I tend to do a lot of thinking in the shower, and tonight I was thinking about Billy Joel's performance at the 12/12/12 concert. That piano solo near the end of "The River of Dreams" continues to haunt me, and every time I hear it, it seems to make everything around me feel a little more magical. Thanks, Billy Joel.
Right? Right?! :)
New Year's Resolutions/Goals:
1. Become a better friend
2. Eat healthier
3. Stretch every day
4. Read more often
5. Worry less about money
6. Watch every episode of The Office
7. Write another full-length play
8. Learn more about teas
9. Play harmonica like a pro
10. Expand my Michael Jackson album collection
11. Fly on a plane
12. Discover a new food I love
13. Keep her unconditional love in my heart, in 2013 and always:
I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop last Monday, drinking chai tea and working on a grant when an older fellow was preparing to exit the shop with some coffee in hand. All of a sudden, he stopped in his tracks and looked at me.
"What's that little thing you have there?" he asked.
"Oh. They call this a netbook," I said. "It's basically a mini computer."
"Cool," he replied. "What are you drinking?"
"Me? Oh, chai tea. The best chai I've ever had, really. I love this place."
He pointed at the sugar packets hanging out near my cup.
"I can't believe you're consuming that stuff," he said. "Splenda is so bad for you. I'm allergic to it."
"It's funny you say that because every time I order my chai tea, I'm never sure what brand of sugar to sweeten it with."
"Well, I wouldn't recommend that. When I drink it, my vision gets real blurry."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What kind of sugar do you recommend?"
"Go with the cane sugar," he said. "You're too young to screw up your body with all that artificial stuff."
"Cool. Thanks for the advice. I'll get the cane sugar next time."
I expected him to say his goodbyes and walk out, but instead he shifted his coffee from one hand to the other and leaned up against the wall.
"So, are you a writer or something?"
"I am," I said. "Right now I'm writing a grant for my workplace, but in addition to that job, I also write for two newspapers and a few magazines."
"Is that right? That's good, you see."
"It is. I like it. I've been writing for a long time . . . I mean, a lot of writing for what seems to be a long time . . . and I figure that as long as I continue to love it, I'm just fine."
He moved from the wall to the couch, conveniently located right across from me.
"Are you familiar with Susan B. Anthony?"
I kind of lied. She's the one I always mistake for Rachel Carson.
"Well, Susan B. Anthony worked really hard for women's rights. If it weren't for her, you would probably have as many rights as that computer on your lap."
He pulled a coin from his pocket.
"Susan B. Anthony is one of two females who appears on United States currency. See this coin? I used to collect these, you know. When my mother turned 90, I gave her 90 Susan B. Anthony coins."
Then--and I certainly didn't expect this--he handed me the one in his hand.
"Here. My mom passed away so now she doesn't mind me passing them on to other women."
He laughed. I smiled.
I placed the coin in the palm of my hand and examined it. I loved the shape, all the little edges.
"Thanks," I said. "This is really nice of you. Are you sure you want me to have it?"
"I want you to have it and I want you to remember that you can go anywhere with your career. Don't let anybody stop you."
"See? All you had to do was sit and listen to an old guy talk for 10 minutes of your time and now you have a coin in your hand worth about $10. Do whatever you want with it. You're a big girl. Listen, it was nice talking to you."
And then he left. I didn't even get his name.
But I'm keeping his coin.
I once read a newspaper article about a couple who hiked the entire Appalachian trail (the article can be accessed below) and became intrigued by the thought of completing it myself.
I could picture myself quitting my job, finding a hiking partner, and taking on that very challenge. But this challenge? This challenge? No way, Jose.
Did you look at that link? If you didn’t, you should stop messin’ around and give your eyeballs a little thrill. Besides, you kinda have to look at it before reading the rest of this post.
(I’ll pause for a moment, just in case you need to look at it for really real reals or if you want to look at it again.)
Okay. So. You looked at the link. Good. Thank you.
Apparently this trek is considered the most dangerous in the world. You have to climb steep trails, stairs, ladders . . . and if you fall, you’re dead. The reward—if indeed you survive the journey—is a magnificent view of the five peaks of Mount Hua.
