Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Is That a White Dove?

THE FRONT DOORS at City Hall will read 'Peace on Earth', even though there isn't. There won't be until we "blow 'em all to Hell." What's the line in that offensive song I like? "We'll put a boot in your ass; it's the American way..." Is that how we want to be seen? Sure it is. Call me a war monger if you want. Maybe I'll get it silkscreened onto a shirt. It would be a constant reminder to me that our great country, through our sisters and sons and fathers, etc., is trying to prevent this. I'm by nature (or gender) a non-violent person, but when I see a baby dressed up in a suicide bomber's regalia and children taught to be zealots of violence and hate, I want desperately to wipe out the people who would do that, even if it was just symbolic. Sick. Sad. Yes, I'm aware the few mars the many. I'm aware that being judgemental isn't going to get me anywhere. But these animals are raising the children who may one day grow up to unleash the plague of terrorism on my children. I want them annihilated. Vanquished, abolished, nullified. Boom.

Snow Fence on Round Mountain

Stack and Steam

Brick by Brick

Sunset Over the Mine

189 Again


Antler Motel

Waking Up


189, Again


Monday, November 29, 2004


IT MAY VERY WELL be impossible not to enjoy a holiday spent with someone who still calls it "turkey-lurkey." Even though it means coming home in 4wd going 40mph. I live 99 miles from my parents' front door, and I'd drive it round-trip every day if gas wasn't so expensive. Honestly, can you believe I paid $1.77 a gallon today? What's that? Yours is $2.00? Oh, I'm sorry.

It's also hard not to enjoy the first day after the first heavy snow, no matter how inconvenient to your travel plans, because it's still bright white and soft as powdered-sugar, heaped on street corners like whipped cream. Also the top layer tends to harden about an inch down as it melts and freezes, melts and freezes, so you can carve out perfect square tablets with your index finger and pretend you're Moses coming down the mountain path with five Commandments under each arm. And what's underneath is a delightful crystalline glitter, dry as sand, so it's impossible for your brother-in-law to make a snowball to throw at your head. Instead, he discovers he can carve an impressively functional round frizbee from the crusty top layer and send it spinning at you. It shatters on your coat, which leaves all three dogs with nothing to fetch when they reach you where you've knelt knee-deep in snow in your jeans, laughing to the point of weakness, so the dogs chomp at the remnants of your Holy replicas instead.

It was just above zero this morning, and walking to work I could almost pretend I only dreamt summer, just July: the warmth and color and ease of it. It snowed a bit into June and once the end of August, and a few times in September and October, and I never lost the rhythm of winter, of snow: the punch-grind-squeak of walking in it; the scoop-lift-twist-toss of shoveling it; the constant drip when it melts, the soundless static hiss when it falls straight down.

For those who have never lived in snow, I must say the novelty wears off pretty damn quick. You can only enjoy so much hot chocolate before it starts to taste like motor oil, and you'll run out of tolerable soup-and-sandwich combinations really fast, too. Wool, though cleverly marketed, is scratchy no matter how it's prepared, and if you like fancy, delicate footwear, this is not the place for you. No Birkenstocks, no Jimmy Choos- better get some paks or Mason boots; you're going to need them. Forget the manicure and buy some good lined gloves, preferably a pair made from the flesh of something, because you'll be scraping the ice off every window of your car for the next three months at least. And don't bother much with your hair in the morning, aside from drying it so thoroughly you can't feel your scalp; your hat or scarf or both are going to crush it anyhow. In a way it depresses me that while here, I'll spend 50% of my life 99% covered. It's like I'm wearing a weather-induced burqa.

But really, you've never seen the sun rise until you've seen it do so below zero, seen liquid gold trickle through a smoky valley full of trees so thick with frost they look like blown glass etched to look real, bare twigs and branches and trunks all glowing. Blinding rainbow geysers called 'sun dogs' stand solidly up on either side of the sun, and streets turn to shredded mirrors where ruts in the snow are packed and smoothed to runners of ice. I'm sure I can't describe it decently, so I'll just hope that someday, preferably before you die of smog-inhalation, you conquer your fear of freezing to death and spend a winter someplace cold.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Another Bit with a Dog

We're having puppies! My sister and brother-in-law's hundred-pound black Lab, Daisy, has at least half a dozen buns in the oven, probably eight. (They bred her with another AKC-registered male; these will not be pound puppies.) For a while there we thought nothing was going to happen, but a few days ago her already-round tummy got considerably more bulgy, and she started sitting funny and demanding even more attention than usual, which I didn't think was possible. An ultrasound revealed today that yes, they're on the way. Most are already spoken for, so there won't too much stress to finding them homes.

Daisy is a good, even-tempered dog who can speak, whisper, shake, high-five, drool, roll over, play dead, lay down, look pathetic, and fart audibly and frequently. She only heels for her dad but that's because our family's dogs don't spend much time leashed; we live in the middle of nowhere, for Heaven's sake. Her favorite treat is ice-cubes and she'll fetch you a tire iron if you ask, but if a duck you shot is still alive when it lands, you're getting it yourself. She likes riding in the backs of trucks, jumping on the trampoline, and getting sprayed with the hose. Is she the perfect Miss America contestant, or what?

So, happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Remember, calories don't count on holidays.

I'll be leaving in the morning for LaBarge; I'm not crazy enough to drive in the dark and the snow with all the deer on the highway. Staying at Mom and Dad's (Mom's and Dad's? Mom and Dads'? sheesh) means staying in a motel, because that's where they live, because Mom runs it. But it's a neat and tidy, cheerful, homey place and I have my own bed in a room in their apartment, so it's not like I have to stay in 101, although I have before. It has a door, usually kept locked, that opens into Mom's living room, so it's convenient when there's a whole batch of us at home.

