Friday, February 22, 2013

Scenes from Seattle: Rooftop, evening

Desmond and I are on the rooftop because, if you’re a city dog living in a pet-friendly building striving for urban chic, that’s where you go to the bathroom: on a patch of Astroturf eight stories high, with views of the Space Needle, and, if it’s a clear day, the Cascades. It’s after 6 PM, the only views the lights illuminating the insides of offices and living rooms. I haven’t noticed just how bright it is until suddenly, an overhead light is extinguished. I look above me; the towering construction crane just turned out its lights. Across the alley (and across the street, and down the block; this is a “developing neighborhood,” after all) a new apartment building is being constructed, floor-by-floor. The crane across the alley towers above us each day, its giant arm rotating, casting shadows on the rooftop. Now it is dark, and a figure emerges from his box in the sky: the crane operator. For a moment I lose sight of him, but I know he’s there, out in the open space, just the narrow steel skeleton around him. I suck in my breath as I watch him begin to descend down, down the impossibly narrow stairs. Beside me, Desmond, unfazed, squats and pees.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 3: South Dakota to Bozeman, MT

Day 3
South Dakota to Bozeman, Montana: In which I get a little nuts with statistics, and we meet a new old friend

Day 3 was an easier trek in that we were on the road for less than eight hours—the last “long” day of our trip.  Our route took us through Wyoming, which was beautiful, and startlingly empty.  A quick bit of research confirmed this (I still had 3G in the middle of the prarie): save for Alaska, Wyoming is the least densely populated state in the U.S. with 5.85 inhabitants per square mile.  Montana is close behind with 6.86.  For comparison’s sake, my home state of Michigan has 173.9 per square mile!  These may seem like dry statistics—and I apologize if I’m boring you—but I was intrigued.  I’d never been out West before, never seen the vast emptiness of it, and it was a very real reminder of, “not everyone lives the way you do,” perhaps the greatest (or simplest) lesson of travel.

As we made our way to Montana, the landscape became mountainous.  As we passed into the Montana border we also entered Crow Country—as in the people, not the bird.  Billboard PSAs specifically targeted the Native American population.  “Don’t kill your heritage by smoking,” or something slightly more eloquent than that.  We stopped for lunch at a Taco John’s, where we saw an honest-to-goodness cowboy who was 6’6” without his hat, easily.

We passed through Billings, which is the most populous city in Montana with approximately 104,000 people.  (Here I go again with the facts.) For comparison, Ann Arbor has 114,000 people. To be in this West, with so much land and so few people, felt new, and I was surprised by how much I liked it.

We chose to stay in Bozeman because of its proximity to Yellowstone, and because Neal’s brother had lived there for two years.  He had great recommendations for hikes nearby, as well as places to eat.   Dinner that night was at Montana Ale House, an enormous restaurant and bar that resembled a converted train station.  It could have been the name, it could have been that I was parched from our day on the road, but I’m pretty convinced that Yellow Humpy Hefe was the best beer I’ve ever had. 

While we stood at the bar, waiting for our table, we noticed a little old man in a Michigan shirt and hat.  I was disproportionately excited.  “Let’s say ‘Go Blue!’ to him,” I told Neal, imagining this sweet old man to be an alumnus, who’d certainly have many interesting stories to share. 

So we gave our greeting, and he looked at Neal and said, “Good morning!” then he shook his head, muttered, “what am I saying?” and took his seat.  It turned out our friend was either senile, or old and confused, or possibly just drunk.  Hopefully, the last one.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Road Trip Interlude: The Great U-Haul Debacle, or, The Ballad of Roger and Joan

Pulling a U-Haul is often necessary for a cross-country move, but it’s definitely not ideal.  The trailer's unwieldy, the towing vehicle becomes slow to accelerate, and every hill feels like a struggle.  Our particular trailer had a delightful tic: when you turned on the right blinker in the car, the trailer’s right blinker went on, and when you turned on the car’s left blinker—the trailer’s right blinker went on.  We didn’t report this to U-Haul while on the road for fear they’d make us unload the whole damn thing and switch it out for a new one.  Under those circumstances, the blinker situation didn’t seem all that bad.

