If that doesn't smack of the apocalypse, I don't know what does. And while recent events fill me with a definate sense of foreboding (hurricane first, Four Horsemen on deck), they don't bring me close to the panicky fear I felt when two planes hit the Towers--not least because here, there are no motives to consider. God blew in and out of town; now He's kneeling among the wounded.
Or something along those lines.
I heard a funny something sometime about how Bush doesn't just want to be the 4_th president (I should know this, shouldn't I?), he wants to be the last president, and I'd almost buy it, though I can't see how he could've pulled this one off, short of a deal with the devil. And I'm not ruling that one out, just yet.
But, assuming he isn't tampering with the forces of nature, I can't help but feel a bit (just a bit) sorry for the guy--he's been dealt some doozies on his watch, hasn't he? Though he's stormed in, guns ablazin', right into the midst of others.
Still, I've got a bone to pick with him. Everytime I hear him on NPR, he's jabbering on about how America will be praying for the families displaced, etc, and I think, Doesn't freedom of religion mean freedom of no religion, as well? How rude of him to assume that all Americans will be praying. Maybe some Americans will be out on rescue teams, and others will be donating blood or packing boxes of blankets and canned food--but not praying. Does that mean their efforts aren't any good?
Not to mention that "Americans praying for the strength of their nation" brings to mind green bean casserole and church ladies in floral prints holding hands in a musty basement.
I for one, while an avid pray-er, felt consumed by the urge to do something when I heard the weather forecast predicting the end of New Orleans (the end! How can an entire city be declared "non-functional"? God, that gives me chills), and so I kept my ears peeled for...anything, really. Remember when all that 9/11 business went down, and e-inboxes across the nation were flooded with lists of "10 Things You Can Do For Your Country", practical step-out-the-door-and-do-them items, every one.
Donate money to Red Cross.
Try and drive a little less, to anticipate the impending oil shortage.
Wow. And now that there are no terrorists to rally against, Bush urges us to pray for the safety of our citizens. I repeat, prayer kicks ass, but at times it isn't enough--not when there are honest-to-God American refugees holed up in a SuperDome where the toilets are broken and the food is rot and there is a genuine threat of a cholera or typhoid outbreak. Not when the rest of the forty-nine states are relatively dry, and blessed with pocket change.
I love America. And I love Americans, because I know that there are all these beautiful, shiny people out there, just itching to hop a plane to Louisiana right now and dig through that new Atlantis, looking for lost photo albums and family cats--not to mention children and grandmothers who haven't been heard from in days.
But they can't, because the planes won't land anywhere near that mess, and really, how helpful would that be--more people landing themselves in danger, putting themselves at risk as well?
So what do we do? We, who have beds and blankets and privacy, who can call our families on the phone this second and know, as best we ever can, that they are o.k.? We, who are not stranded and holding onto bank cards rendered suddenly meaningless by the mere fact that our bank is now underwater; we who have jobs to return to, who have bills to pay, who did not see the roof of our house sheared away, opening up our home to the violent winds and the seething, steel gray skies.
What do we do?
We pray for the safety of our nation.
And we donate blood. We gather up all we can, and we send it to Red Cross, or the local food bank, or The Salvation Army. We ride our bikes to work, realizing that oil is scarce and it is growing suddenly scarcer. We know, just as we always knew, that this can happen anywhere--and that, of course, it will. Sri Lanka is far away, but it is still somebody's home. Louisana is not far at all, and it is our home.
Lily Burana pretty much rocks. Her writing is so snappy, so concise, and her material! My God! I get tingly all the way down to my toes when I come across an author who has great stuff to write about and the skill with which to do it. STRIP CITY, subtitled "A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America", follows Burana's pre-nuptial cross-country trek, in which she attempts to lay to rest her stripper history by stripping her way coast-to-coast and living off her wages.
Now, to be honest, I had no idea that strippers could be so, well, literate (oh, my ignorance is raw and bleeding), but there you have it. Half the fun of STRIP CITY was Burana herself, who I wanted desperately to just call and chat with, because she seemed so damn cool. While trying to pick a great stage name, she ran through all kinds of literary references that made my bookworm-heart simply purr, before settling on Barbie Faust.
This is one of those books that I'll plead with you to read (please, please, just do!), because it whipped my snobby little self into shape and I'm guessing that most of us could use at least a sliver of that. Plus it's a rolicking good time.
For my twenty-second birthday, Mitch bought me a tattoo. (If you're just tuning in now--Mitch is my husband, and my twenty-second birthday was this year.)
I love tattoos, and have wanted one ever since I found out that there was such a thing. For the past, oh, ten years, I've been designing tattoos in the margins of my Lit351 notes, sketching amid the squiggly script of my journals, on damp napkins, as I drink coffee/talk to friends/watch MTV, and finally, finally, I made the appointment, handed the girl at the counter my final sketch and walked away, knotting my fingers, tapping my toes in excitement.
Of course, it would hurt. And it would, okay, it would be there forever, even when my skin gets wrinkly and dry, and it would fade, and bleed. But oh! I thought, doing a little jig on the sidewalk, grinning, it would be so very worth it.
In high school I came across a better (or at least, a legal) way than dealing drugs to drum up pocket change--I started designing tattoos for my older friends. Daisies and winged crosses and bands of stars and skulls; little soaring hearts and artfully rendered flames, you name it. This was not a booming business, but making a little money with my sketches made me happy, and it also made me wonder if maybe there was something more in it for me...
My sophomore year of high school, in health class, we did career studies (in health class, yes, it was a small school)--we each picked a career and looked up salaries, required experience/education, etc, wrote up a paper and presented it to the class. I, with my home-dyed peroxide pixie cut and my wallet chains, presented my fact sheet on what it would take to be a tattoo artist.
At some spirit rally during my senior year of high school, I won "Most Likely to Be a Tattoo Artist", as well as "Most Likely to Join the Banditos" (I didn't know what a Bandito was, then--this was before the great Northwest Bandito bust of '05). Winning "Most Likely to Be a Tattoo Artist" thrilled me like it might thrill most girls to receive "Most Likely to Succeed."
In college, I was broke, and then married (and, thus, still broke), but the sketches kept piling up, journal after journal. I convinced several professors that drawing in class actually helped me concentrate (particularly when I was sketching my professors...), and every Christmas or birthday I'd say to Mitch, You know, I'd really like a tattoo, and he'd say Fine, but by the time said occasion rolled around I'd have scrapped whatever design I'd planned and said, Oh, oh no, not yet.
Until at last (at last!) I abandoned my attempts at profoundly symbolic designs (crowns of thorns, burning hearts, and Hebrew script), drew a simple, pretty design--all black, something like three curls of smoke--and informed Mitch that for my birthday I would like a tattoo. Though he arched his eyebrows and nodded knowingly, he said, Okay.
The day after my birthday, I found myself sitting in the lobby of Camden Chameleon, flipping through giant sheets of sample tattoos with Mitch, while the wall clock scraped past 5:20, 5:25 and landed dead on my appointment: 5:30.
I was not nervous/I was very nervous.
I was not concerned about pain or blood, but about the permanence of what I was about to do to my body--always, always it would be there. I'd picked my upper back, a spot unlikely to bulge or soften with age, or stretch with pregnancy, but still. At sixty, would it be an inky blur? At seventy, a gray shadow?
Eh, I thought, flipping past a grotesquely bright drawing of Mickey Mouse in his Fantasia robes, my whole generation will be sporting faded tattoos. All of us sitting in nursing homes with pinkish wreaths of roses encircling our swollen ankles, barbed wire 'round the biceps of the old men dozing in their wheelchairs, skulls and flames and daisies amid the liver spots and varicose veins, and I laughed aloud as the girl at the desk looked up from her clipboard and called my name.
Of course, it hurt like hell, but I was not surprised. I kicked my shoes off and wiggled my toes; I took deep, measured breaths in an effort to obtain enlightenment through suffering, or something that. It didn't work.
