An Eager Beaver

I have never been good at playing it cool. I am the quintessential wear my heart on my sleeve kinda gal. Some of my sisters (I have 6 of them) tease me about this and how if, say I like a guy, I don’t really dally about being coy and waiting to see what will develop. If I ever do seem coy and cool or mention that I don’t much feel like shaving my legs, then trust me, I do not have a crush on you. If I did have a crush on you, I would certainly be a red-faced, stammering fool as well as pretending my legs are about to be featured on a Venus Razor commercial.

For the record, I am never cool.

I was once wearing my running shoes: Asics, in a hippy community and I was chastised for it.
I am usually sweaty. Even if it’s wintertime. Even right now, whilst writing. In air conditioning.
I have a rock collection.
When I dance, there is always one point where I am compelled to snap my fingers. My sister tried teaching me what to do with my hips during a sultry dance at my brother’s wedding and I fiercely shook my head no. I can’t even practice how to be cool.

My sisters are all unspeakably cool, though. They go to concerts of popular bands before they are popular, dress like they belong in an underground L.A. hipster movement, though they’d kill me for saying so, and they are who I look to, though I am the oldest, because they are my muses.

So it would stand to reason that if I can’t be cool, I certainly couldn’t play it cool. With men or otherwise. This is where my eagerness comes in. Men and otherwise. Especially of late.

I am real excitable, see? Sometimes if someone seems passionate about a topic that I too am passionate about, my words come out of my mouth, tumbling over one another, like kids just released for recess, fighting for the first to be on the swingset—wait are swingsets still cool?—and I bulldoze the person with my words and giddiness.

I later feel terrible, though it was merely my excitement, my eagerness to share in passions that leads me to sometimes talk over people. I did this with a guy I liked a couple of months back. He taught me how to fly fish and I packed us a picnic, though it was too windy outside, so we went and sat at his kitchen table and talked for hours. He was so easy to talk to and wanted to talk about things like bears, donuts, making homemade jam, and our grandparents.

So naturally my excitement levels were that of effervescent champagne bubbles, bursting, simply bursting. At one point, in a flow of words I couldn’t stop, I was trying to make a point about how I’ve heard childbirth is nothing like the movies—thanks always for the grim details, Ash.

I kept going though, trying to further my point, saying, kind of how my introduction to the real ins and outs of sex as a teen were from reading Harlequin Romances. You know, those ones where the woman on the cover is in a too small dress and the man has too-large muscles (there is such a thing, sorry Ryan). And those sex scenes lead you to believe that orgasms are always multiple and simultaneous. And then when I really did have sex many, many years later, I thought, wait what? WHAT!? This is an outrage!

This is when I realized I was sharing too much, getting too excited, and I stopped myself abruptly. Talking sex wasn’t something I had had on my agenda, even in a cheeky comparison manner. I wanted to keep going to explain that my initial disappointment in sex had gone away, but I didn’t want to dig myself deeper.

So I shut up, red-faced and mumbled “TMI,” while sipping my second cup of coffee.

He never called.

I figured it was one of two things. My overflow of words. Or my sex anecdote.

Either way, I shrugged it off. When I later relayed the story to my sisters, much to their constant amusement on my treacherous love life, I noted that if a man isn’t in love with my words or my wild and inventive ways of accidentally embarrassing myself, well then he probably isn’t my fella.

But the thing is, I cannot help it. I am easily and overly excitable. I am an eager beaver. I am an antsy-pants. All these are my nice turn-of-phrases on the reality, which is that I am mostly just good old impatient. And the only time I have noted that my massive impatience was a good thing, was when I lived in New York City and it seemed everyone there too was also an eager beaver.

How this plays out lately? Well. I am impatient, err, very eager to make some friends. I know this isn’t something that can be rushed. Especially because I value quality over quantity. It’s simply that I am a social gal. I like having word-athons with someone. I like when people like what I like: hiking, fly fishing, photography, books, Hemingway, bourbon, donuts, animals, humanitarianism, trees and mountains, orgasms, ya know, all the good shit.

And it’s tough, when all my people are, well, not here in Cody, Wyoming. Then I find myself offering up abundances of information with near perfect strangers, like my fly fishing coach. I told him the other day that I was down to five pairs of underwear and not my good pairs, because the thought of doing laundry at a laundromat would lead me to going commando—something I despise more than underwear that aren’t boy shorts—before I caved and actually washed some clothes.

God bless him, he didn’t kick me out of the store. And even seemed mildly pleased when I showed up for fly-tying later in the week. But yesterday when I was about to peruse potato salad options at the local grocery store, which happens to be near the fly shop, I found myself going in, out of sheer eagerness to just be near another human who wanted to talk to me. I told myself I was being an eager beaver. Not being cool at all, trying to harass my fly fishing guide into hanging out with me after hours, just for the sheer camaraderie that is having friends.

He wasn’t there, which I think is for the best. If I didn’t embarrass myself with the underwear story, I surely would have trying to reel him into a forced friendship.

But, see that’s just how I am. An eager beaver. An antsy pants. Someone who is very excitable and wants to share passions: words or big O’s—hard won though they may be—or both, when I do meet that fella.

And realistically, uncool or not, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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Covered in Romance

Green acres is the place to be
Farm living is the life for me
Land spreading out,
so far and wide
Keep Manhattan,
just give me that countryside.

You know what’s funny about this song lyric? I used to sing the other verse, Gabor’s line that went like this:

New York
is where I’d rather stay
I get allergic smelling hay
I just adore a penthouse view
Darling, I love you,
but give me Park Avenue.

