China, Women’s Rights and the Round Table

In China it is well known that “Women Hold up Half the Sky”. At least that is what I was told several times when I was there during three weeks in September 2014. “Women Hold up Half the Sky”.

My husband, Mark, and I were invited to China by Beijing Normal University. Mark was invited as a research scientist and I was invited to assist graduate students to practice English. My job was to hang out with graduate students each day and hold a conversation in English. I got to choose what we would talk about and the issue of Women’s rights in China soon grabbed my attention.

The reason Women’s rights in China caught my attention was because of the round table dinners my husband and I were invited to nearly every day that we were in China. Over the span of three weeks, that is a lot of round table dinners! There were many things that seemed odd about these meetings at the round table and I want to go over a couple of things that intrigued me in reference to women in Chinese culture.

Every dinner or lunch, we were invited to, had the same format. There is always a separate room in a restaurant or meeting hall with a large round table. When we enter the room everyone mingles around until it is determined where everyone will sit. A discussion ensues about who gets to sit at the head of the table. Even though the table is round, the spot against the back wall is always the head of the table. The person seated at the head of the table had to be the most important person in the room. Each person defers politely to the other until the most important person is agreed upon. There is usually a good bit of friendly banter until the issue is resolved. The next two important people sit next to the most important person at the head of the table and so on until the table is fully seated.

Eating at the Round Table in China

Eating at the Round Table in China

I noticed early on that there were never any women at the head of the table unless it was to sit next to her husband. Only one of the many dinners I attended had an important female professor near the head of the table. Mainly, the women were collected at the least important side of the table.

The second thing that I noticed was that no one ever drank anything unless a toast was made. There were times when I became quite thirty, waiting for a toast to be made. A toast can be made between two people or the whole table. Men are expected to drink alcohol and often strong clear liquor is served. As the dinner progresses and more and more toasts are made, the men are strongly encouraged to drink ever larger quantities of liquor. My husband had to swear he was allergic to alcohol at times to avoid consuming large quantities of liquor. Women on the other hand are never pushed to drink liquor and often drink something non-alcoholic like tea or juice. I was very relieved about that. By the end of the dinner many of the men, particularly the men at the head of the table, were sloshing drunk.

It became clear to me that much business, including making contacts and resolving plans is done around these round tables. Many deals are struck over a toast of liquor. This led me down the road to asking many questions concerning equality for women in China. I asked several graduate students as well as some of the professors that I sat next to at these round table dinners.

I started with the most basic question: Are women equal to men in China?

The answer that I received was a resounding “Yes!” The Chinese I talked to went on to clarify things like: Chairman Mao made men and women equal soon after he came into power in 1949. It was Mao who said that “Woman hold up half of the sky”. I was also told unequivocally, that China is more equal than anywhere else, even the United States! I was told that at Beijing Normal University, woman entering college have a separate entrance exam from the men that is much more rigorous, because women score so much higher than men on these exams. This is one of the results of equal education for women. I was also told that as a result of equal rights for women, many women are excelling in sports and outperformed their male counterparts at the Olympics. It was clear that women had made many strides since the days of foot binding and from when Mao declared men and women equal. All the Chinese I talked to presumed that equal rights for women were a good thing and they were clearly proud of the strides that had been made for woman in China.

I felt uneasy with these answers though, since my experience at the round table dinners did not suggest that women were equal to men. I never saw a woman sitting at the head of the table. So I was prompted to ask: “What about women in positions of power? Are there as many women in positions of power as there are men?

Everyone I asked said; “No, there were not many women in power”. Of course I had to know why not and it surprised me how many people answered the same way: I was told by both men and women that “Women do not like that kind of work”. Men also sometimes added that “Women do not want to give up their power in the home and that there is so much to do in the home.” I found it interesting that only the men said this. One woman told me that she believed that these round table business meetings with all that drinking were an impediment to women getting in. It was hard to get invited to the head of the table and women do not drink like men. You are expected to drink if you are at the head of the table.

I then asked the young women graduate students if they will be contented to work in the home and let their husbands have the better paying jobs. None of them seemed satisfied to do that. I asked the young men graduate students if they think they will be contented to have their wives do all the work at home. They thought they would like that, mainly because none of them knew how to cook, but they didn’t think their wives would agree to do that. The young men were more concerned that it might be difficult to find a wife because there are more men than women in China as a result of the one child policy.

My experience in China with the round table dinners and the questions that it evoked about women’s rights in China gave me just a small glimpse into Chinese Culture. There were many more questions that I wanted to ask but I only had three weeks. I am grateful to all the Chinese who answered my many questions thoughtfully and sincerely. I am very curious to see what happens next with all these educated and talented women in China.

