Tag Archives: ubiquitous

For All the Shitty Neighbors — Past or Present — You and I Have Ever Had

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Guy from New York:

I could hear him through the thin walls of our Brittania Heights/Mint Urban apartment, hacking up what sounded like blood, or possibly a whole damn organ—the vilest mother fucker who’d ever graced the opposite side of my walls. He was always home and he was always awake. I heard his television, I heard his disrupted breathing, I heard his shouts and moans. This man was never quiet. In the mornings while I got ready for work, I heard him yelling in agony (and in the afternoons, and in evenings too), in what sounded like legitimate pain. My imagination ran amok wondering what the hell would cause this. Was he a junky shooting up? Was he chronically clumsy? Was he enraged by his sports team? Did he piss needles? (All thoughts I preferred not to have, but they became my daily regimen of curiosity.)

What the fuck was going on over there?

In the mornings, 5 AM, he’d wake me up blowing cigarette smoke through my bedroom window from where he stood, inches away on his balcony. He’d belch and fart, shirtless with his pregnant-man belly hanging over dirty shorts. He’d hold public phone conversations out there midday, his thick New York accent characterizing him even more as Obnoxious Neighbor Numero Uno.

Hearing him so clearly through the walls highlighted my privacy complex. I hate to be heard and seen when it’s not my choice. What could he hear from his end? Did he hear me cry? Did he hear my moans? Did he hear our fights or laughter? I’m sure he heard it all, and thus I could never look him in the eye when passing him in the hall (though the only times he left were for cigarettes; I never did see him carry any groceries).

I quit reading on my balcony because of him (except on the occasions I was emboldened by a glass of wine, but even then I couldn’t read for thinking of all the dialogue scenarios that might occur if he tried starting up a conversation. He never did, but I could still feel his eyes boring into me, further distracting me from my book).

Only a couple of weeks before we moved out, an eviction notice was tacked on his door for all to see (based off of what, I can only imagine), and part of me was disappointed that I wouldn’t be around to see him leave.

He might be gone, but he will never leave my memory.

 

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College Girls Upstairs:

I dubbed these ladies “Hashtag” and “Hangover” based off their main topics of conversation that they’d loudly have on their balcony every weekend all weekend long, ceaselessly comparing unrelated things (like…like…like…). I can only presume they fell asleep out there, because I would go to bed and wake up the next morning to the sound of their millennial-esque voices.

The following are snippets of their conversations I transcribed one night. It was either that or go absolutely mad.

*bottles clinking*

“Is that like, code for something? Are we too old to understand?”

“You called me one time and you were like, Order me a cab now! And I was like, I don’t know where you’re at, and you were like, Just order me a cab!”

“Remember when we hit on that cop?”

“Yeah, we also harassed the mailman, so…”

“And I was like, so are you like, related to the Kardashians?”

“Like, it might be like, everyone, I mean, like, who knows?”

“Like, the kind of place where someone’s pooped on the floor—it’s not a good place.”

“And I’m like, No, I don’t wanna know, please don’t tell me.”

“I thought I was gonna die!”

“Don’t even look at me.”

“Like I’m really hoping someone took my phone and took some pictures with it.”

“You know how you like walk into the rec room and every one like says hey? I went in there after I graduated and like no one even paid attention to me.”

 

One of the benefits of no longer having a balcony (though I miss it more than not) is to be able to misanthropically avoid such neighbors as these, though there will always be others. C’est la vie.


Socorro’s Doomsday Prophet

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The only other person in Socorro’s than the occupied proprietor was a woman who looked like she’d be comfortable on a skateboard. Her hair was long, black. Falling down the front of her forest green tank top. She wore rose-tinted glasses and a hat with large owl eyes that eyed me like a messenger. Who…Are…You? Like the Cheshire Cat, choosing to be mostly invisible. I got the sense that this woman sought the greater thrills and ambiguities of life. Someone who didn’t accept simple answers.

She started talking to us before we realized it was us she was addressing.

“Strange times these days in Denver,” she said. “Unpredictable weather.”

