Monday, June 18, 2007

One more about the Rez...

...And then I promise I'll stop! Through various circumlocutions in the blogosphere, I found an article in Nature. As I mentioned before, I took a bunch of classes that summer, and one was led by several medicine men. They took us out and showed us plants they used to heal and we were allowed to attend various ceremonies they performed.

The most famous Lakota ceremony is the Sun Dance. This is a celebration of the summer solstice that's held some time during the summer near that time. A couple of different medicine men on the Rez had sun dances that summer, but the one our class participated in was by Pete Catches.

In order to participate in the sun dance - known for people who 'dance' suspended from a pole to which they are attached by long strands of rawhide held by stakes that pierce the pecs - you have to be clean, purified... You have to undergo a sweat lodge, and this in the middle of the South Dakota summer heat! Of course, if you're going to be staked by your pectorals to a pole in the hot sun, I guess a steam bath is a pretty moderate thing...

Sweat lodges are sort of tents made from flexible willow poles, covered with old blankets and quilts. There's an opening with a cover and a pit in the middle, which is filled with smooth rocks from the river that have been heated in a fire. The rocks are really, really hot. The participants go inside and the medicine man throws water on the rocks, making a lot of really, really hot steam. Everyone sings sweat lodge songs and tries not to pass out. Our class was designated to cut the willow branches for the sweat lodges, a big honor in and of itself!

Now, because this is a sacred ceremony, you have to cut the willow branches in a sacred way. You can't just go down to the banks of the lovely Little White River, where the mint grows wild in the shade of the willows, and start chopping away, no, that would be too easy.

You have to say prayers, out loud, to the willow spirits while you cut them down. You don't want to offend the willows, because that would be bad, ummm, karma (wrong Indians, I know). First you drape the willow you're going to cut down with tobacco ties. Almost anything religious is going to involve tobacco ties. I think different medicine men may make them different ways, but the ones we made had cloth of six colors: blue (sky), white (north), red (east), yellow (south), black (west), and green (earth), each with a pinch of Bull Durham in the middle, tied onto a piece of yarn. You say a prayer for the success of your project each time you tie a piece of cloth on. Usually you have to make 49 of these, so that's a lot of praying before you even get started with the damn willow trees.

You go down into the grove and focus on a good looking little willow plant and tell it how sad you are that you have to chop it down, but that it's for a good cause, it's going to be part of the sweat lodge for the sun dance, the annual renewal rite for the people, and, boy howdy, what an honor that is; it should just be glad it doesn't have to hang suspended from the pole! Then you grab the plant right next to it and cut it off at the ground!

Of course the willow you had hung with ties and were talking to was terrified the whole time and shaking and stuff. And the little willow next to it was being all sympathetic and unawares and NOT terrified, so it dies a little willow death with a clean, uhhh, whatever willows have that keep 'em going. And the willow you didn't chop down is soooo thankful that you didn't chop it down that it breathes a sigh of relief and all the willows in the little grove feel better! Needless to say it takes a long damn time to cut down enough willows to make a sweat lodge.

There were ten or fifteen people in my class, so we spread out in the shade of the willows on the banks of the Little White. Since there were so many of us, we were in groups of three or four, each person tying his or her ties on a willow, talking earnestly to it - which is hard to do with a straight face in front of witnesses - and then grabbing the tree next to it and hacking it down. "Oh, yeah, I felt THAT collective sigh of relief!" the guy next to me said as I hacked down my poor little willow.

The medicine men were standing with our teacher, Scott Quimby, on a bridge. (They called him 'Spiritual Leader' when they shook hands with him at the beginning of class. "Ahhh," they would say, "Spiritual Leader! How are you today?" And Scott would blush, and say "hullo," and the medicine men would laugh.) I walked up onto the bridge to ask Scott a question. Below me I couldn't see my classmates, I could only hear the murmur of voices as they talked to the trees and see the trees tremble. And the medicine men were laughing...

Nowadays it seems like there's a lot of talk about Indians holding ceremonies for white people and how it pollutes the pureness of the ceremonies. It's a big topic on the Rez, so I'm glad I was there thirty years ago and got to do what I did.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Serendipitydoo... Indian country!

So, in that last post, I wrote "The politics on Pine Ridge, and, to some extent, on Rosebud in those days have filled several books. They were over my head at the time, and probably still are. Let's just say it could be a pretty dangerous place." OK, folks... This is actually an understatement. It is a BIG understatement. I just understated it so ya'll wouldn't pester me with questions that I couldn't answer.

I went to the library the other day to pick up a couple of books. At the big library in town, there's a little display area at the entrance, and there, sitting on the shelf, was the book: The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country, by Steve Hendricks. I grabbed it. The other books I'd asked for were mysteries, perhaps good ones (I'll let you know) but they weren't real and they weren't about the Rez. I picked up this book and I couldn't put it down. It's fascinating. You need to read it.

It's not just that you need to read it because you're interested in this blog and my story about the gas cans. You need to read it because it's about the utter, cold-blooded perfidy and incompetence of an organization which states that their mission is: “ uphold the law through the investigation of violations of federal criminal law; to protect the United States from foreign intelligence and terrorist activities; to provide leadership and law enforcement assistance to federal, state, local, and international agencies; and to perform these responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and its (sic) faithful to the Constitution of the United States.” That's right... The FBI.

Now, I know you. You may think you don't have time to read this book. It's summer.... You're on vacation. Ok. You can listen to the author being interviewed by KEXP's Mike McCormick. It's in two parts, and it's about an hour long. Believe me, it just scratches the surface, but it's fascinating.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What it is with the gas cans... Part I

A long, long, long, long, long time ago I lived on a reservation for 8 months. I got there entirely by accident. I was living in Peoria at the time. My first marriage was in major trouble and so I took off for a two week camping trip with a girlfriend, Kathy. She wanted to check out two universities to see which one would be better for grad school: the University of South Dakota, or the University of Colorado. We threw a bunch of camping stuff in the back of her car, some books to read (I had Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown), and I took my journal and some art supplies and we were off.

We were pretty heedless and happy go lucky. We camped at an abandoned farm the first night. The guy whose land it was dropped by. He was nice and told us we were welcome to stay, and he thot we'd be safe. The second day, we hit Vermillion, SD, where USD is. Kathy went to check out whatever program it was, and I wandered the halls, looking at the flyers on the walls. There was a really interesting one for a little college in Rosebud, Sinte Gleska, which had a summer studies program that looked kinda interesting. Since we were sort of just bombing around with no agenda other than checking out the two universities, and since Rosebud was kinda on the way to Boulder, we went.

I don't think many white people dropped into SG asking about the summer studies program, but they were very polite and handed us flyers and we took off. We were planning on going to Wounded Knee, because it was pretty famous at the time - just two years after the occupation. On the way we passed by Ft Robinson, NE, where Crazy Horse was killed. I'd just read about it in the book, and was telling Kathy about it, and, foop! There it was.

And that was it. We spent the rest of the time driving around visiting places in the book, except for a quick dash down to Boulder, which took us by Ft Laramie (very impt in the book!) and back. We had a lot of amazing adventures. They could each be a blog. My brain's exploding... But, back to the story about the gas can. (This IS a story about a gas can.)

