Vindication blog

Last night at 10pm I arrived home from work, checked email and was startled by the following comment posted to Ronckytonk:

"anonymous: the kid was funny. you know what isn't funny? when you forget your so-called best friend's birthday. yeah, not funny. guess fucking who?"

I began guessing fucking who by wondering who could call herself my so-called best friend and who had had a birthday recently. The obvious answer was Sunny, who celebrated 31 years of life on February 21. I called Sunny's house and cell and left a voice message:

"Bunny. This is your so-called best friend Jessica calling about your so-called birthd...I mean, your real birthday. Did you leave a mean comment on Ronckytonk? I'm confused. I didn't forget your birthday. (Here my voice weakens and trails off) And I'm obviously distraught. Call me back."

NOTE: I am disreputable when it comes to birthdays. I do not excel at either remembering or celebrating. I forgot my own 24th birthday and only realized so midday when I crossed a national border and had to fill out the date on a migration form. Sunny's birthday, however, is one that I always remember because I've known Sunny since we were babies and Feb 21 is seared into my brain along with dates associated with immediate family members.

Sunny calls me back and admits that she is the anonymously pissed off birthday commenter. I remind her that I had a half-hour-long conversation with her on Tuesday, February 21 while I was on the patio of Q Bar having a vodka tonic with Bova and Rem. I remind her that she was about to go have steak dinner with her husband and friends in Chicago.

I remind her that we laughed about about the fact that on February 21, 2005 she was in a swank Las Vegas lounge and that friends kept showing up from different cities, one by one, to surprise her by being in Las Vegas too. Each time another friend appeared, she hollered and jumped over the barrier separating the lounge from the casino and flung herself on us, wrapping her legs around our waists like a little monkey.

As I'm saying all of this, Sunny starts having flashbacks. I ask her if she was drunk on the afternoon of February 21, the afternoon that we spoke on the phone.

"Yes," she admits.

"What time did you start drinking?" I ask.

"As soon as I got home from school."

"I thought you and Shane don't like drinking," I say.

"We don't. We decided again that we hate it."

"UM-HM," I say.

As we continued to talk and I continued to suggest that she needs to put the bottle down and think about what she was saying, Sunny observed that my voice was dripping with vindication, guessed that a retaliation blog might happen, and called me haterblogger.

Sunny, I think it's great that you were wasted on the afternoon of your birthday. And I don't think that when my mom reads this she'll think that you have a problem or call your mom to talk about an intervention. And if we do have an intervention I'm bringing a flask.


Ten Commandments: reflections from a hair salon

I had no idea that getting my hair cut this weekend would make me think about the Ten Commandments. I showed up for my appointment, met Natalie the stylist, and showed her the multimedia presentation I had prepared on my laptop regarding the kind of hair I do and do not want sprouting off my head. This is how I approach haircuts since September, when a New York hairdresser listened to me explain what I wanted, nodded, and then did the opposite, leaving me with a bowlcut not unlike the one I had in sixth grade.

Any perspective will reveal that a bowlcut shouldn't be that big of a deal but several people could testify that my immediate reaction was a fantasy involving the Anarchist Cookbook, a hardware store, a pipe bomb, and doing something DEFINITELY prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Natalie and I quickly struck up the sort of salon intimacy that usually makes me feel phony. For some reason, though, this time I yakked away with fluidity. 

While Natalie washed my hair, we talked about Columbus and how I like living here. She asked where I lived in New York and I told her: the East Village and the Bronx. She also asked about Cincinnati. The client before me had also been from Cincinnati and told Natalie that there isn't much racism there. Ahem. I'm thinking that this client has either not spent much time outside her secluded monochromatic enclave in the last ten years or she had recently been cured of deaf-blindness, realized her hair looked like ass, and that's how she ended up in Natalie's chair that morning blabbing about how progressive Cincinnati is.

For 18 years I lived in the pleasant and mostly-white suburb of Hyde Park and for a year after that I lived downtown in historic and mostly-black neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine. I told Natalie it's a pretty segregated city and that race relations can be tense. She asked what Columbus neighborhood I live in and I told her Old Towne East.

"How are your neighbors?" Natalie wondered.

"Um....I don't know. I don't know any of my neighbors."

We moved on from the subject and by the time I left the salon I felt light and bouncy and pranced down the sidewalk pretending not to secretly check out my new reflection in the storefronts. But there's one thing that will almost surely alter this sort of glib and self-absorbed mood and that is PIRG canvassers. I encountered one within a few blocks of the salon. A kid from the citizen organization Public Interest Research Group was standing down the street and I know he gripped his clipboard a little tighter when he saw me coming. No amount of eye-averting or false distraction on my part was going to keep him from posing whatever thorny question he felt obliged to ask.

The Village Voice calls these goodhearted civic-minded workers charity muggers. In New York there were charity muggers outside my work who would ask me, "Do you have a moment to help save the children of the world?" Except for the time I stopped to give one my parents' address since they actually do reserve lots of moments for saving the children of the world, I would say "No, I don't" without stopping. Which, GOOD LORD, sounds callous in writing.

