Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Interview

Claire (and Suze and other lovely folks) have had these five question interviews posted on their blogs in recent days. At the end, each interviewee gives readers the option to be interviewed, too. I was game, and Claire shot me these questions several days ago. And then, I went and screwed up my leg, and I figured that pain, crankiness, and Vicodin wasn't a good combo for answering her questions. I'm still on the Vicodin and I still have the pain, but the crankiness has faded, so I figured it was time to answer Claire's queries!

Here goes...

1. Of all the places you've traveled, which is your favorite? Why?

So far, Thailand. I have experienced incredible highs and lows in that country. I got the worst sunburn I've ever experienced while on a beach in Phuket (now, with permanent scarring!) I was robbed of $800 once at knifepoint in the Weekend Market in Bangkok. (That's a long story.) I ate peppers that numbed my face for a week. And a monk knocked me onto a boat dock covered in rusty old nails (my legs are still spotted with the scars from that.) But I've also met amazing travelers and encountered wonderful Thai people and seen landscapes and seascapes unlike any others I've ever seen. And the food is to die for. If I had the money, I'd be in Thailand once a month, just for a few days to enjoy the sanuk, the food, the temples and the friendliness.

2. What is the strangest thing you encountered while abroad that you came to think of as very cool, perhaps even miss now?

I miss the kooky restaurants with stage shows that dot the landscape in Russia. Initially, I thought they were just bizarre, but now, I miss them and their divinely cheap, off-Broadway feel. I miss the strange juxtaposition of a Chinese dinner at the "Restoran Peking" with bikini clad dancers doing what looks like an aborted ice dancing routine just a few feet away. I miss the weird-ass lounge singer and the contortionist at the "Restoran na Tagankye." Let me tell you, the first time you see some chick's head poking out of her own crotch while you try to eat your chicken Kiev... it's disturbing. But then you grow strangely accustomed to it and, a few times later, after you've had a bottle of pre-meal champagne, you find yourself yelling, "HEY! HEY! WHERE'S THE CONTORTIONIST?!? BRING ON CIRCUS GIRL!!"

Ah yes, good times. Good times.

Did I mention I also miss cheap champagne? Initially I found it very odd that little kiosks along all the major streets in Moscow sold bottles of champagne - it looked like a series of drunk driving accidents waiting to happen. But when one of those kiosks opened across from my apartment building - dude, I was so there! Basically, it was $0.10 a bottle. I would buy a case and leave the bottles in the snow on my balcony for the enjoyment of dinner guests. (That kiosk also sold handguns, Snickers bars, and condoms. I called it "one hell of an evening in a box.")

3. Road trip or air travel? Explain your preference.
Road trip. Definitely, road trip. Air travel used to be fun. When I was a kid - up through college - I loved to fly. But now, it's just a chore. Jam-packed flights, discourteous fellow passengers, harried airline staff, and the displeasure of dealing with TSA has made air travel miserable, at least for me. As the daughter of a pilot, it pains me to say I hate flying these days.

But on a road trip, the world is your oyster. You stop when you want to. You eat when you want to. You don't have to wait in line to experience a nasty airplane bathroom! If you have the time and the gas money, you can stop at whatever funky stuff piques your curiosity. Some trips it might be Devils Tower or the world's largest buffalo or Wall Drug. Another trip, maybe it's Hemingway's house in Key West or the African Queen or the coral reef state park in Key Largo. And wherever I go in a car (at least in the United States), I have to have two books in tow for a real road trip: Jane and Michael Stern's guide to the best in American regional roadside cuisine, Road Food, and the bible of the off-kilter U.S. road trip, Roadside America.

4. Which souvenir currently in your possession is your favorite? What's the story behind it?

This is a tough question. I have so many small souvenirs from so many different places. Most of them have little or no value other than sentimental, but that doesn't matter. In recent times, I've taken to giving away some of my souvenirs to friends who have never been to some of the places I've visited.

Actually, my favorite souvenir isn't one I picked up overseas. Instead it is a piece of memorabilia that I've had since 6th grade. It's my autographed photo of Harrison Ford. A souvenir of my first childhood crush on an unattainable adult male. (Which has pretty much defined my romantic life since then, come to think of it.) It's Han Solo in Docking Bay 94 at Mos Eisley, waiting for his passengers to arrive. Ford is hot, young, and - did I already say "hot"? - in black and white. I wrote to him back in '77 and told him (much to my mother's amusement) that while my friends really liked Luke Skywalker, I was a Solo girl all the way. "You're really going places," I told the actor. (As if the professional opinion of a sixth grader was really going to matter to him or the movers and shakers of Hollywood!) The photo is signed "To Merujo, Best Wishes, Harrison Ford." His signature is such a mess it looks like "Happyjon Ronz" which became his nickname among my childhood friends. (Okay, so it really doesn't read "To Merujo" but it's fun to torture the 10 people left on this planet that don't know my actual first name.)

This photo has traveled the world with me. It was on my desk in London and my bedroom dresser in Moscow. It's now on my bookshelf here in suburban DC. It's a souvenir of my childhood. A souvenir that connects the older, more tired me to the youthful and breathless geek girl-in-crush of 1977.

But so many things have gotten lost in transit along the path of life. Other things, as I said, I've just given away as time goes on. Some souvenirs lose even their sentimental value, but you gain new value in giving them away to others who will treasure them more. One item I had like that was a set of amber worry beads I bought in Moscow in 1990. When the Moscow coup happened in 1991, I was scheduled to fly home on my first vacation in a year. But, with tanks throughout the city and protesters shot dead near the embassy gates, it was unlikely I would make it home.