So. We eventually returned to Peoria. Absence had NOT made the heart grow fonder, and so I separated from my husband, took one of our cars, and drove back to Rosebud to attend the summer studies institute. I enrolled in four courses, I think. Lakota Thought, Lakota Medicine, Lakota Song and Dance, and, umm, something else. I can't even begin to tell you all the cool things that happened that summer, but by the end of it, I was working for the Media Services division at the library taking pictures and videos of whatever people wanted documented. Mostly I got stuck doing the monthly meetings of the National Indian Alcoholism Task Force. These were in Lakota, which is unlike any European language, and has sounds that are really difficult to make unless you grow up making them. Then you can do them without spitting. Watch Dances With Wolves, if you want to hear people speaking Lakota.

The infamous incident at Oglala happened when I was on the reservation. The politics on Pine Ridge, and, to some extent, on Rosebud in those days have filled several books. They were over my head at the time, and probably still are. Let's just say it could be a pretty dangerous place. But it was also a wonderful place... A magical place... An ancient place. It was just a fairly violent wonderful magical ancient place.

For one thing, everything out there is really far apart. I ended up living in Valentine, NE, and driving up to Mission to work every day. That was 42 miles one way. And usually during the day I had to drive to Rosebud, and then I'd drive home through Kilgore, a notorious town just off the Rez, where the bars were. All told that's about 100 miles round-about, and that doesn't count going out for lunch or anything.

One night I was driving home really late from Rosebud down through Kilgore. This was a little bitty road, dangerous at night, 'cos folks coming back from the bars in Kilgore wouldn't always remember to turn on their lights. And this was winter, and it's fuckin' cold there in the winter. I saw a car in the ditch on the side of the road. In those parts you're kinda honor-bound to stop for cars in ditches. People could freeze to death. It was kinda spooky, but valor got the better of me, and I stopped. There were two people in the car: an older man and a young girl... A really young girl, like teens. The man was loud and drunk. He told me he was a tribal policeman and he'd run outta gas. I was to take him to Kilgore and a friend there with a gas station would sell him gas and I could bring him back and he could be on his way.

I had about enough gas in my own car, a school bus yellow VW Rabbit, to make it to Valentine, and told him so, but he seemed to think his friend would sell me enough gas to make it back up the road and then back down to Kilgore and home again. I was not relishing the thot, because, among other things, this guy was obnoxious. Really fucking obnoxious. He sat in the front and the girl sat in the back. I couldn't see much, but she seemed to be toying with something.

We got to the 'friend's' house and the guy got out and went and pounded on the door. No one answered. He started yelling and pounding on the door and kept it up... Which was a good thing, because the minute he got out of the car the girl started talking a blue streak. This man, she said, had murdered his father and was going to rape her. Please, please, please, she begged me, do NOT leave me alone with this man. The thing she was toying with was a small, metal nail file. She said she would stab the man with the nail file if he tried to rape her. She was desperate. She was earnest. She was very, very scared. I was, too, because the man was coming back to the car, cussing a blue streak at the guy who wouldn't get out of bed.

"Take us to Valentine," he commanded me, "I'll get us a hotel room there and get a ride back in the morning." The girl was staring at me in the rear view mirror.

We drove on to Valentine, another twenty some miles. I was really worried about gas myself. The man was telling me what a piece of shit my car was, not like a good American car. I told him he'd better quit cussing my car. It got about three times as many miles per gallon as his car, and if we were in his car we'd all be walking. He just talked right over me.

I was trying to figure out what to do. Before I did anything, I needed gas, which I could get at the Home Cafe and truck stop. Then I'd drive to the motel in town, and let the guy out of the car, and shoot off with the girl still inside. I mean, this guy's a cop, right, so I'm wondering... Does he have a gun? Will he shoot me? I have no clue.

We get to the Home Cafe, and the guy, thank goodness, goes in to pee, while I fill up. I explain my brilliant plan to the girl. She looks doubtful, but I tell her just to lock her door, so he can't open it from the outside, and we'll wing it. He gets back in, directs me to the motel - "They know me here," he said. "Uhh huh, I bet they do," I thot... - and gets out. He doesn't thank me or anything, just tries to yank the back door open. And with his hand still on the handle, I pushed the pedal down, made a U turn and screeched out the motel's parking lot.

We'd made it! We were laughing! We were free. I was also really, really tired. It was after midnight and I really didn't want to drive back to the Rez. "You wouldn't want to stay at my place for the night, would you, and drive back in the morning?" The happiness went out of her face like a light turned off. "No, I thot not," I said. I told her I'd drive her home. She lived in St Francis, which I knew pretty well, as it was where I first stayed on the Rez. I asked if she'd left anything in the car. Well, there WAS a case of beer in it, she said. Did she want to drive by the car and see if it was still there? Seemed like a good idea to her.

So. That's what we did. We drove to the car, got the beer, and then I drove her home. When she got out, she told me her name.

Now that might seem like a kinda normal thing to you and me. You meet someone, you tell them your name. But it's not on the Rez. These people have lived with each other for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. They KNOW each other's names. They know each other's parents names, and sister's and brother's names, and grandparent's names and great-great's names and what have you. And if you don't know their name, well then you're not one of them... And if you're not one of them, then you must be... The Enemy. So introducing yourself to someone is like saying, "Hi, I'm you're enemy!" It's not something you do, unless you have to or want someone to know your name. So I felt really honored that she told me her name.

Now, I must admit I did wonder if the girl's story was true. You know, the part about this guy murdering her father. And I knew someone who would know: a friend who worked for county assistance. I called her the next morning and asked her. And, the story was true. She filled in all the details, which I have forgotten now. Just the main parts stand out...

And that's the first part of the story...

Friday, May 25, 2007

gas cans, part 2

In the new year (1976), I left the Rez. It wasn't any one thing... It was a whole buncha things, like the weather. On the Fourth of July, it had been 117. On the fourth of January, it got down to -30. See that was the whole thing: everything was extreme, and all of a sudden I just felt like I could use a good dose of subtlety. It's a rare thing for me, and, when it comes upon me, I try to listen. So I packed up my trusty '75 school bus yellow VW Rabbit and headed east... To Yellow Springs, OH.

My stepbrother, Steve, was going to school there. For a free place to live, he managed some apartments, and was renovating them. He had a little construction company, the Fly By Night Construction Company (it had a little flying angel logo, like a Playboy bunny with wings), and I became an employee. I shared a two-room apartment (living room and kitchen) with two ladies and a baby. I'm not sure where we all slept, but we were young and communes were cool, so we called ourselves the 'Kitchen Kommune.' Spelling things with a 'k' was also very cool. And, boy, howdy, did we think we were kool.

Ok... I was basically drifting. My Aunt Anne, my Dad's sister, was going to the family cabin in Phoenicia, NY, for the summer and invited me to stay with her, so I drove up in late May and spent the summer and early fall there. In June, I got a call from the guy I'd worked for on the Rez, John. How would I like to spend a week in Washinton, DC, helping with the tribe's exhibit on the Mall? It was the Bicentennial, and the government wanted to invite all the tribes, First Nations, Indians or whatever you want to call them, to come show off their cultures... Those very cultures that the government had done so much to destroy and undermine years before. John had a bunch of tapes we'd made of dances and ceremonies and stuff and basically needed someone to babysit the machines with him and another guy so that we could all go visit everyone else's displays. I'd get gas money, a place to crash and a hundred bucks. Such a deal!

