Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mississippi Post: True Devastation

Today, my sister-in-law, MaryAnn drove myself and her mother, Jean, down to one of the most devasted area along the Gulf Coast. As we cruised slowly along I-90 and through the towns of Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian and Waveland, the images were beyond comprehension. Entire blocks of homes, entire neighborhoods, entire towns - GONE.

It's a rare day when I find myself speechless but today was certainly one. Frames of former mansions stood bare and naked in the midday sun. Personal items and bits of clothing hung from bare branches while other trees were bent over at the base, their spines cracked by the cruel hand of wind. The tropical heads of palm trees were decapitated clean, their headless bodies looked especially ghoulish along an otherwise beautiful beach.

What is most striking about the devastation is the lack of color. The once rolling green lawns have been killed by seawater and replaced by a blanket of beige sand; without leaves, bushes or foliage of any kind, the scene appears brown, muted and very dead.

Honestly, I am really struggling here to fully describe what I am have seen. In fact, I'm not sure I ever learned the proper meanings of certain words until today. "Severe" and "surreal" and "incomprehensible" come close but language, unless spray painted on a plywood sign along with a FEMA case number, simply can't get the job done here.

I kept hearing Jean, a survivor of the infamous Hurricane Camille in 1969, gasping from the back seat, "Gracious sakes alive!" and "Lord have mercy!" Her words seemed to fit so I just kept quiet and slowly hobbled out of the car (see previous post) now and again to snap a photo.

But even photography felt futile. I thought I would be thrilled about documenting this historical event but the enormity of it all is simply overwhelming. Viewing TV footage or seeing AP photos can only provide the tiniest clue for what to expect. Taking it in with your own set of faculties, seeing mile after mile after mile of it, your eyes almost become accustomed to seeing a couch stuck in a tree or spiral staircase corkscrewing up from the sand. It's not like a bomb went off here, it is like MANY bombs went off here. Very large ones.

Furthermore, the photos were harder to take than I'd imagined because of the obvious emotional toll this has cost. Lives that were not lost here were certainly ruined and if not ruined, than highly inconvenienced for a tremendously long time. Antebellum homes that had been in families for decades have little to show for this history save for a cement foundation or fancy front porch steps leading to nowhere. Roads that once hosted busy seaside traffic are now blocked and over run with sand. Giant oaks are twisted and mangled together, frozen in a macabre gnarled pose, where someone's living room once hosted daily episodes of a family's life.

I just kept thinking the same thing over and over: Nature has come to reclaim what was hers. We were foolish to think we could "own" a square of dirt and proclaim ourselves ruler. Evidently, she can take it back anytime she wants.


At last I'm a true horsewoman. Yesterday, a huge white Canadian Warmblood named Oscar threw me over his head to make a point. I'm not sure what his message was, other than 'I'm bigger than you' - he even sauntered over and gave me a regretful sniff with his huge nostrils as I lay there windless.

My sister-in-law, Carol, was riding the equine matriarch, Scarlett, and was at my side so fast, it was impressive. Somehow, she'd found my glasses and had them back on my head before my eyes even popped open again. She took both horses back to the barn and left me there with instructions: "Don't move!!!" which, of course, I ignored.

Checking all the parts, one extremity at a time, I could surmise all by myself that everything still worked. Still, my lower left back was hurting and my left leg felt tingly. The top right corner (yes, I now had a corner) of my head was bumped and bruised. My ego took the biggest hit.

Oddly enough, it was an initiation of sorts. So often I have heard the stories from my fellow riders about " . . . this one time I went flying . . . " or " . . . he flipped me right over the top . . . " but I had nothing to contribute. My own mother, Iva Mae, who rode a pony (bareback, of course) to school growing up in North Dakota, would talk about Betsy, who let her know when she was done by ejecting my mother onto school grounds.

At last, I am broken in.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Mississippi Post: Seeing is Believing

My father picked me up from Louis Armstrong International Airport on Christmas morning. I had boarded the plane on Xmas Eve at 11:30 p.m., rather inebriated on rich food, expensive whiskey and a smidgen of my homestate's finest wacky weed. After a red eye flight, with a two-hour layover in Chicago, I was dead dog tired, exactly how I'd planned it; I was bracing myself. After all the reading, watching and listening, I was soon going to see first hand the effects of Katrina's rage.

Coming west on Interstate 10 to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to where RMAC live (that's Robert and MaryAnn Clisby, my brother and his wife), it took us about an hour or so. My father is retired 34 years and, therefore, is the slowest driver alive - this was the one time I didn't mind. We swung past the AstroDome and parts of downtown, lots of building fronts gone. Already I could tell that the blue tarp was going to be a familiar site. Heading out of town on the above highway, I could look down into neighborhoods clearly forgotten, most with spray paint still on the front declaring the number alive or dead. I plan to revist New Orleans later this week. I have a beloved friend - a radio station actually - that I need to check on.

It was the side of road that held the most ghoulish images for me. Still strewn with bits of trash and every ten miles or so, a stove or refridgerator, smashed into a ball. It is strangely disturbing seeing indoor items . . . outdoor - there is a certain vulnerability you feel when you come upon someone's bedroom dresser in the open air and there are leaves on it. There but for the grace of God, and all that jazz.

Already, I've become accustomed to seeing piles of debris, twisted metal and tree after tree snapped in half. There are lots filled with FEMA trailers (which leak, I understand) and row upon endless row of damaged cars, all sadly sitting in the sun, silent and useless. Motorhomes are parked willy nilly and signs are blown out - even Micky D's hasn't gotten around to fixing their golden arches.

Once I arrived at RMAC HQ, they wasted little time in loading me into the dunebuggy (which is more of a deluxe gocart) and they took me around the neighborhood. Though RMACE lost the entire first floor of their beautiful Gulf Hills home, many of their neigbors did not fare so well. "Devastation" is the only word that truly fits here and even then, words fail. One neighbor defiantly parked their trailer right into the shell of their former home, refusing to leave. Spray-painted plywood signs express rage at insurance adjusters and their ilk.

Nevertheless, there are bits of optimism everywhere - lots of "We're Hiring!" signs and entrepeneurs offering much needed services: "HOUSE GUTIN" (gutting). The stubborn pride of Southern folks and the spirit of the season has resulted in a singular mission: persevere.

As we left the scene of one former home, Robert spotted a perfect yellow sunflower, poking up defiantly through a pile of trash. Its spine was straight and its face a perfect sunny yellow. It is sobering to think that the flower and the hurricane both have the same ancestry and share the same Mother Nature.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I'm Old But I'm Rich

It's taken me exactly one week to finally absorb all the love directed at me on my 40th birthday. My cousin, Ryan - who is really more of a younger brother - orchestrated the event with quiet tenacity. Old friends flew in or drove from Oceanside, Long Beach, Yorba Linda and, amazingly, Albququerque.

Ironically, I fretted all week about's prediction that it would rain since we had envisioned an elaborate outdoor BBQ/firepit/deck scene. All those pretty lights we'd planned to put in the trees! How would we cook? Would everyone fit in the house? Not only did it rain but it was torrential, the Chronicle called it "the worst storm of the season." Sure, it may have kept a few folks away but my truest friends are the heartiest souls. We had about 50 folks who made the trek, including the hero of the evening, David Jacobson, who drove the birthday cake (a delicious green battlefield of cowboys and Indians) from Foster City.

Deep into the evening, my best friend, Lisa Friedman, presented to me a large black scrapbook that contained "Heather memories and photos" submitted by friends from various eras of my life. The effort it took for people to put their feelings down, for Lisa to collect and create the book was enough to knock me over. My magical friend, Heidi Nye, then stood to perform an exquisite poem she had written in my honor: "A Heather Resplendent."

In that delicate breathy voice of hers, unafraid and full of love, she spoke to the room about how she sees me, her friend, and . . . well, let's just say, it brought down the house. When she finished, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Heidi's poems have that effect on people.

All of this and despite the rain, a firepit and BBQ thrived in the backyard, under a carefully placed blue tarp. The best part, guests continually complimented me on the quality of the other guests. The variety of people I choose to drag along with me in this life is deliberate and I take the matter very seriously.

For several days now, as I have prepared to take on all that is Christmas, I ponder the many coats of love and affection that were wrapped around me and I wonder, "Is this woman that they love the same woman who wears my skin every day?" If so, I'll have put all that fretful self-loathing on hold for a little while. At least until next year.

Merry Christmakuh all!

HEAD'S UP: This evening, I fly to New Orleans and will be posting blogs from the Gulf Coast until I return on January 3rd. I fear all my favorite places will be gone and the mood will be depressing. I will be ringing in the New Year with folks who got a clean slate whether they wanted one or not.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Torture Starts Early

Perhaps I am the only one to notice but two of this week's headlines got me laughing - not in a healthy way, mind you. My giggles came from a very dark place, a part of my soul that knows we humanoids are doomed. Since I am not a big fan of the species, I find this hilarious.

To wit:

"Researchers Find Barbie Often Mutilated" by Jill Lawless (I shit you not) of the Associated Press.


"Torture is Us. Denial Does No One Any Good" by Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle.

