Saturday, December 21, 2002

I don't know where I get the energy sometimes.

A clich'e statement, but it's true. After a whole day of working the Saturday before Christmas at Barnes and Noble, or Barnes and Nobles as the customers call it, I dragged my mom's power vacuum to my new apartment and vacuumed those wood floors like they'd never been before. The floors in the apartment are what a designer may call rustic, or shabby chic, which means they are in dire need of refinishing. The building was built in the 1880's, so a lot of feet have walked across those floors, which I believe are original. This means, small gaps in places where the sealing between the boards has dried, and years of dust and debris that has slipped between them. A simple vacuum would normally work, but these floors needed the hose treatment, where you take the hose attachment, go board by board, stick it face down on each crevice and let it suck everything out. With my mom's upright powerhouse of a vacuum, this is exactly what those old floors needed. Industrial strength sucking.

After vaccuming for two hours straight, I took out the mop and went over the floors with wood soap and warm water. That took another 45 minutes, as the place is huge. If I'd thought about how much work I was in for before I started, I'd never have made it, but there was something symbolic that fueled my determination to clean the floors and keep the blinders on to focus on the task at hand, and not on my fatigue and sore back. This apartment is going to be my new home, and I wanted everyone else's "stuff" out of it so I could make it mine. I didn't want the remnants of tenants past making me feel like I was moving into once again, someone else's house. Tomorrow morning, my furniture will arrive, and I want it to rest on pristine floors.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Rain, rain, rain.

It's pouring outside. I love the rain here. It has a different feel to it than when it rains in Los Angeles. In LA, like everything else, the rain is only temporary. It comes during winter months, maybe for a week or two total, almost like it's rain in training or a special effect from a rain making machine on a Hollywood set. Just stopping by, until it's ready to pack up and leave.

The rain here feels thicker, more experienced, and has a different weight to it when it hits my car windshield. It has a wisdom to it like it personally knows the landscape and the people that it drenches. The clouds that carry it are lower, thicker and don't shoot their load in a one to two hour spurt. These East Coast clouds know what they are doing. They are well-conditioned and can produce solid rain through the night and next day without letting up. The rain here looks right, sounds right, and feels right when I walk in it. And, it smells like rain should.

Perhaps that's where the phrase "right as rain," comes from.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Tonight, I related with Tony Soprano.

It was unexpected, as Tony Soprano is a mob boss. However, I related to him in tonight's episode of The Sopranos called, "Everybody Hurts" when he learns that an estranged ex-fling of his committed suicide. This was a woman who had many problems before he met her, but he was one of the last people she was intimate with. The relationship had ended badly, as happens most of the time when a woman decides to see a married man, this one probably worse than most. Upon learning the news, Tony, despite his "no problem" attitude when it comes to killing those who turn on him or step on his toes, was hit very hard by the news of this woman hanging herself.

Why? Because suicide is one of hardest things on those who are left behind, whether you are a mob boss or a Girl Scout leader. I went through being "left behind" almost two years ago when Rob killed himself. Watching Tony deal with this, searching for answers that he wasn't going to find, hit home with me. You wonder if you're a good person, and like Tony, search for answers by visiting places that they worked or lived. You are left with so many unanswered questions and regardless of the circumstances you feel responsible for letting it happen.

It was hard to watch a saddened Tony try to process this. He's a tough mob boss. A big guy who walks around with a cowboy swagger in a leather jacket and black turtleneck. On a daily basis he works with the worst of humanity and on many occasions is the worst of humanity. But like me, he was saddened, angered, humbled, and confused by this woman's action. Her suicide tore through his armor and left him at a loss. I knew how he felt.

And that made me sad.

I'm still sad, as watching him made me remember what I went through. First, you can't believe it so you need some sort of proof. In my case, it was going to the funeral. I'll never forget driving up to my dad's house and seeing that castle, like Tony Soprano, humbled as if a piece had been torn out of it. And it had. Rob had taken his life in the garage. The house had witnessed it but even in its splendor could do nothing. It was still just a house. It couldn't reach out and turn off the car or call the police. It couldn't open the garage doors without the help of a human being. So it stood, paralyzed, and watched as someone it had grown to love took his life in its arms. The night I arrived, when my sister and I pulled into the driveway after she picked me up from the airport, the house looked shaken.

Before the funeral, Joan and I went through his stuff in his room. I went through his CD's, tapes, clothes, books, and photographs. I peeked into the journal I'd given him for Christmas that had been untouched. I went onto Marie's computer and looked at the last visited Web pages and at all the cookies for any kind of clue. Nothing that hinted at anything out of the ordinary. I searched through his bathroom and saw his antidepressants still in the bottles. Useless now, like the house, unable to prevent Rob from suicide. He wasn't reliable when it came to taking his medication and was an excellent liar when it came to covering that up. I wanted to find a message or explanation, or some clue of how much pain he was in. Mostly, I wanted him to tell me that there was nothing that I could have done, and that it wasn't my fault.

Despite my search for answers, until the funeral I had avoided the garage. I avoided walking past the door and when my dad wanted to hang up my coat on the hooks by the garage door, I told him that I'd take it upstairs. Ironically, the night before the funeral we watched the premiere episode of The Sopranos second season in Rob's honor and the episode had a big funeral for Tony's mother. The night before Rob had taken his life, we had chatted via Instant Message how much we were looking forward to the premiere. In my wildest dreams I never thought that I'd be watching it under those circumstances. When it came on, I turned a framed picture of Rob towards the television so he could watch with us, if even only in spirit.

During tonight's episode, every time that I watched Tony processing this woman's death, I wiped away tears, trying not to let my mom see that I was crying. I wasn't expecting to get hit that hard, but deep wounds may be easy to hide, burrowed away that they are, but not that hard to reopen. So many times, I wonder if Rob is watching me as I work at Barnes and Noble or drive in my car, or when I'm hunched over my journal in a coffee shop or taking a shower.

Maybe he was watching tonight, and saw how much his actions still hurt me.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

I felt it again.

The tingly, prickly feeling on my back as I hurried from the parking lot into work. I kept looking behind me at parked trucks. Like I said, I'm usually not like this, but this guy has spooked me.

And I have good reason, as he struck again tonight, and killed his target.

For those who aren't familiar with the area, Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia are all considered part of the Washington DC metro area. People who live in Baltimore commute to DC, just like I did for my interview. It's the same as New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. DC is a forty minute drive away with no traffic, to put it into perspective. Virginia surrounds DC, and Maryland is just across the Potomac River from DC. The sniper has hit areas that are all within an hour's drive from me.

I heard about the latest shooting when I got home tonight and logged onto the computer. I'm glad I didn't know about it on the drive home or while walking back out to my car.

I looked at another apartment today. My mom's friend Lois, who is a real estate agent, took me to an old row house right next to her own that had an apartment on the top. The whole place was empty, and we walked up the stairs to the third floor apartment. It was nice, and had exposed brick, Berber carpet, central air conditioning, a washer and dryer, and a porch, but I think that I liked the other place better. It was smaller than the one that I saw last week, and a little darker. Also, with all the amenities, it may be a bit expensive for me. The row house had just been bought by an investor, and is currently vacant. I love poking around in these old row houses, it's fascinating to see the details and layout. I feel like a time traveler exploring the 1800's. This particular street is paved with brick, traffic is blocked off, and hosts a gazebo in the middle of it. Absolutely charming.

Lois gave me the code to get into the house, so I can take my mom to see the place. It's walking distance from us.

Speaking of walking, I took a walk at dusk last night. Fall is starting to push summer along it's way, and I walked around the neighborhood in the crisp, cool, air. I am very much looking forward to fall, and to experiencing my first change of seasons in eight years.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Fifteen minutes and counting until The Sopranos premiere. I have gone too long without a good dose of Tony.

My mom and I drove around Baltimore today looking for apartments for me. I saw one in Fells Point that was a dump, but an interesting fact about it was that above it in the row house, lived two renowned figure skating coaches. He didn't mention their names, but Fells point seemed a strange place for world class figure skating coaches to live. There is a skating rink here, a large one where Dorothy Hamill skates, but it isn't really close to Fells Point. The apartment that I saw was street level with horrid carpeting that had a huge stain in the middle. How people stain their carpets like that, I have no idea. It was a studio apartment that had a small kitchen and carpeted bathroom. Again, why people carpet their bathrooms, I have no idea. We knew we were going to see an inexpensive place, but this was a dump. Baltimore is hit and miss, sometimes you get a great place for cheap, other times you get a pit. I require hardwood floors too, as carpet in apartments is disgusting and completely depressing, since they always use the cheapest crap they can find.

I had an interview in Washington, DC for a position as a project manager. I woke up at 6am on Tuesday to catch the 7:20am MARC train to Washington. I was pressed, washed and primped, not a hair out of place with my new do, and I carried my resume in a leather binder under my arm. I watched the daily commuters with interest who boarded the train or congregated at the stops as we pulled up. This was a daily ritual for them. Everyone was in business attire and I wondered what they all did for a living as they passed me by looking for an open seat. There was a young caucasian man who was reading photocopied, hand-written Arabic and highlighting sections, and I wondered if he was one of the new recruits for the CIA or FBI.

The entire trip took around two hours, with me getting to the interview at just before 9:30, when it was scheduled. The woman that I interviewed with was very nice and smart, but I think the job was more task-oriented instead of my preferred project-oriented, and the place was very corporate. Hardly the warm, creative, and vibrant atmosphere that I was looking for. It did pay a lot of money though, around $62,500 a year. However, money isn't important, as I've had money before and it doesn't mean a darn thing if you aren't happy. And for me, it would only solve short-term money problems and not the long-term career woes that I'm currently having.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

One year later.

