Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The language of percents ...

In the middle of last week I remembered that thinking of Christmas presents for everyone isn't the same thing as actually buying Christmas presents for everyone. My niece's gift was tucked into my trunk between white Hefty kitchen bags filled with garbage -- medium sized McDonald's cups stained with blue PowerAde, Clif Bar wrappers, receipts -- from the last two times I "cleaned" my car. I sometimes forget that the laws of science apply even to me. That in order to have a gift for my mom, I need to drive to a store and exchange legal tender for said gift. I can't just will it into an artfully wrapped reality. No, Virginia, there is no such thing as brain Internet. Yet.

This ended with a feverish last-minute dash through stores and mall kiosks. A woman in front of me in line at Bath & Body Works is pulling sighs from way down deep. They start in her socks. She's tested every Cherry Apple hand sanitizer and every Vanilla Mocha Lip Balm sample she can press into her flesh. "You've got to be kidding me," she says watching a single apron-ed cashier give each individual customer a final positive Bath & Body Works experience. The chance to be mentally lubed, full body, in Sweat Pea scent.

I'm hot, too. Reeking of fruit combinations not found in nature. Still, I don't understand Christmas shopping on December 23rd and then bitching about lines and delays. Self-induced seizures from rolling your pupils directly against the surface of your brain. You have options, Deep Sigh. You going to get dangerous and complain about the 2-hour wait at Olive Garden, too?

Still, I find myself matching her sigh-for-sigh when I finally get to the front of the line and the cashier tells me, cheerfully, that if I buy three of their signature scents I get three for free. Leaving line. Shuffling to the wall of signature scents, sticking my nose into bottle after bottle after bottle.

***

We time our drive to Rochester to get a sweet-ass parking spot in my parent's driveway for the Christmas Eve party with the Pista side of the family, but late enough to avoid the awkwardness of trying to remember all the church rhymes of Christmas Eve mass. Word on the streets is that the Catholics have recently initiated some changes in wording that have church goers fumbling with cue cards throughout the service. I thought Brother Pista was yanking my chain when he told me. One of those "Oh yeah, and it's a costume party" tricks that would find me genuflecting my way into a pew dressed as a zombie French Maid.

This edict from the Pope seems to be a way of getting the flock away from the rock 'n' roll masses favored in hip suburban churches. To remind them of what is truly important: Not eating food an hour before taking communion.

***

We stopped at Target for new toothbrushes. We can never remember toothbrushes. I studied the faces of shoppers, mentally Photoshopping away 10 years of wear-and-tear, laugh lines and squint creases, looking for one person to nuggie while screaming "THAT ONE TIME ... BUNSEN BURNER!" I never see anyone I know at Target in Rochester.

***

Personally, I recommend having one of your aunts marry your high school track coach. My personal highlight reel unfurled over lasagna. I believe he was surprised to see that the back window of my car didn't have STRAIGHT TO STATE in balloon lettering penned in fluorescent washable marker. I never tire of his stories about long jump-this, triple jump-that 4-by-400 relay. I've always referred to him as Mr. M--. He might be sans whistle, no baseball cap, nowhere near a track. But he still seems like a Mr. M-- to me. And, subsequently, to Chuck.

"You know, you don't have to call him Mr. M--," my mom told Chuck. "In fact, it doesn't even make sense."

***

It's a Christmas miracle. My parents let us share the guest room, even the guest bed. This has been, in the past, an annoyance for me. We are, according to some, middle aged. We have a house together. We are at a point in our lives where there is little that would skeeve either of us more than to do anything more than sleep on a bed surface in my parent's house. This isn't a sexy and defiant college break for two bodies throbbing Morse Code messages, a genital and pheromone stereo of "Now I'm an adult." This is real life in a room decorated in browns and golds, paintings starring beautiful Native American women hanging on the wall. The work of my late grandfather, with some cues taken from John Ford. This is a maroon landline that was in my childhood home and a hope chest with 35 pounds of black and green tulle my Grandma Pista crafted into a freshman year homecoming costume. It's sharing space in cedar with my mom's wedding dress. This isn't sexy time. This is, if possible, stone cold, dead to the world, sleep. We might touch feet beneath the sheets, if neither's foot temperature deviates too significantly from the other's foot temperature.

I find myself grateful for this one concession. Almost as grateful as I am for the black out blinds in this room that keep the sun from boring through the window and burning a crop circle into the crown of my head at daybreak.

I don't feel that I've won, per se. Not at all. I feel like they have just acknowledged that this is my person regardless of whether we've filed paperwork about it at City Hall and crammed sheet cake into each other's gaping maws in front of an audience. Now if my mom can figure out how to use the Nook we got her, the planet will probably explode.

***

Christmas Day is nice. Chuck and I over-coffee ourselves to death on Folger's Crystals while my mom and dad trade off telling me stories about people and places that I've never heard, or at least never heard with this newfound interest in what went down before I was born. The trip my parent's took with my grandparent's to the Boundary Waters, but first getting hopped up on pitchers of Vodka Gimlets. It rained and rained. First one of my grandpa's knees went out, then the other went out when he began favoring it. He couldn't hoist his half of a canoe. My parents saw a moose. My grandparent's saw an eagle nest. My parents thought that sight paled in comparison. My great aunt was a party girl, always with a glass and a cigarette. She lost an eyeball (and the twins she was carrying) in a car accident caused by her husband. They hit a bridge embankment. She got a glass eye and eventually a new husband and never had kids. I used to make poetry chapbooks for her using wrapping paper, yarn and the cardboard from a box of Rice Krispies.

***

Gifts were exchanged. I am now a gift certificate to the Guthrie and Barnes & Noble, clothing, scarves and mittens, an Apocalypse-style crank radio and a Kindle richer.

***

We missed the party with Chuck's family, but caught his dad before his afternoon nap. We visited for awhile. I performed a commercial for life in Phoenix, Arizona. He showed us his growing gun collection.

"Do you want to hold it?" Chuck asked me, a size of his hand.
"Probably reminds her of the one that was shoved in her face," his dad accurately predicted.
"I don't think so," I said.
Chuck wiped his prints off the gun.
"Were those loaded?" I asked him later.
"I don't know," he said.

***
I passed out 15 minutes into our annual viewing of "Gremlins." We went to bed at 8 p.m., but sleep didn't take for me. I read 62 percent of the novel "Ten Thousand Saints." Now I speak the language of percents.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The gold standard ...

I am a texter. I text a lot. Like, change my cell phone plan, texter. And a lot of the text messages I receive are funny, to the point where if I type "Hahaha," my phone fills in a whole bunch more H and A combos and throws in some extra J's and more to make my laughter appear to be out of control, like I fell face first on my screen. It is at least a line's worth of hilarity.

When that happens, it is genuine. I actually think the comment deserves that length of Hahahas. For awhile I had a hierarchy system, the more hahas the bigger the laugh. The more random letters that fell into the mix, the more funny. A Ha! still counts for something. But it's just a quick burst that denotes funniness, cleverness, irony, or me not really knowing how to respond.

But I have a new marker of the gold standard of comedy and it is this:

 It is the LOLFace and it means I'm out-of-control cracking up, laughing my head off, going apeshit crazy with dizziness. It's something to strive for. When one of those lands in your phone, mission accomplished. I'm peeing.

In other news, here is what I made, ate and watched in the past few weeks.


FOODS

Italian Pot Pie: I totally loved this mix of Indian flavors sandwiched between heaping globs of puff pastry. The crust is a way better swab for the gooey innards than any other crust I've used in a potpie.


