Summer reading and reading gender

I was inspecting my room at the hotel in Arizona when I saw the books. I stood on tippytoes to read the spines: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King and Undue Influence by Steve Martini. Fittingly, wedged between the two, was Stop the Insanity! by Susan Powter.

Okay. Stephen King, whatever. Beloved by many people, I've never really gotten into him but I thought his book about the writing process, On Writing, was pretty good.

Susan Powter I remember from television commercials in the 90's. I didn't pay attention to her and there's a part of me that regrets that because I suspect that I'd agree with some of what she had to say about health and fitness and the horrible diet industry.

But I was too busy being turned off by her aggressive approach. She always spoke in caps and couldn't stop telling everyone to stop the insanity and was so fucking JAZZED all the time that it made me want to immediately turn off the TV, light a cigarette, and eat a whole box of non-fat cookies.

People on a mission are passionate, I know. I just happen to prefer that they'd casually mention their passion and then give me some time to let it sink in. They don't have to yell in my face; that makes me anxious. The third book on the shelf, the one by Steve Martini, stopped me for a minute. Why is his name so familiar?

OH YEAH. I decided back in April that I hate that guy! Before I found a good crime story to read in Berlin, I tried to read Steve Martini. I hung in there for like 180 pages until I finally admitted that the book was formulaic and boring. I decided at the very end, with only a few pages to go, that if I died I'd be happier NOT knowing what happened. Knowing which yuppie lawyer got pushed off a Mayan pyramid would actually make my death less meaningful. So I closed the book.

And now? Two months and nine time zones later? Here he is again. In my bedroom. What Steve Martini needs to know is that I've moved on.

These are the books that I packed in my suitcase for the summer:

1. The Seduction of Place: The History and Future of the City by Joseph Rykwert
2. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
3. Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, Edited by Mattilda AKA Matt Bernstein Sycamore.

I brought the one on cities because I like thinking about how environments affect people and vice versa, the one by Alain de Botton because anything he writes inspires me and makes me laugh, and the one on gender for a few reasons.

I heard about Nobody Passes on mimi smartypants and I perked up because the book was published by Seal Press, where I interned in Seattle.

I read an excerpt or a review and caught some of the following words in the context of BELONGING: gender norms, genderqueer, mixed-race identity, white liberalism, immigration, sexual liberation, domestic violence prevention, ecstasy, academic tokenism, SM, do-it-yourself hypocrisy, the psychiatric industry, international travel, anti-Arab hysteria, marriage, fetishism, consumerism, personal responsibility, gay male fear of female bodies, motherhood, homeless shelters, public school, private school, the suburbs.


Some people may find this book overwhelming, others a primer, but either way I think it's essential in asking you to CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS. Do not assume that you are normal or that you are automatically right. Definitely don't assume that you are not accountable.

Everyone should question themselves as much as they question others.

I don't always do this. I can be a self-righteous and assuming and that's why I liked this book. It reminded me of going to school at the Evergreen State College in 1996. I drove to a Gender Studies conference in Portland, Oregon with my professor, the only student in my class who wanted to go. I went because I was curious about gender regardless of the fact that I was fairly f'ing certain that I was a straight girl. I wanted to know what other people thought.

It made me think about how far, at times, I've strayed from that point. How simplistic and limited I can be when reading people. I just recenlty found out how much I influenced Charlie when we met in New York. How my work at the Feminist Press and the people I exposed him to gave him the first few words of a language that he took home with him and began to master. It changed him and now he's fluent while I still speak baby talk.

It hit me one night in Berlin when I was in a room surrounded by people who many others might wrongly - in ignorance and fear - call freaks. Charlie introduced me to someone and said, "This is Jess. I stayed with her for five months in New York. She saved my life." I was struck. I was in a space where I didn't look like I belonged. I'd had, in the past, some influence on someone there yet in the present I had no idea what was going on. I didn't feel uncomfortable, though. I felt curious.