Megan, the artist (she is lovely, please, go see her) chatted with me about my job, my parents' jobs, my chickens, my writing, whatever came to mind for forty minutes as she outlined my tattoo, filled it in, then washed & bandaged it up. Nothing, I swear to you, nothing felt better, on both a physical and emotional level, than when she washed my back with that cool, damp towel.
And when she was finished, I realized that my fingernails had left violet half-moons in the palm of each hand, and that any lofty ideas I'd had about the cleansing properties of pain, however half-formed, had vanished--though I felt weirdly elated. My toes, my fingertips tingled; my back burned. Oh, I felt feverish, and alive.
Though it's not been four months, I've already got another design in mind. I heard somewhere that we don't remember pain, and I remember telling myself explictly, as Megan outlined the second wisp, that I must never, under any circumstances, do this again--but I appear to have forgotten. Ah, I think, it wasn't that bad. I'm better now, and stronger, and ready for round 2.
And sadly, given my basically news-free existence (no t.v., no newspaper, no radio--no statement, really, it's just happened like that), People magazine has become my sole contact with the outside world--if by "outside" I mean "pop culture," which in this case I do.
Apparently, the "outside world" is big on celebrity couples, and I just can't help but notice that referring to those reigning couples by two separate names seems to be exhausting for the magazine's typesetters--they've conveniently given each couple a single, androgenous title.
Which makes me wonder: can we possibly have two Bennifers? Why, yes, apparently we can--same Ben, different Jennifers. And who came up with that god-awful Brangelina? It sounds like a breakfast cereal gone horribly wrong. Fortunately someone stopped them before they introduced Custin, or Demashton.
But, this whole smoosh movement has got me thinking--wouldn't that be handy? I mean, Mitch and I could combine our names, you know, legally, and save ourselves the hassle of forging each others' signatures on key documents. We could be...Thitch. Or possibly Mea.
Of course, when I share my enlightened idea with Mitch, he stares at me as though I've suggested we take up puppy hunting. Eventually he says, in an unmistakably frightened voice, "Excuse me?"
"Well, I was just thinking," I rally defensively, "it might be more convenient, and 'Thitch' has a certain sort of appeal, don't you think?"
He continues to stare at me--horrified, his lips moving wordlessly--for so long that I begin to fear I've done him permanent damage.
"Nevermind," I say hastily. "Forget it." And the spell is broken: he breathes again.
Which makes me wonder how Brad has taken the switch to "Brangelina." (I'm significantly less concerned about Ben.)
With my bare hand. (I swear the Health Dept. ok'd this.) One of the many 6'+ delivery guys glanced my way and said, nonchalantly, "If you dip your fingers in the pineapple first, the meat doesn't stick to 'em near as bad...".
I didn't touch meat for two years after that.
And I found myself fielding questions. "Why?", "Do you honestly think that makes a difference?", and "...but how do you get any protein?" were among my favorites, the latter being especially touching because meat is not the only source of protein that the parents of a finicky stick-thin high school junior can scrounge up. Didn't you guess that that's what happened? My parents got stuck thinking up creative vegetarian entrees to keep me nutritionally sound while the rest of my family had chicken breasts, grilled salmon, etc.
I wasn't the one doing the cooking.
This fact, among others, eventually knocked its way into my delicate skull (weakened from calcium defiency, right?) and propelled me toward a certain point, where an innocent bystander, who knew nothing of my preferences, offered me a turkey sandwich and said, "Here, try it, it's really good"--and I did.
Let's get this out of the way right now: I'm not anti-vegetarianism. Your choice is your choice. I'm merely articulating why I chose to take up the animal products (and by-products) once more, rather than arguing for one team or the other--really, I can't stand teams. I'm not a "team player".
That aside, I must state that one of the biggest problems I have with this pro-veggie/pro-meat debate is the fact that most vegetarians I end up butting heads with (mind, I avoid that situation at all costs, though I know some really darling vegetarians) assume that I just haven't summoned up the courage necessary to give up my beloved meat--that given the right persuasion, I'll finally get up the nerve to move forward, into the light, and accept what what I know to be fundamentally right.
Sound like church? It should. I'm making that comparison intentionally.
What people miss in treating me (anybody) like that is the possibility that, dammit, I might have actually thought this out, and come to a conclusion of my own--and my conclusion might be different from theirs. (Can I get an Amen?) I'm becoming less and less of the opinion that any one thing is absolutely right for every single person, in every single situation--and coming from a Christian (yes, I am), I feel that's saying something.
Whatever that "something" may be.
But, to the point--once I moved out, on my own, and began to recognize the phenominal patience my parents must have required to make special meatless sauce for me, I felt a bit humbled. With only cans of garbanzo beans and bulk rice to keep me protein'd, I understood (albeit dimly) that vegetarianism required a bit more sacrifice than just giving up meat--and in that light, several other things occurred to me.
One: no matter how I tried to convince my relatives (Iowan and otherwise) that, "no really, salad is fine," at every gathering, they'd feel compelled to make some special, meat-free dish just for me. They'd even call a week or so before Thanksgiving to ask what I would eat, so as to be sure that I'd have something on my plate besides French bread--and no matter how I tried to impress upon everyone that it's not their meatloaf personally that I object to, I couldn't help but notice a wrinkled brow here and there as I turned down the chicken casserole again.
Not everybody is vegetarian-entree savvy, I noticed. Take that and run, if you like--tell me about how we need to educate the masses about the advantages of a meat-free diet, and about how the fact that meat is such a central part of our diet in the first place is a major part of The Problem--I'll be here waiting.
Now, then. If you're finished, I'll move on to item Two.
I admit that the meat market is a mess. Yes, it's gross that we kill things in these inhumane ways (bred for slaughter! Ugh!), and keep the whole process so far away from the consumer to the point where we really have no idea (no idea) what we're buying when we pick up a package of chicken breasts. I'd rather we just went hunting, and killed our dinner ourselves, than bought into the santized idea that Meat=Dinner, not Animal. Probably turn a lot of people vegetarian that way, that's for sure.
But, I will not show up at your dinner table and tell you so. If you offer me a chicken breast, I better damn well take it and like it, I figure. I mean, you're feeding me, and I'd feel like an utter brat, passing it back to you and explaining why you're personally contributing to a corrupt system and how, if you'd killed this chicken in your backyard you'd probably feel a lot different about it.
Because even if I didn't say so out loud, people tended to take the "passing back of the chicken breast" as precisely that: an accusation. "What?" I had people ask, on several occasions, no matter how tight I kept my mouth closed, "Do you really have a problem with my meat?"
Three: Vegetariansim is a luxury. Get down on American consumerism all you want, but how many places can you actually buy meat-substitutes in the ridiculous abundance that we have here? And sure, we can grow our own vegetables (I am 100% behind that), but even in America there are places where that just isn't possible--because of the lack of nutrients in the soil, because of the feisty weather, because of the lack of space (oy, apartment living!)--not to mention deserts, or the tundra. Places where people eat meat because that's all they have.
Some people are much more concientious than I was--they protest the American market, and recognize that vegetarianism perhaps isn't practical in other parts of the world--but my problem wasn't with slaughterhouses and economy. I was just bummed out that a cow had to die so that I could have a hamburger.
Which isn't a bad reason--it's just kind of, well, an emotional reason. Kudos again to my parents for allowing me my feeble stab at independence, for humoring and/or encouraging it, even--but the real test (how serious about this am I?) definately didn't come until I was doing my own grocery shopping, and preparing my own meals.
Four: This is a battle that didn't end with a bite of turkey sandwich, oh no. Mitch and I even flirted off and on with veganism (the no dairy sort) in a half-assed way, but, again, we were turning down plates of food that we had no business refusing--and that just didn't sit well with either of us.*
We reached a compromise: at home, we eat vegetarian. If you come to our house for dinner, you'll most likely end up with a plate of eggplant curry, or tofu stir-fry--not because we're out to make a statement, but because that's what we have. We try not to buy meat (though we slip now and then at restaurants, as a treat--mmm...Fiamma Burger...), but if somebody prepares a dinner for us, oh, you can bet we'll eat every scrap.
