The Birds and the Beasts

I like running in Sugarhouse park for a number of reasons.  I know that two laps plus the interior driveway into the parking lot equals one 5k.  I also appreciate the difficulty.  There are two good hills in the circuit – four total.  It hurts but it is a good workout.  I love it.  Especially in spring when the baby ducks are out.  The cuteness is a good distraction from the burning calves.  Usually.

Recently, however, as I approached the first hill I noticed a… what? A cluck of ducks? That’s probably not right.  But there were five mallards off to the right on the grassy hill, which is the wrong side of the road.  The pond is in the center of the park, off to my left as I run counter-clockwise around the loop.

Something about their behavior seemed strange and I turned to watch them.  There were four males and one female.  If you are wondering how I know a male mallard from a female mallard, they are easy to differentiate.  They are similar in shape but the males have bright green heads and with white collars where the throat starts to widen into the body.  Females are slightly smaller and are mostly spotty brown but with bright blue patches on their wings.

One of the males had a splotch of white on his mostly green neck and another white blob on his body, like someone had thrown bleach on him.  Or like a watercolor painting that is nearly complete but not quite.  This means he is a mixed species duck – part mallard and part white duck.  There is a duck like this that lives in my boyfriend’s neighborhood.  We saw him one morning and I said, “We should call mutt ducks ‘mucks.’”  He didn’t laugh.  I reminded him that it was still early and I hadn’t had any coffee yet.  “I mean I’m not saying it’s an A plus joke,” I pressed him at the time.  “Clearly it’s B work.  But seriously… nothing?”

I was rethinking my evaluation as I ran in the park and decide he was right.  I was downgrading the joke to a C plus – B minus at best – but before I could finish the thought, the one female in the cluck made a sudden turn and darted out into the road with the three males chasing closely behind.

There was a car but it was able to stop just in time.  The female kept running and crossed the road in front of me with the males closing in on her.  The fastest one caught up with her as she stumbled over the curb on the pond side of the road. Before she could pull herself up onto the grass, he clamped his beak on her thin neck and twisted it awkwardly to the side as he scaled her back.  The muck and the other two males gathered around, waiting their turn.

I can’t claim to have had a clear impulse to do anything in the moment.  And yet I had many impulses – layers and layers of considerations that lodged in my gut like an onion swallowed whole.  I spent the rest of the run peeling it and contemplating the pungent concerns as I carved deeper into it.

It certainly occurred to me – maybe a few paces down the path – that I should go back and rescue her.  I could chase the males off, couldn’t I?  Or would I just scatter them temporarily?  Then they would resume as soon as I got back on my way, with that female or the next one they saw.

I remembered what I’ve read about duck copulation before.  Specifically, I recall reading about the roughness of the males.  Witnessing it was certainly more brutal than I imagined while reading about it.  Still… this was “natural,” right?

Then I remembered my friend Meg telling a story about a pair of ducks rogering around the grass on the day of her wedding.  I remember she was disturbed by it, but her sister had said, “no, ducks fucking are good luck!”

“Duck fuck, good luck, duck fuck, good luck…” I repeated to the rhythm of my running pace as I fought my way up hill number one.  This helped for a moment, but I kept picturing the awkward angle of the ducks neck as the drake held her down, pushing her throat into the grass.  And then I remembered something else that I read about ducks as I crested the hill.  “What was it?”  I asked my brain.  “Something about the fact that the penis is corkscrew shaped?  For some gawdawful reason?”

As my shoes slapped down the declining side of the hill the shock wore off and I suddenly realized that I had witnessed something intense and violent.  “What is wrong with me!?  Why didn’t I help her?” I yelled at myself. “What about SISTERHOOD?”

With a pang I remembered that one of the reasons I run in this park was the baby ducks.  “Is there anything cuter than a baby mallard?  Now I know where they come from.  I guess it’s evolved that way for a reason?  Corkscrew cocks and all?  Otherwise, no more mallards.”

The trail was leveling out and I realized that I was justifying my inaction using the old ‘means to an ends’ trope.  “Who am I? I sound like Rick Santorum, telling rape victims to ‘make the best of a bad situation.’”

