Thursday, December 18, 2008

Come on, it's lovely weather

Snow day! If you're a local reader, you know that we all tend to go bananas here at the merest hint of winter weather. Yesterday was a case in point; snow threatened, the schools were closed, I was the only person from my team to make it to the office...and then in Seattle proper, absolutely nothing happened. Hope you enjoyed the free Cloud Day, kids!

Today is a different story. Snow started sifting down in the wee hours of the morning, a deceptively delicate powdered-sugar dusting that just...wouldn't...quit. Worse still seemed the snowy bedlam pouring down on the east side of Lake Washington, to the point that one of the genial local news anchors lost his shit after watching the twentieth person swerve around the "road closed" signs and orange cones to try to climb the steep on-ramp to 520. (And fail, it goes without saying.) "You people are idiots!" he fumed, throwing his pen in the air, thumping the desk. "The road is closed! There's a bus in the ditch! There might be people working on that ramp right now and you're going to hurt them!"

"Alan, you need to move on," said his lady co-host eventually. It was impressive.

So. I sent my "oh, hell no" e-mail to my colleagues, before the NerdCo servers foundered under the onslaught of stranded geeks trying to log in from all over the city. Snowbound! Free day off! I spent several hours under a pile of blankets and cats before realizing the true impending crisis of my incarceration: I was out of toilet paper. Of course. Time to dress up like a wintry mental patient and flounder to the store. I was glad I still had a pair of old Doc Marten boots--not ideal, but better than encasing my feet in plastic bread bags like one of my grandmothers used to insist on.

And there is something to be said for the atmosphere, the rare and gripping challenge of walking in the snow in Seattle, trudging along for a purpose. There is the amazing silence, nothing but the sifting, sighing snow around your ears and the crump, crump of your own footsteps--it feels as good as it sounds. Occasionally there's a jangle of wind chimes, or tire chains. Occasionally also the shivery whine of an engine trying to turn over, revving and revving, stranded in the intersection: oops. Or the sound of tires sliding, behind you--not as comforting.

But there were kids out and about, on plastic toboggans and sleds and snowboards, and two teens sharing a single set of skis, one each. Another girl struggled to glide with what appeared to be a couple lengths of ornamental crown molding strapped to her feet; not sure how that played out as I crumped past. Kids pelted their mothers with snowballs, hollered "Push me!" or "Pull me!"

The Java Bean next to the market was open, praises be. Armed with coffee, I wandered the aisles, soaking up the general party atmosphere and buying both necessities and...not: donuts and good cheddar and chocolate-chip-cookie ingredients, because what else are you going to do on a snow day, besides drink cocoa and eat crap? Besides, I'd get my workout lugging it all back home through the drifts. The man behind me in line was buying a 12-pack of pilsner and four rolls of giftwrap. "You can see how the rest of my afternoon is going to go!" he said jovially. "Gradually, the packages will get messier, and messier..."

And so I crumped back home, shifting the heavy bag from hand to hand, waving at the poor bastards in the UPS truck who so kindly let me cross in front of them--I hope you don't wrap yourselves around a telephone pole today, fellas. I felt rosy and virtuous and slightly mummified, sweating in my wool cocoon. It was a relief to swap my snowy clothes for sweats and slippers at home. It is still snowing; I am on Christmas vacation as of next Monday but probably, really, tomorrow, and technically today, too. Giddy-up, let's go. <makes whip-cracking sound>

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Work ethic

My regular Starbucks barista cheerfully took my order, but when she reached for the pastry case she froze, then stood very still, holding onto the register with both hands. "I'm sorry," she said, still mild, still pleasant. "I need a second...I'm just having a minor contraction." And you could just about hear everyone's pupils dilate in line behind me, spontaneous High Alert: should Were we going to be on the 5:00 news tonight?

"Do you need to be...uh, excused?" I said uncertainly. Because, honestly, I can do without the apple fritter if you are about to birth a child next to the bean-grinder. "Is this just Braxton-Hicks, or is a big day...imminent?"

It was the former, it turns out. She's got a month and a half to go, though her other babies came early; she's trying to stay active and work, but I guess certain strains and indulgences--like stretching for my donut--trigger a response. So we were all amused, and enormously relieved, frankly, and people scuttled away with their coffees and got on with the day, somehow enlivened by the near miss, the possibility of a new person blossoming into the world. I am still thinking about it, somehow, like we we all weathered an exciting, happy accident together.

I'm thinking, too, of Holly, who's been plagued with false labor herself for days on end. Three weeks to go, little Secondo! Turn yourself around, there, get pointed earthward for the journey. Auntie Him is waiting here with the rest of 'em, so eager to meet you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The whole world looks upon the sight

I spent several of my primary-school years at Wing Luke Elementary in south Seattle, a diverse school in a high-poverty neighborhood. My mother had enrolled me there both for the lure of a magnet program for gifted kids, and because we had volunteered for Seattle's pilot school-desegregation program, a year before it became mandatory. (For what it's worth, Seattle was one of the only large cities in the nation to desegregate its schools without a court order.) Starting in the second grade, I took a bus 45 minutes each way from a north-end neighborhood that was generally whiter and more affluent (though we weren't the latter).

The bus ride was tedious, but I liked the school. Wing Luke was a nearly-new building at the time, a modern school laid out in an open-classroom format. Multiple grades were grouped together in four wings of the building known as "pods;" the giant rooms could be roughly sectioned off with bookcases and folding screens, for grade-appropriate instruction in math and spelling, but then they'd bring us all together, first through fourth graders, for things like movies and art projects and field trips. I remember it being a particularly vivid and engaging atmosphere. Loud, maybe. Very loud. But fun.

I had--or shared--several wonderful teachers during my Wing Luke years, teachers who brought a multicultural perspective to their lesson plans before that term had been invented. They did this very cleverly, through two main channels: holidays, and food. So: for Hanukkah, Mrs. Eskenazi taught us to gamble for peanuts with a dreidel, and also plugged in a Harvest Gold electric skillet at the front of the room and made approximately a hundred potato latkes. Brave woman. On Chinese New Year, Mrs. Chinn arranged to have a lion dance team come in, weaving through the little desks, and gave us each White Rabbit candy and a red envelope with a new 1978 penny inside. For Boys' and Girls' Day, in Japan, we made fish kites and ate seaweed crackers from Uwajimaya. If you are guessing that these lessons appealed to my essential nature, you are correct: parties, presents, and special foods? Yes, please! Sign me up. I remember going home to my mother and, on more than one occasion, demanding to know why everyone didn't celebrate everything. We'd been missing out, on these holidays I'd never even heard of! I had been deprived!

The layout of the pod classrooms allowed our teachers to impart another significant lesson, when we studied the Civil Rights movement that year. Our classroom had two drinking fountains; one had good water pressure and one, for whatever reason, was leaky and slow, its handle difficult to turn. There were also two exterior doors: one led directly to the playground, for maximum recess-time capitalization, while the other was on the far side of the room, on the street side of the school. If you left through that door, you had to walk the long way around the building to get to the jungle gym and hopscotch grids, the window in the gymnasium where they dispensed jump ropes and kickballs first come, first served.

So. For a week, in 1978, our teachers performed a variation of Jane Elliott's blue eyes/brown eyes experiment--they segregated the fountains and the doors. They were fair, at least: if you got the good door, you got the crap fountain and vice versa. I don't remember which combo went to who, now, only that they put up the requisite signs we'd seen pictured in our social-studies textbooks: WHITE. COLORED.

You couldn't do it now, in today's litigation-mad society. Someone would sue the pants off someone. But I have no recollection of telling my mother about this, or of any other adult intervening. For a week, we endured; we followed the rules. It didn't turn as vicious as the Elliott exercise is rumored to. If you screwed up, a teacher would reprimand and correct you, but gently. Plus the spoils and disadvantages were equitably distributed, so that if you had to trudge around what seemed like half a block to get to the playground, well, at least you could easily slake your thirst later. I wonder, now, if they expected us to resist--to protest. For whatever reason, we didn't.

We had seen the photos in the books: the signs, but also the young people, dressed up fancy to our eyes in dresses, in suits and ties...and being blasted by fire hoses, bitten by dogs. It was a few years yet before we learned of kids being jabbed with lit cigarettes, beaten within an inch of their lives, blown apart in a church basement, for daring only to demand their dignity. They were kids, so many of the Civil Rights activists in the 1960s. It's the point David Halberstam makes in even the title of his chronicle of the movement, The Children--that these were mostly college students, high school students, some even younger. I have been flipping back through that book a lot this week. And I have been thinking, time and again, of my teachers.

I don't know if they were disappointed, that we went along with their experiment so easily. I remember being redirected, a few times, to the "right" fountain or door, and what I experienced was primarily a sense of personal embarrassment and shame, at making the mistake. I was a teacher's pet kind of kid, terrified of breaking a rule--even an arbitrarily imposed and morally bankrupt one. Then again, we knew: this was a temporary inconvenience. What had been plain fact, in our parents' time, had in a generation become merely bewildering: a bizarre restriction that made no sense to us and, at any rate, was over with in a blink. Or mostly over, I guess...because I have not forgotten it in 30 years. Because the lesson has been on my mind, now, for all of this extraordinary week.

