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 company...in 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 blog...at 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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Can't unring a bell, baby

An article on MSNBC today described the "sticker shock" New York City residents are experiencing, now that a local law requires restaurants to post the calorie content of all their foods. (Brace yourselves, Seattleites; there's a similar statute coming for us later in the year, evidently.) So there is a great hue and cry, as it turns out that breakfast pastries and bacon cheeseburgers and a batter-dipped, deep-fried onion the size of your head are all sort of bad for you. Who knew? Next they'll try to pry the Trans-Fatty Butter Nuggets (now with extra High-Fructose Corn Syrup!) right out of our bloated, stubby fingers.

I don't know. I've spent so many years--decades, really--living with Diet Mind, finding one way or another to get obsessed with the details of food, be it calories or carbs or proteins, serving sizes, the time of day, the sequence in which nutrients are consumed, the demonization of bread or red meat or sugar...maybe I can't see the forest for the trees. But are people really surprised by these revelations? I'm not. Come on. Most of the time, I make pretty decent choices, peppered with occasional, terrible ones. All things in moderation! But I am not deluding myself into believing that a 64-ounce Bladder Buster Gulp and a bushel basket of crispy shrimp are okay.

The article concludes with a quote from a woman out dining with her friends at a T. G. I. Friday's. The fact that they have chosen to go there, in New York City, isn't the saddest part. This is:

“I’m so upset,” [Fowler] said, noting some entrees — like the Jack Daniels ribs and shrimp dinner — contain almost 2,000 calories, and the desserts were more of the same (the brownie obsession is 1,500 calories). “I wish they wouldn’t have done this.”

But then Fowler noticed that the waiter had handed her friend an old menu, which didn’t have calorie counts on it.

“You got a menu without anything on it?” she asked her friend. “Can I have yours?”

Oh, dear. Unless you are planning on just licking the laminated coating, honey, I don't think it works like that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I woke up this morning thinking about last night's entry, about how I'd poked fun at the newly-minted feminists on my college campus and how outraged! appalled! incensed! they were over the absurd caveman hair-dragging snippet of On the Town. I kind of wanted to explain myself, to sort out that what I was laughing at was not feminism itself...more the adolescent zeal that only, particularly, a group of exceedingly privileged young people can bring to a cause or commitment in those first heady days of Total Freedom to Make Up Your Mind, Really Loudly.

Of course I'm a feminist. It galls me, that so many people seem to think that word means something along the lines of "hairy, braless, strident man-hater." At this moment, I might be those first two things, but that is purely a coincidence of lolling about in my jammies post-gym. I like the Y-chromosome fellas just fine; I just don't think I should be treated any differently. It's that simple. Sarah Bunting says it far more eloquently than I, so I won't go on too much. I was mostly amused by the remembered lack of perspective.

But now let me get back up on my soapbox for a minute and complain about certain members of my gender, again, some more, because what in the name of heaven and earth is wrong with at least one member of my Fancy Gym? I've written before about what slovenly pigs some of the ladies in the locker room seem to be, but tonight I witnessed something that completely took the cake, stunned me into gaping silence: on the floor of one of the shower stalls, a used and discarded tampon.

Seriously. SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? I could see forgetting and leaving behind your ponytail band, your travel-size conditioner. Maybe even a band-aid you've peeled off while soaping up, gross though that is. But this? I mean, this took deliberation, wilfull disregard for your fellow patrons and the Fancy Gym staff. Whoever you are, lady, you had to...retrieve the thing, in there, and stand around thinking about it for a minute, what to do, what to do, before tossing it onto the tiled floor and walking away. And whatever went into that thought process, I cannot fathom. This gym is NICE. This gym is ridiculously expensive, whether you are kindly subsidized by NerdCo or not. And who gets to pick up after you?--not just your spilled lotion and the towels you fling about with casual disregard, but YOUR REVOLTING BIOHAZARD GARBAGE? A woman. Another woman, nine times out of ten a woman of color, a woman who's probably making minimum wage for the delightful privilege of picking up after you. A woman who bleeds just like you do, but who can presumably find the garbage can without both hands, a map, a sherpa and a goddamn GPS. BECAUSE MY GOD.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Helluva town

The TiVo picked up On the Town the other night; I've probably seen it half a dozen times, but that didn't prevent me from sitting down in front of it again, with a plate of spaghetti, this evening. Three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York, seeing sights and picking up dames--as a plot, it's wafer-thin, but what a giddy primary-colored love letter to the city it is. They used to show free movies, Friday and Saturday nights at Sarah Lawrence, and I remember that one year, On the Town was part of their "welcome to New York!" film series in September. (Probably they paired it with more nuanced portraits, like Fame. Or Taxi Driver.) I remember that during Ann Miller's big "Prehistoric Man" number, the young feminists in the audience became quite ruffled when Jules Munshin dragged her across the set by the hair. Oh, olden times! You so crazy!

