I am traditionally out of uniform mostly because everything I need for a week either comes in and will go out on my back or travels in and out in one small blue bag. The longer the trip, the less packed the bag it seems (haven't found the logic quite yet). There's not much room for wardrobe changes, just one or two of each necessary thing. Some of my Indian friends respond to a technical request with: "I will do the necessary" which is what I hear in my head when I pack, "I will pack the necessary" and that's really all there is: the necessary. It's amazing how little we really need. It is also amazing how long something will hang around. I am out of uniform because the uniform has changed at least nine or ten times (and then back and forth maybe) since the jeans I'm wearing were the uniform in August, 2005 when I bought them in a fit of existential angst immediately following Lucia's aborted introduction for incoming eighth grade students in our new, not quite comprehended town. The long sleeve tee and fuzzy jacket were acquired toward the end of my marriage in 2008 and the labels are just as ridiculous (with regard to being part of somebody's uniform) except for that being out of date business. I borrowed liberated the shoes on my feet from my daughter because she knows better than to wear them anymore. I have a pair of my own in red but she feels me moving toward them four miles away from inside the high school and I hear the silent shriek of horror pinging back in return and back away slowly. The reason, she tells me, they have been put on the back porch is because they are for chicken duty only now.
It takes me a while to work out the problem of (not with because there isn't a problem with) the hair. Why isn't everyone else's hair like mine? Amy sits to the left of me and Amy had a damn fine time on those zip lines just like me and yet, Amy has perfect hair. I noticed when I looked that Amy also had freshened makeup. I noticed that when we were sitting. The hair I noticed looking at the photograph. It is the hair puzzle I struggle with for days until I realize while I was getting coffee, first and then a second cup and then having my photograph taken under the sign admonishing people for any sort of disobedience as well as being acquired by a white, furry dog, the ladies were off in the ladies room NOT having coffee, NOT having their photographs taken, and NOT being acquired by dogs. But their hair was perfect, their hands and faces where clean and some of them had fresh lipstick and powdered noses for the group photos EVERYBODY knew were coming; you know, the ones for social media. If it's not on social media, it didn't happen.
I am perfectly OK with all of this. These are my friends, they are in uniform the way most of my friends are in uniform and the best thing about them is this really wonderful, incredible exceptional thing:
They either don't see that I'm not in uniform (unlikely) or they don't give a damn because they see me. I don't realize until after the fact when I look closely at this photograph that I have not been cut from the herd. Not even remotely.
Amy wishes my dog would not get so close because, as she has already pointed out on more than one occasion, big guy needs a bath, there are, uh, things hanging off his butt. I have tried to explain to Amy that the dog lives outside in one of those cute little doggie houses (I guess it's protection from wind and rain because it sure doesn't get cold enough for that guy to give a damn) and there are too many rescue doggies for much grooming to happen before they're adopted by their forever people (who will undoubtably groom them, I inform her - or not, if they're going to be outside doggies, I neglect to inform her as she's NOT going to understand the concept of a working doggie).
Amy accepts the big white dog the same way she might accept an over sized somewhat smelly accessory and leans away but not too far away because we're friends and friends accept other friends fashion choices. For the most part. Hey. Amy. Does this dog make my butt look big? No? Great. He stays. I'm not sure how to make him leave anyway other than to be super mean and that would make both of us (me and the dog, not me and Amy) cry. Instead I consider the merits of letting him consume the dregs of my coffee. On the one hand it would be super funny to watch him get his snout all the way down to the bottom of the cup, on the other hand, I'm not sure what high octane Costa Rican coffee is likely to do to a dog, even one of this size. I'm not even sure why he wants it. I haven't put milk or sugar in the cup. Just coffee. Maybe Costa Rican dogs are raised on Costa Rican coffee. What do I know. I decide to err on the side of caution because it's not my dog plus I'm leaving soon and won't be around to clean up any ensuing mess or at least explain.
The who am I moment didn't happen until I looked at the photograph and probably wouldn't have happened without the hair and the goofy smile. That's what jumped off the screen. The hair and the goofy smile have been jumping off the screen and long before that off the paper since I was small enough to be rolling around in the dirt and coming up deliriously happy. How we are shapes who we are to a large extent I think. It has a lot to do with context and content; well, the overall, arching context which informs how we are in or how we define contextual settings in our lives. When we are very small context is set for us and as we are more able to set our own context, unless something earth shaking breaks up the existing conversation we continue to create the existing box.
Those were a lot of words so here's something to work with.