Inga Muscio, another Seal Press author, wrote about how certain books saved her life. I believe that. And when it comes to my life, I'm not relying on Steve Martini.



I would've left my panties but that's just me

I just hope that whoever left their bra in my parking space had an incredible night of passion. There beneath the 24-hour fluorescent lights of Long's Drugs and FedEx.

Hello, car. Goodbye, sense of humor.

I took a walk my first day back in LA. I went to a park in West Hollywood and sat on a concrete picnic table. I watched Latino kids play soccer and made some phone calls and realized that I was tired. Three hours time difference plus no sleep the night before tired. Make a pillow out of empty Cheetos bags and cigarette boxes and curl up under the concrete table tired. I walked back to the hotel.

Something funny happened on the way. I was so delirious I barely remember what but I think it was poodle-related. I just know that I saw something funny and I shared a high-beamed smile with some stranger who saw it too. I kept laughing so I giggled at other strangers as I passed them on the sidewalk. And I thought to myself that I was acting as I did in Berlin when I spent hours every day walking and laughing with people I would never know or see again.

The next day I got my rental car and I drove to rehearsals thinking THIS IS SWEET. Driving through Laurel Canyon, I noticed how pretty the trees and flowers were and how the Rav4 had nice pickup and took the curves in the road.

"I am a hypocrite," I thought, "Because I am digging this."

Good luck, Earth. Goodbye, fossil fuels. So sorry, future generations. Didn't I say that when I get tired of cycling and public transport and walking, I'll get a veggie oil car or a hybrid or an electric or something that makes me feel like less of an ass? Because what I MEANT was that I'll get an SUV. Or a Hummer! Maybe a Hummer limousine like the one I just saw, the one that blocked the entire intersection when it took a left. I tried to count the wheels on the Hummer limo when it crept past me like a giant white monster centipede - I think I saw 12.

On the radio, 98.7 FM was giving away gas to listeners.

"Congratulations! You are winner of three months worth of gas!" Yelled the DJ.

"Oh my goodness! Wow!" The winner sounded overjoyed, "Thank you!"

"That's such a LA thing to give away," I thought disdainfully.

Again with the hypocrisy; I was getting my gas costs reimbursed by work and thus wasn't jealous of the radio winners. But my personal conflict - eco-ideals vs. apathy - was pretty much over by the time I got home that first day driving.

It took me two hours to drive 20 miles that day. I wasn't so much noting the bright purple flowers by the end of those two hours as much as the fact that I'd called three people assholes, one guy a fucking dick, asked some lady to get off my ass, and told one bitch to step on it. I'd also given two people the finger but in my special secret way which is to hold it low, down by my leg. I hold it there for awhile, for like ten seconds, and no one knows I'm doing it but for whatever reason it makes me feel really good.

So much for walking around, taking my time, giggling uncontrollably, smiling.


The Grigor Show

Yesterday I did something big: I sent all my things in LA back to Ohio. Normally this wouldn't be news since I tend to move all my belongings thousands of miles every few years but this time it was different. I didn't get neurotic, I didn't go on an internet shopping binge, I didn't even stress. I EXPERIENCED EUPHORIA. What?

I arrived in LA a week ago, went to my storage space and pulled bags out to repack for the summer. I shoved my bicycle in the SUV that the tour rented me and took it to a shop to have boxed up. And I found things in the space that I'd forgotten about, like the Party Box. If I weren't so happy right now, I could easily name it something else: Bitterness Box, Angry Break Up Box, I Bought The Alcohol So I'm Taking It With Me Box. I opened the box and laughed, "I'm gonna have a great party when I get back to Ohio!"

In the box: a bottle of wine, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne, and two giant jugs of whiskey and tequila. There was margarita salt and a mojito kit. A fondue set that Gail sent me as a housewarming gift when I moved to LA.

