The Cup

November 21, 2011

Kelly has this way of brightening a room wherever she goes. Today she is dressed in one of her fantastic vintage dresses with matching platform high heel sandals. It’s a button down dress with an orange print that would look like just an ordinary house dress on me, but on her it walks and talks with attitude. We find a seat by the window at The Cup in Hotel Congress. “I hope you like the vegan breakfast here,” she is worried she might have steered me wrong by coming here, “I know you don’t like soy so much.” I assure her it doesn’t matter to me and it doesn’t; I just love that we are hanging out together. It has always been a fantasy of mine that I would have the leisure to do my writing in some offbeat coffee shop in some artsy town while I enjoyed a coffee with a writing buddy. Kelly is not here to do writing but she does have her computer and will be perfecting her wedding photos. But first we have to chat and get out all the stuff that is floating in our minds. I just like to soak her in.

I used to live in Phoenix, and Tucson ranks as an artsy town for me in comparison. I know this is not Taos or Santa Fe, but we do have Paul McCartney somewhere in our midst and we do have great street art. Besides, I love living in Tucson. I can imagine being a snow bird someday and living in a cooler climate in the summer, but I can’t imagine living somewhere other than Tucson for most of the year. I seemed to have migrated here by accident in leaps and steps from where I was born and raised of Wisconsin, but the day I finally landed in Tucson, I knew this was home for me. I love the sunsets, the cacti, the mild winters, the occasional snow on the mountains, the coyotes’ cries in the night, the brightly colored buildings, the adobe buildings, and the mix of people from cowboys to Hispanics and  from  college kids to college graduates and how all of that is all mashed in together. I know it is not perfect but I never quite fit in when things are too perfect. I like a little bit of a mess. Tucson has just the right level of mess for me.

The Cup is located in Hotel Congress, one of the older buildings in our downtown. I have always really liked the old hotel but it’s been a number of years since I was last here. The Cup is a comfortable size and it has its own character unlike the chain coffee shops that now sprinkle the world. There are nice windows to sit next to and there is an old time feel with the open kitchen off to the side. The floor is made out of hundreds of copper pennies covered some kind of clear plastic. I can’t seem to focus my mind on the details of the shop; I am just happy to be here with my daughter. After our chatter, Kelly is able to put the finishing touches on one of her weddings and I finish a blog post. I show the final result to Kelly for editing. She finds a couple of errors but likes the final product. It’s been a perfect morning and my fantasy coffee date has been filled to brimming.  By the time we get up to leave, we are in such a world of our own that the check gets left unpaid on the table. Kelly notices before the waitress has to chase us out the door. I pay the bill and Kelly leaves a large tip. It is well worth it even though there was too much soy for my taste.


Writing Class

November 18, 2011

I packed my lunch, some paper and pens, my computer, water bottle, thermos of coffee and a pillow to sit on. I get to class way too early. I over-estimated how long it took to get to Pima Community Campus West and I was so excited to start that I get there 30 minutes early. I am not the first person in the room; there are two other early birds before me. I immediately take a seat in the back on the side of the room. That’s the seat I took in college all those years ago. Then I think, “Why the hell not sit in the front. What do I care if I look like the over anxious nerd in the class. I am over fifty now and can do what I want. I can be a nerd if I want too. Besides, I’m not all that sure about my hearing and vision anymore.” So I pick myself up and sit down center, left, front. It felt right.

This is the first time I have been back to school in twenty-two years. The last time was for law school which knocked any love I had for school completely out of me. Today I am in a weekend writing class at Pima Community College for two credits. I am both excited and hesitant about my credentials. The thing about a law degree is that it allows everyone to think you have a certain degree of smarts. I could skate and not have to prove myself to the general public. I had to prove myself to Judges in Court but the average person will take it for granted that I know something. I have taken a few writing workshops since law school but nothing for credit. I wondered if the other students were coming from more literary backgrounds than I had. I am soothed in my worries when the instructor arrives and assures us that no prerequisites were needed for this class. I am further soothed when we are each asked to introduce ourselves; the thirty or so students in the class came from all backgrounds and very few had prior writing experience.

