You know how things have been a little bit droopy drawers, like food costs, fights, and "when will I be able to afford a home?" feelings going around. Well, I do believe I've felt a shift in the winds these last few days. Here are my examples.
That Hoverboard Feeling - I went for a walk with my cousin Conner. He has a lovely, big, friendly, almost-never-barks dog named Stanley. Children are drawn to Stanley. It's his cuddly, non-threatening vibe. Welp, one kid managed to make his way to Stanley for a pet after shouting at Conner, "Can I pet your dog?" Conner paused, we walked over to the kid, and, while hovering on his hoverboard, the little guy petted Stanley. I said, "Wow, you can do your hoverboard AND pet a dog. That's impressive." The kid was kinda lost in a petting-the-dog zone of quiet contemplation. Conner wrapped things up and we started to walk away. Suddenly, I hear a shout from the little hover-naut and I look back. With both arms swung wide hope, chest out to the world, he screamed, "I can do anything on my hoverboard!!!!"
I have not seen this level of bold optimism, self-love, and pure joy in a while. Folks gotta have it! Of course it came from a kid. Children are our teachers; I fully believe that. This kid taught me about exuberant joy in that moment. I felt it. I loved it. I also loved his hair sticking out of his helmet at every angle, including across his face, as he made his power-stance proclamation. I loved this kid. Keep it up, bro. Shine on!
Doughnuts Not Distance - Another friend, who shall go unnamed, went into a "I need space this weekend" zone with me instead of the "let's go to the corn maze" zone, which I thought we would be going into. I felt sad and bummed and annoyed about it until Sunday morning. This person had had a medical procedure on Thursday that required full anesthesia and was maybe wigged-out, overtired, or hungry for some reason, I figured. I still don't know. But, on Sunday morning, I woke up with an idea.
I like to go for bike rides. This person's house is one I'd biked to many times. This person is also someone I know loves a morning pastry from Grand Central Bakery. Who doesn't? So, my big fun idea was to not break through the request for space too much by texting, calling, or knocking on his door. Instead, I would just go to Grand Central, get some yummy-yummy pastries, and leave them on his door step.
I dropped them off at 9 am then waited all day Sunday with no acknowledgement. Then, at 10:58 pm I got this text, basically: "Six pastries outside my door in three boxes inside a big bag. If this was you, thank you." I wrote back, basically: "Sorry to invade your space but I wanted to have fun and leaving you pastries was fun." The reply?
In five minutes"
So, it worked out. I took the risk of having fun and breaking the request for space, slightly, and it was received with kindness. All is well, now, and I feel happier.
Fall Leaves - Electrical fall leaves are busting it out all over Seattle. They're just so neon and bright and aliiiiiiive. That's enough to remind us to enjoy our lives, to love nature and its cycles, and be glad the earth has so many cool moves with which to surprise and delight us. Go neon orange tree! I see you. You shine on, too!
I gotta give shout outs to the kids at the University of Southern California. I'm staying with friends at a house near campus and decided to sign up for the $40 fitness membership for the week. It's not only an amazing deal, it puts me in the middle of a world of 20-somethingness that is so edifying, inspiring, and very funny. Here are some thoughts about the experience.
Olympic Pool #3 - Turns out, USC hosted the swimming competitions at the 1984 LA Olympic Games. Their facilities are gorgeous, sparkling blue beneath the SoCal sunshine. I got to watch diving practice! It's all been very much updated since the 80s and they make it available to the public. Plus, your lifeguards are hard-working college kids and there's something inspiring and good about that. College is so much work but they have jobs in addition to school. Way to go, lifeguards!
My Heavens! - I'm just gonna say it. The first time I approached the pool building I couldn't find my way in because you don't enter by the pool, you enter by way of the gym near the pool. Noted! But, because of that, I ended up asking the first kid nearby to help me. He was cruising on his cruiser bike and, I now realize, was some sort of varsity athlete. He looked like a child of Zeus - golden brown, tall, fit, and weirdly kind. In a hurry, he just kept pointing me in the right direction, let me in a special entrance for athletes, and got me to the women's locker room door. This descendent of the Gods did not give up on his task of helping the lost lady. Go Trojans! I felt very backstage and cool and, also, humbly grateful.
I'm Old-er! - You wanna feel your 40s? Hang out near 20s. They're so lithe and healthy and they don't really care. I'm weirdly fit for my age, in ways, but I remember now my twenties. You glow. You have youth! And, it's good for the world. I also remind myself regularly that my 84-year-old self will long to be my 40-something self and that life is grand for so many reasons.
Tough Neighborhood - I'm living in a neighborhood with couches deposited on sidewalks and broken-down, unkempt areas a'plenty. It's also a place where new money flows abundantly to stunning older homes, repainted and well-landscaped. It's a neighborhood in transition and it's going in one direction: fancy. For now, it's very mixed.
LA - LA, I really love it. So many creative people doing interesting work. They're hustling and I'm accustomed to the quick decision on whether or not I can help their hustle. In almost every conversation in LA you're being evaluated for ways you can or cannot help the person you just met. They need a photographer or they are a photographer and you might help them because of that. It's constant. I've learned to let it happen.
Gym Nerves - I've been a gym attendee since my early twenties. I picked up weight lifting as a way to prevent injuries. Now I use it to keep my body healthy, in general. At USC, there is a strong "check out my body and this lycra situation I've created" energy. People look absolutely fantastic at the gym. Bless them! I'm excited if I match. That said, I get sort of exhausted by all the mirror checks and attempts to be hot. It's like, "Just be your selfie!" everyone! Then again, it's that striving, 20-something vibe that is awesome. They're hungry to do great things, including have cool sneaks and be shredded and swoll.
