Monday, December 24, 2007

To Live and Drive in L.A.

Click above and check out my story about carriage driving at the "Get Satisfied" website. Click on my name in the lefthand column. Or read below!

It's all about simplifying your life. And Merry Christmas!

To Live and Drive in L.A.
By Juliet Johnson

I drive a horse-drawn carriage in Los Angeles, for my newly-started wedding carriage business. Today someone has rented the carriage to propose to his girlfriend in Pasadena. I angle the huge white horse Clyde out into traffic, pulling our decorated white carriage. It’s a Sunday afternoon. We’re picking up the groom around the corner from where he’s going to surprise his girlfriend and ask her to marry him.

Old people always smile at the carriage and big old Clyde’s head. They’re in the crosswalk, or on the sidewalk, bent over, they look up at me like elves or trolls, smiling. Look, the ice man is here.

The groom appears. He’s Chinese.
“Hi, I’m David,” he offers his hand. “My sister arranged all this.” He looks rushed. “This is a nice carriage.” He’s carrying a large bundle of exotic white flowers. His cell phone rings. It looks expensive. He talks in Chinese. I know he’s not faking it, but it still seems like showing off. He covers the receiver.
“I flew in from Asia last night just for this. I was in Singapore. I was going to rent a helicopter.”
“I thought, you know, fly in on a helicopter. But my sister said horse drawn carriage.”
Yeah. You are proposing to a GIRL. Nine year old boy, I’d go with the helicopter. Maybe shooting people as you come flying down, nice touch.
He looks at the carriage. “This is a great business. Where’s the most popular place you go for weddings?”
I’ve only done three other jobs.
“People get married everywhere. Anywhere they call, we go.”
He’s nervous. Now I’m nervous. I’m thinking what I’ve been thinking since his sister Kwan first emailed me and booked this job. What if she says no? I have to know the details.
“Do you live in Singapore?”
He nods.
“What do you do?”
“Telecommunications.” He then says some vague business stuff to hide the fact that he’s actually a huge Chinese porn star.
“That must keep you busy,” I say.
“Very. We’re going to get married, and live in Shanghai.”
God, I hope she says yes.
“How long have you been dating?” I ask hopefully.
“Nine months.”
His cell phone rings again. He’s gotten the go ahead. He gets into the carriage.
We go around the corner.
I realize on this job that I get to intimately witness pivotal points in people’s lives. We turn the corner and this guy is going to be getting married. Or tragically rebuffed in front of all his friends and me and Clyde.
We get to the busy corner where the restaurant is, and a bunch of Chinese people are standing in the courtyard. Suddenly everyone’s looking toward us and screaming. David looks at me, clutching the flowers. Scared.
The girl I identify as the girlfriend Jenny comes from between people, sees the carriage and David and her hand goes to her mouth. Her face squeezes up and she starts to cry. It’s so beautiful that I almost start to cry. David leaps down to her, she’s paralyzed as he sweeps in, hands her the flowers and hugs her.
I’m guessing Jenny has said yes, she had to say yes.

People stop to look at Clyde, in cars and in the crosswalk, especially guys in groups, in their late teens and early twenties, with scruffy beards and bad hair. Their favorite phrase is “That is one BIG ASS horse.” Clyde takes it all in, eyes half-lidded, leaning on three legs, one hip loose, resting. His ears are alert. He flicks them back every few minutes, scouting to see if I have any information for him. When I don’t, he sighs.
The groom waves me around front and I pull Clyde around.
David gets back in. A lady from the curb says, “Hi, I’m Kwan” – her husband rushes out and hands me a hundred dollar bill. I wish there were more guys like this. Jenny gets in, holding her flowers.
We trot toward the park for a short ride.
David and Jenny are speaking entirely in Chinese, nonstop. Except for the words “email” and “birthday” for which I guess there is no Chinese alternative. Jenny talks so much that I wonder if David is having second thoughts. I know I am. He just committed to her forever. Is he sitting back there realizing, as I am, that she’s never going to shut up, the entire rest of his life?
I decide to just drive. Enjoy my brief loyalty to David and his helicopter dream, and his new Shanghai bride. It’s getting dark. Back at the restaurant, I say goodbye and congratulations to David. I won’t be seeing him again. I pull back into traffic and head back to the trailer. My favorite part of the ride. The carriage empty, just the sound of the clip clop of Clyde’s heavy feet as the 21st century cars shoot past all around us. Going somewhere, not very fast, completely out of sync with the rest of the world. In the midst of the cement and hurtling metal on wheels around us, I see Clyde’s furry ear flick back to me. I’m listening, he says. He’s why I drive a carriage in the big bad city of Los Angeles. Maybe someone will see what I see.

On a side street, an old lady smiles at me. Fresh milk delivery.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

All Dogs Should Be Jed

I can't stop looking at dogs. Not the dogs I have, currently strewn around the floor in the office, all looking like they were hit by elephant tranks. But strange dogs. Dogs I don't have yet.

The baby is the only one who knows what's really going on with me. She accompanies me to animal shelters where barking dogs assault us from hard cages. She keeps one eye on the computer while breastfeeding, so she can check out craigslist, petfinder, pennysaver while I am looking for my one true dog, the ultimate dog, the dog I can't have.

What's wrong with my real dogs? Hank, the giant Great Pyranees/Border Collie, yellow and white, he's like Hawaii and we're the continental United States. He floats around, his own luau, everything is a party to Hank. Some kid jumped on him at the park and he snapped at her and ever since then I started doubting my dogs. What was I doing with these evil dogs? I used to have only nice dogs.

