I’m With the Birds–And the Humans Who Love Them

I’m a bird nerd. There, I’ve said it. Now you know. Birds see me coming with my binoculars, confer with their friends and take off. I’m totally okay with them laughing at me behind my back. It comes with the territory.

Birds and humans have something very important in common: we see color. However, whereas birds rely on their color vision to choose mates, find food and scan for predators, whether or not we’re conscious of it, humans use it to make snap judgments about other humans. We’ve been conditioned to do so almost since the day we were born.

We receive messages about the meaning of skin color from our families, our friends, our teachers, movies and TV shows, magazines, newspapers, advertising, you name it. We’re immersed in this conditioning. It is quite literally impossible to be unaffected by it.

That being said, we can work on recognizing it when it happens and redirect the resultant thoughts and behaviors we may have.  Example: you’re walking in a park with your (unleashed) dog. A Black man with binoculars asks you to leash your dog, citing park regulations. Should you:

A) apologize and immediately leash your dog, wish the man a enjoyable day and continue on your walk, or

B) go all Mount St. Helens on this guy’s ass and call 911, screaming that an African-American man is threatening your life, while you simultaneously strangle your still-not-leashed dog and demand the man stop recording your antics.

Seems like a no-brainer. I would choose option A, but some women, like Amy Cooper, use their White lady fairy dust for evil rather than good and unfortunately, inexplicably choose option B.

Don’t be that White person. Be the one who sees color, acknowledges that Every. Single. One. of us is different, appreciates and embraces that diversity, and knows that all of our lives are vastly better because of it.

Photo credit Jeffrey Ward/Bird Collective

The Spirit of Radio

In early January, Rush drummer Neil Peart died of brain cancer at the age of 67. It is literally not possible for me to imagine what he’d been going through since his diagnosis less than four years ago. He was a remarkable person in so many different ways, not the least of which was being Rush’s drummer for more than 40 years.

I’ll direct you to Rolling Stone‘s beautiful version of an obituary, but I want to tell you my Rush story.

The first rock show I ever went to was Chicago, at the Hersheypark Arena, in (probably) 1976. I would have been ten or eleven years old, so my dad took me, as I was incapable of driving myself at the time. Little-known fact (unless you, like me, are from south-central Pennsylvania): Hersheypark Arena opened in 1936 as Hershey Sports Arena and served as the home of the Hershey Bears American Hockey League team from 1938-2002. (It also served as an evacuation shelter in 1979 during the Three Mile Island nuclear emergency.) If you want to know more about the fascinating history of this stadium where in 1962 Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points, setting an unbroken NBA record, read this article.

According to Wikipedia, when it was built in 1936, “as the Hershey Sports Arena, the building was the largest monolithic structure in the United States in which not a single seat suffered from an obstructed view.” Who knew?

Also, I just read on the Hershey Entertainment website that Chicago played at the Hershey Theater in April 2019, and that this was Chicago’s “50th consecutive year of touring, without missing a single concert date!” That is impressive.

Back to my first show:  that’s pretty much it.  I don’t actually remember anything at all about Chicago or the venue itself, just that my dad took me. He probably doesn’t realize this, but my dad is one of the main reasons music is such an important part of my life. When I was a kid, I was always amazed at his ability to name the artist after only a few seconds of a song playing on the radio. I wanted so badly to be able to do this, and it cracks me up to remember my approach:  I would just memorize which songs went with which bands. It had nothing to do with the singer’s voice or the sound of the music itself, and everything to do with learning by rote. Eventually, of course, I realized that bands and vocalists have very distinctive sounds. But I didn’t know how my pop knew, so it was completely magical to me.

Dad took me to several shows when I was in high school, the most memorable–for a variety of reasons–being Rush, the year I was a sophomore at Herndon High School.

The way I remember it, my homettes and I were making plans to go–which in our case included two dads as chaperones–when someone’s parent won skybox tickets off the radio (or were given to them?). Naturally we didn’t want to be seen with said chaperones, so we gave them the skybox tickets, and the girls and I purchased regular seats.

I feel like it’s imperative that I mention that in 1981, these two Old Guys who agreed to take us–one of whom was my dad, the other the afore-blogged-about doctor of cow farts–were barely forty. That’s young, as far as I’m concerned–especially since I’m now 54–but for some unfathomable reason, they both felt compelled to wear what equated to polyester leisure suits, shunning ties for a more casual look with dress shirts unbuttoned. I’m pretty sure I remember one of them, at least, wearing plaid pants. They looked exactly how narcs were portrayed in 1970s TV dramas. My girlfriends and I were beyond mortified and made them walk at least ten feet away from us.

