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My cousin Brad is a homosexual, always has been, since that’s how it works. Immediately after graduating from High School, he fled to Iowa where he worked a series of unglamorous jobs, but everyone in the extended family was very happy for him because he left his screwed-up homelife and never looked back. I haven’t actually seen him in over a decade, but remember him fondly because he was the cousin who was closest in age to me, and we used to have a lot of fun together.

At my brother’s high school graduation party, I was looking for any excuse in the world to not be there, so I volunteered to drive out to the Pamida and pick up film for my mother’s camera. My cousin Sara chose to ride along with me and about midway on our journey asked, “Do you think Brad is gay?”

“Who’s Brad?” I asked.

“Brad, our cousin, Bradley, do you think he’s gay?”

I pondered this for a bit, but all I could think up to say was, “I really haven’t thought about Brad in years. I know he used to be a janitor. Do you think he’s gay? What are you basing this on?”

“Well, I was just talking to his grandmother, and she kept going on about Brad and his “roommate”, and how well they get along, and what a nice boy he is, and how they’ve lived together for 4 years now…”

A couple years later, my brother saw Brad and his roommate at Brad’s sister’s wedding, and erased all doubt, “Brad is a gay man, and a little bit fabulous. Also, he asked about you, said you were sassy.”

It seemed to me like the entire family must have figured this out, but Midwestern Lutherans can turn a blind eye to almost anything that seems out of the usual. Brad’s roommate is from a small town close to where my parents live, and last time the two of them were visiting, Brad stopped by to say hi to my mother.

“He has grown up to be the nicest young man.” my mother gushed on the phone one night, “Especially considering what he grew up with. He is thoughtful, and polite, and I’m pretty sure he’s gay.”

She said this in a somewhat hushed tone, like maybe I didn’t know, or she shouldn’t say it out loud because that would make it real.

“Brad is gay, Mom, everyone knows that.” There was an awkward moment of silence and just to make sure she knew that this was not a bad thing I threw in, “and good for him!”

“Yes, he’s a good kid.” she admitted, “I really do like him.”

Now Brad and his roommate have purchased a home together, and Brad has made the career change to flight attendant. His grandmother could not be prouder, but still doesn’t have a clue.

Last weekend was the annual family reunion. I was unable to attend (and no one even offered to fly me out for it), but I guess fun was had by all. My mother’s cousin Mark was there, with a “friend”. Mark always brings a “friend” to family events such as these, and he has a penchant for short-shorts and tank tops with gold chains. Of course, no one seems to have figured that one out yet.

I don’t particularly understand the Providence phenomenon of WaterFire. I’ve seen it, but like a poorly written movie, I feel like I’m missing a piece of the puzzle, and I just don’t understand what the draw is. I mentioned once before, that the night I moved into to town last year was the last Waterfire of the season. So after getting stuck in traffic for more than an hour, my Human Traveling Companion and I decided to wander downtown and see what it was all about.

We stood in front of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (a name of a restaurant that I still, also, just don’t understand– is that because the name is stupid, or is it some steak-joke that I just don’t get?) and watched the WaterFire. We watched metal baskets of cedar burn on the river, middle-aged men and women ride around them in gondolas, and after five minutes, acknowledged that our eyes were burning from the smoke and it was time for a drink.

I’ve spoken to other people about my lack of understanding, and found that many agree. “There’s really nothing to see, it’s just fire on the water.” a crazy co-worker said once, and I agreed. So, I don’t get it, and she doesn’t get it, but it seems like thousands of people do because these things are very well-attended, and the concept is being stolen by other cities now. When I took the Providence Trolley Tour to acquaint myself with my new home, the driver went on about how expensive a single WaterFire is to put on, and what a labor of love it is etc. I can’t figure out why it’s so expensive because cedar can’t possibly cost that much, and from what I understand, the workers are volunteers…

The website is rather vague as well, perhaps in an attempt to lure people in without giving them a clear idea what they’re coming to, just that it’s free:

“WaterFire Providence®, the award-winning sculpture by Barnaby Evans installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence, has been praised by Rhode Island residents and international visitors alike as a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of Providence’s renaissance. WaterFire’s one hundred sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from around the world engage all the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths of Waterplace Park. WaterFire has captured the imagination of over ten million visitors, bringing life to downtown, and revitalizing Rhode Island’s capital city.”

This Saturday was another WaterFire night that I did not attend. Instead Jewish Friend and took the train to Boston. As we were walking to the train station, the driver of a mini-van waved us over and asked if we were going to Waterfire. I thought the fact that we were both wearing backpacks and walking toward the train station made it fairly apparent that we were not, but I didn’t say that.

“We’re going to the train station.” Jewish Friend told him, indicating the building in front of us.

“Do you know where the Waterfire is?” he asked.

“Well, yeah, it’s back there, on the river.”

“What is it?” he asked.

I left that question for Jewish Friend to fumble through, and she gave him a rather succinct response about water, and fire, and experience etc.

“Do you grill at WaterFire?” he asked, “Should I bring my own chickens, or can I buy them there?”

