Friday, January 28, 2011


If anyone needed proof that people grow to look like their animals, the woman and her pomeranian were almost certainly it.

She wore white shoes, black leggings and a padded out zebra print coat. The dog was similarly piebald. Both woman and pooch had big hair. The dogs' fur looked as if it had just been blow-dried. It floated around it's tiny body in a fuzzy halo of static electricity. Wisps broke free and drifted away on the breeze. The woman's thatch was teased and held in place by at least one large can of Elnett. It had hardened into an unusual style.  Not quite a beehive, not quite helmet. Circa 1960 I would say. Both the woman and the dog wore red bows.

As I walked towards her with Archie, my golden retriever, the woman scooped her dog up into her arms. It was as if she feared that the lolling tongued, floppy eared, marshmallow bouncing along at my side was about to launch an attack.

As I drew level I nodded and offered her "Good morning". Both dog and woman stared at me with their matching, shiny dark eyes. She looked suspicious, the dog looked apologetic.

"I don't want your dog to hurt her." She said pulling the fluff ball closer.

"He won't, but do what you think's best."

"There are a lot of bad dogs out there. People don't think about small dogs when they get a dog like that."

She pointed at Archie. He looked a little confused.

"Well he's fine, really. But you know. Whatever."

"Just keep him away. O.K?"

Archie sniffed and looked up at the puffed up bitch with the bow.

I followed his gaze and it dawned on me. The owner and dog were not the same at all.

The dog was sane.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Lady in the Purple Crocs

Portland Nursery - SE Stark Street-  Portland.

 I noticed immediately. She was wearing a shapeless navy blue sweatshirt, pilling at the elbows and fraying round the hem. Lilac velour trousers, baggy at the knees and an inch or so too short. And her hair, the colour and texture of used wire-wool, poked randomly from beneath a wide brimmed hat. It wasn't raining and the sun was barely out, so the hat must have been a necessary part of her gardening uniform. As were her purple Crocs.

I followed her in through the gates.  She shouted and waved 'good morning' to everyone she passed. I thought she might be a worker arriving for her shift, but judging by the number of employees who checked over their shoulders to see if she was actually talking to them, I realized she was not. She raised her arms to touch the low hanging branch of a tree and as she did so,  I noticed something, possibly egg yolk, smeared all over her sleeve.

The nursery is quite bare so early in the season. Apart from a few trays of pansies and a pallet of hellebores, most of the plants on display were evergreen trees and deciduous shrubs. I was there to check out details of classes and other up coming events, and to kill a bit of time before meeting friends for lunch.

 But instead of heading straight to the information desk, I trailed after The Lady in the Purple Crocs. I was looking for my next blog victim, it's true, but there was something about her that would have fascinated me at any time. I suspected she was about to do something out of the ordinary, and she didn't disappoint.

The Lady in the Purple Crocs made her way along the rows of plants. Every so often she chose one, reached out a hand and clasped a twig or stem. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths. She to muttered to herself and I thought she might be praying. After a couple of moments she would open her eyes, brush her hands over the foliage, and move on to the next.

I followed her and watched as she repeated the ritual another five or six more times. I held my phone, ready to look down and pretend to send a text if I  thought she had noticed me watching.

She stopped next to a fountain and dipped her hands into the pool. She turned positioned them palms upwards so that the falling water bounced across her wrists. Her sleeves were wet and I wondered if she was trying to wash the egg away. But her eyes were tightly closed and she had lifted her face towards the clouds.

We rounded a corner and I turned my head. The scent of a yuletide camellia had captured my attention.  A heady, sweet, aroma, impossible to resist.
I abandoned my prey and changed course.

I reached out and fingered a bloom.  The defiant red petals were firm and waxy to the touch and stood out proud against the leaves of emerald green. Humming birds love them and so should the rest of us. They challenge winter and boldly announce spring. And then of course there is the smell. I leant forward and  inhaled.

