Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Umbrellas, Oreos, Obama...Oh, I Don't Know What to Call This One

Well, this is what I get for declaring I'll write a new blog post when an African-American is sworn in as president of the United States of America. Thought I was safe with that one. Thankfully, no. And I guess that, like everyone else, I got a little something to say about it.

Everyone has their election stories. Like a lot of people, mine begins on the evening of the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I was driving home from Wisconsin, and I turned on the radio, which happened to be tuned to NPR. Barack Obama was in the middle of delivering the speech that would somehow, unfathomably then, lead directly to the events of today. I didn't know who he was or why he had been chosen to speak, but I stopped my car and I listened. There was something undeniably compelling about his words and his tone. For a moment, I was roused from my 20-something cynicism by a stir of emotion I would have been ashamed to admit to then. And I thought, "I wish I could vote for him in November." I also thought, "I wish I had an Oreo Blizzard." The latter of my wishes was easily addressed, as I had conveniently stopped my car in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. As to the former, I tucked that hope away with my desires to have an Olympic gold medal, an Academy Award, and my own show on the Travel Channel.

On election night, I was devastated not at John Kerry's loss but at George Bush's win, and I made what was, at the time, an idle oath to do whatever I could personally to make sure that my candidate won next time.

Never would I have imagined I'd be knocking on strangers' doors in the cold Minnesota Februrary, asking them to consider caucusing for Barack Obama. I don't even like knocking on my friends' doors. Or using "caucus" as a verb. I may be visiting a friend I've known for years, been explicitly invited to arrive at an appointed time, and yet, my hand will hover, knuckles poised for knocking, while I worry over whether this is exactly the right moment for me to announce my presence. "Oh, I hope I'm not bothering them. Maybe I'll just go home." Imagine my horror at announcing my presence and my political stance to people I'd never met, people who, until the moment of my knocking, might have been peacefully reading a book, having just found the most comfortable position in which to sit, that perfect balancing act of relaxation and poise for page-turning. Ugh! It gives me shivers just to think about it. But I did it.

People have definitely used the word "hope" almost to the point of bleeding all its meaning over the past couple of years, but I really started to feel it. On the night of the Minnesota caucus, I voted at a school in one of the oldest and fanciest neighborhoods in Saint Paul. I had to park several blocks away and walk through the slushy snow and past Victorian era mansions to get to my polling place. At one point, I fell in pace with a middle-aged man and we both wondered at the crowds of people streaming towards the school. "I went to school here," he said. "Nice neighborhood," I replied, trying not to sound too impressed. He said he couldn't believe the crowds of people lining up to vote. He cast a quick glance around us and adopted the tone of an anthropologist, "I've never been to one of your people's gatherings before." I wondered what he meant by "my" people: Polish? Sci-Fi fans? Vegetarians? How could he know all that about me? Who was this guy? He looked around again and lowered his voice: "I'm a Republican."

"Can I ask what brought you out here tonight?" Then he caught my eye and simply said, "Obama," and I lost him in the crowd.

And then I found myself in another crowd in June. This time, I was in a line of thousands that snaked through the streets of downtown Saint Paul. Obama would be speaking in a few hours at the Xcel Energy Center, and he was expected to clinch the Democratic nomination. I'd gone alone, but I spent the entire evening talking to people, listening to their stories and their thoughts on social issues, on the environment, on the unique political and historical moment we seemed to be experiencing. I spent most of the time with a couple from South America, he from Venezuela, she from Colombia. They were so excited, so engaged in the American political process, so inspired by Obama's campaign and his message. Never mind they couldn't vote.

A lot of people who wouldn't be able to vote in the election in November stood in that line. One particularly lively group of teenagers took it upon themselves to remove what had become a hazardous roadblock as people finally started moving toward the Xcel. Minnesotans are a rule-following bunch, and when the police put one of those wooden horse-type barricades along the sidewalk, people kept away from the area it was blocking. But as more and more people crushed toward the Xcel, many found themselves pushed up against the barricade and unable to move safely beyond it. On reaching the barricade and finding themselves stuck, several people expressed a wish for the thing to be gone. It was a group of teenagers who embraced the activist message of the campaign and hoisted the thing above their heads, crowd surfing it up and away with chants of, "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!"

It had been threatening rain all day, and many of the people in line had brought umbrellas. Sure, we were a hopeful bunch, but we were still in the Midwest, and weather awareness and preparedness is a way of life. We could hope the rain would stay away, but, you know, just in case it didn't...

