Friday, March 19, 2010


The widow's lamp is still lit.  The Iditarod is still running.  Half the field has finished.  Lance Mackey and his dream dog team won again.  The Seaveys, Mitch and his son Dallas, finished strong in the top ten together.  Dee Dee Jonrowe smoked in her pink outfit (the dogs had pink booties) and took 22nd.  She dedicated the race to her Mom who has cancer, and whom I'm sure is so dang proud.  Newton Marshall, from Jamaica, looks like he'll finish, but is rumored to be a bit miffed at the -40 deg temps Alaska provided.  Pat Moon is recovering from the conk in the head he got from running into a tree.  Celeste Davis also blacked both her eyes on a tree, but she's still running for the red lantern.  Trent Herbst, the fourth grade teacher from Idaho who summers in Homer, has made it into Safety and looks sure to finish.  His students, who helped build his sled and sewed booties for his dogs, are probably glued to their monitors, cheering.  Wattie McDonald, running Siberians he raised in Scotland, looks to finish his first run.  The lost dog, Whitey, was found, and flew in his owner's arms back to Anchorage.  The convicts in Eagle River correctional center took care of the dropped dogs until they could be returned to their home kennels, and I'm guessing some serious bonds formed in the week they had together. 
Vik stopped at the Moose Tooth for a growler of Raspberry Wheat for yours truly, and I'm sitting next to a comfortable fire, raising a frosted mug to the athletes, man and dog, gutsy enough to run the Iditarod, the last great race.

Action in IHOP

-  5a.m.
-  IHOP near a military base.
-  "Good morning sergeant-major", as the last seat is taken at a table full of camo clad soldiers planning a day of training.
-  Two elderly gentleman meeting for almost silent breakfast, like they do every morning.
-  Two young men in civilian dress, but clean shaven heads and hangover eyes.
-  Two gumpopping waitresses loudly discussing their boyfriends. 
-  A very young couple walks to the register.  He's in fat pants, sheer t-shirt and sideways hat. She's in heels, tight jeans, and cut frilly blouse.  She knows she'll be watched, so she puts on a show.  Everything that can bounce and jiggle does. 
-  The breath audibly leaves the hangover boys. 
-  A forkful of waffle stops midway to a mouth at the geriatric table.  The conversation stops, though, for only a few seconds.
-  Training of he US military is temporarily on hold.
-  Waitresses roll their eyes.
-  Boyfriend is oblivious as girl looks back and smiles big.  She takes her boyfriend's arm and struts out.
-  My partner says "Clank", and I say "Ow."

Some are concerned there is debauchery here.  Nope.  Just nature.  Some are concerned that men see women only as sexual objects.  Nope.  Very sexual beings, and so much more.  Some would say something evil happened here.  Guess I missed that part.

I'm allowed to notice, just not to stare.  She says she'd worry more if I DIDN'T notice.  I tell her it probably wouldn't matter if she worried, I'd probably still notice, but I'll try to not over-notice.  She used to say she knows where I sleep, and she'll make me get down the heavy old cast iron pan so she can clank me with it.  Now we're older and that sounds like more work than it's worth, so she just says "Clank", and I say "Ow", and we get the gist if not the lump.  It's a pretty good arrangement, but it's still in my best interest not to notice to excess.