Awesome, right? Hence the reason I turned my computer screen toward my co-worker’s desk this morning and told her to have a look at some of the photos.
“That’s all fine and dandy,” she said, “but what the hell happens when you get there? How do you get back? Helicopter?”
Crap. I hadn’t thought about that. I just thought that if you made it, well, hooray for you! But if you go up, you’ve gotta come back down . . . oh man!
Oh man, oh man, oh man. God bless those who have made it. What an incredible feat. What reliable feet.
The men, they're sitting here with cigars hanging off the corners of their lips, and the women, well, I get a sense that they are running their germy hands up their husbands' legs. Everyone here is older than me, but I don't mind. I'm a people watcher--a big-time people watcher who can't help but watch the guy across the bar talk with his hands to a lady who is flicking cigarettes in hers. One man just got done joking that he has "a nice ass." Yeah. . . ummm . . . okay.
It smells like smoke in here. It's your typical bar, I guess. This must mean that I'll get hit on soon. Or maybe not. I don't want to sound pretentious. I hate that word anyway; I would never want to define it.
Also, I have to admit something. I'm at a VFW. Drinks are cheap--$1.50 for a mixed. And $1.50 for a soft cheese pretzel . . . yum. My pap belongs here. He used to run the place and had a fancy commander title in front of his name. "From 1985 to 1991," he told me. He's pretty proud of having a part in the place, even now, at 86-years-old. I was looking at his eyelashes tonight, how they curl downward at such an admirable angle. Hopefully my eyelashes will take after his in 60-some decades.
I'm about to take another sip of my drink and get out of here in order to watch the 12/12/12 benefit concert featuring Bruce Springsteen, Roger Waters, Paul McCartney, etc. tonight. I hope I can share a drink with my pap again soon. Until then, cheers to this date. It won't happen for another 100 years.
I don't think I'll be around by then, and even the optimist within me just might be okay with that.
It was cold. Very cold. By morningtime, I couldn't feel my feet.
That's what I remember most about my night spent in a cardboard box with my best friend/cousin Krysta.
We arrived in the church parking lot a little after 6 p.m. A kind lady's gloved fingers pointed us toward a pile of cardboard boxes. What?
Yeah. We didn't expect to have to build our own cardboard house, either. Krysta and I picked out the biggest pieces of cardboard we could find and got to work with nothing but duct tape on our side. Within appoximately 20 minutes, we had built the biggest box in Cardboard City 2012. Here is a photo of our temporary kingdom:
We were pretty proud of our box:
You'll notice in both photos that we stuffed a lot of blankets and sleeping bags in our box. Krysta had three sleeping bags; I had two. Even though we weren't in the most inclement of weather, we were still cold. It was only around 6:30 p.m. when we decided to enter the soup kitchen for a warm meal that we hoped would fill our tummies.
We were served said meal by a host of volunteers who thanked us for participating in the program while pouring us some soup, handing us some bread, and offering us bottles of water. Here is a photo of our meal:
Bottle of water, chili soup, butter bread, an apple, and two cookies. Admittedly, I was kind of still hungry after we ate . . . and I'm glad I was, because it made me appreciate receiving a meal in the first place.
That's one thing about this experience. We were cheating in a lot of respects; we could bring as many blankets and warm clothes as we wanted; we could go inside to the heated church if the cold got to be too much; we were fed before we went to bed. It's no secret that these are all unheard of luxuries for the average homeless person. Even so, we played the part as well as we could and, well, despite all the blankets and sleeping bags, we weren't comfortable by any means. A single layer of cardboard is lightyears away from a nice mattress.
When Krysta and I returned to our box after our meal, we tried to stay awake by playing a game of cards, drawing stick figures on the walls, and talking about our love lives. We even managed to take a few goofy pictures:
Oh look! We even managed to take not one--but two!--semi-normal photos: (hooray!)
