Juvenile Detention

“I didn’t expect it to be like this.” The lady detective said as we walked through the juvenile detention center’s long hallways.

“Is it better or worse than you expected?” I asked. This brick and mortar building with its shining tiled floors and freshly painted walls, was built recently, replacing the outdated and much smaller overcrowded colorless detention center. But to me it still looked like a jail, the entrance, double locked doors, each wing having steel locked doors, each small cell with its steel toilet and steel sink, its concrete bench with a cushion covered in hard plastic, having a steel locked door.

“It looks better,” She replied. “I expected rows of cells. Do they stay locked in their rooms all day?”

There are rows of cells, but there is also an open class room on each wing with steel locked doors to a courtyard for exercise. There are windows looking out to the paved courtyard and a row of windows, high over the row of cells letting light into the classroom.

“No, there’s free time,” I tell her. “They are out for school and time on the basketball court everyday unless their privileges are cut for misbehavior.” I realized that I had been coming back here for so many years now that I couldn’t really tell what an outsider might think. I saw how they herded the kids from place to place, lining them up in neat rows, placing them in handcuffs and leg chains. I never understood the meaning of all the locked doors and the handcuffs. Where did they think these kids would take off to? How many locked doors did it take to stop a kid? Some of the staff members were really good with the kids, taking an interest, wanting to think they had a role in changing the kids’ lives. Some were mere sheep herders.

The police investigator was there to check out the charges my client, a kid named Ann, had brought against group home staff. Ann was just fourteen and had been bugging me every day about when she would get to see the investigator. She wanted to press charges.

The three of us now took a seat around a small table in an interview room. “Did you see the pictures of me they took when I came in here?” Ann demanded before she even got seated. “There were cuts and scratches all over here,” she motioned to her arm with a sweep of her hand, “and on my legs.” The investigator for the police Department asked Ann if they did anything for the cuts when she got to detention.

“They didn’t do anything.”

“They didn’t put anything on it?” the investigator pressed.

“Well, they let me see a nurse. She gave me some cream for it. That’s something, I guess.” Ann’s expressions changed easily from bright and cheerful to distraught. She could be as impetuous as a three-year old having a temper tantrum one minute and a delightful, curly-haired, blue-eyed, thoughtful fourteen-year-old the next.

It had been a couple of weeks since Ann had been brought into detention from the group home and the cuts and scratches were nearly gone now. She was brought in to detention for kicking a hole in the group home wall. She told me she did it because they had dragged her through the desert and she was mad.

“What were you doing at the group home just before the thing in the desert.” The investigator kept an even tone.

“We were having group and they kicked me out of group so I went to the desert.” Ann looked at the investigator indignantly.

“Why’d they kick you out?”

“No reason,” Ann looked down. “I didn’t do anything, they just kicked me out.”

“Did they tell you why they were kicking you out?” They investigator said raising her eyebrows.

“They said I was being disrespectful to staff.” Ann admitted.

“What happened then?” the investigator resumed.

“I just went to the desert. It’s behind the group home. There’s a water tank there and at the other end is a wall to someone’s property. I just walked around. They came after me and I ran away to keep away from them. They gave me three minutes to come in by myself or they would drag me in. So I stopped. They came over. I just sat there. I told them I needed a minute and calm down.”

“Who came to get you in the desert?”

“It was Liz, the therapist and Gregory and Jeff. They’re staff.”

“What happened then?”

“They just grabbed me and dragged me through the desert. I told them I would walk but they wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t stand up because they were dragging me. They were laughing and talking about it too. They said ‘let’s drag her through that brush over there.’ It hurt. You saw the pictures, right?”

I don’t know why Ann ended up in that group home or where her parents were. She was new to my case load. I had no history on her yet. Maybe her parents were addicts or had mental illness or were locked up themselves.

I liked Ann. There was a spark in her, not the dead-pan-look that eventually settled in on most of the kids from the group homes, the kids who had given up on authority, had given up on themselves.

On the way out of detention the investigator asked me if Ann would be getting out of detention soon.

“Next week I think. They’ve found a place in Phoenix that will take her.”

I hoped that Ann would not be back in detention, but I expect she will. It will be that spark that gets her in trouble. She’ll have one of those temper tantrums and kick a hole in the wall or punch one of the staff and she’ll be back here.

(The names and details have been changed but this essence of the story is true)

My New Car

When my daughter Daryl was six, her Dad finally came home from Japan to visit her. Daryl never gave up on her Dad. During the entire two years he was away, even though there was rarely even a card from him, she kept a tee-shirt of his in her room. As if to recreate him from his scent she would hold that old shirt up to her face and inhale, his smell the only thing she had left.

