Sunday, November 30, 2008

Don't rain on my parade.

But, of course, since this is Seattle, a little rain never stops anyone.

Up at dark:thirty on Black Friday, eager to get downtown with my friend to claim a spot in a parking garage and have breakfast down by the water. I had made a hair appointment for 10:15 the month before, not realizing that it was the biggest shopping day of the year.

But we were in good shape, time-wise, and would have plenty of time to greet the day over coffee, eggs, and a view beforehand.

The closer we got to downtown, the more crowded it got. Surely this wasn't all from shopping (said the clueless nonstrategic shopper to herself under her breath), I mean, there were whole SCHOOLBUSES pulling into surface lots! I knew I was not the most committed to a bargain, and so perhaps there were truly people who made shopping on this day a varsity activity--I was never one of those people, and always chose Varsity Sleeping Late over shopping when given the chance.

But as we inched along in the car, it soon became clear. Long lines of gangly teenagers wearing ill-fitting band uniforms, Santa hats, and carrying all manner of instruments, check. Families with folding chairs, check. A parade! But it was raining! As a relative newcomer to Seattle, my first response was to be devastated for all the parade planners and participants, and then I realized that this was, of course, exactly what "normal" looked like here on the day after Thanksgiving. No one seemed concerned, so I quickly re-calibrated my expectations and looked for parking.

Once settled, we decided to scrap the sit-down breakfast and grabbed a latte and a breakfast snack from my favorite Italian purveyor.

We have a ritual. I enter with a flamboyant "Buon Giorno!" and he always puts his hands over his heart and flirts and tries to speak Italian with me. He knows I am all show and no go when it comes to Italian, but he loves me for trying. I would marry him in a heartbeat, if he promised to talk to me like that every morning.

Back out into the street, hoods pulled up and beverages steaming, we made our way past the staging area. Various kennel club breed groups play heavily in the Seattle parade scene, evidently, since we had to pick our way through sequential gaggles of Scotties, Dalmations, and English Sheepdogs, all bedecked in holiday attire (bless their patient but humiliated little canine hearts). They were delightful. Their owners frightened me as they held umbrellas over their charges.

The high school bands were all over the map. There was the disciplined and organized school from the affluent suburb, counting under their breath, with mascot-appliqued covers for the tubas and music with triplets. They were followed by the ragtag group with a young band leader, all marching out of sequence and playing Christmas medleys in the manageable key of C and in 4/4 time.

The boys in this group looked, to a one, like they would rather be swallowed up into the bowels of hell than submit themselves to the utter humiliation that was befalling them at this moment. Insensitive mothers ran out and got into their sons' faces with video cameras, beaming with pride as the boys closed their eyes in shame, still counting "1,2,3 and 4" as the rain dripped from their noses onto their music.

My favorite was the inner-city drum corps and their parents. The drummers took this as their debut onto the world stage, by God, and they were going to KICK it. Their parents ran through the crowds, staying even with the band, shouting encouragement and announcing "that's my baby!!!!" There was a dance group preceding them from the same school, and they strutted and turned and snapped and threw their heads back and everyone knew they were fine, fine, fine. Yes, ma'am.

I, for my part, indulged in a rare swelling of "oh, why didn't I have a child?" sentiment, as I watched dads hoist little ones onto their shoulders and moms clear the path for THEIR kids to get the candy being thrown from floats.

But that's not where I went with my life. I came here instead. To a life filled with ups and downs, regret and relief, incredible friends and a loving family, annoyances and blessings.

It's the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. I slept some, ate some, talked to many, collected a few experiences, have a refrigerator full of leftovers and an iPhone camera full of memories of a soggy parade.

It's not what my Aunt Mildred would have wanted for me, but I quite like it, all in all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not knowing what...

I met D. at the bookstore at noon.

It was already a good day...a holiday, so I slept in. I had just stumbled down the stairs and started making coffee when he called at nine. We had planned to take advantage of the day off by doing something, but we weren't sure what.

Not knowing what--and committing to it--is a fine way to spend a windfall of time.

I padded around the apartment in my jammies for a while, sipping coffee, checking e-mail, deciding not to clean or organize or pay bills or any of those other things that would get in the way of not knowing what.

A quick shower, a pair of jeans (oh, midweek transgression, JEANS!), and out the door to wait for my cab.

I stood in the drizzle, considering the fallen flower blossoms next to the fallen leaves on the ground, and noted that this would not have been possible in Minnesota. There the seasons were distinct. A caesura after each stanza and before the next one began. Summer. Stop. Fall. Stop. Winter. CONTINUE FOREVER AND THEN STOP. Spring. Stop. But in Seattle, the seasons overlap and recede and progress in ways that are more insidious than jarring.

Once at the bookstore, D. and I poked around and picked books up and put them back down again. Not knowing what means you don't want to be heavy laden with books at the start of the day. We crossed the street and took our chances at getting a table at Carmine's. We were just early enough that it worked, and Maria plied us with sausages and polenta and Montepulciano, while Frank Sinatra crooned and Carmine roamed the room and made sure everyone was happy. We were. We laughed and talked and schemed and ate and toasted and knew that such days were gifts.

Back outside, we wandered around Pioneer Square, peeking in stores, tucking little purchases in my bag, not meeting the eyes of the park bench dwellers, wrapped in sodden blankets amidst their woeful lean-to's of bags and cardboard.

Drizzle and chill sent us onto a bus, and we careened along First Avenue to the Pike Place Market, where we wished we had room for the pierogi and bought rosmarino salami for later and regarded the vistas of vegetables and meats while planning the dinner parties we would throw if we were each made of time and money. We tucked into the Athenian and grabbed a booth by the window to watch the gulls and ferries out on the Sound and to warm up and sit for a bit.

We headed up to the core of downtown and said our goodbyes, D. to head back his way and me to walk home. I stopped in my favorite little Italian café and had a cookie and a coffee, the house wine of Seattle.

By now it was dark and had started drizzling again.

I made it home, head down but without the hood of my raincoat, and find myself sitting at the computer now, confronted once again with my Real Life. It's not a bad one, truth be told, and I almost feel guilty for having departures that are no better than the place I live.