April 9, 2011

Lions and Memories

Where I come from, there is a sort of divide. There are those seemingly more sophisticated folks who live in a more complex, greener, loftier lifestyle in downtownier Portland, Oregon, and then there are those of us who live around the edges of the living, breathing city—in the suburbs. Oh, we live and breath, too, we just do it in a different manner.

Portland is at least a few, if not several miles from any of the smaller towns, easily travelled to by way of a series of winding, smaller suburban side roads to greater, wider thoroughfares, all leading to and past the city. Everyone from the northerly or easterly side of Portland must also traverse a bridge or two, lending further to a feeling of intricacy in the journey.

Coming into downtown feels almost like entering another culture. The shops are different. In leaving the suburbs, the big box stores like Michael’s or Home Depot drift away behind you, as do so many easily accessed McDonald’s and Starbucks. Instead of widely spaced business with big parking lots, you increasingly encounter more tightly compacted businesses with difficult parking conditions for people with minivans and SUVs.

There are restaurants lining the narrower streets that have singular names like “Zed’s Ethiopian Cuisine” or “Abu Careem”—you get a sense that without an insider’s knowledge, you would definitely be taking a risk in eating at any of them. You suddenly wish you knew someone who was in the know.

The tension seems to be rising—is it your surroundings, or is it you? It’s excitement and nerves all at once: an alien going into a native people’s territory.

These have been my feelings since childhood, and I was experiencing them again a few months ago when my daughter, Jo, and I headed into Portland on a drizzly day. Jo, who has been living in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area for three years, felt completely at home where we were going.

These had become her people, her culture. She had become a grown young woman with a small, urban apartment who was growing her own herbs on her quaint sunny windowsill to make glycerin hand soaps and lotions. I was still living in a sprawling neighborhood with a house and a yard and just trying to remember to put the trash out each week on time.

We crossed the I-5 bridge from Vancouver into Oregon, with it’s towering, green arches where birds like to sit. The city of Portland decided recently to protect the mint-colored paint from their poop by sounding off a loud noise every minute or so.

The noise was like a simulated shot from a gun and was intended to cause perched birds to light and approaching ones to change directions. As a driver going the speed limit, you would be over the bridge in time to have only heard it about one time or so. Today there was slow traffic and the nerve-jangling sound went off about 5 times, making me jump with each “shot.” Jo laughed at me as I tried to joke at each one—each time less effectively.

Amy Rose was with us today, too. She was already late for her nap and the traffic was delaying it further, but I was willing to risk it to get to a new yarn shop. I was beginning to worry how she would behave as the minutes were passing—she had not been so good in other yarn shops.

Amy Rose had lots of energy and loved to expend it in new places in the view of strangers. She loved yarn shops, too, and would walk in, instantly mesmerized by the amazing circles and lines of colors coming from the tall, tall shelves. She loved to sprint for them and, once she reached her destination, begin rapidly tearing hank after hank of yarn from their homes in the walls, feeling the new textures and warmth on her smooth, tender little fingers.

I had learned to deal with this. It had become an Olympic event—chasing Amy. Today I was wearing sneakers and sweats. I could cut and run quickly when I needed to, dive if I must, to save the fibers from certain slobbery doom. I had my smaller jog stroller with me, too, and I planned to start with Amy in that.

Leaving the flapping wings and gunshot sounds of the bridge, we were on the home stretch. Shopping malls gave way to quaint Portland streets with hip, brightly decorated tiny shops, squeezed in like colorful little facets of a fan as though they could open up at any moment, breaking their illusion and becoming large and wide. Such is the imagining of one not used to the close quarters.  No, they stayed as they were, wind socks flying, artful paintings on the glass storefronts.

I was driving my Expedition—a big green SUV, of course, to carry my non-zero-population family of 8. As I drove down the narrowing streets, I felt like an adult in a preschool who was trying to navigate a little classroom with tiny chairs and toddlers with size 12 shoes.

Around me were Smart cars and bicycles, cars parked in front of every store, leaving only 2 lanes on the road where there might have been four. I had to stay dangerously close the center line to avoid car doors and increasingly larger numbers of pedestrians with my green giant. People on bicycles were staring at me—was it my vehicle or my granny driving?

I was relieved when we reached our destination. We parked about 8 blocks away (I was hoping that at that distance, no one who saw me get out of my truck would recognize me in the store) and made our way back—in the Oregon rain, of course—to the lovely yarn shop.