Last year, a few months after I broke up with Frank, I was in Berlin telling Charlie what happened. I confessed that I was being petty the day that I bought a cooler at Target, went back to the house I'd moved out of, and took beers out of the fridge while my ex-bf sat at the table in the living room.

"Well," Charlie said, "If that's all you needed to reclaim in order to get control of the situation then that's a good sign."

Hm. I hadn't thought of that. I thought I was just being a brat. And it wasn't all I needed to reclaim (respect for my individuality) but in some shitty little way, that act made me feel better.

I got up early yesterday and was dragging bags out of the space and into the car before it was even screamingly hot out, notable since the temperature in Los Angeles has been hovering around BLISTERING. But I was merry even when I realized that I had 25 pieces (backpacks, duffel bags, suitcases, boxes) to send home and I came out here with something like 15. I've accumulated more stuff, house stuff, books, and let's be honest, shoes. I didn't care. Though my parents might when Fed Ex dumps it all on their front porch in four days.

I drove to Fed Ex and commenced dragging everything to the shipping desk where I received a lukewarm reception.

"How much do you have?" The shipping clerk asked me.

"Um. A LOT," I said.

I parked illegally and began scurrying back and forth between car and shipping desk. In between runs, I'd lift the bags onto the scale for the clerk and his painstaking process of weighing and measuring and entering numbers into the computer. Later I moved the car to a parking garage and finished packing the final two bags. This is when I started laughing at my unorthodox packing methods.

Will I remember that I bubble-wrapped a pirate mug and shoved it into a fur-lined boot or will that be a surprise in three months? I know I'll be pleased to re-discover the big duffel filled entirely with hair care products. Like three years worth. Not that I'm high maintenance, I just get gifts from stylists and sponsors on tour and no matter how puffy my shit gets, it takes a while to use up 29 tubes of smoothing creme.

Two hours later, the Fed Ex guys have warmed up to me. I've gone from being the girl who's taking up all their time and holding up the line to their #1 customer. My main dude's name is "Grigor (Greg)". That's what his name tag says: Grigor (Greg). Which seems like a waste of parentheses but whatever.

"I take it you're leaving for good?" he asks.


His co-worker is ALSO named Grigor and Grigor 1 and Grigor 2 are a good team. Grigor 2 hauls my tagged bags into the back room and performs a little skit about how heavy they are, groaning etc.

"Yeah, I carried those all in here," I remind him, "AND out of my storage space."

"Yeah!" Grigor 1 backs me up.

"I need to get on your training plan," Grigor 2 says.

Grigor 1 asks me about Ohio and what the work market is like. I tell him that I freelance and can live anywhere. If I need to work in LA, I'd rather get paid to be here than the other way around. He tells me that his cousin works for a company in Boston, a bearings company. He makes sixty dollars an hour. I nod, impressed.

Grigor 2 sticks a red Fragile sticker on Grigor 1 and says that his heart is soft. Grigor 1 pulls it off in disgust.

We are getting close to the end. Almost all of my things have been measured and weighed and I put one of the last boxes on the scale: THE MARGARATOR. It weighs 10.5 lbs.

"Did you just use that box or is there really a margarita machine in there?"

"Oh no, there's a Margarator in there," I say.

I scrape the price tag off the box. No one can know how much I paid for my Margarator, how weak that weak moment really was. Grigor gives me the grand total and after I recover from shock, I smile, thank him and leave. I can't wipe the smile off my face. I turn the music up and roll the window down. I wish I'd tied some tin cans to the bumper and painted congratulations on the windows of the Rav4.

Something that could have felt sad - moving away from LA - something that could have felt like a failure, felt like a success. I'm elated because everything I've done since September has felt right. I spent so much time last year second guessing myself and allowing someone else to dismiss my perspectives. If nothing else, in September I broke up with Frank on my terms: unequivocally. And my refusal to permit any gray area on the subject pushed me forward.

I'm elated because of where I am, who I am, and who I'm with. And I'm elated because I have every reason to believe that things will only keep get better.