You nodded and I gave her a smile, making small talk, but it wasn’t just small talk she was after.

Behind her, through the windows, I watched the sky darken, dimming the effect of her rosy eyes. Wind whipped through the sidewalk trees, altering the hot summer day. Did this woman sense oncoming disaster like an old injury anticipating rain? She claimed to be a native, but she gave the impression of just passing through. I clung to her transient aura. I like knowing people who know things I don’t.

“It’s like doomsday is lurking,” she laughed. “Repent of your sins or face eternal damnation!”

You gave me a look that said you were ready to leave. Our food should’ve been done by now.

The woman asked if we were astronomers who might be able to enlighten her about the cosmos. “I hope to meet stargazers wherever I go,” she said. “Someone to explain what’s going on.”

“Sorry,” you said, “but I hope you find one someday.”

She gave us a genuine smile, wished us well and left.

We got our food and outside I looked for the woman along the street, but she’d vanished. Was it possible she’d already made it to the corner? An air of mystery floated amidst the strengthening wind.

Cold, hard raindrops fell intermittently, like a warning to take cover. I opened our umbrella for the walk to our car.

“That was weird,” you said about the woman.

You’ve never quite trusted people who don’t have both feet rooted in reality, whereas I, for most of my life, have idolized them. I was raised with a reverence for the unknown—speculation a common pastime in my quiet house; me, an only child.

“I thought she was awesome,” I said.

A gust of wind caught hold of our umbrella, warping the spindly metal frame. I shoved it, useless, into a sidewalk trashcan, relieved to be rid of our lightning rod. The sky lit up like residual fireworks and thunder shook the ground, setting off a nearby car alarm. This was no regular afternoon storm.

“Run,” you yelled, and we made it to shelter as the floods came down, baptizing our car.

The disappearance of the rosy-eyed owl woman, followed by the flash flood, gave me goose bumps and I wondered out loud if she’d been some sort of prophet.

Your eyes said, Coincidence, but you humored my interpretation.

For the next half hour the city was transformed, slowing traffic to a blind crawl and prompting many drivers to pull over. I’ve driven in blizzards that were easier to navigate, and though we made it safely home, I started to wonder if this was indeed the start of the apocalypse.

But then again, humans have been looking for the end since as early as the beginning. But this time—this time might be it.


Hometown Sketch: Night at Malarky’s

 

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There’d been a wedding that night—a couple from a nearby town smaller than Storm Lake—and afterwards the groomsmen made their way to Malarky’s, the local nightclub just north of the lake across from the Tyson packing plant. Malarky’s was a family restaurant by day, club by night, and housed in an otherwise inconspicuous building save for the sign with the four-leaf clover and the fact that it meant an escape for hundreds of youth in the northwest pocket of Iowa. It was the only nightclub for several zip codes and every weekend kids from surrounding towns drove miles through the cornfields to drink toxic-colored cocktails, dance, and hopefully hook up.

It was one of two places in town that stayed open until 2 A.M. and every weekend the cops shook with unreleased tension, hoping for some out-of-the-ordinary action—a reprieve from leading funeral parades and handing out barely-above-speed-limit speeding tickets. They camped out in the parking lot, arms crossed, memorizing shady faces and predicting whose fights they’d soon be breaking up.

And there was always, without exception, a fight.

Clubbing at Malarky’s was a rite of passage in Storm Lake, and if you were a local college student this included a ride on the ‘drunk bus.’ This converted purple school bus may’ve been the butt of its own joke, but it was no joke to be stopped for public intox if you chose to walk instead. (Read: Bored police force.)

Now, I was a late bloomer in terms of rebellion and it took me until the age of 24 to grace the dance floor of this establishment. I didn’t drink until I was 21, and still had never really been drunk, so on that humid late-June night my hometown best friend took it upon herself to introduce me to this surpassed youth experience.

We started at my apartment with a couple of Smirnoff wine coolers, donning borrowed heels and puckering our lips at our reflections as we dabbed on another coat of red lipstick—one layer per drink consumed. This was a new facet of womanhood, I thought, another rite of passage in itself, dressing up in costume to appear bolder, looser, and more seductive. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was ready to take on the night.

