Saturday, November 28, 2009

Learning to Dive Blog- Day 2 - Pool Enlightenment- or- Probably Nitrogen Narcosis

The day had come. I worried about passing my swim test with a runny nose, and the Kleenex from my right hand dissolving in the pool. I would need to swim laps and tread water for ten minutes. As slow as I swim, it could take hours to complete twelve laps. However, with no fever, I knew I could do this. I plowed through the first two chapters of my dive handbook and answered the test questions. I tried to remember how many PSI’s were at what depth, how long it would take for my lungs explode if I held my breath, and SCUBA was the acronym for what? I watched my DVD homework. Where did the time go? I scrubbed my new black dive mask to remove the protective coating. With practice, I began to rattle off the chart that demonstrated Boyle’s Law. By dinner time, I could assemble dive equipment, even though I had never seen a first or second stage regulator. I was as ready as I could be.

When I arrived at the dive shop, instructor Alec was waiting. With a big grin, he welcomed me to the class. I sat in the small classroom with Jennifer, the sixteen year old cheerleader, and her father, John, ten years my younger. I was the oldest.

“Jennifer, are you a strong swimmer?”

“Oh yes. We live on the lake, and I swim a lot.”

Gosh, I wish I had practiced my swimming. I think I can remember the flutter kick. I sneezed and dragged more tissues out of my purse. My two other classmates stared at me in fear that they would catch whatever I had brought into the room.

Alec proceeded to tell us his credentials. His large arm muscles flexed, as he wrote his name on the dry erase board. Good. His arms are large enough to pluck me out of the pool if necessary. Alec had three black belts and almost finished his fourth. He had been in special ops for the military, taking out terrorists in Europe after the Viet Nam War. He hinted at stories from his past. He had broken his back the first time, when he crashed his van while escaping through the Czeck border; the second time, after having jumped out of an aircraft at 27,000 feet over Poland. Hopefully our dive experiences with Alec will be a less eventful.

Then he revealed the magic to his students. We sat and held our breath as we listened.

“There is no place on earth better to dive than in the Pacific Northwest. Our nutrient rich waters sustain incredible diversity in marine life. You are lucky, and your timing is great. Visibility is the best in the winter. I will take you to the bottom of the Sound just before sunrise. When the sun appears, we will look up from the sand and watch as the rays illuminate the waters around us.”

Oh Alec. I can see it.

“We will see Giant Pacific Octopus at Sunrise County Park. They are practically tame. We’ll dive shipwrecks in Edmonds that are five stories high. We’ll go every Thursday morning when you are certified.”

Oh Alec. I want to be your dive buddy. I want to see the anemones, the Sixgill Sharks, the Andalusia, the sponges. I want to see it all. When do we start?

Alec finished reviewing the first two chapters of our text.

“SCUBA: Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, sir!”

We were in Alec’s platoon now, and we eagerly answer his questions. We signed additional forms with emergency contact information. Happily I was not required to fill out an Organ Donor Card nor a Do Not Resuscitate Form. My blood type is O positive. That was information was required.

“Next week, study chapter three. In this chapter you will learn all of the reasons why you will do everything I tell you, and what will happen to you if you don’t. Now let’s get our gear together. We’ll be practicing taking regulators and masks off and on under water tonight. You’ll also be learning how to use your BC vests.”

The textbook stated that there should be no diving with colds. I sneezed.

“Don’t worry,” Alec assured, looking at me. ” I will take you down slowly, so your ears will be ok.”

Jennifer and I looked at each other with fear in our eyes. We would be diving. Oh dear. We had not read chapter three. I grabbed my Kleenex. Jennifer looked at her father. I knew she was debating the pros and cons of diving verses sunning on the boat, during her upcoming trip to the British Virgin Islands. I was planning to stay near Alec and those big, body plucking biceps. We gather our equipment and follow the dive van to the pool. On the way, I called my son in New York. He was packing to come home to Seattle the next day for Thanksgiving.

“Son, I just wanted to tell you I love you.”

“Sure mom. Me too you. You’ll be ok. I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

We arrived at a large pool complex. The outdoor pool steamed in the mist of the Seattle November night. The white bubble cover looked like a lighted prop from a science fiction movie. We hauled cylinders, vests, and regulators to the indoor pool deck and changed into our swimsuits. In my excitement, I had forgotten to be cold. I was no longer sneezing.

We started to assemble our gear.

“Tula, yours is backwards.”

Whoops. I had faced my air cylinder and vest from the wrong side.

“No. That turns the air off, not tightens the valve.”

Again, whoops. I tested the cylinder air. The regulators worked. All hoses were secured. My vest was weighted with enough lead shot to take out a moose. It was time for the swim test. After the twelve laps, I happily waited at the shallow end, having kept pace with the class. When Alec beckoned, his three swimmers followed him into the deep end.

“Ten minutes of treading. In the mean time, let’s tell a little about ourselves.”

I interrupted. “So, what were you doing in Czechoslovakia and Poland?”

“If I tell you, then you won’t live through this course.”

Oh. Right. Secrets. If you tell me, then you have to kill me. I continued treading.

“We’ll have to go drinking. I’ll ask you again.”

Alec laughed. It was my turn. I was in the story teller’s guild in New York. I began.

“It happened to me for the first time last month in San Francisco.” I looked at Jennifer and then at her dad. “This may be “R” rated.”

“That’s OK. Jennifer is in High School. She knows everything.”

We treaded, and I talked. Alec reminded Jennifer how to move her arms and legs to keep higher in the water. I told my tale. Everyone focused on my words and forgot about the swim test. The more my fellow swimmers concentrated, the more animated my story became. At the conclusion, my listeners laughed. Alec announced that only two minutes remained. I had entertained for eight minutes. Jennifer related a story similar to my own. Her father listened attentively. Ten minutes had passed. As we swam back to the shallow end, Alec told of somersaulting out of second floor windows into swimming pools.

“When you were a toddler, were you jumping off the tops of bureaus?”

“Oh yes. All the time. There were eight of us.”

“You must have given your mother hell. Did you ever apologize to her?”

