Walking Dogs in the Rain Sucks

 

 

Walking dogs in the rain sucks.

No one wants to be out there. It’s fucking cold and dismal and we all end up unsexy wet.

It’s not that pretty mystical, fantasy rain of Tom Cruise’s “Legend” — searching for unicorns in the magic forest. No. It’s cold and grey and gross. Wind whipping in unpredictable patterns. Streams and dumps. Sheets and bullets. Cold ass rain. Wet everywhere.

We have to go out. They need to poop and pee. They are too proud and territorial (thankfully) to do it at home.

Balancing two dogs and the umbrella I took from the restaurant’s lost and found. Damn wind keeps changing— left to right, up to down, down to up — flipping the cheap thing inside out and I keep confusing the retraction/expansion button and crumpling it. Fucking thin cellophane-like poop bags stick to my clammy frozen fingers. I have been doing this for so damn long, how is it possible that I keep confusing which side is the seam and which is the opening, and with everything drenched, the little trick of licking a finger and rubbing the plastic to separate the vacuum pressed fold, is futile.

Again, I’m a grown-ass woman. Why did I not put on my rain-boots but instead opt to wear my beloved Fryes that I have been neglecting to weatherproof and wax?

My outfit doesn’t matter. The fronts of my legs are soaking. My calves are covered in the gross splash-back of old piss, shit and barf from the streets, disguised as simple murky puddles of freshly fallen rain.

The puppies, you would think as an evolutionary mutation- like a duck, would have fur that wicks away the water. They don’t. Rain functions in a totally penetrating wetness, with all the city splooge, splashing back a little extra love into their fur.

 

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The Photograph

The power of a name opens doors, closes them, and creates them. Names mean nothing without people, without some acknowledgement of the existence. I was moved by Lucy Lippard’s piece, “In an Image” (The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, 1997) in which she discusses the power of an oral narrative, that which gives root, plants a home and a history.  She says that the place is “the heart of storytelling… the imaginative act of bringing together self and earth, culture and nature… Once you start hearing the stories… you are becoming related, because the story is the umbilical cord between, past, present, and future”.  The place is its name and its story; and it can be contradicted by memory and photograph.

I have moved around a lot; inhabited multiple homes within various cities, states, and countries. In my “hometown” (a place I do not regard as home),  my sense of home lies in my family who tell me stories about my childhood, the relatives and the family’s history. Talks often veer to cuentos of the past — hardships endured or antidotes of brothers causing trouble or children misbehaving. Every time I would visit my abuelos, my grandmother always told the same story of how upset my mother was upon seeing a Polaroid of me caught in the act of climbing out of my round baby-chair on wheels (now since outlawed), balancing one chubby little foot on its front tray and the other midair, stretching for a piano bench. I am turned, looking at my abuelo, who, instead of running to save me from slipping and cracking my head on the piano I was attempting to scale, ran for a camera to capture the moment.

I never tired of hearing them or seeing the photograph of me, a me that existed before my current recognized self. That photograph is emblematic of my concept of my childhood, my relationship to my abuelos, and root for the formation of my identity. It has become the rationale throughout my life for my wild behavior —for my desire to claim fearlessness as my own (and feign arrogance to do so). It is who I am supposed to be. It is how my mother comprehends her relationship was starkly different with them than mine — I, the consentida she never was.

The interpretation of the image, that beloved photograph of me ascending the piano, holds alternate meanings for all people who were there, for those who were not, for those who know none of us, and me, who was present but only knows the image and the story— not the moment as acted out. I still hear my grandfather’s laugh; he was always the one in the corner of the house, snapping unflattering photos of his large familia. He captured the memories, created them. This picture captured how my grandmother justified her actions, imbuing confidence in my abilities—

           Ah, I knew mija could reach it! She does this all the time! 

She gifted me a strength I carry with me today.

This photograph, this moment, shared on multiple levels, is what gives me my sense of place, my sense of home; it is not a geographical space. The cuentos and conversations that accompanied it were always familiar, but changed every time, shifting with the present and colliding with the past. New details emerged and old truths faded— the line blurred in deciphering which was which.

My name, my home— as named by this photograph, exists in the contradictions of memory, guided by the image, allowing me to see the outside from within— grounding and freeing.

Anxiety

You feel like vomiting.

Overwhelmed and blind.

A static energy pulsates through you, as if all of your nerves have received a low frequency jolt— electric— not in an excited and invigorating way— nervous, anxious. The definition of nervous; all synapses popping, pulsating in each thread throughout the body.

In the famous “Body Worlds” exhibit, plastinated specimens of the intricate workings of the human form are displayed. The entire nervous system exposed. Each strand hangs, composing the frame of the human body. Vulnerable. Connected to each limb, spine, toe, finger, stem and brain.

The finite host of infinite sensations.

Tingling. Rippling. Frantic vibrations from the flesh inward. The internal fury, invisible to the outside world, hidden by skin. No one can see the frightening lightening flashing. Silent screams— deafening, ear drums thumping.

