Friday, April 22, 2011

Letting Go (and why Ethiopia sucks)

This week’s life lesson: letting go is hard. I mean, it can be really, really hard. Having done a recent purge of about half of my worldly possessions, I was beginning to pride myself on my ability to be emotionally detached from my “stuff.” The last month has shown me that this is not entirely true. Some things still really hurt to get rid of, especially the last three.

It started with the house, Oh, sure, I was more than ready to leave Idaho and very ready to leave home ownership behind. Still, when the last of the stuff had been packed, sold, given away or thrown away and I found myself staring at a completely empty living room, I started to tear up. It was rather unexpected and very unpleasant.

I just started to remember all the joy the house had brought me, how it felt like home the first time I stood in that empty living room and all the plans we made that would never happen. Suddenly reality was staring me in the face. Instead of allowing myself to keep being sad, I walked through every single room in that house and I remembered all the good things that had happened in each one. Then I bowed my head and said a prayer for the new owners, wished them as much joy as that house had given me and none of the stress, and tried to fill it with positive energy. Then I dried my eyes and walked out for the last time.

I’d been so pissed off when we’d made our first trip over the pass from Idaho that I hadn’t even wanted to look back. When a friend suggested we bag up Dexter’s excrement and chuck it at the state sign, I was pretty tempted. But that day, it was sunny and beautiful in Coeur d’alene and I didn’t want to do anything to hurt it. Like a divorced couple who has said every hurtful thing possible, mourned, signed the papers and at last accepted their fate, I slunk off quietly into the daylight and begrudgingly wished it well.

The next thing was the couch. Oh, the couch. I happily gave away our sectional, but insisted we bring the couch from the bar. It was comfortable, it had barely been used, it was attractive and went with everything, and it was small. At least, I thought so. Mr. W had some concerns about it since we’d had to take a window out of the basement to get it to fit. He suggested we take our futon. I threw a fit.

“I am 29 years old,” I said dramatically. “I am not going to sit on a fricking futon.” We brought the futon mattress, which is comfy and perfect for guests, and left the broken frame I’d had since college. We brought the couch. We hired a young man to help us lift our heavy things and he and Mr. W saved the couch for last.

Watching those two try and get the couch up the stairs to our apartment was like a scene out of Friends. When I jumped in to try and help, it seriously looked almost exactly like this:

By the time we realized it wouldn’t “Pivot!” anymore, the damn thing was stuck in the hallway and Mr. W looked like a tomato. He wiggled under the couch and marched toward the moving truck.

“I’m gonna get a saw and saw it in half!” he shrieked. When he realized he hadn’t packed his saw- get this- because the couch took up too much room in the truck, well, that wasn’t a very pleasant moment, to say the least.

At last, we managed to get the couch free from the stairs (damaging the stairwell in the process) and placed it on the sidewalk with a giant “FREE” sign on it. Within 20 minutes, the couch had a new home. I was crushed. I loved that couch. Aside from one Mermaid Martini picture hanging in our kitchen, it was all that remained of our epic bar. Just like that, it was gone.

Not only did I learn a harsh lesson in letting go, I learned to be grateful for what I did have and not be such a snob. Rather than invest in a new couch when we’re likely going to move again in 6 months (hopefully just to a bigger apartment in this building, because moving sucks), we went to Ikea, bought a futon frame, and I am sitting on a futon at 29. And you know what? I’m grateful just to have a damn futon in the first place. Screw it.

The last thing was the hardest of all to part with and still hurts. It doesn’t make sense for us to have two vehicles in this city. It also doesn’t make sense for us, a child free couple, to only own a minivan. With heavy hearts, we placed our beloved van, Butters, up for sale. We needed the money more than we needed him.

 I used to loathe minivans and a part of me still does. But Butters was special. He took us across the country and made our dreams come true. He was reliable, comfortable, awesome, and loved. Thanks to Mr. W’s killer designated driving skills, he also housed more hot chicks than any minivan in the history of all time.