“No.” Alec laughed.

We put on our gear and knelt underwater at the shallow end while getting used to our regulators. I was a young girl again, beneath the water of the country club pool, sipping imaginary tea with friends. We held our breath, and raised our pretend cups to our mouths, bubbles escaping as we enjoyed underwater tea time. I could pretend again, this time without worrying about air. I could stay down forever. I smiled and waved to Jennifer. She smiled and waved back. I wondered if she had played tea party too. What is the international hand signal for, “Wow!”?

We practiced our skills. We removed masks and regulators, while Alex praised his fledgling students. We practiced again at the bottom of the deep end. I bobbled up and down like a carousel horse. I clutched my inflator hose pushing air into my vest and releasing it, in hopes to find the middle ground between the water’s surface and the pool bottom. Then it happened; neutral buoyancy. The magic had begun.

I no longer thought of breathing, no longer counted 5-2-7. I no longer gripped my inflator hose. I swam fishlike above the bottom of the pool. My head turned, and I watched with fascination the painted lap lines as they dipped to the deepest depth and paralleled past the drain. I could hear the bubbles coming from my regulator. I watched them rise. I could see my friends, three black finned bodies, swimming near, under, and above me, a third dimension distinct and different from the reality above the surface.

The miracle of breathing air in water and swimming with the ease of fins and vest, made me giddy with joy. It was the wonder of a young girl, the thrill of a new world to explore, and the anticipation of adventures yet to be. Without fear and with the comfort of neutral buoyancy, I swam in awe of my new experience.

Like an equestrian approaching a jump, my eyes turned to anticipate what was to come. I was swimming beyond where I was, to where I would be. I could hardly imagine the future excitement of seeing the sun’s rays spread through the darkness, illuminating the water at sunrise, the beginning of a new day under the water in the Puget Sound. The freedom of the mind separating from the body gave a spiritual feeling at the bottom of a pool. The sound of the bubbles from my regulator was my song of praise for the water and sea.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Learning to Dive Blog- Day 1- Buying the Equipment

It rained heavily today. The sky was the color of smoke, and the thought of actually going to Thailand in the spring to scuba dive hovered in the front of my mind. I had purposefully told everyone of my plan to travel to the exotic Island of Ko Toa as insurance that I would adventure out alone, thus living the ending of the third version of my novel. The idea of finishing a novel was as distant as the Island of Ko Toa, however the turquoise blue water and white sandy beaches seduced on a day like today, when color was absent from the landscape.

I needed to take a step toward turning this fantasy into a reality, so I grabbed my new pink I Phone from my purse and searched for dive shops near me. Eureka! I found one. I have always said that with an I Phone, I could handle anything. My search referred me to a dive shop only a few blocks away. With a quick U-turn, my Prius changed directions. I was going to learn how to dive.

I entered the empty shop guarded by a slender blond employee stocking masks on the front wall. There were two manikins dressed in scuba gear; one with the head of a sea otter and the other resembling Little Nemo in a wet suit. I loved this place.

“Hi. I want to learn to dive.”

“You have come to the right spot,” she grinned.

“Can you teach someone as old as me? I am 58,” and I waited for it.

“You don’t look 58.”

There it was. I don’t look nearly as old as I am. Oh well, I’ll make up the difference with my hiker’s stamina and a lot of jokes.

“Do I need to know how to swim well? I can swim, but I am not ready to enter the Olympics.”

“Oh no. Diving is a lazy man’s sport.” I liked this even more.

“The more energy you expend, the more oxygen you use. This is supposed to be easy.” Yes. Give me an underwater scooter. I’ll have those sharks on the run, except I don’t think sharks actually run.

Miriam, my new undersea buddy, asked about my plans for dive travel and announced happily that the certification course started in exactly one week. My timing could not have been better. The lessons would begin in a pool on Tuesday and end in the Puget Sound just before Christmas. My Christmas present to myself would be my diver’s certification.

“By the way, I hate being cold. I am used to the ocean in the southeast. I don’t even like swimming pool water unless it’s at body temperature.”

“Oh, the wet suit will keep you warm in the pool and the dry suit will, well, it will help in the Sound. Once you learn to dive here with us, you will be more prepared than anyone you could meet in Thailand.” Miriam smiled again. “I hate being cold too.”

Perhaps when I plunge into the dark frigid northwest waters in the dead of winter, my body will go into shock, and I will be spared the pain of the biting cold. I am going to do it anyway. Suit me up.

Brian joined us. He is the manager. They are both young and adorable. He handed me a stack of paperwork to sign, but the font was so small that my new pink magnifiers didn’t help. Do dive masks come with magnifiers? I reminded them that I was 58 years old. I waited. Here it comes. I look great for my age. OK, we can move on. Brian read the questions in order to save time. He hinted for me to answer “No” to everything asked. I raced through the double columns of health related issues; no asthma, no diabetes, no lung conditions.

“Any family history of heart problems?”

“My dad died of a heart attack at 54, but he smoked like a fiend. I am from North Carolina. Everyone smoked.”

“Answer: No.”

“Do you get motion sickness?”

“ I did get sea sick when I went fishing in Alaska. The Dramamine helped.”

“Answer: No.” OK.

“Have I passed out recently?”

Whoops, I was in San Francisco last week. I confessed of my wild night at the bar with my nephew, and Brian interrupted.

“Just write: No.” I did.

“Have I done anything, well, beyond wine?” I looked up at my second undersea buddy. “No,” said Brian.

“No,” I wrote. OK. I passed the questionnaire.

“You are going to get along great with us,” grinned my new friend.

I noticed that dive people grin all the time. So do I. I am going to love this sport.

“Doesn’t she remind you of Carol?”

I didn’t know who Carol was, but she must be fun. We all laughed, and I felt at home in the shop. Soon I would be home in the sea. I could hardly wait. The three of us ambled to the front wall displaying the dive masks.

“After safety and price, I want something that looks cute.”

