Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It Grows Back

WIth me a haircut is a sort of spasm. It has to be done now once I decide to do it. This occasionally leads to rash decisions and tearful regret. I had Leanne take eight inches off last Wednesday (she wouldn't do any more than that. "You'll spaz out! You'll blame me!"), and it took me almost a full week (and around fifty testimonials) to decide that I like it. I got to thinking, and I believe that this is the shortest my hair has been since I was around six years old, when I begged Mom to let me grow it long. She kept my impish face framed by a chin-length pageboy for my first few years; that was the only way my hair didn't look permanently snarled. So for the next few years, until it became coarse enough to lay stick straight if stringy, she called me Ragamuffin whenever we met on the street. (I wandered the windy sidewalks of Kemmerer nonstop, looking like an urchin, until we moved to California the fall after I turned twelve, where the lovely climate and pounding surf converted my mop to streaky beach bunny waves.) What's funny is that I think of myself as a long-hair-type person. We develop an image of ourselves, you know, and that's part of mine. But I can still distractedly tie knots in it, which is very important, and Jo called Leanne's handiwork "sex kitten meets tomboy." I can live with that. I am nothing if not contradictory: tough and soft, smart but irrational, kind but selfish. A liberal conservative, an uninspired artist, a good friend with bad habits. But I think this picture (though it doesn't show the cut very well; you'll see dozens that do, don't fret) confirms something I have long feared: I will always, no matter what I do to my hair, look like a little girl.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Life Without Lenny

Thanksgiving in Rock Springs was as pleasant as always, and only slightly melancholy for two reasons: it was probably our last Thanksgiving in Cheri and Gordon’s house (the place that most comfortably accommodates thirty or more), and because it was the first celebration without the last great matriarch of our remarkable family. (Incidentally, I’m preparing an essay on why my mother’s people are so freaking wonderful.) My sister and I went north after dinner and spent all day Friday in our pajamas on Mom’s couch, watching TLC and Harry Potter movies. Saturday Morgan and I climbed up the Green River to Pinedale, where we dutifully hauled Christmas decorations and shoveled snow. Rose was in as good a mood as I’ve seen her in months, mellow and conversational and glad to see Beau, who’s been staying with Mom while Rose trips around the state doing political things. According to my calculations, Beau is nearly sixteen, and his kidneys are failing. He was Grandpa’s favorite pet, a fluffy gray and white Manx with leaf-green eyes and a winning bunny-hop saunter, due to malformed hips. Rose will be giving up her post as mayor this spring, after almost two decades of able service to the people of the town and all of Sublette County, guiding them through the economic upheavals of oil, population, and tourism booms. She is looking forward to writing her family’s history and enjoying her titanium knee. Saturday night the Cadillac and I faced and conquered the three winter trials of Highway 189: Round Mountain, the Suzy Curves, and the Second Sister. I also made the uncomfortable discovery that the heater in the Cadillac isn't working very well, not very well at all. (Update: Mr. Goodwrench replaced my thermostat tonight, which was stuck open. He also installed the JVC CD player Oscar gave to Kelly, who kindly gave it to me after they sold the van, since the new Pontiac and Chevy both have CD players already. Written in black magic marker on the bottom of the stereo case is the name Juan and there was a Banda CD in it, which will look great on my Christmas tree.) I rolled into town Saturday night on fumes (307 miles on 15.34 gallons, you do the math) and paid $1.87 per gallon for gas (suckers!) at iFuel. (I have a friend who automatically snarls “whore!” whenever I taunt him with the price of gas here in town. He lives in San Diego. Speaking of that guy:)

One of my oldest friends is hiding from the holiday in a bungalow on a drizzly beach on Fiji. If he had access to a computer, Lenny would probably be amused that he merited a post title, and it’s not even crisis-related. (“I’ve rear-ended a Porsche.” “Sorry I didn’t call back; I spent the night in jail.” “That’s right. This is the second time my place of residence has caught on fire.” I am not making these up. Lenny’s case history of bad luck makes a casino cooler’s life look charmed. And I really, truly hope it’s not raining on your vacation, buddy.) I’m the weird kind of friend who rarely calls people; I prefer they call me when they aren’t occupied. (If I never call you, this might be why. It’s not that I don’t like you; it just doesn’t occur to me to pick up the phone, unless I have a good reason. I suppose I just can’t handle the rejection if you’re too busy to talk to me, however harmless or well meant. Neurotic? Yes.) A few people in my life actually call me nearly every day, despite this one-sidedness, and Lenny is one of them. So two whole weeks sans Lenny seems quite strange, and I miss having somebody to argue with.

