Monday, December 31, 2007

excuse me, ma'am, but your age is showing ...

if, 20 hours ago, you had asked me how i want to spend my new year's eve, i'd have given you the sullen eye-roll of a teenager and sneered: please, woman. keep up. we're going to superior.

ah, superior, wisconsin, which knows no closing time on new year's eve. in something clearly born of jesus christ himself, you can drink until you are done with the bar, rather than until the bar is through with you. as you know, my greatest pet peeve in a world that smells like a kennel filled with peevery, is the stern and grunty "last call" of a husky sixth year business major.

last year we celebrated at builder's saloon, attached to the skeezy stargate, where a seven dollar cover charge bought us what was billed as the largest balloon drop in the city. and despite the weak mixes, there was a novelty in drinking ourselves sober. faces slack with sleep deprevation and drink, one eye closed, yawning looks across the table.

"are you going to have another?"
"yesh. are you?"

so it was animal instinct making the superior call again this year. like there was any question about it. then, while trying to come up with an actual destination, i was blank. bars were either too far off tower avenue, too nondiscript, or too stargate. and then, lightning.

"we don't have to go to superior," i realized.

more than half of the people involved in the celebration probably consider "last call" like the bell at the end of a school day; the extra hours like a boozy detention in a dark and smokey cell. and frankly, i don't really need to be at a bar until 4 or 5 a.m.

this change of thinking kind of blew my mind. so now we're going out in duluth. to a convenient location where, if pressed, we can walk home at the end of the night.

then i immediately bought myself a new pair of jeans from abercrombie just to keep myself centered. and, for dessert, i'm going to wear very impractical shoes.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

i smell somfing ...

other than the word cazzo, maria taught me that it is very important to wear red underwear on new year's eve.


i found maria sitting in the guidance office during the first week of my senior year of high school. she was very thin, with a sort of plaid chin-length bob. pretty, but the kind of exotic pretty that the boys of lourdes high school would not recognize for years. she was wearing a combination of clothes that was either inventive and risky, or begged for a sassy magazine tutorial. turns out it was the former: maria was a foreign exchange student from turin, italy, sporting a european color palate that defied conventional minnesota fashion.

i was on year 12 staring at the same faces, navigating the same old personality quirks. i knew about seventy percent of my best friends before they knew cursive. i liked the idea of having a friend who had never seen me with a perm. i wanted to be maria's all-american high school tour guide: the front row at boys' basketball games, maid rite's and mr. misty's from dairy queen, pep fests, watching movies in polish's living room, his mom serving us chocolate chip cookies. slumber parties, state tournaments, sledding at judd park.

everything maria knew about being an american teenager came from watching "90210." unfortunately for her, we were more like "saved by the bell."


maria loved mcdonalds. from the back seat of my car she would pipe: "i would like one hamburger," and hold up her bony index finger.

"hmm," she would say, wrinkling her nose, "i smell somfing ...?"

she studied the eagles' point guard jason, an athletic and cute junior, as he dribbled down the court. "hmmm ...," she said. "is there a potato in his pants?" and then took to calling him "big cazzo" for the rest of the season.

"keep your eyes on the road, your hands. upon. the wheel," she would sing to herself, a huge doors fan.

unlike the rest of american teenagers, maria prefered brenda walsh to kelly taylor. in italy, brenda's dubbed voice was better than kelly's dubbed voice and this made a great difference in beverly hills loyalty.


lourdes high school must have been an endless string of disappointments for maria. she came from a world of discotheques on school nights. we all had curfews. high school dances were supposed to be where girls slapped each other and virginity loss found an audience in the back of a limo, but maria's prom date was just a friend and the kind of friend you don't even brush your teeth for.

on the cusp of 1994, neva threw a new year's eve party in her parent's basement, just like she did every year since eighth grade. bbq weiners, doritos, coke and a card table. maybe a movie or game -- like the previous year when we had thrown names into a hat, then spent three minutes on her water bed kissing one of our boy friends: a handful of guys that ranged from "only three minutes?!" to gay to "can i wrap my face in syran wrap first?"

maria explained to us that in italy it is a tradition to wear red underwear on new year's eve. it brings luck. if you wear purple, on the other hand, you will have terrible luck for the year. princess linda and i took this very seriously. i dug through a discount bin in search of something silky and red. i could use a little luck.

neva's party was my front. princess linda and i were actually scheduled to sneak out her back door sometime around 11 p.m., for a nearby party with the class that graduated a year ahead of us. the night was pure drama. princess linda's crush ignored her; my boyfriend's exgirlfriend called the party from lawrence, kansas, her voice received a hero's welcome. "gawd," i rolled my eyes. "she's a division one basketball player, not ace of base."

neva's mom saw us sneak back into the basement at 6 a.m., but didn't narc us out. neva, however, was mad for the rest of the school year. maybe even now.


neva's party sucked, maria explained. at midnight neva was staring at a game of computer solitaire; betsy was laying on the waterbed. the boys were in the backyard on the playground equipment used by neva's mom's daycare kids.

"... and polish and i were in the living room watching 'dying young,'" maria said, "why would neva rent 'dying young' for a new year's eve party?"

even donna martin knew better than that.


graduation was the final bored shrug for maria: 86 of us wrapped in purple and gold table cloths, crammed into the high school gym. family's sprawled across the bleachers. "do not, under any circumstances, toss your cap into the air," the principal told us, inferring that somehow this infraction would result in summer school or jail.

"i thought we would have graduation outside," maria sighed.
and that's when i knew that no amount of hamburgers, basketball games, dances or doors' tapes could erase the fact that we had stolen a year of maria's life. and she wasn't happy.

my night ...

chuck: "one time ... i saw this episode of third rock from the sun ...?"

Saturday, December 29, 2007

i wanna iguana ...

for christmas, ma pista got me a very generous gift card to a sporting goods store, based upon me quickly keying "running shoes" onto my list just so there was something to counter balance what i really wanted: "guitar hero."

i, of course, had bought myself a pair of running shoes the same day i made the list, assuming that no one would buy me shoes for christmas. i'm a seven and a half or an eight -- and if i'm gifted one size, it always turns out i'm the other. to my mom i will swear that i am a seven and a half because occasionally she mistakes a pair of steve madden's or bandolino's for aerosoles while shoe shopping, and i reap the benefits of her uncomfortable, size seven and a half fashion errors.

i would really like to put my gift card toward a snowboard. really, it is all that i can think about. and when chuck accused me of wanting a snowboard because i'm jealous that my niece mel got one, all i could do is grunt and say "i know you are, but what am i?"

right now, i come to you saying that i want a snowboard. i will use a snowboard. if i have my own snowboard, i can tool around in chester park, in the yard. and during the grandest of snowstorms, hell, i can snowboard to the shanty bottle shop. i can do spirit mountain or mont du lac. and i will! once a week at least!

and in my head, i'm also purchasing snowpants and a hat with ear flaps, and i'm making a special spirit mountain playlist for my ipod.

unfortunately, this sounds very familiar to me. insert: "easel, acrylic paints, canvas and brushes," or "hockey skates, stick, puck and tape for my hockey stick," or "knitting needles and yarn," or "conversational spanish learning tapes" then "conversational swedish learning tapes" then "conversational spanish learning cds," and "a juicer." "2000, 2002, 2006 editions of the writer's market." sometimes i go eight months without using my 42-dollar/month YMCA membership.

i have a tendency to make spontaneous, expensive purchases that point toward what i would like my life to look like, get all jacked up and caffinated on big ideas, then yawn and go back to staring at the moving pictures on television.

the guitar i got for free. it was my mom's.

i'd like to think this snowboarding thing is different. i've wanted one for at least four years. that i've only snowboarded three times in that span should not matter: it is too expensive to rent equipment that often. but if i had my own equipment ... i'm not terrible at it. i'm about what you would expect from a 32 year old who never learned to ski, and has the opposite of hand-eye coordination -- which simply means i can do things involving legs and feet, but would be unable to whack jolly ranchers and gum from a pinanta.

i like the speed, the wind, the way it doesn't necessarily hurt when you fall. the ski lift, the way you can actually feel yourself improving. i like the hat with ear flaps and i like the way a beer tastes afterward. that afterward, being unable to use a bathroom stall unless it has handrails because even dropping to a sitting position makes my muscles sting.

i want a snowboard. what the hell else am i going to do with that gift card? buy a bike? hmmm ... a bike ...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

in the toi-lit ...

i'm standing in barnes and noble with a good old fashioned case of soap-opera style amnesia. like my skull was lifted like a cookie jar lid; brain swabbed of any sort of literary recollection. i'm surrounded by approximately a trillion and a half books. i can't think of one that i want to read: no hardcovers i was waiting to morph into trade paperbacks; no new writers who have picqued my interest; no old writers i have wanted to read more of. or even if oprah's O-of-approval is something i like or loathe. forty dollars of gift cards jammed into my purse for naught.


who the hell am i?


this year has been conspicuously void of book. there is "endless love" -- which was stowed spread eagle at the base of the toilet until the binding broke. but as you know, this is just for my extended stays, legs propped on the edge of the bathtub -- not the casual stop, drop and drip. so eight months later, i just finished it five minutes ago.