I think the funniest moment throughout the shivering cold experience was when I began to get really, really tired. Apparently I was dozing off but really didn't want to for fear that Krysta would be all awake and all alone the rest of the night. I dozed off anyway . . . and apparently tried to make conversation in the meantime.
"Krysta . . . do you . . . uhhh . . . do you know what Cash for Gold is?"
Krysta said she said yes, and then waited at least three minutes for me to respond.
"Oh . . . I, uh . . . I think I have a bracelet," I said.
Hahaha. Oh boy.
Needless to say, I fell asleep early and tried to stay as warm as possible in order to stay asleep. I remember waking up in the middle of the night wondering what time it was and if my feet were frostbitten. Silly me didn't pack appropriately and ended up wearing only one pair of socks and my clogs. Clogs, I quickly learned, don't really stay on your feet when you're sleeping. Sigh.
One of the best methods I used to keep warm involved inhaling/exhaling into my jacket. It was so much better than inhaling that cold air. I think I was also in the fetal position for the better part of the night. Did I mention that it was really cold?
I knew it was morning as soon as I heard some people talking and some car doors slamming. Krysta mistook the car doors for thunder and woke up with only one thing to say: "I'm ready to go home."
"I say we book it," I said. "I can't feel my feet."
We emerged from our cardboard cocoon (albeit it wasn't much of a cocoon) and soon found out that it was only 5:30 a.m. Technically, we were supposed to be there from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. but other people were leaving so we did, too. But not before tearing down our house and placing the pieces back in the stack from which they came and helping other participants do the same.
It was around 6 a.m. when we pulled out of the church parking lot. I felt good to have survived the night and participated in the program, but all I yearned for was heat. I turned it all the way up and drove all the way home without turning it down.
If ever you have the opportunity to sleep in a cardboard box in order to raise awareness for the sick, lonely, poor, and hungry, please do so. It will really make you feel grateful for absolutely everything you have: meals and a warm bed, especially.
My heart goes out to those people who sleep in cardboard boxes regularly. And, now, I can say that I can truly understand how that feels.
I'm writing this post on my sister's bed in her room, which is full of basketball trophies and picture frames (not to mention a winky-faced Wiz Khalifa poster). There is a roof over my head. Her TV is on mute in the background. I'm warm enough to be wearing a tank top and pajama shorts. I'm wealthy enough to own a nice computer, complete with WiFi. I am one of many fortunate individuals in America who does not have to worry about finding somewhere decently comfortable to sleep tonight.
How easy it is to take that for granted.
Two weeks ago, my boss approached my desk with a name and phone number scribbled on a piece of white copy paper.
"Do you want to sleep in a cardboard box for a good cause?" he asked.
"Sleep in a what?"
"A cardboard box."
"Oh. Ummm, when?"
"November 16. You want to? I think it'd be a meaningful experience."
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and checked my calendar. I didn't have any plans. Nope. Nothing.
"I'll make the phone call," I said, taking that white piece of paper out of his hands and into my own.
So here I am, one day away from getting my first "hands-on" experience when it comes to homelessness, which is a rather foreign subject to me. Tomorrow night at this time I'll be sitting in a cardboard box in a church parking lot amongst other volunteers trying to raise awareness about the pain and suffering that many poverty-stricken people endure night after night.
I convinced my cousin Krysta and my sister Chelsey to join me, so it will be nice to have cardboard box neighbors. But I'm not saying that to be funny; I'm saying that because I'm quite proud that I've convinced them to join me. I think it will be an eye-opening experience for all of us. Admittedly, one reason I'm participating is because I think it will give me good writing material and this valuable sense of enlightenment. It's not everyday that someone sleeps in a cardboard box for a good cause, right?
It's bound to be cold. But hopefully not rainy. Truthfully, it may be a little boring, as we're not allowed to bring iPhones, iPads, iPods . . . and we're certainly not allowed to order take-out. Hmmm.
So here's what I have packed so far:
From left to right: my navy blue sleeping bag, a very soft Angry Birds blanket, a pillow, a pair of gloves, a pair of socks, comfy pajama pants, a semi-colorful hat, and a black sleeping bag. I am missing a few items, including a sweatshirt and my netbook. Oh wait, no computers allowed.