But really. Cave-man antics aside, those are pretty well-mannered sailors. It's been a while since I've seen it, and I was surprised this time by how aggressive the ladies are, for 1949. Betty Garrett as Hildy, practically molesting poor scrawny little Frank Sinatra in that cab! That she drives, I hasten to point out, even though one of the other characters notes with perplexity, "the war's over!" Ann Miller's character, Claire, alludes to some sort of "guardian" she's supposed to have while conducting her anthropological studies in the big city; at any rate, she successfully evades said chaperone enough to get Jules Munshin in a headlock, and liplock, pretty quickly. I know this movie is hardly social commentary...and yet it hovers on some shimmery border between Rosie-the-Riveter days and the booming 50s with their accompanying rigid social strata--the stuff that I'm watching fall apart in Mad Men, set a decade later. Innnnteresting.

And that is some pretty heavy cultural significance that I'm attempting to hang on an MGM musical, so I'll knock it off and just talk about why I love it. The beautiful location shots for that first number--real, old, gorgeous, filthy New York. The traffic-light colors that run throughout the women's costuming. The little in-jokes: when Gene Kelly's Gabey shrugs off the passing girl that the others are ogling, Ozzie (Munshin) demands, "Who ya got waiting for ya in New York, Ava Gardner?" (And Frank does not even blink. I didn't get that one, when I was twelve.) Or, one of the first lines of dialogue, when they're all straight off the boat: "We nevah been heah befoah," Sinatra's character Joiseys, and perhaps they should have given that particular line to someone else? Because his delivery is somewhat unconvincing.

And ohhh, Gene Kelly. I am still hot for Gene Kelly. I went through a big classic-musicals phase, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and sure, Fred Astaire's effortless gliding around was lovely. But Gene Kelly made me feel...funny. His dancing was not effortless: you could see him working at it, see that this was a man in very deliberate control of his body, of his physical and athletic ability. It...promised something, something I recognized before I understood it. Hot damn, Gene Kelly. His IMDB bio has this quote, among others: "I work bigger. Fred's style is more intimate. I'm very jealous of that when I see him on the small screen. Fred looks so great on TV. I'd love to put on a white tie and tails and look as thin as him and glide as smoothly. But I'm built like a blocking tackle." Um...yyyeah. And whew. What was I saying? Anyway. The fact that he was handsome--and ripped--aside, nobody did moony-eyed smittenness better than Gene Kelly. He'd float after a girl, two inches off the ground, clicking his heels together, and it was completely believable.

The movie just looks like fun, period. Why wouldn't it be fun, to be tearing around Manhattan with a hot sailor for one day, going to museums and nightclubs and doing datey things? Plus eventually evading the police and having a few Coney Island hoochie-coochie-show shenanigans thrown in for good measure? I am slightly older (to my horror) than all the participants in On the Town, I think; I'm sitting here now in a ratty United Way t-shirt and gym shorts, and I don't know that I could stay up for 24 hours, even on a date, even if you paid me. (For Mr. Kelly, maybe.) But it sure looks like fun.

I graduated from college May 22, 1992--incidentally, the day of Johnny Carson's last show, and the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. My mom and I stayed on in New York City for the holiday, and when we got to our shabby-genteel, Let's Go-recommended midtown hotel, we learned that Memorial Day coincides with Fleet Week in NYC. The place was teeming with sailors, boyish in their caps and bellbottoms, everywhere we looked, crowding the lobby. It was as if we'd been dropped onto a soundstage. I was 22; I'd been up for a week straight, pretty much, either packing or partying; I was probably in no shape to have a 24-hour dream date. It didn't matter anyway: my mother introduced herself to one of the sailors in the phone-booth-sized elevator on our way up, and said, innocently enough, "My father was a Navy man!" And I am telling you, we did not lift a suitcase or open a door for ourselves for the rest of that entire weekend. (Most of which, I confess, I slept through.) Those boys were gentlemen, to a one. It might have gone differently, if I had been alone. And if any of them had looked like Gene Kelly. Oh well.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday syndrome

There's a great line somewhere in the lone, lamented season of My So-Called Life, when Angela grouses something about the sound of that 60 Minutes stopwatch ticking your life away, every Sunday night. Sadly, that is one of the things that doesn't go away after high school. The entire day seems to have slipped through my fingers like water, even though I've knocked off a bulleted list of tasks much like last week's. I mopped floors, I pruned the blackberries away from the concrete steps down to the alley behind my house so that taking out the trash is no longer a death-defying feat. I even took an hour's nap, this afternoon! I even had my mother over for dinner! I just gave myself a pedicure!

