures; some foreign dignitary once presented the Crown with gifts of live ostriches. These presents kept dying because common wisdom held the odd birds needed a steady diet of iron to hold up their improbable necks. Visitors fed them nails. In the second it took to step from wet to dry space as we entered the wing that once held the beasts, I caught of a whiff of caged lion; it smelled exactly like the old lion house at Zoo Atlanta. With the next step, that note evaporated, and the room reeked of wet plastic parkas.

The animals’ captivity in this stone trap subdued me more than any of the famous prisoners’ stories. And what of their stories? Filing through the series of rooms and narrow hallways, we read about the various famous prisoners and victims whose stories fascinate the visiting public—a few famous wives, a revolutionary or two, a pair of toe-headed young princes who may or may not have been murdered, their bodies walled up under the stairwell. At the same time, the park dilutes these macabre details with a thin message suggesting that the Tower “was really more exclusive” than your average prison. Tell that to the family of Sir Walter Raleigh. The white walls of the Tower rooms are chinked with 400+ year old graffiti, the names, symbols, prayers, and calendars used to scratch away the days of confinement. At knee level on one wall, Husband and I admired an entire astrological calendar carved into the stone by a captive Englishman accused of being a sorcerer. We traced the smooth outlines of the moons, planets, and stars. “Sorcerer,” we agreed. No mortal could chisel those perfect spheres.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

City Animals

“There was a great hurry in the streets, of people speeding away to get shelter before the storm broke; the wonderful corner for echoes resounded with the echoes of footsteps coming and going, yet not a footstep was there. ‘A multitude of people, and yet a solitude!’ said Darney, when they had listened for a while.”

--Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“I think I know why Americans got so fat,” Husband said as we nudged our way through the crowd on Oxford Street. I walked in front of him with my head tilted back as if admiring the gothic architecture. Really, I was trying to breathe air not tainted by the cigarette smoke wafting around us.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“We all quit smoking,” he coughed.

Today we planned to spend exploring the city, perhaps taking in a museum or two. We started in Trafalgar Square, watching kids grab bronze handfuls of the famous lion’s mane to pull themselves up and perch on his back for a picture. I loved cities; I love the movement toward entropy, the collective decision-making (we shall all cross this street against the light—now), the blur of faces like a pointillist mural, and the sudden shock of singling out one point, one face, to focus on and absorb. I also like recognizable smell of big cities—New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Madrid—and now, I confirmed, London as well. Stale beer, hot pavement, warm fruit, and a fluttering of various perfume notes with each passing woman.

In Trafalgar Square, we got sucked into a busker’s act. A young man with a concave chest and curly, long, brown hair hollered at passers-by who wondered into his “performance space,” a rectangle pressed against one wall of the National Gallery and bordered by 20 foot lengths of metal chains. “Clap! Scream for me!” He directed the baffled crowd. He called for volunteers, and no one answered. Finally, Husband stepped up with an air of “do I have to come over here and do everything for this country?” The kid’s name was Aj—our son’s nickname. I believe that may have been the factor in Husband’s decision to step forward and subject himself to ten minutes of routine/predictable/overwrought street performer jokes and tricks. He and a guy named Paul from Belfast wrapped Aj up in the chains, and Aj pretended to struggle against them for a few minutes before “breaking free” with all the conviction of a bored circus ape. One little boy yelled out above the noise of the city, and Aj asked him where he was from. “Scotland!” shouted the kid. “No wonder,” said Aj. Tourists on the balcony of the National Gallery emerged from walking through the halls of Picassos and Vermeers, blinking in the bright sunlight. “Hey! You up there! Look at me!” Aj shrieked at them. Husband’s performance over, we picked up lunch and then made our way down Charring Cross to the Millennium Bridge.

At the Southbank Centre on the south side of the city (Shakespeare’s side, the Globe’s side), we confronted the deep hazel eyes of an urban fox. The massive straw fox sat on the top of the Royal Festival Hall with his head slightly bowed as if apologizing for showing up unexpectedly. Whereas the north side of London seemed all befuddled tourists and needy buskers on a Friday afternoon in July, the south side seemed thrilled with warm sun, blue sky, sunglasses to shade the shards of light reflecting off the Thames, and public art. Passing under the straw bits at the end of the giant fox’s tail, we found a row of tiny beach houses, each with different themes on the history and culture of London’s shores, lining the embankment walkway. Above the beach house walkway, an installment on the poetry of children seeking asylum in the UK rattled and whipped like seagulls’ wings. The young poets’ words had been printed on large sheets of white canvas and woven into metal tension wires in the shape of a boat, and the entire display sang and fluttered in the breeze off the river.