Actually, episodes like this only serve to jolt me out of complacence; I can’t believe how fast a week passes, two weeks, a month, a whole year. It seems like just a few weeks ago I was new at the plant. Now I’m doing the morning lab work so automatically that I don’t even remember cleaning Travis’ used DHP reagent packets out of the chlorine kit or refilling the pH solution. I vaguely remember wanting to throttle Bud for leaving my preferred glass turbidimeter vial laying on its side so a few drops of water dried in it and left a fine calcium residue; not enough for the naked eye to detect, but the sensitive turbidimeter, which is measuring the light reflected by particles in the water (or on the glass), is sure going to notice. It reports fingerprints and paper dust from the lab towelettes, too. Our effluent (outgoing) water is .02 NTU (Nephelometric Turbidity Units) right now. That’s almost as close to perfect as you can get without distilling water, and aren’t we proud? Darn right we are.


I'm enjoying the inundation of Nich Lackey photos on the Internet right now for one reason, and one reason only: I think it's absolutely hilarious that in almost every one he sports a telltale thatch of bleached blonde curls on one shoulder or the other like a frizzy yellow epaulette. You can almost see the reflection of Jessica's gigantic flourescent teeth washing out the corresponding side of his scruffy face with a most unflattering light.

Sunday, November 27, 2005



Green River

Green Bottle







Highway 189

I Love Water

All I want for Christmas (not true, but fairly close) is the Swatch Bijoux Pool Party ring, size 9. I can't believe how minimal its presence is on the internet. I fell in love with it in New York City and thought it would be a great reminder of warmer, cooler times during the winter when Hell freezes over. For some reason I figured I'd hop online and buy it when I got home, and promptly forgot. I never thought it would be so hard to track one down! Serves me right.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Double Take

He has always pronounced 'hello' in such a way that it rhymes with pillow, so I knew it was Oscar's (slightly hesitant) voice on the phone last Tuesday night, after eleven months without word, the twerp. Somehow in my TheraFlu-induced stupor, it didn't seem the slightest bit alarming that he should be calling; I was friendly and receptive, and it ended up to be a very rewarding conversation. He was devastated to hear about Dad and Gram; somehow I got a lot of satisfaction (relief?) out of telling him. (Dad wouldn't accept him and by the time he knew Gram she was already slipping into her singularly enjoyable dimensia, but that didn't stop him from growing attached to them for my sake, or sympathizing with my bond to them, at least. He was always very empathetic about family ties, if not other things.) I didn't notice it until later, but there was definitely a sadistic taste in the breezy way I dropped the bombs. Perhaps it was the medication, or maybe I really didn't expect him to be so affected. On the other hand, he had absolutely no surprises for me. I could have scripted his lines the previous week and been dead on. Went a little crazy, hit rock bottom, a climactic crisis, revelation; now seeking redemption. Apology and Gratitude, Acknowledgement: You Were Right About Everything, now it's just one day at a time. He was genuinely thrilled about my new job (is it still new? Seems like I've been there forever). He detected my serenity, and I did my best to convince him it's not because he's gone (I'm still not sure whether to contribute the happiness in my life to his absence, or to other internal, equally drastic but far more visceral changes- maybe the two had proportionate effect). He expresses sentiments very simply and beautifully; he always did, even when his English vocabulary wasn't the broadest. I've always been able to confess anything to him, and it was nice to feel completely understood again (although I'm less inclined to give him points for that than I used to be, since recently I perceive to have found an astonishingly kindred spirit in a near stranger). And even as early as the next day I could detect a little less anger in me, less resentment, a greater capacity to just put it all behind. I had already gotten past the phase where I worried about him (was he taking care of that acid reflux? Was he dead in a gutter? Did he have clean socks?) but it was still a deliverance of sorts to hear that he's okay. I don't know what I expected; he's unsinkable. But the hard part may come yet: making sure he doesn't fit back into my life. Old habits are easy to pick up again, and when he's being conciliatory and pleasant, it's much easier to remember why I loved him than it is to recall how easily he could shatter me when he wasn't. I've weighed it for a week and I feel that the end result was the alleviation of those last few doubts and concerns without any negative compromise, despite the initial reactions of family and friends (who were easily pacified). It has only served to further prove to me that I am really, truly an adult, able to discipline emotion with judgement, and perhaps more importantly, able to forgive.



Red Cliffs

Utah Line


Pipe Gallery



Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Cocktail Has a Sword

Mr. Goodwrench hauled me back to the Loco Lizard for more pumpkin molé Friday. I made excessive fun of the fact that the de rigueur accessories in Park City are bulky North Face down parkas (so enormously puffy that their wearers had difficulty just fitting through the door, and the servers often had to find alternate routes through the restaurant due to the solid ballast of discarded jackets clogging the aisles) and live babies. (It is my opinion that the human race is reproducing at a far more rapid rate than is really necessary, just for the sake of fashion. “Marv, you’re not listening to me! Gwyneth and Julia and Britney are sporting them! I have to have one!”)

