Sunday, July 31, 2011

Or whatever ...

Here are a few thoughts I have on a 2-plus hour conversation I was unable to escape eavesdropping a few nights ago. Unless bad grammar causes a limp, our subject was just recreationally lounging in a wheelchair while her friend waited to see a doctor about stomach pains that might be related to pregnancy. And if it was just gas, they had big plans to dye Old Crampy's hair when they got home:

1. You seem to be experiencing the first blushes of a new relationship, those tender early days where you sext and ask him his middle name.

"For some reason I thought it was Ronald ..."

2. I'm not Dr. Phil, but Not-Ronald seems to be currently relationship'ed up with another girl. Your advice to tell her "she's been replaced" is certainly one way for him to handle it. Direct. Rip off the Band Aid. Although your secondary bit of wisdom, "Actions speak louder than words," might be a smoother transition, albeit a bit passive. Tough call.

3. You, my dear, seem to have an amazing way with conflict resolution. Not everyone can get the father of her child to send archived swim suit pix to her so that she can forward them on to a new dude. (I agree, I'm sure the animal print one is stunning).

4. You'll probably want to kick that curious tick where you drop "... and shit" into the middle of each sentence and " ... or whatever" into the end of each sentence. Just a suggestion. Personally I think it's decorative, but I'll admit that it started to make my brain buzz.

5. Your assumption that he learned to make tattoos while in prison seems to be spot on. I say go for it. Let him ink you.

6. It's interesting when you say "I've haven't been to prison yet, but ..." Just seven words that leave so much unsaid. First of all, the "yet." Second of all, the "but."

7. "Just chilling or whatever" does sound like a nice way to spend the week away from your son. "Watching movies and shit" is fun. You are being very understanding regarding the circumstances of his ankle bracelet.

8. Crampy seems to want her phone back. She's worried about the battery level. She still has to call her husband to give him the 411 on this prolonged wait. Don't worry about her, though. After those four bass belches she just emitted, the first three followed by "excuse me," and the fourth with "I'm sorry" she is probably feeling better. If not, I hope it's a boy.

9. I question telling Not-Ronald that his brother was all drunk and grabbing at you and that you "don't know why" the father of your child still has semi-nudie pix of you. This seems like a ploy to up your market value. Not Ronald should like you for you, not because his brother and your ex are still clamoring for you. Again. Not Dr. Phil.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thai me a river ...

I'm glad I live in a world where I stumble on photos online like this one from February of 2007, right after my former landlord returned from a life-altering trip to Thailand.

"What do you think he did with all those trinkets he brought back?" Chuck asked tonight.
Exhibit A.
Back when he took yearly trips to exotic locales his one rule was to always wear a Hawaiian shirt on the plane home. Then he would come into the Pioneer with a plastic bag filled with cheap this and thats. A deck of playing cards featuring Thai women. An ashtray for me. Shot glasses. Noise makers. A tray-load of finger sized Buddhas, all in different poses.
I like how JCrew is humoring him here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Purple soup. Puuuurple soup ...

If I were to tell you how much pain I was in from mowing a lawn that is the size of an herb garden ...

So here are the new recipes I tried, movies I watched and books I read in the past oh-say-week-ish maybe more.


Red Wine and Kalamata Tempeh: This one from the cookbook "Appetite for Reduction" includes a marinade made of kalamata olives, dry red wine, balsamic vinegar, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Soak steamed Tempeh in a bunch of it, then go nutso with a skillet, adding more marinade when it dries.

This is really flavorful. Like even the deadest of tongues would get it circulation back. It's got some zip to it.

Warm Leek and Bean Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette: I loved this. Saute some leeks, throw in some beans and herbs then add a mix of mustard, oil and vinegar. It's so good that I'm craving it right now, 24 hours after eating it. Although it doesn't make much. Enough for a light lunch or side dish.

Greek Style Tomato and Bean Stew: I used red cabbage to make this, so we had purple stew. I like it. It's one of those witches brews where I had no idea what it would taste like. It's a little bland and was better when I added Feta.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired This is a documentary about Roman Polanski and the famous court case against him for doing sex things with a minor before fleeing the country. What I wanted was a documentary about the time the Manson family killed Polanski's wife Sharon Tate and tried to start a race riot.

Troll Hunter: Pure hooey. But hilarious when there is actual an troll confrontation. AND WE EVEN PAID HOMAGE TO IT WITH OUR OWN VERSION!

Friends with Benefits: I like Justin Timberlake. I think he's super not-embarrassing as a human being who is a celebrity. I like him in the same way that I like Jason Bateman. I actually think Jason Bateman is even less embarrassing. We can explore this more thoroughly on a slow day.