We heard the low hum of skateboarders’ wheels. Teenage boys popped and tricked, their crashes echoing through the concrete bunker, while younger kids sat around the top edge and pretended not to notice. One little girl in a purple skirt puttered along on her scooter, singing to herself, as the teens whizzed around her.

A horrible, out-of-tune, out-of-date guitar player with nothing important to say, except that he planned to say it loud, and continuously, set up his stand and hat along the Embankment and howled his deepest darkest fears about humanity. “Aw, go on then, shut up whydontcha,” someone shouted back.

I felt like it might be time to eat again. I found Husband near the river, watching an old guy with a long bamboo pole and a spark plug as a weight on his line. He asked the fisherman what he liked from the Thames. “Oh, evertin,” said the red faced man with a bouncing Cockney lilt. He allowed as how he mostly caught eels, some bootlaces, but some good sized for eating. He sat down his tall can of Guinness to pull a worn photo out of a waterproof case. It showed him standing in the same spot, holding up a shiny black tube. “That’s me biggest,” he said. We made the universal noises of admiration. “Yea,” he said, “do this all day, go home and feed me cat, then go to the pub.” We watched him cast again, the line like a spider’s filament reaching for the opposite bank. “Not a bad life,” he sighed.

Friday, July 29, 2011


"London is a city of eight million separate dreams, inhabiting a place that tolerates and encourages them….The city, which has long attracted tourists, seems perpetually at your service, with an impressive slate of sights, entertainment, and eateries, linked by a great transportation system."

--Rick Steves' London 2011

Husband and I landed on a Thursday afternoon after flying overnight from Atlanta. "Landed" is not the right word. We drifted through the industrial grey, dark halls of Heathrow, hovered between countries at the customs counters, and bobbed along with the other eight million some-odd (and some very odd) minding the gap along the Piccadilly line of the Tube. Since last Christmas, when my often amazing parents had given us this trip, we had each daydreamed our destination like any traveler does: while fulfilling menial tasks—washing dishes, driving to work, folding laundry—we wondered, what will it be like?

Any new city seems somewhat surreal for the first few hours, but add anticipatory excitement plus only a handful of hours of sleep and it becomes a collection of hypnagogic hallucinations. The Tube map posted on the wall at Heathrow looked like a colorful tangle of kitten yarn. We stood in front of the board staring, and I think we both forgot our purpose for a minute to watch the chromatic lines weave and twist upon themselves. "Let's ask," I finally decided.

We found our way to the Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch, checked in, and turned back to London via the #55 bus down Old Street to Oxford Circus. Rick mentions that one should check in with the tourism office there first, but by the time we reached them they had closed for the day. The next day, when we tried again and still found them closed, I started doubting Rick's love of a tourism office. I'm not sure why one needs to visit such an office, anyway. Is it an attempt to own one's temporary title? A place to reclaim the "tourist" label? I suspect it has more to do with supporting the glossy brochure industry.

We turned down to St. James Park, nodding at a statue of Admiral Nelson on the way, and made our way around the lake to Buckingham Palace. Still wobbly, I felt maybe checking in with the Queen would help me feel more grounded than registering our gullibility with the tourism barkers. Besides, it seemed the proper thing to do, since she had been lovely enough to allow us into her kingdom. We meandered through families sitting on the grass; one little boy dropped his pants and watered a tree while his mother and her girlfriends gossiped. We passed the old birdkeeper's cottage, tucked into the park like a mottled brown egg in the reeds. At the Palace, I tried to figure out which window HRH might be nearest based on curtain movement (employing skills I picked up from watching too many episodes of MI-5 on Netflix), and Husband watched the Palace security detail sweep down a car that wanted entrance. We wandered down Diana's walkway (there are so many of these named for her around England—the Lady must have enjoyed a nice stroll. We saw no Diana bikepaths.) I slipped off my Eccos for a minute to feel England beneath my feet. Still not quite—I still felt like I was drifting above the experience of it, unconnected, unblending, like a little bubble of oil skimming the surface of a pool of water.

"Let's eat," I finally decided.

We took another bus back to Bloomsbury, Virginia Woolf's old stomping grounds and location for some of the more collegiate pubs (collegiate = cheaper, but still hospitable). We had no idea what time it was. We had no idea there was such a thing as Time anymore, we only knew frayed edges of sunset draped the edges of the city bed, and the air held an expectant weight of impending rain. One pub told us the kitchen was closed, so we walked to the next stop.

Pub culture figures so prominently in the England mystique; we had high expectations for some type of experience—we did not know exactly what kind. Still suspended, I squealed to find linguini with fresh prawns on the menu. Husband liked the idea of a nice chicken tortellini. Not pub food, I know, but we figured part of the London experience incorporates worldly eating. And no food grounds me (in emotional state and physical weight) more than pasta.

