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Omen Tracking

It is rainy, and everything smells like rotting worms. I am highly annoyed at the world today, and by “world” I mean:

• the people who think it is a good idea to bring their rampaging children to the grocery store,

• the Toyota Corporation,

• and the fortyish African-American woman wearing funny glasses and driving a white Pontiac Grand Prix, who rear-ended my car this afternoon on Martin Luther King, Junior Boulevard.

Nothing was damaged but my soul and the back bumper of my Mazda hatchback, the Mazda hatchback I am currently attempting to trade in for a Toyota Prius, the Mazda hatchback whose value just plummeted two thousand dollars thanks to the events of this afternoon on Martin Luther King, Junior Boulevard.

Because I am an intelligent, rational person of science, I have come to the conclusion that the Universe is trying to send me a secret message—an omen, if you will, of future events. Sometimes, I wish the Universe would sit down and write me a nice letter on engraved stationery because I am getting tired of these mysterious codes. I still don’t know why my neighborhood is awash in black cats, for example. And what was with the banana peel in our flower pot?

Now I have this to worry over. Universe, are you making it difficult for me to trade in my car because you think I should not trade it in? Are you employing a fortyish African-American woman in a white Pontiac Grand Prix to tell me that my new Toyota Prius will bring heartache and woe along with a huge increase in fuel efficiency? Is this your way of saying that the impending oil crisis is a cruel liberal hoax?

Or do you just think I don’t deserve nice things?

And so, sweet readers, I use my soapbox today to scientifically record this omen for future analysis. If I keep the Mazda hatchback and it gets transformed by cosmic radiation into a car-shaped pile of platinum, leaving me rich rich rich beyond my wildest dreams . . . or if I go for the Prius and the hybrid electrical system goes haywire and zaps me into a pile of dust . . .

Then the Universe gets to say, “I told you so, dumbass.”

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Foo

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Twang Twang Twang

Rob is out of town, and I keep seeing things in my peripheral vision, shadows slipping around corners or blurs darting past my feet. It is not Goblin Foo, who is oftentimes on my lap or elsewhere within my sight; it is ghosts, or gremlins, or my nerves twanging like guitar strings. The only thing is, my therapist told me yesterday that I’m not neurotic anymore. For someone who has eaten, breathed, and slept neuroses for as long as he can remember, this is a stunning blow. My nerves may be guitar strings, but they are apparently twanging a different tune these days.

I am also learning again how to knit. I learned once before, but I instantly forgot how. When Faustus came to town last weekend for Rob’s birthday, we only had a spare half hour, but during that time, he showed me again how to knit a scarf. Faustus is a talented teacher who patiently walked me through every contingency. Of course, the instant he left, my fledgling scarf became so hideously snarled that I had to unravel it and begin anew. Over the next three days, I started seven more scarves, the corpses of which now litter the living room floor. “This is not the activity for me,” I told Rob at last.

But last night, alone in the house and tired of seeing the shadowy figures dart through doorways when they thought I wasn’t looking, I decided to watch an episode of “Joan of Arcadia” on TiVo, in which god tells Joan that she should learn how to knit because it is the new yoga and because it focuses the mind. I fear “Joan of Arcardia” is jumping the shark, but it must still have power over me.

I am four inches into my latest scarf.

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Foo

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Music to My Ears

I was born on the same day as Ricky Martin, led a life parallel with that of Tori Amos, and last year married an imminently famous musical theater composer, so music is in my blood (and when one considers the other components of my bloodstream, the music seems relatively benign). But I have an ambivalent relationship with music, such as when it is blared from the rolled-down window of a car whose engine sounds like the space shuttle versus the jovial “Happy Birthday” sung to Rob on Friday night, or Saturday’s attendance of “Little Shop of Horrors,” starring our dear friend Jonathan. Today, after Quaker meeting, a gay and lesbian chorus came in and sang five songs from their repertoire. I am still deciding how I feel about that.

Also at Quaker meeting, I wrangled a test drive of a Toyota Prius, an environmentally responsible car I am considering buying, given my impending career. Stan, the owner, allowed me to drive it a total of fifty feet in a parking lot, so I should probably actually drive one on a road before I make a decision, but all indications are that it will be a winner.