But then, a CNN correspondent called me at my home at 3 a.m. the day I was supposed to fly out. She was calling from Yeltsin's office at the Russian White House. How she got my phone number, I'll never know. She and her husband had just adopted a Russian baby. Their apartment building had been shot at earlier in the day. If I would carry her baby back to safety in New York, she would get me to the airport. Experienced babysitter that I was, I wasn't about to pass up this offer. I grabbed my bags and threw the worry beads in my carry-on. The correspondent arrived a short time later, baby in tow, driver at the ready. We drove through barricades in the city at speeds I don't want to think about now. Throughout the harried ride, I had one hand in my carry-on bag, and I silently rolled the round amber beads between my fingers. We finally made it to the eerily calm airport, which was filled with pensive passengers anxious to leave the Russian capital. The CNN correspondent upgraded my ticket to first class, and the Delta rep escorted me, baby in my arms, to the plane.

The other folks in first class looked annoyed there was a baby in their luxury midst. But when I explained it was "the CNN Baby" somehow that changed things. When the baby started to fuss, I pulled out the amber worry beads, and she was fascinated. She teethed on them, drooled on its silk tassel, and generally was adorable the whole flight. The other passengers even held her so I could sleep an hour or so en route to the 'States. I handed the baby off to a NY Times reporter at JFK. She had been based in Moscow for years, and her tour of duty had ended just before the coup - she missed the story of her lifetime by just a few days. Baby delivered, I continued on my way home to the Midwest, the drool-covered worry beads - the Moscow escape talisman - still in my bag.

A friend of mine is expecting her first baby right now. When last I saw her - which was only the second time we'd met in person, despite the fact that we're online yammering at each other most days - she was stressed, tired, and living on a rock and roll tour bus. She has her own business and things are so hectic for her, I felt like she needed a talisman. So I gave her the amber worry beads. They got me through a tough time, I figured they could use a new home. And I hope that, when she's ready, she'll pass them on to someone else who might just need a talisman, too.

I cleaned all the baby drool off them, by the way. In a few months, I imagine they'll be re-christened with new baby drool. And that's a good thing.

5. If you could be renowned for achievements in one field or for a particular event (other than writing or publishing), what would you like it to be?

Really funky interior design (nothing foo-foo or frilly - I'd design for guys and people who like Arts & Crafts), acting (I went to college on theatre & English scholarships - I'm sure it annoyed my benefactors that I went with Russian Area Studies), or photography. My aspirations are all creative/liberal arts stuff. I have no skills in the sciences.

And I'd still like to be known as the person who got bloggers together for an annual gathering in a campground to tell stories around a fire circle. You know, roast marshmallows, read blog entries by flashlight, cook on grills, tell more stories... I'd like to actually get that started. Still time to do it, still time to do it...


There you have it, kids. Would you like to be interviewed? If you want me to send you a set of five questions to ponder and answer, follow the directions below:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me." (And make sure I have your e-mail addy so I can zap you the questions!)
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions. I get to pick them, and you have to answer them all.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Think some good thoughts...

...for the Magazine Man and his family. In a week that should only have been blessed with joy at the birth of a new baby, he and his loved ones were hit with a great tragedy.

If you are praying folk - and even if you're not - please offer up some good thoughts for the peaceful rest of MM's parents and more good thoughts for this grieving family.

NOTE (5/2/07): I've edited this entry. I took down my embedded link to MM's blog. When I visited his blog today, there were people using his site to debate the reasons behind this very personal tragedy. I hope my post here did not contribute in any way to *any* of the distressing stuff he's received.

I figure it this way - if you read MM's blog and you love his stuff the way I do, you already know the URL. And if you don't know him, just think good thoughts rather than leave random comments.

I can't believe people who only know him through the blogosphere have been telling him they're showing up at a very private time of mourning. That kinda freaks me out. It seems really wrong. Through blogging we only know what people *want* to share with us. I've had stalkers courtesy of my blog - one person who wanted to be my sister (and scared me with phone calls to my home), another who believed we should be best friends on the basis of her liking my writing... there have been others. I pray that no one of that ilk shows up at this gathering for MM's family.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Don't bury me! I'm not dead!

Short post - I'm dog tired, need to eat something so I can take my next (much needed) round of pain stuff, and want to curl up and snooze, but first...

I met Bill Pullman tonight at a reception at work after a really cool event. He seems like a kind, funny, and down-to-earth guy. Very charming. And, dear god, I got the man to sign my Serpent and the Rainbow poster. You know, the one with him in the casket with that wonderfully cheesy Wes Craven tagline: "Don't bury me! I'm not dead!" He thought it was so funny I had this, he set down his wine and cheese, said, "Yeah! Let's do this!", dropped down on floor, spread out the poster and signed it "Bill Pullman... ALIVE!!!!"

How cool is that? How many other Hollywood actors would get down on the floor of a cafeteria at a reception to sign a poster for a 20-year-old movie?

Bill Pullman rocks. (And he was in Spaceballs, which is pretty cool, too.)