Our umbrellas were, however, a security risk and would not be allowed through the doors, we were told once we finally got to the Xcel. This explained the scores of umbrellas that littered the lawns around the building. As I approached the entrance, I chucked mine under a bush and counted the number of trees to the door, hoping I'd remember and be able to retrieve it after witnessing history or whatever. And even though I was in the nosebleeds, it was electrifying inside the arena. At the center of it all was this man whose steady voice I'd listened to since that day in the Dairy Queen parking lot and whose tone and message was just as compelling four years later, all the more so for its now being so clearly a real possibility. At the end of the night, Barack Obama bumped his fist into his wife's and walked off stage, but the energy of possibility lingered and radiated through the crowd, into the nosebleeds, out onto the streets--where thousands more people who hadn't made it through the security checks in time had watched on the jumbo screen outside--past the silent vigil of our our abandoned umbrellas, through the city, the state, the country, the world.

It was dark by the time I got outside, and I joined the throngs of people hunched over in the bushes, pulling back branches, holding up umbrellas and examining them in the light of their cell phone displays; black umbrella after black umbrella tossed back into the bushes in search of the exact one they had come with. I ran into people I knew, people I hadn't seen in five years, and perfect strangers. It was one of those completely surreal moments of odd community. "Is this it?" a woman asked to my right. "No," answered her friend. "Well, where did you leave it?" "Right here, I thought." "Well, what color is it?" "Camouflage." Good luck, I thought.

For those couple of hours in the Xcel, we'd been forced to abandon our cautiousness and our umbrellas; but we were also practical, and we fished our umbrellas out of the bushes and forced ourselves to consider the possibility that John McCain could have been standing at that podium today. But today I gathered with coworkers around the television in our break room and listened to that steady voice and those compelling words once more, and I'm just so glad to find myself in the happy majority of Americans. Also, I find myself craving an Oreo Blizzard.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Things Get Hairy

"Ladies in their sensitivities, my lord,
have a fragile sensibility.
When a girl's emergent,
probably it's urgent
you defer to her gentility, my lord."
-- Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

A friend of mine at work said something surprising to me this morning. "Your hair looks really nice today." We had passed each other in the hallway, and my hand instinctively went to my head. "Really?" I asked, genuinely surprised. I ran my fingers through the tangled mess. "Thanks." As we parted ways, my mind raced: "Quick, what did I do to my hair? Took a shower last night...let it dry for about an hour before taking the blow dryer to it...fell asleep on my right side..." I went into the bathroom and checked my look in the mirror.

I guess it did look kind of nice. And the Barber had shouted at me again. You'll recall, perhaps, that there is a barber shop on the next block over from my office. It faces the park across the street, where I had retreated this morning when it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn't look at my computer for one more second without clawing at the monitor. "Right. Time for a walk," I thought, and I headed out into the sweltering air. The man who had shouted at me as I walked home a few weeks ago was outside the shop again, this time in the middle of the morning.

"Hey!" he shouted. Hmm. He must work there. "Hey, hey!" He probably doesn't own the place; I can't imagine that the owner would shout at people like that from his place of business. "Yo! You! Hey!" He's probably a barber. "Hey! You!" Must be nice not to have to stare at a computer all day. "Hey!" At least there are trees between us this time.

Flattering as his cat calls are, I wondered if I should maybe wear a sports bra to work tomorrow, just in case I took another walk. But now my friend had introduced another possibility. I much preferred the idea that the barber's eye had been caught by my bouncing curls, so I considered his a professional endorsement and winked at my reflection before returning to my desk.

My hair has been a constant source of frustration. I've never been able to wrangle it into anything approaching a current style. In middle school, when my 634th attempt at constructing a lasting wall of bangs failed, I parted my hair down the middle and bought a pair of silver earrings in the shapes of little peace signs. "This Gulf War is just--well, it can't be good," I declared. "Peace, man."

My politics and my hair haven't really changed since then, though perhaps now there is less of a causal relationship between the two. Recently enraged over an email that was forwarded to me about the looming threat to the use of English in America, I glanced over the long list of addressees and felt the need to somehow balance the karmic scales. I enrolled in a class to train as an English tutor for recent immigrants and found myself in a room full of middle-aged do-gooders all gazing reverently at our instructor, who I despised within roughly ten seconds of her speaking.

She wrote her name on the white board at the front of the room but informed us that it would soon be changing, as she would be marrying a man I would come to picture as a large cat. That was the only way I could reconcile her engagement with the evidence before me. Any human man wouldn't have lasted with the wide eyes and the over-annunciating, the gesturing, and the constant reminders of her graduate degree in linguistics.

