Friday, June 27, 2014

An Open Letter to A-Rod

By Mahlia Lindquist
Dear Mr. Rodriguez,

I understand that you go by A-Rod, but we don’t know each other, so it feels a bit awkward to use your nickname. Until last week, I had never even heard of you, but I recently learned from Wikipedia that you are world famous.

I beg your pardon for not knowing that, but don’t take it personally. I tend to be clueless about celebrities, especially athletes. For example, when I started law school at Georgetown and heard talk of Patrick Ewing, I assumed he was one of the more well known law school professors. Of course, I eventually learned that Patrick Ewing was a star basketball player, just like now I know you are a great baseball player.

Me, I’m neither rich nor famous. Not that I am complaining. I am comfortable with lovely friends and family, including several wonderful nieces. One of my nieces is Bobbie, which brings me to the point of this letter.

Bobbie works at the front desk of a fancy gym with many wealthy patrons and some celebrity members, such as yourself. She gets paid $8 per hour. She is also a full time student at a community college. Although Bobbie is not famous, she is fairly remarkable. Her middle name is Joy, and it is apropos. She is effervescent and hardworking. She is an A student and hopes to transfer to the University of Miami. She will need a lot of financial aid because she gets nothing from either of her parents, and at $8 per hour it’s impossible to save much. Bobbie was raised in difficult and unstable environments and has not had the easy life enjoyed by all five of her cousins. Yet, I have never known her to be resentful of the disparity. I have also never known her to be rude, even when provoked by someone who is less than polite, which is what you were to her last week.

You may remember that she checked you in at the gym. Bobbie is probably one of the few people on this planet besides me who doesn't know of you. When you signed in simply as A-Rod and she was puzzled because she couldn’t find your name in the system, you were irritated and asked, “don’t you know who I am?” When Bobbie requested your friends to fill out the paperwork that guests of mere mortals must complete, you just walked away, returning shortly with her manager, who went through the motions of sucking up to you. 

Bobbie came to me upset, thinking she had done something wrong. She said that she had offended a VIP member of the gym, but still wasn’t sure who he was. Hearing the story, the first thing I thought was "this A-Rod is an A-hole" and did a quick internet search. But after reading about you, I realize that you’ve had a lot of problems lately and probably were just having a bad day.  Heck, I am ashamed to think of all the times I've been in a bad mood and taken it out on an underpaid service worker. 

I got to thinking that if you knew about Bobbie and how you made her feel, you might want to make amends. I have two ideas on how to do that.

One, you could help her get a raise. Based on her manager’s response, making you happy seems to be important to the company. The gym is part of a privately held corporation, with estimated annual revenues of over $744 million. With that kind of money, you might use your influence to see if there’s wiggle room to pay a living wage to employees who cheerfully serve their affluent and sometimes unreasonable clientele. 

Second, it would be great if you could help Bobbie achieve her dream of attending UM.  I imagine you have clout there, seeing as UM's  baseball stadium is named after you and all. If you were to put in a good word for Bobbie with the admissions and financial aid offices, I can promise that you would be doing a good thing for someone who deserves it and who is sure to pay it forward for years to come. 

Mr. Rodriguez, a lot of people have said a lot of bad things about you. Because you are A-Rod, it all gets reported, even if the stories are distorted or even false, and that can’t feel good.  I’ve noticed that hardly any of the stories about you mention your millions of dollars in philanthropy, which must seem unfair. It’s not too late to salvage your reputation, and no grand gestures or large contributions are required. You don't even need to help out Bobbie. All you need is empathy going forward.

You came to Miami as a child and had to struggle to learn english. Your dad left your mom alone to care for three kids and she waitressed to support all of you. Yet, you’ve been blessed with people in your life who took an interest in you and supported your talent. Please remember that the next young lady behind the desk has struggles of her own and is trying to make her way in life, just like you did.  The next waitress serving you might be a single parent struggling to support a family, just like your mom did. Think of how you would feel if someone treated your daughters, Natasha or Ella, the way you treated Bobbie. 


With empathy, little by little, you will change your reputation, your life and even the world for the better.  And, oh yes, though not strictly required, if you do what you can for Bobbie, that will help too -- her aunt will blog all about it.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Happy Birthday To Me

By Mahlia Lindquist

I’ve never understood why my friend Meesh doesn’t like to celebrate her birthday.   Some would speculate it's because by middle age, a birthday means being another year older and another year closer to probable infirmity and certain death. (Are we having fun yet?) I’ve heard talk about the beauty, wisdom, yada, yada that comes with being senior citizen discount eligible, but I don’t buy it, and besides this blog post is not about dealing gracefully with mortality. It’s about birthdays, which are on my mind because today is my birthday.

