Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Future sounds

The cell phones that I have owned in the past have always had at least
one ring tone I found tolerable. There were the standard issue
corporate logo ring tones, the sound of a rotary phone ringing, the
sound of a pulse phone ringing, the one with the strange cheer and
birthday music. Each was acceptable in its own quirky polyphonic way.

But now we are in the new era of ubiquitous downloaded custom ring
tones. And my bland corporate can bores me.

At the big shindig family reunion this past weekend, my mom and I had
the same ring tone. Can you believe? Oh the confusion. We’d laugh and
say, “Is that your phone or mine?” But I was irked. Not that I mind
copying my mom, au contraire, but I minded that I couldn’t tell if I
was expecting to hear from my husband or my mom’s sister. I just
wanted to know the difference.

I was uninspired as to what to look for in a ring tone until my husband
and I watched “CSI: Miami” Tuesday night. During a pivotal
third-quarter hour death revelation scene, a familiar bit of opera
re-mixed with a Hindu influenced house beat punctuated the drama of the
scene. “That’s it!” I said to Matthew. “It’s from ‘The Magic Flute.’
It’s perfect for a new ring tone.” I jumped up and was off to the
computer to hit our vendor’s website and find the aria. I think
Matthew ignored my typically erratic behavior. I have no idea who
killed whom though. I am kind of curious.

Quick web search, Mozart wrote “The Magic Flute” (sorry I can’t spell
it in German). Quick search of the cell phone website, no “Magic
Flute.” Only three Mozart entries. Hm.

I downloaded “Minute Waltz” by Chopin because that was awfully cute as
a ring tone, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I went back to the website
and clicked on all the classical music entries in order to sample all
the different sounds. Most of them were very dour and only appropriate
for an angry spouse. Some were too light and seemed unhelpful for
getting the receiver’s attention.

But then a random click revealed it. “Lakme Flower Duet.” I don’t
even know what that means! “Flower Duet?” That’s not from “The Magic
Flute” at all! Oh well, it’s the right sounds no matter how mistaken I
was about the origin.

This afternoon I walked to the grocery store on my lunch break. As I
was on my way back to work, riding the elevator to Upper Michigan
Avenue street level, I heard the most beautiful music. Suddenly the
sound of delicate, warbling voices was surrounding me in the elevator.
I was overcome and looked around for a speaker, thinking, “My god,
that music is overwhelming me. It’s so beautiful. It’s like a duet.
It sounds just like the opera I downloaded…”

Yes, it was my own phone. I was awe struck by my little simple cell
phone. I laughed into the receiver, seeing it was my husband, and I
told him the story of the Magic Elevator Ride. He said, “You’re going
to do that every time you hear it ring until you get used to it.” He
is so right. And if it brings such beauty and wonderment into my
world, I don’t mind at all.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Induction ceremony

A friend of mine recently inducted me into adulthood. Particularly,
adult womanhood.

I showed her my shoes, “I’m wearing my trainers today.” This is
different because lately I wear nothing but prescription orthopedic

“Oh, nice,” She said.

“Yeah, my feet are hurting though. I accidentally bought them the
wrong size.”

She made the “?” face.

“Well, I bought them in the morning you see.”

I know that sounds kind of irrelevant to shoe size maybe, but to
fitness buffs like my friend and to fitness hangers-on like me, we know
that your feet swell during the day, reaching maximum size some time in
the afternoon. Therefore, the shoes you buy in the morning won’t fit
by 3 pm. At the time of our conversation, it was 3:45 pm, CST, and I
was feeling the afternoon squeeze.

She nodded slowly and used her mock pedantic voice to say, “I see.”

“The shoe lady told me my foot was a wide now, but I said, ‘I have
always been a narrow. I will take a narrow.’”

At this new tidbit my friend exploded into stifled laughter--we were in
a software training seminar—and she was writhing around trying not to
fall off her chair or to laugh disruptively loud. But the hilarity was
too great for her to resist.

“You just acted like a typical woman! You just insisted you wear a
different size and got the wrong shoe!”

This was my moment of induction. As she continued with the belly
laughing, head bobbing, hair shaking enjoyment of my typicality, I got
very serious.

“Oh my god.” My eyes got big, and I put my hand to my mouth in stupor.
“I did just act like a typical woman.”

“Yeah! Ya did!” She sputtered her last chuckle.

I marveled at my own banality. And then laughed along with my friend
at how ridiculous it is to think of me as 1. adult, 2. adult woman, 3.

I got over the shock of becoming a typical woman, but it made me think
retrospectively. I remember my hometown newspaper running tons of
single panel cartoons about prissy women shoppers insisting to the male
shoe clerk that she has always been a 6 and a half and is still this day.

