Wednesday, April 28, 2004

"Have you ever been to Paris?"
"You'd like it."
"I think so too."
"No, really, you'd love it. Lots of food and babies."

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

There was a man downtown today with a guitar and a dog, and his voice reminded me so vividly of Gamble Rogers that I realized with a shock that none of my Florida stories have ever mentioned Gamble. (The man's face did not; he was all bearded and sunburned but Gamble was always well-groomed.) And the thing is that Gamble was one of the few things to come out of Florida that can and should be considered a national treasure. (I include myself in this list.)

The facts are these: Gamble was a native Florida boy that grew up to be a folk singer. He taught Jimmy Buffet all he knows (which he then forgot or sold to the devil). He was a brilliant story-teller and a master with a guitar, but he remains virtually unremembered today. I've watched people encountering a recording of one of his shows laughing and crying at the same time. He died in 1991 trying to save a drowning Canadian fisherman, even though he was in his 50's and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis.

My memories of Gamble are few and vague, and the handful of them doesn't even make up a good story. And yet I'm finding this all hard to tell you because he feels like family even though I hardly knew him. He and my parents ran in roughly the same circles, Florida's music scene being as small and inbred as it was. We would go to St. Augustine, to the Tradewinds or the Milltop, and he would sometimes be there too. I remember laughing so hard that I cried at his stories one night, even though I didn't really understand what he was saying. I remember once he looked down his knobby nose at me and winked. He and I were only alive at the same time for 9 years, after all, but I can still feel how friendly he was all this time away. When my mom told me that he'd died I didn't really listen, didn't try to remember--I was 9, after all. And I had forgotten about him until a few years ago when I started handing out with (read: having a huge crush on) my friend Greg, who was a big fan.
But then I remembered.
Long time residents of St. Augustine all have memories of Gamble, and I've never heard a bad one. By all accounts he was almost unbelievably good natured and helpful. I'm sorry that I didn't get more time with him. Not so that I'd have stories for you, mind you, but because I'm pretty sure that he made good everything he touched.

His memorial foundation won't let any local music stores carry his albums, so I never owned one of my own. But hearing that man sing today reminded me that it's been a year now since I've heard the Maitland Turkey Farm Massacre, so maybe it's about time I got around to bringing it here.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Dear Everyone,

Good morning!
I was happy to hear that you're well, that you're not being beaten or starved or unduly harmed in any way. But I do wish that you were content. You are such a star, such an absolutely perfect being, and I think that you don't just let things happen. I think that you hunt them down, pluck them from their hiding places, and then become upset that they are not yet ripe. I think that the universe wants you to win but that you're suspicious of a trap and so you set your course to lose.
But then we're strugglers by nature, you and I, and I suppose it's better that we be fighting against something rather than against adversaries entirely of our own creation.
Which, of course, could be any of this.
But I apologize. I don't mean for there to be so much of this so early in a letter. It's just that early mornings (before noon) and late nights (after 8) make me acutely conscious of the weight of my skull. I sometimes try to fit my thumbs under the edge of it--my skull--and lift. I try to alleviate the pressure of all this thinking, but likely all I'm really doing is bruising something. If they crack open my head when I die, remember to save for science the twin thumb prints on either side of the nape of my neck.
I woke up this morning with a slight sore throat, a faintly throbbing headache. This happens most mornings. If it felt like an allergy I could be clever and say that I'm allergic to consciousness. Instead, I just feel like I have a cold. There's nothing clever about a cold.
I'm so scattered today, but the facts are these: I am at work. I spend most of my day standing quietly. I generally have little conversation and even less interaction. There is a pitcher of white tulips next to me. Tulips are unfamiliar flowers, and these white ones are ghostly and smell, perversely, like sperm. But maybe that's untrue. The lights are dim and the soundtrack to Chocolat makes me sleepy. There's a bird in here, Maytag, and I feel like a jerk because I get so annoyed by how much he sings.
When I got dressed today I considered the weather. I am inside all day long, though, and the weather only touches me on my way to or from the bus. But thinking about outside when I choose the day's outfit makes me feel a little more connected to the world.
I've been in this mood I get into sometimes where it seems as though I am waiting for bad things to happen. Times like these, I fail miserably at being independent and in charge. Instead, I want someone around all the time to hug me whenever I demand. You know how tactile I am, and how I like to hug people. And the thing is that generally, when someone is there, the mood vanishes. (Except for those late nights and early mornings.) I guess I just get lonely more than I like to admit. I still love living alone, but I am still so used to people. It's tough.
We went over to Alki yesterday, the beach over in West Seattle. The sand is scattered with living things--sea anemones and barnacles. Humans were not meant to be walking there, I feel. It was just barely warm in the sunshine and I was sad and thoughtful. The sea anemones, when poked, close in on themselves like the kids in those commercials for sour candy, where the candy is so sour it sucks their face in. I understood, though, how they felt--closing up like that.
I am sentimental, indeed.
I was there with Jeff, who is much the sort of boy you've been telling me all these years to go out with. You always were smarter than me.
Life is simple here, and mostly I enjoy it. (Although by the tone of this letter, you couldn't tell.) I hope that your family is well. Tell your mother/brother/nephew/aunt's cousin's father that I said hello.
I am thinking of you fondly.


