In Celebration of Gary, Gary Who Loves Rainbows

College Disneyland and the players as we first found them. By the end, there were nine of us in the line.

On Monday, I went up to visit my niece Courtney and her boyfriend Cole. They attend Appalachian State in Boone, NC and both live in an apartment complex that functions as a College Disneyland. This apartment complex is a vast and fantastical place, designed for and used exclusively by college students. This College Disneyland status is especially true in front of Cole’s place, which faces a parking lot cul-de-sac. It is used for the parking of cars, shenanigans, and mayhem.

As we parked in front of Cole’s, we saw three shirtless college guys standing in a line, their hands clasped in front of themselves like soccer players facing down a penalty kick. A moment later, we saw why they felt the need to protect themselves. A guy on a balcony a football field away had an industrial strength slingshot, loaded with a water balloon. Soon enough and a player was hit on the shoe. He then “drank ten” as BOTASTIC would say. (At parties, BOTASTIC likes to encourage people to “drink ten.” The definition of “drink ten” is open to interpretation.)

A storm was brewing. Right after our arrival, the skies opened up, releasing a downpour. The game continued. Courtney and I, deeply similar creatures in many ways, looked at one another and said, “I want to play.”

At that point, Gary arrived, fresh from the gym. Gary is a big, affable dude who works out a lot, knows everybody, and is both hyper masculine and easy going. In case I am not painting a clear enough portrait of who Gary is, let me explain Gary’s job. He works for the apartment complex as the garbage collector. Why? Because this job allows him to scavenge all the unopened beer bottles and liquor that the residents leave behind. Primarily at the pool, but also everywhere else. In fact, as he got out of his car, he displayed his newest prize – a bottle of his favorite amber.

Courtney hassled Gary into joining the game with us. Another neighbor, who happened to be wearing a water balloon fight t-shirt with a target on the back, didn’t want to join. When he learned Courtney’s aunt was playing, he was shamed into it. Two girls from a few houses down, Emily and Emily’s Friend, also wandered out into the downpour in order to stand in a line and let somebody sling missiles their way. These people were not previously acquainted with one another, but at college Disneyland, this hardly matters.

Courtney and me. I am displaying my usual gravitas. Please note, that shirt is normally light gray.

There was a break in the action to fill more water balloons. One of the original players, Drew, yelled, “WE SHOULD HAVE A PARTY TONIGHT!” Gary said, “It’s Monday.” Drew replied, “I WORK AT SEVEN WHO CARES.” Drew was pretty drunk.

As the balloons were filled, the sun started to break through on the horizon. College Disneyland sits on top of a hill, with remarkable views all around. The golden sunset, filtering through the clouds and the rain, was a gorgeous sight. Emily and Emily’s Friend said, “YOU GUYS. THIS IS AMAZING.” They were not wrong.

Ammo replaced, we once again took our spot in the parking lot. I keep checking my back, looking for a rainbow. I knew it was coming. It had too. The rain was too intense, the skies too dark, the sun too bright for there not to be a rainbow. While I checked for the rainbow, Courtney loudly and aggressively talked trash to the water balloon slinger, who kept missing us.

Finally, the rainbow burst into being. I yelled, “Look, you guys, look! Look at the rainbow!”

Giant Gary turned to take it in, and that’s when I learned just how much Gary loves rainbows. Everybody was enthused about the brilliant rainbow, but Gary was seriously freaking pumped.

All the while, Cole took pictures of the event from his own balcony.

The game continued, the rainbow got even brighter, and then a second full rainbow joined the first. This was too much for Gary, Gary who loves rainbows. He shouted at Cole, “HOW’RE THOSE RAINBOW PICS COMIN’, BRO?!”

How’re those rainbow pics comin’, bro.

Never in the history of the word “bro” has “bro” found a better sentence to be in. It was beautiful. It was magical. It was delicious. I looked at Courtney, who was similarly savoring the taste of this gift from heaven, and said, “‘Merica.” She agreed. “‘Merica.”