But as mentioned previously, our biggest issue was fear of U-Haul theft. I think any rational person would share that concern if they had all their personal belongings in one tin-shed-on-wheels.  And if Neal and I have a motto for travel, real estate, or life in general, it’s this: Trust No One. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 2: West Des Moines, IA to Rapid City, SD

On July 21, exactly one week after getting married, my new husband and I departed on a road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan to our new home: Seattle, Washington. This is my road trip diary.

Day 2
West Des Moines to Rapid City

Day 2 was the longest and most strenuous of our planned drives.  We hit the road around 7 AM again, on Central Time now.  We didn’t eat a real breakfast and hadn’t had a real meal—save for dinner—the previous day, so it seemed like a good idea to stop for lunch.  At an Arby’s somewhere in South Dakota, we encountered one of those pretty Midwestern girls Kerouac must have been talking about.  She wore a cowboy hat on top of her long wavy hair; she couldn’t have been more than 18.  She studied me as we gave her our orders, and when she crossed the counter to tidy up the dining room, she commented on my shoes.  “My sister would kill for a pair of those,” she said, “she wants the sparkly ones.”  She continued moving around the dining room, chatting warmly with the patrons.  She teased an older couple, good-naturedly, saying, “Watch out, I bite!” to something the gentleman said.  He asked her if she had a horse; she replied she just dressed like she did.

We were careful to fill up before hitting the Badlands.  We were on 90 now, Neal having taken 29 up at some point along the way while I was sleeping.  I imagined the Badlands to be an empty gray desert, with perhaps a bleached steer skull posed artfully in the sand just off the highway.  If I had ever seen pictures of the Badlands before, I had clearly forgotten them.  I was at the wheel.  In order to see the Badlands, we’d have to exit 90 and take a slight detour, which would eventually deposit us back on the Interstate, near the town of Wall (more on that later).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 1: Ann Arbor, MI to West Des Moines, IA

On July 21, exactly one week after getting married, my new husband and I departed on a road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan to our new home: Seattle, Washington. This is my road trip diary.

Day 1
Ann Arbor to West Des Moines

The trip actually began the night before we left (Day Zero), with the acts of filling up then hooking up a U-Haul trailer—yes, in that order.  Which means that once the trailer was full of dozens of boxes (it looked like we had robbed a Crate and Barrel; spoils from our recent wedding), a coffee table, another table, and a TV stand, we proceeded to lock up the trailer, and begun the process of turning it 180 degrees.  We both grabbed the tongue (that bit that connects the trailer to the hitch), and on a count of three, lifted and turned the vehicle as far as we could.  It took about four or five attempts.  It was a good workout; both of us had sore lower backs the next day.

Day 1 dawned hot and sunny.  We left around 7:00 AM, Neal at the wheel, and me sleeping sitting up in the passenger seat—fitfully—for about four hours.  I didn’t miss much; I’ve driven that stretch of I-94 quite often, though this time we bypassed Chicago and thus its traffic.  Our route, to I-80 and points west, took us to Iowa.  There is not much I can say about Iowa; it looked like much of the rest of the Midwest, perhaps with more corn.  We began listening to our audiobook, On the Road, which Neal had read part of before losing his copy in Europe, and which I had not read at all.  Kerouac—or rather, the voice of John Ventimiglia, best known as Artie Bucco from The Sopranos, who was narrating the audiobook—said the prettiest girls of all lived in Iowa.  I did not see enough of them to make a judgment either way.

The Marriott hotel where we stayed was updated and trying to be trendy, at least on the inside.  Behind the reception desk hung artful photographs of corn stalks.  Metal-etched cornstalks grew on the dining room’s walls where we ate a lazy meal.  (Lazy, because we didn’t care to leave the hotel, and explore all that West Des Moines had to offer.)  We were one of only two couples at the restaurant.  The other pair spent much of their meal cozying up to each other, and kissing—loudly, wetly—in the half-privacy of their booth.  (Meaning, we could not see them from the neck down, thank goodness.)  Later, in the room, I joked that those two obviously weren’t married.  Neal made a face at me.  

