Blind Date

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I’m driving a rental car, speeding down the highway through a light spatter of rain. I don’t know how fast I’m driving or where I’m headed, only that the speed-meter in front of me measures time in 1’s, 2’s and 3’s and it feels like I’m going really fast. I’m flying blind, relying on the herd I’m running with to gauge my stride. The woman in the magic box, that all-knowing, all-seeing GPS, lolls beside me in the passenger seat. She trusts me. And I trust her.

***

I date places like I date people. I show up having done just enough research to have a vague idea of the terrain. I choose a single point in this mind-boggling, massive universe, on this wild and unruly island of a planet, and I do my best to find it.

In Nashville, that was The Hermitage Hotel. When I finally found it and sat by the gas lit fireplace, wet, cold, and recovering from my early morning travels, I knew the city would open up, just a bit, and maybe share a secret or two.

Places and people always have secrets. For some reason, they like to share their secrets to me.

Listening is key when you’re not quite lost, but you don’t know where you’re going. I credit the Lady of the GPS for teaching me that.

***

Here’s the structure of a date. Beginning, middle, and end.

For academic purposes, we’ll use Nashville as an example.

First, you flirt from afar. You read up. You ask around. You decide to meet. You might have a reason, such as research. But, you might not know why you really do the things you do.

That’s the beginning.

The middle is the start of the real exploration. it takes off after you leave the Hermitage to seek out the Johnny Cash Museum, and find yourself at a pre-date at a bar, sandwiched between a drunk woman from Iowa and a not quite drunk woman from Connecticut.

 

You meet another personality, this one even more specific, for he sought you. He is your date. He’s nice enough. But something about him strikes you as unusual. Unlike many other states, Texas, Iowa, and Pennsylvania come to mind, this man is not lonely. He’s actually well-adjusted, and even laughs as he confesses that Nashville might be the only place on earth where a guitarist has a hard time getting laid.

 

Could Nashville be calm, happy, and sweet because the music makes it so? Does having a passion fill the soul, soothe the spirit, and simplify the whole beautiful mess we call life? Can being wrapped in song keep you safe? Is this the secret Nashville desperately wants to spill?

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Later that afternoon, your mind wanders as you sit in the audience at a geriatric talent contest. A woman tap dances in a pink, sequined tie and black leotard, arms stiff, smile frozen, as she shuffles across the stage. Suddenly, learning to tap dance seems like a very good idea. You make a mental note to research tap dancing classes later that night.

Between the world champion whistler and the church lady who drops her cane while singing her face off, layers are revealed. Here is a town with a catchy heart beat. The trees whisper a tune and the people tap their feet. And when the mild-mannered man in his red cardigan huffs a rousing ballad on his harmonica, you wonder whatever happened to yours – you had three growing up, an echo harp, a slide harmonica, and a standard issue – and if you should try to learn again. The band plays on. By the time the long-term survivor of Alzheimer’s disease takes the stage to dance a tango, ballroom dance sounds like a lot more fun than tap dancing. Your seat in the audience is a rocket ship and you are spinning in a tidal pool of past, present, and future.

 

“Live until the end,” the Alzheimer lady says, a couple of times, before the music plays.

Nashville has shared with you a sliver of her soul.

 

The story has reached its point of no return.

***

When I was married, my husband often asked “what do you want.” I always thought it was a stupid question and always answered, “depends on the day.”

Today, I’m pretty sure I want to learn how to do a backflip. I’d like to dance a sweeping waltz around a big room. A feather trim on my dress would nice, but it’s not a deal breaker. I definitely want to try to make a hard cheese and see a few more whales. And, if I’m lucky enough to find someone who I’d like to get to know over the next forty years, I’d like him to be someone who will sing to me in bed and inspire me to be a better person.

But that’s just today, at 11:11 in the morning while my laundry’s being swished clean in the basement and my dog sleeps in her sunlight. Tomorrow, I might want something different.

***

The third act climaxes with things look pretty grim. A four a.m. drive on the highway to the airport looms in your future. An emotional wrench has been thrown into your anthropological CAM00379study. A crush on Nashville has developed, even though you must go. And you’ve arrived at a music venue at 6 to discover the act doesn’t start until nine.

