Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Golden Years

I remember thinking when he was cast in Brokeback Mountain that Heath Ledger had Wyoming in his face: craggy brow, cavernous cheekbones, stiff tumbleweed hair, skin like the desert. I hear that's what parts of Australia are like, too. Before I found out Heath -- who was my age, which might partly explain why I'm so stricken, but also he seemed so intensely alive -- was dead this evening, I stopped at the library and picked up Secondhand Lions, MIB II, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and A Knight's Tale. (I love the soundtrack of the latter, a delicious mess of Queen, War's Low Rider, Eric Clapton, Thin Lizzy, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, among others.)

Generally when I'm using the stationary bike I turn the picture off, spinning twelve or fifteen imaginary miles to the tunes and dialogue of whatever I put in. Transversely, when I'm using the rowing machine I turn off the sound and just watch the picture. For some reason the sound and picture combined will make me cease pedaling or rowing to pay closer attention and it'll be ten minutes before I notice I've stopped.

A Knight's Tale is a lot ridiculous, but I love the banquet scene with Heath and Shannyn Sossamon slinking around to David Bowie's miraculous, twangy, funky "Golden Years." And tonight I left both picture and sound on so I could watch Heathcliff move about the screen, graceful, energetic but controlled (and, it struck me, oddly gnomish). And even though it's sad, I enjoyed the relative consolation (to me alone, perhaps) that he's captured on film, abundantly, in an early, shining time, his golden years.


The thermometer in my car rarely manages to trip over the zero lately, and if it does, it loiters in the single digits. We've had a wretched, gloomy, rock-hard January to make up for our decadent November. January is the month I would vote off the island. There's nothing to look forward to this month but the end of it.

Puck's heated seats have been a godsend, and I only wish heated steering wheels were de rigueur. The unforgiving leather is brutal on my bare fingertips. The motor warms so quickly, though, that within two blocks the air pouring from the dash vents is certifiably hot, not merely warm, and the oil reaches optimal operating temperature within two miles even when I forget to plug the engine heater in at night, which seems miraculous.

The other feature I've been enjoying most (besides, of course, the fantastic gas mileage I'm getting in town) is the satellite radio, specifically the 90's station The Pulse, which plays music that was new and hot during my high school and college years. (Seems natural to maintain a soft spot -- if not a preference -- for the music from that time in each of our lives.) Green Day had just had a breakthrough with their Dookie album. Dave Matthews Band was becoming a household name with Crash and Matchbox 20, Alanis Morissette, Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Hootie & the Blowfish, Savage Garden, Wallflowers, Cranberries, Everclear, Spice Girls, and Sheryl Crow were getting a lot of airplay. Remember Jewel and Fiona Apple? Gwen Stefani and No Doubt were still grungy ska in the garage. I wore plaid flannel shirts and ratty Converse All*Stars almost every day in 1995. Madonna was cranking out soundtrack hits and Selena wasn't dead yet. Neither was Bradley Nowell, and I was hooked on Sublime, slapping around on the sandy concrete of Imperial Beach in my flip-flops and board shorts, even in the January rains.

Swing was having kind of a revival then, remember, with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Royal Crown Revue, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers? Every other day somebody came to one of my college classes in L.A. with an ankle cast. Good times. The radio was my constant companion on the long drives between San Diego and the City of Angels. I had 91X and Star 100.7 (which is now one of those automated Jack FM stations), which did these great promotions like "Whirl 'Til You Hurl," in which several contestants rode the roller coaster at Mission Beach until they couldn't take it anymore. A few were on for days. There was also a promo involving a pink Cadillac called the Surf Pig, but alas, I can't remember the details. I loved Star.

There were so many successful music acts from Long Beach (see Sublime) and Newport Beach and L.A., but few from San Diego seemed to make it very far. Ever heard of Battalion of Saints, née The Neutrons? I know, right? Or Unbroken? Exactly. Doesn't matter, really. But yesterday morning on my way to work, just as I was about to poke the stereo with my frozen first digit, I heard the beginning of something familiar, a beachy jam I once knew by heart. I left the station alone and listened to good ol' Sprung Monkey's "Get 'Em Outta Here" in its entirety, just to be warmed by the early line, "... sweet home San Diego." I was toasty all day just thinking about southern California. The song was fairly popular for a while and I think was on the soundtrack of the movie Ten Things I Hate About You. The video is unimaginative and I'm fairly certain was filmed in San Pedro and not anywhere near San Diego, but if you close your eyes and imagine yourself tan and 17 years old, you can hear the waves crash with me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Snow's Fine, Wish You Were Here

Other peoples' pushing-60 (wink, wink) mothers embroider and go to choir practice. Maybe they bake cookies and crochet doilies, or garden, or redecorate the bathroom once a month.

