Friday, May 28, 2010

Conversation in the Target Parking Lot

So I get to my car with my purchases and come face-to-face with a very cute little boy, about four, sitting in his car seat in the van next to it. The door's open, his mom's loading what they've bought into the back.

Me: Well, hello there!

Boy: What's your name?

Me: Barb. What's your name?

Boy: Oscar.

Me: That is a fabulous name. You are going to grow up and do amazing things with a name like that.

Boy's Mom: What do you say?

Boy: Do you know everyone dies?

Me: I do. It's sad, isn't it? But usually it doesn't happen for a long, long time.

Boy: (Nods, contemplative.) Everyone dies.

Boy's Mom (mortified and somewhat alarmed): I'm so sorry. He's just obsessed with this. I don't know what to do.

Me: What can you do, really? He's right.

Boy's Mom: (Sighs.) What do you say, Oscar?

Boy: Nice to meet you.

Me: It was really nice to meet you, too, Oscar.

And I load the stuff I bought in Target into the car and drive away.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Jim Morrison Phenomenon

When I went to Paris in 1981, I got it into my head that I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s grave. I’m not sure why. It’s true that I loved the Doors’ music in the Sixties. “Light My Fire,” “Riders in the Storm,” “Break on through to the Other Side.”

Who didn’t love a band that got kicked off the radio for inciting kids to riot then? Jim, though—he always seemed to go one step too far. Did he really have to expose himself on stage, drink himself into oblivion, do every drug invented by mankind?

Not to mention write all those dreadful poems.

Anyway, my traveling companions, Pat and Joan, and I set out for Pere LaChaise Cemetery on the Metro. Looking for Jim, we passed but were not sidetracked by the graves most people came to see—Proust, Chopin, Balzac, Collette and Moliere, to name a few. It was a weird place, graves as far as you could see and family tombs that looked like tiny houses set in rows on winding paths so that it seemed like a neighborhood of the dead. We followed signs that said things like, “This Way to the Soul Kitchen,” “This Way to the Morrison Hotel,” or simply, “Jim”—with an arrow. More than one skeletal black cat crept across our path.

The grave—and everything around it—was a mess. Dead and dying flowers strewn on the ground. A smashed cross. Graffiti everywhere, including on adjoining graves. “Sex, drugs & love forever!” “Morta la Bourgeoisie.” “Bientot Jim.” “My only friend.” The usual names and initials people feel compelled to leave wherever they go.

Two women stood, heads bowed—one maybe twenty, the other fortyish. The younger carried a single red gladiola, which she propped against the monument. The older woman took her photo. Then I took their photo together.

“You know,” the younger woman said. “He’s not really dead.”

Just then a cemetery guard came into view, quite official in his uniform and cap, and walked toward us—we thought to chase us away. But, no. He wanted to chat.

“Bonjour,” he said, tamping his pipe. “You are American?”

Pat, Joan and I said, yes, we were.

He leaned toward us, his eyes bright. “Do you know the brand Zenith?” he asked.

Turned out he’d just bought a new Zenith radio and wanted reassurance that he’d made a good choice. The conversation went from there to the Germans in WWII to the relative merits of New York versus Paris (thoug it wasn’t clear whether he’d ever been to New York), to a Roman bath somewhere behind the Pantheon. When we left, he walked with us a ways, smoking and talking until disappeared, mid-sentence, down a wooded path.

That was weird.

But the weirdest thing of all was how, when I got home, it seemed Jim Morrison was everywhere. I’d turn on the radio, and a Doors song was playing. Walking through a tunnel under Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, I saw Doors graffiti. I walked into a bar cluttered with pictures of Jim, picked up Newsweek and saw his name mentioned, passed a guy on the street who was wearing a Doors tee-shirt. I stepped on an elevator and heard “Riders on the Storm”—in muzak, for Christ’s sake!

Seriously. Jim was everywhere—and, in time, this birthed a fabulous epiphany, which I dubbed “The Jim Morrison Phenomenon.” Jim was always there. I just hadn’t noticed until the surreal experience at Pere LaChaise put him on my radar.

Over the years, this has happened with all sorts of things.

Which brings me to…Silly Bands.

