Around the year 1915, the electric clothes dryer was invented.  At the same time, a conspiracy was born.  Not by the government, not by humans for that matter . . . no, it was artificial intelligence in its infancy.  All the dryers got together; Kenmore, General Electric, Whirpool and other name brand dryers that would like to remain nameless, and conspired against the ones who gave them life.  The plan was simple yet brilliant — steal just one sock, every so often.

Uncle Dryer:  Eat just one.  Do whatever you can to drive them crazy.  Let them stumble around with one sock held high, wondering where the other has gone.

Nephew Dryer:  Can I laugh to myself as they push me away from the wall to look for what is lost?  Or smile as they poke old hockey sticks or rulers under me, probing for what I’ve hidden?

Uncle Dryer: Yes.  Laugh, but only to yourself.  Keep them guessing.  This can’t happen every load.  Let them get comfortable.  Catch them unaware.  Watch as they pair their socks with a cockiness one might expect from this species.

Nephew Dryer:  Then strike?

Uncle Dryer: Then strike!

Now that we’ve uncovered this age-old conspiracy, I say its time we take back our socks! Let’s let our dryers know that we’ve had enough!  Say, “yes,” to air-drying those darned things!  Hang them from your showers, your railings and clotheslines.  Let’s show them we will no longer be victim to their evil plan. Show your socks people!

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Fly Away

Posted: May 1, 2012 in kind of like news

I don’t need words I need the pain to go away.
Don’t tell me I need to speak and not fight
I am a bird and I will only take flight.
I am a Raven forever more.
Not only a name, something I have always searched for.
He can still haunt me.
But he can no longer hurt me.
– excerpt from Fly Away, Raven, Fly Away (by Ravyn            )

 Ravyn prefers to fade into the background.  Dressed mostly black, she hides the only bit of color on her t-shirt with her long, brown hair.  An animal print skirt tiered, with a slight ruffle, smooth the edges of what might be considered a harsh, gothic look.  Ravyn’s co-worker described the first time she met her, “She sat by herself.  Her hair was stringy and covering her face, like she was hiding.”  That was a year ago.  Today, her silky hair is tucked neatly behind her ears; reddish highlights emphasize the pewter eyes and pale skin.  Under the shade of trees on the Starbucks patio, she sits.  Crossing her legs and bringing them tight against the chair, she tells her story.  It is thick with fear and pain but like any good story, there is a savior who changes the plot line of an otherwise dark tale.

Ravyn                   is the self-published author of “                         ,” a fantasy book that tackles the issues of modern day slavery.  A topic she is well versed in and an advocate against.  She writes articles for her website, “                                  ” as well as “                                    ,” often giving voice to kids who are abused or in slavery.  Ravyn is 25 years old and one of the youngest members of the Arizona Authors Association.

Ravyn started writing poetry when she was 11 years old.  It was her outlet. She would write about dark things, being alone, feeling stupid in school and monsters that come in the night.  But underneath her stories, there was a cry for help.  Her poetry was praised by her peers and certain teachers, but the content of her poems where never questioned or deemed inappropriate for her age.  Because of this, Ravyn began to question if her fears where legitimate.  Maybe her father’s anger towards her was ok.  Her mother’s bruises, the holes punched in the wall, and the monster that visits in the night must all be ok.  Her cry for help went unheard.

Ravyn looks at the ground or to her left side as she talks about the past that still haunts her.  “I’m sorry; I’m not very good at eye contact.  That’s something my counselor is telling me to work on.”  With that, her gray eyes settle on mine for a brief moment, then fix on the ground as she begins to speak of her uncle.

After the divorce, Ravyn and her sister split their time between their mother’s apartment and their father’s house.  Their uncle moved in with her father about this same time.  Her voice becomes quiet as she tells how he would visit her late at night, at first, just to talk. “I don’t know how old I was when he started touching me.  It’s hard to remember ages.  Maybe 10 or 11 years old,” Ravyn says.  Like most people who live through a trauma, there are fragments of memories, little pieces that don’t fit together.  Ravyn told her father about her uncle’s early morning visits, about how he touched her in “the bathing suit area.”  He didn’t believe her and was angry at the accusations.  “He’s your uncle.  He wouldn’t do something wrong,” Ravyn remembers her father saying.  Her father’s temper made it clear that her silence was expected.

