Friday, November 30, 2007

What have we learned?

I feel like I should come up with some sort of summation of my NaBloPoMo experience, as I lunge here for the tape. Finishing has made me oddly contemplative. Several friends who've done NaNo in the past have been asking me for a comparison, and at first blush I'd have to say, of course, that this was "easier." There wasn't a quantitative goal to keep flailing at; I could, and did, occasionally, type a couple surly sentences and stomp away. I'd posted, and that was the only qualifier. Bam, done.

Upon reflection, though...I think that this has mirrored a more "real," or at least realistic, experience of Writing--one I'd kind of lost touch with. I wasn't wrestling with a fictional world, granted; nor was I fighting to stifle an internal censor in the effort to simply rack up words and words and words. Oddly enough, though--on the days when I wasn't tired and snappish--I found myself spilling out little vignettes of my dorky, 70s and 80s childhood, stuff I've long meant to integrate into fiction anyway. Blogging makes me blurty, I find. I've revealed stuff here, the past month, that I don't think I've ever said aloud, mostly because the inner workings of my mind--and most especially my adolescent mind--were too hilariously embarrassing to confess. But here I was, flinging confessions out onto the Internet...deeply, deeply surprised to find that they weren't as humiliating or intimidating as I'd thought. Of all things, the entries that whipped up the most commentary were about my pending high school reunion, and...Girl Scouts. Who'd have thought? Not I. That's been an interesting lesson. I can work with this material, I think.

What other things have I learned? For one, that sweet dear long-ago friends have been reading. It's been a pleasure, to drift back into their lives, too. This Internet, it's a miraculous thing.

And occasionally, a fraught thing: it seems my ex has also discovered the blog. Surprise! Oh, Google, occasionally shooting us in the butt with your arrows of dubious intent. Hello. Sorry I stole the turkey story, bubby; it begged to be done. I hope you're well, and still prod you to keep on writing. Maybe you need a blog. One that shows up should I ever Google you, which I am totally not admitting to one way or the other.

Finally, in all my nostalgic posting about my gawky but not unpleasant childhood, I've felt a dawning amazement that, really...I am the same person. I still have a ridiculous soft spot for show tunes and communal activities that revolve around cookies. I still not-very-secretly covet "fame," in the abstract--I count my page hits and comments and caper about excitedly when they spike. I still am thrilled and flabbergasted to be liked, or loved; somewhere inside me, still, lingers the painfully anxious perfectionist, terrified of rocking the boat, of being spotted in an unflattering light. But those last two conflicting things...I'm getting better at balancing them out. At accepting the love, and absently kicking the self-conscious paralysis back under the bed with the dust rhinos. And writing about it, in fits and starts for the past month, has been a shocking delight.

Thanks for taking the ride with me, y'all.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Three little words

Sis and Mr. Sis are going to a local casting call, this week, for the next edition of The Amazing Race--with their love of world travel, it's something we've long encouraged them to try. What the hell, right? Project Runway and TAR are pretty much the only competitive reality shows I bother to watch, the latter precisely because there are no weird manufactured conflicts or elaborate backstabbing alliances to be had. They take teams of two people with a preexisting relationship--couples, siblings, parent/child--and simply observe what happens with that dynamic when they send people out on a high-speed global trek. The primary objective is to get there, fastest; the fascination comes in watching people thrown into utterly alien environments and cultures, given vaguely culture-relevant tasks, and just trying to cope with it.

There is, unfortunately, always a lot of Ugly Americanism on display. There's also virtually always a team of blonde ladies who vow to get ahead in their round-the-world journey by relying on their sex appeal. Flirting! Flirting and bikinis will ease their every path! Each season, someone voices this intent, and each season these interchangeable hardbodies run into the inevitable wall when they discover that, for example, the camel you're trying to milk doesn't give two shits if you're a smoking hot blonde. That's entertainment! Of course, the people you actually root for are the ones who Get It: the teams who are appropriately awestruck and humbled and thrilled by the opportunity. They're polite in the face of exhaustion; they bother to engage with merchants and musicians and schoolchildren; they look at little kids emerging from a trash-built shack in some devastated corner of the Third World, and are affected--you can see them visibly respond, see them thinking "there but for the grace of God," see them realize that, in the long run, a million-dollar cash prize and a jetski or whatever are not, exactly, the point. Then, too, the best competitors have a pretty good sense of this before they embark, and recognize the race for the extraordinary gift that it is. In that way, I think Sis and Mr. Sis have as good a shot as anyone. Plus they're thinking that her shattered, rebuilt, bionic ankle could be their "hook."

Anyway. So they're filling out their applications in advance, and Sis was running some of the questions past me. One asked what three words you'd use to describe yourself, and then your partner. "Maybe not use 'litigious,' in this particular capacity," I teased her. But we spent a while trying to come up with something. We both independently said "determined," for Sis, and "loyal" for Mr., which seems significant, doesn't it? One I thought of, later, was "competitive." Sis, if you're reading this, you gotta put that down, girl. You have never in your life been able to walk away from a Scrabble board or a $5 bet, admit it!

"Okay, do me," I said, genuinely curious. "What three words describe me?" Sis stood at the edge of the abyss for a while, thinking.

MENSA intelligent, she started with. And I feel an obligation, dear reader, to point out that that is two words, there, because as a component of my brilliance, I can count!

Sarcastic. Okay. Not gonna argue with that one, either.

But then she hit me with the kicker: Intimidating. And all I could say was, really? You sincerely find me intimidating, in the slightest? Because I don't know what I'm conveying, I honestly don't...but still 99.4% of my time I am purely convinced that just below the surface of my skin, I'm a hugely insecure terrified giant baby, virtually every minute of every day. I am round and soft and awkward. I laugh often and too loudly. I have a penchant for lurid, inappropriate red shoes. I spent a significant portion of this week's therapy session debating the nuances between "childish" and "childlike," both terms I readily apply to my overall demeanor. Intimidating?

Sis is one of the bravest people I know. She punched a mugger in the face. I am...utterly flabbergasted, frankly, at her choice of words for me...because it has not ever, does not ever occur to me in any moment that I am remotely intimidating, to her or anyone. It sure as hell isn't conscious.

Intimidating. Actually, this isn't the first time I've been told this. Poor Holly, getting dragged into this again: we were teens, and I was lamenting my single dorkitude. Oh, how I longed for a shaggy-haired, marble-mouthed high school boyfriend of my very own! And I remember her telling me that I was, so something, that maybe guys found me intimidating. Well. I...despaired, then, I guess. Because, again: quailing in internal terror, 24/7. Smart, I couldn't help; intimidating, I apparently couldn't turn off, no matter how I willed it.