Stone Arabia: A Novel by Dana Spiotta: I really liked this short little novel about what we remember and how we're remembered and the fake rock history of an undiscovered rock star.

Full review is here.

When the Killing's Done: A Novel: This book took me 100 years to read, but it was worth it. TC Boyle is just so great. I loved the characters, even the hate-worthy characters.

Full review will be on Minnesota Reads. But I haven't written it yet, so don't hold your breath.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Random acts of chaos ...

I recently had the opportunity to be downwind from a kid who was emptying a Porta Potty using a long hose and something like a shop vacuum. What a nightmare. I don't really like to think about what happens in an outhouse after I pull up my pants and take pulls off the Purell dispenser. Maybe the festival moves on, the bathrooms are uprooted, and Lilac bushes crop up in a U-shaped border, nourished by the beer concentrate urine and nacho waste from thousands of revelers.

There is construction being done on a house in our neighborhood. It's a serious project requiring a single-stall unit in the front yard. I like the luxury of having an outhouse close by. It says to me: You are safe. If there is an emergency, you can squat here.

It's like carrying a Clif bar in your purse or hoarding tampons in the glove compartment.

Anyway, we live in the kind of neighborhood where juvenile pranks lack structure or meaning. They are seemingly random acts of chaos, which is in most ways preferable to premeditated acts of destruction. So at some point in the past 50-some hours, a bunch of kids must have taken the Biffy and thrown shoulders into the plastic walls until it gave, tilting, crashing, and I'd imagine sloshing.

Inside, upended, its contents broke over the lip of the seat and spent the weekend solidifying, baking to walls.

It's standing again today. I'd hate to be the pioneer who first opened that thing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Troll! ...

There is a kid in our neighborhood who has his own lawn care/snow removal business. He puts fliers in mailboxes and has discounted deals for referrals. He has his own phone number and a staff. Rumor has it he bought a $2,000 riding lawn mower as a business expense.

So when a pre-teen knocked on the door and asked if I wanted him to mow, fidgeting and shy, I assumed it was him. He caught me off guard. We mow or do not mow our own lawn, except for one time last summer when I stood on the front steps and stared at the gnarled mess and decided I'd rather have every glade of grass come alive, slither up my pant leg and try to choke me than mow that lawn one more time. I paid the next-door neighbor $11 to do it and it felt like a fantastic luxury.

"Who does your lawn?"
"Ah. We have a wonderful lawn boy who cuts our yard into a shape of our initials entwined in a heart. He then gets out a fine tooth comb and makes sure all of the grass is pointing the same direction. I'm sorry, I can't share his information. We'd like to keep him for ourselves."

Oh. And also sometimes our 80 year old next door neighbor mows our lawn when he does his. But that's a weird bit of senior citizen hubris. If we're home when he does it, we don't even go near the windows.

I looked at the kid on the porch and said: "Nah. I think I'll do it. But if I need someone I'll let you know. Now you live down the street right?"

The boy shyly pointed to the house next door. It was the kid who did it last year, but his face had undergone that major metamorphosis that happens between ages 11 and 12. I mean like complete overhaul. Like on a soap opera when a new actor comes in to play a character.

"J?" I said. "Whoa. You got a lot older in a year."

I can't decide if that was inappropriate. I didn't actually say the word "puberty." Regardless, I regret telling him no.


Around 2 a.m. a pickup truck revs its way down the block, shouting out the window at a huddle of girls and an authority figure standing on the corner.

"Go have another beer!" the guy yells.
"These are eight 12-year-old girls!" a woman shouts at him.

She's still puffed up with he's gone.
"He could have taken any one of you," she tells the slumber party. "We'd never see you again."
She grabs one of the girls and pulls her. She grabs another girl and pulls her.
"He could have taken you and you would be gone forever," she says.

It seems a randy licensed driver had been chatting up the group of girls and the mom in charge of the party had come out waving her proverbial broom. I can't tell if she's actually drunk, but it makes it more interesting if she is.

I really thought the fear of kidnapping died in the 1980s, around the same time as the fear of kids getting absorbed into a cult. "Those are the Moonies," my dad would say, pointing at people standing on a corner handing out flowers. "Don't even make eye contact."


I wake at 11:30 a.m. with a bit of a headache. Now what in the heck do I do? I think miserably. And then I remember coffee.

Sometimes it seems like I spend the first 10 minutes of every day reminding myself what it is to be a human being. When one's bladder fills to the point of abdominal swell, she should urinate. When one's stomach feels emptied, she should eat. Why does my mouth feel like this? Brush teeth, my dear. Brush teeth. It's really not that hard.


I write a review of Dana Spiotta's novel "Stone Arabia." Spoiler alert: Four Solid Gold Stars.


