Indy Joy

Jan Wilberg:

Indy. Nothing like it.

Originally posted on Red's Wrap:

Indy tickets

The 2010 Indy 500 was hot. Not hot as in nice and sunny. Hot as in being inches from death, as in seeing the shimmer of Lawrence of Arabia on the horizon, clawing through the desert sands having already thrown off your shirt and shoes, your eyeballs cracking into small dusty shards. Really hot.

When I was nine in 1957, my father took my brother John, who was 18, to the Indy 500. My sister and I stayed home with mom. The three of us went to the Detroit Zoo, itself a very hot and dry place to see the animals in their tiny cement cells pacing back and forth and being hot. On the way home, our car died. I can still see my mother’s hands clutching the steering wheel while we stalled in heavy traffic, the steam rising out from under the hood of the car.

If there…

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Go Play Outside and Build a Beach House

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Once I gave my three younger kids a bucket of big nails and a hammer and told them to go make a life raft from wood they could find on the beach. I watched from our porch. The gathering, the lining up, the arguing, the hammering, the deciding that nails alone were inadequate. Rope was needed. I gave them rope and then sat down again. I like watching other people’s industry even if they are just children.

The construction took hours. It occurred to me that my kids were probably leaving nails all over the beach where passers-by, intently looking for agates, would happen upon the rusty nails and think they’d washed up from an ancient Lake Superior shipwreck. My Home Depot nails were destined for Lake Superior still lifes, dioramas of the old logging life, hammered into jewelry, sported by eco-tourists who could not bear to waste a single piece of metal.

What I loved about my kids making the life raft was how intent they were about it. Well, one of them was intent, the other two lost interest after a while when the implications of there being only one hammer became clear. One hammer. One hammerer. It didn’t have to be that way especially if I intervened to remind them to take turns. But, to me, the essence of building a life raft was that folks were pretty much on their own.

The hammerer in this case called me down to the beach to witness the launch. Now the others came back to help, thinking maybe they could ride on the raft even though they’d bailed on the construction. Even in their leaving of the project they had made the effort the centerpiece of the day. Which was sort of my mission accomplished. Go play outside sometimes needs to have definition to it, like go play outside and take apart that old car or go play outside and build a clubhouse out of paper bags.

Do something you haven’t done before.

Do something that is utterly purposeless. Something that just takes up time and allows you to hammer nails. Build something that won’t last and doesn’t have a prayer of floating.

Do something that couldn’t possibly be construed as a means to any end.

I didn’t do that enough for my kids. I was always into educational games. They mocked me for it. I played tapes of the multiplication tables in the car, we listened to books on tape when we traveled. I rented movies from the list of 100 Movies Your Kids Should Watch which had us watching Spartacus and The Sound of Music. Everything was a tutorial for later.

Today, while I was walking the beach, probably a good twenty years since the raft-making afternoon, I saw the beginnings of this elaborate beach house. Intricate. Somebody took a lot of time. Driftwood selected for its load-bearing capabilities; logs placed in V’s and padded with tree branches. And then left there, as finished as it was going to be.

Ah, I thought. What a fine thing to have here. This art for no reason. I wanted to stop walking and create something. A cairn of rocks built impossibly high or all with pink stones. But I couldn’t summon the purposelessness. It was just a memory and a distant one at that.

I want a hammer and some nails and maybe some rope and an endless afternoon where no one, especially me, knows what I’m doing or why.

And I want to think of nothing else but what I’m doing at that moment and when I’m done, I want to walk away and turn around just once. And then leave it.

Wish Me Safe Travels

So to quell my uneasiness with driving over the Big Mac Bridge, I decided to shoot a little video of our ride. But then it made me start thinking.

If the 15 mph wind suddenly lifted our Ford Explorer from the inside lane of the Mackinac Bridge and hurled it upside down into the waters of the Straits of Mackinac where I can see the white caps roiling a couple of hundred feet under us, would I have the presence of mind to push the button to make my window go down so I could escape to the surface like Sandra Bullock when she escapes her submerged space capsule in Gravity?

I imagine myself being strong and fearless and looking great in a wet t-shirt but that would all be for naught if the window isn’t rolled down. I know about water pressure and all that. I’d be doomed, sinking to the bottom, yelling at my husband because he didn’t think to roll his window down and for taking us on the bridge in the first place.

This outcome is made more certain when I see all the repairs being made to the bridge and realize that it could, after how ever many years it’s been there, just suddenly give way, causing the most spectacular bridge catastrophe in history and we would be done for. Finished. Famous for this one disastrous thing. Everything else we’ve done with our meager lives would be dwarfed by a massive structural flaw.

Yesterday, on a drive from Hastings to Weidman, Michigan, to take a picture at the Incredible Dr. Pol’s veterinary practice, on our way to Mt. Pleasant and eventually to the Big Mac Bridge, we were stopped for speeding. We were followed for a good mile before the cop’s lights started flashing, my husband pulled over and I looked for the registration in the glove compartment.

