Conversation in the kitchen

I sit at the table by the kitchen window and look into the apartment's hinterhof courtyard where rows of windows frame five floors of lives.

At night you can stand in the window with the light off and try to learn something about your neighbors but now it's daylight. Milan, Charlie's housemate, walks in the kitchen from his bedroom and, surprised, we both half-smile shy hellos. We haven't spoken before. The last time we were in the apartment at the same time, he scurried by the kitchen on his way out the front door and grunted. I grunted back because when I don't speak a language, I mimic.

I was looking at a silver necklace at the flea market and the woman asked me in German, "Nice?" Instead of answering, I imitated her, "Nice?" with the exact same inflection. If I'd known the word at the time, I'd have swapped punctuation marks. Instead we stood and stared at each other with the question hanging between us.

Milan asks if Charlie is still asleep. He needs rent. I don't know why he's asking, though, I just think he wants to chat.

"Yes," I tell Milan, "We got home late, at seven-thirty this morning. Charlie's still asleep."

"Where are you from?" I ask.

"I was born in Germany but lived in Yugoslavia, in Serbia," he says, "Where are you from?"

I tell him, 'America."

He looks surprised for a second time, first to find me in his kitchen and now to learn that I'm American.

"You were born there?" he asks.

"Mm-hm," I nod.

"And your parents?"

"Born in America, too," I say.

He looks at me silently and I remember Charlie telling me how much anti-Americanism there is in Kreuzberg. I wonder. We are both silent. He lights the propane hotplate.

"Charlie stayed with me when I lived in New York so I'm here as payback," I offer.

I don't know if he'll understand that but he smiles like he does and repeats, "Payback."

He asks if I like Berlin. I do. I look out the window, at the early afternoon clouds, and say that I'd just like to see more of the city in the daylight. It's dark by four in the afternoon and for the first time in a long while, I'm sleeping well, until noon every day. I've mostly seen the city by night.

I tell Milan that I'm here for just a few days but that I may return in the spring, when I'll have more time to see the city by day. He offers me Turkish coffee and then retreats to his bedroom.

"Thank you," I say. "Thank you."


Learning how to sleep

After conquering jet lag, I imagined long stretches of restfulness. I'd get home from the arena at 1 am and start on the computer late the next morning. I'd cash in on the hotel's free breakfast and pot of french press coffee delivered to the room. I'd take long London walks, gulping cold breaths of December air, before going back to the arena to work in the afternoon.

So why am I still wake at 4:30 am, television buzzing? I don't remember turning it on. At 4:30 am I lay for hours, mind racing, and drift off again. In the morning I shake out the duvet to find the glasses that fell off my nose.

When I sleep in people's homes, it's different. I have no problem sleeping. On Christmas day with the Hudson family, I wore a paper crown at dinner and ate mince pies. I sipped dry sherry and sweet sherry and glasses of white wine. By the time we played charades, I could hardly hold my head up off the back of the couch, I was so tired and maybe half drunk.

In the morning I heard Alfie outside my room, babbling his baby talk, but I rolled over. Much later, I made myself sit up and join the family downstairs for tea.

Twenty-four hours ago, I landed at Tegel airport, smiling and biting my lip as I walked off the plane and through passport control. On the concourse, I looked around and saw Charlie walking my way. He hadn't seen me yet. When he did, both of our faces cracked and we wrapped our arms around each other, laughing, "OH MY GAWD!"

"I'm so glad I'm not the only one who laughs uncontrollably when it's been a long time that they've seen someone," I said.

We took a bus and train to Hermannplatz, bought eggplant and zucchini and brussel sprouts at the market, and walked to his apartment. The stripped wooden floors and big windows with red curtains reminded me of the first day he walked through my door in New York, shaking snow off his boot. He'd never seen snow before.

Last night we sat on the futon and ate potato chips. He cooked the vegetables with tahini and we drank tea and talked and eight hours later I fell asleep. This morning I saw a figure dressed in black, standing in the middle of the room, red curtain behind. Charlie went to work and I rolled over, heavy still with dreams.


scrooge factor less than usual

Twelve years ago Kevin and I went to Spain to escape Christmas, escape the Minnesota winter and study Spanish. But mostly to pretend that Christmas wasn't happening.

What actually happened was we ran out of money and got sick of everyone telling us how WRONG our Mexican accents were and how we needed to talk CORRECTLY. This was from the instructors we were paying to talk to us; we couldn't get a word out of anyone else regardless of how many cups of coffee and newspapers we tried to use to strike up conversations. I thought that Spaniards seemed cold and too busy shopping to chat.

My mood then wasn't helped by the everlasting Christmas carols pumped into the streets. After burning through our cash in three weeks, Kevin maxed out his credit cards and we went back to Minneapolis. We signed up for whatever last minute classes we could find, resigned to a cold winter and personal mission to find a school elsewhere for us to transfer to.

That experience of Spain was our fault. We hadn't done our homework on how much more expensive Spain was than Mexico or Puerto Rico and hadn't investigated enough about culture or religion before leaving. Knowing it was our fault didn't make me much happier, however. If I wasn't jolly before, the trip to Spain had NOT helped.

Last week I walked around Madrid, meditating on how beautiful it felt, its old buildings and narrow streets throbbing with life. My sense of the city was changed.

I walked into a plaza where Christmas market booths sold everything from religious figurines to Gary Coleman caricatures. Looking up, I remembered being there before. I'd taken a photo of Kevin from one of the shuttered balconies a few stories high. I remembered writing on the back of the photo 'Plaza Mayor' and that it was a nice, laughing photograph.

I don't remember what he and I were laughing about then but last week I stood still and watched people and laughed to myself about the Spaniards' holiday wigs: grannies as sparkly clowns, old men in seventies afros, Pippi Longstocking, Dr. Seuss, mohawks, bright pink, orange, and blue.

Tapas bars everywhere overflowed with people. There was room only to stand over plates and share food and I kind of wanted to be Spanish and spend my Sunday mornings drinking sangria outside, ordering six paellas for the table.

I don't know how I missed this that first time in Madrid, how I left feeling such separateness. The Spaniards I met this time seemed JUST ONLY BARELY able to contain their enthusiasm.

They talked and laughed quickly and easily and once I nearly tripped because the man I was working with and walking next to was gesturing and leaning into me so much that I almost lost my balance. I found out later that he was totally drunk but whatever.

After returning to London, I wandered around Soho, Covent Garden, and Trafalgar Square with Lindsay and found myself, beyond all expectation, digging the Christmas lights and giant ornaments strung from one building to another. I thought IT JUST FEELS LIKE CHRISTMAS HERE. And don't tell anyone but I liked that.


Christmas pants

"I need to buy some Christmas pants," I told Michele and Lindsay.

We'd flown back to London for a week off after the Madrid Spice Girls show and in the car from Heathrow, I realized how badly I needed to do laundry. I didn't know if I could wedge laundry in between Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and flying to Berlin on Thursday but my jeans had started to look like droopy denim diapers and they stunk. They were definitely too grungy for a family Christmas day with the Hudsons.

"Uh-uh," I said when I saw the look on Lindsay's face. "Don't get any ideas. I'm not talking about Christmas-THEMED pants."

Though we did all agree that it would be awesome if I had pants with giant snowflakes on the ass. And I'm a little sad that I gave my red corduroys to Matty in Las Vegas because with a little craft project we could have so easily made this dream come true.


Giving Germany a chance

Thanks to my new friend sleeping pill, I'm not longer psychotic. I've finally slept and the world seems dappled and dewy. I feel like Bambi bouncing through a meadow, joining in chorus with songbirds. You know, like usual.

I've traveled to London, Cologne, and Madrid since sleeping. Tomorrow we have a week off from the tour and after Christmas in London, I go to Berlin. I'm PSYCHED. And I have to admit something: my generalizations about places and people are worth reconsideration. I have talked shit about Germany in the past; it was right up there with dogging out England. That's right, Germany, I'm giving you a chance. I know you care.

I didn't have much time off in Cologne but the walk to the Christmas market and the glass of gluhwein and the cold air and bright blue sky and the bike lanes and the hilarious words made me want to learn German for the first time. I want to say words that have 27 letters in it.  It has also been a long time since I've gone somewhere and had ABSOLUTELY no idea what was going on. I may stand out in Latin America or Spain but I can at least talk to people. In Germany, I look like I fit in, all big-boned and strapping, but the minute the Germans spit those knotty words out and wait for my response, my cover is blown.


jet lag, not a myth

I fear what will happen if I don't get more than four hours of sleep soon.

I'm not above hurting someone.


jet lag

It's four-something in the morning and I can't sleep. I forgot about jet lag.

I kind of thought that if I drank enough champagne to pass out on the plane, I'd be right on schedule, circadian rhythms intact. I mean, I flew across the ocean in the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class section, which, OH MY.

If anyone ever asks me, "What was the point at which you started feeling a huge sense of entitlement and accustomed to the finer things in life?" I'll say, "Virgin Atlantic. Upper Class. Word."