"Well, they're both kind of loafers!"

I was on the phone with Jane yesterday when she realized that she was wearing two different shoes. And I laughed at her but I TOTALLY get how that can happen.

If you're four years old.


five tangy flavors deliver fun variety!

Matthew told me that Nerds are his favorite candy and I wasn't surprised. A nerd WOULD like Nerds. It's called identifying.

THEN? He discovered Giant Chewy Nerds in a gas station and HOLY F**K OMG EXPLETIVE.

I don't even like candy that much and I freaked over these things. We sat on the couch, each with a bag of GCNs, popping them in our mouths, exchanging wild-eye glances. Cursing.

I'm not even going to talk about what happened when we found doubles, the conjoined twins of Giant Chewy Nerds. It's too embarrassing.

The next time we bought them, I read the label. They're jelly beans encased in a hard, bumpy, crunchy Nerd shell. Why, exactly, that makes them so crackish, I don't know but they won an award. A very important candy award.

This is the gas station in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky where the cashier busted us buying late-night Nerds two days in a row.

He said something to Matthew like, 'Back for more, huh?'

Who replied, 'They're Nerd jelly beans!'


I've now resolved to ask the runner in every city on the Idol tour to find Giant Chewy Nerds for the bus. Because that won't take up valuable time at all.

Pitsie needs a shower

I took this photo to show off my Bob Roncker's Running Spot / Cincinnati, Ohio travel mug.

Too bad I can't tear my eyes off the sweat pouring out of my right armpit long enough to read the fine print. Also of note is the large vein curling around my left arm like an over-sized earthworm.

In this photo you can't even see my left armpit whose sweat ring, I'll just tell you, is about four inches more impressive than rightie. Nice.

I'd just arrived at the rehearsal studio when this photo was taken. I parked and walked outside for MAYBE 45 seconds. I didn't realize how my sweat glands had reacted and began waving at band members across the studio and guilelessly subjecting them to my slimy hugs.

I thought last week's heatstroke episode which demanded immediate attention (drinking cocktails with Mandy) and general sauna-like weather of Ohio made me impervious to the heat. Besides, they keep saying it's a DRY HEAT here in LA.

Whatever. I'm stink.

By the end of the day, I felt I owed an apology to Geoff, with whom I was sharing a small office and whose nose was potentially within reach of my pits. He didn't care. He was distracted by accidentally cutting himself with either the knife or scissors - he was holding both when he began yelling and hopping around so it was hard to tell which - and by spilling coffee all over his suitcase and floor. Apparently we are both a mess.

Because I'm a helpful assistant, I handed him napkins and mocked him while he put on a pirate bandaid and dabbed coffee off important tax forms.

Side Story: My nickname with Sara and Michael, who appear to be on some sort of honeymoon in this photo, is Pita. Pita is short for Pupusita and refers to a San Francisco afternoon many years ago in which I plowed through my weight in Salvadoran pupusas. I later found out that pupusita, in El Salvador, is slang for vagina. Literally, little vagina. WOW.

My Salvadoran roommate in New York didn't tell me that. He kept a straight face when I told him my nickname because he's a gentleman. But my Cincinnati friend Mateo, who has lived in El Salvador for ten years, cracked up when I told him my name.

Pupusita has since been officially mended to Pita but for awhile Sara was trying to come up with alternatives. She tried once to call me Pit Stain and I wasn't having it. Now she often calls me Pitsie and not only is that fine but it's apparently appropriate.

Photo credit: M. Sperling

Tour managers kill people

Another year, another season of American Idols Live! Oh, and Geoff doesn't really kill people. That would be unprofessional.


My friends Captain Morgan and Mandy.

I don't care what you're doing right now. It'd be better if you were doing it with Mandy and a Captain Morgan and Diet Coke.

The only thing that would make this photo more quintessential Mandy is if she had on footed pajamas. And a shawl.

