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The bird woman

I found myself in grubby clothing and flip flops on a sweltering July day mucking out exotic bird cages while said exotic birds fuffled and fretted around me. A messy business, birds. Especially the ones at this place, which is a story in and of itself. I was mucking out cages so someone else could stay the night for free and so we could use the temple space for a rehearsal. They’d asked for strong bodies and wanted to know which ones of us weren’t afraid of animals, birds, or reptiles, and I’d volunteered. I finished my water and followed the woman in charge of the birds to a tool shed to gather gloves, paper towels, a rake, a broom, and we headed to the first of the enclosures.

The woman who gave me direction had faded tattoos and old, worn-in boots. She couldn’t have been more than 35 and was probably under 30 but she had the attitude and the bearing of a person who had lived decades longer. I went into her trailer while she looked for some of the supplies we needed to clean the bird cages, and the skinny shorthaired black cat claimed me as his own as she searched fruitlessly for whatever it was she sought. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail and she had biceps like mine, which is to say she obviously had seen some hard work in her time. She wasn’t especially talkative, other than to give me specific instructions about what to do in certain cages and what not to do in others. The peacocks needed their mirror cleaned, and they found me alarming but not as alarming as some of the desert pheasants did. I was to collect the nicer feathers, pull down the wired-on dead branches from the sides of cages, clean the food bowls, clean the water bowls, rake the stuff in the bottoms of the cages, and clean off any area especially befouled with droppings; a perch, a ground nest.

The finches fluttered helplessly around my head, and one of the guinea hens got out the door while I was trying to refill the water dish. I found one egg in a pheasant cage, and the remains of several others. It was hot, dirty, disgusting work and I was closer to the birds than I’d been to any birds possibly ever. The birds were used to her, she said, but not to me, and they looked at me in wide-eyed terror when I’d enter their enclosures and disrupt the familiar, lived-in foulness of a week’s messied cage. The feathers were white, or red, or green, or blue, or brown, or striped, or with small iridescent patches, and I found at least a few pretty ones in each cage. Some of the best I stuck in the hat I’d borrowed from Alice, having forgotten mine at home because I’d had so many errands to run that morning before arriving at the location.

She slowly warmed up to me, during those hours of dusty smelly work, those hours of modern dinosaurs looking for all the world like they’d prefer I just go away and have you seen the beaks and clawed toes on those things? The gorgeous white male peacocks across the grounds screamed their bloody murderous scream, and the smaller birds in each pen I mucked out looked as though they’d do the same given the chance to own a different set of pipes. She told me a bit about how she came to live there, and how she’d been married but was now divorced, and how she had a child but she didn’t see him very often. It’s called an oasis, this place, and many people seek it as a place of refuge. I don’t know why she needed to retreat from the world or why the birds responded so well to her. Perhaps it was because she had the same natural distrust as they had, kindred spirits in the scary and arbitrary environment of the modern world.

We could see some of the cats as we came around the back side of the enclosure area. Servals and ocelots and African wild cats, many aging, many with lifelong partners, one who liked mint and some who would hiss at you if you even thought in their direction. As we worked in mostly comfortable silence, I thought about how it might feel to be a bird who could smell those natural predators nearby all day long every day, but not see them, and wondered if it was the same way a really paranoid person feels.

After four hours of hauling dead branches and hosing off muck and raking the floors and sweeping the steps and misting everything in each enclosure, I was desperately hungry and needed to get away from the strong bird smells for a minute. I made my way to the kitchen, wolfed down the leftovers I’d brought for lunch, and sat in the hot room gulping my lukewarm water. When I got back, she’d finished the last of the cages and told me I’d worked hard, thanked me for volunteering, and directed me to where I could clean up. I found my friends who were finishing up their task of shoveling and spreading landscaping rocks in full sun, and felt grateful for my stinky bird cage task. At least I’d mostly been in shade and around water for those four hours. My feet felt grimy and alkaline, like the dust at burning man if it gets on your wet skin, and my head was sweaty, and I was covered in bird detritus, but it was a job well done.

Later that night, she came to see our rehearsal, along with most of the others who lived or stayed there, and she was a different person – in a skirt and Chuck Taylors, with her hair down and brushed, and some lipstick on. She was laughing and flirting and I almost didn’t recognize the no-nonsense taciturn woman I’d spent the day assisting. I was glad she had an outlet, glad she could relax and enjoy the evening we’d put on for the people at the center. Glad to see her in a different environment, laughing and pretty, and not so suspicious and jaded like the other birds in their cages.


