Wolf River Greenway

To:  Detective D. Craig, MPD, Robbery Division

From:  Cathy Dice, Law-abiding Citizen

Re: My Stolen Stuff Report

Date: September 14, 2015

Greetings, Detective Craig:

We spoke three weeks ago, the morning after a stranger kicked in my back door on a hot, sunny afternoon and helped himself to my stuff.  You called early that morning, trying to catch me before I left for work for the day.  You were sympathetic and understanding, but also honest in telling me that most of my missing property would likely never be found.  I appreciated your honesty and your professionalism, and I promised to make a detailed, neatly organized, and shamelessly Type A list of the missing items and get back to you as soon as I could.  At the time, I thought “as soon as I could” would be just a day or two, but I soon realized that I was being overly optimistic, as every time I sat down to prepare the list, I found it impossible to do so without getting bogged down in details that don’t fit tidily in a box on a report form.  One remembered missing item, one long-buried story associated with that THING would lead to another, and soon my mind was ablur, my head was aching, and the list itself remained not just unfinished, but barely begun.  The chaos of the opening weeks of my semester (the thief was kind enough to choose the first day of classes to break in, just to make things extra interesting and exciting) combined with the chaos of the early weeks of my son’s junior year of high school and the chaos of making arrangements to repair the damage to my back door to make life . . . um . . .  chaotic . . . and working on the list became less of a priority with each passing day.

Denial is my friend, you see. If I didn’t think about the missing items, then I could pretend that the break-in didn’t really happen and that I was just living amidst sawdust and paint splatters for the sheer fun of it. (The new back door is cherry red, by the way.  It looks great, the disapproval of my taste-challenged boy notwithstanding.  I had my handyman reinforce the door frame with a steel bar so that if some other slimeball tries to kick in my beautiful red door, he will need a hip replacement in addition to a lawyer. I look forward to finding him writhing in pain on my back patio, and I will laugh at him without shame as I call 911.  But first I’ll probably take some pictures and video.)

See how good I am at digressing?

But the break-in, of course, did happen, and now the thirty-day limit on submitting a list of missing items for the official police report is fast approaching, so I suppose it’s time for me to stop relying upon distraction and denial as my primary coping strategies and to submit some sort of record of my losses.  I understand that such a record is necessary, but I also understand that my report will likely just be filed away in a crime database with the reports of all the other minor burglaries that happened that day, that week, that month.  Every day, bad guys wake up and make bad choices.  They kick in back doors, take people’s stuff, and disappear within minutes.  Police officers arrive, take down notes, talk down harried homeowners, dust for prints, file reports, and move on.  Realistically speaking, in cases where no one was hurt and the monetary loss was relatively minor—and I am enormously grateful that such was the case with the burglary of my home–the official reports are the end of the story.  Occasionally a sharp-eyed patrol officer will be able to stop a burglary in progress, and skill combined with sheer luck will sometimes lead to a treasure trove of stolen stuff, but I’m guessing that such an ending is the exception rather than the rule.  Bad guys are good at providing almost infinite demands upon finite police resources, and officers and detectives do they best that they can under very difficult circumstances. I can’t imagine how frustrating your job must be.  Please know that my pessimistic outlook is not meant as criticism or complaint; it is just the way things are.

If you don’t mind, though, I’d like to fight the madness of the system by taking a non-traditional approach to my report of stolen items.  I know that you are very busy and don’t really have time for shameless sentimentality, so feel free to toss this report in the file (circular or otherwise) unread and get on with your day, but I have some things I need to get out of my head and onto paper.  You seemed like a really nice guy when we talked, and nice guys with a badge make for a good make-believe audience when I work myself into such a state.

Here are the details on my missing stuff, in no particular order, with the most relevant details in bold print.  My apologies in advance for everything else.  I hope you understand.  You might want to pull out your reading glasses.

