Friday, October 29, 2010

A Kind of Racism I'm Not Used To

It was such an auspicious start to an ultimately unpleasant experience. Right after we moved here, Dan spotted the pet store in that sleepy little business district about a mile east of downtown Chattanooga. We finally made time on a beautiful autumn Saturday to drop by and perhaps get a couple toys for our dog and cat. Pulling up to the storefront, we realized that we couldn't park on the road, so Dan turned down the next side street, hoping to find a lot in the back. As he made the turn, I noticed a consignment shop on the corner.

"Consignment shop - sweet! Can we stop by there for a minute, after the pet store?"

"Oh, sure," Dan said as he pulled into parking lot. "Wow, look at how cute this is."

It was cute. Beyond the back end of the consignment shop, a half flight of stairs led down to a narrow, brick-paved dugout behind the neighboring row of brightly painted storefronts. We got out of the car and headed for the pet store entrance. Immediately outside the door, at the end of the dugout, we saw a couple dudes lounging at a wrought iron table. A small, hyperactive black dog greeted us.

I laughed as the dog tried to tackle my leg. "What kind of dog is he?"

One of the dudes stood up and said, "Miniature schnauzer. He's just nine months old."

We cooed over the puppy for a bit. Dan reached for the door handle. "Okay if he gets inside?"

"Sure, he owns the place."

We laughed as we stepped through the door. The store, like it's canine owner, was absolutely adorable. It felt like an old timey general store, but with a pet focus. A long aisle leading to the streetside entrance was flanked with racks of colorful dog and cat toys, sundry pet motif toys for humans (I think that was the stuff the owner called "boutique items"), in addition to a few practical things, like food and beds.

The owner brought our attention to a sealed, white paper bag on the counter. "You get a complimentary bag of biscuits on your first visit. We bake all of the biscuits here." That was when I noticed a small kitchen behind the counter. It was very homey, adorned with dog themed hand towels and other bric-a-brac.

We thanked the owner and then set about spending some money at his lovely establishment. Dan had his eye on a new bed for Dulce, but I convinced him to wait until after payday. He assented, but added, "We should definitely get her new bed here. I really like this place."

We settled on our purchases, which included several pet toys and a pair of "I Love Dogs" socks that Dan selected for me. As the owner rang up the order, I noticed a sign on the counter that said, "Is your dog afraid of thunderstorms? Ask us for free advice." Could this place get any cuter?

Our purchases in hand, I thought of the consignment shop and recalled that, unlike the other businesses on the block, it didn't appear to have a rear entrance. I turned to Dan and said, "I think we should go out the front."

Dan turned to the owner. "Is that front door open?" The man looked confused. "Can we go out that way?"

I added, "We want to go to the consignment shop, but they don't have a door in the back, do they?"

The owner walked around the counter. "I'll let you out front. I keep that door locked. But let me tell you something." Looking me straight in the eye, he said to me, in all seriousness, "That store is owned by black people. They're into the crushed velvet and sequins. You're just going to walk out empty-handed."

Boing! I sort of laughed and gasped simultaneously. Dan looked at me, and then the owner, and smiled as he said, "Maybe she likes crushed velvet and sequins."

I added, "Yeah, I just want to check it out."

He persisted. "You're really not going to find anything there, so I wouldn't bother if I were you. You should go to the consignment shop on the north side of town." Chattanooga's north side is notoriously yuppie/liberal; the locals often tell us that we belong there, for one reason or another. "They have a much bigger and better selection. You'll just be wasting your time at this place."

I guess he sensed that we were going to ignore his advice, so he eventually let us out the front door. Dan and I had a very spirited fifteen second discussion on the way to the consignment shop, which by the way, happened to be lovely. It isn't the kind of place where you find splashy, loud, vintage-y stuff (as a matter of fact, I visited one of those places on Friday; I most definitely walked out of there empty-handed, though with many fond recollections of an era when I could dress like Marcia Brady and actually look cool). Rather, this shop was the kind of place where money-minded, middle aged women sell their old Ann Taylor goods to money-minded women in their 30s (like me) who want quality, solid-colored, mostly natural fiber apparel. It was clean, the clothes were organized by size, and they had fitting rooms. They did not, however, appear to have any items made of either crushed velvet or sequins, which was kind of a letdown.

