Who I wake up to

Yeah, I married that.


I've just escaped from the London dungeon

I'm not a big skull-wearer. I think the last time I sported a skull was a tank top in 2006. In the 90s, I had some Day of the Dead jewelry from Mexico. Cathy just sent me a t-shirt, though, a hand-me-down from her friend Nicole's punk days, and it's my new favorite thing in the world to wear. Cathy said she thought maybe I wasn't skating because I don't have the RIGHT SHIRT.

I wore it today, not to skate but for a meeting. Skulls + business meeting = awesome. Cathy asked me to take a photo but I didn't do so until I got back to the hotel at the end of the day. I did text her earlier, "I look fucking formidable, like I will crush you with my bare hands if you don't obey. So that's always good."

When our production manager introduced me to the new lighting director he said, "This is Jess, our tour manager. She's got a mean right hook." I questioned that because I'm pretty sure he's never seen my right hook; I'm strong and can land a punch but hate hate HATE physical fighting. Graham, our production manager, played it off. "Maybe it was a dance move, at an end of tour party." It's possible.

This is the photo I sent Cathy.

The thing that struck me throughout the day was how comfortable I was, mentally and physically. I wear all kinds of clothes: jeans, long skirts, pencil skirts, boots, sneakers, sometimes heels. But I've realized over time that two-and-a-half inches is my limit on heels because a) I am a giant already and b) I can't move around well in shoes higher than that.

My rule of thumb is if I'm chased by a killer, will I be able to run away? If my shoes cripple me, I won't wear them because I won't give the killer that advantage. Whereas in my new "I've just escaped from the London dungeon" shirt, I can jump on my board (theoretically) and skate away.


Letters to Elinor

I met Elinor when I was 11 years old. I'd just flown across the Atlantic Ocean and was uncertain in the strange land I entered. ENGLAND. I wore my banana yellow stretch pants on the plane but not my favorite New York sweatshirt because of the American flag on the back; we were afraid that I'd become a target for Gaddafi, were he lurking about Heathrow that day in 1986.

I was already homesick on the flight with my leader, Marti, and the other three kids from the American delegation to our CISV camp. By the time I was shown my squeaky metal bed in the school dormitory where I'd live for the next four weeks, tears were rolling down my face. Marti had asked our parents to write us a letter that we could open right away. I read the letter and the knot in my stomach twisted but I felt a little, tiny bit better.

There was so much to absorb. I was surrounded by 11-year-olds from Brazil, Iceland, Korea, Norway, Luxembourg, Germany, Sierra Leone, and England. There were a couple of 16-year-old "junior counselors" from Philadelphia and Sweden and a handful of staff members, my favorite of whom was an Englishman with curly red hair who was eventually nicknamed Strange Tony. It didn't take long to meet Elinor, one of the two English girls, who I remember in a tight bun, with a crooked smile and toes pointed out like a ballet dancer.

We were rapidly thrown into camp life and new routines. We had roommates and sang songs around a flagpole twice a day and at meals. Each country had a national night and presented their culture with dancing, food, and small gifts to take home. On American night, I got out my petticoat and grass skirt and demonstrated square dancing and Hawaiian dancing, NOT AT THE SAME TIME. Though if we had mixed those two dances together it would have indicated how hard it was to define American culture and how we were kind of making it up. Jen, the junior counselor from Philadelphia, wore Mickey Ears, a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and a red skirt as her national costume. She was probably more honest than us.

I wasn't homesick anymore. We took day trips to castles, the North Sea, and to an amusement park where I went on my first rollercoaster, something I'd been afraid to do before. I created a dance routine to Madonna's Material Girl with the other American girl and we performed at the camp's talent show AND a local bar. We'd been split off into pairs to spend the weekend with families in Newcastle and my host family took us to their neighborhood squash club's bar. The only time I was at a bar in Ohio was when my mom's soccer team went for food after games and us kids were allowed to run around. This time I was showing off my MOVES under spinning multicolored lights and a parquet floor.

On the last night before we flew home, we all pulled our mattresses into the gymnasium and had a slumber party. We were crying and beside ourselves, beyond consolation. Of the almost 40 kids at our camp, Elinor was one of those I became closest to. I learned about the village she grew up in, Otley, in North Yorkshire. I'd spent a month in her country and now liked English sweets - Polo mints and Cadbury Flake. I drank tea with every meal. I laughed a lot in general and with her in particular. She was smart and thoughtful, never a mean girl.

