29 December 2004

Rockets' red glare

I'm back on the grid! Miss me? I missed you!

So I know everyone has been distracted by the horrific and devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean (and rightly so, good god), but folks, I have been shivering in the cold and dark here on the cape of cod. We got blasted with 18 inches of snow in one night, the power went out, my front yard caught fire. Electrical fire. Twenty-eight thousand volts of white-hot true love.

But I'm back. After dodging exploding phone poles for a full night. And boiling water for warmth for two days and nights straight during which time the temperature dropped to nine degrees at night.

But it sure is tough to feed your self-pity when the only contact you have with the outside world is the NPR station you finally found after three hours of fiddling with a twenty-year-old boom box that has stickers on it that say PINK FLOYD LIVES and listening to nothing but horrific news of a giant tsunami coming out of nowhere and destroying everything.

But I was cold. And exploding electrical stuff is goddamn terrifying.

Here's how it happened: we were forecast to have rain turning into maybe a few inches of snow on Sunday night, which if you're from Cape Cod you know means rain and maybe a few hours of that crappy sloppy not-rain/not-snow slush showers, followed by a day of watching snow-related cancellations and school holidays and bank closings on all the Boston channels while the sun shines down on Olde Cape Cod. Not that I'm bitter, but an entire childhood of watching punks from Revere for god's sake get the day off from school while I have to go -- and there's a math test -- can make you cynical about weather forecasters calling for snow. Yeah right, you think, tell me another one, jackass.

So of course we got clobbered. Classic Nor-easter, apparently. Eighteen inches. Just kept coming at us, from about 6 pm Sunday until about noon the next day. The wind was howling, the snow was flying, the trees were bowing solemnly towards the ground. I was happily editing my latest pile of papers from New York, while occasionally telling Matt that he really ought to get off the computer, what with the lights flickering every ten minutes or so. Prudently, I did manage to unplug the stereo equipment.

All of a sudden: BOOM...... BOOM.

The lights were OUT. No flicker, just gone. But there was a bright orange glow out the front windows. We opened the curtains to reveal two volkswagon-sized piles of flame, right outside the door. Rainbow flames -- blue, green, orange and purple -- such festive, inclusive flames on either side of our driveway. With a yelp, we both jumped up and started pulling on socks and shoes and hats and coats and cats. I called 911.

The primary line outside our house had snapped, and now we had both ends of a 28,000 volt line sparking and writhing and burning like an enormous, two-tailed fuse in our front yard.

The fire department got there in a few minutes, but they couldn't do anything about it until the electric company turned off the juice. And of course the electric company was extremely busy that night, what with all the wires going down all over the place. I would have thought that evil green and purple flames would have put us close to the top of the list of priorities, but then who am I.

So the guys in the fire engine stood a safe distance back on the street, and Matt and I stood inside the house (feeling none too safe) and watched the motherfucker burn FOR TWO AND A HALF HOURS. The last hour of this festival of lights was punctuated by about twenty periodic explosions that felt like they were shattering windows for miles around, and that showered sparks across our roof. I could see them coming down on the other side of the house. Fortunately, I had been watching WW II documentaries recently, so I knew to jump behind our futon/foxhole during the shelling, pull down my hat and shout obscenities. Seemed to work for most of the guys in Band of Brothers. Worked for me.

The flames finally went out for good, the explosions got further and further apart, and the fire department checked our roof for smoldering bits, then left. We lit some candles (I know, I was nervous too, but it was dark) and piled up the blankets and turned on the (battery-operated) radio. I stared out the window for a few hours, being hyper-vigilant.

Amazingly, the only damage was to our fence, which is severely charred. My beach rose bushes got caught in the crossfire, but they'll live through anything. Probably bloom better than ever next year. Our computer and audio equipment are fine, but the coffee maker and the microwave bit it. Matt's out replacing them right now.

We got our power back two days later. The roads are still barely navigable, and all my fancy cheese from Christmas went bad in the fridge. But there is nothing -- nothing -- like walking into a house where the rooms are warmed, the lights are lit, and the water heater is humming.

And nothing has exploded in the front yard for a whole 48 hours. So far. I remain vigilant.

22 December 2004

Take me to the river

Posted by Hello

Here's another lovely view of the river out in front of our house. It was about 45 degrees the day I took this picture, and a few days later the scene was covered in snow. I really have to get myself a real live camera.

And no, I seriously doubt Santa is listening, considering the way I've been badmouthing him lately.

Bikes, bikes, so many effin' bikes...

I thought I'd post a couple of Amsterdam photos, since I hadn't really done that yet, but unfortunately I'm not much of a photographer, so here are a few that came out half-decently.

OK, so actually Matt took the pictures, but it hardly seems sporting to just blame him when he isn't here to defend himself.

But I guess I just did, didn't I?


(to clarify, I took the pictures of the river at home. judge for yourself.)


This was our favorite corner shop for delicious sandwiches and even more delicious cheese. (The massive structure just visible off to the right is Centraal Station, the huge and recklessly gothic train station at the topmost of the city.) Please notice that the translation on the awning of "Kaasland" (Dutch for "Cheeseland") is "Lots Of Cheese." We were sold on sight.

We got into the habit of picking up some bone-meltingly fantastic cheese here and cheap wine from across the street, then consuming these comestibles in the hotel room in the early evenings, before heading out for dinner.

It's really the only civilized way to conduct oneself, don't you think?

While on the topic of Dutch/English translations, I gave myself giggles all week because the word they use on window signs to indicate the store is closed is "Gesloten", which my brain insisted on seeing as "Get Lost(en)".

Same dif.

Footsore and fancyfree

One afternoon late in the week we spent in Amsterdam, we were taking a lovely walking tour (veeerrrrry slowly, in deference to our poor aching feet) of the Jordaan, a gorgeously canal-filled neighborhood in the city near our hotel. We spent a lot of time in the Jordaan, window shopping, dining, and sipping gin and Belgian beer. It's historically the working class neighborhood, but is becoming increasingly an arty, gallery-choked enclave of groovy bohemian-types. This is a bridge in the nearby Western Islands area, a somewhat spooky, eerily quiet area the day we were wandering in it.

Telegram for Mongo

Posted by Hello

A view of one of the canals in the Jordaan. Matt got a kick out the fact that this particular canal boat was a delivery boat, much like a floating UPS truck. I wish we had gotten more shots of the houseboats that lined the canals in this area, as there were some real doozies, especially with respect to the creative gardening methods some of these folks get up to.

Notice the crazy tilt of the two houses on the corner. This is a constant feature throughout the city, and gives the streets a charmingly loopy, drunken feel even when one hasn't oversipped the gin.

The canal vs. the can

A representative row of canal houses on the Singel. Would I live in one of those? Um, yeah, sure. Ya talked me into it.

On a side note, I just have to add here that the bluegrass show I'm listening to is currently playing a song that goes "I met my baby in the port-a-john line, I had to go and she was looking so fine; My eyes were floatin' and I had love on my mind, I met my baby in the Port-a-John line."

One of the verses contains the line "It's funny how love can make ya go WEEE!"

God, I love community radio.

20 December 2004

pretty pictures

This is essentially the view out my front door -- maybe just a short walk away from the front door. This picture was taken during an extraordinarily high tide. Usually you can actually walk all the way out to that picnic table in the distance -- without getting wet -- and make faces at the swans. I really need to get a kayak next summer.

And now I seem to have unleashed the mighty power of posting pictures (I can sometimes lag somewhat behind the times). I'm insanely proud of this accomplishment, and will now celebrate by eating a delicious sandwich. Does this merit a grilled cheese with tomatoes? Why yes, yes I think it does!

16 December 2004


I have never liked chocolate.

I remember being at a birthday party when I was about four, weeping and moaning because the cake was chocolate, and I already knew that I hated hated hated chocolate. Of course, the other kids didn't take much notice, except to fight over who got to eat my piece.

I can't stand fudge of any sort, brownies are gross, chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, death by chocolate -- they can all go to hell. I have, on several occasions, actually ranted to the staff at restaurants about the oppressive hegemony of chocolate-based desserts on dessert menus. For crying out loud, like there is no other sort of yummy after-dinner treat? Honestly! Take a look at a dessert menu sometime! Sure, there might be a nod to the non-chocoholics among us, like a cup of watery sherbet or some tepid apple pie, but this is so clearly the post-prandial equivalent of putting a menorah next to the creche on the village green that it's more insulting than inclusive.

And although there were occasional episodes of yearning for a bag of peanut M&Ms when I was a teenager -- and I hardly think M&Ms count as chocolate, more just as junk food in a more general way -- I have remained steadfast in my dislike of the cocoa derivative.

So now it's December, I'm 33, and I'm in a bit of a funk these days. I've got the blues. Une malaise formidable. An indefinable, existential bleargh. I've done just about everything I can think of to shake this fog of yuck, including talk for an insanely long and expensive period of time with my best friend on the phone, stride out daily on brisk, invigorating walks through the woods and along the river, listen to old soul records whilst bubble-bathing in the glow of white votive candles and sandalwood incense, cook a great meal, dust and reorganize my rock collection, sleep late, wake early, get drunk, stay sober, chill, fume, seethe, and cry.

