Monthly Archives: July 2006

Battery Death

Yesterday, when I got into my car, I noticed that my clock has lost time and that my radio station presets were gone. I pondered the situation briefly, then quickly reset the channels and programmed the clock.  I promptly forgot about it as I went on with my afternoon.  I stopped my car illegally in front of Sherri’s house, to pick up a couple of CSA green peppers that she and Matt didn’t want to eat.  As I got out of the car, I almost left it running, but decided against wasting the gas.  We chatted for a couple of minutes, handed off the green peppers and said our goodbyes.  She went back into the house, and I climbed back into my still illegally parked car.

I inserted the key, depressed the clutch and turned.  Nothing.  Not even the click you associate with a dead battery.  Just a straining check engine light, lackluster hazzard lights and a window that groaned exhaustedly before surrendering it’s upward climb.  I tried it a few more times, thinking that maybe, if I waited a couple of minutes it would recover, but there was nothing.  After a quick phone call to my parents, as well as to the woman I was supposed to pick up for latihan, I went and knocked on Sherri’s door again.  Matt answered this time, and looked suprised to see me.  They both came out, to see if we could jump start my car back to life, but it was a no go.  I called AAA and settled in to wait.

It turns out that it was one of the best car trouble experiences I’ve ever had.  I had a nice, air conditioned place to hang out, that happened to also come with extremely nice people.  They fed me squash casserole au gratin, told me a story about how you don’t wear caps indoors around Sherri’s mother (and never backwards) and generally made the hour and a half it took AAA to get to me very pleasant.

When the AAA unit pulled up, it turned out to be a service and installation van, as opposed to a truck that tows.  He hooked my battery up to a portable computer, confirmed that it was dead, and then said, “I believe I have the right battery for you car in the van, for $99.99 plus tax, I can install it for you.”  After a moment’s thought and a brief discussion with Sherri (I don’t like to make car decisions on the spur of the moment), I decided the convenience was worth it and went for it.  Within fifteen minutes of his arrival, my car was running again.

As soon as I was back on the road, I started realizing how lucky I was that the battery died the way it did.  Tonight, I am driving to New York to pick up a friend who is flying back from China as I type.  I can only imagine how awful it would have been to have the battery die at a rest stop, at night, someplace between Philadelphia and New York.  The way it worked out, I got a little quality time with some friends, got the car repair done during the day and still managed to get to Trader Joe’s for groceries.

Cell phone newbie

My mom just called me, simply to pass the time. She said, “You always call me when you are in transit from one place to another, so I thought it only fair that I call you when I’m bored.” She was on the sidewalk, outside the vet’s office, waiting for her appointment so that they can check out Bonnie’s goopy eye and arthritic hip. Bonnie was agitating the rest of the otherwise peaceful dogs in the waiting room, so my mom thought it best to take her outside where she wouldn’t be able to stir things up so much.

Other than once-in-a-while phones calls from a thriftstore, to ask if I’d like the $1.99 40% off item that she has in her hand, my mother rarely places calls on her cell phone (she will, however, answer the calls, even from numbers she doesn’t recognize.  She has gotten sucked into the drama of strangers via a wrong number more than once). She resisted getting one for years, until an episode of dizziness kept her trapped in her car for three hours last fall. After that, she was finally able to recognize their utility.

We always talk about how much my grandmother would have loved cell phones. She would have loved the ability to drop in on our lives from 3000 miles away at any time. She would have taken every opportunity to call us from Little Pete’s with a question about a movie, book or tidbit of family news.

Through the early years of my parents’ marriage, my mom and grandmother would talk on the phone for at least an hour a couple times a week, late in the evening or Sunday afternoon when the rates were low.  It boggles my mind that they were limited to twice-weekly conversations when my mom and I now take for granted the luxury of talking when and wherever we feel like it.

Random Friday–Stormy weather

It’s Friday which means it’s time for another installment of the Friday Random Ten. The rules are simple, just set your iPod/iTunes/Creative (do people still buy those things?) to shuffle/random and report back the first ten songs it spits out. Do not skip, omit, alter or ignore the songs, as doing that angers the Random Friday Gods, and no one needs that. Especially on a day like today.

