na foine ting

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

We shipped a four octave wooden marimba to Ghana.

A four octave wooden marimba is a small instrument compared to - say - a grand piano. And no doubt there were a good many expatriates living in west Africa in the seventies who managed to keep grand pianos in their homes, miraculously free of moisture-cracked soundboards and termites.

But for being nothing like a grand piano other than its being of the percussion instrument family, a four octave marimba takes up a chunk of space. One box for the keyboard, two boxes for the pipes that hang under it (a set of pipes each for sharps and naturals). Then there's a box for the metal frame it stands on, and then all the other assorted bits and pieces: music stand, yarn wrapped soft mallets, unwrapped hard mallets, and so on.

When I was five I was already playing four sticks. Two sticks in each hand, so that I could play chords, or a chord and a melody, even. Apparently that made me a sort of marimba prodigy, which is a dubious distinction for a five year old, even in the seventies in Santa Cruz, never mind Ghana.

By the time I was nine and we were living in Africa, I had learned to play almost any Broadway show tune with four sticks on my marimba, and if I hadn't learned it, I could usually fake it.

At Lincoln Community School in Accra, I played Monti's "Czardas" and "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof for a school assembly.

Other school assemblies while I was there included visits from Carol Kendall, and Buzz Aldrin. Tough acts to follow, even with a big four octave marimba played with four sticks and no accompaniment.

The worst thing about a marimba isn't that it takes four unwrapped rubber mallets to get a recognizable song out of it.

The worst thing about a marimba is that no one other than percussionists has ever heard of it.

So, right along with Buzz Aldrin and Carol Kendall I was to become something of a legend at Lincoln Community School.

I was "that girl who played the marumba." Or "mazoomba." Or "maracas."

Take your pick.


Thursday, September 23, 2004
I wrote this essay in Kenya two years ago.


Leaving Amboselli
(for Crystal)

A gamut of lodges before today; each experience, each stay different, but also inherently the same. Arrive at the lodge, check in, go for a game drive-with as many as a few dozen other truck and van loads of tourists-arrive back, have dinner. Arise early. Get back in the van. Exclaim at the zebra and impala, hope secretly for lion or even the elusive leopard.

Return for breakfast.

Amuse ourselves, have tea, and at four go back out in the vans again.

This morning, here at Amboselli, the routine is briefly broken by a walking tour around the perimeter of the lodge.

Strange, to suddenly feel the powdery yield of volcanic ash under my feet. Good, to feel the sun pour down and find later I am sunburned.

Oddly reassuring, to see an immense dust devil sweep by and now, outside the confines of the van, feel the wind of it brush and pluck. A real prickle of adrenaline, wary in case it swings our way.

Our guide, Erick, walks with deliberate slowness through the bush, skirting the lodge's septic ponds and pointing out ibis, heron, water-walking Jesus birds. Like all of the guides, he is intensely knowledgeable, confident. He is also genuinely enthusiastic.

Later I will notice how loudly I walk, and how little noise Erick makes as he moves along. Later I will alter my stride and footfall, learn to look up and around and not just at my feet.

We see the jewel blue of the superb starling, ludicrous guinea fowl, a stunning tawny eagle.

A Masai warrior walks along with us, for protection from the unlikely presence of predators, who at this time of day all lie tucked in shady spots out of the heat, asleep.

We, like mad dogs and Englishmen, pick our way along, learn about big game scat. I am contemplating an impala's leavings when the Masai raps my arm with the wood haft of his spear, just hard enough to get my attention. He points to the path, to a mark the diameter of a serving platter, criss-crossed with faint, maplike lines.

"Elephant," I say in comprehension as he circles it for me, makes a point of tracing its size and shape with his finger in the dust. He nods. It is unnerving, his walking silently alongside me as we make our way across the plain. He is tall, draped in red cloth, younger than I am by perhaps more than a decade, and yet his wears his status in such a way that I can only feel small and weak in comparison.

It is not superiority, exactly, but an ease and assurance here that is complete.

It is the total antithesis of what I have been feeling.

So I find when we arrive at the end of our short hike, at the jeeps and coolers full of Tusker beer, that I don't want this being outside, this walk out into the world here, to end. I have begun to touch the ground, to feel a size and shape of the wilds around me. In getting a true sense of how out of place I am here, I begin to feel like I have finally, actually arrived.