It was possible he could serve time for this, I thought. He could be handcuffed and put in the back of the squad. I wondered if our marriage could withstand the separation and realized that other couples survive long periods of incarceration and we could, too. I wondered if he’d serve time in Michigan or Wisconsin then decided I’d find the strength to cope with whatever life threw at me. Bolstered by this, I handed the papers to my husband who handed them to the cop who walked back to his flashing lights while I looked straight ahead like Anne Boleyn waiting for the axe.

Where did this catastrophic thinking come from? I have no idea.

I’m not really an anxious person. Looking at me you would see no hint that I’m silently exploring what could be Plan B for getting out of a car submerged in the Straits of Mackinac. I just look like a regular person in the world.

I did once yell at someone that what they were doing could result in burning the house down and the house did, in fact, burn down although not as a consequence of the thing I yelled about, another reason my black butterfly mind hadn’t yet landed upon. But burn it did. To the ground. Yep. So that goes to show that it isn’t crazy to think the Mackinac Bridge could suddenly collapse or that my husband could be imprisoned for speeding. It’s not extreme or fantastical. It’s not wanting to be surprised by the worst thing that can happened. Being ahead of the curve, I would say.

Things happen, folks. You have to be prepared.

Annual Planting

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It’s late at the Super 8.

There’s dirt under my fingernails even though I wore gloves.

I have one pink geranium I couldn’t make fit.

The urn for their flowers that I bought new last year was damaged by the winter.

My husband left four stones on my parents’ graves to show that we had been there.

I wiped down their headstone and that of my grandparents, wiped the old mown grass away with a rag.

In the late afternoon sunlight, both of the rose-colored stones shone just a little bit.

I would have sat there all afternoon, on that little hill admiring the trees, except we were in a hurry to go somewhere else.

I planted geraniums and petunias and plants I don’t know the names of until the urn was full and worthy of its job of showing the world that my parents had people who will show up year after year.

My husband walked the dogs while I tended to my parents’ grave so, as he said, I can have a little cry.

I never cry.

I am just glad to be there with the sun coming through the trees in the rolling hills of the old cemetery where my parents and grandparents and relatives I never met are buried.

It is a beautiful, beautiful, precious place.

Across the Driveway

The man next door was a boy when we moved in. He built skateboard ramps on the sidewalk and organized fishing expeditions of neighborhood kids. His parents had terrific shouting matches in our shared driveway. We’d stop what we were doing in our kitchen, waiting for something worse to happen but it never did.

Over time, he grew up. His parents divorced and his mother moved out. He stayed in the house. He came and went. We said hello. He had a series of new schemes, enterprises, companies. We watched from across the driveway. Chatted now and then.

Then suddenly he had a partner and she had children and there was a lot going on in the driveway. Cars going up and down. New people. Busyness that hadn’t been there for years. Where there was a single man there was now a family. Like sprouts in a jar on the ledge of the kitchen window. Just suddenly lush.

Then the partner left but the children remained. And our neighbor, who always seemed like such a boy to us, became their dad. At first, it was so strange to watch, him shepherding them to school and back. And then we saw grey in his hair, watched him unloading bags and bags of groceries, and it became clear that he intended permanence.

Sometimes we would hear him yelling at the kids. We understood this because we yelled at our kids when they were growing up, not realizing that the neighbors, like us, could hear it all, that they slowed what they were doing to listen.

One night, unbeknownst to me, my husband talked to our neighbor about his yelling at his kids. He reminded him that it sounded like his parents so many years ago. And since then, the yelling has disappeared. Tonight, we sat on our porch, looked across the driveway at our neighbor grilling while one of his kids did her homework at the picnic table, their dog bounding over the backyard bushes.

Their being is sublime. Like ours. We are on our back porch, watching them between the branches of our overgrown forsythia bush. We are in no hurry, sitting here, glad for the fortune of watching our neighbor and his daughter whose hair is a different color today than yesterday and their fine dog who greets us with tail wagging every day even though our dogs bark relentlessly. They are all at ease. Happy. At home. We linger on this small luck, our little driveway luck.

People think getting older is tragedy. They’re wrong. It’s riches.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Linger.”

Married Sleep

When you are afraid of the day, the alarm goes off in your head minutes before the real one sounds. Your eyes open and you watch the seconds pass, piling fear on your dread.

You remember all the other times your day included a parent’s funeral, a child’s surgery, a speech too big for your ability, an argument bound to occur that very day. If you wake up and get up, it will only be a matter of time before the reason for your dread is holding your face in its hands.

But still you sleep. You are so practiced in the art of delay, so good at staging the frightful things. You know how to stave off dread. You sleep.

Nothing bad can happen when you are sleeping.

You reach for the person you are sleeping with and feel his back in the dark. He is not afraid of anything, so for that moment when you are touching his back, you are not afraid either.

If you wake, you see his chest rising and falling, his breathing the constant through everything that can happen. Nothing changes, no alarm sounds.

The sleeping protects you. Until morning, just before the alarm sounds, when dread rolls through the open window and settles over your just-awake head.

You were shielded in your sleep but now you are on your own.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.”