Because, to me, people should always be more important than any political/spiritual/social agenda that I can think up. It's not just about stepping delicately around hurt feelings--it's about recognizing the lengths people go to to prepare a meal for me, and not letting that effort (that love) go unacknowledged.
When Mitch's grandma gets up early to make a full spread of corned beef & cabbage (with from-scratch pecan pie for desert!), just for us, God help me if I go heavy on the cabbage and pass back the corned beef untouched.
God help me if I don't take seconds.
*Mitch also had a stint of vegetarianism--more "socially-minded" than mine, and instigated by a much-admired roommate--but he worked his way back into the meat-stream as well, and for reasons similar to mine.
But this morning, I woke up to cloudy, gray skies and the definate threat of rain. The air sneaking in under my cracked window had turned overnight, and instead of the hot, sticky wind that I'd fallen asleep with, it was fresh, damp, indicative of fall. The cool air of a fever breaking.
Summer could be a single week long, and I wouldn't mind. Yes, it's a nice season, and I'm a big fan of the ripe berries, the afternoons in the backyard with water bottle, notebook and novel, but every single year, no matter what sort of summer we've had, that first rain--the one that speaks of fall--always sends me gleefully to my dresser to pack up the tank tops and sandals. Bring forth the sweaters and stocking caps!
Ever heard of that weather-dependent depression, where people get all bummed out in the fall and winter from lack of sunshine? I have the exact opposite: a hot, rain-less summer pitches me headfirst into a mid-August slump, and it'll last until that first rain comes around--and I am not the only one here who suffers when the rain stays away too long.
The way people were grinning this morning, you'd think we lived in the desert, and this rain was the monsoon we'd waited so eagerly for all season, keeping our children back from the brink of death with the last drops in our canteens--rather than the first fine mist of 90 days' straight rain. It's as if our collective memory has forgotten that this morning's clouds means yesterday's sunlight is gone now, for three, maybe four months.
At the grocery store, the cashier helpfully volunteered to push my empty cart back out to the front of the store--not to save me the effort, but because he wanted to sneak outside and smell the rain.
That's right--smell the rain. For as much as I talk about, you know, reclaiming the land and preserving it, blah blah blah, I have to admit that my single, favorite smell (surpassing even coffee beans, unlit pipe tobacco, beeswax and satsuma oranges) is the smell of rain on dry cement. It's enough to make me stop and stand still, just smelling the wet pavement. Not even wet earth smells that good, in my book.
And now, any second, the leaves will begin to change, the wind will pick up, and driving down Holly St. at night will be my favorite stretch of town again--something about the rain-blurred traffic lights, the trees lining the streets, turning gold and red, the white rope lights that shops put up in the windows (or leave up all year, but turn on only after October).
Farewell to the dirty feet of summer, and to whatever tan I managed to muster via sunburn; farewell to the ten-o'clock sunsets and the busy downtown streets. Let the windows of the buses turn silver with condensation, let breath come in bursts of gray steam; let cheeks turn pink, let me dig out my mittens and walk to work, smiling, in the wet and the cold--because this shimmering mist is what, above all things, reminds me that Bellingham is my home.
THE COMA is a little work of art, simple, concise, imaginative--oh, I could go on with the adjectives forever--magnificent in its brevity, and the illustrations, by Nicholas Garland (brothers, possibly?), only add to the story's lurking tension, its stark, black & white beauty...
And Garland's only twenty-eight or something. That's really annoying.
"Swordfish, this is Eagle. Over."
I missed the response, but c'mon, I can actually picture the drivers hanging out in the break room, arguing over code names--"But I always have to be Chipmunk! Why can't I be Panther, just this once?"
Yes. I want a codename, and badly. I keep trying to get them to call me "Thor" at work, but nobody seems to go for it. Guess it'd be pretty intimidating to have someone named Thor polishing your teeth, but honestly--Thea* is Greek for "goddess", and what's less intimidating about that?
*And, in case you keep trying to call me "Thee-ah" in your head, you better think again. Just because I can't figure out how to key in the accent above the "e" doesn't mean it's not there--it's "Thay-uh". Rhymes with "Princess Leia" ("goddess", "princess"...hmm).
What I will try, however, is to communicate how incredible this book is. When I finished HOUSE, I was hard-pressed not to turn back to page -1- and start the whole show again--which is saying something, since this novel is the size of a Biology 101 textbook.
HOUSE demands to be obsessed over. The truth in the story is tricky to separate from the fiction, but the further in I got, the less I worried about fiction/nonfiction--I was effectively sucked in. In my copy there is a magnificent quote by Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn--read that one, too, while you're at it):
This demonically brilliant book is impossible to ignore, put down, or persuasively conclude reading. In fact, when you purchase your copy, you may reach a certain page and find me there, reduced in size like Vincent Price, in The Fly, still trapped in the web of it's malicious, beautiful pages.I know, I know. I'm copping out and sending you off to other reviews, and quoting things off the book jacket at you--you may think I'm trying and failing to conceal my inadequacies in the face of such a book, such a challenge, but I'm not. I'm just failing, nevermind the trying.
Between Sean and Jonathan, you've just about got it. I will add this one thing: read the book. Do it. It's big, I know, but don't let that stop you. Probably you will find a wee Théa tucked away in your copy as well, because some part of my brain is certainly still computing Danielewski's fierce masterpiece. I will read it again; it's only a matter of time.
I finally get the context for Poe's album, Haunted, and I'm a better person for it. Who knew she was Danielewski's kid sister?
For an interesting interview with Danielewski, click here.
--MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI, possibly quoting Stephen King (House of Leaves), but can we ever really know?
Unfortunately, we all want different things.
A prime example would be the weekly protests in front of the Federal Building. Every Friday, a group of radical movers-&-shakers (right & left, mind you) dust off their posterboard and set out to change the world--a noble calling, no doubt. What they accomplish, however, is to further confuse those sorry souls who can't look out the window and drive at the same time, which heaven knows, we don't need to encourage--if the protesters had been picketing, say, defensive driving, then cheers! Mission accomplished.
Because what's catching the eye of these distractable drivers are the fifty different slogans on fifty different signs. HONK FOR REGIME CHANGE, BUSH IS A WAR CRIMINAL, MY DADDY BOUGHT ME THE PRESIDENCY, blah blah blah and, my personal favorite in the "who comes up with this crap" category, BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED. Huh. That's deep.
For the most part, the protesters are pretty united against Bush--"war is bad" and all that--but you get the occasional odd-ball in there who thought this was a pro-choice rally or a (Your Issue Here) debate. And best of all, across the street are the 3 veterans in uniform with the banners that read, rather unimpressively, SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.
What happens now? A few people honk in support, a few rednecks lean out the window of their trucks and hollar a creative expletive or two, but mostly people drive on by, still wondering what's on t.v. tonight or if that chick by the water cooler was flirting when she complimented your lavender tie. I, for one, pass by feeling as though I've suddenly entered the Land of the Bumperstickers--which is a rather bland place, I must say. I mean, if you're gonna clutter up my view with slogans, at least entertain me. That's all I'm askin'.
But, before I digress into a rant on bumperstickers (whoever comes up with the Christian ones should be fired. Fired.), let me return to those bold footsoldiers of Democracy, who go forth with petitions and protest signs, and say--Wow, do you think this might be more effective if the people you were preaching to were interested?
I honestly can't think of a time when I'm less interested in regime change than Friday evening, when I'm on my way home from work.
So, let's consider our options--we could waylay people in the street and fill their ears with propaganda, but the chances of changing anyone's mind are slim, since those who disagree will either enter into a fierce debate with you and storm away muttering something about "those dirty hippies", or they will chime, politely, "Oh, I've already signed that...". Which is what I do, anytime I see somebody with a clipboard. Bad habit, I know, but it works. Throws the UPS guy for a loop, too, and that's always amusing.
Let's see. Picketing, petitioning, handing out flyers, marching door-to-door--these are all very invasive practices, and (churches, pay attention) for every one person who perks up their ears, you piss off about twenty. Now, do the math. Does that work out to a profit?
