who are the caniacs?

To be fair, my hand was over my heart. It had to be, because it was holding a red-checkered paper tray with a barbeque sandwich in it to my chest. Two girls were singing the anthem in lovely harmony. I could see them way on the other side of the room, but I could see them much better on the jumbotron. It took me a minute to locate the flag, which I was supposed to be looking at reverently while I held my hand on my barbeque sandwich.

The girls sang on. "And the rockets'-"

"RED!" screamed everyone around me suddenly, making me jump.

"-glare, the bombs bursting in air," continued the girls, again unaided by the crowd. Then they finished and everyone cheered for America, God bless it, while I put down my barbeque sandwich. It sat next to a bobblehead of a Nordic-looking fellow with his fist in the air, a free gift to me upon entry into the arena.

Alex Trebek appeared on the jumbotron, which was as unexpected to me as the sudden importance of a single adjective within a song full of words. He gave a Jeopardy-style answer about the name of the craziest fans in the entire NHL. I wasn't sure about his fact-checking, but I was pretty sure I knew where he was going with this one.

Who are the Caniacs?

Everyone around me cheered again, as if Alex had just said their favorite color. Mine happens to be blue, but I'd be darned if I brought that up here, surrounded by all these rabid Caniacs, rumored to be the craziest fans in the entire NHL. I couldn't tell you for sure, because this was my first hockey game. They seemed pretty crazy, though.

I don't know anything about hockey. I said this was my first hockey game, but I meant that this was the first time I'd ever even watched a whole one. I know how they score goals, and I know a couple of jokes about fighting. As it turns out, that's really all you need to enjoy a hockey game. It also helps to know where the jumbotron is. There is useful information there, such as what to yell next. Also, you can watch the people in the stands as they sit staring dully into space for a second before realizing that they're on the jumbotron and start smiling and waving.

Hockey is exciting. It's non-stop fast-paced action, so it's got both baseball and football beat. It's still hard to score, though, so while it seems like everything is happening at once, somehow nothing is advancing. It's like an action movie with no plot. Maybe you have to understand the rules to get the plot.

A lot of the enjoyment is in the mob mentality. Every time the red team (that's us) took a shot and missed, we all went "awwwww." And then when the other team took a shot and we blocked it, we went "yeah!" I was genuinely excited when these things happened, even though I have no association with this team other than a shared base city and a newly acquired bobblehead. But I was enthralled. Why? I have no idea. I think it has something to do with testosterone, because I felt the same sort of excitement when there were fights.

About the fighting - it really is as bad as the jokes say. There were probably three tussles that night, and each one caused the fans to stand up and lean over to peer down at the action. It was the drama in the action movie.

I can't help but wonder if the fighting is...embellished. Not fake, but not exactly genuine, either. It's like everyone on the ice is looking for a fight, as if they'd gone to a bar after midnight and started yelling yo mama jokes at strangers. There's not really much punishment for it. You have to sit out for a while, but then so does the other guy, so your team isn't down a player. The referees will stop it before anyone gets too hurt. And the fans love it. They pound on the walls of your penalty box, which looks like the thing that the Pope stands in when he visits. There's even a montage of movie clips that shows on the jumbotron during the fight. Fighting is just a part of hockey.

Two of the fights were stopped pretty much immediately. But then there was that first one, where suddenly a player stopped skating, faced another player, tore off his gloves and held up his fists, street-fighting style. The other guy did the same. The refs stood back, watching, like kids on the playground who are more interested in seeing what happens than preventing anything. And then they went at it for a little while, swinging at each other until one guy was down and the refs stepped in. Apparently, if you take off your gloves, you're allowed to fight in a hockey game. It's like honor or being a gentleman or whatever else is at the intersection of testosterone and pride. It was oddly inspiring, as if this particular bout of fisticuffs were about something noble and not a guy on skates pushing another guy on skates into the wall.

I don't really advocate violence, but it seems to me that hockey is providing an outlet. Maybe without hockey, all these players and all these Caniacs would be at bars yelling yo mama jokes to strangers. It's not exactly constructive, but it's not hurting anything either. Perhaps hockey is where men can still be men, whatever that means.

I am not a man, but I have to say that our game was a great one, where we won by a goal scored in the last minute of sudden death overtime. I jumped up and cheered at that last goal. My favorite color is still blue, but at that moment, I probably could have passed for a Caniac.


bunny lips.

My brother didn't have to email me about it this time, but I've gone and used another offensive word without meaning to. A commenter mistook me on Monday, thinking that I pictured my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend with a hairy lip. I actually said that I imagined her with a harelip, which is far worse. In fact, having a little bit of hair on the upper lip is a common affliction of otherwise nearly-perfect dark-haired ladies. But the comment caused me to doubt my own understanding of the word, and so I looked it up. And then I learned that the word "harelip" is offensive.


Of course, I immediately started thinking of my defense. I've been using that term, albeit very rarely, for years. And I think once that I called Josh "bunny lips," so does that count, too? Since I didn't know that the word was offensive, was it still offensive when I used it? Well, yes, but I do have some plausible deniability. And I bet I'm not the only one. I bet you've been throwing "harelip" around left and right and had no idea how many cleft lip victims you were offending. You are so insensitive.

I had a hard time finding out why it was offensive. Lots of web sites said that it was without any further explanation. The only explanation I could find was honestly a bit sketchy. Apparently, the term comes from the fact that hares, like all rodents, cuddly or not, have split lips. But then that got all mixed up with a connection between hares and witchcraft. In fact, if a child was born with a cleft lip, then it indicated that the mother had been knocked up by the devil. I suppose that's legit. If I implied that a person was the inspiration for "Rosemary's Baby", I would understand how they might be upset. But this explanation didn't ring true to me, maybe because it seemed like it referred to a limited time period. The writer then sort of lamely says that no one likes to be compared to a rodent.

But in my not-at-all extensive research (I skimmed through forty Google hits), that was the only explanation I could find. Usually internet research yields much more information. So if no one knows that a word is offensive, and no one can remember why, is it still offensive?

I wonder if maybe it became offensive the same way that "retarded" has. It started out as a totally legitimate medical term. But then people took it and started applying it as a general insult to people who were not actually mentally retarded, but just displaying some level of stupidity, either in general or by buying a really ugly hat. But then that makes other people mad, because you're being insensitive to people who are actually mentally retarded and would not be caught dead in that hat. And so the word that was formally just a regular term is now offensive to use at all, even when it's appropriate. Then we have a to come up with a new words for "retarded," but I bet it's only a matter of time before "mentally challenged" goes the same way. It's possible, maybe even likely, that eventually "retarded" will become non-offensive as more people grow up associating it with general stupidity only and not mental disabilities.

I suspect, and I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support this, that that scenario happened to "harelip", perhaps when it was a more common and less fixable condition. How long before "cleft lip" starts being used as a derogatory term? C'mon, you can call someone a Clefty*. That's offensive and catchy.

In any case, I feel bad about using the term at all now, because looking up info about it only leads me to pictures of cute babies with cleft lips and palates. How am I supposed to feel superior to my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend if I start thinking of her as a sweet innocent baby whose face didn't develop properly in the womb? Maybe I should have accused her of having a hairy lip. Even better, a full beard. Yeah, we'll go with that. She's a total bearded lady, and he picked her up at the circus. She probably uses the term "harelip," too, which, as we all know, is very offensive. She's so insensitive.

*Okay, that was offensive, and I knew it. I have no excuse.


baseball girlfriends.

I'm fascinated by social groups formed by the significant others of people who hang out together. I can't say that I've ever been in a group like that. My friend Amy was in the group of baseball players' girlfriends in high school. They would all sit together and chat during games, because there was nothing else to do. Some of these girls were people that I knew she did not like. And yet she spent several hours a week talking to them. The really weird thing was that once the connection was severed, so was the relationship. Once baseball season was over, she didn't hang out with those girls anymore. And if one of the players broke up with his girl, then she was no longer part of the group. I suppose I should be in some sort of band girlfriend group. I should be hanging out with the drummer's girlfriend at shows, but I hang out by myself instead. As a result, I don't even know the girl's last name, despite us having boyfriends in the same band for over a year. I guess that's just what it's like to be me.

It's not that I don't understand about temporary relationships. I have had many. Someone I sat next to in a class one semester, an old roommate that I never bonded with, an coworker who left for another job. We had exactly one thing in common, and when that thing was done, so was our relationship, even if I talked to them often or liked them. That person is gone from my life, probably forever, and it doesn't bother me at all. Sometimes I might hang on to a relationship if I felt there was a connection with the person which went beyond whatever caused us to meet in the first place. But the ratio of people I kept to the people who have basically fallen off the face of the earth is very small.

And this baseball girlfriend thing, it's like that, except the thing you have in common is even more removed. The relationship is even more tenuous than hanging out with your boyfriend's friends. It's like letting someone else pick your friends. Two people who have a class together might have at least one interest in common. Having boyfriends that play the same sport seems even less likely to yield a connection.

Seeing my sisters-in-law over Thanksgiving made me realize that I might someday be part of a group like theirs - the members of a family who were not born into it. Then Josh and I went to a party with his step-brother and his girlfriend. I started looking at the girlfriend in a new light, realizing that if the stars aligned properly, I could be hanging out with her for the next fifty years. I could be invited to the birthday parties of her children. We might comfort each other at the death of an extended family member. It would be like we were sisters, but always with the possibility of having that tie severed. If either of our relationships ended, I would probably never see her again. We are baseball girlfriends in a neverending season.