I feel like the country as this day passes, can exhale after holding its breath for a year. It's a beautiful windy day, too windy almost. Perhaps that is America exhaling. More strongly here, near New York and Washington, DC, and softer as our collective breath is dispersed across the plains, then picking up again toward the West Coast.

The TV stations are crammed with images of memorials, grieving relatives, and moments of silence. But defiantly, life goes on as evidenced in the coffee shop that I visited today. People from all backgrounds walked in and talked pleasantly among each other. The owner of the shop, who is either Cuban or Puerto Rican, and I collaborated to come up with an alternative solution for a frozen mocha since they were out of their mocha mix. And that, in these pockets of America, the America that the terrorists cannot see, is where we truly triumph.

Osama bin Laden and his Al Quaeda terrorists may think they have successfully hidden from us, but that pales in comparison to the millions of pockets that America proudly wears in her quilt that Osama will never reach, and never find. The pockets where races, religions, ages, sexes, and backgrounds mix and cooperate to achieve another day of freedom. And yes, even on the day that is the sad anniversary of a hideous act by a terrorist group who tried to steal that freedom away. Unlike the caves in the Middle East, our pockets move, never in the same place as they were the day or hour before. The tiny pockets of triumph in America work like a kaleidoscope. And that is where we truly are untouchable, as a moving target is the hardest of all to attack.

A couple of weeks after September 11, 2001 is an example of one of those pockets. I received an e-mail from my aunt who asked if those of us on the West Coast had received our rehearsal dinner invitations for my cousin's wedding. None of us had, except for one person. That person received the invitation from London via overnight mail sent by a person with a Middle Eastern name. Inside, was the invitation, torn and coated with a white powdery dust, and a note written on Waldorf Astoria stationery. The note from the sender read that he had found the letter downtown in New York on September 11th, and thought she would like to have it. This man, in all the chaos of September 11th, picked up a piece of mail, carried it with him to London and made sure it got to the intended recipient.

We deduced that the mail had been on one of the hijacked planes that hit the World Trade Center. All the invitations, mine included had been sent on September 10th from Maine. Maine mail goes through Boston, and commercial airlines regularly take US Mail as part of their cargo, especially for cross continental flights. The mail would have been on one of the Boston flights, either on Flight 175 or Flight 11. How it survived, is incredible. How it made its way into the hands of a kind stranger, is even more incredible.

As of today, she is only person who received her invitation.

The story of the hijacked mail that made it to it's destination was picked up by USA Today. It would have received much more publicity, as press from all over the world was trying to reach her, but she wanted to retain her privacy and didn't want to make a spectacle of something that was a result of such a tragic event. Robert Taylor, who is quoted in the article is my uncle who lives here in Maryland.

I remember that I was very unnerved that my name and address had been on one of the planes that slammed into the Towers. It brought it that much closer to home for me that in a way, "I" had been onboard one of those planes. I contacted the person who had received the invitation and asked her if I could see it. She lived in Los Angeles, so it was a local trip. I'd never met her before and told her I needed to "touch" what had happened so I could start the process of accepting it. After some interrogation, she agreed when she realized my intentions were honest and I met her at her office. I held the letter in my hand, still caked with dust from the Twin Towers, torn, watermarked, its happy red envelope and playful invitation a contrast to where it had come from. As I held it, I had a sensory experience. I could hear the sounds of the jet turning, the screeches of the engines as they thrust into high gear, feel the shift of the plane as it rounded its way to New York, and sense the fear of the people and the helplessness of all aboard. I was holding in my hand, a survivor from that plane. It had been there and witnessed it all, and communicated what it had experienced through my fingertips.

On this September 11th, I went to a church service with my mom who sings in the church choir. They had a slide show of the events and some of the victims as the choir sung a somber requiem, and several speakers from all religions at the service, including a search and rescue team who brought their two golden retriever dogs who had done S&R at the Pentagon after the attacks. After the service, I pet the dogs, Pacy and Sam, to let them know how much they were appreciated. They had their rescue gear on, doggie jackets with reflective lettering on them. I can't imagine how beautiful their furry faces must have looked to people trapped in the rubble.

I just realized that I made good on some of my goals after September 11th, 2001. I wanted to move closer to family, and I have. I wanted to start living again, and I'm beginning to do that. And, I wanted to relax my brow and exhale, if even just for a little while.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

All weekend, I've been thinking of Them.

The ones, who did not know they had just enjoyed their last weekend on earth. Or that they had less than 72 hours left with their families. That their ordinary work week would not bring them to a choice between life and death, but a choice between deaths. Burning alive, or jumping from a window from at least 80 stories up. Their offices or the planes that they rode on would become death traps, their coworkers or strangers the last people they saw alive, and a few "lucky" ones would make their last phone calls to family to say what so many of us can't when it's just a regular day.

On Saturday, as I sat outside at the coffee shop, the day was beautiful. But my mind drifted to Them. I looked up to the blue sky and remembered that September 11th had started out a day like this. Just like this without a cloud in the sky. Perfect for a spectacular view at breakfast at Windows on the World, or perfect for a maniacal group of terrorists to clearly see their targets.

I wondered about the normal smells and sounds those people encountered as they began their work day. The bouquet of scents when they stepped into the elevator in the morning. Perfume, toothpaste, coffee, cologne, leather from briefcases, shampoo, soap, hair spray, starch, detergent, cigarettes, and egg McMuffins. The sounds of cellular phones, newspapers rustling, material against material, sneezes, slurps from coffee drinkers, footsteps, shifting briefcases and files from one arm to the other, dings as the elevator stopped and dropped off lower floor workers who would live as the doomed who worked on the upper floors parted to let them pass.

I thought about the chaos inside when the planes hit and the smell of jet fuel and acrid smoke infiltrating floor after floor, and how artifacts of the normal America must have laid about in contrast. Starbucks cups and McDonalds bags beaming logos that have now become a part of Americana, bagged lunches that would never be eaten, post it notes, a box of Krispy Kremes, Kleenex tissues, staplers, paperclips, Scotch tape, and Koosh balls. But what was happening around these icons of daily life was not America. It was hell with the lid blown off.

I've been thinking of Them, not because the anniversary of that day of horror is closing in. It is because last year at this time was America's last few days of living in a world without September 11th. It was just a day in the life of America, and though I was going through a very hard time, I still had the dream to strive for. America as I'd known it my whole life was still available to me when I was ready for it again. No one, myself included, had a clue that those days were numbered for us, nor were we prepared for the images of horror that would forever imprint onto our memories.

And the deep aching sorrow, for Them.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Ah yes, being alive again.

It was a slow going process, and I don't know how long it will last, but I'm enjoying being somewhere that I haven't been for a while.

The City of Hope.

All of us have one inside us, bustling and vibrant, populated with inhabitants that jubilantly echo the city's mantra, "You're going to make it!" Each one of us has a unique road map that leads to this elusive city. No two people take the same path, but everyone travels it on their own. Of course, we are allowed to ask for directions on the way, but ultimately we must find our way to Hope on our own. We are all born with it, but some of us wander into the surrounding woods and get lost in the thickness of the branches. Disoriented, we wander with our path shrouded in darkness and every turn we take seems to lead to nowhere.

I think I may have found Hope again.

And I'm enjoying being back. I've settled in nicely in Baltimore and have already applied for three jobs. Since I've been here for a total of four days, I think that's pretty good. I know that I'm in the honeymoon period of relocating, but it's my attitude where I've noticed a big change. Depression hasn't paid me a visit yet, and I'm optimistic about getting back on my feet financially. Basically, I'm optimistic about me again, and that feels great.

I believe that driving across country was a great experience for me to have at this time. My two cats and I traveled through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland. The landscape was incredible. Arizona provided everything from a Mars like terrain with red desert dirt and rocks that spread across the horizon for as far as I could see, to pine and grass covered hills. The land baked under temperatures that topped the 120 degree mark, but we stayed cool in the car with shades on all windows but the front, and the air conditioner cranked up to maximum. The Honda's temperature gauge held its position, never moving above it's normal running point. At one point, I was so taken by the colors in the Arizona desert that I pulled over and picked up as many rocks as I could find that represented the beautiful colors that I saw. It was 115 degrees outside at least, but I was roaming around in the middle of nowhere, and I mean nowhere, my feet crunching on top of the red rocks as I picked up stones. I wanted the real thing so I could know the colors in case I ever decide to paint the desert, and also to have something so spectacular created by nature. Breathtaking, literally.

I made a short side trip to the see the Meteor Crater, a mile wide impact crater in the middle of the desert that formed almost 50,000 years ago when a meteor slammed into earth. Amazing that they considered this a small impact compared to some other craters known to be on earth.

As I neared the grassy hills, a wild thunderstorm struck with torrential rain and lightning that reached across the sky like a witch's fingers. I cracked my window and stuck my hand out to feel the warm drops and smell the moisture and ozone. After the storm, a spectacular sunset looked like a painted canvas in my rear view mirror. I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona around 7:30pm, unpacked my car and carried the cats into the room. They explored the room while I tried to figure out where to get something to eat.

