Monday, September 26, 2005

Into the blue, part 2

Something something about high desert air, crackling with autumn snap, it gets my mind wandering, nostalgia cranked up and keening me deaf. I want us to stop the car, get out, scrabble in the dirt, that clean desert dirt, purified insect skeletons and empty weeds, I want to poke at stinkbugs and chew on a piece of hay, climb into a creaking saddle, feel my thighs chafe on leather, smell of horse and sage and haybales.

Mr. Billy says sage doesn't grow this high, this far north, so maybe I'm not missing much, hurtling toward Carson City in Punkin's car. But after finding there's no there there, turning around in downtown Carson City, and back back to Tahoe, I'm foaming at the mouth to get out of car out of doors out out out.

It isn't until morning, though, that I blow out of our room onto the shores of the lake, blue sharp as a blade in 30 degree weather, but I'm stripped to bikini, head forward I plow over sand into water, sand turns to mud and still I push ahead in in in to the lake, deep breath and dive.

Underwater it's blue and quiet. Not the shock of cold I expect. My hands fan out beside me and I'm up above the water, boats bobbing, and down again feet and hands moving slow, dreamspeed in the water, I'm not cold not shivering, I could stay out here in the quiet for an hour a day no-one would know Billy the mermaid, deep in the lake.

But then I notice I can't feel my feet.

Back to shore, mud then sand, feet coming to life like hibernating bears, shrieking up at me.

That day we started back, homeward. Freeways past the towns, who knows what each town is like, all have the same McDonald'sStarbucksBordersGap out here by the freeway, if there is a difference, it's tucked away where all the people live. We pull off the freeway for lunch, and a sign points to Town Centre, McDonald'sStarbucksBordersGap in fake Olde Time style, town itself miles away, safe out of sight.

We pass Folsom prison, and I hear the Man in Black singing the Blues about the train going by, but all I see is cars and the same stores over and over and churches as big as barns, as big as malls, as big as stadiums, the smaller the town the bigger the church, a cross the size of a landing strip on the side, Jehovah surely able to see it all the way from heaven.

And still I want to pull over, jump out of the car, bury my face in desert dirt and dream back to kidhood on Grandpa's ranch, potato bug rolled up in the palm of my hand, eggs hen-warm, hollyhocks knocking against each other in the wind.

But I know it wouldn't do, wouldn't come close, the smell of the road, the stripmalls, the churches too strong, so I put my seat back, and try to sleep.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Friend Quigley, staying with us last week, wondered if his impression of San Francisco as a gentle city was skewed, having only seen the "nice" neighborhoods.

Tonight, waiting for the bus where paint curls off buildings, smell of decades-old cigarette smoke and mildew drifts from the corner cafe, a man with white hair to his shoulders waits with me, porkpie hat, hook for a hand clasps the strap of a duffel. A trim man walks by, suit so impeccably tailored it takes a minute to realize his legs are half the length of mine, he stands no higher than my ribs.

A finely built woman, dainty in a pink sweater, deep mahogany skin, ponytail, face of a man, walking quickly the other way.

Hipster taping flyers to the telephone pole, tattoo of ten arrows pointing away from a black center circle.

A man in a baby mohawk and combat boots, wide chin, broad shoulders.

The bus arrives, and mohawk and hipster move toward the door, but mohawk stops, arm out, blocking the hipster.

He nods gravely at me.

I move past him onto the bus, a dumbfounded Thankyou trickling from my mouth. I find a seat and the others climb aboard, hipster laughing and shaking his head, mohawk last, walking past me without a glance.

I finish the ride alert to this odd grace, and think Quigley's perception is right, there is something softer here, something gentle, a welcome for people who aren't at home where we grew up, a shared nostalgia for places that would never be ours, I can talk about us here and it sounds truer than it ever did, a community of unmatched puzzle pieces, we're remaking the picture every day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tag, I'm It

A slow-moving blogger gets tagged, courtesy of Joseph K.

So, to business.

Ten years ago. I had to look at my resume to refresh the old memory bank. Miserable in Seattle, though not yet in servitude to Microsoft, deliriously thrilled about going in to work every day in part because it got me away from the Thing I was living with, known here as Mr. 8-ball. I was beginning to wonder if being a grownup meant emotions were dampened, muffled, my last passions already tasted and gone, if adulthood meant a flattening out, nothing left anymore but Duty, Responsibility, Compromise.

I was wrong.

