Saturday, August 16, 2008

I had the strangest dream last night

I had been invited to John McCain's house to meet his wife Cindy. He's running for president, but in a quiet way. Something we won't be bringing up in conversation as this visit isn't about him or his aspirations. In fact, he isn't even expected to be there.

I'm there with someone else, a woman, but I can't tell if she's older or younger than me. I do know that she is much more interested in meeting Cindy than I am. We walk into a large screen porch in the back of the house. The ceiling is vaulted right up to the exposed green-painted rafters. The frames of the screen panels are pale green as well, and the floor is slate. There's a bedroom off the back of the porch, around the corner, where we can hear ladies' voices. The rest of the porch has been decorated in decorator-magazine fashion. Flowering plants in clear ball jars, cane sofas with patterned silk pillows, throw rugs on the diagonal, hardcover books on the end table with a key and a tassel carefully draped over their ever-to-be-unopened edge, potted orchids swaying as we walk past.

We walk into the bedroom (another magazine spread, pink and fluffy now with accents of red) to find Cindy sitting on a large bed. She sits in her carefully tailored suit with her legs tucked to the side. She reminds me of Betty Draper from Mad Men. Cool and elegant, she is pouring coffee into tiny cups laid out on a tray balanced on the bed. Plates of cookies surround her.

She's talking to a friend sitting in an armchair. The woman I came in with walks briskly up the to bedside and starts talking in a breathy way about how exciting this is, and how beautiful the home is, and oh my goodness, thank you so very much for inviting us this afternoon, and would you like some help with that lovely tray?

I can't sit on the bed -- everything will spill -- and there's no other chair. Not knowing quite what to do with myself, but not feeling at all flustered, I nod a "Hello" to Cindy and wander back out into the green porch to sit in the breeze.

There's no one else to talk to, but it's pleasant enough out here, and I'm enjoying the orchid on the low table near me. There's a silvery green-backed bug daintily making its way across a sea grass mat near my foot. And somewhere around the corner I can hear the flapping and twittering of finches. There must be an aviary. It's as if I'm sitting inside a large Portmerion china bowl.

With no sound at all, a large unique bird soars into the room and lands on the arch of the orchid I've been admiring. His body is grey and blue like a dove or a large parakeet, but his beak is large, striped and hooked like a toucan's. He cocks his head at me and I tilt my head back at him.

"I'm glad to see you like our bird! Cindy found him one day in the barn!"

I turn around to see John McCain standing near me, his hand held out in greeting.

"Um. Hello. Yes, he's quite nice." John McCain sits in the chair near mine. "Thank you for having us over."

"Oh, that's Cindy's thing. Glad you're here though. I wonder if there's coffee. Would you like some?"

I'm totally at sea. I don't really like this person; I don't know why he's chosen me to talk to; I don't know what to say. I hear women talking louder now. "Is that John? Oh! Bring him this coffee. He'll want these too. No! On the tray. That's right." And a china platter piled high with large cookies appears in my lap, threatening to tilt and scatter cookies all over me and the floor. A thin porcelain cup of coffee is pressed in my hand (Too hot!) and John McCain and I are alone again.

I thrust the platter of cookies at him (Too fast!) hoping he'll take them, only to watch them slide towards the far edge. He grabs the other side of the heavy platter and the cookies slide back towards my hand. With those two movements, the entire bottom of the platter has been revealed, and I'm startled to notice that it's the same pattern as my grandmother's china.

(True non-dream bit of background: Years ago, my grandmother purchased an *enormous* quantity of Staffordshire blue lustre china at a London antique shop. It has something like 23 place settings, twelve covered vegetable servers and to many platters to count. There was so much that she gave half of it to my aunt Joyce for her to use and to store in her house. When Joyce died, that half of the china service was sold -- no one told my grandmother until it was well and truly gone. She was furious. A few years later, when she moved out of her house into a retirement condo, she shipped her portion of this mythic china service to me. We have an insane amount of china -- Dear Butcher counted it up once. I think we have complete service for 13? It's heavy, it's blue, and after researching the registration marks, I discovered that it was made by Johnson Brothers in England in 1873. Or the forerunner to Johnson Brothers? I can't remember exactly.)

So anyway, there's John McCain holding a piece of my china pattern.

"Where did you GET that? That's amazing! I can't believe you have this same pattern."

I tell Mr. McCain the history of the china, saying only that my grandmother had purchased an enormous amount of the stuff and that it's quite rare to find any of this pattern in the US, leaving out the bit about Joyce's portion. There's a lengthy and confused conversation between John and Cindy about one insignificant plate amongst many, and he comes back to inform me that Cindy bought it a few years ago from the Massey China and Porcelain Museum when it went out of business a few years ago in Boston.

"Really. I've never heard of the Massey China Museum."

"It's quite well known if you're a collector. Cindy is, ha ha. I just follow her about opening my wallet."

Not funny, John.

In the manner of dreams, I'm now walking down the sidewalk in front of their house thinking about the visit. An image flashes in front of me, a black museum exhibit card with white block letters.

Staffordshire dinner collection
c. 1873.
On loan from the [my mother's name] collection

A flash of understanding. Funny that John McCain would have pointed the way. Or rather, Cindy.

In my dream, when my grandmother gave me her china my mother had begged and pleaded with me to have some of the china. It wasn't fair that I got the china. She should have some. I don't believe this actually happened, although I remember her being upset in real life that Grandma sent me her silver, as my mother had just had hers stolen, so I should give her my gift of the silver set, even though it had been promised to me since I was ten years old. The gift of the china was a surprise. But in the dream, she had kicked up a fuss, so I had split the china with her and only taken half (a quarter of the original set).