The Insider

My bridesmaid bouquet, the day after

Sometimes, I think it’s easier to tell a story when one isn’t directly involved in the events that unfolded. Then again, sometimes it’s easier to tell a story when it’s specifically your story to tell. When it comes to Leah and Simon‘s wedding, I’m somewhere in between those two poles, as obviously I wasn’t one of the people getting married, but at the same time I was a big part of the process from start to finish.

We were getting ready to leave for California the day Meg at A Practical Wedding wrote this post. I was taking a break from packing to look at the internet, and as soon as I read that post I knew exactly who Meg was talking about. I knew Leah had been to the Mighty Summit, and I knew there could not possibly be another person there who fit the description. I sent Meg an email, and she confirmed it, and I got all excited about it. When we got to California, I wrote a long email to Meg as a potential submission to her site, all about Leah and Simon and everything they had done for us for our wedding (and my sister’s!) and why they deserved an awesome wedding themselves, but then she never posted it. 😦 She did post this, though, so when we saw Leah and Simon that week for an event in San Francisco we got all chatty about wedding stuff. I immediately offered to do the flowers for the wedding, in addition to anything else they might need help with, but at that point details were still pretty nebulous as they needed a date and a venue before they could do too much more planning.

Weeks went by, and turned into months. I started helping Leah and Simon look for a venue, as other connections didn’t seem to be panning out for them. After the date of the Royal wedding was announced, Simon’s UK family let him know they could only come out for a visit during that time, and so the general dates started to be set. They came up here to look at a potential venue in January, but ultimately decided to go with a place in Berkeley (the same choice I would have made, if it had been my event.) Their details started to come together, and I looked forward to hearing more specifics about what they wanted for flower types and colors, and any other details they wanted to share.

* * * * * * * *

After getting some idea of the direction L&S wanted to go with their flowers, I started brainstorming. Yellow, white, structured, lemons, chili peppers. Whiskey bottles, mason jars, baby food jars. Red and white baker’s twine. Daisies, dahlias, nothing fluffy or fussy. I’m going to write a big long post about it on my Green Snapdragon blog (with photos, of course!), so I won’t get too into it here. But I will say that my experiments involved fishing line and weights, and getting sawdust in my bra, and scrambling up a hillside covered in poison oak while wearing flip flops.

* * * * * * * *

In March, Leah asked me to stand up with her at the wedding. On her blog! I was super surprised! It felt like a birthday present, because she posted it the day after my birthday. I borrowed two dresses from my sister, found pretty red shoes, and decided on which dress to wear. Details started to come together more, and I planned a bachelorette party, and I spent time with Leah and Wombat at their house while Dan attended Simon’s bachelor party. We looked at photos of flowers and talked about all things wedding and it felt really nice to have a just us girls time once Wombat went to bed. (I read him two stories, and we laughed, and he gave me lots of hugs.) A few days later, I got a long email about flower specifics, and plans began to solidify. I did one last experiment (again, with the fishing line, but for a different project) and knew exactly what I’d be doing once I got all the various jars and vases and baskets and containers from Leah and Simon during flower prep time.

* * * * * * * *

On Thursday, we packed everything we’d need to be gone for several days, and I sent my friend Karen a note on FB reiterating details we’d talked about when she and her husband came for dinner on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, the instructions were more specific than we were expecting, because (another blog post, another story) we’ve currently got a stray nursing mama cat in our garage that Feline Rescue asked if we’d feed until the babies are big enough to be weaned and mama can be caught and fixed. I went around the yard and picked flowers to leave for my sister’s roommate (my sister left for Ireland, and we were staying in their place until the roommate came home) and also picked a ton of little white flowers blooming on a weed, because I knew they’d fit in with everything else I was going to be doing for the wedding and hey, it was one less thing I’d have to buy. We drove south, leaving a bit later than we’d planned, and headed straight for West Oakland BART. Because oh yeah, we were going to a concert for Dan’s (early) birthday! (Also, another blog post.)

After the concert, we picked up the key to my sister’s house from my other sister and settled in at Laurel’s house.