Sunday, April 25, 2004

My $1.07 kite from Rite Aid is timid about flying. It's shaped like a whale, and I think this has something to do with it; whales, after all, don't fly. This is also likely due to user error. I've never really flown a kite before, and am not quite sure how it works exactly.

We were down (over? both?) at Alki today. I'd only ever driven past it before. Walking on the sand was a new experience for me. Beaches out here are different; the sand is brown and coarse, and there are sea anemones everywhere when the tide goes out. I'd seen sea anemones in the tide pools when we went to the ocean last October, but that was really my only exposure to them. This time, sitting next to them on the sand, I poked at them. It probably wasn't a nice thing to do, but I did it. I wanted to see what would happen.

Further, there was a road sign on the rocks. It said something about a one way street ahead, and it made me giggle like these things are wont to do. Nothing like a misplaced road sign to get a laugh out of me.

It was astonishingly lovely out today. I really love this place. But you don't get to see any of that, because I forgot to bring my camera along with me. I checked when we were leaving and the case was in my purse, sure enough. It's just that the camera wasn't in the case. It was on my desk. So instead, I have for you the sunflower that Jeff brought me yesterday. I hope it will suffice.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Every time I do my laundry, I learn more about my neighbors. There are either some people or one person who have/has a bit of difficulty remembering to retrieve their laundry from the dryer. I feel awkward removing their clothes, but it has to be done: there are only two washers and two dryers for the whole building. But every time I have to do it, I'm waiting, shoulders hunched up around my ears, for the owner of the clothes to walk in.
I really shouldn't be paying any attention to what's in the handfuls of fabric that I'm hastily tugging at and piling on the table. But I don't know anyone in this building, and so I'll never be sure whose clothes they are.
This time, after yanking out a load of men's clothes (green towels, blue polo shirts, pink-and-grey striped boxers), there was at the bottom a silky thong. Now, I didn't take a closer look at it, so I have to wonder. Is it his? Is it his girlfriend's, or his wife's? Did his one night stand slip in in there so that he would call her? I'll never know, and honestly I don't really want to. I've already spent more time thinking about the underwear of someone I don't know than I really should.

But I've since finished drying my laundry, and he hasn't come by to pick up his clothes. So I wondered if I should put them back in the dryer. He'd never know, wouldn't likely be going 'fee fie foe fum, I smell the blood of...that girl in 102!' But the whole train of thought made me increasingly uncomfortable. I just packed up my clothes and walked back down the hall. They're still sitting there in the basket by the couch, waiting to be folded. And I'm positive they all belong to me.

Also, just so you know, I'm very embarrassed when I go to the grocery store about how much junk food I consume. That's not accurate, actually. My consumption doesn't embarrass me in the least. It's how much I buy that I'm embarrassed by. And so I make up these elaborate stories in my head, just in case anyone asks why I have all this crap. It's not something that ever happens, but I like to be prepared. 'I have a rare disease that can only be kept in balance with potato chips and french onion dip. They metabolize at different rates, so it keeps me stable.' 'I'm on that hip new ice cream diet.' 'It's my little sister's birthday, and we're having a party.'
But no one has ever confronted me about it, and so I've never had to test whether or not I would tell my story or simply blush to my toenails and run away, leaving my half-full cart in the middle of the aisle.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

We stopped in Montana for gas during a rainstorm that would eventually cleanse my car of four and a half days of bugsplats.

I was on the run, I admit, from the entire state of Florida. I was running from the heat and the mosquitoes, from the useless degree I had just obtained. I was running from my addled family. Mostly, I was running from the sad scared little girl who was failing so profoundly to live up to my expectations.

Someday maybe I'll tell you all about the darker stories, about drug deals gone wrong, about midnight threatening phone calls, about being homeless. I'll tell you about all the times I failed to stand up for myself and about the times that I did not fail to stand up for myself but instead failed to move properly out of the way of heavy things intended to hurt me. I'll tell you about the things you don't want to hear about, the things that are largely what I was on the lam from.

