I have a camera! Me! A camera! I never have a camera!
It was waiting for me when I got home today. I was instantly entranced.
I tried to convey my enthusiasm to the cats.
I was not successful. Even my attempt to amuse Peanut by wearing my stripey scarf and blending in with my stripey blanket was met with extreme coolness.
Coolness. Scarf. Haha! I'm a little worried by how funny that is right now.
I think I'm quoting the above from a Japanese washcloth that my sister showed me. Or it might have been the coffeemaker.
I've been saying for months now that I'm going to get a digital camera so I can show you all the parts of Portland I've fallen in love with. I've been waiting for a financially responsible moment to do it, but as summer has turned into autumn and is rapidly turning into winter, I've been getting antsy. The maple trees on my street have already turned their brilliant colors and showered the sidewalks with leaves, and this morning I noticed with some concern that the walnut trees are following suit. I'm trying to tell them to hold on, to save the bright beautiful colors until I've got the means to preserve them, because as rootless as I've been lately there's no telling if I'll be here this time next year. Particularly if I don't have any pictures of non-winter Portland to look at during the grey months to remind me to stay.
This is all an elaborate justification for why, on Friday night, I simply could not wait five days for payday and I ordered a little PowerShot 1000 from Amazon right then and there. It's the same camera my roommate has, nothing fancy by the standards of the camera world but slick enough to take 97% of the pictures I can think of. And I can think of some fairly slick pictures, like that shot of my roommate playing the banjo that I took over the bubble tea and the candle so the background was all shadowy and grey and the foreground was all greeny and orby and glowing. Orby is now a word.
I've been checking my order status like a kid waiting for it to be Christmas. Is it here? No. Well, is it in Oregon yet? No. Is it close to Oregon yet? No? How about now? When I walk by the windows of my office I plead with the scenery to stay right there, please, just don't move until my camera gets here. Houses, plants, people, art bikes, the insanely ever-growing clump of memorial miscellany that's taken over the intersection of Interstate and Greeley, I just need three more days and then it can all change. Three more days and then if I haven't captured it, it's only my own fault.
I was in autumnal arts mode this weekend, and hey, this will probably be the first thing I show you. Saturday I finished the most amazing scarf I have yet made, with fall-colored stripes and coordinated tassels, and I put it on and spent an hour shuffling my feet in other people's leaf piles. Sunday was curtains, painstakingly printed with a repeating doodle of falling leaves, and now I can lay back in my bed and watch the cool colors of the sky and the warm colors of the leaves and clutch my snuggly scarf like a long skinny security blanket.
Now that I think about it, I probably should have held out for a camera that can show you how soft something is. 1,000 words may take care of the visuals, but how many more do you need to make up for the sense of touch? Perhaps I will invest in a new keyboard, to make sure I don't run out.
Some demon possessed me this morning in freezing cold and blinding fog to skip the train and ride my bike to work. I woke up shivering with my windows dripping mist, ran around the house going "brr brr brr" while drinking my tea and making my lunch, and somehow conceived the notion that I'd be warmer and more awake if I were pedaling.
I can say with authority that I am awake -- after four miles of nervously checking my blinkers and brakes and watching every car on the road for signs of trying to right-hook me -- but the simple fact is that moving rapidly through 37-degree air is not an activity to make one warm. I spent my red lights reflecting on this while trying to reverse the numbing effects of frosty brake levers on ungloved hands. It turns out that bare metal in near-freezing air with lots of wind and condensation is actually kind of cold.
But I will let you in on the secret, that I was sorry to get to work and see the fog lifting and the world becoming normal again. There was something lovely about putting on my five layers of sweaters and coats and scarves (and if only there had been gloves) and riding through the silent alienating whiteness with my bike headlight casting a weird wobbling lighthouse glow on the streets and cars and mist. I rode past the spot on Interstate Avenue where a biker got killed on Monday, not so much because I wanted to ride there but because it happened right on my normal route to work. There's a ghost bike chained on the corner and surrounded by pictures and flowers and little red bike blinkers, and that is possibly the only context in human existence in which a flashing LED is a tasteful addition to a memorial site.