Back when all I wanted in life was New York and Park Avenue. Don’t get me wrong I am still crazy about New York City. I love Zabar’s coffee and fondly recall every Sunday riding the subway all the way up from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to get me a bag. Then the whole subway ride home the smell of Zabar’s roast would fill the subway car and my nostrils.

I loved walking up and down the city streets looking for used book shops and bakeries, or the perfect slice of pizza. I once went kayaking on the Hudson’s choppy waters with my sis and we paddled to and fro in our small buoyed off area, giddy and light as the waves. Walks through Central Park midday and runs across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, will always make me happy that I at least tried on city life like a promising pair of jeans.

But see, I had it wrong. I don’t prefer a penthouse view, or Park Avenue, though both those things are perfectly lovely and I can appreciate them from a vacation-y standpoint. I do want land spreading out far and wide. And farm life, oh gosh, yes please. I will happily shovel manure or attempt to mend a fence, or lay pipeline. Which is what I got to try out this weekend. Well the pipeline part at least.

I worried before I actually began this new farming/ranching endeavor that maybe I was romanticizing it. I have been told I do this. I once spoke with a Navy recruiter on a whim and boldly told my mom some hours later that I was joining the Navy. She looked properly aghast as I had never once expressed even an iota of an interest in the Navy.

“Don’t be impetuous, Cassandra,” my mom said. I actually didn’t know what that word meant until that moment, when my mom expounded upon her point. “Why do you want to join the Navy?”

“I’ve always loved the sea and I would love a life at sea!” I exclaimed, getting my shackles up for what felt like non-support, when my mom truly is the most supportive mom out there. Especially in regards to my mostly rash decisions.

“The Navy is not romantic like you are imaging life at sea to be.”

And the moment she said those words I began to consider the version of the Navy I played out in my mind, versus what the Navy would actually entail. I saw myself in some sort of fetching romper and sea cap looking out of a telescope on a ship with sails. When in reality I would be on some behemoth steel vessel, probably in the bowels, and more than likely doing grunt work in a grey janitorial looking uniform that enunciated my plump midsection.

My mom simply asked me to consider my decision on the Navy for a month and see how I felt at the end of that time. A few days later, I had already admitted to myself that my mom knew me pretty stinking well. I was romanticizing the Navy quite heavily. And in all actuality, I would probably despise it. Especially all that authority and getting bossed around.

So, yeah, that was an instance—among many if truth be told—where I romanced the pants right off of something altogether not that romantic. Now people, have been hinting that maybe I am doing it with this ranching business; even the ranchers themselves have pointed out to me—when my face lights up with glee talking about how badly I want to learn ranch work—that it’s not all that romantic. And I politely nod, while thinking, yeah, sure okay. Says the person in a cowboy hat, covered in workin’ grit, working the land and cattle all day long. Sure, no romance my arse. You’re covered in romance!

Except I don’t say that.

Because, a small, teensie part of me feared maybe they were right. What did I know about ranching? Sure I understood it was buckets full of work and grime and sweat and uncertainty and feces and death, and maybe all I was seeing were the Western hats and cowboy drawls and horses and painting all this poetry when I had no right? What did I know?

Well, nothing really, until I gave it a whirl which I did this weekend. I went out to a friend’s ranch to help them with laying some irrigation pipeline. She had texted to ask if this was something I would be interested in helping with or shadowing. I said yes with all the enthusiasm that I had once reserved for attending  a Fashion Week event at the Plaza. Although I was so nervous about that experience that I needed to take half an emergency Xanax to muster up the will to hobnob with models.

I had ample nervousness about failing at ranching, or worse being wrong about it—that maybe there was no romance—and I would yet again be altogether wrong about myself and then what? But I had no emergency Xanax this time and if I had, I wouldn’t have taken it.

I threw on jeans, my cowboy boots and a somewhat worse for wear Wyoming tee and drove out to the ranch. My friend met me, introduced me to her husband and children while giving me a cursory explanation of the day’s workload. For the first half of the day I mostly just followed around dumbly, as I had no idea about laying pipeline or where to insert myself to be of help, when everyone seemed to have a handle on things. Though, once in awhile my new friends would ask me to hand them wrap-around tape or a pen, or a power-saw and I happily obliged.

Soon enough though I was climbing down into ditches to help maneuver pipeline. Then I got to help lift the gigantic pipes, handing them to the men at work in the ditches. I began to get just a smidge dirty and when hours later the sun began setting in the Western sky, I felt it. I felt the romance. It was there alright. Though I had done nothing fundamentally difficult yet, and while I was mostly an accessory to the irrigation process, I felt it. The fresh air on my arms, the hard dirt sloughing against my boots, the heaviness of the pipeline. And all that besides, I felt the importance of this work.

The importance of it to farm land, to grow a crop, to feed animals and therefore feed people. And I adored it. I adored all of it. I liked being in farm trucks that had a thin layer of dirt covering the dashboard; the smell of hard work permeated in the seats. This is how I remember my grandpa’s truck smelling when I was a child. He owned a drywall business that my uncles now run and their trucks too, have this smell.

I realized this wasn’t something new to me; this was something already intrinsically in me, that I had adored since childhood. Riding down dirt roads in trucks, having my uncles take me out to the woods beside my grandparents house to teach me how to shoot bow and arrows and guns. They were not only outdoorsmen, but working men and I idolized them not only for their work ethic, and love of God’s vast landscape, but because they could build something out of nothing with their bare hands.