"endless love," for the uninitiated, is not the greatest book of all time. it smells like 1974, and if it could it would grow leg hair. but it was pretty damn close to the perfect toilet read: or, toi-lit, if you will.


fact: like everyone else in the world, i read at an advanced level before the rest of my kindergarten classmates. i'm sure you did, too.


in college i took an advanced poetry writing class and we had an assignment to read a collection of someone else's work, someone successful's work, and critique it. my most well-received poem that year was about my classmate daniel's oversized and faded gap jeans, and how they hung from his artist-starved waist. [daniel's poem was about how all of his love for annamarie was carried in a leaky old bucket.]

i walked to the hungry mind bookstore and plopped down in front of the poetry section. a young male employee asked me if he could help me find anything specific. i explained the assignment and added:

"i want something recent, preferably by a woman, that i can understand."
he fondled his goatee and translated "hm ... contemporary, nonesoteric poetry by a female author ..." and stared off into space.
"um. right," i said.


fact: i pulled an all-nighter in elementary school, finishing the sweet valley high book where elizabeth wakefield's boyfriend todd moves away. to this day, bon jovi's "i'll be there for you" reminds me of todd and elizabeth.


i worked part time at an old downtown rochester theater that was converted into a barnes and noble off and on for about four years. and for about two years i worked at the store in highland park in st. paul. spending this much time around books, touching and smelling new copies, shelving fiction or even the language tapes and cds, turned me into ole goatee face from the hungry mind bookstore.

i learned to become pretty discriminate about my own reading. some things were only worthy of a quick scan in the breakroom -- the "endless love" sort of book -- and i brought some home. i also learned to blindly loathe anything that everyone in rochester was reading.

no "tuesday's with morrie," no "memoirs of a geisha," no "harry potter," no "celestine prophesy," no tami hoag or john grisham or nora roberts. no maeve binchy.

i was becoming a bit of a snob.


fact: my last actual boyfriend and i were lounging on the deck at the smiling moose. most of the customers were gone. i was about two tall honey weiss's deep. "if we had more money, we'd be just like the fitzgerald's," he mused.

i fell for him quite hard in that moment, even though that would probably make me zelda fitzgerald -- while colorful, also certifiably crazy.


fact: i averaged 62 books a year between 2003-2005.


fact: i have an entire bookcase in my apartment filled with things i thought i wanted to read, but became distracted away from the second i got something newer.


i'm trying to remember the last time i read something i really loved. it would probably date back two years to when i went all "complete collection" on jay mcinerney, then set out to read writers who were influenced by him and vice versa. then there was the addiction memoir phase ... i've gone through phases of just hemingway, just fitzgerald, susan orlean, and i really liked "kavalier and clay." "my misspent youth" by meghan daum remains in my top five.

i recently bought a barbara kingsolver book. i have been known to hate her.


i'm standing in barnes and noble, 40 dollars worth of gift cards, and i can't think of anything. my old cell phone had lists of books i wanted to read. things i read about online or in magazines. my old cell phone was stolen.

two hours later, the only title i can think of is "until we came to the end" by joshua ferris -- which is being panned, and panned hard, by one of my favorite bloggers.

and the store is closing, so that is what i buy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

a very 'what're you ugly betty' christmas ...

we stole out of town in the late hours of christmas eve. a trunk filled with unwrapped gifts and the nauseating hunger of two people who sometimes forget that after this meal, eventually there needs to be another, and that even a place that celebrates demonic intestinal wizardry -- like white castle -- closes for christmas.

"i'm a little hungry," i say. my dinner of an amy's matar paneer and about 12 hersey's cherry chocolate kisses has evaporated.
"me, too," chuck agrees.

we whiz past blue signs: taco bell, burger king, subway, shell stations, bps, marathons ... and each sign increases the ratio of empty space in my stomach. it's like elementary school when i would eat the contents of my sack lunch on the bus on the way to school -- chips, oatmeal cream pie, white bread with sandwish spread, capri sun -- and then four hours later, spend my time in the cafeteria making anemic, emaciated faces at my classmates' baggies filled with oreos and doritos.

"now i'm super hungry," i say.
"me, too," chuck agrees.

we spend 20 minutes deconstructing white castle's menu:

"i think i could probably, at most, eat five jalapino cheese burgers," i say.
"yeah. that's about what i could do, too," chuck says.
"although ... i could go for an order of cheese sticks. or chicken rings," i muse.

toby's is closed. white castle is closed. what follows is a stretch of highway void of truck stops. what ever happened to truck stops? sassy waitresses wearing blue eyeshadow, agreeable to a whack on the fannie, and their clientele of chain smoking coffee drinkers?

"i want an omellette," i whine.
"i want a sliced turkey sandwich," chuck dreams.


we off-ramp in st. paul and head to mickey's diner. the streets of our capital are empty, per usual. this is always confusing to me. i've hit traffic jams at 3 a.m. in minneapolis; in st. paul i've cross major streets at midday without even bothering to look both ways. and at 2 a.m., the desolation is even more obvious. i make u-turns with the understanding that if no one sees me abusing traffic laws, then i didn't do it. damn i love st. paul.

the diner is moderately busy: a few men at the counter; a woman alone, singing christmas songs, dancing, a strand of gold ribbon tied in her hair; two men squeezed into a booth, stoned, pupils like cartoonish bowling balls; two college girls -- one from st. ben's, the other from nebraska, sharing french fries and catching up.

the man who is sharing my booth bench is a real leg shaker. jittery. a bobber. i'm bouncing by proxy, my words vibrating, i'm convinced this man could rock this trolley car off its foundation. send us rolling through these empty streets. i hate him.

i order a ham and cheese omellette and hash browns.

st. ben's is rattling off the accomplishments of the past semester. it is a litany of "hooking up," text messages, nights spent at st. john's and house parties. "oh! then what happened ... did i tell you about the guy from st. cloud?" she asks. her friend, who seemingly has a boyfriend back in lincoln, shakes her head. and another story.

i can't get enough. i want to scooch over and join their table.
"whatever," st. ben's says. "i'm sure that if you didn't have a boyfriend, you'd have this much fun, too."

"i feel like i'm watching 'the hills'" chuck says.
he's right. from him, this is not a compliment. to me, this is the ultimate form of entertainment.

leaving, the woman with ribbon in her hair cackles drunkenly as i walk past.
"what're you, ugly betty?" she slurs. "you might be actually cute if you weren't wearing that hat."
i laugh heartily.
meanwhile, our waitress doesn't seem to care that we've skipped out on half of our bill. when i return to fix the situation, she seems pretty ho hum about the whole almost-shoplifting that has just occured. she is laughing with another waitress, turns to me and blows a gusty wind of booze in my direction.

ah. i see.


we arrive at my parents house in rochester at about 4 a.m. chuck settles into the den on a pull out couch. i'm assigned couch space in the living room, far, far away from any sort of out-of-wedlock spooning and blanket sharing.

this isn't really that big of a deal. so what if i haven't not shared a blanket with chuck since like march. on the other hand, i actually remember when my parents were my age. this makes me feel old enough for the comfort of a version of a bad, rather than a stiff and decorative piece of furniture where my feet dangle freakishly over the arm.

i am an ogre.


we wake and open presents.

i find a new area of trivia strength: encyclopedia brown cases. if you, for instance, say "the case of the happy nephew," without even reading the story i can tell you that leroy "encyclopedia" brown solves the mystery when the man's nephew runs across the hood of the car, proving that the man did not just return from anywhere because if he were telling the truth THE HOOD WOULD HAVE BEEN TOO HOT!

give me another one.

my neice wins the christmas loot competition. i wish i'd thought to put some of her gifts on my list. she segues easily from educational reading to a robot dog to "i spy" books. she's more entertaining than a battlestar galactica marathon.


chuck and i are charged with grilling shrimp. we hunker over the grill in the laundry room, trying to turn these mini, veiny parenthetical urchins into something edible. making sure they are thoroughly cooked is very important to me.

we invent a reality tv show called: hey, who's watching the shrimp.

on this week's episode of "hey, who's watching the shrimp," the cast of allie mcbeal is in charge of grilling.