It was then that the water balloon slinger, perhaps responding to Courtney’s harassment, launched a perfect shot straight into Drew’s bare stomach. He went down, rolling in agony on the asphalt. It seemed overdramatic. Then he moved his hand away, revealing a fairly horrific contusion. It had a white center surrounded by a dark red welt that was already turning purple. “I’m so glad I’m drunk,” said Drew. “Otherwise this would really hurt.”

After he got back to his feet, I wisely addressed him, a sage elder. “When you wake up in the morning, there’s going to be a moment where you don’t know what happened. And then you will say, ‘Oh, that’s right. Water balloon.'” Drew thought this was way funnier than it actually is. The rest of us, many of whom were stone sober, all gathered to take a good look at Drew’s hematoma, and then, without a word, we disbanded, each wandering away from the line. Thanks to Drew’s sacrifice, we suddenly understood the game we were playing, and just as suddenly, decided we’d had enough.

All good things do come to an end. Including Gary’s rainbow. But Gary wasn’t content to let the dream die. Unconvinced his bro had taken an adequate rainbow pic, Gary grabbed his phone and went chasing after the rainbow. I told him it was fading, there was no point. Gary begged to differ. “NAH, MAN. IT’S BRIGHT AS F*** OVER HERE!”

I walked a little way, following Gary in his pursuit. And lo! Gary was right. The descending leg of the rainbow was still bright as f***. For a moment, I watched him as he took pictures, unapologetic in his enthusiasm. We could all be more like Gary, I think. Because if you can’t get excited about a double rainbow while standing in the rain in the middle of College Disneyland as water balloons are slung at you from a balcony 100 yards away and you’re with one of your favorite people in the whole wide world, then I don’t know what you can get excited about, because life doesn’t get much better than that.

The Shame of Insects

Fourteen years later, and this photo is still stress inducing for me. I got the ant induced PTSD, y'all.

I wish this was a fun, clever, pun-ny title, but it isn’t. I mean it literally. As in, being ashamed of insects.

Over the weekend, I heard friends bonding over millipedes. Millipedes have gone wild in South Carolina this summer. It reminded me of a similar phenomenon back in LA in the early 2000’s. Ants were everywhere in Los Angeles, absolutely everywhere. At the time, Evan and I were living in an apartment in Hollywood. I loved that place. It was big, bright, clean and airy. It had been remodeled right before we moved in, but it still had its cute retro kitchen. All kinds of fun.

But it had ants. Initially, it had ants in the way one thinks of ants. A trail of ants to the sink, a trail of ants on the floor. And then there was was one day when I noticed way too many ants near the closet. Inside the closet were coats and a container of cat food. But not an airtight container of cat food. I opened the closet door.

Horror show, you guys. Complete and total horror show. If someone put this scene into a movie, you’d say, “This is ridiculous, impossible! I don’t believe it!” But it wasn’t impossible. It was real. There were rivers of ants running down the coats and into the cat food. Rivers. There was so many of them clumps of ants would just go into free fall.

I literally went into shock.

Here are the signs of shock:

  • decrease in blood pressure.
  • rapid, weak, or absent pulse.
  • irregular heart rate.
  • confusion.
  • cool, clammy skin.
  • rapid and shallow breathing.
  • anxiety.
  • lightheadedness.

I had them all. And I am not, in any way, shape or form, a pansy. But my brain took one look at the rivers of ants and it said, “Nope. I’m done. Checking out.”

But I couldn’t check out. I was home alone and who would you call for such a thing anyway? So I got to work killing ants. I had no bug spray, so I sprayed them with Windex and wiped up huge masses of them in paper towels, then put them into plastic bags. It took time, a lot of time, to kill them all. At least an hour. Maybe two hours of doing nothing but killing ants. I went through an entire bottle of Windex and switched to a different cleaner of some sort.