Meesh has never been one to dwell on getting older and never enjoyed parties in her honor even when we were in our 20’s, so I don’t think it’s the getting older part that makes her birthday party adverse. I think it’s because she is uncomfortable at the attention that goes along with parties, dinners, or presents in her honor. Meesh is modest and  just doesn’t like to be the center of attention.

Unlike Meesh, I relish celebrating my birthday. Which is not to say that I am the model of equanimity about getting older.  Quite the opposite. I am prone to kick, scream and sometimes cry every time the specter of old age rears its ugly head in my own life.  Yet, I wake up happy and with a sense of anticipation every June 24th.

I take pleasure in being loved or acknowledged by the people in my life. Each birthday celebration is a placeholder for a particular life phase.  Last year it was a surprise party at the San Miguel de Allende Shambhala Center, which symbolizes my year in Mexico and delight  in connecting with new friends. This year it will be a dinner with old Miami friends, a reminder of the comfort I felt in coming home this year.  I will alway associate a special friend in Boulder with our annual birthday mega hike and my years there. 

I had a birthday party for myself once and proclaimed no gifts on the invite, but the truth is I love presents. I look forward to opening my Facebook page to birthday wishes, many of which are from ghosts of birthdays past from as far back as high school.

Dave Barry wrote "there comes a time when you should stop expecting people to make a big deal about your birthday. That age is: age 11." The implication, which reflects a common attitude, is that it is infantile to expect the people in your life to celebrate your being born. What does Dave Barry know? He's famous and probably get lots of happy birthday wishes and presents every year. While I agree that having high expectations is never a good idea, it's sad to not be able to expect that someone cares enough about you to celebrate your birthday in some small way.  And anyone who insists it's no big deal when no one remembers their birthday is not being honest with themselves.

So today I am going to mention to the guy that makes my coffee every morning that it's my birthday. And will probably also tell the person at the gym who checks me in. I expect they will wish me Happy Birthday.  I expect I will hear from my family. I expect that while some friends will forget this year, and that's okay, others will remember to call or send a quick birthday message.  And I am grateful to be reminded that I have people in my life who are glad that I am on this planet.

On the most basic level,  being honored in even a small way once a year is an opportunity for me to feel gratitude for my many blessings. There will be plenty of time to mope about being another year older tomorrow.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Where in the World is San Miguel de Allende?

By Mahlia Lindquist

Zoe and I left  Boulder, a city many people fantasize about moving to, to spend a year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a country many  Americans are convinced everyone wants to leave.  I suppose that's why our trip to Mexico inspired more curiosity than envy in many of our friends, who would have been more impressed if we were spending a year in Paris. One acquaintance was  incredulous that we would willingly go to Mexico for an extended stay, and asked if I was being deported. Others were more polite, though their questions betrayed skepticism:
Mexico? Umm, wow, that's interesting... San Miguel de Allende -- is that near Cancun? No? How about Acapulco? No? Hmmm.   How close is where you're going to where all those people were murdered by the drug cartel? 
Whenever asked questions related to San Miguel's location, I would roll my eyes in an exasperated fashion, as if to suggest,  "don't you know anything?"  But, the truth was, I knew almost nothing about San Miguel or its whereabouts until well after we arrived there. 

My excuse is that the decision to go to San Miguel was  last minute. The original plan was to live in the cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica.  The problem, as I found out during a reconnaissance trip to Monteverde, is that cloud forests are, well,  cloudy. Monteverde is also muddy,  rainy, windy and isolated. I wanted Zoe to have an experience she would never forget. I know my daughter, and  if I took her to Monteverde it would be like other family trips,  an experience she would rather forget.

A friend suggested San Miguel de Allende and within two days I booked a ticket. Between the times when I first heard of San Miguel and when we arrived there a few weeks later, I busied myself doing many things, none of which included researching the area where my teenaged daughter and I would be living.  I was so ill-prepared that I didn't even know San Miguel is part of the state of Guanajuato, which was like planning to live in Miami never having heard of Florida. 

Ignorance being bliss, I blissfully assumed I knew everything I needed to know about Mexico. After all I had vacationed in  Playa del Carmen,  Tulum, and near Puerta Vallerta. And, let's not forget the spring break trip to Cancun in the eighties.  I had never been to Mexico's interior, and pictured  the 1500+ miles between the coasts as  something out of a western movie, a series of sad and lonely abandoned towns overgrown with cactus and tumbleweed -- Mexico City and its 21 million souls notwithstanding.  Before arriving there, I knew that San Miguel was not on the beach, but I assumed that it must be near the beach. Wrong.