Which, yesterday, would have sucked for her since it was 90 degrees out with a million percent humidity. Mandy picked me up after breastfeeding her baby and leaving him with her mom.

"Hi," I said, "I think I have heatstroke. What are we doing?"

"I'm having a cocktail," Mandy said.

YES! Because cocktails are good for both breastfeeding and heatstroke.

Either Mandy has calculated exactly how long it takes to digest rum out of her system or there is a very good reason that her kid smiles so much.

As for me, walking for hours through Berlin in the spring is not the same as being assaulted by Ohio Valley haze during peak hours. I left the house at 10AM and went to the post office. I walked to a five mile trail. I talked on the phone and jammed to my tunes. Life was swell.

Until I noticed in the final stretch, seven miles in? Eight? That I was covered in slime, limping, and barely had the strength to lift a Diet 7UP to my cracked lips.

My head was still pounding when the waitress asked us what we wanted.

"Captain Morgan and Diet Coke. Tall glass. Single shot," Mandy replied in a breath.

Because I am both impressionable and indecisive, I had the same. And wasn't at all surprised that by the time I finished the first round and Mandy finished saving a child's life by fielding one of her social work-related phone calls, I felt completely healed.



Last Sunday my brother had on a shirt that said THE UNSTOPPABLE LEGEND. Which I thought was perfect.

People have always asked me what it was like to grow up with a retarded brother. Did I feel left out? And did I get enough attention? And did I feel different from other kids? And was it hard?

And I get where those questions are coming from but, "Huh?"

Neill is severely mentally disabled from a sweet combo package of bad inoculations, epilepsy, and meningitis – thanks, universe! – but as a brother, he's all I know.

You mean everyone’s brother doesn’t have seizures? Really? Weird.

There are kids born addicted to alcohol and crack, kids born into families with chauffeurs and nannies and yachts, kids who get shot on the way to school, kids who think everyone has a two-car garage and white picket fence.

They all think their world is THE world. The whole social fabric comparison happens later. Perspective is acquired.

By the way, dad, nice vest. I don't know if I've told you that lately. How do you keep those gold chains so nice and shiny?

Here my mom is squeezing Neill's cheek which is all puffed up on steroids. When I see super fat baby Neill photos, I laugh and think it's cute. But my mom moans, "Awww," sadly, because she remembers what it was like to have a sick baby.

My parents - not me - went through the shock and heartache of their baby's developing problems. They moved back to Ohio from California and got busy with support groups and learning as much as they could so that they were dealing by the time I showed up two years later like, "Okay, let's DO this!"

I've only seen one photo of me that betrays any sadness or confusion about our family. It's Halloween, I'm one-and-a-half years old, and I'm wearing a bunny suit.

I do NOT look happy. My parents had just realized that Neill was running a 108 degree fever and was blind. He regained his sight, so again, thanks universe, and this time I'm not being sarcastic. That was nice of you to let him see again.

They dumped me at Mema and Papa's house and rushed to the hospital. Clearly I know something is up. Something, somewhere, is SUCKING. My bunny ears are drooping.

But most photos of us are like this, fat and happy.

It wasn't that big of a deal. We fought and I hit him and he bit me and I cried. We went to nursery school and watched TV and took swimming lessons and went to family fun night at Stepping Stones. We were friends with other families who had disabled kids and sometimes went on vacations together.

Not that I didn't get embarrassed. My cheeks burned when he got tired of mass and stood up in the pew and shouted, "No!" Or decided to make animal noises. That was always fun. But it had always been like that so in some ways, it was normal. We both got plenty of attention.

I should point out something, though. It could have been very different.

My parents were fiercely determined to keep Neill actively in the world. He went to camp and took horseback riding lessons. He played on a t-ball team for disabled kids which was a FUNNY game to watch. We both went to the pool and to church youth group.

If Neill had been born in an earlier decade, there would've been more pressure from doctors to put him in an institution. He could have been hidden away like a family taboo. But in the 70s and 80s there were a lot of resources for Neill and when there weren't?

