Monday, December 27, 2010
Bernadette had never flown before. She circumnavigated the world by boat, train, horseback, and in friendly people's cars. She covered the Argentine Pampas, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, crossed the Sahara on camel. Then the friendliest person she knew was thrown from a horse in northern Italy. Bernadette was mid-mush on a dogsled outside Nome, Alaska, when she found out. She made it to the nearest airport by nightfall and stared at the great beasts in the sky. She considered the earth and how strong it always felt underfoot. Not friendly enough, she thought, and returned to the snow.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
On Tuesday night we tromped up to Muir Woods to celebrate the winter solstice. The park is free on the shortest day of the year, and the park rangers decorate the boardwalk pathways through the redwoods with luminarias, paper bags lit by L.E.D. lights. If you get there before sunset, you can hit up the craft table to make your own wreaths, get red "pajamas" for your flashlights to make them forest-friendly, and grab a cup of hot cocoa before the solstice caroling begins. There are shadow puppets and songbooks for solstice caroling, and the Morris Dancers perform a special dance, wearing antlers and mimicking the prances of deer and moose.
My favorite part of the evening is when the dancers lead the crowd into the woods. The trees are so dense and tall, and once the sun goes down and your eyes adjust to the darkness, the trail becomes everything you know. At one point the dancers stop and begin to sing, and it's an unearthly sound, as if they are sliding out of the trunk of a tree and bringing with it a harmony not heard anywhere else. My tolerance for Christmas carols is modest at best, and I really only enjoy them the week of Christmas. But these weren't carols; these were words sung in Latin under a beaded canopy of pine needles and rain. These words went beyond faith, and for me had less to do with a religious holiday, and more to do with a desire to express gratitude. Gratitude to be somewhere beautiful with people you love on the longest night of the year.
Muir Woods 12.21.09
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j
Monday, December 13, 2010
Franklin Schneider is unemployed, and determinedly so. His new book, Canned, offers a series of essays about the perks of unemployment in the United States, relative to the seemingly ceaseless purgatory of “work.” The collection, published this fall by Kensington Books, is caustic when it’s not ironic, macabre when it’s not darkly funny, and perhaps more than anything, a portrait of America that we should be used to by now. Schneider grew up in small town Iowa, studied writing at the University of Iowa, and went on to pursue a career in…well, a career in unemployment, and more specifically, writing about unemployment.
What perhaps is most interesting about Schneider’s journey is not the number of times he tries to emulate the alleged normalcy of gainful employment, but rather the fact that his intelligence and ability to adapt is given a back seat to an unabashed disrespect for authority. As a graduate student in creative writing, former employee in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds myself, I sympathize with Schneider’s instinct for resisting work for work’s sake. And yet, if I ever were living on unemployment, I think I'd take advantage of that time to travel or volunteer. I don't think I have the constitution to support his bar habits, nor the patience to simply hang out for months at a time. Maybe Schneider would see this as my fatal flaw, proof that I have been fully indoctrinated into the psyche of the working world.
I am not interested in drawing a parallel between Schneider and me, mostly because he alludes to illegal activities that I am too cowardly to ever commit, but also because his acerbic wit is always two steps ahead of my own. It is courageous to publish a book detailing not one, not two, but ten unflattering personal situations. I admire his honesty, and his flourish for the absurd. This is the man whose first job involved detassling corn in fields of hog shit in rural Iowa; how’s that for an introduction to world of "work"?
In many ways, by detailing the darker, more disgusting, and least flattering aspects of his various jobs, Schneider is unknowingly painting himself out to be the martyr of the working class. Perhaps that is a heavy-handed way to put it. I’ll admit that I read this book after finishing a class on “progressive” literature, in which we were asked to compare Communist, socialist, and proletariat theories to novels written in the twentieth century. Maybe that explains part of my innate sympathy to Schneider and his professed love for a life of unemployment, free from bosses who prefer him to settle for mediocrity, or passive-aggressive telemarketers who bully their teams into making their numbers. This is the man who worked at a mall arcade, a pornographic video store, a failing internet startup, a D.C. consulting firm steeped waist-deep in red tape, and even a nonprofit devoted to AIDS research. That’s quite a trajectory. Whether or not Schneider is willing to acknowledge it, he clearly has the skills to succeed in the “working world.” And yet, that’s not where he finds fulfillment. So instead he finds ways to get fired, and then lives as much in the present tense as possible.
To put it bluntly: Schneider’s got balls. That, a finely tuned sense of dark humor, and perhaps a future in stand-up. If he decides it’s worth the effort.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Admittedly, I was taken by Hathaway and Gyllenhall's performance, and the way they both seemed to fully internalize the particulars of their relationship. But the film hedges on this fine line between the drama of emerging love and the melodrama of living with a frustrating and degenerative disease -- all thrust upon young, beautiful people. I don't doubt that these things happen; actually, I believe these circumstances arise more often than the film implies. And yes, sitting in a movie theater late at night with my boyfriend, having just escaped San Jose's Christmas in the Park, I was sold by moments of sappiness.
Perhaps more interesting than the question of romance, however, was this underlying exploration of a young woman and her body. There is a scene where she wanders conveniently into a convention for people with Parkinson's, and she listens as people of all ages relive the frustrations of their lives with humor and perspective--seeing an actual community for the first time. As a type 1 diabetic for nearly 10 years, I know that feeling all too well: the relief you feel when you realize that there are others out there whose daily lives mirror your own, whose secret conversations with their organs are ones you understand, whose arguments with their health insurance, doctors and employers are all too familiar. And perhaps more than anything, the desire to be more self-sufficient than perhaps might be possible.
It's worth noting that the film is an adaptation of the memoir "Hard to Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" by Jamie Reidy, and the character played by Anne Hathaway is a fictional addition for the film.
I suppose I wanted to find some flaw in this film to prove something about the real truth about living with a chronic condition. And the movie does make many of the same mistakes that all holiday-era romantic comedies make. But I guess there's a part of me that wants to see the credentials of whoever it was that wrote this, to grant a sense of legitimacy to those of us who feel that our stories are ours to tell, and in their retelling they might not be so strange and sad.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I saw this image while walking along the East Side Gallery in Berlin, a one kilometer walkway of the remaining wall along the river which is covered with more than 100 murals from international artists. These two men are meant to be prominent politicians of differing values.