But now here I am, slipping another blog post in under the wire. Laundry is tumbling in the dryer, buttons clanking; the dishes are done. And yet Monday and the work week loom on the horizon, tromping in like Godzilla. The weekend was hot and sunny and lazy and busy, and like all of them, never long enough. Tick, tick.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Girl, you better work

For some reason, a bunch of us at the office got started talking about food-service jobs this week; despite our lengthy, nitpicky literary careers, we'd all slung hash at some point. (Well, one person washed dishes on the graveyard shift in a diner, which might be worse--getting to scrape away the half-eaten omelettes that closing-time drunks had put their cigarettes out in.) Stints at McDonald's, college cafeterias, waiting tables. I think everyone should work a food-service job at least once in their lives, actually--that, and one retail Christmas, preferably in a mall. I know that developing some empathy for the person behind the cash register made me a much, much better and more patient customer. The world would be a kinder place overall, I think.

My first real JOB job, not babysitting, was in the snack bar of the local ice rink. We served a little bit of everything, and so I had to master burgers and popcorn and egg-muffin breakfast sandwiches and french fries and hot dogs, speared on the tines of a little sausage Ferris Wheel that revolved under a broiler lamp. We had fountain sodas; the weird blocky packages of syrups, kind of like wine in a box, must have weighed at least 30 pounds and I practically had to shove them across the kitchen floor with my foot. We had nachos, a gallon-sized can of Que Bueno! pump cheese simmering in a water bath; the smell of that scorched liquid cheese haunts my dreams, and relates to another story that doesn't belong in this post (but come back tomorrow!). During my tenure, we also acquired a slushie machine--both red and blue flavor. The thick sugary shushie goo constantly clogged the nozzles on the machine and would suddenly dislodge in a splattery belch; I had faint pink and blue freckles stained onto my forearms the whole time I had this job (three months). I made $3.35 an hour.

Really it was diabolically clever, the way they set up this job. In addition to the princely wages, the rink management promised you free admission on any public skate session. I was still figure skating then, and paying dearly for private ice time, so the lure of a little free practice was irresistable. It did not occur to me to wonder who would be standing around behind the yellow formica snack bar during all the public skate sessions. Yeah...I caught on eventually.

The shifts I most dreaded were the early, early Sunday morning hours during peewee hockey. Not just because I'd usually worked til 1:30 Saturday night and had to be back at 7 a.m. (although...I think that is illegal. I think it was then, too. Damn you, First Boss!) No, the thing that terrified me most about Sunday mornings was the hockey parents. They'd already been there since five, freezing in the bleachers or slumped in the lobby while their kids skated drills below. They were tired, and aggressive, and they had looooong since finished off the coffee in thermoses they'd brought with them. They scared the bejesus out of me.

I had a key to the snack bar itself, but the change for the register--and the entire cash drawer--were kept in the main office, and had to be doled out to me by whoever was on duty there. Let's just say that the college kids working the front desk were not always as...punctual, as hypervigilant 16-year-old me. So I'd show up and plod visibly, obviously into my little grill booth...and then I couldn't make change, couldn't actually sell anybody anything. Of course, every single groggy, grouchy hockey parent had only a $20 bill on them. The snack bar had a metal accordian gate that wrapped around the countertop, and I remember one squat, toady hockey mom who would actually come up and rattle the bars, barking at me for caffeine RIGHT NOW LITTLE GIRL. Thank God the door locked behind me, you know?

I got crafty. There were mornings I'd come in and see that no one was there to hand me the stupid cash drawer. So I'd wait, hovering in the lobby until I could see that everyone was distracted by something happening on the rink below...and then I'd crawl. I'd slink into the snack bar and, seriously, duck-walk down below the counter level, leaving the lights still off and the gate bolted shut. I could flick the coffeemaker on from down there...and then I'd go into the pantry in back and wait, sitting on a giant box of nondairy creamers or whatever, and praying that someone would come to rescue me before the little orange light on the percolator blinked off and mutiny occurred. (Of course, now that I myself am a coffee-drinking adult--conceivably also on the squat side, really--I...well, I have at least a little more empathy.)

I have a few other vivid memories of this job, like the time the slushie machine blew up on my boss's unctuous brother, who had strolled in and was helping himself. That was excellent. Or the time we discovered that day-old donuts were as hard as any puck and could be similarly slap-shot around the linoleum. Goooaal!

There was a little boom box in the kitchen on a shelf, and for whatever reason the song that sticks in my head, the song that was huge during the brief window of time when I was in there frying corn dogs, was Bruce Hornsby's "That's Just the Way It Is." To this day, I can hear that and be transported back into my snowflake-patterned apron, doing my history homework between customers, sitting on the countertop next to the soda taps. Just for fun he says, "Get a job."

