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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bear Attack!

I can't stop thinking about bear attacks.

Every year we run a booth at the Austin City Limits festival. 100,000 people attend this event, a music festival with seven stages, thirty art and clothing booths and a dazzling array of gourmet food vendors that is held in Zilker Park downtown.
It never feels real to me-I almost can't believe it will really happen-until two weeks before the show, once the panic builds and crashes to shore(I have to make 150 dresses and it's two weeks away! Holy Shit!) I will then spend 14 hours a day sewing late into the night. Then the work begins. We must organize 20 plastic bins of drapery, supplies, zip ties, tools, clamps, tarps and display. Heavy racks must be dragged out of storage. We then load three trucks full of stuff and drive it down to the park. Then it's unloaded again onto dollies and trucked a half a mile into the festival grounds by foot, back and forth until it's all there. We spend two days hanging lights and drapes, placing merchandise on hangers and racks and assembling various metal contraptions to hold jewelry and hair clips and greeting cards.

Then, for three days, we greet and socialise and sell to thousands of people who stream drunkenly through the booth from 10 AM until midnight.

I am in the middle of it today,resting at home until I go back, and I am already fucking exhausted.

It's supposed to rain today, which makes everyone a little apprehensive. It's never rained before in the six years I've been doing this, and no one knows how it will affect sales. One year a flood was forecasted, so we all went out and bought galoshes and raincoats, but it turned at the last minute and went to Louisiana instead. Since the promoters were expecting rain they didn't wet down the grounds the day before so a dust storm kicked up under the feet of thousands of revelers.

You couldn't see more than a foot in front of your face, drunks were lurching around coughing like tuberculosis patients and babies in strollers wore bandannas around their faces like little bank robbers.

Another year a beer truck exploded about 200 feet from our tent. Black smoke billowed from the accident and while everyone else ran in the other direction- Jeff, who is almost pathologically curious, ran towards it to see what was going on.

" Are you fucking nuts?" I screamed at him.

"I gotta see!" he called as he ran. He was the first one on the scene, coaxing the stunned driver away from the vehicle while the blacktop melted under the truck.

I was there in the 100 degree heat when I was eight months pregnant, swooning for three hours until Jeff made me go home so Ruby wouldn't become the first baby to be born at ACL.

Last year Erykah Badu strolled into our tent and bought armloads of clothes for herself and the baby she would deliver two months from the weekend. She was so stunning that I still have a girl crush on her.Immediately after the show I went to Sephora and bought pink eyeshadow because she looked so good in it.

This year our third customer came in on crutches trailing her husband, whose arm was in a sling.

"What happened to you guys?" I asked.
"Our sex swing broke." she laughed.
"No. I was on a ski lift that crashed and he got attacked by a bear."
" He got attacked by a bear. He got attacked by a fucking bear?"

Here is the story. He was riding his bike in a nature preserve,a bear charged him, knocked him off, broke his collarbone and dragged him into the woods. Then it began to eat his shoulder until it got distracted by something. So it buried him alive, ran off to investigate, came back, dug him up and ate some more of him. The only reason why he is still alive is that some friends biked by, saw his bike and called out to him- disturbing the bear, who charged at them. They escaped, biked as fast as they could to the nearest ranger station and came back with help. His arm is in a sling, useless, because his shoulder is no longer there.
Fuck bears.
i am still freaked out by that story on a level so deep it's in my bones.

Late in the evening a young woman came in with her four year old daughter. They played dress up for about thirty minutes, the little girl admiring herself in the mirror while her mother sweetly complimented her in Spanish. The love between them was obvious, and I watched them happily, missing my own little girl, who is spending the weekend at Grandmas house.

After a while, the mother asked about the prices. My dresses are not cheap. I usually feel okay about this, the materials are expensive and they take a lot of time to make. But I knew before I said anything that she would not be able to afford one, and I felt ashamed to tell her the cost.

"They range between 80 and 150 dollars." I said.
Her face fell.
"The cheapest is 80 dollars?"
"Yes." I said."But on Sunday we give discounts!"
"Okay." She leaned over and softly told her daughter something in Spanish. The little girl began to wail in disappointment. My heart began to break, not just for the child but for the mother who had to disappoint her, probably feeling stupid for neglecting to look at the prices and leading her little one to think she could have something she could not get.

Here is something that vexes me. I have no layer of defense around my heart. I have no skin. When I see a moment of beauty or sadness, a story unfolding before me, played out in someones eyes or words, when I see something happen between people that connects me to them- I begin to cry. Tears well up in my eyes and spill down like rain. I can't over state my deep annoyance with myself for this trait. It's embarrassing, I hate it, and I can't help it. It's like there is a deep and open well, stretching down into my soul that allows everyone elses experience to hit home like an arrow into the dark.

I can immediately imagine exactly how it would feel to be in their shoes, no matter how hard I try not to. For a moment I am them, feeling the shocking aloneness of of dying while a bear is dining on me, or facing my child's disappointment. This resonance comes unbidden, unwanted, and stays with me for days as I think about the people I see and their experiences. I hate it.

I laugh with the world too, but that is not embarrassing, it's great.

"Here. Seriously. She is breaking my heart with this. I want her to have one."
"I only have twenty dollars." said the mother.
I fought to blink back my tears.
"That's good. Twenty dollars, give it to me." She handed it over.
"Pick one out, whichever one was her favorite." They did, and the little girl brought it over to me with a big grin on her face.
"Is this one okay?" she asked.
"Yes, that will look so pretty on you!" I tried to blink back my tears as she gave me a hug. I was worried that the mother would think I was crying out of pity, that my tears would make her feel ashamed. Really it wasn't sadness at all, it was love for the little girl, happiness at being able to give that her, and a feeling of connection multiplying out from Ruby to all of the children in the world. From the moment you meet your own baby in the hospital, your heart claims every child as your own. Other mothers feel this, I am sure, but probably don't cry about it in front of total strangers.

So, people, if you come into my booth, try not to tell me about your bear attacks or divorce or anything at all to do with any sad event that involves a child. My heart can't take it, and I'm tired of trying not to cry at your stories. Just believe me when I say I'm having an allergy attack, or tell me a joke instead.