Thursday, May 29, 2008


Off to Kansas City for a few days. Back Tuesday, late.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Up in Smoke

I'll tell you right now, I'm not a big fan of the magnifying glass-as-child's-plaything concept. Mostly because I myself once had many adventures with a pyrotechnic lens, and it never ends well. So the new people that moved into the smallest apartment, possibly 300 square feet on the top floor, are already not my friends, since they think that turning two six-year-olds loose in the yard with a magnifying glass is a good idea. I haven't seen an adult yet, but the little terrors prowling around in the bushes by my truck are freaking me out, and it won't last long.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Show Must Go On

I am a person who has been lucky to encounter very little disappointment in life. In general, my disappointments result from inordinately high expectations involving my own abilities, specifically where the ratio of work needed to achieve a desired result is concerned. Things are usually ridiculously easy for me without much effort at all. There are rare exceptions. Case in point: last Monday I fell short of the 70-point passing mark on my Level IV Wyoming Water Treatment Certification examination by 5 measly points. This is without a doubt because I didn't study.

I have an alarmingly short career attention span. Three years is all I can give pretty much anything, even things I like, and I like water treatment. A lot. But by the time I realized I could squeeze in a quick correspondence course -- which I finished the day before the deadline -- to earn the hours required to take my Level IV this spring instead of this fall or next year, I only had six weeks to study. And I found I couldn't. This spring I didn't care about much of anything, let alone van der Waals force or the Langelier index. I was too busy trying to work up the enthusiasm to stay alive.

And I figured that since last year's test was a cakewalk (I got an 85 without studying very hard at all), this year's couldn't be that bad. It's multiple choice. 100 questions. How bad could it be? It kicked my butt. But I found, after the initial shock and subsequent regret, that it didn't matter much. I've already moved on. My heart isn't in this anymore. I'm six months overdue for a new occupation, or at least a new location.

It's not like me not to finish important things. But I only needed a Level II to qualify for the next position up, to which I cannot advance for some time anyhow, and the III and IV were just things to achieve because, well, they were there. And I test well. ("A 65! That's a great score for your first time." How many people said that to me? Four? It was humiliating. But I deserved it.)

Bud didn't believe me. I called him from the cemetery in Rock Springs, sitting on Dad's granite headstone (one BIG disappointment in my life: my father's death at the age of 62 three years ago last month), catching faded polyester blossoms that rolled by like tumbleweeds on the wind and piling them on Grandma's headstone. "I flunked." "Bulls--t." "No, seriously. I got a 65." He'd had some wine already, so it took him a while, and his disbelief was gratifying. He was very kind and consoling. I don't think Bud's got it in him to reproach me even when I deserve it. I did tell him a few weeks ago I was having a hard time studying; "It's like nothing else will go in there." He was reading me Isaac Asimov Super Quizzes off the Internet, questions about theater and geography and World War II. He didn't seem concerned. He's retiring soon anyway.

And after I drove home, passing all the ponderous RVs swaying over the badlands, which look like the back side of the moon, I didn't think much about it all. The next day began with a crisis and continued with a conundrum, neither of which had to do with my failure, and my shame (which had never really been very strong to begin with) got lost in the muddle. T didn't have time to gloat, and in fact seemed genuinely sympathetic after he got over what was obviously genuine surprise.

Jeff I never worried about. He was the first one I called, and he could have said absolutely nothing and I still would have known that he was not disappointed in me. He had a hard enough time getting his Level IV twenty-some-odd years ago. The Sunday before the test, while I was cramming from the two-inch-thick Level II book, he said, "Let's take a walkabout, Ade." He said it just when my brain was about to explode. I must have been twisting my hair for all it was worth. He knows the signs.

So that's that, and I really hadn't thought about it again all week until I realized that I hadn't told you. So there you have it. If, God forbid, I'm not out of here by September, I'll take it again, and this time I'll be prepared. And in the meantime, on with the show.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Raoul doesn't seem to have changed much since I was a little girl, even after several years back in Spain. The same wiry, silver hair crimped above the same fluid face upholstered in pliant olive skin. The same booming voice tumbling from Spanish to heavily-accented, elegant English to Spanish again as he translates for his new wife, Carmen, who looks surprisingly unlike his late wife, Lena, her sister. But Carmen, also a widow, is delightful in her own right and all the more charming for not being the spitting image of Lena. She's slightly more dainty and pale than bosomy, motherly Lena, although she has the same shy smile and fine nose.

