Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fifty Shades of Brown

Do you find Brown sexy?  I’m talking about the color Brown, not Charlie Brown, to be clear. 

I’ve never read Fifty Shades Of Grey, but I can speak to Fifty Shades of Brown.  I’m one of those people who has spent most of their life in what we call the ‘deciduios forest’, no matter how urban that ‘forest’ may be.  Basically, I’m used to four seasons, not necessarily Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but rather snowy winters, mild, blooming springs, hot, leafy shaded summers and an autumn glorified by red, gold and orange foliage as our trees  bid their leaves farewell until our mild springs return. 

I’m writing this on Easter Eve, AKA Holy Saturday, and though April Fools Day is just around the corners, April may be very well fooling us with this beautiful, balmy weather.  Sunshine, 50 degrees.  Sounds like heaven after a winter of eight degree (Fahrenheit) days and a few feet of snow.  Snow?  Fifty Degrees as heaven?  Weather is all relative, no?

Less than 72 hours ago I was Leaving Las Vegas with 75 degree days, pure sunshine and zero humidity.  These kind of days, when found in the deciduous forest, are considered pure perfection.  Beautiful.  No complaints.  Sunny days in the 70’s with no clouds and no humidity?  I’m familiar with these kinds of days.  We got married on one of these days in a New York October, and from a weather perspective, consider ourselves pretty damn lucky.  But for the Las Vegans, it’s damn chilly!

Let me tell you about Fifty Shades of Brown, or the first time I went to Las Vegas.  We flew in on Labor Day Weekend when Rob and I were engaged, part of a two-week road trip to our friends’ wedding in Sonoma.  Rob’s family moved out to LV in 2000 and our first stop was with them, in Henderson.  I’ve never been to Las Vegas prior to meeting my husband, and his east-coast transplanted relatives because I’m not a gambler (CPA’s never are) and any entertainment value LV may offer, I could surely get in NYC. 

We flew into the Vegas valley in early September 2009 when temps still easily hit 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) and then some.  Rob’s aunt and uncle live in a development filled with beige and brown single-story homes, his cousin also live in a development filled with beige and brown single-single story homes, surrounded by other beige and brown homes, surrounded by other developments in the same color pattern.  Everything looked the same, in fifty shades of beige, or brown, sand, taupe, coffee, whatever you wanted to call it.  No Blue.  No Red.  No Green.  Fifty shades of brown.

As we drove around the surrounding area, there was a lot more brown.  In the buildings.  In the mountains.  In the valley.  It was everywhere. 

Rob and I took a small prop plane trip to the Grand Canyon.  The prop plane covered miles of land that was baked, hot and brown.  Cactus.  Death.  Dryness.  Brown.  Didn’t Moses lead God’s people out of the desert?  Maybe that wasn’t the North American Desert but really, no one should live here.  I’ve never had a (clinically documented) panic attack, but this time in the desert was putting me on the edge.  It was disturbing me so much that I wanted to crawl into the fetal position, yes, while on the prop plane and cry.   I’ve lived at sea-level deciduous forest most of my life and I just didn’t feel well being in this immense dryness.  I had been to Egypt, and  it’s dry  but it’s on the Nile.  In 2001 I went to Cairo and to me it felt like a sandy city.  I went to Alexandria and it felt like a sandy, transposed European beach town.  I’m ok with sand when it’s at the beach.  But at some level, I knew I was inland, trapped and stuck with all this dryness, and it upset the very core of my being.

The prop plane got to the western side of the Grand Canyon, we took a helicopter ride down to the bottom of the canyon and then took a pontoon boat ride along the Colorado River for a little bit.  It was fantastic.  The Grand Canyon is not truly well captured in photographs, nor can I truly capture its depth and size in words.  But you can see layers upon layers of rock history on the walls of the canyon as you descend, and it becomes more and more beautiful as the light of the sun hits these distinct layers of rock as the daylight passes.  There is beauty in the desert, but it’s not so easy to find, especially for a sea-level girl like me. 

Our helicopter ascended the layers upon layers upon years upon years of rock history that comprise the Canyon that is truly Grand.  And our prop plane took us back from one desolate desert to another desert covered in modular homes.  But all this Hudson River girl could see was fifty shades of brown. 

We stopped by Lake Meade, a LAKE! Wow,  my sea-level self was starting to revive.  Lake Meade was generated by the building of the Hoover Damn in the 1930’s (damming up the Colorado River), and one could see the high water mark well above where the current water level and it gave me pause, where has this water gone?  Is Vegas so over-developed that it’s draining the lake dry (yes!)

