Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Hallowed Halfway Point (Johnson City, TN)

Me & Peggy in Johnson City, TN

When I lived in Zimbabwe it wasn't uncommon that people would come to visit us on foot, usually from the bus stop but sometimes all the way from their home. There was a tradition when that visitor was ready to leave. Someone would be expected to walk them half-way back to where they were going. I thought it was a beautiful ritual, at once both relational and compassionate. Neither the host or the guest alone had to carry the burden of the return travel. It was equally shared, much like the joy (hopefully) of the visit.

If that tradition were alive in America I'm fairly confident I would have a harder time finding hosts. I started in West Hebron, so if you interpret "destination" in its broadest sense either Mary Emmma or Dick & Margaret, who were my first hosts on this journey, would have been expected to accompany me halfway. I've got good news. I've reached Johnson City. They would be able to go home now.

Johnson City was a designated rest spot so I got to stay two nights instead of one. I was hosted on both nights by Peggy Heatherly. I was connected with her through Karen Baxter. Peggy also knows a few of my other NYC friends who attend Cosmos Tree but she and I had never met before Friday evening. I couldn't have asked for a more caring host to celebrate the midpoint of my journey with. I felt like the spirit in her immediately recognized the spirit in me. Namaste. We didn't feel like two people who had just met for long. By the end of our dinner at a Thai food restaurant there was a familiarity that outweighed the total of two hours we had spent together.

The following day was Halloween. Amazingly it was my second straight Halloween in Tennessee. Last year I was in Nashville visiting family and my cousin Jeff and I went at a downtown bar. It was a spontaneous decision so we weren't wearing costumes meaning. Consequently I got treated to a steady stream of those looks which said, "oh, look who is too cool to dress up." Jeff reminded enough people of the magician Chris Angel that he was able to skate by due on circumstance. If my hair had been as long and curly as it is now I would have taken a similar tact and told people, "Hey, I'm Norm MacDonald."

Me or Norm Macdonald?

I have a horrible track record when it comes to Halloween costumes. I dressed up for three Halloween parties during my time in LA and suffered the indignity of poor choices each and every time. My best attempt was when my roommate and Noah and I hosted a party of our own. He was John McEnroe and I was Bjorn Borg. We got the wooden rackets and squeezed into the tight white shorts riding high on our thighs. Noah's hair is already very McEnroe-esque, so he rocked his own natural 'do. I had to get my hands on a long blond wig to mimic Bjorn's flowing Swedish hair. Bjorn Borg must not have the name recognition I thought. The whole night people kept coming up to me and saying, "Hey, Martina Navratilova!". At first I would correct them. Then I just gave up.

A couple years before that I bought a mask went to a party as Al Gore. I hadn't gotten the memo that wearing a mask is the equivalent of sticking your face two inches from an electronic heater and keeping it there all night. By the 10 minute mark of the party the mask was off and I was holding the mask in my hand. I was simply a guy in a suit. In retrospect, had I been a little quicker on my feet, I could have spun it as a conceptual piece. I was a Scooby Doo villian who had disguised himself as Al Gore only to be ceremonially unmasked by Shaggy and his friends.

After my Al Gore and Bjorn Borg missteps I made one last attempt at costume glory. My girlfriend Nikki was accompanying me to this party and made a pitch to go as Adam and Eve. I briefly considered walking around the party shirtless for an evening and vetoed the idea. I would have been way too self conscious. Possibly to punish me she decided that the fall back "duo" idea would be her as a bunny rabbit and me as a carrot. She got to waltz into the party wearing an all-time favorite female costume while I trailed behind in a pair of bright orange sweatpants and matching sweatshirt that had a patch of green sewn on the top of the hood. I am not exaggerating when I say that I hadn't taken three steps into the host's yard when someone came up to me and said, "what are you ... a pumpkin?" That was the moment I retired from the art of costuming.

Seven years later I remain retired. Peggy didn't push me to come back for one last blaze of Favre-ian glory. She and I went costume-less on Saturday over to visit her son John's family in Gray, TN. We picked up John's wife Sherry and their kids Bryson and Riley and drove to Kingsport to cheer John at the finish line of a half marathon he was running. I learned that running a half-marathon on Oct. 31st does not preclude someone from dressing up. I watched a monk, five ninjas, a teenage mutant ninja turtle and an actual pumpkin (not a carrot masquerading as one) cross the finish line.

Proof that a pumpkin did indeed cross the finish line

John crossed too, although in obvious pain from having ingested an energy gel pack that had not sat well with his stomach. We all returned to their house just in time for Bryson and Riley to magically transform into Wolverine and Vampire Bride while an endless parade of neighborhood kids started arriving at their front door. And thus the giant annual redistribution of candy took place. I am convinced that at the end of the night kids across the nation come home with about as much candy as their parents originally purchased. I handed out a little bit of candy myself, managing to slip a few Swedish Fish and Sour Patch kids into my own gob when there was a break in the action. Old habits die hard.

Riley, Peggy, John Sr., John, Bryson & Sherry at the end of festivities Saturday night

All Hallow's Eve this year coincided with the end of Daylight Savings Time. So when Peggy and I returned to her apartment we had a free hour to play with. We did so watching You, Me & Dupree. This movie was not well recieved by critics but I defy you to watch Owen Wilson as Dupree and not laugh out loud five times. His character has an openess and innocent joy for life that is infectious. I hope that I can experience such joy in my next nine weeks on the road. As Peggy and I laughed together, her in her PeggyNESS and I in my GarthNESS, I was reminded that laughter - like most things - is best shared.

On Sunday morning Peggy insured that before I left I had everything that I could possibly need to get started on the second half of my trip. She sent me off with food, a new foot massage tool and a week's worth of Vitamin D, Magnesium and Calcium pills. She then bid me farewell with a promise to keep me in her prayers and keep sending me the Light. I need that most of all.


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