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Parking Ticket

Did you enjoy your class?

Parking tickets in downtown Iowa City when I was growing up were two dollars. To pay the ticket, the driver inserted the money into the envelope that the ticket written on and dropped it in a street-side payment box near the courthouse. Parking tickets were an irritation, but not of great consequence.

When the rate doubled to four dollars, akin to about $24 in today’s economy, I remember the pushback among the grown-ups. Going downtown became less desirable, a boon for the newly opened suburban mall with its free parking. Over time the pain wore off, and Iowa City’s citizens resumed tucking their fines into the ticket envelopes and thinking little of it.

My mother, Eighty-Nine, has long ascribed unexpected financial annoyances as “today’s parking ticket.” Lose a library book and have to replace it? It’s a parking ticket. Break the cable on your headphones? A parking ticket. Pay the Visa after the deadline? A more expensive parking ticket, but ultimately a parking ticket just the same.

Some parking tickets hurt way more than others, though. In the category of expensive but replaceable, I’ve had two car stereos stolen from parked cars in New York City, items lifted from my dorm room freshman year, my first bike purchased when I was 27 removed from my garage, and $8 belonging to my daughter taken from our bulletin board by a child invited into our house. In each case, I felt dishonored by the crime and powerless to restore my losses.

During those same years that parking tickets cost four dollars, we belonged to a dairy where we bought milk, eggs, butter, and cream so thick I could turn the bottle over with no lid on and the cream wouldn’t pour out. Everything at Moss’s Dairy was on the honor system—we were members, paying a lifetime membership fee about equivalent to one parking ticket. Eldon Moss or his wife might be in the dairy barn when we drove in, but the place might be entirely deserted as well. We would select our items, write a list and the prices of what we were taking on the sales pad, and put the money on the counter, making our own change. If we didn’t have enough cash one day, we could write the total debt on the calendar on the wall and crossed it off next time.

Community classes at Radiant Om Yoga are modeled after Moss’s Dairy. It’s just five dollars to drop in for an hour of yoga or Nia or forty minutes of our newly added meditation practice. There’s a basket and participants are invited to make their own change. Of the twenty classes on our weekly schedule, more than a quarter are designated for people to have a studio experience without paying studio prices.

The first time you walk through the studio doors, your class, whichever one you have chosen, will be free. So it was that at the beginning of May I told a mother attending community yoga with her grown son that their class that evening was on the house, a gift from the studio because I was glad they were there.

She directed toward her son the folded up twenty she had been starting to hand to me, and before he could stretch his hand over to take it, softly shook her head and crumpled the money into her fist. I directed them up the ramp and into the studio, after indicating where they could leave their shoes, and mentioned what props they would need for the practice. A few minutes and several nearly late arrivals later, we were under way.

About twenty-five minutes into class, the son—tall with a thick head of dark hair and what looked like full-arm tattoos emerging from under his shirt, stopped practicing. He sat tall on his mat, feet together, knees out, holding his ankles. His mother on the mat next to him struggled with the poses, looking lost as students new to my teaching style sometimes are. Ten minutes later, the son rose, crossed the room without looking left or right, collected his personal belongings, and left the studio. I did not hear the door to the street close.

When a student leaves class, a yoga teacher’s first concern is that he may have suffered an injury. At the moment he departed, I was mid-pose and couldn’t extract myself easily to follow him. It was a few minutes after when I did look to see if he was waiting for his mother in reception and I found no one there. Then I was unsettled—because of course I took his departure as a critique of my class. But it’s important to stay present for the students who are on the mat, so I shook off the incident as best as I could.

After class, two students came up to chatter with me and a third made a point of crossing the studio to welcome the mother. With a big smile I heard him ask, “Did you enjoy the class?” Her worried look diminished and she smiled back as they spoke amiably. She seemed in no hurry to follow her son out the door. Then the conversations subsided and I finally made my way from the studio to reception; the crowd had thinned to just a couple of students and the teacher for the next class. And then I gasped: The money from the Community Yoga basket was gone.

At this moment in the drafting of this piece, my cat elected to barf newly eaten food. I can’t think of a more perfect response to the events that I’m narrating. I did not, however, barf when it happened. Nor did I call the police, as one person suggested I do. Nor did I use the intake forms of mother and son to contact them. I could not be 100% certain that someone hadn’t whispered open the door and swept the basket clean, and I did not like to accuse or even stir the pot, there was so much weirdness there. I did look around to see if anything else was missing and found to my great relief that my purse, keys, computer, inventory, and cash box were all unruffled. Beyond notifying the teachers at the studio, there was nothing else to do.parking meter

I called the loss a parking ticket. I learned I have to put the money away before heading in to teach class. And I mourn the time before it happened when I could be a joyful host, welcoming in anyone without misgivings.