I have been thinking about my friends with kids, too. How for this next generation coming along behind me, an African-American President will be a plain fact; how the caveat once appended to so many children's aspirations--you can be anything you want to be in America...except--has overnight become a dim weird relic of history, lumped in with my and my parents' past, the benighted past when we did not know any better. Someday, someone's kid will find this moment in our history bewildering, fusty, dare I say...boring. And I could not be any prouder or more grateful for that thought.

The following photographs were taken by 17-year-old Nita Vidutis (yes, a kid) at an Obama rally in Manassas, Virginia, the Monday night before the election. They've been posted everywhere--I got them originally from the YWCHB blog--but are entirely worth seeing again. Look at these kids' faces. Look at their fathers' faces. Oh, look. Look.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Perhaps you have noticed?...that in the 48-hour period since election night, every. single. media outlet, newsmagazine, and tabloid television program has done a Puppy Segment? Thursday evening I was at the gym during the prime nightly news/infotainment clip-show hour, and I could simply look up and down the bank of TVs at the front of the cardio room and, every couple of minutes, see at least one correspondent wrassling around in a back yard or shelter or kennel, dropping the microphone and getting licked to death and snorgling a chihuahua or a labradoodle or a cocker spaniel. It is abundantly clear, what we have all seized upon in this monumental moment of our nation's history; obviously, I am guilty of the same, see below. And for two days, at least, I have decided to surrender to it, find it hilarious, and think of it as one of the things that makes America great. We are in dire economic straits, in the U.S.; we are conducting two wars; we have made a huge step forward in our nation's civil rights history on one front, this week, and stumbled badly, shamefully, on several others. The road ahead is steep, and rocky, and it is going to be hard, for us and for President-Elect Obama.

But for a few days, it has been like living in a bright glowing parallel universe. People smile and make eye contact, share their tables and their newspapers in the coffee house. I went to the blood bank this afternoon and it was packed, a madhouse of volunteers eager to give something of themselves, to endure a quick needle stick and then some cookies and apple juice, in the name of civic responsibility. And for a few days--before we all pick up the rope again and pull, before we put our shoulders to the wheel--the news is only sweetness, a refuge where in every headline and on every channel we're all picking out puppies, puppies, yaay, OMG puppies!!1!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Morning in America

Before I go to bed, one more word to two more little girls:

Sweethearts, go get that puppy!!!

Grammy, Nan, Daddy, Phyllis, Barb: I wish you were here to see this with all my heart, I do.

Pride and joy

The expression on this little girl's face?

That's the closest approximation of what I'm feeling, right now. (Via the hilarious/blubber-inducing Yes We Can (hold babies) photoblog. Oh, there are more of them; this is just the one I fixed on first.)
Oh, please. Please. Please.

Monday, November 03, 2008

People get ready

This election cycle has frayed my last nerve. The enormity of the moment, the glimmer of light at the end of an eight-year, grim-ass dark tunnel, the sheer duration of the battle...all of these combined have left me dropping my emotions all over the street like canned goods out of a ripped grocery bag. I am hair-trigger weepy, starting at 6:30 this morning when I saw two people standing on an I-5 overpass in a driving rain, holding aloft a gigantic banner that bore a single word: HOPE. I looked at Joan Walsh's recommendations for an Election-Eve cry on Salon, and teared up at each one of them, had to go back to the Donuts and Bacon campaign (via Mike) just to get my wits about me. So when I read this afternoon that Senator Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, had passed away, I had to put my head down on the desk again.

I was raised by a single mom and, effectively, by her mom; my grandmother was inarguably a far more influential and active and engaged presence in my life than my father ever was. I referred to her often as "my third parent." This is far from the only parallel that leads me to believe that Barack Obama understands something of my experience, can speak to and for me...but this among many things strikes a deep chord.

My Grammy weighed less than 100 pounds soaking wet, and upon every visit would ply you with lemon-poppy seed cake until you begged for mercy. She was also fiercely protective of her family, proud of our accomplishments to a mortifying degree, and unabashedly liberal in her politics. Like Obama's grandmother, she would have been 86.

In November 1992, I was in my first quarter of graduate school and had just moved into my own apartment, so recently that I was still assigned to the polling place nearest the house where I'd grown up. On election day I stopped by "home," and together Grammy and I walked down to the defunct middle-school library, cast our ballots for Bill Clinton, and went home to cross our fingers and bite our nails, because there was no Internet to hover on. I had an afternoon class that day, and most of us adjourned to a campus pub afterwards, where Democratic bedlam rolled out in expanding waves from every announcement of poll returns. At some point I called Grammy--via pay phone--to shout my joyous, tipsy disbelief, the entire bar roaring "Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye" to George H. W. behind me. Here's what she said: "The bars are open, on Election Day?" Apparently, the blue laws in Washington had been more draconian in her time.

Tomorrow morning I'll go alone, to the basement of United Evangelical, probably in the torrential downpour the weather peeps are predicting. I am casting my vote for Barack Obama, and I'll be thinking of my Grammy, and his, and my aunt PJ, who was a devoted campaign volunteer before cancer swept her under and away. Of all the people, these few among them, who dreamed of and fought for this moment but did not live to see it. And I am awed: by how privileged I am to do this. By the epic significance of this instant in American history. By the future that I am putting my hand to, there in the booth. By the hope I have clenched in my fist.

We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Paved with good intentions

Oh, all RIGHT, already, WHATEVER, shut up, you:

On the plus side, I clocked just over 2,000 words of unintelligible mess today, so for 24 brief gleaming hours, I am ahead of the game. Two things convinced me to subject myself to this again: one, Erin, who noted that, while she hasn't always hit the 50,000-word novel goal, she has always come away from the experience with at least a good short story. I'm thus trying to look at this as a mining operation.

And two: the lady profiled on the front page of the NaNo site today, who finished her 2007 novel with minutes to spare and immediately after expelling a tiny brand-new human being from her body. My excuses are made of far flimsier stuff.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Between the lines

The broad supermarket windows are papered over with Halloween coloring-contest entries, and while the clerk bags my spinach, EggBeaters, bagel, frozen yogurt, I listen to several little kids bouncing up and down in front of the display and claiming their own handiwork. "That's mine," one girl says, glowing. "Ten years old," she emphasizes, underscoring a talent she hopes we realize is beyond her years, and when I collect my groceries and go over to look, I see that she has written the same next to her name on the form. Maddy! 10 years old! Maddy has embellished the line drawing of trick-or-treaters further by inscribing one of their plain paper bags with "BOO!" and some possibly bat-like squiggles in dark-green felt-tip. And time obligingly collapses, thirty years accordioning down so that for a second I can feel it too: that pride and validation, the fifteen minutes of fame that come from seeing your careful crayoned submission scotch-taped above the rack of Presto Logs and the food-drive barrel.

Outside half a dozen kids are swarming over the hay-bale corral of pumpkins in front of the store, selecting the perfect victim for a jack-o-lantern. I glance at them and one of their weary dads looks so much like my uncle that I do a double-take right there in the parking lot, almost speak to him before realizing, stupidly, that no, he looks three decades older than that nowadays, and don't we all. It's his birthday today, and my mother's too. Happy birthday, Unc. Happy birthday, Mom.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hello, weenie

I made a point of going up to Herkimer and securing a window seat today, because it was the Greenwood/Phinney district's annual Halloween celebration, where the kids are welcomed to trick-or-treat up and down the main drag of businesses. I'm a little skeptical of how the process has evolved since I was a kid, because it simply can't be as thrilling, never mind scary, to go door-to-door in broad daylight on a crisp fall afternoon. But at least they're not relegated to a mall...and the spectacle offers some prime hilarity, which I suppose is all the better for being well-lit.

Anyway. So I took up a stool at the street-facing counter for nearly 2 1/2 hours, laughing helplessly at the hordes and hordes of kids in synthetic manufactured costumes, and painstakingly homemade costumes, and indifferently assembled "costumes" that I do not think, really, should count. I have a couple rules about Halloween; one of them is that, if you are old enough to grow your own mustache, you are too old to be begging for free candy on the sidewalk. (For the girls, if those high heels are your own, same thing. Or, you know, the mustache--though if you are thus tonsorially...gifted? challenged? you probably ought to receive a mini-Snickers and some sympathy.) I gave the five teens outfitted as the complete Scooby Gang a pass, though, considering that Fred agreeably put on both a blond wig and an ascot. Although, Shaggy--come on, you get a D for effort, because a Shaggy costume just involves rolling out of bed and putting on the contents of the laundry hamper. The dazed munchies are optional. Probably you will need that pillowcase of candy later, Shag.

On the other end of the spectrum, a word of advice, to parents of the smallest trick-or-treaters: the cute floppy feet attached to the costume pantlegs, or the ruffled fairy anklets, or the long gauzy strips of princess-gown hemline? Do not put that crap on your charges who have barely mastered plain regular walking. That kid is going down, casting a debris field of dropped candy for a three-foot radius, and there will be tears. Toddler total-faceplant tally, just those directly in front of my window? Three. "OoooOOOHHHhhh," me and all the other spectators in the windows moaned, each time a little plush tiger or bumblebee or dinosaur smacked the concrete headlong. Owie.