I'd think, "Don't you all know you are on Fifth Avenue where stopping could result in injury?"

And that I believe is where the callousness stemmed from. Leaving work in New York was a uniquely bad time to be asked to stop, at least for me. I was usually in a rush or my mind was busy emptying out what I'd just done for the workday and filling up with what I wanted to personally achieve in the hours I still had before sleep. Right or wrong, in those moments I was self-absorbed and not focused on world issues. I'd also imagine myself stopping to explain to them that I, too, worked for a non-profit organization and was underpaid because my publishing company struggled financially, that I simply could not spare a donation right then. I'd wrestle briefly with my conscience and continue rushing to the 6 train.

Saturday's canvasser in Columbus wore a huge button on his coat emblazoned with a graphic of the Great Lakes. I smiled as I got closer and maintained eye contact while he politely inquired, "Excuse me, can you spare a minute to help Lake Erie?" I smiled ruefully and said, "No, sorry."

"Have a nice day!" He said as I passed.

"Thank you," I said over my should and then proceeded to wonder who I had apologized to. I decided I apologized to Lake Erie as well as to the children of the world who have been saved enough to inherit the earth and the dismal shape it's in. A fog settled into me and sunk fully into place while watching the local news in the living room. The Columbus news loves crime and seriously won't shut up for five minutes about all the horrible stuff happening locally, some of which takes place in my neighborhood.

In Old Towne East, stately stained glass windowed houses share corners with decrepit lots. It is a community in transition, which I believe means that of the neighborhood's residents, there's a wide range of both money in people's pockets and melatonin in people's skin. The first month I lived here I walked home at night a lot. I sensed that maybe it wasn't the BEST idea in the world and stopped listening to my iPod so as to be more alert. Bova told me to stop but I did it few more times until someone else told me stories involving kidnapping and an attempted break in: exhibits A and B of why my mother doesn't mind my having borrowed her car for weeks on end.

In New York there are hundreds of people around at any hour, day or night. There's so much going on and so many things to look at that "Oh, a crackwhore" is instantly followed by "That woman has her dog in her handbag" and "I think I'll buy a falafel sandwich." This is not so in smaller cities. I was dogsitting this weekend and while walking the dog yesterday I remembered my conversation with Natalie about my neighbors and I thought of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments get shuffled around and mean different things depending on whether you are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim and I'm certainly not literal enough to want to love all my neighbors just yet, but I would go out of my way not to bear false witness or covet their houses, wives, manservants, maidservants, oxen, and asses.

I'd actually prefer to just be friendly with them. I exchanged several "How's it going?"s and laughed when a kid on the street asked the dog's name.

"Her name's Karma," I told him.

"I better not pet her, she'll come back to get me."

Good one, kid. You're awesome.

I don't think that a universal code of conduct that may have been given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai is necessarily going to do anything about the people who really would like to do all that coveting, much the less the graver thou shalt nots of bodily harm as seen on the Columbus nightly news, but you gotta start somewhere. And maybe that's where the canvassers do come in.


Conjugating Hasselhoff

Upon checking email yesterday I was happy to see a message from Marisa Diaz but also afraid. She titled it ALL I HAVE TO SAY IS...THE HOFF IS BACK!! which I knew meant one thing. I was about to get Hasselhoffed.

The photo that Marisa sent me features a nude David Hasselhoff reclining with wrinkly Shar-pei puppies. One puppy sits between the Hasselhoff legs and, presumably, atop the Hasselhoff balls. Its paw rests on Hasselhoff chest fluff. The other puppy, the luckier and less-molested puppy, is on the ground, cradled by the Hasselhoff hand.

I tried to upload this photo to Ronckytonk at least 15 times and it simply would not comply, which I think is a powerful statement in and of itself. I don't think the universe wants people to see the photo. Too bad all it made me want to do was BEAT THE UNIVERSE. I was able to locate the photo elsewhere, but only in three separate pieces: Hasselhoff head and torso, Hasselhoff legs, and Hasselhoff feet.

There are two distinct times in my life when I've paid attention to David Hasselhoff.

Once was when I was nine years old and befriended by a 13-year-old up the street who had a thing for Hasselhoff. I wanted to be like her since she was so old so I immediately developed a Hasselhoff crush and the same crushy symptoms she exhibited: watching Knight Rider and reading Teen Beat magazine.

My condition peaked when I sent Hoff a letter telling him that my favorite vacation spot was also Florence, Italy. This excruciating and escalating behavior ended the day the girl got mad at me, called me a baby, said the F-word, and WHACKED ME ON THE SIDE OF THE HEAD. I walked home crying, told my mom, and we both agreed that she wasn't a good person to be friends with.

The other time was about six months ago when Marisa enlisted my help in a plot to anonymously decorate twenty-four bunks on two tour buses with this photo and caption: "Forever in your dreams! Love, David Hasselhoff".