Luck has thrown us a weather curve. After days of feeling like we were living in the back window of a car half submerged in a bog, it's like 50-something outside and gray. Almost perfectly emo weather with a touch of summer. It's the aesthetic equivalent of a band covering Morrissey, but smiling every time they sing "To die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die."

This seems like a good reason to see "Friends with Benefits." I'm unsure why I feel like I need to Justify (HA!) why I want to see this movie, but I find myself coming up with a list of reasons in my head in case anyone asks. Things like: I like how Mila Kunis's leg looks in that one scene in the trailer. I've matured in the past few hours and no longer feel a need to explain myself. And, yeah. I liked it. I can't wait to watch it eight times a weekend when it's on TBS in 5 years.

Ever since I saw "Blue Valentine," I always wear a hood at movies so I can invisibly poke at my cry face. I always get weepy in the theater. I think it's the larger-than-life-ness and the mingling of music and moments. Not to mention aerial views of my favorite city, which is a lovesick kidney chop. Anyway, I only cried twice this time.


I come home and finish a T.C. Boyle.


Chuck and I went to dinner at Lake Avenue Cafe. We even showered and wore clothes that aren't in our regular rotation and that had never been slept in. I ate shredded Pork Shoulder on top of Cheesy Polenta with some lemony greens and gravy. He had deconstructed fish and chips. It. Was. Awesome. All of it. Every bite. Yum.


We made a film inspired by the best scene in the movie "The Troll Hunter." This required skulking in the woods in the dark and feeling the train tracks for vibrations. The first take was the best take, so we went with it.

Troll from Dick Punch Films on Vimeo.


I stay up until the sun came up watching Season 2 of "United States of Tara," which I keep wishing was "Weeds." It's just not quite good enough. It feels like it went off the rails somewhere and now it can't be harnessed. And I only really like it when you can hear Diablo Cody's voice in the writing loud and clear.

Also: I think Chuck looks a lot like John Corbett.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Meat wheelie ...

While no one was looking I engaged in a private scientific battle with myself to eat a 100 percent vegan diet for a full week.

This was an act of bravery, having recently learned that my favorite pizza chain sells single slices of pepperoni-flavored love triangles for just $2 during the lunch hour. But, being a strong fake vegan, I folded that information into an origami MASH game and stored it away in my brain for a more meat-friendly week. Like next week.

Obviously, since I'm sitting here on a Friday night watching ABC Family and writing this instead of sitting here on a Sunday night watching ABC Family and writing this, I failed.

I blame it on actually naming the challenge. I've never actually had fantasies involving bubble baths in cake batter and being buried alive in a cheese coffin until I told myself I couldn't have these things. Usually I'm pretty cool with wrapping beans in a corn tortilla and burying it in arugula, avocado and hot sauce. No seizures. Nothing.

Here is the case study:

As you know, I hate lunch. And the only real way to express that angst has been to eat at Subway so often that I not only know the tanning booth habits of the employees, I actually know the name of that one regular who sits at a table playing with his Nintendo DS all afternoon. (Kevin).

Let's just say that eating a 6 inch veggie sub without cheese doesn't make me like lunch any more than I already did. No mustard in the world is that great. Although I did think to myself today: Meh. You already hate this meal. What difference does the degree of hate make. You can just as easily hate lunch with turkey or without.

Then I freaked out because I ate a Clif bar without reading the ingredients. (But it was okay!)

Today's lunch was easy since I tend to eat a PB&J sub from Erberts & Gerberts about once a week anyway. What I didn't anticipate is that without the bonus of Cool Ranch Doritos, which I usually crunch up on the sandwich, I was starving by 7 p.m.

I ended up shoving a bunch of black licorice down my throat in the parking lot of Whole Foods. It was very After School Special. And then a woman knocked on the window of my car and asked for a ride. When I said no, she pointed at my cup holder which was filled with change. I emptied it a third of it into her hands like it was Halloween candy and then as I drove home I decided I need to come up with some hard and fast rules about when I do and don't give people money and/or rides.

Then Chuck told me I was wearing leather shoes all day. We had a brief clarifying conversation about ethical vegan versus dietary vegan.

Cruel. Very cruel. The hottest day to ever drip out of Satan's asshole and I spent the day in a place that didn't have air conditioning. So then someone bought an entire grocer's freezer filled with ice cream treats, but I couldn't have any because I'm vegan this week.

It occurs to me that this is all very silly. I'm not actually a vegan. I'm just playing one for a week. If I want ice cream, it doesn't mean another senseless death of an attractive mammal. It just means I ate ice cream. Still. An experiment is an experiment.

"This must be what it's like to be religious," I thought to myself.