But good grief, storebought costumes have gotten fancy since I was little. Whatever happened to the old ones, where you got a thin molded plastic mask and what amounted to an acetate romper, usually with the character's name and face printed idiotically right in front? I can remember bumbling down the block in those, already a little freaked out by the darkness and certainly unable to see, since my glasses wouldn't fit underneath the mask. The elastic band snarling in my hair, my breath forming cold condensation on the flimsy plastic...good times. We coveted those! I can remember pawing frantically through the display at Fred Meyer in search of a Princess Leia...and the crushing disappointment of getting stuck with Chewbacca. (Sis, that year, was a three-foot-tall Darth Vader. Hee.) But now the costumes are plush and voluminous, sequinned, bedazzled, equipped with hats or wigs, fake foam muscles, giant spiny lizard heads that bob above the wearer's own. Too much! Too easy! I want to see you work at it a little, kids, come on.

So I was pleased, in the ceaseless tide of princesses, fairies, fairy princesses, and superheroes, to see a few kids marching to a different beat. A little-girl Hulk, pushing her younger sibling in a stroller: right on. A boy dressed as Angus Young from AC/DC. A...prairie bride? another princess? tall and gangly, but with checkered Vans clearly visible beneath the six-inch ruffled hem of her ivory gown. A boy who I think was meant to be a Barack Obama campaign bus, clunking down the street inside a blue-painted cardboard box with paper-plate wheels, festooned with all manner of Obama and Biden and HOPE stickers. Ten more days, little man! Rock the vote! Also, a pug in a pumpkin suit. Come on, that's hilarious! A pug! In a pumpkin suit!

My runner-up favorite: two boys, probably 14 and so hovering on the border of trick-or-treat legitimacy...but allowed a pass by me, for dressing in drag. One had a long red wig and hideous skirt; the other was galumphing gracelessly in white-go-go boots, updo, and glasses--yeah, waitaminute. Yes. Yes! Sarah Palin. An eighth-grade drag Sarah Palin. So, major points for going as the scariest thing this liberal-enclave neighborhood can envision right now.

But I've saved the best for last: the girl, probably 11, whose Girl Scout uniform I recognized in a glance, that shrill kelly green. "That's cheating," I thought idly, as she got into the candy queue in front of the coffeehouse. "That's an extracurricular activity, not a costume." Then she turned around. The jaunty green vest of merit badges, the little neckerchief thing, were shabby and streaked with gore, her face painted gray, eyesockets hollowed, lips and chin gruesomely bloody. A ZOMBIE Girl Scout! Oh please, please let her have thought of this herself. Please let her have come to this in total exasperation after years of flogging cookies in front of the supermarket and being forced to camp in the rain. The Ghoul Scout stared blankly right into my face, dead-eyed, through the Herkimer window, never breaking character. "AWE. SOME," I mouthed at her through the glass, before she turned and shuffled away, undead, triumphant. Oh, zombie Girl Scout, you are made of win. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So happy to see that thing

I have been remiss in not mentioning this year's Tomato Nation Fall Contest, where the great Sarah Bunting unleashes her readers on Donors Choose. People sponsor dozens of projects in underfunded K-12 classrooms across the country, in increments large and small...and last year, Sars whipped up more than $100,000 freaking dollars. She also danced around in Rockefeller Plaza wearing a tomato costume to reward us all, but that bit is really just the condiment on your bacon-and-lettuce sandwich, because A HUNDRED GRAND. FOR THE CHILDREN.

Times are tough, I surely don't have to tell you. Cartoon moths are flying out of my wallet just like they are yours, and everyone else's. But Sars puts it quite succinctly in her call to action this year, and this is the part that stuck with me:

...maybe you want to give money to your presidential candidate of choice, and the bailout crisis…well, the average taxpayer is going to get punished, without having even done anything wrong.

So is the average public-school student. The government is going to help these investment firms eventually; in a few days Congress is going to ram something through and bail out the big boys. Little boys? Ain't getting squat. Your senator isn't debating who gets what science books or overhead projectors right now, or how much money to earmark for waterlogged Galveston schools. No, it looks like that's on us.

One of the excellent things about Donors Choose is that, if you donate $100 and/or fully fund a project, you get a little packet of notes and photos from the teacher and kids in question. I contributed to a couple projects last year--a set of novels for one class, a set of art supplies for another--and got a tide of responses, one of which I've kept on the fridge since. It's on day-glo orange paper, each word written in a different eye-popping color of oil pastel crayon, and signed by a kid named, to my delight, Eugene:

THANK you FOR THE ART supplies I AM SO HAPPY TO see THAT Thing

Me too, Eugene, me too.

Today was payday, at last, and tonight I clicked through the projects and got choked up in spite of myself, and donated half again what I'd intended going in. I put a few of my dollars toward yoga mats for preschoolers, and an entire stack of Judy Blumes for an elementary class (because ol' Judy is the patron saint of 5th-grade English, bless her), and bowling lessons for a group of special-needs kids, because I am famously a worse bowler than Barack Obama and maybe if someone had intervened when I was still in the primary grades I would not find the lanes so humbling today.

So. Dig through the couch cushions, empty out the spare change in your car's ashtray, and get clicking. Do it for Eugene, and the little bowlers and yogis and readers, or photographers, or playwrights, or budding scientists just itching to dissect owl doots. If that's not enough of an incentive for you, maybe this will be: this year, if we crack the same total, Sars and her tomato suit are headed to Washington, D.C. to help George and Laura pack. Or to be wrestled to the ground on the White House lawn by the Secret Service, whichever. The suit looks nice and cushy and padded, probably for the best.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Rose City, part II.

I'd set aside my Saturday in Portland for touristy crap, which may or may not be the kind of touristy crap the average tourist anticipates. The hotel was a scant few blocks away from the Portland Saturday Market, a nearly year-round cavalcade of artists and buskers and food booths that sounded promising...but on my way there I stumbled across Voodoo Doughnut, an establishment I'd already seen profiled at least once on t.v.

Voodoo Doughnut is an extremely...alternative donut shop, which will also marry you should you request or require it--they have a sliding scale of ceremonies with or without donuts. They are also famous for their outrageously indulgent donut toppings, like breakfast cereal, or bacon atop a maple bar. They are also also famous for their snickeringly provocative donut names. When I got to the front of the long line, I just pointed at the one I wanted, twirling around in its glass case: chocolate cake donut, with chocolate icing and Cocoa Puffs on top. The clerk sang out its name for the benefit of all: "One Triple Chocolate Penetration," she shouted, causing the man behind me to erupt in astonished/alarmed giggles. Probably I should have turned around and chatted him up. Do you come here often? Anyway. The donut was hilarious in concept, if fairly ordinary in execution; cereal atop a donut apparently gets damp/stale quickly. I will have to return to assess the bacon maple bar on its own merits.

On to the artists' market. It was kind of a gloomy, overcast day, so I'm not sure how representative the booths I saw were...but there was a little more of the patchouli-and-B.O. crowd going on than I tend to prefer. I did spend some time lingering over an artist's psychedelically colored pen-and-ink rendering of Johnny Cash, flipping the classic bird. I would seriously hang that on my office wall, so it's probably for the best that I didn't have $30 cash on me. Oh well.

And then: I noticed the first of what were ultimately several stained-glass artists' booths. Oh dear. I have only mentioned obliquely, I see now, what my father did for a living--he designed and built custom stained-glass windows for nearly 30 years. Took an extension class at the local community college when I was a little girl, and built an entire business and a considerable reputation from it. He put windows in businesses and churches, in Street-of-Dreams houses and in McMansions for people with more money than taste. It always amazed me, that my dad, who if we are being honest was strapping and kind of loud and prone to fart jokes and could potentially be classified by Jeff Foxworthy as a redneck, had ended up making a living this way: this delicate, translucent, elegant art form. It was a secret in plain sight, a hidden depth that I saw him practice every day but that I was not smart enough, not soon enough, to ask about.

This is a prelude to my saying that, for several years, Dad had been a presence at the Vancouver, Washington farmers' market on summer weekends. He loved the intrigue of bickering with the market's governing board--oh, man, the epic wrangling over choice booth real estate, insanely boring and what I wouldn't give for a fresh earful...but more than that he lived to banter with the teeming hordes. He couldn't have been making serious income just from the suncatchers and the metric ton of glass marbles he sold out of a couple antique gumball machines, but he used the attention to secure larger commissions. Dad was a salesman down to the bone, a cheerful master of wearing you down with corny patter until you succumbed: to buying whatever it was, to forgiving him something, to being his friend for life. I never went down to Vancouver to see him in action, but I didn't need to. I knew exactly how he would be.