1. Nothing Gets Crossed Out, Bright Eyes (Lifted or The Story is in the Soil)
2. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2 (The Best of U2 1980-1990)
3. Take My Hand, Lead Me On, Sister Gertrude Morgan (Let’s Make a Record)
4. I am a Pilgrim, Mo Mack (New & Used Tunes)
5. Florida, Patty Griffin (Impossible Dream)
6. String Man, The Mamas and the Papas (Deliver)
7. It’s Gonna Be Alright, The Ramones (Mondo Bizarro)
8. Pitseleh, Elliott Smith (XO)
9. Hanging Around the Day, The Polyphonic Spree (The Beginning Stages)
10. Hello City, Barenaked Ladies (Gordon)

Favorite Song: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. It’s my favorite from today’s set, because it’s been playing in my head since this morning, and I’m still not tired of it.

Favorite Album: New and Used Tunes by Mo Mack. Cause in my world Mo Mack is also known as Dad.

Seen Live: Mo Mack, Patty Griffin, Elliott Smith (he also went to my high school, albeit years before I got there) and Polyphonic Spree (still the best live show I’ve ever been to in my life. If you ever have a chance to see these guys live, go for it).

The list of players:

Signs from the universe

Tuesday night, I went to the Dixie Chicks concert with some friends.  In the crowd of almost 15,000 I managed to run into the two sets of friends I knew were going to the show, as well as my roommate.

Last night, I went to see “Who Killed the Electric Car” (which was a fascinating, painful story.  You should see it).  With the exception of Scott, with whom I was going to the movie, I hadn’t mentioned to anyone that I was going to see it.  After the movie was over, I turned around in the lobby of the Ritz Bourse, and came face to face with my roommate.  It was slightly shocking for a moment, until we both burst out laughing.

I had been spending a little time second-guessing my roommate choice recently, a sort of renter’s remorse in the first couple of weeks of living together.  I think that it’s just a natural part of the adjustment process, as I get used to his ways of operating in the world.  But running into him, two nights in a row, at the same activities in which I was partaking, has made me feel absolutely confident that I made the right choice.  I’m interpreting it as the universe’s way of telling me that we are good compatible roommates.

Either that or he’s stalking me.  But right now, my money’s on option one.

Orange cakes, fainting spells and crapping ponies

For her 7th birthday, my grandmother gave my mom an orange-flavored cake. It was store-bought and lovely and made my mom, who would have preferred something chocolate and homemade, cry.

During the celebration of her 8th birthday, my mom was so excited that as she inhaled deeply to blow out her candles, she passed out and her forehead landed in the cake. When she woke up, she was laying on the living room couch and her mother was anxiously chattering into the phone, a doctor on the other end of the line. One salt tablet later she was fine.

At her 10th birthday party, my grandparents hired a pony and handler. They set up on the side lawn of the house on Manor Road and gave rides to all the party-goers. At one point, the pony unembarrassedly took a shit (as ponies often do). My grandfather waved the handler away and hurriedly ran for his shovel. In front of the entire party, and his mortified daughter, he scooped up the dung and gently spread it over his tomato plants, as if it were gold.

When she turned 18, her boyfriend and her best friend nearly killed her, by throwing her a surprise party whose secret had been very well-kept. My mother has never been good with surprises, and when she walked into her best friend’s house and experienced most of the people she knew jumping out at her and yelling “Surprise!” she started hyperventilating and fell on the floor. She stayed on the floor catching her breath for more than twenty minutes, while David and Connie hovered over her with concern.

On her 59th birthday, she received a call from her older daughter (that’s me), with the exciting and timely news that said daughter had been accepted to grad school to get a Masters in Writing. She neither cried, fainted, was mortified or lost her breath at the news.

Happy Birthday Mama!

The Passing of the Pastime Cafe

The first time I visited Walla Walla, WA I was 17 and was already planning on attending college there in the fall. My mom and I had driven the four hours out from Portland for a drama scholarship audition (I was still working on memorizing the monologue during the ride. I did not get the scholarship). We checked into the local Travelodge and went off to find dinner.

This was the spring of 1997, before the wine industry started gaining attention in the area and long before the New York Times had ever heard of Walla Walla. The options were slim. We turned our noses up at Clarette’s (a family-owned Denny’s clone), Burger King and the various taco trucks dotted around town and ended up parking in front of the Pastime Cafe. Down at the far of Main Street, the Pastime proclaimed it’s name and cuisine in bold, red neon letters.