Here is where I would offer a solution, but I don't actually have one. I'm just into, you know, pointing out the problem, not solving it. But, here--in closing I'll say that, if you want to change my mind about anything, please respect me and my fiercely protected "personal space." Don't come marching in my bubble to tell me about how Bush is ruining my country, or how the liberals are stripping me of my freedoms, because as long as I feel like a tally-mark earned for either side, I will not be satisfied.
I learn more from one conversation with a friend that I respect and appreciate than I do from a hundred overly-aggressive, however articulate, crusaders.
And I say that to both sides, right and left.
I've been intrigued with her for awhile, having only heard of her simply because her skinny, brightly-colored books have half a shelf to themselves at my favorite bookstore--and I came across them often while looking up F. Scott Fitzgerald. Finally, in a fit of whimsey (if there is such a thing), I bought one. And I liked it.
I might even go buy another.
1. Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine (The White Stripes)
2. Crocodile Man (Chris Smither)
3. E-Pro (Beck)
4. Annie-Dog (Smashing Pumpkins)
5. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Cat Power)
6. Desperate Guys (The Faint)
7. Rowing Song (Patty Griffin)
8. Fell on Black Days (Soundgarden)
9. Comtine D'un Autre Ete: L'apres Midi (from the soundtrack to Amelie)
10. How Can I Forget (The Faint)
11. Burndt Jamb (Weezer)
12. Victrola (Veruca Salt)
13. Like Spinning Plates (Radiohead)
14. Rodeo Clowns (Jack Johnson)
15. Tear Drop (Massive Attack)
16. Been Around the World (Cracker)
Our bus system here in Bellingham recently underwent a serious (practically surgical) make-over, and to get everyone in on the fun, the good folks at WTA are running a very special promotion: the bus is free for all of August. Which is basically like Christmas for a whole month, where I'm concerned. I can just...walk on a bus? Anytime I want? For free, you say? Excellent...
Since it's summer and all the college students are still elsewhere (wherever it is they list as "permanent address" when filling out credit card applications), most of the buses are completely mine. Just me, the elderly & infirm, and the crazies. But more often than not, it really is just me, sitting the back of the bus with my textbook-sized copy of House of Leaves (yup, I was one of those kids). Sorta like having a chauffer, actually, but without the bubbly.
I love roofers:
And by roofers I mean the fellows who are apparently practising traditional Celtic-dancing on the top of my building right now--in heavy, steel-toed boots. Occasionally, they chuck stray shingles over the edge of the building without so much as a "Fore!", which is provoking a severe phobia of "things falling from above" in me every time I leave my apartment.
I love The Faint:
For providing the soundtrack to those rooftop rehearsals of The Lord of the Dance that are taking place directly over my head. Also, for helping me realize my drop-kicking skills (it's a disturbing game, but it's wickedly fun).
I love the DMV:
What could I possibly say about the DMV that would be witty and original? Surely hundreds--no, thousands--of essays have been written on the waiting, the shady comrades-in-waiting, the two malicious-looking employees behind the counter (nevermind the fact that there are 6 lines--only 2 of them are ever staffed), the waiting, the sinking feeling of taking your number and realizing it's somewhere in the 700's while number 81 is "currently being served", the guy who takes you on your drive test and fails you (it was only a curb, for crying out loud; it wasn't actually a child), the waiting...and I won't even get started on the photos. We all know about the photos.
But, listen, my experience really was different. Why? Because I was only there for ten minutes. I took my number (#031), found a seat, read half a page in my book and listened in on a few (sadly uninteresting) conversations before some bored-sounding lady came on the intercom and said, "Now serving number 0-3-1."
I looked around at all the people who had been waiting much, much longer than I had--who looked like they'd basically moved in, begun work on their five o'clock shadows and such--and felt guilty for a single, fleeting second.
Then I marched up to the counter with my winning ticket.
Recently, he moved away for college.
By "away", I really mean Seattle, which isn't bad as far as "away" goes, but still--sometimes any distance at all feels too far.
And then he joined a fraternity.
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or gasp in horror when he told me, so I'm sure my expression looked a bit like, say, the face I'd make if Bush burst out with an Astaire-style tap dance on the evening news, while arguing for an attack on Canada--if you can picture that (my expression, I mean).
And so, sometime last spring, we hatched this mad idea to get me on a train to Seattle so I could spend 4 days in Ross' "scene"--his word, not mine. We picked the weekend of a cousin's much-anticipated wedding (wine! relatives! disco! hysteria!) so that Ross could come home for a few days, and then we could ride the train down to Seattle together.
Things went pretty much as planned.
Until we got to the ticket booth at the Amtrack station, that is, and realized that I, utter fool that I am, had forgotten Ross' ticket at home. After that minor delay, we dragged our luggage out onto the train platform and stared at the many cars in front of us, doors open and waiting, and wondered how exactly one goes about "boarding" a train. No worries, though--a conductor with an interesting hairpiece sauntered over to us just then.
"Where're you headed?" He asked, beaming broadly.
We told him, and he beamed still broader and said, "Sit anywhere you like!"
"Anywhere?" We asked.
"Yes! Anywhere!" And he sauntered away.
Ross looked from one end of the train to the other, his eyes glazing over happily, and said, "The train...is our oyster."
And so our excursion began. Four days in a frat house, and I bet you're thinking scandal! intrigue! binge drinking! Well, here's the funny thing--we were by far the rowdiest ones there, which is not surprising if you know Ross, but rather surprising if you know me. Most of the boys were quiet, pleasant lads, who, when asked if they wanted to join us for an evening of drinking, responded, "Actually, man, I've got homework."
"What kind of frat house is this?" I wondered.
My moment of glory came when I beat my brother (hitherto pretty much Beer Pong champion, having only ever lost once) at Beer Pong. Twice. In a row.
However, I'm pretty sure that, later that night, he had to piggyback me home from the UW campus after I sat myself down in the middle of the sidewalk (rather drunk, yes) and said, "I'm tired."
"Little further," he said.
"Piggyback?" he asked.
"Okay." And it was settled.
That was just one night, though. During the day, Ross went to work, and I prowled the many blocks of University Ave., seeking out bookstores & coffee shops & Cellophane Square, and at 3:21 every afternoon we went to Tully's and bought milkshake(s) with our "Buy 1 Get 1 Free! (Only valid from 3:21-3:51pm)" coupons. We went back to the frat house after that and Ross beat me (often, and badly) at pool, before heading upstairs to make tuna casserole in the frat kitchen, while an endless stream of guys in flip flops moved in and out of said kitchen, claiming to have met me earlier in the week.
Hmm. "Yeah, hey...man," I'd say, and smile politely. For the better part of the week, apparently, I was "Ross' little sister"--until it came time to buy beer. Then they figured out who was "the elder", and right away.
On this trip, I had the distinct pleasure of watching the episode of The Family Guy where they make fun of frat boys in--get this--a room full of frat boys. Ah, sweet irony. (I think that's ironic, anyway. Ever since that controversy with the Alanis M. song, I don't know what "ironic" means anymore.)
But, as all weekends must eventually do, this weekend came to an end, and we found ourselves back at the train station, saying goodbye (which was sad, but not sappy, so there). I suppose in the long run it was good that the weekend ended, since Mitch had been calling often over the last few days to ask when I was coming home, but as I boarded the train I couldn't help thinking that it might be nice to a have a little Ross to carry around--much like some people carry small dogs--to say funny things, or recite entire episodes of The Family Guy for me, while doing all the voices (even Stewey's).
No, I realized. A small Ross wouldn't be fun. I'm far more attached to the big one.
"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays by the rules."
"Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it."
Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hotshots are, then it's a game, all right--I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hotshots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game.
--J.D. SALINGER (The Catcher in the Rye)
Wake up around 7 (that's sleeping in for me, just to put it in perspective), lounge around in my jammies for awhile, make a pot o' coffee and drink it; see Mitch off to work. Sit out in the back yard with book and cup of coffee (you'll notice that coffee and books figure largely in my ideal days) until it's time to shower--probably around 9 or so.
