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Friday, December 30, 2005


Here is the beginning of the latest essay I'm writing, based on our Christmas vacation.

We are sliding along the Arizona floor slack-jawed and wide-eyed. Over us towers the Sedona rocks lifting from the desert in a rusty red so vibrant it glows. About two-thirds of the way up, the mountains instantly turn white. They jump from one color to the next like a line crossed. Over these two colors, along the cracks and creases, green shrubs grow like kinky hair.

“No wonder the Indians worshipped the world around them,” my mother says from the back seat. We hum a “yes” hardly able to speak, mesmerized by the red of this earth. And yet it isn’t quite red. The dirt glows with a color too orange to be red, too rusty to be orange, and too pink to be rust. It is the color of the terra cotta roofs that rise from the desert floor to form the city of Sedona. It is the color of clay lit with fire. And even along the edges of the rocks, if you look closely, you see that the color is changing in the present, every speck a different shade.

White bands run the mountains like wedding rings before conjealing at the peak in a bright crown of stone. Close to a crack over here the earth is a deep pink, then to the left it slips into a neon orange, and then further up it is suddenly neon rust. There’s no accounting for this active color which moves across the dirt, so long ago in order to simplify someone decided to call it “red.”

“It nearly takes your breath away,” my Dad says from the driver’s seat. We are on family vacation, spending Christmas at a Bed and Breakfast in Arizona, and we are spending the day driving to Sedona. When we reach the red city, we pile out of the car and into the bustle of strip malls and curio shops. We take lunch at the Vista Cantina and afterwards I stand outside the restaurant reading about the Sinagua Indians from a colorful poster. The last of their tribe left the Verde Valley in 1400 AD. There are several posters strung around the strip mall, each one relaying a different fact about the Sinagua culture.

The poster I’m reading shows a woman kneeling, a woven basket in her hands. She’s surrounded by a collection of desert vegetation: prickly pear cactus, acorns, and wild gourds. “The Sinagua were extremely successful farmers,” the poster reads, “harvesting a bounty of crops in the summer, and storing food for the winter.”

In the center of the strip mall, surrounded by a few trees, water, and stone is a bronze statue of two Sinagua Indians. A young man stands tall, his metal skin bare except for a piece of cloth against his thighs, and in front of him a young woman kneels. She has long hair that falls in smooth bronze over her shoulders and down her back. In her hands she holds a pitcher which pours and pours and pours a stream of water.

This land is chalked full of history and the whole state knows it. Everything from the local coffee shop cutely named “Shaw-nee Coffee” to the bronze statues at every hotel entrance and storefront, these people know how to draw us in. They flaunt a history we can not visit.

“I feel like I should see buffalo and cowboys,” Dwayne says holding his hand out to trace the mountains. He stops and smiles at me, “Or see a cowboy chasing an Indian, chasing a buffalo.” We chuckle and I put my arm around his waist.

In Prescott, an hour southwest of Sedona, we spend a day ducking in and out of novelty shops. Each one has a token picture of Geronimo, each one sells beads and dream catchers. One particular store is made of thick wood like a saloon, and behind a bar sits a wax Indian chief. Around his neck hangs a sign that says, “HOW! Would you like to sign up?” Something about a newsletter.

“What did Geronimo do?” my husband asks an old weathered store owner. He sits behind his wooden counter in a red plaid shirt.

“Well, he was an Indian chief” the owner says slowly, thinking about the question. “He didn’t like what was going on.”

“But what was he famous for?” Dwayne asks. I stand beside him curious on my own.

“Well, the Calvary hated him, chased him all over the states and down to Mexico.”

“Why do we say ‘Geronimo’ when we’re about to jump out of planes?” I ask.

“Well, I don’t really know about that” the owner says and our conversation stops. I’m left disappointed. Disappointed that this man who is packaging up the history of Arizona in cowboy hats, leather chaps, and a wax chief doesn’t know more about it. I'm also disappointed because all the paintings I’ve seen of beautiful dark skinned children wrapped in bright wool blankets with black hair blown against the red horizon leaves me wanting more. The statues and woven baskets and Native American trinkets are enough to evoke my curiosity, enough to convince me that there was beauty in the Native American way, but they point me nowhere, they lead me to emptiness.