Flagstaff was a strange town, at least where I stayed in the Motel 6. Around 9:00pm, I decided to try my luck at finding dinner. I followed the street that the hotel was on and finally settled on a Taco Bell. Not my first choice, but it was food and familiar. As me and another car with out of state plates drove toward the drive through, the sign darkened as did the drive through window. Seems that Flagstaff closed down at about 9:00pm A train track literally ran right beside the hotel in front of the parking lot, and each train that passed by blew it's horn right at the motel, it seemed. This wasn't a pleasant horn, but a blaring, obnoxious, and nerve shattering horn that filled the room and drowned out any noise inside. After that, the roaring sound of the train filled the room, not much quieter than the horn, shaking the bed and windows. I hoped there wouldn't be many trains that night. My hopes were shattered, about ten times through the night as I was rudely awoken from sleep. Word to the wise, if you plan to stay in a hotel in Flagstaff, ask about the proximity to the train tracks.

That morning, I woke up to an empty parking lot. The night before, it was full of cars, but mine was the only one shining in the sun. Another indication that I am a later riser than most. As I packed my car, another train roared by, carrying tanks painted with desert camouflage. A sign of the times. I took my time, making sure I left nothing behind, and was on the road by noon to Amarillo, TX.

But back to Hope. I am feeling good, but I am aware that the forest looms on the fringes of town, ever inviting and enticing. It will be up to me not to wander too far from the city lights.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

I got my move date on Friday, and it is tomorrow.

I don't go, but my furniture does. I've spent most of the last two days packing, looking in closets, under beds, in all the rooms, and taping up more boxes that I shove into the garage to await transport. Luckily, I'd started this process two weeks ago, so it's mostly tieing up loose ends and double checking so that there are no big surprises. Reese, who works at Home Depot. bought some boxes and brought them home to me at my request, just to have extras if needed. Of course, I will reimburse him.

It was hot again yesterday, way over the 100 degree mark, and I went to get my hair cut at Fantastic Sam's. I just wanted a trim, and I got a damn good one for only $13.95. It was refreshing, being in a no frills salon. I was in and out in just over twenty minutes, unlike the usual commitment it takes in a fancy salon. Once you've been through checking your clothes in a coat check after changing into the smock, to the consultation with the stylist, to the assistants washing and conditioning your hair and getting you water or a coffee, the time it takes for the stylist to cut your hair, then back to the assistants to style and blow dry it, you're in for a good two hours and owe a hell of a lot of tips to different people. Not only that, I've never been satisfied with a haircut that I've gotten in Los Angeles but for a couple of times. They are too much into the LA look, and well, I'm not. This was great. I bought a blended beforehand, just walked in without an appointment, sipped it through the cut and didn't get a blow dry. Cost, under $20.00, including tip. I figured the 100+ dry heat would take care of that, and it did. Since I have natural curls, I can do that. And, I tipped only one person. The one that cut my hair.

I stayed up late last night, and therefore woke up in the early afternoon today. It was today that I felt my first pangs of nervousness in my stomach, and they will not leave. I hate moving, even when I am physically prepared for it. Because, one is never completely emotionally prepared to move and I am no exception.

So, I'm going to heed my therapist's advice to "eat." When I get under pressure, I tend to forget to do that. So, I'm going to go to a favorite coffee shop for one more visit and pack down a meal. This is a real coffee shop, in that it serves real food, and breakfast all day. I used to go to it when it was just a coffee shop in my neighborhood, then all the hipsters and stars started to come after it was featured in the movie Swingers and it went from a quiet and strange Hollywood Hills coffee shop to a see and be seen place where you had to wait for a table. Fortunately, I go alone and sit at a stool at the counter like you're supposed to in a coffee shop. I've been joined by celebrities there, because you sit with your back to the crowd, and no one bothers you. They have their reasons for wanting that, I have mine.

I haven't decided on my actual leave date. I'm flirting with Friday, but may want to move it up a couple of days. I find myself just wanting to get on with it. That means I am ready, and that is good.

Okay, I'm off to turn my back on a few hipsters at the coffee shop for the last time.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

I think I've pulled about every muscle in my back and arms.

I've been lifting, pushing, and sliding down the stairs heavy boxes of all sizes. Strangely, my ankles are sore along with my shins. I have no idea what caused that, but I'm not happy about it. Back muscles are tolerable unless they are tight due to stress. The muscles around your shins and ankles emit a much deeper and throbbing pain. As I type, the left one is having a field day.

However, I'm surprising myself with how organized I am for this move. I still have no move date, just that it will be in the span of the 10th through the 14th of August, but that hasn't stopped me from getting packed and organized. Come move day, I don't want to lift a finger. I said that last time, and ended up lifting several. Not this time. So I'll do with just one lamp. And, I mailed my winter clothes to my mom's a couple of weeks ago, so no worries about those. I still have a few framed pictures to pack, but am trying to take care of the more awkward stuff to pack first. My once cramped room is definitely more spacious, but the clutter problem is just as bad. I figure I'll pack a few more boxes tomorrow and maybe mail off another clothing box to mom. The thing is, it costs money to do that, and I want to have plenty of money for the trip.

As I packed my stuff tonight and tried to tape the boxes quietly as Cathy and Reese slept, I wondered when I was going to see it again. Yes, it will be stored at my dad's house, but I wondered when I was going to be opening those boxes to enjoy or put to use everything I was packing. It's sad, thinking that. It feels like I'm storing away part of my life and the familiar things that I've become so accustomed to seeing. When I moved here, I got to take that stuff with me and use it. With this next move, I will have very little of it with me. I am taking with me in the car things that I cannot do without; my computer, photo albums, music, and of course my beloved cats. I bought them extra big carriers so they can move around in the car, yet still have a space where they feel safe.

I had my car serviced last week from head to toe to make sure everything was okay for the trip. The service took all day, and I walked to the local mall to see "Road to Perdition," a film that I enjoyed very much. Before the film, I fell asleep in the Honda dealership, much to the amusement of the car salesmen. One of them, an African-American man woke me up when he made a joke to me, asking me if the accommodations were to my standards. I looked at him groggy, and said "Sure, can I get some room service?" That one got a laugh out of the group in the lobby. I looked at the clock, and realized that I'd dozed off for an hour. When I learned the service would take all day, I went to the mall. After the movie, I walked into the Barnes and Noble, (not the one I worked at) and got a mocha. I thought I'd feel some kinship to the people who worked at Barnes and Noble but didn't. The booksellers there were older and a little bookwormish, unlike our store where we were more hip and lively. These people reminded me of librarians and depressed the hell out of me. Bland clothes, bland faces. So, I walked out and wandered around. I should have seen another film, but didn't. Instead, I walked around feeling very out of place and stranded, because I was.

I was in a strange place in Thousand Oaks, and felt like I was very obvious as I walked around with nowhere to go. It's not like I could afford to shop, so that took the fun out of it. Finally, I went back to the dealership and you guessed it, fell back asleep.

I'm glad that I got that over with as well. I'm dreading move day. That will be the worst, I think.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Last night I went to The West Wing season kick off party for the cast and crew.

It was at a bowling alley in Studio City and Warner Bros. had rented the entire place for the party. Cathy invited me to go with herself and Reese. Just because I know Cathy well, I know that she had my departure from Los Angeles in mind for extending the invitation to me, and that it would be a nice dose of Hollywood before I left. And, it was, in many ways.

First, I hadn't been bowling in over twenty years. The last time I bowled was when I was a kid, and we were on vacation in Estes Park, Colorado with another family that had three daughters. Melissa was my sister's age, Wendy was my age, and Katrina was around six years old. Melissa was mischievous, and got into an argument with a couple of local boys, not about anything in particular, just typical kid stuff, and threatened to pour a can of soda on the kid's head. The boy dared her, and Melissa promptly emptied that can of Coke right on top of his head. My sister, Wendy, and Melissa were prepared for this act, but I wasn't. They were already outside the bowling alley and I was frozen like a deer in headlights, half from shock, and half because I'd been overcome by paralyzing laughter. That is, the kind of laughter where nothing comes out of your mouth, but you dare don't move because you're certain to pee your pants. Shock laughter, is the best term that I can come up with.

And then I saw the two boys running toward me in a rage.

I was guilty by association, and had become their closest target. My legs started to move, but I was still weakened by laughter and couldn't run very fast. I called out to Melissa, Wendy, and Joan for help, but all I could see of them were the dust wakes they'd left in the moonlight. The boys however, had not lost their sights on me. As much as I tried to run, the fear of pee running down my bare legs overshadowed the threat of the two boys, and they caught up to me like two cheetahs closing in on their prey. I turned to face my attackers, for I was not going to go down without a fight.

And that's when a spray of Coke hit me in the face, and then another hit my legs. I picked up dirt and threw it at them, which only seemed to succeed in blowing back on me and sticking to my sweat and soda streaked skin. Now, I wasn't laughing, and that freed up my legs to sprint like a gazelle. The last thing I felt was a few drops of soda hitting my face as I ran when the boy threw the entire can at me but overshot me by a few feet.

It was a battle that I hadn't started, but ended up taking the punishment. I walked back toward our cabin alone in the thick humid night, smacking mosquitoes attracted by the sugar. Eventually, I caught up with the others, and they asked me why I hadn't run away with them. I asked why they hadn't come back to help me fight them off, and griped at them to next time give me some notice before they start a war with other kids. The sight of me, caked with streaks of dirt and soda told the rest of the story. I was humiliated as they laughed at me, but played like the whole event didn't phase me. It was a hot sticky night, and all I wanted was a shower.