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The Old Woman

View from the patio of our hotel

The old hotel sits on a small bluff just in front of the Pacific Ocean, the front one long row of doors, the back a row of patio sliding doors leading out to a long grey and weathered wood deck stretching the length of the building. Our room is close to the middle of the building, putting us right next to the elderly couple.  I see them for the first time as I come out of our room through the sliding patio doors to check out the view of the ocean. They are sitting in a couple of the green plastic chairs that are stacked on the deck in short piles between rooms. I am drawn to the elderly couple more than I am drawn to the sound of the surf and the blue sky over the ocean that is just now taking on the deeper hues of the late afternoon sun. But I don’t want to be rude by staring at them so I snap pictures of the pretty scenery.

I toddle down the little dirt trail that leads to the ocean, not going far, teetering along on my block feet that have been left numb, wooden and painful from chemotherapy, feeling a bit like a Weeble that won’t fall down. I have a cane in one hand and my hat on covering my bald head. I won’t go very far, fearing my feet will give out, becoming too painful, not wanting to risk getting stuck somewhere and not being able to get back. Every day now my feet have been getting a little bit better, each day more feeling coming back, the pain little by little going away.  When we started on this trip from Tucson to Oregon, I was in a wheel chair. I started walking at Yosemite National Park.

One dose of chemo put me in the wheel chair. It also caused me to lose feeling in my hands. The doctor wanted me to continue the chemo and offered to give me lower doses or different kinds of chemo that may not have the same effect. She could give me no assurances about my hands and feet ever returning to normal. “Most people get their feeling back,” she said. But most people did not get the extreme reaction that I had. “Do I have to choose between living and having the use of my hands and feet?” I asked her, knowing her answer already, just wanting her to see my dilemma more clearly.

The truth was that I never believed in the chemo. I had tried to convince myself that it would work, that the chemo was like an army of good little soldiers killing off the bad cancer cells. I even went to a hypnotherapist to try to reason with the inner voices that were screaming against the chemo, telling me it would kill me. I wanted to live and I knew that the chemo gave me better odds of survival. I wanted to do everything I could do to increase my chances, not wanting to let my family down because I was too much of a baby to do the chemo. But the hypnotherapy was a failure and the inner voices continued to scream. They screamed when they stuck the large needle into my vein to pump the chemo in. They screamed louder when they sent me home with the chemo bag strapped to my waist pumping my belly full to overfull. They screamed in horror when they gave me the hazardous waste bags and clean up gloves and gown to wear if I needed to clean up any leaks of the chemo that was being pumped into my body.

I chose not to do anymore chemo after that first dose, choosing instead, cleaning up my diet, taking supplements, and travel. I would not be on this trip to Oregon if I had continued the chemo. I would be isolated at home, kept far away from any germs that could disrupt my chemo compromised immune system. I have always chosen travel therapy when things get rough. Even when I was confined to a strict work schedule and things got just a little too much; I could relieve the stress by a nice 15 minute drive down a stretch of highway, so long as the highway was headed out of town.

I head back to our room, watching the elderly couple as I pass them, as the trail winds back in front of the hotel, taking peeks at them as I look up from the trail, careful not to stare. The woman has long straight white grey hair that looks like it had once been thick but is now thinning, now it’s pulled back into a knot tied loosely on the back of her head. She is average height and a bit lanky with only that extra bit of body fat that old people gather about them. The man was also thin but taller and walks with just a bit of a hunch but not much. What catches me is how happy they are together, the man busily running in and out of their room getting supplies for a late afternoon lunch on the patio, the woman setting up the little table they pulled out from their room, covering it with a small table-cloth, centering the plates and silverware on each side, making everything look pleasing.  She smiles at me as I walk past, her warm genuine smile and blue eyes pulling me in.

Mark and I take a seat on the patio next to the old couple, un-stacking a couple of the green plastic chairs, arranging them to look out over the ocean, watching the gulls and pelicans who are searching for their afternoon snack, watching as the sunset starts to take on colors. An easy conversation starts with our neighbors. They own a ranch in California and come to this hotel every summer for their vacation. This will be their last summer at this hotel because tomorrow they are going to put a down payment on a ramshackle cottage in town where they will spend their future summers, renovating and fixing it up. They are excited about the purchase and happy to have yet another project together. They are easy talkers and I get the feeling that they are happy with their life together. We talk about how lovely the sunset is from this patio and they say that is one thing they will miss at the cottage next summer. Mark pulls out his guitar, finger picking soft tunes, as we listen while relaxed and contented half smiles take over our faces, until the night chill forces us indoors.

