Thursday, July 29, 2010

Driver's License Catharsis

My current driver's license is an abomination. A year or so ago I lost it and I thought that that would be my ticket to a new driver's license photo. Turns out they just print out the same one, hideous scowl and all, and charge you ten dollars. So for years I've been waiting for this window, the few months before my 28th birthday, to get my new driver's license.

I had to run to the DMV on an errand for work the other day and thought I'd just go ahead get my license then. Here's the thing, my maiden name is "Alice Ananda Weaver Seyle," when I got married it changed to "Alice Ananda Seyle Spear." The "four-name-name" has been a problem for me from day one. Any paperwork that asks for a middle initial causes confusion, people at the post-9/11 airport look at me like I might be from a foreign country and am therefore suspect, any new job is a problem because my paperwork has all four of my names, and the one I'm called is not even one of them. I once worked somewhere for a good six months as "Alice" simply because I didn't feel like explaining the whole situation. My cover was blown when my husband called for "Annie" and I then had to explain not only why I'm called "Annie" but also why I wanted to avoid the original explanation. So, when I got my first license in this state I encountered my old foe, the person who can't make sense of my name. What I ended up with on my license is "Spear, Alice, Ananda, W, Seyle." This is what I've lived with for four years, that and a disgusting picture that was taken in that fraction of a second when I looked worse than I've ever looked in my entire life.

So, I figured as long as I was at the DMV, and as long as I was getting a new license, surely they could just take out that unnecessary "W," which of course they can't. I have to go back and dig out my original birth certificate and my marriage license to get that done, which poses it's own set of problems because of my "filing." So, I decided to forget it. Once I thought about it I decided that I really wasn't prepared to get my new license anyway. Now I have the opportunity to do it the right way. I've been needing a haircut, so I ought to wait to get my new picture until I get that done. I need to know that morning that I'm getting my picture taken so that I can dress appropriately. Getting my license off the cuff like that, while I was on an office errand, would be borderline irresponsible. I was irresponsible last time and I've paid the price for four long years.

Never one to make the same mistake twice, I'm now wracked with anxiety about the whole thing. It has turned into a huge ordeal. I'm worrying about my hair, I mean, what if I get it cut and it looks worse? I'm thinking about colors that look good with my eyes. I'm wondering how to apply makeup and reading articles by scientists about the difference between a spontaneous smile and a practiced smile. It's not like I have nothing else in my life to worry about, like everything is fine and I just have this quirk about my driver's license. I've got ten million stressors that are absolutely crippling my ability to function and I find myself staring into space thinking not about my mother's Alzheimer's or my husband's pneumonia but about whether grey makes me look pale or not. And it all snaps into focus... NOW. Maybe that's precisely why I'm so obsessed with my driver's license. If I'm worrying about that I don't have to worry about things that truly scare me. Great. What am I going to worry about to avoid worrying about things after I get my new driver's license? I know Mom, I'm a Virgo. I'm such a Virgo.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Morning Ride

I wasn't feeling well on Friday night, so on Saturday morning when I woke up to Justin getting dressed and telling me "I've got the perfect way to start your day," I was skeptical because I thought that the perfect way to start my day would be another hour or so of sleep. I reluctantly got dressed though as he told me that we would have Hayden watch Story and he and I would go for a ride on the motorcycle. I like riding on the motorcycle but every time this is proposed I go into "practical mode" and start considering things like "I just washed my hair last night, now I'm going to get all kinds of bugs and crap in it, is it worth it?" and "Well, how far are we going to ride because I don't want to waste gas." And "What kind of a mess am I going to come home to if we leave the boys here alone?" I've become a bitter woman who can't have fun, and in defiance of that I put a bandana over my hair, threw some cereal at the boys and raced out of the house.

I had never ridden a motorcycle before I met Justin. The first time I was on one I was amazed at how safe they feel. I have this problem with not trusting myself with dangerous things. Table saws? I want to see how close I can get my finger to the blade. Guns? I want to see how tightly I can squeeze the trigger before firing. Allegedly "live" wires in the yard that the cable company has sliced through? I want to grab them to see how "live" they are (the one in our yard is not). I think it has to do with the potential of these objects. I want to be the thing that makes all potential kinetic, but with great effort I try to avoid this kind of activity. So instead of obsessing about trying to drag the toe of my shoe on the pavement as we rode, I turned my attention to the houses we passed. Backwoods Arkansas is a great place to look at houses too. I don't know what men do when they ride, but I suspect from Justin's reactions when I'd lean forward to yell questions that they're not critiquing houses. "WHY DO YOU THINK THEY DIDN'T WINDOWS IN THE FRONT OF THAT HOUSE?" "WHAT???"