You don't get a seat, you get a cocoon. Which folds into a bed. You get champagne upon boarding and a several-course meal and slippers and a TV with infinity movies and you can go stand at the full bar and order from a bartender, shoot the shit with the other aristocrats en flight.

I drank, some would say heavily, on this flight and ended up passing out in my bed hugging a box of chocolates that I barely remember scarfing. This may actually explain why my body's rhythms are still screwed; Any substance abuse counselor will tell you that that doesn't qualify as a good night's sleep, which brings me to now:

In my London hotel room with the television tuned to the Christmas countdown of holiday-themed music videos. People, I don't like holiday-themed anything but am officially a shell of my former self.

I can't sleep and I've read my brains out and am now too tired, yet JACKED, to make sense of words and just need noise, even if it's CHRISTMAS NOISE. Yes, that is how low it's gotten for me. The only thing that makes it even slightly okay for me to watch a video by Wizzard called "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" or anything by Take That is the saucy middle-aged woman dancing in the corner of the screen, supposedly signing an interpretation of the lyrics.

Though I'm not convinced that she even knows sign language. I think she's high. And I want what she's on.

Waking up in London


Las Vegas, making me want to go to the library

I become at once both more and less of myself in Las Vegas. In four days, I didn't have one urge to be outside or outdoors or any place other than the casino/concert venue where I was working. I happily walked from my room to the casino for coffee in the morning and then through the casino to the  arena for work in the afternoon and back at night.

I breathed fresh air for five minutes when I ran out to the loading dock security guard to tell him that Tropicana Pizza would be making a delivery for the band and dancer dressing room. And I didn't appreciate it, the relative freshness of the air in that moment. I mostly wondered why the guard was quoting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, something about "never paying for cold pizza." I wanted to tell him that I was in my 30's and too old for his reference and I wondered when I could go back inside.

I usually thrive on natural light and spend as little time inside walls as possible. Not in Vegas. 
In Vegas I'm cool with climate-controlled buildings. Which may make me temporarily okay with wasting energy and water. And, some might argue, space. One might be led to believe that I like artificial over-stimulation: blinking lights, audio walls, bare skin everywhere. Except I don't normally like that stuff either. 

Am I just being contrary? A case could be made. After my first night in Las Vegas, I wanted to drink less and read more. I wanted to find a library. I WANTED TO USE THE DEWEY DECIMAL SYSTEM. I remembered when my job was organizing author tours for my book publishing employer and how hard it was to find an audience in Las Vegas for readings. The bookstores either weren't accessible or people weren't that interested. The reading usually tanked.
So what's the Vegas alternative to book readings? The AVN Adult Movie Awards hosted by porn star Tera Patrick? The AVN Awards commercial was blared and broadcast on most of hotel elevator rides I took and I made fun of it because HONESTLY, what do porn awards celebrate?
Best blow job? Best anal scene? Best "plot"?
Matt and I were sniggering about the whole porn award concept on the elevator when the guy standing in front of us, a super-tan beefcake whose muscles were barely restrained by his tight button down shirt and jeans that cost as much as my former rent, turned to Matt and said, "It's a good show. You should watch it," before stepping off on his floor.
Yeah okay, dude! Good luck with that. I hope you win something you're proud of, like Best Male Performer/Best F**ker.
The thing is, I'm not even anti-porn. (Or anti-gambling, drinking, stripping). That doesn't mean I'm always up for those things; it just means I don't like feeling like I'm supposed to act or feel a certain way just BECAUSE. Because a) I'm in Vegas I must do b).  For some reason I'd rather disgrace myself in Ohio than Las Vegas. I'd rather walk around Las Vegas acting like a librarian. I'd rather be surprised. And Vegas just seems predictable.
I'd love to infiltrate UNLV and find the people not majoring in hotel management or recreation. I'd love to have a long talk with the true nerds of Nevada, assuming they exist. Assuming there is another side. Now that would be interesting.  


Twenty dollars of booty sweat

The first three times I went to Las Vegas I did the following:

1. Sold books at a women's studies conference and developed a bizarre obsession with Danny Gans.

2. Bungee jumped over a parking lot for my Trek America leader training and ate at an Italian restaurant where I saw Micky Dolenz from the Monkees.

3. Celebrated Sunny's 30th birthday and decided once and for all that I don't like strip clubs.

Now I'm here for a string of Spice Girls shows and a day off before we fly to London. I'm working but we also have time to relax. I'm not celebrating anything like a birthday or the wild capacity for people to ogle each others' flesh. No one is forcing me to get a lap dance and I don't feel like going crazy, Vegas-style.

Matty drove from Los Angeles to hang out and do terrible things like watch me eat fajitas at 4 am. When I put my menu down, stared up at the waiter and said, "Chicken fajitas, please" Matt snorted. I didn't understand why until the fajitas came steaming and sizzling across the room on a plate so huge that the busboy practically had to pull up an extra table for all the side dishes. Slightly embarrassing

This morning Matty suggested we go to the gym. I thought that was a great idea given the 97 pounds of fajitas undigested in my stomach. We put on an assortment of sweats, t-shirts, bandannas, and skull & crossbone socks and took the elevator to the second floor. The guy at the desk said sure, we could work out FOR TWENTY BUCKS EACH. Unfortunately the fajita situation had made working out a high priority so I told him to put it on my room.

Included in this fee were no spa services, sugar scrubs, or stripper massages in the locker room. No shots of Jack, nothing. We got bottled water and a bowl of fruit that had been sweated on by who knows how many people. I tried to get my money's worth by running on the treadmill at top speed, simultaneously listening to Daft Punk in my earphones and watching Animal Planet on the TV. I ran further and faster than usual and was feeling pleased with myself until I went to stretch and saw my ass in the mirror: it was sweating all over the place.

I have never seen any ass sweat so much, nor has my behind ever been so drenched and plainly marked with two big assy ovals. Matty asked if I wanted to get coffee in the lobby before changing and I looked at him, "Has my ass not assaulted your senses yet?" No way was I strolling through a lobby in my current condition. 

We left the gym with as many water bottles and pieces of fruit as we could realistically manage. Matty dropped the room key and, in trying to pick it up, spilled three or four apples and oranges on the carpet. I picked off a free pen from the front desk and would have taken one of the flower arrangements but thought that might be pushing it.


Mary Ann says the MF-word

I recently got an email from my cousin Mary Beth who was reminiscing about the "totally rad" time we saw Last of the Mohicans 15 years ago.

I was a senior in high school and she was a freshman and thought it was super cool that we were hanging out together in downtown Chicago with my mom and my family's exchange student, Joanna.

I remember that night too, mainly because my mom spent most of the film annoying me by pulling her turtleneck up over her entire head and face during any scene involving bows, arrows or violence. She'd pull the turtleneck down after the scene, lean towards me and stage whisper, "WHAT HAPPENED?"

At the time, this was only slightly more galling than her crouching behind the couch during fight scenes and popping up later to whisper the same question. Because I kind of felt like you either had to take it or not watch it or just use your imagination. Not whisper about it. GOD, MOM.

Mary Beth also told me in her email that she was thinking about me because at Thanksgiving dinner she and Jeremy were chatting with my mom who mentioned that she thinks I use the word motherfucker too much. Apparently, though, my mom didn't exactly whisper the word. She straight up said it and my cousins laughed because it was a tiny bit weird to hear aunt Mary Ann throwing "motherfucker" around on the day of giving thanks.

Whereas I knew all along that she had it in her.


Where I'm supposed to be

I knew that my last week in LA before the start of the Spice Girls tour would be busy. Seriously, though, half of my memories of that week don't even make sense.

I hung out one night with Ray, Matt, and Geoff. Ray ordered me a manhattan with Southern Comfort and he set a precedent for the week when few nights later I gave my mother, who was visiting, her second official hangover of her entire life. Drinking manhattans with Southern Comfort. Thanks for that idea, Ray. 

I remember apologizing to Matt for canceling on him twice that week. Between leaving town in a few days and my mom visiting, my brain was full up on what needed to get done. Matt asked what Mary Ann was doing all day while I worked and I told him that she had borrowed Geoff's car, a convertible Mustang with racing stripes, and was driving from Inglewood to Santa Monica.

"You let your Ohio mom drive that around the hood?" Matt hooted. "You might as well have painted a target on her."

"Okay," I said. "Let's agree that you're not going to say that ever again because it sounds scary and you're talking about my MOM."

I ate good food with my mom and walked around Griffith Park with her in the morning. I pointed out that it was the end of November, sunny and warm and I was wearing a tank top. Even if I miss all the seasons, and I'm not sure yet that I do, but I easily feel happier when the sky is light. So what if I had my heart broken not so long ago and am still picking up its sore little pieces? It's not all bad.

Now I'm in Canada. It's snowing. And it actually feels like Christmas. The Christmas trees make more sense here than they do in Los Angeles.

A few days ago, in LA, I tried to go to a movie but was stopped. The entrance to the theater was blocked by a thousand people in summer clothes waiting for a Christmas tree lighting and for the Goo Goo Dolls singer to stop reading the teleprompter script and start singing.