We left the old hotel the next morning, never seeing the old couple again. I wonder about why I was so attracted to them and particularly to her. I can still see that warm smile and pretty grey hair all swooped in a bun.  I can imagine her taking the hair pins out at night as she walks around in her nightgown, white grey hair falling around her shoulders, putting out a late night cup of tea for her husband who smiles back at her and adores her. I can still see her blue eyes bright against her cream peach colored skin, the wrinkles framing her face and eyes as she smiles. It is the life in those eyes that I am attracted to. She is so present and alive with those eyes.

In the days and weeks after I left the old hotel, as the woman’s smile continues to interrupt my thoughts, I realize what it is that I was so attracted to. I see me at her age and want that. I want to grow old. I had always resisted growing old. I thought of age as only getting wrinkles and new aches and pains, a slow decline. But now, after getting cancer and realizing that there is no guarantee of old age, I want it, I want old age like I want cake at a birthday party. The old woman gave me a vision of old age that is not just about wrinkles and aches and pains. When I saw the old woman I saw what living this life was all about, having a man who grows old with me, doting on me, finding new projects to dig into together, the wrinkles adding warmth to my smile, keeping that light of a life well-lived in my eyes.

Several weeks after returning to Tucson I got a card in the mail. It was from the old woman. We had never exchanged names so she had to ask the person at the front desk of the old hotel to forward the card to me. She writes:

“I don’t remember your name but that’s alright. You were a bright spot in our trip. I do hope everything is going well. Our escrow closes the 15th and then the work begins. I have enjoyed my thoughts of you, the music, and especially the smile.”

Monsoon Season

Woodpecker in Mesquite Tree

We are still in monsoon season in the middle of August, the rains adding humidity to the usually dry air of Tucson. I am sitting on the back patio, it is early in the morning, and the sun is still safely behind the house causing shadows everywhere. The shadows make dark creases in the folds in the mountain that fills the sky in front of me. The sun is harsh against the brightly lit orange jutting rock faces, the long shadows well-defined in contrast to the sunny surfaces. The fingers on the hand of finger rock stand out in the morning sun, bright between two other jagged mounds of rock, one in shadow, the other mottled sun and shadow. Saguaros dot the lower hills casting thin dark lines, the light shining strong against their tall lean sides causing them to stand out like bright shiny candle sticks on a mound of green. I call it green anyway. I now have Tucson eyes. When I came here from Wisconsin the landscape looked craggily and brown. Now I see the green. All I see is the green. The monsoons have left behind a cacophony of new sprouts in all shades of green which blend into a sage color from this distance.

There are humming birds flying past me, whizzing over my head, their buzz like light sabers as they swoop near, two are racing each other around the patio, swooping down across the valley before coming back again for another round. One takes a breather, sitting on the dried stem of a nearby grape-vine, fluffing his feathers one time, he eyes the humming-bird feeder, then zooms over to light on the edge of the huge mesquite tree, still eying the humming-bird feeder. A finch stops to rest on a thin branch just above the hummer, he is too close, the hummer flies up, hovering in front of the finch to give the finch a piece of his mind.  The hummer darts in and out making little jabbing motions towards the finch like a boxer, but the finch holds his ground, not budging from his perch, he is twice the size of the hummer after all.

A rabbit is pulling at a low hanging branch, he is statnding on has back legs pulling down a branch,  trying to get at the green leaves just out of his reach, his ears standing tall on his head, the branch making a racket of crackling noises. A male cardinal lands on a branch of the small orange tree to my left, his bright egg-yolk-yellow beak and black face distinguishing him from his partner, how brave to fly around in that red plumage for everyone to spot. The goldfinches are just as brave with their neon yellow bellies, fighting with the larger less colorful finches for a spot on the feeder.  A yellow butterfly twinkles through the air, flitting to the left, wings flap, flap flapping and then to the right, flap, flap flap, before disappearing over my head. I wonder how they survive with all these birds around.

It has been some time now since I have seen the owl that lives in the owl box high in the mesquite tree. In the spring and through June he would poke his head out, his head filling of the round hole opening of his wooden house, his big round yellow eyes dropping and squinting against the sunlight, one large claw hooked around the edge of the opening, he would peer at me stealthily through those slit eyes. He is dormant now that his mating season is over and I wonder if he is still there. I wonder also if the white-winged dove’s eggs are hatched. I last saw them three days ago in the grapevine garden at the side of the house, the nest thatched together with twigs and branches, wedged into the vines just above eye level making it easy to see the bright white eggs nestled together as I stand on tip toes.

