Portlanders on Portlandia

It's a given that since I live in Oregon and we're contractually obligated to do so, I listen to NPR. In one of my several legally mandated hours of listening, I heard about this new television show called "Portlandia." Funny, since I actually came up with the term myself, but do I see my name on the credits? I do not. Anyway, I decided to ask me about my experience of "Portlandia" because I live in Portland, I have Portland opinions, and people are also obligated, being from elsewhere, to know that I know best.

QM1: You're from Portland.

QM2: Yes. Well, no. But I might as well be. Aren't we all from elsewhere, really?

QM1: No. Your son is a native.

QM2: Because of my good sense, yes. He is.

QM1: How do feel about Portland cliches?

QM2: What cliches? Who could possibly develop cliches about Portland?

QM1: Portlanders are a bunch of emo coffee-drinking, beer-crazed bicycle messengers.

QM2: Well...I don't ride a bike.

QM1: You don't?

QM2: I have a bike, I like to think I'll be a bike messenger someday, and I'm absolutely pro-bike. Except that I'm too lazy. I drink beer instead.

QM1: How about the vegan, family-farm, natural slow-food locavore movement?

QM2: I hate slow food. Nothing is more annoying than ordering my virgin-blessed tempeh souffle and having it come half an hour later.

QM1: "Slow-food movement"--The idea that good, healthy food takes time. Unlike "fast food."

QM2: Oh. I like "Burgerville."

QM1: That's not slow food. Not even vegetarian!

QM2: Their burgers taste like there's not a lot of meat in them. Does that count?

QM1: What about other things? How about the DIY craftiness of Portland? It seems everyone is making something from scratch and selling it in Greg's on Hawthorne.

 Palazzo della Pollastra, in progress

Palazzo della Pollastra, in progress

QM2: I had chickens. Does that count?

QM1: I don't know. Did you make them and sell them in Greg's?

QM2: I made a chicken coop. It was very DIY. It's well-constructed enough that I'm going to make it into my mother's future residence.

QM1: That's...not legal?

QM2: It's plush! No-one could argue that it's cruel. It's got two levels and a foundation. I've lived in worse.

QM1: What about the chickens?

QM2: The chickens are gone. I realized after the girls ate every single shrub and bulb and twig in my yard, that their eggs were pretty expensive.

QM1: My god, you...you didn't...

QM2: Eat them? Yeah, I thought about it. You can't eat someone named "Gigi" though. Or "L'il Bit." Or "Houdini the Chicken of Mystery."

QM1: So what did you do?

QM2: Gave them to some other fool Portlander who had the chicken dream. What else?

QM1: How are they?

QM2: I have visitation every other weekend and they're doing fine. Now they're destroying someone else's yard.

QM1: I'm curious. Why do you think people in Portland want chickens? Or to make their own beer? Or to have everything they eat grown by castrati trained-farmers who double as midwives?

QM2: Well, other than us always being right, I think it's because we think it's the right thing to do. Even if we can't change the world, we actually believe we can. Hapless idealism. Hopeless optimism. We actively believe we can do something right once in a while. Even if it's wrong.

QM1: Like getting chickens.

QM2: Like getting chickens! I mean, yeah, okay. It was expensive. It was really stupid. I spent more money on those chickens than on all the eggs I've ever eaten and will ever eat in my life, but you know why? Because I thought I was doing something noble and smart which was going to give me awesome eggs. Pretty stupid, but pretty hopelessly romantic and sweet too. I think the seed of Portland nuttiness lives in my chicken coop. Not literally of course. My mom will live there someday.

QM1: So you think Portlanders think they're right because they think they're doing the right thing.

QM2: Yeah. I think so. Well, I know so. Because I'm from Portland.

QM1: You're from Boulder, Colorado.

QM2: Same thing.

Notes on a Garage Sale

  • I'm old enough that you trying to knock my price down from 2 dollars to one? You're a dick. 
  • Garage sales are for moving shit you don't want into the hands of people who want it or need it. Garage sales were not invented for scavengers and vultures to rip them off to go sell their shit in a junk store for three times the price.
  • If you're going to sell my shit in a store at three times the price, how about you wait a day before you sell it IN FRONT OF YOUR STORE TWO BLOCKS FROM MY HOUSE?
  • No, you can't have it for twenty bucks. I said twenty-five, and if you don't shut the fuck up, I'll raise it to fifty.
  • Really? You can't afford the two bucks for a paintbrush which is worth 16 dollars, and you know it's sixteen dollars because you're an artist: YOU CAN'T AFFORD TWO BUCKS?
  • Take your "This set of dishes isn't worth twenty-five because this bowl has a chip" and shove it where the sun doesn't shine. Because you know what? These dishes deserve a better fate than your face.
  • How about you get your hands out of boxes which are sealed shut? NOT FOR SALE.
  • Yes, you. 
  • Your kid is a snot.
  • I'm not a professional. I don't want to haggle with you. I think it's tiresome and I'd rather be doing just about anything. As such, I price things fairly. Don't get huffy because you're a cheap ass idiot. I don't actually care if you walk off with that teacup or not. In the end, you can buy it in Value Village and see if they'll haggle. Idiot.
  • Have a nice day!

Earthquakes and Images

This has been a bad month for earthquakes. The Pacific seems to be working things out with its tectonic plates in a spectacularly violent fashion, affecting those near and dear to us in dramatic and terrifying ways. Our hearts, usually occupied by the few square miles around our own lives, become pained by the vision of devastation of those we love far away, and we struggle to make sense of the distances between us, our inability to run at a moment's notice to the aid of the victims. I have a love-hate relationship with images. I've written about them before, in somewhat more personal context. But every massive quake or tsunami in the era of the 24-hour news cycle becomes one more opportunity for me to dip into helpless depression, a feeling of impotence. The horror that we all experienced watching September 11 unfold internationally, I still remember with crystal clarity. I also remember the depressive episode I experienced afterward, culminating months later with me jumping in a car alone for a road trip, trying desperately to shake the grip of helplessness that had strangled me since September.

Our own Zara is in the middle of the most devastating events of her life, her world having been literally shaken to its foundation. I can only watch with grim respect as she answers her own need for understanding by writing it down and sending it to the rest of us via the wonder of internet connectivity. And in the face of this most recent earthquake, Japan's northeastern shore being washed away by an unimaginably horrifying wave, I find myself torn in twain.

My son goes to a Japanese immersion school in Portland. Every day, he goes to school and interacts with his Japanese teachers, and a host of interns who, for one year, elect to uproot themselves from Japan to learn how to be teachers in the United States. The interns are woven into the fiber of our school: we have to do fund-raising, an impossible amount of it, every year to bring our interns here, and every year the community rises up to pull us through the financial gap. We're saying good-bye to this year's interns tonight at a party thrown for them. They will perform for us, we will give them awards, there will be Taiko drumming.

But I'm not sure it will be so celebratory.

As the first video of Japan was coming in last night, my husband and I watched the tsunami roll in over a tiny town. It was gripping and slow, the first wave having already flooding the area, the surges behind creeping up to continue the brutal work of the leader. The journalist in the helicopter above must have been dazed: every time he turned the camera to the sea, there was wave after wave, lined up like battalions, ready to smash into the already wracked earth below. On live television we watched as entire neighborhoods were washed up into the interior, cars, planes, houses. At that distance one can imagine that these are but toys, but we know with grim certainty that those cars and houses belong to people who are also being washed away.

I fight internally with myself. My need to be informed about these horrifying events, which touch people I know personally, rubs against my knowledge that if I look too deeply at the crisis, I can be thrown into another bout of useless debilitating depression. I'm not being useful if I just fall into the trap of watching the videos roll in with the same regularity as the tsunami surge to shore. I'm only creating that special fragility in my own psyche where the darkness can enter and take hold.

So my heart goes on being pained and open and broken on behalf of the victims, but I willfully turned off the video this morning when I could feel the chinks in my armor start to give way. The video is too visceral, too overt. And I wonder if we, those of us so far away, are actually experiencing shock--misplaced because the horror is not ours.

I understand the need for the images to get out. It makes our world small, and we reach with tiny hands across the breadth of the ocean. We rally our resources to aid strangers, we donate money and send rescue teams, we wish we could do more, but do whatever we can to bridge the space between. But I feel the media fatigue already. I'm turning off the video storm surge, and going to the party for our Japanese interns tonight instead, to ask them what they need, what we can do, maybe just listening to them talk.

I can do nothing else.

The First Rule of First Grade: Do Not Talk About Nazis

My son Milo started reading when he was three. Almost seven now, he reads everything and anything--with the exception, he explains, of "fiction." If it's not based upon something tangible in the world he's not interested, which makes him a strangely knowledgeable authority on things well beyond his years. Milo knows about many subjects, but like his father he's got a remarkable memory for dates, maps and events over the course of human history. And while he's still very much a seven-year-old, thus making historical context a little complicated for him, he can tell you with fair accuracy the major events of both the First and Second World Wars. He knows about shipwrecks, which ones went down when, what the differences in their destruction were, why the passenger liner Lusitania is suspected of carrying weapons destined for England (a second explosion in her hull after the Germans shot her--a suspiciously huge blast which sunk her in eighteen minutes).

Last week over waffles in Hawaii, Milo was reading a souvenir newspaper I bought him from Pearl Harbor, a tiny little grownup pouring over the tragedies of December 7, 1941 with the gravity of a concerned citizen. "It's so nice to see a kid reading the paper," a gentleman told my brother. "No-one reads the paper anymore."

My brother, not having kids of his own yet, readily recognized the perfect opportunity to brag. "That's nothing. Check this out." He turned to Milo. "Tell me about the mongoose."

Milo considered for a moment. "Well, they hunt during the day unlike the palm rats, which means they're not nocturnal. So they're diurnal. Yep. Diurnal. Also, they're invasive here in Hawaii."

The man just stared. "Okay, then!"

My brother laughed with pride when he told me the story.

This is what we have to deal with around these parts: a seven-year-old who is extremely seven-ish when it comes to his emotional maturity but can pull facts out of the clouds like rain. His insatiable quest for knowledge keeps us up long past his bedtime with his queries about historical events. Last night, in the dark, looking at the mottled shadows: "Tell me about the French Revolution."

The French Revolution isn't one of my stronger suits. I admitted to Milo that he really should ask Dad about it, but the short of it is this: people were sick to death of monarchs and took matters into their own hands to create a republic, but then everyone got a little carried away and started slaughtering people mercilessly from all quarters. Then a little short guy led the French army throughout Europe, taking over a great deal of it until they got to Russia, which by its very nature defeated Napoleon and his troops.

"That's the 1812 Overture," Milo said.

Good grief, I thought.

So you will understand when I explain that his head doesn't work within the realm of superheroes and sports figures. He works with historical heroes and villains, Nazis and Napoleon, U-boats and the Blitz, air raids and invasions on land and by sea. This is what he knows.

He drew a picture in class the other day on the back of his spelling test. In it two people in a fire truck drive up to a burning building, at the top of which is a tiny figure, apparently caught in the fire. One stick says to the other stick, pointing a little stick finger at the building, "That's a Nazi."

Which, if you know my kid, makes perfect sense.

But his teacher somewhat frantically pulled Lars aside to point it out. "I wanted to show this to you," she started. "I didn't even notice it at first, but some other parent saw it and was really upset by it."

Lars took a look at it. "It's what he knows," he said. "He knows about World War II and he knows who the Nazis are." She looked unmoved. "Our family is Jewish," he said, a strange sort of justification when you get down to it.

"It's just one of those things we need to be sensitive about," she said. But she was rattled and didn't know how to deal with it. She wanted it to go away.

After Lars explained the situation to me, we were at a loss. Milo hadn't condoned Nazism, nor written about how Adolph Hitler was a fine fellow with great ideas; he had drawn a picture with a Nazi in it. A stick Nazi. Had the words, "That's a Nazi" not been written, it would have been just another seven-year-old artwork exploring seven-year-old anxieties and thoughts about his seven-year-old world.

And we realized, both because we were getting defensive, but also because we were genuinely angry about it, that if Milo had written "That's a Turk," or "He's Pol Pot"  or "That's Darth Vader," no-one would have thought twice about it.

Now we were placed in the unenviable position of explaining to Milo that his teacher was upset by something somewhat intangible. He hadn't espoused any belief in the Nazi philosophy, nor had he made reference to anything they had done, either in support or condemnation. He hadn't done anything wrong. We explained to Milo that we weren't mad, but that he couldn't talk about Nazis in school. "Why?" he asked, reasonably, I might add. If you can't talk about Nazis in school, where can you talk about them? Are schools for learning about everything except the Nazis? He'd written a solitary word, one based in a period of history he knows about, in a drawing. He'd written a word. "I can't believe my first grader is being censored!" Lars said, and while "censored" is a bit hyperbolic, I have to agree: this was much ado about nothing.