Tonight my prescription involved a modest glass of chianti, a book on the history of the English language, and Billy Holiday. At the end of the chapter on Middle English, I got up and padded over to the fridge to check on the defrosting chicken, and spied... a mini Toblerone bar that my husband pocketed at the concierge desk in Amsterdam. With a shrug, I took it back to the couch, opened my book, and swilled a little chianti and Toblerone.


I get it now.

Can I have more please?

Maybe, like, lots more?

Now would be good. For me, I mean. Would that work for you? Because now is good for me.

Thank you, and good night.

13 December 2004

Object lesson

Okay, real quick, here's the awesome backstory about me and Jan (see previous post).

When Matt and I were just starting to go out, back in 1995 or so, he suggested we meet one evening at one of his favorite bars. We had been going out for about two weeks at this point. I got there about an hour early, I can't remember why now, but probably because I needed to get a lift and that's when I was able to do so. I had never been to this bar before, although it would soon become our favoritest local hang...

So I'm sitting there, sipping on a beer, probably watching whatever sports are on tv, and there's this older guy a couple of barstools down from me drinking OV (Old Vienna) splits. Classic. He fixes a bleary eye on me, sizes me up (I'm a fresh young thing of about 24 at the time...) and sidles on down to sit next to me. He's clearly too old for me, but he has these really nice hounddog eyes and a loopy smile. Jan.

Of course the first thing out of his mouth is the old "you have incredibly beautiful eyes" line. Again: classic. He's a dog. He's making the moves on me, no holds barred. After a while of this, although of course I love getting hit on by charming old barhounds and therefore like to revel in it for a good twenty minutes or so, I think of an easy way to deflect his attentions: I turn to him very nicely and tell him that I'm flattered, but I'm engaged. (lie.)

He curses his rotten luck, goodnaturedly of course (in fact, everything Jan does, Jan does goodnaturedly), and then says, "I know everyone in this lousy town. Who's the lucky guy?"

I name Matt by his full name.

Jan literally falls off his barstool.

And the nightmare begins.

He staggers back up to his feet, takes a mighty pull off his OV split, and wraps me in a gargantuan hug. Through his joyful exclamations, it becomes clear to me that Jan knows Matt. Quite well. In fact, it turns out Jan is Matt's stepdad's oldest, bestest, childhood friend.

It further comes out that Matt's stepdad, until very recently, owned this neighborhood pub that I had never been to until this evening, and in fact Matt had practically grown up right here at this very pub, and in fact everybody in the room has known Matt since he was about five years old. And they've been listening.

Now everybody's buying me drinks, tears are flowing, they can't believe their little baby boy is engaged...

Then, of course, Matt walks in.

I try very hard to crawl into my shoes.

Of course, he lets everyone buy him a round of drinks before he sets them straight. Only proper. But ohmygod am I blushing like a first-time whore. I am so busted. Jan has never let me forget this incident (again, only proper) and extracts retribution every chance he gets by mock- (and sometimes not-so-mock-) making out with me whenever we meet.

There are worse things.

And, as it turns out, I did marry Matt. Eventually.

11 December 2004

Trick of the Tail


We landed back in Boston Wednesday night, but I had the rotten luck of contracting an unbelievably sinister cold on our last day in Amsterdam -- for which I blame Jan (more on that later) -- so my sorely abused sinuses and I have barely been able to sit upright since the Transatlantic Flight of Doom. Now that the jackhammers have stopped trying to shatter my cheekbones from the inside of my skull, I feel I can try to transcribe some of my times in Amsterdam.

Believe it or not, I actually took notes. An honest-to-god travel journal, which I dutifully filled out every night before clicking the light out around midnight. This is true, and I emphasize it because you will shortly find that hard to believe.

So let's start with the most embarrassing part, the part I didn't even write in my journal, merely alluded to, in code, because otherwise I'll just spend all my time dancing around the subject and trying to tell pretty, pretty lies. Like the lie that I did not, in fact, end up ass-up on the sidewalk outside the Melkweg nightclub one night.

Again, I blame Jan.

This was, what, Monday night? Matt and I had gotten tickets to see Lee "Scratch" Perry at the Melkweg (a large nightclub in the famously hot and happening Leidseplein). Then we forgot all about it, and invited our old friend from Syracuse who now lives in Brabant (what he charmingly refers to as "the Iowa of the Netherlands") to come and hit the town with us that night. When we realized the conflict in scheduling, we just rationalized that our friend is of retirement age, and will surely want to make it an early night, so we'll spend the early evening being chummy and plummy with him, pop him back on the train to Dutch Iowa, and then enjoy the heretofore unexplored nightlife of Amsterdam.

I'm serious about this, and I have to make this perfectly clear -- this was our one night of revelry in Amsterdam. We had spent the whole week prior to this exhausting ourselves with one museum or another, walking the entire length and breadth of the city center until we got over our phobia about the trams (OK, my phobia about the trams), strolling arm and arm around the canals, dining on excellent and surprisingly cheap food, and then hitting the sack before midnight, we were that tired. We hadn't even laid eyes on the Red Light District until Jan from Brabant/Syracuse/Iowa came along, except for one brief foray that I will describe at a later time.

So Jan meets us at the hotel, accompanied by the usual keystone cops activity that always goes with meeting up with Jan (we waited outside the hotel, as agreed, he went in the back door to the hotel and waited in the lobby, somewhat creatively, and we paced in our respective corners for an hour or so before our paths finally crossed. Par for the course), and we moseyed along to run some errand that he had to do for his wife. Pick up some book or other. Typical old-guy married stuff.

From there, he discovers we haven't "done" the Red Light District yet. We raise our collective eyebrows (trust me) and tell him we have no interest in being the Ugly American Tourists, but he waves us off and says he just wants to take us to his favorite bars in the RLD. So of course we go, as if there was ever any question about it. It's early, so the bars are sparsely populated. The first one is across from the famous "penis" fountain, the second bar is the somewhat famous Old Sailor. Jan prefers this awful local brew that Matt and I had earlier agreed was bubbly piss, known as Oranjeboom, but he's buying, so we're taking.

Did I mention Jan is a chain smoker? And I am coming up on my third anniversary of quitting smoking in February, so I am very much not used to inhaling great quantities of smoke. These bars, they are smoky. And Jan, he is a talker. A true raconteur of the best barhound type, so each punchline and innuendo is punctuated with Lenny-Bruce-quantities of cigarette smoke.

We stand, we drink large steins of Oranjeboom, Jan smokes and tells story after story, we double over in laughter and cough and sputter with hilarity. I buy us a round of Tequila. Later, I do it again. It is now about five hours later, and we've set an admirable pace for ourselves. The old man, by the way, is holding up fine.

We finally convince him it's time to get back on the train, so we stagger (yes) back to our hotel, where he left his backpack. He collapses on our bed, waits until Matt is in the bathroom, then plants a huge drunken smooch on me (there's a great backstory to my pseudo-flirtation with Jan-who-is-as-old-as-my-father, I'll have to tell it sometime). Matt fakes blustering in and "catching" us, and we giggle back outside, stumble (oh yes) up to Centraal Station and pour Jan back on the train to Iowa.

According to the three watches I seem to be wearing, we're late for Lee Perry. So we tram it back downtown to the Melkweg and catch the last half hour of the show. Holy Crap Is It Smoky In Here. Serious as a heart attack, I can hardly breathe. So I elbow my way out to the lobby, spy the lounge/bar to my right, and decide a nice refeshing tequila would hit the spot. It does. Man, am I usually right about that. I go back into the bandroom, where the band is just finishing up. Halleluia. Matt and I make our way back out to the sidewalk, where they have some sort of waist-high metal barrier between the sidewalk and the street. I think it has barbed wire, or sharp, pointy metal prongs on it. Matt sanely proceeds around said barrier, whilst I thumb my nose at authority, bend at the waist, and reverse limbo under it.

Natch, I lose my balance, go staggering across the quiet side street doubled over like that Dr. Suess giraffe who sneezed and bent himself in half, unable to straighten up or slow my velocity. I finally, thankfully, crash to my knees on the opposite sidewalk, where a very kind Amsterdammer on a bicycle stops and helps me up. My knees are still sore, and quite bruised. We poured ourselves back on the tram, made it back to the hotel without further incident. For some unknown reason, I woke up the next day feeling like ass on a halfshell, with a sore throat that quickly degenerated into the insanely potent cold I am just now recovering from.

And that's the most embarrassing, drunken, idiotic story I have from my week in Amsterdam. It seems to be the sort of zany, madcap behavior Americans are supposed to get up to in Amsterdam, so I've posted it first. From here on out, folks, it's going to be museums, cute waitresses, egg and cheese sandwiches,deep-fried meatballs, and strange signs and portents, so get your yuks in now. The whole rest of the time, I was a well-behaved ambassador of taste, humility and good manners.

Naturally, I blame Jan.

30 November 2004

and awaaaaaay we go

passports and boarding passes are in hand. minimal clothing is packed. butterflies are lodged in stomach.

let's go. Amsterdam.

28 November 2004

Making out

There was an article in today's paper about this guy who counsels high school students about which college to go to and how to get into the college of one's choice. I've often thought, off-handedly and with no intention of follow-through, that that would be a scam that I would be good at, so I read the article, and of course gazed at the accompanying pictures.

It's the first guy I ever kissed. Like, for real kissed.