Marisa got the photo from a Hasselhoff calendar and we flipped through the months when none of the bunk victims were around. Her favorite month was January, whereas I found it most difficult not to pee my pants over May. We thought Hasselhoff made a fine verb and practiced saying indignantly, "Dude! Did you Hasselhoff our bus?!" in order to deflect any blame that might rightfully head our way.

As for our assuming that "Hasselhoff" was being underutilized as mere proper noun, I discovered today how very wrong, how very, very wrong we were. We were WRONG. I found more Hasselhoff websites while searching for that goddamn shar-pei photo than I ever dreamed existed. A part of me feels dirty for even writing this entry because in some way I may be encouraging Hoff mania.

People partake in the Hoff Project interactive Hoffpedia, find Hoffalikes and Hoffalaneous information, and on sites from the ground zero of Hasselhoff's musical fan base - Germany - they "schicke David eine Mittellung" or send David a message. I'm willing to bet that Hoff's vacation spot is no longer Florence, Italy. It is Munich. In fact, I read that Hasselhoff said he doesn't mind that Americans make fun of his popularity in Germany and says he feels it is his second homeland.

"Many Americans joke about my popularity in Germany. But they have no idea how beautiful Europe is and how rich it is in culture and fun and warmth and children. In Germany children have brought me thousands of flowers."

Somehow I think that Hoff missed the point there.

I was getting more and more uncomfortable researching Hasselhoff and not just because I was doing so in public. I was learning too much. I started to feel that my beating the universe was like disrespecting an elder who had only wanted to protect me, who didn't want me to have to learn a lesson that could be painful.


BP cashier lady

Two nights ago, while putting away dishes, I broke Michael Bova's glass coffeepot. Bova came to the kitchen to make sure I wasn't sliced up by the glass he heard exploding in several directions and we decided that since we no longer had a coffeepot, we'd go into the ZenGenius office early the next morning to get hopped up on their coffee.

My next morning started an hour and a half earlier than Bova's. By the time he woke up I was laying fully clothed and wild-eyed on the sofa feeling so anxious that I was considering filtering boiling water and coffee grounds though one of my socks, regardless of the fact that the other time I tried that, over a camping stove on an Ecuadorian sidewalk, it did NOT work well.

"Good Morning," Bova said.


'"Oh no," Bova suddenly remembered. "Coffee!"

"I know," I said. "I made a cup of ginger tea and was like, 'What's the point of THAT?'"

"I'll pay you if you go get us coffee at BP," Bova said.

"I thought we were going in early to the office."

"But," he replied, "I have things to do first. Shower. Get dressed. Lots of things."

I sprung up off the couch, whipped down the street in the car and bought two 24-ounce cups of the darkest blend BP offers. We didn't buy a new coffeemaker yesterday so this morning I awoke to the same appalling coffee-free kitchen. This morning, though, I didn't waste time with ginger tea - TEA IS FOR NIGHTTIME OR AT THE VERY LEAST AFTER NOON - and I didn't waste time getting dressed or putting in my contacts. Me and my sweatpants and glasses drove on down to BP again and fumbled around with the 24-ounce lid and waited in line for the cashier lady to ring me up.

The man in front of me had a lot to say to the cashier lady but I didn't catch a lick of it because he was a mumbler. Whatever he was pleading, however, was not going over well with the cashier lady because she stopped and looked at him with the stoniest stare I have seen in a long time and said one word. 


She did not even BOTHER to say "you". She fixed him with a glare of such utter severity that he froze. I had to fight the urge to clench my teeth and whisper, without moving my lips, over his shoulder, "Dude, run."

But the moment passed. He slunk away and the cashier lady smiled at me and said to have a nice day, honey, and was an absolute doll. And I just kept thinking all the way home that that lady has got it under control. And if anyone tries to mess with me today I am going to use her one-word stare otherwise I'm just going to be really nice.


For those who are telling me to get out of the Midwest

I have, in the last weeks, been told to get out of the Midwest more times than I can count. This friendly counsel is sometimes accompanied by discomfort when my thoughts get mathematical, scientific, or philosophical but sometimes it just seems like kind of a conventional thing to say, almost a reflex, "Bye. Love you too. Get out of the Midwest."

Dear friends: I thought ALL KINDS of random-ass sometimes-serious nonsense before I moved to Ohio. Y'all just didn't know as much because I wasn't publicly exposing myself on a blog like I am now. It used to be a secret between me and my pens and paper. I'd write in my journal and then shove it back in my backpack where my thoughts would lurk silently in the dark. I'm not going to deny that sometimes it's some fucked up shit, but it's not NEW. I get obsessed with digressions and have, in the past, woken up at stupid non-daylight hours to research the digressions because sometimes I just couldn't sleep when there were species of Costa Rican flora and fauna that I couldn't identify and cartoon superheroes whose powers I wasn't familiar with.