We don't have any quirky holiday traditions to report, and we dine on pretty classic fare. We aren't likely to watch football, and there probably isn't a Nascar race unless it's a rerun, so I'm packing all three Lord of the Rings videos to watch. I might blog from Dad's WebTV, but I don't know how well that would work with him always wanting to watch Fox News or reruns of Seinfeld, so I'll also take a notebook and my crocheting, my favorite books and a sketchpad, and my light snowboots so I can walk off too much food out in the rough country. And, as ever, I'll take my camera, battery charged and xd card empty, and leave the cats. My two cats are wonderfully low-maintenance; just leave them an extra bowl of food and water and make sure the litterbox isn't too nasty and they're all set. Sure, when I get back they'll punish me for leaving them so long by ignoring me and sleeping on the couch for a week, just so I know they can be neglectful, too. But they never destroy things or pee on the rug; in fact I have my suspicions that all they do is sleep most of the time. Yes, really.

Have a good holiday and be safe wherever you're going, and I'll blog about thee most fascinating things ever when I get back. Or maybe not. But at least you theoretically have something to look forward to!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Memento Meminisse

The spedometer I ordered for my truck is here, and it's dirty and scary and still in the plastic casing it rested in on the dash, like they tore it brutally from its original home. (The hardest part of reassembling my beloved jalopy is that somewhere out there, some poor wrecked replicas are being heartlessly stripped of their guts. Yes, I’m aware of my neurosis. Thank you.) The odometer reads 116,234, which is just over 100,000 less than what the real mileage on my truck is. I'm annoyed that it won't be correct anymore. I'm obsessive-compulsive that way; things need to be honest. They need to be right. I know I can always keep track, do the math so we can throw a party at 300k, but still. I want everyone to know. I want the cards on the table. I want the proof in the pudding.

I'm not operating at full capacity. I don't seem to be oozing my patented secret cleverness; I'm not seeing the humor in all things; I'm neither witty nor glib; I'm not scribbling childrens' book ideas all over my deskpad at work or doodling in the prop-book that will someday induce Disney to come calling, crawling, begging. But all is not lost. I’m listening to Una Furtiva Lagrima, I’m blowing in my Benge 6C nickel-plated bass trombone mouthpiece whenever I have a free hand, and I’m cleaning my brushes. For what? Against the rusty camp stove (don’t ask) at the foot of my bed leans a stack of blank canvases. They make a good barricade to keep the cats from behind the bed, but someday they’ll be more; they’ll be money in the bank. Even thought I don’t entirely trust banks. (Don’t read Dean Koontz’s Dark Rivers of the Heart unless you want to wind up Totally Paranoid about Government and all things Economic. Do read it if you want a really compelling novel with awesome action, wonderful descriptions, great characters, including someone so genuinely psychotic you’ll walk around looking over your shoulder, wondering which government employee he is, a subtle love story, the gratuitous titillation the people seem to demand nowadays, major weapons of mass destruction, a funny chapter about Mormons, and a very cool dog.) Anyhow.

I have picked out a bright new room to put in my future dream house, which is not an accurate term because I'm not that high-maintenance. I suppose it would be a light-hearted study, or an office perhaps, or maybe even my writing room if I kept it toned down, because I can't write in a room that's done in the classic dark leather and wood and shelves full of burgundy leather-bound tomes. Tends to depress me. This room needs scarred, dark wood floors and a sloping, smooth white plaster ceiling, plenty of west-facing, multi-paned windows with good wide ledges for bottles and shells, and wainscoting to make it just so, but I'll be ok if I can just fill it with the treasures I've envisioned.

I know a nautical-themed room is nothing new. I’ve been to Pier 1; I've seen the wooden sailboats and resin pilings and artfully frayed net and thick hemp ropes with color-striped foam buoys. I've seen the brass-framed prints of docks and piers and lighthouses with backdrops of sunsets and storms, and I'm aware that Thomas Kinkade is to nautical decor what Magic Johnson was to the Lakers. But I’m not talking a ship-in-a-bottle, starfish-print-curtains, white-wicker-settee nautical room. No dark woven trunks, no handcarved ironwood seagulls. No yellowed treasure maps with lightly-crisped edges, no tiki torches. That all says to me seafood aisle at Safeway, because when I was growing up in Kemmerer there was a novelty yellow-twine net over the deep-freeze with a red plastic lobster and a shimmery little marlin caught in it. (Incidentally, when we got our new Super WalMart, my brother-in-law was all excited because the one in Rock Springs has a tank with live lobsters. Naturally, Ironically, for some reason our Wal is lobsterless. Go figure.)

Wow, am I easily sidetracked today. Today would be a great day to take advantage of me. I’d get to talking my head off about nothing and you could pull off whatever subterfuge you’ve been plotting, like selling me Utah Jazz tickets while I’m not concentrating on what I’m buying, or running off with my magic mirror, which would be silly because it only works for me anyhow…

Oh yes! My nautical room. The future museum and home of a plaque that reads National Register of Historic Places No. ___. Someday a tour guide dressed in period costume (!) will intone "and here is the desk where the American lliterary genius Ms. (Insert Pen Name Here) wrote The ____ of _______, the great and tremendously historically significant work." There will be replicas of my sticky-notes all over the big, clunky monitor (I’ll never get used to a laptop) and fine-point, black ink Pilot Explorer pens scattered all over the desk, and an overwhelmingly bored little girl, suddenly intrigued, will tug on her mother’s sleeve and ask "Mommy, what are those?" And her mother will smile and say "I believe those were used to propel particularly large cookie crumbs out of the crevices of the keyboard." And she will be somewhat correct. (We interrupt this long-winded musing to bring you this scary thought: what if, years from now, that famous room is this room I’m sitting in now, this spider-infested catacomb of terror? Not that it isn’t cozy, but this room? With its retro eggshell-enamel cabinets, its exposed pipes, its 10-inch resin Buddha, its bamboo calendar from the Golden Dynasty in Ogden? That calendar can’t be part of my posterity. Not with those goggly-eyed koi and the oriental writing I can’t read. It can’t. It just can’t.)