I like the girl. I admit I am trying harder than I normally do to talk to her, because I know we might be bumping into each other at family gatherings for years. Of course, my normal social anxiety is not helped by this analysis of the situation, but that's what it's like to be me. Seriously, does anyone else in the world ever think about this stuff?

As I talk to her, I try to figure out how our relationship will develop. Will we be close, or will we just be extended family? Will we be limited to small talk at Christmas, or will we call each other up for parenting advice? How likely are two men who grew up in the same house to pick spouses that will bond with each other?

Of course, I have no answers and no foresight. I doubt you expected any, and frankly, you're surprised to find that anyone really thinks about this stuff. That's just what it's like to be me.


reckless gene.

My sisters-in-law have a support group. They get together to ask each other if their husband is weird or if their husband's whole family is weird. Usually they come away feeling better from the meeting, knowing that it's all their in-law's fault. This better prepares them to deal with the fact that their children are starting to act kinda weird, too.

I caught them in a meeting on Thanksgiving. Their item of discussion was the "reckless gene." I think everyone blames my dad for this one, though my mother is hardly Princess Grace. But Daddy has that combination of the reckless gene and testosterone. He's rolled a lawnmower over on himself and been gored by countless goats. He'll come in from outside with blood all over his face and not even know it. He once made my nephew cry by poking him in the side with a fork. The kid's mother, who has been in this family a long, long time, resolved the situation by looking at her son and calmly saying, "Honey, Grandpa is dangerous."

I never saw myself as a clumsy person until Josh told me that I was. I knew that I tripped or ran into things sometimes, but everybody does that. I don't think I do it more than anyone else, and frankly, I would like a second opinion. He is afraid of me, thinking that severe bodily harm becomes increasingly more likely the more time he spends with me. He keeps his distance every time I'm wielding something sharp. I told him the story about my dad poking my nephew with a fork, and suddenly he's hiding all the forks in the house. Sure I step on his toe every once in a while and I did stick a muddy finger in his eye once, but I resent being treated like a walking time bomb. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

One of my sisters-in-law called it "obliviousness." I think this is more accurate, and in my case, I think it's more like "lack of awareness." It's like when you're going through puberty, and your body is growing so quickly that you haven't had time to get used to its new size. So you're bumping into things and knocking into others because you haven't figured out that your arms and legs extend that far. The reckless gene is nothing more than a very extended awkward stage.

So maybe I'm clumsy, but I come by it honestly. It came with the nose. And now I have someone to blame every time I step on Josh's poor little whiny toe. It wasn't me.

It was Reckless Gene.


everything's alright.

I haven't had any contact with my ex-boyfriend since we broke up three years ago. Considering we were together about eight and a half years, a lot of people find our complete and total separation bizarre. Everyone says that they want to be friends after a break-up, but I have to tell you that total silence is a great way to encourage moving on. This person used to be the most important one in my life, now he's gone completely, so adapt NOW.

I have always figured that running into him at some point is inevitable. I imagined these confrontations being at different locations and in different situations, but the format is generally the same. Usually he had a new girl with him, usually one displaying genes which should have been ruled out by natural selection generations ago. I would be very cool and collected, wearing something modest but highlighting my natural beauty. Sometimes he would start an argument over some thing in our past relationship, whereupon I would show superior rhetoric skills and logic and prove him to be wrong, all wrong about everything that ever happened between us. If I was daydreaming in a good mood, he would start the conversation by just apologizing immediately. Then he would give me that dress mannequin that I paid $2 for a yard sale but that ended up in his apartment. The world would be right again.

So yeah, that hasn't happened. Thankfully, as time passed, my desire for such a confrontation lessened. I let go of a little bitterness, I conceded to myself that I was not so innocent with regard to the disintegration of our relationship. My imagined scenes became less confrontational, though his new girl still had a harelip and noticeable body odor. I didn't want retribution and groveling apologies so much as a sort of friendly "Hey, I'm okay, and as far as I'm concerned, everything's cool between us."

The internet makes it easier to be silent. You don't actually have to contact someone to find out what they are doing now. There are blogs and social networking sites and all that to fill the void. If he wanted to see what I was up to, all he had to do was come right here. And I go to his blog and web site periodically, just to see what's new in his world. For some reason, I am always surprised at how much he seems to be the same person. I guess I expected him to change in some really obvious way. After all, I've changed a lot. I have really long hair now and I've learned to like both South Park and beer; I'm like a completely different person.

It's actually comforting to know that he is still him and not the sort of person that would actually start a fight with me in public about five-year-old wrongs. His apparent stasis makes our relationship feel like it happened in a dream a long time ago, maybe even to someone other than me. I'm a different person, but he appears to be the same, so obviously, it must have been someone else. I'm sure if we met again, I'd be surprised at all the little things that are different about him. Perhaps he eats mayonnaise now. I can't even describe how that would blow my mind.

I don't know if we'll ever be friends again, and I'm not worried about it either way. As far as I'm concerned, everything's cool between us. He can even keep the dress mannequin.*

* I mean, if he wanted to get rid of the dress mannequin, because, like, it was taking up space and stuff, I would probably be willing to take it off his hands. You know, if he was sick of having it. That's all. It's not a big deal, and I am totally over the dress mannequin issue.


bailey park.

I'm on a yard saling expedition with Josh and Sarah, my twelve-year-old niece. It hasn't been a terrible morning as far as yard sales go, though this is Memorial Day weekend, and so there aren't a lot of sales. Still, we're driving around, following the homemade signs to whatever house has a bunch of junk piled out front. I turn into a neighborhood that has two such signs posted at the entrance and stop at a modest house. Out front were a couple of tables. As we pull up, a Hispanic woman in her thirties comes outside, leaving an unknown number of children talking inside. "They want to keep everything," she explains to us. I am curious, because though I have seen many folks from south of the border at yard sales, this one is my first where a Hispanic was hosting it.

We looked around a bit, didn't see anything we desperately needed, said a nice thank you, and left. As we drove further into the neighborhood, I noticed that all the houses were of a similar type: cookie-cutter affairs with vinyl siding, clean and new, though small. These were clearly starter homes. We followed the signs to the other yard sale in the area, and as we stopped, we saw that once again, a Hispanic woman was in charge. This time I did make a small purchase. As we got into the car, I remarked to Josh, "I think we're in Bailey Park." And because Josh is Josh, he knew what I meant.

For those of you who are not Josh, Bailey Park is the name of the neighborhood of homes built by the Bailey Building and Loan in It's a Wonderful Life. Bailey Park was where people who didn't have a lot of money could still buy their own nice, clean homes in safe neighborhoods. It was where people who immigrated here in the pursuit of the American Dream could actually find a piece of it instead of having to live under leaky roofs in high-crime areas.

Sarah asked me why I liked this neighborhood so much. To her, the houses looked fine, but not necessarily something that anyone would ever fantasize about. Josh and I tried to explain it to her, using phrases like "American Dream" and "middle-class aspirations," but I don't think we were able to communicate our feelings very well. That's okay. She's only twelve, and she'll get it someday. One day, she'll look at a neighborhood like this and be glad that places like it still exist.


the new old thing.

I sit on the floor with a roll of paper towels, a squirt bottle of off-brand window cleaner, and a paperclip. It is a Saturday afternoon, and I have come home from a morning of yard sales. I am sweaty and dirty because I just spent a few hours pawing through unwanted items in the heat. I am wearing yesterday's clothes, pulled off of my bedroom floor at 8 AM. My attention is focused on something I acquired that very morning. I am performing the ritualistic cleaning of The New Old Thing.

I apply a few generous squirts of window cleaner to The New Old Thing and begin wiping off the traces of the previous owner. Some of the stains won't come off, but the improvement is noticeable. I use the paperclip for detail work as I poke into tight spaces to get out accumulated grossness. I find that using a curved edge works better than an extended pointy end and doesn't leave scratch marks. I unscrew parts to examine them for completeness and clean them individually. I turn The New Thing upside down so as to get to some of the harder angles. Looking at this thing right-side up, you'd never even notice those dirty spots, but I am determined to be thorough.

I am welcoming The New Old Thing to my life. It used to live somewhere else, and it gave many great years of service to another. The previous owner never gave it such a scrubbing as it was receiving today. And then it was discarded, maybe reluctantly, but discarded nonetheless. It sat in the hot Saturday sunshine on a table next to other discarded things. Then I saw it, wanted it, haggled over it, bought it, and brought it home to start anew.

I know that I am never again going to clean it like this ever again. If it happened to be on the receiving end of a nasty spill, I might give it a quick wipe-down, but nothing involving disassembly or a paperclip. I bought The New Old Thing so that it could be useful to me, and it doesn't require spotlessness to do that. I already know it well enough to know that it doesn't mind being dirty, so long as it can still get the job done.

This is part of the resurrection of The New Old Thing. The first part was my buying it out of someone's trash pile. Now I'm cleaning it up to give it a fresh start. I'm getting to know it, figure out how the parts go together, what works flawlessly, what squeaks while working flawlessly. I have sat on the floor with many New Old Things, cleaning and restoring them to welcome them into my collection of New Old Things. Sometimes I tighten screws or touch up paint with colored markers.