I have an incorrigible fondness for cussing, drinking, and having fun with people. I also adore getting enough sleep, learning big words, and being by myself. So whatever you are used to me being like is probably balanced at some point by my being exactly the opposite. In any case, Ohio is not to blame.
I am more focused and happier now than I have been in awhile so be happy for me, Midwest-haters. Ohio is not glamorous but neither is it forever and right now it is WORKING FOR ME. So when are you going to quit being a snob and come visit?


Rocky Ripple, Indiana

This weekend I took advantage of the car I stole from my mom three weeks ago and visited Ali Schumacher and her husband, Sam, in Rocky Ripple, Indiana.

Rocky Ripple could easily be mistaken for Indianapolis since it's just 700ish people smack in the middle of Naptown and doesn't have a town center or anything like that, only cute wooden Rocky Ripple signs and prideful Rocky Ripple bumperstickers.

Ali and I have been friends since we were both LADY EAGLES - runners on our high school track team - and we share the ridiculous habit of laughing at just about anything when we are within spitting distance of each other.

I can't tell you how many people we've annoyed with this behavior. I was sniggering and wiping tears from my eyes with one hand while the other hand hadn't even set down my baggage in the kitchen. Sam has had minimal exposure to us but was prepared and simply smiled calmly and leaned against the kitchen wall with his arms crossed.

I learned a lot this weekend. I learned that Rocky Ripple has a land area of 0.3 square miles and that it has one government employee, Marshal Mike, who lurks around and busts people for rolling through stop signs. I learned that Ali sometimes eats cherry pie for breakfast and lunch and I learned that the Traderspoint Creamery encourages people to stop by and hang out with their cows.

The Traderspoint Creamery has a farmer's market in a heated barn and I was happy to go on Saturday because I've liked the idea of heated barns ever since my first-year roommate in Minnesota showed me photos of her high school parties in Jamestown, North Dakota, ALL OF WHICH were keggers taking place in heated barns.

This barn offered much more than bad beer and a possibility of making out. This barn was full of wholesome goodness: greens, bread, honey, tea, coffee, two people playing banjos, and every pure, fresh, non-homogenized dairy product you can think of, including, of course, cheese. A lot of cheese.

The owners of the Traderspoint Creamery believe in 'nourishing the land that nourishes us all' and I can tell you that I felt nourished just standing around there, though if I were I lactose intolerant I would have felt very nervous.

There is one other thing I learned this weekend. Ali and I were lounging in the living room, drinking red wine out of giant chalices and having a profoundly tangential conversation, and I said something that made her say, 'That makes me think of the word rhombus.'

'What's a rhombus?' I asked.

Ali put down her chalice and made a rectangular shape out of her hands and then tilted it to the side.

I persisted, 'So then what's a parallelogram?'

And here we noticed that we were acting CONSPICUOUSLY nerdy and laughed hard enough to forget the question.

A parallelogram is a quadrilateral with opposite sides parallel. A quadrilateral with equal sides is called a rhombus, and a parallelogram whose angles are all right angles is called a rectangle.


Tee to the MF hee

I sent an email to Anne DiNardo about something funny and named the email TEE TO THE MF HEE. Not too long after I got an email from her husband, Nick. Anne had forwarded my email to him with the request, "Translate this subject line for me please."

Nick replied, "Translation: very funny. I'm laughing ("tee . . .hee") very hard; "mf", abbr., usually considered vulgar, references the climax (as it were) of the story of Oedipus Rex; "to the", slang from the mathematical x 'to the' nth power, hence an exponential increase, i.e. "very". This is the way that the kids are talking these days."

Now I'm going to pretend that when Nick refers to "kids" he doesn't mean me since I'm only three years his junior and that he means kids more like the one he has with Anne. And as such, I resolved that as soon as Miles DiNardo is old enough for phrases, Auntie Ronckytonk is going to step in and teach him to slang it up.

"Tee to the motherfucking hee, mama."


Even I think 10am is too early to start drinking

This morning while I was standing on the sidewalk, a Ford pickup truck pulled up. A man with a foam front baseball cap, wild mop of hair, and long straggly beard leaned toward the open window between us.

"I'm lost," the man said. "Can you point me in the direction of a bar?"

I made a quick stereotypical assessment that the gay bar 100 feet from where I was standing probably wasn't what he was looking for and replied, "Do you know how to get to High Street?"

"High Street...that sounds like my kind of street..."

"Yeah," I said. "Take a right on Spring, go a few blocks and take another right on High. There's lots of bars."

"D'ya wanna go?" He asks.



Hippie van

Today Michael Bova had a long day which culminated in his getting pulled over for speeding by three police cruisers and a helicopter, spotlight fixed squarely on the hood of the Eurovan. When he asked the officer why driving 43 mph in a 25 mph zone called for quite so much backup, he was informed that the police squad is enforcing a speeding initiative in the cracked out part of town. A few speeding violations each night will also involve drug possession and stolen vehicles.

