January 28, 2014

Can't They Imagine That Too?

Both eyes welled up and I blinked back the throat-lump that, if released, would send me into an ugly, snotting, snorting cry. Darnit, Disney did it again. How could they have made me cry over a little egged shaped robot crying over the death of another trash compactor robot? Outisde of a WALL-E or Eva said in robot voices, I don't even think they actually had a conversation during the entire movie. But there I was, on the verge of boo-hoo-crying in a theater over them.

Another Disney movie had me believing a house could fly if only enough balloons were tethered to it. That same movie had me seriously considering the plausibility of science developing a collar that could translate dogs' thoughts into words...and wondering what our Charley would say once we got such a collar for him. That one made me cry too.

Yet another movie had me enchanted by the absolute beauty of paper lanterns floating up into a dark, star-spangled sky to commemorate the birthday of a lost (actually kidnapped) princess who didn't realize she was a princess -- or lost (actually kidnapped) to begin with.

Then, the sigh of relief rushed through me when the princess realized who she was. When she married her Prince, I almost danced in my seat along with the entire city in celebration. I couldn't help it. The music, the joy jumping off the screen, the people -- each painstakingly animated and...

Wait a minute. Stop the seat dancing. Stop it now.
Are there any brown people in that scene?

Not one?
In the whole city?
I would've even been happy about a brown person stereo-typically break dancing or poppin' & lockin' in a ten-second cameo to hip-hop music.

No brown people exist in the imaginations of the folks who made this movie?
Insert tired, exasperated sigh here.
And it was such a good movie.

Imagination is Disney's specialty. The stories that sucked me in and pulled this middle-aged psyche out of all the day-to-day stressors and reality into crying over a robot and believing the dog has the ability to talk, it was all about imagination.

It was what's woven throughout these stories. It's at the root of why we've seen enough Disney flicks in the past ten years to finance Georgia's post-secondary education twice over. 

After the dancing scene, I swore off Disney for a while...until the Princess and the Frog.

A black princess! The first Disney black princess! So, okay, maybe it was like fifty years coming, but she was here. The movie didn't disappoint: compelling story, fantastic musical score, death, rebirth, a few tears -- some sad, some triumphant -- what's not to love? Still, I left feeling a little flat.

But I couldn't figure out just quite why.


Enter Frozen. Georgia and I saw the trailer. Audible gasp from her: Mahhhhm! We hafta see this.

No. No we don't. The words spilled out of my mouth before I could self-censor.

A puzzled look from her.

Seriously, Georgia, there's only white people in this. Look at the princess: white. Look at the prince: white. It's all white -- heck, it's about snow, for crying out loud! (Okay, I didn't say the snow part, but I wanted to)

Now, before you think Hey Rochelle, aren't you married to a white guy? What's with all this teaching your daughter to hate white people business? Of course that's not it. Our daughter is white and black. I just want her to have an awareness of how media sometimes -- in this case, Disney -- defaults to white only, while putting brown folks in context when and if brown folks are in a lead role.

I explained the concept of context to her.

In Mulan, we had an Asian princess. Glorious! But it was as if Disney needed us to understand that she's Asian. So the plot -- the context of the story -- is in...CHINA, and Mulan is a warrior fighting to save her country. She's a brave, legendary figure. But is there any reason an Asian princess just couldn't be a walking-around-someday-my-prince-will-come princess? We can see that she's Asian without a megaphone screaming SHE'S ASIAN! SEE, SHE'S IN CHINA! 

In the Princess and the Frog, we had Tiana, a black princess. Now this was huge, considering Disney's history of Uncle Remus and the Dumbo crows who sounded like this. Big leap forward. But again, it was as if we needed context to understand her otherness -- her blackness. The movie's set in New Orleans in the mid-thirties, and of course, Tiana's family lives in a Jim Crow segregated south. We were treated to songs about gumbo, voodoo and swamp culture. Okay, well, that was enriching, but again: couldn't a black character just as easily have been a generic old Disney princess?

Then there's Aladdin with Princess Jazmin. Ooooh! A Middle Eastern Indian Princess...whose context is the Middle East and sailing around on a flying carpet with a prince who is being counseled by a genie in a bottle. Did you hear me? A genie in a bottle.
I can't even ask the question again here, Disney.

Lest Native Americans feel left out, we had
[insert heavy sigh here]: Pocahontas.

*bangs head on the table*

Beautiful songtrack, charming love story, singing raccoon, blah-blah-blah and loosely -- loosely based on a historical figure.
A Native American princess couldn't have been Sleeping Beauty? Or Belle?

Or that chick from Frozen?

Listen, I know Disney has fictionalized these characters, and they won't ultimately impact my child's life in a meaningful way. As a matter of fact, I loathe the whole princess-gotta-find-a-man-and-get-married-live-happily-ever-after fairy tale concept.

