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.