I ask Erick the guide if we can walk back. He laughs.

"Sure, we can walk back," he says. The jeeps will go on without us, carrying the handful of sporting tourists who are dusty and more than happy to be driven back.

I am thrilled.

I take more water from the cooler. There is something Erick finds funny, and I'm not entirely sure what it is until he points to the land rover.

"Get in the truck," he says.

Get in the truck.

It was a joke, and yet as I once again clambered inside a vehicle designed for safe and comfortable viewing of Kenya, I was blinking back angry tears.

But I sat in the truck, and rode back to the lodge, and tried to be at least grateful for the experience we'd had.

Later, it was time for the four o'clock game drive and I found I couldn't bear to go.

There is a sort of odd panic you feel, making that choice. I might miss something good. Leopard. Cheetah.

But it is in part the sheer acquisitiveness of experience, that panic, that bothers me about all this.

And I opted to stay.

A wise friend advised me in email to do what it took to get off the beaten path, to find someone who could show me something new, different, real.

So I tried to be polite but also persistent at the lodge's front desk. Another walk, if it wasn't too much trouble. Yes, today, no, not with the others tomorrow. Yes, I know it's hot now. I'm fit, it's all right.

You do not demand these things, and the lodges are in a state of quiet exhale during these times, four to six in the afternoon, when the vans and jeeps are all out hunting the perfect game viewing moment.

People lean, converse in their native languages. The power is frequently turned off, and there is, for those two hours, sometimes no hot water.

When Erick the guide returned to the front desk, he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt instead of his Friendly and Knowledgeable Lodge Guide uniform. He introduced himself, as though I wouldn't recognize him.

"I know who you are," I told him, "and you're still in trouble with me for pulling my leg earlier."

He shrugged. "I didn't want you to miss your lunch," was all he said.

We made our way back out past the sign that said "DANGER - animals only beyond this point."

On the first walk, Erick had asked us, as part of his guide patter, "what animal will you be? I am a lion," he said easily.

Erick is Masai, through from Masai Mara, not the Amboselli area in which he now works.

"Cheetah," said my brother in law.

"Wildebeast," I said.

On the second walk, I only had to tell Erick the guide patter wasn't necessary twice before he realized I meant it. Then we talked more comfortably, both about the animals and wilds around us, and about ourselves.

Erick's brother is studying medicine in Utah, and after six months of settling in, enjoys the US very much.

Erick has studied hard to be a guide, worked in Masai Mara and now for a few months in Amboselli. He hopes to emigrate as well, after a couple of years.

He is getting in shape for a Kilamanjaro climb in a few months. As he told me this, he stood framed in the mountain's immense, snow-capped silhouette. It towered over us, impossible and serene.

"Five days, if you're fit," he said with casual confidence. The same confidence of the young man who had walked with us through the bush, prepared to defend a baker's dozen sweaty white tourists from any threat with just his speed, wits, strength and a fragile-looking spear.

I imagined Erick and his friends, the slow but steady pace he walks at, up the side of the mountain.

"It's pretty cold up there," he remarked, turning to look at the mountain, following my gaze.

Despite our having broken out of the guide-client context, I was delighted to find that at least some of Erick's enthusiasm about Kenyan wildlife was real.

The same young man who told me with a sheepish grin, "I'm sick of zebras," nudged me sharply so I would not miss a jewel-toned bird in a tree that I had bypassed as a mere superb starling.

He handed me his binoculars. "Lilac breasted roller bird," he said with some reverence. As it fluttered from the branch, I gasped at the flash of a half dozen colors which glittered off its feathers in the sun. "You see?" he said with satisfaction. "Beautiful."

I have come to realize that there is a moment that is genuine, here. A place where I have come to witness, to observe and experience and exclaim, and if I am humble enough about it, it can transcend acquisitive tourism and become something real.

"Look," they say. Erick shows me the roller bird, the Masai warrior traces his finger around an elephant footprint. Someone tells me about back doors in weaver bird nests. Again.

But, "look," they say, and
"Ah," I exclaim.

On the way back to the lodge we pass a group of Masai, headed to the village. They look at me, and then at Erick curiously. It is five-thirty in the evening, their expressions say. What the hell is that tourist doing out here?