It’s a new moon & I’m ready for new tidings. This happened three weeks ago, and I’m sorry to say the events that followed haven’t been much better. I hope things are happy where you are, and I wish that we might all move into a lighter summer mood together. With thanks, as always, for your love & support on the journey, Rxo


Danger Zone

What’s going on?

Three times a week I drive a few miles north of my yoga studio to the financial branch of John Deere to teach class. There in the bamboo-floored group exercise room administrative assistants unroll their mats next to vice presidents and mid-level managers to stretch and strengthen, invert and relax. I walk in smiling one to three minutes before class begins and walk out, mat bag over my shoulder, within moments of the closing salute. I am Susie Sunshine Yoga Teacher, she who lives in a house lightly scented with lavender and patchouli, who never has a care in the world.

It is one of the ironies of what I do, but it’s not an act. My first yoga teacher trainer made it clear, “You’ve got three breaths to leave your sh!t behind and be in the room, with your students, centered and ready.” These are words I teach by.

Nonetheless, if I’m teaching fifteen hours this week and sleeping thirty-five or forty, there are still 113 hours during which I’m living, and some days are worse than others.

Recently, on a cool, spring Thursday, I had one of those days. There was nothing spectacularly wrong, but pretty much nothing was right, either. The requirements of the day included getting out the door by 5:30 am for an early class, heading to an overdue annual appointment with the gynecologist, racing back to the studio for a noon private session, cleaning the studio thoroughly, and picking up my daughter, Eleven, from school to deliver her to dance. Each week when we get home from dance there are precisely fifteen minutes to figure out dinner before I must light out for the studio again for my evening class.

To say I was blue that Thursday is putting it mildly. I couldn’t have a conversation about what kind of tea I wanted at the bagel shop without getting glassy eyed. The kind manager asked, “Long morning already?”

I just nodded because I didn’t want the tears to drip.

“Well,” he said, “here’s breakfast. Maybe it’ll start to improve now.”

Since it was still before the gynecologist and before I was late to meet my private student and before cleaning the studio toilets and scrubbing scuff marks off of the linoleum floor and before someone asked for yet another day off from teaching and before fifteen new email messages each with their own urgency arrived in my inbox and before there were three new voicemails requiring my attention, breakfast didn’t do the trick. Not that really any of those items was so terrible, but I was terrible. I was in an overwhelmed inconsolable place, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.

It happens, even to Susie Sunshine Yoga Teacher. And while some days I can just move through the miasma and come out smiling, that day little was budging my weepy blue mood.

Eleven parked at dance I took myself to Starbucks, my insane sometimes more than daily habit of last year curtailed to once or twice a week and only when I’m staying at the café. It was writing time. Whether or not it makes me feel better, writing is my favorite thing to do. I pulled up my book as I’ve determined this is the year something will become of it and started to read. That’s when the commotion started.

The opening salvo was a phone call from Eleven and Knocking-on-Fifteen’s father, an air traffic manager at Des Moines Tower. He was working a police plane flying low over 86th and Hickman, looking for an escaped convict. It was only a few minutes after we hung up that I saw the plane, right over my head, and the text messages began to fly. More information flowed from the tower, where they were receiving regular updates from the pilot. Details arrived from a friend, who was monitoring the news and had received an automated alert phone call at work. The convict, the story went, had escaped transport near Menards on Hickman Road, about two miles from my house. He had stolen a van (there was a report of a carjacking that turned out to be incorrect) and driven east, last seen in the vicinity of Hickman and 73rd, right about where my yoga studio is located.

It was time to go. I packed up to make sure I was in the ballet parking lot a few minutes early, collected Eleven safely, stopped for noodles for dinner, and deposited nourishment with a very happy home crew at the cusp of their three-day Easter weekend. I called Knocking-on-Fifteen aside:

“I need you to go around and make sure all the doors are locked tight. I’m sorry to do this to you, but there’s an escaped convict on the loose and if I didn’t say something to you I’d be worried the whole time I’m at class. Please don’t alarm Eighty-Nine and Eleven.”

“Okay,” he sprang to action. It’s reassuring to leave a second-degree black belt in charge.

