Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Black Friday

Last Friday, while other families were hitting the malls and braving the early morning sales, my family had its own version of Black Friday, at the Amish stores in southern Indiana. At one point there was even a crowd - two cars were already there when we pulled up.

It was the perfect outing for the day after Thanksgiving. We bundled up in blankets in the cold car, since the car never warmed up between our stops. Our first "store" was just off the highway, up and down a hill past donkeys and some baby sheep, past the Amish one-room school house and a field of corn shocks. We parked next to their red barn and waited for someone to come out of the house. Two smiling women in black dresses and white caps let us into their cold outer building where they kept the baskets made by five local families. They were all shapes and sizes, with signatures and dates handwritten on the bottom - tall ones and fat ones, large and small. And they were all so inexpensive we all had to get one.

The next stop was on the west side of the highway, farther in the country past a 90 degree curve and into a small valley. This one was an actual store, for the Amish, not for tourists. It had a squeeky wooden porch and a screen door with a sign that said "Fresh Bread and Baked Goods Today." Of course my uncle bought a loaf. We all looked at the bolts of dark fabric, the vials of herbal remedies, pots and pans and more baskets, all the while our footsteps sounded hollow on the wooden floor. My young cousins (and I) bought candies - peanut butter balls and fudge.

We hadn't planned to go to another store, but when we saw another "Baskets"
sign at a farm on the way home, our instincts told us to check it out. We turned into the drive, not sure where the goods were kept, and several faces peeked out at us from various doors and windows in the surrounding buildings. Finally a tall, thin, friendly girl welcomed us and gestured for us to follow her across the yard to a long building. On the way we passed a turkey loose in the yard who gobbled at us, the most thankful of birds on the day after Thanksgiving. We walked through the cedar-scented woodshop to where the baskets were kept, as well as benches, chairs, baby cradles, and more. Of course we had to buy more baskets.

We ended our outing at a gas station where we filled up and got hot chocolate for the short drive home.

For the past ten years, I have bought a basket from the Amish almost every time I've gone home, so my house is filled with them now. From where I sit typing with George on my lap, there are three within my sight. And they all remind me of those trips over the country roads with family.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No Blue Suede

I read somewhere that a person’s shoes are the best way to judge who someone is – their character, their wealth, their personality. So as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight, it’s a great opportunity to check out those people – those feet – around me.

I look around to see what the strangers are wearing.

A few rows away I see a pair of green sneakers with laces that drag the floor. What do bright green sneakers signify? Creativity? Quirkiness? Youth? I look up at the guy who wears them, and sure enough he is those very things. He wears a checkered shirt, a red scarf, Buddy Holly glasses, and carries a ukulele. So far, so good.

One row away is a pair of black leather shoes that are draped by long jeans that drag the floor at the heel. The shoes aren’t typical – they are flat-looking across the top with seams along the edges, with a small heel. Very European, or maybe just Italian American. They could be worn by an older man if the jeans didn’t imply youth. I look up at the man just as he turns, and I see he is indeed Italian – with a goatee and a gold chain around his neck. That’s two.

A few seats from me I see a pair of brown leather loafers. They are clean and new-looking, or at least well cared for. Inside them are navy socks topped by olive green cords with a cuff. This combo looks crisp and rich, and perhaps worldly or educated. The man wearing them bends down to reach into his leather bag and I see he is older, wearing a brown jacket with elbow patches and a dapper hat atop his grey hair and mustache. He could be a professor or a writer. Either way, he obviously has a story. Three for three.

I look around for another pair of interesting shoes, but the rest are a sea of white multicolored sneakers. And they all wear jeans. All are tied (I hoped I’d see a pair of big unlaced high tops so I could guess a man graduated high school in the Eighties.), all look fairly new, all are worn with socks. Nikes. Reeboks. New Balance. They all look like Jerry Seinfeld, wearing jeans and big white shoes.

How boring.

So, I guess from this I can say surmise that the general population is more concerned with comfort than fashion. More interested in conforming than in expressing any kind of individuality. We’ve become the Land of the Big White Feet.

So, what am I wearing today? I look down and see what my feet say. They’re small black Sketchers with grey laces. I’m the only one with black feet. I like to think they look more European. And I guess that’s accurate. I like to be different but not too different. I wish I could live in Europe again. I care about comfort but don’t forget fashion completely. Whoever said that about shoes was right, I think.

What do your feet say?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I live about 1800 miles away from my immediate family, and I have to say that it has an effect on me. Sure, I have friends here that I’ve known for over a decade who know me pretty well. I have my husband who thankfully understands me. And I have coworkers and people who support me and feel practically like family.

This week my uncle visited from Illinois, and it was a reminder of the fact that being around people who’ve known you since you were a baby is very different. There’s a certain comfort in hanging out with someone who remembers when you turned three years old or when you made everyone potholders for Christmas, and they recognize that your laugh is like Grandma’s or that you speak like your Mom. Those are references not everyone can give.

