we'll call it Shady Lane

I need an app that maps the shadiest pedestrian route, for any given time of day. Nothing too complicated. Just, you know, an algorithm that calculates the position of the sun relative to building height, trees, sizable landmarks, etc., factored down to the minute so as to maximize the amount of shade one enjoys while walking.

I am convinced that between Google and NASA, the data have already been collected. All that remains is some number crunching.

So can someone please crunch those numbers? Walkability scores are everything nowadays. There's gotta be $$$$ in an app like that.

hive-aitus

Greetings from Hell, aka Los Angeles, a climate-forsaken oven of a city, solidly in the grip of a brain-boiling, mood-ruining, sex-thwarting, creativity-curbing heatwave.

I am sweaty and cranky, and have been for weeks now. Though that only partially explains my absence here. Mostly it has had to do with my health, which right about the time of my last post took a sudden and bewildering nosedive.

In a nutshell: I have spent the past two and a half months fighting, of all fucking things, hives. Debilitating, unbearably itchy, splotchy red hives, of the sort one gets as an extreme allergic reaction. Only, I'm not allergic to anything. I am, however, immune-challenged, what with my hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's. Both of these conditions put me at greater risk for something called Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria, or, in plainspeak: Neverending WhoTheFuckKnowsWhy Hives.

It is a long and boring story involving lapsed insurance policies, indifferent doctors, blood tests, urgent care visits, and weeks on end of intense misery - and mystery. Really all that matters at this point is that eventually I figured out a medication "plan" that manages and ameliorates the symptoms. But it's a doozy.

You know how groggy a single Benadryl makes you? I'm currently taking eight Benadryl a day. Eight. Plus nightly Pepcid. Plus my regular dose of synthroid.

There's a potentially happy ending to this story, in that there's a decent chance an untreated dental infection has been the source of the hives. I found out about the infection two weeks ago. My dentist explained that rather than manifest in my mouth itself, the infection has been draining down directly into my lymph nodes, which then may very well have been distributing the fucking infection throughout my body. Causing my mast cells to freak out and fire histamine in an effort to protect themselves. Causing the hives.

I had the offending tooth removed a few days ago. I am on antibiotics. The hives seem to be abating, but I'm still too terrified to quit the Benadryl and find out if they're really gone (it takes a few days of "building up" resistance to the histamine before the Benadryl is effective for me, and every time I skipped a dose or was even a few hours late, boom, my skin would explode again).

Ugh this is so boring. Other people's health issues are so not sexy or interesting. I am sorry. It's just been an incredibly challenging few months, and I wanted to offer an explanation for my disappearance. There were some really, really bad moments during which I entertained some really, really bad thoughts. Luckily, where "luckily" doesn't even come close to expressing what I'd need it to, I wasn't alone in any of this.

"Supportive" is a similarly insufficient word to convey how amazing Timo has been during this time. It's no exaggeration to say I couldn't have survived without him. He was there at three am, when every inch of my arms, legs, neck, chest, and back were aflame with blooming, excruciatingly itchy red roses. When the only thing to be done was head back to the hospital for another round of steroids. Even on nights when there was nothing he could do but keep me company while I suffered, he insisted on keeping me company while I suffered. He went online and did research on his own, to understand what was happening to me and how to help. He found holistic doctors and learned the difference between H1 and H2 blockers. He talked in terms of "we" and "us". As in, "We're going to figure this out. We're going to get you answers and get you better." He'd lift my chin and make me look him in the eye and believe him. He made me feel much less alone, during what is ultimately a very lonely ordeal.

So. That's a bit of what's been happening. But there's been lots more going on, much of it wonderful. Shows and trips and another birthday. An anniversary. And I'll catch you up on all of it, I promise, but right now? Right now I am sitting in my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, on what has turned into a gloriously grey, breezy day, waiting for my boyfriend to come meet me so we can have drinks alfresco at the open-air restaurant next door. He just got off a plane an hour ago. He's been gone for two weeks.

We have some catching up to do, too.

birthday trip (part two)

Saturday morning, and the heat is a blanket smothering the house. One hundred and three degrees. I never got used to temperatures like this, not in twenty years of living with them. Heat this intense flattens me, deadens my senses. I kick off the duvet, feeling dried out and puffy, cringe when the bedroom's floor mirror confirms my self-assessment, and wander barefoot around the property until I find Timo working at a table in the front yard. The archival-quality drawing pad he'd given me last night is flipped open, covered with a carefully squared grid and neat handwriting in various colors. The pencil set has apparently inspired him; he's been brainstorming for his next project. He holds the page up to show me, proud of the artwork but sheepish about working while on vacation. I've never seen this visually creative side to him, and comment that he must get it from his architect father.

