Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This... is Nirvana Foo Fighters

We have waited, listening to Echoes and Silence, with Patience and Grace. Today was our reward. A beautiful, stirring and diversely musical offering from the Foo Fighters fills my soul tonight and it makes me feel, if only for a fleeting moment, complete and satisfied.

What would life be without this gift? How cold, how empty, how meaningless. How grateful I am.

Dancing in my 87 year-old kitchen to 12 hour-old music, inhaling the sweet soothing smell of chocolate rising in the oven, I am happy.

[Damn right, there's more.]

Do yourself a favor. Try this album. If there are not at least three songs on here that move you or someone you love beyond words, I will personally buy it back from you.

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Painting the Town Blue

[The following is an excerpt from my novel, "Below Sea Level." Though the setting will seem familiar to some, the actual events in this story are fiction.]

One day, without any real forethought, I stopped at the Home Depot on the way home from work and bought two cans of brightly colored spray paint. They keep that aisle locked at the store, so I had to wait a few minutes before someone was available to open it. The clerk did not ask me what I needed the paint for. I suppose I looked innocent enough. Not the profile of a sniffer, gang tagger, or anything remotely like that.

The cans rolled back and forth with each other in the passenger seat of my car, competing for center position. I stayed focus on the small highway leading to the farm, as more people died there each day than died from skydiving without a chute. Fifteen minutes brought me to the house. Eric’s rig was not visible, nor was he expected from his job for another few hours. I pulled into the drive and parked as usual; then changed my mind and turned the car around so it was facing the driveway. Eric had once referred to this as “combat parking.” Sometimes I just needed that little extra kick of safety. I had also fooled myself into thinking it saved me precious seconds on driving into work the next day, not having to back out and turn around. Logic was never my strong suit.

I grabbed the cans on my way into the house, where I was greeted by a bevy of hysterical dogs and a flock of recalcitrant cats. Leaving the cans on the fireplace mantle, I undertook my usual series of chores: feeding the hounds and tigers; checking on and feeding the guinea pigs, making sure to throw them a few fresh carrots or orange slices; and lastly, mixing together a small coffee can of sweet feed and supplements for the horse and carrying it out to him along with a few flakes of grass hay. Watching him pace along the fence, or take off kicking his heels up in protest at being the last to be served was always the highlight of my day. I slid his feed tub under the fence and tossed the hay in beside him. As was my habit, I leaned against the fence and watched him eat for a few minutes as I filled the water tank back to overflowing. After turning off the water, which I really only seemed to remember to do about nine out of ten times, I returned to the house, where the dogs had long finished licking each others’ empty bowls. The cats had retreated to their usual hiding and sleeping crannies, and I was free to use my time as I pleased until Eric came home and dinner might need to be prepared.

I had changed out of my work clothes before heading out to see the horse, so I had nothing left to prepare other than the removal of a handful of framed photos decorating the front room of the house. Not even the nicest of pictures did much to enliven the aged paint job of this old house, so their removal did not take away much, either.

Without looking at which color I was choosing, I reached behind me for one of the cans of spray paint. As I shook it vigorously to and fro, I glanced out the front door window to make sure my retired neighbor hadn’t decided that this would be a good time to stroll over with his Labrador and get me caught up on local gossip. No sign of him, so I turned to my canvas. In large blue letters, I wrote, “I have never broken my vows of marriage” on the wall one saw first upon entering the house from the front door. It was more satisfying than I had expected. Writing is like that, sometimes: once you get started, you just feel like writing more. Cathartic.

I shook the can a little more and moved to the wall with the small front window. Next to it, I wrote, “I have never slept with any of your friends.” As an afterthought I added below it “or your enemies.”

I still worried I was not being specific enough, so I set the blue can back on the mantle and reached for the orange. I shook it for the recommended period of time, and continued. I moved back to the largest expanse of wall. I tried reaching up higher so I would have more room to utilize. “I have never dreamt of canoodling with Tom, Dick, Harry, or anyone else you have ever worked with. (I stopped to paint a nice illustration to go along with "Dick.") I have never screwed any employer I have ever worked for - male or female.” I felt like I was finally starting to lay down the proper specifics. Still, the mostly bare walls of the adjoining family room beckoned. I now had one can of paint in each hand.

“I have never used my phone for illicit conversation with any individual. I have never lied about the identity of the person on the other end of the line—EVER—nor have I ever had reason to.” I was running out of blue paint. I set it down and re-shook the orange. What was I missing? His office.

Not much room to spare in there, but somehow I managed to make my message small enough to fit. “I have never used our computer to share romantic e-mails with anyone at anytime since we have met.” That one came out particularly well, I thought, though near the end I did get a little paint on one of his framed contractor licenses. I had just a few dregs of paint left. I walked into our bedroom and climbed up on the bed. Above it, I wrote, “I do not cheat on my husband.” Near the end it trailed off as the can became spent. It was still readable, though.