The concert, as I remember it, was not only stupefyingly wondrous, but to this day the loudest show I believe I have ever seen. I was both deaf and hoarse for most of the next day. Though Geddy, Alex and Neil were touring their 1981 release Moving Pictures, my favorite Rush song was–and still remains–The Spirit of Radio.

(I love this particular video because 1) at the beginning, it shows the year the song was recorded, 2) it’s clear that much of the audience is my age, 3) the little kiddos with ear protection–something I wish I would’ve known about a little earlier in my life, and 4) Neil Peart’s drum kit is over the top.)

After the show, the dads had delightful stories of their own to share. Unbeknownst to any of us, skyboxes are not private spaces: they can be shared by a number of people who don’t necessarily all know each other. Upon arriving in the skybox, the dads noticed a mini-fridge which happened to be stocked with beer they assumed was complimentary. They decided this was very nice indeed, and were enjoying a couple cold ones when the other skybox occupants returned. Oopsie.

If I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure my dad said their skybox neighbors who so graciously didn’t beat the shit out of them for taking two of their beers “smelled like camels.” I’m not sure on what occasion my dad would’ve noted what a camel smells like, nor why he chose this particular animal, but apparently their new acquaintances were more fragrant than what these two sportcoat-sportin’ narcs were used to. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

To cap off the experience, some guys brought their girlfriends into the men’s room while dad was using the urinal. Good times.

Rush was one of my favorite bands at a very impressionable time in my life, and The Spirit of Radio encapsulates–as does Queen’s Radio Ga Ga–my feelings not only about music, but the role FM radio played in the formation of those feelings. It’s very difficult to overstate how important it was at the time.

So thank you, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, for being there for me during those traumatic formative years when I wasn’t sure I’d make out the other side. Your music and your legacy will last forever.

Neil Peart photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Hersheypark arena photo courtesy Wikipedia

White lady fairy dust

Remember February? When we could still go to work? When we could still go . . . anywhere at all? After less than a month, that feeling of personal freedom is already starting to fade–and I don’t like it one bit.

Like so many other challenges, though, the situation we’ve all found ourselves in is providing me with some Aha Moments. You know what those are: the lightbulb comes on, either spontaneously while you’re in the shower or as a result of something you’ve heard or read. Aha Moments can be super cool, but they can also be super uncomfortable. For me, lately, they’ve been the latter.

What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is this: my White privilege (or “White lady fairy dust,” as we jokingly call it in our department on campus) allows me to feel resentful about not being able to do what I want when I want, where I want to do it. But get this: Black and Brown folks have to think about this every day–not just sheltering in place during a global pandemic.

Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about being pulled over by the cops on their way to or from the grocery store. Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about being shot in a Wal*Mart because they were holding a BB gun they took off the shelf. Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about their Black and Brown kids being the target of bullying–or far worse. Every day, everywhere, Black and Brown folks know they’re being scrutinized more closely than White folks. Every day, Black and Brown folks wonder if they’ll be targeted for something.

Yeah. They do. And what you may not realize is that most Black and Brown folks adjust their behavior accordingly to mitigate the potential of something bad happening. And they tell their kids to do the same thing.

My White privilege protects me from this. If you’re White, it protects you too. I’m not saying White privilege doesn’t feel good–it does, because it allows me to not have to think or worry about things Black and Brown folks think and worry about. If you look up the word, you’ll see what I mean:

priv-i-lege
noun
a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group

Yes, privilege feels mighty good indeed–but it feels icky too, because it comes at the expense of those who don’t get to enjoy it as well.

So, what can White folks do about it?

    1. Acknowledge it’s there. Know that you’re not a shitty person for admitting it. You didn’t actively request White privilege; if you’re White, it just happened. You know, because you’re White.
    2. Want to do something about it. Why would you want to change the status quo?  Because it’s unfair, and it’s been that way for a long, looonnnng time.
    3. Gently point out to other White people that White privilege is a thing. I say “gently” because we’re not very good at hearing this, much less accepting it as truth.
    4. Actively read, participate and learn.  Your local NAACP chapter is a great place to start.
    5. Journal your journey.  Or blog it, whatever works.

