Sunday, February 9, 2014

Moooved by Steve in Cow Suit

Last Saturday my cow suit and I were at Boston’s Cheers bar where no one knew my name. This Saturday I walked into a Pocatello brew pub and as if on cue “BIL-LAY!” echoed as soon as I entered.  Four male friends from college were standing by the bar with beautiful welcoming smiles.  I haven’t seen those smiles assembled like that for a long, long time. They not only welcomed me to the bar but into a time 20 years ago when they let me in their herd.

I was carrying cow suits for me and my friend Steve who is moooooving away this week. These buddies’ grins contained joy at seeing me for the first time in a long time, but also knowing that Steve was about to put on a cow suit.
I have known Steve since college. He drinks, smokes, plays poker, loves football, ultimate fighting, and me. Steve is like me in that he only holds judgment for the judgmental and that includes himself.  His love of mankind is felt in his presence.

This was a cow-culated suiting up because I wanted to write about Steve. Magic of the cow suit lies in the ripples it creates. Steve had two Facebook posts months ago that have rippled in my mind, and I think about him every time I do something nice for someone. And hey—I do a lot of nice things for people, so I think about Steve a lot of my days.  
Can I say that without sounding smug? That I do nice things for people? Therein lies a ripple of Steve.

Over a year ago, Steve posted a status update about buying lunch for a military service man in the airport. It was a brief yet reflective statement recounting how the military uniform ignited Steve’s gratitude for this man’s service and a desire to simply thank him by buying his lunch.  It made him feel good to say “thank you,” and he shared that on his Facebook wall.
Accolades from his friends flooded in for Steve’s gesture, but a few comments were made as to why he had to tell people about it. A few hours later Steve posted about how discussing his gesture of kindness and gratitude “cheapend the act.”  I remember those exact words: Cheapened the act.

Many times since Steve’s post, I have wanted to tell people about something nice I did, but I kept quiet.   He has made me question motives and altruism and kindness in myself and all around me.  The kindest people are the most selfish.   In 9th grade I was voted “Most Kind.”
The cow suit is selfish. It’s about my self-centered desire to feel joy and see smiles. Steve selfishly put a cow suit on for me last night.  Well, he had to put two of them on because his belly’s as big as his heart.  He agreed because I asked him. Because he knew it would make me happy. It would make him happy.

Steve & Billie in Selfish Bovine Bliss
Our selfish selflessness is captured perfectly here. My eyes are tired from travel and I wanted to be asleep, but I also wanted to do this for Steve (myself). Among his manly friends and their laughter, he wrangled his way into 2 cow suits for me(himself).  We both benefited greatly from each other’s selfishness and ours smiles show it.

As you move away Steve, I hope you dive into your new community like you have in ours. I hope you continue to do nice things for people and dammit, tell me about it!

Brag. Gloat. Share your stories of kindness because sometimes I think nothing good is happening in this world. The simple stories like the one you shared let me know I am wrong.  Your selfish need to prove and invent good in the world satisfies my own.   This world is good because of you, Steve. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Courage in a Cow Suit

I couragously cowed in Boston. My few solo hours held subway rides, photos with American tourists, photos with foreign tourists, moos, giggles, deep breaths, sighs, a marching band, a march from the Capitol, singing, beer-drinking, almost-dancing and almost-ice skating. It was a good day and when it was over,  I cried. It was a cow suit sucker punch like I've never had, but it was good.
The Challenge
My challenge for the day was to go to the Cheers Bar in Boston and video myself singing the TV show's theme song in my cow suit. The "prize" was that a friend back home in Idaho would suit up with me and cow some time. Singing in public terrifies me. I karaoked in college on a bet. It was Bette Midler's "The Rose."  The audience howled. Not like laughing--like wounded dogs crying to the moon. All I could think was how the lingering notes of the Cheers song were going to be like that.
I needed to muster all the courage I could for this.
The Prep
I had a healthy breakfast and a killer workout. My treadmill playlist included anthems from Kelly Clarkston and Katy Perry. There was a little Erasure and the Glee version of Don't Stop Bull-evin'. That's how I spell it now.  I also have Blessed Be Your Name on my favorite running list. It's a contemporary Christian song that (1) I just like and (2) was played at my 15 year old friend Ryleigh's funeral.  (I've mentioned Ryleigh before in here. Our Cows for a Cure Relay for Life Team became Ryleigh's herd after she died of leukemia in 2009. Ryleigh cows with me EVERY time I venture out.)
The lyrics and treadmill meditations did wonders in my mind to build courage. Each song reminded me of people in my life who've possessed great courage--some of it I've seen, but most of it I've only deduced because I simply know we all have our demons to battle. Ryleigh was courageous.
I'd been to the front desk at the hotel that morning for a razor because I forget how short the cow suit is. I wanted to maximize my appearance for maximum confidence that morning. I don't know why I weighed myself at the gym. Dumb. And while I'm all into being bold & courageous, I weighed 185lbs--five pounds off of the most I've ever weighed. I was maximized, alright.
I boarded the hotel shuttle for the train with a pocket full of gum, a fully charged camera phone, my hand-written Cheer's lyrics, and my Cow Suit Saturday bag with an extra cow suit in case I found someone who wanted to cow with me.  I had on eye liner, foundation, and mooscara. Ready to Cow!! 
Sitting in the back of the hotel shuttle.
Bovine Loose in Boston
On the shuttle, there were a Hispanic husband, wife, kids and mother-in-law. The driver was Hispanic. There was a middle eastern man in front of me and a black man next to him. One of them had on a delicious cologne. A 20-something white kid sat straight up across the aisle from me. I'm almost certain he was high-functioning autistic by his posture and nail biting rhythms. He'd been at the hotel desk before me and was very polite. He was the only one of the other groups to thank the driver and wish him a nice day right on cue. I made sure I did, too. And I tipped him. I ALWAYS tip regardless, but am extra certain when cowing. That's right...a tipping cow.  I am cordial in a cow suit because that's how I want to be remembered.