Twenty years later. Intimidating. And, for the record, single--not for the intervening two decades, thank God for small favors...but for damn long enough, I'm sure. not know what to say, in the face of that. All out of words, tonight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cookie puss

This post from Salon's Broadsheet column--about Minneapolis-area Girl Scout troops actively recruiting little girls from the area's Muslim population--got me thinking about my own days wearin' of the green. On general principles, hey, I'm all for the outreach: Muslim kids, atheist kids, whatever--get 'em out there camping and making hideous craft projects, get them into the hideous green polyester jumpers, all in the name of cameraderie. I followed some of the links in the article and was genuinely shocked to see any discrimination suits brought against the Girl Scouts, frankly--someone tried to exclude particular kids? seriously? Because they ought to be BEGGING kids to join, based on the inevitable realization that came to me and every other girl of 11 or so in the whole Totem Council, eventually: that Girl Scouts were...pretty lame.

Oh, I wanted to love it. I think it's still very much a part of my nature, this craving for order and community that I experienced as a kid. To be an Official Member of any organization that had regimented achievement awards was frankly my wildest dream. Badges, buttons, stickers, cheap ribbons with PARTICIPANT in flaking gold print: sign me up. When I was about six, I had a rare begging tantrum in a thrift shop with my mother when I discovered a Campfire Girls Bluebird uniform on the rack. I thought that the mere outfit conferred Belonging, and would open a path to an endless stream of beads or patches, some tangible reward. I fell on the floor and whined, to no avail--obviously not following my reasoning, Mom saw no reason to buy me the perky paramilitary ensemble for a group to which I didn't belong. Eventually she did locate a Brownie troop with evening hours in our neighborhood. I hit it off famously with the leader's daughter and spent many happy hours, rocking that brown beanie and singing the "Johnny Appleseed" grace before snack. When we had our "bridging" ceremony to Junior level, somebody's sweet dad had actually constructed a wee wooden bridge, like the kind you'd see in faux Japanese-garden landscaping. It was painted seafoam green. They set this up in the rec hall basement and one by one we clomped over it and received our little gold-winged badges. I dragged my bored father to Penney's to purchase the official Juniors uniform, the REAL thing, not the brown Brownie baby dress...though I was unable to talk him into all the extra accessories I coveted, like the collapsible green plastic pill case/drinking cup, or the special tassels for my knee socks. No matter. I had the green jumper. It was the real shit, man.

Actually participating in Juniors, however, was a rite of passage very similar to getting my first period, in that it took me about 30 minutes to realize that this sucked. The troop leader was one of those rare lifers, in scouting; she'd achieved the rank of General or the equivalent, I think, and she had one of the old-school 50s scout leader uniforms, the olive-drab shirtdress and Mountie hat. I wish I was making this up. Her daughter was in the troop with us. Lois. Lois was adopted. We knew this because it came in her introduction: "My name is Lois and I'm adopted, so you have to do what I say." Is it wrong, to look back from an adult vantage point and think of a ten-year-old girl as a spoiled little bitch?

Junior Girl Scouts. It's a bad age, I think: 9 to 12, so that you have newly minted dorks like I was, dying to start raking in the serious badges...but they're paired with the jaded 6th graders who spend the campouts brushing their hair and applying lip gloss. I also hated the cookie sales, and was forever just making the cutoff to earn the little "Cookie Sale '80" patch. PARTICIPANT, again, basically. Of course there was always the one girl who sold, like, 500 boxes to your 24-and-eight-of-those-to-grandma. Nowadays, too, they just set up a card table in front of the Safeway and bludgeon you with their cuteness; sending little girls door-to-door is considered too dangerous. But me, I had to lug that damn carton up and down the block for what seemed like months at a time. The collection envelope had a little pie chart printed on it that illustrated what percentage of each sale went to the troop, to the council, to the bakery. I remember this because the old coot who lived two doors down would make me explicate this in detail each year before shelling out his $1.50 for a box of shortbread trefoils. This was also the period when our local council experimented with a "healthy" alternative to cookies, these whole-grain sesame crackers that were impossible to unload. Those made up a significant portion of Grammy's purchases, come to think of it. We had those suckers crushed up in meatloaves and atop casseroles for months. Possibly years.

I was a lousy Girl Scout, frankly. For all my covetous fascination with the merit badges...I earned one. One! That's got to be the record, for suckage, right? It was "Cooking," I remember, and I'd done all the tasks for it at home, on my grandmother signing them off in the little red badge book. (So probably I made meatloaf with those effing crackers, no doubt.) I stitched it proudly, crookedly, to the dark-green sash (a "Sewing" badge was never in the cards, for me). Then I quit. They actually owed me a couple, but I left without cashing them in.

I still have the sash, though--slightly mildewed, that long swath of empty green polyester, indicating my considerable lack of merit. I know exactly where the damn thing is; it's made multiple appearances in Halloween costumes and, once, at one of Sis's "Survivor" parties--when that crazy Scout leader was on? Sis dressed up as her, strapping my fourth-grader's sash on over her 30-year-old bosom like a tourniquet. Good times.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The attention span of a lentil

...with brain size to match. I'm sitting here in my office at home, racking my brains for something to post about, when Julius, my orange tabby, hops up on the carpeted kitty perch situated beside me. He's managed to scoot it nearly a foot across the room over time, so I drag it back over underneath the window so that he can look out easily. The next sequence of events takes place in less than 60 seconds, end-to-end:

1. Julius bats at the little wooden bead hanging from the end of the window-shade cord.

2. Julius gets one claw firmly hooked into the hole at the top of the bead.

3. Julius commences to lose his wee mind, yowling and struggling and biting at me when I try to free his paw.

4. I stand up, grabbing the cat from above and lifting him bodily above perch and bead, letting gravity do the work. Bead falls free. I drop cat back onto perch and sit.

5. Julius bats at the little wooden bead hanging from the end of the window-shade cord.

Not a MENSA candidate, this I frequently advise him.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Aah! It's after 11 p.m. and I'm up late doing a freelance project and I have a persistent, inexplicable headache. But I'm posting. Ta daa, there it is. Yes, this is the feeblest yet. I'm counting the days until this silly quest is over, frankly...but I hope to be more entertaining tomorrow. Sweet dreams.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In medias res

I'm driving east on 80th Street, and on the patchy lawn next to the curb I see a huge seagull, pecking determinedly at what appears to be an entire pie, still in its plastic-domed container from the supermarket bakery...and man do I want to know the beginning of that story, never mind its eventual ending.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Either bravely or foolishly, depending on how you consider my overall home-maintenance track record, I took advantage of the sunny afternoon and attacked my overgrown shrubbery with various sharp implements. I'm proud to say that I still have all twenty digits intact! Although I stirred up enough mulch and leaf mold and dirt and, I don't know, spider effluvia, to launch an allergy attack and I've been sneezing for nearly four hours.

But the bushes now conform to reasonably symmetrical shapes. Yesterday, the neighbors across the street were out in force, stringing hundreds of Christmas lights. I want to do the same...but I figured that if I was going to draw attention to my landscaping with yards of twinkle bulbs, I'd better impose at least a little order on things, first. (Also, truth be told I'm lazy--many of the lights I have are the kind that just come in a big net formation; you fling it over a bush like a jungle trap and ta-daaa, done!)

