Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Meg Wood: On the Topic of Vague Unease

Here's a transcript from an actual conversation I had the other day at the bus stop with a man I'm going to call "Oldest Man Alive" because, in short, it's apt. I'd never seen Oldest Man Alive before -- he's no regular -- and I feel fairly certain I will never see him again. However, I'm not sure if I'm glad or sorry about that latter fact, as this was certainly one of the most bizarrely interesting conversations I've had in a long time.

Scene: I'm standing at the bus stop in the afternoon waiting to go home. Oldest Man Alive begins walking very slowly towards me -- kind of like a wind-up robot with no knees, tottering slowly and methodically from side to side, leg to leg. I'm not really looking at him -- I'm just keeping one peripheral eye on him as he wobbles in my direction. He gets up very close to my right elbow and then speaks:

OMA: [in a barely detectable monotonous growl, speaking extremely quickly] Do you have a smoke? Do you have smoke? Do you have a smoke? Are you a student or a professor?

Me: Um, sorry. . . what?

OMA: You -- you a student or a professor?

Me: [pulling headphones out of ears] Neither -- I'm a librarian at the university.

OMA: No you aren't. A university librarian. You. are. not. one. What do you know?

Me: Sorry?

OMA: What do you KNOW? What do you know -- IN YOUR HEAD?

Me: What do I know? Uh, well. . . Just enough to be dangerous?

The girl sitting on the bus stop bench behind me laughs at my response. She's been watching OMA peripherally as well, I can tell. In fact, at this point, I look up and notice that most of the women at the bus stop have at least one eye on OMA and probably have for the last several minutes, just as I was doing earlier myself. Interestingly enough, most of the men barely seem to notice him, and this fact makes me think for a second about the marked difference between women and men's instinctive reactions to odd people on the bus. Before I can delve too deeply into this thought, however, the girl asks me "What library?" and I don't have time to respond before OMA continues. . .

OMA: [harrumphs] I know everything, you know nothing. You don't even know how much a pack of cigarettes costs.

Me: $8.19.

OMA: [startled] What?

Me: [pointing at sign on smoke shop across the street, shrugging] $8.19.

OMA: [starts to follow the direction of my finger but gives up quickly and returns his gaze to me] Librarian, give me enough to buy a pack of smokes.

Me: I'm sorry -- I have no cash on me at all today.

OMA: [speaking so rapidly I can barely understand him] Then what's in your wallet? What's in your purse? WHAT'S IN YOUR WALLET?

Me: Just a bus pass and some cards.

OMA: You're no librarian. You're not. You're a liar. Nobody has no cash.

Me: [opening wallet and showing him the utterly empty inside] You were saying?

Before OMA could come up with what I'm sure would've been a knee-slappingly witty retort to this, or perhaps just an extremely obfuscating one, a woman walks by us with a smoke dangling from her lip. I instantly become the human equivalent of chopped liver, and as he wobbles off to follow her, knee-less, wound-up, and doing the robot-totter from leg to leg, side to side, I can hear him saying, rapid-fire again, "Do you have a smoke? Do you have a smoke? Do you have a smoke?"

About five minutes later, I got on the 373 and when I looked out the window, he was standing in the bus shelter again, this time holding a cigarette, victoriously puffing on it so hard and so fast I felt sure he was going to hyperventilate any minute. As he stood there gasping down that smoky air like he'd actually been drowning in all the clean atmosphere he'd been inhabiting just moments ago, I suddenly realized what he reminded me of -- the nightmare-inducing (for me, anyway) Skeksis from that old kids' movie, The Dark Crystal. Same beaky face. Same hunched look. Same beady eyes. His grabby hands had overgrown, sharp nails on them, black with nicotine or dirt or both or worse. And I was torn between feeling sorry for him -- for clearly he was a poor, senile old man with a nasty addiction that would no doubt kill him and soon -- and shivering from the frisson of such a close encounter with a creature that once haunted my childhood nights with ferocity, beaks, and long, dark claws.

In the end, I did neither. Instead, as the bus began to pick up speed, I turned away from Oldest Man Alive, cracked my book back open, and reabsorbed myself in the captivating lives of the fictitious.

I'm not sure what this says about me. Probably nothing good.

Meg Wood is a librarian in Seattle who moonlights as the author of The Boyfriend of the Week web site and its companion blog of movie, book, and TV reviews, Senceless Pie. You can find her on Facebook and also on Twitter, if you so desire. Tobacco kills. SO DO SKEKSIS!

Sabrina Parke: Who Should I Make This Out To?

I have paid a $20 admission fee and I already feel slightly ill. There are too many people. Too many things happening at once. I feel out of place and yet this is preferable to feeling that I belong here. Richard Roundtree walks past me on his way to lunch. I feel slightly better, but still on edge. I should be better at this - this is probably my 30th visit to the Hollywood Collectors’ Show.

For those of you unaware of this bi-annual Los Angeles tradition, the Hollywood Collectors’ Show is basically Comic Con for the baby boomer set. If you’ve ever wanted to meet Lassie’s Timmy, I Dream of Jeannie’s Major Healy or Dick Van Patten – you have a reasonably good chance of finding them here. In a large room, rows upon rows of tables are set up. Half of them are occupied by the stars of movies and TV shows that have come to rest at Turner Classic Movies and TV Land. The rest of the tables belong to dealers – middle-aged men and women schilling everything from Super IV: The Quest for Peace half-sheets to unopened packs of Harry and the Hendersons trading cards.

My connection with this show began before I ever attended it. In a shrewd move to give me the same childhood that they had, my parents raised me on a steady diet of retro VHS tapes. Instead of Captain Planet, they put on The Howdy Doody Show every Saturday morning. Instead of watching Saved by the Bell, I watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Topper, and Family Affair. As a result, I still have trouble relating to children of my generation. But, by God I knew who Jean Stapleton was when I met her.

My reward for allowing my parents to raise me in the nineteen-fifties was my collection of eight by tens, chosen by and made out to me. With a few rare exceptions, I was always the youngest one at the Collectors’ Show by at least a few decades. Because I was so young, polite, and still had several years before my ugly stage kicked in, the celebrities doted on me. I was so cute! Did I really know who they were? I’d seen all thirteen chapters of the 1941 Captain Marvel serial! Thank goodness someone’s parents are showing them the good stuff.

Although my parents paid for these autographs, often the stars gave them to me for free. They were thanking me – a representative of the future – for the promise that they would live on. While I did my best to live up to this promise, I often only half-knew who they were to begin with.

In hindsight, I believe that my awareness of the show directly corresponded with my cuteness level. As my looks and personality descended into the dregs of pubescence, I was no longer an adorable anomaly. As the focus shifted off of me, my focus shifted to my surroundings.

The people who looked through old piles of Mexican lobby cards next to me suddenly seemed strange. They were adults, yes, but somehow they were different. They breathed heavily through their mouths and when they spoke, it was always one pitch louder than necessary. They talked to dealers for long extents not about what was being sold, but about their own collections at home. Sometimes the dealers appeared interested, but often they seemed bored – eager, in fact, to end these conversations. Oddly, the collectors never seemed to notice.

My fascination with these people grew as I began to watch them interact with the celebrities. Some stayed too long – holding up lines. They yammered on incessantly about their favorite episodes of whatever TV show the actor or actress was associated with. By the age of ten, I could clearly sense Dawn Wells’ boredom and growing annoyance at an unprovoked, five-minute lecture on the superiority of watching Gilligan’s Island on LaserDisc. How could a man four times my age not pick up on this?

With age comes the realization of age. At sixteen, I decided to skip buying Buddy Hackett’s autograph in order to pay for the latest Good Charlotte CD. A month later Buddy Hackett died. I had missed the opportunity to meet a legendary comic, one who had appeared in everything from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to my childhood favorite The Little Mermaid, in order to buy the music of a lame rock band from Maryland. The lesson was clear – celebrities are mortal. I must collect the signatures of the elderly and of those with continuing substance abuse problems before they die.

From that realization onward, I began to feel less like a fan and more like a harbinger of death. Deciding which former Oompa Loompa seems more prone to pneumonia before plopping down $25 really takes the fun out of things.

Although I have always disliked being in large crowds, in recent years I have nearly panicked while trying to negotiate my way through the sea of mouth-breathers. The trek is made that much more arduous when combined with my attempts to look at celebrities without making eye-contact. While seeing one of your favorite childhood stars surrounded by adoring fans is a heart-warming sight, watching a former celebrity pass the time at a vacant table covered in stills from their glamour days is just the opposite. They look like shelter puppies who you know aren’t going to good homes.

In what must be a side-effect of my parents’ original plot, almost all of my clothes are vintage or look like they could be. I take special care to wear these pieces to the show, as if to tell the celebrities – I may look young, but I know who you are where you’re coming from. Perhaps I’m giving to much credit to my felt hat.

As I age, the antics of socially awkward collectors no longer amuse me – they make me uncomfortable. When my interest shifted from autograph hunting to poster collecting, I initially found it necessary to create a feeling of distance – otherness – from these people. After several excruciating minutes of listening to a middle-aged man in an ironic Krull t-shirt intricately describe his unrolled poster collection, it will become painfully clear that not only is he not going to buy anything, but that there is no end in sight to this conversation. I’ll often flag over the beset dealer and ask him the prices of certain lobby cards until the clueless collector leaves. Then, with a sly grin I’ll say, “You’re a saint for listening to him for as long as you did.” Often, the dealer will just shrug. It comes with the territory. I’ve since stopped my practice of ‘rescuing people.’

With the final shreds of childhood long behind me, the process of meeting the celebrities is now daunting. Waiting in a long line means that I’ll only have a moment with them, before their handler brushes me aside for the next paying customer. Getting the autograph of a celebrity who has no line means the possibility of being trapped in an awkward, endless conversation. But, regardless of who I’m meeting my prerogative is always the same – show that I’m an intelligent fan, not a collector. Since I tend to clam up, I often prepare a few things to say. And, just as often, I still end up tripping over my words, just barely getting out “I’m such a fan…”, or smiling like an idiot until their friend/manager waves on the next person.

Of course, the stars are polite. Many were groomed by the big studios of yesteryear, and their training still shows. Smile. Shake hands if it can’t be avoided. What’s your name? Why, that’s a lovely name. Oh, this is one of my favorite stills. Should I make it out to you? Oh yes, he was an absolute darling to work with.

Even if a celebrity meeting goes successfully, I have to ask - Did I meet them?

I want to say that I am different. That I did not pay $20 to enter a building, to wait in a line, to pay $30 to have someone I’ve admired for years sign a poster I bought two weeks ago in preparation for this moment. But, I have collections of autographs, posters, metal lunch boxes, and it is slowly dawning on me that my collection of vintage apparel is the female equivalent of an ironic t-shirt.

Monday, November 29, 2010

J. Allen Holt: Vague Unease and Moving

About two weeks back, my roommate commented to me, “I’m thinking of moving.” It was an off-hand comment, and, truth be told, it was something that had entered my mind for a while. When was I going to be able to move? I had just taken a week-long trip back to Kentucky, so there was a week’s worth of missed wages that I was having to overcome in the short term. I had the holidays coming up, and that meant I could squeeze more hours out of work to help offset that. January I’d be getting a bonus and have the payroll schedule fall to where I could squeeze a third paycheck between the first of January and the first of February. January is going to be my birthday month too. What better way to celebrate another year in this world than to plan a move into new digs. January it is. I’ll tell her soon so she has ample time to figure her situation out too.

Last Saturday, I was watching the Louisville football game. A very early kickoff because they don’t pay any mind to the fact that some fans could possibly have moved to a more westernese time zone where an early kickoff meant that I had to be up before 8 AM to watch the game.

Phone rings. Roommate. I’ll call her back after the game.

Message. I listen. “You know how I said I was thinking about moving? I am moving. I talked to the manager, and she said we don’t have to give notice. So, I can move out by the 1st without paying rent for December…” Not sure what was said after that, really. My head was swimming. My roommate was leaving the apartment in 10 days. I can’t afford to live here alone, which is why I had a roommate to begin with. What the hell am I going to do?

I called my best friend (who was also watching the game). He had a hard time concentrating on what I was saying due to it being the 4th quarter. Once I broke through that, we talked. We agreed that the worst case scenario would mean me sleeping on his couch until I found a place. So, there was that. Not ideal in any way, but it was certainly an option. I wasn’t going to be out on the street.
My next move was to go the route of Facebook, that wonderful social medium that was so eloquently depicted in the recent movie, you know, the one about the group of assholes with really great dialog. I get a reply in a few hours that a friend of mine that I used to work with had a room open in his house.

Let’s skip the boring bits. I meet up with him at the house. Give it a look over. Analyze the neighborhood. Meet the other housemates. I like them, and they don’t hate me. So, that’s a match. I have to fill out an application and pay a fee. I find out I can’t pay the fee over the phone, so I have to go to their office… in Santa Clarita… the week of Thanksgiving.

This is where I shout out to Jeff Allen. A great guy I work with who on Thanksgiving Eve offered then followed through with a ride to Santa Clarita so I could deposit the money and application in the office’s mail slot. He did this braving traffic of people driving out of the city for the holiday and facing the ire of his girlfriend who was holding dinner for him because he spent three hours on our excursion. He didn’t expect the traffic on the way out, but to his credit again, he didn’t just turn around and say, “Sorry, I didn’t sign on for this!”
So the day was approaching that I had to move out. I had to work every night, and I had taken on a very persistent cold. I never get sick. (In this instance, “never” is defined as “hardly ever sick enough that I would admit to it”.) The cold kept dragging on, sapping my energy and wreaking havoc on my sinus cavities. I believe this was brought on and allowed to continue due to a combination of lack of sleep, stress that comes from not knowing where you’re going to live next week, and a sudden cold snap in Los Angeles.

This morning (Monday) was my first day I didn’t have to work, and I have all day to get my stuff ready to relocate. I just didn’t know where. Last night, sleep came hard with the anxiety keeping me awake. Maybe it was the decongestant pills that kept me awake, but the anxiety sure wasn’t helping. I had made it through another night of work while being physically beaten down by this cold. I was home, but couldn’t relax because I still didn’t know where I was going to go with all the stuff I was planning to have packed up.

I woke up a little later than planned this morning, but I woke up to find a glorious text message. “so your all good buddy. You can start moving in” I have never been so happy to get a text message in all my life. I have even spent countless hours railing against texting, but not today. I spent about an hour giving everyone the news that I was indeed not going to be homeless. Now, I’m taking a break from packing up all my belongings to post a blog entry.

The topic for the week was “vague unease”. This ordeal could qualify I suppose, but I would describe it more as “acute” than “vague”.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Marsi White: 3-Day in San Diego

Rain pouring down,
Feet never stop.
Except to nurse a blister.
A single step, a hop.

Pink all around,
Smiles unaware,
Of scars they are healing,
With passion and flair.

Hope is the wish,
3-days, 60-miles,
They keep going,
Steps constant, single file.

In memory signs,
Posted along the way,
Angels floating,
By will or skyway.

Sisters in hand,
Husbands, sons too,
Bras on the outside,
Tears there too.

Legs soar,
Eyes bright,
Friends wishing,
Encouraging the fight.

Thanksgiving to follow,
This glorious quest,
Blessings abound,
Maybe a seat empty, lest.

We bow heads,
As we say grace,
We remember the rain,
What sisters have faced.

Thankful, I am.
For all listed above.
For every step taken.
Every step full of love.

Marsi lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, two children and dog. A private foundation grants writer by trade, Marsi explores her creative side by contributing to Writing Writer Writest. She is a breast cancer survivor and keeps a blog of her journey, entitled Nip-It.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Josh Grimmer: The First (Good) Thanksgiving b/w State of the Union for November 27, 2010

When I first decided to write about Thanksgiving, I figured I'd just write about the year that I got maced by my brother. Long story short, my mom used to carry mace. One Thanksgiving morning, my brother Billy sprayed it into the central heating duct, getting it all over everything, including me. The first thing you do when you wake up is rub your eyes and use the bathroom, so I got mace all up in my eyes and dick. Just awesome.

Then maybe I thought about writing about how miserable I was for every Thanksgiving, and how I hate my family and how we always fight and the fact that every occasion is marred by arguments and that the only thing I ever enjoyed doing with anyone in my family was playing cribbage with my grandfather for hours on end.

This led to my hatred of holidays. They really just make me sick, straight through to the core. The anticipation of the fights and the passive-aggressive shittiness. I just dread the final sixth of the year.

I'm just not in the mood to write about that anymore, though. I'm pretty happy. I just had a really amazing Thanksgiving. The first one ever, really. Fellow WWWriter Katie McMahon came over and made sweet potatoes and a green bean casserole. I cooked chicken (which I'm usually pretty afraid of – I still hate cooking meat, despite not being a vegetarian for a few years now). I watched football and did all kinds of Thanksgivingy stuff. I even ate some pie. Look at that. Pie.

What I'm saying is nothing bad happened. I enjoyed a holiday. Insane, right? Yeah. It really was. A few topics ago, I wrote about how, no matter how much you love your friends, your family is your family and they can never be replaced – whether you hate them or not. I still believe that. My mom is still an awful woman who has never and will never cook. My aunts are still miserable. I'll never get those years of loathing back, and that's fine. I'm just thankful to have had one good one.


Hello writers. I'm thankful for you. Have I said that lately? It's true, y'know. I'm not one for being maudlin, but there's nothing I enjoy more than all of you.

Do me a favor, everyone. Send in some essays. I literally have nothing this week. NOTHING. From anyone. I blame one Nathaniel Hoyt for coming up with a subject that nobody wanted to write about. JERK. Nah, he's fine. Whatever. Just send me an essay. Could be about anything. Just write something. Send it in. Hopefully it's good?

Listen, next Friday is lies and lying. Send in essays, you liars. Please. PLEASE.


Grosses bises,

Josh Grimmer, Editor-in-Chief.

Josh Grimmer lives in North Hollywood with his wife and cat. He kinda sorta runs this blog, and has another one at http://mousebed.blogspot.com. Twitter him up at http://twitter.com/JoshGrimmer

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kim Harmeling: Thankful

Life is funny sometimes
When least expected lessons of
Appreciation come out of nowhere
To hit us in the head

One day gasping for air
Finds me a hospital stay for days
Waiting to see what the end
Result will be

All plans reset to start
To be recast through the lens
Of newly realized priorities
And shorter deadlines

How then to cope
With lesser abilities and
More restrictions but
The same expectations?

Appreciation of small things
Savored at a slower pace
I am just breathing

Kim Harmeling lives in the Cascade foothills with her husband and as many dogs as he’ll let her adopt. Sometimes she writes something worthwhile, hopeful someone will be interested enough to read it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nathaniel Hoyt: A Thanksgiving Miracle

Deep under the big city, connected to the labyrinth of sewers and infrastructure that maintain the lives of countless creatures above, there is a special room. Stout metal ribs gird this chamber and arc to a point at the top of its dome. At that spot where they come together is a square grate, through which a pale white light seeps in, falling in curly motes to the ground far below. It is impossible to tell how far up the shaft reaches, how long it takes for such a quiet light to sink into the deep earth. The light is faint, ghostly, and reveals little, but it is precious.

For scale, assume that a city is mirrored above and below, the way a tree and its roots reflect each other. Then, consider the boundless sprawl of the particular city above. The vast tangle and knot coiled beneath the lowest streets is enough to make a reasonable person swoon. A reasonable person would also agree that it was a bit of pretty good fucking luck, then, that the young man and his robot should have found this one place, unique of all places, at all.

In this quiet spot, removed from the noisiest arteries of the sewers, the young man and his robot had camped for almost a year. At least it was dry, and it did feature the only natural light one could find for miles. Still, the décor was a bit uninspired. In fact, if it weren't so depressing one would almost describe it as vagrant-kitsch: over there a tattered tent made of rags, over here a fire pit, over there a couple of buckets, probably with holes in them just for effect. And more debris scattered around: a few paperback books molting their faded pages away, a stained shirt draped disintegrating over a rock. However, amongst all of this irrelevant miscellany, one thing, as they say, brought it all together: beneath the diffuse light from the vent above had grown a tree to about a foot in diameter before it was felled. And on this tree stump, in a sepulchral gloom, far below the earth, in the middle of a damp stain, alone and glistening, lay a beating heart.

The young man kneels, his robot beside him. Their eyes fixate on the heart. Lying there, sadly defenseless and futile, it makes desperate wheezing and gasping noises as it inhales and exhales through its empty ventricles.

The young man, wearing a dusty green uniform of sorts, suddenly reaches one finger out and touches the heart. He presses in slightly, forming a small dimple. He slides his finger down over the ventricle, leaving an oily wake. The heart continues pumping, dumb and persistent. He pulls his hand back and holds it, shaking slightly, before his eyes. Swift as a snake, the young man darts his tongue out and licks the tip of his finger, then vigorously wipes his hands on his pants legs.

“I guess it's ready,” he says. The robot nods. Its long, many-jointed limbs are always angled inwards. It appears to be always huddling against a cold wind. Its red eyes provide no illumination, but brood privately from deep within a metallic cowl.

The young man is quiet for a moment, staring ahead contemplatively, until a smirk nearly eclipses his whole face. “Do you remember what I had to do to get it,” he asks, nearly sputtering over his own laughter. The robot nods stoically, for robots do not forget. In an almost obscene guffaw, the young man doubles over in laughter, little diamond tears appearing at each outer corner of his large pale eyes. “And how he said- how he said,--” he trailed off in laughter, leaving the rest implicit. The robot nods. The young man aborts his laughter with a sharp intake of breath, and holds it. He sighs. “Then they'll probably be here soon.”

The young man looks to the round portal that leads to the sewers. From his vest pocket he pulls out a pair of binoculars, places them to his eyes and adjusts the light settings. Black ghosts dart past the entrance, like spectral arrowheads volleyed from either side. Back and forth they fly, and then suddenly,
creeping around a corner appears the first of many rats, company the boy had been expecting, dreading. It stops at the entrance, half in and half out, stabbing its long pointed nose at the air with one paw raised. It takes a few steps in and stands up. The young man stands too. They are about the same height, both mangy but lithe, scrawny and strong too. More rats appear behind their leader, slinking in, taking a few darting steps at a time. More and more, until the entire entrance is crowded with them, each crawling over the back of the other, overflowing into the room.

The robot slowly unfolds two long arms, and holds them steadily parallel to the ground.

The rat's voice irks the young man terribly. The edges of his words are sharp and cut short. He slides together pauses, but then halts unexpectedly. He notices the binoculars in the young man's hands. "Ah! You have a, a, a--. For the--- fire. And, and, and the heart--. So very---- well done."

"Thank you Labrot," the young man says, trying to sound steady, easy.

The rat turns his attention to the robot. "The--- metal-man is--- a good friend isn't he?"

"Yeah. A very good friend."

"And the heart. The, the------ the heart." The boy thinks Labrot seems unusually distracted as he pauses to sniff at the beating heart. Labrot whips around to the boy, who instinctively recoils from the foul acrid breath seeping between the rat's stained lips. "Do-we-shall-begin?"

Ceremoniously, the young man reaches his binoculars up and holds them in a line with the light trickling down from above. He fiddles with the dials on the lenses, then keeps his arms as still as he can.

(A terribly long silence.)

A gray noodle of smoke rises as the heart begins to smolder. It turns darker, becomes a ribbon, becomes a cloud, turns black, becomes a haze, then flames burst from its side and whip upwards as flesh peels retreating from the conflagration. The burning heart beats faster and faster as the smoke unfolds deeper and darker. Its wheezing gasping becomes panting rasping as flames bite away at purple flesh. The young man lowers his arms. All watch expectantly, silently, as the heart burns brighter, until the flames become an opaque white veil that is blinding to behold. Presently, the flame dies. The heart is gone. Just a modest pile of ashes scatter around the tree stump. The young man lets out a long breath. Labrot twitches his nose and scratches at the ground. The rest of the rats begin to shift in agitation.

“Does--- it work?”
“We won't know until summer.”
“When is that?”
"We won't know for a long time.”

Labrot seems displeased by this answer. “No, not good--- quickly, now we--- don't wait. Can't.” The rats writhe and squirm behind him, growing increasingly agitated.

The young man takes a step back, startled by the urgency in Labrot's tone and well aware of his combustive temper. “It takes time, Labrot. I told you. This is just the first part. It should work, but we won't know for a while.”

“No! Not waiting. Do you remember? How you got? What you did? Very upset, took--- many rats!”

The young man looks down, ashamed for laughing about that incident just minutes ago. It was true, many rats had died that day, and to help him too. He knows he has his part of the bargain to uphold, but what he is saying is true: these things take time. Everybody knows that.

“No longer friend. You've made tricks on us. Many--- rats call you demon, call---- you bad spirit! Many rats dead!” Unable to hold back his nervous rage, Labrot springs at the young man, his face turning hellishly malicious. The young man has just a fraction of a moment to see Labrot's bright sharp teeth flying towards him, just a moment to open his mouth but not enough to scream. And then a red flash and a sharp whip-crack sound startles the entire room into silence. Labrot now lies a broken, bloody pile, thrown against the ribbed walls of the chamber with unfathomable force. The robot retracts it's metal fist, uncurls its many joints and stands tall, towering over the young man and nearly filling the room. The rats stare up at the red-eyed terror and then scatter, disappearing as swift as a snuffed flame.

The robot huddles back over, like a very tired person. The young man kneels back down at the tree stump. He stirs the pile of ashes with one finger, resting his head on his arm on the edge. He looks up to the sky as if he's heard a sound. “This had better work,” he says.

Monday, November 22, 2010

J. Allen Holt: A Vegan Thanksgiving

To a lot of people (myself included), Thanksgiving has a very big connection to food, more specifically a big, extravagant meal to be shared with family and friends. Several paragraphs could spew forth from me on the subject of food and Thanksgiving meals. I could write about the virtues of frying your turkey instead of baking it. I could explain to you that just because it’s Thanksgiving, it doesn’t mean I suddenly have to accept pumpkin pie as a real dessert. I could debate which is better: fresh cranberry sauce or the gelatinous cylinder out of the can. Instead, I’m going to turn all my power for hate on tofurkey.

If you don’t know, tofurkey is fake turkey. It’s made from tofu and other horrible things and is fashioned to look like meat. Soybeans are playing the part of turkey in the same way that Jackie Mason played Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack 2. That is to say, poorly. Simply put, tofurkey is a lie.

Why would soybeans lie to you? Or better yet, why would they lie to you on the greatest food holiday of the year? The answer. Tofurkey is what vegans use to feel normal on Thanksgiving. “Hey, we eat turkey, too. Though, we’re better than you because our turkey is made from beans.”

In case you don’t know, vegans aren’t normal. Humans eat flesh, and deciding you have a better idea than the result of thousands and thousands of years of evolution? Well, it’s at the very least not normal. Some may say crazy. I can be in that segment of the populace from time to time, usually when someone is chastising me for my carnivorous ways.

Vegans will tell you about how much healthier tofu is than meat. They’ll even have some scientific sounding stuff to say along with it. You might even get a pamphlet printed on recycled paper. I just don’t feel like I can believe it. If eating vegan is so healthy, why do most vegans look like they’re dying? Do you see the girl with the dark sunken eyes getting blown down the street in the wind like a discarded plastic grocery bag? Probably a vegan. Or a model. Maybe both.

Vegans can do whatever crazy thing they want. PETA can continue to march half-naked (or sometimes full-naked) girls out on the sidewalks to stop the “murder” of animals for the good of humankind. I’m pretty okay with that. It doesn’t work, but it sure can be fun to watch them try. I just want them to leave me and my holiday alone.

No one’s making caracon or baccoli. (Two things I just invented in my head: bacon pressed into the shape of carrots or broccoli.) I’m not trying to trick you into eating meat. I don’t label the real turkeys as “Smart Turkey” implying that by eating the fake ones you are stupid. Sure, I’m thinking it, but I’m keeping it to myself. You see how much nicer that is for everyone involved?

When I sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this week, I’ll be thankful for the food and everyone who contributed to making the meal enjoyable with their contributions and presence. I will also be thankful that my turkey is real and not a soybean Ashton Kutcher.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

101 82 Uses for a Shellacked Gourd

1. Immunity Idol

2. Special “Friend”

3. Bunsen Burner (Gilligan’s Island variety)

4. Ironic Decorative Table Element

5. Company Christmas Bonus

6. Instrument for bludgeoning

7. Self-massager

8. Headdress (Carmen Miranda variety)

9. Shoe Horn

10. Earplug for Giants

11. Percussion instrument

12. Pet (Low maintenance variety)

13. Fly swatter

14. Bikini top (Note: requires two shellacked gourds)

15. Bookmark

16. Flotation device

17. Bicep Falsies

18. Clogs

19. Birdhouse

20. Bathouse

21. House for Small Animal Other Than Bird or Bat

22. Sailboat for Talking Mouse

23. Mr. Shellacked Gourd-head Toy

24. Scrotal Package Enhancer

25. Bike helmet

26. Athletic supporter

27. Place to keep your weed

28. Gift for your in-laws

29. Non-ironic Decorative Table Element

30. Lady Gaga fashion accessory

31. Bath Toy

32. Snack for Andy Richter

33. Muff for Mr. Squash Hands

34. Extremely unsuitable substitute for a basketball

35. Trophy

36. Tie Clip

37. Soup Bowl

38. Accessory to a shellacked Thanksgiving dinner

39. Accessory to a crime involving felons armed with petrified delicata

40. Objet d’art (Williamsburg hipster variety)

41. Object of Scorn and Derision

42. Paperweight

43. Car Seat

44. Fake nose for “Owen Wilson” Halloween Costume

45. Bong

46. Booty Enhancer

47. Neti Pot

48. Chamber Pot

49. New Drummer for The White Stripes

50. New Quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings

51. New Coach for the Dallas Cowboys

52. End-of-year gratuity for the newspaper delivery guy who skips your house every other Sunday

53. Place to keep your porn

54. Yankee Swap gift (Least popular variety)

55. Molotov Cocktail (organic variety)

56. Security bubbie for young child of struggling squash farmers

57. Ceremonial incense burner for touchy-feely Unitarians

58. I.U.D. (Birth control for giantesses variety)

59. I.E.D. (Road-side bomb for crazy, reclusive anti-government squash farmers variety)

60. Tea Cosy

61. Necklace (scoliosis-inducing variety)

62. iPad Case

63. Place to keep the tattered remains of your dignity

64. Passable substitute for fondue pot

65. Passable substitute for scorpion bowl

66. Jewelry box

67. Ammunition for your gourd-slinging trebuchet

68. A hot date (if you play your squash right variety)

69. Name for Billy Corgan’s new band

70. Stylish, semi-biodegradable hip flask

71. Ornament for your Festivus pole

72. Urn for Grandpa’s ashes

73. Codpiece for little-known, underappreciated superhero Captain Pattypan

74. Housewarming gift for new next door neighbors

75. Bitchen’ hood ornament

76. Not so bitchen’ winter hat

77. Horcrux

78. Place to keep your loose change

79. Excellent serving dish for party snacks

80. Condom (Makeshift variety)

81. Doppelganger for new Speaker of the House John Boehner

82. Viable candidate for 2012 presidential election (Tea Party variety)

Special thanks to Lisa Goeden Taylor, Michael Bourque, Doug Harmon, Deirdre Hickok Bridge, Scott Turner, Kim Crabill, Jeff Callahan and the Tabb Family Players for their contributions to this list. We tried to get to 101, but the mountain was just too high. If you have other ideas, leave them in the comments below. And Merry Thanksgiving!

There’s a pretty good chance that Sean Tabb resembles the guy your sister dated in college. He gets that a lot. There’s an almost equally good chance that he DID date your sister in college, and just doesn’t remember. He does his parenting, husbanding, living and writing from his home in Portland, Maine. Check out his website at http://punctuatedequilibriumblog.wordpress.com, or follow his drivel on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pithnvinegar

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Josh Grimmer: For the Love of Others b/w State of the Union for November 20, 2010

I have, on many occasions, described myself as an “appreciator.” I'm terrible at making art. I can't sing or dance or paint or draw or sculpt or write poetry or any of that stuff. The way I contribute to the creative community is to enjoy the work of others. Honestly, it's the reason I started this blog. I wanted to write more, but just as importantly, I want to read what the rest of you have to say. I really enjoy getting all the submissions every week.

In any event, I just like liking things, especially music. There's nothing I enjoy more than listening to something new and exciting, then telling everyone I know how great it is until they're completely sick of me. What I'm driving at here is this: Have any of you ever listened to Piney Gir? She's really great. Probably one of my five favorite artists ever. Like most people who really love an artist, I've bought all of her albums and listen to them often. I added her as a friend on Facebook so I could get updates about concerts I couldn't attend because they all take place in the UK.

After a while, she started noticing how frequently I posted her songs on my Facebook page. She got a hold of me, telling me she'd be coming to LA in the near future. She wanted to know if I knew any music-types or concert venues or whatever. Freak out. There's something very daunting about being contacted by somebody whose work you so greatly admire. I told her I didn't know any music people or concert bookers or whatever, but I do know filmmaker-types. She sent me an advance copy of her next album, in the hopes that I could come up with a music video. Crazy, insane pressure.

Through systems beyond anybody's control, her trip to Los Angeles was canceled due to giant clouds of volcanic ash. I was pretty crushed, but we still talk every now and again, and I still love everything she does. That, however, is where we reach the conflict portion of this story. How do I go about being a fan of Piney Gir's music, despite knowing that she knows? It's a weird feeling knowing that someone knows that you admire their work. It's like have a crush on somebody's art. There's a weird embarrassment that comes with being found out. I've had to tone down my fandom lately, out of a weird sense of self-loathing. “Boy, I hope Piney never finds out that I like her music, even though that's well-established.” I dunno. It's hard to explain. I guess I just don't want to look like a pathetic superfan or whatever. I need to stop thinking about it so much, I suppose.

I guess all I can do really is tell you that I love her music. I think it's well written and skillfully performed. It makes me happy in ways that other music just doesn't. I think that's enough. There's not really that much more to say, I guess. Just listen to this.

Little Doggie (From the album Hold Yer Horses)
Greetings, Salutations, Goodbye (Also from Hold Yer Horses)
For the Love of Others (From the album The Yearling)


Oh, hello everybody. I'm writing again! How nice. So I'm all moved in and shit. I have a whole bunch of cool stuff in this apartment that I simply lacked at my old address. A bedroom, a heater, air conditioning, carpet and a non-digusting shower, to name five. It's really quite nice.

First order of business is thanking my lovely editor Meg Wood. She took over for a week while I was getting my act together, packing, cleaning, moving, et cetera. She's the greatest. If you disagree, please light your head on fire. Thank you.

Now onto more important business: writing prompts. Do me a favor, everyone – please send me a Thanksgiving essay. We're a little light on those, and I'd like a couple more. New prompts, though, are way cooler than reminders about old ones, right? Here are the two new topics:

Vague unease! Anything that makes you go “eh, I dunno... maybe?” Write about that, get the essay in by next Friday, November 26.

Lies and lying! It's a sin to tell a lie, or so that song tells me. It's not a sin to write for this site, though. Please have your essays in by Friday, December 3. Holy shit, man. December.

Grosses bises,

Josh Grimmer, Editor-in-Chief

Josh Grimmer lives in Hollywood with his wife and cat. He kinda sorta runs this blog, and has another one at http://mousebed.blogspot.com. Twitter him up at http://twitter.com/JoshGrimmer

Friday, November 19, 2010

Steve Strong: Beware of Older Brothers Who Will Rock You Like a Hurricane

Man, I am old. When I was a kid I used to think people in their 50’s were ancient, and now I’m the ancient one. My kids remind me how out of touch I am with all the techno devices they take for granted. Things I still can’t seem to figure out.

I try to tell my kids how much technology has changed during my lifetime, and their eyes sort of glaze over. These are kids who can’t tell the 60’s from the 40’s and aren’t sure if I lived during the Vietnam War or the Japanese War (and frankly, I don’t think they could tell the two countries apart either).

I tell them that when I was young, we only had to dial 5 digits to make a phone call and we did it on a rotary dial. They’re familiar with that concept because they saw it in a Cary Grant movie. I tell them that I remember when President Kennedy was shot, and they ask me if that was before President Lincoln or after. I tell them that when I was born there were only 48 States, and they say, “How many are there now, like 80?”

But the one thing that links us more than any other is the music of my youth. My kids love the Beatles. I love the Beatles. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? I was in elementary school when the Beatles got popular in the U.S. I hadn’t heard British accents before and my older neighbor explained it for me. “They speak in English, but they sing in American.”

When I had 90 cents as a child, I would sometimes walk to the record store and buy a 45 of the latest CCR or Jackson 5 record. The first LP I bought was the album Flowers by the Rolling Stones (which I bought from my older sister). The first LP I bought new from a store was the self-titled album by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

It was a blessing and a curse having an older brother and sister. It was a curse because they could be bossy and mean, but it was a blessing because I got to experience the music they brought into the house and played on the big Hi-Fi in the front room.

Of course my older siblings loved the Beatles, but they also filled the house with the sounds of the Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, and Peter and Gordon. I was young enough to think that the Beatles and the Monkees were equally talented, and the Monkees had the advantage of being on TV every week. Plus, they were funnier and they spoke American.

As the years went by, my tastes changed as my brother and sister brought newer music into the home. While we were doing Saturday morning chores, my mom would blast show tunes on the Hi-Fi and I’d sing along to Funny Girl and Oliver at the top of my lungs while running the vacuum. Then, in the evening, my brother would put his new “stereo” on the floor of our bedroom so we could lie between the speakers and appreciate Jimi Hendrix with the left and right channels separated.

By the time I was in high school, the older siblings had moved out, and now I was the oldest, so I introduced my little sisters to the music of my time. I read an article in Time about a guy I had never heard of named Bruce Springsteen. On a hunch, I bought his Born to Run album in the fall of 1975. I remember my friends telling me it was no good, because the guy couldn’t sing. But I became a fan then and there.

Even before disco became popular in the later 1970’s there was plenty of wretched music to suffer through in my high school years. For instance, the same radio station that would play “Roundabout” by Yes, might follow-up that song with “Afternoon Delight.” Janis Joplin might pound out a rendition of “Take Another Piece of My Heart” only to have that followed by John Denver telling us how sunshine on his shoulder makes him “high.”

While I’m waiting for the radio to play the next song by Al Green, or Supertramp, I may have to suffer through the 1910 Fruit Gum Company or (Heaven help me!) “Billy Don’t be a Hero,” or “The Night Chicago Died.” Living in the 70’s was a lot like having an older brother and sister: You just had to learn to take the good with the bad.

“And in the lonely cool before dawn, you hear their engines roaring on. But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind. So Mary climb in. It’s a town full of losers – I’m pulling out of here to win.”

Bay City Rollers:
“Who do you think you are? You try to push me a bit too far. And every day sees another scar. So tell me, who do you think you are?”

Eventually my best friend got an 8-track tape recorder and we could record music from the radio and hit “pause” when they announced yet another playing of, “Have You Never Been Mellow.” And then we could hit “record” when they had good stuff like James Taylor, the Moody Blues or REO*.

Today, when I listen to the oldies station in the car with my kids, they’re surprised at how I know all the words to so many old songs. I tell them that back in the old days, before CD’s, and before tape recorders, I would listen to those songs line by line – lifting the needle off the LP and writing notes on scratch paper and then putting the needle down for the next line.

That’s 1960’s technology my friend. Thank Heavens my brother never caught me doing that to his records.

*Yes, I know, REO later stunk big time. But they didn’t start out like that.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

J. Allen Holt: Musical Autobiography

“...I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films -- these things matter”

As we get older, we mature. Sometimes it may look like regression, but there is a flow that shapes who we are with each preceding thing leading to the next. With the topic of music, I thought I’d take Rob Gordon’s approach to analyzing who I was and who I am now. (It’s Rob Fleming’s view I suppose if you’re more of a book-reader.)

I remember as a kid being on long car rides and my dad listening to the “Oldies” station. I hated it. I wouldn’t be shy with my opinion, as most 8-year-olds aren’t I imagine.

CCR, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, etc., that’s what my dad listened to growing up. I know this because he had a great 8-track collection that was something that I found mesmerizing as a kid. I would love taking rides with him in his old pickup truck because it had the only player for the 8-tracks. I liked the 8-tracks themselves more than the music on them. They were something strange and different, from another era.

I held the belief at 8 that there was nothing good done before 1978, the year I was born. I was the catalyst for all things good in music (and in any other field too). What do you expect? It was the 80s. Everyone listened to awful music and wore equally awful clothes. I liked Robert Palmer for God’s sake. I can attribute that to being 7 when I saw the video for “Addicted to Love.” What was everyone else’s excuse? It was punchy, has weird girls all dressed alike playing guitars, and was extremely simple that all you ever remembered was the chorus when pressed for lyrics. I imagine that Robert Palmer concerts in the mid to late 80s were mostly populated by people under the age of 10. He knew this, right? How else do you explain the video for “Simply Irresistible”? It’s exactly the same song and video, just with brighter colors to try to ensnare more young children to replace the ones that were outgrowing his particular attraction. Kids’ music is awful, but I don’t think it’s any more awful than Robert Palmer.

The next phase of my musical life came in that pre-teen range. My friends listened to rap, so I did too. (This connection never extended to country music, even though peer influence was a consistent element for change from here on out.) I was a skinny white kid from rural Kentucky totally ensnared by Dr. Dre, Easy E, Ice Cube, and Snoop. On my 13th birthday, I got my own CD player, and the first CD I bought was the Naughty by Nature single, “OPP”.

This time in my life is when I really started to notice the overt racism in the people around me. It was not okay with them that a lot of my friends were black. This wasn’t something that began with my embracing of rap, but this was a time when I stopped treating it as normal. I didn’t suddenly dress or act differently, triggering their suppressed vitriol. Their problem with the race of the people I chose to spend time with extended back to my days of listening to my faded Slippery When Wet tape. Maybe the credit goes to the music, or just perhaps I was getting to the age where I began to question what people deemed acceptable or not?

I was called names and taunted more times than I could count before I even made it to high school. I hung out with my black friends, so I must love black people (so follows their logic). I didn’t, and still don’t, understand how that is negative. It usually made me more confused than upset. I didn’t understand why they thought the way they did. It never stopped them from taunting me, even though in my house I never was taught that particular brand of stupid. I thank my parents for being above what was most-assuredly more commonplace when they were growing up.

The rap phase of my evolution didn’t endure for long, as nothing much did at that age. I was changing a lot, and everything else was too.

Within a year or two, the grunge scene was in full effect. I wasn’t immune to its draw. It was everywhere and I was an impressionable high school kid. It was all Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Green Day for the next few years. I remember when I came to school to find out that Kurt Cobain had killed himself. It was a day that I realized that some people took this music thing really seriously. There were girls crying in my homeroom, and I had to ask to find out what happened. I couldn’t figure out how you could gain such a serious emotional attachment to someone you’d never met or, in most case, even seen in person. I acknowledged that it was sad that he died so young, but there was a separation from my level of feeling to theirs. I envied them. It’s a very special thing to get that connection with someone through their art, even if it is to end in a tragic way. I never felt that way, though, and was only an interested spectator that Friday morning.

My final major evolution in listenership came when I went to college. There was a whole big group of people to meet from different places. They’d had their own journey to their current CD collection, and we were all eager to share with each other. Dave Matthews Band was a phenomenon in the late 90s, particularly on my college campus. I still listened to the stuff from high school. Pearl Jam was still going strong, and Foo Fighters had filled in nicely in my opinion for the lack of Nirvana. I even got into new things like Ska and some classical stuff thanks to music students that I met along the way.

This is when I also started to taking a look back at the stuff my dad would play in the car on the way home from visiting my grandmother when I was a Bon Jovi-loving 8-year-old. It was good. The music from the 60s and 70s made me wish I could have grown up then like my dad did. There was so much I liked. I spent an entire day sitting on the porch with my friend listening to Bob Marley. We weren’t smoking weed, just enjoying the early fall day with Bob. The same friend was also responsible for forming my obsession with Steely Dan that came a little later.

College seems like a lifetime ago, and my musical evolution has certainly slowed down quite a bit. I still listen to new things, but it seems my frame of reference for evaluating falls back to those more formative years. What’s popular is still changing, but I’m not as fickle as I used to be. If I have kids, the CDs will probably be to them what the 8-tracks I listened to in my dad’s truck were to me, a relic of a forgotten era. I imagine that everyone has their own story of musical evolution. This one is mine.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Katie McMahon: What we hear when we are listening

“Listen to this!” he would say. And the turntable would start turning and the room would always fill with a sound I had never heard before. And sometimes I would love that sound because I loved him so much.

And sometimes I would hate that sound because I hated him so much. His face above my face, staring into his closed eyes and hoping they would open.

It would keep on blaring through the room and I especially loved it when I was sitting on the cold, hardwood floor, gulping down big gulps of whiskey and ginger ale. I hated it most when I was curled up in bed, sleepy from too much food or too little food and too much booze. I would use my fingers as earplugs to push some of it away, while he sat on the floor and the light from the television fell upon his hair and face, like a tanning bed’s rays, except he never wore those tiny little goggles to protect his eyes. Then, the television light would mix with the sunrise and I would unplug my ears while he rested.

As he slept, I would stare at his nose which was connected to his face, and his eyelids which were shut tightly, like tiny, crooked window blinds. He looked like someone else when he slept. Maybe someone I knew a bit better or... Well, he never looked cold. If he had, I would’ve warmed him up with blankets and sat over him until he stopped having that cold look that a person gets. But he never looked cold.

I would sneak out into my car that was parked facing the wrong way on the street and hear and see the children walking to school. The school bell would ring and everything would suddenly become silent. My face freezing and dry and my hair greasy and stuck to my forehead and the sides of my face. Dark circles under my eyes. Cigarette burns in my coat. Bad breath from cigarettes. Missing socks from sex and sleep.


And I remember every song you would put on every CD and how much I longed to listen to the bad ones over and over again. The CD we tried to listen to that got stuck inside the CD player and did not play. Would not play. Will never play.

I know most when I am in love because I will listen to these songs over and over again, until it does not matter what they are, but they are a part of you so I want them to be a part of me too. I know most when I am not in love because I will say, “I do not like this song,” or “why did you think I would like this song?” or “can you make me something else?” or, simply “thank you, this is fantastic” and then never listen again, leaving the CD somewhere I can easily forget, to collect dust and lose its coloring and its purpose.

And then I remember listening after months and months of not feeling you or seeing you or understanding who you were and I remember hating every song. After all, most of the songs weren’t even very good. You didn’t consider something important when choosing them. You seemed to always forget that part.

So when I drive back and forth, to and fro, east to west, west to east, I always hear something different. There are few songs that get played again and again to remind me of where I began and where I might go if I keep driving. There are songs that make me laugh because,
really, how could I like this song? There are songs that make me cry just a little cry because, really, how could I have gone on so long without this song?

Then, if there are other people in my car, they will fall asleep because the song is too boring or the song is too soft, but I will stay awake. And softly, softly, I will remember you and you and you and you and you. I will think only the sweetest and kindest thoughts:

Holding onto my cold glass while I watched you walk across the floor in your hat and coat. Grabbing your arm so I would not slip and fall on the ice, but mostly so I could be closer to you. Trying desperately not to dance. Dropping popcorn into my mouth, so I would not sing whispers of songs into your ear. My boots clapping slowly up and down the metal staircase. Begging you with every sip of every drink to think I am better than all the other girls in the room. My pants folded and folded and folded and then crumpled up and thrown into the corner.

Driving fast with the windows down as it rains.

“Listen to this.”

We listen to the same sounds, but each hear something that is not at all the same. I keep saying: I am happy for you, I am happy for you, I am happy for you, until one day, I wake up... and I am so happy for you.

Katie McMahon is a lady who lives in the North Hollywood area. She has a bachelor's degree that she keeps on her bookcase and looks at sometimes. She is getting a master's degree to put on her nightstand. Sometimes she takes pictures which you can look at here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katiemcmahon/sets, but you don't have to if you're busy right now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barbi Beckett: Aeroplane Over the Sea

Pop botched the call where he told me my brother was dead. I was backstage at a theatre celebrating Cinco De Mayo when I got the message to call him. He answered and told me that Ken had overdosed. My chest tightened. He’d been doing so well since he got out of prison…I thought. We spoke a little more and I asked which hospital he was in. Silence. “Oh. No, honey. He’s dead.”

Years later when I got the message to call my other brother, I knew it wouldn’t be good news, but since my dad had been taking better care of himself and had no history of delinquency, I wasn’t expecting the call to open with, “Dad’s dead.”

I know I screamed. I know I fell to my knees.

I know that moments later, still on the phone, a warm body was behind me, arms wrapped around my chest, keeping it from hitting the ground too.

A neighbor came to the door, concerned that I was being beaten by the man in my living room. I don’t remember what I said to him but I do remember him hanging around outside the window for a while, just to be sure. It must have been a disturbing sound that traveled through the wall.

Those arms had been around for nearly two months. They’d wanted to be around for many more months but it wasn’t my habit to reciprocate interest if someone else started it. (A club that would have me as a member syndrome?) But this someone was lovely and wise. He let go without going away and I was able to see him and find myself thinking about him and move closer to him because he was my The One.

What a beautiful face
I have found in this place
That is circling all round the sun

He came with all kinds of music. Neutral Milk Hotel was the soundtrack to that shallow breathed, highly pressurized time. We’d find ourselves parting because we felt like we should, not because either of us wanted to. One of those afternoons, sitting in his big van, we’d returned from some outing to where my car was parked. I knew I should get out but I didn’t want to. I wasn’t so sure at the time, but he didn’t want me to either. Tension. Stalling. And then, POW! An explosion and the sound of shattering glass. The whole back window of the van had imploded – just, burst. No rock was thrown, no sudden change in temperature. We walked around the back of the van, trying to make sense of what happened. We didn’t. But the pressure was released and we drove off together.

Loss and grief were my familiars. I was shocked to find that careening into love was not entirely different – like that line between tears from laughter and tears of sorrow. I’ve crossed over from A to B before. It feels and, I’m sure, appears, psycho. One difference with this big love was hope and potential. I don’t know if anything had ever scared me more. Not my comfort zone, those.

Aimee Mann said it best, “Now that I’ve found you, would you object to, never seeing each other again?”

But, he gave me music that explained it. Gave it some order, some words, a melody that matched the intensity, melancholy, joy… happiness.

And this is the room
One afternoon I knew I could love you
And from above you how I sank into your soul
Into that secret place where no one dares to go

And your mom would sink until she was no longer speaking
And dad would dream of all the different ways to die
Each one a little more than he could dare to try

And then the floor dropped all the way out. My dad. My one and only Pop. And that music stopped. All music stopped, except for David’s. He made his own and I couldn’t have stopped that if I’d wanted to. I couldn’t have wanted to.

I had just told my dad that I was in love. In years passed, I had cried about boys. I had spilled my broken heart to him but I had never told him I was in love. A few days later he left a message brimming with dad humor – stuff about how he was such a big intimidating Texan so David better watch out, a Mormon joke, since David was from Utah, and the sincerest excitement about meeting my love.

A week later he had a heart attack at the desk in his bedroom. Two days after that, a concerned neighbor found him.

Months had passed when David put that CD on again and, without a thought in my head about it, every part of my spirit whipped back to that time when our love was finding it’s legs and my parent was in the world. Shut it off! Too big too hard don’t play that!

Sense memory, they call it. All of your senses remember, not conceptually but with goddamn, as if it’s happening now, feelings. I’ve tried to give it a listen a few times since but I still can’t do it.

Sometimes I wonder if I could conquer it with the immersion technique sometimes used on OCD patients, but I don’t want to drain it’s juice. I think I’d rather have it out there and not listen to it than hear it and feel “neutral.” It’s nice that there’s some place, besides my mind, that remembers a portal window in time where the two most important men in my life were both in this place that is circling all round the sun. Maybe there was even some kind of gauntlet passed.

“She’s all yours. Good luck, Utah.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sean Tabb: Liner Notes to a Courting Tape From a Crazy Chick That I Ended Up Marrying

"It's just that romance, with its dips and turns and glooms and highs, its swoops and swoons and blues, is a natural metaphor for music itself" – Nick Hornby, Songbook

We had been a thing for about three days when Jen gave me the first mix tape. I was immediately taken by the cover art; she had found this great postcard of an old billboard sign painted on the white brick side of a truck stop: Brains, 25¢. Drive In.

I’ve held on to that tape for twenty years.

It’s an amazing selection of songs, but overall they’re very blue and moody. They’re all about love. Hearing it now, it’s a wonder the 22 year-old me didn’t take a cue and run like hell. That was my normal response to any sort of intimacy, even the happy-go-lucky sort. But I didn’t. Brains, 25¢. Drive In was the greatest gift ever. My new girlfriend had put a spell on me. I was ensorcelled.

It was a wham-bam-doozy of a spell, too. One with super sticking power, the Gorilla Glue of love. We’re still together, still mad for one another to this day.

So what were the songs, you ask? These are the songs, annotated with an absolutely precise approximation of the thoughts that crossed my mind and the words that tripped my lips the first time I ever heard them.

Side A
Hip Hug-Her – Booker T & The MGs
Excuse me? Is that an invitation? Maybe we should slow down, start out with a cocktail, and see where this thing goes.

Wicked Game – Chris Isaak
You don’t want to fall in love? Phew! Me neither! I’m totally with you on that. This is our song, baby. Nobody loves no one. And since we’re in agreement, there’s really no harm if you want to spend the night.

Crazy – Patsy Cline
OK, hold on. I’m getting some mixed tape signals here. You’re crazy for loving me? So what are you saying? Are you literally crazy? Or figuratively crazy? On second thought, maybe you should sleep at your place tonight.

Sweet Thing – Van Morrison
Shit man, this has got to be one of the greatest songs of all time. This song makes me want to run as fast as I can through the rain with my arms outstretched and a big, sloppy, goofy smile on my face. And I will raise my hand up/Into the night-time sky/And count the stars/That’s shining in your eye. What did you say your last name was again?

You Are The Everything - REM
No, YOU’RE the everything! No, YOU ARE! Honestly, how did you know I love REM? Peter Buck is the MAN! Geez though, this mandolin music is making me sleepy. Or maybe it’s the pot. Whatever, I’m drifting off to sleep with my teeth in my mouth. What does that even mean? Can I make you some coffee?

Come Hell Or High Water – Everything But The Girl
Do you mind if I fast-forward?

Cruel – Prefab Sprout
What kind of a name is that for a band?

I Met You – The Proclaimers
Scottish people ROCK! They pronounce things funny, and wear cool glasses! You know, Scotland has its own martial arts? Yeah, it’s called Fuck Yu. It’s mostly just head butting and then kicking people when they’re on the ground.* Hey, that makes me feel a little frisky. How about you?

A Certain Someone - The Sundays
This is my ex-girlfriend’s favorite band. What? Was that the wrong thing to say?

I Am Stretched On Your Grave – Sinead O’Connor
Umm. This song is a little intense. You’re not going to get all Glenn Close on me, are you? I’m hiding the knives, just in case.

Somewhere Down The Crazy River – Robbie Robertson
“That Voodoo stuff don’t do nuthin’ for me.” This song is sorta’ hot. Seriously though, why do we still have our clothes on again?

Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting
Ack! Please tell me you’re not one of those vampire lovers. Ok, fine, whatever. No, I haven’t read Anne Rice. No, I will not bite your neck.

Temptation – Tom Waits
Now is the time when we tango around the apartment to the grumbly warbling of the dude who gargles with glass. Now is the time for lambada.

Side B
Is It Possible To Get Pregnant Without Intercourse? - Tom Waits
“I think the question I get asked the most is, uh…well, I mean it happens a lot, enough that I would remark on it. A lot of people come up to me and they say ‘Tom, is it possible for a woman to get pregnant without intercourse?’ And my answer is always the same. I say ‘Well listen, we’re going to have to go all the way back to the Civil War.’ Apparently a stray bullet pierced the testicle of a Union soldier, and then lodged itself in the ovaries of an 18 year old girl who was actually 100 feet from him at the time. Well, the baby was fine, she was very happy. Guilt free. Of course, the soldier was a little pissed off. When you think about it, it’s actually a form of intercourse, but NOT for everyone. Those who love action, maybe.”

Castles Made of Sand / Little Wing – Tuck & Patti
Can we rewind it and listen to that Tom Waits thing again? That was brilliant.

Friends - Led Zeppelin
Oh, please. Now you want to be FRIENDS? I’m not buying it. Fifteen minutes ago you were stretched on my grave. Let’s stop playing games, shall we?

Summertime Rolls – Jane’s Addiction
This song makes me want to have sex. And sushi. Not necessarily in that order.

Edge of the World – Faith No More
Have you actually listened to the lyrics of this song? I mean, on the surface it sounds like another routine declaration of lust, but the dude admits he’s “forty years older”! And he’d kill his mother to be with you?! I’m seeing warning flags.

If You Want Me To Stay – Red Hot Chili Peppers
I call this Music for Bumping Bits.

Mon Cheri Amour – Stevie Wonder
Is there any Bob Seger on this tape? How about Supertramp?

The Madison Time – The Ray Bryant Combo
Now when I say hit it/I want the big strong basketball/With the Wilt Chamberlain hook/Hit it! – 2 points!

I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song) – The Ikettes
Where did you find some of these songs? Did you raid your grandparents’ record collection or something?

I Could Write A Book – Harry Connick Jr
Sinatra! I love Sinatra! Especially Nancy Sinatra. Huh? This isn’t Sinatra? Who the hell is Harry Connick Jr.? He sounds just like Sinatra. Is he aware of that? Is he purposefully mocking the Chairman of the Board?! I think this Harry Connick Jr. is going to end up sleeping with the fishes, that’s what I think. By the way, on the subject of writing books, I’m a writer. In other words, I don’t have a lot of money, and future prospects for prosperity are grim. If you’d like to leave now, I completely understand.

Too Marvelous For Words – Rosemary Clooney
You’re still here? Great! I don’t know about you, but these old jazz standards make me feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie.

Them There Eyes - Billie Holiday
Hold on there now! I’m starting to get the impression that you really like me.

Driving – Everything But The Girl
I know this song. They play it at my dentist’s office. Ouch! That’s my weak arm you’re punching there.

Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian
I’m just going to fast forward one more time.

37-2 Le Matin – From the Betty Blue soundtrack
Betty Blue! Great movie. Great nude scenes in that movie. Kind of depressing, though. Doesn’t Betty go nuts? Wait a minute. You’re not implying that we’re like Betty and Zorg, are you? Four songs ago we were Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. I’m confused. I think I lurve you. I think I loave you. I definitely luff you, two F’s. Geez, I hope that sushi gets here soon.

*Affectionately and anachronistically quoted from the movie So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993).

There’s a pretty good chance that Sean Tabb resembles the guy your sister dated in college. He gets that a lot. There’s an almost equally good chance that he DID date your sister in college, and just doesn’t remember. He does his parenting, husbanding, living and writing from his home in Portland, Maine. Check out his website at http://punctuatedequilibriumblog.wordpress.com, or follow his drivel on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pithnvinegar

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kate Sullivan-Jones: Heroin Chic

"I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars." This is typed out in bold black letters next to pictures of a leopard-spotted fur coat, a pale sage green dress, a pretty young thing writhing on a bed in a sheer bra, and the Eiffel tower. Under the bra lady, above some $250 suede sandals, is a tiny photograph of an uncapped syringe, a spoon, and a small packet of beige powder. This is a "set" on Polyvore.com, a site I use to make little fashion collages for my blog about clothes. Every item in a Polyvore set is conveniently labeled, and most are available for purchase. Hover your mouse over the fur coat, and a window pops up: "Tory Burch leopard-print rabbit fur jacket $1,450." Over the dress: "Alexander Wang asymmetric satin-jersey knit dress $895." Over the needle and spoon: "Heroin." There's no price listed, but I know it's cheaper than most of the stuff actually for sale on Polyvore.

I've started noticing syringes and prescription pill bottles in more and more sets lately. Heroin chic is nothing new, but it seems bizarre now that I work in a pharmacy. Everyone knows that drug addiction destroys lives, that it tears families apart, that recovery is long and painful and hard and totally sucks. I'm not even going to get into that, because I wouldn't be telling you anything you don't already know. What you might not know, at least what a whole bunch of Polyvore users don't know, is that heroin ruins fashion.

I have never sold a pack of syringes to a person in a leopard-fur coat, but I have refrained from buying sandals because there are occasionally used needles on my sidewalk. Addiction isn't glamorous. Addiction wears sweatpants for months without washing them. Not "nice" sweatpants -- elastic ankle sweatpants. Addiction makes a man ride the bus in his pajamas to CVS then to RiteAid then to Wal-Mart then back to CVS, just trying to get somebody to fill his Oxycontin script two weeks early. Addiction makes a woman sob on the carpet because the pharmacy is closed. Are you picturing her with mascara streaking down her face? She doesn't bother with make-up. She doesn't even know when the pharmacy closes, and she's in here every damn day.

A ten-pack of syringes costs less than three bucks, but plenty of customers still pay with handfuls of change, and I doubt that it's because they spend the rest on designer clothes.

Most heroin addicts don't look like Kate Moss, or even Courtney Love. Some of the people who come through my line have eyes so puffy they barely open. Some customers are deathly thin, but with hard round bellies, because opiates make you constipated. People have hair so greasy it looks wet. Track marks leave angry red scars lacing around the forearms of men in stained shirts. Fingernails are black with filth, so who cares about the latest nail lacquer shades? Girls wearing flip flops in December loudly proclaim that their diabetic grandmothers are in town. Everyone's diabetic grandmother is in town. Everyone's diabetic grandmother forgot to bring her needles on vacation.

"One CC? Half CC? Long? Short?" I ask as I reach down below the counter without looking. Just once, I wish someone would say, "I need a ten pack of rigs for my grandmother. She's a heroin addict."

It's depressing, and it's ugly, and nobody wears anything cool. Would suede sandals or a statement necklace distract from missing teeth and picked-at skin? What would be the perfect outfit to wear while screaming into your cell phone at your doctor or dealer? What handbag should you bring to detox? What coat should you wear while standing outside in the cold, selling Xanax to middle schoolers? Is that dress available with long sleeves?

I doubt that many of the Polyvore users who make sets with pictures of needles and pills are actual drug addicts. They're mostly talented, clothes-obsessed kids who don't know too much about the substances they fetishize: the syringes are often too big, more likely to be used for steroids. The spoons are too shiny and clean. One bottle of pills is clearly filled with omeprazole, a drug used to treat acid reflux. Another is venlafaxine, an antidepressant. Thyroid pills. Antiepileptics. Antibiotics. It's just a fantasy, like so many things in fashion. Still, I hate that drug use is viewed as something stylish and edgy, when I know the tedious, smelly, sweatpants-wearing truth.

Kate Sullivan-Jones counts pills, takes pictures, makes jewelry, and writes about clothes ( asweetdisorder.wordpress.com ). She lives in Portland, Maine, where she uses her spare bedroom as a closet.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Steve Strong: Incidental Fashion

My kids saw a picture of me from when I was in 9th grade and they asked me if I were wearing Capri pants, and if those were popular for boys in the 70s. No, sorry. The clothes I wore as a youth were never a fashion statement -- just a statement on how poor we were.

By the time I was 13 my waist was probably 28 inches. And it never changed until I was 19, although I grew at least a foot during that time. I literally could wear the same pants in high school that I got as hand-me-downs in junior high. But I was wearing pants much too short for me.

For Christmas one year my sister gave me a pair of cuffed denim bell bottoms that I just loved. As I grew taller, I discovered I could let that huge cuff out and wear them another year. Then, I found out I could take a jackknife and cut out the hem and get another year’s wear out of them. I started doing that with all my pants and I thought I was really clever. But I sort of looked like a tree with growth rings around my ankles.

By the time I graduated high school in 1975 my mom decided it was time to get me some fancy, trendy clothes that better reflected the fashion of the time. I wore with pride the white and blue plaid bell bottoms, with a midnight blue shirt and a white tie and white belt. To be really cool, I tied a double Windsor knot in the tie so the knot was as big as my neck. I was six foot three, but wore this outfit with platform shoes. To top it all off, I wore a double-knit sport coat that looked like patchwork denim from afar. I alternated, either wearing that white tie, or going with a dark blue turtleneck sweater under the sport coat. But either way, the threads were totally far out.

When I turned 19, I bought a couple three-piece suits and went off to serve a mission for my church. When I came back, I found my mom had given away my old clothes to a family whose house had burned down while I was gone. I had nothing to wear but the same three-piece suits, 10 white shirts and ratty old shoes I’d been wearing in Japan for the past two years.

I came back from Japan with $11 in my pocket. So I went to the store and got a pair of jeans and a beret (because it made me look so dashing). I suppose that was the first thing I ever did to consciously try to make myself look more attractive.

I guess I’ll never know if it was the beret, or if Mormon girls are just drawn to returned missionaries like moths to a porch lamp on a summer evening. But I was dating a lot, and every girl had their idea of how to recreate me into their idea of a proper fashion plate.

The first thing they had me do was part my hair in the middle and get a “feather cut” so I’d look more like David Cassidy. That task completed, I then got a pair of white bib overalls called “painter pants” which I wore with a red flannel shirt underneath. I think I looked kind of like a sissy lumberjack on vacation.

When I wasn’t wearing that get up, the girls I dated convinced me to dress in corduroy bell bottoms with Robin Williams rainbow suspenders. I coordinated those pants with long-sleeved shirts with huge lapels.

Because I was so thin, I could make a lot of clothes look decent I suppose, but why on earth did I let them convince me to buy a track suit made of yellow terrycloth? Of course, I wore that suit with a pair of blue suede Pumas with yellow striping.

When John Travolta made Urban Cowboy my girlfriends dressed me in cowboy boots, straight-legged Levi’s a long sleeved shirt with white snaps on the buttons and cuffs. When I played basketball, I wore really short shorts, a tank top and a pair of Converse All Stars. For some reason, I figured white sweat bands on both wrists would be a nice compliment for that getup.

By the time I got to college in the early 80s the latest fashion was the “preppie” look. Luckily I had a steady girlfriend by then, and I never seriously considered wearing the Top Siders, Oxford shirt with a sweater tied over the shoulders. It’s bad enough I have old pictures of me dressed the way I was. Thank Heavens I never had preppie pictures to have to live down.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

J. Allen Holt: Less Important Than Fashion

I never give much thought to fashion. I have spent more time thinking about it this week than I had in the last 12 months combined. With “fashion” the topic for this week, I was banging my head against the wall trying to think of something to write about.

I came up with the idea a few days ago: "Hey. I know. I’ll write about the things that are less important than fashion." It should be a short list, right? Turned out, it was very short. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I couldn’t come up with one thing I thought was less important than fashion.

I thought maybe some obscure sport that no one paid attention to, such as polo. Even that, though, has some physical benefits for those involved. What does fashion do? Do you get a boost to your self-esteem from feeling good in your new clothes? Does that outweigh the body image problems caused by the industry’s continued use of pencil-thin models? I say the harm more than nullifies any good effect physically.

I’ll never be a spokesman for fashion. My fashion thinking follows the following steps: 1) What am I going to be doing? 2) What can I wear that will be appropriate and as comfortable as possible? 3) Is that thing clean, or do I need to do laundry first?

That’s the entirety of my thought process, and it takes about one second to process most the time. "It’s 100 degrees and I’m playing basketball: Shorts!" "It’s a wedding: No shorts!"

I haven’t really had very many serious romantic relationships in my life. So few, in fact, I wonder if there is perhaps something broken with me. There almost assuredly is, but that’s a topic for another conversation. There was one consistent thing about every girl that I dated though: they always tried to dress me. They would buy me clothes; rather, often, they’d pick out clothes that I was then to buy and wear. Now, is this something women do? Or was it because I’m hopeless? My feeling is it’s a bit of both. I just asked my roommate that question, though, and judging by her facial expression, I’m guessing it’s probably a lot of the latter.

I think I’m okay with it. Really, I am. I spend my waking hours thinking about many things. I have extreme bouts of insomnia that can last for days. I can’t sleep because I can’t switch off the thinking. Often those things I’m thinking about aren’t really very important, but they’re still more important than fashion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tina Rowley: Sartorialism, Bespoke

If you haven’t been to the wonderland that is The Sartorialist (http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com), go there first, quickly, before you read this. Spend a few minutes. You might not have any reaction, but maybe you will. If you already know and love The Sartorialist, stay with me, because chances are you might never come back and read this essay if you don’t. You’ll fall down a rabbit hole masquerading as an alleyway in Milan, tumbling after some impossibly cool old man in oxfords and anklets, with the hem of his trousers rolled just so. (These old Italians all dare to eat a peach.) Or you’ll fall into a pretty dungeon of despair/envy/desire when you see some mile-long gazelle of a girl in modern, sky-high heels, leaning against what was an ugly, nothing wall until she was juxtaposed against it. Slightly wrinkled trench coat, topknot, sleek legs, only the barest hint of elegant tension beneath her languid posture . . . oof. It creates this longing that makes me think of theater; what she has going on in that moment is almost completely ephemeral. Some elements may remain for a remount: shoes purchasable here, trench there, hair, well, you have some or you don’t. But the rest you can never have, and you’re just lucky or unlucky to have seen it, depending on how you carry that 10 ounce glass of water with the five ounces of water in it.

Aspirational, that’s the word for that site. I frankly love the tension The Sartorialist sets off in me, my glass blinking from half-full to half-empty by the moment. Possibility! Impossibility. Possibility! Not every last photograph is of some paragon of physical beauty – you’ve got young people, old people, thin people, fat . . . old men -- but every single one shows us someone who has absorbed/created/lucked into a sense of style, and that is mostly, largely, maybe? almost? democratic. You can cultivate one. It’s available to you. You might be tone-deaf, but everyone who cares to do it can probably struggle out a real sense of style.

Or not. And those who can’t are left with fashion. But I don’t want to talk about fashion. Fashion, apart from style, is something tinny and temporary and quickly embarrassing. It requires no thought on the part of the wearer, only a kind of pitiful trust that he or she is being handed the right information. Fashion without innate style is that good-looking (or not) kid who heads to Hollywood and is dying to be a famous actor but doesn’t have any talent, whose only hope is a gargantuan dedication to craft. Dubious. That actor who’s not exactly bad, who’s hitting the marks and all, but you just don’t give a shit. Styleless fashion. Nothing gives a sadder, more desperate feeling, sartorially, than that. Especially with the wrong information. You know what I’m talking about.

(And you’ve got the segment of the population who don’t care about style AND don’t care about fashion. Carry on, wizards. Stay warm and dry in the winter and cool and comfortable in the summer. Bust out some “generally appropriate for the situation,” and your dignity is basically intact.)

Let me digress a little. I have a mild, vague obsession with French culture. (Can you have a mild, vague obsession? I think I figured out how to do it; see me for tips if you’re interested.) Parisian culture, maybe, in particular. I spent one day and one night in Paris almost a decade ago. I’d looked forward to going there all my life, nearly maniacally. I’d have dreams about it, and since I’m always fooled by my dreams, I’d invariably think, “My god! Mon dieu! The day has come! Finally, it’s not a dream! I’m really in Paris this time! All those other times -- dreams! But not this time! Hurray!” and then a giant deck of cards would walk into the room and I’d think, “Paris is not quite what I expected, but it’s great to be here. Great . . . to be here.” And then I’d disappear up into a skylight and continue the dream in Ohio or what have you. My point is that I’d always looked forward to the challenge of Paris. I was intrigued by the idea that it didn’t come easily for visitors, that there was an intricate code to learn, some intuitive and some counterintuitive tricks for comporting yourself in such a way as to make the city fall open for you. (I hadn’t considered the option that it might also be okay if Parisians didn’t like you.) (Me.) And one of the most obvious things you had to do when you got to Paris was dress well, but that wasn’t enough, either. You had to dress with style, because the Parisians THROW DOWN.

So how did it go?

Yes, well. Since I’d been overly excited, I hadn’t slept for one minute the night before, and arrived with a huge headache. So, a good chunk of time was lost sleeping and then taking a bath with my sunglasses on. And then we went out to dinner and then I got to spend a few hours back in the hotel room throwing up some bad tuna. (“Paris! Pinch me! Am I dreaming?!”) Then the people at the front desk denied to my boyfriend’s face the very existence of mint tea in the whole world. (“Ma’am, I’m afraid that you’re wide awake.”) Montmartre was delightful, the next day. I spoke French successfully in a bookshop, to a taxi driver and in a perfume shop. OH! And on the train from London to Paris, I was in the bathroom when they were collecting tickets or checking passports or something. They knocked on the door and I said, “Un moment” and the ticket taker/passport checker said, “Elle est Français.” !!! I practically started singing the Marseillaise. Anyway, they couldn’t see me or they wouldn’t have made that much-treasured mistake. I did my best but I was not, I could tell, able to dress myself to Parisian standards. I really only took two outfits on the town:

1) Dinner (and then vomiting): A navy v-neck t-shirt, gathered in the front with a little patch of red paillettes, atop a navy pinstripe a-line skirt, with modern-looking black flats.

2) Montmartre, the next day (aka “The nice part”): A risk-free ensemble of white button-up shirt, black trousers, the aforementioned black flats and the sunglasses from the bathtub.

Neither here nor there, ultimately, and no heels = not good enough. It just wasn’t good enough. I could feel it. It didn’t risk enough or express enough or . . . who cares, right? Who cares what I wore in this one part of the world over the course of slightly more than 24 hours almost ten years ago? I DO.

I do, I care, because it’s to do with nuance, and I love nuance, and consequently hate missing nuance. It’s so aggravating. I wanted to nail it and I didn’t nail it. So Paris is still hanging there, unconquered, and therefore it remains this vague obsession, and so we’re back to The Sartorialist. The pictures I examine most keenly from his site are the ones, obviously, from Paris, but it doesn’t matter, really. The whole question of style and nuance dangles there in every photograph, which begs the question of my own style, and just what in the hell that is, and what it’s for, and why it matters, because it does matter. It’s not enough that the clothing flatter my figure and my coloring. We all want to be found beautiful, that’s basic. And it’s nice to be accepted, to be thought cool. But the ultimate -- for me, at least -- is to be known, and if you really want to be known, then you leave as many breadcrumbs as possible for the people taking you in, pointing as much as you can to something ineffable. It’s art, and even if you miss the mark you’ve set out for, you will at least have hit something.

Tina Rowley is a writer and performer who lives in Seattle. She's run a little blog operation for a few years called The Gallivanting Monkey. She works with social media for dollars, and makes theater for love. Follow her on Twitter this-a-way.