Of course there is no such thing as a cute diving mask. I picked out the triangular shaped mask rimmed in Duke Blue. It looked high tech and fashionable. I sucked it onto my face to check the fit and burst out laughing. It fit. The cheaper clear generic one looked as if it came from the free bin at the health club pool. That would never do. I would gladly pay the extra thirty dollars to be underwater fashionable. I tried on the sleek, small black face mask. The menacing look would scare the shark. I know, because it scared me to look at my face in the mirror. Sold. I had to have it. I will be the Darth Vader of the sea.

Next came the booties, and then the flippers. Brian lectured, showing how the split fins emulate whales, allowing the water to efficiently propel one forward with ease. I must have the newest technology. Ease was important. The black paddle flippers looked like antiques. Now, I only needed to choose the color. The flippers came in red, yellow, blue and black.

“What colors do barracuda and shark like?” I inquired.

“They like red.”

“Great. Isn’t that the color of the life vests that they strap it around your body after you plane has crashed in the ocean?”
“That’s right.” Yikes. I don’t want red.

“How about yellow? If I had yellow fins, then my instructor would know where I am, and I won’t get left behind when the boat leaves for shore!”

“That’s why I wear yellow, so my students know where I am. But, if I had a choice, I would wear the black or blue.” Sold. Blue with black. I’ll blend in with the ocean, and the shark won’t find me.

”I’ll just kiss up to the dive boat captain, so he won’t leave me behind.” One more task handled on my path to becoming a deep sea diver.

Now to try on wet suits, so I won’t be cold in a swimming pool. We went immediately to the sale rack. How did Brian and Miriam know? Had I been complaining about the prices? Did they know that I am a Nordstrom Rack shopper? They sized me up, and handed me a sharp looking turquoise and black suit.

“It’s just like mine,” grinned Miriam.

I checked out the Little Nemo manikin and saw that suits fit skin tight and sexy. I like this sport.

I came out of the dressing room with the wet suit hanging on my body. The only suit small enough to fit me came in red. Now way, I am not shark bait, nor was I tempted by the race car driver look of the red and black underwater outfit. Mine will have to be ordered, and Miriam volunteered hers for the first night of class. We are already sharing clothes. What fun.

“When I get my dry suit for the open water dive, I want it really big. Make me look like the Michelin Tire Man. I want layers and layers of sweat suits underneath!” Everyone laughed but I was serious. I hate the cold.

At the cash register, I was practicing my French accent, emulating Jacques Cousteau.

“Zee coral reefs, zey are dying.”

Brian handed me the credit card receipt to sign.

“Yikes, how much did I spend?”

The cash register produced a tape as long as one from the grocery store. I had no idea that this sport was going to be so expensive. Large posters advertized dive trips to exotic places, islands in the Pacific Ocean such as Palou and Yap, countries like Indonesia, all with price tags that could easily buy a car. I am going to Thailand where a room will cost me ten dollars a day. I am glad that I will be bringing my own new, expensive equipment. State of the art is important for life support, and cheap is not a consideration when my life swims in the balance.

A bearded man my age entered and purchased a vest resembling a costume from Star Wars, with hoses and fittings that could sustain life on a Death Star. I see more money needed as I progress through this course. I’ll need a Star Wars vest as well. I can barely lift my new matching blue dive bag, and I have yet to purchase any metal objects. Diving is not for weaklings.

“Read your manual before class. There are tests at the end of each chapter. We’ll meet here on Tuesday night at 6.”

I emerged back in to the rain and my car. It was already dark and cold. I needed my new wet suit. Living in Seattle, I could see that a wet suit would come in handy. Without flippers, the suit, gloves and booties would be the perfect hiking ensemble. I grinned, with my newly acquired diver’s grin, at the thought being impervious to water and thus the rain.

And what if this sport is dangerous? If something happens to me when diving, and I appear on a heavenly cloud in full gear, wet suit and fins, dripping water from my flippers through the clouds as I wait to be checked in through the Pearly Gates, I will know that someone below will feel the drips of water slashing down from my cloud and onto their head. They will look around at the grey of the day, the lack of color in the landscape, and think of an exotic island with white sandy beaches and turquoise water. The passionate desire to learn to dive in the sea, imperious to water and cold, will consume them, and they too will suit up will a grin and dream of beating the shark at their own game.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stepping Out in San Francisco- A Mouse Tale

