Thursday, October 7, 2010


It happened again. My second job gas station was robbed last week. This time at gunpoint. A couple of days ago one of our regulars that I find quite pleasant asked me if I was on duty. When I said I wasn't, he said when he heard it on the news that he hoped it wasn't me and thought "...because she is such a nice lady." I thanked him for thinking of me but added "We're all nice ladies here."

The poor gal who was there got lucky because she was nice enough to be covering for another nice lady who had fallen and hurt her back. Her nice husband, who works for the company at another location, was so nice he was in the store keeping her company, because she was nervous about her first stint on third shift. He was keeping himself occupied on the side of the store where the robber approached, saw him coming and warned his wife, but because we do not have an automatic lockdown, there was no way to shut the villain out in time. Both these nice people had a gun pointed at them by a man wearing a shirt over his head. I hope he had a nice accomplice driving.

In one of the Harry Kemelman Rabbi Small mysteries, the rabbi explains to one of his fellows that according to jewish text, it is sinful to be "glad it wasn't you", because it follows that you are glad it happened to someone else. That struck me when I read it, and came back when our customer expressed his relief that I had been two hours gone when the robber came. According to Rabbi Small's explanation, it would be no more spiritual to wish it had happened to me instead. There have been times in my life when someone I loved was going through something awful and I did feel that way. As a child I hatched a number of plots to take my brother's place, were he called to Vietnam. The idea of him being afraid or hurt is still more than I can stand to dwell on. "God's will be done." Any other attitude, according to the novel Rabbi, would be assuming you know better than God what his purpose should be.

It's a good thing my few jewish ancestors converted under pressure sometime around the 1500's. I am an abject failure at God's-will-be-done-think. I wish it had been The Terminator working the overnight and that the cowardly shit who pulled a gun on that nice couple who are just trying to stay ahead of their bills and have a life was riddled with holes and lying, at the very least, in intensive care. No, he didn't hurt them. But he was prepared to hurt, or kill. It makes me feel like not such a nice lady.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The ol' grey mare he ain't what she used to be?




For the third time this week, I turn around and a shopper sees that I did not respond the first two times because I could not have imagined he/she was talking to me. It cannot be because of the length of my hair. I believed that, and maybe it was even so, when my hair was 3/4 of an inch long. It isn't any more. I thought I might like to see what it looks like long and grey, and it's in transition. Short. But it looks like girl hair. Actually this morning after I combed it I said to the woman in the mirror "Jane Hathaway, 2010".

Maybe part of it is that I have no fanny. Recently I have dropped a few pounds and I have even less fanny... and all those shoulders. I also wear men's pants to work, because they don't much make sensible work pants for women and offer them at a reasonable price. But I really think it's because I'm grey headed.

In spite of the fact that when Googling one can easily find a dozen articles about women who are letting their hair go naturally, confidently and gloriously grey, you just don't see so many of those women on the street. I'd wager that if we counted and figured, at least 95% of the grey haired people we encounter would be men. So I try to cut those shoppers some slack. At least they are saying "sir" instead of "hey!".

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Third Shift Story

I have a part time job at a convenience store gas station. When things work out right, it's third shift two nights a week. Whoever has that shift is there alone for eight hours. We do not have locked doors and one of those little windows to take money through. You can come right on in. You, your neighbors and the guy that robbed our location last week.

I wasn't there. That particular night I worked second shift. Our new regular third shifter was blessed with the visitation. She wasn't hurt and the police caught the guy. Still, being there alone the past two nights has been a slightly nervous experience. It always was, of course, but the closeness of the incident spurs the imagination to take off running at very little provocation.

Take this sequence that occured in the first quarter of my shift. It would make a great opening to a movie. Opening only, because the threads never came together.

The light colored station wagon pulled up to the curb at the left entrance, with its headlights glaring in my face. There was nothing unusual in the way the ignition was shut off, or of the opening driver side door. I hardly noticed the man who got out and stood there next to his car while I waited on two customers inside. By the time I looked up, he was getting back in his car. Changed his mind, I guessed. However, though he started the engine, backed up and pulled away... he only moved the car about 15 feet, so that it was parked perpendicular to the curb and in front of the other entrance, but a rude six feet out into the lot. Once again, the man in the plaid cotton shirt stood by his vehicle, but he seemed to be staring and willing me to look at him. I did. He pointed, I thought, toward the right entrance, which we keep locked on third shift. I pointed toward the left entrance, thinking he wanted to come in and didn't know which door to use. Hey, it's third shift. People are sleepy. He came in obediently and hung back from the counter while I rang up some cigarettes for a junior smoker with a barely of age ID. The spooky way he was acting, I figured he wanted to buy condoms. I smiled as non judgmentally as I know how.