Though this image is in itself powerful, what I find most striking is the word "sanctuary." I thought of this picture again today while listening to news reports on the latest Prop 8 hearings. I wonder when the United States will actually function as the sanctuary it claims so wholeheartedly to be.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
This year I am celebrating Hannukkah. Lighting candles in the chanukiah, playing dreidel, frying latkes. The last time I remember taking time out of my day to remember the holiday was four years ago, as an expat in Spain. I remember the day I told my Spanish housemate that I was Jewish, and that I'd never really been to Catholic mass, and she kept blinking as if I'd shined a flashlight in her eyes. "I've never met a Jew before," she said. I wrote home and a few weeks later had received a chanukiah, candles and dreidels in the mail. I lit the first candle using the flame from our stove. My boss at the school where I worked thought I sneezed the first time I asked him about "Januka."
In the years since my return to the United States, I have forgotten what it means to observe something real. Sometimes I wonder if religion is something that grows weaker in an individual over the years, as if we don't experience a miracle early enough, or if we are crammed so full of one-sided religious indoctrination, the opportunity to reach some kind of personal resolution slowly dies out. My own relationship with faith has always been closely tied to the need to explain my family history, and with it, my own personal politics.
Now, though, I prefer to simplify things and say I just like remembering ritual, and sharing it with others. There are a half dozen Hebrew prayers that I probably will never forget. The irony is although these are the only words in Hebrew that I know, and yet I couldn't translate their meaning for the life of me. All I know is the melody that was instilled in me at a young age, the memory of yarmulkes made out of crushed paper cups, of Manischewitz grape juice and handfuls of challah, of Sunday mornings sitting in front of a bimah that looked so modest and so important all at once. I remember our annual latke parties, and the way my mom would somehow fill our kitchen with neighbors and friends, all clustered around two pans filled with hot oil, and us kids spinning tops on the Oriental rug in the next room. And my dad signing little presents for us as "Hannukkah Harry," because when we were kids, Hannukkah always had to be presented with its Christian counterpart (Hannukkah Harry worked alongside Santa Claus).
Happy Hannukkah, internet.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Laurel, Ryan and I discovered this a few weeks ago and I find this little penguin and his friends to be, in a word, captivating. Here are the things to consider: Pingu goes snowboarding with his seal friend, who only has one binding to tie in his big flipper. Pingu gets hurt a few times and is rescued by a ski patrol penguin who ties a cushion to his rear end, which seems to do the trick. And then, perhaps the greatest part of it all, is the fact that I have no idea what they are saying. It sounds like some great Scandinavian language, although they squeak so high and so fast that it could just be two heavily accent English speakers.
I don't really know why, but ever since I first saw that Pingu vignette, I find myself substituting "Pingu!" for words of surprise or joy. The word is just so fun to say. Try it, I dare you: wherever you are, sit up tall, clear your throat, and shout "Pingu!"
Isn't the world a slightly happier place now?
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Except that there was something called "Married to Rock Star" on the television just a few feet from my face. I couldn't help it; I'm not much of a television person, and the fact that so much teased blonde hair and male eyeliner dangling within eyesight made it impossible to look away. Those women stole my time, whisked it right away from me with their explicit, recognized vapidity, and their desire for Hello Kitty weddings in castles. I found myself questioning more than just their clothing choices. After a while I started to challenge my own snap judgments--who am I to say what one millionaire lady should say to another? And is it really fair to insist that all the fake conflicts on the show are fabricated, that the plots of "reality television" are dismal inflations of non-problems?
I stayed on that machine a good 45 minutes, and by the time I finally extricated my feet from the elliptical, I had to remind myself where I was, who I was, and what on earth I was doing so far from an enchanted castle. It reminded me of when, as a child, I would watch my brother and his friends playing video games and have to shake myself awake after watching the same little animated figures jump on the same multicolored toadstools time and time again. Is it monotony, or is it hypnotism?
Regardless, by the time I left the gym, I had completely forgotten the stress of the workday. I'd like to attribute that to endorphins, to active, warm muscles, but in my heart I think I know what really happened.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
happy graffiti on the Williamsburg Bridge
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j
What I'm thankful for:
clear blue sky winter days
when (most of) my family fits in one room, and we're all trying to tell jokes at the same time
the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
friends who like to travel, cook, dance, doodle, adventure
laptops, cell phones, and iPods (oh my)
the entire month of June, and October also
National Public Radio
talking about writing with my mom and my aunt April
health insurance, when it's guaranteed
the best, longest, most satisfying runs, the ones where you come home feeling more hopeful about the world
my big brother and his big grin
postcards from other countries and cities
my dad, and how he knows how to make everything better, but then shows me how to make things better too
my white flowered comforter for the bed
the First Amendment
being in love, really in love, and not thinking it's cheesy
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sarah Palin and Jimmy McMillan (of "The Rent is Too Damn High" fame) exchange political opinions at a recent mixer in San Francisco.
I can say with some confidence that going out in San Francisco on Halloween, dressed as Sarah Palin, complete with a button reading "Renegade: Palin for President 2012," was a bit like whispering the word "Voldemort" in a fifth grade classroom. On the bus home, people asked who I was, and when they saw me with the glasses and the button, trying to mimic that Alaskan charm, 9 out of 10 people turned away, saying, "Oh God."
Perhaps as scary as seeing a twentysomething white computer programmer glue a cotton beard to his face and pretend to be New York candidate for governor slash muse for aspiring deejays.
Weirder things could happen.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Tonight I read Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Joan Didion is brilliant. She writes about all my favorite places: San Francisco, New York, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and yet she writes about them with a complete lack of sentimentality. She seems to possess this unbridled interest in the act of recording that which is truly interesting, truly human. Tragic and entertaining and thoughtful and never patronizing. Straightforward.
And then I read "Notes from a Native Daughter." Didion grew up in the Sacramento Valley, and she manages to articulate the nostalgia, boredom, listlessness and history of the place that I've never really been able to perfectly capture myself:
"...that is what I want to tell you about: what it is like to come from a place like Sacramento. If I could make you understand that, I could make you understand California and perhaps something else besides, for Sacramento is California, and California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent."
And it struck me, that here in this most fertile of valleys, the communities themselves have grown in a manner disproportionate to the crops that thrive. Maybe that's why it sometimes takes me a few days to fall into hometown habits; because in Davis, even more so than Sacramento, the town wants to grow as much as it wants to drop leaves, or blossom flowers; that is to say, it wants to grow when it is time to grow, and not before.
It makes me feel good to know that a writer like Didion came from a place and a family not too far removed from my own. That maybe, at some point, I'll be able to put into words my own version of that murmuring culture that she captures so beautifully.