“You two be careful,” warned Daisy with a wide grin as she dropped the two partiers off at the commuter train station. Earlier that afternoon, Daisy had instructed her husband to watch out for his Aunt who was neither a drinker nor a partier.
This was Auntie Beebe’s social debut, and nephew Michael was introducing her to San Francisco’s single’s scene. Beebe had booked a flight to the City of Fog, posted on her Facebook that she intended to enjoy a wild weekend in California, and packed her red, low cut sweater. She could hardly wait. Her friends rolled their eyes at her plan. Why was she leaving Seattle to go to a bar? Beneath her garden club exterior was a wild side that was beginning to bleed to the surface after years of marriage.
Now the big evening had arrived. The two friends sat side by side, the older aunt and younger nephew, laughing together about the possibilities of the night. The train swayed its way through the East Bay heading west to a city where anything goes. They would begin at the art gallery openings and end at the hippest hangouts. It had been nearly a year since Beebe’s divorce was finalized, and she was tired of staying in on Saturday nights. Michael had promised to troll Beebe out to the San Francisco men he guaranteed were waiting, the younger men he urged her to consider, all men. Beebe had just continued to laugh. It was fun to be dressed in red and seeing the town. She had no intention of leaving with a stranger, but she kept the fantasy continuing for the amusement of them both. The noise of the tunnel muffled their chatter. The time had come to step out from the suburbs and into the city lights.
“You just keep getting younger.”
Michael checked out her V-necked, red cashmere sweater and tight black satin pants. “I am going to call you “Button” after Benjamin Button.”
Beebe thought of the recent movie based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of a man who grew younger as he aged. She liked the comparison. She would be “Button.” Beebe had never had a nickname. She had been the one to name her friends. No one had ever named her.
“I like it. Just call me Button! Cute as a button…huh?”
They walked up Geary Street to the first high rise of galleries and waited to enter as the steady stream of art connoisseurs poured from the revolving door.
“This way Beebe,” and Michael pointed her to the table of free wine and six ounce plastic cups. The nickname was gone. It had only lasted thirty minutes.
Beebe had been braced to dislike the modernism of San Francisco’s art scene. It was the trend of contemporary art since World War II, and it made her sick that she had not continued in her field of art history. Secretly she wanted to have become a museum director. She could have turned the art world around. She was herself a painter. With control of museum purchasing budgets, she would have made sure that her talented artist friends would have benefited from her influence. Their representational paintings would have hung in the finest museums. Beebe downed her cheap white wine and took the second glass with her as they entered the first gallery.
“You are such a snob, Beebe,” teased Michael. “There’s realistic art in San Fran. It’s down by the wharf being bought up by the tourists.”
The artist in the first gallery was from Manhattan. Beebe smirked that even in San Francisco; an artist from New York brought with him perceived sophistication and commanded respect. Beebe sipped more wine as she peered at the two inch squirts of oil piled tightly together on the canvas. The surface effect was of dots, and she thought of pointillism. Beebe relaxed and looked for the artist. He was short, dressed in black, and talking with a blazer-clad, grey haired collector in the corner. The sterile wood room smelled of fresh oil. The wine heated her body, and she removed her black raincoat, revealing the bright splash of her red sweater.
“May I touch your paintings?” she joked.
“No, they are still wet and soft.” No kidding thought Beebe, You can hardly breathe in here.
“They have so much texture. You just want to feel them.”
The artist smiled and the collector moved on. The painter and would be museum director discussed his work and Manhattan, where Beebe had once had an apartment. She wanted her new artist friend to add figures to his canvases, Seurat style, but he was insistent on simplification. Business was good for him despite the economy, so they agreed to disagree. They hugged goodbye as Beebe moved on. She decided that the tall squirts of bright oil on canvas were rather interesting after all. Perhaps the warmth of the wine and the smell of the paint were softening her judgment, soft like wet oil.
The next gallery presented large watery landscapes.
“These look like Japanese screens,” and Beebe took the fresh glass of wine from her nephew as she scanned the room for the artist. The gallery manager pointed to a young man from Japan. Beebe was stunned that such softness could be achieved by a male artist. As she oozed compliments, praising his sensitivity and connection to the art history of his country, the polite painter bowed with each comment. Beebe instinctively bowed in response. Together they bobbed back and forth for the entire conversation, until Beebe could bow no more and backed away. More wine was needed, and so it went from one gallery to another. Some artists were local while others were the out-of-area experts. They explained the hidden meaning in their pieces and the evolution of their work. They all enjoyed chatting with Beebe while Michael looked on, proud of his confident aunt. They were both happy with wine and ready to head down Market Street to their last destination, the crowded bar at Farmerbrown.
As they approached Mason Street and were beneath the covered construction walkway, Beebe and Michael were approached by a man with a baggy trench coat and a large backpack.
“I need some change for the train.” He craftily eyed the matches that Michael had discarded on the pavement. “Hey man. I have a lighter that I’ll sell you for five bucks.”
The matches had not lit, and Beebe thought that five dollars to support a homeless man sounded a bargain.
“Five dollars for a cigarette lighter. No way,” responded Michael with big city flair. Beebe reached into her wallet and handed the thin man with braided hair a bill. Then deal had been stuck.
“It’s ok Mickey. What’s five dollars? Now you have a lighter,” and Beebe laughed. The buzz had begun. The two revelers tripped their way down the sidewalk, past the sleek newest hotel in the ghetto, and through the dark crowded entrance of Farmerbrown.
Beebe loved the industrial feel of the hot new bar and restaurant that boasted down home southern cooking.
“You will love the fried chicken. It’s the best you can find, and it comes with macaroni and cheese. Its great comfort food,” raved Michael of the San Francisco cuisine.
Beebe thought of her mother cooking in the old black iron skillet, spooning Crisco into the well seasoned pan as the oil sizzled hot. Their dinners in North Carolina were always fried. She had grown up on fried okra, French fries, corn bread, and of course, fried chicken. It would be interesting to see how the west coast chef would manage a Southern meal.
As they entered, she was overwhelmed with the long dark bar, the distressed copper and corrugated metal that faced the support columns, and the black and white photographs of African children. Farmerbrown was appropriately west coast organic and strictly supported Afro-American farmers. It was the smell of fried food that blended with the jazz from the bar that drew patrons into the atmosphere of the evening. The tricolored posters of Barrack Obama that hung on the walls were a not so subtle political statement for the chic diners who came to the other side of Mason at Turk to enjoy a home cooked meal.
