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'Tis the season -- for tears

patty ryan
GRAND CENTRAL
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By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 23, 2002


I'VE NOTICED a werewolf, hanging on a rope under a billboard at Neptune and Dale Mabry, not far from Bertha's. Stuffed, it appears.

Times are tough when even the werewolves give up.

Sept. 11 has arrived early this year, like Christmas usually does, with programs on television to remind us of the season. I saw one on CNN the other night. Only then did I realize how fresh things are, beneath the veneer of healing.

* * *

HERE WAS my version of therapy last fall: Over and over, I played the same melancholic song, Superman, performed at The Concert for New York City.

"I can't stand to fly.

"I'm not that naive.

"I'm just out to find

"The better part of me . . ."

By December, I felt anesthetized to the words. They still conjured images of airplane heroes over Pennsylvania but no longer turned me into a sniffling mess.

By year's end, a friend had flirted with sleeping pills, so sad was the world around her.

* * *

IT'S MONDAY, lunchtime, and I'm sitting in Ovo Cafe with another friend, Evelyn, a native of Guatemala.

"A man walks down the road with a donkey," she begins.

(You know, they still have donkeys in Central America.)

"The donkey falls into a hole in the road."

(And big potholes.)

"The man tries, but he can't get the donkey out of the hole. . . ."

* * *

WE HAD been trading tales of friends and family, good news first, then the rest.

I had to be honest. Half the people I know are in crisis, I told her.

One friend, Lauren, buried her mother in November and is losing her father to Alzheimer's. Another, Suzie, was recently diagnosed with cancer and given a grim prognosis. Friend X, mired in mental illness, has left her job. Friend Y has sought drug and alcohol counseling.

They are professional women, bright and warm and witty.

I try to be a good listener, all the while worrying that I am on the verge of contracting Ebola, a nice complement to the group.

* * *

THE DONKEY'S situation appears hopeless.

The owner gives up, Evelyn says.

Rather than let the donkey starve to death, he decides to bury it alive. He throws dirt into the hole. Furthermore, he calls others to the hole, to help throw more dirt, convinced it is the humane thing to do.

Men come with shovels, grimly obliging.

* * *

I DECIDE at some point that a terrorist is a tornado with a face, no more, no less.

That somehow makes things easier. Having lived in Florida, I can fathom acts of nature.

* * *

EVELYN is an optimist.

The donkey feels the dirt hit his back, she says. He doesn't like it. At first he squeals, but then he grows quiet.

Instinctively, he shakes it off. He feels dirt around his ankles, too, but steps on it.

Dirt falls for hours. Yet the donkey, shaking and stomping, is no more buried than at the beginning.

In fact, he rises, inch by inch, until he is finally free.

* * *

OVER BREAKFAST on MacDill Avenue, I find my friend Lauren.

We sit beside a man who is furious about unwanted cinnamon. Or maybe he's furious about something else, unspoken.

She dabs at her eyes and talks about work.

I know work isn't really what's bothering her. She misses her mother's advice. I muster memories of a lost mother and say that the advice will soon reappear.

* * *

IN THE CAR, I play the Superman song, again, trying to conquer the spirit of the season.

I'm caught off guard.

What has happened, since December?

I punch the replay button, again and again.

-- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or pryan@sptimes.com.

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