Other than that, the only thing I did that summer was to write and produce a cookbook for the little colony of cabins that we belong to. My aunt and my friend, Susie, helped and we did a lot of cooking and eating and general fun stuff.

In the fall, I headed off to Madison, WI, to share a place with my best friend from high school, Michael. Actually, I have two best friends from high school, Michael and Nancy, whom I refer to as my BFFHS(M) and BFFHS(F). So, just in case you need me to connect the dots, Michael is my BFFHS(M). We lived on Williamson St in Madison, in between the old Willy Street Coop and the Crystal Corner Bar. It was a great place, but October is NOT the time of year to move to fucking Wisconsin if you hate cold weather.

I started looking for work, and had applications in all over the place when I got a call from John on the Rez. He had another pick-up job for me... It would pay a couple of hundred bucks. I could come visit his family for Thanksgiving. Sounded cool.

So I got into my '75 school bus yellow Rabbit - notice how I left the word 'trusty' off? That's a CLUE! - which was acting up. The clutch was funky. It wouldn't work when I would first start the car, but by the time I would get to a mechanic, it would be working fine. The mechanics would send me off on my merry way figuring I was just another crazy woman who didn't know shit about cars. Hell, back then, women couldn't even buy cars on their own if they were married, without the husband having his name on the title, too. Wasn't legal, 'cos, you know, women are such twits. I found a couple folks to pay for gas on the way out if I'd drive thru Minneapolis St Paul. Since what they were willing to pay was the cost of the whole drive out to Valentine, I was willing to take a detour. Most of the time, I would have driven US 18 across from Madison into Valentine, but if you're going through Mpls, you have to drive IH 90. Which was just as well, because the first winter blizzard hit as we were leaving...

The clutch was acting really cranky. Essentially, I had two gears, 4th and reverse. When you're driving in the snow and ice, this isn't totally bad; you can't accelerate too fast in 4th gear, so you have a better chance of not spinning your tires. Kinda made it an 'Indian car,' which was what all the held-together-with-gum-and-baling-wire cars on the Rez were called.

I dropped my riders off and continued on, stopping only for gas. It was snowy, but not too bad until I got to US 83 between Mission and Valentine. And, then the road just disappeared.

I guess they were fixing it, but you couldn't tell where you were supposed to drive. It was darkish... And snowing. And the road and the fields looked just about the same. So, I just tried to keep all the earthmoving equipment on my right, and that worked. I was pretty damned glad when I came over the bluff and could see the lights of Valentine on the other side of the Niobrara River. It was probably the last time I was glad about anything for over a week.

The job had evaporated. John, the guy I was visiting, was having family and financial problems. My car was fucked. I thot about going to North Platte, about 100 miles south, to the VW dealers to see if they could fix the clutch. But when I talked to them on the phone, they said they had no clue how to fix a Rabbit. They were terrified of 'em. "Honey, you bring that car down here and you'll see grown men running from a Rabbit," they told me on the phone. Guess not...

I had about $17 to my name, which was enough to get back to Madison and then some... If nothing went wrong... Every day I stayed my money seemed to dwindle, so I decided just to drive... The day after the second blizzard... The one that closed the Interstate. Only I didn't watch TV, so I didn't know about that.

I drove north on 83 and stopped at Murdo for gas and a cup of coffee. It had taken me about three hours to go 77 miles. I definitely needed a cup of coffee and I had ten cents. I went in to the truck stop and ordered my coffee. As I sat drinking it, staring into the blackness of my cup (free refills), the hair on the back of my neck started to stand up. Someone was watching me. Now, I'm NOT dumb (really) (foolhardy, yes; guilty of wishful thinking, yes; but dumb, no) (although I can see why you might have your doubts) so I didn't just turn around and scan the room. No, I've been to the movies; I looked in the mirror behind the counter. And there he was, staring at me. Did I panic? Yes, but very, very quietly. He was just your average youngish white guy dressed in winter clothes. Nothing remarkable about him, except he was making my hair stand on end. So I got up off my stool, left a nickle tip, and went to the restroom. Although some of my best thinking is done in the rest room, (hey, guys, it's where we women communicate with the mother ship) no great ideas came to me. Maybe he'll be gone, I thot.

Fat chance. When I came out, he was still there. Damn. I thot about going into the gas station part and, umm, like reporting him to someone, but it seemed much more likely that he would know the people in the truck stop than I would. So I didn't. I just got into my school bus yellow 1975 VW Rabbit and drove off... Very, very slowly in 4th gear. And the guy got into a blue-ish pick up truck and drove off behind me.

The interstate was closed. There was a BIG sign saying 'CLOSED,' but people were driving on it, anyway, in the one lane that was ice-rutted but driveable. I guess they put those 'CLOSED' signs up just to let you know that if anything happens, well, it's your own damn fault. They told you the road was closed, but, no, you drove on it anyway. And there I was driving on it, with the asshole who scared the shit out of me tailgating me. Then, he passed me, which was no easy feat. I thot he was trying to run me off of the road. So, the minute he got beside me, I took my foot off the gas and then he was in front of me. I slowed down. He slowed down. We came to an exit and he started signaling. Hope grew in my heart! He was leaving the interstate! But, no, he was just trying to let me know that I, we, whatever, should pull over.

Honey, the thot didn't even cross my mind. I had managed to write down his license plate number on a couple of pieces of paper. I stuck them under the seat, in the glove compartment, shit, anyplace I could think. If the motherfucker got me, I wanted his ass caught!

We drove along that way for about 200 miles... At 30 mph. That's right, for seven fucking hours I drove with this fucking asshole. Sometimes he'd pull in front and do the signal thing. Sometimes he'd drive behind me and tailgate. It was grey. It was well below freezing. It was getting late.

And then, miraculously, as I neared the state border, he went away. I kept driving, but he wasn't behind me. I thot he might have taken another route to come upon me unawares in the night, so I went north about 60 miles to drive east on US 14 for awhile. I thot I had enough gas to make it in to New Ulm, but I didn't. I ran out just inside the city limits. I could see a fucking gas station, an open fucking gas station, but I was going to have to walk to it. I got out of my car for the first time in hours. It was cold and black with little stars shining very far away. And then a car pulled up behind me.

It was an older, brownish station wagon. "What now," I thot, as a man got out. "Hi," he said, "You look like you might need some help!" Truer words were never spoken. He didn't come up close to me but stood back at his car. He looked ok. My hair was not standing on end. I exhaled and said "I've run out of gas."

"No problem," he says, "I can drive you to that gas station over there and we'll get ya going in no time! Get on in!" I thot of the girl I'd picked up between St Francis and Kilgore about a year before; the girl who'd sat in the back seat of my car with a small, metal nail file clutched in her hands. Shit. I didn't even have a nail file... But I got in the car. Amazingly, the man drove me to the gas station. And that was where my next troubles began.

They wanted a $10 deposit for the gas can. I had a bit less than that, and, if I gave them everything I had in my wallet, I wouldn't have any money to put any gas in the gas can. I explained this very calmly to the attendant. "Gas can's $10," he said.

It had been a really long day... A really hard day... I was emotionally a bit on edge, and in a bind, and this motherfucker was not going to let me give him all the money I had on me, plus my drivers license and walk out with a gas can. I couldn't help it. I started to cry. He was totally and completely unmoved. "Gas can's $10," he repeated.