Then there's Owen, the black lab/Shepherd mix that my neighbor rescued out of a vacant lot in our neighborhood when he was 4 months old. Of course I took him in. He looked just like Jed, my wonder dog, recently deceased. All dogs should be Jed.

Five years later, I find out all dogs are not Jed. The most Jed and Owen have in common is they were both black. I've spent five years with Owen being afraid of everything. Apparently love doesn't conquer all. Here's the deal with shy dogs -- if a dog isn't around humans during the first three months of life, they will have a lifetime of fear of humans. SOMEONE SHOULD TELL A PERSON THESE THINGS. THERE SHOULD BE A CHECKLIST. We spent the first year with Owen peeling him off from where he was plastered into corners, dragging him out from under beds, watching him cower and shake and move his head juuuuust at the last minute when you reach out to pet him. My dad said get rid of him. My stepmom sighed but understood. My mom fed him bacon.

Years later Owen is still shy but the best behaved dog we have. Easy on the leash. Jumps on the bed to sleep with you only if you invite him. Content to lay for hours at your feet while you type. He's like a visiting British person. Tea would be nice, but no no, don't get up, I'll just sit here, no bother.

Then there's Maisie, the 13 year old yellow lab mix, a relic from my past relationship with Will. We found her at the Annapolis animal shelter, 6 months old, leaning against the wire fence of her cage, looking moonily out at us. Of course we had to take her. At 13 she has an all white face, smells terrible from too many swims in the pool (chlorine versus old skin, an aromatic battle) and still looks at you moonily especially if you have pizza.

I guess no dog is enough. As it is, when I come in the door, flanked by children yelling at me or at each other, I wade through a dog wagging stream. Yellow dog, black dog, huge fur dog. I love the dogs. The kids hate the dogs. The dogs get in the way of the fruit snacks cabinet. The dogs are right at their face level and breathing on them heavily while I enjoy a more jaunty perspective. I love the dogs. I wish there were more dogs.

Living in a family just makes me thirsty for more family. Barry and I work back to back in our office, with our dog carpet spanning between us, and we can't talk, there's no time while he's worrying about money and I'm searching the computer wilderness for Jed to come back.

The kids in school, the glorious baby smiling with her whole body, fists and legs and feet, the husband, the dog stew, the house, the minivan, the grandmas, the dandy, the pool, the grass, the sky, the possibilities, it isn't enough, there just will never be enough. Goodness expands and cracks out of our money-less house. I can hear it calling, feel it rushing over us and I think I'm trying to block it from leaving with dogs.

So forget trying to understand it. I'll grab the baby, grab the leashes and go for a walk in the glorious suddenly now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

E-How Articles

Check out this article, and if you want to read more just scroll down. On the right hand side it says "Read Other Articles by this Member." Click there. There are 60 fun-filled articles!

Old Yeller

"You Can't Take It With You" on The Imperfect Parent

My Pregnant Lungs on The Imperfect Parent

Dating the Preschool Parents

The Seat

We got the minivan so we'd have more seats. With the baby it was too hard to smash into the station wagon.

Now picture it, we have two front seats, two middle seats (one always occupied by baby) and a long back bench seat that would have been my favorite as a kid.

Now every morning there is the fight for THE SEAT. Not the front passenger seat because now death happens in that seat and airbags have taken all the fun out of the word "shotgun." Wait, maybe just another word for instant death.

Not the bench seat where you can spread out in the back and be unbothered by anyone. No, the seven year old and the five year old fight about the lone middle seat, the empty-handed pioneer on the aisle, THE ONE THING THEY CAN FIGHT OVER CONSISTENTLY.

We used to take the bikes to school but since the baby we've been slower so we take the car, and every morning there is this. Rush to get up. Rush to eat. Rush to brush hair. Someone copying someone else. Screaming. Tears. Rush to get dressed. Rush to get the backpacks. Rush to get the baby. Rush out the front door.

And there she is. The vast white minivan, perfect for undercover surveillance. The untouched vehicle, lolling in the driveway.

Then the race. Emma is always behind because she's two years younger, so she's already crying. "It's my turn in the seat!!"

Nathan has gotten to the car and opened the automatic door. Jumped in.

I already made the rule that the first person in the car has to go to the back. This stopped the running pell mell for awhile. But then they started keeping track of whose TURN it was for The Seat.

This morning it's 8:04, we have to be at school at 8:07. I am dropping the baby into her car seat as they scream at each other about whose turn it is. I adopt my schoolteacher -let's-be-fair voice that even I hate. Emma wins the seat because apparently Nathan had it twice in a row yesterday. An unprecedented coup by any judge.

We drive the one block to school as I tell them how terrible children grow up to be terrible adults, shunned by Good People and left alone to torture animals who are too helpless to get away. They seemed interested in this gleaming, future life. The one where they get to make all the choices.

At school the Seat is forgotten in lieu of tumbling out of the giant car and tumbling toward class. It's picture day.

"Mom, can I go?" Says Nathan, his hair tumbled blonde ice cream. Emma looks hopefully at me.

"Okay." I watch them run across the street, suddenly best friends, heading toward the school. I heft the baby up, the baby who is too young to know about the Seat and will soon enough be running after them and away from me.

We amble to catch up with the kids, with the fighting leaking out of my ears and leaving a trail of stress behind me. It's only EIGHT O SEVEN.

On to the next disaster.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007