"i'm not watching the shrimp," calista flockhart complains. "it makes me feel fat."
"i just gained 3 pounds smelling the marinade," courtney thorne smith adds with her finger down her throat.

we eat crab legs, shrimp, potatos, salad, rolls. my family has taken to calling me "ugly betty." i find my high school letter jacket in the basement. there are gloves, a quarter and a granola bar in the pocket. the lining has been autographed by one of the more successful lourdes girls basketball state championship teams. the signatures are smudged.

i grab the coat for the road, suspecting there will be a reason to wear this at some point.


traffic is a bitch. at some point near cannon falls, minnesota, my speedometer indicates that i am traveling at a speed less than 0 mph. we continue to roll slowly from there, through st. paul and beyond forrest lake. finally near pine city i am able to drive the speed limit. almost.

this entire trip back takes approximately 6 hours, requiring bold chex mix, bottled water and gas station coffee.


we are barely into duluth city limits when we veer toward superior, where liquor stores know no holiday. we purchase captain morgan, coke zero, a leinie's lodge. a digiorno's pizza from the ghetto spur.

we play wii: mario and sonic at the olympic games until my wrist feels the exhaustion of a thousand homecoming queens in a thanksgiving parade. around 2 a.m. we begin a game of monopoly. we tie, agreeing that while he has more money, i will eventually win at 8 a.m. if we continue this game.

we close the night with back-to-back episodes of scooby doo where are you and the pizza.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

stupid swirly mess of blue ...

i cannot even believe what is happening outside right now, speaking of little house on the prairie. chuck stared at an online weather radar map and groaned.

"do you even know what that means?" i asked.
"this blue stuff," he said pointing to a circular mess of swirl. "that's snow."

it is very windy and pizza man and papa john's have denied the opportunity to fill my face with cheese bready flavored holiday spirit. i'm going to eat my elbow for dinner.

i haven't finished christmas shopping, which means another year of gifts from the ghetto spur: beef jerkey for my six year old niece, mel; matching scratch off lottery tickets for my parents; pork rinds for brother pista; windshield washer fluid for my sister-in-law and two cans of hormel chili for chuck.

i've been referencing the hour-to-hour weather report to gauge when my mood will improve. seems like maybe at about 6 a.m. monday.

if i were to count my blessings right now, it would be that a) chuck has cable and tvio: i finally got to see an episode of the the real housewives of orange county, and gossip girl thus far seems unaffected by the writer's strike; b) no one is here to critique my hygienic negligence.

happy birthday, jesus!

Friday, December 21, 2007

a funny thing happened in my mouth ...

apparently i'm allergic to kiwi. i had a suspicion about it, considering everytime i go through a kiwi-eating phase the inside of my mouth begs for the soothing touch of a steel wool lozange. i just assumed that my mouth itched because i was about to win money, or someone was thinking about me. mostly, i've let the deliciousness of kiwi distract me from its ill effects.

i don't really believe in allergies, per se. just like i don't believe in migraines, twisted ankles or chronic back pain. sinus infections and kidney stones. these are all pure fiction created by people who know that sometimes you need to leave a place immediately, and it helps if your reason has a latin-sounding name.

besides, i already get frequent urinary tract infections. that keeps me plenty busy. it would be redundant to saddle me with another special medical anomaly. there are plenty of people in the world stuffing their faces with kiwi, snorting pollen, doing back-walkovers and being very, very reckless with their ankel-care. these people are craving hives. these people want a reason to buy an embroidered epi-pen holder. these people seem ripe for a kiwi situation. not me.

today was my third day of what i had hoped would be a new food marathon: a mix of yogurt, kiwi, and blueberries, topped with apple cinnamon granola. something i can feel good about going all old country buffet about, stuffing that junk into my face like its an eating contest. and for the third consecutive day, my mouth felt like i'd been sucking on chicken pox.

finally, i consulted my very thorough, very factual dr. worldwideweb, who confirmed that kiwi allergies are common. and among those with kiwi allergies, more than 80 percent are sawing away at the insides of their mouth with a fork, like me. other's get puffy. turn red. suffocate. puke and wheeze.

i also learned that mixing kiwi with dairy products is never a good idea. the somethings in one attack the somethings in the other, leaving you with a digestive nightmare that sounds akin to the fantastic chili incident of 2007. this explains another bodily complication i thought i'd not have to share with the world. i thought i could just let it pass, so to speak. but since it ties into my kiwi allergy ... let's just say a less classy girlfriend would totally dutch oven her special someone. let's just say i have exhausted my excuses to leave the room abruptly, sometimes in mid-sentence. meanwhile, chuck's neighbors think i've taken up playing tuba solos on the back deck.

i also learned that a person with a kiwi allergy is more likely to also be allergic to latex.

looks like that fantasy where i dance around the kitchen wearing yellow dishwashing gloves and eating kiwi is never going to come to fruition. hope that isn't a deal breaker: it could kill me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

now that's totally tab-ular ...

if there is one life rule i know, it is this: in minnesota, you have a 10 day window between the day your tabs expire and when you are actually running afoul of the law.

two years ago, there were three cars housed at my duplex and three of us received tickets for expired tabs on the same day one week, then again on the same day the next week. i had been on my way to buy tabs when i began thinking about a pair of tall brown boots from izzy magie, a local independent shoe store on superior street. i left the wells fargo ATM and drove straight to the store -- conscientious if only because it was closer than the DMV -- bought the boots, then wrote a lengthy post about how much i loved them, and how i was going to lick them to sleep that night.

upon issuing my third consecutive expired-tabs ticket a few days and a new pair of boots later, the policeman ran my plates and realized that if they towed my car and used the sum total of my unpaid parking tickets as ransom, the streets of duluth could be repaved in heated golden nuggets, with a little extra money for a magic chocolate fountain in canal park.

lesson learned. i sentenced myself to those damn boots for two straight years, shaving my legs around them.

last year i started thinking about my tabs a month ahead of the expiration date. i continued to think about them five, six, eight days after the expiration date. they became my most romantic fantasy: me at the dmv, waiting in line. waiting some more. waiting some more. taking a number. writing a $103 check. shaking the stickers at the clerk and screeching "you call these stickers! i had cooler stickers on my trapper keeper when i was 10 and they were, like, 99 cents! and puffy!"

on december 11, 2006, around 12:15 a.m. i was pulled over for having a burnt out tail light. then the cop noticed the expired tabs. [i also couldn't find my proof of insurance. oh, and, my address on my liscense still listed a home in rochester where i hadn't lived for 5ish years; where my parents hadn't lived for more than two years.]

"but i have until the 10th!" i whined.
"it's the early hours of the 11th," he explained.
"but the 10th was a sunday! the dmv isn't open on sundays!" i bargained.

this time i was let off with a hearty lecture.
i promised i would get tabs the next day.

remember when cops used to carry football cards? i had the complete collection. they don't do that anymore. i think i asked.

last year, my front tab fell off the day i got it. a wet plate won't hold glue.

this year i got my new tabs about five days after they expired. a sort of yoda conundrum: late, yet early. i didn't put them on my plates until the 10th. i had all sorts of excuses about it being too cold, the streets too gooey for the stickers to stay attached; can't find my mittens. but i think it was an underlying passive aggressive, anti authority gesture.

and then when i saw what i had done, i knew this was true.

this photo is blurry because i took it at the ghetto spur tonight. the car in front of me was revving and using the speakers of his car to send morse code through the earth to china. his message: yes, there are at least a dozen deli express sandwiches in the cooler. meanwhile, i had images of him flailing backward, pinning me to the roof of my car. my legs from then on hanging limp and lifeless, which is currently my hair's job. so, i was rushed.

i wish i could say i put this tab on upside down because i thought it would be clever to deke out the man; make them think i was cool on tabs until 2080. but that didn't even cross my mind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

it's not a fashion shoe ...

it was with great shame that i laced up my first pair of running shoes on the first day of the junior high track season. they were dingy grey asics, reflective, with red trim. they were ugly. the disappointing result of an afternoon spent in rochester's athletic shoe stores with a checkbook holder who saw no flaw in ugly.

here is a rationale that will have little to no impact on a 13 year old girl: c'mon christa. it's track practice, not a fashion show.

um, false? what, for a seventh grader, constitutes a fashion show, if not junior high track practice? boys, check. judgemental eighth grade girls, permed, glossed and swelled to resemble something that could not scientifically be just one year older? check.

that sounded a hell of a lot like a fashion show to me.

i spent the night before our first practice on the phone with an equally naive future trackster. my best friend princess linda -- more vain than even i, but only because she could afford to be. her dad worked for IBM. her shoes were ugly, too. baby blue and white. we were doomed. we probably wept. we probably wrote about it in our diaries.