Then I came home and stuffed two soy ice cream treats down my throat. Two.

Today I took advantage of a tip I recently read on something somewhere that said that a doctored Torpedo from Quizno's can be vegan, since it is made on dairy-free ciabatta. So that's what I got for lunch.

I started wondering if I would even know? I could be tricked by a teenager in a visor. Chuck told me about a family in New York that sued a restaurant when it was discovered the entree they were assured was vegan had meat product in it.

"Yeah. You could be like 'Well, I said on my blog that I was going to be vegan for a week,'" he said.

This all ends in a very anticlimactic way. I was offered the opportunity to eat picnic food and I took it: A hamburger with a slice of Velveeta. I relished the way the Velveeta was sweating when I untethered it from another slice of sweating Velveeta. A bit of potato salad. Potato Chips. And a brownie. Coke.

I have no regrets.

And I didn't have any regrets about celebrating the fail with cheese sticks from Arby's either.

I think we all just learned a little something special about moderation. And my weak will. And announcing contests with myself on the internet.

Ah well. Whatevs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This lady ...

Last night Chas and I were walking home from the grocery store and we passed a new recently erected school where a handful of boys were tooling around on bikes in the empty parking lot. A woman across the street was sitting on her front steps and yelled to them:

Hey guys! I heard what that lady said to you. I just want you to know that I'm watching you. You need to respect that property.

They didn't say anything and just kept biking in circles. That's when I realized that I have never used my position as technically an adult to scare the shit out of children. I've never slipped into stern mode and said "Hey guys! You are not allowed to ride your dirt bikes on the neighbor's grass." Never. Nada. Not once. It's like having a super power, but keeping it in the box in the closet and then forgetting about it. I am an adult. I can tell pre-teen strangers to stop being annoying and they might listen. They might even say later: "Yeah. We got in trouble from this lady." I could be "this lady."

"It's even scarier when the adult doesn't yell. When they just come over and tell you why what you're doing is bad very conversationally," Chuck said.

So then I had this fantasy. Except in the fantasy I'm a dude because it lends a cheesiness that way. I approach a gaggle of tweens, drop down to a single knee, adjust my baseball cap, and say something like this:

Hey gang. Now, I know you guys look at me and see a grown up, a real square. But I used to be a kid, too. Back when there were dinosaurs. (Exaggerated wink). I know it's real fun to jump off stuff and wreck things. But you know what? I learned a long time ago that instead of breakin' stuff, it's way cooler to be makin' stuff. So how 'bout it, guys. Let's put down the rocks and hacksaws and make stuff. (Bumbled fist bump).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dear 1990 ...

In the past few years I've had like a thousand chances to wonder what 15-year-old me would say if she knew when she was in her 30s she would (fill in the blank with something involving a band that had a heavy presence in my mix tape making). This past weekend I had three biggies:

Cracker, the Gear Daddies and the Suburbs. Admittedly I wasn't into the Suburbs as a teen. But if I'd have known about them I would have totally been into them. So, that one is retroactive.

Anyway. Super fun.


I'm declaring this week Vegan Fest 2011. I'm going to go 100 percent for the next seven days, or until I accidentally fall incisor-first into a chunk of cheddar. Usually I'm carnivore by day, vegan by night. I'm curious about how taxing it would be to just do it. I am not above sitting in the parking lot of the Little Store eating gas station pizza if things go south.

* I drank the perfect amount on Saturday night. Not enough to wake up with social shame, but enough to find photographs on my phone of my friend's fiance, shirtless save for my bra.
* I hate the word "Anyways." If I hear it, especially if I hear it more than once in the same conversation, it triggers my flight instinct.
* We've got some colorful new neighbors who seem ripe for fan-fiction. Suffice to say the pre-teen boy is destined to be saddled with unhealthy relationships starting the first time he finds himself in a tree fort with a female classmate.


Greens and Quinoa Pie: This is a quiche-like mix of two kinds of greens, quinoa, onions and a splash of cheese. (I almost made the fatal error of forgetting the eggs. "I have no idea what this is going to taste like," I said to Chuck when I put it in the oven. It just didn't look like something I could imagine eating. Then, three minutes later, I remembered the eggs. Then I understood it better). It was okay.

Quinoa Puttanesca: We seem to have two flavor zones that rule the kitchen: The spicy beans and corn tortillas scene and the Olive, Capers scene. This is the later. It's basically quinoa with a Pasta Sauce.

Roasted Root Vegetable Burritos
On this day we took a mix of carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, onions and some other things that grow in the ground and wrapped it in a wrap with tomatoes, avocado and arugula. There is a lot of roasting of root vegetables in this house, but the added wrap totally made it a different meal.