Husband stepped up to the bar to order. With his back to me, he couldn't see the very drunk, very tall Englishman land heavily on the leather bench next to me.

"Cheers," said Tall Drunk Guy. Only it sounded more like "churrs." I smiled.

"Hey, hey, hey…" he stammered, "guess where I work?" I thought to myself, oh fun—trivia night.

"You work at a local gym selling memberships to chubby business types and housewives," I answered. I could have said anything; Tall Drunk Guy was not going to follow more than the first few words, anyway.

"Heeeey. That's right!" Only it sounded like "thas rye."

He wasn't even looking at me now—his eyes wandered in middle space like he was tracking a neurotic bat. As Husband turned to come back, Tall Drunk Guy got up to follow the bat. He knocked a glass vase off the table next to ours. Crash.

A put-upon waitress in jeans and a pink t-shirt stretched across her chest came over to sweep up the glass at our feet. She rolled her eyes at us, as if to apologize for her countryman's antics. Not three minutes later, we heard another glass shatter. Crash. Tall Drunk Guy dropped his pint. The waitress appeared again with her broom and dustpan, again with the look toward our table.

Our first pub experience seemed as disconnected and estranged from reality as our long, transatlantic day. The two dropped glasses signaled some sort of break with gravity at that point, and people of all shapes and sizes suddenly began to fall down. First, predictably, Tall Drunk Guy did a flopping pirouette in front of the bar, landing on his side. A bouncer appeared from somewhere and held him, gently walking him out. Then, a young woman in a black dress suit and heels performed a half split in front of us. Her companion reached down to scoop her up, one-armed, like an ice dancer. A man in fitted trousers slipped and yelped. Everyone laughed. Glasses crashed, the waitress appeared, tables yelled for more wine, more wine.

We finished our pasta (another story, explained in the food blog, here). I tested putting weight on my feet to see if I could connect, if gravity was indeed still a law even in this pub where everyone seemed to be sloshing from side to side like deckhands on a careening ship. It seemed secure. After feeling suspended, unconnected, flight/y all day, Husband and I were obviously the most stable places on this strange pub moon. We held hands and walked back out into the soft London rain.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reflections on Work Dad

Having a father who worked for the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution offered decent perks for a girl in elementary school. My teachers always had a source for those coveted, mostly-used tubes of industrial newsprint paper for the seemingly infinite varieties of "mural" or "full body tracing" class projects. If my friends' parents did not take the paper—the Journal because it was too conservative, the Constitution because it wasn't liberal enough (this was Decatur, after all)—they could call me to read the movie times over the phone. And on a few special occasions every year, Dad would invite me to lunch at the Blimpie in Woodruff Park and to visit the papers' headquarters on Marietta Street.

I loved those visits. My impression of the newspaper business consisted of one part Dad's work, one part 1930's era newspaper boys yelling on the corner, and one part J. Jonah Jamison from the Spider Man series (but not the comic book version—the Electric Company version. PBS, baby!). Where Dad saw logging my name into the visitors' register in the lobby as a minor hassle, I saw carefully printing out my full name as a significant act of accountability. Now I was officially registered. And in front of a security guard!

We would take the elevator up to the Advertising Department, him nodding at me to push the button on the panel, me pressing my finger against the cold metal with intense concentration. Sometimes other people would step on with us—people in suits. Important people, I would think to myself. My father knew everyone's name, politely and formally introducing me from where I stood slightly behind him.

When the doors slid open into the bright chaos of the ad floor, he would shoot forward out of the elevator like a pinball knocked from its holding pen. Dad never walks anywhere—he strides at top speed. Body slightly bent forward as if against a strong wind, he started out under the glare of florescent lights with me almost jogging in my Keds sandals to keep up. He cut through the cubicle maze, shaking hands with colleagues on left and right, as if paddling through in a sleek canoe to the other side of a choppy lake. I never saw any face long enough to remember it now, decades later, but I remember their sense of humor, the masses of toys and gizmos they had sitting around their desks, the collections of sketches they had pinned to the walls. This seemed like a fun place to work, and my Dad was part of that. This is my daughter, Jessica, Dad would announce as we strode by. Hello Jessica, they would holler at our backs, Are you keeping up? When I looked back over my shoulder at them, they would laugh and wink at me, including me in their circle of knowledge.

Years later, after the two papers folded into one, someone cooked up this crazy idea called the internet, and Dad moved up to Cox Corporate, my interaction with Work Dad moved mostly to email. In his role as a manager-to-managers, he understands how people work, in the literal sense. From time to time I need some help getting people to work the way that most benefits me, and for that, I go to Dad.

