PPRL: A Visit From The Goon Squad (winner, 2011)

In February, I set myself the goal of reading all the Pulitzer Prize winning novels.

At the time, I was halfway through All The President's Men. But I didn't maintain any momentum, and it was too dense a story for me to set aside for more than a couple days without feeling utterly lost, whenever I tried to wade back into it. So I shelved it with a mild degree self-reproach and promised myself I'd resume reading it soon. But I never did.

Then a few days ago, I decided to begin again, but with a new plan of attack: start with the most recent selection, and work my way backwards chronologically. So on Friday night, I downloaded A Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. 

I actually cried when I turned the last page. Not that the story is a particularly moving one, though parts of it absolutely are. And not because the ending is sad. I was just so inspired and excited by how innovative it is. There's an entire chapter told pictorially, in simple colored graphs, from the perspective of a young girl. And it's brilliant.

Goon Squad is several stories blended, with the lightest touch, into one narrative. It's a Venn diagram, the intersections of which are more critical than simply shared relationships, or experiences, or coincidence - they are moments of emotional watershed.

Egan doesn't ask us to care equally about each of these individuals. In fact, she makes it easy to play favorites; some are vastly more lovable than others. But she pours such richness of detail and emotion into each of them - even those whose appearances last mere minutes - that it would be impossible to pull any single one out of the storyline without unraveling it.

Man, I am horribly out of practice at book reviews. I've got nothing but gushing cliche. I may as well resort to grunting monosyllables. Hopefully I'll do better on the next one: Tinkers, by Paul Harding.

In the meantime: Book good. Me like. You like, too. Yes.

war cry

There is a space that exists between two people who have something to offer one another - something to demand of one another. In that space is an energy of their design, willed to life by the words they exchange, the glances and glancing touches they share. It is an electrified fence, the disarmament of which requires mutual consent. Intentions - good, better, or the best - have nothing to do with it. It will kill regardless. We've all died on it, at one time or another. We've all reached the first foolish hand out to test the voltage, hoping against hope that what we press our fingers against isn't fire, but another warm, open palm.

That space is infinite. That space is infinitesimal. It's the stretch of beach that one moment drowns in the depth of splashing foam, and the next yawns wide, sunning itself for the briefest second before disappearing once more. Empty, full. Full, empty. That space is more alive, more inviting, and more dangerous than anything else we can know in life. It compels us, commands us, and, as we tally heartbreak, threatens us. Seldom do we heed. More often, we choose to dash ourselves upon the rocks, the only evidence that remains of our courage the invisible, useless war cry of the unrequited lover: I'll go first. 

truth and denial

Denial went walking through the woods, clutching something tightly in her hand. Truth saw her and asked, "What is it that you're carrying?"

"It's a rose," she answered. "The most beautiful you've ever seen." She unfolded her fingers to show Truth, who looked down to see a fistful of dried petals and a palm bloodied by thorns. 

Truth looked at Denial, whose eyes shone bright with pride. "Isn't it perfect?" she sighed. He smiled at her sadly.

"It was once," said Truth, "but now it's just painful. Why don't you let it go so you can heal?" 

Denial laughed and shook her head. "Oh, it doesn't hurt it all! Besides, it's very special. It's the only one of its kind."

Truth watched as she wandered off, her eyes still fastened upon the dead thing she held. So absorbed was she that she nearly bumped into Opportunity, who had come strolling along. But she didn't see him or hear him - or notice when he tipped his hat hello. 

the ad

She was a woman pained by her own beauty, and mistrusting of it. Compliments would form haltingly on the lips of men wishing to flatter, but fearful of offending. She knew they meant well, but she'd rather they didn't try at all, so uncomfortable was it to hear the same carefully chosen phrases trotted out over and again. Their translations trailed in the air behind them, unspoken, but no less tangible. Amazonian. Freakishly tall. Lascivious smile. Toothy. The woman had never understood this need of theirs, to spin sugar from air. She hated to feel patronized. And once placed in her lap, the praise sat there unwelcome, like an infant she'd no interest in dandling.

But she was gracious, and she hid her impatience behind a smiling sip of her cocktail, or the slow crossing of her legs. Soon enough the facade would drop away, as it always did. And accumulated experience had emboldened her to cut to the chase quicker each time. 

"Let's talk about the ad," she'd say, leveling her gaze into one part challenge, one part invitation. "Why did you answer it?" 

waving hi from the moon

I hope she doesn't mind my sharing this here, but a reader/social media friend told me something yesterday that absolutely blew me away.

She's a high school English teacher (which I knew), and at her school's recent graduation ceremony, she was awarded Teacher of The Year. I left a comment commending her on the IG post where this was mentioned (along with, I might add, a bunch of her students telling her how much they adore her), and this was part of her reply:

... PS I told my students about your blog and even showcased your Tetherball post as a solid utilization of a metaphor. We then deconstructed your use of language to figure out your purpose. My kids dig your writing. 

Sooooo, that is a thing that happened. Something I wrote was used as a lesson in a high school English class, by a teacher who is so good at what she does that she won Teacher of The Year. I am so incredibly honored by this, I could just about cry. It's probably the single most motivating piece of feedback I've ever received about my writing.

Thank you, P. You just boosted me to the moon. :)

poser

Oh my god. Please stop talking. Please stop trying so hard. You're making my brain bleed.

Your chaos is not sexy. Do you think you look tough? Do you think you are cool? Dangle the cigarette out a little further, please. I can't wait to watch it fall on your foot. I can't wait to watch you hop and howl, your candy shell broken momentarily.

You think you wear your attitude like an expensive accessory, but my god, what a cheap and ugly knockoff they sold you. It's embarrassing for all of us. Check the inner pocket for some self-awareness.

You're not a big fish. You probably never will be. Those aren't accomplishments; they're variations of font and color. No one is fooled, you idiot.

This is Los Angeles.

You are no one.

Strip away the decoration and your talent sums to zero. 

No one asked you. And that's what you hate the most, isn't it? Being left out.  

Stop taking yourself so goddamned seriously, please. You're not a Hunter S. Thompson character. Chill the fuck out and smile once in a while.