Later I helped Mr. Goodwrench pick out some Dr. Martens at the outlet mall. (“Where are the high-tops?” “Everything in here is gawdawful. Is this supposed to be a bowling shoe?” “Look, if you don’t help me out here, I’ll be stuck in the 80’s forever.”) He paced up and down the aisle in the sleek black boots I selected, looking pensive. “There’s a funny feeling under the ball of my foot.”

“Something uncomfortable? Do they hurt?”

“No. It feels like a bubble. It’s hard to explain.”

“Well they’re AirWair. I picked up one of his ragged Sketchers, a flat, shapeless skateboard shoe, scowled at the sole. “Oh, here’s your problem. That funny feeling? That’s you not feeling the ground.” He laughed and blushed and wore the new Docs out of the store, had the cashier throw the box away with his old shoes inside.

At the restaurant, I was fairly excited to discover that the cherry and lime slice in my piña colada were skewered together by a tiny green plastic saber. I remember fiercely coveting these colorful novelties as a little girl. Dad drank non-decorous gin and tonics, so he rarely had one for me, but it seemed that Mom always remembered when she went to parties (which was extremely rare). One of the things I recall looking forward to as a child was growing up and being able to order a drink with a sword, or one of those little printed paper parasols (which also absolutely thrilled me for some reason). It never occurred to me that, as an adult, I would be able to buy them by the gross if I wanted to, or that by the time I could, I would be far more interested in the drink than its accessory. Alas, how time changes our perspective.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Running with Scissors

After Ben came out of the closet (much to Kym's horror- it was distressing enough just to be dumped), he started addressing us all as "Girl," with an inflection that proclaimed it our superpower. He had his front teeth filed to a V and crimped his hair into tight rows of rusty curls. We sat on a bench at Horton Plaza waiting for Kym's show to start at the Lyceum, Ben gawking at sailors and me trying to figure out if he was improved any by the revelation that he was "more complex than the average man." Tonetta came back with tickets, started awarding points to Navy guys, too. Those two always had a bond; Kym never begrudged them that. For three years Ben walked six paces in front of me during competition, a most capable if unorthodox drum major (preferring a baton to a mace). It was evident that he was enjoying the flattering effect of his white nylon uniform pants. I had to be front and center because I had no peripheral vision (that was the story Mr. Lee concocted to spare Joe's sensibilities; I have excellent peripheral vision), and I never pondered the bounce in his step; I thought that was how the DM was supposed to walk. Then he started wearing muscle shirts where there was none and obsessing over Janet Jackson's choreography, but not the woman herself, and before we knew it Kym had a broken heart.

Thus, Kym was front and center when I got my own heart broken by a Greek clarinet player with a flair for chemistry and a shattered family back east. Misery loves company, and she had reportedly saved every single tear in one solitary, sturdy tissue. I bounced back with a pretty Puerto Rican trumpet player (Jesus was as bad at other things as he was at the trumpet, to let the record stand) and a second year of college in Los Angeles. Kym bounced back with the theater and an eating disorder and four more cats added to a dozen. She named them theater names, always: Mr. Mistoffolees, Hamlet, Nicodemus, Deuteronomy, Blanche (Kym's face crumpled so convincingly in A Streetcar Named Desire that I never quite recovered from it). Minutes before a Thursday matinee I was perched on her vanity counter backstage, artfully arranging gray greasepaint streaks in the corner of her vague eyes and on her brow (Arsenic and Old Lace) and powdering white her matronly, upswept hair, when she wondered out loud, "do you really think it had nothing to do with me?" She was (and may be to this day) fond of the Goldsmith quote: "On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting; 'Twas only that when he was off he was acting..." But she changed the he to she, and squinted into the mirror behind me, baring her alarming canines. I blended the paint with the corner of a sponge. "Of course it wasn't you, honey, but hang on to that insecurity. It does wonders for your Blanche."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wild West





Valley from the Bench

Uintas from the Bench

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

No Day But Today

I'm surprisingly ready for RENT to hit the big screen. The angst-ridden arias may always jerk me back to Kym's candlelit, cat-smelling living room on New Year's Eve, a glittering forest of half-empty miniature bottles of Goldschlager obliterating the coffee table. Sure, I spent my teens in Cyberland, with Tonetta (looking disapproving), and Hope in her Taco Bell uniform, and Kym singing Light My Candle at the top of her talented lungs. Then I suppose I grew up and forgot the words. Until now.

I just watched the opening sequence to the second Charlie's Angels flick, the scene where Cameron Diaz rides the mechanical bull in a remote Mongolian bar, and it occured to me that the frequent accusation that my older sister looks like Drew Barrymore is not completely unfounded. Maybe it's the pouty lips and downturned, puppy-dog eyes. I noticed something else after that. I don't care how much plastic surgery Demi Moore has undergone; it is not enough to make a good idea out of filming a slow-motion close-up of the woman running in a bikini.