The map at the train station. This is scary for an Idaho girl let alone a cow.
Instead of focusing on stares or looking down, I held my head high and took in everything around me. I realized on this venture that if I fill my senses and process as many sights and sounds and look for the joy and wonder around me, I load my brain so it can't even process my nerves.I know that signs of courage and encouragement will speak to me as the day unfolds.  And lookie here...

Photos of Amelia Earhart and Nancy Harkness Love. Now there was some courage!
My biggest disappointment of the day was that I forgot to pack my Converse sneakers. A new Converse headquaters is being built in Boston. I'll have to go back. I don't need a reason, but reasons help.
Seahawks colors shoes (a coincidence), silky smooth legs & my special bag. Yea!
I walked along the Freedom Trail en route to the Cheers bar. This was about my fourth time traversing these sidewalks. How many times can I say, "everything changes in a cow suit?" It's like when you get glasses and realize that trees are actually individual leaves rather than a clump of green. I see and hear individual pieces of the day rather than the whole.

As I crested Beacon Hill, I could hear a marching band. Trombones. There was my musical boost for courage. I loved playing the trombone solo in pep band. I let that memory take up some space in my head for a second while I caught myself marching to the beat of the drums as I walked toward them.  There was a march on the Capitol. I slowed down a bit to take stock of the marchers, to make sure I didn't stumble into something I'm moorally opposed to. They didn't have big signs but a lot of the participants looked like me sans a cow suit.

The Capitol and lingering marchers.
One of the ladies was from Minnesota and started talking me up and explaining their genesis and focus. She talked of renewable energy and electric cars and then said, "And you're part of the problem, too, ya know? Cows. You.  A problem."  I'm pretty sure she was kidding, but she didn't follow that up with as much socially-appropriate laughter as she should have. I kept mooooving.

Ahhh. That's what it is.
Gaulav and his friend were the first to ask me to take my picture. They were so friendly. I should have asked where they were from. I can't imagine being in a foregin country surrounded by people speaking a different language.
I asked if he wanted to wear the extra suit. He said he'd just hold it.
The marchers followed the band to gather in the Boston Commons Park for a rally. The music was peppy and grand!

I wanted to dance. I like to dance, but it's a toss-up if I'm a worse dancer or singer and since the latter was already on the day's docket, I hung back and tapped my foot.
I made it to the Cheers Bar!!  (See my earlier post for the full Cheers breakdown.)
The jubilent suit hides the udder fear I'm holding in that moment. What's in the bag? Fear and a spare suit.
While the employees are getting ready to sing with me, I got to pose behind the Cheers Bar. It never would have happened if not in a cow suit. I wouldn't have asked. I wouldn't have chatted up the staff. The sweet folks from New Jersey wouldn't have noticed the ordinary redhead from Idaho in jeans and and fleece. At this moment, I realized I didn't need courage for the cow suit, but it had given me courage.
Just waiting for Cliff and Norm. (or Marcus and Jaynie the day's hosts)
I left the bar to walk through the park some more. I like this park. Scenes like this are nestled in my head from artwork in my childhood. American folk artists like Jane Wooster Scoot and Charles Wysocki captured my imagination of Americana and picture-perfect paintings. I would lose myself in them.