Let's just say I WISH I'd been around when the school board tried to tell my mom that Neill had to go to the horrible county school. Because I know her neck started swiveling and her finger went up and she said something to the effect of, "BITCH, PLEASE." And just in case the board didn't hear her the first time, she sued their asses. An excellent example of why you do not mess with mama bear. Because she will take you to court for eight years until she wins. Haza!

Sometimes I was nice and did things for Neill that he couldn't, like write his Christmas list.

Some of this list, the trucks and books, makes sense. That part of the list is still relevant; This past April Neill got a book for his 35th birthday that was read to him back in elementary school.

As for some of the other items? The "minicher" Strawberry Shortcake was an obvious scam to get a little present for myself out of the whole deal, the big fake Butterfinger candy bar would have just been stupid, and a cow + a horse + a pig, while right up Neill's alley, weren't practical for the suburbs.

In some ways, Neill hasn't changed that much since I wrote this list. He has new interests - country music, flashlights - and a WICKED toy snake collection but he still loves horses and pigs. He still has seizures and a temper and a tendency to hit me when he's not hugging me and crowing my name, "Kah! Kah!"

He still has a good sense of humor and totally infectious laugh and an increasingly flexible vocabulary of cuss words with which to insult me (fucker, punk bitch).

"Neill, will you miss me?"

"Shut up, bitch."

"Neill, can I sleep in your bed?"


"Why not, Neill?"



After he says this, he smiles all devious-like. He knows what he's doing. And then he tells me that he loves me. I ask you, who exactly is the punk bitch around here? Hm, Neill?

This is a photo from last weekend when I took Neill, his unstoppable legend t-shirt, and his green shamrock necklace name tag (?) to Lunken airport to watch planes.

We'd been standing near the end of the runway for awhile and there hadn't been many planes. I started up a cheer.

"What do we want?!"


"When do we want them?!"


I'd pump my fist in the air and point at Neill for his parts and he was really good on the "planes", not so much on the "now".

"When do we want them?!"


"No Neill," I said, "Say NOW!"


Oh, whatever.

Is it just me or does Neill really know how to rock a seizure helmet?


More boob than you can handle

Right before I left the country in March, I sat on the ground in JFK Airport and made a phone call.

I'd just learned that a friend was having boob issues. The boobs were suddenly, at the age of 31, growing maniacally. And I'm just going to put it out there that they were NOT SMALL to start with.

"Hi," my friend answered the phone. "Are you excited about Berlin?"

"Yes," I said. "How are your boobs?"

She told me that a) her boobs were each the size of her head, b) she was suddenly afraid of losing balance on her bike and pitching forward, and c) she hated feeling like a boob monster.

Whereas I would like, for just one day, to know what it's like to be a boob monster.

This friend was not pregnant, had to buy new shirts and bras, and her doctor said she should see a breast specialist.

While in Berlin, I got an email from her, a scared freaking out email about how there might be something wrong, besides the fact that it's the size of a watermelon, with one of the boobs. A doctor thought she might have detected something. A lump or growth.

I went to an internet cafe in and called her. The doctor couldn't find anything when she looked again but said she should schedule an MRI and a biopsy. To be on the safe side.

SCARY. Especially since she has been through the process of her own mother kicking breast cancer's ass and because 31 years old feels kinda early to start throwing around words like biopsy.

We love her boobs, even when - ESPECIALLY WHEN - they are ridiculously large. We don't want anything to be wrong with them; We just want to make fun of them from time to time.

This week she got an appointment for the big check up and our mutual friend organized flowers to be sent. We brainstormed on the phone about what the card should say and we wanted to outdo the pussywillow bouquet we sent for the mutual friend's cervical operation last year.

I pushed hard for changing Deee-Lite's "Groove Is In The Heart" lyrics to Boob Is In The Heart but that didn't go over well well. This is what we came up with.