And now, sleep.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Double Bubble Hour(s)

The jury's still out on the real painkilling effects of the Rx cocktail my wonderful doctor mixed up for me yesterday, but going through the day with a massive buzz is quite something. I feel like I've had just enough G&Ts at a half-price happy hour at this point. Rail drinks from the Target pharmacy! Hooray! At least the prescriptions allowed me some blissful sleep last night for several good, solid hours until everything wore off around 3:30 a.m. Fortunately, that's prime time for IM'ing with friends and family overseas. My Oslo connection, the lovely Scholiast, and I talked for a few minutes while I waited for my next dose of stuff to take effect and I could sleep again. Also got to yammer with my brother Air Jordan about his upcoming civil union in Germany with his partner of many, many years (who is a rockin' cool guy - I consider him to be my adopted brother.) Strangely, I dreamed about their ceremony recently. In the dream, my brother was much younger than he is at this point, built like a linebacker, and was showing off his nice gray suit for the occasion. So, I asked my brother this a.m. about his suit for the celebration. Turns out, it's gray. Good job, sleeping mind!

Lunch break is over. Back to work now, which is being done from home today. Thank you to my boss for letting me do this. I cannot imagine trying to hobble around the office today, good drugs or not! Let's hear it for the wireless network and the work laptop! Whoo-hoo!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Better living through chemistry

I have an MRI in the morning. I have tremendous pain from the hip to the knee, and no feeling whatsoever below the knee. I wobble. And I have heaaavy duty painkillers and muscle relaxers today. Seriously heavy duty stuff, kids.

I love just about everybody right now.

This will fade. Take advantage of it while the happy vibe is there.

Now, who wants a hug?

Misery, 6:40 a.m.

Excuse any typos. There may be some.

I've just had the most miserable night I've experienced in a very, very long time. I had a doctor's appointment yesterday morning with the foot guy. I was having problems with one of my toes (which, it turns out may have been caused by me needing new sneakers. Crap.) Afterward, although I was supposed to spend the rest of the day on the couch, resting the offending tootsie, I went to work. I felt guilty. The eye has kept me out of work so often, I cannot help but feel guilty when anything else keeps me from being there. So, I hobbled in, puffy toe wrapped in bandages wrapped unhappily in shoe. I kept hobbling the rest of the day, my lower back aching badly on the left side.

Stopped at CVS on the way home and retrieved some of those Ben-Gay heat patches. Figured that would help the aching back. No go. Still hurt.

I had a bag of garbage that had to be walked down to the trash room in the basement of my building. Halfway through my hobble downstairs, Mr. Eye did his depth perception magic, I missed a step and fell. I caught myself, but - my god - the sudden horrible pain. I think I pulled/strained/tore something in that already aching lower back/hip area.

I came back upstairs, did the ice thing, took some ibuprofen and went to bed.

I couldn't sleep. I was in agony with every slight turn. I finally lightly started to sleep around 1:45 - that's the last time I remember seeing the clock, at least.

Until the trucks came at 2:15.

There is a Comcast junction box directly outside my bedroom window. It's on a pole that matches the height of my window precisely. And Comcast is there frequently to do work. When the sun is shining, that is.

In order to use their cherrypicker, they have to start the truck - a loud diesel - and run it throughout the process. Well, guess what? They ran it. Stopped it. Ran it. Stopped it. Talked on their distinctive Nextel walkie-talkies. Yelled to each other. Drove to the end of the block. Came back. Over and over again.

They didn't leave until 5:14 this morning. I was awake throughout, trying desperately to sleep, but failing miserably. Each time I turned slightly in bed, I involuntarily cried out. I would actually feel bad for my neighbors, but I doubt they were sleeping either, thanks to the bastards from Comcast. I tried to call Comcast at one point, but they tried to put me through to their automatic bill payment system. I haven't been their customer since March 9th, but those dumb clucks keep billing me for $56 for the rest of March. I gave up calling. I considered going outside and asking them for just an hour's grace, but I could not stand up. I tried. I screamed. I couldn't breathe.

When my cellphone alarm went off at 6:15, I had to drag myself out of bed, crying, and clutch the walls, hyperventilating, to reach it in the living room. I have never felt pain like this before. Finally, I got into the shower, although it took tremendous effort to get swing my leg in without falling down. I figured that hot water might ease the pain. It did. Briefly.

I'm hunched over my computer desk now, at 6:40, trying to decide if I should drive myself to the emergency room - if I can get to my car - or wait to call my doctor. Seriously, I don't know if I can walk to my car on my own.

Son of a bitch.

I have a LOT of work to do today.

And I have plans this week.

This is pretty evil, since I've had nothing, nothing, nothing to do for ages except for worry and pay bills (which I still have to do.) Why this week, karma-bitch?

My kingdom for a good painkiller right now. I don't care if I have to be drugged to the gills, I'm not missing out on what I have planned this week, dammit.

But right now, I'm wrapped in a towel with my head squished down on one shoulder, uncertain if I can stand long enough to get dressed. Or even stand at all.

Man, this sucks.

Not as much as Comcast sucks, though.

Monday, April 23, 2007

One Square Dealer

I just read some entries from Sheryl Crow and Laurie David's Stop Global Warming Tour blog, via Drudge and the Washington Post. Here's my fav-o-rite entry, posted by Crow on April 19th:

"I have spent the better part of this tour trying to come up with easy ways for us all to become a part of the solution to global warming. Although my ideas are in the earliest stages of development, they are, in my mind, worth investigating. One of my favorites is in the area of forest conservation which we heavily rely on for oxygen. I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required."

Riiiiight. One square of toilet paper.

Maybe Ms. Crow only requires one square of toilet paper, but I reckon most people need more than that. Seriously. Would you even want to touch the doors of bathroom stalls in a "one square only" world? No freaking way!