“Look. This is the evolution of the Obama branding.” Michael pointed to the poster under glass at the bar with tiny images beginning on the left with the president’s last name and ending simply on the right with the flag-like letter “O”. Michael was a graphic designer. “Brilliant,” was all he commented.
Beebe looked down at the poster on the bar, took a sip of her water, and felt the long room begin to spin in the music. The last thing she remembered was thinking that she was going to be sick and just needed to put her head down on the bar for a brief moment.
Michael grabbed her shoulders as she bowed her forehead to her glass of water just as the polite artist from Japan bowed to compliments. He raised her to a vertical position. Beebe’s body turned to liquid and melted through his arms to the floor. She lay in a pile with her mouth and eyes open, and unconscious. The panic of the nearby bar patrons kept pace with the rock music.
“Call 911,” the bartender ordered the waitress.
“No,” said Michael as he watched Beebe stir to consciousness when he called her name. “She’s just dehydrated. She’s coming around.” He helped his aunt back to a standing position.
“I’m OK,” said Beebe in a fog. The room continued to spin and the desire to place her head on the bar by her water glass had not diminished. The sound of blues whirled around her. A tall man in a pinstriped suit had come close to help, and the bartender stopped his work of mixing Mojitos to stare at her. He didn’t want her stumbling into an injury and a lawsuit. The stocky manager hovered near the corner of the bar, grateful that the lights were dim and her fainting scene had not been noticed by any of the guests seated for dinner.
“Lets get her some sweet potato fries and corn bread muffins.”
That’s when Beebe went down for the second time, again politely bowing to the water, and then grabbed by her nephew before falling backwards to the floor. When she hit the ground, her feet were splayed sideways as if broken, her rolled back eyes and open mouth like the crucified Christ, and her back arched and twisted. Michael would have thought his aunt dead, if he had not have passed out at a party in college and remembered the retelling of his own dive to the floor. The open eyes and mouth and the unnatural position of her body, gave him chills. Beebe looked like a character in a horror film. He called her name repeatedly as she moved on the floor.
Beebe was in heaven, unaware of the commotion she was causing in a place where concerns were to be washed away by a salt rimmed cocktail and not by hospital personnel. She was comfortable and warm, lying in the soft bed of her mind. She did not want to get out of the warmth, not even when she heard her nephew’s voice calling her name.
“Hi Mickey. Where am I?”
“On the floor.”
Beebe was amazed that the floor could be so soft. She would just stay there and enjoy her comfort. She could have remained on her floor bed, if Michael had not been pulling her back into a vertical line.
Beebe heard the words of the waitress in black. “The police and ambulance are on the way.”
No, thought Beebe. No police. Paranoia engulfed her. “I’m fine,” she uttered, her voice now horse. She made a conscious effort to keep her words clear and unslurred. “I am just dehydrated. I haven’t had any water today. I haven’t eaten anything. I had some wine. I need to eat something.” Was this enough? They seemed to believe her, and it was true. Partially. She needed to sit down.
Michael directed her outside, and the manager brought a dining chair into the parking lot. The fresh air was cool and began to clear her head. Beebe munched on the plate full of fries and small corn muffins while she drank two glasses of water. She saw the flashing red lights pass the parking lot and stop at the corner of the street.
“I am not going with them,” and she turned with determination to her nephew.
Before she realized their arrival, two young paramedics in dark blue uniforms and light blue latex gloves were squatting by her side and quietly evaluating her appearance. Beebe explained again her lack of water and food as well as an ample supply of wine. She placed her plate of bread and fries on the pavement of the parking lot without weaving.
“Come with us. We need to take your vital signs,” coaxed the younger brunette EMT.
“Who is going to pay for this? I didn’t call the ambulance.” Beebe was trying to sound in control, as she was escorted through the bar to the front door of the restaurant. The waitress ran to bring Michael his aunt’s open purse. She was thrilled to see the cause of the night’s excitement whisked away and out to the street.
“We won’t write down your address. We only need your name.”
Beebe blurted that she was not about to reveal her real name.
“We only need a name. Whatever name you give us is fine.” This was not the first, nor the last time during the evening that the two paramedics would be checking the vital signs of secret partiers.
Beebe would not step into the ambulance. “Ok then, Mickey Mouse.”
“Mickey Mouse is a boy’s name. How about Minnie?” suggested the EMT.
Beebe loved the suggestion. “Ok, Minnie Mouse,” and she stepped up the high ambulance step with the assistance of her new pal in deception. She was handed an electronic notebook and boldly wrote the name, Minnie Mouse, in large loopy letters. She had been renamed.
Minnie batted her long eyelashes at her new medical friends. “My nephew promised that I would have a big night and meet some cute men. Look, I have two young medics by my side.”
Michael retrieved his I Phone from his jacket pocket and snapped photos of Minnie Mouse and the blue gloved EMT with his arm around her. More photos followed with Minnie’s leg exposed, held by blue gloves while electrodes were place into position. The mouse patient passed all the tests and was released back for dinner. She hugged her rescuers as she stepped down from the ambulance and invited the pair to join them for fried chicken. Unfortunately for Minnie, there were more stops to be made by the ambulance crew that night and her invitation was reluctantly declined. Her buzz had lessened, the world was no longer spinning, and the table at Farmerbrown almost ready to be occupied. Minnie was stunned that even an ambulance visit could not get a patron seated faster at the big city hot spot. As they walked through the restaurant to their corner table, the diners whispered and pointed at Minnie. Yes, she was the one that had hit the floor, but the now famous mouse did not care. She smiled and walked to her table like a celebrity.
“You know Mickey, Daisy would have killed you, if you had gone back home tonight and told her that I had died at a bar!”
“Yeah, but what a great pick up line…Please pick me up off the floor!”
Mickey and Minnie laughed throughout dinner, retelling the night’s exploits, each time with the details larger and more graphic, just like the fish tale that it was. Minnie Mouse had stepped out on the town with Mickey by her side. A larger than life adventure with a rescue by handsome young men was delivered as promised. Daisy, who had received the I Phone photos, was at the train station early to hear the final version of the evening’s happenings. For Minnie, there would never be another night quite like her San Francisco adventure with Mickey. For this, she would be forever grateful.