Incidentally, the officer was exceedingly friendly to Bova and suggested that he contest the ticket. Bova's subsequent conversation with his mother regarding the incident and the cop's helpful attitude follows.

"I guess he was happy to only have to deal with a polite fag in a hippie van."

"I wish you wouldn't say that," Bova's mom replied.

"What? Hippie van?"

SPOTLIGHT: Miguel Lone

I met Miguel in 1997 in Quito, Ecuador.

It was my last year of college and I spent it, as they say, studying abroad. I quickly banded together with three girls at my school in Quito - two of whom also went to my school back in Washington State, the Evergreen State College - and I knew Miguel by name only for several weeks.

He told me later that he dismissed us as the "Evergreen Crew" and unfairly assumed that we were a no-good group of pot-smoking hippies who spent all of our free time making daisy chains and talking about Native American history. Despite all this we became friends on a field trip and soon thereafter, back in the city, Miguel started tagging along and asking us what we were doing after school.

While I was feeling fairly unconcerned about what to do with an impending degree in LIBERAL ARTS - Nothing else on my degree, just Liberal Arts - Miguel was shitting himself about how to use a B.A. in Geography from the University of Washington. In Seattle he worked as a Starbucks barista and thought maybe he could get into the international coffee trade. Miguel took a pound of Starbucks Blend to Mitad del Mundo, where a bright yellow line is painted on the ground showing where you can stand with a foot in each hemisphere, the equator directly below your crotch. He placed himself on the equator, held the coffee close to his heart, and had a photo taken which he promptly sent back to Seattle with the note, "Now that's what I call Starbucks International!"

In case that ploy didn't work, we brainstormed on what else he could do and came up with: Lounge singer at the Cloud Room, a bar on the top floor of the Camlin Hotel with 360 degree views of downtown Seattle. Miguel bought a keyboard and found a piano teacher in Quito but his enthusiasm eventually waned.

When I moved to Seattle two years later, I slept in the closet of Miguel's studio and made ham sandwiches at his side every morning before shuffling off to a soul-crushing temporary position with a long-distance telephone service. Miguel kept busy applying the geography degree to his own series of enigmatic fields involving maps, freights, and long, long hours stacking pencils.

Now employed with Atlas Coffee Importers, Miguel has done the enviable: EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED TO IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Miguel has traveled to Central America and Rwanda to meet with farmers and communities about the specialty coffee business. He learns, teaches, "cups", and gets to hike alongside 500-lb Silverback gorillas in the Virunga National Park. Seriously? And when I am in town he brews me the most delicious cups of coffee I've ever tasted.

Thank you, Miguel.


The Closing of the American Mind

ni·hil·ism, n.
(Philos.)-Rejection of all moral or religious values and beliefs.
(Psychiatry) -A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one's mind, body, or self does not exist.


This weekend I am what Allan Bloom called American nihilism: a mood of moodiness, a vague disquiet. Nihilism without the abyss. Please understand that I barely know what I am talking about and that that is part of the condition. I awoke yesterday from a dream about my brother, Neill, being tangled in trapeze lines and dangling at great and dangerous heights and thus sipped my coffee with unease. A few hours later I put my coat on over my pajamas and drove to the CVS Pharmacy where my credit card was declined, indicating to me that my financial situation is, in fact, as pathetic as I secretly knew it was all along.

Back in the living room, I decided I'd stay in my pajamas all day long and poured a vodka and apple cider cocktail, reasoning that it was a brunchable hour (12:30 pm) and that a mimosa or bloody mary would be perfectly acceptable if I were with friends in an outdoor cafe in the East Village. After one satisfying swill, I knew the time had come to start reading The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom.

Jocardo called a few hours later and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was reading and getting confused by Allan Bloom. My hand was cramping from all the sentences I was underlining and how many times I wrote DAMN in the margins. I wanted to read his book because of the second part of the title: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students.

See, I'm critical of academia yet love taking classes. I'm thinking about the philosophy vs. the practical use of higher education and how bullshitty it can get. But I might want to go to grad school. I've had a funny mix of education - Montessori elementary, classics-based college-prep high school, big 10 university, hippies-in-the-woods college - and now I have Allan Bloom.

Allan Bloom studied at the University of Chicago in the 1940's and writes about how students changed between then and the mid-80's and how U.S. culture contributed to these changes. This book is mobbing my brain with contradictions. Mental fistfights are breaking out. I have been reduced to writing DAMN in the margins. I also write exclamation marks next to sentences I find funny. Ex: Mr. Bloom ranting about how rock music is destroying the ability of youth to have truly passionate relationships with art.

Mick Jagger tarting it up on the stage is all that we brought back from the voyage to the underworld.

Come on, that's funny. Of course, I scour his rants and raves for signs of myself.

Am I nice: friendly and as eager as a pup to please but not particularly noble or moral? Do I have heroes? Do I have any clue why history and philosophy might be handy to understand? Do I think the classics need to be thrown out in order to make room for less racist and less sexist and more multiculturally-inclusive texts? Do I think everything is relative? Are there any absolutes?

