Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two doors down ...

There is a teenager party going on at the house next door. Our houses are pretty close together, so it's almost like we were invited. I'm actually thrilled that this is going on. It is awesome to be 17 on a Wednesday night in the summer. I might be more than twice that old, but I definitely remember that.

Mostly they've just congregated in packs and bummed cigarettes from each other.

"I haven't been drunk in a month," one of the boys said. He couldn't get his smoke lit.

They aren't loud. They aren't playing music. There is just this constant low hum of conversation and frequent references to being drunk, getting drunk, and drinking. There were some dramatics a few minutes ago when one of the girls had whispered fury in the front yard.

"The guy I came here with is shitfaced and all over every girl here. Whatever. I'm walking home."

When Chuck left for work he said they all shushed each other when he walked from the backyard to the garage.

"They're real stealthy," he texted. "Like ninjas."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Swinging the poisonous rhubarb leaf ...

Since the last time I wrote about what I'd made, watched and read we had a big storm and Chuck ripped the carpet out of the basement and I took it to the dump and threw it off a ledge and then Chuck had to perform operation: Make car not stink like wet basement carpet.

Now we're on our way to getting the basement back in shape. The books have been alphabetized (priority), but we're still mulling floor options (secondary). I want something rubbery so that if I want to do a helicopter-to-body slam move to a house guest, so be it. (And so that if it floods again, we just have to take the rubber pieces out and let them dry in the sun).

Anyway. This is what I've been up to.


Rhubarb Crisp: You can barely swing a poisonous rhubarb leaf on the internet without hitting a recipe for rhubarb crisp, the most un-fuckup-able dessert in the history of sugar. Case: I found this one on, and it still rocked those parts of the tongue that only rhubarb can trigger.

Egyptian Moussaka: The picture with the recipe was so pretty that I had to make this. But as I was making it, I was getting pretty sick of it. I was pretty sure I was not going to like it. I'd spent too much time with it.

And, result: I was totally wrong. Awesome. The eggplant does this crazy thing texturally -- maybe it always does that -- that was really nice. I also added the optional chickpeas because if the options are a) chickpeas; b) no chickpeas, I'll always pick a) chickpeas.

Every time I make this I think of my college roommate Red Lipstick, who taught me how to make it. It's pure genius.

I'm running in the neighborhood. A girl, somewhere between 12-14, sees my "I (heart) NY" T-shirt and says: "Have you ever been to New York?"
I remove my earbuds. She repeats herself.
"Yes," I say. "Have you?"
"No," she says. "But I've been to Florida."

(A time where the idea was better than its execution)

The Turning Point: This movie from 1977 is the 2-hour video for the song "I've Been to Paradise (But I've Never Been to Me)." Shirley Mac Laine is a former ballet dancer who gave up her career when she got got with a bambino. She and a former male company member marry, make a few more and open a dance studio in Oklahoma City. When her old company comes through for a two-nights stand of "Anna Karenina," Mac Laine is reunited with her former friend/rival, played by Anne Bancroft. Mac Laine must work through her "what-ifskies" while Bancroft, well beyond retirement age, works more sanely through her own -- including devoting her life to dance and never having a family. Mac Laine's young, lovely daughter gets invited by the company to come to NYC to train with them.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Baryshnikov flies around on the stage and one by one seduces the company's ballerinas.

This movie is corny as hell, but includes an epic fist fight between Mac Laine and Bancroft and some great dancing.

Quick note: Have you ever noticed that in the 1970s, flute music is often incorporated into the lovemaking?

The Last Picture Show: I've been meaning to watch this movie ever since it was referenced on an episode of "Dawson's Creek." And its Dawson-isms make sense: Small town, one girl, two boys who are besties. Stir.

It's a year in the life of some kids living in this town and a bunch of stuff happens and it's funny and sad and just a good story and Cybill Shepherd is such a little mynx.

Little Darlings Kristy McNichol stars as a little toughie who is sent off to summer camp with a pack of Marlboro Reds tucked into the waist band of her jeans. She doesn't immediately click with the girls in her cabin, which includes a shampoo model, a rich girl and a young Cynthia Nixon. The shampoo model accuses her of being a virgin and pits her against the rich girl, Tatum O'Neal, in a contest to see who can lose it more quickly.

Tatum makes for the camp gym teacher; McNichol goes for Matt Dillon, who is the rebel at the boys camp (and looks, suspiciously, a lot like her). I can't decide if this is the dumbest movie I've ever seen. It has a certain Judy Blume-ness to it that it really uncomfortable. On the other hand, it's also priceless.

The triplets across the street are dancing with their hands in the air and singing "It's our birthday, it's our birthday." The 5-year-old next door to us looks at me and says "They're ruining my time." "Why?" I ask him. "I only really like it when it's quiet out here," he says.

Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn: Nick and Amy's fifth anniversary starts with him ruing the state of their relationship and her making crepes. Within hours she will go missing, there will be signs of a struggle and Nick will become the number one suspect in the case. And that's where the same old-same old story goes off-roading big time and this becomes so fun to read. 