Friday, November 6, 2009

For Men Only- San Francisco Security

My palms begin to sweat as the Bart commuter train approaches the San Francisco Airport. I have been there before. I have checked my baggage at the departure counter. I have shown my driver’s license and boarding pass to the uniformed officer behind the laminated desk. I waited patiently in lines, following the portable black straps held on shining silver posts. I smiled compliantly, willing to help protect our country from future catastrophes by following all requests asked of me. However, San Francisco security demands too much.
My anxiety increases as I place my laptop onto the conveyor belt, take off my shoes, strip off my belt from around my jeans, and lay my coat in the plastic bin to be viewed through X-ray detection screens.
“Don’t worry. There is no radiation used in this machine,” and I am directed to enter a small cylindrical compartment. I have been in this device before and am reluctant to enter. Radiation is not my concern.
“Please step forward,” instructs another guard with the smile of a proctologist preparing for a colonoscopy. “Place your feet on the marked spaces.”
I look down and see the yellow painted images of a left and right foot, twenty-four inches apart. The booth is barely large enough for me to enter and stand upright, like a document to be sent through a hospital pneumatic tube. The walls are clear glass, new and smudge free. The officers are proud of their latest state of the art security device.
I enter as instructed and spread my leg apart, facing to the right. The line of travelers, waiting their turn to be scanned, stare at my side profile, while I listen for further instruction.
“Place your hands above your head.”
Oh god, I move my arms up, grab my hands together and hold them above my head, my legs still spread. I wait as if to be sprayed by water from a prison hose, to be frisked by a cop outside of my car alone in the night, or to be pushed against a wall by a drunken admirer, no longer bound by restraint and decency. I hear the machine begin. The noise increases, and I trace the loud grinding sound as it begins at my back, travels to my side, onto my front, crossing to my other side. I hold my breath, spread before strangers, knowing that in a concealed booth far from my vision, someone is viewing my body stripped of all clothing.
“Please step out,” instructs the officer, and I am directed to the line of scanned travelers.
Three guards with headsets stand before our line in communication with the unknown voyeur who monitors our scans.
“Don’t worry. Your face has been blocked from view. No one can tell who you are.”
Right. I know that a man, who has never had a woman and spends his time late at night with either a video game controller or a lap top, surfing the glowing images of unknown women, is enjoying his job. Perhaps I am a bit too harsh, but the possibility is there. An unknown person was watching my form, legs spread for his eyes only. If I could only see him, see the man who enjoyed my body, a mutually shared invasion and therefore easier to accept.
“I need to check you,” comments the female security officer. “I will be using the back of my hands to pat your chest.” She demonstrates by showing me her hands and the motions she is about to employ.
“What? Is there something wrong?”
I know what is wrong. I have been here before. I have felt their hands on my chest. She steps forward to me, inches from my body, in front of the waiting line and the people free to leave the security area, but who turn to stare at those who failed to pass their scan. They shake their heads and smile, grateful that they have escaped further probing.
She presses her hands against my breasts, starting on the underside, around the nipples, and lingering briefly on the top surface.
“Did you feel anything?” I inquire, allowing my anger to rise within me. “I have had boob job.”
I carry a card in my wallet with the numbers of my two implants. I travel with the knowledge that I will never be a Jane Doe. My implants will identify me even in death. Now they pull me from a line and identify me to security officers.
“Oh, that’s what it is,” chuckles the female guard.
I am not finding this amusing. I look to the line of passengers who wait for their bodies to be felt up by security personnel. They are all women, women who have been scanned in the glass booth, women who will have hands pressed into their chests, women who have had breast augmentations and failed the latest, high-tech security test.
Thank you San Francisco, for insuring our safety by feeling all the breast implants that travel on airplanes out of the Bay Area. And gentlemen, if you are curious as to who has gone secretly to their plastic surgeon to have their boobs enlarged, just go to the security line at the San Francisco Airport. The women with implants will be lined up obediently, waiting to have their breasts manually examined. If you can’t make it to San Francisco and are still curious, just ask to see the card your girlfriend may carry in her wallet. It’s a lot easier and not as invasive.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deception Pass

I knew that Jane’s birthday plans would take me to hot springs and waterfalls in Canada, but I was unaware of exactly how far I was to travel that weekend. We had come to British Columbia to mark her sixtieth birthday. This special occasion required a special location, and she chose Harrison Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies. I had been to Vancouver and north to Whistler, the famous ski resort, but never ventured into the eastern mountains of the province. It was a beautiful day to drive through B.C., but then, any day is a beautiful day to drive through B.C. The remaining maple and alder leaves clung to the branches of the trees, turning the highway hillsides yellow and red. The fields in the Frasier Valley radiated purple and orange in the low fall sunlight. Everything around us glowed in color. Serious questions seemed as far from us as the States we had left behind. We were in Canada to toast the beginning of Jane’s next sixty years.
The morning of her birthday, we sat in the resort hot springs. The rock edges of the pool were dotted with couples enjoying the ninety-eight degree mineral baths. Steam rose from the water’s surface obscuring the details of faces and bodies. No one moved. We sat on the ledges by the rocks letting the warmth of the water contrast the cool air around our heads. Quietly, young couples ran their hands over each other’s skin, kissing occasionally. Older couples sat and stared into the steam, while the men would turn to see what new bathing suit had entered the pool. I had forgotten my suit and purchased one in cranberry from the resort shop. My blond hair was clipped in a chignon to keep it from dropping into the water. An older, fleshy man turned as I slipped into the pool.
Jane smiled. “This is the best day of my life.”
Jane had an ability to see every day as the best day of her life. I was flattered that she wanted to share this special one with me. We talked about her future plans, to retire from teaching in a year, to possibly consult as a coach, and to travel to the Mediterranean. She was saving her money for an expensive cruise. She rarely allowed herself luxuries. I was excited for her.
She turned to coach me. It was part of her being, and how she communicated. She was proud of what I had accomplished in the past two years, adapting to changes. She praised my talents. It made me tired. I just wanted to sit in the hot pool, hair up like a model, and not think. Deception.
Sitting nearly submerged in the heat of the water, staring at the couples surrounding me, my brain attempted to rewrite my life. Regrets filled my head, regrets from before I was born. They flowed with my wrong choices through schools and university, through relationships and family, then flooded into a failed marriage. They washed me into Harrison Hot Springs, where, even with regrets, I felt happy. I needed to keep the happiness alive. Mist rose around me, as I silently searched for solutions that were not there.
While Jane was checking out of the room, I purchased two chocolate covered fortune cookies from the gift shop.
“You choose. It’s your birthday.”
Jane’s cookie said that her decisions would be directed, or that her life had come together, or that all things would work out for her. I don’t remember her fortune. Mine said that I was cultured. Deception. Who cares? Maybe instead of hiking in the mountains, I should be visiting a museum. I was glad I had taken my hair down, and put on hiking pants.

We headed to Bridal Falls. We were taking each moment as it came and had no schedule.
After a short hike through dark hemlocks, crossing streams that rushed over beds of golden leaves, Bridal Falls called through the trees. Standing at the base of Mount Cheam, and rising four hundred feet over broad flat rock, the translucent waters cascaded like the layers of netting from a bridal veil.
“Jane, for my second, third or fourth weddings, I would like to have it here,” I laughed.