Though we'd planned on hiking, we quickly dismiss that idea. Why exhaust and probably sunburn ourselves? Fuck it. Instead we spend the first part of our day lounging, cooking, snacking, talking, and exploring the grounds around the house.

In the kitchen we eat thick slabs of watermelon and drink melon punch Italian soda. We move to the living room, sitting across from one another in my favorite of the house's chairs: tufted electric blue leather armchairs, low-backed, with just enough seat depth to curl up in. We sip coffee and look over the bookshelves beside us. I'm chatty from the caffeine, telling personal anecdotes that the bookshelf's contents have triggered in me. Timo leaves to shower, and my phone lights up. Mason.

How's Joshua Tree?

Content rich. T-minus five hours until launch...

Is Timo excited for the journey?

He's just babysitting. He got me all this colorful bright stuff to play with. Though I'll probably end up drooling on the hammock for 12 hours...

I send him a pic of my current view, and he says it looks like Alexander Shulgin's house.

I shower after Timo, trying to make peace with the cramped and ugly bathroom, knowing there's a decent chance I'll spend some miserable minutes in here later if I don't. I've been trying to make peace with the house all day, to be honest. Not let it psych me out, on a day when my psychic mindset is more important than anything. I'm feeling more optimistic than last night, but I'm still not 100% sure I even want to take the acid after all. The heat and the house are warning me not to, as insistently as they can. We'll see.

We spend some time apart, him emptying his brain onto crisp white paper, me poking around the outskirts of the property in search of photo ops. The heat is menacing, like an animal threatening to hurt me. It doesn't surprise me when a pair of hawks track me from above, the cries they exchange sounding contemptuous, and aimed at me. Just die, already, won't you? Just drop dead and let us pick at your bones. From the ground they don't even look large enough to be predatory. But then what do I know about birds of prey? The intensity of their squawking and the closeness with which they follow start to scare me, and I hurry back to the house. It takes all my willpower not to call out for Timo, like a child.

In the cool of the bedroom, I look over my camera roll. None of the selfies I've taken are any good. The landscape is dull, uninspiring; I look pink and mottled and try hard. Defeated, I sprawl on the blissfully white and cloud-like bed. I roll this way and then that, letting the cotton draw the warmth from my skin.

Timo joins me, lazily stretching out on his side. Again we go over what he should expect tonight, in terms of my behavior. What he should say if I fall into a loop, or forget that I've even taken a drug. My stomach is in knots, though I don't confess to him that I'm close to backing out. All this preparation and planning, how can I?

I check the time. Five o'clock. I'd been shooting for five thirty. Better text Pinkman, check in with him about dosage one more time. I retrieve the black plastic film canister I've been storing the acid in from my backpack. Slide out the tiny baggie containing the white, unmarked blotting paper. Take a photo of it, send a text, and wait. All this Timo watches with interest, murmuring "Oh, wow" when he sees the LSD for the first time.

Remind me. Each square is two hits?

Yes

How much do you usually take?

Couple squares.

Four hits. What I'd been planning myself.

Ok, cool. Thank you!

Have fun!

Timo and I look at one another. I feel like I'm at the gate in an international airline terminal, about to say goodbye for a very, very long time. About to get a rather special passport stamp, too.

"There's a decent chance it's expired, anyway," I announce, unsure if this outcome would disappoint or relieve me. "You're supposed to keep it at a constant temperature but it's just sat in my desk through the heat and the cold. Who knows."

Pressing my body against my boyfriend once more before lift-off, a sudden surge of reckless confidence finds me. Life is not for shallow-enders. I may not have the means to travel the world right now, but there are wondrous places of unimaginable beauty I can go, anyway.

I don't even need to pack.






birthday trip (part one)

Both of us are a little burned out, by the time we head to the desert. Ready for a break, anxious for a change of scenery.

We agree to take half an hour to vent and catch one another up on our respective work developments/dramas, then put the subject aside for the weekend. To kill some driving time, I read aloud from the School of Life's Book of Life - the chapter on relationships I'd dipped into days earlier. There's a series of interesting prompts I stumbled across in the "Artificial Conversations" section that I want to put to my boyfriend of eleven months, who is game, because we still love stuff like this. We still love playing games of questions, swapping stories about ourselves or our experiences that otherwise we might never disclose.

