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...