When I was done, I was covered in sweat and felt like I’d run a marathon. Evan got home from work and, I strongly suspected, didn’t really understand what I’d been through. I don’t know if anybody ever could. I’d lived a scene from a B grade horror movie, one without enough sense to show a little restraint.

Thing is, there is someone I could have called – my landlord. She was a nice Irish woman named Gráinne. And if you’re wondering if I avoided saying her name like the plague, yes, yes I did. “It’s your birthday? Well, have a lovely birthday…you…lovely lady, you.” But I didn’t call Gráinne for help, and not just because I couldn’t pronounce her name. It was because I ashamed of my insects.

Here’s the thing. I kept that place clean. Maybe not immaculate all the time, but generally speaking, definitely tidy and frequently actually, for real clean. And yet I felt that I was culpable for the ants. Somehow, those ants were my fault.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to ask somebody else about it. “Do you have ants?” I asked. Their eyes went wide. “YES! Yes I do have ants!” As it turned out, everybody in Los Angeles had ants. Everybody. It became my favorite thing to start a conversation with, because people were always so relieved – nay, absolutely thrilled – that they weren’t alone in their shame-inducing ant infestation. It became an instant bonding point. Frequently, people would say, “I thought it was because I was dirty.” And I’d happily reply, “Nope, it’s not you! It’s everyone!”

And that’s the thing about shame. It does not survive exposure. It’s a lot more like cockroaches than ants. Once you flip on the light, shame goes running. Here’s the other thing about it. Everybody has ants, metaphorically speaking. Whether it’s things you’ve done or things that were done to you, everybody has ants. And cockroaches. And it’s not fun to turn on the light. There’s that moment in the dark where you know, you KNOW, once you flip the switch, there’s going to be that unpleasant moment where the cockroaches are out in the open. But then they scatter. It’s worth flipping on the light.

The End of an Era

I've always loved the little purple pom-poms that are the flower of a chive.

Two weeks ago, I hired a guy to weed my yard. I hired him because he was an ex-con who needed work, because my garden had become a neglected mess. I carefully went through every plant with him, naming what was a plant and what was a weed. “This is salvia,” I said. “This is chive. This is quince.” A couple of days later, feeling low, sick, and tired, I took a nap. When I woke up, I realized the ex-con had started weeding while I slept. I looked out the window. He had torn up all of my plants. Plants I put into the ground in 2005. He left some iris. Two of the quince. Everything else he taken out, in a misguided attempt to do an A+ job.

It was devastating.

Grief does not come all at once. It isn’t tidy. It is a long timeline of events, some of them on delayed release. Time bombs. The destruction of my garden from 2005 was a time bomb. It forced me to remember, in vivid detail, what my life was like then. “Remember,” said the bare dirt, “all your hopes and dreams from back then? Yeah….not so much, these days, huh? Not so much.”

I bring this up now because in a weird way, the end of the garden feels like a symbol of a larger era coming to an end. I won’t name too many names here, because it’s their business to promote and make public, not mine, but many of my best friends have gone or are going. I miss them. A lot. The older I get, the more single I get, the more I value those friends you can call at a moment’s notice and know they will be there for you. I’ve missed Dan Dinger, who is in New Hampshire now, for some time. Alrinthea Carter moved to Greenville, but that’s farther away than you’d think. Lisa DeWaard is in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The good thing, the blessed thing, is that it has always been good fortune, not bad, that has moved my friends on to bigger and better things. Sometimes they don’t even move away. Sometimes they just have kids, which is a lot like moving to a whole other planet. I am glad for all of them. Tremendously glad. But then there are days where, because you’re human, you miss people, and feel a little sorry for yourself. And that’s when you’re glad some people are still trapped here indefinitely, thanks to the tenure system. (Mwa-hahahaha to you, Tamara McNealy!)