Really? I stood and watched for a minute. This is happening?

Here in Vancouver, I sit in Alli Jones' yellow and turquoise kitchen and drink wine. She sips tea and we wrap scarves around our necks and laugh, remembering Olympia, Seattle, Ecuador together. I wear a wool coat and scoop up snow outside the hotel and throw a snowball. And it feels like I'm right where I should be.


Don't want to be a Scientologist

I got reflective today while driving in Los Angeles today. (In between bouts of calling people a-holes, passing two accidents, and swerving around lots of cars doing lots of stupid things.)

A radio DJ said that he didn't know if it was holiday traffic or what but to be careful because people were driving like crackhead lunatics. I agreed. I'd been in my old hood Atwater Village and I'd stopped by its nearby Armenian enclave. I had the radio tuned to Latino 96.3 and was laughing because someone had just given a shout out to their "big cup o' Kool-Aid" and I was thinking that I need to start calling my friends my big cups o' Kool-Aid when the light changed and I stopped.

The light was at L. Ron Hubbard Way and a man crossed the street before heading into the Scientology compound. And this man, in the space of ten seconds, freaked me out.

He was a too-tan and middle-aged and he didn't take his eyes off me the whole time he was in the crosswalk. And he wasn't hitting on me because his eyes weren't friendly. Nope, I'm pretty sure he was trying to latch onto my soul to gauge just how black it is. And imagining how shimmery and translucent his people could make it.

I met his eyes and held the gaze while turning my head to follow as he walked past, but the whole time my head was retracting backwards so that when he reached the other curb, I had nine chins and no neck. My eyebrows were also up around my hairline.

"What the f was that!" I thought. "That guy was NOT my big cup o' Kool-Aid."

This is where I got reflective about how depending on what neighborhood you're in and what kind of work you do and who you end up knowing, your experience of Los Angeles could be tremendously different than someone else's. This might seem obvious - I used to think the same thing all the time about New York when I lived there - but I now realize that these are the only two places I've been where this feels really, really true.

Before New York I thought of it as the place where people walk fast, talk fast, and tell you exactly what they're thinking. All of the images in my head: subways screeching, horns honking, Brooklyn brownstones, museums, Central Park, bike couriers, bagels, all of it was there.

But each block was such a microcosm. I flipped out the day I realized that more people were on my block of 3rd street between B and C than in the entire Minnesotan town where Gail lived. Not to mention the different worlds of arty East Village, Victorian houses of Midwood, and Staten Island, the mystery borough.

Other cities that I've spent real time in - Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Olympia, Cincinnati, Columbus - haven't held this quality. It's partly size, but it's more than that. Three million people live in Chicago and every language is spilling out of every color of face you can think of, yet Chicago IS SO CHICAGO. I wouldn't be surprised if a Laotian immigrant knew how to grill better than me after a year in Chicago and we started bumping into each other at mutual friends' barbeques.

And Los Angeles? Before I got here I thought of it as the epicenter of pollution, superficiality, and celebrity-obsessed, tanning-bed addicts who drive everywhere, dropping names and being fake like it's their job. Oh wait, IT IS.

And I have seen some of that. But I've seen much more, as well. There is a culture of LA and I talk shit about it all the time: "That guy looks like a d-bag with his LA hair", but I now know that there are offshoots of that culture that look nothing like it.

Inglewood and South Central barely qualify for the same universe as Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, but it's all greater LA. And there are even areas in between that feel kind of low key and solid. All I know is a) You just never know and b) I still don't want to be Scientologist.


Junkie Spice

I'm challenge greater than the hotel minibar: much greater, by about eight feet. The table outside the production office that is covered with snacks is as dangerous and sinister as table offering a bowl of marshmallows can be. And I'm not alone. People up and down the corridor are cursing the table. My weakness is wasabi almonds.

I don't know what it is with the Blue Diamond brand but Geoff and I had tins of Blue Diamonds on the American Idol bus and he got so protective of his favorite flavor, jalapeƱo smokehouse, that he wrote on the lid: DO NOT COVET. Like these nuts are so good, they're OLD TESTAMENT GOOD. Like Moses himself doesn't want you eating my nuts.

Yesterday I was bingeing with a Zweck, making a mix of wasabi almonds and wasabi peas when he noticed a tin of a new flavor we hadn't noticed - lime & chili almonds - and we got excited. Maybe me more so than him. I went back to work and tried to focus but couldn't concentrate. Eventually I couldn't resist and snuck to the door and around the corner to fill up another cup of nuts and peas. I planned to walk casually back to my desk but Zweck had heard the almond tin shaking in the hallway, had also left his desk, and was staring at me pointedly when I turned around. His eyes, deadpan and accusatory, were also gloating and I jumped.


Some of us in management been assigning each other Spice names a la Sporty, Baby, Ginger, Posh, and Scary. In the process we end up fighting about what names we do and don't want. Lately I've defended myself vehemently against being called Junkie Spice. Because I do not shoot heroin. Do I drown my innards in coffee everyday? Absolutely. Caffeine does not a junkie make.

The person who wants to call me Junkie Spice is English and I just about had it when she lectured me on my "patterns of dependency." I, like many people, have experimented. I tried to be a stoner my first year of college and hated it. I tried harder drugs later but it was never really me. So I asked her what we were talking about. Cocaine, sleeping pills, cigarettes? No? If all she had to go on was coffee then I wasn't taking it.

I got so worked up I actually yelled at her, "You fucking English people and your tea! What is THAT?"

Wow, that was defensive. And kind of offensive and she's kind of my boss. If anything, I'm a food junkie and need to quit pigging out on all the nuts on the table. I made a concerted effort not to loiter by the table yesterday and even when I received this photo from Zweck, reminding me of all that is good in the world, I resisted obsessing.

But when Geoff put the kettle on and all the Brits in the office started arguing about which tea is better, Yorkshire or PG Tips, and if the PG Tips brand is effeminate (?), I got even more resolute to defend my coffee habit. Or we can admit we're all junkies in one way or another.


Customer Service

I've spent a lot of time lately speaking with customer service representatives.

1. Rocio: my be-yotch, my chica loca, at the AT&T store. When I showed up the first time and said I needed a b-zillion GoPhones for our staff, you were there for me. But in a kind of I-don't-know-you-I-don't-need-to-get-to-know-you kind of way.

Don't worry, I thought the same thing. Neither of us knew how many times I'd be back to your store. Neither of us anticipated the kooky mishaps inherent in purchasing, activating, and managing so many monthly phone contracts. Now when I walk in the store, your colleagues say, "You here to see Rocio?" And that one that one time that you weren't working? It felt weird.

The day you let me sit in your chair at your work station and use your phone to talk to the corporate office was a nice touch. We talked about the rental market in Los Angeles and I honestly felt relieved that you'd finally found an apartment. You said that you'd bring lunch for me the next time I spend two hours in your store at midday and I think you might have meant it. Thanks, Rocio.

2. Touring in different countries means lots of airlines with lots of different frequent flyer programs.

I was online, signing up for every airline I could think of and a few I'd never heard of since when I start something, I often take it WAY past the point of immediate usefulness. I was thrilled to find that Virgin Atlantic, when asking for my prefix (Miss or Ms), also gave me the choice of Prof, Lord, Lady, Sir, and Rev. Naturally, I chose REV. Because I can! Legally! Fucking finally!

The only person who's sent me mail addressed to Reverend Jessica Roncker is Sara. I think it's because my sermon at her and Michael's wedding had her people bawling. My sermon caused a tissue relay in the seats and I'm proud of that. Sara is proud of the fact that I listened to the one rule she gave me about officiating her wedding: YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY MOTHERFUCKER AT ANY POINT IN THE CEREMONY. It wasn't easy but I did it. 

3. I was well into my call to the American Express customer service center and was certain that help was imminent when the customer service representative asked, "Do you like tandoori chicken?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Tandoori chicken. Have you ever had it?"

"Yes?" I said. "I like it. Why?"

"I thought so. You sound spicy."

Is this Amex guy flirting with me? I hadn't mentioned the Spice Girls in our call and I don't know what information his computer screen was giving him but I'm pretty sure it wasn't my measurements. If I had been tempted (I wasn't), he killed potential sparks by saying that tandoori chicken is delicious but hurts as much coming out as going in. Not a good move, for flirting or financial advisement.

Because I don't think enough people are making fun of David Hasselhoff


It's really quite funny that you were that stupid

I almost broke my nose this morning on a window. I wanted to go into an office attached to the sound studio but the door was locked so I bent to peer through the glass window to see if anyone was inside and totally forgot that the glass in the window has double-paned soundproofing. I also forgot that since YOU CAN SEE THROUGH GLASS, sometimes you don't even know it's there.

I saw the inside pane because there was paper taped to it. I did not see the pane on my side, the one several inches closer to my face than I thought it would be. The impact was shocking and I thought of the bird I once saw fly into the side of a glass atrium. WHUMP!

