Sunday, January 31, 2010

This is why we can't have nice things ...

My great aunt Jule had a wonky eye. This, of all the thing that can happen to a face after a car accident, is my favorite. It's like having your own secretary: One eye taking everything in, examining the facts, taking notes, listening; The other eye freely roaming the landscape and daydreaming. As for the car accident, Jule was in her early 20s, a wild woman running free. Hair tied in a scarf, sexy fiance at the wheel of a convertible. And then the accident. He died; she lost an eye.

This is either true, or at some point I was told the true story while watching an episode of "The Young & the Restless," and the latter storyline stuck.

She went on to marry a man who looks like Uncle Fester, and I don't mean that unkindly. He does. They lived in this exotic place called Marshalltown, Iowa, for awhile, then LaCrosse, Wis. My aunt was a big welcoming bosom of comfort. Soft as a sofa with a big hug.

I wrote poetry chapbooks for her, then bound them in cardboard tied with yarn bows. Once when we visited their home, which was decorated with cross stitched one liners about golf, Aunt Jule had my first collection -- "I'm Not Afraid" complete with line art by me, age 9 -- on the coffee table. I imagined that was where she always kept it. "Look at what my niece wrote. She's a poet, you know. And also quite skilled at the standing broad jump." I flipped through it and found myself brilliant. The youngest person to write a truly significant book of poetry. More than half of the ideas and themes lifted lifted from Shel Silverstein, admittedly. But the words were my own.

Aunt Jule died a few years ago, and a couple years after that Uncle Fester told me that he had something for me. He handed me a small box. Inside: A pair of Aunt Jule's diamond earrings.

The kindness and sentimentality of the gift weren't lost on me, although the true value of the jewelry was. I haven't ever been a real jewelry hound. I lose things. I break things. I subscribe to a $20 or less philosophy, although not on purpose. On my most-accessorized days I might wear a clunky ring and a leather cuff, or a clunky ring and a beaded bracelet. I have seven holes in my ears, but only wear a small hoop in the cartilage of my left ear. I got that when I was 19, and first didn't take it out because it hurt so much to get in the first place (for at least a year), and now I forget it's there until the guy who does my hair snags a comb in it. I've had my belly button pierced since I was 18, and never think about that, either, unless Chuck sticks his finger in there and tells me my navel feels like its full of Shake n Bake.

When I moved in with Chuck, I abandoned a lot of my worldly possessions. I left behind teeming piles of clothes, books, CDs, shoes and furniture for the women who were moving into my apartment. Then I paid them an obscenely low amount of money to clean the place for me. At some point I just stopped going back to my old place. I probably don't even notice half of the stuff I gave them, which probably means I didn't need it. They probably didn't need it either.

Then I realized that I couldn't find the earrings from Aunt Jule.

I assumed they were in one of my unpacked Rubbermades. I considered very seriously that one of the girls who moved into my old place took them. I don't know her well, and it seemed like the sort of thing a stranger might do. FREE EARRINGS! Once in awhile I would get really frantic and hunt around for them, dig through bins feeling sick. "This is why we can't have nice things," is like our motto around here, and I would think that to myself as I imagined the day I would have to admit to my mom that I simply did not have the earrings anymore.

When I'd once joked that I was going to take them to a pawn shop, my mom looked like she was going to squeeze my throat. My mom loves jewelry. When my grandma worked in a jewelry store, my mom and I would always stop in and visit whatever piece my mom was imagining wrapped around her finger. There was also a weird summer involving QVC purchases, but that's another story.

I think about those diamond earrings every day, and that is not an exaggeration. Every time I see one of the women living in my old place, I do a lobe check. When I see anyone wearing diamond earrings, whether in real life, on TV, or in a magazine, I feel like I'm going to barf. The word "diamond," the word "earring" -- there are enough triggers in the world to set me into a funk of shame at least once every day since I realized they were missing.

Last night mid-packing I was staring at this small chest that an exboyfriend got me for a birthday gift many, many, many years ago. I love this little chest from Pier 1, but have never known what to do with it. I've always just kept tax info in it, or anything else that looks official. I stood there thinking: Was there anything important in this apartment that I should stick in there so it doesn't get lost in the shuffle?

And then a fucking lightning bolt went off in my head. Important things. Chest. Move.

"Oh, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease," I thought, taking a few seconds to live in the possibility that my earrings might be buried in there.

I opened the lid, and there they were. Still in the jewelry box. Not at all hidden. Just sitting there. Two feet from the couch. In the place where I put important things.

Huge relief that I found them, didn't fracture a stranger's lobe at the bar, and I never had to tell my mom that they were missing.

