There’s no paper & ribbon for this gift

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” croons Frank Sinatra, possibly, over the cafe’s sound system.

I’ve no idea what Christmas, a mere week away, will look like this year!

I may be at the radio station working that afternoon if it’s needed — and I’m happy to do so.

If not, I may be lending a volunteering hand at the big free community meal at a church. Like 500+-people big! I don’t attend that or any church. I’m spiritual and not at all religious. I very much like the idea of serving others Christmas Day.

Or I may go as a guest to mingle with the community.

Or I may go to a movie.

Or visit a favorite saloon on Whiskey Row.

Or spend time on the road with my Subbie, weather permitting.

Or stay home and paint or play with clay or write and drink mulled wine, a seasonal favorite, and listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas on Pandora.

Whatever I end up doing, it won’t involve family; whether buddies will be involved remains to be seen.

I’m not worried. I’ve survived much worse Christmases. Christmases alone with no friend or casual acquaintance or connection in sight. In geographical places that were very dark, lonely and depressing (the Pacific Northwest categorically the worst, of course).

Have also spent plenty of Christmases at jobs I detest or loathe or at the very least want out of, please God, get me outta here!

It’s because I’ve survived so many rotten and unconventional Christmases over some 20 years that I’ve cultivated more than a thick survivor’s skin.

I’ve developed gratitude.

Gratitude for being where I am today. In a state (Arizona) and town that I love and that resonates, mutually.

Even if I’m with complete strangers — as I may well be this Christmas — I like this community. It’s quirky yet solid and highly conservative with a sub-population of oddballs, artists, creative sorts and mainstream misfits.

Don’t misunderstand. It ain’t Berkeley or San Francisco or New York or even Austin — all places overtaken (hence ruined) by the libs/socialists. Not. At. All. It’s conservative but quirky, my town — in a nutshell.

Moving along …

It’s BECAUSE I’ve been in such dark places many times and years over that I sit here with such gratitude for where I am today. And with zero concern or worry about what I may or may not do on the so-called biggest holiday in America.

Reckon some folks might trade places with me for a day. Because the sad truth about Christmas in America is: It lost its meaning long ago.

For most, it’s all about presents — gross commercialism — and rushing around and beaucoup stress and even more credit-card debt and time with relatives they don’t want to see, obligations they wish they didn’t have to fulfill, controlled chaos and … did I miss anything?

Oh, and screaming whining crying ungrateful brats. I don’t mean exclusively the tots.

I don’t see it happening but on Christmas, I could sit in my new-ish (4 months) lovely space staring out the window and be centered and calm in gratitude. For all that I have and how much better my life has become — and continues to become.

The simplest things are the most meaningful, to me.

I’ll probably have one gift to open, perhaps a few cards. It’ll be a gift and cards from people who mean a lot to me, individuals I truly care about and love.

I’d trade that for, say, a slew of sweaters I don’t need or wouldn’t wear from people who feel obligated to give me gifts any day.

But that’s just me, un-American freak that I am; freak because I’ve no interest whatsoever in the BuyBuyBuy SpendSpendSpend version of the American Christmas. So sad.

Whether I be at work (gratefully at a job I love) or a community feast, a saloon or at home alone singing along to Mannheim Steamroller — only after several glasses of mulled wine! — this is sure:

I shall be in my heart in gratitude.

And that is a gift, of and to the self, that could never be put on a credit card or wrapped with paper.

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a stranger and a story shrouded by an orange coat

The person strikes a troubled figure.

Sitting on the curbside, hunched over. Dark pants. Shirt of unseen color. Shoes. Head and shoulders shrouded under an orange jacket.

Impossible to know whether man or woman.

A dark backpack, unzipped, upright on the sidewalk just to the left of the person.

What’s someone doing sitting here on the curb? In this neighborhood. At this time of night?

The hour is a quarter past midnight.

Here’s a largely industrial pocket of town. Older buildings and small shops like auto body repair, scrap metal, a furniture store, a dive bar up the way, seemingly a musicians’ rental studio. I’ve caught wind of loud rock ‘n’ roll from a source I can’t pinpoint late at night at the radio station where I work.

During the day, this avenue is a small thoroughfare. At night, it’s deserted. Only the very occasional car passes by.

There’s a parking lot around the furniture store. Usually it’s empty but tonight there’s cars. Perhaps a party or the nearby music studio?

