Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Although I complain about it an absurd amount, Florida is occasionally lovely. And this shouldn't surprise anyone; any place, given the benefit of the doubt or just some nice lighting, contains the potential for loveliness. Growing up, I got to do many things that you only get to do in tropical places.
I swam with dolphins; or, more accurately, got moved about by dolphins. We would tie my little boat onto the side of my aunt's fishing boat and the dolphins, amused by a new visitor, would bounce their noses against it. I would fall out, and cry, because I was pretty sure they were doing it on purpose. We also swam with manatees a lot. Crystal River, where my aunt lives, is where they hang out. Manatees are slow moving, gentle creatures. They don't do much and they're really not that interesting except in that they're endangered now.
I saw alligators often, and they saw me. And not once did one ever try to eat me, not even when I was trapped under a canoe in their river.
I visited (and then tried to stay away from) the Everglades, which is an incredibly diverse bioregion.
I did sea turtle patrol, watching over the eggs after they were laid to make sure nothing tried to dig them up. The payoff for late nights in the sand was that we got to watch the baby turtles hatch and make their way down to the water.
I lived through Hurricane Elena.
I once followed a rain shower down the street, because it was only about three feet wide.

None of this makes me look at it any more kindly; I still would rather, I don't know, chew off a foot than live there again. But I thought you should know.

Monday, March 29, 2004

I interrupt this regularly scheduled stuff for some people perfectly color-coordinated with the city.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Florida, Pt 3:

On a million-degree day in July of 2000, Bethany, Candice, and I headed to the beach. Clearwater Beach is a man made expanse of blisteringly white sand that reflects the sun back into your face. It's a spring break destination, a total tourist trap; it's where I grew up. As a kid we'd sit on the lifeguard stations to watch 4th of July fireworks. In high school we had homecoming afterparties there, we spent weekends and vacations and sunny hurricane days spread out on towels, cooking. I once slept there for a night the month I was homeless senior year. I had a love-hate relationship with the beach. My super pale skin crisps at the mere thought of sun and I dislike sand in my clothes, but at the same time the sparkling blue gulf and the white sand (not to mention the boys!) always proved irresistible.
This particular day we arranged ourselves on the sand and commenced tanning. We were feeling particularly perky that day; Bethany and I were about to move away to college and Cane had a new boyfriend that hadn't ever been arrested (a huge step up from the last one). Bethany lay on my left; blonde and tan, in a black bikini that was all string and a few discreet triangles of material, she was our showpiece. Cane, on my right, was in her dark red bikini, her long brown-red hair catching the light. The two of them had coated themselves in low SPF suntan lotion, essentially vegetable oil, and were preparing to bake themselves golden brown. I was in the middle, in my bright orange and yellow bikini, long brown hair as ever piled on top of my head. I was coating myself in high grade SPF, hoping I'd come out of the day with only a mild sunburn.
We were, as ever, chatting idly of boys.
"So, Spam, slept with Nate yet?"
"Dude, -fuck- Nate. He's a dick, and I hate him."
"So that's a no?"
"Oh...uh, no, I slept with him. I don't want to talk about it." I turned on Bethany. "What's up with the -Keith- situation, eh?"
"Keith is difficult. Maybe we can get him drunk and you can distract Todd while I work on Keith."
(Oh, for the days that my girlfriends and I traded men like baseball cards!)
"I'll distract Todd, alright. Hey, Adam just got back from Cocoa last night."
Adam was an old friend of mine, Cocoa beach was where people went to surf. It's on the Atlantic coast.
"Yeah. He says that the fins were cresting really close to shore."
That summer, there had been a lot of reports of shark attacks on surfers. We said that the fins crested when they broke the surface of the water, and we were really glad that there were fewer sharks on our side.
"Shit. Here, we just gotta do the stingray shuffle."
The stingray shuffle is what you do in water where there might be rays. If you shuffle your feet along the sand in the water, it disturbs the rays and they swim away. This means that you won't step on them and they won't sting you.
We were pondering the stingray shuffle when Cane noticed a man who was standing a few yards away, down towards the waterline, and apparently staring right at us. She elbowed me.
"Hey, what's he doing?"
He appeared to be pretty old, and from the looks of his white skin and bright red speedo bathing suit, he was obviously a tourist. What had disturbed Cane, however, was the fact that the sun was glinting off of the lens of a video camera that he held in his right hand.
"He's filming us! Oh, -gross-!"
We were skeeved, and a bit scared. We each grabbed for our t-shirts, trying to cover ourselves before hightailing it off the beach. But on our way out we stopped by the lifeguard stand and told Sean, our lifeguard, what had happened. And we still hope that Sean threw that camera in the water.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Florida is the weirdest state in the union, Pt 2:

Gasparilla is a festival where the pirates invade Tampa Bay.
I suppose this takes a little bit of background history. If you look on a map at the Gulf coast of Florida, about halfway down, you'll notice another little peninsula curving off the side of the state. The water therein is Tampa Bay, and that whole section was a pirate hideout. There's a small town in there called Safety Harbor which was named by the pirates. It's actually the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the U.S., rather than St. Augustine, but because it was infested by pirates it didn't get a town charter until later. (A further piece of history here is that a relative of mine was the first mayor of the town of Safety Harbor.) Tampa Bay is where they would go to, I don't know, count the booty, after trolling the waters of the Caribbean.
So. Every year the Tampa Bay area has a festival celebrating the underrated accomplishments of looting, raping, pillaging, and burning. A pirate ship sails into the bay and lands at the port of Tampa, whereupon a legion of sweaty, shirtless, hairy men invade the port and have a parade. All of the seven or eight cities that live under the umbrella of the term "Tampa Bay Area" have flocked into downtown Tampa, and as soon as the boat hits everyone gets down and starts partying.
When I was a little girl, my dad's bands would play at the party.
I suppose this involves a bit more background history. The thing is, you see, that my parents were crazy musicians; long haired rock-n-rollers, the lot of them. When I was four and we moved back to Tampa from Jacksonville my parents were still in their mid-twenties and, though divorced, still believed wholeheartedly in partying together.
So. My father, shirtless and in cutoffs, impossibly young and curled around his bass, would play at these festivals. And I, four or five, also shirtless and in cutoffs, would dance at them. I was then, and still am now, a big sucker for even bad covers of good old rock-n-roll, and would get down like nobody's business at a heavy bass opening or a talky guitar line.
And then I, four or five, shirtless and in cutoffs, would be toasted by hairy men dressed like pirates and handed a beer. Because, in the end, there's really no way to celebrate a legacy of piracy than with shameless debauchery, and if the kid can't hold her liquor, she'll learn pretty quick.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Florida is the weirdest state in the union, Pt 1:

We're cruising east on 60, just west of Yeehaw Junction. The temperature wobbles on the edge of three digits and our 4/60 air conditioning--4 windows down going 60 miles per hour--serves only to sweep the scalding air past my face, singeing my eyebrows. Brad is in the driver's seat of his dented rust bucket named Sheila, his shoulder length hair waving wildly in the breeze. His left leg, bored, shifts around restlessly in the well under the steering wheel. I am in the passenger seat, bare legs folded on the dashboard, one foot with each toenail painted a different color stuck out the window. My hair, long and bleached blonde, is piled untidily on top of my hair and secured with a pair of chopsticks found in the back seat. The sun bounces off the fair skin of my shoulders and nose, and I am slowly roasting.
The car approaches a handwritten sign on the right shoulder of the road. "Good Food. Next Right." The words are written in black permanent marker and underlined with red. I look at Brad, and he looks at me. We shrug, and almost simultaneously say "Why the hell not?"
The next right turns out to be a barely perceptible slightly rutted road hidden under crab grass. After a good deal of bumping and oh shitting we approach the man. Moments before stopping, we hear a thunk at the front of the car. "Hope that wasn't his kid," says Brad. We step out of the car, my bare foot landing squarely on a mole cricket, squishing it into my arch and up as far as my toes. "Awww, sonofabitch!" I hop up and down, grossed out. "What?" Brad moves around the front of the car towards me. "We can't stop here, it's mole cricket country," I answer, showing him the bottom of my foot. "Oooh, you got a juicy one." We walk around the back of the car and down the lane a few feet until we come across the curled up armadillo that was the source of the thunk. "I hope that's not the good food, is all I have to say."
For the record, I'm not a big fan of armadillo meat. It's stringy and musky in exactly the way you would expect something that my father always called a 'rodent on the half shell' to be.
The man sits on a folding chair, a pile of watermelons a yard or two closer to us. Directly in front of him sits a folding table with two crock pots on it. The crock pots look just like the one my stepmother has at home, with a blue pattern of roosters and things and one wobbly leg. The sign in from the of left-hand one says "Collard greens $2." The right-hand one says "Boiled peanuts $2." Two dollars for what? A peanut? A green? A crockpot?
"How y'all today?" His voice is strangely high pitched and we're taken aback.
"Not so bad. Yourself?"
"Doin' good. Hotter than a Calcutta whorehouse today, though."
I don't know how to answer this, and from the look of Brad neither does he. We haven't ever been to a Calcutta whorehouse, or even -near- one. We move towards the watermelons to confer. "Where is his car?" Brad asks. I look around and, sure enough, no vehicle of any kind. "This dude obviously fell out of the sky." "So, does he leave when the crock pots are empty? Does he have more hidden in the grass?" "It's probably all magic." "Right-o. I'll take the collared greens, you take the peanuts."
We make our requests and from behind the crock pots he produces plastic cups. He fills them expertly, no spillage, and we give him our money. But we wait until we get back into the car and on the highway to try them, just in case none of it was real and it disappears once we leave. We want proof. I crack a peanut and Brad dips his fingers into the greens and pulls out a pinch, and then we switch.
The most astonishing part is that, indeed, it is good food.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Of course, the best part about going anywhere is coming home.