Look, there were times in Russia when I was stuck in disgusting public toilets - and I really, really mean disgusting - with no toilet paper whatsoever. I carried little pocket packs of Kleenex with me, but when they ran out, I used whatever paper I had in my purse. Nasty. Grim. And always -at the maximum - the equivalent of a "one square" affair. Not good and sometimes really... just bad. When that was coupled with a non-functioning sink or no soap??? Well, you get the picture. Pretty nasty. And this was in the pre-Purell days.

I have a better idea. How about no more actual, physical Sheryl Crow cds? Make her a download only gal. That should suit her environmentally friendly needs! Think of all the paper that will save in booklets and tray liners! Or, she could have her cd materials printed on recycled toilet paper. After all - cd booklet pages are just about the dimensions of a nice sheet of TP. And, that way, if Ms. Crow's next cd blows, you can show your opinion by using "one square" on your baby-soft bottom. Even better, with that awful recycled paper, you'll likely give yourself a rash and be able to announce to all who care, "$15.99 for a cd with only one decent song? Wow, that really chaps my ass!"

I have nothing against Sheryl Crow, by the way. I own three of her cds. I just find the "one square only" idea fairly unrealistic and unsanitary - trust me, I've lived the results.

Why not start with banning junk mail? I take a box of that crap down to the recycling bin at least once a week.

I'll be keeping my Cottonelle, thanks.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Not-so-lazy Sunday

I'm usually a sloth on weekends. Lots of napping, bad cable TV, more napping, and laundry started far too late in the day. But I have been on a spring cleaning binge (helped along by my need to eBay a lot of possessions to fund grocery shopping and all that good stuff) and I'm trying to devote at least Saturday or Sunday to the effort. Yesterday I was fairly sluglike, but today I've been a tornado. Got up, colored my scary grey roots, did some writing, ran some errands, did some fabulous home cookin', and sorted out some more stuff for Salvation Army and eBay. Eventually, my apartment will be clean enough that I won't be embarrassed to have folks over.

That will be a Good Thing, as Martha Stewart would say. Of course, Martha would never allow her home to become an utter pit like I do on a pretty miserably regular basis. She would have me flogged for the state of my living room. And my bedroom would bring her to tears, poor thing. Guess it's a Good Thing Martha will never be dropping by. Bullet. Dodged.

When I went out in the gorgeous day to run a couple of errands, I was totally floored by the fact that the crabapple trees in front of my building were blooming. First time in over a decade that they'd flowered. When I first moved in here, I used to love taking a book out on the balcony and reading in relative privacy behind the one tree's large blooms, but some freak weather about eleven years ago seemed to shock the trees into a dormancy. Right now, there are deep magenta buds covering both trees, slowly opening into light pink flowers like a flower girl's bouquet. I'll try to snap a photo or two before they fade.

The primitive, superstitious side of me can't help but think of this as some good omen. That things are getting better. I'm inspired to gather some pennies together and pick up some bright pink portulacas for the balcony. I've been hooked on those funky succulents since I got some at the wedding reception of two friends a few years back. They'd used the flowering plants as centerpieces on the reception hall tables, and I ended up with several to take home afterwards. Those suckers bloomed and bloomed for ages. When I've been in the mood in the years since then, I've picked up a few for the spring & summer at a local nursery. Cheap and colorful.

And when I saw my hair reflected in the visor mirror in my car, those same three words came to mind again. Cheap. And. Colorful.

Ooooh, Nice 'n' Easy 116A, Lightest Golden Brown... what have you done to me this time? Ain't nothin' light or golden about this. More like Deep Henna Reddish Dark Brown Something. Yikes! I wonder if these guys really check their dye lots carefully. I mean, it's not a bad color - it's simply not what I was planning on. As the Sasquatch said this evening, "...It's dark... but this isn't very good light..." At least that made me laugh about it.

I took some of the random food products over to the Sasquatch for dinner, as he has been slaving away over his online MFA homework. He's too busy right now to actually sit and eat with me, so this was a "hit and fade" dinner delivery. (I'm like Takeout Taxi without the outrageous fees and the surly drivers looking for a hefty tip.) I made my traditional "chicken glop" as well as banana bread and my mom's friend Helen's guacamole. Yes, these are things that don't really go together. But I had: 1)chicken that needed to be cooked; 2)overripe bananas; and 3)overripe avocados. I have enough leftovers for a small army, which is good. At least I know what I'm having for dinner for the rest of the week.

By the way, Helen Hansen's guacamole dip kicks ass and is ultra easy to make. Helen used to have a modest cattle ranch with her husband outside of Winnemucca, Nevada. Winnemucca, interestingly, has a large population of Basque sheep herders. You can dine with the old guys in the ramshackle hotel in town, when they lay out plates of various sheep parts and big jugs of wine. It's a little like visiting Georgia or Armenia - with legal brothels.

But I digress...

Helen made her guacamole dip for Mom and a small group of us when we went to visit her many years ago. We loved it, and we've been making it ever since:

Helen Hansen's Guacamole Dip

4 ripe avocados
1 standard package of cream cheese
1 small jar salsa/picante sauce (heat level - your choice)

Peel the avocados and put them in a mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese. Mix with a hand blender until smooth. Add the jar of salsa. Mix well.


Eat with chips.

Eat some more.

It's good.