What I just can't understand is why, if Disney can be imaginative enough to string together stories of fancy so beautifully that your heart aches for robots that live thousands of years in the future, and leaves you considering the possibilities of tying helium balloons to your house so you could fly it out of this Polar Vortex, then...

...why can't they imagine a princess who's brown without putting her in context to help us -- or make us -- understand that she's different? That she's brown?

They specialize in imagination, and I just don't understand why they can't imagine that.

January 19, 2014

The Occasional Car

There's nothing special about our neighborhood. No quaint cul de sacs. Just streets that run north to south, sandwiched in between two busy avenues. It's a throwback place -- a hub of post-WWII homes and tree-lined streets whose limbs form a sort of cathedral ceiling.

It's a silent night neighborhood.

After dark, outside of a few who power-walk dogs begging them to go potty or poop and the occasional car slowly driving north or south, everyone's inside at nighttime.

At midnight, Jamie and I were driving that occasional car, returning from a date night while Georgia was at a sleepover. The sky was clear, snowflakes sprinkled past the streetlamps and the streets and sidewalks were empty.

Modern Love came on the radio as we began making the slight ascent to our block. We sang along and I knew we'd have to abandon it and our singing by the time we parked. We reached a stop sign at the top of the hill, and Jamie checked for any occasional westbound or eastbound cars sojourning home.

I was about to ask him to loop the block so we could hear Modern Love in its entirety rather than abandon it when I saw an eerie, apparition-like figure against the streetlamp's orange-ish cast.

A silhouette was pasted onto the empty street, a foot or two away from the curb and behind a parked car.
We slowly passed and exchanged puzzled expressions.
Jamie, that's not right...something's not right. Why is she just standing there?
Maybe she was waiting for a ride, he reasoned.
Well, let's loop around the block to find out.

So we did. And it was clear she wasn't.

The elderly woman wore a blue babushka that blended in with her matching spring coat, leaving only a sad, mask-like face exposed. A walking stick was in her left hand and her right hand braced on top of the left. From head to toe, she barely stood 5 feet tall. She was motionless, staring past this silent night neighborhood, the few occasional cars and me.

Ma'am...are you okay? Are you waiting for someone?
She shivered, uttered a whimper but nothing I could understand.
Do you understand English?
A little, she said.
It's okay....don't worry. We're going to help you.
I didn't know how we were going to help her, but we couldn't leave her.

So we didn't. We brought her home and called 9-1-1.

She had no wallet, no purse, no identification. Just keys.

An hour later, an officer arrived. He determined that she spoke Serbian and called the station for a translator. It was 1:45. No translator could be found. I remembered the 2-1-1 service at the nonprofit where I work uses a language line and contacted them. The operator gave me a number to the language line (thanks, Natalie) and I gave the number to the officer.

While he called, I sat down next to our visitor, gently rubbed her back and told her she was gonna be fine, knowing full well I wasn't speaking Serbian and that she couldn't understand English.

She looked at my face, my eyes. I noticed that hers were green. They must have sparkled a long time ago, I thought. I looked at her hands. They were working hands, un-dainty and large for a woman. I wondered about her former life.

I thought about how she must have felt -- knowing that at one time she had clarity of mind and tenacity to leave her country and come here. And how she must have felt now, sitting in the living room of strangers, vulnerable and not knowing where she was or how she got here.

Your hands. She looked at her hands.
They're so cold.
They were white from the cold, even after being out of the elements for the hour since being at our house.
I think her hands are frostbitten I told the officer who by that time had struck out twice finding a Serbian translator at 2:00 on a Sunday morning.

I put my hands toward hers and she held them. And we sat that way. Holding hands. Not understanding each other, but understanding all the same.

Still unable to find a translator, the officer decided the best thing to do would be to get her to the station and try other avenues there. We asked him to follow up with us.

And he did.

It was 3:30 when the officer called to tell us they located a translator, and they discovered she lives independently, only five blocks away from us and she had since been taken home.

Does she have relatives who check in on her? We don't know.

How long had she been standing motionless in our silent night neighborhood?
We'll never know, but I've thought about it more than once.

What would've happened had we not driven up the street at that time, that hour?
I don't like thinking about that, not even once.

I'm just glad we happened to be behind the wheel of the occasional car last night.


Originally written because it was on my heart; and submitted to Yeah Write's Weekly Moonshine grid.

January 9, 2014

Between the First or Fourth Attempt

The ice ruts in our narrow alley are at least a foot deep. I fought-drove through these uneven passages, trying to strike a balance between keeping the tires aligned within them but not so aligned that the car gets stuck in one.

The vehicle and I successfully made it to our destination. The next step was gingerly angling the car across the ruts and backing it into a one-car garage that already bulges with Jamie's many "treasures" without breaking a side mirror.