But, oh, how the rest of the class loved her. Imagine an Oprah audience as she interviews Deepak Chopra. Do you see them? With the knowing nods and the gentle "mm-hmm"s after every independent clause he speaks? There were four classes that were three hours long, with a 15-minute break every night just before the tip of my pencil reached my eyeball. I would spring from my chair and head to the soda machine down the hall. Without fail, someone would catch my stride down the long hallway. "Isn't she amazing?" they'd say. I quickly learned it was best not to hesitate the slightest bit in my answer. If I didn't produce a quick and hearty, "Absolutely!" there would be an inevitable, "Well, I would sure like to learn English from her; I can tell you that much," after which the devotee's pace would quicken and I'd be forced to wait behind them as they dawdled for a suspiciously long time in front of the Pepsi machine.

Much of the class concerned basic lessons in basic English that recent immigrants to this country would find very useful. It wasn't glamorous; that's for sure. There were lessons in how to read a phone bill, a prescription bottle, how to make an appointment at the doctor's office, the dentist, the barber. There were never any lessons that gave my prospective immigrant students the necessary vocabulary to construct effusive exclamations of gratitude: we were limited to ideas that could be communicated through gestures and pictures, and there were no pictures to go along with phrases like "word bringer," "she who shares meaning," or "there are many English words, and while you have taught me more of them than I ever dreamed possible, I do not now--nor will I ever--have the words to express my thanks."

No, the most we could reasonably hope for by way of communication largely involved pointing. "Does your arm hurt?" the instructor asked in one demonstration about a hypothetical visit to the doctor. In this scenario, we were supposed to communicate that we had a headache. She pointed to her arm. "No," we all answered. "Does your leg hurt?" She touched her finger to her thigh. "No," we said, waiting. "Does your..." her hand moved toward her head, and the class' breath caught in their throats. "...head hurt?" "Yes!" we all cried.

I've always ended up being friendly with the people from faraway lands. They're just so much more interesting than me. "So do you dream in Japanese?" I'll ask. "Tell me again about the time the monkey slapped your friend," I'll say. "What's Spanish for 'stalker'?" When I simultaneously got a perm and new coat with a fur collar in high school, a friend who had recently moved to America searched for the word to describe my new look. "You know," he said, "like a gangster's girlfriend." "A moll?" I asked, "A dame?" He looked confused, so finally I went there. "A hooker?" He denied that was the word, but I swear I detected the glimmer of understanding that comes when an idea finally matches a word you've heard but didn't understand until now.

And so no small amount of preparation went into the exchange I shared with a Middle Eastern woman in the health and beauty section of Super Target this evening. I had gone there for razors, yes, but mostly for the air-conditioning. It was more than 90 degrees in my apartment, and I grasped at any excuse to get into the cool air of consumerism. Yet here was this woman, swathed in layers of cloth: a floor-length dress and long scarf that covered her hair and fell down her back. I sweat just looking past her at the shaving gel.

I caught her eye, and she held up a bottle of Veet and pointed to the illustration of smooth legs on the label. "Is this for whole body?" she asked. Here was my chance! My mind raced through all my English tutoring classes. "No," I said, shaking my head. Crap! I remembered that shaking your head means different things in different cultures. I pointed to the drawing. "Just legs."

The woman's shoulders sank, and she heaved a sigh. I noticed then that she was pregnant. "I need whole body hair off," she said, pleadingly. Okay, I was surprised to be having this conversation in Target, but that wasn't going to stop me from showing this woman the beauty of America. You want all the hair removed from your body? We've got something for that, I'm sure. I pulled bottle after bottle off the shelf and read the labels carefully. "No, this one is just for legs," I would say. She looked a little confused, so I touched my finger to my leg. "Only legs." She picked up another bottle and handed it to me.

Warning: do not use on face, head, breasts, or genitals. Bottle after bottle contained this warning. I shook my head at her, and she raised her eyebrows. "Not whole body." But she was after specific information. With each bottle I put back, she wanted more details, and I got the feeling that unless I told her she couldn't specifically use it on whatever part of her body she was concerned about, she would be sold. And I hated my tutoring instructor all the more, because I knew she was right; I would have to point.

I raised my head to my face. "No face." She gave me a dismissive look, so I went on. "No head," and I ran my fingers through my hair. Still she looked expectantly. "No...chest," I said, congratulating myself on the quick substitution of "chest" for "breast," though I had to gesture toward my chest all the same. "Uh-huh..." her eyes said.