It's the same feeling as taking a New New Thing out of its box and reading the instructions, popping the bubble wrap, reveling in the ownership of a New Thing. But in this case, we are giving an Old Thing a second chance to be New. And couldn't we all use a second chance once in a while?


2 AM.

He was kinda tipsy and her feet hurt. The bar was closing, but there was a party at someone's house and everyone was invited. He wanted to go, and her feet hurt.

He didn't know where the party was but he could definitely get a ride. He didn't know the guy who was throwing the party, but he knew the band, the members of which were friends of the guy who was throwing the party and who had been assured him that it was totally cool if he came along. He didn't get out as much as he used to in college.

It was 2 AM and her feet hurt. She'd dressed nice for the evening and was wearing high heels. They looked great but felt awful after four hours standing on a hard floor, even with the wine. The wine had worn off a while ago. She'd come to see the band with him, even though she didn't know them very well. She was happy to go, because she loved him, and she had liked the band. It had been a fun evening, but it was now 2 AM and her feet were seriously killing her.

"There's a party at someone's house," he said.

"Yeah. Is that what you want to do?" she said. She knew he wanted to go.

"Maybe," he said. He knew that her feet hurt.

There was a long silence, as they watched the other happy bar patrons exiting and going off to their parties or their homes, depending on whether their feet hurt. They both hoped for distraction from this issue, though they knew it would have to be addressed.

"You can go if you want," she said. She didn't want to be a mean girlfriend.

"No, it's okay. We can go home," he said. He didn't want to be in the doghouse.

"Are you sure?" she asked. She knew he was afraid of the doghouse, and wanted to make it clear that it really was okay if he went. Really.

"Yeah, no, it's late," he said. He didn't believe her.

He explained to his friends that he was just going to head on out, and they understood because they saw her standing next to him. She resented being seen as a ball and chain or a leash, but in the end, her feet hurt and she was secretly relieved to get her way. They walked off with his arm over her shoulder.

As they left, Josh and I turned to look at each other, both of us shaken by the surreal event of having something from your past acted out in front of you. We had stood by them, unable to tear our eyes away from the drama unfolding before us. We watched it happen exactly as it has happened between the two of us when it's 2 AM. He's gone home before he was ready, and I'd stayed out when my feet hurt. I hoped that by watching the scene between another couple, I might be able to figure out the answer. What should happen? What is the proper ending to the play?

I came up with nothing. I sympathized with him, because he was having a good time and he wanted to keep doing that. And I sympathized with her, because she'd been hanging out with his friends all evening and was trying to be understanding. Maybe the answer is that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do because other times the other person has to do things they don't want to do. It doesn't seem like much of an answer, and it won't help me the next time it's 2 AM and my feet hurt, but it's all I've got.


it's all gravy.

We were having a gravy race.

I love homemade gravy. It's delicious science, is what it is. You have some liquid, you add some thickening agent and flavor, stir awhile and there's your gravy. Why does it thicken? I don't know, that's the science part. You don't need a silly little store-bought packet. You do need patience.

I am not patient with gravy. The recipes always make it sound like a quick step. "Add the broth and then stir until thickened." I mean, that doesn't sound like very long, does it? And because I apparently have no accumulated memory, I don't remember the last time I thought making gravy wouldn't take very long and so I wonder why this time is taking so for-EV-er. I think about adding more flour or cornstarch, but I apparently do have some accumulated memory, because I remember doing that before, and it didn't turn out well. So I just keep stirring. And complaining.

We were making meatballs for Thanksgiving, 95 of them to be exact. We had rolled them out and placed them into neat little rows, like tiny rotund Swedish soldiers, ready for a battle with hunger. But my pans would only hold about thirty meatballs at a time, and so we had to cook them and their gravy in shifts. After the meatballs had been browned, it was time to make gravy. Each of us had added all the ingredients and were deep in the stirring stage. It was just a matter of whose gravy would thicken first.

You've probably never had a gravy race before. I'm not sure if ours was typical (or perhaps it was the first ever?), but there seemed to be a lot of trash talk.

"You call that gravy? That runny stuff wouldn't even clog an artery."

"It's thicker than that brown dish water you've got going over there."

"Your mama."

There was also a lot of kissing, which might seem like it didn't go with the trash talk, but we made it work.

I thought of an interpersonal psychology class I had taken a couple of years ago at a community college. We were talking about examples of quality time, ways to spend time with someone else that would allow you to bond. I suggested making dinner together. One woman thought I was crazy, as if I had just suggested a nice romantic walk across hot coals. I should look her up and suggest that she and her husband have a gravy race.


the only pretty pen-pal in Montana.

I briefly mentioned my pen pal before, and I thought that I would take the time to mention her less briefly today. A couple of years ago, I started feeling that I wasn't doing enough to help the world, and so I started looking into volunteer programs. I looked mostly at tutoring math, but most of the programs were more after school than after day job hours. Then I started thinking about those prison pen pal programs that are always the basis for wacky situations on half hour network comedies.

I'm going to pause here to let my mother freak out for a little bit while she thinks about me writing letters to felons. In fact, I'm going to depart completely from my topic, knowing she'll read whatever is next out of motherly obligation. She'll read it as fast as she can, sure, but she'll read it, trying to get to the part where I reassure her about the felons.

I once had a pen pal in third grade or so, arranged through the school. My classmates and I were all paired up with the classmates in some other school in Montana. My girl sent me a picture of her with her pet bunny, and all the boys in my class thought she was really pretty. Or maybe they just liked a girl who could handle a rabbit. In any case, I enjoyed a very weird sort of popularity for having the only pretty pen pal in Montana. Later, the pen pal (what was her name?) wrote and asked for that particular picture back, because her bunny had died and that was the only photo she had of him. Because of the really bizarre popularity that picture provided me, I was very reluctant to send it back. How did young Sandra respond to this early test of her willingness to help out her fellow man? I'll just say that I found a picture of a very cute little girl holding a rabbit in my stuff a couple of years ago.

Alright, my mom is getting pretty antsy now, so I'll just let you know that you have to have a P.O. box to write to a felon, and I don't. I was secretly relieved. No matter how funny it is when Steve Urkel's convicted pen pal gets out of jail and comes to see him, I can imagine other scenarios that would end up on the 10 PM crime drama. And of course, that's very unfair to judge the incarcerated that way, but there you go.

But I did find a nursing home in California which had a pen pal program for its residents. And this sounded like a great idea for me, because I could feel helpful to the world without actually having to leave the house. It also gave me an excuse to buy stationery.

I'd always really liked pen pals. On that old PBS show, Ghostwriter, there was a cute Hispanic kid named Alex who had about fifty pen pals all over the world. He had a map up on his wall with push-pins representing each long-distance friend.

Alex is the cute one on the very left. He's totally working those early 90s clothes.

I thought Alex was really cool.

Aside from the prettiest pen pal in Montana, I had another pen pal for about five years who lived in New York. We wrote each other from about third grade to eighth grade, a time period that seems really long in retrospect. I found some of her letters recently, and I was shocked at the things I had told her, including highly-sensitive information about a crush on a boy that I never told anyone else in the world about. I guess that's the good thing about pen pals, the level of trust that comes with distance. Of course it is possible that the entire town of Victor, New York knows about how I almost "went with" that boy. I found a letter where she told me about her first kiss, and it was terribly sweet, like the stuff of a sappy coming of age movie. Of course, I cringe to think of all the letters of mine that might exist somewhere and how I probably sounded idiotic and naive. But she, she was sweet.

I actually sent a letter to this girl's old address a couple of years ago, but either she moved or she wasn't interested in putting a push pin on Raleigh, NC. I would have liked to inform her that I, too, have since been kissed by a boy (but not by that other one). I like to assume that she moved. Lots of people deride denial, but I personally find it very useful in day-to-day ego maintenance.

I wonder if pen pals have fallen out of fashion now that there is email. Of course, you can just have an email pal. But I'll go ahead and give the usual argument in favor of the old-fashioned and say that it's not the same. It's less personal. Maybe something is lost when you can't hold something in your hands and think that it came from someplace far away. Or maybe it's better because it's instant and easier to maintain. Or maybe it's worse because a friendship which is more difficult to keep inherently means more. Or maybe nothing is ever good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

I can't decide. I wish I knew how Alex felt about it.


a complicated karaoke machine.

Call me unsupportive, but I do not enjoy all of Josh's shows. This has nothing to do with the music, but is usually more to do with the setting. There are lots of factors involved, any of which could sweeten or sour my mood. Josh told me this week that he had a frat party to play on Friday. In a barn. Then he told me that he had another one Thursday, but it was indoors. I think he told me about the outdoor one first so that the indoor one wouldn't seem so bad in comparison. I've been to an fall outdoor frat party before. It was not a good time.

Last year (or was it two years ago?), the band played in a field out near Turkey, NC. I am not even making that up. It was someone's dad's farm, and people had tents set up for camping. It was dusk when we got there and started setting up the equipment on the back of a flatbed truck. They had rented huge lights and a bonfire was already going strong. Once all the carrying is done, I don't have much involvement in setting up. I don't know how the drums go together and I can't tune anything. So during the setting up stage, I start looking around and gauging just what sort of night I'm about to have. I check out the people, the location of the restrooms and beer sources, any possibilities for food.