The glass storefront had three windows and was wider than many of the other stores around it. On the right were displays of knitted and crocheted things, matching yarn and patterns for sale. On the left, it looked like there was a sitting area. We opened the door, the bell sounding as if to signal the entrance of the two women with big purses and a stroller—one in cute, young, “grungy” clothes, one in Kohl’s athletic originals.

The store was lovely. It was deep, with thousands of hanks of yarn lining the wall and shelves that were also standing in rows on the interior of the store. The ceiling was open, showing tastefully painted ductwork. Displays hung high and low, new yarns, knitted into large and small samples as appropriate for the space. There were open class areas in the back with empty tables on painted cement floors. It felt like we were the only ones in there—had word gotten around about Amy Rose? Did everyone clear out?

As we turned around and headed from the back of the store, now meandering toward the front, we saw a few people. There were two ladies at the checkout counter, situated in the center of the store, and one person now sitting at the front of the store in the little sitting area. It looked like he or she was quietly knitting. I could see the silhouette of two needles. The light from outside was just enough to obscure the figure from where we stood.

One of the women at the counter greeted us pleasantly and asked us if we needed help. Jo asked where the sock yarn was. The three of us plus Amy Rose, who had been quiet so far, headed over to soft triangular towers of yarn in square birch bins. We visited for a bit, found out the woman helping us had a toddler, too, and made that magical knitting connection with her. My comfort level rose as Amy behaved and this very friendly gal made us feel so welcome. Please Amy! Hold out, I thought.

Jo selected some very nice silky sock yarn for a gift project she was working on, and we visited a little more with the lady from the store. I knew the Amy time bomb was ticking, but we were having such a great time.

As we finally neared the front of the store, we could make out the sitting area. There was a very slight young man sitting there, about 20 years old, dark haired and bearded as young men are so often these days. He was seated on one of two futons that surrounded a kidney shaped table with three legs—the kind your mother had. Or you have now if you are of a hip and certain age and live in a loft.

The young man looked up at us. He had a quiet expression and a peculiarly soft way of handling his needles—like he might break them at any moment if he were not careful. I wondered if he might be one of those people who shakes your hand with limp fingers. He smiled, “Hello.”

“Hello,” we said, almost together, in return.

The vignette looked so inviting: a peaceful retreat in a lovely yarn shop. Jo said, “Mom, let’s sit down for a minute. I need to organize my stuff.” Jo had been “organizing her stuff” since the day she was born. Jo is a free, artsy spirit and has any number of projects, pencils, hair ties, food, Seattl-y news publications, dance schedules for school, knitting needles…all thrown into one, giant, straining, one-of-a-kind, handmade, glossy satin-with-stitches catchall. We sat down.

Amy still sat in her stroller. She eyeballed this new person across from us.

I pulled out her large, pink and brown diaper bag filled with any number of wipes, diapers, Cheerios, toys, clothes, or dirty clothes that I never remembered to remove from the bag. I set my own giant, leather catchall with feet next to the diaper bag on the floor. My bag was really a knitting bag. It had feet and lots of compartments. It was from Target. I keep it filled it with two or three projects, wallet, calendar, you get the idea. I supposed I was no better than Jo. We looked like bag ladies with our stuff now taking over the little sitting area.

I gave Amy some Cheerios in a snack cup, hoping to buy five minutes or even 10 of knitting time.

The young man continued knitting, now and then tilting his head to the right or left, not concentrating, really, but regarding his own work. He looked up, then right back down.

“I’m learning to knit.” He hardly paused. “I’m trying to learn all I can in this life.”


“I have a good friend who taught me how to sew last year, and I have been making my own clothes. I made a vest and a walking cloak. I prefer 18th century men’s clothing. No one wears that kind of thing, but I like it. I like to wear my styles with a felted hat.”

Jo’s interest was peaked. She loved people like this—free spirits like herself. “That’s really cool,” she said, listening for more.

“Yeah,” he continued, “I want to sew and knit and weave, too. I want to make my own cloth and cut out my own designs. I have a friend who is teaching me how to grow my own food, too. I want to be able to sustain myself with natural, healthy resources. My friends and I work a lot on it.”

This guy had a lot of nameless friends.

“My name is Lion by the way.” At least that’s how I heard it. I hadn’t said much yet, eyeballing Amy and trying to work a pair of socks.

He suddenly had my complete attention. I spoke, “Lion?”
“No,” the young knitter-gardener-sewer-sustainer said gently, “Lion.”

I was not getting it. My hearing may not be the greatest. Maybe he was pronouncing the name, Liam with a long letter “i.” I tried again: “Liom?”

Still very patient, he repeated “Lion.” That’s what I heard, at least. No way.