I've read the first part of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and what Pirsig says is true, traveling by motorcycle is very different from traveling by car. On a motorcycle you're a part of your surroundings, changing them as you move forward instead of passively moving through them. You can smell fresh-cut grass or the moist air by a creek, you feel the cool patches from the shade of trees, you can feel the speed in the form of wind on your face and the tugging of gravity when you make a turn, and you could, if you're a brave one, drag the toes of your shoes on the pavement just under your feet. It's a great feeling and a nice way to start the morning.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


There's a guy who comes into the store where I work, we'll call him J. He's got tattoos all over him, I mean from head to toe, literally. He's got a teardrop on his cheek, on his neck in block letters it says "WHITE," his arms and legs are covered with indecipherable scribbling, and giant swastikas are everywhere. Despite the fact that I wear a Star of David ring on my finger he's always very nice to me. I thought I would ask him a few questions one day, just out of curiosity. What I wanted to ask is "Did you kill somebody? And if so, why?" and then ask him "Why?" again. What I did ask is "What do your tattoos mean?" And we started talking.

For the record, I don't make a habit of befriending white supremacists, or any people whose worldview is based solely on hatred of other people, but in the interest of story collecting, understanding things that are very hard to understand, and not hating other people, I like to talk to them.

J looks like he's in his 30's and says that he's been in prison more of his life than he's been out. If the surface area of tattooed skin is any measure of such things, I think that would be safe to say. Based on the teardrop tattoo I assume that he's killed someone. I don't know how old he was when he went to prison and I don't know what he was like before, but he didn't start out being a white supremacist. His story should say a lot to those politicians who believe that prison is to "reform" and not to "punish." I imagine he came out worse than he went in, at least in terms of ever hoping to be "reformed."

I've heard that alone is a bad thing to be when you're locked up, and obviously that's true. J was getting viciously attacked everyday when he first went away. He didn't go into detail, but I've seen "American History X" so I have a good idea. I've also been the new kid in junior high so I know that when you're lonely and scared you're going to hold on to the first hand that is extended your way. In his case it was a white hand with a swastika. And the voice he heard said "We think it's funny that you're getting beat up like you are." He asked "Why?" "Because you're white."

Of course, there are unspoken rules in any clique, especially in prison. A white boy is meant to stand up to anyone who comes at him, whether he's alone and outnumbered or not. What they do if they catch someone looking at them out of the corner of their eye is they turn to face them, pull up their pant leg to show their skin and all their offensive tattoos, then STOMP with those heavy boots they wear, and stomp loud so that anyone within earshot can stop what they're doing, take off their shirts and walk over in a slow, intimidating way, circle up and chant in the lowest possible voice "I wish a ****** would."

Prisons are notoriously segregated, I guess because racial groups are the easiest to identify. One of J's tattoos is a giant bolt on his bicep. I don't know if that has something to do with the SS or with the fact that lightning is white or what, but it's a kind of rallying cry, like "BOLT M*****F*****!" with your fist in the air. I get the idea it's a thing for the initiated, a motto, a greeting, a secret handshake. It's a declaration of loyalty to the brotherhood. When there's a fight about to break out "Bolt" means it's on.

J doesn't seem to hate anyone really, he just didn't like getting attacked in the showers while the guards turned their heads. He didn't like getting judged by the color of his skin, so he embraced it, made it his identity, and used it as a way to survive. There are those who live that life inside and out though, especially in the South, and especially in prisons. They were raised in hate and they often in hate. In Arkansas we use lethal injection to kill our prisoners. When a white supremacist gets strapped down and the plungers in those cylinders start pushing that poison into their veins they yell, as loud as they can "BOOOLLLLTTTTT!" If there are people in the yard who can hear it, and know what it means, they yell "Bolt!" too.

I guess what I don't understand is why people are allowed to get so savagely beaten in prison that they find it necessary to join a hate group, and throw away any chance of ever finding gainful employment, to survive. I just seems counter-productive to me. There should be something in there that is good. Cats maybe.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Arkansas peaches and my family

In this part of Arkansas there are a lot of peach orchards. I had planned on taking Story to one of them this weekend to pick our own, but ended up getting in the car, turning on the air, and pulling over at a road-side stand and buying peaches that someone else spent a miserable afternoon picking instead. I'll show him that peaches come from trees next year.

When I got home I sliced up a few and sat down on the couch to eat them. Arkansas peaches are good, they're different from other peaches because they're not super juicy. You can bite into one and it will cruch, and just as you're starting to curse yourself for not knowing the "ripeness test" for peaches all the juices start to come out and it becomes this great peach-eating experience, not one of those that require you to wash your hands and elbows afterwards to get off all the sticky mess. If that were thse case I wouldn't bother, but as it is I've been eating peaches like they're laced with pure sunshine, which they are in a way. Story likes them too, but not the skin. He eats them like a sliced orange and leaves a big pile of peach rinds on the table.