Most families have pet folklore. My dad recently recounted the epic story of how he acquired our first family dog, Tomasino Paisano de la Lucci, a black and white springer spaniel mix that he sprung from a pound when he was in his 20s. At the time, my dad was working in the Bay Area, and one day while driving to work, he found an injured puppy in the middle of the road. He gathered him up and took him to his office where he called the SPCA to see if they could save him. The SPCA collected the dog with the understanding that they were required to turn the dog over to the local shelter for three days for the owners to come claim him before making the dog available for adoption. Meanwhile, they agreed to treat the dog's wounds.
My dad went back to the pound a few times to see how the dog was doing. Each time, the technicians reminded him that if he wanted the dog, he'd have to wait til the end of the week, at which point he'd also have to pay the vet bill. Dad showed up just before closing time on Friday, but the technician turned him away, saying that they had to wait three full days, so Dad would have to come back Saturday. They refused to let him come take the dog on the day they told him to come; according to their rules, they had to wait a certain amount of time for owners to collect the dog, but neither could they afford to keep the dog any longer than a specific amount of time.
"If you want the dog, you’ll be here at 8:00 am sharp," they said, "or he’ll be put down on the first rounds tomorrow morning."
Dad was pissed. Why did they even bother treating the dog in the first place, if they wouldn't put him up for adoption, and would end up killing him anyway? He asked to speak to the supervisor, and was told the same thing. Come back Saturday morning, or forget the dog. They would not even take payment and hold the dog until Monday.
He didn't know what to do. He felt trapped. Here he had gone out of his way to follow the center's instructions, and was happy to pay the vet bill, would have arranged for someone else to pick up the dog for him, but they wouldn't allow that either. He went out into the parking lot and watched the dogs interacting in their cages. Tommy was sitting in a little pen surrounded by a chain link fence.
He approached the fence, stuck his hands through the holes and whistled for the dog. Once he was close enough, Dad reached out and took Tommy gently in his hands, slowly edging him up the length of the fence, first withdrawing one hand through the gaps, then the other. Miraculously, no one seemed to notice. He got the little dog him up the height of the fence, he pushed him through a small, puppy-sized opening. Dad says Tommy was a bit confused, but offered no resistance as he hopped across the parking lot and into his car, and eventually, our life.
Tommy lived to be 15 years old. He went where my dad went. I'll never forget the night he died. I was eight years old and it was a school night, so I was surprised when my mom woke me and Josh up in the middle of the night and took us out onto the lawn. Tommy usually slept in a little bed on my parents' floor, but my dad had carried him, wrapped tenderly in towels, down the stairs and outside. I think the moon was full. Tommy was old and frail, his eyes lost in flappy ears and withered fur. And my dad, my dad leaned low over him, as if whispering to him, and stayed that way for what seemed like hours. When it was over we had a little service and dug a little hole for him under the rosebush.
For years my dad referred to Tommy as "my fine dog." My parents have had dogs since, always rescue dogs, always black and white, always T names: Tipper (during the Clinton administration), Tam, and Taj. They were all wonderful dogs, but to be called "fine" -- that was a distinction my dad reserves for a rare few.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
This summer, driving cross country, we passed many cars with decorative antennae. The cacti were often my favorite. Watching their little flapping plastic tendrils zip by on the I-10 made it look like all the passing cars were sticking out their hands for high fives. Parked cars with dangling antennae smirked at us when we stopped to refuel.
I miss watching the scenery change. The concept of settling anywhere is fundamentally mature, and while with every passing year it seems less final, less scary, the romance of the open road is often more attractive than the stability of staying put.
Open road. Can you think of two words more beautiful?
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
One such example is an interview I heard recently with Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian politician who was running for president in 2002 when she was abducted by the terrorist organization the FARC. I first learned about Ms. Betancourt back in 2007, when I was working for the International Museum of Women in San Francisco. We were curating an online exhibit on Women, Power and Politics, and it was hard not to see the parallel between notable female presidential candidates in the months leading up to the 2008 election here in the States.
I remember watching a soul-wrenching documentary about Ms. Betancourt's presidential campaign, which, after she was taken away, was carried on by her then-husband. Kidnapping is such a big problem in Colombia that there are laws stating that political candidates can continue their campaigns even if they themselves cannot participate; in the case of Ms. Betancourt, her husband stepped up in her place. The documentary filmmakers had started the film before she was abducted, so it was especially tragic to see the interviews with her, bright-eyed and idealistic, in the months before her forced exile. By the time I learned who she was in 2007, she had been away for five years, which I took to mean that if she hadn't died already, she probably wouldn't survive.
And then, somewhat miraculously, she reappeared in 2008. I remember hearing the news rather off-handedly,so subtly that I thought perhaps I had made it up. But then I heard her on KQED's Forum, in an interview with Dave Iverson, talking quite earnestly about what it felt like to be captive in the jungle, struggling to hear her mother's voice over the radio airwaves. This was a woman of privilege, who during her latter year or so of captivity, was chained to a tree by her neck. And yet the honesty and emotion with which she expressed herself really woke me up.
Ms. Betancourt's experience - that was true captivity. There was no circling there. I was listening to her interview while biking to work, and by the time I got there and removed my headphones, it was as if I was aware of new sounds in the world.
There are more out there like her - maybe next time I'm stressing about a paper or a deadline I'll revisit Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
About a month ago I came home to find a little turtle in the front yard. I thought it was a large rock until Taj sniffed it and pointed his nose, just like a regular bloodhound. And it wasn't until both the dog and I had backed away that I saw four little legs squirm their way out, one at a time, from the shell. The head slinked out last. For a moment the three of us stood there, dog, turtle, and human, regarding one another, none of us sure how to react. And then Taj found something more interesting behind the bushes and I went on to get the mail, and when I came back the turtle was still there, one leg slowly retreating into its shell.
I wondered, at that moment, if I would ever have that kind of patience, if I'd ever be quiet and slow enough to gauge the difference between actual danger and momentary risk.
My mom and I named the turtle Sushi. I imagined us becoming great friends, her acting as my little guard turtle, warding away bad spirits and unwelcome snails. I left some old lettuce out for her. Well, to be perfectly frank, I more or less threw the lettuce onto the surface of her shell as I was rushing out of the house to get to work.
I've been checking the front of the house every morning, but she hasn't been back yet. Either that, or she's waiting for me in a place I haven't yet found.
This image is taken from Delanco Camp's T-Shirt contest. I'm not familiar with this camp, but I found the picture on Google Image.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I recently moved back to my hometown to attend graduate school, and it was only this week that the words home and town seemed like two such disparate worlds.
What is home? Home is a reflection of body memory. A sensual experience involving the food I grew up eating, the smell of our house on cold nights in late winter, the sounds of the records that sometimes skipped while my dad and I washed the after dinner dishes. The awareness that wherever I went there were people I knew.