This all came flooding back to me sitting in a dirt covered Ram that impressed me with its power in hauling massive farm equipment up a steep hill while I sat in the passenger seat, admittedly beside myself in the romance. Yes, I was not mistaken, the romance was there. It was in the work truck, in laying pipeline, in the Wyoming hills and in ranchers who believed in their work and purpose, even if it was grueling work with no guarantees.

I was deeply relieved to find that I had been right. There was romance here and I wanted to uncover more of it.

I came back the next day, eager to do more, to learn more about laying pipeline, to feel somehow instrumental in this process. And my friend’s father in law who was sitting high atop a John Deere excavator for digging the ditches, hollered down, “you came back for more?”

“I did!” I beamed, “I loved it. This is definitely the life for me.”

He beamed back and said, “I like her.” And then began to sing, “Farm living is the life for me…”

How to Be Alone

I listened to this song by Jason Isbell this morn per a friend’s suggestion and here is how it starts:

I been working here, Monday it’ll be a year
And I can’t recall a day when I didn’t want to disappear
But I keep on showing up, hell-bent on growing up
If it takes a lifetime

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime

When I heard that line about learning how to be alone I stopped what I was doing, which was heating water on the stove for coffee in my french press. Which funny little thing about that. I have a morning ritual of talking to my best friend every morning around 7:30 a.m. She is basically my alarm clock and the only person I would deign to talk to at that unholy hour, especially before I’ve even had my coffee.

I grumbled to her the other day that I am negligent about cleaning my french press after my morning coffee and then I am mad at myself the next morning when I have to clean it out before I can make coffee, to which she responded deadpan, “wow, first world problems. I don’t even know what a french press is.”

Anyhow. Back to that line. Learning how to be alone. I loved that line and admittedly thought about it all day. Though if truth be told I had already been giving considerable thought to my learning how to be alone before I even heard the song.

Admittedly I have never really enjoyed or relished the prospect of truly being on my own. And not in the way of singlehood. But being without my sisters or my friends. Now initially the thought sounded novel to me, before I had experienced it. But once I had experienced ‘on my own’ for the first time when I moved to New York City, I warmed to it with all the excitement of having a cavity filled.

I blame growing up in a big family. Because of this, I have always been surrounded by people, chaos and noise. And this has always comforted me. As a child if I fell asleep to silence it meant I was the last one up and I hated that. I would strive to go to bed before everyone else, that way I could still hear the TV downstairs and kids chattering. A silent house put me on edge and frightened me.

Now there have been plenty of experiences I have done on my own and loved. I set off for college seven hours away from my family and after the initial shock, adjusted accordingly. After college I moved to Green Bay and while my only friend there was at work, I took myself on museum dates, movie dates, I even once did a wine tasting by myself. I like myself and I like spending time with me. It’s just the whole truly being on my own thing, as in falling asleep alone and coming home to my computer, book collection, and stuffed giraffe somewhat heebs me out.

But that is where I am at these days and I will admit, I initially reacted in much the same way as I did in New York. Funnily enough I wanted to be back in Wyoming bad. Oh something fierce, so I shouldn’t have resorted to pissing and moaning about it, but that is exactly what I did after the new and novel wore off a few days in.

The intensity of being alone, coming home to an empty house, having no one ask me about my days adventures, and then the nights, oh gosh, nighttime was the worst. Mostly because I am a giant toddler who thinks every noise is something about to snatch me or kill me or both. Also, I am woman enough to admit I am sort of afraid of the dark. On my own in the dark, okay! The first couple nights I slept with one of those fake plastic tea light candles in my bed as a makeshift nightlight.

And then one night I looked in the mirror across from my bed after I’d shut off the lights and remembered that childhood tale about Bloody Mary. I became intensely overwrought that I would accidentally think Bloody Mary the obligatory three times and what if it wasn’t just a legend and I was stuck in a house by myself with a bloody apparition in a town where all my nearest neighbors were deer and the elderly. Although, let’s be real, this is Wyoming, people here have guns. I would totally be okay. But if it’s an apparition… Anyway.

Besides night frets and an overly quiet house that caused me extreme discomfort, I forcibly settled in with that discomfort, set on this being the one time I would not run away from any of my fears. And they are plenty. Reference my earlier blog on highly irrational fears.

I would face doing my work. I would face a quiet house. I would face being hundreds of miles from my comfort zone of friends and family. I would even face the dark without Nyquil or whiskey, though I considered both viable options if I wasn’t big girl enough to handle all my fears. Though turns out I am.

Last night was my epiphany moment in bed. You know that scene in Home Alone where Kevin is irrationally afraid of the furnace in the basement? Well one day he goes down there, still sort of afraid and then has his ah-ha moment and tells the furnace to shut up and he’s over it. Yeah if Kevin—an eight year old—can do it, I probably could too.

I was lying in bed exhausted, watching The Office on my laptop when I heard a noise. I suspiciously paused The Office listening intently to see if I was about to be murdered and I was about to press play again to drown out my worries in Steve Carell’s nonsense, when I got fed up with my own nonsense.

I shut the computer, enveloping myself in complete blackness, because I was tired. I told myself the noises were normal house noises and if I were about to be murdered then so be it. Go to bed, you idiot, I thought. And I did. I just went to bed.

That was kind of huge for me.

Not only that, but I have adjusted. While I do want to come home and tell someone stories, there is a certain empowerment in coming home, tending to my own needs, cutting potatoes, cleaning the kitchen, jotting down notes in my journal and curling up to watch I Love Lucy that makes me feel, well… kind of like an adult.