Or don't. Stay at the cool kids' table and cast disparaging looks around you while you write refrigerator magnet poetry. We really don't give a shit. We were fine before we knew you existed, and we'll forget you in five minutes' time. 

This is Los Angeles. 

You are no one.

in which an adventure becomes even more adventurous

Sunday

We're hanging out, listening to music and talking. I mention for the second (maybe third) time that I'll be watching Paul McCartney performing live in just a few weeks. I'm needling him, because he's told me before that seeing Paul McCartney in concert a few years ago was the greatest musical experience of his life. I casually, half-seriously say that he should come with me and see him again.

"I was born to go to Bonnaroo," he says. I know exactly what he means, and based on my experience of the festival - and my limited familiarity with him - I agree. He loves live music. He loves festivals, and the social scene that goes along with them. He's a bit of good old boy. He even has family in Nashville.

"So cooooome!" I plead. Now I'm being completely serious, because I'm realizing how perfect a person he'd be to go with. He'd fit right in with the laid back, down home, hick/hippie vibe of Bonnaroo. He even looks like a typical Bonnaroovian: (usually) bearded and smiley. He's easygoing and outgoing, and would be fully at home on the Manchester farm.

He looks at me and shakes his head. Not a No. More a Woman, don't tempt me. "Who are the other headliners?" he asks.

I jump off the bed and go to my desk, above which I've taped the festival lineup. I've slowly been color-coding my schedule with highlighters. Yellow for yes, definitely yes. Orange for maybe, if I can squeeze it in. Pink for probably not, but possibly. Green for meh. Blue for nope, not interested.

I read band names to him. "Mumford and Sons. Billy Idol. Tom Petty..." I look over my shoulder to see how these are hitting him. His eyes are wide.

"You forgot The Heartbreakers," he says. "You can't forget The Heartbreakers."

I continue. "Weird Al. The Lumineers. The National. ZZ Top, Pretty Lights--"

"Pretty Lights?" he interrupts. "I love Pretty Lights. And ZZ Top? Let me see this," says. He joins me at my desk and I retreat, letting him take the full lineup in. It's clear from the tone in his voice as he calls out bands that he's seeing some favorites. "Here's the thing," he sighs. "I can't go all the way to Tennesee without seeing my brother."

"So stay a few days longer and see him! The hotel's already paid for. And airfare really wasn't bad," I coax.

"Paul McCartney, Pretty Lights, you, and my brother? You don't have to sweeten the pot."

"Ok," I reply. "I'll drop it. But you are more than welcome to join me, really. It'd be a blast."

He looks at me, gauging how serious I am. "You wouldn't get sick of me?"

I shake my head. "Nope. As long as you don't mind us doing our own thing when our schedules conflict."

"I'm not clingy," he says, unnecessarily.

Monday

- Hey hot stuff, are you going for all four days of the festival?

- Yep. I leave here at ___ and get in at ____, return ____. ...Come 'roo with me! You would LOVE it.

- Temptress! I'm thinking about it. I'd have to take a week off work so I have to figger it out. You do know that I'll have a southern accent again after approx. 8 hours in Tennesee. Just warning you.

- Are you kidding? I'M COUNTING ON IT. 

Today

- Are you on flight ___?

- Yep.

- What's your seat #?

- I have to sit next to you, too?? I thought you said you weren't clingy.

- It was worth a shot.

- You just strike me as an armrest hog, that's all.

- You are an amazing judge of character.

- 19B

(an hour later)

- Looks like you done got you a redneck boy to take festival'n.

- This is gonna be a hoot and a half. 

- I'm excited to see you all sun and sweatsoaked. And Weird Al, of course. ...I'm very appreciative that you want me to go with you to the festival, BTW.

- Are you kidding? You are literally the perfect person to go with.

- I don't know anyone that would argue with you.

x number of times

His eyes are the first thing you notice. Bright and alert. Thinking. Mischievous and happy. A rich, syrupy brown that, when coupled with his little boy lashes, can cause mild devastation. If he knows that, though, he hides it - or at least unleashes it only in small, restrained flashes.

He's too smart for his own good. A recovering newspaper addict, overly self-educated about the ugly realities of the current world. Cynical, but not jaded. Suspicious. Opinionated. Not angry, though. Not anymore. Now he's just amused. Bemused. When politics come up, he'll go a mile a minute and be way, way down the road ahead of you before you realize what it is he's even talking about. And then he'll laugh. And it's genuine mirth, not bitterness. He's identified and parsed out The Machinations of The System, and since there's really nothing he can do about it, he just laughs.

And he's funny. He's clever and quick, and he challenges me to be clever and quick back, because getting a laugh out of him feels like an accomplishment. He'll glance at me in acknowledgment when I score one, and it makes me grin with pleasure. He used to perform comedy. He was quite successful at it.

He demurs when I compliment him. When we talked about women and sex - and women's sexuality - my jaw nearly hit the floor. I've dated some feminists, but he's on a completely different level. And it's particularly surprising and impressive considering his conservative upbringing. But when I pointed out how evolved he is, he shook his head. "No I'm not," he said. "I'm just an animal like every other man."

He's empathetic. He listens keenly, his eyes on mine as I speak. He engages and shares, and becomes self-conscious when he fears he's shared too much. He's scared of sharing too much, because he knows familiarity breeds contempt.

To that end - I don't know how old he is.

To that end - I didn't know his last name until just a few days ago.

These were two arbitrary rules we gave ourselves in a not so arbitrary game, the object of which has been to prolong the stage of mystery and intrigue, which we both know heighten the initial attraction. We're calling a spade a spade and enjoying doing so.

It's extremely casual.

He looks a bit like Jason Lee.

The chemistry is, how you say, top notch.

He's been hurt recently, and very badly. He's grieving some massive, fresh losses. But he's a happy person with a healthy sense of self-love and self-respect. He knows who he is, and he's well aware of his values and boundaries, even if his empathetic nature leads him to occasionally let them be violated.

He has, I think, a big heart.