A nautical room should be a gracious reminder of living by the sea, not a tacky collection of plastic reproductions of things found in the sea. Not even expensive reproductions of nautical instruments found on the sea. No heavy brass sextants, no ship’s cabinet-knobs, no sea-bells with perfectly authentic-looking salt-air patina. Instead, wainscoting with sanded wood planks painted ivory on the bottom, pale slate-blue satin-finish paint on the top. White cotton curtains to billow in perpetual sea breezes, maybe with subtle Battenburg lace at the bottom or a strip of fine netting sewn in. A wide mahogany-framed mirror with silver hooks for odds and ends, some beige cotton rag rugs to trap the sand. To hold books and a vase of Muscari armeniacum, (my favorite little cobalt clumps, grape hyacinth), leaning mahogany ladders with wide eight-inch steps, instead of black-hole-solid bookshelves that trap paper-rotting moisture. An abilone shell for small trinkets on a humble, scarred mahogany coffee table, matching end tables with multi-faceted antique oil lamps in silver bases. Comfortable armchairs and loveseat in smooth ivory canvas washed soft as fleece, with wide slate-blue and ivory stripes. Puffy throw pillows in slate-blue damask, no fringe or tassels or lace, no silk or floral brocade, just wide ivory satin ribbon if you have to have your finery. Soft woven throws in darker beiges and blues, wool rugs in sedate solids. I’d need a desk in front of a window, a sturdy but not-too-heavy high mahogany writing table with one drawer, and a matching straight-backed plain wooden chair with a toile cushion. No potpourri, no Glade Plug-ins. Just open air and sunlight, and maybe a lemony wood-polish smell, and just the slightest hint of wet Lab.

I suppose at some point I saw a picture like that in a magazine, and liked the ‘cool’ colors and inviting textures, but the truth is, I’m not sure I’d be entirely comfortable in a room like that. It sounds nice, and I'm sure I’d get used to it, but I grew up in a beautiful jumble of sentimental artifacts: the black forest cuckoo clock, the hooked-yarn owl pillow with the green corderoy back, the little round green vinyl footstool that made such a wonderful wheel if you wanted to play circus, a perfect unicycle, a barrel for your elephant to rest one massive, wrinkled gray knee on. I highly doubt I’d let my kids roll around on anything with an Ethan Allen tag, or let the damp black Lab shed on an ivory colored couch. I’m accutely aware that there’s virtue in both the valuable and humble things I’ve inherited alike. Besides, I adore clutter. Thrive on it, as long as every piece has its meaning. I can make a memento out of anything. Don’t believe me? Look in my sock drawer.

Memento Meminisse: Remember to Remember. I am occasionally accused of remembering things wrongly, but all the same, I remember. And the older I get the more fun it is. How time does fly.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

And a Bit with a Dog

There's nothing you can't learn from Shakespeare.


I totally forgot to post this in the shuffle of Halloween. You'll be seeing a lot more of him, and you'll enjoy it, I promise.

Rate Your Life

There are lots of ways to pass the time before you die.
My life has been rated:
Click to find out your rating!
See what your rating is!

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Calls Stars By Name

Last night did not find me savoring the Leonid shower. I should have savored it. I should have gone without sleep to watch Tempel-Tuttle sprinkle fireballs 96 miles up as it continually crumbles in motion. I am a Leo, after all, and the Leonids come from the Sickle asterism of my constellation.

I live in the perfect place to see the stars. Here I can show you the Milky Way any night of the week. Do you, if you live in a city, even know what it looks like? Can you walk on neighboring glaciers? Can you go sit by a wild, raw river to collect your thoughts? Can you gather pinecones from your own backyard for your holiday centerpiece? I can drive two miles and walk five minutes and be sightless of all society but birds and breeze. Far enough that I can't even hear the trains, and I hear them every moment of the day. I work not thirty yards from the tracks. I live but blocks, and I hear them in my sleep. I love to hear them. They sound like possibility and adventure and dreams.

Still, as I got in my car tonight to leave a dwindling gathering, I said aloud to nobody but the cold air "damn you, Jack Frost." I let my little truck run a while before I asked him to carry me home, let the oil that is his blood warm from syrup to slick again to keep his metal parts safe from each other. I am tired and worried, and cautious of a new awareness. I am lonely, and more than a little apprehensive about the future. I have so much work to do to get where I want to be, and I'm running out of the time and energy required to get what I want. I'm running out of faith, in myself and in one dream, and I'm running out of patience for another. How do you tell somebody something you're sure they ought to already know?

I gaurantee this gloom is temporary, season-induced. I'll sleep soundly tonight, and in the morning I'll be ready to face Dad with that ghastly little contraption fastened to his face and the constant hiss and puff of oxygen. I'll be ready to face the holidays, winter, change, and the labor ahead. The things you work and wait for are the sweetest in life, that I already know. But why is it so hard to remember sometimes? Remind me often, please.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Grammar Nazi Diatribe II

I just realized something that's going to spark some profound introspection. It's even scarier than the time I got that email personality quiz that classified me as someone who "tends to look down on others," and I realized they were right, but I'll have to justify that in another post. This is far more urgent because there is a specific bias involved in my disdain.