I grew a little desperate. "Not whole body," I tried again. But my eyes fell on her enormous belly under all those drapes of clothing. We were talking about the application of chemicals to her body, and I decided that it was unfair to this hairy woman's unborn baby to allow my puritanical aversion to gesturing toward my crotch in public interfere with the clear communication of this product's warning label.

I glanced around me; the coast was relatively clear. There were two other women at the other end of the aisle. "You can't use it..." The woman's eager eyes followed my hand. "Not..." Her breath caught in her throat. And it suddenly occurred to me that I was going about this all wrong. All I had to do was point to every other part of my body and nod. "Toes: yes!" "Legs: yes!" "Arms: yes!" But as I formulated my new plan of attack, a Target employee reached between the woman and I to place an item on the shelf. The woman seized the opportunity, turning to the employee and thrusting a bottle of Veet before her eyes. "I need whole body hair off!" she said. The employee sighed. "You're, like, the sixth person to ask me that today."

Here was someone infinitely more qualified to deal with this woman's hair removal questions, so I quickly replaced the bottle on the shelf and slid quietly around the end cap and out of sight. There would be plenty of other opportunities, I assured myself, to connect across the barriers of language with interesting people from foreign lands. Anyway, I had to get home and shower, let my hair dry for an hour, blow-dry it, and fall asleep on my right side.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Bug's Life

As I write this, a tiny bug crawls across the glowing monitor of my computer. The fucking bastard.

I'm overrun!!

I was brushing my teeth before going to bed tonight and noticed a many-legged creature crawling on the bathroom wall. "Ugh!" I shouted through the Aqua-Fresh. It was one of those bugs that crawls like a millipede and has what looks like a little set of pinchers on its business end. Instinctively, I closed my eyes, and I swear to god, by the time I completed the "open" part of my blink, it was gone. My toothbrush didn't stop me from shouting, "Whewre tha fuck did ih go?"

These bugs, they move like ninjas, and, like ninjas, you can never be sure of where they are or what their intentions towards you might be. And yet...

And yet, I cannot kill them. For as disgusting as their very existence seems to be to me (I can't help it; they just gross me out), the thought of crushing their little exoskeletons and stopping their little bug neurons from firing just turns my stomach. So I have, over the years, developed quite a talent for corralling bugs onto readily available pieces of junk mail, computer paper, magazines--anything long and sturdy enough to keep the vile thing off my skin--and hauling my ass out of doors ASAP. If you enter a room expecting to find me and find only a few sheets of paper floating in the wake of air rushing out a slamming door, expect my return any moment. I'll be along shortly, obsessively brushing my sleeves, pants, and hair while, at the same time, smiling a self-satisfied smile of one who has spared the tiny life she held in her hands... well, not literally in her hands or really anywhere near her hands if she could help it. Ugh! Is there something crawling on my hand?

Okay, false alarm.

To find the source of this empathy with creatures that make my skin crawl, I must look where I always look for influences on my perception of reality: the movies. In this case, I'd have to say it was the ant in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. This blog does not condone spoilers, but that ant gave his all to help those shrunken brats, and the thanks he got...well, let's just say Andy's sputtering cries ring in my ears as I ferry his brethren to the free air. "If I was shrunk, you'd do the same for me," I whisper along the way...you know, in my mind.

But something about this bathroom bug told me my usual approach wouldn't work. It was just too fast. My job requires me to be aware of fractions of a second of video, so believe me when I say that the amount of time it took for this beast to move the bug equivalent of a football field was no more than half a second. And so in the same instant that I considered going for the Papa Murphy's coupon--no, wait; bigger--the New Classics issue of Entertainment Weekly, I had also realized that that it was no good. Jet Li here would be up my arm and into my hair before I could scream.

So I spit out my mouthful of toothpaste, turned off the light, and actually said, "Good night," closing the bathroom door on my way out.

"He'll be gone in the morning," I told myself hopefully, dismissing any ideas of where he would go, and most especially the idea that he would go into the bathtub. "Why would he even go in there?" I reasoned, grasping, "There's no future for him in the bathtub. None of his friends are there."

And so I was reasonably calm and had grown somewhat accustomed to the idea of my new roommate as I got into bed and decided to read a bit before going to sleep. But it wasn't long before something caught my eye beyond the horizon of my open book. There, on the stark white wall opposite my bed was a big, dark, bug-shaped blob. Closer inspection revealed that it was a box elder-y-looking thing idly following his lazy antennae up the wall.