What is town? Town is a small place, in which social circles overlap so dizzyingly that there are rarely moments of quiet, despite the wide expanse of dried safflower and last season's tomatoes. Town is a place where people gather for the sake of gathering, where my grocer knows my rabbi, who knows my previous employer, who knows my parents and back again. And occasionally they all gather, and when I do go to the farmer's market, the wealth of social knowledge is so abundant that there is simply no way to just walk, and walk, and not talk.
I wonder at what point in our lives we stop longing. For years, I wanted nothing more than to get further away, and further away still, as if with every mile I was proving the power of independence, of unleashed, unabashed curiosity about the world. And yet, each time I moved, I took with me a sense of what I had left behind. I carried photographs of my family and friends, longed for that nuclear sense of familiarity, missed what it felt like to be somewhere where people knew you were before you opened your mouth.
But what happens when you move back, and the dialogue picks right back up where you left off?
It's not a question of good or bad, or even better or worse. It is a revision of memory, a rewriting of the way things used to smell or taste, a new concept of the way you understand your immediate world. And sometimes, I worry that by coming home to work and study, I'm not properly home, but rather just back in town.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Not sure where exactly to locate the tragedy in this particular installment of the Bathroom Stall Series. This was taken in the humanities building bathroom at SF State, which means this girl is probably in her 20s, and is probably pretty torn up about her boyfriend's actual sexuality. I glean all this from the elegantly long downward curve of her frowny-face.
What perhaps is more tragic are the attempts to assuage her feelings of sadness and remorse: "He's confused" counters nicely to "Woo! Fag hag!" I wonder what it feels like to be stuck between two polarizing reactions. It's as if our culture still doesn't know how to approach the complex nature of adolescent sexuality. I mean, we really must not be ready to talk about it, otherwise we wouldn't write about it on bathroom walls.
Monday, October 25, 2010
And now, for my latest love letter to San Francisco, I invite you in to the Victoria Theater, the historic Mission theater that has been around more than 100 years. This weekend I had my first opportunity to walk inside its handsome doors, when I went to see All About Evil, the campy slasher flick directed by notable SF drag queen Peaches Christ. The show was marketed as a "4-D experience" not only because Peaches had organized an entire pre-film performance, complete with choreographed monster dances and movie-specific ballads, but also because the film itself was shot in the theater, and all of the gory scenes took place in our very seats. The fabulous SF-based performer Trixxie Carr introduced the show by belting out some impressive ballads while dressed as the film's main character, the diabolical Deborah Tennis (pronounced "de-BOR-ah ten-ISE"). I might go even as far to say that the lovely Ms. Carr would have been just as excellent cast in the film itself--maybe in the sequel? The film also highlighted classic actresses from John-Waters-era camp and gore such as Mink Stole and Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a. Elvira).
I'll be the first to admit that my tolerance for gore is low at best, but perhaps what made this experience so awesome was that the cast and crew were so committed to its campiness, so utterly loyal to an artistic vision that constituted a tribute to slasher films past, that it was hard not to get swept into the visceral excitement in the room. Besides, there's really now way to avoid giddiness when one is just two rows away from the sheer glamor of tangoing zombies and arrogant murderesses in period costume. Add to that the a palpable sense of suspense when we, as an entire theater full of people, collectively realized that the room in which we were very sitting, with its victorian air and old-fashioned decor, was as real a character in the film as the evil twin girls or the naive theatergoers who break Deborah's rules.
I was amazed by the artistry and impressed by the scale of the production, which has been on the road for several weeks now. But perhaps more than anything I was moved by the sense of community that linked all of these performers together. After the first set had finished, Peaches introduced all of the dancers by their stage names, and pointed out who had written the lyrics and who had choreographed the steps, who had put in extra time in the art department and who had helped with costumes. It was a true collaborative effort, and it was as fun to see them acknowledged, and the pleasure that gave them, as it was to see them perform.
The alchemy of that show was heightened by the fact that we got to see it where we did, in a beautiful theater just a week before Halloween in the best city in the world.
San Francisco, I'm so not over you yet.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Sunday, October 3, 2010
This is in tribute to Mr. Alpers, who was the world's best runner assistant today at the San Jose Rock N' Roll Half Marathon. He was our chauffeur, our baggage-check boy, our acquirer of GU and our cheerleader. Our bearded cheerleader. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself how it is that I find myself in these situations: jogging in place with Shirlee (his mom, my running partner today) at 8 am in the morning in a sea of runners, weaving my way through a city still waking up on a foggy Sunday morning. We were surrounded by people in Team in Training jerseys, or in homemade t-shirts with the names of their loved ones written on in puffy paint. I had forgotten my favorite "Diabetes Sucks" cap, but was wearing a belt with pump, GU, continuous blood glucose monitor and blood sugar monitor.
We kept a good pace until about mile 7, at which point I decided to increase my pace. Ryan was waiting at mile 10, which (incidentally) was located right in front of the high school where he works. I kept looking from one side of the street to the other, wondering how on earth I'd see him in this moving, sweaty mob, but when I did finally spot him, he insisted on running alongside me, chattering away, passing me water and GU, his big bicycle bag thumping against his back.
And then we passed the cheerleaders from his high school, all decked out in their school colors, some with ribbons, some with braces, all of them chanting. They slapped high fives and I heard him yell, "That's my girlfriend!" And I felt lucky.
The last two miles were a lot harder than I thought they'd be, especially when I started noticing the number of runners who had stopped, or were seeking medical attention on the side of the road. Ryan later said that, while biking from the 10 mile mark to the finish line, he saw a runner "bonk"; that is, he saw the guy begin to fall backward, until another runner caught him as he fell and helped him to the ground. "I saw a runner go off the course in an ambulance, and it wasn't you or my mom, so I thought the day was a success."
And, all in all, it was. I'm so glad I finally did it, and I'm incredibly grateful for the support not just of Ryan, his family, and my own unstoppable Team HJ, but of all the friends and family members who have donated to JDRF, offered emotional support and overall made it possible for me to do something I at times doubted I could do.
Until next time...
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
This weekend I plan to run my first ever half-marathon. I've been training for the past ten weeks with a running group here in Davis. Grad school started this week, as did my new job, and somehow this race has crept up on me. I will be running on the same day as the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes, which is no small coincidence. In these last few days before the event, I can't help thinking what a tremendous symbol this has all become.
Running has always been my catharsis, my time to zone out and turn off my brain, to challenge my body while nobody else is looking. There's no way to be "good" at running; the most successful runners I've met are the ones with a keen understanding of how to push themselves, and when it is appropriate to. I'm still working on that second part.