Five years ago, I was roaring through the desert in a Miata with Mr. Billy-to-be. After a day of driving, we would emerge from the dusty car jangled and wind-buzzed, giddy with adventure. One month before, we had gotten engaged, and two weeks before, we had quit our jobs in Seattle. We were trying to see as much land as possible before a) I went to a reunion in London, and b) we moved to Hawaii. Did we have jobs in Hawaii? No, we did not. Did we have a place to live? Nope. Who could wish for more?

One year ago. Note: squeamish readers may wish to skip this bit. Our fantasies come true, we'd been a year in San Francisco, blissful, Mr. Billy and I both working jobs we loved, in love with the city, still thrilling to all the things we'd missed in Hawaii, when something broke loose inside me and I started bleeding. Or rather, didn't stop bleeding as I should have after my regular period in August. By mid-September, I'd been bleeding for a month and starting to feel a little less solid, a little like I was standing on the border between this world and...something else. I gushed through October and November.

I remembered a roommate of mine, years ago, showing me his mother's journal. His father didn't believe in doctors, and she had started bleeding. The last word in her diary, before she died, was: "Gush."

A day or two after making Thanksgiving dinner for several friends, the bleeding became hemhorraging, and it was a long slide from there to emergency rooms, medications, transfusions and surgeries. After one minor surgery, one major, and one middling, I still don't know what it was all about, but the bleeding has stopped, there's nothing left in there to bleed.

Yesterday, our friend Quigley, staying with us for a few days, treated us to brunch in a neighborhood café before disappearing into a cab to the airport.

Five songs I know all the words to. Huh. This is not necessarily a list of songs I love, because I can never understand the words in songs. These are songs I had the liner notes for.

Elvis Costello, "Beyond Belief". Leonard Cohen, "Sisters of Mercy". "America" from West Side Story. "O Come O Come Emmanuel," 15th century French hymn, I think. "In Our Lovely Deseret," Mormon hymn.

I wish I knew all the words to a Clash song, but there it is.

Five snacks. Grapes, cheese (any kind), Trader Joe's multigrain crackers, chocolate (dark), the brains of virgins.

Five Things I'd Do With $100 Million. Lewis Black would pay an excellent salary to someone to be his personal ball-washer. As I don't have balls, I'm stumped. Pay someone to tell Joseph K every day that the supermodels he's dating are really into him. Make a platinum (gold is so eighties) statue of my cat, and hire a staff to worship it and evangelize for the new religion.

Build good, solid low-income housing in New Orleans.

How many is that? Oh, oh, yes. Buy a house in San Francisco. Only way that will happen.

Five places I'd run away to. That special little room in my head. No, you can't come in. My grandparents' ranch in southern Utah, the way it was when I was a kid. The treehouse my dad designed (not built - yet) for the woods on his land in Pennsylvania. Lisbon. Almost anywhere in Italy.

Five things I'd never wear. Those heels-that-look-like-tennis-shoes thingies. A tube top. Slacks, just because of the sound of the word. Slaaaacks. Shudder. "Nude" nylon stockings, actually a disturbing orangey color. One of those little American flag pins (I'm more patriotic than you. How come you don't have a flag pin, huh? Do you hate freedom?)

Five favorite TV shows. The Daily Show. Deadwood. The Sopranos. Six Feet Under. Off.

Five greatest joys. You know who you are. Finishing the book will be up there too, soon.

Five favorite toys. Hm, the pink one with the little vibrating...ooooh, you didn't mean those kinds of toys? Stumped again.

Five people to tag. If you've stuck with me through this whole ordeal: The monkeys, obviously. Yes, that means monkey 0, bluemonkey, and mommonkey (Jill). monkey 0 and bluemonkey, I know your blogs are mostly fiction, so feel free to fictionalize, if you must. Blondemonkey, once you get on the blogwagon, consider yourself tagged.

Oh, I'm drunk on the power! To round it out, I'm tagging both Anne and Anna.

You're It.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What Billy writes

This blog has clotted into three amorphous lumps, more or less fitting into one of three categories:

True stories. This shouldn't need any explanation. But what the hell, words are my world. It is what it sounds like - personal experiences - though if you're looking for confessional, look somewhere else. Revelation happens at the edges.

Found objects. The world outside my obsessive-compulsive brain - and more specifically San Francisco - drops these moments of grace and horror in my lap. I try to scrape a little of the flavor and press it between the pages here.