Well, the sun continues to shine. I've now helped to make, and also consume so much, tiramisu. Incredible! I'm available to come make you a tiramisu whenever you like. It means, "Pick me up" as a nod to the espresso inside. Yum!
I'm leaving soon and very much feel I will miss my friends here and want them to know they are lifelong for me. I'll never be able to match them in the U.S. because they're just too darn calm, unhurried, appreciative, and fun. Sorry, Americans. We have stuff to learn.
Movie Pause - YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THIS! I still cannot believe it. I'm literally rolling it around in my brain and it has nowhere to go. You know how you wait through a whole movie to go to the bathroom or get popcorn, if you're so into the movie? Even Forrest Gump? Well, welcome to Italy where you shall suffer no more! They have a 10-minute break that occurs about at the middle of the film and allows you to get food, pee, chat with your friend or whatever sounds nice. I'm thinking jumping jacks next time or a few laps around the theater. I understand they'll sell more food but it also seems so decent and honoring of the physical needs of movie watchers. Everyone just chills a bit while everyone else gets comfy and then we keep the party rolling. I like it.
My favorite moment was when my Italian friend said that, "Of course, 10 minutes isn't enough if it is a longer film." She wants more "pausa." How decent. How Italian!
Exclamations! - Mama Mia! We all love to say it. We all think it's fun. Because, it is! Throw in a hand gesture and you're able to move a lot of emotion. You can say it when you're reeeeeally happy. Or, you can cast your head down and shake it slowly with great disappointment and say, "Maaama Miiiia." It's all wonderful, and there's more where that came from.
Dai - "Come on!" You pronounce it like "dye." You can shout it loudly at your soccer team playing on television when you need them to play a LOT better. You can say it nicely at the end of a phone call as you head towards adios, or ciao, in this case. It reminds me a bit of "Dime" (dee-may) in Spanish where, during a conversation, you encourage and tease your friend a bit as they talk. "Oh, come on. No kidding." Or, "Come on, dish."
Pieta Eterna - This one cracks me UP. It's so Catholic, so Italian, and so dramatic. It's means eternal suffering. And, you want to know where I first heard it? At the card table with the ladies. We're playing burraco, of course, and this one team could really use a break on a card pick and instead they get no break and my friend Nuncia comes up with her slowly whispered, "Pieta eterna." I love it!
Madonna - Pop star? Yes. Name of the holiest of mothers of the Catholic church? Also yes. And, you gotta say it right. The emphasis is heavy on the "Ma." You can almost do a brief pause after "Ma" so it's a bit of "Ma-donna." l love it. Again, so Catholic and dramatic. I also hear this one mostly while playing cards and something terrible or wonderful has happened.
How to Say "Hi" - There are rules a-plenty in Italy on how to eat, when to eat, what to drink with what you eat, and, it turns out, how to politely greet others.
Ciao - We Americans all love "Ciao." We wanna drive a top-down Fiat, fresh off some espresso, pasta in our belly, sunflowers glowing in our eyes, and shout "Ciao!" to the world. Alas, it falls into the category of casual. You must not throw it at someone you don't know, or particularly someone who is older than you or deserves respect.
Salve - (sal-vay) This greeting is the safest. You can't go wrong. It might seem overly formal but it allows the other person to respond back either with salve or something more casual like bongiorno or ciao. It's like wearing a tie but then taking it off once you realize it's not necessary, or nylons for the femininas out there. I got a "salve" this morning from a man I've seen sitting with his dog on this bench on my way home. I've never passed him before on my bike, officially, so what does he say? "Salve." It can kinda be an old person's word but, according to my hostess, it's a great choice. I've noticed she'll say it when entering a store where she has a question and needs someone's expertise or help. It's respectful.
Bongiorno - Here's another safe option. It's literally "Good day." It feels formal to me, as an American, but it isn't. Good day, good afternoon, good evening, and good night are all separate phrases that must be saved for their proper time of day. When I'm out on a bike ride or walk in the countryside and near some modern, fit, lycra-wearing Italians, I will often just get "Giorno." It's casz ("casual" truncated). It makes me feel accepted and cool for a nanosecond.
Am I Cool? Nope - I'm not cool. Truly, you wouldn't be able to imagine how behind in fashion and size-of-clothing choice I am. I gotta drop down some sizes and tighten up my gear. I'm also short on perfume and make up. It's really a lot to feel awkward about. I'm also way too friendly. I smile at people I don't know and try to say a greeting and I get stared at with no smile in return, often. I would say this happens about 90% of the time. I have foreigner vibe and they don't dig it...right away.
Tall - Oh my Lord, I am tall. I'm so tall. It's ridiculous by Italian standards how tall I am. I am taller than most men. I'm also strong-looking. It's so awkward and confusing for Italians. I have literally learned how to say, "I have German blood." ("Ho la sangue de Germania.") It feels hilarious to me when I say it and yet, at times, it really relaxes the people I tell. It's like they're uncomfortable with my size. I imagine it IS uncomfortable for them. I had one of my rare but distinctive moments when I scared the bah-jeezus out of a woman in the women's restroom. As I walked in she pointed at the sign for women on the door and tried to instruct me of my error. When I smiled and just kept walking she let it go. She was under 5-feet tall. That's usually the crowd that I scare the most. Sorry!
Ending a Phone Call - I've noticed that people ready to get off the phone here start with "dai" then move to "va benne" (all good) then to "ciao." It's kinda goes like this, "dai...dai, si, si, va benne, alloora, okay, ciao...ciao, ciao." They might throw in an "arrivaderci" but usually not. If you'll see them soon or tomorrow you might hear, "Ci vediamo" or "A domani." It's basically a salad of salutations that initiate a process of eventually saying "ciao" a bizillion times until someone finally hangs up.