This is probably my favorite book written in 2012 that I've read. It's a total blast and super clever and fun.

Full review is here.

The Guardians: An Elegy by Sarah Manguso: A poet writes recollections of a friend whose mental illness contributed to him to throwing himself in front of a train in the early 2000s. She considers their friendship, what his death meant, and snapshots of her own life during this period. It's a fine, short little almost-memoir, but I wasn't feeling it. 

Full review will be here.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Fun fact: I'd never read this, but I act like I've read it all the time! It's mostly give-or-take but there are some really wicked scenes and the last 15 pages are crunk. For the uninitiated: A bunch of boys stranded on an island and what happens when they attempt a sort of makeshift government structure. 

Full review will be here.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks: Loved the art; thought the story was meh.  

Full lament will be here.

Can you believe these two? This is how they always, always, sleep. They are so in love.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Super soaker 2012 ...

The Dude and I are parked facing opposite directions with our drivers' side windows together. We are on the phone with each other. "Are you cool if we just wait for this to pass?" he asks. It's been raining off and on for awhile. Big sudden violent bursts, then pauses. "Yeah, yeah, no big," I say. But I notice something: Sitting here six feet apart, separated by two car windows, I'm seeing his mouth move before the words come through my phone. It's like watching a dubbed movie. I point it out to him and we cackle -- which also looks funny -- and trade classic Kung Fu lines. The joke runs its course. The Dude is back on his phone, he's always on the phone, and I text videos of rain on my windshield to Chrissie. The 6-second scene looks like I'm in a car wash.

It never stops raining and eventually we just run as fast as we can inside.

On my way home I take out at least six puddles with a car commercial intensity. This is fun, especially when it's deep and there is a hydroplane and you feel like you're flying. By the time I get home I forget I even did this until I start seeing photos of other cars that have also driven through puddles. Except those weren't puddles! They were water-filled sink holes and now the car is inside a gaping hell mouth and everyone has to swim out the one open window that isn't submerged. 

Right before Chuck leaves for work I remember this thing worth mentioning is happening outside. And then I panic. The amount of time between lightning and thunder cannot be measured on a modern timekeeping device. I've seen "Poltergeist," I know what this means. It means they're here. The TV people. Chucks sits there for a few minutes. "I'm going to check the basement," he says finally. 

It's not as bad as the Facebook friend who's status indicates he just watched his laundry basket float past him. This is more squeegee and shop vac than bailing bucket. The water is coming down the walls, but it's not like streaming. In fact, it's imperceptible. It just collects in front of the washing machine. Chuck swipes it toward a drain, we re-arrange the litter box situation. When he goes to work I follow his progress on Friend Finder as though Friend Finder will allow me to jar him short of a sinkhole using my phone as a joystick. He arrives safely.

After midnight the fun really starts. It just won't stop raining even though it's clear we've had enough, everyone everywhere. This inability to do anything but wait until it peters out -- and then assess the damage -- is both frustrating and liberating. I develop a tick: Watch the newspaper's live weather blog, which is updated almost nonstop with news gleaned from scanner chatter and chimes from locals reporting houses sliding down the hill, cars crashing into sinkholes; Switch to Facebook, which is equally immediate with it's images of rushing rapids and exploding manhole covers; Monitor basement flooding as it eventually saturates the carpeting. Stepping on this barefoot is the grossest. Repeat well beyond "up late" and into "up early." 

A seal escapes from the zoo and is on Grand Avenue.
A neighborhood is being evacuated so they can open a dam.
Photo of my first apartment building with water up to porch-height.
Now a polar bear has escaped from the zoo.

Tuska's father sums this up best with a comment on her Facebook page:
"Never thought I'd have to worry about a fucking polar bear," he says.

I fall asleep around 5 a.m., but only because every electronic world-watching device in my house has lost its battery charge.

I wake at 8 a.m. and it feels sunny, though it's still raining lightly. But it's not fierce anymore. Streets are missing large chunks. The highway is closed. The seal and the polar bear were saved, but a bunch of the barnyard animals died in a way I have to stop myself from imagining. There's also the loosey-goosey vibe of people who have been given the day off by police and the mayor -- but that day might be spent digging through ruined life accumulations. All day photos pop up on Facebook. A woman in a kayak at an ATM. A single car buried in water at Target. A restaurant up the hill jokes that they're now offering a lake view. The water is up over the windows.

It takes me 45 minutes to drive the 8 miles downtown. I listen to public radio, which is talking about this flood. It's like seeing your face on TV and thinking "She looks so familiar."

I make it the whole day without seeing evidence that any of this happened. It's made national news, but I haven't even caught a glimpse of a sinkhole, no one has kayaked past me and I can't even find any standing water aside from the same old same old big lake. I drive through downtown, peeking up the avenues for concrete buckles, but most are hidden behind barriers. The road is covered in debris, chunks of road, rocks and dirt.