I should get myself one of those wonky eyes that remembers where I put things.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

So now we have a house ...

I was sworn to secrecy on operation house hunting because Chuck didn't want me to jinx anything, the way anyone who says suddenly to the Internet "I'm going to start working out!" after running once suddenly finds themself collapsed face-first in a bag of Doritos with a "Jersey Shore" marathon playing in the background for the next three months.

Yesterday Chuck crossed his final T's on paperwork weighing in at "Anna Karenina"-sized, and so now we have a house.

The deets: a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 3 level home built in 1923 in West Duluth. It has a 2-car garage, mostly wood floors, a decorative fireplace that doesn't work, a deck with a sliver of a view of the St. Louis Bay. The main level is a wide open space with a huge kitchen suitable for roller skating. I love that it has an "upstairs," and a "downstairs." I love that the refrigerator makes ice, and emits drinking water. It is quirky and cozy.

It is actually the first house that we looked at when we started house hunting. And then it was the house that we compared every other house to. (Well, except for those times that we looked out of our price range at gigantic mansions with secret stairways and haunted basements). In the month and a half between our first and second looks at the place, it had gone from a 4 bedroom to a 3 bedroom with good results. It is hard to explain how this happened, suffice to say that the previous owner wasn't afraid of turning a closet into a bedroom and building temporary a wall here and there. Also: The basement used to be a tuck-under garage. It will henceforth be referred to as "The Rumpus Room."

After the official business yesterday, Chuck and I went to the couch store to buy our first piece of furniture and in the process learned a bit about the likes and dislikes of the other. My likes include red, leather, and soft. Chuck's dislikes include overstuffed furniture that resembles a Sumo wrestler wrapped in fabric. We took into consideration what damage Toonses do with his back claws and 30 pound frame. We fell in love with a white leather 7-piece couch straight out of the Jetsons that would fill almost the entire living room, then showed great maturity in getting something more practical.

Yesterday I dropped my first hundo at Target, buying toilet seats that don't feel like you're sitting on a one of those Hemorrhoid donuts. Then I spent a few hours at the house, moving in the first load of Rubbermades, cleaning Cheerios out of the sink, and doing laundry in our very own laundry machine. I vacuumed the steps, listened to music, and made a list of quirks in a little notebook:

There is no overhead light in the dining room.
The sink gurgles when the washing machine is running.
There are no outlets in the upstairs bathroom; No mirror in the downstairs bathroom.

And I totally fell in love. I didn't want to leave at the end of the night. Fortuitously, our move coincides with the downstairs neighbors adding a Casio to their band.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Roid rage ...

Well, it's that time of the year when I start hanging out at the YMCA again. It's my annual short-lived winter hobby. I start running as soon after New Year's Eve day as my hangover will allow (this year it was only Jan. 3!). In February I get caught up in this demonic Couch Potato Triathlon-ic cult, that month-long indoor quest to bike, swim and run certain distances that I am not comfortable biking or swimming, and I spend a lot of time bitching about how far I'm not running because I'm busy extracting bikini wedges and googling "Pelvis Ben-Gay." This usually ends with Chuck asking me in a soothing voice:

"Show me on the doll where the bike touched you."

In late March, after I've blown the dust off some Hal Higdon training Web site and started falling to sleep with the "Eye of The Tiger" theme playing in my head, precisely 12 weeks before one should start training for a mid-June feat of athleticism, I stop running.

Twice in June I'll bust out a couple of 2-miles, until the third Saturday when I bust out a 13.1 miler. Cut to me laying on the couch, chafe marks in the image of Cliff Claven on the inside of both thighs, Chuck asking me in a soothing voice:

"Show me on the doll where the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon touched you."

I'll run a few more times in the summer, but by September it's like I grew a velcro tail that is really attracted to couch material. Until January.

The good news is that this year I haven't seen a single mention of a Couch Potato Tri-anything. Which is good because I've been using my swim suit top as a bra, so now it seems a little sleezy to wear it in a family pool.

Other things have changed, too. My insurance is now paying close to half of my gym membership if I go 12 times a month. So I guess, technically, that makes me a professional worker-outer.

I've set modest goals for myself in stage one of this lifestyle reset. Just go. I actually have to walk past the YMCA every day. And every time I walk past the YMCA, there are a pair of Asics on my person and enough Spandex to bandy myself into a starring role in "Boys Don't Cry." Getting myself to pause in the doorway requires dulling my head of excuses, and praying there isn't a tailwind. Three weeks makes a habit, I've always told myself. So for the past three weeks I've just made myself yank that door open, knock down those precocious tots, barge past the swim team and get thee onto a piece of cardio equipment.