Enter: two teetering girls on the brink of a renewed energy for life. My friend had been a mom for some time and this was one of her rare nights to blow off steam. I’d been struggling to find work and a way out of town, and in the meantime I was in desperate need for some fun and was ready to say yes to about anything, starting with the first pool-blue cocktail that my friend set in front of me. It was strong, sweet, and made me cringe, but it got me on the dance floor amidst the crowd of former classmates, teens, and coatless groomsmen.

Preferred music be damned, this was not the place to be picky. We danced to Top 40 hits and terrible hip-hop. We danced near and chatted up the groomsmen—a dull, paunchy lot, but our pickings were slim and when else would we get the okay from our husbands to flirt? I cheered the absentee newlyweds, envisioning the ceremony, the bride’s dress and the flowers with such clarity that I began to feel as though I’d been a part of the celebration. Wasn’t life beautiful! There was so much to be grateful for, so much beauty and kindness and love! Hope existed and people were inherently good! Everybody was exquisite, but especially (to my friend’s embarrassment) the boys whose ages I’d hate to guess and whose faces I stroked as I wobbled to the bathroom, their expressions sending signals I was too soused to accurately read.

Long_Island_Iced_TeasWhatever else I drank that night, I know there was a Long Island Iced Tea and a Jell-O shot that may or may not have made it to my mouth, its whipped cream cap dabbed on my nose like a miniature snow peak. In the bathroom we took selfies and pouted our blurry lips, knocking into other girls on our way out—a mild rough-and-tumble only permitted in the throes of inebriation.

My friend led me by the hand to get some air out front where a fight was just breaking out. The cops moved in, frowning with delight, tensions high, and in that moment—a moment recounted to me the next day when I returned my friend’s shoes and asked if she’d found my ID and earring—she took me by the waist and kissed me as though it were a stage performance. It was soft, it was intentional, but clouded and mostly forgotten. If I’d been fully cognizant at the time I’m sure that one Katy Perry song would’ve come to mind (“the taste of her cherry chap stick”). This was a woman I’d loved for nearly 15 years, so in retrospect, it was probably about time we’d kissed. And hopefully, at the very least, we added to the fight-scene entertainment.

Just before closing we made our exit, followed by one of the groomsmen who tried to join us for a ride but was snubbed by the locking of doors and a sardonic wave as we weaved carefully out into the pre-dawn silence of our town that I was aching with a need to leave now more than ever.

That night was a sample, a taste of an endless series of new experiences I wanted to explore. It was a balancing point between youth and adulthood, the old me and the new, and it is solidified in my memory as a time that I finally let go of my insecurities and danced loose the shyness and awkwardness I’d been holding on to for far too long.


For the Love of Denver: Microbreweries

Denver mural

Breweries keep popping up in Denver—land of the microbrews—like perennials in springtime, so much so that it’s become an established part of the city’s culture. The brews might be unique and varied (with no mainstream beers sold on site), but there seems to be a ubiquitous, overarching vibe wending through each garage door-fronted pub that looks a little something like this:

Walk up to the entrance and you’ll likely see a food truck parked out front. Denver breweries are all about the beer and very few offer a food menu outside of local beef jerky or trail mixes hanging behind the bar. This is a win-win for patrons and food truck owners alike as the cuisine alternates depending on the day of the week, offering options from street tacos to sushi to banh mi to suit your tastes. (Warning: if the Burger Chief food truck is your only available option, Go Hungry, unless you’ve been hankering for a touch of food poisoning.)

Don’t worry about trying to show up between 3-6, because prices are the same all day long. Instead, to cut costs, try a flight sampler or a half-glass if available.

As you make your way through the slew of dogs and kids bustling about at knee-level, feel free to pat their heads and tell them they’re being good boys and girls. Owners/parents are used to this and will ignore you like a drunk Uncle on Easter.

Inside, you might do a double take to make sure you’re in the correct pre-agreed upon place, because even if you’re in a new brewery, you’ll experience a flash of deja vu when you peruse the industrial-style design with repurposed wood and metal tables, the bare light bulbs and exposed pipes, and the visible barrels behind the glass wall where all the magic happens.