I stop at Chester Creek and it's packed. More than 20 bodies in a row watching the river rage and taking photos. They leave, more show up. I check out the other side of the street for another angle. I stop by Cascade Park. Overnight water rushed down a staircase and recreated a stream. It's dry now, but the staircase looks like it was punched with a giant fist. Here, too, there are people milling. All part of the disaster tour. Next to the Whole Foods Co-Op, part of the parking lot just broke off. A railing dangles in mid-air. The tilt of bricks look like historic ruins. 

Everyone has at least a wet basement. In some cases it's way worse. Houses rode down hillsides. Entire rooms bent off structures. Everywhere you go, every big hole and weird jut, attracts a crowd. We're all acting like tourists in our own town and parts our own town are like an archeological something. Other places just look normal. 

I checked in with my parents on Wednesday morning. Told them about the seal and the polar bear and what wet carpet smells like. This morning my mom calls at 9 a.m. to ask if we're okay. "Yeah. Yeah," I say. "It was over by the time I called you yesterday." There is this assumption that what you are seeing on the 10 o'clock news in Rochester is happening in real time, I realize. It had already been sunny for half a day before the flood footage aired. Chuck had already ripped up half of the carpeting in the basement.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dispatches From Feline Nation: Week 40 ...

Dear Orin,

A year ago yesterday you escaped the engorged cat cavity of your unfit mother, just a wet muff of fur -- a wool mitten after a snowball fight, perhaps -- with bleary eyes and a natural inclination to suckle. If I know you, you immediately mewed and begged to be someone, anyone's little spoon. It was that neediness that drew us to you at the shelter in that dizzying room of whirring fur, rank with cat BO. We knew we had to have you (because you probably weren't going to let go of our shoelaces).

When your partner in crime turned a year old we spent the day nuzzling his classically handsome face and cooing "Happy birthday, Hallie." We figured he wouldn't remember his first birthday anyway, so there was no need for a big blow out. Next year we could get pointy hats and prop a candle into the middle of a tuna cake. A clown, a bounce house, some neighbor strays.

We forgot your birthday, Orin, and instead spent about 15 minutes worried we had killed you. Not on purpose, bud. Any court of law would have ruled it kittyslaughter.

We were sitting at the kitchen table when we heard a cat being tortured in the alley. The sound was a mix of piercing yelps and guttural bass. (It might have been cat sex, come to think of it. I'm not to familiar with the sex noises of felines). Chuck and I looked at each other and immediately began counting kittens. One. Just Hal.

I'd been in and outside a few times: I took out the garbage, I went for a run, I chilled on the porch glider. What if one of those times you had slipped through my feet unnoticed. What if you had been so caught up in the fly you were chasing that you didn't notice a doberman yanking your spleen through your pink little kitten nostril?

I looked upstairs, under the bed, in the closet, in the spare room where you like to perch on an upended mattress. I looked downstairs in the laundry room and storage area. Chuck stood in the kitchen clicking the cat snack alarm, feeding your obedient older brother green triangles of fish-flavored rewards. I walked through the yard yelling "Orin," as if you knew English or responded to will.

Eventually you crawled out of some hiding spot in the basement, blurry-eyed with lint in your fur. Chuck called it your "16 Candles" moment. Which means that somewhere in this neighborhood, another cat is holding court with a pair of your kitty drawers. We were both relatively glad you were safe.

It's been a trying few months with you two. I'm reduced to drinking out of a mason jar as we speak, as you've been breaking glasses at a rate of at least one per week. You knocked out the screen on the back door. We can no longer keep anything on the mantel unless we want to pick shards of its remains out of our socks. A few months ago we began work on turning one of the spare bedrooms into a cat-free oasis where we can enjoy breakables at our leisure.

Sometimes, usually when I'm drunk, I still find you guys adorable though. The way you walk everywhere in tandem, like how Ponch and John patrolled the California Highways as a team. How you clean each others ears and assholes and always hug each other to sleep. How one of you knocks things off of countertops and the other one points and laughs. I wonder what Toonses would make of this nightmare. I think that if he was still here he would do what we do: Find places to hide.

This is why we can't have nice things,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

For you bear ...

I pushed off onto Chuck a copy of "An American Childhood" by Annie Dillard, a book I really loved in college and re-read a few times afterward. Tonight he opened it and said "It's inscribed." I kind of knew what was coming. Not exactly, but a pretty good idea. He cleared his throat and read from inside the cover:

"For Christa, Be true to yourself always. Keep writing, for you bear the key to your heart. Love always, Annie Dillard."

I laughed and turned a little red.

"I can't believe I did that," I said.
"You did that?" he asked.
"I signed it with a fake message from Annie Dillard," I said.
"YOU did?" he was still confused. He thought Annie Dillard came to my college or stopped into one of the bookstores where I worked in my 20s.
"Oh yeah, totally," I said.

You have to remember we live in an age where Chuck and I don't recognize each other's writing. Especially not the decorative loop-di-loos I favored when I was younger. I only really know his writing  if he's printing in all caps, like he did in his old comic strip. We were just talking about this the other day, actually. I'd said "If you had told me when I was 12 that I wouldn't recognize my forever person's handwriting ..."

