Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mother, May I?

"Mom, can I see the brush?"

I file through my mental tween translator, and understand this to mean, "Mom, may I please have the hairbrush?  I'd like to run it through my hair and make it look presentable."

While I don't expect my ten year old to speak in such an extensive way, I have discovered an increasing sensitivity to the kinds of verbal shortcuts that undermine the authenticy of our language.

"Sure," I say.  I pick up the hairbrush that is next to me and dangle it by my side.  "Can you see it?"

A look of confusion enters her eyes until she realizes that I am demonstrating my new, passive way of cleaning up the English skills of my children.

She laughs.  "Mother, may I please use the hairbrush?"

Aha!  I act as if a light has gone off and I can finally understand her intention.  I happily hand it over.

She has learned two grammatical lessons here.  First, be specific.  Does she want to SEE the brush, or USE the brush?  I just had her vision tested, and it was a perfect 20/20.  So, clearly, she can SEE the brush.  Oh, but that isn't sufficient to untangle her hair.

The other is the age old misuse of can/may.  CAN she see the brush?  Again, the little black letters on the illuminated white board at the doctor's office indicate that she doesn't have any occular difficulties.  Yes, she CAN see the brush.

I have had fun with this one in the kitchen, as well. 

"Mom, can I eat a cookie?
Last time I checked, her jaw functioned well, so there is no physical abnormality preventing her from eating the cookie.

"Yes."  Her face lights up, and her arm stretches out.

"Oh," I say, as I put my hand out to stop her.  "Did you mean 'MAY I eat a cookie?'"  She thinks for a second and grins.  I'm glad that she's taken such a cheerful approach to my new game.

"MAY I eat a cookie?"


This bantering has extended to that Valley Girl call word, "like", as in, "The sky, is, like blue."  "He's, like, so cute."

I can forgive this typical blunder on the part of my children because they are surrounded by it.  But, it REALLY ruffles my feathers when I hear a professional say it, as demonstrated by an anchorwoman just the other day. 

But, I play my Literal Game anyway so that they don't, like, grow up into Dumb Blonde stand-ins.  (*No blondes were harmed during this dissertation.*)

Six year old, after watching our dogs frollic:  "That was, like, so funny!"

I look at her with an intentionally flummoxed expression.  "That was LIKE so funny?  Or, was it so funny?"

She has the same good nature about it as my older daughter.  "It was SO funny", she amends.  The habit has not broken just yet, but we are at least having a good laugh about it every time the four-letter "L" forward forms on her tongue.

I give myself an imaginary pat on the back and want to reward myself with one of the sugary goodies in the See's box that Grandma sent last week.  "Can I have a chocolate?" I wonder.  "It would, like, really hit the spot."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

I try to live a full life.  One that is organized, but spontaneous.  One that is faithfilled, but fun-loving.  But one that is balanced.

Not balanced as in stuck in the middle.  Balanced in the sense that I can be comfortable in a number of environments, even those in the extremes.

My most recent trip illustrates that rather ideally.  There can not be two more opposite places than Las Vegas, Nevada and Moloka'i, Hawai'i.  And I've been to both in the span of two weeks.

When traveling to Hawai'i, I like to stop somewhere along the way to break up the trip.  This year, a route through Sin City made the most sense, logistically.

No problem.  There's plenty to do that doesn't involve sinning.  At least, that's what I remembered.

Now, I've been to Vegas three times previously.  It's fun, it's loud, it's crowded, it's a non-stop assult on your senses.  Nice for a couple of days of diversion.  But this year, it was different.  In a rapidly declining economy, everyone was out to get my money.

It started with the taxi cabs, which were outrageously expensive for a drive that was so short that I could nearly have walked to the hotel.  Then, the penny slots.  But, they weren't really penny slots like they advertised.  Once they had your credit card, you learned that the minimum bid was, in fact, thirty-five cents.  I lost a total of eighty-five.  Cents, that is, which, as someone pointed out, is a win in Las Vegas.