Meanwhile, during the yardwork I discovered FOUR SEPARATE INSTANCES of someone having blithely allowed their dog to have its way with my lawn. That is neither neighborly or Christmas-spirited, friend. And nor will I be, if I ever catch you in the act, because I will come running out my front door swinging a bat, so help me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Must be this tall to launder

Two facts that have bearing on this story:

1. I'm 5'1" tall.

2. The "laundry room" in my house consists of one of those stackable washer/dryer units, dryer on top, tucked into a very narrow alcove next to the back door.

So I'm toiling over a considerable backlog of laundry this afternoon, and I go to open the dryer. It sticks a little, and so I give it an enthusiastic tug...and manage to yank it open and crack myself directly across the face. Jerking back in surprise and blind pain, I promptly bash the back of my skull on the exposed corner of wall that leads into the laundry nook. Then I actually slump over the washer and emit a few wet, shocked sobs, like I'm four, because Jesus Christ that hurts.

I have a fat lip and a nice bruisy welt rising on the (already unsubtle, let's say) bridge of my nose; I look like I've gone a few rounds in one of those midnight madness door-buster sales at the mall, where folks are traditionally trampled the morning after Thanksgiving in the sprinting, clawing melee for the last Tickle Me Elmo. This is just further incentive for me to put "hire cleaning service" on my New Year's Resolution list, because I am perpetually proving to myself that housework is brutal and perilous...or at the very least, that I am dangerously unsuited to it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


The cake got done, as cakes do. I left it cooling in my kitchen and forced myself out to walk around Greenlake in the dazzling sunlight this morning; the walk really cleared my head and, just in that hour, I found three things to be improbably grateful for, all out of proportion:

1. The enormous blue heron I saw standing alert and motionless at the water's edge, just past the crew house and grandstand. I crept off the pavement onto the muddy running track for a closer look, while hordes of other joggers steamed past me oblivious in either direction. No one else seemed to even notice the heron; we eyed each other steadily for probably a minute. He looked to be four feet tall, somehow, and never moved until I chuckled to myself and moved on.

2. The swellegant Goth daddy, with cropped purple hair and piercings and a long black velvet overcoat and fearsome boots...pushing his toddler son's stroller across the lumpy grass by the wintering-over swimming beach, so they could get a better look at the ducks.

3. The message etched inside the stall door of the public restroom I stopped in. (This one's a special shoutout to Holly, who might remember this sentiment from our high-school days. Happy Thanksgiving, lady.) I settled down to my business and read the following, scratched into the paint at (seated) eye level: YOU BICTH.

Funny, the things that make us feel so much better. I can find hope, in strange places indeed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No thank you

I'm grouchy. I'm supposed to be baking a cake, and I probably should have taken advantage of the glorious fall weather today to go for a run in preparation for tomorrow's gluttony blast, and stupid, stupid me, I signed up to blog every day in stupid November, and altogether I am IN NO MOOD. Or, well, I am in a mood, but it sure isn't a productive one.

I had a lot of thoughts...about gratitude, and Thanksgivings past, and the nature of blogging daily and the strange confessional, blurty frame of mind it somehow puts me in. But I don't have the patience for any of that, right this moment. So y'all will just have to wait. Grump, snort.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

!ZOMG best special effects EVAR!!!1!

Anybody else watch Heroes? I was lounging in front of last night's episode, in which Elle, the woman who's been using her Magical Electrical-Zapping Powers for Eeeevil had been captured by the good guys. They'd tied her up with her feet in a tin bucket of water to thwart her zappy abilities, hee hee. So anyway she was real mad, and trying to electro-blast her way free with very shocky screamy results...and at that precise instant, there was a single, solitary, COLOSSAL lightning strike in my neighborhood. Had to be less than a mile away, I'm guessing--the lights flared, and there was a virtually simultaneous DETONATION of a thunderclap overhead that all but blew me off the couch, every hair standing on end. Elle screamed, I was like the Sensurround effects in a schlocky B movie, where the seats are wired to give you a little jolt just as the giant radioactive ant or whatever bursts onscreen. Couldn't have been any better synchronized, I tell you. It was kind of awesome. The cats were pop-eyed and furtive for hours afterwards.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Little Big Ma

Aww. The woman you could consider the Uber-Martha has passed on: Martha Stewart's tiny, ancient mum, Martha Kostyra, died Friday at 93. Ooh, I would get so nervous whenever she was on the show--the tension! I never worry about Alexis, who I'm sure can hold her own...but I would get so anxious for wee Big Martha, whenever she'd show up to crank out hundreds of pierogis with extraordinary devotion but perhaps not quite the degree of mechanical precision expected by her hawk-eyed strapping daughter. A very complicated bond, methinks, between those three generations of ladies.

The week before Thanksgiving...damn. That's rough, no matter what size your empire. I sympathize.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Puttering around doing chores this afternoon, I put on the t.v. for company and found The Miracle Worker in progress on TCM. How many times have I seen that, anyway? I continued cleaning out the refrigerator (ugh), but I kept drifting back in for the highlights, including that tour-de-force breakfast table scene. Man. One or another TCM host gives you the little trivia bullet, after the movie, so I now know that the sequence runs about nine minutes...but took them five days to shoot, the actresses well-padded under their clothing but clearly going for broke as they tear the room apart. Something I noticed without being told is that there's no soundtrack score for that scene: all you hear is Bancroft and Duke, panting and grunting and essentially beating the crap out of each other. Even padded, that had to be some workout. And they did it for two years straight on Broadway, too...smacking each other in the face, night after night. I read somewhere about how they both sustained injuries over the course of the show, worked up to, and through, moments of hating each other, of deliberately inflicting real pain and harboring real resentment. It all comes through onscreen, certainly.

And then of course the scene at the pump, which is completely woven into the cultural consciousness at this point, overblown and with violins swooning underneath...but it gets me. Annie, grabbing both Helen's hands in hers, holding them to her face to feel her vigorous, emphatic nodding, yes! Yes, for the love of God! Anne Bancroft says it, "YES!" in a gutteral snarl that makes me start sobbing openly every single time. Whew.

Helen Keller! When I was in about third grade, Helen Keller was the shit, man. I remember several different kid-oriented biographies of her, scattered in the metal spinning book racks in the back of the classroom, where we chose our "free reading." We played at being her: reeling around the playground with our eyes squeezed shut. My mother was first studying to be an interpreter for the deaf, at the time, and I think I played this as a distinct advantage: I could fingerspell! When we were all assigned a research paper on a Famous Woman of History or whatever, we fought bitterly over Helen Keller. (I desperately coveted either her, or Laura Ingalls Wilder; I vividly remember the severe disgruntlement I felt upon getting Margaret frigging Mead instead.) Did anyone want to write about--or to be--Annie Sullivan? I don't remember...but Helen Keller was like a rock star to the girls in my class, on a level that sort of stumps me now. We were obsessed.