So this guy drove all the way from New Hampshire (as his license plates indicated) to go to WaterFire, thinking it is an event that includes grilling chickens. At least I’m not the only one who doesn’t get it.

This summer has done nothing to regurgitate my enthusiasm for school. I realized, yesterday, that the air had that first “hint of fall” smell to it, and I needed more than just a sheet to keep warm at night. Naturally, my first response was to shut off all fans (also, I just got my electric bill), turn down the temperature on the fridge, and cuddle up under my fleece blanket with a Gothic novel and a cup of tea. I have extreme reactions to fall, and very specific needs to be met.

The problem is, fall is my favorite time of year, and it’s when school starts. Sure, there’s a part of me that can’t wait to put on something “collegiate” and powerwalk downtown to throw in my two cents in Information Ethics, but the other part of me is incredibly lazy and rather dreading the amount of work I have in store for me this semester.

I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, that I will be my professor’s “shining star” in two of my four classes. While I appreciate the sentiment, and confidence in my abilities, I know how academically lazy I can be and how sometimes professors figure that out.

I admit, I’ve been a bit bored this summer. I’ve been working a lot, and reading a lot, and socializing, and having adventures– but I always get a bit of the summer malaise if I feel I’m not accomplishing anything. I should be giddy at the chance to show off my smarts to a new batch of semi-literate colleagues. Sadly, I just can’t psyche myself up.

Instead of focusing on all the cool things I get to learn– Administration of Archives, History of Books and Printing– I’m bogged down by the thought or groupwork, and paper writing, and presentations.

I still haven’t finished A Passage to India (it’s just so boring, just like I remember), nor have I watched the movie– how can it possibly be time to go back ?!

I am a whiner, officially.

I start my new job on Monday, but still do technically have 2 weeks of freedom before classes begin. In that time I will:

  • have superfun adventure Boston birthday
  • celebrate Jewish Friend’s birthday by buying her nothing but reminding her that her keeping the book that I shipped to her house (since my neighbors steal all packages that come to my place)– she managed to get a birthday present despite my intentions
  • finish reading the Babysitter’s Club series (just three left out of, like, 50 that I read this summer– I don’t recommend it, they don’t stand the test of time)
  • read Anne of Green Gables for discussion with Sassy Redhead Friend
  • try to get into the proper headspace where I can be someone’s “shining star”
  • pick out an outfit for the first day of school
  • relax, as best I can

I complain a lot about my neighborhood, I’m aware of that.  The funny thing is, that when I was complaining at work a while ago, everyone kept suggesting that I move.  “There’s a nice place in such and such area, why don’t you move there?”  I was shocked, certainly I get peeved with the minor annoyances– mail theft, people hanging out in my backyard, people driving by with the bass in the car turned up so loud that it makes my ears hurt even when inside my house with all the windows shut, people mowing down my fence, urban youths chasing turkeys, and the Laos Pride gang– but I would never consider moving because of them.

My neighborhood is low-income, to be sure.  I too am low-income, it’s just that I’m white and no one else in my neighborhood besides me and my landlady can really say that.  I’ve found, as well, that at least half a dozen people who haven’t heard me talk about my neighborhood just assume that I live on the East Side.  The East Side is the fancy side, near Brown and RISD, and it is where white people live.  I didn’t know about construction on I-195, and one of my co-workers was just baffled, “Don’t you go that way?  You live on the East Side, don’t you?”

What I love about my neighborhood is it’s energetic, and full of character.  I love driving home and having to negotiate around kids playing in the street while their parents sit on the steps, watch them, and socialize.  It very much has the feeling of a neighborhood, and everyone on my street is very friendly.

Anthony Bourdain, who I really like and would love to be friends with, did a show a couple years back where he was in Belfast.  There was a gourmet chef there who had taken traditional Irish food that most of the world deems disgusting– blood pudding, for example– and made it something people sought out.  I watched him stuff a sheep’s bladder full of ground up bits of meat garbage, add some blood, pan fry it, serve it on a bed of mesculen greens, and then two foodies devoured it making smacking noises and gushing.

Then Anthony Bourdain said something that sums up how I feel about my neighborhood (I’m paraphrasing) “When you have very little and have to make the best of it, that’s when you wind up with the most delicious food, or best anything.  It forces you to be creative.”

The kids in my neighborhood play in the street because they don’t have yards, or their yards are small.  They play outside because it’s too hot in the house in the summer.  They play with balls, and frisbees and sticks, they chase small animals, they play like kids should play, and they seem to have a kick-ass time of it.  There’s a sense of comradery that comes from getting outside of your house and looking at people besides your family and the people on T.V.

A while ago, my next-door neighbors threw their frisbee over my fence and forgot it was there, or didn’t know it was there.  I happened to be outside and heard then playing, “Is this your frisbee?” I asked, and held it up.  This little boy who was probably about six yelled, “yeah!”

“There’s a ball over here too, that I think might be yours.” I told him.  so he snuck around the fence and found the ball along with something else that they had lost (seriously, these kids could hang onto their toys better), but the thing that just killed me was how excited he was to get his own toys back.  These were not new, or exciting objects, just some stuff he’d lost, but he acted as if my backyard was full of Christmas magic and I was Santa.