Shower, dress--dressing generally features blue jeans, this ratty black wifebeater that I got for five bucks and wear practically every day, Sambas (cool weather) or black flipflops (warm weather), and a zip-up hoodie in pretty much the same condition as the tank top, only it was free--get out the door and head straight for Grand Ave., where 3 used bookstores sit waiting in a row.
Spend several hours perusing the shelves of all 3 (though I spend the most time by far in Henderson Books) before selecting 2-3 books, then march off to either Fantasia Coffee & Tea, or The Black Drop Coffeehouse, where I while away the afternoon with a cup of coffee and a new book, occasionally opening my journal and flirting with the idea of writing.
Really, this will get old somewhere around Tuesday, and then I'll be forced to consider the possibility of doing something productive--like, say, cancelling the phone that apparently is still ringing at our old, now vacant, apartment, or calling the insurance company about that watermelon-shaped dent that appeared on the back of our car sometime last week. Or unpacking. Perhaps cleaning.
But, I protest, time off work! Sacred, holy free time! Wouldn't cleaning seem profane, wouldn't spending twenty minutes on hold listening to Kenny G seem irreverent, when I could be sipping locally roasted coffee in a cozy atmosphere and pretending that I had absolutely nothing more pressing to do?
I will re-prioritize; I will convince myself that there is nothing more pressing to do.
So I Google'd "Thea is", and came up with:
1. "Thea is wild, driven, solitary, and, finally, magnificent. Yet somehow, her struggle is a universal one."
2. "The time and location of the Quick THEA is subject to change without notice."
3. "Thea is justice-woman. Wow." (I didn't add that--it actually said, "Wow.")
4. "Thea is talking of writing the "giggers guide to music venues" one day"
5. "Thea is a prolific composer — her works include everything from sonatas to operas"
6. "Quick THEA is given about 2-5 times each month—usually on a weekday. Regular THEA is given about 5 times each year—always on Saturday mornings." (Excuse me?)
7. "At this point in the novel, Thea is lost, overwhelmed, and unprepared to pursue these seemingly unsavory men"
And my personal favorite,
"Hedda manipulates Thea into confiding in her, and when she learns that Thea is in love with Løvborg, she lures him back into a relapse of alcoholism." (Mitch says: "Who the hell is Lovborg?!")
There was one person in line before me--an elderly-ish woman with half-inch thick glasses, a floral print housedress of what could only be polyester, and alarmingly dyed hair (no interesting colors, just a fresh-from-the-box brown that was dark enough to make her face stand out, startlingly pale and creased). When the first words out of her mouth were, "Now, this was from the $.25 bin, correct?" I knew I was in trouble. She waved a romance novel that, from the looks of it, no one in their right mind would consider charging more than $.25 for at the cashier, in what could only be labeled a "menacing" way.
"Right," the cashier said, in a tense monotone. A muscle near his right ear began to twitch.
"And this one," the woman said, while I hopped back and forth anxiously, clutching my one book and scanning the store for a second cashier, "this one's $12?"
"Right," the cashier repeated, blinking slowly.
"Okay. Just wanted to be sure." The price tags, neon orange, were visible to me, even from behind the woman; I could only hope the cashier could read them as she waved them under his nose.
He rang the books up, and said, "That'll be $13.06."
The woman scoffed, picked up the books, shuffled them and looked at the cashier sternly. He held her gaze as she drawled, "$12 + $.25? How can that be $13? Surely the tax isn't that much!"
"$.81 tax, ma'am. Your total is $13.06." The stress he laid on these last few syllables made me take a cautious step back. I was sure I heard his teeth grinding, but the woman made no sign of noticing, only rooted around in her immense purse, murmuring, "$.81, well, really...".
Finally, she slapped the money down on the counter (exact change, of course) and marched out, romance novels in hand, while I approached the counter, half-shielding myself with the flimsy paperback Eragon. The cashier hardly noticed me, just keyed in my book and announced my total in that same deadpan voice.
When he counted back my change, he counted back the coins, down to the penny.
I would say that that--the drive to count back change to the last cent--is the sign of a cashier pushed to the absolute edge. In my cashiering career, it was only the desperately bad days that drove me to count back coins, and oddly, it was only the mad old ladies who really gave those bad days meaning--the women who shook every single box of crackers to determine which had the most crackers, who marched up to the counter at the bagel shop and made me turn each bagel over by hand so they could find the one that was closer to golden brown, rather than simply brown.
And they're everywhere--every single job I've had has been overridden by old ladies who need to check the eggs, sniff the creamer, watch you slice their meat to make sure it comes out to an even pound...
It makes me twitch, just thinking about it.
An interesting note, though, is that plenty of middle-age women display this tendency, too. Mitch commented on this at his cashiering job--what is it about rich, middle-aged women with their manageable haircuts, hybrid cars and Chacos, who feel the need to specify the exact temperature of their latte, how many slices, precisely, of tomato they want on their sandwich, and who won't hesitate to return a plate if it appears to be a little skimpy on the pasta salad?
While the mad old ladies were irritating, it was the middle-aged women who were mean. Nearly every customer who ever chewed me out over something stupid, if they weren't a drunk old man, was a middle-aged woman. I hate to stereotype, I honestly do, but I couldn't help but notice this trend, especially since it carried over to Mitch's job, and to that of several of my server/cashier/barista friends. The middle-aged women could be just viscious.
I once had a woman get so irate over the fact that her omelette was ten minutes late (I did warn her that the grill was backed up when she ordered) that, when it finally came out, she picked up her omelette, marched over to the trash can, dropped it in and left without a word. I had a woman get so angry over the fact that the bagel shop where I then worked charged to butter a bagel (it was quite a lot for butter, I admit) that she shouted at me in front of a full restaurant, slammed her fist on the counter, got her young daughter in something like a choke-hold and dragged her out of the restaurant, cursing me, everyone at the establishment, and all of our descendents to the fourth generation.
If I remember right, to butter a bagel was an extra $.81.
For I a while, I liked to believe that these ladies were probably just under a lot of stress--that their jobs or kids or whatever were getting to them, or maybe one of their parents had just fallen ill, or possibly their shiny hybrid car had just been rear-ended in the parking lot, mere seconds before, but I'm believing that less and less. There's no excuse for practicing primal scream therapy on your minimum-wage barista. Absolutely none.
I say, if you have a problem with the service or the food or the prices, talk to the manager. They get paid extra to deal with shit like that, and if they can't help you, just don't come back. Take your business elsewhere. If the server is a snotty little brat, tell her you don't appreciate her attitude and then ask to speak to the manager.
But if you have a problem with your personal stress threshold, then for God's sake, start a juice fast, see a sex therapist, take up yoga, get a 'script for Prozac and don't take it out on the minions responsible for your morning latte. That is all.
It's never actually occurred to me that the online porn-folk "start" somewhere. But there you have it. It'd be sad if it wasn't so damn funny.
I found another blog titled "Iraq Information Site", that repeated the phrase "attacking Iraq resources" throughout the body of every single entry. Over and over. No punctuation or nuthin'. Strange way to get the information out.
Also, I found a blog with one entry, dated Jan.2.05. It read something like, "I need to write in my blog. It's my New Year's resolution. I don't know what I'll write about. I probably won't know until I start writing it."
There were no more entries after that.
And then I found several sites that were, well, ads. I'm sure this phenomenon has been noted many times by other, more blog-savvy folks than myself, but honest to God, I found sites that looked suspiciously like fake blogs. The entries were all links to other places, the sites themselves looked poorly maintained--as if someone set it up in a day and then left it, like a snare, lurking among all those other blogs, waiting for a poor, unsuspecting blog-hopper to land on its lousy page, and then...snap! The blogger would realize that yes! He does need to see pictures of a garden gnome with an eyepatch (dead serious, I saw this advertised)! I didn't know such a thing existed, but there you have it. What a waste.
Of course, this would be like the mysterious "Maria", who left a comment on my website that had nothing at all to do with my entry (which, ironically, was about Atlas Shrugged)--her "comment" was just a plug for some product site. I deleted it.
