Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kate Miller 6: A Day to Remember

A glimpse of my few unforgettable hours in downtown New York a couple days before Christmas...

6. A Day to Remember
            When it came time to disembark the Norwegian Jewel, Kate was glad that they had several hours before they needed to be at the airport. She had never been in New York City before (except for the chaos of the week prior) and, even if they couldn’t tour much, they could at least walk around a bit. The air was chilly, but the sun was out, and neither Kate nor Mister had a problem staying warm, with their three bags and two backpacks in tow.
            They made their way up midtown from the dock into the city on their way to Times Square. Kate wondered what it would look like. Would there be a sign saying, “Times Square”? When Kate saw the Broadway street sign, she knew instinctively (without any sign) that this was the famous Times Square. No cars in the street, just thousands of people milling about on the Sunday before Christmas. Huge hi-def megascreens lined the sides of the buildings on each side of the square, advertising anything from the shop right beneath the screen (A little prosaic…thought Kate), currently running shows (Really?! Ricky. Martin. In Evita? Unbelievable…), movies, toothpaste, and last-minute Christmas shopping (boring…). But then, they saw a truly ingenious, non advertising, absolutely fun screen.
the fun screen
(see the red couple in the middle with the bags?)
            It was a camera shot of the street opposite the screen, so you could watch yourself and the other people around you, and periodically, dialogue or thought bubbles would appear over someone’s head. Kate wondered if they were on a random cycle, or if someone, somewhere was typing them in. Someone leaning against a light pole was thinking, “Late night last night…” Another popped up, “Let’s rock around the clock!” And still another, “Sorry, need to tie my shoe.” Another: “Party, party, party.” There was an endless variety, it seemed, but they didn’t appear very often. Then one popped up over Mister’s head. It said, “Forever and a day…” Kate giggled with delight and chose to believe that someone, somewhere actually wrote it for them. Such a statement on screen deserved substantiation (on screen) by a prompt kiss.
            Having captured evidence underneath a Broadway street sign that Kate had now, indeed, been to New York, they made their way (with their luggage in tow) toward the world’s largest department store, the famed Macy’s of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Afterwards, Kate couldn’t remember how they even got in the doors (considering their luggage in tow). What she did remember was that the door alarm instantly went off. But the attending sales clerk was apathetic. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, “If it’s going off now, it will when you leave too. You’ll be fine.” Kate wondered at her blasé attitude and had fleeting thoughts of shoplifting, which were deterred if not solely from a sense of honor, at least from a sense of soreness in her back, neck, and arms.
the Santa-Yoda
            The Macy’s was decked out in full Christmas attire: evergreen arches and big shiny red balls, Christmas trees, ornaments, and laughably, a giant Lego Santa-Yoda in the toy section. One whole floor (except for a selection of convenient on-sale furniture) was dedicated to Christmas ornaments. Kate and Mister went on each of the 9 floors, plus the basement (still with their luggage in tow). It didn’t matter that they didn’t really see each of the floors. The real point was to ride the delightfully ancient wooden escalators. But all good things come to an end, wooden escalators sooner than most. And Kate, who was feeling eleven o’clockish decided it was probably time to make their final trek to Penn Station.
            On the way, Kate won the jackpot—meaning she was able to buy ten postcards for a dollar, when earlier on the street she had seen a “deal” of three postcards for four dollars! Penn Station was busy and crowded. The line for their train tickets was long, packed with fans going to the Jets game across the river, but they got their tickets with plenty of time to spare. Mister bought a spicy gyro outside from a street vendor, and they made a very happy picnic on the floor of the station.
            “Just think!” said Mister as he passed the gyro back to Kate and took a sip of water, “By the end of today, we’ll have traveled by boat, train, plane, and car…and foot!”
            Kate thought of it, and glowed. There never before was such a day. Surely a day to remember!  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Kate Miller 5: Nassau, Bahamas

A self-guided tour of Nassau, with some reflection on leaving a meaningful legacy...