  • The most noticeable thing missing is the top drawer of my Crescent Fine Furniture lingerie chest. Most of the furniture in my house was inherited or purchased used. The bedroom suite my husband (now ex) and I bought at the old Parry Furniture Shoppe on Mt. Moriah almost twenty years ago was one of the few new furniture purchases we ever made.  The suite (what a funny word!) included a dresser, two nightstands, and the lingerie chest—a tall, narrow dresser with seven drawers perfectly sized for a variety of unmentionables.  I have to scoff at the term “lingerie”, though.  I’m fat, forty-eight years old, and divorced, so that particular piece of furniture hasn’t housed anything even vaguely resembling a negligee in a long, long . . .  really long . . . time.  Instead, it is packed with two drawers’ worth of an eccentric collection of socks (my favorites are a cream colored pair with red weiner dogs embroidered on them), a dozen or so pairs of Hanes cotton underpants, and several utilitarian bras that should have been replaced years ago.  (Are you married?  Ask your wife to explain how expensive a decent bra is.  You’ll be shocked.)  That boring underwear chest is now missing its top drawer (roughly 12” x 16” x 4”, cherry wood, antiqued brass handle that looked a lot like a frog face if you squint really hard), because that slimeball thief just used the whole damn drawer as a convenient carrying case for the contents he really wanted (I’m getting to that soon—I promise).  Parry closed up shop years ago, and Crescent no longer manufactures that particular suite, so I have no idea how much the chest or the drawer itself is worth, but I do know that every time is see the gaping hole of the top drawer slot, my blood pressure goes up a few points.
  • That damn drawer was where I kept my son’s 2005 letter to Santa. He wrote the letter a few weeks before Christmas in first grade.  His teacher (Sarah Curtis, who would later serve as the social studies teacher for his middle school years) sent the kids’ letters home to the parents in plain manila envelopes so that we would have a shopping wish list and, of course, so that we could have a keepsake of one of the last Christmases that the kids actually believed in Santa.  I originally put the letter in that top drawer because it was out of reach and out of sight of the boy when he was little—not that he was in the habit of rummaging through my underwear drawers, but you never know.  Even after the boy stopped believing, I left the letter in the drawer as a matter of habit, and I would occasionally take it out, read it over, and sniffle a bit about the passage of time and the speed at which my baby was growing.  I guess from now on I will have to rely on all the other fifty-nine ways I wallow in mommy sentimentality, as I doubt a letter to Santa will ever show up in the pawn shops on Summer Avenue.
  • Even more sentimental than the letter to Santa was the sandwich bag containing at least ten baby teeth I hid in that drawer in the days when the boy still believed in the Tooth Fairy. I’m not sure what I ever planned to do with a bagful of molars, cuspids, bi-cuspids and incisors, but no mommy I know of has ever thrown her children’s teeth away.  One of those choppers was actually a two-for-one tooth, as two of the boy’s lower front teeth fused together before they pushed their way through his swollen gums when he was seven months old.  The set of baby teeth wasn’t complete, though, as the boy swallowed two of them when they fell out while he was eating lunch at school.  One was cleverly disguised as a peanut fragment on a firmly frozen Nutty Buddy, and the other disappeared with the swallow of some peanut butter crackers.  Neither were ever seen again (not that I attempted a search).
  • That baggie of tiny teeth was nestled down inside an Atlantis Crystal powder jar with an ornate silverplate lid. The jar was oval, about 6” long and 3” high, and it was in the Chartres pattern, the name inspired by the Gothic arch pattern to the cuts around the perimeter of the jar.  The ladies of the Gift and Art Shop, the old East Memphis china shop where I worked while I was in college and off and on for many years afterward, gave it to me as a graduation gift in 1989.  I loved that particular crystal pattern (it’s Portuguese), and I had had my eye on the jar for months during my senior year.  The ladies had always been extremely supportive of me and proud of my academic success, and when a bad case of pleurisy caused me to miss work for almost the entire two months before graduation, they were extremely concerned for my well-being. The gift wrapped jar was waiting for me on my shelf when I returned to work in late May, and it always made me think fondly of that eccentric cast of characters, an odd mix of Old South propriety and down-home practicality. The shop closed several years back, much to my heartbreak, but you can’t miss its former home at 4704 Poplar.  The new tenants painted the whole damn structure PeptoBismol pink and turned it into a bakery specializing in overpriced cookies. I cringe every time I pass by.  It is the Peptobombination.  The jar was worth approximately $50.  That paint job deserves a $1000 fine from the Environmental Court.
  • The powder jar was also where I kept an assortment of cheap bracelets, the most important of which were made by my son back when he was still young enough—but just barely–to think that making something for his mom was an acceptable thing to do. About eight years ago, I took up jewelry making as a hobby and, as I foolishly thought at the time, as a way to supplement my post-divorce income, and one day while I was making some bracelets as gifts for friends, the boy decided that he wanted to give it a try.  He sat next to me for thirty minutes, pulling an assortment of beads together in a completely random–and, I must admit, not very attractive—pattern and proudly strung them on the elastic band I held steady for his little hands.  He then declared that the bracelets were for me.  Let me be clear in stating that jewelry design is NOT one of my son’s many talents, and I don’t even like to wear bracelets very often, but for the next month I was determined to wear those homely things to work at least twice a week.  Another of the missing bracelets was a genuine piece of Taiwanese costume jewelry; it  consisted of nine or ten ornately carved white beads made to look like ivory but were really just made of resin or, more likely, plastic. The square, floral-themed beads lined up edge to edge and were strung on twin bands of floss-thin elastic, so the bracelet could easily stretch over a hand and onto a wrist. A tiny fake ruby was perched in the center of each bead like a maraschino cherry on a dollop of whip cream. The bracelet was given to me by a Taiwanese graduate student I often helped in a tutoring center at the university.  He was working on a thesis or dissertation on the then-brand-new field of Geographical Information Systems.  As a self-respecting student of the arts and humanities, I of course had no idea what GIS was and understood very little of the content of the paper itself, but I COULD tell when a sentence wasn’t working, and I would ask the student (I cannot remember his name) to try to explain the content to me in a different way.   Together, we would hash out a sentence that would say what it needed to say in a way that met the demands of Standard American English, and in the process I would actually manage to learn a little bit about GIS years before most of the rest of the world had even heard of it.  My student often came to the center with another Taiwanese grad student who would work through his own GIS grad paper with my friend and co-worker Emalie. Both  Emalie and I looked forward to working with the guys, who were unfailingly polite and friendly and obviously brilliant, and their papers were a welcome change from the less challenging samples of Freshman Composition that we read most often.  We would often joke that they would be millionaires within five years of their graduation and that we hoped that they would remember us when they were ridiculously rich and rubbing elbows with Bill Gates in Silicon Valley.  We never found out if our predictions came true, but just before their graduation, our Taiwanese friends brought matching bracelets to Emalie and me as tokens of appreciation for our help. Every time I saw that bracelet I thought of those lovely, intelligent young men and of Emalie. The ninth anniversary of her death was on September 11, just a few days ago.  I feel sure that she would remember the students’ names.  She was good like that.  The monetary value of that bracelet was probably less than a dollar; my friendship with Emalie and the time we worked together were priceless.
  • The rest of the items in that damn drawer lived in a Reed and Barton cherry jewelry box that was about 7” x 10” x 4”, with a rosey pink velvet lining and an insert tray. On the lid there was a brass plate engraved with my maiden initials: C for Catherine on the left, E for Elaine on the right, and a much larger P for Powers in the middle.  In my years at Gift and Art, I personally sold and gift wrapped dozens of Reed and Barton jewelry boxes of varying sizes and designs and wrote up just as many monogramming orders for the brass plates, but that box was the only real jewelry box (other than the little musical version with the spinning ballerina I had as a child) I ever owned.  Betsy, a single mom who had worked at the shop for over twenty years, gave the box to me as payment for “babysitting” her younger daughter Jennifer for a weekend while Betsy went to visit her older daughter at Sewanee.  Jennifer was already in high school, so I use the term “babysitting” very loosely, and in terms of survival skills alone, she was certainly capable of making it through the weekend on her own; still, Betsy was understandably nervous about leaving her alone through the night, and I was happy to keep her company for a few days. Jennifer and I spent the weekend eating junk food, working on homework, and lounging about with the family Labrador retrievers in the Betsy’s Tudor Revival childhood home in Mid-Town. It felt like an extended slumber party, and I felt a little guilty for taking payment of any sort when Betsy got home. That guilt didn’t stop me from sending the brass plate off to the engravers the very same day, though.  A similar jewelry box would likely cost about $90 today, but I think I am through with placing my valuables in a pretty box made for totin’.
  • That jewelry box held an assortment ofinexpensive jewelry pieces, many of which I cannot even remember well enough to describe in detail: a few pairs of gold hoop or ball earrings, and a small collection of other department store costume jewelry earrings that I have accumulated over the years.  One memorable example from this assortment was a gift from my lifelong friend Kathy.  I met Kathy when she moved across the street from me when we were six years old.  The license plate on her family Cutlass was from Hawaii (I wasn’t quite sure if Hawaii was officially part of the United States), and Kathy’s mother was Japanese, so when we were first introduced I foolishly asked Kathy if she spoke English.  She looked at me like I was an idiot (as well she should have), and invited me in to play, and we’ve been friends ever since.  Within a year or two we picked up Sharon from around the corner as the third member of our trio of BFFs.  Sharon is a year and five days older than I am, so Kathy sometimes picks out identical birthday gifts for us.  A few years back, she sent us each a pair gold monkey knot earrings.  They were tailored and classy (Kathy’s signature style) but also very heavy, so thick that I could not wear them if I planned on holding the phone against my ear with my shoulder without suffering substantial discomfort.  She gave the earrings to Sharon and to me because she loves us, and we love her, so taking off an earring for a half-hour conversation on the phone was absolutely no sacrifice at all.  The total value of the entire assortment of costume baubles was probably $40-$50 at most—or a dollar for every year that Kathy, Sharon, and I have been friends.  I’ll happily keep the years and leave the money.