Scratch fiction. Fiction at the speed of typing. I go on about it here. It was born with monkey 0. Consider me an early adopter.

Please, read at your leisure, and comment liberally. I particularly look forward to rude comments.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Into the blue

"This is Puny Human territory," I say to Mr. Billy, car careering around the bend, four-wheel drift toward the car-size gap in the guard rail, torn metal edges hanging over the void, I can't help images flickering across brainscreen of Mr. Billy and I in our metal box, hurtling end-over-end, whistling air broken by crunch against cliff wall once, twice, three times before slamming to rest at the bottom of the gorge, our meat mixed with metal and glass, buzzards circling.

Rocks the size of semis hang above, crags and trees below, and ahead, spread out like a centerfold, deep blue of Lake Tahoe, twinkling at us, lolling in the late afternoon sun.

We are sharing a condo with old friends Punkin* and Blueberry*. Mr. Billy & I get the loft bedroom, no door, but a shallow window that peeks out at the parking lot. Downstairs off the living room is a deck that juts out over the beachy shores of the lake, and a voyeuristic view of the hotel swimming pool and jacuzzi.

It's late when we set out for dinner, Punkin at the wheel casually telling us, as he misses another turn, that his night vision is "for shit", we blast out into the night, pointed toward the state line, $8.95 prime rib dinner sounds good to me.

We open the doors of the casino, wary of lizards, that homey casino aroma of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol-soaked carpets wafts into our faces. I am weepy with nostalgia.

Tahoe casinos are Vegas without the glamour, the class. The machine clamour muted and sad. Greasy-haired white folk hunch over slot machines, yanking methodically, prayers on their nicotine-stained lips, "Thistimethistime, baby, giveittome baby giveittome." It's weirdly quiet, slot claxons muffled, no dinging bells, no coin clatter heralding a win anywhere on the floor.

Punkin veers toward the machines, quarters shining ready in his fingers, but Blueberry isn't having it, she speeds up her pace, beeline for the restaurant, and we stick at her side. I've always thought that being born in Vegas immunized me against the desire to gamble, softly glowing machines holding no promise, no seduction for me. Punkin is squinting at the slots as we pass, "One of these has to take quarters, c'mon honey, just three quarters, that's all," but we're already at the feeding place and Blueberry pulls open the doors.

She scans the scene, greenish-hued humans crank their eyes up at us, then back down to their heaped, glistening plates, poking dispiritedly at the brown mess collected there.

"No," says Blueberry, "we aren't eating here." Punkin has caught up with us and he nods in agreement, his appetite for prime rib and slots slackening in equal measure. We turn on the spot, back through the casino, down the stairs, past the two-story high stone fireplace, me casting one look backwards, if I were Lot's wife, I'd be a pillar of salt, and out into the night.

To be continued...

*Names changed to protect innocent friends who did not know their vacation would be Material.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Billy heads inland

I decamp for the shores of Lake Tahoe tomorrow morning. This isn't really our vacation, we're just piggy-backing on friends' plans, so I've no idea where we're staying, what's planned, anything, really. You, kind readers, now know as much as I about my immediate future. Never been to Tahoe before (though I was born in Nevada), so, hey! anything could happen.

I expect to be out of blogrange while away, but hold out hope for good material.

Until I return...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I am seven years old

...and still afraid of the dark.

I know this: while occasionally seduced by a good ad campaign, I almost never think it was a good idea after I see a horror movie. So I try to resist (yes, I'm The Person ads are aimed at; I see something shiny on the little box with the nice people in it, & I think, God, yes, I never knew it, but I do need Spray-on Hair), I do. I haven't seen a horror movie since a friend rented The Ring, and I didn't sleep properly for over a week.

But there was this commercial on last night (oh, those gorgeous people in the little box, they are so convincing), for this new horror movie, something terribly stylish and gothic, all shot in deep sensual shades of gray, a beautiful heroine so poignantly suffering, things half-seen, temptingly, and I'm sucked in, I'm there, I'm thinking, yeah, yeah, let's go see that movie - never mind I haven't been to a movie in months and months, never mind that I don't know how to un-suspend my disbelief, that horror movies get under my skin, that there are images seen when I was nine burned onto my brainscreen that still freak me out, no, let's go to that one, yes, as soon as possible - and then, just at the tail end of the ad, a couple walking down the street with an umbrella, they look toward the camera, and then, and then, their faces melt, jaws and eyes gaping hideously open.