I am impressed by the quality of the instructor. I did not expect this for a Community College. Lisa Dale Norton is a published writer with two books under her belt and another in the works. She has years of experience teaching writing and is passionate about it. As the weekend progresses she pulls us gently through the process of writing a memoir from the beginning stages of pulling images from memory to structuring a book from our writings. I find at the end of the class that I now actually have the skills necessary to write a memoir. The quality of the memoir will be up to me but the tools are there.

At home on Sunday evening I show Mark and Kelly the chapter that I wrote during class. They are both impressed. Mark complains that I do not trust his opinion. It’s true: I need him to tell me that it is good whether my writing is shit or not. He doesn’t get the luxury of gently telling me the truth that Kelly has. I ponder why that is and realize that I need Mark to pull me through while Kelly can help me along. They both rave that my writing is good. In the end I am grateful for their gushing. The last thing our writing instructor had said to us that day before we left class, “We all have this underlying need built into us that says: Love me, Love me, Love me . . . “


November 10, 2011

“Do you think three hundred pounds of grapes will produce enough wine for us to live off of for the year?” Mark wants to know what I think of the idea. He’s been plotting for some time what it would take to live off the land. The one third of an acre our new house sits on amongst desert shrub certainly cannot sustain us, but we do have enough space for a garden and there are the vines. We have done a more thorough count and they come to 22 vines.

While on a walk after lunch, Mark steered me over to the University Of Arizona College Of Agriculture Cooperative Extension to discuss desert gardening. It’s a delightful little space that has been set up for the community to answer all our desert gardening needs. They have many small gardens on the property that you can tour including their own small vineyard. We talked to a couple of very friendly women in the front office who provided us with literature on desert planting seasons and watering cycles. They have a Master Gardening Course that I wanted to sign up for but it is completely filled until January 2013! We walked away loaded with materials and encouragement to return if we have any more questions.

One of the things I have missed most since moving to the desert is gardening. I have been told that it is possible to garden here and I see the local produce at Whole Foods and at the Farmer’s Market so I know it can be done. We have not had the space to really give gardening a fair shot in our tiny townhouse back patio. Our tomatoes in a pot have always been a failure. I can keep basil growing sometimes for two months when my watering system is just right. I am hoping with the help of the Cooperative we can make a garden work. I wonder if we can make peas-in-the-pod grow here. I miss those the most. When I was a kid we had two long rows of peas-in-the-pod in the garden. They never made it to the dinner table because the five of us kids would be out there eating them up as fast as they were ripened. My Mom also found it interesting that long after we had left home, we always wanted to visit right during the time when peas were ripening. There would be nothing left after one of our visits.

Mark is most excited about making wine. We laugh about the idea of having all my girlfriends over for a big grape stomping party. It does sound like fun.


October 22, 2011

“That guy is the cutest guy I have ever seen!” Kelly said
looking over at me while we walked down the street from my mailbox to the
house. That guy is one of our neighbors by the name of Tom. I always kind of think of
him as a tomcat. Tom has a full head of graying hair, wears an earring in one
ear, a fancy cowboy hat and a big round cowboy belt buckle. I don’t know how old
Tom is, but I think he could be old enough to be my father. He has a nice soft
spoken drawl and a bit of a saunter to his walk. Kelly and I ran into himwhile we were out walking Lucy, her dog while they were over for a visit.