  • The most unusual piece lurking in the jewelry box was an 18” gold herringbone chain (that’s not the unusual part) with a tiny acorn pendant  (the unusual part). I can guarantee you that the pendant was unique, as the gold from which is was comprised spent decades as the crown for one of my mother’s back teeth.  I swear I’m not making this up.  When I was in college, Mom was having some old dental work redone (a bad wreck in the early sixties had resulted in a broken jaw and some damaged molars); being a child of the depression, she couldn’t let perfectly useful gold go to waste. In addition to casting teeth, her dentist and former boss (Mom has been a practicing dental hygienist for over fifty-five years) was also quite good at casting other objects and turning them into pendants, so she spent weeks searching for appropriate objects so that her old crown could have a new life as a piece of jewelry for me.  She ultimately decided upon a pea-sized, perfectly formed acorn that fell from our neighbor’s willow oak tree.  Her joy in presenting the pendant to me months later—I think the occasion was my twenty-first birthday–was obvious, and she giggled as she told me the story behind its creation.  Her amusement at my surprised (and, to be honest, a bit grossed out) response couldn’t mask the real sentiment behind the gift; it was important to her to share a part of herself with me, even if she could not express that wish openly. Mom turns eighty-four at the end of November, and I’m not sure that she would remember that necklace, as I wore it occasionally in the year after I received it, but rarely in the last twenty years (the symbolism felt a little too Freudian for my comfort levels).  I have no plans to remind her of its existence either, as the thought of it adorning the neck of the thief’s girlfriend would likely induce a stroke. Some things are best left forgotten.  Or left as a filling.  I’ll have to ask the dentist’s office about the going rate for the labor involved in casting an acorn out of used gold.
  • I kept one special emerald green, glass bead bracelet in the bottom tray of the jewelry box. It was given to me by Evelyn, the mother of my friend Angela who was killed after being struck by a car in the spring of 1983, just a few days after her sixteenth birthday.  Angela and some of our other classmates were out one Friday evening when their car stalled out on the old Penal Farm stretch of Walnut Grove Road, just a few hundred yards from the Farm Road intersection.  This was long before the days of cell phones and before the sprawl of the city along Germantown Road, of course, so that section of the road was not heavily traveled, especially at night. Everyone got out of the car to wait for assistance from a future passing motorist and apparently thought nothing of standing in the middle of the road, as the headlights of any approaching car could be seen coming from over a mile away—plenty of time to move aside.  As a parent now, I cringe at the riskiness of this behavior, but sixteen-year olds tend to think themselves immortal and, unlike their elders, fail to see danger lurking around every corner.  When Angela saw a car approaching in the lane adjacent to where she stood, she apparently never anticipated that the driver would move into her lane at the last minute to avoid passing too closely to the stalled car at the side of the road.  The poor kid (he was just eighteen) driving that car didn’t see her in time to swerve or slow down; she was dead within moments, surrounded by a small group of friends gathered in the middle of the road.  As one friend held Angela’s hand and tried to offer comfort, another ran alone in the dark a mile down the road to the fire station next to Baptist Hospital.  By the time emergency crews arrived, it had been almost an hour since the accident. Angela was buried the following Monday morning.  Even though Angela and I did not run with the same group of friends, we had a special bond.  We had met in the seventh grade when she moved back to Memphis with her mother and step-father after several years in Phoenix.  I had never met anyone with a step-parent before (such things were still not spoken of in a Catholic School in the 1970s), and after getting to know Angela for a few months I finally felt comfortable enough to share my secret with her: my parents were divorced, and I had not seen my father since he left our house on a drunken and violent night in the first few weeks of my third grade year.  I had taken to heart Monsignor Clunan’s repeated lessons on the evils of divorce, my shame preventing me from telling even my closest school friends that my family was, indeed, broken.  Angela’s arrival in seventh grade felt like a gift, for she, too, was estranged from her real father, who, like mine, fought demons in bottled form.  We became each other’s peer confessors, as no one else could possibly understand the emotional landmines we associated with the word “father.”  We talked each other through tears over forgotten birthdays and non-existent Fathers’ Day celebrations and carefully shot each other disgusted glances during weekday Masses when Monsignor was once again warning grade schoolers of the perils of marriage outside the church.  When Angela died, a huge part of me felt that God was punishing me by taking away the only human I could talk to without shame, and I was furious.  After a few days of grieving, I turned that fury into a project:  a petition drive for the city to install streetlights and emergency call boxes along that barren stretch of Walnut Grove. By the middle of May I had submitted a letter and a petition with almost six hundred signatures to Mayor Hackett’s office and had sent copies to local media outlets.  By the end of the month the petition was the subject of several newspaper articles, and I began a series of meetings with the director of the Mayor’s Action Center.   Looking back, I find it shocking that anyone took my little project seriously, much less requested the presence of a sixteen-year-old at City Hall, where I got my first real-world lessons in How Things Are.  The mayor’s staff was kind and patient (if a little amused), but a budget is a budget even if my friend and confidante had died.  They would do their best, but they couldn’t make any promises.  In the end, the requested lights were never installed (and it’s still really dark out there, increased traffic notwithstanding), and the series of call boxes was eventually compromised down to a single pay phone at the Farm Road entrance to the old shooting range.  That emergency phone wouldn’t have saved Angela, but was certainly better than nothing, and maybe it would prove useful in saving someone else’s life, or at least making a stranded motorist’s attempts to get unstranded a little bit easier.  So what does all of this have to do with a faux emerald bracelet that has now likely been traded for a dime bag (are those still a thing?) on the streets of our fair city?  When I started the petition drive, I didn’t go to Evelyn, Angela’s mother, for her assistance or even for her permission.  She had more than enough grief of her own to deal with, so she certainly didn’t need to help me work through mine.  Still, she was aware of my efforts, and after a few months she asked to stop by my house for a short visit.  She gave me that bracelet as a token of appreciation for the petition drive, and though she never knew exactly what Angela and I had talked about all those late nights on the phone, she understood that we had counted on each other in ways that we could with no one else.  I’m sure the bracelet came from Gift and Art, the shop owned by Evelyn and her family, the shop where I would work for many years of my young adult life, the shop that is now painted a nauseating shade of pink.  Those beads were testament of my friendship with Angela, and they eventually grew into a symbol of my friendship with Evelyn herself.  I could make a similar replacement bracelet for under $10, but I can’t even begin to calculate the value of Angela’s and Evelyn’s roles in my life.
  • There’s one last piece of Gift and Art jewelry that lived in that jewelry box:  an 18” silver chain and a silver pig pendant.  This little piggy was roughly the size of a quarter, and it was puffed up like a bubble.  I bought the chain and pig at the shop when I was going through an All Things Pig phase (I even still have a few of the pig stuffed animals I acquired during this phase hidden in the back of a closet), and I wore them for years in college. That pig was around my neck one Saturday in late October of 1988, shortly after Evelyn gave birth to a baby boy.  After over four years of grieving Angela’s death, Evelyn decided that she missed motherhood, and she convinced her husband to try for a baby of their own.  Her son Matthew was the result, and two weeks after giving birth, Evelyn found that the call of the shop was strong, and she came in to show off the baby and to try to get an hour’s worth of paperwork done.  I was in the downstairs office as Evelyn entered the back door, and she immediately deposited Matthew in my arms with a “Here—have a baby!” then disappeared upstairs to her mother’s office.  For the next blissful hour, I stood and bounced and swayed as Matthew dozed on my shoulder and an assortment of shop ladies took turns coming down to coo over him.  All the while, Matthew’s bald head was tucked under my chin (don’t babies’ heads smell wonderful?), and his fist was closed tightly over the pig pendant.  We had to peel his fingers away when Mrs. Brown–Evelyn’s mother, Angela’s and Matthew’s grandmother, the primary owner of the shop, and the very embodiment of a Steel Magnolia—chased Evelyn out the back door with admonishments to rest, not work.  Matthew will be twenty-seven next month, and he’s at least 6’4”.  Unfortunately for him, his head is already regressing to its original bald state, but now he has an abundant beard to distract from the sparseness of the top of his head.  I could get a replacement pig pendant for about $20 online, but I doubt that I could convince Matthew to cling to it as he napped on my chest for an hour.  Besides, that would be really weird.
  • For the first several days after the break-in, I thought that my drawer, the jewelry box, and their contents were the only things taken during the two minutes that my house was occupied by a thief. However, the following Sunday, I went to retrieve something (I don’t even remember what) from the closet in my study.  In the chair next to the closet, I found a framed photo of my mother; it’s the photo she had taken for the church directory several years ago, and it’s a good one.  I paused when I saw the photo there in the chair, as I had no memory of ever moving the frame from its usual spot on . . . the Steelmaster double-drawer card file that used to live on top of the cabinets adjacent to the closet but is now obviously in the possession of the bad guy who kicked in my back door.  I found that file about five years ago at a Summer Avenue thrift shop; it had to be at least forty years old, dark gray and a bit rusty on the corners, but still sturdy and heavy—REAL steel, not that pitiful aluminum crap card files are made of now, though the manufacturers would probably claim otherwise.  The dimensions of the file were roughly 16” by 19” by 8”, and it weighed at least fifteen or twenty pounds when it was empty.  I hope the bad guy herniated himself when he carried it out of my house or dropped it on his foot as he foisted it into his car.  In its former life, that card file could hold thousands of 4” x 6” cards in some business’ back room—maybe billing information in an accounting office, or customer profiles in a smelly old auto shop. Although the primary contents were long gone when I bought the file, the tabbed alphabetized dividers were still in the drawers; the trademark Steelmaster muted aqua green cardboard was a bit dirty and faded from age and use, the tabs were a bit more rounded than when they were new, and all 26 of them were infused with the scent of old paper and a faint trace of mildew.  At the time of my purchase, my study was in desperate need of a pop of color to brighten up the cool blues and blacks of the rest of the room’s décor, so I spray painted the file fire engine red and made it the official home for a variety of my crafting hand toolsneedle-nose pliers, several sets of jewelry pliers, bead rasps, wire cutters, felting tools, several magnifying glasses, and exactly one, new-in-the-package Wonder Knitter, which sells for $8.99 at Michaels and resembles a candy colored plastic torture device and/or naughty adult toy, depending upon the state of mind of the person using it. ( I never got around to using it for any of its possible purposes.)  The file also held a collection of miniature wood chisels that I occasionally use when I am making wands for my students.   Yes, wands.  Don’t laugh.  Each fall, I co-teach a Harry Potter-themed course at the university, and I spend the last few weeks of the semester carving sticks into wands as parting gifts for our students.  Our colleagues think the tradition a bit goofy, but I don’t care a whit about that bemused disdain because the students love the wands.  Some of them even cry—WEEP—when they have the chance to be chosen by a wand.  Even though I used those chisels only a few times (a Dremel tool is much faster, and thankfully the bad guy didn’t see that particular tool lurking next to the clothes dryer in my kitchen), their loss represents a violation against fictional wizarding students past, present, and future,  and Harry Potter is sacred, dammit.  I’m not all that upset about the jewelry tools, as I have been considering getting rid of all of my beads and tools anyway, as the hobby no longer held my interest, and most of the jewelry I made was a bit predictable and unoriginal.  It was time to move on, but I had no intention of those tools moving out of the back door in the hands of an uninvited stranger.