This is something I can focus on that will stop me from worrying about Goblin’s return visit to the veterinarianess tomorrow morning. Instead, I will picture myself driving down the highway of life in a Toyota Prius with Goblin in the passenger seat hanging her head out the rolled-down window as we leave a trail of happy music in our wake.

(Rob is in the back seat reading a “TV Guide”.)

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A Cup of Tea, a Cookie, and a Bitch Slap

Last week, I drove down to Washington to perform a crucial bit of commercial espionage. As driving conditions throughout the District ran the gamut from obstacle course to gridlock, I decided to take a time-out from the terrifying traffic and drop by my sister-in-law’s Georgetown fashion boutique, the one I designed a year ago and have not managed to visit since. My sister-in-law wasn’t there, but I spent a few minutes chatting with her sister, who also works on the premises.

“Jenna’s coming in twenty minutes,” she told me from out of the blue.

“Oh . . . Jenna,” I said, for a moment thinking this was someone I had met and should remember. “Wait, who’s Jenna?”

She gave me the same look she gave me last year when I told her I didn’t know who Jessica Simpson was. My sister-in-law’s sister has raised the scoff to an art form. “Uh, Jenna Bush? You should stay and meet her.”

“Bye!” I said and headed out the back door.

“What’s the matter, don’t you like her?” she called after me. I turned back and raised an eyebrow. Comprehension dawned through a storm front of roiling clouds. “Oh, her father . . .

Yes, her father.

I have no problem with poor Jenna. As far as I know, unlike both of her parents, she has not caused anyone’s violent death, and she can’t help that a good number of her relatives are grotesquely wicked. I get a kick out of the reports that she dresses like a floozy because I know my sister-in-law can claim some responsibility for that,* but I can’t even remember what she looks like for more than a fleeting moment; as far as I’m concerned, she is a non-entity (although not quite as non an entity as her sister, Not-Jenna).

But I knew I would have been utterly compelled to condemn the father of this non-entity if the non-entity and I ever shared proximity. As any intelligent, ethical, and patriotic citizen would do, I would not only condemn him, I would do so with increasing volume and severity, with a righteous fury that would put Julia Sugarbaker to shame and carry the unfettered power of a nuclear bitch slap felt from the roots of that wretched family tree all the way up to its most delicate branches.

And then I would go across the street to Starbucks and get a nice cup of hot tea and a chocolate-chip cookie because, you know, I deserve it.

 

* As for the frequent reports that she acts like a floozy, the culpability is murkier.

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One Night of the Living Dead in Bangkok

I’m back from North Carolina, land of . . . well, furniture, god, and sweet tea, as far as I can tell. And, against all odds, some very good radio stations. Praise the lord, I didn’t encounter a single country song as I scanned the dial, although there was a good bit of raging hellfire and damnation balancing out Murray Head’s “One Night in Bangkok.”*

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble. Not much between despair and ecstasy. One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble. Can’t be too careful with your company . . . I can feel the devil walking next to me.

Bangkok has nothing on the High Point Furniture Market.

Why do people act so bizarrely at trade shows? My guess is the preponderance of commissioned salespeople, with their culture of thunderous glad-handing, compulsory positive thinking, and unnatural good cheer. More than once, I happened to glimpse the precise instant when the buyer would turn away, and a salesperson’s carefully polished veneer of high spirits would shatter to pieces, offering a momentary glimpse into a deep and personal hell. The not-so-quiet desperation increases with the uselessness of the product for sale, and it broke my heart to see so many booths full of crap manned by glassy-eyed zombies pretending it didn’t bother them that all of their careful arrangements didn’t generate the slightest amount of attention.

Then I ordered fifty thousand dollars worth of the most beautiful furniture ever wrought, from an angelic woman whose life is bursting with joy and meaning.

I can’t wait until it arrives so you can come and buy it.

 

* Virginia radio stations, on the other hand, except for in a small radius around Richmond, uniformly broadcast the worst music ever to be wrangled from a guitar. You have never heard such caterwauling, almost entirely on the admittedly fascinating topics of pickup trucks, cheatin’ hearts, and Jesus.

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Foo’s News

I was walking Goblin the other night when we encountered a man wearing a leisure suit and carrying groceries. He was delighted to see my little Boston terrier and called her over to say hello. Goblin acted as if the man were her best friend until the moment he squatted down to pet her, at which point, she ignored him and practically jumped into the exposed bag of food. Horrified, I tried to pull her away, but the man laughed and said, “No, she’s perfect! She reminds me of my future ex-wife . . . acts all lovey dovey to get me in the mood and then goes for the wallet. The perfect woman, that’s what you got there. Good dog!”

