Sunday, December 16, 2007

Can I Help Who's Next?

Done with school! Well, almost. For this semester. I have one paper left to hand in - it's due tomorrow, so obviously, no need to rush. I'm writing about polyamory, specifically as it has been interpreted by the young and hip: which is to say, vaguely. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as "the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned," but most folks I've talked to tend to stop reading just before "with." Seems to be a handy way to avoid commitment and simultaneously get credit for brave experimentation in an unorthodox lifestyle. But it's an unwieldy subject for a news article, that's for sure. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I was thinking the "characters" would be strange and entertaining, but ... so far, not really. Anyway, you won't be seeing this one posted online. But it will get done. It's practically done already. (I don't feel tardy...)

In other news...I'm taking suggestions for things I should do in the city before the onslaught begins again. Let me live vicariously through you! It's not just a blog, people: it's your blog. (Glob, I mean. Not blog.)

Well, actually it's my glob. And I do have a couple of mini-outings to share, but am too tired and poly-grossed-out to report them entertainingly tonight. For now, a highlight: I went to see Marcellus Hall play at the Lakeside Lounge last Saturday. He has a cool name and uses it well. I first saw him in his old band, Railroad Jerk, which played Satyricon in like 1947, and I went with Gordon because the band was on Matador, which at the time was good enough for us. They were great. (The sarcastic bio on the Matador site describes RRJ as industrial folk, or gangster folk, or a "unique blend of traditional Irish folk, mainstream r&b, classical jazz, reggae, delta blues, '60s psychedelia, European techno-pop, Appalachian hillbilly, California surf and post-punk industrial wall-of-noise grunge dirge." I would dispute the grunge and the reggae and possibly the Irish folk, but the rest is pretty dead-on.) Marcellus Hall at that time was a tall and skinny red-haired Adonis-type figure who played guitar and harmonica and did the splits on stage. A full-grown man. The splits! Without ever once cracking his cool facade, and yet also without being a smartass who was making fun of us and/or rock and roll. He was a fine thing, and his song lyrics were brilliant, literary, wicked little poser-seeking missiles. But what I liked best about him was his pronunciation.

I saw his next band, White Hassle, in Stockholm four or five years ago. White Hassle started when the two main guys from RRJ got kicked out of their rental house and forced to live in the vacant lot next door, using only scraps of tin and buckets of nails to live. (The first album, anyway, sounded like that. By the time I saw them they were back to being pretty suave.) They had a great song involving Sophia Loren and two pals getting shanghaied onto a cargo ship to serve under a tyrannical captain. And one about echinacea. After that show, I was having a beer with their guest guitarist and Marcellus Hall was watching a Swedish girl write something scribbly on the wall. "It's her dissertation," he said. I never talked to him, though; too shy.

Anyhow, as of last Saturday, he looks the same as always. His songs are maybe even better, and not only because they make fun of things like cell-phones and email. ("We'll be turning our phones off," he warned the crowd, "so if you try to text us during the show...") The drummer in the new band is called Jimmy the Hat. Even the way Marcellus Hall pronounces Jimmy the Hat is cool. I read a review that said he did the splits during the encore, but I must've looked away at the crucial moment. Or maybe that person was just being metaphorical, because verbally at least, MH always does the splits, plus somersaults, backbends, handstands, you name it, if it's a gymnastic contortion, one of the lines in one of his songs has resembled it. He won't sacrifice a word for a rhyme; he'll just stretch and scrunch all the other words in that verse into crazy shapes until two words that kind of rhyme line up. It's always funny and it never sounds forced, it just sounds like the way he talks. Or the way he probably would talk, if a person would ever actually go up and try to talk to him.

Well, hopefully no music writers are reading this, because it's one of the worst examples of music writing I've ever seen. Sad, sad. Marcellus Hall deserves better, but he's not going to get it, or anyway not tonight. I'm off - more soon. Down with polyamory!

Thursday, December 06, 2007


When I am queen, I will also ban the expression "It is what it is."

Saturday, December 01, 2007


When I am queen, I will ban umbrellas and Christmas music.

That is all.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Some updates

Thanksgiving break turned out to be a mean linguistic trick: they meant "break" as a verb. Five books and assorted news articles to read, three papers to write...hey, why not, we have all week! Not that I'm complaining, really. It is what I'm here for. I'd feel ripped off if I'd paid them all that money just to tell me I should relax and keep doing what I'm doing.

Anyway, constrained by homework I didn't go to Boston as planned, to hang out with PK and friends, which is a drag, because an email message earlier had indicated that all of the friends would be tall, intelligent men. It figures.

Instead I stayed here, did some writing, some reporting and some reading: two cheery little uplifting books about the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl; one about the government-vs-academia battle over contemporary artists like Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe; the section on libel in the AP stylebook; and my favorite, "Work and Other Sins," by my next boyfriend, Charlie LeDuff. Until becoming a stay-at-home-dad recently, Charlie wrote for the New York Times; he used to hang out in bars, talk to people and write about them. Made it look easy. Also, in one of his press photos he has this outrageous pirate mustache, and you all know how I feel about those.

Speaking of Boston, below, finally, are some photos of my trip there awhile back. I went for the weekend, to hang out with my friend Brenda (see earlier post on the cocktail tour). To get there I paid fifteen bucks at the dodgy-looking "Fung Wah" ticket window and stood in what I hoped was the right line for the bus. I had expected the legendary Chinatown bus to be a rickety old death machine spewing poisonous fumes and filled with squawking chickens in bamboo crates. But no. It was your average tour bus. Halfway up it stopped at McDonald's. Sigh.

Boston is cool! I'd never been there before. The whole thing is a museum, and Brenda is the best tour guide ever. We started in Charlestown, all red brick and twisty little cobblestone streets, gaslights and everything. It's so cute it looks fake. At the top is the Bunker Hill Monument, marking the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first big fight in the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere started his midnight ride from Charlestown. It's also home to the beginning of The Freedom Trail, but we drove back to Boston proper and picked up the Trail there instead. Shorter walk. The Freedom Trail is a red stripe painted onto the sidewalk (or bricked in, sometimes) for tourists to follow from one historic site to another. Neat idea! Ironically, not everything along the Freedom Trail is free, so we didn't go into all of the historic buildings, but we did use the public restroom in Fanouiel Hall. Which is pretty free.

The most important thing I learned in Boston, however, is that cider donuts are the best food on earth. Cider donuts!!! I'd never heard of them. Brenda took me to a farm stand for breakfast. I don't think we have quite the same things on the West Coast. Some of those U-pick joints on Sauvie Island are close, but the Boston ones are more established. AND have cider donuts. Fifty cents each, and they were still warm when the guy handed 'em over. (This was also the first real Boston accent I heard. Holy crap! They are hilarious!) Then we beelined for the hot cider, which was unlike any hot cider I've ever had before. Dad would've fainted. It was that good.

Predictably, we bought apples. And some coffee. And, I admit it, I got another cider donut on the way out.

On the advice of Rob via Patrick, we checked out Bukowski's Tavern, where on the menu board we saw that you could order Deep Fried Cheese Logs. I think if it had been an hour later, there's no way you could've dragged us out of there before we'd had a cheese log each. But sadly, we had just eaten lunch, and could only appreciate it in the abstract. But we'll be back. We did stop in and have a beer at Sullivan's Tap, another Rob/Patrick recommendation. I had a pint of Sully's Light. Seemed appropriate. It's a long skinny bar, kinda sporty. On the TV they were showing news footage from out in front of the bar, taken on a different day. Weird.

