Monday, November 28, 2011

Lo-Phat Air ...

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. 


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.

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.

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!

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 ...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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."

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.

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.

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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Newsletter: Week 7

Dear Hal and Orin, 

Lately I've been thinking a lot about adorable little mice. White pinched faces, whiskers and wormy tails.  That cute little bitty foraging sound I used to hear as they gathered in corners to fill their cheeks with tortilla crumbs. The pellets the side of punctuation they left in clumps in the drawer that holds our dish cloths. 

Maybe the Department of Health would see things otherwise, I view it all now, in retrospect, as the golden era. 

Because you know what, you guys? You, Orin, and you, Hal, are terrifying.

The bloom was still on the rose in the days that followed Week 2.5. That's when you guys discovered the bathroom mirror and spent hours circling the floor-length brass structure trying to figure out the magic behind these cats that aped your moves. We laughed at your stupidity. Great gales of hilarity.

Then you, Orin, already at a fifth grade reading level, got extra curious. And you, Hal, with the athletic ability at least three years ahead of your Little League designation, got extra ballsy. You both added about four pounds and three inches and Orin's voice deepened. You've destroyed your personal playground Kitty City and have turned the house into your own Feline State.

Orin jumped into the shower with me.
Hal almost choked on the broken lid of a spice container.
Orin figured out how to jump onto the countertop so Chuck secured the entry route with a sheet of tinfoil, foe of cats. Turns out Orin loves it. Whaps at it and chews on its ends.
Your fights have become more epic with Orin going jaws wide at Hal's jugular. Hal prone on his back kicking at Orin's eyeballs with his back legs.
You both watch me when I'm on the toilet, and I sit there in fear that you will try to claw your way on to my naked lap.
I have to wear thick-soled slippers at all times because Orin is fascinated by toes, moreso unsocked then socked, but fascinated regardless.
Orin tried to eat my ponytail. Twice.

Whenever we got hypothetical about getting another cat, I said I wanted one with Toonses' good sense to hate people food and to avoid countertops. But you both have all the ticks and curiosities of every cat that came before you. Orin, I think I saw you eating an onion and licking the Tempeh wrapper. It has been confirmed that you adore Almond Milk.

You continue to race from surface to surface, climb curtains and blanketed legs. You found a matching pair of infant-sized socks in some dark recess of this house. And frankly, your shits are the size of a doberman on a burrito diet.

You are both inseparable. You eat at the same time and spoon when you sleep. Orin mops Hal's face and ears with his tongue and continues to give him hickies on his stomach. If one of you spends more than a minute alone, you will send out a distress call and the other joins you in a flash. You do 45-minute intervals of cardio activity, then collapse into a coma for a few hours, recharging for your next round of terror.

"Well, they're still kittens," we say. "Just two more years of this."

We haven't seen any mice since you moved in, guys. And frankly, I miss them.

Master Christa

* Re: The above photo. I was making dinner and turned around to see Chuck holding the cats by the scruff and cackling in a faux maniacal way: "HAVE A CAT!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Turbo Cap'n ...

"You guys got candy?" a kid asks, the henchman in a five-pack of elementary school-aged yokels that includes one carrying a cross bow.

No. This bowl is full of oatmeal, you little shit. What do you think? Lights on, woman with the glazed eyes of a Nerds overdose standing on the front porch handing out handfuls, pretending she thinks a University of Minnesota Duluth hockey jersey is actually a costume.

"Which player are you?" I ask, withholding a precious pouch of Fun Dip.
The kid shrugs. Probably never been to a game in his life. Get with the program. Get, at least, into character. Drop the Fun Dip into his pillow case anyway. So he'll leave.

To judge from the random sampling of 100-plus kids who stopped by our house last night, Generation M is a dud. A greedy bunch of sugar fiends who are going to be charged with analyzing my urine samples and listening to my stories about how I came in sixth to last place in a marathon back in two-zero-zero-four.

I gave a kid a Fun Dip. He saw me reach for another to put in his friend's bag. "Do I get another one?" he asked, genuinely confused. I dropped another in his bag.

"Don't tell," I said. "I don't want this porch swamped with your kind."

A girl stood on the steps with her bag open and didn't even look at me. She was monitoring the street when I dropped a mini snickers into her bag. She didn't move. She kept monitoring the street. I dropped another one in the bag. Nothing. Still standing there holding her bag. I added a Three Musketeers. Finally she came to and noticed me. She closed her bag and moved on.

"It's her birthday," her dad said from the sidewalk. "She deserves two."
"It's her birthday," I thought.

Kids, I decided, are cutest when they are about as tall as my knees, packed into outfits that make their arms look like wobbly propellers. One crawled up on the porch wearing blueface. A Tigger did the same, covered in Snickers' face. Chuck almost took out a bumbling ladybug who was trying to get inside the house. I gave a toddler two packs of Nerds. Rookie error.

There was a dog dressed as a geisha.

A girl stopped by holding two sacks.
"I have to carry a bag for my brother," she said.
"Nice scam," I said.

Then I noticed a head floating behind her, seemingly coming from the crotch of a pair of adult overhauls. It looked like his noggin was on a platter, his shoulders ended without a finale. I gave him a bonus Fun Dip for the effort.

"Even better scam," said the woman guiding him around.

By now I've learned a trick of dropping something into their bag without letting them see the loot. The confusion as they try to discern the new item is just too precious.

A teddy bear got a head injury when he turned around, saw a grim reaper and whacked his head on the front door.

I'm a little concerned about the kids who bitch about what you give them as you give it to them. Or the ones who wait for you to drop a York Peppermint Patty and then say "Aw. I wanted that one."

One dad chastised his kids in the nerdiest of ways:
"Come on, guys," he said. "Say 'Thank you' to everyone."

The fatigue set in around 8 p.m. You could see it in the droopy skeleton faces and the slack jaws of goth teens pretending they didn't always dress like this. By then I'd eaten about 19 mini candy bars and was working my way through my fifth carton of Nerds. I was feeling wild-eyed and crazy, hopped up on the good stuff.

"Did Chuck wake up early to pass out candy?" Rad-attack-ack-ack texted me.
"You're sugared to high hell," she wrote.
"HOW CAN YOU TELL??!!!" I responded.
"Turbo caps," she said.
"YOU MEAN TURBO CAP'N!" I said, cackling for the next half hour. Turbo Cap'n. It's still funny.