I found something I could ride

Something I ate: when, back in April, my husband and I took our trainer to dinner and asked about his ideas for getting a new horse, I think I ordered the fish.  Horse shopping wasn’t a new topic of conversation, as this is something most equestrians have opinions about, so we weren’t surprised to hear him suggest going to Germany. “The main thing,” he said this night, and not for the last time, “Is find something you can ride.”

How do you find a horse to try: while I was able to use my personal connections to find someone to look for a horse for me in Germany, looking closer to home was still easier. And where are the closer-to-home horses advertised? On Facebook, in a large, open group. Facebook has gotten some tough press lately, for its role in interfering with democracy and in facilitating genocide, but until we overthrow our social media overlords, cast off the shackles of our Amazon Prime memberships, and find a way to circumvent the authoritarian monopoly on online search, it’s what there is beyond word of mouth.

What I did beforehand: a day before my flight to Florida, I got a message from the agent who was supposed to show me the horse. She wanted to check if I was still coming. I said I was. She said the horse I had first contacted her about was no longer available, but she had a number of others to show me. There are a lot of reasons I can think of that would make a horse be no longer available, like injury or illness, or if it was already sold, or if the owner changed her mind about selling it. But to be honest I was annoyed. Peeved, even. I thought about cancelling my trip.

Why I went anyway: when I somewhat testily pressed the sales agent, she cheerfully provided me details about four other horses, all theoretically suitable for my purposes. I got over my peeved self.

Things that were not funny: at the sales barn, the fellow showing the horse had a German first name, and everyone knew him by his German first name, and no one said his last name because apparently no one felt they could pronounce it. This feels terribly American to me, as does most mispronunciation of names. Put this on our list of things we should do to be better, America. Let’s all learn to pronounce each other’s names. Starting with me. I can’t pronounce the German guy’s last name.

What I saw: the first horse the fellow with the German name showed me was a little chestnut mare, darker than a penny but a shade brighter than liver chestnut. When I saw her in the cross-ties, I noticed she had an unusual pattern of white on the side of her face, and wasn’t sure I liked it. But there is no such thing as a good horse in a bad color, so I set aside this impression.

She seemed like a quality horse with a professional rider sitting on her, but the reason professional riders exist is because they can ride anything and make it look like a quality horse.

What I wore: riding clothes, but no spurs.

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What it is: riding is expensive and time consuming. Horses are simultaneously fragile and dangerous. I know of nothing more magical than the feeling of riding well, and also nothing more elusive.

Things that were funny: over the course of four trips to barns, I rode about 10 different horses, and it wasn’t until I sat on the little chestnut mare that I felt that I’d found something I could ride. My trainer’s advice, which had seemed at first to be so obvious as to not be important, turned out to be the best signal that I’d found what I was looking for. I tried to suppress the huge grin, but I felt right away that I had found what I was looking for. I just didn’t want to tell anyone yet. I didn’t even know the horse’s name. In fact, we left the barn without me finding out her name. I knew she was six, and what she was like to ride that day, but not much else.

Who went with me: the sales agent who did all the work finding horses for me to try in Florida, who was polite when I abruptly got off another horse I didn’t like, who laughed at my jokes, and who even got me the chance to try the horse I had originally wanted to see.

Why I bought this horse: other than being the one horse I tried that I really felt I could ride, she was the one that was fun without feeling inexplicably intimidating. Sure, they weigh 1300 lbs., but, as my trainer says, either you’re in charge or they’re in charge. And her face? Once I’d ridden her it seemed extraordinarily adorable.

Things that were sad: that other horse, the one I’d wanted to see in the first place? She was really nice, too.

I heard meowing

What I heard: that meow a cat makes when he’s in another part of the house and he’s like, “Hey, where you at?” Insistent, but not yet panicked.

 

What happened the day before: it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single-family house in possession of a goodly amount of wallpaper, must be in want of stripping. The project of updating Mrs. Gardenwinkle’s 80s museum has begun, starting with the gutting of the upstairs bathrooms. The rate of progress of re-modeling projects is chaotic at best, with stretches of steady progress, interrupted by the delays of backordered tile, or returning round drains when you wanted square, or replacing uneven concrete pads for the AC units. So in the time between small disasters our contractor assigned two workers to the non-trivial task of stripping the wallpaper from every room. They started upstairs. There was this one tool that made a screeching noise, and another that got everything wet but whatever. As they worked their way downstairs the house has been transformed, from a neat-but-dated 80s museum to just the sort of sad, shabby, destroyed ranch house that might be claimed by feral cats.