The weirdest moment of the entire weekend: we'd stumbled across a war protest while crossing Boston Common. Later, on the way to the library, we ran into it again. It was a pretty huge parade, and we stood for a while watching it go by, halfheartedly checking out dudes. Then, from the little mini-stage next to us, someone with a microphone who had been sort of droning on for a while said, "And now, let me welcome Desmond Tutu!" Brenda and I simultaneously: "WHAT?!" Yep, it was him, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in life, mere feet away. He seemed to be ten million years old, very small and by far the most adorable person among the hundreds of protesters we could see. He said a few words about Jews, which were (probably for the best) blurred by the bad microphone and the crazy wind, and then he did this little hopping dance on stage and yelled "PEEEEEEEEEEEEACE!" over and over.

We couldn't top that.

Next day we drove through Lexington and Concord, saw the homes of Louisa Mae Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson (my boyfriend), and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Brenda's boyfriend -- or is she more into Thoreau? I forget). We stopped at another farm stand and got supplies for a picnic, which we had on the banks of Walden Pond (actual Walden Pond! pretty cool). The weather was gorgeous, so we walked around the pond (more of a lake). Two different women were swimming in Walden Pond. This was October, late October. Although the weather was gorgeous, it was not swimming weather. One of the women had on a wetsuit; the other seemed to be German or Nordic, based on her accent. Tough broad.

Other things of note: all the important stuff during the revolution took place at taverns. I'm not saying that's how it should be; I'm just telling you, that's how it was. Also, Brenda pointed out this one house along the battle route - the owners had redone the siding, but they'd had to leave a diamond-shaped hole in the new yellow siding, because way back when, a stray bullet from someone's revolutionary weapon had lodged itself there in the side of their house and was now a historic item that could not be messed with. (I'm paraphrasing.) So there you are. That's what it's like, living amid history, right there where it all went down.

Anyway, it was an excellent trip and I can't wait to get back there. Boston is really pretty and seems like a fun little place to hang out. Here are some pics; I'll put more up on flickr or something and add the link later. Too tech-challenged to do it now.

Brenda took this one: it's the street John Kerry lives on!

The Freedom Trail.

Walden Pond...

Replicas of Thoreau and his Hut.

Cliche but true: the autumn leaves out here are mighty pretty. I was a little early to catch them in their full glory (or rather, they were a little late), but it was still almost ridiculously autumnal.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pic for JG

In case I never emailed it...

Monday, November 12, 2007

My 'Hood

Belated pics of the Boston trip will be up soon, but for now, here's one of a pretty corner in my neighborhood. The whole area looks like this! Especially in the fall. A girl could die of cuteness.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

So Long, Norman

From the Times obit:

"Writing is a serious and sober activity for me now compared to when I was younger. The question of how good are you is one that really good novelists obsess about more than poor ones. Good novelists are always terribly affected by the fear that they’re not as good as they thought and why are they doing it, what are they up to?

“It’s such an odd notion, particularly in this technological society, of whether your life is justified by being a novelist. And the nice thing about getting older is that I no longer worry about that. I’ve come to the simple recognition that would have saved me much woe 30 or 40 or 50 years ago — that one’s eventual reputation has very little to do with one’s talent. History determines it, not the order of your words.”

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Another Homework Assignment

Here's me being lazy again: this is today's homework, a not very journalistic account of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, as assigned last Wednesday in my reporting class. Written in twenty minutes, and it reads like fifteen. First prize to anyone who can identify the "nut graf"!

[a headline would go here, if I could think of one]

Not everyone loves a parade, it turns out.

“I’ve never really been into them,” an Australian woman said to her companion. “This kind of reminds me why not.”

The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade starts at 7pm. It was only 5:30, but that was OK. All the good stuff happened before the floats set sail.

Sixth Avenue was fittingly gray and windswept. Atmospheric, if not quite spooky. People started to line up behind sidewalk barriers, but by 6pm the cops still outnumbered spectators two to one. A group of six adults convincingly dressed as senior citizens on a bus tour walked by in matching purple Columbia Sportswear jackets, all clutching maps.

“I’m keeping my eyes open," said a flannel-clad girl sitting on the curb, "because I know my sister’s in New York and it would be so cool to bump into her here.” Her boyfriend, who was using sticks of stage makeup to draw on her face, looked around at the gathering crowds and was silent.

An elegant gray-haired lady walked up to them: “What’s going on?”

“It’s a parade,” the boyfriend said.

“Is there some organization that’s putting it on?” asked the lady.

“No, it’s just…the Halloween parade.”

“Well,” the lady asked, “is it a gay parade?”

The boyfriend paused to think about that.

“Sort of,” he said.

The lady nodded and said she’d be back after some shopping. When she left, the couple giggled and re-enacted the exchange.

More people crammed in against the barriers. Defying the odds, Facepaint Girl's sister appeared, reeking of booze. Familial screeching drew the attention of bystanders who had nothing else to look at and were bored. The drunk girl seized the makeup kit and applied crooked gray lipstick. She showed her sister and her sister’s boyfriend the lighter she’d just scored at a bar, no cover charge, they were just giving them out, free.

“Do you ever picture yourselves as skeletons?” she asked the audience at large. “Picture yourselves as skeletons! It’s the weirdest thing! We’re all just skeletons!”

A guy on a motorcycle roared down 6th Avenue, nearly flattening a small dog. It looked intentional. From the other end of the leash, the dog's owner glared. A scraggly band of five Celtic pirates marched down the street, in the wrong direction. Still no sign of the big parade.

A crew of twentysomething cyclist dudes in knit hats appeared, carrying buckets of beercans. Girls surrounded them instantly. The dudes consolidated their buckets and upended the empty one to make a pedestal, onto which they allowed a girl in a pink tutu and army jacket. A pair of toe shoes hung around her neck. “Are those functional?” one dude asked, looking up at her. She disclosed that she was a dancer in real life. The dude asked if her toes were "all jammed." She said yes, adding that his interest in the subject was odd. “I’m attracted to people with injuries,” he explained.

Watching this, the Australian woman cheered up. “Fascinating,” she said. “Young American mating rituals.”

A flurry of activity to her left caught the crowd’s interest: several cops were moving the sidewalk barrier further into the street. Sweet! Better view. No, wait. Now they were moving it back to where it was. A minute later they moved it again. More cops appeared, along with some guys dressed up as Department of Transportation workers. The problem: a pothole, about five inches across, right there where people would be standing.

Walkie-talkies summoned a couple of DOT trucks. Cops adjusted the barrier yet again. One DOT guy got out of a truck and bashed in the edges of the pothole to stabilize it. Another DOT guy shoveled loose black asphalt into the pothole from a truck. A cop in a white uniform walked up and asked the ponytailed officer guarding the pothole what was going on.

“The captain came over, and he wants us to fill this hole,” she said.

“He decided to do this last-minute, huh?” the other cop said, shaking his head.

With the pothole-management procedure complete, the barrier resumed its proper position. The crowd cheered. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” said one DOT guy.

Everyone went back to waiting patiently. Still no parade, but folks were calm.

“Next year I’m going to walk around selling little plastic bags for people to pee in,” said Facepaint Girl's boyfriend. “And grilled-cheese sandwiches.”