And the loneliness thing? It’s easy to see it that way at first, like the loneliness would swallow me whole, but it’s hard to feel lonely in a town of 75 people. It seems the opposite would be true but it’s not. In a town this small, people care. People learned my name right away and use it when they see me. Everyone waves. All. The. Time. Which is my favorite thing.

In fact I have been running daily and if someone passes me from behind they make sure to hold up their hand and wave anyway so I still get a wave even if I didn’t see them head-on. I get waves from tractors and hellos from people in town who I haven’t even met yet, but they will take time to stop and ask me how I am doing or comment on my running or that they heard I was a writer.

The friends I have made include me and ask me to do things with them or text me to ask about my day. Or perfect strangers offer to teach me how to rope because I mentioned wanting to learn. And that in itself is incredible because the woman who offered to teach me to rope is a rancher and this is a busy season for the ranchers. The fact that she would haul a hay bail, cow dummy head and rope over to my house and give me a roping tutorial when I am sure she has better things to do is mind-boggling.

And it has made me fall in love with this town and feel the furthest from being alone when in fact, I am alone. If this being alone, I don’t think I could’ve found a better place to give it a whirl.

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 2)

The first time I visited Wyoming was… Honestly I am at a loss for words. Really good love stories do that to you. Encountering Wyoming was one of those real top-notch tales of romance, like the movies. I may not have always had that kind of storybook romance with my men, but damn if I didn’t have it upon meeting Wyo.

But I fear I am getting a wee bit ahead of myself. I left off in my last post still living in Virginia. And before Virginia, New York City. I felt shaken up and beaten down from my time in NYC. It jarred me having to come to the realization that maybe big city life didn’t do it for me. I craved solace in the mountains. That seemed the logical antithesis to my post city blues.

Ray Lamontagne has this song called, New York City’s Killing Me. And while I have always been a big fan of him, prior to living in NYC I thought Mr. Lamontagne had it all wrong. Until I left NYC did I really appreciate that maybe Ray and I had something in common.

I get so tired of all this concrete
I get so tired of all this noise
Gotta get back up in the country
Have a couple drinks with the good ol’ boys

I just got to get me somewhere
Somewhere that I can feel free
Get me out of New York City, son
New York City’s killin’ me

At any rate, the mountains of Virginia were a proper salve to some of my problems. But that aforementioned deep discontent inside of me wasn’t about Virginia lacking something, it was more so about a wrongness in my relationship there.

Let’s just fast forward to when I left the relationship, the apartment with the mountain views, the man who once cared and who no longer did, Virginia, and my beloved mountains. I had to get away again. I took a brief respite in Michigan feeling displaced and wondering what the plan could possibly be now that New York and Virginia were both busts.

I had no ideas other than my gypsy soul telling me the natural solution was to wander until a new place to love came along. That’s when I started to hear the West calling me; it was a faint murmur, but I could hear it. I hadn’t ever given much thought or consideration to the West before. But when some of my friends and sister planned a road trip out West, it seemed as good a time as any to see what the fuss was all about.

We first landed in Denver, staying with our friend there. She took us out on the town. We ate dinner at a snazzy restaurant that used to be a morgue and didn’t have cheeseburgers on the menu. It drizzled rain, and we went thrifting. I thought Denver seemed neat enough, and the mountains were grand to be sure, but I didn’t feel it yet… Then we saw Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National.

I was inching nearer to properly boggled, especially when I saw the night sky in Rocky Mountain National, and yet…

The next day we were headed to the Tetons and I remember being drowsy as we left Colorado. My friend was driving, so I dozed in the warmth of the sun rays in the front seat. When I lazily woke, to still more sunshine, I could feel something was different. In my core, something was thrumming. I looked around me out the windows. The landscape was open and vast, hilly and dry looking.

There wasn’t anything of note, yet I felt different.

“Where are we,” I asked.

“Wyoming,” my friend beamed, as she pulled off an exit to get gas.

All the openness for miles was already seducing me in such a way that were Wyoming a man, I would’ve open-mouthed kissed him.

I got out of the car and ambled into the gas station. And this is when I knew, what I already knew from waking up in Wyoming and having my body lean into this place like a long lost sailor leaning over the rails upon seeing shore.

The man behind the counter wore a cowboy hat and had a handlebar moustache. He nodded his head at me, and said, “howdy, ma’am.”

I wanted to squeal. I wanted to ask if he was a real cowboy. I wanted to persuade him to marry me immediately.

And with the simpleness of a cowboy and waking up in a wide open space that felt like it had been untouched since the settlers first started moseying West, I was in love. Sometimes love at first sight doesn’t work out, sometimes, it’s initial vanity and there’s no real substance there.

This was not one of those cases.

The further I delved into Wyoming, the further I fell. By the time, I had seen more cowboys, men in chaps, beards aplenty, horses by the dozen, ranches, hills, canyons, elk, bison, and oh the mountains, sweet God-built pieces of jagged splendor, I was done for.

On my way out of Wyoming several days later, I was driving, winding my way up through the Bighorns. My heart was hammering in my chest with each mile spent ascending up into the clouds.

I knew I would soon be back in the Midwest and I was trying to brand every image of Wyoming in my mind and on my heart. I joked with my sister to leave me on the side of the road and keep going, even though we were in my car. I saw a sheep-herder riding his horse with his trusty dog trotting along behind him and I wanted to weep, it was all so perfect and all so meant for me.

At the time, this song called Red Canoe was playing on my sister’s iPod, and I remember playing it over and over again, so that whenever I heard the song in the future, I would see Wyoming, the Bighorns, the sheep herder, the cowboys and invite it all back to me.