We were eating our peaches and I was commenting to Justin, who likes to use everything I say to prove to me once and for all how great Arkansas is, about how good I thought my peach was. The exchange went like this:

"This peach is so good, really different from other peaches."

"Well, Arkansas is known for their peaches."

"Isn't Georgia known for their peaches?"

"Not like Arkansas. Arkansas peaches are really the best."

"Isn't Georgia 'The Peach State?'"

"Well, we've got the right kind of soil."

It turns out we're both right. Arkansas peaches are the best, and Georgia is "The Peach State." And although I love the peaches, I'm still not any more enamored with Arkansas.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Paul is Justin's best friend from junior high. They're the kind of friends who can go their separate ways, grow, change, and years later find themselves still dressing alike. They used to have long hair and earrings, wear black t-shirts and boots that would allow you to break ribs in a fight. And somehow, over these years of growth and change they both, independent of each other, have decided to cut their hair really short, buy a lot of button-up shirts that they tuck in to their plain, light-colored, almost tapered-leg Levis, and wear work boots that for some reason make their feet look small to me.

Paul lives out in the woods, he doesn't own a cell phone, and although I hear from time to time of him dating, has never married. He seems to like it that way and I think that's interesting. I think I'd like that too, only I'm way too much of a follower to do something like not own a cell phone. His house started out as a patch of land in the middle of the forest where he used to like to go to camp and be alone. One day he decided it would be neat to have a little platform there. So he got the supplies and built a platform. Once that was up he thought maybe he could add some walls and a roof and make it more of a shelter. So he went to the hardware store and asked some questions and had a kind of cabin, and once he had a cabin, he thought he might just run some electricity and install some plumbing. And so it came to be that Paul lives in a house he built by himself in the middle of the woods. If you give a mouse a cookie... Eventually he accepted the fact that this was his home and he had to approach the people who owned the land and explain that he had accidentally built a house on their land and would they sell him the plot? Luckily they said yes.

In the past couple of years Paul has lost both of his parents to heart attacks. So the other night after he had been having chest pains all day he called an ambulance. And because his house is decidedly off the grid he went out to lie down on the front porch, as if to say "this is the spot." Even so it took the ambulance over an hour to find it. When they got there he just waited, motionless, in pain, and exhausted on the porch. Only, they weren't coming. The driver had gotten out of the ambulance with no problems. The passenger, though, had gotten out, twisted his ankle, and inexplicably went into convulsions. So the driver rushed to his side and started trying to bring him out of it. After about fifteen minutes Paul was able to lift his head from the porch only to find a medical emergency taking place in his front yard. After about thirty Paul decided that maybe he wasn't having a heart attack after all and walked down to see what was going on. The first EMT had gotten the second EMT loaded in the ambulance and then asked Paul if he still needed to go to the hospital. Paul said to forget it. For some reason that probably has to do with paperwork though, if an ambulance is called then the person who called it is encouraged to go to the hospital. So Paul climbed up front into the seat of the former passenger/current patient. Since Paul was feeling better and he could use the help the driver gave Paul the responsibility of checking to make sure the other EMT's oxygen mask was on, and to see that he wasn't choking or swallowing his tongue, also if he heard any odd beeping make sure his vitals were alright. If you give a mouse a cookie...

The EMT ended up being okay, the driver even confided to Paul that "he does this all the time." Paul is also okay, despite being a little irritated that that first EMT didn't even bother to run up there and check on him. He's still not considering getting a cell phone.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cracker Barrel

I used to love going on road trips because usually it meant we were going to my Grannie's house in Oklahoma. As I got older they got more and more depressing for some reason. I think it has something to do with driving by the little clusters of Cracker Barrels, Super 8s, and Shell stations that are the only symbols of an actual settlement beyond, with grocery stores and places to get your oil changed, see a doctor, and go to school. Whenever I see these things I think "I'm so glad I don't live there."

So tonight when I was eating my dinner at the Cracker Barrel, looking out at the interstate, I realized that do live in one of those towns. There's the Shell station, and there? There's the La Quinta, Super 8 is around the corner. There are all those things here that allow me to never have to even get on the interstate, just cross over it once or twice. I can make money, buy food, raise my children, grow old and never have to leave this 15 square mile patch of planet, and that's what it is that I think depresses me about these towns. Some people like them, there is a certain security in them and I can see that, even wish I could feel it. For me, I look at them and imagine the high school cheerleader cruising 5th Street, or Main Street, or whatever street it happens to be, the college kids doing laundry at Mom and Dad's - on weeknights, the kids who went to the same daycare getting married, the insurance agents, the hairdressers, the old people with gardens, and I think it seems so... the same. Every town you pass on the interstate is exactly the alike, with only small variations.