Finally the parade started. Boredom crept in along with the cold. A few acts earned applause, including a group of zombies who performed the dance from the video of Michael Jackson’s hit song “Thriller.” Another highlight was a guy wearing Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream. “Oh, see, I should’ve worn that,” said one of the bucket dudes, whose only costume was a new beard his friends declared hideous. “Last year I went as ‘Whistler’s Mother.’”

It's OK not to love the parade; on Halloween, the society is the spectacle.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

someone's cranky

Here is a partial list of words that, after two months in Critic School, I would be pretty happy never to hear again:

sort of

There are plenty of others, most of which end in -ic, -ist, -ism, -al, -ian or -ization. They make me visualize hatcheting the skulls of those who utter them (except for Susie, who can say anything she likes). Another possibility is that I am just an intolerant hag and need to lighten up. But I prefer to blame the language of academia, for now.

More globbing soon! Back to the books....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Still Not a Grownup

Today was my first birthday in years that wasn't planned by the various members and associates of the Sang-Froid Riding Club, but I think it went pretty well. I kept it mellow, had to go to class, etc. After class, went on my date with Tony Leung, although he wasn't actually there - he looked great, though - he plays a bad guy in "Lust, Caution," and the whole movie's just shattering, so afterwards I walked home in a sort of emo haze. Then I drank a chocolate beer and am now considering going to bed. Exciting! Hey, at my age, that is a party. Anyway, I dug it. More soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Friday night study break

Apparently I have two lifelines.

It's true.

I had my palm read Friday night, and that's what the woman told me. She was under the impression that I was in my late 20s, and when I whispered to her my actual age, she looked disappointed. "It's not too late," she said, letting go of my hand. "You could still choose the other life," but she didn't look like she meant it. Then again I'm not sure how skilled a professional she was; it was my left hand, and I kept waiting for her to mention the fact that my ring finger basically forms a triangle with the rest of my hand, which is unusual, but she never did. So I'm not too worried about the rest of her forecast. And besides, it was free. You get what you pay for.

She was the middle sister of three long-black-haired dames lined up at this bar called the Garage. I ended up there because I'd been out for beers with some kids from school, at a funny German bar called Lederhosen, which has an enormous mural of Alps-ish scenery filling the walls of the entire back room and serves beer in 1-litre steins. "Oh, I'll just stop in for one" goes from self-delusion to honest goal at a place like that. It was fun. Afterwards, several of us were standing around outside the bar pretending to smoke cigarettes when it started to rain. It was like 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but it rained anyway, really ferociously, and all but two people in the crowd had umbrellas with them. Amazing! How had they known it would rain? There'd been no indications. Or had I missed them? I'd been studying. Anyway, it poured, and as we walked toward the subway a couple of us were trying to decide if we should continue to bar-hop despite not knowing a single thing about a single bar in the vicinity. It kept raining as we stood there deciding, so finally someone said "How about that place there" and we scurried in.

It was the Garage, and while getting beers I was pulled into conversation with a guy who later ended up dancing very closely with one of the three dark-haired ladies at the bar. Then the band started up. My two colleagues, a girl and a boy, and I retired to a table with our drinks. (One girl had deserted pre-beer, citing an understandable preference for a steaming rather than a frosty beverage.) Eventually the fellow, a DC newsboy who wears a sportcoat like a good old-school reporter should, suggested dancing. There was already some going on. We joined in. One of the three dark-haired ladies at the bar demanded that the band play "Stormy Weather," and the band obliged. The drummer was hot. They all are, I guess. I crept to the ladies' room. When I came back, my colleagues were embroiled in conversation with the leader and oldest of the three. She was a trip. They were all triplets, in fact, no no, just sisters, no, it turned out they weren't probably related at all by blood, but the three of them together made for an odd and very New York style of night. The oldest one ordered the middle one to read my palm, and that's how I found out about my complicated future. Although it's just as likely, I guess, that they were studying my hand to create opportunities for groping around in search of a wallet or something. You never know; it could go either way.

Eventually they left, and later, so did we.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

OK then, skewl is krewl

I was gonna post some of my homework assignments, not just to torture you but also because they're the main reason the glob updates have been so rare and skimpy (although this is more due to the millions of pages of daily reading than to any writing assignments). But so far my papers are all kinda blah ... simultaneously pretentious and not-very-smart. Here is an example, since I'm more inclined to take a walk outside than sit indoors and type on a Saturday afternoon. A real glob update, recounting the exciting adventures of a few overeducated and under-rested grad students in the big city on a Friday night, will appear soon. For now, I homework.

Les, I put a few big words in there for ya!

(And yes, I know the thesis is a little crazy; the prof seems to be fine with that.)

[title would go here, if I could think of one]

Suppose you were allowed, without fear of discovery or reprimand, to sock George W Bush in the teeth. You'd probably do it. We all probably would. And Bush isn't the only likely victim in this fantasy. Think about the people who, every day, send you into a spitting rage: your ex, your boss, your personal trainer, that guy who just cut you off in traffic. The late-shift barista. Your copy editor, or, if you are a copy editor, that writer who resists all understanding of the apostrophe. "You hate your boss at your job," the Flaming Lips sang on Bad Days, "but in your dreams you can blow his head off."

Even perfectly reasonable people sometimes have the urge to bestow violence upon the deserving. In real life, of course, we can't do any such thing. Common sense and the social contract are there to stop us. But we can go to a movie and watch somebody else do it.

Action movies are best for this. For example, several scenes in the otherwise forgettable new gangster-cartoon movie Shoot 'Em Up will resonate with those of us likely to flunk out of anger-management class. In one scene, the film's post-apocalyptic hero, Smith (Clive Owen [author's note: aka my boyfriend]), decides to steal a fancy car purely because it's parked illegally in a handicapped-parking space, the implication being that anyone so insensitive deserves to have his car stolen. Seconds later, Smith is enraged again because the driver in front of him consistently fails to use his turn signal when changing lanes. When the sloppy driver then throws a discarded paper cup out the window, Smith explodes - he speeds up and, still driving the car he removed from the handicapped space, bashes the litterbug right off the road. Social contract? What social contract?

Movies let us do the things we wish we could do in real life, whether it's shooting bad guys or bedding good guys. "You're sorta stuck where you are," the Flaming Lips song continues, "but in your dreams you can buy expensive cars, live on Mars and have it your way." Movies make it easy to rob banks, steal cars, smash through plate-glass windows, fly, flirt, win every time. In this way they make life tolerable. Some movies offer hope, some release. A film like Shoot 'Em Up leans toward the latter. The ersatz satisfaction achieved through vicarious violence holds at bay a vague but persistent sense of despair that creeps in when we start to ponder our helplessness in the face of quotidian evil. Inside the movie theater, you get to fight back. You don't have to suppress your anger and act like nothing's wrong. You're allowed to break free of all those civilized constraints. You're supposed to, in fact. You're supposed to laugh when Shoot 'Em Up's antihero corrals a mother who's beating her child and gives her an instructive spanking. You're supposed to cheer when he interrogates and then assassinates a once-decent politician who has sold out and become a hypocrite. It's about time somebody taught those people a lesson, isn't it?

Of course it wouldn't be practical to go around arguing that all politicians who violate their own moral codes should be shot. A person could get into trouble. So we hoard our fury, our disgust and disillusionment, all of our messy and irrational feelings, until we're in a place where expressing them is appropriate, where they can't do any harm.