Portraits - Part 3 - Springtime in Moose Tooth

-  Oh, he was good.  Spectacular, even.  Professionally groomed, I'd say.  He had short curly brown hair, sparkling dark eyes, and artist's hands that floated through the air when he spoke.  His age, rounded down, was twenty.  His smile glistened, and when he deemed the timing right, he flicked it on like a light switch.  The tie knot was tight and straight, the white shirt new or starched, his sweater brushed wool in formal gray.  Not many folks in Alaska wear dress wool, but he was pulling it off.  The person he was selling to had a dour expression, but was being won over.  Every face in the Jim Carey portfolio was being dealt with deft plasticity.  First coy, then boisterous laughter.  He was SO confident; and he was winning.  He was... polished. 
-  Across the room, a bicyclist ate vegetarian.  Middle aged,  round Lennon glasses, a graying beard, pink knit hat with tasseled ear flaps, a loud coarse Scandinavian sweater, and tight lycra pants that delineated not only his package, but his flat, almost non-existant butt.  But people noticing were seeing his shoes; faded red plastic crocs with no heels and big holes like pale flesh colored polka-dots. 
-  Near the door, a heavy couple ate a heavy meal.  The man had dark red hair and a perfectly manicured matching beard.  His head shape and size were that of a buffalo, and his demeanor the same.  He was bullying the timid waitress, glaring as he complained loudly about the soggy crust on his pizza. 
-  Near the big picture window in the back of the room was a boisterous family from the Alaskan bush.  They were ten strong, and celebrating something, perhaps a birthday, or the return of the sun.  At the head of the table, Dad was putting on a show, dinging his beer glass and toasting loudly.  He was a large man, large voice, large forearms, large belly, large scraggly beard.  He'd taken off his stained hooded work jacket, but not his crumpled ball cap, or his frayed flannel lined shirt.  His joy spread across the table, the adults giggling at him, the children excitedly taking in the strangeness of their surroundings, guarding their slices of pizza. 
-  Two tie-dyed watresses worked the room.  The smaller girl with dark hair had a round face, honest walk and smile, and a confident, serious manner.  She flowed, minding her tables without being obtrusive, conversing with the customers that prompted, but silently caring for others conducting business or wishing to be left alone.  She was reserved, but her eyes danced, and her posture and clear sharp speech suggested strength, like a "takes no crap" note was pasted to her forehead. 
-  The other waitress was more geisha-like in her approach.  Like many girls who deem themselves too tall, she slouched, and ducked her head when she listened or spoke.  She crossed her hands and backed away from the tables when she'd taken an order.  Her eyes turned dreamy when Salesman flirted, but welled with tears when she shuffled away from Buffaloman, nervously stroking her pigtail as she returned his food. 
-  A glance in the four directions of the brewhouse showed four men raising their glasses simultaneously.  Salesman alternated pizza bits on a fork with measured swallows of red ale, careful to dab both sides of his mouth each time with a napkin.  Vegan swirled the lime in his light ale and sipped, sampling each taste as if it were his first.  Buffalo bit at his dark stout, slarping audibly and wiping his mustache with his sleeve.  BushDad took long draughts, examined the foam lines on the glass, then poured from the pitcher and took another.  A ten year old at the table proudly downed half of his root beer in one pass, leaving the foam on his lip just like his father. 
-  As if a silent alarm had sounded, four sets of eyes searched for the restroom sign, four glasses were lowered, and four men stood. 
-  Salesman said something apologetic to his client and winked, actually winked, before he danced Astaire-like down the aisle, sparkling at every woman who caught his eye along the way. 
-  Vegan shifted the crocs he'd removed back onto his bony feet, slid out of his booth, stretched his arms high, and rolled his head in circles both ways before he strode strode away like a nordic skier. 
-  Buffalohead rose slowly and painfully, adjusted himself, then waddled exageratedly bowlegged between the rows of tables.  The tall waitress dove out of his way, but the little server, carrying his pizza, saw him and froze in the middle of the aisle, challenging with her stare.  The standoff lasted several seconds.  He finally heaved a huge disgusted sigh, and worked his way out of the passage.  "Excuse ME!", he snarled at her.  "Okay," she said pleasantly, and took the platter to his table while he struggled his way to the john. 
-  Bushdad burst urgently and comically from his chair and hurriedly walk-ran to the bathroom smirking, mumbling and apologizing to everyone and noone in particular while his family smiled lovingly after him. 
-  I believe that a great deal can be known about an establishment by observing their greeting and leave-taking, and how well they design and maintain their facilities, including restrooms.  This restaurant does a wonderful job, and I was caught once studying the abalone tile mosaic on the Moose Tooth bathroom wall.  The facility is beautiful if not spectacular, and clean, but small; too small for the crew of four full grown that gathered there with business at hand.  I can only imagine the exchange that took place, as I'm rather glad not to have attended, but I can report that each of the four was smiling when they left, looking toward their tables and rolling their eyes, and I have never seen an entire restaurant of patrons more interested in a return parade from the loo.
-Aside: My co-fly-on-the-wall believes the man with the large head may have had a medical condition in his nether regions causing discomfort he couldn't help but share.  Thinking back, she's probably right. That's the thing about her.  She believes man is intrinsically good, and there is always a reason for lousy behavior.  I say we are a diverse group with choices in how we act and portray ourselves.  We are not always good, or bad, or genuine.  But we certainly are interesting!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Portraits - Part 2