Driving on Hickman I could see that the events were very real and very recent. Blocking one lane were a wrecked car on a flatbed in front of a dented stationwagen and a police car, lights on, just where the convict apparently escaped and fled through traffic. I passed four more law enforcement cars as I drove three miles east on Hickman Road, and then I arrived at my studio driveway.

It is no exaggeration to say that fifteen law enforcement vehicles of various shapes and sizes were parked higgledy piggledy blocking the entrance to my

Behind the studio, the creek we call a ha-ha (a straight British moat) and a glimpse at the culvert the police were peering into.

Behind the studio, the creek we call a ha-ha (a straight British moat) and a glimpse at the culvert the police were peering into.

parking lot and filling the space in front of the building next door. One of my students was pulled right up into the mix, asking the officer how she was going to drive through to her yoga class. He was telling her she couldn’t go back to the studio because they hadn’t checked the building yet. I drove around the back way, across the rattily bridge, and parked in my usual spot.

For the next fifteen minutes, students trailed in, some wondering what was going on, while others already knew and added information to the story. We learned that the van had been discovered in the motel parking lot across the street. Men wearing bulletproof vests and leading search dogs were looking all around. The plane buzzed overhead. An all-terrain vehicle was dispatched into the creek to peer into the causeway that channels the water under Hickman. Text messages continued to pour into my phone.

What could we do? We practiced yoga.

Well, to be fair, my students practiced yoga. I practiced something else, vigilance. As I walked softly, circumnavigating the room at a pace that was a study in meandering, I was peering out the windows while I spoke in the voice of Tamra Twilight, Susie Sunshine’s alter ego. Whereas Susie is upbeat and delighted you’re arriving or departing the studio, Tamra is soothing, a respite from the chaotic world. I watched with alarm as the men with dogs and flak jackets walked up and down outside the studio and a crowd gathered on the bridge over the ravine in the back. I watched with increasing calm as the men put the dogs away, conferred in groups, then climbed in their clutter of cars and drove away, lights on but no sirens.

My formative years in big cities taught me how to be protective of myself. That early training translated, in a

The proximity of the motel across the street to the yoga studio.

The proximity of the motel across the street to the yoga studio.

way that surprises me, when I became a mother bear. Today I’m ever-watchful, perhaps overprotective, of my cubs, my home, the studio. The vigilance means that on a night like that Thursday in April, I took the very best care of everyone I could, right down to making sure that each of my students had someone to walk to her car with and no one got into her car without peering in first. It means that when I got home and told Eighty-Nine and Eleven what had happened, I did so carefully and folded Eleven into my arms to sleep that night. It means that I spent some time soothing Knocking-on-Fifteen, who let me know he had been jumpy the entire time I’d been away. And it means that because I had something else to do, something that felt meaningful and important, the blues chased away.

Twenty-four hours after the drama started, the escapee in question was captured some distance from the studio and my house. Less than twenty-four hours from now, my sweet boy turns Fifteen. A new moon and a solar eclipse seem auspicious starts to launch his new year. Happy early Birthday dearest son. Thanks to you, dear reader, as always, Rxo

Regrets Only

Would you maybe like to get a beer sometime?

My list for my next trip to Menards currently reads “door plan.” The doors in question are exterior, facing west, off the yoga studio. In the winter when the wind whips up, in spite of the hulking structure of the Ethan Allen store across the parking lot, the curtains inside the doors billow. Snow blows under and around the door seams. They are so loose in the frames that before a slide bolt was added, I could pull one of them open from the outside, even with the deadbolt fastened.

I’ve requested new exterior doors from my landlord, but until that happens I’ll be shopping for insulation to stem the cold. Last year this quest took me to a whole different section of Menards, my do-it-yourselfer’s paradise. The store is so vast, I explore new areas every time I go. On one visit I asked the woman who was kindly walking me to the section where I found just the tool storage kit I was looking for how far she walked at work every day. Fifteen miles, she told me, without ever leaving the building.

The most complicated project I’ve undertaken thus far was repairing the basement sidewall where a river of water was flooding in every time it rained last spring. I found a how-to video on Youtube, bought the kit of epoxy and ports and various other goos at Menards, and mended the wall. It wasn’t difficult, exactly, but it was labor intensive. And, like any other home-project, it’s 90 percent complete. I have yet to sand the repair and paint it to match the wall.