Except maybe, too late, I did need to see it, because I stood there in front of some random person's booth in Portland, hyperventilating, throat tight. There were suncatchers and kitty-cat potholders and, I don't know, blown glass bongs arrayed all around me, and hucksters everywhere manning their tables, hamming it up, messing with the crowd in genial booming voices, and for a minute I thought I would have to run. Knocking over incense burners and bags of organic dog treats, crashing through the line at the falafel stand. My heart hurt.

It helped when, after considering for a moment, I decided that this particular stranger's stained-glass doodads were cheap-looking and ugly. Thinking that, I could proceed.

* * * * *

Later that afternoon, Mecca. Powell's, where to my complete incomprehension I had never previously been. And seriously, what the hell? Why didn't Dad ever take me to Powell's, summers when I was bored out of my skull in La Center? He would have earned points for eons, would still be redeeming points with me from beyond the grave. Missed opportunity, Dad.

Anyway. There's a smell that good bookstores have, a clean papery scent of books that is definitely not to be confused with the musty funk of used books left to mildew in the basement. Powell's smells wonderful. "Have I died?" I wondered to myself, and for two and a half hours I was one of those people kicking the plastic shopping basket ahead of me across the linoleum, unwilling to lift it the entire time. I did have a pre-programmed boundary, in that I had to be able to carry it all back on the damn train. That helped me to get out with my life and only $150 in the hole, hilarious water bottle included: pretty damn decent.

I did find myself getting verklempt (for the second time that day) in the children's section, where I hadn't even intended to go--I wandered down the pink staircase instead of up the purple one, or something, and there I was. It stretched on for half a block in front of me, shelves almost higher than I could reach, and oh, oh, all the books. I've written before about how I was constantly being hustled out of the public library or the tiny mall bookstore as a kid--not because the adults in my life were cruel, but because they were unfortunate grownups with boring grownup shit to do. So, the sight of a children's book section larger than my house made me actually tear up a bit. I wanted nothing more than to go back through time to my ten-year-old self, hand her a $100 bill, and say "Meet me here in two hours. Have fun. Go!"

I'll just have to make up for le temps perdu.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dawg day afternoon

We interrupt this introspective and moderately cringey travelogue to bring you a glimpse of today's festivities: namely, the triumphant return of the Bulldogs to a spectacularly renovated Garfield High School.

It's hard to describe the experience of wandering around, inside a building whose shell and staircases were familiar, but whose interior was foreign, slickly modernized. Garfield: tasteful and contemporary and as shiny clean as it is ever, ever going to be again. This is not your father's Oldsmobile. I ducked into one of the girls' bathrooms, expressly to see the spotless tile, the amazing toilets that actually flushed. I can remember girls crying, in those bathrooms, and smoking, and trying on prom dresses my friend Gwyn capably sewed herself...but actually using the facilities in the manner in which they were intended was a calculated risk. If you could, you held it.

Anyway. I bumped into my 11th-grade English teacher, Ann Schuh, who insisted that she remembered me and in fact had thought of me just the other day. "What on earth for?" I asked her helplessly. Of course it's possible that she proceeded on down the hall saying that to every single person who exclaimed at the sight of her, but in the moment I allowed myself a tiny glow. Ms. Schuh, if she ever Googles herself, perhaps will see this, and so here are two stories for her:

  • On one of my essays, she once scribbled a comment claiming that she expected better than "this Holden Caulfield whining" from me. I hadn't read Catcher in the Rye at the time and so this meant little to me, though whining ensured that I caught the gist of it, gee thanks. A year or two later, when I actually read the book, I was happy to take it as a stupefying compliment: she was comparing me to Salinger!

  • Every year Ms. Schuh chaperoned a group of students to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. I did not go. But I remember that the boy I pined and longed and humiliated myself for did...AND he secured special permission and another spot in the group for his girlfriend, who didn't even attend Garfield. OH. THE. AGONY, of sitting in her class aware that the mumbly metalhead of my dreams was about to set off for a romantic weekend of theatre, instigated by (and, granted, under the watchful eye of) Ms. Schuh, who I adored and feared in equal measure. Did she have any inkling of her betrayal, the melodrama playing out in my pointy little head? Cripes, let's hope not. Already she is reading this and, no doubt, detecting traces of more whining.

I had to orient myself by looking out the windows, time and again; even the dimensions of the classrooms have changed. The south annex to the original building is now seamlessly connected, so I found myself walking through hallways that did not previously exist. The dank and forbidding gym has been replaced by an immense new complex, the walls spotless white and soaring overhead. A group of folks from my class stumbled across the new weight room and screamed in awe; it's nicer than the gyms most of us belong to.

Someone picked up a copy of the school paper, the Messenger's latest edition, and in it I found a hilarious article that I sincerely hope they post online eventually, about the myths and ghosts of the old building. One section deployed every possible double and triple entendre to talk about the little balconies up behind the old auditorium stage, where you could access the light grid and run backdrops up and down on cables. The speculation in the article was that more things were...erected, up there in the rigging, than mere stage sets. Ahem. To my surprise, these ribald tales had their doubters. So it falls to me to tell you that, yes, there was a distinct underground student lounge operation on the eastern balcony. A couple of cots, a red light bulb for atmosphere. The most exciting thing to happen to me up there, given that I was a pretty big dork (and the tightly-wound valedictorian) was that a couple other kids smuggled in a microwave stolen from the faculty room, and so we laid around in our little opium den making...popcorn. Other things may indeed have been made, in the Lounge, but nerdly I was not privy to them. Also, we would never in a million years have gotten away with writing such hilariously filthy punning in the school paper, so well-played, student journalists. A master stroke, you might say.

At any rate, y'all have to find a new spot to get busy:

The sexy sekrit popcorn-and-cot area? Now a grand, sweeping staircase down to the student commons and cafeteria. The underground student lounge IS NOW A LOUNGE, for reals. Hilarious and bizarre. (It would be the staircase on the left, if you're wondering. Oh, horny and otherwise maladjusted teens...where will you go now?)

Chicklegirl, who I met wandering the halls, called it Closure, what we were feeling, and I suppose that's accurate. It was Garfield, but it wasn't. It certainly wasn't the haunting Gothic brickpile of my anxiety dreams...and now that I think about it, I don't remember the last time I had one. It didn't smell right. It was a dazzling new building, plopped down inside the shell of the old one...and I was pleasantly surprised to find that comforting, instead of unsettling. "It isn't mine any more," I said aloud, with a kind of relief. It belongs to new kids, now: a dazzling new facility in which to daydream, and get takeout mashed potatoes from Ezell's, and get into melodramatic mayhem, and get their hearts broken and mended, and maybe just possibly sneak a little education into their brains around the edges. Good times, good riddance, good luck.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Time travel

I took a short but much-needed vacation last week, spending a long weekend in Portland, Oregon. I had multiple agendas, for a brief trip: to revisit a place I hadn't been since I was a dorky adolescent; to indulge myself at Powell's, where--inexplicably--I had never been; and to visit my father's grave...incidentally, where I had also never been. We'd had the service, at Willamette National Cemetery, but they hadn't yet placed his ashes in the ground. So. Complexity. High stakes, a lot to accomplish in 72 hours. I've been meaning to write about it since, and finally figured I'd have to take it a day, and a Significant Task, at a time. Here's part one.

* * * * *

I stayed at the Benson Hotel for several reasons: it's centrally located, it meets my aforementioned standard re. bathrobe provision, and it's where we stayed on a lone trip when I was 14 years old--me, Mom, Sis, and Grammy. We were there to attend some figure-skating extravaganza that did not have a Seattle tour date that year. The Benson was swanky then and is swanky now, and so I'm not sure how we managed to afford the arrangements. We must have had a coupon. At any rate, we went clomping into the lobby in our puffy down ski jackets, me toting the brown paper grocery bag that contained Grammy's vacation staple: clanking bottles of tequila and margarita mix. I am sure that we made nearly as great an impression on the Benson elite as the joint itself was making on me. Doormen! Valet parking! Room service on a little cart, the plates covered with shiny silver domes! It was the nicest place I had ever been.

In our short, alcoholically musical stroll through the lobby, I developed an instant obsession with the grand marble staircase that curved down from the mezzanine level. Just the word--mezzanine--a whisper of exotic opulence! God knows what Hollywood musical I'd seen such a staircase in--probably all of them--but I knew immediately that I had to come swanning down that staircase like a debutante, when we were going out for the evening. I would glide across the mezzanine, pause in front of the gigantic gilded mirror on the landing to ensure all eyes were on me, and then sweep down the last stairs into the walnut-paneled lobby. Before spinning through the revolving door and folding myself into the backseat of our 1980 Ford Mustang, I guess. (The pony car and me: both going through our Awkward Years.)

And bless my Grammy, because she indulged me. Part of our trip included a visit to some department store or other, where I selected, and she bought me, the most glamorously mature outfit I could conceive of for the occasion. This was: a teal-green corduroy shirt dress. Worn over a pale yellow Oxford button-down with blue pinstripes. Also, I am sure, suntan nylons, and some wedge-heeled sandals that were, at the time, the tallest shoes I owned. Oh, honey, I think on behalf of my adolescent self. It was so bad. I see this now. I saw it relatively soon then, when I wore that same ensemble to my eighth-grade graduation ceremony a month later, and all the other girls turned up in white summer dresses. Oh, I remember the gravity of that error, of realizing it just...too...late. Age 14, dressed like a 30-year-old secretary, and with the social and fashion acumen of a ten-year-old. Oy vey.