As they file past, their dog, following along behind, stops in its tracks. It stares, ears flat. Tail stiff. Its eyes follow me mistrustfully until I am well away. Erick catches me watching it and chuckles. "It's probably never seen a white person before," he says. I contemplate this, on the way back to the lodge.

Leaving Amboselli, I find I am, for the first time, filled with tangible regret. A sense of real loss, as Erick comes to say goodbye and Justus packs our things in the ubiquitous van, and we drive away through the now-familiar landscape.

I realize the sense of loss is a good thing.

I realize as we drive along through the now somehow known landscape that I have somehow connected, learned this place, become in my own brief way a part of it, until I am gone.

So I savor the loss as a mark of having had something, and remember it, and am glad.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004
I'm fortunate in knowing, either by correspondence or actual in person kind of "I drink with them from time to time" way, some really cool people.

Some of whom I cop to knowing, some not.

(Leaves you wondering, don't it?)

Today I met, by correspondence, a blogger by the name of Alexa, who is among other things - those things being smart, a great writer, interesting and I suspect hot - an escort in NYC.

You can read her here, and should.


So while on the topic of sex and things that make you go "yum," I mention in passing a visit last weekend to Power Exchange in the city, which is, as always, its usual charming, seedy self.

It was Fetish Ball night, which didn't seem any different from any other night except the presence of a handful more tourists, and the mysterious upper levels, normally home to the boys, open to all the rest of us.

I've never seen those levels before. Always wondered.

They have a boxing ring up there.

The mind boggles.

What do I do to have to get an invite up there on fight night? That's what I want to know.


Speaking of fight night, godDAMN that man is a hunk:

I mean, even penalty minutes aside, he's hot. Serious.

One wonders what he's doing with his spare time these days and if he's up for some private


lessons. I mean, god knows my wrist shot sucks.



Tonight we play the Ice Monkeys, after getting our butts kicked by the Y Guys over the weekend.

One of the Ys - apparently known outside his assuredly small circle of friends as Harry Potter - actually had the nerve to come over to our bench and "commiserate" with us when it was all over.

"Well, you know, you were just outmatched," he said, all but putting an arm around B's shoulder. Then, lowering his voice a little more, "and really, your goalie just wasn't up to it."

"Nothing wrong with our goalie," I snarled as he skated smugly away.

Fuckin' prick.


Friday, September 17, 2004
This pretty much sums it up.

Nike on the lockout.
Dog Drives Off As Owner Watches Hockey

WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory (AP) - An exuberant dog left in a truck while
the owner watched Canada win the World Cup of Hockey managed to throw the
vehicle into gear and coast down a city hill.

A man out for a walk called police after seeing the vehicle coast by with a
black Labrador retriever behind the wheel.

Police arrived to find the truck in the middle of a road, blocking traffic,
with the dog still at the wheel. No one was injured and there was no damage.

Going door to door, police managed to track down the owner.

"Subsequent investigation indicates that the dog was celebrating the
Canadian victory in the world hockey game and knocked the truck into gear,
causing it to roll down the hill," Whitehorse Royal Canadian Mounted Police
said Wednesday in a firmly tongue-in-cheek news release.

"No word yet on how the dog is doing studying the rules for negotiating the
new traffic circle."


Thursday, September 16, 2004
September 15, 2004

Dear Hockey Fans:

Things have changed. The puck spills out towards our blue line and it's like gold to a thief, open door to a prisoner. The first real chance I've had all night, and I pick it up, scoop it ahead of me even as my skates dig.

I don't look back. What's behind me doesn't matter.

They say a skater on the ice makes thirty, even thirty-five miles per hour.

It feels like flight, from here.

Two years ago I wobbled at the goal line, listening to the coach, thinking I'd never learn, glad the face mask hid the tears.

Now I fake right, come in left. Get thoroughly stuffed by the goalie. The whistle goes. I fall back, laughing and elated.

"Nobody was touching you," Steve says on the bench, passing me water. I thump his knee, too high and too winded to talk. Five minutes before he'd scored, a perfect shot on my pass. I know where the game is going, we're all sucking, first game of the preseason and it's like everyone has forgotten how to play. We're about to lose six to one and in that moment it totally doesn't matter.

The National Hockey League enjoys and appreciates the support of the greatest
fans in the world. We acknowledge that by not starting the 2004-05 season as
scheduled due to the lack of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, we are
disappointing this loyal and passionate group –- and for that, we sincerely

I wear #12. Marleau's number, Freeze's number. Five or six years ago I didn't know hockey existed.

