Sunday, February 3, 2008

Peaks and Valleys, All in One Weekend

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

In the Valley of Shoprite

"Paper or plastic?" asks the same, Downs-syndrome-affected and high-functioning bagger, who helped us when we shopped together last time, on New Year's Eve. Only now, he's sporting a goatee and an official Giants football shirt over his shirt and tie -- just like several of the other staff and some of the customers; it's four hours prior to the Super Bowl, after all.

"Pat, what do we want? Plastic?" Pat takes the bags to the soup kitchen on Thursdays.

"Yeah, plastic."

"Plastic please," I say without making full eye-contact.

"All plastic?" he asks and I look him in the eye as I say yes.

He's bagging the food and says with a stutter he didn't have when he spoke of our cricket caps last time: "Lllet mmmme guess," he says, pointing to the presidential candidate's button on Pat's chest, "She's for [candidate's name]."

"That's right, and me, too," I say showing him my button, which had not been visible prior.

"Well, [the candidate] won't get my vote."

"That's OK. The important thing is to vote, no matter who you're voting for," says Pat.

The young woman at the cash register offers proudly, "It'll be my first election, where I can vote," but adds no commentary on her favorite candidate.

"You know why I'm not voting for [the candidate]?" asks the bagger.

"Why not?" I'm obliged to respond.

"Because [the candidate][pause] is [pause] for *gay* people."

"And that's why I *am* voting for [the candidate]."

"Well, a president who's for gay people is not right," he exclaims, stutter-free.

"You're looking at a human being, who is one of those gay people." (Purposely, I use the phrase, "human being," as I know that it will resonate with him, that he'll be able to relate to the discrimination of not always being treated as human.)

"Well, OK," says the cashier, chagrined and wondering what's next.

"I'm sorry," he says immediately. "I did not mean to be [pause] offensive. I was off the line." (He means to say, "...out of line," and I'm disarmed by his sincerity.)

"It's OK. Everyone is allowed to have his or her opinion."

To change the subject, he pulls out the magazine he has just bagged and makes a point about the stars on the cover. For some reason, our current issue of "Vanity Fair" has not come in the mail, and so Pat wants us to go ahead and buy it. Like the game of Cricket, the bagger knows more about the history of "Indiana Jones" than I do and is regaling me. He needn't be nervous. I have no intention of complaining to the store manager and so I say goodbye with:

"I remember you from when I was wearing my India cricket cap last time. Look, I'm wearing it again," I say, pointing to the insignia on the front. He looks and we seal the deal of acknowledging each other's humanity.

"OK, let's go," Pat says, and I turn to the cashier and thank her. She smiles and waves.

Probably, the bagger is euphoric right now; the Giants won, Pat just yelled up to tell me.

Would Kanye West Do Anything for an Adirondyke?

The trip to Shoprite was on the way home from the 10th, annual "Out and About Winter Weekend," which practically from the beginning, a number of us affectionately began referring to as the "Adirondyke Weekend." Relatively rocketing us down the now ice-free I-87, we listened to my iPod through the car radio and heard Kanye West's "Stronger" among many others. "Stronger" was among the American pop songs I heard all the time while in India.

The inspiration for the weekend's nickname were the 60 or more lesbian couples, who go up to the Adirondack Mountains every year; we think it's cute, but probably, we wouldn't have thought it was cute if the Shoprite bagger had coined it....

The ride up was harrowing. We left Montclair at noon and arrived just before 5 pm; typically, it takes us three and a half hours. We saw 19 accidents on the way, most of them south of Albany. We were in the car with snow-tires and blessedly, Pat did the driving, as I have an ice phobia.

When we arrived, a sign out front read, "Welcome, Out and About!" I nearly cried...with relief that we had made it there without sliding off the road ourselves...and because it was the first time that the little ranch had a sign for us...and because I was so excited to be going this time, since Pat and I were so isolated over the past six months in India.

The weekend was started by my friend Carol, who retired from IBM seven years ago, and it always attracts a bunch of lesbian IBMers accordingly. What a fun bunch we are!

When I came in to the indoor pool for a got-here-safely-gratitude dip, an IBM alumna -- as of this past Thursday -- and her partner were standing by the pool in dripping swim-suits, towel-drying themselves. Shivering as I entered the water, I lasted a very short time, as the pool didn't feel heated, but it hit the spot in terms of getting to unclench myself from the scary drive.

The shower in the lockerroom afterwards reminded me of India at first, as I could not, initially, regulate the water to make it hot. All ended well enough when the water finally turned warm.

Music after dinner was by the band that played at the GM of the ranch's wedding and I'm sure they were great if your family were cowboys and cowgirls, but most of us related less so to the two guys on electric guitars and a drummer, singing only country music. Pat and I went to bed early, only after hearing a very sad story by a new friend, who's just now allowing herself to be herself, at 52.

Her story, I think, made it hard for me to sleep well. God, I could have traveled that sad road, I thought, and yet, she has what I don't -- two kids in their 20s, who are devoted to her. She wonders how devoted they would still be if she told them her reality.

The next day, I sat by the fire, which Pat kept stoking expertly and read for school. "Skating anyone?" another IBM friend asked early in the afternoon. We went to the home-made rink outside with her young daughter. I felt like I was four again, at my nursery school's rink, only now, the skates were better. Every year, one or another childhood experience lets me re-live it and it's blissful. A couple of years ago, I went sled-riding.

Saturday night, though, really was why we braved the freezing rain and ice: A D.J. played from 9 pm to midnight and the floor was never empty. I loved dancing with Pat and my IBM friends, and then also spotting a young woman from my synagogue and saying hello. And then seeing a local couple, who lives there year-round. Probably, they are not yet 30. One wears a cowboy hat and is always graceful and gallant; they are the most elegant, non-professional dancers I've ever seen, of any gender-combo.

It's beyond bed-time now, and there's so much more to re-live through writing about it...if only work weren't waiting for me in the early, early morning. All of us, at any given time, are doing our best, Pat reminds me occasionally:

I'm writing as fast as I can, the Shoprite bagger is trying to do what he thinks is right for the country and the newly active, middle-aged lesbian is trying to figure out her next steps.

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