If the word "Nazi" still has the power to terrify in this knee-jerk way, it makes me extremely uncomfortable about where we're headed. If we can't talk about Nazis, we can't talk about what happened in World War II. And if Mark Twain's "niggers" are excised from Huckleberry Finn, we can't talk about slavery or the Civil War with any realism. If we're hair-trigger about certain buzzwords like "Nazi" and "nigger," even in their context while overlooking other historical atrocities, like Cortez storming the New World and Mao's "Cultural Revolution," we're whitewashing all of them, either by hysterical touchiness or willful ignorance.

Language is only as powerful as you're willing to make it. To de-fang Nazis, who still feature prominently in popular culture despite our first grade teacher's wish, we have to talk about what they did. Indiana Jones, made of video game LEGO's or celluloid, still fights them in front of thousands of children every day. Children are exposed to Nazis; if we can't explain why they're important, we've lost the struggle for making meaning out of the meaningless.

Because nothing was more meaningless than the Holocaust. If we cannot try to explore the senseless, meaningless horror of it because we can't write the word "Nazi," we're in a whole heap of trouble.

The Gossip Pages

or: A Few Thing I Learned in New York About Writers For The Nervous Breakdown, with Greater or Lesser Emphasis on The Truth. The last time I was in New York I had morning sickness and spent the entire time holed up in my hotel room wishing that room service wasn't so all-pervasive an odour. (Although I did meet a bunch of people that I had met online through MetaFilter at a little place called Three of Cups where we ate dinner and had beers in the basement. I pretended I drank really, really slow; I believe I pulled a "pour the beer in a fake plant" maneuver.)

Anyway, not having morning sickness in New York is much preferred, thank you very much. So this time I met a bunch of people I had met online through The Nervous Breakdown in a little place called Three of Cups where we ate dinner and had beers in the basement.

The Three of Cups is apparently a lightning rod for people people meet on the internet.

They also played Fear's "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones," which has been stuck in my head ever since.

But I met several writers there, all of whom were gracious enough to chat me up, even though at moments I felt like a fan instead of a writer.

For example, Will Entrekin is the person from whom Jack Bauer's coolness factor is directly lifted. There would be no Jack Bauer saving the world if there was no Will, and for that we have Will to thank. Thank you, Will! Jack Bauer doesn't even know why Jack Bauer is so cool, but it is, and will always be, Will. (Although as far as I know, Will is not loose and easy with the torture. We didn't discuss it; maybe it's classified.)

And did you know that Zara Rose Potts has been trying to shake that groupie Charlotte Gainsbourg for years? Ugh. Like a disease that little French tart has been plaguing her! Copying her certain je ne sais quois, but now you know: Zara, not Charlotte, is the international phenom. Also, comes from New Zealand which is an island. And works for good, not evil, making her the same sort of superheroine you suspected of her but could never pin down. Is confused that agents of all kinds exist, from the literary to the real estate. I agree with her on this point.

Simon Smithson, Australian man of a million grins has taken out classified ads in the papers of every US city he and Zara passed through, searching for future wives as a means toward citizenship. I told him he probably wouldn't want to settle down in Nebraska, but he's so committed to living in the US he doesn't seem to care. He's an enthusiastic and passionate patriot for the Old Stars and Bars; I recommend that the US government just let him in so he isn't saddled with a farm wife outside Topeka who will actually make him milk cows.

Greg Olear loves Ray Davies and now knows that someone I know mailed Ray Davies' nostril hair to someone else. Loves his Nervous Breakdowners like a protective father, and although he didn't ground me, he probably should have. Without trying, he managed to work out my old family secrets, so he has what they call "THE GIFT." Be careful around him for this reason lest you divulge a great deal of grist for his upcoming novel.

Stephanie St. John Olear brought her porch with her, so generous and welcoming is she. And despite the crack whores and legless pimps blocking her path to the mail room of her old Village apartment, she was nostalgic enough to want to find it again in the muggy night. We bonded over plastic, lack of recycling options in New Jersey, our children and our mutual enthusiasm for being surrounded by writers we admire. I'm waiting for her to bring her porch to the Northwest, but Greg must approve airplane travel first. (We could argue the point of whether or not Stephanie is a "writer" per se; let's just give her the honorary TNB doctorate and call it good.)

Marni Grossman is more lovely in real life than in her Gravitar. Also, even more penetratingly clever than she is online, which is tricky but she manages. She tolerated me; by the time we got a chance to talk I was fed up with the DJ and decided to bribe him to turn down the music. Twenty bucks apparently doesn't do the trick, at least in New York where a twenty buys you a cup of coffee. But Marni tried to understand me through the butt rock and my hoarseness which had by that time become entrenched. I sound like Marlene Dietrich now which ain't half bad, but on the other hand I'm a week out of NY and I'm still croaking. Maybe you TNB'ers actually ruined my vocal chords.

Not that I've ever really had anything to say. Marni knows. All she heard was babble.

I hope these superheroes of our own Nervous Breakdown will have the time and inclination to visit Cascadia, which, though plunked on the other side of the world/country/universe is known to welcome superheroes. It was a night too brief and filled with great gaiety and light, except for the sofa across from us which exuded pheromones and cooties.

I won't even go into what the bathroom was like. I believe Stephanie called it, "Shoot-Uppy."

The Scales Fell From My Eyes; They Were Made of Plastic

These days, perhaps one of the most indelible images in my mind is of a dead sea bird, not covered in oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but whose rotting carcass is filled with bottle caps that had been fed to it by its own parent. I cannot shake it. It haunts me, the pain of knowing that a bird, trying to provide its offspring with nourishment in its most basic biological imperative, instead fed it pointless waste from a soda or someone's old prescription bottle. How many sea birds are represented in that one photo? How many birds have I myself unwittingly fed with the detritus of our disposable culture? And what other animals can be inferred, dining on a diet rich in petrochemical bottle caps and nylon thread, old athletic shoes and SpongeBob Squarepants toys? What is the depressing irony that a cartoon character delighting in his ocean home is winding up there in the form of free plastic give-aways from fast-food kids meals?

This is on my mind all the time these days, and once you see, you cannot unsee.

Now I look around my house and instead of seeing toys and efficient storage solutions, I see massive consumption and disposal problems which have the potential to end up in an albatross's crop. I was already cognizant of the problem and bought the Sigg water bottles and the biodegradable dog poop bags and the grocery totes. But there's more and more plastic lining up in front of me and I feel overwhelmed and horrified at my complicity in the unfolding plastic apocalypse.

It is with these new eyes that I picked up a prescription for my ailing father at Walgreen's the other day. There was a question about his medication which needed to be resolved before I could take it home and I had several terrifying minutes surrounded by what seemed to be less a store about health and wellness than a fantasy beyond giant petrochemical companies wildest dreams. Every product lining every shelf was plastic. The products inside the bottles were irrelevant; the real coup was the plastic itself. It was as though the cancer was growing in plain sight for years, but so slowly that no-one noticed. Walgreen's was selling only one thing: plastic.

My father's medicine was also in plastic bottles, of course. And I wonder, how I can change that? What can I do to alter the consciousness of the entire pharmaceutical industry? I'm stumped. Can I go into my own pharmacist with my old prescription bottle and ask them to re-use it? Does anyone make glass prescription bottles anymore?

What sort of compact with the devil was made to ensure that every single product was sold to us in plastic bottles and jars?

I feel ill as a result of this epiphany. I pulled out a large number of plastic bottles from our medicine cabinet this morning, most of them empty. I've been saving them up for years hoping to find a use for them, rather than just putting them in the recycling bin and pretending they'll end up where they're supposed to, into the hands of recyclers who know what they're doing and re-using the plastic for good. Because in general, I don't trust us. Not when the reports about tech recycling is so profoundly depressing, when our old toxic hard drives and CRT screens and batteries end up in steaming dump sites in Asia, and untrained workers without protective clothing pick through it to find stuff to re-sell.

These are tough days. I don't have many solutions, but I am struggling to find them in my own ways, pulling out the plastic which has threaded itself through our lives like morning glory, choking out every other thing. The cheap sunglasses that have adorned my pink guinea pig eyeballs will eventually be replaced by either nothing, or sunglasses from a thrift store, perhaps ancient Jackie O shades which will make me look ridiculous. The recycled toilet paper which is wrapped in plastic will have to be replaced by something; I've only found one company which makes TP in a recyclable box. My lip balms, full of real deep and abiding relationships for me, will all go the way of the dodo except for the ones packaged in tins. There is even one packaged in cardboard, an innovation I dare other "natural" cosmetics companies to follow.

I want my cotton balls packaged in paper or compostable material. I want my clothing to be rid of that pernicious 2% poly-dacron-nylon-spandex that gives it stretch. Can I have my bulk coffee beans bagged in paper with no plastic lining again? I'm combing the web for answers, I'm combing thrift stores for glass storage containers. I'm keeping the plastic storage I have, hoping that like magic it will find some happy destiny storing nails or pins or something. I'm cleaning out my empty plastic bottles saved for years and recycling them, hoping against hope that they will end up where they're supposed to.

Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times writes in an editorial,

Traditionally, we reduce cancer risks through regular doctor visits, self-examinations and screenings such as mammograms. The President’s Cancer Panel suggests other eye-opening steps as well, such as giving preference to organic food, checking radon levels in the home and microwaving food in glass containers rather than plastic.

In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that: “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’ ”

But the crux of it is, I don't think my writing about it will change anything in the hallowed halls of petroleum and chem industries because they have been acting with impunity for years despite all the research and warnings from all corners of science and medicine. I think the only way to get their attention is to vote. And the only vote they understand is cash vote.

I'm going to take as much of my family's cash out of the hands of these companies as I can, those I suspect care very little about the albatross feeding its young a diet of bottle caps; that care little about your children who have more than 300 different chemicals in their blood by the time they're born. That care little about you and your future with cancer caused by their wanton disregard for basic human decency.

But I care very much about them, so I'm voting.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Petrochemicals


Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

--The Graduate, 1967

Before British Petroleum botched the most spectacular oil disaster in the history of our petro-based culture [addendum: the most spectacularly publicized oil disaster: turns out NIGERIA HAS IT WORSE, but no-one knows about it or gives a fig], I was already thinking about petroleum. Or using less of it. I'm a conscientious person; I don't want to use more than my fair share of resources, nor do I embrace the notion that if I can buy it, I should. I want to live lightly without becoming a monk; I would like to share the wealth of natural resources without raping the earth for them.

I'm an American Consumer, but I do my best to keep my insatiable desire for convenience in check. I've got the cloth bags for groceries, using them most of the time but forgetting them some of the time. I bought our son little reuseable lunch bags; we have a Mr. Bento food jar for him to take hot lunches to school. We drink from metal water containers. Our family has one car which gets 50 miles to the gallon on the highway by merit of its awesome diesel-ness; we can fill it with Biodiesel when it's available (although biodiesel has turned food crops into fuel crops in certain parts of the world, making a huge rice shortage in Asia--a consequence of any "alternative" fuel is that it has unintended ones). We've had it almost ten years; we hope that we'll just drive it to its obsolescence, though once in a while I think how nice it would be to have more space. But that's what Zipcar is for.

We're wimpy bicyclists, I'm ashamed to admit. I need to buy better rain gear, but since I can't be bothered to buy myself regular clothing it seems that practical rain solutions have just fallen right off the list.

This is not my concern, however. I've been trying for years to figure out how to eradicate plastic out of our lives which, with the passage of time seems absolutely paramount in not completely destroying ourselves and everything else.

Plastic: convenient, ubiquitous poison. The road to hell is paved with it.

I don't quite remember what it was like to look around a house and not being able to identify fifty different things which were composed partially of plastic. Maybe it never happened in my life. My parents had Tupperware after all, and I had that Fisher Price Corn Popper push toy which, looking at a photo of it, is made completely out of plastic. But with all the news about Bisphenol A and floating islands of toxic plastic garbage in the ocean (the size of Texas or larger and growing); water bottles filling landfills after you drink their tap-water contents, it seems like we've become too accustomed to welcoming plastic into our lives unquestioned and unchallenged.

Here's a list of petroleum-based products from my vantage point on the sofa. I'm looking no further than what I can see; I'm not going into the kitchen where god knows what sort of plastic horrors await me.

  • DVD and Wii Game cases, with the discs themselves.
  • Cables and plugs running from our computers to speakers and television
  • speaker housing
  • computer cases
  • remote controls
  • keyboard and mouse
  • television
  • laundry bag made of nylon
  • packing tape on Amazon box
  • dog crate made of nylon or acrylic fabric
  • Ikea storage drawers
  • acrylic wall paint, plus dyes
  • spiral binder
  • Drinky the Crow (admittedly awesome)
  • paperback books with stain-resistant coating on their covers, hundreds of them
  • dog toys
  • polyurethane on the fir floors
  • iPhones (two)
  • shoulder bag
  • acrylic stuffing in leather sofa
  • vinyl Oregon Zoo decals mounted in our window
  • inserts for throw pillows
  • adhesive on non-skid feet for our tables and chairs
  • dog collar and one dog tag
  • step stool
  • cotton-poly blend curtain backing
  • outlet and light plates
  • Toys, in such great numbers that I can't help but swoon a little, including:
  1. A "Marble Maze" (fifty pieces or more)
  2. Automoblox
  3. Legos (thousands of individual petroleum pellets)
  4. Fisher Price Camera
  5. Crayola markers and pens
  6. Hyper Dash (one plastic controller and four plastic disks)
  7. Playmobil (again, hundreds of little petro-pellets in the form of awesome birds, pirates, bicycles and treasure)
  8. Bag containing binoculars, plus the binoculars themselves
  9. Rody the Ride-On Pony

Shockingly, I'm relieved there isn't more. We've gone out of our way to buy furniture that is either antique, used or made of natural wood, not MDF. Our house is filled with photos and paintings which have wood frames and glass instead of plastic, and most of our tchotchkes are ancient fripperies which, by merit of their ancientness are made of metal or porcelain or wood. Not all, certainly, but most. Many of our son's toys were bought with avoiding plastic in mind; Automoblox are wood with plastic parts; his building blocks are wood; Tinker Toys, wood with plastic parts.