I'm hanging out at home today. I was sick yesterday, chilled and aching, spine tingling and stomach churning. But yesterday was the day we had real work to do at the plant. So I stayed home today instead, even though TheraFlu and fourteen hours of sleep had me pretty well revived. I've watched television all day. Sometimes I guess you just have to. I've also spent most of the day instant messaging two of my favorite people and evicting the cats from my afghaned lap. I've been sick a lot more than usual this past year. It doesn't seem fair. I guess I don't eat good. Well I eat plenty, but it's not what you'd call nutritionally balanced. You see, I don't cook very often. It's just one of those activities that I find stressful, unless I have a tried-and-true recipe and a whole afternoon in someone else's familiar kitchen, because I have a paltry sixteen square inches of counter space, and that's just not enough. So I subsist on yogurt and peanut butter and boneless, skinless chicken breasts, unless someone else feeds me, which is nearly a daily occurence. Lucky me.

I had a dream the other night about flying an F-4 Phantom (without a doubt my favorite fighter jet, which in no way detracts from my adoration of the SR-71 Blackbird, a speedy spyplane that once flew from St. Louis to Cincinatti in just over 8 minutes). Of course the Phantom led my waking train of thought to Bill Hester, who actually flew one and, perched on a three-legged stool in a leather bomber jacket, entertained me long hours with stories of flights low over Asian jungles and South American coastlines (myself cross-legged on the floor behind the plywood cashwrap, spellbound). There I could go no further because I don't know where he is. I tried for some time to find him after he didn't show up for work one day, but I guess he wasn't kidding when he called the store on a busy afternoon and confessed, "the monster won." I don't have what you might call an addictive personality, so I can't fully comprehend alchoholism. But I sincerely hope that, wherever he is, easygoing, grinning Bill found a safe way out.

So the Angels were taking a beating from that Madison hag with her cheesy gold Desert Eagles, and I pretty much confirmed for myself the extremely superficial fact that I watch this film series solely for the makeup and clothes. You'll be glad to know that I've clicked over to tonight's installment of the fantastically Britsy Pride and Prejudice series on Biography, and you know what a Jane Austen junkie I am. It's the tense part where Lydia has eloped with Wickham, but it's the perfect excuse for noble Mr. Darcy to come to the rescue. I guess I'm an incurable romantic, but I thoroughly enjoy preachy books full of black and white characters and wholesome moral lessons. They make my own swirly-gray life look a little easier. And I love the elegance of the era in Austen's books: the modest girls with strong jaws and alabaster skin, the fine manners, the small ebony crosses, the music and acres of lace. They're showing previews of the new Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley, and I would like to take this opportunity to air my strange opinion that every movie should incorporate a part for Judi Dench. She rocks.

Monday, November 14, 2005

It's Here

From the windows in the lobby Jeff and I looked down on Evanston and saw the blizzard descending on the north end of the valley like The Nothing in Neverending Story, a juggernaut engulfing the horizon and then the cowering town. The road north to Jeff’s was nearly obliterated by a wall of white from earth to sky, sloping between the Overthrust and the hill where the construction is just being finished on the new and improved airport. The wind was slamming something around on the roof like a poltergeist, but there was no way we were going up there; a man wouldn’t last five minutes in that wind. Weather.com says it’s 20˚ (F) but feels like 2˚ and claims visibility is .3 miles. I’ve settled in to wait it out with a cup of Mom's imitation wassail (hot Tang with enough ground cinnamon to stun a yak and a few secret ingredients- she's the original beverage innovator). We’re supposed to isolate that middle reservoir tomorrow, which entails turning underground valves using ungainly T-shaped valve keys made from rusty iron. I’m digging out the flannel-lined jeans I cross-country ski in and Grandpa’s old orange snow machine parka, and as soon as it clears I’m going to Abracadabra to book a winter’s worth of tanning in the old Wolff box that seems unable to burn me. I’ll never make it through to May without some artificial UV exposure.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Thank You

Art is Life

As a (half-assed) self-representing artist on ebay, I constantly watch the listings for what's popular and who's hot. Debra Hurd started small and got big in a hurry (by listing intelligently and persistently, and because her art has the refined, gallery-worthy feel of pieces that are destined to increase in value), and though I enjoy her newer, more colorful palette-knife oils, I absolutely adore the earliest works she offered on ebay, most of which depicted jazz musicians in blue-lit rooms, rainy cityscapes, and wooded parks at dusk. This piece, titled Crossing, may very well be my favorite painting by a contemporary artist. Her work almost always moves for hundreds of dollars (sometimes over a thousand), and it's rare to see an artist consistently rank so high on the dollar scale on ebay. Her work always feels so comforting to me, even though I usually don't enjoy textured oils (and boy, does she lay it on thick). They exude a little benign mystery and a boundless energy. When I watched it rain one afternoon in New York City this June I thought, "Wow. It's just like she said it would be." Take a look at what she has listed now.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wax On, Wax Off

Travis and I are stripping and waxing the tile floor in the break room today while Bud and Jeff are gone. There are so many nice-looking, durable, maintenance-free floor surfaces on the market now that I have come to the following conclusion: the tile floors were installed to give the operators something to do.

