99 New: True Value

I’ve spent the last year hanging around people who hug you like they mean it. And it’s softened me up. So I get what that does for people who are homeless.

God, it is a relief not to be judged. To have people be glad to see you for no particular reason. To be regarded as valuable just because you’re there and breathing.

Today, Street Angels, the homeless outreach group I work with, put on a Christmas party for the people we see on outreach – these are folks who live outside. They live in tents under the freeway overpass, in the woods, under bridges, other places where they’re pretty invisible to regular passers-by.

There were probably two hundred folks at this party when we came, many I recognized from last winter’s warming room where I volunteered in the early mornings and where I steered clear of hugs thinking I didn’t know people well enough to hug them. My concept of hugging then centered on incrementalism.

In the food line, a very tall thin man with a gray beard and an old Carhartt jacket turned around to say hello and Merry Christmas and then he hugged me like I was his sister although I’d never seen him before. And I hugged him back like I meant it, like I learned how to do this year.

99 New: Small Can Be Beautiful

Every time I take the path from the bluff down to the shore of Lake Michigan at our beloved Doctors Park, I see the picnic table where, nearly forty years ago, I sat with my young daughter on Christmas Day as she pulled out the blades of her new Swiss Army Knife one by one.

It was just the two of us.

It was uncommonly warm for Christmas in Wisconsin, spring-like, the air carrying the honey of renewal and possibility, the sun shining and the water of Lake Michigan glittering like it does sometimes when you expect to feel lonely and alone, the water deciding somehow to erase your gloom and make you grateful to be alive at that moment.

What I’m saying is this.

Love what you have
Put your yearning in the drawer
Behind the sweaters you don’t wear
And the scarves your mother sent you

Sit by yourself on a bench
Smooth your hands on the wood slats
Let the sun echo through you
Like a medicine, a poultice on your soul

And go, feeling fine, feeling whole
Own yourself and your footsteps
The day that is here is yours
Nothing is lacking, you are full, your arms are full

99 New: It’s a Dog’s Life

As grief-stricken as she might have been, our old dog, Minnie, also seemed liberated by the death of her long-time companion and frequent oppressor, BowWow. For years, BowWow, a smaller dog by half, exercised his dominance over her as the alpha dog. He stood over Minnie as she rested on a bed or a blanket or a space of earth on the planet until she got up and moved to another spot. It didn’t need to be a prime spot, an especially cushy or warm spot, it only had to be the spot she had. His mission was to make her move from her spot. For no reason. Just because he could.

I tried to intervene. I yelled at BowWow and told Minnie to stay where she was. Stand your ground! I shouted. Sometimes I grabbed the smaller dog by the collar and took him to another spot to lie down, a nice comfy bed on the other side of the room. But BowWow returned within seconds and continued his silent, oppressive standing over her until she moved, a big dog slinking off to find a cold spot while the smaller dog curled his satisfied self into a ball on the warm spot she’d just vacated.

When BowWow died, I watched Minnie shake off her learned inferiority. She slept wherever she pleased. Because she was old and stiff, we often threw a big comforter on the floor of the living room for her. We turned the TV on when we left the house so she wouldn’t be lonely and soon seemed to replace her regular meals with snacks from the cupboard and our plates. She took to sleeping in, sometimes needing to be rousted at 9:00 am, a sign that she’d left the days of BowWow-mandated early rising behind.

You know where this is going, right? Romeo, the new dog, spent an hour in his new home being sheepish and deferential, well, maybe a day or two, but quickly grew into his 13-month old balls. He has perfected the warm spot steal and is working, not very subtly, on muscling in on Minnie’s food bowl. Minnie stands back now from the stairs if Romeo is going down or up, doing that standing aside and looking at her nails thing that women do when they want to convey their superiority in an environment where they are being trampled, like, oh, I meant to stop here in this nice out of the way spot so all the guys could hurl themselves down the stairs.

Don’t let this punk intimidate you, I want to tell Minnie but she has already gone back to the land of deference. We intervene to try to teach Romeo decent manners and to keep Minnie safe, mostly she steers a wide berth around him, finding spots that he doesn’t want to claim as her own. She is a big, old sweet girl, precious to us but no revolutionary. She has no interest in living up to our feminist dreams for her. She’s just going to keep living her dog life the way she has for twelve years, doing whatever it takes to have some peace in her world and get a decent nap. That’s her right, I guess. Or her lot.