Damn it. I had managed to get a fair amount of blue and orange paint all over my thumb and forefinger. It was going to be a real bitch to get that off. Irritated with myself, I threw the cans into the kitchen garbage and walked out into the backyard to distract myself with the dogs. There were some lingering fumes in the house, and I didn’t see any need for the girls to get sick from them. I tossed the ball for them until I heard Eric’s diesel pull into the front drive. I stepped back towards the back door and quietly slipped the doggie door into place so he would not be completely overwhelmed by what awaited him in the house. As satisfying as my work had been, my heart now pounded like Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart. I had already placed my car keys in my pocket, and I felt them again to make sure they were still there. Soon enough I heard the front door open, then complete silence.

After a few moments, I heard him close the front door gently. His movement across the carpet was noiseless, but I could make out his broad silhouette moving through the front room into the family room. He stood there for several full minutes. Surely he could hear my heart all the way from inside the house by now. It was as loud as church bells. Finally, he turned and entered his office, where he fell back quietly into his chair. He dropped his enormous collection of keys on the desk in front of him, and then dropped his hands onto his lap. I had moved to where I could still see his outline, and I watched as his head dropped back against the back of the chair. I could not see them, but I imagined his eyes had closed.

I had brought collars and leashes out back before he got home, and I thought this was as good a time as any to take all the girls for a short jaunt around the neighborhood. May very well be the last walk I lived to give them, for all I knew. It began to occur to me that I had gone completely insane. Would he call the police, or the hospital where we had taken him for help earlier that year? Only time would tell. One thing was certain; bravado fueled by anger was rapidly giving way to fear fueled by experience.

Darkness eventually drove the dogs and me back home, as the only thing we were more frightened of than Eric was an errant pack of hungry coyotes coming out of the Arizona hinterland. When we entered the house, the dogs all ran for the office, where he still sat. I heard him greet each of them separately, then fall silent once again. The dogs quickly filed back out into the main room, as his mood was clearly palpable to each of them. This did not bode well for me, but little had for some time. I walked slowly to the doorway of his office and leaned against it, keeping just enough weight on my feet that I could still get the hell out of Dodge pretty quickly, if I had to.

He did not turn his head to look at me.

“Bad day?” he asked.

“A few,” I replied.

“I am not painting these walls.” Well, why would he? I was the one with so much to say, apparently. I quickly realized that was not what he meant.

“Of course not.” I said. So far my heart had not leapt from my chest, which I considered impressive. “I have a three-day weekend coming up. I planned to paint them all then.”

He seemed mildly startled. “You’re not finished, then?” He still hadn’t looked in my direction, for which I was grateful. His black-brown eyes would have brought me to my knees.

“No. I mean, yes. I mean, I had been planning on repainting the walls before my family came out again, anyway.”

“That would probably be a good idea,” he said. He remained quiet for a few minutes and I thought I sensed my opportunity to escape. I straightened up as if to leave, when he began to speak again.

“I never said you had slept with anyone.”

He had in fact spent several drunken years accusing me of all kinds of traitorous activities, but arguing with Eric - even a sober Eric - was a futile experience. He was not likely to remember that he had, in any case. He had an unusually good memory, but a highly selective one. I did not bother to reply.

“It’s them I don’t trust—not you.”

“I wish that were true, but it is not," I said. "You trust no one, except maybe the dogs. Even as I wrote all these things, I knew I was wasting my time, because you’d still never believe me.”

“Didn’t stop you from doing it.” He turned to face me, and I used the doorjamb to brace myself against his gaze. Though he was showing only a fraction of it, his anger sucked all the breath from my body. My next words were barely audible.

“I guess I reached a point where nothing would have stopped me from doing it.”

I turned to leave. “I don’t need any dinner tonight,” he said, as I walked away.

Neither would I. I felt like doing nothing more than leaning my head and shoulders over the toilet and vomiting blue and orange paint into the bowl. I had rendered myself sick. Still, in the depths of my shameful soul, there remained a part of me that jumped joyfully up and down, delighting in her unexpected and splendiferous crime of passion. A small smile escaped me as I walked out into the front room, but I just as quickly swallowed it again.

Eric turned in early that night, forgetting even to drink, not mentioning the final words under which he rested his head. I waited until I could tell by his breathing that he had truly fallen asleep, and then joined him and the dogs in what little space remained in the bed. That night, I had my first dreamless sleep in about six months. When I woke up, my eyes darted to the walls around me. They were completely white.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

For Christ's Sake

This impromptu Art Theory class has taken on a life of its own. While Mr Mellender is trying to be helpful, I am starting to imagine what my college lectures would have been like had artists such as Hieronymous Bosch or Salvador Dali been available for questions from the audience.