But, that's not all.  I learned that every time someone was being nice to me, they were really just trying to get me to buy a condo.  Ticket prices to shows bordered on criminal, and don't even get me started on the solicitations for prostitution.  In a walk from the Venetian to the Luxor, we encountered at least - and I am not exaggerating here - seventy people promising passers-by that they could have "hot girls" delivered to them in twenty minutes.  This was not the Vegas that I had visited before. 

I left, bidding good riddance to my eighty-five cents, pretty confident that I hadn't done any sinning, and boarded a flght for the blissful beaches of Maui.

Of course, I got sunburned on the first day, but never mind that.  The rest of them were peaceful and perfect.

But, hey, it wouldn't be like me to not to find the other extreme.  If Las Vegas is the epicenter of glitz and greed, the remote island of Moloka'i is its prettier sister.

Moloka'i has been beckoning me ever since I was a child, when I first heard the story of Fr. Damien.  It was there, on a tiny place called the Kalaupapa Peninsula, that the then-Kingdom of Hawai'i sent its lepers.   The Belgian priest, hearing that no one would minister to them for fear of contracting the flesh-eating disease, volunteered to go.  "Suppose the disease does get my body," he said.  "The Lord will give me another on Resurrrection Day."  Now, what greater heroism is there than that?

Fr. Damien did contract leprosy, but not before building four churches, and working side by side with the people until his death.

Four times, I'd been to Maui.  And four times, I longed to travel one island over to see this legendary place.  The fifth time was the charm.

We left early in the morning for the old whaling town of Lahaina, now lined with dinner boats and cruise ships.  In our case, we were boarding a ferry for the two hour journey.

At least it wasn't for "the three hour tour..."  Moloka'i is exactly the sort of place that Gilligan and his friends might have been stranded on.

Moloka'i came into view quite early, but the only landing site was on the furthest side of the island, in the town of Kuanakakai.  Say that five times quickly.

"Town" might be a generous word for this bit of a street that contained a gas station and a couple of sad-looking store fronts.  It makes "small town America" seem positively cosmopolitan.  We rented an aging Expedition that was nearing 100,000 miles.  I put my hands on the peeling steering wheel and headed west on the "highway", where the speed limit was, at many points, twenty miles per hour.  And, did I mention that there is not one traffic light on this island?  Not a single one.  There's no need.  We could drive for miles and never see another car.  What we could see, on our left, were groves of palm trees that would tower over most buildings, positively throbbing with the weight of all their coconuts.  The ones laying on the ground were free for the taking.  A sign read, "Beware of coconuts" the way suburban signs would say "Beware of dogs".  But, it's a good thing.  You could get quite a bump on the noggin if one of them fell on you. 

Behind them lay the bluest sections of the Pacific Ocean that you could ever imagine. 

On our right were fields of plumeria trees, dripping with the fragrant white flowers that make up leis.  And, behind the fields, were mountains that were rippled with valleys carved eons ago from flowing rivers.  They looked like something from another planet, and they were spectacular. 

We crawled along until we turned right on 470, another "highway" that took us past sugar and coffee plantations.  The road led us to the other side of the island, no more than a ten minute journey.  This was the most narrow part.  We survived a few hairpin turns into Kualapu'u, another town that had precisely a restaurant and a corner store.  And, a domesticated black goat.  But, I digress.

The road ended in a forest that had more eucalyptus trees than the population of the island.  Although, that's not saying much.  A small trail cut through the trees, and the only sound was that of our own footsteps.  If silence can be a sound, it was deafening.  If Christopher Columbus had been wrong, and the world was flat, this would be the end of it.

As we came over a hill, the expanse of the ocean became larger and larger until we got to an overlook and could to not go any farther.  Far below us, I saw it.  My place of pilgrimage.  The leper colony, still in existence today, with about forty residents.  I was told that using the word "leperosy" has been replaced with the more politically correct term, "Hansen's Disease."  And yet, the signs lauding Fr. Damien (canonized last year) were clearly anti-PC. 