I like walking next to him. I really, really like putting my arms around him, even though I've only done it a few times. Mystery and intrigue and casual, etc. do not mix well with prolonged hugging.

He's a self-proclaimed hick. He does yoga. He's a championship archer. He plays guitar and sings, and I was genuinely impressed when I heard his music. He loves classic rock and metal and The Beatles, and on Sunday night he gave me a crash course in Rock History that left me marveling at just how much Muse is inspired by Iron Maiden. I'd had no idea.

It started as a conversation at a restaurant, at a friend's birthday party about a month ago. The conversation lasted through two additional locations and far into the evening. I've seen him X number of times since then, where X is enough for me to determine that I enjoy his company, but not enough to say much beyond that. It's casual and fun and that's all either of us knows or cares to know.

So that is a thing that is going on with me. And this being a place where I Reveal Personal Things from time to time, consider this the latest (presumably interesting) revelation about my personal life.

Oh yeah, and I invited him to come with me to Bonnaroo.

He's thinking about it.

instafeatures

Two quick not-big-deal-but-still-kinda-cool things:

1. An Argentine web designer I follow/follows me on IG asked if he could feature some of my photos for his weekly artist project. They'll be on his website here for week and then archived:


2. I got featured on California IGers:






Neato. :)

Broadway and Ord

I'm returning from a run through Chinatown when she stops me at the corner of Broadway and Ord. She's a few inches shorter than me, with dark, plaintive eyes and a thick braid that coils past her shoulders. Her dress is gauzy and richly patterned; the folds of it twist and layer lightly around her body. Her accent is heavy and I miss some of the details, but she makes me understand the broad strokes. She needs to make a phone call; will I help her use the pay phone anchored to the deli behind us?

She holds a small scrap of lined paper in one hand and a fistful of change in the other. It's been years since I've used a public telephone, but as best I can tell, we'll only need a quarter to dial the local number written in a wide, looping script. She reads the digits to me slowly and I punch the silver buttons, handing the phone over to her once I hear ringing on the other end.

The woman lifts the reciever to her ear but keeps her eyes on me questioningly. I don't know what she's hearing on the line but I get the impression she's confused, possibly unsure of how to respond to the voicemail greeting. I watch her while she listens, realizing I have no idea how old she is. She could be twenty or she could be forty; I cannot get a handle on her age. The woman's face betrays nothing; the only clue it bears as to her identity is the bindi on her smooth forehead.

She leaves a short message, and I gather from what she says that she's speaking for a group. They're here in Los Angeles. They're in Chinatown where they were dropped off. They'll wait here to be picked back up. When she's finished, she hands the receiver back to me to hang up, shrugging. It's clear she doesn't know whether she left the message correctly, or whether it will get through to its intended recipient. She explains to me that she and her companions have just emigrated from India. That a woman from San Francisco will be picking them up, and helping them get settled in the US. That she and the others will wait at the grocery store adjacent to where we stand, until their ride arrives. She points across the street to a busy corner, but I can't make out individuals in the crowd.

I've been frowning since I heard her say San Francisco. I'm having difficulty understanding the exact details of the situation, and the idea of this woman and her family sitting at a cold bus stop in Chinatown long into the night, waiting on a driver coming from Northern California, makes me uneasy.

Not wishing to abandon her without assurance that she's made her connection, going to be safe, and not going to be waiting around in a foreign country for several hours, I offer to make the call again, but on my cell phone. She agrees. After a few rings, I reach a voicemail box. I leave as clear a message as I can, encouraging a return call if there are any questions, or if there is any information I can convey back.

The woman thanks me profusely, a smile of relief lighting up her face. Definitely closer to twenty, I think. I call her by the name she's had to repeat twice for me already, and which I'll forget within a day, and wish her well as warmly as I can. I walk away slowly, still nervous about leaving her.

I'm three blocks closer to home when my phone rings. Before answering, I duck into a store doorway to escape the noise of street traffic. With one finger plugging my ear, I say hello. It's the driver from San Francisco. She's here in LA. She's about thirty minutes away. After making sure that she knows the precise cross streets in Chinatown to go to, I thank her for returning the call and hang up. Then I turn around and jog back to Broadway and Ord, to find my new fellow American and let her know her ride is on the way.

anger and opinion

Anger and a friend sat crouched in a corner, coiled and ready to strike. Opinion came walking by, minding her own business, when she suddenly felt the sting of Anger's bite.

"Ow!" she cried, and looked down to see two tiny drops of poison beading on her skin. "What did I do to you?"

But Anger didn't say a word. He just pointed to Sadness, who stood beside him with slumped shoulders and downcast eyes.

Opinion frowned. "Which one of you bit me?" she demanded.

"We both did," they said in unison. "I was the reason," said Sadness. "And I was the rhyme," echoed Anger.

Opinion looked at them for a moment, thinking. Then without replying, she turned and walked away.

She decided not to visit that corner anymore.

the pond

There once was a girl who liked to visit a small, still pond in the wood. It was a quiet, lonely place where no one ever bothered her, and she could be alone with her thoughts.

The girl liked to stand at the edge of the water and peer down at her reflection. Sometimes she'd toss a pebble onto the glassy surface, and watch as it shattered the face that looked back up at her. The girl would wait until all the ripples had calmed and her likeness had composed itself. Then she'd drop another pebble, breaking the watery mirror into a thousand pieces all over again.

Every day she would visit the pond, and every day she'd throw stones at herself, fascinated by the way a quick flick of her wrist could splinter and smash what was so tranquil and serene a moment before. It didn't matter how smooth and tiny a pebble she used, or how big and jagged a rock - they all had the same disfiguring effect on the girl in the water.

One day, she leaned out over the pool, looking to find her reflection. But all she could see were the stones she'd been throwing, piled so high on top of one another that they nearly spilled out. She plunged her palms into the cold water, gathering up handfuls of them. She noticed how heavy they were, and she realized that if she wanted to start her game over again, it would be quite a lot of work to reverse her efforts. It would take just as long to empty the pond as it had taken to fill it up. Maybe even longer.