Somewhere in between the first or fourth attempt, I thought about how crazy it is that 22° feels balmy in comparison to the minus 22° it was two days ago.

And that's when I checked out and drifted back to the day when...
...the air was a thick hot blanket that wrapped itself around each limb, making clothes cling and hair fall limp – or in my case, kink up even more. Smoky pregnant clouds above seemed close enough to touch. They promised rain but refused to deliver, as if intimidated by the sunshine shards prodding and poking through them.
Standing sentry to the goings-on above and below and rocking back and forth to music only they could hear, towering palm trees lined the parking lot’s perimeter. Varied states of rustiness had overtaken the compact cars, buses and bicycles and all were parked as if each driver had drawn lines for their own spaces. Just as quickly as one vehicle's made-up spot was vacated, another took its place.
A dinnish accompaniment completed the scene: car stereos pumping out heavy bass beats, the occasional pow of backfiring vehicles mingled with chatter and laughs from people dotting the black-topped landscape.
Those folks wore pushed up sleeves and rolled up pantlegs. None wore sunglasses despite the sunshine shards. Like sunflowers, they turned their faces toward its light and warmth with eyes closed, arms akimbo and palms raised. They giggled to the sun, themselves and each other.
They wooted, hollered, guffawed and patted the backs of friends and strangers alike. They walked on air and sometimes they’d float into the path of a soon-to-be haphazardly parked bus.
But the drivers didn't seem to mind.
Then one of the buses stopped. As did the wooting, sun-gazing, giggling, guffawing. Everyone inhaled, but no one exhaled in that split second when the driver's jet black hand came into view and when he reached for the old-fashioned crank and opened the bus' door.

The door opened, and everyone exhaled, continued wooting, giggling and guffawing once he had welcomed us all to Jamaica.

That's when the garage door's noisy descent snapped me back to reality. I re-buttoned the coat, put the gloves back on and trudged out into 22° buoyed somewhat by the memory of that amazing day back in the bleak cold winter of 2008. 

January 4, 2014

What Might Be

A comedian once said that meteorologists have the only job where you can be:
There's probably maybe kind of sort of about a 50% chance of rain
We'll have 2 to 12 inches of snow...
and wrong:
Looks like the storm we've been anticipating just missed us...
and still keep your job.

I should've been a meteorologist.

But this isn't a time for ruing over unfulfilled wishes. The weather guys and girls are predicting a Mini Ice Age.

Shouldn't come as a shock. I grew up here, it's just winter in the Midwest. But despite that, I still had my undies in a bundle with the incessant cold-weather-warning harping. In fact, I got depressed. Starting wishing we had deeper pockets so we could flee to someplace warm; and then seriously considered going into debt so we could do it. Finally, I decided that neither wishing nor being buried under a stack of bills were viable options, so I did the next best thing: perused warm-weather vacation pics from years past.
All that did was depress me more.

And that's when the lightbulb went on: I was sad, anxious about wrangling childcare (because school's already been cancelled) and dreading -- dreading -- dragging my sorry-snow-slush-cold-frostbite-hating rear end through the weather...
all because of
a prediction of
what might be.

Seriously, even with satellites, dopplers, radar and other gadgetry, nature could still throw a curve and once again, the weather guys and girls would be

Now, it's pretty silly to get worked up over what could be a faulty weather forecast, isn't it? Especially when you consider how we'd respond if we could get accurate forecasts of:
The day your water heater would bust; or,
The day your dream job would come knocking on your door; or,
The day and the moment when your doctor would deliver a frightening diagnosis.

My guess is that a lot would change. Spending habits would tighten so the Cadillac of water heaters could replace the busted one. Offices would be cleaned and filing tackled so an organized exit could be made when the Lotta Bucks position opened up in greener pastures.

But how would any of us prepare for news about failing health? Or news that there may be more years behind us than there are ahead?

I think there would be a lot of I'm sorries delivered along with long overdue I love yous.
Less working and more hand holding.
More face time and less screen time.
Idle chatter swapped out for real conversation.
Breathing, seeing, inhaling, feeling -- being -- in the moment, in lieu of rehashing yesterday and projecting into tomorrow's what-ifs.

Look at everything through that lens and I think: sure, we've got a little -- no make that a lot -- of cold coming our way. Or not. But why hand-wring over what may be an inaccurate forecast when I'm not hand-wringing over the other meatier, heavy issues that may be in the future for myself or any one of us?

Because there's no doppler or radar or gadgetry for that stuff, that's why.

That other stuff just happens, and we don't know when it's going to happen, so we live our lives day to day, planning (a little) for down the road and hopefully enjoying the given moments and the people in them.

I think that's the way it should be, even when it comes to a Mini Ice Age.

...and in meteorologist lingo, there's a 99% chance I'm right about that.

These guys are playing in it tomorrow, so GO PACK!
...and stay warm out there. It's a Mini Ice Age, you know.