At the vet’s office this morning, the news was inconclusive. The doctor definitely identified the problem area on Goblin’s abdomen, but it was too small to test effectively. We made an appointment for later in the month for another test and possibly surgery.

Rob and I, despite the potential health danger, were relieved by the experience. Goblin may or may not have cancer again, but she definitely did not transform into a snarling wolverine in the presence of this vet as she had the last one.

We decided it was because this one was a woman and the last one was a Playgirl model, uh, I mean, a man.

Thank goodness for veterinarianesses.

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Taxing

Today is tax day. My own were prepared last week, but Goblin burned the midnight oil, her eyeshade pulled down over her bulging eyes, going over her own figures. She has a lot of medical bills she can deduct this year. I expect I’ll have to drive her to the post office before midnight. She is such a procrastinator.

We are feeling better today . . . well enough to appreciate the irony of being simultaneously fortunate to have all we have and despairing of our myriad tribulations.

Goblin’s vet appointment is tomorrow morning, and boy are my arms tired.

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If I didn’t have you, Internet, who would I ever turn to? I am all alone. I just found what appears to be another tumor on Goblin, in the same location as before. It looks exactly the same as the last one, and it wasn’t there yesterday because I checked. The vet had said these things get larger and smaller by the day.

I tried not to let on what I had found because I didn’t want to upset her too much.

Luckily, I am numb, myself.

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Puppy-Dog Tails

“Goblin and I use our vestigial tails in different ways.”

Do you know what that refers to? Me, neither. But it was the last line of a dream I was having upon waking up this morning.

Good morning, world! Nothing like a vestigial tail to start the day off right. It’s like Folgers in your cup.

I have new glasses, but I don’t know if they’re flattering or not. Thoughts?

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Here Sharky Sharky Sharky!

Hello, world. It has come to my attention that everyone’s favorite Upside-down Hippopotamus has JUMPED THE SHARK!!! How is this possible, you ask? It wasn’t that difficult, really. We didn’t jump the shark so much as start off balancing on its fin and tumble off into the churning waves.

Seriously, world, am I doomed? That would be too bad because I’ve lost twelve pounds since Christmas and got new glasses. Hubba hubba!

Survey question: What should I do to rescue this blog now that it’s jumped the shark?

1) Adopt a precocious child with bat ears.

2) Marry my love interest.

3) Move to a new city.

4) Start a new business.

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Photographic Evidence

This looked better when it was, uh, fresher.

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Close to Home

Some neighborhood wag has begun sticking little flags featuring George W. Bush’s face into piles of dog poop, which seems so astonishingly appropriate that further commentary escapes me.

Also, do you think the construction guy I yelled at yesterday while I was walking Goblin took the time to notice my flawlessly moisturized skin? No, he did not.

Also, I think all of the brown and drooping plants inside and outside of my house are conspiring to screw up my feng shui, which I absolutely don’t appreciate. But how can I retaliate? I keep getting a flash of those bizarre zombies in Creepshow (or is it Creepshow 2?), who mutter, “You can’t kill us. We’re already dead.”

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David Is; Goblin Is

A week ago, my husband posted about something called “Googlism,” a poetic adventure in which one inserts his or her name into the Google search engine, followed by the word is, and records the resulting sentences. Rob suggests he was behind the times in participating in this trend, but I had never heard of it before. I am a week behind behind the times.

Here is my effort:

David is today found in all synagogues.
David is Satanic in origin.
David is a universally recognized symbol.
David is Goliath.
David is anointed by King Smauel.
David is not really highly gifted, but he is totally normal.
David is not holding a stone.
David is an appropriate symbol for the international strife.
David is part of the Catoctin Mountain Park.
David is right.
David is funny.
David is scaling new heights.
David is the talk of New York.
David is sincerely sorry for all the pain he has caused by his actions.
David is not allowed computer access.
David is currently in charge of three shows.
David is the Opificio Delle Pietre Dure.
David is Columbia University professor James Beck.
David is a Fellow of the Arbitrators & Mediators Institute of New Zealand.
David is set in 1952.
David is miserable at Murdstone and Grinsby’s and decides to run away to Dover.
David is the funniest, most brilliant, and most talented man.
David is imprisoned.
David is joining the spying game.
David is transmitting through his music.
David is the Bob Geldof of the paper merchant world.
David is a footballing wunderkind.
David is a stunner.
David is honoured by the Church as a saint.

