Turn and face the strain

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

You know that old adage about “the more things change, the more they stay the same”? Well, that is complete and total bullshit.

I've decided to let my hair do as it will: let its freak flag fly. The effect is not so much freaky as it is totally bonkers curly. ***sigh***

Sometimes things change and that’s it: they are forever, unalterably different. There is no going backward or even staying still. Change plots a new course where there once was none, and the tides take you whether you’re a willing passenger or not.

You know that moment that sometimes happens in a new relationship: what I call the first ugliness? The first ugliness is the moment the spell is broken. It’s when it becomes clear that you are no longer in a Disney romance but actually embroiled in something more like peaceable or even tentative warfare with another human being. Sometimes the first ugliness is survivable – you learn about the other person’s weaknesses and flaws (and vice-versa) and vow to do better and actually do better and life goes on. Maybe you get married and make small people that look a bit like one or the both of you and buy real estate and share common stories and linens and eventually find yourself lying six feet under in side-by-side plots.

Other times, the first ugliness is also the beginning of the end. The other person shows you (or you show them) something so vile or non-negotiable or just plain old scary that you absolutely know in that moment that there’s no going back. The deal is broken, and you will be eventually or immediately single again. In those moments, the more things change, the more they’re over. Sayonara, Psycho.

A different type of true colors...

So anyway, this isn’t a crytic post about relationships with lunatics, although it kind of is. This has been my year of things breaking apart and dying completely and I don’t just mean romances; friendships too. If it were a Chinese year, it would the Year of True Colors, which I suppose is better than a Year of Trickery, or Year of Deception, or Year of Being Alseep at the Wheel. Alas, some of these partings have been painful – bittersweet at best – and others having been glaringly “Wow. You are insane. Good luck with that.” to the degree that I’m almost grateful they decided to open a can of crazy in my presence and loudly brand themselves “no longer worth your time or energy.” And yes, this even includes a seventeen-year-long platonic friendship that went down in flames a la the Hindenburg, but without as much smoke.

Now, don’tgo worrying about your favorite Bloggess: minus some minus bruising and maybe a few unnecessarily pitiful “why me?” moments, I am just fine, if not better off…in some cases much better off.

At the same time, however, things have not exactly been easy. Interpersonal relationship struggles aside, I have had a full serving of “how you like me now?” from the chaos machine. The last couple months have been some of the most exhausting, trying, uncertain and straight up tumultuous months of my life. I moved three times and one of my temporary homes found me and my 114 pounds of pets (the dog is officially 103. City living has made him a fatty.) subletting from a small time thief and criminal, thus my new acquaintanceship and late-night texting with a few Seattle police officers. In the chaos, I took my cat down to California…and then brought him back up to Washington again a month later. Hear that sound? That’s what little money I have going down the tubes. But at least we’re having fun: there’s nothing cats love more than flying the friendly skies. Ah, who am I to bitch? On the whole I live a charmed life. We got through it. The cat is a trooper. The dog survived. I’m still alive and pretty soon I’m gonna get a little older. This is how it goes sometimes.

Alaskan Malamute in the ocean

No one lives a charmed life quite like my dog lives a charmed life.

I have a new kooky friend who recently informed me that some kind of portal is going to open or close or turn sideways (or maybe that was poles or axises or is it axes or ???) on September 28…one year and roughly two months early. That’s right, kids, apparently 12/21/2012 is upon us. They did the math wrong – of course – and it’s all gonna go otherworldly soon. Personally, I’m glad, because I’m once again in a temporary housing situation with no furniture and no real prospects. I have about two more weeks to sort that out, but if I turn into a light being who lives off moon rays, that ought to make my load a little bit lighter.

But I digress. And now I’ve reached a moment of indecision: brush through the details or stop here and take you lovingly, painstakingly, “Lord, no more: make it stop”ingly through the events of the last couple months? I don’t have oodles of time on my hands or anything, but I do have more than I did, so let’s go for the latter. Tune in tomorrow, and I will begin the first installment of the story. Let’s call it, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” No. That’s too negative. And life’s not really that bad. Let’s call it “Life’s a beach and then you sigh.” Yes, that’s very stupid, but that’s what it is. Deal with it.


A good friend just emailed me a three-sentence note: “Keep me posted. Can’t wait to hear of your adventures. Don’t adopt any worthless friends!” Haha. It’s like she’s reading my mind…and this blog entry. What a strange and interconnected world. Let’s get together in two weeks when we’re all disembodied spirit creatures and do whatever the heck there is to do, okay Shel?