On the walls you’ll notice a theme amongst breweries—that all permanent art looks like it was commissioned by the same artist, an artist in love with the locale and the landscape who paints abstract and geometric mountains and plenty of Colorado flags in blue, yellow, and red.

The menu boards are colorful and hand-written, and possibly displayed on skateboards. For those of you who don’t imbibe, check the board for a kombucha brew, which is steadily becoming more common, then grab your trivia card to test your pop culture and historical knowledge, or sit down with your crew at a community table for a round of Apples to Apples or Uno. Before you leave, fill up a growler of your favorite brew to take home and maybe buy a T-shirt or sticker to show off your local pub love.

If you have trouble deciding which brewery to check out first, don’t fret. For the most part, it comes down to the neighborhood you’re in, the friends you meet there, and that little special something that stands out, like the repurposed airplane wing bar top and movie projections at Former Future, or the giant encased gears at Declaration. Whether you’re a native or just in town for the weekend, if you want a taste of a classic Denver experience, the microbreweries are where it’s at.

former future

*This post is based off of Comrade Brewing, Declaration Brewing Co, Denver Beer Co, Fermaentra, Former Future Brewing Co, LowDown Brewery, and Platt Park Brewing Co.

Have a favorite not on the list? Feel free to comment with a recommendation.


Stop Licking Your Cheese: An Ode to ECE

 

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Despite the dark nature of most of my fiction, my workdays are set in a bright, cheerful classroom where silliness, play, and education rule the atmosphere. When I graduated from college in 2009 with an English degree I had no clue what I intended to do, but through trial and error and good connections I ended up as a librarian, and then as an assistant teacher—each new school year revealing more about my personal development, as well as human nature in general.

The classroom is like a microcosm of society, where students are thrown together and forced to get along. These kids come from a variety of backgrounds and stages of development; some start out with unruly behaviors, some end the year that way, but there are none I wouldn’t step in front of a bus for. I love working with ECE (Early Childhood Education) because it’s the starting point where kids learn how to function as social emotional beings, to advocate for themselves and others, and to learn how to problem solve and work through issues with their peers (Or, as I’ll jokingly say, where we teach them to not be assholes). I take my work seriously, but as all teachers know, if you don’t stop and laugh at the absurdity of certain moments, you Will Go Insane.

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So this is my ode to a day in the life of a preschool classroom and the situations that make me laugh out loud and wonder at the beauty of childhood.

<Students will be represented by the first letter of their name>

Our day starts off with group yoga and breathing, and on every Friday we have a yoga dance party, when my co-teacher will play music, then pause and call out a yoga pose. So far this year my students’ favorite song is “Watch Me Whip/Nae Nae,” and yes, I know all the actions. I love starting my day this way, letting go of all cares, working up a good sweat, and learning new dance moves from some super-talented 4-year-olds, like B, who raps on the spot while hip hop dancing.

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We have snack time and lunch in the classroom, and what we call Choice Time. One of the most popular Choice Time centers is Dramatic Play, where we had a pizza parlor set up complete with Garlic Knot boxes, felt pizzas and toppings, old credit cards and a cash register. The kids acted out who bought, made, and sold the pizzas, how to order, and they even constructed a delivery car out of kid-sized chairs and couches and a pie tin as the steering wheel. They had so much fun with this that we took them to The Garlic Knot on an excursion where they got to make real pizzas and test the staff’s patience with unceasing questions.

Other Choice Time options include Play-Doh, Legos, light table with Magna-Tiles (look them up, they’re awesome!), blocks and ramps, art studio, and science. No matter the materials and no matter the center, kids will always pretend that what they’re playing with is food (and that all food is anthropomorphic) and they’ll expect you to “eat” it while they stare you down to see that their ice cream sundae or donut or smoothie is the best thing you’ve ever fucking tasted.

