Life and the Dead

Reflections on life and death and The Walking Dead

Tag: #TWD

When Did Des Moines, Iowa Turn Hipster?

The last time I visited Des Moines, Iowa, was about 4 years ago. Wow. Things have changed. Oh sure, on my previous visit, they did have Raygun and Zombie Burger, and there was always West Des Moines where you could shop at Trader Joes or hang out in the new high-end mall. I hear they even have a Whole Foods there now. But Downtown Des Moines has definitely turned hipster.

The first indicator that something has changed is the lack of availability of last minute hotel rooms in the Downtown. I asked my sister who works in Des Moines if there was a convention or something going on. Not that she knew of. “Try Des Lux”, she said, “It’s a relatively new boutique hotel.” Second flag that something was up…new boutique hotel. No go. Fully booked. Next step; try Airbnb. Score. Not that many available, but I did manage to book a really nice flat (and yes, the owner called it a flat…third flag something was up) overlooking the Des Moines River and Cubbies Baseball stadium. Highly recommend this Airbnb! Location was perfect and the ‘flat’ was awesome.

Driving around Downtown Des Moines, you notice a lot of construction, but nothing that gets in your way. You can find a parking place within a minute or two, if not immediately. As you walk along, you can’t miss a series of brightly painted pianos on various street corners around the city. 4th flag that something is up (I heard about a similar project in NYC), and low and behold, there were even people who stopped and played a few tunes on them. You may even forget for a moment that you’re in Des Moines and think you’re in NYC, but then quickly you realize there is absolutely no trash or debris of any kind in Des Moines. It’s even cleaner than Singapore.

My destination on this walk is East Village, because that’s where Raygun and Zombie Burger live, both of which I’m familiar with. I’ll get a couple of clever-edgy-funny t-shirts, and grab a vegan burger at Zombie. But suddenly, I am completely distracted. There’s an element of Melrose Avenue in LA that comes to mind and I’m seeing girls with really good ink and guys with trendy hair and trimmed beards. I do a double take of the streets and see 6th and Locust, and then a stranger says hello to me and I’m instantly brought back to reality – I’m not in LA, I’m in Des Moines – the only capital city in the universe where a stranger will actually say hi to you in the passing. This is true. Iowans are among the nicest people in the world. It seems everyone has time for you and the check out person at HyVee will spend 5 minutes asking about your life, your kids, San Francisco, your relationship with your husband, all while he/she scans your groceries. You leave HyVee feeling like you had a 5 minute therapy session, and you do indeed feel better about yourself because it seems that someone actually cares…and it’s the grocery store clerk that you just met!

Back to EV (East Village). I could spend a lot of time here. I stop at Mars Café and decide I need a manipedi because I just came from SF where it’s 50 degrees in June and Des Moines is topping out at 85, hence the flip flops with my overgrown toenails. I’m scrolling through my phone reading reviews of several nail salons within a 3 block radius while drinking my almond milk latte (Yep. Des Moines got the memo about milk alternatives…5th flag). Bingo. Art of Nails. Right across the street from Mars. And they take walk in’s. I’m greeted by a very lovely Iowan native, Michelle. She gets me a bottle of water and shows me to my chair. Art of Nails has the best massage chairs of any nail salon I’ve been in.   Bill, born in Laos, but moved to the US when he was one, has lived in Des Moines since he was 4. “I’ve been to Vientienne and Luang Prabang”, I say. We then talk for 45 minutes about a lot of different things as he delivers a great pedicure. I move on to my mani, which is given by another Lao native, Lang. She’s my age and we talk about our kids, parenting, etc. When I leave, I see Michelle cutting Bill’s hair and next to them is a very handsome young man who looks part Asian. They’re all smiling and chatting with each other and I say, “Are you all related?” “Yeah, that’s my mom and dad”, says the handsome young man. Nice family.