After grabbing my face and looking over my shoulder to see if anyone witnessed my astonishing accident, I cussed and pressed the sides of my nose with thumb and forefinger. When I was pretty sure that the only thing broken was my common sense, I called Heather and asked if she had keys to the room. I waited. When she arrived, I asked if my face looked at all bruised.

She looked, said no, and I told her what I did. And her FUCKING AWESOME reply was that "It's really quite funny that you were that stupid." Now imagine it in a British boarding school accent, it's ever so much better. 

The people I work with are doing wonders for the anti-Brit sentiments that I've harbored for years. Despite good travels to England and a number of adored friendships, Brits just pissed me off generally speaking. Exceptions to the rule were just that. But now I don't know. I really, really like my co-workers. And it's not just because I'm outnumbered.

It makes me think of the night before I moved from Seattle to New York, Bova and I were crashed on the floor of someone's living room in sleeping bags and couldn't get to sleep. I remember asking him, "Which do you hate more? Seattle or England?"

He thought about it, really thought about it, and was silent for a minute.

"Seattle. At least in England the punks are real."

Which made us laugh very hard. Now I'm appreciating a lot of little things about my friends the English people, like some of the bone driest wit I've ever heard and how someone can seem prim one second and completely batshit the next. I like it when someone says "Thank you very much indeed," instead of, "Uh, thanks," and instead of saying hello asks me if I'm alright.

Asking me if I was alright made me question myself at first. Is my hair screwed up? Does my nose look broken? I though something was wrong with me until I realized that they're just saying hi.

And yes, it really is quite funny that I was that stupid.


Three degrees of Jay Leno

I was stopped at a light in Burbank when I heard a radio DJ say that The Tonight Show with Jay Leno had gone into reruns because writers are striking and I remembered the first time I came in LA, my senior year of high school. In 1993, Joanna and I flew to Burbank for spring break with her aunts who'd moved here from England. I was impressed to see the The Wonder Years street. I was impressed that Joanna's cousin who was way older - like 21 - had a dolphin tattoo and had dated a boy from either House of Pain or Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I felt sorry for the aunts' pilot boyfriends who flew into town and took us all out to dinner at a fancy restaurant in the hills. I'm sure the pilots were thrilled that their double date suddenly included two awkward 17-year-old girls from Ohio. I dutifully ran laps around a high school track in Burbank while Joanna timed my splits in preparation for my upcoming track season back home.

One of the aunts got us audience tickets for a taping of Jay Leno. We giggled in our seats at CBS studio when the camera panned to a person seated behind us. We were on NATIONAL TELEVISION, OH MY GOD.

While in California we were also surprised to see someone freak out when she broke a nail. Incapacitated, she whisked herself off to the nail salon before she could get on with the day and we made fun of her because that was not very Ohio of her.

It was a good week overall, new and sunny and agreeable. Her aunts were lovely and welcoming. But Joanna and I both felt a strange relief when our plane made it home and banked low over the Ohio River before landing in Kentucky. The rolling green hills seemed so much more grounded and solid than we'd left them.

I'd mostly forgotten about that trip fifteen years ago until the radio DJ today mentioned Jay Leno. California was so foreign to me then. I spent hours last week talking to studios and finding a sound stage for Spice Girls dance rehearsals. Not that I necessarily knew what I was talking about but it's my job and I did it and it didn't feel that foreign. I may live in California at the moment but I don't flip out when I break a nail. That may be because my fingers have what someone recently called "nubs" on the end of them, but still. I wouldn't. I just don't care enough. So I'm somewhere in between.

Which I think I proved when, in the middle of this whole red light reverie, I saw Jay Leno himself come barreling down the street in one of his cars. It was a vintage roadster that I'd guess was a 1930s Bentley or Duesenberg. Or maybe I looked that up on Jay Leno's Garage since I don't know a thing about cars.

Jay Leno was in plain view since there were no real doors or roof on the car and he looked like an aviator or German spy headed to the border with a damning message. The car spat puffs of steam or smoke that kicked up behind the spy/Jay Leno so the overall effect was not subtle. Though it WAS somewhat cheapened by the Burbank backdrop - I saw him in front of a CVS pharmacy - and total lack of war zone urgency.

And I couldn't decide whether to think it was interesting or just be over it already.


emergency burrito

Zweck and I drove past a pie shop in Burbank on the way to work today. I'd noticed it before and chuckled because one of the selling points they have plastered across the building is their 'pleasant atmosphere'. It basically says COME EAT PIE IN A PLEASANT ATMOSPHERE.

Which, I'm sorry, is just not a strong statement. I only worked in marketing for a few years but 'pleasant' is weak. Zweck, however, was prepared to move past pleasant and wondered aloud whether pie shops in the US carry meat pies. I told him no. He was disheartened and wanted to know why.

I told him the truth: 'It's un-American.'

He got all dramatic and said he couldn't exist in world without meat pies. That his Australian blood wouldn't handle the lack of meat.

'I didn't know you're Australian,' I said.
'I'm not. I'm British. But I have some Australian blood,' he said.

I wondered to myself if Mike needed some meat in order to calm down and think clearly.

Instead he fixated on how badly he wanted a meat pie and how he couldn't have one. He told me about his favorite place in Sydney - Harry's - where they've made meat pies since 1932 and how you can buy pies floating in a pool of mushy peas or you can get pies injected/squirted with something FROM SOME SORT OF FOOD GUN. I totally didn't understand. But I didn't feel like I needed to.

'That sounds disgusting,' I said, 'but I get it. It's your chicken and waffles.'

I tried to distract him by dangling a conceptual donut in his face. 'You like donuts, don't you?' I said, 'There's lots of donut shops in LA.' That didn't really work, even though he admitted that Krispy Kremes are alright. They're just not meaty. We drove in silence. Until he brought up tacos: 'I'd like to try some of the taco stands.'

'Oh YEAH,' I said, happy to find common ground involving meat and happy to know I could pull over for an emergency breakfast burrito if Zweck's Australian blood oxygen levels dropped, 'Some of the taco stands around here are AMAZING!'

Please note that I have yet not been to one taco stand in LA. But I'm sure they're incredible.


Her little dead cousin

I almost completely forgot about Halloween this year. I went to work and ate a pumpkin spice cupcake. I laughed when Jimmy joked about wearing my face for Halloween and that was pretty much it. Come to find out that someone DID wear my face for Halloween.

I'd emailed Lisa London in Florida to tell her that I was totally into the excel spreadsheet I'd made and was therefore thinking of her. When she was my boss at The Feminist Press and I witnessed her getting excited about spreadsheets, I used to suspect that she had issues. Now that I'm that person, I'm sure I'm FINE. She answered my email and agreed that spreadsheets are hot. We didn't really go into details but I'm thinking of letting the next guy who shows me the formula for adding number columns get to second base. Or third.

Then Lisa told me that she wore the Jessica Roncker t-shirt for Halloween. And that everyone thought I was either a serial killer or the victim of one! Which isn't weird or freaky at all.

And then? Then she said that she told the people who she didn't like that I was her LITTLE DEAD COUSIN.

Presumably to make them feel morbid and uncomfortable. She said that she told the people she likes who I really am. And that they want to meet me.


might have to lose my lunch after all

After gushing recently about how the pukey aspects of Hollywood are making me laugh and how this perspective is working out so fabulously, I spent the weekend in locations unlike my norm of dive bars and Roscoe's House of Chicken.

And? Yeah.

One must be vigilant.

Over sushi, someone asked if I agreed that the table next to us was occupied by a group of painstakingly attractive people. I said, 'If you mean besides the fact that they all look like actors and wannabes, then yes, they're quite good looking.'

'You're right,' she nodded, 'they're knobs.'

And THEN she asked if I'd overheard one of the beautiful girls say something to the effect of:


I'm sorry, what? Should I be bummed or relieved that I don't know the context of that one? My guess is relieved because I might have upchucked and the beef carpaccio was too good not to keep down.

Keep your midlife crisis away from me

I was talking to Matt Sperling when I said, not to him just to the world at large, "KEEP YOUR MIDLIFE CRISIS AWAY FROM ME."


And now I'm wondering what mid-life crises are made of. I'm thinking corrosive fluid.
While on the subject, I'd like to make a public service announcement to the guys who dye their hair that flat jet shoe polish black. I'm talking to you, postal service worker where I got my PO Box, and you guy in the hotel elevator with the man jewelry and flashy boots.

You do not look YOUNG. You look INSECURE.

And listen, I'm a huge fan of hair dye. I've dyed my own hair red and white and it usually looked like shit. I've also gotten it dyed in salons and sometimes it still looked like shit but often turned out better. If you are worried about getting older and you're getting vain, then go find good hairstylist who will not make your head look like a giant 8-ball. Finally, you might want to consider that grey hair is hot. And not just in that "men get distinguished and women get old" way. It's hot on the ladies, too.

Exhibit A being my mom and her silver hair getting totally hit on when she visited me in Ecuador ten years ago. By guys who I was hanging out with, one of whom TOLD me that my mom is prettier than me. Ecuadorians: SO DIRECT. Exhibit B being my mom being flirted with shamelessly while visiting the bar I tended in Seattle. By someone who ignored me when I said I would cut him off if he didn't stop grossing me out.


biker clogs, don't hate.