An agreement like the one I'd reached with Jet Li in the bathroom was out of the question here. This was my bedroom, dude. My bedroom. I sleep here, totally trusting various insects not to walk all over me while I'm unconscious. This guy had already proven his brazenness in hauling his dark, bug-shaped carcass for a leisurely stroll across a well-lit and completely white wall. The balls on this one!

Ah, but he was slow, and that, my friend, earned him a one-way ticket on the paper-bowl train to Front Porchville. Employing the age-old method of trapping the bug under a dome-shaped object and sliding the object down the wall, I got him into the paper bowl and hurriedly unlocked two doors and pulled open a third to arrive on the darkened front porch of my apartment building. There is no light out there, and so I could not be sure of slow-poke's fate. I only wish my human ears could have perceived his bug-shout of gratitude when he found himself surrounded by dirt and flowers and a forest of grass.

Let's say you're a dark bug with antennae. You're out for a walk on a cold, hard, white wall one night and suddenly find yourself in a paper bowl and then, after--okay--a somewhat terrifying fall through space, you are in a lush forest of green grass, with soft soil beneath each of your many feet and bright flowers towering overhead. At least, you think they're bright. Technically, your antennae only tell you they're soft, but you just have a feeling...

You wouldn't even consider going back to that room with the white wall, would you? I mean, you know just the window that would take you there, and the sorry excuse for a screen would barely stand in your way. If you left now, you could be there before dawn. Of course, you'd have to crawl across that mountain range of a lumpy thing on the bed, but it's not like you couldn't stop and rest if you wanted to. Hell, you could take a bug-shit anywhere you like. And you know how much you love spelunking. You could explore that cave you've had your bug-eyes on for days, you know, the one just beyond Mount Nostril, with the white rocks and the steady whoosh of air in and out. You wouldn't hear your bug-self say, "Live in the now, man. You're a fucking bug. Your life is short." Would you? Would YOU?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday Night

You know, technology robs correspondence of certain tonal elements. For instance, the script in this message is very even and measured, and the backspace key allows me to erase any hint that my hand is anything but steady as I type this. If this were, say, 1908, I fear my shaking pen could produce nothing but characters only sometimes recognizable as letters in the English language. "Was something wrong with my pal Jess when she wrote this?" you might wonder in your old-timey inner voice. "I can't make hide nor hair of this chicken scratch, see." And you would be rightly interpreting my halting handwriting, for I have just had an encounter. . . WITH LIGHTNING.

So I was on my way home from watching the mind-blowing season finale of Lost at my friends' house, and it was raining pretty good. I'd seen some lightning earlier and even made some stupid comment about standing too close to the metal drainpipe on the side of their house. Oh, how blithely I snarked at mortality!

I drove through the rain squinting for the lines on the road, knowing they must be somewhere under all the reflected city light on the wet pavement. My mind raced with island theories and the first tentative thoughts I'd allow myself to think about the structure of Lost next season.

Fleetwood Mac's Say You Love Me was playing as I pulled up to my place and looked in vain for a parking spot. I think they must be sweeping the next street over tomorrow, because there are twice as many cars on my street tonight. So I circled around and decided to park by the back of the house and try my keys in the back door for the first time since I moved in.

I parked under a big tree and actually thought, "Oh, man, this is so one of those fateful decisions. I'm totally getting struck by lightning." I considered going around to the front door, but it was pouring rain, so I made a quick dash for the back door.

The chorus I'd cut off in the car continued in my head. "'Cause when the lovin' starts and the lights go down and there's not another livin' soul around..." I made it to the back gate and clasped the metal latch. And then every molecule of the air was positively rent with the loudest crack of thunder I've ever heard; at the exact same moment, the night was suddenly white. There was no counting the seconds between the lightning and thunder to determine the distance in miles from from the storm. It was closer than the idea of the word "Mississippi." When I tell you the ground shook, I mean it shook hard enough to set off a car alarm on the street.

"Holy shit!" I shouted, completely disregarding my earlier resolve to be a courteous neighbor and approach to the back entrance quietly. I shoved my metal key into the metal lock and hurried inside, where I stood in my kitchen and shook for a minute. Eventually, I put one foot in front of the other and went to my couch, where I sat and shook for a minute.

My ears have just stopped ringing, and one thing is clear to me tonight: we never know how long we have on Earth. We do, however, know that there are only two more seasons of Lost. Do you know how much that would have sucked if I had gotten struck by fucking lightning before finding out what the hell is going on with that island?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Born to Hobble


Well, I made it. I offer as proof this video documentation (which is also proof of how little I value cleaning the lens of a video camera).