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About as ghetto as it gets

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

I like to save a buck.

Great Wall Chinatown NYC

Outside the 'bus terminal': taken about the time I started to realize what I'd gotten myself into.

This is a nice way of saying that – about certain things – I am as cheap as they come. Over the years I have evolved my own personal sense of where it is okay to scrimp and where it is very, very stupid.


  • Travel
  • Hotel stays of two days or less
  • Fast food (meaning: it’s all crap, so just order from the Dollar Menu)
  • Nail polish
  • Tank tops


Very, very stupid

  • Haircuts
  • Eyeglasses
  • Electronics
  • Dental work
  • Toilet paper


Great Wall Chinatown to York bus

The Great Wall bus is unmarked, of course, but you can probably smell it coming.

Thus, it goes without saying, I’m willing to endure a red eye or a long connection or even an airline I slightly hate (Southwest, anyone?) if it means I’ll save a hundred dollars or more. The way I rationalize it, the haircut is on my head every day for months¸ it better not look like a monkey did it. The flight or other travel inconvenience is just a few hours out of my life: I’ll suck it up.

Mostly I stand by this theory and will assert its wisdom.


Except for now.

<<< To explain, this post was written in large part on the Great Wall bus: super-ghetto, semi-direct transportation from Chinatown in New York City to York, PA (the nearest stop to my father’s home). I think I anticipated that it would compare with the unpleasant but otherwise unremarkable Megabus or GoBus. I was wrong. >>>

I chose Great Wall over my other lame bargain options because it was $25 (a $12.00 savings!!!), but what I didn’t realize was that I would be the only round eye on board. I also didn’t realize they would be airing loud Chinese movies overhead (no headphones required or, unfortunately, enforced) or that the whole place would smell like kim chee.


Custard Apple

The Cherimoya or Custard Apple, native to the Andean-highland valleys of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. I had some in Hawaii once. It was nice.

On the upside, my role as token white person has garnered me a seat to myself: the only empty chair on the whole bus, as near as I can tell.

I don’t know why, but the circumstances surprised me. For starters, I grew up in South-central Pennsylvania, and I honestly didn’t realize there were so many Chinese people there. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean to say that I might have guessed the entire town of York, PA had about 60 Chinese people, not that there were that many bussing in nightly. Good news, however, for those seeking Hami melon, cherimoyas, and bok choy: each person seemed to be toting six to eight bags’ worth apiece. (Thus, I imagine, the smell.)

Similarly, I didn’t realize transportation was so segregated. The rest of my maneuvers during my east coast jaunt has been facilitated by the spotty outfit known as Megabus: sometimes awful, sometimes perfectly great. Megabus sports a lively mix of white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and possibly non-human customers. There are accents aplenty and every hairdo from dread locks to skinhead. The bus driver will tear you a new one if your music is audible via your headphones, and they don’t cotton to loud cell phone conversations, either.

Chinese melon

There seemed to be several of these on board.

On Great Wall, anything goes. The driver started laughing when I got on, and couldn’t control his giggling when he came back to check all of our tickets. I had bought mine online – the only person to do so, of course – and their method of issuing me a paper ‘ticket’ was to take a photocopy of my driver’s license and have me sign it.

“A special memento to remember me by,” I told him, handing him the paper. “An autographed picture of me.”

“Special picture!” he agreed, nodding enthusiastically and giggling like a twelve year old girl. I’m not sure if he was laughing with me or laughing at me, but I suspect the latter.

Or maybe he just sensed that I had a full bladder and was pre-predicting my internal horror at the bathroom situation. Let’s pause and talk about that for a moment, shall we?


Great Wall bus plays Chinese movies

From my seat, en route to York.

1. You have to pee, so you make your way to the back of a wobbling vehicle rapidly changing lanes at 80 mph.

2. As you approach the bathroom door, you note that opening it involves sticking your hand into a splinter-ridden hole seemingly carved by a beaver.

3. Normal efforts are woefully insufficient: getting into this bathroom will require yanking, pulling, and tugging with every muscle fiber in your body.

4. Bus toilets – much like train and boat toilets – are neither fancy nor spacious. However, most of them at least catch the waste in receptacle. From the light shining up from below, you’re pretty sure that when nature calls on a Great Wall bus, there may be splash back…from the street.

5. There is no toilet paper, but shouldn’t you have presumed as much?

6. You didn’t really expect a door you opened by sticking your hand into a hole to have a lock on it, did you????

6. Apologies to those on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you foolishly drank a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shortly before boarding the bus, you may or may not have showered the windshields of several dozen cars with pee. It’s not your fault, really, but it’s still a little more third world than how you typically (like to think you) roll.