funny that it didn't occur to me that not being able to find cute running shoes probably meant that in 1988, no such thing existed. so the only people who noticed my shoes at practice were the people i cornered and confided: seriously. look at my ugly shoes. and wearing them around the eighth-grade girls did nothing to trigger a snark attack. they all had ugly shoes, too. it was like it hadn't even occured to them to pick at this one raw area of a seventh-grader's psyche. as for the boys? they were too busy looking at the eighth grade girls' perms, gloss and swells.

it was as if junior high track practice wasn't even a fashion show.

a few weeks later, when i got special spikes for racing and long jumping, ugly had become the new super-cool. the uglier the shoe, the super-cooler they were. then, not only did they have to be ugly, they had to smell bad. like rotten onions left in the rain. when your backpack, your locker, your hair and your bedroom had absorbed the smell, you knew your track and field career was off the ground. by the time your toenails turned black and fell off, you were probably a state-caliber athlete. if you could belch a coherent word? valedictorian, if not just homecoming queen.

the ugly shoe theory obviously changed my life.

so, i've never owned a pair of pretty running shoes. well, once i had a pretty kicky pair of futuristic-looking nike's. blue and black, hidden laces, thin soles. comfortable as tube socks, but with less support.

these are my latest. i can't wait until the whole freakin' town smells like my feet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

the big game ...

it is obvious that the person who chooses what we watch on the tv's at the ymca and i have nothing in common. any time we could possibly spend together in the real world would likely be filled with awkward pauses and quotes from "terminator."

tonight i jumped on a treadie next to an acquaintance and we exchanged hi-how-are-ya's before he responded to my "what's happenin'?" with a "just watching the game."

the game? oh. the game.

the vikings game, taking up three consecutive screens with all its monday night football wonder.

"ah," i said. "i forgot that was on tonight."
and he laughed in a way that suggested he had already tuned me out in favor of listening to the radio broadcast of the game to accompany the visual, or he thought i was kidding.

i was not kidding at all; i have no interest in football whatsoever.

these are the only circumstances under which i have enjoyed football:

laying on my stomach on the floor of my parent's basement. fire in the fireplace. beer and cheese soup for dinner. algebra II text book open in front of me. leaking drool onto the pages. i think the announcers really set up the perfect oratory ambience for a high school sophomore's sunday night nap.

i don't ignore football. that would suggest i'm purposely giving it a wide berth. i genuinely forget it exists and sometimes will go two, three days without knowing whether the vikings won or lost -- unless someone mentions the game on their blog or someone says the score on public radio.

there was usually a football game on in my parent's house. i went to six years worth of high school football games, but that was more for the romantic potential of a post-game at godfather's pizza. i didn't go to football games in college -- no one did unless the tommies were playing the johnnies. and if it was the rivalrous matchup, there was a sort of prerequisite that you have at least eight other friends who want to wake up and immediately begin drinking beer in the parking lot so that you were properly stupid by noon's kickoff. i had like two friends in college, and whatever the opposite of school spirit is.

i also enjoy having a boyfriend whose schedule does not need to be altered based upon halftime chicken wing specials and fierce packer loathing. when chuck and i were first dating, we had a hilarious sunday ritual where we would wake late then say with a start: "crap! we missed the vikings game!" or "if we get up right now, we can catch the end of the game!"

then we would laugh ourselves dizzy.

so ... i was done at the ymca before the game ended, but the bears were leading. i have no idea what happened, but i can live with that.

Monday, December 17, 2007

a three burrito weekend ...

i am the kind of hungover robert downey jr. perfected in '80s movies.
light hurts my head, my own breath hurts my head, hair hurts my head.

i'm not alone.
"i better wear my glasses," chuck says. "if i'm not focused on one specific thing, the entire world goes" [here he makes a gesture to indicate 'tilty.']

we spent yesterday dabbling in the kind of pedestrianism that can only end with some guy named chad reading pasta specials to you in spotty italian at the olive garden.
thankfully, we come to our nonpedestrian senses short of that.
but we do go to the mall.
the first person i hate is a woman careening drunkenly, and slowly, on a motorized scooter.
what kind of asshole gets mad at a woman on a rascal? me.
"doesn't she know those things can go 30?" i hiss to chuck.

behind me a man says "i mean, i'm not even sure what it would take to make that smell."

this has nothing to do with the woman, or either of us, as far as i can tell.


american eagle is teeming with 16 year old girls.
then i remember: if you are going to dress like a high school sophomore, you should try your hardest to not be annoyed when you shop elbow to bony elbow with them.

chuck sends me a text message from his half of the mall: hickory farms has samples.
we deny the holiday spirit breathing room, and load up on trinkets for ourselves.

we go to target and spend a half hour smelling liquid body soap.
what i really want is something that cleans my body and makes it smell good.
what i do not want is soap that covers my own smell until the exact moment that i come in contact with other people.

none of the bottles specify that they will work in this way.
in fact, none even necessarily say they are soap. they are "body wash."
that sounds like a waste of lather.

we are at cub foods, buying:
kielbasa for the meat raffle.
two low cal powerades for sunday's rejuvenation process.
wild rice soup, which i'm craving despite having never liked wild rice soup.
emergency burritos.
kielbasa for red beans and rice.
and an onion.

right after i accidentally exclaim "that's tits!" without considering the age of my fellow shoppers -- including a precocious tot with his arms in his t'shirt who i've just beaned in the fontanelle, not expecting something three feet tall to be zipping about -- chas says "i'm surprised there aren't more murderous rages."

"during the holidays?" i ask.
"no. on saturdays," he replies.

we make a special trip to the ghetto spur for special gas station burritos

we eat dinner at burrito union.
this will be one of three burritos i will consume over the weekend.
this will also be the best burrito consumed over the weekend -- namely because i caught amnesia for the second burrito and the third was medicinal.

we prepare to go out.
i put on my internet face. i put my face on the internet.


we go to a chris monroe's art show at starfire screenprinting.
chuck buries the kielbasa meat deep in a snow bank, rather than carrying it around for an hour.
we stand close enough to the keg so we don't even have to bend over for a refill.
then we look at all the art, which by now is sold.
disappointing, because the pastel of a pink bunny on a bar stool by a pabst sign speaks to me.
it is saying "merry 2007 christmas, chuck!"


chuck digs the meat out of a snowbank, and we head to mr. d's for the 35th annual birthday rally in spirit valley.

the party's slogan is: buy us drinks win you meat!
i enter about two or three times.
i'm not sure what i will do with a 50 dollar slab of meat.
i have a 30 pound slab of meat running around my apartment, defecating next to his litter box, and i don't know what to do with that, either.
and as for the kielbasa, chuck had bought an extra just to get me to stop saying "i hope i win the keilbasa! i wanna win the kielbasa!" at cub foods.
i, of course, win the kielbasa.

through the course of the party, i will talk. a lot. about knitting, cancer, blogging.
facebook, fish, hair.
i, apparently, can talk about these things for upward of three consecutive hours.

a woman is dissatisfied with not winning in the meat raffle.
she finds no success in trying to coax the slab from the winner, who incidentally purchased the slab for the party.
it is locked in his trunk.
in fact, it never left the trunk.
i tell her she can have my kielbasa for two drinks: one for me, one for that special someone over there in the corner taking the equivilant of graduation portraits of each individual fish in the acquarium for the past 45 minutes.
deal, she says.
we hug after i hand her the kielbasa ring.

we take a cab home well before the bar has closed.
i haven't left a bar before last call since i was seven.
but chuck is in a certain way by now.

i crank out two gas station burritos.
he eats one bite and goes to sleep on the wrong side of the bed.
i fall in next to him about 20 minutes later.

i have such a terrific headache, that it wakes me at 7 a.m.
i stumble toward pain relief, then sleep five more hours and wake feeling like a champion.
until i notice the sunlight.
then i cower.

thankfully, the night did not end in the emergency room and i still have all of my teeth.
these are the two things i worry about most when i go out big.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

nine oh two one ohhhh ...

me: if i could wear anything in the world today, it would be tall boots with fuzzy fur lining over a pair of leggings and a long sweater.
chuck: do you have that?
me: no.
chuck: you should check shannen doherty's closet.