All alone with the silence, we stopped and prayed at this hallowed site.  But then, we took in the scenery.

Oh, the scenery.  Truly, neither of us had ever seen a more beautiful site in our lives.  Ever.  And my husband and I are both reasonably well-traveled.  The peninsula jutted into the ocean, with white-capped waves kissing its dark sand shores.  A lighthouse stood at one end, and a picturesque white church sat in the middle.  On the eastern side of the small landing, the land curved dramatically into the most spectacular cliffs that you could ever imagine.  They were green, lush green, and breathtakingly beautiful.  I took a half dozen pictures.  But they will never do it justice. 

Pulling ourselves away was almost physically painful.  We would have been content to stay there all day.  But, the ferry would not wait for us, and there was more of the island to see.

We ate lunch at a little place that was so primitive that they didn't even have a high chair or a credit card machine.  But they made a wickedly delicious loco moco, our favorite Hawai'ian dish of meat over rice, topped with eggs, and smothered in gravy.  Their spin added chopped tomatoes and green onions. 

Hopping back on the highway, and being bypassed by several snails, we headed to the east side of the island.  Only the state road signs were in English, which were supplemented and often replaced by handmade signs in Hawai'ian.  Were we really in the United States anymore? 

Surely not.  I mean, do we really have so many one-lane bridges in this country?  The kind where you need to honk your horn to warn someone coming around the opposite curve that you are coming?  But, that's a laugh.  In fifteen miles, we probably passed five cars.

Two churches (both built by Saint Damien's own hands), a billion palm trees, and many valley-carved mountains later, we turned around.  We wouldn't want to miss the ferry back to Maui.  Not that we would have shed many tears about being left behind.  Its lack of decent cell phone reception forced these two work-a-holics to take an actual day off.

We met up at the gas station with Helen, our point of contact for the rental car.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  We rented the car at a gas station.)  She led us back to the wharf, and we boarded the ferry.  Along with a bunch of locals carrying gigantic Igloo coolers.  Because, we found out, with a corner store being the only place to buy a few necessities, they needed to make a run to the grocery store.  On Maui.  Two hours away.  By water.

I couldn't live on Moloka'i.  I fear that its isolation would make me feel claustrophobic.  But I am already trying to figure out how to save for a little condo there.  For when I really, really need to get away.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Beauty is in the Eye of the Five-Year-Old

A conversation with my daughter.

Teresa:  "Mommy, you look so SKINNY!"

Me, very flattered, proud of working out, not so proud of the chocolate covered caramels that I've been eating:  "Why, thank you!"

Teresa:  "No, really, Mommy.  Look at yourself.  You are so skinny!"

Me, having an increasingly bloated ego:  "Thank you!"

Teresa:  "Mommy, what does 'skinny' mean?"

Me, with the air slowly leaking from my balloon:  "What do YOU think it means?"

Teresa:  "I have no idea."

So much for that.

Monday, June 7, 2010


My daughter said to me, "I don't need to study history because everything I like is modern."

I gave a reply from "The Grown-up's Guide to Standard Responses" manual.

"If you don't learn from the mistakes of the past, you're destined to repeat them."

This is listed, of course, after the entries "Because I told you so", "Because they're good for you", and "You'll understand when you're older."

Geesh, I sound like a parent.

We are in Washington, DC, the requisite family vacation.  In this case, the kids are subject not only to the history of our nation, but the history of their parents.  My husband and I met here as interns once upon a time.

The trip has just begun, but already we have learned about the connection between the past and our present, and about the necessity of reinvention.

The history is obvious.  We walked the mall, seeing the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capital.  This was made all the more exciting when we were watching "Evan Almighty" on HBO last night and the final scene involves an epic flood of the same area.  My five-year-old pops up and declares, "That's DC!"  My work is done, thank you very much.  I have successfully made my children even more interested in cable.