Luckily, The West Wing bowling experience didn't turn out that way. Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe didn't chase me out the door to give me a soda baptism. Instead, I ate, I bowled, I talked to a lot of people and had one swell time. It had been a long time since I'd just enjoyed myself like that. And bowling sure has changed. The place is dimly lit and music blares as multi-colored disco lights dance around the floor and walls. The pins are lit under a florescent light and glow bright purple at the end of the alley. Instead of fifty-year-old hardened battle axes with lacquered hairstyles working the counters, the place is staffed with svelte beautiful women and hipster guys. The bowling shoes though, are still ugly.

It was fun to see Cathy in her element and watch her talk about her pregnancy with her coworkers. And, it was fun to see Hollywood having fun. Not pretentious fun, but good old family fun. Family was invited, and there were many kids running around the place which was great. I was of course, Cathy and Reese's family.

It turns out that Reese is quite the bowler. He bowled three strikes that night and won out of our group. Second was a woman who wasn't even going to bowl because she has Multiple Sclerosis. However, she gave it a try. It took her awhile to walk up to the line, but she had a mean bowling arm. Something neither she nor her husband knew. I had no idea she was handicapped until she told me. I thought that maybe she had an injured leg. But no, it was her difficulty to walk. Yet, she was there bowling and having a great time, handicap be damned. Not only that, but coming in second out of six. People are just amazing beings.

Another observation I had when I was there was how accustomed I'd become to famous people. I used to be so impressed by that, and now I'm not. I think for many reasons. Mainly, because of my battle with depression. Going through that has risen me up in status in my own eyes. Not because I went through it, but because I refused to let it win and faced the music to beat it. I learned that I thought I was worth fighting for, something I'd never taken on so drastically in the past. Sure, I never was one to take crap off people, but so many times I shoved my dreams aside to impress others.

So, there they all were, sans Rob Lowe who is still sulking about being the only cast member to not be nominated for an Emmy and his decision to leave the show, and Martin Sheen who was out of town. I felt no need to cozy up to the cast to have a good time at the party. I didn't care who did what or who knew who. I was more interested in them as people. Besides, the cast came to us to see Cathy. I would forget sometimes that these people are seen around the world via television as bigger than life and as ideals. Yet to me, after eight years in this town and going through the hardest time of my life and coming out of it, I can honestly say that I see them like I do anyone else.

It was a perfect way to say goodbye to Hollywood. A friendly and gentle way. I even got a beach towel as a party favor, another symbol of Los Angeles and a perfect souvenir. I really do feel as if I'm going about this departure in the right way, exploring every corner of doubt until I am completely certain that it is the right decision. In a way, seeing how I handle the lures of this town that brought me here.

So far, so good.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

As of today, I have lived in Los Angeles for eight years.

Yes, it is my eight year anniversary today. I know, because for these eight years I have kept journals. The first one in Los Angeles was on July 12, 1994. It was my first day here and I was staying in a weekly rate hotel.

I wasn't alone.

I had rescued a kitten in Las Vegas. He was so tiny that he fit in the palm of my hand. I don't know how old he was, probably just weeks, but I couldn't leave him in the 110 degree heat in Las Vegas where even though he was with his mother, he didn't have a chance. His mother was a feral cat, and ran when she saw me, leaving the little guy all by himself. So I picked him up.

I can only hope that mommy kitty knew I was giving her young one a chance. I had no idea what I was going to do with a kitten, as I didn't know but one soul in Los Angeles. I just knew that I couldn't leave him there.

I stayed with my friend Felix that night at his apartment, and we found a box for kitty after feeding him some milk that he rapaciously licked up from a saucer. He was chocolate colored and had blue eyes as all kittens his age do when they are that young. He'd meet my eyes and meow loudly, and I let the little guy crawl around on me then put him to bed in the box. He was too small to sleep with me, as I'd be afraid of rolling over on him. We put a tick-tock clock in there with him, some towels and a tad of milk. He meowed loudly for about three minutes, then went off to sleep. He was so tiny, but boy could he yowl.

My plans were to find a shelter for him that was a "no kill" shelter the next day. Since he was a kitten, there was a very good chance of him getting placed. However, the next day fell on a Sunday, and I just didn't have the time or knowledge of Las Vegas to one, make sure he was placed in good hands, and two, find my way to the place. So, the little guy was coming to Los Angeles with me. We drove through the desert together, him in his well shaded box until he discovered the joys of riding curled up in the nook of my neck and shoulder. He was that tiny, that he could comfortably fit in my clavicle. I drove, he purred against my neck, a little warm ball of fuzz, and I was so thankful that I'd found him. When I needed to make stops, I carried him in my shirt pocket. He curled up at the bottom, and no one ever noticed that I had a kitten in my pocket.

So I drove into Los Angeles with my new-found friend on my shoulder, both of our futures uncertain. I checked into the hotel, a strange little place that had a two story building and bungalows on the property. When I paid the manager my security deposit, I didn't mention that I had a kitten with me for fear that they weren't allowed.

And, that brought me to that journal entry on July 12, 1994. I was laying on my side in bed, propped up on one arm and my journal open on the mattress, and the little one was crawling around on me. He'd tickle my neck with his tiny claws then stick his nose in my ear, craving attention. He was my much needed companion and made the room that less empty. And, he made me laugh.

The next day I called my friend Tony, the one person that I knew in Los Angeles. Tony was a friend that I'd made at NewTek in Kansas, and I'd met his wife Martha, who was equally as nice as he was. Tony had become an animator for Steven Spielberg's then company, Amblin Imaging. By sheer luck, the hotel I was staying in was blocks from where Tony and Martha lived. I had no idea and had only chosen it because it sounded like a safe neighborhood. And, simply because I'd heard of Burbank through the Tonight Show. I asked Tony if he and Martha wanted a cat, knowing that they would say no. It was too good to be true, that two of the sweetest people that I knew in Los Angeles, who had good hearts and a stable married life would actually take the little guy in.

Tony and Martha came to visit, to welcome me to Los Angeles and kindly took me out to eat. Tony held the kitten in one hand, and the two of them sat in the room for a long time cradling the cat who rested comfortably in Tony's hand. I wanted them to meet him so that both of them could lobby for a home for him at their places of work.

Over the next two days, there were no takers, and I worried about kitty's future. I had no idea where I was going to be living after a week and wondered if I'd done the right thing. When I'd taken him from the streets, I'd put his future in my hands. Not only that, I was incredibly fond of him. Then, a day later, Tony and Martha made a surprise visit and said that they'd found someone to take the cat. I was ecstatic, and asked through the door as I pulled on my pants, "Who?"

They giggled, and I opened the door. The two of them stood close together and Tony said, "Us."
"Really?" I said and put my hands to my mouth.
"Yep, we talked about it and we want him," Tony said.
"Yay!" I said, so happy. This little kitten who before I'd found him was destined for certain doom was now going to go into a loving, doting and responsible home. They already had gone to the pet shop and bought the supplies needed for such a young kitten, the organized people that they were. It also meant that they had truly committed to this cat, and that I would forever know about his well being. They took him home that night, and though I was happy he was with them, I was terribly lonely for him. His empty box sat by my bed, and there was no little nose poking in my ear or mewing as he protested being in his box.

I cried that night over the loss, but knew it was for the best.

Tony and Martha named him Ender, after the character in Orson Scott Card's book, Ender's Game. Ender, who had started out as a little tiny cat, grew into a very large, beautiful chocolate-colored long haired cat. His blue eyes eventually turned yellow, and he is still today one very loved and cherished member of Tony and Martha's family. They now reside in Phoenix, and have two children of their own.

It turned out that I too, found a home in Los Angeles. The first three months I house sat in exchange for free rent for entertainment industry people who eventually introduced me to you guessed it, Cathy and Reese.

And Cathy and Reese are now providing me a much needed home as I plan to leave Los Angeles, just like I did to Ender when I'd first arrived.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

So, to continue about the weirdness that was yesterday.

Where was I now? Oh yeah, the stalker. A mild version of one, but a little on the creepy side. I was shelving books in the Current Affairs section, when a guy who looked about late twenties, early thirties said hello to me as if he knew me. The Current Affairs section is right by the magazine section, and he was on one of the benches reading a magazine. There have been several times when customers come up to me and are familiar with me when I don't recognize them, so I said hello back with the same familiarity, then realized I didn't think that I'd seen the guy before. At first, I thought it was Josh the music manager, since I looked at him quickly, but realized it wasn't. I was a little annoyed, but didn't show it since it wasn't the guy's fault that I mistook him for a coworker. He asked me questions, like how long I'd worked at the store and if I liked my job, and somehow, we got into a conversation about working for dotcoms, since he was a computer programmer. As it progressed, I realized he was chatting me up and looked for a way out of it. Not to mention, he had those blue contacts that made his eyes look a little on the freaky side, since he had brown eyes underneath. The contacts made his eyes to appear a muddy, murky brown-blue, and made his irises too large. Every time we made eye contact, it was a bit weird to look at. Luckily, a misplaced book about the Islamic Holy War was my ticket out. It belonged on an end display, and I walked to put it away, then didn't return to the shelves.

About twenty minutes later, I was putting away books upstairs in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, and he sauntered into the aisle where I was working, very obviously trying to get me to notice him. I quickly walked away to a reading section where there are chairs and tables, and began collecting books that had been left behind by customers. He followed me there, and I darted into the New Age section. Once again, there he was, and his persistence was not only annoying me, but was starting to frighten me a little. I noticed a jump in my heart rate and shallower breathing.

At the same time, I felt bad since I had engaged in friendly conversation with him, but I felt that he was a little too familiar and persistent with me. Also, that he had taken that friendly conversation as something it wasn't. Because I am an intensely private person, (yep, even though I keep this blog) his actions to me felt invasive. Almost suffocating. I was walking away from him every time he came within ten feet from me, so why couldn't he fucking take the clue?