But I've looked through my house on numerous occasions looking for ways to go on a plastic diet. Why are all of our shampoos and liquid soaps, household cleaners in plastic? Glass, of course, is too heavy to ship and adds cost in FUEL. I buy bulk shampoo and bulk conditioner but fill them from plastic jugs. My husband shaved his head twenty years ago and never looked back, eradicating the need for hair products in any form; maybe I should do that, too.

But his razors? Plastic, with metal blades. Is it straight razor time? A good idea, but I fear he would never sharpen the damned thing and always be nicked. Plus, I don't know if I would want him to shave the back of his head without a safety razor. Call me crazy.

I've tried to prune the plastic storage containers out of our kitchen by replacing them with glass, not just because I want to stop the petroleum glut but because there are so many studies about chemicals leaching into food and beverages. But food comes from stores...in plastic. Yogurt comes in plastic tubs which don't even have lids anymore which makes it impossible to reuse them. Even hippy-health-nuggets come in plastic containers; buy cookies with organic flour blessed by virgins and they're still wrapped in cellophane-wrapped extruded plastic sepulchers. If you buy bulk, the bags are plastic. The grease pens used to write on the tag: plastic.

Buying local is of course the best way to cut down on your petro-consumption, not just because the distance the food travels is shorter, thereby lowering your petro footprint, but you inject money into local businesses, farms and growers which need less packaging to transport their goods. By buying at your farmer's market you're often just plucking veggies from a box and putting them in your cloth bag. Win-win!

That's great for me here in Portland, Oregon where we can grow food almost year round. What about you people stuck up on a mountain top? Or in the desert? What are you gonna eat? Stuff that's been shipped, and wrapped in plastic.

I bought some lotion in a glass bottle, hoping that I would somehow be lightening the load; the pump is plastic. Our toothbrushes: plastic. Dental floss: plastic. I've never seen a cardboard container for dental floss; maybe it's not practical. But how do we decide which is the most necessary plastic to hang onto and which is okay to stop producing? Obviously, we want our hospitals and doctors to have access to hygienic plastic doobobs and sterile plastic this's-and-that's so that they can keep us alive when we show up. But what about the crackers I buy? You remember when crackers came in waxed paper bags inside cardboard boxes? But do we even need the boxes, much less the bag inside?

Blister packs, cheese wrappers, cellophane on popsicles, laundry soap packaging, grocery bags, soda bottles, mayonnaise jars, pepper grinders, disposable pens, patio furniture. When did Grey Poupon go to plastic? I bought excess mustard the other day just so I could get the glass jar instead.

You outdoorsy types (I'm embarrassingly indoorsy in the Great Backyard of Oregon) appreciate nature in all it's splendor and thus it attunes you to the necessity of conservation and environmental protection, but you're all stomping around the wilderness in your Gore-Tex and Weather-Blok Super Materials made from various chemically bonded magic beans and petroleum. Your tents are made out of them too. As are your boots and your hats and gloves.

Do I have an alternative for you to consider? No.

And this is the problem, I think, with all of us. We don't know how to unwind the Gordian knot of petroleum which has threaded our entire lives in scads of plastic. I want to be the best, wisest, well-informed consumer I can be, but some things I just can't figure out how to get away from. Buy bulk, sure. Drive less, yes--oh, yes. But the cheese I buy from the tiny local market down the street--they wrap their cheese in butcher paper...coated with plastic.

And I don't know what's right. Research is conflicting about paper vs. plastic. Paper doesn't biodegrade any better than plastic when it's anaerobic. That's why we have 2000 year old Egyptian papyrus scrolls from ancient dump sites. Cut a tree down, you've lost a great air filter. Some studies point to plastic bags making far less of a carbon footprint than paper for a whole host of reasons from the production process to the loss of habitat. What to do?

And I don't mean my grocery bags. What about all the food that is in my grocery bags?

My husband and I were deliberating about this the other day. I remembered a story about an American woman living in a small Italian town where every year during the olive oil pressing, people would grab their jugs and wander down to get their supply for the year. Wine too. Everyone had some barrels or jugs in which to store their staples, not terribly different from the Roman, Greek and Phoenician amphorae of ancient times.

Would I be comfortable buying a barrel of wine to keep in my basement, along with a jug of olive oil? Could I split a barrel with my neighbors? Every year, could we buy a share of wine from a local winery? I know people do it with cows and pigs; there are CSA's for organic vegetables (good way of avoiding petroleum; no petro-based fertilizers or pesticides). Can we extend the method? How about my crackers? Could I just purchase them not in a box at all, but a bulk bin where I stash them in my handy-dandy metal cracker tin (standardized so that the weight PLU's would be easy)? How can we peel away the layers and layer of plastic and replace them with honest to god solutions?

I don't ever want buy a CD or DVD again; if it's digital data, I want to download it. No more goddamned plastic cases. No more DVD coasters with crappy slideshows on them. No more plastic deck chairs and MDF landfill furniture. And stop with the "goody bags" at kid's birthday parties, already. I don't need them and I can't remember if my son ever played with any of the plastic junk that was in them anyway. Bring back waxed paper for wrapping things, go to Depression-era standards of frugality instead of post-war standards of excess. Keep up with the Joneses by keeping plastic out of landfills.

Maybe I'm being utopian and naive. The back-to-the-land movement was idealistic, but in the end completely impractical. We can't all be homesteaders. We can have Victory Gardens, but it won't supply our grain needs. We can buy locally baked bread, but the flour isn't being ground at the mill next door. It's being trucked in. We can't all spin our own yarn from our pet sheep Lulu so as to avoid wool sweaters polluted with spandex and petro costs shipped from Turkmenistan.

But I'm comfortable with the hypothesis that something's got to give. Building high-speed rail would help, as would more of us riding our bikes. I don't think it's enough, though, and I don't want to contribute any more to the enormous flotilla of garbage in the Pacific. I want less plastic. I want corporations to produce less plastic. I want the chemical devastation of plastic-creation to cease, or at the very least drop dramatically. I've wanted less plastic for years, but the BP oil spill has only emphasized the point in a radical and devastating loss of land, ocean, livelihoods and sea life. As if I needed any convincing.

But maybe I can convince someone who makes my crackers or olive oil. Or someone who wants to loan me their sheep.

Finding Heaven in the El 'Ortez

In a different life my husband and I were in the dank center of a rock band who had hit it big. Screwy and the Pin-ups* was at the height of its draw. And we, our friends and us, were all tied to it, either because of professional necessity or friendship, or, in my case, plain old-fashioned matrimony. In this, there were problems. I liked everyone in the band, including the support crew and their spousal so-and-so's. I knew some better than others. But we were all stuck together by the devil's pact, and it was a good thing that we liked each other: we were together a lot.

The problem lay in the Svengali who was, for all intents and purposes, running the show. Nominally a band of equals, Sven was the true fulcrum. Unfortunately, he was nuts. But all of us were beholden to Sven because the only way anyone was going to get paid was to stay in his good graces. He was fickle, two-faced, mercurial, paranoid. Dastardly in his willingness to demean his fellow bandmates and employees, sometimes overtly, sometimes not. His underlings were abused mercilessly.

Sven and I had an unusual relationship. He loved my husband with true, heartfelt affection, and my husband dodged the rain of wrath that fell on everyone else. He was often placed in the unenviable position of being the de facto defense attorney for hapless employees as it fell to him to keep the sword of Damocles from falling on heads which didn't deserve it. He had the golden ticket: while everyone else suffered horribly at the hands of Sven, my husband had a ring-side seat to watch the blood flow onto the mat. He intervened when he could, but he wasn't abused in the same way.

Sven did not like the wives. None of us womenfolk were particularly welcome, unless we embraced some part of the stereotype: dumb, stacked or young. Preferably all three. I was none of these, nor were most of the other wives. A remarkably savvy, smart, sassy collection of women were married to the male cavalry that filled the ranks of the band's day-to-day operations, and almost none of them were impressed by Sven.

Sven had complete control over the Screwy operation, except for those dastardly women: he couldn't control the lives of his cohorts beyond the studio door or band tours. Once everyone went home, they had the nerve to have relationships away from him, honest-to-god conversations, probably about him. They had lives. This was a problem, and Sven went out of his way to drive wedges between his bandmates, employees and their partners. Rumors about spousal untrustworthiness abounded; questioning the integrity of wives and girlfriends was raised to the level of high art. It was so insidious that one band member and his wife moved out of town to get away from Sven.

I was a thorn to Sven because Sven loved my husband. They had been friends for many years before he found himself famous, and Sven appreciated the longevity and consistency of this one relationship that straddled both worlds. But my husband left him no doubt that he would hit the door if Sven cast aspersions upon me. He didn't need to spell it out for him; it was obvious. So Sven didn't meddle in our lives the same way he did with everyone else, but it didn't mean we were chummy.

The problems began when we met. Screwy had just hit the big time, and Sven and his wife took my husband and I out to dinner, to an extremely frufru place I'm pretty sure was choreographed to make us uneasy. He was successful. I felt like I was walking into a special club with potential hazing rituals; will he make me take off my pants, draw "W * W" on my ass, and then drive me by bull whip through the fountain downtown? But before long, one realizes that fame adds nothing new to the table other than weird stares from the table next to you. His wife put me at my ease. Conversation flowed casually after a certain point. Sven invited us to his house, recently purchased with the largesse of the Screwy enormo-hit which had flooded the airwaves.

"I love this rug. I just bought it for ten grand. Look at this piano. A baby grand! I picked it up for thirty. We had these curtains custom made; I don't remember how much they cost."

He was drunk with the fact that he had arrived, with his own success. He dragged out every stick of furniture they had bought to fill their new house in a tony neighborhood and attached a price tag. My husband and I took the tour increasingly dazed by Sven's desire to impress. But in the end, it was just a house.

"It's six thousand square feet," Sven boasted.

"Really?" I asked, looking around their living room. "It just doesn't seem that big."

He flashed at me with incredulity tinged with outright hostility. He tucked the look away quickly, but we all felt the air pressure in the room drop.

This was the hallmark of our relationship: he bragged, I said whatever came to the top of my head, completely inadvertently offending him. He talked about his specialization in fields both basic and arcane, and in the spirit of debate I would question him about it, putting him on the spot and making him uncomfortable. It turns out, for instance, that he did not actually know much about literature or art. And had he not dragged out his empty closet for me to look in, I wouldn't have looked. We, none of us, gave one tiny shake of a gnat's penis if he was an intellectual superhuman masquerading as a pop star or just a normal person. But he was incapable of being at ease with the windfall he had stumbled upon; he needed everyone to be impressed with everything he did all the time.

Like a sore spot in his heel that rubbed wrong no matter what, I was one wife he couldn't talk smack about without reaping costs too high to bear: the loss of his best friend. I drove him completely crazy.

I was strangely comfortable in that position.

And at some point, he was engaged anew, his marriage to wife #2 having fizzled in completely predictable ways, rife with infidelities and accusations and lies.

He decided to throw a party for his fiancee in Vegas for her 21st birthday.

Let me be clear: none of us were in our early twenties. Many of us had seen the back of our mid-thirties by this point. Sven had crossed the forty-yard line. But he wanted to throw a party for his child-bride, and he arranged to have the entire expense paid for with his impressive collection of air miles. Which is great, if there wasn't such a forced, bizarre feeling to the whole thing. We liked his fiancee, but didn't know her at all. And she was from, literally, a different generation. So stacking a hotel in Vegas with all his friends and cronies and calling it a celebration for her was a bit disingenuous. She had only one friend with her, another youngster who was as fresh-faced and bright-eyed as a fawn; we looked like wizened, grumpy ogres circling the sacrificial innocents.

We flew in on Friday night. The Master of Ceremonies and his fiancee went upstairs to change their clothes and left us in the Hard Rock casino to fend for ourselves. Half of us hit the bar, half of us hit the blackjack tables. The couple who moved out of state to avoid Sven hit the jackpot, won a couple hundred bucks on a slot machine and went to bed. Sven and his fiancee never surfaced, and while waiting for them we got drunk and eventually made our way to our rooms to pass out.