Next stop. Blow-out at Bombshell Betty’s. On my way, I pass a swanky day spa called W. They have Aveda products lining the window and it’s all very modern. Again, reminiscent of something straight out of LA. Oh! Another stranger just said hi! I’m still in Des Moines. I pass several boutiques, and they look rather high-end. I step into one called Velvet Coat where I see some really cool sandles. They’re three hundred dollars, but I can see they’re well worth it. Made in Italy. I’m getting nervous because it’s right about now that I start feeling unwelcomed in high-end boutiques. You know, right when you turn the shoe over to see if it’s in your price range and you want the shoe, but you know your husband isn’t gonna want the shoe and the store clerk knows you’re one of “those” people who is not in ‘the disposable income’ category and they decide to not give you the time of day. ”Hi, how are you?” I hear someone say. I turn and see two beautiful sales women, Julia and Nadine. “Hello”, I reply. “Let me know if you need any help”, Julia says. “Thank you. I have an appointment to get my hair blown out, but wanted to stop in your store for a minute.” Nadine replies, “Oh at Bombshell Betty’s? They do a great job.” Which says a lot coming from Nadine who is stunning, with hair that has been painted, literally, by an artist friend. She was a dancer and like other hipsters in Des Moines, was sporting some fine ink. I left there thinking that these two ladies could be my new BFF’s and felt compelled to invite them to have a beer later with my sister an me.

On to Bombshell Betty’s. I walk in. This place is cool, and the two gals working here are even cooler. Now, it’s starting to look more like someplace in the Mission in SF. These girls both have serious body art, and I mean the tattoo artist is really an artist! I ask the one with green hair about hers. “Is that a zombie?” I point to the art on her sleeved arm. “It’s a zombie Snow White scene. I love Disney”, she replies. “Oh, do you watch The Walking Dead? I LOVE that show!” I overzealously chime in. “Haven’t seen it but hear it’s great”. Both of these girls, Sabrina and Holly, have that milky flawless skin that seems very prevalent in the Midwest. They are both beautiful, and smile a lot. They ask me questions about my children, places I’ve travelled. Everyone in this town seems to have time for you. And to be honest, I haven’t seen an excess of cell phone fixation. My hair looks great when Sabrina is finished washing, massaging, blowing out and styling my hair.

My sister picks me up at Raygun, the t-shirt shop whose owner only recently got a smart phone. The shop was featured on NPR during the Iowa Caucasus when hordes of candidates, their entourages, and the press descended on this city and state. Raygun really would be more at home in SoHo, NYC. Its t-shirts’ snarky commentary on conservative culture must have driven the republicans insane! One shirt reads, “Guns don’t kill people. People from Texas kill people.” Hmmm.

My sister drives me to Des Moines International Airport to meet my husband. It takes us 12 minutes to get from EV to the airport. Dollar Renta Car is the only car rental with a line. There are 3 people ahead of me. I’m checked out in less than 5 minutes, and I walk about 100 feet where my car is waiting for me. Toyota Yaris. Zippy. I pick up my husband and we drive straight to Zombie Burger where my whole family is waiting; Mom, Dad, my sister and her two boys, my brother and his wife and their two girls and son. My two boys are the only ones missing. Both on summer trips with friends. I am a TWD fan, which stands for The Walking Dead. I feel very comfortable in this place. And they even have a vegan burger, which I order. What flag are we on? I’ve lost track. They also have a variety of local beers and I say to my husband and sister, “I love this place! Check out the beer selection.” My sister gives me an update…”You have to go to the Iowa Tap Room. They have over a hundred micro brews”. Okay.

Washington and Oregon have nothing on Iowa in the way of micro-brewing. Iowa has entered the modern beer age, and the state has a huge advantage with soil and climate that support optimal hops growing. The line at the Iowa Tap Room was too long…a 50 minute wait. But luckily, it has a sister pub called El Bait Shop, which is conveniently located 1 block from our Airbnb flat. El Bait Shop serves over 100 different beers and a variety of food items. It’s casual and a perfect venue for a hot afternoon draft of beer. Our waitress, Melanie, like everyone else in Des Moines, was helpful, cheerful and very nice.

My husband really wanted to go bike riding, and let me tell you, there are a lot of bike trails in and around Des Moines. In case you’ve never heard of RAGBRAI, I’ll explain; every summer the state of Iowa hosts The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Riders from all over the world participate in this spectacle, and towns transform into massive shelters that provide tent space, sofas, beds, showers and home cooked food of all sorts to the riders. Over 25 thousand people participate in this week long ride, starting with dipping their back tires in the Missouri River and ending with a dip of the front tire in the Mississippi. My husband is gearing up for participating in Ragbrai one day, hopefully within the next couple of years.

For our last real stop in Des Moines, I met my sister and husband at Della Viti Wine Bar. My husband and I grow grapes in Sonoma, so we enjoy a good wine bar, and Della Viti did not disappoint. In fact, the selection of wines were worldly and sophisticated, our host, Bruce, seemed to know as much about wine as the any Bay Area Sommelier. I also need to mention that this is the highest tech wine bar I’ve ever visited. Wines are stored at optimal temperatures in dispensers. This seemed odd at first, but after listening to Bruce’s explanation we realized it was quite state-of-the-art. The ambiance of Della Viti was just what you’d want in a wine bar. Cozy, well designed, and they serve small plates to accompany your wine experience. I had a delicious glass of Langhe Barbaresco, and I can HIGHLY recommend it!

