Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snow on Roses

I opened the front door to my elderly neighbor. He was wrapped in scarves and gloves and a hat, and some mighty expensive looking waterproof boots.


"Do you have a digital camera?" he asked. His accent is thick and charming, German or Danish or Swedish. (His name is Hans; I can't be too far off.)


"You must come take a picture off da roses," he pointed toward my side yard. "Der is snow on your roses!"

It was ten o'clock on a weekend morning. I wasn't dressed, the kids were running wild through the house, and well, it looked awfully cold out there. But I told him I'd be right out, threw on a sweater, grabbed my digital camera, and walked out the back door.

Hans met me inside my backyard (he was feeling very at home here)and allowed me to help him down the snowy steps out to the sidewalk where my roses were, indeed, blooming under a blanket of fresh snow.

He pointed to a jaunty clump. "Take a picture of dis one," he said. I did. "And take a picture of dis one, too," he said, pointing toward a lone, sad, rose drooping under the weight of a dollop of snow. I positioned the camera away from my body so I could see through the digital screen. Hans leaned in to get a look at my shot. He held my hand and moved it to where he thought it should be.

"Vould you like me to take it for you?"

"Sure," I said. I handed him my camera. He took it, placed a foot up on the side wall, and took it.

"I have been out here already taking pictures. I didn't vant you to miss it."

"Well, thank you," I said. "I appreciate that."

And I did. It was nice to have someone pull me outside to look at something beautiful. I'm usually the one around here doing that, because I'm such a big sap.

Hans and I stood around for a few more minutes, chewing the fat about my house and the people who lived here before we did. Then I got uncomfortably cold (it was snowing) and promised to invite him in sometime, but not today as I was a little embarrassed at still being in my pajamas. He smiled - his mouth was full of graying teeth - and he said he'd like that.

Maybe he'll point something else out that I've failed to notice.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Signs of Devotion in Las Vegas

Outside of Caesar's Palace, between a shopping mall entrance and a walkway over The Strip, sits an altar to the Buddha. It's easy to miss as it's tucked away behind some bushes, and also one's eye is automatically drawn to the 10-story faces of Donnie and Marie Osmond plastered to the side of The Flamingo hotel. Once I saw it, I grabbed Matt's sleeve and slowed down to study it.

It's a place to pray in the middle of shopping and gambling and drinking. The 10 foot high, gold buddha, in full Thai headdress, sits with perfect equanimity in the center of a fenced square. Along the rails are kneelers, on which devotees can comfortably rest their knees and elbows while they pray.

One young woman chose to forgo the kneelers and instead just hit the pavement. In her skirt, she pressed her knees, the tops of her feet, her forearms, and her forehead onto the dirty concrete. She stayed that way for awhile. Around her, other women knelt on the kneelers and held long sticks of incense in front of their faces. They bowed their dark heads and closed their eyes.

"Praying for luck at the blackjack table," Matt whispered. I shrugged. Who knew what people prayed for? The altar offered a chance to dip into spiritual reverence, in a place that seems to revere mostly designer shoes, sex, and winning big. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)I itched to kneel down in front of the Buddha myself, as I see every place to pray as a universal invitation to offer myself up for a few moments. But I worried the people there might not appreciate an obvious interloper, even if I did exactly what they did. I was sure to commit some gaffe. So instead of metaphorically jumping into the hot tub uninvited, I gave a silent inward bow and took a few secret photos.

Our next stop was The House of Blues for a Sunday gospel brunch. There, we ate shrimp and cheesy grits, bacon and sliced melon. We drank Bloody Marys. Then we watched a rousing, Praise-the-Lord gospel performance by a slick group from LA. Since it really was a performance and not a church service, I wondered how much Jesus would be a part of things.

Well. Jesus' name was alive and well in The House of Blues. Witnesses raised their hands. People danced in the aisles. Those who knew the songs hollered along. I watched, in myself and some other people there, a confusing conflict take place. We were swept up. We wanted to ride on the river of Love. But oops, woops, Oh yeah, I don't actually believe Jesus Christ is my personal savior. Kinda forgot about that, and kinda forgot about all my Issues With the Church, and blah blah blah. Aw, screw it. When you think you feel divine love, stand up and say yeah.

So this time I did.