So, that’s about it.  You still with me, Detective?  I am sorry to have blathered on this way, but you can surely see why it took me so long to submit my report.  Obviously, I’m terrible at forms and lists and numbers, all of which are quite useful in compiling crime stats but are not very good at calculating anything’s true value.  Words come to me much more naturally, even if they do so in a rambling, roundabout kind of way.  If you need an actual number for the estimated replacement value of the stolen items, I suppose $1500 is as good a number as any.  The door repair and replacement alone set me back $800 (clearly, I had no sentimental attachment to the old door, which was white and boring and, thus, had no story to tell, interesting or otherwise).  The remaining $700 would pay for a cabinet maker to craft a new drawer to fill the gap in my lingerie chest.  (Unfortunately, no amount of money could make it possible for that piece of furniture to be a true lingerie chest ever again. Sometimes, giving up hope is just the smart thing to do).  The jewelry and the boxes and the tools are most likely gone for good, and I have no intention of purchasing replacements, but by writing this foolish report, maybe I’ll be able to keep the memories attached to them safe for just a while longer.

If you do happen to catch the bad guy who kicked in my back door, though, don’t bother having him read this; I have a few other words reserved especially for him.

Thank you for your time and your service.

Cathy Dice

Politics (as opposed to governing) is really nothing more than a carnival shell game, and there is nothing a carnival barker loves more than attention, whatever form it comes in. Calmly and logically discussing key issues doesn’t make for good sound bytes or photo memes, and a respectful exchange of opposing points of view is too boring to go viral and, therefore, easily forgotten. Pissing people off is a much better way of keeping your name and your agenda topmost in the minds of pop culture consumers, especially if that agenda is nothing more than stroking your own massive ego for its own sake.

Therefore, I will not be participating in the latest hashtag outrage surrounding a certain billionaire blowhard, if only to prevent my news feed from being filled with horrifying related political stories or, God forbid, suggestions that I like or follow one particular infotainment network that shall also remain nameless here. I applaud those women who are attempting to destigmatize the basics of human biology by hashtagging their menstrual statuses and, thereby, to call attention to the inherent lingering misogyny surrounding the discussion of women’s health and bodies. However, I fear that a viral campaign that is merely a battle fought 140 characters at a time might make the news for a few days, but by this time next week, some equally stupid human (or, perhaps, the same stupid human) will say something equally asinine or offensive (or both), and pop culture will move on to the next trending topic, and nothing will have changed. Besides, my own menstrual status is both mechanically and chemically regulated so effectively that I barely have to think about it anymore, and although the background of said status does involve a hilarious story featuring shrimp and shoehorns, I’ll just keep those details to myself—or at least offline.

Instead, I choose to meet foolishness with concrete action that actually helps my sister bleeders. Sister Supply is a ministry of Shady Grove Presbyterian Church, and its mission is to provide menstrual supplies to Memphis women who are homeless and/or living in extreme poverty. Anyone who has ever had a period knows how expensive it is to manage the effects of an organ shedding its lining every month AND still go about living your life. Imagine having to do so when you don’t know how you are going to pay for your next meal or where you and your kids are going to sleep from night to night. Inadequate supplies keep employed women home from work and students home from school; homeless women may have to choose between food and pads. Sister Supply is trying to make life just a little bit easier for women and girls who are already struggling, and helping them out in a small but symbolic way seems to be the healthiest way for me to express my disgust with the pig in a wig. If anyone else out there wants to chip in, I’ll be happy to add your donations to my delivery of pads and tampons. Come on by.

I might even tell you the shrimp story.

Learn more about Sister Supply’s work here:  http://www.sistersupply.org/about/

IMG_3918The likeness is startling.