I’m not sure how we’re all going to come out the other end of this pandemic.  My optimism comes and goes.  I haven’t started day drinking yet, which I guess is a good thing.  And I’m trying to feel a lot more appreciation for what I do have (a home, Loving Husband, Happy Dog, One-Eyed Wonderpug and their feline step siblings) and less anger and resentment about being told not to go anywhere.

But it isn’t easy.

Stuff I’ve been thinking about lately, v.2

For lack of a more focused/coherent topic, please to enjoy this random collection of mental meanderings.

1. Working in higher ed is so not as glamorous as I thought it would be.  Especially at an open-registration community college.

2. Working at a winery is sexier than working in higher ed, but almost as exhausting.  Being on the outside of the bar is definitely more fun than being behind it.

3. There are a lot of people and situations I would simply love to write about, but realize I can’t for fear of coming across as a judgmental asshole.

4. I kind of am a judgmental asshole.  But there are still plenty of folks who may not realize it yet. Best to keep it that way.

5. Speaking of assholes, we had yet another yard ornament stolen. I spotted it propped up against a light pole a couple days later in our neighbor’s yard two houses down, sans the multicolored solid glass ball that had functioned as a veritable cherry on top. Our neighbor almost ran over it with their lawnmower. Seriously, people, what the fuck? If a kitschy glass thingamabob with no apparent purpose is mounted on a steel pipe well within my property line, IT’S NOT UP FOR GRABS. Literally and/or figuratively. Go to a craft fair already, buy your own fucking thingamabob, and then break it. Chrissake.

6. Things that are fun:  shredding paper, blogging, swearing, beachcombing, doing laundry.

7. Things that aren’t fun:  all other household chores, working, people who steal yard ornaments, traveling by air, waiting in line.

8. How can I possibly be 53 years old?

9. Did I actually meet Eddie Vedder and then spend time backstage with the rest of Pearl Jam after that show at the Paramount Theatre, or did I dream the whole thing?

10. I didn’t know about setlist.fm until just now.  In theory, it’s a super-cool concept.  However, 1994 was a long time ago.  How would would I know whether or not the setlist from that particular show was accurate unless I had a written copy to compare it to?

 

She used to be my girl

Squishie. Hoochie. Big Gray Girl. She had many nicknames. Our 18-year old matriarch, Sidra, crossed the Rainbow Bridge a week ago today, leaving a gaping hole in our little family.

We adopted Sidra in May 2002 from the Humane Society of the Black Hills in Rapid City, SD. She was supposedly about a year old at the time, and had recently given birth, making her teats a little prominent. Because of this, we named her Sidra, for one of Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriends on the show, whose breasts were both “real and spectacular.”

We didn’t realize when we brought her home that she had a highly contagious upper respiratory infection, and our resident cats, Sputnik and Biscuit, were behind on their shots. We were rewarded with three sneezing, snotty cats for almost a month.

In her younger days, she was a gorgeous, plush, gray shorthair who appeared to have some Russian blue in her genetic makeup.

Photo of a gray cat with gold eyes

She almost always looked grumpy, even when she was purring happily, being cuddled in our arms or on a lap.


Regardless of that, she was a very good-natured, tolerant cat, toward Loving Husband and I, anyway.

Photo of blonde man and gray cat asleep on green couch

(You wouldn’t believe how many photos I have of Loving Husband asleep with one or more of our pets.)

Sidra never once clawed or bit me, like all our other cats have at one time or another. She was very, very tolerant.

Photo of gray cat laying on side with toys on top

Most of the time, she was a terrible bully to her sister, Nemo–but she was capable of sharing at times.

Photo of two cats on a lap   Two cats on a lap

She was such a bully, in fact, that we came very close to rehoming her a couple times. It’s very painful to remember that in the context of losing her last week. Words cannot express how thankful I am that it never came to pass.

To a lesser extent, she also bullied our former boys, Sputnik and Biscuit. But they weren’t as easily intimidated as Nemo.

photo of two cats and a box

Even though she didn’t actively bully Chai,

Photo of two cats on stairs

he was, nonetheless, well aware of his place in the pecking order.

The dogs she simply ignored.

Sidra & Rye Lee

She was the only one of our four-legged crew who lived in all five houses we owned from 2001 till now.  In February 2007, she moved to Harrisburg, PA, with Loving Husband, who moved there four months ahead of the rest of us to start his new job, while I stayed behind in Rapid City to sell our house.

