Monthly Archives: January 2006

A painful state

I got back from the gym tonight at 9 pm and didn’t turn on the television or radio. I put a cd on instead. The radio in my bathroom is plugged into the light fixture, so it automatically turns on when you flip the switch. I reached into the darkness to turn the volume down, before I allowed myself to bump the lever from off to on, so I wouldn’t have to hear his voice, even for a second. I sat at my computer, checked email and pretended that the State of the Union wasn’t happening and that George W. Bush wasn’t President. In order not to cry, I ignore.

My friend Katey emailed me tonight, and at the end wrote, “forgive me for total clumsy punctuation. i had to finish a bottle of wine in order to get through bush’s state of the union address.” I called my parents about an hour ago, and my mother was narrated the people she saw on the television over the phone to me. She said at one point that McCain was clapping, but the expression on his face seemed to say, “You fucking idiot” or so she thought. My dad walked around the house singing, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you” to the voice on the television, before he left to go to a meeting of peace activists.

I was a politics major in college, and passionate about our system of governance from the age of 13. During the Clinton years I would tape the State of the Union, so as to be better able to stop and go back to the bits I had missed the first time around. I dreamt about someday working in politics, but then my senior year of college, Bush was elected, and my plans changed. Maybe someday, I will be to reignite that spark of excitement for the political process that I once held, but not during this administration.

It's not pretty, but it will hold

In my family, most repair jobs tend to be on the hodge-podge side of things. The attitude is, “It’ll be strong, but it’s not necessarily going to be pretty.” When the plug started to short out on my mom’s hair-dryer, my dad replaced it with an industrial cord and plug so solid, it looks like you could run a household generator on it. When the handle of my suitcase half-detached in transit between Philadelphia and Portland, my father fixed it with three inch bolts and a hunk of wood. It’s solid, it works, but I’m sure every time the TSA inspectors open up my bag to take a look (and they do every time) they look at that thing and think, “what the hell?”

Well, I realized yesterday that I’ve inherited this particular family trait. My dining room chairs are starting to fall apart and last night I tried to fix them. My grandparents bought them about 18 years ago, and somehow a long the way they’ve taken a beating. The screws are starting to fall out, and when I go to tighten them, I discover they’ve been stripped by some other well meaning person, trying to make the chairs a little sturdier. I had taken a trip to Lowes on Saturday to buy screws (as well as more pots and soil for my apartment garden) and last night I took out my drill (it was my 25th birthday present from my dad, I make him use it every time he comes to visit) to see if I couldn’t make my chairs a little more solid.

Well, I got the wrong screws. But I didn’t want to give up, or leave the chairs more wobbly than when I started. So I decided to glue and clamp, and finish the job with new screws at a later date. Well, one chair is now glued and clamped, but I’m a little afraid to take the clamp off. Here’s where the hodge-podge part comes in. I’m planning on just leaving that clamp on there until my roommate says something. He’s a pretty mellow guy, so I’m betting he’ll let it slide right on by. It doesn’t impede the use of the chair, just extends it’s girth a bit.

I truly am my father’s daughter, just happy to make the fix with whatever works. After all, he’s the one who bought me the clamp.

Dating, these days

A couple of weeks ago, I started to feel like I was never going to date again. That I was going to be single forever. So I did what I always do when that feeling strikes, I placed an ad in the “Women Seeking Men” section of Craigslist. I will be the first one to admit that Craigslist isn’t he greatest place to look for people to date these days, so swamped has it become with guys (mostly) just looking for a fast, easy hookup. But it’s simple and free, and typically pretty immediate in it’s ability to deliver responses, so I went with it.

The first time I dating through Craigslist was back in the summer of 2004, just a month or so after my last relationship ended. It was that period that led my friend Cindy and me to determine that there were never more than five single men dating in the city of Philadelphia at any one time. We came to this conclusion because every time I would give her the name of someone I was talking to from Craigslist, she would reply with a comment along the lines of, “he may seem to be smart and a good writer, but he’s 32, works at a bank and lives with his parents in New Jersey*” because she too had talked to this person during her travels through the list as well. This happened at least three times (although he was not always 32 and living with his parents in New Jersey. There variations on the theme). I went on some good dates that summer, as well as a couple choice stinkers. I did not meet anyone for the long term, but it was a good exercise in getting back into the world of dating, after spending almost two years conveniently coupled.