The cat and mouse game continued for awhile, then I had a dinner break which took me out of view for half an hour. When I returned, I didn't see my captivated admirer for an hour and thought he had gotten the message.

That was, until I was straightening some shelves and he came up behind me. Startled the hell out of me and at that point I was angry. Again though, there is that fine line between being professionally courteous and being like the salesperson in that Saturn commercial who says to customer, "Ya know, you're standing like an inch from my face and it's really creeping me out."

I can't remember what we talked about, as I was more concerned about getting away from him. I succeeded, and every now and then I'd see him walking by trying to catch my eye. About half an hour to close time, he again crept up behind me in the Reference section to tell me that he was going to take off. I had no idea why he was telling me that as I thought I'd made it very clear that I wasn't interested.

I'll stop this story now to give a message to you guys out there:
1. Do NOT sneak up behind women who you do not know. It's creepy, period.
2. Do not follow them if they show they are not interested by walking away from you. Creepy again.
3. Do not invade their space.
4. Do not hang out at their place of work for four hours. Especially if #2 applies to you. Creepy, and wholly desperate.

Now that I've gotten that out, allow me to continue.

I remarked that he'd sure been here a long time, and he said he'd gone out to dinner, (probably the same time as my break) then had come back to read awhile, (while he wasn't stalking me around the store.) I told him to enjoy his books that he was going to buy, and once again, walked away from him. With my back to him, he asked me if I wanted to have coffee sometime. I was around the book shelf by that time and just came out with it.

"I can't," I said giving no reason why, "I'm sorry." I could see that he was disappointed as he walked toward me and for once avoided my eyes. "I can always be found here," I said to try to soften the blow a little, and told him to take care.

That's another thing I like about wisdom. I don't have to give a reason why I can't go out with someone. I respect myself enough to not have to justify the fact that I just don't want to go out with a person. Especially someone who has frightened me. So, "I can't, I'm sorry," is all the explanation they get.

I wasn't angry at him for being interested in me and pursuing it. I was angry at the way he did it and that after several signals that I wasn't interested, that he continued to approach me without consideration of how that might feel to me. I know the movies tell us that the guy eventually gets the girl, but in real life people are much more than two dimensional characters. We are not simply reeled in like a fish after a fisherman throws so many lines. We are complicated beings and require a little more care than that. For one, respect the person whom you are pursuing in that they may not be exactly the neat little picture that you are seeing. Just because you have made someone your mission, do not forget that it is a person you are pursuing, not a fantasy. People are very different, and if you are truly generous, you will try to learn and then respect their comfort levels. In my case, I needed this guy to stop following me around, but all he saw was the pursuit.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

I should have known today was going to be a weird day when last night I found a dead bird on the floor near my bed.

It was a present from my cat Scout. She laid it on a piece of paper, and when I returned home from work there it was, wings spread, body torn open and half eaten, and loose feathers surrounding its carcass. I didn't know what kind of bird it was, but it was young. Not a baby, but not quite an adult either.

This morning, my answer came. A mourning dove kept flying at my window. It created quite a ruckus, squeaking and flapping it's wings, then taking a rest to perch on the tree just outside my window. Then, it would flutter madly again as it looked inside. I've never seen a dove do that before, and I'm guessing that it was the parent dove calling for her baby. It made me sad, watching the futility of that dove frantically looking for her young who was not going to answer. It also made me think of the tragedy of finality. That baby wasn't coming back, no matter how the much dove flapped her wings and chattered. I felt sorry for her, and responsible. I know that it was my cat that did it, but I had brought the cat here and let her out. I looked at the dove, a mother that had lost her young, and said, "I'm sorry."

This was the first of many odd incidents today.

When I left for work it was 102 degrees outside. Miserable. As I've mentioned before, we have no air-conditioning in the house. My room was a hot box. I carried around a facial sponge and spritzer bottle, sponging and squirting water on me every two minutes. It still didn't help the misery. And, it's supposed to be even hotter tomorrow.

I got to work fifteen minutes early, as Barnes and Noble is air-conditioned, though not very well since the door is constantly opening and it's a big store. I bought my mocha over ice and bottled water and went into the break room to mellow out before my shift started. Two other employees filtered in, one named Elaine who I had just met, and Katie, a relatively new employee but whom I know better. Brian came in, and all of us sat at the table red faced and tired from the heat, not much for words, but cheery nonetheless. It wasn't lost on me though, that the manager's door was closed and there was a meeting going on inside. Quite a long one, as it had been going on since I had arrived. We continued to chat, when the door burst open and Lisa, who works in the music department, stormed red-faced toward her locker. I thought she was crying, but wasn't sure until she turned toward me, face contorted in tears and as she stomped past me, hurled an envelope at the wall, flung open the break room door and flew out of the room. Seconds later, I heard stomping up the stairs. All of us were shocked and cautious with our comments, touching on what we'd just witnessed but not delving too deep into what might be happening.

I walked over and picked up the envelope, and Josh, the music manager walked out of the manager's office. I handed him the money, and as I visualized Lisa flinging it against the wall in a fit of rage, I said to him, "Lisa dropped this," and handed it to him. I figured that it was her last paycheck, vacation money and whatever had accrued over time, as Lisa had been with the store for four years.

A few minutes later, she came back through the door, her face sullen and I mouthed to her, "you ok?" She looked at me but didn't respond, and I left it at that. She walked into the manager's room and had a few more words with them, during which the rest of us pretended that we didn't notice the drama going on. After she was finished, she turned back toward us, dropped her lock on the floor and kicked it toward the wall. At that, she left. Seconds later, I heard a woman screaming at the top of her lungs.

I knew it was Lisa.

I walked outside to a hushed store, then walked up to Brian who was sitting in the cafe and asked, "What happened?"
He told me that Lisa had yelled to a stunned store, "I'm finally free, free of this fucking place!"

I asked someone why she was so upset, and was told that she had been fired for being "written up" too many times. I had no idea, but I guess there was a long history of complaints from customers and coworkers. However, I liked Lisa. She has a morose personality that some of the newcomers felt was aloofness and unfriendliness, but I liked her sarcastic wit and could see the girl underneath the misanthrope. After being through my own hell, I can talk to anyone, and don't take much personally. I guess what broke through the ice pretty quickly was I didn't see her initial impression as a barrier. I also have an incredible understanding of people, particularly artists.

I have to say that I think getting "let go" is a blessing in disguise for her. She is only 23, and seemed unsure with the track her life was currently on. And, she'd been at the store for four years. She is a smart girl with a degree in theatre arts from USC and it's just too easy to hide in an easy job and live at home with the parents. That is, unless you have a specific game plan for doing so, such as school or looking for a new job. This is why I think it's the best thing that could have happened to her. She will now be forced to consider other options. I know it hurts her right now, but maybe in more ways than she ever considered, is she finally free.

I will miss her, though.

Just minutes after Lisa's declaration of independence to the patrons of Barnes and Noble, another drama was taking place up at the cashier's desk. A woman who had no receipts for her books wanted to return them for full price, and was enraged that our store policy didn't allow it. She was a fat, short woman with a fat short dog, (the dog was cute, though), who wore dark sunglasses. She proclaimed that she spend "thousands of dollars" at our store and couldn't believe that she was being treated in such a shabby way. She was abrasive, demanding, insulting and rude to Josh, who was simply trying to explain our store policy. And, she was causing a scene, saying that her husband had the receipt in New York, that she needed to exchange the books tonight, and a whole bunch of other bullshit.

As I listened to her rant and rave, this saying came to mind, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine." And in her case, you can add "bitch" to the end of that sentence.

I think the woman was under the impression that if she screamed loud enough, that she would get her way. She was wrong. It was actually hurting her case. Especially when you want to return a few hundred dollars worth of computer books at full price, which is a classic scam. Steal the books, return them at another store, get store credit, sell the store credit. I called Don in the back office and said that the woman was causing a scene and getting in Josh's face. Two minutes later, the security guard arrived. After protesting loudly that security had been called, she piped down. And, she didn't get her way and ended up apologizing to Josh and Jeff later. Apparently, because she was busy yelling and not listening, she had misheard a few things. Needless to say, she had no argument.

Like I said, it was a hot day. It was taking a toll on people.

Little did I know, that earlier in the day, Monica, another employee had to be taken away by ambulance. She became ill with a headache that progressed to loss of feeling in her arms and no peripheral vision. Fearful that she was going to have a migraine seizure, the ambulance was called and the paramedics whisked her away. I wasn't there for that one, and from what I hear, Monica is feeling much better.

Then, I was stalked. More on that later.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Happy birthday America.

I have a lot of feelings about this Fourth of July. It did feel different than the last one due to the events of September 11th. You just couldn't help thinking about it through the celebration and fireworks.

On July 2nd, I went to the Hollywood Bowl with Cathy and Reese, and Reese's wonderful parents, Iris and David. The Bowl has their 4th of July spectacular with fireworks on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th because there is so much demand for tickets.

The Bowl is a great place to spend the 4th, as you can bring your picnic baskets, food, alcohol, and whatever else suits your fancy right to your seat with you. There are places to picnic before the concert starts that makes for great people watching and the atmosphere in the Hollywood Hills can't be beat. You just spread out a blanket and your food, and the parade of people walking by never ceases to be a form of pre-show entertainment.