Inside a movie theater, people become invisible. There's a magical transformation that starts when the lights fade. It turns an ordinary human into a weightless observer, a bodiless pair of eyes. The same sensation often occurs in foreign cities where, wandering unfamiliar streets, you recognize no one, no one recognizes you, and the inability to understand the language isolates you to the point that you start wondering if you can, actually, still be seen. When you're in that state - an invisible, floating perceiver - actions have no consequences. You can do anything you like. It's easy to be brave, because there's no risk; you're not even really there.

The problem is that when we come back to ourselves at the end of the movie, we find that we have left our rage behind. It's been spent, exorcised. Watching a good movie - or even a bad one if it's exciting and involving enough - is cathartic. But catharsis purges. Aristotle believed that watching violence on stage drained the viewers of their own turbulent emotions.

Partly that's what we want from movies: to be relieved, tranquilized. Purging angst through drama sounds like a fine idea if we're talking about cases like road rage, bullying and petty annoyances.

But is it wise to habitually jettison anger? When the urge to fight back is so easily worked out and smoothed away inside a darkened theater, is there anything left in us for the real world? What if films are taming our spirit of outrage and lulling us into submission? In other words, do we really want to let Clive Owen take care of the bad guys for us? As tough as he is on screen, Shoot 'Em Up's Smith can't do much about our real bullies. Dictators, terrorists, secret governmental endorsements of torture - these things are beyond the reach of silver-screen avengers.

It's tempting to declare helplessness in the face of such enormous evil and continue fighting our battles in an arena where we know we'll come out as winners. And the movies do help us get through our days without going mad. But given the state of the world, shouldn't we be a little mad?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

BBLPC / George Clooney vs the Hawk / Sk00L iz Kul

The BBC bought Lonely Planet! Here are some excerpts (not made up, I swear) from what our boss fella told those of us scattered about in Lonely Authorland:

"It's a highly astute and exciting move that will unleash transformational opportunities ... the very beginning of a whole new journey for all of us ... we are keen to engage with you directly in as many ways as possible."

Oooh - that sounds dirty! But maybe fun, too - especially if everyone in the company suddenly starts affecting a posh accent.

In other news: One recent night I spotted a little red Honda Hawk parked on the street outside my apartment building, and I realized - with something like horror - that it gave me a much more visceral thrill than I would've felt if I'd merely seen George Clooney or Brad Pitt. Today on the walk back from school I saw another one, gray, and I waded through a band of Chinatown moppets leaving kindergarten to get a better look at it. Every time a bike of any kind goes by, I practically break my neck to check it out. Can you say addiction? I knew you could.

Misc updates: I guess I never wrote about my grad-school orientation. I won't now, either - it's old news. David Carr from The New York Times came to speak, and he was very weird and hilarious. Advised us to abandon sleep and do everything, even if it means doing most of it poorly. Hmm. Well, it is NYC...

Some of you probably don't even know what I'm doing in New York in the first place. Well, half the time neither do I. But I'm out here temporarily, getting a master's in journalism at NYU, in a program called Cultural Reporting & Criticism. (Sorry if I'm repeating myself here. Feel free to skip ahead to the juicy parts. Oh, wait...sigh.) It's all about writing cultural commentary, New Yorker-style essays, better and meatier reviews of books/films/etc, and articles about things happening in life that aren't "hard news." My aim is, basically, to write the same kind of stuff I was writing before, only better, and more often, and for more than ten cents a word.

So far there's been more reading than writing, as we're supposed to get a feel for how we fit into the ancient hallowed tradition of criticizing other people for a living. The first few things we read were from the 1840s (Margaret Fuller). Since then it's been people like Dwight MacDonald, George Orwell, Randall Jarrell (famous for his poems, but I like his essays better), Pauline Kael, Norman Mailer (my neighbor, by the way, here in Brooklyn Heights - how's that for posh?), Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Greil Marcus etc.

We got our first writing assignment back on Friday. Disastrous, to a man. The whole class was scolded with almost comical severity. (Meaning that it was so harsh it would've been funny, except that The Controversial Katie Roiphe can actually be kind of scary.) Yep, we suck. All of us (that's the only good part). Overall, Results were Very Disappointing. Rewrites are due this Friday, and I think it's safe to say that everyone is terrified.

But hey, at least someone's reading our essays. Nobody reads essays anymore.

Anyway. Here is a picture of the sign on my apartment building, where I sleep and type and in front of which I can usually be found sitting on park benches reading ancient literary critics:

It's an old hotel, almost certainly haunted (see? it says SPIRITS right there on the building!).

And here are some trembly nighttime shots (no tripod, sorry) from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, two blocks away:

Doesn't it look fake?

The benches on the Promenade are usually full of people making out. Gross.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This Just In

Word on the street, as of an hour ago, for those of you who need to keep up:
Sea salt is the new harissa.
Pomegranate is the new sea salt.
Lavender is the new pomegranate.
Pomegranate is so over!

Ultimately, it's really all about tea.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My Date with George Clooney

Alright, fine, I'm exaggerating. I haven't actually gone on a date with George Clooney. But he's filming the new Coen Brothers movie right around the corner, starting tonight, so it's only a matter of time. (OMG, what am I going to wear?!?)

In other famous-hot-guy news: Clive Owen for President! I just went to see "Shoot 'Em Up," the second movie this year in which Clive (my boyfriend) plays post-apocalyptic midwife during a raging gun battle. This one's a little funnier than "Children of Men," though. It's an insanely ultraviolent live-action comic book, basically, and it goes so far over the top that it ends up on the very, very bottom - you know, where all the fun stuff happens. But here's why my boyfriend Clive should be president, even though he's British: his character, Smith, is the ultimate Liberal Superhero. Check it out: He hates litterbugs and careless drivers; he loves dogs; he protects helpless women and babies; based on his constant carrot-munching, he's probably vegetarian; he's anti corporal punishment, pro gun control, and against rich white jerks driving luxury cars. He's perfect! But instead of whining feebly about these issues on some useless television news program like your average modern-day lefty, Clive is out there living in the world, fighting for justice, stabbing the bad guys to death with carrots or machine-gunning camera-sized holes in the backs of their heads, or even hurling them toward spinning 'copter blades in midair while parachuting away from the scene of a pretty unambiguous left-leaning political statement. All he needs is a cape. And maybe some tights.

Anyway, tomorrow morning I have to hand in a paper about the movie and the world and my reactions to the movie in the context of the world and so on. Wish me luck.

More to report soon - updates on the Brooklyn Book Fair (pretty much as thrilling as a blockbuster action movie!), "Night of Lust," the Holy Greil and (once I get security clearance) some very exciting motorcycle racing news.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Picture Time

My poor old eyes are temporarily tired of looking at words, so for now I'm copping out and globbing photos only. Here are a few from my first two weeks in town.

View from the window of the hotel where I stayed the first couple of nights, at the Gowandus edge of Park Slope:

Below, the only slightly less glamorous view from the window of my apartment in Brooklyn Heights:

A random street close to where I live (there are much prettier ones even closer, but I keep forgetting to bring my camera with me when the light is nice):

On the way back to Brooklyn from school:

And finally, a bunch of scenes from my commute -- I live just a couple of blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge. Sweet!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Little girl in the big city

So far so good, man. Been here more than a week and I have yet to be mugged, lost, or trampled beneath the shiny-shoed feet of excited stockbrokers. My new hut is pretty awesome. I have my own little studio apartment, without the annoyance of a kitchen, but with a fridge - an implicit endorsement of eating only uncooked snack food at all times. (There is a microwave down the hall.) The building is an old hotel in historic Brooklyn Heights, two blocks from this waterfront promenade with awesome views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty. It's the nicest neighborhood I've ever lived in. And the subway practically stops in my basement.