Friday morning, we drove to San Francisco and I wandered the San Francisco Flower Mart, comparing prices and yelling random things to Dan while he struggled to understand and write everything down on a clipboard. Unlike my last sojourn to the Mart, when I just started buying randomly, this time I made myself look at all of my options before I began to buy. Leah had Very Specific ideas about flower types and colors and I wanted to make sure I could get enough of everything I needed while still fitting into her parameters. The problem with lacking a badge (which I can’t get until I get my business license) is that you have to go after 10 AM, when most of the sellers have closed up, and the longer you stay, the more of them begin to close. So I really was working under a time constraint. Luckily, I managed to find almost everything I needed. We left the city and drove to Berkeley, where I bought chili peppers (and we got a $43 parking ticket!!! because we didn’t see the parking kiosk half a block down the street), and we used the crappy $tarbucks internet to get directions to the Oakland Flower Mart. We went to Michaels where I found ribbon and got the glue gun and some other stuff I needed, and we went to Home Depot because I felt like Michaels was asking too much for Plaster of Paris. (More on that in my Green Snapdragon post.) I got the last few things I needed at the Oakland Flower Mart, and we drove, car full of flowers and craft supplies, to my sister’s house. I immediately started in on my first project, pomanders, and ran out of yellow button mums far sooner than I expected to. So we went to Trader Joe’s and I got more. After the pomanders were finished, I made garlands for the manzanita branch while we watched Fringe and then The Hangover (which wasn’t nearly as funny as people had led me to believe). Then we went to bed. I was really tired.

Saturday, I was awake before 8AM because I knew there was a lot to do. We repacked and cleaned and organized and I consolidated all the flowers down into two very full buckets and we managed to get everything (all our luggage, pillows, sleeping bags, flowers, huge manzanita branch, etc.) including the two of us into the car, and we drove to Brian’s house, who had generously offered to let me use his kitchen to work the rest of my flower magic. He and his roommates all did stuff around me while I made two identical bridal bouquets, a bridesmaid bouquet, a break-apart toss bouquet, and made boutonnieres for Simon and Wombat so they’d have them for the special photo shoot on Saturday afternoon. Then, piece by piece, I did everything else. I worked from about 11 to 6:30 with maybe around 15 minutes of break in there. I shooed away curious kittens and I drank some mead and I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Dan made me once he came back from buying shoes in San Francisco. I was particularly pleased with how the large arrangements turned out – one with wired lemons in the arrangement and floating chili peppers, the other with wired chili peppers and floating sliced lemons. I set aside flowers for decorating the cake and for the other personal flowers (boutonnieres and corsages for family and the officiant), hoping that someone would notice the theme I had decided to use. I tied bits of red and white twine along with basic brown twine around mason jars, added water to the bourbon bottles, and packaged everything up for transport. We changed and left for the rehearsal dinner, and spent a couple of hours visiting with Leah and Simon’s out-of-town friends and family, hugging Heather B., eating pizza, meeting Leah’s boss (also their officiant), and getting last minute instructions for Sunday’s events. When we got back to Brian’s, I finished everything but the last few corsages and bouts, cleaned up the majority of my mess, and went to bed.

Taken by Brian in his kitchen

Sunday I woke up at 7 AM, and went in the cold kitchen to finish the last bits of everything. I put the personal flowers in the refrigerator, ironed my dress, washed out a filthy old compost tub in which to transport the two large arrangements, and we packed the car. I wasn’t sure whether or not we’d need to borrow Brian’s car, but with all of our luggage in the house, we managed to fit everything in – with me in the back seat, holding a bucket of flowers, bouquets in pickle jars on the seat next to me, my leg over the manzanita branch. Luckily, it wasn’t a far drive to the venue. We got there a few minutes early and unloaded the car as soon as the doors were unlocked. Dan left to get ice and cat litter (again, more on that in the Green Snapdragon post) and food, since I hadn’t yet eaten anything. I stayed to help unload linens and glassware and living room furniture and pvc posts in concrete and cases of beer and everything else that people hauled in cars and trucks and a giant van. Sara and Ron came, Sara with her hair done up in curlers and bright red toes. It felt like an army of people had all come to help set up. We unstacked and moved chairs, unfolded tables, rearranged the room, covered everything in linens, and people began setting up the decorations while I got to to work on the flowers. I wasn’t sure until we got there where everything would go or how I’d arrange it all because I’d never seen the space, but I settled on something I liked that involved multiples of each thing in the center of the table, over a runner and a snar we’d brought, leftover from our wedding 3 years ago. Flowers went into bourbon bottles. Flowers and pomanders went on the kids’ table. Dan helped with my manzanita branch project, pouring the cat litter into the large heavy urn while I held the branch in place, and together we moved it to the drinks table. I set everything up with lemons, and I tied the mum garlands to the branches, and it all came together exactly the way I had it in my head. I ate a donut and an odwalla bar before I went beyond the Point of No Return Unfed MLE.