I recently had a conversation with someone who used to run who was lamenting not running anymore. "I don't know why I don't do something that feels so good when I'm done," he said. And I nodded like a dashboard ornament. I should be forced by law to run. The mood shift is as drastic as daylight savings time. Whether that's good, who knows. Do you want to live with a person who leaps around the house singing Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits? Lifting her shirt with her teeth and growling?

I've had to recast myself this year as a person who works out, rather than a runner. I've been using an elliptical machine more than in the past. It no longer gives me vertigo, or even a case of the snobbies at my misguided feelings that it is inferior. It's actually a pleasant ride, and one can really hammer the shit out of an elliptical if she's really feeling the Bonnie Tyler.

Yesterday I fell off a moving treadmill. But that has nothing to do with anything.

I've also started lifting, if twice counts as "started" anything. This is whole new territory involving a bunch of etiquette I'm still learning. And the realization that my most unflattering positions is:

Legs shoulders width apart
Knees slightly bent
Arms up with a weight dangling behind my head,
which I then lift toward the ceiling.

From this particular angle, my arms look like slabs of ham hanging from pointy hooks. The goal is to make it look more like a turkey drumstick, hanging from a pointy hook.

Lifting has also been good for my mood. I came home yesterday just hankering for jars to open. Flexing my muscles, rwwring, and screaming about my 'roid rage. That's only partly true. When I got home, my limbs were palsied from overuse. In my resting position, I looked like I was trying to sketch something in the air.

Monday, January 25, 2010

101 ways to emit black vomit ...

Little known fact about Duluth: Finding a soup tureen is as difficult as finding Mallomars.

In other news, here is how I spent the past week:


Garlic Soup: Last week Chuck made a roast chicken from Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I descended on with the enthusiasm of something that uses all fours to move from place to place. I have to use the word "devour" to describe it, even though I usually only use that word for things that end in the suffix -itos.

So this past week I cracked into the French bible again and made garlic soup that is the strangest consistency and so so subtle. Basically, everything that is in it is strained out of it except egg yolk and whatever seeps through the holes of the strainer. I served it with shredded Gruyere, which has revealed itself as my favorite cheese, and French bread.

This is just a mite bit of an appetizer. It doesn't take up too much intestinal space. Next time I'm going to make it with a poached egg because that sounds good and show-offy.

District 9 : I had no idea what this was going into it. Turns out it is not something to watch while eating. 101 ways to emit black vomit. And a little boring. The makers of ET were robbed.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris: Here's the thing: Joshua Ferris is not a good writer. He just simply isn't. He has some pretty grand ideas. His first novel had a nameless narrator and was written in second person. Whoa. Aiming for the fences, hitting a double. This one has an important theme, what it is like to live with an undiagnosable illness and what it is like to live with someone who has an undiagnosable illness. The body split in two between letting the illness lead, or letting the self lead. The metallic taste of a gun in a mouth: Can a person live like this? Or would it be better to not live at all. Clever, thinky stuff. But he should hire someone else to put it on paper

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mr. Romance ...

I got my hair cut, colored, and frothed into a delicious lather of Aveda products. This means that Toonses has been chasing me around the apartment like we are newlyweds. Damn cat loves a snoutful of Aveda hair.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Third-person critique of a piss-poor karaoke showing ...

It was clear that Ms. Pista saw the empty bar, the microphone, the $6 bottomless cup of PBR and decided to treat this room like it was her own shower: an acoustic-rich chamber to relentlessly bastardize 80s pop songs. "I'm going to test some new material," she was overheard saying to her boyfriend, Chuck, who was agonizing over the songbook. He was not quite feeling the rap or a punk-rock twist on barely legal lyrics. "Gin and Juice"? Tired. "Hit Me Baby One More Time?" Done that. He busted through the Phil Collins section without recognizing the artist's work as at least a speed bump in his quest for the perfect, untested song.

Pista started her set with a song about unconditional love by a performer who once set the bar on baring a single naked shoulder, and athletic headbands as mainstream accessories. "We Belong," by Pat Benetar. It was a strong showing with an admittedly low difficulty level. Like performing a floor routine comprised of cartwheels and half-twists. Worthy of the one-man applause from a drunk at the end of the bar, but not the sort of performance that would land her on "Star Search."

Pista was obviously aware of the limitations of the karaoke equipment at said bar when she pulled up the lyrics to "Holding out for a Hero" on her iPhone. The singer has above-average familiarity with Bonnie Tyler's anthem, a 5-plus minute soul scorcher she cues up obsessively whenever she is anywhere near a treadmill. She can bust out more than a half-mile in the time it takes Williams to make her plea for a white knight who is fast and strong. Of course, there is a difference between listening to a song on ear buds, and beer and audience-induced amnesia. When her hand-held lyrics failed to follow the flow of the recording, she turned to Jody, the karaoke DJ, and gave him a look of terror. She was obviously in over her head, and lacked the confidence to fake her way through the song. Our hero was sucking. The drunk at the end of the bar clapped though. Even offered an encouraging "whoo!"

