12 December 2008

Invisibility Coat (check)

Last night working a holiday coat check, I experienced invisibility. It is a primal and delightful place from which to observe my literary prey – like the similarly rich ecotone edge between the forest and the plains that first stood our simian ancestors on their toes for a better look.

I was there for the bankers and their wives. It was my job to take their coats, furs, and burdens from them so they could celebrate unencumbered. I am grateful for the work and
new to the high-serving class. I wore black and a Degas barmaid face - open and unexpectant , as least as much as my middle-aged ass could muster.

Thinking that I had pulled it off, a woman walked by and commented in a “drive by” :

“This coat cost $50,000 so I am not going to let you check it…”

After you forgive the tastelessness, it was sweetly authentic; it was an internal moment for her. It was observed by me but not actually registered by her as a public statement. She simply loved the big fur – perhaps more than her own skin – and could not part with it. I imagine she would be more guarded with a peer. Remember, these were financiers looking to keep a very low profile this holiday to refrain from reminding the public that their industry’s greed was instrumental in bringing the country to its monetary knees for the holidays.

Her blurt was an unobserved tree falling in the forest. Did she really say it? There was no one there to judge or even hear her comment. I was not there because I was wearing the hat of a coat check girl. It was like sleepwalking while talking to the trees.

I remember doing something similar 18 years ago to my favorite waiter in our neighborhood café. It was soon after my father announced he had only three months to live. He had come to San Francisco for a last visit. I rose and went to the kitchen to request they wrap up a Dutch Crunch roll for him. He loved those rolls.

Without any reason or segue, I blurted “ That’s my father over there; he is dying and has 3 months to live. Can you wrap up a roll for him”. I think back on that sentence and wonder how it came out of my mouth - like a pressure relieving, loud public fart. What is there to say to such a naked public display of our animal natures? We collectively pale at this kind of disrobing – our own skin prickling under our clothes. I cracked open and the public words fell out – groping to begin the process of making my wonderful father’s death real.

Perhaps it was like that for her. She needed to protect her own vulnerable skin with that big animal fur. She cracked open for a reason. Will she will discover it in a couple of decades that moment again when she connected with her humanity – our sweet animal nature that needs inappropriately, and loves what it will.

It reminds me of a Mary Oliver poem about “perfect” love in our ‘dazzling darkness.’ For me, her bear is about accepting what is .

Spring by Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her -—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

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