One night one of the Zamboni guys came in and--he was a tall fella--cracked his head on the menu board hanging above us. All the little plastic letters and numbers went flying; I spent the rest of my shift crawling around the floor (a lot of crawling in this brief bad job, I'm now thinking), trying to relocate enough of them to spell out CH SEBU GER and remember what the hell everything had cost. We never did find them all. That guy promised to teach me to drive the Zamboni, as an apology or a flirtation, perhaps...but I didn't last long enough to redeem that offer. Too bad; I would still like to put that on a resume, on every resume, career objective be damned.

Friday, July 11, 2008


About Kai in that grocery cart: when he decided he wanted me to drive, I accepted the assignment with the appropriate degree of reckless irresponsibility that befits a Fun Auntie. We slalomed--if slowly--through the aisles of King's Market, me making tire-squealing noises as we veered around corners in search of tortilla chips and chicken breasts. I took advantage of the wider space in front of the bakery department to do a couple donuts (no pun intended). Auntie Him was a hit!

Kai laughed as I spun the cart around, lolling in the child seat and playing idly with my hands where I gripped the push bar. I was making random funny noises while he squeezed my fingers in his own...and then suddenly there was my dad, a memory opening up in me as easily as a door, something I hadn't thought of in probably 35 years: a game he used to play, with me when I was tiny, tiny.

Dad would hold up his hand, fingers outspread, and let me squeeze each of his fingers in turn. He'd assigned a goofy sound effect to each digit, so that I would grab onto his hand and he would emit a wacko symphony of noises accordingly. The sounds, from thumb to pinky, were as follows: hooonk; beeeeep; toooot; whistle--all of these the words themselves, spoken onomatopoetically--and, for the pinky, zzzzzzzzzzz! This last was accompanied by a swift tickle in the ribs, which was a thrilling menace. You wanted to avoid that pinky! I'd honk away on Dad's thick, calloused fingers with my own, prolonging the hilarity and the ridiculous tune we were crafting together, before finally succumbing to the inevitable zzzzzzzzzz! right in the belly or armpit. Oh my God, Dad. Dad. Dad.

So I stood there in the grocery store openmouthed, the recollection thrown over me like a blanket, or a bucket of water. I had no idea I possessed this memory still, but suddenly there it was, my dad as real to me as if he was right there. I could see him, could see us, sitting in an orange vinyl booth at the Pancake Haus. I could smell him, the scents of my earliest memories of him: always, always Wrigley's Doublemint Gum and a freshly lit cigarette (though in truth he quit smoking 25 years ago). There was Dad, blowing the paper wrappers off of drinking straws. There was Dad, holding up his hand like a cornball instrument and letting me squeeze his fingers.

So Kai, I owe you one. You gave me back something I had no idea was even there, as if you'd put a little glowing pebble in my hand, something stashed deep away when I was no older than you are now. I won't forget it again. Thank you for that, buddy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It comes to this

Oh good grief, it's bedtime. Today passed in a blink: coffee, e-mail, team web site management, yoga, treadmill, awesome Trader Joe's microwaved pre-cooked brown rice, two different stabs at writing about my dad...but those will have to bake a little longer. So I am going to resort to being one of Those Interweb Bloggers, and say: here is a picture of my cats. Hating each other, and each pretending the other does not exist.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Auntie Him

Something I didn't write about, during my hiatus: Holly, Andreas and little Kai visited Seattle in June, and raced desperately all over the Pacific Northwest trying to spend quality time with at least a dozen friends and relatives, all while passing a stomach virus around (though, luckily for the rest of us, they kept that bug contained to the immediate family, poor things). Anyway. I'm ashamed to admit that this was the first time I'd met Kai; I'd been to visit Holly and Andreas in Munich, but before my fake nephew was yet a gleam in his parents' eyes. I have scores of pictures, and we'd had a few drastically limited telephone conversations--he sang me a particularly zealous rendition of "Happy Birthday" in December--but he's nearly three years old and I only just clapped eyes on the child last month.

We had fun, though. I got to spend a few days with the family, plus Holly's mother, in Roche Harbor. It turned out that a two-year-old's ideal vacation was just about the speed I needed: get up, have some toast, blow bubbles, throw rocks in the water, take a nap. Repeat. After sizing me up for a bit, Kai decided I was acceptably cool and began including me in his list of decreed privileges, like sitting next to him at dinner, or extracting him from his carseat. One funny thing, though--I'm not sure if it was pronoun trouble, or the German/English language barrier, or perhaps just a quirk of pronunciation over my name...but a few times during our visit, Kai referred to me as him. "Noooo, HIIIIIIIIIMMMMM," he would say, pointing furiously to indicate that I and only I should push him in the grocery cart.