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One of my favorite times of day is when I read to the kids before naptime. This has led to making up our own “popcorn” stories (which are drastically lacking in plot), and to acting out a few of their favorite books. I love to see them play out the characters and exhibit their understanding of what they’ve internalized from the story. Two of this year’s favorites have been Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman, and Mortimer by Robert Munsch.

There are things I especially appreciate about the teacher I work with this year. At the beginning of each school year she models for the kids how to give “Check-Ins.” If a student is upset or hurt, Ms. Sydney validates their feelings and teaches them the power of their own voice by encouraging them to ask for a check-in. Whomever is asked for a check-in then asks in return, “How can I help you feel better?” The upset child might say they need a hug or a high-five or an apology or that a certain offense never be made against them again. Witnessing this between students never fails to awe and amaze me, and I sincerely hope that they carry this skill into adulthood. We should all, no matter our age, be able to address our hurts with those who hurt us and to offer help to those in need.
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Teaching is a job of equal parts joy and pain—pain of living day to day with these kids like a family only to say goodbye every June, often to never see them again. To every student I’ve ever had: I love you and am grateful for the impact you’ve had on my life.

IMG_0447 copy2 *A sketch of the student who stole a piece of my heart that I will never get back: Eccentric Madi with that instant light-up-your heart smile and crazy dinosaur hands and creeping feet, knees bent eyes wild, always building something new out of anything and telling stories about her pictures with horrified eyes, then off in her own world telling stories to herself full of life and expression; arms open elbows bent, “But, well, I…!” Always an excuse with wails and easy tears. God love that brilliant maniac child. If you ever come across this post someday, Moo Lou, know that I love you and will always be here for you.

 

FAVORITE STORIES AND QUESTIONS:

B: Ms. Amanda, did you know that your heart can turn into a person?

Me: How does it live?

B: If you cry tears. You know how it dies?

Me: How does it die?

B: If you don’t cry, it dies.

***

A: One time, a monster pooped me out. (This was followed by an elaborate story of what it’s like to be swallowed by a monster)

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A: …I was going so fast that I flew.

Me: How did you fly?

A: I have engines inside my body, that’s how I fly. I have to cut myself open and restart my engines.

Me: Doesn’t that hurt?

A: No, because I have a teddy bear, and my body’s made of metal, so it doesn’t hurt me. I have to drink gasoline, though.

Me: Isn’t that gross?

A: Not when you mix chocolate milk with it. (*Laughs)

***

Y looked up at me during lunch and asked, “Can you peel my grapes?” This same student would stick his foot out and point at his shoe, wordlessly demanding to have his shoe tied. We called him our Little Prince.

***

J: When things are dead can you still play with them? I mean, can you pay for a dog to come back to life as a pig or another animal?

J: Owls heads can turn all the way around just like my Barbie dolls.

***

S in Play-Doh: I’m going to make some love.

Me: How do you do that?

S: With a hot mold cutter.

Me: Sounds about right.

***

F in Legos: I don’t want to take my head off!

***

N: I listen to “I Believe I Can Fly” every day. It’s a sad song, it makes me cry!

***

A: My mom’s friend’s name is Easy.

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FAVORITE OVERHEARD CONVERSATIONS:

E: Do you know what ‘pass gas’ is?

M: Ew, I don’t wanna go out with anybody that farts.

***

E: …And then he will scratch your face if you celebrate Halloween. You have to go up, up, up into the sky for the Devil to scratch your face. My whole family says that. He will hide behind my back when I sleep and scare me. Don’t tell your parents about the trick-or-treat song from music class or the Devil will come and scare you!

***

A: If you lie to God you go to the Devil.

B: I’m scared of God because every day he puts us down to the Devil. I’m scared to have a baby—I’d cut my baby up!

***

F (crying): She won’t let me be a mermaid and that makes me sad!

***

M: Are you scared of Chuck E. Cheese?

L: When I was a baby I was scared of him, but not when I was a kid.

***

E: What if the trees walked on two legs?

***

A to M: Will you be my best friend? Because Batman is Spiderman’s best friend.

***

F: Ms. Sydney, can I get out of bridge pose? My hair is turning into a monster.