Tonight I see Tom at the neighborhood pot luck. “I’m not staying.” He says “I have on my dancing shoes,” he picks up one foot and swings it out showing off his leather moccasins, “We’re headed out dancing tonight.” Tom is dressed to the nines. He even has on a teardrop earring that looks quite chique on him.  He tells us he’s headed out to the Boondocks to see a fantastic band. “But my dancing days are over.” He says. I don’t ask why. It’s hard to imagine that Tom can’t dance anymore. I ask him who he is going with to the bar; I’m a bit curious to know if he has a hot date, but he tells me it’s his wife. I tell him I am surprised to hear he has a wife because I have never seen him with her. He tells me she works odd hours and that’s why I never see her. “You should come see the band,” he tells everyone at our table; “you don’t want to miss this one.”

I decide I want to go. I would love to see the Boondocks again. I haven’t been there since Mark and I first started seeing each other. We went to see Tony and the Torpedoes, our favorite Tucson Blues band. It was a kind of seedy place but just the right level of seedy. I hate what they have done with many bars lately making them all modern looking with all the faux brick walls and the fancy lights. Everyone wants to believe they live in New York. The Boondocks always looked like a regular bar. At times the clientele even looked a bit iffy. You can cozy up to the bar or play a game of pool or sit at a table and watch the band. You can dance even if you are not brave because there is every variety of dancer on that dance floor. There is no need to know any fancy steps to dance but if you do that’s ok too. The last time we were there two dance students had taken over the dance floor. It was a couple of guys dancing everything from ballroom to Flaminco. I was mesmerized. We tried to play pool, but the biker guys, dressed in tatoos and leather, were monopolizing the table. Anything and everything goes at the Boondocks.

I announce that I want to go and Rob, one of our neighbors wants
to go too. So Mark and I and Rob make a plan to go right after the potluck. I
love how spontaneous it all is. Rob tells me he has to get home at a reasonable
hour since he has to get up for work in the morning. I’m with him all the way
on that one.

The Boondocks is just as I remembered it. Rob told me they recently updated it, but if they did, they did not ruin its most salient features. The band was as good as Tom told us it would be; somewhere between Country, Folk and Rock. Mark and I got brave enough to dance the only dance steps we know: swing. We bounced into and between the waltzers and the two-steppers and fit right in. Mark and I played a game of pool between sets. He was thrilled to get all his balls in on the first break but he could not master getting the black ball in. I managed to keep the black ball hidden behind mine
for several more rounds and smacked it in myself to win the game. It is possible that Mark let me win. He would do a thing like that and I am happy to let him.

We had a great time and got home in time for bed. It was all way better than TV too!

Don McLean Concert

October 29th, 2011

I have never been to the Fox and I have never been to see
Don McLean. So this is definitely something new. My husband was the one to come
up with the idea. He called me at lunch and said he heard about it on the
radio. He’s had a Don Mclean album in the stack that has been playing on the
stereo all this week.

I gave up going out to see bands largely because they
conflicted with bed time.  When I was in
my late 30’s, I went out with a guy (he was a little younger than me) who took
me to see a rock band at a bar downtown.
It was just after I had moved to Tucson. I had a seat next to the wall
and found the wall to be quite nice to lean up against. Eventually, I put my
head against the wall and before I knew it I was sleeping. The music was
blaring, my date was drinking a beer and enjoying the band and I was sleeping!
It was definitely past my bed time and I wanted only to be in bed sleeping.
There is something about raising kids and working full time that saps the youth
right out of a person. I wanted to think of myself as a young, spirited and
attractive date. But the reality was me comatose and possibly drooling against
paneling at a rock band.

The other thing about
concerts is crowds and parking. When I was in my twenties I thought crowds of
people (particularly crowds of people my age) were fun and exciting. Somewhere
along the way crowds at concerts became much younger than me and became just a
nightmare of parking problems. When I was younger, parking problems just meant
more time to hang out and party with friends in the car before and after the
big event. Now they just waste gas and conflict with bedtime.

Tonight I am going to the concert with my husband. The
concert starts at 7:30 and may go past my bedtime, but I should be home by a
reasonable hour. The Fox is a small theater and the parking should not be
unreasonable. Also, I think the crowd is probably going to be my age or older!
I think this could be fun. I will let you know if it proves to be better than
the next episode of McCloud’s Daughters.