That song and that sentiment created a fervor in me to come back. Leaving was heartbreak, but I knew it was only temporary. I, of course, did come back, nearly a year later, to the exact lodge I had passed in the Bighorns on my trek back to Michigan. And the fact that I left Wyoming a second time, is slightly unfathomable to me still.

I had found myself staring at the cowboys in line at Starbucks and Walmart, with their bandanas wrapped around their necks, cowboy hats and cowboy boots donned, trying once more to brand these people and this place into my memory bank. As, I certainly never saw a man with a cowboy hat and a bandana around his neck at Starbucks in New York City.

And what happened that cowboys and ranchers and cattle and sheep-herders and fly fishermen and rodeo stars suddenly had imprinted themselves on my being? I can recall loving nature from a young age. And horses. And the outdoors and even outdoorsmen. But this seemed excessive coming from a girl who used to dream about brownstones on cobbled streets in NYC boroughs.

But with leaving Wyoming a second time, it seemed that this life was all I wanted, perhaps all I had ever wanted, and leaving it was all wrong.

Hence why I only lasted about two weeks back in the Midwest.

And what’s remarkable to me, is how I haven’t actually changed at all. If I had really been paying attention I would’ve seen the signs all along. I picked the college I attended based on its proximity to forests, rivers, and lakes. I spent my time as a child reading about high adventure and then trying to recreate it in my backyard. I bartered for riding lessons as a sixth grader with my neighbors who had horses. Every birthday and Christmas I either tried asking for a horse and when I wisened up that Santa wouldn’t bring one to store in my shed, I started asking for riding lessons instead. I even almost bought my own horse once in college and thought better of it, because uhhh… I had nowhere to put it.

So I guess it shouldn’t amuse and delight me so much now when I find myself picking up Western Horseman magazines or stalking— that’s a harsh word, let’s say perusing—every cowboy, farmer, and rancher I can find on Instagram, lapping up their horse posts, fresh egg posts, cattle-roping and wilderness packing posts.

I, of course have been singularly applying to work as a ranch-hand though I have no ranch experience. I understand that, but I fervently tell the ranchers that I want to learn to mend fences and tend cattle and maybe lasso—please don’t laugh I want to lasso so bad—and that I’ll prove to them how much of a Western gal I really am at heart.

I used to want to sashay into a top magazine office in Manhattan in a sharp suit, riding up the elevator to my posh job that required heels—or if not required, then strongly implied. Now I find myself aching to get up at dawn and feed animals and work on things with my hands, and get filthy, and ride a horse somewhere far, far off, and wear myself thin. Seriously I really wouldn’t mind wearing myself thin, I have a slight penchant for chocolate croissants. You’d be doing me a favor, guys.

And who knew?

Well. Me, I suppose. I guess I knew all along this is where I belong. So hey, uh ranchers, if you’re reading this, c’mon, give me a go. I won’t let you down. I mean if you’re not convinced by this love letter then I am not sure what will convince you. Hmm… maybe my ax wielding skills. They are on point. Ish. But in the hearty ranchess sort of way. Not in The Shining madness sort of way. Aaaaand, I think that’s my cue to wrap up.

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 1)

I used to fancy myself a city girl. I sat in my humble house in the country, located in a small farm town in Lower Michigan and dreamed of getting out. I envisioned bigger and better. To me bigger and better was New York City. I watched When Harry Met Sally as a teen, and seeing Sally aimlessly walk through Central Park with Harry, or drag her Christmas tree down twinkly streets was so picturesque and vastly different from Fowlerville, Michigan that I latched onto that place and vowed to get there.

All my thoughts orbited around New York City. How to get there, how to make it there, how to have what Sally had. So easy and simple. She moved there as a hopeful writer and voila, she was a writer. She had this friend that kept coming back to her and he fell in love with her. She watched Casablanca and had lunches at the Boathouse with her girlfriends, while bemoaning men.

I moved to New York City, fresh with my newly minted writing degree, down ninety-two pounds from working my arse off on The Biggest Loser and ready to take on the city streets, writing and love with all my know-how from When Harry Met Sally. Imagine my surprise and dismay when the only jobs I could find were waitressing and Starbucks. The only men looking my way were gay (fabulous, but not interested in any sort of lip-locks) and the city streets, while magical in their own right, were also fraught with a lot of trash and noise, making me realize that maybe making it there wasn’t like the movies at all.

I am sure a lot of people could’ve told me that. And there’s a reason Frank Sinatra croons, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!” This is true. NYC is not for the faint of heart. I don’t believe myself to be faint of heart, but I think I gave a lot of credence to my city love (based on a movie and a couple class trips to Chicago as a youngster) and zero credence to my country love.

I was having the worst anxiety of my life while living in New York City. While she was a dreamy place full of fantastic culture, art, cupcakes, architecture and wonder, I felt closed in and manic. I never slept while I lived there. This isn’t one of my dramatic exaggerations. I really didn’t sleep; at least not at night. I had insomnia that wouldn’t go away and I utilized this the best I could by training for my first marathon in the middle of the night, instead of tossing and turning in bed, fitful with worry and damp with sweat.

I lived in Brooklyn Heights and I would leave my apartment in the middle of the night and start running: across the Brooklyn Bridge, weaving through Manhattan’s skyscrapers, past policemen milling about, fishermen fishing off the pier, kids skateboarding, and the homeless sleeping against fence-enclosed graveyards. And then I would run back and sit on a bench looking at the sun coming up across the Manhattan skyline while rats scurried beneath my feet. I would amble home, shower and lay in bed in utter exhaustion until eventually I dozed somewhere around five, or sometimes as late as seven.