Chuck continued to page through the song book without inspiration.

Another singer pulled a chair up to the microphone, popped a squat, and sang "Scarborough Fair," in all its morose glory. "He had to sit down because he's shitting out his soul," the DJ said to Chuck. The performance piqued a conversation about how Pista loathes Art Garfunkle. It has been at least four months since she has expressed this feeling about the dandelion-haired half of Simon and Garfunkle.

Pista continued her quest for new material with "Midnight Train to Georgia." Back when she used to drive places in her car, trips that took longer than 7 minutes, she once spent an entire journey learning all the "Ohhs," grunts and yelps of this Gladys Knight classic. Now, faced with the lyrics, she failed to get into the flow of the song. But when it came to the lyrics "I'd rather live in his world, than live without him in mine," she went apeshit. Really belted it out. That's what you do when you can only remember the rhythmic expectations of a single phrase.

Feeling the dull thud of failure, Pista went with "Borderline" for her next song. She knows this one better than her own signature. It was a thrilling return to form for the ailing karaoke singer. A reminder of what she can accomplish with a microphone under optimal circumstances.

Of course she petered out with her final pick. She had two more songs in the queue: "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac, and "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey. Jody accidentally played the opening notes to "Dreams" by the Cranberries, then ditched anything Dream-related, and played her final song.

Pista, Chuck, and Jody were all eager to get to RT Quinlan's for last call. The cab had been called. This venue had been played out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shriek, sing, squeal ...

Imagine being stuck in a small humid place with two dozen tea kettles at the boiling point. Or a few litters of feral cats that have been spun in circles, then released. That is the swim team that takes over the women's locker room. They shriek, sing, and squeal, pound on the door that separates them from the boys on the other side of the wall. They whip their wet hair and toss damp towels on the floor.

Yesterday a girl skittered in front of me, hopped pantless onto a stool. A giant husky mass of 10 year old girl with tangled hair and an awkward shirt. She wanted to put her pants on while standing on a pedestal. I get that. Then she bonked me in the head with her knee as she stepped into her jeans and didn't even notice.

I wish I had a do-over so I could go back and make sure I was never that girl.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Put title here ...

[Put words here]

In other news ... here's how I spent last week:


Greek Avgolemono Soup: In some ways, this soup with orzo, egg and veggies tasted like canned Campbell's chick'n and stars soup. But in a good way. And without chicken.

Lemon Ricotta Hotcakes: Our local branch of Hell's Kitchen recently went breakfast-free, burger-rific, eliminating my favorite from their menu. Luckily, the Hell's Kitchen cookbook includes the recipe for Lemon Ricotta Hotcakes, which were de.lish.

I added soy whipped cream to the breakfast-for-dinner, and that stuff isn't gross at all.

The History of Love: A Novel by Nicole Krauss: I haven't made any words down about this book yet, but when I do, the phrase "weightlifting for the soul" will come into play. I did like it. Four stars, phukos. When at some point I do write about it, those words will be here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shorties ...

Me: I have callouses.
Chuck: You have blisters.
Me: Oh.

JCrew: I guess if you really want to go out, we'll go out.
Me: Nah, I was only going to go out if you really wanted to go out. Let's all just not go out.
JCrew: I found $30 olive oil for $10 today at TJMaxx.
Me: Holy crap, really?! I went couch shopping and found one I really like.


Me: We just went from talking about going out drinking, to talking about discounted olive oil and furniture. Gross.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You take the good, you take the bad ...

So this happened tonight. All week I've been thinking about that episode of "The Facts of Life" -- the latter years when the girls were grown and Mrs. Garrett owned Edna's Edibles -- where the crew goes to see this guy perform.

Natalie wore a green poncho.

I've been trying to find exactly which episode this is, and failing. But man, if reading Wikipedia's episode guide for "The Facts of Life" isn't friggin' delicious. These are some weighty episodes.

A few of my favorite blurbs:

Season 3, Episode 11: Blair learns that her late grandfather, whom she idealized, was a supporter and benefactor of the Ku Klux Klan.
Season 3, Episode 18: Determined to prove her maturity, Tootie goes off to New York City unescorted to meet with friends at a theater. A teenage prostitute teaches her a harsh reality.

Season 4, Episode 5: Blair thinks she's doing a good deed by tutoring a mentally retarded young man, but the naive student misinterprets her good intentions.