The guy who'd picked me up came in. He said "What's the problem?" The attendant told him the gas can was $10. The guy who'd picked me up handed him a $20. "That should take care of it," he said, "Give the young lady the gas can." So I got the gas can. It was a big one. I was just going to put a gallon in it, but my guy said to fill it up, so I did. We got back into his car and drove to my car. On the way I told him a little bit about my day. "Wow," he said.

When we got to my car he helped me fill it. "I guess I'll see you back at the gas station," I said, as I got in my car. He said he wasn't going back to the gas station. "But you have to get your $20 deposit," I said.

"That's your money," he told me. "You take the can back and fill up your car and go on to Madison. You get something to eat if you need it... And make sure he gives you the change!" (Those were the days!)

I asked him for his card so I could send him the money back. "I have a daughter about your age; if something like this ever happened to her, I'd want someone to help her out," he told me. He was a nice man. He was an insurance agent from New Ulm, MN. He saved my life.

It's not just that he bought me gas on a cold and starry night. On that cold and starry night he gave me my belief back. It's probably a belief I shouldn't have: you know, that the universe is a nice place. 'Cos it isn't... But I'm not sure you're better off if you go around believing that it isn't a nice place.

I don't know where evil comes from, but when it's here on earth, it's manifested by men. Or women. But I do know this. The good on this earth, that's manifested by men and women too. And that's why I carry a gas can... And jumper cables. And why I'll buy you a gallon of gas, if you need it.

You betcha. Small price to pay.

No caffeine...

There is no caffeine in my coffee... I guess I need to say that louder. THERE IS NO CAFFEINE IN MY COFFEE! This is because there is no caffeine in my house; there's only de-caffeine and it just doesn't cut it. Normally I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do (well, almost) is make a pot of coffee. I use Central Market's Double French Roast and Double French Roast Decaf. I use mostly leaded, but I throw in some of the unleaded just to prove I am NOT an addict.

I ran out of leaded yesterday morning, actually, but did I remember to go to the store and buy some? No. I did not. Instead, I went to lunch downtown at the Moonshine Grill with Aline. A lady in Ricë's yoga class had told Ricë about it and Ricë asked me if I'd been there, and I said, no, at least not since it's been the Moonshine. It used to be a restaurant called Emilia's, and I'd been there (at least once with Aline, come to think of it, along with Ray and Anne and Gus), but I'd never been to Moonshine.

Ricë's friend had told her that something there was 'FABulous,' but I couldn't remember what it was. So before I get to the restaurant, I called Ricë to find out what was fabulous, and damned if she could remember. "Honey, I can't remember what I ate yesterday, let alone what someone else ate two months ago!" I was on my own.

Well, except that I was with Aline, and she got there first and had already ordered the corn dog shrimp, which is exactly that: big shrimp, skewered, battered in corn dog batter and deep-fat fried. (Of course I could just say fried, but 'deep-fat fried' is so much more euphonious, is it not?) (See what happens when I don't have caffeine? Words like 'euphonious' start popping out of my hands before 7:30 in the morning!) Next we had fish: the Broiled Rainbow Trout for Aline, and the Horseradish Crusted Salmon for me. These came with vegetables (carrots, al dente, and lovely summer squash and zuccini) plus a side. Aline got the polenta and I got the sweet potatoes. I was, of course, very tempted by the Coffee and Ancho Rubbed Half Chicken, too.

It's not that we weren't full, but when you're trying a new restaurant, you should always have dessert. So we had the Signature Skillet Apple Pie. The menu says "It's Big!" and boy, howdy, they aren't kidding! We left half of it, not because it wasn't good, but because we were already pretty full, and, umm, it's big! And we had coffee (two cups for me) and then we were ready to leave.

Aline had valet-parked, but I had opted for the free parking down the street. So I mosied down the street just in time to see a woman pushing an older car around the corner... By herself... Holding the steering wheel in one hand while pushing the car.

I quickly dumped the stuff I was carrying in the front seat of Yax, my trusty little '95 Honda Civic, and went to help. Another guy saw her, too, and the two of us managed to push her car into a parking space while she actually sat inside it and steered. She was already cussing a blue streak, and I was having a little trouble understanding her, but I think what she told me that she had borrowed the car from her boyfriend to go visit him and run out of gas. This made no sense to me, but she still needed gas, and a gas can, and I can do that. So Julia and I set out for the gas station a few blocks away.

I really was having trouble understanding her. She was telling me about her boyfriend telling her to 'shut up,' and how she told him he had to say it louder, because she couldn't hear bad talk and he'd better not be talking any... And there was something about an old lady in her neighborhood who told her that he was "A wannabe that don't know how-to-be." Yeah! We filled up my gas can and drove back to her car and I left her and the gas can beside the road, cursing. Not at me, of course, but at the boyfriend for lending her a car with no gas in it.

I could've waited to get the gas can back, but handing out gas cans to people in distress is a mission I have taken on in life. It has to do with someone saving my life once, but that's a whole 'nuther post.

Or a sermon, if you're a Unitarian. I've already subjected Ricë's Unitarian fellowship to it, and, no doubt in time, I'll subject others. You may be next. Unitarian or not... Be warned.

Monday, May 14, 2007


'Sorry, friends... I've been on vacation... Or what passes for a vacation when your parents are, ummmm, older. Twice a year my Dad and stepmom go to the beach. This is somewhat difficult 'cos my Dad's in a wheelchair, one of those hulking electric things that weigh 300 lbs when you aren't sitting in them. The chair is, of course, a very cool thing because it allows him to be pretty mobile without anyone having to push him, and his shoulders are too arthritic for him to push himself.

The folks live at a retirement village in North Carolina. They have their 'own' duplex, but the place also has assisted living apts, and a health center where they do long-term nursing care. It's a very nice place. You get one meal fixed for you a day (you fix the others yourself in your very own kitchen) and the food choices are good. There are maids. There's a pool with a wheelchair ramp (very groovy!). Of course, it's hideously expensive by my standards, but Dad worked backed when there was retirement, so they can afford it. (Retirement! What a concept!)

This winter, Dad got a cold, which turned into pneumonia, which meant he had to stay in the health center for fourteen weeks. He got a bedsore on his heel and it's not been responding quickly to treatment. Which means that he still has it, and, in order to take him on vacation, someone (that would be me) had to learn the 'protocol' for dressing the wound twice a day. Sounds like a vacation already, huh?

We always take a LOT of stuff to the beach. We go to Bald Head Island, which is where Cape Fear is. It is nothing like the movie, Cape Fear, but it is a lot like the sixties TV show, The Prisoner, with Patrick McGoohan. I guess part of it is that you're only allowed to drive around in a golf cart when you're on the island... (Unless, of course, you're a contractor, putting up another multi-million dollar house on the protected sand dunes...) (Protected from people walking on them, that is... Not from houses dropping on them...) There's a store on the island, but things there are expensive, and they don't know how to store wine, so we take our own... Here's a partial list of what we take:

- a couple cases of wine (important things first)
- food
- Dad's medical stuff... this year it was about four boxes full...
- suitcases
- rubber boats
- dvds... Hey, you never know what the weather's going to be like!
- a regular wheelchair

This year the weather sucked. Let's be up front about it. It was rainy, cold, windy and buggy... North Carolina has a lot of mosquitoes and they all decided to go to the beach at the same time we did. They also have 'no see ums,' and ticks. The two days it was sunny, it was incredibly windy, but there were no bugs (except the ticks) and the sky was a beautiful blue. The palm and palmetto leaves whipped in the wind making a kind of clacking sound...