Seems it starts early. Personally, I did a lot of nasty things to my Barbie but they were usually of a sexual nature and Ken was almost always egging me on.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Goodbye Youth!

Yup. Last day of being in my 30s and I find myself pretty unemotional about it. This is the first year I've heard "40 is the new 30" so, if nothing else, my timing is impeccable.

George Carlin was recently asked about his age and he had this response:

"There were handicaps to being 10, there were handicaps to being 40, but the richness of memory, the richness of acquired and accumulated experience and wisdom, I won't trade that. At 68 I'm every age I ever was. I always think of that. I'm not just 68. I'm also 55 and 21 and three. Oh, especially three."

He's so right. Like a tree, we just keep adding the rings . . . actually today I feel fat so this theory is especially fitting.

Anyway, so long 30s! Good riddance! You were fun for the most part though there were some awfully dark times between 35-38 that I'd rather forget. I embrace this brand new decade full of promise and, maybe even possibly, maturity.

My birthday gift to myself will be finding a job that gives me joy and maybe even a relationship that enhances my time on this Earth. Oh yeah, and a horse. Yes, my 9-year-old definitely needs a pony . . .

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Proud Beast Goes Down

Last night, I saw Peter Jackson's long-awaited epic, "King Kong" and it had a strange effect on me. Though various reviewers will inevitably pan the wooden dialogue or quibble historical accuracies, Jackson artfully captured a universal pain in raw form: Loneliness.

Specifically, here, the loneliness of a giant beast who lives solo on an island as the last of his kind. He's getting up there in years and every day he rambles past the bleached white bones of his ancestors and he huffs and snorts to no one in particular. Just as he finds a friend, a beautiful companion that entertains him and fits in the palm of his hand, he is shackled and then slaughtered. Illustrated in such primitive terms, it reminded me how basic our needs are and how little they differ from other beings, whether they share our form or not.

So, I'm contemplating all this last night as I settle in to bed. Lights out and drifting off, I suddenly sense I am being watched. I open one eye and make out the silhouette of my feline sidekick, Simone. Though her nighttime 'spot' is usually at the end of the bed, on this particular evening, it clearly wasn't going to do. I opened the blankets, laid out my arm and watched her eagerly settle in. Then, to my amazement, she did something she'd never done before: She put her head in my palm of my hand and purred so loud I thought the blankets would vibrate right off the bed. It was a different type of purr, deeper and longer than usual. It was . . . well, emphatic.

Right about then I caught sight of the clock, saw that it was just past midnight and realized the State of California had just executed Stanley 'Tookie' Williams. Still in the dark, holding a grateful animal's head in my hand, I pictured Williams clinging to the top of the Empire State Building, a swarm of planes circling him and firing rounds as he swipes and roars.

In the end, of course, both proud males lost the battle but went down knowing that they had overcome obstacles that once seemed insurmountable. Death doesn't change that.

I woke up today with an overwhelming feeling of sadness - for a ex-gangster I'd never met, a giant gorilla that never existed and for the rest of us, left here to realize that their wasteful deaths did not erase any tragic events or fill any aching voids, they only deepened the wound within us all.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Some Are Irreplaceable

Though I was just an awkward teen when he was gunned down, I remember very clearly the day John Lennon died. My friends and I gathered in the quad area at Bancroft Junior High and fumbled with adult words we'd never previously spoken.

"I've never seen my mother cry before, until this morning," said Pat McCann, one of the more popular kids in school, who suddenly looked very much like a little boy. "I didn't even know . . . she said it was hard to explain what he'd meant to the world. " We all just nodded in silence, because we just didn't know either. From our parents emotional reactions and the news headlines that screamed between the lines, "Noooooooooo!", we got a sense but really, we couldn't get our still-growing arms around it.

How could we possibly know what John Lennon signified when we were just barely entering a world of zits and periods and Reaganism? Rock and roll had always been, as far as we were concerned, war only existed in our history textbooks and 'Beatlemania' was a nostalgia tour manned by look-alikes.

Well, now I know. Today, I'm honored to have walked the Earth at the same time as John for as long as I did and wonder why he had to be taken from us so soon. Certainly this is not an original thought but 16 years later, it is more obvious than ever - we could really use him right about now.

RIP John.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Because we are moving offices this week, I was forced to pack up my professional life and quickly came to realize I have too much shit. Of course, this is an excellent practice run for when The Real Move comes in February but on a much smaller scale. After several days of this nasty job, I declare myself a die-hard hoarder of sentiment, primarily in paper form. I am, it seems, my mother's daughter.

For example, I insist on keeping the business card of my friend, Jack - who died much too soon - in my Rolodex. If my surly pals, Mark and Pete, cc me on a particularly grumpy exchange, I cannot resist printing it out and stowing it in my 'Curmudgeons I Love' file. Invites to corporate parties from long ago, name tags that made me sound important (my favorite: "Heather Clisby, The New York Times") and clever comic strips that captured a brief moment in history - I've got this crap in endless stacks. What does it matter? What am I keeping it for? How often will I go back and actually find it relevant? Especially now that Google is here?

I rationalize it the way I do when I miss a new episode of 'The Simpsons.' My final years will most likely be spent infirm and inactive. Plenty of time to reminisce through old letters and catch up on DVD box sets, seasons 1-27 . . . right? And then?

And then, trapped in the old folks home, I'll have to bribe a corrupt nurse to buy marshmallows, sweep it all in a big pile and light it ablaze. All those humorous observations and heartfelt sentiments will go up without hesitation, in a violent conflagration of evidence that I was ever here at all.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Back in the Saddle

It's always fun to make a cliche literal and yesterday, I did just that after finally getting on a horse again after three loooooong months of elbow rehab. At the risk of sounding corny, it felt like someone had opened up my cranium and shined a light into it allowing bats, spiders and other dark creatures to make their escape.

There are a few folks on the planet who may understand my spiritual need for horses (Hi Leslie!) but since it has come so late in my life, I remain mystified by it. The riding is only a small part of it; the grooming and tacking are enough to make me giddy. I once spent hours pulling ticks off my equine friend, Robin, assisted by another horse lover, Erika, and we both agreed it was one of the best days ever.

People connect to the universal energy - which some assign to a deity such as "God" or "Allah" or "Allan Greenspan" - in different ways. Though I love to photograph churches and temples, my soul gets no substanance from these man-made structures. The Grand Canyon and a perfectly ripe strawberry come close to stirring my soul but animals really do it for me, horses specifically. They are a direct conduit to that invisible force that drives it all forward.

I must have spent an hour on Sunday hanging out with my friend Roxy, a white horse voted "Most Likely to be a Unicorn" by us groupies. Since she is privately owned, I cannot ride her but we passed the time playing the Lip Game. I hide horse cookies on my person and she uses her powerful front lip (so very similar to an elephant's trunk) going through all my pockets. In between, she licks my hand and lets me make weird faces with her mouth. She also lets me rub her gums and tries to pull my jacket off with her teeth. Times like this, I have not a care in the world.

Okay, now I've gone kookie. Still, I make no apologies. Horses are my official Mental Health Plan and the absence of them has proven it beyond a doubt. I'm so glad to be back, scooping horse poop and getting bathed in their slobber - otherwise, life is awfully dark.

Friday, December 02, 2005

So Much Gray In Between

It's Friday, I'm dressed for a party and I've got racism on my mind.

This morning, as listened to Smart Folks debate the immigration issue, I recalled a conversation with a conservative uncle I had recently. As a retired farmer in Iowa, he had some ideas about the browning of America.

"I heard that down there in Southern California the Mexicans are taking over," he said, with disgust.

"You mean taking it BACK?" I countered. Appealing to what he might know best, I offered that if one were to remove all the Mexicans from California, the state's economy would collapse. "Who is going to work in those fields? You? Your son? Me?"

Then, I boarded the bus and read about a little-known movie called "C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America" which portrays an America in which the South won the Civil War. We're talking President Jefferson Davis, a truce with Hitler and slaves sold on QVC. There's even a shot of Neil Armstrong on the moon, a Rebel flag stands proudly behind him.

I love this kind of thing and applaud the crazy ass filmmaker who dared it. Ken Wilmott, a black man, is said genius and he states: "Hollywood doesn't make movies about racism because it makes us uncomfortable. Black folks get angry and ashamed, white folks feel guilty and afraid and nothing moves forward. And we won't talk about it until something slaps us upside the face."

As a white woman, I'm not supposed to have much of an opinion on these matters but they still bother me. Ever see "White Man's Burden?" Probably not. Hardly anyone did but it was one of the most provocative films I ever saw on the topic.

Written and directed by Desmond Nakano and released in 1995, it also turns modern history on its head. Starring John Travolta and Harry Belafonte, all the black/white stereotypes are reversed. White folks are oppressed and living in the ghettos. Black folks are the elite and have all the money. White folks get profiled and beaten by unsympathetic black cops. Black folks hold high society fundraising events to benefit those poor dirty white children who just don't know any better. ("They are so cute when they're young, aren't they?" coos one bejeweled attendee.)

Even the small stuff. White people run faster and dance better. Black folks cultivate old money and whisper amongst themselves that "they" all look alike - "They just look like a bunch of ghosts, I can't tell them apart."