"I wanted to know how it is right to park." This slightly accented comment came out of a tan face of some far eastern gene pool. I was guessing India. Maybe Pakistan. Whatever, he was assimilated enough to be wearing cargo shorts and flip flops. Still, the question stumped me.


"I am waiting for my friend. How is it that people park? There are no lines. I do not wish to be in the way."

In the nearly two years I have worked at this place nobody has ever apologized for their parking. I was immediately suspicious and on guard.

A police car, lights flashing but no siren, zoomed by going north on Man-O-War.

"Your car is fine. People park every-which-way." (Please don't kill me.)

"Thank you. I am just waiting for my friend."

Cotton Plaidshirt went back to his car and stood outside. Waiting. A police car, lights flashing but no siren, zoomed by going south on Man-O-War. Mr. Plaidshirt did not have long to wait. Perhaps a six-pack sale and two tanks of gas later, a black or navy SUV pulled alongside his car. Osama Bin Laden was driving. Okay, no.. but a 60-ish man with a long white beard wearing a white cap that looked like an upside down cereal bowl and a white shirt with caftan style sleeves and neckline. It was almost one in the morning, my imagination was inclined to extrapolate. He pulled alongside Plaidshirt's vehicle and was talking to him through the window. He looked annoyed and was waving and gesticulating. Father-son I thought. Stupid son missing directions somehow. A white panel van pulled into the lot behind the SUV. I thought Osama and Plaidshirt were obliviously blocking this unmarked vehicle from getting to the pumps, but changed my mind when I saw the black hair and two tan faces that could have been family.

Two police cars, lights flashing but no sirens, passed each other going one north, one south on Man-o-War. Then another one going north. Maybe south made a u-turn.

Osama screeched away and the panel van zoomed after him. Cotton Plaidshirt jumped in his car and followed in haste.

Terrorists? In Kentucky? Is India mad at us? Would they make an example of a capitalist convenience store? A better example of Western greed could not be found. And 12 gas pumps could make a mighty big statement. But they were gone, and I was being silly. And the coffee ran out and things got back to normal.

More police cars. Don't get me wrong. I see a lot of them in the middle of the night and they are often in a hurry and sometimes use sirens and lights. But these seemed very close together and it occurred to me that they were looking for something or someone that had been reported close by.

I was ringing up cigarettes for a regular customer... a pretty and friendly young woman who must live or work close by. A black muscle-sedan pulled up to the door and a young god with shorn hair emerged. He didn't look like a cop. He looked like a movie cop. Grey t-shirt, black pants and a vest that I assumed was bullet proof and said POLICE. Badge. Gun.

"Have you seen a white male, bald, on foot... maybe came it to use the phone? Or anything?"

"No. But if I do, I'll call you guys."

"Thanks Ladies." He was off.

"That'll be $7.43." I reminded my customer.

"Oh. Sorry. I was distracted. I love cops. What if I see this guy? Give me your number."

She said she would call me and I could call the police. I guess she thinks I have this officer's direct line. We assured each other we would get the bad guy and she left laughing.

I'm sure Plaidshirt and the bald white guy on foot were unconnected but I bet I could write them together into a heck of a story. What I have to remember is not to continue telling myself those stories into the wee hours of the morning because it makes me do things like rip the packet of coffee in half and shower myself with granules when a door slams at a coffee making moment.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Memorial Day is meant to be a day to honor soldiers fallen in battle. On neither my mother's or father's side were there any deaths in battle, though my father and two of his brothers served in WWII. In my family we have always used Memorial Day to commemorate the dead, no matter how they died. We have strewn silk flower arrangements the length and breadth of Mason County and across the river in Aberdeen. I have not been able to make the trip the last two times because of work, but my mother and brother will be going.

I was confused about war as a child. I knew my father had been a P.O.W. My brother told me that the episode about Sergeant York on the 60's TV drama Combat was really about our Dad. They had to change his name for TV. But the story was true, he assured me. Decades later when Jonathan Bolt came to Bardstown to help mount his rewrite of The Stephen Foster Story, I was thunderstruck while listening to his actor war-stories to discover that he had played that Sergeant York. It's one of those serendipitous moments that one feels sure is meaningful to the scheme and design of their life, though in this instance as in most similar ones, I have not discovered what that meaning could be.

I also knew that my Uncle Paul had been wounded, and that my Uncle Bill was not allowed to go for health reasons, but served in some civilian capacity. I understood that this was a source of shame for him. When I asked my mother where her brother, the other Uncle Bill, had served, she told me he hadn't. Not anywhere? That was embarassing. More confusing was the knowledge that neither grandfather had fought in any war. There just wasn't one for them to fight, Mom explained. I felt sorry for them. How humiliating. All men were supposed to be soldiers. My mother's position that they were lucky and grateful was perplexing.

Dad's war experiences were told in small clips here and there. He would never sit and spin stories. Something would remind him, and he would speak a sentence or two.