Although her home life was full of fear, she continued to write.  Through her stories, this shy girl that felt so alone, made new friends.  They liked her for who she was and encouraged her writing.  She began to build a life.  Ravyn, with growing confidence, tried to write what she was going through with plain, graphic words.  She couldn’t do it.  Reliving the horror was too much for her. This time, she found her hero in the form of a new character, “Hunter.”  “He is my saving grace,” she smiles and catches my eye.  “It seems weird to even talk about things like that . . . I understand he’s not real but at the same time, he was always there for me.”  Hunter gave her strength.  She began to write about what was happening to her, but it felt like Hunter’s story, not hers.  She no longer felt alone.  Hunter was strong and fought back.  He was fast.  “He was everything I had ever wanted to be,” Ravyn says.

As her writing progressed, her teacher and school counselor began to ask questions.  What are these monsters that come in at night?  Did something happen?  And finally, after so many written words and hidden meanings, Ravyn was able to tell her own story and get the help she needed.

Ravyn’s father and uncle are no longer involved in her life but the monsters still haunt her.  Her counselors continue to work with her as she faces her fears on a day-to-day basis.  When asked what word she would use to describe herself, she replies, “Warrior.”  She spoke of other words, victim, survivor, recovering . . . but it is “warrior” that makes her feel strong.  It is ‘warrior” that is synonymous with the character Hunter, who is her self described “guardian angel.”

Today, Ravyn fights against the issues of child slavery and child sex-trafficking both in her stories and in life.   She volunteers her time at a safe house for sex-trafficked girls called, StreetLight USA, here in Phoenix, AZ.  She feels a bond with these girls who are misunderstood, alone and abused by the people who say they love them.

Ravyn fights fear every day but is thankful for the blessings her writing has given her. Through her blogs, website and public readings, her stories have given her friends, a purpose and the love of a special young man she met through her online writing.  He is someone who knows her story and has been a constant for almost 10 years.  Today, she looks forward to a future with someone to love, and a guardian angel that continues to watch over her.

*                        are used for privacy in place of names.

Fall, 2007, Edmonton, Alberta

I parked my car and waited in the empty parking lot. The banks of snow, four-feet high in some areas were full of gravel and frozen garbage.  The snow had stopped earlier that day but the light was pale and flat with the promise of more to come.  I saw headlights come around the corner of vinyl-clad building behind me.  Thad, my 18-year-old nephew, pulled up beside me.

“Auntie Carm,” he said.  “Welcome.”

I left the warmth of my car with my camera hanging around my neck and my tripod in hand, not sure if I’d need it.  The light from a single streetlight didn’t make it to where we stood, but I could see enough of the industrial building to know it had been a forgotten investment.  The faded gray siding, steel door with scratches and rust, and brown wild grass crawling up the walls hoping to get away from the snow, had the distinct look of neglect.

“It has that homey feel doesn’t it,” I said.

“Hey, come on.  It’s all we could afford.  No one ever complains about our jamming sessions.  It’s perfect,” Thad said with his standard mischievous grin.

He led me through the door and up the narrow steps into an open room.  It housed the band’s sound system and some scattered guitars, Thad’s drum set and a case of water. It was perfect.

“Ok, what do you want me to do?” he asked.

This year I had made a point of doing something special for a Christmas present.  We’d be moving to Arizona two days after Christmas and as it stood, that decision wasn’t popular within our tight-knit family.  I had met with each nephew and niece separately to capture them on film, doing something they love.  They could choose what they wanted to do or where we’d meet to get the shots.  These photos would go to each of the parents and my in-laws in hopes that they might forgive us, just a little.  Thad was the only one left.

He could have picked any venue, or any one of the six instruments he could play.  But his choice was the warehouse his band rented, playing his drums.

“Just play.  Forget that I’m here,” I said.  “I’ll tell you when I’m done.”

Thad had already thrown his jacket on one of the chairs and picked up his drumsticks.  He started with the snare drum.  Slow.  Rolling the sticks around each other.  Then building speed.  The base drum was next.  Each drum’s sound was distinct and added layer by layer.  His eyes closed as the rhythm sped.  I never did use the tripod.  I moved around him, close up, just the sticks, just the base and when he opened his eyes, he gave the sheepish grin like he’d been caught doing something wrong.  That was the essence of him in that one moment.  I was lucky to capture it.