We were told that the army of people helping would only have an hour to completely transform the space, but they let us work for an hour and a half. When we finished, it looked amazing. I gave myself a mental high-five, and we left to meet Brian for lunch at an Ethiopian place in Oakland (my treat) as a thanks for letting me take over his kitchen for a day and a half. We were both still pretty stressed; neither of us had showered in the morning because Brian was asleep and we didn’t know if there were clean towels, and Dan had to sew some buttons on his pants to be able to wear suspenders, and I still had to do hair and makeup and at the very least look presentable because I was standing up in the wedding. Lunch finished, we rushed back to the house, took showers, got ready, and were back at the venue at 3:30 PM exactly, me to assemble and decorate the cake, Dan to take photos of the flowers that he hadn’t managed to get during setup because both of our cameras were having battery issues.

When we got to the venue, Kristin and Scott were there with the cake, and we set it up. Serendipitously, I had exactly enough ribbon leftover from bouquets to decorate the layers, and I used the last of the flowers to make it look pretty. People began to arrive right away, and everyone looked so pretty. Amber was in green, and Holly was in yellow, and Heather B was wearing this awesome corsage. Will and Nina came in and I squee’d a little in my head and we introduced ourselves and I gave them hugs, and Will and Dan bonded over their bow ties. I met Meg and David, and Carla, and hugged our friend Dan (the Irish German! for those who have been reading this blog forever) and Jackie when they came in. Sara was the prettiest girl in the room (until Leah walked in in her dress, of course) because she MADE HER DRESS AND IT WAS TOTALLY FABULOUS AND AMAZING. Like, I desperately wish I’d gotten a photo of it because I cannot even describe how awesome it was.

* * * * * *
I had my baggie of personal flowers and I sought out the grandmothers and the moms, the dad and the groom and the best man and the officiant. And the wombat. And I pinned a posy to each breast, my own little stamp of approval on the festivities. One of the things I like best about doing flowers for a wedding is the opportunity to make personal flowers. Everyone in Leah’s family got daisies, her mom with white and yellow like Leah’s bouquet, with a butter-colored freesia, her dad’s boutonniere tied with red and white string. The groom and groomsman got craspedia (and wire fiddleheads, and brown twine). Simon’s mom got yellow mums and freesias. And Wombat got craspedia, a white/yellow button mum, two tiny daisy-like feverfew, and a red and white twine wrapping – a perfect blending of both the families.

* * * * * *

This is when I discuss the thing about worlds colliding. At this wedding of Leah and Simon were two of my friends from high school who knew Leah and Simon through us, having become friends because of everyone attending parties or events we’ve had (Sara and the Irish German and their respective partners). At this wedding was my college boyfriend’s ex girlfriend (the one he dated for nearly 10 years after he dated me), who is now in a band with Simon because they met at a party we had at the Irish German’s house a year ago last Christmas (my ex was the Irish German’s roommate for a while) and talked music. At this wedding were bloggers I’ve read (stalked) for years, and it was pretty much blowing my mind how so many of my worlds were all coming together at the same time. I wasn’t even this mindblown at our own wedding, because I knew exactly who was coming and how they all related to me. But to be in a room and talking to Will and Nina and then 10 feet away was Sara who I’ve known since 10th grade and on the other side of the room was my college boyfriend’s ex, and at the next table was a super high profile wedding blogger – there’s just no way to explain the way I felt. Mostly it made me feel like I wanted the cocktail hour to go on forever and ever, just to get a chance to talk to everyone for longer than a few minutes. So here’s where I thank Leah and Simon for having a wedding and inviting these people because never again in my life will so many of my worlds be colliding at once. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

* * * * * * *

During the ceremony, I stood in my red dress and watched while Leah’s boss said exactly the right words. I held Leah’s bouquet of yellow and white daisies while she said her vows to Simon. I laughed and I cheered and I may have even cried a teeny-tiny bit. The beautiful words everyone said made me feel all squishy and reminiscing about my own wedding, and I looked at Dan standing in the back of the room. Everyone’s faces were full of joy, which is the best part of getting to stand up in a wedding – seeing the faces of the bride and groom’s communities, everyone so happy to be able to witness such a deeply personal and meaningful event. We raised our voices to signify our approval of the union of Leah and Simon, Wombat cheering along with the rest of the guests in the front row.