I told Jane that I spent two hours in a clog store and her response was, 'OH, DEAR GOD.'

So I tried to defend myself.

I was in the store for two hours because I was busy talking to the Swedish owner about her hometown of Gothenburg, which I've been to, and whenever I get the chance to say Gothenburg in Swedish, 'Yetehbooooooreh,' I take it.

I was also shooting the shit about how my foot pronates. Which, while not exactly thrilling, was satisfying in a way that only the spawn of Bob Roncker's Running Spot would understand.

I was also mes-mer-i-z-ed by the clogs.

I realize that even with every color and style possible, clogs might still be a tough sell. Last time I checked, Swedish people used them mainly for gardening. But to Jane I said, 'Don't forget the chefs! And hospital workers! They're wearing the hell out of clogs. All across America!'

I knew I was skating on extraordinarily thin ice because if I was going there, I was potentially associating myself with those checkered tapered wrestling-type pants that chefs also wear and THAT would be an issue. That would be what I call an indefensible argument.

Unless it's Halloween and you're also wearing a long blond mullet wig with a bunch of feathers behind your ears like Dog the Bounty Hunter. And actually it's still a bad idea.

But I didn't care. Because the clogs I picked out are BIKER CLOGS.

That right. That's what I'm about: Fucking up a genre, a FOOTWEAR GENRE. And maybe other genres, too, I don't know.

What you can't see so well in this photo is that the biker strap, the one that signals how tough I am, is made of blue patent leather. OMG, as they say.

These clogs remind me of the girl who told me in tenth grade that she couldn't figure me out because I seemed a little punky, a little crunchy, a little nerdy, and a little sporty. I was dabbling in each teen stereotype and I remember thinking that if she was confused, to consider how I felt. Like I knew where I fit in.

I also wonder if the fact that no one can figure out my Spice name right now might not also apply. My colleagues and I are all getting our own Spice names and some of them have stuck. Mine keeps changing.

There are moments where my name makes sense, like when I woke up after having eaten everything in the minibar and thought, 'I feel like Shitty Spice,' but that didn't last. Plus we're not allowed to name ourselves. Our Spice names must MANIFEST.

Max, displaying much insight for someone who doesn't know me well, suggested Sarcastic Spice. I tried to go with a temporary Mystery Spice, but our director became jealous and immediately crushed it since Mystery Spice sounds kind of sexy and she's having enough trouble fighting her own Budget Spice (AKA Tight Spice) without me batting any spicy eyelashes and making her feel bad.

She's now trying to peg me with a retaliation Junkie Spice which is unfair mainly because I'm not a junkie. Junkies don't wear clogs. Please.

I hate my minibar so much

Because it's easier than figuring out what the hell my problem is.


new perspective in the same city

My old street in LA was in Atwater Village, small and tree-lined, flanked by parks and mountains. It was home to a family of skunks, a pack of stray cats, and a toucan that squawked exactly like a pterodactyl.


My current street in West Hollywood where I'm in a hotel for 6 weeks during Spice Girls rehearsals is wildly different.

At first I was all OH NO because I'm not used to crews filming commercials in my face as I step out the door. Nor am I accustomed to walking for coffee every morning in my pajamas and having five valet men wish me a good morning.

By now they recognize that I'm one of their grungier guests and that there's absolutely no reason for us to kiss each others' asses; We can just be ourselves so we all smirk and nod at each other.

I've definitely never had a lobby in my home that was so shiny, so mirrored, and so black lacquered that I practically have to tiptoe with arms outstretched just to get to the elevator without accidentally crashing into a column when mistaking its reflection for a doorway.

And there are other things contributing to my enhanced attitude about this neighborhood:

1. The dive bar around the corner.

2. The delicious organic food cafe up the street.

3. Roscoe's motherf'ing chicken and waffles. How had I gone so long without?

I drove with Jane to LAX last night and I will admit that it wasn't easy because my stomach was churning through half a fried chicken smothered in gravy and onions, waffles, butter, and maple syrup. But that all went down together SMOOTH. Appalling. And wonderful.

I must be in a good mood because the things that would normally make me crazy are just amusing right now.

Cocker spaniel wearing a pink visor?


The guy at the studio who I met last summer and who I haven't seen since June, except for in People Magazine? The one I AIR KISSED when we saw each other? That didn't even freak me out. Yeah, I did that shit and then wanted to sneak behind the building and laugh really hard for about ten minutes.


oh, like you weren't young once

What's wrong about this photo:

1. It's Jane's little brother who's ten years younger than us.

2. I've supplied him with a giant bottle of tequila that he's pouring into a Nalgene bottle.

Which he will most likely start drinking.

But I'd like to point out that:

3. AT LEAST he's of legal drinking age, which is more than I can say about the last time I got him drunk in the middle of the night in a midtown Manhattan alley.

4. I only had two glasses and Jane and I called dibs, so John, NOT RELUCTANTLY, got the Nalgene.


phase 4: dodging fire for friends

One week into breakup bootcamp Phase 3/Back in LA, I realize that Phase 4 is already on. It's an immediate relative of 3 and its backstory would be different for others but for me it's like this:

My daily work schedule leaves little time for moping. If I do get mopey, I have my own hotel room in which to wring my hands and pen despondent journal entries. So far I'm using the room to reflect and blog and eat potato chips out of the minibar. I also have the option to conduct all business from poolside.

I have a television on which to privately watch movies that make me cry (Jerry McGuire) and I don't have to pretend like I'm not sobbing over Cuba Gooding Jr. maybe breaking his neck on the football field. I also have wheels with which to explore the city, which is PIVOTAL.

Phase 4 is about exploring LA and making it mine. Relationship follies aside and regardless of how I got here, it's now time to investigate both geography and humankind. P4 is me wondering just who inhabits Los Angeles. BESIDES the supremely boring shit that everyone who has ever stood in a grocery store line knows (actors, celebrities, Britney's hair extensions).

I know there's more.

P4 is the delicate balance between sifting through the past and bringing on the future. Oh, and liking the present. There is that: getting some friends.

I haven't gone so far as to send out a group chainmail entreaty begging others to please forward to anyone with time on their hands and space in their hearts. But I am reaching out to those who maybe I've met or know just a little but suspect that I'd like a lot. People whom I neglected way back when I was spending so much time ogling IKEA light fixtures and standing in line at Home Depot.

P4 is the email that I recently sent to Max. I had plans to meet him and Sidia for dinner in Santa Monica when suddenly I remembered that the coast seems to be totally burning up. This would have been before today's development of orange clouds blotting out the sun over the studio and raining ash inside my boss's convertible. The state of emergency was slightly easier to dismiss yesterday.

I wrote Max asking if he thought that there was any chance of my getting caught in a wildfire while driving to dinner. Max's response was that there MIGHT be, depending on where I was coming from. And he suggested the least-flammable route for me to take.

Which made me go, 'Hm. Is that good enough? Yep. See you at 7:00.'


Relatively fat friend

The other day I was eating lunch at the rehearsal studio with a boss, one of whom I have to thank for my position on the tour. In addition to feeling a ton of respect for her, I also think that she's funny as hell. And the more I get to know her and the more comfortable I get, the more I start acting like myself.

Which may or may not be a good idea.

One day she was carrying on a lively discourse about whether to have a cream puff for dessert. Normally I'd be like HIT THAT SHIT, but since she's trying to drop some pounds and hasn't been quiet about that AND had just shared with me and Lindsay an idea for a weight loss challenge in which we'd agree to a dare that we'd perform if we didn't meet our weight goals, like walking around stage in a bikini and heels during soundcheck, to which Lindsay and I both agreed that we'd gladly quit our jobs before we'd agree to that, that it would be infinitely preferable to be chubby and unemployed, I tried to be supportive.

I said something about how delicious the spinach salad was and suggested she quit staring at the cream puffs and interrogating the other people at our table about their creamy heavenlyness. I also pointed out that she's not a large person. She admitted that she's not large, she just not comfortable.

Which I totally get. I definitely have my own range that feels good and when I'm over-range, I'm irritated that I can't wear half of my pants. Sometimes I have to go to sale racks for new fat skirts because I donated my old fat skirts when I was either a) feeling cocky or was b) moving and didn't want to drag my fat clothes across the country when surely I'd be lithe forever, regardless of the historical fact that my weight changes as often as the seasons.

She said that it didn't help that most of her friends look like supermodels and that she can practically feel her metabolism slowing down around them and feels like the fat friend.

I listened and thought about how weight and body image is all relative and that we cannot and should not measure ourselves against other people's bodies, that it just doesn't help at all. I wanted to say something like this to her. But what came out was,

"You're actually just the relatively fat friend."

And then COULD NOT STOP laughing. It was the look on her face. So stunned. And how fucking insensitive I sounded, which wasn't what I was going for. I said I was sorry several times but I couldn't stop laughing so, you know, how genuine I seemed is debatable.

Just another example of how my habit of laughing at my fat mouth is so easily and unfortunately mistaken for laughing at others. I'm an idiot.