I've just returned from a hobbling trip to the medicine cabinet at the back of the house, where I popped three ibuprofen in anticipation of the soreness in my legs worsening as the night goes on. It'll be fine, I'm sure. But damn! I feel really old right now. Old and angry at Sir Mix-a-Lot, whose joint-smiting rhythms haunt me in my moment of victory.

As for the walk, I'd say it's a pretty good one for the city. It begins with concrete sidewalks in my St. Paul neighborhood. Then comes what I believe is called a "casual path" in hiking circles, where the sidewalk oddly ends and I am forced to walk in a dirt trench carved in the grass by generations of bikers and pedestrians whose voices still echo in the rustle of the wind through the leaves of the low-hanging trees: "What the hell? Where the fuck is the sidewalk?" Then comes the bridge, and over it a bike and pedestrian path all along the Mississippi, until I veer inland for about six blocks of a storied Minneapolis hippie neighborhood, where I work.

I have to be at work at 7:00 a.m., so I reasoned that I should leave at 6:00. Really, there wasn't a lot of reason involved, just my fuck-that attitude about leaving in the 5:00 a.m. hour. I managed to get out the door by 6:03, and I was sort of panicked that I would be late, so I walked really, really quickly all the way there, and I made it at exactly 7:00.

When I do anything requiring even the mildest physical exertion, my face turns roughly the color of a cartoon face that has become overheated due to, say, falling into a vat of boiling water or pounding one's cartoon hand with a hammer. So my first stop at work was the ladies' room, where I splashed some cold water on my face to no avail. I took my seat and attempted to enter my alphanumeric, case-sensitive log-in password with the sausage fingers I get after walking a few miles. I was on my third try when a coworker arrived and said good morning. He regarded my lobster face. "Did you get a bunch of sun this weekend?"

I managed to gasp a reply. "No...I walked...to work...really fast." And then he asked the question my knees were screaming: "What's wrong with your car?"

I learned today that when you are dreading a physically taxing commute home, the workday just flies by. Come 3:30, I slung my backpack over my shoulder, told the receptionist that she should look for me in the street if I don't show up tomorrow, and made for the river.

But as soon as I opened the outside door, I breathed springtime in deep, and I was happy to be alive and walking home. I was enjoying the sun and the perfect breeze and, yes, the playful shouts of children in Matthews Park. I know! It was like something out of a movie.

"'Sup?" Came a voice from the barber shop across the street. A man was sitting on a bench underneath the barber pole. I glanced around me and found no one else he could have been reasonably addressing. "Hi!" I shouted back with a wave.

"You coming from chorus?"

Huh? I was utterly unable to account for what would make him think I could sing. "What?" I shouted.

"You coming from class?"

Still confused, I hitched up my backpack and realized that it was what he was referring to.

"Oh, no! Work." I said with a jerk of my thumb to the west. Was this guy trying to gauge if I was legal?

"What you gonna do the rest of the day?"

I fumbled a little. I didn't know what I was going to do for the rest of the day, and for some reason, I felt I owed this guy an explanation that didn't involve any more hints about where I lived or worked. Stupidly, I looked to his example. "Probably just sit outside."

Damn it! Why did I say that? That's not anywhere near what I had planned on doing, but I felt pressured, and I couldn't very well have said, "Go home and lie on the couch until I regain feeling in my left leg.

"Well, you decide you want to sit out here, you just come on back anytime."

My spirits bolstered by shouted propositions from a shady guy on a bench in Minneapolis, I made it to the river in no time. I shed my sweatshirt and got my iPod out of my backpack. "Coming from class," I said to myself. "That's sweet."

There was only one thing I wanted to listen to, and it was all because I couldn't sleep last night. Probably against my best fiscal interest, I decided to get cable at my new place. When I couldn't sleep last night, of course, I turned to my friend cable. There are about 150 movies you can watch On Demand for free, ranging from Immortal Beloved to Demonlover to Blue Velvet. And while I enjoy a good movie as much as the next girl (I've got The African Queen on right now), last night I only had eyes for Eddie and the Cruisers II.