When I run in a group, I sense gears shifting in my body, and suddenly there is something to prove. The person just in front of me becomes the person I most desperately want to beat, and once I beat them, there is always someone else. I run with a little fanny pack with my blood sugar monitor, insulin pump, and three or four packs of GU. The part of the run I relish the most happens after we're all done, after the other runners have stopped to chat or refill their water bottles, when I sit down and whip out my glucose monitor to test my sugar. I take great pride -- probably (definitely) more pride than I truly deserve -- in watching the recognition register on someone else's face that, holy shit, she beat me, AND she's diabetic?
I might be feeling differently on Sunday afternoon, after 13.1 miles in this late summer heat. But no matter what, I can't wait for that feeling of satisfaction that I will have done something I've never done before, and done it on a day when my team and I are committed to finding a cure.
Monday, September 20, 2010
If I owned my own bookstore, all clerks would be called bookmaidens and book lords. Or maybe book queens. Tomorrow is my last day at the independent bookstore the Avid Reader, my favorite place to go as a child growing up in Davis. I've been lucky enough to work there in the summer interim, assembling press scrapbooks, selling and shelving books, assisting at events. There is something to be said for the loyalty and chutzpa that independent businesses attract.
That, and I learned this summer not to operate a cash register with my hair in two braids, less I feel like fending off comments such as "You're sure you're old enough to operate that?"
Bookmaidens can do a hell whole of a lot more than just operate cash registers.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
School is starting, the wind is picking up, and there is a heightened electricity in the air: that's right, it's the season for fundraising. This is the ninth year that my family and I are gearing up to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a nonprofit organization founded by the parents of children with type 1 diabetes in 1970. In the past 40 years, JDRF has raised $1.4 billion, and nearly every penny of that is devoted to research.
Why should people care? Here's why:
-More than 23 million Americans live with diabetes, and of that number, about 5-10% live with type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes. This less common form of diabetes was formerly known as juvenile diabetes, because the majority of people who live with it are diagnosed as young children or adolescents. This means that type 1 kids and teens are badasses because they have to learn how to test their blood sugar and give themselves injections while learning how to tie their shoes, ride bikes, compete at sports, apply for college, etc.
-Diabetes is considered a pre-existing condition, which, as we all know, makes applying for health insurance especially frustrating.
-Because Halle Berry, Nick Jonas, Mary Tyler Moore, and certain twentysomething bloggers take insulin every day, and still make time to make movies, sing songs, write books, and in my case, go to grad school and work two jobs.
This year, while my uber-supportive Team Malibu Pumpers represents at the 5K walk at the State Capitol on Sunday, October 3, I will be running my first-ever half marathon. This is something I've wanted to do for three years, ever since I got my worst blood test results as a diabetic and felt the need to prove I was still healthy. I've been training over the past few months and am excited to finally put myself to the test. And while other people might run this race for time or place, I'll be running it to prove I can do it and not get low.
So, what can you do? You can make a tax-deductible donation for our team here. You can visit JDRF online and sign up for a corresponding walk in another city. Or, if you don't have the money this time but really want to show support, you can learn the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and explain it to the next person who asks. Believe you me, it'll be a relief for the rest of us who grow tired when unsuspecting strangers relate long stories about their grandparents with gangrene feet.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
This was my one and only impression of Mississippi this summer: condom dispensers in gas station bathrooms. The text on the machines read "Hygeia helps protect against AIDS and other sexually-transmitted infections. However, the best way to avoid AIDS is to practice abstinence, and to remain in monogamous relationships until marriage."
I added the "sexless" part. The sign seemed to hope that gas station patrons were virgins.
Below the text were arrows and explicit instructions reading put all four quarters into the appropriate slot.
I'll never forget emerging from that bathroom with a sense of glee, not sure whether Mississippi was beating the system or creating it. Ryan reported that the same sign and machine was posted in the men's bathroom.
Needless to say, we did not spend the night in Mississippi.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Hipster Parking Only
Remember when a bicycle was just a bike? A means of transportation? Not sure I do either, but these days the streets of big cities are paved with fancy fixed-gear bicycles, a.k.a. the Maseratis of the cycling world. Or maybe the Ferraris? I know my speedy cars about as well as I know my speedy bikes, and perhaps that says something.
Don't get me wrong: My preferred transit method is my bike. I was a diligent San Francisco bike commuter for three years, a beach bum Santa Barbara biker in college, and a perpetually-late-for-class cycling high schooler back in the day. I respect the two wheels. I rely on them. I admire the pelotons that whoosh past me when I go running in West Davis, the ones who yell "Incoming!" loud enough to overpower any functional woman's iPod, and then squeeze by you with thighs that seem to laugh at you with their sheer force. I, at one time, wove blue streamers through my bike wheels so I could participate in the Picnic Day Parade. I joined the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and volunteered at the summertime Phat Tire event. I've done my fair share of critical masses, and boy, there are few things more exhilarating then tearing through the Sutter tunnel at rush hour on a Friday, surrounded by a few hundred likewise giddy cyclists who, on a normal day, would never dream of zipping through MUNI and commute traffic for that kind of adrenaline rush.
The real issue I see with cycling today isn't the bicycle itself, nor really the people who use it to commute or to exercise, but the general aura of ennui that it seems to breed among the young and oh-so-hip. That really annoying way that fixie riders tend to jerk abruptly from side to side to effect a brake. And, finally, the fashion choices that cycling sometimes inspires. I've got no problem with spandex and padded shorts--if anything, the world needs more of both--but what I'm referring to here is the skinny jeans phenomena. Skinny jeans and skinny mustaches.
I'd like to close this on a happy note, so I'm enclosing a picture of two bicycles dear to my heart. I'd like to think that this picture captures the reasons I bike: to get somewhere, to exercise, and to bike with people who likewise like to bike.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I'm glad to hear that the war is "over," and that we as a nation are finally withdrawing ourselves from a mission that, at its heart, was always controversial. Even if, on the odd chance that former President George W. Bush had truly altruistic intentions in invading Iraq back in March 2003, and even if, by some bizarre miracle, our soldiers could bypass cultural and linguistic barriers to bestow the magic that is "freedom" upon a country with whom we have never had stellar relations, it would still seem naive to think that we could sprinkle liberty like fairy dust, and that after seven years of intense fighting and messy political reorganization, that would be that. I'm not sure what I find more depressing: the fact that we truly believed we could force our vision of freedom on another country by invading it, or the fact that, after expending so much energy and so many people, we are retreating and leaving the people we've invaded to pick up the leftover pieces.