 I was wearing large, silver hooped earrings. Not typical nursery or gardening attire it is true, but as I mentioned before, I was heading out to lunch. One of the earrings snagged around a flower. I pulled away but couldn't free myself. I tried again but seemed to make things worse.

I don't think it's just because I'm English that I'm uncomfortable when a  stranger play with my hair. But there she was. The Lady in the Purple Crocs. Leaning over my shoulder and pulling the strands free. When my hair was out of the way she unclipped my earring. I stood upright and she handed it back to me.

"They smell delicious don't they?" she reached out and touched  the tree.
"Yes, they do." I nodded and agreed.
We paused for a minute. She watched me thread my earring back through the tiny pierced hole. She touched my hair again. I didn't mind this time.
"Lovely" She said. "So soft." With the best will in the world I couldn't think of anything nice to say about hers. So I just smiled and thanked her for the compliment.

"I'm three years cancer free." she told me. Suddenly. Out of nowhere. "I come here every spring. Well actually I come here all year round, but especially during the spring. I love to see all the signs of life returning. I swear I can feel it in my blood."

I nodded, because I knew just what she meant. She squeezed my hand.

"Have a nice day" she said. And went back to holding and stroking and savoring life.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

New Dad

Ken's Artisan Bakery. NW 21st Ave. I'm waiting for a friend.

A few feet away a couple have commandeered a table. The  man stands with his back to me. One of his arms is hidden in front of his body. With the other he pulls chairs into a formation of his choosing and pushes a neighboring table closer to the wall. He signals to the woman. She wheels a buggy into the space he has prepared then joins the line that snakes between the counter and the door.

The man turns and sits and I see that in the crook of his arm he is cradling a baby. It is a tiny little thing, still curled around itself. So new to the world it hasn't yet realized that it now has room to stretch and grow.

The man looks down at the baby, pulls off its' miniature hat and kisses the wrinkly bald head beneath. He jogs the baby up and down although it is fast asleep and in no immediate need of comfort. He touches it's cheek with a finger, lifts and rubs its floppy feet.

When the woman returns to the table, she sniffs the air above the baby's bottom and stretches out her arms. The man leans back and twists to the side. I can read his lips. "I'll go" he says and reaches for the stripy cotton bag.

As he passes me I smile.
"How old?" I ask.
"A week". He beams.
"Ah". I say and nod. "Gorgeous".

While New Dad and Baby are gone, the woman's order is called. As she collects mugs from the counter, she is joined by friends; a second couple. They hug Mother, marvel at her impossibly slim post- pregnancy body then look towards the restroom doors waiting for New Dad and Baby to appear.

When New Dad comes back, he is hugged and Baby is admired. A gift bag,  pale yellow and brimming with white tissue paper, changes hands. New Dad talks and smiles. He pushes his glasses further up his nose. Second Man asks him a question. New Dad nods and lifts the baby for another kiss.

 You can tell by the way she flutters her hands and takes the baby's fingers between two of her own that Second Woman is itching to have a hold. But New Dad hangs on tight.

The others drink their drinks and talk at a hundred miles an hour. New Dad gazes down at the bundle in his arms. Once or twice someone addresses a comment to him and New Dad is forced to rise out of his euphoric state and reenter the world. But he soon loses focus and returns his attention to his seven day old marvel.

Eventually someone points out that New Dad hasn't taken even just one sip of his coffee. It is only the need for caffeine combined with the fear of scalding Baby  that can persuade him to hand the infant over. Three pairs of hands are offered up. Second Woman, wins the prize.

 New Dad sits back. Some of the shine has gone from his cheeks and eyes. His shoulders sink and he rubs the back of his neck. Second Woman is oohing and ahhing. Mother looks proud. Second Man is getting bored. He turns to New Dad, but New Dad is staring out of the window. He looks much older without the baby in his arms. With one hand he lifts his heavy rimmed glasses. With the other he rubs his tired eyes.