Chocolate Mint Surprise Cupcakes: This has become the new annual Birthday cupcake. I made them last year, too, though last year's batch was a debacle and this year's batch was seamless. I even bought a piping bag (though I'm not sure how to clean it). Close your eyes and imagine this: Super chocolate frosting, vanilla cake, you bite into it and POW! A HUGE DOLLOP OF MINT INSIDE! Plus I won a cake plate at a Christmas party so the whole thing was displayed on a glass pedestal. 


Chickpea, Chard and Soy Sausage Soup: I think I've made this soup before. It's hard to tell when you find yourself regularly dumping chickpeas, greens and fake meat into a broth. Shrug. It's always good.

MOVIES
Heathers: Somehow I made it to age 36 without seeing this movie in its entirety, which is a little like saying "Wham, who?" Of course it fell under that circus-tent sized umbrella of Things I Was Not Allowed To Watch when it was released in the late-1980s, which I'm sure really rankled my scrunchies at the time.

Let me tell you, though. This is exactly what elementary school looked like to me. We had a similar hierarchy system, popularity that hinged on the whims of girls born with sisters who were so cool. In this scenario I would have been Winona Ryder, though it never occurred to me to poison anyone with blue drink. And luckily we all lived through it and rarely played croquet.

I can't remember the effect of the movie at the time of its release, but in 2011 it screams of Diablo Cody more than even "Juno" screams of Diablo Cody.

Page One: Inside The New York Times This documentary about the changing face of journalism, centered around the New York Times, is fantastic. And as soon as David Carr is introduced, he steals the show and it becomes more interesting to watch him both beat the shit out of sources and hold younger reporters to his teat. I'd like to see a "Bill Cunningham New York" about David Carr. It might be time to reread "Night of the Gun." I'm going to start asking myself every morning: WWDCD.

Young Adult: I really, really loved Diablo Cody's new dark-dark, super-dark comedy-ish time capsule. This one stars a super drunk writer of young adult fiction who goes back to her small hometown, one that has become unrecognizable under the neon din of chain restaurants, and tries to win back her high school boyfriend. I cackled like a maniac through the whole thing. And the soundtrack kicks ass. I haven't thought about the song "The Concept" by Teenage Fanclub since 1995-ish.

The Tree Of Life: Uh ... There were like 20 not boring minutes of this one. I had to recuperate with a hearty dose of Kardashian afterward. But I'm willing to hear why it was great.

TV MARATHON

Life Unexpected: The Complete First and Second Seasons So this is classic CW in it's fantastic hair, acoustic guitar backdrops and Pottery Barn-meets-Urban Outfitters-ness. It is the ridiculously hokey story of a 15-year-old girl who has grown up in foster homes and seeks out her birth parents, the super awesome 32 year old bar owner in flannels and ironic Ts and the radio show host neurotic woman. Regardless, I can't stop watching it and then grabbing songs to make super cheesy Spotify playlists that I hide from the public.


BOOKS

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: You want magic, I’ll give you some magic: You spend a week reading a super-magical book with a magical premise, filled with mysterious circumstances, characters in whooshing formal-ware, secret spells and magic rooms and midnight dinner parties complete with a contortionist. You love it, seep into it, can see every magical illusion, every magical backdrop. 

Then, when it’s over, you can’t remember what was so big about it. There must be a word for why “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern went from a four point five-ish read to a three-ish post-read. Must be some sort of slight-of-brain. 

But while you’re reading, whoa. It’s a lovely way to spend a few days. 



Full review will be here

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A duet of medicine ...

Aside from the malfunctioning body parts that bring me limping, squinting, drooling through the automatic doors, I love going to Urgent Care.

"This sounds really dumb," I say to the girl working the desk, "but I have a headache." 
"That's not dumb!" she says, typing "headache" into my file. 
I'm adding texture to this accordion. Variety. Something new to break up the monotony of page after page after page of UTIs. There is nothing worse than a one-note patient. 
"That's not dumb," echoes the security guard who is standing behind her. 
"It's been, like, six days," I tell her, rubbing the side of my face where it feels like I was walloped with an ice skate, the cold blade splitting my right lobe.
"I have a headache, too," she tells me.
"Me too," says the security guard.
"I think I'm just hungry," the girl says. 
"Isn't it funny," the security guard says, "how you come here to get rid of your headache, and we come here and get a headache?"

There should be a word for when someone believes they have unearthed irony, but really it's just a sentence.

***

It's the waiting that I like. This undefined span of time between right now and when something will happen. An excuse to dig out my book and crank through 30 pages while drinking vending machine coffee. To yawn and look at the clock. I like it at airports, I like when I'm picking up pizza or prescriptions. It is time to do nothing, unable to do anything else because I'm busy. Waiting, it's perfect. 

Plus, I've grown up in an age ripe with TV medical dramas. I like to diagnose the lesions and sores of my fellow patients. I think I could perform ACL surgery with just gauze and an exacto-knife. It's interesting to note our breaking points: Where a person will cry "Uncle" in the battle against their body. A cockeyed ankle. A gash that won't stop oozing. This thing they're pretty sure is cancer. My rager of concentrated pain, it has it's own percussion section, on the right side of my head. That point where a person says, "Hm. I'm not going to be able to fix this with 800 mg of Ibuprofen and a 'Downton Abbey' marathon. I guess I'll go to Urgent Care."

On this day the waiting room is dry of fan fiction. Just an older couple sitting in adjacent chairs watching too-loud cartoons, inconclusive on which is the patient. A woman with a toddler, the patient must be the toddler, except the toddler is too cheerful to be feverish or to have consumed poison. The security guard has moved back to his post. The girl at the front desk hasn't eaten lunch. On top of that, there is no wait. Not only is "I have a headache" not dumb, it is the winningest complaint in this room's triage system.

***

I can hear a nurse and the doctor talking about the dearth of victims this afternoon outside the office door. They use the word "boring." The waiting room is empty. What a waste of wait. The doctor is in a good mood. He sticks something in my ear, then shoots its disposable rubber end into the garbage can across the room. He's a good shot. He looks up my nose and in my mouth, then washes his hands of me: Your gums are swollen, he says. This is a dental thing. He pats me on a back and gives me a handful of prescriptions: Ibuprofen, Penicillin and Hydrocodone. I toss all but the Hydrocondone down the hatch in the McDonald's parking lot with a blue Powerade in a medium-sized cup.

***

I'm always leery of Hydrocodone. The first time I took it I hated it. It was like not being drunk enough. Two and a half beers. I'm aware enough to know that I've started speaking in slurry paragraphs, but I'm too numbed to stop myself. I hate that feeling. I prefer my altered states to be extreme or not at all. These days I lean toward the latter with occasional exceptions. The second time I was prescribed Hydrocodone I found myself in a pleasantly relaxed state. It's not that the pain was necessarily gone, but I didn't care about it anymore. During that same prescription I popped one with a Sugar Free Rock Star to combat the drowsiness and for the next hour everything I said, and I said a lot, sounded like I was yelling it into a cave. So I really only take it if the situation is unbearable and I know I'll be nowhere near a motor vehicle in the next six hours.

***

I imagine this pain is like contractions in my brain. It is so intense that I'm surprised that I can still see. It strikes quickly and it takes at least 45 minutes for the Ibuprofen to cloak and rock the yowl back to sleep. During passive periods I assume I'm cured. It doesn't occur to me to take an Ibuprofen preemptively. Sometimes there aren't passive periods. I seem to spend the day swinging from one handful of pills to the next.

***

The receptionist at my dentist's office tells me I'm due for a cleaning anyway. Why not make it a two-fer? They will take a pick axe to my plaque and get to the root of my head pain. Deal, I say.