But I didn't know it right in the moment. I felt beautiful, when I pressed the "M" button in the elevator and tottered out on that half-level above the lobby. Where was Mom, while I was dorking around on the mezzanine? Probably out adjusting the driver's seat of the Mustang back to midget range. Where was Sis?...and more importantly, what was she wearing? I have no idea; they're both just gone from the memory. What I remember is only Grammy, standing at the foot of the stairs--sadly/mercifully without a camera--her face upturned to mine, rapt, as I came wobbling down the steps. She, and I, thought I was beautiful. We might have been the only ones, but it was enough.

* * * * *

When I was checking in, the desk clerk asked "Have you stayed with us before?" and I nearly laughed. "Years ago, when I was a kid," I hedged. It was juuust possible that he was not born, yet, when I last came unsteadily down the grand staircase. "Well, welcome back," he said. Indeed.

* * * * *

Do we change, much, in a quarter-century? Yes, and no. I am accustomed, now, to traveling alone; there are things I like about it, and things I don't. Nonetheless, here are some of the things I packed, on this trip: all black undies. A black negligee to sleep in. And a dress, a teal-green sweater dress that Joan Holloway would be proud of. Just in case. Just in case I needed to get Fancy, just in case I needed to imagine myself sexy. In case, in case, in case.

I didn't end up wearing it, this trip, for whatever that's worth.

* * * * *

The first night, I walked back to the hotel tipsy and blissful from one glass of pinot noir and too much excellent risotto and bread at Pazzo. On the sidewalk, just before the doors to the lobby: an Elvis-impersonating busker. Fat Elvis, with cape and jumpsuit and a stuffed toy hound dog (?) in front of his displayed hat. He had a little karaoke-style machine set up with an instrumental track, and was inexplicably singing the Beatles' "Something." Okay, then. I was tempted to make a request, but what? I believe Dad originally seduced Kathy with "One Night With You," but that seemed inappropriate. Me, I favor "Suspicious Minds" or "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." But there was a clutch of couples coming the other way up the pavement, so I smiled but did not break stride. "Thank you. Thank you verra much," he boomed into the mike behind me, someone else's change plinking into the bucket.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Worst float ever, though

I had a minor professional disappointment last week, something I'd planned on not panning out. Not important, really. Ask Huey. But when I was lamenting this setback with Sis, she told me this excellent story about a similar conversation she'd had with our dad, a great little bead of hilarity and quintessential Dad Advice wrapped in black-humored hindsight.

Until very recently, Sis had not been employed by The Man, in a corporate environment, for some 14 months--the first half of that deliberate, the latter half increasingly, desperately not. Because they were both home all day, she found herself with many opportunities to chitty-chat with Dad on the phone, such that he was quite invested in her job search. I'm envious of these circumstances now--not the unemployment, duh, but of their regular, if random, conversations. Of how keyed in he was to her career trajectory, because I doubt my dad was ever really sure just what it is that I do for a living. "Write computer books" was about as close as he got to the truth. I do remember that when I went into management, I called to tell him the news. When I said I'd been promoted to manager, he exclaimed with pride--and extreme astonishment--"For all of NerdCo?!?" I can't describe how that irked and tickled me both: that my dad somehow thought I'd been plucked from obscurity to lead, like, 36,000 people for a multi-billion-dollar corporation, because, CATCH UP, DAD...but also that he sincerely believed I could do it. It was not outside his realm of possibility, for me. That's a vote of confidence I need to hold onto more tightly, now.

Anyway. So one day this spring, Sis happened to be on the phone with Dad at the precise moment she got an e-mail turning her down for a job she'd genuinely longed for. They'd gambled on the Other Guy, and she was devastated. Here is the first thing she says our father told her, in that moment: "You need a beer! Do you have any beer?"

Dad was never much of a drinker, to my recall; he might crack open a lone beer if the temperature got above 95 degrees. Or, on New Year's Eve, he'd consume a single shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, before tucking into bed. At 9:00 p.m. It's midnight somewhere. At his funeral, in the photo albums on display, I found snapshots of him in the mid-70s, sporting his Afro perm and brandishing a beer bottle, but that was not the man I knew.

This was, though: his immediate follow-up suggestion to Sis was "Go up to the Husky Deli and have a scoop of coconut ice cream!" Yeah. There is not one doubt in my mind that I inherited this gene from him; it's only slightly less obvious than the eyebrows, the considerable nose, that I see every morning in the bathroom mirror. There is never a wrong time for ice cream--any season, anywhere, any flavor, I will need no persuasion and I will not turn it down. Beer OR ice cream = not a contest. Also, surely someone must make beer ice cream, so point me at it, interwebs, and I will gladly taste it so you don't have to.

Dad had a longstanding relationship with the Schwan's delivery guy in his area. La Center isn't all that rural any more, and Schwan's is now a purveyor of frozen lasagnes and pizzas and chow mein and god-knows-what-all...but their legacy was ice cream, and Dad never didn't have half a dozen boxes of fudge pops and Neapolitan sandwiches stashed in the freezer. Or we'd drive out to this gas-pump mini-mart at some forgotten crossroads in farm country, where they had a drive-up window dispensing soft-serve cones: vanilla, chocolate, or "twist," the two flavors spiraled together in a frozen helix, the chocolate with flecks of real cocoa, rich and dark and gritty on your tongue.

When the funeral arrangements were still being determined, I made a joke about having a Schwan's truck in the cortege, or interring the ashes in a cardboard pint container. Sis got mad at me, and I regret that, I do...but I still find it funny, too. I'd like to think Dad would laugh. You could do so much worse, than to be delivered to your eternal rest in an ice cream truck. I might want that as my own second choice, right behind the Viking funeral with the boat and the flaming arrows.

Beer and ice cream. It's so him, it's so Dad, and in that it makes me laugh and wince both, not least because massive heart attack, you say? hmmm. In reading the Schwan's history linked above, I discovered what is surely no more than an unsettling coincidence: that Marvin Schwan, the company's founder, died on May 9 (my father's birthday), 1993. Of a heart attack. At the age of 64. Ice cream: a dangerous, delicious business.

But I am treasuring this little second-hand nugget of irrelevant career advice, Dad's best effort at long-distance comfort in a moment of crisis. I'm so grateful to Sis for sharing it with me, because it reminds me that, whatever conversations we did or didn't have, Dad is still in me. In the mirror, in the music, in the firm conviction that there is no ill so grave that a frozen dairy treat can't cure it, can't at least put you on the mend. Except, well, that one ill, I guess.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

All your life is Channel 13

I had big plans for the long weekend, which included prepping and painting my bedroom. (I am too broke to go on vacation, at the moment, so must settle for making Here seem different instead.)

But you know what they say about intentions...and now I might not get off the couch for three days, because I have stumbled across "80 Hours of the 80s" on VH1 Classic, and OH DEAR GOD. Were we all both insane and intellectually challenged, in the eighties? Because this stuff is the worst, most hilariously awful candy-colored crack. They are going alphabetically, I guess, because they did an entire block of Billy Joel...and Billy is my dirty little CD-rack secret, and those are some great songs, but man. I writhed with embarrassment, for the both of us, and barked with laughter at the dancing Allentown steelworkers and the dancing Uptown Girl grease monkeys. WHAT THE HELL, BILLY, seriously.

Also, in the straightforward stage-performance video for "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," between verses, Billy swigged pugnaciously from a beer, which, um. You might want to watch that, Billy, in about twenty--ah, screw it. Never mind. I'm sure that, much like that pretty, pretty boy over there posing clad only in a strategically placed teacup, nothing at all will come of this. Don't worry.

And next? A block of Elton John! Mimes! Neon! Wigs! Bodypaint! On the other dancers too, even!

Christ, I'm gonna have to put on a pot of coffee.

Edited to add: Journey block! Journey block! Journey block! Can't type, have hiccups from laughing.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bree Sharp: "Okay, but seriously...why?"

Oh yes, I heard.

And of course it is damn sad, and mortifying, and more than a little pitiful. I feel for the kids, most, and for the missus (Sarah Lawrence, represent!). And on the subject of Ms. T, goddamn, because what hope in hell do the rest of us poor slobs have, if being whip-smart and wickedly funny and talented and a tall drink of gorgeous is not enough? Holy crap!

But meanwhile my lizard brain is all in a quandary, because The List, my List? has seemingly leapt from my subconscious and is running amok in the streets. Y'all have a List, right? The list of two to five celebrity free passes, against which you will brook no argument from your spouse or significant other? So that, if John Krasinski or Daniel Dae Kim, or both, should inexplicably show up on my doorstep bearing bottles of champagne, or massage oil, or both?...well, I could not be held accountable. The List. I invoke The List. Also I am single, so The List is under perpetual review at my own discretion or lack thereof.