Now this is what I call art. Jim and Steve somehow googled the concept of preaching at major sporting events and found a blog written by a woman in Redondo Beach. She writes of a "John 3:16 Guy" who appears at sporting events around the country. This photo is of their street preacher in Redondo Beach. At least he has flair!

Paul also mentioned a girl in a swing. As my pop culture memory is much greater (quantitatively, not qualitatively) than my theology or mythology memory, all I have in mind now is the 1955 flick The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. [Yes, Joan Collins was an actress before Dallas, though her quality of acting has not seemed to change much.] Nevertheless, I am almost certain this is not where Paul was headed with this.

End of post.

I just wanted to see how many people would not be able to resist hitting "Read more!" even after I told them we were done. Class over. Time for recess. Read more!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

All eyes on John

I don't know what the rest of you have been doing this week, but some of us have been doing our homework. Well, four of us, anyway. Mother Mary (my mother Mary, not The Mother Mary, for those easily confused) looked up verse John 3:14, which states "14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up." Cousin Dené also had the verse close at hand, as did my pal Kurt, who was quick to point out that "The reference to John 3:14 [is something] you see at every football and basketball game." And just when I thought sports couldn't get any more convoluted.

It was Dené who offered up a tentative theory. She certainly nailed one point when she suggested that Paul may have been thinking about sin. (Aren't we all? But I digress...) Paul has indeed been thinking about it--maybe a little too much--but you can read for yourself and decide.
[Okay, this time there is more. Keep reading or remain in the dark, where you may or may not be more comfortable.]

Dené's theory is as follows: "It looks like the vase is an illustration of the story found in Numbers 21:4-8."

[For those of you who must have everything spelled out for them: Numbers 21:4-8 "The Bronze Snake"
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;
5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"
6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."
9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.]

Sorry, Dené. Please continue. "The snake on the pole was lifted up to God in order that people who sinned against God might be forgiven and receive life. The painting shows a large eye (probably God's eye) behind the very attractive gentleman (who I believe may be an idealized version of Jesus Christ). He is being lifted up to God (just as the snake on the pole was lifted up thousands of years ago) so that sinners might receive forgiveness and life from God. The Bible says sin brings death and forgiveness brings new life."

Sounds good to me, but we still have one horn of contention. Not one to be easily fazed, Dené suggests that "there is a Biblical reference to 'the horn of salvation' so it might fit the theme of redemption for sin and the salvation of mankind."
Well, just when I thought we had a handle on John, Paul has to butt in with his own "theory." Who does this guy think he is, anyway? For the sake of humoring a more-than-likely temperamental artiste, Paul wrote me today with the following information:
"The scene on the vase is based on a real vase painting depicting a rite during the Athenian Anthesteria festival. It was part of the Chytroi. A girl was made to swing on an unusual swing strung between two unconnected posts."

Mm-hmm. I don't know if this takes us back to square one, or there was ever a square to begin with (though I'm sure there's a reference to one in there somewhere) but let me assure everyone that I will study this portrait as long as necessary to see what's behind it.

[Many thanks to Mary, Kurt and Dené for their contributions to this very worthy cause. And a most gracious thank you to Paul Mellender for both creating this piece and suffering through our painful analysis thereof.]

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Man hits wife in head with an onion

Thu Sep 20, 4:50 PM ET
Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa - A man was arrested after he hit his wife in the back of the head with an onion. James Izzolena, 54, of Des Moines, had been drinking, became upset with his wife, Nicole Izzolena, 27, and threw an onion at her during an argument on Wednesday, police said.

Police said James Izzolena admitted throwing the onion at his wife but said he didn't mean to hit her.

His wife told police it made her head hurt.

Information from: The Des Moines Register
[No more--don't bother...]
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Thursday, September 20, 2007


Okay, so there have been some interesting side-effects to creating a MySpace account. One of them is running into unexpected new friends. Paul Mellender is an artist I met on a writing forum who happens to be a remarkable artist. One of the things he always tries to do is infuse some mystery into his pieces. His paintings are riddled with obscure (to me, anyway) historical and mythological references that give the viewer some work to do with everything he or she enjoys.

Take the picture Le Sacre Du Printemps, for example--and this is, of course, a completely random selection from his work. It takes some concentration (and focus, I might add) to determine what this gentleman is holding. If you look closer (at the vase--FOCUS!) you will see it bears an illustration which, according to Paul, provides futher clues to the story behind this portrait. He says it is also called John 3:14 which, of course, means I am out of the running to figure this out.

Therefore, I turn to you, my vast audience, to solve this riddle. I can't tell you what prize awaits the one who unravels this alluring figure's story, but suffice it to say it will be HUGE! And one last clue: Pay attention to the appendage near his head. (Oh c'mon. You people are impossible.) Here is a close-up for advanced study. Now, get to work!