It made me laugh. It still does. Kai, I will gladly be your Auntie Him for as long as you like, and beyond. And then remind you of this when you are old enough to find it embarrassing.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mmmm, bed

I've been struggling with terrible insomnia lately. It's been a chronic problem for years, made much worse recently with all the stress; I am bone-tired, weary to the point of feeling a little bit crazy...but I have not been sleepy. Oh, I can get in the bed and doze off, but I can't stay asleep for more than a couple hours, and then at 2:45 and 4:10 and 6:00 I am thrashing around, pasty-mouthed, startling the cats, hyper-attuned to whatever kind of crow lecture was going on outside my window at dawn this morning, and on and on. And then the problem perpetuates itself, because wanting to scream at yourself NO, NO, for the love of God GO BACK TO SLEEP tends to rile you right on up, again, some more.

But I'm feeling quite gritty-eyed and hopeful tonight, as I write. I went back to yoga class today, for the first time in nearly two months...and let me tell you, I was genuinely scared. I once had the experience of bursting into tears during the final shavasana--the instructor had chosen that day to sing to us, in Sanskrit, and what she said I don't even know but it was as if she had flipped a switch...and this was before all the recent drama and trauma in my life. When I mentioned that I was worried about wringing emotions out of myself, earlier, I wasn't even remotely kidding. But I took my new mat--it has red koi on it!--and dragged my anxious self into the studio this afternoon, and it was...well, needed. I didn't cry. I did sweat like the proverbial whore in church, frustrated at all the ground I'd lost in just a few weeks...but I know it'll come back sooner than it would have, if I'd been slacking off for a year or five. My shoulders are feeling deeply, deeply worked, right now, and I am hoping desperately that I will be able to topple into bed like a felled redwood and stay there. For six whole hours, even.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Book 'em, Dano

Two book-related links today, both of them ultimately via Blogger's little blogs-of-note feature, and both of which I hope to check in with more often.

1. i heart photograph's June 22 post featured the work of Nina Katchadourian, specifically her "sorted books" project; she goes through a private or public book collection and pulls specific titles, arranges them as a brief narrative or found poetry, and photographs the results. The shark tale featured in the post is a delight, though this piece is my favorite:

The complete library (edited to add: ha ha ha! that wasn't even on purpose!) of Katchadourian's work is here.

2. Wendy Molineux at Fake Interviews with Real Celebrities held a little contest recently, asking readers to suggest appropriate titles for a list of "Bestsellers for People with Low Expectations." I'm actually a little surprised that some of my work colleagues did not know about this and spend, say, 17 hours generating entries last week. (Though I suppose they could have; it's not like anyone's going to put it in their status report.) Maybe they, like the winner, were simply too beset with unlocalized ennui: As I Lay Tired.

I admit to also having a soft spot for Harry Potter and the Gaping Void in Your Life, but that might be in part because I spent much of the weekend watching bits of the first four movies on ABC Family, between naps on the couch.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Blank #1

On this lazy Sunday, I have:
  • Sat around with a magazine and coffee
  • Gone to the bookstore in a vain attempt to acquire this month's bookCLUB reading
  • Contented myself instead with the latest Jennifer Weiner novel and a new yoga mat (the old one was getting a little crumbly, and a little rank)
  • Grocery shopped
  • Bought giant bags of both cat chow and cat litter--circle of life, there
  • Prepared an actually healthy, balanced dinner of chicken, broccoli, and brown rice
  • Done two loads of laundry (and have three, now, to fold)
  • Gone clanking down to the recycle cart in the alley with two weeks of magazines, boxes, bottles, and cat food cans
  • Upheld my commitment to NaBloPoMo, already faltering and not even a bloody week into the thing

I feel somewhat accomplished, if unrested...but can't keep my eyes from falling on the dishes, the floors that need mopping, the fact that the yard is overgrown to the point of a fairy-tale enchantment. Agh, summer. The thought of the alarm going off in less than eight hours makes me want to weep...but who has time?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Died and gone to pizza heaven

That was the tagline for a local chain when I was a kid: Pizza Haven--it's pizza heaven! I remember it being perfectly acceptable family night out food, though in retrospect I wasn't exactly a connoiseur of quality pies; we equally enjoyed $3.99-for-a-large pizzas with deafening Wurlitzer organ accompaniment (that's the history, but click here for the oompah strains of the Chicken Dance), or pizzas served to us by a giant stuffed rodent in a bowler hat. (Aha--it seems Chuck E. has upgraded to a ball cap and baggy shirt with a more urban hip-hop flavor.)

(Seriously, though, go listen to that music sample. It's crashing along in the background as I type and is the sound of every birthday party I ever attended. It's making me a little verklempt.)

Anyway. The Seattle-based Pizza Haven chain buckled under severe pressure from the national pizza purveyors eventually; there seems to be one remaining location at Seattle Center, which is still pulling down excoriating reviews on yelp.com, sadly. Sounds more like hell. But I've been sidetracked by this article about the founder, Ron Bean, from the Puget Sound Business Journal nearly seven years ago.

Back when Bean opened the first Pizza Haven in the U District in 1958, pizza was exotic, a suspect foreign dish few Americans had ever heard of, let alone tasted.