The night I viewed this film, I had a crazy dream. As myself, I was purchased on a whim by a modern black patriarch and brought home, still in chains. I was left on the living room floor and one by one, the family came upon me though none spoke to me directly.

The wife: "Harold, what have you dragged home now? What are we doing to do with THAT?"
The daughter: "Ewwww, Dad! Where is it going to stay? It better stay outta my room?"
The son: "Cool! I heard about those! How much was it?"

And so on. I never spoke nor was I spoken to. I was filthy and felt like it on the inside as well. There was a hot family debate about what to do with me and eventually, they grew tired and went to bed. Leaving me there, no food or water.

I escaped out the front door (they figured I wasn't smart enough to figure it out, I guess) and just started running at breakneck speed down the street. It was then I realized the mess I was in. Not only was I naked but I was in the middle of an upper middle class suburbia populated entirely by black people! Where the hell was I supposed to go? Who would take me in? There would be nowhere to hide!

Eventually I woke up but the nightmare is as real as it ever was, I can even see the designs on the front door and as I turned to look back. Chilling. Again, this must be the reverse to MLK's "I have a dream . . . " Do their dreams equal our nightmares?

But I digress. So, I'm on the bus this morning, having just read about the CSA film, when I overhear the bus driver complain to a passenger friend about people entering and exiting the bus through the wrong doors. "It's always racial," he spat. "Black folks always want to get on through the back door and white people always gotta exit through the front door. It screws everything up."

As I try to develop a theory for this, I notice a black-and-white placard, posted weeks ago, on every single MUNI bus in the city. It contains a photo of a black woman sitting in a bus seat, looking out the window, and it reads:

"Rosa Parks: 1913-2005"

We may have come far but we still have a long way to go . . . .

Monday, November 28, 2005

The New Young Old

When one hears the word "Grandma", certain images come to mind: A kind, loving old woman with spun sugar white hair who bakes apple pies and talks about church. She's big, soft and sends you checks for your birthday and pinches your cheeks. Oh, and homemade cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. That sweet lady, though still very much around, has grown a new layer, a fascinating swaggery stripe that becomes her. She's 70+ going on 55 and she hasn't got time for you this weekend, she's booked. You can pinch your own goddam cheeks.

I recall my grandmothers, in their 70s, slightly hunched and politely making sure everyone had enough to eat. My mother, age 72, does that as well, befitting her Midwestern training, but she also has the jukebox playing, or the Superbowl on, and definitely has plenty of booze on hand. She does all this after working a 40-hour-a-week job and acting as a very busy membership chairman for a seniors single club. (They used to be called "Life Begins at 40" until they realized all their children were 40. It was unanimously changed to "Young at Heart . . . But Older in Other Places.")

She loves her life and it loves her back, no outside assistance necessary. The doddering, passive "whatever you decide is fine" granny is going extinct. It's not about loving the kids or grandkids any less, it's more about building one's life beyond them.

I recently spoke with a friend who described her mother (also age 72) in a similar fashion. Her mom had recently moved to Cincinnati to be closer to another daughter and grandchildren and, having come from a California beach town, she dreaded it. She has since joined a singles group and is now racking up social adventures, including making out in front of bars at 2 a.m. "Apparently," my friend said, "they find her exotic because she's from the West, has been a fashion designer and has smoked pot." At this point, the local daughter complains that grandma is no longer readily available for babysitting, that she often has (ahem) "plans." Mind you, the cookies still get baked, but on her schedule.

I still credit Joan Collins for earning us ladies a sorely-needed extra decade when she posed in a sell-out issue of Playboy at age 50. Though her peers may not admit it, they have unwittingly taken the gesture to heart. Indeed, there are no shortage of role models. When my mother complained about being an old lady one day I calmly informed her that she was two days younger than Yoko Ono who, having just come out with a new album, was currently being played in all the nightclubs of Europe. This seemed to quiet her a bit.

And it's not just women! William Shatner (age 72) how do I love thee? So many ways! Leonard Cohen (age 71!) still wearing his perfect blue raincoat. Willie Nelson! The only guy to smoke a doobie on the roof of the White House! Woody Allen! Talented and twisted mo-fo! Even those 70+ers that have passed on, (Johnny and June, RIP) continued creating at an impressive pace despite their many years on the road.

Once again, as I face 40 (yes, a theme is developing) I feel relief that I do not have to conform to a blue rinse and country ducks-decor in my kitchen. Strangely enough, it's always the friggin' boomers who get credit for changing societal expectations but these folks are the pre-pioneers who quietly turned their backs on stereotypes. Furthermore, they are less needy and self-involved, which is why I'm proclaiming them: "My Favorite Generation of the Week."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Home Again

It's always bittersweet to return to your home town. Ghosts everywhere. Vague recollections, startling memories and everything in between come barreling around every corner. Sitting here in my mother's house, sleeping in my old room, I suddenly become aware of time, how it cruelly marches on and makes way for today.

Though I do not turn 40 until next month, already I can hear myself speak the language of a senior citizen. "See that Barnes & Noble? When I was a kid, it was a really cool drive-in and we used to sneak our friends in the trunk and . . . " Everything is always better when you were a kid, never now and certainly never in the future.

My girlhood bedroom is now my mother's office, from which I type this post and remnants of me are all but erased. There is still the giant tropical beach mural, necessary to cover the damage done from my Wall of Dedication to Shaun Cassidy. There is a small plaster cheerleader statue, which I painted myself, yet feel nothing toward, and so she remains. There is a bulletin board which once held concert tickets, playbills and secret love notes, now covered with photos of The Grandchild, Robbie.

The feeling of the house takes me back so quickly, it's somewhat unsettling, like I am visiting a movie set. A friend once commented that my mother's house was a bona-fide "Americana Museum" and that is plenty accurate. Old family photographs, a ragtime piano, antiques from North Dakota, framed Doris Day albums and state centennial plates are arranged with a definite national pride in our culture and history. I feel patriotic just walking in the door.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, so much to be thankful for, so . . I guess I'm starting with my mother's house. Her presence fills the walls with so much love and the kitchen bursts with food - I was truly fortunate to come from such a blessed place.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

When Johnny Met June - Hollywood Gets It Right

Never before have I been so nervous to screen a film but in the case of "Walk the Line", I looked forward to and dreaded the date, fearful that Hollywood might somehow caricaturize or disrespect the memory of the late Johnny Cash, who meant so much to so many. For the film's promotional TV trailers, the music was some godawful generic modern rock clearly selected by someone in marketing – not a good sign. However, I'm gratified to report that the Man in Black has officially been bio-picked with great care and respect.

Rather than squeezing over 70 years of the man's life into two hours, director James Mangold and screenwriter Gill Dennis, focused on the pivotal years when Cash was dark, troubled and on his way down following quick success. Balancing domestic demands with the highs of touring resulted in a sleepless, angry troublemaker addicted to amphetamines, hardly the spiritual grandfatherly figure that Rick Rubin re-delivered to us in the '90s with the Grammy-winning American Recordings series.

Joaquin Phoenix aptly depicts a young Cash, tightly coiled, pacing like a panther and full of a heat he himself doesn't understand. Phoenix knew little of Cash prior to filming and had never played guitar or sang yet he quickly got up to speed. Same goes for Reese Witherspoon, who spent months learning the auto harp and researching June Carter, the love of Johnny's life and the woman who ultimately brought him salvation. The on-screen chemistry is palpable and important, not just for entertainment sake, but because the passion that Johnny and June had for one another was known the world over. Furthermore, all music scenes were actual live performances lending the production a powerful ring of truth . . . and fire, of course.

Other notable performances include the feature debut of singer Shelby Lynne, nearly unrecognizable as a timid Kerry Cash, John's mother. Also, Dallas Roberts, as Sam Phillips, delivers an unforgettable monologue that proves pivotal for young John. Robert Patrick also turns in an immovable portrayal of Ray Cash, John's proud, unfeeling father.

"Walk the Line" deftly revisits the birth of rock-and-roll and reflects this magical era without sugarcoating it. When we see John touring with Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, June Carter and Roy Orbison, we also see them acting as their own roadies and drivers – humble and impervious to the legends they would soon become. The physical grind of it all and what these young punks risked amidst the conformity of '50s, against the backdrop of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Nat King Cole, is part of the story here.

When John becomes hooked on pills (usually chased with alcohol or morphine) he becomes fully, achingly human and it's not pretty. The film leads up to the seminal event, the recording of "Live at Folsom Prison", a huge success, outselling even the Beatles. If it t'weren't for the fully armed intervention of the Carter family (even mother Maybelle chased off riffraff with a rifle) Cash would not have much relevance today.

The real John and June spent many hours with the filmmakers and approved the final script though both passed before filming began. "Walk the Line" ends with their version of "Wastin' Time" which is something, once together, they never did.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Real Apology, At Last

Sincere apologies are rarely seen in the news these days. Apparently, no one has done anything wrong and that's why the world is so gol'darned perfect.