Sven liked to make people wait. If you asked me then what fame was about, I might have answered, "Making people wait," because most of what my husband and everyone else in his operation did was wait for Sven. An entire eighteen-month period in our lives was spent waiting for Sven: to show up to record his album, to show up at the airport, to show up in the casino for a party ostensibly for his fiancee. If people weren't waiting for Sven, they were rushing because they were late. It was just a little extra perk that came with being a part of "the inner circle."

God only knows what happened Saturday afternoon. I have a photo of myself that speaks to the volume of my pounding head, so I'm pretty sure that I endured a hangover. But the plan for the evening was for everyone to meet at Nobu for sushi, and then catch one of the multiple Cirque du Soleil shows that have become entrenched in Vegas. Later, because my husband and I had been to Vegas multiple times to visit family, we were to be the tour guides to the seedier side of Vegas, or "True Vegas."

We aren't a Vegas Strip couple. The showy entertainment value of the Strip seems like marshmallow fluff covering the true heart of the matter: gambling and getting loaded. Why not just cut to the chase and get down to business? And we were thrilled to know which casino was arguably the worst casino in Vegas and our favorite place to wind up in all the glittering waste: The El Cortez.

So, after embarrassing ourselves by showing up in Nobu dressed the way we always dressed, which is poorly, and being wowed by Chinese contortionists in the Cirque, it was our time to shine. Much of Sven's party opted to stay on the Strip, mostly to shake him. But a small band of intrepid explorers mounted up: two young girls dressed in miniskirts and halter tops in the chilly desert night, one Svengali dressed in a far-too expensive suit, our friend Uncle Nuthatch, who was one of Sven's employees and had an even more complicated relationship with him than I did, my husband and myself. Six people in search of the divine seed of seediness.

We started outside The Plaza where things went south immediately. The girls were under-dressed and covered in goose bumps. Unlike the Strip, where women dress like hookers just for the fun of it as they hop from one insulated nightclub experience to the next, here the only people dressed like hookers were hookers and Sven's two sweet doe-like companions. It was an uncomfortable juxtaposition: girls of radiant youth dressed like hookers walking down the street next to hookers desperately wearing the paint of radiant youth.

Sven wrapped his over-determined jacket around his fiancee's shoulders; her friend was out of luck. The rest of us slobs didn't have jackets to share. And the girls looked uneasy; this wasn't exactly what they had bargained for. This was actually seedy. Downtown was actually full of people who looked like they had been gambling and smoking and drinking for their entire lives. This was not a movie full of quaint, slightly cheesy buffoons who whiled away the hours playing poker and patting the butts of cocktail waitresses, these were real people who had spent their lives in front of one-armed bandits hoping against their last quarter that they were finally, FINALLY going to hit it.

They were a little surprised. And Sven was offended.

The temperature Downtown was not nearly as chilly as the temperature rolling off of Sven. He was turning blue he was so arctic. It was as though we were personally shitting on him, what with all the grittiness and strippers and cigarette butts and stained walls and drunk middle-aged assholes and 99 cent shrimp & botulism cocktails. He seemed to blame us personally for placing this dingy reality there in front of him.

We were stumped. Do we continue this charade of a tour downtown when the tourists themselves were obviously so uninterested, even chagrined? How do we politely suggest that we decamp somewhere else? We needn't have worried, because I was about to rise to my own personal best in offending Sven.

"Let's go uptown to hang out with a better class of people," Sven said, not a whiff of irony in the frigid air.

"They're not better class, just better dressed," I noted.

He glowered, "I'm sure the amount of gingivitis is much worse here."

"Nice paternalistic attitude," I shot.

"What are you talking about?" He was seething now.

"These people are exactly like the people on the Strip, just poorer."

He growled, "We're going back."

My husband, charmingly and unrealistically trying to salvage the tone of the evening, asked Sven, "Are you sure you don't want to go to the El Cortez?"

The two lovely girls and the grumpy paternalistic snob piled into the first taxi they could hail, leaving us three bums standing in the middle of downtown.

"Thank god," said Uncle Nuthatch.

"Now what?" I wondered.

"Go to El Cortez, of course!"

The mighty hand of our oppressor had been lifted, and like children we ran headlong into the face of that which he hated.

We passed through meth dealers and pawn shops, bail bonds, and shady souvenir stands across the small downtown to its dingy entrance, the neon sign on the hotel tower reading "El 'ortez," the 'C' having blinked out months or years earlier. The smell preceded the casino by several feet, damp tarry smoke greeting us through the sliding doors on our way to partake in the sleaziest gambling options Vegas had to offer.

The El Cortez is the best place to gamble in all of Vegas for a number of reasons. It is where dealers get trained, first and foremost, so the tables are manned by charming novices who can hardly tie their shoes, much less run a poker table. And for this reason, it offers the cheapest buy-in of any casino in town. There are even penny-slot machines which sit on the perimeter of the casino and don't bother to give you money if you hit. Instead they spit out a receipt which you take to the ancient money changer behind the metal cage and she'll hand you your fifty-cent winnings while coughing up tubercular germs on your quarters. Which you'll promptly go spend on the roulette wheel.

Ah, roulette! Nowhere in Vegas could you have such a luxurious night at the wheel for as little as you spent at the El Cortez. Ten dollars kept you in chips all night long if you sat at the dime roulette wheel, which we did, right next to the lifers who only gambled there because their pension checks wouldn't allow for higher stakes. We loved it! Hit red or black, bet on both. Play ten different numbers at the same time, one dime chip on each. Lose big? You're down a huge pile of chips but make up for it in the fact that you spent three whole dollars! You're a high roller if you buy in more than once; tip your waitress a five, you are guaranteed the best service in all of Nevada.

Uncle Nuthatch was in heaven. He sprung for twenty bucks worth of chips and sat at the roulette wheel all night like a king. He didn't know how to play, and who cares? Pick some numbers, slide some chips here or there, bet against yourself fifty-fifty. When the stakes are that low you can play until you lose or win, and you'll probably do a lot of both.

He walked to the bar where he was sucking down Seven & Seven's, set up beforehand by the bartender who had served him enough to anticipate him. They were dinky and watery but only a buck. "Are you playing tonight, sir?" the earnest bartender asked Uncle Nuthatch.

"I'm at the roulette wheel," he said.

"Drinks are on the house then," he told him.

Uncle Nuthatch came back to his seat, glowing with his extreme good fortune. "If I lose all this," he waved his hands over his pile of ten-cent chips, "I'm still ahead!" He had the woozy look of one imbibing ambrosia from Eleusis. "It's like they're paying me to drink!"

Around Uncle Nuthatch's seventeenth cocktail the waitress thought the bartender should consider cutting him off. The bartender sized him up. "No, I think he's a pro," he said. Victorious, Uncle Nuthatch ordered another Seven & Seven. Hell, another round for everyone! Have a TWO DOLLAR TIP! I'm feeling benevolent!

In such a heady atmosphere, despite the acrid smell of smoke and disinfectant and the baleful glares of committed but impoverished gamblers, weak cocktails and the dubious skills of the dealers, time slips by as though life is eternal and unchanging. We were pashas and queens in a magical, albeit marginal, palace, all our wants and desires anticipated and surpassed. When your expectations are low and the quality demanded sub-par, you can have the best night of your life with very little effort.

But eventually the dream dissolves. The oasis fades away into the desert heat and your headache begins in earnest. As the sun began to rise, and our devoted bartender got off shift and I lost half of my lung capacity from the smoke of six beautiful hours in the El Cortez, we called our yellow chariot to take us back to the Strip, land of a better class of people.

We lone uptown jerks stood patiently outside, save for one casino biddy, a tiny grizzled harpy who had spent her last nickel and needed a lift back from whence she came. She asked me if we had called a taxi. "Yes," I told her. "The kiosk is inside," and she scuttled sideways toward the lobby.

The sky was rosy when our taxi pulled up. We had wandered away from the curb and were just turning back to grab it when the biddy took one side-long glance at me and jumped in like a cat burglar.

"She's stealing our taxi!" I shouted. I flung myself toward the door which was slowly closing around the crafty casino wench. "Hey, that's our taxi!" I yelled at her.

She glared at me. "I got here first!" she croaked.

"I called them myself!" I barked as we squared off, toe to toe, one tiny crusty old lady and one woefully hungover tiny tourist ready to throw down over the only taxi on Fremont Street. Who of the two blisteringly loaded men intervened to prevent me from bodily pulling an ancient old woman out of our taxi at six a.m? I'm not sure, but in some divine compromise carved out of our perfect Vegas experience, we shared the cab with the mean wretch of a woman to her unbelievably depressing apartment complex set perfectly on the wrong side of the tracks.

We went back to our rooms in the Hard Rock, sun already bruising the side of the building. My husband fell into our shower to disinfect. I fell toward bed. The phone rang.

"Lookit," Uncle Nuthatch slurred on the other end. "Lookit the sunrise. I swear, it's fucking perfect," he said. "This was the best night of my life."

"Go to sleep," I said.

"Okay," he replied. "But lookit the sunrise, it's fucking perfect."

We curled up in our beds and slept like the dead.

•  •  •

 The Morning After

The Morning After

Sven was he was never happy with the way things were, only the way they were supposed to be. Downtown Vegas didn't meet his approval because it reminded him of the things he fled: himself, his normality, his humanity. No-one catered to Sven the Rock Star in true Vegas. Truthfully, no-one knew who he was, and therefore he found it wanting.

"I must have been a huge disappointment to him in many ways," my husband said after I read this to him. It's true. Sven wanted more than anything to elevate us, to make us a better class of people. He took us to restaurants not because he liked to eat there but because that's where people like him ate. He bought his entire party of groomsmen custom Armani tuxes for his wedding to the child-bride. None of them wanted tuxes, everyone wanted Sven to save the money and just rent something. But he insisted. Six Armani tuxes still hang in closets, worn once after all these years.

"He didn't realize that an asshole in a nice suit is still just an asshole," I said. Sven surrounded himself with the kindest, most genuine people I've ever met; many of us are still great friends after all these years, including the now-ex-wife child-bride, no longer a child, and with a child of her own. And Sven knew he was lucky, but it wasn't enough to make him appreciate it, or us.

He was smart enough to pick a great crew, but too stupid to follow them where they led, even if it was to the El Cortez.

*Obviously not their real name. Though it should be.

Dear Everyone I've Ever Known (and Some I Haven't Met Yet),

I'm sorry for the mass mailing. I'm a terrible correspondent, as I've explained in greater or lesser tones of contrition for most of my life. My parents always tried to encourage me to write thank you cards when I was a child, and I'd scribble some half-baked gratitude, something about how fabulous my new briefs monogrammed with the days of the week were, and then forget to mail it. Or not bother to stamp it, which is even more pathetic, somehow. It's like the hard part was done and I got hung up on the minutiae. A stroke of contrariness? I don't know. Sue me. I never call anyone because I've nurtured a hate-hate relationship with the phone my entire life; imagine the curse of the ubiquitous cell phone for someone like me? It's possible that I was the only teenager in the universe who avoided the phone--actually screened my calls. Hated the phone as a teenager; skillfully navigate it now by ignoring its ubiquity.

Anyway, back to the reason for this letter. Since Facebook has made the sphere of private versus the public such a complicated place, and the internet makes it possible to find anyone anywhere unless you've doctored yourself a little alternate identity and travel documents, I thought that it might be time to address my own personal privacy settings. Imagine, if you will, a shield of preferences circling me like a force field of ultimate power.

You girls I knew in Junior High School make me a little nervous, to be perfectly honest. I wasn't sure how to be your friends back then; I was convinced that well-put-together girls in pressed Levi's and your Polo shirts scorned the very earth I walked on. Sure, I won "Class Clown" two years running--but I remain convinced that it was because I was the spastic heartbroken girl who didn't know how to be well put-together so was funny instead. I look sad in both my yearbook pictures when I was photographed with my male clown counterparts, two Frowny Clown Portraits adorning the Thrift Stores of History.

So, junior high school girlfriends, you get a free pass but only as long as you don't remind me that I'm still that spastic poorly manicured goombah who can't be bothered to find clothes which fit. Pointing and laughing are strictly forbidden. Otherwise, I'll drag you off into the purgatory of the HIDE button.

Junior High Boys on the other hand are welcome. You guys were awesome in your dorky ways; sure, you didn't want to date me because I didn't have boobs until, well, ever, but you were a fun crew who laughed at my jokes. And there wasn't a mean bone in your body--not that you shared with me anyway--and I hear many of you are still friends after all these years! That's reassuring, somehow. You guys are alright.

Late adolescence and early adulthood harbors a strange melange of friends.  There are many of you who I miss, even though I don't write and I never call. Be assured that you're still on my list of Friends and not Acquaintances. Yeah, it's true. I forget that we haven't talked in almost twenty years. I assume, completely irrationally, that we'll hook up for coffee soon and talk just like we did in the past. I was actually surprised when one of you wrote me to say that we hadn't seen each other in forever and wow, things have changed. Have they really? I can't tell from inside my force field. I thought things were exactly the same as they always were, at least between us. Shows you how subjective it is here behind my wall of impenetrability.