To me Raoul's voice is rich with backyard barbecues on the 4th of July, summer air crackling with anticipation for the fireworks (if it didn't decide to snow). Spring visits to the country to gather brown, speckled eggs and adore the awkward new lambs, tails freshly docked. When I hear Raoul I hear Kelly's father, Glen, shout, "Spaniard!" in that peculiar way he addressed his friend, challenging, admiring. I remember Raoul lifting me over fences, helping a toddling Kindra walk the top of a stone wall or hop from stone to stone in a creek. He is here from Spain to visit his grandchildren, and that is wonderful.

This is Carmen's first visit to the U.S. She seems a bit overwhelmed by us at the restaurant table until nine-year-old Britan Marie starts practicing her elementary Spanish, numbers and colors and tableware. My Spanish is the slightly evolved, peppered-with-slang Mexico Spanish, and rusty at that, but it begins to come back as Carmen speaks to June, who looks baffled.

There's always sign language. I show her the picture of Brent that's stored in my phone, the one in which he's smiling broadly at the camera and holding a pool cue, and she grins and runs her fingertips down her cheeks cooing, "Ooooo." She has lovely, expressive hands with long fingers and oval nails, and she politely waves away the waitress with them, claps them when Britan counts to veintidós, clasps them while waiting for me to stumble around missing words as if holding her tongue.

An hour flies by and she becomes increasingly animated, until by the end of the visit she is kissing cheeks and patting Britan's golden curls affectionately. She hugs me and says, "Mucho gusto!" I am transported for an instant, and without thinking, reply, "Yo tambien!" She's elated by this, exclaiming and kissing. And I am so pleased with her and pleased with my memory and pleased with Raoul for bringing her.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Star Struck

I came home with two hardback copies of a book tonight after hearing the author read a very brief scene and ramble very coherently and touchingly about the writing of the entire work. One book is simply signed with the author's autograph, the other with a personal inscription to my grandmother, who for twelve recent years was the mayor of the small Wyoming town in which the author has a home.

"Will you sign the second book to Rose Skinner?" I asked. The slight, freckled, unassuming author, whose good nature and humility reigned even in the fervor (there was a barbecue after the book signing, and children were running everywhere as people lined up, clutching new, blank books), looked perplexed and distant. Pen poised, she asked, "Why does that name sound familiar?" I told her. She nodded, grinned, and signed the book, "For Rose Skinner, who will know this wind." The internationally bestselling author was Alexandra Fuller, and the book is "The Legend of Colton H. Bryant," about a roughneck who was killed on an oil rig in the Jonah field here in Wyoming, just outside the town where Rose lives, just north of where Mom runs a hotel that is often full of boys a lot like Colton, who are also working on the rigs.

This was my first book signing, but I think it differed from most events of this sort in a significant way. Colton's boisterous family, including his parents, siblings, wife, and son, took up several tables at the front of the old wooden mercantile building we use for this sort of thing. They live here. His mom works at the school cafeteria where we take bacteriological samples every few months. Jeff shoes his father's horses. After Alexandra finished reading (and begging us not to ask questions; she was flustered and teary, kept trying to run a hand through hair that was pinned up), they played a slide show of photos of Colton's short life, and the event turned into an impromptu memorial, which was very touching. His small son pointed to a picture of Colton cradling him and exclaimed, "That's me!"

Alexandra was compelled to write the book after reading Colton's obituary in the local paper. She remarked several times (in a charming, cigarette-softened British accent) how dearly she hoped she "got Colton right." She explained how writing the book had changed her ideas about the oil field and energy, about religion, about many things. She affectionately complained about how hard it is to interview a cowboy; Colton's tall, lanky father, Bill, answered all questions "yes" or "no" from beneath his black felt ten gallon hat and never gave her direct instructions on anything, especially directions. She had long, tearful phone conversations with his mother, Kaylee. In fact, as she spoke tonight, she addressed many members of his family by name. They seem quite enamored with her. And why not? Who gets the chance to have their beloved son's tragically short life written and published for all the world to see and know by a famous author, and such a remarkable author, at that?

I loved Alexandra's first book, a gritty, poetic autobiography of her early years, "Don't Let's go to the Dogs Tonight: Tales of an African Childhood." To find her voluntarily transplanted to Wyoming (and she poked a lot of delightful fun at Jackson, where she has another home and, apparently, a psychiatrist) and writing a book about a lifestyle I know something about (and love, despite the fact that it's an ill fit for me right now) is, well, phenomenal. And before I slipped out the door, I admit, I whipped out the camera phone and got a quick shot of the thin, blonde figure behind the table, signing books.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


"One view called me to another; one hill top to its fellow, half across the county, and since I could answer at no more trouble than the snapping forward of a lever, I let the country flow under my wheels."
-Rudyard Kipling, "They"


I love silence so profound it makes my ears ring, but I wouldn't want to be deaf.