But not now. Now, I'll tell you that I ran away successfully. I will tell you that I drove as fast as I could away from the old world and forced myself on the new one. I'll tell you that I've tried to wash away the stains of back then like that rainstorm washed away all the bugs on my car.

But I'm still sad that I didn't keep that butterfly.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

My first dog's name was Raspberry Splat. I don't know where the name came from, but that's what it was. Raz was a Rotteweiler with the sweetest disposition.

I'm a dog person. Oh, I'm friendly with other animals, but I'm friends with everything. Dogs, though, make me happiest.

This is Poco. She and I played the catching the toy game for a while today. Her owner let my boss borrow her for the day, and they shared the love with me.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

I heard from an old friend a moment ago; my cell phone rang with an unfamiliar Tampa number and there, on the other end, was him. I didn't recognize the voice, but the mannerisms gave it away. As the years get farther away from me I find that more than anything else he unsteadies me, makes me feel unclean. It's a thrill in itself to realize that there's no thrill there anymore.
"Hey, baby."
"Do you miss me?"
"Astoundingly. Who--"
He cuts me off. He's always done that, and it's annoying.
"The new album came out last night. Did you buy it?"
"Oh, hi. No."
"Why not?"
"Because you're a dick."
"Yeah, but I pay a mean guitar."
"To what do I owe the dubious honor of this phone call? Are you dying?"
"Don't think so. Just wanted to see if you were going to visit me when you were in town."
"How did you..." I know the answer before I finish the question. My dad must have mentioned it. And he must not be getting laid much these days, if he's calling me again. "I didn't visit you last time I was in town. Why would I want to break such an impressive record? Besides, have you forgotten that we hate each other?"
"We're meant for each other, baby. Why, got a boyfriend?"
"You're infuriating. Of -course- I have a boyfriend, numbskull. But that's not the point."
"Oh, what's the point?"
"The point is, you're a dick."
"Yeah, yeah. Look, I have a gig tonight. This is my number. Look me up when you're in town."
"You betcha, buddy. Hold your breath."
And with all of that, he was gone. I'm a bit weirded out at his uncanny knack for knowing what's happening in my life, since it's been more than a year since the last time we've spoken. I'm shaken, but triumphant--this is the first time in five years that I haven't, not even a little bit, wanted the drama back.
I wouldn't trade the world I have now for anything else.

1. There is a whole size difference between my feet.
2. I would give my soul for a Chik-Fil-A franchise in Seattle.
3. My friend Cassie was once stalked by the drummer from Herman's Hermits.
4. My favorite food is sandwiches, and I can't find a sandwich place I like in Seattle (hey, that was two!).
5. I am afraid of my appendix.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Back to Florida, and the much alluded to canoe story:

When I was eight, we went canoeing. In one was me, my father, and my stepmother. In the other was two of my aunts, an uncle, and my younger cousin Amanda. Bama and Timmy, my aunt and uncle, are big outdoors-y type people. I am not. Oh, I'm trying to be a little better about it now, since I live in Seattle. You can't not be active here. Glamour girls in Gucci look at me in shock and gasp "you've never been camping!?" at me here. So I'm trying to change my ways. But this canoe trip 13 years ago remains my one and only canoeing experience.

At eight I had not yet read Heart of Darkness and so had not yet developed a frame of reference for the musty Conradian trip down the river, but I remember it almost like we had brought a copy of the story along with us. In my memory, natives were at any moment going to launch arrows at us from the shadows. I'm always surprised when I think of this trip that there was no madman at the end.

But enough with the digressions and the melodrama. We were canoeing. I was eight years old and not expected to do a thing aside from sit in the middle of the boat and fiddle with our camera. About a third of the way down the river Timmy shouted to us, pointing at the riverbank. We looked, and there on the side, sunbathing, were two alligators that were about five or six feet long. (Alligators grow about a foot a year.) Even though gators are a pretty common sight in the swamp, they still send a shiver up my spine. They're pretty harmless except for when they're not, but when they're riled they can be lightning quick and twice as dangerous. Anything like that deserves a little shiver.

So ok, we were canoeing in a river with the alligators. This is no big deal; this is to be expected. I was uninterested and returned to studying my shoes, which had blue bows on them. I found them fascinating, and I lost track of our course down the river, which is likely why I'm still not sure exactly how I ended up under the canoe. Outside sources (my other family members) said that my parents had both leaned the same way going under a low tree branch and that had tipped the canoe. All that I know is that one moment it was bright daylight and the next I was trapped underneath a tipped over boat.