Dr. Bombay

Apropos of nothing, my friend's cat, Dr. Bombay, sitting at the kitchen table.

I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to avail myself of a second Great Wall journey, but there is one thing I like about my new Chinese travel companions, and that is – by comparison – I am Pamela Anderson. While in the area (the bus picks you up just off of Canal Street, because that’s the kind of classy I’m all about), I decided to get an I heart NY tank top. Tee shirts are plentiful, but tanks are strangely hard to come by. I finally found one in the back of a creepy little shop, and the female store owner was tailing me like a five-foot tall Hispanic man in Washington D.C.

“This!” she announced shrilly. “This tank top. This fit you.”

“But it’s extra large,” I responded. I wear a medium or maybe a small in ‘ladies’-sized brands. Extra large is, well, extra large.

“No. This fit you. Boobs too big.”


“Boobs too big,” she repeated, pointing at my acceptable but hardly DD chest. “This fit you, Big Boobs.”

And with salesmanship like that, how could I resist? So sure, the bus may stink like rotting garbage and my ears may be ringing from the sound of young Chinese women shrieking grievously on the super loud TV above my head, but my boobs are (comparatively) huge, my bladder is empty, and I have a seat to myself. What more could a lone white lady on a cheap ass Chinatown bus want?

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What’s Been Going On

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Not to be confused with the Marvin Gaye song of a similar but slightly different title, I am obsessed with the Amos Lee tune (particularly the live version) “What’s Been Going On.” I can do a decent job with the guitar, but I can’t sing that low to save my soul. Which is fine in general, seeing as I’m a woman, but a bummer in that I really love the hell out of that tune. Oh well. Download’s Amos’ version. It’s worth the $.99.

Writing a novel in one month.

Writing. What else would I be doing?

Anyway, I’m just sitting here watching Old School and drinking some horribly sweet, overly dyed apple soda (Just a small bottle. I couldn’t help myself. I had to know…) and thinking about anarchy.

Not really.

I just threw that last part in to see if you were paying attention.

So anyway, as is often the case with me when I get myself into remote locales with very little human contact and even less English, I have been wallowing in my own habits and taking an excessive amount of self-portraits. Luckily, my habits tend to be pretty healthy and self-driven and I’m rather photogenic, but then again maybe I’ve already been alone too long to judge?

Mexican sunset

Me in front of tonight's sunset

So here’s a random smattering of stuff in my life circa 9:48pm Mountain Time:

My back hurts

I’ve been brushing my teeth with tap water since I got here on Thursday. I suppose I just like to tempt fate. Or prove that I have a superior immune system. Or lose five pounds the painful way. Time will tell…

I’m already sick of corn tortillas.

Mexican horses

Random horses.

I was sitting out front today and four horses just came randomly sauntering by.

My only tie to the modern world is a super flakey dial up 3G connection that occasionally makes the touch pad on my MacBook freeze up and stop working and which delays incoming emails as much as two days and isn’t even powerful enough to run a YouTube clip. I am completely cut off. With 25 days to go. But I’m still sane. Mostly.

I’ve written five chapters of the new book. It’s going pretty smoothly, which either means it’s inspired gold or total drivel. Time will tell here as well…

Todos Santos sunset

Tonight's sunset all by itself.

I don’t like the American landlord and his Mexican wife is really unfriendly. I could bitch about this at length, but a) who wants to hear me bitch and b) he knows about this blog, and I hate to be a jerk. Sufficed to say, he went to Stanford 25 years ago, and works it into EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION. Whateves, dude. It’s ancient history now.

There’s a mosquito on my thigh.

I tried to take a bath last night, and got about two inches of hottish water into the giant tub before it started to come out of the spigot cold. So basically it was like splashing in a hot puddle. Not so much…

Todos Santos Las Tunas

Me in front of the only walls in this joint that aren't pink.

Special K is different down here than it is at home. It’s somehow kind of corn flakey or something. It’s not bad. Just different.

Topes are those giant, unexpected bumps in the road and totopos are what they call tortilla chips.

The ocean is literally 50 yards away (over a sand dune covered with some seriously prickly stuff), and I can hear it roaring all the time, which is super awesome.

It’s been cloudy and raining all weekend and barely 10 degrees warmer than back home…but tomorrow all that changes when the sun comes back out! (The sun had better come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’d damn well better be sun…)

I’m driving around in a 2000 Nissan Frontier with plates from South Dakota and expired tags. I’m basically begging to get pulled over. See “not so keen on the landlord” above.