The Company Men: This movie starring Ben Affleck as a pink-slipped former worker who struggles to find a job in this economy was so stupid that I could feel my brain drizzling out of my ear.

Kaboom: I can barely remember what this movie was about, but it seemed to be a lot like a musical, except that instead of bursting into spontaneous song it would burst into diddling.

Following Sean: In the late 1960s the filmmaker was living in San Francisco and befriended the 4-year-old who lived in the apartment above him. The kid was a young son of hippies and is well-versed in weed smoking and what it feels like to run barefoot through the Haight. So the filmmaker tries to find that kid all these years later to find out if he became a stockbroker or a meth head. This is exactly okay. Interesting parts, but too much of the narrator's own life creeps into the story in really not interesting ways.

The London Train (P.S.) by Tessa Hadley: Paul’s mother has just died. She will continue to appear in his dreams. His of-age daughter Pia, from his first marriage, has dropped out of school and has hidden her pregnant self in an apartment in London with her older Polish boyfriend and his sister. Paul’s asshole neighbor is chopping down the trees in a gray area of property line limbo. When he and his wife get into a snit about how to handle the neighbor, Paul uses the argument as an emergency exit. He ditches out on domesticity — his sturdy upper crust wife who works in furniture restoration and their two young daughters — and takes the train into the city with plans to take care of Pia.

This was uneven. Full review here.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt: In one of the greatest instances of luck to ever rain on a writer with a bionic eye for detail and a canine sense for sniffing out bedazzled characters in absurd situations, journalist John Berendt just happened to be living in and jotting notes about Savannah, Georgia, in 1981 when one of the city’s largest looming residents shot his hot-head assistant to death.

I love this book so hard. Full review here.

My Sister's Continentby Gina Frangello: The good twin stayed close to her Chicago home. She found a nice, albeit taupe mate named Aris, whom she plans to marry. They live together in a little loft in Chicago. She has a college degree. She makes nice with her parents and is still malleable in their hands.

I really dug this book. Full review here.

A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion: A Novel by Ron Hansen: This is a total tabloid-y fictionalized account of a murder from the 1920s. It's pretty gooey and pretty fun.

Full review will be here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Flush, flush. Keep it down now. Voices carry ...

About six years ago I wrote a post on my old blog that proved to be very controversial. After a lengthy introduction filled with lower case letters, false bravado and plenty of misspellings I asked readers the proper protocol for disposing of tampons: flush or throw?

This wasn't just anthropological study. This was a fight. I had helped my former landlord, at that point my future landlord, find a rental property that I planned to live in. We had wandered through some of the most dilapidated piss-stained lead paint-for-lunch asbestos wombs in the city, trailing a limping realtor who was clinging to the last vestiges of the stir-up era and railings.

He ended up buying a duplex in the heart of Central Hillside. My apartment had an extra large bathtub with jets, an anomaly compared to the gray matted carpeting sheared from the back of a feral dog. It had two bedrooms, one that was only like a bedroom but without electrical outlets or closets and a window curiously placed at floor-level. It was more like the pop out wing of a camper. I took this, and a few other construction curiosities, for quirk rather than band aid rigging.

The realtor knew he was a landlord novice and offered him a copy of the lease she used with her own tenants. It was pages and pages of what I considered optional codes of conduct. My landlord and I raced each other through the pages to one-up the other in the quest for the most ludicrous rules.

I found the winner:

"Please do not put tampons in the toilet."

I gasped at the hilarity of gift wrapping tampons with a four-ply bow and placing them politely in a trash can. This from a contract composed by a woman who probably used shoulder straps to hold her feminine hygiene product in place, giving wistful glances at the aerodynamic convenience of Pampers.

He squashed the moment pretty quickly.

"I don't want you to put tampons in the toilet," he said in his serious voice.

I explained the definition of "Flush-able." Told him that ever since Laura Ingalls Wilder's funeral, women have been flushing tampons. I found legitimate websites to back my argument. He wouldn't budge on it, but it didn't really matter. It wasn't like I was going to invite him into the bathroom to watch me comply with the terms of his adopted lease.

Per usual, he told me a long story -- seemingly a metaphor for something. Mostly it just sounded like an urban legend or a country song. His brother once worked for Roto Rooter. A man's toilet was clogged, and the brother went to fix it. When he was finished he took the man aside and said "You want to throw condoms in a garbage can, not the toilet." The man said "We don't use condoms, my wife is on the pill." Duh-duh-dun.

I didn't really understand the connection. Tampon users diddle the mailman?

"You know tampons aren't made out of latex or inflatable, right?" I asked, I mean seriously wondering.