Whenever I am at the dentist, prone, mouth wide open, I remember this time I saw a veterinarian fix up the grill on a matted and scruffy dog saved from the house of a hoarder. The dog's teeth were stained to the color of coffee and he had lost a few. She scraped at the buildup with a sharp implement, there was a lot of blood, eventually revealing something recognizable as teeth under that mess. He was drugged during the dental work, his mouth propped open and his tongue lolling from the side like a pinkish ribbon. When he woke, he was perky. Perkier than they had seen him yet.

"You don't chew on the right side, do you?" the hygienist asks me. "Since you don't have a tooth over there."

I prefer to think of her as clairvoyant than to think of her as "CSI: My Mouth." In my head she says this in the dreamy voice of a woman surrounded by scented candles, peering into a foggy ball.

"No," I confirm in my most proud-of-you voice.

She tells me that because I don't chew on that side, plaque builds more easily. It isn't getting moved around by my food. I imagine a piece of chewed apple like a Brillo pad against my molars and make a note to pass this information on to my dad, who has recently lost the same tooth.

She tells me that she sees evidence of swollen gums, but that maybe the Penicillin is working because it's not that bad right now. I test my head and notice that it isn't quite as furious as it has been.

***

I really like my dentist. We both dig Woody Allen, and I intended to ask him what he thought of "Midnight in Paris" and if he saw the documentary on PBS. He reminds me of someone who would have gone to high school with my dad and then remained lifelong friends. If I'd known him when I was eight he would have called me Squirt and asked if I was still chasing all the boys on the playground. His wife would have given me a $25 check when I graduated from high school. He wouldn't seem as old to me now as he did when I was living at home.

He walks into the room, doesn't even look at me, and walks straight to the sink. "Let me get this straight," he says, "I can't even get tickets to the Elton John concert and you're, what? In the front row?"

"It was the eleventh row," I tell him.

He looks in my mouth, requests some mouth photos, and tells the hygienist that I should be put on Metronidazole, another antibiotic. She tells him that I'm already on Penicillin.

He says he would prefer I take both. That they:
"Work in concert with each other," he says.

I love that. Work in concert with each other. It's such a great phrase. Very visual. Tonight! Live! Penicillin and Metronidazole! A Duet of Medicine! The hygienist slips me a new toothbrush, toothpaste and floss and removes my bib. She tells me the bone where my tooth was looks good.

We're all in great spirits. We're on the edge of a laugh. The final scene of the movie, where everyone is smiling really big and hair looks like it could bounce right off a shoulder. My teeth feel like you could roller skate on them. My pain has dulled to something manageable.   

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Top six ...

Here are the Top Six comments Chuck made during tonight's episode of "Top Chef" about the contestants and/or their food. I think it stands alone, even if you didn't see the episode. Also: No Spoilers!

In no specific order:

"I can't tell if she's really good or really terrible. I know I don't ever want to be in a car she's driving."

"How can she work with tequila if she's straight-edge? I think that black X is a lie."

"You're drunk."

"Some of these people are terrifying. I wouldn't want any of these people mad at me. I would want the Asian woman mad at me if I had to pick."

"I'm nervous about her sausage, too. I don't even know what that means."

"That venison looks so gross! That's something you'd see on the side of the road. I've seen that in the woods surrounded by wolf prints."

*Chuck did not know I was taking notes until the show was over.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rally faces ...



My favorite part of the annual Birthday Rally in Spirit Valley is the part where you go up to a bartender at the Kom-on-Inn and say: "I'll have what the mayor's having."

(A: Summit Pale Ale).

Chuck and his bestie The Great Archivist held their 39th Annual conjoined birthday extravaganza on Saturday night at one of the few untapped bars in West Duluth that hasn't yet played host to this event. That is one of the rules of the annual party.

This is my second favorite holiday of the year and my sixth consecutive year of attendance. This year was noteworthy for the set of headphones The Great Archivist and Geo Girl picked up at an auction earlier in the day and tried to pass off onto unsuspecting guests nostalgic for a time before technology, when you could kill off your friends and teachers with dysentery. We scored a pair, and I am going to plug them in and learn about the state capitols and Spanish.


It was a good night, good bar. Lots of people. I performed some performance art shamelessly swiped from Miranda July.




Notable events in previous years include: Chuck wearing a pair of goalie pads The Great Archivist burned off the wall, then Chuck and me making out in the backseat of JCrew's escalade until we got to Taco John's where we came up for air long enough to order Clam Chowder, cackling as we took turns screaming "Stir the Stew!"



Winning a U of Kielbasa during the Birthday Rally Meat Raffle, then getting strong-armed by an aggressive party guest who did not want to leave a Meat Raffle without meat. I traded her for a beer for me and the mister and then we hugged in the parking lot of Mr. D's after I dug it out of my trunk for her. Now we are friends because we both like to watch Tori Spelling on TV. Later that night The Great Archivist hopped on stage and was allowed to sing his version of "Big Balls" by AC/DC with the live band.

Dining at the Jade Fountain and trying a bite of someone's dinner that included oyster sauce and deciding that oyster sauce is really fantastic.



Leaving the original location of the 2009 party for last call at the Rustic, where the bartender must have  turned up the gravity all the way to the red zone. Revelers kept succumbing to it, doing the back stroke on discarded piles of pull tabs.

Last year Chuck got wrecked on Red Bull and I played video games. There was, coincidentally, a buffet that included chili or lasagna, something red and meaty, that had been on a table for the general public for an extended period of time. It was delicious.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Brains ...

I've had a raging headache for four days. It's just below my right ear, includes my jaw bone and is bad enough to recreationally Google "brain eating itself" in case there are cures I can mix up using the contents of our spice shelf and the tears of a grown woman.

"Well, maybe I'm just a person who gets migraines now," I tell Chuck. It happens. I've always assumed that since I'm a person who gets urinary tract infections that that would be my thing. But I suppose there is no rule that I can't be both. He's a little more level-headed than me, especially since he isn't busy constantly wiping his ear to see if grey matter is leaking from it.

He suggests that this isn't necessarily a lifetime of migraines. It might be:

1. The shifting of my teeth, since I'm down a man. I've recently learned the identity of the tooth lying in our medicine cabinet. It's called "Tooth 30." I know this because my dad just had his pulled and my mom's is chipped. What the genetic is going on with our mouths!?
2. A side effect of the lingering cold I have.
3. Some sort of infection in a nearby ear-nose-throat cavity.

Other non-clinical opinions include that I might be "so dramatic" (JCrew) and that it is a side effect of my birth control pills, according to CHRISSIE!(1) a strong proponent of the rhythm method.

So I've been pushing the boundaries on what is considered an acceptable amount of Advil to ingest in a single day.

FOOTNOTES
(1) In the history of this blog, I've never kowtowed to reader in this way. But the friend formerly known as "Radzo" asked me a long time ago to change her blog name. She requested Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack, which has been clunky as hell to type, but I did it. Then she decided she hated that, too. To which I say, "Blerg." After all that typing, I'm giving her one last blog nickname. She can like it, or she can go find another blog author with tens of readers to be friends with. And maybe that blog author will give her a name that is really, really special. So, Radzo, Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack, whoever the hell you are, you are now CHRISSIE! All caps, exclamation point.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Marrow popsicles ...

If PMS me was real me, every day would be like this:

Pull into the gas station and the minivan across from me has someone exiting on the passenger side. This long-haired boy or mannish woman windmills dangerously close to my hood. Like I'm invisible and so is my car. Like this entire area near the pumps is her dance floor. Because of this, I have to pull up super close to the pump. Can't open car door all the way, close. I squeeze out, arrange to pay with my card at the pump, can barely fit the nozzle into my tank because we are so squished here, parallel to this minivan. Nothing happens. I see the screen is prompting me to type in my zip code. I type 5-5-0, the 0 is a mistake so I hit cancel. I now see that truthfulness in zip codes at gas pumps is probably not a thing. But cancel cancels my entire transaction and the screen won't reset so I can start again: "See clerk" it tells me.