5. Nassau, Bahamas
            Nassau was not the name of the island, it was the name of the city…the island was New Providence. Honestly, Kate didn’t know why they didn’t just name the island Nassau just to simplify things. Of course, the capitol city didn’t take up the whole island, but when one was simplifying things, small details like that didn’t matter much. Kate thought of their last cruise, during her honeymoon with Mister. They had stopped at another capitol island—Juneau, Alaska, a small town and beautiful place. But I guess that’s where the resemblance stops…at the small town, she thought with a shrug.
            They grabbed a map of the island-city and studied it in their cabin as they gathered things in a backpack to take with them. They made a rough plan to walk away from the harbor and up past some of the shops, then take Shirley St. to Parliament St. where they would find Parliament Square, the Supreme Court, Garden of Remembrance, and the Nassau Public Library. Afterward, they resolved to go to Ft. Fincastle, at the highest point of the island (up a small hill), and then back to the “Straw Market” for some shopping…maybe if they were feeling good, they would get a ride to Paradise Island, just offshore, where there were many more gardens and beaches.
            But when Kate and Mister stepped outside into the 80+ degree whether, their sunburns from the day on the island declared that Paradise Island and even the thought of beaches was positively out of the question. The weather, while beautiful, was certainly too warm for comfort, and Kate and Mister stuck close to the shade on whatever side of the street it could be found. Their first stop was to purchase a beautiful large conch shell. Kate smiled with pleasure as they picked out a medium sized shell for what Kate thought of as a “mere pittance.” Then she thought what IS a ‘mere pittance’ anyway? Isn’t it a small amount of money, or have I just been making that up? I really should look that up…
            The Garden of Remembrance turned out to be a lovely park with a large war memorial in the middle. One side was names and an inscription from World War I, then World War II, then two other wars whose history Kate was unsure of. But the inscriptions were moving and the list of names, for such a small island, was impressive.
At the top of the library building
 (no pictures allowed inside)
As soon as they walked in, Kate knew that the library would be her favorite part of their personalized tour of Nassau. The building was a converted prison, essentially round, with a winding staircase in the middle, three stories tall, with pie-shaped rooms branching off of them (with the tips bitten off by the staircase.) Each row held very old and fascinating books. When Kate saw The Minister of the Pirates, she double checked what section it was. Nope, not fiction, still biographies. How fascinating! She thought, I wish I could just sit down and read for the rest of my life! Then, thinking twice, It’s a good thing my wishes don’t usually come true. On the upper floor were artifacts and beautiful drawings from the time of Nassau’s founding (mid 1700s.) And at the top, a lovely balcony looked out over the city and harbor, shaded by large palms. Kate and Mister enjoyed the breeze and the shade until Kate felt another desperate urge for a restroom. A query downstairs brought forth the fortuitous information that the closest public restroom was at Ft. Fincastle, and “to the castle!” was the order.  
At the top of  the fort
It's shaped like a ship. We're looking over the "bow"
The fort was mostly interesting, not exciting, and had a splendid view of the rest of the island. Curiously, it was decorated for a wedding, though Kate couldn’t tell whether it was past or pending. Lord Dunmore had built six forts on the island (Fincastle being one of them.) It was an extraordinary amount for an island so small and out of the way. But the signs made clear that it wasn’t out of necessity, but merely Lord Dunmore’s obsession, labeled on one sign as “a colossal monument to wasteful extravagance and expenditure.” As they were walking back toward the ship and the Market, Kate said, “How sad to think that he was so obsessed with building forts and spent so much on them and everyone thinks they were an extravagant waste.”
“Even sadder that it was a waste.” Mister replied.
“Well, I want my life’s work to be honorable, noble, and useful.” She said decisively. Then, patting her tummy with a grin, “I suppose turning screaming savages into thoughtful, caring human beings could count.”
            “I should say so!”

*side note: Kate has now looked up the meaning of "pittance", and she was quite right in her assumption, though in the money sense it's mostly associated with wage/allowance/payment of some kind. If not money, it's just a very small or scanty amount.
at the fort

A lovely alley lined with vines and trees.
(The fort is up the cliff on the right.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kate Miller 4: A Norwegian Paradise

Let's just say our first day in the Bahamas was less "paradise-y" than I had anticipated... but I took pictures anyway.