Which is why it was refreshing to see Philip Schuth, 53, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, who was sentenced for attempted homicide, reckless endangerment and concealment of a corpse (that'd be his mother in the basement freezer for the last seven years) offer up a heartfelt apology:

"I apologize to Jennifer Garner and her pool boy Ben Affleck for involving them in my fantasies."

See? Goodness and sanity rule after all!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Quote of the Week

All business roads lead into China thesse days as they slowly kick our ass and take over the world. As a free market system spreads like wildfire, there are many here who understand the bometh that will rise. We may be America and all that but they are 1/6 of the world, period. And so, during his Asia tour, all awaited how the U.S. President would get along with the Chinse President Hu Jintao. So many could benefit from a strong bridge betweeen and so many lives lay in the hands of these two powerful men.

When a reporter suggested Bush had seemed unenthusiastic in his joint appearance with Hu, the president responded, "Have you ever heard of jet lag?"

Eyes on the ball, as usual, sir!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

History is a Tape Loop

Normally, I love re-runs and leftovers but for those of us who remembver the 70s, this deja vu is getting uncomfortable.

Today, Dick Cheney let loose a vitrolic tirade against critics who suggest the administration may have manipulated intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. "Political opportunists!" he spat. Normally the cool cucumber in the room - actuslly dead, some say - he exposed some frothy indignation, a sure sign of paranoia.

And speaking of Nixon, today also saw the release of 50,000 classified papers from Tricky Dick's era. The documents reveal that in 1970, President Nixon told the military to keep our whole bloody Cambodian incursion on the down low and just tell John Q. Public that it was merely supporting South Vietnamese troops.

What's extra creepy is that only about half the national security files from the Nixon era have now been made public. How long will it take us to find out the truth from the present administration?

Quite frankly, I just don't have that kind of time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Blockage in the Right Ventricle

Back and forth we argue, the Reds and the Blues, the liberals and the conservatives. One lives by God and the other is just friends with Him. So many differences but what I've noticed lately is how the Right lacks a comprehension of satire.

It's as if there is a missing bone - while not necessary for total body function, it neverthless provides increased flexibility and movement. Does that mean those that embrace and appreciate satire for what it is, a mirror, are more highly evolved than those who do not?

Why, yes. Yes, it does.

If there was (is?) right-wing satire, what would it look like? Would it be like blue collar TV? No, because even that is smart enough to be self-effacing and done with great affection.

This has been the household subject of late. I offer that maybe it has to do with most creative types being pre-disposed to left-leaning ideals. Then, that creative minds are a pre-requisite to creating and/or enjoying this art form. Cousin Ryan built on this theory: "Since they can't create things, they need to be TOLD things," he said. "They're sheep, they wanna be led. Whether it's a God or a government or whatever."

Of course, it is this type of thinking that leads to that election-crushing disease known as Liberal Smugness. It is the distant cousin of the yawn-inducing behavior, We Know Statistics. Both are why the Left has nary a lick of power in this country.

Which is why it's so damn fun to watch Bush Meltdown 2005. Again, I am reminded how happy I am that Dubya won the last election, fair and square. Every mess we are in, he got us into. Kerry (or whomever we dug up) would've inherited it and then would have been blamed for the handling of it all, no matter what.

This way, it all remains on Bush's watch. All of it. Every drop of blood. When those history books get written, his name will be right there next to it and his memory will be tainted. If there is one thing Bush cares about, it's his Presidential legacy. (Followed closely by keeping tight abs, I'm sure.)

Ironically, the only time I remember feeling sorry for Bush is soon after we invaded Iraq and were coming up empty on finding certain weapons of, well, you know. At the annual White House Press Corps Dinner, traditionally an evening of rare hijinks, Bush screened a hi-larious video of himself searching under White House couch cushions and in closets for the gol'dern WMDs. Woo-wee, that there is funny stuff!

I be damned if the joke didn't fall flatter than a pancake. Crickets chirped. Tumbleweeds rolled by. Someone coughed. Against the backdrop of my day-to-day Bush-aimed rage, I had to admit, I felt a pang of sympathy. It's one thing to be the President of the United States and run the world into the ground but it's quite another to attempt comedy-disguised-as-what-it-is-mocking.

Strangely enough, at this year's dinner, First Fembot Laura Bush apparently brought down the house, playing it like a weary, sharp-tongued Dino to W's fumbling idiot Jerry. She joked about George being so rural-life clueless, he tried to milk the horses. Strange, but I can picture it.

So why am I not laughing?

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Cheery Little Note

Lord, just typing the word "devil" brings to mind the head of Dick Cheney, which is something I'd prefer on a plate.

More on him later.

I've just realized exactly how safe my world is. It faces the back of a baby hospital in the one of the wealthiest neighborhoods (I'm in rent control, people, calm down) in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Because the janitors and nurses are on strike (mostly in the morning, as luck would have it) and these are security-minded times, there is an armed guard at every entrace and exit, sometimes two.

One of these portals faces my apartment. Sporting a long black trenchcoat, leather gloves and the always-present wire, all he has to is stand outside my door and wait for threat to darken my door. If it does, he and twelve of his best buddies are going to put the smack down.

Still, as many of us know, society is just a ruse, a thin menbrane of pretension that we are not just a bunch of apes. I've closely watched apes in the wild and I've been to frat parties; I'm telling you, baseball caps, cell phones and lattes do not make us civilized. Especially as we continue to shit where we eat.

The worst part is, we've always been that way. The current adminstration is just one tiny chapter in several thousand years of short-sighted greed and relentless violence.

This is mainly the reason why I never really bought into the whole "Peace on Earth" business. There will never be peace on Earth until humans have offed themselves completely - it will be quiet then. Still, the sentiment does make awfully nice Christams cards.

OVERHEARD: "People always think it's so romantic that this old couple would still be holding hands but they don't realize it's also to keep one another from falling down."
--heard in the physical therapy room at Sutter Hospital from a 90-year-old woman

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A World of My Own Making

It's official: I'm delusional. I thought it was just Bush & Co. but apparently, I have my own cardboard-shaped ideas about how the world really is.

I recently got back a batch of photos I'd taken in Wyoming, the state with open spaces, very few humans and an annual budget surplus - utopia, basically. As usual, I took far too many photos and because I remain standing on an analog river bank looking nervously (somewhat enviously) across at digital, I'm still dealing with negatives and prints.

During my stay at Bitterroot Ranch, the most magical part of the day came when 180 or so horses were let out of the yard and allowed to gallop in one big herd up the hill to the grassy butte that overlooks the property. There, they spent the night, munching away, sleeping standing up and enjoying the change of scenery. The enthusiasm they displayed was not unlike Fred Flinstone at the rock quarry whistle, signaling the end of a workday - skep-di-de-do-dah, yabba-dabba-do and all that.

Imagine my dismay when shots of this equine spectacle were delivered to me with white lines running through them, apparently a machine malfunction of some sort. All these glistening beautiful animals framed by ugly white lines; I was so disappointed and annoyed.

I took them back to the photo lab, pointed out the damage, accepted their apologies and came back a few days later to collect. "I hate to break this to you," said Helen, the kind, patient woman behind the counter, "but our lab tells us these are actual power lines. Here, look at the negatives."

It was true. My god, how is it I never saw them? So strange that my mind's eye had clung to a vision so visciously that my actual eyeballs just went along for the ride. Oh, I suppose even the good folks in Wyoming need telephone communication but at the expense of my clear-sky fantasy? I mean, what happened to smoke signals?

I guess we only see what we want to see which is why mirrors and I have never gotten along very well. Such determined realists, they are always throwing facts in my face while I prefer the glossed, edited ideals of my recollections. Reality seems to be one of those thorned beasts that gets uglier every year and, short of Photoshop and Blanche Dubois lighting tricks, I'm woefully short on battle tactics.

Suggestions welcome.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Extended Broken-Wing Report

Tonight was a big night for me. Not only did I manage to make own ponytail but I can finally reach my wounded arm around to shave my armpits. Just in time too, for it was starting to feel normal and next thing you know, Bill O'Reilly wouldv'e called for a boycott of me.

As I swung my machete through the thick underbrush, I hummed the "Star-Spangled Banner" and thought how great it is to be an American Woman once again - shiny, smooth and not the least bit natural.

Next week, however, is the big goal: My first professional gig as a photographer! A woman is paying for my trip to NYC to shoot her daughter's bat-mitvah party. I'm hoping that my elbow bends enough to get that all-important index finger up to the shutter button . . . .

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Another Drunken Posting

Never a good idea and yet here it is, edited for your safety and sanitary protection: My Second Official Drunken Posting.

The evening was unforgettable. I spent it with Pedro, a man born in Portugal raised in Brazil who was celebrating the one-year anniversary of his American citizenship. This will be a short entry as it is taking so long to correct all the drunken spelling mistakes.

After visiting (and celebrating) all the expansive wonders of the newly revamped DeYoung Musueum, we retired to Solstice, a friendly bar at California and Divisadero, to discuss politics, ad naseum.

I consider it a personal victory that I managed to convince him of the reality of the political game. It came in the form of Gavin Newsom v. Matt Gonazalez for the mayoral race. Obviously, Newsom won but the argument continues in this very liberal town. It is a harsh reality about how the politcal system works and how we need a savvy player on our side (with balls! how novel!) that won him over.