I noticed that I'm avoiding someone's calls because just hearing her speak (gratefully, I will never have cause to meet her in person) sends my blood pressure soaring. It's not simply because the subject we are doomed to correspond about is an annoying work-related situation that involves one of my most negligent coworkers, who is only negligent because they have no education in the skills needed to resolve the problem, which really isn't their fault. No. This person speaks with an accent, the mark of a race particularly well-known to me, one I've come, through experience, to loathe. I did not start out prejudiced, and I promise you I've fought it every step of the way. It's just been continually drilled home. She's also in a professional position that I feel should be held only by someone truly educated and refined, and I can tell by her speech that she's not. Her linguistic style is that of someone who appears to feel she has a fairly decent grip on a language and so takes no care to improve her use of it, thereby insulting me and anyone else forced to communicate with her in our native tongue. What's even worse to imagine is that English may also be this woman's native tongue, and she doesn't know or care enough to speak it well. I don't mean she should learn perfect collegiate English; I only ask that she learn a higher level of vocabulary than my ten-year-old niece, and pronounce it better than the six-year-old.

I don't consider myself bilingual. The Spanish I speak is limited to slang, insults, profanity, and basic conversation, speech I would not use even in a social situation when polite conversation would be the requisite. I would certainly not use it in a professional transaction. I wouldn't use it unless I was confident that I was effectively communicating at the minimum required level.

Another count against this total stranger is that she sounds so much in voice and grammar like someone I have cause to genuinely despise that I see red before she even gets her stilted, casual greeting out. This may be unjustified, but it's still obvious that she entirely fails to understand that a person's diction causes people to make immediate judgements about them. In a lot of cases those judgements may be correct. Not to mention that she speaks in a tone of authority bordering on bombast, probably a professional practice intended to intimidate me, but she loses all credibility when her grammar goes to Hell and I'm far less afraid than she wants me to be and far more offended than anyone should have to be while in the workplace.

It's not just her. I abhor getting calls from solicitors I can hardly understand. I got so frustrated one time I asked some poor woman "are you calling from the bayou? I can't understand you at all. Can you get someone who speaks English to talk to me?" The same with credit card customer service representatives who sound like they've never set foot outside a thatched hut somewhere tropical. Where are they finding these people? Honestly, I'm all for managed immigration, with the right resources to help them become integrated into American life. I don't care if English isn't the national language of the United States, as long as whoever speaks it to me does it well. I even occasionally have a hard time taking people with southern accents seriously, which proves I can be something of a Grammar Nazi; after all, my paternal ancestry is all about a plantation in Kentucky with lilacs and slaves and all the agricultural accoutrements. I realize it's unjust and rude and I'm working through that. I'm not a white supremacist or member of the Klan or anything like that, either. I just think that if a girl from the styx whose finishing school was Mar Vista (Sea View in English, if you're curious) can successfully communicate with dignity and tact according to the basic rules of grammar, so can everybody else. Tell you what: I'll work on my tolerance, and if they'll work on their English, we'll be meeting halfway. Cooperation is a good thing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Christmas Odyssey

It's getting close to the time of year when a pilgrimage is in order, and I'm all up for an adventure. Four Christmas seasons of my childhood were spent with my mother and sister on Interstate 15, between Interstate 80 in Salt Lake City and the point where it merges into Interstate 5 in National City, CA, home of the Mile of Cars. Subsequently, there isn't an 800-mile stretch of road in the U.S. that means more to me.

From the smoky inversion of the Salt Lake Valley to the high, clear, pungent air around Cedar City, down through red-clay-bluffed St. George and clipping the parched corner of Arizona at the mouth of the twisted Virgin River Canyon. Through balmy Mesquite to my beloved Vegas, a childhood icon of all things cosmopolitan, maybe to spend an exciting night or maybe to drive straight through and watch the vast twinkling fade into the abyss of desert night out the rear windshield.

First the silver diesel Chevette and later a cozy caramel Toyota Corolla wagon nicknamed Nelly ran I-15 south from Vegas, past the joshua trees and pink sand and somewhere later intersecting Zzyzx Road (a must if you intend to complete the alphabet game), stopping in Baker, or maybe Barstow, for overpriced gas and the do-it-yourself sundae bar at the AM/PM. Then, just after Victorville, dropping down into California in earnest, slipping into continuous urban landscape, mall after mall, palm and pepper trees, townhouses, pools and perfectly landscaped, paved eternity. My sister and I, juvenile asthmatics, gasped for a good thirty miles while adjusting to the damp. The lower you got down into the San Bernardino valley the easier it was to find oxygen, but the more smog there was to burn your throat and lungs and sting your eyes instead. Greener and wetter, after our grave Wyoming winter landscape, brighter and warmer, shedding layers of winter clothes as we got closer to the Pacific.

Somewhere before Hidden Meadows and the Lawrence Welk Resort, a magnificent concrete arch spans the freeway, and the urban landscape gives way to soft mountains covered in dense green brush and sprinkled with massive yellow boulders. People have carved vineyards and orchards in ordered steps on their rocky slopes, and it always made me think of Italy to look at them. Then farther south, to Escondido, back to mild coastal desert, between neatly developed suburbs, past the Air Force base at Miramar and through the busy college area of San Diego. Bypassing the heart of downtown and the bay, we connected with I-5 after the Coronado Bridge, down by the Navy base, then the river and the beginning of east/west Highway 54, distinctly dividing National City and Chula Vista. A few blocks in from the highway, past Target and up the hill and there was Dad, after six or so months of no Dad, somewhat grizzled but cheery, ready to share with us the place in the world he thought of as very nearly perfect.