Pastime Cafe
We walked into the diner-like section (where we would end up having breakfast the next day) and were waved over by the elderly waitress with nicotine stains on her hands, who sat us in the half-empty left-side dining room. I don’t remember what I ordered, although I know my mom got a turkey dinner. The food didn’t matter nearly as much as the time capsule-like experience we had by eating there. Pictures of the family who had owned the restaurant for over 70 years, as well as their friends and customers, lined the walls. They stretched down the hall that lead to the bathroom, and several were even hung next to the paper towel dispenser. We asked our waitress a few questions about the pictures, which led her to promise a tour of the restaurant’s history once we were through eating. She was true to her word and walked us around the dining room for at least twenty minutes, giving us the abbreviated history of the Pastime.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
While I didn’t eat at the Pastime much when I was with my friends, my parents and I made a point of eating there everytime they came to town. Last fall, when I went back to Walla Walla for my reunion, I stopped in, primarily to take the picture of the Spaghetti and Meatball clock you see above. I asked permission to take the picture and it was given enthusiastically. The waitresses put down their cigarettes, asked me if I liked history and proceeded to take me into the bar, to show me yet more pictures of the Pastime’s history.

I found out last night that the Pastime closed last January. Some family friends were taking a trip through Walla Walla, knew it from our description and were surprised to find it no longer existed when they drove by. My mom called me to break the news, in a manner that one would normally reserve for the death of a family pet. We talked about how everything has a lifespan, and how grateful we both are that we knew Walla Walla in the days when it was still funky and laden with remnants of prior times. I’ve spent the day mourning the fact that the Pastime doesn’t exist anymore and hoping that the Spaghetti and Meatballs clock has found a good home.

In my search for details about the Pastime’s closing, I stumbled across this blog entry, which I though told a nice story about it.

Standing behind the falls

Last night I wished fervently for a instantaneous transportation device that could take me from Philadelphia to Portland, OR in the time it would take to walk down a flight of stairs. My parents spent the late afternoon and early evening picnicking at La Tourelle Falls, a smallish water fall about a half hour outside of Portland, in the Columbia Gorge. I spent most of the day simmering in a slow burning funk, neither able to take action to get myself unfunked or really settle into a good wallow. I remained, stranded on a strip of emotional wasteland, wandering from bedroom to living room to kitchen and back. I would have given many things to trade my well-worn path in the carpet to be with them at the water fall.

I talked to my parents in the evening after they got back. I listened as my mom described the perfection of the day. She had stood knee-deep in the pool of water at the base of the falls, never feeling chilled due to the 100+ degree weather. The dog swam and played. My dad investigated the blackberry brambles, looking for signs of the berries that will be abundant in just a few weeks. She said that at one point, she went and stood in the space between the drape of falling water and the stone side of the cliff. As she described that moment I imagined myself standing next to her back there, watching the muffled world through a wet, warped mirror.

I walked over a friend’s house tonight to return a book, feeling not much like myself. As I walked home again, I felt like my ability to perceive the world had increased, my field of vision spanning my head from temple to temple. Everything looked familiar, but not quite right, as if the city had been run through Photoshop, gently altering the curve of a path and the height of a building*.

When I got home, I spent an hour on the phone, talking to Una about change. About how often we comment that things changed in an instant, but frequently the changes are happening in tiny, invisible increments. Only after days or weeks or months of those slow moving changes can you see how altered your reality actually is.

What does all this mean? I admit, I don’t really know. My microscopic changes haven’t focused into their bigger picture yet, but there’s been enough movement for me to notice that’s it’s taken place. This noticing has led to both the funk and shift in perception.  Neither have been particularly helpful in their own right.  I’m looking forward to the moment when it all snaps into sharper relief. Hopefully it will happen towards the end of this week.

*I swear, I’m not taking drugs.

Random Friday–Covered with mosquito bites

I woke up at 2 am last night contorted and tangled in blankets, having been trying to scratch mosquito bites while I slept.  I stumbled out to the hall closet, using my cell phone as a flashlight, to dig out a tube of Rhuli-Gel, hoping to take enough of the sting out of the bites to go back to sleep.  It worked moderately and I fell back asleep (although I’m itching today).  I’m an expert at handling mosquito bites, as I’ve always been allergic and they’ve always found me delicious.

Other things I’ve always found delicious?  Random Friday!  You know the rules, set your pod or other player to shuffle/random and report back the first ten (or 11) songs it spits out.  Please share your list in it’s entirety, refraining from editing, omitting or obfuscating.