So. Awkward. And ugly, and unfortunately titillating. Sigh. Anyway...Robert Downey, Jr. seems to have gotten his shit together, after a long, looong string of art-imitating-life-imitating-art, so...there is always hope. Get better, you beautiful trainwreck, for the sake of those chirrens at least. I will skulk back over here to the shallow end of the pool, where the water is uncomfortably hot and has the distinct whiff of sulphur. Dang, man.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm s'posed to get a raise next week, you know damn well I won't

It's annual review season at NerdCo; don't know if that's exactly why this has been stuck in my head for a week, but so be it: Huey Lewis and the News, Workin' for a Livin'.

I think the original MTV video was so plain, just the band jumping around on a blank white set, that no one has bothered to archive it on YouTube for the ages; you have to make do with Huey live on stage, sweating through his button-down and replicating the same little jogging-in-place dance at the song's big climax that, heaven help me, I remember from the video. (Also excellent: the guitarist's Tewtally 80s!!1! checkerboard guitar strap. I thought that guy was SO CUTE when I was 12.)

My dad got cable t.v. right about the time MTV launched, when Huey and the gang were in heavy rotation...and he became a huge fan, of the band in general and this song in particular. When Sis and I spent alternate weekends at his house--he was still in Seattle then--he used to wake us up with this track, at holy crap o'clock on Saturday morning: carefully dropping the needle into the vinyl groove with the stereo already cranked to 11. If he misjudged it a little there'd be a preliminary boom of static through the speakers, like a distant thunderclap, before you were blasted out of bed by the harmonica. Sixty seconds later he'd pop in the bedroom door, grinning, to see whether Sis had plummeted from the top bunk in alarm and fallen on top of me. Reveille.

Dad spent one afternoon resetting the needle arm again and again, carefully transcribing the lyrics on a yellow legal pad because he was so smitten. He couldn't spell; I remember looking over his shoulder to read Damed if you do, Damed if you don't in scribbly black felt-tip and feeling vaguely embarrassed for us both. (Later, transcription duties fell to me: I had to copy down Ray Stevens's Ahab the Arab from a K-Tel novelty album, for Dad to perform at a friend's bachelor party or some such.)

He could pick his way (haha) around virtually any stringed instrument, but that year, Dad asked for a harmonica for his birthday. He would have been 38. I'm 38. Oh dear god. We presented it to him in the kitchen--probably a Hohner, aren't they all Hohners? and why do I remember that? get me on Jeopardy!--and Dad beamed with delight.

"Okay! What's this?" he asked, and raised it to his lips, emitting an unidentifiable bleat and blur of noise. "Come on, guess," he prodded us, to blank stares. "Don't you recognize it? It's Love Me Do, by the Beatles!" More random squawking.

"Oh," we said, me and Sis and stepmom Kathy, probably in unison. "Oh yeah, it is! It sure is!"

I have no idea what must have happened to the harmonica, after that weekend. It is possible that Kathy lost it, and no jury would convict her. But a quarter-century later, I had to download some Huey Lewis from iTunes...tiny bits and bytes of a song, flying through the air and the invisible futuristic Internets into my computer, my iPod synching up with my brain. I get a check on Friday, but it's already spent, Huey complains, an aspect of adulthood that never occured to me when I was 12. I miss Dad. But the thought of him rattling the windows in their frames with that dopey song, every other Saturday, still makes me laugh. I don't quite leap out of bed, still, in a way that he'd respect...but I'll try harder.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Born to shuffle

I have a longer post percolating in the back of my mind...and at some point I suppose I should do a little recap of my not-quite-a-month of solid posting (highlight: an actual Seafair Pirate commented on this post, which tickled me all out of proportion). But tonight I'll just get back in the saddle with this music meme I totally stole from MoPie.

1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle
2. For each question, press the Next button to get your answer.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

(Okay, that one made me laugh out loud. Yes, at this point I will in fact settle for "present.")

Desde Que Conosco

Maybe, This Time

I Want You To Be My Baby

Where I'm From

I've Got a Woman
(I'm not so sure my mother doesn't still think of me as a twelve-year-old, actually.)

Sleepwalker's Lullabye
( nothing.)

Dark End Of The Street

Pioneer Skies

Broken Train
(Of lousy luck, presumably.)

Rocking In The Jungle
(I have to, I hope so. That would be hilarious.)


Ezekiel 25-17
(Ha! Well, who wouldn't be afraid of Samuel L. Jackson bursting in and hollering Bible quotes at you? Immediately prior to putting a bullet in your skull?)

Say What You Want

It's All Been Done

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Yeah, I missed a day. Dammit! But I was seriously getting a little OCD about posting, and that coupled with terrible insomnia for the last half-dozen days left me unable to string sentences together...or at least, none that I felt worthy of public consumption. I want to put eloquent little pieces of wordcraft on the page, here, no seams visible...but all weekend I felt like I'd accidentally answered the door wearing inside-out pajamas, with pillow creases and perhaps a slight crust of drool still visible on my face. And at the door is...oh, Alice Munro. With her friend Martha Stewart, and they're expecting brunch.

Not that I know where this metaphor is coming from, seeing as how I haven't been sleeping...but clearly it's also gotten away from me entirely.

Moving on to someone else's extended metaphor: Sis has made another acquisition for her armada of increasingly wee, cartoony vintage vehicles: a 1963 Fiat 500. Yes, she's one of those people who vultures around in eBay Motors, pouncing in the last 30 seconds, and it's served her well. This purchase nicely underscores two things that Sis has been, basically, since birth: obsessed with cars, and a total tightwad. Thus, she is able to indulge her hobby in carefully orchestrated bursts, instead of noodling it away one DVD or pint of ice cream at a time, like the rest of us. Here's Mr. Sis's photo gallery of the tiny, tiny Italian car, being extruded from a gigantic American truck so large they had to meet him at an abandoned lot in their general neighborhood. Also the same since birth: her expressions. I've seen that face every Christmas morning since 1973.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tomorrow, the world

Today's Comics Curmudgeon is making me laugh, specifically this panel I'll repeat:

It's been well-established that Lu Ann is not the sharpest tool in the shed, hence her wild excitement. Hell, at least it's not North Dakota, as the scars from a single childhood visit are still deeply rooted in my brain. But this does remind me of my first-ever professional business trip, back in my days at Craphole Industries, because I was just about that ecstatic to go and dispense three days' worth of editorial wisdom to our sister Winnipeg.

Maybe it speaks to my weird affinity for Canada? Because it was dry but freeeeezing February, if memory serves, and the meetings were excruciating at best. But I remember arriving at at the hotel at two in the morning, and finding it the nicest place I had ever been, ever, because the room featured bathrobes. Never mind the lateness of the hour, I put that thing on and swanned around the room for a while, happily filling out the little room-service-breakfast menu that you hung on the doorknob with the Do Not Disturb sign. Do not disturb me, unless and until you are bringing waffles!

Actually this is still my policy, as well as the bar I set for a promising vacation: room service, and putting in some serious robe time.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Helllooooo, Iowa

My mom spent part of the weekend visiting an old friend in Ocean Shores, and part of that, apparently, drinking at the Elks' club and arranging my marriage.

Yeah. So, she met a gentleman at the bar, and I guess they chatted rather a lot while her friend kept running outside to smoke. Elks Guy has a son, 40, who lives somewhere in the Hawkeye State, and it's evidently his fondest dream that this man would find a nice lady and settle down. Well, what are the chances, because here Mom had two cents (or two hundred, I suspect) to share on this subject as well. For my own good, of course.

"Do you have a picture?" Elks Guy asked. But Mom doesn't carry around photos of us in her wallet anymore. Probably I have dodged another bullet, because if she had had one, no doubt it would be my senior high school portrait, where I am rocking that Code Bleu t-shirt and assymetrical haircut. And giant earrings shaped like tropical fish. Oh, Elks Guy Jr., you have missed out. Lucky for both of us, your dad doesn't carry pictures either. But then he asked for my e-mail. My mom didn't give him that...but she did write down the address of this blog. Provided she could remember it correctly, which I am not counting on (sorry, Mom).

So, it's possible that we are already engaged, given the speed of things in the Interweb age. Hey there, John from Iowa. If, instead of setting fire to the coaster that this URL was written on and depositing it in the nearest ashtray, you are actually reading this...well. Allow me to apologize in advance (or in hindsight?) for Mom. She gets carried away, and that is perhaps warning enough. Though also you should know that your pops is boldly meddling and conspiring on your behalf, out west. Whaddya know: looks like we have at least one thing in common!

Friday, July 25, 2008

It's time to call it a day

Dude, I am so not cut out for midnight movies any more. The thrill of the moment is grand, but oooh, the crash is bad news. I feel like I'm having a day-after-Christmas letdown, a little bit. Anyway. I won't spoil it for ya: the X-File, such as it is, plays out like a longish episode of the show, but we all know I was never there for the monsters anyway. And as a shameless love letter to the swoony romantic faithful among us? Total success, this movie. Kind of sweet of them, really.