And THIS is what the f'ing amazing florist in San Francisco, Church Street Flowers hooked us up with. We love him. We love our friend and her phenomenal boobs. And most of all we love the fact that her tests came back clear and perfect and healthy. Muah.


What are YOU doing tonight?


SPOTLIGHT: Carl Rogers, Jr.

I met Carl when I was 25 years old. I was living in Seattle and his business partner hired me to bartend in their new Irish pub, Mulleady's. Carl wasn't in on the hiring process which was fortunate; I don't know that I would have gotten the job otherwise. Carl called me a princess the first time we met. He and Dave Mulleady held an employee meeting to set up the shift schedule and I mentioned that I couldn't work one of those first days because I'd be in San Francisco visiting a friend.

Granted, this wasn't the best way to start a job, but surely I made up for it in ways that I can't think of right now. In any case, Carl wasn't impressed. "Princess over here..." he said. Oh Carl, you had no idea what you were getting into. You should've just fired me on the spot thereby ensuring that this photo would never end up on the internet.

I took this photo of Carl last week. He is standing in front of his mom Phyllis' fireplace wearing a sweatshirt that he bought at his aunt's garage sale, a shirt that says, "Yes, I'm a GRANDMOTHER and proud of it!"

For once, I did not add those caps for emphasis. This sweatshirt is emphatic all on its own. Other features include quilted hearts and a little blue collar coming out of the neck so it kind of looks like Carl has a mini turtleneck on underneath. Here, let's get a closeup. Um, grandma? Your hands are scaring me.

I remember the happy day that Carl and I realized that we were both Ohioans. A few years later, I drove north across Ohio, up to Lake Erie, and went to Vermilion when Carl was home visiting his mom Phyllis. I met an army of aunts and uncles and neighbors and got in on some good small town gossip. I went to the fish fry at Amvets and learned the Vermilion Sailors fight song, the only part of which I can remember now is FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! WIN! WIN! WIN! which is pretty much every fight song in the history of time.

I played Cranium with more relatives - Carl drew me a family tree to try to help me keep all the Bevs and Bobs and Pats straight - and learned that I'm completely useless unless you ask me to spell something backwards. Then I'm suddenly fucking gifted.

This past visit with Carl was short but totally worth driving four hours and taking a few wrong turns down state and county roads. Even if I hadn't seen the Amish kids who were selling something by the side of the road appear to get all pissed off when I didn't stop, it would have been worth it. Side note: Are Amish people supposed to get mad like that? I feel like they're not but maybe I'm confusing them with another religious sect.

Because the last time I saw Carl was when he gave me shelter as a breakup refugee and I spent most of that time crying into my wine glass and walking silently through the woods, deep in my black hole of heartbreak. This time I was happy! And I'd forgotten how much Phyllis' backyard, right on Lake Erie, kicks ass. And how much I like ribs and beans and cole slaw.

At the end of the night I watched Carl pack for Seattle. He was trying to impress me with his system of stuff he keeps permanently in drawers at Phyllis' house so he doesn't have to pack as much when he pulled out a pair of jeans.

"These are my jeans," he said, "In case of emergency."

"What kind of emergency would call for jeans again?"

This is where you should know that Carl always wears shorts. Always. Carl hates to not have shorts on. When I once asked him why he only wears shorts he said, "YOU WOULDN'T KEEP A SPORTS CAR IN THE GARAGE WOULD YOU?" A fine, fine answer.

To my jeans-emergency question he replied, "In case I get invited to a party. A jeans-only party."


Thank you, Fanny Pack

Two weeks ago, I sat with Charlie and Mona at a picnic table on a Berlin sidewalk. We ate bowls of soup and falafel plates and talked about where we were and where we were going.

Mona asked how I felt about leaving Berlin and I said okay. My six weeks in Berlin were, without a doubt, the best six weeks I've ever spent traveling. I'd sensed, during my week there in December, that it was where I needed to be. After that December week, I returned to the Spice tour GLOWING. Apparently.