SPOTLIGHT: Jocardo E. Ralston

This is the face I stared down in playground four-square and the face who represented our sixth-grade graduation class. Jocardo Ralston, our master of ceremony, who tripped down the stairs while heading offstage, hee hee.

I bonded with Jocardo in seventh grade while sitting next to him in Ohio studies class. I got a total of two things out of that class:

1. Jocardo

2. The realization that some teachers need to retire. Ms. Murdoch.

After an unintended separation in high school when Jocardo's family moved across the river to Kentucky and he switched schools, Jocardo and I re-found each other in a Cincinnati club at age 21. And all I have to say about that night is that someone around here looks awesome in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform and it's not me.

We made a date to meet again for milkshakes and spent the entire next night sitting on a street corner people-watching, cracking jokes, and telling stories which set a strong precedent for what we do best together.

Over a year ago, Jocardo did a big thing. He left everything comfortable he knew in Ohio and Kentucky, left his family and friends, his acting and his job, and moved to New York to be a teaching fellow in the public school system.

He was understandably nervous and not sure he was doing the right thing. I remember having a conversation with Jocardo and saying something about how how much he was going to learn, not just about teaching and education and New York, but about himself. That putting ourselves in strange and unfamiliar situations is the most surefire way to look deep inside ourselves and find out what's really there.

I'm sure Jocardo was like, "Yeah that's great but how am I going to afford New York rent?" Which is actually a really, really good question.

At the last minute, right before he left Kentucky, I jumped in his dad's car and joined the caravan to New York. Behind us, in another car, was his aunt's family, all making the 12-hour drive through a freaky rainstorm.

Jocardo and I sat in the backseat, exchanging glances when he looked like he was going to vomit and fielding phone calls from an apartment broker who informed him he'd just lost the place he thought he was moving into. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, he set up an appointment to see another apartment.

Our arrival:

1. Drive over George Washington bridge

2. Meet broker, see apartment, agree that it's expensive but better than being homeless

3. Check into hotel and start to let all of this sink in.

We left Jocardo on a street in Greenpoint with my friends Kelly and Alex, with whom he crashed until his apartment was ready.

A week ago, I laid in the Griffith Park grass and talked to Jocardo on the phone and smiled because Jocardo sounds good: strong and confident and grown up. At one point when talking our lives and where we are with community and faith, I tried to impress him and was all, "Yeah, for me, too, it's like blah blah blah," but I caught myself and without pause I said, "Actually, never mind, I'm full of shit, scratch that."

And Jocardo and I laughed about how I totally called bullshit on myself. And how maybe people should do that more often but whatever, if we don't do it for ourselves, we'll at least do it for each other.

Thanks, Jocardo.

why minibars suck

Because I got back to the hotel kind of late and was really tired, too tired to go out, and too tired even to order room service. Plus I was feeling cheap. So for dinner I had pretzels, rice krispie treats, cheesy ritz bitz, and beer. And it still probably cost me thirty dollars.


the ambition of N

In the year-and-a-half that I've served as N's guardian, he's lived and traveled mainly in the northern half of the country. And I think he's mostly had a good time. Some might say TOO good of a time (little drinking issue).

I now know that his buoyant moods were partially due to the fact that it was spring and summer when he made appearances. The whole six months that I lived in Chicago, N stayed in a drawer nestled up to my knee socks and woolly hats. He didn't even answer when I asked him if he wanted to accompany me on last winter's High School Musical tour. Just scraped his way deeper under the socks.

Once I got to California, I took N out of hibernation, thinking he'd undoubtedly be thrilled by the weather, if nothing else. I mean, I moved here for love and for that reason alone was open to Los Angeles. N would find his own incentives, starting with our bike ride.

Yeah, well, that backfired.

As soon as N saw the Hollywood sign he was like WHAT.

In the bottom left corner, you can see N slumped against a garage door, all dejected because the Hollywood letters are so FAMOUS and get to be FIFTY FEET TALL and he's LITTLE and NOBODY. For a minute last year in Detroit, he thought he might be somebody because he was the N in Nights Of Fire for Benise's marquise.

I reminded him that he's the one who jumped off into mine and Renee's path. That maybe he didn't like being up there. Or that maybe he was just scared, but not to let his own insecurities and fears hold him back or make him bitter. I also reminded him that we didn't move here for fame. That I actually wasn't sure anymore WHAT I moved here for but that nonetheless, it's just a place.

N was like, 'Alright I feel you, but still, I'm really tiny.'

So I took N to another street and held him up high and pointed out that from this angle, he looks way bigger than HOLLYWOOD.


The things I learn on walks

I've been on a lot of long walks this week. Some were to escape the house because there's nothing like sitting in the living room looking at the guy who just broke up with you. Other walks were to do errands or just to enjoy being outside, moving around. The longest was ten miles and was kind of an accident.

I turned down a ride home from West Hollywood because I wasn't in a rush and thought maybe I'd find a bus to hop on. Ha. What I did find was that Beverly and La Cienega is NOT CLOSE to my old house in Atwater Village. And that my heavy Frye belted mules, while great for kicking shit and totally comfortable when you're not training for a triathalon, aren't really made for walking ten miles.
The good news is that I now have a new map of streets in my head and know new things. Like where to find Korean people! And public restrooms.

One day I rode my bike to Kaldi coffeeshop.

This guy was playing his guitar outside and he didn't bother me at all so I think I'm finally over my irritation with boys and their guitars. That phase was born out of my time at Evergreen where every boy on campus had a guitar slung over his shoulder. Half of the boys, when they weren't pontificating on the psychotropic properties of their favorite drugs, were singing songs about revolutions that had nothing to do with them. Agh.

Anyhow, I rode my bike to my new storage space, dropped it off, and walked to Griffith Park. Where I saw THIS GUY and I really dig this guy.

Unlike hipster fedora guy at the coffeeshop, this guy shunned the public and found a gravely secluded lot. He took off his shirt and was trumpeting away when I came walking by. I didn't ask any questions so I don't know his story. Maybe he lives in an apartment and has been getting complaints. Maybe he wants a tan and a hobby. Whatever his reason, I like it.

Yes, I Googled that muscle group

Everyone tells me that nobody walks in Los Angeles. And up until yesterday I was like, "I'm nobody?" because I liked walking and biking around Atwater-Los Feliz-Glendale, where I used to live. Suddenly, however, I'm staying in West Hollywood and working six days a week in Burbank. The Spice Girls tour is renting me a car for the next six weeks and, as I found out this morning, ten miles behind the wheel of a car on this route equals at least one hour trapped in drive.

Now, the leather that I'm sitting is soft. So soft. And the engine is zippy and the stereo is loud and clear but I swear I'm not totally seduced. Just partially. And as I drove through morning rush hour, I thought, "Oh, this is the canyon and the valley everyone talks about!" My geography of the city is suddenly expanding and I can get so much further, much faster, in this car.

At one point, mid-canyon and full-traffic, I realized that the muscles and tendons on the top of my right foot were getting sore from all the braking and inching, braking and inching. "Motherfucker!" I thought, "My hamstrings and calves are fine, but my itty bitty ANTERIOR TIBIAL is out of shape?!"


sublime heartache

So I had these plans for when I returned to LA.

I'd frolic around the neighborhood on my bicycle, laughing and pumping my fist in the air, so elated to be back. I'd ride the trains and explore the city and I'd figure out how to get to the beach without a car. I'd sink into my home and I'd make soup and I'd finally learn how to mix spices well. I'd pick up lemons in the backyard and I'd find a special plant that wouldn't be too hard to over water and I'd care for it.

None of this happened. I returned to a home and relationship that was falling apart for reasons I don't need to write about here. I'll just say, simply, that IT WASN'T WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS.

And when I realized how much it really wasn't what I thought it was, I left. Or fled. Or whatever.

I went to Seattle with a weight in my stomach as heavy and hard as a bowling ball. At the risk of sounding like a battered woman WHICH I AM NOT, I found a safe place at Carl's. Carl got me through breakup boot camp/phase 1 and woke me up at 6am every morning to hike five miles with him and the dogs. He calls it "walking". But it was through woods and up some hills and down some others. Therefore, hiking. It was dark and spooky in the trees when we started and dawn by the time we reached the beach. Once it rained and once we saw the Asian ranger who greeted me, "Hello, lady."

When I wasn't hiking, I curled up on the couch in Carl's "man room", feeling too shitty to even make jokes about his huge beer mirror. I did, however, admire the other manly elements of his man room: the leather couch, the massive sectional, and the outsized flat screen television mounted on the wall. Carl cooked for me and poured me wine and helped my bowling ball shrink from the really heavy kind (the kind I almost tore my shoulder out of socket over recently at Pickwick Bowl) to a smaller, child-size heft. Thank you, Carlito.

He also lent me his manly truck to go hang out with Ingrid and LAM, the serious fucking bad ass Seal Press editors I assisted when I lived in Seattle. They took me to a bar in Georgetown that had a buffalo head on the wall, which I got a kick out of for some reason. LAM made fun of me for ordering soup and salad, "You're so LA." I defended myself my pointing out that I was drinking a FULL CALORIE pint of pale ale and not some swishy cocktail or sparkling water, extra sparkle. She acquiesced.