The girl didn't think she had the strength to do it. She looked around, feeling lost and unsure of how next to amuse herself.

Suddenly, she had an idea. The girl unlaced her shoes and peeled the stockings from her legs. Carefully she placed one foot into the cool of the pond, then another, feeling all her collected pebbles and stones packed firmly underneath. Step by step, the girl walked across the water that had held her double captive for so long. She marveled to think how much time she must have passed here, to have filled the water up so completely.

The girl reached the far side of the pond and stepped out, glad of the soft, dry grass beneath her once more. With her shoes and socks still slung over her shoulder, she headed into the unfamiliar woods that stretched out ahead.

She'd never been to this side of the pond before, and she was in the mood to explore.

plan of attack

I've realized there's absolutely no way I'll be able to do a thorough review of my entire weekend at Coachella. It's taken me four massive posts just to get through the first four hours. And last night (and again this morning), I spent an extremely frustrating couple of hours trying to write a sort of chronological wrap-up of the remainder of the weekend. It felt rushed and sloppy and cheap, like I was just going through the motions of blogging about an event for the sake of blogging about an event.

Then I tried to do a sort of mixed-bag highlight reel, touching on the most memorable aspects. That, too, felt elliptical and unsatisfactory. And I realized I need a new plan of attack. I realized that what I'd prefer to do is stop trying to blog about the rest of the weekend in any traditional fashion, and just revisit it randomly here and there, as inspiration strikes. That way I can pick out a few of the most intense moments and really concentrate on bringing them back to life, with plenty of detail and description. I think that would be the most fulfilling way for me to write about it, and (I hope) the most fun way for you to read about it. 

I'm sorry, guys; I'm sure it's annoying to have me come out of the gate full-steam and then fizzle off like this. But holy crap, I'd still have another 32 hours worth to get through. It would take ages. But I promise I'll dive deep into the remaining moments I've wanted to share, because they were fantastic and fun and hilarious. 

secret menu

M: Did you know Starbucks has a secret menu?

Me: With the Trenta? I don't know what else is on it, though.

M: The kid next to me ordered a Cinnamon Toast Crunch frappucino and I was like whattttt?

Me: No way. WTF.

M: Cap'n Cruch frapp, too. Crazy.

Me: I order off the Chipotle secret menu all the time. Just a quesadilla, but it's fun when someone in line doesn't know that's an option and is all wha??

M: HAHAHA, I was gonna say WTF could they have?

Me: Right?? SECRET MENU ITEM: mix mild AND medium salsa! OMG you so fancy.

(pause)

Me: What if hospitals had secret menus? ...Or dating sites. ...Or colleges. ...Or VIP rooms.  ....Wait, what am I saying. They totally do.

M: Dating site secret menu, lol.  ...Can I have the blonde with the green eyes?

Me: The Pilates instructor with the PhD?

M: That went to Harvard and started a VC company?

Me: LOL. More like, Can I get the guy with both intelligence AND humility? 

M: No but would you settle for a Cinnamon Toast Crunch frapp?

Me: LOLOLOL

I sink

It feels like a sunset. It comes on the same way, too. Slow leaking colors, spilling and pooling, shifting and expanding. They are my emotions: joy, fear, anxiety, shame, hope. All my collected feelings that blend and bleed into one another at any given moment, on any given day.

The night pushes them down, flattens them out, steals their space and their oxygen. It crowds them out of the picture as I watch, feeling my oxygen disappear, too. Intensity builds, flaring and fingering out in a last fiery gasp.

Then nothing.

Then dark.

Then emptiness. Or rather, hollowness. What's the difference? Emptiness is the property of a thing that's been void forever, or for a very long time. Or a thing that belongs that way. Or is natural that way. An empty room. An empty glass. Once full, but not needing to be.

Hollowness is a quality of unnatural lack. Things that are hollow shouldn't be that way. Hollow eyes. Hollow soul. Hollow grave. A space asking to be filled.

So, hollowness. Hollow but for wisps of the emotions that blazed bright just moments before. They swirl like smoke inside of me, barely there, and certainly unable to be grasped. And after another few minutes, when dark becomes darker, they're gone, too.

And then it's just black. With very little air to breathe. Everything has been flattened out, the good and the bad. Not even sadness or despair remain. Not enough emotion to generate even a tear.

So I slink home in the twilight, my feet leaden with dread of nothing worth dreading. And I slump against the wall of the elevator, artificial light ugly on my ugliest moment. And I drop onto my bed, dead inside, mechanically lifting my hand to stroke the thing that is so alive, and so needing me to stay that way, too.

And I know it's temporary, and I want to forgive myself, but I can't. Because I don't deserve the indulgence of it, and I haven't earned the right to swim in these waters right now. Have I ever? Probably not.

Probably not.

I'm a joy junkie.

I'm unable to tread water for very long, without something to grab onto, a raft or a float that will accommodate my need to ride one current, then the next. Because if I don't, if I'm forced to tread, I sink.

And it's very hard to catch a sinking stone, especially when you're the stone.

imperfect

Ok well now I'm apparently the blogger who sometimes doesn't put up anything new for weeks but then will randomly post multiple times in one day. And I know how much everyone loves that blogger. Sorry. I am just way too excited about this to wait, and it would be phony of me to play it off as a regular post tomorrow.

Chaucer and I went for a walk a little bit ago up to Grand Park, where nine times out of ten, no one bothers us if I let him off leash. And today they're doing upkeep on the grass, so the whole thing is cordoned off with caution tape. No problemo - up in other parts of the park, there are some smaller sections that have natural enclosures due to the landscaping. So I take Chauc to one of these and we do our thing, which is a few minutes of grooming, then a few minutes of play, and so on until he's tuckered out and well brushed.

And mind you, this little area is about 300 square feet, so he doesn't have a lot of room. But I've got him off leash, and one of the security guards goes all hall monitor on me, even though a) there's really no place for Chaucer to get to, b) it's clear as day that I'm mostly grooming him, so he's right next to me, and c) it's also very obvious that he's 100% responsive to me and comes when I call him.