“Got it,” I told him.

“That didn’t take too long.  We have time for you to give this a try,” Thad held his sticks out.

“I thought you had a party to get to?” I said looking at my watch.

“We’ve got time.  Come on.  I’ll teach you how to twirl the sticks.”

I had played drums in Jr. High but that was in a previous life.  I sat, and I played.  I lost stick after stick, we laughed.  I asked him about school, which he hates.  I asked about girls, which he likes.  And we talked about his dreams of becoming a music composer.  And like any time spent with a teenager, it can come to an end very quickly, especially if there is a party to get to.

As he locked the steel door behind us he said, “I’m glad you aren’t moving to Saskatchewan, it would suck to visit you there.  Phoenix . . . now that was a good choice.”

“Thad, thanks for doing this,” I said.

“Hey, if it’ll help get you in Granny’s good books again, I’ll do what I can.  Bye Carm.”

I watched him leave, his left taillight broken and a fish-tail around the corner from going to fast.   “Bye, Thad.”

Fall, 2011, Scottsdale, Arizona

“I think I just hung up on Tony,” my husband Brad said, closing the patio door behind him.  He stood there staring, holding his phone out in his hand for me to see.

“Why’d you do that?”  I asked.

“There’s been an accident.  Thad and his two friends were driving home . . . they were hit from behind by a drunk driver.  Thad’s dead,” Brad said.

Tony, my brother-in-law had been informed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) just hours earlier, to call any family or friends that would need to be informed of our nephew’s death before the information got out on Facebook.  And while Tony made more calls, I sat in on the floor in front of my wood coffee table in complete denial.  How could Thad be dead?  He can’t die.  He’s only 22.  He’s too talented.  I felt the tears wet my face but I couldn’t move.  My son Dawson sat across from me with his head down.  He made the groaning sound of a hurt animal as he took in the reality that he would never see his cousin again.  I couldn’t move.  I kept breathing but each inhale was a burden, something I was struggling against.  I couldn’t comfort my son.  Brad stood where he was.  It was the first time I’d seen him cry in the 19 years we’d been married.  I’m not sure how long we stayed like that.  I forced myself to move, spooning my 9-year old son from behind, holding him as Brad finally grabbed us both from the other side.

No one is ever ready for that phone call that comes, the one that says someone you love has been killed.  But ready or not, it came.  It was one of the few times I felt the distance of miles between our family and us.  Four years earlier, I wanted to be apart from them.  We were one of those families that spent a lot of time together.  Every Sunday was dinner at my in-laws.  Through the years, our clan had grown to 13 people around the table or fire pit, eating food, listening to music and playing games.  For me, as an only child, this was a little more chaos than I could handle.  At the same time, we loved and helped to raise our three nephews and two nieces, babysitting, watching plays, going to their concerts, and teasing them as they went through puberty.  When we moved to Arizona, that definitely put a damper on the Sunday night dinners.

We did call back later that evening.  Karen, Brad’s sister couldn’t talk.  She tried but Tony had to keep the conversation going.  Thad had been coming home from a party at about 2 a.m. with two other friends, both18 years-old.  They had a designated driver.  A pick-up truck was going 180 kilometres an hour, running over the smaller Grand-Am.  The car flew over an embankment and two of the boys were thrown from the vehicle.  All three boys were killed instantly.  The 28 year-old driver of the pick-up survived with injuries.  He was legally drunk.

That young man’s choice changed everything.

For three days after we got the news, we stumbled around, booked flights from Phoenix and looked at old pictures — a story in each one.  We checked Thad’s Facebook page and watched the stories and pictures flood his wall — a new kind of memorial.  We counted the minutes before we would be with our family, not sure what to expect.

It was an awful and beautiful thing being home again.  I could barely catch my breath when we walked into Karen and Tony’s house, the family surrounded us.  I heard that animal sound coming from Karen’s throat.  She couldn’t stop and as the rest of us untangled ourselves, Brad held his sister up.  She wouldn’t let go.

We all seemed to stand in our own space, staring or crying.  And then we got busy.  It seemed easier when we had something to do.  Food was made, laundry was done, floors were washed and people came and went.

The community’s support amazed us all.  Daily visitors came with food, cards and flowers and even toiletries that were running low.  Prayers held us up as we made funeral arrangements.  We connected with old friends and new ones were made in a way that only Thad could pull off.  And there was laughter. There had to be.  We were there for Thad, who was one of the goofiest guys I had known.