There's a fairy-tale quality to the story that I notice, now: the wild child, the savage little beast laboring under some enchantment, locked inside her own mind...needing to be unbewitched, needing a wise-woman guide to lead her through trials and lift the spell. Maybe it's similar to the way little kids go through the dinosaur obsession: there's nothing under the bed, but once there were real monsters, thundering around more than willing to squash you underfoot or eat you in one gulp. They were real, but safely gone. Helen Keller died before me and my third-grade classmates were born, but I think we--well, I know at least I--somehow thought of her as still and always a little girl, like us. She was both celebrity and ambassador, to this ultimately ordinary wonder: they poured words upon words into her, and suddenly the world poured back out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dirty mouth

I got myself a flu shot yesterday afternoon, and now I'm not sure if I'm experiencing its aftereffects or just a generally enhanced but natural ennui: my mouth tastes oddly like a handful of dirty pennies, or like something gone awry in the back of the fridge.

Suddenly I'm remembering tripping over a hunk of broken concrete curbing, as a kid--I remember where I was, even, the parking lot of a bank on 45th Street in Wallingford, with my mom; it was night, and dark, must've been this time of year--anyway, I tripped and did a complete and genuine faceplant on the ground and ended up with a mouthful of greasy parking lot mud. Oh, it was so wrong, the taste of it--organic and minerally, sort of, but with an odd mechanical jolt, and some current of leaf mold, diffuse rot. Grit and funk, between my teeth. I wasn't really hurt, I don't think, but the freaky awfulness of dirt on my tongue induced some alarmed and mortified bawling, there out back of the First Interstate Bank. (Or whatever it was then. It's a Wells Fargo now, and I still go there, park in that lot myself and, for what it's worth, watch my step.)

And now an ancient, hackneyed joke from my late grandpa: did you know that you eat over a ton of dirt, every day? That would be The Earth. Haha! Grandpa had three jokes that he kept in a steady rotation; here are the other two:

  • Pete and Repeat were walking down the street. Repeat fell in a hole. Who fell in a hole? (A word to the wise, from my second-grade self: do not answer this, you will only plummet into a ceaseless vortex of utter frustration.)
  • Q. How far can a bear (occasionally a pig, or a dog) run into the woods? A. Halfway; then he's running out.

Friday, November 16, 2007

So am I

Tonight I attended the second installment of the 2007-2008 literary series at Richard Hugo House, a local writing center. Their theme was "We Could Be Heroes," and after listening to Jack Hitt (frequently of "This American Life") read a new and off-centeredly hilarious piece that culminated in his being a pallbearer at his childhood-best friend's funeral (how can I put this? it included Vikings!), I walked out into the dark damp neighborhood restless and exhilerated, back to my car. A garage, up the street from Hugo House, was tagged with a variety of signs and signatures, a hasty doodle of a toothsome monster, and this message: she's like that with everybody.

As I so frequently do, I longed for a camera. I may yet go back and snap that, tomorrow. Not quite Wooster Collective material, maybe, but it was exactly what I needed, 10 p.m. on a November Friday night, my head crowded and cluttered with other people's words.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Paul is dead

It's creeping crud season--I slept away most of my vacation day Monday, and succumbed to more of the same on Tuesday. In between naps in front of daytime television with one cat or the other snoring away somewhere upon my person, I indulged myself by rereading one of my favorite books from adolescence: Paul Zindel's Pardon Me, You're Stepping On My Eyeball!

Oh, man, how I loved that book. I was talking about it with Mike today, just the general experience ("The Pigman," he said promptly when I mentioned Zindel, surprising me), and he mentioned what a strange, sweet pleasure it is, to go back to a children's or YA title--when, anymore, do you get to read a whole book in a day? And I savored it, the cracked and yellowing paperback I've probably had for 25 years, with its dreadful cover blurb: "The zany, supercharged novel of 'Marsh' Mellow & Edna Shinglebox--two unforgettable teenage outcasts who tackle life...and love for the first time!"

That's...not it, exactly. This book is way, way darker than that, although there are sidesplitting moments. Marsh and Edna are depressed and screwed up and misunderstood, sure, and I identified with them myself as a kid...but reading it now, I find them even sadder than I remembered. Their mothers...ohhh, their mothers. Marsh's mom is an abusive drunk (though she's coping with her own tragedy, badly); Edna's mom is a status-obsessed piece of work of an entirely different order altogether. I wonder, now, if this is a requirement of all lit for young people: parents who JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU, blown out into horrific that we can all identify with the kids in the story, and then retreat to our own lives at least a little comforted.

There are images and turns of phrase in this book that I've carried around for a lifetime, some that I'd long since misplaced the origin of. The palm-reading gypsy's sign, a huge hand looking "like it belonged to a giant who was buried deep into the earth." How, at the terrible party scene, the teenage commune leader exhorts the kids ("brothers and sisters!") to touch one another, and their hands "flying out like bats in a cave." Raccoon's [spoiler!] demise, which I've never, ever forgotten. (Also, I took from this book the following lesson: throw a drinking party while your parents are out of town = burn the goddamn house to the ground. I never quite got over that one, either.) The entire last chapter at Arlington, which I know practically word-for-word and still it tears my heart out, in the best possible way. "...and then, at last, there were the stars set in their proper place." Love.

I read all Zindel's books, or at least all that I could get my hands on, in the early 80s. I can see them, the hardbacks in that last row of the YA section in the Greenlake branch library: at the time, just wrapping around the northwest corner of the north reading room. Eyeball was my favorite, enough so that I acquired my own copy I don't remember where. I was pinched by real sorrow, to find that most of them aren't readily available via Amazon. The Pigman is a perennial, evidently, but somehow it didn't make the same impression. It pains me, to think that probably no one else is clinging to Marsh and Edna like a lifeline, now.

Zindel's son created a website for his father, who died in 2003. I liked this part of his self-bio: "After college, I worked for Allied Chemical as a technical writer. [Yes, emphasis mine.] After six dreadful months of that, I left..." To become a high-school science teacher, no less. He'd earned a chemistry degree, although you get a sense of the alternate life he was developing when you learn that he was mentored by Edward Albee. It intrigues me, that he taught for years, but so ably skewers school and teachers in this book and, if memory serves, the others.

I don't know. It's late and I'm mostly lost in pleasant, if rueful, nostalgia. There was never enough time in the library, when I was a kid: whatever adult I'd cajoled into driving me seemed always to be hustling me out, me burdened with two sagging, ripping grocery bags that I'd inevitably polish off well before the three-week due date. I remember the books piled on the yellow plastic table I used as a nightstand--and the hideous ceramic-Cupid lamp I read by. (Inherited, not chosen, that. Ugh.) I remember the books, which oddly enough seemed all to focus on snarky, troubled, independent kids living in or near New York City. Judy Blume is inescapable (and my book club's recent flirtation with her is a whole 'nother story). But whatever happened to Constance C. Greene, with the Al books? Paula Danziger? Betty Miles? Does Ellen Conford write any more? Oh, those books I imitated shamelessly, and howled over, and wept over, summer nights up too late by the light of that ugly-ass cherub lamp.