After a few days they’d stripped the upstairs hall, the stairwell, and the downstairs hall. While I was out they moved on to my bathroom and then my bedroom. I wasn’t quite ready for them, but my lack of preparation for the disruption was nothing compared to Schwartz’s. He’d been locked in our end of the house for days, and though he had food and water, his litterbox and plenty of good hiding places, he must have escaped. When I got home from the barn he was locked in my bathroom, crouched on the toilet tank, angrily overlooking a river of urine that he’d left running through the soon-to-be gutted bathroom.

What happened the next day: the next day the plumbers were working on the rough-in of the upstairs bathroom, and while they’d been very careful to keep the cat out of the basement, a drain pipe got installed in a way that prevented the upstairs bathroom door from closing. So of course they went to lunch and left the door open. A few hours later, after they’d finished and left for the day, I heard the meowing.

Who should see it: anyone who didn’t get to see enough disaster photos recently. Cat behaviorists studying the way a meow changes from normal inquiry to angry shout. Problem solvers.

What I wore: pajamas, which got splinters in them.

Where I sat: on the floor by the roughed-in pipes, with the cat screaming and reaching for me with one paw.

Things that were funny: I found the cat under the newly roughed-in bathtub, frantically thrashing and howling and unable to fit through the only opening left to him.

Things that were not funny:

How I got help: the Bacon Provider decreed that pets are useless and terrible, and among the primary obstacles to his happiness, so he was not interested in helping the cat until after he’d eaten his samosa and lamb tikka masala and chicken saag. Then I realized that a solution might include removing a newly-installed floor panel and I announced to no one in particular it would be necessary to use a power tool.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider pretended that his involvement in the cat rescue was a great personal inconvenience. But he got to use the drill, so…<\shrug emoji>

Why I saw this show: it was love at first sight. The first time Schwartz saw the gutted bathroom he fell madly in love with it. Plain plywood floors. Exposed framing. Old pink insulation. Nooks. Crannies. Places a cat must never go. He could not resist.

Things that were sad: J.M. Barrie’s opening line of “Peter Pan” is, “All children, except one, grow up.” No cats grow up. And they persistently search for Neverland.

More things that were not funny: days later, when he returned to the upstairs, Schwartz begged to be allowed back into that bathroom.

Something I ate: we had Indian food delivered. It was very good. I might go have some more leftovers right now.

Some Time Travel

 

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This was one of the first pieces of furniture we owned, and our TV, with antenna, showing a broadcast re-run of the Addams Family. Note no cable, no VCR, and no CD-player, just an amp and a turntable. The Sony Walkman Pro is on the bottom shelf.

In the mid-1980s I was a broke, over-worked graduate student at the University of Utah and it was here that I discovered Dr. Who. The local PBS station played two of the old, serialized episodes at 10 pm, and it was the one hour a day I allowed myself as a break in my studies. My first Doctors Who were Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. I’ve enjoyed all the doctors, though.

When I saw the recent news that the next regeneration of the doctor is to be played by a woman, it was on Twitter, from the BBC. I cried. We’re not talking misty-eyed, either—I had tears rolling down both cheeks. Until I saw the announcement I didn’t realize it meant anything to me.

And then I saw a re-post of the news that the creator of Dr Who wanted a female doctor back in 1986.

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1987, University of Utah

In the parallel timeline where the new doctor in 1986 is a woman, I decide to stick it out at the University of Utah, despite the lack of any female professors or half-way decent mentorship. In that world, dammit, I bust my ass, got my PhD, and finish by 1992.

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After that, my first teaching position is at a small liberal arts college in New England, and we move there with our two cats. My husband starts his own software company.

We don’t have our first kid until a couple of years after that, and my husband never joins Microsoft. He works for himself. In this timeline, the Xbox is never invented.

By the early 2000s, I’m teaching someplace else. I’ve dutifully been publishing articles in algebraic topology, but I take a year off to have a second kid and write a middle-grades science fiction novel. My husband takes his enthusiasm for the potential of new, more powerful mobile devices and changes the focus of his business. By the time Apple introduces the iPad, his company is on its third generation of tablets.

When Twitter launches in 2009, my publisher suggests I establish a presence there. I’ve written two picture books and four YA novels by then. I’m very busy with teaching, advising, and book tours. I tweet about my black cat Hilbert, and my two vizslas Rágógumi and Káposzta, but not every day. Only careful readers of my books know about my love/hate relationship with cooking, because the characters in them fumble the eggs, burn the toast, and serve creamed chipped beef on toast which no one eats. I do not invent the hashtag ragecook. And while Káposzta, called Kápi for short, is photogenic, I’m still packing lunch and driving to piano lessons, so I don’t have time for a daily photo of him.

 

I held the elevator door

What I saw: two guys, Broseph and Chad. Broseph filled the opening of the elevator door like a tank-top-wearing storm cloud, blocking the light from the sun. Chad blew in behind him, dressed in an American flag-striped polo, almost as big but pinker, because of the acne he was too old for.