The really sad thing is that I'd estimate at least 50% of the blogs I was randomly shuttled to were ads. Most of the time it was difficult to tell what they were actually advertising--one site, called "Vege Comm", listed 2 entries: "Vegetarian Weight Loss--This is a detailed source for vegetarian weight loss", & "Vegetarian Stickers--this is a detailed source for blah blah blah." I can only suppose that you click on these links and head right into a porn site?
*ping!* (That would be the proverbial lightbulb pinging on, above my thick skull.)
Oh, I get the Flag function now! Suddenly it makes sense! Am I contradicting my 1-800-Hero entry, by writing about what, precisely, Blogger is trying to prevent with its handy little Flag key? Oh well. Oops, I apologize. It now seems glaringly possible that I just might be wrong.
Actually, if you read the little About Flagging bit on Blogger (which I did, just now), they're really pretty cool about site content--turns out they offer the Flag buttons so that they don't need to monitor the content of our sites. It's a way that we independent, uncensored bloggers may self-govern. Pardon me, kind folks at Blogger. Carry on.
I managed to secure myself an art show at a local coffee house (through a combination of luck, more luck, and "knowing people"), and frankly, the news couldn't make me happier--or more neurotic. And unfortunately, the very daunting prospect of people actually seeing my artwork didn't occur to me until the morning I showed up, bright & early & sans coffee, to hang my paintings. The fellow behind the counter directed me to a stretch of wall, my stretch of wall, and I stood there, hammer in hand, jaw somewhere in the region of my knees, ambushed by the realization that people are going to see my artwork--it seemed that nothing could be worse, really, than the morning crowd arriving, cooly ordering their uber-grande no-foam irish cream triple shot nonfat lattes, and then turning to the art display, where my paintings would hang exposed, awaiting judgement.
A week ago, that very prospect seemed thrilling--my paintings would scoff at their judgement, cry "Who are you to label me? I am art," with an air of true feistiness, and I would say nothing, knowing that my art could defend itself. Hmm. How not like that "having an art show" has turned out to be. In fact, it's turned out to be not much of a big deal, either way. I haven't been fielding calls from art critics, who are heralding my work as "the next Van Gogh," nor have I been cowering under the bed as strangers storm my house, demanding to know why I ever thought such crap was art.
Having an art show hasn't been bad at all. It's not like I have to stand there and listen to every comment made, every "Huh," my paintings solicit. Getting over that first moment of hanging the paintings seems to be all there is to it, aside from, well, painting the pictures in the first place--I'm starting to think maybe I can do this display thing. It's not so bad, after all.
(And yeah, these are samples of my artwork. Please don't take them.)
1--Milk Crates are the apartment dweller's friend. They're endlessly versitile--you can build bookshelves, bedside tables (stack one or two, open side facing out, and voila!), regular tables (stack 'em 2 high for the legs, put a nice sheet of plywood over top and perhaps a tablecloth, as well); you can use them to organize a closet, store stuff, or even pack 'em full when it's time to move again; they make excellent cheap shelving. I nabbed a whole stack from the gas station I worked at our first married year, and they've travelled with us since--ask around at grocery stores, gas stations, any local dairies, maybe...I using one right now as a desk chair (however un-ergonomic it may be).
2--The Partition. Our last place was studio, shaped (as the landlord himself said) like a tunnel. About three months into the stay we thought a bit of privacy might be nice--you know, divide the living room from the bedroom--and so we headed on down to one of Bellingham's best non-profits, the ReStore. At the ReStore, they salvage used building materials and re-sell 'em to creative homeowners/remodelers/poor college kids trying to fix up their apartment. We found four hollow-core doors ($2/ea.), and six used hinges ($1/ea.)--grand total=$14+tax. Mitch fixed the hinges to the doors, so they zigged-zagged (can you see it? I wish I could draw you a picture) and stood up on their own, like one of those fancified dividing walls you pay $60 for a Crate & Barrel. Then we painted the whole shebang with some leftover sky blue paint (which, of course, we found on the "as is" shelf at Fred Meyer). Ta da! Instant bedroom!
3--The Coaster Solution. Upon moving into our new apartment, we came to the disheartening realization that all of our living room furniture is, well, rather nice. The cedar hopechest my mom & stepdad gave me for high school graduation, the dry sink that Mom passed down to me when she downsized and moved into a smaller house...Previously, we'd only had thriftstore endtables and milkcrates, so it came as a bit of a shock when we realized that we might actually have to protect these wood surfaces, and buy some...coasters. Is this the first sign of middle age, we wondered? The desire to use coasters, and placemats? Next will we be shopping for doilies?
Well, we figured, if we're gonna get coasters, we're gonna do it our way. Here are two ideas we had, neither of which we've acted on yet:
The Bathroom Tile coaster. Back to the ReStore we go, and into the whole corner they've devoted to salvaged tiles. Floor tiles, shower tiles, counter tiles, you name it. $.20/ea. Hot dog. Pick out some spiffy colors (different shapes and textures!), put some little felt stickers on the bottom, and you got yerself a full set of coasters for less than $2.
The Bar coaster. This one is still thriftier. I have a habit of pocketing cool coasters from bars that I like, and I'm gonna keep doing it until we have enough to use for coasters. Right now we have two--one from the Temple Bar, and one from Le Chat Noir (but I can't find that one, so we only have one in circulation at the moment). Ah, well. This suggestion really shows my inner cheapskate.
So, thus ends my first enstallment of "Crafty Coyotes." Next up is Cinderblock Bookshelves, because I have too many books and not enough books shelves. Until next time...
Wow. Nevermind all the hassle of lodging an official complaint with Blogger, thereby discouraging the troublemakers who might be tempted to flag someone's site just for the hell of it--no, apparently all you have to do is flag the site, Blogger hears about it, and there you go.
Probably someone will flag me now, just for complaining. But seriously. This reminds me of these signs we have on I-5 that proclaim, in large letters, that it's something like your duty to report single drivers who've snuck into the carpool lane. They post a number, too. I think it's 1-800-HERO, or something close. It also reminds me of the signs that showed up in select Bellingham neighborhoods after 9/11, urging people to "report suspicious behavior to the authorities"--as in, "spy on your neighbors, it's your patriotic duty."
I think it's a damn shame we're being encouraged to snitch on each other--especially because having such a convenient snitching function like that implies that this is a big problem for Blogger, that people are posting objectionable content all the time, but in the embarrassingly many hours that I spent rifling through Blogspot sites, I found nothing one could deem objectionable (unless you count a site devoted to Hilary Duff "objectionable", which it just might be).
At any rate, I mean no slight to Blogger, because I've thoroughly enjoyed setting up shop here, with their studly templates and easy-to-use manager--I only wish I didn't feel like I was being encouraged to rat on my neighbors, based on the sheer convenience of the "Flag" button.
(Ahem. Before you get too worked up, you might read The internet is a strange place, a later entry of mine that eventually addresses this same situation. In a much more, ah, humble way. -Thea)
So, we happened upon this delightful semi-downtown apartment in Bellingham with hardwood floors, big windows, an excessively pretty bathroom--and an itty-bitty kitchen. But the rent is just right, and the location absolutely perfect. 'Tis everything we ever wanted in an apartment (minus kitchen counterspace).
I started out this move well-intentioned--Sharpie markers in hand, a nice leisurely time period in which to pack--convinced that this would be the one time that our moving might be orderly and, well, manageable. Then I put off packing. And put it off some more.
And then! Suddenly it was the middle of August and there was nothing for it but to implement what I like to call the "Pack now, sort later" technique. Whole drawers landed in boxes, unsorted. Things we meant to take to Goodwill went to the new apartment with us, where we promptly shoved them into a corner and said, "Later. Let's deal with them later."
When most of the big boxes were empty, when my books were in one huge mound along the living room wall, when the bed was set up and the bathroom useable, and the kitchen cabinets stocked enough that we could make a quesadilla without incident, we encountered that hideous, new-house question: "Okay, so what do we need?"