Owl in June 2012

White-Winged Dove Nest August 2012

The chatter of birds now dominates the cooing of the doves or the sharp piecing squawk of the woodpeckers. More light sabers buzz my ears. A swallow dives across the sky and disappears over the roof. A white-winged dove has just landed on the little garden fence in front of me, he is surprised to see me so close and walks down the fence, hopping into the bird feeder, taking a drink before flying to a low hanging perch on the mesquite tree. A light breeze passes by, fluffing my hair a bit from behind before dying away, the breeze is soft on my skin, the perfect temperature, like a lovers touch.  The Dove attempts to interject his thoughts, but is ignored by the cheerful chatter of finches and sparrows, he continues anyway with his soft, more serious almost mournful: coo coooo,  coo, coo, coooo, coo, coo.

Goldfinches August 2012

I must go in now because it is warming up just a little too much. But before I do I just need to watch two goldfinches drinking from the bird bath, they take their turns dipping for water as if they are marionettes, their heads being pulled alternately by strings.

The quail did not visit the water bowl this morning.  I set out a dish of water for out for King Tut, the pet desert turtle, but the quail seem to get more use from it. Usually they come trooping through, the momma quail in the lead, followed by the babies one at a time, the papa in his regal suit and bandit face sitting high on the wood stack watching as his young ones, now teenagers, make their way through the holes in the rabbit fencing that doesn’t keep out the bunnies. After every last teenager is through the fence papa looks around a bit, his duty is complete for the moment, and he can relax. Eventually, papa hops down from the wood pile and into the garden. The teenagers are now all huddled around the water dish, their barely notable top knots bobbing up and down as they reach in and out for a teeny gulp of water, momma standing off to the side making sure everyone is herded in for a drink. When all are sated, they take formation in line as they hop back through the rabbit proof fence, papa back on the wood pile counting to make sure all are present before hopping back down to take up the caboose position, all have their heads held high as if they are out on a fancy Sunday stroll in the park, mamma and papa’s top knot long and flapping with each step, the teenager’s top knots are not long enough to flap. One of the kids gets sidetracked and papa herds him back into line.

Teenager in garden

A hummer decides to hover in front of me causing me to look up into his tiny proud upraised chest, wings beating fast like propellers at his side,  I spot his needle sized beak pointed in my direction giving me the once over before darting off. I hear the garbage truck stop at the front of my house, sounds of machinery cranking as mechanical arms jet out to pull in and up our trash can, air-brakes hissing as the truck stops at the next house. It must be about 7:30 now, time to get going, but not before noticing the new inhabitants in the saguaro just past the mesquite tree. There used to be baby sparrows living there, in that grapefruit sized hole, three-quarters of the way up the saguaro, two babies opening their mouths wide for momma bird to fill them, they were all mouth, wide hanging open mouth in the sunlight at the entrance of the hole. Now I can’t make out what type of bird has taken up residence. I need my binoculars to see them clearly. The baby sparrows left before the monsoons came at the end of June.

Now it really is time to move indoors and start my day. The temperature was perfect when I first sat down out here in my sleeveless PJs, but now it is warming up, my PJ’s are sticking to my skin. Soon it will be blazing hot.

About the First Day of School

Me in Italy

Me in Italy

The day was filled with firsts. My husband and I woke up after spending our first night in an apartment we rented in Perugia, Italy in the heart of Umbria.  I opened my eyes to see an arched brick ceiling, part of a medieval tower. We had seen pictures of that ceiling on a website when we put our down payment on it earlier in the year, but in person the ancient mortared bricks with their graceful arc, reaching from each corner of the room, were so much more perfect. It was the first morning peering out the open shuttered window, seeing the swallows swoop around the valley below. Most importantly, it was our first morning walking up the steep hill to the top of the piazza and back down the other side to the immersion school where we would start Italian class.

It had been a dream of mine to go to Italy and take an immersion course for as long as I could remember.  I was fifty three years old when the plan to go was finally beginning to take shape. However, before we made any of the reservations, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was diagnosed in May and our plans had been to leave for Italy the next year and stay for the summer. Throughout my treatment for cancer, I calculated out my recovery period.  I could not let go of this trip to Italy.  I wondered often if I would choose to go to Italy and learn a foreign language if I really was on my last breath; if I could not beat this cancer. I held on to that trip to Italy like an anchor keeping me healthy. I did not allow myself to think of death: I would recover and I would go to Italy to learn Italian.

As I walked across the piazza on my way to Italian class with jet lag pulling at my ankles and hazing my vision, I could not help but snap awake to the fact that I was alive and cancer free. The anticipation that I would finally be learning a foreign language in Italy, which had been my guiding light for so long, suddenly dulled in comparison to the fact that I was alive and living life. That in the end was the miracle.

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 . . . “

Gardening

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.

Boondocks

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
generation.

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
out.

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?