We went to Mt. St. Helens and Portland this weekend. Here's what I saw:
(Click the little one to make a big one.)

Mt. St. Helens:

Portland (things):

Portland (people):

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Jeff holds my hand in public and likes my eyebrows. He tells me good morning when I wake up and he has the most complicated eye color I've ever come across. He may know how to cook an apple pie over a campfire and is a great dancer. He plays a mean game of Scrabble and a meaner Boggle and is doing the job that I wish I had.

He's the best boyfriend.

Happy birthday, buddy! You're my favorite.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I called today to make an appointment for a haircut on Thursday. Since I moved to Seattle I've gotten it cut twice, both times at the same place. It's right down the street from me; it's a little spendy, but both times she's done a good job.

Anyway, the point to this little bit of a story is that when I gave her my name for the appointment, she remembered who I was. This may not actually be true. She may have just been sounding like she knew who I was in the same way that I pretend to remember the customers in my store. But regardless, she appeared to remember me and this feels like I officially have a hairstylist. Like, cheesily, I'm putting down roots.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

As a further attempt to figure things out with the help of, uh, this website, I've added the books that I'm reading over there to the right. There's usually not more than two of them, after all, so they don't take up much space.

The real fact is that I'll take any excuse to talk about books.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I am continually astonished by how perfect some things can be.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Did anyone else go to a school that had "clown day," where it was mandatory to dress up like a clown, or is this just a peculiar side effect of having clown college so close?

Incidentally also, I was at a private religious school. Subtext?
Every summer a mockingbird builds its nest in the tall shrubbery next to my father's garage. It hates the fact that my family has callously placed their home so close to its nest, although if we were going to talk specifics with the bird, the house was there first. The bird's preferred method of expressing its displeasure is by dive bombing the first person to exit the walkway.
The only one it ever hits is my brother Ryan.
For some reason, the mockingbird really dislikes my brother. Whenever he leaves the house it swoops down towards his head, often making contact with the flesh above his right ear. The net result of this is that by the end of summer Ryan launches himself out the front door in the hopes of making it past before the bird spots him. He also, by the end of summer, has a large nasty bird beak wound on the side of his head.
We never understood why the bird has chosen Ryan to hate. He's not the loudest of my two brothers, not the fastest or the slowest of the family, not the tallest or the shortest. He is the middle ground, and the mockingbird has begun a campaign on his mediocrity. We can't, of course, be sure that it's always the same mockingbird. After six or seven years, it's probably unlikely. So perhaps it is mockingbirds in general that do not like my little brother.

One day a few years ago Ryan was in my bedroom looking at my bookshelves. He couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 at the time, but he spied one he liked. "Sissy, can I borrow that one?" "To Kill a Mockingbird? Well sure, buddy, but I think it's probably advanced for you." "But it'll tell me -how-." It was then that I realized that he thought it was a sort of how to guide. I had been too excited by his interest to figure out what was going on.