99 New: Friday Before Christmas Round-Up

The new dog peed on the dining room rug. Prior to this, said dog would have been referred to as our “Beloved Romeo.” The bloom is off the rose.

I suffered an invisible defeat this week. It was a classic instance of overestimating myself and underestimating others,’ a mistake I have made many times in the past; this one, however, gave way to riotous laughter late at night as my husband riffed on instances of our shared experiences of ‘humiliation and shame.’ Sometimes, one is lucky to be mocked.

Trump’s idiocy has gone from irritating to life-threatening. I am loathe to admit that much of the president’s theatrics have been entertaining, fodder for my endless resistance appetite. This week, though, put us all cozy close with the final frontier. An unlearned, undisciplined, unprincipled person could push the button and, apparently, the people who could stop him can’t bring themselves to do it. It would be stupefying if it wasn’t terrifying.

My husband is smarter than me because, while I’m doing this, he is reading the New York Times. My writing life and schedule is a wreck. I’m running around counting donated socks and getting invisibly defeated during the day instead of following the disciplined writing schedule I’d conjured up months ago. So I end up very late at night writing a post as evidence that my fingers can still find the keys. That said, if I have a couple of good posts a week, I’m pretty happy. And this week I had two that were keepers.

Christmas is coming and it will be a small and precious one. It’s a warm light on a cold night, a kitchen where someone is cooking, the world smallest Christmas tree perched on top of our piano, watching It’s a Wonderful Life and feeling almost certain that an angel, much like Clarence, saved someone I love. All together, it will be a fine end to a surprising year and I’m glad beyond words.



99 New: Animal Planet

There were really only two options. Weird, because I have a lot of underwear, practical stuff, not fancy, I’m all about comfort. So there was the black cotton underwear which kind of choked off circulation to my legs the last time I tried them and then there was the giant leopard print ‘briefs’ as they are so oddly called, bought when I was a lot heavier chick. I was going to the dermatologist for a whole body skin check so she was going to be peering into my underwear. I should make it easy for her, I figured, so I put on the leopard granny pants, jeans, and a hoodie and set off.

The nurse handed me a robe, reminding me to take everything off except my panties. Not sure if my leopard print number qualified as panties, shouldn’t panties be silky or lacy or scanty? These panties could be used to wax the car.

She turned to leave. “And oh, I should tell you. Doctor has a scribe training with her today.”

“A scribe?” Who has a scribe? Ben Franklin? Did Ben Franklin have a scribe? Or was he a scribe? What did he do before he started working his way up?

She cocked her head and raised her eyebrows. “And, he’s a man.” Oh great, a man scribe is going to be joining us. Saying no seemed older than my pants. So I did as she said and sat on the examining table to wait.The doctor knocked and came in first. She was young, blond, wearing a lab coat and sneakers. Her scribe followed, clad in a plaid shirt and dark khakis. He could have been a clerk in a sporting goods store.

For someone poking around people’s bodies with a magnifying glass, the doctor was surprisingly jolly. She started with my scalp and worked her way down, dabbing a searing concoction on all the little pre-cancers she found, two on my eyebrow, one on my arm, a tiny one on my chest, and then she dropped the front of the gown and lifted each breast up. The sun never shone there I wanted to tell her but she lingered not. The scribe, sitting behind me at the little doctor desk, could be heard tapping a keyboard, making note, I guess, of the location of every errant spot.

The doctor was a great chatter. She joked about needing to use her bare hands to feel where cancers might be starting even though her husband urged her to wear gloves. Seems she once examined a guy with syphilis and accidentally touched his sore or rash or whatever it is, something she said had never before happened in the clinic, and then her husband got all weirded out and wanted her to wear gloves. I don’t know if that was all the time or just in the clinic.

Anyway, she continued onward or downward actually, checking both legs next and then when she was finished thigh to toes, she said, “Okay, get up and stand facing that wall.”

As I did, the robe, left untied in the back as instructed, unfurled. I stood still while the doctor took her magnifying glass first down one leg and then the other. And it slowly dawned on me. The scribe is looking at my giant leopard print underwear. 

I kept my dignity though. Not everyone would, but I did. Because, you know, I’m a person of substance, never mind my underwear. But I won’t forget that a scribe saw my panties, as they say, and I bet he won’t either.