"I mean, look at the writing," I said.
"It does look painstakingly done," he said. "Are you sure you didn't meet her?"
"Yes. I've never met Annie Dillard," I said.

This was like a fantastic message that 21-year-old me sent to 36-year-old me. I think it's hilarious. It's so something I would totally do. I like inside jokes with myself and that's what it must have been. I would never do that to trick someone; I would do it to crack myself up, though. Down the line.

I can picture myself sitting in the on-campus grill, bored and doodling, waiting for my chicken fingers. Probably wearing bib overalls with a flannel shirt and thick Sketchers and snapping my gum. I open this book, grab a pen, fake inscribe it, chuckle and never imagine that there will be a time when I don't remember the circumstances of writing it. Good one, young Christa. I approve.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The big reveal ...

I'd had a few beers, the third one was the tipping point on my bladder. The Porta-Potty was dark, which is sometimes for the best. I cranked the lever lock (I thought). I turned on my cell phone so I could see at least a little and stuck it in my mouth balanced between my teeth.

I kind of leaned the back of my legs against the toilet in a sort of semi perch and thought "If I'm going to catch toilet disease, this is the part of my body that seems the best place for it." Easily reachable, I'd be able to knead in the ointment without assistance. I'd still be able to sit comfortably even if it itched. It would be nowhere near my genitals, which is of utmost importance.

I'd just started to go when the door whipped open. I can imagine exactly what I looked like to this person, my face lit up in the blue glow of Facebook. This primate stance. I growled, easier than a scream with the phone in my mouth like this, my eyes wide. She cackled. I mean truly cackled and backed away. Threw in a whoop or two. There were other people around waiting in less of a line and more of a cluster.

Awful. Just awful.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pop Culture Curiosity: Bacon Sundae ...

I've eaten plenty of novelty items from fast food menus -- KFC's Double Down taking highest honors so far -- and this is the grossest thing I've ever forced myself to eat for the sake of this website: Burger King's Bacon Sundae.

Eventually someone is going to mention the super scandalous-but-not sundae in my presence and I wanted to know what I was talking about when I made my special dry heave face. What I now know I will say is this: "See there's this kid Billy, right? And he has 15 days to eat 15 worms. If he does it, he gets 50 bucks. And there are all these innovative ways to consume them. He fries them, he boils them, there's Ketchup ..."

The Bacon Sundae reminded me of the book "How to Eat Fried Worms." And, unfortunately, once you think that, you can't unthink it. Not even when you get to the gooey caramel collected in the bottom of your sundae cup. This Burger King thing would be the chapter where Billy's friends find one flattened by a car and baked by the sun and throw it atop ice cream like some sort of virgin rainstorm sacrifice.

The premise of a Bacon Sundae is only disgusting if you are having a conversation with the food-ular repressed. People who have actually put food into their mouth, chewed and swallowed it know deep down that this isn't the worst idea in the world. The bacon is just a salt delivery vehicle and the only thing better than salt is salt with sweet. People like bacon -- so much so that the word should be stuffed into a box with the saying "That's what she said" and fired into outer space. Ice cream is ice cream and when you slather it in sundae toppings like chocolate and caramel the world gets a little brighter. 

Burger King isn't going to try to sell you something impossible. They don't insist that their chefs are sent to France to train with the masters. Burger King isn't pushing Sundae Tartare. They serve safe food, quickly and at a small price, promising to never test or offend customers. The Bacon Sundae isn't edgy: It's fake edgy. It is the greatest amount of audacity possible in this limited Burger King environment. Like when we tried to get away with wearing mock turtle necks at St. Pius X when the dress code clearly called for collared shirts. 

As for the numbers: When you decide to eat a sundae you know you are committing to a certain amount of calories and you've either made your peace with it or you have a special place where you like to go crawl into the fetal position and have a short time out for the shame. Whatever's your jam. The Bacon Sundae is 510 calories, according to BK's nutrition menu. This is less than the Oreo Brownie Sundae, but almost twice as much as both the chocolate and caramel sundaes -- which are the same as the Bacon Sundae, minus the bacon. 

That says to me: This bacon better be more delicious than me just ordering two of these sundaes without bacon. 

That's the problem. It's not. At least not at the store I went to. It's the same bacon that is made in bulk and set aside for quick access throughout the day when someone orders a bacon cheeseburger. It wasn't  even re-heated. I'm not a scientist, but I feel safe in saying that it is easier to hide shitty bacon between meat, cheese and bread that it is to hide shitty bacon that looks like sidewalk kill on top of ice cream. It was a lifeless slab of flavorlessness, thus the wormy imagery. After two bites I chucked the bacon and just ate the sundae. 

When I do these experiments I like to eat in the store for the full on experience of what it is like to eat this food on this day in this place. Almost every time someone at a nearby table unleashes a meaty uvula-quaking belch that gives me a gut punch. I'm not opposed to belches as a rule. I usually think they are a great vibrating gust of comic genius. But not here. Not in this place. It's too real. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Peco Train ...