Here is your macabre Scattergory for this gloomy morning: exceptional circumstances in which tacky things become posthumously tasteful. I am starting the timer now and you have all day. Go!
I came home today and found my roommate dancing around the kitchen to Old Crow Medicine Show.
Roommate: This song is awesome! Isn't this song awesome? It's about unions! Woo! Unions!
Me: (reading a piece of mail from the SEIU Local 503 and not really listening) Oh, yeah.
Roommate: (singing) She couldn't be fooled by a company stool, she'd always organize the guys...
Me: Actually, you know, the history of women in union politics is full of exclusion.
Roommate: Huh? But they're singing about a union woman.
Me: Yeah, and it's not a very characteristic story.
Roommate: But it could happen once-- you have no-- but--
Me: (pulling Out To Work out of my book bag and opening my mouth to say something about the 1920s)
A few minutes later the musical selection was suddenly axed and replaced with Missy Elliot.
This morning the rain was pounding my house while I tried to eat breakfast. It doesn't seem to do that very often. What I remember of Southern California rain is a few days out of the year with the skies pouring buckets while the Los Angeles River rises menacingly in its concrete embankments; here it drizzles and drips and clears and then drizzles again, and the Willamette is always stolidly the same. Today my street was a narrow peninsula with lakes rising in the blocked gutters and flooded potholes, but when I dragged myself damply onto the train and rode across the bridge to work, the Willamette was unchanged and unimpressed.
I am not unchanged or unimpressed, and I have begun drinking coffee again. I resigned myself some time ago to the fact that this would happen; I always quit and return and quit and return again as the need arises. When I moved to northern Oregon I understood that I was cordially inviting the need into my life. Last night in the grocery store I walked past the bins of coffee beans, sustainably-grown, ethically-purchased, and locally-roasted, and I thought about my kitchen with the rain and cold outside and the warm toasty coffee smell inside, and while I thought about it my hands operated of their own accord to competently dispense and grind a small bag of Stumptown's finest. While it was grinding I looked around nervously and wondered if the people passing by could tell that I wasn't really a coffee drinker. You see how she's holding that bag? they whispered behind their hands. Tea people. I tell you.
Here in Stumptown, I have just realized, I am evidently a stump. I shall sit here very still with my small cup of coffee, and I will put up no leaves to shield myself from the rain. The weather forecast predicts heavy wind, rain, cold fronts or maybe warm fronts but definitely some kind of fronts, and perhaps thunder and funnel clouds. But stumps give little attention to these things.
This may be the first time this has ever happened -- I've just made friends with someone I met by chance entirely on my own, without being introduced by someone I already know, without the benefit of living together, working together, having a class together, or anything else. I feel suddenly adult, as though being twenty-six, college-educated, and gainfully employed pales in comparison to being able to call up a near-stranger and have dinner and a beer and a nice conversation.
Today at work I was talking with one of the grad students in my department about how educating kids to be whole, healthy, confident adults equipped to handle the world and the other people in it is a lot harder than teaching them to add or spell or understand molecular bonding. So possibly the above comparison is spot-on.
I gave my new friend the last of my first batch of profane bicycle PSA stickers -- or technically the second batch, but the first ones tended to run in the rain and have been decommissioned until next summer. I've already invested in more sticker material and printed off another batch to carry around with me, and I'm starting to think of another design to put up simultaneously. They'll be smaller, and gold instead of silver, and designed for the lightpoles and newspaper boxes of the world instead of the bike racks. They will say,
(insert bike lane)
I'll make sure to put a few along the new transit mall they're building downtown -- the one where they've widened the sidewalks to 14 feet and dispensed with bike lanes entirely. Bikes, the planning website announces cheerfully, will be able to share two general-traffic lanes with the buses and cars and light rail trains! (I highly recommend clicking here and scrolling down to the "bike access" section.) So you see I might just wander over there and delicately leave a sticker or two.