I haven't avoided many of you--note the "lousy correspondent" disclaimer--but there are some of you I have. How can you tell from my silence, since silence is all encompassing, whether we're still friends or whether I've dodged you like a virulent strain of flesh-eating streptococcus? That is a perfectly reasonable question. Check the history files. Did you A) betray my trust B) play Machiavellian mind games with me, making me question my very sanity or C) both? If you answered "Yes" to any of these, put yourself in the "Avoided Like Plague" pile. There aren't many of you, but you're out there.

The Ex-Boyfriend privacy settings are more complicated. They also run to the "Sure, look me up sometime," to the "Jesus, seriously, dude. If you were the last man on earth I'd commit Seppuku." Again, if you're unsure of where you are on the spectrum, review the history. Were we A) relatively unharmed by our dalliances? B) Total goofballs but not really impacted by anything resembling "seriousness" or "longevity?"  or C) Cheerfully involved until we kind of weren't any more and then just stumbled into the next thing? If you answered yes to any of these, the force field will welcome you through.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself keeping company with this series of identifying characteristics, you can place yourself in the "Last Man = Seppuku" pile. Were you A) Formed in Lucifer's loins? B) A sociopath? C) Abusive, ranging from mental anguish to a broken collarbone? You guys not only get the booby prize but the award for Most Toxic Relationships. I have avoided Facebook in no small measure because of you gentlemen, and I hope you can tell from my silence (and my force field) that I have a mile-thick wall around me that reads "FOOL ME ONCE." Also, restraining orders and very large friends.

But the rest of you--sure. Look me up, I guess. I mean, it's sort of like going to the zoo to stare at the animals. Interesting for a minute until you realize that the animals are just biding their time until they can turn on their master....wait. No, that's a lousy analogy. Let me start again:

Sure, look me up, I guess. I mean, it's sort of like reading the gossip pages and relishing the dirt you pick up about familiar strangers...

Damn. That's not right either.

Look. I'm just trying to say that I love many of you even though we haven't seen each other in a long time. Except for those of you I don't love. And I wish you could tell the difference, but because of my self-imposed silence, I guess you can't tell who's who. So maybe this new-fangled force field of ultimate power will make it easier on everyone to sort out who goes in what column.

Thanks, and I'd say that we'll talk soon except we both know that's not true. But I love you.*

Cheers, Quenby

*Unless I don't, of course.

Stanley and Me

Arguments around the dinner table are not this family's modus operandi. We're not even arguers; we're more akin to intense debaters who pore over details and minutiae, then realize we're preaching to the choir and have a good laugh. Arguing is mostly a scholarly endeavor. We leave the messy emotional disagreements for discussions. So when an argument takes place at all, it's a remarkable occasion. Tempers do not usually flare in so stereotypical an arena, either: the dinner table argument, the ridiculous conceit utilized by movies and novels about the failure of the suburban dream. Anyway, this is not us. Not unless you add one dose of Stanley.

Stanley. My love.

My first encounter with Stanley was in the classifieds on Craigslist, which seems an unlikely location to meet anyone you fall in love with. Looking for a "Friend with Benefits," maybe, an afternoon assignation while you're in town on business. But this was love.

He was not, as they say, classically handsome. Face like a rugby player, wide-set eyes, underbite. Muscles for days, but small. Bow-legged. Looked like he got hit with the ugly stick over and over again.

Except for his smile. That was pure gold. And the sad, thoughtful look in his eyes that spoke of great love and the desire to share his personal joys and sorrows with someone. Someone who would love him despite the ugly stick, despite the rugby-player build and his oafish manner.

I agreed to meet him. I had to drive several miles out of town to the cell where he was being held. Everyone else was cat-calling and howling when I walked in looking for Stanley. I was nervous, didn't know quite where to go. After all, I was new at this. I had never gone out of my way to meet anyone so unlike myself, from such a different background. Would he like me? Would he see my charms the way I saw his? Was I crazy? One photo does not indicate love, merely the potential for love. But like anything with potential, there is its opposite: the reality that it won't work, that there is not really any common ground.

But Stanley stood up silently to greet me when I walked in, a perfect gentleman. No howls and hoots, no rude brash hollers. His eyes met mine and betrayed a little of his nervousness, but also his calm acceptance of me. I met the potential, and he did too.

Our meeting was brief, but it was clear that we had something. Stanley and I had that spark of recognition that only happens once in a while, sometimes never.

But Stanley and I were not meant to be.

•   •   •

Stanley is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

He is one meaty dog. He's tan with a white blaze on his chest, golden eyes, little perked ears. He's a hamburger on legs. And when I walked into the kennels he stood up silently, placing his paws on the gate and waited for me. He didn't bark, didn't whine, didn't holler. All the dogs rose in their chorus of cacophony around him, but Stanley was like a brick wall, so still and calm was he. He's one solid muscle on squat legs, but he stood there delicately, posing for me like a dancer.

stanley
stanley

When I approached the pen, he wiggled and writhed in expectation. But for all that meatiness, he was pure gentle affection. There was a bucket of kibble up on the gate so that people like me could have a little meet-and-greet, a breaking of the proverbial bread. I grabbed a couple of nuggets and said, "Sit," and he sat. I held the kibble down toward the floor, and he hunched down, gazing at me with his funny, squinty golden eyes checking to make sure he doing what I was asking him to do. I gave him the kibble and he took it gently from me, barely using his teeth at all. Almost a kiss. He tried to squeeze his muzzle through the chain link to meet me more officially, though it was clear to both of us that we were each other's, and that he wanted to go home now, and what took me so long anyway?

I asked if I could meet Stanley more personally, and the woman at the counter looked up his paperwork. She asked me a couple basic questions about whether we owned or rented our house, did we have pets, did we have children. Stanley was a young boy, with no obedience lessons to speak of; classes were a requirement for taking Stanley home. Which was fine with me; any dog I wanted was going to a good dog, and we would learn how to be each other's allies in cooperation.

"How old is your child?" she asked.

"Six," I said.

"We can't let you adopt Stanley," she said. "We'll only let Stanley go home with someone ten or older."

I asked if this was ironclad, if there was any room for negotiation, but she was adamant. Rules were rules.

I went back through the dog kennels, and looked at all the dogs. There were around forty in their pens, more than half of them Pit Bulls. All of them looked sweet, if you could get past the image of bloodthirsty killing machines. I picked out a couple of other dogs to meet, one fat little miniature pinscher named Big Mac and a Pomeranian named Truman. Reasonable, small dogs, the kind that I told my husband I was looking for in the first place.

Truman the Pom was a hot mess. All fur and bad training, whining and crawling all over the place, desperate to be babied as soon as he was out of the kennel. Sweet, affectionate, and totally annoying. Big Mac had no interest in me at all, and truthfully I had no interest in him; I was just doing my best to keep an open mind after the disappointment of finding true love and having lost it before it had a chance to blossom.

I met the other dogs and went back to say goodbye to Stanley. I sat on the floor in front of his kennel feeding him kibble bits, him gently taking them from me, trying to impress me with his worthiness. He didn't need to try; I knew how amazing he was.

It took all my personal mastery to walk out of there without pitching a tantrum. I was sad, heartbroken, a love denied. I sat in the parking lot for a long time before I drove off without Stanley.

•  •  •

I had met another dog earlier in the day, a little beagle/dachshund mix named Kate, and I decided that maybe she would be a good dog for us. Affectionate, energetic. She was neither timid or overwhelming, just a nice dog. I had met her by myself, and then met Stanley at a different shelter. Now that Stanley had been removed from the list of possibilities, I told our son we should go meet Kate.

Kate was nice, perky, friendly. But she was completely non-selective about us in particular. She was as interested in the walls as she was in me. Our son liked her, I liked her, she was nice. A nice dog.

The last person that had to meet Kate was my husband, who couldn't come with us until the following day.

That's okay, I thought, since we have to go to dinner tonight at my mother's anyway.

•  •  •

Mom had pulled out all the stops for dinner. She had made a multi-course Chinese meal, soup, salads, two main dishes. It was, as it often is when she makes Chinese, difficult to maintain any discipline in not eating too much of one dish, because all the rest promised to be just as delicious. It was punctuated by our usual jocular conversation, bad puns peppering salty stories.

In recapping our lives over dinner, I mentioned our recent bizarre and unexpected quest for a dog. Mom was surprised, because she, like everyone else in my life, had no idea that I've been cruising dog websites for years now. But she agreed that dogs are great, especially for kids, and wondered what kinds we had been looking at.

I told her I had been looking for a ton of different dogs, almost all of them small. I told her I had met a great dog that afternoon, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but it hadn't worked out. Plus he was too big, and Lars would only tolerate a small one.

She leaned towards me and told me that under no circumstances would I get a Staffordshire. "I won't come to your house anymore, I promise you, not unless you chain him up and keep it far from me." No pit bulls! she admonished me, with a patronizing superiority that instantly enraged me.

"Why?" I asked. He isn't a pit bull, I told her, though he is a bull terrier. She didn't care what I said about the breed; she was convinced of my utter stupidity, and her wisdom. That I was willfully throwing my son and family into the jaws of a rabid and merciless weapon.

"Do you know how many people those dogs kill?" she asked. "Those dogs are a menace, and you should know better!" she snarled.

I was getting pretty hot under the collar as well. "These are not killing machines!" I insisted. "Any dog can be trained into violence; that's the fault of the shitty owners!" I retorted. "People who abuse their dogs, train them to be fighters, or starve them because they suck and don't deserve to have dogs themselves!"

"My father got me a vicious dog when I was a kid!" she insisted.

"You father was a complete psycho who reveled in cruelty!" I spat. It's true; everything he did was tainted by bitterness, sadism, cruel humor or just plain meanness. He was a real bastard.

The menfolk around the table were completely stunned. We had gone zero to sixty in a hair's breath over a dog I didn't have, and wasn't going to have.

"You have no idea what you're talking about," said my mother.

"You haven't had a dog in fifty years! What are you basing your knowledge on? Your shitty experience with a dog your insane father got you and archaic thinking about dog training?"

My husband was an interested party, and perhaps knew better than anyone that I was in no condition to be having this conversation. I had met my dream dog and had to leave him in the kennel, walk away from Stanley. I was pretty frayed. "I can promise you that Quenby would never put any of us in danger. She would never do that," he told everyone. Mom was staring at me with a grumpy half smile, and I was staring with fury at my plate. "And if she did, I would turn around and take that dog right back," he insisted.

Silence fell after a while. "It's irrelevant, since I can't have Stanley anyway," I said. "We're meeting a beagle named Kate."

"That's for the best," my mother said.

I was probably more dangerous than Stanley could ever be at that moment, so livid was I.

•   •   •

Bulldogs and Mastiffs are strong, tightly muscled dogs originally bred to bait bulls or bears, so it's no surprise that they're built like tanks. But that was hundreds of years ago, and several breeds have evolved out of the original bulldogs. Crossbreeding bulldogs with terriers produced a smaller fighting dog called the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and from them, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the notorious American Pit Bull were developed.

But Staffordshires (Staffie's or Staffs, or simply "the Nanny Dog") had long since left their fighting days behind after dogfighting as sport was banned in England, and Staffies became one of the most reliable family dogs, known for extreme loyalty, courage and love of children. The English don't call Staffy's "the Nanny Dog" for nothing.

In the meantime, Staff's were being bred to become the American Staffordshire and the American Pit Bull, where as usual bigger is better. And then the pit bulls became singularly famous for vicious attacks on children, strangers, owners, other dogs. Bad press was the only press that pit bulls managed to procure for themselves, and sadly the poor Staffie has been pulled down in the campaign.

But pit bulls are also just like any other dog: bred in conditions which train for killing, they will become a successful killer. Smaller dogs left in horrible conditions or trained to violence will become violent, or terrified, dysfunctional and broken. That they don't have the sheer force of the bull terriers doesn't make then any less susceptible to horrible treatment.

People forget that dogs are creatures created and honed by man. A vicious dog attack does not incriminate the breed, it incriminates the people who have trained it, abused it or raised it. Poor old Stanley looks like a thug, but he's just a big galoot. He just wants to go home. And I hope that if he can't come home with me that he goes home with someone who can see the heart of sheer warmth under the massive mug.

•   •   •

When we got home after the argument, my husband and I discussed my simmering anger. I was seething, and as I explained the reasons, all my sadness about Stanley welled up. He was this sweet ox, and people were going to assume, based on his face and sheer muscle mass that he was a weapon with fur, a ticking time bomb in a dog's body who was going to snap at any given time.

I hated people in general for creating a scenario in which this galumph, who was so delicate taking food from my fingers that I only felt his lips, was going to inspire fear. I hated it that even my mother assumed, based on name alone, that I was going to put my family at risk, that I was completely irresponsible in picking a pet who looks more like a mook that a little fluffy toy. That she didn't know the difference between Staffies and pit bulls only emphasized the injustice of the thing; she wasn't even hanging her accusations on the right breed.

Mostly I hated it that Stanley wasn't going to come home with me, because it was a fairy tale love at first sight, and I was brokenhearted that I had to leave him to the fates to find another good home.

