Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gimme Shelter

Oh, a storm is threat'ning, My very life today; If I don't get some shelter, Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away

As record-making snow from major blizzards melted away, a body was discovered in the woods near my apartment in Washington, DC.

Word on the street, which means Esther at the Korean convenient store, it's Bruce.

It was a tough winter for the homeless.

It was especially tough for people like Bruce who live in the woods. With a foot of snow, I struggled just walking down the sidewalk past those woods. Where he lived and where his body was found was under at least 3 feet of snow.

The remains were unidentifiable. So, I guess there's a very slim chance it's not him. But it's Spring, people are filling the streets of Mt. Pleasant and I have yet to see Bruce. I always see Bruce. And only a fool would doubt Esther about such things.

My apologies to Bruce for my drawing of him because I don't know how to draw.

More importantly, my apologies to Bruce if he's not dead.

Maybe he came into some money and moved to a kinder climate. Like California. Or Mexico. Maybe he's sitting on a beach enjoying the warm sun on his face and a clean pair of socks.

Or maybe he laid down in the snow and died in the woods alone. I wonder if he has family still living, a brother or sister. And do they know he's dead.

Bruce always nodded or smiled hello. He talked to himself very animatedly sometimes and walked with a crutch. I heard a woman once ask him about his feet. I think he had serious health issues. Not surprising.

He always said, "Thank you, Sister," when I gave him food or money. But he never really asked for anything. He just sort of stood in the right places at the right times.

He also sold things. I bought one of my son's favorite trucks from him. Looking out my kitchen window as I prepared dinner, I would see him sitting in Lamont Park with a stroller or toy or painting to sell. Once I saw him hobbling on his crutch with a huge, pink stuffed teddy bear slung over his back looking like he just escaped from the Island of Misfit Toys.

Once in awhile if I didn't have anything to give or simply didn't want to be reminded of homelessness, I'd busy myself with my son or my purse. We introverts do that sometimes to avoid engagement. But what did Bruce care about my Myers-Briggs personality profile? He just wanted to get something to eat. Not have an engagement.

You'd think I would've known better.

Dean, one of my half-brothers, was homeless in San Francisco for nearly 20 years. Anyone can hit hard times. "Dean, Dean, The Jellybean," I used to sing to him when I was a child. We thought he died in San Francisco's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake because many highway bridges collapsed and we knew he was living under a bridge.

But he survived.

A few years ago when another of my brothers found Dean and tried to convince him to move back in with family, he said no. All his friends are in San Francisco, he said. And with the weather and social services, it's easier to be homeless in California than in West Virginia.

Hard to argue with that.

We used to be able to reach Dean by calling a pay phone near a diner. Anyone who picked up knew him or knew of him. Even the police. In a good way. But I think that phone is out of service. It is so hard to find a pay phone that works these days, isn't it?

When I ask my mother about Dean she always says the same thing with the same far-away voice, "He's doing his own thing and isn't hurting anyone. I have seven children and one just kind of drifted away." She also tells me that he has an apartment now and, never wanting to be a burden, has arranged his own funeral. Really, we should all be so considerate. He's to be cremated and family will be notified. Then her voice begins to crack and she changes the subject.

Sometimes it sucks being a mother.

I deliberated over whether to mention my brother and his homelessness. I intended to write only about Bruce. But then Dean came into the story and just wouldn't leave. If I imply that homeless people are just like you and me and that homelessness can happen to anyone, I shouldn't have hesitated. But I did. I thought, do I really want to write that one of my siblings was homeless? What if someone in HR reads this and doesn't give me a job someday? What if people think less of me? Or my family?

Then I came to my senses.

Nobody's life is perfect. And certainly nobody's family is perfect. Only children are perfect. Perfect little prepackaged bundles of hope and potential. Then we do the best we can. Even if every dream doesn't come true, there is no shame in that.

(Dean, Dean, the Jellybean 1957)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Marriage. A Game of Inches

Our television is slowing losing its light.

I'm not talking about the dearth of quality programming. Although that would not be a waste of poetics.

(Who is actually watching a washed up actress like Kirstie Alley lose weight? Again? No, don't tell me. I don't want to know.)

Actually, what I'm referring to is the dark band slowly inching its way down the television screen. I thought it would just go away. But the Comcast guys who came to digitize my family assure me that it will continue until the screen is completely black.

They deliver this news quite solemnly. For an instant the technicians are doctors at Comcast General Hospital giving my teary-eyed, Kleenex-clutching husband the tragic bedside news that Television isn't going to make it and that he should just pull the plug.

Back in real-life, my husband is ecstatic. “See. And they’re experts,” he says. The guys all nod. Even my son nods.