He sent me a long email explaining that he planned to stand behind his no flushing policy, conceded he knew nothing about tampons, but that he knew a thing or two about cause and effect. Then he referenced the movie moment that has become his closing argument since Video Vision offered "As Good As it Gets" as free movie of the week for people had earned a certain amount of stamps by using the video store's tanning booths:

I will include the part about the tampons in my lease agreement. If you're convinced in your assumption that tampons never clog septic lines, you have nothing to worry about. You should sign the lease agreement and laugh at it like you did.But if you're not correct, you would prove the line from ``As Good as it Gets,'' where Jack was asked, ``How do you write women so well?'' And he responded by saying, ``First off, I start with a man, but then I take away reason and accountability.''

Truthfully, the slight majority of people who commented on my blog at the time were Team Gift Wrap. Although one was from Norway, and also claims urinary tract infections come from sitting on cold stones. Throw was even the response from some people who by all outward appearance gave off a real Flusher vibe.

As I sit here writing about this now, six years later, I can't figure out if I was right or not. The internet seems torn between "flush unless there is a septic tank," and "always throw." But a lot of the flushers seem to justify flushing because "That's what I've always done because it's what I was told to do." Ditto, internet. But I was also told to consider Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup useable in 90 percent of foods, and well.

Unfortunately, even if I wandered into the woods for 3-5 days of sitting over a hole in the dirt, my response to my former landlord must now forever be one of 100 percent flusher. Especially since the pipes in his duplex just backed up and he had to call in a plumber who told him the blockage was caused by tampons.

He is, of course, blaming me. I technically moved out four years ago and literally moved out three years ago and other women of menstrual age have lived at that address. Still, there has been much frivolity from him. As though he is glad that he had to wade through ankle deep burrito stains because it means he is right. He claims I owe him a case of Natural Light.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Finding Jesus on the way to the grocery store ...

On April 22, 2011, I was driving downtown and out of the corner of my eye saw someone struggling to carry a large wooden cross down First Avenue West.

It was larger than the man, and he was carrying it sideways with the cross bar positioned over a shoulder. He was slumped a bit. Or maybe it was a she. Either way. I did like a quadruple take. It seemed like something out of a low-budget indie film where everyone is just a little too quirky and the soundtrack includes one-hit wonders by shoe-gazers. Especially since it was Good Friday and you know. Blah blah 16 years of Catholic schools.

It was also a bit like a hallucination. It sounded like I was lying when I told people.

I saw this again a few days later, which was weirder because it was after Easter by now and so I knew it was real and not just a traumatic brain injury or like smelling rotten eggs or a metallic taste in your mouth before seizing.

Anyway, we walked to the grocery store today and there was a guy standing on the corner of Grand and Central Avenue.

"Let's cross to the other side," Chuck said.
"No way," I said.

He tried to give us some reading material, but I declined politely and he politely didn't push the issue. I suppose hoisting that cross makes it tough to really chase people down, tackle them and stuff pamphlets into their larynx.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The breath from a million ghosts ...

This Saturday comes with none of the usual dread I ascribe to "The Monday of the Weekend." It's the doom and gloom weather, I think. Foggy and chilly just before noon. No sun fire beams spotlighting my inactivity.

So I set out to do the things I normally do, but without the guilt and phantom squeaks from the inline skates I've neglected all summer. Coffee. Google+ playground time.

I work for about two hours on an improbable short story that blends science fiction with the oaky undertones of a pretty memorable one-hit wonder from the 1990s. I guess the sentence that really stands out is probably: "What do you expect from a used vagina we stole from a church rummage sale?"


Barnes & Noble to consult my Amazon Wish List versus the store's shelves. It's been a big week filled with adds to the list, which is where I keep track of books I hear about and want to at least hold in my hot hand. (I probably haven't said "What should I read next?" in about 3 years, FYI).

I flip through a stack and make piles of "Too delicious to re-shelve" and "I'd read this, but my pile is becoming obnoxious and who do I think I am?" and "Meh."

One of the "Too Delicious ..." pile is "Malcolm X," an autobiography with help from Alex Haley. Chuck just picked up a copy the public library and when I gave it the once-over -- well, first a page fell out -- but I also decided I WANT TO READ IT, TOO! AT THE SAME TIME! FAMILY BOOK CLUB!

When I told him I planned to read it, he was enthusiastic. It might have been a ruse. We've done this once before, The Great "Anna Karenina" Debacle of 2009. That time I ended up zipping way ahead and then dropped statements like "Dude. You are closing in on about 100 pages of straight up snooze-dom."

Then I finished it, reviewed it, and to this day he has no idea that Dear Troubled Anna belly flops into an on-coming train. But he can give you the lay of Levin's land.

I make a rule for myself: I will only read as far as Chuck and never further.