I drove by the Strand on Main at lunch and almost swerved into a parked car at First National Bank when I saw the marquee at the theater. They're playing an LDS film called The Work and the Glory, but they often abbreviate due to lack of space and missing vintage letters. So today, the marquee read Ork Glory. I had to park until I stopped giggling.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


You know what they say: write what you know. I confidently present this blog as an assertion that the old adage is sound advice. But does that mean that research and imagination cannot also produce compelling literature? Discuss.

Monday, November 07, 2005


It never fails; every time I go to Jo's she sends me home at least half drunk, with a box of Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean shirts and a Rubbermaid tub of leftovers. I was walking back from Golden Rule, where I'd dropped my rent check off and visited with Mary for a while, when I found Jo and Don in their driveway. He was attaching a custom-cut layer of Plexiglas to the top of her old ironing board; he'd seen the snowbirds on their last fishing trip using just such a contraption to clean fish on and realized how sensible the idea was, a rig with adjustable height and easy to clean. He's an extraordinary craftsman, and he had countersunk the heads of the screws so that no fish guts would get embedded around the hardware. I was getting their new photo printer and digital camera all squared away and teaching her how to print pictures when she brought out the pineapple Valle and coconut rum, and you know me: I am never one to turn down coconut rum. Jo and Don would still be two of my favorite people if they lived in a cardboard box and didn't keep me perpetually buzzed, but I adore their conversation and their style and their absolutely lovely home.

I meant to get a lot of work done this month, mostly fiction drills to replace the good experience blogging a novel would have been. I've roughed out a short story based on the "I Saw You" ads in the
City Weekly, Salt Lake Valley's free "underground" liberal rag, a publication I always enjoy (especially the arts reviews and the "I Saw You" page, which has always just plain tripped me out). I picked up the Weekly at the Loco Lizard Cantina in Park City last night, desperate to get my mind off what a pretentious, tacky place the once quaint ski town has become. It's nauseating to see the mansions of the pompous sprawling through the pretty valley and choking it like a disease, the malls and marts and rows of condos that feature the most ridiculous architecture, like something from the set of Toontown at Disneyland. Everything I see in the valley now just reeks of extravagance and waste. I hope to God they plan to stop at the Utah border; if not, I'll be waiting with a shotgun for the first developer to cross the line. Wyoming already has a malignant tumour bulging with ostentatious implants: it's called Jackson Hole.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Time Lapse

There was a bad spot on the Orange, and I had almost forgotten about it until I pulled an old maroon sweater out of a bag (that was supposed to go to Deseret Industries, the Mormon equivalent of the Salvation Army) yesterday when I realized it was going to snow. Rummaging for something warm that I wouldn't mind getting orange and black frosting all over (I was going to construct Halloween gingerbread houses with Mr. Goodwrench's eight- and eleven-year-old daughters), I pulled it out by one sleeve and stared. It's a well-made knit cotton sweater, a men's style with generous cuffs and a thick crewneck, several sizes too big for me; I can still tuck all of myself into it, long limbs and short torso, with my head sticking out like a turtle's. I used to do this while dispatching taxis in the small gray hours before the 6:00 a.m. airport rush from the Coronado Cays, and thus the sweater now represents six of the strangest months I have ever known in my life. Five nights a week for that half-year, I sat dispatching nightly in the tiny, horrific office behind the cab lot on the main drag of the otherwise theatrically flawless "island village," the office where thieves had once used a tire iron to bludgeon the owner's brother to death. Judy said that C, the owner, insisted the company be open for business that day, after having scrubbed most of the blood up herself. (That afternoon, my father, proprietor of the rival cab company on the island, found the unlucky driver who discovered the body when he came in to begin his shift in the morning. He was crying on the bar at the Butcher Shop in Chula Vista, drunk as a sailor, unhinged and wretched.)

