Sunday, September 28, 2003

One minute, you are at your mom's house, having just checked in on the cat and finishing up your laundry. You realize that you still have your comforter, your big, fluffy down comforter that you took to her house to wash in her jumbo sized machine and hung over the railing on the third floor for three days to let it dry. It's early in the morning, no, not dawn early, early as in the dark hours of the morning. You have your big duffel bag, and stuff the comforter into the duffel bag. It's huge, big enough for a body if you were so inclined to stuff one in there. Instead, it's your comforter. Your now clean, fresh, and very light comforter.

You begin your walk down three flights of stairs, one duffel bag over your shoulder, the big one dragging behind you. You hit your knee on the wooden railing.

You curse.

You step down to continue, and feel nothing but air.

And then you're tumbling.

As you land on the second floor landing, having rounded a corner in your fall, you pause.

From one second to the next, is how fast your life could have terribly changed, had that fall gone the worst possible route.

Tonight, for me it went the best route. Perhaps it's because I let my body crumple. Or, the fact that I had two duffel bags full of laundry to cushion my fall. My head narrowly missed the wooden threshold of the door leading into the second floor living room. Had it hit, it would have been hard. I had momentum. But like the crumpled clothing, my body had taken on the form of a rag doll. Boneless, without fight, and thankfully without injury.

I will be sore tomorrow, but thank God, only that.

To add insult to a near miss injury, an almost empty can of soda I was carrying spilled on the comforter. It was diet soda, so I said, "Fuck it," and stuffed the comforter back into the bag where it had peeked out. It was a tiny bit on the corner. I could live with that.

I've always been a good faller. I don't fight it, and instinctively I know how to fall to prevent injury. As a result, I've never broken a bone in my life, and I had many chances. I was the kid who climbed everything that there was to be climbed and got into everything there was to get into.

When I was six, I once hung off a second story balcony over a perilous rock cliff because the other kids told me that there was an invisible trampoline that would catch my fall.

I believed them.

We were all too young to contemplate serious injury. To them, my fall would be like that of Wile E. Coyote, where I flatten myself but get back up unhurt, all good for a laugh. I gripped that metal railing, my legs kicking, staring at the red flat rocks far beneath me. We were at a friend of our parents house whose property, like ours was on sharp hillside in a woodsy area. Our parents were in the front yard enjoying their barbecue, thinking we were all playing nice in the woods. Instead, one of their daughters was hanging off the side of their house with the firm belief that an invisible trampoline would break her fall, as the other kids cheered her on to let go. I remember loosening my fingers, then tightening them back up. Letting my hands slip from a palm grip to one where my thumbs were released and top two digits were the only things holding me to the railing.

"C'mon Anne!" the kids yelled, "let go! It will catch you!"

I looked down again as they promised me it was there, then had a thought. It wasn't disbelief that there was an invisible trampoline that finally hit me, but I wondered how I would know where to land on it if I couldn't see it. What if I missed? At that thought, I swung my body back and forth to gain momentum, then kicked my leg over the railing where my hands gripped. As the kids called me a chicken and groaned at their disappointment, I pulled myself back onto the balcony.

Then I challenged them, "Why don't you do it?"

There were no takers.

None that would even hang over the railing.

Though I didn't fall that time, there were many times that I did. Each time avoiding breaking bones. I don't know how I avoided that with the stunts I pulled over the years, but my body and I have always been good communicators when it comes to physical activity. And that includes falling.

Most times, when we think of falling, both figuratively and literally, the focus is on getting up, trying again. But we forget that the fall that took us to that point is the first part of that getting up process. Depending on how you fall, getting back up can be an easy, or an incredibly difficult task.

Tonight, thanks to luck and knowing how to fall, I was able to get up with ease and not difficulty.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Isabel has come and gone. As expected, on Thursday, the day that the hurricane blew in, I was called and told not to come to work. So I waited, for anything that looked like a hurricane. I napped periodically, waking up with the cats laying on my chest. By 2pm, the wind started picking up interspersed with rain, and I went outside to sit on my stoop to experience it. When I looked up toward the sky, I saw that the clouds were moving faster than I'd ever seen before, looking like they were captured on time lapse film then projected at normal speed. My neighbors across the street sat outside as well to watch nature's spectacle, and their kids played on the sidewalk in bright, colorful raincoats. They looked like a bunch of bouncing gumdrops against the backdrop of the grey day. Though windy, it wasn't dangerous yet.

Thursday late afternoon was filled with wind ripping through trees and bursts of rain spewing out of the clouds. I was able to keep my windows open and hear the high pitched howling, because they were parallel to the direction of the wind. The cats sat on the sill and watched, curious at this invisible, giant, and angry visitor that shook trees, then tossed branches and leaves around like a child throwing a tantrum. Both my fireplaces bellowed deep, throaty sounds as the wind was force fed down the chimneys.