My siblings go to Dad as well. In fact, when we each email with some headache or quibble, challenge or conundrum, we expect that what we'll get is a reply from "Work Dad." When together, we'll tease him about whether we're talking to Work Dad or Dad Dad. "Work Dad" speaks a different dialect than Dad Dad. Work Dad negotiates challenges, identifies potential conflicts, and aims to resolve failures of communication. Work Dad speaks in mission statements. Work Dad cuts through the murky waters of human interaction, which is marshy, boggy, sodden stuff, and paddles us to the clear, open, honest waters as efficiently as he can.

It isn't enough to thank one's father, if you have one like mine, for his years of work in general. You must thank him specifically, for the day by day, for the hours that make up a lifelong career, for presenting a spectrum of work life—from the boring afternoons to the weary, long days to the valued contributions to the exhilarating accomplishments that should rightly comprise a successful career. Thanks for wearing the cheapest polyester suits possible during the early years. Thanks for riding Marta, walking in the rain with a newspaper over your head. Thanks for pushing Rich's to buy more ad space. Thanks for the annual employee days at Six Flags. Thanks for enduring the long commute. Thanks for pushing people to work better, to do better, to be better. Thanks for the lessons on work and work ethics, the long email answers to what I thought was an easy question, and the invaluable way you've shown me that individual happiness is intrinsically linked to personal productivity.

Work Dad and Dad Dad are the same man, but today his environment changes. Today Dad retires. Today I'll put on my nice clothes and go meet him at his office, along with the rest of my family, where I'll stand slightly behind him and be introduced to the colleagues. This is my daughter, he'll say. Hello, Jessica, they'll say. But if they ask me if I'm keeping up, I can only answer, I'm still trying.

Monday, January 10, 2011


The status postings started around 10 p.m. last night. "Snow!" posted one friend. "A blizzard!" added another. The Southern end of Facebook has been hyperventilating with a frenzy of weather-related activity. From Mississippi to the Carolinas, friends and friends-of-friends dash outside to roll about in it, and then warm their frigid fingers just enough to type out new status update. Friend X "just made a snowmonkey!" Friend Y "made snow angels and had a snowball fight and ate snow cream!" Friend Z "wiped out riding on a strip of aluminum siding from the neighbor's trailer." Friend Z resides in Alabama.

Of course, minivan passengers and drivers participated as well. We tried to make it to the creek from the top of the yard, rifling through the shed for anything that looked remotely slippery and provided a barrier between butt and snow. Deflated pool rafts, beat-up old kayaks, removable canoe seats, cardboard. We wadded up knots of snow with bits of twigs and leaf parts sticking out and lobbed them at each other. One of us dropped and flailed around in the deep snow, making not so much a snow angel as a snow possum with a bad case of the shakes.

I drew the line at "snow cream." I would no more add sugar and vanilla to this snow and call it snow cream than I would add lemon and sugar to a cup of summer rain and call it lemonade. I'm sure it's fine, if your favorite ice cream flavor is Temple Inland Cardboard.

Remember sliding plastic newspaper bags between layers of socks and snapping around a rubber band to keep your feet snow proof? Remember sneaking out your mother's cookie sheets and using them to rocket down the big hill? That's one element I love about a snow day in Georgia—the ingenuity factor. Did they even sell thick warm winter socks in the Davidson's in Atlanta back in the day? Or snow boots? Yes, we get goofy on snow days—humor us, dear friends from colder climates. Having a virtual community outlet for all this goofiness just adds to the fun—almost like meeting up with all the neighborhood kids you know and some you don't because they attend private school or just have weird parents. You dive head-first down an icy roller coaster of a road, tumble over each other in puffy winter coats, or pelt each other with rock-hard snow balls. Some bonding occurs, even if it doesn't last past the first day of brown mush on the sidewalk edges and the early morning chaos of school resuming.

In the late afternoon, Husband and I mushed through the crunchy, icing-over snow to the end of the street and back, playing CSI with all the fishtailed tire tracks and washouts. We hypothesized about who tried to go where and how they failed. "Who thinks they're that important?" Husband asked about whoever tried to pray their way down our winding, undulating, unsalted road today. We paused and looked around, taking deep breaths as the snow-smell in the air returned. The flat pasture snow soaked up the purple of dusk. A chimney exhaled a chubby puff of smoke, and driveway lamps started to flicker their faint yellow light. "Who thinks they've got something better to do than stay home and enjoy this?" We shuffled home without speaking, listening to our own steps, our rooster telling the hens to go to sleep and maybe the ground would magically reappear by morning. From Husband's pocket sounded the occasional muffled ping of his smartphone, announcing another Facebook friend's good day in the snow.