I love that these kids don’t need much to be happy, because kids really never need much to be happy.  When I was little, I played in the woods behind my house, or on my swingset, or in my grandparent’s barn– and I was completely content.  Sometimes I’m a little jealous I can’t play in the street too.

I made my first foray into the world of outlet shopping recently. When I was back in the Midwest, I drove by the outlet mall at Albertville dozens of times and always thought I should go there. I told friends “We should go there.” I heard stories of others’ adventures at outlet malls and thought, or remarked “That’s a kind of shopping I’m genuinely curious about.”

Well, there’s an outlet mall… outlet, about 30 minutes from my adopted home of Providence, so when Jewish Friend said “I need a dress for fancy wedding and I don’t want to pay a lot of money for it” we decided to visit this bargain shoppers oasis.

Honestly, since I didn’t really know what to expect, I was kind of anticipating a remaindered shopping experience i.e. clothes that were all size 3XL or XS, shoes either 3 or 14, and some things “irregular”. In reality, I found some good deals, the stores were clean and looked like stores not like Sam’s Club or somesuch warehouse place, and I got a free sample of fudge in a store that smelled so sugary I felt like any diabetic best stay away for fear of coma.

I also saw approximately 5000 children, and none of them were happy.

I am baffled, simply baffled, as to why parents would bring their toddlers or infants to an outlet mall, but apparently that is the thing that you do. There is nothing there for kids to do; there is nothing there to hold their interest. Instead, the parents bring them along and seem to wait for the kids to cry themselves to sleep. The other thing was that these offenders always had two parents.

Perhaps one parent could stay home and raise the kids while the other one bargain hunts? No, this is not something that seemed to occur to anyone. The one parent would be in the changing room, while the other held the squalling infant in White House Black Market; one would console the miserable toddler on a bench while the other shopped for deals at Wilson’s Leather; or in the case of the Clarks store neither parent would parent instead letting their adorable 3-year-old boy (a coup for the black market of baby selling) run around as if he was at a playground.

I understand that once you have kids, you may need to budget a bit more, but I think you also need to realize that children will let you know when they are bored, and even if you’re used to the screaming and crying– I’m not, and I don’t care for it. This was worse than storytime at the library, this was worse than DisneyWorld/Land, this was worse than any other situation with children I have been in because this was simply not the place for them.

I don’t know if this is something that happens, like if this is just how outlet shopping goes, or if this is merely a symptom of what I found happens on Sundays in this area i.e. parents think it’s okay to take kids to non-kid approved places and ignore their protests while the kids systematically ruin everyone else’s time. I don’t blame the kids at all; I’m sure the ones in K-Bee Toys were ecstatic to be there, I place the blame squarely on the parents. I’m sorry, parents, that you’ve given up your freedom to raise your children– but that’s your choice. I do not have children because I like to outlet shop at the last minute with my Jewish Friend who is quiet and has intelligent things to say. Even when she gets pouty, she rarely screams, and if she did, I would hustle her back to the car and take her home.

Yesterday, I had tentative plans to hang out with Theatre Milf, and an invitation to a fancy potluck with Jewish Friend. Instead, I opted for an Andria Night.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of an Andria Night, one typically includes: A brick of delicious Brie, a baguette, some kind of alcohol (usually red wine, but not exclusively), a foreign film, and solitude. This is something that I don’t do too often, perhaps quarterly or once every two months, but it is wildly satisfying in its execution because Brie and baguette is one of my favorite things to eat, foreign films make one feel smart (even if they’re terrible–Brotherhood of the Wolf)– I feel like hearing another language must be good for me , and solitude when you need it most is magical.

So, on my way home after work, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up the necessary supplies. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I inevitably wind up buying much more than I planned, so I brought in two shopping bags and told myself that I could buy no more than what they held.

Naturally, Pasta-Roni was on sale 10/$10, so I bought ten. My other non-perishable staple Lipton Noodles and Sauce was also on sale– that one I bypassed (proud of myself), because it had been on sale last time I went to the grocery store, and I knew I had enough.

However, when I got home, I found that I actually had, what I finally decided is, too much of everything and no place to put it all. What I’ve been doing is hoarding non-perishable foods items, and then eating out instead of eating all the food I buy. I live alone and have tons of cupboard space, but it is now all full, even the top shelves which I can barely reach.

So, I’m stopping. From now on, I will only buy the grocery items that I need, and I will make a point to try to eat some of this stuff that I have– starting with the Tuna Helper that I shipped out from ND and then promptly lost interest in. I must say though, this does seem like a crazy thing to have done (many have said so), but in the darkest days before Obama can fix the economy and he keeps calling upon us to sacrifice– I’ll be set; and in the dark days when I finish school and find that I cannot get a job because all of the old lady librarians that everyone has been saying will retire soon are just not willing to let go and I’ll instead have to wait for them to die– I won’t be forced to eat acorns harvested from the backyard and berries that may or may not be poisonous– I will be eating delicious Pasta-Roni, if I can afford milk.