I don't trust them. Including my son who's not too young for ulterior motives. And the Comcast technicians are men. Of course they’re going to agree with my husband. They’re in cahoots. I’ve seen the commercials.

For the past couple of weeks, he's been hinting that we need a new television and now he has professional testimony to counter my but-the-old-one-is-fine argument. I look over at three grown men and one boy huddled around the new remote, deep in remote-speak as they discuss its potential.

But I am not an unreasonable woman. I watch some television and love movies. So the other day at 7:30 am, in a half-asleep, non-caffeinated stupor, I cross paths with my husband in the kitchen and mumble, “I think you're right. We may need a new television. The top of Audrey Hepburn’s head was cut off during Breakfast at Tiffany’s last night. Not a good look for her.”

My husband makes a bee-line to the living room and grabs his wallet.

“Anyway, I didn’t watch the movie,” I say to the back of his disappearing head. “You really need to see the tops of people’s heads to enjoy a film. But that's okay. I love the short story. And I’ve heard that Hollywood took out all the depravity. I guess depravity isn't a good look for Audrey either."

While I’m making coffee in the kitchen blathering on about Truman Capote and the sanitizing effect of Hollywood, he’s typing on his computer and not listening to a word I'm saying.

“There,” he says quite pleased. “It’ll be here in a couple days.”

"What will be here? What did you just do? I said I think we may need to buy one. Don’t we need to talk about this, do some research, take some measurements?"

“We just talked about it. And I want to buy it now before you wake up and change your mind,” he says.

It’s 7:48 am and he just bought a 32-inch television. Who buys a television before 8 am? Then again, who talks about Truman Capote before 8 am?

This is all unnatural.

He pulls up the website to show me the model. "Best of this type on the market," he says beaming. Seems he’s already done his research. Lots of research. Secret research.

I feel played.

But the new television isn't here yet and there's a much-anticipated semi-final college basketball game he wants to watch. This will take planning. And temperature maintenance. See, the longer the old television is on, the hotter it gets and the bigger the black band grows. His tactic is to keep the television off long enough to ensure a full screen of visibility up until the last minutes of the game. Evidently it's just as difficult to watch basketball without the top of the picture as it is watching a lobotomized Audrey Hepburn.

I ask if some bags of frozen corn will help.

"You know," he says wanting to pop my smart-ass balloon, "Your covering up the television with that shroud thing actually precipitated its death by blocking the cooling vents."

Okay. Yes. I like to cover the television when it's off. Ever since I saw The Ring with its slime-covered dead girl crawling through the television, can you really blame me? But now I feel partly responsible for the all-too-soon arrival of a bigger television in our all-too-small living room. It's not as if our apartment has a ManCave to house the impending 32-inches.

But I'll come around. Especially when I get to watch one of my beloved Pedro Almodovar films without squinting at the subtitles. Never again will I wonder what Penelope Cruz is saying. But really. It's so hard to watch subtitles when she's on the screen. Unless I learn Spanish, I may never know what she's saying.

When the television arrives, I'm shocked at how thin she is. (The television. Not Penelope.) And sleek. I like her. I like her a lot. She's surprisingly attractive and her black frame is actually less noticeable than her predecessor's huge, grey box. (Um, I guess I should be careful with the nautical, feminine pronoun.)

Oh and look. She comes with her own remote making the digital remote, which has been in my life for only eight days but to which I've grown accustomed, completely obsolete.


Besides having to attend my husband's "How To Consolidate Your Remotes And Optimize Your Viewing Experience" seminar, I'm quite excited. I can't wait to reserve a bunch of foreign films on Netflix.

My husband once said that the only reason he doesn't enjoy my foreign film selections is because he can't read the small subtitles. Well, now I can order all the French murder-mystery musicals and epic-length Chinese historical films I want.

I've been dying to see The Promise, a two-hour Tang Dynasty romance where a slave girl is transformed into a beauty by a goddess then falls in love with a general but no one ends up together and, most likely, dies tragically all the while dressed in multiple layers of very elaborate, non-revealing costumes.

He's going to be so happy.

Some may measure the longevity of a relationship by using time. Very traditional. Others may use things like children or natural disasters. Some may even use their bathroom scale. But that's just mean. One of my favorites came from my sister-in-law’s octogenarian grandfather who when asked how long he had been dating his lady-friend answered, “Oh, let's see. About 1,200 miles."

Up until I moved in with my husband, I had never owned a television. He came equipped with a Casio TV-1400 LCD pocket color television. Batteries not included. We would watch Jeopardy! on the tiny, fuzzy 1-inch screen. Video clues were difficult.

But look at us now. We're still going strong.

Even at 32-inches.