My mother rides snowmobiles. 70 miles an hour. Without a helmet. (Only under relatively ideal conditions, but still.) Last night she was riding alone, after dark, 16 miles across a remote mountaintop, on a sled with mechanical problems, to pick up Henry, whose machine is (still) lodged in some soft powder somewhere off the trail. They had to ride double back to the truck, and double on a modern snowmobile is not easy for either rider.

Last year they both got stuck 7 miles from the trail head after getting a late start and possibly taking a wrong turn. They had half a sandwich and a frozen bottle of water between them (and possibly a nicely chilled bottle of menthol schnapps tucked away somewhere, which, I can attest, looks exactly like water), and they started walking after dark, clothing soaking wet from trying for hours to dislodge the 'mobiles. She refused to spend the night out there. So they trudged, uphill and down, on packed snow. They didn't let each other stop to rest. The sheriff met them at the trail head, sent by the girl who was minding the motel when she realized they were awfully late getting back. They arrived home weary and stiff, but apparently no worse for the wear.

My mother is tough. She shovels snow in her flip-flops. I give Dad a lot of posthumous credit for my car-lovin', tomboyish ways, but Mom is probably the reason Morgan can change the oil in her vehicles and I can drive a dump truck. But it's not like she's got a mullet and a pack of Pall Malls hanging out of her purse. She's very ladylike. Pearl earrings. Classy nail polish. Occasionally, floral prints.

She was everyone's favorite mother among my circle of friends in I.B. A few liked her more than their own, which is sad, but not surprising. She baked cakes on their birthdays and made us mocha milkshakes at midnight and drove us all over San Diego. Dave's mom tried to run over him (although looking back, I think that was justifiable), Twinkie's walked through town barefoot and swung around light poles, singing, and we didn't see Kym's very often, but we could smell the marijuana smoke from under her bedroom door.

Truth be told, it scares me to death when I know Mom's up on a mountain somewhere, riding an unenclosed, motorized vehicle that has as much horsepower as my new station wagon. But there's also something really cool about it. I'm proud of her for seizing the day. And she's living proof that I can have the best of both worlds, outdoorsy and sophisticated. She fishes for trout and drives off-road, but I can still take her to the symphony.

If you would just, you know, be careful, okay Mom? Because you're supposed to be the one waiting up and worrying about me, remember? Remember the good ol' days, Mom? Mom? Are you there?


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Snow Patrol

Burleigh's guiding the big Case loader along the curb, the heavy chains on the massive tires grinding against the concrete. In his wake, sloughing off the big steel blade, a three-foot high, four-foot wide windrow of dirty snow clogs the right westbound lane of Harrison Drive. Peterson's behind him in the snarling Caterpillar blade, peeling four-inch-thick ice out of the gutter, cluttering what's left of the lane with miniature glaciers the color of murky, strong tea. Brody follows up in the other loader, a butter yellow New Holland; his blade folds the frozen hunks into the windrow like a Kitchenaid paddle mixer kneading doughy batter. The chains on his wheels are finer and hang loosely, jingling on the asphalt.

Add to this mechanical cacophony the snowblower, with Jim at the wheel. Another smoke-belching, eight-cylinder Caterpillar contraption is fastened to the front of his marigold Case loader. Its curved spout rotates seven feet above a five-foot wide horizontal spinning auger wrapped with a spiral blade two feet in diameter. The thing makes flying hamburger out of the ice-littered windrow; Jim has complete control of its direction and speed from inside the cab of his loader. He's essentially the quarterback of this team, his full winter beard steel gray except for the white at his chin, and calling the shots on the radio, he calls everybody "kiddo" in the kindly way a favorite uncle might.

I'm in one of four massive diesel dump trucks collecting the snow Jim can't blow off the road into empty lots, taking turns pulling around him in the left lane and dodging in front, right front wheel riding the edge of the windrow like a rail. We back up until the base of the blower, a case around the bared, devouring auger, bumps gently into us, and we put the truck in neutral. Jim's loader will push the chugging dump truck at the speed he needs to travel, depending on the amount of snow the blower's chewing up. If you're headed down an incline, you gently ride the brakes to avoid drifting away from the blower. Jim drawls friendly suggestions into the radio, patience personified. Occasionally the auger encounters something it can't chew up, a hunk of concrete pried loose by the blade or a rock or cinder block or hard metal rod that was littering the gutter. Everything, not just the blower, grinds to a halt when this happens.