Jackie Onassis once famously made the comparison between the Kennedy era and Camelot. It is easily torn apart intellectually, but within the context of the quote it makes perfect emotional sense. (You should look it up, if’n you’re curious.) It resonates with me. Back when my garden was alive and thriving, in its prime, this house mirrored its exterior. There were marvelous parties and friends, visitors and cocktails on the porch. The foundation was not solid, but you’d never know that from the fun that was had, from the friendships that were made.

It has been strange, too, how even though a lot has changed, so much continuity has been preserved. I mean, Evan and I still had our traditional New Year’s Party in 2013, despite everything. (We have always enjoyed our traditions.) But now, with so many people moving on, it finally feels like the ground has shifted beneath my feet. I’ve become aware of the ways in which this house, this town, pin me to the past, and that this isn’t a good thing. All the same, I have nowhere else I want to go, and more importantly, nowhere else I can afford to go. So I am here. But I sense perhaps not for that much longer. Less and less ties me to this spot, and the winds of change are on the move.

This afternoon, I noticed the chives were making an effort at coming back. They’re hardy little plants, it’s not surprising it’s making a go at it. All the same, it felt like a little miracle, looking at its progress. If somebody else winds up living here I hope they take better care of the chives than I did. They’re really cool plants. Pretty little purple pom-poms that bloom on and on, and the rest you can put on a baked potato. How great is that? Pretty great.

Why You Should Buy Your Daughter a Horse* (*But Only If She Loves Them)

Sometimes horse shows look like this.

A lot of my friends have kids. Specifically, I have a lot of friends with daughters. Some of those daughters show promising signs of horse craziness, a mental illness I encourage wholeheartedly. As someone who rode before she walked, I’d like to explain to my parent friends why they should stop complaining about the cost of horses and embrace the path of the pony.

Your daughter will learn to be assertive. Horses weigh in the ballpark of 1,000 pounds. Whether you’re leading the horse, picking up its hoof, or jumping a cross country obstacle, you have to be the leader. If you fail to lead, the horse won’t follow.

Your daughter will develop a work ethic. Horses require a tremendous amount of time and effort. You can participate in horses by simply showing up, taking a riding lesson, and leaving. This is a crap way of doing horses. Get your daughter into a barn where she’ll clean stalls, sweep aisles, and wash buckets. She will come to understand the satisfaction that comes with getting her hands dirty.

Your daughter will learn how to cope with trauma. Horses hurt themselves continually. Safest paddock in the world and horses will still find a way to cut themselves. Your daughter will get used to seeing blood and injuries and she’ll learn how to treat those injuries. Horses freak out, sometimes for no apparent reason. Half a ton of freak out results in an adrenaline rush for all involved. Horses hurt people, including your daughter. She will learn what pain is and how to cope with it. This is a good thing. If your daughter spends fifteen years in horses, she will bring Navy Seal Team 6 level inner calm and confidence to the direst of situations.

Your daughter will develop humility. So much can go wrong dealing with horses, especially at a horse show. Competing horses offers an almost endless array of humbling experiences. Your horse will humble you, your competition will humble you, injustice will humble you, but most importantly, your own weaknesses will humble you. Your daughter will come face to face with her impatience, anger, pride, and envy. Horses force you to deal with the reality that the world is a deeply imperfect place and that you are a deeply imperfect person.

And sometimes horse shows look like this.

Your daughter will learn how to be tough. For example, a typical horse show requires waking three hours before dawn and a mini-road trip before launching into twelve hours of heat, dust, and exertion, all the while coping with anxieties, hopes, and expectations. (Sometimes you deal with rain and mud instead of heat and dust.) Invariably, something will go wrong and your daughter will be forced to deal with adversity. Stamina and fortitude are required. Luckily, these are skills that can be developed. They are worth developing.

Your daughter will know what it means to earn a victory. Even the most naturally athletic rider in the world on the best trained lesson pony has to put in some work before effort is rewarded. There are very few short cuts when it comes to horses. Money can buy great horses, but even great horses don’t ride themselves. Putting all the  pieces of the puzzle together and feeling the power of that – the power of success, especially success earned through grit – is a great thing to teach your daughter.