This morning Katie and I got up at 6:00, got on our bikes, and rode to my neighborhood waffle stand to eat enormous vegan waffles drenched in maple butter and wrapped around slabs of veggie sausage.
Sunrise vegan sausage waffle sandwiches. It rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? And by 7:15 we were back at my house, full of waffles and coffee and tea, playing lightning-round Set until it was time for me to go to work.
Last night we went to the weekly Portland Spelling Bee, which takes place at a local pub over beer and vegan pizza. When you get dinged out for misspelling a word (in my case, peirastic; in Katie's, philippics), you get a hug and a lollipop and a round of applause before you sit down.
We made this point to each other several times over the course of the weekend: it's not that it's remarkable that these things exist. Across the width of the inhabited world there are probably multiple sunrise waffle sandwich stands, several vegan pizza pubs, and numerous drunken spelling bees. In a sufficiently large city it becomes statistically likely that you will find something like this. But Portland is not a sufficiently large city, and it has all of them. Even North Portland, which is merely a small pie wedge of the city, has all of these things and many more. Someone hijacked the truck that was supposed to carry the creative, nerdy people and their pet projects all across the world, and they wound up concentrated here by mistake.
I'm sorry, California. I may never be able to live in you again.
On Friday, in a strange and reckless mood only heightened by the absence of anyone in my office to pay attention to me, I spent my afternoon break attempting to logically estimate the total weight of the Empire State Building. I used a piece of notebook paper, a pen, and a series of wildly inaccurate assumptions, and I eventually came up with a figure which was almost exactly 1% of the correct number. So said my post-project internet research, anyway. I invite you to, without looking up any dimensions or statistics, post any guesses, calculations, or wild hypotheses that you may have.
Beware, though; math may not be functioning to normal standards at the moment. Consider:
All we could really do was give each other frightened looks, agree that we had somehow broken basic arithmetic, and go quickly to bed to try to forget about it.
This is my freeform nature poem. I hope you enjoy it.
To some it is given
to prey upon the young:
Hippie, it is not for you--
put that baby yam in the microwave
and it will blow up
In this picture you are very small,
and thinking very hard,
but it is still your birthday.
p.s. That bug you are holding is incapable of joining you in your deep thought. Please put it down.
Today I wrote in my diary, for the first time in over a month, and I wrote three pages of teary melodrama about my insecurities and unfulfilled wishes. At the end of it I admonished myself in a new color, "Reach out a little bit when you don't want anything back. It might help you." I took my own advice and went and baked cookies for the nice bike shop dudes who have once again fixed my tires for free, and I hopped on my bike during a break in the rain to bring them to the shop.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I brought gratitude cookies to Gottsi once and got a strange, awkward reception that stuck in my memory today and almost convinced me not to bother again. But the nice bike dudes were surprised and happy, and they dug in and promised to save some for the guys who weren't working today, and they invited me to hang out for a while and have a beer. So I stayed for a half hour and talked about music and bikes and other places to live, which may be the standard stereotypical overused Portland conversation but is still okay in my book.
When I left, it was just starting to sprinkle again and I was slightly unsteady from my deliciously random beer. I pedaled slowly, out of my way and off the main streets, enjoying the rain on my face and my relief that my rather anxious gesture of goodwill had gone well. The rain turned into a downpour, the unsteadiness persisted, and by the time I got home I was a Portland cliche of drunken bicycling in the rain. I walked in the front door and was greeted by my renting roommate's lady friend, who thanked me cutely for covering her bike seat against the rain and offered me a piece of her pizza.
At the end of the day, or at least the 7:07 of the day, I am alone in the house after everyone has left without me, and I have been this a lot lately. But today I made a gesture of connecting with someone, and it wasn't rejected the way I'm always convinced it will be. It's a good step and I'm going to go savor it for a while... either in an extremely hot shower or under the pile of blankets I bought today. That is some fucking cold rain out there.