Well, I can imagine myself up on Alibris all damn night...though I don't have the capacity for wakefulness that I did at 12. More's the pity.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Roll call

One of the funny things about NaBloPoMo--writing every day bumps stuff off the bottom of my post queue a lot faster. I know I could go in and change the settings in Blogger to display more than a week at a time, but this doesn't take into consideration how incredibly lazy I am. The other thing this project has revealed to me is that my sloth is perpetually at war with my competitive nature. Go figure.

So. I'd started this in the comments to an earlier post, but figured I should put it here for visibility. When I was drafting the entry about my high school reunion, after mentioning that the handful of people I wanted to keep in touch with, I already had...originally, I called them all out by name. But it was getting wordy, and some folks have their separate Interweb identities, so I cut it.

There were five names, initially. Three of them surfaced in the comments to that post...hee hee. And I know Dave's reading, too--last week in my referral log, I had a hit from Iran, which startled me mightily for a moment until I placed him correctly in his travels. (Interesting, that in all his time in China, he had to go through some considerable workarounds to see any Blogger sites, mine included...but Iran was apparently no trouble. Go read his travelogue, if you haven't; it's a fascinating perspective on a place that, surely, 99.99% of Americans will never see--and that a few select Americans are hell-bent on destroying. But I'm getting off topic.)

So. This is a direct appeal to the electronic ether, for person-I-give-a-rat's-ass-about #5: SCOTT. WAKE UP, THE INTERNET IS CALLING YOU, MY GOOD MAN.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can't outrun it

My fancypants gym is open next Thursday, Thanksgiving morning; in fact, they offer a special two-hour event, every year, by screening a movie in one of the cardio rooms. Usually it's Raiders of the Lost Ark. You get on the machine of your choice, the treadmill, say, and then you can sprint "along with" Indy in front of that giant boulder. (I like to imagine the results they'd get if they also included a pack of genuine blow-dart-firing natives lined up across the mirrors at the back of the room. Sensurround!)

But anyway, my trainer has been encouraging me to sign up for this event. It has a silly name, which I couldn't quite put my finger on when I was resigning myself to it, the other day. "Okay, okay...I'll do the Turkey Trot," I said, giving up.

She laughed and laughed. "Turkey Trot! That's not it!"

"Well, what then?"

"It's The Super Turkey 100," she informed me with utter seriousness. I stand corrected.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The girl can't help it

Taking a vacation day, since we don't get the Veteran's Day holiday at NerdCo. (I can accept that, but am gently disgruntled each year by the flag-bedecked internal posters that go up in our offices each November, thanking the veteran members of our corporate family for their service and then effectively implying that they get their asses back to work.)

Anyway. I caught a portion of Martha Stewart this afternoon, and watched her throw together most of a traditional Thanksgiving feast without breaking a sweat or a nail. Her guest was Jennifer Something-or-Other, apparently a co-host of her daughter's satellite radio show. (Where was Alexis, you might wonder?...except you know that Alexis is probably holed up in an ashram somewhere, chainsmoking and running through various role-playing scenarios that will hopefully allow her to tolerate a few hours of Turkey Day Dinner with her mum. Alexis, I recommend starting with the cocktails early. Maybe Tuesday.)

I love Martha...or, I have a fond and complex fascination with Martha, man. She is icy and imperious and sets the bar ridiculously high for mere mortals...but as a friend of mine once said, "Martha thinks I can do it!" And I do believe that comes across: Martha calmly conveys her exacting expectations, and brooks no excuses. Your latticed pie crust or folded t-shirt or hospital corners or hand-appliqueed gold-leafed heirloom linen cabinet is not going to look as good as hers, that's a given...but she's been doing this for years. She just asks that you try and keep up. Time and again I click past one of her shows and am ready to scoff...and then I slowly sit down...and then I am lulled by her perfectly herbed rounds of artisanal goat cheese or whatever the hell is going on, left muttering "....pretty!" to myself and vowing to attempt radish rosettes when I don't even like radishes and have never in my life bought one myself. She has a power.

I also think that Martha is secretly funny, that she has a weird sense of humor and a very self-aware tendency towards the surreal. Prison didn't seem to soften her, overall, but remember when she first got out of the pokey and one of her early guests on the new show was P. Diddy? He taught her to rap (excruciating), and then she taught him to...wrap presents. I think viewers who'd come for a run-of-the-mill train wreck wandered away disappointed, but I was mesmerized, and howling. Martha's a smart lady; you can't convince me that she didn't come up with that juxtaposition herself, fully knowing it was bizarre AND funny. Case in point #2: look at how she tolerates Letterman. That shit is sidesplitting.

Anyway. Thanksgiving prep, with the brave volunteer Jennifer, who mostly held her own as they stuffed and trussed turkeys in that spectacular kitchen studio set that I would happily live in. Jennifer completed the task with aplomb, though her work area did look a bit like the aftermath of a particularly gripping sweeps episode of ER. But Martha's? Holy crap, you guys: she could have put a stamp on that turkey and mailed it anywhere in the U.S. Spotless, and perfectly symmetrical. It's a superhuman talent. I bow to it.

Ooh. You know what I would pay good money to see? Martha vs. Gordon Ramsey! Or...maybe Martha and Ramsey, tag-teaming across this great nation to raise culinary and general standards for the good of us all. Or it could be a competition: do you draw more flies with vinegar (and a spectacularly inventive vocabulary of epithets), or with a delicate heirloom honey in a collectible antique crystal cruet?

Also I bet Martha could give GRrrr a run for his money in the hurled-invective department. That woman could strategically deploy an f-bomb as elegantly as she does everything else, there's not a doubt in my mind.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A place to solve one's worries

One particular, momentarily compelling worry, anyway: Mr. Toilet Builds Commode-Shaped House.

I was really, really interested in hearing about the zoning arrangements in Mr. Toilet's community; I hadn't realized he was in South Korea, where all bets are off--at least as pertains to my understanding of construction ordinances and what have you. There remains a whole, whole lot of other information to be learned from the article, though, such as the fact that there is a World Toilet Association, at all. Mr. Toilet's stated goal is to promote better sanitation and hygeine throughout the developing world, and I can't fault him on that. I'm not quite sure how building a $1.1 million residential crapper really contributes to the cause, however. Ultimately, what I enjoy most in this story are the numerous adjectival pairings of "toilet" with other words and concepts that I had never expected to type: toilet revolution, toilet expo, toilet gallery cafe. Yes, especially that last one. I thought the SNL "Love Toilet" fauxmercial was just a joke...but I bet this guy either has one or knows where to get it.