Like a criminal obliged to lecture school groups on the dangers of being an uninformed moron, I now sing the praises of San Miguel de Allende's  rich history, art, food, beauty, people and unmitigated awesomeness to anyone who will listen.  So hear this....

San Miguel de Allende, is in the mountains. It is not near the beach. It is  in central Mexico, and a 3.5 hours drive north of Mexico City. The altitude in San Miguel is over 6k feet, which means that the temperature  is sometimes less than balmy. However, because Mexico is near the equator, kids in San Miguel will never know the pleasure of a snow day. However, they do know the pleasure of almost constant perfect weather, blue skies, cool nights, warm days and a total lack of humidity. Without the threat of hurricanes, tornados or other natural calamities,  with bright flowers that are constantly in bloom and hummingbirds and butterflies fluttering about, the place feels like the Garden of Eden – unless of course your idea of Eden includes the ocean.

In the process of learning that there is more to Mexico than the sum of its beaches, I’ve come across all sorts of fun facts. My favorite tidbit it that  San Miguel de Allende is where Mexico’s War of Independence was born. What happened here was the equivalent to  Paul Revere’s ride for us, but instead of ending up with “the British are Coming!” the Mexicans wound up with the far catchier, festive and more practical...

 “Viva Mexico!”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Biking and Waking Up in Miami

By Mahlia Lindquist

My vision of living in Miami again did not include bicycling.  Biking was for the Boulder phase of my life. With miles of stunning vistas, designated bike lanes, and mostly civilized drivers, Boulder is a biker’s paradise.  Miami, land of traffic gridlock and roadrage, not so much.  While I like biking, I like living more. So, when I moved to Miami I put my bike in storage and planned to take up paddle boarding. Several months into life here, I have yet to paddle board or even go to the beach. Having declared that only someone with a death wish would bike in  Miami I have been, of course, riding several times per week. 

I started to question leaving my bike in Boulder when I noticed large groups of bikers cruising by my house. I had been skeptical about biking in a place where riders reveled in stories about the  “big climb” over the  75 foot high bridge to Key Biscayne. Now that I've been back in South Florida where the only relief from flat is the dump affectionately known as Mt. Trashmore, the Key Bridge started to seem positively majestic. It occurred to me that while I had dismissed riding in Miami in part because of its flat terrain, I had  never actually liked riding up hill. In fact, I sort of hated it. I was prone to whimper on steep rides, and went to great lengths to find the least hilly routes in Boulder. I decided I might actually enjoy riding in a city where a 75 feet climb is as tough as it gets.

So when I had the chance to do a charity bike ride for Best Buddies, I agreed.  While still tentative about starting to ride, the clincher was the perks:  handsome professional tour de france bikers as escorts, super cute designer biking outfits, a fancy gala, and a great cause.  I love perks. Unfortunately,  I was so blinded by visions of getting close up and personal with hot pro riders,  I failed to consider a few important details...

Like that the Best Buddy Ride is 60 miles and participants are expected to ride as part of a 50 person pelaton, at an  average speed of 19 miles MPH.  I had not been on a bike for  a year and back when I was riding I rarely cycled for more than 30 miles. In fact, I could only recall twice that I ever, in my entire life, went as far as 60 miles in one day. Then there was the peloton. Riding close to other bikers freaks me out, and so I have never actually ridden in a group. I also don’t ride in groups, or shall I say groups don't ride with me, because I am slow.  My average pace is far short of the 19 MPH required for the Best Buddies Ride. Oh yes, and I had no bike, no gear and 2 weeks to train. 

Details, details. There was no going back. As scared as I am of facing Miami traffic,  it’s the fear of  losing face that keeps me up at night. When it comes to carrots and sticks, I’m all about the stick, and in this case, visions of humiliation is a giant club. I got a loaner and determined to brave the Miami crazies every day to get into some semblance of shape.

It's now just a couple of days before the Best Buddies Miami Challenge, and I’m not ready. There’s only so much that one can do to shape up in two weeks.  However, I have ridden almost every day, not in a group and not for 60 miles, but with faster times than I ever rode in Boulder.  It may seem obvious, but I never knew that it is much easier to go 19 MPH at sea level than  at over 5k feet. Duh.

I have also learned that not all Miami drivers are aggressive. Many a Porche, Mercedes, Hummer, and Escalade, which dominate the roads here and have long been  objects of derision from my holier than thou self, have given me wide berth. For the purpose of this looking at the bright side musing, I won't dwell on my many brushes with death at the hands of rude and reckless drivers, but I will note that drivers of mini vans and hybrids were just as likely to run me off the road as the ones in more expensive gas guzzling cars. This surprised me.