Two years later, October 2011, we made another long weekend trip to Las Vegas to visit the family.  I was five months pregnant (read: tired, don’t feel great and don’t remember much of the trip) so we can just chalk it up to ‘more desert’ or more ‘brown’.  But during this trip we drove across the bridge near the Hoover Damn and I got to Arizona for about fifteen minutes.  ‘People’ (names withheld) have told me Arizona is beautiful.  I’m sure it is.  But the sliver of this State which I saw with my own eyes was more desert, more brown, and a few signs reminding all of us visitors that Arizona is in a different time zone than Nevada.  Honestly, who gives a sh--, it’s all friggen desert, time doesn’t matter, the sun has baked everything.  For a pale-skinned dermatologist-frequenting White girls from sea-level deciduous forests like me, the desert is equivalent to a quick melanoma-induced death. F-U desert states.  Give me my Atlantic Ocean and my polluted, mafia body-dump Hudson River any day.

Yes, Nevada has no state income tax (when you can gamble in the supermarket, we can guess where the state gets its revenues from).  And Nevada is nationally ranked third in education, third from the bottom, that is.  But sure, after a winter with eight degree (Fahrenheit) days, it seems like a good place in which to relocate, no?  Eighteen months after our last visit, we return again, March 2013, with baby in tow, and yes, we made it through flying with baby both Westward and Eastward, thank God.  And thank JetBlue too. 

Now I look at Las Vegas as a city I would bring my child to (because I did bring my child here).  He’s too young to remember this trip (I hope, in some regard).  Las Vegas has clubs, martinis, comedians, musicians, gambling, celebrity chef restaurants and name brand shops.  So does Manhattan.  But now we go to Vegas for family, for times with the cousins.  We rented a minivan and fit the whole clan in one vehicle for a trip to Death Valley ( just rename it Death Desert), which actually provided some ‘desert diversity’ if you will: sand dunes, mountains, salt deposits, and multi-colored mountains.  We drove two hours north of Las Vegas, hung a left at Beatty (an Old West town with RV parking and a Subway), stopped by Rhyolite, a former mining town gone to ruins which made for a great photo op, and then crossed the border into Cali to Death Valley, visiting Furnace Creek, a campsite/rest spot filled with hippie Californians, which recorded its highest temperature at 134 degrees (Fahrenheit).  We then stopped at Badwater, a salt flat which collected the salt from the mountains over the last who-knows-how-many-hundred years.  We drove through Artists’ Pallet, a passage which brings you close to the mountains colored by their residual mineral deposits, left the park, drove back into Nevada, through Pahrump (where prostitution is still legal, read: we can guess where the state gets its revenue from), ’over the hump from Pahrump’ as they say,  and back into Las Vegas.  There is beauty in the desert, but it’s not so easy to find, especially for a sea-level girl like me.

 This trip was about a family visit.  Yes, Rob and I got a few nights out on the strip, but also Nicholas probably won’t have any first cousins, so this way he can get to know ( or rather they can get to know him) his second and third cousins. (Or is it second cousins once removed?  The children of his father’s first cousins?)   

We were there in Henderson to go to a very modern Palm Sunday service, and also sit down together for a Passover Seder.  Call it ‘desert diversity’ if you will.  While Uncle Alan read the Haggadah,  I thought about my own exodus from the desert – three and a half years earlier – we  drove west to the marvelous coast of Santa Barbara.  Now it would be an exodus via JetBlue back to JFK.  But this time around I wasn’t having a panic attack.  The desert, though generally horrible to a sea-level girl like me, was starting to grow on me somehow.  Maybe I had gotten used to the Fifty Shades of Brown that accompany a housing development built into Nevada’s Black Mountains.  Maybe I was fully amenable to 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) in March, when we had just dug the car out of a snow bank only a few days earlier (back in the Seventh Borough).  Either way, desert or deciduous forest, I want my son to know he has family in different climates, different faiths, in different time zones, and that they love him very much.        

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Seventh Borough Extension: Reporting from 30,000 Feet

Readers, this is more of an editor's note than a true post, more of an update, if you will.

First, I'd like to thank "GD" for her post.  It's true, these little vignettes that I write take a long time to put together in such a way that I think is entertaining and will also make sense for those of you who don't live in my head, which should really be all of you.  I truly appreciate the vote of confidence and support of 7BN's readership.

Secondly, as I write this, I'm in an airplane somewhere over Milwaukee (per the map and the Pennsylvania-sized airplane in which we are flying).  No, the plane icon/map of the US proportions are so distorted I think we are over Wisconsin, all of it.  All of it at once.  We all made it through security without a glitch, we've schlepped all the baby stuff to where it needs to go, and Nick fell asleep before we even left the gate.  Half a day of day care and a few hours of scooting around the terminal (and a few french fries) was the winning formula to put a tired baby to rest.

But I have to interject, the MTA / TSA's If You See Something, Say Something campaign takes on a whole new meaning after you've read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See 487 times.  The Brown Bear sees a red bird, but he says nothing.  Likewise, the White Dog sees a Black Sheep and I don't think he's escalated anything to the authorities.  I think we need a better action plan.  I've seen plenty in the terminal today alone.  I've seen TSA try to jam our carseat into the X-ray machine (it didn't fit), I've watched a guy 'entertain' Nick while at our gate, he was very kind to Nick and either he loves babies or he thinks he loves babies after he really loves vodka, and I've seen a bunch of tipsy people rush their way onto a single-aisle plane while becoming super negotiators at seat swapping.  Clarity always finds its way though.  Viva Las Vegas!