My confusion is growing because I'm trying to examine why I believe what I believe AND what I thought I believed but maybe am not sure about after all. It is a greatly unsettling exercise in not being defensive and reintroduces today's theme of nihilism as defined by Allan Bloom: Nihilism as a state of the soul is revealed not so much in the lack of firm beliefs but in a chaos of the instincts or passions.

"How in the hell do you understand books like that?" Jocardo asked.

"I just said that I don't understand most of it," I said.

"But at least you're trying..." he replied.

"I'm broken!" I said. "I'm drinking Bud Light at 3pm in my pajamas!"

I had run out of vodka.

Education in our times must try to
find whatever there is in students
that might yearn for completion,
and to reconstruct the learning that
would enable them autonomously
to seek that completion.

- Allan Bloom (1930 - 1992)


The Broken Spoke

I am currently carrying on a borderline love affair with Texas. It entails going to Austin on a regular basis, wearing vintage cowboy boots, and singing along to country songs on the radio without knowing when I learned the words. I also show up wherever the Cornell Hurd Band has a gig.

I first saw the Cornell Hurd Band in August at the Broken Spoke dance hall and was insanely captivated by the band member who rocked a washboard over his considerable belly. I have since found out that they call this a rubboard and this gentleman, Danny Roy Young, also goes by The (unofficial) Mayor of South Austin and LORD OF THE BOARD.

After enough tequila I was talked into taking on the two step dance floor and got a bumpersticker autographed by James M. White, the founder of the Spoke, for my efforts which were sloppy, to say the least.

I revisited the Spoke in October and was surprised to find a tour bus wedged into an outside corner of the building. Evidently there was a miscommunication between the brake and accelerator and someone drove full speed into what was NOT a parking space. I peeked around the bus crash with Jimmy and Jade, hmmed and hawed, and then went inside to guzzle more pitchers of Bud Light.

Now, back in Ohio, I can't stop thinking about fresh jalapeƱos. I'm wearing my silver-toed boots but am seated in a hookah cafe surrounded by old North African men and preppy OSU students blowing strawberry tobacco into fruity clouds around their heads. I wonder what's up at the spiritual home of my boots? Well, I checked the Broken Spoke website and can tell you, straight from their winter newsletter:

"Let me tell y'all 2005 was a full year. I will never forget what happened on that day (Sunday October 2, 2005). I have told this story a jillion times which is more than a million or billion or trillion. I heard a real LOUD crash. There was beer signs and glass crashing and sailing thru the air. Then when the dust settled I saw two head lights and a bumper inside my Texas Dance Hall. I hollered out 'what in the hell is it?' 

We've had tour buses for 40 years, but none of them have driven thru our building. Some people go their whole life without having a tour bus crash into their business or residence. Oh well my Moma told me 'Son it's a rough old world out there, so don't let it get you down'. Someone asked me later 'I didn't know you had a drive thru'."


Two degrees of Mariah Carey

I, too, would wear a mask if I'd partied at Mariah Carey's house last night.

plastic nutsack

All I want from this day is to believe that this man did NOT hang a plastic nutsack from his truck


Her amygdala is, like, HATING on some dolphins

After having lived ten days free of reminders or discussions of irrational fears, I must turn again to this compelling theme.

My fear-free week and a half ended this morning when I was sitting in the living room doing arts and crafts. I grabbed the remote to turn on the television for some background noise but all of my industry and concentration came to a halt when Tyra Banks launched into a tearful explanation of her fear.

Of dolphins.

Tyra, voice quaking, said, "I feel anxiety and I feel panic whenever I think about or talk about dolphins. I'm feeling it right now."

Cut to shot of Tyra talking to staff member at Sea World.

"You're looking at me like I'm crazy..." she said, "I'm trying to stay positive..."

She starts crying.

Tyra puts on a Sea World wetsuit and tries to get in a dolphin pool. The last thing the viewers see before returning to the television studio is Tyra climbing out saying, "I don't want to do this!"

Back in the studio, Tyra cried again and pressed her fingertips to her forehead to regain composure. She admitted that it's humiliating to not only a) Cry over dolphins but to do so b) In public.

She offered herself up for scrutiny, though, since today's show was all about crippling phobias and their inexplicable origins. Like a selfish cur, I instantly felt an overwhelming sense of buoyancy and gaiety. I thought of my all-time favorite photo of Lukas -

- as well as one of my favorite subjects: Neuroscience. Thank you, Tyra, for making this happen.

I stayed tuned long enough to watch the first guest's appearance. This young woman's fear is of pennies. She has no idea why she is terrified of pennies but she can't touch them, doesn't like to see them, and definitely doesn't like it when people tease her by throwing them at her.