[Ignore the "read more" teaser, here. I don't know how to turn that off on individual posts, yet.] Read more!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Andy Borowitz on Senator Larry Craig

Craig: I Will Not Blow This Job

Less than one week after announcing his intention to resign from office, embattled Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) changed course today, telling reporters in Washington, "I will not blow this job."
Over the past few days, there had been whispers in Republican circles that Sen. Craig had, in the words of one of the Idaho senator's associates, "pulled out too early,"

"At the end of the day, Larry does not want to blow this job," the associate said. "He will do whatever it takes to win back the support of his constituents, even if it means getting down on his knees."

Another associate of Sen. Craig's agreed that the Idaho senator announced his intention to vacate his Senate seat too hastily: "I think Larry now feels that to leave office on September 30 would be a premature evacuation."

Sen. Craig got a key vote of support from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn), who held a press conference at the Senate today to call the charges against the Idaho senator a "bum rap."

But even as Sen. Craig picked up the support of Sen. Specter, a source close to the Republican caucus indicated that most Republicans are "backing away" from Sen. Craig.

For his part, Sen. Craig told reporters that he would take whatever steps are necessary to find favor with his Republican colleagues: "I will absolutely bend over backwards."

Elsewhere, after a B-52 pilot flew over several U.S. states carrying nuclear warheads, the Air Force said that it would discontinue its use of Mapquest.

Andy Borowitz is a comedian and writer whose work appears in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and at his award-winning humor site, BorowitzReport.com.
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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekend Stew

I am currently listening to My Radio on Yahoo! They are playing a Middle Eastern artist I love, Hakim, the "Lion of Egypt." Knowing my tastes, he may be the Arab equivalent of Justin Timberlake, but I can't get enough of him (Hakim--not Justin). Here is more on Hakim...

After finally reaching my roofer earlier this week, I arose at 7 a.m. on Saturday to phone him, as he requested, for a reminder to come out and look at my new bat condo on the upper level. Those of you who are surprised to hear that he never returned my call or showed up, please raise your hands. That's what I thought. Why would he wish to raise my ire? That he raised my roof is inarguable; that he should raise my ire is downright unwise. Keating Construction, out of Columbus, WI. I'm just saying...

As the bat's morning sleep did not need to be interrupted, I made my way to Madison to partake in a mini family reunion. Per my usual social self, I spent the entire time playing with my niece and had to keep reminding myself to play with everyone equally. When you are like a child, it is inevitable that you should be drawn to the child at the party. Not an excuse, just an observation. Here I am (on the left) trying to wrench her from her mother's grasp.

But mom always wins:

I did score the coolest pair of moose socks (yes, I said moose socks) from my Aunt Sharon. Can't beat these! Even little Jordan didn't get any new socks out of the deal.

I also spent some quality time with my main man, Julian. He reminded me that we can never really take anything for granted--like the fact that a mounting block he has seen me use for two years might suddenly turn into a ferocious lion if I were to set in an a previously unused spot in the paddock. I had set it out under the trees to use after grooming, tacking and lunging him, but as I brought him in from the front field, he caught a glimpse of it throught the leaves out of the corner of his eye and nearly became hysterical.

Let me just remind my audience that this is 1600 pounds of hysterical on the other end of a rope to which I am attached. I tried to convince him it was the same old blue mounting block, but he was having none of it, and began backing into the electric fence. I had seen this story before and nearly came out of it with a broken ankle in Arizona back in 2003, so I unhooked him so that I might adjust the location of the object causing so much fear. Free of me, Julian spun and galloped back to his herd mates. I dragged the forty pound block all the way out into the field, in full view of everyone. Jack immediately came over and flipped it upside down, then turned and threw Julian a taunting look, which Julian might have been offended at had he not already gone back to eating.

I went back for Julian then, and we walked right past the block as if nothing were there. However, as we approached the entrance to the paddock where the lion had last been sighted, he balked once again. This was too much. Now I had to explain not only that there had never been a lion in the first place, but that I had moved the damn lion, and he had already walked right by it. It took almost ten minutes to get through that gate, and I was convinced this would be my third broken toe. I was gratefully proven wrong.

Once in the arena, I turned him loose to let out any leftover hysteria, which he did, in fine form. He moves so beautifully when I am not on his back. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and only caught him when he got tired of running and had grown too curious about why I wasn't paying him any attention. (Want to catch a horse? Let him catch you.)

It's still dicey grooming and tacking the guy up, as he has more dance moves than Fred Astaire, but I did it. Then I noticed his tail was matted from all the rain and wind of late, and started to work.