Hey! Here's a week worth of stuff!


It's our little monkey-faced turkey gizzard watching Chuck assemble a porch glider.
Pinto Bean Tacos: I forgot to take a photo so you're going to have to close your eyes and really picture what soy chorizo, red onions, tomatoes and  pinto beans looks like when it's all mixed together and plopped into a corn tortilla and topped with queso fresco and hot sauce. We ate this, dug it, ate it again, dug it double. TACOS ARE SO GOOD!

First, a salad with blue cheese walnut dressing. 
Then a seared halloumi sandwich with capers and red peppers.
Then a goat cheese cheesecake with a ginger snap crust.

Sea Dawg: So what was Christa like when she was growing up?
Ma Pista: Well, when she was little she was afraid of her shadow. Then when she hit fifth grade she became a ... psychopath!

Blue Crush: I unapologetically adore this movie about a super-great surfer girl in Hawaii, the best of the best, who is trying to shake the head case-itis from a near-drowning three years before the movie starts. She gets invited to compete in this huge event and is training with her besties, but gets distracted for a few days by a hunky football player from Minnesota.

I love all the overcoming and triumph and girl montages and hokiness. On the other hand, if this movie is selling grrrl power -- which it seems to be in the moment our hero tells her beau "What do I want? I want a girl to be on the cover of Surfer magazine, any girl" or something -- she casts off her big plans pretty easily for this dude and she leans pretty heavy on pep talks from Minnesota when she does eventually double back to get at it. Although she does ultimately get her best encouragement from a big name surfing icon who is a woman.

Regardless: I've decided my summer costume is going to have a surf influence.

Brideshead Revisited: I totally did not watch this movie. I read the book and then rubbed it all over my stomach and purred and counted down the seconds until I could see what would happen when the story was presented as a moving picture. Then, when I finally got a copy of it, I was distracted by everything from lint to loose finger skin and every time I did deign to look at the screen I found myself sneering. Finally I just gave up.

Town That Dreaded Sundown : This is a horror movie told in an "Unsolved Mysteries"-style documentary way and it's a riot. A young couple is attacked while chilling at a makeout spot in Texarkana. A masked man rips the cars innards apart so they can't get away and then throttles them. They live, but the next couple doesn't. A curfew is imposed, people start boarding up windows and a hot shot cop is brought in to solve the crimes. There is a total Roscoe P. Coltrane (which I totally thought was "Rosce Pecotrain" until two minutes ago when Chuck heckled me straight. Whatever. WE WEREN'T ALLOWED TO WATCH 'DUKES OF HAZZARD," OKAY?!) On top of that, it is filmed in such a dumb way. Still, I highly recommend it.

Chuck: "I think your fillings are constantly playing Radio Disney."

The Lifeboat: A Novel by Charlotte Rogan: Thirty-nine passengers from the sinking Empress Alexandra damn-near overwhelm the lifeboat they've secured so they can wait for a rescue boat. One of the ship's crew members takes charge, doles out duties and even manages to catch some fish while they're waiting and waiting and waiting. Then things get pretty grim and weird and it's all very awesome.

It's told from the perspective of Grace Winter, a newlywed, as a flashback while she's on trial for something TBA.

This is a pretty fun book. My full review will be here.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: This young adult novel is told through letters written by Charlie during his first year of high school. He's quirky and earnest and finds some quirky seniors who dig him. This book is candy with a fun soundtrack.

Full review will be here.

Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys : The story centers on Sasha Jansen. If only she had a different hair color, a new hat, things would change for the superstitious, unlucky, and aging wanderer. A different hotel room. The cafe across the street rather than this one, where the proprietor knows her as a woman who cries after a certain amount of sips.

Full review will be here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mow-hawks ...

We have gotten into some sort of Yard Maintenance Battle Royal with our senior citizen-aged neighbor. It is the kindest, most wholesome of neighborly situations. It is also so uncomfortable.

The West Duluth OG is probably 82. A young and highly-functioning 82. He chuckles a lot and is curious about the unconventional hours we keep. He can see straight into our living room from the second-floor landing of his house, I think, because I saw his girlfriend standing there once in one of those frilly to the chin bathrobes that people of a certain age call a "housecoat." And if I could see her, she can see this week's episode of "Keeping up with the Kardashians." " The West Duluth OG probably doesn't know my name and refers to Chuck as my husband. I do not correct him.

I've seen him clearing our snow. It would be one thing if he was just pushing a shovel up the sidewalk. But he also hooks right and does the path to the front door. He threatens to do the porch. When you wake at 10 a.m. and see a man the age of some of the meatier trees on the block tossing snow load after snow load, you have only one option: Army crawl across the floor so he doesn't see that you're home. Or you can go stand on the porch and say "Oh, OG. Don't worry about that. We'll get it." To which he responds. "Not much more to do. Just let me finish" and you actually feel shame in your TV marathon muscles.

Of course, now we're into mowing season. As of today the score is OG 2, Us 1 in the great lawn-mowing trade of 2012. I'm not sure when he got us -- or if it was even him or one of his family members -- but we're freshly cut today. The grass hadn't even yet reached crises level yet. It was a total sneak attack.