Deception. I couldn’t imagine getting married another time.
We slipped and slid over the wet leaves and mossy tree trunks back to the car and drove to the border. I had crossed into Canada illegally. Deception. I had been unable to find my passport which I hid for safety in my closet. Now it remained safely hidden from me. I carried with me in a manila folder, an out of date passport in my old name, my birth certificate in an older name, and my driver’s license in my new name. The Canadian border guard did not care. She welcomed me into her country.
Jane and I now faced security officers from the United States.
“It’s all copy for a writer. Just know that I will be enjoying every moment, even if they hold us for hours. I’ll write about the body cavity search,” I joked. “Do you think I can keep my recorder running while they interrogate me?” I had been interrogated before, stories I never told. Deception.
“Don’t say anything,” the coach warned. “You always want to tell truth. Only answer what the questions they ask.” Yes coach, I will try to listen.
The border guard did not welcome us home to America. We were driving a Prius, protecting our environment, and still got no smiles. I smiled calmly, as if all my papers were in order. Deception.
“Why were you in Canada? What are you bringing into this country?”
Confessions fell from my mouth. “I bought a cranberry colored bathing suit and fortune cookies.”

Jane shot me a look to quiet what she knew was coming. I smiled. Yes Jane, my papers are in order. Deception. The guard walked to the back of the Prius, peered in, and took our passports to have them scanned on his state of the art security device. I held my breath.
“Welcome back,” and without a smile, the officer motioned us through the boarder.
“So where is all the security?” I wondered. “I am actually disappointed that there wasn’t a cavity search!” Deception. Jane interrupted my thoughts.
“We have some time. Let’s go see Deception Pass on the way home. Have you been there?”
“My Ex drove us across the bridge on the way to Whidbey Island, a long time ago.”
“No. That doesn’t count. You’ve got to see the beach and walk over the bridge. We’ll take Chuckanut Drive. You’ll love it.”
Chuckanut Drive connects Bellingham to the Skagit Valley where the tulips grow. The winding ribbon road carried us around the rocky cliffs that overlook the San Juan Islands. The sun shimmered on the bay, painting a pathway of light to the Sound and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Houses with sailboats nestled on moorings gave the illusion that life was peaceful on Chuckanut Drive. Deception.

We drove through without stopping until we reached the valley floor, where the road straightened. We passed dairy farms and antique stores. The black fields, freshly plowed from the harvest, held water deep enough to entice traveling swans to stop and rest. The smokestacks of the Texaco refinery spouted fluffy white clouds that decorated the blue sky. Deception. We were nearing the Pass.

In the 1700’s, George Vancouver named the Strait Deception when charting the Inside Passage. Original Deception. I stood at the exact center of the arched metal spans that connect Whidbey Island with Fidalgo Island, peering over the railing to the swift current nearly two hundred feet below. The rushing blue water runs at ten knots, creating patterns of swells, waves, and white foam. From the height of the bridge, the vista below resembles an astronaut’s view of the earth. The swirling whirlpools in the current form the black holes of outer space. I watched a small white boat speed through the center of the pass, rocking in the water from side to side as it slipped and swerved to safety on the other side of the bridge. The circling gulls laughed as the boat struggled through the foam and navigated around the twisting currents. The Olympic Mountains were turning lavender as the sun began to think about setting. Before Jane and I walked down to the beach to say goodbye to the day, I needed to throw some personal items from the bridge railings, ignoring the posted signs to the contrary.
Deception Pass. The western border of Washington and Canada. A perfect location to rid my life of illusions; First to go, a family heritage, the Greek pedigree, hoisted high to elevate grandparents to royal stature. Gone. Scottish castles, a history of power to be worn as a tartan for everyone to see. Gone. A Debuatant, southern social survival, a country club too exclusive to call by specific name. Deception. Gone, into the whirling current. A young girl, waiting to be a mother at the expense of being a woman. Gone. Dependence on a man. Deception. Gone. A perfect family with perfect children, living in a perfect house, and celebrating each holiday with perfection. Deception. Gone and away into the black sink hole of water. Hope for a fair maiden to be rescued from the whirling, swirling, deep blue water by a knight on horseback. Deception. Gone. Pretty and sweet, talented, smart, and deserving. Deception. Gone. Ignoring the painted signs and all thrown over the railing. Tearing fear that cannot be faced alone. Gone. All gone. Nothing left to drop to the water’s surface, to watch disappear in the foam. Gone. All deception gone.
As I watched the water engulf my thoughts, Jane reminded me that sunset was nearing. Crowds formed along the bridge sidewalks. People holding cameras with large protruding lens, waited to capture the exact moment the sun disappeared, silently hoping to see the green flash of light before the day ended. I thought of Oia on Santorini, with hundreds of silent sunset worshipers waiting on the stone walls to say thank you to the cosmos for the beauty of the finished day. At the exact moment that the Cyclades sun disappeared into wash of florescent pink, the watching crowd spontaneously burst into applause. We wanted to be on the beach beneath the bridge for that moment.
We sat on logs that had washed ashore from the Sound and arranged themselves like stadium seating. The water on the edge of the beach was smooth and without waves. We faced the setting sun and the bright rays of light that spread from the horizon. We rubbed our fingers in the cool sand and waited for the day to be officially over. When the full moon rose, and we knew it was time to leave.
Jane smiled. “I think this was the best day of my life and definitely the best birthday.”
I smiled. “It was a perfect day, Jane.”