Oh--he loves that. I am always sure I am going to get an imprint of his size 6 back feet when I spend time untangling his 4 foot tail, even though I am very careful to stand to the side of him, and close to him, so he has no space to really wind up first. Luckily, the lion had worn him out, and he surrendered to my playing Barbie with him for the next twenty minutes. Once or twice he raised a back hoof, but he always put it down again. I think he was just making sure I didn't forget they were there. As if.

Still, he was quite the picture when we finished.

Shortly thereafter, we moved outside, where he let me get on using the same "lion" that so startled him earlier. By this time, though, he was spent. We circled the herd a few times, but I got little more than a disinterested trot out of him. The few times I urged him into a canter, it felt like I had left the parking brake on. I kept checking to see if he had injured himself battling the lion, but he showed no obvious signs of lameness. Still, owing to his obvious mental trauma, we walked or trotted casually for the rest of our time together that afternoon. Perhaps we were both just grateful to get out of our latest adventure alive and unscathed. I know I was. I always am.
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Friday, September 14, 2007

"To Do" List

I can't speak for everyone, but I find life--even everyday life--overwhelming. There is no justifiable reason for this--it just seems like there are always more things to accomplish than I have the time, energy or resources to handle. In the face of these goals, I am often immobilized. It occurred to me that perhaps I should make a list.

I think the next step is to prioritize the items on the list and then begin to tackle them one by one. I have put that on the list, as well.

As with my life, there is no rhyme or reason to my list. These are actually all things I feel like I need to do to make my life complete. I know that I am forgetting some, and that I will occasionally add more that I have already done just to make it seem to me like I am actually making progress. (Am I really the only one who has ever added an item to a To Do list just because you knew you could cross it off right away? I didn't think so.) After a few days I'll post this list to the bottom of the page where I can adjust it as necessary.

You'd better wait to see if I find it beneficial before you try this yourself. Or, if you like to live dangerously, go right ahead. Who the hell am I to tell you what to do?

The List:

-Meet Dave Grohl
-Seal bat(s) out of attic
-Clean bat poop-filled attic
-See Ireland
-Fix leaky outside faucet, east side of house
-Finish writing novel “The Agoraphobic’s Guide to Cairo”
-Put captions under photos in Cairo photo book
-Fall in love
-Learn how to let it go when people write “your” instead of “you’re”
-Remove both sofas from house for disposal thanks to fucking cat
-See the movie “Taxi Driver”
-Eliminate cat urine odor from unknown location (s) on front porch
-Get married
-Clean the inside of my car
-Train Ginger when not to bark
-Eliminate cat in non-guilt-inducing fashion
-See Egypt, Jordan and Jerusalem
-Find a publisher for “The Agoraphobic’s Guide to Cairo”
-Buy Vacuum
-Replace bass drum
-Prioritize the list
-Get a haircut
-Download all the photos on my computer to a CD
-Take snow blower to mom’s house before snow actually falls
-Finish writing novel “Below Sea Level”
-Teach niece how to ride horses
-Plane kitchen cupboard doors so they actually open and/or close
-Get divorced
-Teach SodaPop when to not bark
-Read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”
-Re-paint kitchen cupboards
-Buy a house
-Plant Abraham Lincoln Lilacs on east side of house
-Find friend John Bigley
-Replace The Kelvinator with a real refrigerator
-Find a publisher for “Below Sea Level”
-Meet Chris Cornell and Kofi Annan (not necessarily at the same time)
-Move exercise cycle upstairs to hide absence of at least one sofa
-Learn to let it go when people say “seen” without the word “have”
-Teach niece how to swear in Arabic
-Buy new sofa: Vinyl if cat still lives; fabric if cat is—how shall we say—not living
-See London
-Clean litter boxes (I can never cross this off because when I'm cleaning one he's already using the other one)
-Get over the fact that Ginger and SodaPop bark excessively
-Utilize exercise bike for its God-given purpose
-Buy a horse
-Replace ink cartridge in printer
-Travel the United States
-Finish unpacking
-Finish Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon”
-Finish office filing
-Install the 87 year-old storm windows before first snowfall of 2012
-Do the dishes
-Buy a car
-Learn how to hang art on plaster walls
-Hang art
-Learn to drive a stick shift
-Dust ceiling fans
-Find friend Bob Newberry
-Have an adorable picket fence installed
-Re-build entire front porch of house before it falls into the front yard
-Mow the lawn
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Good things happen, too

This is a note to thank all three groups from FEMA that came to my door as a result of the August 20 flooding, as well as the Columbus City Director of Public Works, Dan Jensen, who spent many days running door to door checking on people and taking loads of complaints and ass-chewings.

This morning I checked my bank account to see if it was time to sell my car for groceries (yes, an exaggeration) and FEMA had transferred disaster funds into my account. It covers about 2/3 of my financial losses, but it was more than I expected which, quite honestly, was nothing.