My uncle John is only ten years older than me, and he was the “cool” teenager I admired when I was little. He is the reason why I came home from my first day of Kindergarten upset that I wasn’t given any homework. Of course I wanted to be like him; he was always studying his Calculus or working on a science project. He’s the reason I tried tennis in high school and college. And I can’t hear the loud brass of the group Chicago without thinking of him – it was always heard blaring from the closed door of his basement bedroom while I was upstairs baking cookies with Grandma. Later he went off to college, graduated and got a job in Chicago, and visited home wearing his big-city tan trench coat. Of course I wanted to do the same.

Family members don’t visit me in Las Vegas as often anymore. I’ve lived in Vegas now for over 15 years, and the novelty of my location isn’t as exciting now. When I was first here I had visitors often – close family, distant cousins, random neighbors. They sat in the audience of my shows and we went to dinner and reminisced about our ties to home and the glitz of my new life in the big city.

Now I visit them instead, but I don’t mind. I need to get back to my roots now and then, to drive the same streets I drove hundreds of times, to see how my hometown has changed, to inhale the trees and rain and forests.

Then, once I’m overloaded with memories and sentimentality and reminisces of who I used to be – who I guess I still am at the core- I am happy then to return to my city life and to the new and improved, more confident, older and hopefully wiser, version of me.

But family, please visit me in the desert any time. I need occasional reminders of the younger, potholder-making, laughs-like-Grandma Me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Enjoy the Fakeness

On the way to work every day I drive on the freeway that circles the city, between the houses of civilization and the bare desert. When the freeway was constructed, they tore up the desert plants, leaving only brown dirt that eventually was taken over by random desert plants that gradually reclaimed their territory.

In some places, the roadsides are covered in gravel. Yes, the rock may look a little better, but I have to say it seems like a waste of money. Then this week I saw road crews on the sides of the road adding another addition to the gravel: green spray.

At first I thought it was paint, and I couldn’t believe they felt the need to paint the rocks green. But then when the chemical smell invaded my car I realized it was probably weed killer. They sprayed it in large swatches with their spray guns, and gradually it took over the whole length of highway, making the roadside look moldy.

Wouldn’t it have been better to just let the natural plants take over eventually? Instead they put gravel, then must spray chemicals to keep weeds out. Crazy. But I guess this manicured fakeness goes along with the electrical poles that are disguised to look like pine trees. Sprayed green roadsides and plastic trees. Yikes! And there are already many houses in my community with fake plastic grass front yards. What’s next? Plastic birds hanging from wires, fake dogs in plastic houses, and stuffed squirrels perched in the fake trees? Fake shrubs and fake flowers? Fake food? Fake life?

But then again, I live in Las Vegas, the land of fake Venetian canals, fake Egyptian pyramids, and fake breasts. I guess I need to just accept it. Embrace the fakeness.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I took a book with me to my doctor’s appointment this week – a necessity since they always make me wait at least thirty minutes in the lobby and again in the actual exam room. Usually my wait is a pleasant time of forced relaxation, book in hand, quiet repose. This time I chose Maupin’s Tales of the City.

But it’s not quiet anymore. My doctor’s office has succumbed to our population’s overall need for constant stimulation. At first I tuned out the noise and chose a seat near the door so I could hear when my name was called. But the technology refused to be ignored. There were two TVs in the room, one at each end, one of which blared msnbc and the other Fox news. Heaven help anyone who chose to sit in the center of the room and have conflicting news (and politics) in each ear. And on top of those two TV’s, the sound system was also on, playing a variety of classic rock.

I looked at the people in the room, and at the workers behind the desk, and was amazed that no one else seemed to mind the chaos – they continued on as normal. I on the other hand started to go a little crazy while msnbc loudly discussed where to donate your body when you die, Fox news blared an interview with Sarah Palin, and above it all, Jimmy Buffet sang “Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville…”

It actually makes me sad, because people shouldn’t need this constant stimulation. We should be okay with silence, instead of needing headphones in our ears 24/7. But more and more, we’re bombarded by noise pollution, from the TV monitors in the checkout lines at the grocery, to the TVs that float above the aisles at Walmart, and the DVD players in the backseats of cars. Oh, for the good old days when people could just watch the scenery go by outside the car window and be entertained by that alone.

I’m afraid to look ahead twenty years to our de-evolved lack of attention. I bet by then, TV will just be a flash of images because we’ll be so unable to focus. TV screens will be in every room wherever you look, we’ll be so unable to think by ourselves. No one will be comfortable just with his own thoughts.

Or, maybe we’ll all climb out of this high tech craziness and Simplicity will be the new “in.” We’ll see. I think there will be a lot more msnbc-blaring until we make the turn for the better.