Dad likes to swim. Since it's really hard to cross sand in a wheelchair, we take him to a pool. It took four people to get him from the 'push' wheelchair into the pool, which we accomplished by having him sit on the edge of the pool on a towel and then picking up its sides and carrying him down to the next step. Now, that's a workout! Once in the water my Dad can run around and do exercises and all sorts of stuff. He can't really swim anymore 'cos of the arthritis, but he tries anyway.

There are marvellous birds on the island because the back side of it is a tidal marsh formed by the Cape Fear River. There are ibises (ibi?), egrets, herons, clapper rails, and this year, for the first time in my life, I saw a painted bunting. I thot for a minute I was having a flashback, but, no, it was a bird. I did not see any alligators this year, but I saw a lot of turtles.

Since it rained a lot, we watched dvds. My sister Leslie had brought along the first season of Supernatural. Now, I admit it, I'm a weanie. I hate being scared. I do yoga and tai chi so I can maintain my calm demeanor in public. And to me, these shows were terrifying. I mean why oh why on earth would any two people enter a haunted house, armed only with a fluttering candle and then split up when they hear clanking chains? Not that the boys in Supernatural are that stupid... No, they have a complete arsenal of things designed to kill the bad guys which they keep in the trunk of their car (a '67 Chevy Impala) and they listen to anthem rock, which was what made the show for me personally... AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foreigner, Bad Company, and Blue Oyster Cult, whose logo features in one of the shows, (and is the clue that lets our boys figure out what is going on).

I have to tell you I don't watch a lot of tv. Hell, I don't even own a tv! I mostly watch things on my computer if I need to or wait 'til the famdamily goes to the beach. That's how I found out about Firefly, which I absolutely loved. So it's odd that I mention three tv shows in one post. Get your fill... It probably won't happen again!

We also go around and look at the houses... My sister, Pam, takes pictures of the birds and lizards and other wildlife. We read, mostly trashy mysteries (hey! we're at the beach!) except Dad, who only reads fiction in Spanish and is stuck in the middle of the Alatriste books by Perez-Reverte.

So one of my favorite things about going on vacation is flying. I love looking at clouds from above and landforms. (I like looking at clouds from below as long as there's blue space between the clouds.) This year when I flew home, we flew over thunderstorms as the sun was setting. It was very beautiful. My camera was in my suitcase, but I have my trusty new cellphone, a Motorola RAZr phone (their spelling, not mine), which takes pretty good pictures and has a zoom function! The pic at the top of the page is the view from my window...

Monday, April 30, 2007

Weekend marbling/pastepaper workshop

What did I do over the weekend? Ooooh, I had fun!

Nena, Amy and I went to a marbling/pastepaper workshop in Smithville, TX. The marbling was taught by Pam Smith and the paste paper part by Priscilla Spitler.

Nena, Amy and I are known - to the Austin Book Workers - as "The Three Broads,' Personally, I like WeNenaMy, better, partly 'cos it reminds me of my Aunt Patsie doing the litany of names (mine and my cousins) when she caught us filching salad from the bowl while we waited for Sunday supper when I was a kid... Anyway, the three of us drove over to Smithville and back each day, which gave us time to talk and eat Annie's Cheddar Bunnies. Eating Cheddar Bunnies is a crucial part of our Artistic Life. You have to eat them BEFORE you art, of course, because art itself is a dirty job and you don't want your hands going into your mouth after handling, say, cadmium red. That's right... Art is also a DANGEROUS job, because paints are made with all sorts of toxic materials, like lead, and you should never, ever nibble on your paintbrushes...

The workshop was actually held at Buescher State Park, where they sell hunting and fishing licenses, but not artistic licenses, at the gate. We were in two groups, and, after we got checked in and introduced ourselves, we broke into the groups. Half of us began the day marbling, and the other half doing paste paper.

Marbling is done on a 'size' of caragheenan, which is a type of moss that makes a kind of jello like substance. You can float colors (water colors or acrylics) on top of the size using a variety of techniques - wisks (we made those, too, out of broom corn), eye droppers, styluses, atomizers. You also use a dispersant, that pushes the colors around. You can just 'pull' the sheets off the size - picking up the colors because the sheets have been sponged in alum water and alum is hydrophilic, so it draws the colors to the paper - or you can comb complex patterns into them.

My favorite patterns were made with the stylus. You do three little dots of color and then draw the stylus through them. Depending on which way you draw the stylus through (the last drop first or the first drop first), you get a 'feather' or an 'oak leaf.'

I didn't really like too many of the papers I made, but I got some wonderful ideas, so it was completely worth it.

Paste paper involves making paste (flour and water cooked together) or using methyl cellulose and adding acrylic paint to it. It's a pretty stiff paste, and you paint it onto dampened paper with a brush in a thinnish coat. Then you comb patterns through it. It's sort of finger painting for grown-ups. There are a hundred little additional techniques you can do with it, and it's very therapeutic.

At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The party was fab...

The party was fabulous, darlings! I do wish ya'll could've been there, mostly because, had you been there, I wouldn't have so much leftover food! I have leftover food because most of my friends brought food, wonderful food, and the ones who didn't brought wine or flowers.

Now, here's the odd thing... Most of my friends didn't know each other. Hmmmm... How did that happen? I have a lot of groups of friends - family, Ladies Sunday Morning Tai Chi League, Austin Book Workers, Nia, neighbors, musicians from various bands I've been in, and those miscellaneous people that you can't even remember how you met - and I've never thrown a party to which all the groups were invited. I DO have a pretty small house (800 sf), but, fortunately, I have a big back yard, and in Texas you can be outside most of the year. (Ok, in the winter, you may only want to be out during the day, and in the summer, you may only want to be out in the evening.) So, if you include my backyard, I have, like, a 6000 sf house, and right now it's carpeted! (Mid-summer is a different story, as those of us who don't water our lawns for religious reasons kinda lose the grass part.)

My friends Aline and Ray arrived first; they're the ones who have the marvelous Thanksgiving dinner I go to. I met them about fifteen years ago through my friends Anne and Gus. Anne and I knew each other from the gym, and, being women of a certain age, we hung out there together, chiding the muscleheads who forgot to re-rack their weights. It always just amazes me that a man is so proud that he can do dumbell presses with 110 pound weights - he has to have three or four guys around him spotting him and cheering him on - and then he'll just drop his weights and leave them there like his mom or the maid is gonna come pick up a couple 110 lb dumbells and re-rack 'em for him. Come on, big guy, re-rack those weights and the rest of us will cheer for you too! (Whew! Glad I got THAT out of my system!)

Anyway, I mentioned to Anne one hot August day (the 'hot' was thrown in for those of you who don't live in Texas, and who may not know that it's always hot here in August) that I had to go to a Cajun dinner party that night and was dreading having to bake the bread pudding that I was supposed to bring... Dreading it because I did not have air-conditioning. Older houses in Austin don't have central air and heat. They have funky ass space heaters with radians and, maybe, window units. They also have double hung windows that open at the top, and trees around them, so you cool your house by opening the tops of the windows during the day to let the hot air out. As long as you don't move, and have an iced drink and a fan, it's not too bad, but you don't want to turn your oven on to 350 for an hour, even to cook bread pudding.