The name of the house translates to "place to solve one's worries." Why am I picturing Rodin's "The Thinker" all of a sudden?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The revolution will not be televised, nor will anything else

I spent some time this morning trying to explain the WGA strike to Sis, and probably doing a lousy job of it. The bottom line, for me, is that screenwriters, like any artists, deserve to be fairly compensated for the labor they've put into entertaining us; they also deserve a fair cut of the corporate profits gleaned from streaming content on the Internet, and on the wee little iPod screens I'm too old and squinty to see properly, and through the inevitable direct crainial port we'll all be having installed in 2017. My own aside, in my post about Family this week, has kept me thinking about it: how many times, in my life, have I breathlessly followed the exploits of a fictional character, on a large screen or small? How many times have I done the morning-after "oh-my-god-did-you-see" with a friend, via phone or lined notebook paper or e-mail or IM or watercooler gabbling? How many times did I watch Jim stab Dwight's fitness ball out from under him, BLAM? (and how long after that was it before I could breathe well enough to speak clearly again?)

Sam and Diane. Every stupid Very Brady Everything, forever, sign me up, I'm in. The Diff'rent Strokes marathon I stumbled across, two nights after 9/11 on cable, when I was devastated and too afraid to sleep: some network threw that on in desperation and I allowed it to lull me into relieved oblivion for a few grateful, inane hours, whatchoo talkin' bout Willis? as I dozed on the couch with all the lights on. Crazy!Franken!Kimberly, ripping off her wig on Melrose Place. My father, sitting beside me in a darkened theatre in 1978 for the original Star Wars, and saying "Wooow," softly, right out loud, as that first shot of the enemy spaceship roared on, and on, and on, endlessly passing overhead. Mulder and Scully and the X-Files DVDs I love so much I want to fall asleep under the Christmas tree with them, clutching them like Randy in A Christmas Story hangs onto that zeppelin. Every word, every tearjerking climax and holy-shit cliffhanger and SNL catchphrase I've repeated ad nauseam...somebody had to write, first. I'm willing to pay for that; the production companies should be, too.

The United Hollywood blog explains and monitors it all better than I can, duh. The Why We Fight video that I am not quite smart enough to insert in Blogger is the perfect elevator-pitch explanation that I so clumsily attempted to outline for Sis. Pamie, over there in the sidebar, also offers one writer's generously detailed experience on the line. Pay attention, get informed, choose your side. Um, the WGA side, that is.

In other news, apparently the Broadway stagehands' union has also gone on strike, shutting down most theatrical productions on the Great White Way. There will be no more entertainment! Entertainment is cancelled, go home! We are going to have to start occupying ourselves with rocks and sticks and our own sluggish thoughts!

Friday, November 09, 2007


I went to squeeze a lemon wedge over my Caesar salad, and it backfired and spritzed me considerably, directly in the nipular area. I appear to be the victim of lemony lactation. I can't take me anywhere.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My doom

Starbucks, this morning, was all tricked out in sparkly wreaths and snowflakes and red paper cups: it's peppermint mocha season again. Oh, my nutritional nemesis that I also secretly want to make out with! Curses upon darling.

I'm short on words and time today, but here's an article from the Seattle P-I detailing the anticipatory frenzy that greets the release of their Christmas Blend coffee each year (or, if you prefer, "Holiday Blend." Shalom/Happy Diwali/etc.). I do enjoy the legends of people hoarding pounds of it or cutting deals with the baristas to get a bag before Thanksgiving, back in the dark ages.

I can't really blame them; when the local Frederick & Nelson department-store chain shut down in the early 90s, my grandmother stood in line for something like two hours to buy a stockpile of Frango mints. I don't care what those Whos down in Whoville are singing, Christmas can't come without those little chocolate crack nuggets! Thankfully, after a variety of contractual hijinks, Macy's still sells the candy throughout the region. Grammy used to put a box under the tree for each of us. Ohh...the year she died, Mom, Sis and I--worrying separately about tradition--each completed the ritual; that year, each of us came away from Christmas morning with our own pound and a half of mints.

Aw. I'm feeling all tender-hearted now. (And borderline diabetic, I suppose.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The other day around the way

Today in my inbox, mail from Chicklegirl herself: the forwarded invitation to Garfield High School's class of 1988 reunion. Our 20th. Twentieth! [clutches at hair with both fists, exposing gray roots]

Holly and I went to our tenth, which was largely unremarkable except for the ways in which (typical of our class, I think) it was a jolly, disorganized trainwreck. Something went wrong with the bartending contract, and so the jock boys rolled up the sleeves of their dress shirts and lugged cases of beer in from the loading dock themselves. The menu included fried chicken and biscuits, which was actually entirely appropriate and welcome. The bitchiest girls were...well, still fairly bitchy, as it turns out...but now they were all, to a one, blonde. A photographer captured our memories in groups and en masse, collecting our cash and scribbled addresses, and was never heard from again--or at least, not by me. Heh.

I wasn't popular, in high school--I wasn't actively unpopular, but I didn't cut a wide swath of influence. In the larger world of Garfield, I was meek and mute, not a joiner of clubs or teams; mostly I was petrified, every waking moment, that I would commit some tactical error or grave misstep and expose some element of my secret, spastic dorkitude for public riducule. Best to say nothing! I had a small circle of close friends that I loved, that I think loved or at least very kindly, stoically tolerated me, and the ceaseless comic stylings I unleashed in their safe environment. Holly was much better known, with many more irons in the fire: swim team and debate, newspaper staff, generally far less of an uptight goob than I was. I trailed happily in her social wake for years. At the 10-year reunion, I reaped the results of this as classmate after classmate descended upon her, crying "Holly!" and sweeping her into an embrace. Then they'd inevitably turn to me and say "And...hey!!" I'm not complaining, here, truthfully; it was genuniely funny, to watch them fumble for my name. It was a difference between us that I'd entirely forgotten about.

It wasn't a bad evening at all, that tenth reunion. People generally looked good; they were healthy and happy and gainfully employed (or in graduate school, employment's polar opposite). I enjoyed it. I smiled around at them all, and I thought: wow, I don't ever have to do this again! Not out of any resentment or regret. I bore no ill will towards anyone. I simply realized that there was a reason that I hadn't seen any of those people in a decade: because I didn't care. The handful of people I truly adored, and still wanted to be in contact with...I already was. The rest of 'em: eh. We were all okay. Good for us! Okay! Bye bye now!