There are a couple advantages to playing at frat parties. One is that they have their ducks in a row with regards to payment. You play in a bar, you sometimes have to hassle a couple of people to get paid, and even then the band might get screwed over. But frat boys pay in advance at an agreed rate. They pay with checks. You can make your own joke about whose bank account it comes from.

But the big advantage as far as I'm concerned about frat parties is that they are always catered. You probably already know this about me, but it bears repeating: Getting free food makes me way happier than it should. After a big helping of NC barbeque with lots of fixins, I was starting to think that going to frat parties in fields wasn't so bad.

It started getting cold fast. I wasn't really prepared to spend all night out in the cold, but luckily, we were dealing with some particularly resourceful frat boys. Seeing the fire die down, they threw a couch on it. Whose couch was it? I don't know. Did the owner of the couch approve its being burned at the stake? I don't know that either. It sure did burn, though.

But I find that there is one major disadvantage of frat parties: sorority girls.

Give me a chance here. We all know that I can be very catty and judgmental, but I'm not going to complain about girls in tiny outfits in the middle of winter. I'm not going to complain about pretty girls talking to my boyfriend. I'm not even going to make any math-is-hard-let's-go-shopping jokes. I feel like I have a legitimate complaint here with regard to sorority girls, and it's all about how they treat the band.

Here is the progression. First, they start dancing. And that's fine. Some of it is kinda dirty and maybe I'd rather not see it, but whatever, that's fine. They dance some with the guys, but even after a few beers, most guys aren't really into dancing. So they dance with each other. It gets pretty silly. I start to wonder why these girls are so popular.

After a while, they decide they really want to dance to a particular song. I'm sure this is generational, but for the girls at the parties I go to, they want to hear stuff from the 80s. They want to hear "Billie Jean." Really, they'll settle for anything they know. If you started playing something from the mid-90s, they will only pout for a second before they start dancing with their girlfriends again. But note that at the end of the song, they will ask for the 80s again. I feel that I should note that most of the girls have no memory of the Reagan administration. I, uh, remember it a little bit.

I should pause and explain that it's really frustrating for people to request a band to play covers. Some bands only play covers. They are called, appropriately enough, "cover bands." They are incredibly popular and probably make enough money touring college towns that they can give up their day jobs if they are careful with their money. They fill the bars with happy people having nostalgia with their margaritas and so the bars like them. But they never get famous. And if you are a non-cover band, people will get frustrated by the fact that they don't know any of the songs that you're playing. And they will ask you to play songs that they do know. They will get mad that you don't happen to know a particular song out of millions of songs that they favor. You will get mad that you worked hard to write a song and they're not even listening because it's not "Billie Jean."

Okay, back to the sorority girls who want to hear 80s songs. The requesting of covers is annoying, but it's common and not particular to the girls at these parties. At some point, the band gives in and plays something the girls will know. They play Tom Petty or Weezer or even "Billie Jean." This is when the girls start to get really irritating.

They get on stage. It's like a rule, or maybe some sort of law of nature that they are attracted to the spot where they will garner the most attention. They've been dancing the whole time, and it was fun, but now it's time for them to seriously start being noticed. The stage calls to them. "Come dance upon me!" it cries. And they, feeling the call of the stage, must oblige it.

I do not understand this at all. Granted, I'm kind of a wallflower, but even so, jumping up on a stage uninvited during a performance seems beyond the pale. When you go to a play, do you jump up on the stage and sit on the set? You don't go to an art gallery and start touching the paintings. I suspect these girls, being young and pretty and popular, are used to getting their way, particularly from males. So if they decide that they want to be on stage, they do it.

Maybe you don't think that's annoying. You think I'm just irritated that these drunk girls are up there next to my boyfriend. What kind of a prude doesn't like dancing girls on stage? But just wait, it gets worse.

So you've got half a dozen girls on stage now, dancing, shaking what their Mamas gave them. It's not usually a huge stage, so it's a bit cramped. And then, I kid you not, they start taking over the instruments. Obviously, the microphone goes first. They start screaming into the mike or calling out to their friends or singing. They have totally forgotten that someone has been paid to sing into that mike, and it wasn't them. Then one of them starts hitting the cymbals with a finger. A couple of them play air guitar before trying to strum the actual guitars with their manicured fingernails. This is while the band is playing.

Are you shocked? You should be shocked. Think about that some more until you are thoroughly shocked. This is completely unacceptable behavior. The band is here to perform for your enjoyment. They are not a complicated karaoke machine. They are not here to give you music lessons.

And yet it is allowed. Because the band is here to live up to the agreement of playing a show. And the people that hired them want the girls to be happy. They want them to have fun and drink more. And if having fun means playing with the expensive musical equipment, then by golly, that's what they shall have.

But I am ever the optimist, and there is a glittery silver lining to this drunk and screaming cloud. When the girls start taking over the instruments, it becomes pointless for the band to play. So they stop. The girls might try to play with the instruments for a while, but they soon get bored with it once they remember that they don't actually have any sort of ability. Once the music is gone, someone turns on a stereo, and the band is pretty much done for the night. And having been paid in advance, we are free to leave.

That was the way it went last year (or was it two years ago?) in Turkey, NC. And that was the way it went last night. I am not particularly looking forward to tonight, but at least I know what to expect.



Before we start, does anyone have a handy mnemonic device for remembering that stationery (with an 'e') means writing paper and stationary (with an 'a') means standing still? Also, if you could supply a similar way to remember that cemetery is the place where they bury people, and Cemetary is the 90s Swedish gothic metal band? My life would be much simpler.

I have a very impressive collection of stationery. I mean, if you're impressed by that sort of thing. My stockpile includes writing paper, note cards, cards for occasions, fancy paper and fancy envelopes, some of which even match. I get the stuff at discount stores, thrift stores, and yard sales. I've been collecting it a while. I only recently finished up using some stationery that I received from being a member of the Baby-sitter's Club Book Club, not to mention some that my brother printed for me around 1995. I do not currently have any Lisa Frank stationery (careful, that web site is excruciatingly girly). I wish I did, because I would love to send mail featuring my very favorite Lisa Frank character, Bananigans.

I keep it all in a clear plastic storage container. Well, I would keep all of it in there, except that my collection has outgrown its storage. It's a weakness of mine. But like any good weakness, I've found a way to justify it to myself. Seriously, I can quit anytime I want.

My justification is that I do use the stuff to send mail to other people, and receiving mail makes those other people happy. In fact, I have a pen pal. She's a nursing home patient in California. I bet you did not know that about me. You think I'm a good person now.

I find that snail mail has a very good effort to happiness ratio. It really doesn't take that much effort to scratch down a note and stick it in the mail. But people go nuts. Mail! In the mailbox! That they can hold in their hands! You'd be amazed at what one little personal card can do in this age of electronic mail and junk mail. And then your friends will think you are so kind and so considerate and you will feel good because you are indeed so kind and so considerate. It's all about making yourself feel good.

I also use the stuff to send birthday cards. My New Year's resolution last year was to send cards to every member of my family on their birthdays. I get very few thank you cards or emails or any sort of acknowledgment at all. But that's okay, because I don't do it to be thanked, and I don't fault parents for being busy. When I do get a thank you back, it's very sweet. When I don't get one, I think about how cool it is to have time that I can fritter away on mail-related hobbies instead of on expensive and needy hobbies with snotty noses that look like mine.

I do it to throw out a line to people. Maybe someday down the road, one of my twenty nieces or nephews is going to remember that they have an aunt that they don't see all that often but who remembers them and is there if needed. I'm just keeping the communication lines open.

So now you know some things you might not have known about me. Let's sum up.

1. I have a lot of stationery.
2. I used to be in the Baby-sitter's Club Book Club.
3. My favorite Lisa Frank character is Bananigans (since this afternoon when I looked up Lisa Frank on Wikipedia and saw that inspired name in the list of characters).
4. I have a pen pal.
5. I am very selfish and have elaborate plots to make myself feel good.
6. I can't remember how to spell stationery (had to look it up), but I do know how to spell mnemonic. If there is a branch of psychology that deals with spelling, this might provide a very interesting glimpse into my psyche.
7. There was a Swedish gothic metal band in the 1990s named Cemetary.

That last one's not actually about me at all.


me and my magic blood.

I've blogged about giving blood before, and so it's widely documented that I hate doing it. I've covered my traumatic childhood experience that I think developed into my fear of needles, as well as bad experiences I've had as an adult trying to give blood. And I've mentioned the irrational anxiety that comes over me every time I even start considering visiting a blood drive. Did you know that I always picture myself suddenly bending my elbow such that the needle is jammed up into me? Why would I ever do that? Why does that image always haunt me?

I find that preparation is a powerful calming narcotic for me, so I've got the process streamlined by now. I know the things I need to do to make it a relatively easy process and to keep myself from passing out right afterwards. I know to drink lots of water beforehand (no, really, lots) and I know to tell them that they have to use my right arm. Don't even try old Lefty over there, she won't give you nothin'.

Even though I've done it probably ten times and I know what to do to make it easy, I still hate it. So let's talk about why I keep doing it. After all, there are lots of things that I don't like to do, and for the most part, I don't do them (eating canteloupe, jogging, poking myself in the eye). One of the reasons that I do it is because of my anxiety. I always feel a tiny bit heroic when I give blood, because I know I'm so scared to do it. I'm being brave, like St. George facing the dragon, er, bloodmobile, or at least like a ten year old standing up to a bully.