Holy gods…. Why didn’t I ever learn to drink?

aap3As metaphors for midlife crises go, I suppose that racing the sunset isn’t exactly the most creative, but it will do for now. I don’t care much about sports cars even if I could afford one. Torrid affairs require a second willing participant, and since the chances of that happening waver between slim and none, I shall just have to content myself with a comparably straightforward attempt to stop time from slipping away before my eyes.

Wide-open spaces are a rarity in Memphis, not because of a crush of brick and mortar, but because of our beloved trees; while they shield us from the summer heat, they also make any kind of dramatic photo of a sunset almost impossible from the average back yard. A decent sunset shot requires the river, at least a twenty-minute drive from my home in East Memphis, and an even longer journey from my Greenway haunt, which is where I was tonight when I realized the evening sky’s potential. Over the last month I have made a handful of attempts to catch a perfectly timed river sunset. One such attempt resulted in a charming conversation with a chatty two-year-old who had never seen the river before, but only a few passable photos; others were hampered by traffic delays, unexpected clouds, or just plain poor planning. Somehow, I have lived forty-eight years without fully appreciating just how quickly the sun slips over the horizon once it has made up its mind to go, and I have spent many an early evening frustrated that, once again, I had waited until it was too late to head for the water.

Tonight, though, I was hopeful that my timing was right. As I approached the parking lot at the end of my walk, the shadows were starting to stretch, but the sun was still above the tree line, a bright disk of butterscotch highlighting a smattering of white puffs and streaks of cotton scattered over blue. The intense humidity was rendering the air thick enough to slow the light in an interesting way (and yes, I know such a claim likely has no basis in such trivialities as fact or science, but as I lifelong Memphian I will confidently argue that heat and humidity slow everything down, and even Einstein could not convince me otherwise). I had remembered the camera tonight, and, more importantly, I had remembered to charge the batteries after a disappointing power failure earlier in the week.aa In photographic terms, the walk had been a moderate success. A few poorly lit shots of teenage boys wading in the Wolf failed to live up to their potential, but I eagerly awaited the chance to tinker with the cropping and lighting of a few other: a bumblebee ravaging a passionflower that had survived a recent clearing of brush encroaching upon the pathway: an evergreen laden with bagworm cocoons; and one of “my” pipevine swallowtails tangled in the web of an enormous garden spider (it is Charlotte’s Web week in my children’s lit class, after all). As I stood next to my car in the parking lot, I used a cold, wet cloth to wipe the sweat and bug repellant from my face, neck, and arms and tried to determine which voice was louder—that of my empty and slightly ulcerated stomach, or the twin calls of the camera and the approaching sunset.

Camera and sunset won.

My mind made up, I debated between two possible routes to the riverfront park on Mud Island. A trip through town would be the most direct course but also brought the chance of heavy Friday night traffic and countless stop lights that would eat away time and light in two-minute increments. Taking the north loop of the interstate would allow for constant motion in spite of its greater distance, but recent construction projects have succeeded mainly in elevating the blood pressures of drivers stuck in traffic brought to a stand-still not just at rush hour but also at random times throughout the day. Without Frost on hand to lend advice upon two relatively equal paths, I decided to chance the interstate and headed for the nearest access point just a few miles from the Greenway.

Once I squeezed onto I-240, I was pleased to discover that traffic moving towards downtown was moving freely, not to mention well above the “This is a construction zone, for Chrissakes—slow down, you imbeciles!” posted limit of forty-five miles per hour. I gulped and shuddered a bit as I passed the unfinished flyover ramps, which are clearly at least two miles high and will permanently reside at the top of my List of Places to Avoid. Within a few moments, the construction zone was behind me, and I settled in for a mostly-law-abiding sprint to the riverside.

Ten minutes into the drive, the sun began to taunt me. Butterscotch gave way to a vibrant, rosy red, and the bottom rim started to dip below the tree line. I briefly contemplated taking the next exit and turning for home, but obstinate pride won out. I pressed on, hopeful that the open expanse of the riverfront would hold the sun high enough until I arrived. As I weaved my way among the interstate and its dizzying collection of on- and off-ramps just minutes from my Mud Island destination, I realized that the sun had slipped below a line of clouds low on the horizon over Arkansas; muttering my way through my favorite collection of profanities, I decided to keep going and make do with whatever was left of the sun for the evening. The pinks and golds peeking out from behind the clouds could prove fruitful, even if they were not exactly what I had hoped for.

As it has been for weeks now, the river was high, well above the flood stage. Homes and businesses on the island were still akquite safe, but most of the Mississippi Greenbelt Park was submerged under muddy, dank water or strewn with the driftwood of trees that once thrived hundreds of miles upstream. Still, a dozen or so residents had also answered the call of the river: joggers, lovers, tourists, dogs. A few children squealed as they tossed sticks into the water, while a cluster of aging yuppies wandered over from the shi-shi-poo-poo restaurants across the road. A rat terrier on a scent mission dragged his devoted human along the ridge at the edge of the parking lot. A few of those gathered had pulled out their phones to take a quick snapshot of the light bouncing off the water, but most contented themselves with just strolling along the ridge and talking as they swished mosquitoes away.

Unhappy with the limited vantage point provided by the ridgetop, I wobbled my way down the gradual slope of the rock retaining wall and approached the water’s edge. Oaks and cottonwood trees that spend most of the year providing shade for picnics at their roots were knee-deep in water, and the grassy lawn that had, just a few weeks ago, hosted games of tag aaunow squished and slopped beneath my feet. Keeping a watchful eye open for the possibility of snakes among the muck, I started shooting, playing with different frames and settings and hoping that the camera would somehow capture something beyond what my eyes could see. A few yards away, one young man with a camera negotiated the bog and driftwood attempting a few last shots before the light above the cloud line to faded and cooled to the purples and grays of new dusk. He soon contented himself with macro shots of water and wooden debris, seemingly unaware that I had made his silhouette the focal point of over a dozen of my own shots. Just a few minutes more and the sun was done for the day, with only a few faint traces of pink hovering over the Arkansas shore. It was time to see what I could make of this evening’s race captured on the memory card. I popped the lens cap back on the camera and headed for home.

Next time, I’ll just have to start out a little earlier.

aazaaay

Of all the critters I have encountered on my regular walks on the Greenway, Chihuahuas would never have been high on the list of contenders for inflicting bodily harm upon my abundant person. Snakes? Sure. Mosquitoes? Absolutely. Mangy coyotes? Actually, yes. Fuzzy little pups? Not so much.

My mistake. Lesson learned? Never trust anything named Sparkle.

I spent most of the first half of tonight’s walk chewing on the idea of changing my name. I’ve been toying with the topic for a few weeks, but tonight the notion had grown to “gotta walk and wallow” proportions. It’s my wedding anniversary, or at least it would be if the marriage had lasted. On this date twenty-four years ago—exactly half my lifetime ago—I was a big-haired bride with a face full of make-up in various pastel colors, a borrowed petticoat made of so much crinoline that it could stand up on its own, and three bridesmaids garbed in wallpaper (my excuse for all of the preceding: “It was the nineties.”). Cathy Powers became Cathy Powers Dice, and in the misplaced optimism that infuses self-deluded young brides, I knew that the marriage would last forever. And of course, it didn’t.