I should rename the category that contains my bicycle posts "if only you could push the pedals and go forward but alas you cannot". Right now exactly half of them are about bike accidents, malfunctions, and other failures to just get on the damn thing and ride places, and I'm about to make it slightly more than half.
This morning I decided, encouraged by an apparent drying trend in the weather, to bike to work. One of the many nice things about this plan is that it lets me leave the house about 20 minutes later than I'd need to if I were taking the train, so I lingered over breakfast, washed my dishes nicely (see, I should have a gold star), spent some time looking for my favorite sweater, and finally went down to the garage to get my bike. I hadn't checked in on it since Wednesday night, but on Wednesday night it had been in gorgeous shape. I'd even pumped up the tires for a smooth and pleasant riding experience.
You see where this is going, even if I never saw it coming. I got down to the garage and found my rear tire, this time, rim-on-the-ground flat. And me about to be 30 minutes late to work through no fault of my own -- with a tire that went dead flat in under a day and a half, I couldn't pump it up to get to work and expect it to even still roll by quitting time.
A few minutes later I was at the Max station, sulkily waiting for what turned out to be the same train my owning roommate takes. I told him what had happened, and he nodded sagely. "It's those road bike tires," he said, with all the sympathy of the habitual mountain-bike rider, "and their high pressure..."
I may at this point have done a creditable impression of my own tire, consisting of first inflating and then exploding. "No!" I explained totally reasonably at high volume. "I've had this bike for twelve years and I've never had a totally flat tire until this month! It is not a road bike thing! It is a the guys at the bike shop talked me into getting new nice expensive tires and there's something fucking wrong with them thing!"
I dearly love my neighborhood bike shop and the nice bike dudes contained therein. They consistently give me friendly, reasonably priced service and good advice. But right now I could just about go and kick every one of them in the balls for getting me to give up my old, cracking, tread-deficient tires. Those tires never did me wrong; these have an agenda to keep me off the street with their flats and their affinity for train tracks. If the shop will take them back I'm going to trade for a pair that's not possessed.
This morning at work I confiscated all of the dishes from my department's kitchen because people weren't using them nicely and cleaning up after themselves.
Mind, the people not cleaning up after themselves are all highly educated, so grad school won't necessarily help me avoid the embarrassment of having my dishes taken away by a secretary half my age. But it will help me find something more fulfilling to do with my time than figuratively withholding gold stars from the kids who haven't learned to use their good citizenship.
For the record, the grad student who works in the department office with me is a good citizen and I did, at one point, go and find a gold star just so I could give it to her. She displays it proudly on her desk. I'm not working in a school of education for nothing.
In response to my beloved sister's intensive analysis of Interpol's lyrical failings, I offer something which proves that, while Interpol does write some fucking awful lyrics, they are not breaking new ground in embarrassing their audiences. It is always possible to find something a) older and b) dumber, and I am doing so here with a song that, frankly, Katie can probably sing from memory. But lest you think I'm on any kind of musical high horse here, the reason I am able to offer this to you is that I own it, listen to it, and have had it stuck in my head for long enough to get to really thinking about it. Ladies and gentlemen, the Traveling Wilburys.
Tweeter and the Monkeyman were hard up for cash
They stayed up all night selling cocaine and hash
To an undercover cop who had a sister named Jan
Lucid so far. This isn't really a wise business practice in the long run, but at least we're honest about it.
For reasons unexplained she loved the Monkeyman
Error! We are a ballad; we have the benefit of omniscient perspective. We do not have any excuse not to elucidate these putative reasons, and we sound pretty dumb for failing to do so.
Tweeter was a boy scout before she went to Vietnam
And found out the hard way nobody gives a damn
If we could only trust them to be writing these lyrics thoughtfully, this might be a perfectly good line that neatly hints at Tweeter's gender status and life history. But I've always just thought they were either confused or throwing around pronouns without referents.
They knew that they found freedom just across the Jersey line
So they hopped into a stolen car took highway 99
Fine. Fine. Whatever. I'm not even asking who all these theys are.