But aside from making me feel like I'm conquering some of my own phobias, I feel like it's an important thing for everyone to do. I feel a bit more connected with the rest of humanity when I give blood. It's recognizing that we all need to help each other out sometimes. Somebody needs help, and it may or may not be because of anything they can control. Because we are the same kind of animal, we have these very basic, biological things in common. But because we're human, I have the ability to decide that I want to give it to you instead of using it myself. "Here, I made this for you. No, it's cool, I got stuff to make more for myself. You need this right now."

I secretly wish that I had a really rare blood type, so whenever I showed up, everyone would cheer for me and my magic blood. Actually, I have the most common blood type, O+. It goes with my brown hair and brown eyes. Luckily, I can still give to anyone else who has positive blood, which covers most of the population. The Red Cross still wants my blood, they told me so.

And they want your blood, too. Unless you're a mad cow, in which case they still think you're a nice person.


we believe in exopat!

Today, I am going to write about one of my very favorite cooking items. I cannot believe the amount of enthusiasm that I am able to muster for a kitchen utensil. It makes me feel sorta boring. In fact, this may be the most boring blog entry ever. But if so, then at least I went ahead and got it out of the way. Now I can go ahead and write about other boring things without fear. After all, they can't be more boring than this.

This kitchen item is always dirty. That's because I use it all the time and also because I'm a crappy housekeeper. It is a powerful baking tool, and is useful in the preparation of many kinds of foods. It also has a great super-hero type name, and I wrote a song for it.


Exopat is lots of fun!
It is made of silicon!
We believe in Exopat!

If you don't have one of these nifty little mats, then I pity you. Not only do your cookies stick to the cookie sheet, you can't sing the song. What joy is in your life? We bake pizza, french fries, bread, and cookies on the Exopat. It as versitile as it is musical. We make pizza at least once a week, and fries might be made every other day. Our Exopat gets lots of use. Sometimes they go on sale on Amazon. Yes, they look expensive when you could just use aluminum foil. But considering other items made of silicon that cost much more and don't improve your cookie-baking at all, I think it's well worth it.

Last weekend, Josh and I were at my mother's house and we wanted to make french fries. I knew Mama had an Exopat and so I went about searching for it. I looked in a cabinet and found the beloved baking sheet. But when I pulled it out, I noticed - what's this? - it was torn! I screamed and fainted at the sight of the gory wound. To see a beautiful Exopat cut down in its prime, when it had many more cookies left to bake evenly without sticking! Poor Exopat!

For an example of what to do with your Exopat, here is our French Fry recipe. I mentioned it before, then had to give it to two people because I hadn't posted it. So here.

French Fries
Adapted from Allrecipes

1 large baking potato
1 T olive oil
1/2 t paprika
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t onion power
1/4 t cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Cut potato into fries. You can make them as big as you want, but you may need to up the temperature if you do so. You can peel them, but then you'd be missing some potato nutrients. Sing "My Name is Potato" while cutting.
3. Take a Ziploc bag and put in oil and spices. Add potato pieces. CLOSE THE BAG, and then shake it all over the place. You may still sing "My Name is Potato" and dance while doing this.
4. Look for your EXOPAT! Realize it's dirty from pizza yesterday. Wash it and put it on a cookie sheet. Sing the Exopat song.
5. Throw your delicious seasoned potatoes onto the Exopat. Spread them out in nice even rows if you're particular about things like that.
6. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Take fries out, flip them over and put them back in oven. Bake for another 15 minutes.

We dip these in homemade ranch dressing while we thank the heavens for Exopat.


how buying a siddhartha head is like buying a house.

I subscribe to a blog about yard sales (disclaimer for my mother - there is coarse language on the blog), specifically about the terrific and horrific things you find there. But the blog also gets into some yard sale theory, a term that I just invented (and a class I'd love to teach). There's a good entry today about the fluidity of value and the similarities between yard saling and selling real estate. Here's an excerpt:

I think that real estate agents are also very tuned into the concept of value being fluid. That is, an item’s value is really whatever someone is actually willing to pay at a given time and place, and not some well-defined number that can’t be argued with (no matter what some “collectible price guides” would like to think). Haggling (or “making a counter-offer”) is a completely normal thing to do in both activities — though I’m glad to say that having someone offer more than the asking price is practically unheard of at yard sales. This price fluidity can be really great or really frustrating when you are dealing with secondhand items. Just like people might have a hard time accepting that their house isn’t going to sell for what they think it should, there are yard sale sellers who think that if something sold on eBay for a certain amount, their similar item should get the same price at their yard sale. On the other hand, when you find something that’s priced fairly to you, it’s a beautiful thing (even if the person next to you wouldn’t have paid half that much for it).

This is something that I've thought a fair amount about, and an attitude that I gradually adopted the more I bought things used. I didn't even realize that I'd developed this outlook until one of the first times that I took Josh yard saling. He was eying this statue of the head of Siddhartha. We had asked the price, and it was something like three bucks. Josh whispered to me, "Is it worth that?" I shrugged and replied, "I don't know. Is it worth that to you?"

That's really the point when you're at a yard sale. It's not about what the seller thinks it's worth or how much he paid for it in the first place, it's about what you're willing to pay for it. Would you rather have the statue or the x dollars? For what value of x does that answer change? Can you get the seller to agree to that value? Sometimes, you can't. Their value system is too different from yours.

Since there is a disconnect between your value system and the seller's, this means you have to let some things pass. That's hard to do sometimes, but I promise I've regretted buying something much more frequently than I've regretted not buying an item. Learning to not buy something seems to be a useful skill in other areas, too, one that is especially useful now that my value system is so skewed to expect yard sale prices on everything.

If you were curious, he did buy the statue. I think he might have negotiated the price down, though. He's a quick learner.


you might as well jump.

Maybe I'm giving away secrets here, but Josh has been working on his stage presence. He's already got a look - ridiculous sunglasses and a white lab coat. Now he's decided that he needs an act. For the most part, when he plays, he stands and plays the bass. He sways a little bit, shifting from one foot to the other. I think this is perfectly acceptable. He's the bassist; he's not supposed to be animated. The bassist is the dark, brooding, mysterious one. That's the persona that I want and am attracted to. If I wanted animated, I would have gone out with a lead guitarist.

But the crowd likes it when the band is active on stage. I can sort of understand that, because fun can be infectious. But then I think about a band we saw once where the bassist was not dark, brooding, and mysterious at all. He did jump kicks. There was also a lot of the wide playing stance and some forceful nodding and hand-raising. But it was the jump kicks that got me. It made me wonder if that guy did jump kicks in his daily life. I can see him sitting in class, getting back a graded exam, finding out that he totally aced it, and doing a jump kick in the middle of the classroom. The whole thing came off as too contrived. I hate contrivance. Also, I'm no musician, but it seems like it would be pretty hard to play the bass if you're constantly airborne. Shouldn't it be about the music, man?

I'm being a stick in the mud. I know that a concert is a performance, it is entertainment. If the crowd likes it when the band members jump and dance and writhe around on the floor, then that's what they will do. It has nothing to do with sincerity, and a lot of times, it doesn't even have that much do with the music. Besides, even if the act is forced doesn't mean that it's necessarily fake. Maybe that guy wants to be the kind of person who jump kicks in class, but it's only on stage that he can let his inner jump kicker out.

Does the rest of the audience even think about this? Do they think jump kicks are ridiculous, too? Perhaps they just think it's fun and they're having fun because the band is having fun and it's fun when it's fun. Nobody cares about being genuine, and there is no prize for it. The Great Pumpkin is not going to visit the band that is the most sincere. However, there are lots of prizes for lots of people having fun at your concert.

I'm not saying that everyone has to stand perfectly still, the way they taught us in sixth grade chorus. I am not immune to the appeal of a band that enjoys playing music for people. But there's got to be a line between keeping your knees locked and jump kicks. As an audience member, I should not be able to tell that you practiced that move at home. I want to believe that you're dancing and grooving because you're having a great time sharing this song with me, because you're so into the music that it's controlling your muscles. I want to believe that it's spontaneous. But if you overdo it, the spell is broken. It's like watching a movie that shows a casual disregard for the laws of physics or (I'm going to be in the doghouse for this one) professional wrestling.

Regardless of all this, Josh is going to do what he wants to do. If the crowd reacts positively to that, then he'll keep doing it. But if a bunch of perky girls start hitting on him, then I'm just going to have to inform them that he's the dark, brooding, and mysterious type, and then send them on their way to the lead guitarist.


fraudulent detergent.

"Hello. This is a recording from the Citibank Fraudulent Activity Branch. We have noticed possible fraudulent activity on your card. First of all, do you have the card in question in your possession? Press 1 for yes, and 2 for no."

"Did you, or someone that you authorized, charge $8.60 at a grocery store on Sunday, October 26th? Press 1 for yes, and 2 for no."

"Thank you for choosing Citibank."

Should I be grateful that Citibank is so alert, or should I be angry that the phone call was supremely unhelpful?