The ad I posted was a series of questions, my attempt to be mildly funny while also attracting responses from guys who I might actually be interested in. My favorite question was, “When you eat a Tastykake, do you eat it ironically or seriously?” This question comes from a time last summer when I was at an outdoor concert with a couple of friends and one of the friend’s boyfriend. We stopped at Wawa on the way to the show to get hoagies and snacks for the day, and the boyfriend bought a Tastykake for dessert. Only he did it with no humor, no irony, no recognition for the fact that the process of eating a Tastykake in your 30’s has to be infused with just the slightest bit of the ridiculous.**

My point in all of this is that the ad resulted in a date this week. I was nervous as I walked towards the bar where we planned to meet, worried that this was going to be another dud, that I was going to be sitting there wishing myself onto my couch with a good book. But life is sometimes surprising, and this was one of those times. Because I had a good time. I would even go so far as to say terrific. We sat and talk for two and a half hours about music, families, politics, history, books and the racial/class stratification in this country. At the end of the date, I said simply, “This was really fun” and genuinely meant it.

I have no idea where this is going to go, if it has any sort of legs, or if the next time I see him I’ll have nothing left to say. But I will always be appreciative of the date, because it helped me remember why people do it. Because up until last Tuesday night, I really had forgotten.

*Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that situation.

**I am in no way impugning Tastykakes, I have a deep and abiding fondness for the Butterscotch Krimpet.

Random Friday–gratefully welcoming the end of January

You know the rules of the game by now. Set your pod or other digital musical device a’shuffling and report back the first ten songs it spits out. No skipping, omitting or hedging.

1. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan (Before the Flood)
2. Sexuality, k.d. lang (All You Can Eat)
3. Dinner at Eight, Rufus Wainwright (Want One)
4. Airport Song, Guster (Goldfly)
5. Cooling, Tori Amos (To Venus and Back)
6. Recovering Soul, Maria Muldaur (Meet Me at Midnight)
7. Fire Door, Ani DiFranco (Living in Clip)
8. Urge for Going, Joni Mitchell (Hits)
9. Boy Cried Wolf, Patti Smith (Gung Ho)
10. Cordova, Indigo Girls (All That We Let In)

I was really hoping that the pod would dish up some Grateful Dead today, so I could have an excuse to tell you about my sister’s latest experience on the road. It didn’t, but I’m going let Raina tell you anyway. This is from her tour diary.

i just had to share that i jammed in the basement of jerry garcia’s house today and i met a buddhist holyman, and i hot tubbed in the backyard of someone’s house, and man, i love tour! We are heading to Santa Cruz tomorrow to busque on the street, and hopefully we will meet some kind kids to put us up for the night! The van is all decked out with a bed and such, and we still haven’t slept in it! But we have put up some curtains. It feels nice to be out of the rain.


I woke up this morning with the memory of a dream so vivid behind my eyes that I swore I had lived it. I had been standing talking to my friend Emily, who I haven’t seen in at least two years. I was thrilled to see her, and hugged her tight.

Emily and I met on the first day of the 6th grade, when her family moved onto my street. I was so excited to have another girl my age living within walking distance that I think I may have overwhelmed her with attention. She didn’t hold my boundless friendliness against me, and for years we walked to the bus stop together. In middle school I would pick her up, and in high school she’d come and knock on my door. We stayed close through high school, even when my family moved to another neighborhood.

Emily moved to Europe after college, and while I saw her occasionally over holidays, our friendship has drifted a bit over the five years. When I woke up with her image humming in my brain, I felt compelled to try and get in touch with her. This afternoon, I called her parents phone number, which I’ve had memorized since the first day we met. As I dialed the numbers, I prepared myself to have a friendly, chatty conversation with her mom. What I was not prepared for was hearing Emily’s voice on the other end of the line. I chattered away excitedly for a minute, telling her about the dream that had nudged me to call. She was shocked to hear from me, and said that she tried to get in touch a while back, but had only had the email address from my last job, so it had bounced back. She told me that it hadn’t been such a good year for her family. Her dad had died. I was speechless for a moment before belated words of condolence tumbled from my throat. We spent another fifteen minutes on the phone, catching up, exchanging contact information and promising to stay in touch.

I’ve spent all day thinking about Emily and her family. Especially her dad. I remember the summer before we started high school, he went with the two of us as we did a test run of the public bus we would take to school, just to make sure we knew where we were going and that we felt safe. I remember him working in his yard, walking their family dogs and staying in the background at birthday parties and sleepovers. I can mentally conjure the sound of his voice and his image in an instant. I find it really difficult to believe that he’s gone.