I tried to banish the image of the other drakes – the slower ones – forming a jumbled and impatient line as I approached the steep raise of hill number two.  That article I read didn’t say anything about gang rape.  I was not prepared for that.

“I’m not heartless,” I told myself as I fought the gravity asserting its full force on my calves.  “I am impartial.  Like a documentary film maker.  I am here to observe and learn, not to judge or intervene.”  On the steepest part of the hill, my pace slowed to a run just slower than a walk and I started to lose track of where my legs ended and where the sidewalk began.  “I am Sigournie Weaver,” I declared.  “Narrating with my soft as suede voice as an arctic wolf gnaws on the leg of a still struggling baby caribou.”

I crested the hill but continue walking, trying to catch my breath.  “Except Sigournie Weaver wasn’t actually there,” I remembered.  “I am the dude who keeps filming when the shit goes down.  The one I always scream at.  ‘Put the camera down and throw the polar bear a damned fish!  Don’t you know what climate change is doing to them?!’”  I picked up speed and made my way toward the downward slope on the West side of the park.

I told myself that if the ducks were still there when I made it back to the scene of the crime I would intervene.  I rounded the corner and searched the grass and the shore of the pond, but they were gone.  “Maybe she got away?”  I thought about her waddling at full speed out in front of the car.  Was that intentional?  Escape through frantic suicide?

Slogging up hill number three it occurred to me that she ran, but she didn’t fly.  “Why didn’t she fly?  Maybe it is all part of the mating ritual. Play hard to get but not too hard to get.”  I was starting to feel better and I repeated the mantra from the previous trudge up this hill.  “Duck fuck, good luck, duck fuck, good luck…”  I played through the scene in my head again.  “She certainly looked like she was desperate to get away, but it must not have been with a full heart, or she would have flown.  Right?”

“Oh Christ,” I thought as I crested the hill.  “Did I just make the duck equivalent of the ‘look what she’s wearing’ argument?”  I was flying down the back of the hill, hating myself with every step.

I remembered then that I had been driving passed this same park the week before when all the traffic came to a stop for no apparent reason.  Once I was close enough I saw that there was a pair of mallards in the center of the six lane street, herding a half dozen babies up the median with the female leading the parade and the male bringing up the rear.  This is one of the things I love about mallards.  They always seem to make such cute couples.

Another time, years ago, I was driving through another part of Sugarhouse and I saw the carcass of a female mallard to the side of the road and a male standing watch over her lifeless body.  You will see this from time to time.  They seem to be very devoted.  I used to think monogamous, “or at least they stay partnered for the mating season?”  Suddenly I wasn’t sure.  “I’ll have to look that up, I guess.”

It was the last hill and I could see where this was going.  I told myself to skip the scene which was obviously coming.  The one where I berate myself for letting the male off the hook” because they make such cute dads, after all.”

Utah was in the news that same week because a judge had praised a former LDS bishop as a “good man” as he sentenced him to life in prison while his victims sat in the courtroom.     “Great men do bad things,” he said.  I was outraged when I read it in the paper.

“Not going there,” I thought.  “Just, not even going to do it.”  But it was too late.  I felt no better – no more ‘woke’ – than that judge.  I used my self-loathing as fuel to get me up the last hill and onto the flat stretch along the north side of the park.  Just one more downhill and then the turn into the center of the park where my car was parked.

I finished the last stretch and I asked myself if my real problem is that I’m too disconnected from the natural world.  The real one, not the artificial landscaped park meant to look something like nature that I conveniently touch base with on my lunch breaks.  It isn’t the same thing, despite the occasional wild encounter.  “Has urban living made me so soft that I cannot bear witness the brutality of the real world?  Or has it made me too hard in some way? Has my voracious consumption of liberal punditry turned me into a habitual moralizer, constantly monitoring of my thoughts for traces of ignorance, and leaving me unable to make sense of what is around me without anthropomorphizing?”