We looked at the Blue Book value of the van and made our asking price slightly lower. We knew our “bottom line” price which was 400 lower than that and happened to be exactly what we needed to pay what we needed to pay. We aren’t greedy, but we knew what Butters was worth. A young man emailed me and asked if I’d take 700 lower. I replied with our “bottom line” price and explained that we truly couldn’t afford to go lower and with the van being in such good condition, he was getting a deal. He sent his father and brother (whom the van was for) to look at it.

They were Ethiopian and I had a terrible time understanding them. I did my best and was extra nice to them in the process. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed. The man made his son in law look at the van on his daughter’s sixth birthday and kept asking me, “You give me deal? You give me deal? 300 off? 100? For me? It for my grandkids!” Well sorry buddy, I truly don’t give a crap about your grandkids. You aren’t going to guilt me into giving you more of a deal than I already am. I was polite, but firm. They said they’d take it, we shook on it, and they’d return the next morning with the money. They also said they wanted us to go to the DMV with them for the title transfer for whatever reason. Ugh.

I had a job interview the next morning. I knew in my gut that the man was going to try and talk Mr. W down. Mr. W is a much nicer person than I am. I knew these people could afford our already lowered asking price, no problem. I sternly told Mr. W to stick to his guns. If he went lower, I said, they were taking food off our table. Just before I left for the interview, Ethiopian man called.

“I come now,” he said. “You have Bank of America there? You take me?”

I sighed and told him we would. I don’t understand. These people came from a country where merely surviving until age 30 is a huge feat requiring video game-like reflexes and incredible survival skills. Yet they couldn’t locate their own bank or go to the DMV? Whatever. Poor Mr. W would have to handle it alone. I told him one last time to stick to his guns.

Sure enough, I was treating myself to a pre-interview Americano when I got the text. They tried for 300 off first, then 100 off. I sent a bunch of pretty evil texts to Mr. W. He actually started to walk off when the man said, “OK, we go to bank now.” Apparently while he was inside the bank getting the money, his wife preached Jesus to Mr. W nonstop, harassed him about going to church, and chewed out her granddaughter for liking “secular” music. It was true divine intervention that I wasn’t there, because that sale would not have happened. Trying to screw us over, making us take them all over town and then harassing my husband? Oh hell no. Gandhi was right when he said “Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Now, logically I know that not all Ethiopians are like that. But if they are, I feel a tiny bit less sorry for them. Sorry.

Later I got the text that Butters was gone (probably to his demise, he said, with the way the crazy woman drove). I made it through the interview, lunch with a friend, and the long bus ride home before walking to the apartment and bursting into tears. I was still sobbing hysterically, much to my embarrassment, when Mr. W returned home.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Did the interview not go well?”

“It went great,” I sobbed. “But I miss Butters! Wahhhh!”

Mr. W cheered me up, like he always does, by reminding me that we’d left our Human Rights Campaign sticker on the back. It’s a very pro gay organization with ideologies that would explode the head of that rude Ethiopian woman… and they had no idea what it meant. The idea of them driving around unknowingly preaching equal rights for all made me smile.

I got the offer for the job yesterday, it’s much less stressful just having one vehicle to insure, and best of all, we can pay rent and eat now. Letting go, it seems, is worth it. But it’s not easy. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why I love Bryan Adams (and don't care what you think about it)

I don’t remember how it started, exactly. The only thing I do remember is that from the age of eight until about fourteen (oh who am I kidding, I still get this way sometimes) I was always obsessing over something. From Archie comic books to Dairy Queen Blizzards, whatever I was interested in, I was really interested in.  By the time I was ten years old my love of New Kids on the Block had perished, I’d read every “Babysitters’ Club” book before Ann M. Martin could finish the next one and my parents wouldn’t let me have a Nintendo like everyone else. I needed a new obsession and I needed it fast.

The first time I heard “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” I thought it was the most beautiful song my young ears had ever heard. I soon learned that the gentleman responsible for this masterpiece was Bryan Adams. Bryan quickly became my new obsession. Within months I owned every cassette tape and he was constantly on my Walkman (yeah, I’m pretty much elderly). In 1992, I learned he was coming to the Tacoma Dome. I begged my parents to take me until my dad finally caved, got two tickets to the show and a room at the Best Western, and drove me over the pass.