But my friend Anne had air-conditioning, two ovens, and a pool at her house, and invited me to bring the ingredients and my bathing suit over there and cook. So, that's exactly what I did. Her husband Gus, and a friend of his (whose name I cannot recall, but think was Ed) were working on the deck, but not to the point that we couldn't swim. So I made the bread pudding and the whiskey sauce (which is the whole point of bread pudding) and swam. When the pudding came out of the oven it seemed rather rude not to cut them off a little bit and share it with them. I was sure the folks at the dinner party wouldn't mind an end missing. So that's what I did. Gus and his friend's eyes glazed over. "It's better than sex," he said... "She has to come to Thanksgiving," which in those days, was held at Anne and Gus's house. So a couple months later I did, and met Aline and Ray and their kids and a whole host of other people all of whom cook and like wine. So that's how and why I met Ray and Aline. Later, Aline and I found out that our birthdays are only 4 days apart, and Anne and Gus left to work in odd places (they're in Africa right now), but I still make bread pudding and whiskey sauce for Thanksgiving, although I make less pudding and more sauce, as whiskey sauce goes with everything: sweet potatoes (fabulous!), turkey, chocolate cake, pecan pie... Well, everything except the green beans n' bacon.

And then my ex-ish came, and my friends Mike and Debbie, whom I've known the longest in Austin. Mike and Debbie and I lived in a housing co-op up near UT together in '79-'80, named 'V.' Mike forced me to start my first band, which was the Half-Assed Dance Band, and was in the second, Wendy and the Magnets, and in the last band I was officially in, Peacemongers. He plays bass and tuba, and in Peacemongers, that was a fearsome thing. We went through a LOT of bass players. It was an improv rock band, a jam band, and it got kinda repetitive for the bass player. But Mike also plays tuba, and that was what he had at the party. And then we found out that Ray (remember Ray?) had lived in the same house (1919 Robbins Place) before us, only it was called something else, and everyone said "Far out," which is the hippie way of saying "Amen," I think.

And Steve-O and Judith showed up... But ya'll have already met them in the post about the guy who moved the shed. Judith brought wonderful couscous and flowers from her garden... And Ricë and Earl showed up, fresh from the wonderful news that he was going to have enough money to retire and have insurance, so we had reason to celebrate! Shari and Al came, too. I know Shari from LSMTCL, and, since they live way north, when Al usually brings her to it and then goes to the Shambala Center. He's frequently included in LSMTCL functions, so he's like, and adjunct member. Clark showed up bringing chairs and demanding tequila, which he said I'd promised him, and, which I might've, but don't remember. Fortunately, having a liquor cabinet, I was able to provide him with this substance, even though it wasn't the best tequila in the world. And Bruce and Leela, my neighbors came, bringing Leela's fabulous Hatch chili hummus, and Amy from Book Workers and Sarah from LSMTCL. Steve and Jessica came all the way from Georgetown. Steve was Peacemonger's drummer - and a drummer in another band I was in before that: Civil Serpents - and Jessica is a fabulous cook, especially of Middle Eastern and Indian food. She brought a delicious tart made with orange water, among other things. And maybe some other people came, but I sort of lost track after that and was worried about getting the food out...

Later on we had music in the garden. It turns out Al is a drummer and he and Steve happily drummed on 5 gallon plastic water bottles, which make wonderful drums. Mike played tuba, jc played my little Martin Backpacker guitar and I played my beautiful Gurian. We did Millennium, Fallen from a Dream, Li De Di, Heart of Darkness, Ferris Wheel, If Wishes Were Fishes, House of the Rising Sun - one of the first songs I ever learned - and It Burns.

And then everyone went home and left me with a ton of food!

Friday, April 20, 2007

In which I throw a party

I do so wish you could all be here. I'm having a party.

I am having - food wise - tostadas, with shredded chicken, Oaxacan black beans (the secret ingredient is toasted avocado leaves, which impart a truly unique flavor, somewhat reminiscent of anise), crumbled queso fresco, pico de gallo (chopped tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro, red onion, garlic, lime juice), Oaxacan mole, which I'd never made before and isn't smooth enough but fucking tastes fantastic, if I do say so myself, and only fucking took me six goddamn hours to make, Texas caviar (a three bean salad), and toffee pudding and fruit salad. And, of course, wine and beer and Pomtinis, 'cos this is a Fiesta de las Flores de la Granada. That's right, granada is the spanish word for pomegranate. Who knew? Fuck, who can even spell pomegranate anyway?

Of course, I have my crosses to bear. For some reason, the stores are all out of CitraSolv, my universal cleaning solution, and believe me, I am cleaning the house like a melonfarmer. And, even worse, Rues Antiques, which sells the only stuff my furniture likes to be treated with, Natchez Solution, has up and moved off into the ozone. They were a cruddy antique store, but they had NS, and I could walk there. Shit, shit, shit. Now my day is going to include melting beeswax, mixing it with mineral oil and lemon oil and really having fun.

On the absolutely wonderful side, I had the eleven boxes from my aunt's estate in the living room, but I didn't want them there for the party. My ex, jc, has been coming over every evening this week to hold ladders and spot me while I'm on them. (Ssshhh, don't tell him, I get up on them all the time when he's not here, but if he comes, he'll pet and play with the sadly neglected feline denizens of the house, so it's a good thing.) I've been painting the window jams with a weird mottled orange faux finish that I think I like, but won't really know about until I get the outer trim up, and that isn't going to happen by this afternoon. And today is the day I clean the house, (The Final Cleaning, which sounds like one of those horror movies). So. I'm busy and do not need to be making secret formula furniture polish.

Anyway, the other night he came to late to move the boxes, which go into the shed. We can't have the shed door open 'cos the outdoor cats will go in, hide and then crap all over everything, as well as possibly die, which would be worse than crap, in several ways. So, it's a two person, DAYLIGHT job, which, since jc doesn't get up til 6 pm, is a problem. But yesterday he made a special effort and got here at 6, told me there was room for an elephant in the shed, if things were arranged better, took half the stuff out, organized it according to his own arcane system, and put it back in along with the boxes. There's still room in there! A Newfoundland would perhaps be able to fit in and still turn around! Amazing! And I hardly lifted a finger! Even more amazing! (Ooops, the exclamation mark says it's tired of all that standing up and down, up and down; get a life, it says.)

He's been out of work for several months and hasn't been able to 'organize' a stage and boss inanimate objects around and make them be logical, so he really went after it. Of course, it's arranged to HIS logic and not mine, which are two very different animals, and is one of the reasons he's an ex. But it just means I'll have to call him up and ask him where things are. After 7 pm, of course.

Gotta let the boy have some coffee before he talks to the ex.

Anyone need an absolutely fantastic live sound engineer? Who can organize a stage logically? Makes singers heard about the band?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In which I become a Grand Champion...

Sunday, Easter Sunday that would be, was positively disgusting here, weather-wise. It was cold. It was raining. It had actually sleeted - sleeted! - the day before, the day of my friend's Leela and Bruce's Annual Spring Garden Party. There may be some who read this and think "What's a little sleet?" but they probably do not live in Texas. Here we do not complain about the heat... We complain about the cold. Especially when it's cold in April, when it's already been spring for a month and a half.