There was a lot of gossip among the drivers and dispatchers about C: how she refused to show her father, who founded the company, the books; how he worked the night shift and often slept in his car to avoid going home to her mother; how she was sleeping with one of the livery drivers, a chubby Pole nobody else could stand, in his company van; how she methodically went through the trash in the office, and the dumpster out back, every twenty-four hours. This last bit I knew was true; she frequently stashed shopping bags full of junk in the locked broom closet
, and she knew things about the way I spent my shift that she could only have discovered by sifting through the garbage. Often Judy would stay and gossip when her shift ended and mine began, hoping a certain slim, handsome Latino driver would stop by. Mostly after the bars closed there were no calls until shortly before dawn, and no drivers would intrude until the livery chauffers at five. Emilio (who was utterly devoted to Dad before my parents left San Diego) and his brother Rufino would periodically call from their cellphones to check on me, instead of using the radio (which would make the other drivers suspicious that they were angling for the better fares), and on really dead nights Emilio would bring me coffee or juice and muffins and tell me stories about his childhood in Mexico. (Sometimes on Sunday afternoons I would go with him to play handball in the courts under the Coronado Bridge, in Barrio Logan's Chicano Park. It was a strange place for a white girl to be, but I was never treated badly. I would have been if Emilio's wife had gotten hold of me, despite the fact that it would have been unjustified. Truth be told, I could have laid the ferocious little woman out if I saw her coming, but her nails could have done me some serious damage if she managed to sneak up on me.) I would work the San Diego Union Tribune crossword puzzles and harass the midnight radio hosts, one of whom I got to be very good friends with on account of the fact that we both loved WWII fighter jets and Mark Twain. In the morning a thin black woman whose name I can't recall would come in to relieve me; she had huge teeth and wore leopard-print spandex, and she worked the graveyard shift at the Greyhound bus station in downtown San Diego. She always had a Band-Aid stuck to her forehead and I was never brave enough to ask her why. She carried her belongings in a duffel bag and moved nonchalantly from one "friend's" home to the next. Most of the staff were equally unambitious and exploitive, living by methods I couldn't comprehend. (Seven years later I still can't.)

I have often wondered if I didn't just dream those strange nights and all the tragic characters that filled them. Looking back, I can't remember a single soul whose future held any promise, except maybe Jim, a livery driver, who had registered the website url www.headlinenews.com and was optimistically expecting a check from CNN any day. I get chills when I remember the stained plywood walls and the homemade map board on which I moved pegs labeled with the drivers' numbers from the Glorietta Bay Inn to the North Island Naval Base to the bridge that led to I-5, and all around that deceptive island. Some nights something would rattle the bars on the windows facing the alley and I would call the cops; I had standing orders (from the police deparment) to alert them to anything the least bit unusual on the property. Apparently there wasn't much to do on the night shift for them, either.

I didn't stay at the cab company long; it was just a filler until another job opened up for me, something lined up by the placement officer at my college. But I puzzle over those nights, and consider them my only real experience with the sadder, darker side of life. I called them on a whim when Dad died, thinking that if I could get Emilio's cellphone number, which I lost long ago, I could ask him to tell Doc and Paul (who has since died) and Red, who called Dad "Skinny Bill." (Skinny he was not; Bill he was.) I was shocked to hear Judy's voice still on the line (I shouldn't have been). Emilio was shocked to hear about Dad. And I was shocked to hear that Doc had suffered a heart attack at the door of the Hotel Del Coronado the same day Dad died, and lived to tell the tale. It was surreal to talk to Emilio, and even moreso to explain to Judy why that "adorable little" Oscar is no longer part of my life. I was not shocked to hear that the slim, handsome Latino driver had not yet become part of hers, and not at all surprised to hear that she still expects him to someday. (I wonder what Rufino would think if he knew.) That was what I liked about Judy: her glass was always half full. I suppose that she and Emilio were the best parts of that strange, brief job. Those two, and the early-morning muffins, and the crossword puzzles.

My Sentiments Exactly

I forgot to post this Halloween treat from Slate. Call me a pessimist, but the Republicans seem paranoid and corrupt and the Democrats appear unrealistic and unreliable. What's a last-minute Gen X-er to do?

Friday, November 04, 2005


Second Fiddle

Now comes November, that dead space between fall and winter; in Wyoming, a season of sluggish flies, disappointed hunters, undecided weather, and abrupt bloody noses.

It occurred to me during orchestra tonight, halfway through the fourth movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony, that I may be the only soul on earth who regrets the quick demise of ska. And then I realized that I am not a very good violin player. Yet. I'm accustomed to being the star on the stage. But I've been things less pivotal than second violin before, and I am not unhappy. It's interesting to be on the periphery for once, because I also like to observe. I don't really feel the need to advertise my former glory; I'm all about progress. And I know in a year or so I'll smoke that twelve-year-old prodigy that thinks she's such hot shit. (In reality, she's a sweet child named Brittany, one of those odd kids in unfashionable shoes, with thick glasses and frizzy, mousy hair, whose innate ability to instantly master an instrument confounds her less fortunate peers and some adults. I keep forgetting she's got like three years on me when it comes to this infuriating sport.)