The bartenders celebrated by offering up several shots (on the house) that simulated the color of blood spilled for the American cause for the big event. I don't know what to say.

Luckily, Pedro is married, otherwise, I would have to rethink my move to the South and how my plan to infiltrate the political system there is the only course to my salvation.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Introducing: The Next Era

After visiting and talking with some of my closest friends today, I realized that I've made some internal decisions worth recording. In early 2006, I shall be leaving San Francisco behind and heading for a new adventure in the Deep South. This may seem crazy from many angles but let's face it, this is where all the action is.

In the next few months, expect to find various "oh-my-god-I'm-leaving!" Valentines to my beloved, foggy city. Like a beautiful lover that takes all your money, she can be cruel but she certainly isn't easy saying goodbye to. Especially when I'm heading toward a recently devastated area that is hot and full of Wal-Marts; nationally, Mississippi ranks first in illiteracy and obesity. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Have I thought this over properly?

I have and I realize that Faulkner's home state is also a lot of things that don't show up in government surveys. Mississippi is full of tasty duck gumbo, neverending music and warm greetings . . . not to mention most of my family.

My two-year-old nephew, Robbie, knows so little of me. I am merely that crazy Aunt person who shows up twice a year, teaches him tongue tricks and has a long, black nose that makes noise (my camera.) This cannot continue, especially during these crucual years when he is developing his political ideals - heehee! Also, his parents, I am more than a little fond of.

My brother, Robert, is well, my Big Brother - need I say more? I used to follow him around just wanting to do whatever he was doing - skateboarding, water ballon assaults, spitwads - I never questioned the task. Seems I haven't really grown out of this habit. I remarked to him one time that he owned my goat and he replied, laughing (possibly even smoking a cigar): Heather, I OWN your goat . . . "
Maryann, his wife, is a true Southern Pistol, not to be confused with a timid Southern Belle. In her musical accent, she is the type of woman that cannot be stopped, no matter what the challenge. I remember watching her command the microphone at The Broke Spoke (a tin shack bar in Kiln, Mississippi) with the proudest singing I'd ever heard. Mind you, it was awful, the girl simply can't carry a tune (especially after adding alcohol) but that was irrelevant. Later, she grabbed a man's cowboy hat and then proceeded to beat everyone in billiards while looking very hot only two months after giving birth to Robbie at age 40. She just rocks.

Furthermore, my own father (can't wait to write about him!) lives there most of the year and pitching in during all the reconstruction is very appealing. Everyone starting over together. Who knows what I'll do, I'm open to a dump truck job fer chrisakes but at least I won't be a cubicle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Hunger

It's here, already. This year, however, I'm ready to talk about it.

As the fall-back time change approaches and the skies grow darker earlier, I become a ravenous beast - it has always been this way. Sure enough, this week I began to look forward to breakfast, eat lunch at 11:00 am, forage for snacks until 4:00 or so and then leave early for fear that I will soon begin gnawing on my own foot or that of a delicious co-worker.

This zombie/bear-like behavior - while appropriate for the Halloween spirit - inevitably comes on with a vengeance and usually evens out by Thanksgiving, before any real damage gets done. While I've never attempted to describe this crazy urge before, I now realize how biologically driven it is. As my hemisphere slips into the dark side so the folks in New Zealand can enjoy summer, the Heather Machine is pre-programmed for survival, baby.

Never mind that I could easily live off my standard year-round blubber for several months as it is, the H-Bod isn't interested in my opinion. Pondering this on the bus today, it hit me that my existence has two bosses: Me and Nature, with the latter fully empowered to supercede the former. It's like working for a boss who travels a lot and on those rare occasions they are in the office, they make a huge mess, rearrange your perfect system and are a general pain in the ass. You think you are in control, handling those day-to-day details with masterful ease and the next thing you know, he's crashed the server, lost the stapler and broken the coffee pot.

Not only had I previousy known this Truth but knew it well enough to teach it to someone else. Several years ago, I was driving through the Australian outback accompanied by a fidgety 25-year old Irish Catholic virgin with a sad case of Psoriasis. I think his name was Mark. Anyway, he was firm on his decision to not have sex until he was married because that is what the church told him to do. I could see that this outer-imposed rule was wreaking havoc on his innards. I also sensed doubt, and so I pounced.

"Mark, when you get sick, does your body care about your ruined weekend plans? When your hair grows long, does it bother to see what the latest syle is? When you think about naked girls do you think it cares about the rules of a book? It doesn't and you know why? The body has its own agenda! Fight it all you like but those fucking molecules will always win."

Mark was silent for several kilometers, chewing on this. I'm not sure if he ever got my point but I do know that I will be having some cake now, thankyouverymuch. Can't wait for breakfast . . . !

BUSTED WING UPDATE: I can touch the top of my head now! When I can pick my own nose, the first round's on me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Here's The Thing

Yup, the bionic arm brace is off but I'm still typing with my left index finger, which has become the The Super Digit I always knew it could be. Nevertheless, I'm going to blame the infrequency of my blog postings on my recently crippled state. Trouble is, blogs being a narcissistic excercise, I'd be lying to the only person who knows the real truth, myself.

Clearly, I have not gotten the hang of this new medium, otherwise I would not censor myself at every turn. Turns out, my own brain houses the cruelest editor with very little regard for the talent of her host. No matter what topic I approach, it gets shot down by that that evil inner bitch that I shall now name, "Edna." Nothing ever seems to have "legs" and there's always her recurring question that never fails to plant a seed of doubt, "Who cares?"

I can see and hear her quite clearly. Anyone that gets within ten feet of Edna knows she smokes too much and since her husband ran off in the mid-70s, she lives at her desk, marinating in her own dour juices. Supposedly she's working on a book about North American herbal poisons but no one has seen a word of it.

So the other day, I'd been looking forward to seeing one my favorite artists perform (Jem at Bimbo's) when it is announced that the show is cancelled. After the initial disappointment, I began to worry about her. Did she fall ill? Was there a death in the family? I started to think about the strange one-sided relationship we have with famous artists - how we come to care about them because of the joy they have given. Anyway, I proposed the idea to Edna who shot it down so fast it made my head spin. "That's ridiculous," she spat, "there's just not enough there to work with. Try again."

And so it went, me avoiding my own blog - my self-proclaimed Writing Gym - out of some asinine fear that none of my ideas were good enough and I really had nothing to say.

Then, a beautiful thing happened, one of my favorite women (and an avid blog reader) started her own blog ClutterMusuem just after giving birth to son, Lucas. In her words: "Hey, my life is as insignificant as all these other blog writers', but they have a public forum, so why shouldn't I?" It was a refreshing wake-up call.

Fuck Edna.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

U-Turns 'R' Scary

They say it's never been done. They say that once you cross over into "the dark side" there's no going back, that the long black bridge from journalism to corporate PR is a one-way route. No one has ever journeyed back across and lived to tell - though plenty have tried, most have jumped.

Journalism is not something people get into for the money. That much I learned in the first five minutes of my freshman journalism course. "Is anyone here interested in making money?" Professor Meyer asked the room of young idealists. To those few who had raised their hand he gently advised, "I believe they are teaching marketing courses down the hall."

How I got to this bizarre point in my career is not important (I vaguely recall the blatant hedonism of the dot-com boom and being seduced by an enviable job launching online games - some details are fuzzy.) However, there is the tangible sensation of having chosen the wrong fork in the road and the burden of knowing I must now do some serious backtracking.

I worry, will journalism take me back? A better question might be does it even deserve me? What was once a craft has become an industry that is mostly over-dramatized and lacking in credible sources. How seriously can you take ABC News knowing that it is owned by a billion-dollar mouse?

It is no accident that the rise of blogs, podcasting and the resulting 'citizen journalism' have risen from the same world that gave us Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair and a careless Dan Rather with one fact checker short of a full story. Fine, the public has said, we'll do it ourselves then - we can type, we can talk. The fact that many Americans cite "The Daily Show" their main news source says something: If much of the news is fake anyway, why not get it from guys who admit to it? At least we can get some yuks in before Armegeddon dawns. If there is anything I have learned from my years in public relations is that the news is more staged than one would ever know.

Anyway, back to me . . . I honestly don't have a choice and neither do my future employers at the Austin American Statesman or the Associated Press or NPR or the Times-Picayune. They either let me re-cross that godforsaken bridge or I'll be forced into once again wearing a nametag and presenting the age-old question: Soup or salad? I'll burn that bridge before I go back there again - not all career U-turns are welcome.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Grand Implosion

Ah, it feels great to just sit on the porch with a nice cocktail, stretch back in the rocker and watch the show - the bigger than life, completely unavoidable red-white-blue extravaganza of Bush Administration Implosion 2005.

Where to begin? Karl Rove as CIA leakster? The colossal mishandling of Katrina? Tom DeLay and his indictment woes? The death of Social Security reform? Our spiraling national debt? The nomination of Harriet "Enigma" Miers? Oh gosh, then there's the daily, bloody mess of the Iraq war . . . the "final throes" should become obvious any day now. The latest Bushian antic - a fully rehearsed conference call with a group of agreeable military brass - is really just the extra cherry bomb in this unbelievable show of incompetence.