It is reinvention that I am most drawn towards, however.  The ability to take our past and make our future better because of it.  This was demonstrated to us all day yesterday as we wandered the Colonial-lined streets of Old Towne Alexandria.

In our dream world, we would move back to this area, and visited three open houses just to torture ourselves.  Built in the 1700s, I could only imagine the decades upon decades of families that have called them home, and marveled at the reinvention of them into places that a modern family could be comfortable.  The basement of one smelled like a smokehouse, but was fitted with a washer and dryer and Corian counters in the kitchen.  Another sloped like a bunny hill at a ski resort, but was outfitted with stainless steel appliances and flat screen tvs.  At only $1,240,000, this tiny dwelling could be ours.  I was ready to bring out the checkbook.  All but one of the kids was in agreement.

Reinvention followed us at dinner.  We ate at an old favorite, Il Porto, the Italian restaurant that faces King Street, the main thoroughfare of the town.  We hungrily reviewed the menu items, but it was my nine-year-old history buff that was drawn, instead, to the story of the restaurant itself.

The eighteenth-century building was built by a sea captain, and lost to him when stolen articles were discovered in it.  It was then converted to a butcher shop, and eventually became a whorehouse.  Of course, the kids wanted to know what that was.  The little teaching moments that we don't expect.  Later, it was a trinket shop owned by two eccentric sisters, and now it serves up Alexandria's favorite pasta.

What a lesson in reinvention, and what a parallel to life.  The structure remains the same, weathered a bit and updated for the times.  So are we.  We are baby, toddler, child, adolescent, young adult, employee, parent, grandparent, retiree, great-grandparent, senior citizen, dust.  We live through a changing world, adapting with it to survive, journeying on a spiritual path.

The lesson became personal later when we met with an old friend over ice cream.  She is the one person that gets younger and happier every time we see her.  It's been eight years since our last visit, and she's doing great.  What was the secret to her luminescence?  Reinvention.  A self-described "Type A", she suffered through the untimely death of a little loved one a few years ago, and realized what a precious gift every day is.  She lives for the day, she devours the day, she rejoices in the day.  She becomes what the day demands while retaining the solid foundations of her history.

It is easy to see why everyone is drawn to her.  She believes that God will provide, and has erased negativity from her psyche.  She is abundantly generous, and gives all of her energy to the moment.

I ponder this as I traverse the cobblestone streets in my Nike Air sandals, trodding upon stones that have seen thousands before me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ten Years Later

I wrote a letter when I was thirteen.

I wrote it to a stranger, someone whom I had never seen.  I had a cloudy understanding of her and a heartfelt wish that she would turn out to be everything I'd hoped.  She was accomplished, I was sure.  A published author.  A world traveler.

I drew a circle on a blank area and sprayed my mother's perfume on it.  I wondered if it would fade by the time she received it or if she could still detect its flowery scent across the uncharted distance.

I can't say that I loved the stranger, but I envied her.

I envied her freedom and her choices.  I envied her friends and her adventures.  I wanted to BE her.  But it was impossible.

I asked her a series of questions, knowing that the answers would come with much time and probable effort.  I was impatient.  I wanted the answers now.

"Have you written a novel?" I asked.  Surely, she had.  She was always writing - journals and letters, and counted scores of pen-pals among her friends.  She must have turned all of that into stories, and she must be famous.

Little did I know that letters are, in fact, obsolete to her, replaced by the instant gratification of a keyboard and the internet.  Whatever that is.

"Have you seen the pyramids?"  This was a dream of mine.  Did she share that dream?  She did, I would learn, and marveled at them the first moment that their time-worn peaks appeared in her airplane window.  She thought that she had found love in Cairo, only to be wounded by naivete and a carpet salesman that turned out to be married.

But, of course, I didn't know this yet because she hadn't answered me.

"Where do you live?"  I asked, a conundrum because I wouldn't know where to send it.  It must be in New York somewhere because surely she appeared onstage seven nights a week in the chorus of a Broadway musical.