It's cold outside. Like marrow popsicles cold. And it's not getting any warmer in the next, like, 150 days at least.

"Do you know how to pump gas?" It's the owner of the mini van, who has the exact same face as the dancing passenger.
I give her a look I would never give someone. I'm standing here at a pump holding a gas nozzle. What do you think? I'm just going to wing it. Fingers crossed.
"Do you know how to pump gas?" she asks. "I can't get it to work."
"Go inside and ask for help," I tell her, not kindly. I can't even exhale because she forced me to pull so close to the pump, I'm not going to try to teach her new tricks, like: Insert card. Type in zip code. Remove nozzle.

I'm never like this.

I have to go inside anyway. I tell the guy that I was instructed to "See Clerk." He resets something. "I chose to pay at the pump so I wouldn't have to come in here," I think super loudly. I've budged in front of another customer. No big. It was a close race to the counter. I go back outside, squeeze between my car and the gas pump and everything works okay. I sit in my car and wait for the air to feel at least warmer than the wind outside and the whole time I'm still super mad about nothing.

Anyway, I'm better now. This is what I made, watched and read this past week(ish).

FOODS

White Bean Chili: It is exactly what it is: A great big pot of white beans mixed with lots of seasonings and seiten and soy sour cream. Good stuff. The sauce ends up really creamy. I made a few alterations here, the main one being that I threw a veggie bullion cube into the boiling mess instead of using chicken seasoning. Chicken seasoning sounded ominous. I also sauteed the seiten before I added it to the soup because I hated the idea of boiled seiten. This turned out to be a waste of time.

MOVIES
Castaway on the Moon: This Korean movie starts out like a really embarrassing slapstick and then turns into something that is pretty great. In this corner, we have a ruined man financially collapsed who jumps off a bridge and lands on this weird island in the city. He can't get off of it because he is terrified of water (word) so he does a few things from the school of Tom Hanks' deserted island bible and a few things that are better. In the meantime, a very neurotic girl never leaves her room. She invents an online personae, sleeps in her closet and walks in place to exercise. She notices, through her telescope, this man on the island and they develop a friendship. She sends him letters in a bottle; he responds by writing in the sand.

The Future: Week 2 of gawking at Miranda July. She wrote and starred in this movie about a couple who is planning to adopt a sick cat (that can talk). The dialogue between the couple in this movie is so so charming and great.

Jesus' Son: Meh, I don't know. I think I really would have liked this story of this kid's fucked up relationship a lot better in 1998. Now it just felt like not enough ... everything.

BOOKS
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright: This book is either super sexy or like watching someone crash their life into the ground at 180 miles per hour. Either way, it's deese.

Full review will be here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Uh oh it's magic ...

Recently a reader asked me a great question and one I took great thought in responding to:


As you know, I eat lunch at Subway every single day and almost always in-store, unless, as I've said, I happen to make eye contact with another diner on my way into the sandwich shop and that diner has either mustard, mayonnaise or a combination of both dripping from an engorged face hole. That's enough to put me off sandwiches, and actually food. Under these circumstances my stomach bucks and instead of feeding myself with food, I feed myself with the knowledge that I just saved upward of $4.

"Don't most of your stories start at Subway," Brother Pista asked at Thanksgiving before I started a story about something happened at Subway. I had no idea he was still reading my blog.

My favorite sub is a 6-inch BMT on Italian Herb & Cheese, with cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos. I only eat this on very special occasions. Those "YOU DESERVE IT!" moments. I'm not exactly sure what is on this sandwich, besides a handful of meat that includes pepperonis the size of drink coasters. But I like how it tastes just a little more than I like how other subs taste, though not enough to eat it regularly because it is not on Jared's List of Acceptable Sandwiches. I tend to stick to Jared's List of Acceptable Sandwiches. This isn't a diet thing. I'm not a health-food nut. I just don't want to blow a day's caloric wad on my worst-favorite meal of the day. So.

On Mondays I always eat the Ham & Turkey. This is a pretty non-invasive lunch, tastes neither good nor bad. It's the special, though. And when I leave the shop I can safely say: "You can't afford NOT to eat it."

On Tuesdays I eat the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki. It is not on special, but I prefer it to the special -- the Spicy Italian -- which is not on Jared's List of Acceptable Subs. Although, if I am not going to eat in-store, I do not order this sandwich. Eating the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki outside of Subway is too messy for me to seriously consider. It's chunks of chicken, you know, and they will rain from the butt of the bread. Also: I never have them add the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sauce. I do not like how it feels, dripping down my forearms.

This is a risky sandwich. Occasionally one of the chicken pieces is fat and chewy, like it didn't quite make it through the chicken blender. When I encounter a piece of chicken like this, I spit it into a napkin, remember what I am eating, wrap up the rest of my sandwich and throw it away. Game Over. If I plan to take my sandwich to go, I order a ham and turkey sandwich. No muss, no fuss.

By Wednesday I really deserve the BMT.

On Thursday and Friday I mix things up, by either ordering a Ham and Turkey Sandwich or a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, depending, again, on whether I am eating at the shop. I might get crazy and order a Chicken Breast, but that requires a leap of faith. I have to really know that I have mentally prepared to suspend my disbelief that this is actually an edible filet taken from an actual chicken.

The other day I was at Subway, sitting at a tall-top table, my untouched Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki in front of me, a collection of short stories by Ann Beattie -- my Subway-lunch book -- and the song "Magic" by The Cars came on the store's radio.

The store's regular, a guy who sits there all day playing with his DS, and another friend began singing along. "Uh-Oh, it's Magic ... when I'm with you." I try to make eye-contact with this regular only about every third time I'm at Subway. I don't really want to become friends with someone just because we both eat lunch here every day. I'm pretty sure there is something wrong with him, and that there is probably something similar wrong with me. I don't really want to know what that is. But one time I saw him eating at the sandwich shop next door to Subway, and I admit that I narc'ed him out to the woman working the cash register that day.

So there they are, singing this song. "Uh oh, it's magic ..." And I thought how this moment really had the potential to get cool. Like, what if everyone started singing. The old lady at the table next to them, the business woman at the front of the shop, the employes in their green polo shirts. Everyone's heads bobbing twice to the left, twice to the right, in time with the music.

Instead it wasn't cool. It was closer to annoying. There is such a fine line between the two.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lo-Phat Air ...

NEVER ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. Dear Pista: It is almost the end of November. How is your NaNoWriMo novel coming? 
A. Thanks for (not) asking. I'm at around 46,000+ words. Nothing I couldn't finish in a single night with the right combination of demonic possession and finger exercises. Technically I just have to hit 50,000 to win the grand prize of TELLING EVERYONE I WON NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH! But, also technically, it is not a novel. It is, or rather will be, 50,000 words, a fraction of which will be used in December when I write my novel. Things sort of went wonky around 30,000 words and I decided to give up the ghost of writing something comprehendible and instead decided to develop ideas for later use. So. 


Q. Hey, Pista: Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? 
A. I did. Chuck and I drove to Eden Prairie. We dined with the cover girl from the 2011-2012 Winter Park and Recreation Guide. A little missy who will look at you like you're speaking 1950s if you use the phrase "phat air" regardless of if it is is totally in context. 




Any-W. Here is what I've been making, reading and watching. 