After the Concert:

So far this idea is working out splendidly. Both Don McLean
and the Fox were better than I expected and I got home in time to be in bed by
ten o’clock!

As I walked up to the theater it became obvious that I was
not going to be in a throng of kids. These people were all my age or older.
It’s still a bit scary for me to mix in my own age group. I don’t ever see
myself with wrinkles. The inner me is much younger than the one I see in the
mirror in the morning. I never inspect the mirror that closely anymore. As I
looked around the group of people entering the Fox, I tried to imagine us all
thirty-five years ago. The woman I was following into the theater had on candy
red tight jeans with matching tee shirt and strappy low heeled sandals. I could
not take my eyes off her hair. It was like cotton candy but the color of
butter. It hung in a ponytail off the side of her head with little puffs of
cotton candy around her face.  The woman
who told us where to sit was wearing a vest covered in little pumpkins in honor
of Halloween weekend. A couple of women were talking about a baby shower they
had just been to. All these women had men at their sides: tall, short, mostly
plump with varying degrees of hair loss.
Were these people really from that hippy generation? I noticed one woman
with long grey hair parted into pigtails that were bound by pea green hair
bands just below her ears. Her partner had on a synthetic Hawaiian shirt. Maybe
I could imagine them as old hippies. But there were no bangles on her wrists or
feathers in her hair. But maybe the Don McLean crowd was not from the hippy

I had always wanted to go to the Fox Theater. It is a
gorgeous place with Aztec design everywhere. Even the ceilings are painted. The
front of the building is the same as a theater from an old time movie set with
the ticket collector sitting in front in a small booth with curtains. There is
the lighted marquee sign over-head announcing Don McLean tonight.  The building is old and it is pristine at the
same time. Mark and I had spent the summer in Italy roaming old buildings and
churches. This theater rivals many of those old buildings. Whoever renovated
this building did it justice. It is not an overly large building which gives it
a warm friendly flavor and, being old, the acoustics are fantastic. They don’t
make spaces like this anymore.

I have never been an avid follower of Don McLean and except
for the one famous song he wrote and sang I would not have known who he was
before I met my husband. Mark loves Don McLean. I have grown to recognize his
songs playing on our stereo. I am not the one to puts them on. I tend to play
things a little more rocky when I select music. But then I don’t have any one
particular musical flavor. I will listen to just about anything. I am the
person who can’t wait to put on Christmas music. I make myself wait until
Thanksgiving. I still want it to be special. So when Don McLean came on stage
to play I was delighted to recognize many of the songs.

When the band came out I was again surprised to see how old
they were. I don’t know why that keeps surprising me. All those heroes we loved
and adored in our youth, the ones we loved and adored because they were young
just like us, are now old just like us. I had to wonder if I was still
worshiping the young. The irony is not lost on me that I am here at this
concert to break out of the rut I feel like I am in because I don’t have that
youthful zeal that I once had. I still want that. I want some of it back. I
looked at the men in the band up on the stage and wondered what their life was
like. They had lived the road life their whole life and were still living it.
They had met and caroused with many of the greats. The heroes from the bands of
my youth were some of their friends and colleagues. While I had gone to law
school and raised kids, they were traveling the country playing their music. I
wondered if they ever found it all to be a big rut. If they did, they hid it
well. The band and Don McLean seemed to be having as much fun playing for us as
the audience had listening to them.

I liked the slow pieces the best. It took me back to my
twenties when I was going to college. I had a group of friends who came over
now and then. Bob would pull out his guitar and start playing Cat Stevens or
John Prine and we would all start singing along. Back then we all sat on the
floor and passed a joint. It felt odd to me now to be sitting in perfectly
ordered rows of chairs. It’s interesting the way music can pull you in to the
past. I realized though that I would not want to go back to my twenties when
everything was so uncertain. I loved being here with the man I loved. Mark and
I held hands and cuddled during the love songs. There is something nice about
being certain about life, about knowing what you want and having it.