I "moved in" on Saturday, which entailed dropping off my suitcase and backpack and getting the mailbox key. (Send cookies!) Then met up with my friend Brenda, whom I've known since about 5th grade or so, and a friend of hers who lives right across the street from me, it turns out. We went on a little tour of the irritatingly named DUMBO neighborhood, then headed to Chinatown and some Lower East Side wandering. Stops included Moby's tea shop, a Vietnamese sandwich joint and a place that serves only rice pudding.

That evening Brenda and I went over to Williamsburg to hang out with our friend Damian, aka Mr Handsome, aka DJ Dieselboy (he's famous!). I've known Damian since kindergarten. He still looks the same:

(I'm the one in the Ernie shirt.)

Damian has this awesome loft in Williamsburg and an adorable girlfriend who cuts the hair of famous people. He travels the world as a highly sought-after drum-and-bass DJ. And he's from Rye! Hilarious. Anyway, he took us out on the town in a fashion that I won't be able to replicate ever, probably, or anyway not until I win a couple of lotteries and hire a fashion consultant. First we had dinner at the coziest little Italian place, somewhere on the Lower East Side (I think). After that it was time for the cocktail tour. We followed him obediently, and he led us into...a tiny, fluorescent-lit hotdog joint. Hmm. Then he disappeared, apparently to make a phone call. Confusion reigned...until the back of the phone booth opened up and, voila, there was a fancy cocktail bar on the other side. It was the most exciting thing that had happened to me since I arrived in New York. A secret bar, entered through a phone booth! Can you beat that?

Plus, the cocktails in there were tasty as all get-out.

The place is called PDT, for Please Don't Tell. Oops. After that, we went to Death & Co., another very fabulous cocktail lounge, where I had something called the Cinder - tequila something something something, with smoked sea salt on the rim. It was excellent. Smoked sea salt! Are you kidding me? I wanted to order something like a WD40-infused PBR-and-sweat margarita, to combat the weirdness, but then I thought they'd probably be able to make it, which would just be too weird.

We finished off the evening back in Damian's hood, at a cafe thingie that I really want to go back to, but can't remember the name of - but it had the best dessert on earth. Will investigate further.

Next day we all met up for brunch - it came with a salad! (Says the bumpkin, amazed.) Brenda and I explored junk shops and stared at area hipsters. Williamsburg is where the Hipster Shuttle from outer space crash-landed back in 1986; the few starving and exhausted hipsters who arrived on Earth in the shuttle, much like Gremlins, multiplied and became hideous when exposed to a combination of beer and college rock. They of course went on to infest the nation and the rest is history, but this is the neighborhood where it all started. Sort of thrilling!

That night, after a dinner of expensive pizza and a failed attempt to replicate the previous evening's cocktail bonanza, Brenda and I and my friend Snively (from college, a million years ago!) accompanied Damian to work. He had a gig at a rave on a boat that started at midnight and sailed until 3am. It was awesome. Each beer cost twentyfive dollars, but we got to ride the boat free of charge, heard three DJs (Damian was best), floated under a bunch of bridges and circled the Lady Statue herself in the crazy hours of the night. Pretty fun. At one point we floated toward this featureless concrete building. "What's that big slab of concrete over there in the middle of the river?" I asked Damian. "New Jersey," he said. (I'm still not sure.)

I had my first class on Tuesday. My professor said all the right things; so did the one today. (The profs are Susie Linfield and Katie Roiphe, respectively, if anyone's interested. The third class is a nuts-and-bolts reporting class taught by Alyssa Katz.) It's like they've been reading my diary (not that I keep a diary, and not that I'd write about work stuff in it if I did) and figuring out what to say in class based on their efforts to bolster my spirits, just me, personally. Our reading lists are excellent, too. I ordered a bunch of the books from Powell's, but picked up the rest at Shakespeare & Co by the NYU campus, and the guy at the checkout there said, "Wow, you're going to have fun!" It's true. All the books I've kinda wanted to read for a while but never had an excuse to make time for. In today's class (called The Cultural Conversation, which means we read a bunch of really old critics and essayists and sort of follow the thread through the eras up to now) I realized that the exciting part was being in a room with a bunch of people most of whom were really, really excited about the process of constructing sentences. It's been a while since I've talked about words and language in that way, and I guess I've missed it without realizing I did. It's also fun just to geek out on journalism in an arena that's purely theoretical. You can talk idealistically without appending something like "...but of course no one wants to hire that kind of writer" to every sentence.

Anyway. Sorry for babbling on and on, particularly when I'm talking about sentences and writing. Hypocrisy in action. Oh well - it's Friday night, I'm tired, I think I'll go read for a while, maybe daydream about what the Portland boys are doing, or rather the ones who aren't busy racing tiny motorcycles on the salt flats at Bonneville, because I already know what they're doing, and I am jealous as hell. Oh man do I have a lot of reading to do. Hooray!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ten Hours in the Portland Airport

Dispatch #1 from New York!

It took me longer than I expected to leave Portland. Possibly symbolic. For reasons both chemical and circumstantial (in preparation for my 6am flight, I'd stayed up until 3am abusing the hospitality of Beulahland and most of my internal organs - that's the chemical part; and even though I then managed the herculean feat of packing my last bag in half an hour and waiting downstairs in bleary-eyed readiness for a cab to fetch me, said cab never showed up - that's the other part), I missed my early flight out of town and had to reschedule for a midnight escape. But I couldn't hang out in my apartment until then, because the new tenants (Zach's mom) were excitedly planning an Ikea-fueled decorating mission that day. And I didn't think Beulahland would be too happy to see me back so soon. So around 2pm I set out for the airport in hopes I could jump onto an earlier flight. Which, of course, I couldn't. Boo. Hence the post title. But PDX is a fine and dandy place to work, it turns out. Has wifi, squishy chairs. All it lacks is a place to comfortably nap.

Anyway. I typed a bit and, the minute I got on the plane, fell into a mini-coma that lasted pretty much all the way to LaGuardia. Woke up, fetched luggage, caught cab to temporary lodging at the edge of Park Slope in Brooklyn. I haven't been to NYC since I was about sixteen. From a cab, the Statue of Liberty (Lady Tyranny) looks like a tiny little cake decoration. A nice brownish musty fog made the whole Manhattan skyline look painted on - the Empire State Building, totally fake. It was cool to see, but I didn't really feel anything until we went down into this underpass and came out and, kabamm, all at once there it was: the Brooklyn Bridge, mere feet away, out-glamming in real life every painting that's ever been done of it. I'm planning to walk across it tomorrow. And frequently thereafter.

No big adventures thus far, but I will attempt to report the cleaner ones of the many that are sure to occur. And some of you, I'm sure, will simply be relieved to be getting a small respite from the all-motorcycles all-the-time content of this blog. (Such a boring girl.) Cheers!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Road Trip

I know what Hunter Thompson said, but the truth is still that when the going gets weird, it's best to leave town. I'm about to do just that, again, about which more later. But first some updates.