She sat on the studio stool looking spooked, shoulders drawn forward, with all the body language of someone about to slip off, "SEE ya..this national television thing was a BAD IDEA." Tyra noted how uncomfortable she appeared and the young woman replied that she was scared Tyra was going to "come out with pennies." Tyra promised her that she wouldn't make her do anything she didn't want to do, but that she did have a idea of how to help.

Tyra produced a super fancy watch that costs $6,000 (600,000 pennies!) and rambled on about how expensive and exclusive it is. Then she announced that the same watch was hidden in a clear plexiglass box, underneath lots of pennies. The girl could have the watch. IF SHE COULD GET TO IT.

Tyra, nicely, did not throw her guest into the penny pit to watch her breakdown. She stood with her and they peered into the box together. A therapist in the audience reminded the girl that pennies are inanimate objects that cannot hurt her. The guest, who looked nonplussed at best, stared down and asked if she could have gloves, which got her some audience laughter. After more chatter and cheerleading, she asked Tyra if she had any clue as to which side the box the watch might be in.

Here I think Tyra grasped that her paralyzed guest might not be able to participate in her gambit without more intervention so Tyra let slip that it was probably in the middle and began digging around in the pennies herself. This inspired the young woman to stick her hand in the box, too, and rake her nails through the coinage long enough to excavate her prize. I wish I were too proud to admit this, but I'm not: I teared a little up at the look on the girl's face when she succeeded.

After wiping my eyes and shaking my head over the fact that my own emotions are so dang ACCESSIBLE, I turned to my greater interest in phobic fear: Where does it come from? What the heck?

According to Rita Carter in her book Mapping the Mind, "The potential for certain fears seems to be hard-wired into the brain, like a faint memory trace of those things that have proved harmful to our species in the distant evolutionary past." Hm. Okay.

For explanation, others may lean towards past-life experiences or signals of traumatic memories that have been ALMOST repressed. One thing is certain. This fear is unconscious and therefore has something to do with your friend and mine, the limbic system.

The limbic system has been with us a long time: since we were mammals and not just reptiles or fish. Along with appetites and urges, emotions are unconsciously generated in the limbic system and fed up to the cortex of the brain, where they become conscious.

The amygdala, specifically, is where fear is registered and generated, where unconscious memories are stored, and where physical reminiscences, like sweaty palms and racing hearts, are produced.

Rita Carter:

"The irrational fear felt may be vague - a think cloud of anxiety - or it may be sudden and intense - a panic attack. If the feeling is provoked by a conscious stimulus, it may show itself as a phobia. Unconscious memories are particularly likely to be formed during stressful events because the hormones and neurotransmitters released at such times make the amygdala more excitable."

If the disturbance is exceedingly severe, it may actually damage another part of the limbic system, the hippocampus, causing the conscious memory of the event or period in someone's life to be fragmented.

Finally, keep in mind that the amygdala functions from birth while other brain parts take years to mature (the reason that we don't remember much before the age of three). Before our long-term conscious memories are up and working, that sneaky amygdala is paying attention to what's going on and taking notes. Some of those emotional memories that we don't remember may be lovely and some? They might be vexing. And only the amygdala may know why.

I didn't see the end of the Tyra show so I don't know if she ended up in the dolphin pool. I can only hope that one day she'll be as happy as Lukas.


Super Sunday

Kyle reminded this morning me that it's Super Bowl Sunday.

He is currently in a parking lot in Shoreline, WA hawking Seahawks gear to football fans, one of whom asked from the inside of an idling car if he sells shirts in XXXXXL, the size of which we agreed would equal a 6-top tablecloth.

On Friday, Sara told me she was going home to Washington State to watch the Super Bowl. I asked her who was playing and was favored with the response, "The Seahawks, dumbass."

I thought it was Carl's job to insult me and my dispassion for professional sports but you go ahead and take a swing too, Sara, it's cool. And Carl, I KNOW the Yankees are from New York. I just didn't realize the World Series was being played 158 blocks north of my apartment. Sorry.

The fact that it is Super Bowl Sunday and the temperature is right around WAY TOO FUCKING COLD in Ohio has prompted me to recall an important institution among the Chicago crew: Super Sunday. This recollection is tinged with nostalgia since I haven't participated in months and that makes me sad.

The ringleaders of Super Sunday know who they are and now you do too: Sunny. Shane. P-nut.

Sunny and Shane's defiance stems from the fact that they throw the Saturday parties which make Super Sunday so necessary. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Saturday night to Super Sunday success. We NEED Shane to find the perfect smoke machine to transform the dining room into a murky throbbing dance floor. And if no one flashes, streaks, or almost falls off the roof, someone hasn't done their job.

P-nut is the first person to call on Sunday and come back over to the house and here he shifts into high gear because he knows what we need and is never so hungover that he can't perform his role as chief repository of Super Sunday rules:

1) Movie. No subtitles. No political and/or human rights themes. No documentaries. No Maria Full of Grace. No Hotel Rwanda. Absolutely nothing French. P-nut will bring over his copy of Superman or we will drive to the theater for anything starring the Wilson brothers. 40-Year-Old Virgin worked well the last time.