Imagine the shock of that... opening up the Sunday paper and finding a grown-up, somewhat balding version of the guy last seen groping you in the back of a school bus on the way back from a marching band competition. I'm reading this, and he seems to have grown up into a successful, intelligent, cool guy -- the kind of guy who teaches intro to philosophy to high school kids and is their first taste of a cool teacher who tells them to question authority -- and all I can think about is how those vinyl seats smelled on that school bus, and how he was waaaaay too into the tongue thing, and how I don't even remember how we started kissing in the first place. We certainly didn't date. Nice guy, though. Glad to see he's doing well.

The next guy was also a band geek, and he smelled like the leather jacket he always wore. And faintly of hair pomade. Seriously, every time I walk past that leather store in the mall, or that booth that is at every county fair and craft show, selling whips and wallets, I inhale the leather-scent and think of that guy. I once wrote him a crappy poem while taking the ferry back from Martha's Vineyard about how the sea and sky were the same grey as his eyes. And also something about his shoulders. I was deeply into shoulders at the time. That groping took place in the back of a rented limo while my brother was in the front seat. Yikes.

Issues? Why would I have issues?

Then there was Paul. Ahhh, Paul. Tall Paul. Brooklyn Paul. I took the bus to Manhattan, you met me on the steps of St. Bart's (can anyone remember why that made sense at the time?), I was reading Fear and Trembling because I was so spiritual and deep, and you were wearing your arafat scarf and a soft black hat and a long black coat with little buttons all the way up the front that reminded me of Robert De Niro in The Mission. Ahhhhh, Paul. There was no rank scent associated with this one -- just the ashy, rain-drenched flavor of the city and the dense aroma of simmering tomato sauce that permeated the neighborhood you lived in -- was it Carroll Gardens?

When I came downstairs the next morning, you were in the kitchen, chopping mushrooms for an omelet, and singing along to Patsy Cline, I Fall to Pieces.

24 November 2004

Lah de dah, lah de dah

When we lived in New York, we always joined Matt's family for holiday celebrations, which was pretty great as far as I was concerned. His mother and step-dad are both funny, intelligent, interesting people who travel a lot, collect quirky art, cook terrific and abundant meals, and stock cases of excellent red wine in the basement.

At the time, Matt was always pretty reluctant to attend the festivities, not because he didn't like the people involved, but because he can be a royal crank about the holidays. I can see where he's coming from, since he's adamantly not Christian, in fact was brought up in a non-religious home by erstwhile Catholics and secular Jews, and he can't stand the obligatory gift-giving and hallmark-card religion and mandatory cheer of it all.

Me, I was brought up among seriously lefty-liberal Episcopalians who celebrated Christmas with multi-culti creches and sign-language hymns and Native American origin myths told as sermons. And oh yeah, lots of dry sherry.

But how did I get rambling about Christmas? This is about Thanksgiving, which is about food and friends and football. Apparently.

Right: the contrast between my family and Matt's. Thanksgiving at my house was a pretty big deal, since we're direct descendants of some famous Pilgrims or four, so we always felt pretty proprietary about the holiday. However, that smug sense of self didn't stop us from celebrating with all the culinary flair of kids at a mudcake contest.

I know, I know -- I'm a snob. About food, I am. I cooked professionally for years until very recently, I went to a fancy private New England college and they filled my head with crazy snooty ideas above my station, but I maintain that mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving shouldn't be of the "just add water" variety. Vegetables shouldn't be "boil-in-the-bag." And wine shouldn't have a grocery store sticker that says "2.99" on it. And wine should certainly not be pink.

I mean honestly. To this day, my oldest brother distrusts cranberry sauce unless it is in the shape of a can.

So, the first year we moved back here, I brought Matt to the ancestral crumbling Victorian for Thanksgiving dinner, and he was duly horrified. We started making plans right then for future Thanksgivings, trying to figure out how to be out of the country in late November every year from now on. Then I realized that we were all grownzed up now, we could take a stand and do what we wanted. So I invited the fam out last year for Thanksgiving. To a restaurant of my choice. My treat.

Yeah, the food was a tad too fancy for their tastes, but they are generally tolerant of my high-falutin' airs (I'm the youngest, and the only girl, you know how it is) so they all ordered the turkey dinner and I ordered the duck and we sat in a beautiful dining room overlooking the ocean and toasted each other repeatedly and it was very civilized and convivial and lovely. Mom was relieved to not have to clean the house and do all that shopping, since she's busier than ever saving the world these days, and my brothers always like a free meal. Oh, and my other brother is a professional cook, too, to be fair, so I know he grooved on the truffle-scented mashed potatoes.

This year, tomorrow, we're going back to the same delightful restaurant, my brother's new wife is joining us, and my mother even offered to pay. I am happy and pleased and gratified, but I know it won't last. As soon as one of us produces a grandchild (!) -- and two of us three siblings are married already -- the party may well be over. Trade in your sangiovese for your sippy cups.

So although I love children and want at least one of my own... someday... tonight I am thankful for quiet evenings with book and cat, good food with my wonderful family, and a cocktail with an ocean view. Also for Mom picking up the tab this year. And no food should be shaped like a can.

21 November 2004

The things that I used to do

Events conspire. This last week has been one of those times when subliminal messages lurk around every corner, in every billboard, every NPR program, even every MASH rerun. I'm continually flogged by hints that it might be for the best if I examine my daily life more closely, compare my habits with habits I used to have, and then look at the results. Compare and contrast.

I think it started when I checked out this guy, courtesy of Aaron Excursus (which is how I think of him, Mr. A. Excursus, esq). Reading that guy's website reminded me of a few things.

It turns out that I used to regularly practice meditation of the zen flavor for several years, and even regularly went to classes at the local zen center. I stopped.

I also used to be a vegetarian, during which time I felt quite vibrant and healthy, and enjoyed many exhilarating culinary forays into the world of tempeh and miso and quinoa. Then I stopped.

I used to be uninsured, so I relied heavily on herbal and homeopathic medicine for health care, which actually served just fine. Although I am thankful to be insured now in case of disaster, there was no real reason for me to have given up herbals and homeopathy and generally basic nutrition. But I did, in fact, stop.

When I ate, I usually tried to eat mindfully. When I was overwhelmed, I tried to observe the crush of worry and fear and be observant that I was experiencing those things. I used to be more thoughtful, more awake, more aware.

So I'm working on a relapse.

16 November 2004


Now that our trip to the Netherlands looms on the very near horizon (two weeks), I'm officially beginning to panic about packing and logistics. Probably a good thing, since I tend to be very casual about traveling, packing little more than fresh underwear and a contact lens case. That works fine for domestic travel, but I suspect that I should be a bit more formal and thoughtful about spending a week in Amsterdam.

So I went to inspect my old luggage, which is a charming hue of dark green, isn't sporting any duct tape, and holds lots of stuff. I like to look in the big flap on the top to see what I wrote on the postcards I didn't send from my last fabulous destination. That's my MO: go to all the trouble of buying postcards, writing happy little things on them, addressing them, and usually even stamping them, then neglecting to mail any of them. Everybody needs a hobby.

But the last time I was in an airport I noticed that nobody uses these massive old suitcase any more. Apparently it's become mandatory for all luggage to be black, sleeky aerodynamic, and sport a long handle and wheels. My old suitcase doesn't even have wheels anymore.

So I panicked and called my mother, who is always flying off to some war-torn country or another doing things for her church (building houses, preventing forest fires, probably a lot of singing and praying, I don't really know the specifics) and asked her if she was in on the new style of luggage, and if so, if she would loan it to me next month so I don't get laughed out of the airport. She is, she does, and she will.

But I'm pretty sentimental about my old suitcase, though. You know how it is. That hunter green warhorse (and its contents) was all I had to my name when I performed the New England ritual of Running Away To California. More specifically, I did the old Dumping Your Significant Other of Many Years, Taking Up with an Older Man, Then Chasing Dumped Paramour Out to California And Trying to Win Back Trust. Worst six months of my damn life. And old Greeny was right there with me.

California and I didn't work out, neither did the attempted amorous reunion, and The Greenster and I schlepped back east to try grad school -- the last refuge of a scoundrel (I bet you thought it was something else! That just shows how much you know about grad school...). That affair met with moderate success, at least more success than the flame-out in California, and even allowed El Greenadino and me to haul ourselves to British Columbia and Austria at various times in pursuit of the perfect limestone.

And, sure enough, all those postcards are still there. So Greeny McQueeny is more than just an old, unfashionable suitcase. It's my old, unfashionable past, with little, photographic, three by five diary entries in the inside pocket. In the immortal words of Spinal Tap, How can I leave this behind?

12 November 2004

Recovered memory

When I was about 7 years old, my family hosted a married couple from Tehran, Iran, in our home for a year.

Let me be clear: I had totally, entirely, black-out-style forgotten about this until last night, when I came across a picture of me, my brothers, my parents, and those two students in their early twenties in front of the Kennedy Monument in Hyannisport. We're all of us rockin' the seventies in our knit ponchos, plaid bell bottoms and seriously groovy hair. My Dad has some sideburns you would not believe, and I'm still a shockingly white-blond kid with a thumb-sized gap between her two front teeth.