Your daughter will know what it is to be responsible for another life. Horses require care taking. So do dogs and cats and birds. But horses REALLY require care taking. When a kid who loves horses gets to have a horse of her own, there is no greater thing in the world to that child. It is a sacred and solemn oath she makes to that horse, to love it and care for it and tend to its needs. She learns to be a protector, an advocate. She will put the needs of her horse before her own. She will be exhausted, covered in sweat and dust and filth, dehydrated and hungry, but she will not feel any of that – not until her horse is bathed and watered and fed. Only then will she realize her own state. She will experience true selflessness.

Your daughter will grow rhino skin. Horse trainers are notoriously tough coaches. I do not advocate leaving your child to the wolves. If your trainer is too hard on your kid, move on. But if she stays with horses for any length of time, she will have clinicians that are certifiably insane. She’ll run into judges who dislike her without apparent cause. Even in the best case scenario, she’ll have lessons where she is continually critiqued. Cheered on, too, but also critiqued. She will learn how to take notes and not have it hurt her feelings. She will learn how to apply a note. She will learn when to ignore a note and trust her own gut. She will learn how to better herself with the help of others without losing her own unique identity.

She will learn a healthy perfectionism. The best rider in the world still has skills they can improve. There is no perfect in horses. There is always something new to achieve, new to work on. There is a wonderful addiction to improvement that happens, and this process of learning, achieving, and learning anew is something she will bring to other areas of her life. Better yet, your daughter will learn that hard work does pay off. The greatest rides of my life are some of my most magical memories. In short, she will learn to embrace the challenge of excellence.

Finally, if your daughter truly loves horses, and you get her a horse, and encourage her to compete, she will not get pregnant or wind up addicted to something before age 18. I am giving you my personal guarantee on this. This magic formula doesn’t work if she doesn’t really love horses. Plenty of kids like horses well enough, and might dabble in them some. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON DABBLING. Riding lessons are fine and good, horse camp, too. But seriously, horses are EXPENSIVE. Do not go all in unless your kid is all in. But for the driven, truly horse addicted girl, a life in horses = no pregnancy, no addictions prior to age 18. Guaranteed. Also, all the above mentioned benefits. Well worth your investment, my friends.

Helen and a Dream Come True

Hey girl. Did you know that Disney World has multiple spas? How much is a massage? Girl, that massage costs exactly what you're worth. A million dollars.

I know a girl named Helen. I almost called her a “little girl” but that’s not right. Technically, she’s little, on account of only being five years old, but she’s not little. She’s tall for five, but that’s not I what I mean. Helen is a force. When she was very small indeed, she was sometimes referred to as “A Beast.” It’s the kind of nickname society recoils at for little girls. Little girls shouldn’t be “beasts.” But I think it was an awesome nickname, and that it’s pretty cool to be a beast, to be a force to be reckoned with.

The first time I ever saw Helen was at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia. (I also have another “first” memory of Helen by the Hampton Inn in Charleston, SC. Memory is malleable. I don’t know which one actually came first.) In any case, at the zoo I was struck by how much Helen looked like me. I don’t think I look like BOTASTIC (Helen’s dad) or her mother Debbie, but somehow their genetics came together to form my own personal mini-me. It was weird. It remains weird. Although the older she gets, the more she looks like a Crader and less like an Adams that somehow wandered away from the flock and found herself a new family.

Last winter, I had a conversation with my friend Camilo about dreams. Long story short on that, when my friend Camilo asked me about my dreams, I was like, UH OH I DON’T KNOW IF I HAVE ANY. THAT’S NOT GOOD IS IT.

Last week, my mini-me Helen lived a dream I’d long forgotten about. She got to go on a surprise trip to Disney World.