Not to be outdone, Goblin Foo Uvula decided to get in on the act. I caught her playing around on the Internet when I arrived home this evening. When I cleared my throat in the doorway, she jumped and quickly closed the browser window, but not before I saw this:

Goblin is a C++ class library.
Goblin is an evil or mischievous creature of folklore.
Goblin is also a nickname for the Gospel_Oak_to_Barking_line service.
Goblin is somewhat intelligent.
Goblin is a mythical creature that emerges from the anus.
Goblin is Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis.
Goblin is a standard Lego mini-figure and has articulated shoulders.
Goblin is madder and more dangerous than ever.
Goblin is the story of the young Princess Irene.
Goblin is the greatest villain from the greatest era.
Goblin is summoned to serve Dubber.
Goblin is derived from the Greek “kobalos,” meaning rogue.
Goblin is just slightly back heavy.
Goblin is a new modular framework for course management.
Goblin is that has the last scrap of paper message.
Goblin is one of the only rock bands.
Goblin is a multiple personality.
Goblin is against helping the Hulk recover.
Goblin is a light-hearted, free-wheeling game with a surprisingly subtle strategy.
Goblin is far from well.
Goblin is fairly unusual but reasonably mainstream.
Goblin is a variable.
Goblin is a supremely useful plant.
Goblin is immaterial.
Goblin is the 7th highest summit.

Hmm. I don’t know which one of us I want to be more.

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Heh Heh. He Said “Duty.”

The other night, I took some time away from dying of pneumonia to go to a baseball game, where (it was pointed out) I did not stand up for the national anthem as interpreted by a gaggle of keening contestants from the Miss USA Pageant. To tell the truth, it didn’t even occur to me to do so, both because I was unfamiliar with the custom and because I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. This wasn’t like the time I brought a book to the symphony so I wouldn’t have to focus on all the background music; I was simply engrossed in watching the rain fall against the stadium lights and coughing up my infected lungs. But I wouldn’t have stood anyway. I am strongly opposed to nationalism.

I am, however, in my quiet way, a patriot, and yesterday, I did my patriotic duty and paid my taxes. Unlike almost every nationalist who would fault me for not acknowledging the star-spangled banner’s last gleaming, or whatever the hell, I am happy to contribute my part toward bettering the infrastructure of the “land of the free.” Paying one’s taxes honestly is, outside of participating in fair elections and joining the armed forces in times of legitimate war (voluntarily or otherwise), one of the only patriotic duties an American citizen can perform, and it is interesting to note exactly which citizens comply with each of these duties and with what amount of gusto.

Yesterday, I woke up early, spent hours sorting through the Kilimanjaro of papers in the corner of my office with one hand and brushing away the accumulated spiders and dust bunnies and dog hairs with the other. I must love you, Uncle Sam, or I would not have taken the time to save every single piece of paper I have ever encountered, each cross-referenced by whether it looks prettier at the top of the pile or in one of the substrata.

Much, much later, I discovered I didn’t actually make any money last year and thus owe no taxes. So I now comply with my alternate patriotic duty, which is to tactfully suggest that the Miss USA contestants not quit their day jobs. Really.

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I Don’t Have to Be Born Again: I Got It Right the First Time

I just wanted to send you a cheerful reminder that the world is going to end soon. If not in the way that has George W. Bush getting raptured up to heaven,* it’ll be through systemic environmental collapse or the global chaos that ensues when we run out of oil in a few years. I suspect this is inevitable . . . there are no alternatives in place anywhere that will allow us to reverse course in time.

I heard this on NPR yesterday.

But what I really wanted to tell you is this:

It doesn’t matter.

Well, of course it matters . . . but another thing I experienced yesterday was a graffito painted on the curb of an alleyway next to my house. It contains just three words that, together, are three of the most compelling words in the English language, illuminating a truth of which I desperately needed reminding:

YOU ARE ALIVE.

Isn’t that fabulous? We may all be dead tomorrow, but anyone reading this is (most likely) alive today.