Every trip to Menards necessitates another trip to Menards. I’ve bought and returned the wrong light bulb (it takes a PhD and a retirement-fund withdrawal these days to purchase light), poorly made keys, a too-big drill bit, and spare parts I picked up just in case. I have also, inevitably, needed to return for a different paintbrush, an additional drop cloth, a roller cover, a new mop head. I am a more-than frequent shopper for storage systems and plant pots. All of these, alongside picture hooks, chocolate truffles, a new DVD, holiday décor, and the best salted peanuts I’ve ever found have ended up in my cart at Menards.

It was nevertheless news to me on my most recent trip that Menards is also a source of potential boyfriends. I’m not entirely sure which aisle they’re stored in—the one who presented himself came to find me where I was considering hanging plant baskets.

I had walked the length of the store, thinking about those fifteen miles, carrying a 45-gallon storage tote in each hand. On the way I said hello to the man in question—he was heading toward the checkout and his blue eyes registered surprise when I greeted him. (I tend to greet everyone, a habit adopted early and held onto, even in New York City.) But then it was only a few minutes later: He rounded the aisle where I was absorbed in the planters pushing a cart. It held two pumpkins and several tubes of caulk. “You’re buying hanging baskets in the fall?”

“They’re on sale.”

He had a soft voice to go with those bright blue eyes, short hair and stubble, or maybe it was close-cropped and intentional, I couldn’t be sure. He stood watching me while I looked at the baskets and the hanging pots. I nattered: “Someone gave me a gift of some spider plants—I own a yoga studio—and, well, I need a different way of housing them.”

“You mean like group classes, that kind of thing?”

“Yep.” I considered him a little more carefully. Fit. Why didn’t I hand him a card?

“The pumpkins,” he indicated his cart, “are a good price too. Out by me they’re charging four or five dollars apiece.”

“I heard it was supposed to be a bad year for pumpkins.”

“There seem to be plenty—the fields are orange.” A pause, and then his next question: “Do you have a lot of fall cleanup to do?”

“Heaps.” I told him, “at least, I suppose I must. I don’t really know what I’m doing. Mostly I think I’ll mow one more time and hope the leaves all blow over to the neighbors’.”

“Live near here?”

I waved my hand vaguely southwest of where we were standing, “In Clive. You?”

“West of Adel.” Wistful.

The day’s to-do list had me heading from Menards downtown to the Hoyt Sherman Place ticket office for Nutcracker tickets, over to my favorite liquor store for spiced pear vodka, and back to an address I’d never been to just north of Drake University where a friend was giving me a file cabinet for the yoga studio in just under an hour. It was time to make off with my hanging baskets. He had more questions:

“What do you like to do for fun?”

I smiled. “I like to think everything I do is fun.” I didn’t add my usual whine—that I just do too much of everything that I do. Instead I held out my hand, “I’m Robin.”

“Brad,” he shook mine in his.

“Nice talking to you,” I smiled, picked up my impossible load that now included three hanging baskets, three pots and the two boxes, and started walking away. That’s when he asked:

“Would you maybe like to get a beer sometime?”

My next breath was like the moment in The Once and Future King right before Arthur tries to pull the sword from the stone. Each of the animals he’s learned from offers wisdom as he approaches his task. I could hear my community in my head: my mother suggesting if I brought him home he might fix things; my children protesting that he wasn’t wearing a pin-striped suit (one of their requirements for any potential suitor); my friends asking, you met this one where?? Then there was the carefree me inclined to say “sure” to any adventure. But it was in a deep still place where I found my reply. “No,” I gave a genuine smile and looked straight at him, “But thank you.”

I’ve driven away from Menards with an eight-foot ladder sticking out of the back of my convertible, the legs wedged behind the front seats. I’ve driven away with the back seat loaded and parts rattling around on the floor. I’ve driven away with items I’ve found that I didn’t need later. I’ve never driven away kicking myself. I did just a little that day.

One of the things I adore about Menards are the wise little sayings, like fortune cookies, in tiny print at the bottom of each page of their advertising circulars. They are required reading on Sundays at our house. And they keep me going back … Today is Thirteen’s half birthday, a full moon, and Hurricane Sandy is pounding my beloved East coast. Here’s a full-moon wish for gentle adventures—thanks, as ever, for witnessing one of mine, Rxo

Stranger Danger

Everybody’s got a story, what’s yours?

When Nine was little, she got such an earful of stranger danger education at school that she wouldn’t talk to anyone she didn’t know. Even when she had picked out exactly what she wanted, she would look to me to order for her in a restaurant; if someone in a store complimented her on her outfit, she would hide behind me. Once at a party she was glued to my side. I was talking to a woman, making a new friend, and she tugged on my arm so I could lean down and listen while she asked in a whisper why it was okay to talk to the woman since I didn’t know her.