When the marriage fell apart, I decided to keep my married name. Professionally it was just easier to keep the name I had been known by for most of my adult life, and divorce brings enough paperwork on its own without involving additional trips to the DMV. I worried, too, that ditching my married name would be hard on the boy, that by changing my name, I would symbolically be rejecting him. The split itself was already difficult enough, and I didn’t want to chance piling trauma on top of trauma. Most of all, I couldn’t get past the idea that in changing back to my maiden name, I would just be re-adopting the name of the first man who packed up and left without warning or regrets—at least none that were significant enough to act upon.

And so, “Dice” stayed, and the choice to keep it rarely entered my mind again. As names go, it’s not a bad one. It’s easy to pronounce and spell but different enough not to blend in with the crowds of Smiths, Johnsons, and Joneses (lovely names, all, and all attached to beloved friends). It’s ripe for puns, gag gifts, blog names, and nicknames; among a small group of friends, I have been called Cathy Dice Clay much longer than the career of the Diceman himself lasted. On one occasion, I even got my own desktop graffiti in Patterson Hall: “Dice is nice.” It’s not a chili pepper on RateMyProfessor, but beggars can’t be choosers, and exact rhyme is always a bonus.

This year, though, something about the even division of time between the two names—child and adult, student and teacher, ex-father and ex-husband—has seemed significant, especially on this most symbolic of days. The new realities of my ex’s  personal life are undoubtedly responsible for some of the stirrings of the emotional pot. A year ago he started dating an old high school friend, and though he doesn’t really discuss the relationship with me (not that he should) or our boy (though he probably should), it’s clear that it’s becoming serious, perhaps serious enough that she will soon take his name. She seems like a nice woman, and she is kind to our boy, and anything beyond that is none of my business. Still, her very existence as my ex’s new mate is something I am still learning how to accept, mostly because her status is definitive proof that it wasn’t the commitment of a relationship—marriage, family, domesticity—that my ex found lacking. What he found lacking was me, and even after eight years apart and even though the divorce was the best decision (though certainly not the easiest) for everyone involved, that rejection still has a sharp bite.

Thus, it’s only fitting that the high point of my walk wasn’t some magical resolution of what the Hell I am supposed to call myself for the rest of my life, but a bite on the hand by an ironically named, pissed off Chihuahua.

I really should have known better than to offer my hand to the group of little yappers I encountered tonight on my Walk and Wallow, but as it did twenty-four years ago, foolish optimism ruled the evening. Three Chihuahuas, an Australian shepherd, and their female human had paused for a sniff and a potty break (the dogs, not the human) at the 0.0 mile marker. As soon as I crested the small hill nearby and came into their view, the little ones sent up the alarm, tugging at the ends of their leashes and letting me know in shrill and certain doggy terms that my presence was not welcome. The alpha of the group was a male longhair, and he and his detail formed a protective perimeter around their human, who was busy cleaning up evidence of the potty break. Meanwhile, the Aussie stood back, offering me an apologetic look but not daring to defy the edict of a C.O. he outweighed by at least twenty pounds. I skirted around the alpha, but something about the bulgy little eyes of one of his smooth-haired siblings made me ditch common sense and forget the basics of canine body language. Husbands and fathers might not like me much, but dogs usually do, so I leaned over to offer the back of my hand for a sniff, hoping that once they got to know me, all would be well and that we all might get a few ear scritches out of the deal. Unfortunately, the alpha interpreted my gesture as evidence that I planned to use my walking stick as a skewer on which I would roast him, his yappy lieutenants, his placid Aussie sibling, AND his human, and he doubled back to take a chomp out of the offending hand. Coming from something so small, the bite was surprisingly powerful. His teeth left only a few scratches on the surface the skin, but within seconds it was clear that I was going to wake up with a tender knot and a black knuckle. The distracted human at the other end of the leashes—to be fair, I don’t think she realized that her little killer had actually made physical contact—offered a quick apology and then went back to the task of bagging poo. As I shook my hand to reset the nerve endings and continued my walk, I heard her chide, “Sparkle, that wasn’t very nice.”

Great. Acres full of potentially ferocious beasties of all sorts, and the one that actually attacks me is a Mexican cream puff named Sparkle. Not Brutus. Not Thor. Not even Pissy Little Jackass Excuse of a Dog. Sparkle. So much for the symbolic significance of names, mine or otherwise.

I passed Sparkle and family again on the return lap about fifteen minutes later. As before, they yapped and bristled and kicked and spit, as their previous victory over a sweaty middle-aged woman in ill-fitting Lycra had no doubt boosted their confidence. For a moment, I was tempted to ask their human if the dogs were up to date on their shots, but I decided against it, assuming that anything named Sparkle likely received better regular health care than most people do. I smiled, raised my hands in surrender, and walked on as a family of cyclists became the next targets of Sparkle’s formidable wrath.

And so I now head to bed, my head a little clearer, my hand throbbing (and not in a good way) under a wrapping of ointment and gauze. If I die of rabies or some other canine-borne pestilence in the coming weeks, I want the cause of death listed on my death certificate to read “Death by Sparkle at Mile Marker 0.0.” Someone see to that, please; I will be otherwise occupied.

I’ll let the proper authorities decide on how to list my name.

bridesmaids

Kathy, Kelly, and Sharon: I’m really, really sorry.

There is nothing more patriotic than shopping on July 4, especially since I am shopping for a frame for a poster of the best American rock album ever: Born to Run. After all, Bush told us to go shopping, and Reagan invoked Bruce in a campaign speech. Ergo, shopping for a frame for a Springsteen poster on Independence Day is the most patriotic thing a proud American could ever do. Ever.

Isn’t burlap just about over?

Fondant icing looks like Play-doh. Too bad it tastes like Play-doh, too.

If I see one more inanimate object commanding me to “Live, Laugh, Love” I am going to cuss, maim, kill.

Father’s Day t-shirts are on clearance. I bet “My dad is an asshat!” t-shirts would have sold a lot better. I would have bought at least a few.

Bruce Springsteen would never be caught dead in a place like this.  Lots of denim, but not enough leather.

“Live, Lau—“ Homicide is wrong. Homicide is wrong. Homicide is wrong…..

I don’t like orange at all, and I am pretty sure that the real versions of those polyester flowers do not come in that particular shade of royal blue.

Can I still retain my American citizenship if I don’t buy red, white, and blue fuzzy flip flops? And aren’t all those fuzzy fringies a tripping hazard?

I think that can koozie is violating the U.S. Flag Code.

Who could possibly need One Direction duct tape?

Who could possibly need One Direction anything?

Hold on. Maintain focus. Just let the sounds of “Thunder Road” playing in your head drown out the Whitney Houston caterwauling on the PA system. Head for the frames, head for the frames . . .

Where are the damn poster frames? The tastefully simple ones? They used to be right here, in this spot that is now inhabited by a collection of . . . . . oh, gods, more burlap . . . burlap and faux aged barn wood and pre-rusted metal and fake galvanized tin and ampersand signs? Why the Hell would I want a giant, rusty metal typographical symbol with built-in LED lights hanging on my wall??!?!? I just want Bruce and Clarence on my wall. Is that so wrong? Why must everything be burlapped and complicated?