FOODS


Pumpkin-Corn Enchiladas with Salsa Verde: Someday I'm going to tabulate the varieties of tacos, enchiladas and burritos that have passed through our kitchen. In this version, the filling is made of pumpkin with hot spices, onions and garlic. The whole mess is covered with salsa verde. And, unfortunately, I forgot to buy the Daiya to sprinkle on top and I really think that was going to seal the dish. Instead I whipped up the cheese sauce that I mix into our Tempeh Helper as an optional side. It tasted interesting and on the better side of okay. Unfortunately I was distracted by all it might have been -- and a little grossed out by a Quickfire on Top Chef that involved cooking rattlesnake, which was on while we were eating.


I'll probably make this again just because it is interesting.


Pumpkin Pie Cheese Cake: One thing I choose to be snobby about is who I pull recipes from and let me tell you Paula Deen falls somewhere beneath Colonial Sanders on my hierarchy. Still, this cheese cake. Let me tell you. Something really great happens when you mix a stick of butter with Graham Cracker Crumbs and it only gets better when you top it with three containers of cream cheese and enough other sour dairy to dehydrate the most viciously lactating animal in all the land.


"So I figure," I said to Chuck, "Three hunks of cream cheese, seven people ... we all get roughly a half a chunk of cream cheese for ourself."






Zucchini Quinoa Lasagna: Oh. This is super good. I'm not sure how this all worked out this way, but Zucchini plays the role of pasta, and a mix of quinoa, tomato sauce and fake cream cheese play the role of ricotta. Then fake mozzarella subs for real mozzarella. So, so good.


MOVIES
Limitless: This is one of those stupid movies where you watch Bradley Cooper masquerade as a starving writer with dirty fingernails and dreadlocks, and then he finds a drug that makes it possible for him to use almost his whole brain instead of just a fraction and he turns into a super whiz, money manager, bestseller writer who sees everything in over-saturated color, and you think of people you know who make good films, funny films and smart films and thoughtful films, and you want to just take a really, really long nap. And then take that brain pill.


Me and You and Everyone We Know: I remember the first time I realized that I didn't not like Miranda July, I loved Miranda July. It was during this movie about a quirky artist who makes multi-media pieces in her home by night and drives elderly people around by day. At the same time, a shoe salesman has gotten kicked out by his wife and so he moves into an apartment. The artist gives him the hard sell. His kids are up to curious forms of no good. An old man meets the love of his life.


Take Me Home Tonight: Totally not as dumb as I thought this movie set in the mid-1980s would be. It takes that 80s theme of "WHOA! WE HAD ONE CRAAAZZZY NIGHT" and mixes in an unattainable hottie girl and a recent MIT grad currently working in a video store and all sorts of nuts stuff goes down. I didn't like like it. I'm not going to, like, buy it on BlueRay. But it wasn't as terrible as terrible can be in these situations.


Rabbit Hole: I remember seeing a trailer for this in the theater and wondering, "Why the hell would someone want to watch a movie about a husband and wife mourning the death of their child?" And then I watched it and it was good. Nicole Kidman finds solace in making friends with the kid who ran over her son; Her husband takes solace in smoking weed with Christina from Grey's Anatomy. The best thing about it is the way details are parsed out so greedily. I probably just wrote four spoilers in this one paragraph.


Changeling: TiVo really wanted me to watch this kind of true story about a kid who is kidnapped in the 1920s and then the Los Angeles police "find him" and bring him home, but his mother knows it's not really him so the police have her committed. Starring Angelina Jolie's lips, which are totally invited to my celebrity dinner party. Though she can stay home.


TV MARATHON
Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey: Chuck keeps wondering what this show is actually about. It's a good question. But I love it. It's the story of a family living on an estate in Yorkshire and all that blah blah blah that goes with having an estate. It also follows the servants, a motley crew that includes some pretty evil suckers. I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH AND PBS HAS A COUNTDOWN UNTIL THE NEXT SEASON STARTS AND I CAN'T WAIT!


BOOKS
The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alinda Bronsky: When Rosalinda Achmetowna’s frumpy, stupid and ill-mannered daughter Sulfia gets knocked up, she can’t help but believe that it didn’t happen the traditional way. Who would sleep with Sulfia? No, it must be as Sulfia claims: Something that happened in a dream. Rosa sets out to fix it, using an arsenal of home abortion techniques and finally finds success the old fashioned way -- with a knitting needle.


Full review at Minnesota Reads, players. 


It Chooses You by Miranda July: At first I didn’t like Miranda July. She seemed too precious. Her first book of short stories, contrived quirkiness. Like watching Zooey Deschanel shop for leg warmers at Goodwill. But I didn’t like Miranda July in that way that meant I’d be peeking out from behind the curtains to watch her walk down the street. I didn’t like her in a way I understood to mean that I didn’t like her right now, but that wasn’t necessarily my final verdict.

Then I loved Miranda July. It was her movie “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” which she wrote and starred in. It was different. Nice. A little uncomfortable. Mostly different, with clever characters whose motivations I didn’t understand, made better for the not understanding. There was minutia, and I’m really into minutia lately. It was funny, but not obviously funny. It was an hour and a half I didn’t regret at all. And now. And now.

Full review will be on Minnesota Reads.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Up to ...

FRIDAY
I once read a quote from a writer whose novel was just north of fine and whose advice to other writers was essentially: Extricate yourself from that daily commitment more often and write. Deal, I thought when I read it and then thought in double time when I cleared the calendar a week ago for a day of me, fingertips deep in this laptop and brain deep in my NaNoWriMo project, a novel that is shaping up to be both better and worse than I imagined it would be.

I busted out more than 6,000 words, though still did not catch up to where I needed to be. But I sat there, wrapped in a quilt, timing out hour-long writing sessions then breaking for 15 minutes to crack my knuckles and eat Lick Em Aid. (I also still don't have a plot or anything that links one chapter to the next or any of the other chapters. Pretty!) And then, feeling festive with all this word-count success, I crimped my hair and went into public to listen to a band of ladies who sounded like they would wear the GoGos upside down as accessories.

This was perfect timing, this need to GO OUT AND PAR-TAY and my friend Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack visiting. This is also how I found myself in the back of a cab when the sun came up. My jaw bones weak from the combination of a) having her pour flammable liquids down my throat in a really abusive way; b) uncontrollable yammering.

SATURDAY
Oh holy hangover. It's been awhile, but I still recognize the sound of my own liver's death bleat. I slept until 4 p.m.-maybe 5 p.m., then I curled into the corner of the couch, wrapped myself in layers wearing layers of leisure-ware. I watched four movies. I took a cab downtown to get my car because I couldn't face the walk to the bus stop or parting with my pajama pants, though I'm not sure why I thought I had to dress up to ride the bus. I watched 5/7ths of "Downton Abbey" and ate 2/3rds of a pizza. Once again, I was still awake when the sun came up -- though this time I was working on couch sores, a British accent and a hair do that twists around my head in a way that really screams "M'Lady," instead of, say, seeing if Radzo could, or even would, wear me as a hat.

SUNDAY
Oh holy hangover, Day 2. How bad is a 2-day hangover? Bad enough to a) see a commercial for Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich and actually say, aloud, "Mm. That looks good"; b) get into the car and drive to Wendy's; c) decide this is not nearly enough of the bad bad window food and make a bonus stop at McDonald's for two apple pies; d) pass out into a pool of my own greasy drool for 3.5 hours and then wake in time for bed.

MONDAY
I found myself back into the world, back in public. Wearing shoes that clomp and walking down stairs. Clomp-clomp. Clomp-clomp. Then I took a digger, sliding down the steps, four quick clomps in succession as I windmill arm myself toward a railing, active game of Words with Friends in one hand. I spun a bit, then came to a stop. But it would be obvious to anyone in the room I just left -- and had to return to -- what had just happened. I put my hood up in shame.

Then I went to bed two hours early.