"I made them Germans laugh. I'd say "Ich bin deiner dolmacher..." and they'd just howl." This is a lot funnier if you know it was said with a heavy Kentucky accent and that "dolmetscher" means interpreter.

Or watching Hogan's Heros... "We had all that stuff. 'course not the tunnels or we'da left. But them radios and that. Them Germans was just that dumb."

"They got that Russian boy out of the jeep and just shot him. Just shot him. They hated them Russians."

Sergeant Ralph Henderson was the prison barber and helped to raise potatoes and make them into Vodka. It sounds like coping, but I have a letter he wrote to his mother from the camp. "I would give my eyes to be in good old America."

He managed more details about his time in North Africa. He and Uncle Paul served in the 1st Infantry, which a friend had to tell me was The Big Red One commemorated in the film. I have the one. The red patch from his uniform. I have no possession that I would not part with before that. Vivid in my mind are his words and voice telling of his disobeying orders and carrying his wounded brother down a mountain and away from the fighting. Uncle Paul was sent away to be patched up, only to eventually wind up on Normandy Beach, shot again. Dad wouldn't know this of course till later, because he was at Buchenwald. Barbering. Farming. Distilling. Watching butchery.

I saw a quote this morning that was to the effect that all soldiers are wounded in battle. I would go further and say that a part of any soldier dies in a war. A farmboy joined the army right before Pearl Harbor because he needed a job. He came home with night terrors, a drinking problem and a bad heart... and memories he couldn't talk about except in clips. He built a solid life for us, but was rarely peaceful. He could not be comfortable in a bed, but preferred an army cot. He swept up ants and other vermin and carefully put them outside, because "... everything loves its life." He swore that if my brother ever got the idea of joining the army he would "...knock him in the head, throw him in the trunk and drive to Canada."

Dad would say that we should be thinking about those other boys on Memorial Day. The ones that did not come home. But he would be smiling that small sideways smile that I inherited and secretly be pleased as punch that some fuss was made on his behalf. So... thanks Dad. For what you gave and what was taken. For coming back and fighting the everyday fight in the America you helped to preserve. You are my Memorial Day memory.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How do you spell greay?

The dictionaries I have consulted say that both gray and grey are correct in describing the tone that lies between black and white. Irritated control freak friends have told me that I misspell it. It is only grEy when it is a surname... such as with Earl Grey the tea guy. I happen to know some Grays, but I tend to just nod at control freaks. For me the spellings are both colors, but they are different colors.

My friend Matt, who is a musician, thinks I hate music. He expressed it thus- "For someone who hates music, you know a lot of lyrics." I believe he got this impression from the way I do not like music playing when I am trying to have a conversation with someone, do not like it at the level of a sonic boom and feel trapped at entertainment venues where I am compelled to sit and just listen to organized noise. Well, that's what it is. Even worse if the organized noise is meant to be fathomed amidst disorganized noise, such as in a bar. I won't exaggerate and say that Matt wants music playing all the time, but it's a lot. I'm not sure he knows this but he sometimes hums in the middle of sentences. (Yes, you DO.) It's vital to him for both expression and cognition and I believe he finds it surprising, and maybe disgruntling, that it can be less vital to others.

We are revealed in human reflections and rejections. One of the things I have come to hypothesize whilst reflecting against Matt, is that people must have not only different levels of reaction to any sensate stimuli, but varying preferences as to type. And I have come to realize that I react in exactly the same way to color and its arrangement that Matt does to music. When I want to relax I look at pictures, or scenery, or shop displays. Fabric. I may not hum while we're talking but am likely to sort my M-m-Ms and create a daisy or something. When expressing myself it is most often with shade and hue, whether it was choosing the palette for theatrical costumes or arranging clothing towers at the store. I revel most in visual symphonies.

This realization has caused me to be less appalled when others cannot tell the difference between tangerine and orange. Peach and apricot. (NO! Not crimson! Cherry!) Bermuda? Are we talking Bermuda water or sky? If I have paid attention I can match colors without taking a sample with me, the way some musicians have perfect pitch. (No. That navy is too green. It's approaching Shaker.)

In the case of grey/gray, I even imagine the nuances in spelling. Gray is the color between grey (which is a perfect blend of white and black) and taupe. It is muddied with just a little bit of brown. A grey day is crisp. A gray day is gloomy. My hair, in totality, is actually gray... but it includes a lot of greys so I embrace that.

And hey, it's not only significant to me in spelling. There's pronunciation. This conversation was shared over the Lexington Costume Co. phone line around 10 years ago.

Caller: Do you have any fancy colored tuxedos?

Me: If you call mauve lame' fancy. (pronounced "mowve")

Caller: Mowve? What color is that? Do you mean mawve?

Me: No. I mean mowve. And so do you.

Caller: (click)

For the confused, mauve is a grEyish lavendar-rose.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What a difference a grey makes.