I dug the key to my Toyota out of my sweaty sports bra and I flopped down into the driver’s seat.  It was the most exhausting three miles I have ever run.

“I am a bad person, a bad feminist, and I will never look at a baby duck the same way again. Fuzzy little fuckers.”

I turned the key and steered my car onto the park road.  There was one thing I did feel I understood as I worked my way back around the loop toward the exit.  “The next time I am yelling at a nature show because the photographer is so cold hearted as to just stand there and film while the wild dogs surround the limpy gazelle, I will remember this outing in the park and I will tell myself to go to hell.”

Take Me Out to the Crowd

Last weekend, we took Ethan (age four) to a Bees game, which is the minor league team here in Salt Lake City.  He and I were bonding over our love of hot dogs.  He asked if he could get one for dinner at the game.

“You have to get a hot dog at a baseball game,” I said.  “Anything else would be un-American.”

My boyfriend, Matt (Ethan’s dad), didn’t agree.  “You two enjoy that,” he said, wrinkling his nose at the thought of overpriced and nitrate-loaded junk food.  “I’m getting something else.”

“Is it because you want the terrorists to win?” I asked sarcastically.

Before I could add “Why do you hate America?” Ethan responded.

“Nooooo!” he said.  “You HAVE to root for the BEEEES!”

I bit my cheek to keep from laughing as Matt assured him that we were all pulling for the same team, and then we left to catch our train to the ball park.  Come to think of it, we didn’t really clear the matter up.  Ethan probably spent the entire game thinking that the Salt Lake Bees were playing the Omaha Terrorists.

My Bad.

Soupavore

I have become an expert on soup. I have a few recipes that I can whip up in the crock-pot that I enjoy – broccoli cheddar, Tuscano kale, a basic chicken noodle that I sex up with salsa – but I bored of my own cooking quickly after my jaw surgery. Twelve days into my eight-week liquid diet, it was time to venture out.

Harmon’s, the local grocer, has a variety to chose from in their deli. One standout is the red potato and onion. It is generously loaded with bits of thick country cut bacon and small pieces of celery to fool you into thinking you ate a vegetable. The sharp cheese flavor is unsubtle and aggressively salty. It might actually be too salty. It’s hard to tell when I’m simply delighting in the fact that, fifteen minutes after I have it for dinner, I can still taste it. Just as though I really ate something.

Wasatch Brewery’s corn chowder is creamy and sweet. The color and flavor is fresh and sunkissed; there are no brown or tinny notes of canned corn. Normally I would exclaim “and not too filling” as a positive attribute, but that isn’t my problem right now. Right now I worry that I’ll ever feel “filled” again.

I know Noodles & Co. is a chain, but their tomato basil bisque is truly lovely. There is slight complexity in the flavor, as both the citrus and the earthy tones of the tomato are featured on different levels. Still, this is not an adult soup. It is lively and bright and would pair perfectly with a crisp buttery grilled cheese cut diagonally for optimal dipping, the molten cheddar webbing out between the fanned halves. Alas… the grilled cheese will have to wait.

“Four weeks in, you are really going to want a burger,” my surgeon told me. “That’s what all my patients say.”

This is week four, and I don’t miss hamburgers, per se. Don’t get me wrong; I could go for a burger. But it isn’t what comes to the fore when the hunter-gatherer part of my brain starts to forage for ideas while the rest of my mind is still focused on another task. It isn’t any particular flavor, actually. What I crave is texture and density. A variety of temperature and solidity. Sustenance that will resist and put up a fight, and not voluntarily be lifted by a spoon.

I want to break a cold branch of celery with my incisors and then crush it mercilessly between my bicuspids. I want to feel the greasy graveled skin of a deep fried drumstick against my lower lip just before I tear into the muscle, releasing the steam as I peal it back to the grey and purple marbled bone. I want to stab through layers of steak, potatoes and an over medium egg with the tines of a fork and then force the too large perfect bite through my lips and onto my tongue where the flavors will splash and mix and divinely expire, reduced to mashed splendor and disappear. Bite. Chew. Repeat. Heaven.