Which brings me to a little experiment you can try if you like. So Arcade Fire is brilliant. I loved Funeral and bought Neon Bible sight unseen. But listen to Keep the Car Running and tell me it isn't reminiscent of Eddie and the Cruisers' signature song, On the Dark Side. And, of course, Eddie's fake band is mimicking Bruce Springsteen and his E Street comrades, who give us the real deal: She's the One. Follow the links to see for yourself, dude. Bruce Springsteen is a freaking genius, and Born to Run carried me home today. Thanks, Bruce.

By the Time You Read This...

...Well, I'll probably be at home, watching The Daily Show or something. But by the time this is posted, I'll be walking--wait for it--to work! There are those who say it can't be done, and at least one of them is sometimes me, but I am going from zero to six miles in one day, baby, and there ain't nothin' gonna break-a my stride.

Thus begins what I think I'll call my Summer of Doing Shit I Said I Would. Even if I only do it once before my genetically faulty knees buckle under the pressure of not being a jerk to the environment, that's fine.

I'll set this to post at 6:27 a.m. tomorrow, when I hope to be exactly halfway across the bridge over the Mighty Mississippi, which is exactly halfway to work. Here goes!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How will you make it on your own?

How will you make it on your own?
This world is awfully big, girl; this time you're all alone.
But it's time you started living.
It's time you let someone else do some giving.

Love is all around; no need to waste it.
You can have a town; why don't you take it?
You're gonna make it after all!
You're gonna make it after all!

--Paul Williams, "Love Is All Around" (theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show)

Well, I tried to move away from you, blog. But you've followed me to my new apartment, so I guess I will tell you about how I've gone crazy living on my own.

Don't get me wrong; I really do think this was the right move for me. This is the first time I've lived without a roommate of any kind, and I'm learning a lot about the "real" world and the real me, who is apparently insane.

The layout of my new place is what the owner refers to as a "rail car" design, and I've also seen it referred to as a "shotgun" apartment. You enter through the living room, there is a set of French doors into the bedroom, then another door into the kitchen, and finally the bathroom is at the very back of the house. See, you move between the rooms much like you would move between the cars of a train...or much like buckshot would move unabated from the barrel of a shotgun in my living room through my bedroom and kitchen before lodging in the porcelain bowl of my toilet. (I do have a bathroom door; I'm just assuming it's open for metaphorical purposes.)

So it has worked out that my bed is about--let me measure--46 inches from my stove. And by way of a transition, I'd like to note that when I just went back there to measure, I smelled a faint odor of natural gas.

The same thing happened a week ago when I was about to go to bed. It was Sunday night, and I was exhausted from cleaning the old place on the heels of a week of marathon moving activities. Because of its proximity to my bed, I've been using the light above the stove as my night-night light...you know, the last one you turn off before you go to bed. When I went to douse the night-night light, I caught a whiff of gas from the stove. I turned off the light and laid down and immediately started to worry.

Are natural gas and carbon monoxide related? Should I be worried about gas filling my apartment and killing me in my sleep? When would anybody notice I was dead? I'm really tired, but is it because I'm physically exhausted or is it because I'm being slowly poisoned by the very air I'm breathing???

I thought that maybe I should crack a window. It was pretty cold outside, but piling on another blanket wouldn't be difficult, and it seemed a small price to pay for the chance to live to see another day. So I got up and opened a window in the kitchen and climbed back into bed. I visualized the gas moving toward the open window and realized that was silly. Why would the gas go all the way across the kitchen when it could just move 46 inches into my nostrils? I mean, it would have to fight NOT to get sucked into my lungs by my constant breathing.

I could just see the local news coverage: "A St. Paul woman was found dead in her awesome new apartment this morning, apparently poisoned by the very air she was breathing. Police on the scene say she had almost saved herself by opening a kitchen window. Had she been a little more motivated, she might have gotten out from under her four blankets and opened a bedroom window, letting fresh air into the room where she was sleeping, a mere 46 inches from her deadly stove, and giving herself a fighting chance at traveling more, writing a novel, and seeing what will surely be the exciting conclusion of the TV series "Battlestar Galactica," which may very well have been her goals, judging by the contents of her truly awesome new apartment in which she had barely begun to live. As it is, she leaves a project half done at work, but someone else can probably just finish that today."


I got up and opened a bedroom window and listened to the real sounds of the city and the imaginary sounds of gas whooshing out of the window for another few hours until, finally, I fell asleep around 3:30 a.m. By that time, I figured that if the gas was going to kill me, it would have done so hours ago, and I allowed myself to drift off to the reassuring strains of: "You're gonna make it after all!"