That's the nice thing about losing faith in humanity: You're always pleasantly surprised when something positive actually happens.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Sam Gets Served

If I told him once, I told him a thousand times: Keep scratching and pissing on my sofas and I will shave your ass. He had his chance!
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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Disaster Area

A fellow from FEMA called a few minutes ago because I registered on their site Saturday night. I told him I was impressed I would get a call on a Sunday night, so soon after I registered. "Well, Miss Dietrich," he said, pronouncing the "ch" like "church." "We work. Yes, we work." I felt waves of post-Katrina defensiveness coming over the phone waves. There I go again, projecting my own guilt on a perfect stranger.

So "Wayne" is coming out tomorrow morning to assess my damage and determine my compensation. Is it weird that I wish I had more damage to show him? Or that I wish I could show him the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when I started down the stairs that day and saw nothing but murky water lapping at my drum set? I want him to see how I felt, but it doesn't work like that. He doesn't fix that kind of damage. Again, I think of the victims of Katrina. Like me, they had an ID number and a Disaster Area number. I am now officially a disaster area. Who didn't see that coming?

[Julian, center, and Jack, far right, before the mosquitoes hatched.]

I worked both horses earlier today, and I am beyond exhausted. Sick? I can't tell. I feel very heavy, and really tired, as if my heart is only pumping at half capacity. I slept for about two hours after riding, and now it's 8 o'clock and I am dragging again already. This is what I mean when I say "I don't always have my health." There are days when I feel like I have unknowingly been run over by a steamroller. Ironically (or not?), one has been working on my street for several days, and is parked just around the corner.

There is so much energy required to engage the horses. Even though they are the ones carrying my dead weight for an hour or two, I always come away from there feeling the other way around. Jack is still a ball of anxiety that needs constant emotional reassurance. Now that is work for me. It is normally my role to be the anxious one, and having to be his rock is utterly draining--but in a positive sort of way, like I am lifting emotional weights and growing stronger as a result of it. Moreover, it seems to be working. He is progressing, albeit slowly. He walks now on his own, instead of taking off as soon as I mount in a nervous trot. He reminds me of me in uncertain social settings, where I find myself laughing at inappropriate times, like when someone is baring their soul to me in confidence; or giggling in black dress settings, like funeral homes. He is finding himself--his own confidence--enough even to start acting rebellious. Now we are working on that, too. I spend my time either trying to convince him he is safe with me, or that we are in this together, and not in any sort of battle. We either get there together, or not at all. He has never had someone commit to him, and he doesn't know what to make of it. And though he is still "for sale," no one but crooked horse dealers have shown interest, and the more time progresses the less I wish to sell him. And I didn't ever wish to sell him very strongly at all to start with.

Julian appears to feel good, despite his mosquito welts. The air is cooler, and the grass is plentiful. His coat shines, and he has at least 100 extra pounds on him that will help him get through the coming winter. He was bullish to tack and bucked fervently whilst lunging, but none of it out of malice. With a breeze just strong enough to keep the swarms from being overbearing, we cantered more circles and arcs in the big front field. The sun felt good; the wind felt good; the running felt exhilarating. The other horses were grazing in the pasture so he did not have to feel isolated. (Though for Jack, that was when he worked best--alone with me in the arena, without distraction.) Julian worked with me, reminding me how it feels when your horse does not live in a world of doubt, as Jack does. Julian lives in a world of overconfidence. Sometimes, I envy him. I made a point of riding near Jack and around him several times. I always seem to think that some of Julian's trusting nature will rub off on Jack. I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way.

I don't really know how any of it works. I am just encouraged when something within me still shows an interest in finding out how it does. That doesn't happen much, anymore.
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Friday, September 7, 2007

Running Away

That's what happens when you start reading a book set in the world of horse racing (Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven). Or when you've had a difficult week and you feel like running for miles only you know you couldn't make it to the post office two blocks away without suffering a coronary, or needing a knee replacement.
First, you wait for work to end. Interminably, you wait. Then you walk the dogs as fast as they can walk and still perform their necessary bodily functions. You throw together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which will end up tasting not a little like Cutter Insect Repellent, since you have dressed in riding boots, thick jeans, a Buzz-Off long-sleeve fisherman's shirt you found on clearance at L.L. Bean, a baseball cap, and six to seven coats of the aforementioned bug spray to prepare for the onslaught of insects awaiting you. You drive like a bat out of hell (or your attic) to reach your horse barn before feeding time, where the ranch owner looks at you like you have lost your mind coming out to ride at dusk in these mosquito plague conditions but politely says nothing, except to offer his bee hood that someone lent him for barn chores. You bravely decline.