What I did beforehand: flew to Florida, had dinner alone, wandered the forlorn aisles of the next-door liquor store, ducked a clerk watching a telenovela set in ancient plastic Egypt who called out to me repeatedly asking if I needed help finding anything. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it occurred to me I might have asked her about finding an amateur-friendly horse, under ten years old, nice enough to show in the dressage ring. Or better, why are we here, any of us? I should have asked her that.

IMG_2162What I wore: black suede Pumas, capri-length jeans, black tee shirt, scowl

Where I sat: the exit row

Who went with me: pocket friends

How I got tickets: a couple of weeks ago I saw an ad for a horse and contacted the sales agent about it. Within hours of my booking a trip to try it, I got two messages from friends saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” and suggesting I go try it. It seemed fortuitous.

What it is: dressage horse shopping these days has become like an obscure subculture of internet dating, and is facilitated by an open Facebook group. You read ads, look at videos, show them to your trainer and friends, saying, “Ooh! Look at this one!” You talk to people on the phone, and sometimes even fly to other cities on the chance that they’ve got the horse you’re looking for. You wonder if you’re crazy. You hope you’re going to be safe. I tried horses on one previous trip that I couldn’t really steer and on another trip, a horse that wouldn’t stop. The people I’ve met doing this have been extremely pleasant and nice and as open to the weirdness of some random, unknown person showing up to ride their horse as I have had to be to the weirdness of riding some random, unknown horse.

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Things that were not funny: a group of construction workers crossed my path as they passed from the pool deck to the interior of the hotel. I was dressed in riding clothes, and more than one of them felt it would be ok to make “appreciative” hissing noises about me.

Things that were sad: dinner alone next to the mating turtle salt-and-pepper shakers at a strip mall Thai restaurant.

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Things that were funny: trying to convince the owner of the Thai restaurant to make my food spicy enough.

Something I ate: massaman curry that was actually spicy enough

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What about the horse: that story is to come.

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What happened on the elevator: when Broseph and Chad stepped onto the elevator with me, they thought I was holding the door open for them. Really I was pressing the button for my floor. So they thanked me, and I said, “Sure.”

Then the door closed, revealing a big ad for the hotel chain we were in, with the word “selfie” and a dog wearing sunglasses. I said, “You know, a dog can’t really take a selfie. No thumbs.”

Chad agreed. “I know, right?” said he, adding, “It’s like anything can be anything these days.”

As I stepped off the elevator, I threw in, “I mean….Look who’s president.”

I was invisible

What I did: a user experience design (UXD) class at General Assembly

What I did beforehand: had a couple of conversations with people about this blog

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What I wore: Puma sneakers and jeans, mascara, irrational optimism

Who went with me: 29 other students, an instructor, and two teaching assistants

How I got here: I had taken a single-evening class there over a year ago and promised myself then that if I didn’t migrate my blog to WordPress within a couple of months that I would sign up for a structured class where I could do it. When I called to enroll, I let the admissions person talk me into a user experience class without thinking too hard about whether that was what I was really looking for.

Why: apparently, I will sign up for anything.

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Where I sat: in the front by the instructor, so I could see and hear and minimize how distracted I was. Still, I had to put my glasses on to see the white board and take them off to read my notes.

Things that were sad: feeling like I was old enough to be everyone’s mom; bringing cookies the second night because it was the instructor’s birthday and I am everyone’s mom. I interrupted a 27-month-long writing streak to try to improve my blog and caused a 3-1/2-month-long drought.

Things that were funny: my notes. Also, I have been complaining that I’m invisible lately. On the train, they didn’t even take my ticket.

 

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Not me

Things that were not funny: I have been feeling invisible lately. Maybe it’s safer this way.

Something I drank: Harney’s gen mai cha, because I carried a little Ziploc™ bag of tea bags to class in my backpack every week.

What it is: UXD is what they do when they want shit to work the way you expect it to.

Who should do it:  anyone looking for solid, up-to-date instruction in tech stuff.

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Joe, heckin’ good instructor. Am doin’ a teach.

What I saw on the way home: the menace of headlights from cars driven by fast-man-persons who pushed past me getting off a train.

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I saw "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

Why I haven’t been posting blogs: I am taking a class and working on improving this website. The class meets twice a week and has actual homework and requires me to give up two entire afternoons and their adjacent whole evenings every week and, oh,  also there is the extra time spent dreading leaving, seconds blown complaining about leaving, minutes frittered away leaving, hours squandered riding the train, and stretches wasted panicking about having only half of my homework done. 

What I saw: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a new Broadway musical, with some songs from the first movie (but not all), at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street in Manhattan.