How weird is it that I had no memory of that until now! Now that I see the picture, I remember so much detail -- some lovely, cross-cultural dinners we shared with them, waking up early and waiting for the woman (Talitha? Tah-something, I think) to get out of the bathroom, going to the playground with them and sliding down the slide into her arms, introducing Tah-whatever to instant chocolate pudding (my culinary specialty at the time)... She and her husband were going to school, I think at Bridgewater State, to continue their studies in medicine. This would have been, what? 1978? 1979?

They were sweet and careful and reserved and funny and generous and studious.

So hey! What was all that all about? How did we get hooked up with that gig? Where did those guys go from here? Where are they now? What was that phrase she taught me that made me laugh so hard?

Where can I get a poncho like that again?

11 November 2004

Yellow wallpaper

First off: more passport drama.

We finally got our passports, only to discover that the Netherlands is one of those quirky countries that don't accept passports if they have less than six months' validity left to them, which will be true for mine on departure date... by 6 lousy days. Can you believe? So I had to turn around and send it back in for a renewal on a super-secret-triple-expedited basis, which of course means tons of dough but what the hell. Too late to turn back now, and all that. Can't wait to see what happens next. Stay tuned!

2. We were supposedly treated to a nifty vision of the aurora borealis this week, but I failed to sneak a peek at it. However, it apparently inspired some jackass to set about ten house fires on the north side of town within minutes of each other. Trying to give those northern lights some competition, I guess. No one was hurt, but one lawyer's office lost all the legal files and records. That has got to be rough. Having had my share of legal battles in the past, I feel for those clients and lawyers. Really, I do.

3. I've been re-reading the Ursula K. LeGuin Earthsea trilogy, and it's still terrific. I've also been watching a lot of old episodes of MASH this week, which I was a complete geek about when I was a kid, and it is also great fun. It's causing me to make a lot of jokes in a fakey-Groucho Marx style, which if you dig MASH, makes total sense.

4. Librarians love me. Not only have I spent the last three years justifying their jobs by being the most active local user of inter-library loan, I buy all their raffle tickets and fund-raiser book bags too. And I'm under fifty. Also, one of my best friends is a librarian, but she's more of a hot, sexy blond law librarian in California who whips off her glasses and shakes out her hair and rolls around on the circulation desk type of librarian. Any day now she'll make it into a Van Halen music video.

5. Yesterday I saw three foxes and a coyote in our neighborhood. I heart nature, but I am keeping my cats inside.

6. I'm going out of my skull with boredom because I haven't had a book to edit in two weeks and we're sharing a car so I'm stuck at home and I've read all the books in the house and MASH is only on twice a day and that's only one hour out of 24 and add to that a half hour walk and that still leaves lots of spare time to clip my nails and check the mail and glare at the phone and aaaaarrrrrrrrggggggggggg.

Who wants a cocktail?

06 November 2004

The jungle

I woke up this morning drenched in sweat, and although the dream I was having was a good one, it wasn't that great, if you know what I mean. Matt had already left for a big nasty Saturday full of meetings at work (somebody's got to do it, I guess), so I stumbled out of bed feeling hungover and strung out (I was neither, for the record) scrambled to the sink for a glass of cool tap water (thank ya Jesus) and creaked over to the thermostat to see just how hot it was in here.

EEEP! Matt must have brushed up againt the damn thing on his way out this morning, because it was set to ninety-five degrees. Fahrenheit. Good lord! I gasped, and swung the temp control lever down to its minimum, which is about 55 degrees. Hell, it's a perfectly decent 56 degrees out right now! Of course, we never set it at more than 70, more often we leave it at 65, because we're tuff stuff New England Yankee Stylee. That's right, in my house, you're told to Put On Another Sweater. Hell, the house I grew up in (where my mother still lives) still doesn't have upstairs heating. All through high school I had to wear two pairs of long underwear, wool socks, a hat and gloves to bed. I didn't have many sleep-overs in those days.

So I went around the house and opened every window that doesn't require a book or shoes wedged under it to keep it open (about 90% of all possible windows). The wind has been doing its November thing the last few days, rattling the leaves and the windows with gusts between 40 and 60 miles an hour -- there's no hurricane or anything, it's really just doing it because it can -- and so now the house is being scoured clean by high, dry, late Autumn (stiff) breezes. It's nice to be able to hear the leaves scudding across the driveway again, and the wind has pushed all the clouds out to sea, so the sky is a crackling bright blue.

What the hell am I doing inside? I'm outta here. It's time for a walk. Maybe the house will be less tropical by the time I get back.

05 November 2004

After sunset

The switch to/from Daylight Savings Time this past week has kind of thrown me for a loop this time around, probably because I'm going through a particularly virulent period of insomnia that has been keeping me up all night. As a freelancer, I can work whenever, so this hasn't really gotten in the way of getting work done, but it does mean that I've been sleeping so late this week that it feels like I get to see the sun for about 45 minutes each day.

The good news is that I've been reunited with my exercise bike -- it had been gathering dust in my old bedroom at my mother's house across town. So I can still get exercise on a daily basis, even though I feel like I live in the arctic circle during the wrong half of the year. So I got that goin' for me. Which is nice.

And, like a lot of people I know, I've been mooing morosely all week about the election results, and everything I say comes out sounding like Eeyore said it, instead of perky ol' me. or like that cartoon dog that went around saying nothing but "It'll never work, we're doomed." I swear I'll get back to fighting the good fight and stoking the flames of the resistance soon. real soon. I just have to drink another bottle of wine first and scan the apartment listings in Amsterdam one more time.

In the meantime, I'll be working out my frustrations on the bike, and working on standing my ground against the gathering dark.

01 November 2004

Travellin' blues

When I was a kid, we went on a lot of road trips as a family.

We'd pack up the Ford Camp-O-Van with our sleeping bags, crossword puzzles, and all our changes of clothes the night before departure. Then we kids would go to bed, and Mom and Dad would go do God Knows What all night -- I know they didn't sleep. Then Mom and Dad would wake us up in the morning, around 3:30 am, and load us into the Camp-O-Van in the dark in our PJs. Then Mom'd warm up the engine, back out the driveway, and rumble out the lane. My Dad was deep in his phase of discovering old blues and bluegrass at the time, so in my head, that's the soundtrack these memories have.

It's that sneaking out of town in my jammies -- under the cover of darkness and by the sound of a guitar -- that inspired this list of traveling music. It's mostly scratchy old blues, but what the hey. It's all about getting the hell outta dodge, and the consequences thereof.

Freight Train
Elizabeth Cotton

Libba Cotton created/popularized a particular style of guitar picking, and she lived for many years in my adopted hometown of Syracuse. This would be my first pick for a mix tape of traveling music, because of the longing and sense of place in this song.

Rollin' & Tumblin'
Elmore James

My great good friend Colin has a dog named Elmore, and I remember singing this song to him (Elmore, although Colin was there) as I walked out of a lake at 5 am in Green Lakes State Park, after a most enjoyable bout of skinny-dipping.
I love the Muddy Waters version, but have to stick with Elmore.

Hellhound On My Trail
Robert Johnson

If this song doesn't help you out at the crossroads, nothing will. Or help you to stay away from the crossroads in the first place, depending on your personality, and personal demons.

Keys To The Highway
John Hammond

"You done drove this poor boy from his home. But he's got the keys, keys to the highway..."

Had a chance to see John Hammond last October in Eastham, in a very small room. I was too broke and car-less, but my Dad managed to scam his way in for free and work the merch table. So much cooler than me.

Big Mama's Door
Alvin Youngblood Hart

I did manage to see this guy in a small room in Syracuse, and OhMyGod. Go on. Take that right hand road.

Goin' Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue
Taj Mahal

I like just about every song Taj Mahal has done, and he's influenced many of my favorite musicians. This is yet another great song by my main man.

Angel From Montgomery
John Prine

Not scratchy blues, but it could have been if Prine had been older, and I love it so much, and it does involve a mode of transport (flying).

We're Outta Here
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

An upbeat, swingin' tune by Gate. Picks up your spirits and makes you ready for that next stop on the thruway for some awesomely awful coffee.

Folsom Prison Blues
Johnny Cash

The ultimate song about longing to travel.

"When I hear that whistle blowin'...
I hang my head and cry."

Sure makes you happy you're in the car, and not somewhere else.

The sun is just coming up here on the easternmost coast of the US, so I imagine I'm an early poster, but I'll be linking to the other lists as the day goes on... so check back!

reality remixed
alien fur
i see monsters

Happy trails...

30 October 2004


I have a really beautiful and rather extensive personal collection of rocks and minerals on the mantel over the fireplace, and I very rarely ever look at it, except when I'm dusting, which happens approximately never. I have tiny samples of about 75 minerals, most of the basic rock types (granite, schist, basalt, limestone, etc.) and some pretty nifty fossils, too. I also have a top-notch pair of hiking boots that are now several years old, but I hardly ever scale mountains or hills in them, either.

Ever wonder how I got the name Rock Grrrl?

I was once a geologist. A geologist-in-training. I went to grad school for paleontology, and man, did I live for that shit. Plotting out field trips, hunting down fossils, collecting topo maps of the Canadian Rockies and the Alps, being the geeky TA in Rocks for Jocks who really got her rocks off by making stupid geology puns (orogeny leads to subduction which leads to relief! Ha! Get it?!)