To be fair, I did some unusual activity on my card on Sunday. Here is a summary:

1:45 AM $10 Alley Katz, Richmond, VA (bar tab)
2:15 AM $8 Some gas station, Petersburg, VA (snacks)
2:25 AM $50 Interstate Inn, Petersburg, VA (hotel)
10:30 AM $60 Seibert Towing and Police Impound, Richmond, VA (get my car back)
11:30 AM $30 Same gas station, Petersbrug, VA (gas and a cup of coffee)

Now, I don't go to Richmond very often, and I don't get my car towed very often either. So to say that this is unusual activity for me is fine. In fact, if Citibank had called me and said that somebody might have stolen my credit card and then parked in a tow zone, I'd applaud them and feel that much safer. But no, they call me and ask about the grocery store.

I had been to the grocery store about half an hour before I received the call. I bought laundry detergent and a gallon of milk, and the total cost of those two items was around $8. I don't know exactly, because I am a free-wheeling single chick who can run to the store every time she's out of milk and without even bothering to save the receipt. And so the grocery store charge could conceivably be mine.

But it would have been really helpful if Citibank had bothered to tell me where the grocery store charge happened. They tell me that unusual activity has happened without giving me any indication of what was unusual about it. Maybe they know I don't really wash clothes very much - the purchase of laundry detergent was the unusual activity. I'd be happy to press 2 for no if they asked if I bought a gallon of milk and laundry soap somewhere in Idaho.

So good job, Citibank. I guess. Thanks for letting me know that something was suspicious, even if you can't tell me what it was. Thanks for keeping an eye out when someone buys milk and laundry detergent on my card. I'd hate for you to think that I was the one doing all the laundry.


spätzle-related incidents.

I had two spätzle-related incidents last Saturday. The first was when we were out yard-saling, and I happened to run across something that I thought was a potato ricer. I walked over to the book section of the sale to show it to Josh, thinking he would be very impressed that I could correctly identify a potato ricer. I was going to neglect to mention that the only reason I knew it was a potato ricer was because I had seen one before at a thrift store and thought it was a huge garlic press, only to be corrected by a burly mountain man.

Anyway, I got over to the books, and said, "Hey, look, I found a po-"

"Oh, you found the spätzle press," interrupted the gentleman working the sale. "It's from Germany." Oh. Does this world really need three different devices that squash things through tiny holes?

I decided not to buy the spätzle press, because I'd never even had spätzle before. I might not like it, and then I'd be stuck with a giant garlic press. I don't even have a regular-sized garlic press.

The second spätzle-related incident was at the eastern european restaurant where we had dinner. See, Josh and I had a fancy date, where we actually dressed nicely and then went out to dinner and a show, as opposed to eating a homemade dinner off of plates on our knees while watching a crappy Bela Lugosi movie. We're just keeping the romance alive here. In preparation for our fancy date, I had harnessed the power of the internet to find an interesting restaurant in Raleigh and had come up with J. Betski's. Why did I pick this restaurant? Because I am a food adventurer, and I had never eaten any incarnation of many of the things on the menu.

The restaurant was tiny, and our little table for two was sandwiched in between other little tables. It was packed, which meant there were about 30 people there. We ordered a glass of Hungarian wine for me and Lithuanian beer for him, plus a pierogi appetizer. For dinner, he had the schnitzel, and I had the duck, which came with spätzle. The menu was like a lyrics sheet for a song about words that are fun to say. Schnitzel. Pierogi. Lingonberries. Macadamia!

The bread came, warm and with whipped butter on the side. It tasted very...authentic, which is to say that it must have been invented in Europe during a war or some other shortage of ingredients that make bread delicious. It was very bitter. But me, ever the optimist, said that at least we wouldn't have to worry about filling up on bread before the entrees came. The pierogies were okay, but only okay.

And then the entrees came, smallish portions beautifully arranged, and one bite erased any doubts I had about the restaurant based on the bread. I was shoveling this food into my mouth, and I became fatigued as if the all my energy was being used by my taste buds in the enjoyment of each bite. We reached across the table to trade forkfuls of wonderfully weird food. Everything was delicately and perfectly spiced, as if the chef introduced all the flavor friends to each other and had a big flavor party. I was already calculating when I could come up with an excuse to come to this place again so I could try something else. Or maybe the duck again.

Though I had struggled to finish every last bite of my meal (and I did it, dadgummit), I knew dessert was in order. A table across the aisle was enjoying some sort of pastry covered with caramel stripes and filled with thin apple slices. We ordered one of those (strudel) and a pot of coffee. Yes, a pot. They brought out a large french press for the pair of us and brewed our coffee right there. It was fresh and delicious. I felt revived.

We were sad to have to leave, but we had concert tickets. We left full and elated, slightly caffeinated. I was thinking of the many new treats introduced to me. The spiced cabbage. The pickled pumpkins. The spätzle.

The spätzle!

I should have bought the spätzle press.


biscuit spit.

It was a Saturday morning, and I had decided to take on biscuits. There are many foods which I wish to someday conquer, foods which can be acquired in a almost-completed state at the grocery store. I want to prove to the world that I can do it better than the expensive, yet convenient packaged goods. I had already defeated frozen pizza and fries, but now it was time for biscuits. Also, I'm dating a nice Southern boy, and I think biscuit-making abilities might be a prerequisite for marriage.

For about the fiftieth time since I started cooking, I discovered that making something from scratch is not as difficult as the convenience food companies would have you believe. I mixed the ingredients, used a canister lid to cut the biscuits, and stuck them in the oven. When they came out ten minutes later, they were not as fluffy looking as I might have liked, but they were mine. I took a bite.

Then spit it out.

Josh stared at me. This was the first time he'd ever seen me spit out food, and perhaps he was determining whether our relationship was worth the risk of ever seeing it again. Maybe I should have considered my audience more carefully before shooting a half-eaten biscuit bite from my mouth to my hand, but the biscuit was just plain bad. To his credit, he also tore off a small bite and put it in his mouth. He managed to swallow it, but he was raised better than I was.

I started wondering where I had gone wrong. There's no way the recipe, which came highly recommended, was meant to turn out like that. Those things tasted like pure baking soda. I mean, that sorta made sense, because I had put a lot of baking soda in. It was in the recipe! See, right there, baking...powder. Well, there's the problem.

"Oh, I used the wrong ingredient," I explained to Josh as he rooted around in the fridge for something to get the bad biscuit taste out of his mouth. Suddenly, he swooped upon me, taking me in his arms, rubbing my back and kissing my cheek, murmuring, "Oh, it's okay, s'okay." I enjoy a good swooping hug as much as anyone, but this one was unexpected. Had I been four years old with a freshly-scraped knee, I might have understood.

I thought back to myself six months ago, trying to make salmon and screwing it up, crying in the kitchen because I'd burned myself and the glaze was more like hard candy. Cooking stressed me out, and the slightest mishap induced sobs. However, the more I cook, the more I realize that sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. Of course, Josh remembered me emerging from the kitchen with red, wet cheeks and red, burned arms and was trying to reassure me. He really is very sweet sometimes.

"Honey, I'm fine. I can make another batch, it only takes like twenty minutes." So I did. And they were good. I win.

My standard biscuit recipe. I could probably make better biscuits if I got up at 5 AM like those old women in the Hardees commercials, but you can get up at noon and make these.


no smiling.

Now that I've vaguely mentioned some sort of horrific accident twice without actually telling you anything, I'll clue you in. Josh had a wreck on his bicycle. He doesn't remember what happened, because he hit his head. He also scraped the skin off of much of the left side of his face. However, there were no broken bones and the CT scan came back clear. He continues to be the luckiest person I have ever met, and I am beginning to suspect that he is stealing from someone else's luck stores. It better not be mine. But now that we've covered what happened to him, let's talk about how it's affecting me.

The thing that has made the most difference in my life has been his busted lip. There are stitches in his mustache zone and stitches inside his upper lip. A bunch of the skin was also scraped off like ice on a windshield. Aside from being a bit funny looking - the upper lip scab looks a bit like a Hitler mustache - it limits his facial movements. He can't eat anything that requires him to bite into it. So there's been a lot of soup, as well as stuff that can be picked up with a fork and then dropped into the back of his mouth. And the one straw that I own has gotten more use in the last few days than it ever has before.

He can't kiss. I'm also limited as to where I can kiss him. The whole left side of his face has been pretty much off-limits. I mean, there are safe spots, but every time I lean in to give him a peck on that side, he winces and waits for the pain. I don't think he trusts my ability to not hit one of the danger areas. Since I don't particularly like to kiss people who are making pained expressions, I just avoid that side completely. I can kiss him on the lower lip if I'm very, very careful, but mostly I'm sticking to his right cheek. Sometimes, he leans over to kiss me, then remembers halfway there and turns his head sharply. Then he looks a little heartbroken all over again. I feel bad for him, but at the same time, I am touched that the withholding of such a simple thing as a little kiss from me makes him so sad. I am a terribly selfish person.

So the eating limitations are affecting my diet, and I haven't been kissed in almost a week. But the thing that's really starting to get to me is that he can't smile. My brother used to play a game where he would fake scold me in a very silly, very stern voice, telling me that I was not allowed to smile. Josh has been playing the No Smiling Game for days now, and he is good at it. But it's getting me down. Have you ever spent time with someone who never smiles? Geez, dude, lighten up! You know, he hasn't laughed at one of my jokes in nearly a week, and I'm coming to realize that a great deal of my self-esteem comes from that alone! I should probably consider diversifying my self-esteem sources.