The tour was Waking Up the World after the release of Waking up the Neighbors. It certainly woke up my passion for concerts and intensified my Bryan Adams adoration. There’s nothing quite like the high of seeing your favorite performer sing your favorite songs live, the energy of the crowd resonating and intensifying the excitement. Perhaps 10 years old was too young for the first taste of the rush, but I was hooked.

Soon, Bryan Adams concerts became family outings. We saw him as a family at the Columbia Gorge, my five year old brother infamously passing out from exhaustion in the front row mid-ballad. We saw him in the Tri Cities after he was having so much fun on the Waking Up the World Tour, he extended it. Eventually Bryan Adams faded from the limelight like most 90s band did, though he still recorded hits. Unlike my other obsessions, my love for Bryan Adams never quite faded. I have the same issue with Blizzards, but that’s another story.

I mean, you have to respect an artist who has 15 Grammy nominations and five Golden Globe Nominations, amidst dozens of other awards, is famous for his concert tours being highly energetic and often sold out (Waking up the World is considered the greatest Stadium Rock tour of all time), and is known for his incredible photography and philanthropic causes. The man has rocked duets with Tina Turner, Pamela Anderson, Bonnie Raitt and Barbara Streisand, just to name a new (not to mention his killer vocals with Rod Stewart and Sting in “All for Love”).

People ridicule my love of this man (I was born in the 80s, after all, shouldn’t I have been more into pop bands of the mid-90s?)  and even I joke about my “rock star” status. But anyone who could travel back in time and actually attend one of those concerts in the 90s would know he was, and is, a total rock star. He set the bar so high for concerts; every show I attended for years afterward was a disappointment. It isn’t their fault, really. He’s just that good. He sings every single song he can cram into three hours, engages with the audience, and genuinely looks like he’s having a good time performing. Leaving a Bryan Adams concert is almost as fun as actually being there because everyone is laughing and singing and having a good time. I don’t care who you are or what kind of music you like, if you ridicule this kind of experience, you’re a douche bag, plain and simple.

In addition, Bryan Adams songs have found their way into the soundtrack of my life. On one of my first dates with Mr. W we blasted “Summer of 69” driving through Yakima in his old truck. Just like I decided at ten years old, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” was performed at my wedding, my bridesmaids and I breaking out into the final verse of the song mere moments before I walked down the aisle. I’ll spare you the specifics, but let’s just say “Heaven” holds a rather special place in my heart as well. When I’m on long car trips and can’t get a radio station, I still occasionally put in my So Far, So Good CD and sing my heart out.

These days I love pretty much every kind of music out there. This has not diminished my love of Bryan Adams in the least. Last August, I was given 24 hours’ notice that Bryan was coming to Spokane. Impulsively I purchased two tickets and the next night my friend “Ann” and I were sitting about ten rows back at a local concert venue. There was no band, no fanfare, no stadium, no excess anything. It was just going to be Bryan Adams, his guitar, and a back up guitar player. The tour was called Bare Bones.

Just before Bryan made his appearance, I panicked. What if this tour was some kind of last-ditch effort by an artist past his prime to hold onto his fame and make some money? He’d toured for so long. What if he was tired, over it, and just wanting to retire already? Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bryan came out with a grin on his face and a guitar in his hands and he rocked every song without a trace of boredom and every shred of talent he’d had decades before. I was transported to the past as I sang along with him and got to hear some of the stories behind his songs… for example, that “Heaven” was written for the movie A Night in Heaven about a male stripper who seduces his female college professor. Awesome! After the concert Ann and I split a bottle of wine and stumbled all over downtown Spokane trying to find Bryan to express our enjoyment of his performance. No such luck. Probably for the best.

As I write this, I’m preparing for a trip to Yakima where Bryan Adams will be continuing his Bare Bones tour at the Capitol Theater. I’m just as excited as I was when I was 10 years old. Not everyone is lucky enough to see their childhood favorite return to the stage and sound just as amazing as before. I know I will leave happy after Bryan performs another concert “Straight from the Heart.” 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Change is scary, but good

“Please, baby,” I whispered to him as his big brown eyes stared up at me with a look of panic mixed with utter despair. “Please pee for mama.”