I told my husband and sister, the only thing missing from Des Moines is ‘the tude’. Everywhere you go, there seems an overwhelming absence of ‘the tude’. Very refreshing. We step onto the street and I notice a shiny new Indian motorcycle. “Nice bike.” I say. “I’d love to have an Indian motorcycle.” My sister adds, “They’re manufactured here in Iowa, you know.”   My mind is blown! No, I did not know. I guess the whole damn state is hipster!

As we get ready to leave Iowa, we enter the Des Moines Airport terminal. And, you guessed it – THERE ARE NO LINES AT CHECK IN OR SECURITY! I turn to my husband and say, “Is this heaven, or what?!” He replies deadpan, “No, Jackie. This is Iowa.” He’s funny. I’m definitely coming back here with my whole family on our next vacation. And yes, Iowa is like Heaven…Hipster Heaven!

Rosie and The Walking Dead (but mostly Rosie)

Rosie - The Best Horse Ever!

Rosie – The Best Horse Ever!

I began watching The Walking Dead on January 8th, 2013, the day my beloved horse died. Her name was Rosie. I had the privilege of riding and caring for her for 10 years. On the day that she died, I was standing in her stall with her veterinarian, Jim Williams, and he was examining her eyes when suddenly she began to sway and stumble and a moment later she collapsed onto the side rail of her stall, eyes rolling back in her head, mouth frothing, legs rigidly moving. Stunned, I said to Jim, “I think she’s having a seizure!” He said, “Yeah! Give her room.” It lasted for a couple of minutes and left me and Jim completely shocked. Witnessing a seizure in any species is disturbing, but to see a horse in a grand mal seizure is frightening.  I could tell we were thinking the exact same thing, when he turned and said, “Jackie. This isn’t good.” A few weeks earlier, Jim looked at her because she had torn a groin muscle, which wasn’t a typical injury for a horse like Rosie. She was 30 years old, in very good shape, excercised regularly, but never too rigorously.   About a week later, I was feeding her a carrot and it looked like she had bite marks on her tongue. I still hadn’t put two and two together until now. It registered, and then Jim confirmed it. “And this isn’t the first seizure she’s had. I bet that’s how she tore that groin muscle.” Rosie stopped seizing but lay in a state of semi-consciousness for several more minutes. The railing was bent and saliva was hanging from the side of her mouth. I leaned over and stroked her face and neck, wiping the drool from her mouth.  By this time, Monte, the owner of Willow Tree Stables had come over, hearing the commotion of the other horses around Rosie. “What happened?” she asked.   “Rosie just had a seizure,” Jim replied. We all stood there speechless. Monte, Jim and I eventually coaxed Rosie back up on her feet. We all knew what this meant. She was 30 years old.  It was most likely a brain tumor. The seizures would start coming more frequently and she had already had at least a few. Someone could be seriously injured by her or Rosie could get seriously injured and then I’d be scrambling for a vet at god knows what hour and watching her suffer while waiting for someone to arrive. Over the next 5 minutes, Rosie recovered from the seizure. During that time, we remained quiet but I could almost feel what everyone was thinking. So I finally said it. “She needs to be euthanized.” Monte and Jim confirmed that this was really the only alternative. I shook my head in desperation, “I can’t have her go to a rendering plant. What about cremating her? Or burying her up at our ranch?” Jim told me to take a few hours with her and that he would return with his neighbor’s truck to haul her up to our ranch after she was euthanized. I was devastated,relieved and grateful, all at the same time.

I had come out to the stables that morning as part of my routine. It’s what I did. I drove my children from our home in Sausalito to school, kissed them goodbye , and I continued out to Rosie. Most days lately, we would hike together on a 5 mile loop, just the two of us. Other days, I would ride her on the trail part of the way and then hike with her on the downhill. The last few years, it became uncomfortable for her on the downhill because of her arthritis, so we would just walk slowly together. She was like a reliable old friend.   In those last few hours, we walked around the stables to the grassy areas where I let her graze. She had many people come and pay their last respects with a carrot or a handful of hay. Rosie was a well known and well loved horse out at the stables. She was the mare that had been out at Willow Tree the longest and was one of the oldest horses there as well.