Todos Santos beach

The beach here in Todos Santos by day

I am definitely in the early stages of Carpal Tunnel or some other forearm overuse problem, which totally sucks. I actually woke up in the middle of the night last night my right arm hurt so much. This happened when I was writing my graduate thesis a few years ago. And when I was finishing the first book. Basically, it’s like an overuse injury I’m still using. Ow.

I bought some bagels at the corner store and despite the fact that they were frozen, every last goddamned one of them was molding, and I just threw them away rather than drive them back and fight about it, because I don’t know enough Spanish to explain that “These bagels are molding, and I don’t want a replacement because I am now afraid of your food. Please just give me back my 550 pesos, thank you very much.”

Footprints in the sand

Getting all artsy.

Will Ferrell just said my favorite line of the movie, “I think I see Blue. He looks glorious!”

As mentioned above, there are 25 more days to my literary experiment.

And there ain’t much going on but me, my daily workouts, my writing, and trips to buy overpriced spoiled foodstuffs.

Happily, I have yet to go totally Ernest Hemingway, but I am pretty isolated, so I guess we’ll see what happens. I am half-Irish, you know.

Da da da da da da dum dum

Da da da da da da dum


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If you’re as old as you feel…

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

then I’m somewhere in my early seventies. Or whatever age it is that you are officially way too old for amusement parks.

I spent the day today at HersheyPark for the first time in at least fifteen and perhaps even twenty years. 

Once upon a time, my dad, brother, and I had season passes (which my dad still has and even produced yesterday. Sadly for you, it was during my awkward protracted Jody Foster ugly duckling adolescence period, so I will not be posting it for you here). Anyway, back in the day we went regularly, and even once famously opened and closed the joint (10am-10pm).

Thus, I wanted to go there today.

I was excited to relive the glory.

Even though the weather was complete and total crap, I was pysched.

Bundled up in my warmest available clothes (I hadn’t really packed for rain and 50-something weather), we started with a well-known fixture of the HersheyPark of my youth, The Comet. It’s a traditional rollercoaster with a giant drop and several smaller drops and a whole lot of sharp turns, and as we slowly cranked up to the top, the familiar anticipation kicked in.

And the first drop was exhilarating.

And by about the second sharp turn and drop number three, I realized I was no longer cut out for this kind of thing. I was a little nauseated, and I’m pretty sure I had felt my brain whack up against the wall of my skull at least twice.

This was a bummer realization – too old for the coaster – but the pounding in my head was hard to ignore.

Then I started to muse about how if I ever did have a kid, I’d be one of the killjoy moms who stood at the entrance of the Sooper Dooper Looper and said, “That’s okay, honey. You go ahead and have a good time. I’ll wait for you here.”

And, if I barfed after riding on the baby water flume with the twelve foot drop, I’d be my own mom.

Anyway, next it was the bumper cars where a fourteen year old boy with a gleam in his eye gave me whiplash. Twice.

I honestly heard something crack during the second impact, and I wished they’d handed me a neck brace at the door. When you find yourself WISHING for a large foam rubber neck brace, you know you’re at least 72 years old on the inside.

Thus, you can understand my elderly apprehension at the sight of the Pirate Ship. Basically, I had an immediate and terrifying flashback to my harrowing experience on the catamaran in Hawaii. In fact, after watching it for a minute in line, I announced that I would be watching from the ground (see: Killjoy Mom, above). 

Did I mention there was a middle schooler convention going on? Oh yes, and oh joy.

Hundreds if not thousands of 14-year old girls and boys. SHRIEKING girls and boys. SHRIEKING IN MY EAR when I caved and went on the Pirate Ship. So what the motion of the ocean didn’t do to my head, the screaming children did.

To quote my dad, “Teenagers are so annoying.”


Now in my dad’s defense, he hung in like a trooper and probably would have gone on some of the more nauseating (looking) attractions that my cousin and I eschewed. Moreover, it’s important to note that during the famous 12-hour occasion, he was older than I am now. In other words, I am a lot lamer than my dad. Or, if you prefer, my dad is a lot less lame than me.

Case in point: I feel a little bit whipped, like I suffered a blunt force trauma, got into a car accident, and spent some time on a Pirate Ship.

The upside? 

This may finally send me to bed at an hour conducive to converting me to something like east coast time.

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Paris Redux

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Okay, sorry about that. Between the crazy pregnancy stories and the planetarium flashbacks, I managed to overly postpone my plans to tell you about my time in Paris.