It doesn't escape my attention that for all the bronze statues and paintings I have yet to see a single Native American in flesh walking through the streets of Prescott or Sedona. What if I want to go find these people? What if I want to spend a while observing the descedants of the Sinagua and Yavapai? Where do I go? They aren’t in Prescott. They’re not in the red hills where they began.

If I want to find any Native Americans at all, the internet tells me I need to go about seven miles west to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Community in Prescott Valley, a reservation complete with shopping mall, resort, and casino. I go there. I eat dinner at "What-a-burger." I watch a movie at the Frontier Village. I visit the Prescott Resort and still I find no one with skin more red than mine.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

To An Unknown

“I ...went and sat with the sellers of strange gods, who by reason of their craft are abominated. When I told them what I had done, each of them gave me a god and prayed me to leave them.”
-Oscar Wilde, "The Fisherman and His Soul" from _Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde_

One god was small and round, his metal back cool against my fingers. Another was wrapped in fur and had to be slung on my hip. The third god was blown from glass and laid on my cheek by a woman wrapped in white. This woman, covered in white, flicked her eyelashes and looked into my face. Just when I thought I could hold no more, another god rested in my arms, placed there by a hand so large I thought I saw trees. This hand laid on me a flat god which could only be worn, not carried, an expansive god threaded by lumber fingers. This god clung to me from head to toe, and wrapped my waist in creases. From that place I went out, each of my gods adorning my body. Careful not to disturb them, I went out, peering through the gauze of my last god.

Okay, so Dwayne said I need to put an explanation to this post.;-) Said it's a little too cryptic. A few months ago I thought I was writing a series of prose poems, but I wasn't. I finally learned what a prose poem was this last week in residency. I learned that some of the defining characteristics of a prose poem are:
1) The sentence works as a unit rather than the line. Therefore, no line breaks or stanzas.
2) The writing is muscular and adheres to the same poetic devices as poetry.
3) Usually begins from an absurd premise.
4) Is metaphor.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

We're Not in Marion, Toto

Since moving to LA, Dwayne and I have had lots of opportunities to view Hollywood from the outside in, nearly squishing our faces against the glass, but last Saturday we were ushered "in" by a valet attendant and many little trays of Oh'deurves.

Two months ago, I landed a job at a movie financing company in Beverly Hills. How this happened I'm not sure, but it did and I've been enjoying the ride ever since. My boss lives in the hills above B'hills, and approximately three weeks ago, he and his wife sent out invitations for a holiday party. I was in charge of assembling the list which consisted of execs from studios, a couple minor celebs, and a handful of entrepreneurs.

I was working on gathering phone numbers to call these people and ask for their home addresses, when out of the blue my boss wrote me: "I forgot to add our staff to the list and that, of course, includes you and your husband."

Do you know when someone offers you a dessert that is too delicious to pass up, but so rich it just about makes you sick and leaves you stressing about various body parts for the rest of the week? That was my boss's invitation to Dwayne and I. I knew this party was going to be interesting, but I couldn't help but feel I had landed out of our league. (I wasn't worried about Dwayne. He can handle himself with just about anyone.)

First of all, we were going to have to spend a wad of cash just to get dressed for the occasion, and then I had no idea what I would say to anyone at the party. But to my dismay, one by one, every single person in the office RSVPed "yes" including their significant others, and this left Dwayne and I alone on the other side of RSVP "no."

After talking to a few of my coworkers, I found out that this was the first time - ever- that my boss and his wife had invited the staff to their holiday party. So now I couldn't even use the oh-we'll-come-next-year card, and deep down I was really curious to see their home. So with much trepidation, I marked a little number 2 next to the names "Dwayne and Christin Taylor."

I started to feel the pains of going to the party when I spent the whole day agonizing over which dress to buy, which shoes and jewelry to match, and of course, which wrap to wear. It took me until 5pm to get everything assembled. By the time I got home, I was exhausted, not even sure I could stand on my feet for another three hours.