There did come a time that I had to shut my windows, as the constant swooning, rocking trees and fast moving clouds accompanied by the whistling wind made me motion sick. Eventually I was able to open them again, but for awhile I couldn't look outside and had to absorb myself in indoor activities to ease the queasiness. Motionless, indoor activities like painting.

The winds, though strong and constant were just a prequel to the violent gusts that we would experience once darkness fell. That's when things took a much more severe turn. Isabel the bully was really flexing her muscles, and not just branches, but trees started to fall. I was at my computer and heard the big cracking sound, then looked outside to see the casualty across the street. A beautiful, old tree that couldn't withstand the forceful gale. Cars were buried under branches, but mine fared well since I parked it next to a young, small tree.

I was surprised that I didn't lose power at all, though millions of people did. It was hard to get online, but I managed to through the night. Finally, something had to give and my cable went out. At that, I retired to my bedroom and kept one window open. My long white curtains looked like ship sails flapping in the moonlight. Every time a gust came it tossed them up toward the ceiling and the smell of fresh, rain soaked air blew over my face. The cats had followed me into bed, and watched the curtains with uncertainty. It was very surreal, and magical in a way, as if I'd been transformed into another world. One where the sky interacted with us much more and refused to be cast off as just a backdrop to us humans. It demanded attention, and let us know it was a force to be reckoned with and that it was feeling turbulent. I felt lucky to be experiencing it, as it does connect us to earth and sky, and though that may sound bewildering and intimidating, it was actually very comforting.

So I laid there, and I let it in. And beside me, on top of me, and around me. Isabel had traveled hundreds of miles and across an ocean, so I let her churn inside my room and explore, her wispy tendrils touching me, my cats, the walls, my bed, the ceiling. Reaching through my chimney and out my fireplace, then back up again. Inspecting my rumpled clothes on the floor and brushing over the perfume bottles on my vanity. Caressing the marble Victorian mantle over the fireplace and the top of my sleigh bed. Cruising through my foyer and out the living room window. Rattling my windows as she entered and exited, watching me rouse from a light sleep as if playing a joke. Observing me as I laid there silently and watched the dancing shadows from my curtains.

And then finally, she let me sleep.

The next day, I walked around the neighborhood to surmise the damage. Lots of people were walking around and I stopped in the local coffee place to get a frozen mocha. Life had returned to earth from the sky, and that smaller focus had me craving a blended.

A fallen tree in a yard in my neighborhood. This one crashed through the wrought iron fence and landed in this persons front yard. Many of the homes here date back to the middle 1800's and because they have been painstakingly renovated, withstood the winds pretty well.
Another tree casualty on Mt. Royal Avenue. This one toppled over a sidewalk and out into the street, also taking the top of a Bolton Hill street lamp with it, seen at right in this photo.

The fallen tree across the street from me taken in the daylight. My car was parked just across the street from this one.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

A still night before the storm.

You can literally hear a pin drop outside, and this is the first night that I haven't heard the cicadas singing.

Picture at right: Photo of hurricane Isabel taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Today was beautiful, crisp, sunny, and devoid of any evidence that a storm is headed our way. That is, until you try to find a parking place in the Rite-Aid lot, and the local hardware store is out of D batteries. Sneaky little twinkle toes that I am, I went to the local art supply store and scored the last two packages of D batteries. Or, until you go to the gas station and try to fill up your car with regular unleaded, and the sweet, sparsely-toothed attendant comes to tell you that the reason you're just getting air when you depress the handle is because they just ran of it. So, my car got a treat today of a tank full of the next grade up of gas. And, when you are driving to Starbucks, listening to all the school closings tomorrow in the city, and come home to see that the landlord has posted instructions on keeping an eye out for flooding in the building and to not park your car under large trees. Luckily, I'm on the second floor. My car will have to fend for itself, but I did heed the advice.

A hurricane is the one weather event that I haven't experienced yet. Once again, I think that Maryland is trying to make up for the lack of severe weather events that I experienced while living in California. Or, it's just trying to show off. Starting with the 28 inch snow storm from last winter that kept me housebound for four days, and the incredible thunderstorms we've had here this summer. No one knows how bad it's going to be, so we're all just waiting. And that has made it eerily quiet outside.

I'm supposed to work tomorrow at 4pm, but I have a feeling that will be called off. The storm is supposed to hit at 2pm, and I'm not going to risk my life driving to work. I have a feeling, if it gets bad, that the store will close early to allow people safe passage home. The people in Maryland have enough trouble driving when conditions are ideal.