So I had mixed feelings, opening that invitation this morning. There were a few people I'd been wildly curious about, who hadn't shown up at the 10th; would they bother, with the 20th? I'm thinking of the obese girl with Coke-bottle-lens glasses who signed my yearbook with a Bible verse. Some kids tormented her openly for years; I didn't, but I sure as shit didn't stand up for her either. I kept a low profile, laughed when they did. I do remember trying, on a few occasions, to coax a more vibrant personality out of her: maybe a cute nickname? maybe a sassy new haircut? That was me in a nutshell, the dopey optimist at 15--surely everything could be repaired with just the right makeover! Anyway. I had revenge fantasies on that girl's behalf. I wanted her to show up at our 10th, glamorous and obscenely wealthy, some sort of mogul. I wanted her to stalk in fabulously and tell us all to go fuck ourselves, and I would've leapt up and applauded, absolved of some of my guilt at snickering behind her back in the cacophony of the hallways, years before. But she didn't show.

Twenty years. Is there anything I really want or need to revisit? No, I think, no and no. But nonetheless I clicked through to the event site, and was rewarded: by several of the huge-haired senior portraits other people had already posted on the Classmates page...and by the sound file playing underneath the site in a constant loop: Run-D. M. C., "You Be Illin'." Ohhhhhh, yeeeaaahhh. I laughed and laughed. That there, it's almost enough to convince me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hold this thread as I walk away

Michelle's daughter, Babs, has comissioned me to go thrifting on her behalf: apparently, men's plaid flannel shirts are in again. For whatever reason, these relics are prized and precious in Copenhagen second-hand stores--like Levis in the former Soviet Union, maybe--and so I hit the Value Village tonight and am sending a bale of not-too-ratty lumberjack wear back to Denmark with a mutual friend.

The grunge movement and its attendant fashion swept the world in the 1990s, but when I was in high school, Babs's age, it was just...what we wore. I had Chucks and ratty jeans and a variety of flannel shirts, but I'd bought them all new. I had one particular blue plaid shirt with little copper buttons, like pennies, that I particularly adored when I was 14, for a spectacularly dorky reason that I can't quite believe I'm about to reveal. But will, anyway.

Remember the t.v. show Family? Big 70s ensemble drama with James Broderick as the dad, and cute li'l tomboy Kristi McNichol as daughter Buddy? (And then, when Buddy outgrew being quite so cute li'l, Quinn Cummings as the...cousin Oliver character?) I guess it was quite groundbreaking and controversial in its day; the episode summaries at indicate that someone went alcoholic or got a divorce or turned gay every third week or so, or that some Shady Friend from brother Willie's past would turn up to make things interesting. What was Willie's deal, that he had so many dubious friends in his history?

Anyway. The syndicated reruns of Family played every afternoon on a local station at about the time I got home from school...and though I was hooked, remember watching it avidly, I can barely recall a single detail, except for Willie. Willie the proto-slacker, quitting jobs, living in an apartment over the family garage, I think. How old was he supposed to be, anyway? I remember him, at all, for only one episode, in which he was dating Stephanie Zimbalist in her pre-Remington Steele days. And ohhhh, how I lurved Remington Steele. I obsessed over every episode with my friend Erika. By MAIL, because the Internets were but a gleam in Al Gore's eye. We wrote each other LETTERS, in our respective boring 9th-grade classes. We swooned over Pierce Brosnan, though when Moonlighting premiered a few years later, I switched my loyalties to Bruce Willis. Remmy was prettier than I was, dammit; I figured maybe I had a shot with balding, broken-nosed, wise-ass David Addison.

I am getting way off track, here. So, Willie--who really got around, it seems--dated Stephanie Zimbalist for one episode, during which she scandalously stayed overnight in his apartment. It was so obvious, that they had totally had TEH SEX...not least because, in the morning, she greeted him clad only in one of his shirts. Blue plaid flannel.

I was 14, and this was...the hottest thing that I had ever seen. Lord. I wasn't hot for Willie, mind--I think he had a perm, kind of an Art Garfunkel aesthetic that did nothing for me. It was simply the concept, of so boldly spending the night in a man's bed, and of mincing provocatively around in his shirt, the morning after. It struck such a weird, powerful pubescent chord in me, somehow--so scandalous! So brazen! So confident! Right there on the television at three in the afternoon! Did anyone know, what ideas this program was putting in my head? I seriously could not wait, to grow up and be so glamorously sexy. To visit my man in his totally mature independent apartment...over his parents' garage. To wear his shirt. Without a bra, even.

I don't remember where I found my blue plaid flannel shirt (a women's shirt). I'm wearing it in my ninth-grade school picture, though...along with the dark lilac eyeshadow I'd just discovered, my greasy waist-length hair pulled back in two barettes that, only by the grace of God, are not actually beribboned roach clips. Fourteen. I was a massive dork, no arguments in my own defense...but in my head, I was years and miles away from the rest of the dolts slumping and sleeping in Mr. Anderson's 8 a.m. World History class. I was going to be beautiful and hot, and completely dateable, and totally not a virgin, eventually. Life was going to be AWESOME.

I kept that shirt for years and years, until it faded to gray; it shrank until the cuffs barely reached my forearms. Honestly, I thought I still had it--I was going to tuck it into the bundle of shirts for Babs (though, for her sake and her mother's, I wasn't going to tell her its origin myth, because she is now also 14, and my perspective? has CHANGED). But I rummaged through all the drawers, and: no shirt. At some point, it made its own journey to Value Village without me, and I didn't mark the occasion.

I did find another one, though, way in the back: a brown-and-blue plaid that had belonged to my ex. I shrugged it on, curious. It's way too big for Babs...but it still fits me.

Sorry, Babs. Keeping that one.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Dead letters

Fup’s little memorial has gotten me thinking about obituaries in general. I’m one of those people who read them like literature. I’ve done it for years; some of the best ones, I’ve saved, clipping them out and tucking them into one of the longhand journals I’ve kept most of my life. That’s not maudlin, is it? I find them so poignant and thrilling, somehow, the good ones: how the world was richer for a person’s presence, how I am a tiny bit poorer, for only learning about them after the fact. I want to live a life worthy of a good obituary. Maybe I'm also reading them for clues, for behavioral cues and markers on how to live a bold and interesting life. Some examples I've collected:

  • Selma Aalto Plum died October 20, 1994, at 90; in that near-century, she'd played high-school basketball, gone barnstorming with her pilot husband, gone vagabonding in a Packard all over northern California, volunteered for the Democratic party, earned a BA in English at the University of Washington in her 70s, and at some point, according to her daughter, found time to be photographed clad only in "long hair and a fig leaf." She was also known for paying every bill "on time, in cash and in person."
  • Irene Elizabeth Amundsen died September 22, 1998, having owned a Seattle cake-decorating shop since 1962 (a place I love, not least for its enjoyable storefront signage: HOME CAKE in huge letters on one panel, Decorating a tiny, appended afterthought). I remember going there for edible gold leaf, but noticing that she also carried those domed cake molds that you inserted a naked Barbie doll into, the frosted cake becoming the edible bell of the doll's skirt. As trends changed, she also carried mixed-race and same-sex wedding cake toppers. She knew how to treat customers, and give them what they wanted.