-  I didn't buy enough finish nails to finish, so ten dollars in fuel and an hour was spent to get less than a buck's worth of pin steel from the megamart. 
-  Four college aged girls were smacking a puck around the store's arcade air hockey game, shrieking as they traded turns.  Their joy was contageous.  Bank tellers and stylists in the neighboring booths were giggling just listening to them.  As I walked by, there was a loud 'chink', several simultaneous screams, and a laughing "OH... MY... GOD!!!" as the little disc flew out into the store and skidded under the cart of a surprised mother pushing two toddlers.  Both little heads swiveled to watch the puck slide under, then turned to see the gangly figure charging out of the arcade to retrieve it.  "Sorry... Sorry... SORRY!", she said as her arms and legs flailed; the most uncoordinated portrayal of running I've ever seen.  "Get back here!" she said to the puck, as she slid to a stop, hovering over it.  "HA!", she huffed as she plucked it from the rubber mat at the stunned cashier's feet.  "I've GOT you!"  And she stood, holding the puck extended over her head like a gleaming medal in the flourescent sun, then marched back into the game room where her friends were appreciating her performance.  The girl in the pink pajama capri pants was actually sitting on the floor laughing, her legs folded, her head tossed back, clapping and rolling in little circles of joy.  Another, in a green UAA sweatshirt two sizes too large, was bent at the hips with only her head on the the hockey table, holding the plastic paddle to her stomach, shuddering strangely, drawing long straw-sucking breath sounds between horse-laughs. 
-  The toddlers studied the foursome, filing every mannerism for future use, I would guess.  The cashier just smiled and said "Ah, spring break in Alaska, poor things."  The greeter, who'd missed the flying puck scene but was enjoying the after-riot, said "I guess you had to be there!", and the store manager poked his head around the corner, found nothing in the ruckus that would create paperwork, and resumed his rat-killing. 
-  Foot traffic at the store entrance began to move again, and as I walked past the arcade, I noticed the fourth girl.  She was standing calmly by the table, her hockey paddle held to her chest, lovingly smirking at her friend's antics.  There was something about her, something familiar, a connection to her my mind wouldn't drop, and I watched longer than I should have.  When she sensed I was looking, and I am convinced women can sense such things, she scanned, and we locked stares.
-  Let's get something straight right off the bat.  I was not stalking or attempting at a love interest here.  I have distant daughters older than this girl.  The curiosity I had was more familial, like recognizing a shared heritage. Imagine running across a brother or niece of whom you weren't aware.  That's the connection I felt, and it was stronger when our gazes met. 
-  Normally, in our culture, holding eye contact with a stranger is exceedingly rude or flirtatious.  Standard procedure is to avert your gaze, sending the message that you are not wanting to offend, nor do you wish to allow unfamiliar others into your space.  But this girl held her eyes on mine, and I was mesmerized, in part because they were so piercingly blue.  In the place where I was raised you occasionally met people with Old Spain blood that had dark blue eyes, but these eyes were deep heavy blue, like the blue of the glory pool in Yellowstone.  They were bottomless, and sadly haunting.
-  When I was able, after about ten seconds, to smile apologetically and work my way toward the finish nails, I began to analyze her image captured in my brain, and why it was so interesting to me.
-  It wasn't that she had Hollywood good looks or spectacular fashion sense.  She didn't.  She was dressed plainly in comfortable jeans and a sweater.  Her hair was very dark brown, semi-eighties high, and had that just-out-of-the-shower crazy bounce that really curly hair gets.  She wore very little makeup, but then she really didn't need any at her age.  She wore wide striped socks in Birkenstockisk sandals, but with a closed toe.  It was as if she tried to dress as goofy as her friends, but something wouldn't let her pull it off. 
-  I kept remembering her intelligent eyes,  focused on the brows, the heavy lashes. Then it hit me.  There had been redness to the lining of her eyes.  Perhaps she was sick, had allergies, or had been crying.  Maybe she'd just laughed so hard with her friends that she teared up.  But there was something else in her eyes when she looked at me.  A longing maybe?  A question?  There was of course no way for me to know what she was thinking, and I laughed at myself for my habit of reading too much into the moment, a tendency I have.  But she touched something, and I couldn't figure it out or make it go away. 
-  I'd stopped on the greeting card aisle after the hardware section because a birthday was coming up, and because it feels silly to go through the line to spend 79 cents.  The girls had been carousing through the store, laughing and yelling in that sorority dialect so popular today.  Pajamapants was pretend skating past my row, her hands behind her back as she shoosh-shooshed onto the seasonal card section one aisle over where her giggling friends were gathered.  I listened to the voices, wondering if I could recognize which went with blue eyes. 
-  They read the first page of several St. Patrick's day cards, then held the card open for the others who hooted, leaving me to guess at the punchlines.  "That's what you get for listening!", I scolded myself. 
-  Then Puckchaser blurted "SHEEZ.  They've already got Mother's Day cards!  Even FATHERS Da...", she stopped herself.  "God. I'm sorry Karen.  I'm so stupid." 
-  "Yes", said PJ.  "You are."
-  I finally heard Blue Eyes, Karen, speak.  "It's okay."  She started to sniffle.  "I just really miss him.", and she started to throw big heavy croaking sobs.
-  "We know you do.  Cry it out, girl."
-  A church bell clanged in my heart. I felt like I was going to break in half.  I hurried past the group hug on the card aisle. The cashier looked like she was about to call security re the crazy person trying to hide his welling tears, crying over a 79 cent purchase.
-  What I wanted to do was join their hug. What I wanted was to tell her how sorry I was for her loss, that her father had to be so proud of her, and that he would want her to live a full and happy life. I wanted to tell her that if she needed anything...
-  What I did, however, was rush out of the store, overwhelmed by the sudden release of my suppressed grief over my own alienated daughters.  My parking lot sobs rivaled hers, and theirs, until I could gather myself enough to guide the Jeep home. 
-  That look.  Those forever eyes.  The connection I couldn't have guessed.  They haunt me. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Portraits - Part 1