They couldn't find me on the surface of the water and it took them a few minutes to think of looking under the boat. I would have liked to panic but I was so shocked that it hadn't occurred to me. All of a sudden the canoe lifted and the sunlight was back. That's when I actually put the pieces together and figured out that I was underneath all that time. We paddled over to the shore and hoisted ourselves back in. My uncle and father dove to retrieve as many possessions as they could, but the camera, my stepmother's watch, and my shoes were nowhere to be found. During the confusion another couple paddled by and the man asked, winking at me, if he could keep whatever he found downstream. It was then that I got really upset.

But I'm not sure how to describe my emotions when we made it further down the river and passed a couple more alligators on the riverbank, one of which had a shoe with a little blue bow resting on its nose. I let it keep the shoe.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Yesterday was a nice, nice day. Jeff and I decided to go to Discovery Park, and on the way somehow ended up at the Freemont Sunday Market.

(It's interesting to note that several other people were at the Market yesterday, and the only person I saw that was familiar was the one I went with.)

Leaving, Jeff said "Isn't Elvis around here somewhere?"
"Yeah, him, Elvis."
"He's that way." I pointed vaguely off to our right.
"I think he's that way." Jeff pointed to the left. Undecided, we walked up another block, only to find him there. And there he was, sure enough, with a duck on his head. There had been one glued to his foot, too, but someone had whacked off the head so it was just half a duck. When my mom was in town my stepsister and I had been so excited to show them Lenin, but they weren't as impressed.

We headed to Discovery Park where I found a couple of clamshells sitting in a parking spot.

Up the hill and around the corner, we found ourselves overlooking a family having a picnic. A man ran over to the trashcan, yelling in some other language, and I noticed there was a little girl next to it. She had wandered away from the family to relieve herself, but he apparently didn't agree with her.

I don't think I had an opinion either way.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

I love this so much, I stole it:

Every year at Easter, my mom would steal the ears off of my chocolate bunny. I'm not sure why it was that she found the ears so appealing, but she did. And this annoyed me to no end.
But one year, I got smart. I hid the bunny in the freezer, behind the frozen mice (my mother had a snake at the time) and the ice cube trays. A few days later I heard the freezer door opening. I was sitting on the couch reading, and my back stiffened. I didn't believe that she could find the bunny, but I was concerned nonetheless. She rustled around for a few minutes, and I heard dished being moved about and drawers being opened and shut.
Moments later, I heard a loud thump followed immediately by a sharp cracking sound. My mother dissolved into laughter and I ran into the kitchen, leaving a little puff of cartoon dust behind me. My mother was sitting on the floor, her back against the cabinets, practically incoherent with giggles. In her hand she held a large meat cleaver. On the stove sat my bunny on a broken plate. Snickering like a kid, my mom explained what had happened. It was hard to piece the story together because she couldn't stop laughing.
The story that eventually came out of her was that she had found my bunny and decided that the only way to remove the ears of a frozen rabbit was with a really big knife. And so she had laid the bunny on a plate and given it a whack with the knife, expecting the ears to separate from the rest of the head neatly. Instead, because the bunny was frozen solid, she had merely dented the surface of the candy and broken the plate. I looked at the rabbit and, sure enough, it had a groove that ran roughly along the top of the head.
What are you to do with a mother that determined? I gave up and handed over the rabbit. And even today, my mom calls that knife the 'bunny killer.' She's very proud of herself.

Happy Easter to you all!

We had a cookout at Golden Gardens yesterday with a whole bunch of folks, a couple of which decided to play kickball.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

The graffiti on the east side of the concrete structure in Gas Works park says, inexplicably, "west side." We try and make sense of it.
"But this is not west."
"Well, if Bellevue is the eastside, then this is the west side."
I'm not sure, though. I try and think of what sort of graffiti-er would be considering their relation to Bellevue.
"Do you think it says 'east side' on the other end?"

I'm still pondering the graffiti and idly watching a cute little boy climb the stairs when I notice a small pleasure boat heading straight for us. We joke about it crashing into us even while it's slowly stopping and eventually just not coming any closer at all. I can hear a song from The Counting Crows last album drift over the water. I like it and Jeff does not. A kayak paddles toward the boat and I hear the man in the front of the kayak shout up to the people "I'll take a ribeye, medium well." The people on the boat, though, don't seem to have understood him. They turn down the radio and he yells again "A ribeye, medium well, A-1 on the side." I don't know how they reply, but they don't seem to have invited the kayakers up because they keep going.

A few minutes later we walk towards the hill. There is no graffiti on the other side that says 'east side.'