* * * * *

In high school, I had a trigonometry teacher who was universally loathed, an embittered, twitchy woman who chose to approach a room full of sullen teens with flippant condescension. This worked out about as well as you’d expect. Oh, my God, we mocked and pranked and backtalked or blithely ignored this woman. Our orchestrated disobedience was all the more hilarious because she had both a lisp and, when provoked, a stammer. “Ryan!” she’d shout at the worst of the instigators, when she had just Had It (roughly once a week). “Jusht…jusht…jusht…jusht-jusht-jusht-jusht GET OUT!” Skipping and spitting like a worn vinyl album, one quavering finger pointed imperiously, desperately at the classroom door. “Jusht GET OUT!” After the year I’d had her, she did not return in September; perhaps she’d been on the cusp of retirement anyway, but you couldn’t be entirely wrong to imagine we’d driven her to it.

I was at least a decade out of 11th-grade trig when I spotted her obituary in the Times. It mentioned her teaching career…but also her other professional pursuits, which included a stint as a Microsoft engineer and another as a decorated stock-car racer. I was stupefied by this discovery, by the fact that, outside of her sputtering, dithering math-teacher character, she’d been interesting. Why hadn’t she brought any of those personas to the classroom? Oh, Mrs. GET OUT. You were, and remain, a mystery. And today I am at least a little sorry for how we treated you. Though just a little. Jusht.

* * * * *

I wrote my grandmother’s obituary, six years ago--I begged to do it, actually. The paper charged by the word or by the column inch, something, and I agonized, trying to tighten my prose but desperate to portray her in full, to capture the details of the complicated, quirky, tart and stylish woman she had been. To get her right. When the paper arrived that Sunday I remember spreading it on my living room floor and finding her name, and my heart racing. I felt this enormous sense of pride: not at seeing my words in print, but in the fact that now everyone would know. The world could read it, the world would know her and take a second to mourn what they had missed.

Well, if they read obituaries like I do, they would.

* * * * *

Here is one more, the favorite one I’ve kept. Valerie Silver Ellis was a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, and died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Imagine, for a minute, the task that faced those New York Times writers, in their Portraits of Grief series. Eight or ten or a dozen a day, for more than a year. Hundreds of souls, captured in a few paragraphs each. Among those hundreds, those thousands, this one has stuck with me ever since, the only one I saved.

One of the best Valerie Silver Ellis stories takes place in the early '80's when she was starting out at Cantor Fitzgerald. A senior trader asked her to take his shoes to be repaired, so Ms. Ellis had taps put on the toes and the heels extended to four inches. When the senior trader ordered the upstart young trader to redo the job, Ms. Ellis had the shoes bronzed.

Bronzed! Bronzed, people. It still makes me laugh out loud. And this, this is only one of the best of her stories? How privileged her family and friends were, to have her. How lucky the dude she put in his place; I hope to God he kept those ten-pound, metal-plated, Cuban-heeled tap shoes on his desk as a fucking paperweight. How sad, and awed, and grateful I am, to know only this tiny fragment of her, to have picked her out of those thousands, and think of her every September and other times, too. The best of her stories is one of the best stories, period.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Law and Order: Veterinary Medicine Unit

Dang, man--I fret about having nothing to say, and then I go check out Megan's blog, where the can't-make-this-stuff-up stories just fall into her lap: an incident involving the neighbor's cat, the neighbor's dog, an uninvited advance, a flight of stairs, and a little trip to the Professional Pet Friend clinic. Obviously she is going to mop the floor with me in terms of interesting NaBloPoMo content.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I'm genuinely surprised at the blankness that reigns inside my head, now that I've set myself a task as deceptively simple as blogging even once a day. It's a little mortifying...and, yes, has kept me on tenterhooks regarding NaNo, to the point where now I know I've fallen too far behind and can't bring myself to try. I'm seduced by the notion of it, the experience of everybody in their coffeehouses and dens and Denny', being creative...but my fiction-mind is pointedly staring out the window, away, sourly adolescent, god just shut up you are embarrassing me GOD.

So, instead, I'll shill other people's work today. Point one: the Sis has a collection of paintings showing at Herkimer Coffee in Greenwood--where I'm actually sitting now, typing this. Bright blocky wee pictures of miniscule vintage cars (at this moment, a deep-blue VW Microbus hangs directly over my head). Check it out.

Two: this obituary for the store cat, Fup, at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon (via mimi smartypants). I'm not being at all facetious when I say that it's one of the better examples of a good memorial essay I've read: it really gets to the core of who Fup was as Diligent in her work, with a demonstrated fondness of tandoori chicken and a streak of temper--she was not above biting her colleagues if she found them irksome, it seems. I love that they've included that aspect of her character, somehow; it makes the entire portrait well-rounded and moving, at least to me. I only hope to be as fairly and fondly remembered when I slough off this particular incarnation, whenever that comes.

Friday, November 02, 2007

How long...

...has this large, visible fragment of a Sun Chip been adhered just beneath my right eye, do you think?

Yes, I might have upended the bag overhead to shake the last chip crumbles into my mouth, don't you judge me.

Speaking of indecision

The woman in front of me at Starbucks does not quite get it, this business of Living in The World. The principles of forming an orderly line have eluded her; she blocks the pastry case with her giant stroller (in which an admittedly very cute baby is totally sacked out) and meanders uncertainly to the register, and when the barista finally asks for her order, she very, very tentatively whispers "Um...c o f f e e...?" and OHHHH MY GOD COME OOOOONNNNN.

In other news, did I ever mention that Mr. Sis was a personal trainer at a local gym? Here he is on Halloween, as Richard Simmons.

Nice coif! Although I think that tank top could benefit from a little more Bedazzling.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

National Piss or Get Off the Pot Month

Yeah, I haven't quite pulled the commitment trigger on NaNoWriMo this year, despite the lateness of the hour. I don't know; I enjoyed the hell out of it in 2005, but flamed out so spectacularly in 2006 that I am torn. Almost precisely in half, actually. My preparatory work consists entirely of a series of nearly illegible post-its scattered around my desk at home and a vaguely evocative Lee Friedlander photograph cut out of the New Yorker. not sure that's enough.

To split the difference, I signed myself up for National Blog Posting Month. Consider this my promise that I'll be sharing the literary equivalent of navel lint with both my readers, every day for the next 30 of 'em. In a row! I was at least partly motivated in this quest when Holly gently pointed out that our friend and long-ago schoolmate Chicklegirl blogs more than I do, "and she has a newborn at home." Point taken! However, an equally pressing inspiration was simply my desire to have one of them floating-LOLcat-head badges for my sidebar.

Thotz. I haz them!

Meanwhile, give it up for Erin and Steve, out in the noveling trenches while I still mince around here on the lip of the pool. I stand before you, proffering virtual lasagne and Mallomars. Go, go!

Could I mix any more metaphors and allusions into that paragraph?