My mom and Jack are in Europe, leaving me to care for EJ their cat and their house while they are gone. Since they live around the corner, it's in walking distance. On the way home, I passed a good looking kid who looked to be of college age. Though we didn't know each other, we said hello as we passed, and then he said, "You're really pretty." I was taken aback by such a forward compliment, and thanked him, giggling a little. We were both still walking away from each other and I didn't look back. Neither did he, I don't think. How nice and refreshing for a young man to feel confident enough to compliment a woman in a nonthreatening and genuine matter. And, it sure put a smile on my face as I walked the rest of the way home.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Yesterday, on my way home from Starbucks, I decided to drive around Baltimore. I passed my exit, and headed to the Inner Harbor. The sun was just starting to set and the day was crisp and clear. A beautiful, late summer day where the kiss of fall is flirting with summer. During that drive, I remembered how my friend Shannon and I would be out in bars in Los Angeles and get into laughing fits. Not because of the drink, but because one of us would say or observe something that just set it off. Shannon and I would always "go there" with our humor and it inevitably led to gut holding, bending over, tear producing laughter that took a while from which to recover. Take it from me, that the best ab exercise you can do is laughter. I won't describe the incident I was remembering, as laughter between two very close friends is near impossible to explain to someone else.

Shannon e-mailed me last night, perhaps he picked up that I was laughing with him across the continent. I was sitting at my computer and we chit chatted via e-mail, since it was late and I was about to go to bed.

Many times when I'm in the store among the Trolls, Quasimodos, and Jabba the Huts, I think to myself what I would say to Shannon in passing. Or, what he would say to me. Same goes for some of the books we carry, the cheesy romance novels of which I must have shelved a couple hundred this evening. Just as I'd roll my eyes at the cover, a female Jabba would waddle up and peruse the titles, white, fleshy bruised legs jiggling close to me as I sat on the floor, her stubby fingers pulling the books out and bulging, bloodshot eyes examining the barechested men holding fainting large breasted women in their arms. Sometimes the Jabbas breathe in labored raspy breaths, other times they sweat profusely just from walking across the store. Jabbas come in many categories. There are the stealth Jabbas, appearing beside you like big puffy white clouds blown in by a gust of wind. The billowy pillow-like humans make no sound in their sweat pants and tennis shoes as they float around the store like balloons in the Macy's parade. And the cane Jabbas. There are lots of cane Jabbas, supporting their weight with the help of a third metal leg. I've seen many mother daughter teams of cane Jabbas, heading right for the romance section, breasts like bowling balls in potato sacks resting on each side of their ample stomachs. Shirts hosting stains from several varieties of food and drink.

If I see that they can't bend down I offer to help them, setting the titles on a higher shelf so they can browse without having to crunch their rolls like an accordion.

The chair Jabbas are the worst, putting their legs up on the table, or the men in shorts sitting with their legs apart, revealing way too much information. Books resting on their stomachs, rising and falling with every large breath. Many of them have breasts that would make Pamela Anderson envious. Sometimes I catch them picking their nose, and some of them remove their shoes, their beaten stretched out shoes from bearing so much weight. Their feet are white and hairy, and look like they haven't seen a bath in a few days. The other day I was assaulted by a Jabba ass crack while walking around a bookshelf. The Jabba was squatting, wearing way too tight acid wash shorts and a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. A good three inches of hairy ass crack was staring up at me saying, "peek a boo!" I stood and collected myself from the shock, then shelved the book, practically throwing it and then backed away. One should never, never turn their back on Jabba ass crack.

The Quasimodos are usually in the Sci-fi/Fantasy section, rarely interacting with the Jabbas. And the Quasimodos prefer the floor to our chairs. The same goes for the Trolls. While the Quasimodos like to tuck themselves away between two bookshelves, the Trolls assert a territory. Usually, in a place where is most inconvenient to anyone wanting to pass by, taking up half an aisle space with their bodies, their black sweatshirt hoodie that they eventually shed, their oversized backpack, scraggly notebooks, and many RPG novels that they've taken off the shelves and placed on the floor. The Trolls sometimes come in pairs, but the Quasimodos are always solo and usually male. While the Quasimodos usually put the books back that they have read, the Trolls are notorious for leaving books on the floor, along with trash, even though there is a trash can less than a foot away. Though the Quasimodos and the Trolls share the same section of the store, they usually steer clear of each other. There must be some unspoken agreement between the two species.

I think the Trolls, Quasimodos, and Jabbas see us booksellers as useful parasites. Most of us are much smaller than they are, and we are a necessary nuisance for their survival. They tolerate us infiltrating their territory to restock the bookshelves or bend down to where no Jabba has bent before. We roam freely from section to section maintaining here, shelving there, answering a question that they grunt at us. Kind of like clown fish in an anemone, we are immune to harm in the tentacles of bookshelves.

That is, except for the Trolls. We are always in danger of the Trolls. If they get ticked off, things can get ugly and they can turn on you with the slightest provocation.

And that is why I keep a full supply of Lysol, perfume, and a very bright flashlight in my arsenal at all times. Not to mention, I know where we stash the Martha Stewart books. If things get nasty, I can lob a couple of those at the Trolls and they scatter like roaches.