And I know the guy was just doing his job, and I don't want him to lose his job. I really don't. But the way he approached me was a little bit bullying, and I didn't really respond well to it. And if I could go back and do it over again I wouldn't have given the guy a hard time and reacted with entitlement (because duh, rules are rules, even for Ellie and Chaucer), but something about his tone just set me off, and ugh. It was not a pleasant interaction.

So I gathered our stuff and walked Chaucer up to the John Ferraro building where no one has ever complained once about us playing up there, because there's no security on the outside grounds. And on this walk up there I was a little bit frazzled and angry, and I basically let my emotions run away with me.

And though it's extremely embarrassing to admit, all I could think about was that I wish I'd had someone with me who would have stuck up for me and Chauc in that moment. And I know that sounds utterly ridiculous and appallingly 19th century, but the fact is, I have a soft spot for protective guys. And I don't mean machismo assholes who pick fights. I mean guys who instinctively want to place themselves between me and the source of danger/stress/bad juju/whatever. My whole life I had to deal with both an older brother and (for a big chunk of my childhood) a father who, rather than sticking up for me, either actively pushed me into the path of bullies (such as my brother), or generally ignored my complaints about being treated poorly and having my boundaries violated (such as my father, who refused to believe my cousins were mean to me when I was growing up, and would tell me to "suck it up").

And believe me, I know how distasteful an admission this is. How childish and weak and ridiculous it makes me sound. But please give me the benefit of the doubt that I don't want some hotheaded trigger-happy anger junky in my life. Ugh, no. But because the two men who were supposed to stick up for me as a kid didn't do so, now I just have a (no longer) secret appreciation of and fondness for guys who feel a sense of protectiveness towards me and demonstrate it, if the occasion merits, in a tactful, calm, and mature way.

It's one of the three ways to my heart, the second of which shall remain unnamed for OMGmystery but the third of which is, obviously, adoring my dog as much as I do.

Speaking of which.

So we got up to the fountain and again, it's mortifying to admit, but I was all worked up about this dumb encounter with the security guy, and having maybe not had the greatest day or the most amazing sleep the night before to begin with, I was a little bit maxed out. And frankly, all I wanted to do was go sit by the water with my dog and cry.

And that's what I did, for a minute or two, while I threw the ball for him.

But then he was being so hilarious and goofy, stalking a goose in the lake and trying to eat goose poop off the ground, which you'd think he had mistaken for fois gras, considering the gusto with which he went after it.

(Wally and I were texting at this time, and when I told him about the goose poop, he declared that I should expect hookworms any day now. So I've got that going for me.)

Anyway, there was a decent sunset forming, and one of my favorite pictures of him ever is a silhouette shot against the fading light of dusk. And I've always wanted to get some action shots of us playing. So I opened my self-timer app, set my phone on the ground, grabbed one of his balls, and called Chauc to me. I had him sit a few feet in front of where my phone sat, and kept him in a sit/stay until I heard the timer beeping. Then I bounced the ball hard, and he sprang for it like a boss.

And holy crap. For the next ten minutes, my dog was the Most Awesome Dog on The Planet.

And I don't say that lightly, because I know a lot of awesome dogs (I'm looking at you, Kafka and Bailey). And I don't want to claim that Chaucer has remained the MADOP. Because, come on. That would be ridiculous. I doubt any dog can hold the title for more than a few minutes at a time, unless maybe they've just won Best in Show, in which case, yeah, that glory probably lasts a good couple of hours.

So while no, Chaucer is no longer such, for those ten minutes, he was The Most Awesome Dog on The Planet. Because after that first timer went off, I ran over to check the camera roll, to see if we were anywhere close to being in frame and in focus. And I saw that not only did it come out decent, but it actually looked pretty spectacular, IMHO.

And so I made him do it again. And again. I made him do it about ten times. And he was enthusiastic and awesome and athletic each time. And I forgot all about the my run-in with the security guard, and about feeling needy and sad and pathetic, and I just thought how lucky I was to have this amazing animal as my companion.

We were fighting a fast-dropping sun and a fast-dying battery; I managed all of these pics on about 6% power, frantically running to reset it after each take. A few times the ball got kicked into the fountain and I jumped in quickly to get it; a few times Chauc didn't want to give it up and I had to wrestle it out of his mouth.

And I know the pics aren't perfect, I know there are buildings and trees preventing us from being perfectly clear silhouettes. But I don't give a shit. I love them so much. To me they've captured this perfect moment between us, where everything that was bringing me down dropped away, and there was only me and my dog, playing in the afternoon sun. And while I know I could probably redo them with him and make them amazing, find a place where the silhouettes would be whole and there's pretty grass instead of concrete - I don't want to. For one thing, he shouldn't be jumping around all high like that; it's bad for his hips. And a reenactment would feel like cheating, anyway. But all of that aside, I love that they're imperfect.

Because so are we.

And I really do try to keep to my policy of not reposting stuff from Instagram with dumb "IG dumps" or "photo dumps" because WTF, do bloggers really think their readers need to see that stuff twice? But in this case, I'm showing them here first, so sneak preview, woohoo! And I also don't know which pics I'll put on IG, or when, or how I'll edit them (these are all an array of AfterLight filters), so they'll possibly look very different, anyway.

ENOUGH TALK. Here's my guy, being his fantastic self:









Could not love him more.

coachella 4 - getting on with it (in which I spend the rest of the day crying)

I've been blocked. I'd like to credit my lack of posts about Coachella to the fact that I'm pouring so much into them, making them pretty epic, and therefore have been a little intimidated by the pressure of writing so much - but the truth is, I've just been blocked.

I get that way sometimes, when my personal life gets fraught, or full, or frustrating. I freeze up. The more I have going on in my life that's post-worthy, the more likely it is to bottleneck up in my brain and just fester there. But because I still feel to urge to create something, I'll, say, go wild on Instagram instead, because that's a quicker, easier fix.

I'm also hamstrung by the fact that I'm so stubbornly linear. So even though there have been things I've wanted to write about even more so than Coachella, I get hung up on the fact that I'm not finished with The Thing That Came First. Because god forbid I put the C block next to the A block. The universe might implode.