2) Beverages. Water Water Water....and Bloody Marys.

3) Food. Ideally burritos.

4) Recap of Saturday night highlights. P-nut really shines throughout this phase because, as noted above, he didn't drink the night before like a freshman girl rushing Kappa Kappa Gamma and so is in a great mood, with a sharp memory. Some might say too sharp.

Variables include lounging around the kitchen, lounging around the TV room, lounging around the living room, wrapping oneself tightly in a blanket, and napping.


The life you were born to live

Joe Baer, my boss at ZenGenius, asked me for my birth date and I told him: 3/16/75! Tracy, who was in the office and sitting at her desk, made a crack about Joe doing numerology and I laughed but Joe walked over with a book in hand.

"This book is amazing. Do you want to read it?"

"Has it changed your life?" I asked.

"Yes it has."

I said I'd take a look. Joe opened it to page 210 and informed me that I am a 32/5. This means, according to Pythagoras and his notion that numbers are the essence of all things, that I may have some issues with freedom and discipline to address if I'm at all interested in understanding my life purpose. No biggie.

I don't usually read books with chicken soup, gypsy, or warrior, especially when teamed with gentle and/or peaceful, in the title and self-help sections of bookstores make me self conscious but I like Joe Baer a lot. His sense of humor is far too wicked to allow him to be the sort of man who has a dream catcher tattooed on his bicep. Dan Millman wrote The Life You Were Born To Live and after seeing his head shot I doubt very much that he has the sort of wit that I get a kick out of but I am here to tell you that he NAILED THE SHIT OUT OF ME with his Pythagorean profiling.

The freedom sought by most 32/5s manifests as a drive to experience and know. Boredom is their personal hell. 5s have such a natural drive and curiosity to know something about almost everything that their energy gets scattered easily.

Dan Millman (peacefully, gently) suggests that 32/5s must reign in renaissance ways by staying with something past the point of boredom. By focusing attention, setting clear priorities and sticking with them., they gain inner freedom through depth, rather than just breadth, of experience. With the balance of discipline and variety, 5s neither indulge their tendencies nor deny them. Damn.


Floral decorations for bananas

Wallace Stevens lived from 1879 until 1955 and wrote a whole lot of poetry while also being a lawyer. Wallace didn't publish until the age of 36 and even then took years-long breaks from the literary public but in his 50s he was gripped with word fever and was OFF THE HOOK for the rest of his life.

William Carlos Williams lived from 1883 until 1963 and was a poet and doctor.

William and Wallace were friends, hung out in New York, and were both part of the American Modernist literature movement which I think means that they were less about old school European forms and more about newer American styles. I do know that they were successful in their respective professions while also managing to be stellar poets.

Books from both men normally sit dusty on my bookshelf but are now in a duffel bag in my parents' boiler room. I dug out the Wallace Stevens book of essays after reading The Middle Mind by Curtis White, who practically creamed his underpants when referring to Stevens' brilliance and cracked the essays on reality, the imagination, and the arts.

These words leaped off the paged: THE PRESSURE OF REALITY, the pressure of an external event or events on the consciousness to the exclusion of any power of contemplation.

It exists for individuals according to the circumstances of their lives or according to the characteristics of their minds...Reality is things as they are. It is a jungle in itself...A possible poet must be a poet capable of resisting or evading the pressure of the reality of this last degree, with the knowledge that the degree of today may become a deadlier degree tomorrow.

This makes me break out in a cold sweat. I immediately want to yank on my hair with one hand and start mixing cocktails with the other. My stomach hollows just as it does in my recurring dreams of having to go on stage without studying my lines and having to pass high school math after skipping class every day. It's not the poet part. It's not even the sinister "deadlier degree tomorrow" part. I just want to be able to contemplate consistently enough to create something.

William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens were businessmen and family men and creative men. The few years I experimented with being a businesswoman in New York found me either slogging home on the verge of tears with just enough energy to pop a movie in before falling asleep or high on to-do list mania concerning the grocery, the gym, and enriching social activities like happy hour.

Several years ago I visited Ali Schumacher in Tucson and she said, "You know, you've been kind of semi-retired since college." Right after laughing and agreeing, I bristled. Am I a bum? I was working in Seattle as a bartender and as an editorial intern at Seal Press. I made enough money and had abundant time to wile away thinking and writing in cafes.

Today I reckoned with the pressure of reality and its time consumption when I realized that I hadn't written in several days due to an event planning job I've been working on, one that involves floral arrangements, plaster busts of historical figures, and an ice sculpture.

I dedicate this entry to "Floral Decorations for Bananas", a poem by Wallace Stevens. 

And deck the bananas in leaves
Plucked from the Carib trees,
Fibrous and dangling down,
Oozing cantankerous gum
Out of their purple maws,
Darting out of their purple craws
Their musky and tingling tongues.