And I'm tired and going to bed. Adios, muchachas!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Walter Reed

For those of us in the DC area (or anyone who actually tunes into the evening news), the scandal of Walter Reed hospital will linger for a good long time. I live just north of Bethesda Naval Medical by two miles. The Sasquatch lives probably a quarter mile from its giant post-9/11 reinforced gates. Soon, the original Walter Reed facilities in DC will be closed, and Bethesda Naval Medical will be renamed "Walter Reed." I've been to the old Walter Reed grounds a handful of times in the company of the Sasquatch to visit the U.S. Army Medical Museum. The full name of the museum is actually the "National Museum of Health and Medicine of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center." U.S. Army Medical Museum is easier to spit out, thanks.

The museum has all sorts of odd, funky, and sometimes historically significant things on display, including the bullet that killed Lincoln and the skeletal leg of Daniel Edgar Sickles, Civil War general and the first guy in the United States to get off a murder charge on an insanity defense. Go figure. (Lincoln = historically significant. Sickles leg = odd and funky. Historically significant if you're a criminal defense attorney.)

When you visit the museum, you have to actually enter the Walter Reed base, past armed soldiers at the gate, and past, often, the wounded, wheeling or limping around the grounds. It's a rather direct reminder of just what kind of Hell the White House has unleashed on the world. I always want to smile or wave at the wounded - just some sort of contact. A quiet way of saying, "I'm so, so very sorry that you have to be here." The whole place looks utterly benign - a set of brick buildings on a quiet, tree-lined street, giving the impression of a college campus.

Except for what we know about the treatment of the wounded there. There's such an ugliness hidden behind the ivy-covered walls.

Back in 2005, Michael Penn released his 5th cd, Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 (and don't forget: April is Michael Penn Appreciation Month.) The first single off that recording is titled "Walter Reed." It's a great track, vastly under-appreciated, but it was used, to very nice effect, in an episode of "House." I think the song in my head just about every morning on my way to work as I pass the enormous campus that will become the new Walter Reed - a place that is already overflowing with casualties from Iraq. (Of course, the only time you see the press outside the gates there is when a network news correspondent is injured and getting treatment there, which is more than a little disgraceful.) And I think about the servicemembers getting sub-sufficient care at the old Walter Reed. As Michael Penn sings in his song, "Make no mistake, I'm mad."

And I can almost hear the soldiers sing back the next line, "'Cause every good thing I've had, abandoned me."

Here's the video for Walter Reed, which was posted to YouTube by its director, Thomas Horne:

Hey, MP - if you want to see Walter Reed (and the bullet that killed Lincoln) while you're in DC, drop a line. You have a chauffeur.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ford Escort 1, Big Raccoon 0

Ever dry heave so painfully that you get a headache? I have. I did last night, as a matter of fact. I was driving up Rockville Pike, after running a couple of evening errands. It was after 10 at this point, and I just wanted to be home. Hot shower, jammies, brushed teeth, all that jazz. I live relatively close to the junction of the Pike, 495 and 270, and, right at that point, the Pike is under repair. The right lane vanishes, the inattentive start swerving, and the rest of us have to take evasive action. There's usually a lot of brake-slamming and horn-honking. It's fun. To make things more interesting, the street lights aren't always functioning right there, so the road is dark, save for the blinking construction signs.

I really wish the street lights had been working last night. I might have been able to stop in time. Then again, I probably would have been rear-ended or worse.

Last night's painful lesson was that large raccoons were not designed to fit under the front end of a Ford Escort. Instead, they connect with a powerful BOOM right before they are obliterated by the power, power, power of Deee-troit steel. Then, they scatter behind the vehicle in chunks. Big, nauseating chunks.

At least that's what happened this time.

Yep, kids. I ran over an enormous raccoon. It bolted out in front of me, and I had absolutely no time to avoid it. It was large enough that I felt my entire car shudder as I passed over it, after the initial - fairly shocking - impact. With the construction and fairly heavy traffic, there was no place for me to stop. I would have infuriated the pack of drivers behind me and likely caused a few fender benders.

And, having seen what I saw in my rear view mirror, I knew Ranger Rick was toast. He was an ex-mammal. No longer pinin' for the fjords.


Immediately, the dry heaving began. I've only struck an animal with my car once before, and that was a squirrel back in high school. This was much more intense than hitting a squirrel. I had to call one of my sisters to talk me down from the dry heaving - before it became non-dry heaving.

I was utterly loathe to get out of my car and check for blood or fur or anything else on the front end. Apparently, as my car was clean, most of the damage happened in the undercarriage. The dark part of my brain kept thinking Stephen King-ish thoughts about my car having been exposed to blood - and now, it will be possessed and hungry for more! The rest of my brain was simply hurting from the heaving. Rather tastelessly, I recalled an old bit from David Letterman's pre-heart surgery, pre-daddyhood, meaner, more bitter days. Back when video games were primitive, Letterman would show something called "Patton vs. Ali" with little Atari-like images of a boxer facing off with a tank. The boxer would make some ineffective jabs at the tank, which would, in turn, blow his head off. It was the same routine every time. At the end of each bit, Letterman would say, "Choose Patton. He always wins."

Apparently, I was the Patton of the Pike last night. Go figure.

Sorry, furry scavenger. I hope there are plenty of garbage cans for you to knock over in the afterlife. I think I've bagged my wildlife for this decade...

Sign me, Vishnu the Varmit Destroyer (accidental)

Monday, April 16, 2007

It runs in the family

Meet my nephew, Jersey Cop:

On his day off, he decided to chop up some wood in his back yard.

He miscalculated.

One misplaced axe blow + face too close to wood + family tendency to injury = one scratched cornea.


Congratulations, dear nephew, sweet godchild. You've been touched by the Curse of the Eye, too.