Nevertheless, I walked out with a navy blue shirt and a red sweater, for a total price of $10.93. Let's just say that I know which store I'll be visiting again. And with my combined purchases, I can now rock this ensemble:

Take that, weird dude. Thanks for creeping up my day. See you never.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Metroplex Reflections

* Whenever I leave Texas, I can't help feeling like I should actually be staying. It's a dreamy place, dotted with polite men who open doors with a flourish and a smile, and white-on-black night speed signs.

* Of course, I can only speak of the minuscule portion I've seen, which includes Houston, Austin and the Dallas/Arlington/Fort Worth Metroplex. Even if I had explored these cities thoroughly (which, of course, I haven't), that would constitute just 3.6% of Texas's 268,601 square miles.

* Last weekend saw my first visit to Dallas. So far, it is my favorite sprawled-out city where I don't want to live, easily beating Los Angeles and Atlanta. We had to drive at least forty five minutes to each destination, but traffic was never that bad. It appears that the sprawl is by choice rather than by necessity. Exit ramps stretch far from the ample freeways, like tentacles trying to grasp the insurmountable prairie. Ranch style buildings rest a long distance from the road. It seems that if there is one aesthetic rule that guides Dallas's inefficient urban plan, it is "don't distract from the sky". I have to admit, I find the vastness soothing.

* We visited the site of the Kennedy assassination, which appears to be the number one tourist attraction in Dallas proper. I find this morbid and strange. We stood across from the "grassy knoll" and watched as tourists snapped pictures at the X-marked spot in the middle of the road where the first shot hit JFK. They would take turns, pointing and shooting their cameras toward the infamous sixth floor window. That X is like a freakin' magnet. People just can't resist it. We saw a guy lazily wave away an oncoming pick-up truck as if he were shooing a pestering toddler. I have to wonder if any unmindful tourists have been killed by motorists in that very spot.

* As tourist attractions go, I personally prefer the Fort Worth Stockyards, a preserved "Old West" style neighborhood where they parade longhorns twice daily to maintain a sense of authenticity. We missed the cattle drive, but still had fun ogling cows and horses, wandering amongst the kitschy shops, and (my favorite) following the Texas Trail of Fame, which is just like the Hollywood Walk of Fame but refined to "honor those who have made a significant contribution to our Western way of life". Interestingly, one does not need to be a native Texan to be honored, as evidenced by this tribute to my favorite historic lady of the Midwest

The TToF has yet to recognize James Stewart, which I consider an enormous oversight. There is an open nomination process, which involves including "a description as to why the individual should be included along with a brief biography, references, family contact information and photographs." Yikes! This Trail of Fame is no joke.

* Being in the Metroplex (isn't that word stressful?) reminds me how much I miss being near a big city. Granted, Detroit's population has plummeted over the decades, but the metropolitan area is still home to four plus million sundry people. That means many restaurants and different styles of food. Statistically speaking, there are bound to be hundreds of quality eateries within a forty five minute drive of the city. Now, consider the fact that the Metroplex is home to about six and a half million people.

In short, we ate well. At length, this included Tex Mex, Chinese, Thai, Italian (prepared quite masterfully by an Armenian family), lots of little deep fried things, and prodigious amounts of beef, all of which were excellent. I simply cannot get this in my new home without driving at least two hours.

* On the way to meeting my father-in-law for happy hour on Monday, my mother-in-law pulled over by the ranch where the television show "Dallas" was filmed.

I said, "I went to a K through eight school and when I was a little kid, I remember the junior high marching band playing the 'Dallas' theme song."

She laughed, "Really? That's strange."

I started cracking up just thinking about it. Dan asked, "Wait, how does it go?" I hummed the first few bars and then he and his mother finished the tune in unison. It is an exceptionally good theme song. It more or less represents my complete image of the city, along with Larry Hagman in a cowboy hat.

