Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Words are my weakness. And cowgirls. And olives.

I've always loved words. I was labeled a "creative speller" in elementary school but that hardly thwarted my ambitions. At seven, I told my mother that when I grew up I was going to be a famous reader. She, in turn, forced me out of the house on a semi-regular basis to get sunlight and fresh air since left to my own devices I read from the school bus to the bed, and beyond, a flashlight pressed to the pages. My mother is an artist and I remember violently disagreeing with her in an art class she taught once at my summer camp. No, a picture is NOT worth a thousand words. To me, each word is worth a thousand pictures. Take maps for example. For me, they only increase the inherent mystery of geography. I interpret left and right in more of a liquid than a solid state. If I'm driving and it is time to turn, please shout "MY SIDE" or "YOUR SIDE" as left and right, for me are apt to morph without warning. My father, a master carpenter and by proxy an architect, once kindly suggested that perhaps I have a term he coined just for me: "spatial relations dyslexia." And yes, that resonates. And applies to music. If a song has bad lyrics, forget it. If it has no lyrics- as in the whole world of classical music, jazz, new age- whatever- then it is as if I am a plant in a cave listening through a glass with earmuffs. Actually, my plants seem to get more out of classical music than me, a fact I proved in an 8th grade science experiment.

Luckily though, the gods are benevolant and when I shipped off to a fancy NY college in 1993, they roomed me next to a blonde-headed angel with a sense of direction big enough for the both of us. And in this case, "sense of direction" applied to more than how the hell do you get to the train station. Jenne always seemed to know where she was going and how to get there. If she didn't yet, she would soon. She took internships, participated in school activities, took advantage of the vast opportunities offered to those motivationally inclined. I, meanwhile designed a major in Heartbreak and Whiskey with a minor in Creative Writing, really excelling at it, as much as one can with that sort of thing.

One summer back home in Denver, Jenne found a want-ad for a wrangler at a remote ranch in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. "I called Jack and Elaine 37 times," she said, "and they finally agreed to meet me at Denny's where they offered me a waitressing job."

"I didn't call to be a waitress," she told them. "I called to be a wrangler." You can just imagine the paradigm shift that blew their brains as they finally agreed to let Jenne be the first female wrangler in the history of Budge's White River Resort. That summer she wrangled the shit out of some horses, kicked ass and took prisoners (mainly smitten cowboys). I went to visit her and on the second full day she led me up and down a mountain and through a valley with a couple of horses and a pack of mules. That night, after 8 hours on my first ever horse, drinking whiskey in a lodge full of hard-ass wrangler types, I threw up into my own hand. And the next summer, I went back to work at Budge's as a waitress, only my official title was "Cabin Girl."

After that, Jenne went on to hitchhike from one end of South America to the other, selling macrame and crotched hats, purses and bikinis to pay her way. Down South, she ran a bed and breakfast (although she said it was more of a breakfast and hammock), befriended an alcoholic monkey and was a street mime, although this is a grotesquely short list of her many and sundry adventures.

She is the kind of friend I expect to drink coffee with in my late 90's after all of our boyfriends and husbands are dead. Sometime in college, I named her my North Star because no matter how long it's been since I've seen her or how far apart we are, the thought of her face instills in me a sense of the right place to go.

This past weekend I saw Jenne for the first time in 7 years. She flew from Portland (where she is a third grade bilingual teacher, Lewis and Clark college professor and Flamenco dancer)to Boston, where she rented a car for an East Coast tour. At my dad's ex-alpaca farm out in the country we indulged in 24 blissful hours of old records (with good lyrics), long sunset bedazzled walks, river wading, candles, mozzarella, chocolate, salmon, basil and big, fat Kalamata olives that we ate like candy.

Tomorrow she and I are getting up early and driving to New York. I have not been there for 11 years and will do my best to spend 72 hours making up for it. We will take turns driving. I hope to trust my sense of direction, but God knows who will hold the map.