Sounds of the Kitchen

Last night I was laying in bed, starting to drift off to sleep, when a sound brought me slamming back into my body and consciousness. It was the hollow sound of my mother’s wooden cutting board hitting the counter top, similar to the claves we played in my elementary school music classes. It was familiar and immediate and sent me traveling through a slew of memories. I remembered being 8 years old and sitting on the brown corduroy living room couch, watching Inspector Gadget, as my mom made dinner in the kitchen. In those days the counter tops were tiled plainly, with just a few beautiful, handpainted tiles scattered among the white ones. I remembered being home from college, this time sitting on at the table in the kitchen, watching as she scrapped onions from the rectangular cutting board into the hot pan on the stove. I took the smell of the onions, and the garlic (scrapped out of the press, another distinctive sound) that followed into my dreams with me.

This cutting board is made of pale, blond wood with a perfect circle an inch in diameter cut in the middle of one of the shorter sides. The wood is both silky and porous, from years of chopping and scrubbing. It came into our lives when my father was sent out to buy a wedding present one Saturday morning more than twenty years ago, and came back with two cutting boards, one for the couple that was getting married, and one to keep. My mom was not happy, she didn’t think she needed a new cutting board, and she resented the additional expense. However, these days even she will admit that she has gotten her money’s worth out of it.

The cutting board now lives between the neck of the faucet and the splash guard, a translucent plastic scrub brush hung neatly on a nail beside it. My memory lapses at where it lives in prior kitchens, so frequently was it found in the dish drainer next to the sink, drying from it’s last use and wash. This Christmas, when I laid it down on the beige formica that is begging to be replaced (with the same musical tone that pulled me back from the brink of sleep last night) to chop an green pepper for a salad, I was stunned to realize how hollowed out it has gotten. I flipped it over, looking for a flatter surface, but years of exposure to the blades of knives has left the board sunken, like a model sucking in her cheeks. It is no longer possible to chop directly down and expect a clean cut. I pointed this out to my mom, and she laughed and said that she hadn’t really noticed. She has made hundreds of dinner with this cutting board and the 1940’s L.L. Bean fish-boning knife that was my father’s inheritance from his father. May she make many more.

Forward, not back

I spent a couple hours today (while I should have been working), reading the archives of my blog. I realize that it was an exercise in vanity, but it was fascinating to read the entries from the beginning, to see where I was almost a year ago, what I was feeling then, what my writing style looked like and to compare that with where I am now. I spent a lot last spring complaining in writing about my job, my life and the struggles I faced, which I took far too seriously. Yesterday, if asked, I would have said that I haven’t changed much in the last year, but after today’s blog self-reflection, I realize that I have changed, quite a lot. My attitude towards life has gotten increasingly relaxed. I don’t take setbacks as seriously, and my level of trust that this life will be good has increased dramatically.

Just as the year was refreshing itself four weeks ago, my mom forwarded me an email. It was a page long essay from a woman who channels (I realize I may have lost some of you when I typed the word “channel.” Stay with me if you can). It revolved around the energy of 2006, and said it was a year of creation. That it was the year of “what you see is what you get,” meaning that if you thought positively and took an active role in envisioning a positive, vibrant, happy life for yourself, that that would be what you’d have. I’ve reread this email 8 or 9 times since I got it. If it had been a letter printed on paper, the creases would be threatening to tear from the folding and unfolding. Every night as I go to sleep, I imagine the life I want to create for myself, and I go to sleep with those images in my head.

After I lost the morning to archive exploration, I met a friend for lunch. We used to work together and ate lunch together everyday for almost two years. In a lot of ways, we are on similar paths, our lives reflecting matching struggles and challenges back at each other, thankfully not always at the same time. We ate, and talked, and I felt my heart relax a little in the warmth of the conversation (as well as the sun, shining outside). We talked about where we are now, and where we once were, and relished the changes we have wrought in our lives. I am so grateful to be where I am now, and to be moving forward in time, not back.

A family secret

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Roe verses Wade, which granted all women in this country the right to a safe abortion. Thirty-three is not a notable anniversary for any reason other than this right is on shaky ground, as the makeup of the Supreme Court shifts and our country grows more fearful at the hands of the Bush administration.