Now you know more about the accident. I'm sure you're very relieved to hear that I'm fine, really. I mean, it's hard, what with all the soup I've had to eat and the fact that my confidence is falling with the stock market, but I really think that, with time, I'll be able to recover from this whole episode with only light scarring. Thank you for your concern. It really, really means a lot.


internal schedule.

Wednesday was stressful. I had a doctor's appointment at 4:15 and a volleyball game in Cary at 6:45. Not only that, but our team captain had gone to Hong Kong and left me in charge, and we were short a player. We'd already had to forfeit two games for not having enough male players, and I wasn't even sure if I was allowed to recruit people in the middle of the season. Finally, Josh had a show that night downtown, so we'd be up pretty late.

I work on an internal schedule. I've thought a lot about my internal schedule recently, because my boyfriend does not have one. I'd never thought about it much before, because I'd assumed that everyone worked the same way that I did. I thought people were late because they'd miscalculated what time to leave, not because they hadn't thought about it carefully beforehand.

There are the definite events on my schedule, like the doctor's appointment or the volleyball game. But then there are the items that are implied by the events. What time do I need to leave to be somewhere five minutes early? Do I need to go home first? Did I schedule time to eat? If I pack my change of clothes in the morning, will I have time to stop by the pharmacy? These are the things I think about, and I think about them early. As soon as I know about an appointment, I think about where I'll be coming from and how long I'll need to get there. I always pad the time generously to account for traffic and a possible late start. By the day the actual thing is supposed to happen, I've got it all mapped out in my head. You can tell me that I don't need to do this, but I swear it's automatic. It just happens. But having my internal schedule makes me feel like I know what's going on. I am prepared as well as possible for this day. Good morning, Wednesday, I've been expecting you.

Once my schedule is set, I don't like to veer from it. Even if there will be no consequences for doing so, straying from the pre-determined schedule makes me very antsy. Upset, even. And so, when it was 5 PM on Wednesday, and I was still sitting in the waiting room of the doctor's office, I began to feel the familiar nervousness that comes from other people not respecting my inner schedule.

I was already a little keyed up from the prospect of forfeiting another volleyball game. I never wanted to be captain. I liked being captain of the team in high school, but that only meant that you had to call a coin toss and be supportive of your teammates. Being captain of an adult league team means that you have to call people and remind them of games, that you have decide on a line-up every time, that you have to be sure you're going to have enough players to make a team. And while I knew it wasn't my fault that people weren't showing up, I still felt responsible. Dude, I just want to show up and play.

So I spent that morning sending instant messages to every guy at my office who seemed like he might be willing to come play with a bunch of people he'd never met. Most of them said they had other plans, and even if they were lying, I don't fault them. But one of them couldn't think of an excuse fast enough. I still wasn't sure if my recruiting was completely within the rules of the league, but I figured that would only matter if we won. And unless this one dude happened to be incredibly awesome at volleyball, I didn't see that happening.

So I'd found a player, that's one checkmark. I'd made it to the doctor's office on time, check two. I was still sitting in the waiting room as the husbands of nurses that worked there arrived to pick up their wives. But then they finally noticed me and decided they'd better see me, since I'd already paid. Okay, so it's a little later than I'd like it to be at this point, but we're still okay. As long as I can make it to the game on time, everything will be fine. And as long as the other players get there, too, and no one questions whether this new guy is allowed to play on our team. I need to chill out.

But then I did get to the game on time, and I even had time to get some chocolate milk and a banana. My players showed up, well, four of them did, but that was enough to play. And we were terrible, but we were in good moods and happy to be playing if we couldn't be happy to be winning. Everything was fine, I'd been stressed all day but everything came together in the end. I could go to the bar downtown, have a beer, watch my boyfriend play bass, and relax. I had met Wednesday head on, and it had been a little sticky, but I'd succeeded at it through preparation.

I got into the car and opened my phone to call Josh. I noticed I had a voicemail, which I figured was probably him, telling me he was at the bar or something like that. The message came on, and his voice was shaky and quiet.

"I guess I had a bike wreck, and uh, I'm at Wake Med in the emergency room. That's where I am."

As I drove too fast to the hospital, I thought about my internal schedule and how this wasn't on it at all.



When you go to a show at a bar, they mark you. This is to signify that you paid your entrance fee and that you're old enough to pay more money to the bartender. Getting marked is always a high priority for me, one that I make my prime mission after we've unloaded the equipment. See, since I never appear on stage with an instrument in hand, there's nothing to prove that I have a right to be there for free.

Different bars have a different way of marking you. Sometimes it's a stamp mark, or if it's a really high tech establishment, a Sharpied 'X' on one or both of your hands. I've woken up with these X's all over my face, after having slept with my cheek against my hand. I look like I had a much weirder night than I really did.

But some places use bracelets. They're always neon jobbies, the kind that come in huge stacks of strips, and you peel off the adhesive of one side, wrap it around your wrist and stick the opposite end to the sticky side. They're made of whatever material exists at the intersection of paper, fabric, plastic, and glue. I hate these bracelets. Whoever is running the door puts the bracelet on for you, and it's always too tight, which is restrictive and annoying, or too loose, which means it threatens to come off and lose you your bar privileges. At some point, I had to put one of myself, and I discovered that there is no right tightness. The bracelet is just irritating no matter how much it snuggles you. It reminds me of when I used to put Scotch tape on my cat's feet just to see it try and shake the tape off.

Last night, Josh's band had a show in downtown Raleigh. But we didn't go. We went somewhere else instead, and as I was holding his hand, trying carefully not to touch any of the many scratches, I thought about bracelets.


innocent until proven the middle child.

We were sitting on the sidewalk outside the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. We had dastardly intentions. We had just been told that Josh couldn't come in the museum with his pocket knife. After he griped a bit, reminding me more and more of my father as he did so, we decided to stash his knife in the bushes, then retrieve it later after visiting the museum. So we were killing five minutes, watching people go by before we tried to go back in.

A family with three little boys was passing by, the older one walking alongside his parents as the two littler ones followed behind. The littlest, who was maybe four years old, started walking on the raised cement border of a landscaped area like it was a balance beam. He slipped and came crashing down on the cement. Immediately, he started wailing.

"I didn't do it!" the middle brother immediately shouted. Uh, kid, it's not a good idea to declare your innocence before you've been accused.

The dad examined the skinned knee and picked up the crying boy. It didn't look like a serious injury; he seemed more tired than hurt. No doubt he'd been trotting around behind his parents all day. He quieted down to a whimper as he laid his head down on his father's shoulders. I sometimes wish that I was still small enough to be carried that way. As the family was walking on by, the dad turned to the middle son and sternly said, "Nice work."

"What? I didn't do anything!"

"Were you guys chasing each other again?" The argument faded out of hearing as they continued down the sidewalk away from us. I wanted to protest, run up shouting, "Excuse me, sir, I saw the whole thing!" But it was none of my business. And it wasn't the dad's fault, really. He, like all parents, was just going on the information he had and doing the best he could with it.

I wondered why the middle son had tried to defend himself so quickly. It did seem like an admission of guilt, but then again, I was five feet away and watching them, and I hadn't seen anything. Maybe he just got blamed for stuff a lot and he could see how this situation was going to turn against him. I thought of many eloquent defenses he could have said to his dad, if only he weren't six years old. Is that what it's like to be a middle child? No wonder my sister didn't like me. She was probably always getting blamed for something every time I was a klutz.

And I gotta tell you, I'm pretty klutzy.


creation returned to creation.

It had to be 5 AM. It was the second night in a row that I'd been up that late. My body had stopped protesting for the most part after I'd bribed it with a Jack and Coke and a couple of leftover potatoes. "You can stay up," it told me, "but only for a little while longer."

We were all walking toward the beach. As our feet hit sand, we hit a problem. There was a five foot drop from where we stood, straight down to the sand below. Big storms had hit recently, and the ocean had reached up the shore and taken a big bite out of the coastline, leaving its ragged teeth marks behind. Getting down wasn't the problem, it was the getting back up. But that was a problem for later, and thinking about future issues wasn't really in style with this group. Just go with the flow and we'll figure that out later.

I rolled up my pants to my shins, but the third or fourth wave caught me up to my knees. That first soaking was freedom, though, because you don't worry about getting wet when you're already there. I stood there, alone and away from the group for hours. Or minutes. I thought about the beach, and how I didn't really like it. But that was unfair, because I liked this beach. Empty of people, I could hear only the ocean. I could only see the whitecaps, as the rest of it faded into the night. I thought about how the ocean was always like this, and I just hadn't noticed it before. It was comforting in its constancy, the water being pulled in and pushed back out, like deep breaths.

My peace was palpable. I wondered what makes us feel at home in places we've never been. We had been to see a speaker a couple of weeks back, who talked about visiting a primeval forest and feeling strangely as if he had been there before, as if his evolutionary ancestors wakened inside him at the sight and smell of the place. He called it genetic memory. I don't think I buy that. I feel connected, but not through whoever came before me. It is me, myself. I am not connected because someone long before me came from this place. It is because I am made of the same stuff. It's ashes to ashes, dust to dust while I'm still alive. Creation returning to creation.

Josh came up behind me and rested his chin on my shoulder, testing the waters of my mood. Before the potatoes, I hadn't been as friendly as I might have been. We stood there awhile, breathing in and with the ocean.