I was also surprised to find the natural wonders of South Florida so close at hand. In a single ride from urban Miami to the Everglades, I went from mind-blowing traffic to mind-blowing beauty. Biking here over the past two weeks, I have seen schools of porpoise, huge iguanas, alligators, fish, countless exotic birds and lush tropical vegetation. Not far from the traffic and concrete jungle of Miami I enjoyed long rural roads, farms, and fruit stands.

None of it was new. After all, Miami is my home town. I grew up sailing in the bay, air boating among alligators,  eating fresh picked mangos, and wearing shorts in December. I just forgot.  I was so busy lamenting the loss of where I was, I forgot about where I am. It's kind of cool.

The Pleasures and Perils of A Pink Pet

By Mahlia Lindquist

Most dog owners are delusional. They imagine their dog to be extraordinary, to possess human or even super human characteristics not shared by other dogs. Not me. I have always considered my dogs, ages 15 and 9, to be on the  average side, and certainly not an interesting topic of conversation. However, I recently experienced something akin to a spiritual revelation and now can’t help but wax poetic about the younger dog, Willow: 

Exceptional in  appearance, demeanor and spirit. A white, fluffy bichon frise, Willow's prissy looks belie a hardy hiker who has braved steep mountain climbs, long runs in the freezing snow, and even a coyote attack. While game to act the part of rugged mountain dog, he is most content in the role of lap dog.  When happy, which is almost always, Willow wears a huge doggy smile. He never picks fights with other dogs, patiently endures the manhandling by children that is inevitable with cute little dogs, and is indiscriminately affectionate.  Best of all, his poos are small, which means a lot to someone who strives to be a courteous dog walker.  In short, he is the Dalai Lama of canines — adorable and perfect.

Perfection. It means no room for improvement. Though Willow has always been a charming dog, it turns out that he was not exactly perfect. I learned this when something happened  to make him more fantastic than ever... perfect in fact. That something was pink dye, and it was life changing, or at least life affirming in its own small way.

I initially accused the culprits, one of my daughters and her friend, of dog abuse. They denied it, arguing that they used strawberry kool-aid, which was harmless.  Even so, it just seemed wrong.  

What about the dog’s psyche?  Willow is male and has long suffered his girlie name. Pink fur just seemed to add insult to humiliating injury. What about my psyche? I am the primary dog walker in the house and just the thought of being out with a pink dog made me turn pink with embarrassment.  I pictured people cautioning their kids to stay away from the crazy dog lady and her freaky pink dog.

My only consolation was that having moved from Miami from Boulder, I would not risk public censure and possible arrest. In Boulder, it is illegal to dye your dog.  Lawmakers there actually took the time to debate the pros and cons of color treated pets, and came out against . And, there aren’t any safe dye, did it for a good cause exceptions.  A Boulder resident -- and I am not making this up -- was fined $1000 for dying her poodle pink, even though she used organic beet juice and did it for breast cancer awareness.  Imagine how I would have fared in Boulder having used non organic Kool Aid  and for the crass purpose of amusing a couple of teenaged girls. 

The good and the bad part of Miami is that political correctness is not a thing.  While dyers of pets, toters of guns  and drivers of Hummers may be social pariahs in Boulder,  no such stigmas exist here.  Indeed, Miamians seem to view vegetarian hybrid drivers who bring their own bags to the grocery store, so common in Boulder, with not a small amount of distaste. The bad part is that I am a vegetarian hybrid driver (who usually forgets her bags.) The good part is that I would not be prosecuted or otherwise vilified on account of my pink dog. 

My initial reaction when Willow emerged from the pink tinted bath was “this is so wrong.” However, after the girls had him dried and brushed, I couldn’t help but admire their handiwork.   The kool-aid left Willow a beautiful soft pink hue so that when standing still he could be mistaken for a stuffed animal. While running he looks like a ball of cotton candy blown loose from it’s stick.  It also looks like a bizarre case of doggie sunburn or radiation poisoning. Whatever the association, he undoubtedly looked different.

As different as Willow looked, the change that I saw in people on our daily walk was remarkable. Our walks take us through a busy park where few people  make eye contact, much less strike up conversations with a stranger. However, a pink dog brings out the small town in everyone who crosses his path.  From the homeless dude, to the hip skateboarder, to the elderly cuban couple, they all smile with delight when they see Willow.  Kids can barely contain their joy at the magic  of a pink dog. Instead of getting the evil eye when I unleash him and he intrudes upon picnics, Willow is treated as an honored guest.   More than one person has gotten off their cell  phone to take Willow’s photo and chat me up about how he came to be pink  A friend told me that a friend of hers called and raved about the adorable pink dog she had seen walking down the street. Willow is a minor celebrity.