I started laughing more. And I flew to Mexico for breakup boot camp/phase 2.

PHASE 2 IS KEY. After wrenching yourself through Phase 1, which is necessary and honest and unavoidable, and your gut is all sore and your eyes are stinging like hell and the sharp little shards of your heart are starting to injure neighboring organs, you've got to figure out how to wrench yourself out of it. Here I got lucky.

I'd mentioned to Leila in an email, in response to her question of whether it was nice to be home, that it actually blew chunks to be home. I gave her the briefest outline of what was going on and she left a message on my phone that pretty much said:

"Do I need to remind you that I own a house in Mexico? That it has a room with a separate entrance if you want to be alone? That you can hang out if you feel like it? That you can walk on the beach? And learn to surf? That the plane tickets are cheap? You should come here. In fact, I INSIST on it."

When Leila insisted, it was done. Apparently I needed someone to tell me what to do. I was also lucky in that I had the kickass synergy of money in my pocket + nowhere I had to be. It could have been worse.

I've already written about the depths of relaxation I reached in Sayulita. I started feeling like myself again and less like a Tim Burton character. I really had no choice, what with surrounding myself with fun, generous people, tasty food, and sunny sunshine. It would have been ludicrous to spend a week in Sayulita feeling depressed and sorry for myself. ABSURD.

I was so comfortable there that sometimes I couldn't stop laughing, even when I sort of wanted to ask, "Um, self? Is it THAT funny?"

Yes, yes it was. It was that funny when Leila emailed me in the plaza from her iPhone to tell me that there was a horse parked in her front yard and it was that funny when it was so hot that I was sweating just watching other people sweat and it was that funny when I found out that one of the guys in town is an author of self help books for women on dating.

Part of me really wanted to tug on his boardshorts and ask some questions. The other part of me was waaaay too embarrassed. I didn't. I just smiled and carried on normal conversation, unrelated to the demise of my latest romantic entanglement AKA he who I had considered the love of my life. When I found out, however, that Leila told Self Help a teeny bit of what happened in LA/what I was doing about it and he nodded with approval - I'd like to think he also nodded because he was SO IMPRESSED but I wasn't there so I'm making that up - I will admit to feeling as validated as hell.

Do I sometimes feel like I'm completely cracked? Maybe. But maybe not.

I started to untangle myself in Mexico/phase 2. If I let myself think certain thoughts too much, I'd feel that old heaviness, now more of a baseball than a bowling ball, start knocking around. There were moments, though, where that shit was barely even ping pong grade and I knew that I was okay. Mad? Check. Hurt? Oh, yes, check. But broken, maimed, and irreversibly scarred? Nope. And no longer shellshocked. I was getting perspective. Thanks, Leila.

My lightest, airiest ping pong moment was in the car with Chucky and Pato and Leila at the end of the week, driving from Sayulita to Vallarta, on our way to the airport. I was staring out from the open window and my hair was getting all blown around and I was looking at the trees in the hills and I thought, THESE TREES ARE GORGEOUS! THESE TREES ARE INCREDIBLE!

The song on the iPod changed and suddenly it was Sublime singing "What I Got". And I remembered - mom, dad, close your eyes for five seconds - tripping on mushrooms and dancing around the livingroom with Kevin in Olympia, singing that same song: "Lovin' is what I got, I said remember that." And just for that moment in the car I felt like THIS IS MY FAVORITE SONG!

I was thinking in happy caps.

Phase 3/Back in LA

Really, the best thing to do when you move out of your house and get a storage space and try to figure out what the heck you're doing in a city that you only moved to for the relationship that just disintegrated is go on tour with the Spice Girls.

I have more questions for myself and more sorting through to do with my feelings, but for the next six rehearsal weeks I will be doing those things from a very nice room in a very nice hotel in West Hollywood, courtesy of the tour. When I first realized I was going back to a hotel after just spending the entire summer in hotels, I was heartbroken and cried because I want a home so, so badly. I can't overestimate how sick I am of moving. Of writing my address in pencil because it keeps changing. I am ready to stay the fuck PUT. But, where?

I now have a few more months to ponder my little heart out. Having stayed one night in the hotel, I'm already warming up to plan B/phase 3. Okay, fine, it won't suck having someone make my bed everyday and leave the New York Times and bring the car around for me in the morning.

Oh yeah, the car. The very nice car is also courtesy of the tour and I had two equally powerful reactions to driving it around today: 1. This isn't my car, people! Don't look at me like that, this isn't me! I'm not a doctor's wife, I'm a cyclist, for chrissake! And then there was 2. This is how I ROLL, bitches.

I'm torn.

And now for some thanks. Dad, thanks for your sweet advice on a good place to meet good, healthy people, spoken straight from your runner-loving heart. Mom, thanks for reminding me that you and Bob Roncker got engaged after six weeks and that taking big risks isn't a totally stupid thing to do.

I haven't given much airplay to many people about all this but to those of you who did hear me blister and blubber and scream, thanks for saying a bunch of true shit. And for making me laugh even when I wanted to stab myself with a hot poker. Sunny in Chicago: "Forget for a minute about what he did to YOU, I've got a bone to pick with him about what he did to ME, taking you away from me like that."

California girl?

I know I'm getting used to living in California when I notice that I'm wearing an overcoat with sandals.

And my sandals?

I had this conversation with Jocardo a while back in which I ranted about how the girls here have sandals for every occasion:

rubber thongs for flopping around the grocery store, heeled sandals for fancy time, and shiny beaded sandals for everything in between. And me, I had corduroys, black hoodies, heavy boots, and many items involving wool.

So I went on Zappos and ordered some sandals with some f'ing beads attached to the top and Jocardo said he was going to laugh very hard at me as soon as he got the opportunity.

note: my version of beaded sandals are still black leather and the beads do not sparkle in the sun. Also, the footbed is very cushiony and supportive so I know Bob Roncker won't get mad when he scrutinizes them.


extra random x 3


Tomatoes are delicious, especially when ripe and straight from the vine to the farmer's market. With a little salt and pepper, I'd eat a tomato like an apple and lick the juicy mess from my hands like a puppydog.

But when I see tomatoes in my salad, I get annoyed. I avoid them, eating around the tomatoes until I remember, "WAIT, those things taste GOOD," and I eat the whole pile and wonder, again, why I did that.


I brush my teeth twice a day and dig dental hygiene, especially after working with dentists in Guatemala. After witnessing the rotten stubs and gums down there, I became a big time flosser and paid a lot of money for a professional cleaning without insurance.

But every day, about 10 seconds after I start brushing, I think, "I really want to wash my hands right now" or "My hair is f'd up, let's fix it" or "Let me just pick these clothes up off the floor real quick" and I do it all with the toothbrush hanging out of my mouth. Then I resume brushing and hope that this time I'll be able to brush faster that I can think.


The first time I listened to the Beleza Tropical CD that DB produced, I was entranced. I wanted to put on a flowy skirt and twirl around my room in an embarrassing fashion. I wondered if my parents still have the shiny gold, silver, and green miniskirt and ruffled tube top with matching gold hair bow and plastic fruit earrings that I traded with a Brazilian girl named Flavia at the international CISV camp in 1986.

Lucky Flavia went home in a SQUARE DANCING OUTFIT. Sucks to be you, Flavia. Where is my gold bow? I want to practice capoeira.

Anyway, my rapture was broken the first time David Byrne opened his mouth to join the musicians he so admires. Because his accent sucks so much ass that I don't know why he doesn't have a raging case of Hepatitis A.

If I HAD been wearing my gold bow when I first heard him sing in Portuguese, I'd have been very lucky because it happens to be big enough to cover the whole top of my head and both ears if I hold the edges down.

So I guess I have sort of figured out number three, after all.


'guru' might be overstating it

I hadn't flight-mentored anyone in a while and, frankly, I didn't realize how much I missed pretending to be the high priestess of air travel.

The last time I got to act all knowledgeable on a plane was in May 2006 when I had the incredible fortune to sit next to a Wal-Mart painter from West Virginia. This week, flying home from Mexico, I sat next to Lucero, Puerto Vallarta massage therapist, who was headed to LA for her nephew's wedding.

"Spanish?" Lucero asked me, pausing in the aisle next to my seat.

"Si," I replied.

She showed me her ticket, which had 19F scrawled in ballpoint pen across it. I pointed to the window seat next to me and smiled broadly as I hauled myself out of the middle seat to let her pass.

I was skipping the whole I VALUE MY PERSONAL SPACE SO ZIP IT, STRANGER phase that I go through on planes, a phase that is closely related to the I GET EMOTIONAL AT 30,000 FEET SO UNLESS YOU WANT TO WATCH ME CRY ON MY PEANUTS YOU WILL MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

I immediately offered Lucero a piece of Trident because I suspected we had some talking to do and I wanted us both to be minty.