My family is moving to North Carolina in a few months. Last week, I was on the phone with Ryan. "Are you excited to be moving?" I asked him. "Yeah," he answered. "Maybe there's no mockingbirds in North Carolina."
So I guess that means it's moved back in.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Make Like the Virgin Mary

In 1996, the Virgin Mary appeared on a window of The Ugly Duckling Car Rental in my hometown. I remember this vividly, since it was Christmastime and we wretched nonbelievers had a much smaller crowd to elbow through in the mall. Someone cut down a tree and there she was, a 60-foot-high water stain. Soon enough, the throngs diminished and the building was leased by some church or another. I passed the building daily on my way to and from school, and to and from the pool hall. No matter what time of day or night it was, people, usually no more than a handful, were there worshipping.
We forgot about them after a time; they were just part of the scenery. But I drove past it again when I was back in Florida in January, and it was still there, still with its roped off section of the parking lot where believers could meditate without fear of being run over by a car. It was comforting in a sort of 'oh yeah, and there's our local ironic miracle' way.
On the phone with my stepmother tonight, she mentioned that some kids had finally managed to throw rocks through it, shattering the top half of the apparition. And I found myself uttering the phrase "these kids today." Since the day after it showed up, people have been trying to kill it. Some have even gone as far as throwing tomatoes at the glass in the hope that the acids in the fruit will eat away the stain. But now someone has finally succeeded, seven years later.

I'm worried about the people that have spent so much faith on this window. The church has replaced the glass, but what if the stain doesn't return? They will believe that they have been forsaken, and this will be bad. Simply because I didn't have any belief staked on it does not mean that I feel they should be begrudged their faith. But then I suppose that the true test of their faith is meant to come now that their old icon is broken.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

I was uncomfortable with being the first one there, so I wandered back into the cafe and read another section of my book. Three--maybe four--minutes being duly accounted for, I wandered, desperately nonchalant, back into the reading room. Still there was no one inside. I paused, contemplating the pros and cons of retreating back into the cafe. Would people notice that I was wandering back and forth? I had not yet decided my course of action when a cute guy with a mohawk popped up from behind a bookshelf; there was, I now saw, a sort of office back there.
"Are you here for the reading?"
"It'll be another 15 minutes or so."
That's me, chronically way too early. You'd think that by now I would have perfected my waiting technique, but I'm still awkward and self-conscious about it. I wandered over to the stack of books to be signed. Could I take one now, I wondered, or was I meant to wait until after the reading?
Finally other people started to trickle in, and the mohawk boy reappeared beside me. "Please, make yourself at home." Deciding, on reflection, that I was much to uncomfortable to make myself feel at home, I settled instead for finding a seat: second row, about four seats in; not too close to be spit on but not so far away that I'd miss anything good if someone tall sat in front of me. I nestled into my chair, opened my book, and waited.
The room was about halfway full when the guy with the mohawk walked over. "The author is late, so I hope you don't mind waiting."
"Oh," I answered, "can't you call him?"
"Maybe he got stuck in traffic or something."
Another fifteen minutes went by before the mohawk took the stage. "We still haven't heard from the author," he told the lot of us, "so I guess someone got the time or the location wrong. I guess we can consider this canceled."
On my way out the door I grabbed a copy of the book. While I'm mildly resentful that the author had not made himself known, I don't, after all, want the trip to be a total waste.
We were vandals, just as much as any other group of thirteen year olds. We just weren't very good at it.
"Let's go throw rocks through the windows of that empty place by Joey's!"
"Yeah! Or maybe pinecones."
"Sure, pinecones!" I had to think fast. I've always been a scaredy cat, and couldn't we get -arrested- for breaking windows?I didn't want to go to jail. "That way, if we break a window, we'll have -worked- for it! Victory will be ours!"
"Uh, sure, but rocks..."
"No way, man! Rocks are for pussies. Pinecones are the tools of the future!"
Everyone looked at each other, and then me, suspiciously. Was I joking, or was I really cooler than them? Could they afford to let me, a girl, tell them what to do? There was silence, a shifting of feet, an uncomfortable hitching foreward of shoulders.
"Let's go, uh, play basketball!"
If we'd been in a cartoon, there would have been a cloud of dust and wavy lines where we had just been standing. Sure, they may have talked like they wanted to break windows, but none of us wanted to get in trouble. Trouble meant grounded, after all, and that was a fate worse than exile.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

I am such a sucker for 'alarmed door' signs. They make me laugh each and every time I see them.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I remained a teenager when Brad entered his twenties, but no age difference could really interfere with true partners in crime. We each tried, when we first met, to fall in love with the other, but much to our mutual relief that didn’t really work out. Instead, we wrote suicide letters together:
“To Whom it May Concern:
I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”
“To Whom it May Concern:
I’ve fallen and I can’t get up…into a vat of piranha.”
“To Whom it May Concern:
I licked the cat. Because of that and all the other years of me-inflicted trauma, it went a little crazy.
It’s almost chewed through the door. Here’s hoping it goes for the jugular.”