Season 4, Episode 18 (2): When Jo decides that she wants to become a nun along with Blair's sister, Blair sees herself as the only one who can talk them out of it. However, Blair's true feelings toward Meg come to the surface when Blair gets fed up with talk of God which leads to a violent encounter with Jo.

Season 5, Episode 9: Disregarding Jo's instincts, Mrs. Garrett and the girls befriend Kelly, a fast-talking street punk who ends up trying to extort protection money from them.

Season 6, Episode 6: After Jo shares a doughnut with a professor (Kristoffer Tabori), rumors of a budding romance spread across campus.
Season 6, Episode 9: Jo thinks about her friendship with Blair with the aid of a talking computer.

Season 7, Episode 5: The store gets into hot water with Langley officials for carrying a beefcake poster featuring the men's swimming team.
Season 7, Episode 7: The girls go to an audition to perform as backup singers for El DeBarge.

Season 7, Episode 18: On her way to accepting an award, Blair is trapped in an elevator with a concentration camp survivor (Georgia Schmidt) whose troubled past makes her rethink her values.

I smell a marathon coming.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Until further notice ...

I have an important announcement: Henceforth, when I refer to "my favorite writer" I will be talking about Haruki Murakami. He has been promoted, and no longer must defer to Mr. McInerney, Mr. Easton Ellis, Mr. Fitzgerald or Mr. Hemingway. Mr. Palahniuk, of course, plummeted with his 2008 sketch of the pornographic film industry "Snuff," but is again working his way toward a spot at the table with last year's "Pygmy."

This means that if two of these authors show up on the floor next to my bed, right of way goes to Murakami. This also means that if ever again in my life I am asked what bar I'd take my favorite writer to if he came to town, I'll have a new author and a new bar. The town will remain the same.

(I'm still not sure why none of my super-favorite writers are women, but we'll address that another time).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hip hip souffle! ...

This past week I learned the awesome power of a sauna. Parts of my body that I didn't know could sweat were totally drooling. When I left the sauna, I could smell stuff that happened a week ago. I felt like I was floating. I smiled at strangers. I would have pet puppies.

There will be more saunas in 2010.

In other news: Here are the foods, books, TV, and movies of the past week. Is it just me, or did we watch a heckuva lot of tube in the past 168 hours?

Kitchari with Cauliflower and Peas: This one was billed by VT as being the consistency of risotto, which is exactly what sold me. Chuck likes mushy foods; I like warm foods with a cauliflower base.

This was win-win. It was totally good with a subtle Indian seasoning to it. Mushy, warm, requiring a salt lick to up the flavor potential. I'd make it again.

Spinach Souffle: Yes, my mom got me "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" for Christmas. It wasn't something I necessarily wanted (Why bother? It's not like I can redo with it what has already been done. It is just an entire book filled with an idea I didn't have. Not to mention my reluctance to cook meat ...) But the truth is, there are things I want to try in this two-volume collection.

So I made a Spinach Souffle, which I granted a higher level of difficulty than it actually requires. The next one will be easy peasy.

"Was it good?" My mom asked me on Sunday.

"What do you think?" I answered. "It had 3 tablespoons of butter, a cup of Swiss cheese, whole milk, and 4 and a half eggs."

NOTE: If I'm going to continue making recipes from this particular recipe book on Saturday nights, we are going to have to start calling it Faturday.

NOTE II: I know that isn't a souffle pan.

Hearty Chili Mac:  This Vegan recipe is a lot like hamburger helper, but with fake meat. I thought this was pretty good and hearty and wintery, but I would make some changes to the recipe if I made it again. For one thing, I'd brown the fake meat, and add chili power do that before going straight into the boiling phase. Of course, as with all Vegan foods made here, I immediately deveganized it with shredded cheese. Ooops.

On that note, I can't remember how I off-roaded to this Web site, but I'll probably be taking a bunch of the recipes from here for a test spin in the upcoming months.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: Lorrie Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" falls into that tricky category of just-North-of-good -- a gray area that I struggle to write reasonable sentences about. When it comes to me, a blank page and a blinking cursor, I prefer to hate something or want to roll naked in a meadow with it, rather than just thinking it is pretty good.

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem: "Chronic City" is a doozy with some really crazy writing that left my jaw unhinged. It has thick, wordy sentences that are so visual. It also has rabid rants that require holding onto a railing to navigate. Mostly it is a really fantastic stroll through a world that is familiar, and just left of familiar.

United States of Tara: Season One: The mouths on these characters! I totally recommend this Showtime show featuring tons of characters played by fewer actors.

Inglorious Bastards : WWII fan-fiction. Pretty damn good.