What happens on the roadtrip stays on the roadtrip - that's the rule, so if this report seems a bit skeletal, you know why. But I think there's probably enough low-level-clearance information available to keep folks entertained.

I've been wanting to ride a bike down to the Bay Area for, oh, three years. Even contemplated doing it on my GS450 back in the day, for one of the Lonely Planet author workshops in Oakland, but a wise counselor suggested I'd need all my internal organs in pristine, unrattled shape in order to properly destroy them at the workshop, which turned out to be true. It would've been a brutal ride home, my liver taking up both saddlebags, etc. So I waited and waited, and finally this summer a window opened up. Well, kind of. I was supposed to be dutifully whittling down my 250-page Seattle city guidebook into a 29-page section of a different guidebook. But how long could that take, really? I knew the coordinating author wasn't stressed about it, so I decided it would take two days and that those two days could follow a 10-day road trip, dang it. I owed my pals John and Sean a visit. I didn't get my big road trip last year thanks to mangled hand-knee combo (see gore pics). And once again I missed going to Sumpter with the fellas in May because I was in Sweden. So - carpe moto.

The timing was perfect, as two friends also wanted to ride down that week. The Italian Cowboy owed his Frisco friends a visit, and Jack was headed to Laguna Seca for the MotoGP. Jack's a pro at this road-trip thing and knew all the good roads, so we tailed him.

But first there was racing. It was Vintage Days at PIR, which meant four races for me (I think - it gets blurry after about a lap and a half). Made my fastest lap times ever, and on the last race of the weekend I only got lapped by the two fastest guys, as opposed to the usual lapped-by-half-the-grid thing. I do tend to place myself in the best possible spot for watching the end of the race. Plus, the innocent or optimistic might be persuaded to believe I came in third. Haha.

Anyway. Two long, hot days of racing, then one day of trip prep...we were set to leave for SF Tuesday morning. On Monday I went outside to find that the back tire of the Hawk was 100% flat. Oops! I feared the wrath of the Italian Cowboy, who was all in a rage to leave town that minute if not sooner and get as far from Portland as possible. "I wanna go NOW, Becky! I just wanna ride!" So, I hustled, finished whatever LP chapter I was on, threw together my packet of maps to mail to Oz, took a wee nap, packed in 10 minutes and zipped over to Vicious Cycle first thing Tuesday morning. And once again the World's Best Motorcycle Shop rescued me, the damsel in distress. Thanks, guys! Tire plugged, I zipped over to the meeting point, where precedent for the rest of the trip was about to be set: Jack & Becky enjoy three or four leisurely coffees, after which Italian Cowboy rolls up late in cloud of angst. Hooray! Time to go!

First day was kind of boring, straight down I-5 to vegan sandwiches in Eugene, then a mini-jag over to Drain (99 to 38 to 138, I believe) and back to the highway. I'm pretty sure we stayed in Grants Pass that night, but can't remember getting there. I know it was late when we rolled in, and we stayed at Motel 6 and had to eat at Denny's because everything else had closed. One beer each in a karaoke lounge, where we discovered that Grants Pass is the secret Capital of Karaoke. All the residents are rock stars. Tell your A&R peeps to check it out.

^ Requisite road-trip bike-porn shot.

Grants Pass also has a whole bunch of totally weird, large ceramic clothed-animal sculptures (mostly bears) decorating the city sidwalks. If you're into that sort of thing.

Next day we took 199 to Cave Junction and went up to the Oregon Caves National Monument. Did the tour, Cowboy enraged. ("I just wanna RIDE!") Found out about the Oregon Cavemen, who had parties in the caves during the '50s. They'd dress in fur, carry clubs, grunt at each other and drag their cavewomen around by the hair, while in the background DJs spun Thog rock by the Troglodytes, Randy Luck, Tommy Roe, Jerry Coulston and the Hollywood Argyles. (OK, I'm making that last part up. But how awesome would it be?) Anyway. The weight of so much rock overhead turned us primal - an uncharacteristic lust for cigarettes being the least dangerous urge our gang experienced - and we resolved to wear bear costumes for our next foray into the caverns of rage.

We continued south on 199, then turned off onto the road to Happy Camp. Very pretty. At HC we turned left onto 96, then did a smidge of 263 to Yreka (home of the famously nonexistent palindrome bakery), where we declared ourselves done for the day and found a hotel. Ten seconds later it started pouring rain. Sweet!

Yreka is a damned strange town. Cowboy had scouted around a bit, so after the ritual beer-and-pizza-devouring we wandered over to this place called the Jolley something something, identified by a neon skull and crossbones, at which point begins the section of this tale that is classified. Sorry. I can tell you that I saw the naked nether regions of more than one strange man, collected a brand-new alias by accident, almost got married, fended off Jaeger shots, met the nephew of someone famous and then forgot who the famous person was.

From Yreka we took Highway 3 all the way down to Weaverville and on until it met the 36, aka Becky's Favorite Road Ever. (And I didn't even know the half of it yet!) We took the awesome, awesome 36 to Fortuna, a creepy little town with a good Mexican restaurant on the main drag. Then we headed south, doing a tiny smidge of the very gorgeous but chaotically surfaced Lost Coast road before Jack took pity on our sportbike suspensions and we continued south along Avenue of the Giants (which parallels 5 and is much much nicer). Bypassing a number of likely hotels and petrol stations in Garberville, we continued to a mythical youth hostel we'd heard about in Leggett. Sources described it as "cool," which turned out to have been most likely a typo for "closed." There was no hostel, it was dark, I was out of gas and so was my bike. We called some hotels in Garberville but all seemed to be booked. Panic began to seize our heroine.

Luckily the Italian Cowboy had seen a likely-looking camp compound a few miles back. So he scouted us out a cabin, which turned out to be awesome. The Bear Room: bears everywhere. Huge bed. Outdoor kitchen. Beer at the shop. I drank half a beer and passed out in my clothes, happily.

Next day we did the drive-through tree, then took the excellent, curve-a-licious Hwy 1 to the coast and southward. Had breakfast/lunch in Fort Bragg, which to me is where it really started to feel like California. Maybe just because it was a coastal town but, unlike on the Oregon coast, the outdoors were room-temperature. And the diner had organic everything.

We rode south along 1 for a while, then branched off inland on the 128, which someone had told us was awesome. It was just average most of the way, but then suddenly toward the end it lived up to its rep - at my favorite part, it turned into the motorcycle equivalent of a black-diamond mogul run, say Mirage up at Monarch, a narrow, twisty line snaking tightly up the hill and back down the other side. Cool. Turned my legs to jelly.

That let us out at Cloverdale, where we hopped on the 101 for a bit, then hopped off at Healdsburg-ish and took a mystery road to Jenner to get back on Hwy 1. And that took us all the way into town, via the Golden Gate Bridge, which turned out to be Not At All Scary despite my worries. It was actually totally awesome - we hit it in perfect afternoon light, very romantic. Then Jack led us (quite sneakily) to Lombard, San Francisco's crookedest street, brick-paved and very steep. So the little Hawk is now in ten thousand Japanese tourist photos.

Following Jack partway, I motored over to the Mission District and found Sean's apartment. Success! Parked, changed, went out. John led us on a beer tour of the 'hood, then we climbed Bernal Heights Hill to see the view (and because, well, 50,000 squats in one day just didn't seem like quite enough exercise, you know?). We took the slide on the way down. Fun.