I fight the urge to fully celebrate his low approval rating - the American strain of mass stupidity is a slow moving cowardly beast, it can retreat anytime. At least the right wing is not mincing their words ( and Christian tantrums have begun . . . so fun!

It's the GOP centrists I'm waiting for - when will they notice exactly what their Bush loyalty has gotten them? I feel like it's the longest political strip tease in history - one flimsy piece peeling off at a time to reveal what many of us knew from the beginning: The Emperor has no clothes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

It Sucks To Be Me

Well maybe not entirely but this is definitely the running news ticker headline that has been scrolling across my brain the last few weeks. First it was merely being stuck in the sucky corporate job I've been trying to leave for the last two years. Then, it was my stagnant love life. But lately, those whiny elements have taken a much-needed back seat to the demands of the body.

Ever since I took a Hollywood-style tumble (see previous post: "OW"), all of life's daily activities have been awkwardly taken over by the anxious understudy, my left hand. At first, I was shocked to discover how much the world discriminates against the Southpaw - cameras, scissors, can openers, it's as if no left-handed product designers had ever been born. Well, I reasoned, at least they were allowed to marry in most states.

Surgery revealed what a true mess I'd made of myself. The surgeon was quoted: "It looked like roadkill in there." I'd managed to rip the ligaments and muscle clean off the bone, an injury usually only seen on pro athletes. I now sport a sci-fi arm brace with a giant numbered dial at the elbow to control my movements. As the public reacts, I hear the same word over and over again, "bionic." I tell everyone that it's exactly like that . . . minus all the strength and my own TV show.

In the background of all this gimpiness, my teeth and gums are being fully harrassed after some long-term but low-level neglect. In preparation for some hideous gum surgery in early November, they are doing something to me called "deep root scaling" but I just call it Medieval. One quadrant at a time, every week without fail, they numb me up and go deep diving behind my gums with some evil tools while I force myself to think about how much worse life could be. Conveniently, the world has been very consistent about delivering large-scale disasters lately. Compared with drowning in my own attic, losing everything I own or getting buried alive in a mudslide, my dramas seem infinitesimal.

Sure, it absolutely sucks to be me right now but it won't always. There will surely come a day when I have a cool job I love, two functioning arms and a set of clean chompers but until then, I should be grateful for the little things. At least that's what I'll keep telling myself, especially next week when I see the gynecologist . . . .

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Going Backwards

Coulda sworn I was turning 40 this winter but apparently, I'm still seven. My mom left yesterday after swooping in to take care of me post-surgery (remember the elbow incident?) and we repeated so many familiar behaviors, rituals we thought gone forever.

Though she no longer had to chase me down and pin me with her knees to brush my hair, it didn't make it any easier. "Gosh, I've forgotten how to do this," she laughed, "but at least you don't stick your head out the car window anymore. Gawd, that was so frustrating" Heh.

Pulling my pants on/off - I'm amused how familiar this felt. Mind you, I was much smaller the last time this ocurred. It's much more humbling the second time around. To this point, I'm pretty sure the last time my mother bathed me, I(we) did not have the DD's to contend with. When it came to applying deoderant, I advised her: "Think practical. Pretend it's spackle."

Knowing that I talk of leaving San Francisco, it always helps for her to see the evidence firsthand. When we did the grocery shopping, she was floored at the cost. When she asked the butcher about getting a simple rump roast, he made a sniffy face and retreated to the back room, probably to consult his rarely-used reference manual, 'Middle-Class Meat.' We passed a newspaper headline that screamed: "Cost of living in SF, highest in state" and a magazine teaser: "Why parents give up on San Francisco." Then, at some point, she made the comment: "It must be frustrating knowing that nearly every man you meet is gay." Sounds like I will no longer have to explain myself any further.

Meanwhile, back at the homestead, she cooked, she cleaned, she organized and generally dispensed of love at every turn. Together, we read magazines, played games (she's ruthless at RummiKube) and even enjoyed an episode of "Freaks and Geeks." She washed my clothes and clipped my nails, signed my checks and fed my cat, answered my phone and spoiled me with gifts. For someone as fiercely independent as myself, it felt awfully liberating to hand over the keys to my life, especially to someone who'd given me the keys to begin with.

She returned home yesterday and my tiny apartment seems so quiet. I no longer need the pain pills every four hours and I even made a sort-of ponytail by myself. Guess I'm finally growing up, again.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Trapped In Paradise

Every evening, as I walk through my tony Presidio Heights neighborhood, I marvel at my apparent luck. Perfectly clean sidewalks border gardens of roses, dahlias and golden poppies. Giggling, cherubic children ride their bikes with decorated helmets or swing under the watchful eye of an Hispanic and/or Filipina nanny. Golden retrievers blissfully greet me as I admire one grand home after another.

On my route into the Presidio itself (my private sanctuary), I pass by what is known as Dueling Mansion Corner - two huge homes sitting side-by-side, each one so eager to be the biggest that their roofs actually cut into one another. Further along, I listen to the trickling water fountains and admire the marble steps leading to the front door of the Koshland House, also known as Le Petit Trianon. Built in 1902, this city landmark (#95) recently sold for $29 million and is often the setting for societal functions of Old Money - cotillions, high teas, balls, galas and so on.

Once, I had a college student come live with me and she'd asked me to speak to her mama in Dallas, to confirm the area's safety and, hence, her daughter's. "White people go jogging here at night," I blurted, and, by god, that was good enough for her.

My neighborhood is ghastly beautiful, frighteningly perfect and I cannot wait to leave.

Knowing how starkly this world contrasts with the realities that fill the daily headlines, I get embarassed and impatient. Living in a rent-controlled apartment one block away from one of the nation's richest and most powerful senators (Feinstein) is more than ironic for someone like me. Would it kill them to take out just one Baby Gap and replace it with a decent burrito place? What good is a dress shop where you have to make an appointment?

Meanwhile, I ponder all the new building that will soon take place in the battered South and I wonder: How great would it be to be part of a civic rebirth? How often does one get that chance? It's got me thinking crazy thoughts. I'm tired of not being where all the action is - it might soon be time to grab a hammer and head east . . .

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Took quite a tumble down the stairs last Thursday night and fractured/dislocated my right elbow. I screamed like a banshee enraged - all the neighbors came running. Quite the scene.

Anyhoo, I'm typing this with my left index finger and it's verrrry slow going. I will never take the many options of two-handedness for granted ever again. Putting a bra on with one hand is a frustrating way to start the day but with this pair o'mine, it must be conquered.

The idea that I will not be on a horse for awhile upsets me the most. This, and the possibility that I may have to pass up my first pro photo gig in NYC in mid-November. Already, I'm starting to realize how unfair the world is for lefties.

Still, I am pulling much strength ferom the memory of my late Grandma Myrtle, who'd had a brain tumor removed, leaving her with a paralyzed right side. Though she was right-handed, she didn't spend much time fretting her loss. She still insisted on looking her best - lipstick, powder, and, of course, matching broach, necklace and earrings. I remember watching her wash her 'delicates' with her one good hand, wrapping them around the faucet and squeezing.

After a few decades of living like this, her left hand became frightfully strong. In fact, she soon became famous for her one-armed hugs, her well-meaning but slightly dangerous Loving Death Grip. Sure, she might just squeeze the life outta you but gol darnit, it's because she loves ya so dang much . . . now C'MERE!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Divided We Stand

As the lone (moderate) liberal, I regularly argue politics with my family. My brother and father, both die-hard Republicans, subscribe to the "Everything is going just fine" philosophy, which is maddening, at best. Dad and I used to hold an annual Marijuana Debate until the year I creamed him with stats from the U.S. Department of Health comparing annual deaths from alcohol (500,000,) cigarettes (200,000) and weed (0.) However, last weekend, I had my annual knock-down, drag-out yelling match with my step-brother-in-law, Chris, and I can't stop thinking about it.

Upfront: Chris is a good guy and he always welcomes me back into his home, year after year, despite our blood-curdling yelling matches. Every year, I tell myself I will practice some restraint and poise and every year, we both engage in verbal warfare that usually ends in both of us shaking our heads in bewilderment: "I can't BELIEVE now naive you are!" It usually ends with one of us storming off the scene - this year it was me.

The 2005 match began with the innocent viewing of Ken Burns' documentary on Lewis & Clarke - a topic we are both ravenous about. All it took was one comment from Chris that 'Indians have is so good these days. I can't believe they don't pay taxes . . . ' and we were off and running. We were both sloppy and could not help yelling over one another, which caused, Julie, the woman that connects us, fleeing the scene with her ears covered.

Bottom line, the silliness of the verbage ("Oh yeah? Well, where were the Indians after the hurricane?!? Why didn't they help?!?") did not bother me nearly as much as the idea that we are a country divided and all the "UNITED WE STAND" posters stood as mockeries to our house in turmoil. That evening, Chris and I were a perfect example of how lots of yelling and finger pointing happens but nothing really changes and, in the end, neither side conceeds anything and nothing ever changes. We've lost the art of healthy dialogue at a time when we need it more than ever.