As the minutes rolled forward I was seized with anxiety. Dark scenarios played out in my mind, with me walking into the party and some small detail about my dress or the way I ate my food betraying my social status. At my worst moments I envisioned smart beautiful women with velvet wraps and dangling diamonds watching me from the corner of their eyes knowingly.

On the way to the party we made our way through LA, into Beverly Hills, and then started creeping up the Hollywood hills. There's a scene at the end of a Chronicles of Narnia book, _The Last Battle_, when everyone has sort of died and gone to heaven. But this heaven is just one big mountain, and the further up they go, the bigger and more beautiful everything becomes. I kept thinking of this scene as we drove up the hills. With each turn the houses got bigger and more glamorous. I was shocked, because I knew my boss was wealthy but not that wealthy.

It was a cold night and I hadn't worn anything very warm. Every other party I've gone to, you park the car somewhere outside the host's house and then walk up. Since there was over 80 people at this party, I started dreading having to park the car far away and walk up the hill in the cold.

But the minute we pulled into the cul-de-sac, everything, all of my fear, all of my anxiety melted away, because they had valet parking. Suddenly, I was fascinated. My curiosity just about outweighed my anxiety. I wanted to see this glamorous life my boss lived.

We pulled our '94 Honda Civic up behind a 2005 infinity and handed our keys over to a very polite young man who drove it back down the hill. As we scanned the sidewalk for the numbers 8950, a voice piped up behind us, "Oh, I'm sorry -" and I thought for a moment he was going to ask us to leave, but instead the attendant placed his hand on Dwayne's elbow and pointed to our left, "This is the house you're looking for."

My bosses house was very modern but classy. It was made of clean cement lines, and lots of glass. The walkway leading up to the house had massive cement tiles lined with slate blue pebbles. We walked through the front door and found wood floors with leapord print rugs, fire places, and a couple flat screens playing black and white movies. The Southern wall of the house was made of ceiling to floor windows which displayed a maginificent view of the basin. The Los Angeles lights stretched out to the horizon where they met the stars.

People clustered around a breezeway which stretched from the front door, past the two living rooms, the kitchen, and opened magically onto a large cement deck, with an angular pool. In the pool, lights came on and off creating the pattern of white snowflakes on the aqua floor. Heat lamps checkered the deck, and to the right, around the corner was a Cabana, with an outdoor fire place, couches, and a chandelier.

Suddenly I realized I was having fun! To my delight, everything and everyone looked beautiful, and Dwayne and I didn't stick out. (Well, I was never really worried about Dwayne anyway.) I found my coworkers and their various girlfriends and wives (I work with men). They were dressed to the hilt and already sipping spirits. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. They were easy to be around, and it didn't take long for conversations to flourish and laughs to abound.

A little after arriving, Dwayne and I made our way over to my boss who was the only man not wearing a black jacket. Instead, he had on red corderoy which seemed really appropriate. He shook Dwayne's hand, kissed both my cheeks, and said we looked wonderful. I suspect this is the typical LA greeting at parties, but it was great to hear.

Dwayne and I made our way over to the Cabana were we spent most of the night jabbering with people and grabbing tiny delicious bundles from the platters that coasted by. I had to laugh, because each one of the servers was handsome. And when they announced the platters, they did it as if they were auditioning for a part in a movie. And really, that's how a handful of actors and actresses are discovered. I could just see one of the men presenting roast pork on corn pudding with a dash of BBQ sauce to the producer in the corner and then as if a cloud was being lifted from the producer's eyes, the producer saying, "You're the one I've been looking for!"

Dwayne and I had our exit strategy. If things were awkward we were going to leave after two hours, but as it was we were having such a good time that we didn't leave until 11 o'clock. We said "goodbye" to the rest of our group which was slowly dispersing, shook hands, kissed people on the cheeks, and made our way back out to the valet.

As the car pulled up, two men rushed to my door, opened it, and helped me in. "Have a good night!" "Happy Holidays!" they said. And while I knew that technically I should have been one of the valet attendants, not the one being served, I allowed myself, for just a moment, to take a hand, step into the car, and say with dignity, "Thank you! You too."