At the time, the only other pizza joints in the Puget Sound area were Shakey's Pizza and Pizza Pete. Pizza Haven was just open from 4 p.m. to midnight because Bean didn't think people would eat pizza for lunch.

But Bean, who started the restaurant to help pay his law school tuition, had faith its popularity would grow. Pizza was a favorite among his football buddies who grew up on it back home in Chicago.

Back then Pizza Haven charged $3 for a 16-inch pie with five toppings and Cokes were a dime. The chain offered a dozen kinds of pizza with a few creations - notably canned tuna and green olive - that were quietly scrapped.

Pizza Haven was among the first to make deliveries, Bean said. Restaurant employees used radio phones to relay orders to roving drivers who carried stacks of pizzas in warming ovens in the back of their jeeps and pickup trucks

Dude! I remember those trucks, the tall ovens with the pizzas slipped in there in racks. Picture it, these guys just driving around with ready-made pizzas in the truck bed, in case of a sudden pizza emergency. Like pizza ambulances. It's a far cry from some kid from Dominos with a vinyl pizza sleeve and a speeding ticket, no? Meanwhile--canned tuna and green olive? Yes, how did this exotic foodstuff ever catch on?

Anyway. The point of this whole entry is that, after a trip to the zoo this morning, my cousin and her family met me, Mom, and Sis at the Phinney Ridge Zeeks Pizza. Cuz has three kids, 8, 5, and 3; I'd suggested Zeeks because it's famously kid-friendly, but even I didn't anticipate how cheerfully welcoming they'd be to the younger set. While we waited for our meal, the waitress brought each kid a goodie bag--crayons, a picture to color, a Zeeks temporary tattoo--and a little ball of raw pizza dough to mash around on the table. When the pitcher of root beer arrived, she likewise handed out three plastic cups with lids, unprompted. I don't have kids of my own yet, but honestly I kind of felt like one again, there at the table with the whole fam-damily, sculpting slightly begrimed figures out of dough and sneezing from the hot peppers. Remember this, I told myself afterwards, remember what this is like. It had been too long.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Boomtown USA

I'm not sure why I find the Fourth of July to be such a melancholy holiday. It just seems as if the Independence Days of my childhood were much more exciting (and thrillingly fraught with danger). The running joke in Seattle is that summer starts annually on July 5, and true to form it is humid and murkily overcast today, teasing at rain. But in my memory the day seems always blazing hot and sunny, full of wading pools and one-piece bathing suits with the elastic gone nappy and frayed in the seat. Fried chicken and Grammy's potato salad with hardboiled eggs sliced into it. Smells: of lighter fluid and Bain de Soleil (SPF factor: 0.005) and, dusk come on AT LAST, of gunpowder and slowly smoldering punk...and the melting cheap rubber sole of your dime-store sneaker if you mistakenly tried to stomp out a sparkler gone awry.

Personal fireworks aren't legal within the city limits any more, and for the most part I say good riddance, now that I'm a homeowner and want to turn the hose on the kids across the alley with their damn bottle rockets. The law does not, of course, deter the diehards in every neighborhood from heading out to the rez and amassing enough ordnance to make like Armageddon, every night for a week. I'm thinking of my dad a lot, too, this year; he loved this holiday, and when there used to be fireworks stands in town, like right in front of the Safeway, he'd always pick out the Amazing Colossal Double-Deluxe Detonator kit or whatever, a dusty cardboard box crammed with 64 different ways in which to blow your hand off. He'd supplement this with a handful of illegal M-80s, blowing up soda cans and plastic drink bottles in the street (the word that comes to mind now is "shrapnel"), and with Whistling Petes, those eardrum-tearing shriekers that he loved, loved, LOVED to set off somewhere behind you just when you weren't looking. I can remember being a kid, when Dad still lived in West Seattle; we'd work our way around the strange little cul-de-sac he lived on, LeDroit Court, going house to house around the block to check out what everyone else had to fire off...but Dad's array of fireworks was always biggest and best. If slightly terrifying. (When we were with our mother? The only fireworks that met her safety bar were snakes, those sad, sad little charcoal blots that emitted a slow, smoky coil of ash like a little black turd. Good times.)

I haven't been to one of the big municipal displays in years; I can't stand the crowds, and the freezing half to death, and the way that, 15 minutes before the big show, 100 people turn up and stand directly in front of the blanket you've staked out all day. I can watch the show on t.v., and then turn immediately to the traditional post-Fourth 11:00 news: traffic jams and house fires! All part of the ritual. For whatever reason, I tend to think of the big shows as either family-oriented (for people with kids), or couple-oriented; what dolt would sit out in a camp chair for seven hours all alone? No fun without a date.