I had a happy childhood. When I run into old friends of my mom who reminisce and talk about it, they tell me that I was the most wanted child they ever met and she only wanted one. As an only child, I would spend hours playing board games, house (I'd have my stuffed animals play different parts) and setting up things to emulate "perfect" life scenarios much like the picture below.  I have American Folk Art all over my house today.
Ice skating rink on Boston Commons that I'm leaving uninterruped by cow
A chill started to sweep in. I wanted to wander the park and let it sustain the cow suit smile a little longer. I wanted to ice skate. Really--a cow on ice!?! I skipped it and added it to a mental cow suit bucket list because I wanted this scene to stay just like it is. It's perfect
Cow Suit Sucker Punch
The train ride back to the hotel was uneventful. Well...compared to the rest of the day. I'm sure there were stares and smiles I missed, but my brain was tired. My senses had worked hard.  There were two older handsome pilots on the shuttle from the train to the hotel. When we walked past the valet stand, I dropped my rental car ticket and one of them alerted me, "You dropped something. Yikes! That's not something I want to say to a cow. Yuck!"  Ha!  He had an arrogant air about him, but that was completely casual and endeering.
The valet took my card and I changed out of my suit while he got my rental car. As I approached him for the keys, he pulled them to his chest and said, "I'm sorry. This isn't yours. I believe a cow gave me the ticket." Yes! Well played, Mr. Valet.
I got in the car grinning non-floppy ear-to-non-floppy ear and started to process it all as I drove out of town. Like everything awesome, much fun lies in remembering. As I was getting ready to call people to tell them about my day, I was sucker punched.
It's been almost two years since our relationship ended, but I still think to call her with my excitement. Not immediately, but she's high on the list, and that's just not how it is now. Boom. Tears instantly. My happy reflections were elbowed right out of the way by this grief that insisted on my attention. I was stuck in the car in normal clothes and unable to focus on anything but the traffic and the raw sense of loss. The was no cow suit diversion now. I was stuck suitless and sad. 
I caught myself holding my breath. Traffic was thick but not ultra heavy. Cars and people were near me but traveling fast. I realized I was stifling my sorrow because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying in the car. I’ll wear a cow suit all over Boston, but I’ll be damned if strangers in traffic see a tear.  Cow-ard.
We had a life as perfect as American Folk Art but it fell apart. I am overall happy today--in and out of the cow suit--and things are exactly as they should be, but I'll always be sad it went the way it did. I’m working on another painting now and Boston is a beautiful base for this cow’s new canvas.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cow Suit Cheers!

I had a beer in the Cheers bar in Boston today. In a cow suit.

It all started with cupcakes in Idaho a week and half ago. Pocatello cake artist Paula Ames does this “Tasty Tuesday” thing. She asks her Facebook fans for nominations of “good in our community.” Then she shows up on a Tuesday morning with some of the best darn cupcakes you can imagine. As she presents her goods to the weekly winner(s), she tells them that someone in their midst thinks they are wonderful.
Paula appeared at my office last week after my longtime high school classmate and friend, Tiffany, nominated me.  Smiles all around as I raised a coconut lime cupcake. 
I texted Paula after she left to thank her and ask if I could join her on a Tasty Tuesday delivery sometime. In a cow suit. And if she’d wear one too.  I thought with our mutual aquaintance in Tiffany that Paula knew about my blog and cowing. She didn't. Awkwaaaaard. We began a daylong text exchange about “What is cowing?”

She discussed fears and insecurities. She said it might bring up bad childhood memories.  I tried to play back my two minute meeting of Paula. I’ve become so comfortable in my suit in my small Idaho city, it didn’t dawn on me that one might not fit her.  I strained to remember her physical appearance in detail, but our meeting was so quick, and honestly…as soon as I saw the frosting, nothing else was in focus.
Am I a jackass or an angel for not considering her figure when I threw out my cowing invite? I've been pondering.

As I sensed she was warming to cowing, I told her that my schedule would be tricky because I've been working in the Boston area. I gave Paula too much information. The invite dialogue ended with her telling me that she would only cow with me IF I did the following:
1)      Wore my suit to the Cheers bar in Boston AND
2)      bought her a t-shirt AND
3)      sang the TV show theme song AND
4)      showed her video of it.