Additionally, it's quite an eye-opener to experience the symphony from a string-player's point of view. As a bass trombonist, or indeed any member of the low brass in a symphony, you spend a vast amount of time counting measures or playing cards or paper/rock/scissors with your neighbor. As a violinist, you are constantly panting to keep up. It's a nice switch. But as a violinist, you are only one of many people playing the same part, and as a trombonist, you are it, all-important, solely responsible. And I still make to empty my spit valve between numbers. Old habits die hard. I've been thinking about old Betsy a lot lately, so tonight after practice I hauled her out of the closet and gave her a good once over. The folks at Blessing in Elkhart, Indiana have produced some beautiful instruments, but I still think my dual rotor B-98 (that's her on the right) with the flawless (originally) ten-inch bell may be the finest thing they every made. She sustained some pretty serious wear and tear during years of marching band and a European tour, and the dry Wyoming climate is wreaking havoc on valves and cork, but she still sounds like a dream come true, just the way she did the first day I got her. (Except that my embouchure was in a bit better shape then, but I seem to lose less ground than any brass player I ever knew. Years have slipped by since I was a serious player with the pros, but I can still nail the high notes, even on a big bore mouthpiece, and I don't get that spitty fuzz some people do after just a few weeks of rest.)

I keep getting interrupted tonight and veering off on tangents. I'm always surprised what I come up with when I'm not concentrating. I keep concocting random blurbs about Saint Liam in the Belmont Stakes Breeder's Cup Saturday, and the hat and scarf Eileen made me (after I got outbid by the auctioneer at the KKI fundraiser), and many other things that have nothing to do with my original intent earlier this evening. Maybe it's the season, or reading too much (is that possible?), or the fact that I ran the Cadillac out of gas this morning (I did it on purpose, I swear, but it's a long story). All I can think right now is that if anyone calls me before noon tomorrow, I'm going to tell them off in no uncertain terms. The twelve- to fourteen-hour stretch of undisturbed slumber is still a treasured weekend ritual for me and I've missed it seven weekends in a row now. If my cats can be trained to leave me alone (hello, squirt bottle), so can my family and friends.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Have You Had Your V8 Today?

Why I will drive my 13-mpg-in-town, fossil-fuel-feasting, four-extra-cylinder Cadillac every day until there isn't a drop of oil left on earth (except in George Clooney's hair). And why I feel bad for people who are at the mercy of public transportation, even though I understand that it's a vital metropolitan institution and I actually enjoyed the one occasion I ventured to try it, because that was vacation. I just happen to loathe people in general, and to be stuffed in a moving underground box with them is anathema to me. (Fun and fascinating, Dorothy.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Got Patience?

Mr. Goodwrench convulsed me today when he declared, regarding his irresponsible but lovable twenty-something shop hand, Dougan, "I just hope I can get through the next few years without killing him for being young." (Mr. Goodwrench is a stately thirty-two, and wretched Doogie has found in him a reliable nursemaid of sorts. He'll go to great lengths to keep Doogie- he's a good mechanic and a nice kid, despite his vices.)

There's an angry wind from the south tonight, sweeping down off the solid granite face of the snow-clad Uintas and bringing winter with it. I was reading a John Irving novel on the couch a while ago with all three dogs piled snoring at my feet, when a particularly baleful gust howled across the yard and made the girls bark like mad. It nearly blew me into the open hatch of the reservoir I was checking this afternoon. After nine years of driving supremely unaerodynamic Monte, I love how the Cadillac effortlessly sails through the wind like a hot knife through butter.

This relentless fatigue is really getting to me. Winter is already getting to me, and it's not even here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Make Believe

I co-hosted the 5th annual family Halloween bash Saturday. It took a month to prepare for and caused its fair share of stress, like every year, but it was absolutely worth it. People keep asking why we go to all the trouble. All I can think to tell them is that for Morgan and I, Halloween means we get to be kids again, even if it’s just for a few hours. We have always enjoyed constructing costumes, sets and props, even when very young, because we’re outrageously creative and gifted. If I can draw or paint it (and I can), she can sew it (without a pattern, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, but she’s far more humble than I). Plus, no matter how intense and frustrating the preparations are, we get to spend time together late at night, which is the sure road to that singular shared hilarity that only a sibling bond can foster. Kelly will attest that his wife and I frequently laugh until we drool over things that nobody else finds the least bit funny.

Mom and I made Halloween our own while living in San Diego, where there are innumerable family-friendly activities to enjoy. There was always some spook trail or haunted museum in Balboa Park, the Star of India (a lovely old tallship docked in the harbor) hosted pirate skits and the real Blackbeard’s skull, or one could always just sit at a coffee shop in Hillcrest and watch the freaks go by. Mom and I considered it ‘our thing,’ but Christmas-mad Morgan wasn’t hard to convert when I came home, owing to the reasons mentioned above.