Now, I have a very complicated relationship with Disney World. Mickey Mouse is an abusive boyfriend, without a doubt. He spends all your money in the most ludicrous ways possible, he beats you up, exhausts you, and by the end of the relationship, you’re like, “I am leaving you and I am never coming back.” But then a couple years go by, and you start remembering the good times. You’re like, “Boy, that roller coaster that goes backward was a lot of fun. I like roller coasters. That restaurant that makes it look like you’re next to a Mexican volcano is pretty cool. I liked that restaurant.” And then, before you know it, you’re right back in Mickey’s arms. He’s vaguely happy to see you. He knew you’d be back – they ALL come back.

Despite – or maybe because of – my tempestuous love affair with the mouse, I once upon a time had a dream. A dream that somebody would book a trip to Disney World. And they’d do all the work and planning and I wouldn’t know anything about it, and then all of a sudden, that somebody would be like, “Guess what? We’re about to get on a plane and fly to Disney World!” And I’d be like, “WHAT? THAT’S AMAZING! MY DREAM HAS COME TRUE!”

Here’s the real key to the above dream. They’d do all the work. The sentence, “Guess what? We’re about to…” could have innumerable endings. “Get in the car and drive to the mountains!” “Get in the car and go to dinner and a movie!” “Go on a walk with Tom and Shenanigans!”

I have a good friend named Brenden Kendall. He’s a professor of communications. One of my favorite things about talking to Brenden is that he teaches me the basics of being a human being. For example, that anger is an emotion of attachment. Neat fact! Not long ago, BK wound up educating me about the hallmarks of the breakdown of a relationship. It was kind of like looking at flashcards about my marriage. The one that stuck out the most was separating into two isolated, independent entities. When things started to go awry with my marriage – not that I even knew that’s what it was at the time – I looked at my situation and resolved to do things by myself and find joy in that way. Which I did. I walked my dogs by myself, I went to dinner and a movie with Darren, I planned trips and took them. And I was happy. Or at least, happy-ish.

Hey girl. I was upset to hear the news that your Disney World vacation topped five thousand dollars. Even to me this seems unreasonable. Let me make it up to you with another Disney World vacation. This time it'll be 30% off. Why the great savings? Because I love you, girl.

But what I really wanted was for somebody to surprise me. I really like surprises. And it’d be really, really nice if one day, somebody did all the work.

Not that my life has been wholly devoid of surprises. My 30th birthday party was a bummer. I was really hoping for a surprise. Didn’t happen. So the next year, I resolved to throw myself the most amazing 31st birthday party ever. The theme was Twisted Disney and it was an AWESOME party. Axel came into town, the poker girls were there, Mary Tannery did decorations, and my mother-in-law Alice was dressed as Maleficent and made a ton of snacks over a hot oven, which was ridiculously nice of her. There were so many great things about that party. And then there was a knock on the door. Everybody had already arrived, so I couldn’t figure out who it could be. As it turns out, it was Brianna and Dave and Kendra, who’d flown in from Seattle. It was so surreal and cool and it stands out as the greatest surprise gift of my life. Brianna, dressed magnificently as Mary Pill Poppins, won the costume contest.

I would like to hasten to add something. I’ve never read the book about love languages, but I gather that everybody has ways they like to express and receive love. I feel like all of the above could be interpreted as, you know, critical of my ex-husband. And I’m not saying it is’t fair to criticize him about some things, but all the same I’d like to add that Evan is an amazing gift giver. Dude can find the perfect gift for anybody. He continues to buy me absolutely perfect gifts on the reg. I have an incredible collection of t-shirts, for example. The most recent one being Optimus Prime done in the style of the famous Shepard Fairey poster of Obama that says, “Change – Into a Truck.” I mean, that’s world class gift giving right there. But sometimes a world class gift giver winds up married to somebody who is really into surprise adventures. Such is life.

Anyway.

I am exceedingly glad that my mini-me Helen got to experience a dream come true. I know she loved her trip to Disney World. What five year old wouldn’t? Happiest place on earth. Until you get the check, and then you’re like, THAT COCOA WAS FIFTEEN DOLLARS? But all the way up until that moment, happiest place on earth.