The couple to your right is from Texas. They drove through Tupelo the day before to see Elvis’ birthplace. They’ve been married since birth, or so. And they love country music.

“You are so brave to travel alone,” says the wife.

“I like traveling,” you explain.

“My children love Europe, but I don’t know why anyone would want to leave this country. There’s so much to see.”

“It’s a really beautiful world out there,” you answer. “But, it doesn’t matter where you go, so long as you go somewhere. So long as people keep talking.”

“I could never do what you do. You are very, very brave.”

And then you shrug and say, “live until the end.”

The band takes the stage. Three fiddles, three guitars, a stand-up base, a slide guitar, singers, an accordion, piano, percussion. Part bluegrass, part swing. And it makes you want to dance.

***

There are layers out there. Lots of layers.

Physical, metaphysical, thematic, chemical, historical, geographical, geological, musical, psychological. It goes on and on. Whether you wait on the shore for high tide to sweep you away, or dive in to the ocean, if you close your eyes, stop talking, and listen for a bit, you’ll hear stories and secrets.

***

Anyway, at some point while I’m driving that rental car, I notice a second round meter on the dashboard. It’s to the right, back behind the steering wheel. This meter’s numbered in 10’s, 20’s, and 30’s and is much easier to match with the speed limit signs on the road.

 

I detect a faint giggle from the Woman of the GPS. I’m glad I amuse her so.

I don’t drive too often. She knows that.

 

She’s always in a rush. I like to take the scenic route. Slow and steady.

But, sometimes, she’s right. Sometimes, you have to drive on the highway.

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Love in the Time of Invisalign

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It appears that my life is a series of grave miscalculations.

It started in college when, left to my own devices, I decided to be an actress.

I packed my schedule with modern dance class and experimental theater. I taught myself how to tap dance from a book. I scoured the films of Peter Brooks, the writings of Samuel Becket, the dramatic musings of Dario Fo and The San Francisco Mime Troupe. I became a veritable triple threat in three most obscure and useless ways: contact improv, jazz cello, and non-verbal theatrical comedy.

There was the personal trainer career, my ill-fated business ventures, my unfortunate and short-lived marriage.

This past week, I got invisaligns.

“I guess I shouldn’t be so impulsive,” I told my neighbor after I stopped crying. We were walking our dogs.

“You’re impulsive about dental care?”

“I’m impulsive about everything.”

The problem is not the invisaligns, these clear braces that are supposed to enter your life with only a slight intrusion. They are so subtle, the advertisements say, that no one will be able to tell that my teeth are becoming straighter, bit by painful bit. They are convenient. They snap in and out so that an active adult can pursue excellent oral hygiene.

The problem is that, instead of the traditional four small, somewhat well hidden “buttons” glued onto a patient’s teeth, my dentist placed around nineteen buttons, small square blobs of white epoxy across my entire smile – one on every visible tooth in my head.

I suspect procuring my dental care at deep discount through Groupon was another grave miscalculation.

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4:30 a.m., Saturday morning, I roll out of bed and into a pair of jeans, socks, a shirt. I pull my tangled hair into a tangled pony-tail, wake my dog up long enough to say good-bye, and step out into the early dawn. I ignore the lone yellow cab that casts a plaintive honk in my direction as I climb the hill. I’ll take the train to the bus to the airport to my rental car.

But the train runs slow early mornings and slower on Saturdays. I miss the bus by three minutes. The tired dispatcher looks up at me, no compassion on his grizzled face. The next bus leaves in half an hour. Thing are suddenly a little tight.

I bet on a cab ride to Newark. It’s a splurge, but an extra half hour will buy me peace of mind and enough time to fill my water bottle, wander through the airport, snap out my new teeth and clean the old ones.

The cabbie is soft-spoken. Young. French-Haitian. A student, perhaps. As we pull away from the curb, I lean back, thankful to hand over responsibility to my temporary caretaker as I watch dawn get fat and then thin again.

But the meter is running up at an incredible rate. And the drive seems very long. We pass a sign for the airport. And keep driving into the darkness. And now we’re in South Orange and now Montclair.