And the walls came down all the way to hell
Never saw them when theyâre standing
Never saw them when they fell
I mean, a) it doesn't make any sense. What walls? Where? The soundwalls on Highway 99? How far do walls have to go to get to hell? And b) why can we not stay consistently in the past tense here??
The undercover cop never liked the Monkeyman
Even back in childhood he wanted to see him in the can
Now that's just impolite. Some things should be private.
Jan got married at fourteen to a racketeer named Bill
She made secret calls to the Monkeyman from a mansion on the hill
Evidently this song is chock full of Bruce Springsteen references, including this line. That's fun. But it's still a complete red herring. It's like that assignment you get in elementary school where you have to write a story using all 36 vocabulary words and so you throw in these totally unnecessary and frequently incoherent story arcs about rhyming dungarees just to get the damn words in.
It was out on Thunder Road - Tweeter at the wheel
They crashed into paradise - they could hear them tires squeal
This is always a metaphor for everyone dying. Always. Unless it's a metaphor for sex. Neither way makes the rest of the song make any sense.
The undercover cop pulled up and said every one of youâs a liar
If you donât surrender now its gonna go down to the wire
Hard to be a liar if you haven't actually had any lines yet. And if they've crashed into Paradise and the walls have come down, isn't it kind of implied that it's gone down to the wire already?
An ambulance rolled up - a state trooper close behind
Tweeter took his gun away and messed up his mind
The undercover cop was left tied up to a tree
Okay, that's allowed. I actually guiltily really like that middle line. Maybe it's just the way that Bob Dylan sings it*. You know, it's action. It's gritty. I can handle this.
Near the souvenir stand by the old abandoned factory
No. What? I understand souvenir stands. I understand abandoned factories. But why in god's name would you combine them? What are you selling? Churros and rusty disused industrial equipment? Keychains and toxic chemicals? No.
Next day the undercover cop was hot in pursuit
He was taking the whole thing personal, he didnât care about the loot
Reasonable. I take it personally when people leave me tied up to trees, too. But what loot?
Jan had told him many times it was you to me who taught
In Jersey anythingâs legal as long as you donât get caught
You are NOT allowed to transitive that way. If you can't figure out a way to make it rhyme and still be English, you lose all the points you just earned with the gritty Jersey stuff.
Someplace by Rahway prison they ran out of gas
The undercover cop had cornered them, said huh, you didnât think that this could last
More Bruce Springsteen, apparently.
Jan jumped out of bed said thereâs someplace I gotta go
She took a gun out of the drawer and said its best if you donât know
Who what? How? Is she psychic? Anyway, she doesn't need to worry, because I don't know. Anything.
The undercover cop was found face down in a field
The Monkeyman was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield
I can't figure out what these tenses are, but I know they don't match. Is the action still going on? Are we sorting through the wreckage later? It's all a blur.
Jan said to the Monkeyman, Iâm not fooled by Tweeter's curl
I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl
Curl? Just one, like the girl in the nursery rhyme? And is Tweeter's hair really the most pressing issue here while zie is being used as a shield?
Now the town of Jersey city is quieting down again
Iâm sitting in a gambling club called the Lionâs Den
The TV set was blown up, every bit of it is gone
Ever since the nightly news show that the Monkeyman was on
I don't even know where to start with this. The action is over and we don't know what happened, the dramatis personae are appearing on talk shows, and all of a sudden we have this first-person narrator who was never here before and may or may not have been the one to destroy a perfectly good household appliance because it was showing the Monkeyman wearing a bad suit and making small talk with Barbara Walters. Or whatever.
I guess Iâll go to Florida and get myself some sun
There ainât no more opportunity here, everythingâs been done
Fine. You do that.
Sometimes I think of Tweeter, sometimes I think of Jan
Sometimes I donât think about nothing but the Monkeyman
I really hope you're prepared to share with the class what it is about them that you're thinking, because we certainly don't have a lot to reflect on. Gosh, it's a shame the way they wound up, you know, with Tweeter [blank] [blank] the [blank], and the Monkeyman [blank] in his [blank] to [blank], and poor Jan, she just [blank] and [blank] after the [blank] at [blank].