I've said before that, for some reason, I tend to measure success in miles from the town where you were born. It just seems like the farther you are from where you started, the further you've gone... in life. I was born in St. Louis so according to MapQuest I'm 371.89 miles successful, only I'm really kind of in the same place. That same small town with it's chain hotels by the interstate, the young people determined to leave, and the old people determined to stay, and that damn Cracker Barrel where every once in a while a woman in her late 20's will plan to eat pancakes at 6 PM and find herself staring out at the road and reevaluating her life, her definition of success, and her desire to eat pancakes at all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Jilted Juror

On my "Notice to Report" for my jury duty it said to call the night before to make sure that the "plans" that they sent me three days ago had not changed. I didn't think much of it really and only called as an afterthought. And wouldn't you know it, after I had made arrangements for the baby to be dropped off and for someone to cover for me at work and for someone to be at the ready to pick the baby up, I didn't have to be in Little Rock until 12 PM. They said to call though, at 9 AM to make sure that I had to be there at all.

So slept in and took Story to daycare and thought I'd head in to work for an hour or so, just as a "good faith" kind of thing, like "see, I could have just taken this hour to do whatever I want, but I came here instead because I really care about my job and the good work we're doing here." I got to work about 8:30 AM and filled out my time card as if I were leaving at 10 AM and didn't really think to much about what I was doing or why, just what a good employee I am and how I've really turned my life around and become a great person.

I called at 9 AM to listen to the new message. The new message was a list of names of people who were to appear. All others were dismissed until further notice. I listened to the message three times. I didn't hear my name any of them, but I listened again just to be sure. I was already at work, I couldn't very well leave then, as much as I wanted to.

So, my whole day was upheaved. It throws everything off for me. When plans change it takes me a long time to get my bearings again. I stayed at work all day, which is good because now I look like a great employee because I could have lied and left anyway and then come in tomorrow with a whole story about how incredible my adventure in the legal system was with all kinds of details thrown in about how cold the court rooms are and what a terrible time I had finding a parking spot. I didn't do that though. I soldiered through in my uncomfortable dress clothes, thinking and re-thinking about how this is going to affect my bill-paying, the rest of my week, gas money, and attitude when I receive another letter asking me to rearrange my life for something that may or may not happen. At least next time I'll know.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Rural Juror

I registered to vote not because I like to vote but because I like the idea of getting a letter one day asking me to put my entire life on hold in order to agonize with 11 other people over the fate of another human being, and then going back to my life right where it left off. It seems like a very surreal thing to do. Most people I know try to get out of it but when I got my pre-screening form a few weeks ago I stretched it a little bit when I didn't mention anything about having a two-year-old, a car that is increasingly unreliable, and the fact that every time I'm away from the house something catches on fire or floods. After a month I had given up on being chosen but yesterday I got a letter informing me that I'm to appear in Little Rock on Tuesday - that's federal.

I guess they need a jury for a lot of things, boring things and very exciting things alike. Right now the biggest trial in Arkansas is that of Randeep Mann. He's a doctor who practiced here in Russellville who, in addition to supporting the addictions of the drug-using population of Northwestern Arkansas, had an arsenal of illegal weapons and possible ties to terrorist organizations. I can say all of that because it says on my letter that any message I might hear when I call the "juror hotline" regarding his case DOES NOT APPLY to me, I'll be a juror for something else - if I'm chosen. I'll probably get some tax law thing or something that has to do with property lines. It sounds exciting to get a murder trial or some case that will bring me face-to-face with something or someone I've never seen before, but now that that is an actual possibility I'm a little nervous. Despite what I said before, I don't want to be the tossed coin that determines another person's fate, whether a murderer or tax evader or jaywalker. I like the sidelines and I do everything I can not to affect the lives of other people.

Despite my recent anxiety I think it will be nice to kind of take a day, go somewhere, do something I've never done. I like answering questions about myself. I think there will probably be a lot of waiting around during which I can finally get some reading done. I don't know if they'll give us lunch or not, I'd like that though. I might meet some interesting people, people who probably don't want to be there. If I meet someone who does want to be there I'll know I've found a kindred spirit and we'll probably be lifelong friends. I'll update on Tuesday (or Wednesday) if I'm not sequestered.

(Thanks Tina Fey for "The Rural Juror.")