Friday, December 14, 2007

i caught OCD from a treadie ...

of course, the physical part of running is taxing to my thighs, my calves, my rumpus, which all feel like each individual fiber was pureed. i have a few mini greenhouse bubble blisters, and a shiv-shaped toenail is trying to whittle a stab wound into the skin of a neighboring toe.

and i think my old running shoes are giving me shin splints, but this could be a pavlovian response to the idea of running again. in high school, shin splints was a faux affliction -- based on a very real, very painful and very common affliction -- meaning "i don't want to do 12 800 meter intervals today, coach. i want to sit outside the locker room, running a coke-cola brad wax cup filled with ice up and down my tibia. oh, and i have super bad cramps. seriously. i'm sure i'll be fine tomorrow, when you just send us out on a leisurely five mile run."

i can handle the physical exhaustion. it is the obsessive compulsive disorder running causes that will eventually derail this most recent detour through the doors of the YMCA -- just like it has all the other's.

when i step onto a treadmill, i turn into a counter.

as you know, my life is based on approximations and hyperbole. i wake up around 1 p.m.; i have about this much money in my checking account; no, your hair looks fine; oh my god, i'm super full. when i finally complete my life's mission statement, it will have its own chapter based on things that i will not do exactly and this will almost all be about numbers. i am your cliche: a writer with the math skills of a drunk dyslexic.

things go wonky in that building. the treadmill's screen, from left to right, has a digital time counting my progress backward from 60 minutes. in the middle is a number that indicates how far i've traveled and my speed. the right measures how many calories a 135 pound, 32 year old will hypothetically burn -- based on the other numbers.

and that thing that just fell of the treadie's handrail, landed on the moving surface and was flung toward the radiator? that was the towel i grabbed specifically to cover those constantly changing, workout measuring, standard setting numbers. why did it fall? because 3 seconds ago, when i checked the digits for the third time in nine seconds, i jolted it loose.

in my head, things sound like this:

"if i listen to the black kids entire ep, it will take x long, i'll get y far and i'll burn z calories. it takes me 16 strides to get this far, so if i want to get this far, i have to take 192 strides ...
1, 2, 3, 4 ... 156, 157, 158 ...
i only have four minutes left. i can cover this much distance if i run this fast, but i'm not going to stop running until the calorie burner shows a number divisible by 10."

on top of this, i get very competitive with myself, willing bigger distances, faster speeds, more calories than yesterday and twice as many as last week. and then i multiply and divide the averages and see how to make that happen.

i have to distract myself. listen to a podcast, where someone else's voice will cancel out my counting. even then i sometimes catch myself suddenly thinking: 42, 43, 44, 45 ...

this doesn't end with my workout. my favorite shower at the YMCA sends out a two minute spray of water; i don't like to restart it more than three times. during the first interval, i have to completely shampoo my head. while it's off, i lather soap on my body, then hit the button to rinse. once rinsed, i add conditioner and hopefully get my face washed before it turns off again. i spend the last two minutes washing out conditioner. i don't like to deviate from this plan, and actually get annoyed if it takes longer.

once i leave the YMCA, i'm mostly free. except for the part where i record all these numbers -- including my weight, a total that only counts after monday's workout, but can be recreationally acknowledged throughout the week -- into a workout log that includes how i felt that day, what i listened to, who's abs sparked envy, and why a woman would apply lip gloss before leaving the locker room for a spin class.

and actually, when running outside, i've been known to count how many steps are in a block and how many blocks are in a mile and then multiplying to figure out how many steps are in a three mile run. then, suddenly, 241, 242, 243 ...

let's consider hand santizer as my metaphorical "safe word." perhaps popular with the real OCD'ers, but not so much with me. if you see a travel sized bottle in my purse, please plop me in front of the nearest marathon of "the hills" with a dorito buffet within distance of my fist, and hide my sports bra so i can kick this thing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

u, 35 ...

last year i made these for chuck's birthday. it was super hilarious since, at the time, i didn't even know i had a kitchen. or that those jeans still fit me. or why i hadn't lost that sweater on purpose in a steaming manhole. anyway, i'm just posting the same photo this year. last year it was angel food cupcakes, this year the angel food cake is still cooling upside down in the kitchen. close enough. you get the idea.

today is chuck's birthday. he is 35. i find his lax approach to his birthday deplorable. on monday he conceded, with a half-assed exclamation point: "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY WEEK!"

it concerns me that he doesn't realize that this is his birthday month, or that winter is his birthday season. that he has never even jokingly suggested -- in the height of whisky-soaked hubris -- that perhaps the reason the neighbors are hanging lights and decorating trees, mauling cheese balls, baking bourbon-saturated desserts, making out with each other under a plant, is all just to recognize another year of his life's accomplishments.

i totally would. i have. i'm the reason you get to waterski and eat bratwursts over labor day weekend. d

we drove up to cub foods for a bundt pan tonight. his presents were wrapped and in the back seat. he tossed nary a sidelong glance toward the treasures, and seemed to want to wait until it felt more like wednesday and less like tuesday night to open them. i tried to goad him: "THERE ARE PRESENTS IN THIS CAR!" i squealed. i clapped.

he was a vision of self control. me? i'd have ripped into that shit with my teeth the second i smelled the scotch tape.

it's a wonder we even have anything to talk about. [my birthday, for the record, is 262 days away. we'll break that down into minutes the first time duluth cracks 60 degrees this spring].

anyway: i got him a punching bag and gloves which i hid in his own basement. this had me in a mad panic when i was making his cake and he said "i think i might have a mixer in the basement. want me to go look?"

the echo from my "NO!" just bounced off the grand canyon and is on its way back here now.

finally i just made him open his present because i couldn't stand the suspense for one more second. and i could practically hear the thing in the basement cooing "look at me! look at me! i'm for punching."

don't forget about his co-party.

he seemed to develop an immediate attachment to the gloves. he fell asleep wearing them in his graduation photo pose.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

my inner brunette ...

hey! look, everyone! i got my hair cut! and colored! it's darker than ever before and i even have BANGS! isn't it super cute?

in the early part of the century, i decided to go billy idol blonde. my reasoning escapes me. it certainly wasn't aesthetic. i started slowly, just a ribbon of blonde highlight here and there until one day i just went completely, stark, raving gwen stefani, madonna blonde-ambition-tour, anna nicole smith, bo duke blonde.

the woman i paid to make this transformation cringed when she unwrapped the towel, revealing the finished product. her manager surveyed the nightmare over my left shoulder. he was probably in a panic. he probably would pay me to say i'd gotten it done at jc penneys. i convinced him that i had actually asked for this: a hair-color favored in nursing homes. if i were a cartoon character, you would assume i had just been frightened.

it took a long time to get used to. my reflection looked vaguely like someone i'd gone to high school with who had disappeared off the planet -- to some state school -- and when she came back to civilization she had snake-sized scars on her wrists, a boyfriend who was a drummer, a taste for jack daniels, and had undergone an obscure medical procedure no one understood or dared to ask about.

more boys were interested in me during my time as a blonde. quantity, however, has nothing to do with quality. then again, as a blonde i was about 20 pounds heavier than i am today -- and about 12 pounds of that seemed to land in my bra. again, quantity has nothing to do with quality.

eventually i segued back toward a brunetter way of life with a sort of in-between shade. some people considered me a blonde, some people didn't. i didn't, but enjoyed when other people did.

last halloween i colored my hair plum. plum being the color prefered by 9-out-of-10 vampires. plum also being a temporary dye that was scheduled to wash out after 7 shampooings. [it didn't. i stopped counting after 19 shampooings]. but something weird happened, walking around with plum hair. i actually liked it. it felt like the right color. it was sometimes a little punk rock; sometimes wholesome. as it faded, it continued to morph into interesting colors and i enjoyed each phase as much as i enjoy the kool ade flavors it represented.

that plum color taught me that my inner brunette is way louder than my inner billy idol. i'll never go blonde again.

before leaving the fitger's complex today, i stopped into the women's bathroom to emit the dixie cup of water they had used to win customer loyalty. i was trapped in a stall when two women entered.

"i have to be in bed for ten hours to get eight hours of sleep," one said.
"oh, yeah?" the other responded. "are you still reading into all hours of the night?"
"no," the first one replied. "it's the hot flashes ..."

i made this face.

flushed quickly and scampered out of the bathroom, not even daring to wash my hands. i'm not sure that isn't contageous.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

buffalo soldiering on ...

last night's edition of saturday-night-is-the-only-night-i-drink guest starred my unemployed friend, who had driven from the sleepy state of iowa to go to what i can only assume was a comparatively narcoleptic high school christmas concert featuring his son -- who, last i heard, seemed like the rare male soprano. [granted, that was his 11th birthday party at old chicago. i'm assuming things have changed.]

we met up at the bar formerly known as the pioneer, which formerly had a plate with his name engraved attached to the wall, which formerly had a clientele of skeevy albeit charming regulars.

now it is called hero's [watch your punctuation, kids, when you officially name your bar!], doesn't have a name plate, and my entire sensory system was overwhelmed by about 20 college students playing a drinking game they clearly made up two hours earlier. it involved shots of beer and flipping a keg cup.