She wouldn't tell me until later that she gave up on the theater in high school because the director gave the lead roles to the students that gave him "favors" in return.

"Are you beautiful?"  I hoped that she was.  I imagined her to have long blond hair like Rapunzel and the bosom of an opera singer.  Not like me, the skinny kid with braces who couldn't make Band-Aids look good.  She must have a dozen boyfriends and a dozen more waiting in the wings.

I continued with my innocent interrogations and sealed the envelope with I when I was finished.  I slipped it into the bookshelves next to my yearbook until I could find her.

She told me later that I had asked the wrong questions.  I had asked about career and money and men and all sorts of things that label a person but don't define them.

I had neglected to ask if a person is worth more than a certificate on a wall, and talked about love as if it is an irrational, frenetic passion instead of a cozy commitment made daily for better or worse.  I hadn't known to ask if the first cry of a newborn baby makes the function of that coveted bosom infinitely more valuable than its cosmetic worth.

She opened the letter just when I'd hoped she would, ten years later, and she laughed.  The baby had just gone down for a nap and her husband was finishing the dishes.  She glanced sideways at the mirror, seeing the reflection of the idealistic teenager whittled into the wise smile of the adult, her dreams fulfilled in ways she'd never imagined.

Dear 23-year-old Self.....

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Airplane Bathrooms and Other Works of Satan

I am traveling alone, carry-on only, and speed through security like a bullet train.  Oops, I probably shouldn't say "bullet" in an airport.

They wave me on, approving the boarding pass that is displayed on my phone.  Completely paperless.  I am impressed.

I see a mother pushing a stroller, and a father laboring over a cumbersome carseat.  However will he fit it into the sardine-like seats of the airplane?  I hope he's not my seatmate.

But I feel sympathy.  I feel his pain.  I never travel without my husband and four kids, with bribes and protestations in tow.  We are the family that people fear in the security line.  What they do not know is that we have traveled enough to be adept at taking off our slip-on shoes, folding the stroller with the flick of a wrist, and not packing liquids over three ounces.  In and out, we make it through faster than most.

Even so, today I relish the solitude.

I am stopped by security, as something was flagged in my bag.  I wonder what it is.  I had tweezers and a razor in there, but I hadn't been stopped last time with those.  It borders on humiliating to have your things checked so thoroughly.  But, alas, he gets to the feminine products and quickly zips my bag, handing it to me. I once snuck a camera into a U2 concert, hidden by such girly necessities.  Forget the box cutters.  The terrorists could wreck havoc with items intelligently disguised in a box of tampons.

It turns out that I have no seatmate, at least not one sitting between my aisle seat and the man at the window.  He is blessedly odor-free, unlike the unfortunately flatulent one on the first flight.

A pleasant aroma wafts into my direction just after takeoff.  It smells like steak;  maybe it is.  It's coming from first class, just two rows ahead.  I'm remembering the McDonald's breakfast burrito from a few hours ago.  If I tilted my head to the right, I'd see what they were eating.  We are separated by transparent blue netting.  It doesn't actually provide privacy, but sends the clear message that there is a distinct difference between the elite and the coach.  What glass ceiling?  The blue netting is the barrier to break.

Halfway through the flight, emaciated from hunger, we are offered hot dogs.  I take one, having no other options.  It is wrapped in plastic, and a scorching spray of steam momentarily blinds me when I open the package.  The hot dog is shriveled, unappetizing.  I look for a packet of ketchup to mask the taste, but they only provided mustard.  This is America!  Ketchup with hot dogs is as necessary as apples in pie.

I douse the crunchy white stems of the iceberg lettuce with room temperature Caesar dressing.  The package says, "Keep refrigerated".  But there is salvation.  The bottom of the box provides one more surprise, a little brown one with my favorite word - "Hershey".  Anything can be forgiven with chocolate in my world.