I get distracted worrying about traffic. By the time the trucks (mine is a 1979 GMC, as old as I am, painted a matte green the color of jungle fatigues) are fully loaded, they might weigh 14 tons. That makes stopping the moving truck a joke, especially on slick roads. Drivers behave unexpectedly around heavy equipment removing snow. They assume you can see them. You usually can't. They are often erratic, timidly following for a while, then frantically diving past the big trucks. Teenage drivers are generally foolish, occasionally zipping under the arc of blowing snow. Hard frozen chunks from the blower frequently take the side mirrors off the dump trucks. I can imagine what an errant piece would do to those kids' Hondas.

We've gotten more snow already this winter than I remember getting throughout an entire season in any of the seven years since I've been home. I took my Tubbs snowshoes to work today to hike between the U.V. and the pump house, clumping over drifts six and eight feet deep; one appeared large enough to dig a blue cavern in the size of my bedroom. Nature is clobbering us, and there's plenty more where that came from. I was amused at the pageant of heavy equipment I participated in this morning. Amused at the things we do to beat back nature, to try to control the world around us, to make it "livable." What's going to be interesting is the "January Thaw" we'll finally get in March. Water is the most difficult earthly element of all to control, and there's going to be a lot of it come spring. Maybe that's when I'll get away. Somewhere greener, somewhere warmer. But not in a dump truck.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Avocado Daiquiri

2 oz silver rum
2 oz gold rum
¼ medium-ripe avocado
½ oz half-and-half
¼ oz fresh lemon or lime juice
2 oz simple syrup
1 ½ cups ice cubes

Combine the ingredients and blend until smooth.

From Hip Sips, by Lucy Brennan

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Jittery refinery, Sinclair, Wyoming.

Drifts in my backyard.


... has big eyes.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Soup's On

I love soup. Nothing opens up congested sinuses like hot, spicy soup. Soup seems so basic, so run-of-the-mill, but one of the best meals I've ever had (God bless New York City) featured a lobster bisque that was so velvety and rich it was practically gravy. I love good clam chowder, too, and chili with wagon wheel pasta (which might be a regional thing, since everybody from out of state looks at me like I'm nuts when I say that), and especially Grandma's divine beef stew with vegetables and barley or rice (or whatever she saw fit to toss in), which Mom replicates in a most satisfying way.

Perhaps it's the season, too, because how nice is it to zip home at lunch on a cold day and have a cup of hot, salty, hearty soup? Or maybe it's my lifestyle as a single gal with limited counter space. I can make a 6-quart pot of main dish soup, something with meat and vegetables and maybe pasta or beans that counts as a whole meal (so I don't have to prepare anything else unless I really want corn bread or muffins, which are also easy to whip up, or a salad, because how else would I reach my annual quota of Ranch dressing?) and freeze half of it. Maybe soup simply suits my fairly hands-off cooking style: chop some things up, put them in a pot, spice it with pinches right out of the bottles, and dirty pretty much only one dish and a knife and spoon, plus the Tupperware or Rubbermaid storage containers. I nuke soup in mugs or one of my half-dozen little mismatched Portuguese porcelain bowls because I'm afraid to microwave food in plastic anymore. I know I can't escape exposure to all carcinogens, but considering the prominence of cancer in my family history, I'm doing what I can.

Let me just say, though, that canned soup is the devil's spongy, slimy, lethally salty, metallic, tainted substance of doom. I don't mind it so much if I'm using it as an add-in or base for a soup with otherwise fresh ingredients, but it's perfectly evil on its own. I'll add canned tomatoes or corn or beans to soups, too. I'm not a snob. And for some reason, canned tomato soup also gets a pass this time, but only if made with milk. Bekah does something to tomato soup that makes it taste like pizza, which is genius. Tomato soup is magically enhanced by an hour or two in a thermos, too. One taste of tomato soup and I'm back at the kitchen table on Topaz, ten years old, my purple toes defrosting and Grandma fussing because I didn't wear a hat to go skating. Sure, she was right about the hat, but the woman would have dressed me six layers deep in August if I had let her.