Next day we slept in, went to hipster breakfast joint, then drove around looking at the city. After all that riding, it was awesome just to be driven around. We checked out a bicycles-and-beer fest in Golden Gate Park, then the Presidio and Legion of Honor and various neighborhoods before meeting a friend of John's at the Parkside, which has a dreamy outdoor patio. Then we ate cheesesteaks, then the boys ate a second cheesesteak, then we took naps and watched a movie. Went out that night to Li-Po and the Buddha Bar, finishing at Ha-Ra's, home of my new favorite old-curmudgeon bartender, Karl. He's grouchy. "Didn't you see the sign on the door? We're closed," he growled when we walked in. Next day we drove out to Treasure Island, took some pix, and then met the Cowboy at the Zeitgeist for MotoGP. They wouldn't turn on the sound and it wasn't that great a race. We met my friend Tom (coolest guy on earth) at Vesuvio for beers, then crossed the street to Specs (coolest place on earth) for a few more. Tom pointed us to a good Italian restaurant, Capp's, so we had a huge dinner, dropped off John and went to Delirium for a bit, then back to Sean's. Later I found out the Cowboy was hanging with Devendra Banhart at Delirium one night. Didn't know who he was, though. Thought he was just some dude who looked like Jesus.

Next day (Monday) John and I split a six-pack at Dolores Park and admired the view. Some parts of it more than others. (See pic below.) We spent some time poking around in bookshops on Valencia, including the McSweeney's pirate shop, where John got mopped. Had beers and popcorn at Lucky 13, then went to Zeitgeist and met Jack and Cowboy to plan route home.

Highlight of the trip home was Stewart's Point Road, a mysterious and easily missed branch off Hwy 1 between Plantation and The Sea Ranch (whatever those are) that starts out looking like a badly maintained driveway and ends up in race-track heaven. I'd felt clumsy all morning and most of the afternoon, but this road made me feel COOL. Perfect orangey sunset lighting up this buttery road, perfectly proportioned corners you could take just as fast as you wanted to without a scrap of anxiety. It was epic. We stayed somewhere in Cloverdale, which I don't remember at all. Ate breakfast at the Owl Cafe, I think. Then went north on 128 and over to Hopland to connect to 175, which we'd heard was awesome. It was pretty good, but it led us into claustrophobic traffic and oppressive heat around Lakeport. We took some small road up to 20, then 20 across the lake (through Lucerne!), to Williams where we hit the 5 for an 80-mile slog up to Red Bluff. Ate lunch at a Mexican place in Red Bluff, and then hit the second half of Becky's Favorite Road Ever: 36. Yeay!

It was rad. Everyone should ride this road. And quick, too, because it looked as if they were about to flatten out its rollercoastery beauty. Major drag.

We took 36 all the way back to the coast, possibly foolish since it was 5pm when we started on it in Red Bluff. Oh well. Hit some serious fog along the way, which was COOL but scary (couldn't see ten feet, no exaggeration), and then it got dark and sort of, um, moist. Not exactly raining, because rain doesn't stick to your visor like this stuff did. I couldn't see a thing, so followed the Cowboy's taillight very slowly into Fortuna. Here we realized that we were of course hideously late for finding a hotel room, once again. Still creeped out by Fortuna, we decided to try Eureka. (While there, I got a text message from a friend asking where we were, and I got to reply, "Eureka!" Easily amused, I admit.) Anyway. We ended up plowing north up 101 to Arcata, where we found the very last room available that night for less than $300. It was small and icky and in a Motel 6 - smelled like a geriatric ashtray - but across the street was a food store that was still open at 11pm, so we stocked up, watched TV and passed out. Yeay!

Next morning, bagely breakfast in Arcata, foggy slog up 101, epic battles against the wind along the Oregon Coast, me plastered to tank in order to keep Hawk from flying away into the ocean... ate lunch somewhere, took 38 to Drain, got back on the 5 all the way up. Jack mildly injured in vicious Wasp Attack. Cowboy's bike overheated 10 miles out, jeopardizing our greatly anticipated homecoming beers at the Sandy Hut, but he limped it in and we got there safely and all was well.

One work day, and then, you guessed it, another 160 race. My bike crapped out of the first race, but I finished the second one, and am now - drumroll - a Graduated Novice. Which means: no more green shirt! Awesome.

More trip pix:

^ Becky on the Lost Coast Road, courtesy of Jack.

^ I'm pretty sure this was on 36.

^ Jack on the Lost Coast.

^ The drive-through tree near Leggett.

^ Interfering with the scenery on Highway 1, somewhere north of Fort Bragg.

^ Later along Hwy 1 - there's a point where it stretches out a bit and the scenery takes a turn for the bleakly cinematic. Fog machines, etc. Nice.

^ Italian Cowboy approaches the city.

^ Jack

^ Drew and JG at the Parkside.

^ Sean
View from Treasure Island.

^ Mission Dolores Park, tactfully excising crotch of nearly-naked sunbather dude from the frame. You can thank me later.

poor little becky

Note to self: Trying to be material for your own fiction might not always be a good idea.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Alert readers Les Svenson and Patrick Leyshock win today's prize for pointing out that the Indian (see below) is, in fact, not a Euro motorcycle. I'm sure the rest of you were all just being polite.

In other bike news, I successfully completed my second-ever 160 race awhile back (sorry for lack of updates - blame the bosses), and even better, I did not come in last. I did get lapped, but not until the end (of course, I can't count, so when they went by me I cursed and mentally kicked myself because I thought it was only lap 3 or so). I felt sure I was about a hundred miles behind everyone, but when we got back to the pits it turned out that there was one guy behind me! He must've been having bike trouble. Still awesome, though.

Just got home late last night from a visit to Denver to check out my little brother's offspring (see below again). Early photos led me to nickname her The Burrito, but now she's grown into more of a wiggly pink drool machine. Cute, but dangerous. (My favorite combo.) At 5 months old, she's already pulling hair, spitting in faces, delivering knuckle sandwiches and trying to gnaw people's arms off - imagine what she'll be like at 15. What a scrapper! She's huge, too - weighs more than I did at a year old. (What doesn't, though.) Seriously, she's very adorable, charming and well-behaved - or maybe I'm just a sucker for a pretty smile. Less motivated than ever to dabble in that whole enterprise myself, though, especially because I'd hate to break my perfect record of never having changed a single diaper. Her uncle Mark hasn't either, and I'm not doing it until he does.

Anyway. I departed babyland for mapland, and had better finish getting my bearings. Mapland can be a treacherous realm for the incautious. Wish me luck; if I can pull this off, I'll post some highlights and warnings from Seattle guidebook research in a few days.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Stockholm Update - By Request!

As promised, then postponed, and later demanded - may I present to you the Stockholm update.

Well, I flew out for my late grandfather's retrospective gallery show. Aside from being my hero in the realms of wild imagination and creative driving, he was also a journalist and an artist. A selection of his work was hand-picked by some of his colleagues from Dagens Nyheter, the main Stockholm daily, and displayed at the gallery of another colleague and friend, Gun Joslin. Gun's art studio is amazing, crammed with canvases and supplies and maps and masks and, uh, stuffed herons...snakeskins...I thought it was the coolest room I'd ever seen, until I got to go inside her actual house. Holy crap. The place is a living museum. Her husband was an anthropologist who wrote books about the Asante people in Ghana before it was even called Ghana, and her house is full of African masks, carved wooden figures, paintings, photos, all kinds of stuff. She had a story about every piece, including two wooden thrones, one for the king (elected) and one for the queen (elected for life). In the foyer we were greeted by a human skull tacked to the wall with, hilariously, ping-pong balls in its eye sockets ("He had a sense of humor," she says). Lined up next to it were the skins of armadillos, crocodiles, an iguana, and a couple of somethings nobody could name. One of the armadillo-like critters was there because Gun's husband - who was against frivolous hunting - had been forced to kill it to stop it from eating one of his employees. (Please do keep in mind that I'm filtering all of this through my feebly grasped Swedish, so apologies if I get any of the details wrong!)