His answers are unsurprising, but I'm not in it for surprises anyway. Half the pleasure of listening to him speak at length on any subject is the measured, careful way he thinks things through. No exaggeration, no hyperbole. A willingness to back step when necessary, to correct himself. An ability to admit when he just doesn't know. A readiness to acknowledge and laugh at his shortcomings as much as tease me for mine. A keen sensitivity to even the slightest shifts of my mood, as dictated by his answers. He remains the clearest, most honest communicator I have ever been with.

We've gotten a later start than we'd wanted, so it's dark when we reach the gated property. Timo's roommate's car stirs up dust down a long driveway lined with white flowering bushes I spent most of my life around but still don't know the name of. I've come equipped with more baggage than the duffel bag and backpack into which I've stuffed my essentials: I've come, unavoidably, ready to judge this house, this weekend, and this experience against my last visit to Joshua Tree.

The home we've rented is quirky and close-feeling, packed with tchotchkes, dozens of funky, mismatched lamps, and provocative, if amateurish, art. Fruit flies pressed in thick acrylic frames. Salvaged carousel horses with chipped paint and toothy grimaces. Canvases that look distinctly DIY, with sloppy lettering and random imagery. Slanted windows intensify the claustrophobic vibes, and I feel a quiver of disappointment and a needle prick of fear: this probably isn't a good house for me to drop acid in.

Still, it is delightful to be away. We unpack.

When I'd told Timo I wanted to take LSD with me to Joshua Tree, he didn't exactly jump up and down with excitement. He'd been picturing something more along the lines of a romantic getaway than a stint babysitting his psychonaut of a girlfriend. But we talked, and I explained that it was really all I wanted for my birthday. That it was important to me. That it's the closest I come to a spiritual experience, ever, and that it feels like the equivalent of a year's worth of therapy. I didn't expect him to understand. I don't expect anyone to, really. I know how absurd it sounds.

But Timo being Timo, he understands. More than that, he embraces it. He looks online for information about how to best support someone tripping on acid. What to do, what to say, how to keep them safe and feeling positive during their experience. He puts together a "Life is Beautiful" care package, with colorful, sense-enhancing stuff for me to play with while I'm high. Glow sticks and light-up balloons. An oversized bubble-blowing wand. Art supplies. A glittery HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner to hang in the trees. Sparkly, tactile-minded toys to delight the child in me, during my very grown-up adventure.

I pull these things one by one from the gift bag, while the music we've brought spills out open doors and windows, into the endless desert night. Each item makes me more giddy than the last, until finally I run outside, my favorite of the balloons in hand. Timo follows, snapping into life a pair of glow bracelets. Between us we've got an armful of light in an otherwise dark yard.

Tomorrow afternoon this place will be a veritable wonderland to me, three-dimensional and alive and more beautiful than my altered consciousness can stand. But right now it's just a sprawling expanse of typical desert landscape, flat and dry and still-hot, even though the stars have displaced the sun.

The balloon pops after one or two playful bounces, so we turn our attention to the glow toys, videotaping them in slow motion and then time lapse, just to see the effects.

Back inside, I empty the bag's remaining contents, among them five or six rainbow-hued plastic leis. I scoop them up, laughing. "They were colorful," Timo explains unnecessarily, smiling happily at how much fun I'm having.

"So awesome," I say, also unnecessarily. And because it is a hundred degrees outside, and because I am marooned with my boyfriend on two acres of private land in the middle of the desert, on my birthday, I decide there is nothing for it but to take off my shirt and wear only these leis until we finally go to bed, whenever that may be. And once I've done that, we don't notice much other than the music filling the house, and the fact of our aloneness. And the smiles on our face change, then, from joy to something else. And for the next little while, I try in my way to give something back to the man I love, for all that he has given me tonight.

---

Later in the hammock, all the house lights shut off, we are still and quiet in one another's arms. The wind is delicious, and relentless. Rushing around the yard; scraping the house. Making eaves creak and tree limbs sway and wind chimes sing. Chills run the length of my body, not because I am cold, but because I am anticipating tomorrow. In fact I've not been able to think of much else since we arrived. I've been constantly calculating my environment, wondering what and when and how and how much. Is this crazy, crowded house going to freak me out? Where do I want to be, when it hits? Where will I go, if I get frightened? Should I even do it? What if it's bad again, but this time for longer? What if it's worse? 