I do have fond memories of having a date, though, and of spending one Fourth with grad-school friends who had an apartment down on Lake Union, where one of the two competing Seattle displays is held. It actually was warm, that year; we walked down the alley with our not-at-all-carefully concealed plastic cups of warm beer or vodka-and-cranberry, milled around with our heads craned back to the sky, bathed in lurid colors, feeling the concussions in our feet.

When things wrapped up our host Jim offered to drive me and the boy back to wherever we were living at the time. He hadn't counted on the traffic, though; huge ridiculous mobs of people poured into the winding one-lane streets all around the lake, an impenetrable logjam. We sat in the car, sweating and motionless, and eventually the dude in the car next to ours, facing the opposite direction, decided to honk. Because that always does the trick! He leaned on the horn, muttering and gesticulating, his open driver's-side window inches from Jim's. And Jim, in a laconic drawl I can't hope to properly convey in writing, leaned a bit out of his own window and mildly intoned, directly in Honky McRoadRage's face, "Aw, fffuuuuuuuuuuuuucck yoooouuu."

And then...we sat. Traffic still wasn't moving, and there we were, cheek to jowl with the enraged recipient of this retort, for what was probably five minutes but seemed like thirty. The cars were packed so tightly that the guy couldn't open his door and pull Jim from his vehicle by the face, and thank God. Jim calmly, but wisely, rolled up his window and we all stared busily at the floor, or at nothing, while inches away the other driver gibbered and snarled against the glass like the creature on the wing in that Twilight Zone episode. Man. I still think of that every year, like clockwork; I wonder if he does too? Wherever you are, Jim, I hope your holiday is just as mellow.

Happy Fourth, everybody, and a drawn-out sprawling expletive to anyone who might deserve it. I need a beer, methinks.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Land that I lovlove

When the fam and I were driving through Snohomish county the other night, we did get one more laugh out of the proceedings. We passed a strip-mall Skipper's franchise--a regional fish-and-chips chain--and I spotted a large banner strung across the corner of the parking lot:


Oh...kay. I'm going to slap my Inner Editor back to consciousness, and presume that whoever crafted this sign was finding a rural seafood joint a tough sell, and attempting to appeal to landlubbers. The banner went on to tout some sort of burger and a Philly cheese steak, because our great nation is a vast melting pot of cultures and cuisines, all of which can be warmly welcomed and crappily adapted for a fast-food outlet menu. I look forward to their egg-roll nachos!

But seriously. Landlovlovers? Points for adhering to a vaguely nautical/piratical vernacular...but this stalls out at the intersection of Engrish.com and "types with a stutter," somehow. The banner had been professionally screen-printed, and I can't help marveling at it, at how not one person down the chain of command looked at this and had second thoughts, or third thoughts, or any thoughts. Cut and print! Let's go! Fried clams and cheese steaks and, I don't know, spinach crepes, are what make this country great.

Of course we all have cheapo cell phones that don't do anything except make phone calls, so I have no picture. I would lovlove it if Mom went back and got one for me, though.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Assume crash positions

That's my favorite gag in Airplane!, actually--where the passengers are told to assume crash positions, so they fling themselves sprawling all over the cabin, screaming in terror and agony. The last month and a half has gone pretty much like that, really; I am familiar with your five stages of grief, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, but I did not quite anticipate that I would cycle through them so rapidly, sometimes in the space of an hour...or that the sequence was arbitrary and might come in any order at all...or that it could get stuck on Repeat, over intervals of days or weeks. I feel fine, really fine, and then I am undone by the Indigo Girls on the radio; I shout and sob in the car, and then I want to leap back through time and grab Dad by one of his ubiquitous plaid flannel shirt collars and shake him until his fillings rattle. Feel my wrath, Daddy. How could you leave us like this? How could you leave us the first time, 32 years ago?

And then, a couple of times, I have laughed harder in the last few weeks than I think I have in years, harder than I realized I could, under the circumstances--most recently Monday night, in fact. Mom, Sis, and I went up to aunt PJ's to comfort her family, to comfort each other, and my cousin brought out the photo albums. We were poring over some long-ago 70s Christmas Eve at their house, me and Sis and Cuz all little kids, and Mom said, squinting, "Who's that guy on the end of the couch?" Well, Ma, as it turns out, that dapper fellow rocking the Dorothy Hamill bob and the high, high-waisted green slacks pulled up to his nipples? IS YOU. My cousin collapsed into hysterical laughter first, wordlessly thrusting the album at Sis; her reaction rippled down the row of us seated on the (thankfully different) sofa, til we were all choking and howling and slapping the cushions, doubled over, eyes leaking, unable to breathe.