For years afterwards, I wrote letters to the other campers. In time, my connection to some of them faded but Elinor and I were faithful writers. Into our teens we wrote regularly and joked that a letter of less than ten pages long showed a problem in our friendship, something like a lack of commitment. Fifteen pages, maybe even twenty, was more like it.

I saved my babysitting money and visited Elinor in England the summer before my senior year of high school. When I was 24 I saw her in England again and met Yohan, her husband. Around our mid-twenties, however, our friendship got lost in the shuffle. For a number of years we didn't check in, much less write long, meandering epistles beginning "Dearest Elinor" and "Dearest Jess". At some point I searched for her online and found her email. And then Facebook happened.

Right around my wedding last year and just before I left for tour, I got a gift from her: a journal, a silver ring and a letter. On a day off in Toronto, I sat in a coffeeshop and wrote back. It felt good to write a letter. With a pen! Like in the olden days! It was a rusty process and it took awhile to get my thoughts flowing but I did it. And the feeling of weighing words before putting them to paper, of the pen in hand, and even of the metal flap of the mailbox snapping shut is rewarding. Almost as thrilling as seeing a letter that someone has taken the time to write to me.

I got a letter from Elinor last week. She sent it to my parents' house, she knows how often I move. She included photos of her toddler, threw in a sly reference to her maternity leave for baby 2, and made a casual remark to the fact that we've been writing letters to each other for TWENTY FIVE YEARS. And I don't care how far technology takes us in the next twenty five, when email may seem obsolete and archaic, I hope I'm still writing letters. I appreciate their weight.



Neil calls this his Pirates of the Caribbean audition.

It's officially my new favorite x-ray. And yes, I did have an old favorite.


Top Gun, 25 years later

I knew that Top Gun was filmed in Oceanside and imagined riding my moped down the same stretch where Tom Cruise sped on his motorcycle. I heard that the bungalow where Kelly McGillis lived in the film was still around but I didn't know where, nor that I'd walked past it 25 times. Pacific Street looks different than in 1986 and the house itself is pretty haggard but it's hanging in there.

The newspaper said that it sits on land slated for development and that they're hoping to incorporate it into the plan. Please let it become a coffeehouse, cozy with sturdy wooden tables and a wine list. Please don't let it become a gift shop that sells puka shell necklaces and flip flops. That's all I ask for this house and its second chance.

Top Gun made an impression on me when I re-watched it three years ago. It wasn't necessarily a GOOD impression but it stuck. I was crashing with Matt Sperling in LA and we had Top Gun night. I have no real idea why but we bought aviators and cut off our jeans in honor of the beach volleyball scene. We watched the movie and laughed and laughed some more. The homoerotic undertones we were oblivious to in elementary school, the overall sweatiness, the aggressive gum chewing.

A week later I was in Cincinnati visiting my family and met Matthew by accident. My cousin Mary Beth invited me to a pub quiz because she wanted to set Matthew up with her friend from school. I went too, a tag-along, because I happened to be in town and we named our quiz team Top Gun. Maybe that's why I continue to cling to the movie, because it was a part of the night that I met my husband. Maybe Top Gun bound us together that first evening in a way my reserved hard-to-get exterior didn't do on its own.

Fast forward three years to now. We have just made our first move together, to the town where Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis lounged on wicker furniture that lazy late-80s Sunday, drinking wine and not sleeping together. In Quentin Tarantino's take on the film, the whole subplot of Top Gun is whether to be gay or not-gay? Give in to the gay or stay straight? After the movie date that culminates in the characters' not sleeping together, Quentin posits that Kelly goes butch for a scene (in the elevator, wearing a bomber jacket, hair pulled back in a baseball hat) to attract Tom to her and away from Val Kilmer. Quentin Tarantino's argument is, in my opinion, VERY CONVINCING.

Top Gun came out 25 years ago and Oceanside celebrated over Memorial Day weekend. It was the last weekend I was home and I knew there were events but forgot because when I was making dinner and a fighter jet flew over my house, I almost shit the kitchen floor. I was slicing zucchini when I heard the noise, the noise that you hear right before fuselage busts through your roof and you are killed on impact. I froze with the knife in hand, my head vibrating. I stared at the front door, fully expecting to see the nose of a fiery jet. When that didn't happen, I snapped out of paralysis and craned my neck at the window.

"It's for Top Gun," Matthew said, figuring it out before me.

"Oh my God," I said.

My hands felt shaky and my heart was clanging like a drum but I'm glad I didn't hit the floor and start crawling to the door, screaming, like my boss during the Seattle earthquake. THAT would have been embarrassing.


Skate Witches

I had just walked in the lobby with my luggage when I met the sales manager of the hotel where I'm staying all month. We were talking and when I turned to the side, she saw the skateboard (wheels barely scuffed) strapped to the bag on my back.