We had been married one week.

From Michigan... Iowa

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Brisket Bender, or Too Much of a Well-Smoked Thing

My love affair with barbecue started late. I grew up in Michigan, not exactly the land of smoked meats, and spent seven of my formative years as a vegetarian.

It will seem blasphemous to residents of Texas, Memphis, and North Carolina to read what I am about to write, but it is true: I first gained a taste for barbecue in New York City. It may not be the birthplace of barbecue, sure, but New Yorkers have the will and the resources to bring pretty much anything worth eating—and the chefs who make it—to their metropolis. (And it doesn't stop at food either. I learned to surf in New York City. Yes, really surf. And I'm sure you could learn to tango from an actual Argentinian, and how to sumo wrestle from a master if you wished.)

I first tasted BBQ at a place where one of my publishing colleagues worked part time. (It's debatable which job paid better.) They served all the guilt-inducing sides, from cornbread to fried green tomatoes, and the meat was unlike anything I'd tasted. They smoked it overnight, and when it ran out, it ran out. Brisket was the first to go—which was okay, because I didn't know what brisket was anyway. (I hadn't been exposed to Jewish cuisine either; my family pronounced the “r” and "l" in yarmulke.) That first trip I probably had chicken, maybe some pork—we all shared. I came home raving about the food, wanting to taste it again soon. There was something in that smoky flavor, like a drug, that kept me wanting more.

Monday, July 25, 2011

This is a story in which no animal dies.

This is a story in which no animal dies.
A child does not stone a kitten, to demonstrate the casual cruelty of youth.
No one takes an axe to an injured deer by the side of a road, to make a point about euthanasia.
A man is not forced to watch as his master drowns his beloved dog, in order the show the evil, the inhumanity, of slaveholding.
A small bird does not die in the jaws of a predator, whereby expressing the wildness and unsentimentality of nature.
In this story, a family of rabbits will not be crushed by a bulldozer in a commentary on the shortsightedness and destructive power of human progress.
Horses will not be shot, whether they are lame, sick, or overworked by a cruel master.
A sack of puppies or kittens most certainly won't be tossed from a car window, or drowned in a river, in order to show a character's disregard for life and other creatures'  suffering.
Circus and zoo animals will not be shot or starved in order to show the depravation of a war, or a depression, or some other disaster.
In other words, in this story, the family pet will not be left to fend for itself when Hurricane [fill in the blank] hits.
No, this story will not contain any manner of canine, feline, equine, avian, et al, abuse, neglect, or mortality.
As a result, it will not win any prizes, nor will it be published in any preeminent literary publications.  No editor will hail this story as edgy, raw, or real.  It will not become a piece of classic children's literature, because it lacks the tearjerking scene of a boy losing his beloved hounds.
And why should this story, or rather, this author, be so adamantly against the fictive deaths of fictive creatures?  Shouldn't said creatures instead be lauded for their contributions to fiction?
And so the scene shifts to an awards ceremony--and certainly there would be a large enough pool from which to cull the nominees--that honors animal deaths in fiction.  Even there, however, the long-suffering beasts would be the first to be forgotten.  The writers would accept awards based on the grittiness of the scene, how the violence propelled the plot, and what it revealed about the character who perpetrated the malevolent act.  Kudos would be given for best supporting adjectives--the gruesomer, the better--and achievement in editing.  Because sometimes the best (or worst?) violence is the kind that the reader can extrapolate for himself.  And so the fictive animals would be neglected once more, fading from the awards auditorium--if they were even allowed in in the first place--and into the background.  They were useful only at the height of their suffering and the moment of their demise, but beyond that they were no longer required.
Until someone bursts on stage--perhaps while Sarah McLachlan sings her sad song while sad video images of sad furry paws reach out to the audience from behind the bars of a cage--and declares a stop to it all.  Calls all this fictive animal suffering excessive, cliched, overdone.  Deems all the nominees hacks for resorting to such a common trope.  And when the cry rises up from the audience, "Well, what shall we do instead?" the auditorium will go silent, waiting.
And the agitator will say, "Why not just mess with the human characters?  It's their kind you're indicting anyway, in the end."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Buying Tequila at a Texas Liquor Store: A play in one act

N* and I were at a liquor store here in Texas, buying supplies for margaritas.  As we were checking out, the cashier asked us what tequilas we liked, so we told him.  