•  •  •

I kept track of Stanley on the website by going back over and over again, to see if he'd been adopted yet. I planned subterfuges, manipulations of how to wiggle out of the shelter's requirements, clandestine operations which roped my hapless friends into getting Stanley from the shelter and then passing him off to me once he was out of their clutches. I thought of him waiting there for the right family and I cried because he found it and then I walked out on him.

In the end, I acquiesced to the greater wisdom of the shelter, who clearly has Stanley's best interests at heart and won't let Stanley go home with someone who wants him for his meaty muscles and his potential for fighting; they will find Stanley a home that loves him for his silly grin and tender, stout heart.

The Pyrex Tolls For Thee

If you're coming to my house for a social call, a casual tête-á-tête, a little visit just to say hi, make sure to take note of both your surroundings and your offerings. Bring wine if you like; wine is completely benign. A six-pack, perfectly balanced with a sunny smile and a warm greeting will make the afternoon bright. Even a bag of chips is fine because bags of chips have never been identified with ominous tidings or uncanny prophecy. But avoid the Pyrex if you want to stay married. Or if there's any potential for emotional disaster looming. Beware if you are mid-argument with someone; the stakes may get a whole lot higher once the Pyrex enters the equation.

On the other hand, if you are looking to hasten the conclusion of a thing--if you are, say, looking for the exit in an unhappy romance--feel free to bring the Pyrex oven-and-microwave-safe-glassware, full of glistening and delicious morsels of food. Perhaps the Pyrex on its own would be enough to speed up the process, but this theory has not been qualitatively tested in the affirmative. There has often been food in the Pyrex in the past, and if you are truly committed to ending a thing, best to hedge your bets on a full dish.

The first example of Pyrex as prognosticator came ten years ago. Two friends dropped by unannounced while I was making lunch. It was a beautiful day, sunny, warm, deceptive in its cheerful aspect. We sat around our kitchen table laughing the laughter of the innocent, naïve souls who did not yet know how to read the signs.

One friend got a phone call; he took it on our porch.

I used a hot mitt to remove lunch, cooking in Pyrex, from the oven, which, upon meeting the cool air, blew up in my hand, sending shards of hot glass over the entire kitchen.

My husband, noting the somewhat glazed expression on my face and the fact that I had no shoes on, threw me over his shoulder in a classic fireman rescue straight out of Hollywood disaster movies. Our friend on the porch, taking his phone call of doom, saw me in this rather embarrassing position, thrown helplessly over a shoulder and wondered what sort of horror had befallen me, especially when he was receiving the message from his wife that they were getting a divorce. It was over between them. She was with someone else and was finalizing their marriage by putting in the papers.

Our vinyl kitchen flooring was a little melted in places, I was completely fine, the Pyrex and our lunch was a wash. Our friend was devastated. He had been married for years, and with the woman for far longer; we had been at their wedding. They had a child. It was a hopeless situation. And the Pyrex told all.

Years passed. We moved to a new house. Friends of ours came together with nary a breakup or disaster in sight. No Pyrex coincided with any social mishaps. I hadn't used Pyrex often after the explosive necromancy of the past; since it blew up once I wasn't really encouraged to test its integrity every time I baked something. But nothing terrible had befallen any of our friends or loved-ones in a proximal relation to any oven-ready glassware in a long time, so perhaps we let our guard down.

Perhaps we had forgotten the lessons of the Pyrex, Harbinger of Doom.

Four years ago, two friends of ours were coming over to dinner. It was a reunion planned with great joy; one of our friends had come out of a career which had been one of the most surreal experiences of her life and now that she was relieved of duty, she was stunned at the life she walked back into. She was instantly famous, recognizable to any and all who walked down the street. She was weary and needed a respite from all the attention. I have pictures from that night. She looks sad in all of them, her life exciting and interesting, but overwhelming and stressful just the same.

She asked what she could bring, and I said anything that went with gumbo would be fine; a vegetable dish or cornbread, maybe. I did not think to specify the container; who does?

She is a terrific cook, one who takes great delight in feeding those she loves. She hadn't cooked for anyone in months and had placed all her affection and all her joy of of good friendship in her big pot of greens. She and her beau walked up to the door with her lovingly prepared collards, the perfect accompaniment to a Dutch oven full of gumbo. The bag, heavy with liquid, slipped a little, and then more, and she watched, helpless, as the collards in their Pyrex sepulcher fell and shattered across our front walkway. She was devastated, started to cry because she had poured her love into them, and now they were cast across the pavement in a cruel dispatch, the tea leaves of Southern comfort food embossing our sidewalk with messages we couldn't decipher.

We did not know that the disaster was not the loss of the greens; they were going to be delicious and we mourned their loss. But the Pyrex does not concern itself with mere sustenance, the food of the flesh; its concerns are metaphysical, otherworldly, ineffable. For our friend's beau, unlikely as it seems, was the same beau who had been served notice on his impending divorce when the first Pyrex blew up in my hands. We even remarked on the uncanny similarities of events, laughed nervously at the unlikely coincidence, though since he was already divorced, his first wife couldn't divorce him again.

Alas, there are more options in the fore-shadowing of Pyrex.

At about eight o'clock, the beau received a phone call from his now ex-wife: she was moving out of state with her new family. And she was taking their child with her.

Let me state for the record that we were good friends with this beau, but we hardly ever saw him. We most often mingled with him at large barbecues, where apparently the mishmosh of Pyrex mixed with other off-brand examples of oven-safe glassware watered down the chimes of the universe. Perhaps Pyrex has a direct line into the psyche of this one friend, which only aligns, like certain constellations, when in proximity to my husband and myself. Location is irrelevant: we live in a different house than the location of Interstellar Pyrex Message Number One, but the message seems to follow us to where-ever we are.

It would appear that Pyrex, in some unspoken symbiosis, has chosen my husband and I as the locus for emotional disasters to befall friends and their kin.

Years pass, fortunes change. I turn forty. A celebration, a convivial atmosphere. Pyrex? None to be seen, but I wasn't looking--I was turning forty, after all. Surrounded by my friends and loved ones, including the couple, Famous Person and Pyrex Lightning Rod.

They decided to part ways, after almost a decade together. At my party, on our deck.

I had been too caught up in my own personal drama of fortyness to look for the clues; where had the Pyrex been hiding? How had I missed the signs? But maybe this is not a part of Pyrex Prophecy. My husband and I just need to be near the Pyrex, we don't even need to know it's there for the powerful voodoo of Pyrex oven-safe dishware to work its ill-wind upon our friends. Maybe we are merely tools the Pyrex utilizes to channel the messages from the celestial spheres, creating a zone of safety for our friends to receive Pyrex Prestidigitation. We are the jewel and the medallion on the Staff of Ra, shedding light upon the stage where the drama will unfold, but not actors in the play. We must merely exist for the Pyrex to deliver its missive.

I want you to come over to our house, and we will share all the delights our house has to offer.  I set a good table, our house is warm with cheer. We will sit under the grape arbor in summer and around the table in fall. We will laugh, and take great joy in each others company.

But it is only fair to reveal the Truth of Pyrex. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 4

We rediscovered our favorite chicken place on the opposite side of town from where it had been a few years earlier. Sayulita is magical like that–things open and close, move with no warning, change and evolve in ways peculiar to Sayulita. Like the recently paved road, which has been masterfully poured but ends dramatically with exposed re-bar threatening every tire that passes, restaurants and shops seem to work outside the rules of normal business practice. I turned a corner and there it was: La Pechuga. I marched right up, whipped out my meager Spanish, chatted briefly with the very nice man wrapping up my bird, and paid for a feast: a whole chicken with rice, fresh tortillas, and homemade salsa (85 pesos), and roast potatoes (15 pesos). I carried my quarry back to the den, proud to offer up such an unexpected delight to my family. We ate like kings (sorry Punta Sayulita, maybe dukes), rounded out by a couple Mexican Cokes (no corn syrup, but real cane sugar as the sweetener) and a vast appreciation for the simple pleasures of Mexican pollo.

We were so happy to rediscover our chicken place, which consisted of nothing more than an enormous rotisserie oven and a bunch of plastic bags to wrap up the birds, that we had to share this gem of intelligence with the new friends we had made in our housing complex. We planned a dinner for all of us, and we bought two chickens with all the trimmings. We sat down to our shared pollo meal on their rented patio overlooking the sea, amazed at our good fortune. And they too became enamored of the chicken place.

Our last night in Sayulita also happened to be the birthday of one of our new friends, so we agreed that getting a La Pechuga chicken was the best way to celebrate Brian’s birthday and cap our perfect vacation. At about four-thirty the men-folk mounted up and set out for the glory of the hunt. We women and children remained behind, with our sage leader, my father, rounding out the tribe.

We waited. We waited and waited. We wondered where they could be; had they come to harm along the peaceful Sayulita streets? Had they ended up in a bar doing shots with young surfers for Brian’s birthday, leaving us to our over-active fantastical imagination? Had they in fact found the chicken so irresistible they ate it all before they got back to the house, and now, having realized their folly, needed to acquire more fodder for the tribe? We toddled down to the beach at dusk to look for baby sea turtles. We toddled back. Our husbands were still not there.

The sun had left Sayulita, and a blue half-light covered the town. The ocean was roaring in the distance, now invisible as night had fallen.

They arrived at last, chicken in hand, weary, travel worn, but in one piece.

“The chicken place was gone,” Brian said. “They moved to Guadalajara.”

This was unexpected.

We had walked by the day before, planning with our stomachs how many chickens to buy for our celebration. There, La Pechuga’s long line, its rotisserie turning out perfect chicken, its staff of two helping its devoted customers, had beguiled us with a future that was not to be. It had faded overnight, gone, like a mirage. An oasis of chicken disappearing into the mists of Sayulita businesses gone by.

But our husbands had brought chicken, a mystery yet to be revealed.

“We didn’t know what to do now that there was no chicken place, so we just started walking through the town, hoping we could find an alternative.”

This was not ideal, as my husband is rather inflexible when it comes to his stomach and its cravings. He had been banking on La Pechuga, and now that it had disappeared overnight, he was at a loss. Brian and Lars wandered into the little downtown across the tiny river, looking up dirt roads and down little avenues for dinner alternatives to be revealed. They came upon a dry erase board with a hand-written name “Yolanda” on it, an arrow pointing them up a dry dirt road to their next best chicken hope.

They came up empty-handed–Yolanda’s chicken place had also closed up shop, making them wonder if there was a dire chicken shortage that had befallen Sayulita, the Great Pollo Disaster of 2010.

Finally, perhaps because she took pity upon the strangers staring at the place Yolanda’s once stood, or maybe noting that they had walked past in some circular, confused route, a woman sitting in front of her house asked them what they were looking for.

“Yolanda?” my husband asked.

“Yolanda is gone,” she replied.

“Closed?” they asked.

“Just gone,” she said, in a way that made them wonder if Yolanda had slipped the yoke on this mortal coil. “What are you looking for?” she asked.

Pollo, chicken. We’re looking for chicken for dinner,” they said.

She shrugged, “I’ll make you a chicken.”

They looked at each other. She had a grill in front of her house, and its coals were hot. Why not?

“How many chickens you want?” she asked.

Dos,” they requested.

“Half an hour, you come back,” she said.

So our husbands wandered off into town again. They covered the whole downtown and doubled back, meandering through alleys and streets, with potholes the size of small ponds. The town is small enough that they re-traced their path many times before the half hour ran out and they ambled back to the woman’s house.

“Fifteen more minutes,” she said.

They set out again, taking spurs and side streets they hadn’t yet investigated. They had covered most of the town by the time fifteen minutes past.

“Not done yet,” she announced, so they chatted politely in front of her grill while she puttered about. The sun had pretty much set behind the future Punta Sayulita community, and the dusky blue wrapped them in cool light when she finally held out the bag with two chickens in it.

“Wow,” we said, back at the house. “She just made you two chickens? Just because?” We were stunned and moved. Her two chickens cost 170 pesos, about 12 dollars, but completely priceless. They were different from La Pechuga chickens, but delicious just the same. It was a meal worth waiting for.

•   •   •

My husband, bless him, thinks that Punta Sayulita is a pipe dream that will come to nothing. They supposedly broke ground in February, 2009, and looking at their website I see that out of their future plans for “just 62 exotic and handcrafted homes” only three plots are noted as sales “pending.” The rest are “available” or marked as “future releases” which gives me hope.

On the other hand the “unspoiled 33-acre peninsula of lush and tranquil shoreline” has been purchased by someone, or some consortium, and ownership implies development, even if Punta Sayulita fails in its mission of creating a luxury hideaway for Americans who only want to see other Americans. But what a loss. What a loss for the people who purchase their stake in an Intimate Kingdom; no random chicken stories for them in their tightly modulated experience of luxury.

And what a loss for the residents of Sayulita, who deserve better than more people like Mr. and Mrs. Walrus washing up on their shores, demanding service they have no right to demand in ways that give a bad name to all travelers who arrive there. We have tried hard to be good, if fleeting, citizens of Sayulita; to honor the spirit of the town’s easy-going and casual atmosphere, even if we know that there is still a level of hypocrisy in our sucking up the best beachfront real estate for our brief visits. But we are open to the experience of Sayulita, not Club Med.