I go to Bixby's Bagels to eat an Egg-spressive, an Everything Bagel filled with a disk of Microwavable Egg and Cheddar Cheese. Finish it, read the Introduction to "Malcolm X," get Chuck's text that he is awake.


"I got 'Malcolm X,'" I tell him.
"Uh, oh," he says.

[Insert conversation about The Great 'Anna Karenina' Debacle of 2009.]
[Insert my solemn vow to not read further than him.]
[Agree on the terms.]


We slip into winter-wear and head to Bayfront Festival Park, where Cloud Cult is playing as part of an all-day festival. Blah, blah, favorite band ever, blah blah blah.

The park is set up in a way that the stage is like a giant window-less window overlooking Lake Superior. Considering the vista and the band, this should be the best show I've ever seen but it just kind of lacked that thing that reaches down your throat and wrings the liquid from your organs. The World's Biggest Cloud Cult Fan was there, head banging to stuff that is more Kumbaya than, I don't know, "Enter Sandman." There was also a lot of very sensual make outs in the audience that made me think someone had laced the Hula Hoops with Ecstasy.

For some reason when Craig Minowa says:
"The wind up here feels like the breath from a million ghosts" it doesn't sound hokey at all. If anyone else tried it, I'd think they were working up some material for Open Mic Night.

There were some great moments, though. The area in front of the stage was filled with bubbles for awhile.

"Where are those coming from?" I asked Chuck.
"Some hippies butthole," he said.

Toward the end of the show, a barefoot guy with dreadlocks slo-motion danced passed us singing along to "Travel Safety" and we both busted a gut.

And then I had a facial seizure and tear-letting during "Love You All." Pretty standard. It's never not happened.


We ditched out on the main act in favor of Sushi at Hanabi. Wasabi Shumai, a White Tiger Roll and the North Shore Roll.

One table away, four young dudes were learning about Japanese Cuisine from a super savvy friend who not only explained Wasabi, but also gave them a decent speech about Edamame, which they ordered as an appetizer, that included a shout out to Tempeh.

When their meals came, each dude shared a piece or two of sushi with everyone else at the table. This was a complicated choreography of chopsticks and arms and fish and soy sauce.

"Is this green stuff wasabi?" one of the guys asked.
"Yes," answered their leader.

One of the guys must have been 21. He started passing around his Saki, which he and his neighbor downed like Jag Bombs.


Chuck went to work and I quickly cashed the first four chapters of "Malcolm X" and I'm probably going to turn green and split my jean shorts waiting for Chuck to bust through another chunk.


And, in one of today's highlights, Brother Pista posted this photo of my Dad, my niece MEL and my mom tubing in Park Rapids. There are no words.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tutu for you ...

The Pista parents stopped by Duluth on their way from Park Rapids to Rochester today. This is a 2.5 hour detour that one can only assume means they believe any place with a lot of tall, cold weather-clime plant life is neighbors with similarly pined places.

I made it worth their while by letting them buy me lunch at Mexico Lindo.

I guess the highlight of today's visit was when they pulled up and my mom said "Huh. I never know WHAT you'll be wearing."

Tank top, skirt, leggings?
"Pixie," Pa Pista said.
"She's a pixie!" Ma Pista said. "You look like a pixie!"

And then my dad said later: "We just walked past three women all dressed like you, except wearing different colored tutus."

Couldn't you just squeeze their little cheeks?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Meat-mare on Elm Street ...

I'm pretty lousy at being an asshole, but I was doing my best impersonation of one at the very special sandwich shop I go to every g'damn day.

I was behind a clunky trio. Each customer seemed depressed by the amount of options browning and curdling behind the sneeze guard. This always puts me a little on edge, when the choreography is slowed by indecision. I have a limited amount of time and it's not like this place is rotating in mystery stock just to fuck with people.

"Would you like any bok choy or sunflower seeds on your sandwich?"
(Head explosion)

Although they did just add an ice cream scoop of avocado to the assembly line and I once saw a Super Type A customer go bonkers when she considered the way this particular vegetable could improve upon just plain bacon. And so she carefully orchestrated a specific amount of avocado that was not quite two scoops, but more than one.

There was a new kid working. He had a horseshit short-term memory, but he made up for it by being loud. Forgetting the type of meat as he sliced into the bread; forgetting the type of cheese as he slapped down the meat. All the while annunciation very clearly "What kind of sandwich was that?"

I imagined his interview with the store manager.

Store manager: "So, what qualities do you have that would make you a good sandwich artist."
Store manager: "Enthusiasm. ... That's great. This place needs enthusiasm. What else?"

I wanted a 6 inch ham and turkey on Italian Herb & Cheese. With cheddar.