Yes, obviously we should do everything we can to save the world and to make it a better place. Doing this in ways that are unique to our abilities and interests is part of living life to the fullest.

And doing this no matter what, even in the face of its almost certain futility, is what it means to be alive.

Update: Because I wrote this late at night, it is perhaps not as clear as I intended. I am not really suggesting that it doesn’t matter if the world ends, only that this distinct possibility shouldn’t steal our lives prematurely. Or maybe I had too much wine before sitting down at the computer.

 

* Leaving us sinners—whose arrogance and greed didn’t kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world—down here to clean up his mess.

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Feliz Cumpleaños

Today is my mother’s birthday. If I’m as young as I say I am, then she can be as young as she says she is.

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What I Like About You

Before we went on our trip, Rob became obsessed with a travel web site upon which people compare itineraries and experiences, and ask for and make recommendations regarding certain destinations. His infatuation was not only with the “inside information” it provided, but also with the hotbed of derisive politics the discussion boards had become: a judgmental Inner Circle of commentators wield (and jealously guard) their power over the sycophantic would-be travelers who grovel for “expert” advice.

Apparently, what incenses the Inner Circle like nothing else is when an American tourist negatively compares the amenities of a foreign country with those he or she enjoys at home. One day, I suggested that Rob post our praise for one bed and breakfast we stayed at, saying that it offered a warm welcome and terrible plumbing, and I could see his face blanch with terror. “You can’t say that!” he hissed, as if I had just insulted an ethnic group, and his eyes darted left and right, as if he expected the Lords of the Travel Web Site to hop out of a cupboard and arrest us.

But you know what, I ain’t scared of them. I’ll say it out loud and proud:

Your plumbing sucks, England and Scotland. The water pressure, the funky low-flow toilets, the shower stalls the width of chimneys . . . all of it. There’s also widespread confusion about which side of the sidewalk to use, and god himself couldn’t decipher the esoteric scheduling and fares of your railroad system. Come to think of it, your weather isn’t exactly a joy, as my pneumonia will attest . . . and what’s with all the smoking?

There, I said it. Take that, England and Scotland! Take that, Lords of the Travel Web Site!

On the other hand, I love everything else about you, England and Scotland. I love that your roads aren’t dominated by SUVs. I love that your stores close early and that your culture isn’t ruled by consumerism. I love your funny words for commonplace things. I love that even though Tony Blair is a big wanker, you don’t have any patience for American-style “values” politics. I love that your people are both polite and forthright, and that they both embrace quirky traditions and appear open to logical progress. Your architecture is breathtaking, your history is thrilling, your poltergeists are terrifying, and your environment—both tame and wild—is gorgeous.

You have a sensible society of the sort that can only evolve by exporting all of your criminals, lunatics, and religious maniacs to form countries of their own . . . and if I weren’t currently an oppressed minority in one of those countries, I would be a lot happier with you today.

In closing, I will be back, England and Scotland. One day. So would you be a love and see what you can do about that plumbing? Jolly good.

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Vacation Slides


The Mercat Cross at St. Giles in Edinburgh, where lots of people were put to death. Go team.

 

Edinburgh: Holyrood Palace, interior courtyard.

The ruined abbey at Holyrood.

Edinburgh as viewed from Greyfriars Cemetery.

Home of Edinburgh’s Mackenzie Poltergeist!!!!!

The rainbow with which god asked forgiveness for giving us pneumonia, as seen over the streets of Edinburgh.

An old restaurant in York.

An old street in York called The Shambles, upon which they based the Harry Potter movie version of Diagon Alley.

The Minster at York.

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Sound the Trumpets!

Well, I suppose I’ve put off my triumphant return for long enough. Yes, I am alive, although there were days I was not quite certain of that diagnosis.

So . . . pneumonia. How fun is that? One little speck of bacteria can spoil a vacation; knock me off my exercise, healthy diet, and meditation habits; interrupt my work; and stop all progress in my writing. The only thing I have accomplished in the past two weeks is the discovery of new, louder, and more painful ways of coughing.

But enough about me, how are you?

Okay, enough about you.

Later on today, I’ll post some vacation photos. Tomorrow, probably, I’ll post my long-awaited analysis of England and Scotland.

Aren’t you lucky to have me? (Answer: yes.)