The Hollywood Bowl in its Fourth of July splendor. Fireworks shoot from the top to the music as the orchestra plays below. The Bowl is an outdoor amphitheater nestled in the Hollywood Hills and seats about 28,000 people.

This year, the security was incredibly tight. We all had to file though several security checkpoints where we were wanded and had our belongings hand searched. I had no idea how they were going to handle the tons of food baskets, coolers and backpacks, but they did it, and did it expediently and politely.

John Williams was the guest conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Maestro Williams is famous for composing over 80 movie scores, including some small films such as Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.

James Taylor was also on the ticket that night. His voice sounds exactly the same, smooth as glass, and soothing to the spirit. It has the effect of a silk shawl wrapped around your bare skin on a warm summer night. What an incredible talent. For the encore, he sang America the Beautiful to which the entire audience stood and sang along. It was very moving.

There was still something different about this 4th, and it was evident that everyone around me was feeling it. Though the celebrations were patriotic and jubilant, there was definitely an undercurrent of something that I can't really put it into words right now.

I wrote this in my journal on New Year's Day, January 1st, 2002, a little over two months after the attacks. I think that it sums everything up:

I watched the ball drop live on TV in Times Square. It was 9:00 PM my time, but to me, once that ball drops it signifies that the New Year has arrived.

Times Square was filled with celebrating people and Mayor Guilliani was the Master of Ceremonies. He pressed the lever that started the ball on its journey downward.

I did get emotional, watching the defiance that New York was showing, listening to the patriotic songs and watching the crowd sing along. The strength in numbers almost seemed to lift New York City on its shoulders, like the wounded player who had just scored the winning goal.

To the terrorists:

You injured America's best player, but we still managed to triumph and hold it high for everyone to see. We can be hurt, but we will continue to prevail. Our smiles are not wiped off our faces so easily. And though they can be replaced by tears, it is only a temporary substitution. Though we do not forget our sorrow, we remember to dance in the streets and celebrate our freedom to do so.

Monday, July 01, 2002

What is it about Christopher Walken that makes him so cool?

The latest Christopher coolness is captured in the FatBoySlim video, "Weapon of Choice," where he dances through a hotel to the kick ass song. I haven't been able to quit watching and smile through the whole thing each time. The guy is just a kick in the pants.

He reminds me of that stranger who you might end up dancing with at a nightclub and hanging with all night until the place kicks you out. A little dangerous, a little weird, and wholly intriguing. Sometimes I wish that as a woman I could capture that kind of coolness, but most women just look like they are posing when they try. It comes off forced or unnatural, and no woman that I can think of could pull off what Christopher Walken did in that video and have the same effect. He's just effortless in his coolness and appeal.

I guess that's what's so wonderful about being a woman. I get to enjoy men who are completely at ease with themselves as men, so much that they can dance up a storm in a hotel lobby, keep a deadpan face throughout the entire time, and look damn cool when doing it. There are so many men in Los Angeles who are not at ease with themselves as men, nor women who are at ease with being women. And both try way too hard to be cool, to no avail because they aren't being themselves, and are not in touch with their inner Christopher Walkens. Because of the mixed signals we've gotten over the past couple of decades, people don't know how to be either because society has tried and succeeded in many ways to convince us that we are one homogenous chromosome. This has blurred the gender roles, with women thinking that they have to act and dress like men to compete in the workplace or for equality, and men get confused and don't know how to act around women dressed in harsh clothes with harsh mouths and unapproachable attitudes. Perhaps it's just a Los Angeles phenomenon, but so many women around look so completely untouchable, and dare I say, not soft. I don't mean soft in a fleshy way, at least not entirely. Soft is touchable and comforting, and these over-tanned, over-exercised, and over the top women just don't cut the feminine mustard. Or shall I say, the Grey Poupon.

A couple of years ago at a company Christmas party, I bought the dress of all dresses. I looked like I'd just stepped off the Titanic, with elbow length gloves, a gorgeous sheer hand-beaded shawl that tied in the back, a red corset and a floor length gold skirt. It was just fabulous. This picture doesn't do it justice, mainly because the whole dress isn't visible and you only get a hint of how dapper Shannon looked.

Me and Shannon at my company Christmas party. We didn't even plan the color coordination, but there it was.

After the Christmas party wound down, Shannon and I trotted off to the Sky Bar, notorious for their impossible to get in door policy. We didn't think we had a chance in hell of getting in, but weren't ready to pack it in for the night, especially with us both being dressed up. He drove into the driveway, and I stepped out of the car to see if we could get in. I walked up to the two doormen who were dressed head to toe in black, and when they saw me, the scowls on both their faces melted into smiles.

"What a beautiful dress," one of them said and unhinged the velvet rope.
I thanked him and asked if it was okay if Shannon and I didn't have a reservation.
"Of course," the other one said, and I waved the okay at Shannon who waved back and parked the car.
As I waited for him, other clientele who were allowed beyond the coveted rope turned to me and said, "You look beautiful," and other nice compliments. Some said I looked like a princess, gorgeous, and were not afraid to meet my eyes and act like gentlemen. These were men who would normally look just above your forehead, avoiding your eyes at all costs for fear of losing the competition. The competition being, who catches who looking first. In this dress, a picture of feminism and grace, they were not afraid to be men. Because, even though I was dressed in an evening gown, I was touchable. The women they were with were dressed in black, and smiled nervously as their dates lavished on the compliments. I was gracious, and thanked every one of them.

Shannon and I walked into the club and waded through the crowd clad in black. There were women who looked like supermodels, but the attention was focused on me and Shannon. All night long, the pretentious and "above it all" crowd at the Sky Bar was complimenting my dress, allowing me to pass instead of blocking my way, and other door men at the club greeted me and opened the door for me, telling me how beautiful I looked. Keep in mind, that this is at Sky Bar where the people are supposed to be "too cool for you," and never do bouncers open the door for a customer who isn't famous or A-list. I mean, the horror.

It just showed me that there are men who are dying to be men and welcomed the reprieve from snotty, jaded, scantily clad, and unoriginal women who don't appreciate their chivalrous gestures when they are offered. Sure, all men aren't begging to be gentlemen. Some are just fine with the game and deserve what they get. But, my appearance that night brought out the gentlemen in so many men in a place where you would least expect to find them.

I've never thought of it this way until now, but I think that night I was my own version of Christopher Walken. Like he was in that video, I was at ease and comfortable with just being who I was, and that put everyone else around me at ease as well.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Martin Sheen called our house yesterday.

It's so funny to hear a message on your answering machine from Martin Sheen. He was calling for Cathy, who is the key second AD on the show, "The West Wing." He calls her Red, because of her red hair, and began the message with, "Hey Red, this is Martin Sheen." That just cracks me up.

I've met Martin a few times when I was an extra on the show, and one time before, just after September 11th. I was living an isolated existence in my apartment in West Hollywood during the throws of my depression, unemployed, and needed human contact. Not only that, a purpose. So, I called Cathy and asked her if I could extra on the show. Cathy being Cathy, she said "of course," and signed me on to be a "White House staffer." And, not only would I get human contact, I'd get paid.

I'd been to the set a couple of times before, so I was vaguely familiar with it, but I'd never been in front of the camera. I'd imagined that I'd be sitting at a desk or something, but when the AD led me into the White House lobby and started giving me stage direction and the prop person handed me a laptop computer that I was supposed to close on cue, then get up and walk down the hall on cue after Rob Lowe and Bradley Whitford walked by, I became scared shitless. I felt naked and exposed, and wanted something to grab onto but there was only me. I imagined all the things that could go wrong. Tripping, dropping the laptop, crashing into Rob Lowe, or just plain freezing. I had no idea that so much was expected of an extra, and my heart rate and body temperature started to rise as I watched them set up the shot. There was another extra, a man in his fifties who was paired with me, and I told him that I'd never done this before and was scared shitless. He reassured me and said that everything would be fine as I wondered why I'd put myself in this position. Most of all, I didn't want to do anything that would embarrass Cathy.

Then, I remembered this thing that Baryshnikov used to always say when he was in rehearsal with his dancers, "Don't think, just do." So I stopped thinking about it, and realized that of course I could stand up and close a laptop and walk on cue. I'd "just do," and trust myself to do it right. And, that's exactly what happened. We went through a couple of rehearsals, and when the real thing came, I was completely at ease.

Sure, the first time the first AD yelled, "Picture's up!" then "Rolling!" then "Action!" my heart fluttered a bit, but I made it though just fine. I hit all my cues, I didn't fall, and both Bradley Whitford and Rob Lowe emerged unscathed. Between takes they talked politics and I realized that I was starting to have fun.

We did about four takes of that shot and then moved to another one. It was fascinating to watch the Hollywood machine at work, and even more so, that everyone knew what they were doing. Not just the actors, but the people who set up the shots, and the steady cam operator who wears a contraption that makes him look like Robocop. There's a guy who puts tape on the floor to "mark" where the actors walk, and a wardrobe person, all the grips and lighting people, the script supervisors and dialogue coaches, the AD's and DGA trainee who rounds up the extras and helps give direction. There are stand ins for each actor for setting up shots and so much more. So much goes on before the director yells "action," yet it looks so effortless and unintentional on the screen.