Jack came up instantly, as usual, and I swept and swept the mosquitoes from his face, neck, back, everywhere. I sprayed him until he was soggy. Luckily, he had not destroyed the full face mask (with ears) I had repaired last week. Julian needed convincing to come up. Once he was caught, I was horrified to see his skin literally covered in welts. I saw a horse once who had had an allergic reaction to alfalfa. He had developed hives all over his body. Julian looked just like him. I'm sure Jack did, too, but it was hard to see due to his gray coat. My hand could feel every bump as I ran it over his usually smooth skin. I felt horrible, and powerless.

As quickly as I could, I covered Julian's acreage with fly and mosquito spray. It barely shook the insects--though Julian relaxed noticeably and did not move once he felt the spray going on. I could tell he intended to enjoy what respite he could get.

I tacked him up quickly, as standing in one place was an open invitation to the swarms, and led him out to the front pasture. He started dancing, both from mosquitoes and from not having been ridden in weeks. I danced with him, to avoid more broken toes. (I haven't sustained one this year yet, and I am overdue.) I had planned to lunge him, but I decided I couldn't bear being that much closer to the ground, where the mosquitoes were the worst. So, after a couple of false starts, I mounted Jules and we took off at a trot.

Mosquitoes are fast biters, but they are not fast fliers. We shook most of them by trotting, especially when the occasional breeze came up. I took turns holding the reins with one hand as I would use the other to sweep blankets of bugs from his withers and neck. I should have used the arena, which they had recently watered for our use, but I had already dragged the mounting block out to the pasture, and the thought of dismounting and negotiating several gates with those heavy steps and a nervous draft horse did not excite me.

Not to mention--if you'll excuse the expression--I had been bitten by a bug and there was only one way to shake it. I needed to gallop, outdoors, as the sun was setting, through an open green field. Later this weekend I would move to the arena, for the horses' sake, but I just needed one good run. I felt guilty for using Julian to fulfill my selfish needs, but realized he would be outside even if I had not chosen to come. At least I had brought bug spray. I thanked him several times anyway.

We warmed up a bit, trotting the perimeter of the pasture. A few cars slowed as they passed us, while others seemed indifferent. Once he was moving fairly well, I took him to the bottom of the field and turned him back towards the barn. I laid the reins on his neck and grabbed some mane. (Julian doesn't run without bucking.) And he ran. Slowly, at first, to see if I really meant it, then hard, as close to a gallop as a grass-loaded Percheron can get. He tossed his head, which of course led to tossing his hind end a bit. I used the reins to remind him I was still there, and hoped to remain there until I formally dismounted.

We ran in large arcs through the fields, mostly cantering, as I kept reminding myself any open field could lead to dangerous stumbling. It certainly wasn't my intention to break one of his legs, or my neck. Only a few times we went all out--each time with me wondering what a small fraction of speed I was experiencing compared to your average thoroughbred exerciser.

I grew up wanting to be a jockey, but two things changed my mind. First, I knew you couldn't ever exceed more than about 110 lbs. I was too tall and clearly would end up too heavy. Still, the exercisers are often "normal" sized humans. I read more about the life, and learned that exercise riders typically lived on the track, sometimes in extra stalls, made far less than the horses did, and this was the clincher, started work around 4 a.m. seven days a week.

This clearly was not going to work for me. Even at 10 I knew I was not a morning person, and certainly not a pre-dawn person. I remember feeling very sad when I came to this realization. I wondered for some time if it wouldn't be worth the sacrifice--if I wouldn't eventually grow used to it. I read more stories of riders, none of whom seemed to learn to enjoy that part of the job, and put the idea to bed. Mostly.

That part of me that decided not to pursue that dream, who ended up not really fulfilling any dream in particular, was the one that encouraged her horse to do what you're never supposed to encourage your horse to do tonight: run for the barn. I just wanted him to take my breath away, just for a moment, to feel 1600 lbs of muscle working as hard as it could underneath me to move the both of us as fast as possible through the cool evening air, the darkening light, and even through the clouds of mosquitoes. Not even they could catch us now.
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Dave Grohl Channels Angus Young

Clash magazine has a short but sweet article about the Foos right now. They tell him they're afraid he'll start writing sappy shit after the birth of his daughter, Violet. Dave's response is great:

"I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything wrong with sentimentality... I can’t imagine I’ll be dancing round the stage with a fuckin’ harpsichord anytime soon... Eventually you just get to the point where you say, ‘Fuck it. I’m just gonna do whatever the hell I wanna do.”
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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

New York public school accused of radical Islamist agenda

An article just came out (click on title for full piece) regarding the backlash that is erupting because someone tried to open a school that teaches Arabic and Arabic culture in NYC. (As for teaching Arabic as a language elective in schools--that's been done for years in high schools all over the US.) It's not so much the anti-Arab racism that caught my attention--I'm past expecting anything but that from the American people anymore--but rather the quote by one of the moms that pulled her son out due to the controversy. She had enrolled her son for the following reason:

"I know for a fact that any American who learns Arabic will make tons of money whether it's translation, whether it's in the customer service area," she said. "I thought it was the best advantage I could give my son."