I remember talking to my friend once as I walked to work in the Village, telling her that maybe I overestimated how much of a city girl I was and underestimated how much of a country girl I was. This troubled me, because I wondered how I could be so wrong about a place I had planned on loving for over a decade.

A need for nature kept hounding me, a need to escape to somewhere quiet where I could gather my thoughts, which were as rampant and erratic as the New York City rats. I would look at the skyline and wish it were mountains. I wanted all the hustle and bustle to be forest-still silence. I wanted the murky concrete puddles to be cloud reflected lakes.

My mom blamed all of this on a love who had recently broken my heart and then up and moved to Alaska while I headed for the big city. She thought the reason I saw mountains instead of skyscrapers was because of him. And that the whole heartbreak thing was ill-timing, ruining my NYC experience. And maybe to a certain extent it was. But I think it was more than that.

I think the mountains were in me long before that love came along and broke my heart, long before I saw When Harry Met Sally, and perhaps long before I even knew which way to go.

When things began to promptly fall apart in NYC, around the time I was due to fly back to the Midwest for my marathon, I didn’t much feel like going back. I was in between apartments and without a place to live. I was sleeping in a hostel in the fetal position and sniveling, wondering how in God’s name Madonna had done it, and starting to unravel in a most disheartening way. I would wander into churches and cry alone in a back pew. Or find parks to sit and do yoga-style breathing techniques and then get mad when I heard an ambulance blare on by.

When I told my mom after my marathon that I couldn’t go back, I just couldn’t, she seemed distressed, thinking I was giving up on my dream and that I had to just stick it out—the anxiety and insomnia and noise. My mom wasn’t being pushy, she was being supportive of how bad I had wanted this one dream.

I couldn’t do it though. I loved New York City and truly always will, but I knew what I needed and it wasn’t skyscrapers and bustling streets. In fact a guy I had started dating around this time took me out one day when I was visiting a friend in Maryland. I was still living in New York and was wildly shaken up. He asked if I wanted to go see Washington D.C. and I all but screamed, no! I didn’t want to be in the city. I didn’t want to hear traffic or see people. I wanted him to take me into the country. “Where?” he asked. I told him where the pumpkins and apples grow.

It may have come as a shock to everyone who knew me and knew how badly I wanted the city-girl life when I abandoned ship and ended up moving to Virginia. Granted I was living outside of Washington D.C. in an urban metropolis about as busy as NYC, but I told my boyfriend at the time that I didn’t care where we lived as long as I had a view of the mountains and easy access to them. Suddenly the mountains became my new focal point.

They were my obsession and I wanted my eyes on them at all times. On my way to work they were on my left; on my way home, on my right. I wanted to talk about them constantly and found myself in a continuing state of awe over their grandeur. I must admit not many people in Virginia seemed to share my amazement. I got a lot of people giving the Blue Ridge Mountains the ol’ brush off and saying, well have you seen the ones out West? I had not, but I thought it was a little disrespectful to discount mountains right in front of us, for even bigger ones far, far away. Clearly these people weren’t mountain lovers.

And with my eyes on the mountains I started rerouting my belief system. About what I really wanted and questioning where I really belonged. I considered that maybe I belonged in Virginia because I had fallen in love with her and the man that lived there. And yet… there was still a displaced restlessness deep down that haunted me. It didn’t keep me up quite as badly as it had in New York, but it was there lurking in the shadows all the time.

To be continued…

Waitressing Guts and Glory

I have held my fair share of waitressing jobs. Some more frightful than others. My current one has its fair share of pros and cons, though mostly this isn’t a bad gig. However, I have been bowled over as of late by some of the things that have happened to me as a waitress. Or more recently as a promoted waitress. Oh yeah, did I mention? I am now the dining room manager at the resort I work at. So ya know: Pretty important. Pretty posh. Pretty big deal.

Nah, I kid. I mean, it’s a pay raise and all, but really the only difference from the me who waitressed before and the me who waitresses now is that I get badgered a great deal more and get a little more ticked off when people show up late for their shifts.

I have decided, however, to do a small-ish round-up of my most interesting/ridiculous/downright jaw-dropping happenings whilst waitressing.

Let’s start with my personal favorite which was a good indicator of how unrelenting motherhood will be.

As the new dining room manager I find that people like to update me, ask me questions and generally hound the hell out of me, from the moment I walk in the door until the moment I beeline for the door again at the end of my shift. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the responsibility and ability to put my neuroticism and obsessive compulsive tendencies to good use, but days like today for instance when all I want to do is shove a morsel of marinated chicken breast into my mouth—while in between getting refills for my tables—I want to do it in peace and quiet. No such luck. While attempting to take frenzied bites of chicken, I had at least four interruptions within three bites. I tried to strictly look involved with my chicken, so they would get the message and yet the onslaught ensued, until I gave up my mini break, hunched over the back waitress station, while people scraped plates and hurried past, and instead went back to waiting tables, giving up hope that I could eat while on my shift. Trying to eat while waitressing is the equivalent of trying to sneak a twinkie in prison while other prisoners furiously eyeball you while you choke down the sugar worrying all the while about being shanked. At least that’s how it is in my mind. I’m sorry if I have insulted prisoners with this analogy, but again, that’s just my mind.

Oh anyway, I derailed there. I was going to give you the happenings. So I am mostly so busy at work that I don’t even allot proper timing for bathroom breaks. I just wear my body out running around, that I dehydrate myself to the point where I may have had to go to the bathroom once, but all my moving—which for me inevitably means sweating—causes my urine to just reabsorb, or whatever the hell it does when you are so dehydrated you no longer pee in a ten hour waitressing shift. Also note this level of dehydration is actually something to be avoided as I nearly passed out at work the other day due to this practice, so uhh… don’t follow my lead here on that one guys. Anyway.