And so I have turned into a crazy person. Maybe that will make for more interesting blog entries. Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Blob of Woe, Wonder

My mom recently rented out the bottom floor of her house to a friend of hers from work, a wonderful woman who regales my grandmother (also--well, mostly--known as Garper) with hilarious tales of her totally Wisconsin family. For instance, her grandfather was apparently the Digit Bandit of Milwaukee, so named for the clever ruse wherein he would point his finger through his pocket at various clerks and say, "This is a robbery." Seriously. When I met my family for dinner today, my grandma couldn't wait to tell me the latest of her new roommate's stories. It was a good one, something about a trip to a fancy restaurant and one family member's attempt at stealing flatware that ended with the clatter of silver falling through pant legs and an embarrassed apology to the waitstaff. But it was Garper's lead-in that had me rolling.

"Jessie," she said, "I have a new subject for your blob."

I knew exactly what she meant, but I feigned ignorance as I laughed. "My what?"

"Your blob. You know, on the computer. Isn't that what you--yeah, your blob."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Moon and the Wannabe Stars

I learned a very special lesson tonight. There has been talk, you may have noticed, about a lunar eclipse this evening. This talk had indicated that the event would probably reach its climactic state of "no moon" around 8:30. The windows in my living room afforded a good view of the rapidly waning Moon when I checked on it at around 8:00. I don't know; for something that was supposed to be all red-tinted and disappearing before my eyes, it just looked like a bunch of white Moon in the sky.

So I watched some American Idol. And okay, I'll admit it: I totally agree with Simon most of the time. I mean, the contestants this year have been very cruise-shippy, and--wait, wasn't I doing something else? What was it? Anyway, this competition is about star quality, and when you're talking about--wait. Star quality. Stars...stars...moon....Moon! Holy crap! I forgot to check on the Moon.

It was 8:45, and as I shuffled quickly to the front of my apartment, I had the odd experience of hoping the Moon, that old dependable rock in the sky, wouldn't be there when I got to the living room window. I looked up, and...nothing, just black sky.

"Hey," I said to myself, "lunar eclipse."

But then I realized that I just had a bad angle. I had to take one more step forward to make my eye line clear the building next door.

I took my step, and... "Nope, there it is." Stupid Moon.

Sure, it was a little smokier than it usually appears, but, well, I could see it, and that's sort of the way it usually is with me and the Moon; nothing particularly special about this Wednesday night.

I think Simon would say the Moon's performance tonight was forgettable. It was pretty much what you'd expect of the Moon, and American audiences are looking for something with more of a modern edge, something exciting and new. And maybe he'd be right. But you know what? I learned something from my experience. There's probably an element of the downfall of modern society, you know, where reality TV and over-orchestrated multimedia platforms for quasi-stardom trump the act of gazing at real stars. Whatever. Here's the more specific lesson and what I'll really take away from my Wednesday night: if you approach a living room window expecting to see a lunar eclipse, you might just mistake an empty part of the sky for a celestial event.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This Just In: Writer's Strike Ends!

Well, it's been rough, gentle reader, but I was finally able to reach an agreement with myself that will allow me to go back to work writing for Blog of Woe, Wonder. This writer's strike has ended!

Believe me, all these weeks I've spent not writing or thinking about writing have been very difficult. You probably thought that I was just sitting at home, drinking cosmos in the middle of the day and giving myself pedicures, but I assure you, it has not been a vacation. I had a creative vision for this year of entries on Blog of Woe, Wonder. There was an intricate story arc in place; it was all mapped out, and it was AWESOME. There was going to be intrigue and romance and adventure and a monkey! But sometimes you just have to take a stand and say, "No, I will not compromise my principles. I will not write!" So I didn't. And, you know, I really feel like I made my point.

But now I'm just ready to get back to work! You know, the work is what's most important.


What's new? Yeah, I got nothing. I had a thought: I look at what people my age had accomplished, oh, say, a hundred years ago, and I think that maybe all these advances in medicine that have prolonged our lives have done ambition a disservice. Just like that paper assigned on the first day of class that's not due until the end of the semester, there's no sense of urgency anymore. "You know, I probably won't die in childbirth. I'll write that novel later." "TB? Oh, they've totally got a shot for that. I'll travel to a distant continent when I'm 40." Of course, the joke continues to be on we mortals, because there are still buses to run us over and things to fall onto our heads from great heights and totally batshit insane people holding a grudge and a gun. I guess we should all, like, seize the day or something.

I'm going to go on writing these entries as if someone is reading them, even though I know I've probably alienated most of my audience with the prolonged strike. Just remember: my long silence was political, not personal. Solidarity!