Aaaaaaah! Aaaaaaah! What is this doing on my television!? No no no no no, it was just an ad, for Chrissakes, you can't be putting images like that into my head with an ad!

Last night, getting up to go to the bathroom (a depressingly frequent exercise), brain in that soft, half-sleeping state...and that image, that stupid image, seeps into my head, gaping mouth, goggle eyes. I'm awake all the way, now, and talking myself down, think about something good, something pleasant, think about work, think about kittens, think about anything, but now I'm rushing through the hand-washing, now running flat-out back to bed, now climbing in next to Mr. Billy, shaking.

Why is this getting to me (and tonight I made Mr. Billy - a Media Professional - pull apart the image and explain to me how he think they did it, and Really, he says, It was kinda cheesy and cheaply done), why this one stupid, fucking, studio-created image, when there are real-life, real world horrors happening in my own country?

Monday, September 05, 2005


Dwayne dreamed about her hand, the way she would sleep on her side, left hand over his stomach, so he could look down in the light from the street and see her wedding ring, the big dent in it from when she got her hand slammed in the door of the delivery truck.

Sleeping, he would feel her hand there again, then wake to the stink, to a flashlight moving by, to the blackest night he ever saw. He wanted to drift off again, back to his cool sheets, Honore's sleeping breath behind him, but the fat man less than a foot away started up that moan, that high-pitched sob that creeped Dwayne right down to his bones. "Help me help me, somebody come help me..." No, man, Dwayne, wanted to tell him, Nobody's coming, this is it, we're on our own, but he wanted to believe it, too, wanted to believe that someone was coming, any minute now, any minute and he'd be back home, in his own bed, Honore rubbing a hand over her whole face, yawning like a little kid, like she did every morning, sleepy eyes looking up at him through her fingers, smiling from a sugarsweet dream.

Dwayne blinked his eyes, no difference between open and closed, black inside his lids and out. A thousand people packed in around him, a head rolls against his foot, a whispered argument, feet scraping across floor, he thought he heard a girl the night before screaming, crying, saying Stop please stop, but he couldn't tell where it was happening, the sound comes from everywhere in here.

It would take a hurricane to pull us apart, Honore, thought Dwayne into the night, to wherever she was. He turned his head to duck the memory coming at him fast, her face before the wind took her away, not scared, just looking at him wide-eyed, trying to say something, she had something important to say, but the wind swiped it away, then her, like a story book, like a fairy tale, she disappeared.

Tomorrow, when the reporters come, Dwayne will find a box lid; will print in large letters one word, he'll hold it up for the cameras to see, this is his purpose now, the only thing that matters:


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina: "...a test of our moral compass..."

There aren't enough words to tell how angry I am at the response of my government to this disaster. It is so much worse than it had to be.

The only thing for it right now is to do something, maybe offer shelter.

Or, donate here or here.

Meanwhile, the soul of New Orleans survives.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I don't believe in writer's block

No such thing, doesn't exist. I believe in Laziness, in Every Word I Type is Shit, in Getting Stuck for Too Long on One Chapter, in No Ideas, but I don't, don't, don't believe in Writer's Block. It's Santa Claus and the Devil with a pointy tail and Odin and the Tooth Fairy. Doesn't exist.


Something creeps in on me, an almost-belief sliding up under my hairline when I'm sitting on the bus, wishing something like this would happen (I live in San Francisco, I ride the bus - where's my half-naked crazy lady?), all the while arrested, staring openly at the beautiful woman/girl standing near the front, half-crouched, eyes rolling wildly around, she looks Malaysian maybe, black hair neatly pulled back, beautifully embroidered jacket and badly stained sweat pants, mouth half open, eyes terrified, the bus comes to a stop and she lunges for a seat like it's a lifeboat, brushes perfectly manicured fingers over her shining hair and breathes again, eyes calmer, but focusing on nothing.

And I think, I should be able to use that. But it goes nowhere, I'm mystified by her, I want to stay on the bus and follow her around, read what's scrawled on that manila folder she holds, ask her name and listen to the voice she speaks in, but I have to get to work, I have to get off the bus and walk the same seven blocks I walk every morning, my brain running over and over the next chapter in my book, why can't I get past this one part? and I look up, I'm already there, already climbing the steps to the office and I've come up dry, again.

But I don't believe in writer's block. I can't, because if I did, I would have it.