That was me. And a friend of mine that I knew from the coffee shop I spent too much of my time in named me rock grrrl. And then my funding dried up, I got fed up with the politics of academia and depressed by the spectre of slaving for tenure for the next ten to fifteen years, if I was lucky enough to get a tenure-track job, and also my funding dried up. So I left the department, pretty much without a fight, and kind of in the middle of the night, without a word to anyone.

I had a vague notion to train to work in a science museum, or teach high school earth science, but never did either. Restaurant work was too easy and lucrative, and high school teachers rarely get a free beer after work. At least, not that I'm aware of.

I've always had a hard time letting possible futures go, and I've been quietly grieving this one for about ten years. I've flirted with the idea of going back and finishing my degree, but anyone who has been around academia long enough to know anything knows that they don't really let you back into their enchanted circle once you leave. And anyway, my misgivings about the job still remain. But man, was I one hell of a geology teacher. (Ask Donovan McNabb. I taught him Rocks for Jocks, and look at what a jock he turned out to be! Damn, I was good.)

And something about the pain of having failed in that career path, in having abandoned it midstream, caused me to shy away from anything having to do with it. My topos are all packed away in my mother's house, my boots collect dust, I have no idea what happened to my compass and hand lens. I don't even like to watch paleontology shows on cable. It's like I'm not really allowed to enjoy those things any more. But I did keep my rock collection, for some unknown reason.

Recently, I've had a spate of dreams at night about going back to grad school. I always wake up with the certainty that I honestly don't want to any more. It's like I'm flushing out the last of those fantasies. And, kind of without noticing, I've started hiking again, seeking out hidden paths and rocky terrain to explore for myself. I didn't think about this at all until just now, when I was reading in the living room and happened to look up and see this beautiful piece of lepidolite, bigger than my fist, that I've always loved, and my immediate reaction was a rush of affection for this rock. Not regret. Not shame.

Maybe I've crossed over.

28 October 2004

Scary stuff

What about that lunar eclipse last night, huh? If you were in a part of the world that didn't see it, or had to go to bed early, the moon literally turned red. Which explains other, seemingly inexplicable events of last night around these parts.

In other bizarro-world news, I apparently stumbled into a scary movie this afternoon, but i guess it just wasn't my time, or the monster was sleeping, or something. Seriously.

I was out for my usual walk by the river, and I noticed a trail I had never seen before leading off the paved road and into the woods. The trees are about halfway through shedding their leaves at this point, so there was a solid canopy of orange and yellow leaves around and overhead, and a lovely carpet of them underfoot. I set off down the path optimistically, cheerfully muttering "Whose woods these are I think I know" to myself, because I'm a dork from a liberal arts college in New England.

Then, honest to god, there was a fork in the path. Neither branch looked more or less travelled, so I figured it would make no difference, and turned left. Which, as we all know, is a synonym for "sinister." After a few yards, the path dipped sharply downhill, apparently winding around the edge of some depression, maybe a small bog or pond.

As I reached the lowest level of the pit, I was faintly repulsed to find that there had, indeed, once been a pond or bog here, but it had turned to black mud, which had eventually dried up and formed a dark, cracked surface, like mudflats in the desert. There was a stand of large, dead trees in the dead bog, all spiking out of the mudcake in different directions. The path ended here; there was no path on the other side of the ex-bog.

Now, I suppose I had been pretty dumb up until this point, and I could almost hear the audience in my head yelling "Turn BACK! Turn BACK!!!" But I figured I had already laid eyes on the unholy bog of doom, and my fate was already sealed. I also figured I had a good chance, since I'm well out of the 18 to 25 year-old age bracket, and was wearing more than just my bra. Also as long as I didn't start running through the woods in a panic, branches scraping my face and tears streaking my cheeks.

So I calmly turned back up the winding path. The fact that I casually picked up a large stick at around this time and held it firmly at one end is NO indication of my emotions at the time, nor of my pulse rate. The last bit of the path before it turned back onto the road ran behind some small houses, most of which had old, rusted out tools and mowers lying about in the back yards. I reached the road.

Almost immediately, a white pickup truck came up behind me with two young guys in the front seats. They cruised slowly past me, staring at me. This was followed by two more pickup trucks with young fellas in 'em. More staring.

You think I'm making this up.

I think I might have stumbled into somebody's patch of weed.


26 October 2004

Alstublieft, alstublieft

I'm sure I'm giving away too many secrets now, but I just found approximately 380 tons of crap under my bed during an unusual spate of semi-annual housecleaning. Although I generally keep the house reasonably tidy (at least the parts strangers see) I always, routinely, whether it needs it or not, do the whole "move the bed to the other side of the room and excavate" about every, oh, let's see... how long have I lived here now? Let's call it three years.

It is in fact an archaeological undertaking, since by this time there are discernible layers of sediment (mostly books, crap, cobwebs, the occasional pizza box, Molson bottle, cobwebs, books, and crap), and picks and shovels are pretty much totally required. Now, I can finally sit cross-legged on the floor, sorting through all the discarded bedtime reading I've enjoyed enough to toss over the far side of the bedframe. Books that I think I'll read again I throw on one pile. the others go on the bigger pile.

I have to be much crueler and more ruthless these days in thinning the herd of books. I live in a house about the size of a ziplock bag, so I have to be very disciplined about space. In light of this, I might hold a chilly, late Autumn yard sale, sell all my trashy novels, sexy underwear, and Prince posters for a dollar a piece, then pocket the cash for the trip to Amsterdam. Ya know, liquidate our assets and such. Hey, the way I see it, every dollar saved here is another bitteballen on the Prinsengracht. Whatever that means.

From what I can tell from the guide books, Amsterdam will provide lots of breakfast in the form of ham and cheese sandwiches, lunches in the form of soup and bread, and dinner in the form of whatever delicious Indian/Dutch/Whatnot traditional food I could ask for. All accompanied by terrific beer. I'm in.

23 October 2004


The big huge drama in life right now is that apparently the passport agency can't process the idea that a man would change his name upon marrying just like millions of women do every day.

They have no problem with the fact that I changed my name last year after I walked down the aisle, but the fact that Matt did too (we both took his mother's maiden name) is quite beyond their ken. Now, I know this isn't a common practice, but, really, it isn't so different from when a guy hyphenates his name upon getting married. Smith-Jones is a different name than Smith. We started out as Smith and Jones, and now we are both McGillicuddy (names have, in fact been changed).

So although I (the girl) just need to demurely present proof of my matrimonial status and get patted on the head and pinched on the ass as I walk away with my shiny new passport, he has to present his most recent electric bill, last year's dry cleaning ticket stubs, recite the starting line-up of the 1978 Yankees, and -- oh yeah -- cough up 200 bucks.

Stupid-ass discrimination, anyone?

19 October 2004


When I was in college, I earned a solid reputation for losing, misplacing, or simply repelling my possessions. In general, I have a cavalier attitude toward material objects. I usually like to imagine this is a laudable embrace of the Buddhist ideal of being unattached to the material plane, but most of my friends have just regarded it as a charming quirk of personality. There are those who think it's a character flaw, but I don't talk to those people anymore.

I'd be gesturing with my hands while making a point, and my watch would go flying off my wrist and across the room. Books, cigarettes, one left shoe... would mysteriously go missing on a daily basis. There were little cubby holes -- caches, if you will -- maintained by my friends all over campus that held clothing and personal effects I had carelessly shed and then left behind. I was once surprised to find my alarm clock behind the information desk at the student center. I still have no idea how that got there.

Now it seems that my skill for repelling items of value has regrouped, and isolated itself to my eyewear. Over the last two weeks, I have lost three pairs of contacts. This morning, I lost my glasses. It is very difficult to find one's glasses when one needs them to see in the first place. I finally found them, after much crawling around the house on all fours, peering myopically at the floorboards. They were wedged between my bed frame and the mattress. Yeah, right. I have no idea either.

All of this lost eyewear has gone missing while I sleep. Since I doubt (although I can't rule out) the idea that someone is sneaking into my house at night and stealing my contact lenses and hiding my glasses, I'm considering the theory that I'm doing it myself, in my sleep. I have a history of sleepwalking, although I haven't done it regularly for years. When I was a kid, so my father informs me, I was fond of walking slowly up and down the street, swinging a large stick and singing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song. He'd lead me gently back inside, and I'd ask him if he had any more split pea soup. Not kidding.

So it's possible I'm doing something equally nonsensical with my contacts. Or maybe I just treat them with such contempt (by not cleaning them ever, leaving them in my eyes for weeks at a time, etc.) that they have conspired against me and have developed a sort of underground railroad for eyewear unfortunate enough to be sold into servitude to me and my evil ways. Contacts slip away by night, singly and in pairs, following the light of the Drinking Gourd. The glasses occasionally make a run for it, but are too large and bulky and get caught before they can make good their escape.

Or maybe somebody really is breaking into my house just to fuck with me.

Jet lag

We returned from our trip to Syracuse today, and we're both pretty strung out from the endless succession of friends, family, and antagonistes that we encountered over the course of the weekend. Though the weekend was most enjoyable and involved lots of socializing with dazzling urbanites and downing many nifty cocktails, I am most pleased to be home with my cats.

In my last post, I implied that something great would emerge from this trip, and I was not wrong. Although I had begun to doubt if our planned trip to Amsterdam would actually materialize, I may now put my doubts to bed.