A friend gave us a pair of Sharks tickets. I fell in love with #39, Jeff Friesen. The same name as my favorite kind of horse. I also fell in love with the game.

We became season ticketholders.

My son went to his first playoff game at six months. He slept through several goals and everyone hollering and screaming, including me. He was stickhandling around the house by the time he could walk. Now he's just turned five, and goes to hockey every Saturday morning, 0730, whether we want to wake up or not. His insistence: I'd like to sleep in. But we go, and sitting up in the stands I watch and am fiercely proud of him. Glad he has it, loves it, and even at this young age, has enough drive and passion to get us all there.

This is a situation that we hoped would not occur and, in fact, have been working
very hard to avoid. I want you to know that I am committed to fixing the
problems that face our League and to delivering an economic system that will
bring you exciting, world-class NHL hockey at ticket prices you can afford.

I bought a stick when my son was two, and we'd go over to Hockey Workout and slither around on skates and try and stay upright and he insisted I pass and shoot pucks with him.

I bought a stick.

Then I bought gloves.

I bought skates.

I told a hockey friend: "It was downhill from there."

The CBA that just expired made it very difficult for most teams to be competitive,
both economically and on the ice, as approximately 75% of all the dollars
generated went to player salaries and benefits –- by far the highest such
percentage in all of professional sports.

I'd come home from beginner boot camp, sore, defeated, done in enough that all I could do was sit in my truck and cry. Question my sanity, why the hell I was attempting ice hockey. What business I had, a mother and non-athlete, over thirty. What I was thinking, why I was there.

Then I'd go to a game and it all got lit up again. The excitement, the sense of what happened between player and spectator symbiotic, electric. I'd watch the men on the ice, like a common man watches heroes. Recognition and identification, hope and inspiration, the kinds of things legends and epics always provide.

I'd go back, take that back to the ice. Work harder, see the payoff. Apply much of what I learned not just to hockey, but all of my life.

Our objective is to negotiate a CBA that will provide a partnership with our players, will provide them with more than 50% of every dollar of revenue, including an average salary of $1.3 million (U.S.) and will assure a stable business while giving your team the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup every season.

My hockey friend is a veteran, and has been around the sport for more decades than I've been alive. He played years of semi-pro, a handful of NHL games. "That's not downhill," he told me. "That's you finding your passion for the best sport in the world."

I regret not knowing about this sooner. I regret not having hockey as a kid, not knowing about the game. I think sometimes what might have happened if I'd found this in my childhood. About women and hockey, about opportunity and competition, and how far I could have gone.

Dreams, because that's how we relate to it. Watch, exhort, identify.
I spend five to six days a week on the ice. Play for two teams, sub, and pickup. Go to practice, and when I can spend time on the ice, practicing, alone.

There are few places I'm happier, now, than when I'm out there. Even on the worst days, the ice has become home.

Our mandate at the League is to do everything possible to reflect our respect for
your connection to NHL hockey and the commitment you make to your favorite
Club. We thank you for your continued support and understanding.

It was only a matter of time before my partner found goaltending. Now she's hooked, we're on the same team, and the whole family plays.

We go to the games. We follow the rest of the league. We spend Christmas in New York and try to get to at least one Jersey game. The three of us sit at the dinner table and argue about who's the league's top defenseman. Our friends schedule time with us around hockey, or give up and socialize with us by coming to our games.

A father of a kid in my son's kindergarten class brings his son to G's birthday party. The topic turns to hockey. He says he used to play back in Dallas. We argue Stars versus Sharks, friendly animosity. By the end of the birthday party, I've invited him to a practice, got him halfway convinced to sub for a few games.

While there is no way to know how long it will take to conclude this negotiation, we sincerely hope your team will be back in action soon.

Gary B. Bettman

I sit on the bench on the south rink and watch my teammates, and lean over to my other winger. She's good, we're good together. We have the same style, the same speed. "Just think," I say, "a few hours ago Marleau's butt was right here." I jab a finger at the bench under me.

She laughs, shakes her head.

"Now only if some of that gold would rub off," I say.

Then there's a whistle and a change and she and Steve and I head out for the faceoff.

He glances to both of us. A grin, a nod.

A one and a half minute chance at greatness.

You get that. Every time you step out to play.

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