"hmm," chuck said, surveying these idiots, "i just like to drink my beer."


having not realized it was five dollar beer night, we went top shelf with our beer purchases: honey weiss, summit, grainbelt. but we segued pretty seamlessly to the sort of gamey arm pit juice that eventually makes you wish you had just gargled with the liquid from a stranger's coppenhagen-tar-brown mountain dew bottle.

i approached the bartender with 15 dollars.
"did you get carded at the door?" she asked.
i gave her an incredulous look, trying to convey this message: sugar, i was making out with retired hockey players in the women's bathroom while you were still rocking oshkosh bgosh onesies.
"nooo?" i said. pointed at my table. "and neither did they."
"oh, oh, right, okay," she bumbled. handed me three keg glasses filled with drool and three arm bands.

on either side of me, two men simultaneously burst out singing, along with the juke box: "buffalo soldier ..."

i gave them both a long look. first the guy on the left; then the guy on the right.

"you're kidding, right?" i said.
"don'tchya know this song?" righty asked.
i tried to repeat the look i had previously given to the bartender. he misinterpreted it.
"do you know who this is by?" he asked.
"isn't it, like totally, lenny krevitz?" i wanted to say. instead i just walked away confident in my decision to henceforth only drink in the presense of people who do not quote inane bob marley lyrics in stereo into my head.


you never know what you are going to get when you hang with my unemployed friend. years ago, after a particularly abusive night with him, a friend mused: looks like unemployed friend's drunken russian roullette landed on 'mean' tonight. drunken russian roullette is about right. last night we saw 'drunk with a side of dirty aloofness.'

the way he kept checking his phone suggested: new girlfriend?
then when he began text messaging it suggested: new young girlfriend.
and when he damn-near licked my face while slow dancing to "tuesday's gone", it suggested: new young girlfriend, still in a lawless stage of the relationship.

"i bet all you're even texting is: 'no you are' over and over and over again," i said.
"nah," he said. "i just told her 'jeans and a blue shirt.' "

you have no idea how badly i wanted to steal that man's phone.


readers, we overindulged. all of us. and that tequila shot was completely extraneous.

chuck and i slow danced to purple rain. one of my life rules is to always slow dance to purple rain. knowing that, you probably shouldn't play it unless you want to go cheek-to-cheek with me.


we waited in the small doorway for our cab to arrive, and whisk us back to chuck's. a smallish woman had the audacity to come in and out of the doorway, holding the door open to peer into the street, call to her friends, flood our semi-warmish area with -20 degree wind chills.

only one of us was wearing long underwear, and on principle, you know it wasn't me.

"you need to shut that door," i told her.
she acted like i had asked her to do my laundry and bring me a whopper.
"seriously. you need to shut the door," i told her.
she huffed in a tiny, screechy voice, this little 5'foot almost person.
"we're older than you, we can do whatever we want," i told her.
she went crazy. screeching and angry that we would want warmth.
"seriously, smurfette," i said.
this riled her more.
each insult and screeched angst drew a hearty laugh from chuck, which in turn made me want to say more things and have her get more mini-mad.

"they're being mean to me," she said to her boyfriend when he came to pick her up.
he looked at us and shrugged.


in the absence of a jack's party pizza, i made us grilled cheese sandwiches with a three cheese french bread from amazing grace and a half a pound of gouda cheese. i bet they were good, but afterward the lingering smell made me want to barf five dollar beer right over the deck railing and right onto the paraplegic squirrel.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

more like fun-due ...

finally. a fondue party. i've wanted to do fondue since about 1971, when i was negative four years old. the turtlenecks, hearty laughter, how all the men look a little like magnum p.i. by day the women wear form fitting velure outfits -- a one piece short and tube top set, perfect for roller skating. by night, their hair becomes a crusty helmet, with curls the size of a rolling pin.

everyone eats fondue, listens to bread, drinks riunite on ice and talks about laundry detergent.

then, when everything ramps up a little bit, the pervy neighbor suggests that all the men throw their car keys into the fish bowl ...

we just had a two person fondue party, which makes the fish bowl game kind of silly.

i got melted gouda on my pants, but ate it anyway. with a fork.

when i wasn't looking, chuck used my camera to make fondue art photos.

then he took this, entitled: "photo you find of your mom, laying in a drawer."

Friday, December 7, 2007

boy scoutish behavior ...

i read somewhere that it takes three weeks to develop a habit. well, somewhere was wrong. apparently it takes just two 16 inch disgusting downpours of snow to turn me into a walking, talking, sliding, packratting snow emergency kit.

when the sky burped out a single snowflake around 1:45 p.m. today i immediately assumed that 15.999999 more inches worth were in its wake. i threw down my laptop, my coffee, knowing i had things to do, places to be, and that within a half hour my car would be rendered obsolute. because now and for the rest of my life, there will ALWAYS be snow EVERYWHERE. and if their aren't mounds on the streets, there will be piles falling from the sky.

things that went through my head:
i don't want to walk anywhere
i don't want t-bone a suburu
i'd like to go to the YMCA
i don't want to park in a place where i will have to pay four punk ass fourth-grade boys to burrow a tunnel in the general direction of my cardoor after a snowplow buries my wheels

precautions taken:
i slipped into four layers of various fleece, nylon and down, boots, and a pompom hat knit for the head of a 7-year-old with chuck's name stitched in cursive on the cuff [chuck, apparently, being the seven year old it was made for 27 years ago]
i brought an entire change of clothes, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, deep clean facial scrub and vanilla body spray
i filled a water bottle and snagged a blue machine naked juice
i stopped at whole foods and bought a salad, bread and an emergency burrito
i put running shoes and extra tube socks in my backpack

in addition to the things i usually carry:
a book -- this month "animal, vegetable, miracle" by barbara kingsolver
my nano
my camera
my phone
six tampons
two tubes of chapstick
a hoodie

i wanted to be prepared in case i got stranded somewhere, had to walk home from somewhere, craved mixed greens, became curious about barbara kingsolver's year of buying locally, needed clean hair, to smell like a college sophomore, became tired of what i was wearing or wanted to listen to MPR's in the loop.

this level of preparation required a 20 pound purse and a bulging backpack. i'd like to show today to the 18-year-old version of myself who once boldly proclaimed: "i'm never going to own a purse! i'll never need more than i can fit in my pockets!"

i carefully parked in the holiday center's ramp -- content to leave it there for three days if need be, wander the skywalk until some brain surgeon finds a cure for snow. live on popcorn kernals harvested from the floor, 25 cent handfuls of jelly bellys from the candy kiosk and haircuts [maybe even a PERM!] from cost cutters.

instead i went to the YMCA and by the time i turned on the treadie and began reading the subtitles on the dr. phil show, it had stopped snowing.

be prepared, my ass.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

when a key player in your personal history doesn't care he's a key player ...

chuck is exorcising demon holiday spirits -- with spirits; i am trying to will a plate of nachos to spontaneously appear in front of me. i might as well wish for a pony: the kitchen is closed. in the corner, a handful of college boys are playing unobtrusive bluesy music for about 20 rapt friends. the rapt friends are doing their best immition a cozy ivy leaguers at the bar scene, circa 1987.

to our immediate right are two men, hopped up on hops, sealing their friendship with frequent hugs and hahas. i sense that around 9 a.m. tomorrow they will pinky swear to never speak of this incident again,then avoid eye contact for the rest of their lives. i picture a conversation like this:

guy one: "remember last night when you said anderson cooper was a decent reporter, but you wishd he was your cabana boy?"
guy two: "zip it."
guy one: "and when i said i wished peter petrelli would save me ...?"
guy two: "i can't hear you!"
guy one: "or when you said you really understood george michael ... especially his later work?"
guy two: "seriously. i will cut you."
guy one: "wait. did we really slow dance to lionel richie's 'can't slow down' in its entirity?"
guy two: "no. it was just 'stuck on you.' now, seriously ..."

one of them looks familiar. but its hard to tell with the stocking cap pulled low and the alcohol-induced slack facial muscles. he could be my neighbor. he could be a bassett hound.

"oh, hey!" i say to chuck. "it's the-guy-who-brought-us-together."
and it is! 13 months and one missing beard later.

since that fateful night, we've run into the-guy-who-brought-us-together just once at quinlan's.

"let's get good and drunk and go tell him how he got us together," i suggested that night. so we drank and waited and watched him fritter about. into the bathroom, out of the bathroom. drink more.

but by the time we were ready, he had escaped.

about 13 months ago, we were at quinlan's on a sort-of date-like thing. in those days, we were hanging out just twice a week in some sort of half-assed attempt to "take things slow." it was diet dating -- which i now understand to be akin to sitting in front of a bag of doritos, knowing you will eventually eat the entire bag, but only allowing yourself one crunchy chip a day.

old slack muscles was teetering around the bar, looking for someone to listen to his grand stories. he recognized me from the pioneer, and hovered over our table. he slipped from an english accent to a southern accent to a warroad accent, all while trying to convince us that he was from austrailia. he told us a story about a "bird" he was seeing.

after accidentally referring to me as "baby" or "sweetheart" or something else old businessmen called their sexy secretaries in 1930, he turned to chuck and apologized.