This photo's my favorite because he looks like Judd Nelson on a bender, circa Breakfast Club (except with a cop haircut):

He's gonna kill me when he finds out I posted these.

Feel better, bubba. I seriously sympathize. (Even though you look like Judd Nelson on a bender...)

By the way, ladies, he is available, and he is one cool guy. Really swell! (As in nice, not as in "wow, look at that eye swell!")

60K, I hardly knew ye

Well, actually, I knew ye not at all! My 60,000th hit came and went. A stranger doing a Google search (for something tasteful, actually - now there's a surprise!)

But I got to see that nice round number. Let's see if it takes me another two years to reach 120K.


7 Hits Away from 60K

Who will it be? One of the 4.5 faithful? Some random guy looking for "naked fat chick" (already got one of those today, thanks)? Or just some stranger hitting next blog? Who knows.

But I love watching the numbers turn to zeroes. It's like staring at your odometer. You expect a drumroll.

I know that 60,000 hits is probably what Dooce gets in a couple of days, but this is huge for Madame Needs-a-Life here. If I can identify the 60K person, they'll get a handmade greeting card. Honest. Made by me and everything!

Man, I really do need a life, no?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

This Much I Do Know: Michael Penn Makes Pretty Damn Good Music

April is Michael Penn Appreciation Month. Didn't know that, eh? It's true! Michael has two releases due this Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on both of them.

First up is Palms & Runes, Tarot & Tea: A Michael Penn Collection. If you don't have any of MP's music, this would be a great primer for you to become acquainted with music from his first four releases. If you already a Penn fan, you'll want this disc, too, which features some alternative versions of songs along with previously unreleased material. Michael's fifth CD, Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 is also being re-released on Tuesday, remastered, and with a bonus disc of live music. Can't beat that with a stick, eh?

All of this comes just as the talented Mr. Penn sets out on a tour, with a number of East Coast and Midwestern stops. (FYI, DC/Baltimore peeps: he'll be playing Iota in Arlington on April 24th and Rams Head Annapolis on April 26th, and I highly, highly recommend grabbing a ticket!)

My regular 4.5 readers here know just how much I dig the music of Michael Penn. There are few singer-songwriters out there that really grab me and swing me around with their words and music - MP is one of those rare creatures. This weekend, I've been listening to all his stuff, just jumping around, track to track, on iTunes. Can't find a song I don't enjoy in the whole mix.

In two weeks, I get to hear Michael play in concert again, and I'm so excited, you'd think I was a ten-year-old at Christmas. Not only will I get to hear some outstanding music in the company of my bud the Sasquatch, I'll get to see friends I've only met once before. That was, as a matter of fact, almost two years ago exactly - April 22, 2005 - just a short time after I started this blog and got the chop (hahaha) from Job X for the Axe Incident. That evening is chronicled in a post I wrote called "Philadelphia Story." For the amusement of my friends I'll see at this gig, here's how I described them at that point in time:

We were seated next to two folks from the PennList - a married couple who seemed very cool and whose posts I enjoy reading. (I was glad to meet someone else who'd witnessed Elvis Costello's "Spinning Songbook" tour!) I think they were pretty darn pleased with the vantage point, too. Right behind us was the extremely nice guy who runs the PennList and does a lot of work on Michael's behalf. He was the best-dressed man in the room and it was really great to finally put a face to the name and the Internet "voice."

We really didn't know each other beyond the Penn List at that point. Our conversations were limited to things like, "Nice camera!" and "I just won a free iTunes download with my diet Pepsi cap!" and "Uh, are you Spencer?" Can't believe it's been two years. Amazing. It really will be great to see them again.

It's funny. I've met most of my friends because of a shared interest in a particular musician. Some via the Thomas Dolby connection. Some via the Michael Penn connection. Man, I owe these guys a lot. Even more reason to buy Michael's new stuff this week.

You should go buy them, too. You won't be disappointed. While I can't guarantee you'll meet cool new friends as a result of the purchase, you never know, eh?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Best in Show

This working dog just met one of the bigger bitches of DC.

I park at one of the only fairly priced parking garages on M Street. Since they charge about $5 less a day than most other locations near the White House, they are very popular. Add to that, their next door neighbor is the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church (sometimes called "The Cathedral of African Methodism", where Rosa Parks' DC funeral was held), and they have a pretty busy schedule of events, year 'round. This means, the garage is constantly busy and the valets are on an infinite loop, hustling to move cars.

This morning, there was an event at the church, and traffic was hideously backed up. As in, I waited half an hour to get in the garage and then gave up. I can't afford to just park in another lot, as I've paid the discounted monthly rate with these guys, and I'm not wasting cash. On the other hand, being a half hour late to work is not a great option either. I dug around and found a quarter in my purse, which garnered me a whole 15 minutes of metered parking directly in front of my office. The DC Parking Nazis patrol the area on a pretty regular basis, so I knew at 9:45 I had to run back down and try my garage again.

Okay, I got back down at 9:46. And damned if I didn't see the local Parking Nazi checking the next car down. I hopped into the Crapmobile before I could be ticketed and drove down to L Street to cut over to 15th and back up to M and the garage. (Man, somedays I hate these one-way streets.) But 15th Street was seriously backed up. It took me four light cycles to get on the street for my one-block trek back to M. Turns out, the 15th Street back-up was a direct result of the continuing back-up at my garage. To be honest, people were being mighty patient. Very little honking, folks just waiting in line. As I was about to take my turn entering the garage, a gold Lexus pulled up next to me and the driver interjected herself into the queue and into my path.