So. The weather was abysmal, but I rose and rather belatedly made my way to Ladies Sunday Morning Tai Chi League (Ladies League). We all were students of the late, great Stan Rossi. Long ago we decided to get together on Sunday mornings at Bailey Park in Austin and do our stuff. We do a Yang Long Style, Chen Zhao Bao, a saber set, and some of us can do parts of a Yang long sword form. We're a highly social group who believe that life and tai chi go better with good food and champagne. Heck, we believe that everything goes better with good food and champagne. We bring food to the park for special occasions, or meet at each other's houses for 'conviviality.'

Ok, so I got there late, so late that no one else was there, although Christy had been there and done the sword set. One of our members, Ann, was having an Easter party for us at noon, and here it was just before 10 am and I was up in north Austin. I knew if I went home I would be so totally depressed by the weather that I would never make it out again, so I went round to Gwen's nearby house and begged for coffee. Her charming daughter Anna Bella let me in and I had a wonderful time drinking coffee and watching Gwen make a delicious salmon and asparagus quiche. Oh, and I had a shot of lemoncello. I mentioned to Gwen that I'd seen people on Sex and the City drinking it and had no idea what it was... Gwen had some in the freezer and it seemed like the perfect way to start the day.

You can walk from Gwen's to Ann's. It's only four blocks. Admittedly, most Texans would not walk four blocks, they would drive. But Gwen and I are transplants, so we did. It was no longer raining. It was just cold.

Ann lives in the most fantastic house. It's International Style, built in the 1930s, and is just completely cool. Plus, it' a great party house. The other LL's had arrived, and, since it was a function, there were spouses and significant others for those who have them. So there were a LOT of us. And Ann's other friends and family... And ham and about seven kinds of quiches, and deviled eggs and asparagus and strawberries and cream and, my contribution... Cookies. (Yup, those same darn cookies.) And champagne and orange juice.

So we ate. We ate for quite a long time, actually, and then it was time to play croquet. We were supposed to do this outside, in the backyard, but, since the weather didn't cooperate, they had set up a course inside in the family room. There were the traditional wickets, stood up in little lumps of clay, and some other obstacles... Odd bits of pvc pipe to negotiate through... And a ramp into a back bedroom... And tables and chairs... And feet, lots of feet, since we all sort of played at once.

We played with tennis balls, labeled with our names, and all we had to do was complete the course, going through all the things in the right direction and count our strokes. People held back, so I grabbed a mallet and started.

Forty-seven strokes later I had completed the course. No one helped ME by moving the wickets to 'catch' the balls... We made up some rules as we went along as balls seemed to get stuck under the furniture, but all in all, it was a terrific game. No one died. And then came the trophies. There were four of them, but I can't remember what they all were. By that time I think I'd had a fair amount of champagne, but I can't really remember. So, even though I had the highest score - by far - I won the Grand Champion trophy! I've never won a trophy in my life, I don't think. And this is a real trophy...

You may notice that the top of the trophy seems cut off. That's 'cos this is an illustration of the trophy from my journal. But, still, you can tell it's a damn fine looking trophy... And it's sitting on my piano for all the world - well, all the world who come to my house - to see.

(A side note about complaining about the weather in Texas... You cannot complain about the heat. It's just not allowed. Of course it's hot, you fool, it's Texas. If you live in the south part of Texas, you can complain about the cold. The north part of Texas is very far away, and I don't think they're allowed to complain about the cold, but I could be wrong about that. You cannot complain about the rain - unless it rains in July or August, when it's never, ever supposed to rain because it makes it humid - because we need it. Very rarely do you hear anyone say "We shore don't need anymore rain." You can complain about hail and sleet and snow, at least here in the Hill Country, because they are bad for the peach crop, and everyone knows the peach crop is sacred. Hail also damages cars, and even trucks, which are also sacred. You can complain about flooding, but carefully. We get a lot of flooding. Usually if it rains we get flooding. That's what happens when you live some place where it doesn't rain very often. It floods. You can complain about floods, but it's not very good form. Mostly you say things like "I hadda drive forty miles around to get home 'cos the low-water crossing was out." Or, "Didya hear about them what went through the low-water crossing in their truck? That sure was a shame." Going through a low-water crossing with water in it is a bad idea. That's why there are measuring sticks in the middle. If you live and the RFD have to come get your happy ass out, they will charge you money.)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

How I got my name

Years ago, I mean years and years and years ago, like in 1992, for pete's sake, I worked for Madalyn Murray O'Hair. In case you haven't a clue, she was the head of American Atheists, among other organizations, which she ran with her son, Jon, and daughter/granddaughter, Robin. Mrs O'Hair's other son, Bill, the one she filed the lawsuit against prayer in school for, worked for her for several years, too. Then he went off to do his thing and left the young Robin with Mrs O'Hair, who adopted her. Later Bill became a christian minister and went around raising money denouncing his mother and her evil ways. Which, of course, makes you wonder how he reconciles that with the seventh commandment... I mean it does if you're the sort of person who wonders about things like that.

But, then, Mrs O'Hair was a 'real piece of work,' as my friend Gus used to say, as well as an exceedingly abusive employer. Actually, she was an abusive person, who just happened to be an employer... One of those ones who calls everyone - including her family, or maybe, especially her family - an asshole or a sumbitch. In some people, of course, cussing can be funny, or an art form; in others, well, it's just obnoxious. Mrs O'Hair was one of THOSE people.

When I first started working for the O'Hairs, Mrs O'Hair liked me. Had I known better, I would've worried about that, because she appeared to hate most of the other employees, but I was too busy trying to be a good little worker unit. Eventually, of course, she decided she hated me, too. There were deadline issues, since each of the three O'Hairs, Madalyn, Robin and Jon, thought they were in charge of the universe. Each one would give you shit to do and insist you do it before you did the stuff you already had to do.

At the time, I thought that Mrs O'Hair wanted me to cry, or something, when she yelled at me... You know, to have me break down sobbing in a puddle of tears... I thought she liked being scary. So therefore the only revenge that was really possible - unless you, like, killed them or something - was being cheerful. And since I'm not a murderer, that was what I tried to do.

Of course, now I think she was just trying to get me to quit so she wouldn't have to pay unemployment... She'd been tagged as an abusive employer by the Texas Workforce Commission., so you actually could quit working for her and and they'd give you unemployment anyway. She thought she lost all her cases before them because she was an atheist... But really, it was because she was an asshole.

I remember walking into Mrs O'Hair's office one day with a pad of rough sketches in my hands for a cover for the magazine. "Robin says you need to pick one," I said to her. "I HATE THEM ALL!" she screamed at me, before she'd even looked at a-one of them. "Well, pick the one you hate the least and get back to me. The deadline is tomorrow," I told her, putting the pad down on her desk and smiling. Ok, this sounds pretty namby-pamby, but my blood pressure goes up when I write about this and I need a glass of wine or a Pom-tini. I could tell you about the time she told all the workers that they weren't getting a Christmas bonus because I'd fucked up the printing of the solstice cards. Now, think about it. Why would atheists expect to get a Christmas bonus? And then there's the time she told one worker he could kiss her ass, or... But, no, no... I'm just going to smile and forget it all.

It was my attempt at a smiling, cheerful demeanor that made her say to me one day, "You're just a little ray of sunshine around the office, aren't you? (No, no, try again; you're not saying it right. You have to use the Wicked Witch of the West voice for it.... Really creak it out... That's better.)

So that's how I got my nickname. I'm just a little ray of fucking sunshine.