I have respect for the military and all that our soldiers (and those in other countries) sacrifice in order to maintain a sense of patriotic idealism. I don't doubt that there are people out there, both alive and dead, whose efforts abroad were just that--an expression of real, honest, unselfish work--people who have accomplished things I'd never be capable of doing. I know that many of the soldiers who volunteered in this war began their service with a certain understanding of their mission and what they would later get for it, and for many of them, especially those serving in 2004 and 2005, their commitment to their country and to their job was tested by multiple deployments and several months away from their families and lives. I can't imagine making such an important and ultimately selfless decision. And because I can't imagine this, it makes it doubly hard to think of all those who left in 2003 thinking that they were out to achieve something truly great, and that our actions in Iraq would make the world better.
I have no idea what we accomplished and what we sacrificed, but I am relieved to hear that our remaining troops will be coming home over the next year. In my mind, the true measure of our success abroad won't be something as vague and ambiguous as how "free" people feel, but in how we decide to define freedom ourselves, and in what circumstances we are obligated or even permitted to enforce our ideas elsewhere.
I'll close with this image, taken February 15, 2003, in Rome. I remember the newspapers that week were filled with images of people protesting worldwide. I remember being a freshman in college and going to weekly protests in Santa Barbara for more than six months. We thought we were making a statement. I have to wonder, now, what kind of statement we have made.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Why are there so many stupid people in COLLEGE?
I find this rather tragic. Is stupid relative? Is college relative? Do stupid people read the writing on the bathroom wall? Or defend it?
Perhaps what's saddest about this one isn't the sheer existence of stupidity on campus, but rather the realization that there are stupid people everywhere. The world's full of them, and at some point we all recognize that there's no one magical place to be, no one magical thing to study, no one magical job to have. And maybe, the day we realize this, we'll be doing our business on a public toilet, as this young lady has here.
And for the record, I'm not really such a fan of the word "stupid." I overheard a comedian on the Sound of Young America say that hearing his work described as "silly" or "dumb" actually was a compliment, because it was the silliest ideas that he enjoyed pursuing. "Stupid" implies not only ignorance, but willed ignorance, something far more dangerous than simple immaturity.
Personally, I like the silly and goofy on my campus, and don't mind the stupid, as long as it's debated on bathroom stall walls.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
And yet...do I really need help when I'm cutting an onion? When I'm tired or my blood sugar dips ever so slightly or I stub my toe or I am suddenly, momentarily pissed off? Perhaps what bothers me the most about when I cry is not the fact that I'm crying, but rather the way that it's interpreted. I tend to cry more often out of sheer (momentary) frustration than I do out of honest-to-god sadness. Real grief inspires stunned silence, and a desire for action or response. But my evolutionary response seems less to do with incoming predators and more to do with incomprehension. Misinformation. Brief and inconsequential bullshit. That's the stuff that raises my hackles and I always wish that my tears wouldn't betray me so quickly.
The irony is that when I cry (at least out of frustration), the last thing I tend to want is for someone else to approach me and try to make it better. Because that's when tears multiply, not because the feeling has grown, but because by simply acknowledging that what I'm doing is out of the ordinary, whatever it is I'm feeling is likewise extraordinary. As if it's silly to be feeling anything in the first place.
I had a long day today, and it was my fault. I agreed to work a total of 12 hours between two different gigs, and was already low on steam. On my way home, I stopped by a house I've agreed to sit to water the plants and air out the upstairs. This house has a great huge fan that is turned on by a single switch. I've been given careful instruction to open the upstairs windows before turning on the fan, which sucks out the air and circulates fresh air all over the house. It emits a loud, resonant whir as it goes. For some reason, when I turned on the fan tonight in that big, personless home, it sucked the tears out of me too. It was as if the entire house was sucking out my excess carbon dioxide, as if it were giving me permission to relax my shoulders and lean back and just let the feeling circulate. It made more noise than I ever could, and that was refreshing. Best of all, when I turned the fan off, it was as if I had turned off a switch in my own brain. Moment noticed, moment experienced, moment done.
I wonder if, every time I make a mistake or misinterpret directions or accidentally take too much insulin or hurt someone's feelings, instead of shedding real tears I could just imagine a giant fan opening up in my brain, filtering the feeling down through my body, until whatever it was had sufficiently circulated before I could turn it off.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
1. Stuff You Missed in History Class. This podcast and blog (produced by HowStuffWorks.com and narrated by the lovely Katie Lambert and Sarah Dowdey) covers everything from the Medici murders to Lord Byron to Dracula to the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. The two editors who voice the episodes have accomplished a great feat: they make history a series of entertaining stories that you can listen to whenever and however you want.
2. Battlestar Galactica. In the tradition of Julia discovering television hits several years after they end, this SyFy series is one of the only sci-fi adventures I can truly sink my teeth into. My nerd-hormones (yes, I have them, and so does everybody) take over whenever I see Edward James Olmos fight back yet another cylon attack. At its heart, it is a truly well-written show.
3. Salt-N-Pepa. I bought a used copy of "Very Necessary" at a record store today for two dollars and it was well spent. Anyone who can make a hit out of the word "shoop" is a winner. I love their attitude. If I were a diva, this is the kind I'd be:
So real. So fresh. There really isn't any other way to be, is there? I'd say more, but I've got to find out what happens after the former president is executed on BSG before downloading more history for my ears.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Ask me how old this box is next time we speak
In a twist of serendipitous fortune, I found this post-it lying face-up on the street while moving out of San Francisco yesterday. I'd like to say that it came from one of my boxes--some lost note or thought that lay forgotten for three years, until it came time to move again. But I think it is more likely that the handwriting belongs to some other person, living a parallel life on this, the beautiful and hilly street that has been my base while I worked my first real job, started grad school, fell in love, made friends, saw presidents and politics change in America. Someone else who likely has traveled far and expects to travel again. Someone who hopes, just as I do, that they do speak again, and when they do, they'll remember the day they packed the box.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
We saw, in the distance, the rare and mysterious Frenchman Street raccoon, who uttered the simple phrase, "j'accuse," before disappearing into the gutter...
This cartoon was inspired by a taxidermied raccoon perched above a stage at Checkpoint Charlie's bar in New Orleans. It even wore a little bowler hat. Ryan and I were admiring it when the bartender walked up and pointed out the little sign propped against the critter's paw. "J'accuse."
Some things are better left unexplained.
Monday, August 16, 2010
"There must have been a time when you entered a room and met someone and after a while you understood that unknown to either of you there was a reason you had met. You had changed the other and he had changed you. By some word or deed or just by your presence the errand had been completed. Then perhaps you were a little bewildered or humbled and grateful. And it was over.
Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle.
And so it goes.
Souls going this way and that.
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.