Anyway. Go read Rebecca Traister in Salon, on her love of Scully; she got paid to write down the stuff I was amateurishly flailing at. Kumail Ali also made me laugh. This will conclude the dorky fangirl segment of the least until I retire, and go for a doctorate in Media Studies. Only half kidding!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thirty-eight and a half

I have one little group of friends that meets approximately every four to six weeks for dinner. There are six of us, and for the first half of the year, somebody's birthday falls at just the right interval that we can use that excuse for our celebrations. We get jolly over cocktails and desserts with multiple spoons, and take turns buying each other dinner. And then after May comes a huge lull...nothing til my birthday. In December, three days before Christmas, when I am exactly as busy as every other person in my social register, tearing around shopping and attending corporate holiday parties and trying to keep the cats out of the decorated tree, yadda yadda. So this year, we elected to celebrate my half-birthday! (Technically, I suppose that would be in June, but screw it. Summer is far too late and brief, here, though it's gorgeous while it lasts.) Dining al fresco, which I have never done on my birthday in my whole entire life!

Seriously, I couldn't have enjoyed it more. We sat on the deck in the cafe portion of Ray's Boathouse, a Seattle institution that's been around so long that it's burned to the ground twice. (Okay, the second fire was somewhat better-contained, but that doesn't read as well.) Fruity cocktails were consumed, and beautiful seared halibut. Crab cakes and asparagus. A chocolate-chile-lime souffle cake for dessert, with fascinating layers of flavor to experience; the chiles were less a taste than a sensation, a slow burn that lingered and grew as the dollop of vanilla ice cream on top dissolved. We wore sunglasses. The long slow sunset blazed into our faces; we looked west over the still, calm Sound and the Olympic mountains in the distance. Good food, good friends, and a radical departure from my typical aging experience, and I am so grateful. (And wondering, what now will I do for my actual birthday, when I turn 39? For the first time?)

Oh, and then: I consumed a large mug of regular coffee, because yes, I am off to the late, late movies tonight...and taking a vacation day tomorrow to catch up. I am sun-toasted and pleasantly sated with dinner and generally blissed out. It feels like a genuine holiday. I should do this every year, to hell with the calendar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I love a parade

Tonight was the 58th (!) annual Greenwood Seafair parade, part of a series of neighborhood parades and other events that have been rolled into Seattle's summertime festival since back before there was actually anything to do here. I say that only partially in jest. Seafair was developed as a way to generate civic pride and community involvement in an era where Seattle had no major-league sports teams and televisions were still a novelty. It has an invented mythology (which has languished a bit in five decades), with beauty queens and a chosen King Neptune, plucked from the ranks of civic leaders each year, handed a trident and a crown, and tasked with defending the city from a band of maurading pirates. You have to understand that this was, once, a small town. It isn't, any more...but there are a few weeks per year, a few hours of milk-carton boat races and stomping drill teams, that still feel like the cheesiest corn-pone of small-town Americana. I probably don't need to tell you how much I LOVE THIS with all my heart.

When I was a little girl we'd go to several of the neighborhood parades, with our mom and her mom, who'd taken her in the 50s. We stopped when I grew old enough to find them--and generally any public exposure with either parent--mortifying. And then, when I was in graduate school, Seafair rolled around again and I jokingly turned to my mother and said, hey, for old time's sake, should we go? That was probably 15 years ago. We've never stopped.

It is hard to explain, the combined tenderness and hilarity I feel towards something as silly as a neighborhood parade. You either love it or you don't; it's not for everyone, this being pelted with stale taffy by drunk businessmen in clown suits (though they have sobered up some, since the good old days). The people-watching is unmatched: families in lawnchairs, little kids staggering around dazed with anticipation, local barflies dragging chairs out of the Baranoff lounge to smoke on the sidewalk and cheer for the pirates as they roll by, firing their cannon. Grandma used to stake out spots on the curb with a blanket, hours in advance. She would also administer a punch in the nads to anyone who dared try to step over us and block the view. So there is a long thread of memories, going back three generations in my family. One of the main reasons I hope to have children someday is so that I can take them, with their grandma, to get the holy bejabbers scared out of them by the pirates.

Here's Mom, waiting to wrestle a random toddler to the ground for a thrown Tootsie Pop.

I don't know who these kids are; this is blurry, but I so loved their anticipation, peering far up the block for a glimpse of the police motorcycle drill team. The squat, on that one little guy, kills me.
Safeway; Starbucks; princesses in Corvettes. God Bless America.

I love the girl's hair on the right, here.

Mom and I got a little verklempt, somehow, at the Navy band. Anchors Aweigh!

This, immediately following, helped us recover. The little girl in the foreground climbed her mother like a tree about two seconds after this was taken.

Anyway. What's not to love?

One more picture. This is Mom, again, circa 1955; she's dressed as a pirate herself, ready to attend the Wallingford neighborhood parade, I'm guessing. This is framed in my living room, and is the one non-living thing I would grab, if the house were burning down. Thanks for going with me again, Mom. I love you. YARRRRRRRRRR!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The hoagie moment

I come from a long line of sleep-talkers, at least three generations of women who mumble and mutter and occasionally shout out directions while seemingly unconscious. My grandmother could famously be engaged, with just a little delicate prompting, in utterly dadaesque "conversation" right on the edge of sleep. I share this trait, and I live in fear of it--specifically, of the fear that in some important meeting I will suddenly begin blurting out responses to the parallel thread of dream that gets going, while I do the head bob and struggle to stay upright in my chair.

I'm still not sleeping well, or enough, off and on. Today I struggled valiantly through a product demo and later confided to Sis how near to nodding off I'd been. And she reminded me of the worst such episode in my past, which I would be wise to never quite forget. This was years ago now; I was in what must have been a lunch meeting, because I was evidently both sleepy and hungry. I rested my eyes for just a second, and suddenly was dreaming: that I had a giant, delicious hoagie sandwich in my hands, hooray! I opened my mouth, cavern-wide, to take a big tearing bite of this hoagie...and then I opened my eyes, to find myself sitting at a conference table, meeting still droning on, and my jaw practically unhinged with imaginary hoagie anticipation. There might have been a bit of salivating, a lip smack, just possibly.

I don't know, to this day, if anyone saw this and wondered if I'd lost my mind. I set off a quick volley of tics to mask the weirdness, a fake yawn wrapped in a...chin stretch, I don't know. Panic, disorientation. And disappointment, because that hoagie had looked goooood. At least, by some miracle, I hadn't spontaneously volunteered any information to the budget committee about the hoagie. I would not put it past myself, to have mumbled "no, it's dijon" while we were supposed to be analyzing spreadsheets. At any rate, it's become shorthand between me and Sis for that terrible teetering on the lip of consciousness, in the dullest meeting of your life. Hoagie moment. Now you can use it too! I won't mind.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Couscous as metaphor(s)

I made a delicious couscous salad for dinner tonight, with chicken and cucumbers in it, and dried cranberries, and toasted almonds, and an orangey dressing with a hint of dijon. And it was splendid, but was also one of those things that somehow requires every single piece of your kitchen equipment, way more than you anticipated. A whisk, a huge chef's knife, a skillet for toasting the almonds, a plethora of parings and onion skins for the compost bin--right now I'm keeping those in a plastic bag in the freezer, so that I don't develop a fruit-fly situation, but it is odd to have a big clunky bag of frosty garbage in there. The orange-juice blend for the couscous boiled over on the stove, and that is basically like making sugar tar. And then there is the couscous itself, so yummy, but it exists basically to just be the slightly sticky miniscule pasta granules that disperse and multiply so that they are somehow adhered to every surface of sink and countertop and linoleum. My kitchen looks and feels like that right now, scattered couscous writ large.

I went to a Moroccan restaurant with a group of friends once, where we sat on cushions on the floor and the waiter poured warm fragrant water over our hands for washing, because we were going to eat with them. Our hands. And then we did, but the meal included a huge dish of couscous, and it was delicious but YOW SO HOT when you are sticking your fingers in there, oh my gosh...and then I was wearing a rather deeply cut blouse, while trying to fling clods of burning hot couscous into my mouth with my bare burnt hands, and man. Those couscous molecules really do get everywhere. You haven't lived until you have had a bra full of couscous. Well, probably you have lived, but nowhere near as interesting a life, I am here to tell you.

The other thing I am thinking of now, avoiding the silty couscoused sinkful of dishes, is my dad. Again. Here are two of his flaws, a convenient pair: he never installed a garbage disposal in their kitchen, and he could never scrape a plate worth a damn. My regular chore, when Sis and I were staying with Dad, was to do the dishes each night. (Sis fed the young beef steers out in the barn, big scoops of what I guess was Calf Chow; who had the more taxing task is debatable.) I will never forget, never be able to forget, putting my hand down into the greasy, cooling dishwater, feeling around for that last fork among the floating kernels of corn and pasta shells collecting near the drain trap. Shudder. When I bought my house, my absolute prize possession herein was the dishwasher, the first such appliance I ever owned. It remains just about the best magic act ever; you put in stinky, crusty dishes, and then clean shiny lemon-smelling dishes come out, still hot to the touch! Hot with cleanliness.