Tall and strong, simple, fun-loving Dad, befriended by the kindest landlords, David and Jane. David smoked a pipe with the strangest sweet tobacco, and Jane handed us a long tool with a claw-like basket at the end to pick lemons off the tree in their backyard. A real fruit tree! To mountain-and-desert children it was the greatest novelty. And what times! Theme parks and museums and wooden carousels, puppet shows, restaurants, Mexico, Balboa Park and Old Town, movies, malls, horseback riding, and our favorite, the beach. After Wyoming's glacial Fremont and Utah's chilly Bear Lake, the storm-churned winter Pacific was never too cold for us. I remember the locals surveying us skeptically as we splashed in the green water, comfortable even without wetsuits, and happily built sandcastles in gray December sand. Years later, when San Diego became our permanent home, it became our tradition to stroll quietly on the beach on Christmas afternoon in our shorts and flip-flops, so we could tell our Wyoming relatives when they made the holiday calls later in the day.

Christmas is wherever my family is, but this time of year I still start to think about a holiday parade in the coastal fog, playing a light brass arrangement of Feliz Navidad along Orange Avenue in Coronado, the Crown City, a beautiful soft pink city with green parks and shaded lanes and walled mansions dripping in ivy and jewel-bright bouganvillea. I remember parades of lighted boats reflected in the nighttime harbor, viewed from the stone wall of quaint Seaport Village. The San Diego Wild Animal Park, a worthy attraction any other time of year, is extraordinary at Christmas time, as are Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, Chula Vista's Candy Cane Lane, Horton Plaza and the Hotel Del Coronado, and resplendent at the city's heart, San Diego's elegant cultural and historical hub, Balboa Park. One Christmas I played with the symphony at a gala at the San Diego Museum of Art at Balboa. It was a holiday spectacle with a Dr. Seuss theme, featuring a massive enclosed tent set up in the courtyard in front of the museum. It was filled with dining tables artistically decked out to emulate Seuss's whimsical work, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. There were masses of cotton snow and quarts of glitter, hundreds of garlands of tinsel and miles of green and white silk and rich red velvet, red linen napkins and real silver and china glinting in mellow candlelight. I have seen nothing more opulent and theatrical before or since.

I love Christmas lights. I love to be visually dazzled, and aside from fireworks, I can't think of anything I'd rather gaze at than Christmas lights (except possibly some walls in the Louvre, a place I may never see again). From many parts of San Diego, especially Imperial Beach, which was my home, you can clearly see the glittering expanse of Tijuana spread out on the hills past the Mexican border. It seems like this time of year, even that blighted region glows brighter, sparkles with extra energy. Traditionally every architectural detail of the Hotel Del Coronado is lined with lights, making it almost painful to look at, and the five crowning rings of a downtown building constructed of five cylindrical towers are lit up in alternating red and green neon. Horton Plaza, the massive, multi-level mall downtown goes all out with massive garlands and bows and lights, and the tasteful lattice-work palace that houses the botanical garden in Balboa Park gets a mantle of lights that glow twice again in the reflecting ponds in front and fountains at either side. The baroque trim on the park's organ pavillion for once are buried in evergreen and gold bulbs, and Cabrillo bridge, which spans Laurel Street onto El Prado over downtown Hwy 163 (quite possibly the most beautiful stretch of urban freeway in the world), is lit triple when every lamp along its length is spiraled by strings of lights, which are also strung between each lamppost.

My first Christmas in San Diego, I lamented: how can we have Christmas without snow? And yet, it was, and every year moreso, until sometimes I look around winded, weathered, occasionally bland Wyoming and wonder what special glitzy ingredient is missing. I suppose in reality it's money, but I'd rather think of it as that peculiarly San Diegan way of going the extra mile to make people stop and stare, stunned, open-mouthed and statue-still at the extraordinary beauty of your city. I think it's community pride personified, and I'm grateful for it.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Why Don't Lions Eat Clowns?

Because they taste funny.

I laughed outloud so much tonight that my throat is sore and my ribs feel cracked and my cheeks feel taught and strained. I laughed until I cried, silent and wheezing, at that beautiful and rare point of uncontrollable mirth. It's that state of hilarity you can't plan or artificially induce, and even though there's an eighty percent chance it will happen any time my sister and I are together after 10:00 P.M., it's triple nice when other people are in on the joke, even though I'm usually too dignified to get there in a group. Tonight I didn't care, and there wasn't even alcohol involved.

First it was Spoons, a card game involving everyone passing one card to the left simultaneosly and yes, spoons, one less spoon than there are players. When you get four of a kind you grab a spoon, and everybody else tries to grab one, too, which means that, like musical chairs, there's generally a scuffle between the two slowest reactors. If that wasn't stressful enough, my highly competitive brother-in-law and his sister's husband got to grabbing two spoons or sweeping a few off the table while grabbing one, just to cause confusion. It was quite the escalating fray until someone grabbed two spoons and said brother-in-law dove across the large oval oak dining-room table to retrieve one, and since he's no lightweight, the table broke. The boys had it glued, stapled, and bolted back to its sturdy self in no time (why does every single task in that house involve an air compressor and industrial-size staple gun?) but it was still so funny we couldn't function for a while. We decided to play something that involved a little less adrenaline.

Scattergories was a bad choice. In one category there's the prompt 'Part of the body', and the letter was O. For some reason all we could think of was 'orifices', and we all thought it privately but each got to chortling and pretty soon it was mayhem. As usual, there was a good-natured battle between the Staunch-Rule-Followers and the Anything-Goes-Gamers over whether or not it counts if you use an adjective that begins with the letter in play to describe a noun that doesn't, but we never seem to get around to looking it up in the rules. Then there was a 'Cosmetics/Toiletries' prompt on the letter A, and the only things anybody could come up with were x-rated, so we decided to call it a night. The drive home was spent teasing the ten-year-old nephew as he tried to make up jokes and riddles, after we'd told all we knew off-hand. What do you call a cow that doesn't give milk?