I had many magical moments with that horse, like cantering bareback through a fern and redwood forest that looked as if it was part of the set for Lord of the Rings. We would soar, she and I, and there were days where I could feel her laughing, saying, “Isn’t this fun? Let’s go faster!” We had no fear and we would go wherever we pleased, trail or no trail. One day, I saw Bambi’s father at the fork of a trail and we came within two feet of him and his magnificent antlers before he leapt over us and disappeared between the trees. We’ve had bobcats and foxes cross our paths, mother deer with their new born fawns, even cattle. But the best moments were those times of Zen serenity alone on the trail with Rosie, spring mornings, usually, with newly sprouted wildflowers and green moss and slivers of sunlight.   This was my heaven on earth. We trusted each other and I truly loved her. I had not anticipated having to say goodbye to her and I was feeling the joy being sucked from my soul through a straw by some unseen force.  To this day, I’ve never gotten that joy back.  It seems a chapter in my life that was written and read and then I had to move forward with the next chapter.

Jim came back, with the truck. And the pink juice. I’d been present for the euthanasia of my little dog, Gryphen, and our beloved cat, Bella. I would be present for the euthanasia of Rosie. The thing that’s so difficult is realizing that they have no idea what’s coming. In the case of my dog and our cat, they very quickly die in your arms, painlessly and with no trauma. It is as if they’re rapidly going to sleep. In the case of a horse, I knew what would happen, but had never witnessed it. They collapse. Jim explained exactly what would happen and that at the moment when he would administer the phenobarbital, I would not be able to stand close because in rare circumstances the horse bolts. But I was able to embrace her and say goodbye moments before, through tears and sobs…”Goodbye, Rosie…we have so many memories together…and I love you so much…goodbye.” And then I stepped away.

A friend from the stables, Natasha, held me and said, “You don’t have to watch,” and I said that I wanted to see her. She stood one moment, and then keeled over and hit the ground hard. It took my breath away. Jim bent over with his stethoscope and I came over and bent down, stroking her neck and mane. She was so beautiful. I think all horses are magnificent. Jim was listening to her heart and then said, “She’s gone.” Yes. Gone. And now what?

My husband met Jim and Rosie up at our ranch outside of Cloverdale. Our tenant Dallas had dug a large whole with the backhoe up by our pond. I wasn’t there when they buried Rosie. I needed to pick up my children from school, make them dinner, feed our dogs. At the end of the day, I put on my pajamas and sat down on the sofa in front of the television screen. And now what? I suddenly felt overwhelming grief at the loss of my beloved Rosie, and devastation at the loss of purpose and routine. I curled up on the sofa and cried. Both of my boys came to check in with me. “Are you okay, Mom?” “I’m really sorry about Rosie”. At the ages of 14 and 16 they had begun to detach from me which is completely natural and expected. But I was always searching for ways to engage them or reconnect somehow. And I cherished these moments when they seemed to care. “Thanks, guys. I’m okay, just really sad. Maybe I’ll watch something on TV.” Then I remembered they had been watching some zombie series, and there was a scene with a horse in it. So I asked, “What was the name of that zombie show you were watching?” My younger son said, “The Walking Dead, but I don’t know if you wanna watch that…it’s violent and people die in it.” “Okay. I’ll think about it.” They both said goodnight and when they left I decided I’d watch the pilot episode of The Walking Dead. At least it would give us a common topic for discussion. I found it ‘on demand’ and watched it from beginning to end. There was a horse that died in episode 1, and it did reminded me of Rosie. But this horse was anonymous, and it died while being ripped apart by zombies. I couldn’t help think about that poor horse…had it been loved like Rosie was loved? What was its history? How long had it lived? Of course nothing really happened to that horse. Zombies didn’t really eat it while it was still alive. But I wondered about it all the same. When the pilot episode was over, I watched the second episode. I spent the next week on and off the sofa binge-watching The Walking Dead and mourning my horse. There would be several other horses featured in The Walking Dead. None of them had very big roles, but I noticed them and thought about them. And I have to say that The Walking Dead has served as a legitimate platform for discussion with my sons, now 16 and 18. We watch it together and we talk about it together. Tonight is Season 6, episode 7. I doubt we will see any horses in this episode, but I’m hoping we find out the origins of the voice calling for help over Daryl’s radio. Of course my boys and I are hoping it’s Glenn. Aren’t we all?