And at the end of these fears, like a wishing well becoming still once more, is the calming truth: It will be worth it. The bad is bad, yes, but the good is a heaven like nothing you know, the other 364 days a year. And anyway, who wants to stay in the shallow end, all the time? Life is for living.

I snuggle deeper against Timo's chest and let the wind whisper its promises, its invitations. Come play with us, it says. Come see.

Melancholy settles over me, and I fantasize about the hammock freeing itself from where it hangs, carrying the two of us off into the black sky. A magic carpet with its own mind. What then? Timo would fight it, would want to come home to all that he has and all that he is here on earth - but me? Why not me? What would I miss? What and who would miss me? Not much and not many, I decide, but not bitterly. The freeness of my simple, small-scoped existence is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I could disappear forever and only a few people's lives would be disrupted, and briefly at that.

But a few is better than none. And that's a warm thought to anchor oneself to, on a windy night like this.

lazy phone photo dump, June edition

Long Beach!





Flowers around my neighborhood!





Shows!

Eric Prydz, at Factory 93

Deadmau5, at Shrine Expo Hall

Bayer and Bluestone, at Belasco
Old 97s, at Fonda

Stupid selfies!



The ridiculously amazing peonies Timo gave me for my birthday!




some small attempt

Many thanks to those of you that have sent messages of condolences about Chaucer.

It's been three months and I still don't really know how to talk about him. What he meant to me and the ways in which he truly saved my life. I originally had this idea that I would create something about him, write a story or make a video or something--anything that would get all of my feelings funneled into one place so that I could let go and move on.

But I know now that's impossible. I'll always have more to say and think and feel about him.

The visuals have been the hardest; it took me ages to sit down and attempt even this short video. And it could have been an hour long, easily. But it's something. Some small attempt at cathartic expression.

I can't tell you how much it has meant to me to share his funny, sweet, goofy, amazingly loving self with you, all these years. Thank you.

beauty school

In the sixth story Beverly Hills office where Riley awaits her injections, two waste receptacles have been built into the supply cabinet: TRASH and NOT TRASH.

TRASH and NOT TRASH, their labels announce decisively. TRASH is round. NOT TRASH is rectangular. She leans over slightly, curious as to the contents of NOT TRASH, but nothing besides a plastic bin liner can be glimpsed from this angle. Standing up would offer a better view, but staying seated feels like the more polite thing to do. The doctor has already performed his initial consultation. Explained the process. Disclaimed the fine print. All that's left is for him to return, offer another round of reassuring smiles, and shoot her face full of neurotoxic protein. She doesn't want to be caught poking around when he comes back in. Doesn't want him to think she's grown bored, waiting.

Earlier, before the doctor entered and introduced himself (impeccably poised, his own face kind but suspiciously unlined), she allowed herself a few pensive moments at the window. On the landing below, two women in casual work attire were engaged in an emotional discussion. One of the women was visibly upset, carefully wiping tears as she recounted, one inferred from her gesticulations, some intra-office drama. Something about the delicate way the woman dabbed at her lower eyelids--folding and refolding the tissue to obtain a clean, dry edge--impressed Riley deeply. Clearly the woman knew she'd have to return to her desk, after this venting session was over. Clearly she meant to retain some sense of composure.

The only way Riley knew how to cry was full-throttle and full-throated, set and setting be damned.

She watched as the upset woman eventually spent herself, and the companion who'd been listening sympathetically took over the conversation. Her response won the rapt attention of her coworker, who cocked her head as if to consider a fresh viewpoint. Nodding. Laughing. Two sets of shoulders relaxing. Heads shaking with good-natured disbelief at the tribulations of the workplace. Another day, another potential HR bomb defused.

TRASH and NOT TRASH. The stickers on the inside rims of the compartments are perfectly centered and trimmed, their simplicity and indisputable dichotomy inviting. Her old boss would have approved. Oh how he loved his labels. Needed them, desperately. For everything and everyone in his life. The simpler, the better. Winner. Loser. Rich. Poor. Beautiful. Ugly. Young. Old. She knew exactly what labels he applied to her. He never bothered to keep them secret. And sometimes, when all the dusty books full of sadness and confusion and loss and self-loathing come tumbling down--just because one has accidentally been cracked open--she let them hurt her, again.