Trucker Oh yeah. Movies can make you cry. I totally forgot. This one is about a sassy lady truck driver who's exhusband gets sick leaving her in charge of their 11-year-old son. This puts a bit of a crimp in her truck stop antics. They learn to love.

The Republic of Love: Better than a lot of rom-coms -- probably because it is Canadian -- but not as good as the book by Carol Shields.

Doubt: This one's a reeeeeaaaaaal thinker. Did Philip Seymour Hoffman's version of a Catholic priest molest the boy or not? YOU decide. Opinions on who did what were split at this house.

Deadline: Brittany Murphy stars as an anemic whack job writer who wanders around a big old house getting all freaked out about disembodied voices and bumps in the night. This is all time that would be better spent brushing her hair.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The brain, it gets bigger ...

Every morning between 1 a.m.-2:30 a.m. I take my horizontal-striped, fleece-clad gams and crawl into the lap of luxury. Our bed is amazing. I sleep the sleep of a paraplegic squirrel. I love that bed. It is the most comfortable surface in this apartment.

"It's not a bed," Chuck told me recently while we were contemplating our worldly goods.
"What do you mean it's 'Not a bed'?" I asked.
"It used to be a bed. Now it's just a mattress and box spring," he told me, adding a long story a broken frame and an eager buyer at a garage sale years ago.

I guess I'd noticed that I never lost a sock under it. That the Gatorade bottles pile up next to the bed instead of lolling in a cat-hair coat in a hard-to-reach place. I used to have my own bed, a sleep-machine that fit the definition of a bed-bed. I donated that to the woman who now sleeps in my old bedroom in my old apartment so I wouldn't have to lug it a mile when I moved in with Chuck. Now, comparing the two things in my head, I see that Chuck is right. It is just a mattress and box spring.

I had no idea.

This is just one of a few things that have come to my attention in the past few months. Another: There is something about my body chemistry and the standard laptop that renders the latter useless. In my most recent purchase, the USB ports started malfunctioning one at a time until none of them worked. Now the damn thing won't stay online for more than 3 minutes at a time. It revs like a helicopter, gets hot, freezes. It's a piece of shit. Instead, I use one of Chuck's backup desk top computers on which he has installed Linux. For about a year, I have believed that neither YouTube nor Hulu worked on this computer. Blah blah Linux. Blah blah incompatible. That the sound didn't work.

Yesterday Chuck told me that I could use both features. That I just had to turn on the speakers. Turns out he is right.

If you were to tell me that you don't like "A Prairie Home Companion," I would make some pretty grand assumptions about your political affiliations and the size of your brain. You can't not like APHC. It's charming. It's Minnesotan.

A few weeks ago I realized that I hate "A Prairie Home Companion." Garrison Keillor's lazy horny-toad voice, all those banjo interludes. Kill me now. I'd rather listen to Click and Clack, and they talk about one of my least favorite topics: cars. But in every episode, you can imagine having Thanksgiving dinner with these clowns. "Pass the gravy, Clack."

I realize this probably means I've been sucked into some sort of pedestrian quicksand, but I really like Coldplay. Sometimes I listen to the Coldplay station on Pandora, even though it means I might come face to face with Jason Mraz (suck). Something about Coldplay soothes my soul. I'm hoping this isn't a gateway drug to passing out on a couch after the 10 o'clock news, organizing dinner parties at Olive Garden. "Pass the breadsticks, Clack."

I read "Candy Girl" when it first came out, and can't remember what I thought about it. I saw Juno, and can't remember what I thought about that, either. I've observed Diablo Cody's life the same way I observe the plotline on "One Tree Hill": Not exactly sure why I'm doing it, but doing it just the same. I follow her on Twitter; I would read a story about her in any sort of magazine. But I have been unable to decide if I like or loathe her.

Finally, I have an answer: I love Diablo Cody.

"Jennifer's Body" is brilliant. It is both clever and cleverly derivative. Almost a mocku-horror flick. Totally 80s-style kitch, but an 80s-style of kitch that makes fun of itself. We've just finished watching Season 1 of "United States of Tara" and there it is again. This wordy dialog that is so fun and interesting and visual and quote-worthy.

My friend Tuska recently told me that she doesn't like Cody precisely because of the way she writes dialog. Tuska knows a thing or two about directing, and said she is distracted by how unnatural the phrases are. I'll give Tuska that. But I'm still sold. Cody writes the kind of things where you don't even want to laugh because you're going to miss the next bit of hilarious genius spat from a character's mouth.

I'm a fan grrrl.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I'd rather be the pope ...

My friend Hank made a brief appearance in Duluth on Monday night. I hadn't seen him in more than four years, which is pretty strange since for about 3 years of my life I was tormented by him daily. He is directly responsible for my move to Duluth. I no longer hold that against him.