I enjoy some noise, certain types of noise. Indistinguishable background noise like the hum of a fridge. Orchestras tuning. I like the sound of the kids in the playground across the street when I'm home for lunch at noon, their shouts as they fling their coats on the brown grass on the rare days it reaches 50 degrees, the sounds of chains chiming on hollow iron as they swarm onto the swing set. I like the sound of diesel engines idling. I like the sound of sewing machines and distant roller coasters.

I like the sounds of a casino floor. I like the dramatic shiver of movie music right before something important or bad or surprising happens. I like birdsong in the evenings, but not in the morning. I love meadowlarks scolding or flirting any time of the day. I love the sound of the water flowing over the weir behind the wall in the pipe gallery at the plant or the blowers coming to life in the basement when I run an air purge on one of the filters. You don't want to be in the room with the blowers when they're running. Then you would be deaf.

I will blare the radio in the car (and not realize it until the next time I start the car), but I never turn the radio on at home or play mp3s or CDs or leave the TV on for company. To me, home is a place for silence and absolute peace. I suppose this is why my neighbors drive me insane. I had to ask Jasper to turn the bass down the other night. It's been throbbing through my earplugs until 3am lately and inspiring B.C. to have one-sided conversations with the bathtub drain. If I don't get more sleep, I may hear it answer him.

In Imperial Beach I grew accustomed to the crash of the Pacific on clear nights and the constant dual-rotor din of Chinooks in the airfield at the end of the street. I can sleep through any noise a train can dish out, no matter how near it is. I have so far failed to find a cellphone ringtone I could classify as pleasant. I like the sound of anything frying and small fires burning. Bonfires at Mission Beach were also fine, but not the demonic roar of a burning building, which I think I've only heard in movies. I like the quiet coughs, the flutter of pages, and the soft, self-conscious steps in a library, and the hiss of the vegetable mist system at the grocery store. I hate squeaky carts, because it usually means they also drive weird, especially with two 50 lb. bags of dog food in them.

I miss the click of flim cameras and I'm thrilled with digital cameras that approximate it, however unconvincingly. I like the choppy Tagalog babble at my favorite nail salon in San Diego and the buzz of Dremel tools on fingernails. I like the questioning tone Kitty uses when she wants attention and the sound of her claws getting stuck in the carpet when she walks and the way she crunches the cat food. B.C. swallows it whole. I like his fake cough under the table when he wants a squirt of Vaseline.

But mostly I just like it quiet.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More Adventures in Language

A: There's a blood-borne pathogens seminar on April 3rd.
Mar goan?
Translation: Wim* are goin', we/you are going?)
A: Mushood.
Translation: Wim should, I should.) The management manual here says it's a vital component of any emergency response plan.
Jeff: ... (with one eyebrow cocked)
Phone rings. Jeff answers it and carries on a brief conversation, speaking very respectable American English with a slight western drawl.
A: They'll be serving refreshments. Probably donuts.
Travis: Oh yeah, mar goan.

*"Wim" is Jeffspeak for "we." I swear. And yet, I understand this man perfectly, the first time, every time, and I have known few people in this world more intelligent than he is. As with everything in his life, he's just found ways to simplify the English language, that's all. The problem is that it's contagious.

Out with the Old...

I'm so weary. I'm so tired of dieting and studying and being pale and patient and cranky and cold. And, contradictorily, despite how desperate I am for change, I am also very tired of the new. I am sick of hailing the new ideal kitchen knife, the new athletic shoe innovation, the new hit song, the new, new, new, new. Everyone is inventing things with an eye to revenue and convenience instead of inventing things that are worthwhile and nontoxic and biodegradable.

But as much as I am tired of the new before it even arrives, I am also very tired of pretending I don't like a trendy cocktail or hot shoe or new song just because it's a hit with everyone else. (I thoroughly enjoyed a new song recently and later discovered, to my surprise, that the artist is Miley Cyrus. I'm still going to enjoy it the next time I hear it.) Maintaining a truly marginal* lifestyle must be exhausting, and possibly quite boring.

