Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day and dragonflies

In a break from what has become my Washington, D.C. Memorial Day tradition, I stayed in Pittsburgh for the weekend. I attended a Memorial Day event at Soldiers and Sailors Military Museum and Memorial in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, next to the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. I got to spend a little time with my veteran friend Chris Moore (standing, in the left in the photo) and some other local veterans.

After the service for the local casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan, including a reading of a the names--we've had so many casualties in Western Pennsylvania--I drove through Schenley Park and Greenfield to Calvary Cemetery in Hazelwood. I took flowers to my dad's grave site, and I burned incense I bought in Vietnam, the same kind that we burned in the veterans cemetery in Tra Mi district in Quang Nam province.

My friend Samantha was in DC at the time, sending me text messages that the dragonflies were at the ceremony at the Wall. I waited for the dragonflies to show up at the cemetery. They never came.
Then today, after work, while I was standing at my bus stop on Fifth Avenue in Oakland, a dragonfly flew past me, heading towards the hospital.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ladybug at the Wall

My friends Samantha and Darlene are in Washington, DC this Memorial Day weekend. Sam's like me--her dad died in the Vietnam War. But she's also like me in other ways, too, as is Darlene, and I'm really missing hanging out with them this weekend. My grandma's in the hospital, so I felt it was best I stay here.

Sam sent me a picture phone photo from the Wall yesterday:

Monday, May 14, 2007

More on the book signing and Sen. Kerry

In my last post, I said I'd be back to write about the John Kerry/Teresa Heinz Kerry book event on Saturday. It's habit, writing about book events, since that was a part of nearly every writing class I've taken at Pitt.

And this was an event with lots to write about.

Hearing it wasn't always easy, since the sound system wasn't so hot. Sen. Kerry took the cordless microphone and decided to try talking about halfway back from the stage, at the intersection of a wide book aisle. I was on the opposite end of that intersection, and I ended up with a much better seat than I would have if they'd stayed on the stage. I just wish I'd had my camera with me.

The book is about environmental challenges, and I could especially relate to the things Teresa said, about women being exposed to more chemicals, generally, than men--we have more contact with cleaning products and we put more chemicals on our skin (cosmetics, hair care products, face and body care products). Teresa talked about the possible link between those chemicals and the increased incidence of cancer in women.

Sen. Kerry talked about the environment, about how toxic wastes are dumped into rivers, killing fish or at the least rendering them too dangerous for humans to eat. I thought about my trip to Vietnam last year, and the environmental disaster of the Mekong and Perfume rivers. First the defoliants, like Agent Orange, and then the unregulated and heavy use of fertilizers to try to get things to grow there again. Both rivers are reportedly dead. Sen. Kerry also talked about pollution and coal plants, and my mind flashed back to this little town we passed through in northern Vietnam, a coal town where everything was covered in black dust. I remember people on the trip pointing out the windows and saying, hey, this must be how Pittsburgh used to look. It had been horrible--the bus driver had to turn off the air conditioning to stop pulling in the air from outside, but even so, we could smell it. It's the smell that I remember from my childhood, not a pleasant one, not one I can easily describe. It's a little like the smell of hot asphalt being rolled onto a road surface.

After the talk, I got into the book signing line and managed to get in a few words with Sen. Kerry:

Me: "My dad was killed in Vietnam..."
JK: (his face changed dramatically): "I'm so, so sorry. What year?"
(I have had vets ask me this question many times, as I can see the wheels turning in their minds, maybe wondering if they were in Vietnam at the same time as my dad.)
Me: "1969. I just wanted to say thank-you for the speech you gave on Veterans Day 2002 at the Wall, the one about Paul Wolfendale's Silver Star. You made me believe I could get my dad's Silver Star. And I did!"
JK (looking a little bewildered): "How did you know about that speech?"
Me: "I was there."

I couldn't hold up the line, but I would have loved to have talked more...it didn't seem right to bring up Vietnam and then have to drop it that quickly. That 2002 speech really did inspire me to get my dad's records straightened out.

There's a blog entry and comments on the event at johnkerry.com. The posts there link to photos and blog entries on other sites. I'm at the very left edge of the first crowd shot photo here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I'm back, and so are the dragonflies

Before I pulled out of the Waterworks parking lot this morning, I saw one, and then two, dragonflies buzz in front of my car.

It was not yet ten, and the sun was already blazing, and the inside of the car was oven-like. I'd parked in a vast sea of asphalt about three blocks deep and ten blocks long. No place for dragonflies, unless they'd come from the shores of the Allegheny River, on the other side of Freeport Road and the train tracks.

I've given up overthinking these things. I just feel them, and the dragonflies made me happy.

I'd gotten an e-mail on Thursday that Senator John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, would be speaking at the Waterworks Barnes & Noble on Saturday at 2pm, and then signing copies of their new book "This Moment on Earth." Free tickets would be available at the store at 9am. Since I've just finished a Nonfiction 2 class, and this was a nonfiction book, I decided to go. And I thought it'd be interesting, and fun. At 9:03 this morning, I pulled into the Waterworks parking lot, and walked over to join the line outside of the entrance.

Once I made it inside, I had a wrist band placed on my arm, the kind made of synthetic paper that amusement parks used. I had a number on it, 353, so I checked out the arrangement of reserved seats in one of the wider main aisles in the store, and I was on the end of a row, at the intersection with another wide aisle. Perfect! I thought. I didn't want to feel squished like I had when I'd been stuck mid-row at the South Side Works' Joseph-Beth Booksellers when my Nonfiction 1 professor Lee Gutkind had his reading and signing of his book "Almost Human."

I picked up two copies of "This Moment on Earth" (the signing limit was two copies), got a coffee and an oatmeal cookie at Panera Bread, and then walked to my car--and saw the dragonflies.

I'll post about the Kerry/Heinz Kerry book event a little later. Time to go to a birthday shindig.