Hell. I’d kill for a crouton. Just something crunchy to top my tomato bisque.

Not yet, though. This is week four. Four more to go.

There was a part of me that was really looking forward to this surgery.  That was, very specifically, the part of me with post-election depression that allowed me to put on an extra ten pounds that I’m calling my “Trump bump.”  I was told that I would lose at least ten pounds, maybe more.  I’ve lost five.  I’m blaming that on the fact that cheese is so easily liquidized, especially in – for example – hot soup.  Now I can see that as soon as I get the green light to chew those five pounds are going to come right back.  And then some, if I’m not careful.

After all, I make a great grilled cheese.

Pig in a Belly Bar

The diner is called Pig & a Jelly Jar but Ethan insists on calling it “The Pig in a Belly Bar.”  Ethan is four.

Matt, my boyfriend, is driving.  “Are you sure you are okay with this place?” he asks.  “We kinda just… decided.  But I was thinking there’s bound to be something you can eat… like, oatmeal or something?”

“I’m not worried,” I respond.  “If nothing else I’ll get a scrambled egg.”

“Why can’t you eat… things?” Ethan’s voice is reedy and small, but slightly deeper than other four-year-olds I know.  Like a darker shade of honey.  I turn around to look at him in his car seat.  It’s a winter morning but it is sun is reaching through the trees of the park we are passing, making Ethan’s eyes light up in pulses.  They go from dark to the color of a glass of root beer at a picnic and then dark again.  I have an impulse to take off my sunglasses and put them on his too small head.  I don’t do it.  I resist urges to mother this child daily, it seems.  “He’s got a mom,” I remind myself yet again.  “Don’t overstep.”

“Rachel just had surgery on her jaw, bud.”  Matt looks at Ethan in the rear view mirror as he drives.  “Remember? She can only eat really soft things.”

I look in the mirror on the passenger’s side.  My face is badly swollen and my chin has a patch of color that could be mistaken for a blueberry juice stain.  I try to decide if I feel self-conscious about heading out to a restaurant – in public – with Matt’s parents and a super-sized face.  I decide that I don’t and I look back at the trees in the park.

We arrive just ahead of Matt’s folks and we all cross the street together.  Ethan, already holding his father’s hand, slips his other hand into mine as we step off the curb.  A muted smile trips across my swollen lips and lands warming my throat.

We chat easily over coffee. Matt’s parents are relaxed and open and they make me feel like we have known each other for years.  Both ask questions about my surgery but don’t ask me if it hurts as bad as it looks. They strike the perfect balance between awkwardly drawing attention to, and awkwardly ignoring the elephant at the breakfast table.

Once the food arrives I have to tune out of the conversation.  The lower half of my head is still numb and I need all of my concentration to will my fork to deliver the bits of egg directly into my mouth and nowhere else.  I feel like a Jedi knight, trying to retrieve my light saber from the next room with my mind (Jedi’s are a prevalent theme in my life since meeting Ethan).  I don’t bother to look around to see if anyone else is watching me.  I’m too busy with my task.

Ethan says something but no one quite catches it.  “What, Buddy?” Matt asks.   Ethan looks up but gives the shy eyes kids get when you ask them to repeat something they weren’t confident about saying in the first place.

“My waffle.  It’s really soft.”

“Um, okay.  That’s good, I guess.”

Matt doesn’t see where that came from, but I think I do.  I lean in and lower my head a bit.

“Do you think it is soft enough for me to eat?” I ask Ethan.  He gives me a nod.  He stops short of offering me his waffle, but I tell him that I’m fine anyway.  “Don’t worry about me; just enjoy your breakfast.” The warmth in my throat returns and swells to fill my chest.

Last Valentine’s Day, I wrote an essay about accepting that I was likely going to be single for the rest of my life.  I wrote about the fact that ten years out from my divorce, I didn’t see it happening for me.  I talked about turning my attention to building my other lifelong relationships with my family and friends.  I hadn’t found what I was looking for and I was letting go.  Not in a defeated way, but I was resigned.