Glenn Rhee: Alive or Dead

Glenn Rhee: To be or not to be…. That is the question we’ve been asking ourselves lately.  Whether that noble character who we have watched these past 6 seasons suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune emerges alive or dead has us all sitting on pins and needles, analyzing and overanalyzing that shocking scene when Nicolas shoots himself in the head and knocks Glenn down into the horde of hungry walkers. I have watched this scene 3 times. The first time, I reacted much like everyone else, in utter shock and disbelief, because, unlike Game of Thrones where after Ned Stark’s swift and gruesome decapitation you brace yourself for the next main character elimination, or eliminations (as in the notorious PTSD-inducing Red Wedding), TWD knocks off it’s characters relatively sparingly and usually pardons the main characters. So after overcoming the initial shock of what looked like Glenn’s death, I moved onto denial. Glenn is not dead. He can’t be dead! So I re-watched the scene. Glenn’s facial expressions read more like despair and grief as opposed to pain and suffering. And from the camera’s point of view, it could be that we’re watching the zombies tear apart Nicolas, who did seem to actually fall on top of Glenn. I watched it carefully…the zombies were ripping through khaki colored clothing. Was Glenn wearing khaki colored clothing? Or was that Nicolas? I watched it a third time. They BOTH were wearing khaki! It’s clear that the writers/directors/producers were really trying to mess with us sleuthy fans. And so we waited for the following episode to see if Steven Yeun was still listed in the opening credits. Damn! He wasn’t! So then, I resolved that Glenn may indeed be dead.

Like Shrodinger’s cat, Glenn is theoretically alive and dead in my mind. He is in a state of quantum superposition. Did that radioactive decay occur or not? Did Nicolas fall on top of Glenn or not? Did Glenn roll under that dumpster or not? Then the paradox seems resolved when at the end of the 6th episode, we hear the lone voice over Daryl’s radio…”Help!”…like in Horton Hears a Who. “We are here, we are here, WE ARE HERE!! He is alive. I wanted to print a t-shirt called TWD’s Glenn. On the front, it would read, “Glenn is Alive”, and on the back it would read, “Glenn is Dead”. There’s already a Shrodinger’s cat version. My brother has it.

I began watching The Walking Dead so I would have a common topic of discussion with my two teenage boys. I quickly became desensitized to the graphic violence (something I’m not proud of) but became over-emotionally involved in the welfare of my favorite characters. I burst into tears when Beth was killed by an explosive bullet to the head and cried even more when her limp body was carried away by a grieving Daryl Dixon. My son, seemingly concerned by my overreaction, said with mild disgust, “Mom…Beth is not a real person. She’s a character played by someone else who is still alive. She didn’t really die.” Oh yes. I forgot. Thank you.

Why do I continue to watch The Walking Dead and how did I get so absorbed in this series? And why has it survived through 6 seasons and seems to be going strong? The bottom line is, I care. I care about the characters. I love Rick Grime’s tortured soul, Michonne’s empathy ad braveness, Carol’s warrior-like transformation, Abraham’s wacky potty mouth, Daryl Dixon’s moral compass and cross bow accuracy, Maggie’s devotion, and Glenn’s righteousness. I have watched them evolve, I have watched them struggle, I have watched them triumph, and I have watched the good prevail. And they are good, as Aaron has so accurately pointed out. We want good to prevail over evil, don’t we? Today, we hear with increasing frequency that in other parts of the world evil sometimes prevails. I have to believe that in the end, good will always win over evil. So far in The Walking Dead, the good have been able to stand their ground, and I want it to continue in that direction.

In the comic book series, Glenn does indeed meet a grizzly end – and in front of his family, none the less. The horror. The horror! I have never actually read the comic book series but did look into what becomes of Glenn, simply because I had to know if he could still possibly be alive in the television series. Not that the two necessarily follow the same story line. Daryl Dixon, after all, doesn’t even exist in the comic book version. If Glenn really is dead, I think the integrity of The Walking Dead television series could be compromised. Will the series be able to soldier on? That depends. As long as the good always outweighs the bad, I believe it stands a chance of continuing to maintain a loyal fan base. But be warned Mr. Gimple, Mr. Kirkman and all other TWD writers, producers, and directors; there is one character who better live through the last episode of the final season. He stands for goodness and he knows the difference between good people and bad people. As much as we all respect Rick Grimes, the last man standing has to be Daryl Dixon. The moment he is knocked off, well, that’s the final nail in the coffin of The Walking Dead for me.


© 2018 Life and the Dead

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