Saturday, February 26, 2005

I have a tenuous relationship with water (Started 12/22/2003)

Sorry... this is clearly unfinished, but this is all there is for now.

Rain has always been part of my mythology. When I was born, my father worked in flood control. That is to say that it was his job to keep the flood drains clear of debris. When it doesn’t rain most of the year, the flood channels have a lot of time to collect branches and trash and anything else that people threw over the fence or into the drain. The river bottom, that’s what we called it because there almost wasn’t ever any water there except when it rained, was the same. The reeds would grow high and the hobos took up residence in the river bottom. That’s what we called the homeless people of my youth maybe because my parents were children of the depression and that’s what they called homeless people. (Hobos were people who wandered because they wanted to not because Ronald Reagan had thrown them out of halfway houses and state hospitals. But hobos were not winos who sat around the park and drank something out of paper bags, wine I guess.)

So my dad had to keep the flood drains clear and the river bottom ready to receive the rain. All year round it was his job to check on the drains, but especially when it rained.

When it starts to rain and not stop, the water takes on a life of its own. It becomes that powerful force we know can become flash floods. The creeks and river beds and drainage ditches get full of those branches and trash that have been sitting around waiting for the rain to start. Those are the days my dad has to go out and stay out cleaning the ditches so the city blocks won’t flood. That’s flood control quite literally. It doesn’t matter if it is Monday or Thursday or Saturday or my mom’s birthday.

Flooding, when it happens, happens in late January, early February. Right around my mom’s birthday. It just so happens my mom went into labor one day in early February when it happened to be raining cats and dogs. My dad was out taking care of flood control day and night. It was before cell phones. So my mom went to the hospital with my grandma. I am not sure how they got there. It was before we were a two car family. I don’t know where my older brother and sister were. (Probably around the corner with my aunt and uncle and cousins.)

All I know is that my birth mythology goes something like this: My mom was in labor and it was her birthday. It was raining cats and dogs so my dad couldn’t be there with her. She suffered through her birthday secretly hoping I would decide to say hello to the world on her special day. Talk about guilt, not just suffering, suffering on your birthday.

Well, part of the mythology is the rain. It rained and rained and rained. Part is that my father was not with my mother when she needed him. And I had the potential to make my mother extremely happy by being born on her birthday, instead, I came one day too late and started on a long career of disappointing her.

Disappointments, little imperceptible disappointments that no one else would call disappointments, but she does. I am not sure if that is mythology or destiny. Still trying to figure it out. Maybe it was just raining and my mom likes to make people feel guilty. Perhaps the lesson was don’t take her complaints so seriously. That’s the hardest lesson to learn by far.

I have a tenuous relationship with water.

I don’t like water on my face especially near my eyes. As a child, my mother let me hold a wash cloth over my eyes when she washed my hair. She did this even though she thought my fear of soap was irrational. She did it even though she thought it was a sign of weakness. Just another in a series of disappointments.

I don’t melt (started 12/22/03)

I was not one of those children who liked to play in the rain. I was not drawn to puddles. I did not revel in catching rain drops in my mouth. I don’t remember disliking rain either. In school I associated rain with the game heads up seven up. We stayed in our classrooms at lunch and it kept us quiet.

I grew up in Southern California, near the ocean, where it really only rained in November and February. Really, it could rain any time between November and February, but it didn’t rain so much that you wanted it to end. I knew that if it rained too late and too much in late January that the strawberries would not be ready in time for my birthday. That meant I would not get fresh strawberries on my waffles at my birthday breakfast. That was about how much thought I gave to rain growing up.

My parents always hoped for rain. People in Southern California check the sky and pray for rain. Then they hope it will come slowly and evenly and not in great down pours. But usually when it rained, it rained. I remember a whole week in November and a whole week in January, usually the last week. Too much rain and it will flood, but not on my street.

If it didn’t rain enough come next September, the fire danger would be greater. Rain meant green mountains in late February and March. And snow on the mountains. If for some reason it rained late in the season, March or April, that meant the fire danger would be even greater. Too much rain meant too much growth.

We wanted the rain in the winter because if it rained on us, it was snowing in the mountains. In California, we store our water as snow on the mountains. The more snow on the mountain the better our water levels. The snow waits to melt until June, so even though it’s not raining, we still have water.

When I lived in New Jersey it rained all the time; indiscriminately, I thought. If it didn’t rain for two weeks they were on TV talking about a drought. We didn’t call it a drought in California unless it hadn’t rained for five years. With so much rain in New Jersey, why didn’t they have anything to show for it? Why didn’t they store their rain as snow on the mountains? I looked around one day after another drought warning had been announced, and I realized they didn’t have any mountains, just some hills. I guess those hills aren’t big enough to store snow.