Although I have not acquired any corresponding celebrity as owner of the local pink dog, I have experienced my own little transformation.  Before Willow became pink, I was not the type of person who  dyed her dog.   Not only was I not the type, I did not look like the type.  Despite appearances to the contrary, and even though I didn’t actually make Willow pink, when out with him people assume that I did. I’ve learned that someone who people think would dye her dog is more approachable than someone not so inclined.  This means that I have become acquainted with many new and interesting people whom I would otherwise have passed without even an exchange of nods. This also means, and this is my favorite part, I get the pleasure of seeing the obvious jolt of joy experienced by everyone who encounters Willow the pink dog.  

If having a pink dog is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I'm Not Unemployed, I'm a Writer

By Mahlia Lindquist

My daughters, Dylan and Zoe, are newly concerned about my lack of employment and/or  a “relationship.”  It’s true that I have shown little interest or aptitude in either endeavor, but that never bothered them before. 

Indeed, for years the dynamic between us was akin to a yard with an electronic doggie fence, which kept me in and distractions out. I am on the high side of social without an obvious sort of maternal bent and the girls charming and seemingly easygoing, so most people who know us were unaware of the invisible fence. Even I was only subconsciously aware of the electrified barrier surrounding our happy home. But it was there.

Dylan and Zoe have always had a way of silently communicating to me their disapproval over a person or situation. They have been at, at best, indifferent to any man I have dated. I had a law practice for a few years, but their pointed silence when I was unavailable to them because of work made me feel the neglectful parent and hesitant to work more than part-time.

Undoubtedly, as with most prisons, mine was mostly of my own construct. The truth is that I didn’t like practicing law, and after divorcing  didn’t have the stomach for a long term relationship. The kids were a convenient excuse to avoid dealing with my own s****.   My daughters are smart, funny, irreverent, kind, travel well, and delightful company, all of which I find to be high value attributes, and so I mostly didn’t miss having a satisfying career or partner.  Ignoring the possibility that we may have been codependent, the electric fence actually served all three of us fairly well.  At least it seemed to until recently. 

Now, the girls routinely point out men who might make good “step-daddies.”  The step-daddy reference has been a longstanding joke between us, but now they mention it so often I actually think they are serious. They also  keep asking me what I am going to do. It could be my imagination, but I have  detected a note of fear in their inquiries—fear of having a needy mom. 

As someone who sees herself as active, independent and competent with varied interests and a network of awesome friends, I hope that my imagination is wrong. But then I recall things I’ve said  that could give cause for a needy person alert.  Encouraging the girls to promise since they could barely talk that the three of us would live together forever, ever and ever sounds potentially needy. Musing that with so many cool women in the world it’s a shame I am not gay, and fantasizing aloud about being a sister-wife to my favorite straight couple, I must admit sounds just plain weird in retrospect.  So, I just want to clarify:  I was joking.

Nevertheless, given our current circumstances, what I am going to do with the rest of my life is a fair question. Dylan is in college, Zoe in high school, and I recently closed my law practice in Boulder. Zoe and I recently finished a yearlong visit to Mexico and  moved  back to my hometown of Miami, a place I left in a huff 13 years ago. 

When asked, I refer to my time in Mexico as a sabbatical, though the term sabbatical is more of a euphemism for “an exploration of the ecstasy and the agony of drinking too much tequila too often.” Besides drinking tequila, I kept busy there with logistics: school for Zoe, housing, figuring out where to buy tofu and peanut butter without sugar and where to do yoga, and learning how to ask the housekeeper in Spanish not to run the dishwasher with just two coffee cups. All first world problems, I realize, but they kept me occupied.

Not having to deal with the logistics of being an expat has freed up a lot of time. My Miami friends are professionals with actual jobs and so can’t drink tequila with me on a regular basis. Besides, even tequila gets old after awhile and it’s just not the same when not in Mexico. Suggestions that I practice law in Miami triggers in me an involuntary gag reflex, so I have decided to listen to my body for once and have nixed going back to law. 

A few friends suggested I start a blog or write a book. They may as well have said, Mahlia, other then being a lawyer, you have no tangible skills — which is true.  I have no idea what I might write about that someone besides my mom will want to read, but I am going to try.

As a first step, with this first blog entry under my belt, when someone asks me what I do, I am going to say, “I’m a writer.” It sounds almost as legit as “I’m on sabbatical” and will hopefully help ease the minds of my children.