Then, she stopped her car halfway into the garage drive, turned the engine off, opened her door and just sat there. Considering that I'd now invested an hour in the parking process, I yelled at her to move. The valets yelled at her to move. Other drivers yelled at her to move. But she didn't budge.

That would have required removing her poodle from her lap and getting off the damn phone.

Finally, I put hand to horn and yelled again. The valet rapped on her window. And, at last, she got a clue and moved.

I got my valet stub, and I waited for her. I really wanted to ask this woman a question. So, when she finally left the comfort of her luxury boat, I confronted her.

She was, I would guess, about 55. Dyed blond Washington helmet head hair. Face lift, eyes just a little too tight, pencil thin brows just a little too high, ultra-thin, unhuman nose job, too much perfume, blood red lipstick. Her aging, trim figure was covered in an overpriced black "I'm rich and on my day off" track suit, bathed in gold chains, all wrapped in a fur-trimmed parka. The poodle at her feet wagged its entire backside, seemingly oblivious to the idiocy and rudeness of her mistress.

"Excuse me!" I called out as she tried to be invisible, walking by. "Can ya just tell me what makes you more important than everyone else here? How is it you're such a VIP that you didn't have to wait in line like everyone else?"

Blondie stopped, the cell phone still glued to her head. I raised my eyebrows. "I'd really just like to know, considering how long we all waited to get in here."

She rolled her eyes, sighed, and pulled the phone away from her ear. "I'm busy!" she announced and pulled at the poodle's leash, turning away from me and heading for the street.

"So are we," I heard someone mutter from another car.

"I have things to do," Blondie hissed, returning to her call.

"Self-entitled jackass!" It left my mouth before I even realized I'd said it. I get so sick of the "I Am Important" bull of DC.

Someone applauded.

Yeah, I shouldn't have said it. But, damned if I'm going to let some dumb cluck not know that, even if she thinks we're lesser beings, we groundlings have got her number. And it's zero.

I hope the valets fart in her car.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Uh, anybody remember "Hymietown"?

In commenting on my friend Spencer's blog post last night about the Don Imus mess, I wrote that I just wish that the response from the African-American community wasn't being fronted by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, both men with some crappy junk in their histories. Al Sharpton has thrown too many stones over the years, and I find something about him (like Pat Robertson and others) to have too much self-righteous preacher man/snake oil salesman for my comfort. I'm not even going down the Tawana Brawley or Crown Heights paths. He just gives me the creeps in general. (I almost ran him over in Georgetown a couple of years ago when he jaywalked in front of me. If I can find the old Diaryland entry about it, I'll post it.)

Regardless, is Imus an ass in this case? Sure is.

Funny, funny, funny thing about Imus is in the script to Howard Stern's film "Private Parts" which was on TV yesterday:

Kenny, the WNBC Program Director, to Stern:

"You say a lot of offensive things, and occasionally you are real funny, but you've got to learn to do what Imus does.

See, he doesn't actually say the bad thing himself.

He says it through a character."

Gee, I wonder what "character" he was channeling the other day?

Then again, I wonder what character (or lack of character) Jesse Jackson was channeling back in 1984 when he told Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman that New York was "Hymietown" - full of "Hymies", as he called Jews. At first, Jackson denied saying this, vehemently. Then, he tried to manipulate the situation, by suggesting that Jews were trying working against his presidential campaign. This led to his friend Louis Farrakhan fanning the flames and making his famous threat to Jews for this imagined anti-Jackson campaign: "If you harm this brother, this will be the last brother you harm."

It was a load of crap.

Jackson finally admitted that he had said this in a speech at a synagogue, and he asked for forgiveness.

I still think that was a load of crap, too.

And now, here's Jesse Jackson, in an AP photo this morning on, picketing NBC to have Imus fired. Was Imus a complete toad in what he said about the Rutgers women? You bet. Should he be fired? Hell, he probably should have been fired ages ago. But what makes Jesse Jackson's apology for his racism and Don Imus' apology for his racism different? Can anyone tell me?

Why isn't an African-American leader with less similar sin standing out there, righteously picketing and asking for the head of Don Imus? I simply can't take Jesse Jackson seriously in this situation. As I commented on Spencer's very well-written post, I’d rather hear more from the women of Rutgers, who can speak passionately on their own behalf, and with no baggage attached.

What's your take?

Update: Meredith Viera asked Jesse Jackson point blank about "Hymietown" this morning, and Jackson pretty much blew her off. Grrr. I would have given him serious points for addressing that.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Is WaPo trying out a new marketing technique?

Today I got an e-mail from the VP of a big New York City PR/marketing firm. The e-mail touted a WaPo feature article and its multimedia aspects in glowing terms. At the end, the NYC marketing guru-ess wrote: "Thanks in advance for your consideration in regards to writing about this. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me!"

Huh. Curious. Are things really so rough for one of the nation's leading newspapers that they are seeking free advertising from small-time bloggers like me? I get, if I'm lucky, maybe 100 hits a day, and most of those people find me on Google searches for "airplane lavatory sex", "cannibalism in Russia" or "dog condoms." Perhaps the Post considers this to be an innovative approach to achieving a wider readership online, but I'm not all that thrilled about it.

As folks who actually read my blog know, I'm dead broke - hell, I just joked (kinda) about selling plasma to get a ticket to hear Morrissey sing. Being broke, I'm really not in a position to write gratis advertising for commercial, for-profit entities. If the Washington Post wants me to shill their articles, they can pay me to do so. Or, I suppose, they can find other bloggers, just eager for attention, who will write happy copy for them.