The funeral was standing room only.  There were over a thousand people in the church.  It was a day that started out with dread.  A day to survive.  But as Thad’s friends shared their stories, his teachers praised his uniqueness and the music was played, the day became one of hope.

We decided to extend our stay.  In the midst of the days spent on the family acreage, it snowed.  I woke up to a snowfall that was steady but slow, like feathers floating to the ground on a windless day.  It was quiet.  The horses rolled in the field and swung their heads, stomping and nudging each other — this was the first time I felt I could pick up my camera.  I’ve been the one taking pictures at every get together but this wasn’t the same.  I walked out in my pajama’s not wanting to miss capturing the scene.  I stood far away from the horses, composing the feeling of the landscape.  But soon, I moved in closer. The snow was soaking my slippers and my feet began to ache from the cold.  I moved to the fence, the horses came closer toward me, blinking against the snowflakes in their eyes.  The world was quiet, muffled and evenly lit around me.  It was that still moment in the storm that took me by surprise.  It’s where peace was hiding.  I stayed until my teeth chattered, the hot coffee calling me inside.

The rest of the days spent together were too short and the goodbye’s that are normally hard enough, were full of tears, hugs and a longing not to let go.  And all too soon, we had to move on to our “new normal.”  Lives were forever changed, perspectives had shifted and life meant something so much more than it did just two weeks prior.  I know that Thad would be the first to tell us to get on with it; do what you love, listen to loud music, hug a friend, tell a silly joke — and do it like you mean it.  And if I get overwhelmed with the grief of it all, I make myself still, breathe and look for peace — because even though it’s hidden sometimes, I think peace wants to be found.

What’s all the Hype?

Posted: April 3, 2012 in kind of like news

Today, when I checked my email, there was an ad from the Microsoft Store that said, “Get The Hunger Games limited-edition PC today.” I wondered if the author of “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins, got the same ad in her inbox.  If so, was she amazed that her writing could be so popular as to have Bill Gates take notice and recognize a good business venture in creating this signature computer?

Bill Gates isn’t the only one to take notice of this latest best selling Young Adult (YA) book.  “The Hunger Games” is the first novel in the Hunger Games trilogy.  Since its initial release in 2009, parents, teens and college students have been reading and talking about the believability of Katness Everdeen (apparently there was no better name at the moment), the main character and Collins post apocalyptic world.  Not unlike Cormac McCarthy’s, “The Road,” we aren’t sure how the end of the world comes about — and really, it doesn’t matter. This new world has been organized into 12 districts that surround the Capitol city, Panem.  Each year, the districts hold a lottery to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to perform in the Hunger Games, kill or be killed.  Like all good game shows, it is televised for all the districts to enjoy.  Reminiscent of reality T.V. at its best.  Gladiator’s anyone?

The book begins with the introduction of Katniss Everdeen who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Primrose, in representing District 12 in the Hunger Games.  Also selected from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son whom Katniss knows from school.  Thus begins their fight for survival.  Of course it isn’t a real YA novel without a love triangle.  Katniss has to decide between the baker’s son and her best friend Gale, who is waiting back in District 12 with the promise that he would watch over her family.  Fortunately, this isn’t made into something syrupy and annoying. Well, maybe a little but not as much as some previous YA hits that shall remain nameless.  The romance is used to spur on the plot in a believable way, while building tension for the reader as well as increasing the ratings of the games.   The rest of “The Hunger Games,” is a violent, fast-paced novel that holds constant suspense for the reader as well as for the rich, bored people of the capitol.  See, something for the guys too.

The popularity of this book is being compared to Stephenie Meyer’s, “Twilight Series,” and the Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling.  But there are some distinct differences from that of the previously named bestselling books.  And those differences are having an impact on the YA generation of today.

The Hunger Games hits a cord with the youth of today with the image of dichotomy between the wealthy and the working middle class.  The underlying theme of survival is not unlike what people are feeling today as “big brother” watches with seemingly detached amusement.  What makes this book stand out for Tristan Flattery, a 19 year-old student at Paradise Valley Community College and the Puma Press photo editor, is the believable world that was created and the flawed but likeable Katniss.  “She seems so real.  I can put myself in her place,” Flattery says.  Even though we don’t know what a post apocalyptic world looks like, we can see and feel the setting that Collins has created.  Why?  Flattery says its because it closely resembles our own.