Our yard is a flat rectangle void of any sort of landscaping. His yard has decorative rocks and a cluster of bushes, wonky angles and slight grades. Our yard takes 14 minutes to mow. His is more complicated and there must be a system to it but I haven't found it. I leave always leave mohawk (mow-hawk?) strips and routinely almost mangle the blade on our mower when I hit one of his rocks. Fine. Truth? His takes less than 20 minutes to mow. But still.

So mowing his lawn makes me curse our unspoken tradeoff with the OG. Great, I thought when Chuck texted me that he'd struck again. Now I have to mow his yard next time. And crises level is going to hit in the middle of a week and I'm going to end up waiting for the weekend. But then he's going to get to it first and we'll owe him two mows. And then he'll write on HIS blog about the lazy assholes next door. What if I just made him cookies. How many cookies equal a mowed lawn? 

We should be mowing his lawn anyway. Every time. It's in the rule book next to giving pregnant women your seat on the bus and not peeing in the big stall if you can help it. I get that. But we're a more casual folk here. I can only speak for myself and not Chuck when I say that the only reason I mow at all is so that the City of Duluth doesn't come here and do it for us, leaving behind a ticket for our negligence. (Which we could, I guess, then forward to the OG).

Monday, June 11, 2012

To-did List ...

1. Wet floor by the deck door. Mulch in the front flower bed. Two pots of daisies and a fern plant. On this particular Saturday morning, my inner Trixie Beldon is stumped. Chuck has been tending to the yard. But where is he now? And what is this water? (Now dotted with cat prints).

2. Chuck assembles a porch glider, seemingly the one thing standing between us and a full-fledged summer of leisure.

3. I begin a cleaning project I wish I'd done before Thursday, when we had a drop-in from one of those people who traipses across your piles of dirty underwear and sets his gear on top of unopened mail.

4. Distracted by the shitty state of our blinds. These are beyond two swipes with a duster. These need to be removed and probably burned. When the guy at Menards asks if he can help me find something I say: "Blinds I liked two years ago (that might have actually been at Home Depot)." I run into the guy who cuts my hair. He leaves me with this thought: "Have you ever seen the bugs that live in our eyes?" Four stops later, no blinds. A pretty strong visual of the sort of bug that would live in ones eye, though.

5. I'd grabbed clothes from the bedroom with plans to go inline skating, giggling at a I Heart NY T-shirt from the dawn of time that I'd pulled to wear on the trail. At Target a woman is wearing the same shirt. "Well, I never ..." I think, and wonder if I should get a new straightening iron.

6. I think "Call Me Maybe" is a fantastic summer jam.

7. So much reading.

8. Dinner at Hanabi. Wasabi Shumai honestly explodes in your mouth and sends wasabi vapors straight into your sinuses. It is the best feeling in the world. The North Shore Roll is covered in seaweed, like the grass in an Easter basket. Kesha is playing on the sound system.

9. A hokey horror movie from the 1970s based on a true story about murders on Lover's Lane in Texarkana in the 1940s. Editing-wise, a pretty resourceful 8 year old could make a movie better than this using a crappy cell phone and a flour sack. Fun to watch, though.

10. I've emerged as front runner in the "Best Popcorn Maker in the House" contest.

12. Yeah, this porch glider surrounded by ferns thing is going to make for a mint summer.

13. So much more reading. On the glider. On the porch. Hidden by ferns.

14. A seared Halloumi Sandwich from New Scenic, preceded by a bunch of greens with blue cheese walnut dressing and followed by goat cheesecake. Eff. Delicious stuff happening at that restaurant up the shore.

15. With a pillow, I'd consider sleeping on this porch glider. Someone walks down the street. I can't see them, I shift to look and then decide: "Know what? Who cares. Enjoy your alcove." 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

And that's what tortures me ...

My biggest fan booed the judge channeling Simon Cowell, who questioned my song selection. You can hear her saying "Booo! Be nice!" on the video. She also smack-talked contestants to other contestants and won herself two tickets to a Twins Game and a hotel stay in Minneapolis. Ay-yi-yi. Big night out in Duluth for Ma Pista.

I was asked to sing in a live band celebrity karaoke competition, a fundraiser. I considered it for negative four seconds before agreeing. A week before go-time, the band said "Footloose soundtrack, meh. How about one of these boy-voice songs?" I said "Sure! I'll take 'Folsom Prison' by Johnny Cash!" And then spent my weekend listening to a version by Australian cowgirls while driving up and down the North Shore. On Sunday I did a two-on-one jam with some of the band, we found my range-ish, talked about speed. On Tuesday I actually went on a stage and learned a few things about microphones, feedback and what drummers do. Tonight I shook my fundraiser-maker for about 100-ish pizza fans.

This was going to require a costume, I realized on Sunday night when one of those super-hot, bet-she-kills-in-business-meetings women described the 1970s getup she had planned for her cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious." Knee-high shiny white boots, white fishnets, hair out to here ... Then: "I'm going to wear a black cowboy hat," said another Johnny Cash-er. Another had a puppet prop.