But not today.

Today she is here, back in the old stomping grounds, on her terms. On her dime. The months and the money that have come between her and Baxter are like bricks in a wall built painstakingly, with much bleeding and bruising. He's on the far side of it, fussing and fuming his way through life as always. And she's over here, laying brick after brick on a new foundation. An independent architect, calling her own shots.

Today didn't come cheaply. This dip in the fountain of youth is costing her dearly. Digging a chunk from her wallet and her pride. But Riley doesn't feel poor today, or ugly, or even old, 21-gauge needles notwithstanding. She feels like someone who escaped and lived to tell about it.

She feels like someone who's finally learned the difference between TRASH and NOT TRASH.

manhattan tuesday


Timo and I went to Manhattan Beach last month. (He took a random Tuesday off work so we could.)
And since we're going to be a lot more adventuring now that I have reclaimed Saturdays, I'd better go ahead and dump these here, so I can stay current.

I don't really have a narrative for them. It was a lovely day, but I was wound pretty tight in myself for various reasons, and didn't really relax and observe in a way that lends itself to blogging. I hope to get back to that sort of posting again soon.

But for now, just some pretty pics.







even after

Two sweet things that happened when Chaucer died.

First thing: I came home one day to find a bouquet of flowers on my doorstep, with a note.

Deepest Sympathies On Your Loss Of Tosser. We'll Always Be Here Through The Sad Times And To Remember The Good Memories Your Furbaby Left On Your Heart. Love, Chloe and The Chewy Family.



I was nonplussed. It was easy enough to deduce someone somewhere had misheard "Chaucer", but who the fuck was Chloe and what did The Chewy Family have to do with it?

Now for context you have to know that Cameron and his mom had been sending me periodic shipments of dog food from Chewy.com. (They started doing this last year when I was broke, and insisted on continuing to help even after I'd started working.)

The night that Chaucer died, Cameron realized that the very next day a bag of food was meant to be shipped my way. Naturally he didn't want that to happen, because good grief. So he called them immediately in an attempt to intercept the package. The representative he spoke with--whose name was Chloe--apparently wasn't at all sure she could stop the shipment, so without telling Cameron she was going to do it, she arranged for flowers to be delivered to me, presumably to soften the blow.

"Tosser" must have been what she heard Cameron say. And that's just...so awesome. Tosser. So not only did I get a really pretty bouquet, I got a laugh. As did Cam.



Bailey, by the way, was Chaucer's best friend. (Bailey is Cameron's dog.) Here they are FaceTiming a few months ago:



Second thing: without telling me they were going to do it, someone at the emergency vet took it upon themselves to make a print of Chaucer's paw on a small canvas, paint around it, and send it to me anonymously.

No that's not a waffle cone to the left, it's just the wrapping.


Just, you know, your everyday, average, totally unsolicited act of incredible kindness by/for a complete stranger.

pivot

Our first Saturday together in seven months, the rain gets the better of us.

We drive to the forest, listening to music that satisfies both our tastes. Paul Kalkbrenner, CRO, Ben Howard. We joke nervously about all the defeated looking, soaked-to-the-bone hikers we see on the way up the mountain. Buy a day pass for the park. Layer on hoodies and jackets, gamely set out on the trail. But it's too wet and too cold, and the loop we have in mind is three hours long. We'd be asking for colds. We'd be stupid. So we pivot. Decide to hit one of the beach cities neither of us have ever really explored.

We stop back at my place first, to change into dry clothes. In a stroke of good luck, we snag a parking spot in front of my building. I slip my debit card into the meter, which automatically cues up two hours' worth of time. Timo punches the timer down to 45 minutes, then 30, and I laugh. "How quick are you going to be?" I tease. It's been a few days. Changing into dry clothes is only the cover story.

His dimple comes out at this--the one that deepens when he's trying to suppress a smile. The one that owns me, completely. "That's up to you," he shoots back, looking me square in the eye. He dials the meter back up to an hour, puts his hand on the back of my neck, and walks me this way inside to my apartment.