A milk dud. Ha.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

My Vet

Grandpa 1920-2004

Salt and No Wind

It's been a long, long time since I attended church for any religious purpose, about ten years. I've set foot in quite a few on social or family errands, and it's always been weird. Attending a niece's Roadshow of skits about local Mormon history last night was no different, though the stories were interesting because I love history and the kids were uber-creative and did a fantastic job. (One skit featured a banana-yellow plywood Hummer H2 that fit five. When was the last time you and I were that creative?) But the church! The feel, the smell, always so much farther from God than anywhere natural. Give me live lodgepole pines for my chapel walls, give me blue sky for stained glass, birdsong for a choir and wind for an organ, and I'll absorb myself in the pursuit of goodness and virtue all my life and nevermind the sermon. There's just too much organization in organized religion.

In honor of the day, I'll thank all veterans, thank you very much. Thank you Jerry, Uncle, though it's over seventeen years since I last hovered near your quiet, smoking, smiling form, wondering if it was really alright to sit upon your knee, or take the offered peanuts from your hand to feed your Omaha squirrels. Thank you Bartley, Grandpa, though it's six months since you lost the final battle you were ever called upon to fight, but cancer is an internal foe and ever so much more evil than any without, even Nazis. I have the picture of you in your uniform, slim and straight, holding two-year-old Dad in his matching homemade suit, complete with pointed GI cap. I keep it on the shelf where I keep your Army-issue olive linen hankie and Uncle Jerry's compass and pocketknife. Thank you Earl, James, Samuel, Edward, Nancy and Stu, Pete, Val, and Howard, Ben and Steve. Thank you for every chance I've ever had to be happy; thank you for my life.

I'm desperate for more time. I'm frantic to do justice to the regard for me offered by those who believe in me, before I lose them forever. There aren't the hours I need to paint and draw enough, to write enough, to make music enough to suit me, let alone enough hours to develop these abilities to the level where I'm proud enough to demand regard for them. But even more than that, I want more time with the people who told me there was nothing I couldn't do. I want another day to play hop-ching with Grandma before she can't see or grasp the marbles at all, another day to be awed at the store of knowledge Dad seems to contain like an enormous underground lake, another day to be amazed at Mom's unsinkable optimism and saint-worthy kindness. I want to keep more of them with me than just what's encoded.

The title of this post reflects the wishes of one woman who spent the winter of 1857 at what was then Camp Scott, on the Blacks Fork River. She was with a company of US soldiers who were escorting her husband to the Salt Lake Valley to forcibly replace Brigham Young as governor, but winter came early and strong and stalled them before they could make the pass through the Wasatch range. She faithfully wrote cheerful letters back home, praising her stalwart companions and their quarters (humble canvas tents), and lamenting only two things: the lack of salt to be had at the Fort, and the constant freezing wind typical of the region. When I think of all my wants and perceived needs, I'll try to remember Elizabeth, sensitive and observant, cheery despite her trials. She would have been perfectly happy with salt and no wind.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Lessons in Profanity

Sewing and painting this year's Halloween costumes was so epic an undertaking that there were bound to be multiple accidents involving pins and needles. Pin spills, and subsequently lost pins that were found in painful, foot-related ways, broken pins (because someone didn't pull them out as she sewed with the machine), pin sword-fights with a truly bored 10-year-old, and several self-inflicted wounds from a certain large-eyed, dull-pointed needle required to conquer layers of denim and burlap. Suffice it to say, if I didn't know how to cuss like a sailor before, I do now. My first pain-inflicted or unhappily shocked impulse is to shout "Jesus Christ!" at the top of my lungs, but, being pretty much a Christian person, or at least sufficiently superstitions to regard the Ten Commandments as somewhat important (though I couldn't name them all to save my life- well, maybe then, but only under extreme duress, and you'd have to give me hints like you do with the seventh dwarf, which for me is never Doc or Bashful but generally Happy), I wanted to get out of that naughty habit, and fast. So as we labored, I sat trying to think of what I'd scream the next time I drew blood or sent a pot full of tiny weapons of mass destruction skittering across the linoleum. I came up with many good ones, but what follows are my favorites:

Christopher Columbus! (still personal, but less bad karma because he's nobody's deity, right?) Farfegnugen! (yes I can spell it, but what does it mean? get me an extreme inline skater, quick!) Gettysburg! Hallelujah! (that one's very nice if you can sing it, which I can't unless it really hurt, and the emphasis has to be on the third syllable or it loses all its restorative power) Jehosephat! (a nice emphatic final syllable, which is, I think, the appeal of taking the Lord's name in vain, but it might be blasphemy of its own, I'm not sure) Zikavich! (my imaginary friend, who should take the blame for my pain, anyhow) Cherry Pie! Hoobastank! Edelbrock! (any automotive-related German word ending in a consonant works great, actually, but just so you know, Vic Edelbrock [he of the Slingshot manifold] was born in Kansas [in 1913] and his Edelbrock automotive brand was born in Los Angeles, not Berlin or Munich) and last, but not least, Mannequin! My research concludes that when it comes to non-profane exclamations, three-syllable words work best to relieve the stress of sudden pain or unpleasant surprise, and that a string of three or more is infinitely more effective. For example: "Hoobastank, Edelbrock, Cherry Pie!!!" Voila. Oh, and if you can remember to clench your teeth fiercely while exclaiming, nobody will understand a word you said and it will still look like you're cool enough to cuss, but you'll be getting some serious brownie points in Heaven or Zion or Nirvana or wherever you're planning to take your eternal vacation. It's got the cool-appearance-vs.-negative-consequence-value of standing around the parking lot of a 7-11 with a candy cigarette hanging off your lip. Perhaps even more.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Honk if You Think You're Great

I experienced something today that made me want to make the noise that Charley frequently makes in John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley (ha, now you have to read it), because I couldn't think of any adequate language to properly display my rage. This disagreeable experience was Saturday traffic in Utah. I am fully aware that every location which contains vehicles and the morons who drive them claim that a neighboring location containing vehicles, and therefore additional morons, contains the worst, most moronic drivers ever. Even so, I really, really, really have to assert that Utah's urban drivers are the worst: continentally, globally, maybe even universally. Ladies and gentlemen, if the folks in L.A. drove like Utahns, it would be a bloodbath. They don't signal. They won't merge. They fly up to stop signs and red lights and then slam on their brakes; they speed through yellow lights; they make left turns into the middle and right lanes; they speed during rainy or icy conditions; they dodge into other lanes and cut each other off to exit first, honking and glaring all the way; and when there's construction? Oh Lord. They just don't get it. And don't get me started about their parking etiquette.