"sorry, man," he said. "is she your girlfriend?"
here things got a little slo-mo.
girl-friend was not something we had discussed. and now he had .3 seconds to decide.
chuck is not one to mask fear. in fact, in this moment of truth his face actually looks like a caricature's rendition of what fear looks like.
my look, i'd guess was more "curious" and "amused."
"yes," chuck finally said, to my relief.
because that could have been really awkward.

eventually on tuesday night, i try to tell guy-who-brought-us-together this story. how i had gone to quinlan's 13 months with a date and left with a boyfriend and woke with a hangover.

but between the bluesy musings, the rapt college kids, and his flirtation with his friend, and constantly repeating myself, the story is lost. he seems to finally kind of understand, in a sort of passive way. but i have just enough hubris to be a little surprised that he doesn't really seem to care. he just shakes our hands and leaves.

"whatever," chuck says when he's gone. "we would have gotten together anyway."
"oh!" i say. surprised i didn't realize that myself. "yeah! we would've!"

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

water proof boots, a scarf, my new pedometer ...

five years ago i bought a honda civic, which was empty calories as far as car purchases go. but, it was a necessity. i'd been plodding along in an incontinent corsica, staining the streets of duluth with the leaking green fluid. refilling every 20 miles, only to have it immediately go all betsy wetsy on me.

it was going to cost about $2,800 to fix this. not to mention i had a new year's eve party to get to in minneapolis.

what i wanted was a jeep wrangler, something my car advisory committee found impractical and a waste of even a cursory eye roll. to the CAC, a jeep wrangler represented the best way for me to end up upside down in a ravine, gasping through a punctured lung: "should. have gotten. a grand prix."

to me, admittedly, my first thought was that a jeep wrangler would up my resale value exponentially. because i'm okay. but throw me into a pair of acid washed cutoffs, a tank top and plop me into a jeep wrangler next to a black lab named jake and i'm OFF THE CHARTS. but on a more practical note, having a vehicle that treads as easily through backwoods mud pits as it does along boring old stretches of highway seems like a wise idea -- considering i live in a city that has gotten approximately 2 feet of snow before i'd even finished that leftover sweet potato cranberry marshmallow thing from thanksgiving.

five years ago, my car advisory council and i had conversations like this:
me: i'd like to have cruise control. i drive a lot. and while i'm driving a lot, i sometimes stare out the window and forget i'm driving and then suddenly realize i'm going 923 miles per hour and i'm about to disprove gravity.
CAC: well, we think it is more important that you have power windows and power locks. so you don't get raped.

so, whatever. i test drove a ford focus. i test drove a honda civic. i test drove a grand prix. but the whole time, in my head, i was cruising the shore in a jeep wrangler and jake was drooling along to "just like heaven" -- a little smile on his doggie pudd'm.

in high school i sometimes kissed a boy, just because that kissing sometimes happened in his jeep.

obviously, i bought the civic. the CAC let their wishes be known in a way that was too horrifying to ignore: "if you buy a jeep, we will not lend you money ever again. if something goes wrong with the jeep, it is on you. if you flip the jeep in a ravine and need to get a motorized scooter and a live-in nurse to hold a mirror under your nostrils to make sure you are still breathing every second of every day, well, you'll just have to have a zipper installed in your arm to make it easier at the plasma donating center."

there are a lot of things that can go wrong in a person's life. i don't plan for anything like this to happen. but if i end up living in leif erikkson park someday and have to steal someone's cell phone to ask the CAC to send me money for tube socks, i don't want to hear any snarky references to the jeep wrangler incident of 2002.

this is how i feel that things are with my parents. things are absolute truths with no give: this religion, that political party, a jeep wrangler is nothing more than a aesthetically appealing suicide kit with either a hard or soft top. and for some reason, seedlings of this way of thinking still exist now, at 32 years old. and did especially five years ago. a different religion, different politics, owning a jeep ... these are wrong, according to the people who invented right.

this time they were wrong. i know this because as soon as i saw the snow today, i knew i'd have better luck with my civic if i hitched it to a pony's neck and shouted "huzzah!" cracking a whip or dangling a carrot. i just got the fancy idea of driving anywhere right out of my head and put on a pair of water proof boots, a scarf and my new pedometer.

i saw a bus back down a steep avenue. i saw traffic jams that lasted for so long on superior street that cars ran out of gas. i saw about 10 rear-endings in the making on lake avenue. eventually i walked more than five miles, and about four of those miles would have ended with the civic parked in a tree trunk.

i'm not one to hold a grudge. its taxing, and mtv jammed my attention span years ago with its flashing lights and dizzying sounds. but for talking me out of the jeep, for letting myself get talked out of the jeep ... that gets me every single day. at least in the winter. in the summer, i really enjoy the honda civic's sun roof.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

nicely played, half pint ...

in nine year's worth of episodes, there are just two scenes i remember from the television show "little house on the prairie": once a cow went into false labor and accidentally gave birth to its own uterus; in the midst of some hair-brained hormonal fit, laura ingalls wilder put apples in her bra and one of them dropped to the floor in the middle of class.

i am not a great "little house on the prairie" mind, mostly because i always hated the show. even at age nine, i saw it as hokey: the murky swamp-water filtered film, the pingy theme song, all those chores, none of this appealed to me. it certainly wasn't entertainment. pinfores and bonnets, pin curls, sweeping, and going to the store ... i just couldn't relate.

[i'm not sure how i related to "three's company" and "scoobie doo," but unless laura was stuffing her bra or a cow was making balloon animals out of its internal organs, these were the shows i watched after school instead.]

i must have had a few of the books. i bet they were gifts, since i'd never actively seek out reading where key characters are named "ma" and "pa" and "half pint." [definitely not after i'd been introduced to elizabeth and jessica wakefield.] and i must have read them. probably after i read everything else in the house, skimmed the wxyz encyclopedia britanica, and before the new issue of "readers digest" was shelved on the toilet tank in my parent's bathroom.

for some people there is a "little house" nostalgia, and they'll chuckle about that drunk mr. edwards and that stud almonzo wilder. these people, i'm assuming, are the target market for the "little house" theme song as a ring tones i found online today.

yesterday chuck and i were sacked out on the couch and he did a quick zip through the channels and paused at "little house" on one of those channels were most of the shows are about real live angels walking the streets and saving people from meth addictions and abuse.

ma is leaning over a large wooden crate. she has just pried it open to find her christmas present: A NEW STOVE! she drapes herself across the top of it, her bun loosening, her cheeks flushed as she considers bread rising and bloody game hens. she looks to charles, eyes moist and --

it's not from pa.

and i'm getting into this a little bit.
"it's from laura," chuck says.

ma looks at laura, buck toothed and braided. pa looks at laura.

first my nose starts to tingle. then i realize my eyes are flooding and i have gobs of snot forming making a run for the exit. "ooohhhhh! turn it! turn it!" i beg. chuck doesn't even touch the remote.

"but, how?" ma asks the rest of the ingalls, just as the oleson's are pulling up. laura has traded her horse bunny to nellie oleson for the stove.

"but she loves that horse!" ma cries. bread deflates. game hens are recessitated.

as for me: it's like i'm watching "the notebook," while listening to "goodbye my lover," chopping onions and stabbing myself in the palm with a knife that has a serrated blade. i'm sobbing.

stupid show.

incidentally, this will be the first of two times that i break down sobbing on sunday. i'd told chuck that i was going to make butternut squash ravioli for dinner, then waited until he was wilted and emaciated before i even considered beginning the process. i cooked the squash. mixed the ingredients. filled wonton wrappers with something that smelled pretty frigging good. a few of the raviolis stuck together. that just made me swear. when i dropped them in the boiling water, more than half of them opened or tore and soon i had a boiling pot of squash innards and a gloppy mess of sticky wontons. i stood over the cauldron weeping about the mess. then we ordered pizza.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

like a blood bath, except with snow ...

i put about as much trust in weather reports as i do in my horoscope. storm fronts, bleak financial outlooks, they're all the same hocus pocus whether they come from al roker or jeanne dixon. that is why, even though i consciously know it is december and it is duluth, i'm always surprised when i wake at 1:08 p.m. on a saturday to a blood bath, only with snow.

the snow as mythology way of thinking means that i don't have a shovel in my trunk, moon boots in the back seat or tires with even the slightest indentation of tread. it's like i truly believe that maybe this is the winter where it won't snow. february will come. i'll be rocking a wife beater and flip flops, look at your over the top of my sunglasses and say "told ya so."

in the interim, each snowstorm feels like a personal cold affront.

i don't know where you live, but when we get a snowstorm here in duluth, the entire town turns to anarchy: wide-eyed panic at the grocery store where shoppers are going all Y2K on canned corn and pork rinds and two-ply charmin; the cashier at the liquor store smells like he has been doing laps in captain morgans' swimming pool; for some reason every jackhole in town bundles up, grabs six friends and walks down the middle of superior street. but only when they've grown tired of walking down the middle of fourth street. the more evolved just stand in the middle of the street.