We made light of the things that scared us rather than risk losing face by being obviously afraid.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I once had a fling.
I know that, at 21, I should have had lots of flings. Flings should be my business. I should have spent the whole three years that I was in college having brief, intense interludes with exchange students and philosophy majors. I should have broken out my bikini and romped with surfers. It was in the plans; my party pickup line was supposed to be 'hello, my name is samantha, and my major is gratuitous recreational sex'. The trouble, sadly, is that eventually my personality gets in the way and so things never work out the way they do in the alternate universe of my other personality: the one in my head.
And so it was sort of refreshing to toss myself into a brand new environment and have a brief but truly fabulous rendez-vous. I behaved shamefully, but then that's how it's supposed to work in these situations. And the whole silly affair brought a deeper sense of understanding and comfort to a friendship that has been sporadic at best for many years.
It's not often, after all, that I get to (or want to) see my dearest male friends naked.

I get jealous of the women that my boyfriend has known in the past. Not merely in the biblical sense, but even just friends. The thought that he's desired other women makes me shiver. I disregard these feelings, though, because they're silly. I refuse to let them get to me, to let them get anywhere near him, to let them outside my head. I've never been insecure like this before and so I'll be damned if I start now. And I've discovered that the easiest way to counteract this effect is to remind myself that I have my own past which (hopefully) has the same effect on him. I remind myself that I've known men (in the biblical sense) before myself.
In some odd, rather perverse way, this helps to chase off my demons.

Monday, March 01, 2004

It’s 8 am on a Saturday morning in 1998, and I am asleep. I have been asleep for a mere six hours, having spent most of the night before at a pool hall across town. I’m sixteen, and I fancy myself quite the pool shark. My world consists of my friends and myself, and it does not have room for anything that would want to wake me up at 8 in the morning. Eric doesn’t care about my world. He cares about cheese. He slaps a slice straight from the refrigerator onto my unsuspecting forehead, jolting me immediately and angrily awake. Cheese please? His face is cherubic, every feature composed smoothly into infallible innocence. I don’t believe this. I know that he has been waiting by my door for the clock in the hall to chime the hour. Can I have cheese for breakfast? We have had to limit his cheese intake to eight slices a day, because his excessive consumption of Kraft Singles lends to the calcium that lingers purple under his skin. This makes no difference; he is an addict. Right now he cannot handle the tricky plastic film that covers the individual pieces. Very soon he will master them, and no amount of reactionary measures will stop him. He will crouch by the fridge in the middle of the night, stuffing purloined cheese slices into his cheeks like a mouse on speed. This morning, though, he’s still too little to manage his fingers. He takes his revenge on those of us with higher motor skills by demanding cheese from us at unholy times. I would roll over and go back to sleep, but Eric always wins. Groggy, I try and think of a way to make him leave. I tell him that I don’t remember how to open them, and that he should go ask his mom. He accepts this suggestion and scuttles off, giggling evilly, to go hit her with his now lukewarm cheese.
As a small child, I spent most of my time with my paternal grandmother. She lived in a slightly seedy apartment building, one with a courtyard full of tumbled weeds that I would explore unceasingly for hours. As one of those goofy kids who fell down a lot and always ended up in the wrong place, I didn’t really have any friends. Instead, I had this jungle courtyard and Speedy and Kathleen, my imaginary pals, for company. The last day I ever played there was one bright with pineapple sunshine and warm breezes. The heat warmed my skin through my favorite spotted sundress and I focused completely on my quest for doodlebugs. Standing up from an intense study of the square patch of earth in front of me, something shattered painfully on the top of my head. I reached up my hand, sure that my skull was broken and my brains were seeping out, and pulled it back covered in some viscous goo that was bright yellow and milky white. Surprised that my brains and the sun were the same color, I stared at my fingers until something slid down my scalp and fell quickly to the grass. It was an eggshell, and the truth quickly dawned on me; some mean kid upstairs had dropped an egg on my head. I remembered a nature show that my grandmother had just been watching where baby chickens pecked their way out from the inside of eggs that looked, suspiciously, just like this one. As I stood there in the sunny courtyard, I started to cry because I had a dead baby chicken dripping down the side of my face.