I turned from the beach to walk back to the car. I returned home with far less baggage than I had carried with me at the start of the weekend. It would be a much easier journey now, having returned to Seattle by way of Deception Pass.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Kiss Goodbye (or Thank You Gustav Klimt)

He arrived at the Seattle airport, stopping in front of the American Airlines skycap. I stepped onto the sidewalk and waited for him to hand me the bag from the trunk of his Mercedes. When he came around to the back of the car, he paused and stared at me as if for the first time.
“You are so beautiful,” then hugged me with the full length of his body. His kiss took my breath and words away. “You had better go, or you will miss your flight to San Francisco.” We both laughed. I could have stayed on the sidewalk at Seattle and forgotten about my trip to California, my visit with my nephew and meeting my freshman year roommate for dinner.
At the top of the Hyatt, San Francisco, watching the fog with my college friend, Debbie, I was happy to have been included in her family gathering. Together we watched the gray against the pinks and orange of the sunset, low like a front moving across the horizon with plans to change the weather. When we had first been shown to our table on the top floor of the sky scraper, the sky had been clear, a beautiful day for tourists to ride cable cars and visit chocolate factories. We were guests in the City of Fog and excited to see it form before us. We drank our cocktails, enjoyed the warm bread, and talked about the beauty in the distance.
San Francisco is broad and spreads to the water. The city filled the vast plate glass window by our table. We were lucky to have had seats with such a spectacular view. The buildings below us glowed with neon signs. The lighted windows opened to our gaze the interior of offices, while glass elevators rose along the exterior of the neighboring structures. The moving landscape entertained us as we waited for our entrees. The streets were filled with traffic and the occasional flashing red lights of emergency vehicles could be seen from the height of our dining perch. Conversations wandered from marathons soon to happen, birthdays which had passed, and friendships that had lasted for 40 years. The warmth of the drinks and the bread, and now the fish and quail, added to the jovial atmosphere. Everyone was happy to have had the opportunity to meet in such a special city. Children had flown in from Dallas and Boston, parents from North Carolina and a friend from Seattle. We had come a long way to sit together and watch the fog.
It had begun simply, hardly noticeable at first, a thick band below the streaked colors of the day’s end. It appeared to lie motionless on the horizon. “Look at the fog. It’s covered Alcatraz.”
Debbie’s youngest daughter’s comment drew our attention to the window. The layer of gray formed a barrier against the distance that no one saw form. It seemed to mysteriously materialize, like a magician’s trick to amaze an audience on opening night. As if waiting for our attention, the fog began to change and grow. It slowly inched forward toward the city from the water. We were able to see it advance. As it moved toward the office buildings from the bay, it blanketed the distance, obscuring the boats and hills that had previously dotted the horizon.
“My goodness. Look how quickly it’s growing.”
Debbie was right. The haze seemed to be closing in on San Francisco, narrowing our field of vision. It had deepened and now reached half way up the first of the city buildings closest to the water. I felt a chill. High up above the lights and the roof tops, with windows closed and temperatures controlled to a comfortable dining setting, I felt the chill of the wet, cold air below. The fog was getting closer. The sun had set, and the lights from the buildings twinkled above the encroaching gray which continually crept toward the Hyatt. The haze now obscured the waterfront and half of the vista which we had so recently enjoyed.
In my mind, I could hear the fog talking, not in the low deep bellows of horns rising from a midst, but in high whispers.
“I am coming. I will be there soon.”
The table conversation died as everyone watched the approaching fog. Soon our entire view became hidden, covered in heavy gray. I could feel the fog around me. I looked at Debbie, her husband, and children to see if it surrounded them too. I could see no midst on the table, no cloud around our chairs, and nothing lurking on our side of the window. The candles were illuminated by batteries, and no smoke emanated from the glowing containers which decorated the table. Every detail from the interior of the dining room was crystal clear, and yet I could feel the fog around me. I smiled, trying to hide my fear that I alone was engulfed. If I remained calm, then perhaps no one else would see my fog.
“I am here now. Relax.”
As the voice of the fog resonated in my ears, I could feel the cool thick air drift into my skull. Like a spray of water from mister, it settled over my synapses. My brain began to slow like a body put into suspended animation. If people conversed around me, I could no longer hear the words. I smiled and nodded my head occasionally just in case anyone looked my way.
My fog saturated brain recalled his kiss. I felt his lips meeting mine, as he held me so tightly that I could not breathe. I had stopped breathing long before the kiss, when I saw him jump out of his car and come around the back to stand before me staring, assessing my body with approval. His hair was the color of the midst that whirled around us, hiding us from the eyes of the other travelers who were departing from Seattle’s airport. We were joined curbside, kissing and holding each other. I had planned to tell him goodbye differently, a kiss on the cheek, a light hug, a farewell appropriate for a couple without a future, one single, one not. The airport fog at had caused the words to evaporate from my brain. I had forgotten the reason I was flying to San Francisco, to get away for a while, to allow my brain to take hold of my unchecked heart. Now in my fog at dinner, I kissed him again and felt his body against mine.
“Would anyone like dessert?” and the waiter passed narrow leather menus to all of the diners. He handed me mine.
My fog was gone. I looked around the table, and no one seemed to have noticed my absence.
I laughed, “No, not for me, thank you. I am completely stuffed.” Almost immediately, three different waiters arrived, serving a slice of warm chocolate cake and singing the birthday song to Debbie’s oldest daughter. I mouthed the words, as I felt the fog creep back into my head. I looked around the table one last time, before I allowed myself to be overcome in the midst of my mind.
I was back in Seattle. Again, I saw him come around the car, stand and stare at my body. I felt him surround me, and I felt the kiss. We kissed again as the vapor whirled in my brain. The fear of being lost in the fog brought back my attention to the table and my friends.
“I am so happy you were able to join us tonight,” and I nodded to Debbie in agreement, beating back the haze for a brief while.
“I can’t imagine any place I would rather be,” I lied to my friend.
When dinner was finished, we took the elevator to the ground floor where I hugged Debbie and her husband, said my goodbyes, and walked down to the sidewalk. The grayness of the night obscured the street lamps, caused the storefront signs to twinkle, and removed the color from the city. San Francisco was fog gray. I followed Stockton to Market Street.
“I am back,” and I heard the voice of the fog as I neared the train station.
Everything was gray; the sidewalk, the stone facades of the buildings, the stairs to the train, his hair, his beautiful thick hair. San Francisco, the City of Fog, had consumed me. The fog would stay within me, as I rode the train through the night, remembering images void of color, blurred of clear lines, washed in my memory. Once again, I was conscious of that kiss. Oh, that kiss goodbye, that kiss in the fog, again and again, memorizing that kiss as the train carried me away from San Francisco to the suburbs and the safety of my nephew’s home.