The so-called differences between us

The tour bus rolled up I-5 from Bakersfield, CA to Portland, OR and I lounged in the back thinking about when I lived in this part of the country and drove this highway. So many Pacific Northwesterners complained about California drivers while I spent hours fuming at Seattlites for their infuriating timidity behind the wheel.

At the time, I accused my Seattle roommate, Alli Jones, of both driving my car badly and making sweeping generalizations. I didn't realize my own driving skills would plummet after I went back to bike commuting and that I myself would become so fond of gross exaggeration. Sorry, Alli. It's now hard for me not to make fun of the West Coast when I see, for instance, how informal and surfy the Washington Mutual bank machines sound when they can't give their customers money. I've been a Washington Mutual customer in New York and the machines there say, "Out of Service". End of story. But in Seattle?

"Hey there. I'm so sorry I'm not working right now. Catch you later!"

Or this note left on my bed in our Portland hotel:

"Honey, your bed linens are clean but we conserve water by not changing them every day you're here. That's how we do our part to keep Portland beautiful! p.s. for turn down service, just ask nice."

Like I'm going to call housekeeping back, "Hey sweetie pie, can you please turn down my bed? Because my arms are suddenly paralyzed and I can't do it myself. Muah."

I called Jocardo from my Portland hotel. He lives in Washington Heights and teaches in the Bronx and we talked about the divide and mistrust between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in his school, how people will so often find a difference between themselves and those who are closest to them. This difference matters so greatly to them but maybe not so much to anyone else.

As Jocardo put it, "You know half the world still thinks they're all Mexican."

"Or the west side-east side gap in Cincinnati? There's a big global controversy."

"Or all the jokes Swedes make about Norwegians? You think Kofi Annan's worried about that?"

I told Jocardo about my Norwegian friend in high school, Sofie, who wore a t-shirt illustrated with Norwegian milestones, one of which was the invention of a paperclip. The thought of someone (Johan Vaaler, 1899) having to actually invent the paperclip led us to imagine a world without the clip. Chaos! Papers everywhere!

"Seriously, when was the last time you saw a paperweight? That shit's out of style. It's all about the clip."

Note: During World War II in Norway, buttons with the likeness or initials of the king were banned. In protest people wore paperclips, because the paperclip function was to bind together. This was a protest against the Nazi occupation and wearing a paperclip could have them arrested. This is an example of when regional pride really does make a difference.


Goodbye. Hel-lo.*



*After spending a significant and some might say uncalled for amount of time on the tropical coast of South America, I became virulently opposed to any chill in the air requiring me to wear more than a sarong and briefest of tank tops. In extreme circumstances I put on a blouse.

After that I lived in Seattle and continued to curse northern climates while pining for the south. Then I visited the desert. I was appalled by how scaly and crispy and desiccated I felt after five minutes in Arizona. My ex-best friend - the sun - hurt me no matter how many gallons of water I chugged and layers of 30 spf lotion I applied. It is so hard to just STAY ALIVE in the desert. If you are not a cactus or a javelina or a scorpion, what the heck? I decided that water was very important for location and, even more so, PEOPLE.

So I moved to New York for the people. And then I moved to Chicago for the other people and now believe that no matter how cold it is, if I have water and I have people I like, I'll be good. So while these photos demonstrate some relief at seeing a palm tree outside my window instead of an icicle, I'm really just kidding.


On a journey with a siamese cat and a regular cat

The night before I was to leave Chicago, Shane told me we were going to have a celebration. I didn't know if he meant to celebrate the magical world of High School Musical I was about to enter or the fact that I wouldn't be around for a while to cast him dark looks and make fun of the way he shovels, but I was in.

I was starting to feel bittersweet and conflicted about my sudden departure and it wasn't just the fact that I was uprooting myself almost immediately after I'd told myself to lay down some f'in roots and stay put.

It wasn't just the disruption of the local work I'd found and really like doing. It wasn't just the fact that I wouldn't be able to wear the heavy wool-lined winter boots I'd bought, those which look EXCESSIVELY prepared to stomp down icy sidewalks.

It was the little stuff around the house, the funny stuff mixed in with the everyday moods and schedules and frustrations, that makes living with friends different, and in many ways better, than visiting for a weekend.

For eight weeks, I don't get to see Sunny defile the Reddi-Whip and then try to tell me that it's organic, except for maybe the ingredient "propellant".

I'm not going to hear Shane singing "Po-rk Shoul-der" in honor of the pork shoulder given to him in Memphis, checked in his baggage, flown home, carved up, and sung about in tune to the 1984 hit "Sex Shooter" by the Prince-created 80s trio, Apollonia 6.

Pork Shoulder
Shootin love in your direction.
I'm a pork shoulder
Come on play with my affection.
Come on kiss the gun.

The night before we thought I was leaving, before we knew for sure that a blizzard would cancel flights out of O'Hare, Sunny went to bed early since she's a responsible teacher who knows something about waking up at 6am to face a roomful of 15-year-olds. Shane and I stayed up and made drinks. I got on and off the phone with American Airlines and we talked and made more drinks and put on a movie.

Sunny came out for water at one point - not be confused with the point when she stuck her head out from the bedroom door and asked us to keep our voices down - and asked what we were watching.

"Thank You for Not Smoking," I said.

"Is it good?" she asked.

"We're not really paying attention, but we think it is," I said.

A little later Shane said, "This movie is making me feel like I didn't study."

"Filmmakers are the worst," He added.

"Who's the second worse?" I asked.

"Writers," He said. "Well, writers are the best of the worst."

"Who's the most terrible of everyone?" I wanted to know.

"Girls in LA."

"I think they belong on a different list," I said.

So we began making lists and I transcribed. The next day when Sunny came home from school, I read aloud from my notebook what Shane and I talked about the night before. What we found at the top of the page, free of any explanation and with no context whatsoever, and nowhere near any list was ON A JOURNEY WITH A SIAMESE CAT AND A REGULAR CAT.

And neither of us have any idea what THAT'S all about. I'll miss this place.