Instance Number 1: I actually decide to go to the bathroom for once. I tell one of my coworkers where I will be for the upcoming three minutes and head out of the dining area to have what I presume are mere moments of rest and relaxation while I take a much-needed pee break. Just as I sit down and haven’t even begun to contemplate toilet paper, I hear the door open and a hesitant tap on my stall. I freeze midstream, while wondering why on God’s green earth I am being summoned in here of all places. So help me God, this better be an emergency, I think.

“Yes?” I say with controlled patience. It is the co-worker I had just told I would be in the bathroom.

“I am so sorry to follow you in here, but the cooks have a question about your ticket.”

Now I am seething. I cannot imagine this was an emergency worth trailing me into the bathroom over, but ask her instead what it is. She explains. I clarify and she then thanks me profusely and leaves the bathroom. That’s what motherhood is like right? No longer getting to piss in peace? Well, I gotta say moms, I am not a fan.

Instance Number 2: While in the middle of a weekend breakfast rush, the equivalent of an IHOP stampede, one of our breakfast cooks goes missing. I note this amongst my frantic running around, seating tables, refilling coffees and trying to load people up on Belgian waffles and hash browns. I run to the back to communicate with the prep cooks and head chef that we need backup. Backup, people, we need backup! 

The head chef proceeds to tell me that the other cook left.

“Where? J is floundering up there. he has like 13 tickets.”

“He has one table,” the head chef tries to correct me.

“Wrong. He was like 13 tables. We have been sat repeatedly for the last half hour. So, could someone help him?”

“I don’t know where the other cook is,” HC insists, making no move to go and help J himself.

“Could you find him?” I practically bellow.

“Why don’t you?” He counters.

I fear at this point he may be able to read the homicide that is clearly visible in my eyes.

“I don’t have time! I don’t even have time to be back here having this conversation with you!”

“Well I don’t have time either,” he sniffs with his haughty air and turns away from me to continue chopping vegetables.

“Oh that’s cool. That’s great,” I mutter under my breath loudly as I walk away thoroughly ticked off, “all my tables can just wait an hour for a bloody pancake…”

After the rush peters into a lull, I have time to search for the missing cook. I go to find him in his quarters located beneath the restaurant, where some of the staff reside. He opens the door casually no longer in his chef coat and work pants, but in a ripped tee and jogging shorts.

“Yeah, hi,” I start. “I know the head chef probably royally pissed you off and you think you’re sticking it to him by walking out, but really you’re sticking it to us waitresses because we are slammed and the other cook is drowning and HC won’t help. And so I would really love, if at least for me, you would suit back up, come upstairs and help.”

He nods his head like there will be no argument and in minutes is upstairs helping cook. Oy. Fuckin. Vey.

Instance Number 3: Waiting on Viggo Mortensen this morning. Yeah, who would’ve thought Hidalgo would meander on into my place of employ in the Big Horns? He apparently came in last night and my sister waited on him first, while he was hounded by customers vying for his attention. When he came in this morn, I had naturally already prepped myself on how to handle celebrity sightings and ya know be super cool, collected and couth. Which is exactly what I did. Bringing his wife tea, his son a hot chocolate loaded with whip. And generally just letting him enjoy his meal without me gawking and asking him about being Hidalgo. Oh but I wanted to. Of course I can pretend to have couth, but lord knows that is entirely not so. Anyhow, when Viggo pointed to the hash browns and asked if we had potatoes, I nodded profusely and said, “Yes, we have hash browns!”

And he shook his head and said, “No, do you have some sort of potato…”

“Like home fries…?” I ventured. “We have those on the buffet…” but even as I said the word buffet I was embarrassed. I didn’t want Viggo Mortenson to have crap buffet home fries. Or even have our frozen hash browns. If I couldn’t pose with him for pictures or pepper him with questions of glitz and glamour in Hollywood, then I damn well wanted him to have a proper potato for breakfast. And yet I feared we didn’t serve anything that he might prefer.

I nodded however, and assured him he would have potatoes. I ran back to the breakfast cook and asked if he could do a breakfast potato. “Yeah, hash browns,” he answered with a slight smile, like I was dense.

“Yeah, but more like a home fry,” I clarified.

“We have those on the buffet,” he said.

“No, but not those either…”

Another waitress intervened on my behalf at this point, and said, “We have those one potatoes J, you could cut those up and fry them and do something with those?”
This was the same waitress who had followed me into the bathroom. She had just redeemed herself in my attempts to win over Viggo Mortensen’s approval as a competent and classy waitress.

J looked slightly perturbed at this insistence for breakfast potatoes we don’t have and don’t serve. But like the solid and reliable fellow that he is, he didn’t say another word and instead simply complied. When I saw the potatoes in the window, looking fancy and sorta French like with a little flower shape cut through the middle—well maybe the Americanized version of French because what do I know—I beamed my satisfaction and thanks feeling much more proud to walk back to Viggo’s table with proper potatoes.

The rest of the interchange was mostly my silently refilling their coffees and teas and when he and his wife went to peruse the gift shop, I asked their son about the animals he’d seen on his vacation.

He politely entertained my eagerness, expressing his delight at seeing bison and moose. His accent intrigued me and I asked where he was from.

“Spain,” he answered.