This occurs to me now as I sit in the Belly Bar with four people who treat me like family and I have two thoughts simultaneously.  One is warm like Ethan’s little hand in mine and it says, “What a difference a year makes, huh?”  The other is cold like a bad memory bursting to mind unbidden and it says, “Please don’t fuck this up.”

Matt is looking at me, smiling.  He gives me a wink.  I smile back to the best of my ability and return to the task of feeding myself.

Tiny Bubbles

I woke in a puddle of steamy dread earlier, realizing “It’s today! I have to get up and get ready for my surgery!”

I grabbed for my phone to see why the alarm hadn’t gone off.  3:46 a.m.  That’s why.  Because time is linear, and I wasn’t there yet.

I tried to settle in to fall back to sleep, but I had a feeling that wasn’t going to work out.  After all, it’s surgery day.  And I’m just a little bit afraid.

The last time I had surgery was nearly ten years ago.  I had an accident on an ATV and broke my nose.  A few weeks later I was having surgery to have it reset.

I remember lying in the pre-operation room where the nurse was going over some last minute things.  She was about to give me a shot of something.  I forget what.  And I noticed a few bubbles in the syringe as she moved the needle toward my arm.

“Oh, wait!” I said, pointing them out helpfully.  “Aren’t you supposed to do that… tap tap… squirt thing?  To get the air out?”

She laughed patiently. “No dear.  Bubbles only kill people on TV.  In real life, people die in ATV accidents.”

I’ve told that story to a few nurses over the years and I always get a big laugh.  Good lesson, though.  And a good reminder.  Statistically speaking, I won’t die in surgery today.  It will be the next ATV-like thing that I didn’t take as seriously as an operation that may kill me.  Or, if I’m lucky, just send me back into surgery.

Curses

I have been down.  I got down after Orlando and then it seems like things got worse and worse.  I say “seems” because I have also seen some reminders that – actually – we are getting better over time.  There is less violence now than there was in the past.  We are less bigoted than we were a few generations ago.  We are making progress.  Slow, painful progress.

Meanwhile, I have been writing, but nothing worth posting.  I’m re-evaluating what I want to accomplish with the blog in general.  Part of being down has made me feel that I have nothing to say.  But I’m going to keep on saying my nothings anyway.  I’m an American after all.  We don’t have to be qualified to have opinions.

I’ll pull my head out of the news and then I’ll be back.  For now here is something funny someone else did with lemons.

OmUoL2T

The Following Sunday

I’m feeling sad and naive about the joy-rade I went on after Salt Lake City’s Pride Festival.  I was drunk on the community love (or high on snow cones and cotton candy) and I indulged in a moment of Pride pride.

A week later, the progress I wrote about seems less absolute.  I still think we are going in the right direction, but God damn.  Why does it have to be so ugly?  Why does so much have to be at stake?

Of course I am talking about the shooting in Orlando.  It also seems that a shooting may have been prevented – one that would have targeted LA’s Pride Festival.  And of course I know that there are many factors at play, not just homophobia or religion or race, but all of those and who knows what else.  We will never know the nuances of why the incident played out like it did. My sadness isn’t focused on any one factor.  My sadness is focused on 49 individuals who aren’t here any more.  There is no reason.  It defies reason.

We were driving to Pride last week and I asked my friend’s two young boys if they knew why we did Pride.  They said no.  I wanted to ask what they supposed, but they were already annoyed that I made them turn off their electronics so I could try to have this conversation.  I wanted them to understand why it is important, but I didn’t want to give them the history.  I didn’t want to scare them (one of the boys has recently come out as gay) or depress them.  Mostly I wanted to set some expectations and try to prevent some of the whining that I endured last year.  Because it is all about me, really.  So I told them “Today is the day that we gather as a community and celebrate the fact that we get to be who we truly are.”  Then I told them that the most important thing was to have fun, and show people that are too stuck in the past to join in that they are missing a great party.  Then I let them get back to their games, and thought to myself “Maybe it’s good that they don’t know too much about it…  That it used to feel really brave to go to Pride.  They’ll learn the shitty stuff eventually…”

It shouldn’t feel brave to go to Pride.  Or a nightclub.  Or an elementary school.  I don’t want to hear about the other factors at play or the “real” reasons this happened. No civilian in this country should own a semi-automatic weapon. No one can make a sound argument to the contrary.