 

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THINGS MY CO-TEACHER AND I SAY:

“There’s no such thing as girl colors. Colors are for everybody.”

“Wait until you’re in the bathroom to pull down your pants.”

“Stop licking your cheese and eat it.”

“Do you need to poop? Go try sitting on the toilet for a little while.”

“Remember what we talked about, girls. Save your Pegasus play for outside.”

“Please don’t play with your muffin if you’re not going to eat it.”

 

NOT-SO-FAVORITE MOMENTS:

The time L threw up on her lunch tray my first week as an assistant teacher

The multiple times S wakes up wailing and frantically scratching after naptime

Shoe tying and retying, and retying again, and again and again…

Being coughed or sneezed on nearly everyday

The time T kicked and screamed and clung like a rabid monkey to the doorframe as I removed him from the classroom for hitting other kids

The time I cleaned up M’s poop all over the bathroom floor

The time I cleaned up J’s blood all over the bathroom sink and floor from a bloody nose that she wouldn’t stop picking at. I swear it looked like a crime scene.

The time A threw up on the Legos. My god, I was nauseous the rest of the morning.

 

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FAVORITE MOMENTS:

Asking kids their dreams

Cloud-watching on the playground

Kids telling stories about their art

Girls singing songs from Disney’s Frozen at the top of their lungs while coloring or playing outside

When JC picked up a dead bird in the grass

The strange beauty of naptime, soothing kids to sleep with backrubs and noticing that first steady breath or jerk into dreams, their eyes moving rapidly beneath their lids (except for the two students I have this year who sleep with their eyes open!)

Daily high-fives, hugs, and compliments

Daily wholehearted laughter

 

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Subspecies: Sports Fan

17 Nov 2013: The Thunderstorm Skydiving Team approaches the field from the air before kickoff as the Dever Broncos face the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field in Denver, CO.

Oh, football. As many of you know (or could likely infer), I am one of the athletic indifferent. But when you live in a city with seven professional sports teams, you learn to accept sports as part of the culture while still maintaining a healthy distance. Unless of course family is in town.

Family has a way of getting you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. For instance, attending a Broncos preseason game. Granted, I fully recognize this as a privilege, but as the game itself didn’t hold my attention, I spent the hours observing my more immediate surroundings.

My first impression: Are we at the airport? Why does everyone just accept this invasive level of security?

There were wands, metal detectors, bag checks and locker assignments for those first-timers (or rebels) who like me had no idea you couldn’t so much as leaf through a program unless your possessions were clearly visible through transparent plastic.

Inside, I had an altered perspective of my beloved city. Looking up at the naked blue sky, I felt a distinct sensation that I’d fallen to the bottom of a giant well, or possibly a soup pot simmering on a stove while its inhabitants sat patiently in their designated seats unknowingly waiting to be boiled alive.

This undercurrent of nameless tension made for great people-watching—an activity so engrossing it occupied me all four quarters. I watched as my fellow humans morphed into a subspecies known as Sports Fan who stomped, wooted, and seat-danced to the arena music (which somehow included Rage Against the Machine; I won’t even get started on the ironies there).

Variations of Sports Fan include: the high fiver, the costume wearer, the body painted, the screamer, the slobbering drunk, the group of slobbering drunks, the good natured josher, and the other team’s fan who can take it as well as dish it just for the love of the debate. And often, many of these types overlap. Look out.

All around me ads flashed on Jumbotrons like a futuristic scene from literary dystopia, keeping the pleasure center engaged because without that, I presumed, under-stimulated fans might opt to finally punch out the Bronco mascot dancing amidst the cheerleaders who acted like it was the funniest shit they’d ever seen. (Place this same scenario in a bar. How would the outcome be different?)

Impression #5, or whatever: Also like air travel, sporting events are ridden with antsy ADHD folks who excuse themselves as they kick over your draught beer and smash the paper boats at your feet for the tenth time in under thirty minutes until you finally can’t take it anymore and become one of them, following the trail of discarded peanut shells to join the ranks for booze, food, and bathrooms.

The food: traditional American concession goodness or a conspiracy against the arteries? I’ll let you decide.