As if anyone needs a shower shelf, or a silverware organizer, or coat hangers. As if anyone actually wants to buy coasters.
But all these things found their way onto an actual list, and, thus, into our home. Mind, we are thrifty shoppers, so these items came from places like Goodwill and Deals Only ("We Only Have Deals!"--my favorite business slogan ever) and, oh yes, garage sales.
I love garage sales, and thank God I forget how much I love them or I would have even more shit that I never use. My friend Morgan came over for breakfast this morning with the news: "Did you know that the church down the street is having a garage sale today? A really huge garage sale with lots of nifty things?" Before the coffee grounds had time to settle in the french press, before the oil in the frying pan had time to cool, Morgan & I were the parking lot of Trinity Lutheran, sizing up wine glasses, sniffing throw pillows (you never know), holding $3 pairs of Gap jeans up to our hips...
$13.50 later, I had a full box (and empty pockets) to cart home, in which was a pair of rhinestones earrings--the gold so tarnished it looked black, the rhinestones smoky and dull--that I absolutely loved. The earrings cost me .50, and were gloriously old-fashioned, but not too old-fashioned to have hooks (not clip-ons). When I got home, I tried them on (after swiping them with peroxide, of course, Mom), and how odd they seemed on either side of my twenty-two-year-old face, so much more refined than the thin silver hoops marching up the rest of my ears, but ah well.
I tried to picture the woman who owned them last. Probably in her mid-fifties, digging through the jewelry her mother'd given her years before, setting aside the pieces she loved (the jade cameo, the tarnished wedding band, that simple gold chain), and putting the rest in baggies to take to church on Sunday, for the flea market collection.
What I love about garage sales: the glimpse of someone's history, the stories that come with each piece.
And, of course, the fact that the stories come dirt cheap.
Sound a bit suspiciously Hallmark? Well, it's not. FIVE PEOPLE isn't one of those feel-good books, where all truths are soft and pliable, oh no. It's a quick read, but it's deep, and the current is swift and it is just so cool.
Albom's writing reminds me a bit of Vonnegut, actually, and I mean that as a very good thing--the fluctuating timelines, the continuity of things, how one story merges with another and adds a second layer of meaning and all-around loveliness to the first...and that marvelous, all-knowing narrator that Kurt Vonnegut is so fond of.
Another good book about the afterlife? C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.
Now, don't get me wrong, it's damn cool that an 18-year-old can publish his own book independently, promote it to within an inch of its life, find a big fatty publisher to carry on the torch and land himself a spot (a #1 spot, I believe) on the bestseller list. Impressive, and downright irritating. When I was 18, I'm pretty sure I still wanted to be a rock star (not that "fantasy writer" has all that much more flair).
But, astounding backstory aside, the book must pull its own weight and I would say, half-heartedly, that it struggles a wee bit in that respect. When it comes to fantasy books, I am a huge sucker for theatrics--show me something so wild, so utterly out there that it causes me to pause in my reading and say, at least once, "Cool," with something like awe in my voice. That's part of the lure of Harry Potter (oh, not him again)--nearly every chapter introduces something like the Great Hall, with its ceiling enchanted to look like the sky outside, or a hex that makes bats come out of the aflicted's nose--and I fall for it, every single time. Owl post, honestly. Probably I'm going to get some die-hard fantasy fans emailing me and wanting to argue that Potter isn't "true" fantasy, or that the presence of elves is a base requirement for a book to even be considered fantasy, but I stand firm. To me, "fantasy" is about the possibility--here is a genre where the author can do anything she damn well pleases. The trick is to make it believable, and get all that plot/character/climax bit right.
So. How did ERAGON miss the mark? For the first many chapters, the cliches were out in full force, as hooded characters summoned each other to "go forth," and "waves of terror" washed over poor, singled-out Eragon--who was asking "Why me?", pondering his existence, and accepting his destiny, all at the same time. That was it, really. The characters felt a bit...borrowed, the script a bit stale, the scenery stuck on repeat, but as Eragon matured (around page 300 or so) Paolini's writing seemed to sharpen as well, so that, by the time Eragon & Co. reached that mighty climax of the story, the characters began to come into focus, the landscape got gorgeous and well-wrought, and the action began to beat to a more bearable drum. And I will say this--Paolini's got a good eye for details. His characters seem to raise their eyebrows or go pale or cringe at just the right time--and the giant gemstones! Egad! Those really made me pause and say, "Cool," at least once.
Updike's prose, however, was stunning, and I could've read a whole book of it, easy, if he had some of that plot stuff to serve along with it. As it is, RABBIT jogs along at this horrible real-time pace, where a single sex scene takes ten pages, because every little detail needs describing, and one-third of the book only covers a single evening, in all its agonizing glory. Bah.
But if I just missed the getting-good, please tell me. Hit Make a Comment below and say, "Thea, you fool, you better finish that book"--I'll take you at your word, and do it. Until then, however, it's going back on my shelves, dog-earred exactly where I stopped.
On the bus today I overheard two girls talking. That's not unusual. In fact, what they were talking about wasn't unusual--'twas the same old Bellingham bitch (I've expounded upon it many times myself) of "Damn those developers! Leave our little hippie town alone!" But this girl had a further point to make: "At least I'm moving," she said. "I won't have to watch it go downhill anymore."
Hmm. I guess that sentiment's not unusual, either.
Like I said, I've ranted about this plenty myself, but I've lately had a change (a slight change, but a change nonetheless) of heart. I'll tell why, but first, a brief history for those of you unfamiliar with the plight of the growing urban area that is Bellingham:
It's gorgeous here, it really is, and I can't blame people for wanting to move to the Pacific Northwest. My parents moved here from the Midwest when I was a wee toddler and I've never left--graduated high school and college here, got married, etc. My mom confessed a year or so ago that, in looking for a place to move to, she wanted somewhere that we kids would find difficult to leave.
And Bellingham is difficult to leave, but it's not for lack of trying. Where could I go that would have the ocean, and the mountains, and the trees, and wouldn't be the East Coast?
So I've been here long enough to see the mall move in, to see the college (Western Washington University) expand, and (oh, horror) to see a vast expanse of housing developements attach themselves, mercilessly, to my beloved Bellingham.
I'm not the only one who likes it here, I'm learning.
Some magazine named B-ham a top spot for retirement, and so the retirees came. Also, there are the students, but that's nothing new. What's new is the sheer volume of students--Western's outgrowing it's hilltop and spreading down into Fairhaven. Brick-fronted condos are erupting all over downtown as out-of-town (even out-of-state) developers attempt to build "up, rather than out" (don't get me wrong--I'd rather see the city get tall rather than eat up the county and rub shoulders with Vancouver BC & Seattle). And--this is what really galls me--all these new people (who I'm sure are very nice--I even know several of them, right), all this demand for property and trees and pretty lakes, has pumped up the realty prices so high that it's becoming more and more unlikely that my student husband and I will ever be able to own property here. We might have to move simply because we cannot afford to stay in our hometown; we're not, after all, the target demographic. Shitty, right?
But. I think it's a shame that folks are packing up at the mere mention of the word "Starbucks." This girl wasn't concerned about some day purchasing a home (larger than, say, a dumpster) for under $400,000--nah, she was pissed because they just put a Starbucks downtown, along with some fancified condos. Now, I know I heard this little soundbite out of context, and maybe she has some very good reason for leaving, but I also know this is not an uncommon sentiment among a lot of kids who moved here for college, thinking they'd stay, but who are seeing the town morph into a great city-beast before their very eyes. And I know my position is a bit different from that of someone who moved here thinking that Bellingham would suit some liberal ideal, that everybody here is a Democrat and we all compost and grow our own pot and do arts & crafts on Saturdays as a group. We do have a bit of that stereotype, I know (and we do our share of living up to it), but honestly. I think people must actually move here expecting that or something like it, because you just cannot let a Starbucks chase you out of town.
After all, they're everywhere now.