Photo of blonde man and gray cat

Sidra loved being carried around in a laundry basket, with or without laundry in it:

Photo of gray cat in a white plastic laundry basket

She was about 14 lbs. at her heaviest, so laundry could be a serious workout at times–especially since our washer and dryer were never on the main level.

She really, really loved being in the laundry basket.

Photo of three cats laying on a bed with a dark pink cover. one cat is in a laundry basket.

Lounging in the sunshine was also a favorite activity.

Photo of a gray cat laying in a sunny window near a pot of cactus.   Photo of gray cat and pug dog laying in sunshine

Like every one of our pets, Sidra brought us more laughter, love and joy than we could ever have imagined when we first brought her home. She was a gift to us from a loving Universe, and I will miss her every single day, like I do Sputnik, Biscuit and Kyllo. I feel confident in my belief of what happens to humans when they transition back into Nonphysical–as explained by Abraham-Hicks–but I don’t understand as well what happens to our pet-children. I don’t see any reason, though, why they can’t also be part of my Posse.

I do know this: the Universe is telling me that she’s okay, and her energy is still very much present, as evidenced by this link a friend sent two days after she died:

Photo a black cat from a humane society web page

According to my friend, this cat has already been adopted.  Sidra is working her magic from behind the scenes.

I like to think she’s found another laundry basket in a patch of sunshine.

Today he thanked me for the first time for carrying his books.

Ah, young love.

What must it have been like to be a popular, athletic boy, the elite of my adolescent years?  To have girls fawning all over me, whispering and giggling whenever they saw me, offering to carry my books or wanting to borrow my pen, simply because I had used it?  To be thought and written about to such an extent, in such detail, as to defy imagination?  If I applied half the time and energy to publishing a memoir as I did to boys just during eighth and ninth grade, I’d be working on my second book.

The more I dissect these notes, the more I just sit here shaking my head and wondering how we all made it to adulthood relatively successfully.  Could we really have been the same girls who wrote these?  It doesn’t seem possible.


Heather–

Hi! Guess who’s pen I’m writing with? T.’s! Big wow! Today he thanked me for the first time for carrying his books. It’s about time! I think I’ve found another person to like too. Who is this new Love of yours? I’ve gotta go for a while. I have to write up an experiment for Mr. H.

I had to give T. his pen back. Gosh, I can’t remember liking T. last year. I think I did but I’m not sure. I can’t remember his being in my classes. I know he was in a couple.

I would never have been able to sit up in front of the class like you do, especially our English class!

Did you know that J.D. is practically in LOVE with Doggie? ICK!

Didn’t it just make you sick yesterday in gym? S. just can’t stop showing off can she?

T. is getting crude. I am not going to listen to his and T., and Cs’ conversation going on behind me. I don’t want to know T. to be like that.

See ya,
W/B soon!
K.

I was just thinking, are you sure you don’t want to get T. Not the first way, though.

P.S. Does T. still like L.?

[page 2]
Hi Heather!
Here’s a nice big piece of (almost) blank paper for you to write on.

That thing must have been folded 3 times.

Apparently T. wasn’t the only one among my friends–or the female general public, for that matter–who thought Christopher Reeve was the bomb.  Whether or not he did, in fact, have to fold that thing three times, apparently Superman’s . . . er . . . package is a much hotter topic than I’ve ever suspected.  The Google search term “Superman’s bulge” returns more than 53,000 results, the most comprehensive of which appears to be the brilliant A Brief History of Superman’s Bulge by Ryan Britt.

Be that as it may, with the greatest respect for Christopher Reeve’s acting ability, his post-accident activism and his absolute, total hotness (“even though he is in his 30’s”), I felt compelled to share a second note today.  And I’m so glad I did, because, again, the Universe has spoken to me in its own subtle way:  during my brief research for this post, I read a November 2003 interview with Reeve in The New Yorker which mentions that his 1995 riding accident actually occurred at a competition in Culpeper, VA–the same “Culpepper” to which M & M refers below.


Heather,

Since I have little time to talk to you any more I thought I would write you a note.

You probably think I’m crazy liking a freshman and all but I really don’t care. I think he is nice and mature, more mature than A.K. It is to bad you haven’t met G. and one of these days I’ll have to take you to Youth Group with me (when I think he likes me or I don’t care, because I don’t want to take the chance of your beauty getting in the way.)