* * * * * *

We did formal photos, after the ceremony, and I helped wrangle Wombat who wanted nothing more than to be chased halfway down the street and back, over and over again. There were family photos, and Original Wedding Party (ie, their book club) photos, and some with me in them. I hugged my friend and smiled for the camera and wished there was some way I could convey in the photos how happy I was for her and for her husband and for their child, that they’d finally done it, all the years of everything they’d been through culminating in this day of community and family and love. The taco truck pulled up, and after that everything was tacos and burritos and drinking and cheese and dancing and chatting and laughing and flowers everywhere, flowers I made to help transform the space to be THEIR space, if only for a few hours. Little kids were squawking and chasing and bunny ears and tossing the pomanders I’d made. The best man and I gave speeches and toasted the happy couple. I tried my best to be present, to be involved in everything all at once, to talk to everyone I knew and some people I didn’t, while my feet grew more sore (brand new shoes and months without wearing heels). I danced with the groom. I got a couple of tacos and had champagne. I was trying to open a bottle when Leah and Simon cut their cake. I missed the age-old tradition of them feeding one another, but the pop of the cork came at exactly the right time, and people cheered. I managed to only pee once, because wrangling with the spanx and a strapless dress was not the most fun thing I’d ever done.

Slowly, people left. I hugged everyone I knew goodbye, promised to exchange information with some. I held the baby and she chewed on my hand. I danced with my husband one last time, slow, with my head on his chest. And then, Simon put on an apron and the rest of us got to work breaking everything down, taking down decorations, giving away flowers, clearing everything away, stacking chairs, folding tables. Vehicles got loaded. We put all the gifts in our car, and the leftover food that needed refrigeration. We cleaned and we organized and we packed and in such a short time, so fleeting, the room was as it had been when we’d arrived at 11 AM. Simon mopped the floor in his apron, and we left, hugging Sara and Ron goodbye, car full of presents and supplies and leftover cake, and we drove it over to Leah and Simon’s house and unloaded everything and went to bed.

* * * * * *

I felt the same way after Leah and Simon’s wedding that I did after ours and after Lissa and Curtis’s wedding. Maybe it’s just something that comes with being in a wedding (as minimal as my role as stand-up girl really was, which solely consisted of literally standing up for a few minutes, holding a bouquet, posing for photos, and giving a 3 minute speech) AND doing flowers for the wedding. Or maybe it’s that those are the three weddings at which I’ve known the most people and felt pulled in so many different directions. Yesterday, my aching feet just added to the bone-weary fatigue I already felt, the feeling of having had all of my energy drained the day before – my vendor energy and my friend energy and my extrovert energy and my set-up and clean-up energy. I felt like an empty shell, with the added letdown like you get when you’re a kid and it’s the day after Christmas. I’ve been looking forward to Leah and Simon’s wedding day for years, and while I had no idea the role(s) I’d play in it, it was still like Christmas.

So there you have it, for anyone reading this who wasn’t at Leah and Simon’s wedding. It was like Christmas and a birthday and a giant party all rolled up into one. Thank you again, my friends, for letting me be a part of something so personal and special and fun. I hope it was everything the two of you wanted it to be.

Where my slight phobia of manhole covers comes from

I’ve never really written much about our trip to China on this blog (I did on our old travel message board), but the other day Dan and I were talking about the trip and about one event in particular. It’s a pretty good story, so here you go.

I’ve always been a relatively graceful person. I keep my balance pretty easily, I don’t tend to trip over things, and I was always praised in ballet class for just GOING for it and learning how to fall in the process. If you went to school with me (and at least one of you did), you may remember that I once made a habit of ghosting the hallways, walking from class to class with my nose in a book, never looking up yet never tripping, falling, or running into anything. Half the time my shoes weren’t tied, either, so I’m not entirely sure how I managed it. But I did, even during the middle school years when most people were at odds with their growing, oddly-proportioned bodies. I never really had one of those times; most of my height-growing was done in 10th grade and by that time I was old enough to deal with the new inches in my arms and legs.