During the pre-Olympics construction in December 2000, I thought Salt Lake Valley's transportation world was going to end. Not only could the drivers not handle it, but the Utah Highway Department left me in extreme doubt of its qualifications to be planning and carrying out road construction. I was driving up from San Diego, North on I-15, desperate to get to my family for Christmas, and there was NO SIGN to indicate the butchered exit to I-80, not one. Nothing said "Go West to Frisco" or "I-80 East to Cheyenne" or "Get the Hell Out of Our State Until We're Done with This." At one point, I was detoured on a detour that crimped around in a seriously shady part of downtown and put me back on the freeway at a point before the detour began. Yes. Only in Utah. In their defense, it's probably because a growing number of them aren't even licensed. No, wait. I'm sure I had a better traffic experience in Guadalajara.

Three things made my day, though: pumpkin ice cream at Leatherby's, adorable new zip-up Totes snowboots, and Morg and I both seeing a guy stick his finger up his nose at the precise moment his wife drove over a speed bump in the mall parking lot. She was, of course, going way too fast.

Self Portrait

It's been so long since imaginary friends were de rigeur in my world that it's hard to imagine what I'd blame on one. Still, I sometimes wish I had mine to take the heat. I think I called him Zikavich.

I spent the past two days crouched on the woodgrain linoleum of my bathroom floor, waiting for my body to give up and just barf already. I lately went nearly nine years without vomiting (no teenage bulemia here, not that one would suspect it), and when I finally did in June, my brain had no problem with it. Instant relief. Glorious. Le corps is less inclined to just let go.

I've gone a little 'Rembrandt' on you tonight. The mirror was dirty, though, and it sparked a halfhearted cleaning spree. Good thing, too, because some serious disinfecting was in order.

Believe me, it's far less vanity and far more wanting to record a moment, or an age lived through. Being twenty-five is so terribly easy, and I want to remember when I'm fifty and have to think hard about third grade and peer pressure and what it was to be a girl. Even so, I have a creepy foreboding that I'll never grow completely up. I still see a little kid, even through that dirty screen, and always will. It's far less disconcerting when I think how long it took to get here. Lord, but it seems a hundred years ago that I was telling Mom, shortly after my seventh birthday in August, that I'd rather stay six. It was a nice age. She then drove around the corner from Burgoon school onto Pine and the rearview mirror on my side of our beloved silver deisel Chevette came loose. Just flew off. I imagine that I saw it lying there in pieces for weeks, until the snow came, and after it melted. More likely, Mom stopped and picked it up. She even pushes carts all the way back up to the store instead of stowing them in the cart return corral or leaving them rudely, dangerously loose to roam. She's so intrinsically good. If the meek shall inherit the earth, then Mom should be their queen... but if they try to push her around, they're going to get a big surprise.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Stress Becomes Her

A picture for its own sake, and nothing more to add, except that it would make a truly great and terrific cover shot for the novel I have yet to begin to blog. What can I say? I work best under pressure. I'm learning about night through my Olympus.

Can O' Worms

For Libby: Oscar was and, I'm assuming, is 178 lbs of 26-year-old genuine Mexican with a childish streak the size of the Mississippi and some serious communication problems. He has a good heart but a possessive tendency and for some bizarre reason I couldn't tell him no. I realize I wound up with the wrong guy, and to a very extensive extent the problem was my lack of exertion of any will at all. Ugh. There's a lot more where this came from, but I need to think about it all. It's tender still, no matter what I say.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Spit Spot

I'm happy for Bush, and I feel Kerry's pain. He was a genuinely gracious loser. So, even if you wanted Kerry to win, you will still watch in fascination as the next four years unfold. What the hell is George going to do now? I daresay no miraculous nursemaid in sensible navy blue wool is going to clap three times, sing him a song, and help him clean up this mess. Good luck, George. We're rooting for you. We have to, we wanted to. You're it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Clean Up on Aisle Nine

As if I needed any more proof that my mom is the Queen of Conversation, she talked both her daughters hoarse last night and could have kept going. The great thing is, it's not gossip or criticism or unwanted advice, it's family news and fun and her endless curiosity and optimism.

Oh, the vote, the vote. You could've knocked me over with a feather this morning when she handed me that one flimsy cardstock sheet with all that Greek on it. All that fuss, for this? All those ads, the debates, the slogans and logos, the mud slinging and the apocalyptic ruin of Dan Rather, and you're handing me an oversized Scantron sheet? Talk about a letdown. I felt a little guilty about the local and state propositions, too; I didn't research the issues enough and tried to eke an opinion out of the little descriptions, but it's like they were designed to confuse, confound. I flatter myself that I have a decent vocabulary, but I'm not a legal secretary, so, alas, much good it did me. Also there were distracting, invisible guilt goblins climbing up my pantlegs from the Clark School gymnasium floor; I remember grade school as a tragic series of guilt-inducing lessons that focused on the negative consequences of all my actions, not empowerment and positive choices. I sincerely hope things have changed. Anyhow, I voted for Bush/Cheney for reasons previously discussed, and hopefully helped send 'Uncle' Bruce Barnard to the State level, even though we'd miss him around here. It's like karma that we always end up at the Wal at the same time. Bruce is a thoughtful, clever man with a soft voice and quick smile, and I like him. He's gently persuasive and tends to look at both sides. (The Wal = Super WalMart, the closest thing to a mall for 45 miles. Get it? Aren't we clever? And yes, it put local businesses out of business when it arrived in all its tacky glory, and yes, I try to avoid shopping there, but where else can you get spray paint, tampons, and romaine lettuce all at the same place at midnight on Tuesday? Sometime I'll blog about the Main Street theory and preservation, which is another one of my 'things.')