And what of the “unspoiled 33-acre peninsula”? It will be spoiled. By the very act of breaking ground, the spoiling has begun. How can anyone read such base descriptions of pristine shoreline and the “new ocean sanctuary...set to rise” without feeling bile tickle the back of their throats just a little? We shouldn’t aspire to being royalty in our intimate kingdoms, especially in someone else’s country. Best to aspire to being good neighbors, equal in the desire for good stewardship of such a precious jewel.

Sayulita, and all its residents, tamarindos, iguanas, and mangoes, deserves no less.

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 3

The brochure for Punta Sayulita was left behind in the house that we rented, living in the stack of airport magazines abandoned by previous visitors, and my husband, always on the lookout for a new periodical, picked it up. It was expensively produced, with an embossed cover sporting only Punta Sayulita's inscrutable logo, and delicate strands of transparent buzz words floating in the background: relaxation... authenticity... camaraderie.... If the Artist Formerly Known as a Symbol had a housing development, this would be it.

The folder that accompanied this well-produced brochure was filled with information regarding the houses that were going to be built on the pristine point at the edge of Sayulita. And there would be no need to ever leave the point, as everything was gated, exclusive, luxurious, all inclusive.

"Jesus," my husband said. "This place is insane." I took one of the sheets touting the dimensions of what would be a "Casita," presumably the smallest house on the Punta, as "casa" was followed by the diminutive "-ita." The house itself, sitting on approximately 10,000 square feet of lovely jungle overlooking the Pacific, had almost 2,928 feet of interior living space. This did not include the "cart garage" (no cars allowed), the pools, terraces and decks, which added another 2,000 square feet. At a hair shy of 5000 square feet, this created a living area equal to more than three of my houses in Portland, a stunning amount of footage to keep clean.

Of course, that's irrelevant in Sayulita since everyone has "help." No less than our little week-long oasis had a dedicated housekeeper named Cynthia, who came and made our beds, washed our dishes, swept out the buckets of sand we dragged in every day. And because I'm a bad tourist with even worse Spanish, I tried and failed to communicate with Cynthia about her life there. In the end I simply let her clean the house. I didn't know how to tell her to leave the dishes in the sink, and it made her visibly upset every time we intervened in some menial task. This was extremely embarrassing for me, and probably annoying for her. "Just let me clean the damned house, you crazy gringa! I have to be here anyway because that's what they're paying me for! Get out of my way!"

This sort of cultural friction does not exist in the brochure for Punta Sayulita, because the faces are uniformly white. Punta Sayulita is not to be a Mexican oasis for Mexicans. The happy faces glowing in the Sayulita sun are blond, sun-kissed, reflecting the joy of having all their mental, physical and emotional needs met. Surf boards for the whole family--plus instruction, if you desire. Dining at your outdoor grill, eating fresh seafood brought in by invisible hands. Margaritas after a dip in your own pool. Yoga to regain your equilibrium after all the mental anguish of having to decide your recreational activity for the day. Do you even want to expend the energy to grill your own shrimp? Walk to the Punta Sayulita restaurant instead. Drink at the Punta Sayulita bar. Work out at the Punta Sayulita fitness center.

This sort of insularity gives me the creeps. Not simply because the unseen hands anticipating your every need will invariably be Mexican, but because this embryonic nurturing of the self is so utterly contrary to the joys of Sayulita. Part of the reason Sayulita has been such a strange success is the extremely relaxed mingling between the Mexicans and the gringos. We don't go to Sayulita to live in a McMansion and be cut off from Mexico. We want the fish tacos, the halting but polite communication with the residents, who are so patient with us as long as we give it our best, the beautiful hand-crafted folk art, terracotta stoneware and bead work created by the Huichols. We want to be in Mexico, not Sun City, Arizona.

But the developers of Punta Sayulita don't see it that way. They don't have a very finely tuned irony alarm either, as they've peppered their brochure with almost comical headers: "The Camaraderie of Club Life," and "An Intimate Kingdom to Call One's Own." Let's ignore that we've pretty much ruled out monarchy as a form of government, but to crown oneself "king" is also an awkwardly indiscreet flaunting of pomposity.

Perhaps the most egregious double-speak in the entire twenty-odd pages is the header which announces "A Return to Authenticity." I'm curious about the authenticity to which the future owners are returning, isolated as they will be from the actual town in Mexico they are presumably a part of. Which is fine with me, really. But if overgrown mini-mansions are authentic, and the only people you are likely to mingle with are Americans like yourself, I'm quite sure I have no idea what Mexico is all about. And the only place I've seen hulking monsters of real estate like these have been in US suburbs, places called Happy Valley and Country Walk, suffering now due to a mortally wounded housing market.

So if you're willing to spend 1.75 million dollars (US, not Pesos, just to be clear) on your Casita in Punta Sayulita, you have a grand experience awaiting you. Not a Mexican experience, certainly, because that's been stripped away by the very nature of its Club Life. But you can hang out under your Authentic Palapa™ or at the communal Jungle Pool™, meeting other Small Kings of your Intimate Kingdoms, after surfing in the Unspoiled Pacific Waters.

I'll be at my favorite restaurant in town, listening to the roosters crow, mangling Spanish with the Mexican residents who politely tolerate me, eating fresh fish tacos and drinking Negro Modelo.

•   •   •

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 2

As a private residential community of just 62 exotic and handcrafted homes, this serene Mexican hideaway will also offer its residents a stunning Beach and Surf Club designed by de Reus Architects with an engaging beach bar, lounge, Jungle Pool and stylish restaurant. There will be a modern fitness center and spa facilities and Concierge services, outdoor yoga pavilions, community watercraft and a casual Surf Club boasting an array of ocean activities for the entire family.

--Brochure for Punta Sayulita

The mythology of Sayulita is this: it was discovered in the 70's by two surfers who came through on a lark and stayed for the easy life. From them, Sayulita has grown up from an isolated fishing village to a recreation destination for both Mexicans on vacation and Northerners looking to escape their chilly climes. And now, having grown up through several generational shifts, the children who are residents have known no other town than the one with a transient tourist population, swinging through in weekly migrations. Many of them benefit from this peculiar migrant population as restaurants and shops have grown up to support the tides of travelers.

And many of them still do not speak English, which makes me easy, somehow. Even though their town is at any given time probably a third to half foreigners, they have retained their cultural heritage and their language. Or at least the language of the earlier, more violent colonial invaders; it seems that many of the locals are in some part descended from the Huichols who still maintain a vivid and brightly decorated presence there.

We discovered Sayulita several years ago, well after it had already been established as a hidden jewel of Nayarit. But the problem with hidden jewels is no-one seems to be able to keep the secret. I share responsibility and some of blame for this: several of our friends have also made the trip to Sayulita based upon our ringing endorsement, and I'm sure that they in turn have passed on the secret as well. And they told two friends, and they told two friends...

But Sayulita is at a crossroads. It's a 45-minute ride down a winding two lane highway from Puerto Vallarta in whatever taxi or bus you find to take you. There were no paved streets in the town itself save the highway until recently; now there are paved roads. Granted, they don't really qualify as "improved" since they start and stop abruptly, one of them actually ending in tire-destroying re-bar which juts out, threatening every vehicle willing to take the risk with a flat. But just the same, paved. And it's no surprise that they needed some paved roads in town, as the development around little Sayulita is rocketing along at a tidy clip.

We got a taste of its pace at breakfast time as we walked to ChocoBanana, a weird little restaurant that seems to anchor the Norteños and the locals together in some funny unsettled way. And at eight in the morning, the streets are rumbling with the engines of countless trucks all going to the new construction sites throughout the town. There are many trucks going to many sites.

Development is no new thing here. The entire beachfront seems to have been swallowed up by larger and larger complexes of houses, each one boasting more amenities and greater size than the ones before. We have availed ourselves of this extreme decadence, though we do it with a touch of sheepishness and a little confusion about our intersection with the lifestyles of the residents of the town. But we, being part and parcel with the Northwest, are always looking for new ways to flee the weather, and Sayulita has become the point on our radar upon which we focus.

The residents to date seem to be placid about the massive transient population that has washed up there. There have been great entrepreneurial possibilities opening for those willing to suck up the foreign cash, which is in abundance. Still, just the same, I can't help but sense that we have, by swallowing up the choicest sections of beachfront properties and then hiring the Mexicans from Sayulita to build them, clean them and manage them, imported our inequitable treatment of the residents with us from the Northern reaches. Even though we are in effect the migrants.

•   •   •

The best thing about a place like Sayulita is that one is forced, by the very nature of its inaccessibility and sleepiness, to take it slow. The greatest challenge that faced us each day was what to eat and where to eat it. Tacos? Fresh fish pulled from the sea? Maybe a little tamale from the Señora that wandered through the complex?

Anyone who has been there knows the Muffin Lady by reputation; she sells freshly baked pies and muffins every morning along the beachfront houses on the North side of town. Breakfast while rubbing our eyes free of the night's humid descent was always a non-issue as our son would cram cheese pies in his face and we adults would drink stiff coffee with our orange muffins baked in old tin cans. If one chose, you could not move from under your palapa on your rented terracotta patio for the entire day: muffins in the morning, tamales for lunch, grab some shrimp from the fish trucks that drive through town shouting the catch of the day from the back. Throw them on a grill and you've had yourself a good day.

But the benefits of moving off the patio are great: if you like surfing, or just smelling the ocean you've got it made. The jungle rises up behind you on steep hills, and there are horses to ride through them, led by the enterprising locals. Boat rides, beers on the beach, simple basking in the sun, weighed down by nothing heavier than the tropical humidity. Everything is slow.

There is a sort of friction between old and new Sayulita as it becomes more popular. Just to absorb the huge influx of tourists, the roads have to be improved. The demands for accessible health care have risen from the potential drowning victims who wallow in the deceptively placid ocean and an unfortunate outbreak of dengue fever, and tidy new clinics have resulted. There is a necessity for efficient waste management, and a bunch of little recycling bins have spread throughout the town. The new sewage treatment plant is a huge improvement in the quality of life there; the smell on funky days was pretty punishing. The tiny rivulet that separates North from South Sayulita seems wholesome again, though I wouldn't drink the water on a bet.

Many of the features that we travelers find so intimately alluring must be an unendurable pain in the ass for people who live there. The potholes in the unpaved roads are so enormous and voluminous that cars and trucks must go through fabulous numbers of shocks and repairs. So while we Norteños wander through on foot, wearing our flip flops and beach pareos on our way to discover some other quaint delight, the more respectably attired locals on their way to work on new constructions or to open their shops, or unloading their goods from the back of trucks battered from crappy roads, must wish for a nice route through the town.

But convenience for them will mean the loss of charm for us. It's an uneasy moment in Sayulita, and the ex pat community is cognizant of the need for and awareness of growth regulation. The very active foreign community encourages the involvement of Mexicans in their own destiny, which is good but may overtake all of them no matter how well-managed their growth.

And as the foreign presence swells, so does modernity. It is impossible at this point to get much work done if you're from the north; the internet is too spotty. But even this is changing, and cafes and restaurants all tout their Wi-Fi connections. Speed is not aces, but then, who would want it to be? Not when you could toddle down to the beach with a beer and watch the pelicans diving. The last day we were there, high speed internet was being installed in the complex we were leaving. It's only a matter of time, really, before everything is wired, even the odd chicken roticerias. And who am I to complain? It will probably ease the annoyance of many there. And yet, I'm grieved by the addition.

The charm of Sayulita has been it's laid back, timeless quality. In this, change is in the air. There is a stylish convenience store right in the center of town now, looking flashy and modern standing next to the rather less well-put-together farmacia/tienda next door. They are both populated with all the same passers-by, but I can't help but feel that the Oxxo has put the farmacia on notice: evolve or die.

And then there is the newest addition to Sayulita: Punta Sayulita, a gated community developing on the once pristine ocean point just outside of town.

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 1

A stone's throw from the allure of Sayulita, there is an unspoiled 33-acre peninsula of lush and tranquil shoreline. Upon this romantic sweep of coast, amidst a tropical jungle thick with wild orchids, mangoes, tamarindos and pelicans soaring overhead, a new ocean sanctuary is set to rise. --Brochure for Punta Sayulita, a development in Mexico on the Nayarit Coast

The speed with which our taxi driver raced into the complex to drive us to the airport was contradictory to all our other experiences in Sayulita, Mexico. Certainly it was contrary to our experience with the same driver only seven days earlier, who picked us up in a Chevy Suburban with a cooler of Tecate which we swilled with impish delight on the winding highway through the jungle to Sayulita. We drank with some part "fuck you" to the rules and regulations of the United States, and some part ablutions to the lords of vacation.

But upon vacation's end, the driver Antonio was in a frenzy. He threw our bags in the back while being verbally assaulted by the source of his excitement, an overgrown walrus of an American telling Antonio there wasn't room for our family, that he needed the taxi for himself. Antonio was trying to explain to him through obvious strain and his thick Spanish accent that my family had arranged for the taxi days before; the walrus was an interloper injecting himself into a car that wasn't available. The walrus neither heard nor cared, and harrumphed into the seat in front of the other object of Antonio's distress, the walrus's girlfriend.