-  The convenience store clerk is cherub faced, receding fortyish, round features, big creamy flitting eyes. His flowered shirt is buttoned half way up, and tufts of reddish chest hair waft out.  His arms are just as hairy, and his cheesy (actual cheese smears) company blue vest with the Tesoro monogram is a size too small.  He runs, actually runs, to the back of the store when I walk in.  Vik says I look like a cop, but this guy was working alone on a snowy night, and I'm guessing he was thinking I might represent the other end of the crime spectrum.  He watched me from behind the soft drink machine.  I'd come in for a loaf of bread, but I should have known they'd have only three day old cheap heart stopping 'Sunrise' brand, with baked-in-Alaska plastered on the side (as if Alaska bakes better).  I make a point of searching too long, acting shifty for the clerk's sake, then choose the wheat bread (as if the bit of extra brown in the commercial "wheat" version  might prolong my life), then I catch the man watching and lock onto his eye, and when he he looks away, I walk to the counter.  I hear the air poof out of him.  His shoulders drop, and he starts toward the register.
-  The cashier looks relieved, at first, when another customer rushes in.  This guy looks rough, and urgent.  He has a black scraggle on his face and a three day neck beard.  His eyes are black, his crumpled frayed cap is black, his carhartt bibs and plaid flannel shirt are mostly black, and his mood, black.  He nods an apology, but steps in front of me anyway.  "I need to use your restroom", he booms.  God, what a deep, clear voice. 
-  The clerk glances at the open bathroom, but snits, "Well.., actually..., our restroom are reserved for our customers, and..."  He turns his head to the side when he talks.  His voice is as light and creamy as his skin. 
-  The other customer cuts him off.  "I think I'll use it anyway", he snarls.  He glares, gets no response, and hustles into the john. 
-  The clerk looks only at the register and the bread while he silently charges me three times it's actual nutritional value, then bags the bag in another bag, which I remove.  I stuff the change in my pocket and start out the door when I notice the liquor side of the store.  Beer is on the list, so I trip the door sensor, pull a pack of Molson's, and put it on the shared counter.  The other customer has returned, looking much relieved.  He is buying a pack of cigarettes from the sulky clerk, perhaps validating his use of the restroom, or more probably just needing a smoke.  He smiles and shrugs when my eyebrows rise at the announced cost of his Marlboros.  You must need a good job in Alaska to support an addiction.  He opens the pack, taps one out, and lights it.  Rules don't rank high on his priority list, evidently. 
-  The clerk turns to my beer and whines, "Fyi, in the future, you can take your bread into the liquor store and make a single purchase.  You just can't do the reverse."
-  Several responses crossed my mind.  I could have told him I'd just remembered the beer.  I could have apologized for inconveniencing him.  I could have walked back into the other side of the store and bought a quart of milk for the hell of it.  I could have told him that the order of my purchases was none of his damn business, and walked out.  But what I DID do was laugh, and start to leave, when I heard that big voice again.
-  "F---Y---I!", he almost shouted.  "In the FUTURE, it don't matter how me or this guy get our shit, so long as it ain't here! Cuz you are the creepiest fucker I've run into in a long long time."
-  I nodded my agreement, stripped the flimsy plastic bag from my beer, fired up the Suburban, and waved... to them both.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dog Gone