4. A Norwegian Paradise
one of the tenders
            On Wednesday, the Jewel anchored just off the banks of Grand Stirrup Cay of the Bahamas. All accounts said that this was a “Caribbean Paradise” and Kate was looking forward to taking pictures of tropical plants and flowers, lounging in the sun, playing in the water, and roaming over the island with Mister, seeking out idyllic spots.
            The island was small. To get there, passengers got on little ferries (called ‘tenders’ for some reason), which in turn dropped them at the island’s dock. In the morning, Kate and Mister took their time getting ready and eating breakfast, then went back to their cabin to gather their ‘sun and fun’ gear. The line for the tenders was intimidating. It snaked down the hall and up the stairs on their deck. Just to get their room, they had to duck under a corded off section of the staircase.
            But, when their group number was called, they went to a different place to embark the tender, and there was no wait, except for the tender to be filled. The island itself had beautiful coves, with sapphire water lapping gently up to the rocky edges of the narrow passageway. They docked and disembarked and went through an ‘entrance’ into the island, though everyone had to stop and get their picture taken with someone in a dolphin costume. Awkward. That’s not going to be one for the scrapbook, Kate thought scornfully.
            The island was hard and rocky, not at all soft and sandy like Kate had expected. The sand on the beach must have been imported. There were rows and rows of nice blue lounge chairs, and some of them even had tent-like coverings to stay out of the sun for those desiring to avoid impersonating lobsters. Kate and Mister did want, and they made their way over to one of the available tents to start setting it up. Instantly, a small man, appeared by their side talking quickly and waving a clipboard. It appeared that the tents were only available if you made a reservation for it. “You can make reservation now…” he said hopefully shoving the clipboard at them. Kate shook her head and they moved away toward the regular lounge chairs. Reservations…hmph. Strike one for paradise, she thought.
The grand sand castle
            They found a nice spot and read in the sun for a while, then took a dip in the water, which was surprisingly cold considering the temperature of the air. Then came the necessary construction of a grand sand castle. When the sea began to reclaim its own, they left their things on the chairs and decided to explore a little bit—an unfortunate decision considering that their sandals were among the things left. The island as a whole proved to be extremely rocky and barren. The water indeed was gorgeous, but it was rocky. Kate could find no lush tropical trees and flowers and vines. In fact, the few trees that were there looked dusty and rather the worse for their existence. Kate considered these things aloud to Mister, then summed up, “I guess that’s what you get for buying your island from an oil company.” Strike two for paradise.
Beautiful water surrounded by rocks
            Eventually, they found their way back to the little cruise village, where there was a cafeteria, volleyball nets, dance and aerobic area, and (of course) shopping stalls. Kate decided to check out the last while Mister sat in the shade and read his book. Kate thought there might be some lovely Bahaman jewelry or trinkets. No. There was ‘Bahaman’ jewelry and many trinkets, but they weren’t lovely. They were gaudy, with “Bahamas” or “Grand Stirrup Cay” written all over them. Ugh. She thought. I might feel touristy, but this is over the top. Poo. Strike three for Norwegian paradise. Like Alaska, Norwegian paradise should include salmon and fjords. That’s good enough for me… 
More rocks 

Before we put on our lobster costumes

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kate Miller 3: Ice Cream and Elephants