But know this. No one has within themselves
All the pieces to their puzzle.
Like before the days when they used to seal
jigsaw puzzles in cellophane. Insuring that
All the pieces were there.
Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else's puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don't.
And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you,
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High
Thanks to this website where I found the text. I first heard the story while traveling in Israel as a teenager, and while I had my doubts about holy messengers, I couldn't help feeling that Rabbi Kushner had a valid point.
Anne had her fair share of puzzle pieces, and I was lucky to witness that, growing up with her boys Charlie and Logan in Village Homes.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Meet Shelly and Ellen. They have been together more than 30 years. This morning we spotted a photo of them in the middle of Newsweek magazine, taken last week when Judge Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. You'll see that in this KALW story there is yet another photo of Shelly and Ellen.
There's also this famous photo, taken that day nearly two years ago when California passed Proposition 8, the controversial ban on gay marriage. Then there's this one, taken this past January when the proposition itself went on trial in San Francisco. And this photo is perhaps the most poignant: taken back in May 2008 when, for the second brief period in history, gay marriage was a reality in California.
I know Shelly and Ellen. They are longtime residents of my hometown, and have been active in local politics for many years. My parents are good friends with them and share many of their social and political opinions. I've come to realize lately that these women epitomize what should be real celebrity: people who represent an idea, who aren't afraid to react, and who return, time and again, to the values they hold true.
Last week I heard a lively interview featuring the plaintiffs of Prop 8, Kristin Perry and her partner Sandy Stier, as well as Jordan Lorence, senior counsel and senior vice president in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Alliance Defense Fund. I was listening in the car with my boyfriend as we explored the strawberry fields of central California. It struck me then that here we were witnessing a historic precedent.
This is the civil rights issue of our generation. Racism and sexism are still prevalent but homophobia and its social implications have become the Jim Crow laws of the early twenty-first century. Propositions, trials, marriages and government-regulated "annulments" are our looong way of walking around a fairly simple point: marriage is a civil right that should be granted to consenting adults of any gender. And as absurd as this system sometimes all seems, it is at its heart a democratic process: chock full of bureaucracy, but democratic to the end.
I just hope that, by the time this case gets completely resolved, we as a country can recognize that same-sex marriage is tantamount to interracial or interfaith marriage, all unions that are equally sound. And when that day comes, maybe Shelly and Ellen will be on the cover of Time magazine.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
There is a story behind this. In Brooklyn we visited lots of friends, including Ryan's friend Brett. I'd never met Brett but from all accounts he is a fun and lively guy. Apparently just three short weeks before we made it to New York, he was biking through the city when a police car ran a red light, causing a garbage truck to slam on its brakes in the middle of a busy intersection. You might guess where Brett was when that happened.
Needless to say, he split his kneecap, had emergency surgery and now has a full length leg cast. All things considering, he seemed to be doing well when we stopped by his apartment, which is (rather frustratingly) on the second floor. My drawing skills are amateur at best, and so when I showed him the portrait I said, "I didn't mean to make you look so sad. Say something happy and I'll write it down."
I realized as soon as I'd said it how annoying that request must seem -- hey, be chipper! -- and to his eternal credit, Brett's response was "I have nothing happy to say."
Happily, he seems to be recovering well.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
The first job interview I ever had was for an organic kitchen. I was to work as a dishwasher and cashier. Prior to this job I had worked mostly for people that I already knew. Before my interview, I reviewed the Americans with Disabilities Act to remind myself that I had no obligation to explain my insulin pump or excuse the fact that I was diabetic because it had no pertinence to how well I'd do the job. It seems like such a small detail now that I've worked several different workplaces and interviewed for hundreds more positions, but back then I was barely 19 and was still a relatively new diabetic. What exactly were my obligations to my employer? And, conversely, what were their obligations to me?
These are important questions for anybody to ask. One of the best things about living in the United States is that these are questions we are allowed to ask, if not expected to. If there's anything I've learned, it's that part of being a healthy human is knowing your rights and asserting them.
And there is one right I'd like to assert here, now: that students with diabetes in California schools have the right to authorize another responsible person to administer their insulin. As of last month, the Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento has officially prohibited non-nurse personnel from helping students take insulin on campus. What does this mean? This means that schools are worried about the liability of having other staff members (or, heaven forbid, the students themselves) give the incorrect dosage and risk harming the kid. This also means that many fully capable type 1 diabetics must wait for an available nurse (which, in this county at least, means one or two personnel per district) or for one of his or her parents to leave their work and come to school to administer their shots. All this, so the kid can eat his or her lunch and have a "normal" day.
I understand the risks that miscalculated insulin has on diabetics, which is why I think the more the individual understands about his or her body, and the more they educate their friends, family, classmates and educators, the less they risk when treating themselves. This is a lot harder to do for a five-year-old than it is for a seventeen-year-old, and the fact remains that insulin is a potent substance. There is no easy fix for an issue this complex. I don't offer a solution, nor do I agree with what's been suggested so far. I just hope that kids of all ages are aware of their rights to understand their own bodies, and ask the people they trust to help them when they need it. The state needs to recognize that sometimes those very people (school nurses, parents, the child's doctor) can't be available every day at lunchtime when a kid needs a shot. That's why the kid and his or her family should be able to train and appoint a responsible administrator or friend--as backup, at least.
The ADA has achieved a lot in its twenty years, and it is projected to achieve much more. The path to civil rights seems always to be checkered, but at least along the way we can see the value in our experiences and create a platform for discussion.
Monday, July 26, 2010
The funny thing was that she'd never heard of catnip! How outrageous!
This is in honor of the Cardinal Coffee Shop & Lounge in San Jose, a 24-hour diner decorated in red vinyl that has been serving coffee, pancakes, shakes and bloody marys for many years. I went for the first time on Valentine's Day 2009, when my (now) boyfriend insisted that this family-friendly diner, all lit up in neon, was the single best place to be. He pointed out the bullet hole in one of the taller windows, a blemish in the otherwise well-groomed parlor. We later returned with friends on my birthday, and one of them explained that the secret to his academic success was their all-night coffee service.
At the entrance to the restaurant are the statues of two black leopards, their paws meeting mid-air. It oozes of Reagan-era cheese in a way that makes the watercolors of waitresses look historic. I stopped before a big painting today, one of a smiling waitress with a platter on one hand, her nametag reading "Lucy."
"I wonder who that is," I said.
"Oh, it's nobody," a waitress laughed. "Although they say she looks like the owner."
This story takes a sad turn, however: the Cardinal Lounge is closing this month. Ryan and I were on the road when a friend back home gave him the news, and I'll never forget his reaction. We might have been watching a World Cup game, or perhaps planning our next destination, when out of nowhere he lowered the cell phone from his ear and said slowly, "They're closing the Cardinal Lounge."