Inevitably, it's time to go.  You know, to the airplane bathrooms that are coffins in disguise. I check the aisle.  It is clear, as the flight attendants have already served our meals and taken our trash.  I'm in row six.  Although the nearest one is just two rows ahead of me, I am separated by that blasted blue netting.  I wonder if the toilet seats are lined in gold.  Instead, I walk with trepidation down the long and skinny aisle, achingly aware that only a few feet of cargo separate me from miles of nothingness over the geometric farm patterns of the land.  I try not to think about it.

It is ironic to me that my biggest passion is travel, and yet I am afraid of heights and flying.  The travel wins out by a hair, so I endure the turbulence and think about my destination.  It is for this reason that I drink just enough water to stay hydrated, but not enough to have to use the restrooms on board.  It never works. 

I am the second in line for two lavatories.  (Why do they call them lavatories?  Too elegant a name.  They are just one step up from a Port-o-Potty.)  My co-waiter and I avoid contact with each other, and with everyone, in fact.  Private space is extinct on an airplane and you have to hoard every scrap you can get.

The lock clicks and the perforated door opens within seconds.  A guy comes out, and I'm glad that it's not my turn.  I hate going in after guys.  The toilet seats are usually up and they ignore the sign on the mirror asking you to please clean up before the next guest comes in.

I give the briefest of glimpses to the back row.  Two passengers are sleeping, so I feel my eye space radius loosen up.  I dare myself to peek out the window and glance away as soon as I see that we are far above the clouds.

I turn my attention to the flight attendants.  They are the bell weathers of a flight.  If they are calm, all is well.  If they look shaken, bring out the rosary beads.

At last.  The VACANT light goes on and the lavatory door opens.  A guy walks out. Great.  I instinctively breathe through my mouth.  But he has been considerate.  The seat is down, the cubby is clean.  I exhale, a silent blessing for him escaping my lips.

I slide the latch.  The lavatory is OCCUPIED.

Monday, May 31, 2010

New Shoes and Dinner in New York

I packed a pair of black sandals only to discover that one went AWOL in Texas. There was no choice. This is New York. I had to have a pair of black shoes.  It's part of the official uniform.

I walked to Columbus Circle to the kind of store where they know how a shoe should fit a lady's foot. I am drawn to the flats, comfortable and conservative, although they accentuate my petite stature, and not in a good way.

The salesman suggests a pair of open-toed sling-back heels. What the heck...I'm having a "Pretty Woman" kind of day. I'll try them on.

I seldom wear open-toed shoes since I've only had two pedicures in my life and I don't feel as if I have anything to show off. But I had at least put polish on, so how bad could it be?

Eric - we are on a first name basis now - returned with the chocolate-brown box and unwrapped the ivory tissue paper as if a treasure awaited. I suppose shoes are a treasure to most women, but my half-German nature makes me too practical for my own good.

But I slip them on, and I am in love. I could be sixty pounds overweight with not a shred of makeup, and these heels would say, "I am sexy".

I deliver my credit card to Eric and wonder how many Marriott points I'll rack up after tax.

I tell him that I want to wear them out, and I hand him my old shoes. With the discretion of a priest, he does not turn his nose up at them, and places the impostors delicately in the designer box.

The shoes have the magic qualities of the ruby slippers that I just saw in "Wicked" the day before. I am taller. I have confidence. I am a New Yorker.

I walk twenty seven blocks without breaking a sweat or developing a blister.

But the real allure of the magic shoes comes later.

I decide to treat myself to a nice dinner after several nights of eating grocery store take-out to save money. I take the escalator to the fourth floor of the Time Warner Building. I have the sense, thankfully, to check out the menus first. $275 for a Pre Fixe meal. I look inside where tables are brimming with patrons, and have hope for the economy. I politely decline the maitre d's offer to sit down, thinking that I could buy nearly two pairs of shoes for that price.

I dine instead at A Voce - a swanky place one story down, which appears to specialize in modern Italian food. The entrees are reasonable, in their twenties.

I am seated next to several girls, also in their twenties. The tables are so close that I feel I am one of their party. They are excited about some "big event" tonight where there will be "lots of guys".