We're not just going to Amsterdam, we're going to Amsterdam and staying in a dope-ass (a.k.a. 5 star) hotel right in the middle of the city. Wowee wow wow wow. All courtesy of my sainted mother-in-law, who evidently likes us an awful hell of a lot, and ain't a-scared to show it.

We're booked for the first week of December, so anyone who has anything to say about that, including hints, links, and favorite bars, may contact me at their leisure.

14 October 2004


So we're off to the big city tomorry, uyuh. I've been telling everyone I'm going to New York, which is true, but I'm allowing them to believe I mean New York City, which is not true. We're going back to the ol' Salt City, Syracuse, hometown of my darling spousal unit.

Since I've been hermitaceously tucked away here on this remote and rather stuck-in-time sandbar for many months, I realized it was time to gussy my damn self up so I can walk with pride down Franklin Street in hip, trendy Armory Square. So I got my hair cut (sexy!) and my eyebrows waxed (sophisticated!), bought two new shades of lipstick (alluring!) and washed my favorite jeans (alarmingly necessary!).

Now I'm all jazzed up, and I spent most of the day calling up all my old buds in town, strong-arming them into going out with us on Friday night to see the best bar band in the history of bar bands. All were happy to give in and say uncle.

So then I went to try on my new lipstick (it fits!) and stretch out the waistband of my most fetching jeans (they shrink in the dryer!) and checked myself out in the mirror.


I have, like, the hugest zit on my face.

I have always had a pretty terrific complexion -- my adolescent years were plagued with the usual crippling self-awareness and awkwardness, but not with acne, thank the gods. So what have been the THREE (3!) days in my life when I've had a conspicuous pimple on my face (we're sticking with the face here)?

1. Senior prom.

2. Getting my passport picture taken.

3. Today.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. First, I fully realize that I am paying back in karma points what I had stored up by not being acne-riddled in high school. Fine. I'm down with that. More importantly, though, both of the first two events presaged something pretty cool happening in my life. So I'm going to take this as an indication of good fortune, as a good omen. Something really great is going to happen as a result of this trip, it just remains to be seen what and just how great it will be.

Unsightly skin blemishes, my personal Halley's comet.

11 October 2004

Haunted town

It's starting to be all dark and spooky weather all the time around here, especially with the strong winds we've been having lately because of yet another fake-out-teaser of a hurricane/storm that is only coquettishly brushing our cheeks with the back of her hands. But at least the leaves are mostly still on the tress, because once they get over with that whole Gorgeously-Striking Colors and the Glory of Nature's Bounty in Autumn thing that they do, then they will just be bleak and skeletal. But hey, then I'll be able to see the river again.

In fact, I should really be taking a walk right now, and enjoying some of the aforementioned Nature's Beauty, but instead I am vaguely floating around the house, procrastinating from doing real work by inventing chores, like reconditioning a bunch of cast iron skillets my mom gave me last year. I've been waiting for it to get cool enough so that I wouldn't mind having the oven on for hours at a pop, and now it is. And I should really do the thing I'm paid for first, but reconditioning cast iron skillets sounds so crafty and money-saving and thrifty in a yard sale kind of way that I feel like it's sort of like making money. At least it's not spending money, except for all the gas I'm using in the oven, and the oil, and well forget it.

Procrastinating is one thing. Weakly attempting to justify it is another thing entirely.

The job will get done, though, because Matt and I are heading out to Syracuse this weekend for a family thing. Syracuse is really the home of spooky weather, and also has a fair bit of spooky architecture going for it, too. A perennial favorite is the Hall of Languages, which is kind of the emblematic gateway building of Syracuse University. Folks have told me that the Hall of Languages was partly the inspiration for the Addams' Family house, which I think is unfortunately untrue, but you can see why people might say that.

My personal favorite was always the NiMo (Niagara Mohawk) building, in all its art deco glory. I always expected to see Batman scaling this building in the middle of the night. Since the NiMo building is right in the middle of downtown, nestled among some of our favorite bars and clubs, I probably thought I did see Batman up there a couple of times.

More gothic creepiness is right down the street from the NiMo building, including the Syracuse Savings Bank, the White building, and most of Salina Street. Of course, the fact that the area is severely economically depressed lends just the right touch of authentic malaise to the whole place.

I hope I'm not giving the wrong impression -- I really dig Syracuse, the architecture, the history, the people. Maybe this trip I'll actually take pictures so I can share the spooky building love. Those readers whom I know from our sojourns in Syracuse may put in their requests now.

Sorry, no food orders.

08 October 2004

Turn around, bright eyes

I can always tell when it's time to take out my contacts for a day, put on my glasses, and give my parched eyeballs a break. It's when I have any dream that centers on me trying to find my favorite bottle of Sensitive Eyes eyedrops, and then I wake up and have to force my eyes open with hot, sterilized tongs.

Now, I have to make it clear that my contacts are not the fancy Night and Day brand, or even particularly extended-wear lenses. I've tried those brands, and they just don't hurt enough for me to know they're usefully inserted on my eyes. So I generally wear weekly disposables. For at least six months.

I don't know why I'm so pathologically cavalier towards my eyes and, by extension, my ability to see. I've worn glasses since sixth grade, and it took me exactly one year to convince my mother I was responsible enough for contact lenses. That was the same year I got her to let me get my ears pierced. Her defenses must have been pretty weak that year. I should have tried for more.

So I've worn contact lenses for almost 20 years (whoa) and during that span I have committed some pretty heinous crimes against my eyes. I started the downward slide the summer before the eighth grade, when I saw my summer camp counselor taking her contacts out and putting them straight into the case... without cleaning them first.

This was a revelation to me. I had been conscientiously cleaning my lenses every night, and back then I even used that creepy little heating unit every week that you had to plug into a wall outlet, until they started me on those creepy little dissolving capsules that fizzed and bubbled around my lenses for their weekly decontamination. Now, when I saw my coolest of counselors shrug and turn out the light when I asked her what the hell she thought she was doing, I saw the envelope, and resolved to see how far I could push it.

Pretty far, is the short answer. I've put my contacts in tap water, often in the fold of a cassette tape case (open one up all the way and prop it up like an lectern. It forms a trough, and there are sometimes two little nubs of plastic that will keep the lenses separated.) And I have wrapped them up in dampened paper towels. The rough, brown, industrial type of paper towels. I've also used film canisters filled halfway up with tap water.

That was in high school, when I was young and reckless (yes, that is just about as wild and crazy as I got in high school). Now I just leave them in all day and night for weeks and weeks until my eyes bleed. Or until I have The Dream.

So I had The Dream last night, and dutifully pried my contacts out upon awakening. I put on my cute little wire-framed glasses and sat down at the computer, which I don't remember being so painfully bright before. Naturally, I had an e-mail waiting for me with a new editing job with lots of little subscripts and fine print and hieroglyphic charts and figures. Needs to be done with a 24-hour turn-around time.

Ow ow ow ow ow.

Praise the Lord and pass the eyedrops.

06 October 2004

Season of mists and mellow fruitiness

Today was a day for fall chores, as I've got a big project coming in tomorrow and they're forecasting frost on any given night this week. I think it's unlikely to frost this early here on the coast, but whatever, I'll use it as an incentive.

Alert readers will recall that I made my first foray into the world of gardening this year, so this winter is a big one for me: What will live? What will die? Matt and I have agreed that a 60% survival rate come spring will be considered a success. He's a bit of a greener thumb than I am, having worked as a landscaper while in his formative years, and then branching out into other, slightly less legal agricultural concerns during college. But that was long ago, so cool it, Ashcroft.

I mostly planted heathers of various varieties, and the nursery told me all I had to do was give them a nice layer of mulch before the frost, prune them come spring, and they'd be fine. I am, in this as in most things, sanguine. If they live, cool. If they don't I will find some front yard planty tenants who aren't such goddamn primadonnas. And yes, I hope they are listening right now.

What I'm really looking forward to is going back out to my patch of heather in the spring, assessing the casualty rate, and saying loudly "What's your damage, Heather???" ... because that's one of the best movies ever.

And because I love raising the collective eyebrows of my neighbors by conversing loudly and incoherently with myself in the front yard. Tends to keep away the petition signature seekers and girl scout cookie pushers. Masspirg still visits me every year, because they always come by after I've had a few glasses of wine and feeling groovy and I used to canvass for them one awful summer so I'm a really easy mark.

So after mulching my little heather babies I put up the storm windows in the front and back doors and cleaned all the windows, inside and out. Naturally, our house is only one floor. I don't exactly get along with ladders. Then I put all the Paddy O'Furniture (thank you, Carol Wasserman) back in the shed, coiled up the garden hose and tucked it onto the porch, and prepped up the garlicky beef stew and roast potatoes we're having for dinner tonight sometime around the seventh inning of the Yankees/Twins playoff game.

Also, because this just happened in my town, I put fresh batteries in my smoke detectors, and strongly urge everyone else to do the same in their homes. Just do it.

Then have a couple of glasses of wine, hide your checkbook, and ignore the doorbell. The season of the hermit is here.

04 October 2004

Top ten

How is it that another month has already passed by and I'm no thinner, richer, or more virile? Oh, right, because I never order products from late night television infomercials. Alas, then all I have left to console me is my

Top Ten Cover Songs

As always, these are in no particular order, because ranking things makes me rankle. It's rank.