A seminal moment, I'm sure. Allegedly the owners are hosting an auction next week. I won't be around but I half expect a crowd of twentysomething skateboarders to show up and bid on all those vinyl barstools or the cardinal mugs. I didn't grow up with this place, and thus don't have quite as visceral a reaction, but we all have places that represent as much of ourselves and our adolescence that I understand as well as any. You can't help feeling that once the place is gone, so then is a part of you.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j
I don't know what's sadder about this: the fact that someone young enough to be in college is so worried about loneliness, or the fact that she was worried enough to write it on a bathroom wall.
Marriage has been in the air these days, although it might be more appropriate to say weddings are in full bloom. Even without the social crutch that is Facebook I can tell that so many of my peers and classmates are getting hitched. Don't get me wrong: I love weddings and am all for stopping to celebrate healthy, long-lasting relationships. I hope to marry someday too, but for reasons different than the ones captured here. But there was something about this particular piece of accidental poetry that pinned down my internal skeptic when it comes to marrying young.
"I don't want to get married but I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life."
I wonder who she meant to read this, who she might consider marrying, and how soon she thinks she should settle. More than anything, I wonder if a few years from now, she'll find herself in a different place, maybe with a different partner, realizing that whatever race she thinks she's losing is not really a race at all.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
This is the drawing that made us friends at the Frenchman Street bar Checkpoint Charlie's, in New Orleans. This skinny bearded singer was the first to take the stage. He kept beating his narrow little cowboy boots against the floor, and sang with an intense, Southern twang, but when I went to ask him to autograph my drawing, he was calm and demure. The bartender loved the little sketch, but added that he needed more hair. At one point she even wandered over with a bottle of White-Out, which she dabbed across the beard, insisting that I draw it darker and curlier. I did my best.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Kabbalah, on the side of an AC van
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j
I spotted this Hebrew genome on the side of a van advertising air conditioning services outside a tapas restaurant in Chelsea, New York City. I won't lie; it warmed my heart. There's a certain magic in witnessing that hybrid of business and personal belief painted on the side of an otherwise nondescript white van. A different approach from the Christians who lined Bourbon Street in New Orleans, passing out literature on how to save your soul printed on what looked deceptively like drink tickets. But both actions sum up an essentially American experience: the freedom of expression, hidden in the guise of a business enterprise.
Williamsburg is evenly split between Hasidic Jews, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and bonafide, tight-pants-wearing, fixie-riding hipsters. I couldn't help remembering the cheer of "There are NO CATS in AMERICA" from Fieval Goes West, wondering if each one of these disparate groups came to New York with a different city in mind.
On the way home, we crossed Nevada from Zion National Park en route to Yosemite. Bathrooms are few and far between on Nevada freeways, and so we were grateful to find a rest stop in a tiny, seemingly nameless town. The building was oddly familiar, and a memory came to me as we drove past the saloon doors to its other entrance, one advertising cherries and women. I'd been here before as an eight year old girl on a family trip, desperate for the bathroom. The door to the restaurant was locked, and so I walked around to the other little building, where fancy looking people waved from the windows. I had just reached for the door handle when my father pulled me back to the car.
"Julia, you can't go in there," he said.
"I've got to pee!" I wailed.
"Squat by the car," he said. "Nobody'll look."
Confused, but with no other option, I acquiesced, and it wasn't until we'd driven another sixty or seventy miles til my parents agreed to tell me why I couldn't just use the bathroom with the pretty ladies in it.
This time, the saloon was open, and we went in. While in the bathroom, I found a small comic book entitled "The Assignment." Intrigued, I pocketed it, and as we drove away, I was reminded again of the American desire to infiltrate personal beliefs into the greater world. The little flip book told the story of a man who didn't believe in Jesus, and his gnarly end. It ended with a short prayer to help newcomers enter Jesus into their lives, an act which, its authors promised, would be a matter of heaven or hell. The little notebook was strategically placed in the bathroom of a saloon-come-brothel, and I, a traveling agnostic Jew-at-best, took it home with me as a souvenir of the insistence of American expression.
Now all I need to do is find a van that advertises comics for Jesus, but in reality sells insurance.
Friday, July 9, 2010
In the past week, we've outrun a tornado, met the latest and greatest of the Jackson family clan (Jolee, daughter to Greg and Carolee), watched the sunrise over Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, and climbed both Angel's Landing and the Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah. Okay, so technically neither of us wanted to risk that final half-mile death march on Angel's Landing, but we made it all the way to Scout's lookout, and were back down at the base by 9 am this morning. Not too shabby.
It is hard to believe how far we have gone in one month. We plan to be home by Sunday night, which means we can change our clothes and unpack our bags and sleep in our own beds, but it also means that this little mini reality we've been daydreaming through is coming to a close. We'd say it would be hard to pinpoint favorite places, foods or experiences, but in the end the same things stand out: the jazz in New Orleans, the rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina, the happy and fun Pittsburghers and their Pittsburghese, the fried artichoke salad at Tia Pol in New York City, where Mr. Dave Peterson works...
Our trip back west has been a bit of a hustle, with its own unexpected adventures. We zipped in and out of Iowa's ugly Lake Manawa, where the water had rumors of E. Coli and it appeared that whomever didn't live in Omaha proper came to live in the park. Nebraska was surprisingly beautiful and about as chock full of historic sites and places as one could imagine, including the Pony Express Station. We had hoped to camp at Wildcat Recreation Area, about 30 miles outside Sidney, and the park was stunning, but about half an hour after we'd parked the car, we saw the clouds brewing overhead and overheard tornado warnings on the radio. So instead of visiting Chimney Rock, we drove north through Wyoming in the driving rain, and spent the night with Julia's cousins in Colorado. From there we have zigzagged through Utah's five phenomenal national parks, and are now staying at Julia's fifth grade buddy Sarah's house about two miles outside Zion National Park. The view from her backyard is easily worth as much as whatever it is they pay in San Francisco's Pacific Heights or Malibu. With a lot less people, and a lot more wildlife.
Tomorrow we make the long drive to Yosemite, for one final night in our trusty tent before heading home on Sunday. Home--where is that again?
Many thanks to Team HJ, the Alpers, Pat & Dale Bibee, Rim Vilgalys & family, Allie & Toya, Jes Consiglio & family, Cleve & Lindsay, Adam Taylor & Dave Peterson, Coleman Hamilton, Greg & Carolee, Zion expert Sarah, and everyone else who made this trip and its subsequent excursions possible.