---

On the way to the coast, he calls home. An official, meet-the-parents Skype had been tentatively planned anyway, and doing it now there's less pressure. Two birds, or something. I listen to the conversation through the car's speakers, deducing enough from the occasional bit of English what they're talking about. There's a lot of laughter. Timo and his mother both laugh easily, and often. I can hear them in one another, even when I don't understand a word. She is energetic, full of plans and ideas and questions. His dad is quieter, chiming in when he wants something clarified. Something tells me he's the one I'll seek out someday, during some future visit, when the foreign, mirthful house full of siblings and cousins and babies overwhelms me.

Timo stops to explain or translate now and again, so I don't feel totally excluded. I catch some German words related to work that are identical to their English counterparts, and when I look at him pointedly he says, "Yeah that's right, I'm talking about you."

His mother asks whether we'll be coming to Germany soon, to celebrate some of the good news Timo has just shared, and I jump in. "We talked about maybe coming later this summer...?" I direct my words to them, but I'm looking at their son. He says in German then translates, smiling at me: "It's in the plan but not on the calendar."

And then we're in Long Beach.

Neither of us is crazy about the admission prices of the aquarium (which I've been to before) or the Queen Mary (which we've both been to), so we opt for aimless wandering. It's cool and windy, and downtown is more or less deserted. The streets are wide and empty, the fresh air and ample space invigorating. We walk and talk and look, admiring some of the older architecture and flat out hating on some of the new.

Massive cranes towering up from the loading docks remind Timo of the Port of Hamburg, and the nostalgia in his voice makes me jealous. Little gets closer to someone's heart than the landmarks of childhood. When we stroll past the hands-on tide pool outside the aquarium, I'm tempted to spring for the $30 ticket; I've always loved these sorts of mini aquatic petting zoos. Plunging my arms into the icy water. Carefully prying starfish from rocks. Pressing my flattened palms against the needle tips of sea urchins. 

The grassy area surrounding the lighthouse is closed off for a wedding; bridesmaids in navy blue chiffon form ranks around a bride in white satin. A photographer stations the party in front of gently bobbing boats, and it's picturesque enough, but in that casual, sunny way of California harbors. East coast harbors just feel more authentically naval to me. Saltier. Tougher.

I'm thinking about my dad today, finding excuses to bring him up. He was a sailor, having joined the Navy at sixteen. Somewhere I've got a handful of black and white snapshots of him in his crisp whites, some local doll on his arm. Cocky and grinning despite his age. April 30th marked five years ago that he died. I celebrated, in a gesture that only those who really know me would understand, by going to a Deadmau5 show. Getting high while listening to live music, and the feelings of love and gratitude that doing so always leads me to.

We sit and gaze across the water at the Queen Mary: massive, immobile, timeless. Timo reads aloud from the ship's Wikipedia page - our own DIY historical tour. We take a pic that I'll later delete, because it is awful. I do this guiltily, because more frequent documentation of our time together is a mission we have vowed to undertake. It's something I have to admit I miss about my last relationship, as annoying as it occasionally was.

Hungry, we Yelp, choosing a seafood restaurant nearby. Picking a new place for date nights, or on day trips, or even while traveling always stresses me out. It feels like such a gamble, and such a shame when it's not good. But the place we find is perfect for our mood and our appetites. On barstools at a table facing the street, we share clam chowder, ceviche, grilled yellowtail. I get buzzed and chatty on pineapple cider, flirting with my boyfriend of ten months.

Serious-faced little dogs trot past the window, leading their humans, and I laugh. "Is there any kind of dog you don't like?" Timo asks, amused, I guess, at the ease by which I am delighted.

"Sure. I can't stand Chow Chows and Shar Peis. And Cocker Spaniels. And Dalmations." This last surprises him.

"They're mean," I explain. "Inbred and blind, mostly, so they're very aggressive." Timo nods, and I go on, watching his face. "And though I really like their faces and coloring and personalities, I don't love how German Shepherds look." Surprise again. "The hunched-over legs," I say. "That skulking way they walk. And did you know that their actual name is 'German Shepherd Dog'? So dumb. Like 'PIN number.'"

"That's because in German, their name means 'the shepherd's dog'". My jaw drops, genuinely gobsmacked. I'd never realized. I make a gesture that mimes my head exploding.

Tipsy, I announce that were I to live in another century, I'd be a shepherdess. "What a gig. Just take the sheep out, chill all day reading under a tree, take them back home." Knowing pointless thought exercises like this aren't his thing, I ask anyway: "What would you want to be, if you were born in another century?"

"A rockstar in the sixties." I object, having of course meant pre-1900, but he just laughs. "That was another century."