3. Ice Cream and Elephants

            The spread on board the Norwegian Jewel was everything a pregnant lady could hope for. There was greasy pizza, sausage links, and bacon, spicy Chinese or Indian fare and fresh na’an, yogurt and fruit, not to mention a beautiful daily rotation of desserts—and that was just the cafeteria! Of course the dining rooms had less daily variety, but each dish was cooked per order.
            Kate’s favorite was eating a leisurely dinner in the Czar’s Palace—an exotic room with rich carpet, ceiling murals, and Russian portraits—which looked out low over the water from the sixth deck. After the appetizer and the main course, the real dilemma was whether to get the classic cheesecake or the unknown daily ice cream, which had always been delicious. Sitting there, in her Christmassy red rose dress, across from the handsome Mister Miller, she beheld the true magic of a cruise boat.
            The waiter came to take their orders and she querried, “Which do you think is better today, the cheesecake or the ice cream?”
            After thinking and trying, the waiter could not answer such a difficult question. But he said with a dimpled grin, “I bring you both.”
            What a beautiful existence this was!
            After dinner, if it was warm out, she and Mister wandered the decks down to one of the lounges for music and dancing. Their favorite cover duet was very good and played every style. Kate and Mister swung on to the empty floor as soon as they walked in. Spinning and twirling and dipping, sometimes they even got special applause from the audience in the middle of a song. The singers loved it. Kate and Mister danced with enthusiasm, and the musicians picked more and more dance songs, enticing the happy couple to the floor at every possible occasion.
            But every dance must come to an end, and more often than not, it led Kate back to the cafeteria, ready for her next installment of food. The pineapple was divine. Ripe, sweet, and only slightly tangy, it melted in her mouth. Salty chips, sweet pineapple. Mmmm. Mister just shook his head when he saw her plate and raised his eyebrows silently at her cup, which was (more) ice cream topped with hot (decaf) coffee…another favorite. They sat and looked at the sea foam and white breakers and talked about baby names.
            “How about ‘Hortense’?” Kate started off. She had more fun thinking of terrible names than good ones. “Of course,” she mended, “’Hortense’ is French, and pairing that with a German ‘Miller’ would hardly do. She’d probably have an identity crisis. What about ‘Archibald’?”
            Mister laughed and shook his head, “We could go with ‘Pericles’,” he teased.
            “Pericles? Ugh,” Kate said with relish.
            “You know, I actually met a guy named Pericles once.”
            “Poor fellow.”
            They bantered back and forth as Kate finished her snack, then made their way back down to their cabin. On the bed was an elephant made out of a towel. Kate laughed delightedly and crouched down to get her picture with it.
            “Hey!” she said, struck with brilliant inspiration, “What do you think of ‘Babar’?”
            “Like ‘the babar of Seville’? Mozart would love that…but he’s dead.”
            Kate laughed and attacked with the elephant. “That’s the barber of Seville, you goof! Barber. Hey!” she paused, “What about ‘Barbara?”
            “The Barbara of Seville?” Even as he said it, he laughed and put up his hands in defense.
             By now, the elephant was officially gone, but Kate wielded the towel just as efficiently.
waiting for dinner at the Czar's Palace (by the gingerbread town)
the elephant

Friday, February 15, 2013

Kate Miller 2: The Longest Line

For those who want to hear more about our Christmas trip, here's the next Kate Miller story:

2. The Longest Line (Dec 16)
            The dock at New York was its own Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Kate had never seen the movie, but she liked to think about the title at convenient times like this one. For two cruise ships, there was no particular line for luggage drop off. She and Mister Miller had brought only two bags. But, she thought philosophically, where there is nothing to do with your bags, even one is too many. In the confusion, she had let go of her own roller to follow a string of people who were in turn following a porter, who was spouting (what she thought might be) rash promises of easy delivery to their cabins. After a momentary heart failure when she realized it was missing, she spotted her roller fifteen feet behind her, looking lonely and stranded…just how she felt.
            Wisely or unwisely, the porter was trusted with the two bags, and Kate and Mister were subsequently squeezed—really squeezed—into a freight elevator…where they will promptly gas us all and steal our things, Kate thought dramatically. But they made it safely to a concourse, where they had to go through security and afterwards find their own check-in line. Security was fine. A little tedious, she thought. But after the first half hour of standing in the check-in line, she felt that security…and the outside chaos, for that matter…had been downright efficient.
            Up and back, up and back, the line was maneuvered so that it looked deceptively short. Another half hour passed by. Mister brought the nuts out of his backpack. Kate finished the water bottle and peeled an orange, savoring the beautiful citrus smell as she dug into the peel, (and as always, feeling a little superior that everyone else in the line must be wishing they had brought oranges.) The oranges being done away with, and the prunes being dug into, and another half hour having passed, Kate was beginning to feel an insistent urge to find a restroom.
            Mister looked at her with apprehension. “You’d better go,” he said, “I think we’ll be here for a while.” Kate hated leaving a line for any reason. What if everyone thought she was cutting when she came back? What if Mister made it to the end of the line without her? She looked desperately around. It didn’t matter, she had to go. She ducked out of the line and ran down the concourse to the ladies room. When she came back, Mister had merely turned the corner and was standing one row over, facing the way they had just come. Oh dear, she thought, this will take forever!
            Hours later, they made it to the counter to check in. On the last stretch of the line, Kate and Mister had amused themselves by rating the efficiency of the various attendants, one lady stood out above the others. She actually had people come down and form a line in front of her station because she checked them in so much faster than anyone else. They approached the counter, but the attendant in front of them couldn’t say anything. He had just taken a large bite of food. Kate all but glared at him.
            “Everyone who comes up looks so angry,” he said, as he checked their tickets and stateroom numbers. “You’re all going on a cruise, for goodness sake. I’d be thrilled, no matter how long the line was.”
            Kate felt goaded. Her feet ached. Her backpack had been weighing on her neck and shoulders. Her head hurt. She was famished. She was tempted to point out, as the attendant took another bite of sandwich and leisurely looked up the credit card information that it was partly his fault that the line was so long and that people were angry.
            But, she sighed as they made their way down the hall to board, he’s still right. We ARE going on a cruise…then, rebelliously, After I eat something, and put our bags down, THEN I’ll be happy about it. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Introducing Kate Miller / An Announcment