Thursday, April 08, 2004

My nan swears that we used to take road trips with my portable plastic potty strapped onto the trunk of her old boat of a car. I, personally, have no such recollections and the only other person who could have confirmed or denied this story was Mrs. Webster, and she died in February of 2000 at the age of two or three hundred. Webster was my nan's best friend, and the fact that Webster was at the outside several decades older than my nan didn't phase either one of them. They were an aging Thelma and Louise, drag racing salesmen and making me teach them the lyrics to the Def Leppard songs on the radio.
And all of this, ostensibly, with a little toilet tied to the back.
She's stuck by this story for years, but I can't fathom why we would need to bring the potty along. Was I that attached to it? Had I named it, made it a friend? Did it sing me to sleep? All plastic toilet-related memories seem to have gone the way that such things will go. And she can't shed any more light on the subject, because she has Parkinsons and it has turned her into a mumbling machine.

It's strange that I have so few memories related to my nan, considering how much time we spent together. Most of what I do remember is certainly tinged by her recollections because she tells the same stories over and over again, and has been for the last 20 years. Her Parkinsons has shifted her to a whole other country inside my brain. I strain now to collect the fragments of anecdotes scattered all over the years, to file them and to keep them in order to provide my younger counterparts with something resembling a story. She won't be with us much longer, you see, and I feel that it will be an even shorter amount of time before she is lost in effect to whatever type of system error is running rampant inside her brain.
I am, after all, the unofficial record keeper of my family. I am the only one young enough to have primarily fond memories of my paternal grandparents, and the only one old enough to have had the time to form impressions from these memories. I was the only lucid witness to the days before my father and his siblings all hated each other; before second marriages, second children, mortgages, and occasional sobriety. And so it has fallen to me to pass judgment, to try and see my relatives as whole people, and to tell their stories from all sides.

When Mrs. Webster was dying her memories disintegrated until most of what was left was myself. This was a cruel trick that her brain played on Webster's only daughter, Elsie. I suppose that I was related to the happiest time in Webster's life, after her tyrant husband had died and her humorless children had married and moved on. It was at this point, so late in her life, that Webster was able to be just herself, and she was herself in spades, having adventures with my nan and with a four or five year old me.
I see this same trend emerging in the slow implosion of my nan's mental facilities. She tends to call my cousins and my brothers by my name before she remembers that they have their own, and all too many of her intelligible mumblings are about what happened 15 or 20 years ago. And as I have always done, I will record this tumble and I will keep it safe so that my younger family can remember their oldest relative through the eyes of the one that loved her without reservation or resentment.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

This story so beats whatever I was going to say that I'm just going to quote it for you. It comes from a letter from my friend Jessica that I got yesterday:

"So, my mom has been investing a large sum of money with one of her friends. This involved giving the friend sizable checks of an amount that I don't know. So, then one day there was some kind of issue with my grandparents inheritance money, so my mom called her friend (Mrs. Chamberlain) and told her that she needed to get some of the money out of the investment. Mrs. Chamberlain told her to come over and she would write her a check. So, my mom went to her house, and sat on the couch while Mrs. Chamberlain went to get her checkbook. Or so she said. Instead, she got a frying pan, and started beating my mom over the head in an attempt to kill her. Mrs. Chamberlain is apparently addicted to some very expensive drugs, and used all of my mom's money on them. I know it sounds like a lie, but...true story."

Real life is amazing...I couldn't -make- this shit up!
Hooray for The Wilbanks, brand-new parents of brand-new baby Annabel Charlotte!

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Further Florida: Excerpt from a letter 4/8/02:

"I opted not to go on the airboat, to spend time writing you this letter...Now, I sit on the boat docks waiting for the crew. Three alligators conspire to make me their breakfast. Although, Bob the head of education at Sea World sits with me and is bigger than me. If the alligators were smart they would rather have Bob. How funny. Bob just pointed out three deer grazing in the swamp."

(Some of the atrocious spelling and grammar errors corrected.)

We went to the Comet last night after the play to shoot some pool and drink some beer.

In high school, we played pool three times a week at least. Bob's Billiards was the place, owned and operated by Bob himself, in his 50's and, we were sure, a pimp. We would drink our Coronas and watch as scantily clad girls went into the back room and come back out in a new and different skimpy outfit. And we didn't really have a problem with it; that's just what happens at Bob's.
(One night I wore my leather pants to the pool hall on a date with David, and was leaning over to make a shot when Bob came up behind me and smacked my ass. "Are those chaps?" "Er, no, just pants.")
We got to be pretty good, but my one failing in pool is my poor spatial skills. I just can't picture what's going to happen.

Last night I won, but it was the longest game in history. Neither one of us is very good.