Last year we discussed how much I enjoy this dog race.  Today was the ceremonial start.  All the mushers' profiles, pictures, and human interest stories were in the paper.  The food caches are stored.  The GPS trackers are in place.  The game faces are definitely on.  We decided to skip the crowds and catch a more remote view of the first day.  Still plenty of folks cheering, though. 

Vik had a good time.  A girl even told her her hat was cute.

The dogs seemed fresh and happy.  The dog on the right can touch his eyebrow with his tongue.  We all have talents.
And I decided I NEED a fat tired bike.  Like these:

Occasionally I get to do a post Facebook style; the "Gee, I had a great day!" kind of post.  We got cold and wet, we saw heros, we talked to normal folks having a wonderful time, we saw silly kids playing in the snow, we were mocked by a raven,  we ate at Mark Schlereth's favorite burger joint in the world, and we sat together by the fire watching it snow.  All in all, the kind of day you wish they all could be.  Doggone good.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stop That!

A wonderful mom created a wonderful story with a wonderful purpose. 

"The queen ant was directing her workers, urging them to push a huge ball of horse manure up the cone of the ant pile.  You ARE aware of the food and heating value of horse poop to an ant, right?  She was directing her workers with antennae sign language because, as you should also know, ants don't speak English.  As the lump approached the steepest part of the hill, some of the ants started to goof off, thinking the job was essentially done.  The queen called for larger numbers to ease it over the crest.  But the extra workers didn't respond quickly enough,  The ball teetered, and froze, the pushing crew straining against it's weight.  More ants scrambled to help, but the number of slacker ants was growing as well.  The ball started to rock, seemed to lean, and began to creep back down the hill.  The gathering mass became terrified, and several colonists were crushed, but the army continued to grow heroically, everyone looking to the resolute Queen, firmly on the battle line, signing orders to her workers."

At this point, the mom made a fist, then extended her index and little fingers, waggling them at her rapt little audience like the queens antennae.

"The colony was at risk, and the Queen made sure they knew it.  Not one ant quit.  Even the goofoffs gave their all.  It took everything the community had, but they managed to change the momentum, and eventually, under the direction of their unbending queen (waggle, waggle), the dungball was wrestled into the burrow, and the colony survived the winter warm and well fed.  (yuk)  Of course you know what the Queen was signing, right? (waggle again)  She was saying...  STOP THAT HORSE SHIT!!!"

When this mother was in public with her sometimes unruly children, even after they were grown, all she had to do was waggle, and they would giggle, and settle down to pitch in.  Her family is warm and well fed.