"i feel stupid," a late teen says to me, traipsing through drifts. "i'm wearing sandals."
indeed he is: his answer to winter is a pair of plastic adidas athletic sandals and cotton tube socks. seems we struggle with the same form of denial.


by mid afternoon there is already an abandoned car stuck on lake avenue, its hazards blinking "took bus to florida" in morse code.


i meet up with some friends in the late afternoon.
"fricking drivers going 20 miles per hour," f. scottie complains.
"i drive 20 miles per hour," i say.
"but at 9 a.m., when it just seems like it might snow?" he says incredulously.
"probably," i say.
"it took me 45 minutes to get here," jcat chimes in.
"it took me 45 minutes to get here, too," i add.
i don't tell them that this is because i stopped at both the liquor store and the grocery store. just because i make fun of people shopping like its 1999 doesn't mean i don't do it, too.


when i've finally had enough of the downtown scene, i attempt to maneuver my civic from my parking spot. rubber burns. rpms whinny. a lanky teenager pushes my car into traffic. i immediately pull into a covered parking ramp, where my car will hybernate for the next 15 hours. my car's base towers approximately two apples high off the street.

not to mention "duluth" means "if your boyfriend has a nice view of the lake from his apartment, it just means he lives up hill and you won't be able to drive there in the winter" in swedish.


moccassins drives bubbles and me home. he has a truck with four wheel drive. we bust through drifts and scare the living shit out of all those gawkers standing in the middle of fourth street. we zip up hills like we're in a humvee. i'm convinced that if he wanted to, he could drive up the front steps, through the front door, up more steps and drop me off at the couch.

four wheel drive is an admirable quality in a friend.


i'm home for approximately 10 seconds -- just long enough to change into pants that aren't snow soaked to the knees -- when i call bubbles.

"meet you on the corner in five," i tell her. "we need to walk to twins bar."


and here is where the night gets fun; here is where i finally figure out what is so big about walking down the middle of the road. twins is packed: at least four people snowboarded to the bar -- these athletes still have goggles on their heads; one guy walks past me holding a pair of cross country skis. i've seen a handful of people traveling via snowmobile in the past two days.

its karoake night at twins. i sing two songs poorly. about 19 kids perform "mandy" in the style of barry manilow. a 20-something outside of the bar tells two 40-something women: "you don't look forty! oh my gosh! seriously! you aren't 40! get out! wow!" they coo with appreciation. this younger woman is lying: they do look 40. in fact, i'd say they are 45ish. if i were them, i would be insulted that this woman is insinuating that you cannot be attractive and mid-40. instead, when she goes inside, one says to the other "she was nice."

as soon as she says that i say, "i really like your shoes."


"where'd ya get that hat?" a man asks me at the bar.
i suspect "urban outfitters" will make about as much sense to him as the aesthetics involved with having his two front teeth.
"the cities," i say.
"i'm scaring you, aren't i?" he asks.
i laugh nervously.
he is.


the next time i'm outside, a woman eagerly greets a stranger coming into the bar. "i saw you have alaska plates!" she says. "and i thought, well that guy'll sure know how to park in this stuff!" he oozes past her with a polite smile.

"that was my son," her friend says.
"really?" she squeals. "well, then that makes him my ... uncle! why didn't you introduce me?"


this guy got tazered. while a nice photo op, i'm pretty sure he was wrongly accused and that the actual bad guy escaped out a back door. still. ...


anyway, it all comes down to this: if you want to like duluth, you have to park your car someplace safe and do more of this. walk in the middle of the road on your way to the bar, take photos of college kids skitching, drink a beer in a pair of wet jeans. watch a guy get tasered.

Friday, November 30, 2007

on being gauche ...

i heard the word gauche today and immediately thought of chuck. gauche is how i ended up here on his couch right now, sharing a tin of burt's bees lip balm and watching "fast times at ridgemont high." gauche is how i got him to meet me at schultz's in superior for what one of us [read: not me] considers our first date.

before we had met, back when we just read each other's blogs and occasionally swapped e-mails, i read this: "And calling people at midnight is just so gauche, so I probably won't do it at all."

i stood in the parking lot of the bar and dialed the digits he had given me as a consolation prize on my birthday. that night i had wanted a quick makeout; he didn't want his tongue being orbited by something that tasted like half-digested blue cheese and vodka. four days later, calling him from the parking lot, it was past gauche. it was, like, 12:30 a.m. -- literally half-past gauche.

"sorry," i said when he answered. "i know you think it's gauche to call people after midnight, but i'm at schultz's and ..."

whatever. he met up with me. except what i really said was something that sounded more like gow-chay.

there were other words that represent the start of our relationship. i used touche to flirt with him in the comments section on my blog; one of our first conversations was about the way crossword puzzles always have a clue that says sapphoro sash, to which the three letter answer is obi. something i liked about him while browsing his archives was the frequent use of the word lurid. lurid is a smart boy's word. then there was the time i used the word deflammatory, which he quickly informed me was not a word at all.

whatever. i like to think of it as word-people's version of what non-word people would call our song. you can have your james blunt, we have gauche.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

wherein we jettison matching wads of spit ...

today's post is brought to you by my cravings.

lil latrell moved into town quietly in a shiny honda crv in the middle of the night. she unpacked her toothpaste, slept a long sleep, woke and found target. then she completely derailed my menstral cycle, systematically and without remorse.

until i met lil latrell three, four years ago, i surrounded myself with people who did not get periods: men. my own cycle was lazy. a thing of whimsy. its comprehension of a calendar as rudimentary as my own ability to read a map. my period was less like a monthly guest and more like a strange goth roommate who mostly hung out in her boyfriend's basement apartment, eating easy mac with her fingers and circling jobs in the classified section with a purple sharpie. occasionally returning home unannounced for clean socks, her allowance, her copy of atlas shrugged.

lil latrell hadn't been in town long before we started hatching the tell-tale warning chin blemish within 15 minutes of the other. after a round of dueling yawns, i'd look at her through eyes drooling with false, hormonally altered sentiment and see her weeping across the table. lil latrell clutching a bag of m&m's, me face-first in cool ranch doritos.

"oh, yeah," i'd say. "we're getting our period, aren't we?"


this always surprised me. that a woman with a blip of a body -- just over 5-feet tall, 85 pounds if she's holding a 5-pound bag of sugar in arms that i swear are purely decorative and cannot be functional -- could come into town and hijack my hormones.

let's be honest: were lil latrell and i to wrestle, box or play bloody knuckles, i could easily palm her tiny head until she grew tired of swinging her arms in my direction.

but when it comes to forcing her period on me, this woman proved to be a brute. even a year after lil latrell moved away, we remained in synch. her sobbing in kansas; me in duluth.


these days my cycle is dictated by a prescription and everything runs effective and efficiently. until this month. last week i began getting the aches, the saggy bloat, and the cranky days before i expected. i counted through my pills twice, trying to figure out why it sounded like a good idea to lock myself in a dark basement for a few days with just a jar of cheeze whiz and an embroidered journal with a puppy on the cover.

"who is doing this to me?" i wondered, counting the women i spend a lot of time with and coming up with a big fat "none."

then i flashed on jcrew. we spent consecutive days together last week first at pizza luce, then at midi for dinner on sunday. and with these wimpy peon hormones ... i didn't stand a chance.


jcrew and i were hanging out today. smoking a cigarette and talking about what we always talk about: an itemization of our caloric intakes since, oh, birth and people we want to punch in the face.

"i don't even know why i'm wearing this sweater today," she said. "i think i got it in 1999 ..."

the disregard for this century's fashions struck me as a bit out of character for jcrew. something more along the lines of something i'd do. did, actually. a few weeks ago i wore vintage american eagle: a brown oversized sweater i'd paired with leggings in college. the out-dated and obvious decorative V sewn into the collar.

simultaneously, we both leaned forward and jettisoned matching wads of spit. they crossed paths and came dangerously close to colliding. we laughed. oh, how we laughed. two old friends on the same menstral cycle, smoking and spitting.

"oh, gawd," she said. "we're turning into each other."
we brangelina'd our names to form a single identity.

when we looked at each other and realized we were both wearing winter caps pulled down to our eyeballs, we snorted.

"thank god," i said. "you may have hijacked my period, but at least i'm rubbing off on you, too."