Finally, I know how annoying it is when bloggers drag some event out into multiple posts, way past the date of the actual event. It's like going to the grocery store and finding they're out of some soda you like, so you keep checking back every few days, but nope, it hasn't been restocked, and then finally one day you see it's back on the shelf but by that point you're on a juice kick anyway.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'll sell you a case of this soda cheap, if you're still interested. Just please get it out of my stockroom, because I keep tripping over it.

So where was I?  Ah yes. There I am. Opening my eyes slowly, taking a breath, taking in where I am and what I'm feeling. My senses and motor function are on a few seconds' delay, so standing and gathering my things, dusting the dried grass off my skirt and putting my backpack on again all represent fair-sized challenges. 

And when I start to walk, picking my way through the dispersing crowd and those who are still on the ground nearby, I realize that I am exceptionally high. The sunlight hits me as I emerge from the shade of the tent, and everything just sort of goes haywire in my brain. All I can think about is the light, which is blinding and hot. So bright. It's really bright. Whoa. Bright. I have no idea what I'm doing, or where I'm going. My schedule, so painstakingly put together, flies right out of my head. I'm aware of being at Coachella. I'm aware that there's music to be watched. But I couldn't tell you where on the festival grounds I am, what time it is, how long I've been there, or what on earth I should do next. 

I'm vaguely aware that I should be self-conscious about this, that I'm really on the edge of being in kind of a bad spot - I mean, if I'm so high that I've lost the ability to even navigate, then hell. That's a pretty expensive overdose. But I'm unbothered by this possibility. I only feel a massive sense of bemused detachment. Despite not knowing what the hell is going on, I'm having a blast.

The good news is, the stage I've just left is right beside the one I'm supposed to head to next - literally, a few dozen steps away. And the music emanating from it drifts to me, creeps into my brain, wraps a tendril or two around the right neural pathways, and I realize: Dillon

I can't run. That's not a possibility. But I'm ok with that. The sun and sound float me in the right direction, to a tent that is spilling over with a crowd that can't keep still. Everyone is dancing. It's like nothing I've seen yet, at a festival - this daylight-soaked chaos of joy and energy and heat. There are no half-measures. No standing back and watching, no casual swaying and foot-tapping. All these thousands of people are lit up with the music. Skin and sweat and smiles and this is some serious shit, right here. 

The closest I can get is a good ten feet past where the tent ends, in the far back. But it doesn't matter. Others in the same boat as me are just as happy as me just to be there, flooded over with the songs we've been rocking out to in our various ways for months and months. The crowd is one giant animal with a few thousand hearts, all throbbing outside its body. The feedback loop of energy from dj to crowd and back again is incredible, and almost overwhelming. I close my eyes and dance, scorching hot in the afternoon sun. I'm here. I picture my arms and legs extending out, my fingers reaching to pull into me all these split-second moments and impressions I don't want to forget. I'm sponging it all up frantically. I'm not in any state to think of taking pictures, but here's one from Dillon Francis's Instagram, taken from the stage, that gives you a great sense of the scene:


When it ends, I'm in a bit of a state. Overheated, dehydrated, disoriented. Even a little bit emotional. I buy a bottle of water and try not to bump into anyone as I wander in the direction of the main stages, gulping down water and searching my mind. Next. What's next. 

Stars. Stars is next. 

I've been listening to Stars since college - when I listened to them on CD. I remember the very first time I heard them. Borders Books and Music used to have these listening stations where they'd put up new and popular music. You could pop on a pair of headphones and preview entire CDs. I used to go to the one in Tucson, at Park Mall, and spend inordinate amounts of time at those listening stations. And Stars was one of my finds there. 

Things I associate with their music include, but are not limited to:

relationships in my twenties
existential angst in my twenties 

Ok well that list was going to be much longer, but I realize that pretty much covers it. Suffice to say, Stars were the soundtrack to my twenties. If you're not familiar with their music, it's pretty heavy on romantic narrative, which was the perfect backdrop for the OMGdramaz I (thought I) went through. I really believed I was living a romantic comedy at the time. Zero self-awareness for this one back then. 

Anyway, I've never seen them perform. They're from Montreal, and they tour (and release new albums) with relative frequency, but I've just not seen them yet. And again, totally obnoxious to drop one of those OTT And omgooddddd it was even more perfect than I could have imagined, I know, but it is. It really is. 

I sit off towards the front right. It isn't overly crowded when I sit down, but I do have to move a few times when I keep getting boxed in by standers, because I really, really want to sit. Eventually I give up and have to go pretty far into the foul ball zone, and initially I am frustrated by this, but the sound is still incredible, and when I close my eyes, it doesn't matter where I am. Only once do I have the urge to tweet over the weekend, and it's during the beginning of this show. Because I'm doing this thing I've learned to do at festivals, which is where I shut my eyes and just slowly, slowly let everything and everyone but the music fall away. Then I reconstruct the scene in my mind, bit by bit. First the field, then the stage - then myself. I imagine sitting exactly where I'd want to be sitting. And then in my mind, all with my eyes closed still, I let the field fill back up. But because this is all in my imagination, I'm in complete control of the crowd - how close they are to me, whether they're sitting or standing, and so on.

In other words, the mental space I'm inhabiting at this show looks nothing whatsoever like reality. And that's an awesomely empowering thing to be able to do. So the tweet I briefly had in mind to send was something like Did you know that when you close your eyes, you can be anywhere? But then I realized how random and dumb that would sound, and that I wouldn't be in any kind of state to answer anyone who might reply to it. 

So I sat and listened in my wholly fabricated imaginary environment, and I just let the music have its way with me. And the mushrooms stopped being about heightened sensory awareness, and started being about the Bigger Picture of Life, as they'd been in San Francisco last year. And this really magical and beautiful (I know, I know) thing happened where I had long overdue funeral for my twenties (I know). But really, that's the best way I can put it. I just put to bed some of the demons that have been lurking in my head, that I didn't even know still kept a room up there. A really damaging relationship. An abortion. A mixed bag of regrets related to my family. It just all sort of spilled out onto the table in my head, and bit by bit, I picked it up, looked it over, and then set it down again, finally done with it. Finally at peace.