Final Impression: As night rose over the stadium, it created an odd contrast with the pixelated band of light below the skyline. I felt as though transposed to an open-air spaceship floating in the orbit of American consumerism entertainment—through the never ending swirl of one sporting season to the next—encapsulated for countless light years in football fandom psychosis.

Such an experience is great the first time, but after that there’s not much new to add to the story.

 


Cabin Ghost of Okoboji

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We were nine, maybe ten or eleven. Old enough to know better but young enough to reject any sort of objective explanation. We were the Goosebumps generation—thrilled by the supernatural and open to the possibility of the beyond. Cheap thrills and thunderstorms were the height of entertainment, and Hide-and-Seek was the best way to waste an afternoon.

We were Okoboji babies—annual visitors to the lake resort town hidden inside the forests and corn-laced highways of Northwest Iowa. My extended family had met there for years, sharing conjoined cabins and living up a short-term life of leisure. It was a town rife with history and allusions to spectral sightings, made all the more believable by the aged and creaking rides at Arnold’s Park with its abandoned-chic vendor shops.

Midday at the lakefront cabin, the men and boys dangled their feet over docks in hopes that a fish might bite, while the women went off to peruse the Emporium, leaving the girls behind, swapping stories in the back bedroom.

As we sat on the bed, laughing and painting our nails, a sound from inside the bathroom caught my attention. I asked my cousins if they heard it, and the three of us paused to listen.

A low, rhythmic flapping beat like the blood pulsing in my ears.

We exaggerated our fright, clinging to each other by wrists and elbows so as not to mar the half-dried paint. Sydney—the oldest—stood up and we followed, inching to the bathroom to flip on the switch. As light filled the shadows, the bedroom door shut by itself as though it had just admitted an invisible guest. We huddled, frozen in the bathroom doorway, where above us a rogue ceiling tile lifted and fell in attempts to communicate. We screamed again and ran through the room, spilling a bottle of red nail polish in our haste, leaving it to spread on the carpet like a fresh pool of blood.

We flung open the door and ran toward the lake, calling out for the men at the docks. But there was no one in sight. Where could they be? Our fear rose and we felt deserted by the ones who could save us.

We didn’t dare turn back. We wandered the shore until my grandfather approached, shirtless and baring a rod with a barbed and swinging hook. Could he be trusted? Was it him, or had he already been possessed?

We took our chances and related our encounter. He raised his eyebrows and chuckled. “Sounds like a draft to me,” he said. We denied it up and down. The day was stagnant and steamy; there was no breeze to support his theory. No, it was a ghost, we cried, unwilling to consent to his nonchalance. Come look, we said and led him through to the back.

The bathroom tile gave a single immoderate flap and settled into place for good. My grandfather, tall as a tree, reached up and prodded the tile. “Just a draft,” he repeated. “You girls should get out and enjoy the lake. Go for a swim. And clean up that spill before your mothers give you a real reason to be scared.”

He left, leaving the door open in his wake. We looked at each other and shrugged. No matter what might haunt the back of the cabin, there was no way we were going to test what lay beneath the waters of the lake.


One Page at a Time

Growing up in Iowa, I developed an insatiable desire to see the broader world around me. I would look through binoculars over the cornfield that stretched out behind my backyard, blinking and squinting and imagining the lives of the families living on the other side. At dusk I could see lights go on and off in little window specks. Were there kids inside those windows, making faces as their parents sent them to bed? Did they read the same stories before falling asleep? Those houses felt a world away, but, similar to the worlds inside of books, gave me a hope to one day see what else was outside my little town tucked inside the fields in the heart of America.

I was a quiet kid obsessed with stories. TV shows such as Full House introduced me to big city life as well as big family life, sending me into daydreams of a lifestyle very different from my own. I wondered what it was like to attend a three-story, fenced-in school on a busy city street, to travel by subway, and to grow up living in a high-rise apartment with no yard for dogs or flowers or tomato plants. Anne of Green Gables sent me dreaming of the opposite, of a place where I could be free to wander and roam in the country surrounded by acres of animals, wildflowers, hidden paths, and nothing but time.