Who did you vote for homecoming princes or queen (or whatever)? I voted for S.S. and T.I.

Are you doing anything Sunday afternoon?, because I think you, me C., C., and K. should get together since I hardly see them any more. Sat. is out because I will be at Culpepper with the band.

I’m glad you are enjoying tenis. I wish I could say the same for marching and flags (I liked it better last year). You and I are kept so busy after school and with homework we don’t get to talked like we used to. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be glad when fall things are over.

Q-107 is playing my song Games without frontiers war without tears.

Remember after lunch I told you Superman was cute (even though he is in his 30’s)? When I saw him I said is that for real. You were right that thing must have been folded 3 times.

La
(L)ove y(a)
M & M

Oh, I think about candle-light diners.

After yet another long absence, I’m celebrating my wholehearted return to the work involved in becoming a published memoirist.  I’m now three years past my self-imposed deadline of procuring an agent by age 50, but who cares?  Everything happens when it’s meant to happen, and I’m having a blast.

Today I offer you this darling, heartfelt missive from a lovesick tenth-grader: my dear friend T., now a happily married attorney. This is one of my favorite notes from her, as it contains an adorably detailed, Harlequin romance-style fantasy about her current crush.

T. and I have been friends since seventh grade–forty years, in other words.  She recently embraced her note-writing roots and started writing letters again by hand on actual stationery.  Though some of the topics have changed (she still writes about TV shows she’s currently into), it is both remarkable and delightful to see how consistent her thought patterns and writing style have remained.

Thank you for this masterpiece, T.  We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?


Heather,

Dearie! I appreciate that “heart to heart” talk you gave me in German class. It meant a lot to me and set me straight on a whole lot of problems (mental and physical) I’ve been having. You are a sweetie and I treasure your friendship. Many people don’t understand my feelings such as J., J. & everyone else. You and H.G. are the only two people I know who care. Well, J. cares but she can’t relate to my problems. J. doesn’t care at all! All she wants to know are the hard facts, she doesn’t care about the sweat & tears. I seriously thought that she was one of the people who cared about me! All she wants to do is tell C. junk & stupid stuff for me (as she calls it!). You see, J.L. got moi très interested in C. in the first place by telling me how cute, innocent, sweet, clean cut (don’t make any jokes about his hair) and lovable he is. She persisted and I slowly (but surely) fell madly in love with him. Now she ignores me.

Now, to get to my main subject of life, C.C. who is in 9th grade has beautifully hazel eyes and is the perfect height of 5’8”. I think of him always (the way you do of A.). Right now as I’m writing this letter I’m thinking of C. and me (me is the correct gramatical form becauce it is an object, Ha Ha) sitting in front of a blazing fire. He is just out of the cold outside with firewood. I’m sitting in front of the fire, staring out into it (thinking about C., of course). C. tiptoes behind me & creeps behind me. He puts his arms around me and his cold cheek against mine. My cheek is warm from the fire. We sit like that for awhile, looking into the fire. Then, C. speaks, “I love you”, he whispers into my ear. We kiss passionately. You know the rest. Through out the following series of letters I will be telling you my dreams of C. As you told me in German you have them too, with A. of course. When I’m washing the dishes, brushing my teeth, washing my hair, eating dinner or doing anything ordinary. Oh, I think about candle-light diners, him watching me proudly as I win Wimbledon or us dancing to the music of a radio in a secluded cabin during a snow storm. Can you believe my imagination? Well, there are no laws against wild dreams that will probably never come true. Please write me back and discuss your problems too, because I feel that I can relate to what you feel inside. It aches and makes your stomach turn the more you think of the problems. I think that together we can both overcome the problems we are both facing in this terribly difficult stage of growing up. I hope you agree with me because I am in despret need of a person to talk to. You already know it all and I think you care if I live or die. I feel so unwanted. Today in geometry I did a nerdy thing. D.M. asked me about “Mop head”. I still don’t know how he found out! I said “Don’t talk about him, he doesn’t like me!” D. replied with a “I know what you mean.” That left me stunned. I’m starting to discuss my life & problems with people I’ve known for awhile but not personnaly. Please excuse my terrible spelling, I’m not in the mood to spell correctly.

Love
T. (the lonely one)

P.S. I’m happy cuz I’m drug-free.