Oh and the whole time, tears were streaming down my face. 

I was sitting crosslegged by myself, on my little sheet, with my sunglasses on, and my face tilted up to the sun, listening to songs that had moved me so deeply, for so many years, and now were moving me again, across time and emotion to places that I didn't even know needed a return visit. And like I say, I know how ugh annoying it is when someone gushes over some experience, but jesus. It was so beautiful. And it meant the world to me.

After a while I gave up wiping the tears away, because I figured if anything that would draw more attention to the fact that I was crying, if anyone was even looking, and I just let them come. 

And now I'm going to get a little bit elliptical because if I don't I'm never going to get through writing about this weekend. 

Of Monsters and Men is similarly emotional. Again, I lay my blanket down far to the side - all the way to the side, in this case, because the stage is packed. And that's actually a bit of a bummer, because I'm so far over that I'm actually up against a fence that borders a service road. Hence, there's the noise of golf carts motoring by a few feet away. But I've seen Of Monsters and Men before at Outside Lands, and it was a really great experience for me then, so I don't feel overly anxious about having the perfect show today.

Instead I just lay down completely, listen, and just reconnect to thoughts of my dad, which is something I don't "indulge" in all that often these days. And there were tears, but they weren't grieving tears. They were just pure neutral emotion, neither good nor bad. The sun was setting and I rolled over onto my stomach and looked out to see my first Coachella dusk. I saw the crowd silhouetted against the sun, and the ferris wheel and the balloons in the background. And it was breathtaking, and I was overcome with gratitude to have been born when and where I was, to be able to experience it.

These are a bit repetitive, sorry, but I think they convey the warmth of the sun and the relaxed (but starting to rebuild) energy at this point in the day:
















 

I know this doesn't even finish Friday, and I don't blame anyone for losing interest at this point, but I really, really want to remember this experience in as much detail as possible, so that when I'm old and toothless and bored in my nursing home, I have something incredible to read and be nostalgic about.

Because flirting with the young orderlies will only entertain me for so long, yanno?

cartoons made here

A couple years ago, I won The New Yorker cartoon caption contest (#273). I got a signed copy of the cartoon and everything. It's pretty much my favorite piece of randomness to drop whenever I meet anyone and they say, Tell me something interesting about you! (I know. Sort of pathetic. Whatever.)

Anyway, last week, I (along with several other contest winners) got an email from Robert Mankoff, the cartoon editor for The New Yorker:

Hi, Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor here. First, congratulations on winning the contest. It's not easy. Just ask the late Roger Ebert. And, if he answers please tell me, because I'll quickly renounce my atheism. The reason I'm emailing you all is that I would like to create a crowdsourcing group that can help me with research I do into the psychology of humor as a member of the International Society of Humor Studies (http://www.hnu.edu/ishs/) . It will mainly involve surveys looking at cartoons and sometimes rating them and sometimes providing your own captions to them. It has nothing to do with anything editorial that goes on at The New Yorker. 

If you would like to help me out with this just reply with the subject line "Yes", to this email and I'll put you on the list. If you decide yes and then want off just email me and I'll take you off. If you're wondering if this is actually from me just ask me to send you your winning caption and that will prove it. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks for entering the caption contest. 

All the best, 

Bob Mankoff, Cartoon Editor.

---

I replied in the affirmative, because how fun, right? And a few days ago, he sent another email, containing a massive list of captions to be reverse-engineered into cartoons. I just did a few right now and sent them back over to him to make sure it's what he has in mind before I spend too much more time on it. But it's really fun, so I thought I'd share a few of my favorites. The captions he sent are italicized; my envisioned cartoons are beneath:

Did you ever hear back with an estimate from the plumber? 

A couple and their three small children are in the bathroom of their home. The husband stands in the shower, soaping himself, while the three children spray him with water guns. Meanwhile, his wife sits at a vanity applying makeup.

I have the strangest feeling I left the tub running. 

A couple (seen from behind) sits in a movie theater. The scene on the screen depicts a reenactment of the flood of Genesis, with Noah herding animals into the ark.

You never take me anywhere!

A couple sits in a gondola at the bottom of a Ferris Wheel; a group of attendants is poring over some mechanical problem, and one is putting up a "Closed For Repair" sign while turning approaching would-be riders away.

No, Martha, I don't have a plan for retirement. Why do you ask? 

An elderly man in an old-fashioned pinstriped suit and paper hat stands beside a small, vintage-looking ice cream cart. He looks down at a little girl to whom he's handing a cone. Behind him, a pair of workers is mounting a massive "COMING SOON: 38 FLAVORS GOURMET GELATO" banner on the front of a large shop.

Do you suppose the Johnsons will mind if we drop by this afternoon?

A pair of rabbits stands next to a hole beside a crude wooden sign reading "The Johnsons"; behind them, gun-toting hunters and a pack of dogs bear down.

It sure feels good to be able to relax after a busy day at work!

A pair of beavers sits relaxing at the side of their new dam; just upstream, the devastation from their woodchopping efforts is wreaking havoc for all the other animals.

Do you suppose there's enough change in the cushions to get a cab ride home?

A pair of young men lounge on a sectional in a furniture store, in front of a TV showing the final score of a basketball game. The store owner stands to the side, with his arms crossed and glaring.

---

Now if I could just get paid to sit around and do this all day.

crushing on life

It kills me that I have to thank Facebook. I mean, really. I've been grinding that axe for years. Facebook sucks. Facebook is evil. Who needs Facebook? I've done just fine keeping in touch with the people I want to keep in touch with, without it.  

All of that still holds true, as far as I'm concerned. But credit where credit is due. And this wouldn't have happened without The Book. So thanks, Zucky (she said, with her middle finger extended).

Also deserving credit: sleeplessness. Sleeplessness on an early Saturday morning, coupled with the realization that my twenty year high school reunion is coming up, and a morbid curiosity as to what those twenty years have done with (to?) some of my classmates. What does one do with this formula? Well naturally, one Facebooks.