My mother dressed me funny. I love saying that. It isn't that clothing didn't matter; it's that clothing fell pretty low on the list because there were a few very large things sitting on top. It isn't that I didn't know to comb my hair, it's that I didn't think to comb my hair when I was rolling around in the dirt. Why the hell would I do that? She didn't do it for me. She left me alone to roll in the dirt and my hair got combed out by the time I went off to school on Monday morning (pretty sure). In the mean time I ran free on a rural drop zone while my parents climbed into small aircraft as often as could be afforded two days a week and I'm pretty sure that smile was on my face more often than not. It came from climbing trees, catching minnows in a small creek, pounding rocks open when the creek bed was dry, tunneling through two tons of hay (illicit hay, we weren't allowed in the farmer's barn) until we had something close enough to a gum ball shoot to send us flying arms and head first from the top of the bails to the bottom fast enough we would have pounded our heads if we hadn't built in a curve to slow the descent. We climbed outbuildings, filled our pockets with pea gravel, raced each other through what felt like endless miles of corn and picked strawberries on the off years when the farmer put them in. We fell backwards in the tall grass, looking upward, watching the sky spin slowly enough to curve the universe until we, one by one, understood the obviousness of infinity.
There were a few children on the drop zone with us but two that really stand out, two girls close to our age who came with their parents. The primary difference was that their mom did not jump while mine did. She spread a blanket on the grass and provided snacks, drinks, toys, games, and books. She may even have provided shade. Their names were Beckie and Laurie. Beckie was my age and we tried to play together. This was difficult because Beckie was admonished frequently with these words: "Beckie! Don't get dirty!"
I used to wonder why the hell this woman bothered to come to the drop zone, why she exposed her girls to the dust and grime, the noise and staccato bursts of irate cursing that went down as quickly as it came up (mostly); but mostly I wondered why the hell she exposed Beckie to me. One evening at the bar at my prompting, Beckie and I traded clothing. It's the sort of thing young girls will do just before they're too old for make believe but old enough to imagine the possibility of being someone else. We came out of the bathroom, me in Beckie's very clean slacks and blouse (slacks and blouse, what the hell are those?) and Beckie in my dirt encrusted jeans and most likely the remains of a tee shirt. To give Beckie's mother credit there was no shrieking, just a clenched jaw, a low snarl and the very clear instructions to put your close back on this instant.
That was the end of our friendship. We might have been eight or nine. The next time I saw Beckie we were probably twelve or thirteen and she was a cheerleader. She wouldn't meet my eyes. Later I climbed into my reading tree and cried. It might have been that year or the year after that Beckie's dad came to the drop zone less and less until one day he was back again and the word was his marriage was on the rocks. I don't know if I put the pieces together on my own or if I heard the words by sitting still in the shadows and while I lacked the language to explain what I understood I did understand that Beckie's dad was stepping out of uniform on weekends to a place where Beckie's mom could or would not go, and while she could follow him to the drop zone to make sure he didn't do anything completely egregious, there was an ever widening gulf.
Don't get dirty, Ron. Or if you're going to get dirty make damn sure you wash your hands and face and comb your hair and be, well, buttoned down. Don't really get all the way into it with your whole self because if you get into it with your whole self, you might not ever come home. I always used to think from Sympathy for the Devil this one line:
"Made damn sure that Pilate
washed his hands and sealed his fate."
Except I heard it like 'Pilots' - of course I did.
None of us should be washing our hands and faces until the day is done unless we've got something to hide. Don't ask me to explain that; I haven't quite got the language yet, I only know for sure the all in it part.
Who am I?
I am all in and when I'm all in I am completely oblivious to what it looks like, what anyone around me thinks in terms of the superficial, and I am often highly attuned to body language more so than verbal cues.
And I attract dogs apparently.
That dog's paw is on my arm. What the hell.
I'm taking a bit of a risk putting this here because most people, as I understand it, hear a song about the devil. That's not what the song's about. The song is about being human. When we peel back the combed hair, clean hands and faces, buttoned down tidy clothing, this year's models, perfect shoes, and freshly powdered faces we get to the marks missed (that would be sin), the fallibility, the humanity, dashed hopes, you get the picture... but the thing is when I hear this, I hear the music; I sing the damn thing at full throttle if I'm alone (if not, it gets muttered under my breath) because what I hear is playing life hard enough to break it sometimes. I can't really wish he'd put in an offset to the lyrics because that isn't what he had in mind. However, I can explain how I hear it which is just a little bit differently.
Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name...