So in the dream, it has come to me that she never used the china at all, but put it out on loan to various museums. I know, in the way you know things in dreams, that when the Massey went under, they sold her china to the public for her on commission. She never used it, only profited from it. And that's how Cindy McCain ended up with Grandma's china.

Odd dream, no?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ah, Hell

I don't know if that's "Ah! I look upon you, the glorious peaks and valleys of Hell" or if it's "Aw, dammit it all to Hell." Or maybe it's both.

I've just come back from escorting my son to New York City and back. Overall, it was a fine trip, including a jaunt to the Natural History Museum, a day at the Met, and a small explosion at Grandma's Gramercy Park apartment which involved a bite on my arm. We visited with family which he enjoyed when he usually doesn't, we went to Chinatown to get some cheap fans (where I spent the day waiting for a blow-up because he hates strong smells yet rotting fish smells wafting up from the gutter bothered him not at all), and we decided not to go to a movie after the ticket counter was determined to "smell like sour soap."

I can't figure out any more what normal is.

I keep getting asked by people, "How's Saul doing?" I'm not trying to be coy or pull people into a long dissertation of recent events, but I quite honestly don't know how to answer that question anymore. Mostly, people don't really care to know, truth be told. They just want to hear that he's dong better, and for the most part, the news is great. So I can honestly say, "He's doing great." Except then people move on from that question to further conversation where it's clear that they think that he's "all better" and the family has no more problems. Uh, not so much.

So I'm left with saying, "What's your definition of normal? Depending on what you think normal is, Saul is doing great. Better than normal." For me, a bite on the arm after one week of being away from home and traipsing through museums with no other explosions or runaways is a pretty good thing. A huge improvement. Yay!

On the other hand, I still really do not like being bitten. It gets me angry and depressed.

I keep bouncing back and forth between these two islands. Things Are Better and This Life Sucks. The worst place is when I'm standing on the bridge between the two thinking, "Things are better and STILL this life sucks."

I had a week of people watching in Manhattan. Weird thoughts kept flitting through my mind: I wonder how many books that man has read. I wonder how long that couple drinking Rob Roys has been married. I wonder how that mother with the Prada bag would react if her son attacked her. I wonder if that young girl is flattered when he stands so close to her in the door of subway, his back to the crowd, or is that annoyance at his presumption I see in that flick of her hair?

I'm doing a bit of people watching on myself, truth be told. I'm not sure how well I'm doing, but on the other hand, what's normal here? I have a friend who was abusing sleeping pills; I spent on weekend a few years ago trying to convince her to check herself into a psychiatric hospital. She kept coming back to her children not doing well, and I kept saying back to her, "That's normal. They're father left them for a younger woman. He got married and he wants them to never be angry at him. Of course they're stressed. They're in a stressful situation. So are you. It's normal to show signs of stress." That conversation keeps coming back to me, now that I'm on the other end of it, so to speak. What's normal here? What's expected?

Saul's therapist asked me a few weeks ago if I was depressed. I answered quickly, "Yup. Been depressed for a while, but I've been much more depressed than this." Last week he privately said that he was amazed that I had said "Yes" so easily to a question which most people stumbled across. "Come on now. Three months ago I was seriously considering putting my son in a psychiatric hospital for observation. I've been fighting this THING, whatever it is, for years. I keep running right into walls in his education. Wouldn't YOU be depressed? Isn't that a normal reaction? What if I had said "No"? Would you have believed me?"


"OK then."

People are constantly looking for any sign of depression. But what if you find it? Is finding it "bad"? Or is it a normal response to some very abnormal situations?

I don't quite know the answers to those yet.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mr. Obama is Mr. Darcy?

Maureen Dowd says in today's New York Times that Obama, with his proud and reserved manner is America's Mr. Darcy, and we are all Elizabeth, intrigued but feeling rejected by his prideful demeanor.

I can sort of see what she's saying, but it sort of doesn't fit either.

Miss Bennet doesn't like Mr. Darcy because he seems to not like her. She actually likes him until she overhears him reject her as being too rough for his fine person. Of course what she doesn't know is how much he admires her, etc. etc., nor does she understand how very stiff he is in company because he hasn't mastered the art of conversation and idle chatter.

OK, we all know that. But, uh, how does Obama fit into THAT? I don't think her analogy is apt.

Obama has always loved country (Miss Bennet), but she hasn't really been paying too much attention to him until recently. You don't go into local organizing unless you *really* like politics, believe me. Maybe now Miss Bennet sees him as being aloof? Too prideful? But is that really what's going on? Or do we see him now as acting aloof because all the pundits are saying that he's not blue collar enough.

I don't think Austen is going to work for this election.

If you are going to propose Barack Obama as some sort of hero in a well known Victorian book, then I'd go for either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. The brooding hero with Deep Thoughts on his mind which occupy him while all the girls want to do is twitter away somewhere at Thrushcross Grange, discussing table linens and inheritances.

But see, even that doesn't work. I have a hard time seeing Obama thumping across the moors getting his feet all wet in the peat. And pining for ghosts? No. I don't think so.

This is the problem with allegory -- it's hard to get it right. Better just to deal with the person as we have him.

I prefer Jon Stewart's take on the whole "Is he too arrogant and prideful?" meme: Of course he's arrogant. He's running for president of the United States! Presumptive leader of the Free World! Yes! He's arrogant! So's the other guy.