With society’s love for video games, violence and reality T.V. it isn’t so far fetched.  The youth today want to find their place in this world and they’re willing to fight for what is important, just like our heroine.  They don’t need anymore Hollywood versions of young love and they don’t believe in the magic of Hogwarts.  They’ve seen too much of the real world.

In contrast, there are some scenes that make you go, “hmmm.”  Although help does fall from the sky for certain “sponsored” contestants of the Games, and the government seems to lack a certain authority, the reader tends to overlook these things.  It’s like the reality show we can’t stop watching.  We are both disgusted and amused by what society has become and in doing so we accept anything.

Maybe the Young Adult generation will see that it’s OK to accept what might be viewed as magic.  After all the bad stuff we’ve seen in our society, we know that miracles still happen.  People do fight and survive.  They love their families and maintain friendships.  They think for themselves and make choices — that’s life.  Maybe there’s hope for all of us. And with “The Hunger Games” movie being released to theatres on March 23rd, we’ll see if Katniss and the world of Panem will make us care enough to see what happens next.

On Feb. 24 – 26, I joined a handful of students from Paradise Valley Community College, to attend this year’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference at Arizona State University.  This was a new thing for me, a virgin voyage into the world of obsessed, passionate and crazy writers.

The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference, in its ninth year, serves as a source of ideas, advice and inspiration for both returning writers and novices like myself.

By the second morning of the conference, I realized that for me, there was an underlying theme to the weekend — genre busting.  I was beginning to learn as much about myself as the craft of creative writing.  I could see that I don’t like to be boxed in by genre.

Much of the talk was about blurring the lines between art, fiction, music, non-fiction and poetry.

For instance, Adam Johnson, an associate professor of English from Stanford University, led a unique panel discussion about the “Graphic Novel.” The Stanford Graphic Novel Project started when Johnson asked his creative writing students to design a picture or graphic image of the stories they were working on.  He later introduced graphic novels into his writing class after realizing a shift in the medium from common entertainment genres to serious non-fiction works and memoirs.

This requires a collaboration of artists.  Students are coming together as teams of writers, visual artists, and illustrators, each one with a specific job to do.  After choosing the story they will tell, the writers develop the characters and create an angle for the story.  They collaborate on the chapter and pass their work to thumbnailers, who storyboard the plot for the illustrators.  This process is repeated until the book is done and put through post-production.

One of Johnson’s, latest student-run projects, “Pika-don,” tells the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945.  Yamaguchi, a navy engineer during WWII in Hiroshima, watches the senseless destruction of a country he loved and reevaluates the importance of life, duty and family.

This Project is providing a whole new face to the “comic book” and giving a voice to those who might go unnoticed.  There is a potential to attract a new audience of readers to artistic works and real-life stories that center around the theme of social justice.

As an artist and a writer, I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities that lay ahead with our changing technology, new art mediums and a generation of creative people that are ready to experiment and push back the boundaries of genre.

This past week I was in the town of Banff, Canada, a common tourist stop on the way through the Rocky Mountains.  There is no denying that the Rockies are a spectacular site and as I watched the bus loads of Asian tourists stop and unload, I realized they thought the same thing.  I’ve never seen so many Canons and Nikons converge on the streets of one, small town.

It’s hard to walk down any street without seeing a camera.  With the addition of cameras to cell phones, our ability to take pictures wherever we are is endless. And although we all have the equipment to take a picture, could it be better?  What if you could make a picture verses taking a snapshot?

Taking time to set up your picture can make your photos into something more than a mere snapshot.  I asked Paul Bartell of Photobart Imaging, Phoenix, Arizona, who has won the Guru Award at the 2010 Photoshop World Conference, what he sees as the most common problem with people’s photos.  “The biggest general problem I see with people’s photos from a compositional stand point is the angle of view. People (myself included) tend to be lazy, they will snap a photo from where they are currently standing,” Bartell says.  As someone who makes his living from retouching and manipulating photographs, Bartell, suggests that with a little care and the use of five easy tips, anyone can take picture making skills to the next level.

1.  Move to their level:  For example, if the subject you are photographing is a small child or pet, crouching down to take the photo from a lower angle can greatly improve the image. Also, changing your position to eliminate a busy, distracting background will allow you to make the subject the main focus of your photograph.