The West Wing crew and actors are a particularly nice group of people, save for Rob Lowe who is a weirdo. I'll explain Rob Lowe in a minute. Cathy had already paved the way for me by telling everyone to be really nice and helpful to me, since I wasn't a regular at this, and everyone was extremely considerate and helpful. I'll admit, that it was nice to be treated as a favored guest on a Hollywood set, and made the few days that I did the extra work that much more enjoyable. Cathy is one of the top bananas on the set, not to mention, really well-liked. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy being on the right side of the Hollywood pecking order. I was a guest, but a guest that got to participate in everything and see what it was like to be in the middle of a big Hollywood production. At the time, I was contemplating leaving Los Angeles for Baltimore, and was getting my last few doses of Hollywood in before I left. The episode that I was in was the Christmas episode, so there was a break coming up for the cast and crew.

Me on set in the Oval Office behind the President's desk. It was dark in there, so the picture quality isn't great. The tag hanging around my neck is a "White House Staffer" ID. I wore a red turtleneck since we were supposed to look "in season" for the Christmas episode.

When I got there, everyone had warned me about Rob Lowe. That he didn't like to be touched, talked to, and could single someone out whom he felt got in his way during a scene. Of course, on my first day of being an extra, almost all the scenes they put me in were with Rob Lowe. However, I wasn't worried about him. After going through the hell of depression, I understood that everyone has their quirks and deals with them in their own way. I may not agree with them, but I understood that while on set that I was on his turf, and because of that I was respectful. Anything I thought about him as a human being, positive or negative, should not even register in the slightest on my face.

I just love that about being older. In my early twenties, I may have tried to make it obvious to Rob that I didn't approve of his reputation or that I wasn't intimidated with his celebrity, but being older and much wiser, I understand that life isn't "all about me." I can be generous toward people and allow them room. And some people require more room than others and that doesn't take anything away from me. On that set during that scene, it was all about Rob Lowe and Bradley Whitford. They were of more value than I was to the show, and I was just fine with that.

However, if in the "real world," Rob stole my parking place or cut in front of me in line at the grocery store, at that time I would have no problem speaking up as it would be appropriate. Turned out that Rob was fine, all day. I was more worried about closing laptops and hitting my cues.

As the day went on, I learned that it was important to know where the camera was. Knowing where it was made it easy for me to understand what was going on and how my actions came into play with the actors' scenes. It was all just so interesting, and the fact that it all worked just constantly amazed me. Sometimes it would hit me that I was on set of the #1 rated drama and what a privilege it was to be a part of it. I'd have one of those moments like in the Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime, "And you may ask yourself, did I get here?"

My stepbrother Dan laughs at me when I tell him this story. He said, "Anne, most people when they want to jolt themselves out of depression force themselves to go to a party, the movies, or out with friends. You, you make one phone call and go to be on the nation's highest rated TV drama to get out of your depression."

Hey man, whatever works.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

My day started of with a boom. Two to be exact.

I was in the shower and around 10:30 AM, the house shook from two loud booms. I thought at first that Cathy and Reese had come home, then wondered if we'd had an earthquake. It frightened me and I turned off the water without conditioning my hair. Easy to manage locks would have to wait until next time. I wanted to make sure that someone wasn't trying to break into the house. I dried off, wrapped my towel around me and walked into my room. My radio was on, and the newscaster said excitedly, "Did you just hear two loud booms?"

I relaxed, as I knew what that meant, and the newscaster confirmed my thoughts. They were sonic booms from the Space Shuttle entering the atmosphere overhead. It's happened three or four times since I've been in Los Angeles, since the Space Shuttle lands at Edwards Air Force Base here in California a few miles to the North. The first time was six years ago and I was in this very room. The windows shook and the house rocked a little, and I clenched my covers close to my chin, ready to hold on for the earthquake. We'd been having several aftershocks since the Northridge quake that were pretty sizable, and I figured that I was in for some rocking from good old Mother Nature. However, the shaking was caused by a disturbance above our earth, not below it. It was the Space Shuttle causing all the ruckus.

Another time, about a year and a half ago, I was living in West Hollywood and thought someone was working on the rooftop. It sounded as if someone had dropped an anvil on the roof above me and was so loud that I flinched, expecting something to fall through. I went outside to see what was going on, and there was nothing. Once again, our Shuttle was landing.

One of the freakiest things to happen from the base, I witnessed in the parking lot of my grocery store in the Hollywood Hills. I'd just exited my car and happened to look north at the sky, just at the right time. The sight stopped me in my tracks as well as several other shoppers who were in the parking lot. We all stood there like the crew witnessing the mother ship land in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was a large thick streak of light, almost as if a comet had launched from the earth, and it was speeding upward. Several expletives emitted from the people standing behind me, and unbeknownst to me I was blocking a man from parking in a space. Once he saw what we were all looking at, he put it in park and stepped out of his car.

"What is it?" I asked, wondering if Armageddon was in progress.
"Fuck if I know," the man who had just stepped out of a $70,000 BMW said back to me, his eyes not moving from the sky.

And then, a much smaller light made its way toward the comet, and a second later it exploded in an enormous, beautiful and perfectly round orb of light. All of us in the parking lot took a couple of steps backward and watched it expand. It's trajectory had stopped and since the sun was setting, the ball reflected blues, oranges and pinks. It was frighteningly breathtaking.

"Son of a bitch," BMW man said and looked at his car. I was thinking what he was, whether we were going to have to get the hell out of Dodge, fast.

Then I remembered.

"Aren't they doing an anti-missile test or something?" I asked.
Another man who had stepped out of a '69 VW Bug said, "Yeah, I think they are testing something. I heard it on the news."
"So we aren't being nuked?" BMW man said.
"No, but if we ever are it will be one hell of a sight," I said.
"You got that right," BMW man said.

We then proceeded into the grocery store, our minds back to picking up Feta cheese, lunch meats, and toilet paper.

I later learned that the test had been unsuccessful, that the speck of light I'd seen had missed the target and that they had to detonate the missile over the water. However, a second test a few weeks later went off without a hitch. It still remains one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.

Monday, June 17, 2002

I had the coolest Web experience the other night.

I found this Webcam by visiting a blog that links to my site, that allows you to watch live streaming video from a shop in Ware, England. They also have another Web cam outside the shop for a street view. I'm not sure what connection that this man, who calls himself Methusalah, has to the store, but it was on his site that I found the link.

I've always been fascinated by the fact that I can be sitting here in Los Angeles and watch life going on in England, Moscow, Tokyo, or wherever, and that the people walking by on the street or driving by in their cars have no idea that a girl from Los Angeles is watching them. And, can even see them for that matter. Forget about the personal Web cams, as these are the best ones as they represent real life in it's most candid form. You are literally a fly on the wall. Guess I won't be picking my nose when I think I'm alone on a city street. Some guy in Bangkok might be watching.

Usually, when I've checked in on the shop it's been closed, but I was up in the wee hours of the morning (imagine that) and decided to visit. I clicked on the shop link, and was delighted to see that it was open, the camera on the two or three women who worked at the counter, busy with the customers that were coming in and out of the store. I have a high speed connection, so it was pretty much real time from Ware, England. Since I was spying on them from far away, I thought I'd let them know of my presence and that I enjoyed their Web cam. I searched around the site and found an e-mail submission form, and titled it, "Hello from Los Angeles." I sent them a short note telling them that I liked their Web cam and was watching the store right now, and wanted to let them know how far they'd reached their audience. As a last minute thought asked them to give me a wave if they got my e-mail. I watched for another five minutes, thinking how ridiculous a request it was, as if they were going to stop what they were doing and wave to me. It was then that I saw a man in business attire walking toward the counter and smiling, and couldn't believe it when he walked up to the camera and waved, with two hands over his head. He was smiling and I was smiling, and the women at the counter looked toward me and smiled, as did a customer. The man checked his watch as if answering a question from one of the women, and I know they were asking what time it was in Los Angeles. They laughed some more and then got back to business. What a thrill that was.

I'm still blown away that someone in Ware, England waved to me real time in Los Angeles. And, that the people in the store were good natured enough to stop what they were doing in the back offices and give an insomniac in Los Angeles a wave! I was grinning ear to ear. Talk about interactive.

I was off today and am again tomorrow. The store has been completely slammed which is the way I like it. The time flies, I'm at my best and I never get bored. I wasn't in the mood to work on Saturday, but told myself that I was just going to exist and not care one way or the other. So I wasn't in the mood, that was okay. It was just a little time of my life that I had to be there. Luckily, we had free pizza that night so I didn't have to buy dinner for myself.

Cathy and Reese are out of town and it's been both nice to feel I can spread out a little more as well as lonely. I try to be pretty invisible as far as taking up space when they are here and that includes cooking, doing laundry and other things. I've been doing all of the above and it's made me feel a lot more human. I know that Cathy and Reese aren't that way, but because I'm staying here for free, I try to make it as easy as possible on them.

One thing that I notice when I'm at the store is that my mind is ripe with ideas and things I want to accomplish. Not only that, I'm motivated to do it. However, when I get home, that motivation subsides and I find myself frustrated because I didn't get anything that I'd planned finished. I end up surfing the Internet, watching some television, or whatever. Yes, I do get home at midnight, but this has been a pervasive problem. I'm trying to figure out how to carry that motivation home with me, and keep it for the days off, but when I get here it just dies. I think because I do thrive in a busy environment, and also have more energy in one. There's an old saying that says, "If you want something done, ask a busy person," and I think that I fall into that category. I have so much to give, and every day that I fail to edge closer to doing so, I get very frustrated. I think that's why graduate school is looking good. Not because I think some degree is going to make life easier, but so I can have a purpose again.

Right now, my only purpose is to keep my head above water as I move toward an unknown future, and that leaves me feeling empty and unfulfilled.