I asked her if it was her first time flying. She told me that it was her second time but it was her first time flying ALONE. Here I practically had to restrain myself from hugging Lucero and assuring her that she was not alone. She asked me if Alaska Airlines was "puro gringo". I said everyone on the flight crew was indeed a gringo but that I was sure they were bilingual. Turns out I was wrong.

This meant my role was expanded to include directives such as "She wants you to put your purse under the seat, Lucero" and "Yes, there's a toilet in the back," and to the flight attendant, "Lucero would like a Diet Coke, please" after assuring Lucero that she didn't have to pay for it.

I'd thought I'd just talk about turbulence and remind her of how safe we were even though at times it really might not feel like it.

Which, in and of itself, would have been fulfilling. I don't remember if I actually delved into systems of "baja presion" but I definitely enjoyed calling choppy air TO-TAL-MENTE normal. Because enunciating in Spanish is more staccato and, therefore, dramatic. And since I speak with my hands more in Spanish, I found my palm taking off from the dinner tray like a little plane for added visual effect.

We became a team, Lucero and I. After landing, during the period where people stand and squirm anxiously until it's their turn to grab their bags with the rutty energy of ferrets, we sat calmly. We also exchanged small smiles and slight roll of the eyes when a high-energy Polynesian man was too busy hollering at his friends to notice that he almost took out a few people with his oversized duffle.

Lucero and I split up at customs with thanks, goodbyes, a have fun at the wedding, and a number and address in my pocket for a massage the next time I'm in Vallarta.


yeah, don't call her that

Wait, what?

Oh, that's just Leila trying to swim without getting her broken arm wet.

I think this one looks poignant, like she's bidding a sorrowful fareful. Or signaling to a rescue team for help.

Usually I thought the broken arm in the sea was a little funny, especially the day that there were so many rocks underwater. I held out my forearm like a butler and Leila grasped my wrist to steady herself.

I couldn't stop calling her 'grandma' then and cracked a couple jokes about how I felt like a caregiver and wondered if anyone needed my address to send a check for my hospice work. Leila mostly laughed and told me to shut up and once, just once, said 'fuck you.' I can't remember if that was before or after I asked if she'd started thinking about what kinds of canes she likes.

If I put a pricetag on this trip, it would be high

If you've ever been to a place and you sink right into it right away, you'll know what I mean. A couple of days after arriving in Sayulita, I remembered that thing called email. I'd changed the outgoing message on my phone to: "I'm currently in Mexico, drinking a frothy beverage from a coconut on the beach or battling a tropical storm. You can send me an email or you can leave me a message and I'll call you when I'm back."

I considered that since I had yet to see a coconut drink stand and the tropical storm hadn't moved inland, I should try to make good on one of my proclamations.

I told Leila that morning, while rocking in one of her livingroom's wicker chairs, that getting online was all I needed to get done that day. We decided to go into town (a walk of four whole blocks) to eat and about three hours later actually got around to doing that.

An hour or two after polishing off a whole fish, minus eyes and brains, a plate of guacamole, french fries, and tortilla chips, we were still sitting at the long wooden table in the sand, chatting with people who kept coming by and stopping to sit for awhile. My shoes were off, my legs were stretched out, and for all I know my arms were hanging like overcooked noodles over the sides of the chair. I'd begun to sink into relaxation and all of my muscles were playing along.

"I guess we should get the check," Leila said.

"Okay, but we can't get up," I said, "We'll just make eye contact."

We tried to look really hard at our waiter but he was all the way over there and we were all the way over here and it meant we had to turn our necks sometimes and we soon forgot about the check.

I remembered the day in Quito that Taryn and I decided to see how long it would take to eat our meal one piece of rice at a time. Answer: A LONG TIME. Especially when you factor in all the minutes spent giggling over how cute a piece of rice looks on a fork sprong all by its little self.

Someone asked us what we were doing that day and I gathered up my strength to chuckle. I said that I wanted to go to the plaza to check email but it was like two blocks away and I didn't know when I was going to feel up to that. I eventually did make it to the plaza and the cafe closed a half hour after I got there. It was 5 pm, after all.

Another day we spent at the San Pancho surf competition. Waking up that morning was aided by the fact that as soon we stepped on the beach at 9am, our eardrums were blasted with these choice lyrics issuing forth from the professional speakers:



"This is funny," I said to Leila.

"They play all kinds of music," she said. "Some of it's pretty bad."

"How bad?"

"Walk the dinosaur bad," she said.

"WOW," I said. Boom boom acka-lacka-lacka boom.

When you aren't surfing in Sayulita, you might be fishing.

Pato took us out on his boat. We sat in the bay and caught sardines in a net for bait. Pelicans hovered nearby looking needy and I thought about Leila falling asleep on the beach a couple of days before, while whispering to herself, "Pelicans look like dinosaurs..."

And I guess they do kind of.

Out on more open water, we skimmed along and I felt a smile spreading across my face in just the cheesiest, most conspicuous way. Oh, and the dolphins we saw? Almost too much to handle.

"Alright, I GET IT," I thought. All this awe and deep, still, strength is totally gonna go to my head.

Though mixed in with my litte lovefest was terror. When Pato stopped the boat and I stared into that endless blue and those gentle swells, my stomach flipflopped and I instantly felt like sharkbait. It took ten seconds to go from lusting after dolphin encounters, practically sobbing over all the HARMONY, to imagining the depths of the Pacific Ocean and the size of the whole flipping galaxy. And just for a minute I kind of turned on my own personal clump of molecules.

"My life is tiny and insignificant. I am a SPECK. What is my life? Who in the hell is writing this story?"

I am, of course.

Pee on our feet

A year ago, on the last night of the dazzling fifth season of the American Idol tour, Matt drank an uncertain number of cocktails, hopped off the bus in his socks, and took a leak in a hotel fountain. When he lost his balance and stepped directly into a pool of his own urine, I worriedly scanned the door for hotel personnel but Jimmy wasted no time in laughing and pointing at him.

Two weeks ago, season six culminated with a group of us riding in the bus's front lounge to the airport hotel. Two of them happened to be Matt and Jimmy. Another was a chaperone whom I adore. She is kind and lovely and just thinking about her now makes me want to go have tea with her and rest my head on her shoulder. She's a grandma and she's religious and thoughtful and sweet.

She hung with us up front for a good while until she suddenly decided to go to the back lounge. I think it might have been not too long after someone started randomly shouting out both motherfucker and cunt and similar words at the top of his lungs. Mind you, he wasn't yelling them at her and or anyone in particular but it didn't matter. It made her uncomfortable.

Later she returned to the front to use the toilet. When she exited the bathroom she was delicately dabbing her feet with paper towels and murmuring about how she think she stepped in urine on the floor. I groaned because I always ride the boy bus and am familiar with the consequences of a lurching, braking bus + boys standing up to pee. It gets messy. Rule number one is to always wear shoes to the bathroom. The chaperone, however, was used to the girl bus where there are flowers and candles and everyone sits.


One week ago, I was at a birthday party for San Pancho, Sayulita's neighboring town in Mexico. The local towns all throw birthday parties for themselves and I had the good fortune to attend the last night of a TEN DAY PARTY. Oh yes, ten days. It gave me ideas if I ever have another birthday party. My party won't last ten days but someone should definitely be winging rocks at empty beer bottles when I turn 33. So simple and fun (and sharp and loud)!

You got three tries to smash a bottle and win a can of beer. It was like an elementary school carnival except that you get to drink and don't have to carry around a goldfish in a plastic bag that's going to die a week after you get it home.

Earlier Leila's friend Donny and I had been watching drummers until suddenly he pulled me away, "We have to get out of here, the tower of fireworks is gonna go off." He said that in the past he'd seen people with clothes singed, smoke rising from their shoulders from the fireworks but I figured he was just being expressive.

Then, from a distance, I heard the tower explode and turned to see light raining down, sure enough, on people. I watched as two firework-laced images of a giant cross and a giant margarita lit up and began swirling madly. My mouth dropped open. It was fantastic, a big boozy Mexican Exorcist. The girls around me began screaming.

"It's the toro!" Leila said.

Oh yeah, she'd mentioned the toro and I hadn't taken that seriously, either. I just didn't believe that a guy would make himself into a "bull" by strapping fireworks on his head and back and then run through the crowd, shooting them at people. That, however, is exactly what happens. I screamed and darted over to a tree where I grabbed the trunk and crouched.

A bit later, after more excitement and more beer, Leila and I needed to empty our bladders. We found the official ladies bathroom which boasted not only the requisite line but also a face-curdling stench of rotten urine and hepatitis B. Oh, hell no. We headed to the street.

On a dark corner, amidst bushes and palms and fronds, I crouched at the edge of someone's yard. As extra measure, Donny played sentinel and planted himself on the sidewalk, ready to redirect passersby. Things were going fine, too; I had the angle and the splay just right. There was just so much beer up there and it was taking forever. Mid-stream, I glanced to the right and saw two figures approaching Donny. I whipped my head back and pushed with my pelvis. I HAVE TO GET THIS OVER WITH. And sprayed all over my feet.