It’s only because I’m on my way home from work at 12:15 a.m. that I even drive past the hunched-over figure draped by an orange coat.

I follow the road with its distinctive sharp curve to the right. “No. I can’t do it.”

I make an illegal U-turn in the middle of the road. Hopefully no cop just happening to pass by.

I pass by the hunched person slowly to get a better look but not so slowly to around suspicion.

It’s dark. The area’s lit only by dim streetlights and the brighter lights of the parking lot.

I can’t know who’s under the orange coat or what he or she’s doing here at this hour. My street smarts and common sense are well honed. Always err on the side of suspicion and caution.

The biggest mistake anyone can make is to trust or assume good intent. This is my guiding principle in life. I’d have made a fine detective.

I continue on and swing another illegal U-turn for another drive-by, this time slower that the last. Who’s under the orange coat and why?

Should I stop?

The opened backpack. Has the person been robbed?

Is this a guise? A setup? Is there a bad man under there waiting to spring on someone?

Or is the person in distress? Trouble? Unable to move or walk?

Here’s certainly not a taxi or bus route. Is the person, perhaps a partier, waiting for a boyfriend to pick her up?

I roll down the passenger window and bring the car to a stop while maintaining a safe distance. Through the window I holler: “Are you OK??”

The person rises. A woman. Exposed in the shadowed light of the street lamps. Young. Maybe 5-6. A little fleshy.

Darkness around the eyes. Perhaps mascara or eye shadow that’s been smudged. Perhaps she’s been crying.

She answers my question. “No.”

She’s unsteady on her feet. Weaves my direction. She’s a somewhat frightening spectacle of unsteady and unstable and troubled.

I know not who she is or what brings her to sit hunched over on a curb with an orange coat over her head and an unzipped backpack at her side.

I just know that I truly and sorely want to help this strange.

And I do not want to put myself in danger.

As a streets-smart cookie, my first three rules of survival are:

1. Always trust your instincts.
2. Trust no one until they’ve proven s/he can be trusted.
3. Use common sense.

She’s troubled and disoriented and distressed. As evidenced by her uncertain gait and tone.

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” I say. I roll up the window and drive quickly the 5 minutes to my apartment.

Soon as I’m in, I dial the police.

“There’s a woman at such-and-such location,” I say. “She looks to be in trouble.” I describe the scene. “It’s not a good area. She may be drunk. If she is, he’s very vulnerable.”

I also mean she’s a sitting duck. If she’s indeed as inebriated or drugged out as she seemed and as the picture painted, she’s a target for a bad man. Or has been assaulted and is traumatized.

I can’t know. I just know she may need help that I can’t directly provide and should be checked on.

The nice dispatcher gathers more details. I provide as much information as possible except my name — “a concerned citizen” suffices — and my phone number.

“We’ll send an officer over to check.”

“Thank you. Thank you.”

I am so relieved and grateful.

I hope the officer made it in time. That the woman, having been brought to her feet by my drive-by, didn’t gather up her unzipped backpack and begin walking. Or try to.

Did a companion emerge from a maybe-party to help her? Someone arrive to drive her home?

I can’t know. I can know only that I did the right thing. I acted on:

* Conscience. I just couldn’t drive by and leave a person hunched under an orange coat there on the curb at night in an isolated area.

In the same way that I couldn’t leave the dog that I’d encountered dead in the road the other week just lying there. That’s another story untold.

* Compassion. I’ve been there. Too drunk to walk. Distraught. Vulnerable. Unable to help myself. Plus as a woman, I’m acutely aware of the dangers that a vulnerable or incapacitated female presents to men of ill intent. Though I’ve no idea what her story is, I couldn’t allow THAT story for her.

* Common sense and street smarts. Already addressed.

* Community. Prescott is a town of community. One of the rare places in America where community thrives. Where people watch out for one another. Give. Do good things for one another, including total strangers.

Every week there are letters to the editor of a resident or visitor who’s been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. While I’m cautious to extol the virtues of my community — I DO NOT want to encourage the Californians and others from their gawd-awful liberal blue states to move here! — I also want to sing well-deserved praises!

This is a community that steps up to the plate. That cares. There is no walking by or standing around watching someone being beat up on the street like happens so many places in America (Seattle, New York, Los Angeles for starters). I live here BECAUSE I’ve lived in crap places. I CHOOSE to live here because I’ve been sooooo around and know how people are.