Recently I've been writing some one-page stories as a kind of journal. They are real-life events (sometimes with a few minor adjustments), but I've just written about them as a story, in an attempt to make them more enjoyable to read. So for those of you not perceptive enough to note the similarity between "Kate Miller" and my own name.... go ahead and note it. We're one and the same. I hope you all enjoy it! There will be more to come.

1. A Day in the Life (Dec 16)

Kate Miller tore the plastic wrapper off a new journal and flipped to the first page. She smiled at the beautiful creamy pages with the silver grey lines running across them. She could never get over just how beautiful were plain straight lines on plain white paper. This time, she thought to herself, I’ll be more faithful. These pages deserve that much. Then she smiled ruefully. Resolutions made in the middle of the night are often of the kind that can only be kept in the middle of the night. But then of course, she was up now. Who’s to say she wouldn’t be making a habit of it? More likely than not, she thought, not unpleasantly. She always felt that there was something mysterious about being awake in the middle of the night, like things might be seen that otherwise wouldn’t even be believed in.
            But what to write? She wondered again. This journal was for her, but maybe someday others would read and care about it. Someday, people might want to know my thoughts or hear about my life…no one prestigious, just the people that love me… she thought. Well, then she would give it her best shot!
            Across the top of the beautiful white page, she wrote, “A Day in the Life.” A little trite, but apt. Besides, she got a thrill from the line, so she knew it was right. The thrill wasn’t from the thought itself, but from the thoughts beneath the thought. As soon as she wrote it, she pictured life as a beautiful tree and “a day in the life” as one ripe plum, particularly chosen, to be delighted in and savored and sucked on because no plum like it would ever grow again. And there was certainly plenty to savor! She began writing.
            “Dec. 16: Yesterday I walked to the store to buy a pregnancy test. On the way home, I stopped under the pines to smell the trees, and instead got a large whiff of fresh laundry! I suppose that American suburbia does have some delightful surprises (even if not many.)
            “I took the test when I got home. I wasn’t thinking about the timing. Mister and a friend were in the house, and I didn’t think about what I would say if it was positive because I didn’t expect it. But it was! Ever so faintly. I thought that I ought to cry of happiness, or yell for joy. But I just looked at it and felt… nothing. Nothing but surprise, that is. I suppose I only half believed it.
            “This morning I believe it. (And I’m delighted!) It’s 3 AM and I’m sitting in Uncle and Aunt’s living room next to the Christmas tree, eating a ridiculous amount of pizza. In the last 24 hours, I keep thinking that I don’t feel at all different. (And that I ought to, for some reason.) But the real truth is that I do, just not what I expected. I’m SO hungry, SO OFTEN!”
            Here, Kate underlined the last two words for extra emphasis.
            “We were reading aloud last night, and at 10:30 I had to get up. Then I ate someone’s leftover Chinese. And here I am eating pizza. And when everyone else gets up, I’m bound to be eating again with them! And what’s more, I’ll probably be starving on the bus to New York.”
            Kate and her husband were spending the night with their aunt and uncle because they were leaving on a long Christmas trip, beginning with a luxurious cruise. They would be dropped off at the bus stop to take a bus to New York, where the cruise would depart for the Bahamas, and return on December 23, when they would fly west to be with the Millers for Christmas. Kate took a sip of coffee and kept writing.
            “The last few weeks have been kind of hard. Mister. has been working to the bone finishing papers, rewriting, and getting them turned in early so we can leave. I’m proud of him, he’s been so diligent. But we haven’t had much time together. This trip will be perfect, and it seems we’ll have lots to talk about.”