Lately I've done chicken soup with lentils and thyme, beef and barley soup with tomatoes and onion, and ground turkey chili with dried cherries and fire roasted tomatoes. I like pureed vegetable soups like butternut squash (an excellent version of which the restaurant at the golf club serves) and any type of creamy bisque, seafood or not. I want to try a peanut and chicken stew that is apparently a staple in Morocco; I found it in a magazine, and I have to hunt down the recipe. There's no shortage of soup recipes in the world. I suppose it just depends on what ingredients are available to you and how elaborate you want to be. Generally I prefer simpler soups with around five ingredients and a few spices, like M's excellent and accidental vegetable chowder that uses frozen vegetables, potatoes, and oh, potatoes. I love potato soups perhaps most of all, whether they're chunky or smooth, creamy or thick and pasty. I don't even mind if they're made from frozen hash browns or boxed potato flakes; if there are potatoes in any incarnation, I'm in.

I love restaurant soup, too, especially egg drop, French onion, Thai soups with coconut milk and lemongrass, and Vietnamese pho with beef. There must be an almost infinite array of fine ethnic soups out there. Think of Latin soups like albondigas (with meatballs the size of submarines) and gazpacho (I, for one, am willing to forget that menudo even exists, however), all those spicy Asian soups and complex curry soups from India, Russian ukha and borscht, Slovenian jota (although I'm not much for sauerkraut, which is probably one of the reasons why we didn't have this growing up). I'm snowed in in Evanston right now, but when I get out of this #$&%*@ place (more on that later) I intend to explore the vast landscape of ethnic soups indefinitely. I'll let you know how it goes.

The head cold is waning, although if mine follows the course Brent's has taken, I still have a week or two of hacking and sniffling in store. We got eight inches of snow in the last few days, so we're floundering around in that mess, and who knows when it will be warm enough to melt off. I'm waiting for the roads to clear so I can go simmer in my favorite hot springs in Utah (hot springs are infinitely more fun in the winter). I probably won't make it back down to Park City to shop before the avalanche of freaks descends for Sundance, but considering the fact that I bought a $360 ivory angora and wool Calvin Klein coat (on sale for $129!) last time I went, I'm better off anyway. For someone who detests winter as much as I do, I sure have a lot of coats.

I'm rambling. It's the decongestant. My soup is ready.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Happy New Year

I'm a bit muddled. I have a cold, and I'm probably still recovering from my half of the bottle of champagne Brent and I shared in Ogallala, Nebraska on New Year's Eve, and the road trip sort of did me in, although Puck went about it with characteristic charisma. Aptly named, my little road sprite, because that car does icy roads like nobody's business. Also there was a blizzard of goose guts, trucks flipping gravel at us, and snow blowing sideways over I-80 like water, and he handled those fine, too. He was a joy to drive long distance, what with cruise control, firm, comfortable seats with high and low heat settings, and four dazzling entertainment options (count 'em, four: FM stereo, satellite radio [including an all Frank Sinatra all the time station, boo ya!], CD player, and iPod jack), etc., etc., etc.

So, yeah, not a word did we hear or read about Lonesome Dove in Ogallala, sorry. Although the charming little municipality is not above flaunting its rich cow town history, they're not being specific, except for this weird obsession with authentic Bay Rum. They've gone so far as to do up a whole little strip mall with wooden sidewalks and a mannequin-manned replica of a mercantile, apothecary, and barber shop, but nothing says Lonesome Dove on it anywhere. We enjoyed our frozen stroll through their cute little downtown and we got pictures of the Lazy J liquor store

for the Johnsons, and the water tower painted to look like an alien spaceship

for a friend of Brent's, but I forgot to take one of the great little bar tucked under the bridge that spanned the railroad tracks, the Underpass. And, FYI, lovely, wide Lake McConaughy isn't a lake. It's a reservoir. We drove to the dam. Stop mislabeling your water storage, people.

Anyway, I'm wondering how my house became such a wasteland if I was hardly ever here to make it a mess over the holidays, and the cats are looking particularly innocent. Maybe they decided to try on everything in my closet and throw it on the floor when they were done. Also, they dirtied all the dishes and just left them spilling out of the sink. They opened all my mail and left it scattered on the kitchen table, took every cosmetic product out of the cabinet and arranged them all haphazardly around the bathroom sink, and stacked all the books I own in the middle of the bed after reading just the first chapters. Plausible, no? The ribbon all over the living room I can blame on them, although it's really my fault for leaving it out.

I'll pull myself together this week, perhaps, and then we'll hash it out about last year and this year and what it all means. Right now I'm drugging myself and going to bed, and I'll leave you with something so cute it'll make your teeth hurt. We might stop privately joking about how sick we make people now since Brent's cousin put it in writing.

Happy 2008, people, and here's to the holidays being over. I have a new year to conquer, dang it. [Sniffle. Cough. Whimper.]