Yeah, I've had too much coffee. Shut it.

Cardigans -- Iron Man

My husband bought this cd when it came out and I spent a few months feeling insecure that what he really wanted in a girlfriend was a blond, blue-eyed gamine elf from a sexier country. Then I realized that this was a truism and not worth seething over. I like this song, and I like this version. And I blacked out her eyes and gave her a mustache and beard on the cd jacket.

Was (Not Was) -- Papa Was a Rolling Stone

When I was in grad school and just discovering the wonders of old funk and soul, I came across this cover and kept it playing in my car for weeks. Then I got all excited about all the cool new music I was listening to, and made a mix tape for my Dad, but ended up not sending it because it had this and another dad-bashing song on it. I'm such a wimp, but I didn't want him to think I was sending him thinly-veiled insults.

Cake -- I Will Survive

I don't know what this says about me, but whenever the original comes on the radio, I spend the next few minutes wishing it was the Cake version. You just can't beat a french horn solo.

Booker T and the MGs -- Mrs. Robinson

This is a very smoking version, emphasis on the smoking hot organ. Whoa. Was that out loud?

Tricky -- Black Steel

Not only is this a great version of a great song, but it also comes in handy when I go to the post office and get my tax return. "Got a letter from the government the other day... " Suckers. (I know, I'm the sucker for giving the gov't an interest-free loan every year and then feeling gratitude when they let me have some of it back. Eh, bien.)

Quincy Jones -- Superstition

Another song that you just can't go wrong with, arranged and performed by a master. Sometimes all you need is to hear this bassline, and you know everything is going to be OK. At least for the next five minutes.

The JBs -- Use Me

Although the Bill Withers original is one of my all-time favorite, desert-island songs, and I often nearly cause a car crash every time I listen to it because I love clapping those sycopated claps two-thirds of the way through ("oh baby! *clap* Baby! *clap* Baby! baby!*clap* When ya love me I can't get enough!") and technically I should be using those hands to drive with... this song is a sufficient substitute. It's all instrumental (this being the back up band for James Brown, a.k.a. the Horny Horns), except for some very excited female vocalists who jump in every now and sing "Use Me! Use me up now baby... Use me!"

The Roots and Bobby Womack -- Summertime

I defy you to listen to this track only once through. All last summer (2003), when I was still working in a hot sweaty kitchen with mean people, I made sure this song would play in my tape deck (I'm so analogue) almost every day on my way home, and the bilious hate would slowly melt away until I could reach home, change into sweatpants, and pour myself a glass of wine. This song is a goddamn public service.

Jack Black -- Let's Get It On

One of the great things about Tenacious D is that all their songs sound like covers, but aren't. This one (by Jack Black, not the D, of course), from the soundtrack of High Fidelity (like we all don't already know that -- we are a list-making gang of music freaks, after all, so I imagine it's safe to say that High Fidelity is a shared experience here...) is still an impressive cover, of the variety of covers that pays homage to the original, rather than tries to make it something it isn't. Me likey.

Zapp and Roger -- Heard It Through the Grapevine

You know, Roger Troutman. Invented the vocorder. I seem to have a lot of songs here with the lyrics "Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby!" in them. Is that so wrong?

Sorry it took me until so late in the day for this one, but the damn phone kept ringing.

here are the links to the rest of the gang:

Alien Fur
Chapati Mystery
Chele Blog
I See Monsters
Meghan's Deep Thoughts
Reality Remixed
Sane Libs
Sheets & Blankets
Shoulda Said
Write On Megs

02 October 2004

Steely-eyed temerity

My brief experiment with catering on Saturdays is officially over, due to widespread protests from the lower back and quad-muscle lobbies. (I'm nothing if not responsive to my constituencies.) If I hadn't made this decision after last week's grueling experience, I would be working some seaside wedding right this moment. Instead, I am sitting on my ass, reading blogs and catching up on my Tivo'd Whose Line Is It Anyway (I'm an improv geek, and Wayne Brady is smoking hot.)

I will now call to order the Cape Cod chapter of Bookworms Enamored with Seated, Sustainable Income Employment. (a.k.a. BESSIE. Motto: "moooo...")

It's almost worth my while to take a difficult, labor-intensive job every once in a while, just for the relief I feel when I don't have to do it any more. Almost. Maybe I'll do this again in six months, in case I forget what a pencil-pushing pansy I am.

And the goddess of freelance jobs has been showering me with praise and earthly delights ever since I made the "It's Not You, It's Me" phone call to the caterers on Monday. That very afternoon, I received a long-awaited check for a one-off job I did over the summer (though unfailingly polite, these particular Canadians were alarmingly slow with the ol' checkbook, even by freelancer standards), I got an email from an editor I hadn't heard from in a long time that I'd have a fair bit of work coming my way soon, and got a (favorable) response to a cold-call resume I sent months ago to someone else entirely.

So clearly I did the right thing.

In other news, I'm pretty sure my Dad has accidentally stumbled across my blog, since he keeps sort of elliptically quoting bits of what I've recently posted, then acting all casual about it. And of course I don't have the steely-eyed temerity to ask, because if I did, then he'd say "You have a blog? What's the address?" because he's recently discovered blogs and then I'd be stuck. Not that I write anything incriminating about him in this space (or any other for that matter), in fact I seem to recall I mostly say extremely nice things about him, it's just that so far, I haven't told any of my family or non-bloggish friends about my wee blog. I'm shy like that.

So if you're out there, Dad, go ahead and comment! Don't be shy! (So I know it's you, mention the name of your new boat.... aaahhh, aren't I clever? Subverting the intentions of evil commenters who might just sign their post "dad" and get me all off-guard and whatnot? I should be a spy.)

Yeah, I know, unnecessary subterfuge. It's my middle name.

28 September 2004

Aqua vita

I really resent it when weather forecasters assume what kind of weather I prefer. Who decided that everyone's idea of "a beautiful day" was the same across the board? And who said they could make their cutesy little newscaster grimaces when it looks like rain and fog are on the way?

Who doesn't love rain and fog???

Once again, we are the recipients of the older and wiser version of a formerly angry, young, reckless hurricane, so today we are engulfed in the fog and rain of Miss Jeanne, past her prime.

I love this weather because it always feels like you've been given a pass for the day, like it's totally OK to be forgetful and dreamy and slow-moving yourself. Nobody seriously expects you to be productive, or go out and run errands, or finish cleaning out the shed.

Sunny days want something out of you, the sun demands an accounting of your time and whereabouts. The sun watches you, and you can never please the sun.

Rainy days say ssshhhh, relax, don't sweat it, just relax, you're cool.

I love it because I get paid to read books, and nothing goes better with a book than the sound of rain.

When it rains all day this close to the ocean, the fog rises up from the sea and the kettle ponds and the rivers, and the rain comes down from the sky and the clouds are only feet above your head, a tall person could touch them easily, and everything is water, within and without. A watery embrace, but not like hugging someone you just broke up with, and not like Davy Jones's locker. Like you're walking through water, meeting no resistance, and all the water molecules in your body are singing with the joy of reunion.

27 September 2004

The end of the earth

Ahhh, I love the glory that is Provincetown, that endearing terminus of Cape Cod, that swaggering shanty town that turns into an imported carnival every summer... even though every time I have an admittedly sumptuous dinner there, the consistently snooty, obviously transient, overtly gay waiters somehow manage to make me feel like a retard.

Listen, I want to say to them, I'm the native. I grew up here. I was skipping school and driving to P-Town for the day and eating Portuguese sweetbread and George's pizza for lunch in January when you were still trying on your mother's clothing in New Jersey. And I've made out with more girls than both of my brothers combined, even though I'm currently married to a man. I've also worked in restaurants all my life, and would give a blow job of a tip if you were half-human to me. So those waiters who figure I'm some sort of boring straight who doesn't get it and won't tip them can fucking bugger off. Grow up, and meet some people.

But I came here to praise Provincetown, not to bury it.

I came here tonight to speak of the people who live here, who help each other through the long, cold winters of unemployment and isolation. The people who have been here every year, every month, every day. And who have such a remarkable sense of community that we make it through each winter without killing each other, and usually by creating something beautiful together, held together with duct tape and chewing gum.

Specifically, I want to pimp the community radio station that has been the voice of the people's decidedly odd and varied musical taste for the last twenty years, WOMR. It's not just Provincetown folks who are involved here, there are DJs and board members and volunteers from all over the Cape. Cape Cod is long and narrow, we only live half-way down its length, and it takes us 45 minutes to get there.

It has already been well-established that readers of this site enjoy music of the "good" variety (witness the 4th in the series of music lists that will appear here and elsewhere next week) so I will recommend my family radio station to you with a clear conscience, free of the stain of nepotism.

For example, both my father and husband have a show on this community radio station weekly, and you can listen to them online.

Dad does a blues show every Sunday afternoon at four pm. He also love New Orleans traditional music and obscure rockabilly, so he often veers into those realms in the second hour as well. Check him out. Dad rocks.

Matt's show (Sunday nights from midnight to 3 am) is also outstanding, in many different and exciting ways. Mostly funk and soul and various whatnot, but full of goodness no matter what.