I had to think about that before I could answer. What I came up with was that we were both friends of the hostess and we were doing something together, at a party to celebrate a grown-up’s success. Since we had two things in common, that made us less like strangers and more like potential friends. My explanation seemed to satisfy my little girl, although it was still a few more years before she got fully over the early lesson: don’t talk to anyone you don’t know.

Have borne Nine and Thirteen, the boy formerly known as Twelve, in a big city, having lived with them there through 9/11 and the DC Sniper attacks, having lived with a go bag, an escape plan, and a complete understanding of the school lockdown policies implemented during those trying times, I am relaxed and at ease in our middle-west capitol city. I leave the top down on my convertible with groceries in the back, I set my purse on the floor at the coffee shop and go to the ladies’ room, I hand my business card bearing my cell phone number out to anyone who inquires about yoga classes. It doesn’t mean I’m not watchful, but I feel safe here.

Then, a few days ago, the phone rang two minutes before I normally leave the house to walk to Nine’s bus stop and meet her after school. It was an automated message, reporting that all buses from her elementary school would be twenty minutes late. I puttered around for a little while and set out to meet her bus, expecting a tale of some odd kerfuffle to come tumbling forth. She was not, as I thought she would be, full of news. Instead, it was only after our usual exchange about the nature of her day that I asked, “Why was your bus late?”

In a voice I can only describe as sanguine, she told me, “We were in lockdown.”

Flipping out on the inside, but determined to match her composure, I asked, “Oh, really? Why?”

“I don’t know. My bus was called and I started down the hallway when I heard the really loud alarms, beep, beep, beep. The voice (she indicates the air and I gather she means an announcement over the loudspeaker) said: ‘We are in lockdown.’ So I went into a fifth grade classroom and they turned off all the lights. Then the voice said, ‘this is not a drill.’”

My mind is spinning, wondering what on earth could have caused this lockdown, but I speak calmly, “And how do you feel about that?”

“Oh, okay. I wish I had a cell phone so I could text you. It didn’t seem like very long …” It’s only then that she thinks to be alarmed and she clings to me, “It was freaky.”

I wrap my arm around her and we continue up the hill toward home. “Not to worry. You did everything perfectly and you’re safe and you’re home. We’ll find out what happened.”

As the afternoon unfolds we learn the details—not far from Nine’s school there was an altercation between two junior high students just arriving off of their bus. It involved a knife. Local police requested the elementary go into lockdown as a precaution. The entire episode was contained within twenty minutes and the elementary students released. The next day the principal treated the entire school, scooping ice cream himself for one class at a time, to root beer floats, in celebration of how efficiently and maturely the students handled the situation.

A few days later I’m driving Thirteen to a party at his junior high. I make sure he has his phone and tell him in the unlikely event I am late, be sure he waits with friends he knows well. He should ask his friends, in fact, to wait with him and make sure each of them has a ride before we leave. My mind is twisting the story of the week into a dark, sinister junior high full of errant youths with knives wanting to inflict harm. But when we arrive outside his school, the sun is shining and the joyful energy of eighth graders bouncing around in anticipation of their party is infectious.

I watch Thirteen climb out of the back of the convertible and smile as his friends stream over to greet him. My heart goes out to the boys who are not there—one recovering from being attacked, the other in trouble. After an initial flurry of reports, the story has dropped out of the news cycle, and we are unlikely to ever hear what happened, who said what to whom, why the situation turned violent. I wonder about their parents, too, and think how this story must have rocked their lives.

Sometimes, for events like these, if I really want to understand them, I turn to fiction. Sometimes, I turn to what I understand about human nature. Sometimes I breathe through the moment and carry on, as in this case, a wee bit more cautious perhaps. Mostly, I am reminded that we are complex characters, each and every one of us, and learning someone’s story is the only way to begin to learn who that person is. I look with new eyes as I maneuver through my day—the people I don’t know are strangers to me. Still, I am lucky and feel grateful that I live where I do, a place where a fifteen-minute precautionary school lockdown makes the news and taking the chance to learn a stranger’s story is more likely to net a new friend than a certain danger.

Nine climbing onto her bus. I always wave until she’s out of sight …

A new moon and an eclipse for this breezy day in May. Wishing you the chance to hear at least one person’s story and the opportunity to tell your own. Thanks for being a part of mine, Rxo

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