Whatever the circumstances that brought that young lass to sit on a curb at night on an isolated street in an industrial part of town hunched under an orange coat with an unzipped backpack at her side, I cannot know.

I pray she was merely emotional and drunk and that her circumstances were neither life-threatening nor an act of violation.

I pray that the contents of her backpack were not tampered with or violated.

I hope today that the only aftermath of her predicament is a hangover.

I hope that the officer arrived in time to help her because help is what she needed. And thank you law enforcement!!

I hope that today her face is washed of the smeared makeup that in the shadow and streetlight cast an eerie raccoon spetre-ish appearance.

I want her to be safe and OK. Whoever she is.

I’m not a crazy lady. Or a Deadhead. Just look like one.

If whatever’s happening New Year’s Eve prognosticates the tone for the coming year, as it has for years, I’m in for a lively* 2015!

*a conservative way of saying wild

Let’s just say my new year’s eve was more like a 25-year-old’s than, well, someone’s much older. 😉 Perhaps it’s the spirit of youthfulness that joy imparts.

Perhaps it was, in part, the two pints of porter plus the rye whiskey from a flask tucked into my inner coat pocket that I made sure to sip away from the patrolling eyes of the cops on Whiskey Row/Courthouse Square enlivened by partiers and the boot drop.

I think it’s the joy and the abandonment to it fueled in small part by the porters & whiskey! A helluva night!

Not often I find myself hikin’ it a mile or so across town at 3:30 in the morning … in the snow … in 21-degree weather! Or ever. Just how things unfolded.

Fortunately that main street was cleared of snow & ice. Mostly. Fortunately I didn’t slip and fall. Wasn’t dawdling either! Interspersed even a little light jogging. That inclination to stay warm and get home will fuel a girl.

Quite the sight I must’ve been too! This little thing all bundled up in two jackets — one white and one brown — and two scarves — one white, one red — and a striped purple & turquoise rabbit hair beanie bookin’ it down Gurley Street deep into the night!

Oh! And let’s not overlook the white balloon! Wrapped around my wrist, trailing. A balloon I’d picked up off a downtown street at the boot drop a few hours earlier.

I looked like a crazy lady. Or a Grateful Dead groupie racing to the tour bus.

I can only say that it’s a good thing I live in a town that while being very conservative has its quirks and eccentrics. I might be one of ’em. Okay, I am.

Yet there’s such a good spirit in this town. A natural match. An affinity. For me. Not for all. I make that clear to locals and out-of-towners. Prescott, Arizona, is not for everyone. It’s for me, however, absolutely. Joyfully!

Had a cop passed and spotted this ruffian-looking woman with a white balloon dashing down the street in the middle of the night — and believe me, I was spottable on a street largely emptied of pedestrians and vehicles! — he might’ve pulled over to inquire about my business in that late hour.  Or why was I hastening so?

It didn’t happen. If it had, I had a perfectly sound explanation. I was on my way home — I was prepared to state an address if needed — from some strange event. Something totally unexpected, something you couldn’t have seen coming but if ya had you’d take it on anyhow ’cause it was just that spontaneous & fun in a weird way.

Makes for a memorable New Year’s! And a good story, untold & unseen save out there in the ethers.

Happy 2015 to me! I may wanna grasp the seat of my pants. Looks like a ride! A joyful exuberant year. One that if I play my cards smartly — therein lies the ticket — I could accomplish inroads and gains that’ll be lasting and are necessary to creating the foundation of my life that’s much needed, sorely so, and overdue.

I won’t address the alternative, the consequences of if I don’t play those cards smartly. My eyes are on what’s ahead — that big bright light that’s ahead like a spotlight.

I prefer to choose positivity over negativity in thought. Promise over same ol’ same ol’ patterns that have outlived their usefulness, no longer serve, ones that I’m already shedding and will continue to drop into Life’s Bucket of Bye-Bye.

I hope a good new year’s was had by all. They can’t all be good. I know that; I know it well. So if yours was one of those “less-than-good,” I wish for you blessings and guidance and protection from the divine and powers that are to get you where you need to be. Even if it’s as simple as “not here.” ‘Cause I’ve been there too. In significant, meaningful, all-encompassing ways.

明けましておめでとう

Akemashita omedetto!

Happy New Year!

May 2015 be bright and blessed.

 

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