In addition, the Al Bundy character of “Married, with Children” sold
shoes for a living, and every customer I remember him interacting with
presented the identical scenario. A woman insists she must stuff her
giant middle-aged foot into the size she wore as a debutante. The joke
of these comic scenes is that the man knows better what the woman
really needs.

I remember the wrong shoe size gag in my hometown newspaper’s word
jumbles too. You have a cartoon, a riddle about the cartoon, and
jumble letters from which to make words that then yield the clues to
the riddle. I can do this, as a new inductee, I can create the
scenario. I’ve got a new riddle and cartoon already and waiting for an

Two male sales clerks wearing ties are standing to the right in the
background but are clearly visible and prominently dominating the
scene. In the foreground, a seated middle-aged woman is surrounded by
shoes and shoe boxes. She has a bouffant hair style and she’s wearing
a dress. Though she occupies the foreground, she is in the left and
bottom of the frame, in a diminutive corner of the cartoon, the men are
the primary focus. The customer is trying to force her larger foot
into a smaller shoe. The man on the right says the riddle to his chum,
“If that boat’s a size 6, then my dinghy’s a yacht!”

See? That was so easy, even a shoe-confused woman can make one up.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Flores para los muertos?"

Sometimes I remember a pharmaceutical company with the name of a
beautiful flower as my grandmother's killer. As she dissolved
gradually into purple veins and sunken muscles, she cried out in pain
more often, held me in her lap less often, and took always more pills
from small, rectangular plastic bottles with graceful cursive writing.

At the time I didn't think the bottles were killing her. At the time I
thought they were unusual boxes of secret-content size and I looked
forward to her emptying another so that I could have it for my
treasures. It was the time before safety precautions, and they had
simple narrow necks with small screw-top metal caps. Perfect for
childhood collections.

My sister and I used the bottles with the beautiful cursive names for
the tiny plastic beads in delicious snow cone colors that you use to
bake faux stained glass sun catchers. I loved that the flower that
made me think of Easter, of spring, of delicate smells and pastel
colors was also the holder of the magic beads that created fragile art
at home. My sister and I were wild about making sun catchers, most of
which were Christmas themed. The warm smell of plastic baking in the
oven and tiny funnels and precise tweezers for perfect placement of
color flakes meant Christmas comfort to me. And the little metal screw
top bottles meant Granny to me.

Somehow on the path to adulthood, the mental image of the flower named
bottles and the Christmas arts and my grandmother's painful, slow
passing got mixed up in my mind. Somehow when I got older and I
understood cancer and in retrospect what all those moans and prayers
really meant, I looked at the bottles again for what they really were.
Typed, neat, pharmaceutical script read "Granny Wy." The flower
bottle didn't save her. The color chips didn't excite me anymore. But
still sometimes when I root through my parents' basement I find a
bottle that says "Granny Wy" and it is still filled with ultra sky blue
beads. It makes my heart hurt that now the flowers smell funereal, not
Easter, and the colors look tedious, not adventurous.

Tonight, I am taking a medicine from the same pharmaceutical company
with the childishly innocent cursive logo. The bottle is a sample from
my sleep doctor, for my insomnia, not cancer. But I push in the foil
stamped over and over "Flower, Flower, Flower," and I screw off the top
that isn't child proof, and I look at the rectangular container with
the fluted neck; I remember. I remember Easter and the smell of the
church filled with flowers and my grandmother asleep in her recliner
weary after another trip to the doctor. And I remember the red and the
blue and the amber beads and my sister's precision as we celebrated
Christmas by dropping one tiny chip after another into small metal slots.

As I push in the foil that says "Flower, Flower, Flower," and I draw up
the cotton, I think all these things, and I wonder if I will sleep
tonight. The sleep of "Flower, Flower, Flower."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Brain-body dilemma

I am deeply sorrowed for the throngs of Christine Wy fans patiently
waiting to hear what strange things I've been thinking or dreaming
lately. The idea journal I keep next to my bed is backlogged with
brilliant kernels waiting to pop. I have no lack of material. What I
have is a lack of schedule.

My sleep specialist has done something to me I have resisted for
years--a regular sleep schedule. It's torture. It's terrible. It's
horrible terrible torture. Really. In bed by 11 pm awake by 8 am. I
know that sounds innocuous, but, number one, my body/brain doesn't do
that. And number two, I really like to write at night.

Getting ready for bed is a reflective time for everyone. For me, it
starts with, "What are my plans for tomorrow?" Then I move on to "What
did I accomplish today?" This metamorphoses into, "What have I done
over the course of my life???" And this is when the certain firing of
old nuerons creates new connections and new ideas. My husband says
it's the connections I make that are interesting. I don't know if
that's the case, but it happens while I'm brushing my teeth. And this
is when my brain ignites my fingers and I want to type out my story.