So, I got there Wednesday -a week ago - after a typically restless sleep on the train. It’s mostly the rocking and rolling and related jostling, but it’s partly the subpar bunk-style Murphy beds.

Mister Corn. My new best friend.

Mister Corn. My new best friend.

And possibly they’re pumping poison gas into the air during the wee hours.

I have no actual proof.

But I do have suspicous anecdotal information.

Here’s the story:  As you may or may not remember, back in August on the train from Lisbon to Madrid, I accidentally slept with my ‘Day and Night’ contacts in. Supposedly you can wear these contacts for a month straight without issue, but my eyes will have none of that.

Anyway, I woke up in the middle of the night that night and my eyes burned like sulfuric acid, and I took the contacts out and didn’t put them back in for three weeks…just to be safe. And then when I did put them in, all hell broke loose, and I actually thought I may have scratched the cornea or something, but happily it all worked out in the end.

With the Louvre behind me.

With the Louvre behind me.

ANYWAY, my point here is that I woke up in the middle of the night on the train from Barcelona to Paris last week, and I didn’t have my contacts in this time, but my eyes were burning something fierce, and it was exactly like I remembered it…without the contacts and the corneal scarring.


Otherwise, Paris was lovely. I like to just walk the streets and take it all in. Except when there are monsoon-like torrential rains, which there were, so that’s too bad.

As always, I struggled with the language. I took four years of French in high school and some overachieving part of my brain believes that I should still remember all that stuff, but the bulk of my gray matter will not cooperate with this aspiration. 

One night I had a dream that I remembered everything I’d ever learned and spoke with a spot-on accent, and when I woke up I was super disappointed to to realize it wasn’t actually real.

Did I mention it rained?

Did I mention it rained?

By and large we could get by, and what I do remember was enough. More accurately, it had to be enough, so I made it work, but I find it very frustrating to be unable to effectively communicate. The major hardship came in with the handwritten menus  scrawled in white on black chalkboards at pretty much every brasserie in town.

This is charming in theory, but in reality it’s like taking an eye exam and a foreign language test at the same time. Minus a few key items (pommes frites, names of known pastas like penne or linguine, and escargots), what was delivered to me was often not exactly what I was expecting.

Sometimes it was completely left field of what I was expecting in a “oh. So THAT’s what ballotine or rissole or soissons means…”

Oh well.

A brief but glorious parting of the clouds at Sacre Couer.

A brief but glorious parting of the clouds at Sacre Coeur.

To ease the foreign-ness and take a break from the rain, we went and saw Angels and Devils in its unaltered form. The movie itself was all right – not great, not terrible. Tom Hanks is looking good. He’s seen doing laps in the Harvard swimming pool early in the morning, and he looked so fit I would’ve bet money that wasn’t him. Actually, now that I type those words, maybe it wasn’t him? Maybe it was a much more buff body double? Who would ever know? Except me and my eagle eye (once outfitted with corrective lenses, of course).

Anyway, the movie was mostly a welcome dose of American English, but specific to the situation, everything said in Italian (which was a fifteen minute chunk of talking, all told) was translated into French, so I found it something of a double whammy for my saturated brain (which still furiously tried to translate despite the futility of the effort.)

Me at Sacre Coeur.

Me at Sacre Coeur.

Otherwise, I saw through the plot almost immediately. I’m a bad person to go to the movies with. Within the first twenty minutes I identified the ‘real’ bad guy, and  announced my theory. Due to the filmmakers need for an onslaught of unfathomable and unbelievable twists and turns, for a long time going there, it looked like I was wrong, but in the end I was oh so right.  As always.

So there you have it: food, movies, and rain. The rains in Spain may fall mainly on the plains, but the rains in France dump all over Paris. And then some.

The first day, while walking back to the apartment from the Eiffel tower we got caught in a torrential downpour. It was the kind of rain so ferocious you’re confident it’s going to back off at any second. But it didn’t.

It just got worse and worse, and I seriously started to wonder if I might get struck by lightening channeled through my cheap H&M umbrella which would blow inside out at the first sign of the slightest breeze. But after a while, you realize you’re so wet that you’re committed, and you’re pressing on even if an ark comes floating down the road.

That’s how I found myself totally drenched up to my BUTT (seriously, my jeans soaked up so much water that even my underwear was wet) and neither the denim nor my shoes would dry out the entire time despite the fact that they were lying over a heater. In fact, I had had to pack them up wet.

Thank you, Paris, for making my brand new sneakers smell like mildew.

I’ll remember you fondly each time I catch a whiff.

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