He played his visit exactly right, not telling JCrew or me that he was in town until he was actually in town. This is a smart move, as we are both better off spontaneously adjusting our schedules than having a week to rue a looming commitment.

In a lot of ways, our conversation felt like JCrew and I were country cousins, and he was our exotic guest, telling us about a great large world beyond the Duluth border.

1. He was not spotted wearing X-rated bikini running shorts.
2. He did not make love to a bar stool while listening to Prince on the juke box.
3. He did not make anyone cry. At least not on the outside.
4. He did not jet down East 2nd St. at 90 miles per hour while listening to Ry Cooder.
5. He did not ride his bike through the front door of the Pioneer, and straight through to a back table.
6. He perform any surface tension experiments with beer, covertly filling our mugs when we weren't looking.
7. He did not penetrate the soul of any of the females who were present, unleashing geysers of naval gazing juice.
8. He did not encourage us to have an afterbar sponsored by Hamburger Helper, then not show up.
9. He also did not sneak out in the night when we weren't looking.

He did make me drink beer on a Monday, which means I will be cursing him for the rest of the week.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In the tens ...

Well, helllllo 2010. This year seems to be off to a good start. All of my clothes are clean and I have actually been to the YMCA instead of just treating my membership card like a keychain accessory.

In other news, this is how I spent my past week:

Suzie's Tanzanian Ugali: This one comes from the Julie & Julia follow-up by Julie Powell, her tsk-tsk memoir "Cleaving." In one of the better parts of the book, she travels to Tanzania and tries Ugali, and included a version of it in the story. Boil water, slowly dump corn flower into the water until it is thick and doughy. Plop that sucker onto a plate, and eat it with a mix of cooked onions, tomatoes and greens. She suggests pulling parts of the dough, making an indentation to use as a scoop, and eating with your hands. I lasted about one go-round with that approach. I even eat pizza and sandwiches with a fork.

I like the idea better in theory.

So, this was super hard. At least the doughy part. My flimsy muscles struggled to stir it. There was much swearing. It's very filling, and the dough part just tastes like a giant dumpling or less flavorful mashed potatoes. It is good to know that if we have an empty cupboard, I can probably make something using this as a base. Then we can just save our taste buds for another day.

"It looks exactly how it tastes," as Chuck said.

Polenta Pizza: This was a hit. I made polenta mixed with a bit of parm, and spread it on the bottom of a springform pan (not just for cheesecake anymore. Good thing Chuck didn't run it over like he threatened to after the great Pumpkin Cheesecake incident of aught-9.) TIP: If you wait for the polenta to cool just an iota, it spreads a lot better. I topped it with some chicken sausages, tomatoes, arugula, onions and some disks of moz, then baked it for like a half hour. Totally good.

Greek Chicken and Orzo with White Wine Cream Sauce: I felt like a mad scientist when I made this. I made orzo, meanwhile mixed up some onions, garlic, white wine and just two dashes of heavy cream. When I sampled it, my mouth almost exploded. Inspiration comes from a local Greek restaurant that serves this with beef tips. I just made mine with chicken, which was meh. I'm not huge into chicken anyway. But the Orzo! Oh ... the orzo.

Jennifer's Body: Oh, Diablo. You did it. This might just be my favorite movie of 2009. It's an insta-Cult classic, rich in hokey dialog, (When the Succubus has suffered a torso wound in a scuffle, she turns to her friend and asks for a tampon), and sickeningly delicious. This got panned by people who know things about movies, but seemed to have missed the point. It has a strong USA Up All Night vibe (Chuck pointed this out, I totally agree), but is so so so clever. Sometimes the dialog sounds like it is actually making fun of Juno. I'm going to choose to think this is on purpose.

Drag Me to Hell: Huh. This kind of sucked. But I got my high score on Bejeweled Blitz for iPhone while ignoring it. There are some totally disgusting scenes. I like the part where the old woman sticks her fist directly into the protagonist's face.

Too Much Money: A Novel by Dominick Dunne: "Too Much Money" reads like an advanced season of the Upper East Side teen drama "Gossip Girl," a place where rumors run as fast as opposable thumbs can text them. In his final novel, Dunne revisits characters from "People Like Us," which he wrote in the 80s, featuring thinly-veiled versions of his friends, enemies, and acquaintances from the fancy schmancy moneyed world of NYC dinner parties.

Gus Bailey is an embedded journalist walking among people whose donations to the city's library surpass his legal fees from his public insinuation that a certain congressman was more involved in the death of a young woman than he is admitting. Bailey is a person people tell things to (much like Dunne always described himself when he was writing for Vanity Fair and covering things like the OJ Simpson trial).