The gates were closed, so we just gazed from the car windows. Dan joked, "Do you wanna get here early tomorrow for the tour before we hit the road?" Truly, I have no recollection of the TV show beyond the song, Larry Hagman and the certain feeling that Patrick Duffy was the morally and physically superior son. But it felt good to be there anyway. Staring across the expansive lawn, I noticed a slight incline along the side of the property, where the lush horizon blocked the sight of the adjacent road. All I could see beyond the grass and a couple trees was the broad, blue sky. It felt like looking at forever.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In Search of a Pregnancy Primer

There are many womanly things I'm no good at, including the application of makeup, the doing of hair, and the knowledge of obscure terminal illnesses. That smart alecky statement might give the impression that I actually think I'm cool for being no good at these things, but that's just a cover-up. I know I'm a freak and I'm not particularly proud of it. I'm not particularly ashamed either, but I'm not proud.

Mostly, I just accept myself for who I am, but there is one lady category in which I am so ignorant that I think I may need a crash course: pregnancy. I'm thirty three years old. I've never had a kid. I want to make a baby soon. I think I'm almost mature enough to be a mom. My plan is to get my party on until the end of 2010 and then revisit my three year old new year's tradition of not drinking. But instead of abstaining until Valentine's Day, I will abstain until I have birthed a child. Oh, and I'll quit my BC pills (obviously). And I will give up coffee, because that's what I'm supposed to do... uh, right?

Okay, okay. I should give myself more credit. I know that I'm not supposed to drink coffee while I'm pregnant. But I think I'm supposed to give it up beforehand, too. Or at least I know someone who did that, but I'm not totally sure why and I didn't know her well enough to ask. This is my very problem. Most wannabe moms I know (especially those in the thirty or older crowd) are quite knowledgeable and purposeful in their pregnancy quests, and I still don't know anything about this stuff. I don't even know how I'm supposed to find out about it. I think that there are some books that I should be reading, but I don't know which ones.

To get myself started, I'm hoping I can track down R, a woman I've met only twice. R's husband K is the grandson of Dan's grandma's best friend. I first met this young couple two summers ago and though they cannot know it, they had a profound impact upon me at the time (you can read all about it in this ancient myspace blog post, in which I renamed them Frank and Karen). R and K are eight or nine years younger than me, but in some ways, far more mature. Both of them are very sensible and hardworking, strong of will and body. I was initially struck by their down-to-earth money management skills, so much that they inspired me to take a personal finance class that completely changed my life. If I had never seen them again I doubt I could forget the impression they made upon me. But when we were reunited a year later (they hosted us for a couple days after Dan presented at a conference in San Francisco), I was even further moved by the way they handled themselves as the parents of a baby boy. To this day I am especially in awe of mother R.

R is a pediatric nurse who has long wanted to become a midwife (at the time she had decided to put that goal on hold, as nursing and child-rearing were more than enough). She chose to have her son at a birth center under the care of a midwife, a decision that most of her colleagues considered completely nuts. Without getting into a lot of personal details, I will say that R made several decisions about her pregnancy and her child-rearing methods that are contrary to conventional medical wisdom, of which I know almost nothing. I did not know, for instance, that doctors warn mothers against sleeping next to their babies, because they may roll over and suffocate their kid. But R pointed out that on the rare occasions that happens, the mother is usually drunk or drugged. So, you know, use your common sense and don't sleep next to the baby if you're wasted. Or don't be a drunk mom.

R's general take on conventional prenatal and postnatal care is that it's so focused on prevention/caution/avoiding medical malpractice suits that it essentially encourages women to be freaked out and worried all the time. That can create other problems for new mothers and their children. Being a healthy, young and educated woman, she chose instead to live by this mantra - "It's going to be fine." She said that statement to me several times during our visit and she truly was the picture of serenity. And her baby? He was a dynamo! Hearty and strong, just like his parents, he was turning himself over at just four months. He smiled lots, too.

So, yeah, I admit it - I want to be a mom exactly like R, though I know that isn't physically possible. In lieu of that, I'm going to enlist my grandmother-in-law's help in tracking her down. I'm hoping that a quick email and a request for sources will get me off to a good start. I just have a feeling that R has some good ideas for an older lady like me, who feels pretty sure that despite her lack of knowledge, this baby-making endeavor is going to be fine.