My attention had drifted to the stars. They were beautiful, and yet the light pollution from the beach city behind us carried enough to make the sky a hazy dark gray. I missed the view at my parents' house in the mountains, where the deep blue was framed by the deep green of the trees, or the night in Kansas, where the sky was impossibly big and the Milky Way was something you could see instead of something you read about in Science class. One bright star shone at me, tiny and clear. I considered making a wish. Then I realized the star was moving. Josh started to pull away.

"The question is, do we tell our kids how to recognize satellites in the sky?" I asked, knowing I could capture and keep his attention with a good conversation. "It's always disappointing to me when I realize that the really bright and shiny star is a satellite."


"Yeah. Because there's a star, and it's really bright and seems so close. But then I realize that it's moving and it's just something we put up there. It's just a big hunk of metal, like I see every day. It's not special at all."

"I think it's amazing, a testament to our ingenuity. Look how far we've gone, and think how far we can still go." I guess that's supposed to capture my imagination the way it does his, but really, it just makes me feel alone.

We wandered back up the beach and scrambled up the recently formed cliff of sand. A couple of people were sitting on a bench. Already filthy, I sat on the sand next to them. As a group, we had been rambunctious and loud, running on alcohol and lack of sleep. But it was quiet now as we slowly came in from the beach back up to the overlook that separated the real world from the ocean.

"So I guess we know the answer," I said.

"To what?"

"Whether the ocean is louder than Big Mike. I can't hear him." Mike was a big man and a loud man, and you could chart how late it was based on the volume of his voice. But the familiar sound of him arguing about something, anything, whatever was not there.

Josh leaned forward to look at Mike's still form sitting on the bench. "He's asleep."

I pulled up the hood of my hoodie and laid back into the sand. Those relaxation tapes that sound like the ocean were a good idea, but no competition to this. I thought about taking a nap and whether I could convince Josh to keep guard and shoo the crabs away from my face. But I wasn't really worried about the crabs. Surely they would recognize me.


volleyball knees.

My knee is gross. I got a raspberry, which didn't seem to want to heal. It turned into a quarter-size festering wound that gathered blue jean lint and finally scabbed over. It will probably scar. I went to a wedding last weekend and was faced with the prospect of having a scabby knee peeking out from under my skirt. It reminded me of the song from The Sound of Music where the older, proper nuns are complaining because Maria always has skinned knees under her habit. I wondered if the people at the wedding would sing "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sandra?" I wore pants.

Still. I'm quite happy about my knee. I got it from sliding on a gym floor. No, not really, because if I had slid on the floor, I wouldn't have gotten the injury at all. No, I got it from dropping to my knees, intending to slide, but then realizing that the floor was not conducive to sliding. What happened then is that my knees stopped sliding (except for a little skidding around inside my kneepads) and then the rest of my body was propelled forward towards the general direction of the floor.

I don't even remember why I started talking about my knee.

Oh, wait, I do. It's because I wanted to tell you all that I've started playing volleyball. I joined a local adult league, because I was tired of feeling like I never did any physical activity. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I now engage in physical activity exactly once a week. Progress!

If you've never played volleyball, perhaps you do not know how truly wonderful a game it is. I also played basketball in high school, and I never really liked it. It was okay. It was fine. But I was never really invested in being any better at it and I haven't played it in years. I've tried to figure out the difference between volleyball and basketball, what makes one of them so ho-hum while they other has me chomping at my kneepads. I think maybe it's the contact aspect. I was never interested in pushing anyone around, while the other girls hanging out with me down near the net were very interested in that. But volleyball is more turn-oriented. You have a turn and you make the best move you can. You have three hits to recover from whatever they threw at you and then throw something back that hopefully they can't handle.

I started playing over the summer, which meant I played beach volleyball for the very first time. It was an interesting new experience. The best thing about beach volleyball, aside from the fact that you can go barefoot, is that you can do some really amazing digs without hurting yourself. You can toss yourself all over the sand like a crash test dummy and it won't even hurt. You will get sand in your pants (and hair and eyes), but you will look awesome and cool because you sacrificed your body for a save. The worst thing about beach volleyball is that you can't run and jump on the sand. I mean, some people can. I have apparently not reached that skill level. Mostly I just move the sand under my feet to some other location near my feet. Someday, I hope to be able to run and jump on the sand like a real, live boy.

A couple of weeks ago, the fall season started. The captain of our team emailed us and told us all to bring our kneecaps, which makes me wonder if he can take his out, and if so, if removable kneecaps are a useful feature. I had to buy new kneepads, because my mother had very inconsiderately thrown out my high school pair which probably still stank of sweat from seven years ago. I had enjoyed beach volleyball, really I had, but when I found myself in a pair of kneepads on a squeaky gym floor, perched on the balls of my feet and waiting for the serve, I really felt back at home.

Later, when I got home, my kneepads around my ankles, I thought about having volleyball knees again. They may not always have a raspberry, but they will probably be bruised. And one night a week, they'll smell like a locker room. Volleyball knees make me happy. I used to participate in activities that I cared nothing about so that scholarship committees would think I was well-rounded. Now it's a relief to just do something because I enjoy it. It's funny - it makes me feel like a well-rounded, more interesting person. A well-rounded person with bruised knees.


ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid.

I was lying on the grass in the National Sculpture Garden, people watching. Josh was reading an information pamphlet about the sculptures, and Kate was reading the Post, which seemed to be the in thing to do in D.C. Everyone seems so aware of what's going on all the time. Maybe it's their job to know.

Bad jazz music permeated the air. Or maybe it was good jazz, I don't know. I don't get jazz. This particular band would have be okay, except that they had got an electric guitar player who thought he was in a jam band. I mentioned that to Josh, and he agreed, which made me happy. As a non-musician, every time I'm able to contribute something intelligent to a conversation about music makes me feel like a good girlfriend. Kate asked what a jam band was and Josh explained it while I thought about how my boyfriend knows everything.

But the point of the music was to set a mood, not distract you. You were there to sit with your friends and drink, not pay attention to the music. The music is perfect for that. I once had a friend recommend a band to me, saying they were great to have on at a party, because they didn't distract anyone from their conversations. If that's a big problem at your parties, maybe you should invite more interesting people.

A guy in business casual walked by with a pitcher of ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid. I grabbed my wallet, walked off, and later returned with a pitcher of ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid. I poured out portions into three plastic cups and we said cheers. Kate went back to the paper, Josh back to the art information, and I sat back and thought about other pitchers of ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid.

I love sangria. Is there anything better on a hot day or a cold night or any other time? Wine and fruit juice, good wholesome fruit soaked in alcohol.

The first time I made sangria was in Winston. The recipe called for brandy, so I bought a bottle of the kind that my underage roommate used to make me buy for her. As I cooked the fruit on the stovetop, we took shots of the brandy, because, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. When the sangria was finally ready, we were already at least one sheet to the wind. Nothing happened, except that two friends who had harbored secret crushes on each other finally admitted it. Now that night stands as a turning point in our relationship. I think that if we had not lasted, then that memory would stand as a regrettable night of a friendship ruined, instead of a sweetly intoxicated evening of friendship set on fire.

I remembered next a miserable evening in New York City with Sarah on our first trip. It was cold, it was wet, and I had walked miles and miles in bad shoes. I was unhappy and whiny and showing a side of myself that really ought to be locked away and never allowed out. I was angry at the weather, at my shoes, at the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. We were walking back to our hostel when the lights of Mama Mexico beckoned to us. We'd eaten at this restaurant the night before, the night I'd discovered guacamole. It was still wide open at midnight. Honestly, I wanted to just back to the hostel and go to bed, but I'd been such a rotten traveling companion that when Sarah suggested having a drink I felt obligated to go along just to make up for the burden of my company. We ordered desserts and a pitcher of sangria. A few tables were still eating as the wandering guitar player meandered around the tables and played "Feliz Navidad". I wondered if he minded having his culture reduced to "Ay Ay Ay Ay", as if I were to go to a foreign country and walk around singing "Yankee Doodle". After a while, most of the customers had filtered out and the singer took a seat in the corner with a couple of the wait staff. He began playing other songs that were not part of his business hours repetoire. Beautiful, soft songs that sounded like something abuelitas sang at night to droopy-lidded children. By the time the pitcher was gone, I was revived. Even when I stood up and found that my legs had stiffened, I found the strength to giggle my way down the street with Sarah to the hostel.

And then that late afternoon in the sculpture garden, where the sun was beaming generously on our faces, the bad jazz was easy to ignore, and I didn't feel the need to say anything to my companions. I could just sit there with them, sipping my deep red liquid, eating the alcohol-laden orange slices, and thinking what a great time I was having doing nothing in particular.

Here's to ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid.

Note: This is a strong recipe. I made it for my parents once, and my dad mentioned at least three times how strong it was in the next week. You can always add more juice (or use less rum) if you don't want your parents to think you're trying to liquor them up. Or less juice if you're trying to get them to revise their will in your favor. You can also use whatever fruit you want, really. Apples! Cherries! Pomegranates!

Classic Spanish Sangria
from Allrecipes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 orange
  • 1 cup rum
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 cup orange juice
  1. Have the fruit, rum, wine, and oj well-chilled. Slice the fruit into thin rounds and place into a large glass pitcher. Pour in the rum and sugar. Chill in fridge for at least 2 hours to develop the flavors.
  2. When ready to serve, crush the fruit lightly with a wooden spoon and stir in the wine and juice. Adjust sweetness to taste.