"WAIT. WHAT KIND OF SUB?" he asked, eyeballing the half a loaf.
"Ham and turkey."
"Ham and turkey."
"Ham and turkey. You know, today's special?"
(This is the part where I let some annoyance slip through the seams).

He piled four folded circles of ham on the sandwich.

"Cheddar," I said. "But you forgot the turkey."
"You forgot the turkey," I said.
"I ordered a HAM AND TURKEY SUB," I said.
"I ordered a ham and turkey sub," I said more coolly.
So he added four slices of turkey to the sandwich, and then someone else took over with the fixins.

"You gotta lay off the Monster Energy Drinks," one of the employees ribbed the newbie sandwich artist. Gave him a buddy slap on the back.

And that's when I realized that this was all my fault.
"The special," I heard myself saying in my head. "The special. The special. The special."

But it was a Tuesday, reader(s). Monday's special is Ham & Turkey. Not Tuesday.

I thought about apologizing for the confusion, but mostly I was relieved that I didn't accidentally go apeshit on the cashier when she didn't charge me the special rate.

The window for a not awkward apology passed. It was still bothering me when I sat down to eat my sandwich. It bothered me right up until I realized the sandwich was super gross -- sweaty with four too many slices of meat -- unbalanced next to the lettuce, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos.

And also: Tuesday's special isn't Ham & Cheese, either.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ta-don't ...

If I had made the following weekend to-do list on Friday night, I'd be feeling pretty self-satisfied about now:

1. Go hiking with Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack.
2. Start near the Lake Superior Zoo, but find the wide path and lack of vista boring. Suspect this is actually a bus route. Head back to the car for a do-over.
3. But first come face to snarling face with a wild snake, side-winding in the dirt. Thwart its cunning attack with a series of high-pitched squeals and moves like those featured in the iconic scene from "Flashdance."
4. Find a new trail near Spirit Mountain.
5. Climb about 90 wooden stairs gouged into the hillside that bank at a 75 degree angle. Feel like "Rocky," but look like a Rocky's red-faced great-great grandmother, hunched like a C and weeping.

6. Complete 2/3s of the family laundry and closet-organization while watching back-to-back episodes of a new television show about a 16-year-old girl who is part cat, part crime fighter.
7. Have suspension of disbelief un-suspended when Chuck gets home early from work and I must explain the plot out loud to him.

8. Head downtown to the traveling carnival that has cropped up at Bayfront Festival Park.
9. Ride the Ferris Wheel.
10. Ride the Power Tower, an amusement that slowly drags ticket holders about 3 stories into the air, then does a free fall drop. As the ride is lurching upward, realize that none of the carnies came around to make sure seatbelts were fastened, let alone fastened correctly. Mention this to Chuck. Then ... drop.
11. Swear. Suggest that wasn't fun at all. Decide this is a good reason to avoid the Zipper.
12. Ride the Tilt-A-Whirl.
13. Ride something else that spins while playing Top 40 music.
14. Eat a Pizza Lupa-flavored pizza from Pizza Luce and think about how, while vegetables and fake cheese and lentils are delicious, a real pizza with a side of sour cream is pretty g'damn awesome.
15. Shop at Electric Fetus.
16. Reconvene, sunburned and spent, in the basement and read while listening to the new album from a local artist who favors a homemade theremin.
17. Fall into the best summer nap in the history of summer naps.

18. Splash water on face and head up to a Fourth of July party at the home of some new friends.
19. Miss the part where people are chucking firecrackers at each other. But catch the main event, a series of 'works called Make it Rain.
20. Crack a Four Loco, but find out later that it is a new blend that doesn't include caffeine.
21. Feel like a pussy.
22. Join in a leg wrestling tournament and lose to Rad-Attack-Ack-Ack with aplomb, but test an old gymnastics move that still works and somersault out of the defeat.
23. Curse athletes.
24. Line up a second and third for a volunteer Human Centipede situation of which I will be the front body. Convince lactose intolerant tail that I will make sure he is fully nourished.
25. Discuss favorite dinosaurs.

26. Eat awesome Huevos Rancheros at the Duluth Grill.
26. Ride with Chuck on the Timber Twister, a roller coaster at Spirit Mountain, a six-minute ride down and up the hill that travels at 30-some miles per hour.
27. Listen to Chuck squeal with pleasure.
28. Ride it again.
29. Go to Enger Tower to sit on a rock and read a book.
30. Decide that sitting on a rock in a park filled with picnic parties and attack-ants ransacking my leg hair is way less comfortable than sitting on a lawn chair in our own backyard.
31. Read in the backyard.
32. Make a dinner featuring a lot of corn.
33. Wander around the neighborhood minefield while staring at the sky and trying to not catch on fire.