Before I headed to the airport the next morning, Chris and I mugged for a photo to document our battle. Fists up and trying not to laugh, I had to wonder if things could be so easily fixed in the House, the Senate or other, less tangible chasms, like the economic divide, racial groups and the myriad of religions in this country.

Seems we have to start with our own families. Though I've been reading that brilliant book, 'Don't Think of an Elephant', that helps liberals talk successfully to conservatives without wanting to strangle them. It makes heaps of sense, though, evidently, I have yet to put it into practice. Instead, I wonder how I am going to have a conversation with my brother, Robert, who once said that he didn't believe global warming was really happening. His source? Michael Crichton, a man who writes fiction for a living.

Mind you, my brother lives on a Mississippi bayou and sells real estate along the Gulfport/Biloxi coast so certain realities are hard to swallow. Last I heard, he was reveling in the 'urban survival' world he now lived in and had purchased bulldozers for a new land-clearing business he'd created post-Katrina. He's a red-blooded Republican captitalist opportunist, that one, and I couldn't possibly love him more. I just wish there weren't such high political walls between us.

I'm thinking next year, I'll invite Chris to a formal debate where we each talk for two minutes while the other one shuts up. Julie can sit there with a timer (if she's willing) and perhaps a whip. Feisty, know-it-alls like Chris and I need perimeters, clearly. Still, at the end of the day, I have to admire those I argue with because we have something in common: We both love our country ferociously (hence the anger) and know deep, deep down (some, less deep than others) that our country is very divided, which saps our strength. The whole world saw it last week and now everyone knows.

Don't know how it's going to get well again but talking isn't enough. We need to start listening.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Tears for The Crescent City

Every morning when I awake and consciousness elbows its way back into my brain, I think the same thing: "New Orleans is still destroyed and may never recover." Though the day will no doubt bring many alarming facts both small (Am I getting fatter? Again?) and monstrous (see: Barbara Bush) this newish fact has me reeling.

No doubt many Americans (and more than a few tourists) will take a long time in facing facts. The New Orleans that we've known and loved may be gone forever and its demise has already been suggested by House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."

Even the town's die-hards have to wonder her fate. In a recent blog posting, WWOZ's (THE jazz and blues station in NO) General Manager David Freedman asked openly about recovering the music: "How do we rebuild that particular community which is so treasured by people all over the world, the community that gave New Orleans its unique character? How do we gather up as many pieces of that shattered culture and, where possible, provide a suitable context for it to re-establish itself?"

As my cousin/pal/roommate Ryan said to me last night, "It's strange to think that one our country's major cities now sits largely uninhabited." Places like Dallas, San Francisco, Boston or New York are never supposed to be ghosts towns. That is a distinction reserved for towns like Bountiful, UT or Flint, Michigan; Hamilton, North Dakota or Limbo, Nevada. NO was (oh, here comes the past tense!) was our crown jewels with all of its dark, European/Creole roots - its unrestrained jazz and its voodoo shops.

My last visit was on Valentine's weekend of 2004. I'd flown in for a whirlwind visit to see my beau, James, who was there helping a friend move. He was staying in a century-old mansion and made an incredible candlight meal - crab cakes, crawfish bisque, pralines, etc. As we ate on the porch, we heard the clicking of Mardi Gras beads, as revelers wobbled up and down the street.

Later, we visited The Maple Leaf, and danced to an amazing rock/brass band. I remember the shiny, yellow elbow of a trombone sliding in and out of my face and then, things got fuzzy.

Anyway, perhaps I'm mourning too soon but this modern-day Pompeii has my sensibilities whacked out, even 2300 miles away. If cities were people, New Orleans would be the lovable old black guy who drank a lot but never really got drunk. He was about 100 years old, had three teeth in his head but could play any instrument you put in front of him. Some said he was poor but he always dressed in style and tipped his hat to the ladies. He was full of history, kindness and dirty jokes.

I hope he comes back.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Angry, Angry, Angry

I woke up today with my Angry Headache, which is what I get when I think about how much I loathe the current administration. Today's devastation is going to grow beyond the hurricane and will create deep, long-lasting wounds. Issues of class, race, economics, gasoline and Iraq are already swirling about in a lethal twist. And then Bush says this morning, "No one anticipated the breech in the levees." Is he kidding?

Just a few years ago, FEMA ranked hurricane damage to New Orleans as one of three most likely catastrophes facing the country. I specifically remember this because an earthquake hitting San Francisco was one of the three and the thought struck me, 'Hmmm, should probably get some bottled water.'

Not long after that, the Times-Picayune published a five-part series that began:
"It's only a matter of time before south Lousiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane . . . we grow more vulnerable every day." The stories quoted flood experts warning specifically of the potential damage from rising water levels and broken levees. Again, I recall this because it was during this time my brother was getting married in Biloxi, Mississippi, just 45 minutes away.

The Fed reaction? Money was cut from flood control. The Bush administration routinely provided less than half the money the Army Corps of Engineers requested for New Orleans flood prevention. Three guesses where that money is now.

More anger to come.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

So Damn Lucky

Update on Southern Contingent of Clisby Family: All are alive and accounted for, including Otis the Dog and Leo the Cat.

After days of frantically trying to reach the outside world, my brother, Rob, and his wife, MaryAnn, got through to a friend in Austin, Texas. He, in turn, called everyone and my mother to deliver the big news. When I received the call, I was actually being interviewed by KNX-AM radio about the hurricane. They'd asked me to describe my brother and I did, just like one of those wandering, blotchy-eyed, stricken family members we'd seen after 9/11. That's when I lost it, just completely blubbered on the spot. Made for a heart-wrenching sound bite, I'm sure.

Apparently, MaryAnn came home from Alabama immediately after the hurricane but got a bit lost - many of the roads were unrecognizable and major landmarks were obliterated. Meanwhile, Rob and a neighbor had the chainsaw out and were busily trying to clear the roads for MA and others. Eventually, she found her way, expecting the worst but was pleased to find her husband inside, waiting.

Thankfully, they had stocked up on drinking water and food. The generator keeps the fridge and freezer running but nothing gets wasted. Even if an ice cube melts, that water is used. While they have no running water, the toilets do work. They merely walk a few feet to the bayou and scoop, good enough for flushing. Tonight, several folks from the neighborhood were going to bring over meat and fish that had to be cooked or ruined. R & MA have several gas grills and lots of booze so I'm sure a party will naturally ensue. That is the Southern way.

Because they have also stockpiled petrol, they have managed to go exploring and have seen horrific things. Entire chunks of beachfront casinos blown suddenly inland, thousands of dead chickens rotting in the sun from a delivery truck, bare cement foundations where grand old Southern mansions once stood . . . and people. Lots of people, wandering around, looking lost, thirsty, hungry, sobbing.

They do have a generator so they can watch a small TV in the garage but only one channel, the local station that gives them a vivid idea of just how fortunate they are. All the million dollar homes in their area have blown away and several neighbors have gone missing. MA still has not heard from her brother, Tim, and his family. They lived on the edge of Lake Ponchartrain and their house is most likely destroyed.

On and on and on it goes. In one bright spot, Rob & MA, lacking the usual means of entertainment, have gotten busy making their second baby. If it takes, and it's a girl, they are are threatening to name her Katrina.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

All Too Surreal

Though I came to the office today, determined to focus on my pressing deadlines and not the idea that my brother is dead . . . I'm finding that incredibly difficult. My mother just heard on the news, a woman talk about Ocean Springs, the town where Robert lives - there are 400 dead. The only way in is by boat and there are snakes everywhere.

This isn't just a disaster, it's seems biblical. I'm waiting to hear about frogs raining from the sky.

The lack of communcation is a frustration for everyone - with cell phone towers down, no land lines, no television or Internet, it's come down to waving white flags and word of mouth.

We have no idea what the status of Rob's well being, the house, all his properties. The irony is, he wanted to stay behind for the experience of it all. Last we spoke, he was already admitting that the next time a hurricane visited, he would be rid of that urge.

In New Orleans, things are even bleaker. The scene in the Superdome grew increasingly out of control and so, everyone is being shuttled off by bus convoy to the Astrodome in Houston, where it's about 101 degrees. Lousiana Governor Blanco said matter of factly that they had no choice but "to abandon the city."

I sit here in my ergonomically-correct office chair and fidget like I've never fidgeted before. Meanwhile, I get client calls demanding to know why we are not getting more broadcast coverage for Sony's back to school products and I can barely move my lips to say, "I don't know."

It's gotten to the point that I am getting phone calls from friends of mine from out of state, friends of Rob's that I haven't seen since the wedding and increasingly panicked calls and emails from my mother. My father's cell phone doesn't work because he got his phone down in Mississippi, so his service is down as well.

I feel so ineffective and useless here - even more so than usual. My heart aches with worry and my guts are hot with fear. People suffer loss every damn day and why should I be any different?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Damn You, Katrina

Trying to focus on work is useless. How can I when Hurricane Katrina is pounding the Mississippi coast where my brother, sister-in-law and darling nephew reside? My brother has suddenly become one of those fools you see on TV who stay behind to "protect the house." Good lord, who in their right mind thinks they can match the overwhelming force of an enraged Mother Nature? Water may look innocent enough in a glass but it comes at in you in 20-foot waves and 150 mph winds, it will be merciless.