"So what do you drink?" N asked in return.

"Well," he said, "I like Milagro, and 1800, and [blank], the one over there that comes in a bottle shaped like Texas."  

We nodded; he continued, "I used to drink Patrón. But I don't anymore," he paused as he put our purchases in a bag.  "Do you know," he said, "who owns Patrón now?" 

"No," we said, shaking our heads.

"Paul Mitchell. The hair guy." 

...and scene.  The moral of the story: real men don't buy tequila from men who sell hair products.

*My fiance/life partner/father of my cat objected to being called the "Big F," a nickname I experimented with in a previous post.  He suggested instead, "The Voice of Reason."  I've decided to just stick with his first initial from here on out.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I Quit. Or, it Sucks to Suck.

Growing up, I did well in school, but outside of academia I was a mess.  I danced for a handful of years, dabbling in jazz, acro, and ballet.  All that remains of those years--as my friends who've seen me on the dance floor can attest--are a few snapshots of me in overwrought costumes and garish pancake makeup.  I took up horseback riding for a year or two, played basketball for two seasons, made two attempts at track, and survived one year of cross country.  And if there is a common thread among all these activities, it was that I sucked at all of them.

During horse camp, I was given Buddy, one of the most seasoned and calm horses they had.  During an exercise in the indoor ring, he bolted, and I clung on for dear life.  One of the adults stopped us before we made it outside.  When playing rec basketball, it took me almost a whole season to make my first bucket during a game, an occasion so momentous that my coach (also my best friend's dad) leapt up from the bench and hugged me.  Track was forgettable, and cross country became a months-long mind-fuck.  We pounded the pavement day in and day out--no cross-training--and it got to the point where I couldn't distinguish between what was just soreness and what was an actual injury.  I sat out a few races, and placed in the bottom in others.  Running is not a contact sport, yet I still managed to sustain a head injury.  During our summer camp, I collided with two of the members of the boys' team while playing ultimate frisbee, landing on my head and neck (or one or the other--I don't remember because I blacked out for about a minute).    My coach was pretty concerned; the boys' coach, who pretty much thought I was a waste of space, berated me for skipping the next run over a "pinched nerve."

So yes, I was terrible at all these things.  But the other common thread among those pursuits was that they didn't last very long; I never gave myself enough time to be un-terrible.  I was a quitter; I probably knew it then, and I definitely know it now.  It's a big regret; what if I had stuck with one of those activities for the long haul?  Maybe I would have improved, earned my varsity letter, earned a medal other than "Participation."  But in the back of mind, I can't help thinking that I still would have sucked at whichever pursuit I chose, no matter what.

I've written extensively about CrossFit in the past, what it is, and why I do it.  Since writing those posts, I've changed gyms--twice.  I started at CF Pittsburgh in the fall, and have been coming to CF Central while I'm here in Austin.  In total, I've been doing this thing for two years and--surprise--I still suck.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Jury Experience, or, Why I Can't be Outraged by the Casey Anthony Verdict

When I checked facebook and twitter this afternoon, everyone was abuzz about the Casey Anthony verdict. Some were cracking jokes (um, too soon?) but most were indignant, espousing variations of, "How is this possible?" and "It's unbelievable!"

I haven't followed the case very closely, though I will admit to clicking on a few of the more sensational headlines.  Shockingly--or perhaps not so much--many of these stories appeared on "entertainment" sites like  However, I'm not intending to write about the murder-trial-as-entertainment issue, as that's been covered frequently elsewhere, and by people with more experience and credibility in that arena.  All I will say is that if Nancy Grace is covering it, I probably want to stay far, far away.