Dunne writes about these characters as they make chess-like moves through society.

Full review will be on Minnesota Reads.

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler: Anne Tyler's 18th novel "Noah's Compass" is more twee than Zooey Dechanel wrapped in the orange and brown tones of a home-knit afghan.

This one comes out this week. The review will be on Minnesota Reads.

Big Machine: A Novel by Victor LaValle: Maybe you just broke up with your boyfriend. Maybe you haven't had a boyfriend in, like, eons. Along comes this guy: good-lookingish, sorta funny, kinda interesting. People you like also like him. You shrug and give him a whirl. You just cannot catch the fever, though. There is something off. Cogs that don't match up or something. Trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. He becomes a placeholder. Someone to sit next to in relationship's waiting room.

That, for me, was what it was like to read Victor LaValle's "Big Machine."

This will also be on Minnesota Reads.

In other book news, here is my top 10 books that I read in '09.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Homemade ceviche ...

Chuck and I are standing in front of the steak fridge at The Mold Factory (1), eying the slabs of red meat. T-bone, sirloin, short ribs, flank steak. We were invited to a NYE pre-bar dinner party, a BYO-meat-to-grill event. Our hosts were grilling lobster and steak. I am so far removed from summer and meat that I couldn't even remember what tastes good grilled. JCrew had adopted a bunch of cheese from China, and had made a potato side dish from Thomas Keller's cookbook, the kind of potato side dish that wouldn't make eye contact with me on a public street.

"You decide," I sighed, deferring to Chuck. "I know nothing about steak." He gave me a look like I'd asked him if he could fix my transmission. Sometimes I forget that he was a vegetarian for more than a decade, until that fateful day that his mock duck Reuben was accidentally substituted for a real Reuben, and he licked his lips and decided meat was good.

We went with Sirloin.


We went to Pizza Luce for the Cars & Trucks show. I drank PBR and gave away free hugs. Chuck had bought 50 cents worth of facial hair for the big night, and spent some time experimenting with various looks.

A visibly drunk man rushed FScotty, damn near tackling my little friend, growling variations of "I love you man." FScotty turned and introduced him as his younger brother. This may be the most stunning incident of genetics ever recorded. FScotty is a proper young chap, a lover of literature and travel. He has a sort of 1930s sensibility that always reminds me of a scene out of The Great Gatsby. Now, take FScotty, unzip him from the tip of his forehead to his crotch, open it up and flip his skin and personality inside out to reveal his inverse. Perhaps the kind of person who could win a keg toss. That is his brother. My mind is still blown. Both are good people. They are best friends. It was cute.


FScotty drove us to an after bar at SeaDawg's. On the way up 19th Ave. E., we saw an amazingly beautiful young woman shivering on the side of the road. She was wearing a tiny black dress, about as effective against the wind and chill as an oven mitt. A very sheer oven mitt. Chuck and I coaxed FScotty into pulling over. He wasn't a hard sell; In his mind they were already honeymooning on the French Riviera.

"Do you need a ride?" he asked her.
"Um ... I'm just waiting for my sister, that bitch," the girl said in a soft precious little voice. Breathy and light, like she took out her fragile voice box every night, dusted it carefully, wrapped it in bubble wrap and put it on a very high shelf.
"Where does she live? Can we drive you?" FScotty asked.

Here I revealed myself so she would know FScotty wasn't planning to go Manson Family on her.

"Well," she said. "She lives like 7 ... blocks? Up there?" she said, climbing into the front seat.

She turned to FScotty, studied his face. "Ohhhh ... you're cute," she breathed. She turned to Chuck and me in the back seat. "Oh ... you guys are cute, too. ... Were you at Luce?"

"Yes!" I said. "Were you?"
"No," she said quietly. "There's my sister's house." She pointed out the window.

We had literally driven two houses from where we picked her up. The girl climbed out of the car, and as she walked away, she growled in a much different voice: "AMANDA! YOU BITCH!"

This, of course, made FScotty's night. He was still talking about her an hour later, considering writing a "Missed Connections."

(Today I got a text message from him:"She gets more beautiful in my mind every moment that passes by.")


Back at the afterbar, JCrew emptied the contents of her stomach into SeaDawg's toilet. A testy flusher on the can means it can only be flushed every 20 minutes or so. Chunks of lobster, and creamy potatoes mixed with guests urine. The whole thing looked like ceviche.


Today I slept until 6:45 p.m., and when I woke up I looked like I was possessed by Joan Jett. In an absence of pain reliever geared toward post-NYE relief, I was forced to take Midol to combat my headache. Readers, it worked.