I'm curious though. It's about the last answer I'd expect of him, and I ask: "Would you really want to be a rockstar?" I've dated a few wanna-be rockstars in my day. Timo is nothing like a wanna-be rockstar.

"No. Not really at all, actually." And I believe him.

"I read a quote from Alain de Botton the other day. 'Proof of good parenting is that your child doesn't want to be famous.'"

"What, because they'll have gotten enough attention growing up?"

"Exactly." Without saying it explicitly, I know we both agree with the theory, and that feels important for some reason.

The whole evening still open to us, we decide to catch a movie. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (we both loved the first). On the walk over to the theatre, on the pedestrian overpass bridging an outdoor mall, Timo playfully races a toddler pushing his little sister's stroller. When the boy suddenly leaves off and stumbles in another direction, Timo sets off immediately after him, until the kid's dad calls him back. It takes me a second to understand: the little boy was headed towards some stairs. I stare hard at my boyfriend's profile as we continue on, but he just keeps his eyes straight ahead, refusing to take in my wordless praise.

On the front steps of the Performing Arts Center, we come across a man walking his Golden Retriever puppy. I gasp; the dog is utterly gorgeous. The man sees my face and before I can even get out the words May I pet your... he's whirled himself and the pup around so I can kneel down and say hello. The puppy gives me a quick kiss on the face, then seats himself calmly without even having to be asked. I stroke his neck and back, stunned nearly speechless by his sweet brown eyes.

"How old?" My heart is pounding.

"Ten months." I nod, then shake my head. "He's amazing." It's all I can say. Even Timo is impressed, chiming in, "Beautiful."

Then they're gone. Ten seconds' worth of interaction at most, but I'm destroyed. Timo sees me turn away, tears forming, and pulls me into a hug. "That was stupid," I say to his chest. "I don't know why I do that to myself."

"Why wouldn't you?" he says sharply. "The dog was beautiful." I know the impatience in his voice, and what it means. It means, No, Ellie, you're not giving up on anything you love in this world, just because it sometimes hurts. It's a sentiment I've needed to hear before. It's one he's willing to offer up again and again, until I get it.

Before the movie we get ice cream. Cold Stone Creamery. He's never been. I excitedly point out the frozen slab of marble, explain the process. "You can get as many different things as you want. They'll smash it all up and mix it in." Our eyes are already bigger than our stomachs, but the portions are enormous regardless. We sit and scoop our indulgence on a bench outside the creamery, the setting sun streaking the plaza in ribbons of cold white light.

"This is obscene," he criticizes happily. "In Germany this would be a third as big."

"That's so there's room to put the sauerkraut on top." I am leveled by my own joke, and howl with laughter.

"Think you're clever much, do you?" The dimple reappears.

---

On the way home, I lean across the console, turning my face into his arm. He's wearing one of my favorite sweaters. Lightweight, loose knit, wheat-colored. I breathe in the smell of him and sigh. When I pull away so he can more easily change lanes, he objects. "No no, come back." Lays his arm over my shoulders. Strokes my elbow softly. It's gotten late and we're both tired, but the drive home goes quickly.

It's just Long Beach. Just a walk around the waterfront, some lunch, a movie, and ice cream. But holy fuck is it more than enough for me.

You're A Dinosaur: Hard Truths and Solutions for Shopoholics

HARD TRUTHS

It doesn't matter how much money you make. Addiction is addiction; it doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care where your money comes from, or how much there is of it. Whether your paycheck is $2k or $10k, it wants a piece of it. So don't kid yourself that if you just make more, that you can stop. Conversely, don't imagine that if you made less, your spending habits would naturally fall away. They won't. You will find a way to feed your compulsion, regardless if it's a twenty or a Benjamin burning a hole in your pocket.

Virtually anything you experience is better than any thing you can buy. Just think about it; you know it's true. Memories and moments with loved ones are worth far more than material possessions. The problem is that you conflate the two. You think that one requires the other. You can't go out to that amazing dinner, or feel beautiful at the music festival, unless you have the perfect outfit. Well, guess what? One has nothing to do with the other.

Malls these days are depressing as fuck, and for good reason. No one's in them. The last few times I have found myself roaming an indoor shopping mall I wanted to throw myself down the escalator, it was so bleak. For the past few years I have read an increasing number of articles about how retail is dying - and if the sparsity of Los Angeles malls is any indication, it's true. Outdoor malls with restaurants, attractions for kids, movie theaters - those are another story. There are experiences to be had at those. But good old fashioned brick-and-mortar malls? They are shells of what they once were. And the salespeople populating them are some of the most desperate, saddest sacks around.