As I understood it, my role in the whole gallery-show enterprise was to keep the snack table well stocked and my parents from killing each other. I can't take credit for the latter, as I think they were actually doing fine on their own. But I did open a few bags of chips.

Mostly, though, it was just cool to see so much of Morfar's artwork displayed in a gallery setting, and to meet some of the people who came from all over Sweden to check it out. There was - perhaps unsurprisingly - a heavy motorcycle theme to most of the conversations I had. Several of the guys in attendance owned or once owned motorcycles; one of them, Lasse, used to have a Norton Dominator that he and his bride rode all over England and Scotland on their honeymoon during the '50s - five suitcases, two up, for two months. And they're still married. At some point, my friend Jennifer's dad, Mats, asked me if I could name ten European brands/makes of motorcycle. I got nine --

BSA (Dad came up with this one)
Vincent (Black Shadow!)
and Husqvarna (Swedish - pandering to the crowd, yep)

-- and then I added KTM but wasn't sure where they were made. Austria, it turns out, so I passed the test after all. Sweet!

One day while we were running errands, I made Mom go with me to the KTM store, right next door to a Dainese outlet. She was cool about it.

Later somebody scrounged up a couple of other Eurobike brand names, including a Czech one called Jawa. In hindsight it seems incredibly easy to name ten, but at the time I was pretty impressed with myself.

Later on during the weekend, I met some friends of Jennifer's who ride motorcycles. The guy rides a gigantic blue-and-yellow Harley and is in the Yggdrasil MC. Yggdrasil, in case you don't know, is the World Tree, a gigantic ash that forms the axis connecting all the realms in Norse mythology. The name derives from old Norse words meaning terrible steed. Awesome! Jennifer wrote my favorite-ever description of hanging out with Swedish Harley dudes - this is from 2003:

When going out with my friend Helena who is living with Ulf, a Harley Davidson club member, the evening is talked about as a "helkväll" in swedish ("a total night" if you translate it but that sounds kind of stupid). It usually starts with a nice dinner (they´re both great cooks) and lots of bikers and loud rock music at their house. Guys bring their own beer in plastic bags and show off their skull tatoos. By 10 p.m. a dark van with scary symbols pulls up and everybody head for some hard core club outside town where plenty of heavy silverwear, jeans, boots, beards and breasts are displayed. Occasionally the celebrity popstar E-type is picked up along the way, the van circles around the city and stop outside fashionable night clubs, where Ulf gets out to manifest his power by just standing and looking with arms crossed. Bottles of scotch are being passed around and the evening continues around 2 a.m. at "O-baren" at Sturehof. The ultimate goal is always, no matter who you are or where you´re from, to get in to Spy Bar at Stureplan, which you do if you are "somebody".

Apparently I just missed going to a gigantic Harley ralley up in Norrköping - would've been something to see. I also never met E-Type. Sigh.

There wasn't a whole lot of leisure time on this trip, but Dad and I did take a day to check out the Modern Museum, my favorite. (See gushing post from Xmastime for more on that.) There was a special exhibit of work by Karin Mamma Andersson, who paints the rooms and landscapes you see in your dreams....

(None of my favorite ones look very good online, but here's an example.)

Another day we took a ferry out onto the archipelago - it was basically a mail boat. It stopped at even the littlest rock that possessed a mailbox, making a several-hour loop all the way out to someplace no one's ever been to called Ljusterö. Pretty neat way to get out of the city for a while. On the way back, on the section from Vaxholm to Stockholm, we took a restored, old-fashioned steamer built in 1908. It cornered like a tank and rattled your teeth out every time it backed away from a dock, but man, it was cool.

Here is the hut I picked out for myself in Stockholm's archipelago:

One of the docks we stopped in:

Typical Swedish spring weather:

On another day off, we went with Mats to check out the local outpost of anthroposophism, which I don't think any of us succeeded in pronouncing correctly the whole time. Try it. It's not easy. Strega helps, and we had some of that afterwards. But anyway, the place is interesting. The philosophy - conceived by Rudolf Steiner - is distinctly odd, but the architecture is cool (even though the colors sort of gross me out), and there's a little organic food shop where you can get all kinds of neat stuff. We ate lunch at the cafeteria there and had a nice walk around the place, then went to Mats's cabin for coffee afterwards.

Above: Two of the Hobbiton-esque Steiner buildings.

Above: A view from the anthroposophists' beach.
Below: Chez Mats.

The anthroposophist compound also happened to have really cool playgrounds:

...and a good time was had by all.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Slower Becky

Long-overdue update #1: Carb Cleaner Makes My Head Feel Funny

"So, you did Novice School on a bet and now you're back, huh?" says a guy in line for registration Saturday at PIR. Yep. I'm too distracted by the girl in the distracting half-shirt to tell him this (she has a pierced navel and baked-on abs), but I wasn't even supposed to be here today. The bike I'd planned to race, the one Patrick is calling his Enabler Bike, currently resides at two or more different addresses. Each time I go near the thing I leave it in more pieces than the previous time. Getting it all the way back together and running was prettymuch beyond me. So I figured I'd just volunteer this weekend (May 19-20) and race next time.

Patrick's bike (note lack of engine)

But then along came the deal of the century. So I am now the proud owner of a "cheater bike" (not like you can tell, with me on top of it), cute and red and theoretically pretty fast (although again...). Picked it up a week before the race. (Thanks, Les!) And voila.

In Saturday's practice sessions I realized I'd gotten even slower than I was in Novice School, especially through turn 7. Lame.

On Sunday it was pouring down rain and I slid gently off the track into the lawn during the morning warmup session (turn 4). Ended up with a few acres of land decorating my bike, but it seemed fine. Someone told me later that the bike had never been crashed before. I hope it liked the experience.

Then when it came time for the first race, I couldn't get the bike running and missed the whole thing, disappointing my legions of fans (sorry guys!). Turned out I had a dead battery, but still. Not the coolest. Ladies' book clubs don't get all tarted up to go to the races every day, you know.

By Sunday afternoon, everything was charged up and ready. The rain was sheeting down, but I stuck to a solid 35mph or so and managed to stay upright all the way around the track enough times to see the little checkered flag. Hooray! My first official finished race. I also didn't get lapped, but only because the race was shortened from 7 laps to 5 (thanks to rain and overall lateness). Sweet.

As we loaded up the bike to go home, my friend the Italian Cowboy noticed that the forks didn't move. At all. Which is not ideal, from what I gather. So apparently I'd ridden the whole race with seized forks, and still not crashed. Awesome. Plus now I have something I can blame for my ten-minute lap times. ("Bike felt weird," etc. Uh-huh.)

Anyway, sorry I haven't been more thorough in my racing updates. I'm working on a larger story about it, so will keep everyone posted etc etc etc.

Sweden report coming up next.