I've had my drink and now TNT a la Jet Blue TV has non-stop Law & Orders on the tube.  Things are looking up.  The flight tracker map now shows us with one wing covering Nebraska while the other wing is covering most of Kansas.  You'd think on such a big plane the seats would be more spread out.          

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Confessions of a pope-less Catholic

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. 
Ok that's a lie, nothing funny has happened lately and I'm hardly enroute to the Forum these days. But the Romans are quite busy right now, especially their Vatican counterparts just across the Tiber. We've just elected a new Pope, and by We I mean a bunch of old guys I've never met.

This was a very rare occasion, electing a Pope to replace a Pope who is still living - Pope Benedict XVI voluntarily stepped down from his PopeMobile and left his flock pope-less for a few days while all the world watched the smoke signals for the newly anointed. And the new guy - Pope Francis I from Argentina - gives the world's 1.2 Billion Catholics a new start. Not that the last guy was so bad, or good, but the Papacy is one of the few jobs that comes with a life term, and red, Italian slippers. Few jobs these days let you hang around until you die, I mean these jobs could be counted on one hand. The Pope typically has to leave this physical Earth in order to be replaced, as do other religious leaders, in addition to Supreme Court Justices, and the occasional rogue dictator (though I'm sure that last category rarely dies of natural causes).

In the short time that us Catholics were pope-less, there was much commentary and speculation as to why someone with a life-long, world-famous job would step down before his time. Not everyone has a job-appointed helicopter, lives in a swank, marble and gold pad, and holds the affection of over one billion followers. Who would give that up? Was Pope Benedict XVI weak? Was he crazy? Did he have something to hide? Or was he brave, responsible, and smart to know his limitations and to understand the magnitude of the process of selecting a successor? In other words, did he know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run?

'People' (names withheld) and circumstances have been telling me to fold 'em and walk away from this blog. Maybe that's a harsh interpretation, but it was a lack of support that felt like a kick in the face. And not a kick in the face by an elderly, spiritual man in soft, red, Italian slippers. No, it was more like a poke in the eye with the heel of a bedazzled stiletto followed by a blunt blow to the jaw with a steel-toed workboot. It hurt. And it was more hurt on a pile of hurt created by the everyday circumstances of late: A baby in the hospital, a sick family, job stress, impending layoffs, 'wintry mix', tax season, other stuff, and did I mention a baby in the hospital (read: medical bills, read: having used up all your sick days for the year by February). And when I wrote 'sick family' all of us were sick at the same time, it was so bad I instituted a curfew so we forced ourselves to sleep as much as possible because at this point I just don't think the pharmacy would give us any more antibiotics - even if we broke in, there would be none left to steal. Then there were two whole days of sanitizing: if it fit in the dishwasher or washing machine, it went in. Everything got put on the back-burner or shelved for a few weeks. Hence my three week gap in blogging, and even the title of this entry kind of inferred that the pope had not yet been selected, so I confess I started it a while ago and am just wrapping it up now.

I’m working on two other stories right now and I’ve got other ideas in the pipeline. 
Our time entertaining a one year old in a hospital room for five days tapped into our ultimate resourcefulness: Cheerios can be counted (and dropped on the floor), latex gloves can be balloons, the up-and-down of an auto-adjusting hospital bed is very entertaining (albeit loud), and the gift shop sells balloons (the real kind).  Most importantly, in that time I think Nicholas discovered books.  Yes, books are rectangles with pictures and words that Mommy can read 38 times in a row before moving on to another one.  I don’t even think I need to look at the words any longer to read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Spring is coming, the days are getting longer, I’m hoping things are looking up.  Next week we have a mini-trip to Las Vegas to visit with my in-laws.  Typically this would be a great trip without hesitation as it’s been in the past.  Now with baby in tow, it will be a vacation wrapped in a baby-stuff-schlepping adventure wrapped in an airport security-with-child challenge.  Not that the kid should be packing, but I’m sure Nick will be the only child on the red-eye to Vegas. Our plan is to leave extra time to get through the airport.  And by extra time, I just took another vacation day from work as a cushion.

I’m not ready to fold ‘em.  I’m not ready to walk away.  I’m not ready to run.  Things have been difficult as of late, but there is always news here to report, from the Seventh Borough just as there is news in the Vatican, and I am sure we will have news to report from Las Vegas (not everyone get to visit the biggest party town in the US and stay with their family in a retirement community, but even the community has a bar and a pool).  We solder on.  We don’t give up.  We pray for our intentions.  We pray to our new pope, Pope Francis, we pray to Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers (and assuming also the patron saint of security pat downs?) and we pray to Kenny Rodgers, the patron saint of gamblers, because “The secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep”

Stay tuned for geology lessons right here in the Seventh Borough!