Mark and I had discussed on the way to the concert whether
Don McLean would sing his most popular hit. We both agreed that we wouldn’t
blame him if he didn’t. You would think his head would explode at some point
after singing that song for the gazillionth time over the last thirty or so
years. But toward the end of the evening he did sing it. It brought the whole
audience to our feet. We all cheered and sang along. “Bye, Bye, Miss American
Pie, Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry . . .” Even if you are not
a Don McLean fan you have to love the guy who gave the world that song. It is
genius. There is not a word or note in it that could possibly be any different.
The audience stayed on their feet for the rest of the set. We also cheered like
nobody’s business when Don walked off the stage. There were screams and
whistles and applauds long after he was gone. These old folks could put any
group of kids to shame. They knew how to call a band back. But the lights came
on and it was over. I was sad to see that it was only nine o’clock. I was ready
for more.

My bed did feel good though.

New House!

November 7, 2011

It started one week ago Saturday. We had the front patio
almost torn completely out leaving two big gaping dirt pits on either side of
the sidewalk to our front patio. Our neighbor, Mary shouted over the traffic
noise from her side of the townhouse: “I’ve been looking at other townhouses. There
are some really nice ones now and the prices are really good. You can get away
from this highway noise.” We love our neighbor, Mary. She’s retired and a
little older than we are, but most importantly she really takes good care of
her place. Mary went on about the really good prices and that she had a realtor
but hadn’t decided anything, but if she moved she would sell her property here.
Mark and I had put several thousands of dollars into our house convincing
ourselves every time we did another home improvement that we were staying; that
we would get used to the road noise. It really wasn’t that bad was it? As I
swept out the garage, I found a cigarette butt; it wasn’t the first time. We do
not smoke. Once a nearby restaurant had been burglarized and they caught the thief
smoking in our garage. He left behind a package of cigarettes and some matches.
We have been hearing the vagrants who sometimes camp under the bridge down the
road again; they start to party late at night and the shouts echo up the wash
to our house. Mark went down there to talk to them after his car was broken
into a couple of years ago. He told them that he didn’t mind them living there
but if they were going to break into his car, he was going to have them kicked

Mark and I looked over the dirt pits to each other. We
reviewed the road noise, the vagrants in the wash, the buyer’s market and decided
to find a realtor. The next day, on Sunday we went looking at open houses and
found our realtor. We looked at lots of houses on the internet and visited several
the next couple of days. On Wednesday we found a house we fell in love with. It
is everything Mark and I wanted from a house: solid block construction, view of
the mountain, larger than our current house, garage and most importantly no
road noise! We put a bid on it that night and with one modification it was
accepted the next day. The home inspection was on Saturday. In one week we went
from being happy putting the final remodeling finishes on our little townhouse
to buying a house in the hills of Tucson.  We have a closing date of December 8th!

Mark and I have both had sleepless nights over this
purchase. The house cost significantly more than our current house is worth and
there is no guaranteeing anything in the crazy housing market these days.
Everyone says it is a buyer’s market and that is true to an extent. Prices of
houses have fallen in Tucson over the past four years. The question is how much
longer they will continue to fall. In the end we decided to hedge our bets that
we are at least near the end of the falling prices. We can afford the house and
the interest on the mortgage is at what seems to be an all time low. I think
the vineyard sold us. The vineyard really is too small to be called a vineyard
(about ten vines) but it reminds us of our summer in Italy. There is plenty of
space for gardening and the house already has a double composer! We feel like
we have hit the jackpot.

This has certainly shaken me out of my routine. I have been
so excited that I can’t sleep. Mark and I take turns going a little crazy so at
least one of us can settle the other one down.
I wonder what waters I have stirred up by deciding to do something
different one time per week. I had no idea buying a new house was in store for
me and Mark when I started this idea just a few weeks ago. Who could know?