*I say this with more than a little sarcasm because the other day at the grocery store I glanced at a kid wearing baggy, dirty jeans, numerous piercings, black eyeliner and a mohawk, and I wanted so badly to walk up to him and point out that he's not doing anything that hasn't been done before, most of it decades ago. Even the elderly rancher in the Cadillac next to me was unfazed. I'm so tired of people trying to be different in the same old ways.

Silver Lining

I've been annoyed so repeatedly today that I don't know where to begin. Maybe I'll start with the ginormous SUV in my driveway, the one that's blocking Puck in, the one whose driver is apparently at a function at either the church across the street or the elementary school on the opposite corner. People are unbelievable.

I'm also slightly annoyed by the constant noise of the miniature dirt bike circling eternally in the backyard next door, revving repeatedly to navigate the corners in the small confines. In that vein, I'm also offended by the incessant barking of the ginormous Pomeranian on the other side of my kitchen wall. My incessant typing might be annoying it.

I was annoyed at having to hear the non-word "boughten" from two different mouths today.

There were other things I've endeavored to forget, so I won't recount them here.

The highlight of the day was when, in the middle of a quiet afternoon of study, Robbie whipped out his cellphone, dialed a number, and said, "Yes, I'm trying to get my hands on some lutefisk."

Monday, May 05, 2008

Knock on Wood

I got voluntarily kidnapped Friday and packed off to Thermopolis, Wyoming, one of my favorite places. Late last week I had been feeling unusually zen, so I thought a vacation weekend was worth a try. I did OK until Sunday, by which time we were all sapped, reeling from rushed buffet breakfasts and hours in the water and inferior hotel sleep that began too late and ended too soon. There was a 3-on-3 basketball tournament in town, so the hotels and main streets were swarming with adolescents, but it turned out not to be so bad. The museums were empty. The pools and slides were no more crowded than they would have been otherwise.

The drive up is always fun. I am an anticipation junkie, and on the way up I am still tough enough to remember other drives along the highway over the continental divide, like the trip up four years ago to retrieve Dad after surgery in Riverton. On the way home I was driving the Buick with Mom snoring quietly in the back seat and Dad asleep in the passenger seat in the front. He began to do strange things around Farson. He must have been dreaming about fixing something, mechanic that he was, because his hands flailed towards the dashboard, fingers flicking and flexing while he murmured an unintelligible diagnosis. He chuckled and maybe cursed.

On the way up I am not yet too tired to face the memory of Dad four years ago at the rest area at South Pass, huffing, cursing uncooperative limbs, asking no one in particular, “Is this me for the rest of my life?” Inwardly cringing, suffering for him, I scoffed to be encouraging; it turned out the answer was yes, but only for a year or so. He’s been gone three years this April, and M and I were remarking over the weekend how much we miss him. That, I suppose, is only natural.

It was pleasant weather at 4,300 feet (2,700 less than here, where it’s still too wintry for my taste), 60 miraculous degrees in the sun, and we spent most of the weekend in bathing suits. Most of my skin hasn’t seen sunlight in seven months, since I gave up shorts and T-shirts in October. After that length of time, it’s odd to see your own toes in the grass; your own forearm out the open window of a car seems almost foreign. My wrist and hand were paper white in the sunlight, almost glowing.

These were my thoughts as I waited my turn at the slide, perched on the edge of an imbedded platform spewing jets of lukewarm sulfur water. You’d be surprised what thoughts bob to the top during the thirty second ride, too, as you become a human projectile in a dirty plastic tube. The plastic is green and halfway translucent, stained reddish brown with iron and manganese at the edges of the path of the constant flow of water. My elbows and knees and tailbone are bruised from the joints and sudden spirals in the tube and the edges of the rough cement trough at the bottom, and I still find it fun.

A few weekends ago, after a visit to a hot spring in Utah with a similar hydrotube (photos of which you see below, although I didn't include the ones I took of myself in the tube), I came down with a nasty something that felt like the plague. I lost 5 pounds in 24 hours and nearly froze to death on the inside while cooking on the outside. It could have come from anywhere: the fast food restaurant we stopped at after the hot springs, the locker room, the water itself, some infected person or tainted raw spinach I encountered during the week leading up to the trip. Who knows? These things happen. But usually to someone else.

I am generally recovered now, even from the head cold that followed, although I’m still noticing heightened sensitivity to noises and vibration, and things don’t taste right, particularly artificial flavors, which I usually don’t mind. I am determined to remain healthy throughout all the adventures slated for the next four months, and I figure with that big one out of the way, I should be home free.