(*For those of you not familiar with the Traveling Wilburys, they were a short-lived, though not short enough, supergroup composed of the following individuals who should have known better:
And possibly a lot of drugs.)
I have realized that I am obsessed with bed. I don't precisely mean sleeping and I'm not being euphemistic about sex; I mean bed. The physical location of the bed in the perfect corner of the room, the concatenation of headboards and mattresses and sheets and blankets and cats and pajamas, the experience of snuggling down into same, the window over my head with the view of the sky and the sound of the rain, the process of acquiring and arranging the blankets and pillows and cats and other fluffy things, and the entire quest to make the whole as comfy and harmonious as humanly possible. On Sunday night I took everything off my bed, shook out all my blankets, and spent a half hour building up from a bare mattress to make The Most Attractive And Amazing Total Bed Ever. When I was finished I stepped back and ran my eyes lovingly over the curly wood headboard and the perfect layers of homey afghans and Peanut, curled up in a comfortable interrupting lump between the top afghan and the middle afghan. It was a fucking beautiful sight.
Yesterday I left work early so I could go to Rerun before they closed and finger the stacks of snuggly, well-loved bedcovers. I fingered like nobody's business and finally left under the weight of an enormous fuzzy plaid blanket and a beautiful soft zigzag afghan that it about broke my heart to see for sale. One of the reasons I'm so partial to afghans in my shrine of comfort is that they take
to make. I never realized this when I was a kid and I was awash in baby blankets and afghans from various elderly female relatives. I never stopped to think why all the people making them were retired; it's because they take ages to finish and it may as well be a full-time job. My best homemade afghan has been in progress for, I kid you not, about four years and it still isn't long enough to cover my bed. Granted I've spent months at a time ignoring it, but the point is that a completed afghan is an impressive thing to be treasured and not lightly discarded. So when I see someone else's grandmother's gorgeous zigzag afghan at Rerun I have not only a personal incentive but almost a moral imperative to buy it for 6 dollars and love it forever.
Last night at bedtime I simply stacked the new blankets on top of my old blankets for a total of five layers of warm (not counting the mezzanine, or in this case the flat sheet). I slept like a baby and was dead to the world until 7:15 this morning. I'm thinking about going back for more blankets tonight.
To my sister and other prospective visitors: I have purchased some extra blankets and intend to acquire even more. You will not freeze on my watch.
Also, I love blankets blankets are soft.
It is cold as anything in Portland right now. It may hit 60 today for the first time in several days, but tomorrow it's back down again. And there's this nasty northerly wind that's been going straight through my clothes and just about blew me off an overpass yesterday. Today I am wearing, from toe to head, boots, hiking socks, jeans, a wifebeater, a long-sleeve button-down shirt, a thick sweater, my long winter coat, and a scarf, and it is still cold. And it is the first of October.
That part of this weekend which I did not spend fruitlessly looking for vegan shoes (about which please note that this town has vegan tattoo shops and vegan bars and vegan convenience stores, but no vegan shoe stores), I spent sitting in bed with the covers over my feet, crocheting. I don't have blankets enough for this weather. Even in my fuzzy feet pajamas, with the covers pulled up to my nose, sneakily warming my toes around my stubbornly non-snuggling cat, I wake up in the middle of the night shivering and looking for more layers. I should have written off the shoes and spent the weekend quilt-hunting instead, but I had the impression that the rain on my feet was going to be a bigger problem than the cold on my freezing metaphorical balls. This is incorrect. Rain doesn't follow you inside. Cold follows you everywhere.
Oh, and I tried on a fucking phenomenal fuzzy sweater this weekend, in that 1970s chocolate brown that just wraps itself around you and says I Am Your Grandmother's Sofa, but couldn't buy it because it had angora in it. Silly people. Rabbits are not for sweaters.