I must mention that I am packing with my sister in mind, and that explains the double sleeping bags. But don't get me wrong--doubling up on sleeping bags (one sleeping bag inside of another sleeping bag sounds brilliant, doesn't it?) could be a great idea. Alas, I have no intentions of feeling as though I'm stuck in some kind of cotton cocoon all night.
I'm done packing for now. Perhaps I'll resume in the morning. Regardless, I'm determined not to get all bundled up like Randy from A Christmas Story.
I know my mom is worried that we're all going to get sick, but I feel prepared to complete this challenge tomorrow night. I'm just grateful that I don't have to complete this challenge every night.
I've encountered homeless people dozens of times, most notably in Newark, New Jersey, and Boston, Massachusetts. I remember seeing people sleeping on park benches and on church steps and wondering how awful it must be to not be able to look forward to bedtime.
I've slept in a twin-sized bed all my life, and I know no different. I've lived in a nice house all my life, and I know no different. I've always had an abundance of outfits and possessions and food, and I know no different.
Tomorrow, I want to know different.
As you turn off your bedroom light tonight and give your weary bones to your bed--twin-sized or otherwise--please keep in your thoughts and in your prayers the people who have no bedroom lights of their own. There are a lot of them out there, especially after Hurricane Sandy caused some major down and out situations last month.
Wish us luck tomorrow, and stay tuned for Homelessness: Part II. And possibly Part III and Part IV . . .
I was determined to arrive at work on time this morning after yesterday's flat tire fiasco.
I pulled out of my driveway at 8:03 a.m., drove a few feet down the road, and immediately noticed a dark-colored "lump" sitting in the middle of the opposite lane. I slowed down to see what the "lump" was, and almost got teary-eyed when I saw that it was a baby Hedwig. Hedwig = what I choose to call owls. Hedwig = the name of Harry Potter's owl.
I was on the verge of tears because this little Hedwig was adorably innocent. Just standing there, sleeping. Middle of the road. 8:04 a.m.
I was absolutely terrified when I saw a car coming toward the owl. I prayed to God that the driver wouldn't hit it. I waved and honked so the driver would slow down or swerve or something. But the driver didn't do anything--just drove in a perfectly straight line, which meant that no tire even came close to Hedwig's body. Phew. I watched Hedwig's little feathers react to the sudden rush of wind. Gosh . . . I wouldn't have been able to go to work if the owl got hit. I would have turned my car around and cried and cried and cried.
Since there were no more cars approaching from either direction, I quickly grabbed my camera out of my purse, jumped out of my car, and took a photo, which I am delighted to share with you:
So that's the little baby Hedwig. Cute, huh? I love his/her(?) ears. And look at that beak! Oh man. I want one. What a beautiful creature. So cute and mysterious.
The bad news was that it was 8:09 a.m. and I still needed to get to work on time. What do to? What to do? What to do? I honked my horn. Nothing. Should I find a stick in the woods and poke him? No. I didn't want to wake him.
I called my dad, who happened to be at home rather than work, thanks to an early morning hunting trip.
"Dad, there's an owl on the road," I said.
"Oh. I know. He's been there since early this morning."
"Can you please walk down here and escort him off the road? Please. I'm so worried. Please."
"Yeah. I have to pack my lunch first."
"No, Dad. Please. Sometimes people can be cruel . . ."
"Fine. I'll walk down now."
Here's the part that I feel kinda awful about. When I hung up the phone, I drove away. I wish with all my heart that I wouldn't have, that I would have just stayed with the little Hedwig until I knew that he was safe.
I called my dad back about five minutes later.
"Dad, did you get the owl off the road?" I asked.
I could feel my eyes start to swell with tears. I knew I would never forgive myself if something bad happened.
"Yeah. Took a shovel down and he flew into the woods."
"Are you sure? Do you promise me you did that?"
"I wouldn't lie to you," he said. "I gotta go. I gotta get to work."
"Okay. Thanks. See you later."