Who are all these people who buy frames, plaques, boxes, vases, jewelry, scrapbooks, planters, needlework, shoehorns, doormats, baskets, birdcages, candles, banners, bunting, ceramic plates, ceramic mugs, ceramic spoon rests, or ceramic bunnies all bedecked and besmirched with hearts and flowers and the word “FAMILY” in the daintiest of script fonts? Surely they are in denial or at least overcompensating.

How many peacocks died for that wreath?

Pinterest threw up on Aisle 5.

And Aisle 6.

And large portions of Aisle 7.

Ooooh!!! Chicklets!

Help me, Bruce. You’re my only hope.

This is all Martha Stewart’s fault.

Save the Date cards seem a bit bossy and presumptuous to me. It’s a wedding, not the Second Coming (and probably not even the first).

I know! Let’s dress the bride in burlap!

I thought chevron was a gas station.

Unity candles would be a lot more useful during a power outage.

Unity SAND??!??!?! What the bloody . . . . .

Are Jordan Almonds (in all-white or the wedding theme color of your choice) some sort of new millennial symbol of fertility?

I didn’t give favors to my wedding guests. Perhaps that accidental oversight brought my marriage bad karma from the start. Would kelly green Jordan Almonds tastefully presented in an organza bag have saved us? Would a burlap cone full of butter mints have made me less awful to live with?  Would a cupcake in a mini Chinese take-out box have guaranteed us a sixteenth anniversary? We’ll never know.

Proof that American culture has already arrived in Hell via a burlap-ribboned hand basket: glass-stemmed, personalized Mason jar toasting glasses for the bride and groom.

Aren’t Mason jars over, too?

This place would be a lot more tolerable if it sold burgers. Or had a bar. God knows there are plenty of Mason jars on hand to use for glasses.

WHERE HAVE THEY HIDDEN THE FREAKIN’ POSTER FRAMES??!?!?

This is sadder than the ending to “Jungleland.” Patriot or not, I would do this only for Bruce. Bruce or the Chicken Man.

I really should learn to drink, even if it is from a Mason jar.

How many rolls of burlap ribbon would it take to make a noose with which to hang myself from that crossbeam up there?

Perhaps coating myself in chalkboard paint would be an effective method of suicide. That way, people could just write their goodbyes directly onto my corpse. Lord knows there would be plenty of room on my arse for the most heartfelt expressions of grief.

This is definitely not the place to meet straight men.

Is there such a thing as an unscented candle anymore?

Rubber grapes are back. What’s next—Hummels? Harvest Gold appliances? SHAG RUGS?!?!?! If there’s a macramé plant hanger on that endcap I am never setting foot in this place again.

Can someone please explain to me WHY rubber grapes are back?

I wonder if Mom still has those scary big-eyed children paintings in the attic . . .

POSTER FRAMES!! From the coastline to the city all the little Bruce fans raise their hands! I’m born to run outta here! Sprung from birdcages on Aisle Nine! The burlap swag lies in rags at my feet! Eddie, catch us a ride to the checkout line!

It’s gonna take at least five replays of “She’s the One” to gather myself . . .

IMG_6922I walk the Wolf River Greenway to drown out the voices in my head, the voices that nag about neglected emails, that chastise me when the stacks of ungraded papers pile higher and higher, that suggest that it’s time to consider naming the dust bunnies taking up residence under the couch. In the solitude of the Greenway paths, those voices give way to birdsong, wind rustling through leaves, and the conference calls of frogs scattered across ponds, and I am free to enjoy the distractions of flora and fauna and to think about nothing at all beyond the proper usage of the camera slung over my shoulder. Passing runners and cyclists buzz by without noticing me (Harry Potter should have ditched the invisibility cloak and disguised himself as a pudgy middle aged woman—nobody notices us except to wish that we would get out of the way).   Fellow walkers coming from the opposite direction occasionally smile a greeting, but more often than not, they avoid eye contact and carry on their way without speaking, perhaps lost in the din of the voices in their own heads. By walk’s end, my body aches, but my brain is better able to face the rest of the day, and sometimes I even have a few decent photos to show for my efforts. It’s not a bad system of keeping the monsters at bay, and bug spray is certainly cheaper than therapy (though perhaps a bit stickier).

Sometimes, though, it’s much harder to turn down the volume on those voices in my head. May and June are particularly troublesome, as two months of Hallmark holidays and dates infused with more personal symbolic significance conspire together and converge into a single, overwhelming chorus: “You are not enough. You never were enough, will never be enough.” It’s not a nice chorus at all, persistence being its chief virtue. Some days it paralyzes me on the couch, willing but unable to seek the healing powers of the Greenway. On better days, though, I manage to haul my ass up and out the door, using the chorus’ unrelenting rhythm to pace my steps until it finally exhausts itself into relative silence, at least for a few hours.

up

Saturday was a better day. It didn’t start out as such, as I was shaken awake by a phalanx of utility workers gathered in the street in front of the house, searching yet again for a leaking gas line below the surface. I have been repeatedly assured that the leak posed no real danger, and since believing such assurances is easier than worrying about the potential for block-wide spontaneous combustion, I went back to bed; if the house blew, at least I would go out fully rested, or so I hoped. I dozed off to the pounding of the backhoe teeth biting through asphalt and red clay. Within an hour I was awakened again, this time by a recurring nightmare. In these dreams, my ex and I are still married and the boy is still small, and to outside observers we are giving Oscar-worthy performances as a happy family on vacation. Inevitably, these dreams end in one of a handful of variations on the theme of separation and desperation, as both husband and son drift away beyond my sight and grasp. In this most recent episode, I was frantically searching for the boy in a crowded grocery store; my husband seemed only mildly concerned. As he wandered off in search of the cookie aisle, I shook myself awake to a racing pulse and the chorus of voices in my head turned up to eleven.

It was time to walk.

For the first forty-five minutes, the Greenway failed to work its usual magic. The roar of the thirteen-year cicadas was gone, as were their golden-winged corpses that had littered the pathway only two weeks ago. The frogs were napping away the afternoon heat, and somehow the overheard posturings of the passing bond daddies—“blah blah blah sell blah blah blah profit blah blah collateral”—were even more oppressive than my own private soundtrack.

As I crossed the invisible line between the Germantown and Memphis sections of the Greenway, silence finally began to find its way to me. This section of the trail is known as Bottomland Glen; there, the path narrows as it loops closer to the Wolf and the surrounding terrain flattens out into a bog. If the wind is coming from the right direction, I can sometimes hear the gurgle of the river itself just beyond a low rise a few dozen yards from the edge of the path, but otherwise, it’s a remarkably silent, peaceful place. It’s also a great spot for wildlife watching, the mud at the side of the path often scattered with deer hoofprints, the swampy undergrowth providing good eatin’ for armadillos in the early evening. A surprise encounter with a snake last year taught me to keep my eyes sharp even as my mind wanders, and Saturday, as I rounded a gentle curve, I was rewarded with a delightful discovery: the butterflies were back.

In a clearing a few yards from the trail, a pipevine swallowtail pounced and fluttered and pounced again at a clump of vines, the velvety midnight blue of his wings flashing in the filtered sunlight. Even with the zoom lens of the camera I had almost left at home, I was too far away to capture the scene, so I contented myself with just watching as the dance continued. After a few minutes, the object of the butterfly’s attentions revealed herself, as a matching flash of blue flittered out of the vines and flew towards the river, obviously not interested in what her suitor had to offer. He followed after her undaunted, and I continued on the path, the chorus in my head now reduced to a more bearable volume level. It was a start, at least.