“Wow! I have always wanted to visit Spain!” I started to gush, but when I saw that he was only politely indulging me to get rid of me, much like J with the potatoes, I relented and nodded, instead clearing the rest of their breakfast plates. “Enjoy the rest of your stay in the Big Horns,” I said as I walked away while stealing more glances at his famous father.

Since I am terribly verbose I wanted to share more instances of waitressing guts and glory—like the time I was working at a bar in New York City and I walked into the bathroom to find a man doing a line of coke off the counter—but alas I have thoroughly overshared here. So I shall leave it at a mere three. Also, how can I top waiting on Viggo Mortensen? I fear I can’t, so I ought to leave it at that.

Searching for a Story

I was freaking out the other day—like I am wont to do—over the notion that maybe I was out of stories. Maybe I had nothing more to say. I had said it all. Which okay, that in itself is quite laughable because I am the most verbose person I know, and I find that I know a lot of people, especially other verbosers like me.

I really had a fret about me as I tried to go about my day enjoying myself, whilst still searching for a story. But when I find that I may not have a story, inevitably a story finds me. Because life is beautiful and happenstance like that.

And surely a few things unfolded. First of all, I did find a story, or more appropriately, I located Story, Wyoming: a darling little village with a population of about 800 people. I suspected right away with a name like Story that I was going to fawn. And fawn I did as my sisters and I wove through the back country roads of Story while it drizzled and the windows fogged. A river wound past us and tall pines lingered in our peripheral.

If that weren’t enough to elicit love—which I’ll be honest, pines and rivers are always enough to elicit my love—what’s more is when I happened upon a quirky little guest house in Story’s dinky downtown, named the Waldorf A Story. As a lover of words and stories—duh, I also greatly admire wonderful plays on words. I was delirious. I popped on over into the library after fully devouring the Waldorf A Story, which was built with bright logs and as warm and charming as Story itself. I chatted with the librarian about the Waldorf A Story, about the town and how I was very enchanted and maybe I just might have to move to Story.

“We actually have a lot of writers who live here,” she smiled.

Naturally I had worked into the conversation that I was a writer. And why wouldn’t I consider living somewhere that appreciated words as much as I did?

The whole ride home I would not shut up about how wooed I was and how conflicted I felt. I loved this place, not just Story, but Wyoming. I loved the mist coming off of the mountains and how nice the librarians are here, not uber grouches like they seem to be in Michigan—come on gals, don’t you know you have one of the most cherished jobs in the world—and I liked the cowboys and their ruggedness and how seriously they seemed to take their ruggedness. I liked seeing them lasso in the middle of the day when I was out shopping, because that is the kind of thing you see in Wyoming. I also liked that my customers understood my Wyoming love and even encouraged it, asking me questions like, “Well, why don’t you just marry a cowboy?”

To which I always responded with, “I’m trying! Why haven’t any proposed yet?” Cue 90’s Paula Cole crooning, Where Have All the Cowboys Gone.

Then I got to thinking, no but really, why hasn’t a cowboy asked me out yet? I posed this question to my girl friend at work today and before she could answer I mused, “Well it could be that I give myself only 17 minutes to get ready in the morning and then I go back to bed for five of those minutes and then run out the door letting my hair frizz out and only having put on one dab of mascara… but that can’t be the only reason…”

So what’s the dilemma then? If I love the mountains and the mist and the librarians and the rivers and the pines and the ruggedness of the men, then what is the problem? Well I suppose it’s that I know deep down I am not ready to let anyone or anything claim me quite yet… even Wyoming and so I feel a bit of melancholy over the whole ordeal, whilst at the same time feeling deep wells of gratitude for my good fortune of being in a mountains embrace dreaming of cowboys.

Do you see? Or maybe you don’t see at all, because I am a slight crazy person, but it’s like this: Wyoming wooes me so much of the time that I genuinely want to sob. I told this to my sister and I hammered on the point of sobbing so much, especially over this ballroom I had recently visited in an old Wyoming senator’s home, that my sister asked if I was pregnant.

“No, I am not pregnant,” I proclaimed, “not even possible! You have to have sex to get pregnant.”

But I had gotten to thinking after seeing the ballroom with the steepled ceilings and stained glass windows in a mansion perched on a hill, and the Buffalo farm nearby, and the town of Story and living atop a mountain, in a place where I felt others understood not just the beauty of the land but the magic of moving Westward, that it was grand I had moved on. Wasn’t it grand and maybe worth a sob or two?

I had loved Virginia in a way that I thought couldn’t be topped. I had also loved New York City, but in a different way. In a desperate sort of manic way. And I love the U.P. with the whole of my being. All these places have become a part of me no matter where I go, but what if I had stopped at the U.P. and never discovered the beautiful insomnia of late night runs across the Brooklyn Bridge, or endearing myself forever to beer, cheese and cows in the heartland of Wisconsin? Or the rolling horse country of Virginia, and Appalachia, and whale watching and falling in love with my nation’s capital and a man all at the same time?

So the conundrum is I can’t stop here in Wyoming. Not yet anyway. Now is the time for lingering. Oh and gosh darnit if I don’t want to linger with cowboys and mountains. But I also want to linger in Italian vineyards and along seaward coasts and wade through cranberry fields and dance at moonlit festivals.

I guess what all the fuss and fanfare is about is that I want to be a little morose already over potentially having to leave another love… because trust me, it ain’t easy folks. But at the same time, damn if it isn’t all so beautiful and worth every one of my seconds that I could simply sob. And I probably will. And no I am not preggo. I am just an emotionally overwrought kinda gal—or as one of my friends would say: a rollercoaster of emotion—and I like to cry over ballrooms, mountains and towns called Story.