So that's the whole story. Apparently Hedwig is safe and sound somewhere in the woods. I'll probably never see him again, but I'm glad that we met (even though his eyes were closed the whole time). How lovely it is to be surprised and intrigued by nature, especially when you least expect it.
Happy sleeping and safe journeys to you, little buddy.
It was impossible to ignore the ugly sound coming from what seemed to be the belly of my car, but I turned up that glorious Bruce Springsteen song and kept driving anyway.
"Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack / I went out for a ride and I never went back / Like a river that don't know where it's flowing / I took a wrong turn and I just kept going."
Another ugly sound.
"Shit," I said. "Shit, shit, shit."
The sound suddenly sounded floppy . . . floppy as in, I needed to pull off to the side of the road as soon as possible.
Flat tire. My first one. Ever. It looked pretty rough, and it was making me late for work. Stupid flat ass tire. I jumped back into my car, called my insurance company and waited a lengthy 15 minutes until an agent found someone to tow my car.
"Thanks for waiting, Ms. Pongrac. I've got Russell on the line for you, and he will help you out from here. Is there anything else I can help you with today?"
"Nope, I think that's everything," I said. "Thanks."
Oh. That must be Russell.
"Hi. I'm Kayla. My car needs towed."
"Does your car need towed?"
"Yeah, my car needs towed. Can you tow it for me?"
"Are you gonna pay me?"
"Sure, I'll pay you."
"Be there in 10 minutes," he said.
When Russell and his "buddy" came to rescue me and my darling Pontiac Vibe, I immediately felt as if I should be on some kind of TV show. I mean, if they can have TV shows such as Storage Wars and American Pickers, they can surely have a show called Towing Trips. The concept of the show would be simple: the camera crew would follow around guys like Russell and his buddy as they pick up people who are stranded thanks to a flat tire. What could make the show successful is filming where people get stranded, how long it takes Russell and Co. to find them, and what happens when the towee meets the tower(s).
Audiences will absolutely love the awkwardness that ensues when the towee has to hitch a ride from the tower(s), and sit in between them. Kind of like what happened to me.
"So . . . do you do a lot of towing?" I asked.
I couldn't handle the silence between all of us.
"Cheapest towing around."
Cheap. Like Russell's cologne. Meanwhile, Russell's buddy was sporting some serious cowboy boots. They looked like two camera-ready pals. Maybe someday soon they'll be featured on Towing Trips. As soon as I pitch the idea to someone in the television business, that is.
"Lay down your money and you play your part / Everybody's got a hungry heart . . ."
Photo courtesy of Ashlee Kiel
It's a place where the poets go. A festival full of words. Stanzas. Appreciation. Inspiration.
The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival takes place in Newark, New Jersey, every two years. When I attended my inaugural festival in 2010, I remember not wanting the weekend to end. I had the opportunity to explore the city with a wonderful group of classmates and meet influential poets such as Billy Collins and Sharon Olds. To borrow a lyric from Dashboard Confessional: Days like that should last and last and last and last. (Shout out to Dance, Andy, Jordan, Kristen, Carissa, Ashlee, Todd, Lydia, Kat, Kate, and Eric.)
The invitation to attend Geraldine R. Dodge this year arrived a little last-minute, but turning it down was not an option. I took off work. I packed my bags. I brought my favorite hat. The weekend began Friday morning at 11 a.m. and as far as I'm concerned, it hasn't ended. A festival of that caliber just doesn't end . . . it stays with you--the poets, the poetry, the city, the memories--the festival stays with you until you can experience it again.
While I'm tempted to chronicle every good thing that happened in Newark and name every poet we had the pleasure to listen to (and in some cases, meet), it would be difficult to keep writing paragraphs about this weekend when I feel as though it would be more appropriate to write stanzas,
as if this entire post
should have been written
like a poem, separated
into lines and influenced
by my desire to return to
Jersey or to find a way
to rewind rewind rewind
rewind > play > time.
If you're a lover of language, don't dodge the Dodge.
P.S. Get ready for 2014 by linking up here: www.dodgepoetry.org.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .