Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Where is my campfire?

I grew up camping with my family – we were a motley crew of girl scouts and boy scouts, our parents both troop leaders. Among the nine kids, we probably had enough merit badges and Orders of This, That, and the Other Thing to wrap around the planet once or twice. We were old school tent campers – hikers with scars on knees and elbows, a patchwork of mosquito bites, and stories about unfortunate owl-station wagon collisions and bears in our campsites. Our parents hitched a hideous, peeling, royal blue wooden trailer to our old Chrysler, and we were good to go just about anywhere. The paint on the trailer was held in place with decals from all the places it had been: national parks, monuments, and tourist traps, spread across the length and breadth of the United States. (I remember how thrilled I was when we finally made it to Wall Drug one trip – all worship at the altar of free ice water and fuzzy jackalope piggy banks!!)

In the summer, while my father worked at military installations around the country, my mother would drive us from place to place, occasionally catching up with Dad along the way. My favorite photo from childhood is of me, sacked out on one of these trips, all white blonde hair and sunburn, face down on some old red-topped Coleman cooler. It was incredible fun with mom and my siblings, out in the middle of nowhere – mountains, deserts, forests with coldwater streams and rivers - hunkered down by the fire circle.

And that’s where stories were told. Just as people have done for millennia, we would gather around the flames and tell ghost stories and family tales and urban legends, triumphs and tragedies of history… It was great. And I so miss it. In my mom’s later years, she still loved to camp, but her health relegated us to RV camping, which, I’ve gotta say, just ain’t the same thing. I pine for the campfire and the stories, passed down, interpreted, built on, and embellished over the years.

With no children, no spouse, and no local friends who like to camp, I’ve lost that true campfire. But, through the blogosphere, perhaps I’ve found a virtual one.

There are millions of everyday people telling tales of their everyday lives online. Mommybloggers and daddybloggers, aunts and uncles, and sisters and grandfathers. They post baby pictures and birthday parties, graduations and weddings - the normal passage of normal lives. And it’s so neat to have that instant access to the minutiae of life from friends and family, especially when they are far-flung. They are documenting life, cataloguing personal happenings in a virtual photo album, just like their grandparents did with paper and glue. An electronic hand writing births and deaths in the air instead of a family bible. It is family history and a very personal knowledge celebrated in a very public way.

And sometimes, those ordinary blogs are transformed into something extraordinary through a twist of fate – an illness, a death, a crime… some defining moment that draws a much greater audience to share in the telling. The everyday blogger is now a storyteller, documenting harder truths in compelling words.

Last year, hitting the “next blog” button on Blogspot, I found myself at a site called “Kevin’s Dead Cat.” It was the journal of a young woman in Los Angeles, Laura Esguerra Adams, who was suffering through the fatal recurrence of a horrific form of cancer - one she thought she’d already conquered. I came back again and again to read about her good days and her bad days. I eventually started to leave her comments. I even drank a glass of milk and had a Hostess cupcake for her when she couldn’t herself. Laura died in September last year, after a painful and difficult battle. And when things are going poorly for me, I go back and read and remember the strength that this lovely stranger left behind in her stories and struggles. I strike a match to my keyboard, and her fire illuminates my screen. Her words were not the polished gems of a poet; they were simply gripping. If every page I hit via “next blog” was as fascinating and sad and funny and touching as Kevin’s Dead Cat, I’d be glued to the screen 24/7.

But that’s not the case.

Sure, everyone has at least one story in them, but not everyone, in all honesty, is a storyteller. (Otherwise, there would be no jobs for ghostwriters.) Some people can state facts. Some people can write a sentence. Others can actually string together a fairly cogent paragraph. But it’s a much smaller number that really can spin a hell of a yarn. It’s been that way for many ages of human history. A handful of talented and motivated people with the skill to write and speak with finesse or character capture the imagination of a wider audience, and their names and stories are passed down and around. It’s the same concept now. Only the tools and speed of dissemination have changed over time.

Some storytellers become novelists or journalists or screenwriters. Some tell stories of history, some of fantasy, some of melancholy or politics or sex. Some write with literary grace and others in a text messaging shorthand that makes me slightly crazy. (Your mileage may vary.) And some just write what comes to mind and heart, never figuring out how to make a dime with their words. They just blog. Yet, paid or not, they are all storytellers who form words and vision in such a way that readers are drawn to them on screen the same way that balladeers and poets drew in crowds by tavern hearths and village fires hundreds of years ago.

I’d like to gather people to that fire again. A real fire.

Put another blog on the fire...

I would love to bring some bloggers together – not at a conference in a stuffy hotel for seminars and urns of coffee, but in a park, around a campfire, where people could share their stories under the stars, flashlight in hand. It would be neat for each to stand and read an entry or two they’ve written – something to mesmerize and spellbind, something funny or sad or thought-provoking – in a place without iTunes or a TV or other technological distractions in the background. Just the sound of crickets and firecrackle and pine needles under foot. A place where the words can be heard and appreciated, in a way perhaps anachronistic to the blog itself, but not to the simple act of storytelling. The oral tradition of storytelling should not die in the Internet age. Stories change when spoken out loud, with inflection and emphasis and audience reaction. I think it would be amazing to see how our own interpretation and understanding of words we wrote ourselves change in a vibrant, live setting.

For now, my screen is my campfire, but I want my old campfire back. Woodsmoke, owl hoots, Deep Woods Off, and all.

Anyone up for BlogFire ’06? I’ll bring the marshmallows and graham crackers, if someone else brings the Hershey bars!

And, if you have a great blogging storyteller to recommend, leave the name and link in the comments. It would be cool to see whose stories really entertain you.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Happy Memorial Day

When you are next in Washington, DC, visiting the monuments and museums, please consider a stop at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington Cemetery. And consider making a donation to the foundation that supports the memorial.

My gratitude and appreciation goes out to every woman and man who serves our country honorably in the armed forces.

Thank you.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Now taking bets...

...on when the Lord God, Almighty will get tired of Pat Robertson and just make him vanish. Now, Patty Boy claims he can leg-press 2,000 pounds.

Two thousand pounds. Interesting way to try to sell protein shakes to the gullible.

This follows so closely on the heels of Robertson saying that God told him that the U.S. is gonna get whacked by a tsunami, I'm simply overwhelmed with things to say.

But this time, I will let y'all come up with your own witty remarks. There are so many possibilities...

Let 'er rip, kids!

Happy Birthday, MEB!

My friend, MEB, in a disturbingly monochromatic color photo...

Have a very happy one, my friend! Crack open a Woodpecker cider for me. I'll have a nice glass of some Yellow Tail red in your honor. (Which goes better with tuna on whole wheat: shiraz or merlot? Neither, probably, but I'll still go for it!)



Thursday, May 25, 2006

Feeling Lost

I just spoke with my brother Ed. He's not doing well.


I'm understating things with those words.

Ed's doing very poorly. He's in the worst level of heart failure you can have and still be alive. One of my sisters just took him back to the hospital. Another sister, Nurse Rachet, passed her cellphone to him to speak with me. I could tell it was taking all his energy to talk, and I could feel the strange heaviness of his fragile mortality through the line. It weighed my hand down. So I did what I do in such circumstances - I prattled away cheerfully.

"Did you see 'Lost' last night, Ed? Whaddya think? Is Locke still alive? Did Desmond really bring the plane down?" I tried to get him enthused. "Lost" and "Amazing Race" are two of his simple pleasures, along with his treasured volumes of science fiction. But he simply couldn't find the energy.

"I'm so tired," he said, his voice so weary and distant, it sounded like it was coming from far off in another world. He told me about the painful and intrusive things the doctors want to do to try to save his disease-ravaged body. Depressed, he said again, "I'm just so tired." Each word took so long to come out. I could count my own breaths between syllables.

Then he said this, which broke my heart: "If I ever come home again, I'll try to finish watching 'Lost', and we can talk about it. If I ever come home."

This day had promise. Now, it is diminished.

Seeking some light in the coming dark,


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I'd like to thank...

...the person who came to my blog via a search for photos of "Hilter getting a pineapple up his ass." Marvelous. Whoever you are, I assume you are the only other person on the planet who suffered through the painful screen rash that was "Little Nicky." Of course, you were looking for PICTURES of this, so I'm giving you a wide berth. No offense.

I wonder if Patricia Arquette ever has flashbacks about appearing in that waste of film stock? Poor woman! (But she's in "Medium" now, so all is forgiven.) As for Harvey Keitel as Satan? Oh hell, we see his twig and berries dingly-dangling in just about every film he's in, so shoving a pineapple up Hitler's backside is a lateral move, really.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What I did on Saturday

I stamped and embossed frosted glass lamps from Ikea:

And guess what? I discovered that the embossing powder, once heat set, doesn't stay on the frosted glass for very long. Many hours of work, only to find my images vanish with the touch of a finger.

Back to the drawing board, Chumley!

Thanks to the Sasquatch for the nice photos. (Hey, Squatch - when are ya gonna post about DolbyFest 2006? I mean, jeez, it's been weeks now. You'd think you were working on a graduate degree or something! ;-) )

Squirrels in the Attic

Mental breakdowns manifest themselves in all sorts of colorful ways. Some people become suicidal. Some people stop cleaning their homes or start hording newspapers or live animals. Some people buy 60-pound bags of dog food and spread them all over someone else's home.

Oh, yes, they do.

About 17 years ago or so, my mom's health took a decidedly unhealthy turn. Already a two-time cancer survivor and diabetic, the fiercely independent woman found her vision fading rapidly. She could no longer drive her car and keeping up with house work was growing beyond her abilities. A friend of one of my sisters was in need of some extra income, and she agreed to come in and help my mom with tasks around the house. I don't know the details of the arrangement. I do know that I wasn't really comfortable with the whole shebang when I heard about it. I was living in Russia then, so there was little I could do to be of immediate help to my mom, and I was frustrated. My whole life, except for my crappy stereo (which I still have today), my CDs, some of my clothes, and my autographed photo of Harrison Ford (circa 1977, in full Han Solo regalia), was stored in my mother's attic. I didn't know this woman well, and she gave me the willies the few times I'd met her previously. Something just wasn't quite right.

Apparently, my Spidey Sense was working overtime.

During the time Unstable Mabel was working for mom, she had some sort of mental break. And, one day, in what I'm sure made perfect sense to her at the time, she dragged a shitload of dog food up the attic stairs and decided to redecorate. Specifically, she chose to spread kibble throughout my boxes of belongings. My clothes. My Star Wars memorabilia. My Thomas Dolby rarities collection. All my college papers. All my correspondence. Bam. It was Purina-rama.

Now, in a house with a firmer roof, perhaps the damage would have been minimal. But, you see, my mom's house needed a little work. And the scent of pounds and pounds of Ken-L Ration tossed around under the eaves is too strong a pull for hungry critters, especially wily ones like squirrels and raccoons. By the time I'd returned from Moscow, the damage was well beyond done. My clothing was a total loss. Most of my Star Wars collection was thrashed, and my papers were... well, let's just say they were fouled. Nasty business. My treasured posters were largely gnawed into an unrecognizable pulp. Dental records couldn't have helped here.

I remember one of my sisters stopping me before I went up into the attic the first time after The Kibblefest. She looked at me with a gravity usually reserved for family members about to identify a body.

"Look, it's not good. You need to be prepared. I'm just warning you. And... I'm so sorry."

I remember crying, sitting in that hot, cramped attic, stinking of dog food and squirrel pee. I also remember swearing a whole lot as I loaded trashbags with rubber-gloved hands. Treasured things lost forever. Other things not quite lost, but in need of a mercy killing. It was painful to see the small portion of goodies that had survived, in comparison to those that perished in a liver, beef 'n' chicken rodent feeding frenzy. One of my favorite items left from college was an enormous poster of Thomas Dolby - just his handsome, talented head, wrapped with a headset mic (not too far off from what I just saw him wearing earlier this month.) The poster, dubbed "The Giant Head" by my roommate at the Russian House, had delighted me and terrified her one night when she was high. The poster fell off the wall that night - blu-tack sliding straight down in some drooling palsy - and onto her head. I remember her waking up screaming, "GIANT HEAD! GIANT HEAD!" I shouldn't have laughed quite so hard, but I did.

Yes, the giant head of Dolby had survived thrashing roomies and the ham-handed care of a college student, but it couldn't withstand the frantic chewing of those damn fuzzy rats. Dammit!

Aliens may have eaten my Buick, but hungry squirrels ate Dolby's head.

In the end, I was so sad about how much had been lost, I sold the remnants of my Star Wars stuff in order to finance my move to DC (except, of course, for my autographed Harrison Ford photo.) I donated much of my vinyl collection to the local library, in the hopes that another geeky kid like me might check out the tunes and get hooked on some really good stuff. (Of course, that was right as vinyl was becoming obsolete to most folks, other than club DJs. Oh well. Road to Hell. Good intentions. All that stuff...) As for the clothing lost - well, that was probably a fortunate thing. It was 1992, after all, and with the exception of my red Chuck Taylors, most of my 80s gear - bad Gitano jeans and too-tight Izod polos - should have been burned or buried deep in the bowels of the earth. Sometimes, I still do miss that damn teal Esprit jacket, though...

I had a small-scale plumbing disaster in my apartment last week. A foul rain of gunk flooded not only my bathroom, but part of the storage room in the basement, as well, where I have a number of boxes. This time, it was a dorky neighbor flushing diapers down the john, and not squirrels and nutty women, that did the damage to my stuff. I guess I'm a little more mellow about it such things now than I was back in '92. (That whole "axe murder" thing tends to put life experiences in perspective for me. Axe murder accusation = very bad. Losing crap to sewage = not so bad.) In the end, it's just stuff. I can remember things fondly and, after a bit of consternation, shrug it off.

I can remember it all as The Best Junk Ever, and memories take up less space than the actual stuff.

But I do wish those freaking squirrels hadn't eaten my Thinking Cap Rebel Forces hat.

(And if you know what I'm talking about, honey, you're just as big a geek as I am. And I love you for it.)

Not exactly ABBA...

Finnish monster-mask-wearing headbangers Lordi have won this year's Eurovision Song Contest. In what is quite possibly the finest winning strategy ever attempted by a Eurovision contestant, the band's lead singer "Mr. Lordi" said the group's plan for the final was to "scream louder. And turn the amps up."

Fuckin' A.

Finnish headbanger or escapee from the Weta Workshop "Bad Orc" room?
You make the call!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Charm City

Don't ask a cop for directions in Baltimore. It might get you arrested.


Welcome to Maryland, the Free State.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Thirty Pounds

That's how much weight I've lost in the past four months. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but it did. Part of it may be my "stress diet." I get so stressed out at night, I don't want to eat, and dinner is usually a glass of 2% milk. (Although I did eat a tuna sandwich last night, after the Sasquatch rightfully called me a "moron" for not eating better evening meals.) I stepped on the scale this morning - something I haven't done in months - and BAM.

No wonder my pants are loose. I lost a toddler.

I need to manage the stress in my life a little better. Well, actually, a lot better.

Workin' on it.

And pondering stories to tell... I think it's time for the story of Wolfgang, the Armenian UFO-logist and other odd people I've met in Yerevan...

Sunday, May 14, 2006


I could have told you this without the benefit of any costly study.

In my case, in addition to the cruel kids, I also had a couple of gym teachers who bullied me, too (and a softball coach who deserves his own special level in Hell.) I try - often unsuccessfully - to imagine what kind of sad home life they must have had to have brought out such evil. But, usually, it doesn't work because I think they didn't really have sad home situations that caused them to treat the fat kids poorly. Frankly, I think a lot of people are just jerks and weasels when it comes to mocking and torturing other humans. Hey, after all, it doesn't have any lasting effect on the abusers to make other people feel like crapito, and they get a good laugh out of it.

To bullies, I say this: remember, while Hilter may be getting a pineapple shoved up his ass at noon each day in Hell (by Satan himself), Hitler's probably assigned to do the same to you, but with a durian fruit.

Figure 1. The durian.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Happy Mother's Day

You were the coolest. Ever.

Pour some salt on me...

...for I'm a big ol' blog slug.

I recognize that my output has plummeted in recent weeks. I have some deadlines hovering of a personal and financial nature that have kept me away from the keyboard. Give me a couple of weeks and things will be back to semi-normal. (Well, as close as normal as I ever get.) In fact, I anticipate money getting so tight that blogging will again - like last summer - be my primary entertainment outlet. A little nervous breakdown-inducing for me, but great for creative output and for the 4.5 of you that enjoy my stories. I have more to tell. Just wait. I want to re-earn my "Witty Raconteur" badge. First, though, I have to earn my "Sanity Re-established" badge and my "Not Evicted" badge. I was a good Girl Scout. I'll pull through.

And my apologies to the fine folks whose blogs I normally read on a regular basis: Javi, Suze, Gina, Spencer, Claire, Cindy, Magazine Man, Scholiast, Cube, Reya, Dariush, Always Write... (Sasquatch and Gonzomantis have heard more from me lately than all of the rest of you combined!) I haven't been focused enough to offer you good comments on your fine writing. But I'm out here. Just a bit more reserved that usual.

In the words of the honorable governor of California: I'll be back.

Friday, May 12, 2006

If I hadn't just had my eyes examined...

...I'd suggest I need my eyes examined!

I just misread this headline "Record-breaking 750 pound hammerhead caught off Florida..." as (dear god) "Record-breaking 750 pound hemorrhoid caught off Florida."

My eyes are okay. Maybe it's my head that needs to be examined.

Good night, all. Whatever you do, do not dream of 750 pound hemorrhoids.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

'Cause I Got a Golden Ticket

"I congratulate you, little boy. Well done. You found the fifth Golden Ticket. May I introduce myself: Arthur Slugworth, President of Slugworth Chocolates, Incorporated. Now listen carefully because I'm going to make you very rich indeed. Mr. Wonka is at this moment working on a fantastic invention: the Everlasting Gobstopper. If he succeeds, he'll ruin me. So all I want you to do is to get hold of just one Everlasting Gobstopper and bring it to me so that I can find the secret formula. Your reward will be ten thousand of these. (he flips through a stack of money) Think it over, will you. A new house for your family, and good food and comfort for the rest of their lives. And don't forget the name: Everlasting Gobstopper."

I've been pondering what to post about this weekend (other than to just say it was splendid and over too soon.) I had a great time with the Sasquatch and Gonzomantis - a repeat of our 48 hours in Los Angeles (with 300% more Dolby content!) Thomas' gigs were tremendous - the first two, incredibly intimate affairs in a club the size of my apartment, I think. It was marvelous to feel very connected to the man in the trenchcoat (to the point of being acknowledged from the stage, mere inches away) and to his music, which has been part of my life for such a long time. What is it - 25 years now? Wow. That's a lot of dog years!

The full image from Sunday at Rams Head - Merujo, Dolby, and the Sasquatch. We took basically this same photo ten years ago in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in DC, the first time we met... And I owe Gonzomantis a huge apology that we didn't get a shot of him with Dolby. Gonzo - maybe you can rectify that in St. Paul??

The Birchmere gig saw Mr. Dolby much more revved up than the previous evening - lots more laughter, energy, and great banter. (I imagine a good night's sleep and not running in from a day on the Bay right before showtime helped with that!) The Annapolis gigs were sold out, and the audiences adored Thomas, but the big, roaring Birchmere crowd must have been a real boost. I was so very, very glad it looked like he was having as good a time as we were.

There are so many little snippets and tidbits I could share, yet, as silly as it might sound, I feel like telling would steal the magic of the moment. Usually, you can't get me to shut up out here, but this time, I'm keeping it to myself.

Let's leave it with this: I had a lovely time. I basked in the music (and I could listen to "Budapest By Blimp" until the cows came home!) It was nice to get hugs and smiles from a friend I rarely get to see and others friends just recently made. I spent a couple of days with two dear friends (to whom I have to apologize - and do here publicly - for being a petulant crank at the conclusion of the Birchmere show. I'm usually not that indecisive or snippy. I just didn't want it to end. I blame the gutbuster of Sprite I sucked down pre-show. Too much sugar for the girl who hasn't consumed a sugared soft drink in a loooong time!)

Mr. Dolby at the Birchmere, in the middle of signing a million autographs.
Notice the fine headgear.

Sometimes, restraint is the better part of valor. It's the firefly you so want to capture, but let fly. Or the love note in your pocket that revealed, would crush a heart. The smile and story told in confidence that would melt the world if told. It's that Everlasting Gobstopper that your personal Wonka has given you.

Well, I can't admit to having any world-melting secrets, but I did have a Golden Ticket this weekend. And a smooth-headed, kind-hearted musical Wonka handed me an Everlasting Gobstopper or two. And Slugworth ain't getting jack from me. I'm keeping those treats tucked in my pocket, along with my old Dolby pins.

"Come on, Charlie! Hold on to that ticket! Run for it, Charlie! Run straight home and don't stop 'til you get there!"

Yeah, like I said before. It was a good weekend.

Yeah, it was a good weekend

Rams Head, Annapolis, MD - 05/07/06

Thanks, Thomas! Thanks, Carli! That was a seriously great weekend.

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Just a few pics from San Francisco...

I'm utterly zonked this week, I swear. I will have stories to tell after the weekend, I'm sure. But for now, with one eye open, I give you Merujo's half-assed photos from San Francisco!

(Disclaimer: the camera really is dying, and my skillz ain't so mad in the pho-tog-raphy department...)

Signs on Van Ness

The view to Alcatraz

Lombard Street - the curviest street around

Me at the bottom of the curvy part of Lombard (timer shot)

Looking down Lombard - angle parking, not for novices or the nervous

The cable car turnaround down by Fisherman's Wharf

Unattractive self-portrait with cable car

Better picture of cable cars

The Buena Vista Cafe - where Irish coffee was born

*Love* their neon sign

In case you forget, you're on Beach Street

Ghirardelli Square

Beware the Beast Master!

I choose not to swim

The Lone Sailor (some chick had just grabbed his ass before I shot this photo)

Sunset over the Pacific

The lights just coming up on the Golden Gate

One of many Mel's

The little drive-in where I had a killer hot dog and a milkshake, not far from the Fillmore Theater

More words soon. Just let me catch my breathe and get some sleep!