I smile at the thought of my husband and kids, glad that this scene is not my regular one. I have no aspirations to be Carrie Bradshaw, although I do want to see the movie. I am content with my cozy familial existence, punctuated with the staccato of urban travel.

I look at the menu and feel that there's room in the budget for an appetizer and a drink. I order an amaretto sour and peruse the menu. To start, I choose pancetta sprinkled with figs and pistachios. It's topped with a light drizzle of Balsamic vinegar. I follow with the mushroom ravioli.

But back to the shoes. I realize the full effect of their power after I've gotten up from my seat. The waiter, who was perfunctorily polite during dinner, looks at my feet. His eyes widen and his mouth opens with practiced discretion.

"I love your shoes," he says, and I wonder if it is just a line. But he's not done.

"They fit you perfectly. I've never seen feet that look so right in open-toed sling-back heels."

I am not kidding. This is a direct quote.

I think immediately of "Legally Blonde" where Elle encounters a star witness at a water fountain.

"Don't tap your last year's Prada shoes at me!" he says impatiently.

A light goes off in Elle's head, perhaps for the first time in the whole movie. "Straight men don't know shoes." He must be gay. Therefore, he was not cuckolding the owner of the house.  Case closed.

The waiter sends me off with my leftovers saying, "Come back and see me soon!"

I'm sure that he's talking to the shoes.

From the Ridiculous to the Resurrection - a Morning in New York

"A stimulus package for hard times!"

I hear these words in Times Square, but don't pay much attention.  Instead, I am distracted by the cacophony of humanity that surrounds me, framed by the neon assaults of the twenty-story high advertisements.

"Three for ten dollars!"

I turn this time to see why it is worth shouting above the fire engine sirens and impatient taxi cab horns, and don't believe my eyes.

They are selling Obama condoms.  I think I've seen it all now.  I can pack it up and go home.  I thought I'd seen it all when the Naked Cowboy paraded in his tighty-whities on 46nd Street, mauled by a mob of old ladies clamoring to take their pictures with him.

I've been here often enough to know that I shouldn't be shocked anymore.

I continue on my journey north, clutching my skirt as I step over the subway vents that blow vertical air with a vengeance.  I am trying to avoid a Marilyn Monroe impression, but I would be no competition for the ocean of oddities that surround me.

60th Street and Columbus.  St. Paul's.  I don't see it at first because it is shrouded in scaffolding.  I'm just in time for Sunday Mass, and I start to believe that I have gotten the time wrong.  Save for a few nuns, wearing white habits and black veils, I am alone.  I wander around the church, gazing at the side-altars of St. Patrick, St. Therese, and St. Anne.

Ah, tranquility.  The respite from the jolting images fourteen blocks south.

Or so I thought.  I turn the corner to see what looks like a decomposing body, laid out on cushions.  Shouldn't there be police tape surrounding it?  It looks like a crime scene.

But no, it is a sculpture.  If art is meant to take you by surprise, this has done it.

Upon closer inspection, it is the creation of Alan Dietrich, and represents the Resurrection of Jesus.  Ok.  I'm not sure I get it, but at least it's not what I thought it was.  Then, I see a sign with more information.

It is a sculpture made of - for real, here - the bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, gold, jewels, and "other materials".  The collaboration looks like petrified wood.  The intent is to connect Jesus with the most ancient elements of the history of Earth here in modern day NYC.

I am duly impressed, not having ever considered a link between Jesus and T-Rex, but I walk away learning something, and the artist has done his job.

I am more drawn to the towering stained glass windows, the echo of the poised soprano as she practices a "Hosanna", the enormous organ pipes that breathe behind the altar.  Now THIS is a church.  None of the cozy community halls that fail to inspire but nonetheless have the presence of God in them.  You know here that there is something special, something sacred.

People file in, filling only a fifth of the church as the priest invites us to "raise the roof" in song.

So much for the ties to the ancient.  I'm in 2010, after all.