TUESDAY
We start watching the second of the two-part documentary on PBS about Woody Allen, having missed the first, and I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, and when I do it is only to slide more and more of his films into our Netflix queue. I love Woody Allen. I'm fascinated by Woody Allen. And I can't figure out why it doesn't bother me that he hooked up for life with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter.

WEDNESDAY
I met a woman who knew the first owners of our house. I learned that right now I'm sitting in what was once the dining room, but is now the living room, staring at what was once the kitchen, but is now the main level bathroom. And in a second, when I go make a pumpkin cheese cake, I'll be doing it in a room that once was called The Sun Room and had an organ in it.

When I asked her about the OG who lives next door, she called him "Crabby (OG)" which was surprising. The last thing I'd call The OG is "crabby." "Player" seems more apropos. The other night I saw through his window a woman dressed in a quilted robe standing on his landing. He's also added curtains in his dining room that shield me from watching him take lunch. The imagination runs wild, but nowhere near crabby.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fan mail ...

Looks like we have a reader complaint from Minneapolis, Minn., today:



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dispatches from Feline Nation: Week 9

Dear Hal and Your Evil Genius Brother,

Sigh. I don't know guys. The next time I feel myself patting us on the back for getting two kittens at once I'm going to deke left and break my own arm. Yoga meets self defense.

Chuck tells me, after reading my last dispatch from deep within the shit of Feline Nation, that I'm not the only one whose bathroom breaks are your own private interactive theater. While I'm sitting on the can hoping you don't go Freddy Krueger on my naked thighs, Chuck's version of the problem is the version of a person who urinates from a standing position. Two kittens standing up against the toilet with their little paws gripping the seat, trying to poke their little furry and thrilled faces into the toilet bowl to watch the splash party. (Which of course results with Chuck trying to nudge you out of the way with his foot, something akin to figure skating if I understand his re-enactment).

I wish this was all I had to say about toilets, but it's not. Hal, I found you playing in the downstairs toilet last night. You were standing on the toilet seat splashing with a single paw. I could practically hear the "YeeHaws!" When I closed the lid, you licked the porcelain. Let me say that again, Hal: You licked the porcelain. You know we feed you water, right? It's next to your food dish and monitored by a woman who knows the importance of urinary health like some people know Spanish. When I hustled you out of the bathroom, you ran upstairs and played in that toilet. Obviously you are super into fecal delicacies and you know the hot spots. 

Orin, you can now jump from the kitchen floor up to the kitchen counter. Bravo, Hollis Conway, U.S. Olympic high jumper. Hal, you tried to walk across the hot stove. I hope it was as much of a spiritual awakening and reconnection with your manhood for you as it was for, I don't know, does Robert Bly do that? Seems like maybe he would. Orin, after a brief hiatus, you've returned to cuddling. "It's another new phase for Orin," we say. Or should we call you Sybil? And by cuddling I mean walking across my chest when I'm reading and sticking your cat butt in my face, then turning around and trying to build a fort with my chunks of my hair. Meanwhile, Hal still hates to be touched. Unless it is a furious rub fest on your prone tummy. Chuck has taught you to lie on your back like a leisure specialist.

Plenty of my updates about your tyrannical behavior come from Chuck via text message:

"Well, Hal just fell down the stairs ... He was playing with a cough drop wrapper. He rolled all the way down the stairs freaking out about it and never stopped playing with it."

"Found another thing cats are supposed to hate: Citrus. I found an orange in the fridge and peeled it. Hal despises it. Orin doesn't give a shit."

Then, of course Orin and Hal, I came home to find that Chuck has scattered oranges and peels all over the counter. In a lesser home, it would look like the beginning of an episode of hoarders.

Typically Orin manages all of the grooming for both of you. It's like you think: "Huh. Well, as long as I'm sucking on the place where Hal's teat would be, I might as well swab his ears and lick his legs." I caught you, Hal, in a very tender moment finally reciprocating all over the outside of Orin's ears. Not quiet inside the ears, but it's the thought that counts.

Love-(ish),
Christa

Brown noise and green soup ...

From the Great Idea Files: We were shopping Sleep Machines. Those little smoke alarm-looking devices that can make white noise, brown noise, rainforest sounds and thunder storm crashes. We take our sleep very seriously here, even more so now that we actually have a bed. So we shopped and read and compared and played MP3 samples trying to find the right one. Then:

1. Chuck took stereo we have been ignoring since introducing a better speaker system that connects to the TV, record player and to our computers, and put it in the bedroom.
2. He downloaded a white noise, etc. app to an old unused iPhone.
3. He connected the iPhone to the stereo and Viola! Homemade brown noise sleep machine. It sounds enough like a fan or space heater that I actually expect to feel a change of temperature when I walk into the bedroom.

Totally free. Best sleeps ever.

In other news: Here is what I've been making, watching and reading.

FOODS

Cheesy Corny Chowder: Once again, the power of nutritional yeast. Learn it, live it, love it. This was really, really good and tastes like it should be terrible for you.


Butter Bean Stew: This was quick, easy and fine. We used canned butter beans because no one around here plans far enough in advance to not used canned beans. (This is shaping up to be a New Year's Resolution). Anyway, this is pictured with tofu that is crusted in wasabi pea dust.


Vegetable Split Pea Feel Better Soup: Whoa. I'm not sure what I've had against split pea soup in the past, but if this is what it tastes like I would like a do-over for the past 36 years. Ho. Lee. In deciding to make this I completely ignored the part that said "split pea" and zeroed in on the "Feel Better" part because I feel like someone packed cinder blocks into my sinuses.

I'm not sure how this tastes the way it tastes. All I can think is that it has to do with the one ingredient with which I wasn't familiar: Summer Savory. Regardless, step away from your computer and make this now.

Also: I liked the part where I went up to the cashier to buy the ingredients and he said "$4.65."

MOVIES
Sophie's Choice: There are no words. Meryl Streep. Amazing. "Sophie's Choice" is up for both best book and best movie of the 2011 consumption period.

Page Eight: I made a fun rule that we were going to start watching "Masterpiece Contemporary" on Sunday nights after watching this super-exciting political thriller starring that one British actor-you know the one. Then we tried it a second weekend. Alan Richman meets up with an old flame for lunch all while running a super unlikable inner monologue because he works in the publishing biz and so he is writerly and thinks in these complete descriptive sentences with really embarrassing cliches. I think we hit the 30 minute point and ditched out on that new hobby.

BOOKS
Blue Nightsby Joan Didion: How to spend six hours worrying about Joan Didion's emergency contact. I like this, but I love Joan Didion when she's being awesome Joan Didion.

NOW READING
I'm reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami which I had kind of promised myself I wouldn't read because it is 900-plus pages long. But as soon as I touched the book at Barnes & Noble I got full body goose bumps and couldn't set it down. So now I'm reading it in a very slow, very deliberate way. Not much more than a chapter a night and right before bed so that I'll have the same kind of wicked dreams I had when I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel. It is so gah-damn good so far.

In the meantime I'm also reading The New Yorker Stories a collection of short stories by Ann Beattie which feels exactly like staring at the cover of the Barbra Streisand Kris Kristofferson album "A Star is Born." In a good way. I think that Ann Beattie is my spirit animal writer.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Born to be my baby ...

This must be what it feels like to be born. To go from human-fish being in liquid gooey incubation into the sudden chaos of umbilical cord amputation, bright lights, looming faces and unnecessary chatter. I think this walking into the grocery store at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday, so newly-awake that I can still feel where my pajama pants have been replaced by more socially acceptable corduroy-ware. I haven't even looked in the mirror yet. There might be a pillow crease mangling my cheek, dried drool on cracked lips. The hair, who knows. For all I know, I'm Courtney Love.