Perhaps if this had been couched in a "hey, we're trying an experiment!" message, inviting bloggers to participate in a test to broaden exposure for this particular piece, I would have been more amenable to the process. But it wasn't presented that way. It was polite, but it wasn't an invitation to innovation. It's smart, but sneaky.

I'll pass. Maybe the Post should read its own articles...

Update: guess it must have worked for them. More than 900 blogs linked to that article WaPo wanted shilled. Go figure.

Screw Elvis!

Morrissey is playing freaking Wolf Trap! Wolf Trap!!! Jesus, I think that officially means that both Morrissey and I are old when he's *playing* there and I'm excited about sitting on the lawn listening to him there!!

And, good god, Squeeze is playing Wolf Trap, too! Holy shite!

And, combined, tickets to both events are mucho less than one Elvis ticket.

Now, I gotta go sell some plasma to make this happen...

Friday, April 06, 2007

You're kidding, right?

$75 to see Elvis Costello at the 9:30 Club. I love Elvis. Elvis, is, after all, The King. But seventy-five bucks?!?

I mean, come on! Get real, folks!

It's the 9:30 Club, not Prince's club on the Vegas strip! And, while 9:30 rocks, for $75, Elvis himself would have to serve me two complimentary drinks and give me a lap dance.

And I don't think that's gonna happen.

I guess I can just load up all my Elvis CDs on my crappy old stereo at home, turn the lights down and pretend. After all, my sofa is more comfy than the barstools up in the 9:30 balcony, and the drinks are cheaper.

Rationalizing from the empty pockets zone,


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sometimes, They Come Back

I am, apparently, growing my own forest. Who knew?

It’s a good thing I’ve always been fond of trees. I have great memories of a business trip to San Francisco where one of my contacts showed up at my little B&B in the Marina District in shorts and hiking boots, encouraging me to shuck the work attire. We then had the best business meeting ever, walking out in the coastal redwoods for hours and hours. It was fantastic.

When I lived in Moscow, I loved the birch trees (beriozki) that dotted the Russian landscape, their white bark dappled with spots that reminded me of appaloosa horses. And I adored the enormous weeping willow that graced the back yard of my parents house in Illinois. I still smile whenever I see a big weeping willow in someone’s yard. Saw one just the other evening, as a matter of fact. It was already blooming in our warm spring weather. I saw it on the way to the drug store. I was out of ibuprofen, and my head had started to hurt rather profoundly.

I described the pain to the Sasquatch as being like an icepick through my skull. Truth is, it was a wider pain than that. The space that hurt was broader than the tip of an icepick. More like a long, heavy drill bit.

That same night, I could not get warm enough to sleep. I piled blanket upon blanket on my bed, yet I was wracked with chills. When I finally did sleep, I had hallucinatory dreams. I woke up feeling groggy and unable to function well. With the headache still pounding – and with a particularly distressing sensation building behind my bad eye – I started to worry.

A trip to the Eye Guy has confirmed my fears. A new blood vessel has grown up behind my retina. The doctor described the situation in terms of trees: if the other blood vessels were like small saplings, this new one was a great big redwood. Hence, the great big pain in my skull. Voila!

I’ve undergone a procedure to see if this one can be stunted. Fortunately, this one is not encroaching on the center of vision like the others did. Unfortunately, it’s big, which means, if it keeps growing, it could encroach on the center of vision. And, overall, the doctor isn’t sure if this new development means that I’m simply going to keep sprouting these insidious things.

If I have to undergo a full new series of shots, I’m not sure what I’ll do. With my impending bankruptcy, I’m in a dark, dark place financially. I make “too much” money for assistance, but not enough to cover things. Lucky me, lucky me, I think I'm becoming one of those “she slipped through the cracks” people. Ain’t life grand?

I’ve followed the doctor’s directions exactly. I’ve been so cautious. I’ve even found myself praying that this would be over, even though I’m not a religious person at all.


Even with the best treatment and the best intentions and the best prayers - and God only knows how good those are from a former Catholic heathen like me - sometimes they come back. And they bring their big brothers along to play.

“Hope is a good thing,” as Andy Dufresne wrote to Red in The Shawshank Redemption. “Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

Here’s to hope. Let it never die.

But as for those things that really should die? Well, I could use some serious headweed killer right about now. Anybody know how to take down a retinal redwood? Does Ortho make something for that?

And now, back to the comfort and safety of the sofa...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Suddenly sick

Out of the blue I was cold and shivering last night. As in, couldn't get warm under a pile of four thick blankets. I woke up feeling pretty bad this morning, with a cough and all-over aches and pains. I had a long list of things to achieve today, but have only gotten a fraction done due to my grogginess and continuing chills. Lovely. I feel like Magazine Man on one of his periodic medical disaster days, but at least I haven't started hallucinating talking giraffes yet.

I am going to try to clean the bathroom this afternoon because, when I feel like crapola, having a really clean bathroom is a boon.

I have a pile of things to get done at work tomorrow. I may go in super early when it's very quiet, and then head home around lunchtime. Maybe this will have passed by morning. Hope, hope, hope. I'll clean the bathroom on breaks from watching The Langoliers on cable. God bless you, cable television - friend to the sick and sofa-surfing.

The TV calls, but, as God is mah witness, that bathroom shall be clean by sundown!

(This would have been one of those moments when owning a copy of Photoshop would have been good. I wanted to 'shop a plunger or a nice toilet scrub brush into her upraised hand. Oh well. Gotta go, Scarlet and I have a date with Mr. Clean...)