I really thought my red cowboy boots would be enough. I didn't realize I was going to have to pair it with an orange jumpsuit and ankle chains or, like, make June Carter hair. (Note to self: Should have made June Carter hair). A friend lent me a black cowboy hat and so boots and hat, fine.

"Just do what you did during rehearsal on Tuesday," a woman told me. "You sounded like Reese Witherspoon."

I took comfort in this, despite "Reese Witherspoon" and "country sensation" not really clicking. I like Reese Witherspoon. She has enviable hair.

"Speaking of," my mom bit her lip and did that sneaky joke-tell with her eyes. "On the way up here we heard on the radio about this actress who --"
"Heard it," I said.

I was set to sing second and I eyed up No. 1 and hoped for an epic level of tone deafness and a robotic stage presence that I could easily top. He was quiet and didn't even blink when I needled him with "Piano Man, huh. That's a looong song. You're going to be up there soooo long. What's that going to feel like when you're up there that looong? All those eyes on you for, gah, the length of 'Piano Man.'" About four seconds before he went on stage I realized I was sunk. He wasn't going to suck. He was too collected. Hadn't even bothered to lube up with a beer.

I was right. Huge full professional voice, fan favorite song and ... he was active military. When I finally got on stage, I felt like everyone could sense the truth about me: I've littered at least once.

Photo by my friend Teener Beaner, whose fiance agreed to go because he thought I was doing standup comedy. 
Anyway, it went fine. Missed the intro to the last verse, the band covered for me, blah blah blah, shop talk. This isn't my finest moment on the karaoke circuit, but man was it fun. Real stage, real band with a guitar player quietly counting down until my next verse. I had a couple of pockets of friends to look at to unjangle the nerves that had me pacing from about 1 p.m. to show time.

I think Ma Pista was pretty sure I should have won -- "I couldn't even hear the winner," she said, like she should notify someone and demand a recount. "I could hear you, though." (I could hear the winner. She was even more fantastic and fun than I'd warned myself she would be with her play on "Superstitious.")

Ma Pista only caught three of the four parts of the song with her video and she started recording again when the judges critiqued me. (I didn't include that). And, yes, she is loudly booing the guy who questioned my song selection in a fun, "American Idol" judge way.

When I first heard the boos I was like "Oh. Oh my." But the second and third times I watched I thought it was pretty nice to have someone so deep in your corner that they're willing to boo a judge who is just having fun with a character. Bear with her, Rochester, when she tells you I was robbed.

Folsom Prison from christa pista on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gooey innards ...

Anyway, here is what I made, watched and read since the last time I wrote about what I made, watched and read.


Best Rhubarb Bars: Oh yes, friends. We've got the rhubarb weed. Sorry about the gooey mid-binge photo. Every year I say: Ok. Time to make something with rhubarb. And then time escapes me, the plants flower and Chuck tells me I've missed my window. I look outside and it's February. Gah.

This time I decided to do a small harvest and found a recipe with ingredients we had in the house. (Except butter. I used Earth Balance instead. Which makes these vegan. Which makes me able to get a bumper sticker for my car that says "Ask me about my vegan rhubarb bars." But I'm not going to. That's obnoxious).

Tempeh Tikka Masala: I should have adjusted the spices to give it some kick. I liked the sauce a lot, which is a mix of blended tomatoes, garlic, ginger and a hot pepper. Add crispy tempeh. Eat over rice. It's good. It's also hungry for dinner.

Badlands: If I don't check myself I could become obsessed with Sissy Spacek. I think it's her face. It seems to have more real estate than most other faces. Lots of wide open skin. The universe is pushing her on me, between catching her interview on "Fresh Air," seeing a sign for a book signing at a strange venue when we were in LA and now watching this.

This old-y by Terrence Malack is a James Dean-styled, unemployed garbage collecting Martin Sheen playing under-the-shirt, over-the-bar with young Spacek. When her dad tries to stall the romance, Sheen's character kills him. Then they are on the run, killing people who stumble into their path.

What a weird movie. Is this a comedy? It's kind of a comedy. Not like, say, "Zoolander." But definitely kind of a comedy. Right?

The Three Faces of Eve: We've decided to take advantage of having TMC and to actually look ahead and record movies, which is why I am suddenly going to become so well-versed in torpedo chested starlets of yesteryear.

In this one, "ordinary housewife" Eve White has been having fits of amnesia. Except that's not amnesia. It's her alter Eve Black cutting loose in slinky dresses and shiny heels and rubbing up on dudes at the Big Apple Bar. Totally delicious. And funny.

People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry: In 2000 a young British former flight attendant went off to Japan with her bestie to make some quick cash to help whittle some major fashion debt. She took a job as hostess at a club, which sounds seedy, but really just means hanging out with male customers, flattering them and encouraging them to drink more drinks. Bonuses are incurred by spending time off-site with the men. Except young Lucie Blackman doesn't return from a Saturday afternoon beach trip with a costumer. The story traces her life up until that date and the following search for her killer and remains.