“How much longer to the airport,” I ask, leaning through the divide.

“When the signs appear.”

“Yeah. You passed those a while ago. The airport’s in Newark. We just drove through Montclair.”

“Do you know how to get to the there?”

“No. That’s why I hired you,” I say. And then, “Do you have GPS?”

“No. Do you?”

“No.”

The meter’s at $120. He pulls off the highway.

“You’re going to turn that off, right?”

He nods, but leaves it running as he pulls into a gas station for directions.

“You passed the airport again. We’re in Jersey City.” I haven’t missed my flight, but it’s a distinct possibility. “You know you want to head towards the terminals and not cargo, right?” $130… $140… I kind of want to laugh, even though it’s not that funny.

“I’m sorry,” he says. He’s choked up.

“You got to learn somehow,” I say. Inside, I’m shaky, frazzled. I feel like I might puke.

He pulls up to the correct curb and I trip out of the cab, into the terminal, through security, and make it to the flight as they’re boarding.

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It’s cold and rainy in Nashville, despite my intrepid optimism that expected 72 and sunny. My hair is wide and tall and I have no plans other than drink a cup of coffee at Fido and drive around until I find something to stop for. I can’t check into my place until five and it’s just a little past nine.

I pull into a lot at 7th and Church. It’s in the middle of a busy nowhere, so I do what I do best. I walk. At The Hermitage Hotel, I sit by the fireplace and compose a postcard in my head. It says:

“Made a few miscalculation planning this trip to Nashville. I would fire me, if I could. But it seems I am a contract freelancer on a union gig. It’s not over until it’s over. Landed at the Hermitage Hotel. So beautiful. Sitting by the fire until they kick me out. Miss you. xo, a”

And then I’m walking again, down the hill, towards a faint glow of music. I wander through alley with painted trash cans and songs slipping through closed doors, full of poetry and CAM00376grace, and into a humble bar on Second Avenue. The bartenders, pretty, clean, tattooed with half-way smiles, ignore their clientele as best as they can. I wonder how this country – this world of humans – can be in such pain when we have music to hold us together. How we mistake our lives for ours alone, even as we reach out with songs and stories for others to hear. How we listen to the same melodies over and over again until we realize that the singer is singing about us. And how we can’t see that, in sharing our stories, we open a door, a dialog, that magnifies the best of what it means to be human.

“Who are you rooting for,” says the woman to my left.  She points to the t.v screen behind the bar. She’s rooting for Connecticut.

“I’ve been traveling since four.” I slur, mostly because of the invisaligns, “All I see are pretty colors.”

The woman to my right is from Iowa and howls a piercing scream when her team scores. Her husband shouts “you’d all starve if it weren’t for Iowa. We grow corn!”

In the window, a burly, apologetic, humble, and joyful man strums his guitar. If New York is the heart of North America, Turtle Island, I decide, Nashville is its soul.

Before I left, I told Hazel I was nervous for my date in Nashville, nervous to ever date again.

“Just tell them you had a dental procedure.”

When she asked why, I told her it was because food gets stuck in the buttons on my teeth and it feels like I am reliving the worst part of my teenage years.

“If you like the guy, don’t eat. If you don’t like him, eat spinach. That should put them off.”

We listed all the good that has already come from my grave miscalculation:

I haven’t eaten sugar in a week.

I have cut down 100% with snacking at work.

I have also cut down on speaking, biting my nails, and drinking red wine.

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Nashville’s cold the next morning, too, but the sun is out. I’m at Bongo Java, drinking coffee before my Nashville date. I haven’t decided if I’ll greet him with the teeth in or out. If I’ll cop to the handicap, or try to hide it. If I’ll cover my mouth when I smile, or let the white blobs swing free.

“How’s the little squirt? How are you,” I text Obi. He’s watching my dog this weekend. She loves him and his fat cat.

“Little squirt is fine. Bought a new suit. Spent lots of money. I think I might puke.”

“That’s what growing up is all about,” I shoot back, “managing nausea.”

I look at the time. 11:03. My date walks through the door.

This is it. Here I go. Love in the time of invisalign.