Toads 2

Dark and dank earth, cool on my soft, milky white belly. Muted shouts of the children scampering about. Murderous little beasts. Screaming, running, and death gripping. Dirty chubby little hands clawing, clambering, for our scattering bodies, hopping for our lives, to escape their grasps. They wiggle their way into our homes, dig and scratch for us with complete disregard for our rightful place in this world— as kin of the animal kingdom. They rip us from our humble dwellings and hurl us to explosive, painful deaths. Leaving us on sidewalks, with demonic smiles on their faces as they watch the life drain from our limp near corpses. Worse, they enjoy a slow demented torture, pulling at our limbs until they pop from the sockets— or a swift foot, stomping the last breath from our lungs, leaving our lifeless forms as abstract art on the schoolyard cement.

 

Toads

I used to hunt toads when I was a kid.

Perhaps “hunt” isn’t the appropriate word.

I would spend lunchtime scavenging for reptilian treasures, excited to find one, like a four-leaf clover— only more abundant. Some were as tiny as my pinky nail, some as large as the size of my eight-year old palm. Gold slits iris in black beaded eyes. Mossy muted green, mustard yellow and charcoal swirled skin— slick and lumpy, a topographical map.

Third grade. Mrs. Wilde’s class.

The school had brought in these large stationary “learning trailers” to the yard; aluminum boxes, raised on cinderblocks with portable attachable stairs. The space underneath the trailers, maybe a foot high; warm, dark and damp— the perfect spot for nesting if you were a toad.

The boys, rambunctious eight, nine and ten-year-old boys, would crawl under the trailers, digging for the toads. They would emerge with handfuls and hurl them at the sidewalk, watching their soft little bodies explode in glee. They would throw them at girls they had crushes on, mixed with fistfuls of rocks, in some twisted form of foreplay that only translates to a third-grader. Or maybe we all can relate to the macabre game of controlling life and having the power to hurt, without understanding the ramifications of our actions— or choosing not to.

 

I remember one toad in particular.

I peeled him off the sidewalk. He wasn’t dead but his leg was maimed. I put him in my locker for safekeeping. The poor little guy, while I was in class, had jumped and attempted to squeeze his way to freedom through one of the slats at the bottom of the locker. He got stuck and hung by his mangled leg. It had separated from his body, leaving him limp, dangling by the limb, dead.

I feel like there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.  Trying to save something, someone, some tortured soul, and you just end up hurting them. Maybe we need to not play God and let nature be nature? Yet, almost 30 years later, I find myself still getting involved. It’s my nature.

The East River pt.1

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Perambulating through the streets of Williamsburg.

We wander. Inspecting interesting piles of trash squished into fences, accumulating in abandoned commercial lots. A wheel from a child’s toy truck, orange and black. The wrappings of a gift. A pink brush whose bristles have been pressed flat and useless.

We stop at the end of Grand Street at the small park and stare at the choppy waters of the East River, at the cityscape across. A landscape brushed in dirty coffee and copper, dusted blue, grey and moss green. It’s mostly patinaed copper, but when soft rays of sunlight break their way through the blanket of clouds, a shimmer of gold speckles here and there.

Trying to stay present. To be mindful while simultaneously repressing the urge to urinate (coffee kicking in). Rejecting the urge to succumb to the cold, but the wind is gaining intensity. My hair is the color of honey, whipping across my face, breaking the grey. My fingers are so cold they burn hot. Lips chapped but I hesitate to apply chapstick, knowing my wind-whipped hair will end up stuck.

I try to concentrate on the strewn red rose petals spread on the ground beside the bench. I imagine some lovers quarrel or romantic encounter gone wrong. Maybe it was a proposal gone right and the couple were swept up in the moment, in their happiness and hope, they forgot about the bouquet.

Sitting still, the cold begins to penetrate. I need to move. I want to stay in this moment, ruminating in my observations, but I can’t.

Walking now, the follicles on the front of my thighs pop with chill and I’m eating my hair. The puppies, who were content chewing sticks at my feet are still equally enthused sniffing the smorgasbord of odors on the street.

Zelda swings right to left, scouring every lead like a metal detecting beachcomber. Drake hangs low to the ground, foaming nostrils, identifying every scent skillfully. We approach a section of fencing that seems to be the outdoor bathroom of choice of some desperate humans, but it’s not fresh and it’s too cold to be too noxious.

I pull them closer to me, in case for want they decide to investigate.

They help me to be aware. To be present and take note of the simple things.

I tend to make things complicated.

I am never bored.

Jar of Buttons

I would spend hours dividing them up by color, shape and design for no other purpose than to try and assemble some story. To create context to the individual yet collective tales, histories, that each one lived; a bright green one from my Aunt Cissy’s childhood shirts, a gold one from Uncle Jesse’s high school marching band uniform and a dulled off-white pearl-like button, maybe from my great grandmother’s housedress? I arranged them, wanting to weave these memories that didn’t belong to me in some sort of semblance.

I’d sew with my stubby little girl fingers, hundreds of these brilliant treasures, onto remnants leftover from the dresses she would sew for me. The dresses I loved and loathed. Embarrassed kindergartner donning handmade garments to school. Proud — of the love and hard work she painstakingly put into them, selecting patterns from JoAnn’s, choosing the fabrics carefully, thoughtfully. Ashamed — because I didn’t look like my classmates. I didn’t know if we were poor, or even what that really meant. I only knew I was different.

I still feel guilty for my shame. Especially now that she is gone.