I remember when my great aunt Lorraine told me she’d been to all fifty states. I wanted to know if she’d seen the Grand Canyon, the coast of California, the White House. She helped my travel dreams seem attainable, especially since she was someone from my own family.

The Midwest is the perfect place to foster a dream for travel. Especially small town Midwest, where kids grow up curious about the other side of the cornfields. When you have to travel 70 miles for the nearest (substantial) mall, or for the restaurants advertised on TV (Oh the days when The Olive Garden and Chile’s sounded like luxury cuisine), even Starbucks carries with it an extra special appeal. Sipping a mocha Frappuccino during a Saturday shopping trip to Sioux City felt like turning a page in the proverbial book of life experiences—a book with chapters not limited by distance. Every city, every neighborhood has its own character, each street and structure, down to each person.

When I travel I look for the ubiquitous, that little something that helps me connect to the world around me.  While acclimating to New Zealand’s summertime in January, I was thankful for the familiarity of the English language. When handling money in Japan I took comfort in the 10 decimal place to know how much I was spending. These connections aren’t to say I didn’t look further, but they did serve as a basis for seeing where I’m from in a new way—whether politically, educationally, by cuisine, or otherwise. When I see how other places function, I question if things here are the best they can be.

A similar outlook is sparked when I read. For example, dystopian literature such as Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Hunger Games series feature fictional worlds with (quasi) believable futures. If this is where we’re headed, then how can it be prevented?

I believe that when reading and travel are combined, there’s no end to inspiration and understanding. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road inspired me to keep pen and paper with me whenever I leave home. I don’t snap a lot of pictures when I travel but instead rely on words to bring me back to a specific time and place, and to the people I interact with. This is what gives me hope in the modern day world—recording what I see and know and learn—and it’s why I plan to never stop chasing new scenes, in life or in the imagination.


Outlet

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The Cherry Creek Mall was teeming with teens whose haircuts cost more than my utility bill; and every third person, it seemed, was gesturing with the aid of a Starbucks cup. I went to the mall with some birthday money on a whim to find one thing I’d been looking for. Instead I found moms pushing strollers and wearing designer heels with matching leather belts. Matching stroller fabric lining. I found bite-size chocolates equaling the price of a gallon of gas and a play area swarming with kids too short for the rides at Elitch’s. I don’t normally do this—go shopping. I avoid most conventions, as far as female stereotypes go, and my aversion to shopping is one of them. I’d rather go hiking, or disc golfing, or nothing. But I was in the mood and took the scene in stride, while taking as many Teavana samples as I could get away with. One of the most overheard phrases of the day was, “I think I’m gonna go ahead and get this.” Followed by: “Okay, I’ll wait here.” The waiters were mostly men. Shopping malls are one of those things that are ubiquitous worldwide. You can be in a foreign country, clinging to fellow English-speakers like yoga pants to cellulite, but enter a shopping mall and there’s a familiar comfort that settles over you. The food court might have a sushi bar instead of a Sbarro, but you can count on it being representative of the local food culture. And the people…what better place than a mall to take in the social mores of a nation? Wealthy, broke, elderly or infant, the diversity is beautiful and compelling. Even if you’ve been underground for years, count on the mall to let you know what season it is. Bathing suits and barely-there tops hung in every Cherry Creek storefront and I saw more breasts than not popping out of their owner’s tops. It must’ve been this that inspired the influx of father/son duos out for consumer-driven strolls in their Sunday best. Photoshopped images advertising the everywoman’s dreams—as if we’re the same, think the same—flirted with me for all of thirty minutes until I left, empty-handed, weaving through the multi-level parking garage, half-believing there was no exit. I’ve never liked being told what to do, or what I should want, especially not by corporations. I prefer the intentional search, to discover for myself what I like best. But the mall will more than likely draw me back, if only to satiate the desire to be surrounded by strangers, all sharing the same afternoon activity in common. Because I think what we’re all looking for, amidst the flashy ads and consumer goods, is a connection to something bigger—something greater than us. And apart from religion, what is larger than the influence of capitalism?