People couldn't get enough of my vacation face.

"WHAT happened to you there?"

"You're glowing!"

"You look so happy!"

I must have been one pasty, gloomy MF before I went to Berlin.

That December week, I vibed out the qualities of the city that made it the right place for me and made sure I went back as soon as possible, for most of April and May, in my time off between the Spice Girls and American Idol tours.

And the fact that I was able to do that makes me want to do a little jig. Like right now. In this coffeeshop. Just pick up my skirts and start clogging away. Sike, my clogs are in storage. Anyway.

I knew, the whole time I was there, that I was doing the best thing for myself that I possibly could. Without an apartment in the States, I could put my money towards living in Berlin. I could have rented a room somewhere in the US, somewhere comfortable, and I would have been welcome to crash with many different friends in different places but I needed something different, more anonymous.

I didn't want to balance my routine with anything or anyone else, I wanted to make it up new each day. I didn't want structure, I didn't want a big safety net, I wanted solitude. Or as much solitude as one gets when they have panic attacks if they can't get online. I wanted to be straight up selfish.

Now, I LOVE the people I love, and I love traveling with others, and I don't want to be a monk and wear a hair shirt and chant in caves, but after that last year of a destructive, chaotic ex-relationship and moving across the country again and working eight months on the road, managing other people, I wanted to pay some serious attention to myself.

I know what you're thinking: Eat, Pray, Love. Well, shut up. It wasn't like that. Much.

It kicked ass to have a dear friend in Berlin and it was entertaining to meet new people but I still spent far more time alone than with others. And that was perfect. By the end of the six weeks, it was time to go. I was excited to get back to Cincinnati for the rainbows and unicorns that awaited me and that, too, felt abnormally ideal.

"Wow," I thought, "I've never been so happy to be somewhere AND as equally happy to leave." My feelings are usually more conflicted, the bitter outweighing the sweet or vice versa.

So when Mona asked me how I felt about leaving and I said I felt okay, okay meant calm and clear. I had good, strong feelings on both sides of the arrival and the departure. I told Charlie and Mona that I knew I'd be back and that made it easier. I also told them that I'd still probably tear up on the plane because I tend to get reflective when my feet are that far off the ground.

I took the long way back to Ohio and spent two days in London. "Here I am," I thought, "Eating deep-fried sausages. Whatever. Not emotional."

I said goodbye to Joanna and Alfie at the tube station with little sensation of leaving an old friend and a continent and a nice little chapter in my story. I do this all the time. It's cool. I'm cool etc.

WELL. I made it through the friendly namaste from the Air India flight attendant and the delicious curry and Knocked Up and Dirty Harry and it wasn't until we were flying over New York. The pilot said we'd be on the ground in 20 minutes and I looked out and saw the ground and BWAAAAH!

Someone started crying and completely ruined her makeup. And the reputation I'd been building as a savvy traveler. But I did as Cathy had ordered and walked off the plane with my iPod playing The Theme from Fanny Pack, the soundtrack to my return, and started feeling okay again.

OMG part II

Jane sent me a video after reading my last post.

And I'm totally weirded out because it addresses several of my current favorite subjects:

Unicorns, joy, magical bridges of hope and wonder, and if you can make it to the end, ORGAN HARVESTING. OMG. Seriously.


I like a boy and therefore can't write. I've been spending a lot of time with him saying things like, "We rock. High five!" and "OMG" which, by the way, is dangerous.

OMG starts out as a joke. Since I feel like I'm in high school what with the staying at my parents' house, borrowing my mom's car to go on dates, and stealing her cell phone since I dropped mine and it broke in half, it seems appropriate to make say OMG. Ha ha.

Until suddenly you're not kidding and you said it 35 times yesterday AND MEANT IT.

Will someone please remind me of the dark side so that maybe a) I'll pull myself together and b) I won't end up writing about magical rainbows and unicorns and boys?

Because how annoying will that be?