I'm not going to the parties tonight, I'm too tired and I'm aware that there's nothing really to celebrate. It'll be like a surprise in the morning, but I have to tell you something. As much as I like secrets, I generally dislike surprises, unless they're brought about by someone who knows me well enough to truly understand what a good surprise is in my book, and there are only a few of those people out there. If you knew the nickname I use for my truck before I blogged about it, count yourself in.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Laughter, the Best Medicine

The best theme song for my lately-days? By an artist who's the coolest a man can be with a mullet? Travis Tritt's A Great Day to Be Alive. It's country, with extra-goofy lyrics, and I'd be furiously mocked if I linked, but I think the title says it all. My other secret country-genre addiction, slightly more understandable and therefore a tad bit less shameful, is Big & Rich, a duo that's one-half attractively-oversized freak (why is he licking that guitar?) and one-half mysterious, angel-voiced, adorable little doll in perfectly-creased Wranglers. Appearances can be deceiving, true, but a man has to be extraordinarily gracious to own a set of pipes that sweet. Their music is a raucious, pop-influenced blend of bass and trickling banjo, with a pleasing harmony of the gruff voice and smooth. Songs feature fun but far-reaching relationship analogies (I've been in a Wild West Show, haven't you?) and pretty ballads rife with social commentary. I'm also overly-pleased with the recent rash of alcohol- and beach vacation-related country songs. I think Garth started it, but whatever, I'm happy.

Incidentally, I'm smiling because I found four pairs of thin turquoise-colored latex gloves in my coat pockets this morning, and I know what they're for and where I got them, but you don't, and you'd laugh if I told you. I just love secrets, no matter how bizarre. Also tickling my funny bone today is the fact that our City's Lutheran church is on- I shit you not- Straight and Narrow Drive. I don't know which came first. It's just funny.

Speaking of funny and how good it is for you, I would like to offer a quick, teensy tribute (so brief because he's so humble) to the Triumph of Spirit that is my boss, Mike. He was hospitalized last Monday with a swollen testicle that had to be removed, and he's still waiting for the results of the biopsy, which has to be scary-every-second. But today, his first day back, I see a man who has no intention of slowing down, rolling over, giving up, or trying to keep hush-hush something that would socially and emotionally cripple a lot of guys. Jo told him this morning that we've missed his chronic whistling and without skipping a beat, he said he'd resume, but it would be higher than it used to be. He's cracked jokes about lopsidedness all morning and insists that he lost all shyness about it after the second day, a day filled with good-natured nicknames like 'Lefty' given by his brothers-in-law. I am not at all surprised, but am ever so glad he's bounced back without a fuss. He's a good family man, a decent Junior Jazz (basketball) coach, an official in his church, last year's City Employee of the Year, an all-around great guy, and last summer he married off four of his five children, two girls and two boys, without a complaint about money or maybe someday missing them. Oh, but there were jokes- and that's where the lesson was. Anything's bearable if you can see the funny side of it, even facing death, which you may or may not (should if you are a loyal reader) know, is the issue of the year for me, that and a divorce of sorts. I got to looking at that word the other day and noticed it sort of looks like divide + force. Isn't that ironic? Anyhow in my case it was a slow division, one drip at a time, and the only force involved was gravity. I wonder how often physics really saves the day.

A 'Get Out of Jail Free' Card

Saturday's fourth-annual Halloween Bash at the nursing home in Kemmerer was very nearly a perfect delight. Only a few people who are crucial to my happiness were not present, and it's incredibly fun to hobnob with those who share my genes. I couldn't have picked a better family out of a line-up had I been given the chance and choice.

Here Monday comes, and it's brought a fresh skiff of snow, waterbills to print, fold, stuff, and mail, and a rotten attitude in the guise of things left undone last Friday. I must get a new spedometer for Monte "The Fridge" Dodge, because when it's cold in the mornings, it produces a deafening buzzing, and the needle broke in half weeks ago, which is just weird. Thank God for the folks at Junkyard Dogs.They make driving a cute little rusty jalopy not only possible, but fun. Believe it or not, I drive an '87 Dodge Raider because I love to. I have yet to find something I like enough to make Monte feel bad by leaving him parked while I drive off in some shiny behemoth with plastic bumpers, after he's been so faithful. And yes, I frequently give names and personalities to the inanimate objects I'm fond of. My ex once petulantly charged that I loved my truck more than him. I'll be damned if he wasn't right.

Speaking of that, I'm finally there. Maybe it was a Saturday spent being petted and praised by those who swim with me in the Bertoncelj gene pool, but I woke up done with Oscar. No, really! I know I've said that before and you've still had to hear about it, but really. I've been feeling bad about not having his blessing to sell the $8k worth of tools I bought him. Not anymore. So what if he comes back for them in six months? I gave him plenty of time to earn them. I paid for them in more ways than cash, and I can gain the last crucial piece of my missing life back by getting them the hell out of my sight. I spent five very precious young years trying to fix him; now I'd like to tell him to take his external locus of control and stick it in his ass. Sometimes it feels good to give up. It takes a long time to get to that stage of grief, but once you do, it's grand.