Saturday’s party was the usual overdose of feasting and fraternization. I have an unusually intelligent and goodhearted family, hardworking, loyal people with ready smiles and quick wits. Grandma was the fourth of five children born to Slovenian immigrants from Skofja Loka, and we all pretty much branch off from there. My cousin Amanda, weighing in at about six ounces at her premature birth, has been confined to a wheelchair for all but a few days of her nearly eighteen years. Mind you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her mind (or her mouth). But her dad, Roger, keeps acquiring successively larger wheelchair-accessible vans to tote her equipment and Roland the basset hound (Jeff introduced Rolie as the “basset-lisk” but said they couldn’t find a basilisk costume that would fit him, long as he is) and as many friends and family members as can be persuaded into the plush interior. The latest version is a glossy 20-passenger bus with just enough room to bring the bulk of the party guests from Rock Springs. Due to popular demand (Amanda persistently suggested it), the theme this year was Harry Potter. Morgan sent out invitations so cleverly authentic that some people thought they were junk mail and nearly threw them out. Decorating was easy; I just painted several panels of dungeon-like stone on brown kraft paper and hung them around the room, set tall candlesticks with lit taper candles on the table, and set props around the room like fake books and Grandma’s old trunk and a twig broom. I made wands out of large wooden beads and dowels, and painted table runners and wood grain on the kraft paper I covered the tables with, which made cleanup easy. Most of the clan obligingly came in costume, except deceptively stoic Mac (a nationally honored wrestling coach and referee), who Mom cajoled into modeling Kelly’s bad-guy garb since Kelly was late. Mac got way into character (I think) and tried to choke me. Had there been a costume contest, the honorable mention would probably have gone to Jeff, who came as the gentle giant Hagrid, complete with bushy wig (he didn’t need to fake the curly red beard) and frilly pink umbrella. After an afternoon of catching up, we stuffed the family full of sugary, pumpkin-rich fare and sent them on their way in the massive coach.

On Sunday morning Morgan and Kelly left for a week in Casper for the WWQ&PCA conference, so I took Cordale home to his mother that evening. We had a good journey with lots of confidential gossip about girlfriends (he’s eleven) and much speculation regarding the damage some suicidal wildlife could do to the front end of my Cadillac. I pulled out the digital camera in Kemmerer and bade him shoot to his heart’s content, which passed the last hour nicely, and he got some good shots of the ruins on the Carter Cutoff and a shepherd’s camp in the golden prairie sunset. I dumped Cord and his medications and costume off with his mom and his happy chocolate lab Kisses, and somehow the Cadillac calmly ate up thirty miles of freeway and I was home before I knew it.

On Halloween I dropped by City Hall in costume an hour before closing to harass the kids attending the downtown businesses’ trick-or-treat event. The general response to my short silver hair (a long red wig I cut and sprayed to simulate Madam Hooch’s short, sharp shag) was amusing. I’ve already publicly vetoed the idea of super short hair, but it’s nice to know I could pull it off if I had to, because both family and friends exclaimed that it looked great. After leaving City Hall I intended to take a pass by Kate’s but discovered Bud’s truck parked the block before, in front of Domino’s Pizza, and I spotted him as he dove through the thronging costumed kids into the empty spot next to his GMC, looking overwhelmed and agitated. Thinking perhaps he was chaperoning his grandsons, I pulled the Cadillac in sharp and made to run him down, in jest of course, but he shot me a dirty look and climbed into his truck alone. Afraid he was angry, I jumped out and ran over to tap on his window with my wand before he could pull away, and I wish I could describe the expression on his face when it dawned on him who was trying to run him over. He had obviously already had quite a few at Kate’s and my costume was too much for him. He put his head on his steering wheel and laughed until I thought he was going to have an aneurysm. I explained the disguise and we gossiped about passersby and bitched about some new EPA regulations until the pedestrian traffic began to thin and I figured it was safe for him to drive home.

I typed up the monthly reports this morning and after a pleasant lunch at Michael’s with Susan, I took the afternoon off to complete some submissions to the American Diabetes Association’s holiday art call, which had to be postmarked by 5:00pm. I jumped in my truck to mail them and found my starter dead; at 250,000 miles things just start to go on a vehicle. The nice thing is that parts for an ’87 Raider are fairly cheap, and I have happy access to free labor by one of the best mechanics in town (and it doesn’t even take much sweet-talking). It was a brisk but beautiful evening so I strapped my violin to my back and jog-walked the five blocks to orchestra rehearsal. The old part of Evanston is really quite pretty close up, and from the sidewalk I could see into cozy homes and organized garages. I smelled wood smoke and aspen and cottonwood leaves and sometimes supper cooking, wet cement and blue spruce and diesel exhaust and fabric softener. I felt safe and sort of sentimental until Camille Saint-Saëns’ frustrating Bacchanal from Samson and Delilah (Lord, that’s a lot of accidentals), and afterwards the mood came back on the more leisurely-paced walk home.

I am relieved tonight and sagging into familiar things like my crumbling walls and my bed and the navy blue leather seat of my big white car. I love to be busy but sometimes when the demands are done I feel like a deflated balloon, limp and wrinkled. I’ve clenched my teeth so much in the last month that my mangled left jaw is giving me problems again, popping so loudly when I yawn some mornings at the break room table that Jeff and Travis and Bud will stop what they are doing and stare. I don’t know what can be done about it; surely something. But it will have to wait until tomorrow, along with everything else.