What I did beforehand: pilates, chased down a $289 error while balancing the checkbook, baked the bread dough I made the night before, met with a tree guy in the drenching rain, riding lesson, drove to S’s new house, took the inaugural shower in my friend’s new guest bathroom, got dressed, talked to Radar. 


What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots, James jeans black micro-cords, Danner belt, Eileen Fisher brown jersey go-to top, mushroom-colored cardigan with fringe, the Indian scarf from the gift shop of the Folk Art museum, black parka 

Who went with me: S., her husband, their two kids and au pair.

How I got tickets: S.

Why I saw this show: all the nights in 4th grade I spent when I couldn’t sleep, and didn’t stop reading until Charlie got his golden ticket; being able to sing all the words to all the songs in the original movie; knowing someone with kids who was going. 


Where I sat: front row, second mezzanine, between S. and her younger child L.

Things that were good: spending an evening with my friend S. and her family. 

Things that were sad: Augustus Gloop is still a strange, fat, hungry, carnivorous German, but other characters have been “updated” to include some Heroes of the Internet and a Russian mobster/billionaire. This remake didn’t have time for my favorite song, Veruca Salt’s “I want it now.” L. was upset that two of the bad children seemed to have been killed (one exploded, the other torn into five pieces). I have to say that I enjoyed my friends’ company more than the show. 

Things that were funny/not funny: Grandpa George’s jokes about wishing he was dead, the (unintentionally) comically undersized sets (think Spinal Tap’s Stone Henge), my laughably sincere hope that the Oompa-Loompas will be the last of the tiny-yet-jolly enslaved people portrayed in children’s literature (no longer orange-skinned in this production); grade A performers with a C+ script.

Something I ate: Shake Shack with S.’s fam.

What it is: proof that this children’s book classic should not be remade anymore. People should read the book, watch the original movie and leave it at that. 

Who should see it: unintelligible to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie(s) and/or read Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book. 

What I saw on the way home: a distracting, decorative throw pillow on the side of the road.

I saw “Present Laughter”



What I saw: “Present Laughter,” a revival of a Noël Coward play, starring Kevin Kline at the St. James Theater on West  44th Street in Manhattan.



What I did beforehand: dinner at the upscale and modern Chinese restaurant Hakkasan at 311 W 43rd St. Some reviews dismiss it as being part of a chain. Pre-theater dinner options are limited, and this place is very good. Show up early and grab cocktails in the bar.


Something I ate: hot and sour soup with chicken and chocolate passion fruit dessert 

What I wore: a weird combination of a new sweater and tweed skirt, with tights. I should have worn wool tights, but I don’t have black ones. And a black Barbour down coat that is too tight in the arms and shoulders when worn over a sweater. 


Who went with me: the Bacon Provider and a lot of eager Kevin Kline fans.


How I got tickets: online, from Ticketmaster. Alas, they require you to pay quite a bit extra to get physical tickets, so I had to do the print-at-home deal. My preferred plan is to pick up tickets at will-call, so I don’t have to wait for them to come in the mail, store them, and remember to bring them. An 8 1/2 by 11” sheet of paper from my computer’s printer with a bar code and some boxes of text describing the event is no substitute for actual tickets. Real tickets are memorabilia. E-tickets are trash.


Why I saw this show: I grew up in the same suburban St. Louis neighborhood as Kevin Kline, and back in the 80s I thought he was hilarious and brilliant.


Where I sat: Mezzanine Row A, seat 109, between my husband and a distracting woman who took up a lot of oxygen if not space.


Things that were sad: the acoustics were meh. I think the play would be better in a slightly smaller venue. 

Things that were funny: the chain-smoking Swedish housekeeper, the aggressive Trump-style injurious handshake of the wacky playwright, the baby-men business partners, slamming doors, ringing phones and doorbells. Kevin Kline is still hilarious and brilliant. What a joy to see great physical comedy live on stage. 

Things that were not funny: the actor who played the secretary seems to have been injured in the first act, and was wearing a bandage on her left wrist in the second act. The coffee that was served onstage over and over was said to taste like curry but in my excellent seats I could see plainly that it was water.   


What it is: another vehicle for an aging-but-vibrant actor; also a funny mid-20th Century farce from a true master of the genre about an aging-but-vibrant actor. 

Who should see it:  backstage comedy devotees, Kate Burton buffs, dressing gown enthusiasts, forties fashion fanciers, fools for redheads, Matt Bittner freaks, Ellen Harvey hounds, latchkey lovers, hat mavens, Noël Coward nuts, suckers for the mellifluous baritone of Peter Francis James, Reg Rogers regulars, Kristine Nielsen groupies; admirers of Tedra Millan (it’s her Broadway debut), Kevin Kline cultists, disciples of Cobie Smulders, and Bhavesh Patel boosters.


What I saw on the way home: jackhammers