But what does these mean? What's the hard truth in this for you? It's that your a dinosaur, of sorts. Your passion for fashion is outdated. Fashion itself will never die, and will always be an intrinsically valuable pursuit culturally...but the coolness of amassing a massive wardrobe? Gone. Kids these days aren't interested in stuff the way you and I were. Millennials, having felt first hand the pinch and sting of a shitty economy and job market, ain't got time for that. They'd rather spend money on travel, adventure, connection, creativity.

The things you own, own you. Every item of clothing you possess requires laundering. Time spent washing it, drying it, folding it, hanging it, pressing it, repairing it, altering it, ordering it, mailing it back when it doesn't fit. Every item requires space in your life, demands your energy and time to obtain maintain it. This doesn't seem like a big deal, when it's a skinny belt. But multiply a single item by 300, and suddenly you've got a mountain of stuff ready to drain your free time.

There are only so many occasions to wear what you already have. There are only 52 Saturday nights a year. Many of those will find you with obligations preventing you from even going out. Look at your closet now, as it is. How many Saturday night outfits could you already assemble? Dozens for each season, probably. Now apply the same thinking to other occasions. How many opportunities will you realistically have to wear all the clothing you already own, before it's out of season or style?

Nothing you can find in any store, anywhere, will ever buy back your youth. 'Nuff said.


SOLUTIONS

Want a reality check? Want to feel your shopping buzz harshed? Take some of your beloved wardrobe pieces to a used-clothing store. Watch them be picked up, passed over, and rejected over like rags. And I'm not talking some middle-America thrift shop. I'm talking high-end resale boutiques on Melrose Avenue. There's nothing quite like the ego gut-punch that is having your expensive, oh-so-carefully curated sartorial choices - and which you're sure are going to wow the hell out of the buyer - be declared outmoded and worthless. It'll make you think twice about going out and spending your money on a fresh round of them, that's for sure.

Make a list of what you really want. No, I mean what you really, really want. Think big. Bigger. Have you always wanted to spend the weekend in a cabin at Big Sur? I sure have. But I won't get there until I stop piddling away my petty cash on the latest sneakers. I'd also really love an awesome bed. But that's another thing that requires delayed gratification. The fact is, every single thing you spend money on, unless you are Ivanka Trump (*turns and spits*), requires you to not spend money on something else. So make a list and study it, hard. Look at it often. Meditate on the need to prioritize what will truly make you happiest in the long run, for the longest amount of time. This isn't easy for you, because you are an addict, and your addiction is an ever-present temptation. But you have to work at it.

Donate, or give to charity. I have two monthly donation subscriptions - one to Oxfam, and one to the Mental Illness Happy Hour Podcast, because it saved my life last year. And I don't know how to explain it, but something about allocating some of the limited money I do have to something other than myself helps me stay grounded. Reminds me of the bigger picture, and of those in need. I'd feel pretty stupid buying that third pair of socks after getting my weekly update from Oxfam about the Syrian refugees my (admittedly measly) $18/month is helping.

Budget, budget, budget. And get granular about it. Portion out your paychecks, every single one. Force yourself to really face your finances. It might be scary, but it's the only way to acknowledge what you can and can't afford.

house grief

When your dog dies, you will find yourself hating your home. There is nothing emptier than a house that has lost a dog. Nothing in the world as quiet, as lacking in joy. You won't want to be anywhere near it. You certainly won't want to be alone with it.

But if you can, spare a thought for that house. You think you miss your dog? How do you think the house feels? At least you get to leave each morning, be out and about in the world. Your poor house just has to sit there by itself, having lost the best friend it has ever known, wondering if it will ever have another.

Spare a thought for the walls, which kept him safe while every day he waited for you.
Spare a thought for the floor, warmed by his body and tickled by his fur.
Spare a thought for the fridge, and all the mischief the two of them caused.
Spare a thought for the bed, cold now, and entirely too clean.
Spare a thought for the bath, and all it endured for the sake of the house.
Spare a thought for the table, who taught your dog to sit as much as you did.
Spare a thought for the yard, the grass and trees and flowers who've lost a playmate.

Spare a thought for the vacuum, who probably feels really fucking shitty right about now.