Friday, June 14, 2002

Right now there is a coyote howling outside my window. I heard it walking through the back yard, disturbing brush as it noisily traipsed through a path between my house and the next door neighbor's. It was unconcerned with the noise it was making, as it is a predator with only the mountain lions to fear. We are too far down for many mountain lion sightings, but the coyotes are regular nightly visitors. And, many times like tonight they howl into the darkness.

A couple of minutes later, another one walked through the path and the leader fell silent. I sprung up from my chair with my flashlight and tried unsuccessfully to catch sight of them. As usual, they are heard and not seen, and I think that is what is so unnerving. They are like forlorn and restless spirits, wailing a sad song in the night as they walk the earth, their curse to be heard and not seen except by others of their kind. As I type, a chorus of coyotes, near and far are howling. It's eerie and beautiful at the same time.

One night, around this time a terrified shriek from a child interrupted the silence. It pierced through my skin and goosebumps rose immediately on my arms. I froze, unable to act. My quiet night had become suddenly unsafe and terrifying. I did not jump to the window this time, but sat still, breathing hard and tensed. It screamed again, then fell silent. As I sat in the dark in my bed with the covers pulled to my chin, I realized that it wasn't a child, but a rabbit that had become prey. The thought of that terrified me, and still unnerves me when I think about it. A life suddenly cut short, a rabbit, screaming in terror as it is attacked. I think what unnerved me so much was that the line between primal and human instinct seemed very blurred at that moment. Whatever attacked it, probably a coyote or owl, needed to eat. The rabbit didn't want to die, so it screamed...twice. Jesus Christ, it still gives me the creeps.

I have one nocturnal neighbor that I haven't been able to identify yet. It's obviously a bird, but what kind, I have no idea. It makes the sound of a hawk, but hawks are day hunters and the screech is a bit more shrill than that. To describe it the best, it sounds like a bat's screech that has been turned up in volume a few notches. I have no idea what it is, as screech owls aren't really prevalent in this area. Sometimes I imagine it's a lost gargoyle, flying solo in the night.

One of my favorite night visitors is the owl that hoots every so often as it rests atop trees or rooftops. I can just see it's big round eyes as they survey the landscape. I feel a kinship to it because I too am a night owl. I haven't seen him yet, but can't wait until the night we cross paths. Owls are just fascinating creatures, and many times they are brazen and curious.

A couple of years ago, my friend Emma and I were walking the neighbor's dog through the Hollywood Hills by the Hollywood sign. This was when I lived in the Hollywood Hills, and frequented the many paths and horse trails in the hills. We were walking at dusk on a wide dirt path, when I felt a rush of air above my head. I looked up to see a large owl flying low to land. It's huge wing span cloaked the pink sky as it passed over my head, and it kept company with us, landing on branches that were eye level and watching us as we passed. It was unafraid, and seemed to want the company and know we were of no danger to it. At times it would land just feet from us on a fallen tree branch and stare at us. That night was one of those experiences that I know I'll treasure forever. I felt honored and humbled, being accompanied by such a regal and mysterious bird who was making such an effort to make its presence known to us. It was as if the owl had chosen us to follow and was welcoming us into it's environment, and to be that close to it on a warm night under the setting sun was simply magical and made me pause to thank God for being alive.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

I've been working for nine days straight, and am enjoying the first of my three days off.

We have some new people at the store, and because of that closing has seemed to go on a little later. That, or things have just been unusually hectic because of the approaching senior finals. High school will be over this Friday, and hopefully that will lessen the amount of teenagers that congregate in the cafe and spill out over the tables and chairs. None of us mind that they use the area to study, it's just that most of them are inconsiderate and leave latte cups, piles of books that they used and didn't put back, and can act loud and obnoxious. They also take up a lot of space with their huge backpacks and chairs they stole from other tables and placed in the aisles. I mean, God forbid they study in groups less than five. Not only that, they take their shoes off and leave them in the way, lie on the floor, and I caught a few of them having a book war, throwing our books at one another. I put a stop to it immediately. When they get that way, we curb their behavior pretty quickly and if they persist, call the guard to kick them out. At one point I got frustrated and took two abandoned back packs from a table and threw them behind the cashier counter. In doing so, because the backpacks were both half the size of myself, I tweaked my back.

It's nice that the under eighteen crowd has somewhere to go, and we're happy that they find our store a good atmosphere in which to study, but when they become a nuisance, it spoils it for everyone. First, they get a warning. After a couple of warnings, they are asked to leave. This isn't their living rooms, and most of them do not buy from the store. So, we've been cracking down harder on them.

Last night, I was helping Brian in the kid's department with some displays, and there were a bunch of teenage girls at a table just outside the area. Just hearing them talk reminded me how glad I was that I wasn't a teenager anymore and that I didn't have to be subjected to goofy girls on a daily basis. I was never a goofy girl, but when you are fifteen, that is who you are forced to socialize with on a daily basis simply because you go to school with them. Just hearing them talk made me glad that I was an adult. And that is, even an adult who is neck deep in debt, living with her friends, has clinical depression, and who has an uncertain future. Anything is better than having to spend a lot of time around "clique" driven goofy teenagers. I can tell that these kids are probably the "popular" crowd, as all the girls dress in midriffs and low cut jeans, and are striving with every detail from cellular phone covers to toenail polish to represent what is "in" as much as they can. They flirt with the packs of boys who come in, and I hear them sometimes exclaim something like, "Oh my God Brittany, guess who like totally just walked through the door!" That's followed by giggles and squealing as they watch a spiky haired kid with braces, droopy shorts, bad posture, and a few freshly squeezed zits saunter through the door with his buddies. And it just makes me so totally, like glad that I'm not like, a teenager anymore. And that like, my peers aren't like, either.

When I was a teen, I spent most of my days in my room drawing or painting, or watching TV to escape from Kansas. I'd also go on long walks at night under a star splattered sky, feeling the wind against my face and street underneath my shoes. You could do that in Topeka, Kansas. I'd usually wander into construction sites in our condominium complex and explore the places under construction. I loved the smell of the drying cement, exposed wood, and freshly dug up dirt. It was the smell of progress and possibility. Sometimes I could look through the unfinished roof at the sky and listen to the wind as it made its way through the trees. And I'd think about the future and what it held for me. During those moments, I was as far away from my teenage peers as I could get.

And, early in my college years the reality far surpassed those dreams. I made it out of Kansas to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. And, I got into Parsons on my own. It was my portfolio with my drawings that I'd done on my own time that had gotten me accepted at that highly competitive school. Within one year of arriving in New York I was working for my then idol, Mikhail Baryshnikov. The posters on my wall and the numerous viewings of his ballet performances, White Nights, and The Turning Point, had become a reality for me. That is another story that I will elaborate on at a different time. The important thing was that the strength gained by marching on my own path is the very thing that enabled me to get there. And that is why I'm able to keep it together during these rough times and feel much better off than the teens who congregate at Barnes and Noble. It's hard to know if they will ever experience the thrill of achieving a goal when everyone around you said that you weren't going to do it. That my way was wrong and that I was setting myself up for disappointment. I have many successes and experiences under my belt that were of my own doing. And, I know that there will be more in the future. It may be a frustrating journey right now and at times feel hopeless, but I have those experiences to draw on to keep me going. And, no debt, depression, or loss of a job can take them away.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Night train.

There's a train that I hear at night when the quiet darkness allows far away sounds to drift through my bedroom window. Around two in the morning, I hear the faint throaty howl of the whistle and the muffled sound of machinery pumping steel wheels along the iron rail. I have no idea where the train tracks are. There are none that I have passed by that I can remember. For now, they are in an imagined place. When I hear the whistle wail, I imagine shiny black steel reflecting blue light under the moonlight, the churning pistons in the engine pulling car after car behind it, a train on the run underneath the stars, racing through the desert plains as dew collects on its metal casing.

I remember hearing night trains when I'd visit my grandparents' house as a kid in Little Rock, Arkansas. They had no air conditioning, so the nights were filled with the lonely sounds of singing crickets and an occasional passing car. Usually, I'd lie in bed lonely for the comforts of my room and familiarity. A single street light shined into the room, surrounded by a swirling circle of June bugs, mosquitoes and gnats. As I avoided its glare, I tossed and turned underneath hot covers and stirred every time the house settled. I was restless, the only one awake in a motionless house.

And then, I'd hear it. The faint sound of the whistle in the distance, the swelling volume of the engine, rhythmic like a marching cavalry off in the distance. My feelings of isolation turned into comfort and my restlessness subdued. As still as the night was, the night train still sped through town, fast on a mission and very much awake. The whistle would blow again, this time closer and much louder. It was like a sage letting me know that I wasn't the only one stirring in the night. I'd sit up and listen to it pass, wondering where it was going and what it was carrying. I pictured the conductor at the helm as the darkness raced past him, in control of the monstrous machine and captain of his destiny. He wasn't confined in an uncomfortable and sticky bed that creaked when he moved. He was free, and racing through the night on a steel behemoth. And, he was also restless.

Night trains stirred the thoughts in me that there was a very grown up world out there that I had yet to explore. A world of people who stayed up past nine and had places to go. And that some day if I wanted to, I could go on my own trek. The night train represented freedom, possibility, and the unknown that was so much bigger than anything I'd experienced. It prodded the dreamer in me and enticed me to look past that singular light or the cramped old room that I slept in at my grandparents' house. And I think that's why it brought me comfort.

When I hear night trains, like the one I just heard when I got up to write this, I still react in the same way. The first time I heard it in this room it brought back those feelings of wonderment and reminded me that once I find the right track, the chance to be the conductor of my own boundless train, still awaits me.