I think if you hooked me up to an EKG, and/or whatever equipment is used to monitor brain waves, you could probably chart the visceral reaction of my body to logging on to Facebook. I mean, I just fucking cringe, I really do. And I don't even have a single thing on my page, other than a couple profile photos. No personal info. Nothing on my timeline. No friends. I totally get that if you've been 'booking since the beginning, all of that stuff just sort of fleshed itself out with the new formatting. But I only rejoined within the last year-ish, and only because Spotify held a gun to my head to make me do so. (Assholes.) And I don't have any interest in going through and filling all of it out at this point. I mean, I know who I am and what I've been doing with my life. I know who my friends are, and where to find them. I'm good, thanks.

(God, look at me. I can't go five lines without 'bookslamming. Really do hate it though. Have I mentioned that?)

Anyway, I logged on because I was curious to see if there'd been a page set up about my twenty year reunion (there has, but no date set yet). And one thing led to another, and I found myself typing a name in the search box. No, not an ex-boyfriend. I'm not that masochistic. Just a girl who I knew in another lifetime, who during that lifetime, meant the world to me. (Alas, who we are between the ages of ten and eighteen doesn't always bear much resemblance to the adults we grow into. And that girl broke my heart worse than any boy ever has. But that's another story for another time, if ever, though probably not, because there's nothing to be gained by raking over those long-cold coals.)

So I looked at this girl's page, this erstwhile friend, for a minute or two - at her status updates and kids' pictures, and the photographic grid that comprises her network of friends. And I let myself surf the wave of contradictory feelings that always, predictably, rolls in when I engage in this semi-annual exercise: sadness, pride, wistfulness, relief.

And then I saw a name and a face in a square, with six letters underneath it: SCI-Arc.

And I frowned. No way, I thought to myself. No fucking way. Because those six letters denote a place downtown, where I live - an architecture school - walking distance from my apartment.

And the name and the face belonged to a boy this girl and I knew in high school, in Arizona - a boy two years my junior, with whom we were friends, but with whom I was better friends. In fact, I won't lie; I felt a proprietary pang when I saw him listed as her friend, because nuh uh. Because Sure, you were in the same classes, and some of the same plays. But mostly, you were busy doing your cheerleading/Homecoming Queen/modeling thing. And you weren't there for the best bits. For the back row giggles and the goofing off after school. For the inside jokes and the connection, and that unique blend of teenaged angst-meets-crush, of unknowns and miscommunications, of ego and adolescent attraction. But hey, it's cool. You got to play with pom poms. 

The name and the face belonged to one of the very, very few people from my past that I would welcome in my present.

I had to message him. I didn't even hesitate.

I tried to pitch a lighthearted but sincere tone. A hey-wow-you-work-where-I-live-aint-that-crazy-haha? tone. A look-I-hate-Facebook-but-I-couldn't-resist-saying-hi tone. I didn't say anything about meeting up. Just that I wanted to say hello, and cheers to having survived these twenty years. Fear of rejection is a terminal condition.

After I clicked send, I realized I may have made a mistake. For selfish and unselfish reasons. Selfish being the realization that I'm not sure I want to be on anyone's radar, even people I once cared for. I've loved being off the grid, in terms of my past. I've loved letting them wonder. And unselfish being the realization that it might not be the coolest thing, to randomly parachute into someone's life after so long. I knew nothing about this person, other than the glimpses I'd had, of the man he was starting to become some two decades ago. My message in a bottle might be an unwelcome discovery, on whatever island he's drifted to.

He didn't, after all, appear to be a big Facebooker. He appeared to be a man who was happily, quietly living the life he'd been living since I'd last lain eyes on him in the 90's.

But he didn't keep me in suspense long, and his response to my note was warmer and kinder and more enthusiastic than any Girl From the Past has a right to expect. We swapped phone numbers that same day, and made plans to meet for a drink the next night.

And tonight we had that drink, and another after it, and spent four hours tripping down memory lane, and then backtracking to the present day, seeing as we did so where our paths ran surprisingly parallel. And I don't know how to describe what it was like, without resorting to cliche and bad metaphors. So I'll just spew out some words and thoughts, and maybe the right shape will form.

Unexpected, but heartwarmingly familiar. The confidence and sure carriage of a man who's grown into himself, and who knows who he is. A far cry from the gawky fifteen year-old with darting eyes and a nervous giggle - though the giggle remains untouched, instantly recognizable, and just as contagious as ever. I stole sidelong glances at him as we toured the silent, empty school where he works, and listened to the way he spoke with gratitude and self-effacing humor about the life he's built for himself. Seeds of sensitivity and shyness - things that tangle up and twist a teenage boy into knots, into his own worst enemy - sprout and bloom, and manifest as deeply admirable qualities in a man: empathy, humility, and self-awareness.

We carefully unfolded pages from the past and compared notes. He shared things with me about his life as a teenager that I'd had no idea of. Painful, heartwrenching things that made me wish I could reach back to 1993 and hug the everloving shit out of the boy largely responsible for making it such a fun year. Things that made me cry, to think of him silently bearing, during a time when I knew him only as a happy, fun-loving kid who lived to make other people laugh.

He told me what he remembered of me - of teenaged me. And it was like someone handing me a flattering snapshot of myself and saying, Hey, I think you dropped this.

He told me what he remembered of my father. And it was like someone delivering a letter, twenty years late, that had been lost in the mail. An unexpected few minutes' worth of delight on this, the one year anniversary of his death. And I was so, so grateful for it, though I couldn't tell him, because if I'd tried to, I would have cried (again).

But mostly it was catching up on who we've since become, telling one another a bit about the things we've come to love in life - many of which are the same, it was lovely to learn. And then he drove me home and we pledged to get together again soon. And it was just so goddamn nice to be able to peer into the past and not have to cover my eyes for once.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm most in love with life when it surprises me. So yeah. Don't mind me. I'll be over here in the corner for a little bit, just crushing on life.