So if I'm away when you call, now you know it's because I'm filing and counting my tons of money from having learned Arabic. Read more!

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Swarm

I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I am not leaving the house again until snow falls.

It has nothing to do with that new snowmobile I traded my John Deere in for, of that cute ski outfit I grabbed on sale in Estes Park last week. Rather, it concerns the plague of mosquitoes that have hatched since our Biblical rains began in mid-August.

There is currently no time of day when the insect is sleeping, visiting friends in another state, or doing anything other than attaching itself to you, your dogs or your horses in order to effectively drain that particular creature from its entire allotment of blood. It is not even restricting itself to living beings. When I drove a freshly-mended fly mask out to the stables today, I had to park along the drive to open the ranch gates. This took approximately 20 seconds. When I turned back to get in my beetle--a distant relative of the mosquito and heretofore considered immune--she was lost in a dense cloud of swarming, biting beasts. I have seen friendlier onslaughts from the paparazzi (who, as you all know, follow me relentlessly). The stable owner, who was watching me from her house up the hill, said it looked as though I was battling some fierce invisible foe as I tried to re-enter my beleaguered vehicle. And so I was.
This being the Labor Day Weekend, I had strong intentions of riding both horses during this brief break. The weather was finally gorgeous; my basement was bleached, mopped and besotted with fans and de-humidifiers; and I still fit into the gratefully expansive waistline of my riding breeches regardless of the stress-induced chocolate binging I had been doing over the last two weeks.

But it was not to be. Though I rode Jack briefly on Saturday, I was unseated so many times by aggressive insects that I finally gave up and fled for the hills. Sunday I was too scared to return, but knew I must get that repaired mask to Jack before he started resembling the main character in Steinbeck's The Red Pony. I gamely dressed in riding clothes for today's trip, adding a long-sleeved canvas shirt I hoped would provide some relief from the mini-draculas without causing me to drop from heat exhaustion (at which point, lying unconscious in a sea of mosquitoes, I would stand not a chance of survival) but the battle at the opening gates made me re-think my plans.

I quickly sought out the horses armed with Jack's mask. Julian was wearing his already but still looked at me like he had hoped I would be bringing some full-body armor. Jack looked like he wouldn't have minded borrowing my canvas shirt. (It probably would have been an okay fit.) I jumped into the tack room and emerged again armed with both fly spray and mosquito spray--one for each hand. Now swarmed equally by mosquitoes and my noble charges, I let loose with both barrels. I covered them both from head to tail, ear to hoof, with everything I had. I saw one weak-kneed insect turn to the other horses--but every other bloodsucking varmint appeared to be completely unfazed by my attack.

I can only imagine what hell it must be to live outdoors in these conditions. Their ancestors did it for centuries and survived (no wonder they learned to run so fast) so I know mine will, too. Certainly it is far too hot to close them up in a small barn, especially when there is still good grass to be had before winter. All I'm saying is: Chew fast and pray for frost. I'll be back out then!
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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Barnes & Noble Tout "Diversity" and First Amendment Rights (?) in Defense of Selling OJ's "Book."

This is the actual response I received after e-mailing B&N regarding their decision to carry OJ's The Idiot's Guide to Killing Your Ex-Wife and Her Boyfriend. I'm especially amused by their comparing it in the same sentence to tomes by Mark Twain, William Shirer and the Dr. James Dobson, long-rumored ghost author of all versions of The Bible.

Dear Customer,

Thank you for your e-mail. As booksellers, we carry thousands of books whose subject matter somemay find offensive. Over the years, we have received countless requestsand demands to stop selling everything from The Merchant of Venice to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, even The Living Bible.

At Barnes & Noble, we take our mission very seriously - to be a valuable resource to our customers, bringing books and ideas to the public. We live in a diverse culture, and that diversity is reflected in the wide range of interests, philosophies, and lifestyles of our customers. The guiding principle we use is to offer every book in print and allow our customers to decide what to buy and read. After all, freedom of choice is at the very heart of our democratic society. It is understandable that some people may strongly oppose the content of a particular title and choose not to purchase it; we respect their opinions. In return, we ask that our customers respect our responsibility to offer a selection of reading materials as diverse as the society in which we live - the very society that grants the freedom for these materials to exist.


Jacqueline Customer Service Representative

I don't care what the fuck they use as an excuse, but they could at least have the decency to leave the venerable Mark Twain out of this. Just when I thought they couldn't go any lower... Read more!