Here in Philadelphia, in 1925, my great-grandmother Elizabeth, died from the complications of an illegal abortion. She was 32 years old and had three children, ages 10 (my grandmother, Della), 12 (Doris) and 14 (Milt). Her beloved first husband had died from during the 1918 flu epidemic. She was newly married to a man younger than herself, of whom her family did not approve, when she discovered she was pregnant for the fourth time.

No one who is still living knows the details of her death. I imagine that she was nervous but also hopeful, as she walked through the city to the abortionist who would take her life. I don’t know if she went alone, or if one of her four sisters went with her. I do know that she had plans for the future and that she intended to live. She wanted to raise her children to adulthood, to make a life a with her new husband, and to run her Russian tea room. Instead she died, leaving a cluster of orphans where a family once stood.

For years, the cause of Elizabeth’s death was a family secret. People were told she died of an infection, or of a case of strep. I remember as a small child imagining that she had cut her finger while cooking for the restaurant, and that the resulting infection had been what killed her. I know my cousin Melissa spent her first twenty years being terrified every time she would get strep throat, thinking she was going to die, just like her great-grandmother.

When my sister was an baby, my mother came back to Philly for a couple of weeks to help her aunt move into a new apartment, and spend some time with the rest of the family. It was during this time that my great-great Aunt Sue, the sole remaining sister of the five, was feeling chatty and confided in her how Elizabeth had died. As I got older, I came to know the story of the abortion, and assumed that others in the family did as well. I mentioned it in passing to a cousin five or six years ago, and her reaction was one of shock. Once she assimilated the news, it made the family puzzle a little clearer. After that, news spread quickly, and the myth of Elizabeth’s unknown infection dissolved into the tapestry of our family history.

I like to think that had Elizabeth been able to obtain a safe, legal abortion, she would have lived a long life, seasoned with a healthy mix of joy and pain. There will always been women who need, for a variety of reasons, access to abortion. I hope that they will always be safe and legal.

*Elizabeth is the one in the bottom, left corner.

Random Friday–A Very Late Edition

I got to work this morning feeling crappy and only lasted there until 1 pm, leaving after a tedious xerox machine training and a meeting with a student. I went home and slept for three hours, and I’m only now starting to feel a little better. So that’s why this is about 14 hours late.

But without further adio, my Random Friday Ten for the week. The rules are simple. Send your pod or other digital music device a’shuffling and report back the first ten songs it spits out. There is no skipping or omitting of songs, no matter how strange or obscure they may be.

1. Florida, Patty Griffin (Impossible Dream)
2. There’s a Place, The Beatles (Please Please Me)
3. Reunion, Indigo Girls (Retrospective)
4. Seasons of Love, Original Broadway Cast (Rent)
5. In The Lord’s Arms, Ben Harper (Burn to Shine)
6. I Was Healed by the Wounds, King Britt (King Britt Presents Sister Gertrude Morgan)
7. Pastures New, Nickel Creek (Nickel Creek)
8. Suzie Blue, Ben Harper (Burn to Shine)
9. Lazy Days, Enya (A Day Without Rain)
10. For Your Love, The Yardbirds (Smokestack Lightening)

Favorite Song: I’m pretty fond of “There’s a Place.” I had a phase of life (ages 9-13) where I was deeply devoted to the Beatles. If I would see them on TV, I would channel the teenage girls of yore and start screaming and swooning. I bought books about the Beatles by the dozen and couldn’t get enough. So, whenever the Pod serves up a dose of the Fab Four, I’m a happy girl.

Favorite Album: King Britt presents Sister Gertrude Morgan. I heard about this album on a rerun of Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane on Thanksgiving Day while I was standing in my kitchen making pumpkin pies to take over to the CA House for their dinner. I found King Britt’s remixing of this really unique gospel album Sister Gertrude Morgan had made to be appealing and fun to listen to, so I told my sister that that was what I wanted for Christmas. She delivered.

Personal Connection: I know, I can’t post a Random Ten without having some connection to at least one of the artists on the list. This is a pretty good one. My uncle Bill is a musician, just like my dad and their oldest brother Mike. So the story goes, if I’m getting it right, that Bill gave Ben Harper his very first slide guitar, an instrument that he is now known for. Last year, when we still had hope that John Kerry was going to win the Presidential election, my uncle Bill started planning a fundraising concert. One of the performers he got to do that show was Ben Harper.