And yet nothing will change.  That’s the other thing that really hurts my heart.  I know that if we couldn’t enact sensible gun reform after two dozen first and second graders were murdered, we aren’t going to do it for a bunch of queer Latinos.  So my friend will have to sit her boys down and explain this aspect of our culture, if she can.  Maybe not this news cycle.  Or the next.  But soon.

I just hope that they can make some progress on the gun issue in their lifetimes.  Before too many more young people lose the futures that past generations fought for.

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Pride

The first time I went to the Pride Festival in Salt Lake City back in the 90s, it was a fairly small affair.  Don’t get me wrong; it was a good sized party and plenty of people came, but not so many that you wouldn’t bump into your friends without making a big deal over it. Which was good because I didn’t have a cell phone back then. There was a free speech corner for the protesters, and there were a decent number of those. And there were booths but it didn’t have a lot of art or stuff for sale. I would say it was fun with freaky elements, but ultimately low key. 

Am I telling you this to say that I liked gay people before it was cool to like gay people?  Yes. And also to point out it was once possible to meet up with friends and do stuff without cell phones. But mostly I have it on my mind because I was trying to conjure that memory today while at the Pride parade and festival. I heard on NPR on Friday that thirty thousand people were expected to attend.

Thirty. Thousand. People. In Salt Lake City. UTAH!

If I had been in a coma since the 90s and awoke today to be told by my friends how far we have come on LGBTQ rights, I would have said, “There’s a ‘Q’ now? What’s that stand for?” Then, when I was fully up to speed I would have said, “Holy Shit! Is it 2048?”

And then my friends would say, “No, it’s only 2016! And your hair is still brown!”

Then I would have said, “Dudes! That is The Bomb! Now get me outta this bed, Beeotch, so we can do the Macarena!!! People still do that, right?”

I haven’t been in a coma but I was still stunned to go and see the joy and the community acceptance that is at the center of the SLC Pride celebration now. So many people came to hang out and enjoy the festival. I started to write something about “came to support…” But it didn’t really feel like that to me, today. It just felt like people having fun. 

There were no protesters (that I saw). I didn’t hear any pro or con arguments of any sort. People danced and ate and wandered around. It was the party of the year and everyone was invited. And it was amazing. 

The bit that really got me were the grey haired folks marching in the parade with Mormons Building Bridges, a group of Latter Day Saints that supports the LGBTQ community. There were multiple people in wheelchairs and one that was holding a sign proclaiming her love and support for her grandson. If someone would have told me about that after I came out of my imaginary coma I would have gone right back under. 

When the lady in the wheelchair went by I teared up a little bit; I really did. But then I told myself to snap out of it because in trying to wipe the tears away I got sunscreen in my eyes and that hurt really bad. 

We live in a truly remarkable time. We get to live our lives as authentically as we dare to. We aren’t required to live the lives that others planned for us in order to make them feel comfortable. It still isn’t easy, but so many obstacles have been cleared for us and for those who come after. 

If you’ve never been to a Pride Festival and have one coming up in your area, go. Celebrate. Be your authentic self. You might not encounter someone you can make uncomfortable, but you may make an old cynic like me cry. 

Dream of the ’90s

I was digging through my first aid kid looking for a bandaid and I found three packets of Neosporin that expired my junior year of college.


My first thought was, “Wow… 1998. That was a good year.”

My second thought was, “I really need to go through this thing more often.”

I Might Not Be the Alpha

Me: Dude, you CANNOT be on the couch. You are too big!

The Dog: Yes I can; I can prove it…

Me: No… Get… Gerrofff… Down! Gosh darn you are heavy! 

The Dog: I propose a compromise. 

Me: Fine. Whatever lets me focus this episode of Game of Thrones.