And if you come to visit here, come in the off-season, listen to WOMR on the ride up the Cape, and shoot some pool at the Bradford. Then grab a bite to eat at the Squealing Pig. That Irish gal behind the bar is really something else.

My favorite thing anyone ever said about Provincetown was when Thoreau visited here in the mid-1800's, stood on the shore of Race Point, and wrote:

"A man may stand there and put all America behind him."

It feels like the ocean will reach out and grab you and yank you out to sea. And you almost don't mind.

25 September 2004

Visa vis

The plans and schemes for our trip to Amsterdam grow faster and thicker with each day. I have contacted everyone I know who has ever lived there, been there, or who might have thought about it in my presence, and as a result have unearthed three (3!) great good friends on the ground in Amsterdam who will be around to show us around. (In addition to my online friends who have supplied very welcome hints and links and information.)

It is good and useful to be shameless about looking up old friends, even extremely tangential ones.

Hi! Remember me? Well, we shared a ride together to Boston once, I think your boyfriend was Bruce, or maybe Paul, yeah Paul! and we were going to the Bim Skala Bim show on New Year's Eve and we listened to the Pixies on the ride there in that crappy VW convertible that leaked and Paul got lost before the show and we couldn't find him for the ride from dinner to the show but we knew he was from there so we didn't sweat it and so we left anyway? Yeah! That was me! The one who left her black leather motorcycle jacket there at the club and ran back through the pouring rain after the place closed and they wouldn't let me in but then they did and I caught the last train to our parking garage and just found you guys before you left without me too?

So anyway, what was your cute friend's name -- the one who went to Wellesley? Because she said she was from Amsterdam.


(No really, it's all old friends and cool relations who are really truly going to show us around town and show us a good time. But all the rest about those jerks I went to see Bim Skala Bim with in grad school was true. Thank God I got that jacket back, it was my best friend's sister's jacket. And... you guys? Thanks a lot for waiting for me. Geez. Jerks.)

22 September 2004

Ghost flower

Earlier this summer, we cleared the backyard of the rampant growth of Japanese Knotwood that had taken over back there. Knotwood is a vile, pernicious invasive plant that has taken over many roadsides and vacant lots around here, so we felt no remorse in opening a can of herbicidical whoop-ass on it. Also, the method used was groovy and organic, so we can preen about that, too. It seems to have worked, and all summer long I've been poking around back there to see what opportunistic planty things will move in now that the big nasty weed is gone.

Not too long ago, I looked out my bedroom window and saw this. Oh my God this is the creepiest plant you will ever, ever see. For fun facts and historical lore about the corpse flower (as it is sometimes called), check this out.

The picture doesn't even really do it justice; this plant is so skin-crawly and sickly that I thought I ws hallucinating it, or that maybe it was a brand-new plant that hadn't yet fully evolved. For one thing, it has no chlorophyll, so it is waxy white, ghostly pale, sort of an albino orchid.

So yesterday I got my copy of Cape Cod Wildflowers: a Vanishing Heritage, because I'm all over planting native species in my wee yard, and there she is, my ghost flower. Turns out she's a rare and prized little blossom! Might even be a protected species.

If only they were growing across the street, so I could stage a Save The Corpse Flower rally and stop construction on the truly evil McMansion being built over there.

Maybe I'll get Save The Corpse Flower T-shirts printed up anyway. It just has a nice ring to it.

19 September 2004

Paying the ferryman

The remnants of Hurricane Ivan blew through yesterday and took us all by surprise. We expected rain, but not the gale force winds and torrential rains of biblical proportions, as my husband put it. Of course this was the weekend of the wedding on Martha's Vineyard, so we were ferry passengers on the mighty Atlantic during all of this not once, but twice.

We got to the island early enough to have a leisurely lunch in Oak Bluffs, where we happily watched some Yankees-Red Sox action. We had a window-side table, so we also kept a weather eye on the weather, which was so hysterically awful that we began to consider where we might spend the night if they stopped running the ferries.

After shamelessly camping out at our table for a few hours and consuming no more than a couple of sandwiches, we trundled ourselves up-island to the wedding site. Still raining, still dreaming of a respite for the wedding party and their two hundred guests. The massive white tent flapped and shuddered in the wind. The chairs were soaking wet because the rain was coming in through the few openings horizontally, and forcefully so.

I had spiders leap onto my neck and arms FIVE TIMES during the ceremony. It was like that scene in the Fellowship of the Ring when the hobbits hide from the Black Riders under the root by the side of the road, and all the nasty bugs come crawling out.

Of course, I make this comparison with absolutely no reference intended to the bride.

No-one had bothered to tell us that the wedding was formal, so while all the men were wearing suits and ties and all the women were wearing slinky party dresses with hilariously high heels, we were dressed more casually. Matt was wearing dress pants and what we refer to as his witness protection shirt: a nice silk shortsleeve shirt with a subtle pattern of palm trees inlaid into the material. I was wearing black dress pants and a nice black linen top, an artsy, silversmith-ish necklace, and, oh, yeah, goddamn sensible shoes.

So of course we got a few of those junior high derisive looks -- you know, the ones that girls give you out of the corners of their eyes, running from your face, then down to your shoes, then back up and down again, all in about .4 seconds, all with a look of "you've got to be kidding" on their faces.

Like I said in an earlier post, this isn't exactly the side of the family that we have the most in common with.

Matt and I just shrugged and said we were comfortable with who we are. Also, unlike some watery tarts I could mention, I wasn't freezing my anorexic little ass off in two square feet of fabric and five-inch heels at an outdoor wedding in the mud. As the evening wore on, I firmly believe some of the dirty looks we got were tinged with jealousy.

To make life even better, I was seated at dinner next to a charming young couple from New York City with whom I got on smashingly. The gal of the pair asked me what I did for a living, and when I told her I'm a freelance editor for Such-and-Such Publishing in NYC, she stared in astonishment. She works (full-time, for real, yo) for the same damn publishing house. Different division than I do most of my work with, but still! What are the odds! I gave her my card, and I might even get work out of it.

By the time we caught the last ferry back to the mainland, the worst of the storm had passed, and when we got home we gratefully shed our comfortable clothes for still more comfortable sweatpants and flannels, as it seems that Ivan had hit the last nail in the coffin of summer, and now it is fall. Thank God.

16 September 2004

Sense memory

I must be in some sort of nostalgic phase these days, because I keep having random, trivial memories from my nightclub-owning days float up to the surface and then pop in my face with a fresh, soapy smell. In reality, the smell soundtrack to most of these memories would run more along the lines of stale beer, overflowing ashtrays, and the Pine Sol I used to swab the decks with every day that actually did little to mask the previous two smells.

My office in the basement smelled of the mildew that lined the concrete walls, discarded deli sandwich wrappers, and the fifty million cigarettes I smoked each day back then. I would sit down there, counting last night's drawers, taking occasional pulls off my grande coffee from across the street, and taking much more frequent pulls off my Parliament Light smoky-treats. The Green Room was right down the hall from my office, so there was a healthy dose of rock band sweat in the air, too. Unfortunately, the Pine Sol only made it to the basement on rare and special occasions.

If it was a delivery day, my workday would be punctuated by the appearance of guys with dolly trucks topped full of cases of beer, thumping down the rutted concrete steps into the basement. We were always hovering on the edge of insolvency, using last night's take to cover this morning's delivery, so most of our distributor contracts were COD.

It would usually be two guys humping the beer we couldn't afford, the driver and an ever-changing cast of young strong assistants, each of whom I always thought of as Igor. The driver would always be older, and usually wore a support belt around his lower back, even though Igor did all of the heavy lifting. The back belt was more like a badge of rank, like sergeant's stripes.

While Igor stacked the cases of beer in the antique walk-in cooler next door, Sarge would come into my office with the invoice, which I hardly ever bothered to check against the actual delivery, circle the total, and lay it on the desk in front of me. I'd glance at it, wince, then swivel around to open the safe on the floor next to me, and hand over the bulk of last night's sales to cover the cost of the beer we would sell tonight.

My favorite delivery driver was the Budweiser guy. I can't stand Budweiser, prefered Harp at the time, and this truly mystified him. As I counted out the stacks of twenties I owed him, he'd ask me again if I had renounced my affection for foriegn ales and crossed over to the True King of Beers yet. This guy passionately, fervently believed in his product, and couldn't fathom why I wouldn't recognize what so many Americans agreed on -- the superiority of a bottle of Bud over any pretenders to the throne.

One day, as I was crossing the street with my grande coffee first thing in the morning, I saw his truck parked outside a nearby bar, making his delivery. He always drove one of those massive white trucks with the red script "Budweiser, King of Beers" scrawled across the length of the 18-wheeler. As his Igor loaded the dolly in the back of the truck, my Bud-loving buddy sat in the driver's seat, adjusting his back brace.

When he saw me, he jumped out of the cab, scurried around to my side of the truck, and framed each syllable of script with his short arms, shouting across the street to me:


(scampers over to frame next syllable)


(scampers a little further down the line)


Then he stood facing me and my coffee, arms held out toward me in mute appeal.

What could I do? I invited him and Igor inside for a Far-Too-Early-In-The-Day bottle of the King of Beers that we couldn't afford to buy, and couldn't afford to give away. I made them late for their next delivery when I gave them quarters for the video golf game, and I watched them play while I smoked.