Whaaaaaa?   Cheers?  Fine.  A t-shirt? Sure. Sing? Uhhh….
Video?  No. Freakin’. Way.
I’m not a singer. My musical prowess extends to playing the trombone loudly and badly in high school.  Paula smugly reminded me that cowing is about stretching boundaries. Fine. This was via text, but I heard her smug.

She was right. If I had the kind audacity to invite her to do something so wonderfully uncomfortable, I should be able to stretch my own cow suit cozy zone.
I had to udder-up.

I stayed at my hotel until the last possible minute this morning. Bostonians and tourists smiled, pointed and mooed at me on the subway. They stopped to take pictures of me and with me as I walked the few blocks from the train station to Cheers.  When I got to Cheers, a mother of two older teenage kids snapped this photo. Her son stepped slightly behind her as she took focus. He smiled but was skeptical.
I am screaming inside right now. I do not want to sing.
I paused in the stairwell and took a breath before walking in.
Funny. The real name of the pub is The Bull and Finch Bar. Hellloooo, Brother Bull.  Looks like I’ll be just fine here.

When I walked in, Marcus and Jaynie greeted me with instant smiles and a chuckle-laced, “Welcome to Cheers!”  I took it all in. My senses are so heightened in the suit. I force my eyes to tell my brain everything I see, so I don’t have the neural energy to recognize the discomfort. I realized this defense mechanism today.
Pictures of Sam, Norm, Cliff and Carla. The bar, the railing, the stained glass, the wooden Indian statue, smiling people and beer!

I started to explain Cow Suit Saturday to Marcus and Jaynie when two men from Spain wanted my picture. They were so cheerful. This guy told me in a rich Spanish accent how much his wife would laugh and like to see this “American Cow”.  

Spanish guy with intoxicating accent.

I showed my hosts my cow suit bag and let them know I had an extra one and would love for one of them to wear it and sing with me. I knew that need to ruminate in their young minds for a bit.

Marcus while still skeptical and unconvinced this would be fun.
I chose a seat at the bar in the corner where I could watch everything. I seriously contemplated whether or not to have a beer.

Some nice folks from New Jersey are on the right. Good singers.
Argument For A Beer: My visualization of me singing was going to be solo and quietly into my iPhone. I even wore eye makeup today because my practice runs earlier showed buggy eyes. (yes--I videoed solo practice runs to make me feel better. They did NOT make me feel better.)  I have a horrible voice and an ice cold beer would undoubtedly settle my nerves and make it easier. 
Argument Against Beer: Today was about courage and doing something uncomfortable, feeling every lick of it and forging on.

Argument For Beer: I was in the Cheers Bar, for crying out loud. What would Norm do? 

Best. Beer. Ever.
I ordered a Harpoon IPA and a non-alcoholic Kalber.

I recognized the stained glass!
Sipping the beers and looking around the place was surreal. I had been bummed to go alone, but if someone had gone with me, I wouldn’t have been able to take it all in. My solitude let me overhear the hosts discussing who would sing with me. Yessss!!!! 

Proud and couragous herdsman, Marcus
Marcus gets the Courageous Cow of the Day award. As I looked at hundreds of eyes today, I wondered which ones would see the world through a cow suit with me. Surely, someone would. And Marcus did.
Mike, the manager, cued up the original song on his iPhone and played it over the speakers while the three of us tried to sing behind the bar. *Tried.*

We had hand-written lyrics. We were smiling. We were nervous. We were in it together! And we were bad. So bad.  It was the bad that made today sooo good. (I’m not posting the video here, but I’ll be showing  the proof to Paula.) Note our posture and expressions as the song went on. Jaynie looks terrified. Marcus, I think, just kept his eyes closed the whole time thinking, "If I can't see you, you can't see me."
By the end...we'd do it all over again!!
It’s interesting to think about how our actions serve as cattle-ists and exactly what we do for or because of other people. Tiffany’s casual nomination on Paula’s Facebook page in Pocatello Idaho led to my cheerful time in the Cheers Bar in Boston today.   The ripples are too many to list here.
I have been working in New England A LOT over the last few months. My days are long and the nights are lonely. (Is that a song? It should be if it isn’t.) I have never spent this much time in a place where no one knows my name.  Today was starkly different within moments of entering Cheers.
Mike, Jaynie and Marcus made my experience exactly what the TV show portrayed and exactly what the famed lyrics portray. I may not remember their names as time passes, but I'll certainly remember our cow suit cheer at Cheers today. And Paula…I bet when she’s cowing with me, SHE will remember your names—and send you a mixture of across-the-country curses and cheers.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came.

You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same

You wanna be where everybody knows  Your name.

You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,

You wanna go where everybody knows your name.