I was taking lots of pictures of me last summer. New to Facebook, I wanted to capture a fabulous image to post for all my refound friends. I thought I must look pretty good. People were always saying "you don't look that old" when I confessed to pushing 50. A young guy at work accused me of gross exaggeration when I said I grew up in the 60's. "You might have been BORN in the 60's... barely!" I liked telling him I was born in the 50's. Barely. The pictures told me my skin was still good, but that I needed to put up a better fight against the middle-aged chubbies. The something-else wrong that I was sensing became very apparent in a shot I did on a sunshiny day. It looked like I was wearing a hair hat. My red strands looked inorganic and stuck-on. I have had red hair so long that most who know me thought it was my original color. Born blonde, my shade deepened to a very unfortunate and dim brownish by the time I got to college. It was just... y'know... hair colored. So I thought, "Less red. More of what you were born with, perhaps." The golden blonde I tried was an improvement against my complexion, but drab. Mighty drab after being all crimsonlike for years. Lighter. No, LIGHTER. Okay. Trendier. No, shorter. Short was good, but the colors still looked as real as the wood veneer on my vintage 80's entertainment center. I decided to try real. The roots told me it was almost all grey, with a healthy dose of white. All the way to the whitest blonde for the transition then! That brought reactions from distended eyebrows on our Store Director, to a whispered "rock star" as one of the young turks at work blew past, to a derisive "Did'ja tell her how purty her ha'ar lucks?" to one of my team members from the store crumudgeon when they thought I wasn't in the break room. Almost forgot. "Marilyn!"

I was counting the days until I could whack the blonde ends completely off. I kept trimming it. It looked blonde up to the penultimate moment. See.. well... there's this boy I like. And I hadn't seen him for a long time. But I saw him then. "Wow. You look completely different. That's... really radical." I might have wondered if radical was good or bad but he looked immediately at the ground. Try this. Wrap your fist in rubber bands and try to open it. For twenty minutes. Yes. That is precisely how my heart felt. I contemplated shaving my head that night in a pure fury of contrariness, but visions of Store Director danced in my head.

It was almost time to buzz the ends off. I looked for reassurance amongst celebrities. Don't. Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez and Helen Mirren are all you get. All fabulous of course, but Emmylou is 12 years older than me and she's the youngest. Perhaps real women. In all of the "Tops in Lexington" issue that I perused, there was one woman with white hair. Octogeneric. I watched our customers. Lots of roots, but it looked like all the gals used color. Fifty is the new thirty and all that jazz. Not men so much, but it was unsettling to realize that most women color their hair, even when it isn't grey. It's just good grooming in America. But I was looking hard at those women and starting to feel about hair color the way I feel about makeup. I use a little mascara so no one asks me if I'm ill, but I think I can sell t-shirts and sox without all the rest of that mess. Face-art is for the stage and does not make me a worthier human being. Besides it couldn't possibly be fooling anyone. My hair couldn't possibly be fooling anyone. Silly me.

When I finally could stand it no longer, I set the hair trimmer to 3/4 inch and zoomed my entire head. Thrilled. Overwhelmed. Giddy. Proud. I theatrically staged the photo you see below using red to accent the silver and an overhead angle to obscure the fullness of jowl to which I am not so easily reconciled and posted it on Facebook. My vocal friends were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, save two. "I liked you as a redhead." "Where is my redheaded friend Marie?" Others were not vocal. I loved loved loved it and felt powerful and believe it or not, younger. Younger because I was free of pathetic attempts to look young. Unshackled. Wild.

Now I have lived with it for about three months.

From regularly being guessed at 10 to 15 years younger than my now fully 50 years, it is now 5 to 15 added years. Do people not see anything but your hair??? Last week a college student part-timer at the store asked me to help him by being interviewed for a paper about drivers over 65. Why should they be allowed to drive? (Well, sonny... why should you be allowed to drive? You're not very freakin' observant.) Men of all ages rush to lift things for me. Open doors. I get the most polite "Thank you, Ma'am's" a body ever heard.

It's the fault of all those other women. There are few realistic barometers out there to measure me by. Grey hair = frailty. As if you must be unable to lift your arms to apply the Colorific lotion... for why else?

I still like it. I think it suits me. There are days when I am startled at the reflection in the mirror, particularly in the morning when I look a bit like Christopher Walken did in Sleepy Hollow. I have played with the notion of letting it grow long like Emmylou, but I think glamour lies in confidence, not the length of your hair. And sparkly well cut clothes. Speaking of clothes, I have had to weed out my wardrobe. My beloved acid greens... no no. Browns... few. But orange is back. I missed orange. For the time being it makes me feel good and honest and I'm keeping it.

That boy I like is just a couple of years younger than me and doesn't have a grey hair on his head. Could he be coloring?

Grey Pride