Rather, hearing about the verdict and reading the subsequent reactions remind me of my time as a juror on an attempted murder trial--an experience I haven't felt comfortable documenting publicly until now.

To set the scene: it was my first time being called to jury duty: one of those natural rites of passage that everyone complains about.  Anytime someone I knew--family, friends, co-workers--got called for jury duty, their immediate response (at least, the first one they expressed) was either one of, "I hope I don't get picked" or, "I'm going to try and get out of it."

Now, in most cases, I am a play-by-the-rules kind of gal, as I know many of them are in place for a reason.  For example, I always power down my electronics on airplanes when told.  (I freak out when I see others using their cell phones during takeoff and landing; I have to restrain myself from screaming, "DEAR GOD, DO YOU WANT US ALL TO DIE IN A FIERY CRASH, YOU ASSHOLE?  TURN THAT PHONE OFF NOW!")  Perhaps the term I'm looking for is socially responsible--like, the reason I follow traffic laws is not simply because it's "the law" or I don't want a ticket, but because I don't want to run over someone's Gran while she's on her way to church.  So when I got picked for jury duty, I felt the same sort of responsibility.  I resolved to be honest, to not actively try to get out of it, because it was the right thing to do.  I thought, well, if I were ever put on trial, I would want someone like me to be on the jury.  It's a terrifying thought that you might be wrongfully accused, and then convicted, of a crime because you didn't get a fair trial.  (Though, let's face it, the odds of me, a white, middle-class female, being accused of a felony are pretty slim.)

Suffice it to say, I went in there, answered honestly, and was picked.  Apparently I'm not the only person who'd want a middle-class white female on their jury.

My juror experience was fascinating and, at times, terrifying.  The defendant was accused of shooting a man in broad daylight over a silly argument.  At the outset, we were told that there were witnesses, including the victim himself, and that we'd be hearing from them.  We were also told there was no forensic evidence, that this wasn't like CSI or other TV shows; this was reality, and we'd simply have to use our best judgement, based on testimony, to come to a verdict.  That was slightly disheartening--who wouldn't want "scientific" evidence?--but it seemed reasonable enough.  This wouldn't be so bad.  I was completely unprepared for what followed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Writing: Ur Doin it Wrong

Lately I've been using the hash tag #lifelessons on twitter*, which is a term that I use to highlight things I learn after doing something dumb.  Like, how to use the soap sprayer at the do-it-yourself car wash without getting hit in the face; or, if you take apart the vacuum cleaner to clean the filters, you should remember how it all fits together.  I've been doing a lot of these "dumb" or mundane things recently because I am currently without a job.  School's out for the summer--cue song--and I chose to come to Austin with the fiance and work on my novel while he goes to his real job and gets paid real money.  It sometimes gets a little awkward when people ask what I'm doing here (not to mention where I'm from--see earlier post), and I've even had one person refer to my role as the "trophy fiancee."  Har har.  I decided to take that one as a misguided compliment.

Of course I do tell people that I'm here working on my book (or "my novel," or "my writing," depending on my mood) which inevitably makes me feel like a fraud.  I'm not lying; I am working on something that I hope will become a novel...someday.  But the state of "being a writer" seems like such a lofty concept that I'm never sure if I'm embodying it now, or if I ever will.

It's a topic that often comes up among my peers and in my writing workshops.  One of my professors (a "real" writer, she has two books that one can actually purchase from booksellers) is fond of saying that the writing process is like masturbation--everyone does it, but no one wants to talk about it.  In other words, it's highly personal.  You'll sometimes see depictions of writers in movies or on television: set to a manic score, a solitary person (usually male), pounds out words on a typewriter (more dramatic, more tactile than a computer), balls up papers and throws them into the trash, and then....montage over, writer magically delivers bound manuscript to agent/publisher.

The problem with these romanticized visions, and the highly personal and individualized nature of the writing process, is that when I'm working toward that finished product, I'm constantly thinking: am I doing it wrong?

Hence the reason for feeling fraudulent, and for being annoyed, and then evasive, when people ask, "How's it going?"  "What's your book about?"  "How much is written?"