There was no coffee this morning. We ground the last of the beans last night. So here I am, during bell-ringing season, human-fish being, thrown into chaos.

***

I need a winter coat. I want something green and puffy with a fur hood and a belt. My fashion dreams are too specific and possibly not in synch with what is being bled over in sweat shops this season. This is the kind of dangerous thinking that ends with me wearing Chuck's black hoodie all winter long.

Benetton boasts a maybe. It's on sale. Then I get sucked into a decisively non-outerwear store. A pretty store. I'm not even trying to walk there, my feet. It's like I'm on a moving sidewalk. I've never left this store without making an expensive decision. I leave with two pairs of jeans: One so comfortable it feels like I'm sitting in warm pudding. After that I decide a winter coat from Target will do, will have to do. My standards are elastic and have become: Puffy, purple, no fur -- hood though -- and belt.

***

A few weeks ago I decided that I was done with Grey's Anatomy. Watching it had become a tedious imposition on my weekend. Blah blah emo Meredith Grey, blah blah Christina's so smart and sassy. I decided to only watch the final 10 minutes of the show, where all the movement and intrigue happens. Alas, this week's episode did what it was supposed to do: Manipulated emotions and kicked me in the cry place. Fine. I'll watch your stupid show.

***

"Maybe we should make something fun for dinner," Chuck suggests and I groan with my eyes. I know what he means. He peels the veggies, I chop them. He stirs, I queue up the whatever we're listening to. Or vice versa. But there is no making "something fun for dinner." This only happens when there are recipes I want to try, that I'm excited about, but today there aren't. In the absence of inspiration, the only thing "fun for dinner" I can consider making is a run to the Brewhouse for a Beau Burger, Onion Rings and a Wildfire beer.

We dine in. There is, like, one light on in the whole place. If ever I had to pick a place to spend an entire night, an entire week, a month it would be the Brewhouse. A local folk-al is singing like Cat Stevens covering Bob Dylan except it's all original and it's nice. "I wrote this song about my birthday, which is on the Day of the Dead," he says. And I wonder what it feels like to be on a stage as it changes over from dining and half-assed listening to drinking and full-on listening. Who he is talking to when he talks about his songs. Or is that just habit.

***

All sorts of people are tottering out of the Fitger's Complex in various stages of hammered. A blonde woman is sloppy, she's sharing a man's waist with another woman, but she needs it for balance more. An older woman and an older-than-the-older-woman woman are waiting for their ride. The older woman tries to hop into the back seat of a black car, in line at the parking booth. He sees her go for the door handle and zips ahead.

"Wrong car," she cackles. "Wrong car!"
The right car honks, it's three positions back in line.
She cackles more and walks up to it.
"I tried to get into the wrong car!"
"This is extra funny because I've done that," I tell Chuck.

***

Back at home it's time to work on our novels. Every time I get blocked, I just invent a handful of new characters. It's a bad habit that is going to make for a confusing read. The mantra around here, which we say back and forth to each other, is "Just barf it out. Just barf it all out."

We sit at the kitchen table which is covered in unopened mail, unread books, sunglasses, notebooks and drinking vessels. Pens, a lighter, a lamp. We listen to music without words.This week has been the complete discography of Brian Eno on Spotify. Pro tip: Listen to "Thursday Afternoon" from 1985. The song is 60 minutes long, which means 60 minutes without hearing the Spotify commercial: "Hi! I'm Joe Jonas! Check out my new hit single!"

Spotify is a distraction. Last night, instead of writing, I made a playlist and started filling it with songs to slow dance to at a high school mixer in the early 1990s. And that's how I ended up listening to "Bed of Roses" by Bon Jovi upward of 10 times in the past two days.

"Do you remember that time we were getting a ride home from the bar and we decided 'Born to Be My Baby' was our song?" Chuck asks when I play "Bed of Roses" for him today.
"I don't," I say. "Were we hammered?"
"I think we were at about .4," he said.

I write about 1,000 words in my first hour, and fewer in the hours that follow. I have no idea what I'm doing. I do know that no good writing happens in that first hour. Tonight I have written almost 3,000 words and one sentence I liked:


Of all the stunts in sexual repertoire, she drew the line at making fried egg sandwiches the next morning.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Funny porn for smart people ...

In November of 2006 Chuck and I had been dating for about a month and we both decided to write a novel during NaNoWriMo. He was working on a piece of Sci/Fi; I was writing in the genre "Funny Porn for Smart People."

We both had commitments that kept us from seeing each other until about midnight every day, but were lucky to not have any commitments that required us to wake up early in the morning. This was a golden era. And by golden era, I mean more amber era. And by era I mean black-out state.

One night around 2 a.m. we were doing whatever young couples in the throes of new romance do -- probably staring deep into each other's eyes and whispering "Do you believe in magic?" -- and he kicked me out. He kicked me out so he could "work on his novel."

I was stunned. My pride bruised. "Work on his novel?" I thought. I knew I should have found myself one of those khaki-clad 9-5ers who spend Sundays covered in jerk sauce and screaming about defense. "Work on his novel." Grr.

Chuck will tell you that I pulled a passive-aggressive move that night. That we had been laying there trying to decide how to whittle away at the midnight hours and that I had said, hoping to be contradicted, "Do you want me to leave so you can work on your novel?" And that he hadn't realized it was a fake statement and had taken the bait. Chuck has never been good at gaming. Thank goodness. Gaming is dumb.

I still like to bring up this story, which has been condensed down to "Remember that time you kicked me out of your apartment so you could 'Work on your novel?'" (It would be funny to tell that girl in the car, the one with hurt feelings, that in 2011 he wouldn't be able to kick me out because my mail comes to the same address as his and that he counts on me to saute his kale).

Anyway, a few nights ago we dug up the computer I was using to write the Funny Porn for Smart People. I never finished it because the computer crashed on me about 14 chapters into the project. We got it turned on long enough for me to secure the first two chapters.

Let me tell ya. That's not Funny Porn for Smart People. It's just porn-porn. Chuck didn't finish his novel either. Once he realized it was possible to write 50,000 words in a month the project lost its appeal.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ol' No name ...

It might bore you to know that I am always in the process of A) losing something or B) believing that I've lost something. I'm a careless person, which is why I've made it a life mission to pare down my cares. I tend to believe that as long as I have my cell phone, my ID, and a debit card life will be A-OK. This is why if my luggage is ever lost you will read a post here about how liberating it is to send 32 pounds of jeggings into outer space.

Despite holding these three things dear, these are also the three things I most often lose. Right now it is my drivers license that disappeared. For about the third time since I got it renewed when I was 34. I'm pretty sure it is stuck between the pages of one of the library books I returned last week, but not sure enough to do anything more than call the library to see if it turned up in the Lost & Found. Or maybe a long-haired 14 year old boy is using it to buy Sour Apple Pucker as we speak. Either way.

A cop followed me part of the way to the mall, where I had to go to order a new license. I kind of wanted him to pull me over because I thought it would be interesting to say: "Funny you should need to see my license. I was just now going ..."

I thought I was going to be fucked when I went to vote, no ID and all, but turns out once you're registered you're cool. I watched an election judge try to guess a voter's name, just for fun, about 3 minutes before the polls closed.

"I've almost got it," she said, studying his face.
"You've got a few minutes still," he told her.

It was all very charming.

I like that when you lose things as an adult no one yells at you and tells you to get your shit together. They just take your $13.50 and tell you a new one will come in the mail in 7-10 business days.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Greatest obsessions in recent history ...

Chuck has been scheming. I see a translucent band spread on the kitchen table when I wake up. I pick it up to throw it away and realize it is a strip of tape placed sticky-side-up. There is a matching piece on on his side of the table and two more on the coffee table.