You see? It's incompatible with the sleep doctor's charms. I'm trying
very hard to be a good patient and give my best efforts to his
treatment, but it's not good for blogging. I don't like to think of
myself as non-compliant, but if to prevent my fingers from exploding
from un-typed missives I must violate doctor's orders, then so be it.
But I promise to do my very best to be healthy and type-y.

Ever your pal,
Christine Wy

Dream entry #4

The other night I dreamed I was an undergraduate again at Western
Kentucky University. The Honor's Program was hosting one of their
campus coffee-house open-mic nights in the old faculty lounge log cabin
(note: nothing in that sentence is made up). Johnny Depp stopped by to
hang out while he was on tour promoting "Pirates of the Carribean: Dead
Man's Chest." He was sitting off to the side, drinking free coffee. I
walked up to him and said, "I loved the first 'Pirates of the Carribean.'"

He smiled, looked up at me through his eyelashes, and said "Really?" In
a very shy way.

"Oh yes, I love swashbuckling very much."

He acted awkward and surprised; I would swear this was the first time
anyone had ever told him they liked the movie, and I continued to
compliment him. I carried on explaining to him all the ways I loved "Pirates of the Carribean," and he was very sweet about it, but then he suddenly had to

Unfortunately, I hadn't gotten to the most important part of my
conversation, the real reason I wanted to speak to him.

"Wait! Will you be my pen pal? You don't have to write back if you
don't want to!"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fruits of summer

I have always been afraid of people who don't like watermelon. They don't seem human, as if some alien race had accidentally left one of their emissaries behind on Earth and the whole species abhorred watermelon as some genetic flaw.

On the Fourth of July, this isn't the most obvious blog theme that comes to mind. I could write about how Chicago is like a war zone on
Independence Day as families and friends set off fireworks all over the city. I am surrounded on all sides of the noise of fireworks of the caliber used by small towns for municipal Independence celebrations, only these are being launched in the streets and alleys of all the neighborhoods of Chicago. It's a spectacular display.

Tonight I took the dog on an extra-long nighttime walk, a luxury she rarely gets, but only because I wanted to stay outside and watch the pyrotechnics. Walking along Logan Boulevard, amid all the cacophony and irritated car alarms and police sirens, I smelled watermelon. Maybe it was someone's cheap drug store perfume who had just walked by before me, or maybe out of sight behind one of the fences someone was concluding their Fourth of July picnic, but I distinctly smelled watermelon, and my mouth watered.

I love the mellow, delicate sweetness of watermelon. Its rough chewable texture and simultaneous porosity, its extreme juiciness and its delicate fragility, all signify its ultimate summer fruit perfection. I love the sweet heart of the melon so much that I cut or scoop out the interior to the ring of seeds to save for later. I eat from the seeds to the white rind first, appreciating the tangier flavor of the exterior meat. But the center of the melon, the most perfect part of the watermelon, is sweetness and chewiness sublime. It deserves to be savored separate and last from the rest.

Yet there are people, stymieing people, who don't like watermelon. I'm not sure I trust these people completely. My first best friend in high school liked no melons. I bothered her about it every summer and tried
to persuade her to eat watermelon or cantaloupe, even arguing that honey dew wasn't like the other melons and was so far superior. But nothing would budge her. When pressured she'd say something about a bad memory of a picnic with her estranged birth mother and a germaphobe aunt, but nothing about flavor or texture.

My second best friend in high school liked watermelon with salt. My aunt told me once the white of the melon was best. I think they're both off.

My husband. What a special case. He doesn't like watermelon, but how can I distrust my own husband? What redeems him is that he enjoys cantaloupe, but I still don't understand how a person can like one and not the other. It is like eating Gala apples but not Fuji--they are both apples. For years I couldn't remember that my husband didn't like watermelon, "Mmm, this watermelon is perfect, try some."

"I don't like watermelon."

"What? How can you not like watermelon?"

"I just don't. And I've told you a thousand times."

"I didn't know you didn't like watermelon."

"We've had this same conversation over and over. I don't like watermelon."

"Really? Oh. That's right. Well here's some cantaloupe but it's not as good."

There is a restaurant we used to go to often that serves plates of melon as a complimentary appetizer instead of bread. I used to eat the cantaloupe first as a favor to Matthew so that he could enjoy all the watermelon. Over and over I did this, and then I would be upset that he didn't eat the watermelon I saved for him. Finally I remembered--after years of marriage--to eat the watermelon and not the cantaloupe. But I still try to pressure him from time-to-time. "Are you sure you don't want some of this watermelon? It's perfect."

He can't be completely human. No one sane could resist its mellow twangy sweetness. But at least my magnanimity is never tested. At
least I never have to share.