So it is like that, like being buffeted around in a hurricane, with occasional moments of weightless silence in its eye. Or like PMS to the tenth power. I feel terribly scattered, and frustrated with myself for it--I can't focus. I registered for yoga classes again this month, and have blown off this first week; I am a little afraid that I will twist and stretch and suddenly wring great mortifying sobs out of myself, lying on my little sticky mat in front of God and everyone. My diet is out of control, I'm gaining weight, I want to lose 50 pounds...and then I blankly eat half a loaf of bread for dinner, because that's all I can think of to want. Unless it is a cocktail or three. I should refocus on my career...but I imagine never going to work again, because maybe I can lie in the sun and live on nothing but iced coffee and novels. If I win the lottery. If I had the wherewithal to so much as buy a ticket. I gave myself this writing assignment, and believe me when I say how hard I am patting myself on the back and strewing myself with rose petals, for blogging two whole days In. A. Row. Can it possibly last? A friend sent me a draft of one of his own stories to read, today; I don't even know if he wants feedback, but it might be a moot point because I can't quite even open the document yet, am eyeing it like it's a bear trap. What if he's a genius? What if he isn't? What am I, exactly? Who do I think I am? Sweet mercy, what's gonna happen next?

When I was in elementary and middle school, we used to practice fire drills and earthquake drills back-to-back--part of life on the volcanically volatile Pacific Rim, I guess. We'd march outside when the alarm sounded, and then when we returned to the classroom we immediately had to crawl under our desks, huddle fetally on our knees, arms wrapped around our heads. The old duck-and-cover, probably much more effective during a tremor than in an atomic blast. Though, having seen Red Dawn at the drive-in, I feared both. Anyway. I have thought about this a lot recently, longed for the deceptively simple solution it offers. My most basic impulse is to get low, go to ground...hold my own head on and wait for everything to roll on over me like a storm.

It's storming tonight, actually, the air prickly with ozone, the lights and the computer flickering, thunder rolling outside. The cats have retreated to the far corner of the bedroom closet. I like thunderstorms, mostly, have always found them a little sexy--but at the moment I kind of would like to crawl back there and into the box of winter bed linens myself. Move over, guys.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Death, take a holiday, fer chrissakes

I know, it's been too long. I'm sorry, Interweb friends, and I am so grateful to you, too: you have all been sweet and thoughtful and indescribably kind...and patient while I tried to get my head back in the game. I've written a lot, actually, in recent weeks--drafts and scribbles, much of it longhand, none of it quite fit for public consumption. But suddenly it is July, and so I thought I'd give myself a goal. It seems that NaBloPoMo is a year-round endeavor these days; you can pick a page of the calendar at will, and I chose this one. Thirty-one posts, a daily flexing of the writerly muscles! Good for me, like vitamins and ab crunches (neither of which I have been committed to lately).

But the big karmic boot was not done stepping on me and mine, yet. Yesterday morning, my aunt PJ, Mom's older sister, succumbed to a swift and wicked pancreatic cancer. She went to the doctor complaining of a backache and jaundice; she was diagnosed about a week after my dad died, and bounced from ER to rehab center and back for a month. She never made it back home, even, and I don't have any more eloquent words for that particular denoument than to say that it fucking sucks. It is the complete shits, and I honestly don't know, can't fathom what lesson I might be supposed to learn from this, from the last six weeks of the Shit Train Express. Unless it is, simply, that Warren Zevon was right: enjoy every sandwich. You damn well better, hadn't you?

The optional theme, for July's NaBloPoMo, is "Food." Well, there you have it: run, don't walk, and make yourself a fried-baloney-on-white, or a PB&J, or an egg over easy, mashed between a couple of toaster waffles. Or, hell, a huge obscene Dagwood hoagie, folks, because damn, it is a short trip. Even the long trips are.

* * * * *
I don't want to end on a totally black note. Instead, I'll share PJ's 15 minutes of childhood fame. After WWII, my grandfather, her dad, was stationed at the local Sand Point NAS (now decommissioned and a park, where things like the Friends of the Library book sale are held). For Christmas, 1950, they flew Santa in to the base on a Navy PBY Catalina, "specially painted"--though to look like what, it's hard to say--a reindeer? At any rate, for some reason my aunt was chosen to be Santa's first guest; she made the back cover of the December 1950 Naval Aviation News. She's about six, here:

I love how unperturbed she is, held aloft by Santa Claus astride a bomber. In the full-size version, there's a glimmer of tooth in her smile, and a visible gap where more teeth are pending. Every page of the magazine says "Restricted," top and bottom; on the front cover, beneath a cartoon of another Santa hitching a ride on another military aircraft, a subdued but direct headline in small type mentions "Warfare in Korea." But this picture takes up the entire back page, bigger and brighter, its "XMAS GREETINGS" dominant. This little girl is looking forward no further than Christmas...certainly not as impossibly far ahead as 60 years on. In this moment, she's anticipating only the very best things: toys, sugarplums. Would that we all could stay suspended in that kind of jolly bubble, for just a minute or an hour or half a century longer.