Strangely, I still don't have a garbage disposal myself. Or a sullen, grimacing eighth grader to scrub the stockpot and fish around, wincing, in the drain. Double damn.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maybe it is just that point in my cycle

I was driving to the grocery store on this beautiful evening, the sun sinking before me and the windows down. On one of the little side streets was a guy on a bicycle, heading the opposite direction; I nudged the wheel over to the right a little--there wasn't a ton of room, but there was enough--and smiled at him. And as he passed, he leaned down toward my open window and sneered, as nastily as he could, "Thanks a LOT!"

What? Dude, there was room. There was plenty of room! I smiled at you! I don't mind cyclists; I am patient and I try to share the road, just like the bumper stickers say. But apparently it wasn't enough for this guy, and maybe it is just my present state of mind, but I wanted to pull over and get out with diagrams and chalk and measuring tape and maybe a couple of road flares, to illustrate my case, that I am friendly and a good citizen and he was a self-righteous creep. It was over and done with faster than I can type it; he sailed on, and I went on to fill up my (reusable green) bags with (organic) produce and (free-range) chicken and fresh local bread. But really I felt mostly like crying. Or running back and putting a broom handle through his spokes and sending him ass-over-teakettle into the blackberry bushes in somebody's alley.

Which one of us does that make the bigger bitch?

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I went to a barbeque this evening; there haven't really been enough of those, this summer, with the warm sunny days only really arriving in late June. It was a birthday dinner, actually, thrown by DerDer for her brother; we sat in the backyard under the grape arbor and had planked salmon and crab cakes and a shrimp boil and really cheap beer. Chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

And it was a pleasure, to sit around the table with people I've known since I was four years old, and people I've known since high school. We are scattered through each other's childhood photos, birthday parties and trips to camp...and then I periodically bump into DerDer's husband in the cafeteria at work. We sat around the table peeling shrimp, accidentally knocking over each other's beer bottles when the table wobbled in the grass, passing the baby around. DerDer has two boys, now, and after the meal we retreated to the basement playroom and shared a massive flashback over the treasure trove of classic Fisher Price toys she's been picking up at yard sales and on eBay. The parking garage! The houseboat! The airport! The little blue house with its working doorbell! It is possible that we were more invested in arranging the wee plastic cars and chairs and round-headed peg people than were her little boys, perhaps.

It was fun. I laughed a lot and got slightly buzzed on Pabst Blue Ribbon, and snorfled kisses into the baby's neck before I left. And then, strangely, I felt, I feel...bereft. I have had this experience a lot this summer, where I am surrounded by old friends and their kids, now, watching the next generation tumble around on the lawn, and it is wonderful and then I get in my quiet, solitary car and the silence is worse than deafening. I sing with the radio, I always have...but lately it is not enough to drown out that quiet. I am used to being alone, but I am feeling it differently now.

I don't know. I've started this fourth paragraph three different times already, trying out different thoughts and summary statements. But maybe, for this, there isn't one. Not tonight, I guess.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Town crier

Okay, everyone and their brother has already linked to this: Matt Harding's latest dance-around-the-world video, where this time he's invited the citizens of Earth to come out and dance around with him. I've seen it in at least three places in as many weeks; today before my lunch break I played it again, and I had exactly the same response to it as the first time...

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.>

...which is to say, I cried like a goddamn baby.

Sis IMed me while I was having my moment, all cheerily "how are you today?" and I had to laugh at myself, as I scoured my face with Starbucks napkins. "Why does it make you cry?" she asked, sincerely puzzled I think. And I have been trying all afternoon to articulate that. It's not to say that I don't laugh, too. I beam at this video. I grin like a loon. I loved Matt's earlier solo trips, too, and I am not sure why this one provokes such a visceral reaction in me. But there's something about the music, from the first instant...and then when the crowds pour in, shouting and laughing and all hoedown-jogging in place, with such joy...well. Tears spew from my eyes! I can't get hold of myself!

Joy. Maybe that is it--that my response to this video is a more essential kind of joy, where you laugh and cry both. It thrills me; it hits me in some spot so deep that the emotions get all piled up and come blurting and barrelling out at once. The little kids giggling--that gets me. In beautiful places, in desolate places, some adults and a few dogs and kids and kids and kids rush in, from their apartments, their school lunchroooms, their shacks, and they dance and dance and dance for the sheer fun of it. Showboating, doing cartwheels. I told Sis something like, look how simple this is. We're at war, all over the world. We bicker and backstab, we defend our ideologies to the death and scorn those of others. Somewhere, everywhere, every day, people are starving, are sick, are deliberately cruel, are tired, are lost. And then this one goofy dude goes and does a bad jig in the middle of the street, and reduces us all to our most human element. Run out there and smile and jump up and down! You! and you! and you! There's still hope. We can get along, the world can still be saved. Let's dance.

I had to watch it again, twice, getting the embedding to work. Yep, gleefully hiccuping all over the damn place.
* * * * *

In other news, I drove home from work this evening and found these, placed along about a block's worth of the median on 8th Ave NW, a couple streets over from my house:

I went home, threw my purse in the house and practically ran back down the street with my camera, wanting to make sure no one took them down before I got them all. I walked a few blocks further south, too, checking, but there didn't seem to be more to the story. Anyway. I know they're not for me, but I kind of wish they were. You know, maybe the guy (why do I think it's a guy?) who posted the signs is in fact a jerk; maybe he did something unforgiveable. How would I know? The hair thing, that's a little weird. But I really want to believe that it would and can work, too. I want to believe the intended recipient saw them, that he or she believes it too. It can work. It can! Say yes, oh, say yes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Geek, dweeb, or spaz

Okay, confession time. By all accounts, it has thus far been a stinko summer for me and mine; I've already mentioned how I would kind of like to take a little vacation to the back of my bedroom closet, curled fetally around a pillow and a pan of brownies. But I have been clinging to one thing, one wee bit of Summer Fun-ness that I have been gleefully awaiting for a long, long time. Wanna guess what it is? I cover it pretty well; you might be surprised.

Ohhhh yyyyeaaaaaah. Mulder and Scully in the hizzouse, one week away. Believe again, the teaser posters said, and I would like to point out here that yo, I never stopped.

It's funny, I know. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a science-fiction kook in any other capacity. When I worked at Waldenbooks eons ago, one of my colleagues wore a homemade Star Trek uniform for Halloween one year, and all. day. long. crazy customers came out of the woodwork to point out to her the many ways in which her collar, her insignia, her belt, were not regulation. I thought they were ALL bonkers. Sure, I had Star Wars action figures as a kid, and Sis and I squabbled so much over the Princess Leia that we each had to have one...but we did not secure them in plastic bubbles as an investment; they got buried in the yard, their tiny ray guns and lightsabers mauled in the vaccuum cleaner. (My mother famously fell asleep during Star Wars, the original, at the drive-in. "I couldn't take it, all that boop boop and beep beep," she shrugged afterwards.) I hear good things, but I've never seen a single episode of Dr. Who.

And I was a latecomer to the X-Files, too. I had some friends who were entirely obsessed, and I remember inadvertently dropping by their place once a little early for Friday-night carousing, only to find them watching the second-season finale, six inches from the t.v. screen. "SSSSHHHHHHHH," they hissed frantically. My sole initial thought about this U.F.O. television program was what kind of names are those?

So I still can't explain exactly when I got hooked. At some point I discovered it wasn't just about the alien menace...and thank God, really, because I was never there for the space guys. I was snagged by the dark and the wet and the gloom, the dreary familiarity of the Vancouver years. And then I went through a rough, dark patch in my own life, and I clung to this story, to these fictional people. I stayed for the dynamic, the romance in a classical, gothic sense--fascinated by these two brilliant, damaged, doomed, devoted characters struggling to do the right thing, to put away more ordinary monsters, to keep seeking a measure of justice while the world got smaller and darker and crazier around them, every minute. It's a sad story, really. For an hour a week, my problems were petty. Poor Mulder and Scully--in the end, they each have no one but the other. How lucky! How costly!

Also, it doesn't hurt at all that both of them are insanely scorching hot.

Anyway. So I have been a regular, in this and only this fandom--I cringe even using that dopey word, a little--and today I was squaring up plans with some Seattle folks in an online forum, to stay up way too late and go to a midnight madness premiere and scream like ninnies to see our adored Moose and Squirrel back on the big screen. We are going to see our old imaginary friends! It is going to be so much fun!

Then I sort of realized that the ladies I was chatting with are all college-age, or even younger. One young woman cannot attend the midnight movie because her parents said no. So technically I am old enough to be her mother. Oh goodness. Well, we all could do far, far worse for a role model than Dana Scully, that's for damn sure. We are not out knocking over 7-Elevens or huffing paint or whoring our way onto a reality show, because we have intellectual pursuits! Also we are dorks!

I'll close by linking to David Duchovny's blog, because when the hell else am I ever gonna get to do that? Me and David, typing away in our Blogger templates late into the night, sharing our smarty smartassed thoughts with the Internet. We are practically, like, totally bonding and stuff. Step off, girls.

Edited to add: hold up. Steely Dan?! Feh. You're lucky you're pretty, DD.