I should tell you.

There WAS a murderer in our office. David Waters, who was a typesetter when I worked there, was a multiple murderer... Which is different from a serial killer. Multiple murderers kill people who piss them off. They don't use the same MO every time or anything, and it's not a ritualistic thing... I don't suppose the victims really care, but I guess the police do.

Anyway, there was a lot of stuff that happened after Mrs O'Hair laid me and most of the other employees off. There's even a book about it (America's Most Hated Woman: The Life and Gruesome Death of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Ann Rowe Seaman) (or you can read a short article from the Austin Chronicle here), but eventually David Waters and some of his friends kidnapped the O'Hairs, robbed them, killed them, and then chopped them up and put them in blue, 55 gallon drums and buried them on a ranch in south Texas. And then all the money - some $400,000 - they stole from the O'Hairs was ripped off by a couple, three kids on a lark, who just happened to break into the right storage locker.

Pretty icky.
So, yesterday afternoon, I am peacefully cleaning out my little pond-on-the deck (which I say like I have another pond somewhere, which I don't, but) and my cell phone rings. I answer and it's my friend Clark. "Hey," he says, "Remember that storage shed I gave you?" He's referring to the 12'x16' steel shed that sits in my back yard that he gave me a couple years ago. "Remember the guy who moved it? he asks.

The guy who moved it was a magician. He managed to get this shed into my back yard, wrangling it between the house and the garage, where he had a 1" clearance on either side. He couldn't do it with his truck, which only fit in my driveway when I took down one of the fence posts in the front yard. He and his son rolled it on pieces of pvc pipe through the gap, around in a circle and uphill to its current location behind the garage. It was a marvelous feat, kinda like having a circus come to your very own house and do strange and wonderful things, and then, when they leave, you have a very practical shed just sitting there, waiting for stuff. When you live in an 820 sf house, this, in itself, is a miracle.

Now the weird thing is, neither Clark nor I could remember the name of this wizard. We've tried before, when Clark wanted to move his other shed (he bought them when he and Steve-o were remodeling his house for what seemed like several years) to his sister, Catherine's. He called me then and said "Do you remember the guy who moved that shed I gave you?" And I said, yes, of course I remembered the wizard guy. Did I remember his name or phone number? Strangely, no, I didn't. Nor could I find the card he gave me. I think I put it in the shed, in case I ever needed to move it again, but then I filled the shed up with shit, and now I can't find the card... However, if I ever need to move the shed, I'll have to empty the shed anyway, and then I'll find the card, so that's ok.

"What about the guy who moved the shed?" I ask.

"He's dead," says Clark.

"He's DEAD?" I said. (The capital letters are supposed to indicate how incredulous I was at this piece of information.) "He's DEAD???" (Ditto with the three question marks.) "How can he be dead, he's like what, younger than us? Our age?"

This just goes to show you that even though you are getting older, you never believe you're really getting older, all evidence to the contrary. Like when you look in the mirror and, ummm, never mind about that. My point is that, in spite of all your aches and pains and wrinkles and shit, you still don't think you're old enough to die, until you're like my dad's age (he's 87), and then you're surprised that anyone's alive. There must be some kind of a line you cross over, but I'll worry about that later.

"Steve-o says he's dead," Clark says. "What was his name? I want to call Catherine and tell her he's dead." I get the bright idea to go online and look at the obituaries to see if any of the names ring a bell with us. So there we are, talking on our cell phones, me online reading Clark all the possible obituaries, which, fortunately, there are only two of, all the others being people that you're not quite so surprised that they're dead 'cos they're 90 or something. Nothing rings a bell. Clark hangs up and says he'll call back when he knows more.

He calls back in about five minutes. "Steve-o says he's not dead, it's some other guy who's dead, some guy he worked with." The wizard mover guy worked with his son, who is, of course, even younger than he was. "His son is dead?" I ask... No, it's not his son, it's some other guy who's name we don't know. They'll call me when they know who he is. Now why I should care why some guy whom I don't know who works with some guy whose name I can't remember (but think is a wizard at moving sheds) is dead, I can't say, but I'm pretty caught up in this whole thing right now.

For one thing, I'm still stuck at the online obituary page on my computer, where I've learned that on top of the regular obituaries, they have these, ummm, photo essays about folks who have died, called 'Moving Tributes,' and being the sucker I am for people's life stories, I am now reading or viewing or whatever these tributes and crying, for pete's sake, about people I've never even met. Which probably explains the whole thing about why I'm worried about this wizard shed-moving guy maybe being dead.

"Hey, Clark," I said, "That reminds me, I have a shitload of New Yorkers for you." What really reminded me was that I'd finally dragged myself away from the Moving Tributes on the computer, tears streaming down my cheeks, and seen the stack of New Yorkers perched on a table. "And I have Easter cookies!"

Several times a year I make cookies... Christmas, Valentine's, sometimes Easter. These are a refrigerated sugar cookie that are then glazed with brightly colored glaze. (1 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, creamed with 2 eggs and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, then 1/2 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt and 3 1/2 cups of flour mixed in. You form this into a long roll and refrigerate. When it's pretty firm, you roll it out and cut it into shapes with your marvelous collection of cookie cutters. Then you bake 'em at 350 until they're slightly brown, and glaze them with a mixture of powdered sugar, water, vanilla, salt and food coloring...) I couldn't find my Easter egg cookie cutter this year. It's my biggest and the grandkids love it because, umm, it's the biggest, I guess. I don't know where the damn thing is. Probably in the shed with the box of less-used cookie cutters and the business card for the wizard guy who moved the shed into place using pvc pipe.

Clark was very interested. "You should come over," he said. "I have vanilla vodka." Now, to be frank, vanilla vodka sounds hideous to me, but then all vodka sounds hideous to me, having had an unfortunate vodka incident in my youth involving getting sick in an outhouse, which, due to the delicate sensibilities of some of my readers, I cannot expound on. Needless to say, I THINK I hate vodka. However, I seem to love Bloody Marys, which I somehow forget are made with vodka, and I have a new fave drink, the Pom-tini, which is vodka and Pom's pomegranate juice, in whatever proportions allow you to drink vodka without knowing you're drinking vodka. "I don't have any mixer, though," he said.

So I drove up to Clark's, carrying New Yorkers and Easter cookies. I stopped at the grocery store and got Pom, which is not, of course, kept with the juice, it's kept in its very own, special section of the store, so you know just how wonderful it is after looking up and down every goddamn aisle for twenty minutes. I also got ginger ale and then showed up at Clark's.

Steve-o was already there, and finally knew who'd died. It was Don. Don had died. "Who's Don?" I asked. Neither Steve-o or Clark knew, but he was dead, and he moved sheds (maybe) (possibly) and so we had a wake for him. The Pom-tinis were a tad strong for us, (Steve-o's a diabetic and has to be careful) so we threw in some water and made some really nice sipping drinks. At some point Judith, Steve-o's wife, called and figured out we needed food, and Steve-o went to pick her up and they brought back two Amy's pizzas, which they doctored and baked and we ate with our Pom-tinis.

Several times we talked about Don, even though we didn't know him, and the wizard shed-moving guy, whose name, at least his first name, is Jerry, it turns out. But things never got any more clear than that.

And then sometime before midnight we all went home and left Clark alone. His Easter cookies were all gone by that point, but he still has the New Yorkers.