Having come late to the party, we were confused. We had arranged with Antonio for a round trip to and from the airport; sharing the taxi was not a part of negotiations so we were similarly miffed. Plus I had no idea we were to share a taxi with Princess Grace's lesser sibling. Through her Midwestern twang she barked at Antonio, "There's not enough room for them, we need this taxi FOR US." Antonio got in the Suburban and started to drive. He called someone on his cell while navigating the potholes and crevasses that opened up in Sayulita's completely unimproved streets, speaking frantically while avoiding skinny dogs and surfers clogging up the road. "He wants to talk to you," Antonio said to Princess Walrus, handing her his cell phone.

She berated the voice on the other end. "We need to be at the airport AT FIVE; I want YOU to PICK ME UP. We're in a van with other people; there's no room for other people. You meet me and drive me YOURSELF. We're going to our hotel NOW. Twenty-five minutes, I want you THERE." She handed the phone back to Antonio who was quietly seething in the driver's seat. "Just take us to our fucking hotel," Princess Walrus complained. Over staggering potholes of dirt road we jumbled together, our six-year-old the only one laughing at the absurdity of the thing, the van's shocks failing us over every bump, making it better than any amusement park ride.

I turned to my husband. "This is like the West Bank," I explained. I've always tried to describe it to him--the Middle East Relations major who never got the chance to visit the Middle East--and this was it: bad roads, insane Americans bitching at people, taxis bottoming out every five feet, dust covering everything. Sometimes the Third World seems universal: one dusty road populated by a bitchy American woman assaulting a local is as good as another. Princess and Master Walrus tumbled out of the van at their swank hotel on the spectacular Nayarit shore, apparently more inclined to miss their plane than to share a taxi they were never welcome to in the first place. The last I saw of the Walrus Tribe was Princess Walrus yelling at anyone who would listen how unfairly she had been treated.

Antonio was puce with fury as he drove back down the impassable narrow dirt path to the main highway. "Pendejo" featured prominently in the tumble of Spanish that fell from his spluttering lips as we pulled away. He spat out words to explain what had happened, between gesticulations at the truck that almost backed into us, which we pieced together however we could: The Walruses had jumped in his taxi when he dropped another fare, and he, both because they were too stupid to listen and too belligerent to care, couldn't eject them. They wanted his taxi, and damn it, they were going to take it. That there were other arrangements did not enter the equation, even when he picked us up, the totally mystified family who had scheduled ahead of time.

"They had another taxi, but they didn't wait for it--they just took this one. No pay, no nada! And she's yelling at me! I drive them to their hotel, I call the other company for them..." He dissolved into a tirade of Spanglish so thick we couldn't parse any more, other than that his hatred for the Walruses knew no bounds. I was completely sympathetic. She was the stereotype of horrific American tourist: nasal, bitchy, entitled. We hated her even before she humiliated Antonio, with her insouciant freshly-fucked hair-style, expensive yoga pants and high heeled flip flops. It was all façade; the small blunderbuss rammed up her ass was evidence of no true human contact in more than a decade. Though I despised him, I also pitied Mr. Walrus; it was an unbearable trip to go across an idyllic village in Mexico with this piece of work; a trip across the country in a plane with her would qualify as torture under Geneva.

•  •  •

The Small Naked Drunk Man in the Bottom of My Drawer

This morning I found parity while looking, scrambling really, for socks and I found Drunk Hercules instead. Herc is a key chain fob that broke years ago, and at some point shifted his drunkenness out of my handbag into my top drawer where the undies and socks reside, to live near the frills of my last vestiges of youthful lingerie. I found him after pulling out seven socks with no mate and digging deep into the unknown wastes of underwear I haven't seen for years, where he was wrapped up in a garter belt. And looking at both Herc, of whom I'm so fond, and the utterly impractical garter belt, I realized that Herc would live on down there in my drawer, but the garter belt had reached its expiration date. Over the years I've peeled away the sexy detritus of youth as I settle deeper and deeper into being a fabulously premature retiree. My world reaches as far as the chicken coop and my son's school and I have little need of a garter belt in either of those places. I never did, really, since I always found the conceit of garter belts a little too Frederick's of Hollywood. But when I was younger, I wore them under army fatigues and utility boots, so they became a different sort of message. I'm not sure what the message was, but it may have been part and parcel with my fondness for Hammer Pants and sports coats.

The inaugural blow against sexy underthings was becoming happily married. That happened almost 15 years ago for me, and sexy undies have been in slow decline ever since. The first items on the block were the really ridiculous ones, lingerie I don't think I ever actually wore: slips that I bought from consignment stores, sets that were cute only on mannequins and Kate Moss, absurd gifts from people that knew in some corner of their mind that I would never, ever be caught dead in anything that looked as silly as a mesh bodysuit.

The next to go were the regular work-a-day bras. Once I got pregnant, my tiny demure chest became vava-voom-tastic, and I needed some weird engineering wonders followed by the least sexy of all lingerie: the nursing bra. By the time I caught my reflection in a mirror after a year of wearing the most utilitarian of lingerie, I resolved not to wear them at all. Once my chest deflated I bought tank tops and camisoles, freeing myself from hooks and straps forever.

I visited thongs (a.k.a. Butt Floss) only briefly in my twenties; they had been replaced by bikinis almost immediately. And then came the marketing coup called "boy-shorts," and I thought I had won the lingerie lottery. My undies have been reverting to an almost completely androgynous identity over the years, unnoticed by me until finding Hercules wrapped in my 40-year-old garter belt (it belonged to my mom before it belonged to me, passed hand to hand through the generations, a provocative idealistic hope unrealized through four decades).

I used to keep one nice pair of undies and one nice bra for special events, the ones where I was required to look less like a scrappy boy and more like an adult female. That happens less and less, which is my choice really, but it's a little sad to realize that if I was expected to show up at the Grammy's I would be hard-pressed to find proper underwear for whatever outfit I decided on. More alarming, I would be more inclined toward Spanx than some slightly sassy lingerie set.

So I can't decide. What to do with the garter belt? Leave it as a symbol of the past, a saucy, ridiculous paean to youth? Abandon Herc to my sexless socks and boy shorts? I mean, he's pretty loaded; I'm sure he's got the beer goggles of millenia going for him. Maybe he wouldn't notice that he was down there with completely sexless underthings. But he's a Roman, after all, and Romans were a randy bunch, always looking for a good time in any way possible. Maybe it would be an insult to strip his home of all sexual frivolity despite the fact they will never be used again in my life.

Maybe when I die, hopefully at some ridiculously ripe old age, both Hercules and that garter belt will live on in a drawer, a little testament to fun and friskiness. My son, then grown with a family of his own, will find them there while breaking up housekeeping, and face a little mystery about the person he knew as "Mom."

A Perfect Day for Hermit Crabs

Two days ago I drove past a store which has been an anchor of the neighborhood I live in for the last two decades. A sign on the door said that the proprietor, Greg Klaus, had died and the future of his store was unknown. It was a shocking revelation; I had bought a birthday present for my son there last month, and Greg was there puttering around his nice collection of eccentricities: Totoro stuffed animals, locally made cards and bags, peculiar tchotckes that embraced cuteness and darkness in the same package. And, upon doing the requisite Google search, I discovered that Greg had commit suicide. That he died as a man in his prime was shock enough, but suicide is always so jarring. And then Salinger died, and I re-read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." In it, Seymour Glass's wife is assuring her mother on the phone that Seymour is not dangerous, that his nervous breakdown isn't making him erratic. Meanwhile, Seymour is on the beach, talking with his most ardent admirer, Sybil Carpenter, a child with whom he clearly has an excellent rapport. He spins enchantingly surreal images for the girl, just the sort of tales that make a child love someone, about the elusive Bananafish, whose own insatiable appetite for bananas not only gives it its name, but brings on its demise.

And in a tender moment, Seymour kisses the arch on the girls foot, saying they're done for the day.

"Goodbye," said Sybil, and ran without regret in the direction of the hotel.

Seymour walks back to his hotel room, has a terse, bizarre conversation with a hotel guest, and then blows his brains out on the bed next to his sleeping wife.

It is shocking. It is jarring. The complete ease with which Seymour converses with the child but the unease with which he communicates with the hotel guest expose the fractures that have surfaced in Seymour, presumably brought on by his unmentioned experiences in World War II. Seymour is capable of kindness and frivolity, but even within that is the seed of his tragic inner being: the Bananafish must, by its very nature, bring on its own end.

I read that Greg Klaus was similarly tortured. No one but those closest to him knew what lived within, but his family was not surprised when he took his life. And Greg, filling his store with appealing hand-picked objects which embraced both his approachability and edginess, like ashtrays imprinted with cute children smoking cigarettes, hinted at a dark sensibility that would end badly.

Salinger's ability to capture the dichotomy of Seymour's appealing sensitivity and the unease with which Seymour lives within the world couldn't be a better synthesis of the future that lurks beneath those trapped in the snare of their own anguish. Salinger didn't die as Seymour or Greg did, by his own hand, but I imagine that to go to where Seymour went, he must have embraced the dark as well. Perhaps now Salinger can finally rest.

This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain on TNB. Any Questions?

Ever since I've been allowed to hurl my musings at The Nervous Breakdown, expanding my readership beyond my usual four, now that I have the potential for an audience of at least five, my brain has been taking it out on me. I am not in my comfort zone. I have been skillfully and assiduously avoiding a public face on the internet since, oh, forever. I've written extensively, but my name has not been attached. I have kept the innocent and the guilty alike hidden in my dedication to anonymity. I'm comfortable with that.

Perhaps it's my name. If I didn't have such a whacked-out name, I wouldn't think about it so much. Search for "Angela Smith" on the intarwebs, you potentially face a long haul finding the "Angela" you're interested in. But "Quenby Moone?" Yeah. There's only one of those.

Megan DiLullo and I were discussing my future here on TNB, and she told me I should get on Facebook. It was a good way for people to contact me, make a face for myself. Really? Why in God's name would I want to do that? So my psychotic ex-boyfriend can find me and ask me how my kid is?

But Megan is nothing if not clever, so I entertained that she might have a point. I've been pretty well-insulated until now, but if I had any hope of having a readership beyond my father, who has a genetic investment in my successes and failures, and my other three (possibly paid) devotees to my inner brain queefs, I would probably have to go on Facebook and mingle.

I summoned no small part of bravery to sign up for an account. And I totally punked it, since I went by my white trash handle, Tawny Bouté. I poked Megan to show that I had the guts to be there, and then I poked my husband. I had two Facebook friends.

Not bad, really.

I don't know how it happened. I don't know how someone I haven't spoken to in 22 years found me on there, buried under my white trash nom de plume, but there it was: a friend request from someone I hardly remember. And it wasn't that I didn't want to have him as my friend, I just didn't know why he wanted to be mine. I panicked. I worried about it. I thought about "friending" him (a gerund which drives me nuts), and realized that it was the first step down a long road of friends I hardly know all friending each other. It's so weird, and nosey, and slightly voyeuristic.

But I know that it's great, too. I know that people have discovered each other and re-kindled long dormant relationships to the benefit of all parties. And why am I so vain as to believe anyone would even care about finding me again? What makes me so special? Who, exactly, do I think I am? Miley Fucking Cyrus?

Then the self-flagellation set in.

So what if this was it? What if I had my two friends and died tomorrow, the pathetic woman with only her husband and her fellow TNB'er there to witness I was ever on Facebook at all? "I'd better go get some more friends," I thought.

I found one hidden under a pseudonym and gave him a webby shout. Now I had three.

As a percentage, it was a marked improvement.

But what if one of my real-world friends discovered that I wasn't their Facebook friend? Maybe they wouldn't realize that I only had three Facebook friends, and would think I was actively shunning them. Would they de-friend me in real life? Maybe I should go and find everyone I ever knew and make them my friend. But what if they don't want me as their friend? What if I discover I'm an undesirable on Facebook? What if I am actually a member of the lowest rung of the Facebook caste system: The Untouchable?

I couldn't believe this was the inner monologue of someone who turned forty this year. Tawny deleted her account five days after she created it.

But the fact remains: Quenby Moone has never put a face to her writing, and now she's been graciously accepted into the cabal of "The Nervous Breakdown." And my inner masochism is no longer about Facebook, but about what to publish here. "I know. I'll publish one about my boobs," I'll think. "Boobs are always a popular subject." But then I'll realize someone recently published one about her boobs, and it was probably ten times funnier than the one about my boobs.

"I'll mix it up; I'll send the one about the chickens." But maybe I'm the only person who thinks a quixotic relationship with barnyard fowl is funny. "Maybe the one about my nervous breakdown? That would at least be name-appropriate. But maybe cliché. Maybe too cute and affected. 'See what I did there? Huh? I wrote about a nervous breakdown on a site called "The Nervous Breakdown?" Clever, huh?'"

On and on it goes. So here we are. At the end of a piece about neither boobs nor chickens nor nervous breakdowns, but about my inability to decide what to publish on "The Nervous Breakdown."

Think of it as an exercise in post-post-modernism.