1. Night Rider’s Lament, Nanci Griffin (Other Voices, Other Rooms)
2. Shameless, Ani DiFranco (Dilate)
3. #3, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals (Live From Mars)
4. Zak and Sara, Ben Folds (Rockin’ the Suburbs)
5. Things That Disappear, Rhett Miller (Sweet Sixteen, Live at the World Cafe)
6. Farther On, Jackson Browne (Late for the Sky)
7. Fighting, Mare Wakefield Band (Factory)
8. Studying Stones, Ani DiFranco (Knuckle Down)
9. Faye Tucker, Indigo Girls (Come on Now Social)
10. Save Me, k.d. lang (Ingenue)

Favorite Song: Fighting by Mare Wakefield.  I discovered Mare through my sister when I was in college.  I made taped copies of her CD’s and would play them as I drove back and forth to Walla Walla.  I eventually broke down and ordered her music via and have never regretted it.  I don’t know what she’s doing now, but I always enjoy hearing her music.

Favorite Album: I do love Ben Harper’s Live from Mars album.

Seen Live: Ani DiFranco, Ben Harper, Ben Folds and Indigo Girls

Need more Random Friday?  Check out these folks:
Coffee Girl


Yesterday morning, already more than half an hour late for work, I hurriedly ate a bowl of Cheerios while leaning up against the kitchen counter.  At the bottom of the bowl, I chased the the last three uncooperative O’s around in half-circle, eventually convincing them to board the spoon.  I tipped the green bowl up to my mouth to finish off the milk and managed to dripple only slightly down my front.

Cheerios was the cereal of my childhood.  There was always at least one open big yellow box, either on top of the fridge, in a cabinet or perched on a window sill, as well as an unopened one, waiting in reserve.  When my sister and I were just starting to learn to eat things that crunched, my mom would throw a handful of O’s onto the tray of the high chair, and let us go at them with our mediocre motor skills.  As we got older, they remained the snack du jour.  Need a treat for the movies?  A baggie of Cheerios would appear from my mom’s purse.  Need a craft project?  While not as colorful as Fruit Loops, Cheerios made nice, non-sticky bracelets and necklaces.  Craving a nibble before bed?  A handful, straight out of the box (my mom actually still does this, almost every night.  They are surprisingly good this way).

In the mornings before elementary school, Raina and I would fight over who got to read the back of the box while eating.  The really good days were when we were allowed to drizzle a little honey on our O’s to make them sweet. Sugar cereals were better known as birthday cereals in our house, because we were only allowed one box a year, picked out the day or two before a birthday.  You were required to let your sister have at least one bowl of your birthday cereal, the rest was all for you.

When eating a bowl of cereal during my childhood, it was well known that the milk was the protein part of the cereal experience, and that you better finish every drop.  Bad things could happen to kids who didn’t get enough protein.  In college I was shocked to discover that some people didn’t finish the milk at the bottom of their bowl.  My roommate Meghan would always douse her cereal with milk, and then very carefully select spoonfuls that included as little milk as possible.  When all the cereal was done, the leftover milk would go down the drain.  I’d like to say that I watched in silence, but I’ve never been good at silence (especially when scandalized).  I made a comment once, wondering why she poured her milk down the drain, and wasn’t it just the tiniest bit wasteful?  She looked at me with surprise and possibly just a little bit of annoyance and said, “I don’t like the milk” and left it at that.  Meghan and I didn’t always see eye to eye.

If you have a childhood cereal memory, please feel free to share.

The joys of thunderstorms

I opened the windows of my apartment tonight for the first time in at least a month. Thunderstorms swept through the Philadelphia area last night, uprooting trees, downing power lines and ending the oppressive level of heat that had been sitting on top of the city.

While I was growing up, storms that involved thunder and lightening were fascinating to me. We didn’t have weather like that in either LA or Portland, and I found the drama and power of those storms to be unreal and unbelieveable. I remember one storm in particular. My mom, sister and I were standing behind the apartment building, saying goodbye to my grandparents and just about to get into a cab that was going to take us to the airport. The sky started to darken inperceptibly and miniature funnel clouds of dust gathered low on the street corners.

As the taxi sped down 76, precariously overfilled raindrops started to fall and my mom talked to the driver in voice that was louder than her normal, because she was afraid he was starting to fall asleep. We made it to the airport unscathed, but got nearly drenched carrying our bags from car to curb.

We checked in and gave them our bags, and began the interminable waiting process (my grandparents always insisted we leave the apartment multiple hours before a flight). The storm raged, and the flight was delayed, one hour and then two. Finally they announced it was cancelled. There was nothing to do but go back to the grandparents’, for an extra night. It was an unexpected joy to return again, to eat take out chinese with my grandfather’s Tic Tacs for dessert and get to wear his undershirts as pajamas (they didn’t give us our bags back).

I don’t remember the trip to the airport the next day, or the even the flight back to Los Angeles. But a good, powerful thunderstorm will always make me remember that night.