Cell phones are useless in this situation and it's all I can do to wring my hands and watch CNN. I'm not good at this sort of thing and will surely have an ulcer by day's end.

Friday, August 26, 2005

It Was Inevitable

Ah . . . my first drunken blog entry. In decades to come, fumbled social efforts such as these will be looked back upon as quaint. Tonight, it's simply a heartfelt effort at explaining myself. The final result will not reveal the many instances when I went back to re-read and re-type, fixing all the fumbling misspellings, the careless grammatical applications, the punctuational omissions. I am one of those rare birds stradling the state lines of history - those who recall writing college senior essays on typewriters and yet, spent their thirties checking email obsessively.

Thus far, the evening has been spent tossing back fruity cocktails with a high quaility friend, Valerie Liberty. No, she does not make her living in burlesque but rather, in software. She is the originator of one of my favorite quotes: "Y'know, 98"% of things in life you have to do anyway. Why not do them with glee?" This is a perspective I grab for when I feel myself becoming surly - in other words, often. She has volunteered to make my birthday cake for my 40th birthday in December. I am so touched by this gesture and it's only August.

I would be truly lost without my friends. I love my family but I am something of an enigma to them. I think they see me as angry, frustrated and alarmingly independent. When it comes to my boyfriends and lovers, I am equally mysterious. My friends, however, are my saving grace. They have to love me no matter what. - it says so in the contract. When it comes to the Compadre position, I am extremely choosy and my standards, impossibly high. And yet, I somehow find them, or rather, they find me.

Along those lines, I got a phone call today that lifted my spirits to no end. It came from my pal, Tony, who is blazing literary trails in New York. Though we are nearly 15 years apart, he is a soul mate in the truest sense and he is one of the greatest gems in my crown. Neither of us are easy to understand, which is precisely why we have such a base understanding.

Why can't I have this luck with romance? Perhaps I am not one of those who experiences this type of love in life. It's not available to everyone. Those people who claim that "there's someone for everyone" are the same folks who believe the government knows what they are doing and all worthwhile philosphies can be summed up in a Hallmark card, Bible verse or Dr. Phil episode. Life is not black and white; for some of us, it's mostly grey and messy as all hell.

Marinated and maudlin as I may be, I still believe there's uncharted territory in these parts for me. I recall, after describing the 10th or 15th dating disaster to a close friend, he replied sarcastically, "Well, clearly, God has something very special planned for you." Is that how it works? The widest trail of disaster gets you the biggest pay off?

Then again, maybe all I need are my friends, some animals and keeping the family (however confused they may be) nearby. Love, after all, comes in many forms, not all of them red and heart-shaped. Sometimes, they are simply shaped . . . like 40th birthday cakes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Eye Sharpens

In my ongoing tradition of self-obsession, I'm soon launching a website, ClizBiz, that will showcase evidence of worth in my life thus far. Originally, its intent was for prospective employers to see the reaches of my talents but it may have dual usage - also serving as a handy reference tool for whomever is penning my obituary.

In preparing the photography section, I have been going through all the photos I have ever taken in my life. To my great distress, I now realize that what few skills I have in this department are quite recent. The year I took off and explored 13 countries in both hemispheres? Yeah, not so into it. The years I covered the music industry in Hollywood? Couldn't care less. It seems only my newest adventures have earned proper exposure.

Last night, while flipping through 57 rolls of film taken during the year abroad in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii, I came up with a whopping four prints that just may qualify as barely decent. I can detect the rare flashes of interest in composition or a scrap of thought given to lighting but most are just a blur, literally. Omigod, it hurts to look at them. Thankfully, the two pygmy elephants that charged me on my 29th birthday came in loud and clear - as they did in the flesh . . .

Makes me wonder - did my standards elevate or did my eye merely sharpen? Did I just not posess the patience it took to not just look but really see? The beginnings of this lesson came one day while scuba diving along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The closer I got to the seemingly quiet reef, the more I could see it was bustling with activity! It looked like some sea-life version of Times Square on New Year's Even and I almost missed it.

I do know that after several months, I put down the camera; instinct told me I was shooting out of habit, not of any artistic joy. One tragic day brought me a step further as I watched my beloved Canon EOS Rebel plop into the San Francisco Bay. Sure, it hurt like hell but my new city demanded an offering, so this was my hunk of flesh.

When I finally returned to photography several years later, I had new sight and fresh patience. Magic began to seep in to the frames now and again, almost always on the very last frame. I guess the older we get, the sharper the vision until one day we can see so clearly . . . we eventually go blind.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I'm Back . . . in Several Pieces

It's hard to sum up nine days spent on a horse, riding the open range and marveling at my life - suddenly without cell phone range, Internet access, newspapers, radio or television. It was gloriously quiet without the blood-curdling grate of the day's news summary.

Instead, the nightly soundtrack included the gurgling river running outside the door, the blonde nibbly mouse ever-curious about what treats we might've packed and the distant howling of coyotes, baying at the full moon. Morning came and the music changed: Roosters crowing, dogs barking, horses nickering, peacocks screeching, ducks quacking and the new baby goat, Riley (born while I was there,) wobbling into the yard on new legs, making tiny squeaks and getting a lay of the land.

When we climbed into a van on Friday night and headed out to the local rodeo in Dubois (pronounced Du-bowz, in some anti-French effort,) someone flipped on NPR and it was all I could do to plug my ears and sing "Jingle Bells" off-key in defiance. Trouble in the Middle East? Shocking! Iraq not going well? Who knew? As far as I could tell, the world hadn't fixed a thing in my absence. Lazy bums.

Symbolically, to kick off my week of well-deserved ignorance, I managed to lose my eyeglasses within hours of landing in Jackson Hole. Cozied up alongside the Grand Tetons, surrounded by elk preserves and whatnot, the beauty is hard enough to grasp without everything being fuzzy. I type this now with an old pair - split in half at the bridge - sitting precariously on the helpful chub of my nose. My bottom lip is burned to a crisp, as are both my shoulders. My inner legs are green and purple with bruises, earned by clinging to the body of Apollo, an excitable Arab gelding with an extended trot. My nails have all broken off and my credit card is maxed.

In other words, I've never felt better.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Hell Hath No Fury

Finally! As the bodies have continually piled up, I have asked the question over and over: Where are the parents of these dead soldiers? When do they start noticing? Why aren't they enraged? At last, they have awoken and cannot be shunned away as easily as pesky so-called 'journalist.'

The Bay Area's own Cindy Sheehan (Go, Cindy!) has had enough and she's channeling her grief with laser sharp focus, interrupting the luxurious five-week vacation of a tan, rested Dubya, who understands exactly how she feels (cuz he's that kind of guy) but . . . well, y'know, the problem is that . . . well . . . HE DOESN'T GIVE A SHIT.

Already, the right-wing puppets (O'Reilly, Drudge, etc.) are branding her a "traitor" which fills me with glee. Posessing a black, shriveled heart can serve you quite well in politics (see W. above) but sometimes, it can let you down. I am wringing my hands in anticipation of the show. These blockheads will quickly realize that there are certain things sacred in American society and mamas of heroically dead soldiers who fight in illegal wars of aggression certainly top the list.

What a great vacation gift! Perhaps the citizenry will start to notice, 'Hey, that guy at the podium . . he's . . he's not wearing any clothes!" This is my dream. And then they will all start eating one another in one giant, cover-your-ass implosion.

Everyone has their dream and this is mine.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

38 Hours And Counting

In less than two days, I will be on my way to a place where there are just five people per square mile. Home of the Bucking Bronco and birthplace of Vice-President Dick Cheney, where word is, he began life as a human. This is a place where the bars have saddles for seats and the men don't order Cosmos and discuss hair care products. God, I can't wait.

Regardless of Wyoming's macho rep, I discovered that it was the first state to grant women suffrage(1869,) primarily so they could get enough votes to be admitted to the Union. With that momentum, they kept going: first female bailiff, first female justice of the peace and the first female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross in 1925. So there.

Meanwhile . . . I crave orange dirt and blue skies, where the term 'IM' is a preface for a personal description and Blackberries are for eating with vanilla ice cream. And horses. Lots and lots of horses.

Ah, the grassy smell, the prevalent dirt, the curious upper lip, the high-pitched whinny, the muscled power - it's something I crave to be near every day. Someday, I will. My pre-pubescent pony phase may late but it's mighty and it's permanent.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hear that? It's my Blog Cherry popping!

Gross, I know but history-in-the-making can be so messy! This blog is dedicated to the very good looking and incredibly talented Harold Burson interns of Summer '05 - San Francisco! Here's to you, ladies!

Later, when I've become an underground celebrity and have my own beachfront property in the Blogosphere, I'll give all the credit where it's due. Until then, I think I'll lodge some complaints about the panty colors at Old Navy - booooooring!


(Enjoy the unfettered joy of this initial posting - it will quickly turn dark and caustic . . . . )