He is trying to keep the cats from climbing on tables when we aren't awake to blast the fuckers in the face with water as a punishment for being, well, cats. I love finding this kind of evidence of the sort of quirky shit that goes down when I'm not around cheering him on. It feels a little CSI. I can perfectly imagine his thought process, this problem-solving, and what he looked like yanking the tape from the roll and carefully spreading it in the danger zones.

Back when he drank I used to find clues to how he spent his drinking nights without me. Clunky headphone cans plugged into a stereo. Eddie Murphy's album sleeve leaned against the shelf. A empty can of Apple-flavored Jones Cola next to the remains of a whiskey bottle. I could trace his night from the exact moment that the alcohol took effect and he decided to mix weird drinks and listen to "Boogie in your Butt." It was almost funnier than actually watching. One of the few episodes of "Growing Pains" that I remember involves Michael Seaver faking sick. In the afternoon the bus goes past his house. Life goes on whether he is participating or not.

***

I eat eggs on the weekends. Today it is hard-boiled, sliced and on an English Muffin with pepper and hot sauce. The extra egg I grind up onto the plate and spoon it into my mouth. During the boiling process one of the eggs came open and egg white seeped from the shell giving the food a cancerous bulge. I try to remember whether I can still eat this escaped mass or if it will make me sick. I cut it off and throw it away, knowing I probably could have eaten it and not gotten sick. It's probably no different from a poached egg, but the consistency of this awkward bump is thicker, meatier, and skeeves me out enough that I might eat yogurt, instead, tomorrow.

***

I've also started going to the library on Saturdays. This week they are holding "Sophie's Choice" on DVD, shipped to Duluth from St. Paul. I felt guilty utilizing the library loan system, thinking of all the trouble it would be for a library in St. Paul to receive my request, pull it from the shelf, and mail it to Duluth. Or perhaps it was passed off to a friend: "You're headed north? Mind bringing along this copy of 'Sophie's Choice'? A woman in Duluth wants to watch it and they don't have a copy at the Duluth Public Library." "Oh, yes. Meryl Streep, no problem."

When I requested it on the library's website, a little badge came up mentioning that our tax dollars make libraries possible.

"Do you think they have that badge so I don't feel guilty about using this service? So I'm reminded that I am helping to pay for it?" I asked Chuck.

Then I realized that once again I was viewing something from the wrong angle. I do this a lot. That actually, this was just a reminder of the kind of services that are lost when funding to libraries is on the chopping block.

***

Duluth, Minnesota is of a size and shape where you can go all day without seeing anyone you know, but you probably won't. Usually when I have social shame it dissolves after a weekend. But I am still reeling with social shame from my own bad behavior at an event in May 2010. Today I encountered the principals -- who surely by now must have forgiven me considering one of them friended me on Facebook and I was assured by a handful of people in his acquaintance that this is not something he would hold a grudge about. Still, here I am waiting for a Smoothie and here he is behind me in line and here I am wondering if I'm incognito with my hair in a bun and glasses and this shirt and he doesn't say anything to me but we aren't the kind of Facebook friends who would play catch up in line while I wait for a Smoothie.

My plans to read in the coffee shop are modified to taking my Smoothie to go, however. All is going according to plan, I'm practically invisible, until one of the Facebook friends I do talk to in public notices me.

"Hey, Christa!" he says.
And his hair is different so I just look at him for a second, then go to talk to him while he tells me about a  project he is working on. Then, not knowing that I am currently channeling witness protection, that I'm on the lam, he introduces me to the man next to him, saying my name loud and clearly and including what I do for a living and I sort of shrink into myself hearing myself named and described in regular voices in public.

And so when my smoothie comes I keep my eyes low and jet.

***

For as much as I like to bitch about these cats, they sure do seem to understand how to optimize a Saturday. They have managed to take naps on every surface of the main level of our home in a way that is so enviable.

***

I'm writing a novel. I'm always writing a novel, but right now I'm writing a novel in fast forward. One of those Nanowrimo gluttons. I go back and forth on the the validity of this undertaking. The emphasis on word-count versus content, con. The deadline aspect of getting it all flushed out by the end of the month, pro. Although it makes my shoulder throb and my jaw swell with stress, I work better this way.

There are plot constructions you don't think about the writer grappling with when you're reading novels:

What to do with minor characters? Do you name them and give them jobs or do you keep them vague, like faces in a photograph of full stadium. How do you show the passage of time? The characters are 10, then they are in high school, now they are 42. When do you find time to shower, to read, to start working out again at the YMCA? How do you keep the cats from sitting on the laptop? How do you write the purposeful sentences of the Haruki Murakami, and the self-containment of Jennifer Egan's chapters, the descriptive gore of Ryu Murakami and descriptive non-gore of Joan Didion, all while conveying that this was really fun to write, like Gary Shteyngart?

***

I'm also reading Joan Didion's new book about when her daughter died and aging. Only in the last pages does she finally concede to kick a reader in the windpipe. I can't stop wondering who her emergency contact is.

Reading Joan Didion is like giving your brain a tuneup. I end up paying better attention to the world around me. A plastic bag is wrapped around a parking meter, art or not art? I just asked a barista to make me a smoothie, she'll have to dirty that blender for just me.

***

Chuck springs from bed ready. Sometimes he is slow-going, but I'm sitting here wrapped in a robe and slippers and his hair already looks good and he is putting on shoes and when he asks what we're doing tonight I tell him we're eating dinner at Thai Krathong, going to an art show, watching "Sophie's Choice" and then writing.

He's agreeable to all of it, and is ready to start now so I get dressed and put on lipstick.

***

The restaurant is nearly empty. A group at a table, a handful at the bar, and us in a booth. I order Drunken Noodles, which I've been craving for a year. Each noodle is like fire against my lips. I drink a Thai beer and get a little wonky, then drink a Thai coffee and get full.

***

The art show is at a friend's house, an old mansion-like place that has too many nooks and crannies to not be haunted. There is a band playing in the living room, moans from the one-woman string section and a singer with a Thom Yorke vibe. My friend J is showing photographs, a sort of Side A and Side B he tells us, some taken on the Iron Range and some in France. There's a washbasin filled with ice and a counter top with soda and wine and a keg in the kitchen. There is no definitive demographic of audience. All of this is very cool and Chuck and I sneak through the house, wondering what doors lead to where, how to get into the basement and what each of these cubbies are for. A little dog wanders through the party and every once in awhile a kid pops up doing something hilarious. One of them has made a sign introducing the show and a program that says "Music Menu" and includes the names of the three bands on the slate.

***

Back at home we watch "Sophie's Choice," confirming what I suspected: This might be one of my greatest obsessions in recent history. Meryl Streep is amazing, her Polish accent, her fluent German and her porcelain face which is dripping like one of those decorative walls in hotel lobbies that constantly roll water down the surface.

***

Then we write.

***

Laying in bed in the morning it sounds like bombs are going off on the main level. "I don't even want to know what they're doing," Chuck says. When I go downstairs I see that one of the cats has shoved a planter off the counter and it's broken on the floor, dirt everywhere. (My extremely educated guess is that this is the work of Orin). I clean up everything that doesn't require a vacuum cleaning. They've also pushed Kitty City into the kitchen, up next to the countertops which means they've probably spent the past few hours using the kitchen counters as their runway.

***

"All pizza is bad," an old man says to me at the Co-op. I'm standing in front of frozen foods studying Amy's Brand single-sized pizzas.
He has wiry white hair creeping out of every surface of his head.
"All pizza is bad," he tells me.
He goes on to tell me about the paleo-whatever diet and I shoot a look at an employee that says "CALL A BOUNCER!" The employee doesn't notice me.