So I’m not one who’s prone to falls, and when I do fall, it’s usually because I’ve chosen to, and so I can predict my landing (to some extent). This trick has come in handy over the years, as I’m sure I’ve avoided more injuries than I’ve sustained, just by being aware of my body and where it is in time and space.

When Dan and I went to China, we visited three cities: Beijing, Xi’an (where the terra cotta army is), and Luoyang (gateway to the Shaolin monastery). Beijing and Xi’an are enormous cities and people there are used to tourists any time of the year. Luoyang, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as big (it’s only several million people) and the culture is far more old-fashioned in terms of city improvements and transportation habits. In Beijing, most people used bikes, though there were a lot of cars, and the sidewalks were all in good repair. In Xi’an, there were far more cars, and you had to cross the street in a large pack of people to avoid being mowed down. In Luoyang, most motorized vehicles were either mopeds/scooters or small trucks hauling stuff around, and we saw very few cars. Everyone rode bikes. There weren’t many crosswalks, and the sidewalks were in all stages of repair and disrepair. We had to really stare at the ground to avoid things like rebar sticking up, broken sidewalk sticking up, a sudden expanse of dirt below the sidewalk surface, etc. At the time we visited, it was early November, and what few (Western, non-Chinese) tourists the city gets in a given year were long gone. I think in the three days we spent in and around Luoyang, we didn’t see a single non-Chinese person. Anyhow, we found the people to be very friendly (especially children, who when we passed them on the street would giggle or act shy, but half a block after we’d passed we’d hear “Hello!”) and got to see a lot more of what life in China was really like for an everyday person.

One of the things that most Westerners don’t understand about China is the difference in manners. We weren’t as prepared as we could have been for the three S’s: smoking (in all places, in all situations, regardless of whether there were signs prohibiting it or not), spitting (worst in Beijing), and STARING. Because we were the only white people in town, the citizens of Luoyang found it entirely necessary to stare at us at all times. By then we were kind of used to it (and by the end of our trip, when we passed a non-Chinese person on the street we stared ourselves just because it was such a novelty), so it didn’t bother us, and we were so busy watching where we stepped on the sidewalk that we probably didn’t see as much as went on.

Our first day in Luoyang, we took a bus out to the Longmen Grottoes, where thousands of carved buddhas of all shapes and sizes rested in amongst some gorgeous scenery. We bussed back into town after our amazing tour of the area, and were walking back to our hotel (set into the old city wall) along the same sidewalk we’d already trod twice that day. While walking along, talking about something, I took a step, and suddenly my right leg was not where I expected it to be. Rather than on solid ground, I’d stepped on a manhole cover that wasn’t sealed. My leg sunk below the sidewalk, and the heavy cover flipped back and trapped my leg betweeen itself and the side of the manhole.

It hurt. A lot.

It hurt so much, in fact, that I wasn’t sure what had happened at first. Luckily, rather than falling, I was able to balance on my left leg, squatting down, while Dan helped flip the cover open a bit to enable me to pull my leg out. It hurt a lot more. My pants were covered in grime. Some kids who were walking by pointed and laughed at me. I hobbled back to the hotel and we vainly tried to communicate the question of whether ice might be available (it was not) and my leg swelled to ridiculous proportions. The next day, I had a bruise about six inches long and four inches wide on the inside of my right leg, and I realized that the reason it hurt so bad was because the manhole cover had closed on my right shinbone.

It took about four months for the swelling and discoloration on my leg to go back to normal, another year after that for it to stop hurting completely when touched in the area I’d bruised, and I still have a palpable bump on my right shinbone. We have talked many times since about how it was a good thing that I was the one who’d stepped on the open manhole cover, because if Dan had done it he would have broken his leg, and we would have had to try to navigate the process of a Chinese hospital by ourselves in a city with very few people who spoke any English at all. I am grateful for my ability to balance, for my sense of body place, for my lack of shame and humiliation at the spectacle I caused on a messy sidewalk in Luoyang, and that it was me that took that step, rather than Dan. I still have a little twinge of fear whenever I step on a manhole cover, and I’ve mostly avoided them since then, even here in the States where we make sure our manhole covers are secured, dammit.