When Tim showed up at my door, I offered for him to stay with us and before the week was out I offered him not only my apartment, but my car and my bed. My daughter was not the only one starved for his scent. I found it to be delicious that he was back. Our family fell quickly into step as in the old days. Daryl was so thrilled to have her Dad back. Tim and I spent the week, cooking together, going out together to a concert, meeting all my friends from work, and in the evening after a full day, plopping down into each other’s arms and making love. It all seemed perfect. I walked around with that glow on my face that you can only get from a new relationship.

My first husband was emotionally abusive and left no doubt about my decision to get a divorce. When I started to pray that he would get into a car accident and die so that I could have a peaceful night, it was time to call it quits. After that divorce I never looked back.

Tim was my second husband and my second divorce.  The thing about Tim is that even in divorce he was a nice guy and I loved him. We just had very different ideas about what it meant to be married. I believed strongly in fidelity and he did not. I did not like the idea of sharing him and he thought as long as we loved each other, what was the difference. I even tried the infidelity thing on for size, while we were married, to see if I could manage it. I decided to bed this very attractive man who had been pursuing me for some time. It turned things even messier and I became even more confused and had to call it quits. In order to sort out the chaos, I left both the affair and my husband.

That did not keep me from believing that Tim would come around and see it my way. I imagined that he still needed to sow his wild oats and he would come around to seeing that I was the best thing since the discovery of sugar and come back to me. So when he returned to the States to visit Daryl, taking up his old space in bed beside me, I imagined that all my dreams were coming true and we would be back to our old selves, madly in love with each other once again, but this time it would be just the two of us, Tim finally forgetting all those other women.

It did not help that before Tim showed up on my doorstep I was in a very low spot, feeling like a twice failure for having two divorces under my belt, not having found another person I thought could possibly replace what Tim and I had, being overly stressed by the tension of being a single parent and having to do it all by myself. To add to the trouble, when I divorced, I chose to move to Arizona where I did not know a single person and had no family or emotional support besides my colleagues from the office who were all delightfully single and child free and had no idea what I was dealing with.

Just before Tim left to go back to Japan, where he had a temporary position at a University, he totaled my car. He ran into the car in front of him while trying to find an address, not knowing where he was headed. Daryl was in the car and they both had on seatbelts. Fortunately, no one was hurt except the car, it being towed away for salvage. We went to the used car dealer and I picked the best car that I could get for the $10,000 Tim was willing to spend and drove away in a used Nissan.

I took Tim to the airport the next day. He insisted we stop at a shop on the way to the airport and I spied on him from around the shelves as he picked out some jewelry I imagined was for me. When he never turned it over to me on the way to the airport, I asked him about the jewelry. “Oh, that, it’s for Gwen,” he said casually, slapping me in the face with the casualness of it, sending my whole life up in flames. The fact that we had shared a bed for the last week, had cooked together, had fun together, going shopping together, going to a concert together, acting like lovers act, was nothing.

The only thing that had changed during our week together, in comparison to the days when we were married, was that now I was the other women. Gwen was his woman. Gwen got the jewelry.

The Repo Man

Me with Elmo Somewhere in Canada Evading the Repo Man

The Nissan my ex-husband bought for me, after he totaled my car, was now being followed by the repo man. I just didn’t know it yet.  Tim had decided to quit making payments. It was not like I could make the payments. I did not have a job, having quit my last job, not able to continue one more day, being too exhausted. I was fried from the combination of depression and too many years going too strong, trying to do it all alone. In one rash moment, I gave up, quitting my job at a Legal Aid office in Phoenix, packing up the few things I owned, moving back to my parents at the age of thirty-eight. I had not lived at home since I was eighteen. In fact I had been dead set on getting out of there the day I turned eighteen. Now I was back.

I came back down the winding gravel road to my parent’s cottage on the Spirit River Flowage outside Tomahawk, Wisconsin in the Northern corner of the state near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A flowage is a lot like a river except that the only reason it exists at all is because a dam was put in causing a spillage area. The one difference between a river and a flowage is that a flowage can shrink to a slick stream of mud when the water is low at the dam. On the summer I moved back, the flowage was running high with water and I took it as a good sign.

Fortunately, both my daughters were taken care of for the summer. My oldest had graduated high school and was exploring life in Milwaukee, living with her father. My youngest, Daryl, was visiting her father in Japan for the summer. I had insisted that Tim take her, recognizing I was on thin strings at the time.