Beyond the glen, the trail expands once again as it parallels Wolf River Boulevard and passes a deep pond just below the IMG_6821headquarters of Opera Memphis—an appropriate setting for the tragic tale of another swallowtail unlucky in love. This blue boy, too, wooed with a dance, hopping about a decidedly unimpressed female resting and drinking in a shallow puddle on the path. She looked bored, moving only when disturbed by the downdraft of a passing cyclist and lowering her wings when her unwanted companion got too close. Neither of them seemed to notice me at all, so I plopped down on the warm asphalt and shot frame after frame, contorting myself into all sorts of undignified positions in search of just the right angle. After a few moments, a third swallowtail joined the pair, seeming to offer hints to his male counterpart like a wingman at a kegger: “Dude, she’s not digging your dance moves at all. Try something different. Tell her you like the way her orange spots catch the sun or something. Invite her to check out that milkweed vine just over the hill. You GOT THIS, man!” I left the threesome after ten minutes, the female still bored and unimpressed, the males still plotting their next moves. (Some things are universal, I guess.) The chorus slipped down another few notches.

IMG_6851On the return trip through the glen, I took the south side of the loop, across the boardwalk and past a small clearing tended by a local garden club. There, dozens of blue swallowtails had discovered a bliss even more powerful than romance: food.

IMG_6921The buckeyes planted by the garden club were in full bloom and virtually vibrating with life. Foot-long spires of white flowers covered the branch tips, the nectar-coated filaments proving irresistible to the swarming butterflies that fluttered from bloom to bloom, pausing at each only for seconds, wings ablur. Counting them would have been impossible even if I were inclined to do math on the Greenway. Instead, I climbed on top of the bench beneath the buckeyes and tried to match shutter speed to wing speed, with mixed success. No matter. The flutter of wings had reduced the chorus to a whisper.

It is butterfly season in Bottomland Glen, and that’s enough, even if I am not.

IMG_6936

A reclaiming work in progress.

some pig

My summers are made of gossamer and f-stops, the former finding me as fortuitously as kismet, the latter confounding me as I struggle to relearn long-forgotten rules of photography—sometimes on an iPhone hastily pulled from my pocket or, more frequently now, on the hand-me-down digital Canon lovingly presented to me by a lifelong friend.

The first sticky strands combining spider and camera caught me one early June morning as l leaned over to toss my backpack and purse into my car.  I looked up through the windshield to discover that a spider had spent the previous evening claiming a spot of prime real estate between the boards of the fence separating my patio from the carport and the beam four feet above it. Out of doors, I regard all spiders as benevolent architectural geniuses named Charlotte, and out of respect for E. B. White,  the only weapon I wield against these Charlottes or their webs is a camera. (Spiders discovered inside the house are not named, as it would be rude to name something that I will shortly dispatch to the eight-legged great beyond via shoe or tissue or—for the really athletic types—Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, which slows them down enough to make them easy targets.)  This particular Charlotte was obviously quite good at her work.  Radial and anchor lines stretched from board to beam to the nearby post like da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, stitched and spiraled together in tight swoops barely half an inch apart. With the exception of the signature zig-zagging fuzz down the middle of the web, the architectural filaments themselves were so fine that they were visible only when the morning sun hit them just so and caught the few remaining drops of dew left over from a humid evening. Charlotte herself was nowhere to be seen, having retreated to a hidden nook to sleep off the exhaustion of her night’s work.

Cursing my lack of time to retrieve the new-to-me Canon from inside the house, I pulled the iPhone from my pocket and hoped that gossamer, sunlight, mist would cooperate long enough to be captured on film (old vocabulary dies hard) before a housefly was ensnared or hummingbird-sized carpenter bee buzzed through like a wrecking ball. I expected the web to be gone by the time I returned home early that afternoon, but it remained in place and intact for three days.  With the exception of a few missing threads here and there, I never saw any evidence of its success in spite of its impressive construction. Perhaps the spider wasted no time in consuming her catches, or perhaps it was just a bad season for bugs on this Parkside Avenue patio. I didn’t see Charlotte herself–a brown orb weaver–until well after after dark on the web’s second full night. From back toes to antenna tip, she was barely the size of my thumbnail. She perched dead-center in the web, none-to-happy with my flashbulb as I tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the complexities of nighttime photography with the “real” camera. She gave me pissy little wave of her front legs–perhaps the spider equivalent of the middle finger–and a bounce of her heart-shaped butt to let me know that my efforts were not appreciated. When I left for work the next morning, she was in hiding once again; by nightfall the web, too, was gone. Charlotte had picked up and packed up gossamer and moved to where her hunting efforts would not be disturbed by an annoying human with a camera and delusions of artistic grandeur.

first charlotte~~~~~

The following summer, the loomwork of a second Charlotte caught me as I was, again, moving from door to car on the way to work. Again, chance, light, and humidity cooperated long enough for me to catch sight of a web high in the willow oak of my neighbor’s back yard. There, the web’s framework stretched from branches to power lines, while the tightly spaced spirals were pinched here and there in evidence of a successful evening of hunting. Determined not to miss this opportunity, I opened the door and fetched the camera, delighted to discover that the zoom lens could indeed capture web, leaf, and sunspotted dew before duty called me to campus for one of the last days of my summer semester.  By the time I returned, the web was gone, either dismantled by the owner or rendered invisible by the harsh afternoon sun and shadow.

IMG_4651~~~~~

In the last days of summer itself in September of 2014, I sweated my way through a morning walk on the Greenway (my happy place), the camera strap chafing against my neck. At the crest of a small hill overlooking one of the few ponIMG_1937ds not yet dried down to a swampy muck, I paused to make sure that one of my previous artistic endeavors—a 5-inch sign reading simply “Mr. Sanders” nailed above a hollow at the base of a dying tree—was still intact. Satisfied that my Pooh graffiti was safe, I turned to resume my walk when I glimpsed a glint of gold on the slope overlooking the pond: a single sycamore leaf, perfectly vertical, twirling on a single strand of gossamer and backlit by a sunbeam breaking through the overgrowth of scrub, poison ivy, and oak. Though the equinox was only a few days away, the trees of the Greenway were still fully clothed in the lush greens of summer, providing a monochromatic backdrop to that single golden leaf pirouetting on a line, an early casualty of the lingering heat. Its edges curled in at the extremes as if it were trying to pull its limbs into a tighter spin, the sun revealing the perimeter tracings of gossamer filaments connecting point to point to stem and back again and criss-crossing a gap between the veins at the leaf’s heart.

IMG_5395For the next five minutes, I circled and squatted in a most undainty fashion, aiming the lens from every possible angle and uttering thanks to the digital gods for ample space on the memory card.  My maneuverings earned me a few perplexed looks from the walkers who passed by on the Greenway path; I nodded helloes and resisted the urge to shout, “Do you not SEE this moment here??!??!”  Fifty or so shots later, the light was beginning to move, and so I holstered the camera over my shoulder once again and continued along my usual route.  When I passed on the return loop almost an hour later, the leaf was still twisting in the light breeze, barely noticeable in the shade.

I think I’m going to barf.