I knew the dog was going to panic when I missed the exit for I 5 South, which would’ve taken me to the West Seattle Bridge, and went through town to find Highway 99 instead. Dexter was used to quiet nights with us in our big house on a suburban street, and now his first taste of Seattle was Pioneer Square on a Friday night, a mixture of crazies, cars, drunks and darkness. By the time I found 99, he was trembling and whining. When I pulled into my designated parking spot at our new apartment complex, he was in the middle of an outright canine meltdown.

I tried to coax him out of the car, but he refused to budge. I reached for his leash but he shot me a look that said he’d snap at me if I touched him. Not knowing what else to do, I started taking things up to the new place while I awaited Mr. W’s arrival. I called and explained the situation and he said he’d try and get Dexter out of the car when he got to the apartment.

I looked inside my tiny new home. What had seemed so adventurous and wonderful before was starting to scare me now. It was so small. How were we going to fix 2,000 square feet worth of things in here? How would we get it all up the narrow stairwell? How would we ever adjust to this? Life changes always sound good in your head, but actually following through is the hard part. I was beginning to see why most people simply lived their lives stuck in a rut rather than actually making changes.

“This isn’t going to work,” barked a cranky Mr. W as he traipsed through the door holding the leash of the clearly traumatized dog. “I walked him around for twenty minutes but he wouldn’t pee. He’s an idiot.” I sighed and tried to get Dexter to eat his food or drink some water. He would have none of it. We left him in the apartment to get boxes from the minivan only to hear his shrill barking all the way from the building entrance. Mr. W said a few choice words and then I stayed inside with the dog, holding him as he trembled, while Mr. W made at least twelve trips, arms loaded with stuff, to and from the van. By the time we’d gotten all of it inside, it was 10 PM.

“To hell with making soup and sandwiches,” I said, grabbing my Blackberry and ordering pizza. Unlike Idaho, in Seattle, you can actually get a pizza at 10 PM. And it’s made with local ingredients, fresh and delicious. It’s also expensive, but my frugal thoughts had left with my onset of exhaustion.

While we waited, I took Dexter downstairs again. Again, he refused to pee. I knew he wasn’t used to going on a leash. He’d always refused to go on walks, always waiting until we got home so he could do his business in his own backyard in the privacy of his own home. But that wasn’t an option and for him and may never be an option again. So he would just have to learn. We walked around our block, then the next one. I shivered, cursing myself for leaving my coat upstairs in my haste to get the dog away from my angry husband. It was, of course, raining.

I walked him over to some bushes beneath the balcony of our apartment. Dropping down to his level, I soothed him and whispered that this was going to be home now and that, while I knew it was different and scary, I promised he’d eventually grow to like it and that there would be lots of new people for him to meet and dogs for him to sniff. I told him I was sorry we took him away from home just when he’s hit the beginning of old age for a boxer, but that we’d be much happier and that would mean we’d be better parents to him, too.

It was more than a lecture to my dog… it was a reminder to myself. This was what I had wanted for most of my adult life, and now it was finally happening. Just because the circumstances were far from ideal and the change was scary didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be wonderful.

I finished whispering, scratched Dexter behind his ears, and stood up. He looked up at me, sighed, walked to the end of his leash, squatted, and peed at last. I let loose a string of loud praises followed by a treat as he stared at me incredulously. Then we went upstairs and Mr. W and I ate pizza straight out of the box sitting on the floor of our new place before collapsing onto a futon mattress and passing out in our clothes.

The next morning looked a lot brighter as the sun illuminated our new life. I stepped out onto the balcony and caught a glimpse of the Puget Sound sparkling in the distance. I grinned as I realized that my view would no longer include a Wal Mart and the beach was now just a short walk away. I knew that no matter how much stuff we had to get rid of, no matter how many meltdowns the dog had, no matter how many job interviews we had to sit through with no luck or how long it took us to adjust, we wouldn’t regret our decision. The relocation felt more right than anything had in a long time. It still does. And that’s priceless. 
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