It seemed like a perfect place to recuperate. There was a little shack on the half-acre lot my parent’s owned that I cleaned out, packing in my few belongings, making it my home for the next three months. My parents were not thrilled to see me lulling around their place every day, looking forlorn and with no plan in life except to recuperate. They suggested little things each day over breakfast to get me moving along in some direction or other. “There is surely a job at the grocery store in town,” Mom would say with an edge in her voice and a frown on her face. “Tim should be helping out more with Daryl. When is he coming back from Japan?” my dad would demand. Dad always thought there should be some man who should be sorting this out for me.

I had a law degree. I was not going to work at the grocery store. The problem was that I was only licensed to practice law in Oklahoma and Arizona. This was Wisconsin. Not only was this Wisconsin, but this was the north woods. Making money here as a lawyer was not anything I had any familiarity with. People here tended to stick with who they knew. They did not know me and I was a woman to boot. Anyway, I did not even have the $500.00 necessary to pay for the bar exam and I had none of the study materials to get prepared to take the bar. I had no plan and there was no man who was going to sort this out for me.

I spent the summer looking up old friends and going to visit them. I liked it away from my parent’s house and the constant reminders about how lost I really was. In my Nissan rambling down the road in Wisconsin in summer, the pine and the birch trees making a tunnel of green, nearly covering the sky, with the black-top road my only companion, that being the nearest I could get to feeling free.

My parents turned out not to be the answer to my prayers in the way I had hoped. They did not understand the concept of being burned out. They had worked hard their whole lives and had no one to complain to about it. It was my choice to marry the men I married and I had made my bed. They wanted to enjoy retirement, not take on the care of their adult daughter and all of the problems that come with that. It was not that they were kicking me out. They just wanted me to figure things out and get on with my life.

Coming home from one of my visits, I found my parents sitting in their usual spot, outside in front of their house, taking in the sun at the time in the late afternoon just before the mosquitoes come out to drive everyone inside. “The Repo guy was here, wanting to know where you were.” Dad said sternly. “He wants to pick up the car.”

I had no idea Tim had been stupid enough to let this get this far. He had threatened to quit making the car payments, thinking he had paid enough and it was time for me to make the payments. I figured he had totaled my car and should be required to replace it for me. The Nissan was in his name, not mine; it was his car to pay for. “How the hell did they find me here” I wanted to know.  I could not believe that they could possibly find me out in the Wisconsin woods. It had not been that long since I had left Arizona and I left no forwarding address.

For the next two days, I made sure to park the Nissan in with my parent’s vehicles blocking it so that it could not be snatched away when I was not looking. It was time to leave my parents place.  The repo man was making that clear. The only answer was  to move back to Arizona where I could get a job as a lawyer without having to wait the next half a year or more that it would take to pass a bar exam.  Daryl would be back in another month and school would start for her. I needed to find a job and an apartment and get her registered for school. After two months of floundering, I felt purpose returning to my life.  I knew what I needed to do.

I sent in a request to cash in my only retirement account which totaled a measly $3,000. It would take a couple of weeks of process. When it got here I would move back to Arizona.  I still had a couple hundred dollars left in my pocket. With that I left town, both to evade the repo man and to go on one last road trip before I went back to my life of work and single parenthood.

Elmo

It all started with Elmo, truly the ugliest Lhasa Apso ever to exist. I had always had a love for dogs but had resisted getting one for the kids because I was having a hard enough time coping with just the two girls to raise. The added responsibility of a dog seemed over the top to me. But I was in the middle of my year of tears, having split from my second husband, feeling lost and alone, thoughts of an adorable lap dog to snuggle up to began entering my mind, causing me to cave, causing me to run to the library for some quick research, needing a dog that did not shed, finding myself on the wrong side of town at a pet store crammed with cages, looking into the big brown eyes of a bundle of fur the size of my hand. Elmo did not look big enough to be weaned but I knew he was meant for our family.

Elmo With Turd

When I brought him home the girls both ran and squealed in delight. It was clear that my visions of a lap dog to cuddle up to were out the window. This dog would never again be put down if I did not insist one of them take him out to do his duties. He actually managed to do his first dutiful turd right on the middle of Kelly’s bed. The girls were so thrilled with the magnificence of his performance that a picture of the turd with the offender was taken before Kelly took him on a walk in the neighborhood.

The very next thing that happens and it seems to happen almost instantly, is that Kelly comes screaming up the stairs and into the apartment: “Elmo’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead, Elmo, he’s dead.” Kelly had bleeding scratches up and down her arms and legs. There were some deep gouges. I was terrified, images of terrorist type attackers in our little apartment complex flashing through my mind. It took what seemed like several minutes to calm Kelly down enough to tell me what happened. A bunch of cats, which seemed to her to be coming from every direction, attacked Elmo.  Kelly tried to rescue him from the attacking cats, getting herself attacked in the process. Later, I discovered that the cats were strays with kittens that were being rescued by one of my neighbors and Elmo must have been a threat to their little brood.