Early last week I was somewhere, can’t remember where, and saw these flimsy little bight-colored rubber bracelets shaped like animals set on the counter with a sign that said, “$1.99.”

Each, I thought? Then promptly forgot about them.

Until I went to Heidi’s “Personal Best” program at school on Thursday morning, where her dad had a couple of bags of said bracelets to give her as a reward for being so smart. At which point, I noticed that most of the kids were wearing them. In fact, some had so many bracelets on that their arms were half-covered with them.

“Silly bands,” Heidi told me when I asked what they were. (In that duh-implied tone of voice reserved for completely clueless people.)

Suddenly, Silly Bands were everywhere. Just like Jim had been!

I swear, every kid at the Art Fair on Saturday and Sunday was wearing at least one. So when we realized that it was the kids who most wanted to play our groovy Writers’ Roulette game, we went out and supplemented the prizes with….Silly Bands.

We raked in the dough after that. No matter what they actually won—tee-shirts, notebooks, pens, buttons—most of them wanted a Silly Band. Fine with us. They stood, agonizing over which one to take. A red star, a purple dinosaur, a neon yellow duck, a blue boat, an orange car.

“What are those?” a lady asked.

“Oh, Silly Bands,” I said. “They’re all the rage.”

And felt like breaking into a wild rendition of “Hello, I Love You,” just to confuse her further.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Writers Roulette & Other Literary Pursuits

I spent Saturday and Sunday manning (womaning?) the Writers’ Center of Indiana’s booth at the Broad Ripple Art Fair, along with a group of fabulous volunteers. Betsy Lewis, volunteer extraordinaire in all manner of Writers’ Center needs, had the genius idea of having a prize wheel, which turned out to be the absolute best part of the weekend—both for raising money and for sheer entertainment.

I mean, who (in their deepest heart of hearts) doesn’t want to gamble?

Who can’t afford a dollar—for a good cause? (Well, at an art fair, anyway.)

Plus, there was the unexpected benefit of parents feeling guilty for dragging their kids around looking at art who were willing to throw in a dollar to let them spin the wheel.

Betsy also made very cool story-starters, which also drew kids to our booth (and the wheel) and it was lovely to watch them bent over, writing earnestly. My grandkids, Heidi and Jake, volunteered, too. Their job was to write sample stories to post on the tent. Needless to say, the stories were…brilliant.

For adults and teens, there was an ongoing story to add too—also lots of fun.

Tony Brewer and Jason Ammerman, of the Reservoir Dogwoods, as well as Sarah Skwire and Joyce Brinkman were on hand to write poems on demand for $5. Sarah wrote one for a brand new baby, also one for a couple’s sixth wedding anniversary, which made the bride cry (in a good way:-).

Best, we talked to so many people who were interested in writing and glad to know we existed. We collected well over a hundred names to add to our e-mail newsletter list and there was an unusually large number of online memberships and class registrations waiting to be processed on Monday morning.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Beach Reading

What could be better than spending virtually all day reading on Hilton Head Island, looking up occasionally to see dune grasses, ocean, and sky spread out before you? It is my favorite thing in the world to do, my favorite birthday present (yesterday was my birthday), and one of the things that makes me feel lucky to be alive.

Better yet, the first book I read on said beach this week was the new Elizabeth George, This Body of Death. A deliciously fat, complicated, can't-put-it-down mystery with an ensemble of recurring characters even more compelling than the plot--the kind only she can write.

I say characters, but George's people are absolutely dead-on real to me. Handsome, brilliant Inspector Lynley getting over a tragic loss (which freaked me out so much when it happened a few books ago that I actually had to stop reading for a while); his partner,the disheveled, determined, Barbara Haver; the ultra-cool, former gang chief turned cop, Winston Nkata.

How. Does. She. Do. This?

I would truly love to know. I would love to interview her sometime. What about her unfolding plots surprise her in process, I wonder? Lynley's tragic loss, for example. Did she set out, knowing? I'd bet she was as shocked as I was when it happened.

In any case, I highly recommend this new installment.

And if you've never read Elizabeth George, I recommend starting with the first book and reading up to This Body of Death.

Lucky you, with her whole world yet to be discovered.