I didn’t crave rain and playing in puddles, but I didn’t dislike it either. But living in rainy New Jersey, I discovered that I don’t like umbrellas or rain coats. Umbrellas are big and unwieldy and after you use them they are wet. I learned to hate umbrellas in New Jersey. It seemed to never fail to turn my brand new umbrella inside out every time. And people in New Jersey, I guess Princeton really, like really BIG umbrellas. They are big enough to cover four people: the kind that you can turn upside down and make into a boat and float away. Only under each umbrella is only one person and the sidewalk is a sea of orange and black and no room for anyone with a normal size umbrella to walk…and no way someone without an umbrella won’t get her eye poked out.

In Oxnard, we often have that slow, steady rain we love; the kind that soaks slowly into the ground filling up our water table and keeping the sea water at bay. When it’s a serious downpour, you just want to curl up with your pillow and blankie and read a book. It won’t rain for long, so it doesn’t matter if you slow down for one day and enjoy a good book.

Rain makes me feel antsy though. You’re in and you know you don’t want to be out, but then you feel like you can’t go out. Then you’re just upset that the rain is keeping you in, even though five minutes ago you were happy to have an excuse to stay in. I don’t like to be in rain very much, but I dislike worrying about umbrellas more.

I guess it was in New Jersey that I learned how to hate umbrellas and resent the rain. In New Jersey it seems like any day could turn into a rainy day. It rains in the winter, in the fall, in the spring, no surprises, but it rains in the summer! You can’t plan any outdoor event without planning for a rain date. I remember the first question I asked after my first summer in New Jersey, how can you ever have a pick up picnic? Waking up some morning and deciding to go out to the ranch for an impromptu cook-out is one of the best things in the whole world. There’s none of that in New Jersey. In Oxnard you know if it’s not an 80% chance of rain or better, it’s not going to rain. But, I guess like Eskimos with snow, while I lived in New Jersey I also learned to note the different kinds of rain and the signs that rain was coming. There is the hurricane rain. The wind blows and a darkness creeps across the sky. Then as if someone has cut a hole in the sky, the rain falls, really gushes like out of an opened fire hydrant.

I stopped carrying an umbrella while living in New Jersey. I am not sure how many the wind ruined before I realized I didn't need one. I don't melt. I knew for sure I wouldn't melt one September afternoon when hurricane Hugo dropped a ton of rain on Princeton. I was somewhere in the middle of campus when the deluge started. It was warm and windy and I was soaked, but I didn't melt. So, after that, I just trudged out fearlessly. Usually, if it started raining, someone else had an umbrella. I would sidle up and take his arm (whoever he was, I often didn't get a name) and walk with him under the over-sized umbrella as far as I could. Then I would look for another unsuspecting umbrella toter or just get wet.

I finally broke down and bought a rain coat, but I miss making friends with umbrella toters, a little. I don't mind getting wet, and I really enjoy the wind in my hair. It's a little more annoying when I have my glasses on, but wet glasses in need of drying off is just another excuse to make a friend or two.

I especially like announcing, "I don't believe in umbrellas," whenever someone asks me incredulously, "Don't you have an umbrella?" It really ticks people off. "What do you mean you don't believe in umbrellas? They are real, they are not something you can just choose not to believe in like religion." Ah, but they are so wrong, I can or cannot believe in anything I want. That's my free willy as I like to call it and I exercise it at every opportunity!

Finished 2/26/05

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Personal Grunts

You know, when you think of something, and a little sound seeps out without thinking about it. It might be a squeal of delight, a laugh out loud (no initials, please) in response to a witty passage, or a bad memory. Mine are usually of the bad memory variety. In my mind's eye, I see myself inserting my foot into my mouth AGAIN and wince. I think I am only wincing on the inside, but, in fact, I am actually making a little noise aloud to go along with the very real outside wince. I have been known to laugh out loud on the bus and cry unashamedly (not usually with too much sound) on the train. Some public spaces are just anonymous enough and so welcoming in a certain way that makes them perfect for public personal grunts.

I have been listening as I walk along the street, ride the bus or the train, generally whenever I am out in the public sphere. I guess I started listening because I know I do it. I started to worry that spending a lot of time alone with my personal monologues that I have just lost touch with the outside world. But, really, I may be wacko, but I am NOT the only one. If I didn't have so much to do, I might carry around a notebook and record all the personal grunts I hear...when they happened, who the grunter was, if I could tell what had precipitated the sound.

Maybe it makes us all part of some giant human community and not wacko at all, but lately I have been voting for wacko.