He said, “Here’s my card,” as if to clear up the situation.

I took the white, bent-cornered card from his pale, soft hand. The font was some sort of very fancy, ancient looking scroll, but I could finally read it. I sighed, relieved, focusing my eyes:

Layenne Mayne
Spritual Advisor
Writer and Naturalist

Was this turning into a Harry Potter Story? There was an email address and cell phone.

As I was looking for the word, "Wizard," in the fine print, Layenne said, “I give lectures a few doors down from here at the new age bookstore. About the paths we are all on from my perspective. I come here to get away.” He gesture to the sitting area.

I had still been trying to understand the name on this business card—my trance about the rest was broken. “Oh?” I tried to appear unruffled. What could he mean? This very young guy was passing out advice about enlightenment?

“Yes. I have written several books. I have an unusual perspective on religion. My mother is a catholicunitarianliberalist.” He softly, casually slurred all the words together, as if the more casually he said this, the more universal the idea would become.

“Huh.” I was intrigued. I think my mouth was hanging open. Did I hear Tingstad and Rumbel playing in the atmosphere? You don’t meet such interesting people every day and he certainly didn’t mind talking to us. He continued, unbroken, not reading even my daughter’s altered expression. She looked as puzzled as I felt.

“My father was a baptisthumanist. I have a publishing firm in my mother’s basement. I usually do my readings from my own books. You should check out my blog—my speaking engagement schedule is on it. The address is there on the card.”

What to say to any of that? Couldn’t we go back to the origins of Lion’s Mane? I mean, name? That would have been a good beginning.

I hadn’t realized this whole time that Amy had been, one by one, dropping Cheerios onto the cement floor—a sure cruncher for any passing shoes. By the time I noticed, there was a veritable Hansel and Gretel trail on the floor, some of it rolling swiftly away to unknown corners of the store.

I had to get out of there, fast. Things would certainly unravel. The clock was striking midnight in this fairy tale.

Then an odor came from Amy’s direction. I scrambled for a diaper. I wasn’t supposed to be out so long! She had on a cloth diaper and I didn’t bring something to wrap it in to bring it home for washing. I threw most of the contents of the bag onto the floor….

Layenne was continuing, unfettered, “…my friend, Memorie, and I believe that all people should know how to do so much more. If we all worked together…”

There was a friend with a name. I picked up a noisy rattle, clattering on the floor, trying not to draw attention to my panic. I found a disposable diaper, still no bag for the cloth one.

I wrestled Amy out of the stroller, which seemed to now have about 15 clips to undo. Very safe for the baby and very unsafe for those around me when there might be poop. She was screaming as I carried her around the store to find a bathroom. She wanted to get down and work her Amy Rose magic on those beautiful shelves where only adults may roam.

The nice lady from the counter found us—really hard to do—and pointed us to the bathroom. “I have a two-year-old.” She smiled sweetly, “I know how it is.”

She had stocked the bathroom with a changing table, a diaper Genie, lots of paper towels, hand sanitizer and soap. The heavens had parted. For a moment.

Amy was kicking now and continued to kick in the direction of my face on the table. Her screams to get down were echoing off the walls of the white bathroom. Surely people from outside were dialing 9-1-1.

Amy Rose got poop on her kicking legs, under my nails as I tried to calm her, did some get on the wall? I struggled with her to the sink, trying to wash her legs off after finally getting the bulk of the mess off her bottom. I dried them and rubbed hand sanitizer all over the baby to take care of the rest of the smell. In desperation, I threw the cloth diaper into the Genie.

I carried the still kicking baby under my wrinkly, semi-still-rolled up right cotton sleeve. My curly hair, frizzy from the rain walk was standing up where tiny fists had tugged it.

I could hear Layenne still talking to Jo, “…that’s why we all should look deeply inside ourselves…”

Jo, was still trying to decide if this was for real or not—was she ready to go? Please, God, let her be ready to go!

I didn’t give her an opportunity to choose. Now I was really embarrassed.

I hurriedly picked up all my stuff. Why did I get it all out? I stuck two DPN’s in my hair—it would have held an entire pack of Crayolas at this point—and gathered my yarn.

I had Jo carry the stroller out, I had baby and two bags.

The sweet women from the yarn shop called out a sympathetic good bye—I looked at them, I hope, as if to say, “I hope to come back soon!”

Layenne called out, “Nice meeting you.” I could see him settle down to his knitting again. Unaffected.

I envied him for a moment. Layenne Mayne. Young, idealistic, hopeful. Sweet, imaginative. Possible wizard. Then I thought, we need people like Layenne in the world.

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