2.  Crop in close:  Fill the frame of your camera with your main subject.  This will cut out any distraction in the background, creating an intimacy with your subject.

3.  Use the Rule of thirds:  Think of your photograph in a graph of thirds both horizontally and vertically.  Put your main subject or focus on one of the grid points.  This will eliminate the “bulls eye” look of a picture that has the subject centered.

4.  Avoid harsh/midday sunlight:  Try to shoot early morning or late afternoon.  You can also look for shade and with the use of your flash, fill in the light that is needed.  If you can, find a natural light source.  It will work best as it delivers a diffused, flattering light.

5.  Hold your camera steady:
Make yourself into a tri-pod by bring your elbows into your sides and stand with your feet shoulder width apart.  If you are shooting down, plant your knees on the ground or use the ground itself to stabilize your arms.  You can also use slow and steady pressure on the shutter release to avoid camera movement.  This will help reduce motion blur and give you sharp, clear pictures.

These techniques can be used by the most seasoned photographers, Asian tourists or college students taking photos for their Facebook pages.  Photography rules need to be learned so that you know when it is appropriate to break them.  Like any form of art, it is subjective… you need to shoot to please yourself, be passionate about it.  At the very least, take a few moments to make the best photo you can.  These are your memories, after all.

rookie move

Posted: February 1, 2012 in life is strange

I’m no rookie. I’ve crossed the border many times with my Canadian passport – I’m confident, educated and have a relatively good sense of humor that sometimes can be a bit strange and British in nature.  I’ve learned to temper that humor.  At the border you stay serious.  Don’t crack a joke and look as nice as you possibly can.  Kind of like when your dog has gorged himself on food from the garbage – he knows he’s in trouble so he sits with his head down looking meek, trying to be as nice as possible.  “Nope, no trouble here,” his eyes say.

So it came as a bit of a surprise while standing in the Custom’s line-up in the airport that I started getting nervous. I had filled out extra papers,

I-90 forms and declarations of the t-shirts we bought just in case the custom’s officer felt the need to foil our smooth entry into the country.

I had previous encounters with officer’s that would stamp your paperwork and send you on your way, while another would pull out the I-90 multiple entry card and tell you to fill out another form while requiring you to stand on one foot and recite your name, rank and serial number.  I don’t know why they are all different.  My husband and I have come up with our own theories; lack of caffeine intake for the day, not enough to eat or not having sex the night before.  None of these theories have been proven, of course, as we felt it might be considered as some kind of breach of national security to ask why they were so grumpy.

I notice the other people who cross through with no worries (and an American Passport). They smile and laugh as if they’re part of the Custom’s Officer Club or at least a groupie.  I know I’m not a part of this society but seeing their smiles, I begin to calm down.

It’s our turn.  No small talk.  No smiles.  My son sails through.  He, of course, has that dog that ate the garbage look down pat.  As I hand my expired passport, the one with my American Visa and the I-90 stapled in, I get the look.  Not the “I find you slightly attractive” look but the “are you kidnapping this child, smuggling illegal drugs or carrying a new Health Care Initiative from your socialist country” look.  (God forbid that might get into the hands of the President).  He makes a point of opening my current Visa without looking up.  He studies it for a moment and asks me to place my hand on the scanner.  I switch hands again and wipe the sweat on my jeans before placing it on the screen.  All is well. I’m close now.  I begin to breath easy.

“Okay Ma’am, could you look into the camera please.”  I’m home free.  The last step is a breeze.  But for some reason, I make a rookie move.  I forget all previous training. I step up to the web cam on his desk and push my eye to the sensor as if I’m getting an eye exam.

“Um, Ma’am, could you step back behind the yellow line please?  We just need your picture, not a retina scan.”

I can feel my face blush as if I had taken my clothes off and offered myself for a cavity search.  I fight the urge to say “cheese” and make another novice move.  I look at the customs officer briefly as he hands my papers to me and I’m met with something new.  Could it be?  Yes, I think I see the beginnings of a smile, or is it laughter?  I don’t care which it is.  I had made a custom’s officer laugh.  I could lace my skates and glide across Hell’s arena.  I’m now part of the club.  It was a good day after all.

“Welcome to the United States of America,” he said.