I have more at stake here. For me to say that the Bellingham I love is buried under brick high-rises and developements with ridiculous names like "Trickle Creek" is tantamount to saying that the developers buried my history, too. My Bellingham is not gone; it's just changing. I can't pack up and leave just because my town is becoming a city. I say, someone's gotta stick around and buy coffee from the little guys, right?
Apparently Joyce was only twenty-five when he published this book, and I hear it was his first. DUBLINERS is a collection of short stories, each centering on one person or situation or misadventure, all taking place in...here it comes...Dublin. (Didn't need a footnote for that, did you?) Some are told by children, some by lovers or workers or politicians, and Joyce draws each story like a brushstroke so that each piece, while complete in its own right, shines brighter as part of the Big Picture. Now, the footnotes might have been helpful here, since I know little of the Irish political climate (militant Catholicism, those damn Britons, something about potatoes--let me be the first to admit that I know nothing), but sadly, the footnotes weren't helpful. They referenced other political events that I'd never heard of and blah blah blah. Back to the book!
So, most of the stories held a common thread of sorrow--an eerie shimmering thing that held the whole thing in place. Some of my favorites were "Eveline", about a young woman on the brink of leaving her failing family for marriage and a new home; "A Little Cloud," about a timid man who meets a friend just back from London for a drink; and, lastly (but not leastly), "The Dead," Joyce's finishing story, which starts off a bit slow (a mild-mannered dinner party, a parlor) but gathers steam quick once it gets started.
One of the most beautiful moments I've read lately is when Gabriel (of "The Dead") watches his wife as she pauses on the stairs to listen to a song being sung in another room. Chilling. It more than makes up for the footnotes.
Now I know better. The great Gatsby is a person, and a very interesting one, at that...
I liked GATSBY (the book) very much, but I'm not sure I could tell you why. I suppose it's something about the haunted quality of Jay Gatsby and his many-roomed, ghost-filled mansion, something about Nick Carraway (our brave narrator) in his rundown cottage, surrounded by millionaires. And there are love triangles, and scandals, and extravagant parties, but some of the best moments of Fitzgerald's book are the most stark and utterly bewitching: Nick and Gatsby searching Gatsby's mansion for cigarettes and finding only two stale cigarettes that they smoke beside a dark window; the descriptions of Daisy's voice, Jordan's posture; Gatsby gazing out over the bay at the green light that marks the end of his love's lakeside dock. That's downright eerie.
I will be reading GATSBY many times, I can assure you.
And this book, the latest, Book 6, is marvellous. Heart-breaking, ball-your-eyes-out, take-your-breath-away marvellous. And I can't tell you why without spoiling it for you. Instead, I turn to the previous 5 books and say:
The first 3 books (The Sorcerer's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets & The Prisoner of Azkaban) deal with dark forces, very big things, yes, but the fourth book is pivotal in that Harry's struggles suddenly become serious--not "no more messing around" serious, because Rowling still keeps her wonderful wits about her and cracks plenty of jokes, but serious in that Harry Potter can no longer have any illusions about being a normal kid--not even a normal wizard. Harry's character is changed by the events of Book 4 (Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire), and while plenty might argue that the change is for the worst, I must say--though he's no doubt a little grumpier, a little less pleasant to be around--that I think he's a much stronger character for it. His weaknesses start coming out, finally, which makes him feel like a complete, honest (however adolescent) character. The first 3 books made him out to be a bit of an accidental hero--always prepared, always brave, always (he says it himself) a bit lucky--while this book puts Harry to the test, literally, to see how he reacts when he sees what really rides on his bravery, luck and skill.
HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is a little like that: pivotal. Big things happen, and Harry is, as always, in the thick of it. This book answers a lot of questions, but asks plenty of new ones as well; it introduces some terrifying new characters (Fenrir Greyback) and develops some whose half-existence has been bothering me for years (Narcissa & Draco Malfoy).
And here is one of the (many) things I love about J.K. Rowling: she gives you these wee insights into even the most terrible characters, the ones you love to hate (think Book 5, The Order of the Phoenix, "Snape's Worst Memory"), so that, whether you like it or not, you often end up feeling a bit of pity for them--remember the way Lucius Malfoy talks to Draco in Book 2, like he thinks Draco's an annoying little prat, too? That's gotta sting, having your dad talk down to you like that, and it explains a lot about why Draco's such an arrogant punk--he has to get respect somewhere, even if he's only forcing it from those he thinks beneath him. But just wait--Rowling's got more on Draco coming up.
Another thing I love about Rowling: every question you could ever have gets answered, eventually. Dead serious! Every time I come up with some doubt, or some little bone to pick with her plotlines or characters, she addresses it--even if I have to wait a few books for an answer. An example: "Is it really likely that Harry could be so constantly the center of attention, finding himself in these race-against-Voldemort circumstances every single year at Hogwarts?", I found myself wondering after the fourth book, and the fourth year of a plot against Harry, etc. Well, J.K. Rowling came back with a snappy little (okay, 800+ pages) Book 5 that addressed just that: why, precisely, Harry can never quite have a Voldemort-free existence, and why he finds himself, always, whether cast in a positive or negative light, a celebrity. Why Harry will always be more than even "The Boy Who Lived."
In closing, THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is everything I hoped it would be. After Book 5 (with no Quidditch, very little Dumbledore, Harry on the Black List, and that damned Dolores Umbridge), Book 6 takes its time getting going so that we get a lovely, refreshing, few chapters of normal life at Hogwart's (I know I missed it, didn't you?) and plenty of Dumbledore (who is wonderful, as always, and heart-breakingly scarce in Book 5) before Book 6 takes off to the mad beat of jungle drums, and leaves you breathless and weak. The greatest compliment I can pay to J.K. Rowling is this: for a minute there, she had me convinced that absolutely anything could happen. I believed she could kill off all the best characters, I believed that good might not be enough to win, I believed that there might actually be no coming back, no happy ending, nothing.
I really did. No matter how I looked at it, logically, when I started or finished the book, I believed that she could break all those plot rules about who has to survive and who can be killed. I say nothing of whether there is or is not a happy ending--read it! Please, just do!--only of what Rowling achieved in pulling me so fully into the story that I was able to lose sight of the laws of fairness and forget about Book 7 for a second and see it as real life where, really, good doesn't always win--where there doesn't have to be a sequel. Kudos, my dear--my hat is off to you!
HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE may be (do I dare say it?) Rowling's very best yet.
I have a theory about Crookshanks--wanna read it? Click here.
For fun extra stuff (back stories on obscure characters and Rowling herself, cut scenes, any and all things Harry Potter) check out Rowling's official site: jkrowling.com.
For you Hogwart's fiends, who just can't get enough, check out the Warner Bros. site. You can enroll in Hogwarts, try on the Sorting Hat, shop for wands, try out for the house Quidditch team, and even more stuff that I haven't figured out yet (I'm in Gryffindor, my wand's unicorn hair/willow/10" and I play beater on the Gryffindor team, if you must know). A true nerd experience, and very cool.
Lastly, for a really good sorting quiz, click the pretty Gryffindor picture!
Sounds promising, yes?
What I've noticed about McEwan is his tendency to take characters you love and put them in terrible situations where, in a very real, very heartbreaking way, they tend to make bad choices (sort of "What happens if he doesn't save the small drowning child?" scenarios). He never misses an opportunity to let a character behave as a biased and self-preserving person (i.e. most people) would. Misunderstanding and wrong-doings abound, and in that sense, McEwan's novels are hard to read--challenging--but the writing is flawless, the characters incredibly rich, and the actions, the reasoning and the justifications of his characters all too believable.
But AMSTERDAM was lacking that intrigue somehow. The characters weren't terribly interesting--perhaps they were a little too true to real life--and by the end of the book I was rather disheartened. I kept holding out for a twist ending, something to tie it all together in a wholly unexpected way, but nothing came. The story fell out exactly like I'd thought it would--and hoped it wouldn't. There were some nice moments when McEwan described Linley's symphony--the rigors of composing, the delicate hum of notes before Clive put them on paper...
It's possible that I missed something in AMSTERDAM--McEwan does sometimes have sneaky endings--but he has many other novels to read. I recommend them.