This book is fan-fricking-tastic. Srsly. A lot of times True Crime gets bogged down with procedural bullshit and really long, dry courtroom scenes. Not this one. This is as in-depth with the players involved as is humanly possible.

Full review will be here.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How I spent my weekend ...

1. It was, like, really hard to start the lawn mower. I had to channel bus-parked-on-a-loved-ones-chest levels of strength. And afterward I looked around to see if anyone saw me do it. Unfortunately, it went unobserved.

2. I wish I could have just ignored the fresh mound of dog shit in our yard, but instead I imagined mowing over it and having a sort of forgot-to-put-the-top-on-the-blender moment. So I wrapped plastic baggies around it and accidentally got poop on my finger. I pulled a dry-heaving sprint to the sink. This did not go unobserved.

3. I harvested a bunch of rhubarb and made a delicious rhubarb dessert using ingredients we already had on hand, which always feels very adult-y. As does stealing into the kitchen in the middle of the night to eat ice cream in the light of the freezer.

4. I ate Drunken Noodles from Thai Krathong, which was like a snot-letting for my ear, nose and throat passages. And, in ordering the special, earned our server free dinner because it was the fifth special sold that night. As a thank-you, he let us try his dinner.

5. Sang just about every song in my karaoke repertoire in the West Duluth Entertainment District. Found a former classmate of Chuck's who would not be opposed to, hypothetically, cleaning dead squirrels from someone's attic. Then Chuck sang "Gin and Juice" and brought down the bar. A kid from a nearby table said "These songs must be from your era, huh?"

6. Came home and continued the festivities. Learned I can no longer do things like a back walkover. Had to redeem myself with a cartwheel in the front yard. I can still do a cartwheel.

7. So much muscle pain today. And rib cage pain. And lawn mower arm pain. And a strange palm bruise.

8. Jammed with the a faction of the live band I'll be spending two minutes on stage with on Wednesday. Last night's episode in the entertainment district wiped the lyrics out of my brain. I was told that even Ozzy Osbourne, especially Ozzy Osbourne, forgets the lyrics. I feel a little like Ozzy Osbourne today.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when ...

Fact: If someone asks me to do something and attaches the word "celebrity" to it, I'll do it. Doesn't matter what. It could go like this:

Chuck: Will you clean the litter box as part of a Celebrity Litter Box Cleanse?
Me: (Involuntarily): Yes. Yes. A million times yes. Is now okay? CAN I DO IT RIGHT NOW?!

This is a ridiculous tic. I'm not a celebrity (obvs) and have no plans to be a celebrity. Though once I was at a stoplight and the mayor and I were stalled next to each other and he said through his open car window "I've been enjoying your blog!" Anyway, that was a whole blog ago and maybe he wasn't even mayor yet, but it felt famous-y, famous-like. Oh, and one time I touched Evan Dando.

A few weeks ago a woman called to ask me if I would sing in a Celebrity Karaoke Challenge, a fundraiser for the Red Cross. She used that voice people use when they think they might have to talk you into something. But she had me at celeb--.


For the record: They asked JCrew first and she redirected them to me. JCrew is more Celebrity Paso Doble.

There was a curveball last week, though, when the live band sent out its set list and asked us to pick something from it. My old standby, the Footloose-flavored security blanket "Let's Hear it for the Boy" was not on that list. This is probably for the best. Sometimes when that song starts I wonder if it has become the soundtrack to Chuck's nightmares. No joke: He's probably heard me sing it upward of 200 times. That's worse than the time "Copa Cabana" was stuck in my head for two years just because I knew someone who looked like Barry Manilow.

In fact none of my songs were on the list. No Belinda, no Madonna, no Fleetwood, no Lita, no Gladys. All but a single song by Tracy Chapman were for dudes, by dudes. The good thing is that a lot of songs by men can be re-imagined for my not-male voice. Not, it turns out, "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley. Or, unfortunately, "Hey-Ya," by Outkast.

I poured through the list, listening to each song and, when applicable, listening to women cover the songs. And I gushed sweat. A lot. The kind of mustache-dew sweat that comes from the panic of potentially debuting my baritone on one of Duluth's finest stages. Having people pat me on the shoulder afterward and say: "Well, at least there was a pizza buffet."

I'm singing "Folsom Prison Blues." I'm hoping for a Johnny Cash-female country singer hybrid, a sound I can memorize well enough to not blank on stage. And the lyrics. Must learn the lyrics.

"What are you doing?" Chuck texted me from work tonight.
"Singing 'Folsom Prison' into the bathroom mirror," I texted back.
And that's probably where you'll find me for the next few days.

*Speaking of: I'm selling tickets to this thing. Except now I'm billing it as a PIZZA BUFFET FUNDRAISER for the Red Cross (where I'll be singing a 2 minute song). It's on Wednesday night at Grandma's Sports Garden. My parents will be there! If you want a $10 ticket, email me at PIZZA!