Kelly continued wailing for me to go find Elmo and would not allow me to take care of her until I found him. I wandered in the direction that she had walked with Elmo, wary of the attacking cats and thinking the worst about what might have become of the little bundle of fur after seeing what the cats were able to do to Kelly. I found Elmo under a bush. It did take some doing to extricate him from the thicket, and when I picked him up he was still shaking from the experience but there was not a scratch on him.

After bringing the unscathed Elmo home to prove to my daughters that he was indeed alive and well and after they were allowed to swoon over him a bit, I was able to get a better look at Kelly’s wounds. She clearly needed to be taken in for some medical treatment.

I went over to my friend Dee’s place to see if she would watch my youngest daughter, Daryl who was just six years old and needed supervision. I had never gotten a sitter for Daryl and Dee was the only person in the neighborhood I knew who owed me a favor. She owed me a lot of favors in fact. I had begun to drive out of the complex through the back, because if I left the usual way, Dee would more often than not see me pulling past her place and run out to ask me if she could ride along. Riding along for Dee meant that I stop at the various places for her to just do a little shopping or a few errands. I never got home in under two hours and in that time Kelly would be home watching her younger sister. My day and the things I needed to get done would be set behind schedule. When raising two kids by yourself, schedules are everything. I think Dee was just lonely and wanted the attention. She was in her early thirties, had a good job as a Dentist and she did own her own car. Fortunately, Dee was very happy to watch Daryl.

At the clinic, Kelly’s scratches were all cleaned and bandaged and she was sent home with pain killers but no stitches, the whole process took over three hours. When I got back to the apartment complex, I saw a police car with the lights flashing at the front office and when I got to my door there was a police officer waiting for me. I was taken to the office where I found my six-year-old in the custody of another officer. My youngest daughter, Daryl was grinning from ear to ear. I knew why she was grinning. Daryl is a very special child and has difficulty with many things but the one thing she knows and loves are police officers and police cars with lights going. She was the type of kid that after going to Disneyland and being introduced to getting autographs from Disney characters decided she wanted her autographs from police officers and had a small stash of police officer autographs by this time. The only thing missing was the siren blasting and her world would be perfect.

“I found your daughter with another kid smashing out windows in the complex with a baseball bat. She has been with me, in this office, for two hours now and there was no parent to be found. I was just about to pick up the phone and call child protective services. Is there any reason why I should not?” the officer demanded. I started with the story of the cats and taking Kelly to the clinic and Dee and that she should have been watching her. I knew I was not convincing and I was searching for a way to explain and making no sense. The officer looked at me skeptically, “We have been here for two hours and there has been no one looking for this child,” he interjected into my ramblings. It was then that Dee popped her head into the office, “Oh, there she is,” Dee said feigning exasperation. “I was wondering where she went off to.”  I was happy for her late appearance but wanted to strangle the woman just the same.

The officer was at least now convinced of my story but he started on a completely different tactic, “Your daughter just broke out several windows and does not seem to show any sign of remorse for what she has done. I am extremely concerned about her ability to understand right and wrong.” I looked over at Daryl who was beside herself beaming at the police officer, thrilled by the flashing lights on the police car coming through the window and dancing around the office, delighted by the entire spectacle.

How do I explain this one? Daryl had no diagnosis that could sum all this up for the officer. I had taken her to see many psychologists, a psychiatrist or two and councilors but the conclusion was that she just had needs and would take a lot of one-on-one work and would always have needs. Medications were tried but did not work. She was prone to extreme tantrums but was a very happy and loving child. In the end I just decided not to respond to the officer. He was both right and wrong. Daryl did have trouble always knowing right from wrong, but she did try to understand and by the time she was an adult she got it better than most people get it. She would always and forever remember this experience as the time her bat got taken away. In the end we were released with strong warnings about next time should this ever happen again.

After Elmo’s brief introduction into our family, which turned out not to be very off the mark on what life with us would be like, he stayed on with us for the next twelve years. We were the only ones that ever took to him. From that little hand sized bundle, he did grow into a cozy lap dog, taking turns with each of us in our needs, his hair never shed, his big brown eyes turned out to look in opposite directions and his teeth were extremely bucked. Most people who came to visit grew to hate how he nipped at their heels and growled at them and how he humped small children. But for us he was perfect. We learned to leave him alone when he was under a bed and learned to control his nasty edges but mostly we loved and adored him, thinking he was the best thing the universe could have ever placed at our feet. He has been gone for years now and we look at his old pictures with a bit of awe. How could we have found that ugly face to hold such unbounded beauty? “We were blinded by love.” Kelly recently explained. We were blinded by love.

Elmo

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.

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.