"Well look at you!" she said. "Aren't you just the cutest thing!"

I gave her and the catering manager a possibly (definitely) over-long explanation of why I am carrying around a skateboard and how I am under orders (Happy orders, Matthew! Love you!) to learn to skate this summer.

"So if you see me out in the parking lot..." I said, pausing.

"Laying on the ground?" the catering manager offered.

Um, no! I was just going to say, "You'll know why," but thanks for assuming I will be eating shit, lady. She actually seemed very nice and not snarky so I think that was unintentional bitchiness on her part. In fact, I'm almost certain she was trying to work out a preemptive first aid plan.

That was two weeks ago.

For the last two weeks I have been talking about skating. I have been asked to bring the board to rehearsals and conveniently forgotten every morning. I have several crew members willing to give me pointers. I keep coming up with excuses: I'm wearing motorcycle boots, I just met the Idols and don't want breaking my bones in front of them to be a first impression, I have a lot of work to do (true but whatever).

In short, I have a long way to go before I'm a SKATE WITCH:



Someone at Kings Highway and 26th Street really cares.
Photo credit: Cathy Hickey


Felix back on the west coast

So Felix was in San Francisco last week and caught a Reds vs. Giants game. Soon he's on his way to Italy and Greece. Bastard.


I am still laughing quietly

About the "Georgia arrest" story that Bova told me weeks ago. And I still think that Ryan Reynolds should play Bova when the movie version comes out. Because it needs to come out.


Brue Killers

A few weeks ago, Matthew bought me a skateboard, my first skateboard.

Look closely and you'll see the orange bottle opener on the bottom. Oh my god, drinking and skating. What a terrible idea! But try as I might to imagine cracking a non-alcoholic beverage with the opener, I keep seeing beer.

Matthew grew up skating and has picked it up again more now that we live in Oceanside where skate videos he watched as a kid were filmed. Not that we knew that before we moved, given that we didn't know ANYTHING. Everyone - with the exception of about five people, four now that I'm taking it up - skates here. The thok-thok of wheels on sidewalk cracks is a constant background noise. They skate alone, in pairs, in groups. I see people my age (sort of...I tend to think I'm younger than I really am) taking over sleepy Carlsbad streets, a roaming pack down the middle of the lane. 4-year-olds in helmets and knee pads scoot up the sidewalk on their first decks. They hold their arms out for balance and jump off into the grass when they get spooked.

I look at those pre-kindergarten kids and think, "Those are my people." I, too, hold out my arms and want to jump into the grass.

Matthew had mentioned several times that I should learn to skate. I'd murmur my assent and do nothing to make it happen. When he took matters into his own hands, the game slash pressure was on. The board is gorgeous and made for cruising - wide and with big wheels. I couldn't do a trick on it if I wanted to, which I do not. Since I find the slightest incline or shift in pavement height treacherous, all I want to do is get from A to B and not look like a total asshole.

Matthew gave me tips in a school parking lot one night after a cop kicked us out of the grocery store parking lot. His terse "No skateboarding here" spurred a surge of indignity on my part, the kind that most of my peers first experienced in 1991, not 2011. I wonder if I'm going to start saying things like "Do you smell bacon?" when I see police.

That night Matthew saw a plastic fork in my travel path and said something like, "Forks are your enemy!" which meant to get out of the fork's way. Since I don't yet have control per se, I rolled straight into and over it and crushed that fork like a gnat. Guess those bigger wheels are already coming in handy.

The only other time I paid attention to skating was one day back in the 80s when I borrowed a neighbor's board and spent the afternoon whizzing straight down the hill we lived on. There was the summer in 10th grade that I took photos of skaters on a half pipe they built in one of their backyards but I was more of an embarrassing friend-of-the-girlfriend and don't think that really counts.

The other part of Matthew's plan is that I get comfortable skating on tour this summer. He facilitated this by finding a bag made specifically for skateboards, the Nike SB Shuttle bag. Dang it! This bag may actually end up being my biggest incentive of all. I can't CARRY A BAG EVERY SINGLE DAY MADE JUST FOR SKATEBOARDS and not know how to skate. If I don't scuff those wheels up, I'll be shamed.

The manager part of my brain is telling me that when I wipe out, it won't be covered by worker's comp. The other part is fine buying wrist guards, knowing I wouldn't ever skate backstage where there are lots of cable (talk about going from a bad to a worse idea). I'll skate on days off, away from venues, on my own time. I'll need to since apparently I'm being tested when I get home.